Saturday, May 25, 2019

Review of "The Power of Iron Man," presented by Stan Lee

Review of

The Power of Iron Man, presented by Stan Lee ISBN 0939766973

Five out of five stars

 This graphic novel goes where no writer/artist/comic book had ever gone before, an honest treatment of heavy drinking to the point of alcoholism. While drunks have been presented as jokes in other forms of entertainment, recall the character of Otis in the Andy Griffith Show, nothing of the serious from had ever appeared in comics. The rigid and unrelenting Comics Code Authority prevented a great deal of real life outside of the comic books.

 Tony Stark, the body within Iron Man, is a genius inventor like no other on Earth. He is very rich, is primary owner of one of the greatest industrial companies on Earth and has the coolest costume on the planet. Yet, he is still a man and suffers from inner turmoil common to geniuses. Like so many others, he finds some form of solace in bottles of alcoholic beverages.

 Many threads are covered, from the origin of Iron Man in a communist prison camp to Tony hitting bottom and an intervention by a female friend that pulls Tony out of the bottle and back to a functioning man and hero. While comic books are of course based on impossible fiction, the heroes are still people and have strengths, weaknesses and human flaws. The fact that this graphic novel operates on that premise and presents some harsh realities of life makes it a historic breakthrough in the world of comics.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Review of "The Wolf and the Raven: Totem Poles of Southeastern Alaska," by Viola E. Garfield and Linn A. Forrest

Review of

The Wolf and the Raven: Totem Poles of Southeastern Alaska, by Viola E. Garfield and Linn A. Forrest ISBN 0295739983

Five out of five stars

 The totem poles of the natives of British Columbia and Alaska are literally story poles in the sense that they are a physical representation of legends, myths and folklore. After many years of neglect, there was a concerted effort by the United States Forest Service starting in 1938 to preserve and restore the remaining poles. Unfortunately, for many of the poles, the preservation effort came too late.

 The physical structure of some of the most prominent poles along with the legends they represent is presented here. The stories are what one would expect from a hunter people, they are based on the animals in their world such as the wolf and raven. There are many images of the higher quality poles, they are an impressive art form, for they are majestic. The various tribes and their styles are also described.

 There is a depressing recounting on page 10 of a native carver that turned against the craft and his people. John Wallace was the son of a prominent carver who became a lay worker for the local church. He renounced a career in woodcarving, and he encouraged his people to cut down and destroy totem poles, personally destroying some of them. It is another unfortunate incident of a person finding one religion only to try to destroy the heritage of another.

  One of the items we studied in elementary school was the totem poles in Alaska. I still remember seeing the pictures and hearing the legends, some of which no doubt appears in this book. It is fortunate that this aspect of native culture is being preserved.

Review of "Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery," by John Feinstein

Review of

Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery, by John Feinstein, ISBN 0553494600

Five out of five stars

 This is a plausible mystery involving teens interacting with adults on roughly an equal basis. Steven Thomas and Susan Carol are in their early teen years and they are the co-winners of a sports writing contest and their reward is to attend the NCAA Final Four series in New Orleans and write about it. While they will be showcased to some extent, they are expected to submit stories regarding the events inside the Final Four atmosphere.  Therefore, they are issued press credentials. One of the teams in the Final Four is Minnesota State University (MSU) and their star player is Chip Graber.  

 By accident, Steven and Susan overhear Chip speaking with a man that is making threats to Chip, promising dire consequences of Chip does not throw the final game to Duke if MSU and Duke are to play for the championship. This is the first step in an adventure worthy of reading about. While Steven is a bit more cautious, Susan is completely comfortable in making up stories and relationships in order to investigate the attempted blackmail.

 As a consequence of an incredible shot by Chip at the end of overtime in the semi-final game, MSU and Duke play for the championship. Facing great pressure to succeed due to betrayal and danger to Susan and Steven, Chip plays poorly in the first half. However, things right themselves and there is a dramatic ending in the “big game at the end.”

 The story is structured where Steven and Susan must think very fast and create plausible stories on the fly in order to pursue the case. One very good feature is that Susan generally takes the lead in creating their cover stories, eventually Steven sits back and lets her lead. It is great sports story that all can relate to, for the focus is on the people that watch the games rather than those that play them.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Review of "Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor," by Russell Freedman

Review of

Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor, by Russell Freedman, ISBN 978-0395797266

Five out of five stars

 One of the threads that has run through modern industrial societies since the industrial revolution began has been that liberal ideas start slowly, face opposition from conservative elements and eventually take hold and become an integral component of society. Child labor laws are one such idea. One of the most astounding facts I have ever encountered appears on page 16. It references a three-year-old girl named Angelica that made 540 artificial flowers a day in the tenement apartment where her family lives. Her wages for that day are five cents with no other benefits.

 Lewis Hine was a crusader with a camera that traveled the United States taking pictures of children at work, often in the most dirty and dangerous of conditions. From the factories spinning cotton, to picking cotton in the fields to the coal mines, children were utilized as labor because their labor was cheap. Desperate parents needed every penny their family could earn when there was little in the way of social support.

 Despite their being children and prone to having a sunny disposition, you can generally see the fatigue and despair in their faces. Hine’s pictures did a great deal to advance the movement against child labor, particularly in dangerous occupations. The text explains the images as well as a history of National Child Labor Committee and the legal steps that were taken. Congress passed child labor laws in 1916 and 1918, but they were struck down as unconstitutional by the U. S. Supreme Court.

 The struggle to keep children in school and out of the factories did not succeed until the Great Depression, when the lack of jobs led to pressures to have adults with families fill them. The two-track social movements of compulsory education of children and preventing the youngest from working combined to largely eliminate child labor. As this book recounts, this humane action was not without a bitter struggle against conservative forces.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Review of "Sports Heroes and Legends Hank Aaron," by Serena Kappes

Review of

Sports Heroes and Legends Hank Aaron, by Serena Kappes ISBN 0760769044

Five out of five stars

 Now that Barry Bonds has eclipsed Hank Aaron’s record for career home runs, Aaron’s other hitting achievements seem to have devolved out of mind. Yet, Aaron is third all-time in the number of hits, had a higher career batting average than Bonds and drove in 300 more runs. He is arguably the best overall hitter of all time.

 This book was published thirty years after Aaron retired and is an excellent modern introduction to his life on and off the field. When he started playing professional baseball, segregation was still the norm in the south and Aaron was one of the first African American players in the Sally League while still a teenager. It was a hard life at the beginning, yet with the help of others, Aaron could focus on baseball and win the fans with his play on the field.

 A story about skills and perseverance, Aaron was present through much of the struggles for equality and civil rights on and off the playing field. He was a great player, arguably the best hitter of all time and this book makes that very clear to the young reader.

Review of "The Big Wave," by Pearl S. Buck

Review of

The Big Wave, by Pearl S. Buck ISBN 0440840554

Five out of five stars

 This short story about life on the seacoast of Japan features the heritage of a people that choose to simply accept the reality of the natural disasters along the Japanese ocean shore. Kino is a farm boy that lives on the side of a mountain with a view of the ocean far below. His best friend Jiya is the son of a fisherman and their house is on the edge of the sea. There is also mention of the centuries old stone terraces that allow the side of the mountain to be farmed.

 Both professions are necessary so that they can eat their staple meal, which is fish with rice. Life is generally good, but Kino is puzzled when he sees that none of the houses on the shore have windows that face the ocean. When he inquires, Kino learns it is because of the recurring history of the sea becoming angry with great waves coming in, wiping out the village.

 The nearby volcano erupts, and a tsunami comes in, wiping out the village, leaving only a few stone posts. All of the people that did not seek shelter die, including all the other people in Jiya’s family. Over time, the village is built once again, despite the knowledge that there could be another giant wave.

 This story is about tradition and how the Japanese live their lives joyously, knowing that the sea could become angry and destructive at any time. It is a great introduction to an aspect of Japanese culture, how they face danger, yet live their lives in the traditional way. Eventually, rebuilding what was lost in the same location and using the same construction materials.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Review of "Working the Plate: The Eric Gregg Story," by Eric Gregg and Marty Appel

Review of

Working the Plate: The Eric Gregg Story, by Eric Gregg and Marty Appel ISBN 0688090893

Four out of five stars

 While he was not the first black umpire in the major leagues, Eric Gregg was the first to have a lengthy career. Known for his disarming personality and large size, Gregg brought a distinctive style to the ballpark. He was one of the early umpires to insert some secondary entertainment into the game.

 He was not without a bit of controversy, promoted to the majors at the age of 24, there is reason to believe that his appointment was an affirmative action move by major league baseball. He also made some very controversial calls that were branded as some of the worst decisions of the decade.

 This is his story and I found myself wishing he had spent more ink describing some of the on-field situations that he was a part of. Some of them are very funny and certainly more entertaining than the more routine descriptions of where he lived and his daily life outside baseball.

 In his own way, Eric Gregg was a pioneer for blacks in major league baseball, his 22 years in blue and early “retirement” make him an underappreciated individual that helped expand opportunities for minorities in positions of authority in baseball. He also openly praises and criticizes the players, coaches and managers that he had to deal with on a daily basis.