Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #304: The Finder Library, Vol. 1 by Carla Speed McNeil

Now, I know that I tend to focus on the negative, even when the positive is much larger and objectively more interesting. I usually blame that on "editor brain" -- when you spend years pulling apart stories for a living, it forms a habit that you just can't break.

So let me say up front that Finder is pretty damn awesome, a smart series of graphic novels with real character depth, a quirky and involving world, tricky plots, and sharp people-oriented art. But it's got some elements in its SFnal setup that people like me obsess about and complain about more than they deserve.

I'll try to keep those quibbles minor, since they are minor. This is a great world that basically hangs together; it just has a central flaw that's very common, very understandable, and yet often very annoying (to people like me who can't just let it go).

Finder is supposedly set a few thousand years in the future, on an Earth hugely depopulated, devoid of any obvious larger governments than pseudo-zaibatsu "clans," with people either living crammed into domed cities or roaming the outside wastes as nomads very much modeled on the American Indian in ways that are deeply unlikely. It's not clear if massive numbers of people left the planet in the meantime, if there was at least one apocalypse to kill billions, or if population just dwindled for a long time. (The current society seems to above replacement rate, and so growing, but maybe only slowly.) And popular culture is, as far as we see, primarily devoted to digging up ephemera of the 20th century.

So, yes, to tick off the obvious SF-geek issues: that feels like much too far in the future for the focus on modern pop-culture; there's no clear path from here to get to this world; there doesn't seem to be any infrastructure to feed those people, let alone provide them with industrial goods; and the lack of any structure to society outside/above/between the clans seems unlikely at best -- how do clans resolve conflicts, living together in their tight little cities?

Let me stipulate all that: those are issues with the world-building, and maybe creator Carla Speed McNeil tackles them eventually. In the first three storylines of Finder, collected as the 2011 omnibus The Finder Library, Vol. 1, though, she doesn't. This book has what was the first 22 issues of Finder the print comic -- sometime later it turned into a webcomic -- originally published between 1996 and 2001 and then collected into the first four trade paperbacks. (Sin-Eater, the first storyline, took up two books.)

Sin-Eater introduces the world through Jaeger, a roguish "finder" from one of the many tribal  "Ascian" cultures that live nomadic lives in the Empty Lands between those domed cities. He has a lot of strangeness of his own, for a 20th century reader, but he's an outsider in the city of Anvard, so he's our viewpoint for the strangeness there.

Jaeger is the on-and-off lover of Emma Lockhart Grosvenor, a married woman in Anvard. That is to say: she lets him live with her when he's in town, but he's only in town randomly, at long intervals, and utterly without notice. McNeil does not show Jaeger having similar arrangements in other cities -- and I think she finds him more appealing than I do -- but I see no reason why a man like him wouldn't have a semi-regular fuck-buddy in all of the places he wanders through.

Emma is part of a mixed marriage that went bad. She's from the artistic, ultra-feminine Llaverac clan; her husband Brigham Grosvenor is from the military/police clan Medawar. [1] Brigham was a military leader who took his family to the frontier outpost where he was stationed (and where Jaeger was something like a native scout and Brigham's aide/pet) and there descended into what Finder doesn't actually call paranoid schizophrenia. Emma got away with her three "daughters" -- all members of Llaverac are referred to by feminine pronouns and tend to present as female in public, even if they are biologically male -- Rachel, Lynne (who is male), and Marcie (Marcella) with Jaeger's aid a few years ago, and has been hiding from Brigham since then.

Sin-Eater is the story of how that hiding eventually falls apart, how Brig finds his family again, and how it affects all of them. Jaeger, in what I think is his usual style, is both too clever by half and has a a strong restless tropism to do stupid random things, so it's all mostly his fault. It's also the story that introduces the world and explains, as much as McNeil wanted, how it works and what these people do.

The second story here, King of the Cats, is more self-contained and focused more tightly on Jaeger. He's worked his way to another city as an armed guard on a giant armored bus -- the wilderness is quite dangerous, with all of those native tribes and no farmlands -- carrying members of the Steinehan clan to an amusement-park city (unnamed, as far as I can find), and wants to get inside mostly because they won't hire him or let him inside. Jaeger is motivated, as always, but spite and whim as much as anything else.

Camping nearby is a large group of Nyima, an intelligent non-human race with pretty serious sexual dimorphism -- the females are lion-headed humanoids and the males a a big question mark. (We learn that most males are semi-intelligence quadrupedal lion-types, but each group has a King, whom all of the females are "married" to, and who has bipedalism and increased intelligence because of a specific intervention by the females. This seems unlikely to be stable or natural, but I can only shrug.) They have an onerous contract with the unseen owners of the amusement park, which they can't fulfill without destroying their culture and becoming essentially slaves there for the rest of their lives, and which they can't break without incurring massive financial penalties. (Again: this is a warlike group of nomads in a world with no apparent larger government. McNeil makes the dilemma plausible, but the heavily armed and well-positioned Nyima appear to have a much stronger hand than the weak, unarmed locals.)

Jaeger, in his meddling way, solves the Nyimas' problem, answers his own curiosity, causes a larger amount of trouble than usual even for him, and leaves at the end, happy and ready for another opportunity to meddle somewhere else.

And last in Volume 1 is Talisman, which I read before a few years back. This is Marcie's story: she's growing up from the little girl we saw in Sin-Eater, and I won't repeat what I said then. (This post is long enough already.) The background details do make more sense if you come to Talisman in series order, though. Talisman is a story about the youth of an artist, which many artists are compelled to tell -- McNeil does a good job of it, and her quirky world makes it specific and individual.

The most important thing for me to note at the end here is that I'm going to be actively seeking out Finder Library, Vol. 2. Some of the world-building might annoy me, but that always happens. McNeil's people are real and have complicated flaws, her world is big and intricate and clearly is full of details she already knows that might never make it into a story, and her drawing is crisp and evocative and sophisticated. It's good, real SF in comics form, which is rare, and it's SF focused on people (often women) in a complex world, which is even rarer.


[1] How can there be a clan that specializes in "police" if there's no government above them? They'd just be the street gang that runs the town, from their monopoly on violence. I'm hoping McNeil eventually explains the governance of this world, because so far I see nothing to keep one clan from eliminating another, or any mechanisms other than violence to solve inter-clan disputes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #303: I Die at Midnight by Kyle Baker

Some historical moments date much faster than others, and that can be deeply amusing if you lived through them. Y2K is the great recent example: it was a huge deal before it happened, and was forgotten and ignored almost immediately afterward when the popularized apocalypse failed to actually happen.

Kyle Baker's graphic novel I Die at Midnight is one of the small breed of Millennial Thrillers, set on New Year's Eve of 1999. Amusingly, it was even published in a Y2K style, with a big "V2K Vertigo" imprint at the top left that everyone has since forgotten that DC's Vertigo ever used at all. Interestingly, it has a copyright date of 2000, which makes it a late entry in this derby: most of your Millennial Thrillers came out in 1997-1999 to capitalize on the hype beforehand and promise horrible world-ending terrors on that fateful night.

Baker, though, is working on a smaller canvas: I Die is the story of one man, one evening, and the race to get an antidote to the overdose he just took.

Larry is that man: Muriel left him recently, and so he's going to end it all on New Year's Eve. But then she returns to him, right after he swallows the whole bottle of pills. And since nothing can go right in a comic thriller -- which is definitely what I Die at Midnight is -- he can't get those pills out of his system until it's too late, and his only hope is to meet up with a doctor acquaintance with that antidote before midnight, when it will be too late to save him. Midnight, of course, is only forty minutes away. And the only way they can meet in time is right in between where they are...which is, coincidentally, Times Square.

There are other complications, of course. There have to be. They are funny, and at least plausible, and they keep this story barreling forward exactly the way they need to. And the story ends the way it needs to.

I Die at Midnight is not a major Baker work. But it's fast and funny and full of amusing moments and Easter eggs in the art. (Times Square in particular is awash in billboards for various Baker properties, mostly but not all in their imagined movie versions -- I wished the book was physically larger so I could get a better look at all of the goofy stuff there.) And it will be funnier the more you remember the Y2K hoopla.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #302: Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 5 by The Hernandez Brothers

This book sat on my shelves for six years since it was published in 2012. Somewhere around the time of my 2011 flood, I decided it would be a good idea to re-read Love and Rockets from the beginning, and for some reason -- I can't explain my own thinking sometimes -- that meant that I would stop reading the current stuff until I could "catch up" from the beginning.

I'm not saying it was a good plan.

This year, with "I Love (And Rockets) Mondays," I finally did get to that big re-read, and almost twenty weeks into it, I've finally gotten back to 2012. That's a lot of delay for what turned out to be another quiet, transitional issue, but, finally, I'm here to tell you about Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 5.

There are eight stories in this volume, four each from Jaime and Gilbert -- both are working with material related to the stories in previous New Stories volumes, but at a bit of a distance. There's still exactly a hundred pages of comics this time, but 60 of those pages are from Gilbert and 40 from Jaime.

Gilbert's stories still mix fiction and metafiction and focus on Killer, who is visiting Palomar for the first two stories -- driven by family stories, and loving the atmosphere there -- and then back in LA for the two shorter stories at the end. The long second story, "Proof That the Devil Loves You," mixes a pretentious Fritz horror B-movie, full of long-winded speeches, with Killer's visit to Palomar what seems to be several years after that movie was made, with various odd parallels.

(I still don't quite get why Gilbert spends so much time making fake bad movies in comics form, but it's clearly an idiosyncratic art form he is passionate about.)

Jaime steps back from the events of "The Love Bunglers" in the last two issues and introduces a new viewpoint character, Tonta, who is the half-sister of human wrecking ball Vivian "the Frogmouth." We don't know that at first when we meet her in the story titled after her name, but then she and the Frogmouth get caught up with "Crime Raiders International Mobsters and Executioners" -- or, well, a local rich guy and minor gangster who owns the local country club. Mel Spropp is having an affair with Viv, or maybe is planning to -- what actually happens here is that his goons keep coming over, stash a gun at her place, and Spropp keeps calling her only to hang up. As usual, Vivian is the center of endless drama for no good reason, and Tonta, our goofball viewpoint character, is just along for the ride.

There's also a short story here, "Uh...Oh Yeah" which may be from Ray's point of view, and may be set after "The Love Bunglers," though it's not clear on either front. Otherwise, Jaime's half of New Stories 5 is all the Tonta and Viv show. Tonta is drawn in a slightly goofy style: I'm not sure if she's just supposed to be ugly (to go along with being naive and a bit stupid) or if her old-lady face means something else. She's just a weird character.

Again, these are mostly smaller stories, minus that weird metafictional mix in the Gilbert "Devil" story, that do a little more character work and move the timeline a little further forward. And whether that;'s a good thing or not I guess depends on how you see New Stories. If it's a periodical, just in a different format, than that's what you'd expect: not every issue will be major. But if you think it's something different and important because it's in book form, then it might be disappointing.

As with everything in life, it's all how you look at it.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 10/27/18

One book this week, from the Library. And it is...

The Prince and The Dressmaker, a new graphic novel this year from Jen Wang, creator of Koko Be Good and artist for the Cory Doctorow-written In Real Life. (And that reminds me, once again, how hard a graphic-novel-focused career must be -- if you put out one book every four years, much like a literary novelist does, it's got to be not only really good, but really lucky to hit the market at the right time.)

It's something of a fable, set in a Paris "at the dawn of the modern age" but in no specific year, with our central character the ahistorical Prince Sebastian, dashing and eligible and sixteen...and possessed of a central secret. Since the second central character is his dressmaker, it's not too hard to guess what that secret is -- but I understand that, in this book, it's primarily a case of dressing rather than being (or wanting to be, or turning into, or anything along those lines). That almost feels quaint, these days -- a story about someone wanting to pretend or playact rather than about someone becoming who they really are. But, then again, many more of us want to pretend to be different things than want to utterly transform ourselves.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #301: What a Long Strange Strip It's Been by Keith Knight

I'm a big fan of irony. So I'm happy to report that What a Long Strange Strip It's Been is a collection from 2002 of a weekly strip that started sometime in the '90s (I can't find any exact date, online or in this book) and is still running today.

So, yes, K Chronicles is long -- I'll let the creator's statement about strangeness stand, and not comment -- but it's been much longer since this book was published than it was beforehand.

Ah, cheap irony: isn't it lovely?

Anyway, this was a collection of the "K Chronicles" strips by Keith Knight from what seems to be a two-and-a-half year period covering something like 1999-2001. The strips are each presented on a single page here, which gives a decent amount of space to these multi-panel, filled-with-words extravaganzas. (They could have been even bigger, frankly -- if the book was an inch or two larger each dimension, it wouldn't hurt. Could show off Knight's artwork, as well.)

K Chronicles is somewhere in the the no-man's-land between political cartoon and slice-of-life: some strips are about Knight's everyday life, some are about current political issues, and some are odder, idiosyncratic things, such as the periodic "Life's Little Victories" strips. That's a good thing when reading a collection of the strip -- there might be two weeks in a row that are on similar topics, but that's fairly rare, and Knight usually bounces to something else right afterward. It gives Long Strange Strip a breadth that's uncommon in a strip collection: most creators stick more closely to a specific remit.

Of course, that's true for K Chronicles in general, and there are probably (does quick math) a dozen other collections of that strip of about this size out there, or potentially out there, for you to enjoy. Keith Knight is good at this, smart, has good drawing chops and a grounded, particular viewpoint to work from. Go find his stuff.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #300: In Other Words by Christopher J. Moore

Book people like words, for obvious reasons. Some of us even "collect" words -- using some more often than anyone else, or going out of their way to use an obscure word when a simple one would do.

That can be fun or tedious, depending on how often it's done, who does it, and how inherently annoying the word is. But, if it's something you like to do, you'll need places to find new words.

If you're one of those people, I can recommend this book: In Other Words by Christopher J. Moore. The subtitle is "A Language Lover's Guider to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World," which pretty well describes the purpose: it collects a hundred or so words that have distinct and unique meanings in their native tongues that can't easily be translated into English.

It was published in 2004 by Walker, apparently for the yuppie writing supply company Levenger, and it looks like a heavily-designed book made for self-satisfied people willing to drop a couple of Benjamins on a single pen.

That isn't necessarily bad, but it seeps into the tone of the text to some degree -- from subtle things like Chapter 9 covering "Indigenous Languages," as if the vast majority of the languages earlier in the book were alien to the people who speak them, to the self-satisfied comments about "Asian" ways of thinking in other chapters.

Luckily, no one is going to read In Other Words for Christopher Moore's cross-cultural insights. We're all here for things like duende and tovarishch and sempai and koyaanisqatsi -- words that we can use, that mean specific things that we understand (more or less), and that are quicker than the phrase we'd otherwise need in English.

In Other Words is good for those: it's divided into ten chapters, each of which covers one group of languages, vaguely in descending order of number of speakers and/or how well-known they already are to English-speaking people. (Though Ancient and Classical Languages is the eighth chapter, and I hope Latin is still better-known than that.) Each chapter has a Moore introduction about how special that particular language is -- this descends into cultural cliches pretty regularly, but it pretty much has to -- and then has a number of words, each with a paragraph or three about what they mean and how native speakers use them.

So it does not have a lot of words in its 127 pages; the full list of terms covered fits neatly into a four-page "Word Finder" at the end. But Moore gives each of those words enough context that the reader can use them, at least in a half-understanding way, in an English conversation. And that is what we would want out of it anyway. So In Other Words is entertaining and useful for word lovers, providing a sense of uitbuiken in the end.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #299: The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes

It took me thirty years to read this novel. I don't know why.

(Well, not having a copy for some of those years was a proximate reason. But it's a book I knew about, from two directions, and was interested in for all that time.)

I did my college thesis partially on Ambrose Bierce (along with Poe and Lovecraft) and read all of his stories at least twice during those years. (And some of his other things, too -- the Vassar library had a complete copy of his collected works from about 1910, in more than a dozen big volumes.) And I had a class on Latin American Literature in Translation [1], where I think I read at least one other Fuentes novel, among other things.

So I am totally the guy who should have read The Old Gringo around about 1990 or so. But I didn't. Maybe the Gregory Peck movie from 1989 drove me away? (More than once in my life I have seemed to avoid reading books because they were made into movies.)

Since The Old Gringo was written in Spanish, one of the many languages I do not read, I should note that I read the English translation credited to "Margaret Sayers Peden and the author," which is probably the only one extant at this point.

Who is "The Old Gringo?" Ambrose Bierce, who actually was the grumpy misanthropic San Franciscan with a big white mustache that Mark Twain is sometimes accused of being, ran off in 1913 at the age of 71 to see the Mexican Revolution first hand. His two sons had both died before him, and his wife had divorced him and then died herself a few years before. He disappeared entirely sometime in December, and no one knows what happened to him.

(Well, he died, obviously. Probably right then, maybe a bit later, at the outmost fringes of possibility some years afterward. But a man who was 71 in 1913 is definitely dead at this point, and was definitely dead even in the mid-60s when Fuentes started thinking about this story.)

In his novel, Fuentes tells the story of an "Old Gringo," a cynical American Civil War veteran seeing the war in Mexico, carrying two of his own books, whose name is not mentioned except once at the very end of the book. But, yes, we know who he is. The Old Gringo is at the center of the novel, alongside two others: the rebel General Tomas Arroyo and the thirtyish American woman Harriet Winslow, hired to be the live-in governess/teacher for the children of a rich family that fled ahead of the rebel army.

(I am very tempted to call the Bierce character "the OG" from this point forward, but it feels like a bad decision. I might do it anyway.)

The story takes place almost entirely while the forces under Arroyo are camped at the mansion of that rich family who hired Harriet. Arroyo is the bastard son of the tyrannical father of that family, and many of his soldiers were other workers on that man's land -- kept in semi-official bondage, peons or serfs or whatever you want to call them.

Arroyo is out for revenge, to wipe the slate clean and make himself a new man. Harriet is out for respect, to stand on her own two feet after a bad failed engagement back in Washington, DC, and also is yearning for a father figure.

Bierce wants to die. But he wants to die well, romantically -- perhaps by firing squad, perhaps in battle. He wants to die, to read the Quixote before he does, and to leave an attractive corpse behind.

The Old Gringo is the story of how these three characters circle each other, and how they all get, in the end, what they need, and perhaps even what they want. There are other characters, but they're not as important: enablers and spear-carriers and camp followers and hangers-on. This book tells the story of that triangle, young man and woman and old man.

It is a literary novel, so even its exteriors are interiors. Buildings are metaphors, histories are impediments, conversations are elliptical. This is not a straightforward story, and it's not told straightforwardly: it is all remembered by "the woman" some years later, and so a reader can assume a layer of unreliable narrator on top of everything else if he wishes.

But it's a novel of places and people and fathers, of the drive to do the things you feel you must do, and the conflict for the soul of Mexico. And it's good at exploring all of those things.


[1] I'm sorry to say that, as a callow and thoughtless young man, I generally referred to this as my "wetback" class.

Quote of the Week

"They were all annoying and deeply inadequate humans, but I didn't want to kill them. Okay, maybe a little."
 - Murderbot, p.13 of Martha Wells's Rogue Protocol

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #298: American Century, Vols. 1 & 2 by Chaykin, Tischman, Laming, & Stokes

Here's a lesson I could stand to learn: if I pick up a book in a field I've been following reasonably closely for my entire adult life, and that book came out during my adult life, and I can't remember hearing anything in particular about it, it's very likely that's because the book is not actually all that good.

But let me pretend to change the subject!

Today I'm here to talk about American Century, a Vertigo series from around the turn of the millennium, written by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman and with art by Marc Laming and John Stokes. I found the first two collections of this series randomly a couple of months ago, and, since I'm reading everything I can get my hands on for this Book-A-Day run, they went into the hopper before too long.

I had, as far as I could remember, never heard of American Century. Now I know why.

Our Standard Chaykin Asshole this time is named Harry Block, and he's the usual mid-career Chaykin hero: unsatisfied with his quiet suburban life in 1949, cheated on obviously by his mouthy, demanding, hot-to-trot wife [1], and called up for the growing conflict in Korea. So he bugs out, and American Century sets up to be the story of how he wanders through various unpleasant episodes in history over the next however-many years. In the end -- I see from looking it up on the Comic Book DB -- there were twenty-seven issues, but only the first nine were collected into these two books.

And that's probably because this is dull, difficult-to-follow, and boring. Harry Block should have been the American Harry Flashman, but Chaykin-and-Tischman aren't Fraser, and even pure Chaykin would probably have gone in the same direction.

The two books are Scars & Stripes and Hollywood Babylon; I do not recommend that you seek them out.

In the first one, Harry changes his last name to Kraft and flies planes for smugglers in Guatemala during a simmering civil war between the American-backed government and Communist insurgents, with a side order of the evil profiteering US Fruit Company. Chaykin and Tischman make this boring, and Laming and Stokes manage to make a naked woman look unrealistic, which I thought was impossible for a mainstream comics team.

Hollywood Babylon brings Harry back to the states, to LA obviously, and to more Chaykinesque intrigue, this time among movie stars and a US Senator and a gossip columnist. This is also dull, and Harry only peripherally involved in any of it. (He also doesn't narrate the stories as strongly as I think he's supposed to: his voice isn't distinctive and it isn't pervasive.)

You've probably never heard of American Century. There's a reason for that. I recommend you let it be forgotten once again.


[1] Remember that all of those things are bad in Chaykin-land: women should do what men tell them to do, and only be sexpot with the hero when he demands it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Stupid Arguments

I'm in the middle of writing about Peter Bagge's 2009 book Everybody Is Stupid Except For Me, and I have to hive off this thought, because it is completely separate from a general view of the book. And this is not meant as an insult to Bagge, since I've seen versions of this argument many places.

But it is a deeply stupid argument.

Anyway, at the top of page 16, Bagge writes:
My folks wisely refused to buy me a gun of my own, and I can't believe anyone would leave a real gun within a child's reach. Tragically, there are some who do. But how can the government regulate such stupidity? Answer: it can't.
Total bullshit from the ground up. Let me demonstrate.

Murder:
I've never killed anybody, and I can't believe anyone would. Tragically, there are some who do. But how can the government regulate such stupidity? Answer: it can't.

Drunk Driving:
I've never killed anyone while driving drunk, and I can't believe anyone would. Tragically, there are some who do. But how can the government regulate such stupidity? Answer: it can't.

Rape:
I've never forced anybody into sex, and I can't believe anyone would. Tragically, there are some who do. But how can the government regulate such stupidity? Answer: it can't.

Toxic Waste:
I've never released industrial waste into a source of drinking water, and I can't believe anyone would. Tragically, there are some who do. But how can the government regulate such stupidity? Answer: it can't.

Animal Cruelty:
I've never tortured an animal, and I can't believe anyone would. Tragically, there are some who do. But how can the government regulate such stupidity? Answer: it can't.

Bribery:
I've never killed accepted money from Russian oligarchs to do their bidding after I became President, and I can't believe anyone would. Tragically, there are some who do. But how can the government regulate such stupidity? Answer: it can't.

This argument can be used for literally any human activity, and it is an argument that all law is useless. No one who makes this argument actually believes that; they just want to dismiss the possibility of controlling a facet of human activity they want to remain uncontrolled for other reasons.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, and utterly transparent. Do not make this argument; do not allow others to make it in your presence. It is an argument for anarchy.

In fact, if you're really ballsy, punch people in the face when they try to lay this one on you and then say "How can you regulate such stupidity? Answer: you can't."

And then go to jail for battery because, surprise!, we do regulate all of that shit.

Book-A-Day 2018 #297: The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag

I spent years in the story mines as an editor, reading bits and pieces of stories so I could reject them more quickly. That gave me a level of cynicism about standard plots and tropes that most mortals can only dream of -- which is nice if you think of it as a superpower, but not so nice if you realize that it means I enjoy a lot of things a lot less than people who haven't been through that kind of work.

And I find that reaction comes out most strongly when I'm looking at books for younger readers. It's only natural that those books rely on time-proven ideas and feature sturdy, recognizable characterization and center on plots that are equally mythic in structure. That's what that audience needs, and it's electric when it's done well.

But my mind tends to focus on ticking all the boxes on an "I've Seen This Before" checklist. And I need to remind that mind that I'm not the audience, and this standard Startling Reversal will not only actually be startling to most readers, but exactly the thing those readers need to see.

So I'm going to try not to grump about Molly Knox Ostertag's The Witch Boy, which is lovely and positive and thrilling in ways that were a lot more familiar to me than they will be to the kids who need this story today.

It's set in our world, the secret history version -- Aster is a preteen, and his family, and a few others, have a tradition of magic, which of course means they are the secret protectors of all mankind. All of the boys grow up to be shapeshifters; all of the girls grow up to be witches -- they can be nothing else. But Aster wants to be a witch, and has never had a dream of animal spirits.

He keeps trying to eavesdrop on the girls' lessons, keeps getting caught, keeps being taught that what he feels he must do is wrong -- and is soon told that his grandmother's twin brother tried to become a witch, became a menace, and had to be driven away by force.

You know where this is going, right?

Ostertag gives Aster a big family full of people with interesting faces, and a new friend in the  non-magic side of town. And she makes this very traditional journey new and true for a generation of young people growing up right now who might be told that what they feel they must do is wrong.

(Is the opposite lesson that whatever you feel most strongly must be right? Well, there's time enough to refute that in other books.)

If you're over the age of twenty-five, this is probably not a story you need to be told: you know it already. But there are thousands of people under that age -- more every year -- who do need to be told it. And The Witch Boy, coming from Scholastic and looking bright and shiny with Ostertag's awesome art, will be there in libraries and schoolrooms and book fairs across the country for them to find.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #296: Sabrina by Nick Drnaso

I wasn't prepared for this book.

I knew it was on the Booker longlist, the first work of comics ever to be placed there. I'd sort-of read Drnaso's previous book, Beverly. (I read a damaged copy from a library, with a number of pages missing.) I skimmed the glowing quotes on the back cover, from people like Zadie Smith and Jonathan Lethem.

But Sabrina hits deceptively hard. Nick Drnaso's quiet, thin lines and flat colors makes a world that almost looks plastic, and then his rounded lettering drags the reader directly into the story. Everything is seen from a distance, and yet it's live-wire immediate. There's a coldness to Drnaso's work, but one that's absolutely necessary to keep it all bearable.

About halfway through Sabrina, I had the thought "if Don DeLillo made graphic novels, they'd look like this." I don't think that's an original thought, but it's a fair comparison: Drnaso has that level of intensity of gaze, that chilliness of affect, and that ability to present the extremities of modern life unflinchingly.

Sabrina is a young woman living in Chicago. Very early in this book, something happens -- what, exactly, we don't know for a while. But the whole book is about the echoes of that event. The story follows characters mostly at one remove from her: not her boyfriend but the old friend the boyfriend is now living with. They are all changed, and none of them have the emotional language to talk about it directly. They all speak in the words we all use and see used a million times, the standard language for standard horrors.

Sabrina is full of dialogue: the mundane conversations of everyday life. But they're overlain with the tension of that one event, leaving each one of his characters alone in a dark and troubling world. This is an ominous book, full of things that can't be spoken and things that shouldn't be spoken.

This is a real novel in comics form, with the heft and importance of the best fiction and the immediacy of everyday life. It looks simple and plain on the surface, but it tells us vastly more than it says, and implies entire worlds.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #295: Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 4 by The Hernandez Brothers

2011's installment of Love and Rockets was very much the continuation of the year before: Jaime finishes up "The Love Bunglers" here, in four devastating chapters, and Gilbert continues to circle Hollywood with his characters Fritzi and Killer in two stories, one of them "fictional" within the world of Love and Rockets and one of them "real."

That's a good question, though: what is real? I still have my questions about the end of "Love Bunglers," which has an element that I'm afraid is not exactly real.

(From poking through The Love and Rockets Companion, I'm guessing it is real, but I'm still withholding final judgment until I actual read later stories. It is so parallel to the end of L&R Vol. 1 that I don't trust it. It's also so much a wish-fulfillment for both characters and audience that it's deeply out of character for Jaime's work.)

So this is Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 4. The stories more or less alternate here, though it starts and ends with Jaime.

I've written about "Love Bunglers" twice recently in this series -- just last week and when I read the revised version in Angels and Magpies a few weeks before that. I don't have much new to say about it this time, though it lays out interestingly in this book: Part Three opens with a one-page vignette about two unnamed long-married characters -- I don't think we've ever seen them before, or are meant to recognize them -- with the woman's thought overlaid as captions. And that moment is strongly parallel with the end of the book, a scene with Maggie and Ray. That's not as obvious when the whole story is collected, and speaks to how Jaime planned the effect of the stories in a particular serial installment of L&R.

On the Gilbert side, "King Vampire" is another movie presented in comics form. Confusingly, it seems to star Killer as the young vampire wanna-be and Fritzi as an older vampire in a parallel plot, but the other Gilbert story in this volume, "And Then Reality Kicks In," is a discussion between Fritzi and an unnamed guy about "the vampire project," which won't happen until she gets out of her current seven-year contract. So "King Vampire" is a movie from the future of Gilbert's continuity, or something.

"King Vampire" is pulpy, violent, and full of sex, of course -- that's generally the point of Gilbert's "movie" stories.

"And Then Reality Kicks In" is quieter, showing one long conversation that's about more than it shows on the surface. If I remembered who that guy was, it would probably be a bit more meaningful to me, but I find the men of this era of Gilbert's work to be pretty colorless and interchangeable.

Next week I'll have a full book Love and Rockets stories from 2012 that I've never read before: this one was half-new, but from here forward it's all stuff I haven't read. It's weird how you can realize you haven't read one of your favorite comic series for close to a decade....

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 10/20

This week, I once again have books from two categories -- but this time it's Publicity and Library. And I'll take them in that order, as usual:

Publicity

I don't think I've read a book by Lavie Tidhar yet, though I have several of them now -- both in print and on a device in loose-electrons form. And now I have another opportunity, since Tachyon Publications has just published his new novel Unholy Land in paperback, and was kind enough to send me a copy. It's set mostly in Palestina, a Jewish state in East Africa founded in the early 20th century and focuses on Lior Trosh, who the back cover describes as a "semi-successful author of pulp fiction" and "an inadvertent time traveler." And this clearly will not be the only world that he sees before the novel is over.

How to Fracture a Fairy Tale is a new collection of Jane Yolen's stories -- with a particular theme I hope you've already realized. Inside are twenty-eight stories originally published from 1978 through 2011, with notes and related poetry, connected to each story, about the fairy tales she fractured along the way, which are mostly new to this book.

Crush is the third graphic novel about the kids of Berrybrook Middle School by Svetlana Chmakova, after Awkward and Brave. And, just this moment, typing those titles, I realized that she's going in alphabetical order, Sue Grafton-style. I liked the first two books, even though my own middle-school days were so long ago they called it "junior high" back then. Actual middle schoolers, I understand, like them even better.

Library

Hey, remember Kristen Gudsnuk? Did a quirky supervillain book called Henchgirl, which I read recently? Well, she had a new graphic novel for younger readers this year, and it's called Making Friends. (So consider this the transition between the Publicity and Library sections -- synchronicity!) I don't think it's about a group of teen girls who decide to build the perfect best friend in science lab, but it would be awesome if it was.

I'm pretty sure I read Promethea, Book 1 -- written by Alan Moore with art by J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray -- but that was in the before-time, when I didn't have a blog, so it barely counts. I don't have strong memories of it, but maybe this time will take.

And last is Lumberjanes, Vol. 5: Band Together, written by Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters and then by Watters with Kat Leyh, and with art by Brooke Allen and then Carolyn Nowak. I am so not the audience for these books, but I keep reading them.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #294: All the Answers by Michael Kupperman

Anyone who does a graphic novel about his father's secrets and history has a long shadow to contend with. (It's art spiegelman's Maus, in case you've forgotten.) The closer that father was to WWII, the clearer the parallels. If the father was Jewish...even more so.

Now, a creator doesn't have to engage with that at all: it's probably best if they don't, actually. But it'll be there in the back of every reader's head, just like any story with a  whale will evoke Moby Dick and a guy wandering around Dublin Ulysses.

Michael Kupperman's father Joel was a child prodigy, nationally famous at the age of five for appearing on the radio show Quiz Kids. He was shoved into it by a domineering mother, and basically lost his childhood to performing as a child genius. And, once he got out, he tried to ignore it for the rest of his life, never talking about his time in show biz. And, obviously in retrospect, Joel Kupperman was guided and "controlled" in his career as a boy genius in part because it just made a good story and partly because he was Jewish.

Michael always wondered about that history, and finally dug into it in the last few years, as his father retired, slowed down, and slid into dementia. All the Answers is the result: as much as he could pull together fifty years later from the memories of a reticent, failing old man, from yellowing hidden scrapbooks, and from his own research.

Kupperman has a stark, almost blunt art style, with a look of being based closely on photos and other reference. That gives a documentary air to the proceedings most of the time, though he draws himself subtly differently than the other characters, with hooded, staring eyes. (Is that just how he draws himself? Or is a particular metaphor for this book? I'm hoping the latter, since it's a subtle, ingenious device if deliberate.)

There's a framing story set in the current day, but most of All the Answers tells the story of young Joel during WWII and the years right afterward. Since Joel never did talk about those days, Michael was left to piece it together from news reports, family stories, and the scrapbooks he discovered while searching his father's office. That also adds to the documentary feeling: this isn't a story Joel is telling us -- he couldn't tell it to anyone, and spent his life trying to forget it -- but a story that had to be figured out by others. This is a reported story rather than an eyewitness story.

What Joel had seems pretty nice from the outside: adulation, minor fame, hobnobbing with the  famous and glamorous. But he seems to have hated it almost from the start, and did any of it purely because of his mother. And then there's the whole question of how honest any of those early quiz or game shows were -- Quiz Kids seems to have been on the relatively honest side, which is to say they didn't actively hand answers to the kids they preferred. But all of those shows had things that were more important than honest games -- making a good show, excitement, promoting the right kind of people -- and even Quiz Kids fell into that.

All the Answers isn't the story of who Joel Kupperman was as a kid: that's lost forever. It's not personal; Michael Kupperman had to pull this all together from secondhand sources. Joel is himself the hole at the center of his own life, the thing his son is trying to fill and understand. So this book will tell us what happened, and something of what it might have meant. But it can't tell us what Joel felt; there's nothing in the world that can tell us that anymore, since Joel himself is incapable of it.

But this book will tell us what we can know. And that's going to have to be enough.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #293: Young Men in Spats by P.G. Wodehouse

It takes a certain panache to start a story like this: "Two Eggs and a couple of Beans were having a leisurely spot in the smoking-room of the Drones Club, when a Crumpet came in and asked if anyone present wanted to buy a practically new copy of Tennyson's poems." And some readers -- I find them most common in the SF world, where they've been trained to take every word literally and make logical inferences from those literal meanings -- will trip badly over frivolous metaphors like that and grumpily retire immediately.

But for those who enjoy frivolous metaphors, and frivolity in all of its many manifestations, P.G. Wodehouse is the undisputed master. And the story that begins that way, "Trouble Down in  Tudsleigh," is right in the middle of a string of similar gems in the master's 1936 book of loosely related stories, Young Men in Spats.

Most of the eleven stories here are told by and about various members of the Drones Club, concerning their love troubles. Most prominent among that cast of young idiots are Freddie Widgeon and Reginald "Pongo" Twistleton-Twistleton -- though the Drones also includes young gentlemen named things like Barmy and Stiffy. The last three stories are from a different but similar series of Wodehouse stories, in which Mr. Mulliner tells the assembled drinkers of the Angler's Rest about the love travails of some of his many nephews, which are very much the same sort of thing.

To illustrate the level of frivolity, consider the cover story, "The Amazing Hat Mystery." Percy Wimbolt and Nelson Cork both got new top hats from Bodmin's, who as all well know axiomatically provide a perfect fit. They accidentally receive the other's hat, each break up with their respective girlfriends over those ill-fitting hats, exchange hats again unknowingly, and each take up with the other's ex, clearing the way for joy and nuptials all around.

This is obviously quite silly, and Wodehouse knows it. That's the whole point of Wodehouse: his world is a sunny, unreal one buoyed by his musical language and perfectly constructed artificial plots. His best story collections, of which this is one, show him working through variations on a basic plot -- in this case: young man is in love, encounters difficulties, comes out the other end -- with enthusiasm and verve.

Wodehouse is the premier writer to read when the world is too real and too unpleasant, one who will always be there to usher us into a land where young men are always dull but true, young women always beautiful and burdened by unpleasant relatives, and troubles are only there to be overcome.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #292: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

This is not a collection of the Squirrel Girl comic. Somehow, in 2016, while I think they were also putting out the regular comic monthly, creators Ryan North (words) and Eric Henderson (pictures) also created this unpaged-but-clearly-at-least-a-hundred-pages-long OGN as well.

I'm not totally clear on where it fits into continuity, if you're looking to read it in sequence with the regular comic -- I came to it after Vol. 5, which feels a little late. (Doreen's newish friend Brain Drain is completely missing, through Koi Boy and Chipmunk Hunk are here.)

What is this thing? Well, it's The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe, and SG's tone is much closer to Fred Hembeck than the Punisher in the piling-up-the-bodies-on-the-cover competition. (Deadpool, as usual, wants to have it both ways: to be gritty and funny.)

And there is an asterisk: it's not our Squirrel Girl, the indomitable Doreen Green, who beats up all of the heroes in the MU, but her evil twin.

Well, maybe not evil twin. Will you accept misguided? Single-minded? Squirrel-obsessed? Well-meaning but unwilling to compromise? Maybe all of those things.

Anyway, that's the deal: there's a mysterious science artifact, which of course Tony Stark is poking at, since that's what he does. And it sucks in our heroine Doreen Green and spits out two of her.

Foiling the usual expectations, they both know which one is the original: the one on the right. (Because they both remember being the one on the right, and one of them is now on the left.) Similarly, the duplicate, swiftly calling herself Allene from their shared middle name, is not obviously evil, and the two of them joyfully team up to fight crime...and then hatch an even bigger plan to use squirrels to make the world a utopia, using the language of computer programming.

(It all makes sense in context, trust me. Though the context is "a Marvel Universe book substantially sillier and more obsessed with computer science than its peers.")

But, inevitably, Doreen and Alleen fall out over means and ends, as good and evil twins always must. And Alleen is possessed of all of the spunk and gumption and unbeatable-ness of the original, so she does -- as the title promises -- defeat ninety-nine-point-something-or-other percent of the heroes in the MU and send them into the Phantom Zone Negative Zone. And all seems lost.

But all can't be lost for the heroine of an ongoing series, so you know it works out right in the end, with all of the MU folks brushed off and returned to their rightful places in time for the next issue of their own comics, never to speak of the time they were banished to the Negative Zone by Evil Squirrel Girl.

This is a pleasant exercise in the "my character can beat up your character" derby, but the superhero-furniture stuff (oh, no! all looks blackest before the dawn! how can I manage to defeat {insert overwhelming villain here!}) has always been the weakest and least interesting part of Squirrel Girl, and that's the core focus of this book. We don't get a lot of characterization of the main cast, since Ryan and Henderson have to shoehorn in every MU character they were approved to mention, and the book is a long collection of short fight scenes.

They're funny fight scenes, granted. Beats Up is amusing in the Scintillating Squirrel Girl manner; it's just not as good as the heights of the regular book. It's just that we've seen this "everybody fights" plot so many times before, and there's only so many changes North and Henderson can ring on it.

If you like Squirrel Girl, grab this in the middle -- I'd suggest trying it after Vol. 4 of the regular series. But it's not the place to start and it may be faintly disappointing.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #291: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 7: Damage Per Second by Wilson, Andolfo, Miyazawa, and Herring

This will probably be the last time you see me grumble about Ms. Marvel. I just checked the local library system, and they do not have the next volume -- the NYPL might, since it is vast and contains multitudes, but I don't have the easy access to that system that I had when I actually worked in NYC. [1]

And that's fine, because Ms. Marvel seems to have lost whatever was particularly distinctive about it in the beginning, aside from the bare fact that the heroine is brown and Muslim. (And even that is mostly stated at this point, rather than actually being germane to the plots and characterization.) Yes, Kamala Khan is officially a teenage Muslim girl from Jersey City, but the stories here don't feature her family at all, her community is shown in very generic ways, and it's leaning much more into the teenager-ness than anything else -- which, as you know Bob, does not particularly distinguish Kamala from other teen-genius heroes like Nova and Spider-Man.

Anyway: Ms. Marvel, Vol. 7: Damage Per Second. Written as always by G. Willow Wilson, and collecting issues 13-18 of the 2016 series, with art by Mirka Andolfo (#13), Takeshi Miyazawa (#14-17) and Francesco Gaston (#18).

In which the stretchy Jersey girl drives voter turnout (in an issue cover-dated January 2017?), battles the ultimate Internet troll, and then briefly cedes the spotlight to her former best friend Bruno Carrelli.

That first story...well, it means well, I suppose, but it is very comic-booky in all of the bad ways, from a transparently villainous plot by transparently villainous actors to a happy ending based entirely on the fact that Kamala is the title star of the book. And its message -- that you can stop all of the bad political things you hate and get the perfect snowflake candidate you absolutely love -- is stupid and wrong-headed and entirely contrary to the actual world of real politics. But, yeah, vote for the librarian who has no chance of winning if a girl in a mask tells you to....

The long title story is one of those standard superhero exercises: how do you fight someone you can't punch? And for a girl who is supposedly really smart and going to a super-sciencey school, Kamala has a really hard time coming up with any strategies to fight this new dastardly villain (a sentient computer virus, basically). Of course it all works out in the end, and of course it will have no effects on anything -- it is a superhero story.

And then the book wraps up with a solo adventure of Bruno at Golden City Polytechnic Prep, Wakanda, where he is apparently both the token White Guy and the token Dumb Guy. Sadly, this issue tends to argue against my fervent hope that Bruno will turn up in another dozen issues as a super-villain with a gripe against Kamala, but I suppose I can keep hoping for a lucky lab accident. Instead, he learns Lessons About Life, mostly that every important character in a superhero comic is rich, powerful, connected, or some combination thereof.

With this volume, we see that Ms. Marvel can be dull and mediocre even without a crossover, which had been the initial source of the dullness in the title. I suspect, at this point, the stories inherent in this setup have been exhausted, and it's time to actually let life move on for Kamala and her friends and family. But, since this is a Big Two comic, I'm sure instead we'll get a Shocking Reversal, with someone dead or depowered or Superhero No More! or gender-swapped. But it'll have to happen without me; I think I'm done here.


[1] I do still have a NYPL card, because every self-respecting reader knows that you never give up a library card unless forced to.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #290: The Adventures of Tintin, Vol 2 by Herge

Return with us once again to the thrilling days of the interwar era! Thrill as a daring boy reporter foils villainous plots and confronts fiendish criminals! Experience the romance of rail and the heights of early commercial aviation! Muse at the drunkenness of children and animals repeatedly played for laughs! Note that natives and swarthy South Americans are actually less racist than you may have expected! See our hero work tirelessly to defeat rebels of all stripes and support military dictators and kings!

Yes, I read another omnibus of Tintin books. To repeat what I said about the first omnibus: I've never actually read Tintin before. (Americans mostly didn't grow up with him the way Europeans did.)

To repeat another thing I said: these omnibuses are substantially smaller than the original album size, which makes them nicely portable but not the best option for older, more tired eyes.

The Adventures of Tintin, Vol. 2 is "the green one," and collects books 6-8 of Herge's long-running and hugely successful series: The Broken Ear (serialized 1935-37, reprinted as a book 1937, colorized 1943), The Black Island (serialized '37-38, book '38, color '43 and revised '66), and King Ottakar's Sceptre (serialized '38-39, book '39, color '47).

Note that those dates are from the linked Wikipedia article and don't precisely match the copyright dates in the book itself -- the latter lists what may be further revised art in '84 for Ear and Island and '75 for Sceptre, plus what I think are the dates of the current English translations as '75, '66, and '58, respectively. So much of the racism (or other potentially-offensive material) whose absence I noted above might have been scrubbed quietly in the interim.

As before, Tintin is officially a reporter, but he doesn't do any reporting, or have any identifiable source of income. He seems to be an independently wealthy emancipated pre-teen, moderately famous -- so my half-serious guess is that he's a recently retired child star, whose parents are out of the picture after trying to steal his fortune.

All three of these stories send him globe-trotting -- first to a fictional South American country, then to England, and finally to a Ruritanian kingdom somewhere vaguely Eastern European. And our boy hero is in physical peril regularly from the various naughty sorts who are never strong, clever or quick enough to stop him. In the end, all of their schemes are foiled and they're captured by the legitimate authorities, often but not always incarnated as Tintin's most/least favorite detectives, Thomson and Thompson.

It's a sturdy formula, and Herge executed it well in these three books. (My guess is that he did it well consistently through his long career, but I don't want to speak for books I haven't read yet.) I still think this stuff is best if you encounter it when you're young and impressionable, but it's still rip-roaring fun for this man in his late forties.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #289: Chester & Grace: The Adirondack Murder by Rick Geary

Rick Geary is back, with a new book about a historical murder -- one that was the basis for Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy and a couple of classic movies.

But this is not a new book in the Treasury of Victorian Murder, or in the Treasury of XXth Century Murder -- it's one of the smaller one-off books that Geary has been publishing himself and promoting on Kickstarter, following The Elwell Enigma, The Story of the Lincoln County War, The Death of Billy the Kid, and Murder at the Hollywood Hotel. (And the even weirder The Secret Door at the White House, which, usually for Geary, is not about murder at all.)

So you won't find it in a bookstore; your best way to get it has already closed, since the Kickstarter campaign obviously ended a while ago. (It may turn up in his online store soon, but it's not there yet.)

Well, maybe I should take that "one-off" comment back: Chester & Grace: The Adirondack Mystery does proclaim itself to be the first in yet another series of Geary books about famous murders, the "Little Murder Library." I'm not sure if this means anything is changing with the other series, if he's now branding the things I'm calling "one-offs," or if it actually is yet another new series of historical murder stories from Geary. As with so many other things in the world, we will see what we will see. [1]

One July day in 1906, a young couple rent a rowboat at Hotel Glenmore on Big Moose Lake in upstate New York. They don't return that night, and a search eventually turns up the woman's body. She is identified as Grace Brown, an unmarried woman from Cortland (downstate). She was also pregnant. The man is believed to be her boyfriend, Chester Gillette, and he is soon found, identified as the man at Hotel Glenmore, and put on trial for Grace's murder.

Chester, of course, denies that he killed her, though his story changes somewhat. At first he denies ever being there, but eventually claims that she was distraught and threw herself out of the boat. And that he tried to save her, but it was in vain, and he couldn't even find her body and was so distraught by grief he just started walking in the wrong direction for several days.

The jury and judge do not find this convincing. Chester sees justice, in the usual way of the time: fried in the electric chair in 1908.

Geary is an old hand at telling these stories, and does it well here. He's working with softer colors than usual this time, possibly some kind of colored pencils or art crayons. But his precise lines and detailed schematics are the same as ever, and he has a knack for faces that are both subtly expressive and period-appropriate. As with the other self-published books, the text is set in a large, bold font as captions and text around his illustrations -- this is slightly less "comics" than his books about murder in the NBM-published series are.


[1] ObBadMovieQuote: "Future events like these will affect you...in the future!"

Probably the Nerdiest Joke I Will Ever Make

I happened to be cruising Locus's website this morning, and saw a banner at the top of the page:
...so, it's a thriller about modding Bethesda games?

Monday, October 15, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #288: Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 3 by The Hernandez Brothers

Comics are not movies: obviously. The two forms do have some things in common, and can use similar visual language -- they're both storytelling mediums with limited space for dialogue and various ingenious ways to show time passing, among other parallels.

But, even at best, they're parallel: they can do similar things in different ways. So when a creator continuously evokes cinema in his comics, as matter and style, the reader starts to wonder what is up.

By 2010's Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 3, Gilbert Hernandez had been telling movie-inspired stories for about a decade. His major character Fritzi had become a B-movie star, in at least a minor way, and he'd not only told stories about her life and work, but he'd "released" several of her "movies" as separate graphic novels: Chance in Hell (2007), Speak of the Devil (2008), The Troublemakers (2009). And, in the previous year's No. 2, he'd launched another young buxom starlet on a Hollywood career, in Dora "Killer" Rivera, daughter of Guadalupe and grand-niece of Fritzi.

Killer is back in Gilbert's two stories in No.3: "Scarlet in Starlight" is the comics version of what in-continuity is a ten-year-old SF movie that Killer is being considered for a sequel/remake of, and "Killer * Sad Girl * Star" explains that. They're both intensely late-Gilbert stories, full of people talking about the things that they want to talk about, having endless meta-conversations about the things they're doing and feeling and saying to each other. I'm finding this is getting more airless and hermetic at this point, as if Gilbert is circling the same material ever closer -- the re-run of Fritzi's movie career in miniature with Killer is another example -- and I hope he broke out of that cycle between then and now.

Jaime's half of No. 3 is the first two pieces of "The Love Bunglers" (set in the modern day) and the flashback "Browntown," part of the same overall story. I've already read the second half -- both in the Angels and Magpies omnibus a few weeks ago and in No. 4 this morning before I got to typing this very post -- so I'm mostly going to save my thoughts about that overall story for the conclusion.

But I will repeat what I said before: "Love Bunglers" is Jaime's masterwork, even more so than the previous high points like "Flies on the Ceiling" and "The Death of Speedy." And if you think this first half is emotionally strong, you don't know what you're in for.

(And I note that I, like nearly everyone else, found "Browntown" the standout when I read No. 3 new in 2010: none of us realized it was part of the same story of "Love Bunglers" and that the latter was not nearly as light as it seemed.)

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 10/13/18

This week I have books from Category Two (library) and Category Three (purchased), and here they are:

Category Two:

Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga, Vol. 3 by Jiro Kuwata -- I covered the first two volumes previously in these pages; these books collect Batman stories from Japan in the late '60s created in the wake of (and somewhat in the style of) the 1966 TV show. I think this is the end, and I think that these books -- unlike the hey-look-at-this-crazy-thing Chip Kidd book Bat-Manga that preceded them -- reprint the stories complete and in order, or at least as close to that as could be managed fifty years later.

Captain Marvel: Earth's Mightiest Hero, Vol. 2 by Kelly Sue DeConnick with Jen Van Meter and fourteen different artists, plus colorists and letterers. (See my post on the first volume.) This turns out to be more event-epic than I expected, collecting five issues of Cap's comic, issues of two different Avengers titles, and two Avenging Spider-Mans for good measure. So I expect I will not find this terribly to my tastes -- but I'm trying to read a book a day this year, and it's here, so I'm sure I will read it.

Verax: The True History of Whistleblowers, Drone Warfare, and Mass Surveillance by Pratap Chatterjee and Khalil. Chatterjee is the executive director of CorpWatch and author of two (prose) books on Haliburton and the Iraq war; Khalil is a political cartoonist and illustrator of the graphic novel Zahra's Paradise. It's about drones, to be very reductive -- the ones that spy on people and the ones that kill people.

Category Three:

Look Back and Laugh: Journal Comics by Liz Prince. This is, um, journal comics by Liz Prince, who has previously done books like Tomboy and Alone Forever and Delayed Replays.

3 Story is a new expanded edition of Matt Kindt's 2009 graphic novel, which I covered here not too long afterward.

Strong Female Protagonist, Book Two continues the story of Alison Green, former teen superhero, collecting another batch of strips from the webcomic. As with the first volume, it's written by Brennan Lee Mulligan and drawn by Molly Ostertag. I seem to only read this in print; the webcomics I read online I mostly don't buy print collections for. (I don't understand it; all I can do is try to describe it.)

Nexus Omnibus, Vol. 5 collects issues 53 to 65 of the '80s-'90s First series, plus issues 2-4 of the related Next Nexus series from the same time period. The book is credited to Mike Baron and Steve Rude, though a lot of the art inside isn't by Rude -- this is the period when he started to take longer and longer breaks from Nexus to do other work. (I recently covered the first nine Nexus Archives books -- a separate and slightly earlier reprint series -- and that made me want to get the back half of Nexus and read that through, too.)

Beanworld Omnibus, Vol. 1 is a giant slab of Larry Marder's quirky comic, collecting the first twenty-one issues of the Tales of the Beanworld comic, originally published from 1984 to 1993. I've heard about Beanworld since the mid-80s, but I've never actually read it -- it looks like the kind of thing I would like, so I don't have a good reason why it's taken so long to give it a chance. Well, except that the world is huge and full of more things than we can ever experience, no matter how much we want to.

Kaijumax, Season Three: King of the Monstas is, obviously, the third collection of Zander Cannon's kaiju-in-prison saga. You could check out my posts on the first two volumes, if you wanted to.

Memoirs of a Very Stable Genius is a collection of personal comics -- both multi-page comics-format stories and single panels -- by cartoonist Shannon Wheeler. It has, as far as I can tell, nothing to do directly with that other person who insists he is a very stable genius.

The Swords of Heaven, The Flowers of Hell is a 1979 graphic novel primarily by Howard Chaykin, from a Michael Moorcock outline, set in the world of Moorcock's Eternal Champion Cycle, subseries Erekose. I don't think I've ever read it, so this recent reprint was a good excuse to take a look.

And last is Dork by Evan Dorkin, a big fat collection of all of the comics from his miscellaneous comics series of the same name, which has had scattered issues for the last twenty-five (maybe more) years.