Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Yesterday it was favorite movies of the 00’s, today books and comics.   Problem is when it came time to list my favorite books of the decade, I realized that the vast majority of the mind-opening, soul-nurturing books I’ve devoured these past ten years were published before 2000.  A good thing, then, that I happened upon the first volume of Ashok Banker’s stunning Ramayana series during a trip to India in 2005, not long after it was published.

Some would call Banker’s reimagining of the ancient Hindu epic a work of fantasy, others would call it historical fiction or spiritual metaphor.  It’s all of that and so much more—but you don’t have to be an Indiaphile to enjoy this enthralling six book odyssey.  I adored the entire series—Prince of Ayhodhya, Siege of Mithila, Demons of Chitrakut, Armies of Hanuman, Bridge of Rama and King of Ayodhya—but Prince and Siege captured my heart, soul and imagination in a way that reminded me of being fifteen and encountering Lord of the Rings for the first time.  Truth is, I don’t think I’ll ever read LOTR again, but there’s a very good chance I’ll return to this magnificent series.  A transporting, transcendent experience.  (I was also enraptured by a very different take on the same classic story, published around the same time as Banker’s:  Ramesh Menon’s The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic.)

Three of my pop culture heroes had new biographies in the bookstores in the 00’s:  John Lennon:  The Life by Philip Norman, Walt Disney:  The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neil Gabler and Orson Welles:  Hello, Americans by Simon Callow (I suggest you read Callow’s first volume on Welles, 1995’s The Road to Xanadu, before diving into this).  Not one of these was definitive—that would be impossible, really—but all of them were thorough, compassionate, fascinating and great fun.

And now a shameful admission:  I don’t really read a lot of comic books and haven’t for some time.  (I’ll wait a moment while your jaws hit the floor.)  That said, two comics that found their way to me and knocked my proverbial socks off were David Mack’s Kabuki  (a dizzying meditation on life, the universe and everything.  It’s as if Mack jacks his head directly into the drawing board, turns a switch and lets his unconscious mind bleed out onto the page.  Unclassifiably weird and absolutely wonderful) and Godland  by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli (Jack Kirby meets Philip K Dick in a comic book that explodes in your face every time you turn the page.  Casey and Scioli transcend their influences and create a work of unbounded imagination and great fun).

I’m also a big fan of a couple of all-ages comics:  Spider-Girl, by Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema (a good old-fashioned Marvel Comic, done with intelligence, skill and heart) and Lions, Tigers and Bears, by Mike Bullock, Jack Lawrence and Friends (those three words—intelligence, skill and heart—come to mind again).  

And let’s not forget those amazing web-comics from Mike Cavallaro, Dean Haspiel, Tim Hamilton and all their supernaturally talented cohorts at Act-i-Vate. To paraphrase Jon Landau, I have seen the future of comics and it’s just a click of the mouse away.

As for comic books on film, the hands-down winners were Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man.  The former perfectly captured the essence of my old friend Peter Parker and the latter was the first super-hero movie that I actually liked more than the source material.

Tomorrow?  Music and television.

© copyright 2010 J.M. DeMatteis


  1. These all sound really, really good.

    I've always regretted that I never got onboard SPIDER-GIRL at the ground level. DeFalco and Frenz are masters.

    I'm totally agreed that IRON MAN was better than the source material. Robert brings a lot of heart to that role, and the trailers have me pumped for the second.

    And SPIDER-MAN 2 was near flawless. I get the distinct impression that Aunt May knows from the moving scene, and I can't help but think of ASM 400!



  2. DeFalco and Frenz are indeed masters, David. I don't really know Ron, but Tom and I have been buddies for years (we first worked together when he was editor of MARVEL TEAM-UP, back in 1980 or so) and he's as nice a guy as he is a wonderful writer.

  3. I have been reading Spider-Girl now that it appears on Web of Spider-Man, but I haven't liked it that much. It has been getting better the more issues I read though. When I read the first one, I disliked it, but when I read the third one I cared for what would happen. I suspect my initial dislike came from my ignorance on what had happened before in the series.

    My favorite comic this decade was "Midnight Nation" by J.M. Straczynski. He has a very nice tale about being lost among the crowd. The fourth issue is my favorite single issue ever.
    Some series I love are Fables and Invincible.

    The Ramayana series sounds like a good read. This year I got into a series called "Song of Ice and Fire" which I love. I have been waiting too long for the fifth book though.

    I liked Spider-Man 2 quite a bit. I remember having some issues with it the first time I saw it (mainly Dr. Octopus accepting the deal with Harry when he could just get the material anyway through force), but the second time I watched it (last month) I enjoyed it more. I didn't have issues with the logic of the scenes (although one has to wonder whether Spidey saving the train is that heroic given that Spidey's appearance put the train in danger in the first place) and I enjoyed the characters more.
    Spider-Man is my favorite superhero, so I am willing to just enjoy the movies.

    Iron Man was very good. Has a lot of very funny moments and it was a great origin story. I am looking forward to the sequel, the trailers look fantastic. It should be fun to see how they deal with his identity being public and the introduction of Whiplash.

    I am a bit surprised you didn't mention the Batman movies. I think Batman Begins and Dark Knight were great. I like Begins a little more, but Dark Knight was incredible, specially Heath Ledger's performance. The Joker has never been scarier.

    Sorry for the lengthy comments, I enjoy your blog.

  4. If you want to really enjoy SPIDER-GIRL, Enrique, you should check out the trades. The shortened version you get in WEB isn't the best way to get a flavor for the series.

    I thought the Batman movies were very well done -- and I'll certainly be back for a third should they do one -- but they didn't really transport me, or delight me, the way those other two films did.

    My favorite superhero film of all remains the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie. Warts and all, it's a work of magic.

  5. I agree on Iron Man and Spiderman 2. Two of my favorite superhero movies.

    Last year was a good year for comics. I got into Increbible Hercules, which is one of the funniest comics I've ever read. Not only funny though, its well written, has plenty of action, and its just FUN to read.

    I loved Wednesday Comics from DC too. That was just so much fun. I felt like I was transported back in time to when the Sunday comics use to be cool. Of course, that was before I was born, WAY before, but having read so much about the Sunday comics of the past, it was just so great to get a look at what those comics must have been like. Or at least close to that anyway.

    I also enjoyed Ultimate Spiderman a lot too. Its the best Spidey comic out now, imo.

    Oh and I just recently discovered DC's Zuda web-comics, there's so many brillant comics there!

    As for regular books, I got to read Neil Gaiman's collection of short stories and poems: Fragile Things. While short stories are really good, its his poetry that has captured my imagination. Especially his poem called Inventing Aladdin. Just excellent.

    Oh and I found a new favorite author in 2009, Robin Hobb. Her Farseer books, its sequel the Tawny Man, and especially the Liveship Trader books were excellent. Enjoyed those books a lot and I'm looking forward to reading her next book thats connected to her Liveship series.

  6. If you enjoy the Zuda web-comics, Daniel, you really should dive into Act-I-Vate. Start with Dean Haspiel's BILLY DOGMA and you won't look back.

    It's a wonderful time for comics -- even if the sales figures don't always support that -- and I'm sure there's terrific stuff out there that I'm missing. But, honestly, after a day of writing comics, I usually want to relax and read something else. That said, when the Comix Gods drop something like GODLAND or KABUKI into my lap, I devour it with the delight of a ten year old kid.

  7. Thanks for the mention!
    "Savior" was one of my favorites of last year it just so happens.

  8. I agree; those Callow books on Orson Welles were superb. Where's that bio-pic?

    Gabler's book on Disney was also really, really good.

  9. Thanks, Tim!

    And let me point anyone (and everyone) reading this over to Act-I-Vate where they can read Tim's "Adventures of the Floating Elephant." After that you can rush out to your local bookstore and pick up his acclaimed adaptation of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451."

    Hey, what's life without a little plugging between friends?

  10. Maybe, once Callow's multi-volume biography is done, Rob, someone will have the wisdom to adapt it as a television mini-series. Or perhaps some young director will make a brilliant film of the books, turning Welles's life into a "Citizen Kane" for the new century.

    Walt Disney is a true hero of mine. He was the embodiment of what one man's imagination can accomplish in this world. And Gabler's book was a terrific read.

  11. JMD-

    What's your favorite Welles film, JMD? (I mean other than Kane, of course)

    I keep hoping someday, someone will put together a special edition--hell, any edition--of The Magnificent Ambersons for DVD. A movie with a completely butchered, tacked-on ending, yet still a classic. How'd he do that?

  12. Well now I know where to get started as far as comic books go (I've been trying to get past grabbing random books from the library and seeing if I like them... there's just so much out there!) And I actually own the Lennon book but I haven't been able to really read it with school and since it's sort of really long.

    Also this is well... sort of random and suck-up sounding (and irrelevant) but I really want to thank you for Brooklyn Dreams. It's my favorite book and the storytelling is amazing and I could ramble about it for a while. It was the first thing I had read in such a long time that actually made me think and has stuck with me.

    Sorry for gushing all over your page, haha.


  13. Your gushing is humbly accepted, Petiolule. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: I spend a good part of my time alone in a room, creating stories; I rarely get to meet the folks who read my work. Knowing that one of my books has moved someone in some way means the world to me. It's a real gift. So there's NEVER a need to apologize.

    If you're looking for an education in comics, you can't find a better place to start than with Will Eisner. I highly recommend A CONTRACT WITH GOD, an amazing, inspiring piece of work. Maybe my favorite graphic novel ever.

  14. My favorite Welles film is one of his least-seen, Rob: CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT. If KANE was the work of a brash, brilliant kid, CHIMES is the work of a mature artist at the peak of his powers. It also features one of Welles' greatest performances. The man was born to play Falstaff.

  15. I hadn't even realized Tom was editing MTU at that time.

    I picked up Tom's book ON THE SPIDER-MAN CREATORS about a year ago for a steal. I cannot recommend it highly enough for anyone who's interested in what's gone on behind the scenes. I've read a LOT of interviews with everyone who's worked on Spider-Man, and this is by far my favorite. I love the conversational tone and yet it's also the most informative book on Spidey I've ever read. I devoured this book in a sitting and I've returned to it repeatedly.

    Tom's on my list of guys I'd like to meet once just so I could shake their hand and thank them for being a part of my childhood reading experience.

    And I think I've said this before, but SAVIOR 28 is on my top 10 list for comics of the decade. There's nothing like it.

    And there's never any shame in praising BROOKLYN DREAMS, which is as good a graphic novel as any that's ever been written. There's stuff out there that's as good but nothing better.


  16. I suspect Tom's book worked so well, David, because he was friends with everyone he interviewed; folks were ready to open up to him because they trusted him.

    Thanks for the kind words re: S-28 and BD. Very much appreciated.

  17. I read Spider-Girl #0 (a reprint of the original What If story she first appeared in) and #1.

    I enjoyed this as much as any superhero comic I've read. For those who are interested, the Marvel digital subscription service has nearly (if not all) Spider-Girl comics available. With over a hundred comics to her name, that pretty much pays for the $60 subscription in and of itself--if you like digital format.


  18. I'm sure Tom DeFalco would be happy to know how much you liked SG, David; so sure that I forwarded your comments on to him.

  19. Thanks so much, JMD! Tom rocks!


  20. Mr. DeMatteis, I'm a long time fan. I just discovered this blog recently, and am reading through some of the posts. I've noticed you like a lot of India based stories and I wondered if you had ever heard of Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light. It is a science fiction novel based on the ancient Hindu and Buddhist stories. It won the 1968 Hugo Award for best novel, so I'm definitely not the only one who likes it!

  21. Welcome aboard, Colin; hope you stick around.

    I read LORD OF LIGHT a couple of years ago and enjoyed it very much. It was the first Zelazny I ever read...and I've been meaning to read more. Any recommendations?

    All the best -- JMD

  22. Thanks for taking the time to reply!

    I'm glad you enjoyed Lord of Light. Zelazny wrote several books like that where he would take a mytholoy and transplant it into a sci-fi type of setting, such as Creatures of Light and Darkness, which is based on Egyptian mythology, and ...And Call Me Conrad (another award winner), which draws from Greek mythology. If I had to recommend one book though, it would probably be A Night in the Lonesome October. It was one of his last and most fun books. It's a bizarre melding of Lovecraftian elements and public domain classic literature, and the main character is Jack the Ripper's dog.

    If you're interested in short stories, there is this: www.nesfa.org/press/Books/Zelazny-Project.html. They collected all of his poetry, short stories,novellas and notes they could find. I was reading one of the stories from the the first volume not long after reading Kraven's Last Hunt, and the story kept using lines from the Tyger, so I was like, "Hey! Hey!" I took it as a sign and went out and bought a book of Blake poetry.

  23. If I in any way motivated you to pick up a book of Blake, Colin, then I'm one happy man.

    Thanks for the recommendations. I'm going to make it my business to explore more of Zelazny's worlds.
    Have you read the Amber novels? Some folks think it's his best work.

  24. Amber is pretty great! It's got probably one of the most imaginative fantasy worlds I've ever seen. The one volume edition was a constant companion for a while during my high school years. Probably the biggest flaw in the works is Zelazny's own death. He wrote the first five books, and they wrapped up nicely. Many years later he came back and wrote another five that mainly made a lot of things more confusing and had a fairly open ending. He then wrote a handful of short stories to lead into a third series, but he died before he could do any work on it.

  25. I'm going to search out those first five books, Colin. Thanks so much for the info!