“Women, as some witty Frenchman one put it, inspire us with the desire to do masterpieces and always prevent us from carrying them out.” (Oscar Wilde, from The Picture of Dorian Gray)
After Theodore Roosevelt lost his bid for the presidency in 1912, he decided the best thing for a 55-year-old man was to head to the deepest jungles of Brazil and descend a river that had only just been discovered and never mapped. Sure, that sounds fun! So began his ordeal down the River of Doubt, which is now called the Roosevelt River in his honor. This almost 500-mile tributary of the Amazon is fairly hellacious, with many rapids that do not sound enjoyable, including a passage through the rocks of only a few feet, where the water shoots through because the river narrows so quickly. Roosevelt went down the river with Cândido Rondon, a Brazilian colonel who had discovered the headwaters of the river a few years earlier while setting up telegraph lines and has to be one of the more interesting people you’ll find in history. Rondon was an explorer and also a ferocious advocate for the indigenous people of Brazil, to the detriment, often, of the men in his expeditions. The journey down the River of Doubt was a total clusterfuck, as you knew it had to be, because why else would anyone write a book about it? Millard uses the journals of the men, especially Roosevelt’s and his son Kermit’s, who accompanied him on the journey. She goes into the psychological aspects of why Roosevelt would undertake such a voyage at his age and why Kermit would go along with him. The journey was poorly planned, and the expedition almost fell apart more than once, and Roosevelt almost died from an infection in his leg, and then he had to deal with people back in the States who did not believe his stories from the river. Millard goes into all of this, telling a gripping tale. People died, people were killed, there was a murderer, there were Indians who, it seemed, had to think about whether or not to attack the expedition every day, and there was nature itself trying to kill everyone. We know Roosevelt survived, but unless we look them up, we don’t know about everyone else (Kermit made it through, and Rondon not only made it through but lived another 45 years, dying at the age of 92), so there’s a bit of suspense in it all. It does not sound like something any sane person would attempt.
Millard not only gives us the story of the expedition, she goes into the local history, the animals and plants of the rain forest, the geological creation of the Amazon valley, the state of the natives at the time, how rubber transformed the Amazon region (she completely ignores the Congo when talking about how the Amazon was the world’s top supplier of rubber, which was odd, but oh well), and she even gets into the War of the Triple Alliance a bit, because why the hell not? It’s a far-reaching book, in other words, and Millard does a good job shifting from the focus on the expedition to the larger aspects of the world. She spends a good deal of time digging into what made Roosevelt tick, and it’s a fascinating portrait of a man who, it seems, did not like to be alone with his thoughts, as it seems his thoughts were quite dark. He was able to drive them away, but his son killed himself in 1943 (and his son, also named Kermit, was the one behind the 1953 CIA-sponsored coup in Iran – connections!), as he was unable to figure out to live like his father did.
This is a well done book, tinged with the sadness of hindsight, as we all know what has happened to the Amazon basin since people from the outside started exploring it. People generally did not listen to Rondon, who wanted the natives protected, and they went in and began destroying shit. Still, the account of the expedition is gripping, as almost everything in the jungle is trying to kill everything else in the jungle (there are some symbiotic relationships, but those things try to kill everything else, too), and the humans of the expedition are so far out of their depth. It’s a triumph of human toughness, I suppose, and Millard does a good job with that. Roosevelt remains a fascinating character, and this book just shows one reason why!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
So Joe Casey has a character, a young Hispanic woman named “America Vazquez,” who’s really strong and can open interdimensional portals, and she meets up with four heroes in the book, one named – possibly, as it’s a hashtag – WMDMan, another named Colonel Free, a woman who carries a hammer and is therefore Thor, and a thing that become intangible called the Wraith. How Marvel has not sued Casey into oblivion is beyond me.
Anyway, this is a typical Casey comic, and Casey is like a modern day baseball player and their “three true outcomes” – he swings for the fences all the time, and when he connects, it’s a titanic home run, and when he doesn’t, it’s a strikeout. This is more of the latter, unfortunately. It’s not the blatant ripping off – I don’t care about that, I just admire the audacity of it – it’s that America narrates as if she’s on Instagram, and while any narration in a comic is kind of dumb once you think about it, narrating with hashtags and emojis heightens the stupidity of it all and begins to break down the suspension of disbelief. Maybe that’s the point. On top of that, America seems like a horrible person – sure, she’s a hero, but she’s caustic all the time, punches first and asks questions later (Casey seems to make this comic’s Doctor Doom more on-point with his criticisms than Marvel’s is, but America doesn’t care because she wants to punch things), and doesn’t want to listen to advice from the oldsters, even if the advice seems pretty good. It’s tough, because Casey does this a lot, and it’s always hard to tell if he’s playing it straight or not. He could be setting her up for growth or he could be turning this into a satire, but neither is in evidence in this issue, so it’s hard to care too much. The actual plot – there’s a strange extra-dimensional being out there that might be a threat – is very generic, so the book lives or dies on the character of America. In this issue, at least, she’s hard to take. Nguyen does his usual good job with the art – it’s a bit different from his more common wispy style, but it still works nicely, and the pages where America steps outside reality are beautiful, both in the line art and in the coloring, even though it’s all a bit “2001” for me, but it’s still just a generic plot.
I have no idea if this is a continuing story – it’s marked in the indicia as “#1” and ends on a “to be continued” vibe, but Casey does shit like this all the time, where he has no plans for another issue, he’s just having fun. We’ll see. This first issue isn’t promising, though, so if it does continue, I’ll probably wait for the trade in the hopes it’s a more satisfying read.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Philip Bond is such a great artist, so the fact that he doesn’t do more comics is just depressing. He’s probably the main reason to buy this trade, as he draws those slightly-chunky-yet-still-sexy bodies, he has such a great eye for detail, and he has a wonderful kinetic sense of pacing and panel placement, so this book zips along, with Bond grounding all the fairly ridiculous stuff (like the 20-foot-tall gorilla from Rhode Island) to give us an excellent sense of this world. Bond never lets things get too, too dreary and serious, even though the book has some serious moments. Even if the story were terrible, the book is worth it for Bond’s art.
Luckily, the story is pretty good. Barnett gives us Eve, who is born with a rare blood disease that will kill her when she’s young. Her father develops a serum that saves her, but with some side effects that would only occur in a comic book. First of all, it enhances her abilities in some way so she can do almost everything really well. She needs to take the serum once a week to live, but it wipes out her short-term memory in the process. So we get a lot of narration boxes of Eve writing a letter to herself so she can “remember” stuff about her life. She’s not sure what’s she doing, but she always gets an “assignment” from a mysterious employer, and if she doesn’t carry out the assignment, she doesn’t get the serum. It’s kind of a strange comic, in other words. Eve doesn’t all do bad things – in fact, many of her assignments are just regular things that rich folks might need or want, and one potential buyer of her services is horribly killed by her handlers when he suggests that he’ll do nasty things with her. Eve wants to find her parents, which is why she decides this arrangement isn’t good enough anymore, and she has to figure out a way to do that while figuring out who she can trust and how to pull it off when she only has a week to prepare. It’s a clever story, and Barnett does a nice job with the one job where she has to make a moral choice – other than that, she seems to just do whatever her bosses want. He leaves the possibility open for a sequel, although I don’t know if IDW is even doing the Black Crown thing anymore. Too bad – if it gets Philip Bond to draw a comic, it’s probably worth it! (Yes, I know the editor of this book might have leaned on him a little.) Barnett also has a weird back-up story with L’il Eve, as she slowly figures out she’s in a comic. It’s a trifle, but a fun one.
It’s awfully unusual that two editors DC unceremoniously canned, Bond and Karen Berger, are shepherding new, interesting comics at other companies while DC shutters the line they were known for and retreats into retreads. Well done, DC! You sure know what you’re doing!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
The Mall is a terrific comic, blending high school angst with gangsters and doing it very well, despite those two things seemingly not having much in common. Handfield and Haick set the book in 1984, and yes, I’m sick of comics set in the 1980s, but at least they explain why in the introduction – they point out that teen movies in the 1980s usually depicted kids from the lower classes, but with Clueless in 1995, that template flipped to upper class teens, and they wanted to revisit the lower classes. Which is fine, but they could easily do that in a comic set in the present day – they really just wanted to do comic set when they grew up. I can forgive the time period if the creators do it well and the comic is good, and they do and this is. We begin with a gangster getting killed in his car, and then his brother gathers up three teenagers – Lena, Dallas, and Diego – who are living their normal lives – Lena is a cheerleader, Dallas is a back-up quarterback, Diego is a nerd – and tells them that they’re all half-siblings, as his brother fooled around quite a bit. He left them stores in the local mall, all of which are fronts for illegal businesses, and the brother tells them that they can make a lot of money with them. The writers do a good job giving each of the kids interesting personalities and showing how they might conceivably interact with this world. Diego, who longs to not be a nerd, knows numbers, so of course he fixes the gambling concern he inherits and takes to the “gangster” lifestyle quite well. Dallas wants to be a hero, but he doesn’t quite know how. Lena is much like Lea Thompson in Some Kind of Wonderful – she and her mom are poor, but because her mom married a rich lawyer, Lena is accepted into the rich clique at school, but she always feels out of place. The writers do a good job taking these character traits and showing how they might fit into a gangster world and what might happen to the kids. The kids’ uncle is gay, too, and everyone knows, so that’s another interesting angle the writers throw at us. Loureiro’s art is nice and crisp, too, and Dijjo’s digital coloring is well done, with just the right amount of rendering to make the mobsters look rougher than the kids. Unlike a lot of movies or comics set in the 1980s (but not made in the 1980s), Loureiro doesn’t go overboard with the stylistic clichés – it certainly looks like the Eighties, but it’s not to the point of absurdity, which works well in the book. Like a lot of comics artists, Loureiro seems to have trouble showing action in sports, so a few panels look weird, but otherwise, it’s a nice-looking comic. (I should point out one thing that bugged me about the writers showing the culture, which they generally do well. Lena gives Dallas a mixtape – of course she does – with the Beastie Boys on it. The group had, by 1984, released a couple of singles, but they hadn’t yet toured with Public Image Ltd. or Madonna – those were in 1985 – so I have my doubts that a preppy teen in Florida would have heard of them. Maybe Lena is hipper than we see, but it’s the only weird quasi-anachronism I could find.)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
The Dreaming volume 3: One Magical Movement by Simon Spurrier (writer), Bilquis Evely (artist), Dani (artist), Matías Bergara (artist/colorist), Marguerite Sauvage (artist/colorist), Mat Lopes (colorist), Simon Bowland (letterer), and Chris Conroy (editor). $19.99, 176 pgs, DC/Vertigo.
It’s kind of a shame this is ending (although, in true Marvel fashion, DC is just relaunching it with a new creative team), because while the first two volumes were fine but not great, here Spurrier hits his stride, and this is quite a good collection. Maybe he knew the book was ending so he wrapped it up more quickly than he wanted to, but there’s an urgency to the stories that was missing a bit from the first 12 issues. He gives us a satisfying conclusion to the epic, tells us what’s going on with the new ruler of the Dreaming, ties it nicely into the original series, and while his grand theme isn’t exactly new, he presents it in an interesting and creepy way. We find out Dora’s thing, we get some nice insight into Abel and Cain and Lucien and, really, all the things in the Dreaming, and while Daniel is still kind of a non-entity, at least he’s a bit more active in this volume.
The real cool stuff in this volume comes from the artwork. We’ve been hearing about positive representations of diverse ethnicities and genders in comics, and that’s groovy, but the characters in comics are, after all, fictional, and I’ve always been keener on seeing people of different ethnicities and genders get hired to work on comics rather than just seeing them in comics (which is important, don’t get me wrong), and this book is a good example of that. Bergara is a white dude, but he is Uruguayan, which is keen, but then we get Dani, Sauvage, and Evely, all three of whom are terrific artists and all three of whom should get more work. Dani’s story about myths and legends losing their believers and therefore fading away seems like a standalone story but it’s really not, and her scratchy linework and excellent spot blacks make the issue darker and more sinister as we keep reading. Sauvage has a thinner and lighter line, which works for her issues, because she gets to draw Dream a lot, and he becomes more ethereal under her pencils. Evely, who’s been great from the moment of her American debut, gives us a final two issues that are a tour-de-force of style, turning the Dreaming and the real world into a beautiful yet terrifying place, full of vibrant life and skulking terrors. It’s marvelous, and it shows how good Evely already is and how good she could become. While Spurrier does stick the landing, it’s the art that carries this home.
DC’s Sandman-related relaunches haven’t set the world on fire, and this series is getting a reboot, but these 20 issues end up being better than they seemed to be after the first 12. A good ending really does redeem some misfires earlier in stories!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I would pay good money to read a “Lady Cop” series, as long as they could resurrect Robert Kanigher or they could get someone to write like Robert Kanigher and set it in the 1970s, because damn, it’s a highlight of this collection. Oh, sure, there are three different Kirby stories (Atlas, Manhunter, and Dingbats of Danger Street), there’s a fun Bob Haney/Ramona Fradon Metamorpho story, there’s a Michael Fleischer/Steve Ditko Creeper story, the Code Name: Assassin story by Conway, Skeates, and Frank Redondo is pretty cool, the Conway and Vosburg Starman story is neat and fits in really well with Robinson’s later series, Grell’s Warlord story is really goofy when you think about it (he just assumed they were inside the planet?!?!?!?), and Pasko’s Dr. Fate story drawn by Simonson is absolutely gorgeous. But come on, it’s LADY COP!!!! Kanigher and John Rosenberger’s tale (inked without apparent damage by Vince Colletta) is so much awesome it deserved a 100-issue run. We have the killer of Lady Cop’s roommates (her name is Liza Warner, but she’ll always be LADY COP!), which spurs her to become a cop simply because the investigating officer complimented her on noticing that the killer wore the most ridiculous boots in existence; we have her saving the day at graduation when some angry white Chad who flunked out of the academy throws a grenade at the ceremony; she saves an underage girl being menaced by some thugs, one of whom says “I’ve got the chick pinned like a kitten in a sack” when they decide to rape her instead of the other girl; she beats up both the thugs and books them, and one of them complains that they “can’t bust [him] up for kissin’ a cop!”; she buys an ice cream from a street vendor who, when she orders, says, “Sure thing — lady cop?”; she overhears the underage girl who was getting menaced in the first scene on the phone with “Eddie,” who has just told her that he has “V.D.,” which upsets said girl because her father will “kill” her; as she chases the girl down she stops a robbery at a bodega, but not before the punk tells her “You shoulda stayed at home washin’ dishes or sewin’ a man’s socks!” and she saves the grocer’s life in the bargain; she goes to the beach with her boyfriend, Hal, who actually tells her “I’m tired of being kidded by my friends when I tell them you’re a cop! Resign!” but she still makes out with him; she finds the girl on a pier and tells her, and I quote: “VD’s deceptive! Girls may not have symptoms! But it’s a secret destroyer — poisoning you like an underground river! It can cause blindness! Insanity! Death!” before helping the girl reconcile with her father; she chucks some dude who attacks her into the river and then rescues him because he can’t swim. It’s KANIGHER! to the fullest, and it’s pretty depressing we didn’t get a full decade or so of Robert Kanigher (who turned 60 around the time he wrote this, so of course he was hip to the plight of young women in the 1970s!) writing the adventures of LADY COP. It an alternate universe, we did get a LADY COP series, and you know what? Those people didn’t elect Donald Trump, so there! LADY COP could have saved us a lot of grief!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Boston Metaphysical Society volume 1 by Madeleine Holly-Rosing (writer), Emily Hu (artist), Gloria Caeli (colorist), Fahriza Kamaputra (colorist), Troy Peteri (letterer), and Shawn Aldridge (letterer). $19.99, 142 pgs, Source Point Press.
This is a very disappointing comic, because there’s some intriguing stuff here, but Holly-Rosing tries way too hard to cram way too much stuff into it, and it turns into a mish-mash of things, none of which really resonate. She has a man, Samuel Hunter, who hunts ghosts (or … busts them?). In the beginning of the comic (which is set in 1895), his long-time assistant dies, and his daughter wants to take over as Hunter’s assistant, but her very religious mother forbids it. Another dude who works for him making interesting contraptions is Granville Woods, who’s black. Hunter, meanwhile, is a widower, and his wealthy wife died under strange circumstances (her husband hunts ghosts, so that’s not too strange), and her father hates Hunter because he blames him for her death. Meanwhile, there’s a class war brewing in the streets of Boston. Meanwhile (see? lots of stuff), there’s a group of scientists who are also studying the metaphysical world, and they come into contact with Hunter. Said scientists are (sigh) Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Nikola Telsa, and Harry Houdini. Sure, why not? Hu draws Bell as an old man, even though he was only 48 in 1895 (plus he lived in Nova Scotia, but why not put him in Boston?). Edison was the same age as Bell (he was three weeks older), yet he’s drawn as much younger (plus he lived in New Jersey and Florida). Tesla was 39 in 1895, and his comic-book analog looks very much like the real Tesla (he was living in New York in 1895 and apparently very busy, so having time to commute to Boston to hunt ghosts seems unlikely). Houdini, who has become a “scientist” in fiction in the same way Penn and Teller are “scientists” in real life, was 21 in 1895 and was fairly unknown, working mostly, it seems, in Coney Island, but touring as well. He wouldn’t become famous until 1899, so there’s no reason for the other scientists to care about him. Moreover, none of the scientists in the book really do anything too unique to them, so they could have been four random scientists and it would have been fine, but Holly-Rosing wanted those four, so we get them! So this has a lot going on – the treatment of women and minorities, the class struggle, ageism, faith versus reason – and it’s too much. It flies from one topic to another, and because of that, we never really get anything in-depth about any of it, and it feels shallow. Hunter’s struggle with guilt over his wife’s death is the central component of the book, but it’s ignored too much for other things, so Hunter never really becomes a compelling character, making his arc less interesting. Hu’s art isn’t bad – she tends to do too many dull computer-generated backgrounds, but her characters are quite good and interact well with each other, so that’s neat. In the back there’s a short story about an alternate-history Civil War fought partly with zeppelins, and both Holly-Rosing and Hu seem to be more adept at that story than the main one, but maybe that’s because they kept it short. And I have a long, long history of having a problem with Troy Peteri’s letters (yes, I really do, and I feel bad about it, because I have nothing against Mr. Peteri himself), so even reading this was a bit annoying, even if the story hadn’t been sub-par. So I’m bummed, because Holly-Rosing has a lot on her mind, it seems, but she simply can’t juggle it all, so everything falls. Maybe she should have just thrown one ball up and caught that!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Man, Craig Yoe sure knows how to name a book, don’t he?
So this is a nifty noir series, with short stories starring Chicago’s favorite tough-guy PI, Johnny Dynamite, who gets the eye patch in the second issue (issue #4, because the Fifties) and actually keeps it, in a nice bit of continuity. Fitch and Morisi each write about half the stories, and Max Allan Collins, who wrote the introduction as well as the Ms. Tree story appended to the collection that has a connection to Johnny Dynamite, notes that the final story was probably a file story that needed only the eye patch to become a Johnny Dynamite tale (and it’s set in Vietnam, which is neat). Anyway, Collins notes the Spillane influence, and the stories are hard-boiled to the extreme, and Morisi does a good job with everything but perspective (his panels are too small, and he tries to cram fist-fights into them and ends up destroying perspective). I think it would be fun, however, to note the fate of the women in this comic, because boy howdy, did Fitch and Morisi take the tenets of hard-boiled crime fiction to the extreme!
Story 1: Thyra Condon, astrologer, tries to provide an alibi to a murder suspect and fails. She and Johnny make out, and three panels later someone kills her.
Story 2: Ginger Curtis, one of Johnny’s old girl friends from Indiana, makes out with Johnny, betrays him, and instead of turning her over to the police as a murderer, he lets the mob know where she is and they kill her, presumably (the story ends with some mobsters about to find her).
Story 3: Cora Garnett, another old friend of Johnny’s, kills her heroin dealer, claiming that she was trying to protect Johnny’s niece, who’s staying with her. It turns out that Johnny’s niece, who had gotten hooked, had actually killed him when he wanted to have sex with her. Johnny, weirdly, lets them both go.
Story 4: On page 1, some woman shoots Johnny in the eye! We also meet Judy Kane, his devoted secretary. He finds a woman named Dixie Topping, who is the girlfriend of a mobster Johnny testified against. She’s killed a few pages later. Johnny finds the woman who shot him, Myra Ford, and she isn’t a nice person, so Johnny kills her.
Story 5: Gale Saunders says that she sided with Johnny against her boss, who ran call girls, and now he’s out for revenge. Johnny has sex with her, and then she gets kidnapped, but it turns out it was an act, because she’s really in charge. She shoots him, but he shoots and kills her.
Story 6: Judy Kane is kidnapped, and when Johnny rescues her, they make out, but that’s it. She survives, because she’s the “good girl” in all this.
Story 7: Johnny has sex with Laurie Pearson, the secretary of a businessman who’s helping a politician clean up the city. Naturally, she gets killed because she knows too much!
Story 8: This story focuses on Luke Hennessy, Johnny’s buddy in the police force, and while there’s a woman, she is not a femme fatale.
Story 9: A businessman kidnaps Johnny after faking his death because some mobsters are after both of them. His secretary, Leah, takes Johnny to her apartment, and it seems like they just make out and don’t have sex. She betrays him, too, but he lets her live.
Story 10: Judy Kane gets kidnapped again, and the kidnapper is Tawny Adams, a smuggler. Some hoodlums stole some of her diamonds, and she wants Johnny to get them back. She survives, too, even though she’s evil, and Judy is fine.
Story 11: Sandra Adams is the rare woman whom Johnny does not have sex with, nor is she really evil. She’s still a criminal, though!
Story 12: Kitty Craig is an ex-prostitute who got out of the racket by blackmailing some clients, and she’s killed when she won’t reveal where her incriminating photos are. Johnny goes looking for the photos and ends up banging her roommate, Lois Cater, who turns out to have the photos and who set Kitty up. She falls off her balcony to her death.
Story 13: Tina, the wife of an old friend of Johnny’s who turned to crime, is killed during an altercation with some rival thugs. For good measure, earlier some other rival thugs had killed the friend’s mother.
Story 14: Lilly Leeds is the ex-girlfriend of a bank robber she helped put away. Johnny has sex with her, but of course she’s still working with the bank robber, but she ends up getting caught in a cross-fire.
Story 15: Johnny meets Jean Cole in a diner, buys her a cup of coffee, but before he can get in her pants, she runs outside and gets run over by a car. Her former roommate, Ellen Drake, is taking care of Jean’s son, and of course Johnny ends up having sex with her. The mafia is involved in the case, and Jean had a list of names of mobsters, so Ellen has to die because the bad guys think she has it. She didn’t, of course.
Story 16: Johnny goes to Berlin to find a Nazi (now a Commie) he was tortured by during the war, and he meets Greta Uhlmann, the daughter of a man who knows that the Communists are planning something to increase their weaponry. Johnny does not actually have sex with Greta, but she’s still evil and meets a gruesome end.
Story 17: This is the one that takes place in Vietnam, so it’s probably not an “official” Johnny Dynamite story, but there’s still a “dame,” although she never gets a first name. “Johnny” doesn’t have sex with her and she’s not evil and she survives, so of course it’s not a real Johnny Dynamite story!
That’s quite a track record. In 15 stories (not counting the Luke Hennessy one and the Vietnam one), there are 19 important women. Johnny makes out with 4 of them and has sex with 5 of them. Of the women, 12 are either evil or at least commit some kind of crime, and 12 end up dead. Dang, it’s not great to be a woman in a Johnny Dynamite story!
Anyway, this is neat. Golden Age comics rule!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
69 (nice) is known because of the quirk of fate that four different, officially recognized emperors ruled over the Roman Empire in that one calendar year, so historians have been drawn to it. More than that, it’s a year that serves as a good inflection point for the empire, as Nero, the last Julio-Claudian emperor, died in 68, and the Romans had to grapple with how to choose a new ruler. This led to civil war and the four emperors. The Julio-Claudians (Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero) were not fathers passing their rule onto sons, but they were related, and each emperor did get to choose his successor. Nero was only 30 when he committed suicide, and he left no heir, so it was open season on the throne. Things got worse before they got better.
Morgan looks at the year through the sources, which means confronting the problems of the sources. The main writer on the year is Tacitus, who was around 13 during the year and began writing his history of it around the turn of the century. He’s a good source, despite some problems. The other main sources are Plutarch, Suetonius, and to lesser extent, Dio and Josephus. Morgan uses these sources to come up with a portrait of the year, and she does a good job explaining why they wrote some things and omitted others, why they wrote in the style they did, and how far we can trust them. One thing ancient historians did, of course, was invent speeches to put in their subjects’ mouths. Morgan explains why they do this, as it’s a reflection of the historians’ thoughts on the subject, something modern historians do all the time, just in regular writing rather than speeches. She also puzzles out times when the historians seem to contradict each other, and while some moments during the year remain shrouded, for the most part, she does a good job laying out a timeline. She also gets into the kind of men who ruled during the year – despite the fact that we don’t know a lot about Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, there’s enough in the sources to give us decent portraits of them. It’s also fascinating seeing how, as usual, little has changed in terms of politics – there are cowards doing foolish things, intelligent men panicking, practical men being practical but also adapting to events on the ground, and random events that upset any number of apple carts. Otho, who assassinated Galba in January, seems like he could have been a decent emperor had he not panicked when he lost one battle to Vitellius, and he committed suicide before his forces could regroup. Vitellius, who was in Germany for a good portion of the year, had two able commanders who led his armies south to Italy, but once Vitellius actually tried to rule, he was terrible at it. Vespasian didn’t arrive in Rome until 70, and his main commander fought Vitellius’s armies against Vespasian’s wishes, but he was so successful that Vespasian was universally acclaimed as emperor before he could arrive in Italy himself. Morgan examines the role the army played in making these men emperors, as in later years, the army would become much more important. She rejects the notion that this was when the army became paramount, although it’s clear that their role is not insignificant. Obviously, Vespasian’s two sons succeeded him without the army being involved, and then Nerva adopted Trajan (with some cajoling by the Praetorian Guard) and that dynasty ruled Rome for a century until Joaquin Phoenix was killed because he was so creepy.
Morgan gets into the Praetorian Guard and the legions far more than most historians, which is interesting. She shows how Romans fought and how, despite it being a professional army, the legionaries often acted like petulant children (I doubt if this was her point, but it’s hilarious how often the soldiers seem about to take their balls and go home). It’s strictly a political history book; she doesn’t really get into how the civil war affected the Roman people in general, although she does downplay the idea that the empire was being ripped apart by the conflict. It did spread over a good deal of territory, and there were some horrific events (the sack of Cremona, for instance), but in general, she notes that the borders remained secure, most governors kind of waited out the conflict to see who would emerge on top, and even in Rome most of regular life went on as usual. It’s an interesting moment in Roman history, but not quite as apocalyptic as some of the sources make it out to be.
Galba, Otho, and Vitellius sound like a Roman law firm, but they are interesting in the context of the year. This is a good book about a moment that’s famous, but not completely understood. So that’s keen.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Matt Kindt is a terrific writer, and Matt Smith is a pretty good artist, so it’s not surprising that this is a good comic. Kindt gives us a fantasy world, where kids go off on quests as a rite of passage, but his protagonist, Ansel, dreams of a world much like ours, and dresses to reflect that, much to the shame and amusement of others. He wants to go on a quest to find the “folklords,” because he believes they can get him to the world he dreams about. In this world, however, knowledge is strictly controlled, and when another dude steals his quest idea, the “librarians” show up and shut it all down, giving the kids boring quests. Ansel decides to run away and find the folklords anyway, and so we get an adventure!
Kindt has fun overturning the tropes of fairy tales – there’s a Hansel and Gretel analog in here that shows a possible way that story could end, and it ain’t pleasant – and he’s also telling a story about telling stories, as we do meet a folklord in this trade, and he’s what you might expect from the way Kindt sets him up. We also get a “twist” at the end that isn’t really that shocking, given the way the story is going. Kindt is always able to create compelling characters quickly, and we get that here, as we get what we need to know about several characters from just a few lines of dialogue or a few interactions. Kindt also mocks the rigidity of totalitarianism quite nicely, as well, which ties into the theme of the book. It’s mostly a set-up arc, but Kindt is too good to make it just that, and I don’t know if we’re getting more than 12-15 issues (Boom! series seem to not make it past that too often), but if we are, this is a good setup for the rest of the series. Smith does good work – he’s not flashy, but he is solid, and some of the scenes in the library are downright haunting, and the candy house of Hansel and Gretel fame is creepy yet enticing, as it’s meant to be. Smith is good at making the exotic somewhat mundane, and in a book like this, that works well.
There’s a lot to like here. Check it out!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Witchblade #1 Anniversary Edition by David Wohl (co-plotter/scripter), Brian Haberlin (co-plotter), Michael Turner (co-plotter/penciler), D-Tron (inker), Nathan Cabrera (colorist), Jonathan D. Smith (colorist), Dennis Heisler (letterer), Christina Z. (writing assistant), Viet Truong (inking assistant), John Dirito (inking assistant), and Len Wein (????) (editor). $4.99, 28 pgs, Image/Top Cow.
I’ve never read Witchblade #1 or any Witchblades, for that matter, so I picked this 25th-Anniversary edition (the humor of celebrating the 25th anniversary of this comic is lost on all involved, apparently) up because every so often I like to buy what I’m sure will be a bad comic just to see if I’m right. If possible, this exceeded my expectations. This is even worse than I thought it would, gloriously so. I don’t really have the inclination to break down all the things that are terrible about a comic that came out in 1995, but if you’ve never read Witchblade #1, you owe it to yourself to find this (for free, if possible) and see how bad a comic can be if the people involved just believe in themselves. I don’t think I’ve ever read a comic with Michael Turner on art before, despite his ubiquitous presence from the mid-1990s until his unfortunate death in 2008 from cancer. He never did a ton of interior work, and it wasn’t on stuff I wanted to read (and his skinny Supergirl gave me the creeps), and while I may have read one issue of his Superman/Batman run, I’m not sure if I did. Either way, he’s the best thing about the book, and he’s pretty terrible. So many strands of hair flipping over foreheads! So many pony tails! So much mousse! So many weirdly long legs, tiny waists, and giant boobs! So many bizarre, difficult-to-read layouts just for the sake of being wacky! We see, in order, Sara Pezzini’s thonged ass, her latexed hip, and her bursting boobs before we see her face, because we know what’s important in this comic!
Turner’s art is really the entire point, because while there’s nothing godawful about the writing, it’s generic as all heck. Some rando Nineties evil rich dude with incredibly chiseled cheekbones and more hair product than he knows what to do with has a weird metal glove that needs a wearer, but it’s sentient and mystical and tears the arm off of anyone “unworthy” of it. Said rich dude (“Kenneth Irons,” because of course) is holding some kind of auction to see if anyone can wear the gauntlet, and Sara Pezzini, New York’s sexiest cop, shows up after she gets a tip about it. Her partner and his beautiful pony tail gets gunned down even though she tries to save him, and while she’s bleeding out, she gets close to the glove, which bonds with her and gives her energy-fiery-shooty powers. It heals her, too, which is nice. It adds completely ridiculous armor to part of her face, one shoulder, her knees, and her ankles, which makes her look like she’s about to play for one of those lingerie football leagues. Irons, of course, is completely jazzed by this development.
Look, this is a bad comic and everyone who worked on it should be ashamed of themselves. The instant I start trying to analyze it too deeply, I’ll never stop (where does Sara hide a snub-nosed six-shooter when she’s wearing this outfit, and how does it appear so quickly in between panels?), so I’m just going to say that it’s terrible. I’m dumber for having read it, and whatever you may think of my buying habits in the 1990s (yes, I bought the X-Men throughout the entire decade), at least I didn’t buy this. I can take some solace in that.
Rating: 2/10 Would Not Bang
One totally Airwolf panel:
Lonnie Nadler is a good writer, and he’s particularly good at creeping horror, so Black Stars Above, which is a horror version of Heart of Darkness (sort of), works quite well. He tells a tale of Eulalie, whose mother is a Native and whose father is French-Canadian. She lives in Ontario, in the north, it seems, and it’s 1887. Eulalie dreams of leaving her family, as she toils for them with no hope of a life of her own, especially when her father arranges a marriage for her to someone she’s never met and then tells her that he and her mother will go to Manitoba so he can work for the Hudson’s Bay Company, which looms large in this story. In town one day, Eulalie is stopped by a strange man in a formal suit and top hat, with strange white markings on his skin, and he asks her to take a package to the “town north of the woods.” He offers two hundred dollars, which Eulalie really doesn’t want to pass up, so she takes the package and skips town. Now, if she had just asked Jason Statham, she would have known that you never open the package, but she does (to be fair, it was kind of talking to her) and finds within a very weird alien-looking thing which she calls a baby. Come on, Eulalie, you have to know better than that!
She heads through the woods with Creepy Alien Baby in tow, and runs into increasingly weirder shit (including three dudes in a cabin who are decidedly not okay) until she finally finds the town, where things are not great, either. Nadler seems to have an issue with endings, although endings to horror are always tough to pull off. Nadler enjoys going metaphysical on us, and that’s cool, but it leaves some things far too ambiguous, and that’s the case here. Maybe I’m d-u-m (always a very good possibility), but I’m not sure I quite get what’s going on in the town. I mean, I know some of it, but I’m not sure how it relates to Nadler’s bigger point about exploration and exploitation and the destruction of native land. It’s certainly an enjoyable story, but I feel like I’m missing something. I’m sure that’s a “me” problem, but then again, I’m me.
Jenna Cha, whose name is unfamiliar to me, does nice work with the art, grounding the more mundane aspects of the story well but, with Simpson’s colors assisting, able to make the supernatural parts ethereal and otherworldly. I’d say her work reminds me of M.K. Perker’s (it does), but I probably shouldn’t compare her art to someone who’s not that well known himself! She does well making these people beaten up by the harsh world in which they live, and even in the town, where people have it … easier?, she still shows the rot within nicely. It’s a good-looking comic.
Vault puts out some keen comics, and I hope they’re doing well enough to keep doing it. Give this a look for all your 19th-century Canadian horror needs!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Heart Attack volume 1 by Shawn Kittelsen (writer), Eric Zawadzki (artist), Michael Garland (colorist), Mike Spicer (colorist), Pat Brosseau (letterer), and Jon Moison (editor). $16.99, 148 pgs, Image/Skybound.
I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would, which might make you wonder why I bought it in the first place. Well, it sounded fine – gene therapy to rescue humanity from a plague gives some people weird powers, and the people in charge freak out and overreact, leading to a subculture and a revolutionary mindset. Fine, you know? I don’t know the writer, but the synopsis and Zawadzki – who’s quite a good artist – was enough to get me to check it out. And it turns out it’s a lot more interesting than just that synopsis implies. It takes place in Austin, and yes, the governor of Texas is an old-fashioned racist Republican who does despicable things, but through the book, we find out that she just happens to be in the right place at the right time, and usually her rhetoric is too hateful even for conservative Texans. Meanwhile, we get a nice history lesson of Austin, which is supposed to be a liberal bastion in the heart of Texas but which has its own nasty backstory when it comes to race. We get a mean ol’ sheriff who’s using one of the leads as a spy but who also shows sympathy toward a protest march that (of course) devolves into violence, violence that he realizes is beyond his control. We get the protagonist spy admitting that he’s a spy early on to the girl he likes because he thinks that they can turn it around on the mean ol’ sheriff, which is a nice subversion of this trope, as usually the spy would lie as long as he could. There’s the revolutionary who cashed in, and although he’s kind of smarmy, he’s also not wrong when he says a revolution needs a bankroll. The two leads, Charlie and Jill, are interesting, and Kittelsen gives them a good reason to stick together even as he gives them reasons not to become a couple (although they do have sex, because of course they do). Charlie has his reasons for being a spy, and Jill has her reasons for being a revolutionary, and neither of them are perfect, and Charlie’s not a great spy and Jill’s not a great revolutionary. It’s a fascinating stew, and Kittelsen does a nice job making it contemporary (the Trump parallels are not subtle, while somehow he wrote about a pandemic before the Great COVID Year that feels like he knew it was coming) while still telling a very sci-fi story set in the future (about 50 years, it feels like). Zawadzki does his good work with the art – the way he represents what happens when Charlie and Jill touch each other is very keen, and the sex scene is super-fun – and we get a city that feels lived-in, a wide variety of interesting-looking people, and really nice layouts that help with some of the more talky scenes and also with the rising tension of the protest march. Zawadzki is very talented, and this book shows that well.
We’ve seen stories like this a lot, of course, but as usual, it’s all the execution, not the topic, and this is well executed. I don’t know how long Kittelsen and Zawadzki are doing this, but I’m looking forward to the next volume!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Here’s a look at the money I spent on comics in July:
1 July: $96.92
8 July: $297.59 (!!!!)
15 July: $85.00
22 July: $117.10
29 July: $160.45
Total for the month: $757.06
School has started here in the desert, and things are still weird. My younger daughter is doing on-line work, but on a normal schedule – she has to log in at 7.30 in the morning, and she has to input her attendance so she gets credit for being there. She does get some breaks, which is nice for her, and I’m curious how difficult the teachers will make it – it seemed like the work she did in the spring was a bit easier, but maybe that’s because the teachers were adjusting on the fly. Now that they’ve had some time to prepare, maybe it will be more like “regular” class work. We heard this week that they decided to do on-line school until at least fall break, which means she wouldn’t go back to at-school school until 12 October, but we told her to prepare to be home until at least January. She’s still bummed about not seeing her friends, but I’m glad she has things to do, because the end of the summer was really getting to her, as she had nothing to do and nowhere to go.
My older daughter is in a different pickle. Special Education is doing on-line school as well, but her attention span can be measured in seconds, so she’s not going to be able to follow along with the teacher on a screen and then be able to do work. We’re using a very old laptop with her, and this week we haven’t been able to even get onto the school’s teaching site because the computer sucks, so I’m going to ask for the school’s IT people to provide us with a laptop. Even if we get her logged on, I can’t imagine her paying attention for more than a few minutes. At school, her teacher and aides can keep her focused, but at home, there are too many distractions and I’m certainly not good enough at it to keep her focused, plus I work a few days a week and my wife isn’t going to do it, as she has a full-time job. Her teacher has heard rumors about them letting special ed. kids back into the schools, because the numbers are so low they can keep them away from everyone else. We haven’t heard anything yet, but I think that would be the only way she’s going to do any work this year. It’s not too big a deal – it’s not like she’s going to graduate in the traditional sense, as they’re just keeping her in school until she turns 21, when she won’t be allowed in school anymore – but she does like getting out and about, and she does learn a little bit while she’s at school.
Meanwhile, my parents and sister and her kids were here for a week in July, so that was nice. They had been careful about social distancing and such, so we didn’t worry too much about them visiting, and as far as we know, nothing bad has happened to them. They spent a lot of time in our pool, and we went on a road trip to beautiful Jerome, Arizona, one day, but it was largely just a nice, lazy visit. My younger daughter flew back to Pennsylvania with my parents and spent the week there, getting to go to the Jersey shore on day, so that was nice for her. We also got our yard landscaped since my last post of this sort, so I thought I’d show you some pictures, with a before-and-after view:
We also bought new furniture for our living room, because why not?
Money well spent!
As the election ramps up, I’m very curious about what’s going to happen. I honestly don’t think the country can take four more years of Spray-Tan Asswiperson, but I fear he will successfully steal the election, so I really hope people vote when they can and don’t think that it will just take care of itself. We vote by mail here in the AZ, and I’m going to get it turned in early, because I want to make sure that the Prez’s plan to replace mail carriers with flamingos riding sloths doesn’t impede with my ability to vote. I’m seeing people get crazier and crazier, in both camps, as the conservatives ramp up the “Biden has dementia” campaign (have they ever listened to their guy?) while the liberals ramp up the “the world will literally end if Ol’ Leatherface gets in again,” and I’m not sure they’re wrong. I have a few friends who dig the third-party option, and these are people who are being marginalized by T. Rump, and while in theory I love the idea of more than two parties, in this case I think “Are you fucking nuts?” Any vote for a third candidate is a vote for the incumbent, and I don’t understand why people don’t get that. As always, third (or fourth, or fifth) parties sound great, but that movement needs to start at the local level. Every third-party advocate wants to vote for Jill Stein (or, God forbid, Kanye), but they don’t want to put their mark next to the Communist running for City Council. That’s a better bet, people!
I do find it sadly humorous that after spending several months laughing at the United States, several countries are experiencing their own coronavirus spikes because, as it turns out, people are stupid all over. And hey, Germany had its own neo-Nazi rally against social distancing and wearing masks, so good job, Ze Germans! I’m still flabbergasted by the notion that people won’t wear masks and insist on going to bars. You know you can buy alcohol and drink it in front of your television, right? And I love that people claim they’re desperate to see other people. If only our country hadn’t made reading books such a “nerdy” activity, maybe we’d be less insistent on hangin’ with our boyz. I have something like 200 books I haven’t read. I’ve been fine and dandy since March.
Anyway, that’s that. I hope everyone is staying safe and not doing stupid things. Well, you can do stupid things in your own backyard – that’s freedom, baby! But you know what I mean. Maybe next month I’ll be able to talk about football, although it’s more likely that I’ll be talking about the cancellation of football. Until then, I’ve linked to DC’s 1st Issues Specials below because you need more LADY COP!!!! in your life, but remember, if you use that link to buy anything, we’ll get a tiny bit of it to keep the lights on here. Have a nice day, everyone!