Thursday, January 20, 2011

Paperback to the Future!

Bookworm's Book Club Presents:

Psycho II  by Robert Bloch (Warner Books, 1982)    Robert Bloch waited over twenty years to write a sequel to his 1959 classic about lonely ol' Norman Bates and his crazy mom out in that old motel in California, finally releasing Psycho II in 1982. In part two, Norman, a guest of the state for the same period since the novel ended, finds out Hollywood is filming his story as a slasher movie called Crazy Lady. Combine this news with a dark and stormy night and a visit from two nuns, and soon you have Norman picking up an old habit and escaping the joint. A burned up van down the road convinces the authorities he is dead, but his doctor doesn't believe it, and sets out to play junior detective. The body count climbs, and the trail takes the doctor out to Hollywood, to try to convince the filmmakers to call off their movie before Norman shows up and skewers them all. Bloch took the opportunity in writing this book to do a little skewering himself, mainly Hollywood, which he satirizes mercilessly in their at-that-time love affair with the gory slasher movie. When he'd finished the novel, he heard that Universal was getting interested in making a sequel to the late Alfred Hitchcock's movie version of Psycho, so Bloch gladly showed them his book.
    They didn't like it.
    In fact, they hated it, and instead of buying Bloch's novel for their movie, assigned a screenwriter to come up with a script for the further adventures of Norman Bates that had nothing to do with Bloch's idea, then told Bloch he should call off his plans to have the book published.
    Bloch had the book published.
    Obviously, his tussle with Tinseltown did not improve his view of their practices, so he was doubly ready now to get his book out there. So, you have the movie Psycho II, and you have the book, Psycho II.
    I prefer the movie, honestly.
    The book is a perfectly readable Bloch novel, don't get me wrong. The guy could write, and the pages in this book turn just fine. But Norman takes a backseat in the second half of the book as we get into a bit of a soap opera that could have been written by Jackie Collins had the characters been a tiny bit less crazy. The movie gives us Anthony Perkins in one of his greatest performances. Seriously. He is spot on in that movie. The book Norman doesn't have Perkins' boyish likability which makes the other side of him even scarier and sadder. Bloch's Norman in the first book was middle aged and pudgy and not particularly likable even before you met his mother. Interestingly, the Bloch Norman in the second Psycho book seems geared more towards the younger, taller, thinner Perkins, as the few descriptive details we get about him after 20+ years in the looney bin favor Perkins more than they do that other guy.
    So, the book is okay, but I prefer the story they told in the movie sequel, so I say check them both out! And I need to find the last of Robert Bloch's trilogy Psycho House. I might have it stacked up here somewhere, or that might be his later short story anthology Robert Bloch's Psychos I'm thinking of. I've got one of them or both of them. I'm not sure. I might have to go on a hunt soon to get the answer!

Justice League: "A League of His Own"   by Michael Jan Friedman  (Warner Books, 2002) Frequent Star Trek writer Friedman jumps into some superhero action with this Young Adult novel based on the recent Justice League animated series. For that series the League consisted of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern (choosing John Stewart from the scads of GLs for diversity), Hawkgirl, and J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter, and in this book the Martian Manhunter takes center stage (bet that cover up there didn't give that fact away, right?) MM started out in the DC Universe in the mid-1950's as a second tier Superman knockoff, but later DC writers have worked over his backstory pretty thoroughly and now emphasize his solitude due to being the last of his race and not looking human in his natural form (which is also not green muscle guy up there either - that's a compromise to make us Earthers feel less uncomfortable around him) and now he's a more compelling, slightly melancholy figure. Here he takes center stage as Lex Luthor and his Injustice Gang are trying to get their hands on a new weapon prototype being stored at the Justice League's space station headquarters, the Watchtower. An sneak electronic assault on Metropolis sends most of the League to Superman's hometown to counter the disasters brought on by the attack, which was set up as a decoy so Luthor and his pals could ambush the Watchtower and get their hands on that weapon. J'onn J'onzz stayed behind on guard duty, and now he must face seven supervillains alone with the fate of the free world at stake.
    Friedman has done a nice job with this novel. The tone is much the same as the animated JL series, and you can hear the voice actors spouting the book's dialogue, which is just right. It's a lot like a 1970's comic book, with a light, airy tone throughout; clear cut heroes and villains, plenty of action and battles, and a refreshing lack of dark and gritty. Now, I like me some dark and gritty too, but sometimes it's nice to get into an adventure that goes the other route. Consequently, this book is recommended to anyone who enjoys a cape on their heroes now and again.

And that closes the book on this post! Til next time, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

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