Monday, June 24, 2013


The Most Powerful Prayer on Earth is a 2004 book on Christian spirituality by Peter Horrobin. The aforementioned prayer, Horrobin says, is Jesus’s in Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Here, based on Jesus’ model and teaching, Horrobin discusses the need to forgive any and all who have hurt us, whether spiritually, physically, emotionally, or sexually; the freedom that will come from this; and how we can begin the process of forgiveness. Horrobin’s theological treatment of this vital but frequently under-emphasized facet of Christian living is generally right on, as is his practical advice. (A note: Horrobin also explicitly ties forgiveness to the physical healing of the forgiver; take that as you will.)

This is a short book with a clear emphasis on readability, and it features some of the presentation issues common to little books of this type. There’s Horrobin’s overuse of exclamation points, for one thing. There’s also the frequent points, repeated verbatim from the text for emphasis, presented in gigantic type, even in mid-sentence.

The Most Powerful Prayer on Earth is a brief but valuable and sufficiently overarching book on forgiveness, and serves well enough as a practical introductory guide to this extremely important subject.


Monday, June 17, 2013

STAR TREK: LOG FOUR by Alan Dean Foster

Star Trek: Log Four (1975) contains three TV-script-to-novella adaptations by Alan Dean Foster based on episodes of Star Trek: The Animated Series: “The Terratin Incident,” “Time Trap,” and “More Tribbles, More Troubles.” Here, the Enterprise crew shrinks to Lilliputian dimensions, gets caught in a time warp, and re-encounters Cyrano Jones and his collection of tribbles.

Adapting a 23-minute teleplay to a seventy-page story is no small challenge, and Foster generally does a fair job, giving the stories a more leisurely pace that allows him to build some cosmic atmosphere and bring some depth to the ship and crew. When it doesn’t go well, however, things degenerate to a nigh-unreadable slog.

That’s the case here with “The Terratin Incident,” which is easily the silliest of the three stories here, but which is inexplicably dragged out over half the book. Foster really drops the ball with the logic of his explanations for the phenomenon: if the crew shrinks but retains their original weight, they must also retain their original strength – otherwise they wouldn’t be able to move; they should be little super ant people. Instead, they’re straining at knobs and building tiny ladders. Also terrible is Foster’s embarrassing failure at shamelessly contriving some suspense at the end.   

The other two stories are quite a bit better, however. They’re also significantly shorter and much better paced. “More Tribbles, More Troubles” is the best, and it’s the shortest. One can’t help but think that given the fixed length of these volumes, four episodes would be a better number for each than three.

Foster’s dialogue, a problem throughout this series, again doesn’t ring true for a number of characters in many places. And there are a number of other things that Foster inserts that don’t fit with the Star Trek world we know (or even the one we knew in 1975), including a wife for Scotty and Federation mind-wiping.

In short, the other two stories are pretty solid, but “The Terratin Incident” just kills Log Four.


Thursday, June 13, 2013



Masters of the Universe: The Origin of Hordak is a 2013 DC one-shot written by Keith Giffen and Brian Keene and illustrated by Giffen and Scott Koblish.

Origin. DC He-Man people, you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Zodac, eh? And he’s Hordak’s brother, eh? Is that what we’re doing now? Okay, I guess, although there doesn’t seem to be much point to it. This “origin” is little more than a protracted fight scene over which exposition is spouted (see also the God-awful Origin of He-Man); there’s none of the backstory needed to make us care about these characters, their relationship, or even the death of a million people.

The paper-thin plot doesn’t make a ton of sense either: Hordak can’t fight Zodac to the death in Backgroundless Rubble-Filled Place 1; they have to travel to the identical Backgroundless Rubble-Filled Place 2? Why? To make Zodac fight Leech for five minutes? And yet, there are the building blocks of a good story here: a mini-series chronicling the events Hordak and Zodac discuss, for example, could have worked quite well.

Aside from the fact we seem to be borrowing from King Hiss’s 200X backstory for Enforcer-fighting Hordak (which doesn’t really matter because they never make us care), his reimagining as a magical energy vampire works just fine. Meanwhile, however, Zodac apparently doesn’t rate having any of his backstory retained (it’s also interesting, given the fact that DC imported Dekker from the 200X series, that the decision’s been made to re-Caucasianize him).   

This one-shot’s connections to the monthly comic’s “present day” are also disappointing. There’s a little insight into Skeletor’s red skull, but that’s about it. The most burning question – how good old bat-Hordak became a Giger-esque abomination – is not addressed in the slightest.

Giffen’s art is as unimpressive as his writing. I appreciate the fact that his Fright Zone pays tribute to both the Filmation version and the playset, and he does a good job of putting emotion on Hordak’s face; however, his characters are angular, his layouts call to mind someone who can't figure out how to make his camera zoom out, and, while maybe it’s not fair to call this “Twenty Pages of Rubble and Glowy Magic,” the backgrounds are deal-breakingly few. And Hordak’s casting a Batman shadow, Giffen? Seriously?

In short, The Origin of Hordak relates a vignette in which everything of significance or interest has either already happened or is yet to come. The teasers for this comic included the question, “What the heck is a demigod anyway?” I’m not certain what sort of brain-damaged young people DC’s targeting with their Masters of the Universe comics, but they’re absolutely nailing that demographic.


Monday, June 10, 2013

ONE LAST STRIKE by Tony La Russa

One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season is a 2012 baseball memoir by former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa with Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Here, La Russa chronicles the Cardinals’ improbable run to victory in the 2011 World Series.

Crucial to the book’s readability, Tony uses a good tone: he’s self-analytical without being self-aggrandizing, quick to give credit to others and to bear the burden of mistakes himself. If you’re familiar with the man at all, you won’t feel like he’s ever really blowing his own horn. However, he’s extremely verbose in this book, and he never meets a tangent he doesn’t like. As a result, the book is at least fifty pages too long, and it doesn’t always flow well.

Several other factors keep the book from feeling well written, which is unexpected given Hummel’s name on the cover. There are a number of verbal tics repeated throughout the book – the most annoying being sentences ending in “…or whatever.” And while a lot of Tony’s insights are quite good (of course), he’s also given to citing something that happened once in a game as “proving” such-and-such baseball principle.

Yet the accounts of the games are frequently dramatic, and there are a lot of fascinating tidbits – for example, the thought process behind Tony’s handling of the Kenny Rogers pine tar incident in the 2006 Series and some of his learning experiences as manager of the White Sox and A’s. Disappointingly, though, there’s nothing new or further on the 2011 World Series Game 5 bullpen fiasco.

Tony always stuck up for his guys, and he earned a lot of respect for it. And whether you’re familiar with Tony’s history or not, it’s pretty clear who he likes and dislikes (he never comes out and says it). His disdain for the likes of Ozzie Smith and Colby Rasmus is fairly obvious, and it’s borderline embarrassing how he covers for folks like Mark McGwire (for cheating) and Ryan Franklin (for sucking). His faithfulness sometimes feels disingenuous, and there’s also the shameless mendacity of calling the 2011 club “better than average” defensively. But really, all of that is just Tony being Tony.

Though bloated and in dire need of an editor, One Last Strike is an interesting look at an important figure in Cardinals (and baseball) history and at one of the most exciting and improbable turnarounds of all time. It should appeal to both hardcore baseball fans and Cardinals fans of the more general type.


Monday, June 3, 2013


All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from My Golf-Playing Cats is a 1997 collection of Ruben Bolling’s weekly Tom the Dancing Bug cartoons.

Various features have come and gone, but TDB hasn’t really changed much in the 15+ years since this came out (and that’s a very good thing). In fact, this collection of comics has more in common with the current TDB cartoons than with the first collection from 1994.

In short, TDB is funny and insightful without being mean-spirited – and always straight-faced, which is one of the fundamental reasons it works so well. There’s more political commentary here than in the first collection – Bolling’s liberal bias is obvious, but he pokes fun at everybody.

Bolling not only has clever ideas, but he gets impressive mileage out of them. Just when you think something like Sam Roland, the Detective Who Dies is getting stale, Bolling comes up with creative ways to keep it fresh. Some of the topics here are dated, like Ebonics and the young internet, but some issues are still surprisingly relevant (e.g., George H.W. Bush’s war in Iraq). And it seems to me that Louis Maltby used to be quite a bit more optimistic.

Tom the Dancing Bug is my favorite comic strip, and All I Need… is a great (if short) collection, as well as a perfectly good place for new readers to start.