The Fall of Gondolin
J.R.R Tolkien

HarperCollins
Street: 08.30

In the forest of dreams, there stands a hobbit. He bears a terrible burden—the Ring of the Abhorred, a closed circle from which there is no escape, a prison for all the wills and fates on this mortal earth. Before him is an ancient, elven queen. Men call her a witch, the gods a rebel, but here she is a cosmically tragic figure. Her many millennia weigh heavily on every word she says, and meanwhile, the Ring calls out to her. It tells her that if she were to claim it, to make the expedient choice and force her will upon enemies and friends alike, she could save her home, her people, herself. As she wrestles with this temptation, she says to the hobbit, “Ere the fall of Nargothrond or Gondolin I passed over the mountains, and […] through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.”

Like Galadriel’s final surrender to the mortality of Middle-earth, The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkien, published Aug. 30, 2018, is the final entry in Christopher Tolkien’s long career of publishing his father’s previous drafts and essays. Like 2017’s Beren and Lúthien, Gondolin is a collection of previously published drafts with added commentary. These regard the fall of the city of Gondolin, or Hidden Rock, the last of the elven strongholds to withstand the demiurgical hegemony of Morgoth, Sauron’s master and Middle-earth’s Satan. The elves that live there are the last of those that, valiantly and foolishly, dared the judgment of the gods to seek their own vengeance against the Enemy. If the name of this volume didn’t give it away, they do not find that vengeance.

Let’s dispose of the recommendation first: If you’re not interested in reading a narrative presented in a series of only moderately different drafts, then it’s difficult to recommend Gondolin. If you want to read of the titular fall but aren’t interested in the supplemental material, read pages 145 to 201 and then from the first full paragraph on 50 to 111. This method takes the highly detailed final version and adds on everything it’s missing from the first version. It’s interesting to compare these two drafts. The first—and only complete—version was written when Tolkien was 24 years-old and on sick-leave during WWI. It contains a raw but unmeasured passion that moves the narrative in poignant but staccato bursts. I find it particularly fascinating to read descriptions that are clearly Tolkien’s first attempt to communicate his imagined trainset. Take for example the orcs, whose “hearts were of granite and their bodies deformed; foul their faces which smiled not, but their laugh that of the clash of metal.” The final version was written 35 years later, when Tolkien was working on Lord of the Rings and hoping he could get the Silmarillion published in the same volume. This depicts the meditative, melancholy wanderings of protagonist Tuor up to his arrival at Gondolin, and is the more masterfully done. Of particular note is Tuor, along with his companion Voronwë, hiding from orcs and huddling “side by side under the grey cloak […] and pant[ing] like tired foxes.”

If you’re undecided, then the question naturally becomes “what is special about The Fall of Gondolin?” At first glance, its central event—the siege of a great city of stone by the archonic agents of a tyrant—seems almost cliché within the setting. The sieges of Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith dominate the military narrative of the Lord of the Rings and have the benefit of being writ-large on film by Peter Jackson. Why should you want to read the same basic setup divorced from the context of Frodo’s quest to destroy the Ring? Three reasons suggest themselves.

First is the difference in scale. The Lord of the Rings is set in the Third Age of Middle-earth during which magic and legend are explicitly fading to make way for the world to come—ours. By contrast, Gondolin is set in the First Age, a mythic age where the elves were nearly gods themselves and the Enemy so mighty that he once tried to make all of existence his body. The siege of Gondolin stars heroes who make up for their lack of character arcs with deeds of bardic renown, balrogs by the hundreds, great serpents of flowing steel and even armored transport vehicles for the orcs. Even the peremptory language of the first draft is enough to capture the horror and majesty of Gondolin’s fall. If you’re given to fantasy as a genre, Gondolin is a feast for the imagination.

Second is the key difference between the sieges of Gondolin, Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith—in the latter two, the heroes win. Not so at Gondolin. Gondolin, well, falls, and in its ruin countless elves perish, their culture is shattered and Morgoth’s victory over Middle-earth is complete. Yet Gondolin is, at its core, a story about hope—hope unlooked for and unprepared. Imagine if Sauron had recovered the Ring and destroyed Gondor and Rohan and harried the elves to their boats, and held total dominion over Middle-earth. What hope would exist then?

That question takes us to our third reason and back to Galadriel’s lament of the “long defeat.” The Fall of Gondolin, like nearly all of Tolkien’s legendarium, is about mortality. Against an enemy as absolute and merciless as time, there can be no victory. Gondolin was always going to fall, as did the European empires in WWI, as will all our personal conceits when death inevitably finds us defenseless against its ultimate authority. All ambitions fail and all monuments crumble. Again, what hope is there?

As the wheel of mortality crushes us under its tread, so, too, does it raise new generations. When the people and dreams we love are warped and destroyed, at that same time, new people and dreams arise. Gondolin’s hope was never in strength of arms or purity of purpose, but in one child rescued from its ruin. The Fall of Gondolin seems an especially appropriate fairy tale for today, when our country and culture often seem on the verge of imploding, and climate change promises catastrophes to dwarf those concerns. Sometimes it feels like the noose gets tighter every day. Sometimes it feels like there’s no point. But every day you get up and fight—for yourself, your loved ones, what you believe in, is another day you give your hopes a chance to be realized. Even if you die, as you surely will, with your hopes unrealized at the time of your death, they do not die with you. Even the very cynical cannot see all ends, and even when the last bastions of truth and justice fall, truth and justice live on. 

Aurë entuluva! Day shall come again!

Child of the Sun

Child of the Sun
Writer: Michael Van Cleve
Artists: Various

Self-Published
Street: 09.03.15

Everyone wants to root for the underdog. In an era of mass-produced food, homes and even entertainment, there’s automatic value in individually crafted, independently produced art. It deserves an open mind, welcoming consideration and more than a little slack if it isn’t as slick as its corporate peers. However, one must also be honest with themselves and be able to confidently say “yes” to a simple question: “Am I enjoying this?” For all its raw passion, esoteric curiosity and occasionally stunning art, I’m afraid I can’t say I enjoyed Child of the Sun by Michael Van Cleve. Just as The Perspective Essays would have benefited from a more academic method of sourcing, Child needs some of that Hollywood professionalism to keep me engaged.

One may think they’d enjoy Child of the Sun on the face of its premise alone. Supermen of various cultures—Heracles, Samson, even Gilgamesh—wander the 14th century B.C. Mediterranean getting into hijinks and marital dramas. In this world, the gods are real and such heroes truly are their progeny. If the plot has any central thrust, it’s the typical Biblical superiority of the Hebrew God over baser deities like Dagon or Zeus. Such pagan idols are implied to be mere angels or spirits that mate with women. The Nephilim, those classic subhuman superbeings, even make an appearance. YHWH’s power is embodied in Samson, who slaughters with dubiously righteous outrage, whereas Heracles devolves into alcoholic uselessness and Theseus remains sidelined the entire plot. However, if this premise intrigues you, consider the following.

Most of the building action is about Samson’s courtship of the whore-priest Adriana, and it’s hardly the stuff of adventure as advertised. The turns of their romance pass without preamble or humanizing vulnerability. Both of them are unlikeable—he for his petulant possessiveness and she for her callous disregard. By the time she takes her own life with cartoonish ease and leaves Samson to his bloody revenge, the reader may have very well lost interest. All of this serves as fodder for imperfectly realized action scenes and is mere foreshadowing of the treacherous Delilah. What interest remains is almost certainly squandered when, upon reaching the plot’s climax in Issue 5, Van Cleve chooses to flash backwards for an issue and a half. The resulting narrative structure feels like an exhausting waste of time.

As for those action scenes, well, the core problem is that each issue has a different artist of wildly varying skills. Mervyn McKoy and Eli Powell have real talent, even if McCoy leaves his ocean waves as mere squiggles and Powell has more unnecessary lines than Sean Murphy (Punk Rock Jesus). Nick Sadek and especially Jabari Weathers, I regret to say, fall far short of their peers; Weathers in particularly has the unhappy task of an action scene to which he is not equal. The resulting disparity between the artists’ skills degrades the book as a whole and reminds the reader that for all its strengths, they’re holding a book that may not deserve their attention. It doesn’t help that the review copy was irregularly colored. The first few pages were thick with luxurious blues and reds and then suddenly, most of it was black and white. From then on any random page might be colored, and with consistent excellency, as if to taunt readers with its usual absence. If there were a rhyme or reason regarding which pages were colored, I couldn’t discern. In the end, the art completes the impression the story made: This comic is unfinished.

As a longtime fan of Biblical and Greek myths, I have to imagine I’m as incentivized to love Child of the Sun as anybody could be. So it’s hard for me to recommend it in any capacity when my final reaction was fatigued disinterest. I hope Van Cleve and McCoy coordinate on further projects or even remake Child with consistent art and full color. They both deserve better representation than this.

The Perspective Essays | Jacob Rueda | Self-published

The Perspective Essays
Jacob Rueda

Self-published
Street: 09.02

Despite the importance of ideological and rhetorical unity in achieving democratic success,  Trump’s electoral victory has far more to do with the simple efficacy of “MAGA” than it does with any particular promise he’s failed to keep. Such collectivist thinking serves an individual poorly, regardless of political alignment. Moreover, it seems it serves the collective poorly as well, rarely accomplishing in full what propaganda demands. The real world is far too complex, a tangle of dimly glimpsed cause-and-effect chains possessed of too many variables and unforeseen consequences for any simple groupthink to explain it. Those who nonetheless adhere to the party line do so out of familiarity and identity; those that break from it out of frustration too often sink into ineffective apathy. Jacob Rueda knows this and, in The Perspective Essays, challenges readers to be independent, rational thinkers—to evaluate a situation or argument with regard to the circumstances that brought it about, and most importantly, to be active in trying to change the world for the better.

The Perspective Essays covers a range of topics, some as ephemeral as complacency and others as immediately material as destitution. Rueda’s methodology for each remains constant: Instead of trying to modify the situation after the fact or accepting it as simply how things must be, society is best served by breaking it down to its causal circumstances and working to change these circumstances. The ultimate objective is to change the situation from the ground up; for example, instead of prison reform, Rueda would have us render the prison industrial complex obsolete by eliminating physical and cognitive need from our society. A tall order, to be sure, but Rueda insists that it’s far from impossible or even as intrinsic to our society as pessimistic “realists” would have us believe. After all, the prison industrial complex is, like all American institutions, capitalist in nature and thus persists by actively encouraging consumerism and want in its customers—or perhaps more accurately in this case, recidivism in its prisoners.

Naturally, the circumstance of capitalism is the predominant cause of most aspects of our society for good or ill (but make no mistake; Rueda doesn’t counsel communism or fascism or any other sweeping collectivist mode of thought). Thus it’s logical to analyze this circumstance right to the source. Rueda frequently highlights the importance of understanding fractional reserve banking—the method by which domestic and international banks generate money from nothing by lending funds they do not actually possess. This is the great, fraudulent center around which all our public and private institutions rotate. Thus, no individual can ever expect any institution to effect real change, for they have evolved to benefit from the present situation. Of course, for the sake of fair representation, it should be noted that advocates for fractional reserve banking point to it as a great driver of progress and collectively beneficial wealth, but it’s not hard to be cynical about said progress. I digress.

Individuals are the hope and power of Rueda’s philosophy. A common thesis he states most succinctly as “it eventually boils down to personal responsibility, awareness, and choice” sums up his recommended perspective regardless of the issue at hand:

  • Take personal responsibility: Nobody’s gonna change your life but you, and nobody’s gonna change the world but us.
  • Be aware: Reject dualistic thinking for its mind-trapping simplicity, and rethink what you’re told by the so-called authorities.
  • Make a choice: Without active application of what you’ve realized and learned, it’s all for naught.

Rueda emphasizes the importance of not mistaking these principles, or any learned by applying them, as worthy of forcefully indoctrinating others. That generates far more resentment and opposition than it does adherence. Instead, though Rueda doesn’t put it exactly this way, be as the allegorical city on a hill, living by example so as to inspire others to mimicry. Of course, however, be wary of your own ego.

The Perspective Essays may disappoint conventional consumers of philosophy. As evidenced above, Rueda’s anarchic, even punk, perspective eschews academic authority as it does all others. For the logical and rhetorical strength of his arguments, however, perhaps he ought to have integrated academia’s prioritization of specificity, examples and sources. Without them, many of Rueda’s premises collapse into tautologies to be taken on faith. Given the consistency of his advice, without specificity each essay reads similarly in content and wording. However, most people are not avid consumers of philosophy, and I’d challenge anyone to argue that Rueda’s isn’t among the most immediate and realistically applicable one can learn. For as Marx noted, most philosophies content themselves with merely describing the world when the point is to change it. The point and practice of Rueda’s philosophy—personal responsibility and carefully considered rationality—is to first change yourself.

Cover Stories | Stefan Kiesbye | Volt Books

Cover Stories
Stefan Kiesbye

Volt Books
Street: 08.22

Have you ever had that feeling that you just didn’t like somebody? Not for any fault of their own, mind you. If people asked why you didn’t like so-and-so despite their many virtues, you’d have to shrug and answer you just didn’t. Maybe they’re not to your taste. Cover Stories, edited by Stefan Kiesbye, is a collection of retold stories, most of them popularly recognizable and all broadly read. Each is from an accomplished writer measuring by not only publications and awards but from the craft employed in this very text. However, like an overtaxed professor begging their students to please, just make me interested, I found myself asking “so what”? Was the purpose of this collection to introduce readers to unknown writers via familiar stories? When you’re mimicking another’s plot and even their prose, it’s not really a reflective sample. Is it to delight readers by means of familiarity and point them toward further classics? Why wouldn’t they just prefer to read the original and how can they trust the artificial sampling? Art doesn’t require purpose, of course, and I’m sure Cover Stories was smashing good fun to create, but despite its general high quality, it’s difficult to recommend when it found no purchase in my interest. Let’s sing its praises, though, because the truth is that the authors included are all obvious talents.

  1. “The Call” by Derek Nikitas (“the Call of Cthulhu” by HP Lovecraft)
  2. “Dear Stranger” by Jessica Anthony (“the Tell-tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe)
  3. “Mrs. Hutchinson’s Bones” by Jason Ockert (“the Lottery” by Shirley Jackson)
  4. “The Other Neighbors” by Brian Evenson (“the Neighbors” by Raymond Carver)
  5. “Tricoter” by Joe Oestreich (“Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway)
  6. “To Build a Fire” by Stefan Kiesbye (“To Build a Fire” by Jack London)
  7. “Wants” by Stacy Bierlein (“Wants” by Grace Paley)
  8. “Luna Beach” by Jane Dykema (“Brownies” by ZZ Packer)
  9. “Craigslist Missed Connections” by Alexander Lumans (“the Life You Save May Be Your Own” by Flannery O’Connor)
  10. “Of the Revolution” by Brock Clarke (“Reunion” by John Cheever)
  11. “Murder the Dead Father” by Terese Svoboda (the Dead Father by Donald Barthelme)
  12. “The Penis” by Jeff Parker (“the Nose” by Nikolai Gogol)
  13. “Pereldelkino” by Jane Ridgeway (“My First Goose” by Isaac Babel)
  14. “Possibly Forty Ships” by Tibor Fischer (the Iliad by Homer)
  15. “Shame the Devil” by Paul Elwork (“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne)
  16. “When the Saints Come” by Josip Novakovich (the Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy)

See something you like? Well, duh. Even if you’re a complete bibliophobe, you’ve heard of Cthulhu and Achilles. By all means, if a favorite’s up there, and there are many worthy ones, pick up Cover Stories. But how do these fresh-faced bar-band rookies represent?

Some of the authors do pitch-perfect imitations of the original, such as Parker’s literalization of “the Nose” which, despite being set in modern Florida, read as if Gogol himself wrote it. Some deliver an utterly different experience from the original—most notably Anthony crafting the madness of Poe’s murderer into a pasted-magazine-text journal. Some reflect on the original’s theme from a new perspective; “Shame the Devil” is nakedly about Donald Trump. Others content themselves with merely expanding the plot portrayed; taking “the Neighbors” to “the Other Neighbors” doesn’t just smack of Hollywood sequelization in its title alone. Some aspire to connection with the truth originally touched (bravo, “Pereldelkino”), and others are mere bad parody (sorry, “Possibly Forty Ships”).

Perhaps I approached this collection the wrong way. Perhaps I’d have “got it” if they’d called what they were doing by the vernacular: fanfiction. But honestly, the only reaction I had to most of the covers was wondering why I wasn’t just reading the original. Most of them are good—a couple are bad—but only “Tricoter” and “Wants” really provoked a unique emotional reaction. By that rubric, ⅛ of Cover Stories is worth reading. If you’re busy or interested in something else, skip it. By a different rubric, however, measuring the sheer variety of craftwork on display, it becomes recommendable.

Earning the Rockies | Robert D. Kaplan | Random House

Earning the Rockies
Robert D. Kaplan

Random House
Street: 01.24

America is a nation possessed by destiny. Even before journalist John L. O’Sullivan declared it “manifest,” the quintessential American quality that would transcend race, creed and sex is individual conquest. In Earning the Rockies, Robert D. Kaplan insists that this is a feature of this nation’s utterly unique geography. From the relative self-reliance afforded by the abundant East to the community-forming tribulations of the West, our geography has shaped our national consciousness beyond local or domestic concerns. It thrusts us out into the whole world with, as Kaplan believes, an inevitable fate and responsibility to lead. He insists this with patriotic moralism, but he is no fool. With explicit clarity and nuanced realism, Kaplan recognizes—and convinces—that the American destiny is imperial.

In some circles, Kaplan is famous. A regular in the Atlantic and Washington think-tanks, his opinion holds great sway, especially among those who are inclined to believe that America’s influence over the globe is a net positive—a perspective heavily prevalent among the establishment across the political spectrum. For this reason alone, one should consider this book. The insight he offers, both explicitly and by exposing his own reasoning, illuminate the mentality of our foreign policy-makers (even in the era of Donald Trump). Furthermore, the unaffected romanticism and earnest conviction of his prose make Earning the Rockies a recommendation, problematic as his politics inevitably are.

Earning the Rockies | Robert D. Kaplan | Random House

The narrative starts in the East, for of course, the narrative in question is European in origin. There, revolution was first fated. The abundance of water, arable land and empty space meant that each of 13 colonies had natural independence and productive ability that would, as inevitable as gravity, draw their loyalties and interests away from Mother England. Then, in a time when white supremacy wasn’t solely systemic evil but acknowledged fact, the territories west became the white man’s manifest destiny. This was racism and would be atrocity, as Kaplan readily acknowledges, but more, it was momentum. The momentum of having conquered the span of the Atlantic, of having won new territory by taking staggering risks. Just as our national consciousness, fractured and internally hostile as it currently is, still makes its decisions from our romanticized pioneer myths, those same pioneers were mimicking the pilgrims before them. So the West was seized by bloody sacrifice and bloody crimes, and we were forever changed by its daunting vastness, its unforgiving terrain. Despite the abnormal popularity of individualism among Americans, the West made us communal. Few know this better than Utahans, for it was the socialist Mormons who contributed most significantly of any group to America’s expansion west. Finally, we reached the Pacific and united our Continental Empire, but we did not rest. We saw even further conquests beyond our shores. Individualism and communism do not balance one another out in the American spirit. They exacerbate one another so that our ultimate goal can be nothing less than the democratization, the Americanization, of the entire world. So the drums of empire press us onward.

However, as Kaplan somberly acknowledges, since the fall of the Soviet Union and the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan, American power has been revealed as mortally limited. We cannot conquer the world, cannot administrate the world, cannot even reliably influence the world with all its myriad local dramas. Indeed, we fail even to secure domestic wellness—our cities have become globalized city-states with little incentive to prioritize the needs of the surrounding ruralities. For comfort, those ruralities have retreated into nationalism, xenophobia and God. Kaplan’s interpretation of this tension is inconclusive and anxious: The city cannot exist independent of the country, and the country cannot resist its importance being shrunk by technology. While one may think, given his reverence for geography, that Kaplan would side with the country—given that he recently published an article for foreignpolicy.com called “Trump’s Budget is American Caesarism”—one doubts he’s pleased with the rural option so far.

Indeed, if there’s one quality to admire beyond Kaplan’s problematic idealism, it’s his underlying pragmatism. His ultimate prescription for foreign policy is moral motives combined with amoral means, a balance to be guided by humility and caution. These are the lessons of our geography as he reads it both as an academic and a traveler. Whether you agree with him or not, one must accept the clarity he demands of our nature.

Beren and Lúthien
J.R.R Tolkien

HarperCollins
Street: 06.01

In the trenches of the Somme, in a world his faith told him was made by a loving God now fallen to war and tears, J.R.R. Tolkien learned what humanity’s long defeat meant. Despite war, there was courage. Despite despair, there was hope. Despite fear, there was Edith Tolkien. For the rest of his life, he would ponder this alchemy of terror and triumph via the tale of Beren, the outlaw man who fell in love with Lúthien, divine elf princess who dared challenge all the lords of Hell for him. The drafts of this tale have been collected anew in Beren and Lúthien by their third son, Christopher Tolkien. Throughout them all is the common thread of Tolkien’s undying passion for the love of his life, Edith.

Tolkien met Edith Bratt in 1908. Both orphans, both romantically imaginative, they quickly fell in love. However, Tolkien’s guardian, Fr. Francis Morgan, forbade him to see her until his 21st birthday, owing to his studies and her Anglican faith. Tolkien, an unsurprising but just authoritarian, disobeyed only once to notify Edith of this command. He lay no obligation on her to wait, and indeed she did not. On the eve of his 21st, Tolkien wrote Edith professing the persistence of his love and proposing marriage … only to find she’d become engaged to someone else. However, she agreed to meet him, and by the end of Jan. 8, 1913, she accepted his proposal—the proposal of a man, in Tolkien’s own words, with no job, little money and no prospects except the likelihood of being killed in the Great War.

The young couple’s anxiety going into World War I was acute. Edith lived in fear every knock would bring news of her husband’s death, and Tolkien lost all but one of his childhood friends. To allay his wife’s fears—and no doubt his own—Tolkien devised a code so that she could track his movements on the Western Front, but death seemed no less certain. As historian John Garth would later quote in his book Tolkien and the Great War, Tolkien said, “junior officers were being killed off, a dozen a minute. Parting from my wife then … it was like a death.” When he was struck down by trench fever and returned to England, it was only just in time to evade his entire battalion being slaughtered. In this madness of blood and death, Tolkien and Edith filled each other with life. In 1917, they had their first son, and in 1918, Edith danced for then lieutenant Tolkien in a woodland glade among flowering hemlock. In that moment, the Tale of Tinúviel, the fairy-tale first draft of Beren and Lúthien, was born.

You see, Beren, fleeing the authority of that greatest Luciferian king Morgoth, came upon Lúthien dancing just the same way. He fell in love with her at first sight, and though she fled from him initially, she, too, came to love the simple adoration on his kind face. They became one another’s irrevocably, which pleased her father, the great elf-king Thingol, none too much. When Beren asked for her hand in marriage, Thingol charged the simple human rogue to pay for it with a Silmaril, a jewel filled with the light of heaven currently resting upon the iron crown of Morgoth, condemning him to certain death.

beren_and_luthien

Does any of this sound familiar?

Unlike 2007’s the Children of Húrin in which Christopher assembled his father’s piecemeal drafts into a coherent text, Beren and Lúthien has been left in its various parts. Between each is inserted commentary to provide what context is required to proceed with the narrative. This is presumably because much of the story was written as the Lay of Leithian, an impressively complex poem that was still unfinished at thirteen cantos long. Neither losing nor duplicating the style seems to have struck Christopher as feasible—for this, he can hardly be blamed. If this disappoints and discourages you from reading Beren and Lúthien, then please trust that the emotional effect is not lost by this delivery. The story still flows with only minimal dissonance and this method allows for the earliest draft to be included. Moreover, there’s really something quite touching about Christopher’s continued presence in the text; though he restricts all rumination on his parents’ romance to the preface, the intimacy of their son detailing evolutions in their fictional counterparts is palpable and moving.

However, if you’re not interested in the biographical tensions at play but were instead eager for more Middle-earth lore, then you should still read Beren and Lúthien. Casual fans of Lord of the Rings will get, for the first time, real characterization for Sauron, most directly as Thû the Necromancer, and most humorously in his first appearance as Tevildo, Prince of Cats. Those who find elves boring in their judgmental perfection will enjoy the complexities of Thingol’s pettiness, Celegorm’s lust, Curufin’s treachery. Finally, anyone who found Lord of the Rings’ prose nigh inaccessible will be refreshingly surprised by the playful, lyrical style of Tolkien’s youth.

This is assuming, of course, that you have not read the twelve volumes of the History of Middle-earth in which all of Beren and Lúthien’s drafts were previously published. If you have, this book is more remix than revelation and needs only to be picked up if you believe you’ll gain new emotional appreciation for the content. I certainly did. As stated above, Christopher doesn’t remark frequently on the emotional parallels between the central characters, but admits that it was chosen for collection in memoriam and one ought read it with an eye for these parallels. When Lúthien amuses herself by pulling on werewolf-Beren’s tail to his anger, it’s only too easy to see Edith teasing her Ronald the same way. When her Ronald gives Lúthien every major victory in the text, one’d have to be blind to miss the fawning adoration in this gesture. And when you remember that when Edith died, the irrecoverably despondent Tolkien had “Lúthien” engraved upon her headstone and left instructions that “Beren” be put upon his—well, there’s nothing to see for the tears in your eyes.

Indestructible by Cristy C. Road

Indestructible by Cristy C. Road isn’t a comic per se—it’s more of an illustrated novella. Everything is told in prose with illustrations providing visualization for descriptions already present in the text. As such, the format risks redundancy, but it’s a small nit to pick in an otherwise engaging and charming autobiography.

The novella’s subtitle says it all: Growing up queer, Cuban, and punk in Miami. Whether that’s enough to capture one’s interest is largely dependent on whether or not they identify with any of those categories: the difficulty of self-definition when not part of the mainstream binaries; the cultural confusion of trying to maintain ancestral cultural identity while merging with the greater American zeitgeist; the dauntless hope and automatic victory of self-righteous youth burnt-out in age and justified angst. However common they may be, Indestructible’s distinctly well-written narrative and Road’s consistent use of inclusive “we, us, you” makes the reader feel like a part of her experience.

Her queerness began as it does for many of us—with others assigning it to her and subsequently finding the category fitting. She was an androgynous youth resentful of expectations of her budding femininity, and a few social missteps were all it took for her to be universally recognized as a “dyke” before she’d realized it herself. The question of cultural fidelity is familiar to anyone who doesn’t relate to mainstream narratives. Roads is as crusty a crustpunk as any, so that filthy lot will enjoy her unashamed odors.

One final attraction: The charms and miseries of adolescence are universally known but often forgotten. Roads captures the almost mythic abandon and zeal of sex-crazy, identity-bereft/obsessed teenagers as they indiscriminately fuck and drug. Even the relatively innocent youths will recognize that bold adventurism and eternal conflict between innocent youth and preening adult. Nothing makes sense, but we know it all; I  Roads doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges, dramas or problematic elements of her life or subculture, but she’s grateful to it for giving her that push into carving out her own space and identity when the world only offered her cookie cutters and high heels.

Indestructible will be difficult to track down, and as such, one ought know what they’re getting before putting in that effort, but to reiterate, I fully enjoyed it and was impressed by how well Road captured the raw emotional intensity of adolescence. I hope if this has struck your fancy you will indeed seek it out.

Six Dyas in Cincinnati

On a spring day in Cincinnati, 19-year-old black male Timothy Thomas was murdered in a back alley by CPD. He had a warrant for a retinue of traffic violations and was fleeing arrest, but he was unarmed and the injustice of the situation was plain. What followed were six days of passionate protest, looting and community solidarity that redeems the world even as the King’s Law shoves it back into the gutter. The year was not 2016, 2015 or even the now distant days of 2014, when Ferguson was similarly shaken. The year was 2001, 15 years ago, and little has changed.

Six Days in Cincinnati by Dan Méndez Moore is an earnest accounting of those days. It’s made up of his own memories, several interviews and dramatizations of events that more or less must have taken place. There is no great truth revealed within, and Moore justifies his comic’s existence by simply stating that in the history book of Over-the-Rhine (the poorest streets of Cincinnati, and at points, even the nation), Thomas’ story must be recorded.

However, it wasn’t Thomas alone for whom the community was demanding answers. He was merely one of 15 black men killed by CPD since 1995, and the familiar refrains had gained enough voices to be heard. “No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police!” an impromptu crowd chanted as they marched on City Hall. They were led as they usually are—by black clergymen and teachers and youths unafraid of the system’s strength. The City of Cincinnati’s response was also as usual—resist the crowd and arrest the solitary. However, as the protesters trampled the American flag amid Black Panthers crying “Black Power!” and attracted looters and arsonists in their wake, they provoked more draconian measures. On the fourth of these six days, Cincinnati issued a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., effectively strangling the movement’s momentum. After some arrests and casual assaults, the city made many grand conciliatory gestures, the protesters enjoyed a triumphal march celebrating their passion, and this exercise of American catharsis drew to a close. The officer who shot Thomas was dismissed but not charged and rehired elsewhere. Ultimately, Cincinnati was shamed but not sentenced for its crimes, and in the epilogue, 10 years later, all anyone remembered of those days are their individual victories and inconveniences.

Moore’s book, as previously stated, only wishes to represent those days honestly. The art is without flourish or even consistency, but one dares not judge an amateur on a professional grade, and it serves. As such, the book gives the reader the opportunity to look back on this forgotten (by some but surely not all) event and judge with their own eyes. My judgment? Despair, resignation and finally hope.

It’s amazing how utterly vanquished and isolated the protesters became once the sheer administrative might of the city came into play. Sure, they weren’t going to overthrow City Hall, impose new order and new justice, and declare sovereignty from the United States, but in a representative democracy, one needs representation for influence. What is revealed, and has been revealed time and time again before and since, is that impoverished black people don’t have that representation; the voice in the hallowed halls to plead their case before law and order. Without it, they only have rabbling in the streets: streets laid by the system, owned by the system, controlled by the system. Yet Moore insists upon the importance of these six days and how they brought the community together. The political achievements may have been few, but the spiritual victory redeemed Cincinnati as their home.

Cover By: Benjamin Mackey

Saints

Writer: Sean Lewis
Artist: Benjamin Mackey
Image Comics
Street: 10.07

A good friend of mine sorts tapletop roleplaying systems on a spectrum of smoothness to crunchiness. Put simply, smooth systems have fewer rules, crunchy more, but that belies the overall effect such a distinction can have. Smooth systems are easier to get into and allow for greater focus on roleplaying, whereas crunchy systems allow players to be more inventive and nuanced in their approach to conflicts. There’s merit to both is what I’m saying, so please don’t take it too seriously when I say Saints: the Book of Blaise just doesn’t have enough crunch for my tastes.

It’s not that anything’s necessarily bad—just shallow. The story deals with several archetypal misfits discovering they are reincarnations of Catholic saints and their war with the archangel Michael, who’s attempting to trigger the apocalypse. Those misfits (Blaise, Sebastian, Lucy and Stephen) each possess exactly one character trait (skepticism, gay, doesn’t swear and wears headphones) and one eponymous superpower (healing, light arrows, visions and tyromancy). With that sentence, you know absolutely everything there is to know about the protagonists. Oh, sure, we do learn more about them—we meet Lucy’s family for example—but that’s not in service to their depth but rather their dialogue. Michael and his minions have even less nuance, existing only to ruminate about God with cynical bitterness. The overall impression one gets is that none of these characters are meant to be real people, but rather different iterations of author Sean Lewis’s thoughts on divinity.

The plot’s hardly there either. With unearned confidence, we move immediately from a backstage blowjob to superhero team-up without the setting, motivations or values being set up whatsoever. I found no entrance to immerse myself, no invitation to suspend my disbelief. Space and time are marked not at all, and the narrative development isn’t even a straight line—it’s a point. The art’s not doing Lewis any favors, as Benjamin Mackey’s cartoon minimalism utterly falls short of conveying the sheer spectacle need to fill in the writing’s gaps. When characters started dying off in the climax of this nine-issue miniseries, I wasn’t touched but bored. In fact, I was bored most of the book which is the most damning criticism one can usually receive, except, well …

There’s a reason I brought up the smooth/crunchy metaphor above. While, if I’m being brutally honest, I didn’t care for Saints and wouldn’t recommend it—that may be a matter purely of taste. Nothing in it is bad at all. The writing—what little there is—is competent and at times striking. The characters are all charming or too dull to bother, and I always appreciate the spirit if not the effect of de-decompression. The art is actually quite good, with character and monster designs at once impressive and expressive. I never know who ought get credit for layouts, but the flow from page to page was inviting even if they sometimes lost continuity between panels. If my praise seems too faint to make up for my critiques, then let me leave it at this: Many comic readers whose taste I respect adored Saints, and I fear that in breaking league with them, it may be my fault. I maybe missing something.

But I don’t think so.

As a former Catholic school student, as an English Major and as a regular comic reader, I will conclude that Saints overreaches but under-extends. Like a high schooler choosing to tackle Ulysses and procrastinating until the night before to begin his essay, neither Lewis nor Mackey work nearly hard enough to do their subject justice. Blaise’s conveniently thematic exposition that he doesn’t believe in God but Love (a weird and even rude thing to say when you’re talking to the Big Guy himself) has all the innovative insight of a peanut butter sandwich, and I always preferred crunchy.

(L–R) Stephanie Novak, Cassandra Webb, Taylor Hoffman and Michael Timothy.

On Sept. 10, Black Cat Comics and the 1 to 5 Club (a suborganization within the Pride Center that offers a safe space for bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, sexually fluid and asexual topics) teamed up to host an impromptu comic book panel. It was all smiles and support in the packed store. Hosting were employee Taylor Hoffman (my girlfriend, so freely assume any compliments paid her are sweet nothings), and 1 to 5 members Michael Timothy, Stephanie Novak and Cassandra Webb. The subject in greater detail: the representation of minority sexual and gender identities in the floppies.

Like any religion worth its pillar of salt, everyone has their personal revelation that drew them into the world of comics. For Timothy, it was the X-Men—after all, “x” is the symbol de rigeur for variable alternatives. Novak started young but blossomed only recently: first with grocery store Betty & Veronica digests and more fully with The Adventures of Superhero Girl. Webb has followed Novak’s lead into more diverse and complex independent fare such as, surprisingly, Jem and the Holograms. Hoffman’s was born again when Superman saved a suicidal girl’s life in All-Star Superman. A common thread unites their passions and focuses. All four found within comics a purchase for explaining their own abnormalities, shunned by some as freakish but celebrated as gifts in “four”-color panels.

Comics weren’t always a refuge for the Others among us, as Timothy explains. In 1954, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham published the suburban housewife thriller Seduction of the Innocent, in which he alleged that comics were corrupting children toward deviance. Most famously, he condemned the homonormative relationship Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth shared in raising Dick Grayson. His argument was that between the implicit suggestion the nuclear family was unnecessary and the sheer shock quotient of contemporary horror comics, these salacious rags would have America’s children gleefully following their beloved Batman into a life of sin and debauchery. I must say, looking at my own life, he wasn’t strictly wrong, but times change and the debate has, too. As the book gained serious consideration, what was eventually argued within the very halls of Congress as Homo v No Homo has since become Homo v Fuck Yes Homo. In other words, what Wertham feared is now celebrated among outcasts that weren’t “turned queer” by the Dark Knight but saw, in all his fetish-suit glory, one of their own. Despite the self-loathing decades of self-policing, comic books have since become rallying cries for the disenfranchised.

Like any academic worth his pillar of pepper, Timothy asked the rest of his panel, “So what?” as in, “Why is representation important?” The answers weren’t surprising. Novak cited Nichelle Nichols’ landmark portrayal of Uhura in Star Trek, which famously inspired black women such as Whoopi Goldberg to pursue their dreams without fear. Webb, a trans woman, emphasized the tangible-effect acceptance of icons like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox have on how the average person treats her. Hoffman’s answer was masterful salesmanship, though doubt not her sincerity; comics are for everyone, and more to the point, there’s a comic for everyone.

Of course, comic books are stereotyped as being for vanilla (white, cis, hetero, male, etc.) nerds for a reason, and Timothy further wanted to know how sometimes tactless creators portrayed a subgroup negatively. For his 2 cents, he offered the flamboyance of Batman villains the Joker and the Riddler and the implicit negative association with queerness. Webb, in turn, celebrated the union of two other Batman villains, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Novak stressed the importance of actual depth in the characters, such as bisexual Ian in Patsy Walker aka Hellcat! who somehow successfully avoids having random threesomes each issue. There was some debate as to whether Iceman’s recent conversion in the pages of X-Men (but who can tell which title these days without basic Googling?) to homosexuality was a positive or negative example. Is his being forced out of the closet and the ignored potential for bisexuality, pansexuality, etc. a cartoonish caricature by straight writer Brian Michael Bendis, or does his sheer recognition excuse such clumsy handling? I’ll leave further judgment to God and any reader that’ll play to that throne.

The evening covered a range of further questions from the panel and the audience, and Hoffman had a specific and tailored suggestion for every interest. If your interest’s piqued and their testimony has convinced you there may be something in these funny books you’ve been looking for, Black Cat Comics (blackcat-comics.com) would be happy to have you and your questions. The 1 to 5 Club (utahpridecenter.org/event/1-to-5-club/all/) shares that sentiment, and there’s no implicit request for patronage either—just donations. Cynicism aside, rest assured that if this panel proved one thing conclusively, it’s that both communities accept superheroes of every stripe with open arms.