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Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

My journey into Batman folklore continues. The third consecutive Batman book that I read was ‘The Dark Knight Returns‘. Frank Miller’s reimagining of the Batman myth created a lot of waves when it first came out in 1986 and is regarded as an iconic book now.

In the story told in the book, Batman has retired and is fifty years old now. Harvey Dent and the Joker are in an asylum now. Selina Kyle is running an escort service. Jim Gordon is nearing retirement from the police service. A new wave of crime hits Gotham City. A new gang of people are doing bad things. Batman comes back from retirement and tries to protect the city. But the public is divided – some people feel that Batman is good for the city while others feel that he is a criminal himself for taking the law into his own hands. Jim Gordon is on Batman’s side. But the incoming Police Commissioner Ellen Yindel wants to arrest Batman. Before long, Harvey Dent and the Joker are out of the asylum and back to their nasty tricks. There is also some tension between the two superpowers of the Cold War era. And things start going bad for everyone.

I found ‘The Dark Knight Returns‘ quite interesting. It is an iconic book because it took a superhero comic and made it into a comic for grownups. It is sometimes dark, it is more violent than classic Batman comics, it offers commentary on the society and the politics and international affairs, which were all new at that time. There is even a nuclear bomb exploding, a 9/11 type plane crashing into a skyscraper, a nuclear winter, an imagination of the scenario in which the Cuban Missile Crisis situation is not defused but explodes. These are fascinating things. It is almost epic in scope. The other superhero Superman makes an appearance at one point in the story and there are some interesting scenes between the two gentlemen. In one scene, Bruce Wayne even takes a dig at Clark Kent. There are some stylish scenes and cool dialogues in the book. (I am sharing a few below.) The underlying theme – Bruce Wayne coming back from retirement and becoming Batman again to fight crime – reminds one of the Roman general Cincinnatus, who came back from his life as a farmer and took charge of the army and defeated the enemies and then handed over authority and went back to his farm. Or it is probably more closer to Michael Kohlhaas taking on the establishment and fighting for the common man in Heinrich von Kleist’s eponymous novella. It is inspiring and we can’t stop backing the aging Batman. These were all good things in the book. I liked the book for these things. But I didn’t really love the book and I am not able to rave about it, because there were too many things stuffed into it and I really hated Superman being part of the story. Batman and Superman are two very different people and they don’t belong in the same story, in my opinion. But I enjoyed the stylish scenes and would love to explore more of Frank Miller’s work, especially, his noir series, ‘Sin City‘, because his cool style will really work there. The ending of the story is very fascinating and must have been very unusual for its time.

After reading three consecutive Batmans I am getting Batman fatigue now. I have one more book left and once I get through that, I will go back to reading books that no one else reads and normal service will resume in these parts.

Have you read ‘The Dark Knight Returns‘? What do you think about it?

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What do you read after reading one Batman book? You read another Batman book 😁

Year One‘ is a 1986 graphic novel which describes how Bruce Wayne became Batman and what happened when Jim Gordon joined the Gotham City police. As the editor Denny O’Neill explains in his introduction, this is not a new version of the Batman myth, but it takes the original story by Bob Kane and fleshes it out and adds more details and makes it realistic to a contemporary audience. The story is told through the voices of Jim Gordon, who has newly moved into Gotham City with his pregnant wife, to work in the police department, and Bruce Wayne who comes back to Gotham City after living many years abroad and who wants to do something about the promise he made to his parents. What these two do to tackle the evil forces in the city, how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, and how Jim Gordon survives the challenges of a corrupt police department form the rest of the story. Selina Kyle plays a small but important part in the story, and Harvey Dent comes in a few scenes.

Year One‘ is an interesting story because it describes how it all started. When I discovered that David Mazzucchelli has done the illustrations, I was quite surprised. I read David Mazzucchelli’s graphic novel ‘Asterios Polyp‘ when it first came out and at that time I thought that he had sprung out of nowhere as a fully formed artist. So I was quite surprised when I saw his name here – it looks like he has been around for ages and his art has evolved in beautiful and interesting ways. The second thing I noticed about the book is that Selina Kyle is black. That is not the case in ‘The Long Halloween‘ or any of the film or TV adaptations of the Batman stories, as far as I know. I don’t know how it was in Bob Kane’s original version. It is interesting that in the ’80s, when no one was talking about diverse characters, Frank Miller did his bit to improve the presence of diverse characters in his story.

Selina Kyle

The third interesting thing in the book is that David Mazzucchelli says towards the end of the book that he used Gregory Peck’s image to sketch Bruce Wayne’s face. Isn’t that so cool! I was wondering how Bruce Wayne was so handsome ☺️ Now I know why. Gregory Peck would have made a great Bruce Wayne and Batman.

Gregory Peck morphing into Bruce Wayne

I loved ‘Year One‘. I must be the last person to read it. But if you are a Batman fan and have not read it yet, please do. You will like it. It is a must read for Batman fans. I have shared some of the pages from the book above and below to give you a flavour of the story and the artwork. Of particular interest to you might be the page which shows how Gregory Peck becomes Bruce Wayne.

First pages of the story

Sarah Essen

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I normally read a few comics and graphic novels every year. Most of the time, I read them at the end of the year, when I want to read more books in less time. But I buy comics every year – I subscribe to a particular comics and I get around 40 issues in a year. These are piled up now and they form a few book towers in my home. This year I thought it is time to read more comics and make a dent into those comics piles. In recent times, we have had many discussions on comics in our book group and one of our group members and friends, Avishek, who is also a fellow raccoon, and who is our resident Batman, because he has read every Batman comic ever published, shared his list of favourite Batman books. As I could get my hands on ‘The Long Halloween‘ first, I thought I will start with this one.

If you have seen any of the contemporary era Batman movies, or seen the TV show ‘Gotham‘, you will be familiar with many of the elements of the story told in ‘The Long Halloween‘. There are two bad guys who try to take over Gotham City – Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni. Carmine is the more powerful of the two. Batman and his friends, Police Commissioner Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent try to bring Carmine Falcone to justice for his crimes. In between, a mysterious killer surfaces in Gotham, and kills people on important holidays. He calls himself ‘Holiday’. Then we have people who belong to what is fondly called ‘Batman’s rogues gallery’ – people like the Joker, the Riddler, Poison Ivy, the Mad Hatter etc. who are upto their own mischief. What happens when all these events are woven together forms the rest of the story.

I loved ‘The Long Halloween‘. It is fast-paced and gripping. It is around 400 pages long, but one doesn’t feel that, because the pages just zip by. The ending is very unexpected and surprising and I didn’t see that coming. The characters are all interestingly depicted and one of my favourites was Catwoman – she was charming. Tim Sale’s artwork is noir-ish, and he uses a lot of dark shade and it is very atmospheric and haunting. There is a two page conversation, at the beginning of the book, between Christopher Nolan and David Goyer, both of whom worked together in the Batman movie ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘, which is very fascinating. Nolan says that ‘The Long Halloween’ is more than a comic book, it’s an epic tragedy. It is very true. If you read the book, you’ll know why.

I have shared below some of the scenes from the book – some which feature Catwoman and one which features the Joker – so that they can give you a flavour of what is in store.

Batman and Catwoman – 1

Batman and Catwoman – 2

Batman and Catwoman – 3

The Joker

The Batman Rogues Gallery

Have you read ‘The Long Halloween‘? What do you think about it?

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This is one of the last books I read last year.

This is a book on Agatha Christie – her life, her books, her detectives, the films and plays which were based on her stories, real-world crimes which inspired some of her books, and one real-world crime which was inspired by one of her books. There is also a chapter where contemporary crime fiction writers talk about why they love Agatha Christie. I loved what one of them, Rachel Sargeant, said, on what makes Agatha Christie the Queen of Crime –

“She wrote 66 crime novels, plus romances, plays and short stories. She gave us atleast two unforgettable sleuths, and the best puzzles in the business. All without a word-processor or the internet. The Empress of Crime Fiction.”

There is also a section on Agatha Christie’s mysterious disappearance. The book touches on many of her famous novels without revealing spoilers, which is a great thing. Except for ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd‘, in which case the book reveals the mystery. Which is sad.

This is a beautiful book, a beautiful ode to Dame Christie. I loved it. It is a collectible and a must read for every Agatha Christie fan. I am sharing below some of the pages from the book to give you a flavour.

Agatha Christie reading a manuscript to her husband, Max

News about Agatha Christie’s disappearance

Hercule Poirot Vs Miss Marple

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot – “I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound.”

Joan Hickson, the most popular Miss Marple

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Yesterday was the day of the small cat. Today is the day of the big cat. My favourite big cat is the lion. Or rather the lioness. The lioness is an amazing superhero. She gives birth to cubs, nurtures them, feeds them, plays with them, teaches them to have fun, to fight, to hunt, to have good relationships with other pride members, and brings them up to become responsible lionesses and lions, and when the time comes, steps back and lets them go. She also treats other cubs in the pride with the same love and affection as her own cubs. She alongwith her pride sisters parent all the cubs in the pride together. She also hunts with her pride sisters and puts food on the table. Parenting, nurturing, maintaining great relationships, putting food on the table – she is great at them all. I love the lion too, because he looks magnificent and protects his pride, but I love the lioness more. She is my hero. She is one of the most inspiring mothers and one of the most beautiful women in the animal kingdom. I also love the lioness and the lion because they are the only big cats who live together as a large family. So, I was excited to read this book to find out what it says about my favourite big cats.

Lee Server’s book starts with these lines :

“The majestic lion is the legendary ruler of the animal kingdom. Revered for its strength and bravery, the lion has been a symbol of supremacy since the beginning of recorded history. The lion gained its ascendancy in a world filled with fierce contenders. It is not the largest of animals, nor the strongest or fastest. Compared to other cats, its skills as a hunter are, in fact, flawed, and its plain, tawny coat does not compare to the richly colored and patterned fur of other animals of its kind.”

Lee Server goes on to explore the history of the lion family and what we know about it and why it is regarded as the king of the animal kingdom. He describes how lions look, how they behave, how in some ways they are very similar to our house cat, how they get together and form prides, how pride members nurture each other, how lions and lionesses mate and have cubs, how lionesses nurture and raise their cubs alongwith their pride sisters, how lionesses stalk and hunt prey. The book, at around 70 pages, is not very long, but within those pages, the author manages to pack in a lot of information. There are beautiful, stunning photographs in every page and it is a pleasure to read the book and see the actual lion family scene unfolding on the page. I have shared a few photos in the comments to give you a flavour of their exquisite beauty. All photographs are copyrighted by the respective copyright owners. I have shared a few here, as a book reviewer, to illustrate the contents of the book.

“Lionesses can be caring mothers, guarding their cubs in infancy, entertaining them with play, and finally, teaching them to hunt and provide for themselves.”

“The rituals of meeting and mutual grooming provide an important bond between the members of a pride that helps to maintain the group’s cohesion and structure…most lions enjoy these lifelong social relationships…”

“When pride members meet after being apart for awhile, they greet each other by rubbing heads to show their friendly intentions. The greeting is often followed by a period of mutual grooming.”

“Play is another means of bonding among pride members. Females play frequently, while adult males are less enthusiastic. Lionesses teasingly stalk and wrestle with other females, and also romp a great deal with cubs. Frequently, a mother playfully pokes a youngster with her paw, causing the cub to swat back, often while rolling on its back.”

“Lion cubs spend a great deal of time grappling and swatting one another. These playful sparring matches teach basic defensive skills and help to establish patterns of dominance and rank among the younger generation.”

“Lionesses rarely have litters of more than four cubs. This number is the most that they can suckle at a time.”

“Learning the social rituals of meeting and grooming is an important part of a cub’s education. The bonds forged in infancy last a lifetime for many lions.”

Lee Server’s book gave me a lot of pleasure and joy and goosebumps. It is one of my favourite reads of the year. It is a beautiful book to read and browse with your family, especially, your little ones. One word of warning though. Lionesses and lions are big cats and are adorable, but they are also wild, carnivorous hunters. This book talks about that too. There are pictures which depict hunting scenes too. So if you are reading this book with your little one, do handle those pages with care.

Have you read ‘Lions : A Portrait of the Animal World‘ by Lee Server? What do you think about it?

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Japanese are hugely fond of cats. Their love for cats frequently manifests itself in literature, from the nearly century old classic ‘I Am a Cat’ by Natsume Soseki to contemporary well loved classics like ‘The Guest Cat‘ by Takashi Hiraide and ‘The Travelling Cat Chronicles‘ by Hiro Arikawa. What happens when a Japanese writer takes all the Japanese love for cats, all the adorable things about cats, and puts them in a box, and shakes the box well, and then takes the contents of the box and makes a manga comic out of it? We get ‘Chi’s Sweet Home‘ by Konami Kanata.

Chi is a kitten. One day she takes a stroll with her mom and siblings and and while returning back gets lost. A boy who passes through sits with her and later the boy and his mom decide to take Chi home. What happens to Chi after that? Does she like her new home? Is she able to live with humans? Is she able to find her real mom? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.

I loved ‘Chi’s Sweet Home‘. It is beautiful, perfect, adorable. Konami Kanata’s watercolour illustrations are charming and beautiful and depict Chi in all her glory. If you have ever had a cat at home, you will love this book and following Chi’s adventures. This is a perfect book to gift your little one and read with her / him. I am sharing a few pages from the book in the comments so that you can see for yourself how adorable it is.

First pages

Chi plays with a shoe

Chi dreams

Have you read ‘Chi’s Sweet Home‘? What do you think about it?

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I got ‘Abandon the Old in Tokyo‘ by Yoshihiro Tatsumi as a present from a friend sometime back. When I was thinking of reading a graphic novel today, I decided to pick it up.

Japanese writers believe in presenting stories in comic form. They are pioneers in it. Comics probably occupies a bigger literary landscape in Japan than regular books – there are probably more readers of comics there than there are readers of other kinds of books. One of the reasons for this is that there are comics written for both kids and grown-ups. Writing comics for grownups was a quintessentially Japanese thing, before others started copying it. Sometimes these comics weren’t just fictional stories but were biographies and memoirs. The Japanese were much ahead of comics writers from other countries on this front – in presenting nonfiction books in comic form.

Why this long rambling passage on Japanese comics? Because this book is a perfect example of Japanese comics. It has eight stories. It doesn’t tell one story in eight chapters. It has eight short stories told in comics form. It defies the norm that a comics story should be long, should have a longer narrative arc. Who defies the norm, who writes a comics short story collection? A Japanese writer, of course.

The first thing about this collection of stories is that it is not for children. The stories are on themes which are of more interest to grownups. One of the stories might make even grownups squirm with discomfort. The first story ‘Occupied‘ is about a comics writer who loses his job. What he does when he hears this news forms the rest of the story. ‘Abandon the old in Tokyo‘, the title story, is about a young man who takes care of his old mother. His mother is domineering and tries her best to make him feel guilty and hold on to him and not let him go. Our young man is engaged to a young woman though. How our young man manages his relationship with the two women in his life forms the rest of the story. This was probably my most favourite story in the book. ‘The Washer‘ is about a man who washes windows of tall buildings. One day when he is washing a particular window, he notices that his daughter is inside that apartment and she is having an affair with someone. What this window washer does about it forms the rest of the story. ‘Beloved Monkey‘ is about a worker in a factory who has a pet monkey. It is a beautiful story about modern life in a big city in which a person feels alienated and lonely. It reminded me a lot of the Vittorio De Sica movie ‘Umberto D.‘ ‘Unpaid‘ is the story about an old man whose business goes under and who is hounded by creditors. This is the story with some shocking scenes. I won’t tell you what they are. It is a heartbreaking story. ‘The Hole‘ is almost a horror story – it is dark and scary and gripping. ‘Forked Road‘ is about a young man who is always drunk and we are taken back to his past to find out what happened to him which made him be this way. ‘Eel‘ is the story of a young man who works as a sewer cleaner.

One common feature across most of the stories is this – there is a young man who lives in a big city which is undergoing major change and modernization, he feels lonely and alienated from others inspite of the hustle and bustle around, he is awkward with women, he is introverted, his life is hard. This is the central feature of most of the stories. Alienation and loneliness are key themes in every story. How the story’s central character reacts to this alienation and loneliness is the main part of the story. It is beautifully and realistically told and sometimes it is insightful, and at other times it is heartbreaking. Yoshihiro Tatsumi says this in the interview featured at the end of the book, about his storytelling style –

“My basic approach was to come up with a ‘bleak story’ gekiga style that completely eliminated the requisite gags and humor so prominent in mainstream manga. The gag style defied realism. Unlike my contemporaries, I felt no need to incorporate humor into serious stories. I wanted to represent reality.”

Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s artwork is beautiful – it looks deceptively simple in its quintessential Japanese style and Tatsumi plays brilliantly with light and shade throughout the book. I have included a few pages below to give you a flavour of the artwork and the stories. There is also an insightful one page introduction at the beginning of the book by Koji Suzuki, who wrote the acclaimed ‘Ring‘ trilogy.

Beloved Monkey – 1

Beloved Monkey – 2

Beloved Monkey – 3

Beloved Monkey – 4

Forked Road – beautiful play of light and shade

Eel – 1

Eel – 2

I loved ‘Abandon the old in Tokyo‘. I discovered that more of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work has been translated into English, including his memoir. I can’t wait to read them.

Have you read this book? What do you think about it?

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