book review: will the real alberta please stand up?

A useful tool for my ongoing attempts to get to know the province I’m living in is the Read Alberta eBooks project. Through my library I can download stuff by Alberta writers and not just lament that the government presiding over me funds horse racing more than the arts. Where did I get that nugget? From Will the Real Alberta Please Stand Up? by Geo Takach, which is an Alberta ebook. That I read. Following the project’s orders.

The book was not great. Part of it comes from being written 10 years ago, so “the present” was very Ralph Klein focused (but Stephen Harper was only mentioned twice). Part of it comes from the writer being a journalist who wasn’t really interested in any kind of rigour. He just talked to a lot of Albertans and non-Albertans about what they thought of Alberta, then assembled those quotes thematically. That led to it being very much a boosterish kind of thing, with loads of sentiment about the land and an almost total absence of indigenous voices. In that vein you’d think that the first nations people were totally a part of Alberta’s prehistory and have nothing to do with its present. Because it’s just white people it’s all about insecurity around being perceived as rednecks and pointing at historical good things that happened here. And the fucking “individual initiative and volunteer spirit that everyone has to exhibit because they don’t want to fund social programs through the state.

Though it was generally off-putting, I did learn about the province through the book. Mostly about history, including some of the basics of the listener-supported radio station CKUA (which is my favourite thing about living here). There was acknowledgement that the tar sands are kind of bad, but that Albertans don’t really care because everything has to be “balanced” against economic development. Which is the same as the rest of Canada I guess.

But as a book, it was an okay primer that repeated itself a lot. I wouldn’t recommend it.

book review: the influencing machine

Brooke Gladstone and Josh Neufeld made The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media which is a comic about how the media works. It talks about bias and how objectivity doesn’t really work, but also about the history of democracy and media consolidation. The book is drawn really well, clear and effective in conveying its information. Comics like this are so good at doing introductions to complicated topics.

I started the book really enthused about it, but as it went on I realized it was never going to get beyond the introductory stuff. It was still good, but since the media is something I read about a lot in non-book form I was a little underwhelmed by the content. But as an introduction, it was pretty good.

book review: batman: knightfall parts 1 and 2

This summer’s The Dark Knight Rises is Christopher Nolan’s last Batman movie, and the villain is going to be Bane. I know the basic story of Bane from back in the 1990s but I hadn’t actually read the comics until recently.

In Broken Bat Bane has come to Gotham and blows a hole in Arkham Asylum to let a whole crapton of Batman’s enemies out. Batman is already weakened at the start of the book and Robin and Alfred are trying to get him to take a rest. Of course, Batman can’t do that. So this book is him fighting these escapees and just ending up dead on his feet. There isn’t much explanation of why Batman is already so run-down at the beginning of the story; I think this was just after the long gang war thing with Black Mask, but don’t quote me on that. Anyway, in this book Batman is weakened, physically and psychologically and then Bane (a juiced up South American badass who wants to make Gotham his) beats the shit out of him in stately Wayne Manor. Bane doesn’t kill Batman, but breaks his back.

Who Rules the Night follows Robin, Alfred and Jean Paul Valley as they try to cover for Batman now being crippled. Valley (who’d been brought up as a religious assassin kind of guy named Azrael) takes over the mantle of the bat. He’s a lot more intense about things than Bruce Wayne, and armours up the Batman costume and eventually beats Bane (almost kills him, but pulls back at the last moment).

There’s a third part to the Knightfall story which has the new Batman getting more and more out of control while Bruce Wayne tries to recover (and gets his back unbroken by a magickal doctor, who I expect won’t be in the Nolanverse version of this story).

These comics are interesting in what they say about Batman, and they were a timely part of the 90s trying to put some edginess into superheroes, but as far as good stories go? Meh. I don’t like how old the Tim Drake Robin looks in these books (he’s supposed to be 14ish and looks 20), and the writing is simplistic and the villains are cartoony. It’s good for me to read some of these comics to remember that while there’s good stuff in superhero comics, not everything is awesome just by being words and pictures together. Sometimes I can forget that.

book review: waltz with bashir

I haven’t seen the movie version of Waltz With Bashir, but Ari Folman and David Polonsky’s comic (they also made the animated documentary) is an adaptation of it. It feels that way, more like a tie-in product than something natively created in the comicbook form.

It’s about an Israeli soldier coming to terms with his actions during a massacre in Lebanon in 1982. He starts off not remembering it at all, but travels to some places and talks to some people to figure out what happened and what his dreams about it mean.

Maybe I sound dismissive, but it felt very shallow. It might have worked as a film, but without humans portraying these characters the dialogue felt uninspired. There wasn’t anything for me to really get into. I want more meat to a story like this. I guess I’m just saying this was no Joe Sacco book.