Brian Bendis’ writing in Uncanny X-men and All New X-men is sooo good. I find myself rereading panels and pages which I never do. Normally once I read something it doesn’t have the same effect on me reading it again but that’s not the case with Bendis. I’ll reread and then pause, put the comic book down so I can think about it for a while, and comeback to it later.
Bendis is probably Marvel’s top writer. Every big Marvel event has Bendis behind it (except Civil War) and the Marvel events since Avengers Disassembled (2004) have been great. He’s actually the reason I started reading Avengers which I had never been interested in. it helped that he actually broke the Avengers part and started a new team that included Wolverine, Spiderman, and Luke Cage. I had never been interested in Luke Cage up to that point but he wrote him and his wife Jessica Jones as new parents just trying to provide for and protect their baby daughter and all the drama that happens with them and between them. Very compelling stuff. Definitely check out the 1st volume of New Avengers (2004).
Up until recently he hasn’t been a part of the X-men books. But in 2013 he started writing the All New X-men and Uncanny X-men comics (accompanied by top notch art) and it’s been some of my favorite of the X-men stories. He writes good characters, and that has a lot to do with the dialogue and personalities of the characters he writes. They feel less comic bookish and more normal people with super powers. Honestly, I wouldn’t even say the stories are that great, as other writers are better at creating long imaginative story arcs (Jonathan Hickman, Grant Morrison, Joss Whedon), it’s just that he spends so much time with the characters that I forget about the story.
I hope Marvel keeps him around for a long time, and he sticks with the X-Men for a while.
This is a series of pages from Uncanny X-Men #16 where Magneto, now an X-Men but very depowered, meets up with his old crew the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and finds out they’re behind the sell and distribution of mutant growth hormone on the street of Madripoor. I love the last shot of Blob confused and asking Magneto why.
The next page is from Uncanny X-Men #20. Cyclops and a group of telepaths who have a hive mind (they share their minds and power) have infiltrated a SHIELD carrier to confront Maria Hill (head of SHIELD) and find out what she knows about Sentinel attacks on the X-men and whether Shield is behind it. A little backdrop to this is that Cyclops is actually on the run from SHIELD who is actively persuing him and he is leading a team of mutant revolutionaries (that includes Magneto, Emma Frost, Magik, Kitty Pryde, and new students). The smirk on Cyclops face and the embarrassment of Hill. The way the Cuckoo sisters get off topic.
What I should like to imagine is a style of Old Testament studies that would make sense even if all the interpretative decisions had already been made. At the moment each method has to work harder and harder to overturn the conclusions of its predecessors; learned journals are littered with more and more fresh interpretations of particular texts, showing how badly they have hitherto been misunderstood. At times this makes me want (however irrationally) to agree with people who ask me how I can go on studying the Old Testament, when after all this time it surely must be adequately understood already. The truth is that the meaning of very many passages, even of very many whole books, is not very seriously disputed. There is room for exciting new interpretations, but not endless room. In such a situation (and let us imagine it as it may be in fifty, a hundred or two hundred years’ time), ‘methods’ which yield ‘results’ are of mainly historical interest, for the results have been yielded. Where will be the place of criticism then?
John Barton – Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study, p. 245
So of the 34 books I read last year the following were my favorites and the most memorable nonfiction I read. I mentioned in my first post listing all the books I read that there were a lot of really good ones that I didn’t finished, but of the ones I did, these were the best,
“Jon Ronson’s exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world’s top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry”
This was a fun an interesting book about psycopathy/sociopathy and a test that can supposedly tell you whether someone is a psychopath (hint: if you’re worried you might be one you probably aren’t). Apparently people who are psychopaths have brains that are hard wired differently than the rest of the population and there is no cure for psychopathy. Learning the traits of psychopaths is really interesting as well as the fact that they can be in all areas of society and not easily identified to the untrained. Had me hooked the whole way through. One of those books I would by as a gift for other because I’m sure they would enjoy no matter what their interests are.
Other Notable Non Fiction (In No Particular Order)
“The financial crisis that exploded in 2008 isn’t past but prologue. The stunning rise, fall, and rescue of Wall Street in the bubble-and-bailout era was the coming-out party for the network of looters who sit at the nexus of American political and economic power.”
This book will piss you off. It pissed me off. Particularly helpful was the chapter on the cause of the financial crisis as well as a the chapter on Alan Greenspan and his lasting effect on the economy.
Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget by David Wessel
“In a sweeping narrative about the people and the politics behind the budget, Wessel looks at the 2011 fiscal year (which ended September 30) to see where all the money was actually spent, and why the budget process has grown wildly out of control.”
Helpful introduction to the budget. Helps you understand what this country really spends its money on and what we would have to cut to balance the budget (hint: it’s not foreign aid or PBS). A short read. I would definitely give this book to someone who wanted an introduction to the budget.
In addition to reading comics I love reading about comics. Grant Morrison is one of my favorite comic book writers and a fascinating guy. I just find his writing weird, but not too weird, and intriguing. He has cool ideas. In this books he talks about comics, the industry, humanity, drugs, and his crazy life. Good reading.
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
“Born to Run is an epic adventure that began with one simple question: Why does my foot hurt? In search of an answer, Christopher McDougall sets off to find a tribe of the world’s greatest distance runners and learn their secrets, and in the process shows us that everything we thought we knew about running is wrong.”
This was the most inspirational book I read this year (probably longer than that). It started me on the path of running longer distances after being stuck at about 3.5 miles for a long time. I ended up running the distance of a half marathon (13+ miles) one day on a whim. I’ve since scaled it back quite a bit but I learned I could do more than I thought and even more than that if I trained. This book advocates newer ideas about proper running form and foot wear (less is better) that enable people to run longer distances (50+ miles) without hurting themselves. Lot to learn in this book plus a captivating narrative about a super race being put on in the desert of Mexico which the author is determined to participate in even though he isn’t a long distance runner.
So I read a total of 34 books this year. Not bad for me. About half what my wife read but still I’m happy with the amount (It’s not a competition, Jen!) I also read a ton of comics. I don’t keep track of the comics so I’m not sure how many I actually read. Te following are the books I read and in the order I read them in. In the following posts I’ll list what I thought were the best reads in whatever arbitrary categories I come up with as well as some random thoughts.
- Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human – Grant Morrison
- The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry – Jon Ronson
- The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes
- Ender’s Shadow (Shadow, #1) – Orson Scott Card
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker’s Guide, #1) – Douglas Adams
- Before I Go To Sleep – S.J. Watson
- Robopocalypse – Daniel H. Wilson
- A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
- The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) – Suzanne Collins
- Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2) – Suzanne Collins
- Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3) – Suzanne Collins
- Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen – Christopher McDougall
- Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – Seth Grahame-Smith
- Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
- What Philosophers Know: Case Studies in Recent Analytic Philosophy – Gary Gutting
- Fundamentalism and Evangelicals – Harriet A. Harris
- Religion & Revelation – Keith Ward
- Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1) – Jim Butcher
- Escaping From Fundamentalism – James Barr
- People of the Book?: The Authority of the Bible in Christianity – John Barton
- The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture – Christian Smith
- Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America – Matt Taibbi
- Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies: The Need for Inclusive Interpretation – Cheryl Anderson
- You’re Not as Crazy as I Think: Dialogue in a World of Loud Voices and Hardened Opinions – Randal Rauser
- The Trinity, Practically Speaking – Frank D. Macchia
- Rethinking Expertise – Harry M. Collins
- Theology in Search of Foundations – Randal Rauser
- The Bible in the Modern World – James Barr
- The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker
- No Country for Old Men – Cormac McCarthy
- The Forever War (The Forever War, #1) – Joe Haldeman
- Now Wait for Last Year – Philip K. Dick
- Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget – David Wessel (Don’t remember when I read this so I put it at the end)
Interestingly enough, exactly half the books I read were fiction and the other half were non-fiction. I didn’t plan it this way it just happened. I started out with more fiction then went through a long stretch of nonfiction and then went back to fiction at the end of the year.
There were quite a few books I started and didn’t finish (Alvin Plantinga – Where the Conflict Really Lies, Thomas McCall – Which Trinity, Whose Monotheism, Charles C. Mann – 1491, Michael Grunwald – The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era, Sasha Issenberg – The Victory Lab, Bill Bryson – A Short History of Nearly Everything, Ben Winters – The Last Policeman, Peter Heller – The Dog Stars, Steven Levitt – Superfreakonomics, Malcolm Gladwell – The Tipping Point, etc). Some of them I will finish in 2013 and some of them I put down for good.
I was reading Ultimate X-Men which came out like in 2000 or 2001. It was part of the Ultimate imprint of Marvel which basically rebooted the most popular characters and teams in the Marvel universe. It was so new readers could jump into the comics without having to know all of the back stories and continuity since some of these comics had been around since the 60’s. So they retold the stories and changed some things up and based them in modern times. The first ones I read were Ultimate X-Men and I loved that comic. Haven’t gotten too far into it but the writing and art are great. Andy Kubert (one of my favorite artists) and Mark Millar (one of my new favorite writers) were on Ultimate X-Men and it’s really good. Mark Millar really changed things up but kept enough familiar that it didn’t feel too foreign. Plus it feels more mature than you would think considering they were trying to get new readers which would mean young kids or teenagers.
Anyway I thought I would check out Ultimate Spiderman since I’d also heard good things about it and Brian Michael Bendis, another great writer, is on that comic. Unfortunately I’m not really caring for it. It’s too PG and the writing is boring and familiar. It feels a bit too much like old Spiderman and it’s not mature enough like Ultimate X-Men is. So I’m kind of let down. Not that I ever liked Spiderman much but I was hoping I might like this comic. So far 9 issues in and I don’t. I just checked out Ultimate Fantastic 4 (2004), another team I’ve never been that into (although I’ve grown to really like Reed Richards this last year), and it’s starting off really good. Mark Millar is also writing it along with Bendis, and Adam Kubert is on art (style is very similar to his brother Andy) and so far it’s got me hooked. I’m hoping it’ll turn out as good as Ultimate X-Men since Millar and Kubert are on it.
Andre 3000 has been my favorite rappers since the 90’s, him and Jay-Z. I don’t know who I was a fan of first. Probably Jay-Z since I remember being into Reasonable Doubt before ATLiends even though they both came out the same year (1996). It’s not unusual to hear someone say Jay-Z is their favorite or the best but you don’t often here Andre 3000 brought up. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because he’s in a rap group instead of being solo and Outkast hasn’t released anything good since Stankonia (2000), which I didn’t even care for much. After that they split their next album (Speakerboxxx/Love Below) in half and each had their own half. Andre went a different direction and didn’t really rap. I didn’t care for that album either. Anyway Andre 3000 kind of fell out of the scene for a while after Love Below but in the last few years he’s been guesting on a bunch of songs and rapping some of his best stuff, like he went away and trained in seclusion for a while and then came back to beat everyone up. Every single one of his guest raps is memorable. He shines on every song and outshines whoever’s song it is. A good example of this is the Rick Ross song “16”. Rick Ross is ok. I like some of his stuff. He has his own style and his raps are decent, if somewhat predictable. But Andre 3000 gets on this song and raps for 2 minutes and not a bunch of cliche raps like you here from most rappers. That’s what I like about Andre 3000, he’s coming from a different place. He’s creative and he can think of other things to rap about than the usual stuff, or at least a different way of looking at it or speaking of it. He’s an artists and this song showcases his art.
Here’s some other songs he guests on that I really like. Seriously he’s putting out some of the best rhymes of his career. I almost don’t want him to release an album because I’m afraid it won’t be able to live up to all this stuff he’s been teasing us with. Still, the world needs more Andre 3000 and Outkast. While we wait I’ll still be listening to ATLiens and Aquemini like they came out yesterday.
Sorry – T.I. ft. Andre 3000
Bonus clip: T.I. admitting Andre 3000 outshined him on his song “Sorry”
I Do – Young Jeezy ft Drake, Jay-Z and Andre 3000
Interlude – Lil Wayne ft. Tech N9ne and Andre 3000
The Real Her – Drake ft. Lil Wayne and Andre 3000
Dedication to My Ex – Loyd ft. Andre 3000
I’ve come to realize the only time the X-Men comics are really any good is when they have big name writers behind them: Grant Morrison, Joss Whedon, Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker. Otherwise the stories are pretty forgettable and even if something major happens it doesn’t feel like that big of a deal. The big name writers write stories that seem big and have grand visions. Their story arcs tend to last over a year and you were glad they did. Regular writers have story arcs that last at the most 5 issues and they just seem small no matter how big the outcome. Case in point I’m reading X-Men Legacy in 2009 and writer has just given Rogue the ability to finally control her powers so that she can touch someone and not automatically drain their powers and memories. Now this is pretty major. It’s the first time since the character was introduced in the 80’s. It’s the reason she joined up with the X-Men and left being a villain so that she’d have the hope of one day being able to control her power. It’s been the basis behind her failed romances with Gambit since she couldn’t touch him without draining him, etc. It’s pretty big but I just shrugged when it was all over. Why? Because the story was’t that good and Rogue has suffered through some really bad writing for years that has made me really lose interest in her as a character. Same goes for Gambit who was finally able to begin a romance with her and they were able to touch each other without the fear of consequences but it just didn’t matter all that much. Gambit is just not that interesting of a character anymore. He hasn’t been written well since Chris Claremont left X-Men in the early 90’s.
Good writing over the years can make or break a character. I think a good example is Emma Frost who had been around but not much in the 80’s and 90’s but then Grant Morrison started writing her into the New X-Men and he made her character really compelling which was a task considering how her only real power was one that Jean Grey already had, telepathy, and Jean Grey was more powerful. Yet she’s had the good fortune of being in the flagship X-Men books, New X-Men and then Astonishing X-Men, so she was being written by Grant Morrison, Joss Whedon, and Warren Ellis over the last 8 years. And now she’s one of my favorite characters.
Unfortunately at this point Astonishing X-Men is the only X-Men title to get top name writers and artists so it’s the only one that really worth reading. I read the other titles but only to stay current with the changes happening. The X-Force title has been really good though since they’ve put a good (not great) writer and artists on it. The Wolverine comics aren’t that interesting either. They generally aren’t. There was a great story recently written by Mark Millar called Old Man Logan but other than that the good stories are far and in between.
You may not feel outstandingly robust, but if you are an average-sized adult you will contain within your modest frame no less than 7 × 1018 joules of potential energy—enough to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point. Everything has this kind of energy trapped within it. We’re just not very good at getting it out. Even a uranium bomb—the most energetic thing we have produced yet—releases less than 1 percent of the energy it could release if only we were more cunning.
Bill Bryson – A Short History of Everything
A year and a half ago I made the statement that Lil’ Wayne was the rapper making the best music today. I repent of that. He’s gotten 2 dimensional and hasn’t done anything as great as Tha Carter 2 & 3 which came out a while ago. Who then? I’ll just go with Jay-Z since I’m listening to him right now (Viva La Hova Coldplay and Jay-Z mashup). I’ve always thought he was the best rapper (since I got his first album in ’96) but his music kind of got stale for me a while. Been liking his stuff a lot more lately. I’ll put Jay-Z and Andre 3000 together. I think they’re the best.
The more I learn about Jehovah’s Witnesses the more I think it’s really just a form of organized extreme Christian fundamentalism rather than being a cult, especially since it’s so focused on the Bible.