Monday, July 24, 2006

Civil War: whose side are you on?

No, this isn't an essay about the circus that's Philippine partisan politics. It's a big joke that isn't worth writing about. This one's about a different kind of civil war. A more serious one.

Civil War is the latest seven-issue graphic novel crossover miniseries (I don't want to call it a "comic book" but I will explain that some other time) from Marvel.

The graphic novel starts out when a group of superheroes who star in a reality TV show called New Warriors decides to raid the hideout of a bunch of super villains in Stamford, Connecticut. The reckless bust led by Speedball turns awry and villain Nitro creates a huge blast that flattens a local school, killing 800 people, mostly schoolchildren.

This single incident served as the catalyst for changes that are expected to rock the Marvel Universe.

Public outrage against this incident boils and moves the government to propose an act to register all superheroes as living "weapons of mass destruction" (now where have I heard that term before?). This means superhero training, power evaluation, and accreditation. Oh, I almost forgot, there is also another minor glitch in this: the act also means revealing one's true identity. Ouch.

Expectedly, the superheroes are divided on this issue. A group led by Iron Man supports the registration act while a group led by Captain America opposes it. The others then begin to take sides and this is where the fun starts.

The graphic novel miniseries pits hero against hero as the villains, who temporarily take a backseat in the story, sneer in the sidelines.

Despite the seeming contrivedness of the plot, which is uncannily similar to X3's, it seems to work. I, for one, being a former Marvel fanatic in my younger years, am intrigued by the possible developments in the series. Who will join who? Who will kill who? Who will fight who? Who will betray who?

As of this writing, the series is only up to issue number three. A lot of things will still happen in the coming months. I don't even want to read spoilers about it on the Web, for fear of putting a damper on the whole thing.

I highly recommend Civil War, if only for the fact that it is the only real major event that has happened in the superhero graphic novel world in recent times (that may be arguable but I really don't think Spiderman's change of costume can be considered a momentous event, unless you're a fan of Fashion TV).

So whose side are you on?

As for me, I think that government regulations oftentimes suck. So I guess you know where I stand.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

It was never anywhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (1996)

What if one day you wake up and find out that you have been practically erased from the world you know?

People ignore you, your fiancee doesn’t recognize you, your office has been removed, and your apartment has been rented out to someone else. Moreover, you are categorically broke. To make matters worse, you are forced to live in a world you never knew existed — a world full of bizarre contradictions and anachronisms and inhabited by eerie characters who seem to be products of a hyper-active imagination and who, in all probability, would contribute to your creeping insanity.

Your only chance to regain the life that you lost is to embark on a dizzying and potentially disastrous journey to help someone from this underground solve the mystery of her parents’ murder— a dangerous quest which, in all indications, might simply lead to your utter demise.

Such is the plot behind Neil Gaiman’s 1996 novel Neverwhere.

It is the story of Richard Mayhew, an average guy with a dull job, an independent and overly demanding (but beautiful) fiancee and an uneventful therefore boring life. While walking with his fiancee Jessica one night, Richard finds Lady Door sprawled on the sidewalk — bleeding and apparently dying. He helps her, much to Jessica’s dismay, takes her home and takes care of her.

From then on, his life is never the same again.

In Neverwhere, Gaiman takes us to a dark and magical world of nobility, honor, deceit, and incongruities. The plot may be your usual fare in fantasy novels, but the way Gaiman develops it — weaving vivid details over, above, and under oftentimes menacing and depressing but sometimes ridiculous and humorous situations — makes the plot seem fresh and unrehashed.

Another strong point of this ten-year-old novel is the presence of lovable and hateful characters that grow on you as you turn each page. Gaiman’s brilliant unfolding of the different personalities that inhabit London Below keeps you guessing as to the real motives of each, and this makes for an exciting read. You actually find yourself reserving your judgment of a character until after you’ve learned of his or her real intentions. Oftentimes, however, it is too late.

One may actually figure out from the start how the novel will end. As far as fantasy novels go, a happy ending is almost always expected. However, following how one gets there is the biggest part of the fun.

I find that Richard’s life’s crucial turn serves as a metaphor for our own fragile lives which may invariably turn at any direction in one misstep. There are times when we are made to live a parallel existence amid people who used to be among us but who suddenly begin to act like we no longer exist. We then live among strange new acquaintances that we begin to start loving or despising.

I never used to be a fantasy reader. I have always preferred the innate plausibility of realistic fiction. Nevertheless, I highly recommend the book to young readers, even to those who are not really into the fantasy genre. I must say that the novel is brilliant in its simplicity. Tolkien fans might consider the book wanting in description and elaboration. Tolkien is, after all, the acknowledged master of the genre. However, I feel that it is actually the simple elegance of Gaiman’s storytelling which proves to be the book’s appeal.

I have never been to London. This is most probably the reason why I found the journey to London Below sufficiently awe-inspiring. Neverwhere took me to places I have never seen and, in all likelihood, might never ever see. Neverwhere, after all, is never really anywhere.

Note: This is the third Gaiman book that I've read so far. The others are American Gods (which I enjoyed immensely) and Anansi Boys, his latest. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed reading all of them. I recently bought Coraline and am currently looking for his collaboration with Terry Pratchett (of Discworld fame) entitled Good Omens.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Rediscovering an old friend

Walter Savage Landor once said "What is reading but silent conversation?"

Indeed, a book is a friend with whom you can converse silently whenever and wherever you choose. Having said this, I think I have recently rediscovered an old, long-lost friend.

I used to read quite a lot back then... back when the name Brown was associated with the first name Charlie rather than Dan; back when no red-blooded male would ever want to be called Gaiman; and back when Angels and Demons referred to Tomasians and Green Archers, respectively.

It was a time I thought I have totally left behind since the rigors of corporate life (and a dozen other endeavors either financially rewarding or artistically fulfilling) started to take its toll on my idleness.

I simply didn't have time to read.

And my friend, Book, had to take a Sabbatical.

To a certain extent, I owe my return to official bookwormship to, of all people, Dan Brown. I was intrigued by the hype that surrounded his The Da Vince Code and I couldn't help reading the book myself to find out what the buzz was all about. Not surprisingly, I enjoyed reading the novel. Not just a few said that the book might shake one's faith, if it wasn't strong enough. As for me, I didn't feel even a slight quiver. And I guess that's good.

That's not to say, however, that I didn't consider the book a good read. I did and it was. But the best thing that happened to me was that I longed for more. After a few weeks, I've already read his three other books (all of which I liked, I must say, but in differing degrees). And I still longed for more.

Suffice it to say that one book led to another and another and yet another, and I enjoyed reading each and every one of them.

It was then I realized that I have rediscovered the joy of reading.

Now, if only I can discover a way to get hold of good books without having to spend so much.

A life less frightening

"I don't ask for much.
Truth be told I'd settle for
a life less frightening."

- Rise Against, A Life Less Frightening

Sunday, July 02, 2006

In the absence of light...

we become one with the dark.

In the absence of light
our dreams
take shape.

Our thoughts morph into things that
ultimately, inevitably bind
us to what we are

or will be.

In a pitch-black world
our lives begin to take on
a comfortable, almost dreamy,
a soothing peace,
a moving calm

brought on by the juvenile freedom
that only lightless disfocus
can bring.

The darkness is an imperative
that veils the foreordained drudgery
of worn-out days.

The darkness is an aphrodisiac
that heightens the puerile lust
of arrid nights.

In lightlessness,
we begin to hope,
to wish,
to pray.

In the absence of light,

we begin to live.