This Week's Reads

Alisa Kwitney and Nic Kelman.


By Alisa Kwitney (Chronicle, $35) Fans of Neil Gaiman's revered comic The Sandman, one of the first with the gravitas to earn the term "graphic novel," will be out of this world and into a darker one thanks to this handsomely produced hardback on the making of each of the series' 10 story arcs. You don't even need to be a fan to treasure it. The exposition and insider info provided by Kwitney, Gaiman's former editor, make his arcane fantasy universe comprehensible to the most innocent newbie. And the remarkable range of visual interpretations of Gaiman's characters by the diverse artists who illustrated each issue can't fail to open the eyes of the most close-minded. The series began in 1988 with an update of a 1940s DC Comics superhero, who gassed bad guys, sprinkled them with sand, and left them for the cops to find in the morning. This guy shows up in the first Gaiman Sandman, as does the Flash-like 1970s version of the character, who chirps, "I am the Sandman . . . protector against wicked nightmares . . . friend of children everywhere!" He turns out to be a deluded ghost unaware that the real Sandman, who resembles Tim Burton, is a veritable curator of humanity's nightmares (and, under his other name, Morpheus, an important forerunner of our era's comparably elaborate head trip, The Matrix). Alternating between a generous selection of beautifully reproduced panels from the comic (plus other artwork) and a chronicle of the epic's evolution, Kwitney briskly brings you up to speed on the entire 2,000-page story (up to September's Endless Nights installment, which comes after Gaiman's seven-year hiatus from the series). Meet the Sandman's perky, punky-Goth sister, Death, who can't fathom why humans like her brother better; the still more outta-control kid sis, Delirium; the androgynous Desire and his/her twin Despair; the bad-seed boy, Destruction; and the somber oldest, Destiny (whose DC original once stopped Superman in midflight at the edge of the universe like a cop confiscating a joyriding teenager's learner's permit). There's a fine villain, too: the Corinthian, behind whose dark shades lurk eyes that are actually mouths full of fangs. Creepy, funny, possessed by Chaucer and Shakespeare and Scheherazade and pop avatars like so many impish demons, The Sandman is worth revisiting or discovering, as the case may be. And I'm so glad that, in the sixth volume, they omitted the idiotic, unrhythmic word "terror" from the Sandman's motto and restored T.S. Eliot's original phrasing from The Waste Land: "I will show you fear in a handful of dust." TIM APPELO GIRLS

By Nic Kelman (Little, Brown, $22.95) Cyberporn, hookers, upscale strip clubs, underage baby-sitters, wives' best friends, friends' teen daughters, college girls, jailbait . . . is there any female body or representation thereof that doesn't give men a reckless, self-destructive hard-on in this slim debut screed? The book doesn't really have chapters, characters, or plot; it's subtitled "a paean" to the supposedly prime motivator of all male behavior: women. But it's certainly no celebration of that behavior in itself, however luridly cataloged. Male sexuality is depicted both in terms of disgust and fascination by brainiac Kelman, adapting his MFA thesis from Brown. Before that, he studied cognitive science at MIT, so don't be fooled by all the salacious episodes in Girls that might've been culled from the letters section of Penthouse. Yes, there are pliant call girls and sweaty threesomes, but Kelman's references extend past Hooters and Jenna Jamesonall the way back to classical Greece. The sexual adventures of an aging, unnamed Wall Street Everymangenerally rendered in a composite, accusatory second-person "you" modeare oddly interspersed with passages from Virgil and Homer. It's kind of like Bond Traders Gone Wild crossed with Robert Graves. What's Kelman's point? What links the businessman boffing the teenager to the wrath of Odysseus confronting Penelope's suitors? It's that same lusting for the life force between the legs; the drive to replenish oneselfand simultaneously pollutethe eternal feminine well. Kelman writes: "[T]he fact that the thing is used up in the process, the idea that no one can ever have exactly what you had, is tremendously exciting. It is precisely the same feeling you have had whenever you and you alone have consumed a unique bottle of precious wine." Kelman argues, in a fashion, that the unfettered male sex drivefueled by infinite funds, Gulfstream jets, vacation homes, and God knows what kinds of pharmaceuticalsleads inexorably and organically to the youngest and most vulnerable of women. For the nerdy academic author, this kind of indictment of gilded-age CEO misogyny seems both reductive and weirdly enviousthe outsider looking in, imagining the worst. He could've made the same point by quoting Pat Benatar (truly, love is a battlefield), and he doesn't serve his cause with a bogus Gatsby-on-the-end-of-the-pier coda. The book feels too scolding, serious, and censorious, not satiric. Carnal desire may not have changed over the millennia, but we might reasonably expect better descriptions of it. BRIAN MILLER

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow