Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

What I bought, read, watched, or otherwise consumed – January and February 2021

I’ve decided to tweak these posts a little, because I want to, confound it. So I’m going to split things up into sections (without movies, because I still like doing those separately), add a “television” section, and list only the top 5 or possibly 10 comics I read each month. I always feel behind on these, and writing about a comic that’s just mediocre (or worse, unfortunately) doesn’t do anything for anyone. I’ll probably write a short paragraph about the “others” I get each month, but not more. All righty? All righty!

COMICS

The Department of Truth volume 1: The End of the World by James Tynion IV (writer), Martin Simmonds (artist), Aditya Bidikar (letterer), and Steve Foxe (editor). $9.99, 126 pgs, Image.

The Department of Truth is a terrific comic, and it’s nice to see Tynion doing some excellent work after all the hardships he’s had to overcome during his comics career (love him or hate him, but you can’t deny that he began his comics career on third base). He has a lot of fun with this book (it’s not really “fun” in any way, but I can imagine Tynion cackling as he writes it) about an FBI agent, Cole Turner, who’s tormented by something that happened to him as a child and devotes his life to breaking up extreme right-wing terrorists groups, which leads him to wild conspiracy theories. In the excellent first issue, he’s taken by a WIB (Woman In Black) to a location where an old man interviews him. It seems Turner tried to infiltrate a “flat earth convention” and was taken away by the gajillionaires who bankroll this kind of thing. They invited him to a small room, where they watched a film of Stanley Kubrick faking the moon landing, and then took him on a plane, where they flew to the actual edge of the world. Turner freaks out about this, naturally, and that’s where the interviewer comes in. He works for the Department of Truth, and he tells Turner that if enough people believe something, it becomes true, and their job is to make sure all these conspiracies don’t accrue enough power so that they actually change the world. And the old man tells Turner his name is Lee Harvey Oswald. Of course it is!

This is a really well-done comic, and Tynion makes sure each issue stands somewhat alone even as he is slowly weaving a bigger tapestry. Issue #3, for instance, is a harrowing and tragic tale of a woman whose son was killed in a school shooting and who becomes a target of harassment by the “false flag” people. It doesn’t go exactly as you might expect. Meanwhile, Turner’s childhood nightmares are bugging him, and of course that’s tied into the Department as well. Tynion doesn’t go where we expect him to go, from the woman in issue #3 to the journalist who thinks he’s figured things out in issue #4. Naturally, Turner is far more important than he knows, which is expected in this kind of book, but when Tynion gets to that, he does it rather cleverly, too. Meanwhile, Simmonds continues to channel his inner Sienkiewicz, but I love Sienkiewicz so I don’t mind, and Simmonds does some really superb stuff. The vision Turner has in his childhood is terrifying, as is the woman in red. When the woman in issue #3 is getting harassed, Simmonds does double-page spreads with more abstract images on them to show her state of mind rather than what actually is happening. When the journalist and his editor are talking in issue #4, Simmonds simply shows them in silhouette, which makes the horrifying implications of what they’re talking about have more impact. Simmonds uses interesting page designs, too, so it’s not just panel-to-panel, but small panels exploding into wider images, large panels crowding out smaller ones, and occasional repetitive images with different lighting to heighten a mood. I’ve been a fan of Simmonds for a while, and it’s keen that he’s able to cut loose on such an interesting book.

So, yeah. This is really good. That’s all I got!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I want to ‘Well, actually’ this panel so bad

Immortal Hulk volume 8: The Keeper of the Door by Al Ewing (writer), Joe Bennett (penciler), Ruy José (inker), Belardino Brabo (inker), Matt Milla (colorist), Paul Mounts (colorist), Cory Petit (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $15.99, 100 pgs, Marvel.

I don’t mind the fact that a lot of artists are inking their own work and even, in some cases, coloring it, but occasionally I miss a good inker, and so it’s always nice to see inkers listed in the credits of The Immortal Hulk, as a good inker can help pencilers keep up with a monthly book. Bennett has really been such a boon to this run (this trade collects issues just before his “controversial” panel in issue #43, so nothing triggering here!) and Ewing’s tale of body horror, as he’s been able to twist and turn flesh into unsettling images but he’s also enough of a “superhero” artist that this isn’t too weird-looking for a mainstream Marvel book, and he’s been able to keep up with the schedule fairly well, and I have to think it’s at least partly due to the inkers. So yay inkers! They’re not just tracers!

The two trades of this series that came out in 2020 were fine, but not as good as earlier ones. This one is a bit of a return to form, as the Leader shows up – doesn’t he always? – with a diabolical scheme – isn’t it always? – that involves messing around in the mindscape that Ewing has employed so well in this series, while also indulging in some weird body horror that Ewing has also employed so well. Gamma Flight is there, too, which gives Leonard Samson a chance to inhabit a different body, which is nice for him. There is, as usual, a lot going on, and while it’s difficult to really get into it since we’re 40 issues in, this remains a very clever take on the Hulk and probably the best version since Peter David was writing it (Bruce Jones started so well, but he didn’t stick the landing, so of course, if Ewing doesn’t, we’ll see where this ranks). I do think that Marvel’s insistence on five-issue trades works against it a little – Ewing tries to write in five-issue arcs, but he doesn’t always do it, so the endings and beginnings of these trades tend to be a bit wonky – but otherwise, this is just a very good comic, and it’s fun to catch up with it every six months or so!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Well, that’s because it looks like you got something in your eye there, buddy

Mountainhead by John Lees (writer), Ryan Lee (artist), Doug Garbark (colorist), Shawn Lee (letterer), Alonzo Simon (collection editor), and Zac Boone (collection editor). $17.99, 120 pgs, IDW.

As you might recall, I’m a fan of John Lees, and he’s a nice guy, too, so I’m always going to give his work a look. It certainly helps that he’s very good at horror (it’s pretty much all he’s done, so I don’t know if he’s good at anything else), so his work is quite fun to read. In this book, he throws a nice curve at us, as in the beginning, we’re introduced to a man named Noah and his son, Abraham, who are breaking into a house. They seem to do this a lot, but one time, there’s an old geezer who happens to be home (they missed it during their casing because he never leaves the house), who calls the cops. Noah is shot (but not killed), and Lees then drops the first bombshell on us … Abraham isn’t his son, he’s a kid who was abducted years before and doesn’t remember his actual family. He’s returned to his home in a small Canadian town in the Rockies, where … things are going very wrong. Soon enough, there are monsters around, Noah is awake and breaking out of the hospital and coming for his “son,” and things are just generally getting weird and very, very dangerous.

Lees knows how to build horror, and while it doesn’t take long for things to start going very wrong, in that time he manages to give us interesting characters whose fate we become invested in. Abraham, as he insists on being called even though his new, old family calls him James, doesn’t want to be there, and he doesn’t want to have anything to do with his parents or his new sister, who’s adopted. They’re both outsiders, then, even if Nancy, his sister, has been with them much longer. Lees does a nice job with both kids’ anxiety, as Abraham doesn’t know who he is and Nancy is feeling like her parents are focusing more on him because he’s their natural son, even if he’s been gone for a decade. So the book is about finding your place, building a home, and feeling safe, which of course ties into the monsters that come out of the mountains and how they disrupt that. Lees gives us a bit of background on the monsters, and subtly ties their rampage into the greater theme. It’s not the most clever thing in the world, but it still elevates this above a more normal monster story.

Lee’s art is cartoony, but still effective. His monsters are terrifying, and once we get into the mountains, things get really bizarre, and Lee is very good with that. He gives us a welcoming town, which contrasts nicely with the encroaching wilderness and what hides inside it, and he’s good at gore, which is always nice in a horror book. He also does some really keen things with page designs – in one panel, a person kills another, and Lee uses small panels overlaid on the main drawing to highlight the many wounds the person inflicts, which is a nifty way to imply a lot of movement in a static image. Little touches like this make the art a bit creepier, building a sense of dread that accompanies Lees’s story.

One thing I like about Lees is he’s ruthless when it comes to writing horror, so literally no one is safe. We can expect Abraham to survive this comic, but not anyone else, and even he might not be in the clear. When anything can happen, it makes the tension greater, and that’s part of the fun of reading Lees’s comics. I hope he keeps it up!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Always sound advice!

Devil’s Highway volume 1 by Benjamin Percy (writer), Brent Schoonover (artist), Nick Filardi (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $9.99, 103 pgs, AWA/Upshot.

We decided to give Big Sky on ABC a try, and while it’s not that good a show, it does feature some interesting bits, so we’ll probably finish the season before we decide to stick with it (unless it gets canceled, in which case we don’t have to worry about it). I mention it because it has a creepy dude kidnapping prostitutes from truck stops, which is what happens in this book. It’s always interesting when ideas get into the zeitgeist and we see several different pieces of fiction with similar plots – the book Big Sky is based on was published in 2013, so it’s not too new, but this kind of thing seems to be out there now, which is fascinating to me.

Anyway, Devil’s Highway is better than Big Sky, so there’s that. Sharon Harrow, a vet with some serious anger issues (not that they’re not somewhat justified; most guys, of course, are wildly dismissive of and/or disgusting toward her), returns to her home in Wisconsin when her father is murdered. She figures out he was trying to help someone, and that someone is a young woman who was getting abducted from a truck stop but managed to escape. She eventually teams up with a disgraced FBI agent who got so into trying to figure out who was abducting and killing these women that his bosses started to suspect him. It’s a giant conspiracy, of course, as the trucker(s) who are abducting and killing the prostitutes are protected by many others, so while Sharon finds one woman and saves her and does some damage, there’s still many more out there, and things are just heating up!

Percy is a decent writer, and he does a good job creating this world and putting interesting characters in it. Sharon dominates the book, but her new partner, Quinton, is pretty fascinating, too, especially because he’s more obviously unhinged than she is (but she, as I noted, has some issues). They seem to make a good team, but Percy does something small that bugs me because it happens a lot – he makes Quinton less good at his job to show how brilliant Sharon is. We get it – Sharon is great. But does that mean everyone around her has to be inept? It’s only a few times, so I don’t mind it too much, but can’t they both be pretty good at what they’re doing? Still, Percy does a good job pointing out how trucking is this vast network that is largely ignored by the general public, so why wouldn’t this scheme work? (This is also a plot point of Big Sky, so it’s not too original, but still.) Schoonover has always been a pretty good artist, but this work is really nice, as he has to draw a lot of seedy people without mocking them and while making some of them more evil than they look. Both Percy and Schoonover are from the Midwest, where the book is set, so they get the sensibility, and the book reflects that. Meanwhile, Schoonover, I can tell, loves drawing Sharon. Why wouldn’t you? She’s tough as shit and has a fierce haircut (although I don’t know if the army would let her have that hair on active duty, as implied in a flashback; I guess we can deal with some artistic license). This takes place in the winter, so Schoonover gets to draw (or add digitally) snow, and it adds nice grittiness to the book, as do some of the overlays of Zip-a-Tone effects he uses occasionally. Filardi’s colors are subdued but not exactly drab, which keeps the book from being too murky but also keeps the coldness of the weather in our mind. It’s nice work, which isn’t surprising from someone of Filardi’s caliber.

I don’t know if Percy has a long run of this planned, but I hope he’s able to tell his entire story. It’s a pretty keen beginning.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Oh, you stupid, stupid man

North Bend volume 1 by Ryan Ellsworth (writer), Rob Carey (artist), Pablo de Bonis (artist), Dee Cunniffe (colorist), Ellie Wright (colorist), Paul Little (colorist), Thomas Mauer (letterer), and Andrea Lorenzo Molinari (editor). $19.99, 150 pgs, Scout Comics.

This is an interesting if a bit disjointed story about a DEA agent who is given an assignment to test a new mind-controlling drug on American citizens. The book takes place in the near future, when we’re at war with Russia and the authorities are cracking down more on civil disobedience, and they’re trying to control minds. Like you do. Brendan Kruge seems like a decent dude, but he still agrees to work with the drug, and it leads him down some dark paths. It doesn’t help that his wife is a journalist, and one of the scientists who developed the drug is talking to her, trying to expose what the government is doing. Things get dicey, to say the least.

It’s a bit disjointed because, despite its length (it’s a nice, hefty volume), it feels a bit scattered, as if Ellsworth is biting off more than he can chew. Perhaps in a second volume things will coalesce a bit, but the Brendan in the early parts of the book seems fairly different from the Brendan later on, and the way Ellsworth tells the story – out of sequence in some places – doesn’t do him any favors, because it’s occasionally hard to figure out the timeline. But when he focuses on Brendan’s efforts to test the drug in the midst of protests and riots in Seattle, the book picks up, and when we get his wife and her story, the tension rises as Brendan tries to keep his job and his marriage going, so there’s more good than not-so-good in the book. The inconsistent art certainly doesn’t help – Carey’s art is a bit scratchier and less dynamic than de Bonis’s, and some characters look wildly different when the artist switch happens, which is never a good thing. I like de Bonis’s art more than Carey’s, but I yearn for consistency above all. We shall see who’s drawing it going forward.

I say “going forward,” but I don’t know if there’s another volume to come. It certainly doesn’t feel like this is done, so I hope Ellsworth gets a chance to continue it!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Now, boys, there’s no need for such harsh language

Disaster, Inc. by Joe Harris (writer), Sebastián Píriz (artist), Carlos M. Mangual (letterer), and Mike Marts (editor). $16.99, 102 pgs, AfterShock.

Harris comes up with some clever ideas and turns them loose in this oddly humorous horror comic. He thinks of a business that takes spoiled rich people to disaster sites because they’ve been everywhere else, and in this story, they go to Fukushima to visit the nuclear reactor. Unfortunately, the junk seeping into the soil has animated the thousands of samurai dead buried there, and they’re not in a good mood. Things get bloody, as they do.

It’s a clever conceit, and Harris does a good job tying it into Japanese history and the issues of environmental disaster. His main character, an American named Abby, is working for Paolo, the company’s boss, for shady reasons, as it’s obvious he has some dirt on her. Paolo is a douchebag, but he’s also taking money from douchebags, so he doesn’t seem that bad … until they reach the site, and his real intentions are revealed. Meanwhile, Harris does a nice job implying how big companies care not a whit for the environment or their own workers, which makes Paolo and even the people touring the site less douchey. Nobody is perfect in this story, in other words, and Abby, as the least bad, is just trying to make it through alive. The samurai make that an issue.

Píriz does pretty good work with the art; his line is a bit wispy at times, but nothing too egregious. His samurai, however, are quite cool and creepy, so the art always picks up when they make an appearance. When the action is at the actual plant, it works a bit better, because Píriz has a better sense of place; when we switch to the tour as the people make their way through the wilderness, he has less sense of where they are, so the backgrounds suffer a bit. He does get the horror parts of the book well, so that’s not a bad thing.

This is a nifty comic. Harris is a pretty good writer, and this is just another cool thing he’s done!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That can’t be good

Bleed Them Dry by Eliot Rahal (writer), Dike Ruan (artist), Miquel Muerto (colorist), and Andworld (letterer). $19.99, 134 pgs, Vault Comics.

Bleed Them Dry takes place over a thousand years in the future, when vampires are part of the population and nobody really cares all that much. Harper Halloway is a cop whose partner, Atticus Black, is a vampire. They’re investigating several murders of vampires, which is causing some consternation among the ruling elite of the city. So we think this is going to be a murder mystery with some weird stuff about vampires, but at the end of the first issue, Rahal upends the apple cart and Halloway has to fight a new battle, one which is a lot scarier than she thought it was going to be. Rahal does a good job building up our expectations and then pulling the rug out from under us, but the co-protagonist he introduces to help Halloway later in the book is kind of a dick, and so while we don’t mind following Halloway around, it’s tougher to care too much about the greater plot. Still, it’s not a bad plot by any means, and Rahal does get to a big bloody finale, although it’s unclear if his plot is really finished. The book ends slightly ambiguously, so I’m wondering if there’s a second volume in the offing. We shall see.

Ruan’s art is quite nice, though. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Stuart Immonen’s, at least the less angular phase of Immonen’s career, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The world of the 34th century feels fully realized (I don’t mind that things 1300 years from now will look vastly different than they do today, even more so than shown in the book; it’s enough that this is set far enough in the future for vampires to be part of the world, so significant changes to the world don’t matter too much) and the characters are interesting and distinctive. Ruan does very nicely with the action, giving us good designs to the fights and a good amount of violence. It’s a vampire story, so of course it’s going to be bloody, and we’re not disappointed.

I always like twists on regular vampire stories, and Rahal has a pretty decent one. We’ll see if he has more to say about this universe!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

A cut so violent it slices the panel in half!

X’ed volume 1 by Tony Patrick (writer), Ayhan Hayrula (artist), Brian Level (additional art), Chris Peterson (additional art), Aaron Tucker (additional inks), Doug Garback (colorist), Dee Cunniffe (colorist), and Jim Campbell (letterer). $16.99, 126 pgs, Black Mask.

Here’s another clever idea: an organization that sends people into another’s mind to eliminate things the other person doesn’t want. For example: at the beginning of this series, a rich woman wants the organization to destroy her memories of a specific person. The organization has a “psychic hitman,” and he goes into her mind. Of course, there are pitfalls. And then, some dudes break into the organization’s facility to take it over. That ain’t good.

It’s a neat concept, and Patrick has fun with it. Of course the rich woman isn’t all she seems, and of course someone mentioned earlier as dead will show up at an inopportune time, and of course the hitman – Wendell – will have trouble inside the woman’s brain and because of the bad guys in the real world, he’s stuck in there for a while. It’s a tense story, as it’s clear Patrick keeps piling obstacle after obstacle in front of both Wendell and the people monitoring him, and it’s fun to see how he’ll get out. The book is a bit deeper than you might expect, as we travel through the woman’s brain and find out some of her darker secrets and how that’s shaped her life, so that’s always nice. I don’t love the art, because it’s a bit too static for me – as I’ve mentioned many times, fluidity in comics art always seems to take longer to master for most artists – but it’s not terrible, and Hayrula and the two “additional artists” (it’s unclear what they do) give us a weird, surreal trip through the woman’s mind, which is not a bad thing. There is, of course, a bit more going on here, as we learn from the outside forces trying to destroy the organization, but that will have to wait for volume 2. If, you know, there is one.

Black Mask is fairly terrible about getting books out on time, so I have no idea if and when this will get started again. But the first volume is pretty good!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

This guy needs to take some conflict resolution classes

Cardinal Dagon volume 1 by Massimo Rosi (writer), Giuseppe Constabile (artist), Renato Stevanato (colorist), Mattia Gentili (letterer), and Andrea Lorenzo Molinari (editor). $12.99, 70 pgs, Behemoth.

I imagine that this was originally done in Italian, as it seems like all the creators are Italian, but no translator is listed, so I’m not sure. Anyway, despite this rather short trade, this book is a blast, as Rosi packs quite a bit into those 70 pages. It seems that the Anti-Christ was born in the 1930s, but the world wasn’t ready for Armageddon. So the Anti-Christ replaced the Catholic Popes with “Black Popes,” who would prepare the way for the end of the world. In the present day, Templars (of course they’re Templars) manage to kill the ruling Black Pope, but Armageddon is finally at hand, so the task of bringing it about falls on the fun-loving Cardinal Dagon, who isn’t too enthusiastic about it because he knows the Templars will be coming to kill him next. Plus, it turns out planning the apocalypse the “right way” is kind of hard, so he comes up with some clever ways to unleash the Four Horsemen. There’s much more to get to, but this is a fun way to begin. It’s all wildly blasphemous, but it’s still fun. Constabile is a terrific artist, as he really goes to town with the violence, gore, and nudity that we’d expect in a comic like this, and he makes Dagon a charming sleazeball whom you’d probably like to hang out with as long as he wasn’t, you know, starting the apocalypse. Rosi and Constabile come up with some gross ways for Dagon to get things going, and the book ends on yet another wildly blasphemous moment. This book won’t make your priest smile, but it’s still a fun time!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Too many people got into the hard cider, it seems …

Old Haunts by Ollie Masters (writer), Rob Williams (writer), Laurence Campbell (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Sal Cipriano (letterer). $9.99, 98 pgs, AWA/Upshot.

I always like seeing a certain stereotypical fictional archetype out of the element we expect, so seeing old gangsters is fun, because usually gangsters get killed before they can get old. Masters and Williams give us three old gangsters, one of whom managed to leave the life some years earlier but comes back to Los Angeles because a younger gangster is willing to buy out the other two and let them ride off into the sunset. It doesn’t work out that way, of course – there’s an FBI agent in the mix, and she has some shady motives for being there, and then of course there’s the giant bird man who’s stalking them. Yes, they’re being haunted, and while it might be in a generic “We killed a lot of people and they’re haunting us,” it’s of course for something specific they did, which comes out over the course of the book. It unfolds pretty well, because we see these guys way back when they were young and how they began, and how it’s all gone sour, and we also find out their secrets, which are never going to make anyone happy. Coloring this all, of course, is the idea that you never leave “the life” cleanly, but these guys seem all right, so we’re rooting for them even as we’re pretty sure it’s all going to go to shit. Campbell’s a pretty good artist, especially for something like this that doesn’t need a lot of action. His heavy lines and excessive use of blacks are always atmospheric, so we get a nice, spooky Los Angeles and a creepy bird dude. Campbell’s very good at creating a mood, and this is a very moody book, so he’s a good fit for it. It’s a nice twist on a gangster story, and that’s always nice to see.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That’s something you never want to see

The other trades I bought were all pretty good. Justin Jordan’s second volume of Dead Body Drop is a nice revenge tale about a sister trying to save her brother from a local gangster even though the brother might not actually deserve it. I like Frank Cho’s art even though Cho himself seems kind of like a douchebag, so I was happy that Marvel finally collected Savage Wolverine from eight (8) stinkin’ years ago. Cho’s art is terrific as always, and he actually has a lot of fun with Wolvie, Shanna, Amadeus Cho, and the Hulk. Good work, Marvel! I wanted to like That Texas Blood more than I did – it’s certainly not bad, but it features a protagonist who’s honestly too stupid to live, so I don’t care that he fucks his life up so very much. I don’t know if it’s a continuing series, but I’ll probably give it another chance, but this first volume was a bit disappointing. Join the Future is a fun story about a girl living on a farm who fights back when the ravenous corporations from the big city come to absorb her, but it’s kind of simplistic and predictable. Piotr Kowalski does nice work on the art, though. Afterlift is a somewhat goofy story of a ride-share driver who gets enlisted by a demon to take a soul to Hell, but she decides that she should get the soul to Heaven instead. Mayhem ensues. It’s pretty good, but not as good as the other stuff I reviewed. Ales Kot is … back? with Lost Soldiers, a story about three soldiers in Vietnam who end up, 40 years later, working for private security. Two of them are in the same group, but when a mission in Mexico goes pear-shaped, one has to fight the third dude, with whom he has a history, in order to get out alive. For Kot, it’s remarkably straight-forward, and therefore not as interesting as some of his work, but it’s entertaining, and Luca Casalanguida’s art is pretty keen. Artemis and the Assassin is about an assassin from the future who’s sent to World War II to kill Virginia Hall (see below). Of course, they end up teaming up. It’s not a bad comic, but it doesn’t really do anything all that interesting, and Megan Hetrick’s art is fine but inconsistent. I wanted to like It Eats What Feeds It, a book about a dumb horny dude taking a job on a plantation in Louisiana owned by a hot lady who’s clearly not as nice as she seems, but the horny dude doesn’t really care. The big problem with the book is that it’s too danged short – only three issues – so we have to get to the scary stuff quickly, and we have no time to care all that much about either main character. It’s a nice idea executed poorly. And The Forevers is about people who sold their souls for fame and immortality, but someone is killing them and the rest have to figure out what’s going on. It’s not a bad idea, and Curt Pires isn’t a bad writer, but he doesn’t do too much that’s clever with it, and the art is that computer-generated stuff that looks creepy because it’s way too uncanny valley. Too bad.

BOOKS

The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean by John Julius Norwich. 667 pgs, Vintage Books, 2007.

Fernand Braudel’s magnificent The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II remains the ne plus ultra in books about the sea, even though it was published in 1949 and is concerned with the 16th century, for the most part. That book is the work of a true historian and giant in his field; Norwich is not a historian and his book can’t measure up, although its breadth is wider – he takes us up to the eve of World War I – and his writing is lively (Braudel is a surprisingly good writer, but he’s still a historian first). The fortunate and unfortunate thing about Norwich’s book is that it’s almost pure synthesis, which means it’s a very standard history of the Mediterranean, with no original scholarship. If you’ve never read histories of the various time periods he covers, this will probably be an interesting read, as he strives to bring together the many competing empires, kingdoms, and states that ring the sea and show how they are similar to each other because of their orientation toward the sea. But it’s also not very deep, as he has 5000 years of history to get through, and while he quickly reaches the Christian era and slows down a bit beginning in the Middle Ages, it’s still a lot of ground to cover in not a lot of time, so it feels like a textbook in some ways. Again, if you’re looking for a book that simply gives you the information about certain events, Norwich is a good writer and he keeps things moving along nicely, but he doesn’t get into the weeds as much as I would have liked. That being said, there’s a lot of places you could go to read about these events, but Norwich crams them all into one book. So that’s kind of keen. And who doesn’t want to read a book in which the War of Jenkins’ Ear comes up?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs: The Unknown Story of the Men and Women of WWII’s OSS by Patrick K. O’Donnell. 365 pgs, Free Press, 2004.

O’Donnell does an interesting thing with his account of the Office of Strategic Services and its contribution to the war effort – he uses many, many first-person accounts, tracking down the spies who ran the missions and interviewing them, which makes this book a bit more informal than a more text-based history, but gives it a raw authenticity that might be lacking in a more traditional history. I don’t love oral histories, mainly because memory is a fickle bitch and I don’t trust it, but O’Donnell does give us more than just the interviews, it’s just that he uses them far more than you usually get. So this is a lively account of how the OSS was founded and how it eventually became invaluable to the Allied forces. The U.S. didn’t have much of an intelligence branch before the war; most politicians and even soldiers considered spying “unsporting.” William Donovan willed the OSS into existence, and even though the British and French were dismissive of it early in the war (I mean, by 1942, their intelligence services didn’t have a stellar record to fall back on, did they?), by the end of the war, the OSS was the premier spy service in the world. O’Donnell does a nice job blending more straight-forward narratives backed up by records and the recollections of dozens of agents, which makes the book feel a bit more intimate and immediate. One thing that was interesting about it was that the women he interviewed didn’t speak about their experiences as women, just as agents. Women were recruited and sent into dangerous situations as much as men, and in some cases, into more dangerous situations (the female agents, it seems, often had to seduce targets), but it doesn’t seem like there was resistance from the bosses to use women, nor did it seem like they were treated poorly. I bring this up because in today’s world, fiction tends to emphasize the “lone” example of someone breaking into a white and male-dominated field and the trials and tribulations they endure. In this case, it doesn’t feel that way: Donovan knew he’d need women, they recruited and trained many of them (not just Virginia Hall, who’s probably the most famous of the female spies of World War II), and they treated them the same way they treated the men. It could be an example of nostalgia erasing the bad things in the past, but it does seem like the OSS, at least, had no problem with women.

O’Donnell takes us to North Africe, Italy, the Balkans, France, and finally into Germany. He gives us many examples of the OSS preparing the way for invasions, infiltrating enemy camps, and fooling enemy soldiers into surrendering. He makes the point that the regular army was scornful of the OSS, and in one example, the First Army ignored the intelligence provided by agents and blundered into the Battle of the Bulge. Donovan also recruited “undesirables” – Communists, mostly – which didn’t endear him to his bosses in Washington or the bosses in the armed forces. But he still made it work, and O’Donnell does a good job with the way the OSS gained respect, from soup to nuts – he goes over the training regimen agents had to endure quite well. He also makes the point how well the OSS set up its successor, the CIA, to fight the Cold War, as they were pivoting toward the Soviets even during the war (despite the reluctance of the British and American politicians to spy on their allies, which must have been a difficult time as they knew the Soviets were up to no good but needed Stalin to defeat Hitler) and the contacts they set up helped when the Soviets moved into Eastern Europe. He doesn’t do too much with that, but it’s still interesting.

It’s pretty cool that O’Donnell was able to interview so many people involved in the OSS, even 60 years after the fact. It’s a good book that gives us a lot of information that probably wasn’t readily available right after the war, so everyone had to wait. It’s nice that O’Donnell was able to do it before everyone involved in the war effort is gone.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Four Princes: Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions That Forged Modern Europe by John Julius Norwich. 288 pgs, Grove Atlantic, 2016.

As with Norwich’s book about the Mediterranean, in this book he brings together several threads of scholarship to give us a complete picture of Europe in the first half of the 16th century, when these four men really shaped the destiny of the continent for the next several hundred years, with repercussions still being felt today. If you read a history of Henry VIII, for instance, you’ll get a bit about Francis I when the Field of the Cloth of Gold comes up. If you read an Ottoman history, you’ll get the siege of Vienna or the siege of Malta, but that might be all you get about Charles V. Norwich does a good job showing how the events these men presided over were linked, even in odd ways (the battle of Mohács, for instance, the most significant battle you’ve never heard of, had far-reaching consequences beyond Hungary, even all the way to England). Norwich clearly digs the siege of Malta in 1565, which kind of broke Suleiman’s heart and also marked the beginning of the slow (300+ years) decline of Ottoman Turkey, but the siege was wrapped up in so many other things going on in Europe at the time. He gives a decent amount of time to Henry’s “Reformation” and how it affected Europe, and he shows how the break-up of monolithic Catholicism made an impact in ways no one could have anticipated, even in the fact that Francis allied with Suleiman for a time (religion wasn’t the only factor there, but it was a significant one). Norwich gives each ruler a good amount of “page time,” as he must, but it does feel like he gives Suleiman short shrift just a tad, despite his admiration for the sultan and the fact that of them all, Suleiman was by far the most successful as a ruler. I know primary sources about the Ottomans are hard to come by because of translation issues and the fact that Ottoman Turkish is dauntingly hard to learn, so perhaps that’s it, but it does seem like Suleiman’s non-military impact isn’t highlighted quite as much as with the others. Maybe I just dig Suleiman a lot and wanted more about him.

Norwich, as I noted above, is a pretty good writer, and he makes sure the vastness of his canvas never becomes too epic so that the people are lost in it. The years he covers are extremely important for European and even world history, and while I’ve read many, many books on the time period, it’s neat to see it brought together like this. As its focus is narrower, it’s a bit better than Norwich’s book about the Mediterranean (although he does, naturally, cover a lot of the same events, because even in the 16th century, a lot of European life was centered on the sea) … or maybe he just got better at his work in the intervening years. This is definitely a primer, as he never digs too deep, but it’s a good primer, and that’s always fun!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

TELEVISION

How To With John Wilson (HBO). This is a short series (6 half-hour episodes) in which documentary filmmaker John Wilson starts with a certain topic (“How to Put Up Scaffolding”; “How to Make the Perfect Risotto”) and uses it to springboard into an examination of all sorts of odd, sad, and beautiful things about life. He goes off on tangents that don’t seem to have anything to do with the episode title but, when you think about it, really do. Everyone loves the final episode, about making risotto, because it abuts the beginning of the pandemic and speaks to the loss of human contact and what that might do to us, but my favorite is the first, “How to Make Small Talk,” mainly because Wilson ends up in Cancun when MTV is filming their “Spring Break” thing and some MTV execs even ask him to stop looking so gloomy in the crowd scenes (he shows us some stills, and they’re pretty hilarious), because Wilson ends up interviewing a dude who’s there by himself, just looking for girls. The dude just starts talking to Wilson, and it turns weird and then tragic, and it’s gripping how it gets there. This episode also features Kyle MacLachlan in a hilarious scene that you can find in many place on-line. Each episode is terrific, though – Wilson dives into scaffolding as a concept, he attends a “Mandela Effect” convention in Idaho, he goes to a dinner of amateur referees to find fair-minded people, he meets a dude who’s trying – and Wilson shows this very graphically – to regrow his foreskin. Wilson never mocks his subjects, which makes even the silliest of them deeply human, and he shot footage for two years in New York, so he finds horrific images – cops cleaning up a crime scene – and fun images of various people being weird. It’s a terrific series that will haunt you – in a good way – and make you appreciate all the little things in your life even more. Wilson is working on another season, so that should be keen.

40 Years a Prisoner (HBO). The MOVE drama that played out in Philadelphia in the 1970s and ’80s seems like it should be more well known, but it’s not. This movie tells a bit of the story, as a man seeks to get his parents – who have been incarcerated since 1978 – paroled, and we see his journey in that regard and we get some of the MOVE history and why his parents are in prison in the first place. MOVE was a radical hippie group that wanted to “return to nature,” but they chose the middle of one of America’s biggest cities in which to do it, and people got pissed. The group allowed their kids to wander around their property naked, and they allowed animals to roam around the property as well, pissing and shitting everywhere. Health department officials got involved, some neighbors really did not like them, and eventually they ran afoul of the mayor’s office and the police. MOVE was basically a black “revolutionary” group, and Philadelphia’s mayor from 1972 to 1980 was Frank Rizzo, one of the more racist government officials of the past 60 years or so, so things did not go well. In 1978 Rizzo and the police attempted to get MOVE out of their house, and violence erupted. One cop was killed (it’s naturally hard to say who killed him, but there’s certainly evidence to suggest he was killed accidentally by “friendly fire”), reporters captured the brutal beating of an unarmed MOVE member by the cops on film, and a bunch of people went to prison. Mike Africa (the MOVE members took “Africa” as their last names) spends the movie trying to get his parents paroled, as they were convicted simply for being members of the group, despite a paucity of evidence that they participated in any violence. It’s a pretty good movie – Mike goes through all the hoops to get parole, trying to figure out how to appeal to the parole board (it’s not as easy as saying you’re reformed; you have to say certain things they’re looking for), and the moments when his parents do get paroled are nice. Filmmaker Tommy Oliver is obviously on the side of the MOVE members, but this movie isn’t as biased as you might think – he interviews a few old policemen who were at the scene and lets them talk without interrupting – that what they say makes them sound pretty bad isn’t his fault. He also includes footage of the neighbors, both for and against MOVE, and makes sure we know that not everyone dug having them around. Even so, there’s no excuse for what Rizzo and the cops did, and that’s also pretty clear. The MOVE saga is complicated because many of the anti-MOVE neighbors are black, and in 1985, the drama came to a harrowing end (MOVE regrouped after 1978) when the black, Democratic mayor, Wilson Goode, dropped a bomb on their new house and the resulting fire destroyed several city blocks. The MOVE members aren’t necessarily sympathetic, the people who don’t like them aren’t necessarily racist (besides Rizzo, who certainly was), and the drama doesn’t fit into a nice little “black people good, white people racist” paradigm that we like, so it’s been kind of forgotten. It’s too bad, because it’s a fascinating story, and as this movie shows, it’s still relevant today, not only because we’re still dealing with racism, but because we’re even still dealing with the legacy of MOVE.

Dark (Netflix). This is a German time-travel show, which should make my head hurt, but the creators must have spent a long time plotting it out, because it feels pretty airtight. That’s not to say it didn’t annoy me at times, mainly because they speak of the inevitability of everything when it’s clear any number of characters could have stopped the time loop everyone is stuck in. I’m not a big believer in fate, so the fact that nobody seems to have free will in this show is annoying. It begins in 2019 with a man hanging himself in his attic. A few months later, his son and some of his friends go into the forest near their town to a cave which they believe has drugs stashed in it, said drugs belonging to a boy who’s been missing for several weeks. While they’re out there, the young brother of two of the kids disappears as well, and this sets the plot in motion. Inside the caves are passages that can take you 33 years into the past or future, and many people eventually figure this out, and it seems half the town travels through time. Of course there’s an imminent apocalypse, so people are trying to stop it, and of course there are secret organizations trying to manipulate time travel, and nobody obeys the rules of time travel, as older selves meet younger selves and people have sex with people who might be their grandparent, and it’s all very weird. Like I said, it seems to work really well – nothing feels like it contradicts anything else, which is nice. The huge cast is pretty good, too – I don’t know any of the actors because I’m not terribly familiar with the German entertainment scene, but there’s a lot of emoting and the young actors – both in the present, the future, and in 1986 – do a decent job. I’m puzzled about a couple of things – why, exactly, the kids are being abducted, and why the dude hanged himself in the first place, as the explanations we get aren’t great – but overall, it’s a pretty gripping saga. It’s only 26 episodes, so you can zip right through it, and binging it probably helps because all the vast connections stay fresh in your mind. I can’t even imagine seeing this over three years and trying to remember what happened! It’s also dubbed, which is an annoying thing Netflix does, but we watched it with the closed captioning on, so the difference between the dubbed words and the closed captioning (which didn’t happen too often, but occasionally) was fun. Lots of good music choices, too. So it’s a neat show. It didn’t make me love time travel stories, but it’s pretty good.

Elizabeth Is Missing (PBS). Glenda Jackson – who’s won two Oscars, remember – plays her first role in 27 years in this movie, as she retired to go into politics in the early 1990s. She’s playing a woman about her age (she’s 84) whose friend, Elizabeth, well … goes missing. Or does she? Jackson has Alzheimer’s, and she writes notes to herself all the time to remember things, so when she can’t find Elizabeth, her daughter and son and others naturally don’t necessarily believe her. It’s not that they disbelieve her, but they offer many reasons why Elizabeth might be gone. Jackson is also haunted by the disappearance, 70 years earlier, of her sister (played with aplomb by Sophie Rundle), and because of her illness, the two events become increasingly intertwined in her head. This is really a showcase for Jackson, who’s unsurprisingly marvelous – she has a keen mind when she’s lucid and does a lot of legwork in trying to find Elizabeth, but Jackson also plays her times of senility with great pathos and power, as she desperately clings to any semblance of sanity. The mystery of Elizabeth is tragic but not exactly what we think it will be, and the mystery of her sister is, obviously, not as pressing but helps Jackson accept her life and find some peace. My wife said it depressed her about getting old, and it is kind of upsetting in that regard, but it’s still an interesting movie with a terrific performance from a master at the center of it.

The Magicians season 5 (Netflix). My wife read the books on which this series was based, and she was more into it than I was, but it was a pretty decent series that ended with Season 5. The biggest problem with this final season is (um, spoiler alert) that the protagonist, Quentin (played by Jason Ralph), died saving the world and magic at the end of Season 4, and while Ralph isn’t the greatest actor in the world, he was the glue that held the show together. The way Season 4 ended would have been a great place to end the show altogether, but they came back for this final season, and the results were kind of mixed. The actors (besides Ralph) have always been strong, and that’s no exception this season. However, there’s a lack of a through-line in the season, as the Big Bads from earlier years have been dispatched, and while eventually things kind of coalesce, there’s never really a sense of looming disaster over everything as there has been in the other seasons. The biggest problem, as always, is Fillory, the fantasy world Quentin read about as a boy that turns out to be a real place. Fillory was never the most interesting part of the series and it was always underdeveloped, but at least it had a reason for existing. This season, it felt like it had no reason, so it felt more perfunctory than ever. Which meant that when the series wrapped up with a plot about Fillory, it has no emotional resonance whatsoever because who cares about Fillory anyway? It’s too bad, because even with the lack of a good villain in this season, it worked decently enough because the actors – Stella Maeve, Hale Appleman, and Olivia Taylor Dudley in particular, as they were closest to Quentin – were processing Quentin’s death and trying to deal with it even as they got re-used to using magic (Quentin had brought magic back after it had been lost for a time). I generally think it’s more interesting watching actors work and I try not to worry too much about the plot, but in this case, it was frustrating because it felt so much like the actors wanted to really sink their teeth into something great (Season 3’s “A Life in the Day” remains an incredible highlight for Ralph and Appleman, for instance) but they kept approaching it and then getting stymied. So this wasn’t a bad season, just a frustrating one, especially as it turned out to be the final one. Perhaps they should have ended it with Season 4?

The Expanse season 5 (Amazon Prime). Anyone who digs science fiction should be watching The Expanse, which is a marvelous series about the political machinations between Earth, Mars, and the asteroid belt a few hundred years from now, with the added bonus of an alien presence invading the galaxy and everyone wondering whether it’s benevolent or pure evil. SyFy cancelled the series after Season 3, but Amazon Prime picked it up and they’ve aired two seasons, with the next one being the last, apparently. After Season 4 took the main cast (Steven Strait, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, and Cas Anvar) right out of the solar system and through a “ring” that the alien presence provided so humans could avoid years of travel to other planets, this season they’re back in the thick of the rivalry between Earthers, Martians, and Belters, who resent their second-class status in the system and are now willing to go to war to gain independence. Of course, the group is back in this system, but they’re split up for most of the season, as Holden (Strait) is in the Belt trying to keep the peace (which does not go well), Naomi (Tipper) heads off to find her son, whose father just happens to be the ruthless Belter rebel leader (that, also, does not go well), Amos (Chatham) goes back to Earth to tie up a loose end from his young days and ends up having to survive a catastrophe (needless to say, none of that goes well), and Alex goes back to Mars to see his estranged family (which, um, does not go well) and ends up helping another Martian (Frankie Adams as Bobbie Draper, who’s awesome) dig into a conspiracy. It all ties together, eventually, but not before the rebel leader has made some pretty big strides toward independence, some important but a bit ancillary cast members are killed, and one of the main cast is bumped off (I won’t spoil it, but you can easily find out who it is, as the decision was made to fire the actor, so their arc was wrapped up). It’s a very well done show, with what feels like real science involved (as far as a layman like me can tell) and excellent special effects. The core cast is excellent, and we also get someone like Shohreh Aghdashloo roaring through her lines like a freakin’ boss, Thomas Jane being weird, and David Strathairn trying out the unusual Belters’ accent and killing it. The writers and directors don’t pull any punches – everything has consequences, occasionally system-wide consequences, and the good guys don’t always win. It will interesting to see how they wrap it all up next season.

Cheers (Hulu). We had started watching Cheers a year ago with my daughter, because she dug Ted Danson in The Good Place and I haven’t watched Cheers since it originally aired and it’s one of my favorite television shows. Then, last summer, it went off Netflix and onto Hulu, but we didn’t have Hulu, so we stopped watching it. Then Hulu offered a $1.99-a-month deal (with some commercials), and my wife decided to check it out, so we finished Cheers over the past six weeks or so, as we left off near the end of Season 9. It holds up very well, and while the homophobia that some people have decried about it doesn’t really exist (the famous episode where Norm, Cliff, and the others hound two dudes out of the bar because they think they’re gay is very much about how stupid they are to judge people by their appearances, and even Norm pretending to be gay in a later episode is not about making fun of him, but making fun of people who think interior decorators should be gay), it’s far more comfortable with threatening violence against women than I remember. I mean, Sam and Diane’s toxic relationship has not aged well at all, but even in the 1980s, it seemed like it was played more about how horrible these two people are together than for laughs. But Frasier is bad, too – he’s really hateful toward Diane and not terribly nice to Lilith, and the writers make it clear that he’s “right” because both women are not very nice to him, but even before Lilith cheats on him, he’s not very nice to her. And while Kirstie Alley morphed wonderfully from a sex object to a marvelous slapstick comedian, nobody ever takes her seriously and she never does much to convince them otherwise. So it’s a bit cringey, and I can understand why a younger person coming to it for the first time might not like it (my daughter did enjoy it, but she was a bit annoyed by some of it), it’s still very funny when it’s not being anti-woman. Woody is still brilliant (as is Coach), Lilith is still hilarious, Norm is mostly great, Cliff is mostly great, and Al and then Phil obviously rule. I still love it, and it hasn’t aged perfectly, but it’s certainly not as bad as you might think and definitely not as bad as some other shows of that era.

His Dark Materials season 2 (HBO). Philip Pullman’s “Dark Materials” trilogy is a terrific YA series, quite a bit better than the Harry Potter books (Pullman is simply a better writer than Rowling), but of course it hasn’t been a sensation like those books, and until HBO got their hands on it, we had a tepid movie with what should have been a great cast but wasn’t very good, so it’s nice that we’re getting a series that allows things to play out a bit more slowly. That’s not to say it’s perfect – in the books, for instance, the presence of another dimension – ours – is not confirmed in the first book, so when Lyra goes through the hole that her father, played by James McAvoy in this version, rips open in the sky, it’s very much a surprise when the second book begins in “our” world. In Season 1 of this show, Will Parry, the boy from our world, is introduced fairly early on, so that surprise is lost, but such is life. The first season coincided fairly well with the first book (as much as I can remember it), but I think they slowed down a bit in Season 2, because I don’t think they reached the end of the second book (I could be wrong, of course). Anyway, it’s not a bad series – it’s a bit heavy, and it certainly lacks the fun of, say, the Harry Potter books (in between all the deaths in that series, of course), but it’s pretty compelling, and while Pullman’s anti-religious thing is a bit turgid in the books, in the series it’s a bit more muted, mainly because the Magisterium – basically the Catholic Church – is so much more like just any old evil organization, so the comparisons don’t feel as pointed as they do in the books. The effects are generally good, and only Mrs. Coulter’s monkey daemon looks a bit wonky sometimes, mainly because it has more to do than most of the other daemons, even Lyra’s. Season 2 takes place more in “our” world and Cittàgazze, the “in-between” city that links the two dimensions, so there’s not as much world-building as we got in the first season, and Lyra and Will’s relationship takes center stage. The cast, in general, is very good – Dafne Keen plays Lyra, and with this and Logan, she’s preparing to win an Oscar some day; Ruth Wilson is phenomenal as Mrs. Coulter (which isn’t a surprise; Wilson is phenomenal in most things); Amir Wilson is pretty good as Will, McAvoy does his thing as Lord Asriel, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is a weak link as Lee Scoresby (he’s not bad, but as an actor, Miranda sure can sing!). This season, Simone Kirby became part of the cast as Mary Malone, the Oxford physicist whom Lyra finds in “our” world, and she’s quite good, and Terence Stamp has a cameo, which is always nice to see, and Bella Ramsay shows up as one of the kids in Cittàgazze, and all I could say when she appeared was “Tiny Girl lives!!!!!” The series isn’t as good as the books, but it’s an interesting animal, and it will wrap up in a quick three seasons (Keen turned 16 in January and Wilson turned 17 a few weeks ago, so they need to get this finished before them playing prepubescent children becomes ridiculous), so there you go!

The Watch season 1 (BBC America). I guess there was some controversy over this show because Terry Pratchett wasn’t involved (being, you know, dead and all) and Neil Gaiman said some things about it (not necessarily negative, but just not positive), but I’ve read only one Pratchett book in my life, and it was Good Omens, which wasn’t even all his, so I have no attachment to anything Discworld-related, so I came to this cold. And it’s not bad, all things considered (mainly the budget, which couldn’t have been too robust, but they made it work with what they had). I mean, it could be better, but a lot of the criticisms I’ve seen of the show is that the characters weren’t like in the books, which I don’t care about even if I had read the books. It’s a bit bizarre, sure, but it has a bizarre charm to it, too. Richard Dormer, possibly best known in the States as Beric Dondarrion in Game of Thrones, plays Sam Vimes, the cynical-with-a-heart-of-gold captain of the police in Ankh-Morpork, the main city of Discworld. Over the course of this season, he decides to fight back against the institutionalized corruption in the city but he also has to stop an old friend, now mysteriously un-aged enemy from burning the city down using a grumpy dragon. He’s joined by a liberal aristocrat (Lady Sybil Ramkin, played by Lara Rossi), a rube from the country whose idealism infects the unit (Constable Carrot, played by Adam Hugill), a hardened officer with a secret (Corporal Angua, played by Marama Corlett), and a gender-fluid forensic scientist (Corporal Cheery, played by Jo Eaton-Kent). Those actors are good, which makes the somewhat weaknesses of the other parts of the show easier to take. Plus, the goblins are funny, so there’s that. I don’t know – Vimes and Ramkin have good if predictable chemistry together, Corlett plays Angua really well, and Eaton-Kent (who is gender-fluid themselves) is a revelation as Cheery. Death is funny (I see that Death shows up a lot in the Discworld books, and he does so here), and the plot, while fairly standard, takes some nice twists and turns. I get that people who have inhaled Pratchett’s books might be upset, but even if they say they’re judging it on its own merits, how can they? If you’re that invested in something, it’s hard to step outside it. I’m not saying this is genius television, but it’s pretty fun. And not a bad way to spend a few hours.

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As it’s the Golden Age of Reprints, and I don’t always read those in a timely fashion, I thought I’d list them with some thoughts. Here we go!

Batman: Gotham Knights volume 2. Devin Grayson isn’t the greatest writer, but she can spin an entertaining yarn, and I liked the first volume, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy the second when I get the chance to read it!

Graphic Fantasy #1 & #2. This is the Image reprint of the first appearances of Erik Larsen’s “Dragon” character from 1982. Larsen and some friends put out a magazine, and it’s presented here with all the warts. Larsen wasn’t yet 20 when he drew these, and the stories are very rough, but they’re fun to see. He’s clearly the most talented person working on this magazine, so it’s not surprising that he went on to become, you know, good.

Captain America: Heroes Reborn Complete Collection volume 1. Waid and Garney (soon replaced by Andy Kubert) return to Captain America, from which they were unceremoniously yanked when the Image boys wanted back in at Marvel. I like these issues (#1-12 of the new series, plus two annuals) more than the pre-Heroes Go Bye-Bye run – I don’t know why, but maybe it’s Kubert’s art, which is better than Garney’s. These are solid comics, and it’s nice to see something good was coming out of Marvel in the Nineties!

(Yes, I know not everything from Marvel in the Nineties was crap. It’s just that DC was so much better, quality-wise, that it’s hard to find the good stuff from the House of Ideas of that era!)

The Complete Darkness volume 1. DON’T YOU JUDGE ME!!!!!

Ghita of Alizarr by Frank Thorne. This looks keen. Thorne really likes his naked women, doesn’t he?

The John Steel Files. These are British comics from the 1960s, so they look a bit rough, but I dig me some fun olde-tymey comicks!

Legends of Today. Titan has done a decent job of collecting old Enki Bilal comics, and this is the latest one. One day I’ll read more than just one or two stories from each volume!

Luke Cage Epic Collection volume 1. Featuring one candidate for best panel in comic book history:

It’s no Sue Storm calling Ben Grimm a coward, but it’s close!

This is fun. Some of Englehart’s words are cringe-worthy, but not as many as you might think from a white dude writing a black man in the 1970s. The art is fine – George Tuska and Billy Graham aren’t the greatest artists in the world, but they are pros, so the storytelling is good – and Cage’s life as he tries to figure out to make money and stay out of jail is interesting to read about. This is a nice collection.

Manhunter the Deluxe Edition. I own the floppy collection of this book, which did not have Simonson’s silent tale included because, well, he hadn’t done it yet. It was supposed to be a new story that kind of fits into the main story (neither Goodwin nor Simonson wanted to continue the story), but then Goodwin died without actually writing the script, so Simonson took his notes and did a silent story. It’s pretty keen. Anyway, this is a gorgeous package, and even if you own a different version, this one is really nifty.

Savage Sword of Conan Omnibus volume 4. I’m waaaaay behind on my 1970s Conan. Heavy sigh.

Superman: The Man of Steel volume 2. I missed volume 1, so when I got volume 2 I re-ordered volume 1 and haven’t gotten a chance to crack them yet.

Swamp Thing: The Bronze Age volume 3. Otherwise known as “all the issues of the 1980s Swamp Thing series before Alan Moore came on board.” I haven’t read it yet, but Tom Yeates knows a thing or two about drawing, there’s a few issues with the amazing Bissette/Totleben team, and an unrecognizable Mark Texeira does the art on the Annual, which is an adaptation of the movie script. Should be neat!

The Collected Toppi volume 5. I think this is the last of the volumes Magnetic currently has planned of Sergio Toppi’s work, which would be a damned shame because I bet they could easily fill 5 more, if not 10 or 15! As I always say when one of these comes out, you should do yourself a favor and check out Toppi’s work. It’s stunning. When Walt Simonson talks about how much he loves it, you know it’s good!

Here’s the money I spent in January and February. It’s a bit shocking.

6 January: $227.34
13 January: $39.03
20 January: $55.50
27 January: $75.48
3 February: $99.73
10 February: $195.99
17 February: $205.64
24 February: $177.84

January: $397.35
February: $679.20
YTD: $1076.55

That’s right, I went four (4) consecutive weeks without spending over $100, which I haven’t done in years. That second week in January is the lowest total I’ve spent in years, as well. I went into that day thinking I’d only buy one thing, because I didn’t realize a couple of DC books were coming out, so it might have been even less. My retailer was very ashamed of me all through January, but I’ve rallied a bit in February!

Louis had an interesting suggestion in my post about the “Best Comics” of the year. He wondered how many comics from each publisher I bought, and I didn’t know. So I decided to keep track. Thanks, Louis! Here we are so far:

Abrams ComicArts: 1 (1 original graphic novel)
AfterShock: 3 (3 trade paperbacks)
Archaia: 1 (1 collected webcomic)
AWA: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Behemoth: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Black Mask: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Boom! Studios: 2 (2 single issues)
Dark Horse: 5 (3 single issues, 1 original graphic novel, 1 trade paperback)
DC: 7 (3 single issues, 4 “classic” reprints)
Fantagraphics: 1 (1 original graphic novel)
Gallery 13: 1 (1 original graphic novel)
Hermes Press: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Hyperion: 1 (1 original graphic novel)
IDW: 1 (1 single issue, 1 trade paperback)
Image: 9 (1 single issue, 3 trade paperbacks, 2 original graphic novels, 3 “classic” reprints)
Iron Circus Comics: 1 (1 original graphic novel)
Keylight Books: 1 (1 original graphic novel)
Magnetic Press: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Marvel: 5 (1 single issue, 2 trade paperbacks, 2 “classic” reprints)
Plough Publishing: 1 (1 original graphic novel)
Rebellion/2000AD: 1 (“classic” reprint)
Scout: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Titan: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Vault: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Viz Media: 1 (1 manga volume)

And, because I can’t leave well enough alone, that’s:

13 “classic” reprints
1 manga volume
10 OGNs
11 single issues
19 TPs
1 webcomic

Not surprisingly, Image, DC, Dark Horse, and Marvel are the top four, and I don’t expect that to change. But this should be fun!

Finally, I don’t link to much anymore because I just don’t have the time to go searching for it, but I thought this advice to ladies with annoying significant others was pretty funny. My wife plans to use it!

Have a nice day, everyone. As always, I linked to one trade below – The Department of Truth is not only good, it’s priced to move at 10 dollars! – but if you want to get anything through Amazon, you can still use that link and we’ll get a little bit of the money. I hope everyone is staying safe and enjoying the beautiful weather! (Oh, wait, is that just here in AZ? Whoops.)

I mean, it is in the high 50s, so brrrrrr!!!!!

23 Comments

  1. tomfitz1

    I haven’t read too much of James Tynion IV (what happened to I-III?), just THE WOODS and currently SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN. I’ll have to give The Dept of Truth a try. Sounds something like The X-Files.

    I’m surprised that you haven’t listed SEX EDUCATION for binge-watching. If you like the PORKY’S film triology and AMERICAN PIE films, then you’ll get a kick out of this coming of age dramedy.
    Gillian Anderson kills it as a Sex Therapist who has a teenage son.

    The EXPANSE is awesome as a sci-fi GOT series. Too bad, Cas Anvar got booted out of the sixth and final season over his actions. (You’d think that people have learned from #me too and #time’s up movements?)

    I get headaches trying to keep track of DARK. At least it was in one place, not all over like in 12 Monkeys.

    Trump’s still trying to make a mess of things. Will he just shut up and go away!

    1. Greg Burgas

      Tom: I don’t think I’ve even heard of Sex Education. Dang, just another thing to check out.

      You know, I tried not to spoil the cast member who’s not on The Expanse anymore, and then you go right ahead. Thanks, sir!!! 🙂

      We watched Dark in two weeks (give or take), so it was probably easier to keep track of everything, and it seemed to hold together. I didn’t watch 12 Monkeys, so I can’t compare!

      Trump is never going away, unfortunately. Sigh.

  2. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

    I tried so hard to like the new His Dark Materials adaptation…but they just didn’t have a handle on why the books worked (to the extent that they did – I’m not sure how well Pullman’s polemics will work for me as an adult – even 10 year old me found The Amber Spyglass up its own ass, haha!). Tapped out before the S1 finale – Miranda was a truly terrible casting choice as Scoresby, who really is the heart of the books.

    Meanwhile…I read the Magicians books between the first and second seasons, and loved them so much that I couldn’t enjoy S2, haha!

    1. Greg Burgas

      Carlos: Yeah, my wife mentioned that the show went kind of way off-book. I try not to worry about things like that!

      I like watching Keen and Wilson, so I’m going to watch the third season. Then I’ll probably have to re-read the books to compare and contrast!

  3. “We get it – Sharon is great. But does that mean everyone around her has to be inept?” I agree that sort of thing is annoying. It’s easier because if everyone’s good then the protagonist really has to be something special, but it’s the way to go.
    Martin Pasko’s run on Swamp Thing was good, with a couple of startling twists. It’s just unfortunate he was the opening act for Alan Moore.

    1. Greg Burgas

      In the case of Devil’s Highway, it’s clear Sharon is very good at what she does. So it seems odd that at times, Percy would make her partner inept in spots. He can just be a competent if a bit obsessed agent, and she would still look good!

  4. MathGuy

    The Dark is very good. We had a chance to rewatch seasons 1 and 2 in order to know what’s going on when we began season 3. Things came to together better for us after the 2nd viewing.

    More German Cinema: I wonder if you’ve watched Baylon Berlin on Netflix. If so, I’d love to hear what you think of it. Events in Germany in the 1920s were some crazy times. Anyway, give it a look-see if you haven’t already.

    1. Greg Burgas

      MathGuy: I did watch Babylon Berlin, and enjoyed it quite a bit. I hope that they have more seasons to do, but I haven’t heard anything about it. I thought I had written about it here, but I only wrote about the graphic novel (which was also quite good).

  5. fit2print

    I’m assuming being handpicked to work with Snyder was the reason he is described sarcastically as having begun “his career on third base” but what’s behind the “cackling” remark? Is Tynion known for having endured a tormented childhood, worked with the FBI or believed in conspiracy theories? I’m interested in this series but the “inside baseball” references in your review are a bit too cryptic for someone who doesn’t follow the ins and outs of the industry too closely… I realize I’m advertising my ignorance here but I’m genuinely curious…

    1. Greg Burgas

      fit2print: Yeah, his association with Snyder is the reason for that, but I don’t have any reason for using “cackling” except I like the word and I just picture Tynion gleefully throwing all sorts of weird shit into this book and having a blast doing it. Sorry, I didn’t mean to be too inside baseball for you … I just like the word! 🙂

  6. jccalhoun

    I was reading the Marty Pasko Swamp Thing when it originally came out and so I have a soft spot for that run. Obviously, Moore took it to another level but there was some pretty good Comics Code Approved horror comics there. The two-parter with the vampires is really good. I think it would be a good movie without Swamp Thing in it (I don’t think it would work as a Swamp Thing movie since it isn’t really about Swampy)

  7. Eric van Schaik

    Like the new format Greg, but no music? Come on! 😉
    Because of the lockdown in Holland not a lot of comics (only Savage Dragon in singles).
    I compensated that with buying music. As you being a fan of Marillion you should give Transatlantic a try. Pete Trewavas playes in it. Another suggestion is Spock’s Beard.
    Do you even have time for some romantic time with your wive? All that reading and watching tv takes a lot of time… 🙂

    1. Greg Burgas

      Eric: Thanks for the suggestions! I’m about to go into another round of CD-buying, so I’ll keep those in mind.

      I apologize for the lack of music. I was going to review a bunch of CDs I got a few months ago, but I kept putting it off and then it was too late. I will do a few in March, though, I promise!

      My wife and I have been married for almost 27 years. What is this “romantic time” you speak of? 🙂

      (We managed to go out to dinner three weeks ago to a very romantic place, but it’s very hard to find time for ourselves with the two teenagers and five pets.)

  8. Der

    I think I’m going to get that Superman: The Man of Steel volume 1. I have the Man of Steel trade and I liked it, wanted to get the rest but it seems like it’s cheaper to get those new trades.

    How are the Savage Sword omnibus by the way? Are they like the Dark Horse phonebook collections? or do they collect everything else that appeared in the issues?(at least I assume some extras appear in some issues, at least according to the covers in the DH collections)

    As for the shows, we have netflix but barely watch anything. But maybe I’ll check out the Expanse when the final season airs.

  9. JHL

    I wasn’t offended by The Watch but I did find it rather inexplicable. I agree that it isn’t really a bad show, but it has so little to do works it is supposedly adapting that I genuinely wonder why they bothered to license the Disc World IP for it. I tend to have little interest in note for note adaptations. I’ll have already read the book, so I far prefer adaptations that take the spirit of the original work and translates it in whatever way best suits the new medium. And that is where The Watch feels off. It just doesn’t capture the spirit of Pratchett’s work. The tone isn’t there, and just does not feel like disc world. And that bums out fans. I’d say it is an okay show, but a bad Disc World adaptation.

    I’d actually say that the Good Omens adaptation from awhile back is a great example of of an adaptation. It made plenty of changes to the story but captured the tone and soul of the original work quite well. Now that I think about it, the Good Omens adaptation having been good may have raised fans hopes that The Watch would follow its lead.

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