Monday, March 17, 2008


I AM A BARBARIAN: This is a strange novel by Burroughs. Next to the last of Edgar Rice Burroughs full-length novels, it was published after his death. In some ways it's typical Burroughs. The story starts off establishing the narrator, a proud Briton barbarian ten-year old boy whose family is captured and he becomes the slave to a young Roman boy called "Little Boots." Thus, like many of his heroes from Tarzan to John Carter, the format starts off familiarly. We have rough hewn outsider in an alien culture/civilization, and we see through his eyes a culture with the veneer stripped away.

The similarity to the familiar action adventure novels ends there. This isn't some civilization on an alien world or lost land in the heart of the African jungles or even Victorian England. This is Rome. And, Burroughs hasn't set out to tell his typical adventure novel, but an historical novel. Through his barbarian narrator, he can hold up the rise to power of Little Boots, or as he's most commonly known, Caligula and the excesses of life of Rome and the Caesars. Our narrator is cut from the same cloth as Tarzan and other Burroughs' heroes: he's proud, brave, fiercely loyal, intelligent, moral and chaste. Yet, despite these virtues, by the dictate of the story, he's also ineffectual. He serves as witness to the depravities of Rome and the Caesars, but he does nothing. We know he's not a coward and is quick to act without thoughts of consequence, but he stands by while Caligula slaughters many of no blame. It's here where the novel falls. ERB is trying to have it both ways with his narrator. He's not the average slave, he's too heroic and epic for that, but the story dictates he be a passive watcher all too often, an ill-suited role for the character that is built.

The novel doesn't shy from hard depictions. It goes into some details on crucifixions as well as Caligula's depravities, including a passing mention of interest in boys. And when as a youth, the narrator finds himself imprisoned, there is clearly the threat of homosexual rape as two prisoners fight to the death over him. Not the type of thing that finds itself in the typical Burroughs novel.

Have to say, not the book I was hoping for as I was expecting something a little more akin to the movie GLADIATOR. Something, the excellent Boris Vallejo cover suggests. That scene is in the novel,and it's the one scene that might strike one as being very typical Burroughs. However, it comes very late into the novel, setting the stage for the end. It was an interesting read nonetheless, showing a slightly different side to the writer than one normally gets. A side that shows familiarity with the realities of justice and violence and life outside of a pulp novel, where the endings are not romantic.

I'm a big fan of Marvel's Nighthawk of the Defenders. Always have been, something about his blue-yellow-red costume I guess. Used to practice drawing him with those little wings scooping up from under his eyes forever, always trying to get it right. Ditto on the big bird emblem that spanned his torso. So, it always bugs me that he's one of those characters that every time he appears somewhere these days, it's basically in a slightly different costume than before. Sure, he has had a few costumes, but he's not the Wasp. It's indicative of the new mindset of comic creators, in this case artists often starting right off the bat redesigning every costume they can whether the costume warrants it or not and whether the artist has any kind of proven track record. It's sort of my problem with Keith Giffen as a writer. Since, he rarely ever writes or even approaches a character or project with the continuity and established characterization as a guideline other than looking at what he can change, it's hard for me to defend his work or him as being a good writer. If he cannot be bothered to even try to get the character right, then I cannot be bothered to care for his writing. While a character is more than his powers or his costume, it's still part of the character's appeal. If an artist cannot bother to draw the character on-model at least once, it lessens how much I can critically praise the artwork. They start off as already coming off either being lazy or an inflated sense of ego.

The New Defenders: Definitely was the way not to do a first issue. None of the characters are really defined as to their backgrounds, Casey relies the reader to be familiar with Nighthawk and the Defenders (as well as various past members ), the Invaders series a couple of years ago, recent
happenings in the MU (specifically: Civil War, She-Hulk, and X-men). There were a couple of moments I had to wonder, such as when and why are the X-men no more, why is She Hulk a bounty hunter, did she and Tony Stark do the nasty, when did the Flaming Skull get the ability to blast fire? The main plot makes little sense, the Sons of the Serpent are described as being a supremist organization in snake suits but how they
are being used makes no sense such as why would a supremist organization be hanging out with an Aztec god? And, then you have no less than 4 different sub-plot mysteries introduced: why Nighthawk is weirded out over the one Shield agent, what's up with Son of Satan, the Atlantean Warlord Krang, and Yandroth? A first issue should have enough mystery to draw you in, it's going to be a certain amount of set-up. The problem is, that shouldn't be confused as a substitute for telling the story though. All Casey does here is set-up, he doesn't really give us meat for the story. He relies too much on the reader's knowledge of characters and history to fill in the gaps and give the story depth instead of realizing that's his job as the storyteller.

The rest of it was just mediocre. As I thought, this line-up of just super-strong tanks was boring visibly and makes no logical sense as being together. Personality wise, the Flaming Skull isn't as funny as he's annoying. And seriously, his inclusion really makes ZERO sense. The whole point of Civil War and the Initiative was to bring heroes under control and have them be licensed. As established by Casey, the Defenders is a licensed team. So, why in the world would anyone license an obviously clinically mentally unstable character as a public superhero? You'd keep him for military scorched earth type missions maybe. But nothing that didn't involve acceptable high collateral damages. The Flaming Skull's inclusion violates the very rules that Marvel in general and Casey specifically in this issue have set as the status quo of the Marvel Universe. I seem to come back to this in so many reviews, I have to wonder if so many comic writers really don't understand basic mechanics of writing, things have to make sense in the CONTEXT OF THE STORY. Not necessarily in the Real World. However, in every story, you have created certain rules that everything operates by and characters' actions and reactions need to make sense, be logically extrapolated from the context those rules provide. In a world where every team has to undergo training and evaluation and be licensed by the government and held accountable the way you'd do doctors and the police, then the Flaming Skull wouldn't get pass the front gate. With CIVIL WAR, Marvel has striven to make the way superheroes operate be more like the real world, so they have to be judged based on those rules. The only good thing is that there are indicators that this isn't going to be the final team.

The artwork was decent but very spare linework, if it werent for using gradients in the coloring, it wouldn't really have much depth. But, at least it's clear and not hard to follow.

The only people that I can see that would really like it are people already reading a bunch of Marvel comics and familiar with a lot of recent AND old history (which I'm not really) or fans of Nighthawk (which I am).

Other new stuff for me this week: JLA Classified, Amazing Spider-Girl, Abe Sapien, BPRD 1946, and two pulp reprints: High Adventure spotlighting the Crimson Mask and a Phantom Detective.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ive always wanted to read "I am Barbarian". never got around to looking for it. maybe ill get it one day

Merzah the Mystic