Posts Tagged ‘brian k. vaughan’

My Ten Favorite Books of 2011

I finished a Baker’s Cannonball (that’s fifty-three books) for CBR-III, but I only really finished forty-eight in 2011. But that’s plenty of books from which to choose a Top Ten.

10. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
y: the last man

This is actually a graphic novel series in ten volumes, and not a single book. But it’s a graphic novel, so it’s a quick and fun read. The premise of the story is that a mysterious plague has caused every male organism on Earth to die: except for Yorick Brown, an aspiring escape artist, and his helper monkey, Ampersand. It explores a lot of gender issues, but does so in a witty and interesting way. There are plenty of meta references and jokes, and a few parts even made me laugh out loud, which rarely happens when I’m reading.

But this is a graphic novel series for grown-ups, and not a comic book for kids, so be forewarned that there are some squicky parts that prudes like me don’t appreciate, including some nudity.

9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
things fall apart

Culture changes with every generation. The dominant people of one generation can quickly become obsolete and shunned by the next. Things Fall Apart explores what happens when someone cannot let go of the past in order to adapt to the future. Okonkwo, the most powerful man in a remote Nigerian village, is unable to change as the times do, with tragic consequences. This book is a quick read, but a heavy one.

8. John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock by Iain H. Murray
john macarthur: servant of the word and flock

Iain Murray is, in my opinion, one of the finest biographers of our day, and certainly the foremost Christian biographer of our generation. His proto-biography of John MacArthur is a brief but encouraging look at the life of one of my spiritual heroes. Murray himself reminds the reader that a full biography can’t really be finished until the subject’s life and testimony are complete, but this is a great glimpse at what that full testimony will look like when it’s ready to be written.

I can only wonder who will write Murray’s biography when he is gone.

7. John Adams by David McCullough
john adams

John Adams is an historical figure who doesn’t get much play time in the American classrooms of today. But he’s certainly one of the most important patriots who ever lived, and historian David McCullough brings him to life in the pages of this book. Adams was a man of deep integrity and passion, and I appreciate that McCullough chooses to write about men of character instead of those who lived more glamorous and superficially exciting lives.

6. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
high fidelity

This is a book that will speak to anyone who’s ever loved and lost and pined after someone they couldn’t have. Hornby has a knack for writing about common human experiences with a humor and with that makes them seem somehow glorious because of how pitiful they are. Rob Fleming is everyman, and laughing at his romantic misadventures helps you to laugh at your own.

5. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
the hiding place

One of the few books I re-read in 2011, I was surprised at how much richer this book was for me upon re-reading it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown to appreciate God’s love and care for His children since I first read it back in high school, but I was very personally encouraged by this book, and the testimony of Corrie ten Boom’s life, especially in how God used her time in a German concentration camp during WWII to teach her more about His power, grace, and love. This is a book that I’ll keep in my heart for the rest of my life.

4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
extremely loud and incredibly close

I hear that the movie version of this book is retaaaaahded, but don’t let that stop you from reading this beautiful, tragic, poignant book. One of the first novels to be set against the backdrop of 9/11, it came under some fire for being “manipulative” because of its setting. But I think time has been kind to it, and I found the story of young Oskar Schell’s search for a way to make sense out of life after losing his father in the 9/11 attacks to be profoundly moving.

3. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
black swan green

What High Fidelity is for relationships, Black Swan Green is for growing up. Jason Taylor is unpopular, unconfident, and uncomfortable. His parents are on the verge of splitting up, the girl he fancies fancies the class bully, and, to make matters worse, he has a stammer that makes King George VI look like Cicero. He’s the Rob Fleming of junior high, and David Mitchell writes this semi-autobiographical character with honesty, compassion, and feeling. It’ll make you look back on the miserable memories of junior-high awkwardness (if you have them. I have them in abundance) with fondness — not because they weren’t really miserable, but because that misery shaped you into the person you are today.

2. Native Son by Richard Wright
native son

Native Son may well be one of the most important works of American literature. It’s well-written, thought-provoking, and harrowing. It tells the tale of Bigger Thomas, a black man ironically forced into a terrible situation by the kindness of people in a class oppressing his own. Part of me wants to say it’s a sad story, but it’s also a very cold story. Wright himself described it best when he said of its creation, “I swore to myself that if I ever wrote another book, no one would weep over it; that it would be so hard and deep that they would have to face it without the consolation of tears.”

1. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Tim Keller
prodigal god

I guess you could accuse me of copping out because I put a Christian book at the top of my list. But while this book may not change the world at large, it certainly changed my life, and my view of God’s love and grace. We’ve all heard the story of the prodigal son, and we think that the word “prodigal” means “lost” or “wayward.” But what it really means is “wastefully extravagant,” and Keller posits that the real prodigal in this story is the Father, who lavishes his love and riches on a son that doesn’t deserve it. I can’t even write about this book without being moved to tears because I know that God has given me so much more than I could ever hope to deserve. Because of His prodigal love, all the riches of heaven are mine, and there’s not a thing I can do to lose it or earn more of it. This book is a must-read for Christians who want to glimpse into the depths of God’s love for them.

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What were your favorite books of 2011?

Cannonball 51: Y: The Last Man, Volume X: Whys and Wherefores by Brian K. Vaughan

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 10: Whys and WhereforesY: The Last Man, Vol. 10: Whys and Wherefores by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Whys and Wherefores is a beautiful ending to a fantastic series. Plot lines are tied up, confrontations come to heads, and our heroes find resolution, although not the pat, happy endings you might hope for.

Brian K. Vaughan continues to flesh out the post-apocalyptic world he conceived in Volume I, and he brings things full circle. He shows a world that has learned how to cope with a catastrophic event, but is not left unscarred by it.

And Vaughan also closes the book on all of the major characters. For a series that mostly falls under the category of action/adventure with a few comic overtones, this last volume is unexpectedly moving, and some of its more tragic events are like a serious punch to the gut.

And the ending is just beautiful. It’s perfect. It’s poignant without being romanticized, moving without being melodramatic.

The series makes a lot of social commentary,but Vaughan chooses to end the series with a broader commentary on life: what’s important; what really matters. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of his views, I do think he did an artful job of getting his points across. Making serious statements about society and life through the vehicle of an action/adventure comic book is a noteworthy accomplishment.

Y: The Last Man is an excellent series, and Whys and Wherefores is a worthy ending.

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Cannonball 50: Y: The Last Man, Volume IX: Motherland by Brian K. Vaughan

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 9: MotherlandY: The Last Man, Vol. 9: Motherland by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We’re cranking up for a bang-up finale. Motherland does a great job of ramping up the excitement and keeping the revelations coming at a steady rate.

We finally discover the identity of Toyota’s employer, and that leads to several more revelations, some of them devastating. And the reason they’re devastating is that Brian K. Vaughan has done an excellent job of setting the reader up for maximum effect.

We finally learn the cause of the “gendercide,” but that revelation kind of pales in light of what’s become the true core and heart of this series: the relationships between the three main characters. Vaughan gets his audience really invested in the characters over the course of the season, and his pacing is impeccable. You don’t get bored with the characters, and their relationships are vibrant and real and ever-changing.

Volume IX is so good that it makes you almost afraid that Volume X won’t live up to it. That’s about the highest compliment I can pay to the penultimate volume of any series.

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Cannonball 49: Y: The Last Man, Volume VIII: Kimono Dragons by Brian K. Vaughan

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 8: Kimono DragonsY: The Last Man, Vol. 8: Kimono Dragons by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now, we’re getting somewhere.

Yorick & Crew arrive in Tokyo. They’re being stalked by Toyota, a ninja assassin. They go to confront Dr. Mann’s mother, a Japanese scientist.

There’s a lot of action in this volume, and that makes it a lot of fun. The depiction of Japan is a little stereotypical, though, with the ladies all fawning over a Japanese android man who’s programmed to tell them things like, “you look beautiful when you cry.”

There are also some important revelations in this volume, and Vaughan does a great job of maximizing the drama.

This volume is a fun, gripping read, and gets the series back on track.

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Cannonball 48: Y: The Last Man, Volume VII: Paper Dolls by Brian K. Vaughan

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 7: Paper DollsY: The Last Man, Vol. 7: Paper Dolls by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another of the weaker volumes in the series, but this one at least moves the story along a bit.

In this volume, Yorick & Friends stop to refuel in Australia before continuing on to Japan in search of Ampersand. This allows Yorick the opportunity to search for his fiancee, Beth Deville, who was in Australia when he last communicated with her.

We also learn a little more about Agent 355’s history, which isn’t as compelling as it could be, in my opinion. It’s a pretty standard story of childhood trauma that eventually turned her into a hardened soul who could only be softened by the right people. Meh and meh.

This volume also sees Yorick’s existence revealed to the rest of the world. Ehhh, once again, it doesn’t do much to propel the story forward, and ultimately becomes more of a MacGuffin than anything else.

But since the series overall is so innovative, it’s easy to overlook a few less-than-great volumes.

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Cannonball 47: Y: The Last Man, Volume VI: Girl on Girl by Brian K. Vaughan

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 6: Girl on GirlY: The Last Man, Vol. 6: Girl on Girl by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Girl on Girl was probably my least favorite volume in the series.

In this volume, Yorick & Co. cross the Pacific Ocean in their quest to recover Yorick’s monkey, Ampersand, who may hold the key to curing the plague that wiped out the “man” half of mankind.

There are some random subplots here, and Vaughan’s twists and turns in this volume are rather two-dimensional, which is a disappointment considering how artfully he was able to turn societal conventions on their heads in some of the earlier volumes of this series.

There are pirates and spies and I felt rather beat over the head with the whole idea of “Yorick can’t trust anyone,” and, yes, yes, I get it, he has to be careful. There’s also a whole lot of “fair is foul and foul is fair” — the ally turns out to be a villain but then turns out not to be as villainous as she was believed to be. I’d call that a spoiler, but it’s such a thin device that watching it unveiled leaves you with an overwhelming sense of “meh.”

This volume doesn’t do much to advance the series, but the worst volume of this series is still a sight better than the best volumes in some others, so it’s still worth reading.

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Cannonball 46: Y: The Last Man, Volume V: Ring of Truth by Brian K. Vaughan

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 5: Ring of TruthY: The Last Man, Vol. 5: Ring of Truth by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Surprises. That’s what makes “Ring of Truth” such a great volume.

Yorick, in a fight with some members of a ruthless offshoot of the Culper Ring, loses the engagement ring he had planned to give to Beth. Soon thereafter, he begins developing symptoms of the plague that killed the rest of the men on Earth.

Agent 355 goes on a suicide mission to recover the ring and save Yorick.

This volume also sees the return of Yorick’s sister, Hero. The last time we saw her, she was part of a radical group called the Daughters of the Amazon, but she had since been rehabilitated — but Yorick and his friends don’t know this, yet.

We are also introduced to a new villain, a ninja assassin named Toyota, working for a mysterious “Dr. M.” We’re left to wonder whether she’s working for Dr. Mann’s mother… or if Mann herself is behind Toyota.

This is a solid volume with plenty of laughs to lighten the dark mood of the post-apocalyptic world portrayed in the series.

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Cannonball 45: Y: The Last Man, Volume IV: Safeword by Brian K. Vaughan

Y: The Last Man: Y - The Last Man Bd. 4. Offenbarungen: Bd 4Y: The Last Man: Y – The Last Man Bd. 4. Offenbarungen: Bd 4 by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Safeword” introduces a new character: Agent 711, a retired Culper Ring agent who’s also a friend of 355’s. She helps Yorick to take a deeper look at the reasons behind his compulsive recklessness, and it’s not pretty.

This part of the series was a little… iffy for me, for a variety of reasons. While the conclusion sets up some important events later in the series, the means by which its done is unnecessarily extreme, in my opinion. But I guess it’s more entertaining to most people than a simple sit-down conversation, especially considering the graphic novel format.

There’s some nudity in this volume, and, as I am a total prude, that didn’t exactly boost my enjoyment of this volume. And, while I enjoyed the series overall, I do think that it’s a contradictory message from Vaughan that the vast majority of the women in this post-apocalyptic world have rockin’ bodies — did the fat ones get eaten early on? And were non-form-fitting clothes also destroyed by the plague? You’d think that, with no men to impress, you’d see a lot more women wearing sweats.

It’s just interesting to me that, a lot of the time, he seems to preach about the empowerment of women, but that he also objectifies them at every step. It’s like he knows that most of his readers are going to be young men. He sticks in a few finger-wags about how hard women have it, but then retains his readership by making all of his women total babes who are fighting to save (or possess) this ordinary schlub.

This was an important volume in the series, but not really my favorite.

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Cannonball 44: Y: The Last Man, Volume III: One Small Step by Brian K. Vaughan

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 3: One Small StepY: The Last Man, Vol. 3: One Small Step by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When we last left Yorick, we learned that, orbiting Earth in the international space station, there were three astronauts — two of whom were men. If these men are able to land safely on Earth, and are not affected by the plague, then Yorick will no longer be the last man on Earth, tripling humanity’s chances of survival on Planet Earth.

Yorick is also being pursued by a woman quickly shaping up to become his nemesis: the ruthless Alter Tse’elon. She has basically hijacked the Mossad in order to hunt Yorick down and return with him to Israel so that he can begin repopulating Earth there. Some of her underlings question her motivation, but still follow her orders.

There’s a sort of epilogue at the end of the book in which Yorick sees a play… about the last man on Earth. It’s another nice bit of meta, but, at this point, the dig in the ribs is a little annoying.

While it was still an excellent read and tons of fun, it was one of the weaker volumes of the series, in my opinion. It dragged just a tiny bit, and, as I mentioned, the meta references are getting a bit cheesy.

But it’s still a ton of fun.

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Cannonball 43: Y: The Last Man, Volume II: Cycles by Brian K. Vaughan

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 2: CyclesY: The Last Man, Vol. 2: Cycles by Brian K. Vaughan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The tale of Yorick Brown, the last man on earth, continues with Yorick’s trek across America to help Dr. Mann get back to her lab in San Francisco and find out how Yorick and Ampersand survived the plague. Along the way, they meet a town of women that live in a virtual utopia compared to the rest of the nation. Of course they’ve got a secret they’re trying to hide.

In each of these volumes, Vaughan brings up some interesting points. Dr. Mann points out that, the longer this plague goes on, the more species are becoming extinct. Day flies have a life span of one day. Since they’ve already gone more than a day without any males to mate with, the entire species is already gone. Other animals with short life spans are also extinct. He really thought through the world he created with a lot of attention to detail. It’s admirable.

Yorick, Ampersand, 355, and Dr. Mann also run into a group of radicals: the Daughters of the Amazon, who believe that the plague was nature’s way of getting rid of the weaker male half of the species. This group is trying to hunt down and kill Yorick in order to wipe out the males completely. But one of their number is conflicted about pursuing him, for very personal reasons.

It’s hard to review these volumes on their own, especially as they’re all kind of blurring together in my memory. This is a credit to Vaughan’s ability to maintain the flow of his story, and to keep the reader captivated.

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