The Führer represents the people, obtains his savagery from the savagery inherent in the mass, the wolf-pack; they obtain their confidence from him: mutual intoxication, in which personal responsibility is consumed in an anonymous collective self-righteousness. That, with insignificant variations, is the history of all national leadership. (William Gerhardie, from God’s Fifth Column)
Punisher: Soviet by Garth Ennis (writer), Jacen Burrows (penciler), Guillermo Ortega (inker), Nolan Woodard (colorist), Rob Steen (letterer), Kathleen Wisneski (associate editor), Nick Lowe (editor), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $17.99, 120 pgs, Marvel.
As you might recall, I famously (?) dislike the Punisher, even when Garth Ennis is writing him, so I get my Punisher books in very small doses. I enjoyed the Juan Ferreyra Punisher story from earlier this year, Punisher Kill Krew, because Juan Ferreyra drew it and Gerry Duggan took Frank way out of his comfort zone, which is usually interesting. And I thought I’d like this because it’s only a six-issue series, so there’s no long-term commitment necessary, and Jacen Burrows drew it, and Burrows is a really good artist. So there!
Ennis fools us, though, because this isn’t really a Punisher story. It’s a war story disguised as a Punisher story, and furthermore, a war story about Russians, which Ennis seems to really enjoy writing. Frank discovers that someone is eliminating the criminal organization of a Russian gangster, and everyone thinks it’s him. It turns out it’s an old Russian soldier who has a bone to pick with the gangster, so Frank decides to help him. A good deal of the story is the soldier telling Frank about his experiences in Afghanistan in the 1980s and why he hates the gangster so much, and it’s a very good reason. The rest is them trying to lure the gangster out. There’s a ton o’ violence, of course, which is fine, and Ennis knows how to make war both horrible and something that binds men together, which is one reason the gangster is in trouble. It’s also not just Frank killing everyone he sees, and the final confrontation with the gangster is horrifying mainly because Frank isn’t out to kill everyone he sees. It’s a tragedy, sure, but Ennis is good at balancing the horror of Frank’s everyday life with moments that show his humanity.
Burrows is finally working for one of the Big Two, which is nice, because for years he’s been toiling away at Avatar (he liked working for them, as I asked him about it one time, but it’s still a tiny company) and he hasn’t gotten the recognition he deserves. His art is crisp and clean, and I think Ortega’s inks add a bit of thickness to the lines, which adds heft to the work, and it’s a good combination. Burrows is very good at the violence, but he’s also good at showing the toll it has taken on not only Frank and the Russian soldier, but even the other, more minor characters. The gangster’s wife is important for a bit, and Burrows does a very good job showing on her face what she’s done to survive. She knows she’s in a pickle, and Burrows makes it clear from the way she moves her face that she knows it.
So this is a good Punisher story partly because it’s not totally a Punisher story. Like I noted – small doses!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
If you’re talking late 1960s/early 1970s DC and you say “batshit insane,” you’re probably talking about one of the two Bobs – Haney or Kanigher. However, in this volume Steve Skeates and Neal Adams both throw their hats in the ring, as this is a pretty batshit insane collection. It begins with a fairly normal story – Aquaman is trying to stop a saboteur who’s blowing up factories that pollute the seas, which you would think would make Aquaman his ally, but of course an “innocent” night watchman was killed in one place so Aquaman gets to be all high and mighty and Skeates gets to evade a moral conundrum that he didn’t want to get into (let’s all remember the contractor from Clerks telling Dante and Randal that those punks working on the Death Star deserved it, and the night watchman probably did, too). It’s a standard story from this time, when comics writers were concerned about ecological disaster (thank goodness we solved that problem), but it’s not inherently weird (well, except for the fact that Aquaman calls Aqualad “Minnow” all the time in a “Is he a pedophile?” kind of way). Then we hit issue #50, and Skeates must have dropped some acid or something, because, well, things a-happen.
First, Ocean Master shows up in Atlantis and tells Aquaman he remembers that they’re brothers. Then aliens show up and zap Aqauman with some kind of weird ray, and when he wakes up, he’s in another dimension with strange creatures but also, inexplicably, human beings dressed like they’re living in a 1950s sci-fi movie. The people never talk, instead communicating by telepathy only in a small room in the center of their city. Aquaman initially can’t enter because the guard shoots him … with bubbles. Yep, green bubbles (see the cover of this collection!) engulf him, making it hard to move. He escapes and enters the room, where the leader shows up. Before the leader can tell him, basically, to pound sand, we get the back-up story, which is written and drawn by Neal Adams and features our old friend, Boston Brand. Deadman, it turns out, was sent to help Aquaman, even though he doesn’t know it yet. He sees Ocean Master talking to the aliens, and when he enters Ocean Master’s body, something happens to the villain’s memory and he remembers … that he’s Aquaman’s brother! So the Deadman story is taking place more or less simultaneously as the Aquaman one, but Brand does some slightly different things. Adams was a crazy writer even back then, and the aliens can sense him, so they sic a small, cat-like creature on him, which somehow hurts him and drags him into yet another dimension, where the cat-like thing turns out to be a dead-sexy Sixties go-go girl (of course). Meanwhile, Aquaman is moving around his alternate dimension (where he’s somehow able to swim through the air), and he meets some primitive men who actually talk to each other, but before he can talk to them, the girl he met first in the dimension fires a gun at them, because she’s … mad at them, somehow? Oh, and Skeates and Aparo use almost an entire page to put themselves into the book – it’s not just a panel of something big happening and the creators in the foreground running away, it’s actually a conversation between two weird-looking men called “Steev” and “Jimm” and complain about their boss, “Dikk” (Giordano, the editor). I mean, really, guys? You had that much space to waste?
Anyway, I’m not going to tell you where Aquaman is, because it’s … you know, batshit insane, and I’m not going to tell you how Deadman saves the world (batshit insane again), and I’m certainly not going to tell you why Deadman doesn’t hook up with the dead sexy Sixties go-go girl, because it’s hilariously sexist and makes me wonder if Adams ever got laid. But Skeates isn’t done! In the very next issue, he shows a secretary typing at a desk, oblivious to water rising around her until it engulfs her and (possibly?) drowns her. Then we get the splash page, which asks the title of the story: “Is California Sinking?” Then we get a story of a private citizen who doesn’t want his fancy house to sink into the ocean when Atlantis rises from the sea floor, so he buys an atomic bomb to destroy Atlantis. But the dude who told him Atlantis was rising is a member of a criminal organization that wants to kill Aquaman so they can take over the “whole ocean floor.” What? Meanwhile, Black Manta is vexing Aquaman for some reason (I mean, I guess he’s a villain, but he doesn’t seem to think out his scheme all that well), and it turns out he’s also in league with the criminal organization (which is called O.G.R.E., because why not?), as they want to keep Aquaman near Atlantis so he dies in the explosion. Aquaman gets out of it, of course, but let’s consider the brilliance of having someone buy an atomic bomb, hire a submarine, and try to bomb Atlantis because he loves his house so much. Oh, and for the second time in the book, a giant squid plays a big part. Oh, and the drowning woman at the beginning? She has nothing to do with the story, and Skeates revisits her drowing at the end, just to remind us that she had nothing to do with the story.
Then there’s a Thanatos story, in which Aquaman is captured and brainwashed, and we get Thanatos out of it (it’s actually a pretty clever story, but it’s still batshit insane). Hilariously enough, Aquaman does almost nothing in the story, and he’s rescued by cops who make a big deal out of who’s behind the scheme, but it turns out to be just another would-be “Mr. Big” – it’s not some big DC villain or anything, so why they make such a big deal out of revealing him is beyond me (this is the first appearance of Thanatos, and Peter David made great use of him in his run). Aquaman returns to the weird dimension with the sci-fi people in issue #55, and then we get issue #56, “The Creature That Devoured Detroit!” This is a good but wildly disappointing story, as here is no giant green creature attacking Detroit, but rather a semi-sentient algae that’s growing at a phenomenal speed. It’s a batshit story, no doubt – Aquaman seeks the help of an old friend who was a “police scientist.” This dude has gone private and set up satellites that keep Detroit in a state of permanent semi-sunlight, so criminals don’t want to venture out. However, this is making the algae grow, and when Aquaman tells Don Powers (yep) that fact, Don basically says he doesn’t care because crime is down. He actually knocks Aquaman out and dumps his body in a park to keep him away. Don is also a vigilante called the Crusader, and he wants to solve one more case before he retires because his eyes are going bad. Does he want to take down an evil serial killer? A vicious rapist? A big-time gangster? A corrupt politician? Nope – Don wants to bust a car-theft ring. He’s willing to create monster algae that will eat Detroit to stop a car-theft ring. I mean, I know the people of Detroit took their cars seriously, but really? Crusader dies off-panel, by the way, when he doesn’t make a jump between rooftops because his shoddy eyesight doesn’t tell him how far the gap is. Meanwhile, in the chapter called “Aquaman vs. the Creature!” we get … Aquaman pulling a girl to safety and then telling everyone to stay away from the algae. The chapter should have been called “Aquaman records a Public Service Announcement!” Anyway, with Don dead, Aquaman is able to destroy the satellite and Detroit is saved. If only Aquaman hadn’t saved Detroit, then the Flyers would have won the Stanley Cup in 1997. Fuck you, Aquaman!
Jim Aparo does his usual stellar job on the art, as the inks are nice and rough and the layouts, particularly in the “other dimension,” are weird and nifty. As always when I look at Aparo from the late 1960s and 1970s, the difference between it and late 1980s/1990s Aparo, when I first saw him, is shocking – Mike DeCarlo, who usually inked him in those days, didn’t do him any favors, but Aparo’s figure work was becoming far too static. In these issues, like in his Spectre issues and his Brave and the Bold issues, he’s really excellent. Adams kills on the Deadman story, which isn’t surprising at all.
So that’s Steve Skeates doing way too many drugs (or, more frightening, not any) and writing some Aquaman stories in 1970-71. They’re really frickin’ fun, and while the deluxe edition is a bit pricey at $40 (I have no idea how cheap or expensive these issues are or if they’re easy to find), they’re still really nifty stories. Check them out somehow!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel (I’m not showing the panel where Aquaman “hears” a bunch of thoughts telepathically, as Aparo makes them all artists’ names who worked at DC at the time, which is a pretty keen panel, but I’m still not showing it):
This is a strange book for a number of reasons. The introduction is by King Abdullah II of Jordan, which is kind of awesome but also weird. Morgan’s focus is on Muslim achievements, and while it’s true that much of that was neglected by historians for years, by 2007 the scholarship had caught up quite a bit, so it’s not exactly “lost history” anymore, but what’s even stranger is that he admits freely throughout the book that European Christians way back in the olden days knew of and used the research of many Muslim thinkers – their Latinized names are famous, from Averroes to Avicenna. Yes, the majority of Muslim scientists and philosophers might have been left behind, but that happens to a lot of thinkers in any era, and not just because they’re from a marginalized group – there are any number of reasons we don’t hear about certain people in history. Morgan also indulges his creative side a bit too much, as well. He doesn’t use endnotes, which isn’t too surprising in a popular history book, but while his bibliography is solid, it’s surprisingly short for a book of such breadth (he covers almost all of Muslim history, even briefly into the 19th and 20th centuries). He begins each chapter with vignettes about Muslims or Muslim-adjacent people in the modern world, but admits in the introduction that they’re fantasies, so their inclusion makes no sense, as they don’t really illuminate his main point. He invents stuff in the “historical” sections, as well, but at least those would be possible based on what we know of the subjects, and the people are talking or thinking about things that they wrote down or built, so it’s not egregious. But it remains a weird book.
Despite that, it’s very readable, and Morgan does cover a lot of obscure people who had perhaps an indirect influence on the history of science, art, architecture, and philosophy. Some Muslims from Islam’s “Golden Age” (roughly 750-1250) were far ahead of their time, hinting at heliocentrism or even relativity centuries before Europeans did. The problem is that hints are all we get, and who knows if these dudes (almost everyone is a dude in this book, because despite the relative tolerance of Islam in general and some figures in particular, it was still a dudes’ world) would have followed through on their speculations? The hints are intriguing, though. Islam during this time really was quite tolerant, allowing scientists to work freely as long as their stated goal was exploring the mysteries of God, which is vague enough that you can do a lot under that umbrella (I should point out that Western Europe, which gets a bad rap as being close-minded and oppressive during the so-called “Dark Ages,” was a lot more tolerant than you might think). The political stability offered by the Abbasids in Baghdad and the Umayyads in Spain also helped, but Morgan shows how almost every group that came to power even in times of political instability tried to re-create the “Golden Age” by promoting science and the arts, so the Muslim ideal of learning spread to Samarkand under Tamerlane, India under the Mughals, and even Spain under the Almoravids (who were a fundamentalist sect). For centuries, it was the standard of Muslim governance, and the people who leaned that way took full advantage of it. So it’s an interesting book not only because of who Morgan covers, but because he tries to explain why the Muslims felt this way about their domains and even how it changed as the Europeans became stronger (he doesn’t get into environmental factors, which better thinkers such as Jared Diamond feel is a huge reason for it). But it’s still an interesting book – he zips back and forth through time, as the book is arranged by subject – math, art, astronomy, architecture – and not chronologically, but that works, as he’s able to create a vast and seemingly immortal tapestry of Islam, always in flux but always present, promoting these men who would change the world. It’s not a bad way to tell the story.
This isn’t a great book, mainly because of the issues I outlined above, but it’s nice that Morgan gets into the more obscure figures of Islam and doesn’t just stick to the big guns. I’m not sure how much of this history is “lost,” but it makes for a dramatic title, and this book makes a good companion piece to other, better books I’ve read about Muslim history. If you haven’t read any books of Muslim history, this skips over a lot on the political side, but it’s not bad. Despite its length, it feels a bit short, like it could have been 100 pages longer and really been great. But it’s still decent.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
In Eliot Rahal’s first Cult Classic series, he wrote that he wanted to create a place (a town called Whisper) that he and other writers could set their stories in, and while I don’t know about the “other writers” part, here’s the second series by Rahal set in Whisper. It’s a homage to schlocky 1950s B horror/sci-fi movies, complete with a schlocky 1970s-esque television host to introduce them! There’s an alien, there’s a comet, there’s something horrible in the lake, and lots and lots of people get killed. Rahal kills kids, sympathetic characters, asshole characters, characters you’re sure will survive to end, and characters who might as well have a giant target painted on them. In fact, the biggest weakness of the book is that he kills so many people. Yes, I know that in these kinds of things, most of the people die, but some of these characters are kind of fun, and they add nice flavor to the town, so if Rahal or other writers want to set their stories there, it would be fun to have some continuity between them, with recurring characters who aren’t necessarily the stars but can play crucial roles. Then there’s the fact that this town doesn’t seem to be very big, yet a whole hell of a lot of people die. Who’s going to live there? Are any other writers going to mention that time the entire town was wiped out? I hope they do, because while I don’t mind a big bloodbath, it seems like Rahal may have written himself into a corner. Anyway, there’s not a lot that’s surprising here – we can kind of figure out where it’s going, and while some of the deaths are a bit surprising, it’s not Steven Segal dying in Executive Decision. Now that was a shock!
John Bivens doesn’t draw too many comics, unless I’ve been missing them, and that’s too bad, because he’s quite good. He has a good, scratchy line that helps with the creatures and the general creepiness of the comic, and he doesn’t draw wildly attractive people, so while his style is a bit cartoony, the people look real because they’re not perfect. He does a nice job with the makeshift weapons and armor he outfits the kids who are trying to save the town with, and he gets to draw a lot of skeletons, and they look nice. I said this years ago when I first saw Bivens’s art, but he really does need to get more work!
So this is a neat comic. It’s not as good as the first “Cult Classic” story, but it’s still pretty good!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Swierczynski writes in the introduction that he wrote this after his daughter died from leukemia, and I just can’t imagine going through that, and it’s good that Swierczynski was able to work through it by writing this, which is about a young woman stricken with an unusual health problem which she needs to deal with and (she hopes) find a cure for. It’s certainly not the same thing, but I get why Swierczynski gravitated toward something like this, and I hope just writing brought him some measure of peace.
His hero, Marnie Young, is kind of a wallflower, but one night she goes a work function, looks through a telescope, passes out, and when she wakes up, she’s in a hospital and everyone in her room is dead – their heads have exploded. Marnie, it seems, kills everyone who comes within a few feet of her, and she can’t control it and she doesn’t know why she does it. This leads to a lot of exploding heads early in the book … and, to be fair, later in the book as well. As usual with these kinds of things, the best parts are the early parts, because we get a real sense of terror from Marnie, who doesn’t know what’s going on and is on the run from the gub’ment, who wants to study and/or kill her, naturally. Swierczynski’s explanation for it all is actually not bad, but then he gets to a bigger story that doesn’t really end, so unless he’s planning a sequel to this, it ends on an annoying and somewhat clichéd cliffhanger. For the most part, however, it’s entertaining.
Unfortunately, the art is just grotesque. Felix never got the memo that the kind of art where you make everything look like a photo of someone because your backgrounds are actual photographs of things just isn’t de rigueur anymore, and it wasn’t attractive when it was. The characters don’t fit into the backgrounds, they often don’t look like they’re even interacting with each other, and most of their facial expressions don’t match the words they’re saying or the situation they’re in. Honestly, the best thing about this comic is the exploding heads, because Felix has some gory fun with them. Other than that, this is like the absolute worst Radical Comics comic ever. It’s godawful, and it just makes reading the book so, so difficult. Sigh. It’s kind of a shame. In the back, we see Felix’s thumbnails, and while it’s just sketches, it’s clear he knows how to lay out a page and, presumably, draw a little. So why would he present us with this art abortion?
The art drags it down, but the story isn’t bad. Let’s see if Swierczynski’s sequel has better art!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Hotell #1-4 by John Lees (writer), Dalibor Talajic (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $15.96, 88 pgs, AWA/Upshot.
John Lees knows horror, so if he’s not going to continue with Sink (which I hope he does; it’s really good), it’s neat that he can indulge his enjoyment of horror in other places, in this case in a four-room motel off of Route 66 in (presumably) Arizona, although I suppose it could be California or New Mexico (it looks like a desert, in other words, although the point is kind of that it exists in non-space, because not everyone can find the motel). The clerk at the front desk is kind of our Crypt-Keeper, as he’s talking to “us” as if we’re checking in, telling us about the people who were there a few weekends ago, when there was a solar eclipse. Each issue tells the story of each room, and things get gonzo, as you might expect.
Lees is able, like the best horror writers, to take “normal” things and twist them into creepy knots, so we get the pregnant woman on the run from the baby’s abusive father who discovers that maybe an abusive father isn’t the most horrific thing in the world; we get the two people on a romantic getaway that turns out to be anything but; we get the girl looking for her sister, who was the victim of a serial killer who stayed at the hotel (okay, maybe that isn’t a “normal” situation); we get the father who is desperately turning to exorcism because he believes his son is possessed, which Lees really plays with well. All of these stories occur at roughly the same time, and Lees drops hints about what’s going on in each of them – in issue #1, Alice meets Bobby and Muriel, the romantic couple, and Bobby acts a bit strangely, but we don’t know why until issue #2. It’s always interesting to see a writer do this – I wish it happened more often in mainstream superhero books, because it’s fun to make a puzzle out of the storylines, and Lees does well with them. He doesn’t quite get under the skin as well as he does in Sink, as the horror is more on the surface and … conventional?, but it’s still a creepy book with a lot of weird stuff going on. The one thing I didn’t like about it is that Lees doesn’t even try to explain things. I didn’t want an explanation, but it seems like the horror I like the best (and I’m not a big horror guy, but it’s fine) is where there are at least hints about why things are happening. The desk clerk, for instance, talks about the painting in the lobby of a “pierrot” – a French clown, basically. We figure this will be important, and it is, but it’s unclear why. Again, I don’t want it all laid out, but it would be interesting to get hints about it. Perhaps Lees has more mini-series planned and we’ll get a bit more.
Talajic does nice work with the art, as it’s Igor Kordey-esque when Igor Kordey is drawing well (I get that for many Americans, the only exposure to Igor Kordey’s art is his very rushed work on Grant Morrison’s X-Men, so I always have to have a disclaimer that he’s a very good artist when he’s not trying to draw an entire issue in a weekend), and he grounds the book nicely in a realistic space, so that the weirdness doesn’t simply overwhelm us. Most of the horror isn’t too fantastic, too, so Talajic is a better choice than a more esoteric artist, who might have gone too far with the weirdness and made it less weird because, as the jerk kid from The Incredibles reminds us, “When everything is weird, nothing is.” (#SyndromeWasRight.) Talajic really shines in the final issue, where things get more conventionally horror-ish, as he bends regular things just enough askew to make it terrifying. He’s a good choice for the artist.
I assume AWA is bringing out a trade of this (I think it was offered in last month’s Previews?), so you might want to pick it up. Lees is a hell of a nice guy and a good writer, and who doesn’t love creepy comics every now and then?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Birthright continues to chug along, and I’m still frankly amazed that this book doesn’t get more press. Williamson’s story continues to be gripping, as the Big Bad finally reached Earth in the last collection and now Mikey, the kid-turned-barbarian hero, has to fight him while his brother, the kid-turned-sorcerer, has to re-create a spell keeping the bad guys away from Earth. It’s all very dramatic, and it seems like Williamson is setting things up to end with issue #50, although I don’t know if that’s true (and I can’t find anything about it after a quick internet search – Williamson mentioned issue #50 in an interview, but he didn’t say if it was ending or not). It’s a nice, epic book that doesn’t get enough love, especially when you consider Bressan and Lucas’s jaw-dropping art. Brian K. Vaughan gets Fiona Staples to put some dicks in Saga and everyone goes gaga, but this comic is absolutely beautiful and it doesn’t get half the love that overrated comic does (to be fair, Staples’s art on Saga is terrific, but Bressan’s on this is next level). In the first chapter, we get three consecutive double-page spreads of Lore’s army overrunning the valley on Earth where they broke through, and these aren’t DC-style double-page spreads, either – they’re chock full of wild details as monsters slaughter soldiers and vice versa. He tops that later with, I kid you not, 21 straight pages of either full-page splashes or double-page spreads as Mikey fights Lore and Brennan casts his spell (there’s a weird couple of pages somewhat far apart where Bressan draws Brennan in different poses but the words on the page are identical, but whatever), and Bressan’s details are marvelous as the two battle to what should be the death (no spoilers here!). Williamson is a pretty decent writer, but Bressan and Lucas, who dazzles with blues and greens and reds and yellows and purples, take this book and make it something really special. I assume it sells well because Williamson has been able to keep it going (and it’s been optioned for a movie, which doesn’t mean it will get made but which I assume means the creators got some coin), but it seems like it’s under the radar nevertheless. That’s too bad. It’s pretty danged cool.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Phillips gives us an extremely standard haunted house story, with the notable exceptions that the book is set in the Philippines for some reason (I really don’t know) and the couple in the haunted house are both women. (More specifically, the book is set in Cebu, which is where Christian Kane’s new series, Almost Paradise – Greg Hatcher’s new favorite show – is set. Cebu is having a moment, it seems.) Other than that, it’s a haunted house story. One woman is keeping some secrets, the other finds out some of them but inexplicably says nothing even after they pledge to be honest with each other (I will never understand fictional drama, where 99% of things could be solved if the people who are supposed to love and trust each actually spoke to each other), the second woman decides to keep secrets of her own, and bad things keep happening. It’s tense, well constructed, and entertaining for the time it takes you to read it, but it’s very slight and forgettable, unfortunately. House, who draws it, does a nice job – it’s a dark book, but he uses the shadows really well, and Cunniffe doesn’t make the actual colors too dark, so the blacks work well with them. House does nice creepy work, too, which makes the book feel weirder than it actually is. It’s not a bad comic, just a mediocre one. Oh well.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
The No Ones is a pretty good superhero story, although it has some issues. The Bastions are seven superheroes (seven is the magic number when it comes to superhero groups) who have monetized fighting crime – they have licensed action figures, for instance, and they make sure paparazzi are around when they fight. They’re dysfunctional, of course – the founder and his wife are divorcing, their magician hears evil voices, that sort of thing – but they keep it nice and cheery for the cameras. Then during a fight one of them accidentally kills a bystander, and when they wake up the next morning, it seems they’ve been erased from the world. No one remembers them, not even in their civilian identities, so the teenager who’s in the group is thrown out of her house because her parents don’t know her. Not only that, but even as they continue helping people, everyone forgets them very quickly. For some, this is great – they feel like they’ve been given a chance to help people without the pressure of fame. For others, it’s a bad thing, and they figure out that they’re under a curse because they killed an innocent man, so they try to figure out how to break it. So there’s a division in the group that drives the conflict, and there are plenty of hidden agendas that make it more complicated.
It’s a pretty engrossing story, and it seems like Krueger has more planned, because while one main plot gets resolved, the curse is still around. So that should be interesting going forward. The biggest problem with the main plot is that Krueger has them jump to “curse” really quickly without any evidence, and while it’s not that important, it still feels like there should be more reasoning behind it (they’re superheroes, so we’re willing to accept a lot of explanations, including “they got moved to an alternate dimension somehow” or “villain uses mind control weapon to erase memories,” so why jump right to “curse”?). Plus, the art when the innocent dude gets killed is murky and poorly blocked, so it’s really unclear what’s going on. Once the “curse” is out and things start to move along, Krueger’s storytelling and the art gets more confident, but getting there (which doesn’t take long) is a bit bumpy.
The art is generally quite good. Well-Bee has a John Paul Leon vibe going on, which is presumably why he’s working on Marvels X and how he came to Krueger’s attention. His action scenes are a bit stiff, which isn’t too distracting, and occasionally he has difficulties with the panel-to-panel storytelling (I mentioned the death of the innocent bystander, but there are a few other instances), and also occasionally the blacks are overwhelming, but on the whole, the work is very immersive, detailed, and he gives us some memorably creepy images, which is good because the book is slightly creepy in general (it’s a “dark” take on superheroes, so some of the mystical stuff gets a bit weird). He uses digital effects well, making some of the powers the heroes use appear odd and alien, taking them out of the “normal” world and showing how different they are. The flashbacks in the book are done well, with a haze on the weirder stuff and brighter colors on the more innocent stuff, which helps balance the book out a bit. The art isn’t great, but it is pretty good, and that’s not bad.
This is an interesting take on superheroes, which is always appreciated. I’m curious to see how much Krueger can get out of it.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
This is a fairly mediocre supernatural adventure, but you do get value for it, as writer Mark London gives us more pages than you might expect for a 7-issue series, all for 20 bucks, and while it’s forgettable, it’s also entertaining while you read it, as London never really slows down. He saw mash-ups of historical figures and famous monsters from literature and thought, “How can I cram all of them into one comic?”, so we get Wolvenheart, an organization dedicated to hunting monsters, and Sterling Cross (yep), the dashing hero of the book, but we also get werewolves, vampires, pirates, Dracula, Elizabeth Bathory, Abraham van Helsing, Nikola Tesla, Dorian Gray, Queen Victoria, and Zombie Prince Albert, because why not? The entire book is predicated on time travel, so everyone simply jumps around in time (yet generally they stay in the 1800s) and nobody, it seems, ever ages because they’re so busy jumping around in time. It’s all about Bathory trying to control all of time, but it makes about as much sense as you think it does, which again, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a kind of gonzo charm. I mean, Abraham van Helsing sort-of speaks like an antebellum Southern dandy, and what the hell? Stuff like that just makes this weird enough to not dismiss completely, even if it’s really not that great. Giraldo’s slick, manga-ish art and colors are fine – he has some fun with the minor touches of steampunk in the book, everyone is far more beautiful than they should be, and some of the more muscular characters are a bit ridiculous, but otherwise, it’s fine.
I’ve often mentioned about things (usually comics, but not always) that were conceived right before last call at a bar, when you’ve had far too much to drink and everything sounds awesome. London, it seems, has taken that to the extreme, because it really does feel like he and some friends were at a bar, but after drinking everything they could, they started in with the mescaline and someone turned on the recorder, so all their ideas made it into this comic. Sterling Cross fights a mutant vampire bull! Prince Albert gets a steampunk heart and slaughters Queen Victoria on Bathory’s command! Nikola Tesla appears to invent the Infinity Gauntlet! Van Helsing speaks like motherfucking Hal Holbrook in Fletch Lives (seriously, what the hell?)!!!! So yeah, it’s not a good comic, but it sure is something.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this on the blog, but I have a weird prejudice against female prose writers. It’s weird for a number of reasons, one being that it really doesn’t have a lot of basis in reality. One of my favorite books of all time, Possession, was written by a woman (A.S. Byatt). One of my favorite travel books of all time (I love travel books, y’all) is Rebecca West’s epic Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (which is superb; you all should read it). One of my favorite fantasy books of all time, The Mists of Avalon, was written by a (very problematic) woman, Marion Zimmer Bradley. I love the historical fiction of Sharon Kay Penman, who’s 75 and just frickin’ published another book, this one about the Crusader states fighting against Saladin (damn it, more to buy!). One of my favorites of the “classics” of Western Literature is Wuthering Heights, written by, you guessed it, a woman. For years my wife bugged me to read The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin, and when I did, I dug it. My weird prejudice does not extend to comics, where some of my favorite creators are women and two women, Kelly Thompson and Meredith McClaren, gave us one of the best graphic novels of the past decade (Heart in a Box). So it’s weird in that way, that I continue to have a prejudice against women writers even though the evidence seems stacked against me. It’s also weird because I can’t quite quantify what it is I am prejudiced about. I can’t really tell you what it is about the books written by women I don’t like. I can say that despite Possession being a wonderful book, I haven’t really liked Byatt’s other books. I very much like Bradley’s The Firebrand, which is about Cassandra and the Trojan War, but I’ve never been a huge fantasy guy, so I haven’t delved into her bibliography too much. Even if I like certain books by women, when I look at some of the other things they write, they don’t grab my interest. That happens with male authors, too, but not with my favorites. Reading White Noise led me to all the DeLillo books. Catch-22 led me to God Knows and Something Happened and especially Picture This, which is my favorite Heller book. Just seeing Connery and Slater in The Name of the Rose when I was a teenager led me to Eco and all his weird stuff. I don’t know why I picked up The Dictionary of the Khazars, but I’m glad I did, because Milorad Pavic’s books are amazing. With the exception of Penman, whose work is less “literary,” I don’t think I’ve ever done that with women writers. Again, I don’t know why. It’s kind of vexing.
That doesn’t mean I won’t try reading books by women. That would be silly. Take The Night Circus, for instance. My wife read it and dug it, and she told me I probably would. And I did – it’s a good book. However, while reading it, I couldn’t shake comparing it to Winter’s Tale, which I think is a far superior novel by … a man, Mark Helprin. Both stories are fantasies set in worlds slightly askew to ours. Both feature lovers who are somewhat Romeo-and-Juliet-ish. Both feature magic that seems part of the everyday world, even if not everyone knows about it. Both are sort-of tragedies, but not really. To me, Winter’s Tale is a work of genius, while The Night Circus is a good book. It’s not like Helprin wasn’t mining a tradition or anything, so it’s not like his book was absolutely unique and others are just riffing off of it, but Winter’s Tale feels so much richer and deeper than The Night Circus, and I hate myself for comparing them, because a book should stand on its own merits. And the funny thing is … Morgenstern has published another book, which my wife also got, called The Starless Sea. I have read the jacket, and … it doesn’t sound like something I want to read. I might, but I don’t know, because it seems in the same vein as this one, but more surreal. I certainly don’t mind surreal (I mentioned The Dictionary of the Khazars up above, which is a novel, I might add), but it just sounds a bit like she’s trying too hard. So it’s frustrating.
But back to this book – yes, I know, this is a book review! The Night Circus concerns two turn-of-the-century magicians, Celia and Marco (the book takes place, basically, between 1886 and 1902, although we move back and forth in time and occasionally go beyond those dates), who are tasked by their mentors (Celia’s father and Marco’s adoptive father) to participate in a contest, one in which they will not know who their opponent is or the object of the game. Both mentors are, you know, douchebags, but Celia and Marco are too young to stand against them, and so they start playing. The circus, which opens only at … night!, is their game board. There are many interesting characters, both in the circus and outside, and Morgenstern does a good job creating this weird world of the circus, where tents contain miracles and the performers are the best in the world. Of course, the two players fall in love, which they should not do, and then they have to figure out how to thwart their douchebag mentors without destroying the circus and, presumably, killing or hurting everyone in it (although that remains vague).
Morgenstern’s dreamy prose carries us along, and while she does wonders with the circus, part of the problem of the book is that the world outside the circus isn’t as well developed. A few places are, but we never get a sense that the circus is anywhere but self-contained, so when they’re in Prague or Germany or even Concord, Massachusetts, there’s little sense of place. It’s not the most important thing in the world, but it does make it feel like the game is even more a pissing contest between two oldsters than it really is, because the actual consequences of the game are never really spelled out except for Celia and Marco, and while yes, it’s sad what could happen to them, Morgenstern seems to imply that this game (this just the latest iteration of it) is very important, but we don’t really get that. Even if the circus is destroyed, it’s unclear what will happen to the performers. Maybe they’ll be fine. The game is dangerous – people die as a result of it – but it’s never clear if it’s important. I get that the entire game might be a MacGuffin so that we can watch these lovers evolve, but it shouldn’t be, because their love is inextricably tied to the contest, and so that needs to be more important. The lack of the real world in the book ties into that, and it’s frustrating, despite the beautiful prose.
Morgenstern also falls into a dire trap, that of a scorned woman wrecking everything. As I was reading, I couldn’t believe she would go that route, and although it’s written nicely and isn’t the sole problem once the lovers pledge their love to each other, it does seem to stick out a bit. I mean, I get that people get upset when they’re dumped, but it just feels like such a cliché. I do wish it had been something else that put things in motion. Oh well.
This has gone on longer than I wanted, mainly because I was spewing weird stuff at the beginning. This is a beautifully written book with a lot to recommend – the love story itself is wonderful, as is the character who comes from the outside of the circus and gets caught up in it. It feels the slightest bit empty because of the lack of stakes (again, the stakes are high for Celia and Marco, but even that feels … forced, a bit?), but it’s still the kind of book that picks you up and sweeps you along – it’s very hard to put down, because so many interesting things are happening all the time. I’m unsure if I’ll give The Starless Sea a try. We shall see. I’ll just keep on hating myself for my weird prejudice!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
If you aren’t reading Brian Grubb’s posts on pop culture, I can’t help you. I’ve been a fan of the former Danger Guerrero for years now, and he’s as funny as ever. Recently, he pointed out that there was a pistachio heist in Fresno. 2020 is weird, man.
Speaking of weird, the Republicans held their convention last week, and it was something, all right. The thing I never understand about Trump and his acolytes is the same thing I don’t understand about fundamentalist Christians or fundamentalist Muslims or any other cult – they know some things the leader says are lies, they know the leader doesn’t live up to what he (it’s usually a “he,” unfortunately) preaches, yet they’re blind to that and enthusiastically follow him over a cliff. I have always said that I get why some people voted for Trump. A lot of people voted for Trump because he told them it was fine and dandy to start hating again, but a lot of people voted for him because Clinton was not the greatest candidate and they believed that Trump would change things (why, I don’t know, as he’s been a con artist forever). But you know what? It’s okay to admit you were wrong. Trump stood up in front of people and he and his cronies lied about so, so much, and people cheered him and his toadies on. Some people I know voted for Trump and I don’t think they’re stupid. Maybe Biden isn’t the greatest candidate either, but you’ve seen what Trump does and how terrible he is at not only being president but being a human being. I fear that now it’s just all about racism. That makes me sad, but it’s becoming harder and harder to justify literally any other reason to vote for the Orange-Faced Baboon. We shall see.
On a cheerier note, my older daughter turned 18 yesterday, the 30th, and every day we have with her is a good one, so this was a nice watershed. I wrote about her birthday and what it means here, in case you’re interested. Then, today she went back into school, which was nice. They tried the on-line stuff with the special needs kids, but my daughter just doesn’t pay attention to a screen, and I’ve been working a bit more than usual, so I couldn’t even hang out with her and try to get her to focus. So she only “attended” a few days, and I wonder if other parents complained, because they decided to let the special ed. kids back. There are only seven of them, and they’re the only students on campus, so I’m not too worried. They have a big classroom and the tables are really far apart, so nobody is getting too close to anyone. My daughter apparently wore a mask for quite a while today, which is a bit surprising but not too much, because as long as you keep bugging her about keeping it on, she tends to listen (if you leave her alone for more than a few minutes, that’s when she’ll start picking at it). She was getting really bored watching television and doing little else, so it’s nice that they’re letting her go to school. I have a lot of trust in the teachers – I hope they don’t let us down!
Anyway, I always like September not because our days get any less warm (okay, maybe we won’t have strings of 110+ days, but still) but because the nights finally get a bit cooler, which is a nice relief. Maybe we’ll have football in a couple of weeks, which would be nice. I’m extremely curious to see what happens with college football, because I can’t believe they’ll get many games in before things go awry. And hey, it’s two months until Election Day! Damn, I’m terrified that Bronzed Wannabe Hitler is going to win. That would really suck.
[Well, dang, I forgot to do my monthly round-up of money I spent. Let’s check it out!
5 August: $172.67
12 August: $144.88
19 August: $81.51
26 August: $139.63
Total for the month: $538.69
Have a nice day, everyone! Remember, if you use the link below, even if it’s not to buy that particular product, we get a tiny bit of it. It helps keep the lights on!