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A Graphic Review of Comic Literature

A synergistic review of graphic novels exploring the broad appeal of the comic medium.
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  238 SPECS JOURNAL r eviews        R       E       V       I       E       W       S Molly Bendall  , Under the Quick, Parlor House Press, 2009. Reviewed by Eric Finer  As Above, So Below: a Poetry Review   Molly Bendall’s fourth book of poetry, Under the Quick , like her earlier books, possesses an unmistakable incantatory quality evident even from the rst poem, “Reminds Me of Panic,” which opens: “Push me in, let me”—an invocation after Homer. Indeed, though Bendall’s forms reject Classical poetics, her work nonetheless nds some concordance with the great Greco-Roman poets, and not simply through her use of allusion and mythological imagery: Under the Quick seems born of a (post)modern pagan state, one  where Veronica Mars coexists with Clytemnestra and everyday habits are literal rituals tied to unseen forces. “Time Tunnel” (38) connects cooking to dark matter, making aprons sacred garb and crumbling peppercorns a magical rite. Rather than disrupting her poems’ spell-like tone, Bendall’s radical forms instead reify it. She lays words out in patterns that might be mistaken for chaos, as if her poems were snapshots of machines too huge to comprehend, using space to communicate the inadequacy of language. Bendall’s spaces express a primal ineffable, rather than a postmodern uncertainty, between which she constructs pseudo-sentences and non sequiturs that invite comparisons to Gertrude Stein’s hermetic poetry. However, Under the Quick  does not belong to any hermetic order, extant or otherwise. The book eschews the language of the ancient temple and the elegant parlor for that of the alleyways and airwaves of late capitalism.  239 SPECS JOURNAL R   E    V    I     E    W   S     Molly Bendall & Gail Wronsky, Bling & Fringe: (The L.A. Poem).  What BooksPress, 2009. Reviewed by Francesca Mastrangelo Beyond Decoration: a Poetry Review  In the realms of experimental poetry and critical theory, punctuation can be used as a status symbol in much the same way as a fashion accessory. Open up Molly Bendall and Gail Wronsky’s book of poems, Bling and Fringe (The L.A. Poems) : punctuation marks litter the pages, simultaneously celebrating and critiquing frivolity. Bendall and Wronsky’s punctuation moves beyond decoration by challenging conventional perceptions of words as discrete, coherent entities through their creative use of slashes and parentheses to create a poetic interstitiality: a space between traditional conveyances of meaning. For instance, the poem “Eyes/Fish Scales” uses parentheses to emphasize how gender inuences poetry and receptions to creative expression. I’m in a working-class Neighborhood gallery/ coffee house/ perfor(man)ce space/ Here, the authors not only depict the sensory detail of a particular setting, but also insert an alternate message within their surface-level narrative: the letters with the parentheses inform readers that this space is male-dominated, investing the poetry with a complexity of meaning. Consider the “mindful/plaidful” dichotomy in “Casual Shoes” (30). The slash placed between interiority (“mindful,” indicating emotion) and materiality (“plaidful,” indicating a clothing print) implores the reader to question what characterizes this oppositional relationship. Bling and Fringe   exemplies how language can both actively defy conventional modes of thought and playfully mock the traditions of theoretical analysis. Molly Bendall and Gail Wronsky’s  240 SPECS JOURNAL        R       E       V       I       E       W       S collaboration allows readers to indulge in a linguistic joyride, tickling the imagination while stimulating one’s poetic sensibilities; Blinge and Fringe   is always entertaining and consistently subversive.  Alessandro Barbucci and Barba Canepa, Sky Doll  . Marvel, 2008. Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby,  Essential Iron Man Vol. 1.  Marvel,   2000.David Mazzucchelli,  Asterios Polyp. Pantheon, 2009. Reviewed by Julian Chambliss  A Graphic Review of Comic Literature  Recently graphic literature has generated attention as successful lm adaptations rule the marketplace. This success highlights the medium’s quasi-respectable status. Caught, as they are, in the trap of superhero iconography, the range of comic content remains unknown to the average consumer.  The truth, and it bears repeating, is that although the superhero genre is the most recognized (and best selling), it represents a fraction of published graphic literature. An expansive review reveals the medium’s kinetic depth and challenges the assumptions that marginalize comics in the United States.David Mazzucchelli’s  Asterios Polyp  provides, for those too “mature,” the literary feel required to justify comic readership. The story of an architect seeking a solid foundation after losing everything,  Asterios Polyp displays an undeniable artistry. Mazzucchelli’s authoritative examination of the struggle to nd life’s meaning demonstrates how graphic novels merge words and pictures to provide a transcendent cognitive experience. Referential in concept,  Asterios Polyp , is alternatingly brilliant in its clarity (a complex commentary on modernism in art) and painful in its obfuscation (the visual iconography buried within is meaningful and meaningless). Mazzucchelli’s  work is cerebral, linking desire and intelligence to create an engaging read.  241 SPECS JOURNAL R   E    V    I     E    W   S      Alessandro Barbucci and Barba Canepa’s Sky Doll   is a transatlantic collaboration between Soleil and Marvel publishers. The result is a graphic story with sex, religion, and the meaning of life wrapped in a sci- narrative.  With art and story referencing Heavy Metal  , the seminal Franco-American illustrated magazine, the story centers on Noa, a life-like female android  who exists only to serve the state’s desires. When she meets diplomatic missionaries she escapes, beginning a journey that lays bare the excesses of religious extremism, selsh commercialism, and exploited masses. Sky Doll’s fusion of lush art and complex story questions beliefs. Like  Asterios Polyp  it delivers plot twists, as well as arresting visual and literary avor. Yet, there is action and the traditional fantastic adventure that speaks to the American reader. Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby’s  Essential Iron Man Vol. 1 presents a conventional comic, yet with it we can glean greater meaning from the superhero. The lone armored gure is a metaphor for the United States’ defense ideology. Tony Stark’s life as hero and corporate symbol is rooted in the U.S. response to communism’s global threat. Recent cinematic success highlights the resonance of the U.S. versus “them” framework stressing both the comfort and confusion Americans associate with the military industrial complex.  Essential Iron Man Vol. 1  collects the srcins and foundational adventures, introducing Cold War inspired villains. The Black  Widow (socialist seductress), the Crimson Dynamo (militaristic Stalinism) and the Mandarin (the menace of Red China) provide form to collective fears.  The Iron Man’s triumph is not the point; the technical and moral superiority that allows him to win is the payoff. These books taken together defy the collective wisdom about comics. Go ahead, take a walk on the graphic side.  242 SPECS JOURNAL        R       E       V       I       E       W       S Doctor Who, series 1-5. BBC, 2005-2009. Reviewed by Claire Jenkins New Doctor, New Man  The reinvention of Doctor Who  in 2005 was a huge success on British television, and internationally. The program with which many of us grew up with returned after fteen years away from our screens (excepting the one-off television movie starring Paul McCann in 1996), revamped for a new generation. The four series that have followed continually seem to oscillate between thoughtful and gripping episodes such as The Long Game   or Blink  and the rather more bland and forgettable. The rst “new” series arguably began in such a way, taking place in central London and introducing us to Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) and her irritating family and boyfriend. When Mickey, Rose’s beau, is turned to plastic even she doesn’t notice the difference. That said, as the various series get into their stride it is for the most part an entertaining drama series. Doctor Who  remains very much the work of British television, although by the second series the budget has clearly increased and special effects are greatly improved. The production values, and at time acting standards, wither  when compared to current American television drama. That said, the “naff-ness” of Doctor Who  is undoubtedly part of its charm. The program remains tied to its British roots. British iconography and settings are prominent, as are the recurring use of Welsh locations and actors (the program is made by BBC Wales). Although Doctor Who  has always been quintessentially British, the suggestion that a rift in time and space lies underneath Cardiff is hard to believe, even in the Who  universe. Of course, as with any national television series or lm, Doctor Who  will inevitably make use of its home territory, but the majority of episodes take place in the UK when there are supposedly a great number of planets, worlds and galaxies. However, British Prime Minister Harriet Jones’s refusal to accept the help of the US president when saving the world (  The Christmas Invasion   ), and Harry Saxon/The Master’s disavowal
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