STEVE JOBS: INSANELY GREAT

STEVE JOBS: INSANELY GREAT

Written and Drawn by Jessie Hartland

Published by Schwartz & Wade Books

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Advanced review; releases on July 21, 2015

My friends will tell you that I have a peculiar loathing for Apple products. That I regard the cult that has sprung up that salivates for each new product release is ridiculous. That I steadfastly believe the company to be the embodiment of corporate evil.

Those statements are all true.

stevejobscover

So you can imagine how far a biography of Apple’s co-founder – the man who’s policies and personality are a huge reason why I hate the company – would have to go in order for me to get through it, let alone say nice things about it. Yet I must say those nice things, because writer/artist Jessie Hartland has done a tremendous job of putting together a fair, complex, and intriguing look at Steve Jobs. Who he was, where he came from, why Apple once kicked him out, and why Apple took him back… all the puzzle pieces are here in a brisk, strongly told narrative.

We open in Jobs’ youth, exploring his burgeoning love for science and technology, then move forward to his friendship and partnership with Steve Wozniak. It is from that pairing that Apple was born, and shrewd move after shrewd move sees the two gradually build a juggernaut that will eventually dominate an industry. Of course, there are bumps and bruises to be had along the way, including Woz’s exit and Jobs being shown the door for a while, but Hartland’s way of telling the story never leaves any doubt as to why events wind up happening the way they do. Jobs is a man with a vision of the grand design, and he found a way to put as much money and as many people as humanly possible into service of that vision until the moment he died.

Hartland has an alt-comix style to her art, which makes for an interesting visual clash with a story about technology, a subject that generally revolves around perfect angles and we4ll-rounded curves. Yet the artistic style is part of what makes the book so accessible. By focusing on telling the story in a visually inventive way, you get the flavor of Jobs himself – innovate something completely great and not worry about everything else on the shelves.

There is also a healthy bibliography included, as well as author notes on how she made certain storytelling choices.

I didn’t come away from STEVE JOBS: INSANELY GREAT with a new appreciation for the company or products that the man spawned, but I did come away with a great deal of respect for the strong art and informative narrative that Hartland delivers. Obviously, the devotees will be head over heels for this one, but for me to give it a recommendation?

Strange days, indeed.

GO ASK ALYSS

ARCHENEMY/HATTER M VOL.2
Written by Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier
Graphic Novel Art by Sami Makkonen
ARCHENEMY Published by Penguin Books
HATTER M: MAD WITH WONDER Published by Automatic Pictures Publishing

Frank Beddor brings a close to his LOOKING GLASS WARS prose trilogy as ARCHENEMY hits shelves, but along the way, he expands the backstory of Hatter Madigan in MAD WITH WONDER. Let’s take a look at how he tackles each.

At the end of the middle novel, SEEING REDD, King Arch, ruler of the borderlands of Wonderland, had detonated a weapon that deadened the imaginations of Wonderlanders, leaving Queen Alyss Heart, villainess Redd Heart, and a good chunk of the population without their wondrous powers. As book three opens, Arch is on the move, using the united tribes to militarily make his way towards Wonderland’s throne. It isn’t much of a spoiler to say that he gets there and wrests control of the land for himself, leaving both Alyss and Redd in dire straits as they wait for their powers to come back. But Arch is determined to hold the throne forever, meaning that he has a plan to neutralize and eliminate imagination in Wonderland permanently. Which means that Alyss and her evil rival Redd may actually have to join forces in order to stop the sneaky King. But how long can that last?

Reading through the final volume of Beddor’s take on Carroll, I was struck by a few things about the uber-plot that stuck out to me. The first is that the plotting really is quite tight. The arc that swings across the three novels plays fair, and you never once get the sense that Beddor is making things up as he goes. By the conclusion of ARCHENEMY, you can see that he was planning for his ultimate conclusion all along. And that he had a conclusion in mind that would deliver a strong moral message is just icing on the cake for the younger readers who will find these books and absorb them.

But what else jumped out at me is that these books really aren’t so much about Alyss. Alyss herself is a plot device. Characters perform their actions because of their allegiances to Alyss, or their antipathy to Alyss, or to remove Alyss from the plot. I elt uneasy about that; a trilogy about Wonderland needs an Alyss that is a compelling character, and Beddor never succeeds in making her one in any of the novels. It’s the supporting cast that shines and captures the reader’s attention.

In fact, I’d go as far to say that these books are really about Hatter Madigan’s journey (and that of his daughter, Homburg Molly). From Hatter’s flight through the Pool Of Tears in LOOKING GLASS WARS to his allowed capture by Arch in SEEING REDD to the graphic novels focused on the characters, it’s clear that Beddor is extremely comfortable with, and excited by, his military man with the deadly hat and knives. Madigan opens as a single-minded man, but gets the only full arc in these books. As time passes, he becomes a mentor, a father, and a man conflicted by duty versus family and must decide how to serve those two masters.

MAD WITH WONDER is the second graphic novel focused on Madigan’s attempts to find the child Alyss during the first prose novel, LOOKING GLASS WARS. He spent thirteen years on Earth tracking her down, and the two books to date have fleshed out that period of his life. WONDER finds him traveling to America during the Civil War and running into issues of slavery and the treatment of the mentally ill; indeed, Hatter finds himself institutionalized by a Confederate doctor that refuses to accept that the royal bodyguard isn’t either a Yankee or a Reb. Lots of knife work and hat throwing follow.

I was of two minds about MAD WITH WONDER; it’s illustrated in stunning fashion by newcomer Sami Makkonen. To anyone who thought that the second book would be lacking without Ben Templesmith’s art, I can assure you that it isn’t. Makkonen steps in and does lovely work. Each page is a visual delight, and stylistically, Makkonen isn’t far off from Templesmith as it is. On the other hand, there’s something of a lack of drama to it all; we know that Madigan eventually finds Alyss and takes her home to assume the throne. So there’s a bit of a feeling of standing in place and marking time. In order to make these HATTER M graphic novels worthy stand-alones, they need compelling side stories for Madigan to be involved in, because there’s no real threat to him. In the case of book two, Beddor (and co-writer Cavalier) are only partially successful. In particular, a stop wherein Hatter finds something of a brief love interest really falls flat. It needed to be expanded upon a bit and given some flesh on its bones to become truly compelling to the character’s “legend.”

There’s at least one more HATTER M volume coming, though, so we’ll see how they address this issue next time out.

In all, I was very impressed by how Beddor used ARCHENEMY to complete his story’s journey. It isn’t deep, but it sure was a lot of fun. The way that Beddor used his prose sort of forced me to use my imagination to get a clear picture of exactly how things looked and worked in his Wonderland. Considering the subject of these novels, wouldn’t you have to say that was exactly the point? Well played, author. Well played, indeed.

Marc Mason