Archive for July, 2008

It’s time for something outside of the norm. My usual topics usually revolve around the fantastic side of entertainment, and while this is a book review of sorts, it isn’t what I usually pull out of my hat. Why? Well, because “Things the Grandchildren Should Know” is not an epic fantasy book or a space opera; it’s a biography written by one of my favourite musicians, Mark Oliver Everett. He usually goes by the name of “Mr. E” or just simply “E”, and he’s the only static member of the alternative rock group “EELS”.

Now, this is all fine and dandy, but why would I go the step of picking up his biography? Well, the biggest reason is probably that Mr. E’s beautiful songs have been buzzing in my ears nearly consecutively since I first got my hands on his famous album, “Electro-shock Blues” (as you can see by browsing my page), and the thing I like the most about them is the lyrics, which detail a life certainly worth reading about. So when I read reviews of this book saying that “Mark Oliver Everett is the Kurt Vonnegut of the music business”, I quickly laid down an order for this short gem of a book.

Life is white
And i am black
Jesus and his lawyer
Are coming back
Oh my darling
Will you be here
Before i sputter out

Going into this book, I knew I wasn’t reading a modern fairy tale about success, happiness or anything related to that that pop-love fascination. “E” was never the child protégé groomed for greatness by a supportive family and good friends. The truth is, of course, that he was everything but. This review contains a lot of spoilers, but I hardly think they matter since it isn’t the facts in a biography that makes it good, but how the author tells the story around them. If, however, you do care, feel free to jump down to the last paragraph.

“Ma won’t shave me
Jesus can’t save me
Dog faced boy”

“E”‘s family was the very epitome of dysfunction: His father was a genius physicist that worked for the C.I.A., but as with most geniuses he was ridiculed and out-cast by the community during his lifetime. He later turned out to be twenty years ahead of his time, though that was poor consolation for his family who had to suffer a bitter and shut-in man up until the day he suddenly died of a heart attack. Guess who was the only one in the house when it happened? Yeah, it was E, only a teenager at the time.

Laying on the bathroom floor
Kitty licks my cheek once more
And i could try
But waking up is harder when you wanna die

His big sister, Elizabeth, has an ever more tragic story. She had a very hard time coping with the way they’re parents raised them (seventies hippie-style, no boundaries), and when her father died she spiralled into an even darker place. She started drinking heavily, did drugs, once got raped and finally, after many attempts, she committed suicide while she was living with a drug king-pin in Hawaii.

Honolulu hurricane
I knew that you were not insane
Living in the insane world
Smiling like it’s no big deal
Scabby wounds that never heal
The woman was only a girl

His mother wasn’t as messed up as his father or sister. She outlived both of them and she always tried to do right by E, even if she liked it better when he was working as a waiter rather than a full-time musician. She took the death of her daughter very hard, and E, now her only family left, started spending as much time with her as possible. It was a good thing he did, too, because only a few years later she got terminal lung cancer and died shortly thereafter. Leaving only E.

You’re dead but the world keeps spinning
Take a spin through the world you left
It’s getting dark a little too early
Are you missing the dearly bereft?

Naturally, E harboured much of the same thoughts as his sister, but where she turned to alcohol and heroin, he turned to his music. After having worked countless of small-time jobs (once as a garbage disposer and a waiter, twice as a soda-jerk), he finally had scraped together enough money to go out to L.A. and Make It Big. And to begin with it looked hopeful. He released two albums on a little indie label (titled “A Man Called E” and “Broken Toy Shop”) before it went bankrupt and left E dangling. Thankfully, this was when he decided to expand his sound by adding a lot of new instruments and forming EELS. Their first record, “Beautiful Freak”, was a smash-hit and E took home some MTV awards, which he of course hated. He didn’t want to lose his integrity now that suddenly everyone knew who he was. He wanted to make his music, and fuck the label and their calls for more singles. He pulled back and started to make his most personal album yet: “Electro-shock Blues”, which is heavily influenced by his sister’s death. From there on out he’s continued to produce quality music and he may just have reached creative high-point with his last opus, “Blinking Lights and Other Revelations”, which sold more copies than his popular album, “Beautiful Freak”.

Whisper now and tell me how
You’ll watch me and tell me
Somehow i’m gonna be alright

E is clearly a talented author, and this book bears witness to that. It starts off with a little chapter that addresses the reader and sets up what’s to come before it continues with his childhood (unhappy), what school was like for him (unpleasant) and his family (crazy). The second part tells us of how he got his footing in the music business, his sister’s death and his mother’s passing, while the last third is a send-off which concludes that, judging by the cards he was dealt in life, he’s done remarkably well by not just staying alive, but also becoming one of the world’s biggest rock stars. He doesn’t appreciate the fame, but then, who admits that they do?

The clown with the frown driving down to the sidewalk fair
Finger on the trigger let me tell you gave us quite a scare

Goddamn right it’s a beautiful day
Goddamn right it’s a beautiful day

All in all I would say that this is a very good book. It’s very personal and uncompromising and he doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff (’cause, well, then there wouldn’t be a book about his life now, would it?), but it’s also very informative and adds some dimensions to his already deep lyrics that I as a fan greatly appreciate. On the other hand, you can tell that this is a first effort because E stumbles sometimes with his prose and some chapters don’t really work the way they should, but if we take a bigger perspective on things then these are easy flaws to forgive. And I do forgive, because I love EELS and I have the utmost respect for Mark Oliver Everett. If you ever feel like reading about a guy who had it tough but pulled through, then this is the book for you.

“Railroad Man”

Feel like an old railroad man
Ridin’ out on the bluemont line
Hummin’ along old dominion blues
Not much to see and not much left to lose
And i know i can walk along the tracks
It may take a little longer but i’ll know
How to find my way back

I feel like an old railroad man
Who’s really tried the best that he can
To make his life add up to something good
But this engine no longer burns on wood
And i guess i may never understand
The times that i live in
Are not made for a railroad man

I feel like an old railroad man
Getting on board at the end of an age
The station’s empty and the whistle blows
Things are faster now
And this train is just too slow
And i know i can walk along the tracks
It may take a little longer but i’ll know
How to find my way back


I love a lot of books and I love a lot of films and TV series, but even though I’ve read a lot of what’s generally considered the best comics around, I haven’t happened upon many examples in the genre that hold my required quality. A lot of the MARVEL stuff I’ve tried have been too much flash & bang and little else; other, more mature comics can sparkle with the occasional burst of genius the one second only to fall flat the next. The characterization has more often than not been lacking, too, relying perhaps more on the character’s nostalgic worth to the reader more than good story-telling. This is not the case with Y: THE LAST MAN, which is a comic series so well-written, expertly plotted and impressively executed that it flew straight into my personal Hall of Fame.

“Y: The Last Man” is a sixty-issue long comic series written by Brian K. Vaughan (“Pride of Baghdad”, “Ex Machina” and one of the writers on the little TV show, “Lost”) & illustrated by Pia Guerra. It has one of the simplest ideas you could conceive of: what would happen if all the men in the world suddenly keeled over and died at the same time? No, strike that: what would happen if all the mammals with a Y-chromosome got an early pass to see St. Peter? Would the world stop turning in its tracks? Would civilization as we know it even survive? Or would the women pull themselves up by their bootstraps and pick up the pieces as best they could? Yeah, it may be a straight-forward idea in and of itself, but ramifications and consequences are nearly beyond imagining.

But of course not every man died. Yorick Brown and his newly-adopted male monkey, “Ampersand”, survived the plague without even the slightest side-effect. Yorick was on the phone, proposing to his girlfriend Beth in Australia when the patriarchal side of society signed off simultaneously, thus breaking Yorick’s connection before Beth could give him an answer. On the other side of the world, a mysterious female who goes by the code number “355” is stealing a sacred amulet that’s said to cursed in a most… unmanly way if it was ever removed from its country. At Washington DC, the entire government has been destroyed in the blink of an eye. Congress and the Senate are both nearly wiped out and the same goes for the White House. The Secretary of Agriculture finds herself suddenly as America’s first female president after having made a gargantuan leap forward in the line of succession. Yorick’s mother happens to be one of the few congresswomen left, so he decides that he should probably look her up before he sets off find his love.

This is pretty much what happens in the first issue of Y: THE LAST MAN. From there on out the story becomes a sort of femme-infested road-trip through a country in ruins, and the story slowly reveals what its true intentions are. Because in the end, this is not a story about the end of the world and how it rose like phoenix from the ashes. It’s not even a story about why it happened. We’ve all heard that tale before anyway. No, Y: The LAST MAN is first and foremost about the characters and secondly about everything else, which is a concept that never grows stale if it’s done right – and Vaughan never takes a false step. He starts out Yorick as a very unaccomplished young boy that only gets by because of his natural charm and wit, and by the time you reach the last frame in issue sixty, Yorick has grown into a man you’ll never forget. He’s become a Character, and much of the same can be said of the supporting cast.

If I were to compare Vaughan’s style to anyone, it’d have to be Joss Whedon. They both do characterization like nearly none other in the business (all though I’ve yet to see Joss do it to this extent in the comic format), they both have a knack for writing really strong female leads and, if the story requires it, killing off important characters. Brian still has some way to go before his dialogue is on the same level, but hey; so does everyone save Aaron Sorkin.

However, even as good as “Y” might be, it’s far from flawless. The art was to begin with it not on par with the quality I’ve seen with other Vertigo series, though I’ll have to add that this got so much better that by the end I thought Guerra was above and beyond much of what I’d seen before in this particular comic style. Especially the facial expression got a lot better as well as the composition of the pages. I personally don’t prefer this particular style of illustrations, which is the normal half-blend of the realistic and the straight-up comic style, though imagining “Y” done anyway else is ludicrous considering how well Guerra eventually pulls it off, so I’m not complaining…

Another thing that kind of bugged me was the amount of time Yorick got captured by psychotic women, and while the feministic element is bound to come to the fore in such a world, I think it could’ve been done smoother in some parts. Maybe Vaughan could’ve told more of the story in flashbacks or more via a different view-point than Yorick, but even this niggle is hardly worth mentioning. Why?

Because “Y” is a perfect piece of social commentary that’s often times funny, always entertaining and told by two story tellers that clearly know their craft. It’s a masterpiece, and it’s got an ending that’s so fucking good that I don’t quite know if I’ve encountered its like. It’s perfect in every facet and goes a long way to show how not only the characters of the story have evolved, but how also the way their story is told. You think “Lord of the Rings” had a good ending? How about the “Harry Potter” books? Hell, insert any story you want and “Y” would hold up in comparison. That last trade paperback, “Whys and Wherefores”, should be framed and given out at schools as manuals for the “How It Should Be Done” course. I’m not kidding; it’s fucking genius.

Which begs the question: why are you still here? Shouldn’t you be on your way to the nearest comic store already? Go!


Seriously, what’s wrong with you?

I have a confession to make: I don’t know anything about Dan Ronco, nor had I heard anything about “Unholy Domain” before the author sent me an e-mail, asking if I’d be interested in reading and perhaps reviewing it here on my blog. Me, being the book-loving guy that I am, said, “Yes, please!”, and then I forgot all about it ’till it suddenly appeared in my mailbox. I did some research and discovered that this sci-fi novel was probably right up my alley. The blurbs compared Ronco to a certain Phillip K. Dick and the word on the web seemed pretty good. There was only one thing left to do and that was to read and find out for myself.

Which I’ve now done (obviously), and for all its faults, I found it to be an interesting read.

“Unholy Domain” is a thoroughbred sci-fi thriller set in the year of 2022. Our world has unfortunately taken a turn for the worse after a devastating computer virus named PeaceMaker was released, causing the world’s computers to seize up and effectively shut down… well, everything, really. Millions of people died as a consequence and the world economy went down with them when the American and several other governments passed bills that all but prohibited any further technological advances in order to stop anything like PeaceMaker from happening again. A massive black market for technology sprung up in its wake to fulfil people’s needs, while others turned to religious fanaticism in the form of The Church of Natural Humans, which spoke out against “the Technos, saying that their work was the work of the Devil… and the Anti-Christ is of course the man behind PeaceMaker.

Who, you know, just happens to be the father of the protagonist, David Brown. His father was a brilliant programmer and David has inherited his skills, but even though he tests as a genius, his grades are only mediocre. He can’t settle down with the fact that his father was the man behind something like PeaceMaker, so he decides to find out what really happened ten years ago. The novel proceeds to follow David as he unwinds the mysteries from the past while he gets further and further entangled in a war between two powerful and opposing fractions that are headed straight for each others throats…

“Unholy Domain” is a quick read, clocking in at a respectable 352 pages of fast paced content, and while it doesn’t come close to anything written by Philip K. Dick either thematically or stylistically, it does in the end approach what I’d call a trademark thriller. There’s a lot of well-written action, there are mysteries (who aren’t all that mysterious but the book likes to pretend that they are) and there’s a nice and familiar romance angle that winds down just the way the doctor ordered. Ronco tries with variable success to portray a believable future where technology clashes with the values of a religious mind, which makes for interesting subject material, but I’d say that it was rather poorly executed from a narrative viewpoint. Not only does the author reveal the future of the world via made-up book quotes that head the chapters, rendering the thriller concept nearly impotent from the get-go, but his characterization felt deeply flawed to me. David Brown never managed to become something more than the plot device that he was, and the fanatics on both sides were so fanatic that they seemed alien to me as a reader, thus destroying any chance for me to become as fully immersed in Ronco’s world as I’d like to be.

Another thing that bothered me enough to mention here was the unnecessary, and quite frankly, tasteless comments about sex that all but a couple of PoV’s came with during the novel, and perhaps the worst scene in the whole book came when two unknown characters appeared out of nowhere to, in effect, just rape two female characters, one of which had the classy nickname, “DoubleD”… I can get that some unclassy schmucks could nickname a woman something like “DoubleD” behind her back, but having a woman refer to herself by her cup-size seemed very jarring to me, especially since the woman in question was far from helpless. Ah, well…

All in all I wouldn’t recommend “Unholy Domain”. It’s far from unreadable, it’s just that it’s not very well written and it doesn’t cover its assigned area with enough gusto to become anything close to a “must read”, even if the author appears very knowledgeable in the particular area. However, I don’t regret reading it, because I had a good time reading the entertaining action scenes, and even though I knew what was happening, I thought the last hundred pages marked a step up in quality from the jumbled start.

4.0 /10

Want a second opinion? Check out what Realms of Speculative Fiction had to say about “Unholy Domain”. They do make a good point with the Dan Brown comparison.

The speculative genre is not small any longer. It has countless of sub-genres and cult-symbols, its followers occupy at least half of the Internet and the movies with the biggest revenues aren’t exactly the kitchen-sink dramas of yore. However, if we take a quick look at the literary side of things, we discover that there isn’t really a lot of authors that cross their assigned demographics to become something more than the fixation of fan-boys and raving nerds (a category I admittedly belong to). Stephen King is one example, Cormac McCarthy and JK Rowling are others, but none of those can quite match up to Neil Gaiman for me. He’s without doubt one my most beloved authors, and with “The Graveyard Book”, he’s written yet another novel so overflowing with magic that you’ll never walk into a graveyard without taking a second glance around your shoulder, remembering quietly the time you spent huddled captivated over its crisp pages.

I know I will.

“It is going to take more than just a couple of good hearted souls to raise this child. It will,” said Silas, “take a graveyard.”

– “The Graveyard Book”, page 20, by Neil Gaiman

“The Graveyard Book” is Neil Gaiman’s homage to Rudyard Kipling’s classic, “The Jungle Book”, and is therefore obviously not a book aimed primarily at adult readers. The story is about a boy named Nobody “Bod” Owens who was just a child when his family was assassinated by the man Jack. Little Bod managed to get away by crawling into a nearby graveyard filled with the ghosts of the dearly departed. These souls sensed the danger the child was in and decided to hide him from the man Jack until he grew old enough to take care of himself.

“The Graveyard book” is a tale about growing up, about ghouls and ghosts and about doing the right thing, and it’s all told with Neil Gaiman’s effortless prose and magical narrative. The story is told from Bod’s viewpoint with some occasional interludes that depict important scenes elsewhere in the world. It’s also written in a manner that makes each chapter a story unto itself (Chapter 4, “The Witch’s Headstone”, received a Locus award for “Best Novellete”), but not to the degree that the book feels more like a short story collection. My favourite chapter was chapter 5 “Danse Macabre”, which I think best epitomised the chilling, yet strangely cosy feel this book had.

My biggest objection to this book is actually that I think it was too short. This may very well have something to do with the fact that I could read Gaiman’s prose from now ’till doomsday without tiring, but I still think it could’ve used a little more space to flesh out its supporting characters and the reason why the man Jack killed Bod’s family. I realize that the plot was more of an excuse for Gaiman to tell the story of a boy that grows up in graveyard, and that it’s audience won’t probably care much about all of this, but… I do. I found the revelations in the last chapter to be too rushed and, frankly, not very original. I won’t spoil you, but it should suffice to say that Gaiman doesn’t shy away from a familiar fantasy trappings, and that saddens me, ’cause I know he could’ve done something cooler if he wanted to. But he didn’t, and that’s understandable when you consider that the book doesn’t really aim much higher than where it hits.

And where is that, exactly? I’d say pretty high, all though it doesn’t go down for me as one of Gaiman’s better novels. I don’t think an adult reader will take much away from this aside from the fuzzy feeling you get when you read something that you know is very well told, but not much more than that. However, if I’d gotten my hands on this book when I was a ten years younger, I’d probably think it was the most amazing thing ever, and I’d reread it till the spine broke the pages got stained with cookie crumbs and chocolate milk (most of my childhood books are).

Summed up, I’d say you should read “The Graveyard Book” if you’re a fan of Gaiman, and then you should find a young relative to pass it onto when you’re done. It’s what I’d do if I didn’t protect my Gaiman books like Smaug does with his treasure, and I’m not letting any Bagginses near them ever. They better keep their hairy feet off ’em, I say!


The Graveyard Book can be pre-ordered from any online retailer that does that sort of thing. It will be released on the 31th of October; a date perhaps better known as Halloween…

“Ding, ding, ding,” the bell rings and the referee declares me the winner. I’ve just gone twelve rounds with “Toll the Hounds”, the latest 923-pages addition to the “Malazan Book of the Fallen” saga. At the start we both ran circles around each other; me trying to catch it, and TtH cunningly evading my every move. In the sixth round I got tired and felt nearly beat by my opponents complex strategies and unfamiliar fighting technique. But I did not despair – I knew I could win if I just bit in ’till the final run-down. And that I did, though I’ll allow that it was a close run thing this year.

I had “Toll the Hounds” as my frontrunner for the Best Book of the Year prize and expected to be just as blown away by it as I was by the previous installments. I envisioned epic battle scenes, intricate plots and ploys and an ending to rival the what had come before. I had, in other words, high hopes for this one.

Colour me underwhelmed…

This book takes us back to where it all started in “Gardens of the Moons”. Darujhistan, the city of blue fire, and Black Coral, the Tiste Andii capitol and high-seat of the Son of Darkness, Anomander Rake, serve as the two centres of the story as Erikson weaves yet another story into an epic convergence that will rattle the entire world with its consequences.

For the sake of disclosure, I will now repeat the fact that I hold “Memories of Ice” and “Deadhouse Gates” as the two most accomplished works in the Malazan series, and the “Chain of Dogs” story-line is perhaps the greatest epic fantasy story I’ve ever read. Other Erikson works have come close to matching these books, but none have made same impact on me as those previously mentioned. I remember thinking that “Reaper’s Gale” came pretty damn close, and the ending of “The Bonehunters” was also something that stands out in my memory as quite extraordinary.

But there is a book in this series that is notably different in its story-telling, and that is, in my opinion, the poorest book of the series: “Midnight Tides”. And it just got a neighbour in “Toll the Hounds”, which shares many of the same problems as MT had. With these books, Erikson tried a more literary tack than he’s used to, and while I approve of the notion that an author should challenge his abilities and not write the same book over and over again, I don’t think “Toll the Hounds” is a what you’d call “a very successful experiment”.

It’s first and most obvious problem are the many dead ends that are devoted too much time, and those plot lines that actually bear fruit, could’ve been made a lot tighter. A good editor would probably have chopped of nearly three-hundred pages of this book. It should be noted that this isn’t an unusual problem for an Erikson book, but the this time I didn’t feel like they actually were very relevant to the rest of the book, save for their metaphoric worth. I should also mention that a good deal of the characters that appear in this book don’t seem to do much, save from partaking in Erikson’s trademark philosophic musings.

And that’s probably where this book strongest. It’s thematically tighter than anyone since, well, “Midnight Tides”, but it doesn’t make your hair stand up on your arms like Erikson managed with, say, the faith of Itkovian or Coltaine, or even Beak for that matter. I think this is a very personal book for Erikson, who clearly must have been thinking a lot about grief and loss during the writing of it.

Don’t misunderstand me – there are a fair share of Awesome Moments, and the book is heavy with the PoV’s of “Kruppe” (who serves as the narrator of the Darujhistan-story), “Iskaral Pust” and “Anomander Rake”. The ending is of course very good, all though its also probably one of the shortest and least epic convergences yet. I guess you could say that while I enjoyed several parts of this book, it never managed to excite and enthral me the way previous installments have managed. Which is too bad, but every author should be allowed an occasional miss-step in an otherwise impressive body of work.


Next up for Erikson is “Dust of Dreams” (TBR July 2009…?), the ninth and penultimate novel in the saga. SE has gone out and said that DoD will have a cliffhanger ending and that the entire book will serve as a build up for “The Crippled God”. He’s also signed a contract with Bantam for two additional trilogies set in the Malazan world. One will most likely be about the life of Anomander Rake and the second will be a sort of continuation of the unresolved plot threads from the ten-volume Malazan saga. We will also be getting at least 6 more novellas about our two favourite necromancers…

Lastly, I have little notification about Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Malazan series. As some of you might know, I’ve received an ARC of ICE’s first book in the series (“Night of Knives” notwithstanding), “Return of the Crimson Guard”. I couldn’t bring myself to finish “Night of Knives”, which is a very short Malazan novel by any means of comparison, but I had high hopes for RotCG. Sadly, they didn’t come through. I’ve now read the first half of “Return”, and so far the writing has been absolutely dreadful and, in my mind, nearly unreadable. So if you’re wondering why there never was a review of that book, now you know… I’ve also decided that I won’t be touching anything ICE writes ever again, as it seems clear to me that the guy has absolutely no skill as a writer.

I like my shows smart, and I like it when the shows think that the viewer is smart, too. I like my dialogue quick, witty and, of course, funny. The characters should be well-developed, yet still quite mysterious so that you still want to learn more about ’em. If you’ve got all those ingredients and manage to add some story arcs and inventive episode plots, then I’m generally a happy monkey.

Which is probably why I’m bananas about “The West Wing”.

No? Too easy, perhaps?

Well, my point remains the same: This is a fantastic TV-series.

When you’ve got a show named “The West Wing”, you would think that the premise was quite self-explanatory. Add that this was one of the most successful drama series at
its time, and the need for a long winding introduction shrinks further still. But for those of you who weren’t around when this was airing, I’ll let you know that the show deals with the life and intrigues of the White House. The central characters are the Senior Staff (finely featured above), and while the President is of course the most important character, he is by no means the one with the most face-time.

Now, I originally planned to review every single season of “The West Wing”, but these seasons were so closely matched in terms of quality and style that I opted for writing just the one review. Also, I had severe problems of giving myself the time to write anything after the cliffhanger-ending of the first season, and have to admit that I’m nearly half-way through the third as I write this. Yeah, this is one unhealthily addictive series, but who’s to blame for this brilliance?

Well, Aaron Sorkin (“Charlie Wilson’s War”, “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) is, obviously. The guy’s quite simply a genius when it comes to making good TV-shows, and he’s easily among my favourite show-runners, only nudged out by Joss Whedon (mostly for “Firefly” and “Buffy”). I think Aaron Sorkin is the best dialogue writer in the business, and with “the West Wing” he fashioned a vehicle where his talents can truly shine. The first season is a twenty-two episode fist-pump of sheer quality, and the second isn’t far behind, but does sometimes lack a little originality and could have done with some new faces. The characters are also well-rounded and believable, even if it is a bit startling that everyone on the staff are so quick-witted. My favourite character is the Media Communication Director, Toby Ziegler, who’s really isn’t what you’d call a people’s person. He doesn’t have a lot charisma, and he’s bitter, but he always does what he believes in and tries to the Right Thing.

I actually found this show to be so good that the only thing I could think of complaining about was the music (too much pathos for my taste). That’s some achievement, huh? I could also make some grunting noises about there not being a lot of strong female characters, aside from C.J., in the central cast, and the ones that do exist are either lawyers or assistants, but… isn’t that the way it is over there? And it’s not like the show’s is misogynist or anything like that, so I don’t think it’s fair to make a fuss about something that really isn’t an issue.

It’s refreshing to watch a show that actually finds real issues more important than dealing with the odd burgeoning office romance. It’s also very refreshing to imagine a world where the president of the United States isn’t a total douchebag and where the people around him try to the best they can. They don’t always achieve it, and sometimes they have to give in to the system, but it gives me a little hope when a liberal (in American terms, of course) show like this can survive seven seasons on the air.

Season 1: 10/10

Season 2: 9.0/10 (strong)

“Preacher” is a nine volume long comic series that tells the tale about how one man, Jesse Custer, got fed up with all of life’s inexplicable bullshit and decided to stick it to the Man. And by “the Man”, I of course mean the Big Cheese; the Exec of all Exec’s; Big Beard Grumpy yes, God Almighty himself is about to be called out on all the shit he’s allowed to happen since Creation. Along on this epic journey, Jesse brings only his faithful girlfriend, Tulip and an Irish vampire named Cassidy. But as things develop and plot lines intertwine, the story evolves into as an often times amusing, some times heart-felt, but mostly grotesque revelation on life and the people who try to live it.

No matter what your feelings are about Garth Ennis’ controversial comic opus are, you can’t avoid the fact that it’s one of the most renowned and high-held series ever published outside of the superhero genre . At least that’s the impression I’ve gotten after having talked things over with knowledgeable acquaintances and combed the internet for recommendations. So if you are – like me – in any way interested in comics, then “Preacher” is about as essential as it’s going to get.

However, I cannot with any form for certainty say if you’ll like it. Compared to Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan” (easily the most… graphic comic series I’d read in both style and content before I finished “Preacher”), this series is much more sickening beast all together. I’ve got a thicker hide than a lot people when it comes to things like these, but in this comic’s case I found it to be simply too much.

Let me explain: Where “Transmetropolitan” uses shocking devices in its storytelling, it does so to tell the story in the best and truest way possible. From volume 4 and onwards in “Preacher”, I often found myself wondering if Ennis had perhaps lost sight of that. Where the perverse scenes before were funny or compelling in a different manner, the author now seemed to revel first and foremost in the grotesqueness and shock-factor, trying perhaps to always do one better than what had come before, and in doing so, he often lost the heart of the story, which was always the relationship between the three main characters. I also think he did a poor choice with Cassidy’s character development in the fifth volume and the ending of the saga wasn’t anywhere near as fulfilling as I had hoped it would be. It seemed nearly as if Ennis tried to find himself in all the bloody clutter of the previous volumes, but the ending felt very anti-climactic compared to the other high-points of the series.

The thing that I enjoyed the most about “Preacher” though, were the times it took the time to explore itself and explain the motivations of the characters. This I think Ennis did very well indeed. Especially background stories about Jesse, Jesse’s father and Cassidy’s origin story were the gems that I will always look back on with fond memories.

As for the Steve Dillon’s art, there is only praise to be sung. “Preacher” was never meant to be beautifully rendered, and Dillon knew that from the get-go. He always hit the facial expressions dead on and the illustrations were always nauseatingly good. If anything, I think Dillon deserves more credit than Ennis for making the last five volumes work to the extent that they did.

All in all I think I enjoyed “Preacher” quite a lot. I know for sure that the three first volumes are among the best trade paperbacks I’ve ever read, and even though the story shot itself in the foot along the way, I don’t regret spending my time and money on this. I do, however, regret the fact that I think the series could’ve been much better if Ennis had made some different choices along the way regarding the plot and character development.

Also, “Arseface” was never funny. I think he was supposed to be, but I never got over the overwhelming sadness I felt for that character.

“The world, someone once said, gives back what is given. In abundance. But then, as Kallor would point out, someone was always saying something. Until he got fed up and had them executed.”

– Toll the Hounds, page 119, by Steven Erikson

Rescue Me, Seasons 1-4

Normally I tend to write up reviews of every single season of a TV series, but with “Rescue Me” I wanted to try a different tack. “Rescue Me” isn’t such a well known show as say, “Lost” or “Dexter”, and the seasons are relatively short, running only thirteen hour-long episodes compared to the normal twenty-two (even though it seems to me that fewer and fewer shows reach that size any more). Therefore, I thought I might as well give you a more complete view on the series, which might, or might not, be more helpful than my standardized approach.

I will, of course, avoid any kind of spoilers in the review itself, but anything is as always game in the comment section. I’d also appreciate it immensely if you took the time to leave some feedback on the “show review” compared to the “season review”.

I bought the first season of “Rescue Me” on a mere whim. There I was, having my regular lookie-loo ’round the local DVD shop, trying as always to see if they’d gotten anything a little rare in since the last time I stopped by, or saving that, something not featuring Vin Diesel as a crime fighting nanny. I ended up with picking out some obscure Tony Scott movie, “True Romance”, that Quentin Tarantino had written the script for (’twas quite good actually, which is something that can’t be said of every Tony Scott directed movie…), but that seemed a little thin, so I threw in “Rescue Me” to both tide me and the little shop over till next time I get the chance to pay it a visit. It doesn’t cater to the world’s biggest population and it’s nice to have shop around that carries Babylon 5 and Deadwood boxes, even if they overprice ’em grotesquely. And, you know, the irony of the show’s title in that respect was also fun.

Now, I hadn’t heard much about this show, and the little that I had heard turned out be quite untrue. I was under the impression that this FOX show was some kind of tribute to American Firefighters, tooting their courage at 9/11 and so forth. In other words: Not something I’d normally enjoy, so I guess there was a reason it gathered dust for a couple of months before I finally watched an episode and came to two enjoyable realizations:

  1. Heh, this show is so not what I expected
  2. And, it’s damned good.

‘Cause while this is a show that centres around a group of male firefighters in New York and a lot the characters were there when the two towers came crashing down, it’s not about any of that. It’s about the people, their world and their relationships, and it makes you care about ’em, too.

The main character, “Tommy Gavin”, is played by co-creator and co-writer, Denis Leary, who I have to admit that I’ve grown very fond of after watching this show. I think he’s a very talented first and foremost as an actor, but the writing and development of the show isn’t exactly poor, so I guess he’s good at that as well. You can safely say that Leary’s got his bases covered, which is a fact that his character, “Tommy Gavin”, can’t claim with any form for veracity. Why?

Well, basically it’s because he’s a first-class asshole with a heavy drinking problem, a very strained and dysfunctional relationship with his wife and mother of his three kids, and oh, let us not forget that he talks to dead people. Some of them, like his cousin Jimmy, appear quite frequently to act as manifestations of Gavin’s psyche and his constant inner turmoil, and sometimes the people he couldn’t save comes back to haunt him. This aspect of the show is – like most things this show does – handled very well at times, but it has a sad tendency of never finding the quite right balance. There were instances, especially in season 2, were the manifestations became too funky even for a genre freak like me, and then in season 3 I it went the other way with not enough of ’em at all. Season 4 was good though in this regard though, so hopefully it has sorted out its issues with Tommy’s ghosts.

As for the other characters of this show, they’re a very mixed bag. The best ones are in my opinion those who manage to escape the A4 and become interesting unto themselves. Unfortunately though, at least two of the five firefighters at Tommy’s house were too stupid and retarded for me to enjoy them whenever they weren’t being abused by the others because of their unending idiocy. The other three weren’t much better to begin with, but thankfully their development went in directions that didn’t just make me want to groan. My favourite character, besides Tommy of course, was his brother, even though he didn’t get all that much on-screen time. I hated the bastard in season 3 though, but I won’t divulge they why of that…

The plot lines and methods used to tell them remain pretty much the same throughout all four seasons. The biggest ones are Tommy’s problems with his wife, his drinking problem and how that affects his life, and of course the life at the fire-house. The show probably falls into the same category as “Weeds”, with it featuring a lot of drama as well as dark comedy, but aside from that it isn’t a very good comparison. Imagine rather that humour falls into something a little bit like “Entourage” (albeit a lot darker and cynical at times) and that the drama resembles “Six Feet Under”; Yes, there are fires, but unlike C.S.I or “Life”, that’s not what the show’s about. Tommy Gavin is a less brilliant and firefightin’ family man version of “Gregory House”. Mind you, these are probably pretty poor comparisons, but they were the best I could come up with. I haven’t really seen anything quite like “Rescue Me”.

One of the biggest issues I have to nitpick is that I’d like it better if the show expanded its universe more. A result of this is that the show often ends up being very predictable, but thankfully it doesn’t matter too much since it’s not a whodunit-show that depends on such ploys. However, it could have taken a lesson or two from “Mad Men” in camouflaging its intents, ’cause it’s no fun when you know what’s going on while the show’s sniggering to itself while it thinks it has you fooled. I’d also like it if the show featured some stronger female characters that weren’t A. wife/girlfriend or B. a relation of Tommy’s. One of the show’s biggest strengths is the smack talk that the guys exchange at the fire-house, but a woman would be nice change of pace sometimes. I’d also (can’t believe I’m complaining about this) like to see more intense fire-scenes that actually impacted the lives of the characters more than they have done so far. I think it could be much cleverer in this respect

I’d not rate “Rescue Me” as one of my favourite shows of all time, but all in all I found it to be very enjoyable and certainly highly recommendable to anyone who’s looking for something that’s both fun and dark, light and at the same time quite meaty in its choice of themes. It does a lot of things pretty good, but sadly the groan-worthy moments appear more frequently than the yay-worthy ones, so if you haven’t watched “Dexter”, “Weeds” or “Studio 60” yet, you’re probably better of choosing one of those. But if you have watched those shows…

Well, then “Rescue Me” might be just what you’re looking for. It certainly was for me.

8.0/10 (weak)