Monday, May 30, 2016

Books I Read in January and Never Bothered to Review

I'm declaring review bankruptcy again -- one year after the last time I did it, which is sadly Trumpian of me. As part of the restructuring, my creditors (the books) require that I list them and indicate something about them. This may still take some time, but the post for February is half-drafted, and March, April and May should follow, possibly at weekly intervals. (And Antick Musings intends to continue in business at this diminished level on a going-forward basis. But the Management is not providing any specific earnings guidance to investors at this time.)

Ben Towle, Oyster War (1/12)

Towle was an Eisner Judge the same year I was, so we spent a long weekend (along with a few others) sitting in a past-its-prime San Diego hotel ballroom, reading comics and recommending things to each other.  I don't know him other than that, but he was smart and incisive and committed then, and I've tried to follow his comics since.

Oyster War is a big graphic novel -- physically large pages on top of a strong story -- set in the Chesapeake soon after the Civil War, where an ex-Confederate seaman is hired to deal with fiendish oyster pirates who threaten the livelihood of the rough and  mysterious town of Blood's Haven. (There's a bit of buried E.C. Segar influence here, all thoroughly transmuted but visible as a deep vein.) And there are supernatural forces at work as well.

This is a fun modern take on the classic adventure story, somewhat in the same territory as Chris Schweizer's Crogan stories but with a tighter focus. I liked it a lot, and you should buy it to support my old Eisner buddy.

John Layman and Rob Guillory, Chew, Vol. 3 (1/13)

See below.

John Layman and Rob Guillory, Chew, Vol. 4 (1/14)

No, further below.

Walt Kelly, Pogo, Vol. 3: Evidence to the Contrary (1/14)

Two more years (1953 and '54) of one of the declaredly best comic strips of all time, featuring the first appearance and comeuppance of Simple J. Malarky, perhaps Kelly's most pointed transformation of a real-world person into his strip. I liked the first volume a lot, and was a bit more muted about number two -- so this third book sees me naturally bounce back a bit into the middle.  Much of Pogo is of more historical interest to those of us who weren't there at the time (and, sixty years later, that's the vast majority of us), but Kelly's art is gorgeous and deeply expressive, his language is sneakily cutting, and his plotting is excellent. You don't actually need to have been there at the time, though that definitely helps.

John Layman and Rob Guillory, Chew, Vol. 5 (1/15)

I'm reading this series too slowly and too late -- it's already ended, I think, and been collected into larger hardcover volumes (which makes these paperbacks more difficult to find). But the story of a cibopathic (he gets psychic impressions from things he eats) detective in a deeply weird world full of food-centric supernatural abilities is entirely sui generis, which is incredibly rare in comics or any medium. And it's both fun and funny consistently, with smart plotting from Layman and wonderfully baroque art from Guillory. I'll probably finish it some day, though I'd probably be better off just buying all of the books and reading them straight through. Maybe I will!

Sean McMullen, The Time Engine (1/15)

This was published more than a year after the SFBC told me it no longer required my services, so maybe I sat on it for so long to try to ignore that. (Or maybe I was hoping McMullen would continue the loose "Moonworlds" series, of which this was the fourth.)

Moonworlds was a quirky series, set on one of the moons of a gas giant among humanoids who were pointedly not human (there was one human in the cast to underline this). It was even quirkier because the first two books had essentially the same plot -- megalomaniacal magician starts a megadeath device, which has to be stopped before it destroys the world, device does succeed in destroying roughly one continent each time -- and borrowing H.G. Wells plots for the back two novels. Time Engine has an obvious predecessor and follows Voidfarer, which riffed on War of the Worlds.

This is probably the least of the series -- start from the beginning, like any series, is my advice -- but it's still deeply entertaining, in that spiky McMullen way. No one is guaranteed a happy ending in a McMullen story; he's like Vance in that way. But everything does work out in the end, more or less, with the world not destroyed.

Kate Beaton, Step Aside, Pops! (1/19)

The second major collection of Beaton's miscellaneous strips, which mostly appeared online on her blog, following the amazing Hark! A Vagrant. Beaton, among many other things, shows that feminists can be deeply funny, which is a useful thing to have on the Internet.

Also, there's the whole really-smart-and-incisive thing. Don't want to forget that. So just read Beaton, OK?

Vanyda, The Building Opposite (1/20)

This is a slice-of-live story set in one apartment building and translated from the French, from a small publishing house. I think it came to me in a box post-flood -- several people sent me care packages when they heard I'd lost all of my comics, which was really sweet of them. It's small in many ways, but thoughtful. I'd never heard of Vanyda before -- or since, for that matter.

This is likely the first and only time you'll ever hear about this book, and I'm afraid it's not that wonderful that I should urge you to seek it out. If you do happen to see it, pick it up, though -- and see if it connects to you.

Lemony Snicket, "Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?" (2/22)

This is the fourth book in the second major Snicket series for younger readers, and the short version is this: yes, he sticks the landing.

The "Snicket" books -- Snicket is a pretty open pseudonym for novelist Daniel Handler, who mostly works for adults under his own name -- are smart and sneaky and imply about five times as much as they say, which is very appropriate for the kind of smart kid who wants to figure out how the world works and how she will fit into it. They're also great for us post-kids who love supple writing, mysteries, melancholy, and the kind of fight that you don't give up on even though you know you won't win. Don't start here, but give Snicket a try if those ideas interest you.

Mike Grell, The Complete Jon Sable, Freelance, Vol. 1 (1/25)

This is not the place to find a review of this book.

Mike Grell, The Complete Jon Sable, Freelance, Vol. 2 (1/26)

This is a better option, but still the wrong place.

Mike Grell, The Complete Jon Sable, Freelance, Vol. 3 (1/27)

This seems much more promising, yes? But it's still wrong.

Mike Grell, Jon Sable, Freelance: Bloodtrail (1/29)

I'm sure these were also from post-flood care packages; I'd never read Jon Sable before. This was one of the big series from First in its heyday -- probably the only one I didn't read, since I was a fan of Badger and Grimjack and Nexus and Dreadstar and American Flagg! and Nexus and the Michael Moorcock adaptations -- but I guess I found the setup a bit fussy.

And it is fussy: Sable is an ex-big game hunter with a tragic past (several different levels of tragic past, since the first two stories of the main series are big flashbacks to sad things that happened to him in the old days in Africa) who is now an unlicensed private eye and a bestselling author of treacle-y [1] books for kids with a disguise (bushy mustache and afro-ish wig) that screams "have you seen my mid-70s work in porn?"

The stories are the kind of adventure fiction that comics fans pretend is completely different from superheroes because the hero doesn't wear spandex or have powers. (He does, though, have a "battle mask," which is a dead giveaway, and does fight crime and save the innocent and all of that malarkey.) I don't have as deep an affection for that kind of story as most of the people who read mainstream comics, but these are decent adventure stories once you fight through the '80s undergrowth. And the racial politics were surprisingly non-cringeworthy for a series about a super-bwana white hunter from the 1970s.

(Bloodtrail was a new story in about 2005, for the relaunch of this and several other old First properties from my buddies at ComicMix. The story is the same kind of thing as the old stories -- which is good; it shows consistency -- but I think the series went the way of most relaunches these days.)

Charles Portis, Norwood (1/29)

So my reading series of the Vintage Contemporaries has floundered on the rocks on my lack of posting and general ennui. This is the last one I read to date, meaning I've now missed several months and am far behind. (And I thought reading and writing about one book a month would be easy -- I'm blaming A Fan's Notes, with earlier contributions from Far Tortuga.)

But I'm not going to review Norwood here. It's going back on the pile, and will get a full post eventually, and the Vintage Contemporary series will start back up -- maybe not that often, maybe not reviewed all that way, and definitely not the thing any of my readers come to Antick Musings for. But it's a series I want to do, and that's what matters.

[1] Grell might mean for these to be sweet, but the bits he gives us of them are deeply lousy. So I choose to believe he meant them to be lousy.

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