Saturday, January 22, 2011

Book Review-From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain

From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain 
by Minister Faust.

Minister Faust is the pen name of Black Canadian politician/writer/activist/teacher Malcolm Azania.
I don't quite know how to describe this book. I liked it a LOT, I can say that. It's a satire that works on at least three different levels, maybe more, not all of which may be immediately obvious. It's definitely the sort of work that bears reading twice. The closest comparison would probably be "Watchmen" but this book is a LOT funnier, covers more subjects and moves more quickly. Imagine if Phillip Dick, Tim Dorsey, Ishamel Reed, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Kurt Vonnegut, Baraka and Kevin Smith all got together in one person to do a bit of writing.

It's definitely the FUNNIEST thing I've read in a long time. This has more jokes per line than any book I can think of.
The surface story is that in current day America, all of the costumed superheroes have apparently defeated, killed or imprisoned all of their bad guy counterparts. Unfortunately instead of ushering in an era of peace, there is more conflict, deadly office politics, sniping and profiteering than ever before. So the most prestigious umbrella superhero organization, the Fantastic Order of Justice (or F.O.O.J-it used to be the Fraternal Order of Justice before an equal opportunity lawsuit by a lesbian superheroine) has decided that its six most notable members need to undergo psychological counseling or be thrown out of the organization completely.
These members are:

X-Man-a former member of the League of Angry Blackmen –he can make words into reality.
Omnipotent Man –an extraterrestrial "man of steel" he is the last survivor of the planet Argon and a mild mannered moron.
The Flying Squirrel-an elderly billionaire industrialist, right-wing angry white man and self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Detective".
The Iron Lass-a Norse lesser goddess and first female member of the F.O.O.J. She led the war to wipe out the supervillains. That she did this after her bitter divorce is a pure coincidence...
BrotherFly-a wall crawling jokester who has the proportionate strength and speed of a fly after having been bitten in high school by a radioactive fly.
Power Grrl-a defiantly narcissistic third wave feminist superheroine and recording artist who can't decide whether to fight crime or promote her latest sexual exploits and digital downloads.

Reluctantly, all of these people are forced, singly and en masse, to undergo therapy sessions with Dr. Brain, a woman psychologist who intends to help them deal with their issues, whether they like it or not. And of course most of them don't think THEY have any issues, although they certainly know their co-workers do.
The author obviously has a very deep understanding of and love for comic book culture and his book works very well as simply a parody of comic books/graphic novels. The more you know about classic Marvel and DC storylines, the more you will get out of this book. It's also a deconstruction of comic book tropes and an examination of what it would mean to the world for there to be people that by definition were greater than human or as Dr. Brain puts it "Hyper-hominids".
However you needn't be a comic book nerd to enjoy this book. Faust's book goes into pretty serious examinations of racism, homophobia, greed, feminism, 60's style protest, conspiracy theories, capitalism, identity politics, DuBois' theory of double consciousness, post 9-11 politics, dysfunctional families, US foreign policy, socialism and many other things. This is all held together by the humor-which really is non-stop. The humor makes it VERY easy to overlook the other things going on if one is not careful or if one disagrees with the author's take. Some themes I didn't see the first time through and had to go back and read very carefully. The author treats his readers as adults and doesn't beat you over the head with interpretations.

The majority of the book is told from the standpoint of Dr. Brain, who is writing a book on how to deal with the psychological needs of "hyper-hominids" and speaks in an insane parody of the self-help lingo made popular by people like Oprah, Tony Robbins and Dr. Phil. As is made increasingly clear by reading her internal book, she is not necessarily without her own biases and isn't the most reliable narrator. She tells one agitated hero that racist words are just sticks and stones and he responds "The police have sticks, doctor! What the hell do you think they were beating me with?"
One character grudgingly admits of another one, "I'll tell you one thing, that Australopithecus is smarter than he smells". Similarly this book is a lot deeper than one might think by looking at the cover.
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