Monday, January 02, 2006

Other Books Read in December

I was trying to work down the pile of comics/art books/assorted large-format stuff, so there were a lot this month. This is a massive list, so let's just dive into it:
  • New York Girls by Richard Kern
  • Go, Dork, Go! by John Kovalic
    I'm not a gamer, and haven't been for ages and ages, so I shouldn't enjoy the Dork Tower comic as much as I do. But Kovalic is a great cartoonist (yes, his art style is simplified and sometimes grotesque; that's what "cartoon" means), and his comics just make me laugh.
  • B.P.R.D.: The Dead by Mike Mignola, et. al.
    Hellboy is cool. Even Hellboy comics without him in them are cool. Even ones that Mignola didn't really have all that much to do with.
  • In the Eye of Heaven by David Keck
    I've already mentioned this in my "Best of the Year" post; it's a major fantasy novel for 2006 and probably the first novel to beat in the genre.
  • The Cat That Changed My Life by Bruce Eric Kaplan
    A weird book by a New Yorker cartoonist; there are drawings of fifty cats, accompanied by what's supposed to be an excerpt from an interview of each cat, about the other cat that was most influential on the subject's life. I really can't tell if it's a tone-perfect parody of this kind of Po Bronson/Dr. Phil blathering or if it means to be serious. It actually works either way, which is quite odd.
  • Ex Machina: Tag by Brian K. Vaughan, et. al.
    I don't know if I've ever seen a really successful SF comic before this one. Fantasy, sure -- but nothing has really felt science-fictional in any way that could compare with even mediocre prose works. This, on the other hand, is damn good. (So good that I'm afraid I might have to check out that stupid Y: The Last Man comic by the same writer, even though I can't stand the premise.)
  • Women by Stefan May
  • I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League by Keith Giffen, et. al.
    Sue Dibny is alive (but not pregnant!) Maxwell Lord is silly. DC Comics cannot convince me otherwise. This is a wonderfully funny comic, with gorgeous art; it's the kind of superhero comic functional adults can actually enjoy. Take a stand against women in refrigerators and buy a thousand copies.
  • River of Gods by Ian McDonald
    The kind of big, ambitious SF novel, with lots of intersecting plots, that supposedly nobody does anymore. Really impressive.
  • Smax by Alan Moore, et. al.
    Moore isn't slumming quite as much as you might think, but he does seem to have drifted into doing two-finger exercises this decade. And I really wish the economics of comics would let Zander Cannon continue his excellent comic The Replacement God rather than pencilling someone else's stuff (no matter how good). Sigh.
  • The Gist Hunter and Other Stories by Matthew Hughes
    I've loved Hughes's three novels to date (although I've heard, from another editor, that the most recent one was a severe disappointment sales-wise, which is really depressing). This is his first story collection, and it's divided into three sections. The third is "Other Stories," and it's the least impressive; they're all solid stories with nothing wrong with them, but any one of a hundred writers could have written them. The second group of stories are about the noonaut Guth Bandar, and are set in the same "penultimate age of the earth" milieu as his novels. They're overly philosophical and Jungian for my taste, but Hughes's Vancian prose is wonderful as usual. The first section of the book is the longest, and has the best stuff (which is why I left it for last): here are the first few adventures of that great detective, Hengis Hapthorn. The Hollywood description of these would be "Jack Vance writes Sherlock Holmes," and I loved them.
  • Doom Patrol, Vol.3: Down Paradise Way by Grant Morrison, et. al.
    Morrison was starting to repeat himself here (how many times can a bizarre pseudo-artistic secret society try to destroy the world, anyway?), but the stories were still fun.
  • Dahmane by Dahmane
  • Red Lightning by John Varley
    It's the sequel to Red Thunder, set a generation later, and is Varley again trying to write a Heinlein juvenile for the modern era. It's just as breezy as the first book, though the plot is a bit disjointed and Varley seems to picked up Stan Robinson's Mars Trilogy-era idea that the people of Earth are irredeemably corrupt and bad. Varley's prose is as supple and engaging as always, though I wish he was still writing books like Steel Beach and Golden Globe.
  • The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook by Alan Lee
    Gorgeous art related either to the Centennial Edition of The Lord of the Rings (which Lee illustrated about a decade ago) or that movie trilogy. I didn't used to like Lee's art all that much -- I found it all atmosphere and no subject -- but watching a million DVD documentaries over the past five years have made me a fan of his work. It's still a lot of light pencil sketches and moody watercolors, but now I like it.
  • Dilbert: Thriving on Vague Objectives by Scott Adams
  • Samurai Executioner, Vol.6: Shinko the Kappa by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima
  • Flashman on the March by George MacDonald Fraser
    If I can be half as cool as Fraser when I'm 80, life will be more than worth living.
  • Doonesbury: The Long Road Home by G.B. Trudeau
  • Black Hole by Charles Burns
    Burns is the only comics artist who can come close to Chris Ware in the depressing sweepstakes. I missed the first issue or two of this ten years ago, and ended up waiting for the "trade" (though this is actually a hardcover). That was a good decision; this is one of those books that seems to be a mood piece (because not all that much happens), but it all comes together at the end.
  • Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi
    I haven't read Scalzi's other two novels, but this is a light but fun first contact novel about alien blobs and Hollywood agents.
  • Mad Night by Richard Sala
    Sala does neat creepy comics about cute barefoot girls and hideous deformed ghouls. They're all pretty similar, and this is a good representation of his stuff. If he put out books more often, it would probably pale, but one a year or so is just about right.
  • Astro City: Local Heroes by Kurt Busiek, et. al.
    This is the only meant-to-be-taken-seriously superhero book I can still read, but even it gives me agida now and then. Anything that's too obviously someone else's characters done right (as in this book's not-Lois and not-Clark story) is particularly annoying, since those end up being mostly realistic stories about mostly realistic people acting in utterly stupid Mort-Weisinger ways. I like stories about realistic people in worlds that contain super-powered folks; what I don't like is attempts to make the standard generic superhero furniture make serious dramatic sense. That works so rarely that it's not worth trying anymore; you either need to accept superheroes as non-humans with their own idiosyncratic motivations and psychology, or think up believable ways for super-humans to act and interact with society.
  • The ACME Novelty Library Final Report to Stockholders and Saturday Afternoon Rainy Day Fun Book by F.C. Ware
    I have to admit that I didn't manage to read every single teeny-tiny printed-sideways, faux-advertising word in this book. But I don't think anyone ever does; we all read the comics and skim the text features. Ware's world is, as always, utterly devoid of happiness and even the illusion of happiness. At some point in his career, he's going to have to develop another tone; his art is exquisite and his stories are heart-wrenching, but it's all exquisite and heart-wrenching in exactly the same way as everything else, and that, eventually, won't be enough anymore. I don't think he's quite hit that point yet, but it's starting to loom on the horizon.
  • The Flash: The Secret of Barry Allen by Geoff Johns, et. al.
    If this is what good "mainstream" comics looks like these days, I'm glad I'm not reading them. The art isn't as silly as the mid-90s heyday of Liefeld and his ilk, but this is relentlessly talky (both in captions and dialogue) and just dull; the people have very little in common with human beings besides a general body plan.
  • The Armies of Memory by John Barnes
    A really good SF novel by a writer I tend to forget about between books, though he impresses me each time (and I'm usually very happy to read his books when I see he has a new one).
  • The Stardragons by Bob Eggleton and John Grant
    Love Bob's art, as usual, but the story seemed to mostly be there just to keep the book from being too short. On the other hand, I did mostly just skim it.


patricia said...

Have you read 'The Cat That Changed My Life' yet? It's hilarious. I laughed out loud so many times when I read it. Bruce Eric Kaplan is a genius. I hate him.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Yes; I actually blogged about it briefly in this massive post -- it was the fifth book from the top.

I like Kaplan's cartoons better than this book, but I think I agree with you; he's easily the best and nastiest cartoonist in the New Yorker vein working today.

John Joseph Adams said...

Since you like the Henghis Hapthorn stories so much, I thought you might be interested to know that Matt Hughes has a trilogy of Hapthorn novels coming out from Night Shade Books. That news is fairly recent, so I'm not sure when the books will actually appear.

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