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Alan the Kaz (London, England)

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Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting (Methuen Film)
Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting (Methuen Film)
by Robert McKee
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars The best screenwriting book out there (and I've read a lot!), 25 Jan. 2013
As a former creative writing student, I have read many books on the art of crafting stories. Some of them were very good, many of them were pretentious, but none were truly great. This one is. I don't know why it took me so long to get to Robert McKee's `Story', as it's probably the single most praised screenwriting book I've ever come across, and I can certainly see why. It skips the pretentiousness and gets straight to the heart of the matter. But don't expect it to be a miraculously make you a better writer. Unlike certain other writing books, it makes no extravagant promises about what you can achieve if you follow their magical step-by-step plan, or follow their exercises. There's only straight-up advice in here, no exercises and no nonsense. Highly recommended.


Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt TPB (New Printing) (Graphic Novel Pb)
Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt TPB (New Printing) (Graphic Novel Pb)
by J. M. DeMatteis
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars The Spider-Man masterpiece?, 25 Jan. 2013
The last time I read `Kraven's Last Hunt', I was probably still a teenager, and it immediately became one of my favourite comic book stories ever. At that time, I'd never read a superhero comic quite so harrowing or, indeed, literary. I was already a big J.M. DeMatteis fan from his `Amazing Spider-Man' run, and the `Justice League International' run he co-wrote with Keith Griffin, but this particular story was enough to make Mr. DeMatteis my first serious "favourite comic book writer ever". However, that was many years ago, back in the innocent old days when I thought that `Maximum Carnage' was a great story and that Todd McFarlane was a genius writer. Since then, I've discovered Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, et al, so I re-read this book with some trepidation in that I might be ruining something which I once looked up to so highly. However, while it certainly isn't `Watchmen' level stuff (not that it was ever trying to be), and it's definitely a lot weirder than I remember it being, I'm happy to say that it's still a bloody good read.

`Kraven's Last Hunt' originally began publication during the tail-end of the lifespan of `Watchmen' which, along with `Batman: The Dark Knight Returns', came along out of nowhere and revolutionised superheroes by being all "adult" and "realistic". However, they didn't really "come out of nowhere" like many people suggest. Rather they were, along with `Kraven's Last Hunt' and many other titles, part of a long list of bold new superhero stories which didn't have to worry about the infamous Comics Code Authority. `Kraven's Last Hunt' takes our newly-married (at the time) Spider-Man and, for the first time ever, has him seriously question his own mortality and his human vulnerability. Kraven, whom up to that point was a third-rate villain nobody cared about, is explored to his fullest and shown to be a truly mad, but hopelessly tragic, figure.

This story definitely isn't perfect. Sometimes, when DeMatteis really pokes into Spider-Man's mind, things can get quite overblown and jarring. The morbidity of the whole thing really takes some getting used to, even in this day and age when "grim and gritty" superheroes are the norm. But it isn't all doom and gloom. This is very much a story about hope in the face of unrelenting adversity, and despite its weirdness at times, it's one of the most "human" superhero comics I've ever read. But, as much as my teenage self would have loved it to, I'm afraid that it doesn't quite make it onto that small list of "essential" superhero graphic novels that you absolutely must read before you die, like `Watchmen', `The Dark Knight Returns' and Frank Miller's `Daredevil'. It is undoubtedly, however, one of the best Spider-Man stories in that character's history, and definitely worth a look.


Superman vs. Muhammad Ali
Superman vs. Muhammad Ali
by Dennis O'Neil
Edition: Album

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beware, this is in French!, 24 Jan. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Superman vs. Muhammad Ali (Album)
To be completely fair, I only have myself to blame. There it is written above in clear English, right next to "Language" (where else?) - this is the French edition. However, in case there's anyone else out there who doesn't read the product details on books before you buy them (and how many people actually do?), you have now been warned.

The three star rating is simply there because I can't review this without rating it. I don't actually know what the quality of the book is like (though it does look very pretty), so please don't take the rating as an indication of my opinion on the actual book!


DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore
DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore
by Alan Moore
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rookie Alan Moore, 24 Dec. 2012
It's hard to imagine now that, once upon a time, Alan Moore was just a regular old comic book writer, working on superheroes for DC and Marvel Comics like the rest of them. But, even before he reached an almost God-like status within the industry after producing Watchmen with Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore was a big deal at DC, and he could afford to be selective with what he wrote. But that isn't to say that everything he wrote back then was solid gold. As I discovered while reading this collection of all of Alan Moore's short stories for DC Comics, even he began as a rookie getting to grips with his craft. It's certainly not that any of comics reprinted in here are "bad". On the contrary, even the weaker stories in here stand up far better than most of your typical superhero comics from the 1980s, while the best of the bunch are established classics. As a huge Alan Moore fan, I find reading these early stories to be fascinating and informative, as it's great to see how my favourite comic book writer has developed over the years.

But if there's one thing that really struck me about this collection, it's the overwhelming love for the characters that pours through nearly all of these stories. As Alan Moore has been bitterly trying to distance himself from men in tights for the last few years, pouring scorn on DC and Marvel in particular and arguing that they should have ceased publishing superheroes in the 1960s, it's hard to imagine that he was actually once a huge fanboy. Moore has expressed his love for the superheroes he grew up reading many times over the years in his interviews and in the work he's produced, and this collection really shows that. Alan Moore writes such characters as Superman, Green Lantern and Batman as only someone with a deep affinity for them and their world can. He understands the essence of who these characters are, and what makes them so enduring, far more than most of the DC writers at the time did (and even now, come to think of it). One of the Superman stories collected in here in particular, the out-of-continuity classic "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?", reads like a genuine labour of love to that character. While one of the Batman tales, "The Killing Joke", is pretty much the quintessential Batman vs. Joker story (though Moore has since gone on the record to say that he isn't happy with this story, something that I personally find perplexing!).

While much, if not most, of the stories in here are rough around the edges, verbose and sometimes trying a little too hard to be clever, there are some real nuggets in here. Aside from the two famous examples mentioned above, I personally really enjoyed the gritty and depressing Vigilante story (a hero whom I hadn't even heard of before reading this), the Green Lantern short "In Blackest Night", and the bizarre Batman/Clayface story. But the highlight for me has to be the superb "Killing Joke", with art by the amazing Brian Bolland. That said, "The Killing Joke" isn't collected in the latest edition of this book, titled DC Universe by Alan Moore (the one I'm reviewing is out-of-print, going by the name DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore - Amazon has decided to merge the reviews for the two different editions together). This is, presumably, because DC released a deluxe edition hardcover of "Killing Joke" in 2008.

All in all, this is a worthy collection, though mostly only of interest to hardcore Alan Moore fans who want to see how he's progressed. Anyone else coming to this should be under no illusions of expecting to read anything near the level of `Watchmen' and some of Moore's other famous works, and to appreciate this for the mishmash collection that it is.


Life and Times of Savior 28 (Life and Times of Savior 28 Tp)
Life and Times of Savior 28 (Life and Times of Savior 28 Tp)
by J. M. DeMatteis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Originality still exists in superheroes after all, 18 Dec. 2012
From Stan Lee's pioneering character driven fables, to Alan Moore's deconstruction masterpieces, Grant Morrison's surrealism, and Garth Ennis' super-prostitutes, you'd be forgiven for thinking that everything original that can be done with superheroes has already been done. So it is with some reassurance that I've `The Life and Times of Saviour 28', a miniseries collected in 2009, and found a unique take on tights and capes that I've never seen before.

This book is written by J.M. DeMatteis, a writer who was everywhere in the 1980s and 1990s, but seemed to have went out of vogue in the 2000s. DeMatteis was exploring the tortured psyches of superheroes before it became fashionable, and his critically acclaimed (though, sadly, never fully reprinted) runs on Spider-Man were high points of the much maligned 1990s superhero scene. DeMatteis is a very versatile writer, with much history writing superheroes and non-superheroes alike, and `Savior 28' reads like the culmination of all of that experience and talent. Indeed, it was originally conceived as a story arc for his `Captain America' run way back in the 1980s, but Marvel didn't have the guts to publish it (not until Ed Brubaker would revisit the idea 20 years later, anyway). In many ways, `The Life and Times of Savior 28' was a work-in-progress from the very day DeMatteis conceived it, as the story morphed from a superhero adventure story into a politically-charged thriller with many contemporary references.

It is in that sense that `Savior 28' is unique in superheroes. Taking place around the time of the 11th September terrorist attacks on New York, it explores the intriguing idea of how those events impacted a once great superhero whose life was already spiralling out of control. In the macho-conservative "black and white" world of superheroes and supervillains, Saviour 28 (the first and the greatest superhero) dares to take a step back and question his motives, trying to bring peace to the world instead of using his fists all the time. Of course, the other superheroes don't appreciate what he's doing, and the US government certainly doesn't, and we end up with a very interesting story indeed. I originally thought, "God, not another post-9/11 `morality' story", but it didn't take very long for the idea to grow on me, though to borrow a phrase from South Park, it is pretty "preachy and up its own ass" at times.

The artwork, by Mike Cavallaro, is great, but flicking through it before reading it, his cartoony style lead me to believe that this would be a humorous superhero parody. However, rather than the humorous Justice League DeMatteis, this is very much the serious, brooding, DeMatteis who brought us the Spider-Man masterpiece, `Kraven's Last Hunt', though humour is littered throughout. The book is also printed rather shoddily, and I don't think it's going to grab anyone's attention on the shelf who isn't already familiar with it. Don't be deceived into thinking that this is superficial nonsense; `The Life and Times of Savior 28' is one of DeMatteis' most interesting comics. If you're not of the more "liberal" political disposition, you'll probably find the message behind the book rather grating (I'm a pretty liberal guy when it comes to most of the themes in here, but even I found it grating!), but it is worth checking out for any superhero fan. Too bad it will probably be forgotten about pretty soon, if not already.


Shadowland
Shadowland
by Andy Diggle
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

1.0 out of 5 stars "Kung-fu THIS", 27 Nov. 2012
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This review is from: Shadowland (Paperback)
Let me get straight to the point; `Shadowland' is a mess in every conceivable way. As if the story wasn't bad enough (and "bad" it is), the geniuses at Marvel's trade paperback/collections department have made this almost unreadable by completely botching the collection. `Shadowland', for those who don't know, was one of those crossover "events" that the big two American comic use to rinse our wallets at least once a year. Although `Shadowland' features numerous inconsequential spin-offs, one tie-in was absolutely compulsory in order to follow this, that of Daredevil, the central character of this event. Daredevil's tie-in has been collected in Shadowland: Daredevil. But the only way you can follow the events of this main `Shadowland' collection, without feeling like things are just happening for no reason and not making any sense, is if you read it with `Shadowland: Daredevil'. You would literally have to follow the first issue of this book with the first issue of `Shadowland: Daredevil', the next issue of this followed by the next issue of DD, and so on until you reach the end. Although, I must concede, I don't actually know if the story would make more sense if the two series were collected together, as I haven't read the DD tie-ins and, after enduring this piece of crap, I should hope I never will.

To be honest, the basic premise behind `Shadowland' isn't bad. Should you feel the need to read this rubbish, you'd be well advised to read the lead-up to it first, collected in the reasonable Daredevil: The Devil's Hand, written by Andy Diggle, the same writer of both `Shadowland' and `Shadowland: Daredevil'. It would help if you've also read the Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker `Daredevil' runs which preceded Diggle's, or at least have an understanding of the fact that Diggle was charged with the monumental task of clearing the slate for the next writer after him. You see, where Bendis began a gritty psychological chapter of Daredevil's life, which took him to his lowest and most vulnerable, Brubaker, on the shoulders of his predecessor, took the character to even further depths. The result was, as Marvel have described it, "a nine year epic" and, if they weren't careful, we'd be saddled with nine more years (or longer!) of writers trying to outdo each other by screwing up Matt Murdock's life ever further. The idea of Andy Diggle's run was to take Daredevil to the absolute lowest extreme imaginable, before bringing him back from the depths in the follow-up to `Shadowland', Daredevil: Reborn, and then allowing the next writer to begin with a clean slate. This idea is entirely logical, and the premise of having Daredevil side with The Hand only for them to end up corrupting him entirely, presents a potentially great way of achieving this end. However, the execution was terrible.

As a bonus, this book contains an interview with Andy Diggle, a well respected British writer who had previously shied away from superheroes. He explains that when Marvel editorial "heard my plans for where I wanted to take DD as a character, they liked where I was going and asked to make it even bigger and louder and darker." I can only guess that this is where the stupid idea of making this into a company-wide crossover came from, and why other superheroes like Spider-Man and Wolverine were shoehorned into it. However, we can't blame it all on the evil Suits in Marketing, as Diggle goes on to explain that "`Shadowland' is a big colorful super-hero fistfight extravaganza, which is what super-hero readers want." So Diggle has basically admitted to dumbing down to the audience of a genre he says himself that he doesn't care for, in the same way that a Hollywood executive might presume that all the masses want to see is big explosions and sexy women only to release a film that flops. Furthermore, I'm sure that it wasn't editorially mandated when Diggle wrote The Punisher entering the fight out of the blue, just as the other superheroes were about to lose the battle to the evil ninjas, exclaiming, "Kung-fu THIS" as he rescues everyone.

In closing, all I can say is that `Shadowland' is a complete shambles. It has absolutely no redeeming features, and it reads as if it were written by someone who thinks all superhero fans are idiots. The formula for this travesty seems to have been to throw in as many fights, superheroes and one-liners as possible, while completely destroying Daredevil in the process. The fact that this story was so clumsily reprinted adds insult to injury, showing how little regard Marvel editorial clearly placed this in. `Shadowland' epitomises everything that is wrong with the superhero genre, every negative and juvenile stereotype of comics, and spits on Marvel's longest continually-excellent modern-day series. Avoid at all costs.


Anthem (Penguin Modern Classics)
Anthem (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Ayn Rand
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting concept; shame about the writing..., 28 Oct. 2012
As the Ayn Rand scholar, Leonard Peikoff states in the introduction to this edition, `Anthem' "has a story, but not a plot". The result is that this book feels more like an introduction to the philosophy of Ayn Rand than it does a novella. And while her philosophy is certainly intriguing, even if I do disagree with what it essentially stands for, I can't really say I felt the same towards the story. It certainly has its pros, but it ultimately felt bland and preachy, and it falls flat on its face compared to such great tales of dystopian future nightmares like `Nineteen Eighty-Four', and the more similar `We'.

The concept behind `Anthem' is great. Take the typical totalitarian future scenario we're all so familiar with already, but throw in the fact that this society has moved into a state where the simple word "I" no longer exists. The protagonist, known only as "Equality 7-2521" is quite literally on a journey of self-discovery, stepping ever closer to learning the truth of the unmentionable personal pronoun. Interestingly, also, is that instead of taking place in a technologically advanced science fiction future, `Anthem' is set in a world that had been plunged back into a new "Dark Age" sometime in the distant future for unexplained reasons. Rather than being controlled by an elite who use technology to stifle the population for their own ends and fear a possible uprising against their rule, `Anthem' ambiguously presents us with a group of naÔve old scholars who fear technology and trust their citizens to perform their duties for the good of everyone.

The story is very similar to `We' in its style. Like `We', each chapter is an extract from the protagonist's forbidden diary. Unlike `We', the protagonist is shown to have had a rebellious streak since the very beginning of his life. And like most stories of this kind, the protagonist meets a woman and a forbidden love soon follows. But the object of Equality 7-2521's affections isn't fleshed out very much, and we don't really learn anything about her as a person.

Though `Anthem' contains much promise, it falls flat for several reasons, not least because Rand's writing style seems incredibly tedious and pretentious. Also, while the concept is great, the story just isn't convincing at all. In such a simple world, where the very word "I" doesn't exist, we're expected to believe that the main character is familiar with such complicated terms and expressions which should be unknowable to someone with that kind of background. It's absurd that he's able to pick up all these books and to just be able to read them and understand them with little to no problem.

`Anthem' is by no means terrible, but it definitely isn't "good" either. I can't understand how it received its classic status. But I guess that only a fan of Ayn Rand, her wooden emotionless writing style (if this book represents her later novels) and her controversial philosophy which essentially revolves around the premise of being selfish, would find any worth in this. I had wanted to read her most famous novel, `Atlas Shrugged', for some time, but I doubt I ever will now. There's little reason to recommend this to anyone, but if you must read it, at least it'll be over very quickly.


Hellblazer - Fear Machine (Vol. 3) (New Edition)
Hellblazer - Fear Machine (Vol. 3) (New Edition)
by Kent Williams
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The worst volume in the series so far, 3 Sept. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The third volume of the chronological reprinting of the entire `Hellblazer' series is a peculiar tale, and a difficult one to pin down in a review. A cursory glance of other reviews (from this collection and from its original publication) show that opinions vary from one extreme to the other, with reviewers either championing it as one of the best stories in the series, or decrying it as one of the worst. At first, I swung closer to the side of the latter, but as the story went on, I found myself quite enjoying it for what it is. But there's no way of getting around the fact that this is a rather poorly crafted piece of writing by an otherwise highly respected writer.

I'm sure that the only reason I slowly became drawn to this story, despite its many shortcomings, is because I'm partial to a little bit of "conspiracy theory", a strong theme of this book. The main story itself it pretty intriguing, and contains many of the hallmarks that make Constantine such an enjoyable character to follow. However, the writing itself is pretty atrocious. I've mentioned in my reviews for the previous two volumes that Jamie Delano stifles the series with some seriously cheesy and overblown narration and dialogue. But, in this volume, Delano seems to take hold of the cheese and let it rip to his heart's content, particularly towards the frankly embarrassing end.

The story opens up strongly enough, as Constantine goes on the run after he's framed for a murder. But it soon becomes apparent that this potentially massive catalyst plays absolutely no part in the main narrative whatsoever. It's basically just an elaborate excuse for Constantine to get out of London and is barely mentioned again; in fact, midway through the story this plot point is swept under the carpet in an entirely unconvincing way. And this pattern is basically the main problem with the whole book. Things just happen for no real reason, and John Constantine and the new friends he meets after going on the run just happen to be in the right place at the right time. You don't need to have studied the art of fiction writing to know that this is a recipe for a bad story, and it's even more surprising coming from the writer Alan Moore himself hand-picked to write his own character.

But, problems aside, there are definitely enough good points in here to make `The Fear Machine' a worthwhile read. The occult "conspiracy theory" stuff is quite good, with some pretty disturbing elements thrown into the mix. We see a more tender side to John Constantine, and the character retains his unique personality and wit throughout. But, ultimately, I can't help but feel that this is a rather shallow effort, and I'm glad to be done with it. There are still a couple more Jamie Delano collections to come before the highly revered Garth Ennis run begins. I just hope that this is the one blight in what could otherwise be a very good run, and that there isn't more of this kind of thing to come.


Doom Patrol: Musclebound v. 4 (Doom Patrol)
Doom Patrol: Musclebound v. 4 (Doom Patrol)
by Grant Morrison
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyable, 17 Aug. 2012
Ah, so this is why `Doom Patrol' is so loved! Up until this point, I felt that this series was hit-and-miss. Sometimes it felt like Morrison was trying to be weird for the sake of being weird, clever for the sake of being clever; whereas the high points of the series were few and far between (though very high they were). This volume, however, is the first consistently excellent book in the series.

`Doom Patrol vol. 4: Musclebound' is not a single solid story. Like all of the other volumes so far, it's a collection of interconnected tales, leading one into the other. In fact, though it continues elements from previous volumes, you could pretty safely read this as a stand-alone book. The opening story, where the book gets its subtitle from, tells the origin of Flex Mentallo, a muscle-bound superhero of Grant Morrison's creation, introduced earlier on in the `Doom Patrol' series. This is followed by possibly the highlight of this great collection, a self-contained story about a Punisher/Wolverine parody, the Beard Hunter, "The best there is at what [he does]", and what he does is "hunt beards." The whole book is worth it for this issue alone.

We're then introduced to new super villains, the enigmatic Doctor Silence, the bizarre Mr. Evans, and the Sex Men, crusaders against depravity. That's not before a New New New Brotherhood of Dada appear on the scene, lead once again by Mr. Nobody.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Definitely the highpoint of `Doom Patrol' so far and often regarded as the masterpiece of Grant Morrison's run on the series.


Doom Patrol: The Painting That Ate Paris Vol 2 (Doom Patrol 2)
Doom Patrol: The Painting That Ate Paris Vol 2 (Doom Patrol 2)
by Grant Morrison
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Not your typical superheroes, 26 July 2012
The second volume of Grant Morrison's `Doom Patrol' seems to be where the critically-acclaimed series really takes off. Reading these stories for the first time, I can't really compare this volume to what's to come, but it is a leap forward from the last one in many respects. We're now starting to learn who these characters really are, how their personalities gel and what their world is like. Also, the "weirdness" factor, of which Morrison's `Doom Patrol' is, perhaps, most fondly remembered for, starts to really shine here; whereas there were only glimmers of the surreal and experimental nature of the series in the first volume.

In this volume, the disabled misfit superheroes face off against the Brotherhood of Dada, led by the bizarre Mr. Nobody - a Brotherhood of Evil reject who, after undergoing an experiment, now looks like a walking two-dimensional modern art figure. One of the other members of this super villain team has "every power you haven't thought of", so that she loses a power whenever her opponent thinks of it.

Later on, the Doom Patrol encounter a John Constantine-like British occultist in a bizarre fantasy tale in which, once again, the misfits have to save the world. There's a cameo appearance from the Justice League of America in this volume, where it becomes clearly established that the Doom Patrol are the superheroes tackled to save the world from the stranger menaces that the JLA and other more "mainstream" heroes are ill-prepared to deal with.

I found the first volume of Morrison's `Doom Patrol' to be slightly underwhelming. However, like most great stories, it's going to take a while to really get on its feet (especially as Morrison was only really beginning his career as a comic book writer at this stage of his career). `Doom Patrol' vol. 2 seems to be where the series finds itself. It's highly enjoyable, very strange, and full of so many intricate little ideas and interesting concepts that it boggles my mind to think about how anyone (especially a writer at the beginning of his career) could be so damn creative.


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