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Alan the Kaz (London, England)

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Soft Machine
Soft Machine
by William Burroughs
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a "normal" book!, 10 Oct. 2013
This review is from: Soft Machine (Paperback)
Not knowing much about William Burroughs other than his history with drugs, I picked up `The Soft Machine' spontaneously, assuming that it would be a "normal" novel, albeit a strange one. To say the least, I certainly wasn't expecting this. One paragraph in, and I'd raised an eyebrow; one page in, and I was starting to wonder if the whole first chapter would be as seemingly nonsensical as what I'd just read. When I found that the second chapter was just as weird, I started to question whether or not it would be worth continuing to read a book that I just didn't understand, but I persevered after reading the Wikipedia article on it and finding out that some kind of sense emerges from it in chapter 7. There was a strange allure to it, after all, as I'd never read anything quite like it before. Written in the so-called "cut-up and fold-in" technique, the book consists of many different seemingly random, mostly graphic, and often horrific, scenes spliced into one another. Paragraphs go off into a tangent, sentences inexplicably merge into one another, and there's a general disregard for character, story or even grammar. I must admit, for most of the book, I found it arduous to read and I often came close to throwing in the towel and chucking it in the bin.

However, by the time I'd reached chapter 7, the only chapter to have a somewhat coherent plot, and which kind of puts the rest of the book into perspective, I'd gotten my head around the incredibly disjointed writing style, and began to appreciate it for what it was. I say "appreciated", but that's purely on an artistic level. By this point, I still didn't actually *like* the book, although some of the scenes were very funny. I also started to realise that this is a book that you have to read in small doses and really concentrate on. The moment I started reading it just to read it, my mind would wander and I'd lose the intricacies of the narrative (if you can call it that). In small doses, however, I could follow most of it (though many of the rambling sentences and paragraphs still lost me completely, and were probably designed to do so), and I started actually enjoying it.

By the end of the book, I had fully gathered the theme (and "theme" is a better word to use than "story" when describing the narrative of this book) and understood that this was all some kind of analogy for being hooked on drugs. But, if any further context is needed, Burroughs includes some rather excellent appendices at the back, which I'm guessing he wrote for the book, and they really add to the appeal and understanding. If read as a cohesive end to the novel itself, rather than a separate entity, these appendices make for a rather satisfactory end to this bizarre and challenging book.

Over all, I'm glad that I decided to persevere with `The Soft Machine', and to take my time doing so. Although I hated much of the book before I got my head around it, I think it's telling that I never once found it pretentious or artistic for the sake of being artistic. William Burroughs is clearly an extremely intelligent and talented writer, and under any lesser author the "cut-up and fold-in" technique would have no doubt been a pretentious nightmare. I can't imagine myself ever recommending this book to anybody, but I did enjoy it and get a lot from it. It's certainly forever changed my ideas of what the novel, as a medium, is capable of.


The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus
The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus
by Lee Strobel
Edition: Paperback

50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening if you want to believe it, easy to riddicule if you don't..., 29 Sept. 2013
This is the kind of book that people tend to rate from one extreme or the other. That is, they'll either be convinced by its arguments and give it four or five stars, or they'll find it lacking and give it one or two. There aren't very many people who would give this a "neutral" three stars because, by its very nature, it's very difficult to have neutral feelings about it.

For those reading about 'The Case for Christ' for the first time, this is a very famous and long enduring book which attempts to explain, in as simple language as possible, a rational case for the existence of Jesus Christ as the son of God. I was given a copy to borrow at an Alpha Course (a free and friendly course for non-Christians to learn about Jesus and Christianity), and I've since learned that this book is very common among such gatherings, and held in high regard by Christian apologists in general. The book's author, Lee Strobel, a former journalist with a legal background, explains that he began this book as an atheist looking to better understand Christianity but, by the end of his research, came to the conclusion that the evidence undoubtedly points to the fact that Jesus was the son of God, and the Bible is the word of God. Strobel uses his journalistic skills and legal understanding to present a systematic and rational argument in favour of his new belief, not to mention one that is highly readable and entertaining at the same time. The book consists of various interviews, where Strobel (who allegedly begins as a sceptic and ends up convinced of the Bible's legitimacy) probes into the minds of some of the most respected and academically decorated Christians in America. The result is a powerfully convincing defence of Christianity, if you want to believe it, and one of the most hopelessly one-sided critiques of the Bible, if you don't want to believe it.

And this is where Strobel's promising adventure falls flat. To his credit, I don't think Strobel actually says in this book that he ever set out to present all of the arguments, but rather to show a convincing case in favour of his own newly developed belief. But that's the problem, and why this book should never be recommended to anybody who flat out doesn't believe, because they'll just cling further to those beliefs because of reading it. Strobel interviews some very impressive figures here, but he never presents the other side. He asks them probing questions, where these intellects tear apart their detractors, but he never looks at the arguments of the people with other opinions. Everybody here shares the exact same opinions, and they're presented in such a way to tell us that these are the "only" legitimate opinions, that the opposing arguments are all contradictory and full of holes, and the whole book is framed in such a way to make these theories seem as convincing as possible. Detractors are either atheists, clutching at straws and refusing to accept what's obvious, or they're "liberal" Christians, changing things to suit their agenda. If this was legitimately looking to explore Christianity from a neutral point-of-view, and to show the facts and let the reader make up their own minds, it would have allowed for some of the detractors who were so brutally torn apart to offer their counter-arguments, and it wouldn't have been written in such a way to convince us of the author's beliefs. As such, any knowledgeable atheist, or "liberal Christian", could easily tear this apart and ridicule it... and they do exactly that. Just type "The Case for Christ rebuttal" into Google and you'll be presented with countless examples.

Like I said, if you want to believe that Jesus is the son of God, then you'll accept every word in here. If, however, you genuinely want to learn and understand, then I would highly recommend that you read this book, take notes, and compare it side-by-side with some of the excellent rebuttal websites. Of course, those sites are trying to make Strobel look just as silly as his interviewees tried to make their detractors look, so exercise caution and use your own judgement and common sense. Alternatively, if you're already convinced that Jesus isn't the son of God, you might want to read this because it's about as entertaining and readable an insight into the beliefs and arguments of Christian apologists as you're likely to find. Me? I learnt a lot from reading this and comparing Strobel's words to those of his online adversaries. For one thing, I now feel pretty confident that Jesus was actually a historical figure, and that is pretty much beyond reasonable doubt. I've also learnt that Christian beliefs can, indeed, stand up to scrutiny and logic. But it's a shame that many atheists won't get that impression from this book, as its own biases serve to de-legitimise it.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 26, 2017 3:44 PM BST


The Secret 10th Anniversary Edition
The Secret 10th Anniversary Edition
by Rhonda Byrne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I read it with an open mind, I honestly did, 24 Sept. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Somebody I know recently recommended me 'The Secret', telling me with tears in her eyes (literally) about how it transformed her life, and that she reads passages from it every day to cement its messages into her head. I must admit that I do dabble in flowery "spiritual" self-help books from time-to-time, and that I'm quite quick to defend them against the many detractors who stick their nose up at them and look down at the people who read them. The Dalai Lama's books, for instance, had an absolutely enormous impact on my life when I started reading them during my angst filled early 20s. I say this because I don't want you to think that I'm writing this review with any biases against spiritual and self-help books when I say that 'The Secret' by Rhonda Byrne is truly shocking. In fact, I can safely say that it's the single worst, most pretentious, unethical and downright idiotic book I've ever read in my life. I forced myself to finish the whole book, because I actually paid money for the damn thing, and by the end of it I actually felt angry. I don't remember the last time that a book made me feel angry, so I think Rhonda Byrne deserves a pat on the back for that.

I didn't feel angry because the book was so badly written (which, indeed, it was), but because of the very premise of it, which has struck a chord with so many millions of people across the world since Oprah championed it on her TV show years ago. In numerous paragraphs, which basically repeat the same theme over and over again, Byrne and her collaborators nurture the most selfish materialistic view of life imaginable, preaching not a "Gospel of Wealth", but something even more sinister. At least that encourages the concept that you have to work hard to gain your wealth, and that giving to charity is good. Rather, Byrne et al preach the message that money and material possessions are everything that matters, that they're attainable only by merely thinking positively (in itself, not necessarily a bad message, but I'll get back to that later), and that anyone who doesn't have money, or has some other problem in their life, has brought it on themselves for thinking negatively. Victim of child abuse? Brought it on his/herself. The civil war in Syria? They brought it on themselves. But the banksters, the tax-evading CEOs and the sweatshop owners? They brought all their glorious wealth to themselves through making full use of the natural harmony of "the universe", thinking positively and being grateful for what they have, and they deserve it all.

Now, focusing on positive thinking, visualisation exercises in helping you to achieve your dreams, etc., is a great thing. We know from science and psychology that the power of positive thinking is an incredible tool in helping people to recover from serious illnesses, make friends, get good jobs, etc., and this should be encouraged. One or two of the exercises suggested in this book are actually very good too. But this book peddles the idea that it's the only thing that matters, and it does so under the most wishy-washy flowery and pretentious language I've ever come across. This is a book designed for people who want quick fixes, people who would give anything to believe that you can win the lottery tomorrow by not just visualising it, but also convincing yourself that you've already won. If you're drowning in a sea of debt, you're told to convince yourself that you're a millionaire and then, when you truly believe it, you'll start having cheques coming through your letterbox out of nowhere instead of bills. This is neurotic. 'The Secret' is literally encouraging people to be crazy, to think only of their own self interests, and then (the worst part) to blame people who aren't rich, people who are depressed, people who just lost a parent, for thinking negative thoughts that caused all of their problems. This is an absolutely horrendous book in every conceivable way.


The Science of Language: Interviews with James McGilvray
The Science of Language: Interviews with James McGilvray
by Noam Chomsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.70

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Definitely not for the general reader, 22 Sept. 2013
This is quite a misleading book. It emphasises its accessibility to the non-specialist reader when, in reality, it's pretty heavy going and complex. I'm currently studying a Master's degree in an area of linguistics (with a BA in English language and linguistics), so I'm not a complete layman, but even I found it indecipherable in many parts. The description at the back, as well as the introduction, market this as some kind of good introductory book on Noam Chomsky's incredibly important contributions to the theory and philosophy of language, but I think that the general reader will get very little out of it. With some knowledge of linguistics, and the help of the not always useful commentaries at the back of the book, I was able to struggle through, understanding the major points, but getting completely lost with the more technical descriptions.

The main part of this book (not including the commentary and the many appendixes) has been split into two halves, "the science of language and mind" and "human nature and its study". The first half is definitely only for the specialist reader, dealing with the technical side of Chomsky's theories on language. The second half, however, is far more accessible, presenting more of a philosophical inquiry into the nature of language, and humanity in general. I found this half absolutely fascinating, as I've always admired Chomsky the eminent linguist, and Chomsky the highly regarded political commentator, but I'd never before encountered Chomsky the revered philosopher. Chomsky sheds light on how his contentious theories on language underpin his entire moral framework, and how the philosophy of language is fundamental for our understanding of human nature, yet criminally undervalued in academic circles. Incredibly interesting, but heavy going.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 13, 2014 12:22 PM BST


X-Men: Apocalypse Vs Dracula: X-Men
X-Men: Apocalypse Vs Dracula: X-Men
by Frank Tieri
Edition: Paperback

2.0 out of 5 stars Dumb, stupid, fun, 20 Sept. 2013
Well, what can I say? If you're reading an X-Men comic called "Apocalypse vs. Dracula", you should already know what sort of thing to expect. It's as dumb as pointless as you had expected, and about as fun as you could reasonably expect. Frank Tieri does a workable job of bringing together these two villains that nobody ever asked to see fight each other, in a story that sheds some relatively interesting light on Apocalypse's past in the process. It's by no means bad, but not especially good either. It gets the job done, and is reasonably fun. The art is pretty good, and it's quite amusing to see Apocalypse in an almost protagonist-like role in this story. If you're particularly interested in the character of Apocalypse, then it's worth a read if you can borrow it or get it cheap. If not, then don't bother.


Captain America: Death of the Red Skull (Captain America (Unnumbered Paperback))
Captain America: Death of the Red Skull (Captain America (Unnumbered Paperback))
by J.M. DeMatteis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £22.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Only shines brightly in the second half, 2 Sept. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
J.M. DeMatteis sure does likes his sympathetic portrayals of psychopathic super villains. In this case, the Red Skull, sworn enemy of Captain America, and quite possibly the most evil baddie in the Marvel Universe. Created in the 1940s, as the epitome of Nazi corruption, the Red Skull has always been a pretty two dimensional character. But J.M. DeMatteis, a writer well known for exploring the twisted psychology of any character he gets his hands on, isn't going to rest content with the central antagonist of his piece being a stereotypical super villain. Especially not when this is the final confrontation in the decades long war between said antagonist and the hero (at least, it was supposed to be, but we all know what comics are like). So, instead, we're treated with one of the most interesting explorations of the Red Skull there's ever been.

Before making his name, with such comics as 'Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt' and 'Justice League International', DeMatteis' wrote a lengthy run on 'Captain America'. 'Death of the Red Skull' was the final story arc of that fan favourite run (barring an annual, which was released shortly afterwards). The age of this story definitely shows, and it's clear that DeMatteis was still some way from his creative peak in the late '80s and early '90s, but many of the attributes that would make him such a prolific comic book writer can be found here in an earlier, rougher, form. As I already mentioned, we have the sympathetic super villains, the Red Skull and his daughter, Mother Superior (now more commonly known as Sin), who makes her début within these pages (and if you've ever read Ed Brubaker's fantastic Captain America run, this will fill you in on why she's so demented). Also, like Spider-Man in 'Kraven's Last Hunt' and Batman in 'Going Sane', we have the hero come face-to-face with his own mortality, and a psychological exploration of what it means to be a hero as two major themes. There's no doubt that this story definitely paves the way for DeMatteis' most famous work, the aforementioned 'Kraven's Last Hunt', and many of his other stories to come, for that matter. With that, DeMatteis is able to do something that only Ed Brubaker has ever been able to do for me since, make Captain America a believable and interesting character.

But, as a single story with a beginning, middle and end, this book suffers from the same faults that most trade paperback collections of older Marvel comics endure. Back in the 1980s, comics weren't written with a collection in mind like they are now, so as a single unit, this is haphazard and somewhat arbitrary when compared to modern TPBs and graphic novels. References are constantly made to previous stories, things happen that are resolved elsewhere (like the short digression which ties into 'Secret Wars') and it feels incomplete. This isn't just because of the nature of old comics, but also due to the fact that this is the final story arc of a lengthy run of stories by the same writer, tying up lots of loose ends from his previous arcs and, at the same time, intentionally leaving a few open for the next writer to take up (like the unresolved ending!). Furthermore, the writing has definitely dated. Anybody expecting the level of sophistication of 'Kraven's Last Hunt' or Ed Brubaker's Captain America run will be disappointed for the most part, as the early glimmers of DeMatteis' genius alluded to earlier in this review don't become apparent until the last few issues. Most of this is your typical light-hearted superhero action fare, full of all the cheesiness and deus ex machina that you'd expect from a Marvel comic during this period. That said, however, both the writing and the art (which is great, I should add) hold up far better than your random 1980s superhero comic by lesser talents. Add the fact that one of the supporting characters in here is gay (though he's never directly attributed as such), and it's clear that J.M. DeMatteis was way ahead of his time when he wrote this.

As much as I enjoyed this book and would love to give it a four star rating, I have to be pragmatic about it. I need to bear in mind that many of the people drawn to this book will be coming to it fresh from the films, and possibly also being used to the far more sophisticated style of modern comics. Therefore, I can't rate this without comparing it to today's standards and expectations, and the disjointed nature of this collection and some of the juvenile and contrived plot points knock off a star. After all, many 1980s comics do still hold up to today's generally far higher standards of storytelling in the areas where this doesn't. But, if you can suspend some disbelief, look past the melodramatic old-fashioned dialogue and read it for what it is, 'Death of the Red Skull' is a worthwhile read and an integral part of Captain America's history.


PROPAGANDA
PROPAGANDA
by Edward Bernays
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.78

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A crucial insight into how society functions, 22 Aug. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: PROPAGANDA (Paperback)
This is one of those books that I've wanted to read for years, as a primary reference to understand how the world really operates. It's great to read books and to watch documentaries which talk about these things, but you can only truly appreciate what's going on around you when you go straight to the source. And Edward Bernays, the early 20th century propagandist who used the psychological insights of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, to transform the propaganda industry into what we now call "public relations", is one of the most crucial primary sources. Interest on his life and work have been reinvigorated within recent years, due to activists such as Noam Chomsky citing him as a pivotal spearhead of the Big Brother society, and an award winning BBC documentary by Adam Curtis, `Century of the Self'.

This short book, `Propaganda', is essentially propaganda for propaganda. By the 1920s, the once neutral word "propaganda" had been tainted with the same connotations it still has until now. Bernays, a professional propagandist, tasked himself with the mission of giving acceptability back to what he considered a legitimate advertising technique. This was back before he would realise that the word would never become fashionable again, replacing it with "public relations", or P.R.(opaganda). And, so, this short book acts essentially as an advertisement for "educated Americans", to teach them of the value of propaganda. The first half of the book is basically an apology for propaganda, and the wise men behind the scenes that we have "consented" to employ it for "our own good", to sway our opinions into the right direction and to prevent chaos from ensuing as a result of having no wise guidance in our lives. The second half is more of a practical manual of how propaganda can be successfully utilised in areas of business, politics, education, and others. While I found the first half more interesting, the second half is surprisingly relevant to today's seemingly far removed world from the 1920s, when this book was written.

In many ways, Edward Bernays' `Propaganda' is not as sinister as I had expected it to be. Bernays seems convinced that propaganda is a natural and unavoidable part of life, and he makes many convincing arguments to back up this assertion (though he is a master propagandist, so it's no surprise that his outlook seems convincing). Furthermore, he continually reminds his readers of their ethical duty to tell the truth and to not mislead the people whose thoughts they wish to sway to their cause. Nor did Bernays, like the propagandists who would come after him, seem to believe that the masses are brainless idiots (or, if he did believe this to be so, he didn't even so much as allude to that opinion within these pages). Bernays, it seems, dreamed of a world in which an unseen group of benevolent wise men would guide mankind, through propaganda, into making rational choices for the good of society. However, the role of today's advertising and P.R. world, which Bernays breathed into existence, is (as Noam Chomsky explains) to hurl the masses into making irrational decisions, the complete opposite of what Bernays seemed to have stood for.

Edward Bernays' `Propaganda' offers a valuable insight into how our collective minds function, and the mentality of those who are really pulling the strings in society (the advertisers, big business leaders, as well as prominent politicians) think of us. To fully appreciate this book, read it in conjunction with some of Noam Chomsky's numerous works on media manipulation, and watch Adam Curtis's `Century of the Self'.


Batman: Going Sane
Batman: Going Sane
by J.M. DeMatteis
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as it should have been, 10 May 2013
This review is from: Batman: Going Sane (Paperback)
`Going Sane' isn't an especially well known Batman story, but it's generally held in high regard among the people who do know about it. As such, at the time of writing, this book tends to go for a pretty high price on Amazon and eBay. The premise behind the story is great. Veteran comics writer, J.M. DeMatteis, known for putting the twisted psyches' of superheroes and super villains under the microscope, puts Batman and the Joker through the psychological wringer, in a way that only J.M. DeMatteis can, by asking the question, "What would the Joker do if he actually were to kill Batman?" After believing himself to have finally succeeded in that very task, the Joker, having achieved his dream, decides it's finally time to "go sane" (as the title suggests). It doesn't take too long for the Joker, under his new guise of everyman, Joe Kerr, to get a job, fall in love, and lead a seemingly normal life. Meanwhile, DeMatteis turns the microscope onto Batman, who spends the ensuing half year recuperating, exploring the idea of how he can live without the Joker (and, indeed, without any kind of crime to fight whatsoever).

It's not a spoiler to say that we then spend the rest of the story waiting for the inevitable, knowing that Batman will eventually return, find the Joker and ruin his last chance at happiness (and, in the process of returning to the chaos of Gotham City, ruining his own chance at happiness too). Our knowledge that this inevitability will occur is what drives the story forwards and keeps us at the edge of our seats. And I was on the edge of my seat for quite a bit of it, which made it ultimately all the more disappointing. The final confrontation was, in my opinion, underwhelming, and DeMatteis skipped a lot of interesting opportunities during the lead-up. For instance, it's suggested that the Joker finds a job, but we never see it. How he goes about his day-to-day life is never touched on. Instead, the entire focus of the Joker story is on his new relationship, which in itself comes out of nowhere and is shallow and unconvincing. Likewise, the Batman story through these six months is equally unbelievable. Furthermore, if you've ever read J.M. DeMatteis' character defining Spider-Man thriller, `Kraven's Last Hunt', you'll feel like you've read some of Batman's internal monologues somewhere else before.

My final problem with `Going Sane' is that, while Joe Staton is undoubtedly a good artist, his cartoony drawings seem ill-suited for a story like this. Even if the story itself were more fleshed out, I don't think `Going Sane' could have ever been a truly "great" comic with such a poor choice of artist attached to it.

Despite my grievances, `Going Sane' is still a good book, and definitely the most poignant Joker story I've read since `The Killing Joke'. If you've read that book and want to go deeper into the Batman/Joker relationship, then `Going Sane' would be a good follow-up, but only if you can find it cheap. Also included is a self-contained story from a few years later, about Batman taking a comatose Joker to the hospital. Normally, I'm against including unrelated stories at the back of trades to pad them out. However, despite not being a part of the main story, I felt that this was a good addition, which serves to expand on the Batman/Joker mythos.


Uncanny X-Men By Kieron Gillen Vol. 1 (Uncanny X-Men (Marvel Paperback))
Uncanny X-Men By Kieron Gillen Vol. 1 (Uncanny X-Men (Marvel Paperback))
by Kieron Gillen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I just don't get the rave reviews, 9 April 2013
I stopped collecting X-Men comics during Matt Fraction's run, after it became painfully clear to me that I hadn't actually enjoyed them for a long time (aside from a handful of exceptions here and there) and that I was only buying them out of habit. Even before the Disney acquisition, Marvel was regressing back to the days of over-reliance on gimmicks and "events", and it seemed to me that original creatively free runs on a core X-title (like those of Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon) had become a thing of the past. But I still love the X-Men, and not too long ago I decided to research into what I'd been missing out on since I stopped following them. Evidently, it seemed, I'd not missed much (just more gimmicks and "events"), but I'd been hearing repeatedly that Kieran Gillen's run on `Uncanny X-Men' was actually genuinely good (Gillen being a writer who's independent comics I've greatly enjoyed, and heard much good about his Marvel output in general). I recently had a quick chat with Gillen at a comic convention, where he told me about what he'd been doing on `Uncanny', and I got the distinct impression that he felt the same way as I did about the general trend of X-Men comics in recent years. So I very excitedly purchased the first volume of his run, got him to sign it, and went on my merry way eager to read it. Sadly, I was very disappointed...

After a few pages of set-up, the action begins, and it doesn't stop for the whole of the volume. This book is very much a mutant slugfest of the kind that put me off X-Men comics in the first place. If that's your thing, then by all means you'll probably agree with the general consensus that this is a great book. If, however, you want a bit of characterisation and development in your comics, then you'll wonder where all the rave reviews have come from. Another problem with this book is that, collecting the first four issues of the re-launched `Uncanny X-Men' series, it's supposed to be a good jump-on point for new readers. But even I, as a long time X-Men reader, found much of it confusing. For instance, I don't actually know what the Celestials are, or why they're standing around in San Francisco, and the writer doesn't bother to tell me. Colossus is now able to summon the Juggernaut's armour, and I have no idea why. Despite being a long-time X-Men reader, I know little about Mr. Sinister (he was mostly around during Chris Claremont's original run, of which I was only around for the tail end), and I don't really know what he's doing or why. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't expect loads of narration boxes and exposition explaining everything, like X-Men writers did in the `90s. But, as a book designed for new readers, this is shockingly inaccessible.

Over all, there really isn't anything I can recommend this book for. It's just one big fight (well, two actually, as the final issue is mostly self-contained), which I found confusing to fully understand, and what little characterisation it has is cheesy and melodramatic. The art is nice, but I personally don't think that the cartoony style suits the X-Men (though this is entirely subjective, like everything else I've said). It boggles my mind that this run has been receiving such critical acclaim when it's just another slugfest. Gillen told me that he feels that it gets much better after the first volume, but considering that vols 3 and 4 (the last two) are both "Avengers vs. X-Men" crossovers, I'm not expecting much.

As I'm in the minority with my opinion, I'm obviously missing something. Perhaps I'm just growing out of X-Men comics, but I found this boring, inaccessible and patronising. I can't think of a single good thing to say about it. Sorry.


Batman: Strange Apparitions (Batman Beyond (DC Comics))
Batman: Strange Apparitions (Batman Beyond (DC Comics))
by Steve Englehart
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Before the brooding "Dark Knight", 23 Mar. 2013
`Year One', `The Dark Knight Returns', 'The Killing Joke', 'Arkham Asylum', `The Long Halloween', `Hush'... These are probably the main titles that any casual reader of Batman graphic will be familiar with. But there's another title which deserves to be on that list, perhaps more prominently so than most of the others there, and yet even many of the more seasoned Batman readers won't be familiar with it. This is `Strange Apparitions' or, more specifically, the issues from the creative team of Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers (collected more recently in Legends Of The Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers, which doesn't include the opening issue of `Strange Apparitions' which Rogers didn't draw). This is a story from the late 1970s which captures the essence of Batman perfectly and, along with Frank Miller and Alan Moore's work on the character, would radically influence the 1989 Tim Burton `Batman' movie. Written before he became the brooding "Dark Knight" we're now so accustomed to, Englehart and Roger's Batman was gritty while fun, and harkened back to Batman's pulp 1930s origins, and the carefree "detective" era of the 1960s. The whole thing reads like a labour of love to a character that the creators clearly cherish and get. If ever there was a quintessential Batman story, this is it, perfectly capturing an aspect of the character which most creators since Frank Miller have failed to grasp.

This book is actually a collection of interconnected stories by different creators (two writers and two artists, but mostly Englehart and Rogers), which are tied together through the continuing narratives involving Bruce Wayne's latest love interest, Silver St. Cloud, and the Robert Thorne criminal empire. However, although it's great fun, be warned that this story is old. If you're the kind of Batman reader who is only familiar with the stories mentioned above, and some other newer graphic novels, then the retro style of writing might take you some adjustment. The dialogue will probably seem out-of-date, the lengthy internal monologues might seem ridiculous, and the characterisation won't be as fleshed out as what you're used to. One of its biggest failings, for instance, is that the relationship between Bruce and Silver, the fundamental aspect of this story, comes across as forced and unrealistic. But if you can get over these problems, and appreciate it for what it is, then this book should be a real treat, although it certainly isn't for everyone. That said though, Englehart's writing stands up to today's standards of comic book writing better than most other writers of that period I've come across, while the artwork of both Marshall Rogers and Walter Simonson is still as great as ever.

Interestingly, the plot involving Silver St. Cloud was never taken up by future writers, and so Englehart and Rogers themselves would return to Batman 30 years later to continue this story in a sequel-of-sorts, Batman: Dark Detective. I won't go into my thoughts on that story here, except to say that it's a decent, though inessential, follow-up.


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