Tagged: Dan Brown

John Ostrander: Too Much

I read recently that Dan Brown’s book Inferno has been optioned for a film. Brown is most famous for The DaVinci Code that was subsequently made into a film by Ron Howard starring Tom Hanks as Brown’s character Robert Langdon. I’m not a big Brown enthusiast, but I bought Inferno. I needed something to read, was looking for some light entertainment, and that was the best that was available.

I read it and sort of enjoyed it, as is the case with me for most of Mr. Brown‘s books. There were some very good scenes and taught suspense and/or action sequences but Brown also has to have his twists and often these start to strain credulity. That was very much the case for me in Inferno and I thought that the climax and resolution veered into science fiction. I like science fiction but this was not really a SF book. The story got to be too much.

“Too much” is also part of the theme and the plot of the book.

Central to the whole concept of the book are the theories of The Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus who lived in the late 1700s/early 1800s. His theories involved the rate of population growth and the ability to feed everyone. He said “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.” A Malthusian catastrophe occurs when the number of people in a given area exceeds the ability to feed them.

In the past, plagues and natural catastrophes would cut down on the population. One theory suggests the Black Death so reduced the amount of people in Europe that the survivors actually wound up having more prosperity and this led, in part, to the Renaissance. In theory.

But we’ve gotten better at keeping people alive; people live longer – at least in first world countries. And that will put a further strain on resources – not just food but water and other resources.

Brown isn’t the only person who has dabbled in Malthusian theory. In DC’s Green Lantern, the planet Maltus was originally the home of those who would become the Guardians – who created the whole Green Lantern Corps. Maltus had a severe overpopulation problem; the planet’s name of Maltus is so close to Malthus that it’s inconceivable to me that the writer wasn’t referring to him.

Central to Brown’s plot is that, according to Malthus’ projections and given the rate of increase in the world’s population, it becomes a mathematical certainty that the Malthusian catastrophe of overpopulation will occur in about fifty years.

That in itself is pretty depressing. Add to that environmental catastrophe and the view gets bleaker. (We’re not going to debate climate change here; deny it if you wish but do it elsewhere. And while you’re at it, deny the Earth is round.) There are climate scientists who think we’ve already gone past the tipping point and we can only mitigate the damage, not stop it.

It’s not that there aren’t solutions to these problems but those solutions are themselves difficult, complex, perhaps draconian and involves the world acting in concert. It will call for drastic change. That looks very unlikely. I don’t think there is the political will to achieve it; politicians these days are concerned almost exclusively to keeping their constituents happy. We will have to be in the crisis before we will address it realistically and that will be too late. The world Dan Brown writes of in Inferno will be well on its way to becoming Green Lantern’s world of Maltus.

And to think I picked up Inferno for a little light reading.

Marc Alan Fishman’s Snarky Synopsis: Magneto #6

MagnetoWritten by Cullen Bunn. Art by Javier Fernandez and Dan Brown

I’m perpetually locked into trying new books, so sometimes I nearly forget to catch up on those I’ve most recently enjoyed. Lucky for me that the marvelous Magneto has magnetically adhered itself to the top of my pile. It was a fairly light week. For those not keeping score, I can’t recommend this series any more than I already have. What I can do now instead is really spend my time with the titular man (and mutant) hunter and see how he ticks in accordance to Cullen Bunn’s pen.

At the onset of the relaunch (if one would consider this book a relaunch) Bunn’s Magneto sees himself a grey wound in a black and white world of scar tissue. Unhappy at the atrocities that have continually befallen his species, Erik Lehnsherr decides that he will rise to become the judge, jury, and executioner of those charged with murdering a mutant. In issue #6, the deathpool expands to those mutants who have killed their own kind. Mr. Sinister’s Marauders – as Magneto helpfully expounds to himself throughout the issue – are pawns and grunts serving a higher power. It is boy coy and intelligent then that Magneto denotes (again, to himself, I suppose) that he too once raised an army under his fist. In his case though, his pawns were at least decidedly homo-superior. No black-on-black crime for this angry Jew!

Because Cullen puts us in the position of a fly on the shoulder of the master of magnetism, it’s inevitable that we come to see him as our hero. And it’s hard to not be swayed by his joie de vivre when he brutally murders a murderer. Painted as a more elegant Frank Castle, it’s hard to deny Magneto is doing good of a sort. But any follower of Charles Xavier sees then the other side of that coin.

Do I believe in capital punishment? No. Simply put, I don’t feel man has any right – regardless of sin – to take the life of another man. I’m not overly religious (if at all), but the agnostic in me says that when murder is done in the first degree it is a pox on the species at large. I should note I’m a huge fan of corporal punishment. I say why let Hitler enjoy the freedom of death when you can pummel him daily? But I digress. In the case of Magneto, our protagonist is vindicated in his justice in spite of breaking the law in doing so. For making as many mutant killers pay the ultimate price, we see the forest for the trees. This is either Magneto doing as much righteous damage before he’s killed himself, or he’s making a final gambit to become a Batmanesque myth; to become an immortal price to be paid upon those who so choose to hunt homo-superior.

Magneto’s barely scathed in his quest. After laying several Marauders to rest (by way of some of the most inventive and gory methods one could imagine), the plan is set: Magneto will reprogram the next batch of cloned Sinister Slaves to become a new suicide-bomb-ready army of Brotherhood pawns. I don’t know if Mr. Sinister himself is still alive in the 616, but if he is, I’ll assume I should purchase flowers and a condolence card for whomever makes those crazy metal ribbon capes.

The story and pacing throughout the issue is slow, but methodical. A B-story regarding the now limbless Scalphunter leaves a few cryptic beats, and is much needed in the book. The opposing A-plot simply shows Magneto on yet another murder mission. Six issues in and Bunn has the tone and style down. From here on out – and trust me, he’s captured me – I want to see some sharper left turns. Simply put, there’s only so much hard justice a man can take without knowing the true master plan. And if the plan truly is just a death march, it can be said now, and spare us too much more of the same.

Artistically Javier Fernandez and Dan Brown continue to deliver a book that looks as gritty as it reads. The book’s hard shifts in color are some of best I’ve seen in modern comics. The heavy inks here well placed. And Fernandez’s textural shifts showcase a look that simply should not be in a Big Two book… and he’s commended for it. There’s little left to say to the art aside from simply picking favorite moments. The death of a Prism is done so well with simple storytelling that you could almost hear the faint crickle-crackle of eminent shattering. When a book is heard in your head when you’re reading it, the artists are doing their job well.

Ultimately, Magneto #6 is hopefully the last stop on the simplistic potential swan song of Erik Lehnsherr. The book has style, grace, grit, and vigor. My hope then now is to see a plan emerge, and from it, a continuous look into a villain fit to be grey in the continuously simplified world of cape and cowl comics.