Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Review of the novel Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

The Harry Potter series wraps up at long last: After publishing the first three books in 3 years, it took another 8 years for J.K. Rowling to write the last four. Of course, each of the four is twice as long as any of the three, so there you go.

If you’ve surfed in here and haven’t yet read the book, be advised that there are spoilers after the Read More link below, although I’ve tried to keep the first half of the review free of them.

Deathly Hallows starts, as the other books do, at the end of the summer between school years, but this time the book promptly heads off into new territory: As Harry is enemy number one where the resurrected Lord Voldemort is concerned, and since his mystical protection will evaporate as soon as he turns 17 (which is the age of maturity for wizards), the Order of the Phoenix plans to hide Harry for his protection. Not everything goes as planned, but Harry finally ends up in a safe house.

While preparing for the marriage of Ron’s brother Bill to Fleur Delacoeur, our trio of heroes (Harry, Ron and Hermione) start planning how they can go about finding the remaining Horcruxes containing fragments of Voldemort’s soul, since if they can destroy them all, then they can bring about the dark wizard’s downfall. Unfortunately, the downfall of some powerful forces on the side of good in the wizarding world leave the three on the run from the ascendant dark lord’s forces, with precious little idea of how to proceed other than trying to stay one step ahead of their pursuers.

Their adventures on the road involve personal conflicts, a variety of traps, and learning some surprising facts about Harry’s family and Dumbledore’s history. They also learn of the existence of the Deathly Hallows, some powerful magical artifacts which could turn the tide against Voldemort, but which – like the Horcruxes – are well-hidden, if they even exist at all.

I freely admit that the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, sapped my enthusiasm for the Harry Potter series. It became clear to me that J.K. Rowling was no longer being edited, and she really needed a strong editor, because she too easily fell in love with her own typing. Phoenix badly needed to be cut at least in half, and Half-Blood Prince, though better, was also too long and had long stretches of boring in it. So I didn’t approach Deathly Hallows in a very forgiving frame of mind, since it was another giant tome.

That said, Hallows has some things to recommend it. It’s a very different book from its predecessors, having very little of the “kid’s stuff” feel of those books: It’s all deadly serious, and Harry and friends are mostly left to their own devices, as Rowling puts them in the role of the “last, best hope” for the good guys. The story has finality written all over it: The stakes have never been higher, and the story revolves around Harry’s and Dumbledore’s backgrounds (much as Prince revolved around Voldemort’s), bringing a strong feeling of coming full circle.

But, dammit, the book is still too darned long. It takes nearly a quarter of the book to finally get Harry and company on the road looking for Horcruxes; the pages before are a very, very gradual build-up of elements of the story, and once again I wished Rowling would just get on with it. Heck, the whole first chapter is completely superfluous and should have been cut. I’m still of the mind that Rowling simply fell in love with the sound of her typing, and had enough clout to keep her words from being edited, even though she really, really badly needed some serious editing.

The book takes some strange turns once Harry is on the road, and some of them don’t ring true. And then it still takes quite a while before the shape of the story becomes known. Eventually, the conflict becomes not just the one between the forces of good and evil, but the temptation of the Deathly Hallows for Harry: To follow the course Dumbledore set for him to destroy the horcruxes, or to go for the seemingly-certain victory by seeking the Hallows. This is actually a surprisingly sophisticated conflict for what is otherwise not a very subtle series, and I wish more time had been spent on it, rather than the noodling around which occupies the first half of the book. (The insight into Dumbledore is not uninteresting, but it’s not essential either. A lot of it is spun out of whole cloth just to increase the suspense in this volume, with little connection to earlier volumes.)

Deathly Hallows feels so divorced from the rest of the series that it makes several of the early books feel even less relevant: Goblet of Fire can be boiled down to Voldemort returning from the dead, Order is little more than giving Harry a reason to hate Voldemort because of what he does to Sirius Black, and Prince is partly Voldemort’s backstory and partly the set-up for this book. It feels like you could read the first three books, and then just skim the next three to get to the “good stuff” that’s in here.

And as usual I think the cover of the U.K. edition (pictured above) is much better than that of the U.S. edition. Mary GrandPr√©’s art is not at all to my taste, so I’m glad to have the British editions instead.

The bottom line in my opinion is that this book is more suspenseful than the two before it, and feels more necessary to the overall story, but Rowling still needed to be seriously edited to cut down the volume of extraneous material and make the story more streamlined and enjoyable. She could still surprise and delight, but not like she could in the first three, shorter books. My final feeling is that I’m glad the series is over because I don’t think I could have pushed through much more of her verbiage, and that’s not a good epitaph for any series. The core magic of Harry Potter was the feeling that Harry was a normal boy who found that he was really extraordinary, but that magic is far in the past. Deathly Hallows is just a straightforward adventure story.

Beyond this point are spoilers for the book, so don’t continue if you don’t want to be spoiled!

Continue reading “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 12 September 2007.

A big haul this week!

  • Booster Gold #2, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Countdown #33 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, Keith Giffen, Carlos Magno & Jay Leisten (DC)
  • Fables #65, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice Society of America #9, by Geoff Johns, Dale Eaglesham & Ruy Jose (DC)
  • Suicide Squad: Raise The Flag #1 of 8, by John Ostrander, Javier Pina & Robin Riggs (DC)
  • Welcome to Tranquility #10, by Gail Simone, Neil Googe & Scott Shaw! (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Nova #6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Sean Chen, Scott Hanna & Brian Denham (Marvel)
  • Thor #3, by J. Michael Straczynski, Oliver Coipel & Mark Morales (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: Killing Ground #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Hellboy: The Troll Witch and Others TPB vol 7, by Mike Mignola, Richard Corben & P. Craig Russell (Dark Horse)
  • Castle Waiting #8, by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics)

Justice Society of America #9The new JSA kicks off the storyline “Thy Kingdom Come”. Power Girl, as anyone who’s warped enough to be able to keep track of this stuff knows, is the last survivor of Earth-2 from before the Crisis on Infinite Earths, her cousin Kal-L (the Golden Age Superman) having died in the Infinite Crisis, making her feel especially alone. “Thy Kingdom Come” will feature the Superman from Kingdom Come, who’s a rather tortured soul who superficially resembles Power Girl’s cousin. This is also the world that current JSA member Starman spent some time in. So there’s a lot of interesting potential for character drama here. Is Geoff Johns the writer to realize the potential of this scenario? I tend to think of Johns as a plot-driven writer – characterization isn’t really his forte. But this could be the story in which he rises above his limitations.

Suicide Squad: Raise The Flag #1Weirdly, the first issue of Suicide Squad: Raise The Flag is missing both a chapter title and creator credits. I can’t remember the last time I read a book by a major publisher that was missing its credits. Must’ve been some oversight. I wonder if this is related to it being titled From The Ashes on the cover?

Anyway, this is the mini-series sequel to the 1980s series written by Ostrander and grittily illustrated by Luke McDonnell, who at the time was the artist of choice for hard-hitting series with a strong human component (e.g., Denny O’Neil’s Iron Man run when Tony Stark is overcome by his alcoholism, and the latter days of Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar run). The premise was that the government operated a covert squad with a few D-list superheroes, but which mainly consisted of incarcerated supervillains who would go on high-risk missions and have their sentences commuted if successful. Oh, plus they’d get their arms blown off by remote control if they tried to escape. The thing was a big balancing act among various personalities of varying degrees of stability, and it worked very well and is fondly remembered today.

Halfway through the original series, Rick Flag, one of the main heroic figures, died in a nuclear explosion in a foreign country. This series is based on the notion that he didn’t actually die. The first issue is a flashback in which key members of the old Squad travel to Russia to investigate a rumor that Flag is imprisoned there. It gives you a great feel for the original series – really, it’s like no time has passed at all – and ends on a cliffhanger implying what really happened.

Ostrander might never surpass his original GrimJack series (though it sounds like the Grinner might be moving over to a new site called ComicMix), but Suicide Squad is also excellent, and this looks like a terrific follow-on to the original.

Oh, and Javier Pina’s art is excellent – even better than his stuff on Manhunter.

Okay, each of the last three issues of Nova have ended with a cliffhanger in which things were worse for our heroes than they were an issue before. I don’t think it can go on much longer, though; I’m impressed it’s gotten this far!

Thor #3J. Michael Straczynski has been taking some flak for his portrayal of Iron Man in this issue of Thor (for instance, from Brian Cronin). I think this criticism is misguided, for two reasons: (1) Thor is justified, given that Iron Man created a subservient clone of him during the Civil War, and (2) Iron Man has been pretty much acting like a dick since the start of the Civil War, most of his actions have been morally indefensible, and frankly emotionally the reader wants someone to kick his ass: Thor, the Hulk, whoever. Iron Man’s not a hero anymore, and seeing Thor lay into him is just plain fun.

The real problem with this issue is also twofold: (1) The fight with Iron Man doesn’t advance the story, and (2) the story is boring. Thor going around to rescue his Asgardian brethren in the wake of, well, whatever happened to remove them from our plane of existence. The first issue was promising in that it suggested the return of the Thor/Don Blake dynamic, perhaps with actually giving Blake some characterization this time around. Blake hasn’t appeared since he changed into Thor at the beginning of #2, and “ponderous Thor” just isn’t very interesting. Kurt Busiek knew to lighten him up with “bombastic Thor” every so often, but Straczynski doesn’t seem to have learned the trick yet.

I figure if there isn’t some actual story advancement – and I mean more than just finding more Asgardians, because that’s just a boring old quest, not a decent plot – by issue #6 or so, then it might be time to give up on this one.

I’ve been less-than-kind to Mike Mignola’s comics recently, so I’m happy to say that Hellboy: The Troll Witch and Others mostly has the nifty stuff that I enjoy most about Hellboy: Hellboy kicking ass, making quips, and dealing with bizarrely inventive supernatural menaces. The centerpiece of the book, “Makoma”, is actually one of the weaker stories: A myth about Hellboy perhaps about one of his previous incarnations. The framing sequence, about a supernatural explorer’s club, is more interesting than the main story. The short stories are nifty, though. My favorite Hellboy stories seem to be those which feature or imply time travel so I think “Dr. Carp’s Experiments” is my favorite of the volume.

Though if you’re unfamiliar with Hellboy, you might want instead to start at the beginning.

The Season of Worry

Cooler air is settling in, which means that fall is coming. Which means, yes, I’m feeling a little depressed lately.

I guess this is a strange sort of seasonal affective disorder, although it bites me during the fall rather than the winter or summer: Things start dying, the weather turns gray, and I get glum. And it’s not like I dislike the weather, really: I prefer cool weather to hot weather, I like when the leaves change color, and I like getting clouds and rain in the winter, since the weather in California is so homogenous from April through October, for the most part. But still, I feel this way and I start worrying about lots of little things in my life.

For instance:

  • Registration for the ultimate frisbee started this week, and all of the spots for male participants filled up (and more than filled up) within 36 hours. Due to the league’s rules regarding who gets in, it’s quite possible that I won’t get into the league this year, which would be the first time since 1999 I hadn’t spent the winter playing Ultimate. That would be a real bummer. Subrata and I show up to nearly all the games, which we’re rather proud of, even if we’re not the best players on the field.
  • I’m on call for jury duty next week. I seem to get summoned about once every three years. I don’t really want to serve on a jury, but I imagine someday I’ll have to. Mainly I fear that I’d be bored out of my mind, and any trial lasting longer than a week would just drive me crazy. It frankly boggles my mind that all but the most complicated of trials ever take more than 2 weeks; how much information do they have to present, anyway? I imagine there’s a lot of redundancy and clarifications and bureaucracy.
  • And one of the bulbs in my house’s master bathroom went out. So I replaced it. And last night it went out again, and this one doesn’t seem to be busted. So I’m worried about the fixture needing to be fixed, which would be annoying since it’s a recessed fixture. I’ll try one more bulb in it first, though; maybe the new bulb was just bad.

Basically, little sources of stress get magnified. It sucks.

On the bright side, cool weather means pleasanter morning bike rides. And sometimes not having the sun in my eyes when I stop for a break (since I can’t stand wearing sunglasses when I exercise).

On the other bright side, at least I’m not worrying about the big things in my life!

For Better or For Worse Goes “Hybrid”

Last week, the comic strip For Better or For Worse started running some flashback strips, framed by Michael telling his daughter about how his parents met and his early childhood. Some of the strips were newly-drawn, but other were re-runs of the strip’s earliest days, from circa 1980.

Apparently this is because FBoFW was originally intended to end this month – creator Lynn Johnston had planned to retire once Michael’s children got to the same ages that Michael and his sister Lizzie were when the strip started. But plans changed, and instead FBoFW will continue as a flashback strip with occasional new material. Johnston said in an interview:

My initial plan was if I could not find someone else to continue the strip, I would not continue it at all and leave the space.

But they felt that because the strip had begun in only 150 papers that many papers had not seen that initial work and readers would probably enjoy it. So they talked to a number of their editors, and they were receptive.

But apparently another factor is that Johnston’s getting divorced, and so the motivation to retire to spend her retirement with her husband is no longer there.

I have mixed feelings about all of this. For a long time, FBoFW was an excellent comic strip, and Johnston was one of the best artists in the business. I think she’s disappointed a lot of her readers in recent years (as I’ve commented on before). Apparently the current-day strip is going to be “frozen in time”, so the story won’t move much further ahead. This is disappointing because it means there won’t be much closure to the strip, something which Johnston had a rare opportunity to provide in a comic strip: Certainly the strip was going to end with some dangling stories, but it could have gone out on a high note: Perhaps a wedding anniversary for John an Elly, or retirement (which they’ve discussed in some strips). Instead it’s going to go into “zombie mode”, with extensive reprints and occasional new strips. But even if the new stuff is enjoyable, it feels like it will be a strip dying a slow and uncomfortable death.

It’s hard to begrudge anyone from wanting to continue their career – as with sports athletes, I don’t believe stories of retirement until the person actually retires. But I hope she’ll either go back to doing all-new material, or just give the strip a big send-off and end it, because this approach seems like a sad fate for a once-great comic strip.

(Thanks to my Dad for pointing me at the links about the strip, both of which are worth reading.)

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 6 September 2007.

  • Countdown #34 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Keith Giffen & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes: Dominator War TPB vol 5, by Mark Waid, Tony Bedard, Barry Kitson & Kevin Sharpe (DC)
  • Metal Men #2 of 8, by Duncan Rouleau (DC)
  • Armageddon Conquest: Wraith #3 of 4, by Javier Grillo-Marxuach & Kyle Holz (Marvel)
  • Ms. Marvel #19, by Brian Reed, Aaron Lopresti & Matt Ryan (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hulk #110, by Grek Pak, Carlo Pagulayan & Jeffrey Huet (Marvel)
  • Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #1 of 5, by Mike Mignola & Jason Armstrong (Dark Horse)

Weirdly, Saiz & Palmiotti’s art on this week’s Countdown seems very reminiscent of Kevin Nowlan’s art, or maybe Nowlan over Brian Bolland. Not that this is a bad thing, but it’s always weird when art so closely resembles the style of another creator that I have to check the credits to see whether he’s the one who really drew it.

The Incredible Hulk #110The Incredible Hulk is tying into the World War Hulk storyline by focusing on Amadeus Cho, the seventh-smartest person in the world, who is also a teenager who believes in the Hulk. This week’s issue cuts to the core of Cho’s belief in the Hulk, despite the Hulk’s past as a rampaging beast and his current stated desire to kill the heroes who sent him into space. It’s a little hard to swallow, although it does suggest an ability that the Hulk’s had all along which seems to explain his behavior at times over the years. It’s the sort of thing that could open up some new avenues in the Hulk’s character, but I bet it will mostly fall by the wayside. I also wonder if Pak has written himself into a corner so that he won’t be able to resolve World War Hulk in any satisfying manner. Which would be a shame.

Pak does a terrific job of writing Cho, who’s always a couple of steps (or more) ahead of everyone else, who’s insightful as well as clever, and who’s a lively and sympathetic character. I’m still just a little suspicious that he’s not quite as selfless as he’s portrayed, but I’d certainly be pleased if he were. (He sure beats J. Michael Straczynski’s characterization of Reed Richards all hollow.)

I haven’t been following the other World ar Hulk tie-ins, just this and the main series, but really I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. These two series are opposite sides of the same coin, complementing each other nicely. It’s tough to write a tie-in when the book’s main character is the star of the main series, but after an awkward start Pak’s really made it all come together.

Lobster Johnson: The Iron Prometheus #1Lobster Johnson is Mike Mignola’s latest mini-series in his Hellboy universe: LJ is a pulp-style hero working in 1937, and The Iron Prometheus concerns his efforts to protect a man in a powerful electric suit from the evil ambitions of (of course) Nazis. Chris Sims picks it as his best of the week, but I was less impressed.

Although still enjoyable, these days Mignola’s books seem like a shadow of what they were back in the early Hellboy days. Mignola rarely draws anymore, although some of the artists he does employ do a good job of aping his style, as Jason Armstrong does here. I realize Mignola isn’t a very fast artist (when was the last time he draw a monthly ongoing book? Alpha Flight in the late 1980s?) and this is therefore his way to tell more stories on a semi-regular schedule, but these days he’s not even drawing the Hellboy: Darkness Calls mini-series. Still, at least he knows the trick of hiring good artists when he’s not doing the chores himself.

More serious, though, is the increasingly repetitive feeling I get from the stories: None of them really feel “special” anymore, and each one feels less distinctive than the last. Moreover, neither the Hellboy nor the B.P.R.D. series seem to be going anywhere. It seems like both have lost the heart of he early Hellboy series, and Lobster Johnson feels like more of the same.

I think the problem is this: Hellboy is the heart and soul of Mignola’s stuff – everyone else is too ethereal or too mysterious or too self-doubting or just too damned creepy to get behind as a character, while the beauty of Hellboy is that he’s this giant devil-thing with a stone hand who basically just wants to go kick some alien ass to make the world safe for freedom and apple pie. (The only character who could really equal Hellboy was Roger the Homunculous, who shuffled off the series’ immortal coil a while ago, alas.) In his own series Hellboy’s turned into a character who’s just being pushed around by various godlike figures, and no one else can fill the void in the other books.

Lobster Johnson falls into the “too ethereal” category, a ghostlike figure who comes and goes and speaks mysteriously, and occasionally fights a giant gorilla. I have little doubt that this will be an enjoyable series, but also that a year from now it will feel liks just one more cog in the giant Hellboy machine, and that someday I’ll look at the stack of cogs sitting on my bookshelf and wonder when the payoff to it all is coming.

Jim Shooter to Return to Legion of Super-Heroes

Wow, it’s for real: Jim Shooter is going to write the Legion for the first time in 30 years.

Read an interview with Shooter on Newsarama.

When I started buying the Legion, way back in 1976, Shooter was on his way out (he’d soon become Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics), but he wrote the first three Legion comics I ever bought (including his last two). It’s been a while since he’s written any comics, I think, so it’ll be interesting to see how it pans out.

A-Little-Labor Day

We had a good weekend, thank you very much.

We saved a lot of our fun for Labor Day itself, yesterday. We got up early(ish) and went for a bike ride, stopping for breakfast along the way. The awful heat we’ve had for the past week broke yesterday and we had a nice cool breeze for the ride, along with sun.

After we got home and read the paper, we prepared for Subrata and Susan to come over and hang out. We went a little overboard: I replaced the cats’ litter, swept the back patio, prepared cucumber sandwiches, and added herbs (parsley, onion, rosemary and thyme – the “slightly twisted Simon and Garfunkel herbs”) to hamburger meat and made patties out of them. Debbi prepared corn to grill, checked the potato salad she’d made the night before, vacuumed, and did dishes.

S&S came by around 3 – and Subrata promptly turned around again because they’d thought we had a copy of Clue which Susan and Debbi wanted to play. Which is to say, Debbi thought she had a copy in the house, but it must be in storage – I’ve never seen it in the house. Once he got back we got down to some not-at-all-serious gaming: Two games of Clue (I won one), and two rounds (of 7 games each) of dominoes. Subrata and I both prefer “skill” games, while I think Susan and Debbi like much more casual games. Clue and dominoes are kind of in-between, with a lot of luck but some skill, too. I hadn’t played Clue in probably decades; it was pretty fun, as a change of pace. Dominoes actually is fun, but it works best with 3 or more people; 4 is a good number, because there’s lots you can do. Oddly, Subrata turns out not to be very good a dominoes, something he knew ahead of time. I don’t know why that is, as I felt like I picked up the nuances of it fairly quickly when I learned on our trip to visit Debbi’s family last spring. I won both rounds of dominoes, but certainly not every game (and I had one game where I committed a real boner play).

We grilled hamburgers, sausages and corn around 7 pm, and it all turned out quite well. The potato salad was excellent! I managed to get almost everything off the grill at the same time, and certainly close enough for our purposes. We topped it off with Computer Chip ice cream from Rick’s and another round of dominoes before calling it a night.

So a fun time was had by all. Even the cats had a good time, with Blackjack and Newton hanging around with us all day, and Roulette perking up her ears when Susan pulled out the treats. It was a little work to put it all together, but it was worth it.

Feelings of Inadequacy

I went to Superstars today for their noon Magic draft. Only 4 other people showed up, so one employee played so we could do a 6-person draft.

Ugh, it went astoundingly poorly. I started off drafting white/green/blue in Time Spiral, then got a flood of white in Planar Chaos and abandoned blue, and ended up with a green/white deck. I didn’t really draft any bombs at all (just three Lucent Liminids), didn’t have enough removal, and lost all 6 games I played. A couple of them were close, but my best games involved getting off to a fast part, stalling, losing my creatures to various kinds of removal, and not drawing any answers to my opponent’s stuff. I could have played a little better, but probably not enough to win any of the games.

On the one hand, it was terribly discouraging. On the other hand, the other players told me that they’d all been playing (and drafting) for years, so it was actually a tough field. I might do better sticking to Friday nights, when they have a larger field and probably more people closer to my level. Also, I went through this with poker a year ago, feeling like I was stuck and not getting any better, but I think I have gotten better since then.

My play is getting a little better, but my drafts are decidedly mediocre these days. I need to figure out how to draft better. One guy there suggested trying a site called BrainBurst.com, which it looks like is an alias for TCGPlayer, which appears to have free single-player draft. So maybe I’ll give that a try – it couldn’t hurt (much), right?