Review: ‘Green Lantern: Emerald Twilight/New Dawn’, Ron Marz (1994)

19/11/2012

Ah, good old 1990s superhero comics. Whenever deadlines, work, or any other real world stressor gets the best of me, it’s great to know that I can always turn to the completely mindless, though thoroughly enjoyable, action romps of my youth to dull my senses. I can’t always turn to 1980s superhero comics for this because, while they laid the groundwork for the angst-fuelled “grim ‘n’ gritty” stories of the ‘90s that I poured over as a child, the decade is too well known for stories like Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’ and J.M. DeMatteis’ Spider-Man masterpiece, ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ – superhero adventures which explored the inner-core of their characters, creating a level of depth that revolutionised this bastard genre. Nor can I turn to the last decade to satiate my need for entertaining testosterone-fuelled heroics. Because, while the 2000s saw some pretty mindless action, it was largely an appeal back to the glory days of the ‘90s, nothing more than a pale imitation (though, just so I don’t give anyone the wrong impression here, there were indeed some incredible superhero comics produced in the 2000s). But the ‘90s – they really were unique in their own way. And, let it be clear that I say none of this disparagingly. For what they were, I absolutely love 1990s superhero comics. The grimness and violence of these “heroes”, and the sheer absurdities of the stories, are so downright fascinating. It’s a world of entertainment that only a select few of us “get”, and colourful action and over-the-top soap operas don’t come any better.

Out of all the many long running superheroes that were redesigned, rekindled and rejuvenated for the “extreme” image of the 1990s, perhaps none are epitomised quite as perfectly as the Green Lantern. And the two stories collected together in this trade paperback, ‘Emerald Twilight’ and ‘New Dawn’, represent the starting point of that new take, reprinting the “last” story of the second-generation (1960s-1990s) Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, and the first story of the third-generation (1990s-2000s) Lantern, Kyle Rayner.

The first story, ‘Emerald Twilight’, depicts the downfall of the greatest of all the Green Lanterns, Hal Jordan. The premise is strong, one of the all-time classics of modern superhero comics, in fact. What could possibly push this brilliant superhero over the edge, cause him to turn against his own allies and become “evil”? How about witnessing the destruction of his hometown, the deaths of millions of people, and being “robbed” (in his eyes) the chance to set everything right again by the very people who gave him his great power in the first place? The idea that even a great hero like Hal Jordan would snap is believable but, unfortunately, the execution is anything but. This is mainly because so much is crammed into so little. The book opens up with Jordan kneeling over in the destructed Coast City with a broken arm (which magically seems to heal 15 panels later). A few pages later, and he’s already snapped. A couple more pages later, and he’s taking out other Green Lanterns and craving power, like a true supervillain. I don’t care how angry Jordan is, but there’s no way he can take on all of those Green Lanterns and come out standing. A potentially brilliant storyline wasted, as we’re rushed through fight scene after fight scene, hurrying Hal Jordan’s descent into madness in an entirely unconvincing manner.

The next story, ‘New Dawn’, introduces us to the new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner. This is probably the better written of the two stories. Kyle is immediately likable, and so it isn’t entirely surprising that he took off, despite the overwhelmingly negative fan response against turning Hal into an evil supervillain. But it requires some serious suspension of disbelief to follow the premise that this handsome, athletic American young man was randomly selected out of everyone in the world to become the new Green Lantern. And though it’s a compelling idea that Kyle, unlike Jordan and every other Green Lantern in history, has to learn the ropes by himself, the appearance of Superman at exactly right place and time to help him in his first major supervillain battle ruins that all. Deus ex machina is a large problem in this story.

A big gripe I have with this collection as a whole is that it’s incredibly disjointed and incomplete. First of all, we never really learn what actually happened in Coast City and why. In order to get that story, you need to read ‘The Return of Superman’, which is actually the final chapter of a trilogy which began with ‘The Death of Superman’. Then, towards the end of the story, Alan Scott (the original Green Lantern) appears out of nowhere, confusingly filling us in on the exploits of Hal Jordan since he went crazy. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for that stuff to have been collected alongside ‘Emerald Twilight’?

This collection presents one of the modern-day staples of DC Comics lore, the transformation of Hal Jordan into Parallax. The writer, Ron Marz, became a beacon of anger for “destroying” Hal Jordan in such an out-of-character fashion, and I can’t really say that that hatred was unjustified. Furthermore, it also lives on in infamy for the fate of Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend, an episode which has since become synonymous with chauvinism in superhero comics (see: “Women in Refrigerators”). I wanted to love this book, but there are just too many problems with it to make it essential. To be honest, this story is so important to the continuity that you can’t really get into DC Comics without hearing everything you actually need to know about it somewhere else (just about every Green Lantern since, for example). I did enjoy it though, so if you must read it for yourself, and you’re not expecting anything challenging in any way, then you probably won’t go wrong. But it is, ultimately, a missed opportunity.
3 out of 5


Review: ‘Anthem’, Ayn Rand (1938)

28/10/2012

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 naïve 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.

2 out of 5

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Review: ‘Lenin: A Biography’ (2000), Robert Service

07/05/2012

There are very few characters that have left quite as large a crater in the story of humanity as Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The revolution that he spearheaded towards the start of the 20th century would set the whole world onto a different course after his death, the reverberations of which still being felt today. Opinions surrounding the man couldn’t be more divided. A popular opinion amongst those with more left-wing inclinations (an opinion that I, being ignorant of the matter, used to assume to be accurate before I read this book) is that Lenin was a great idealist whose dream of a communist utopia became corrupted only after he died, under the hands of Joseph Stalin. However, Robert Service, the Oxford University scholar behind this biography, convincingly shows that this is far from the case. But nor does he portray Lenin as the power-crazed sociopath that many others believe him to have been.

Service introduces us to Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, later to rename himself “Lenin”, a brilliant young polymath whose life took an unexpected turn when his elder brother was executed by the tsarist monarchy. The young Vladimir, forever scarred by the incident, would channel every ounce of his uncanny genius into taking revenge on monarchy and continuing in his brother’s footsteps to bring about a Russian revolutionary transformation. Lenin is presented as a human, dependent on the unwavering love and support of his mother and the other women who surrounded him throughout his life. He is shown to be a lover of life, a dutiful son and husband, and a paranoid obsessive with little to no regard for the suffering of others. Lenin would never pull the trigger himself, always insisting on taking a scholarly approach to revolution from the safety of his armchair, and yet the atrocities sanctioned by him could only have come from the mind of a demented human being. Robert Service’s account of Lenin’s life is by no means flattering, and the author has been accused of having an anti-Soviet agenda (particularly with regards to his biography on Trotsky, which has been heavily criticised for its heavy bias), but this biography seems to be honest and informative.

This is an interesting and mostly enjoyable biography on a fascinating individual living through a critical period of world history. Read it and gain a unique insight, and a better understanding of the world today.

4 out of 5


‘Windrush’ #1 on sale now

10/04/2012

‘Windrush’ is the first ongoing comic book series from my Project Dynasty partner-in-crime, T’sao Wei. It’s been getting very positive feedback among the London small-press comics crowd and, having edited the writing myself, I can personally attest that it’s great. Set on the streets of south London, ‘Windrush’ is a unique take on the superhero genre, quite unlike any other comic I’ve read before. The gist, from the online shop you can order a copy from, is as follows:

Helen Mu, aka Windrush, once the greatest protector of the Lambeth borough, has been assassinated. Now Lauren is forced to take up the Windrush mantle to prevent Lambeth and Southwark from going to war.

For a ridiculously cheap £3.24, or $5 (US), you can get a limited edition, beautifully hand-bound copy of the comic. Domestic and international shipping is available.

You can check out ‘Spandex’ creator, Martin Eden’s interview with T’sao Wei here. Remember, it won’t be this cheap for much longer (nor will it be hand-bound), so hurry up and get your copy now!


Winter Wonderland, Taiwan

11/02/2012

It won’t take long for a Westerner coming to live in Taiwan to discover that Taiwanese people have a few tendencies that make absolutely no sense. Chief among these practices is their air conditioner obsession. Whenever you go into a public building, such as a shopping centre or a café, or if you go into a bus, you’ll find that the air conditioner is always turned on full whack. This can be annoying enough in the summer, when it seems that Taiwanese people believe that being freezing indoors is the only remedy to scorching under the sun outdoors, let alone winter.

Now, I come from England, which is a pretty cold country during the winter, but not excessively so. This year has been a particularly harsh winter in England, with temperatures hovering around 0°C on a daily basis. So, Taiwan’s minimum of 11°C shouldn’t be much of a problem for me, right? Well, actually, it is. Perhaps it’s because British people are more accustomed to dealing with cold temperatures than the Taiwanese, or maybe it’s just because Taiwanese people seem to be a naturally wasteful bunch (more on this subject to come), but the Taiwanese can’t help but go about defying common sense when it comes to winter. Some of their practices seem to make sense on the surface (though not so much in practice), like keeping all the windows and doors open to allow better air circulation indoors, while wearing more layers to attempt to keep warm. Others, however, do not make any sense in theory or execution, like, say… keeping the air conditioner on full whack in the middle of winter.

The other day at the school I work at, I walked into a class which was freezing cold. I checked the air conditioner and saw that some kid had turned it to 15°C. The children then protested when I turned it off. This isn’t the first time that this has happened. But the really strange part is that my school has a pretty strict “25°C or above” rule when it comes to the air conditioners and, during the summer, I don’t remember anyone ever breaking it. Yet, it’s happened on a number of times during the winter, and the normally anally-attentive management (who love nothing more than to keep all the windows and doors open in winter, but never in summer) don’t seem to care.

Other than that, winters here are generally quite good. Although there is a chronic lack of heaters in Taiwan, and most apartments are designed for optimum coolness in the summer (meaning they’re colder than they would otherwise be in the winter), it tends to only stay especially cold for a few days, before going back up into the early 20s again for a few days, then coming back down and repeating the cycle. The worst thing about the winters in England is, for me, the horrendously short daylight hours. Taiwan doesn’t have this problem at all (although Taiwanese people like to complain that when it gets dark at 5pm, that is “early”), and it doesn’t rain too much during this season either. Just make sure that you dress warmly, so that you don’t catch a cold when you sit in Starbucks, or take the bus, like the young lady freezing below the air conditioner below:


Hide your face, so the world will never find you

06/02/2012

One of the first things that will strike any visitor to this region of the world is the prevalence of surgical masks on people’s faces. I first noticed this strange phenomenon when I visited Japan a few years ago, and have since found that it’s just as common here in Taiwan too. Allegedly, people wear these masks if they’re ill, so as not to spread germs, or if they’re out in public and they don’t want to get ill. However, I sometimes wonder if this whole mask obsession is really just some kind of weird Asian fashion statement that I just don’t get…


Welcome to “Myopic Alan”!

09/01/2012

In an effort to curb procrastination by keeping myself writing, I have decided to start a blog! “Myopic Alan” will chronicle my exploits as an upstart comic book writer trying to get by as an English teacher in the often bizarre little island nation of Taiwan, as well as covering the general goings on of Project Dynasty Studios. But there is no real focus for this blog, so I’ll pretty much just write about whatever comes to mind whenever I feel like it.

Project Dynasty Studios has been the dream of me and my very talented collaborators since our early teens, and the ball is finally starting to roll after years of hard work. I can assure you that big things will be coming from us, so please check back for updates! Thanks for visiting!

Alan Kaz – writer, Project Dynasty Studios


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