reader

I missed seeing “The Reader” during its theatrical release in 2008, otherwise I certainly would have placed it high on my list of “Best Films of 2008,”  it certainly out-classes and out-thinks some of the more basic diversionary films that settled near the bottom of that list.

“The Reader” is now out on DVD, and a viewing of it left me with all sorts of thoughts. First, on a simply film appreciatory level, it’s a wonderfully made movie with tremendous performances by the entire cast. Kate Winslet consistently proves herself to be one of the, if not THE, eminent actresses of her time. Her work in “Iris” and “Little Children” displayed that, “The Reader” solidifies it.

In narrative and artistically, “The Reader” knocks everything out of the park. I’ve never read the novel on which it’s based, yet I’m certain the allegory, subtext, nuance, philosophy and empathy that cuts through in all directions was present there, and if so it’s amazing that was brought to the screen so successfully. The visuals and many certain shots highlight the deeper meanings that come through in the words and actions of the characters so much so that this film works on so many different levels.

The film explores the after affects of the holocaust in a way I’ve never before seen displayed. The story takes place in Germany in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘80s (the ‘70s are entirely skipped) and concerns first a boy of about 15, Michael (played by David Cross as a teen and later by Ralph Fiennes as an adult), who is seduced by a thirty-something woman, Hanna Schmitz (played by Kate Winslet) . Hanna abruptly disappears from Michael’s life one day and he sees her again years later when he is a law student in as his class observes the trial of a group of SS women for war crimes. She is one of those on trial.

What this story manages to do is to remove all easy judgments the viewer might normally make on any character. Whereas noir films muddy things up by showing that there is no complete good in all and the heroes and villains alike share darkness within themselves, this film is like a reverse noir in which the emphasis is on no character being completely bad. It’s ingrained in us to feel it’s good and just to hate the Nazi’s. What other human group can be so easy and blameless for us to loathe? It’s true that there were many human monsters traipsing around in SS uniforms, it’s true that people like Hitler, Mendel and the like cause us to question their very humanity in light of their actions. But what of the rest of the country? Those that served in the army, the SS and other jobs as accomplices in the whole messy, evil affair? Those that simply felt they were “doing their job,” or “serving their country,” or merely trying to get by? Those that didn’t take the time to think about the depth and implications of their actions. Or what of those that didn’t work in any related field yet passively allowed such things to happen by not speaking up, by not acting out, by not revolting? This film shines a light on the next generation of Germans who lived knowing their parents, teachers, preachers and older friends had actively or passively allowed one of the absolute worse national crimes in history to occur.  By taking it further and juxtaposing this relationship between a young teen, who represents that next generation, and a thirty-something woman, who represents Nazi-era Germany, this entanglement is even more pronounced. Most difficult and surprisingly, Winslet portrays this woman in such a way that you begin to feel sympathy for her tremendously, yet then you question yourself for doing so. Shouldn’t these people be void of our sympathy? We’re practically trained to think so. Yet her humanness  shows
through anyway, and her protestations of “I never thought about the past” ring true. Were such a terrible ordeal to occur this day, in this country, wouldn’t many act in the same way? This doesn’t excuse the behavior, not at all, and the film never does that., it never excuses the behavior or lightens its impact.

It reminds me quite a bit of a comment theologian NT Wright made in his book “Evil and the Justice of God,”  in which he notes the fervor and ardor that people voice hatred towards pedophilia and child molesters. He writes that although such things are “admittedly stomach-churningly wrong and evil,” the extent to which that one crime is so focused on by some is to his mind a way for a society that looks the other way or justifies most other past “sins” to be vocally critical and morally superior to at least one target group. The extent to which such a thing like child molestation is horrific and wrong allows many people to justify a complete hatred on and judgment passing to others.
We feel comfortable demonizing a select few groups of people this day and age, and Nazis and child molesters are certainly guilty of things that deserve the reaction of moral repulsion. What this film manages to do is to pull back the labels and allow you to view someone underneath that label not all that removed from what some of us would be capable of in the “right”(in this case wrong) situation. Shifted from that position of moral superiority we are left to see that most of us are quite human beneath any quite possibly horrible actions we’ve committed. Interestingly, even past the Nazi issue the female lead character is still guilty of seducing a young teenage boy and then deserting him, leaving him floundering in her shadow the rest of his life to such an extent that it seems all other relationships he has are sullied. He acknowledges her ill affect on him in a conversation with a woman who had survived a concentration camp as a young girl  (played by the remarkable Lena Olin). “Yes I know she’s guilty of much worse to so many others,” he tells her looking like a large part of him still loves her even as it hates her for what she’s done to him.

Another interesting theme that arises in relation to that feeling of moral superiority we all often get is brought home by one of college age Michael’s classmates who points out the absurdity of placing a few female guards on trial for war crimes when virtually the whole country actively or inactively aided in the atrocity. He asserted that society was doing this to make themselves feel better, not to bring about justice. The law teacher insightfully pointed out that society doesn’t determine or go by morality, but by law, and the two can be on quite the opposite ends at many points.

In short summation, in addition to being an entertaining, artistic, perfectly acted, immensely watch-able and heartbreakingly tragic film, “The Reader” also prompts more intelligent consideration and thought that almost any film in recent years.

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Most people think there is really only one way of thinking about God. If the “Do you believe in God?” question is posed to most, they will be responding to their belief or disbelief in a Theistic God. Theism holds that God is an almost person-like ( but this varies to many different extents for different people) entity living outside of the world, universe and reality as we know it capable of interceding into the world we know to perform miracles, communicate with creation, and become revealed to believers.Some say, critically or endorsing that this version of God is like a parent in the sky. Of course in many ways, theism is the basis for the language we speak of about God in most of the West. Father, Lord, King. Historically the pronoun “He” is used for the theistic version of God, yet in more recent years some have begun to intersperse “He” and “She” interchangeably and some have begun to try to get past gender pronouns altogether. Still others, probably most in the West that still hold to theism, use pronouns for simplification only, understanding that God is genderless.

Deism is the view held by many of the “Founding Fathers” in American History as well as many of their contemporaries. Today most “Deists” lean towards what we now call “Agnosticism.”*  Deism holds that there is a God existing in some form, often viewed in the same form as Theism, yet God in this case remains outside of the world, not “interfering,” not performing miracles, not revealing much to creation. God “set the watch” and stepped back to let things run their own course.

Pantheism is the view that God is in fact in and of everything. This is common in many religions and philosophies of the East. Divinity is present and living in every living thing, so all life in every form is sacred and divine…yet equally so. “Yes I believe Jesus was divine,” said one pantheist to theologian N.T. Wright. “Yet so am I. So is a bunny rabbit.” Western religions parallel with some pantheism in that those that follow true Christianity believe they have the living spirit of God, the holy spirit, residing in them and they also hold to the sacredness of God and the creation, yet it’s that equalizing factor that sets pantheism far apart. For a pantheist, a rabbit and Jesus or a cancer cell and Buddha are equally on par.

In recent years many Christian philosophers and theologians of the more liberal strain have begun to classify themselves as “Panentheist.” I myself find this view very attractive and plausible. It’s the “en” between pan and theism that signifies a dramatic difference from pantheism or even theism. Panentheism holds that God is both above, beyond and outside of the world as we know it yet also moving through and living in creation and the world as we know it as well. Thus the environment and the living creatures throughout the universe share in sacredness and are facets of God yet God also dwells outside of all as well in a type of Deistic manner. In this case, panentheists may differ as to whether God intercedes on behalf of creation, performs miracles or the depth of God’s revelation to creation.

Scriptures point to both Theism and Panentheism at different times. Old Testament records of Judaic thought often spoke of God as “the wind that blows through the trees” and the like. All forms capture different aspects of God and all forms leave room for different views within.

* Generally Agnosticism defines one as stating “not knowing” or “not sure” as to the existence of God. Agnostics believe that there may or may not be a God and find that even if there is a God, that God is so far removed from modern creation that there is no effect on anything in life or the world brought about by that God, which is how this overlaps somewhat with Deism.

teabaggerparty

I have to comment on the so-called “Tea Party” folks briefly. It has to be said that these folks are not revolutionary agents of positive change or a worthwhile cause in any way, shape or form. What they are doing is misguided, factually ignorant and irresponsible.  What’s surprising is that so many people of middle to low income are protesting and working so fervently for the best interests of much wealthier individuals to their own detriment. Virtually every tax plan of Obama’s is and will continue to make the middle class paid-in taxes less and benefits greater, yet these Tea Party individuals are largely comprised of the very people who can benefit from Obama’s plans.  It seems the wealthy have managed to get the poor on their side in every factor by sticking with them on guns, abortion and homosexuality. Fervent tea-baggers in various cities and small towns across the country rallied their city halls opposing Obama’s tax and economic rescue plan while sporting NRA* hats and pro-life shirts as well, that is some of the ones who weren‘t wearing Native American garb, New England colonial costumes or cloaked as a founding father.

I wholeheartedly support the rights of the protestors. I think government protest is valid, viable and often necessary. I laugh at the cause they are choosing to protest. I do find organizing in the attempts of causing a new president’s plans to fail, when the very act of those plans failing will negatively affect all of us, mean-spirited and ignorant though. Yet they can and should protest if they truly feel so strongly. It’s simply sad that they can’t protest a more worthwhile cause…the rising costs of healthcare and the bankruptcy caused by not having proper coverage by folks who can’t afford it in the first place…the senseless violence, greed, corruption and abuse that arises from factors innumerable. No, they have to protest the fact that it is time to pay taxes. Taxes go for roads, schools, postal service, libraries, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, etc. Yes they also go for wars and less noble causes as well. The battle should be over where and how those taxes are spent, so that they can benefit the people who need the most help, not just to reduce those paid by the people who can afford them the most.

Next time on this site, hopefully back on track. Theistic interpretations, Pacifism Problems, Underrated and Overlooked and Book Reviews. Thanks for reading.

*** ( Ah, the NRA.  As Obama plans his first trip personally to visit with Mexican government officials in regards to the escalating violence arising from the drug war, Mexico points a finger at us…in many regards, rightfully so. Over 90 % of the 12,000 assault weapons seized from drug cartels and Mexican street gangs were manufactured and sold in the US. The gun lobby in this country who fights restrictions on the sale of automatic weaponry have much of the share of the blood spilled with those weapons on their hands because they allowed them to be sold for simple, dumb greed.) ***

Guns, God, Government

April 14, 2009

guns

In America, especially in the south, if you want to anger someone those above 3 topics pretty much are a way to do so. Perhaps in many areas, guns most of all.

A startling piece on Sunday nights “60 Minutes” profiled the brother of a girl who was shot and killed at VA Tech. The brother, to make a point, attended a Virginia gun show and within an hour had purchased a dozen guns, many of them assault weapons, without having to provide an ID or go through a background check. Virginia is a state with few gun sell restrictions, and the gun show loop even allows people in the parking lot of gun shows to sell weapons directly from the trunk of their cars. The brother of the VA Tech victim was asked if he was even once asked to show identification. He responded that it happened a few times, but each time he refused and was told that for 50 dollars more (or a trip to the parking lot to purchase the gun outside) they would go ahead with the sell.

The sells of guns have shot up dramatically this year. Due to the recession say some, and to the Obama presidency say others. In past recessions, people have stocked up on canned goods and blankets. This time around it’s guns. Gun lobbyists have stated that people are right in thinking that were there a complete economic meltdown, there would be nothing better than guns to get them prepared to survive and gather food (quite a bit of Doomsday Prophecy). As to the Obama presidency, conservatives fear he will bring back the Clinton ban on assault weapons and seek to close the gun-show loophole.

The gun lobby fiercely argues against  bringing back the ban on assault weapons that was in place under Clinton and repealed under Bush. As for waiting periods, that gun show loophole that allowed the VA tech brother to purchase multiple weapons without waiting was responded to by a NRA spokesman in VA with “the second amendment doesn’t say anything about a waiting period before your right to bear arms.” No, the second amendment doesn’t mention waiting periods, or the right to bear assault weapons, nuclear bombs or hazardous material for firebombing either.

A great book on this subject is “Out of Range: Why the Constitution Can’t Win the Battle Over Guns”  by Mark V. Tushnet.  It’s really quite a balanced book, written by a Law Professor at Harvard who claims to be rather disinterested in the debate on personal levels, feeling it’s not a priority on his list of national concerns. He debates both sides and ultimately concludes that each has winning and losing arguments and that the debate must be resolved outside of the constitution, with information and decisions based on further sources because the constitution  doesn’t fully answer this question for us in this day and age. We thus have to look at court precedents, modern interpretations, changing atmospheres as well as original intent.

What truly seems like common sense though, is that regardless of whether the founding fathers intended the right to bear arms with a well armed militia for personal, state and national protection to extend to a personal, private ownership of any citizen at any time or if the original intent is currently fulfilled by having an established national guard and technological advances that negate the necessity, there are a few factors that fall outside of the second amendment when it comes to guns.

No matter what, common sense should tell us that had the forefathers predicted AK47’s in inner cities being used by street gangs or in drug cartels moving throughout the world, there may have been some warning and restriction. There should be no argument against bringing back the ban on assault weapons—at least no logical, sensible, compassionate argument. Military grade weapons have no place in the hands of a private citizen. They exist only to destroy large numbers of people in short spans of time. As for increased background checks, extended waiting periods and closing the gun show loop? Yet again there is no decent argument against these things. Someone going to a gun show should have to provide ID and undergo a background check, the same as they would if they were to go to a gun shop. As for folks to be able to legally sell weapons out of the trunk of their car in the parking lot at such gun shows, it’s almost enough to make one feel lawgivers in Virginia simply aren‘t thinking clearly.

The problem is, as Tushnet points out, for many people this issue is bigger than just guns. Many feel it is a part of the “culture wars,” liberals vs. conservatives, cities vs. rural areas and so on. We need to get past that and make solid judgments in regards to issues that affect the health and safety of everyone living in this country.

Oddly many of those in the south who want no gun restrictions and pride themselves on carrying concealed weapons also are deeply religious, or at least historically so. I understand hunting, especially to provide food. I understand target practicing as a sportsman. Beyond that, carrying weapons with the intent to use them if necessary on another human being is however a form of violence. I’m sure that’s a comment liable to make many angry, yet I have to stress I don’t feel that such an action makes someone a violent person. I completely understand the feelings, emotions and drives that cause many to carry a weapon or keep one in their home solely for “home protection” and to, in theory, keep their loved ones safe (the stats show that simply keeping a gun in your home increases your chances of dying by gunshot dramatically, but that‘s another story). I also know that many jobs require people to carry weapons strictly for the protection of self and others with the intention to shoot to kill if necessary. Yet to invoke the God aspect from the title of this article, carrying, buying or owning a weapon for any reason other than to hunt for food or target practice for sport is a, albeit possibly subtle in some cases, form of violence. Christianity is rooted in nonviolence, so it’s simply odd that many Christians are so vocally pro-gun. Regardless of the actions of the church in low-points in history and the attitudes of many who call themselves Christians, Jesus spoke of complete non-violence yet many of those that praise his name today follow it with “pass the ammunition,” at least metaphorically. I understand self-preservation, defense and a desire to be prepared. Yet can’t those that want guns for that reason view them almost as a necessary evil and not be so enthusiastic about them? Can’t we all agree that restrictions on the sell of and type of guns can be imposed to help curb needless violence? Yes there are many factors that lead to the violence that permeates society, American society in particular. Yes, there are other avenues that must be explored. Yet a step in the direction of moving guns to the area of hunting, emergency and sensibility only is direly needed.

Many notable advocates for non-violence have addressed the issue of the limits of pacifism. A future article on this site will be concerned with how various leaders in the field, Gandhi, MLK and the Dalai Lama have dealt with this issue. That’s it for now.

albert-pujols

I can’t not mention the excellent performance given by the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday. Albert Pujols, my favorite current player stepped up to the bat with bases loaded and effortlessly knocked a grand slam, driving in all runs. The Cards went on to win 11-2 over the Astros.  All in all, that’s a career high of 7 RBIs for Pujols on Saturday.
In fact, Pujols just might break a lot of records if he keeps this up, personal and historical. He ended last season leading active players in both batting average and slugging percentage, he’s already cracked the top 100 in career home runs just 9 seasons in and this season he’s already on a roll with consecutive seasons of home run records.
A lot of commendable things can be said about Pujols. Quite often sportscasters comment that he’s like the “anti-Manny Ramirez,” in that even though Manny can be a joy to watch and is very talented, he’s also very moody and if he hits the ball and doesn’t think it’s good enough, he won’t do more than a casual half-effort sprint in the direction of first base. Pujols, on the other hand, runs at full throttle the minute the ball leaves the bat regardless of how he feels it may land. He is that player that always gives it his all. Last season injury hampered much of his performance, so here’s hoping he stays healthy and safe, aiding the Cardinals in what very well could be their year.
It’s also worth mentioning that Pujols is a standout amidst the sports stars of the modern day in his off-the-field contributions to the community. He launched the “Pujols Family Foundation,” which helps families of children with Down Syndrome. He also does much work in combating poverty in the Dominican Republic.
Of course it’s not all just on Pujols. I think with a great Chris Carpenter back at the mound to pitch, there are simply numerous chances all around to show tremendous performances team wide.

So that’s my two bits about a tremendous Saturday game played by the Cardinals and especially the performance of the best player in MLB today, Albert Pujols.

Next up, I’ve got two articles in the works for this site. The first is “Guns, God, Government” about recent news articles and segments about gun control and the like as well as the 2nd Amendment battles. The second article is “Theistic Interpretations,” a look at Deism, Theism, Pantheism, Panentheism and Atheism.

The Dawkins Delusion

April 11, 2009

dawkins

I honestly had no clue that there was a book with the subtitle of  “Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine” when I wrote an article on this blog a few months back titled “Concerning Atheist Fundamentalism.” I didn’t think that I had coined the term, but generally the type of worldview I was referring to I had seen noted as “fact fundamentalism,” “science fundamentalism” and “secular (humanist) fundamentalism.”  When I posted the blog with that title, I had a few comments quickly posted from people claiming that atheists could not be fundamentalists by their very nature. I disagreed, many others have and do disagree as well, one person commenting mentioned that the mindset I was criticizing was more likely “anti-theism” rather than atheism. I could (and may) discuss what anti-theism is and how it differs in more depth, but for now I’ll leave it at the point that anti-theism is more in tune with the ideas of John Shelby Spong and atheism is more like Stephen Jay Gould.
On the other hand, the prime example of “Atheist Fundamentalist” is Richard Dawkins.

Alister McGrath and Joanna McGrath take on the main arguments and ideas propagated by Richard Dawkins’ “God Delusion” in the concise yet intelligent “Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine.” McGrath is a noted scientist, former atheist and now a Christian Theologian.  As a scientist,  McGrath appreciates and commends some of Dawkins’ earliest work such as “The Selfish Gene.” Yet McGrath notes the biased, nonfactual fervent loud cries that Dawkins has devolved to in later works that is drawing ire and criticism from those of every religious persuasion as well as fellow scientists and other atheists. McGrath points out correctly that roughly as many scientists believe in God as do not. In 1999, a poll of all working in the field of science showed the results as 45 % that do not believe in God, 40 % do believe in God and the rest responded that they are unsure or have no certain opinion. There are numerous scientists like McGrath, including Francis Collins (Director of the Human Genome Project) and Owen Gingerich (of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), that share a worldview that promotes rigorous use of the scientific method as well as theology and a life of faith.

The main point of rational folks in the field of science is that God and “the divine” can neither be proven nor disproved within the realm of science. Dawkins’ for the past few years has shrilly insisted that everything true and real can be proven in science. For Dawkins and his ilk, nothing is true or real if it cannot be scientifically classified. This discounts any truth that may be gleaned through historical study, literature, music, philosophy, anthropology, sociology…the list goes on. The natural sciences are the only worthwhile measuring stick. This moves Dawkins far beyond most rational scientists, far beyond most atheists even. And yes, it places him distinctly past anti-theists ( who may be pantheist, panentheist or agnostic).

Interestingly, for someone who places so much emphasis on science and the scientific method, Dawkins’ commits many grievous errors in (mis)placing his arguments within a scientific context. McGrath makes great points in this regard, pointing out the lapses, jumps and misuse of science in the two principal arguments Dawkins’ uses in his inquiry into the real origin of religion. Dawkins claims that religion is “a virus of the mind,” and makes the jump that since “superstitious” belief spreads amongst families, communities and societies it is “like a virus” and then Dawkins makes the jump from “like a virus” to the statement “religion is a virus of the mind,” without giving any remotely scientific proof of such a proposition. Then there’s Dawkins’ theory of the “meme” which postulates the existence of tiny mental “memes” that jump from person to person in society and become ingrained in genes down family lines—again, without a shred of scientific proof or backing.

Dawkins becomes angry when his position is questioned. When someone in the scientific community professes any type of faith in any religious area, Dawkins believes they must be lying or using such statements in the hopes of gaining some sort of personal advantage. When Pope John Paul professed admiration for science and Darwin, Dawkins scoffed that he as well was lying.

Dawkins’ does everything a fundamentalist of any sort does—clings to a few sources and ideas and uses them for ultimate proof of any and every opinion he has regardless of new discovery, fact and rational thought. Holds the opposite view in complete contempt and makes no concession to any other argument, regardless of any proof or support that argument happens to have. Claims that all matters in life can be addressed and answered from one sphere of thought without any doubt at any time.  Most of all, perhaps, if the facts and information do not really support your claims as well as you would like, simply shout louder than the opposition and be heard. This is Dawkins.

McGrath does a wonderful job in briefly contrasting Dawkins with Stephen Jay Gould. Gould was an atheist as well, yet he never claimed that science could disprove faith, nor that the natural sciences were the only field capable of producing truth of any kind. Gould didn’t think religion was the source of all evil as Dawkins does. Gould believed that although he was an atheist, science was unable to sway one in either direction in that matter. Gould rightly knew that some things lay outside the field of science.

In coming blogs I plan to review a few other notable short books that pertain to this area. Next up, soon enough, will be one about “Irreligion,” in which a mathematician, John Allen Paulos, tries to argue that “the numbers just don’t add up” to point to God’s existence.

carpenter-at-cards

Major League Baseball is back. Yeah, for me I’m “forget March Madness, the real Game starts in April.” Baseball looks to be fun in 2009.

I’m a Cardinals fan, and St. Louis at least managed to split their first series of the year, with Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter back, healthy and pitching an almost perfect set on Thursday afternoon aiding in a victory against the Pirates. Here’s hoping that Cards manager Tony La Russa leads the boys to a stellar season, with Carpenter pitching perfect and Pujols hitting them out of the park. I can hope for the World Series and enjoy it regardless.

Of course the Cards aren’t the only story. We’ve got the Yankees starting out this year with the hopes of breaking their dry spell, going the longest they’ve gone without a trip to the Series in what seems like forever. So they’ve pumped as much money as they can (and been called on it admittedly) into snatching up some key free agents. In a soft economy we’ll see if those millions for both new players and a new stadium pays off for them.

Of course we had opening night with last years champs, The Phillies, losing to the Braves. They went on to lose again yet regained some cred by winning a well played game on the night they were awarded their championship rings.

Then there’s Manny Ramirez starting off his first full year in LA. Will he give us (and the Dodgers) a nice season?
Sadly, the worst baseball related story of the year so far comes out of LA as well, with Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart losing his life in a car wreck Thursday morning. He had given a tremendous performance the night before and it’s sad to see such a young player with so much promise lose his life when he was just getting started.

Well, the season’s underway and baseball fans have about 5 months worth of action  to look forward to. Whether your team wins or loses (statistics show even the best teams lose more than they win), enjoy the show. I’ll follow key events that interest me on this site, but I’m far from an expert…just a fan. I love baseball like I love jazz, they’re both things that I’ve grown to appreciate more over the years, both are things that for me result in the most satisfaction when you invest yourself in the knowledge of them—the history, the great players and parks of the past and the present, the subtleties and quiet moments that fall between the more explosive ones. They’re both great American art-forms that carry the weight of past generations and develop in new ways each time their performed.
So play ball.

Okay, first off it’s been quite awhile since I’ve followed along with this thread. Way back on August 20th, 2008 I posted an article here titled “10 Great Examples of Comic Book Literature” and I stated that I would eventually post a book review of each of the ten items. If you’ve missed those and would like to read any of them, here’s a quick recap. In parenthesis after each article title I’ll list the date it was originally posted up on my site, so you can scroll through the archives to find it if you’d like.

1) 10 Great Examples of Comic Book Literature (August 20th 2008)

2) The Watchmen Book Review (August 27th, 2008)

3) The Preacher Book Review (October 21st, 2008)

4) The Sandman Book Review (November 11th, 2008)

I’ve had other comic articles but only those four of the ten reviews so far. So now, here’s the 5th, the “Swamp Thing” Review. Next up, within the next month or so will be the “Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud Review.

swamp_thing_and_abbey

So maybe you’ve seen “The Watchmen” film. Maybe it intrigued you enough to go out and pick up a copy of the graphic novel it’s based on and you’ve read it…and if that’s true, and you like good literature yet are new to the graphic storytelling medium, you were probably astounded that a comic book was capable of the intensity, emotional engagement, intellectual pondering and sophistication that “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons was.

Now you want to know what’s next. If you’ve picked up a comic by DC in the past few months, you’ve  probably seen a full page add, “What’s Next?” and it lists a slew of suggested Watchmen follow-ups, most highly worthy of your time if you want to take the next plunge.  Yet Moore’s work is missing from the recommendations, and if you truly want some groundbreaking, excellent Moore writing, your next stop should be his fantastic run on “Swamp Thing.”

Alan Moore is brilliant, eccentric and scathing towards any naysayer’s, critics, contemporaries and those seeking to adapt his work to any other medium. In his field, he’s pretty much Shakespeare to most fans. Certainly that sounds grandiose, hyperbolic and a tad pretentious. He’s not as talented as Shakespeare or many other literary greats. Yet to do the type of work he has done, and to sell much of it close to the mainstream as far back as the early 1980s working in the field he was working in is quite an achievement. There have been many other great, groundbreaking, boundary pushing writers and artists in comics, contemporary with and post Alan Moore. Going as far back as the underground “comix” explosion of the ‘60s to the indie and small press “smart” books of the ‘80s and especially in the Vertigo line of DC in the ‘90s with Moore disciples like Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis and taking root in many companies today with mainstream and underground work done by writers as varied as Jeff Smith, Grant Morrison and Jason Aaron. Yet Moore pushed things further than readers and industry thought possible when he first started his major works. He showed the world what the medium was truly capable of. That a well done comic can do anything a well done novel can, anything that a well done film can, anything that a great on-going television series can, and certain things that no other medium is quite capable of doing at all.

“Swamp Thing” shouldn’t have been this good. The concept, the name and the image it invokes sounds like cheap, B-level horror schlock. It was a character created by other people (Lee Weinstein and Bernie Wrightson),  30 some odd issues into a superhero horror comic and on it’s way to the cancellation bin when Alan Moore was handed the reins to DC’s “Swamp Thing in the early ‘80.  The Swamp Thing story and origin had varied in different versions, but in the series that Moore was handed the tale had been following Alec Holland, a scientist working in the Louisiana swampland. Holland was sabotaged by nefarious bad guys, a chemical explosion left him fleeing into the swamp. He emerged later as a swamp creature, and the series followed random horror and supernatural events he encountered as the Swamp Thing. Moore immediately reconfigured the entire heart of the tale in his first Swamp Thing story, “The Autopsy.”  Turns out that the creature isn’t Holland but a living embodiment of “the green,” an earth elemental. A living plant that had thought it was Holland because the accident had fused his memories and personality with the plant life to create the Swamp Thing.

Now of course this sounds out there. Over the course of approximately 30 issues Alan Moore writes, and Stephen Bissette and John Totleben handle the art for a range of stories covering everything from environmental rights, conservation and extremism, fears of nuclear proliferation and waste, racism, sexism, family and relationship dynamics, religion, magic, horror, love, hallucinogenic, poetry, prose, regional disparities, psychology, tension, lust, violence, anger, heaven, hell and the list goes on. Collected by Vertigo/DC you can find the entire Moore run in 6 collected volumes. Try the first three to get a feel for the scope, each volume stands alone to tell 1 or 2 major stories.  Early stories are primarily horror and suspense based yet as the series goes on and Moore elevates his character’s incarnation, introduces John Constantine (to go on to star in a 250 and counting series “Hellblazer”) and explores the different niche genres this story is capable of encompassing the series has plenty of variety to experience.

I’ve raved about Moore’s writing on the series, but the art is pretty fantastic as well. It’s a truly involving and unique story, I doubt you’ll find anything like it in any other comic or anywhere else for that matter.