Batman, Beatles, And Billions: Many Words Make A Post

Once again I parachute into your life, carrying a box, and the box contains various words in the shape of a newsletter, and I dump them on your head. Also, ferrets. The box also contains ferrets. The ferrets are angry. The ferrets are hungry. Enjoy.

Saucy News Slatherings

The Goodreads Choice Awards has reached its final round, and somehow, by the grace of kind voters, The Book of Accidents is in! It remains there alongside some wonderful writers, so you have a veritable bounty of good books to pick from, should you so choose. Obviously, if you feel like clicking and voting for TBOA, I would be grateful, and would definitely owe you cupcakes, which are currently imaginary cupcakes but certainly that’s better than no cupcakes at all. But I also hold no illusions about the splendor of horror on display, and it I am honestly chuffed just to make it to the finals. Is chuffed a word? Is it a British word? I’m American, am I allowed to use it? It doesn’t mean ‘chafed,’ does it? Because I’m definitely not chafed. Well, you get the point. I’m a lucky human, is what I’m trying to say and that is in good part thanks to y’all.

Also, hey, look! The New York Public Library posted their top books of the year, and The Book of Accidents made that, too. How awesome is that? Again: very lucky human.

If you have not checked out The Book of Accidents, the library is a most excellent place to do so. Or you’re also able to nab a signed, personalized copy from Doylestown Bookshop, or Bookshop.org, or via Indiebound, or wherever books are sold. There’s also the audiobook at Audible or Libro.fm.

Also don’t forget, I’m chatting with the mysterious author duo known as “James S.A. Corey” this week at Brookline Booksmith (virtually) in support of Leviathan Falls, the final Expanse novel. Click here for deets.

And I got to do a cool chat with the fine folks behind the Tarkin’s Top Shelf podcast.

I may have a Wayward cover soon.

Finally, if you are a fan of mine and also a fan of awesome writer buds Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne, and you live in the Northeast, you might wanna keep an eye on this space — I’m not saying we’re definitely doing a short book tour together, but I’m just saying we might be trying very hard to do one. In person! Not virtual! Assuming Omicron doesn’t enter the chat…

Omicron

I remember in June, just as school was ending and my wife and I were vaccinated and doing more things, feeling like the pandemic was fading into the rearview, boom, Delta. And now, just as we’re boostered, and got our kid his second shot, boom, Omicron. Fuck fuck fuck. Fuck off, virus. Fuck all the way off. Vaccine equity now. And get your ownselves vaxxed, willya?

The End of Nanowrimo

Many of you partook in the barely-controlled-chaos of National Novel Writing Month, and those who did, I salute you. If you finished, I salute you. If you didn’t finish, I salute you. If you wrote one word, I salute you. If you didn’t write a goddamn thing last month but wrote in October, or will write in December, or write on your own goddamn timeline, I salute you. Writing is hard. It’s hard to make the time, it’s hard to conjure the story, it’s hard to feel like the process makes any sense at all. Especially now, in these here Quarantimes. You’re good. Writers write. Real writers write. There is no one process that marks you as a True Writer versus False, Tricksy Writer. Keep on keeping on. That’s the whole of it, really. Just staying the course even when it seems like the absolutely most fuckshit thing to do is key. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. And hang on even when the beast is desperately trying to fling you from its back.

This Charitable Day

It is Giving Tuesday, and these are some charities I like to give to: Sierra Club Foundation, Arbor Day Foundation, Southern Poverty Law Center, Girls Write Now, AbleGamers, Trevor Project, Audre Lorde Project, Trans Lifeline, Shanti Bhivan, RAICES. Certainly this is not an all-encompassing list, and if you have a charity you like to support or are connected with, please do drop a comment below.

I Have Batman Thoughts

That sounds weirdly sexual. I have Batman thoughts, wink wink.

I mean, it’s not, and I don’t mean it that way.

I just have regular thoughts. Normal, everyday thoughts about Batman.

… that’s not making it any better, is it? I’m protesting too much.

What I mean is, I’ve been enjoying various BATMAN OFFERINGS (still not better) lately across streaming services, and I also watched the new trailer, and it occurs to me I have strong feelings about Batman (nope, still sounding weird).

My feelings are this:

Tim Burton’s first Batman movie maybe captured the perfect balance of what I’d like to see in a Batman movie. Consider: the Batman of the 60s was a goddamn delight, but also just stupid as hell. Shark Repellent and Batlube (no, really) and Wham Biff Pow. Really fun. But way too campy for my own tastes. The Christian Bale Nolan-era Batman, however, went hard in the paint for a “realistic” Batman — he isn’t some goofball, he’s a real billionaire, damaged by the death of his parents, with access to a hidden R&D department in his own company, and he uses that to create a militarized version of the character. And his foils, the villains he meets, are arguably some form of “realistic” as well. The Joker is a homicidal chaos bomb. Two-Face is Harvey Dent, half his face burned off, and all of his sanity worn away. The first film is probably the silliest, what with there being a SECRET NINJA LEAGUE, and portraying a Gotham that is almost cartoonishly corrupt — though by the third movie, the city is cleaner, shinier, more Nolan-esque, and Bane, Catwoman and Talia are products (roughly) of the real world. There’s some reference to the League of Shadows, and their plan is still a little puzzling in its motivation and pace, but it still attempts to cobble something real-feeling out of all of it. A little sci-fi, maybe. But not comic-booky at all.

(I note here that Dark Knight Rises works better than I remembered it. Again, you have to look past the absurd villain plot — which is a failing of all three of the Nolan films. And you definitely need subtitles on because even still, Bane sometimes sounds like he’s saying WISH MUSH FRA WUSH BORN IN DARKNESSH, BATMANSH. But it was lot better than I had remembered it.)

The new Reeves trailer (The Batman), which looks great, also seems to continue this — splashing on even deeper layers of DARK DARKNESS, making it look like an heir to a Fincher film. The Batman version of Se7en or something.

(Here’s that trailer. Why, though, does it look so blurry? Is it me?)

That’s great and fine and I’m sure I’ll like it. I like most things Batman. Hell, I even liked Batfleck and wish we got more of ol’ Ben in the suit.

But I also kinda miss when a film leans into the absurd nature of the character.

Here’s the thing: one of the most common complaints about Batman as a character is that he’s a billionaire who could be saving the world with his money but instead he’s dressing like a giant bat and torturing people. Now, that’s a very reductive, mostly nonsense complaint, for three reasons:

a) It’s a comic book; if you start to dive into the ethical nature of any superhero, you get to a pretty fucked-up place pretty quickly, and that either results in some of the cynical retellings of the genre or it means you need to ignore it and race past it because, I dunno, superheroes are fun and not real?

b) Bruce Wayne is a damaged guy, and saying, “Why doesn’t he do the right thing” misunderstands that he’s a broken dude for whom the right thing involves the aforementioned weird bat costume

c) He often does spend his money to help the city, and most iterations of Bruce Wayne involve him helping the city that way, too, he just also likes to do the Batman thing because, well, see the last part

Now, the Nolan films actually complicate this even more, because as the films go on, they definitely lean into a sort of fascist police-state version of the character — the first film shows a police force that is clearly corrupt, but as the second and third films go on, they tend to lionize the police force and the law — there was an opportunity to do something interesting by hanging their hat on the corruptibility of Harvey Dent and laundering his reputation of his sudden monstrousness, but they whiffed it. And by the third film, the cops are straight-up heroes, no longer a lick of corruption to be found. Batman’s equipment becomes more militarized. He has equipment that is clearly way too powerful for one billionaire to have, but it’s viewed as Only A Good Thing.

Thing is, these criticisms have teeth specifically when you make Batman a figure in reality and not a comic book character. By cleaving to realism, it brings up questions we would ask in reality. But if you instead balance it out with the absurdity of Guy Dresses Like Bat To Punch Crime Clowns, you file down those teeth. It becomes less easy to ask the hard questions when his story clearly exists in something more resembling a comic book universe than, say, our own universe.

So, I’m looking forward to the Reeves film but… eenennnghhh, I’m getting a little tired of the DARK part of the DARK KNIGHT. And I think that first Burton film nailed the tone just right, even if it too is imperfect in many ways. (Don’t get me started on Batman Returns. I know that flick has a lot of fans, but my controversial assessment is that I absolutely can’t stand it. It bugs me on a number of levels that I’ll have to get into in a different post.)

Also, if I have to see the parents die in alley scene, gunshot, broken pearls bullshit one more time, I might batarang myself in the neck. While I am not the biggest fans of the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies (short capsule criticism: Holland is maybe the best Spidey we’ve had, but the writing gives him too little to do and leaves him mostly as a Boy Wonder to Iron Man, not a NYC kid with his own story), one thing I do like is that it doesn’t routinely fetishize the Uncle Ben death scene. Hanging too much of a story on that single traumatic event again and again and again over the years and decades starts to feel terribly reductive, and is suggestive of a view of characters (and, potentially, people) that are frozen in time, never able to change.

In comics, I’ll say too that the Tom King run nails the Batman tone, usually. It is somehow both homage to all the Batman that has ever happened, while also treading its own course. It’s not overtly funny, it’s not entirely silly, but it still has the trappings of absurdity — super-powered clown villains and the giant penny and fun banter with Superman. (And Kite Man. Hell Yeah.)

ANYWAY, those are my current Batman thoughts.

(Ooh, one more: he should be more of a detective than a brutal pugilist.)

(Okay, I’m done now.)

(Do as them as thou wilt.)

Beatles Opinions, Also??

Been watching the Peter Jackson Beatles docuseries, Get Back — really loving it, and adoring the view into the creative process between these four very different personalities. I love that Paul seems to be the reluctant leader, and John as the not-so-reluctant visionary, and to see the push-and-pull between those two polar forces. I think there’s something to that push-and-pull inside most of us, and writers definitely feel that — that urge to go deep visionary, but also to wrangle those visions into some kind of shape that makes sense.

I will say I wish that Jackson had also done the two-plus hour film version, just because the docuseries itself is a little leggy. Fascinating if you’re a Beatles fan or curious to witness that process, but if you wanted something that distilled it, seeing a two-hour cut wouldn’t be terrible, either. As it stands, the work is definitely for people who care very deeply about the Beatles.

Still, it’s fucking great. It’s like watching a fishbowl except, instead of having fish in it, you have the actual goddamn Beatles swimming around, being the Beatles. It’s a wild, raw glimpse at a band in transition and, ultimately, gentle self-destruction.

What else have I been watching? Arcane on Netflix remains one of the prettiest and most exciting animation projects I’ve seen. Don’t know the game very much, but damn, it’s good. Every scene, a painting. Reminds me of Spider-Verse that way. Also finally tried out Hulu’s The Great, and it is, well, as the name says. Content warning for a lot of animal death, though, oof. And some pretty grisly shit that is often unexpected. But it really is wonderful stuff. There’s a season two now, yeah?

Catching up on Billions, too, which I love, but has started to have the wheels come off it a little. (The Requiem for a Dream “smart drug” episode feels very jump the sharky.) Still, great performances and I’m fascinated to watch these ego-fed powerful people beat the shit out of each other. It’s weird that I can dig this show, but not Succession. I generally care a about the characters in Billions more, I think, which feels important.

Anyway! There’s probably more. But for now —

I’m out.

Hope your Thanksgiving was good.

Hope your holidays are continuing apace.

Stay safe. Get vaxxed. Wear a mask. Be good to each other.

*dissolves into ants*

Wait Hold On, Did I Tell You About The Pie?

I talked about this on THE SOCIALS, as the kids say (or don’t say, what the hell do I know) — but for Turkey Day, I made dinner, right? Roast chicken. Brussels sprouts. Mashed red potatoes. Cranberry-apple chutney. So, I chose to delegate dessert to a local place, which I won’t name here, because they’ve always been really, really good. We ordered an apple pie from them.

I did not realize, however, that their pastry chef had departed in March.

And had, I guess, been replaced by some kind, I dunno, sentient mass of brain-damaged chickadees.

Because this was the pie that we opened on our holiday:

Oh, what’s that? You wanted to get CLOSER? Done.

That is not modified in any way.

No filter. No Photoshop.

It is the pie we received.

In all its dog barf lasagna glory.

It is a pie that looks like green bean casserole. It looks like a tray of birdseed. It is covered in boogers and sadness. (AKA, pumpkin seeds and quinoa what the actual fucking fuck.) It contains not apples but rather, the restless, tormented ghosts of apples: wrathful fruit specters drained of life with acid as juice. It is a wet, gravemold pie, made of clay and broken teeth. And you might think, “Well, it looks bad, but how did it taste?” Ha ha, you fool, I thought the same thing, and then I put a bite in my mouth and my entire mouth rejected it. It was tart, but not at all sweet. It was somehow also dry. It was chewy, like in the bad way, in the way cardboard is chewy, or an old toe might be chewy. It’s like the crawling gray pudding in Better Off Dead. My family hated it. It was fucking bad.

I called the place, and the woman on the phone seemed surprised when I said, “pumpkin seeds and quinoa,” and she suggested we may have gotten some kind of gluten-free, vegan edition of their apple pie. So, eager and excited, we took it in and tried to get a replacement, but that time a different lady greeted us and, upon hearing our complaint, looked at us like we had just shat on the counter. Incredulous, she said, “Yeah, that’s our apple pie.” Like, she was proud of it! Proud! Why would you be proud of that! Why would you give that to people on a special holiday! Do you hate holidays? Do you hate apples? Do you hate people? They gave us our money back, thankfully, though I think they were reluctant to do so. I hope some very nice birds got to eat it. And did not die from it.

Otherwise, I fear this pie is still out there.

Watching.

Waiting.

Lurking about like some kind of pie goblin.

Beware.

Beware.