Saturday, January 12, 2013

Book Two: Probie's Story

Bob Probert fighting Darren Langdon. Photo via Wikipedia.

My new blog, The One Hundred Book Challenge, has been met with a small amount of praise from friends and family since my first post, where I discussed Batman: Battle for the Cowl. I'll admit that it was a peculiar way to kickoff a brand new blog, but it was the first book I finished in 2013. I couldn't wait long to jump into post number two, so I picked up a book I received for Christmas in 2011. Most people who know me know I have a passion for ice hockey. If you need any further proof, check out my other (more successful) blog, The Wizard of Osgood, over here. With the National Hockey League recently ending the 2012-13 lockout, I thought it was a good idea to jump back into talking about hockey. I had not posted anything on the blog since December and despite picking away at a little piece on how I felt about the lockout, I didn't know what to post.

As soon as there is hockey to watch, I'll be there to talk about what I see. In the meantime, I read Detroit Red Wing alumni Bob Probert's biography, Tough Guy: My Life on the Edge, written by Probie himself and Kirstie McLellan Day. Day helped Theoren Fleury write his biography a couple of years before and I found his book to be one of the most captivating manuscripts I have ever written. I was hoping Bob Probert's book would continue the positive trend of detailing day-to-day player life. It turned out to be a very different read with a very different result.

To summarize, Bob Probert's biography documents his personal struggle to remain alcohol and drug free during his NHL career straight through to his death in July 2010. His story, compared to Fleury's, is not nearly as dark but sheds light on a different kind of player than Fleury: an enforcer. Probert was one of the most dominant enforcers in NHL history during his career, competing in 238 career fights. His ability to evoke fear into the hearts of opposing players is well known. Here's arguably his best fight, coming against fellow enforcer, Marty McSorley in 1994:

Bob Probert wasn't just a tough guy, though. Probie was also a scorer and had hands that even the most skilled forwards in the NHL wished they had, especially at his size. Check this one out:

Probert was the kind of player every team wanted and every team hated to play against. He could score, he could grind you down, and when the going got tough and Steve Yzerman needed someone to watch his back, Bob Probert stepped up. He was a force at his best with the Red Wings. Unfortunately for Probie, his drug and alcohol related problems limited his true potential as a scorer and a star.

The most striking element of Probert's book was how honest he was about his repeated lapses into substance abuse. I wouldn't say I expected a luxurious cruise through his life and how exciting it was to be an NHL player, but the book largely focuses on his personal life, with hockey providing a background. Some of the key figures in his life, such as Steve Yzerman, Mark "Trees" Laforest, Petr Klima, Sheldon "Mo Melly" Kennedy, and Jim Devellano are all Red Wing alumni and ice hockey personalities who influence or participate in Probert's personal life. Despite hockey being his first passion, Probert's book reads like a confessional of his crimes and misbehavior. It's an unsettling read for those who are unfamiliar with the fast life of a hockey player, especially those who have no understanding of the personal struggles of men with lots of money and deeply seeded personal troubles.

The most disappointing thing about Tough Guy is its' ending. It has none. Probert passed away in 2010, with very little of the book covering his life from 2007 until his passing. His wife helped bring the book to conclusion but there's a considerable gap in his final years. It leaves the reader hoping for a positive ending to the personal journey Probert takes from substance abuse to recovery to relapse to recovery to relapse and possibly a final recovery. There is no satisfaction to the end of this book. There is no happy ending to Bob Probert's story as it is written in Tough Guy. It is a remarkably tragic, disappointing end to a life that can be seen as a cautionary tale to young hockey talent.

With all of the personal tragedy Probert dealt with in life, his passing provided something that may yet be a "happy" ending. In fall of 2010 Probert's family announced they would donate Bob's brain to the Sports Legacy Institute in order to study the effects of concussions on the brains of athletes. The following year, it was discovered that Bob's brain had suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which can cause people to show symptoms of dementia, memory loss, depression, or aggression. I know next to nothing about the subject, or Bob Probert's life beyond the pages of Tough Guy, so I believe it is best to leave the postulating to more educated people. What I do know is that Bob Probert cared very deeply for his family once it was created, and in the final pages of his book, he begins to show an understanding for the value of what he had in his family: a reason to live long and stay clean.

In conclusion, similarly to the first book I read, this one has a particular market that would have an interest in its subject. I would not recommend someone with no knowledge of hockey or the lives of professional athletes. This book is better left on the shelf for fans of the game, the Red Wings, Bob Probert, and young players who are on the cusp of hockey greatness. It isn't written particularly well, even for a biography, but it is from the heart, it's honest, and even though it doesn't really have and ending, it's a captivating read that will entertain its reader. My final grade for Book Two of One Hundred Books in 2013 is C.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

One Hundred Books in 2013: Kickoff and Book One

Welcome friends, family, viewers, detractors. This is my newest blog and part of my personal goal in 2013 to read one hundred books in a calendar year. The idea came to me recently when I began wondering what happened to my passion for reading books. Determined to capture the intrigue of reading, I have set out on a quest to absorb as many books as possible in 2013.

One hundred books seems like a lofty goal, but I will preface this by stating that the one hundred books is going to be split into two piles of fifty: graphic novels and fiction literature. I can immediately hear the skepticism and groans about this choice. "But Patrick," you will say. "My good friend, graphic novels don't count as books. They are just pictures with some words!" To this, I humbly protest. Graphic novels are an incredible, untapped resource for getting people of all ages to read. I agree with the sentiment that reading fifty Batman stories would be excessive and missing the point of my original goal, so my pledge will also have the stipulation that I will attempt to read graphic novels that normally do not receive a great deal of attention in pop culture media. There will absolutely be Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, and super hero graphic novels on this list. I own many of them already, and the objective of this challenge isn't to bankrupt myself for the sake of buying literature. With that said, I will strive not to dip too deeply into my own pool of graphic novels and try new ones.

This is the kickoff, so what better way to begin than with a Christmas gift I received in 2012.



Of course it was going to be a Batman title. I have been fascinated with the Dark Knight since I was a boy. Batman: The Animated Series was something I watched with glee for many years. The DC Animated Universe was captivating and told stories with such depth that I believe even closed minded individuals would have the opportunity to warm to them. Batman has a special place in my childhood, and with the rediscovery of the source material and Christopher Nolan's trilogy (2005-2012), Batman is a part of my adult life.

Batman: Battle for the Cowl is a story that takes place in what was regular Detective Comics continuity that tackles the idea of what happens when Bruce Wayne disappears. Without spoiling too much of the back story, Bruce Wayne "dies", leaving a major whole in the network of crime fighting vigilantes who patrol Gotham City. Chaos ensues, leaving the remaining members of the Batman family to figure out how to move forward following Batman's death. The key players in this story are all Bruce Wayne's sons, adopted and biological. Dick Grayson, who many know and adore as the first Robin, has become the successful solo act known as Nightwing. Dick struggles with the idea of stepping into Bruce Wayne's shoes and becoming the Batman of Gotham City. One of his closest allies, Tim Drake, the third Robin, insists that Nightwing or himself must take up the role. Damian Wayne, the soon-to-be-fourth Robin, is slowly trying to find his own place in the Batman family. A very arrogant young man to begin with, Damian believes himself to be entitled to the mantle of the bat. Meanwhile, all three are targeted by the current "Batman", who I will not reveal. Three out of the four Robins targeted. Gee, I wonder who the "Batman" could be?

Overall, I was disappointed with this graphic novel compared to how I felt when I read the initial run a couple of years ago. Don't get me wrong, everything is there to make a good Batman story, and the ultimate choice of the next Batman is an easy win (hint: it's a Robin), but there just isn't enough meat to this story. It's entirely too predictable and while the art is outstanding, it falls short of delivering any twists and turns that come with the best Batman stories. Compared to one of the more recent stories of someone else taking up the mantle, Batman: Knightfall, this story is short and to the point. It's as though the brains at DC asked themselves "We need a story to fill up three months of issues, let's tell a long winded but thin story about how _________ becomes the Batman."

If I were to take three positives away from this book, the top one is definitely the art. This is how Batman should be drawn. Tony S. Daniel deserves credit for the sharpness of every panel as the penciller. Batman doesn't require hyper-realism like Alex Ross, and I think this comic hits the nail on the head with a very spot-on approach to the art of Batman. The second positive I will take away from this book is the little bit of character development for both "Batman" and the Dick Grayson/Damian Wayne dynamic. In both cases we walk away with better understandings of the characters and we see what they are all capable of, both good and bad. "Batman" is almost worthy of sympathy. His struggles and ultimate goal are not entirely masked in insanity. The third positive to take away from this book is the future of the Batman family. New titles and stories sprout of this storyline, and it helped to refresh Batman for a short period. The best to come out of the post-Battle era was definitely Red Robin (Tim Drake's new persona) and his quest to prove Bruce Wayne lives.

In conclusion, I would not recommend this title to anyone who isn't already a staunch buyer of Batman titles. Similarly to Batman and Son, this title had tonnes of promise but just dilly-dallied on telling the story. It's spread out unnecessarily and one 80 page issue could have tackled the basic premise. If you're going to buy it, buy it for the art and to see what not to do with a short Batman story. My grade for Book One of the One Hundred Books in 2013 campaign is C+.