get your war on

by David Rees

(Soft Skull, 100 pages, $11)

David Rees will be appearing at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm Wednesday, Dec. 11.

If you're like just about everyone else with access to email (everyone who's not on the Li'l Johnnie Ashcroft Fan Club mailing list, at least), you've probably been sent a link to David Rees' satirical online comic, Get Your War On, which has attracted millions of visits in the wake of 9/11. For those not riding the Information Superhighway, Rees' strip follows a very simple modus operandi: By turns cruelly sarcastic and coolly sadistic, a group of phone-conferencing office drones--translated into repetitive clip art, all creepy in their static, stiff-necked sameness--spout more blue slang and bold social commentary than a David Mamet script. Example:

Drone A: "I'm a little confused. Are U.S. citizens allowed to kill suspected terrorists now?"

Drone B: "I think so. But you have to be really, really sure the person is a suspected terrorist. So be super-double sure they make you nervous!"

Drone A: "Well, this dude standing by my desk is wearing a really fucked-up jacket--can I cap him?"

The jokes fly fast and (most definitely) furious, and Rees' public appearances have been described as much the same. (Following one hyper reading/rant, Salon called him a "monomaniac.") Not surprisingly, his drones never stay in character for long--sometimes they're jingoistic parrothead caricatures, other times blunt, scathing critics of Dubya's newest world order--but since they're essentially just mouthpieces for Rees and his irreverent political diatribes, it's a flaw easily, instantly overlooked. And when it's this funny, who cares? On an even sweeter tip, all of Rees' royalties (and a share of the publisher's revenues) will be donated to mine-elimination squads in Afghanistan. Whaddaya know? Laughter is the best medicine after all. John Graham

rumpole rests his case
by John Mortimer
(Viking, 224 pages, $24.95)

Comes now the 11th, and apparently final, volume of John Mortimer's serio-comic courtroom mysteries featuring Horace Rumpole, mastodon of London criminal defense. Leo McKern, the great rumpled actor who defined Rumpole on BBC and PBS, died last summer, and Mortimer has said Rumpole cannot survive him, and the world-weariness of these seven short stories leaves even a dedicated admirer feeling a last bow may be just.

The wine-loving, cigar-huffing barrister retains magnificently truculent form, continuing his paleo-liberal crusade on behalf of life, liberty and the presumption of innocence. The times, however, no longer seem worthy of his sword: It is a sad day when Rumpole must spend as much time warring with anti-smoking fanatics as dueling opportunistic Crown Prosecutors. The supporting cast of joyless moralists, '60s burnouts gone yuppie, ruthless New Labour functionaries, greedy refugee smugglers, crypto-Nazi parliamentarians and shady dot-com operators is relentlessly drab--or maybe just overly familiar.

Mortimer has always positioned his untamed beast of the Bar as an honorable anachronism, but never has he risen so far above his washed-out surroundings. Rumpole's pet causes (trial by jury, the rights of the accused, cheap wine and the Truth) may be in more danger than ever, but the old boy has done his bit. Knighthood and vindication may be deserved, but a bottle of bargain claret will have to do. Zach Dundas

soul of nowhere: traversing grace in a rugged land
by Craig Childs
(Sasquatch Books, 232 pages, $22.95)

When he isn't sharing his backcountry adventures with NPR listeners, Craig Childs is hiking the American Southwest, often alone, to the tune of 3,000 miles a year. In Soul of Nowhere, Childs follows up his first book, The Secret Knowledge of Water, with more tales of his trek.

Childs paints his travels in poetic, New Age-flavored prose, each turn in the trail a metaphor for life, each precarious foothold on the side of a bluff a lesson in bluffing death. When he recalls a friend's description of a remote desert chasm, he is betraying his book's thesis and his personal cosmology: "It's one of those places where, if you want to understand it, it'll have to become a religion."

As a reader, you either buy this romanticized style or you don't. Childs' sincerity and (literally) cliffhanging narrative make a compelling case for buying it. In addition to scaling ravines, the author happens upon ancient Anasazi pottery, petroglyphs and skeletons; documents his far-out existentialist mindfuck in the desert (Nature itself, as it turns out, is way trippier than peyote); and explores his primal essence by doffing his clothes and hiking nekkid at every opportunity.

The book's structure follows the land's path of erosion, the action beginning in the mountains of northern New Mexico, tilting downwards into the Mogollon foothills, diving into the Grand Canyon, flattening out in the wastelands of the Sonoran Desert and ending in the sand dunes of Volcán Santa Clara, Mexico. Childs implies that man's parabola is similar: from the mountains we build up to the drifts of dust we finally become. Richard Speer