What I bought, read, or otherwise consumed – July 2018

To be a tourist is to escape accountability. Errors and failings don’t cling to you the way they do back home. You’re able to drift across continents and languages, suspending the operation of sound thought. Tourism is the march of stupidity. (Don DeLillo, from The Names)

Diablo House by Ted Adams (writer), Santipérez (artist), Jay Fotos (colorist), and Robbie Robbins (letterer), with additional stories by Robbins, Troy Little, Alan Robert, and Shawn Dickinson. $17.99, 84 pgs, FC, IDW.

This trade is a homage to olde-tymey horror anthologies like DC’s House of Mystery – there’s even a house in the title! That doesn’t make it bad, of course, but it’s good to know going in. Diablo House is actually (in this comic) a real place, a house in La Jolla built by an architect who loved Barcelona’s Antoni Gaudi and brought that sensibility to Diablo House, where that dude on the cover, Riley, is your host (Riley tells the reader about the Gaudi references, so it’s not like I’m just reading into this) – it’s actually pretty funny because Riley, as he tells us, is a surfer dude, so the fact that he is our tour guide through stories of human greed and depravity is incongruous and funny. The stories are your typical “selling your soul to the devil” tales, with ironic twists all over the place, but they’re entertaining to read.

The big reason to get this comic is Santipérez’s art, which is stunning. As far as I know, this is his first American work, and it shouldn’t be his last, as he does amazing work here. He’s definitely influenced by Wrightson, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and he moves easily from scary to weird horror to comedy very easily – there’s a lot of humor in the book, as you might expect from a comic firmly in the EC tradition. He brings the Gaudi influence to vivid life, as Diablo House is certainly weird on the outside, but the brief glimpses we get of the inside are vertiginous and terrifying. There’s a wonderful double-page spread where Riley walks through the house, seemingly shifting from floor to wall to ceiling easily, as he tells us the laws of physics don’t necessarily apply inside, and Santipérez handles it fluidly and beautifully. He’s good at little details, making each story feel alive because the worlds are so complete, and while his people are often cartoonish, his intricate faces show the wide range of emotions he needs to show the roller coaster rides they experience when they make their deals. Fotos does a marvelous job with the colors, too – he’s always been a good colorist, and he keeps the stories, for the most part, bright and clean, which contrasts both with the interior of Diablo House and their dark endings, giving them more impact. It’s a gorgeous book.

Diablo House won’t change your life, but it will entertain you for a while, and if you haven’t seen Santipérez’s art yet, it’s a very nice introduction to it. Here’s to more work from him!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

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I went to England in early June for ten days, and I figured I’d write a little bit about my experience in this post, mainly because while we have a lot of latitude here at the blog, we are pop culture oriented, and doing a separate post just about my vacation seemed weird. So I figured I’d just fit it into a post about comics! Everybody wins! We hadn’t taken a real vacation in 12 years, and our daughter is old enough (she was 12 when we went; she turned 13 a week after we got home) to appreciate it, so we took off. We also wanted to do it because we need my parents to look after our other daughter, as she does not like to travel and wouldn’t appreciate it anyway (she’s the one with brain damage, in case you forgot or didn’t know), and as my parents are getting old, it’s harder for them to look after her (she’s 15, and while she’s not as big as most 15-year-olds, she’s still about 90 pounds, which makes it hard to move her around if you’re even slightly weak). So we figured we’d better do it now! We found cheap airfare (three tickets cost about $2100) and a fairly cheap apartment through Airbnb (about $1400 for ten nights), and we were off!

We had to fly out of Los Angeles, so we headed there on Sunday, 3 June. Our flight to London left about seven hours after we got there, so we were planning on leaving the airport and doing something. I wanted to hang out with Sonia Harris, who lives in LA, but various circumstances prevented that, so we thought we’d just go down to Manhattan Beach for a while. We went to the baggage check-in, but it was too early to leave our luggage there. So we asked about leaving it in a locker or someplace protected, and we were told that since 9/11, that was a no-go. Really, LAX? Really, Homeland Security? Jeebus. There was an off-site place we could put our luggage, but that cost too much money and who knows how long it would have taken to get it there, get where we wanted to go, and then get back. There are a lot of terminals at LAX, but we wanted to stay in the international terminal, so we ended up finding a seat at a restaurant (which was lucky; it was very crowded and I imagine a lot of people were in a situation like ours) and camping out for hours. We did wander a bit, but we were stuck in a relatively small area for four or so hours. Finally the baggage check opened up and we got rid of our bags and were able to go through security, which was nice because beyond security LAX turns into, basically, a very upscale mall, and while we didn’t buy anything, it was still nicer wandering around for a while than sitting in Planet Hollywood for hours. We then found our gate, or at least the signs pointing us to our gate. Which went one way, then the other, then another way, then downward, then to stairs down into … what looked like an empty Costco. I said, “We’re going to have to ride a bus,” and sure enough, we had to take a bus to the plane. The bus, I believe, was parked in London itself, as the ride seemed to go on forever. But we finally got on, and we were off!

This is where our ‘gate’ to the plane was – right behind where you can get salami in bulk!

We arrived at Gatwick on Monday, 4 June, and we got to our apartment (should I call it a “flat”?) in West Kensington (here’s a map!) and settled in. We had a busy ten days planned, but even before we began in earnest on Tuesday, I had planned something. So that night we ate dinner with noted comic book writer and raconteur Kieron Gillen, whom I’ve spoken to at conventions over the years (I even interviewed him briefly before he hit it huge) and who is a hell of a nice guy. I was hoping to have dinner with him and his artistic collaborator Jamie McKelvie, but McKelvie moved to Edinburgh, of all places, so he wasn’t able to make it (slacker). We all went out with Gillen and ate at a Turkish restaurant, and we had a grand old time.

This is the most positive emotion an English person has ever shown on film!

On Tuesday we visited Westminster Abbey, the banquet hall of Charles I, and the National Portrait Gallery. The Abbey was packed, and you’re not allowed to take pictures inside, which we thought was for preservation reasons but which a later tour guide suggested was because they wanted to keep people moving and everyone stopping every few seconds for photos might just hold things up. It’s very neat inside, with all the tombs and such, and we had fun telling our daughter some tidbits about many of the people buried or honored there. We walked up Parliament Street (passing right by Downing Street because we didn’t know it was right there, so we missed No. 10) to the Banqueting House, where Charles I and later Charles II had some good times. The ceiling is separated into nine gigantic paintings, all done by Rubens, and it’s pretty impressive. They have bean bags to lie down in so you can gaze upon the ceiling in comfort, and believe me, I almost dozed off while I was sitting/lying in one. Charles I passed through the hall on his way to his execution right outside. My daughter might now know much about English history, but she knows that Charles I got his head sliced clean off! Then we walked up to the National Portrait Gallery, which my wife really wanted to see. I felt a bit bad for my daughter, because while the portraits were very keen, they’re just portraits, so it helps to know who the people in them are, and she didn’t for the most part. So it was hard for her to get too excited, even though I was walking around saying, “Oh, so that’s what that dude (or chick) looked like!” She did think a kid she goes to school with looks like Aubrey Beardsley, so there’s that. We had also taken a look at the website before we visited and saw a portrait in the banner at the top. As it was on my wife’s phone, it was pretty small, but I said that it looked like Van Gogh. Or, said I also, Ed Sheeran. Well, we got to the gallery, and it was … Ed Sheeran. Yep, there’s a giant portrait of Ed Sheeran hanging in the National Portrait Gallery. Now, to be fair, they have a lot of celebrities, but I hadn’t realized that Sheeran had risen to the upper ranks of celebrity yet. I guess he has!

Westminster!
Westminster!
Rubens on the ceiling!
Comfy bean bags! (That’s not a cell phone, by the way, it’s the audio tour, which my daughter LOVED)
Nelson’s Column!
Ed Sheeran! (My daughter is not a fan, we just thought it would be fun to get a picture of her standing next to this inexplicable painting. You can tell by her stance that she did not agree.)

We went to Hampton Court on Wednesday, another place my wife was very keen to see. I hadn’t realized that it wasn’t just a Henry VIII house, so I dug the parts about William and Mary and the Georges, who also lived there (the Henry VIII part was perfectly fine, too). My daughter got very interested in Henry VIII and his wives, to the point where she memorized them, which was neat. She also decided that Henry VIII was her second-favorite kind, behind … Richard III. Why on earth Richard III is her favorite king she did not explain, but whatever. When we got back to London, we decided to check out the British Museum for a while, even though we knew there was no way we were going to see all or even most of it. I wanted to check out the Sutton Hoo stuff and the early modern Europe stuff, because if you can’t enjoy a coin minted by Theudebert I (r. 533-548), what are you even doing in London, man? We did not see the Rosetta Stone (it’s a stone, we get it), but we did see the Elgin marbles, so that was neat. And no, I felt no guilt about the fact that they’re not in Greece. Suck it, Greeks! So that was a fun day.

Well, that’s a nice big house
Well, that’s a fancy staircase
It’s almost as if these people were kings and queens or something
These are Khazar spurs, because the Khazars were AWESOME!!!!
Sixth-century Frankish coin minted by Theudebert, bitches!!!!

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Infinity 8 volume one: Love and Mummies by Lewis Trondheim (writer), Zep (writer), Dominique Bertail (artist), and Jeremy Melloul (translator). $19.99, 86 pgs, FC, Lion Forge/Magnetic Press.

I don’t know how old these volumes are, but after this first one, I hope they’re a bit old so that they’re already done, because I can’t wait to read all 8 volumes that are coming. There’s nothing too revolutionary about this comic, but it’s very interesting and has the potential to be just a great sci-fi epic (it looks like most of them are done, but I don’t read French, so I can’t tell). A spaceship is hurtling through space, full of many, many different species on its way to the Andromeda galaxy, when it stops because there’s a solar-system-sized trash dump – pieces of cities, cemeteries, and other abandoned things floating on chunks of rocks. The captain has the ability to rewind time back eight hours, so they decide to send an agent – Yoko Keren – out to investigate, with the proviso that if things go bad, they can reset the clock. This will, presumably, happen eight times, and it appears there will be different agents each time (and, it appears, different creators). Off we go!

In this first album, an alien race – Kornaliens – get weirdly aroused by death, and they like to eat dead things, taking on the characteristics of whatever they eat. This becomes a problem, as the obstacle is full of dead things, and Keren has to fight off an uprising by the Kornaliens and the amorous attentions of one, who ate a Buddha-looking thing that makes him love, well, everything, but Keren in particular. So she’s fighting the evil aliens on the one hand and trying to avoid the lovestruck dude on the other. Hijinks and adventure ensue!

The writers do a good job getting us into the story well, and with very little effort, they make Keren a fascinating character who’s obsessed with having a child and goes about finding a mate in the most clinical way possible (she uses a small device that scans their DNA in an instant). It makes the attention of Sagoss, who might be under the influence but at least is honest about it (and who might not be under the influence the entire time), a nice contrast to Keren’s more dispassionate line of thinking. Of course, all of that is only a little bit of the book, as Keren really has to deal with the angry aliens, but it’s a nice touch by Trondheim and Zep, making Keren’s situation a bit more relatable even though she’s on a spaceship heading to another galaxy.

The book lives and dies on the art, though, and it’s wonderful. Bertail writes at one point that he was inspired by Kirby and Wood, which, duh, but it’s much more Woodian than Kirbyesque, with rounded, slightly cartoony characters and Keren herself, a buxom, curvy bombshell who is drawn not at all like one of Kirby’s brick shithouse women (I say that in the nicest way possible, as I love Kirby’s women). Bertail draws amazing aliens, too, which is crucial in a book like this. When Keren goes “outside” and checks out the obstacle, we really get a good sense of death from it all – he draws maggots a lot, and there’s viscera everywhere (the book isn’t exactly gory, but it also doesn’t shy away from what happens to things when they die). The Kornaliens, even Sagoss, spend much of the book with blood on their chests like bibs, because they extend tentacles from their mouths when they eat and are, as a consequence, a bit messy. He also draws impressive, weird structures that look like remnants of a great civilization, now dead, which makes Keren’s movements among them all the more eerie. As the writers link sex and death, so does Bertail, with a few places that are deliberately designed to look like vaginas, one of which Keren needs to squeeze through, and a lot of the graveyard contrasts between the hard dead rock and a squishy kind of kinky life. Bertail does a nice job with the “comedy team” of Sagoss and Keren – Sagoss smiles a lot and is trying to please Keren, while she looks constantly exasperated as she tries to ditch him. It adds some nice levity to the book.

Even if the next book in the series isn’t any good, it seems like these will all be largely self-contained. So you can check this out and not worry too much about the rest of the story if you really don’t like it. I suspect, however, that you will!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Rogue & Gambit: Ring of Fire by Kelly Thompson (writer), Pere Pérez (artist), Frank D’Armata (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $15.99, 100 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Right now, Kelly Thompson is one of the best writers in comics, and Pérez is a damned fine artist, so there was always a chance I was going to get this. It stars Rogue, who is one of the my top five favorite comic book characters. And, I figured, if anyone could get me to like Gambit, it was Kelly. So … I bought this. And … she didn’t get me to like Gambit. Dang.

The big problem with this book is the problem that Rogue and Gambit always have – they’re a terrible couple. It’s as if the writers long ago thought, “Hey, two Southern characters in the X-Men – let’s make them fall in love!” But Gambit on his own is awful, and what bothers me is that he makes Rogue a worse character just by being near her. How dare he! Thompson tries her best, but early on, she shows the many, many problems they’ve had as a couple, and it makes it clear that they are simply not suited for each other. Rogue is always going back and forth with whether she has any control over her powers, and as (for comics writers as well as many others) the physical side of romance is always the most important, there’s always the possibility that she won’t be able to indulge herself in that regard. Gambit, meanwhile, has always been portrayed as a ladies’ man, and writers’ attempts to settle him down (which Thompson does here) make him unbelievably boring. As shitty a character as Gambit is, he’s not boring when he’s written as Gambit, but turning him into suburban Remy makes him boring AND shitty, so who cares? It doesn’t help that I’m sure the PTB wanted an actual plot, so instead of having Rogue and Gambit work out their problems (which I have no doubt Thompson could write well, as she’s done stuff like it in the past), we get a weird, nonsensical plot in which their negative feelings turn into golems, or something. A mutant is running a couples’ retreat on an island and somehow and for no good reason sucking out their “bad” emotions and using them … to do something. It doesn’t matter. Rogue and Gambit work through their negative feelings about their lives and each other by punching things. It’s wildly dull.

Thompson, as I mentioned, is a very good writer, so there are parts of the book that work. Her comedic timing is excellent, and parts of the book are very funny. She gets Rogue’s voice and personality down pretty well, even though both characters spout a lot of clichés. One can see a short series (or, you know, an issue or two within a regular series, but that doesn’t get done as much as it used to) in which Gambit and Rogue actually thrash out their history, because Rogue seems to understand it a bit more than Gambit does, even though she’s still thinking with her loins a bit too much. Granted, Rogue wasn’t supposed to be too old when they met – let’s say 20 – and they’re still both probably in their 20s, but they still act like idiots far too often. The best parts of the book are when they’re not talking about their history or fighting doppelgangers, because Thompson has them say things that seem innocent but are loaded with meaning, and that’s always interesting. When the subtext becomes text, however, the book grinds to a halt. It’s too bad.

It’s too bad, too, because Pérez is phenomenal on this book. He’s been a very good superhero artist for some years now, and this comic looks amazing. He uses some very cool double-page splashes, including one fight scene that is reminiscent of some of Jamie McKelvie’s more brilliant pages on Young Avengers, and he does a good job making the fights fluid and easy to follow. He does a good job evoking the different time frames of the couple’s history without simply aping what the other artists did, and he makes Rogue seem like the older of the two (even though she’s probably not) by giving her a more natural and cynical expression rather than the douchebag jauntiness he gives Gambit (which, again, works well for the character because he is a jaunty douchebag at his core). Not for the first time did I think “She’s far too good for him,” which is very weird, I know, when thinking about fictional characters, but Pérez makes it a bit more explicit by showing Rogue, simply through the way draws her, is more mature than Gambit, which Thompson does a bit with her words. It’s a beautiful comic, and I hope Pérez continues to get high-profile work.

I was trying to judge this on its own merits, and I doubt I did because the depths of my hatred for Gambit are too dizzying, but I really do want to read Thompson’s work, and I might – might – give the new series, with Rogue and Gambit as a (yuck) married couple a chance. Even for those misguided souls who like Gambit, though, this series isn’t great, mainly because the plot is too bland and on-the-nose to make it rise above just a generic superhero story. Some of the other stuff works, but not enough. Oh well.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

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On Thursday, 7 June, we went to Paris. Yes, we spent a day in Paris when we were visiting England, because why the hell not? Not too long before we were to go, my wife said to me, “You know, it’s only about a 2-and-a-half-hour train ride to Paris …” and I laughed and told her there’s a lot to see in England AND in Paris, but if she really wanted to go, why the hell not? She really wanted to go (we don’t know if we’ll ever get back, so we carpe’d the diem!), so we got the train at about 7 in the morning and arrived in Paris around 10 (it’s an hour behind London). We went to Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle, both of which my wife really wanted to see (I’ve been to Paris and already saw Notre Dame, but Sainte-Chapelle was nifty), then took an Uber to the Eiffel Tower, where we ate lunch. Then we foolishly walked the two miles along the Seine back to the Musée D’Orsay – it was a beautiful day and there was plenty of shade, but we had already walked a lot and it felt longer than it was – so we could check out the Impressionist galleries they have there. It was actually kind of depressing – there were a bunch of tourists doing nothing but walking from painting to painting taking pictures of each one. Man, buy an art book! They weren’t even spending any time examining the paintings, which is why you go to an art museum in the first place – to look at these masterpieces close up and appreciate them more. Man, people suck. Then we took an Uber up to Sacré-Coeur, which I thought they would like because it’s pretty keen. Then we ate dinner and went back to London on the train. It was a very long day and we didn’t get to see quite everything we wanted (I would have liked to drive around the Arc de Triomphe and walk along the Champs-Élysées a bit and maybe see the Invalides, but it just wasn’t happening. But it was still a good day.

If you don’t know what this is, I’m afraid we can’t be friends anymore
Unlike the uppity Brits, the French don’t care if you take pictures inside their churches!
Gustave Eiffel must have had some issues with a part of his anatomy, no?
One view from the Eiffel tower
Sacre-Coeur
Look how suave I am!

The following day, we got on a bus and headed west, stopping for a bit at Stonehenge before spending most of the day in Bath. Stonehenge is fine, although we really wanted to see Bath and the tour just happened to take us to Stonehenge first. Bath is a cool city – the architecture is amazing, and the actual Roman bath is very neat. As you come down from the hills into the city, you get a spectacular view of it, and we left by a different road, climbing up the valley into the Cotswolds, and got more amazing views. We toured the baths first, which were fun to see, and we went into the abbey for a bit before walking down to the Pulteney Bridge and the nifty waterfalls below it. It was another very excellent day.

Oooh! Look at the carefully arranged pile of rocks!
The Roman bath
There were admonitions everywhere about not putting your hands in the water, but the crouching woman in this photo just couldn’t resist – she did it more than once!
Bath Abbey – it’s the law that when you’re in Europe, you must take photos of every church and castle!
The Pulteney Bridge and the waterfalls

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Spill Zone volume 1 by Scott Westerfeld (writer), Alex Puvilland (artist), and Hilary Sycamore (colorist). $14.99, 235 pgs, FC, First Second Books.

The premise of Spill Zone is strong – a few years ago, there was some kind of accident in Poughkeepsie, and the city went through a bizarre change, with the laws of physics seemingly torn apart and the people turned into floating “meat puppets” with eerie light oozing from their mouths. Addison, whose parents were caught inside the zone, managed to get out with her sister, Lexa, and they live a liminal existence inside the cordon that the government put up to keep people out of the zone. Addison, unbeknownst to the authorities, sneaks into Poughkeepsie to take photographs that she sells to wealthy collectors – although we learn in the book that only one person is actually buying them, something her agent hadn’t told her – so she can support Lexa. Lexa hasn’t said a word since she came out of the zone, but we learn early on that she has telepathic conversations with her doll, Vespertine. Lexa, silently, insists that Addison takes Vespertine with her into the zone, and we find out why during the course of the book, which doesn’t set our minds at ease. Meanwhile, there was a similar accident in North Korea at the same time, but the Koreans don’t mind sending people into the zone to experiment with it, and they send a young man who was caught in the zone to the States to study the American zone. He, of course, has secrets as well. Addison, naturally, bites off more than she can chew, and by the end of this volume, she discovers that things in the zone are a lot weirder than even she thought.

Spill Zone is pretty terrific, and I’m keen to read more. Westerfeld does a good job establishing the premise and populating the zone with weird shit, and he creates a good, paranoid atmosphere that pays off well as we move through the book. Addison is an interesting point-of-view character, and Lexa is that greatest of all characters, a creepy kid. The idea of the government cordoning off the area but really wanting to see what’s going on is a good hook, and setting up the North Korea angle works, too, because it allows Westerfeld to compare and contrast. He hits some standard beats, of course, but the story has nice flair to it, so the beats don’t annoy as much as feel perfectly natural. Puvilland and Sycamore, who have worked together quite a bit, do nice work, too. Puvilland has a rough line that adds harshness and even pain to faces, as Addison has clearly lived a hard life and is feeling the strain of it all. His Vespertine is perfect, too – she’s a rag doll, so she’s naturally a bit ragged, and while that should look perfectly normal, when we realize she’s actually sentient her raggedness takes on a more sinister mien. Puvilland and Sycamore do good work in Poughkeepsie, too, creating a bizarre, otherworldly landscape with mutated animals and the floating human husks, and the fact that Sycamore colors it very brightly makes it all the more eerie, because it doesn’t necessarily look like a place that has been altered in disturbing ways. Syacamore uses slashes of colors to go off-register occasionally, making some things look even weirder.

There’s a second volume, but I don’t know how many volumes Westerfeld has planned. This first volume is very good, though, and I can’t wait until the second volume is out in softcover (it’s in hardcover right now) so I can find out what happens!

See?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carré. 256 pgs, Coward-McCann, Inc., 1963.

This is, if you can believe it, the first Le Carré book I’ve ever read, simply because I didn’t really know about him when I was a younger person and then he just got lost in the shuffle of all the other books I wanted to read. Then I found some cheap copies at the epic VNSA book sale here in Phoenix a few years ago (if you ever happen to be in Phoenix in February, you really should check it out, because it’s immense), so I picked them up (this cost me a dollar, as you can see from the cover). Of course, I had to wait to read them because I read my books in alphabetical order by author, but now I’m going to read three of them in quick succession, so we’ll see what’s what!

This is, I guess, the book made Le Carré a big-time writer (it’s his third novel), and it’s pretty good. The best thing about Le Carré, I assume from what I’ve read about him, is how un-romantic he makes espionage, as I suppose he’s the antidote to Ian Fleming, in case you want an antidote to Ian Fleming. And that’s certainly true with this book, which manages to be exciting even though it shows the drudgery of spy work. Leamas, the protagonist, is rotated back to London after an operation in Berlin goes tits-up, and he is put out to pasture because he’s too old for the work anymore. In reality, of course, his bosses are running a long con designed to get him close to the dude in East Berlin who keeps fucking up their shit, so his downward spiral is meant to get the Commies’ attention so they think he’s ripe for the plucking. Eventually they scoop him up and take him to Berlin, where he’s interrogated by the main guy’s #2. Leamas didn’t think he would taken as far as Berlin, so his plan is in the crapper a bit, but he also discovers that his bosses might be setting him up as well, but he doesn’t know why. And, of course, there’s a girl involved. There’s always a girl involved, and it never goes well for anyone when there’s a girl involved. Leamas should have known better!

Le Carré writes in a spare, straight-forward style, and he doesn’t engage in flowery flights of fancy, which suits the subject matter well. For a spy novel, he doesn’t obfuscate very much, either, which is nice. We know as much as Leamas does, so when he learns something, we do too, and that makes it more immediate and powerful when he finds out things are spinning out of his control. Obviously, in a spy novel there are secrets, but when the main character, especially, knows more than the reader does, it feels like the author is just trying to prove how smart he or she is. Here, Le Carré makes sure that we’re right there with Leamas, so the devastating plot twists we get as the book nears its bitter ending work very nicely because they have a strong impact on the main character. Poor, stupid Leamas.

It’s a quick read, and Le Carré became a better writer over the years (I’m reading another of his books right now, and it’s definitely weightier), but this is still a fine espionage story. It’s not a bad place to start if you’ve never read any Le Carré!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

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On Saturday, 9 June, we went down to Hastings to visit an old friend, Charlotte. I met Charlotte in graduate school in Portland in 1998 or so, and she and my wife get on famously, so it was great to see her. She moved away from Portland in 2000, and we hadn’t seen her since, although we’re Facebook friends, which mitigates separations a little bit. I wanted to see Battle Abbey anyway, so it was nice that she lives near it! We laughed about her trying to stuff us full of food – we got off the train about 10, and she took us to breakfast. After visiting the abbey, she took us to lunch, even though it was only a few hours later, and before we got back on the train, we of course had to eat dinner! Luckily, the food was very good! Anyway, we went to Battle Abbey, much of which is a reproduction of the old abbey because Henry VIII razed so many of them to steal their wealth (alimony was expensive even in the 16th century, which is why he killed so many wives instead of divorcing them!), but it still pretty neat. We walked along the battlefield, which is now full of sheep, and checked out the remnants of the old abbey which still stands. Then we drove to Bodiam Castle because it’s a castle, man! It’s a neat castle, mainly because it’s surrounded by a quasi-lake instead of a standard moat, and it was fun to check out. Charlotte’s six-year-old son, Theo, was our impromptu tour guide, as he had been there the week before and remembered quite a bit about it. I was impressed with the kid – he never got too whiny (a little, but not too much) even though he stayed with us all day without a break. I was wearing a yellow shirt, which was a mistake, I guess, because at the castle many, many insects thought I was a flower and landed on my back. I didn’t notice them, but apparently they were freaking out my wife and daughter. Anyway, it was a fine day.

Battle, which is a charming little English town
The Hastings battlefield. SO STIRRING!!!!
Feel the history!
I was going to post a picture of myself, but one in a post is more than enough!

We went to Oxford on Sunday and took a tour of the Bodleian Library, which was pretty cool. We also toured Christ Church and Balliol Colleges, which were interesting. At one of the annexes to the library, the Weston, there was a Tolkien exhibit that I didn’t know about until the day we were there, so I couldn’t get tickets. Damn it! It appears that the exhibit contained a bunch of his letters and paintings and maps, and I would have loved to see it. The bookstore is selling a book about the exhibit, thought, so I’ll probably pick it up for Christmas, maybe.

The so-called Bridge of Sighs, because of course I had to take a picture of it!
Christ Church College
The Radcliffe Camera, part of the library

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Malefic by Dan Schaffer (writer), David Miller (artist), Crank! (letterer), and Ken F. Levin (editor). $27.99, 208 pgs, BW, Devil’s Due/First Comics.

Malefic is a terrific horror comic that often veers into the ridiculous, but the goofiness is part of what makes the horror work so well, as Shaffer knows that the pure, unrelenting horror could easily make readers numb to it. So he gives the book a nice sense of humor, which humanizes the outré characters and also gives us a chance to chuckle in between the terrible things that keep happening. Evelyn Freust, a disgraced psychiatrist (disgraced because she was fucking one of her patients, a serial killer with – it seems – psychic powers to get anyone he wants to have sex with him, and then he tried to kill her but she managed to incapacitate him but was, naturally, unable to hide the fact that she was fucking him and this is what I’m talking about with this comic being a bit ridiculous because it’s goofy but also kind of horrific), discovers while she’s recovering (the serial killer bit a big chunk out of her leg, leaving her crippled, hence the cane on the cover) that her father has A) died; and B) left a vacancy at his weird hospital for very violent mental patients, which appears to be run by a strange church that’s definitely more of a cult than a church (although what’s really the difference?). So she goes to work there and finds out that, of course, things are very bizarre at the hospital. One in particular, known as Number Eleven, is an ancient woman in a wheelchair with her mouth sewn shut whom everyone says is pure evil. Freust, being (sort of) logical, decides that there’s no such thing as evil, and she’s going to cure all of the patients of those delusions. And she’s going to use her father’s weird inventions to do so. And we’re off!

Of course, Freust discovers that things aren’t that easy. One of the inventions her dad came up with are spectacles that allow the wearer to see the soul of the person they’re looking at, and of course she sees some freaky things when she does (which does nothing to dissuade her conviction that real evil doesn’t exist). She does wildly dumb things, like answer the telephone in her office, something her head nurse specifically warned her against (and why no one just gets rid of the phone is never addressed). She confronts a lot of horrific patients, and Shaffer does a nice job giving them each unique and strange personalities and even showing how Freust might be correct and that society doesn’t know how to deal with these people and so deems them “insane” and locks them away. Most of them are very violent, of course, but Shaffer leaves just the slightest amount of doubt that they’re only violent because society told them they were deviants. He doesn’t delve too much into this line of thought, but it’s there. Freust comes up with some very interesting therapies for the patients, some of which work but only temporarily, some of which backfire spectacularly. It doesn’t help that she’s going insane as well, or so we believe. Shaffer does a nice job keeping us on our toes, as Freust does some wildly stupid things but we can never be sure she’s not doing them as part of a master plan. It’s fun. Plus, we get Miller’s terrific grayscaled art, which shows us plenty of the horror (and a lot of nudity) but leaves a few crucial things hidden, which makes them even more disturbing. Miller has a lot of fun with the creepy stuff, and he’s good enough at faces to get across the feelings of both Freust and the patients, as she descends into what we think is madness as the patients realize what she’s doing to them. It’s very nice art.

This is very much a grindhouse book in the best sense of the word, but Shaffer and Miller do enough to keep it from simply being gross for its own sake. It’s a creepy book that gets under your skin, so even when it’s at its most ridiculous, Shaffer is still twisting the knife a little and keeping us guessing. That’s not a bad way to create a comic!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Made Men volume 1: Getting the Gang Back Together by Paul Tobin (writer), Arjuna Susini (artist), Gonzalo Duarte (colorist), Saida Temofonte (letterer), and Robin Herrera (editor). $19.99, 110 pgs, FC, Oni Press.

Made Men is a fun story about a cop who happens to be descended from the original Victor Frankenstein, although early on she doesn’t advertise that fact (her first name is “Jutte” for some reason, and she goes by the last name of “Shelley” until she embraces her heritage). Early on – as in the first few pages – a team she’s leading gets ambushed and slaughtered, and although she’s left for dead, she doesn’t die easily because apparently the Frankenstein family has a secret elixir in their veins that lets them stay alive, so she picks herself up, dusts herself off, and does what any reasonably sane individual would do: resurrects her team to seek revenge on those who killed her. Of course, she doesn’t quite resurrect them as they were, as she couldn’t salvage all their body parts, so she improvises using the body parts Victor Frankenstein’s sister, Cecilia (the real brains of the family, of course), stored over the years. We get a man with the head (and brain) of a lion; we get a person made up of parts and personalities of two of her dead team members, a man and a woman; we get a woman with the brain of an early Italian suffragette. They find the people responsible for their deaths, and I know you’ll be shocked when I tell you that it’s part of a conspiracy that involves dirty cops. I mean, of course it does!

Tobin does a nice job giving these weird characters good personalities, and the story zips right along, with plenty of horrific violence and lots of nudity (the Italian suffragette loves the 21st century, and in one funny scene, she tells a male cop that she just had sex with someone who’s not her husband, that she’s not married, that it was a woman, and that she’s going to vote in the next election and is thrilled when the cop just tells her to have a nice day), and Susini’s art is quite good. Jutte gets the money for her operations by resurrecting the young daughter of a gangster she knows, which I’m sure won’t be trouble in any way, and there’s a clever introduction of a character that we knew was coming but is still handled well. It’s a fun, gory, exciting book, and while I’m a bit annoyed with the existence of Cecilia Frankenstein (Mary Shelley was a goddamned feminist and writers today have to retcon her work, and if we really think about it, doesn’t this just make women look worse, that Cecilia is a horrible as Victor?), it’s not the worst thing in the world. I haven’t seen new issues recently, but the book does end on a cliffhanger, so I just assume Tobin and Susini are making sure that the next arc is in the can before soliciting it. This is a keen book, so check it out.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

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So that was our weekend, and on Monday, we were back in London. We visited St. Paul’s, and my daughter, young and sprightly that she is, wanted to walk up to the Whispering Gallery. So that was 237 steps, which was … well, fun is not the word I would use, but it was something. Then, she wanted to keep going up, mainly because we saw people in the cupola above us and wanted to get up there. It turns out that you can only go there on private tours, but we didn’t know that when we started climbing again! So we came to the first outdoor balcony, where my wife tapped out. My daughter and I climbed up to the second balcony, which has only a waist-high barrier around it so the views are cooler. Overall, I climbed over 500 steps. FUN! But it was still pretty neat. Then we went over to the Tower of London, which was the only disappointment of our trip. Not because it’s not amazing – it is – but because we didn’t stay there long enough. We thought we had to get to Windsor on that day, because my wife had gotten “skip the line” tickets and she thought they were good only on that day. It turns out they were good for a year after she purchased them, so we could have gone at any time, and we ended up going on Wednesday because by the time we got done even our truncated tour of the Tower, it was too late in the day to get out to Windsor. So that sucked, because the Tower is pretty neat. We missed a lot when we were in England just because there’s so damned much to see, but we should have stayed longer at the Tower. Live and learn, I guess. We did the yeoman warder tour and saw the crown jewels, but we didn’t go into the White Tower. Oh well. By the time we figured out that we couldn’t make it to Windsor, we were sitting in Paddington station and we didn’t really have anything to do that would only last an hour or two. So we went over to the Southbank Centre, where my daughter and I saw … the ABBA exhibit! Yes, they had an exhibit that took about an hour to see, and so it was just perfect for us to fit in before dinnertime. My wife, foolishly, is not as devoted to ABBA as I am, so she hung out for a while, but my daughter digs ABBA, so she and I checked it out. It was pretty cool, to say the least – lots of rare items and recordings, which were fun to see.

St. Paul’s
My daughter is perilously close to the edge!
That;s the fake Globe Theatre (which we didn’t get to see, unfortunately)
The Tower of London
Our tour guide
The White Tower
Tower Bridge

On Tuesday I went to York while my wife and daughter styed in London and shopped a little, had tea, and saw Kensington Palace. I went to York because I wanted to meet a professor at the University of Leeds who has written extensively on the Merovingians, and whose 1994 book on the dynasty remains the standard history and which was a big influence on me choosing to study the Merovingians in grad school. I contacted him before we left and he suggested we meet in York, which is more interesting for tourists. We arranged to meet on the steps of the York Minster at 1 p.m., which sounded good to me. I took the train up and did some touristy stuff – I went to the Jorvik Viking Centre, which is crammed full of artifacts dug up in York and also features a fun ride around an animatronic Viking village. Then I walked up to the Minster, where you were actually allowed to take pictures inside, and hung out there for a while. It was time for me to meet the professor, so I ambled out and sat on the steps and waited. And waited. And waited. I arrived there about 12.45, so I was plenty early, and I stayed until about 2 and never saw him. Now, he didn’t know what I looked like, but I had a vague idea of what he looked like (his photograph is on the university’s web site). plus I was on the lookout for any dude who was alone and didn’t look like a tourist. I definitely looked like a tourist, but I should have emailed him and told him that I would be wearing my amazing blue shirt with flamingos on it – that would have helped. After sitting there for over an hour, I left and went to the northern gate, where I checked out an exhibit on Richard III (my daughter was green with envy!) and walked along the Roman wall, York’s example of which is one of the best preserved in Europe. Then I went back to London. I checked my email the next day and he had emailed me, saying he was there looking for me and missed me, and I apologized for missing him. I still don’t know how it happened – I looked very much like an American tourist! I did get to eat an excellent sausage sandwich with HP sauce, something I didn’t know about and obviously had never tried, but dang, that sauce was tasty. And York is a beautiful city, so it definitely wasn’t a wasted day. I just wish I could have met up with the dude.

This is the most picturesque street in Britain, according to the York tourism board, which might have a vested interest
York Minster
The nave inside the Minster
This is Richard II, and if he had had hair like that in real life, I bet he never would have been deposed!
The Roman wall in York
A nice view of the Minster

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The Thrilling Adventure Hour: A Spirited Romance by Ben Acker (writer), Ben Blacker (writer), Phil Hester (penciler), Eric Gapstur (inker), Mark Stegbauer (inker), Ande Parks (inker), Mauricio Wallace (colorist), John Rauch (colorist), and Marshall Dillon (letterer). $14.99, 90 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

On the back of this trade, it reads that this “harkens back to the heyday of old-time radio entertainment,” which is an odd thing to write. I get that this is based on a podcast, but this particular collection does NOT harken back to the heyday of old-time radio entertainment because it’s, you know, a comic book. Which were a thing during the heyday of old-time radio entertainment, so it seems a weird thing to compare a comic book to. It’s just odd.

Anyway, as nicely as Phil Hester draws this (and he does, because Hester is a good artist), this is clearly the writers’ book, as Acker and Blacker give us Sadie Parker and Frank Doyle, who live in what appears to be the present but act like they’re Nick and Nora Charles (which is not a bad thing at all, by the way). They meet at a fake séance that turns real, it’s love at first sight, and the next thing you know, they’re paranormal investigators. Well, Frank already was one, but it turns out Sadie has quite the aptitude for it, so they have a perfect marriage in that they work together doing interesting things while always on the lookout for the next cocktail (of course they drink a lot – they’re Nick and Nora Charles!). Acker and Blacker do a nice job with the main story, in which they help Sadie’s friend, who just moved into a new house, exorcise the ghosts in it, but it turns out the neighborhood is a lot more sinister than that. They also do a nice job keeping the tone light even though some nasty things are going on – they do this by puncturing horror tropes like the suburbanites who are really devil-worshippers, for instance, but also recognizing that in books like this, there has to be something menacing. It’s just that in this comic, the menacing stuff comes from places we’re not really expecting. It’s exciting, clever, and funny. And it looks good. What’s not to love?

The comic is back with a new series but without Hester. I haven’t checked it out because I’ll wait for the trade, but this is one comic where the onus is most definitely on the writers. So the new series should be fun, too!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Ghost Money: Death in Dubai by Thierry Smolderen (writer), Dominique Bertail (artist), Jeremy Melloul (translator), and Mike Kennedy (editor). $24.99, 290 pgs, FC, Lion Forge/Magnetic Press.

The second Lion Forge European comic that I got this month is also the second one drawn by Bertail – coincidence just works that way sometimes, I suppose. Ghost Money (I have no idea why we get the subtitle; yes, there’s a death in Dubai, but there are many other deaths in many other places, and the deaths – plural – in Dubai don’t seem to be any more or less important than the others) is a political thriller set in 2025, which seemed far away when Smolderen and Bertail began this in 2007/2008 but is hurtling toward us faster and faster. It’s a good, thick book, and because it’s European, each page is packed with a lot of content – Europeans don’t go into double-page splashes as much as American superhero artists do. It’s about a very rich young woman whose father is the president of the “republic of Tashkent,” which doesn’t actually exist but dumb Americans who can’t even find their own countries on the map won’t care (I’m an American and I’m embarrassed by how little my fellow countrymen know about the world, even though I do defend them occasionally against snooty Europeans; it’s kind of like the entire “I’m allowed to make fun of my family but you’re aren’t” syndrome)(Tashkent, for those ignorant among you, is currently the capital of Uzbekistan). The Americans are very interested in where the woman – Chamza – got her money, because they’re keen to be allies with her father, as in the book he’s unaligned but is leaning toward the Americans, and also because they suspect it (the money, that is) is linked to Osama bin Laden, based on the theory that al-Qaida manipulated the stock market before the 11 September attack and got rich as a result. Early on in the book, Chamza befriends a young English woman, Lindsey, who is our POV character and who is kind of swept away by the incredible lifestyle Chamza lives, being of good lower-middle-class English stock herself. There’s a bunch of jet-setting, intrigue, betrayals, violence, and all sorts of twists. Smolderen, like most Europeans, has a fairly simplistic view of American politics (I don’t say this as a criticism; most Americans know absolutely nothing about the politics of other countries, so even a simplistic view is better than nothing), so his American villains (and not all of the Americans are villains) are a bit cardboard cut-out-like, but he does dig into a few of them nicely so that they add nuance to the story. He examines the idea of terrorism and what that means quite well, as Chamza is enamored of a Arab who is trying to create a peaceful solution to Middle Eastern problems, which of course makes him a threat to the mean old militaristic United States. So there’s a lot going on, but Smolderen does a good job keeping everything focused, so even odd tangents quickly become clear.

I already wrote about Bertail above, and he’s excellent on this book, too. He went to several of the places where the action occurs, and we always get a very good sense of place, whether it’s Dubai or Tashkent or Shanghai or Siberia. Bertail uses the thin line technique often favored by European artists, but occasionally, when the violence gets a bit rougher, he uses thicker lines and his work looks vaguely like Igor Kordey (or maybe Kordey’s looks like his; I don’t know careers or Europeans as well as I know American artists). It’s gorgeous stuff – he creates dozens of characters, each unique, and does a lot of storytelling just by the way they look at each other, which deepens the narrative quite nicely. Bertail depicts a world very much like ours – it’s only a few years into the future, after all – but adds just enough small touches to show progress, and he shows both the ugliness and beauty of the world very well.

Ghost Money, like the other European offerings from Lion Forge, is a very good book but also a solid value. It’s 25 dollars for almost 300 pages of dense content, and it’s a hardcover, so it just looks nice. So give it a look!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Marvel 2-In-One volume 1: The Fate of the Four by Chip Zdarsky (writer), Jim Cheung (penciler/inker), Valerio Schiti (penciler/inker), John Dell (inker), Walden Wong (inker), Frank Martin (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer), and Mark D. Beazley (collection editor). $17.99, 120 pgs, FC, Marvel.

Marvel renews the copyright/trademark on “Marvel 2-In-One” with this series (I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly feels like it, although I don’t know if there was anyone around looking to swoop in to name something “Marvel 2-In-One”), as we get Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm searching for Reed Richards and Sue Storm so that Marvel can relaunch a Fantastic Four series. Now, considering that Marvel is about to launch a Fantastic Four series, you might expect Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm to succeed in their quest. But Marvel, never leaving well enough alone, saw the sales of this book (I assume) and decided to let it run for a while, so this is just “volume 1” while the series continues even though they’re about to launch a new Fantastic Four series. Um, Ben and Johnny? I think your job is done, dudes.

This comic is frustrating, because it’s oh-so-close to being an excellent comic but staggers down a bit to being just a pretty good superhero story. In that way it feels like a lot of what I’ve read by Zdarsky – frustratingly close to being great but unable to get over the hump. Here, we get Ben Grimm being given a device by Relatively Good Doctor Doom that has a message from Reed Richards in it. Reed tells Ben that he created something that lets you zip around the multiverse, but he hid it where only Ben could find it. Ben wants to hang out with Johnny, who’s engaging in some self-destructive behavior because he’s wildly immature, so he tells him that this device will allow them to search for Reed and Sue, even though Ben is pretty sure they’re dead (they’re not dead, because how would we have a Fantastic Four comic if they were?). So they’re off into the multiverse to “look” for their buds.

Early on, the book is moving toward excellent. We get a new genius character, Rachna Koul (because everyone in the Marvel Universe is either impossibly strong or impossibly smart or both), and it eventually turns out that she can “fix” Johnny’s power, as he’s gradually weakening. She can’t actually fix it, but she figures out the problem, and it’s one of those brilliant/stupid comic book ideas that will be forgotten by everyone but Zdarsky in the coming years. Before they end up at her lab, they go looking for the device, and this leads to a wonderful issue with the Mole Man coming to terms with representative democracy (seriously) and a visit to Hercules in a bar, who tells them about Rachna. She’s pretty awesome, too, fixing powers regardless of what “side” the person is on, which leads to Johnny discovering that she’s giving powers back to a villain and also Johnny whining because she doesn’t do it for free (Zdarsky, unlike many writers, doesn’t forget that ridiculous machinery is expensive, and Johnny’s kind of dick when he talks about this, because a girl’s gotta eat, right?). Everything seems fine. And then … they go to a different universe (with Rachna, of course) and things don’t exactly fall apart, but they become regular. Rachna has a secret, of course (which she alluded to when she spoke of payment, but it seems to make her a bit more villainous when we see her in the other universe, which I hope is not what Zdarsky’s going for), and we get one of the alternate universes where everything is just slightly different but not really all that different. In this universe, Doom became Galactus (don’t worry, it makes sense in a stupid comic-book way) and vowed to leave the Earth alone while he went off … and ate the entire universe. And now he’s coming back. So it’s fightin’ (or, perhaps, clobberin’) time. You know, like good superheroes do. How Doomactus managed to eat the entire universe in … let’s say 15 years, if we’re generous, is not explained, so it becomes one of those cool ideas that becomes dumber every time you think about it too much. Anyway, it becomes very predictable by the end, and given the first three issues, it makes it even more disappointing. I’d like to read the Zdarsky of the first three issues more, but not the Zdarsky of the second three.

Cheung is excellent and slow, as usual, so Schiti steps in for three issues before Cheung returns. Schiti has never been as good in American comics as he was on Journey Into Mystery, which is too bad because he’s pretty good, but something has changed in his art and I’m not sure what it is. He’s still good, but he’s not quite as good as I know he can be. It’s a nice-looking book overall, which is always appreciated.

I’ll have to think about getting the next trade, just because of the strange nature of this one. Let Zdarsky be Zdarsky, Marvel, and he might deliver more stuff like Mole Man and Googam debating who gets to be president of the underground empire! Wouldn’t that be fun?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

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Wednesday the 13th was our last full day, so we went to Windsor, which was inexplicably crowded, especially the chapel. I really, really wonder why that was. Windsor is a nice castle set in yet another charming English town, and while we didn’t spend a ton of time there, it was still pretty neat. The reason we couldn’t spend a lot of time at Windsor was because my wife had booked tickets for the Harry Potter studio tour, and we had to get there in time. The tour was quite neat – it had a lot of the sets, costumes, and other junk from the movies, and I liked the rooms where they showed the various drawings they made in pre-production and the small scale models of several buildings, as well as the giant Hogwarts model that basically filled a very large room and which they used when they needed big exterior shots like when Harry gets chased by the dragon in the goblet of fire book. My wife is a much bigger fan of the books and movies than I am, and my daughter loves the movies (she has not, inexplicably, read the books yet), but I like them too, so it was fun. By that time, however, I had run out of memory on my camera (I took 275 or so pictures while we were there, and my camera has only so much memory!), so I let her take a bunch of photos, which she did. So you don’t get to see the Harry Potter stuff!

Windsor
More Windsor!

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Shipwreck by Warren Ellis (writer), Phil Hester (penciler), Eric Gapstur (inker), Mark Englert (colorist), Marshall Dillon (letterer), and Mike Marts (editor). $17.99, 120 pgs, FC, AfterShock Comics.

As this is a Warren Ellis story, you know it’s going to be weird, and I really don’t want to say too much about it because it’s kind of fun discovering what’s going on. There’s definitely a shipwreck, but we don’t see it until we’re well into the book as part of a flashback, because the fun comes from following Jonathan Shipwright – yes, the only survivor of a shipwreck not only designed a very important part of the ship, he’s actually named “shipwright,” because Ellis was phoning it in when it came to names, I guess – as he wanders a desert world trying to remember what happened to him and figure out what’s happening to him now. Many people seem to know him, which freaks him right out, and as he continues to meet them, he begins to piece together what’s going on. It’s not the most original story in the world, but Ellis knows how to tell these kinds of stories, so it works pretty well.

As I noted above, Hester does fine work on The Thrilling Adventure Hour, but he works a bit better on this book, as the weirdness in this is more suited to his style as opposed to the more light-hearted weirdness of that book. Hester has been drawing haunting comics for 25 years or so, and this is an example of how well he does it. He does harrowing stuff very well, and when he wants to, he can make his characters look like wraiths, as Shipwright does here for much of the book. Hester uses negative space and silhouettes extremely well, and he uses his strong line to create a broken but hard world, one where finding a skeleton inside a cairn isn’t all that shocking an occurrence. The coloring in this comic, which is flatter and dustier than in The Thrilling Adventure Hour, works well with Hester’s stark, angular style, too.

Anyway, if you’re a fan of Ellis, you’ll probably like this. If you don’t, you probably won’t. It’s not a major Ellis work, but it is a pretty nifty tale, and it’s six issues and done, so there’s no commitment past this volume! That’s handy!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Spider King by Josh Vann (writer), Simone D’Armini (artist), Adrian Bloch (colorist), Nic Shaw (letterer), and Chas! Pangburn (editor). $19.99, 115 pgs, FC, IDW.

Stories of alien invasions at different time periods in human history other than the present aren’t new, but they’re always pretty fun. Vann gives us one, when a few spaceships crash in the indeterminate northern lands at an indeterminate time, but it’s during the Viking period. Usually in these stories the humans eventually band together and fight the aliens, but what’s interesting about this book is that there are two sides to the aliens, as well, so that one alien, who’s a prisoner of the others, escapes and does horrible things to the human villain, turning him into a host for, you guessed it, the Spider King. The “good” humans don’t really ally with the “good” aliens, mostly because they’re almost all dead, but there is one alien who tags along as they hunt the bad guy. Whether our environment is conducive to alien life doesn’t really come into it.

Vann tells a good story, mainly because he gives us interesting characters to go through his plot. The protagonist, Hrolf, is the king of a clan and whose father dies at the beginning of the book, leaving him in charge (as a young boy). Fast forward some years, and Hrolf is still fighting his uncle, Aarek, who was rebelling against his brother and is now fighting his nephew. Meanwhile, we have to have a female co-lead, so Hrolf’s childhood friend, Sigrid, shows up. Sigrid is the daughter of another warlord who of course thinks women should stay at home while the men fight, and she escapes so she can kill Aarek stealthily, something her father and his cronies won’t even consider because it’s not manly enough. Hrolf’s group and Sigrid find different spaceships (more than a few crashed on Earth) and pick up weapons from them, while the Spider King turns Aarek into even more of a monster than he already is. Vann does a nice job with them, though – Sigrid has a good caustic sense of humor, while Hrolf is a reluctant king to say the least. Vann is clever in showing that Aarek, despite his lack of morality, is probably the best leader of the Vikings, at least before he turns into a spider monster. It’s a neat way to make sure that the villain has some depth even though he’s a grade-a asshole.

D’Armini’s work is quite good – it’s quite cartoonish, and it took me a little while to get used to it, but there’s no denying his talent and the style grew on me. He does a nice job contrasting the alien technology with the mean Vikings, and his Spider King is very creepy. He does a quasi-Cubist style when he shows what’s going on inside the people that the Spider King infects, and it’s pretty keen. The coloring is nice, too – it’s never too bright, but it doesn’t obscure the art, and when Hrolf and Sigrid confront the Spider King the first time, the blue palette makes him and his lair seem all the more creepy. It’s good work.

This ends fairly definitively, but it also could spawn a sequel, so it will be interesting if that’s where Vann and D’Armini go. This is their comics debut, so it will be interesting to see what they come up with next!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Zojaqan by Collin Kelly (writer), Jackson Lanzing (writer), Nathan Gooden (artist), Vittorio Astone (colorist), Deron Bennett (letterer), and Adrian Wassel (editor). $19.99, 134 pgs. FC, Vault Comics.

I’d really like Vault Comics to do well, just as I wanted its predecessor, Creative Mind Energy, to do well, because Nathan Gooden is a really good artist and I want to see more of his work, and he works for the company seemingly exclusively. Zojaqan is his latest, and his art is the main reason I bought it, although it did sound neat. Gooden has a bit of an Adam Hughes vibe going on, and his work is beautifully fluid, expressive, detailed, and easy to read (there’s one double-page spread in this book where things happen and it’s unclear, but otherwise, it’s excellent storytelling). His main character, Shannon, goes through many stages of life, and Gooden does a wonderful job showing how she can be hard when she has to be, sad when events remind her of tragedy, and kind when she wants to be. He also create a weird and beautiful alien world, filled with interesting creatures, and the two more monstrous beings in the book are wonderfully terrifying. She meets alien creatures and watches them grow, and Gooden does a remarkable job of turning them from innocent wild things into cynical civilized beings, breaking Shannon’s heart in the process even though she’s the engine of their growth. Gooden is destined for bigger things, but for now, it’s nice to see him on strange and off-beat comics.

Kelly and Lanzing give us a story about God, basically. Shannon Kind falls onto an alien world, and we spend the entire book waiting to see if Kelly and Lanzing will explain how she got there or if she’s even really on an alien world, given what we find out about her. Her young son (he was a teenager, most likely, from the way Gooden draws him) was killed by the driver of a car, and she’s consumed with grief. We get several flashbacks to her life on Earth, which is why I kept wondering if she was in a coma or something and imagined this entire thing (I’m not telling whether she’s experiencing reality or not, so there). While she’s on this alien world – Zojaqan, the natives call it – she decides to play God. She experiences several time jumps, which allows her to see how the Zoja – who are cute little creatures at the beginning – evolve into almost human-like people. They, naturally, decide she’s God, especially after she saves them from the creepy creatures deep in the forest. So they, naturally, set up a religion based on the “law” of “Shan” – basically anything she says to them. Of course, given the fact that she jumps in time (and apparently just disappears from their midst, allowing them to believe she’s coming back at any moment), she gets to experience what happens to any religion – it becomes bastardized and twisted as it gets further away in time from its founder. Shannon is constantly “returning” to find different horrors being done in her name, and when she tries to fix them, she later finds out that those directions, too, have been turned into something horrific. Kelly and Lanzing do a nice job not commenting too much on this – it’s their overall thesis, of course, and it’s not terribly subtle, but it’s not like they spell it out for us with words, so we can see in a completely new setting their thoughts on religion and what happens to it. Shannon originally responds the way she does because of the tragedy in her past, and that small (in a cosmic sense) event metastasizes into something that consumes her new planet. Does religion spring from tragedy, and if so, can it ever not turn tragic? It’s not a bad thing to ponder, and Kelly and Lanzing do a pretty good job pondering it, especially as we see late in the book Shannon’s capacity for compassion as well as her ability for rage. She can be an empathetic god, and she can also be a jealous one.

This is an interesting comic – it’s not great, but it is pretty good. It has some interesting ideas roiling around in it, and it features really nice art. So there’s that!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

**********

So that was our vacation in truncated form. We had a great time, and the weather was amazing. It was in the 70s pretty much every day, and the temperatures never got that cold, either. It rained the tiniest bit when we were at Stonehenge, but other than that, it was dry. The weather in Paris was a bit hotter, but not too bad at all. York was overcast but it didn’t rain, and it was just a bit cooler than the south, but not much. We joked that we brought good weather wherever we went, because the day after we left Paris the weather got nasty and the day we left London it was raining a little bit. I had been to London in the ’70s, but of course I don’t remember much of it, and we were glad we were able to go and take my daughter, so she could get a wider appreciation of life in general. It was great to see Kieron Gillen and my friend Charlotte, because I like my friends and life makes it difficult to see them very often, especially as they live, you know, across an ocean. It was expensive, true, but totally worth it. I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to a comic book store while I was there – I did want to, but there just wasn’t time – and we didn’t see everything I would have liked to see, but that’s okay. We wanted to go to the Victoria & Albert Museum but couldn’t find the time, and there’s a Templar church in London that I didn’t get to see, but such is life. We still had a great time.

I was going to do my list of the most recent songs on my iPod, but this is already running really long and uploading all those photos took forever, so this is quite late. I will leave you with this link, which a friend of mine shared on Facebook and which is, apparently, not satire. Man, people are weird in this world.

Have a nice day, everyone, and remember that if you’re at all interested in any of these trades, use the link below to buy them and I get a tiny piece of it! It works for everyone!

22 Comments

  1. tomfitz1

    My main complaint about SHIPWRECK is that I had to wait quite a lengthy wait for issues 5 and 6. I don’t mind an occasional skip month, but this was ridiculous.

    Glad that you and your family had a terrific time touring Europe.

    Too bad you didn’t get to meet any of the other famous British comic book writers.

        1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

          Hahaha, I was in the same boat!

          I’ll generally buy limited series/interim runs (a la Waid’s Cap) in floppy, and trade-wait on longer-running titles…which is why I thought I was safe to get Shipwreck monthly, only to end up waiting like 8 months for the final issue.

        2. Greg Burgas

          Tom: Sure, there are a few. Mostly the ones I’ve already bought in singles, because I don’t want to switch in the middle to trades. But those are slowly winding down, and I’m not starting new ones, because everything comes out in trade these days. And with Ellis, it’s even easier because he gets distracted by shiny things so easily and takes months off – it’s just easier to wait until he gets it all together and finishes things! (That being said, I’m buying The Wild Storm in singles, and I don’t know why, but it’s awesome.)

  2. Edo Bosnar

    Greg, you look so suave in that pic that at first glance I thought it was some random French passerby who stopped to (harmlessly, to be sure) flirt with your wife and daughter… 😉

    Nice post, glad you all had a great time, although it sounds like it was exhausting, as well – I’ve been on visits like that. It’s too bad limited time and expense force you pack your days with activities like that, instead of being able to savor everything at a more leisurely pace.
    Cool that you made it out to Oxford. I spent about a month and half there in the summer of 1997 (I enrolled in one of those summer history courses for foreign students). The Bodleian is indeed awesome, kind of like a holy place or pilgrimage site for book-lovers, but the entire university complex has awesome libraries everywhere, and since I had temp student status, I could actually go in and browse the stacks and even, on occasion, check out books – which I needed in some cases for the coursework. Also, I was staying at and attending all lectures in Exeter College – Tolkien’s alma mater.

    On Charles I, I’m always reminded of the verse in that Monty Python song: “The most interesting thing about King Charles the First is that he was 5 foot 6 inches tall at the start of his reign,
    but only 4 foot 8 inches tall at the end of it.”

    We have a similar experience with Le Carre’s work; I had known about him since I was at least a teen, but never actually read anything by him until the early ’00s, when I also came across a dirt-cheap used copy of Spy Who Came in from the Cold. I found it a really solid, at places gripping read, and I liked the little bits of humor that peppered some parts of the text (like when one of the German characters says something like, ‘we Germans over-organize everything, it makes everyone think we’re efficient.’). However, for some reason I’ve never felt compelled to read anything else by Le Carre.

    1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

      I did the same thing, the summer after my junior year!

      We based in Regent’s Park, around the corner fromthe Eagle and Child – my favorite day was definitely seeing Much Ado About Nothing in the Bodleian courtyard.

    2. Greg Burgas

      Edo: Yes, people always mistake me for a suave Frenchman! 🙂

      We knew we would be exhausted, and it would have been nice to be more leisurely, but we really have no idea when we’ll ever get back, if at all. Traveling costs too damned much! 🙁

      Carlos: That sounds cool. Shakespeare is always neat, but in that setting it would be very keen.

  3. ” It’s as if the writers long ago thought, “Hey, two Southern characters in the X-Men – let’s make them fall in love!”
    As a Southern resident for most of my life, that makes me cringe. Gambit’s from New Orleans, whole different thing.
    Though that said, I’ve never been particularly anti-Gambit anti-Gambit/Rogue. Can’t say I particularly care a lot either.
    I started reading LeCarre a couple of years ago, and enjoy him a lot. Except Naive and Sentimental Lover, which didn’t work for me at all (or apparently most people).

    1. Greg Burgas

      Corrin: Yeah, I’ll get both Nancy Drew and Jessica Jones when they show up in trade (read comics on-screen! pish-tosh!). This is just a misfire by Kelly. I know she loves Rogue, so maybe it’s true that you shouldn’t write characters you love so much. Unless you’re me. Call me, Joey Q! 🙂

  4. There was just a story about Stonehenge and people buried there and how some of them came from Wales, apparently, and the first thing I thought of but wasn’t mentioned was that they were the slaves brought to build the thing. I’m guessing, anyway.

    I just recently read my first Le Carre, which was the same you read. Strange! I didn’t end up being greatly impressed with it. It was nicely twisty but just didn’t do it for me.

    I also recently read Marvel Two-In-One and felt much the same as you, that the book trailed off after the first few issues and kept it from being great. I don’t think they’re going for an evil thing for Rachna, though. I believe her motivation is something else.

    Sounds like your trip was a lot of fun! Maybe someday I’ll get to travel out of the country like that (and not because I’ve been exiled!)

    1. Greg Burgas

      Of course they were slaves! How could they not be? Nobody’s putting that thing up for any kind of payment, because it’s too stupid!

      I really hope they’re not doing anything evil with Rachna, but I’ve had too much experience with stupid ideas like that. Fingers crossed!

      I love traveling, but now we’re poor. Stupid traveling!

  5. Simon

    “When he had finished reading, Archimboldi read the whole story again and then a third time and then he got up shaking and went for a walk around Missolonghi, which was full of memorials to Byron, as if Byron had done nothing in Missolonghi but stroll about, from inn to tavern, from backstreet to little square, when it was common knowledge that he had been too ill to move and it was Thanatos who walked and looked and took note, Thanatos who visited not just in search of Byron but also as a tourist, because Thanatos is the biggest tourist on Earth.” (Roberto Bolaño, 2666)

    – “Really, LAX? Really, Homeland Security?”

    Find an airport locker anywhere in the world, maybe call RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT?

    – “nine gigantic paintings, all done by Rubens”

    He liked ’em big, din’t he?

    – “a coin minted by Theudebert I”

    What about a coin minted by Tarim himself?

    – “We did not see the Rosetta Stone”

    A 10″ resin replica goes for $200, maybe $100 second-hand?

    – “Infinity 8”

    Vols. 1–5 came out in 2017 and 6–7 (of 8) this year, so it should be finished before you get the rest translated?

    – “the Musée D’Orsay”

    Another time, try L’Orangerie: an extraordinary museum with 150 paintings, mostly from Cézanne, Renoir, Derain, Modigliani, Soutine, Matisse, Utrillo, Laurencin, and Picasso. (Their art merchant kept the best pieces and the Walter–Guillaume collection is not to be broken up.)

    * (all paintings) http://www.musee-orangerie.fr/en

    Last but not least, it also houses Monet’s “Water Lilies”, the giant wall paintings that fill the whole top floor. (And if you like Monet, the Marmottan-Monet museum is a mansion filled with his works, including his almost-abstract, last-years works.)

    * (samples) http://www.marmottan.fr/uk/

    – “Sacre-Coeur”

    Holy Heart is spelled “Sacré-Cœur”, non?

    – “we really wanted to see Bath”

    Did you intone its Saxon elegy, “The Ruin”?

    “The public halls were bright, with lofty gables, / Bath-houses many; great the cheerful noise, / And many mead-halls filled with human pleasures. / Till mighty fate brought change upon it all.” — http://www.rado.sk/old_english/texts/Ruin.htm

    – “Marvel renews the copyright/trademark”

    Just the trademark (what goes outside) not the copyright (what goes inside), if you’ll forgive such legal oversimplification?

    – “I don’t know if there was anyone around looking to swoop in to name something “Marvel 2-In-One””

    Wouldn’t DC’s legal snatch any Marvel trademark as potential bargaining chip or tit-for-tat after that Shazam incident?

    1. Greg Burgas

      Simon: I think Chad Nevett was reading 2666 once and mentioned about it at the old blog. I should pick it up.

      Hey, it’s a Ruben-esque pun! 🙂

      If we ever get back to Paris, I’m sure that will be on our to-do list!

      Hey, I spelled it correctly in the text! (Well, without the “o” and “e” smushed together, because I ain’t got time for that.) I just didn’t feel like it in the caption!

      No, we did not intone any elegies. Sorry! 🙂

      I never know the difference between trademark and copyright, so I hedge my bets. It’s one of them!!!!!

      Yeah, as DC is massively trolling Marvel these days, they would zoom in and steal it just for pettiness’s sake!

  6. Eric van Schaik

    That’s quite a large column about your trip. Very interesting.

    Since last saturday I finally have vacation. Last year didn’t count because it was just after the divorce and I had to look after the youngest ones and my demented mom.
    In Holland we have about 25 vacation days a year of which 15 can be used as a long vacation. Is thatr the same in the US?
    I’m camping with the youngest 2 at De Leukermeer. There is small lake nearby where we can swim. We use a large tent. They were here first with my ex and now 2 weeks with me before my ex comes back helping me breaking up the tent and bring everything back home.

    Thanks for mentioning Shipwreck just being 1 trade. I’m hesitant about The Wild Storm because Ellis doesn’t always finish what he starts. Is it good?

    When you do a new column and I’m back home I will give you some interesting new music I discovered visiting Pinkpop and the Midsummer Prog Festival.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Eric: Very cool you got a vacation. You could use it!

      25 vacation days a year in the US? BWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA (DEEEEP BREATH) -HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!!

      Yeah, that’s if you work for a good company. It goes company by company, and most give you two weeks (10 days) if you’re lucky. 5 weeks? That’s crazy talk!

      I really, really like The Wild Storm, and I’m hoping that because it’s DC Ellis will stay focused. I have no idea how long he’s planning to do it, because it’s a very slow burn. But very good.

      I look forward to hearing about the music!

      1. Eric van Schaik

        It gets better Greg. When I’m 55 I get 2 extra vacation days every year. Even my oldest son who works in a restaurant must take a 3 week vacation. It’s pretty standard in Holland.

        Last monday I came full circle. The fietst concert I ever went to was of Judas Priest, and now I took my youngest son with me. But him being autistic made it quite hard for him and halfway we had to find a place for him to sit.
        A 1 time experience.

        I’ll stop now to prepare the tent for the next thunderstorm. Until next time.

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