Friday, September 04, 2015

Hellboy's Buddies: Three volumes of Abe Sapien and one of a B.P.R.D. Vampire

This will be a bad review -- not a negative one, since I enjoyed these books, and like the endlessly proliferating world of Mike Mignola's Hellboy universe. No, this will be a poorly informed review, quick and slapdash and lazy, written more than two months after reading the books. But I've done a lot of them over the years -- hey, I'm not getting paid here, so you get what you get -- so I think I have a facility for doing quick superficial reviews that only mildly suck.

(And, if you really care what I think about the Hellboy universe, you can check out older posts on Hellboy in Hell, The Storm and the Fury, Being Human, Witchfinder, The Wild Hunt, The Midnight CircusThe Devil Does Not Jest, The Crooked Man, Lobster Johnson 3 and 4, Hell on Earth 1-3, Hell on Earth 4-10, The Burning Hand, 1947, 1948, War on Frogs, and even further back from those if you follow some internal links.)

Abe Sapien: Dark and Terrible and the New Race of Man
Abe Sapien: The Shape of Things to Come
Abe Sapien: Sacred Places
(written by Mignola and Scott Allie, with one bit co-written by Mignola with John Arcudi; art by one or both of Sebastian Fiumara and Max Fiumara; colors by Dave Stewart)

These three volumes reprint the first year and a half (roughly) of the ongoing Abe Sapien comic, spinning off from B.P.R.D. when Abe himself cut loose from that joint, in the wake of another transformation and driven by a niggling worry that he might be an Apocalypse Beast himself. (For a different apocalypse than Hellboy himself, but this universe is well-stocked with potential and actual apocalypses to choose from.)

And they remind me of nothing so much as '70s Hulk comics: the mysterious stranger with dangerous powers wanders across the Southwest, encountering both good people and monsters. Admittedly, the landscape Abe encounters is vastly changed: the Frog War might have been "won," more or less, but there are massive alien monsters scattered around the world, entire cities have been destroyed, and normal life is basically over.

(Parenthetically, I'll repeat again what I said in my review of the last clutch of B.P.R.D. stories: Mignola and his collaborators here are writing stories set after industrial civilization has collapsed, but they don't quite seem to realize that. There's no way any contemporary supply chains are still operating, and I'd estimate several billion people have already died -- or been transformed into monsters -- by this point. Just getting enough food to eat should be the primary worry of everyone in this world; not getting eaten by a monster is now a luxury.)

Meanwhile -- because it wouldn't be the Hellboy universe without subplots -- a mostly dead B.P.R.D. agent has been brought back by a necromancer with a fiendish plot that we don't entirely understand yet. And the B.P.R.D. is chasing Abe in a way that alternates between friendly and not-so-much.

And along the way a bunch of people die, and so do a bunch of monsters. This is a nastier world than the pre-apocalypse status quo, even if there does seem to be a somewhat functional government and occasional new consumer goods when there really shouldn't be. Abe is mostly moping through all of this, worried that he is an Apocalypse Beast but pretty sure he isn't, but still wanting to figure out how he fits into this world and what he should be doing.

It's an interesting storyline, running somewhere through the territory between horror and superheroes: Abe is strong and knowledgeable, but he and his friends have already failed to stop the end of the world. Even if I do think these series must eventually show the extinction of the last humans on earth, there's plenty of time and narrative space until that point.

B.P.R.D.: Vampire
(written by Mignola, Gabriel Ba, and Fabio Moon; art by Ba and Moon; colors by Stewart)

And this standalone story is a loose sequel to the 1946-1948 stories, focusing on one B.P.R.D. agent who was transformed into something more than human -- and no prizes for guessing what.

I don't think all of the middle has been filled in -- this book covers a short time in the late '40s, and that agent I don't believe has showed up in any B.P.R.D. stories set any later in time than that -- so I suspect this is Mignola throwing a ball up into the air and expecting to catch it much later, in some future B.P.R.D. story. (Or maybe there will be a direct sequel, which will end his story; it could go either way.)

So: moody, expressive art from Ba and Moon. Somewhat less dialogue than usual for a B.P.R.D. story, but still plenty of exposition. A conflicted hero and a mass of nasties. (I seem to be channeling Joe Bob Briggs here. I think there are a few breasts, actually. And plenty of blood.) This is a stylish, smart piece of a much larger story that pretty much stands on its own -- if you want to sample Mignola without diving headfirst into the tangled mythology, this would be a very good choice.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 8/29

This blog might be in low-content mode lately, but there's one thing you can rely on: every Monday, I'll post a list of the books that publishers sent me during the prior week.

Unfortunately, that relies on publishers actually sending me things, and that doesn't always happen. (Perhaps because I'm reviewing fewer of those books recently -- I know I would look askance at me as a media outlet right now.)

This week is thus a scratch: there are no books to write about, and so this post is short, pointless, and superfluous.

And over.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Incoming Books: Last Friday

I'm neglecting this blog horribly, but if there's one thing I can still do, it's post lightly-annotated lists of books once in a while! (No, that really isn't much.)

As I wrote last week, I went to the Strand last Friday, and these were the books I got then. They're all recommended in the sense that I spent my own money on them, though in most cases I obviously haven't read them.

The Old Devils is one of the Kingsley Amis books everyone says is great -- along with Lucky Jim, which I read a long time ago and didn't click with -- so I'm giving Amis pere another chance. (I've been reading Amis fils since London Fields, and thought pretty much everything he did in the 20th century was brilliant and since then not always so.) This is the one about a bunch of rural middle-aged people thrown into a tizzy by a returning couple known of old, and the pub they frequent.

Started Early, Took My Dog is the fourth novel by Kate Atkinson with Jackson Brodie in it, after Case Histories and One Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News? (Brodie is, or at least was at the time of the first book, a private investigator, but these books aren't PI mysteries in any normal way, nor does Brodie act like a fictional detective much at all.) I've read the first two -- links above lead to my reviews, such as they are -- and they're both excellent multi-threaded social novels, which were glommed onto by the mystery-reading audience because they also have murders in them somewhere. (And good for mystery readers for that: any community that claims great novels for their genre, even on relatively thin evidence, is a healthy community.)

Exquisite Corpse is a graphic novel by French illustrator (and graphic novelist, obviously) Penelope Bagieu, about a feckless young woman who wanders into an explosive literary secret. This has gotten some good reviews, and it's from First Second, an outfit with so-far dependably good taste.

Borderline is a really old pulpy Lawrence Block novel brought back by the masters of pulp at Hard Case Crime -- and I mean "pulp" and "pulpy" in only the best ways -- and I intermittently think I'm going to collect all of Block's books. (I have a lot of them, but he has even more. He's a quick writer who's been working a long time.)

Collected Fictions is that big Jorge Luis Borges book that made such a big splash longer ago than I want to check. I had copies of it and the matching volumes (Essays, I think, and maybe one of Poetry, too?) back before the flood, but had only dipped into them. (I've read Borges here and there, but never ran right through the big book.)

Someone recommended Kai Lung's Golden Hoursmany years ago -- or maybe just Ernest Bramah's Kai Lung books in general -- but I'd never actually bought one. But those public-domain wizards at Dover reissued this one some time this century, so now I have a shot at actually reading it. These are Orientalist short stories from around a hundred years ago, and I suspect they are not inoffensive, at least to some audiences.

Nancy Is Happy collects all of Ernie Bushmiller's daily minimalist newspaper-strip masterpieces from 1943 to 1945. And what more needs to be said than that!

Two more of George Macdonald Fraser's books about the 19th century's greatest rogue, Harry Flashman: Royal Flashand Flashman in the Great Game. It's definitely Quixotic of me to think I'll have time to read the whole series through, but I seem to be heading in that direction. So now the only question is whether to do in in the order Fraser wrote them or according to internal chronology?

The Beast of Chicago is one of the middle books in Rick Gear's long-running "Treasury of Victorian Murder" series, focusing on the first known serial killer, the infamous H.H. Holmes of Chicago World's Fair fame. I'm still rebuilding this series post-flood, and maybe I'll read all of these through once I get them all -- though that will be easier, since they're all pretty short graphic novels.

I think I'm going to read through John Le Carre's spy novels -- at least the Smiley ones -- in order, more or less. But I found a copy of Our Kind of Traitor(from 2010, and not a Smiley book) in the classy new Penguin look, and I figured what harm could come from having another Le Carre around the house?

I want to read more books by Stewart O'Nan, because everything I've read by him has been exceptional and deeply powerful -- from A Prayer for the Dying to The Speed Queen to something relatively light like Last Night at the Lobster -- but I find an O'Nan mood doesn't hit often enough. But I keep grabbing his books as I find them -- this time A World Away, a family-saga-esque novel about WWII that he wrote in the late '90s.

You Don't Say is a new collection, with a bunch of shorter comics from Nate Powell -- author of the amazing Swallow Me Whole and the only slightly less amazing Any Empire -- and I don't know how much it overlaps with the older Powell collection Sounds of Your Name, if any. But Nate Powell is great and worth checking out, either way.

And last is Amazing Facts and Beyond!, a collection of supposedly true facts by the also supposedly real Leon Beyond -- something like The Straight Dope in comics form, if Cecil Adams was more of a performance art piece -- by Dan Zettwoch and Kevin Huizenga. I've looked at this a few times, mostly because I like Huizenga's work, and finally pulled the trigger -- it looks like it pushes a lot of my buttons (fake facts, baroquely complex art layouts, and so on).

Monday, August 24, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 8/22

Hello, Hello, Hello.

I'm back once more with a quick listing of books that arrived at my house this past week -- as always, I haven't read them at this point, and don't promise that anything I write here about them is perfectly true. (I try to be accurate, but a book is not always exactly what it seems.) This time, I've got two: both hardcovers coming from Tor (in the USA, where I am) in early September.

Dragon Heart is a new secondary world fantasy novel from Cecelia Holland, who was long best-known in genre circles for her 1970s SF novel Floating Worlds, but has been writing historical fiction that sometimes shades into fantasy for five decades now. This one has a dragon on the cover and in the title; it doesn't shade so much as dive boldly in. There's a small kingdom being subsumed by an expanding empire, a mute princess, her strong-willed mother the Queen, and, of course, that dragon, who will upend everyone's plans.

The other book is The Sleeping King, which is set in the world of the Dragon Quest live-action role-playing game and co-written by romantic thriller writer (and long-time LARPer) Cindy Dees with the creator of that game, Bill Flippin. The story is epic fantasy plot #5: the evil invaders came some time back, putting humans and elves and all of the usual other races under their jackbooted heel, but there's a powerful king hidden somewhere, and, if the Good Guys can just wake him, the villains will be kicked out and the reign of goodness and law will begin.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Incoming Books: sometime around 8/20

I bought books twice last week -- a shipment of graphic novels came in from my long-time buds at Midtown Comics, who had a 40% off sale (always a good way to get me to put in a big order), and then I made it to the Strand on Friday after realizing that was my last possible Friday to do so [1]. I'm not going to get to all of that in this post, but I think I can run through the box of comics-related stuff. So I'll do that, and try to post about the other clump in a day or two. These are in alphabetical order by author, since that's the way normal people organize books most of the time. (And here I'm scowling at all of the comics shops that shelve by publisher or title or both or in some arcane fashion known only to the local neckbeards.)

Eddie Campbell's other great solo series (the one that isn't Alec) is getting collected again, in two big books that match the format of Alec: The Years Have Pants. First up is Bacchus Omnibus, Vol. 1, and of course I had to get it. (I had all of the previous, Campbell-published collections, but lost them in the flood.)

Displacement is a new travel/memoirish thing from Lucy Knisley, who seems to be developing a new genre out of those pieces. (She goes somewhere, usually with part of her family, and turns the results into comics -- see An Age of License and French Milk and, less fitting that description, Relish.) This time out, I believe it's a cruise with her grandparents. Knisley draws lovely little watercolors and is much more insightful than someone I still think of as being super-young should be: she's not a navel-gazing memoirist, but more like the classic travel writers: going to interesting places with interesting people to find things to say.

Another piece of the massive wall of Hellboy-verse comics came out: AAbe Sapien Vol. 6: A Darkness So Great, written by creator Mike Mignola with Scott Allie and drawn by (in turn) Max and Sebastian Fiumara. And I'm still along for the ride.

Speaking of along for the ride, there's finally a hardcover of Miracleman Book 3: Olympus, the climax of the definitive mid-80s superhero deconstruction by "The Original Writer" Alan Moore and the artistic collaborators who can't be listed on the cover because Moore is a grumpy self-important crank with a mania to erase his credit from anything he did and doesn't utterly love thirty years later. (Showing Alan Moore still has some things to learn about the human condition.) This is the bloody, horrible part of this particular story, and I haven't revisited it for twenty years -- I hope it holds up to the memory.

Speaking of '80s revisionist superheroes, also along for the ride is Zenith: Phase Three from Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell. As I recall, the last time this was reprinted -- also a good twenty years ago -- phase three was hard to find and phase four didn't make it, so I'm not clear how much of this I actually read. This time out, I'm planning to get the fourth book and just read them all straight through -- see of that works.

I almost bought Margaux Motin's But I Really Wanted to Be an Anthropologist the first time I saw it, last year, but didn't. Now I have: she has a wonderfully expressive line and what looks like a new angle on some very typically feminine concerns: family, fashion, shoes, career, friends. (And this is from Self-Made Hero, the British comics-publishing outfit that hasn't steered me wrong yet.)

There is a third volume of Young Lovecraft, the webcomic (originally in Spanish, of all things) by Bartolo Torres and Jose Oliver, and now I have it. (See my reviews of the first and second collections.)

I'll follow Roger Langridge nearly anywhere, so I grabbed Popeye, Vol. 1, collecting the first four issues of the new series, which Langridge wrote. (Art is by a bunch of people, including Tom The Blot Neely.) No one else quite did Popeye like, or as well as, his creator E.C. Segar, but that doesn't mean other Popeye stories can't be good in their own way.

And then there's The Complete Peanuts: 1991-1992, famously entirely by Charles M. Schulz. I've gotten a bit behind on the last books in this reprint series, but I might be able to catch up by the big finish (which is coming very soon, I think).

Dash Shaw's most recent book -- I think; he's very prolific -- is the slim graphic novel Doctors, which I'd been vaguely thinking about buying for a while., Now I have it, and I'll probably read it soon.

And last is Matt Wagner's Grendel Omnibus Volume 4: Prime, finishing up the reprint project of the original "run" of his Grendel stories. (It was from three companies over more than a dozen years under a number of different titles, but it was a thing that existed and then ended, so I guess it counts as a run. But I do wish Wagner would write new Grendel stories that aren't about that boring psychopath Hunter Rose.)

[1] Did I mention the new job has summer hours? It does. And it's very weird that I had to get out of publishing to get them.