The PopCult Bookshelf 

The Big Lebowski: An Illustrated, Annotated History of the Greatest Cult Film of All Time
by Jenny M. Jones
Voyageur Press
ISBN: 978-0-7603-4279-4

A coffee-table book devoted to one of the biggest and most-merchandised cult movies of recent memory is a bit of a no-brainer, and Jenny Jones has crafted a loving, if unauthorized, tribute to The Big Lebowski, the 1998 box-office disappointment that has become possibly the most-quoted movie since “The Godfather.”

The Big Lebowski, of course, is the product of genius filmmaking brothers Ethan and Joel Coen, and was the follow-up to what had been their most successful film, Fargo. Starring Jeff Bridges as “The Dude,” the ultimate slacker, with John Goodman as Walter, his high-strung bowling buddy, this Chandleresque masterpiece of Neo-Noir became a classic once it hit pay-cable and home video, and the film has become so iconic that this book is part of a flood of new products designed to cash in on the fifteenth anniversary of the initial release of The Big Lebowski.

The Coen Brothers on the set of “The Big Lebowski”

And Jones successfully delivers a quality scrapbook jam-packed with background information, images from the movie and trivia. The book is divided into sections which delve into the history of The Coens, the origins of the intricate plot, the making of the movie, an intense study of the mixed genres on display in the film, the initial release and the cult that developed around it and a brief section that details what the Coens have done since Lebowski (including winning the OSCAR for best picture and director for ‘No Country For Old Men” in 2007).

There’s plenty of stuff here for the devout Lebowski fan to devour, and loads of images to pore over. The book design is clever, with a cool spinning bowling ball on the cover. While the book is a bit heavy, it’s not too big to read on the toilet, which is where the true Lebowski fan does most of their reading. The Big Lebowski: An Illustrated, Annotated History of the Greatest Cult Film of All Time is the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for the bowling and/or Coen Brothers fan in your life.

Cool Comics

Adventure Time With Fionna & Cake #1
by Natasha Allegri with Noelle Stevenson
KaBoom/Boom Entertainment

Comic books based on “Adventure Time,” the hit Cartoon Network show, have done so well for KaBoom (the kids imprint of Boom Entertainment) that the publisher is coming out with a steady stream of spin-off mini-series. The first of these was “Marceline and the Scream Queens,” which starred Marceline the Vampire Queen and Princess Bubblegum. Now we have “Adventure Time With Fionna & Cake,” which features the gender-reversed fan-fiction versions of Finn and Jake and the land of Ooo, as created by the demented mind of The Ice King.

This concept, which spun out of a single episode of the show, has proven so popular that there are toys and merchandise based on Fionna & Cake and a new 30-minute special episode will revisit this gender-reversed world later this spring. It’s a cool idea, more adventures in the candy-coated post-apocalyptic world of Ooo, only with female versions of all the male characters, and vice-versa. Plus, where Jake is a dog, his counterpart in this version, Cake, is a cat.

Gorgeous art from the opening five pages

The lead story in “Fionna & Cake” is written and drawn by Natasha Allegri, who designed the distaff Adventure Time characters for the cartoon show. She crafts a great story here,with wonderful artwork that stays true to the orignal design, but tells the story with terrific layouts. The first five pages, which illustrate a bedtime story that Cake is telling Fionna, would have been right at home in a late-1970’s issue of Heavy Metal.

The back-up story by Noelle Stevenson is a fun little five-pager starring Fionna & Cake. It’s drawn in a slightly different style, but still captures the spirit of the original designs.

Fans of the show will love this, though it is a mini-series, so some folks might want to wait and buy the collected edition of all six issues when this series concludes in a few months.

Batman Through The Looking Glass
(collected mini-series)

by Bruce Jones and Sam Kieth
DC Comics
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2787-6

Like the best Batman stories of the last thirty years, Batman Through The Looking Glass was a free-standing mini-series, taking place outside of the convoluted regular-series continuity. This graphic novel collects the five-issue series from 2011, written by Bruce Jones (Alien Worlds, The Hulk, Somerset Holmes) and drawn by Sam Kieth, (The Maxx, Zero Girl, My Inner Bimbo). Through The Looking Glass is a triumphant mash-up of Batman and the world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice. It’s a detective story, wrapped inside a surreal landscape, with a clever peek inside the mind of Bruce Wayne.

The story begins with Batman, groggy, having been drugged the night before at a party he attended as Bruce Wayne. In his drugged state he encounters Celia, a childhood friend of Buce Wayne’s who died at a young age. She’s still a little girl, dressed as Alice, and she leads Batman on a surrealistic journey through the sewers and straight into a murder mystery, complete with analogues for prominent characters from Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass.

This works due to Jones’ brilliant script and Kieth’s perfectly-cast artwork. Sam Kieth is one of the few star artists working in comics today that has a strong grasp of actual cartooning skills. His characters stretch and squash and change styles, but always perfectly serve the story. No other artist working in comics today can create art that evokes Neal Adamas, Frank Frazetta, Ralph Steadman, Winsor McCay and Charles Schulz all at the same time, and make it work.

Jones tells us a story of set in the no-nonsense Batman universe, where Dick Grayson is the only Robin, and Alfred is a butler, not some sort of OSS Agent ninja assassin. This is the iconic Batman that everyone knows instantly, thrust into a totally alien setting while remaining true to his core. I’ve been a fan of Bruce Jones for an embarrassingly long time, and Batman Through The Looking Glass is an example of why he remains one of my favorite comic book writers.

If you are a fan of Batman and/or Lewis Carroll, then Batman Through The Looking Glass is a must-read. Hghly recommended.