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More Overdue Library Book Reviews (Is That A Pun?)

Graeme McMillan

If Ambush Bug was a nostalgic disappointment, STAGGER LEE and THE FOUNTAIN were the two happy surprises from my “Name things I should read/review from the Multnomah Library System” idea (Feel free to suggest more books in the comments, by the way. Go here for details on how it works, but use these comments for suggestions so I don’t lose track. I find it easy to lose track). In both cases, I had what could politely be called lowered expectations, and ended up happily surprised.

The Fountain, I was kind of biased against; yes, there’s that lovely, beautiful Kent Williams artwork (Seriously, why isn’t this man worshipped as an artistic god yet? Even if his line wasn’t as assured and just damn right all the time – even his “sloppier” looking work just looks perfect, as if he’s somehow translating essential truths about the way things look onto paper – his color sense is just amazingly wonderful; when he does full paintings, as opposed to ink and wash, my breath is taken away with the way in which he sees the world), but I’d heard countless bad things about the movie this accompanied, and the book itself suffers from a terribly overwritten opening, sinking hopes even further. But then, surprisingly, the book opens up to become something both more allegorical and more relatable at the same time, a story of magical realism and kindness that, oddly enough, feels as if it anticipates this year’s Lost episodes in many ways. Don’t get me wrong; Williams is clearly, unfailingly, the draw here (No pun, etc. etc.) but Darren Aronofksy’s script ends up coming a close second; light in many ways – this isn’t the wordiest book you’ll ever read, and the plot is barely a whisper, apparently trailing behind ideas on Aronofsky’s list of things to do – but with a weight that stays with you awhile afterwards. A genuinely surprising Very Good.

Meanwhile, Stagger Lee is one of those books that’s easy to admire but also, frustratingly, difficult to love. In terms of scope and intent, Derek McCulloch’s writing is impressive as hell, with the book acting as part-essay and part-historical recreation about the facts and fiction surrounding the song “Stagger Lee” and the events contained therein, and Shepherd Hendrix’s art is clear and subtle, with a nice P. Craig Russell finish sneaking in at times. But both art and writing are uneven, with sections of the book feeling cramped and rushed when compared with other parts, and consistency sacrificed for clarity and comedy more than once. But even with that, I enjoyed it a lot; it reminded me of things like Sarah Vowell’s writing, or (to continue a theme, apparently), This American Life in the way it mixes entertainment and education. I’d like to see more of this kind of thing, especially from these two men – I saw McCulloch had a story in last week’s Image FCBD book, but have either gone on to do anything else of note? Good, anyway.

So, yes: What else do you people want me to be reading from the library? Lead me in good directions, people.

8 Responses to “ More Overdue Library Book Reviews (Is That A Pun?) ”

  1. People who told you bad things about THE FOUNTAIN movie have no taste.

  2. I’ll second that recommendation for the cinematic version of “The Fountain” — it’s definitely a flawed film, but it’s stuck with me in ways that far more neatly constructed films have not.

  3. And I’ll third that recommendation.

    To this day, I still don’t get the ‘difficult’ and ‘confusing’ tag the movie’s gotten.

  4. I really liked Stagger Lee when I read it a couple years back. I’d recommend Shangri-La, which I really liked. So did this guy: http://www.thematthewcraig.com/shangrila.htm (Okay, it came out before Stagger Lee, but still. Worth tracking down if you can find a copy.)

  5. Yay! That’s ME!

    Come and find me at the London MCM Expo to tell me how Ace I am! Also, buy comics! (free stickers!)

    In all seriousness: there is a Stagger Lee-shaped hole in my bookshelf, and it’s far past time I rectified that error. I read another version of the story behind the song innnn Expo…’03? ’04? The one with the robot on the cover. I miss that series.

    I keep catching the last thirty minutes of The Fountain on Film4. It’s like an old-fashioned sci-fi movie, innit? A proper over-inflated meaningful scientifical ficticiousness film. Surprised more Hawkman fan don’t make more of the parallels. I think there’s something a bit sad about that aspect of Hawkman, though – the Eternal Lovers thing. It’s like Smallville, where Clark Kent meets everybody he’s ever going to know by the time he pops his Kherry. It’s the implied staleness of their souls, I think. The revolving door of Death. The thought that the only experience these people will ever have is of each other, over and over again. Plus, I mean, by the 853rd Century, everbody in human space is going to be a descendant, so it’s not like they could go On A Break. It’d be like a keyparty at The Hills Have Eyes. Like a wise man once said, one resurrection’s glorious…


  6. ^THE FOUNTAIN isn’t like that at all (at least not the way I interpret it). No multiple storylines, no time-hopping — it’s one story, told 3 different ways.


    – The basic story, the one set in the modern-day, is that Rachel Weisz (a writer) is dying, and her husband, Hugh Jackman (a doctor) is on a desperate search for a cure.
    – The Conquistador stuff is the book Weisz is writing, which mirrors her own life.
    – The Science-Fictiony bit is Hugh Jackman finishing her book after she passes away.


  7. I think the movie (and comic, for that matter) is pretty clear about the fact that the space stuff is the narrative present of the story (occurring after Tommy has perfected the eternal life formula), that the doctor scenes are flashback and that the conquistador scenes are representations of Izzy’s novel.

  8. Graeme, have you ever considered posting your reviews on Amazon after they have appeared here? A book like Stagger Lee could probably benefit from a nice review like this and more people would probably end up seeing it there longterm. Just a thought!

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