What I’ve Been Reading: 2010 Part 1

It’s nearly the end of the year! Break out the champagne and/or mulled wine, put on a hat and party like it’s 1999. Usually, Blogs such as this one would spend their time listing the top of ten of whatever subject matter they choose, but I thought I’d do something a little more specific. I’m still going to do a top ten for the year, but it’s going to be a top ten individual moments of writing that I loved this year, they might be comic books, novels, songs, short stories, scenes in films, but one things for sure, there’s going to be ten of them.

Numbers 10 -6:

10. Uncanny X-Men 529 by Matt Fraction.

I’ll be honest, X-Men for the past year or so has underwhelmed me, I’m a big fan of the God Loves, Man Kills days of the X-Men being a metaphor for diversity and discrimination. I don’t so much agree with where the story has gone now, with time travelling siblings, different realities and so much continuity it’s nigh on impossible to penetrate. Sure, Grant Morrison had a great handle on the property at the start of the decade but there’s been nothing to make me want to come back. Matt Fraction, as brilliant a writer as he is, has had a pretty generic run on the title so far, until this final issue of his storyline ‘The Five Lights’. The piece of writing that struck me came at the end of the issue, after Emma Frost (quick recap: used to be evil, now married to Cyclops.) kidnaps her ex-lover and takes him away in a spaceship made from the conciousness of a French thief. So none of this should work, but Fraction throws out a monologue at the end of the issue that is so well written, so perfectly done, that it more than made up for the lacklustre arc that came before it.

“I’ve started to go grey this year. You know? It’s true. I have. The other night Scott reached over and found two grey hairs on top of my head. It was supposed to be sweet. He was trying to say–look at these things we’re eduring together. Look at us surviving. But that’s not what I thought at all. I knew a girl once–Jaye. We spent some time in New York togehter. She had come out here, but I didn’t know until–I saw her obituary in the paper after we bear Bastion. Died in the attack. And then I thought of pool old Kurt. No matter how sad he seemed to get, I always saw a smiling swashbuckler. Kurt, who was always my favourite, who I could never shock. Kurt, who I miss more than anyone would ever believe. Scott was trying to be sweet and all I felt was cold and along because so many wonderful lights have gone out and I’m so tired from fighting against all this darkness. And I thought, “I’ll name them Jaye and Kurt.” I name my grey hairs after dead friends. Dead friends and X-Men.”

9. The Social Network by Aaron Sorkin

I’ve blogged about this film once before, back when I first saw it. It stands as one of the best films I’ve seen this year and despite the fact that it’s an incredibly well acted, well filmed story, the thing that makes it a true classic is the script. More specifically what works so well is the opening scene. Two students in a bar. Every single element, every theme, every nuance of character you will see is captured in a microcosm in those opening five minutes. It’s an example of perfect writing, and here’s how it opens.

Did you know there are more people with genius IQ’s living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?

That can’t be true.

It is true.

What would account for that?

Well first of all, a lot of people live in China. But here’s my question:

How do you distinguish yourself in a population of people who all got 1600 on their SAT’s?

I didn’t know they take SAT’s in China.

I wasn’t talking about China anymore, I was talking about me.

You got 1600?

I’m not merely saying this snippet of dialogue itself is worth of inclusion in the list, but the scene as a whole is such a good example of how to write, it should be shown to writing students as a perfect example of that age old rule, show don’t tell.

8. Hurricane J by Craig Finn

The Hold Steady are one of my favourite bands, combined great music with a literary eye for lyrics and their latest album ‘Heaven in Whenever’ was no exception. Whilst previous albums have had a novelistic approach, telling a wider story with a tight cast of characters, Heaven picked up on themes and told a fairly straightforward coming of age tale. ‘Hurricane J’ is the highlight of this album. Telling the story of Jessie, a girl named after a hurricane who appears to have taken on these characteristics. It’s telling that Craig Finn, brought up a Catholic, sees the characteristics of namesakes in people and it’s smart that the narrator of the story steadfastly refuses to accept that her behaviour could be anything else. The lyrics in their entireity can be found below.

Jessie, I’m not jokin’ around
I see the crowd you’re hangin with
and those kids don’t seem positive
Don’t all those cigs make you tired?
You know I never ask you to change, I only ask you to try
I know you’re gonna do what I know you’re gonna do
but 22 and bangin’ around in restaurants ain’t that much prettier
than bangin’ around in bars
and why do you keep going to his car?

I don’t want this to stop
I want you to know
I don’t want you to settle
I want you to go
Forget all the boys that you met at the harbor
You’re too hard already, you’ll only get harder

Jessie, let’s go for a ride
I know a place that we could stop and kiss for a while
I know a place that makes you smile
I know you’re gonna say what I know you’re gonna say
I know you’ll look at the ground, I know you’ll probably cry
You’re a beautiful girl and you’re a pretty good waitress
but Jessie, I don’t think I’m the guy

I don’t want this to stop
I want you to know
I don’t want you to settle
I want you to go
Forget everything that I showed you this summer
You’re too hard already, you’ll only get harder

but they didn’t name her for a saint
they named her for a storm
so how is she supposed to think about
how it’s gonna move in the morning
she said if heaven’s hypothetical
and if the cigs keep you warm
then how is she supposed to think about
how it’s gonna move in the morning
‘bout how it’s gonna move in the morning

Hurricane Jess, she’s gonna crash into the harbor this summer
She don’t wanna wait till she gets older
Hurricane Jess, she’s gonna crash into the harbor this summer
She don’t wanna wait, she said it only gets harder

7. Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Yes the film adaptation was brilliant, kinetic and a fine blockbuster, but really nothing can come close to capturing what made the books so good. The final volume of the six part series hit the stores this year, and completely lived up to the hype. What made the series work so well was the seague from the start of volume one, with it’s general hipster comedy/drama turning quite dramatically into this bizarre mashup of computer games, manga and comedy that stuck with the series for so long. What made the finale work so well is that it brought all of that back to the beginning, with the fights taking a backseat to the everyday comedy/drama. The best scene from the final volume, and pretty much the whole series, came midway through, when Scott goes to visit his friend and ex-girlfriend Kim Pine.

6. Various Characters by Fred Van Lente

Fred Van Lente for those not in the know is a comic book writer for Marvel. He’s responsible for co-writing the fantastic Incredible Herc series (seriously, if you haven’t read it, go forth and purchase) which is currently winding down in the Chaos War mini-series. Van Lente’s place in this list isn’t for Incredible Herc, but for the myriad of characters that he’s created this year. From his co-creation of Amandeus Cho’s nemesis Vali Halfling in the Prince of Power mini-series, to the new version of Power Man in Shadowland he’s been adept at creating iconic characters seemingly without even trying. Take a look at his new villains created for the Taskmaster series:
Black Choppers, Trenchcoat Mafia, Militiamen, The Org, Inquisition, The Don of the Dead, The Town that Was Hitler, Redshirt: The Uber Henchman, and the Minions’ International Liberation Front (MILF). There’s a skill involved here that doesn’t just stop with creating names. The characters he creates are incredible involving, detailed characters, even moving beyond some of the pun’s they first seem to be. Just look at The Town that was Hitler from Taskmaster issue 3, where Hitler’s DNA has encroached on a small German town’s water supply, turning each household into a miniature Third Reich, every single family fighting each other for power over the village, launching Blitzkrieg attacks against their neighbours. It’s the same with his new Power Man, a character who has more in common with the kids from The Wire than he does superheroes.

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