Monday, July 7, 2014

[Graphic Novel Review] The Monkey King (Saiyū Kiden Daiʼenō)

Katsuya Terada's The Monkey King (Saiyū Kiden Daiʼenō)

Behold, the face of awful.
I like to think of myself as a fairly positive dude, so most of my book reviews tend to be fairly positive and upbeat, even when I'm not crazy about a particular work. But this week, we're gonna take a bit of a departure from my normal style. I'm gonna take this opportunity to warn you all away from a really, really awful graphic novel.

I'm vaguely familiar with the outline of the Wu Cheng'en's classic novel Journey to the West (in terms of sheer size of its readership, it ranks as one of the most popular works of fiction ever written in any language), but I had never read the whole thing from start to finish. But I'm pretty sure that the Buddhist monk Xuanzang, the guy who frees the Monkey King from his prison and initiates their pilgrimage to India for the holy scriptures of the Buddha, A) was a man, and not a large-breasted woman with a penchant for bondage and ball-gags, and B) the Monkey King never violently fingered her while grunting excitedly to himself. But that happens in this book.

This adaptation is definitely NOT for children, clearly not for adults, and not for teens who've gotten over their adolescent fascination with sex. But even the randiest teen would probably have their ardor spoiled by the high-resolution ultra-closeups of creepy fetus-demons and severed children's heads.

The moral of the story: whenever you see any Japanese graphic novel with a warning on the cover warning you that it contains content which is considered graphic even by Japanese standards, you should believe them.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

[Book Review] 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

Charles C. Mann (2005)


Where to even begin?

I don't think I've ever read anything that completely shifted my perception of the world as many times as '1491' did. In more ways than I can count, this book has fundamentally altered the way I think about the continent that I've lived on for my entire life, and the people who lived here before my own ancestors arrived, and how shamefully little I was taught about those first Americans in school and college.

I honestly had never given any thought at all to what Native Americans did with the 15,000 years between coming to North America and making contact with Europeans. I assumed, based on the fact that it had never been brought up, that they basically made war, gathered herbs, used every part of the buffalo, and basically didn't change single a thing about two entire continents for up to fifteen millennia.

I could not have been more wrong.

When Europeans first arrived in the New World, they kept going on and on in their early accounts about how green and fertile this new land was, how lush and full of game; almost like a garden, or a game preserve. WELL, THERE WAS A REASON FOR THAT: Native Americans, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, made enormous changes to their environments, mainly through the use of controlled burns to clear forests and create open fields which were attractive to game animals like deer and rabbits. In Mesoamerica, they built complex societies with advanced mathematics, architecture, and philosophy; in the Southwest, they built entire cities into the sides of cliffs; and in the northeast, the Iroquois League created a representative democracy which would later serve as the basis for the Constitution of the United States. The list of their accomplishments goes on and on.


Possibly the greatest of Native achievements (at least within the territory of what is now the United States) was the sprawling merchant-city of Cahokia, near modern-day St. Louis. In the 1250 A.D., it was larger than London. As Mann describes it (emphasis mine):
"Anyone who traveled up the Mississippi in 1100 A.D. would have seen it looming in the distance: a four-level earthen mound bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza. Around it like echoes were as many as 120 smaller mounds, some topped by tall wooden palisades, which were in turn ringed by a network of irrigation and transportation canals; carefully located fields of maize; and hundreds of wooden homes with mud-and-straw plastered floors and high-peaked, deeply thatched roofs like those on traditional Japanese farms. Located near the confluence of the Missouri, Illinois, and Mississippi Rivers, the Indian city of Cahokia was a busy port. Canoes flitted like hummingbirds across its waterfront: traders bringing copper and mother-of-pearl from faraway places; hunting parties bringing such rare treats as buffalo and elk; emissaries and soldiers in long vessels bristling with weaponry; workers ferrying wood from upstream for ever hungry cookfires; the ubiquitous fishers with their nets and clubs. Covering five square miles and housing at least fifteen thousand people, Cahokia was the biggest concentration of people north of the Rio Grande until the eighteenth century."
Cahokia at its peak in the 1200s A.D.
What's even more shocking about Cahokia is the fact that YOU'VE ALMOST CERTAINLY NEVER EVEN HEARD OF IT. We're not taught about it in school, even though it's enormous, and part of our own country's history. Before I read 1491, I had no idea that any Native society north of Mexico had produced any settlement larger than a pallisaded village. Even though I knew about the cliff-dwellings of the Anasazi and Pueblo peoples, I didn't even think to include them in that broad and sweeping generalization: that's how little I knew about Native Americans.

This book comes with my highest recommendations. This book should be on the required reading list for every person who lives in the New World, or whose life has been affected by their discovery and colonization.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

[Book Review] The Stuff of Legend, Volume 1: The Dark


Th3rd World Studios, 2009
Writers: Mike Raicht, Brian Smith
Penciler: Charles Paul Wilson III
Colorists: Michael DeVito, Jon Conkling
Editors: Michael DeVito, Jon Conkling



I like to think of The Stuff of Legend as a darker, more psychological cousin of Pixar's Toy Story trilogy. Though I picked up a free sample of the first chapter at Free Comic Book Day 2010, I only just got around to checking this series out via inter-library loan, and I'm kicking myself for not doing it years ago. The story is taut and highly psychological, while still clipping along at a brisk pace, interspersing combat with character-development and relationship-building. The dialogue is as clean and crisp as any prime-time drama, and I found myself laughing aloud on more than one occasion. The art which accompanies the story (and more importantly, enhances it) is darkly beautiful, portrayed in loving detail and a sepia-tone wash, reminiscent of an old, faded photo album.

The idea of living toys (warning: TVtropes link) is nothing new in literature, but the true depth of toy-psychology remains almost entirely unfathomed. What would it really be like to be a secret guardian to a young child, acting as their best friend, imaginary surrogate, and plaything, only to be discarded when the next, more interesting toy comes along? How would you react to that? Would you be sad? Jealous?Angry? Would you feel betrayed? Would you want revenge for being thrown away so carelessly? And what would you do if an evil, shadowy monster kidnapped spirited your master away into another world? Would you risk your life for him, a child who never truly appreciated you, and will - inevitably - abandon you as he grows up and puts away childish things?

For the toys belonging to an unnamed boy living in Brooklyn in 1944, the answer is "yes". One night, a creature known as the Boogeyman reaches from his world to our own, and drags a small boy into the world of "The Dark", for his own nefarious ends. Still numb with shock, most of the toys simply accept that the boy is gone, beyond their power to help or save, and that they will all pass to his younger brother. But The Colonel, a courageous WWI doughboy, forms a rescue party along with seven other loyal toys: Harmony, a windup ballerina; Quackers, a wooden duck; The Princess, a Native American warrior-maiden; Jester, a jack-in-the-box with a quick tongue and eyes only for the Princess; Percy, a cowardly piggy-bank with a head for facts; Maxwell, a teddy bear, formerly the boy's favorite toy; and Scout, a beagle puppy and the boy's new favorite.

Upon arriving in The Dark, the toys find themselves transformed: Maxwell becomes a hulking grizzly bear, Quackers is able to fly on real wings, and the human toys are now made of flesh and blood (except Harmony, who's more of an automaton anyway). Making a surprise D-Day style landing (highly reminiscent of the war which the boy's father is currently fighting over in Europe) on the shores of The Dark, the toys pit their might against the armies of the Boogeyman: forgotten toys, long ago consigned to the closet or lost under the bed, who now harbor deep grudges against their former master and the toys who come to rescue him. Here, cowboys and Crusaders fight alongside Roman centurions, Greek hoplites, Civil War soldiers, and Viking berserkers (Is the boy perhaps a tad obsessed with war?), all in service of the dreaded Boogeyman.



The Boogeyman is honestly one of the most genuinely frightening villains I've come across in a long time, possibly since Lord Voldemort himself! (And coming from a man who had a Harry Potter-themed wedding a few months back, that is very high praise indeed.) He's cunning and ruthless, frightening and unknowable, and seems to know everything that happens in his realm. Far from truly threatening him, the insurgency of the loyalist toys seems to amuse him, and he plays with them as a cat plays with a mouse before killing it.

I highly recommend The Stuff of Legend to anyone who ever played with a toy. This is a series off to an excellent start, and I will be eagerly reading and reviewing the rest of the books in this series, as soon as I can get a hold of them.

Monday, March 17, 2014

JANET, WILL YOU (PUBLICLY REFUSE TO) MARRY ME?

I really don't understand how we got to the point where public, unexpected proposals are considered not only sound judgment on the man's part, but romantic. I mean really you're just forcing her to either accept your proposal while she's under enormous social pressure to say yes (which is a little creepy in the first place, but more on that later), or to look like a frigid bitch and have a long, painful walk out the door while every eye in the room is trained on her, wondering "Why didn't she accept? He seemed like such a sweet and non-extortion-y guy!"

Guys, just stop surprising women with public marriage proposals. It's a bad idea. No good can come of it. And what happens if you misjudged and she says no? Well, to make that possibility a little more real for you, here's an real-life example of how badly this could turn out for you. (Dude-in-this-video, I'm sorry to drag this out for you again, but it's for a good cause.)



I don't understand why people automatically assume that all public proposals should be accepted. Listen to that crowd; they LOVE this guy's proposal, and every one of them wants her to say "yes", without any of them knowing a single thing about their relationship, how long they've been dating, or even whether he would be a good mate for her (or vice versa)!

Imagine for a moment that you're at a coffee-shop. You turn to the guy at the next table over, and you say to him "Hey. Dude. Do you think that couple at the table by the window should get married?" His first reaction will probably be to look at you cross-eyed, but if you persist, he might spare them a glance and say, testily, "I've got no idea. Their relationship's none of my business," and go back to reading his Kindle.

...but as soon as the guy in that same couple you just pointed to goes down on his knee and pulls out a ring, everyone thinks that marrying him is a great idea, and that the woman should pledge the rest of her life to him on the spot.

It sets a bad precedent to set for the rest of your marriage, at the very moment of your marriage's "conception", to threaten your spouse with being made a social pariah if she doesn't agree on the spot.

Just don't do it. Seriously, guys. Don't.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Please Stop Shitting On Our Lawn

A warning for the sensitive and morally-upright: This post is going to include some frank discussion about the act of pooping. And I'm going to use some grownups-only words to talk about it. If this is a problem for you, then you may leave now.

After a long and bitterly,perhaps hatefully cold winter, the snow is starting to melt, and that means dog crap is everywhere. All winter long it's been building up, hidden by falling flakes, or buried under snowdrifts furtively kicked-over by lazy dog-owners to hide their shame and incompetence.

Believe me, I understand the impulse to just leave it where it lies. I've owned a few dogs in my time, and I know the embarrassment of seeing your dog pop a squat and realizing, to your horror, that you forgot to grab a plastic bag when you left the house, and now Fido is doing the deed on your neighbor's front lawn, and people are cruising through the neighborhood and you have to fumble in your pocket as they drive by, to send a clear message that I am being a responsible citizen and am picking up after my dog like a good dog-owning person should. Yep, that's totally what I'm doing, Mrs. Prius-Driver, just keep on driving by while I get this imaginary bag out of my pocket and you... drive past me... and turn the corner... aaaaannnnnd.... RUN AWAY!!!

I understand that feeling. And I understand that it's cold outside and that it'll be even darker by the time you get back to this spot and it seems like a waste of time and fossil fuels to drag your butt back all this way to where the Fido-bomb is situated and pick it up and have to carry it all the way back home in your car and then throw it away. But the difference is that when I forget to grab a bag before I leave home, I actually go back and do exactly that, because it's my job.

Frankly, there is no difference between letting your dog take a dump on someone else's property and dropping your pants in the middle of the street and doing it yourself. Both acts are equally disgusting, both are mortally-rude gestures towards the owner of the property in question, and either way it's still your fault that there's a steaming turd on somebody's front lawn.

I'm reminded of a sign I saw once on a small hill beside an apartment complex. It featured a dog holding a plastic baggie and wearing a disapproving scowl, saying "I would if I could,/ But I can't, so you should." To be fair, even if they could, they probably wouldn't (they'd just trot away over the next hill in pursuit of more caribou or something), but you're a human, you have the gift of sapience, and it's your job as a pet-owner to keep your pet clean, and that includes their living-space. Which just so happens to be the same space that the rest of us live in, thank-you-very-much.

A parent who was taking their child on a walk and allowed said child to remove their diaper and make a doodie on a neighbor's lawn could be reported to the State, and might have their child taken away from them because they're raising that child in an unclean and unfit environment. Maybe it's time we started doing the same thing for dog-owners.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

We Wish You A Merry Non-Denominational Winter Celebration

People should just wish each other a "Merry Christmas!" and drop all this silly, non-denominational "happy holidays" nonsense.

There. I said it.

I support being inclusive as much as the next American, but nobody really means "have your own solstice-holiday, regardless of your personal faith or lack thereof" when they say "Happy Holidays". What they mean is "Merry Christmas", and everyone knows it. Hanukkah ended in the evening of Thursday, December 5 this year,and Kwanzaa doesn't start 'til the day after Christmas. Today is Yule, but store-workers are still going to keep wishing us "Happy Holidays" until December 25th, when they will abruptly stop. No They're not wishing you a happy holiday, they're just afraid to say the name of the holiday they're actually talking about.

I feel like it's dishonest for stores and advertisers to wish [people a "happy holiday" when they don't even know what other early-winter holidays there are, or how they're celebrated. Store displays may say "happy holidays" in the front window, but I guarantee that the decorations they set up do not include menorahs, Kwanzaa kinaras, or Stars of David. The decorations will probably include an evergreen tree, but most people don't even know that's a pagan thing to begin with, so it hardly counts as multicultural.

There's a sign at the recycling center near where I live which tells motorists where they can drop off their "holiday trees". But let's be honest for a second here: it ain't a Hanukkah bush, and it ain't a Kwanzaa conifer, it's a Christmas tree. Reindeer were not present when Judah Maccabee drove out the Seleucid Greeks and lit the first menorah. Snowmen have nothing to do with Pan-Africanism.

So let's be done with this fake, bland multiculturalism that fails to accurately recognize anyone's holiday. Rather than acting like we're celebrating everyone equally by simply replacing "Christmas" with "holiday", let's call a reindeer a reindeer.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Founders' Arms


At the climax of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry pulls (unnecessary spoiler alert) the Sword of Godric Gryffindor out of the Sorting Hat, and uses it to great effect against the Heir of Slytherin and his pet monstrosity. Like King Arthur before him, Harry draws a sword out of an unlikely place (get your mind out of the gutter!) and fulfills his heroic destiny; all's well and good.

"All hail Harry, King of the Britons!"

But it's never established whether any of the other Four Founders have weapons of their own hidden in the depths of the Sorting Hat. They've all got items which are important to them (the Diadem of Ravenclaw, the Cup of Helga Hufflepuff, Slytherin's Locket), but these last three are merely powerful objects, not weapons they might hand down through the fog of ages to help their future students in their hour of need.

Personally, I like to think that there are weapons for each Founder, and for the amusement of my readers I will now take a moment to do some baseless conjecture on the subject.

The Dagger of Salazar Slytherin



Figuring out Slytherin's weapon was almost too easy. It's obvious, really. For a House that's willing to "use any means / To achieve their ends", a dagger is really the only option. Naturally, it would be a poisoned dagger. Possibly made of a basilisk fang, or at the very least imbued with the beast's venom.


The Shield of Helga Hufflepuff


Hufflepuff's weapon was harder to decide on. We all know that "Those patient Hufflepuffs are true / And unafraid of toil", so their weapon must needs be something heavy, probably blunt, which requires great strength to wield.

At first, a club or mace seemed like the obvious choice. They're heavy, blunt, and associated with wood and stone, respectively. A morningstar (a spiked mace, usually round-headed) would even mimic the shape of the Earth, which is Hufflepuff's element.

But then I thought "perhaps not": Hufflepuff is defensive, not offensive. If the fight comes to them, they will meet it head-on, but they don't seek out battle. So a shield makes the most sense for the heirs of Hufflepuff. (And before you ask, no, I'm not sticking Hufflepuffs with the "lame weapon". Anyone who's familiar with Captain America knows that a shield bash can do some serious damage in the right hands.)

The Bow of Rowena Ravenclaw



Ravenclaw has her intelligence-boosting Diadem, which Hermione will tell you is a weapon in its' own right. But being wise, Rowena Ravenclaw no doubt realized that increased intelligence doesn't mean anything if it can't keep you alive long enough to use it. And surely she would realize that sometimes an application of force, in just the right place, is the wisest course of action.

With this in mind, a bow (and arrows, most likely bronze-tipped) would make the most sense as the signature weapon of House Ravenclaw. A bow allows the wielder to observe any conflict from a distance, carefully select the foe who poses the greatest threat, and fell them before they get close enough to do damage to one's self or allies.


Discuss: Do you disagree with any of these choices? What do you think the Founders' weapons would be?