Comic Book Review: JLA/Avengers (Marvel/DC, 2003)

JLAAvengers-1Year: 2003
Format: 4 Issue Limited Series
Writer(s): Kurt Busiek
Artist(s): George Perez (pencils), Tom Smith (colours), Comicraft (letters)

This year, I finally got around to reading this crossover series. I say “finally” because I’d only previously read the final part and, when it comes to comics, I can’t muster up much enthusiasm for digital editions so I’d been trying to track down the physical issues. Unfortunately, the collated graphic novel is ridiculously expensive and the individual issues took time to appear on ebay at non-silly price-points. Overall, I spent about £30-£40 acquiring the full set but it was money well-spent.

JLA/Avengers isn’t a crossover that I see mentioned very often which seems strange to me, because Marvel and DC collaborating and bringing their two premier super-teams together was a big event (a will they/won’t they deal going back to the 1980’s, in fact). I suppose in the modern age, however, the tone of JLA/Avengers might come across as antiquated. This was 2003, after all; a time when comics were still bright and not focused on dark, gritty “realism”, frequent seismic ‘events’ or shock deaths.

The plot is essentially just a vehicle to get this crossover moving and the likes of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman sharing the same panels as Captain America, Thor and Iron Man. Krona is continuing his relentless quest for knowledge relating to the secrets of creation. He enters the Marvel universe and simply destroys entire worlds when they fail to yield the answers he seeks. The Grandmaster attempts to prevent Krona’s insatiable lust for knowledge by engaging him in a game with the biggest possible stakes: if Krona wins, the Grandmaster must lead him to what he seeks, even if it destroys the universe. If the Grandmaster wins, Krona must leave the universe alone. The game involves two sets of champions – the Avengers and the Justice League – competing to see who can retrieve the greater number of powerful artifacts.

Obviously, neither team understands the full situation and the misunderstanding brings them into direct conflict with each other. Behind the scenes, the Grandmaster is secretly playing a deeper game while Krona has (surprise!) no intention of abiding by the rules should he lose. There are all manner of misunderstandings and dimension-hopping with cliched warped reality dogging our heroes at every turn.

Basically, it’s an elaborate excuse to get the Avengers trading blows with the JLA before they ultimately uncover the truth and unite to take down Krona. In other words, it’s some fucking serious fanservice.

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Aside from the overall spectacle of the crossover, the prime motivator for reading JLA/Avengers is for George Perez’s magnificent artwork. Every action panel is an absolute joy to behold, especially when the two teams of heroes are fighting one another. There’s an immense clash of the titans when Superman takes on Thor, for example, and a tense, wordless exchange of testing blows between Batman and Captain America on a rooftop, in the pouring rain.

Then there are the large spreads involving multiple characters – a George Perez trademark. These are fantastic to look at and I spent a long time just absorbing all of the details and admiring the dynamicism at work; the arrangement of all of this action. Special mention must go to the endgame in the fourth part where the main teams are backed up by a constant stream of heroes from both universes. Naturally, Krona’s forces are bolstered by Marvel and DC’s villains and what you get are pages absolutely crammed with characters, fighting, explosions…you name it. You wouldn’t believe that so much could fit into a single page of a comic book.

The wrap-around covers are some of the best you will ever lay eyes on too, especially part 3’s mind-boggling assemblage of characters and the final issue’s image of a very battered and pissed-off Superman wielding Cap’s cracked shield and Thor’s lightning-spewing hammer. I’m so glad that I own these comics in physical form because they are honestly worth it for the covers alone.

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This is George Perez in full-flow, providing everything that you know and admire him for – masterful anatomy, imposing male characters, beautiful, powerful females and insane spreads – then turning it up to eleven. In fact, I seem to remember reading that the final installment of JLA/Avengers was slightly delayed due to Perez injuring his wrist but I can’t find anything online to back that up. I could very well have mis-remembered but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was true!

In conclusion, the plot of JLA/Avengers is so-so but you won’t mind when the art is this good. Also – at the time of writing – this crossover holds the honour of being the most recent collaboration between Marvel and DC. Will it prove to be the last? Nobody can say for sure, but if it is, then it’s still one heck of a way to conclude a relationship between the two giants of comic books.

Narcissism Epidemic

From Merriam-Webster:

extremely self-centered with an exaggerated sense of self-importance

Does this sound familiar? It should do.

I have come to the conclusion that here, in western civilisation at least, we are seeing an increasingly narcissistic society where people are lost in their ballooning sense of self-importance. Entitlement is everywhere and a worrying number of people simply cannot deal with being denied something, or being informed that they are wrong.

Here’s the blunt truth: you are not important.

I am not important.

In fact, nobody is more important than anybody else.

Now, you may argue that the woman making crucial political decisions is more important than the man sitting on his arse at home, drinking beer in the middle of the day and sponging off the state but even this isn’t so. One role in society is more important than the other but the actual people in those roles? Nope. If you are talking about human life then neither person in that scenario is more important. After all, you can have all the money in the world and one of the highest positions in society, but you still take a shit in the same way. You can still contract a terminal illness such as cancer. And, in the end, we all die the same way.

Away from the crude and morbid analogies, my point is this: strip away the status and we are all just people. Yes, we are all individuals with different personalities, ideas and views on matters but nobody has the right to be considered more important than anybody else.

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Narcissism doesn’t care about that though. Narcissism is most commonly linked with physical vanity and originates from the ancient Greek myth, where the young Narcissus looked into a pool and fell in love with his own reflection. That pool that Narcissus gazed into is still here today, only in the form of mirrors and self-facing smartphone camera lenses, rather than old-school water. But I would argue that selfies and the millions of photos plastered across social media of girls in their bedrooms showing off their make-up, outfits and even their bodies is only surface level narcissism. How many of those girls are showing off in front of the camera because they are genuinely in love with their physical self, do you think? I would wager that it is only a small percentage. This kind of behaviour is born of a need to compete and look pretty to live up to a set of standards that society and the media have cooked up in order to keep selling us products.

If you ask me, this isn’t narcissism because it stems from insecurity.

Narcissism operates on a sub-level. It’s the act of showing off to the world and subconsciously shouting for attention that is narcissistic, not the photographs themselves. We crave those Likes and positive comments on our pictures. We want our oh-so-dramatic status updates to pique the curiosity of others and get them asking questions or sending us their best wishes (if said status alludes to a bad experience). We want every piece of trivial, meaningless shit that we upload to social media profiles – amusing gifs, memes, reactions – to contribute towards wrenching the spotlight away from somebody else.

It makes us feel important.

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It would be unfair to say that social media is the sole reason that we, as a society, have allowed our sense of self-importance to grow and swell until it dominates our decisions and thought processes, but it has a hell of a lot to answer for. The thing is, the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have given anybody with access a platform to speak to the world and blurt out their opinions and rash reactions to events, seconds after they have occured. In ye olden days, if something really fucking offended your principles or seemed worth pushing back against, you’d have to get off your arse and organise a physical rally or protest march. It took effort and organisation. However, social media allows anybody to scream and bawl about anything at all that they perceive to be a wrong, an insult or a problem. Anybody can whinge about anything and when like-minded users begin to agree, an echo-chamber effect amplifies the loudest of voices and, suddenly, the original issue appears to be a huge thing. Massive, even.

Back in REAL life, you are unlikely to meet that many people – if anybody at all – who are talking about the latest cataclysmic outrage that is tearing the internet apart. Why? Because it isn’t actually a big deal at all. If you had to physically organise a meet-up or go out and do something about a perceived problem, how many people do you think would actually bother? How many of these “issues” do you think would even be worth discussing in public?

People’s self-inflated sense of importance gives them the idea that their opinions are important; that THEY are important. And neither is true. Many people can’t deal with somebody challenging their opinion either. The default response is to shout and scream back at the other person, insisting that they are right and that the other person is absolutely, categorically wrong. It’s the equivalent of putting your hands over your ears and shouting, “LA, LA, LA…I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

You’ve no doubt seen it before, first-hand. Look at the comments sections in Youtube or any sort of debate/discussion on social media or in the comments sections of news articles and there is a distinct pattern. Raging, never-ending back-and-forths where nobody is capable of listening to other viewpoints or taking onboard rational, critical counter-arguments. Sure, some people concede or admit that their viewpoint may be flawed, but this is the rare exception to a rotten rule. Usually, it’s all about repeating your opinion relentlessly, and any sensible discussion is more or less guaranteed to devolve into hurling insults.

It’s the final line of defence that sees our supposedly intelligent race regress to the level of apes and start flinging its own shit around.

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This happens because an exaggerated sense of self-importance also extends to one’s opinions. Narcissistic people simply cannot have their viewpoint threatened or challenged by another person. They don’t know how to deal with this and thus revert to a childish state where they ultimately throw a tantrum because they aren’t being allowed to have their own way.

In a previous post entitled, ‘You know nothing (and that’s okay)‘, I went into how it’s healthy to be open to the fact that you could be wrong. It’s an attitude that keeps your mind open and allows you to learn. It doesn’t mean that the criticism and opposing views of others are right, but you should be prepared to shut your mouth, listen and analyse what you’re hearing. There might be flaws in your view(s) that you have overlooked or you might actually be wrong. You also need to be able to question yourself at all times and, ultimately, you have to be big enough to accept that you were incorrect and that somebody else’s input was actually useful.

This mindset appears to be being driven to extinction however. It isn’t (as I said earlier) all the fault of the social media though. The other major catalyst responsible for this narcissism epidemic is rampant entitlement. So many people feel that they are owed something by society and life in general. They feel that they deserve all the good things in life without actually doing anything to earn them. And when they don’t get them, narcissism strikes again and they can’t cope with not receiving what they believe they are owed.

I’m sure that there are a multitude of reasons for this ugly and utterly flawed way of approaching life but I will try to keep it brief here because, after all, I’m no expert in psychology or social history. First of all, entitlement seems to have crept into western society over a period of decades. The most obvious reason is that multiple generations of people have grown up in peacetime with no wars to threaten their existence. As a result, millions of people haven’t had to learn the hard way that they are lucky to be alive and leading the rich lives that they are living. Growing up and living a long time with access to healthcare that can fix most problems is taken for granted, as is state assistance.

In short, people grow into adults surrounded by safety nets and help. They don’t learn the value of hard work like their grandparents and great grandparents did. Instead, they benefit from their immediate ancestors’ relative wealth. Those previous generations lived through a time where wages were more competitive and they were able to completely pay off mortagages and amass savings. As such, their children were able to benefit from the security and stability.

A lot of people grew up with everything they wanted and increasingly-lax parents that failed to instil any form of discipline or meaningful teachings into their children. Suffering (an incredibly valuable tool for positive growth) was kept to a minimum and a lot of children developed into adults with a resulting sense of self-importance.

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To share a personal example, I remember being at school in the early-mid 2000’s and being surrounded by 11-15 year-olds decked out in designer-branded clothes and £100+ trainers. They had the latest mobile phones as soon as they came to market; all the latest videogame consoles and games, no matter the amount it must have set their parents back. I didn’t have anything of the sort and made do with old, outdated handed-down mobile phones and cheap, affordable off-brand clothes/trainers. When everybody else was raving about the latest Playstation 2 games, I was still using an original, handed-down Playstation and replaying games I’d finished countless times before! But to the other kids, having all of this stuff was viewed as normal – expected, even. I was the odd one out – unable to join in with discussing the latest videogames or mobile phones – and I can’t deny that I felt jealous back then. But now, as an adult, I appreciate the way my parents raised me (a post for another time), and I can see that many others in my school year were already riddled with entitlement.

So people became entitled and now, when life doesn’t treat them the same as their parents and hand them everything on a silver plate, they can’t handle it. Suddenly, their “suffering” (it really isn’t) is the fault of everybody else: society, the government, wealthy people…anybody else’s fault but their own. You’ve no doubt heard people saying, “why is this happening to me?”, acting like a victim. They can’t understand why every little thing isn’t going their way and they falsely believe that they are suffering terribly.

And now, this monstrous sense of self-importance is coming to the fore in mainstream media. Anybody with an agenda is shouting loudly and protesting – be it LGBT rights, #metoo, Extinction Rebellion, etc. – because they absolutely must be heard. Their opinion and cause is incredibly important and everybody must stand up and take notice. And don’t you dare disagree with what they want. Their right to take offence at opposing viewpoints is more important than anything else, including your opinion. They are important people, after all.

I’m not saying that everybody has fallen into this narcissism trap but it seems to be a problem that grows worse with each successive generation and I can’t see it going away anytime soon with social media’s influence now an integral part of our lives. The people who may as well be screaming, “look at meeeeee!” on Facebook are having children of their own and, to those children, this sort of behaviour will be imprinted upon them and become second nature.

There are actually some very worrying theories online from psychology experts and historians who believe that this is all building up to war, the collapse of society and rapidly degrading IQ levels across western society. There’s historical evidence and patterns that back up the theories too.

Worrying times.

 

Little notebook of wisdom

Sometime back, I made a post about an entirely self-inflicted (and pretty dumb) problem. I had amassed too many empty notebooks, none of which I had any concrete uses planned out for. Since then, I’ve put some of this unnecessary stash to use and in this post, I’m going to tell you about this little red notebook and what I’ve been using it for.

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I decided that I would use this pocket-sized book to record any useful quotes or scraps of wisdom that I come across. Good stuff to refer back to when the going gets tough or I need reminding of a harsh truth or two. The aim is to fill it up to the point where there is a handy nugget of advice for most situations.

So far, I’ve gathered together stuff from all over the place: books, films, even videogames. If something seems useful and relevant to self-development and the direction I want to take, then I’ve jotted it down. I’ve even taken bits of general advice and condensed it down into small, focused passages that are straight to the point.

I will share some of the contents here, in this post, then periodically return to my red notebook in future posts where I will divulge some more…

“It isn’t about whether you can or can’t; it’s whether you do or don’t.”

This one was me, in full-on nerd mode, taking a quote from a videogame and running with it. I feel that this is one of most profound quotes in my notebook. It’s applicable to a great many situations and reminds me of the importance of at least attempting something – no matter the odds – instead of avoiding it because you feel that you aren’t capable. After all, it’s better to regret something you have done over something you haven’t. And you never know; perhaps you will surprise yourself and actually succeed.

“Instead of complaining about bad experiences or mistakes, look to see what lessons can be learned.”

I think this is one that a lot of us can benefit from digesting. It’s very easy to just bitch and moan about negative experiences, but the truth is that these things have already happened and can’t be reversed. It’s much more constructive to analyse what happened and see whether you can learn something from it. The most powerful lessons usually come about as a result of the biggest balls-ups, for example. You’d be a fool not to identify said lesson and take it onboard.

“Take control of a situation. Don’t let it control you.”

A very important one, this. Sometimes shit happens that we have no control over and, in these cases, we are legitimate passengers. However, we often use this as an excuse to avoid having to act when we are perfectly capable of influencing a situation or straight-up taking the controls. If we can’t gain complete control, we are still responsible for our emotions and responses to a negative event in our lives. Things may happen to us that are 100% not our fault but there comes a transitional point where we are, in fact, responsible for how we react and proceed.

“A winning attitude is one that asks itself every day, how it can get better.”

Here on this blog, I will never equate “winning” with a load of macho BS or extravagant materialism. A “winning” attitude to me is simply a positive, constructive mindset. This quote from four-time Formula 1 champion, Alain Prost, is relevant to us all because, however good we think we are, we can always improve ourselves. Asking ourselves critical questions is also an important way of getting to the truth about ourselves and thus identifying our shortcomings.

And that’s all for now. I have plenty more scrawls on plenty more pages though so I’ll be returning to the red notebook in due course.

 

Comic Book Review: Ultimate Spiderman Vol.2 – Learning Curve (Marvel, 2002)

Ultimate-1Year: 2002
Format: Trade Paperback, collecting Ultimate Spiderman #8-13 (2001)
Writer(s): Brian Michael Bendis
Artist(s): Mark Bagley (pencils), Art Thibert (inks), Transparency Digital (colours)
ISBN: 9780785108207

“High school, puberty, first dates – there are many pitfalls to being young. Compound these with intense personal tragedy and super powers, and you can start to visualise the world of Peter Parker, a.k.a. Spider-Man.

Following the murder of his uncle, the assault on his high school and the confusing signals from the beautiful Mary Jane Watson, Peter finds himself on the brink of manhood: getting a job at the New York City newspaper, the Daily Bugle, to help support his family and taking on extracurricular activities…like bringing down organised-crime head honcho Wilson Fisk, otherwise known as the Kingpin!

Award-winning writer Brian Michael Bendis, with the one-two punch of artists Mark Bagley and Art Thibert, have put Spider-Man back at the forefront of the cutting-edge storytelling…where he belongs!”

[Note: for a review of Ultimate Spiderman Vol.1 and an overall impression of the Ultimate universe’s version of the character, click HERE]

“Learning Curve” turns out to be a highly-fitting cover title for this next set of Ultimate Spider-Man issues. Ultimate Spider-Man #8-13 continues the approach of the previous issues by presenting Peter’s early adventures in a slower-paced, more realistic fashion, striking a spot-on balance between his personal life as a teenager and his fledgling activities as Spider-Man.

Appropriately, these issues are restrained when it comes to introducing new villains for Peter to deal with. The main antagonist this time is the Kingpin and the Enforcers. Peter’s sense of justice pushes him to seek out Wilson Fisk in order to end his criminal reign over New York but, he soon finds that he is in over his head and still just a green superhero with a lot to learn.

Spider-Man takes a fair beating in these issues and even gets unmasked by the Kingpin before being thrown out of a skyscraper window. He also struggles against the Enforcers and the Kingpin’s other employee – Electro. While Peter eventually triumphs over Fisk and his henchmen, it is, nevertheless, a sobering reminder to the young superhero that he has much to learn. He still has to get to grips with his “Spider Sense” for instance.

The series also continues its more gritty vibe with the villains. The Kingpin, for example, looks pretty much the same as he does in the regular Marvel universe, but he is much more a deadly adversary here with savage strength and (literal) wall-shattering punches. There is even a scene where he murders Fredrick Foswell by crushing his head to a pulp with his bare hands. This IS still a mainline, colourful comic book though, so you don’t get to see the gory details but the expressions of horror on the faces of the Enforcers and Electro, plus Foswell’s death screams, are enough. THIS version of the Kingpin doesn’t fuck around.

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As for Electro, he doesn’t sport a loud costume this time around and the origin of his powers are still a complete mystery to Peter. Hopefully, we see more of him in future issues.

Outside of his second life as the wall-crawler, Peter’s personal life continues to evolve at a rapid pace. With Uncle Ben gone, Peter feels obliged to find a job to help contribute to the house he shares with Aunt May, thus – while trying to sell photographs of Spider-Man to the Bugle – he stumbles into a part-time web designer role. It’s a clever nod to the (far-fetched) way that Peter Parker earned money in Amazing Spider-Man, but THIS version of Peter ultimately (no pun intended) ends up with a far more modern job befitting of a geeky teenager in the new millennium. Peter being at the Bugle also means that Jameson, Robbie Robertson, Betty Brant and Ben Ulrich are all introduced to the Ultimate Spider-Man universe.

The biggest plot development in Learning Curve, however, is Peter’s blossoming relationship with Mary Jane. After all the shy looks and awkward moments in the first volume, MJ asks Peter out on a date. Unfortunately, he has to blow her off to recover from the beating he suffered at the hands of the Kingpin and Electro the night before. Consequently, Peter decides to simply cut to the chase and tell Mary Jane his secret before he messes her about too much and spoils their friendship. If you haven’t read Ultimate Spider-Man before, then this is perhaps a bit of a shock if you’d spent years reading the ‘main’ universe and following Peter’s unlikely, long-term concealment of his secret identity.

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But here, it really works. It’s far more believable, as is the much more immature initial reaction of Mary Jane’s when she tells Peter that he should be famous, like a rock star. Once Peter dispels this idea, by reminding MJ of the potential deadly implications of his identity being common knowledge, the pair come close to sharing their first kiss before Aunt May butts in and embarasses Peter by trying to broach the subject of safe sex!

Overall, Learning Curve is a masterfully-paced second volume of Ultimate Spiderman that leaves you just as intrigued with what will happen to Peter and his supporting cast as with what new developments will occur in the world of Spider-Man. This could have felt rushed and unrealistic had Bendis decided to introduce as many of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery as possible in this next set of issues but, as with Power and Responsibility, this second volume of Ultimate Spider-Man wisely sticks to the same template and allows Peter Parker to grow at a more authentic pace.

It’s also simply an incredibly fun read that I couldn’t put down, partly due to the fantastic writing, partly due to Mark Bagley’s superb artwork. Those things alone make Ultimate Spider-Man worth reading.

Book Talk: do you re-read books?

I once read an opinion somewhere on the internet concerning the act of re-visiting media that you have already experienced. Watching movies that you have already seen, for example. Re-playing a videogame that you’ve previously beaten, to name another. This person stated that doing such a thing is one of the biggest wastes of a human being’s time.

I can see where they were coming from with that. For starters, shocking plot twists and masterfully crafted mystery are the sorts of things that can ONLY be experienced once and once only with the full impact. That’s not to say that re-living these things would be unenjoyable, but the prior knowledge of what’s coming absolutely guarantees that the second time around won’t leave you so breathless.

To tie that into books, I reviewed two fantastic Peter Swanson thrillers here on this blog – The Girl With a Clock for a Heart and The Kind Worth Killing – but as much as I couldn’t get enough of either, I don’t believe I could/would read them again. Those two books in particular were built entirely around mystery, suspense and momentous twists that changed everything. I don’t doubt that I would still enjoy reading either of those books but, until a device is invented that can wipe selective portions of our memory, there is no way that I could be sucker-punched by the same shocks.

Aside from being familiar with entertainment that you have already consumed, you also have to remember just how much there is still to discover – especially when it comes to books. There is certainly an argument for not spending time with stuff you’ve already read when there are thousands upon thousands (maybe even millions) of books out there, waiting for you to try them. Why limit your horizons and stay with what you know?

All of that said, I can’t completely agree with this viewpoint. While I am making it one of my missions to expand my scope and read new things by a wider pool of authors, I also see the value in revisiting an old favourite. It’s about striking a balance, isn’t it?

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A well-read copy of Stephen King’s IT. I could be reading something totally new to me but, right now, I’d much rather invest myself in this.

Last night, for example, I suddenly decided that I fancied reading Stephen King’s IT again. Nothing to do with all the fuss about the recent movies; it was simply one of my absolute favourite Stephen King books and I hadn’t read it for many years. I dug the book out from where it was buried and you know what? I couldn’t wait to start it again. I was genuinely excited and I don’t feel that way about many new books, let alone books that I have already read before. Why deny that feeling?

I got through the first seventy pages last night and enjoyed every one of them. Obviously, I do remember how IT unfolds, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of the writing, the world-building and the characters. Even now, as I’m typing this post, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the next seventy pages and beyond. That feeling is utterly priceless as far as I’m concerned.

Do YOU go back to the books you have already finished? Or are you exclusively interested in brand-new experiences?

Book Talk: that old book smell

Books are an oddity in the arena of entertainment media. When it comes to music, DVDs/Blu Rays, videogames or most other things, we’d all prefer fresh, brand-new copies for our shelves. When it comes to books, however, there’s something appealing about a used, well-read edition.

There’s no need to worry about breaking it in, for instance. New books are always appreciated but I tend to bother myself with treating a hardback book like a priceless artifact. There’s that dustcover to keep from getting frayed around the edges for starters. And I have to ensure that my hands are squeaky clean to avoid dirtying the edges of the pages.

Don’t even get me started on keeping the spines of paperbacks from creasing. Before I forcibly stopped myself from being so exhaustingly anal about such trivial matters, I would feel my heart sink when I got given a paperback – that I’d borrowed out – back, only to find that the other person had clearly folded the book open at severely obtuse angles and cracked the spine in multiple places. Have some damn respect!

Away from all that though, a used book has history. In fact, it isn’t “used”, rather “loved”.

It’s a history that you can smell. There’s something deeply satisfying (and probably weird to those watching us…) about opening up an old book and inhaling deeply. Aged paper is one of those scents that has the ability to transport your mind back in time and make you feel warm and nostalgic inside.

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An old book with yellowed pages. I’d take it over a new copy any day of the week though.

For me, the smell of old books sends my mind back to when I was a kid. It reminds me of visiting the library every Saturday morning and browsing the shelves. The books in the library were already old and well-read, you see, so the smell of an old book now reminds me of those old books and that time in my life. It reminds me of the thrill of finding new books that I hadn’t yet checked out.

(yes, I was a big nerd as a child – certainly not a cool kid)

It was a simpler, care-free time of life. The tribulations of adulthood aside, it’s infinitely less satisfying to be able to outright buy as many new books as you desire, or order them from Amazon with a few clicks. Obviously, it’s the content of books that really matters, but regardless, a brand-new book has much less soul compared to a passed-around copy with crispy, yellowed pages.

Where does the smell of an old book take YOU?

Formula 1: Japanese GP 2019 Thoughts

The 2019 running of the Japanese grand prix at Suzuka wasn’t really that interesting to me, which is a shame since the circuit has hosted some truly classic races in the past, and is one of the all-time greats of circuit design. That said, the final result was an unexpected one. Due to Typhoon Hagibis, qualifying had to run on Sunday, right before the race itself. Ferrari blitzed the opposition to lock out the front row but it was the return of Finger Man as Seb Vettel blew away all challengers to snatch pole and set a new lap record of Suzuka in the process.

Ferrari’s speed advantage over Mercedes pointed to the red cars dominating the race, but clearly nobody informed Valtteri Bottas of the script. I don’t know what he had for breakfast that day but I want some of it! Driving like a man possessed, he got a mega start and bolted from the second row of the grid, around both Ferraris and into the lead of the race. He would stay there until the chequred flag, beating both Ferraris and his illustrious teammate, Lewis Hamilton.

I have nothing at all against Hamilton but when Mercedes put the two drivers onto different strategies, I thought, “here we go again…” Hamilton was to do a one-stopper while Bottas was put onto a two-stop and it was predicted that he would have to pass Lewis on-track to win the race. So it was that I expected Merc to play a crafty one and have Lewis magically appear in first place after benefitting from Mercedes controlling the outcome between their two drivers. Thankfully, I was wrong on this occasion and Valtteri was able to win the race – a win that he thoroughly earned.

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Hamilton was, in fact, not happy. He didn’t agree with the team’s tyre strategy and felt that he could have challenged for the outright win. As it turned out, he was on the radio a lot, clearly displeased with the team as he found himself stuck behind Vettel during the race’s closing stages. It was a big battle but no matter what Hamilton tried, Vettel stood firm and just about managed to hang onto his P2.

Away from the front three, Charles Leclerc had an uncharacteristically bad day at the office. He under-steered wide at the first turn and collided with Max Verstappen who was attempting to take the Ferrari on the outside of the corner. The two young chargers – billed by many as the next two protagonists of the sport – clashed and Verstappen was ultimately eliminated from the race, being forced to retire later on as the damage to his car rendered further running pointless. Leclerc continued a clumsy weekend by trying to continue with his damaged front wing dragging on the ground and sending up a shower of sparks. The damaged bodywork on his car eventually parted ways, showering a chasing Hamilton with carbon fibre, ripping the W10’s right-hand mirror off. Hamilton was lucky not to get hit by the debris; Leclerc and Ferrari were fortunate not to get penalised for causing a dangerous, avoidable incident.

The race opened with the above drama and closed with the Hamilton/Vettel battle but the middle was fairly uneventful.

Albon continued his streak of good results by coming home in fourth – some small consolation for the team after Verstappen’s earlier elimination. Elsewhere, Sainz and McLaren impressed once again by finishing fifth.

My main closing thought here: Valtteri Bottas was superb this weekend but how I wish he could be more consistent with it! He is often absolutely nowhere in the races, trundling around well off the pace of Hamilton and also – frequently – Vettel, Leclerc and even Verstappen. Then, out of the blue, he will morph into a completely different driver and annihilate the opposition (as we saw in Australia). Valtteri can mathematically still win this year’s driver’s championship but he will have to carry his Suzuka performance through to every single remaining race of the season. I never say never but all of the smart money is still on an inevitable – and deserved – sixth for Hamilton.