BOOK REVIEW: The Mythology Class by Arnold Arre

The Mythology Class: Where Philippine Legends Become Reality (a Graphic Novel)The Mythology Class: Where Philippine Legends Become Reality by Arnold Arre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: August 9, 2022

Let’s call this “Breakfast Club” meets “Ghostbusters” but instead of busting ghosts this group of student-misfits is tasked with getting Filipino mythical creatures back to their home domains while saving their own city from the most villainous of the beasts. There’s a lot happening in this graphic novel — action and adventure tied to the daunting task of containing these creatures, some magical and some monstrous, but there’s also a couple love stories that play out, as well.

I enjoyed reading this graphic novel, finding it fast-paced and imaginative. The characters, both human and mythological, are distinct and face meaningful problems. It’s a story that is both lighthearted and humorous, but with the requisite tension and conflict for such a story. If you’re into mythological superhero stories, check this one out.

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Watchable Monsters [Free Verse]

They were written into 
the lives of ancients,

written into the oldest
stories,

carved into cave
& temple, alike.

These beasts terrorized
and defended --
sometimes both
at the same time.

Towering stacks of hours
were lost to the
beastly crunch of their teeth.

Early peoples tried 
feeding bleating creatures 
to these intermediate beasts --
these watchable monsters:

 one's too scary to chase,
but too still to run from.

But they were as relentless
in their non-hunger
as they were in inspiring
long chains of possibility.

BOOK REVIEW: Lucifer: Book One by Mike Carey

Lucifer, Book One (Lucifer, #1)Lucifer, Book One by Mike Carey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This sixteen-issue collection consists of three issues of “The Sandman Presents: Lucifer” in addition to the first thirteen issues of “Lucifer.” As the former title suggests, this is based on a character from the vast cast of “The Sandman” comics, and this volume does occasionally touch upon the broader Sandman universe, though it largely sticks to the Abrahamic mythology bits.

Each of the five story arcs in the volume standalone, but the last three (i.e. “Born with the Dead,” [1 issue,] “The House of Windowless Rooms,” [4 issues,] and “Children and Monsters,” [5 issues]) form an epic arc with a young girl Elaine and a portal to an alternate dimension at its heart. This larger arc impressively works to biblical proportions, involving grandiose stakes. I will say the first arc [from “The Sandman Presents…] was harder to follow the motives driving the story, but I can imagine it would be much easier for those who’d followed The Sandman comics from the outset. [Also, it’s only fair to have some challenges in finding a direction when dealing with such a massive cast and sprawling over-universe.]


If you’re wondering how this Lucifer compares to the television version, this one is less neurotic (though flawed in many of the same ways) and is more serious and a tad more wrathful. The TV version is lighthearted and comedic to a larger extent, while the comic book version bumps up against horror a bit more, but that’s not to say the comics have no comedy or the television version lacks all intensity. From a broader perspective, the Lucifer comic also not only more frequently touches on the Sandman universe, but also on mythologies outside that of Abrahamic religion – e.g. Lucifer ventures into the realm of Japan’s Izanami / Izanagi in “The House of Windowless Rooms.” It’s always nice to see a show can diverge from the source material and still be good, and I think that’s very much the case here.


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Diabolus [Sestina]

I woke up seeing stars up in the sky,
a blanket brightly twinkling above.
But I could only guess just where I lie,
and knew no better from what place I fell.
And for a moment I was lost in stars,
and felt the vastness I'd been cast against.

What was it that I had rebelled against?
What got me tossed from beyond vaulted skies?
Was it that I tried counting all the stars?
Or that I turned my focus from above?
Can I return some day from whence I fell?
Or is it best to stay right where I lie?

You may think I tell myself perfect lies,
that I'm angry with those I've sinned against.
But I'm not sure my exile was a fall,
and I'm not sure I lived beyond the sky.
What of the freedom not seen far above?
What of the beauty seen amid the stars?

For now, I reside in the field of stars.
Where passersby told stories full of lies,
and I have no love for the far above.
It's just a place that I once raged against.
They preach earth and water and endless skies,
but not a thing is here that never fell.

It's all matter that spiraled as it fell
that formed this platform amid blazing stars.
A vacuum beyond mountain, sea, and sky.
But I remember that's the greatest lie -
the one that I had always railed against.
That meaning lie in words like "far above."

That word is laden with judgment: "above."
And where's the gravity by which I fell?
Can puny bodies be so pulled against
where exist so many colossal stars?
So many obstacles between us lie,
and so much nothing before reaching sky.

There's no "above," only a field of stars.
And no one fell; that's just a peoples' lie.
Nothing stands against me - no endless sky.

BOOK REVIEW: The Medea by Euripides [Trans. Gilbert Murray]

The Medea of EuripidesThe Medea of Euripides by Gilbert Murray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Project Gutenberg

This tragedy follows up the myth of “The Golden Fleece.” That hero’s journey culminated in three trials which Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts) must complete in order to acquire the golden MacGuffin. Jason succeeds in large part because (arguably, entirely because) Medea, daughter of the fleece’s owner, i.e. King Aeetes, gives Jason some potions to make the trials a cinch. She does this in exchange for Jason’s everlasting love.

And, herein, lies the heart of this play’s conflict. Jason – like many heroes of Greek Mythology – is kind of a jerk. In flashing forward to the beginning of this play, we find Jason has traded Medea in for a younger and higher stature wife (i.e. a princess whose father doesn’t despise and disown her). [Note: Technically, Medea may not be married to Jason because of legalities, but she did bear him two boys.] To add insult to injury, Jason’s new father-in-law (King Creon) insists that Medea and her two boys be exiled, effective immediately.

What makes this play so fascinating is that we have sympathy for Medea’s plight, but then her inner monologue turns to the nuclear option she will employ – killing Jason’s new princess-wife and, more disconcertingly, her own children. Medea goes back and forth about her plan, showing reluctance to kill her boys, at least. So, the reader (viewer) ends up finding Jason loathsome because he steadfastly refuses to accept any blame for how poorly things have gone, but – on the other hand – he’s being more reasonable. (i.e. He talks kindly and isn’t murdering anyone.) It’s a fascinating reflection on the battle between rationality and passion.

I’d highly recommend this play. It’s a short and straightforward story, but it does present a great deal of food-for-thought.


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BOOK REVIEW: Angels: A Very Short Introduction by David Albert Jones

Angels: A Very Short IntroductionAngels: A Very Short Introduction by David Albert Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This book offers an overview of angels in the Abrahamic religious traditions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.) [It does take a quick dip into angel-like beings from other religious traditions – e.g. Hindu and Parsi – but generally comes down on the side of it doing a disservice to everybody to equate such beings across mythological traditions – with the possible exception of the New Age angel which is predominantly an offshoot from Abrahamic mythology.] The book considers the evolution of theological thinking on angels: how they’ve been portrayed in art; what they are [made of;] what their purposes are (i.e. messengers, healers, guardians, warriors, etc.;) and, occasionally, how they play into popular culture.

I took away a great deal from this book. For example, I learned about the differences between the djinn of Islam mythology and demons of Judeo-Christian mythology, and the theological underpinnings of this difference (i.e. Muslims do not believe angels have free will, and thus angels can’t be fallen, and so the djinn are a separate entity altogether [rather than being fallen angels.]) I found the book to be readable, interesting, and balanced in its approach to the topic. If you’re looking to learn more about how angels (and related beings, e.g. fallen angels / demons) have been treated by thinkers of various ages, without getting deep into the minutiae, this is a fine book to consider.


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BOOK REVIEW: After Lambana by Eliza Victoria & Mervin Malonzo

After Lambana: A Graphic Novel: Myth and Magic in ManilaAfter Lambana: A Graphic Novel: Myth and Magic in Manila by Eliza Victoria
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Out: May 10, 2022

This urban fantasy takes place in a Manila where magic exists and mythological creatures live. The story follows two young men as they travel around the city. The two seem to be new and casual friends. One is an ordinary human (Conrad) though with a terminal illness that seems not of this world, and the other is an expat from the magic realm (Ignacio) who’s going to great efforts to help Conrad. The hook is the question of why this casual acquaintance seems so important to the too-cool-for-school Ignacio. Conrad seems to be along for the ride as a distraction in his last hours, but Ignacio has an objective – benighted as it may be. The story unfolds to reveal what’s really happening and to offer backstory.

I love works that incorporate mythology and folklore, and think it’s a wise move for writers of speculative fiction because there’s such a rich and engaging field of stories and characters / creatures – all ripe for the picking. This is particularly true of a mythology, such as that of the Philippines, that isn’t widely known and, thus, offers a whole slate of creatures and alternate worlds with which most readers aren’t familiar. In this book, Filipino mythology is most prominently seen via the “Sirena,” which bear some resemblance to Greek Sirens – except being in the form of mermaids (though able to walk on legs under certain conditions.) I think more could have been done with Filipino Mythology, though there are a few other magic elements in the book that may or may not have mythological origins.

In found this to be a compelling story, and the art was colorful, while still capturing a little noir feel for late night Manila. If you’re interested in speculative fiction graphic novels, this one is worth investigating.


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BOOK REVIEW: Hellblazer, Vol. 1: Original Sins by Jamie Delano

Hellblazer, Vol. 1: Original SinsHellblazer, Vol. 1: Original Sins by Jamie Delano
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This volume gathers eleven issues, comprising six stories. The first nine issues are from the “Hellblazer” title in which John Constantine is protagonist, and the final two are from “Swamp Thing” (the title in which Constantine was originally introduced.) There is a huge variation in the quality of stories in this collection, with most being compelling reads with an intriguing lead character.

The best stories include: 1.) the two-issue “Hunger” / “A Feast of Friends” in which a heroin addicted (amateur magician) acquaintance of John’s unleashes a demonic swarm upon the world; 2.) the creepy “Waiting for the Man” which draws upon the child abduction terror of the 80’s; and 3.) the four-issue arc “Extreme Prejudice” through “Shot to Hell,” which imagines a cult forcing a young woman to bear a celestial child.

The only really bad story is the single-issue “Going for It.” This issue is a stinker because instead of subtly embedding a political message in a story, it presents a political rant and tries to make it look vaguely story-like. [And if there is anything worse than getting a political rant when you’re expecting a story, it’s getting an archaic anti-Thatcherite political rant from the mid-80’s.] The author’s politics show through in a number of other stories, but not in place of the story. “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” has a great premise, but the “protagonist” (Constantine) is reduced to the role of passive spectator. The two “Swamp Thing” titles (“L’adoration de la Terre” and “Infernal Triangles”) also make for a fine story, but they’re out of place, and presumably are meant to serve as reminder of Constantine’s roots, though he’s a supporting character.

Overall, I enjoyed this volume, despite its few flat notes.


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