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.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #287: The Imitation Game by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis

I'm going to start out with a potted rant; regular visitors may want to skip it.

A graphic novel is not "by" the writer. It is not "illustrated" by the artist. It is an inherently collaborative work equally created by both of them. (Assuming there are only two: it could easily be more.) Crediting a book that way is a mistake: even if the writer does detailed thumbnails of every single page and the artist follows them scrupulously, what the artist brings to the table is crucial to the telling of that story. It is not secondary; it is not "illustration."

The Imitation Game is a biography in comics form of British mathematician Alan Turing. The copy I have is credited as "by" Jim Ottaviani and "illustrated by" Leland Purvis. Now, I have an uncorrected proof, so the final book may have changed that.

But, if not, this is me looking sternly over my glasses at Abrams ComicArts and saying "tsk-tsk" while I do that little one-finger wave. This is Not Proper. This is Not Done. And we are Not Amused.

But on to the book itself. (If skimming to find the end of the potted rant, this is it.)

Alan Turing, I think, was born at either the exact right time or the exact wrong time. Professionally, he couldn't have turned up at a better moment to turn his particular genius into reality. But socially and personally, he might have had a quiet happy life in some earlier time and he definitely would have been better off born a decade or three later, when his condition would be better understood and accepted. (I mean his mental condition, since he seems to have been somewhere on the autism spectrum, but his homosexuality would obviously have been less of an issue.)

Ottaviani tells Turing's story at a slant, or at least starts that way: he opens with (and occasionally returns to) a conceit that he, or someone, is interviewing Turning's friends and family after his death. But most of the book is just his life dramatized, with lots of explanatory captions (sometimes voiceovers from those interviewees) and a tight focus on his work during WW II.

Imitation Game doesn't get into the math; it just shows what Turing did, and is particularly interested in the title experiment, better known to us as the Turing Test. It's also very much a serious biography in comics form, and isn't afraid to get a little artsy in presentation here and there. Turing's suicide -- I might note that there is now some scholarly doubt as to whether it was suicide -- is presented in a particularly elliptical way, and readers who don't know what he actually did will probably not be able to tell what he actually did.

(On the other hand, I read this in a black-and-white proof, and sometimes color can make things clearer in comics.)

I think biography, particularly of a thinker, is an odd subject for comics: it's harder to show interior life in comics than in prose, so it's a slightly less useful tool for the job than the usual one. That said, Imitation Game is a good, thoughtful biography of an important, quirky man, told well and using the form's strengths well.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #286: Boy's Club by Matt Furie

Matt Furie's comics get me asking stupid questions for no good reason. And not even the questions you might expect -- either the "why am I reading these oddball stoner comics" type or the "what's the deal with Landwolf" type.

No. Instead, possibly urged by the loose, free-and-easy stoner vibe, my mind wonders why "Matt Furie" sounds weirdly familiar, in a classic-literature kind of way. (Reason: I'm thinking of Michael Furie, the dead guy in James Joyce's The Dead.)

Or I start to wonder why the book is called Boy's Club. There are four characters in it, right? And all of them are boys (or maybe men -- well, not really men). So, which one is the "boy" that this club belongs to? Or is this a stupid question to begin with?

As a wise man once said, there are no stupid questions, only stupid people. Boy's Club is full of stupid people.

There are four young men, who seem to live together: Andy (the dog), Brett (blue), Landwolf (obvious), and Pepe (the frog). The comics about them focus on the small stupid things they do: hanging out, eating, drinking, various bodily functions, playing pranks on each other, saying catchphrases, staring dully out into space, zoning out after experiencing various mind-altering substances.

The comics are mostly one-pagers: six panels, all jammed together without gutters and drawn in a precise style with all the lines having the same weight. A whole lot are just "this guy transforming into a monster" bits or "this guy's catchphrases" or "look at him dancing" or even some random surreal thing (presumably drug-induced).

It's very sophomoric, obviously -- one of the few long stories is about a "long ass shit" one of the boys had, and which they then saved in the freezer for reasons that made sense to them at the time. The other long story introduces Bird-Dog, the pizza delivery guy, who has long, intricate theories and supposed expert knowledge about marijuana and the history thereof. Even when Boy's Life is being more complicated and story-driven, it's about drugs and shit.

It's fun and goofy on that level though: if you've been or known young aimless guys, the type will be very familiar, and Furie is good at making them interestingly stupid and shallow. Of course, you have to be interested in people like that to begin with -- if you're not, this is very much not for you.

(Furie's work, which appeared mostly online at first, was also the basis for a whole lot of memes over roughly a decade starting in the mid-aughts, so there's a cultural-history aspect to this, too, if you want to go all highbrow. That's all well before his character Pepe was appropriated by the nastier strains of online right-wingery as a symbol of hate -- but the latter has mostly wiped out memories of the former.)

This is a very druggy set of comics with very little in them of socially redeeming value. But, y'know, so what?

Friday, October 12, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #285: High Society by Dave Sim

I don't have an accurate record of when Dave Sim first said Cerebus would run for 300 issues. But my guess is that his plans became real during this storyline.

The first volume of Cerebus, which I covered last month, saw Sim moving rapidly from an amusing Thomas/Smith Conan parody with an oddly funny-animal main character to something more detailed and particular, and those twenty-five issues moved from standalone stories to trilogies and ongoing continuous plotlines.

No one expected Sim would then embark on a new story that would be as long as all of Cerebus to date. My guess is that not even Sim knew, when he was writing and drawing issue #26, "High Society," that that would be the title for a much longer story. Somewhere in those first few High Society issues, though, it clicked: he wasn't just making a somewhat longer story: his narrative would stick around the city-state of Iest for more than two years of serial comics, over five hundred pages, and more political machinations than anyone had ever seen on the comics page.

So it became High Society. And a storyline many times longer than the previous ones posed a problem to Sim in the mid-80s. He was already a pioneer in reprinting his comics in permanent book editions, with the Swords of Cerebus series. But the sixth volume of that was already longer than the previous ones, reprinting five issues instead of four. Swords of Cerebus Seven would either be five times as long as the previous book or would break in the middle of the story.

Obviously it didn't. Instead, Sim invented the "phone book" format -- one little-used by other creators since, mostly because very few comics-makers have series with multiple five-hundred-page long plotlines to begin with. (He also annoyed the comics distribution network by going entirely direct-to-consumer for the High Society first printing, an innovation that made him money immediately but caused hassles for a while afterward.)

We tend to forget all of the business things Sim pioneered in independent comics, but there's no Image without Sim, without that model of doing your comics your way, and then collecting them permanently. And this is the era when Sim was still exciting and vital and fizzy and Zeitgest-y, telling his own story and making sarcastic comments on the current comics scene at the same time.

High Society is probably the single highest point of Cerebus: a graphic novel that can stand alone and that a new reader can come into cold. Cerebus is this guy arriving in a new city, and then stuff happens to him: you don't need to know more than that, and the first page tells you that much.

"Stuff happens" gets very baroque very quickly: Cerebus is caught up in other people's schemes, as had been more and more central as the comic Cerebus went on the early '80s, and the ultimate mover of those schemes was Sim's brilliant re-imagining of Groucho Marx as Lord Julius, ruler of Palnu. [1]

High Society is a story about money and power, and particularly the power of money. Palnu is the only fiscally sound city-state in the entire Feldwar valley; every other country is running massive deficits and getting further and further in debt to Julius. Cerebus is the perfect counterweight to Palnu's soft power, since he's instinctively a creature of hard power: he knows armies and mercenaries and war tactics deeply, and his first instinct in any situation is to find and army and conquer something.

(This is not a good impulse in a modern world, obviously. But that raises the question of how modern Cerebus's world is. Is it modern enough that wars of conquest primarily smash economic activity and leave everyone poorer, or is it still medieval enough that conquest can be lasting and profitable?)

So Cerebus is first the Ranking Diplomatic Representative of Palnu to Iest, named as such without his knowledge. And then there's a confusing plot where he's running to keep that title, even though it's pretty obviously a role that is going to always be in the direct remit of the ruler of the sending country. (How could it be otherwise?)

But that campaign ends up being the warm-up for the real one: Cerebus runs for Prime Minister of Iest, a job that has first slowly and then suddenly transformed from being a minor adjunct to a theocracy to being the center of secular power in the city-state. And that "suddenly" is because of Cerebus personally, in the sideways complicated manner common to Cerebus plots.

Like the best Cerebus plots, High Society is a one-damn-thing-after-another story. Cerebus is always his own worst enemy; he's never satisfied with what he has and is the epitome of the guy who hits on sixteen every damn time. And Sim was notably never on Cerebus's side, which is rare for a creator so closely identified with a single character. Cerebus is a horrible person in a whole host of ways, and was like that right from the beginning: Sim made him that way, and kept putting him in plots that exploited his flaws and worst tendencies. For about the first half of his adventures, Cerebus is the greatest anti-hero in comics.

Alongside all of the politics and plotting is Sim's characteristic humor: he was the most consistently funny comics humorist of the early '80s, and this volume has a string of his greatest hits. Sure, a lot of that humor was odd adaptations of other people's characters -- every funny character in Cerebus is based on a comedian or outside source -- but Sim turned it all into comics, made it all work in his specific invented world, and gave all of those characters new, setting-appropriate jokes to tell. It's hugely idiosyncratic, but it works amazingly well.

If you've never read Cerebus, and you're willing to give Dave Sim one shot, this is the shot to take. Some parts of it are more meaningful, or funnier, if you've read the stories in the first collection, but I don't think anything will be incomprehensible or particularly obscure. This is a great story about a grumpy, self-destructive guy who falls into politics in the worst way, in a vaguely late-medieval world where parts are rapidly modernizing, and has a masterful mix of humor and seriousness. If any of that sounds appealing, give it a try.


[1] Julius would make an interesting contrast to Terry Pratchett's Patrician: both rule completely and capriciously, and both are shown to be master manipulators who always come out on top. But the Patrician works by extreme clarity and veiled threats, while Julius is his world's master obfuscator and equivocator and either is the most Machiavellian planner of all time or just extremely good at thinking on his feet.

Quote of the Week

So they went upstairs, and Barmy shut the door.
'Now, then,' he said. 'What's all this drivel?'
'I've told you.'
'Tell me again.'
'I will.'
'Right ho. One moment.'
Barmy went to the door and opened it sharply. There came the unmistakable sound of a barmaid falling downstairs. He closed the door again.
 - P.G. Wodehouse, "Tried in the Furnace," pp. 51-52 of Young Men in Spats

And the sequel, a page later:

"The two rivals glared at the intruder. She was a well-nourished girl with a kind face. She was rubbing her left leg, which appeared to be paining her. The staircases are steep at the Goose and Grasshopper."

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #284: Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

It can be discouraging to realize how long the hot, current problems have actually been problems.

For example: the plight of the working class, which supposedly just bubbled over in the last US Presidential cycle and is causing all sorts of upheavals. How "recent" is that problem?

Well, Barbara Ehrenreich noticed it in the mid-1990s, during the longest, most sustained economic expansion this country has ever had, and her investigation of what it's like to try to live on minimum wage became the 2001 book Nickel and Dimed. I read it in a 2008 edition, with a then-new afterword that's a decade older now.

I can be a little slow sometimes, so I just this year got to a 2001 book that I'm pretty sure was all over the book-club company where I worked at the time.

Ehrenreich's introduction describes how the idea was born, in a fancy publishing lunch with Lewis Lapham of Harper's. (Which makes me assume the first section, and maybe all three, first appeared as articles in Harper's: her description is exactly how an editor commissions a piece.)

The idea was simple: try to live for a month on a single low-wage job, the way certain folks are always insisting poor people can do if they want to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." [1] She did it three times, in Key West, Portland (Maine), and Minneapolis -- all places, she explains, where the white middle-aged woman she was at the time would not be out of place in the low-wage workforce.

It was, of course, harder than it looks. Ehrenreich isn't the first person to point out that it's expensive to be poor -- it's difficult or impossible to save up for things, you need to buy lousy-quality cheap stuff and replace it often, and even cooking healthy food or taking care of personal hygiene can be problematic or impossible at times. She didn't go the extreme version: she had a nest egg each time, and always had some place to live, even if they were lousy pay-by-the-night motels some of the time. She was never reduced to living out of a car, as many actual poor people are.

There are certain people who, if I were Emperor of the World, I would make live like this for a month. Well, at least a month. Maybe much longer. Luckily for them, I'm not Emperor of the World, and unlikely to ever be. But this is a book that should be even more widely read, particularly for those of us who haven't worked at low-wage jobs since we were young and living on someone else's dime. Even more so for those who are fond of talking about how other people can do better by themselves. It's a very hard life, and it's only gotten worse since Ehrenreich lived it almost twenty years ago.

Our economy is systematically biased in favor of the rich and powerful; it privileges capital over labor and corporations over human beings. None of those things need to be the case; they're all choices that were made by people in our government who made quite a bit of money by nudging the scales in that direction. They could be changed by different people in government, and they're different in countries with different governments.

If you're an American, and you're eighteen and over (with some caveats), you have a chance to push against that bias in just over a month. (I do assume that as a human being and an incarnation of labor rather than capital, you will tend to be on those sides, but I may be wrong.) Do it.


[1] I am not the first person to point out the irony that this metaphor is literally impossible by the laws of physics.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #283: Descender, Vol. 5: Rise of the Robots by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen

In a serial medium, there's always the need to make sure the audience keeps up. So each new installment needs to do some work to give backstory, either with the potted "who they are and how they came to be!" box or flashbacks or whatever.

And when the story is moving quickly, one of the ways to do that effectively can be to slip back in time slightly at the beginning of each new installment, so the end of Section X and the beginning of Section Y tell the same moment in time, and overlap.

Jeff Lemire does that for every single transition in Descender, Vol. 5: Rise of the Robots, which I'm taking as a sign that he's stomping his foot down on the gas and charging towards an ending in the not-too-distant future.

(I might as well throw in links to my posts on the earlier books, for those of you who are lost or just want more details: one and two and three and four.)

If you haven't read Descender before, it's soft-ish medium-future SF (intelligent but not godlike AI, some kind of unexplained FTL, various alien species, a galactic scope) in which planetoid-sized robot "Harvesters" appeared mysteriously about a generation ago, killed a large proportion of the organic sentients in the galaxy, and then went away. Since then, the robots created by those sentients have mostly been hunted and destroyed, for understandable if not strictly logical reasons.

(It's a second cousin of the Butlerian Jihad, I suppose.)

Our main characters are on the human/robot interface: one special robot boy who was in hibernation since the attacks, the man who was his human companion as a boy, the roboticist that created that robot boy. Plus, of course, a larger cast of soldiers and schemers and killers on all sides of the conflicts -- what was a fairly unified, advanced multi-species civilization shattered into a dozen or more nastier shards in the aftermath of that attack.

And it's all coming to a head now: the Harvesters may be coming back, the local robots have definitely organized and are ready for their own counter-pogrom, and more individual acts of violence are also happening quickly.

Descender is a strong, somewhat space-operatic comic, a little more conventional and action-oriented than I'd expect from Jeff Lemire -- but, then again, I've never read his Big Two work. It shows every sign of having a real ending, and to be barreling at top speed towards that ending. It's good stuff: if you like SF, you should check it out.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #282: Multiple Warheads,Vol. 2: Ghost Town by Brandon Graham

I don't want to call Multiple Warheads just a stoner comic -- for one thing, I'm about as far from a stoner as you can get, and I like it quite a bit. But there's a definite free-and-easy, anything-goes vibe to it that will appeal to the cannabis-inclined among us.

Brandon Graham started Multiple Warheads as a sex comic -- I was surprised, several years later, when reading the first collection to find that hardcore-sex scene embedded in the middle of it -- but it mutated after that first story into something less gonad-centric [1], a medium-future amble through what seems to be the radically changed former USSR, full of weird technology and various kinds of sapient creatures and lots of dodgy schemes and little-to-no effective government.

After a hiatus, Graham came back with a second cluster of Multiple Warheads stories over the past year or so, and those were collected this summer as Multiple Warheads, Vol. 2: Ghost Town. (The cover seems to make that last bit "Ghostown," but I think that's just Graham's design-style, which leans heavily on punny misspellings and similar wordplay.)

Our main couple, Sexica and Nikoli, are on an extended journey: Sexica is delivering "the warhead" somewhere for a reason that I don't think was deeply explained in the first volume and definitely isn't here. They're "on vacation," as they put it -- Nikoli is definitely away from his usual work, though Sexica's stealing and sneaking is the kind of thing she can do a bit of no matter where she is.

And so she does.

She connects with some people -- both bipedal, neither anything like human, which is par for the course in Multiple Warheads -- who want to get into a "wizard's lair" to retrieve something ancient and valuable. Meanwhile, Nikoli wanders around, get roped into doing some mechanic work, and has a surprising transformation near the end. The staff of the place (hotel?) where they're staying and the intersecting dancers at a club where Sexica has a meeting with her new partners also get some featured scenes -- the whole thing is loose and flowing, with an extensive cast who have complicated interrelationships.

Graham presents this all a bit sideways: he is fond of puns and wordplay, and that comes up in dialogue and the names of things (the restaurant All's Whale That Ends Whale, one guess as to the main ingredient; a local bodega-ish place is the Manticorner) as well as in labels and other "throwaway" text. So this is a world full of wordplay, where things are named quirkily and those quirks are important.

Ghost Town is, at its core, a caper story -- assemble the small team of experts, learn the secrets of what they're trying to do, and watch them go do it -- but there's a lot of other stuff going on around that. Graham gives Multiple Warheads an everyday, lived-in feeling: his world may be a weird mix of technology and what looks like magic, and his people may look like anything and everything, but they're all still people, trying to make it through their days and get back to the ones they care about.

Despite the big caper stuff, Ghost Town is quieter than the first volume: there's a lot here that could potentially have been overly dramatic, but that's not how Graham plays it.

Multiple Warheads is an intricate delight, full of tiny details and silly sidebars. Each page is a moment to be savored...though some, occasionally, almost need to be decoded. This is definitely not a comic for everyone, but its joys are real, deep, and unique.


[1] Though the sex scene is still completely in continuity, and is referenced on the first story page here -- the fact that Sexica got a werewolf penis through her nefarious activity and sewed it onto her boyfriend Nikoli is central to a lot of Multiple Warheads in general and Ghost Town in particular.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #281: Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 2 by The Hernandez Brothers

I don't think I mentioned this last week, but it's interesting that the New Stories series credits its creators as "The Hernandez Brothers" rather than the old-style "Los Bros Hernandez."

I don't know if that comes out of a sense that the "Bros" is an affectation more suitable to Young Turks, or if I should be mumbling some bafflegab about assimilation and cultural identity. But it's a shift, and that should be noted.

This second installment of the then-new Love and Rockets came out in 2009, with another hundred pages of comics evenly split between the two brothers. And the title was, obviously, Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 2.

As with the first volume, it's a sandwich, with long Jaime chapters of "Ti-Girls" to open and close and Gilbert stories in the middle.

I've been saying not-entirely-nice things about the Ti-Girls story repeatedly -- last week with New Stories 1 and a few weeks back with the collected, revised edition of that story in Angels and Magpies -- so maybe I should let that horse die. This book does see the end of that story, and has a lot of pages of superhero action and long expository dialogue; Jaime Hernandez accurately replicates (or maybe satirizes?) all of the things I find most tedious and unrealistic in superhero comics.

Gilbert has two stories in the middle. First up is "Sad Girl," in which a now-teenaged Killer (Dora Rivera, Guadalupe's daughter) gets a small part in a movie and is obsessed with some guy she just broke up with, who we never see in the story. It's a story narrated heavily by Killer and the people around her, almost entirely about how everyone is trying to frame what is happening and how Killer feels about it -- that's interesting.

Less interesting to me is teenage Killer. She was a quirky, individual kid, but now she's just another big-breasted belly-dancing Gilbert hottie obsessed with boys and movie-making -- he already has enough characters like that, to my mind, but I guess, like Hollywood itself, he always needs new young ones in the pipeline.

The longer Gilbert story here is the silent "Hypnotwist," which is about as explicable and clear as any of Gilbert's silent stories. (Which is to say: not very much.) A blonde woman -- not any character we're supposed to recognize, I think -- puts on a coat and leaves her house, and then is presented with sparkly (magic?) shoes. She travels through a surreal world, confronting things that I think are supposed to be emblematic of her life and her choices (alternate future selves, men she might have relationships with, giant flying baby heads). There is sudden random violence, existential danger, and what looks like a happy ending, with the woman reunited with a blind man and working as a stage magician.

Your guess is as good as mine, frankly. It's visually interesting, and I can trace some of the themes, but if this story is supposed to say anything specific or to tell a coherent story, that escaped me.

So this book, all in all, was disappointing -- this time around, as part of my big re-read, as well as the first time I saw it in 2009. But that's the way the world works: your favorite creators will do new things, and try new styles that don't work for you -- and sometimes don't work at all. This is minor Love and Rockets, but it's still worth reading as a link in the chain between the great stuff before and the great stuff after.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 10/6/18

This week, I've got one book that came from its publisher and a few that I bought -- and I'll hit them in that order.

The brand-new thing is The Last Unicorn: The Lost Journey, a 1962 draft of what became Peter S. Beagle's 1968 novel. It was originally published a decade ago by Subterranean, but this new edition from Tachyon press is at a more wallet-friendly price and features new introductions by Patrick Rothfuss and Carrie Vaughn. (So new, in fact, they weren't done in time for the bound galley I'm looking at now.) There's also a 2017 afterword by Beagle about the writing of this version. Lost Journey will be published November 12th in hardcover.

And the stuff I bought includes:

The Complete Geisha, nearly the last of Andi Watson's books that I had to re-buy and re-read after my flood a few years back. Watson is a wonderful and criminally underrated comics-maker, with a long list of great books that tell smart stories about real people. If you haven't read him, do so now. If you haven't in a while, go find his most recent book. (I think it's Glister.)

I Die at Midnight is a Kyle Baker original graphic novel from the turn of the millennium, which I am shocked to realize is twenty years ago now. This is from the period when he was using a lot of very obvious computer drawing tools, which I didn't love at the time. But it's time to check it out again.

Speaking of Baker, I also got his You Are Here from the same era, also somewhat madcap and thriller-y but looking physically (in the size of the book and the page layouts) like a return to Why I Hate Saturn form.

The Question, Vol. 5: Riddles is a middle volume reprinting the late-80s series by Dennis O'Neil, Denys Cowan and (for this book) Bill Wray. (My sense is that Rick Magyar was the inker for the majority of that run.) I recently re-read Vol. 2 of this reprint series, and now I think I'm going to try to get all six and read them straight through.

The Love and Rockets Companion: 30 Years (and Counting) is a 2013 guide to the series by Marc Sobel and Kristy Valenti; if I were more organized, I would have had it before embarking on my I Love (& Rockets) Mondays series of posts, but instead I think I'll put it at the end of that series. (Note: there may also be an asterisk on that "end," but that will need to wait until 2019.

Also interesting to note: the book I have isn't the same as the cover shown here (the only one I can find online.) The book in front of me has a wordless jacket with a big collection of Jaime & Mario characters -- the same art as the cover shown, I think -- on heavy paper, folded to fit as a jacket but able to fold out to poster-size. On the back of that is two cast charts, for the major players of the two brothers. The book itself has a black-and-white version of that art printed on the paper covers, again with no text. (Unless that black box was a sticker on shrinkwrap? That could explain it.)

And last is the book that launched Rick Geary's current career: 1987's A Treasury of Victorian Murder, Vol. 1. He has done other things since then, but the bulk of his work has been about historical murders, and even the other things have tended to be non-fictional and/or historical -- this has been the Great Attractor of his career. Luckily, he's really good at it, and I haven't read this book in a long time; as I recall, it shows him moving from his early short surreal strips into more matter-of-fact work.

(I also got Cerebus Number Zero, in case I want to keep going there. But that's staple-bound and so not a "book.")

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #280: Night Animals by Brecht Evens

I probably shouldn't be counting this, but I am. It's all my rules, right? And I've finished two books a lot of days this year, so this is good enough for one Mulligan day in mid-September.

(Can you tell I'm trying to convince myself? Do you think it's working?)

Night Animals possibly doesn't count as a "book" since it's a collection of two silent comics stories by Flemish cartoonist Brecht Evens, published by Top Shelf in 2011 in -- and this is the important part -- a stapled binding. I had this up on a shelf, since the cover is sturdy and that's where I keep things I'm going to read, but it unmistakably looks more like a "pamphlet" than a "book."

(It's definitely not a "periodical," since it was a one-off.)

Anyway, I read it on a day that's now nearly a week in the past -- so I can't read any other books that day -- and I'm definitely going to write about it here, since it's interesting and creepy and slightly problematic and full of dark, evocative art. So, despite all of my waffling, it does count, for the purposes of Book-A-Day 2018.

It has a subtitle, "A Diptych about What Rushes through the Bushes," and the two stories here are about strange things in the night, and about sex.

First up is "Blind Date." A man gets out of his car, puts on a bunny suit, and follows luminescent arrows through increasingly stranger and more uncomfortable locations -- it starts in a nasty bar's bathroom, and heads down into the sewers -- before eventually finding what's at the end of his search.

That story is amusing and cute, and Evens's art is suitably dark and ominous in all of the strange tight places his protagonist gets into.

The second story is a little more problematic, or at least it seems that way to me. It's "Bad Friends," and the front cover describes it as "join an innocent young girl as she becomes a woman and learns where the wild things are." She is young, and "becoming a woman" is what you think it means (at school, at possibly the worst possible time, in public) and "where the wild things are" does have something of a Maurice Sendak feel.

But this girl travels to that land very differently than Sendak's Max. She's enthusiastic once she gets there -- that's her on the cover -- but this story is less happy than the first one, and the difference feels entirely gendered. (Men chase sex, and are happy when they find it. Women are chased by sex, and should beware of what can happen to them.)

This story also looks great -- Evens is really good at creepy monsters and creatures and dark things that lurk in dark places -- but I'm not at all comfortable at how much it sexualizes a pre-teen girl and how it seems to blame her as well.

So I want to see more work by Evens even as I wonder if this is characteristic of his work: the darkness, the sexuality, the wordlessness, the sexism.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #279: Sebastian O/The Mystery Play by Grant Morrison, Steve Yeowell, and Jon J Muth

What do you do with the quirky minor failures of a major creator?

Well, you can ignore them, and that's what happens most of the time. You can also try to spiff them up a bit, and get them walking two by two, in hopes that they'll look more impressive in company. If the creator is major enough and his backlist extensive enough, you might find yourself doing that.

In this case, you did -- if "you" are DC Comics and "the creator" is writer and self-proclaimed chaos magician Grant Morrison. And you probably made a bit of money out of it, which is the whole point of the exercise.

But these are still quirky minor failures, even twenty-five years later, and perhaps at this remove even more clearly show Morrison's characteristic failure modes: a reliance on high concepts even when they don't make narrative sense, a tropism to stylishness as an end in itself, an unwillingness to actually explain anything that might make his worlds actually plausible, provocative dialogue that neither sounds like human beings talking nor has any solid meaning, and, above all else, the love of flash over substance.

The book is Sebastian O/The Mystery Play. The two things collected are 1993's three-issue alternate-Victorian serial-killer [1] frivolity drawn by Steve Yeowell (who also did the much better Zenith with Morrison) and the 1994 spooky, sophomorically "philosophical" bad detective story graphic novel drawn by Jon J Muth (who later fled comics for illustrating children's books, possibly because of tripe like this).

Both of them are stylish in their own ways; both are entertaining on their own levels. Both also fail on basic levels of plausibility, much like other Morrison works up to his famous JLA run. So maybe his fans will love these oddball early-90s stories, but I tend to think they're not the right kind of weird -- no superheroes, not set in a cool version of the modern world, not obviously transgressive.

Sebastian O is set in a steampunky alternate-Vistorian world that doesn't seem to have any real reason to be alternate. The title character, a melange of Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire, and Jack the Ripper, is supposedly a genius, but we only see him run around, murder people, and talk about his clothes. He escapes from jail at the beginning of the story, where he was incarcerated for what seem like vague and trumped-up "being gay and subversive" reasons. We readers would thus be on his side, if not for the randomly violent ways he does escape, and rampages through the secret gay-cult society that apparently betrayed him.

I say "gay," because the narrative makes that clear, though in the usual Mauve Decade euphemisms. But neither Sebastian nor the people he chases show much affection for anyone who is not themselves, and their choice of sexual partners is not particularly important for this thriller-chase plot. Like so many Morrison stories, it seems like an affectation or a signpost rather than anything intrinsic to the story.

Anyway, Sebastian murders his way out of prison, murders his way through his former friends, and finds the fiend behind the whole thing, who frankly seems somewhat unpleasant but not nearly as bad as Sebastian. There is a Shocking Revelation at the end, which, as often with Morrison, doesn't actually make any sense, and which is ignored anyway. So we're left with the story of the murderous rampage of a Victorian dandy -- if you're looking for that, you are in luck.

The Mystery Play is more sedate and grounded. The small Yorkshire city of Townley, struggling for whatever reason, is putting on a large-scale production of traditional medieval mystery plays for the Christmas season, dramatizing what seems like most of the Bible for the entertainment of tourists. On the night of the debut of the first play, someone murders the actor playing God.

And, yes, every single person in Townley who talks about this event afterward refers to this as "the death of God." Not the death of a prominent local doctor, who they all knew, but an amateur acting part that he just took and died in the middle of. And it is Ontologically Important to every single one of them. Morrison's greasy thumb is particularly prominent with this element, and it overwhelms the entire story.

A single Detective Sergeant is sent from vaguely somewhere else, with no driver and no lines of reporting back to his superiors and no paperwork and no connections to the local coppers. This is of course A Whopping Great Clue, and only the dimmest readers will miss it. It's also entirely stupid, and wouldn't actually work for more than five seconds, even before "Detective Sergeant Frank Carpenter" spends all of his time in philosophical musings about God and the Devil.

Eventually, there is another play performed "on-stage" in the story, and it of course is the very end of the mystery cycle, in which Jesus is crucified. Nudge nudge wink wink!

It's unfortunate that the story is such bullshit, because Muth delivers stunning work here -- moody painted pages with stunningly real faces, a fantastic mix of levels of abstraction. Every single page here is absolutely gorgeous, and a masterpiece of the comics art. Shame about the words thrown on top, though.

So Sebastian O is an answer to the question "What if Oscar Wilde was a man of action?" and The Mystery Play similar investigates "What if God were killed during a mystery play?" Neither of those are particularly good questions, and Morrison's attempts to imbue them with deep meaning fall flat. This is probably why they were quietly out of print for much of the last twenty-five years, and why they will probably slip back into that abyss once the stock of this 2017 omnibus are depleted. Morrison has some little-known gems in his backlist -- I mentioned Zenith before, also with Yeowell, for one example -- but these are not among them.


[1] Morrison's main character is a serial killer, and a deeply unrepentant one. Some of the people he kills "deserve it," but he's also happy to just slaughter anyone in his way. Since he's incredibly shallow otherwise, it's the defining characteristic of his personality.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #278: Real Americans Admit: "The Worst Thing I've Ever Done!" by Ted Rall

Ted Rall, as a cartoonist, has always been a pessimist. (He may be a pessimist personally as well, but I can't speak to that. I tend to believe it, though.)

Part of that is because he's done so much editorial cartooning, which always centers on whatever horrible thing some politician has done most recently. Even before he had a syndicated strip, though, Rall's focus has been most often on bad people doing bad things for bad reasons, or just, more starkly, the huge gap between what he wants the world to be like and what it actually is. (Rall has a larger such gap than almost anyone over the age of twenty-one -- he's one of those deeply frustrated optimists who is continually bashing his head against the things that aren't the way he wants them to be.)

So when I saw Real Americans Admit: "The Worst Thing I've Ever Done!", I had to pick it up. This is peak Ted Rall here -- possibly the epitome of his worldview and central concerns. Better yet, it's from 1996, early enough in his career that he was still primarily known as a Gen X slacker apologist.

There's an introduction in which Rall admits that he's not great with social skills -- which will not surprise anyone familiar with his work and career -- and says that he'd recently (in 1995) stumbled upon this question as his big icebreaker. That is, he asks random people he's just met to confess to him the worst thing they've ever done: morally, if not legally.

Rall clearly has at least slightly better social skills than he thinks he does, because he not only survived that experience but actually got a good number of responses. After spending most of 1995 doing this -- taking out ads in alternative weeklies (remember them?), posting online, asking friends to spread the idea around -- he ended up with 630 responses from various Americans of all ages, classes, and types. (Though all clearly with a deep confessional streak.)

Rall turned twenty-four of those stories, the best and/or most characteristic ones, into comics for this book. Most stories are a single page, but five or six of them are much longer -- I think up to nearly ten pages. (Neither the book itself nor any of the "chapters" are numbered.) They're all in the words of the people who submitted them, but it all sounds similar -- it's all American Confessional, and there's a standard mode for that.

The confessions range all the way from "I shot my bookie to death" to "I had sex with someone I just met in a car" -- some people's worst is objectively more horrible than others'. They're all morally wrong, at least to the person that did them -- I have a hard time seeing anything wrong with the woman who hooked up once with a guy who, as far as she knows, was as unattached as she was -- which is the source of their frisson.

Rall draws this in his chunkiest '90s style, straight out of the alternative weeklies, with mismatched eyeballs and other facial features that owe more to Picasso than Schulz. It is a style that takes some getting used to, particularly if you don't remember it from the first time around in the '90s.

This is an interesting book, full of...well, I don't think there's a word for it, exactly. It's the first cousin of Schadenfreude, but without the comeuppance -- these are all people who got away with it. If you like that feeling, this book is full of it. (And if you have a word for it, please comment!)

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #277: Good Guys by Steven Brust

I'm going to lead off with something trivial -- I apologize, but that's just the way my mind operates. This has nothing deep to do with how Good Guys works or doesn't work, but it's a Chekov's Gun that I kept waiting to be fired but remained stubbornly on the mantelpiece throughout the whole book.

The main character in this book -- possibly others, possibly the narrative, but I can't find citations right now -- always refers to any higher-level authority as "PO-lice." He does this not just for the mundane authorities, where it could be understood as the way he speaks, but also to the more secretive arms of the already secret society to which he belongs. He does not otherwise speak in dialect.

I spent all of Good Guys expecting to learn that the Public Order folks -- who are like lice because they're always in your hair, maybe -- are now coming down on him. This does not happen. We are meant to take "PO-lice" as the way he speaks, and not indicative of anything in particular.

Please keep that in mind as (or if) you read Good Guys.

Good Guys is a standalone solo contemporary fantasy novel by Steven Brust, one of the vanishingly few standalone solo novels in his career. The last one was Agyar in 1993, before that was Cowboy Feng's Space Bar & Grille in 1987, and before that was To Reign in Hell in 1984. That's it. He also co-writes something with a female co-author roughly once a decade -- The Gypsy with Megan Lindholm in 1992, Freedom & Necessity with Emma Bull in 1997, and The Incrementalists and The Skill of Our Hands with Skyler White in 2013 and 2017. (I joke that he had to write two novels with White because he missed a decade.) Otherwise, he's mostly focused on his "Vlad Taltos" series, with fifteen main novels in thirty-four years, plus a Dumas-esque fractical trilogy and the early sidebar Brokedown Palace.

Good Guys has a author's note that attributes the idea to Brust's friend and poker teacher Chris Wallace, but it also bears a lot of similarities to The Incrementalists. The title Incrementalists were a secret society of semi-immortals (they are minds that can attach to new bodies each generation, accreting some traits from the new person but mostly staying the same) with magical powers who worked quietly behind the scenes to make the world better.

In Good Guys, our heroes are members of the Spanish Foundation, a secretive worldwide organization of mortals with magical powers that works mostly to keep magic secret and to some degree to rein in abusive magic-users. Their organization formed from a schism during the Spanish Civil War within the older, richer Roma Vindices Mystici (which mostly concentrates on pure research, but occasionally subcontracts take-care-of-that-guy work to the Foundation), and the two secret societies have a weird, complex relationship that Brust wanders through during the course of this novel, but never quite explains on any level -- neither what that relationship actually is, or what it officially is.

Good Guys is, oddly, both overcomplicated and too simplified for its own good. Brust tells the story with overlapping narrators, in both first and third person POVs, and that first-person narrator is the person many of the third-person viewpoints are trying to find.  That aspect is a lot like a certain kind of traditional detective thriller: the detective's viewpoint is in third, for seriousness and omniscience, and the killer's is in first, for immediacy and fiendish color. But Brust throws in a lot of other third-person viewpoints while still keeping each of them a limited third -- this isn't a third-person omniscient book, but a book with what feels like too many third-person limited viewpoints.

The simplification is mostly in the worldbuilding: we only see a few applications of magic (primarily as a method of travel), and they're not that exciting. Good Guys is set in a world where magic works, but magic is boring, and the people who do magic live on minimum wage, doing tedious paperwork and dull detective work. There are points where Good Guys feels like Charles Stross's "Laundry Files" with all of the Lovecraft surgically extracted and the savage satire turned into either something milder or something very deeply hidden. (Our central Foundation character is a black man, and there's some racial politics very deeply embedded in his viewpoint -- so deeply that I bet a lot of readers won't even notice.)

So, anyway: Good Guys is minor Brust, discursive in the manner of the recent Taltos books without having the built-up depth of characterization and worldbuilding to ground that discursiveness. I think it wants to be a seriocomic book about what it means to be on the side of right, and how you can tell if you are, but it muddies itself up and doesn't provide any strong contrasts. Even our serial killer is a decent guy with understandable motivation.

Good Guys, if it has a moral, is the opposite of noir. It seems to be saying that we're all kinda Good Guys, in our own ways, and that nobody's all that bad, even the evil wizards who destroy lives and the serial killers who take them out. But, again, that's muted in the end: Brust is a poker player, and allows the reader to infer that is his hand without actually laying it out on the table.

If you're looking for a decent urban fantasy, Good Guys certainly fits the bill. Brust, as always, is a pleasant, entertaining writer who has a lot of tricks up his sleeve and will only stoop to tell you something once (or, maybe, if it's really important, twice). But there's much better Brust and much better urban fantasy, if you're picky in either direction.

Lucky Thirteenth Anniversary Post!

This year, I wanted to be on time -- how could I miss my own lucky thirteenth anniversary? And so, after a few years of missed deadlines and hastily thrown-together anniversary posts, I actually planned ahead...and it's still not all that impressive, one more plain-text post in the same creaky style I chose for this blog thirteen years ago.

Oh, well.

This blog was born on October 4th, 2005, as I was preparing to launch a professional blog for my then-employer, The Science Fiction Book Club. The official SFBC blog came and went, as did my employment there, but this odd test-bed kept going, and...well, here I still am, thirteen years later.

Blogs are very much Not a Thing anymore, which is fine with me. This one was never much of A Thing to begin with: it's a place for me to organize thoughts around books (and, in years past, movies and other things) and, more than anything, an external record of things I want to do for myself.

So, if you're reading this: thank you. But I know there are only a relatively small number of you, and that's fine. I'll try not to exclude you, but audience doesn't really seem to be the point of blogging anymore, if it ever was.

Anyway, the style for this annual post these days is to use SEO-friendly bolded keywords instead of headings, and I'll keep doing that until it stops seeming like a joke to me.

I always give the obligatory links back to history at this point, so check out the earlier anniversary posts: one, two, three, four, five (missed entirely), six, seven, eight, nine, ten (belated), eleven, twelve (belated).

Then I need to measure something, which, in this context, means the Counting of Posts. Since I had the lack of foresight to start near the end of year, my "blog years" are disjoint from actual years:
  • 2017-2018 -- 368 posts
  • 2016-2017 -- 263 posts
  • 2015-2016 -- 144 posts
  • 2014-2015 -- 258 posts
  • 2013-2014 -- 434 posts
  • 2012-2013 -- 285 posts
  • 2011-2012 -- 332 posts
  • 2010-2011 -- 445 posts
  • 2009-2010 -- 711 posts
  • 2008-2009 -- 880 posts
  • 2007-2008 -- 834 posts
  • 2006-2007 -- 841 posts
  • 2005-2006 -- 809 posts
Then I have to complicate the matter by throwing in my second blog, Editorial Explanations, which ran for nearly three years (February of 2011 through the end of 2013), since it started as a series of posts on Antick Musings.

Editorial Explanations:
  • 2012-2013 -- 560 posts
  • 2011-2012 -- 802 posts
  • early 2011 -- 760 posts
And that means, when you put all of it together, you get:
  • 2017-2018 -- 368 posts
  • 2016-2017 -- 263 posts
  • 2015-2016 -- 144 posts
  • 2014-2015 -- 258 posts
  • 2013-2014 -- 434 posts
  • 2012-2013 -- 285 + 560 = 845 posts
  • 2011-2012 -- 332 + 802 = 1,134 posts
  • 2010-2011 -- 445 + 760 = 1,205 posts
  • 2009-2010 -- 711 posts
  • 2008-2009 -- 880 posts
  • 2007-2008 -- 834 posts
  • 2006-2007 -- 841 posts
  • 2005-2006 -- 809 posts
As always, that and $2.87 will get you a flat white. (Some locations may allow substitution of a mocha sasprcillamagilla. Please see store signage for details.)

My takeaway? If there ever was a golden era for Antick Musings, you are not in it. Well, assuming volume is the appropriate measurement, and I hope that it is not.

Antick Musings has been different vague things at different times, but it settled into being a book blog most of the time soon after I left the SFBC. And so every year, I link to some of those book posts by using sentences I still like from those posts:

The great thing about history is that it never stops being history.

There are books where you wonder why anyone ever thought they were a good idea -- how they could possibly have come into existence. A fully-painted series of comic books in which a sweaty-looking Superman and Batman trade dreams as part of the schemes of an undead Scottish laird to beat a random female demon would fall into that category for a whole lot of people.

These are mostly pleasant drawings of pleasant young Christians being pleasant and doing pleasant things either vaguely church-related or, at the very least, entirely acceptable to a 1950s church for white people.

And thus the red-hots of one generation come to seem cinders to their children. So sad.

Twenty-some years ago, it was reading a bunch of random Moebius books that convinced me that French comics were all about philosophical bullshit.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of an impressive collection, must be in want of a book to display it in. When push comes to shove, sometimes that man will even write the book himself to show it off. 

This is a depressing book to read at the beginning of 2018. It's nearly a decade later, a decade and a half since the US marched into Iraq to break it apart, and things have continued to get worse. It's almost as if random military adventures do vastly more harm than good!

I'm torn here. I could lead off by talking about the substance or about the style. Both are a little off-putting, for very different reasons, but only one is deliberate.

Note that this is the first sentence in this review not to mention Kings in Disguise. I could have kept it up, if I wanted. I'm not proud. Or tired.

Something can be impressive, even admirable, and still not be the best idea in the world. It can be both a major achievement, and less useful in many ways than the thing it was based on. It can be fun and amusing but also a chore.

There is a lot of sex in this book. There is a lot of chattering in lieu of plot in this book. There is a lot of pseudo-mystic bullshit in this book, generally in the vaguely Satanic category. There is not a lot of sense in this book, but I'm not confident its audience wanted sense at all.

The whole point about teens is that they're not done yet.

The cliche is that you need to spend 10,000 hours doing something to get good at it. But what if you get good, and then realize you don't like it? And what if those hours started when you were five or six years old, before you really had a choice?

As I said above, a lot of people have sex, occasionally by choice, and some of them even live to enjoy themselves afterward. But it's not the way to bet.

It would be nice to have a time machine, but, in real life, "today" is always the earliest anything can be done.

We all regret our twenties. Some of us regret how quickly we settled down and got boring, and some of us regret that we didn't settle down and get boring, at all or quickly enough.

Sometimes, with comics, we forget the value of density. Particularly these days, when the needle has swung far in the direction of deconstruction and the popular models are from manga, with endless pages of the wind blowing evocatively over some landscape or other, we forget the power of a page full of things happening and messages assaulting our eyeballs.

According to the powers of Google, I've used variations of the word "misogyny" only twice before in the history of this blog -- once to talk about an undercurrent in Howard Chaykin's comics, and once about H.P. Lovecraft. This post, I'm afraid, will probably shatter that record.

I am the kind of person who reads a book based on a movie before seeing the movie. Perhaps even instead of seeing the movie. Sometimes without even realizing there was a movie until after finishing the book and looking to research it for a blog post such as this one.

Something can be both an obvious idea and a bad idea. I think we've all had that weird vertiginous feeling when looking down from a great height, like we want to jump off.

None of that makes any sense. You can't explain any of it. And yet it happened. Let that be a lesson to all of you.

It's more coherent and professional than what I was expected, but that's not precisely an improvement. Crazy and genuine trumps professional and dull every day of the week.

Lands of epic fantasy have one big continent, with an irregular coast. There may be islands off the coast here and there, but there's only one continent, only one world. There's one kind of people on one side of the continent and another kind over on the other side. Those groups don't get along all the time, of course -- and, if we're telling an epic fantasy story, it will be during a time when they're spectacularly not getting along. Maybe there's a big wall slicing across the middle of that continent, Robert-Frostly trying to make good neighbors out of warring parties. It won't work, of course. We want our epic fantasy story, and that requires blood and death and devastation, pain and sorrow and misery, and heroic figures that feel all of that pain and yet find ways to transcend and transform their world, in the end.

Books can be based on anything: a random thought, a meme, a movie, a video game, a common saying, some old story the author wants to fix. But this is the only book I know based on a chart.

But, you know, we don't need the author to comb through his books and collate the scattered details of the world he built there. Authors generally are not great at doing that, anyway, and prefer to go on building that world rather than researching what they've already done. That's a job for other people to begin with: dedicated, obsessive people. Fans. You know what I'm saying.

I don't think the purpose of pulp fiction is to enforce public morality, exactly. That implies an official stature and teleology that is completely unjustified. But damn if pulp fiction doesn't enforce the public morality of its day really strongly -- and the way those stories tend to end quickly and violently makes the action of "fate" that much more obvious.

Other people's childhood adventure stories are rarely that impressive when you discover them as an adult. That doesn't mean they're bad -- or any more so than your childhood adventure stories -- it just means that you should have read them at the right time, when you were ten or so and ready for anything.

But we can't choose to like things, can we? I've never been any good at that.

People will tell you that The Ghost in the Shell is a single story, about a cyborg cop in a complex future Japan and her pursuit of a mysterious AI called The Puppeteer. They are lying to you.

I have a weakness for stories that don't go the way the creator expects them to.

I love the idea of this book, though I assume it will never work out quite the way Landers wants: humans are too ornery, cross-grained and stupid to jump onto obvious win-win situations, as has been proved too many times.

I can't prove this is the best strategy, but I tend to read a book first and then research it afterward, when I'm trying to figure out what to write here. As you may have noticed, I can be opinionated, so I try to minimize the chance of having strong opinions about something before I read it -- oh sure, it never entirely works, since you have to know something about a book to even want to pick it up, but I think it helps.

But the downside of being a writer driven by obsessions is that they can leave you vulnerable to making a major work hinge on something really trite.

Pro tip: if you're writing a real person into a story, even under a thin veil, make sure you have their approval if you want to make your fictional version cartoonishly evil. Saves a lot of time and aggravation.

I was slightly surprised to sit down to read two books and then to find that the first of them had the big ending. Not horribly surprised, since I like stories that have endings, but it did seem unusual for the big ending to be, you know, not at the end.

I'm not generally positive about superhero comics here, for the obvious reasons. They're disconnected from reality, providing artificial solutions to artificial problems. They're obsessed with their own continuity and history, and with ringing ever more complicated changes on that history, at the expense of clarity and storytelling. They privilege a dumbed-down moral universe in which punching solves everything and violence can be controlled precisely to keep unwanted damage from occurring. They tell endless and-then sagas, divorced from real stories with beginnings and ends. And they're run by and for the benefit of rapacious multinational corporations, which just want more IP to exploit.

It's a cliche to say we're all alone. It's also not true.

Without getting into the traditional arguments against suicide, I think we can all agree that killing yourself is at the very least generally less bad than killing someone else. But what if every time you kill yourself, you also kill someone else by taking over their body?

If you're going to do an alternate history about the end of the world, there comes a time when you have to crack your knuckles and end it.

But nobody is going to ask his mom if his dad liked to tie her up. And nobody will be upset that the question doesn't get asked.

Dungeon doesn't really aim to have a moral. But that doesn't mean we can't pull morals out of it, if we want to. And this volume, in particular, leads me to postulate "there's always time for hanky-panky, even at the end of the world."

I don't know if superhero conflicts are required to be based on the stupidest possible interpretation of premises, but it certainly seems that way. Subtlety or nuance don't exist in superhero universes; in a world where people can punch each other through brick walls, that's the only way to do anything.

You should read the Alan Moore Swamp Thing, if you have any interest in comics or horror or superhero universes or ecology in literature or spirituality or transcendence. If you're not interested in any of those things, well, it sounds like a dull life, but good luck with it.

Any self-respecting family story needs a flashback. Whether it's a Ross Macdonald novel finally explaining just what horrible thing happened twenty years ago in Canada or a family saga that stops in the middle of Chapter Two to explain just how Sadie McGuffins first came to the Maritimes from Scotland as a teen domestic servant so many years ago, before too long the narrative needs to roll up its sleeves, dive into the past, and dramatize the things that are still casting a shadow over the present-day cast.

There is an inherent sadness in Sunny. These children are all abandoned, to one degree or another -- and they all know that, deep down. They could have each other -- but this isn't a story about friendship. They could have the adult carers at the Lucky Star Home -- but this isn't a story about parental figures, either. They have their dreams, and their hopes, and a broken-down Sunny 1200 slowly rusting in the yard. That's what Sunny is about.

I can't exactly recommend this book. It's so far over the top there's cloud cover obscuring its lower reaches.

The romance of monkeys in tin cans continues to elude me.

If you can read the stories of a whole bunch of women pioneers -- such as the ones in the book I'm about to discuss -- without being at least a little bit annoyed at men in general, frankly there's something wrong with you.

It is pretty hard to have a team-up book where one of the two team members has no way to actually know the other one's name.

This is as good a place to begin as anywhere, since so many of Days's elements recur in his novels: uncertain apocalypses, the power of the movies, obsessive men and the women burdened with them, twins and lost children, and the horribly unrelenting power of what we might as well call "love."

As far as I can tell, Cerebus ended as planned in 2004, but the Sour Years did not. There's a lesson for all of us, as we get older.

The great thing about used book stores is that you find random stuff you didn't expect. Oh, sure, anyone can fire up the Google box these days and get that one book that you know that you want to read, but, without browsing, you'll never know what's two inches to the right of it, or three aisles away, or right behind you as you turn around wondering what that funny-looking bookcase has in it.

Once upon a time, I wrote about things besides books in this blogs -- I did a lot of posts about movies, when I was watching a lot of movies -- but my hobbies have turned into books and video games these days, and blogging about three random hours of Skyrim aren't interesting for anyone.

So, instead, here's a link to my Reviewing the Mail series, which goes up every Monday morning to list all of the new books I got in the previous week.

There were a few other random posts over the course of the past year, and, in past years, I've dug them out and posted links in the anniversary post. But there are so few of them that feels like special pleading this year. Antick Musings, right now, is a book blog -- and the links to the bits of that I want to point out are above.

So, instead, I'll look forward: next, I'll be finishing out this Book-A-Day run, and then posting more stuff into 2019, in the Fourteenth Year of the Blog. Some of the things I post then might not be out books...stranger things have happened.

See you then, I hope.