Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 12: To All the Squirrels I've Loved Before by North, Charm, & Renzi

So I have no idea if the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series ended at #50 for actual economic reasons (slowing sales), for fake economic reasons (Marvel wanted to concentrate only on comics that can have ten different covers), or for real creative reasons (Ryan North ran out of ways to tell the same "Doreen Green faces Big Marvel Villain, and gets BMV to talk about feelings rather than punching"). It may have even been a reason I'm not considering - perhaps the combined forces of global squirrels realized this comic was too close to reality for their liking, and they've used their squirrely wiles to suppress it.

But, for whatever reason, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl - at that point the longest-running Marvel comic (hey! that's another possibility: it annoyed someone in the Marvel hierarchy that such an off-brand, for-female-and-young-people comic was so prominent!) - ended with issue #50, in January of last year.

The very last storyline was collected in this, the last collection: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 12: To All the Squirrels I've Loved Before. As with the previous few books, the creative team was writer Ryan North, artist Derek Charm, and color artist Rico Renzi, with a quick guest appearance from original series artist Erica Henderson.

In that book, Squirrel Girl's greatest foe gathers up all of her nearly-greatest foes and executes a carefully-orchestrated plan to first unmask Doreen Green (she who is Squirrel Girl) and then kill her.

Spoiler: it doesn't work. Squirrel Girl is not murdered in the last issue of her comic. This may seem to be a silly thing to mention, but in modern-day superhero comics, the opposite is actually somewhat more likely.

Anyway, there's a big fight - no, really, really big - involving nearly every character who has appeared in all fifty-eight issues of Squirrel Girl, but, in the end, niceness wins, with only a minor case (lampshaded in the actual book) of deus ex machina. This book is mostly fight scene: in that way, it's more like the rest of the superhero millieu than most of the previous Squirrel Girl stories

And Doreen nearly comes out of the closet near the end, in a way that gives plausible deniability to North but which only the very youngest and most sheltered of the Squirrel Girl audience will miss. And I can wish that was clearer or louder, but maybe this is as good as it could get.

I've written far too much about this series - witness my archives - so I think I'll leave it there. This was a nice comic that went almost entirely against the grain of modern superhero comics, in ways that were all good and positive. It was sometimes a bit too Girl Power! for me, but I am not a girl, and my opinion is not that important.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Reading Into the Past: Week of 11/29/91

No new books arrived this week, so I'm diving into my archives to list things I read in the past. The RNG sent me way back to the beginning of my reading notebook this time, so here's what I was reading this very week thirty years ago:

Dave Sim, Jaka's Story (11/24)

I've attempted to re-read Cerebus - of which this is the fifth volume - a few times since 1991, but this looks to be the last time I actually got through to the end of the what had been published to that point. (I was planning another re-read before my 2011 flood, which destroyed those books along with several thousand others.) A couple of years ago, I read the first two volumes, Cerebus and High Society, and I do have vague plans to get to at least Church & State and this book again...slightly hampered by the fact that I don't have copies of those. More speculatively, I do want to read the whole thing, even the tendentious stuff I didn't manage to get through before, eventually.

But there are a lot of things I hope to do "eventually."

Jaka's Story is probably the last really good part of Cerebus, and arguably the best story of the series. Unlike High Society, I don't think it stands on its own: you need to read up to this point for it to work. (And it's just over the two-thousand page mark, so I can see that might be a deal-breaker for some people.) When I read this again, I want to see how much it's really about consequences and aftermaths; when I read it before, I was a lot younger, and I don't know if thought that way yet.

Dave Sim, Melmoth (11/24)

And then this was the probably brand-new collection of Cerebus, retelling the story of Oscar Wilde's death through a fictional Widean character in Sim's fantasy world. (Yes, Sim was always hugely self-indulgent; every last thing he learned or cared about came out in Cerebus in nearly real-time. Before he went sour, it was exhilarating and fun. Afterward, it was just sad.)

This is one of the quirky middle-region bits of Cerebus: not clearly one of the heights (Jaka's Story, High Society, arguably all or parts of Church & State) but not one of the depths (Reads most obviously from the stuff I actually got through, though I hear parts of the end can get as bad or worse). It probably would stand on its own, oddly enough, since it has very little to do with the actual story of the larger series and is mostly Sim-does-death-of-Wilde. So it's possibly of interest to big Wilde fans.

Cynthia Manson & Charles Ardai, editors, FutureCrime (bound galleys, 11/25)

This was an anthology of stories, probably packaged by someone, that I read and that the SFBC  and offered soon afterward. (I'm not sure if I bought it; I started acquiring the fall of '91 when my boss Ellen was on a long vacation and Word Came Down to increase the number of new books in the magazine we thought we'd just finalized. As I recall, I handled a lot of small things for the first few years, and this probably counted as that.)

From ISFDB, I see that this was an all-reprint anthology, which was my guess. And the ToC is pretty good: "Barbie Murders," a strong recent Effinger story, plus a lot of other good stuff. This is massively out of print, but probably worth picking up for SF short-story lovers who happen to find it.

Mark Helprin, Winter's Tale (11/26)

I periodically think about re-reading this book, since it was that good. (I also periodically think about reading other Helprin books, but I think I've only hit maybe one in the decades since.) It's a historical fantasy novel published as mainstream, by a writer possibly better known as a right-wing crank, though his fiction is generally (I think) still very respected.

I may be burying the lede there: in memory, this is one of the massive, overwhelming fantasy novels of the world, up there with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Little, Big and similar brain-changers.

Bob Thomas, Disney's Art of Animation: From Mickey Mouse to Beauty and the Beast (11/27)

I'm sure I got this from work, and read it mostly because it was full of nice pictures, and was up-to-date at that point. Disney has put out similar books many times since then: my guess would be a new one for every "major" movie in the past thirty years. I have no specific memory of it at all, though the cover is vaguely familiar.

Chris Achilleos, Sirens (11/27)

Achilleos was - and may still be; I'm out of touch with that end of illustration these days - a famous and regularly working illustrator, based in England, whose work had a lot of attractive women wearing not all that many clothes and brandishing various implements of destruction. Unlike say Boris Vallejo, Achilleos was not mostly a book-cover artist, and did a lot more historical work (well, at least vaguely historical, since Boudicca or whoever would inevitably have her tits out while fighting the Romans).

This was the big book that helped make him famous in the mid-80s: it collected his mature work in a classy package.

I read his later book Amazonia a few years back, if you want my more-contemporary thoughts on Achilleos. (TL; DR: he's really good at what he does, but his stuff leaves me cold for reasons I don't really understand.)

Friday, November 26, 2021

Books Read: October 2021

I forgot to do this at the beginning of the month, but that's fine, since no one cares. It's pretty much entirely an index for Future Me.

But here's what I was reading last month, anyway:

Henry McCausland, Eight-Lane Runaways (10/2)

Michael Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred, Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams (10/3)

Emma Byrne, Swearing Is Good For You (10/3)

Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed, When Stars Are Scattered (10/9)

Walter Scott, Wendy, Master of Art (10/10)

Kristen Gudsnuk, Making Friends: Third Times's the Charm (10/11)

Ryan North, Derek Charm, and Rico Renzi, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 12: To All the Squirrels I've Loved Before (10/16)

Lavie Tidhar, The Escapement (bound galleys, 10/16)

Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, and Rich Tommaso, Black Hammer: Age of  Doom, Part II (10/17)

Tian Veasna, Year of the Rabbit (10/23)

They Might Be Giants, Brian Karlsson, and Paul Sahre, Book (10/24)

Kim Hyun Sook, Ko Hyung-Ju, and Ryan Estrada, Banned Book Club (10/25)

Ben Passmore, Sports Is Hell (10/30)

Naoki Urasawa, Asadora!, Vol. 1 (10/31)

Tim Powers, Alternate Routes (10/31)

Quote of the Week: It's The Doinklands, Jake

The massacre must have taken place only a few hours earlier. There were eleven bodies, and some had been shot in the back and some from the front but either way they were all dead. Some had tried to flee their attackers and were gunned down, and some had stood stoically and awaited their death. The Stranger smelled greasepaint, candyfloss, gunmetal oil. The tattered remains of a yellow balloon lay on the ground.

The Stranger examined the scene of the massacre. He had been witness to such scenes before, in other places, far away from there, but he never grew indifferent to such a sight.

Eleven clowns lay on the ground.

 - Lavie Tidhar, The Escapement, p.2

Thursday, November 25, 2021

The Escapement by Lavie Tidhar

Is there a term for stories about places like the Dreamlands that aren't Dreamlands? Portal fantasies make the transition matter: it's an important, transformative moment, and getting back to the other side of the portal - if the traveler even wants to - is usually long and complicated and difficult.

Dreamlands stories sometimes have complicated transitions - and here I'm thinking of Lovecraft and the Steps of Deeper Slumber - but those are generally metaphors, and clearly so. A traveler can be trapped in Dreamlands, but the transition is usually almost automatic, as waking up from sleep actually is.

So what do you call a fantasy that takes place in two worlds, where characters move back and forth, sometimes unconsciously, often without meaning to - at times even back and forth within a single paragraph? Is it a portal if one of the worlds is clearly our own? Is it a Dreamland if the other world is surreal and possibly constructed by the needs and history of our main character?

Or is it something else - something that may or may not have a name?

The Escapement is a book like that. Whatever you call it: it's like that. It's the most recent novel by Lavie Tidhar, whose work may have some repetition in it somewhere, but I haven't found any yet. Then again, I've only read the novels Central Station and The Violent Century so far; he's got four more I haven't made it to yet.

In our world, or a world as similar to ours as makes no difference, a man is in a hospital for a bedside vigil: his young son is there, hooked up to machines, unresponsive. Probably dying. The book never says that, but we recognize it. The rest of their family situation is unclear: the boy had a mother, and there is a woman the man talks to, once or twice: that may be her, they may even still be married. But the man is alone with his dying son. No matter else who may be near him in this world, he is alone.

In another world, a Stranger searches for the Plant of Heartbeat, the flower of the Ur-shanabi. It can stop time, the rumors say. He intends to find it and save the boy. He is the same as the man in the hospital, or the version of the same person in that other world. He will move back and forth, as between sleeping and waking, throughout the short novel, though all of the major events take place in that other world. In the Escapement.

The Escapement is mostly a wilderness, with a small area colonized by men. It's been a wilderness for eternities, and was colonized by other things long ago. It's also the occasional battleground for two groups of at least mildly godlike creatures: the gigantic Colossi and the more mutable pupae umbrarum. The battle between Colossi and pupae is called the Titanomachy, but don't let that lead you astray: there's no sign the Colossi are Titans, or pupae gods, or either of them related to the other. They are powers beyond human understanding, and when they fight, reality starts to dissolve around their battles in surreal ways: human bodies find parts replaced by glass jars full of beers, or elongated violins, or stranger things.

But the Escapement is mostly a wilderness: a huge wild land, like the idea of the American West, with vast vistas that have to be traversed, massive bits of scenery and huge stretches of badlands and forests and scrub and mountains and everything else you can image. It does have natives, though, but those are as surreal as everything else about it. The Escapement's natives are clowns: possibly non-verbal, divided into tribes of Augustes and Whitefaces and all the others, frightening as clowns can be frightening and never funny as we all know clowns are not really funny. There are other powers in this land, too: the Major Arcana walk among the humans, and some others who seem to be human have strengths and abilities hard to square with that origin.

The Escapement is the episodic story of the Stranger's journey, from one side of the map of the Escapement to the other, down a railroad, through the Doinklands, to the great town of Jericho and out again, all the way to the Mountains of Darkness and his eventual goal beyond them. He has companions who join him for a while and move on their own paths. He drops back to be the man in the hospital room and returns to the Escapement, over and over again.

His journey is to cheat death. Not for himself, if that helps. For his son.

The Escapement's models and precursors are from folklore and retold tales, across a dozen traditions. Cheating death is never a great idea, in any of them. But maybe the man, the Stranger can find what he's looking for and get something he didn't expect.

This is a weird book: you will have guessed. New Weird at a minimum, quirky and smart and precisely written and full of its own very specific and very odd world. It has influences but not precursors, if that makes sense: you can trace ideas into The Escapement but not point to any other book actually like it.

The clown thing may be too much for some readers, one twist of the willing suspension of disbelief too much. But I found it brilliant, distancing in the best way, a graceful sidestep of the essential racism of most frontier stories - who better to be "those savages" in The Escapement than clowns? And we do get strong hints that the structure of the Escapement - perhaps how this Stranger perceives and lives in the Escapement - is deeply based in the shared history of that man and that boy, in their lives before that hospital room.

The Escapement is like nothing else you've read. I'd recommend it entirely on that basis, but it's also beautifully written, thoughtful and deep, and resonant for anyone who's been a parent, or a child.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Making Friends: Third Time's a Charm by Kristen Gudsnuk

If there's a sequel, there has to be a trilogy. I don't know if that's actually a law, but we said it a lot in my SFBC days, and it turned out to be true almost all the time. (Did they stop at trilogies? No, most of the time, they didn't. But hardly anybody stopped at just two.)

So, as we all could have predicted, Kristen Gudsnuk did return to the story of Dany and Madison for Making Friends: Third Time's a Charm. (The first two are the original Making Friends and then Back to the Drawing Board.)

I probably won't run on as long about this one as the first two. It is the third, so writing too much could explain too much about the earlier books - particularly since this one begins very much in "wait, that's not how I remember it!" territory. (This is deliberate, and central to the story; Gudsnuk is being sneaky again.)

And they are books for middle-grade readers about tween girls and a magic notebook, so it would be very easy to put too much weight on things. (I am a Serious Adult who overinterpreted things for a living for a long time; that's one of my core skills.)

So, let me say that it begins with Dany and Madison in a life situation that does not entirely seem familiar, even as it looks very normal and realistic. There will be surprises. There will be new friends, with interesting lives. There will be new antagonists, ones with massive power and position - you might even say that the shenanigans from the previous books have finally come to the attention of the folks who do this kind of magic all the time.

I think this one is the end of the series, but it's hard to be sure. It has an ending that could be "OK, it's all cleaned up and put away; everything will be totally normal from this point on!" and that would settle the conflicts in this book - not in pure "our heroes will win every time, in the maximum possible way" fashion, but nicely and appropriately.

And yet. And yet. That would be putting all of the pieces back in the box carefully, closing the lid, and walking away. I am no expert on Kristen Gudsnuk, though I've now read a bunch of her books. But I get the sense she is not a put-everything-back-in-the-box kind of creator. So there may yet be a fourth book, which starts from the end of this one and blows everything up even more than the first three books do.

That will be fun, if it happens. If it doesn't, this is still fun. I think I like Back better than Third Time, but Back is almost uniquely wacky and madcap, and I think Gudsnuk is really really good at that stuff.

Either way, Third Time is a great third installment in the series. It may be the ending. It may not. It does have an ending; not all books do. And you don't have to be a tween girl to like it, though that may help. (Never having been one, I can't say either way.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Wendy, Master of Art by Walter Scott

I am not young and I have never been an arts student. I was never even serious enough about writing fiction to qualify on that account.

I say that up front, since I'm not at all the expected or target audience for Wendy, Master of Art.

This is Walter Scott's [1] third book about the young artist Wendy, who is probably semi-autobiographical in ways that won't be clear to anyone who isn't Walter Scott or maybe someone really close to him. Wendy is a hot mess, in that young-artist way: unsure what she wants, unfocused, insecure, a borderline alcoholic. Her world is the world of young artists; the cast is made up of characters who are either types or, possibly, actual real people changed just enough to keep Scott from getting sued.

In this book, she goes for her MFA at the University of Hell, in a provincial Ontario city. (Scott himself got his MFA in 2018 at the University of Guelph, which is pronounced not a million miles away from "hell," though with a G up front and a swallowed "fah" at the end.) There, she makes art, interacts with the other oddballs in the MFA program, is "mentored" and taught by a clearly burned-out professor, and teaches undergrads, but mostly avoids working on her art to drink and bitch and have a semi-doomed relationship with a guy back in Toronto who already has one girlfriend. (But that girlfriend also has a girlfriend, so it's polyamorously OK, we readers assume, even though Wendy and this guy Xav never actually talk about that part of their relationship.)

It's all told in a loose art style, almost sketchy, with a slightly shaky line all pretty much the same weight. It works just fine for this kind of story, about messy people in messy rooms and studios, with clutter all around and the detritus of making art, like "really long string."

And it's amusing, because Scott has a good eye for human foibles. All of these people are bad company, in one way or another, except maybe Xav. They're all young and obsessive and too in love with their own passions or their own successes or just being artists and filling out their images of themselves. They would be horrible company in real life, but are fun to laugh at in a book: that type of people.

Wendy is not the worst among that company - that would probably be Maya, the tiresome globe-trotting already-successful ball of self-absorption who sweeps in and out of the story as she name-drops every trendy city in the world - but Wendy would be pretty annoying in real life nonetheless, a needy mess unsure of every important thing in her life.

Frankly, the lesson I take from Wendy, Master of Art is that my vague stereotype of art students and the art world in general - formed at Vassar over thirty years ago, out of minimal materials and a dislike for the kind of people who smoke above eye level - is basically correct, and I have been right to avoid both since then. So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

Otherwise, this is funny, but it's mostly for people who live in this world and get all of the references. There are several scenes where outsiders come to Hell and are clearly on the outside while Wendy and her fellow students chat deeply about art stuff: Wendy, Master of Art is a book for the people who come to Hell and understand that talk, who can give it back as fast as they hear it.

[1] Yes, that seems to be his real name, and it can't have been easy. He's even Canadian, so there's an off-chance he could be knighted at some point and legitimately claim to be Sir Walter Scott.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Reading Into the Past: Week of 11/22/04

Nothing new this week, so instead I'll look to the past. Here's what I was reading in a randomly-chosen past year, 2004. I likely will remember very little about any of these books - which, in its own way, will tell you something about each of them.

John Blumenthal, Millard Filmore, Mon Amour (11/16)

I love the title, and remember liking the book even as I have a blank about what it actually is. (Literally: it's a novel but my first thought was to wonder if it was an odd non-fictional take on obscure 19th century Presidents.) It seems to be a deeply quirky novel, a humorous contemporary book mostly focused on a hypochondriac millionaire and his new girlfriend (the wife of his psychiatrist). I think I liked it, but I don't seem to have read any other Blumenthal books - I don't know what that means.

Robert Mankoff, editor, The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker (11/17)

I'm pretty sure I did not read every cartoon. As I recall, this is a pretty big book filled with lots of cartoons, but also included a CD-ROM (which were still somewhat shiny and exciting in '04, but not the crazy new thing they were in the '90s) that did actually include every single cartoon published in the New Yorker up to that point. I lost it in the flood, but, if I hadn't, this is a book I expect I'd be pulling out every so often to poke through.

Robert A. Heinlein, Grumbles from the Grave (1/18)

This was the first and only time I read this book of Heinlein's letters, though it was originally published in 1989. My understanding is that it saw a very heavy editorial hand and was aimed at providing a very particular and somewhat hagiographical view of him - something that will be completely unsurprising to anyone who knows anything about Heinlein, his widow Virginia, and his cult. Heinlein was always an entertaining writer of sentences, and full of strong opinions, so this collection of mostly correspondence with editors complaining about things they were doing "wrong" was entertaining.

But I'm sure there could have been - I have no idea if the papers still even exist - a more interesting book about Heinlein, one less centered on showing off how smart and forward-thinking and right he was. Maybe someday that book will exist.

J. Torres, et. al., Teen Titans Go!, Vol. 2: Heroes on Patrol (11/19)

My sons were big fans of the Teen Titans Go! TV show, and these associated comics around this time - the older one was six that year and the younger turned four a little later, so I might have been somewhat reading these to them. (Though my memory is not: I read a lot to them, but, in my mind, they grabbed comics and ran off on their own from a very young age.) Well, I should probably be more honest: I think I liked these comics even better than the boys did, at least as time went on.

No idea what specific stories are in this volume, fifteen-plus years later, but they were all zippy and energetic and funny and awesome. They might even still exist in the house, since they went into the boy's bedrooms rather than my bookshelves.

Paul Grist, Kane, Vol. 3: Histories (11/21)

I hesitate to call myself a big fan of Grist's comics, since I lose track of him for years at a time. But I've really enjoyed everything I've seen of his. This was the then-new book in his series about a cop in a realistic world, as opposed to his Jack Staff comics, which are superhero work and tend to the more baroque. Kane was the name of his central character, who was (I think) a detective in some mid-size, possibly fictional, UK city.

No memory at all of this particular book; I remember the series in general as inky and fun in a noir-ish way, with a dark outlook on life to match the art.

Gregory Benford, The Sunborn (typescript, 11/22)

No memory at all, though I clearly read it for work. According to online sources, it's in the same universe as (and probably a loose sequel to) The Martian Race, whose title rings a slight bell. I think they were relatively hard SF, fairly near future, and only very very slightly like spinach.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Quote of the Week: She Said What?

Surely things are starting to change? Here I am, a woman writing a book about swearing. As far as I know my friends don't hold me in contempt for my obsession with taboo language; my sex has never made me feel as though I shouldn't swear. Research shows that women are using swearing and other equally powerful forms of language more effectively than ever, but that same research shows that doing so still comes at a greater social risk for women: a man swearing is more likely to be seen as jocular or strong; women are likely to be seen as unstable or untrustworthy. To which I can only ask: where the fuck did this bullshit come from?

 - Emma Bryne, Swearing Is Good for You, pp.146-147

And then she proceeds to lay out the research in question, to explicate some of what we know about the bullshit, and, maybe, where it comes from.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

As far as I know, this book hasn't been banned. Rather the opposite, so far: it was nominated for a National Book Award, and has won some other, more specific awards. But the week I read it acclaimed graphic-novelist-for-kids Jerry Craft was banned from a Dallas-area school for "critical race theory" [1], so I'm calling it now: the Usual Suspects will be protesting this book, too, since it makes their little Kaydens and Buddies either "get lib'rul ideas" or whine that their teachers are being mean to them, depending on how stupid and/or indoctrinated any individual Kayden or Buddy is.

That may seem to have nothing to do with the book, but it's not. Culture wars have no boundaries: they range through all of culture. Culture is what we live in. And the white supremacists are waging a very clear cultural war, with loud "will not replace us" messaging on national TV, aimed at people exactly like the co-author of this book.

When Stars Are Scattered is a book every Kayden and Buddy should read. As young as possible: maybe when they're about seven, like Omar is at the beginning of this book. They should think about how they would live if they were refugees in a foreign country, with one parent dead and the other possibly lost forever. They should think about other kids: in their classes, in other parts of America, around the world. They should wonder what those kids are going through.

(To quote a song I've been listening to a lot lately, "if you think you're at your limit, just remember what some folks survive.")

This is a true story, more or less. From the afterwords by Omar Mohamed (who lived it, and shaped it into a story) and Victoria Jamieson (who turned the story into a script and the script into drawn pages), I think some characters are composites or somewhat fictional. But Omar is real. His brother Hassan, who can only say the word "Hooyo," is real. The refugee camp Dadaab in Kenya, where hundreds of thousands have lived for up to three decades now, is real. And the civil war in Somalia, which is still going on, is real.

Omar was about four and his brother just a baby when they left Somalia. What happened that day isn't revealed until late in this graphic novel, but I will tell you it opens three years later, with the two boys taking every chance they can get to look at new arrivals, hoping they will see their mother.

Scattered is mostly about life in the camp, and how Omar grows up there. It's a grinding life: not enough food, very little to do, no clear possible escape. The dream of every refugee is to get out - some, like Omar, dream of going back to their lives before the war, but we get the sense that's mostly children. Adults know that can never happen. The other dream is to get out: to be allowed to settle in some faraway country, Canada or America or somewhere in Europe. Only a few can get one of those slots: it's a long process, full of paperwork and interviews, and there's an element of competition to it.

And is your family situation worse than the others around you? Have you suffered more than them? Are you more worthy of being resettled somewhere overseas because of what you've been through?

And what does it do to a person and a society to have to think like that, to tell your story through that lens to UN interviewers?

Omar makes it through that world. This is a book for children; it has a happy ending. Omar is telling us this story, because he did make it out to America, and made the life he wanted. More than that, his adult life is devoted to helping other refugees, both the ones who made it to America and the ones back in Dadaab. It's a good life, a life worth celebrating and spotlighting. I'm glad he and Jamieson were able to tell his story so cleanly and clearly, to an audience that needs to hear it.

And so, again, I want to see When Stars Are Scattered in every elementary school across the country. Especially the ones without people named "Omar," or people who look like Omar Mohamed. That's the way compassion and honesty wins the cultural wars: through true stories of different people, presented to an audience young enough to learn lessons of compassion and honesty.

[1] In case you don't know, actual CRT is a graduate-level discipline, originated in law schools and also taught at the graduate level, to graduate students, in graduate schools of other kinds. It aims to untangle racial biases in things like historical criminal sentences.

It is in no way identical to "teaching white kids that kids of other races are also real people who you need to respect." The latter should be base-level standard, but it's what "conservative" parents are actually protesting, as seen in a telling quote from Connecticut, also this week: "helping kids of color to feel they belong has a negative effect on white, Christian, or conservative kids."

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Swearing Is Good for You by Emma Byrne

I've got a new formula for picking books: I don't know if it will help anyone else, but what the hell. When I hit those "I have no idea what to read next" moments, I grab the first plausible nonfiction book by a woman on my shelf.

Nonfiction because I'm a middle-aged man. I don't know exactly why, but those are just easier. My years in the fiction mines might explain part of that, but men of my age have a long and well-chronicled tropism for big fat books of factual stuff, too.

Women because I need to make some kind of choice, and a positive one in that direction at least gets me a little further out of my own head.

That formula got me this book, and it got me the thing I'm currently reading (pretty slowly, for a whole lot of reasons) digitally as well. Perhaps a similar formula (specifying a familiar genre or subgenre, plus something unfamiliar for the author) would work for others.

That's the random reason I read Swearing Is Good for You, a 2018 book from British researcher and journalist Emma Byrne. It's pretty good: another one of those "survey of the field" books, where every chapter is on a discrete subtopic and runs through a bunch of studies and other knowledge, focused on the role of bad language in society and brain chemistry.

It's a short book, and includes notes, a bibliography, and an index, so it's actually even shorter than its 232 pages seem to be. This is not a complaint: I appreciate books with the standard critical apparatus, even if I only rarely look up anything outside the book itself. And books should only be as long as they need to be: I'm not surprised there isn't more research on cursing.

So Good for You has seven chapters, covering the neuroscience of swearing, how pain affects cursing (and vice versa), Tourette's Syndrome, how cursing together bonds and breaks work teams, what language studies of chimpanzees have shown about their use of bad language, gender roles in cursing, and the tricky question of how to translate swears in fiction from one language to another. Each one is fairly discrete, but they do ladder together to form a coherent single book.

I realize I'm writing about a book about swearing, and haven't used any bad words here yet. Oh, fuck! I suppose that will do.

This was entertaining and interesting; it told me things I didn't already know and did that in a lively, authoritative voice. It was everything I look for in a nonfiction book: even the shortness was a big positive. If you're also looking for random nonfiction about random interesting word-related topics, I can recommend this one.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams by Michael Allred, Steve Horton, and Laura Allred

"Rayguns?" That's important enough to make the title? Stardust, sure, though more in the Ziggy sense than the "we are all" sense. And Moonage Daydreams, why of course. But why rayguns?

If I had been the editor of this book, I would have asked, "Why not "Starmen?" Or maybe "Pretty Things." Even "Space Oddities," though that would be a bit on-the-nose.

(Note: I am pretty sure my willingness to ask dumb questions was not instrumental in being cast out of the world of Sfnal Editorial work. Pretty sure. Yeah.)

But that's the title we have, even though (he said, hitting the tedious point for the last time, he promises) there are no rayguns in this book. Bowie: Stardust, Rayguns, and Moonage Daydreams. A biographical graphic novel about the chap born David Jones, but better known under his stage name. Primarily focused on the creation of and tour following the The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars record from 1972.

(And, frankly, I'm pretty sure someone, at some time during the creation of this book, lamented that the perfect title had already been taken, by that album. And maybe someone toyed with the idea of re-using the title.)

It's drawn by Michael Allred and colored by Laura Allred. The script seems to be, from M. Allred's afterword, mostly by Steve Horton, working from an Allred outline and list of important story beats, and then extensively worked over by both of them. (Horton did a lot of work, definitely, even if the art is all Allred and the words are at least somewhat Allred.)

It opens on the last night of the Ziggy tour, in 1973, in London. That's our frame: it leaps back to show Bowie's early career up to that point, in at least sketchy form. Unlike a lot of biographical stories, it doesn't get into childhood at all: there's a montage of David Jones At Various Youthful Ages on the first page, but that's literally it. Instead, it's all career: what he recorded when, who he worked with, who he knew and bounced off in London in the late '60s and early '70s.

Horton and Allred get a bit name-dropp-y with that, frankly, as they try to show that Bowie was the center of everything and influential on everyone and the best musician of any kind ever. I mean, I get that they love Bowie and especially this period: you don't spend months or years on a project like this without that level of love. But a bit of context goes a long way, and a bit of idol-worship is more than enough.

It's also all more than a little compressed: Horton and Allred are huge fans, so they're trying to get every last moment and idea in that they can, and the book comes across a bit staccato because of that. If you are a huge Bowie fan, that will be great: you don't need context, and it gives you more recognizable moments and ideas. For those of us who are more vaguely Bowie-positive, it's a flood of panels, many of which seems to be heading off in different directions to tell us something else.

Allred also drops into phantasmagoria a few times, in what may be meant to be chapter breaks and an extended visual overview of Bowie's later career at the end. These are wordless pages, crammed with images, most but not quite all of them images of Bowie in various guises and stages of his career. They are gorgeous and impressive and stunning, but not really comics, since they deliberately don't tell any story.

All in all, this is a book that is better the more of a Bowie fan you are. Not a fan at all: you will be bored and confused. Enjoy his music: it will be pleasant and enjoyable, though maybe a little much. Huge Ziggy-era stan: you will love it, though probably also find things to nitpick, because stans must always stan.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 11/13/21

So I missed last week. I realized it around noon on Monday, far too late to do something else to take the slot. But I had no new books then, as you might have guessed, so the empty page was not inappropriate.

This week I do have a couple of books to mention, both of them from Tachyon. Both of them are publishing soon (well, one of them was published last Tuesday, but you know what I mean), and here's what I can tell you about them.

51 is Patrick O'Leary's first novel in nearly two decades: he had three quirky, acclaimed books from 1996 through 2003, a couple of short-story collections in the Aughts, and has been (as far as I know) mostly silent since then. I know I saw his books at the SFBC; I know they looked interesting. I can't for the life of me remember how much of any of them I read; that was a long time ago.

This one is a SF novel, a conspiracy thriller, maybe something odder than either of those. The 51 of the title is Area 51, but the description makes it clear there are no aliens there. But there is "something so weird it bears little resemblance" to any of those previous explanations. This book also seems to have a succession of American presidents appearing in it, up to at least the previous one.

O'Leary was always a weird writer: he appears to be back exactly the same way he left, which is encouraging. 51 will be published on February 8th of next year.

The other Tachyon book also takes ideas from elsewhere to build something new: Arch of Bone is a short novel by Jane Yolen about Josiah, the son of dead Starbuck. (Think Moby-Dick, not Battlestar Galactica.) A single sailor returns from a disaster, a man we might as well call Ishmael, and tells Josiah his father, and everyone else on that ship, is now dead. So Josiah sets out to discover what really happened, and how his father died.

The title is an actual place, and is where Josiah ends up. I'm not quite clear what evidence anyone can find in the mid-19th century from a shipwreck in the middle of the sea, but that's the story here. My guess is that, unlike a lot of Yolen's work, there's no fantasy element here: this looks to be a historical novel, probably tuned to a middle-grade audience. It was published last week, includes illustrations throughout by Ruth Sanderson, and is available wherever you prefer to get your books.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Quote of the Week: Job Hunt

Commit a crime and the world is made out of glass, and a person could cut himself. What did I know about committing crimes?

"Experience is not a requirement," the [internal] voice countered. "Show somebody a gun, he doesn't ask to see your resume."

Suppose I got arrested?

"It might be unpleasant," the voice allowed. "On the other hand, matters like food and clothing and shelter would no longer be a problem."

Hmmm, I thought.

But what kind of criminal might I be? I at once ruled out anything that might put me on the receiving or inflicting end of violence. In fact, I would have to avoid any sort of confrontation. Embezzlement was not without appeal, but you had to have a job first.

Burglary, I thought, and the more I thought the more I liked it. It seemed somehow akin to writing - you set your own hours, you avoided human contact, and, if you were successful, you managed to touch the lives of people you never even met.

 - Lawrence Block, Afterthoughts, Version 2.0, "The Bernie Rhodenbarr Mysteries," pp.105-106

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Eight-Lane Runaways by Henry McCausland

I am 99% sure Eight-Lane Runaways was not planned as a formal allegory, that creator Henry McCausland had a more organic method of creating the story and pages here. But I'm also pretty sure some inventive reader could construct a reasonably sturdy allegorical reading of it, with only a little bending and twisting to make everything fit.

This is the kind of story that looks to be something simple on the surface: eight characters run a race. But it's much deeper than that - is the race life, or the search for meaning in life, or something like that? And are these individuals, or types, or ways of looking at the world, or something else?

Again: 99% sure McCausland did not have a formal schema in mind. I don't think there's a correct answer to those questions. But thinking about Eight-Lane Runaways through a wider lens than "who is this person and what is this person doing here?" is necessary to really get into what it's doing and saying.

We begin wordlessly: a racecourse running through a landscape, seen from high in the air. Then we see two runners, joined by a third, and a fourth, until there are eight. The first words, spoken at a starting or finish line by some kind of official: "Hello. Take this stick...and bring it back here."

The eight run. This is the story: how they bring the stick back, and what happens to all of them along the way. As they joined one by one, they will peel off one by one, as they find something else they need or want to be doing. They don't quite peel off in the same order they joined, or the reverse order. But we do start with two, and end with the same two. Not quite allegory.

It took a while for me to realize, and this may be a spoiler: they are not running against each other. They are running together. I think this is important.

(I think a lot of things about Eight-Lane Runaways. It's a great book to read if you like to think about the books you read.)

The eight are all individuals. We learn their names before the first story page: Freddo and Bruce, Khoklakola and Natalie Whey, Bobby Blackberries and Blaise Ayonnaise, Oplo and Mykol Jordon. Do we take those names seriously? I did, in the end: they're odd and quirky and artificial, but this whole book is inherently odd and quirky and artificial. That's the point.

None of them are Everyman. But each is in the middle of life. They mostly look young, but that could be McCausland's art style. They all have choices as the story goes on: I think McCausland means to show that they all make good choices, for themselves. I think he succeeds.

McCausland's art is detailed but easily skimmable. A reader will need to deliberately slow down and pay attention: yet another irony in a book about running.

I know I didn't get everything Eight-Lane Runaways had to offer in just one reading: it's a deceptively deep book. I look forward to coming back to it, around another bend in my own race, and to finding out what else McCausland has done, or will do next.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen: Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? by Matt Fraction, Steve Lieber, and Nathan Fairbairn

I have generally not been in favor of Big Two superhero comics going "realistic." That's mostly because what counts as realism in superhero comics looks more like cynicism or nihilism from any other point of view, and because superhero comics are inherently one of the very most artificial artforms ever devised by the hand of man.

So I'm happy to point out that Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? is very artificial, and revels in it. The only other series I've seen that has as many introducing-this-character-with-their-fantastic-logo! boxes is Paul Grist's deeply quirky Jack Staff. But this book does that trick one better: the person being introduced every single time is Mr. James Olsen himself, our hero and main character, in an unending sequence of sillier and sillier locutions about Superman's wingman.

(I'm pretty sure I remember "Superman's wingman" somewhere in the middle there. Nearly every way you could think to describe the Olsen boy are already in this book.)

Perhaps I should back up slightly.

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen was a famous Silver Age title, from the era where comics were flagrantly artificial and their audiences were assumed to be entirely made up of children who would age out within a year or three. It ran for twenty years, and regularly turns up in random internet "have you ever seen this insane thing?" collections. (Two words: Goody Rickles.)

And Jimmy, as a character, is closely associated with that era. He doesn't get the full-force opprobrium directed at some kid sidekicks, since he was intermittently depicted as an actual adult (if a juvenile, silly, easily-distracted one) and had an actual job that made sense in the context of the comics. But he was often comic relief in core Superman stories, and his own title was, to use a technical term, regularly batshit crazy (in the best possible way).

So Mr. Jimmy Olson comes with some baggage. And the 2019 series about him - by writer Matt Fraction, artist Steve Lieber, and colorist Nathan Fairbairn; collected as Superman's Pal Jimmy Olson: Who Killed  Jimmy Olsen? - leans heavily into the silliness, providing not just a goofy Jimmy, but a very weird take on Batman, an extended Olsen family with shocking connections to Lex Luthor (who also gets an extended family), the aforementioned massive number of story-introducing boxes, and a lot of just plain goofiness.

For example: the book opens with a story from some piece of product entitled Superman: Leviathan Rising Special #1, which I gather from context was some kind of crossover event thingy. ("Crossover event thingy" is a technical term in corporate comics.) In that story, Olson wakes up in Gorilla City, surprisingly married to an interdimensional jewel thief after a long night of drinking gorilla-strength champagne, and ends up in the possession of a cat that vomits astoundingly large and sustained streams of blood. Complications quickly ensue.

This all seems like random goofiness. Nearly all of it will become very important to the overall plot of Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? Note: I am not saying any of it becomes any less goofy.

The actual plot of the main story takes a while to coalesce, and is told out of chronological order. My sense is the playing-with-time stuff isn't to be daring or stylistically inventive; it's just another way to be randomly goofy and confusing. I liked and appreciated all of it; those who like more straightforward superhero stories may be annoyed or bored.

So we get Jimmy causing trouble, having to flee Metropolis for Gotham City, having his Life Model Decoy (named something slightly different I don't want to dig through all the pages to find) "murdered," and hiding out as an oddball "modern" version of himself (Timmy Olson, cringe YouTube sensation!). We also see Jimmy's fabulously wealthy family (stuck-up brother, boho playwright sister), Jimmy's deep family history (return to the frontier days of New Obsterstad with the feud of the Olsson and Alexander families!), Lex Luthor lurking around the edges of the story doing that I-am-such-a-villain hand-wringing gesture, Jimmy's landlord/lawyer, a very silly very minor villain, an interdimensional would-be conqueror, and a rapidly-increasing death count of people close to Jimmy.

Again, we don't get any of that in order: we get bits and pieces of all of it, smash-cutting from one Jimmy Olson story intro to another, and it all coalesces about halfway through this twelve-issue miniseries.

To my mind, if you're going to do a superhero story, or even a story set in a superhero world (this is more of the latter; Jimmy is always central, and most of the important characters don't have powers), you need to be at least halfway lighthearted. We all know every ending will be happy, all deaths are temporary, and all drama is momentary. And Who Killed gets that tone right: it doesn't make fun of its own story too much, but it doesn't try to pretend this is about the fate of the world, either.

To my mind, this is what good comics in a superhero milieu looks like: fun, with consequences to actions but not overly invested in them, full of random oddities and an overall sense of possibility.

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Volume II: 1939-1962

I am no expert on poetry. Let's start there. I do read some of it, now and then, and think any serious reader should want to hit poetry now and then. The specifics will differ - maybe Dickinson, maybe Herrick, maybe Best American Poetry - but I have to believe that if you like stories and words and learning things about the world, poetry is part of that mix somewhere.

I've been reading William Carlos Williams since college, where a 20th Century American Lit class introduced me to his book-length poem Paterson. That's since become one of the very few things I re-read: I've hit it roughly once a decade since, and have a copy waiting for me on the to-be-read shelf for this decade.

I read the first volume of his Collected Poems some time ago. I'm sure it's in my reading notebooks, but I'm not sure which year, so finding it would be a pain. It was definitely before this blog, before 2007. And I've had this second volume on the shelf since there; it somehow (along with the rest of one shelf of unread poetry) survived my 2011 flood.

That's more-or-less how The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Vol. II: 1939-1962 came to be the book I read in the smallest room of the house over most of the past year. (It's a big, dense book. And poetry is good for reading one or two poems at a time: it keeps them separate and distinct.) It was edited by Christopher MacGowan; it's the definitive text, issued as part of a project in the '80s to eliminate errors in the Collected Early Poems and Collected Late Poems, the previous definitive editions. It collects the separate books The Wedge, The Clouds, The Pink Church, The Desert Music, Journey to Love, and Williams' nearly-posthumous final collection, Pictures from Brueghel, which won the Pulitzer.

So this is over four hundred pages of modernist poetry, mostly post-war. Lots of sentence fragments, no organized rhyme scheme anywhere. Williams, as a poet, was all about the line, and even more the foot - his poems work really well read out loud. (I used to have a quirky dream to stage a big reading of Paterson, with multiple voices for different sections, though I had no clue who would want to attend such a thing. Maybe I just wanted to be able to yell "no ideas but in things" in public.)

There is nothing famous here. The two short poems by Williams that people know - the plums, the wheelbarrow - were much earlier in his career. It's just a lot of good, thoughtful poetry by one of the greats, a man who was also a working doctor in a busy city, living in a time of change and upheaval, watching the change of the seasons and his family grow up and older, traveling and thinking and writing.

I liked it. I liked reading a bunch of Williams poetry over the course of a year. I expect to get to Paterson in another year or so, and try some other poetry, bit-by-bit, in the near future as well. I recommend that to any reader. Maybe Williams, because he is good and surprising and little-known, so every poem will be new. But just as easily someone else: someone that speaks to you, a poet from your part of the world or background or similar to other things you love.

I guess I'm just encouraging you to read good poetry. Yes, that'll do.

Friday, November 05, 2021

Quote of the Week: Consumer Warning

When Doug Green and I discussed bringing out a collection of these early stories, he brought up the subject of an introduction. "You can read through the stories," he said, "and write some sort of preface."

"One or the other," I said. "You decide which."

I have a lot of trouble looking at my early work. I rarely like the way it's written, and I especially dislike the glimpse it gives me of the unutterably callow youth who produced it, I like that kid and wish him well, but read what he wrote? The hell with that.

You know what? I'm afraid to read them. I'm scared I'll decide not to publish them after all, and it's too late for that.

So an uncharacteristic attack of honesty compels me to advise you that I am in the curious position of introducing you to a couple of dozen short stories which I myself haven't read in forty years.

 - Lawrence Block, Afterthoughts, Version 2.0, "One Night Stands and Lost Weekends," p.177

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Part I by Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, (and in smaller letters) Dave Stewart and Todd Klein

Hey! Shit actually happens in this book! And those things largely validate my "get off the pot and actually say XYZ" grumblings from the previous books, which also makes me happy. [1] Once again, I'm not claiming any great powers of reasoning or insight: this is a pastiche superhero comic, and the plot beats are thuddingly obvious. They were just massively delayed for reasons that I tend to believe owed more to "I want to tell some only vaguely related stories first" than "this Other Stuff is actually important."

This book follows the first two Black Hammer books (one and two) and the very much sidebar (and baroquely-titled) books about Sherlock Frankenstein and Doctor Star Doctor Andromeda (my post will go live in three days as I type this; let's see if I remember to add the link!). And it leads pretty directly, I expect - with the caveat this this series has been all about the fakeouts leading to extensive unrelated flashbacks up to this point - into the next volume, which is titled Age of Doom, Part II.

(There's no third volume of Age of Doom, which could be ominous, but there are seven more volumes after that. They could all be flashbacks - Black Hammer '45 pretty obviously is, for one - but I choose to believe that even this series will move forward in time once it exhausts all other options.)

Anyway, this is called Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Part I but, as I just pointed out in tedious detail, it's not actually "Part 1" of anything. It's either part three (of the linear story) or part five (of all previous volumes). Like the rest of the main series to this point, it's written by Jeff Lemire and drawn by Dean Ormston, assisted by colorist Dave Stewart and letterer Todd Klein.

And it's still stuck on the moment at the end of the first volume, when the new spunky female Black Hammer arrived on "The Farm" from Spiral City, discovering the five or six superheroes living there (do we count Talky Walky? I do) after The Event and we the audience saw one of those supposed heroes, the witchy Madame Dragonfly, immediately steal Hammer's memories for what we have to assume are nefarious purposes.

(Note that we get a different flashback version of that scene in this volume, following the big "everything you know is wrong" moment, and the new version means that the old version could not have possibly happened that way...which is really annoyingly lazy storytelling.)

So we open  this book with another return to the moment where Hammer announcing she's remembered everything and is going to have a reckoning, and she of course immediately disappears. (Gotta keep the tension up somehow!) From there, we get a couple issues of Hammer in various weird worlds (first a transparent ripoff of the bar between worlds from the end of Sandman, then not-DC Hell and a couple of other mystical places, just in case any of the slower readers aren't convinced Dragonfly is behind it), while the main cast decide to figure this out and get sidetracked by their various inamorata deciding that, yeah, OK, we can have sex now.

Again, Lemire is making it clear, even to the slower kids in the back, that the two reality-warping characters are...what's that again? oh, yeah, warping reality.

Eventually, in time for the last of the five issues collected here, we finally get to see Everything We Know Is Wrong. (Well, Everything We Know about the Farm. I bet we know some wrong things about the death of the previous Hammer, and maybe the Anti-God, too.) And we get a big cliffhanger moment on the very last page, as we must when a Part I is going to lead directly to a Part II.

As before, I can appreciate the storytelling and character work - both Lemire and Ormston do good panel-by-panel and page-by-page work here, making engaging people, moving them around convincingly, and making them all interesting - while still finding the overall structure silly and ungainly and massively derivative and entirely airless. I still think Black Hammer is a very well-done version of a thing I would be hard-pressed to say is worth doing.

[1] Trust me, this is me happy. At least as happy as I get about manipulative third-hand superhero tales.

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Afterthoughts, Version 2.0 by Lawrence Block

I'm going to try not to repeat what I wrote here nine years ago about the first edition, but that will be difficult: it's still largely the same book, if spruced up, reorganized, expanded and improved.

So let me start with the TL;DR version of both posts: Lawrence Block is a smooth, engaging writer who has had a long, interesting career, mostly in the fields of crime fiction, and Afterthoughts, Version 2.0 collects afterwords from a wide variety of his books, almost all written in the last decade and a half, which provide amusing (and generally consistent) background details and context about the writing of those books and his life at the time, over the previous fifty years. It is not an memoir - that is the more recent A Writer Prepares - but it's something of a companion to that memoir, and is more focused on the details related to specific books. And I think fans of writers typically do want details around specific books.

You're probably not interested in this book if you've never read Block. If you have never read Block, but do like 20th century American crime fiction, let me aim you towards The Sins of the Fathers (hardboiled PI), Burglars Can't Be Choosers (humorous cozy), Hit Man (crime), or Small Town (expansive thriller).

OK, so, with that out of the way...do I actually have anything else substantive to say?

Afterthoughts is well organized - an amusing thing I've noticed with Block is that he seems to have very little patience for arranging pieces of prose: his pieces about his short-fiction collections complain that he doesn't know how to put stories in a pleasing order, so he defaults to chronological or alphabetical order when forced to do so. (And that makes me wonder how his recent career as an anthologist has been going. Surely he doesn't just plop the stories into the book in the order they're turned in to him, does he?) But, in this book, he's first broken up his vast corpus into categories (one-off novels, series, short fiction, his general sex novels and those written as Jill Emerson, etc.) and then arranged the afterwords within each category in sometimes-chronological fashion. Given what Block has written about organizing collections, elsewhere and in this book, that was probably a huge pain for him, but it's appreciated. (Note: the first edition was also organized in basically the same way, so this was likely a pain for Block, or some editor at Open Road Media, about a decade ago.)

Otherwise, this is basically all of the material in the first edition, with some corrections and probably some elisions (to keep from saying the same thing too many times), plus quite a bit of new material from books republished in the decade since that first edition. I bought it and read it despite owning the first one, so I do think that's worthwhile and reasonable. (Of course we always think the things we've already done are worthwhile and reasonable: how could we not?)

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 11: Call Your Squirrelfriend by Ryan North, Derek Charm, and Rico Renzi

I think this volume - second from the end, for those counting down - is the first in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl history to credit only men on the cover, which is a slightly sad thing. (Naomi Franquiz and Erica Henderson each draw a few pages of the first issue collected here, so it's an asterisked sad thing: there is some work by women here, but only a bit and not cover-credited.)

I could spin that out into a whole thing, but this is corporate comics, so Girl Power! always was going to be subject to the vagaries of the market - and most of those men are the same ones who were in from the beginning (writer Ryan North and colorist/occasional card-art creator Rico Renzi). So I'd have to hang that sadness on the transition from original artist Henderson to Derek Charm, who took over about a year before the comics collected here, and that feels like it would be picking on him for getting a good gig and doing good work at it. So, anyway: here are some stories about female friendship and girl power....made by men.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 11: Call Your Squirrelfriend departs from the usual model of the previous volumes by having its one-off issue up front, rather than at the end. That's the big fiftieth-issue celebration - a team-up of the Squirrel Girls of three ages (roughly 12, 20, and 60) to defeat Kang the Conqueror - which is #50 only if you count the 2015 eight-issue series that was immediately rebooted for purely commercial reasons into the second, otherwise identical, series with exactly the same title and creators and direction. (Corporate comics, man! They're stupid even when they don't have to be. It's like they go out of they way for it.)

The rest of this volume collects a crossover story, I'm mildly sad to say. I don't know how the rest of "War of the Realms" - in which a secondary villain from Walt Simonson's Thor was dusted off and came thisclose to conquering every one of the ten canonical Norse mythological realms, including Earth/Midgard - went, though I expect worlds lived, worlds died, and nothing was ever the same...until the next big crossover two issues later. Here's it's mostly an excuse to send SG (aka Doreen Green) off to Canada without her usual supporting cast to battle the Frost Giants who have taken over North America. (Apparently, "War of the Realms" saw my man Malekith first conquer every other Norse realm, perhaps for practice, and then use all of their combined forces to invade and conquer Earth, so each of the various kinds of mythic creatures could have their own discrete continent to invade and dominate. It's all very wargame-y, frankly - the kind of thing that seems like it was more fun for the people planning than in the actual storytelling or reading.)

SG does get to team up with Her Greatest Enemy, or at least Her Greatest Enemy Connected To Norse Mythology, which is close enough for government work. So she and Ratatoskr, the "Asgardian chaos squirrel god," have to bicker and team up to defeat the Frost Giants and do their small piece of world-saving. She does foment a political revolution - at least as far as we see - among the Frost Giants by quoting John Locke at them, which is mildly amusing, though part of me wished she went full hardcore Marx/Lenin.

But I am getting a sense that the team was running out of SG stories at this point, and/or getting dragged away from their comfortable Girl Power! corner of the Marvel Universe, which may be why the whole series ended just a few issues later, with the actual #50. But I'll have to see about that when I get to Vol. 12.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 10/30/21

Three books this week, all of them from the library. I've already read one of them, so let's get right into it:

Banned Book Club is a graphic novel written by Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada and drawn by Ko Hyung-Ju, about a young woman named Kim Hyun Sook who goes to college in her native South Korea in 1983. There, she gets caught up in protests against the oppressive government, almost without realizing it, by joining the title group. It's not exactly the real Kim Hyun Sook's story - all of the other characters are composites - but it's broadly true, and closer than a work of fiction about the same years would have been.

Asadora! Vol. 1 is the first in a series by Naoki Urasawa, who is one of the big names in manga. (I've only read the first two volumes of Pluto myself, and maybe some Pineapple Army way back in the mists of time.) The book itself says nothing about the story, but it has a cute girl posing on the front cover and what looks like an apocalypse in the opening pages, so I have no idea what it's about. I'm sure I saw a recommendation of it somewhere.

Sports Is Hell is a short graphic novel by Ben Passmore about, as I understand it, the US fascination with the violence of sports and what that means culturally. Passmore is, how do I say this politely?, not a shrinking violet about his political ideas, which tend to be on the leftist end of things. So I expect a lot of opinions, strongly held - which is the point of a book like this. Passmore is also the author of Your Black Friend; that's probably where most people would know him from.