May the Fourth and All That : John Jackson Miller – “Lost Tribe of the Sith”

Taking place after “Dawn of the Jedi”, but feeling even more genuinely mythological, John Jackson Miller’s “Lost Tribe of the Sith” is further evidence that almost everyone in the Galaxy has given more though to Star Wars mythology than George Lucas. Now no longer “canon” and relegated to the “legends” designation, this is a nice collection of 9 novellas: “Precipice,” “Skyborn,” “Paragon,” “Savior,” “Purgatory,” “Sentinel,” “Pantheon,” “Secrets,” “Pandemonium.” (Notice a certain pattern?) After the Sith Starship “Omen” crashlands on Kersh, 5000 years or so before the Battle of Yavin, the Dark-Forced castaways made themselves a new home by conquering the Keshiri with incisive, genocidal glee over millennia. Their biggest challenge, though? Their inability to co-operate:  a civilization of sheer evil doesn’t last long because its leaders turn to political cannibalism. How the Sith of Kesh manage to make it all work is an interesting tale, although necessarily fragmented and rushed (you try covering two millennia of Lost Tribe history: even Gabriel Garcia Marquez stuck to 100 years of solitude.)

Jackson Miller, (who also wrote the “Knights of the Old Republic” series) would return to the Lost Tribe with “Spiral,” a 5-issue graphic novel for Dark Horse Comics. This follows the collected stories, and is set two thousand years or so before “A New Hope,” or, as normal people call it, “the first Star Wars movie, the one that didn’t have that Jar Jar Binks fella.” Continuing with the idea of strangers in strange lands, “Spiral” is about two discontent Sith who wind up in Kesh’s supposedly uninhabited version of the South Pole, only to find “The Doomed”: descendants of Fallen Jedi.

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There is a particularly dumb moment in “Episode III : Revenge of the Sith” when Annakin says something to Obi-Wan Kenobi like (and I paraphrase because dialogue this bad shouldn’t be committed to memory): “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy,” to which Obi Boy replies all like: “Only a Sith would think like that. THEREFORE YOU’RE NOT WITH ME AND YOU ARE MY ENEMY AND I MUST KILL YOU AND I DON’T SEE THE IRONY IN ANY OF THIS!”

The much smarter (and better-written) Doomed, instead, have  realized that there IS a possible middle ground between the Dark Force and the Light Force. This is a concept so apparently beyond the subtleties of Hollywood cinema that so far it hasn’t even been considered in 7 “Star Wars” movies- and a spinoff. To find out how they make it work, of course, look up the comics.

RATING: GOOD ENOUGH, clearly best for SW fans.

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In Cold Blood : Daniel Clowes – “Ice Haven”

“You want to know why we did it? Because we damn well felt like doing it.”

In 1924, two seemingly well-adjusted young men from “good families” abducted and murdered a 14-year-old boy because they were convinced they were bright enough to get away with it. They were indeed bright, perhaps remarkably so, but Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb got caught almost immediately, their “perfect murder” botched in a way that would be laughably idiotic if the circumstances weren’t so horrifying. (To wit, Leopold dropped his custom-made glasses at the crime scene! D’oh!)

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The Crime of the Century long before O. J. Simpson, the Leopold and Loeb case is at the chilling core of Daniel Clowes’ “Ice Haven,” a “comic strip novel” about the small titular town, where a boy named David Goldberg has disappeared. Has he been done in by a local L&L admirer?

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If Lloyd Llewellyn , “Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron,” and “David Boring” are, at least nominally, surreal mysteries, “Ice Haven” is more about what happens on the periphery of a mystery: David’s disappearance is an excuse to look at the lives of his family, his neighbors, his schoolmates – the surprisingly expansive circle of people touched by the loss of this most insignificant of lives, (and it’s no slight; David himself embraces his own insignificance with stoic pride.)

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Clowes, like most of his peers, is a child of the comic strip, and it’s in the Sunday Funnies format that “Ice Haven” unfolds; but although there are Schulz parodies here, (and “Nancy” and “Little Lulu” allusions and, heck, even nods to “The Flinstones”) these strips are mainly riffing on their own Daniel Clowes-ness.  That would be self-parody if “self-parody” didn’t usually suggest creative bankruptcy; to the contrary, there’s wealth in this slim volume. Think of it as Clowes’ illustrations for “Our Town” as inhabited by Nabokov characters. A listing of the novel’s wacky cast would read like a chapter index, and give too much away. Go saunter through “Ice Haven,” and meet its denizens. In the words of Random “Not Thornton” Wilder, (the town’s bespectacled, self-proclaimed bard): “It’s not as cold as it sounds.”

RATING: COOL! Perhaps too brief for MASTERPIECE!!!

P. S.:

“While prose tends toward pure ‘interiority,’ coming to life in the reader’s mind, and cinema gravitates toward the ‘exteriority’ of experiential spectacle, perhaps ‘comics,’ in its embrace of both the interiority of the written word and the physicality of image, more closely replicates the true nature of human consciousness and the struggle between private self-definition and corporeal ‘reality.’ ”

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Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road? : L. Frank Baum – “The Emerald City of Oz” (Oz #6)

The Road to Oz is paved with L. Frank Baum’s cruel intentions. Much like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could barely restrain his murderous tendencies toward Sherlock Holmes, Baum hates Oz, and his desperate need to  wipe out the land is manifest in “The Emerald City of Oz,” the sixth book in the series, published in 1910.

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ABOVE: Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road

There’s two stories here.

On the one hand, you have the Nome King, Roquat the Red, who is recruiting an army of discontents to tunnel his way to Oz in order to destroy the city. (Roquat’s need to put an end to the land for no real reason other than “its presence bugs me” parallels Baum’s own urge.)

On the other hand, you have Dorothy’s symmetrically-opposed journey, one in which Baum displays one outburst of creativity, not unlike that of the supposed re-gathering of energy that precedes death. Wonder follows nonsensical wonder as we meet living paper dolls and pastries; kangaroos without mittens; zebras that argue geometry with crabs; Rigmaroles and Flutterbudgets; jigsaw puzzles that attempt to assemble themselves. One utters this admirable bit of wisdom:

“Madam, you have perhaps noticed that every person has some peculiarity. Mine is to scatter myself. What your own peculiarity is I will not venture to say; but I shall never find fault with you, whatever you do.”

ABOVE: She meant to say, “I’m the Kook.”

 

Baum unleashes a barrage of painful puns as we get to the land of Utensia, where kitchen utensils live as if in anticipation of future Pixar movies. Sample:

“Why is the colander the High Priest?”
“He’s the holiest thing we have in the kingdom.”

None of the encounters add anything to the plot; the author is simply unloading every half-formed, Oz-related ideas on the way to a conclusion of intense finality, one that shuts off all possibility for sequels:
“YOU WILL NEVER HEAR ANYTHING MORE ABOUT OZ, BECAUSE WE ARE NOW CUT OFF FOREVER FROM ALL THE REST OF THE WORLD. BUT TOTO AND I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU AND ALL THE OTHER CHILDREN WHO LOVE US.
DOROTHY GALE.”

Of course, after a three-year hiatus, L. Frank Baum said: “Screw it. Papa needs a brand new Ford Model T. Oz, here we go again!” 8 more books followed.

RATING: COOL!

 

 

Fairy Tale Endings : Emily Carroll – “Through the Woods”

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Horror is learned early. I can’t think of many fairy tales that aren’t horrifying in premise, if not in effect. The world is presented to children as an open jaw. Emily Carroll’s “Through the Woods” collects five fairy tales of gothic peril that are beautifully painted and colored. Included are “His Face All Red,” “Our Neighbor’s House,” “A Lady’s Hands are Cold,” “My Friend Janna,” and “The Nesting Place.”

RATING: COOL!

Timey Wimey : J. K. Rowling – “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (#3)

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ABOVE: “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”

(Re-read). They’d been good from the go, but it was with “The Prisoner of Azkaban” that J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter truly revealed itself as an expanding, multi-layered saga  about how the past dictates the future. “The Sorcerer’s Stone” and “The Chamber of Secrets” were children’s lit at its best, but “The Prisoner of Azkaban” was the first of the novels to definitely prove that Rowling could conjure the kind of seriousness and complexity that allowed adults to embrace the series with little shame. “The Prisoner of Azkaban” is as much about grown-ups as it is about the children who are left in the shadows of grown-up drama. Missing parental authorities are standard in children’s fiction; it’s much less standard for those departed parents to become vivid characters in a book that takes place more than a decade after their death. The past is not dead, and it’s not even past, not in a place with as many ghosts as Hogwarts. It’s no coincidence that a time-traveling spell  turns out to be the solution to one of the novel’s many mysteries: this is a novel about time and the tricks it plays on us. “Doing time,” after all, it’s the prisoners’ euphemism for their plight.