Life as it ain't

"I'm not really from outer space. I'm just mentally divergent."

Posts Tagged ‘comic books’

Knock! Knock! “Who’s there?” “Joe.” “Joe wh–?”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on May 11, 2011

As far as the majority of Batman fans are concerned, it is a horrible idea to have me review a book about the Joker; I feel that the white-faced lunatic in the 2008 movie The Dark Knight was but a pale imitation of the villain I know of as the Joker.

It should come as no surprise then that I also hate Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo’s generally well-reviewed Joker. In which, incidentally, the Joker looks almost exactly as he does in the movie.

The idea is to write a book about the Joker set in an ultra-noirish world, where everyone is evil and “only cops call people ‘scumbag’. People refer to people by other words.” And, Harley Quinn turns up naked in a strip club (stark realism that refuses to mollycoddle the reader!), and everyone’s face is pitted beyond belief. Sometimes even at the cost of making the character look laughable. Yes, in this case, the size of the nose is as much at fault, but it’s the lines on it that really make me cringe. And, forget faces, there are far too many lines on everything. Of course, we could always blame the inker, Mick Gray, as the parts inked by Bermejo himself don’t look nearly as bad (if you ignore the bizarre pose good old Harley is in over at the back).

But I’m not going to let Bermejo off so easily. There’s, for starters, the fact that faces don’t look the same from one page to the next. Yes, it is a testament to the shifting and uncertain nature of Joker’s reality. Yes, it is exactly as hackneyed, unsubtle and one-dimensional as it sounds.

And then, there’s the minor problem of the fact that nowhere in this book did the Joker truly send ripples of goosebumps up my back, despite the fact that he actually has some very good lines. The Joker’s face may well be locked in a perpetual smile, but the smile never reaches his eyes. Look at the way he walks out of Arkham Asylum:

Why so serious, man?

Of course, more than with the art, this is a problem with the writing, which is an unlovely colossus of Holvudine psychology whose sole purpose is to describe an interesting villain. Never mind that the psychological portrait – inasmuch as it makes sense; internal contradictions abound – has little, if any, resemblance to the mythological symbol it tries to explicate. Seriously, is there any Joker worth our time who would be angry during his release from Arkham Asylum? Is there any Joker who would … ahem … “salute” the city as this white-faced guy does? The last I checked, the Joker loved Gotham, and didn’t really care about territory and respect as he does in this book.

And, most importantly, the guy should be allowed to choose to smile, not have his lips pulled tight by a scar.

What do I want from a graphic novel about the Joker? I don’t want a definitive explanation of seventy years of villainy; what I want is an interesting perspective. Because, finally, that’s the only thing any one writer can offer, for any mythological figure. I love other Joker-explanatory novels, like Alan Moore, Brian Bolland and John Higgins’ The Killing Joke, Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum and Bob Hall’s I, Joker (the first and third being my two favourite pieces of art featuring Batman), and all of them, if seen as a definitive explanation, look hackneyed and idiotic.

What I don’t want is an uninspired, “starkly realistic!” piece featuring a white-faced man being diagnosed by an emotionless psychiatrist who calls himself a writer; and that, dear reader, is exactly what this Joker is.

Posted in Azzarello, Brian, Bermejo, Lee (Illustrator), Book reviews, Books | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Logicomix: “A Narrative Argument Against Readymade Solutions”

Posted by Ronak M Soni on November 8, 2010

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, Bloomsbury (2009)

Writers: Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou

Art: Alecos Papadatos

Colour: Annie di Donna

The creators of the almost brilliant Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth have forgotten a very important fact; that, to be great lecture fiction, a book must first be great fiction. And one of the rules for a book to be great fiction is that it must not lecture.

However nonsensical it may seem, that paragraph does make sense.

The book opens with Apostolos (an obvious stand-in for Mr. Doxiadis, but none of the characters introduce themselves with surnames, and I will follow that) introducing us to this book he’s writing called Foundational Quest and telling us that he is going to meet Christos, who is a computer engineer and, therefore, an expert in mathematical logic (a textbook written by him resides in my college’s library), as a consultant.

“You see,” he informs us, “this isn’t your typical, usual comic book.” Friends who have been told what it is about haven’t taken them seriously, and, when they have, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

And it goes on, till he meets Christos, and starts telling him a story of Bertrand Russell’s lecture in America on the day England declared war on Germany. Mr. Russell meets, outside the hall, a group of protesters insistent that their country stay out of the war. He invites them in for the lecture, “The Role of Logic in Human Affairs” and starts narrating his own life-story. Meanwhile, Christos and Apostolos have got to the studio and meet the artists, Alecos and Annie (Miss di Donna has also worked on the famous Tintin series), and the visual researcher Anne.

From the very beginning, Apostolos and the artists make it clear to Christos that the book is about the interplay between logic and madness, but Christos doesn’t see the point of it being so character-driven.

Needless to say, he eventually comes around, and the exact chain of events that leads to his understanding sheds a non-trivial amount of light on the major theme.

To be honest, I disagree that this book is strictly about the relationship between logic and madness. It is about the madness that comes out of the thirst for knowledge in a strictly rational epistemology.

A minor disagreement, but a disagreement nevertheless.

This book really needs little exposition from my side; the final pages explain everything that has been explored, and a reread in the light of these last pages will illuminate it all.

What this book is really successful at doing, finally, is not at talking about rationality and madness – though it does do that very well – as much as at portraying the world of philosophical/mathematical academia and what drives the leading figures in these circles.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Waking Life

Posted by Ronak M Soni on December 6, 2009

Still from the movie

The ongoing WOW... is happening right NOW.


Dear Mr. Linklater,

I think it is a lie on your part to say that you made the movie Waking Life. I also think that it is not a lie on our part to attribute the movie to you. I think that the only lie possible on our part is to say that we have watched it. We can merely say with certainty that we have viewed it. Viewed it multiple times, if that is so.

I, personally, have viewed it twice. I, personally, am going to view it again. And again. And again. Ad infinitum, ad nauseum. No, never ad nauseum.

I, after having viewed it twice, have many, many thoughts about this movie. Reproducing them here would be pointless, because they are, in their own way, as sprawled out as your movie, or this movie that we attribute to you.

Not producing them here, however, would be counter-productive. Because the reason I write is to communicate my take on whatever it is I’m writing on. I, in fact, think that communicating my take is so important that I have been known to ignore better points, for the sole reason that they were not my points. That is also why I make it clear everywhere – from the name of my blog to the meat of my introduction – that it is my take that you are looking at.

I, of course, won’t be mailing this letter to you. I, after all, am just a character in your extended dream. I think it is a curious choice for me to discuss the reasons for my writing, and writing this, in what purports to be a review of your movie.

All I want to say is: thank you, for giving us this. This movie, obviously, raises many questions, and answers fewer. But this is the movie that I can say taught me that it’s okay to broadcast the question that I do have, no matter how stupid. Not that I ever hesitated. So, what am I thanking you for? I don’t know, but I know that this may be the most important movie of the generation. Why? I’m not sure, but I know subsequent viewings will hold the answers.

Just like the boy could hold on in the face of everything around him telling him there was no point but the man chose to go up, into a state of enlightened drifting, you have brought back, here, that very important thing that we’ve lost: that concern that marked out the hippies and the rest of the sixties’ counterculture. The same hippies that went and learnt natural farming with Masanobu Fukuoka, and the same ones that gave us the divine music of The Beatles.

But, you’ve also lost out on the disconnect from life that negatively marked these people out. Your hero, the man played by Wiley Wiggins, chooses to drift, like a hippie, but drift in the state of being enlightened that he is in a dream, which is the choice open to most of my generation. You have shown us that it is good to take the path offered by enlightenment.

It doesn’t matter that you can’t know. The important thing is to ask. All your people, they ask. The old man wonders, seriously considers, being able, in the near future, to see evolution taking place. This sounds absurd, but it is the hope that is important. Your middle-aged woman is happy about change. My generation, we are happy about change. Exclusively in the forward direction. As long as we don’t have to change inside, as long as we can say that it is too big for us… it is true when the whiny-sounding kid says that it’s all happened before.

Of course, you understand, all that I’ve said is bullshit. But the best of bullshit. Bullshit that has come with feeling. Feeling, yes, but, more importantly, understanding that it is bullshit. Some of what your characters say can be classified as bullshit, but that is the other best of bullshit: it’s plausible bullshit. Some more of what your characters say, like the philosophy professor about existentialism, is the very opposite of bullshit.

But that, again, is not important. It is only important that they said it. It is only important, further, that you collected all this and put it in a movie, a movie that seems to end just before catharsis, between the swell of the music and the bigger swell that would be catharsis, but casting back your auditory mind reminds you that all that can possibly happen now is the addition of another instrument into the fray, like has always happened. It is true to the movie that your musician appears to say that it should sound wavy, due to being slightly out of tune.

And, thank you for those visuals – the visuals without which it is impossible to quote you –, for collecting the fears of a whole generation about a decision they are supposed to make between apathy and a waking life, and showing – to a complete extent – the waking life. The waking life, after all, is as unsteady as you show it. Borders shift, arguments waver, philosophies confound, thoughts take you to unvisited regions of life, and we always try to connect, try to reach our own holy moments.

Thank you, finally, for giving us this, this precise language to discuss the lack of language that our collective intelligence has taken us too.

One of the generation,

Ronak M Soni.

PS: Please understand that most of what I’ve said is bullshit, but I’ve learnt enough from you to not know better than to broadcast it.

PPS: I have one little tiff with your movie; by repeating an idea relating directly to your hero’s predicament, you have made it too clear what has happened to him.

PPPS: That’s just a little tiff. I ought to end with a thank you.

Posted in Linklater, Richard, Movie Reviews, Movies | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Sin City: Goodness and Sin – Of the filmmakers

Posted by Ronak M Soni on October 25, 2009

A Still From The Movie

Every day, we go out into life and see the same things, or the same type of things. Every once in a while, however, some of these stand out; they have colour none of the others have, because we’ve seen the others too many times to see their colours, their details, their specifics. This philosophy, I think, drives the colouring of Sin City, based on a comic book series by Frank Miller and directed by him and Robert Rodriguez, which is mostly in black-and-white but has colours – mainly red, blue and yellow – for things like blond hair, red women’s dresses, Clive Owen’s boots and all cars’ taillights. One can never be sure, however, because, after all, it’s a graphic novel movie, and these graphic novels are over-themed beings of awesomely gargantuan complexity.

The movie has four stories; one involves Josh Hartnett as a hitman of some sort, one Bruce Willis as a 60-year-old cop with a heart problem who’s trying to save a little girl from rape and murder, one Mickey Rourke as a big ugly hunk of a man who’s trying to take revenge for the death of the only woman who has ever slept with him and one with Clive Owen as a come-back hitman trying to save Oldtown, the home of the whores of the meticulously named Basin City. These four stories cross paths, with not one story not having a character of another at some point. But, what really connects them is a context, a setting, of the underworld of Basin City and a lifestyle, a glee, almost, at action that lights up their lives. And it is this glee that I think the movie is trying to examine.

Of course, I’m wrong. The movie is all-out artified porn (remember the last Frank Miller graphic novel that made it to movie form? 300. This is true even though Robert Rodriguez is significantly better than Zack Snyder). No, seriously, it is, even if you want to say that pornography is merely in the eyes of the beholder. It is very much porn, toned down little by the lack of colour of some of the blood: observe, for example, the number of times I went evil-laughing at a great description of true gruesomity. Then again, is it wrong for a movie to be pornographic? I don’t think so. If the cast is there of its own free will, I think it’s allowed to be porn. In fact, I’m very much tempted to say that porn is the form it takes to communicate this thrill to us. Perfectly plausible, but wouldn’t explain all the cringing I did; it’s too well-made a movie to allow me to cringe if I wasn’t supposed to.

Okay, even I’m not completely convinced by my arguments in the last paragraph. The reason: there is no right argument. As I’ve already said, this is graphic novel movie. It is porn, yes, but porn is also an instrument for a study of the uses of morality in an amoral setting and of the glee these characters feel. And anything you say it is, I’d have to quote Clive Owen’s character:”always and never”. But, whatever else it may be, it is a brilliantly directed and acted movie that is a must-watch for all who have a not-too-weak stomach.

Posted in Miller, Frank, Movie Reviews, Movies, Rodriguez, Robert | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »