Knowing Peter Jackson was emphasizing the prequel aspsects of THE HOBBIT: An Unexpected Journey (2012), I was surprised how well it worked, partly because it focuses heavily on Bilbo’s personal arc, from stuffy stay-at-home to daring burglar and accepted companion of his dwarf allies. That being said, the foreshadowing of LOTR gets a bit much (I don’t think there was a real need to have Galadriel show up), but a fine job nonetheless, The 48-frames-per-second format didn’t impress me at all though (it looks like an old TV shot-on-video production) and the eagles at the climax are a bit obviously CGI. “Crush the Baggins—we hates it forever!”
THE NEW SCIENCE OF STRONG MATERIALS or Why You Don’t Fall Through the Floor by JE Gordon is a look at how compression and tension encourage everything we build with to either snap, fall over or get crushed, the different ways different materials cope and the difference between strength, toughness and stiffness (“Nylon is extremely strong, but it isn’t very stiff.”), A very good job on such questions as why cracks happen, why ships are vulnerable around portholes and the advantages of wood (Gordon’s personal favorite). Despite being 40 years old, still very informative, though I imagine the chapter on Synthetics of the Future would need updating.
MIRROR, MIRROR: A History of the Human Love Affair With Reflection by Mark Pendergrast, is much less satisfying cultural/scientific history looking at mirror-making technology, mirror-making in art and religion, reflecting telescopes and human and animal psychology (such as a debate over whether dolphins can recognize reflections as themselves). Pendergrast devotes way more space to astronomy and reflecting telescopes than I cared to read about; while admittedly that’s just a matter of taste, his cultural history really felt weak—lists of mirror-related books or fictional works rattled off and chunks of irrelevant facts (just because people use mirrors for makeup does not justify the amount of space he puts into covering early 20th century and fashion). A curate’s egg with too many bad parts.
THE ARCHITECTURE OF AUTHORITY by Richard Ross is a collection of photos from a wide variety of places—a Crusade-era fortress, Guantanamo Bay, an LAPD interrogation room, the UN security council—loosely tied together by the title theme. As photos, certainly striking, but if Ross aspired to any deeper meaning (and judging from the intro and afterword, he did) he didn’t succeed in delivering it (it has the randomness of a bad art film throwing unrelated images together).
FABLES: Inherit the Wind by Bill Willingham and multiple artists has Bigby and Snow plunged into a power struggle as their kids have to undergo various tests to determine which will be the new North Wind, a decision the other wind-gods would very much like to control. Meanwhile Buffkin the winged monkey prepares to liberate Oz, Mrs. Sprat prepares for when the Fables come home to Fabletown and we learn why the Empire took so long to invade Earth. A notable improvement after the weak previous volume, Super-Team.
BATMAN INTERNATIONAL collects a trio of Bat-adventures in which the Caped Crusader visits Scotland, Barcelona and the Far East, with the middle tale easily the best (the Scots story is very flat). This would have been more fun if it had included stories from more Batman eras (this is two from the 1990s, one from the 21st century), as Bats has been going abroad since he battled the Monk in the 1930s.