Monday, January 16, 2012

SPIRITS OF VENOM by Howard Mackie, Alex Saviuk, and Adam Kubert

 Spirits of Venom (1993), written by Howard Mackie and penciled by Alex Saviuk and Adam Kubert, collects Marvel Comics’ Web of Spider-Man #95 and #96 and Spirits of Vengeance #5 and #6. Here, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, and John Blaze battle Demogoblin, the Spider-Doppelganger, Hag, Troll, and a bunch of Deathspawn, plus Venom, in the high-ceilinged, labyrinthine sewers (standard comic book issue, of course) beneath New York.

There’s quite a bit going on here, most of it fighting – these four issues are little more than one massive action scene. The villains are all B-list and C-list (Ghost Rider’s rogues’ gallery tends to pretty obscure, even for serious comic fans), and the story never manages to feel significant. What little plotting there is is totally contrived: whoever needs to show up for the story to progress at a given point just drops in.

The dialogue is pretty rough, even by comic standards. Venom and Demogoblin are on one-note rants through the entire story (Venom’s like a wise-cracking zombie and Demogoblin’s a religious nut-job). Much of the rest is stiff and formulaic.

The art here is generally good, and, given the story, a definite plus. Saviuk’s long run on Web of Spider-Man was always solid, if never spectacular. Kubert’s art is more stylized, more detailed, more cinematic, and, overall, superior.

On the whole, Spirit of Venom is a passably entertaining mess, a model of quantity over quality. Unless you’re a huge fan of both Spider-Man and Ghost Rider, you won’t be missing much if you pass on this one.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

JAPANESE FAIRY TALES by Yei Theodora Ozaki

Japanese Fairy Tales, also known as The Japanese Fairy Book, is a 1908 collection of traditional fables and folktales compiled and translated by Yei Theodora Ozaki.

As I understand it, this is a somewhat liberal translation; accuracy to the source material has obviously been sacrificed to a certain extent for the sake of accessibility. Interestingly, words that would not be translated today are translated here for the sake of the Western audience (“samurai,” for example, is translated “knight”). Many of these stories are not concise – they tend to meander – and some end rather abruptly. Without substantial familiarity with the original material, it’s difficult to determine how much of this is the stories themselves and how much is Ozaki’s doing, but I suspect the latter is more responsible.

These stories are, nevertheless, mostly quite enjoyable, and the differences and similarities with Western fairy tales are particularly interesting. (Wicked stepmothers, apparently, are a source of plot conflict the world over.)

Many of these stories are grim and violent, of the degree of the original un-sanitized Grimm Brothers’ tales. There are vicious revenge stories here, and the ones involving animals bring to mind Tom and Jerry (or, perhaps more accurately, Itchy and Scratchy, never mind Happy Tree Friends), even with some obvious sanitizing (“The Farmer and the Badger” is a notable example). Many stories do not have happy endings. They certainly aren’t all for small children.

Accuracy aside, Japanese Fairy Tales is a nice little collection of stories, and a decent introduction to Japanese folklore.


Thursday, January 5, 2012


American Fairy Tales is a 1901 collection of twelve fantasy stories by L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

These stories feature good humor, and are often tongue-in-cheek. While perfectly appropriate for children, they were clearly written with adults in mind, and can be enjoyed by such. Highlights here include “The Glass Dog” and “The Queen of Quok.”

They aren’t all classics, but everything is short and moves briskly. There is also some mild racism in a couple of places, but nothing worth starting a bonfire over.

Overall, American Fairy Tales is a charming, clever, entertaining work.