The Communist Manifesto,
by Karl Marx

Buh. Dry stuff, and not much that I haven't encountered before.

Grading these revolutionary, historic writings with a 5-star rating system seems like sacrilege. But my rating is just my reaction overall, and not a measure of the importance or impact of the work itself.

I listened to this as an audiobook, with additional history and commentary interspersed to put things into historical context (which I'm sure Marx would've appreciated). However, I could've done without the fake German accent that all of Marx's writings were narrated in.

by Grant Morrison

I got about a third of the way through the book, and then I had to return it to the library (somebody else had requested it, so I couldn't renew). And honestly, that's enough for me. I'll probably go back to it someday, but I got what I wanted from it: a better understanding of the early days of comics, and their role in the culture of their time.

The writing is excellent, and flows very naturally and even poetically at times. I've got no complaints.

Batman: Cacophony,
by Kevin Smith

I've seen plenty of people complaining about Smith's Batman comics, but I just don't see the problem. Yes, he has a few too many sex jokes in there (which his editors at DC should have taken care of) but the stories he tell are always clever, engaging, and fun. And this book is great for anyone, no matter how familiar they are with Batman's lore. Even obscure characters (like Maxie Zeus) are given good, what-you-need-to-know introductions, and treated with respect.

What's even more confusing to me is the backlash against Flanagan's artwork. Personally, I think that's just the internet fanboy rage machine working itself into overdrive, as it so often does. Flanagan's style is a bit different from other artists - of course. His artwork fits the subject matter very well, and it's always easy to tell what's going on in each frame. The inkers and colorists did a great job too.

Stranger in a Strange Land,
by Robert A. Heinlein

It's been 11 months since I last picked up this book, so I think it's safe to say that I'm done with it. I got halfway through, and I really didn't care for it. The writing style didn't appeal to me, and not much happened in the first half. I've heard that the second half is better than the first, so maybe I'll get back to it someday. Or maybe I'll just wait for someone to make it into a movie.

Maybe this is one of those books that had some revolutionary ideas when it was first published, but those ideas have since been absorbed into the greater sci-fi culture. It may have raised the genre up to a greater level, but the problem with being a foundational work is that, inevitably, other works will be placed on top of you.

Lex Luthor: Man of Steel,
by Brian Azzarello

This gets you into the mind of Lex Luthor, and gives you amazing insight into why he does what he does, and why he hates Superman so much, and what he's willing to do to stop him. You see the whole world through Luthor's eyes, with Metropolis appearing as a shining city full of promise, and Superman appearing as a dark threat with glowing red eyes.

I have no idea why the Batman stuff was in there, and there seems to be no explanation for why Superman would attack Batman (if he did at all). But the rest was great.

Green Arrow: Quiver,
by Kevin Smith

Green Arrow books are often hit-and-miss, but this is definitely hit. My main familiarity with the character is from the Justice League animated series, and this carries on in that show's tradition (or maybe the show took its cues from this book; I don't remember which came first).

You have to be slightly familiar with the character's backstory to get the most out of this (it opens with everyone shocked that Oliver is alive, after they all saw him die) but you don't need much more than a 10-minute Wikipedia introduction to pick up on the essentials.

Batman: The Man Who Laughs , by Ed Brubaker

This is actually two stories in one volume, and they're both outstanding.

The first, "The Man Who Laughs", tells the story of Batman's first encounter with the Joker. In fact, it would make a lot of sense to read this right after Batman: Year One. This is where Batman first realizes the danger of the "supervillain".

The second, "Made of Wood", takes place at the opposite end of Batman's career. Commissioner Gordon has retired, Batman is still working, and a 50-year-old mystery pops up. I thought it was great how Alan Scott (the Golden Age Green Lantern) was depicted here, as Gotham's protector in the 40's and 50's (I guess he didn't do a very good job). His interactions with Batman are great, and they clearly have a lot of history with each other. I've always thought Scott was a character that should just "fade away" because I didn't think he was relevant anymore, but this helped me to see his potential as a character. It also reminds you how awesome Gordon is, as if you need a reminder.

Joker ,
by Brian Azzarello

This is brilliant. The whole story is told from the point of view of a common crook who gets in way over his head when he starts working for the Joker, who has just been released from Arkham. His character narrates the whole story like classic film noir, and shows us the dark and twisted world that the Joker inhabits, and what he does on a day to day basis.

In fact, you can tell that Heath Ledger got a lot of his inspiration for his Joker performance in Dark Knight from this book. This Joker isn't the goofy trickster of the past, but the scarred, scary, insane, violent psycho.

The most intriguing part was that we get a first-hand look at Gotham's complex world of crime, told through the eyes of the criminals themselves - not through Batman's eyes, like we usually do. In fact, Batman is barely in this, though his presence is felt throughout.

Batman: The Black Glove , by Grant Morrison

First half was great. It's the classic trope: a bunch of people are called to a strange mansion in the middle of nowhere, and have to solve a mystery as they're all killed, one by one. Except in this case, Batman is there, and everyone else is almost as good as he is. There's a lot of history here, but even if you've never heard of the other heroes, you can pick up enough of their backstories to enjoy this book.

On the other hand, the second half is...meh. It's pretty scattershot, and I'm not really sure how these stories are supposed to connect, or IF they're supposed to connect. There's a lot of stuff that gets touched on in Batman: R.I.P., but it's even more confusing and hard to follow than that was.

The first half shows how great Morrison's writing can be. The second half shows how damned difficult Morrison's writing can be.