Book Reviews: Batman: Dark Victory, The Spiral Dance, Why Things Burn

My Goodreads profile is telling me that I’m at 14 on my self-challenge to read 52 books this year. It seems to think this puts me 5 books behind so far. The math is hard to argue with, but I still feel pretty good about my progress! Within the past week or so, I finished three books, which I am looking forward to reviewing for y’all. Y’all? Yes, I am a California native currently living in New England. But half the family is from Arkansas, so I feel justified in engaging in the occasional southernism. Now, back to books…

Batman: Dark Victory  (Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale, DC Comics, 2001, 388 pp.)
I’d been looking forward to this volume ever since finishing the last Batman collection I read by these two guys, The Long Halloween. That tale had been set in the early period of Batman’s career, as many of my favorites are, and depicted the origin of Two Face. It was dark, and excellent, and, also worth mentioning, one of the major inspirations for the storyline of the last Batman film. This one promised to tackle an equally interesting story, even tougher to do well, the origin of Robin. So how did it do? Very well! I won’t get in to spoilers here, but I can say that the Robin storyline is in a way a subplot to the main action, the search for a serial killer who’s targeting Gotham’s police. But that storyline provides us with a development of Batman’s character and mission that makes it utterly sensible how Robin comes to be a part of it. It’s so well done that I can even almost buy in to the red, yellow and green costume. About my only quibble is the way Tim Sale draws the Joker, giving him an inhumanly long face, and teeth that defy all laws of anatomy. I know it was a bad spill he took into that vat of chemicals, but this is just a little too much, especially for a volume that otherwise is firmly grounded in a grim realism.    

The Spiral Dance: a Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess  (Starhawk, HarperOne, 1999 20th Anniversary Edition, 310 pp.)
Over the last few years, I’ve become very interested in Goddess-centered religion. I found that, for me, thinking of (and talking to) Her as a “She” helped me develop a connection I never quite had with “Him”. This is, of course, because of particular features of my history and makeup, and I don’t claim it as any kind of universal truth. Nevertheless, it did get me interested in other people looking at the feminine side of the divine, and this book kept coming up in the course of my investigations. One of the most meaningful spiritual experiences I’ve had in the last few years was at one of the seasonal rituals hosted by Reclaiming, the group founded by Starhawk, the author of this book. Despite that, I approached reading it with some trepidation. I associate the Neopagan movement in the Bay Area with more than a little flakiness and knee-jerk radical politics. Reading it, though, totally turned my perception around. Especially in this 20th Anniversary edition, where Starhawk has an opportunity to go back and provide additional commentary on each chapter from the 10th and 20th anniversaries, what really impressed me was seeing Neopaganism as a living, evolving spiritual system. The point is not how “factual” the picture of the history of Goddess religion is, or what the sources and authenticity of various rituals are. What I found most impressively in these pages was a low-dogma “try it and see” approach to a spiritual way of being that strives to be open for people of all genders and sexualities and reconnect us to nature and each other. There was lot here that resonated with me, and that will illuminate my thinking as I further pursue my spiritual exploration…            
Why Things Burn  (Daphne Gottlieb, Soft Skull Press, 2001, 125 pp.)
I started reading this collection of poems a few years back, but never got around to finishing it. I guess it just wasn’t the time, but I’m glad I returned. These poems are excellent, searing, and grounded in the inner realities of the heart and the outer realities of urban life, which tends to be some of my favorite poetic (and generally literary) territory. Daphne Gottlieb comes out of the performance poetry scene, but seems to have utterly escaped the often-encountered problem of performance poems not translating well on the page. Much of her poetry is political and feminist as well, but she rarely sacrifices the poetics to the politics. Which, let me tell you, is not an easy trick to pull off. I was especially delighted by how she plays with form- deliberately mutating the shape and breaks of lines, and hybridizing her poems with other texts (such as news stories, or commercial materials). Again not an easy thing to pull off without falling into gimmickry, but in her deft hands it opens up meanings and connections in a startling way. It’s inspired me to once again try some more experimental writing in my own poetry, and that, I hear, is the sincerest form of flattery.    

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