People now understood that it makes no difference where you pray, and that the only people who seek Christ in Jerusalem are those who have never borne him in their hearts or have lost him. (Vissarion Belinsky, “Letter to N.V. Gogol”)
Jacobs is an editor at Esquire who decided to read the entire 2002 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. He gives us some reasons, but it’s pretty clear he did it so he could write a book about reading the encyclopedia. Now, that’s not the worst reason to do something – so you can write a book about it – and at least he’s a funny guy, so the book is not only informative but entertaining as well. Jacobs writes that he always believed he was super-smart, something his mother encouraged, but as he grew older he realized he wasn’t, especially when compared to his father, who writes legal books (24 of them as of this book’s publication) and his brother-in-law, Eric, who knows everything (except the one thing that would help Jacobs when he goes on Who Wants To be a Millionaire? during the time he was reading the encyclopedia). He structures it cleverly, too – he simply lists entries he’s on and occasionally just gives the definition if it’s something unusual or uses that as a springboard to write about his life as a budding polymath. He writes about his attempt to get on Jeopardy and his interview with Alex Trebek (which, ironically, cost him a chance at Jeopardy because he “knew” Trebek, even if it was just as an interviewee), he writes about his family and how he was raised, and he writes about trying to have a child, which causes he and his wife no end of grief. She eventually gets pregnant, which is nice, and a big part of the book is their attempts to conceive, which humanizes Jacobs nicely. Of course, there’s a ton of trivia in the book, as well, which I liked. Jacobs doesn’t know some things that I thought everyone knew – I’m trying to think of an example, but nothing springs to mind right now – and he’s dismissive of some things that I don’t think he should be dismissive of – on the very first page, he writes that he’s never heard of Aachen, the city in west central Germany, and that offended me a bit because Aachen was such an important city during the Carolingian era, which is of course adjacent to my area of study in graduate school, so I’ve known about the place for decades – but otherwise, he writes in a lively style and digs into some of the less “important” aspects of the entries and highlights the more vulgar parts of it. Horatio Alger was kicked out of his Massachusetts church after allegations of his sexual misconduct with local boys came out. René Descartes had a fetish for women with crossed eyes. “Chauvinism” comes from a French soldier named Nicolas Chauvin, who showed such “simpleminded devotion” to Napoleon his name was memorialized. Fun stuff like that.
Jacobs is an interesting writer, and part of what makes him interesting is that he’s not afraid to make fun of himself. Even as he is trying to becomes the “smartest person in the world,” he comes across people who make him feel foolish because he’s not as smart as they are (like his father and his brother-in-law) or people who explain to him that intelligence isn’t measured by a knowledge of trivia. The book is more than just that simple recitation of what he finds in the encyclopedia – he gets into the history of the book itself, the nature of intelligence, the neuroses of thinking you’re not good enough (Jacobs is very neurotic, which becomes even more clear in his next book, which you can see below), and even the way a relationship can change as you change. Jacobs doesn’t change too much in this book, just acquires more knowledge, but his relationship with his wife changes a bit because he can be a bit insufferable about his newly-acquired knowledge (and she takes him down many pegs in this book), but also because the knowledge makes him overthink everything, including their attempts to conceive. So it’s an interesting quasi-autobiography as well as a text full of awesome and fairly useless facts.
I liked The Know-It-All quite a bit. It’s a solid read, and Jacobs never takes himself too seriously, so even his pomposity is easily deflated. If you’re a trivia nerd, you probably should check this out. Unless you want to read the Encyclopedia Britannica for yourself!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Endings are hard, man, even if you have the ending in mind before you start something (perhaps that’s even harder to pull off). For plot-driven comics, endings are even harder, because the whole point of the piece of entertainment is to pull off the ending. Some great comics have been ruined by their endings – 100 Bullets comes to mind, although that had started to slip badly long before the weak ending. Nailbiter is one of those plot-driven comics, so Williamson needed to nail (so to speak) the ending, which comes in this final volume. Despite some decent character work, the fates of Finch and Crane and Alice and Warren aren’t interesting because they’re interesting characters, they’re interesting because of how they affect the big mystery of Buckaroo and its penchant for spewing up serial killers. Williamson is both charged and hamstrung by the mystery, because he obviously can’t solve it too early or the book ends, but he also has had to make it so big as to explain things, even though he’s been feinting this way and that about what makes people kill. Obviously, different things make different people kill, and nothing simple and mysterious can ever explain that, and Williamson makes nods that way in this volume with regard to Warren, but because this is a horror comic and because it’s driven by its plot and because Williamson deliberately set up a mystery, he has to explain it. He doesn’t quite pull it off – the explanation for the Buckaroo Butchers borders on offensive, which I guess is the point, but for a book that tried so hard to stay grounded in “reality,” the answer is a bit too science fiction to make much sense. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter anyway. Endings are hard, man.
And because this is a plot-driven comic, Williamson has to do things that service the plot but make no sense. Five people get violently attacked in this volume and not only survive, but appear to have no lasting effects of their horrific injuries. In one case, a person would definitely go into shock and bleed to death, yet the character continues talking as if nothing has happened. Despite the veneer of subversion in the book, the correct people get punished, and we even get the clichéd sequence where someone strives for redemption but that means sacrificing themselves because their sins are too far beyond the Pale for that character to survive. Williamson gives us a “horror movie” ending that makes no sense whatsoever, and while it only works to the barest extent in movies because movies can use motion and music to shock us one last time, here it doesn’t work at all. It’s a shame.
Now, this makes it sound like I hated Nailbiter. I didn’t. Not at all. It was entertaining, and Williamson managed to keep a lot of balls in the air quite deftly over 31 issues. The problem is that he tackled a dense psychological issue – what makes someone a serial killer? – and used it to tell a “friendly” story, in which the killers were all entertaining and the deaths seemed to have no consequence whatsoever. A lot of people died in Nailbiter, but the townspeople never seemed to freak out too much – they got angry, sure, but Williamson never gave us a sense of how big this town was, so the psychological damage to the townspeople seemed negligible. At times, Buckaroo seemed big enough that people could go their entire lives without encountering a serial killer. At many more times, it seemed like a tiny town where everyone knew at least one killer, so when the deaths starting piling up in the town (Williamson made a pretty big deal out of the fact that the killers never killed in Buckaroo, so this comic is a huge departure from the “history” he had created), it seemed like people would freak out a bit more. But the people just kept doing their thing, so the presence of killers in the town never felt real, even as bodies dropped all over the place. If you’re reading this just for the plot, it’s fine – Williamson keeps us guessing, drops enough clues so that the reveal of the main villain doesn’t feel like a cheat, and makes sure that there are plenty of cliffhangers – but when you think about it for more than a few minutes, it starts to dissolve. Some critics have claimed that Williamson has delved deep into human nature, but that’s just not true – he skimmed the surface of human nature, sure, but all the damaged characters in this book – and there are many, many damaged characters – never feel real enough to be disturbing looks into human nature. Alice, for instance, could easily be the star of the show, given her parentage, and Williamson alludes to the dark corners of her psyche, but it’s all just titillation, and that goes for every other character, as well. Whenever there’s any hint that he’ll dig deeper in the characters, someone else gets killed and the mystery rears its head again. But the mystery is the least interesting thing about the book!
Again, this is an entertaining comic. It’s not as good as Williamson’s other Image book, Birthright, but it’s fun to read and fun to try to figure out what’s going on. It just doesn’t really stick with you, unfortunately. But maybe that’s just me!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
Wonder Woman volume 2: Year One by Greg Rucka (writer), Nicola Scott (artist), Bilquis Evely (artist), Romulo Fajardo Jr. (colorist), Jodi Wynne (letterer), and Robin Wildman (collection editor). $16.99, 140 pgs, FC, DC.
I always wonder how heavy editorial interference is on DC and Marvel books, despite writers constantly saying that it’s non-existent. Writers have to be influenced by editors (in this case, Rebecca Taylor and Mark Doyle – I list the collection editors for trades, but they were the editors of the series), because they have to fit the comic they’re writing into the larger whole of the DC (or Marvel) Universe, and the characters aren’t theirs, anyway – if Rucka pitched Wonder Woman as a serial killer, I’m sure someone at DC would have said “no” to him, right? Part of the reason people get grumpy with Bendis is because he seems to write characters as if they’re brand new, and it upsets people. I don’t have too much of a horse in this particular race, but I imagine DC and Marvel want to keep their IPs the tiniest bit consistent, even if it means so they can do something like turn Captain America into a Nazi because it’s so out of character.
I mention this because I like Rucka as a writer. I like almost everything he’s done as a writer – not all, mind you, but most – and he seems to know what he’s doing. I liked his earlier run on Wonder Woman, and I wonder (ha!) why this isn’t as good. I have a feeling it’s “originitis” – this is, what, the fourth origin of Wonder Woman we’ve gotten in the past 18 months or so, and it’s really getting on my nerves. But even that doesn’t explain the weak writing in this book. Dialogue is always hard, I get that. My writing teacher in college gave me some great advice – he said dialogue in a (prose) story should be like the white foam at the top of a cresting wave, and the rest of the wave is all the other writing. In other words, less is more. I get that comics writers probably need to use a bit more dialogue, but that doesn’t make it easy. Rucka has always done pretty well with dialogue, and that’s why I wonder if DC Editorial was a bit more involved or if Rucka thinks that he’s writing Wonder Woman, so the dialogue needs to be more stilted. Because everyone in this book speaks so … I want to say earnestly, which is true, but there’s nothing wrong with that, per se. It’s more that everyone speaks like a plot summary, espousing their values with each word and telling us exactly what’s going on and what they’re feeling. It doesn’t feel real, and even Rucka’s attempts at humor feel forced. Diana’s relationship with her mother is the only one that has any ring of truth to it, but she leaves Themyscira so early in the book, we don’t get a lot of it. I get that superhero comics aren’t the best place to find really good dialogue (that’s not a hard and fast rule, but the dialogue tends to be a bit more unrealistic), but Rucka is really laying it on thick here. Plus, there’s something about Wonder Woman that makes writers weird. I don’t know what it is, but writers seem to approach Wonder Woman with fear, as if they don’t want to mess up the original female icon in comics because she is the original female icon in comics. So Wonder Woman rarely comes off as a “real” person. In past years, writers made her almost infantile when she reached “man’s world,” but that has gone by the boards (which is great), but it’s been replaced with the unapproachable iron lady. Diana is a paragon of virtue, perfect in every way, chaste and compassionate and empathetic. She’s still naïve, to be sure, but that’s tempered by the other stellar attributes of her character. Which makes her boring, unfortunately. In this book, there’s not even a question of her competing to take Steve Trevor back to the U.S. – everyone knows she is going to, and everyone knows she will win, too. I get that superheroes are the best of the best (usually), but there couldn’t be a little suspense about Diana’s transformation into Wonder Woman? I mean, if there isn’t, why bother doing another origin story? Plus, of course she’s sort-of in a relationship on Themyscira, but that gets very little page time, and of course Steve Trevor is a paragon of virtue, as well, because he wouldn’t be worthy of Diana otherwise. But even so, it’s not like Diana is getting laid any time soon, because writers seem terrified of her having sex. I don’t really want the comic to be all about sex, but even Batman gets busy every once in a while! Diana seems virginal when she arrives in San Diego with Steve, but if she was in a relationship with a woman at home, why would she be? Diana always seems like more of a template of a great woman than an actual person, which is why when a writer doesn’t do that with her (Rucka, for instance, back when he first wrote the character), it stands out as a good take. This take, however, is kind of dull.
It’s too bad, too, because despite Barbara Minerva’s story in issue #14 (remember, this collects every other issue of the series, so we get issue #14 even though we’re only in volume 2) being a bit clichéd (Daddy doesn’t want little Barbara to indulge her imagination!), at least her life is interesting, as she struggles in a male-dominated field and even then comes up with crazy theories that sound crazy. But she persists, and it’s a nice tale showing us a bit more about a future villain (who already showed up in volume 1, so at least Rucka keeps everything together fairly tightly between the “past” and the “present” threads of the book). And, of course, Scott’s art is stunning. She has softened her line a bit over the years, so her work isn’t quite as angular but works well with Fajardo’s nuanced coloring. Her Ares is a terrific-looking villain, and it makes his fight with Diana feel more dire, as he’s all blacks and blues and war-toughened armor. The layout as Diana fights him is well done, too, presenting everything clearly but hinting at the chaos of the proceedings. Evely’s work on Minerva’s story is great, too, and I’m glad she got the regular gig when Scott left the book. The art on Wonder Woman, both the “present” and the “past” plots, has been superb, and in this volume, at least, it’s too bad Rucka’s writing is a bit dull.
I’ll probably get the two volumes after this (I assume Rucka’s run will be two more volumes?) just to see what’s what. It’s not a bad comic by any means, but I just wonder what the deal is with Wonder Woman as a character. Is everyone too scared of a backlash that no one wants to make her more like a human?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I love maps. Let me rephrase that: I FUCKING LOVE MAPS. I own several atlases showing the world at different points in its history, and I get really, really angry when a history book I’m reading doesn’t have any maps or has only one token one (the book I’m reading right now only has one, and while it’s more of a cultural history than a political one, it still pisses me off). I own an atlas of Middle-Earth, and if I had read George Martin’s thingy, I’d probably own an atlas of Westeros, too (is there a published atlas of Westeros? I’ve looked at the one on-line – not too closely, because I haven’t read the books, but a little, and guess what? I FUCKING LOVED IT). I could spend hours looking at maps of, say, the various Italian states during the Renaissance, or the slow dissolution of the Byzantine Empire and the concurrent rise of the Ottomans. When I read a good history book (you know, the ones with a lot of maps), I flip back and forth between maps that show roughly the same area and try to line up where things are occurring. So yeah, maps and I – we’re good.
Recently I had to go to a bookstore to get gift cards. Technically, I didn’t have to go to a bookstore, and the gift cards were just something extra for some volunteers at my daughter’s school, because I appreciated all the work they had done. But it was nothing anyone expected, so I didn’t have to go. Plus, I was going to get Amazon gift cards, but I couldn’t find them for $10 (I know they exist, but I couldn’t find them!). So I went with my back-up plan and went to a bookstore (that would have been my primary plan, but I’m a weirdo who likes to read, and I thought Amazon might be better for people who like other things). Going to a bookstore, for me, is like a heroin addict going to a shooting gallery – it’s really not a good idea. I deliberately stay away from bookstores because I have so many books that I haven’t read yet, and I don’t really need any more! So I walked into Changing Hands in Tempe (which is an awesome place) and, I shit you not, picked up three books, including this one, from the first two tables I saw, before I could even get to the register and ask for gift cards. DAMN IT!!!!!! Of course, I could have put the books back, but it’s like they were stuck in my hands! I had no choice, I swear! So I ended up spending $90 on gift cards and almost $90 on books. DAMN IT!!!!!!
It doesn’t matter, ultimately, because books are awesome … AND SO ARE MOTHERFUCKING ATLASES!!!!! This one, by a geographer who teaches at Oxford, is about places that have either declared their independence and were ignored by the global community at large (can you be a country if nobody else considers you one?) or were immediately invaded by a neighboring power and absorbed, or have a kind of quasi-independent status in the world, but political realities mean recognition comes slowly (see: Taiwan). Middleton doesn’t just show the maps of the “countries” – he adds a bit of history about the place, and he shifts between simple facts to slice-of-life vignettes about living in the territories. He writes about Varosha, a resort area in Cyprus that was caught in no-man’s-land when the Turks invaded the island in 1974 and remains abandoned. He writes about a florist who became the “prince for life” of Seborga, a once-independent principality in northwest Italy that never, it claims, came under the suzerainty of the Italian government. He writes about the Tuareg, who still fight against the government of Mali for self-determination. He writes about Pontinha, a fort on the island of Madeira that the owner claims was given sovereignty by the king of Portugal in 1903. He writes about Sikkim, which was annexed by India in 1975 and is prominent in my father’s world atlas that was published in the early 1970s (it still has North and South Vietnam, for instance). I still think of Sikkim as an independent country! He writes about Hutt River, the “rulers” of which claim that because Australia cannot find a reason for them to stop secession, that makes them independent. Middleton gets into the more famous proto-nations in the world, like Taiwan and Sealand and Christiana and Greenland and Catalonia, but it’s the quirky countries that fascinate. It’s the kind of book that will give you an appreciation of how people try to organize themselves and their surroundings, how they try to make sense of the world, and how quickly borders can change. We always think of the countries of the world as immutable, even though we have evidence to the contrary, and this book is a good way to bring the idea of change from the abstract to the real. Who’s to say we won’t soon see a new nation made up of familiar elements?
If you don’t love maps as much as I do, you’re probably dead to me, but you might want to wait on this book or try to find it cheaper. A paperback version would be cheaper, as the hardcover is 30 dollars, and that’s a bit dear. But I don’t care, because the book is awesome. If you love maps even a little bit, it’s definitely worth your time!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I’ve had some issues with Scott Snyder over the years, because I don’t think he ends things well. I even wrote a post about it back on the old blog! His first great comics work, his run on Detective, ended poorly. The Wake was superb for 8½ issues, and then, it too went in the tank. The less said about his run on Batman, the better, because I couldn’t even find out if it ended badly because the beginning was so awful. I have no idea what’s going on with American Vampire, but I’m still convinced it’s the best thing he’s written because it hasn’t ended yet. It bugs me, because I think Snyder has great ideas and he’s not a bad writer. So the fact that he can’t seem to end things is worrisome.
Now that you know my “I don’t love Scott Snyder’s writing” bona fides, I have to write about A.D.: After Death (henceforward A.D.). Holy cow, is this thing good. I haven’t read everything Snyder has written, but it’s by far the best thing I’ve ever read by him, and yes, it’s partly because he finally sticks the landing. This is mostly a story about entropy and the existential fear that it brings, and Snyder comes oh so close to not actually using the word “entropy” (which I was hoping he wouldn’t use, but my hopes were dashed!), but even with that tiny hiccup (which comes near the end), he still gives us a great ending. Yes, endings matter. Even someone like me, who cares more about other things than plot, wants endings to work. It’s nice that Snyder managed it!
Anyway, as I mentioned, this comic is about entropy, and the efforts people make to stop it. Our hero, Jonah Cooke, narrates the book, with Snyder presenting the “past” sections as long blocks of prose with random Lemire illustrations (there’s a reason for this, as we find out later), while the “present” sections are standard comics format. Cooke is one of the handful – a few thousand, it seems, although Snyder is never too specific – who happens to be immortal, and we find out as the book goes along how this was achieved and how Cooke was involved in it. The prose sections of the book are an autobiography, as Cooke tells about his life before immortality was achieved, and how consumed he was with death and how things fall apart. Cooke isn’t exactly insane, but he’s very troubled, and this leads him to do odd things and make odd choices that lead him to the Andes and the refuge where the immortals eventually end up. Snyder’s writing is haunting in these sections, as Cooke tells about his mother’s death and how she slowly disintegrated due to illness, and how his life turned into a quest, leading him to thievery and, eventually, immortality (they’re linked, but I won’t say how!!!!). Snyder infuses the entire narrative with small, organic moments about death and the struggle to give it meaning, so even when things don’t seem to be about that particular theme, you can see echoes of it everywhere. The notion that death gives meaning to life is certainly not new in fiction at all, so Snyder’s overall thesis isn’t original, but unlike so many other writers who delve into it, Snyder never has a character give a speech about it, instead relying on small moments – a beautiful hand-woven jacket, for instance, which Lemire draws beautifully, or the houses on the Long Island shore – to make the point far better than any words could. So when the final pages unfold, he doesn’t need Cooke to give a grand speech about it, because we’ve come on the journey with him. Snyder also doesn’t make it clear-cut, either, which makes the ending that much more powerful. Cooke is a person struggling with a fundamental issue, and it shouldn’t be easy. In this comic, it isn’t easy. Which is why it’s so powerful.
Lemire doesn’t get to show his stuff as much here as in some of his works – I’m thinking of Trillium specifically, which he also wrote, so he could mold the story and art a bit better – but it doesn’t change the fact that his art is, like the story, haunting. In the prose sections, his spare, rough lines and muted watercolors give us a picture of a world on the brink and lives of quiet desperation. Because these parts of the story are in prose, Lemire’s illustrations simply exist in a hazy limbo, with no real connection to each other, creating a visual mirror to the loneliness that Cooke feels after his mother dies and even, a bit, while she’s still alive. When we get to the present and the “comics” part of the book, Lemire structures it more traditionally (although with some dazzling page layouts) and draws with a bit more nuance, giving some more emotional shades to his characters, while using stunning, bright watercolors that give us a sense of a renewed world, but one that’s changed significantly (Inez speaks of a completely new color in the ion storm that surrounds the refuge). Lemire does a wonderful job building the tension as Cooke makes a fateful decision, and the horror on his face as he learns more about his situation is palpable and tragic. Steve Wands even does a nice job with the lettering – the prose is in typical “typed” letters, which contrasts nicely with the slightly rounded letters of the dialogue in the “present.” Even the lettering is on point in this comic!
I’m still wary of Snyder – one great ending doesn’t make up for the many he hasn’t landed – but I’ve been a fan of his set-ups for some time, so if he can start putting together great endings, he’ll be really a wonderful writer. Let’s hope this isn’t an aberration! A.D. is a superb comic, and I assume the trade will be out soon if you can’t find the single issues (or don’t want them; they’re extra large dimension-wise, so you need special comics bags for them!). Check it out!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs. 388 pgs, Simon & Schuster, 2007.
The problem with reading books alphabetically by author is that I often have more than one book by the same author, so I read their books consecutively, as I did with Jacobs (I read the atlas intermittently while I was reading this book). That doesn’t bother me too much, but it’s just something I thought I’d note. Hence the second book by Jacobs in this post.
After the success of his book about reading the encyclopedia, Jacobs decided that his niche would be doing this sort of wacky thing – picking something and living his life by it for a certain period of time, and it appears to be good to him. I don’t own his next two books, though, so this will be the last one I’ll write about for the time being. Of course, the fact that he comes off as kind of an asshole in this book doesn’t help!
Jacobs is obviously a bit neurotic, which comes across in The Know-It-All, as I mentioned above. In that book, it was more charming, but in this book, it comes across as annoying. His quest is fascinating – can someone really live by the exact rules of the Bible? – and he comes to some very good conclusions about fundamentalists (e.g., they simply can’t live “fundamentally,” despite their protestations to the contrary), and his day-to-day existence is interesting. Jacobs remains a lively writer, so his efforts to stick to even the most obscure rules of the Bible are fun to read about and give us much to think about. But he still comes off as kind of an asshole, and I’m not sure if it’s because he’s trying to live life using rules from a fairly regressive text or if it’s just because he’s an asshole. Consider: in his previous book, his wife finally got pregnant. So in this book he has a young son, and he seems like a terrible father (okay, not really an asshole, but close enough). He’s the ultimate helicopter parent, and even as he knows he’s doing it, he keeps doing it. I get wanting to keep your children safe (believe me, I know), but Jacobs knows he’s being an idiot, yet he persists. More annoying is his treatment of his (long-suffering) wife, as the Bible is pretty sexist (even though Jacobs points out that it has restrictions against “impure” men, too, but the ones against women are far more prevalent), and Jacobs feels he needs to be sexist, too. His wife seems to put up with it pretty well and even messes with his head (when she’s “impure,” she sits on every piece of furniture in their apartment, forcing him to buy a collapsible seat that he can carry around), but he’s still an asshole to her. In a more general sense, it’s weird seeing how he becomes more self-righteous as he follows the Bible. At the beginning of the book, he’s agnostic, and by the end, he’s not exactly religious, but he’s more in touch with a spirituality that he never felt before. He prays, and his attempts to find a connection to something holy through prayer is a crucial component of the book. But as he becomes more “religious,” he also becomes more insufferable. It’s strange, because he writes about how he appreciates things more and slows down in his life, which are good things, but he is also more judgmental about those who aren’t more Biblical, and even though he is aware of this, he doesn’t seem to do much to stop it. It’s an interesting look into the mind of someone who was not religious at all, but as he became more so, he began to embody both the positive and negative stereotypes we have about religious people.
Of course, the bulk of the book is made up of Jacobs writing about the laws of the Bible (he’s Jewish, so he spends 8 months of the year devoting himself to the Old Testament and 4 to the New) and trying to figure out what they mean and why they were included. That part of the book is fascinating, as it really is difficult to understand the prohibition on blended fabrics, for instance. He begins to see the way people react to him, which is often with suspicion, and it shows the weird way we deal with religion in this country – we want our citizens to believe in God, but not take it too seriously, because those people are weirdos, right? So the book works on that level, even as Jacobs transforms into something a bit uglier than we’d like (I assume he didn’t stay in that state for long; he does make the point that to a certain degree, “the clothes are making the man”).
It’s not as good or as interesting as The Know-It-All, but it’s still a decent read. Maybe someday I’ll pick up more of Jacobs’s books!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
Jessica Jones volume 1: Uncaged! by Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Michael Gaydos (artist), Matt Hollingsworth (colorist), Cory Petit (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $17.99, 120 pgs, FC, Marvel.
Alias is the best thing that Bendis has ever written (only Daredevil comes close, although his early Image noir stuff ain’t bad, either), so it’s nice that he brought Jessica back in her own series, with Gaydos back on art. The hook of a woman in the Marvel Universe who has superpowers but chooses not to use them and instead starts a detective agency is a pretty good one (and it’s not because Bendis hates superheroes, which is probably the reason why Garth Ennis rarely had Tommy Monaghan use his powers in Hitman), and as I love “ground-level” stories set in superhero universes, I was always going to be done with this if it was half-competent. Luckily, this kind of thing is was Bendis does best, and the new Jessica Jones is a fine successor to Alias.
Bendis begins with Jessica getting out of prison, and I have no idea if that’s been her state for a while or if it was just invented for this storyline (it seems like the latter, but as I don’t keep up with the larger Marvel Universe anymore, I don’t know for sure). She’s keeping her baby hidden from Luke Cage, who ain’t happy about that, and she gets an intriguing case to solve early on which, of course, turns into a clusterfuck (this wouldn’t be Jessica Jones if things didn’t go pear-shaped all the time), and then she gets kidnapped by a woman who wants her to spill all the superhero secrets she knows, and she makes a good point that none of the superheroes seem to actually like Jessica, so fuck ’em, right?
Bendis is good at this sort of thing, so the book is enjoyable. The conflict between Jessica and Luke seems forced, but as I noted, I haven’t been on the inside of the Marvel U. for a while, so I have no idea how deep this goes. That they’re both playing games with their child is depressing but all-too-realistic, and neither of them comes off all that well here (Jessica’s mom, who seems pretty horrible, ends the volume with a fairly trenchant point about parenting, which neither Jessica nor Luke seems to know). But that just makes this more compelling, because unlike Reed and Sue Richards, who are terrible parents but never get called out about it, at least Bendis recognizes that these two people are awful parents and maybe having a kid and/or not giving it up for adoption was a bad idea. The bad guy in the story doesn’t get too much traction, but it’s tied tangentially into the actual case Jessica is working, which deals with a husband and a wife, as the wife hires Jessica because her husband keeps claiming that he’s not really her husband, and then the husband murders the wife almost, it seems, so he can get a chance to talk to Jessica at the police station. His story is cool and is the kind of thing I dig – again, a street-level view of the Marvel U. specifically and superheroes in general. The story is similar to one from Astro City some years ago, but because it gets under Jessica’s skin, it has the potential to alienate her even further from the superhero club. That’s never a bad thing!
Gaydos does his photo-referenced thing, which works fine for this kind of book, with its lack of a lot of action – he gets to do some, but he doesn’t need to do a lot, so it works fine. It’s nice that Bendis was able to get Gaydos to draw the book, because they work very well together – it’s a cliché to say that Bendis doesn’t do group superhero books very well, but he doesn’t do individual superhero books very well either, and it’s partly because he works with artists who are better at big, bold action than facial expressions, and Gaydos is the opposite of that, so a book like this, which is a bit more subtle than a regular superhero book, is a good place for Gaydos, plus it makes Bendis look better, too.
I know Jessica Jones is still going, but I don’t know if it will survive the Great Marvel Non-Reboot (Wink, Wink) Reboot that’s coming soon. I do look forward to the second volume, though! Yay, Bendis! Stop writing crappy superhero books and get back to your roots, man!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme volume 1: Out of Time by Robbie Thompson (writer), Javier Rodriguez (penciler), Nathan Stockman (artist), Álvaro López (inker), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Tamra Bonvillain (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $15.99, 120 pgs, FC, Marvel.
I got depressed reading this comic. You see, on page 11 of issue #1, Doctor Strange and Merlin, who’s recruited the good doctor to fight some big threat, arrive at their destination, where several Sorcerers Supreme from different time periods (which is how this book can exist alongside the regular Doctor Strange book – he’s outside of time!) are fighting some grunts. Included among those is a strange gentleman wearing a helmet that, unfortunately, looks awfully phallic. It struck me as familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. Then, a page later, he’s identified as Isaac Newton, and I remembered: It’s Isaac Newton from the Jonathan Hickman/Dustin Weaver series S.H.I.E.L.D., which was, frankly, too awesome for this world. It depressed me because that series still hasn’t finished, and I loved it so much. So it was sad but kind of cool that Thompson scooped up all-around douchebag Isaac Newton from that series and put him into this one. And yes, he’s still a douchebag.
I’m not too depressed, though, because Dr.S&tSS is really, really good. If you break it down, it’s just another bad guy with decent motivations which leads to an even worse guy with shitty motivations and ending on a cliffhanger (I had no idea that this was an ongoing, but I guess it is), which is what superhero comics are these days, but because Thompson is a pretty good writer, he doesn’t get too hung up on the basic plot. He gives us very interesting characters with interesting motives for helping Merlin fight a weird villain – we get a young Ancient One, who has an attitude; an older Wiccan from the Young Avengers; Isaac Newton the Douchebag; and two new characters, Kushala and Nina the Conjuror, who are pretty awesome. I guess Kushala is a new Ghost Rider, but who knows where that’s going. The point is, they’re all Sorcerers Supreme, and Merlin needs them to fight a creature called The Forgotten, but he’s not telling them everything … and someone else wants to use The Forgotten for nefarious purposes. You know, like you do.
Thompson does a very nice job giving the characters distinctive voices, which is hard to do, especially in superhero stories. Each character is a bit quippier than regular folk, but they have speech patterns and use words that feel unique to them, and it makes the dialogue in the book sing a bit more. It’s tough to do this in superhero stories because so much of the dialogue is exposition (and a lot of it’s even necessary!), so people all start to sound like info-dumps. Thompson is able to avoid that, for the most part, so the book moves along nicely. The plot twists feel fairly organic and aren’t that surprising, but that’s not really the point – they’re just there to make the story move along, not to shock you, not really, and Thompson accomplishes that. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a solid superhero story that doesn’t rely too much on surprises, which is nice.
The art on the book, however, is stunning. Stockman draws one issue, issue #5, and it’s a flashback issue presumably giving Rodriguez a chance to catch up, and Stockman has a good, cartoony style, so his issue works as a slightly different book but still in the tone of the “main” story. Rodriguez draws the rest, and he, López, and Bellaire (Bonvillain colors Stockman’s issue) form a truly amazing team. The first indication of this is early in issue #1, when Merlin sort-of kidnaps Strange from New York to join his team, and Rodriguez draws a double-page spread of the two of them essentially walking backward through time. We get all sorts of weirdness, from the two of them as fetuses right through to skeletons, with all sorts of odd creatures lurking in the background, while Bellaire uses all kinds of tricks, from lurid colors to off-register tones, to give us an idea of strangeness. The art team never lets up, either. All the characters are well designed, with brilliant clothes (Nina’s outfit is awesome), and The Forgotten is a bizarre creature that implies its origin and its tragedy. Rodriguez and López give us softer drawings to show otherworldly entities, while Bellarie keeps it lighter in tone than many comics by using bright hues and beautiful blues in some of the darker scenes, which helps us actually see what’s happening. Another double-page spread gives us an M.C. Escher scene, which is fun to check out, and Rodriguez constantly designs pages to loop us around and turn us upside down, challenging the way we read the comic without being too confusing. Thompson, Rodriguez, López, and Bellaire save the best for last, with a Choose Your Own Adventure in issue #6 that’s just dazzling (yes, Squirrel Girl did it first, but there’s room for two in comics, isn’t there?). The writing on the book is good, but the art really kicks it up to another level.
Marvel, of course, is doing a re-org, so who knows if this will survive. It feels like a 12-issue kind of epic, though, so I imagine that’s kind of what Thompson has planned. So I’m on board for the second volume, because this trade is really, really good.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Josie and the Pussycats volume 1 by Marguerite Bennett (writer), Cameron DeOrdio (writer), Audrey Mok (artist), Andre Szymanowicz (colorist), Kelly Fitzpatrick (colorist), Jack Morelli (letterer), Jamie Lee Rotante (assistant editor), Stephen Oswald (associate editor), Alex Segura (editor), and Mike Pellerito (editor). $17.99, 100 pgs, FC, Archie Comics.
I bought Josie and the Pussycats mainly because of Mok’s art, which is very nice. It’s a tiny bit manga-influenced, but if you’re not a fan of “typical” manga art, it’s far enough from that to stand on its own. The manga influence comes out most in some of the goofier sections (and this can be a goofy book), where the characters emote more than is realistic in the situations. Mok doesn’t use a lot of hatching on faces, which is a good idea, as she differentiates between the various wildly attractive people in the comic by subtle things, like the size of eyes and mouths and even the way some people use eyeliner. Mok does a nice job with all the fashion and designs in the book, which grounds the slight wackiness of the story well and helps it remain not too wacky. Mok doesn’t get to do much with the page layouts, but when Josie, Melody, and Val get in a ATV race, she uses slightly more jagged panels, which speeds up the action nicely. There’s a nice sense of physicality to the comic, meaning that when things happen, Mok does a good job showing how they affect the people, rather than just having them shrug it off (of course, nobody actually gets hurt, but what I mean is that when Josie gets hit in the face with a T-shirt, Mok does well showing the impact). There’s a joy to the art, which makes the book sing a little. That’s always nice.
The story is pretty good, too. Bennett and DeOrdio really lean into the metafictional stuff, which is kind of fun but can easily become tedious if they aren’t careful. The teach life lessons about not judging people based on their looks, not being competitive, being empathetic, and it’s all in service to a decent plot about Josie and the gang becoming bigger rock stars. It gets a bit treacly, however, and that’s where it breaks down a bit. When things come out through various revelations, it feels organic and interesting, like the way Josie remembers her childhood friendship with Alexandra Cabot and the way Alexandra remembers it. When the ladies sit down and explain their point, however, the story grinds to a halt a bit. It doesn’t happen that often, but it does more often than it should, and the book is poorer for it. Bennett does this a bit in DC Bombshells, the other comic by her that I read regularly, but she doesn’t do it so often as here. This book is rated “teen.” Maybe Bennett and DeOrdio think teens won’t get it unless it’s spelled out to them. Generally, though, it’s funny and clever, although Josie’s behavior with a man is … questionable. I guess I can spoil it – she hooks up with their manager and then finds out almost immediately that he’s not a one-woman guy, and he never expected her to have a problem with it. Yes, he’s a douchebag. But why, in these kinds of stories, does no one suggest to the wronged party (and men have been the wronged party in this situation, as well, although not as often as women) that maybe they shouldn’t just jump into the sack with people after making out once? Sex in fiction drives me crazy, because the majority of people in the world do not bang someone just because they lock eyes across a crowded room, and this situation is annoying. I get that Josie is a bit … selfish, I guess, in that she thinks the world revolves around her. But the others tell her readily about her other faults, but no one says, “Hey, Josie, maybe wait just a bit before you bang this almost random dude.” It’s just a pet peeve of mine, but it really makes the characters look foolish whenever a writer makes them act this way.
Anyway, this is a pretty fun volume about the beginnings of a rock band and what they have to do to survive and thrive. It ends on a cliffhanger, and I’m not positive I’ll get the second volume, although if Mok draws it (she’s still on the book, so good news there!), I will probably grab it.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Moon Knight volume 2: Reincarnations by Jeff Lemire (writer), Greg Smallwood (artist), Wilfredo Torres (artist), Francesco Francavilla (artist/colorist), James Stokoe (artist/colorist), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Michael Garland (colorist), Cory Petit (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $15.99, 80 (!!!!) pgs, FC, Marvel.
Fuck Marvel. Fuck me, too, for buying into this shit, but mostly Fuck Marvel. Marvel has the fucking gall, the goddamned audacity, to put four issues of Moon Knight in a trade and charge what you would pay for the individual issues, and then add issue #2 of the first MK series, which anyone who is even remotely interested in Moon Knight has already read. Fuck you, Marvel. Marvel’s trades are getting thin as it is, as even the ones with 6 issues in them (see: Dr.S&tSS above) are feeling less than hefty because of the issue page counts (you get 20 pages and you like it!), but this is ridiculous. Trying to mitigate the price by sticking an old issue in the trade is a bush league move, but hey, I fucking fell for it. Jeebus, Marvel, no wonder you’re circling the drain with marketing shit like this.
I’m not even going to write about this volume. Moon Knight is fucking awesome, and Moon Knight is fucking awesome. Lemire lets Francavilla draw a noir story and he lets Stokoe draw fucking werewolves on the fucking moon, led there by Lupinar, which is about as deep a cut into MK’s history as you can get. JAMES STOKOE DRAWS FUCKING WEREWOLVES ON THE FUCKING MOON!!!!!! How Marvel or DC hasn’t yet let him to a quarterly book where he does whatever the fuck he wants is beyond me. So yes, this trade is excellent. It’s too bad it took me 15 fucking minutes to read it, Marvel!!!!!!
Rating: Fuck you, Marvel.
The Unworthy Thor by Jason Aaron (writer), Olivier Coipel (artist), Kim Jacinto (artist), Frazer Irving (artist/colorist), Esad Ribic (artist), Russell Dauterman (artist), Pascal Alixe (artist), Matthew Wilson (colorist), Matt Milla (colorist), Mat Lopes (colorist), Jay David Ramos (colorist), Joe Sabino (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $15.99, 100 pgs, FC, Marvel.
Hey, remember those good old days when I liked that Marvel comic that had werewolves on the moon, even though I wasn’t terribly happy with Marvel’s pricing of it? And how about those days when I wrote glowingly about Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme, which took a standard superhero plot and made it groovy? Yeah, well, that’s all over, because now we get to Unworthy Thor, which is … wait for it … unworthy to be called a good comic. Oh, I slay me. Look, Jason Aaron can be a good writer, but I’m starting to think he’s really not that good a superhero writer. He does very, very little with this banal plot, in which Thor (I refuse to call him Odinson, not because I’m anti-woman and think the other Thor isn’t the “real” Thor, but because his freakin’ father named him Thor, and just because he can’t pick up a hammer doesn’t mean he changes his damned name, for crying out loud!) finds a hammer/axe (hammaxe?) from another reality (something from Secret Wars, I assume) and thinks he can pick it up and become the god of thunder again, but the Collector wants it too, and so does Thanos, and there’s a race for it and a fight for it … aaaaaand I just fell asleep writing about the plot of this comic. (Speaking of Benicio del Toro, when I saw Guardians of the Galaxy – the first one – I was convinced that this was A.J. Langer. I knew it wasn’t, but the resemblance is interesting. A.J. Langer, in case you didn’t know, married the Earl of Devon and is now a countess. Good for her!). I mean, technically it’s not a terrible plot, but it’s just the plot of every single superhero comic you can imagine, and while that’s true of most superhero comics, Aaron does absolutely nothing to spice it up a little. Robbie Thompson did a Choose Your Own Adventure issue, for instance. Yes, the actual plot was just the Sorcerers Supreme trying to get out of traps, which is a superhero comic staple, but it was done with some aplomb. The volume of Moon Knight above has even less of a plot than this Thor comic – the four issues are about Marc Spector trying to reconcile his disparate identities, so not much actually happens. But, of course, part of reconciling means that JAMES STOKOE DRAWS WEREWOLVES ON THE FUCKING MOON, so it’s all good. Aaron does none of that – he’s stuck with perhaps the most boring of Marvel’s Big Guns (it’s not surprising he decided to go with Cancer Jane as Thor, because just her having cancer makes her inherently more interesting than Original Recipe Thor), which is too bad (I’m sorry, Thor fans, but you know it’s true), so he throws Beta Ray Bill into the mix for no reason whatsoever, and he throws in Thori, the dog that Loki got a few years ago, just so he can have some levity in the book. He gives us the answer to what Nick Fury whispered to Thor that made him “unworthy,” and honestly, unless it was “You never satisfied any woman sexually,” it was going to be a big disappointment, and it is. Did that really make Thor unworthy, learning something that he could have easily figured out himself? Seems kind of lame. It seems like the entire mini-series is just so Aaron could finally reveal what Fury said, which is idiotic. I assume this is the first time we’re hearing this, right? If so, it’s wildly anticlimactic. If not, what’s the point of this entire series?
Anyway, the other disappointment at least gives me a few laughs. On the cover of this trade, someone from IGN is quoted thusly: “The appeal of having Jason Aaron and Olivier Coipel teaming up for a new adventure starring the Odinson is undeniable.” Did that reviewer immediately follow that statement up with: “For as long as Coipel lasts, which won’t be very.” I mean, why does Marvel keep hiring Coipel? Does he really move that many units? The dude can’t finish three issues of a five-issue mini-series and needs others backing him up? I like Coipel’s art, but it’s not the greatest work ever in the history of comics – some of his storytelling choices are a bit odd, to say the least. But he keeps getting high-profile work like this. Did someone at Marvel say, “Hey, if we’re hiring this dude, shouldn’t we at least get all five issues in the can before shipping issue #1? I mean, am I crazy?” And then Axel Alonso defenestrates that poor Marvel lackey. So sad! The book just looks like a standard superhero comic, so there’s no reason to get a big name like Coipel on it. It just pisses me off, because it’s not Aaron and Coipel teaming up. It’s Aaron writing something and hoping Coipel can finish 40 pages before someone has to pinch-hit.
When I whine about superhero comics being bland, this is what I’m talking about. Bland plot, bland writing, bland art. I had hoped that Aaron would do something with this, but he doesn’t. Oh well. I go back to caring not at all about Thor or Cancer Thor or Asgard in general. Yay me!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Weavers by Simon Spurrier (writer), Dylan Burnett (artist), Triona Farrell (colorist), Jim Campbell (letterer), Cameron Chittock (associate editor), and Eric Harburn (editor). $19.99, 132 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.
Spurrier is an interesting writer – he always makes plots more interesting simply by adding an unusual twist, and occasionally, even his plots are clever. He’s also pretty good at the nuts and bolts of writing – his dialogue isn’t as good as the best in the business, but he does manage to convey a lot through it and give his characters interesting personalities. But back to his plotting – take Weavers, because that’s what I just read, dang it! There is literally nothing original about this story – a neophyte joins a gang that is riven by internal dissention, although he doesn’t quite know it yet, and he sets out to find out the identity of a murderer within the gang (although, of course, they’re all killers, but there’s a murder as the inciting incident) all while trying to stay alive as a gang war brews. Nothing original whatsoever. Spurrier, however, gives it a fun twist by giving the gang – the Weavers – superpowers. They all have a glowing spider inside them that gives them a specific power, and when they die, the spider moves on to a different host. That’s how Sid, our protagonist, came into the gang – the person who had his spider was murdered, and he happened to be near the body, so the spider chose him. This leads to all sorts of interesting scenarios – he wants to be in the gang, but unlike most gangs, where people are vetted through the years, Sid is in just because he happens to have a power given to him by the spider. So no one really trusts him, and the spider inside him keeps talking to him, telling him to give up his own secrets. What those are, of course, we discover over the course of the book. There’s nothing to keep this from being a simple gangland story, but Spurrier makes it more fun by introducing the spiders (he keeps their origins vague, too, which is nice). It adds a good extra level of weirdness to the story, even though there’s only one instance where the plot wouldn’t make sense without the spiders. It’s just a nifty idea.
It’s also a good idea because it allows Burnett to have some fun with the visuals. Without the spiders, he could draw a nice, violent war, but with the spiders, he gets to draw Sid growing appendages out of his arm that allow him to butcher people fairly easily, a gang leader with a glowing red skeleton shining through his skin, everyone getting extra red eyes when they use their powers, and Ms. Ketter going batshit when she starts slicing people apart. It’s pretty awesome. Burnett has a bit of a cartoony style that helps make the weirdness more part of the reality of the world, but he also hatches very well to add nice grunge to the misc-en-scene and helps with his action scenes, of which there are many, very well done. When Sid cuts loose, we can see why everyone is a bit nervous around him even though they think he’s a newbie punk, and Burnett does a good job with his powers. He uses softer lines and lots of black smudging very often to give the city a sense of decay, and the giant spider he gets to draw at one point is terrifying. Farrell does a wonderful job with the colors, using the glowing computer effects very well to make the Weavers that much more creepy, while sticking to a very nice blue-and-red palette that helps everything pop nicely, so the book never gets too dark. It’s a great-looking book, and it makes Spurrier’s odd twist work very well.
Spurrier doesn’t really fake us out too much – the mystery unfolds, and things fit where they should. It’s just a well-told tale with a weird supernatural twist, and it’s nicely drawn. How handy that is!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
The end of the month always sneaks up on me, so I feel bad that I didn’t post this yesterday and I didn’t even get to the two trades I bought on the 31st. Stupid fifth weeks! Anyway, I hope you found something you might like here, and remember, if you use the link below to buy anything from Amazon, I get a tiny piece of it, so feel free to use it. The kids need shoes, people! I’m going on a cruise next week (a Disney cruise, so won’t that be fun), so our Previews post will be late as usual, but this time it will be my fault, not Travis’s! Save your bile for when it’s his fault!!!! Have a good week, everyone!