The "Year of the Tiger" arrived two weeks ago, but I was too busy shoveling all the snow that just kept falling on Casa Isabella to notice. I would shovel snow and, then, a couple hours later, it would look as if I hadn't shoveled at all. So I would go back out and shovel more. Was I trapped in some sort of time loop? Was my brain more frozen than usual? Fortunately, the snow has stopped for now, the temperature has risen somewhat, and I can again take note of the world around me.
Though I wasn't born in any previous "Year of the Tiger," my official Marvel nickname was Tony "the Tiger" Isabella. So I claim the year's motto - "I win!" - as my own. My goal is to live up to that motto by February 2 of next year, which is when this "Year of the Tiger" comes to a close. Wish me luck.
In any case, I've a pile of things to write about on my desk and I'm not even going to try to organize them. I'll just start writing and hope for the best. Hmm...that stack of library books ready to be returned might do for starters.
The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb [Norton & Company; $24.95] has received quite a bit of praise from mainstream critics and a bit of condemnation from some religious commentators. What surprised me most about the latter is that it hadn't generated more attention. Once I actually read Crumb's book, I could see why that's the case.
It's hard to rail against such a respectful comics adaptation of the first book of the Bible and that's what Crumb has done here. Crumb may not believe the Bible is the Word of God - I don't either - but clearly recognized it as an important work and labored to translate Genesis to comics as accurately as possible. Even the dull "begat" parts.
The art is stunning in its detail and power. Crumb sweeps the reader into the ancient Biblical world, imbuing his large cast of characters with surprising individuality. He approached the book with clean hands and undeniable scholarship, considering each and every artistic decision and seeking counsel from Biblical experts. He even includes several pages of commentary describing some of his research. It's a more honest version than we generally get from those who flavor the Bible to their own tastes.
Right then on the cover of The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb, the author recommends adult supervision for minors reading the book, which contains nudity and other graphic images. But it's one of those works that shows the power and versatility of the comics art form and, as such, I heartily recommend it to all my readers. It earns the full five out of five Tonys.
Another good book is I'm Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen - My Journey Home by Shoshana Johnson with M.L. Doyle [Simon & Schuster; $23.99]. In the first days of Bush's "Operation Iraqi Freedom," a U.S. Army convoy was attacked. Several soldiers were killed and others taken prisoner, the most famous of the latter being Jessica Lynch. Johnson was also wounded and taken prisoner. Just as Lynch debunked the Bush administration and military's deliberate fabrication of her as a warrior goddess who blasted away at the enemy despite her injuries, so does Johnson seek to set the record straight as regards her own peril. It's a riveting tale that stirs many emotions.
There's anger at the unnecessary dangers into which the Bush administration sent our troops and the incredible series of snafus leading to 18 trucks (out of 600) being separated from the rest of the convoy. There's sadness at the loss of those soldiers who did not survive the ambush and page-turning fear as the captives, some of them seriously injured, are moved from place to place with the possibility that, at some point, their captors will decide to just kill and be done with them.
But there's also tremendous pride in reading of brave soldiers refusing to abandon hope, each other, or basic human decency. When Johnson and her fellows are finally rescued, they express concern for their final jailers because those men had treated them kindly. That chapter brought tears to my eyes.
The book starts with the ambush, but subsequent chapters flow back and forth between Johnson's life and the events that followed her being taken prisoner. Just as thrilling as the Iraqi chapters are those describing Johnson's remaining time in the military and her life after leaving the military.
This is the story of a truly remarkable woman and it's a story that needed telling. The Bush administration lied before the war and its disgraced members continue to lie about it. They continue to do a great disservice to our armed forces. We need the stories of those who were actually in harm's war to put these events into their proper perspective. It's my personal hope, of course, that the historical record will be filled with great praise for the men and women of our armed forces.
I've one more book to talk about today, one I had to put down after reading some 60 pages of it.
Staying True [Ballantine Books; $25] is the memoir of Jenny Sanford, the soon-to-be-ex-wife of Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina. There's nothing new about the disgraced governor's story. He's just another phony politician who bleats about family values while failing to live up to them himself.
But Mrs. Sanford, on the other hand, showed some stuff during her appearance on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." We probably don't share a lot of political common ground, but she struck me as an honest, smart, rightfully pissed off lady who conducted herself with admirable grace. Based on the interview, I requested her book from my local library.
I still admire Mrs. Sanford, but the book became too painful to read. Maybe my present-day knowledge that Governor Sanford is an arrogant, contemptible sleazeball colors my judgment here, but, in just those first 60 pages, which cover their meeting, courtship, marriage, the births of their first two sons, and Sanford's first run for political office, there are so many warning signs that the future Governor could not be trusted. Warning signs? Heck, they are practically billboards.
I commend Sanford living up to her concepts of what a loving wife should bring to marriage, but I can't help but feel that she, her sons, and the citizens Sanford was elected to serve would have been better off if she questioned him more and then held him more accountable to the values he claimed to espouse. Good women, wrong men. I've seen it so many times with women friends of mine that I just couldn't bring myself to continue reading this book.
I have to give myself an "incomplete" here and that means not rating this book. Which doesn't stop me from wishing all the best for Jenny Sanford and her sons.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
Please send material you would like me to review to: