What I bought, read, or otherwise consumed – March 2020

“And finally, it’s simple: when a warrior enters a city, all religion is irrelevant.” (Umberto Eco, from Baudolino)

The Story of English (Elizabeth Sifton Books).

This book came out in 1986, so it’s a bit out of date, as language is constantly mutating, and what might have seemed important in the 1980s turned out to be not so important, and slang from that time seems hopelessly square these days, but that’s the nature of things. With regard to the deeper history of the English language, the authors do a good job showing how English evolved and how it became the global language it is today. They don’t just focus on British English and American English, either, although those are the two most important dialects. They get into the way the Irish, the Scots, the Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Indians, and even more minor groups like the people of Singapore and Malaysia speak English, and the contributions the native languages of these places have made to English (English is wildly adaptable, which is one reason why it’s so prevalent today). It’s a companion piece to a PBS show, so there are a lot of photographs and maps, which is neat, too. The authors examine literature, sure, but they get into how people speak and how they write, which are often different from each other, and they dive into the various snobs over the literal centuries who have decried the “degeneration” of the language. We get roads into rural areas of the U.S., the Scottish Highlands, the many areas of India, and why Canadian English doesn’t have as many regional dialects as American English, which doesn’t have as many as British English. There’s an entire chapter on African-American English how much it’s influenced white Southern English (something white Southern racists probably don’t want to hear), and there’s a very interesting section about pidgin English and creole English (a pidgin language is a form of communication that develops between two or more groups that don’t have a language in common; a creole language is when those two groups intermarry and their children speak the pidgin they’ve developed, which is usually more complex because it’s more evolved). The book isn’t difficult to read by any means, but the authors do go over a lot of ground, and it’s pretty fascinating. It’s not the most in-depth book about language in the world, but it’s a very good overview of how English came to be and where it might go in the future.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Dead Eyes volume 1 (Image).

Gerry Duggan and John McCrea tell a story about a retired criminal who returns to crime after 20 years out of the game because his wife has medical problems and he can’t pay the bills. It’s a heist comic, sure, and Duggan tells it with a good amount of humor and McCrea’s excellent at physical humor, but at the heart of it is this idea that important things are too expensive, so Martin – who’s called Dead Eyes because of the mask he wore to commit crimes, as you see from the cover – has to do something drastic. He wasn’t profligate with the money he stole, but it did run out, and he’s actually working a “real” job, which of course doesn’t help because he doesn’t get health insurance. Plus, an old mobster thinks that he stole a huge amount of money from him (which Martin did not), and he’s out for revenge. Part of the sad/fun of the book is that Martin is older and not in as good shape as he used to be, so he’s not quite as slick a thief as he used to be. Duggan mines that for humor, but he never really gets too far from the sad part of Martin’s situation, either, which includes that of his getaway driver, who’s also not in as tip-top shape as he used to be. So it’s a good heist comic, because it feels like a fairly realistic one for a guy who’s in his forties and isn’t quite as spry as he once was. The art, of course, is superb, and McCrea does some fun (well, “fun”) stuff with the violence, because Martin can’t fight some of the dudes hand-to-hand, so he relies on … other means. McCrea also does a good job of making the book look like it takes place in Boston – the backgrounds are well done, and we get a good sense of both the nice parts of town and the more run-down places, making the contrast that Duggan is hinting at with regard to the haves and have-nots even starker. There’s more to this story, and I hope the creators get to do more with it (I assume McCrea drew the Yondu book for Marvel to make some coin so he could work on this as well), because it’s more interesting than you might think.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Knights Temporal volume 1 (?) (AfterShock Comics).

This is a weird comic, as writer Cullen Bunn tells us in the introduction. It’s not terribly hard to follow except for the fact that Bunn doesn’t tell us everything, which means there are still things that don’t make sense when we reach the end of this volume (there’s plenty of opportunity for more, which is why I used the question mark – I don’t know if there will be more, but there’s plenty of opportunities for it!). Basically, a knight in the 12th century or so chases a sorcerer into a forest, and somehow his consciousness gets split and he ends up living many lives in many different time periods simultaneously, but he’s unaware of them all. He’s helped by some kind of … spirit? demon? angel? named Jane Foole, who doesn’t really seem to have his best interests in mind. He’s constantly fighting demons that the sorcerer called up, which can look like regular folk, so it’s kind of hard to figure out what’s what. The sorcerer, it seems, is trying to bring about the end of reality as we know it – that old canard – but our knight, Auguste, can’t just stab (or shoot) his way out of it. I certainly don’t want to give anything away, but Bunn does a fairly decent job with the weirdness of the story, although, as I said, he leaves some things out, presumably so they will be revealed in later issues. Fran Galán has a kind of Sanford Greene vibe to his art, and Greene is a good artist, so the art in this is quite good. It’s a bit cartoonish, but he’s able to rein it in when he needs to and it also makes the demons look a bit crazier, which fits in with the tone of the story. I got this because of its connection to medieval times, as I dig medieval times, and because Bunn’s a good writer, and while it doesn’t really have much connection to medieval times (Auguste gets out of that time pretty quickly), it’s still a pretty interesting adventure.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Plot volume 1 (Vault Comics).

I get the way comics companies publish, but I’m a bit annoyed that Vault decided to release what seems to be an eight-issue story as two trades. It’s, well, annoying. But such is life, I guess. The Plot is a pretty decent horror comic, breaking no boundaries and establishing no new territory, but that’s okay, as it just wants to be something creepy, and Tim Daniel and Michael Moreci, aided by Joshua Hixson’s moody art and Jordan Boyd’s even moodier coloring, do well with that. At the center of the book is the Blaine family, big fish in a small pond in Maine (the Blaines of Maine, yes), and their black sheep, Chase, has returned to his ancestral (and decrepit) home, just in time to take care of his niece and nephew, whose far more successful father – Chase’s brother – was just killed by a hideous monster that also killed their mother. Of course there’s a sheriff who doesn’t like Chase because they grew up together. Of course there’s an ex-girlfriend. Of course Chase doesn’t know how to raise kids. Of course the kids – especially his nephew, who’s decided to stop talking in the wake of his parents’ death – get into trouble because they don’t do as they’re told. Of course the house and grounds hold many terrible family secrets! You’ve read all this before, come on! However, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good, creepy horror story – Chase isn’t quite as much of a screw-up as his kind of character usually is, and he’s devoted to the kids even though he doesn’t quite know how to deal with them. Hixson’s no-nonsense art brings the town to sad, depressed life (it’s a small town in modern America!) and the horrors on its fringes even more to life. There’s a lot of good stuff here, and of course we’re going to find out the horrible secrets in the second volume, and it will all be horrible yet familiar, but sometimes, you just like a good solid horror story. If you’re in the mood for one, you could do a lot worse than The Plot.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Something Is Killing the Children volume 1 (Boom! Studios).

I’ve never been a huge fan of James Tynion IV, as he seemed to ride Scott Snyder’s coattails into the comics industry (nothing really wrong with that; a lot of people get their start because they know someone), but without Snyder, I haven’t been impressed with his work. However, this is a pretty good comic, so maybe it’s just something that he really digs and is putting more effort into or maybe he’s just getting better. It’s not a great comic, to be sure, but it’s very entertaining and while it still contains some clichés (all writing will, naturally), they don’t seem as obnoxious as in some of his earlier work. I guess you better brace yourself, because in this comic … something … is killing … children. I know, right? In the beginning, a kid, James, survives what appears to be a monster attack that kills some of his friends, so the town he lives in turns against him, but then other children start disappearing or turning up dead, and the town gets even more skitterish. A young woman named Erica Slaughter arrives in town (she tells a skeptical cop that “Slaughter” is a real last name – maybe she’s related to Enos Slaughter!), vowing to kill whatever is in the woods. Erica is working for someone – a Shadowy Government Organization (SGO), perhaps? – that gives her minimal assistance, but at the end of this volume, it appears the problem in town is a lot worse than she expected. So that will lead us onward. It’s a pretty good hook – monster hunters in general are a staple of genre fiction (Elsa Bloodstone represent!!!!), but the way Tynion comes at it – introducing the horror first before getting to Erica – is fairly clever, and the fact that nobody knows what to make of her or if they can even trust her is also done well. Her relationship with James, whom she wants to speak with to get information but can’t shake, as it’s pretty clear he needs to know what happened to his friends – is interesting, too, because he’s not a typical protégé and she’s definitely not a typical mentor. There’s some humor in the book, too, which helps when things get dark, which they do. Werther Dell’Edera isn’t my favorite artist, but he does a decent job with this, as his rough lines and somewhat stilted style work for a beaten-down town and for the monster, which looks kind of rickety, which actually makes it creepier. So he’s good for this comic, even if his style doesn’t work on everything. Overall, this is an interesting beginning to the comic, so we’ll see where Tynion goes with it.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Transference (Black Mask Studios).

As you might recall, I don’t love time travel stories because they never quite fit, but I give them chances because they can be intriguing depending on how the writer chooses to work with it. Transference is a time travel book that doesn’t quite work, because Michael Moreci always seems to have loose ends dangling that he never quite ties off. It’s not a terrible comic, but there’s just enough annoying stuff in it that I don’t love it. Moreci (and co-creator Ron Salas, who’s not listed as a co-writer but draws the first three issues) has a team that works for the government (an SGO!) that tries to stop terrorist attacks before they happen by going back in time and changing just enough so they divert history away from an attack. They don’t change too much, because they’re cognizant of the ripple effects it could have, but of course, a terrorist manages to get their tech and changes things a bit more drastically, wiping out protagonist Colton Moss’s son in the process – he and his wife got divorced before she could conceive. So Moss is trying to stop a terrorist and get his son back, while there’s a mole on the team (there’s always a mole) and the bad guys seem to know everything. It’s exciting, sure, but it feels just the slightest bit perfunctory, not helped by the three artists in five issues, none of whom are terrible but none of whom dazzle, either. The contortions the story goes through to square the circle is what annoys me about time travel stories, because they often become a bit too convoluted, and this slides a bit too much into that area. Again, not a terrible comic, but unless you really like time travel stories (like our boy Travis), it’s probably not worth a look.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Wyrd volume 1 (Dark Horse).

Curt Pires has always been a slightly bizarre writer, so it’s not surprising that Wyrd is a bit, well, weird. It’s basically a “realistic” superhero story, in that Pitor Wyrd, our protagonist, is seemingly immortal and indestructible, so the U.S. government, which rescued him and his wife from Nazi Germany, uses him to take care of intractable problems. There’s a young Superman analog, for instance, who realizes pretty early on that he can whatever the fuck he wants, so Wyrd is sent in to stop him. Stuff like that. Because it’s Pires, everything is a bit cock-eyed from the perpendicular, so the storytelling jumps around a bit, things aren’t what they seem, Wyrd himself is suicidal (not surprising, given that he’s done horrible stuff and can’t die), and we get into alternate dimensions a bit, because why not. It’s interesting, and not a bad way to tell a somewhat straightforward superhero story, and Pires seems to link it to the Nazis, although perhaps not, and he definitely links everything to a creepy organization that’s pulling the strings of history, which is boring because it’s been done to death but also intriguing because if a writer can do something good with it, it gives the story some depth. We’ll see if Pires can pull it off, as the volume ends on a cliffhanger and we never get too much about the creepy organization. Given how long it took for this trade to come out, I’m not holding my breath. Antonio Fuso’s Jock-like art is nice, though, and he does well interpreting what must be a slightly confusing script into something that coheres well. So this is an intriguing comic, but I wish I knew that more was coming, because it would be nice if this didn’t end right here, with so much left unanswered.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Tales from Harrow County #1-4 (Dark Horse).

It’s always interesting when creators, for whatever reason, don’t want to continue a series but then decide to continue it in a slightly different way. Bunn has done this before (when he was doing The Sixth Gun), but that always felt like he was just giving Brian Hurtt time to catch up. Here, Harrow County definitely ended, but Bunn just moved the action forward some years to World War II, brought back a grown-up Bernice (Emmy isn’t around, but it seems like she’ll be showing up in the next mini-series, if Bunn is doing another one), got a new artist (Tyler Crook is around to letter, but Naomi Franquiz handles the art), and Bob’s your uncle. I certainly don’t mind – I felt like this kind of book could easily last a long time – but I do find it interesting.

Anyway, Bernice is now in charge of protecting the county, and given that she’s black in the South in the 1940s, that’s not going too, too well, and then we find out that she’s in love with a woman, which won’t be good for her if it gets out (a white woman, to boot!). More importantly, though, are the ghosts. Somehow ghosts are coming back to town, and Bernice has to figure out what to do about them, because while most of them are benign, some are not, and Bernice knows that even though the benign ones – they give families who lost people in the war one last chance to talk to their loved ones, for instance – portend something darker. There’s not a lot of action in this story – Bernice figures out who’s doing it fairly easily, although it takes her a bit, and the climax isn’t violent or scary – but that’s fine, because the story is about loss, what we can lose and how we deal with it, what we think we can’t lose and what we’ll do to get it back, and how people create their own stories about those who have died. It’s a melancholy story, and Bunn does a nice job with it, while Franquiz does solid work with the art. She’s not quite as accomplished as Crook, but it’s still a good-looking book. I will be interested in seeing if Bunn keeps up this kind of storytelling with regard to things Harrow County-related.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Manifest Destiny #37-42 (Image).

It would be nice if Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts could finish their excellent series, and it’s certainly nice that after a fairly long delay, they managed to get another arc of the story out, so we’ll see if this bodes well for the future. They do some interesting things in this arc – both Lewis and Clark admit to someone else that they’re seeing a ghost, so that’s a nice twist, and some of the crew gets laid, which would be nice if the women they were having sex with didn’t share a horrible secret (which of course they do – the crew might be sex-starved, but they shouldn’t be that stupid), and we end on a cliffhanger that, unfortunately, might take months before getting resolved, depending on how long the creators take to finish the next arc (I assume they’re trying to get several issues in the can before releasing a new one?). This is a terrific series, but it’s also 42 issues in, so there’s not too much to say about it. Lewis and Clark keep exploring, they keep finding weird and horrible things, and the plot does move forward with regard to how they are changing, but it moves slowly, so while we get the stuff like them admitting they’re seeing a ghost or the romance between two cast members coming to light or what’s going on with Sacagawea’s baby is pertinent and well done, it does get doled out in tiny bits. Which is why I’m not sure how long they plan on going with this series, and why I hope they can do it as long as they want. We shall see. It’s still very good!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Just Imagine Stan Lee Creating the DC Universe Book One (DC).

This is fun for a few reasons – “hearing” Lee’s voice updated to modern comics (yes, these came out in 2001/2002, but that’s still “modern”) is weird, because writers just don’t write that way anymore, and although Lee does “modernize” himself a bit, it’s still not enough, and the words on the pages feel old-fashioned, even though the art is not; and seeing all these great artists draw fairly cool stories. Lee sets everything in Los Angeles so he can eventually have a Justice League, and that’s fine, and his updates aren’t revolutionary but they’re not bad. His Batman begins poor, but through a Spidey-inspired wrestling career, he becomes rich; his Wonder Woman transforms into a hero, she isn’t born a princess of a remote island; his Superman comes to Earth as a full-grown adult, pursuing a criminal like he was Katar Hol or something; his Green Lantern is more Swamp Thing than space hero; his Flash is a teenage girl. The stories are perfectly fine – typical superhero adventures, really, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s really the artists that are great – Joe Kubert on Batman, Jim Lee on Wonder Woman, John Buscema on Superman, Dave Gibbons on Green Lantern, Kevin Maguire on Flash, Jerry Ordway on Justice League, with back-up stories drawn by Michael Kaluta, Gene Colan, Kyle Baker, José Luis García-López, and Sergio Aragonés. So yeah, that’s a pretty good line-up. Lee tells decent stories, but, like always, he knows how to get out of his artists’ way (Lee might not have always given them credit, but he always let them do their thing!), and we get some really nice work. I don’t love the book because the stories are just solid fare, but it’s still a fun collection to check out.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Machine Gun Wizards volume 1 (?) (Dark Horse).

I really dig Christian Ward’s art, but he seems kind of slow, so it’s probably a good thing he got Sami Kivelä to draw Machine Gun Wizards, so it could come out in a timely manner! Ward’s art also works very well for science fiction (he draws the short back-up story, which takes place on another planet), and the grittier 1930s Chicago in which this book is set might prove challenging for him (it might not, too, but it might). Kivelä is a pretty terrific artist himself, and he does an excellent job blending the seediness of Chicago with the weirdness of the magic being used by several characters. He shades some of the characters just slightly different to show that they’re associated with magic, and he gets to draw a grotesque giant toad, so that’s all right. Ward tells a cool story about Al Capone trying to use magic and trying to extend his reach outside of Chicago, while Eliot Ness and his team try to take him down. There’s some betrayal, naturally, and some nice twists, but nothing too crazy, as Ward kind of sticks to his lane, and the results are quite good, even if he doesn’t do anything too surprising. Kivelä gets to draw a final showdown that takes place in a floating mansion, so he really goes all out, and Ward ends it with a definite opening for a second volume, but if they don’t get around to it, this stands perfectly fine on its own. It’s a solid, pulpy adventure comic, and while I’m a bit annoyed that it’s 20 bucks for 4 issues (Dark HORSE!!!!!!!!), it’s worth a look.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Metal Hurlant: Selected Works (Humanoids).

These are fun stories from 2002, with creators you’d probably expect to find doing weird science fiction/horror/pulp stories around that time. We get Ryan Sook, Kurt Busiek, Geoff Johns, Rick Spears and Rob G.*, Jerome Opeña, Cully Hamner, Guy Davis, Tommy Lee Edwards, David Lloyd, Richard Corben, and many more, and most of them have that cool twist that we often get with these kind of genre stories, especially in comics (some are gentler than others, of course – Busiek’s vampire story has kind of a twist, but it’s telegraphed from the very beginning). The art is pretty much universally terrific, and even the work from writers I don’t love – yes, I listed Geoff Johns up there – is pretty good, probably because they don’t have the space to screw it up that badly. There’s not really much to say about this – it’s 25 bucks, it’s over 230 pages, and it’s fun to read. It’s up to you what you want to do with that information!

* What happened to Rick Spears and Rob G.? For a few years, they were the shit, seemingly the next super-team in comics, and then they disappeared. Very weird. I suppose I could try to find out, but until then, I’m just throwing it out there.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Mister Miracle by Steve Englehart and Steve Gerber (DC).

In 1977, DC decided to revive Kirby’s dormant Mister Miracle series, and instead of giving it a new #1, they just kept the old numbering, after a hiatus of, what, five years? Man, the Seventies were weird. Anyway, this nice collection contains three stories from The Brave and the Bold, written by Bob Haney (so they’re a bit odd) and drawn by 1970s Jim Aparo (so they look great), then gets to the new series, which was written by Steve Englehart and Steve Gerber (hence the title) and drawn by Marshall Rogers and Michael Golden (who aren’t important enough to show up as part of the title). So Aparo, Rogers, and Golden – the book looks great, although Vince Colletta inks a few of the Rogers issues, which is … less then optimal, but Russ Heath’s inks on Golden’s pencils in a few issues is superb. The early story is about how Scott wants to destroy Darkseid, and tries to foment a revolution on Apokolips to accomplish that, but then Gerber took over and abruptly changed directions, trying to turn Scott into a secular messiah or something (Gerber was a weird writer at times). The book ended abruptly on a cliffhanger (I assume the DC Implosion killed it), and then we get one more story, from DC Comics Presents in 1979 (written by Englehart and drawn by Rick Buckler), in which Scott has a weird team-up with Superman. The stories aren’t completely essential by any means, but it’s always nice to read goofy Bob Haney stories, and Englehart and Gerber are usually interesting, plus the art almost makes it worth it by itself. It’s also always fun to read stuff from the 1970s, comics’ weirdest decade. This is a bit spendy at 40 dollars, but I’m sure it’s available cheaper in some places, and it’s pretty neat to check out.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

1759 (Grove Press).

If anyone thinks about the Seven Years’ War, they tend to think of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec, where the decisive battle for control of North America was fought. That’s understandable, especially if you were educated in the States, as that battle concerned the future of the colonies far more than others during the war did. However, Frank McLynn looks at the entire theater of the war during 1759, diving into the remarkable British successes during the year. It’s not new to call 1759 an “annus mirabilis” for England – I think I first heard the term while I was in high school – but most historians focus on Quebec and the Battle of Quiberon Bay in November, when Admiral Hawke smashed the French fleet south of Brest. Those are both important battles, but McLynn gives us a wider scope. The Seven Years’ War was really the first “world war,” and McLynn checks in on the British attempts to dislodge the French in the Caribbean at Martinique (where they were unsuccessful) and Guadeloupe (which they took and which became a crucial bargaining chip during treaty negotiations in 1763); the British fighting the French in India; and the British alliance with Prussia in Europe. The British didn’t quite throw the French out of India, but their victories in 1759 set the stage for France leaving the subcontinent. McLynn goes into great detail about the Battle of Minden in Germany, where the British and the Prince of Brunswick defeated a French army and relieved the pressure on the rear of Frederick the Great, who was having less success in the East against the Russians. McLynn also writes at length about the Battle of Lagos, which was fought a few months before Quiberon Bay and in which the British destroyed a large French fleet, weakening their navy for the later battle. He’s also not afraid to tip over some sacred cows, most notably Wolfe and Montcalm, both of whom were mortally wounded on the Plains of Abraham and therefore have become mythologized far beyond their abilities (Benjamin West’s ridiculously unhistoric painting showing Wolfe’s death is very famous – and a great painting – but it doesn’t come anywhere close to the reality of his death). Montcalm, McLynn argues, might have been the man to save Canada for the French, but during the battle, he made some critical mistakes that cost him the city and, ultimately, his life, while Wolfe was not the military genius he’s supposed to be, and his night landing south of Quebec is rightly celebrated, but McLynn makes the point that luck did play a part (without downgrading his achievement, however). McLynn does the same thing with Admiral Hawke, the victor of Quiberon, although he’s much more impressed with the admiral. Hawke, however, did some things that, were he a bit less lucky, would have been disastrous, but winners get to justify those things because they won. McLynn also looks at the French and why their internal problems made them much less of a force than they had been even during the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748). So there’s a lot of angles, and McLynn does well with them all. Finally, at the beginning of each chapter he examines some of the cultural aspects of the year. 1759 was the year of Candide, after all, as well as Tristram Shandy and Rasselas, and McLynn takes a look at all of them, as well as opera, philosophy, and even the lifestyles and political structures of Native Americans. He doesn’t spend as much time on those topics as he does the war and the politics, but it adds some nice flavor to the proceedings. Overall, this is a very interesting book, as McLynn is a pretty good writer (he gets too technical only when talking about sailing, which makes me wonder if that’s his main focus) and he keeps things lively. 1759, the year, is incredibly important in the history of Europe and the United States, so it’s nice to have a book completely devoted to it!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Sigh. So in the blog weirdness last weekend, things got weird with my drafts. I actually finished this post last Sunday, but then all the stuff I wrote on Sunday, including reviews of these comics above, got swept away in the churn, and I had forgotten to save my draft in Google Docs, so those reviews were gone. I was quite dispirited by that, as you might expect. Then, I discovered I couldn’t load images on any of my posts. I always load images too large, according to our Shadowy Dread Lord and Master, but I had started resizing them to make them smaller and not eat up so much bandwidth. But this wasn’t (and isn’t) that. When I click the button to load images, nothing happens. I tried it with Travis’s log-in, and it still didn’t work. I’m puzzled how Fraser and Mik were able to do it in the past few days – I guess it’s not an issue for them. Our Shadowy Dread Lord and Master hasn’t figured it out yet, either, but that’s cool – I can wait. So I had my usual bunch of goofy things in between reviews, and they too are gone. Then I had to work this week, so I couldn’t finish this, and now I have some time, so I’m working on it. I figured out a workaround, but it’s annoying and I hope things are fixed on my end soon. We shall see. The upshot is that I just don’t feel like writing out the longer reviews for these books that I already did, so I’ll give you an overview, if that’s all right with you.

Anyway, Whisper is a nifty comic, one in which the hero puts on a costume for a very specific reason and then spends the rest of the book trying to get away from having to put on the costume. Steven Grant is a solid writer, and he brings in the U.S. government in a fairly villainous role, because his writing is wildly suspicious of the U.S. government, so why wouldn’t this comic be, too? His main characters, Alex Devin, is interesting, and Grant surrounds her with a good supporting cast, which makes the various plot threads work well. The artists – co-creator Rich Larson, Dell Barras, and Norm Breyfogle – all do good work, each different but good in their own way. I’m looking forward to more of this. I liked Spider-Woman more than I thought I would. Pere Pérez is the artist, and he ought to be a bigger name, because his superhero work is excellent, and it’s terrific on this issue. There’s a lot of action, and Pérez makes it flow very well, but he also handles some of the creepier aspects of the book well. Frank D’Armata, whose work I’ve not loved in the past, does a fine job with the colors – my objections to him in the past have been with over-rendering, but he’s figured out how to make that work. Karla Pacheco’s story is mostly set-up – Jessica is hired as a bodyguard for a spoiled brat’s 16th birthday party (in a back-up story, we see why she needs to take the job), and when bad guys try to kidnap the girl, it goes poorly for them (the girl’s in a wheelchair – and it’s nice that Pacheco makes someone with special needs a jerk – and the bad guys aren’t prepared for her), and Jessica finds out she’s really, really angry, and she doesn’t know why. So that’s a mystery. It’s quite a good issue, and of course it will have no momentum when new comics come back. Meanwhile, while Immortal Hulk is still excellent, this volume felt like all set-up to get to Xemnu’s fight with the Hulk. I mean, it’s decent enough set-up, but Xemnu is only in two panels, one of which comes at the very end when he’s ready to fight the Hulk. There’s a lot of moving the pieces around the chessboard, and it’s fine, but it’s not the best section of the title. Still, the Hulk gets to fight giant monsters, and Joe Bennett is still killing it, so it’s not too bad.

The three best volumes above are the other three. Jason Aaron’s Conan comes to its conclusion, as I guess he had only the one big story in him, but he told a bunch of little stories while Conan was waiting to get killed, and they’re all fun. Mahmud Asrar is doing the best work of his career on the book, and Gerardo Zaffino contributes a few very cool stories, as well. Meanwhile, Coffin Bound is a bit of a return to form for Dan Watters, whose work on Lucifer has been a notch below some of his other stuff. This comic is about a young lady who is trying to erase all aspects of her life before she dies, and there are weird assassins – one in particular, who’s a particular kind of weird – on her trail. Watters uses the post-apocalyptic setting to tell a story about peeling back the superficial to get to the reality, in one case – the strippers, which I won’t spoil – quite graphically. The artist is a woman named Dani, whose work I don’t think I’ve seen, and she does a marvelous job. Her work is a bit Eduardo Risso-esque, which isn’t a bad thing, and she does very nice work with jagged lines and spot blacks. It seems like Watters can’t go many places with it, but it is only volume 1, so we’ll see if it returns in the uncertain future. Meanwhile, Tim Seeley and Sarah Beattie are the co-writers of Money Shot, which is far better than it has any right to be. It’s a story about scientists who decide to get funding for their space exploration by filming their sex acts with any alien creatures they happen to encounter. Yep. Seeley and Beattie turn it into a sex-drenched adventure, as they go to a planet where sex is linked to the planet’s health, rather literally. It’s a fun and surprisingly heartfelt story, and the only problem I have with it is that the writers seem to think there’s no emotional impact from having sex, although they hint just a tiny bit at it, so I hope future volumes cover it. Rebekah Isaacs, who’s amazing, draws this, and it’s, well, amazing. There’s a lot of nudity, but Isaacs makes sure that each character has a different body type, so they look like actual – if very fit – human beings and not like sex dolls. Her aliens are wonderful, too, and she gets to draw giant testicles quite often, so that’s a thing. Isaacs is a superb artist, and she drew Reaver recently, so you can get two trades with her wonderful work in them right now!

Anyway, I would write more about all of these, but that’s enough. If you really want something to read, get Money Shot and Coffin Bound. Both are quite neat.

**********

So the world has gone a bit weird, and I hope everyone is doing well. My daughters are home from school, of course, but not too much has changed here. My older daughter watches a lot of television simply because she can’t do much else, and trying to get her to do school work at home is an exercise in futility. She gets far too distracted by the television (even if it’s not on, she keeps saying she wants to watch), the cats, and the dog. I think she does work at school even though they let her watch TV occasionally is because 1) her teacher and the aides are, after all, professionals; and 2) school is the place to do work, and she’s internalized that, while home is the place to watch television, and that’s just the way it is. So she’s watching a lot of TV. She still sees a few of her therapists (her PT can’t come to the house, but she goes out for some others, and they’re dealing with a small enough group that it’s probably safe), so she gets out of the house, but that’s about it. My other daughter isn’t as extroverted as some, so while she’s a bit bored and she misses her friends, she’s doing fine. Her school finally started offering work for them – their last day of school before spring break was 6 March, and then they had two weeks – the weeks of the 16th and 23rd – with nothing to do before the district finally gave them work starting on the 30th – and she’s been doing that, but we’re not even sure if it counts as a grade or not. I’m glad she’s doing work just to keep up and to give her something to do, but the messages from the district are unclear. But she’s fine. My wife has worked from home for five years or so, and the mortgage industry is doing fine right now (who knows what it will look like in the weeks and months ahead), so she’s still working as if nothing has changed. I work a very part-time job at Dream Dinners, and we’re considered essential workers, so I’m still going in a few times a week. Generally people come in to make their own meals, but that’s not happening right now, so we’re making meals for everyone, and we’re still fairly busy. So it’s weird – despite the kids being home, it doesn’t feel like too much has changed in our household. We’re very lucky, I know, because we haven’t had any income disruptions yet. I still get angry about so many people losing their jobs and getting screwed in unemployment benefits, but it’s not us … yet. Our fingers are crossed that it won’t be, but who knows.

I do miss getting comics, of course, because of the social aspect. If I had time, I would go every Wednesday at 10 o’clock to the comic book store and hang out for at least an hour, if not longer, and chat with everyone. I stole one of their stools behind the counter and sat there, leading some people to believe I worked there, a notion I would have to disabuse them of. So I miss that, as well as the lack of new books. There’s a story going around that new books might start shipping again in mid-May, but that was from Rich, so who knows. I hope it’s sooner rather than later, because I really don’t want comic book stores to die out. I like sitting around in the store shooting the shit with fellow nerds, damn it!

Due to both of us still being employed, we really haven’t watched more TV since the quasi-quarantine began in Arizona (our wise governor kept golf courses open for a while, and I think they still might be open, because of course golf is an essential business!). After The Good Place ended, we told our daughter that Ted Danson – whom she loved on that show – starred in a pretty successful sitcom back in the day, so we’re watching Cheers with her. She very much digs it, but we’re at the end of the Season 3 right now, and she’s sad because Coach isn’t coming back, so she’s savoring every moment that he’s still on the show. Cheers is one of my favorite shows of all time, but I hadn’t seen it in a while, and it still holds up pretty well. Sam is just a womanizer, and even though he doesn’t like taking “no” as an answer, he eventually does if the woman shows no interest in him, and the show isn’t as homophobic as I thought it might be (Friends, for instance, is more homophobic, despite airing years after Cheers … and I don’t think Friends is all that homophobic). It’s still very funny, too, which is nice. My wife and I watched Babylon Berlin, which is a terrific show, even though it was dubbed hilariously instead of subtitled (it’s in German). The cast is great, the aesthetic – it’s set in 1929 Berlin – is superb, and the stories are compelling. The right-wing military is plotting to take over, and they’re using some random small party called the National Socialist German Workers’ Party to do their dirty work. I’m sure that won’t go spectacularly wrong. My wife and I keep telling the plotters “Don’t trust those dudes!” but of course, they don’t listen. We often speak of a “Lumumba moment,” when something is happening from which no good can come, especially in historical drama. Years ago, we watched a drama on HBO based on the life of Patrice Lumumba. He managed to get out of Congo, but went back because he thought the military would harm his wife and kids. His advisers told him it was a bad idea, and my wife and I told him it was a bad idea, but of course he went back, and since then, we call anything that’s an obvious bad idea a “Lumumba moment.” The right-wing soldiers deciding to “use” the NSDAP and their goofy leader is a textbook definition of “Lumumba moment.” Sheesh. Anyway, the show ends with the stock market collapse, so I hope they’ll be able to do more seasons once they’re able to, because it’s a keen show. Then we started watching Peaky Blinders, which Cillian Murphy as the lead dominates, but which has a strong cast, including very good guest stars like Sam Neill (well, he was a regular for a while, but not anymore), Noah Taylor having a ball as an Italian gangster, Tom Hardy having a ball as a Jewish gangster, and we just started the season in which Adrien Brody shows up as an Italian assassin, so I’m sure that will be fun. It’s a pretty good show, although it’s brutally depressing at times, and they pull the old “the leads get married only to have the women get killed for no reason,” a trope which really annoys me. So that’s what we’re watching. If I ever turn on Tiger King, you have my permission to beat me to death with a sackful of quarters.

There’s not much else going on. I haven’t played tennis in a while because, despite golf being an essential business here, a lot of places have taken down nets to discourage people from playing. That’s just weird – it’s one thing you can do that doesn’t require you to be close together. I did learn that a friend of mine might have had Covid-19, although the poor testing meant he wasn’t sure. Last weekend a friend had a birthday, and his wife organized a Zoom call with a bunch of friends to wish him a good one. I spoke to my best friend, whom I hadn’t communicated with in over a decade (he lives in St. Louis and isn’t on Facebook and I didn’t have his contact information), so it was great to catch up with him, and another friend said a co-worker had tested positive for the virus, so he got tested, but it came back negative. However, he said he had had every symptom of the virus except a fever, so he believes he had a false negative. He said he was feeling much better by that weekend, but he was sick for about five days. So there was that. Other than that, I haven’t known anyone who’s been sick. What’s everyone’s experience with it? I know it’s really bad in some places and not in others, so I’m just wondering what everyone else is discovering. Here in AZ, it hasn’t been that bad, but of course we don’t have a lot of testing. People are taking it seriously, I think, but the annoying thing is that the weather has been spectacular, so a lot of people are still going outside. That’s fine when you make sure you stay distant, but my wife and daughter stopped walking after 6 p.m. because there were too many people at the park near our house. Good times!

I do like these photographs from New York, which a friend of mine shared on Facebook. Depressing, but still impressive:

Here’s a fun story from pre-Covid-19 days (remember them?) about a llama vying to be the new Cadbury animal. Oh, goofy news stories – how I miss you!

Meanwhile, here’s a tweet about a Zoom reunion for the cast of My So-Called Life. Dang, what a great show. You’ll notice a certain person is missing. A friend of mine posted this on Facebook, and someone commented that maybe he couldn’t read the invitation. Sick burn, there. Anyway, if you haven’t watched My So-Called Life yet, here’s the perfect time!

Finally, who knew an olde-tymey comic would so beautifully sum up the world of 2020? It’s eeeeeeeeeerie!!!!!

I linked to the trade of Money Shot below, and if you want something to read, you can use the link and we’ll get a tiny bit of it for the blog. Greg Hatcher encouraged everyone to use independent bookstores, and I agree (I ordered a few things from Powell’s this week!), but if you want to do that and still get something from the evil corporation that is Amazon, feel free! I won’t blame you if you don’t!

I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, and I hope your situation isn’t too dire. We’ll get through this! Have a nice day, everyone!

17 Comments

  1. tomfitz1

    Mr. Burgas,

    I can’t believe that the Statue of Liberty is still standing. It doesn’t seem to fit in your president’s new world order.

    Does Mrs. Burgas know that you’re checking out sexy attractive females in yellow tank tops and bikinis?

    BTW, on CBR there is a posting that Diamond might start shipping comics in May. Nothing’s confirmed yet.

  2. Oh, I’ve been having the same troubles with the site. When I went back to the first draft of my Justice League post, I discovered it had gone, leaving just the title (which I’d written as a placeholder earlier). Tried rewriting it. Couldn’t add images. Then suddenly I got the original version back. No idea why.
    My wife and I are doing well. We can both work online and it’s much easier managing our dogs during the work day with her here. She’s doing better than me as she’s way more of an introvert; I’m very happy Zoom lets my writers’ group resume meeting.
    As I work from home anyway my streaming viewing hasn’t changed, but I am using Free Streaming from CBS to watch Picard (almost finished and darn good), then the Jordan Peele Twilight Zone (I want discovery, but that’s a lot more stuff).
    1759 sounds good even though I’ve grown a little cynical about The Year The World Changed books: as my friend Ross said within the 20th century alone you could probably pick any year and show The World Changed (though I’ve seen some books that fail to make the case).
    I really liked Steve Englehart’s Mr. Miracle, though Highfather saying he sent Scott to Apokalips partly to toughen him up is kind of creepy. Gerber’s bit didn’t work for me at all.
    Whisper was a fun book. I may look for the TPB. I tried Manifest Destiny and it didn’t work for me.
    By a freaky coincidence I finally got around to The Story of English (I picked up a bargain copy last year) this week. It is indeed a good book on the topic.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Fraser: Oh, I see. Well, that’s weird.

      Yeah, there have been plenty of books about such years, but, in fairness to McLynn, 1759 was an early addition to this pantheon!

      Another dude who reads the blog mentioned that he has owned The Story of English for 30 years and loves it. It’s sweeping the nation!!!!!

  3. I started radiation just before all this hit, and unfortunately had just come back from Australia when they were asking everyone if they had travelled, so I had to get tested, since I’m in a place with lots of immuno-compromised chemo patients walking around.

    Negative for COVID but positive for regular rhinovirus, which is still bad for chemo patients, so I kept getting re-tested every week. 3 times. 3 times negative. Always positive for regular flu bug (despite no symptoms). Anyway, that test is a bastard. The first two were okay, discomfort as the tip goes all the way up your nose to tickle your brain, and then about 15 minutes of tingling afterward, but the third one? I think it was done by someone who had only learned how to do it that morning because she shoved it all the way back there, wiggled it around, and I had a headache for two and a half hours. Sheesh. Avoid it everyone! At all costs!

    The hospital is super quiet (at least in the cancer centre) and testing upon entry is getting stricter, with added layers of security, every day.

    In the meantime, I cleaned out my box at my local comic store and added boards, bags, boxes, graphic novels, etc to inflate the order, and will be doing another one soon to send a cash injection his way. Just keeping a list of graphic novels that look interesting, then pulling the trigger when I have about 10 or so (adding Temporal Knights to it, thanks for that!) You have to think about what kind of world you want when this is all over and I want bookstores, cinemas, and especially comic stores to still be here. I wish Amazon would die a quick, painful death, honestly.

    We can’t really afford it, but I’m still working – always have, from home – so I feel I need to spread the wealth (saving on going out for food and coffees, so we do have extra cash anyway). I just got my second volume of Max Overacts printed too, and I’ll be donating copies to my local to sell as well. If he sells them all, it’s another 250 bucks for the store just from me giving up 10 copies.

    As for TV, I’m finally watching the Tick on Amazon which is superb, dropping the fully cartoonish Tick into a grim and gritty reboot world. Great decision. And I’m watching Glitch Techs with the 6 year old on Netflix. It’s a fantastic kids show for kids who are too old for Sesame Street, not quite old enough for, say… Voltron.

    Please everyone watch Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist too! As she describes herself one episode – “I’m like the X-Men meets The Voice.”

    1. Greg Burgas

      Jesus, Caanan, I hope you’ll be all right. I’ve heard that the test is bad, as some people I know have been tested for the flu and I guess it’s similar? Doesn’t sound fun.

      I’ve heard the Tick is good (despite what Fraser says, below), so maybe I’ll get around to watching it. And we haven’t been watching Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (even though I have a celebrity crush on Jane Levy), because I’m not a huge fan of shows that suddenly turn into musicals. But I’ll mention it to the wife, because maybe she’ll think it sounds neat and we can start watching.

      Can anyone get Max Overacts? For some reason, I never got volume 1, but I wouldn’t mind having them both if you have them. I’d love to help you out financially, if I can.

      Stay well, sir, and I hope you come through all this. You still have to draw the Milagro Reyes Green Lantern book when I take over DC, you know! 🙂

      1. I would totally draw that book!

        The Tick gets way better after the pilot. They even change the suit to a cleaner design which makes Arthur pause and be like “did you do something…??” And Tick just laughs him off. “Oh chum, I’ve always looked this way.” And then they just move on. The contrast between the goofy Tick and the rest of the world is where it’s best, but the world and story they’ve built around him this time are good too.

        Max Overacts volume 2 will be sold through Pat Rothfuss’s Worldbuilders site soon, we’re still working out details. I’m still selling volume 1 myself but I think the plan is to eventually get those on to Worldbuilders also.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Fraser: Yeah, I’ve actually not minded not buying comics too much, even though I’ll be there in May when (and if) they start shipping again. It’s been a nice little break, though.

      I’ve heard mixed things about Picard. I’ve never been a big Trek fan, so I’m not jonesing for it, but I still might check it out.

      1. I am a big Trek fan, though I haven’t wanted to shell out for yet another streaming service. I hope to catch some of Jordan Peele’s TZ remake — I don’t think there’s time to get ST: Discovery before my free month expires.
        Patrick Stewart is awesome (and now that I’m rereading the Bronze Age X-Men I’m finding it impossible not to hear Xavier speaking with Stewart’s voice). However if you’re not into Trek I don’t know if it’s worth it — hard to make that call.
        My wife was watching some Next Gen this week and bummed to realize That Old Guy Playing Captain Picard is now younger than she is.

  4. Eric van Schaik

    You keep surprising me Mr. Burgas.
    Seeing you as a tennis player. My sport until the divorce.
    A ride my bike to work when I’m sleeping at my girlfriends place.

    Manifest Destiny is the only one I get in trades. Whisper sounds interesting.
    My LCS (https://www.stripwinkelblunder.nl/) closed at march 27 and they are now renovating the shop. The ground floor is European stuff translated in Dutch and the cellar has manga and comics.
    Luckily everybody working there is still healthy.

    The only stuff bought recently is music.
    Pure Reason Revolution released a new album. I bought the blue vinyl edition including the cd, which is nice. Downstairs I can listen the cd and in my bedroom the lp. 🙂

    Next week our gouverment will make an announcement (if and when schools will open again I think). The curve is flattening so that’s good news.
    Lately it was a madhouse at work in the funeral home. Within the span of 5 minutes we got 4 death reports!!! Our funeral directors only talk to people by phone which make connecting to the families very hard. At a funeral there are only 30 people allowed because of covid-19. Because we do all the paperwork for them we are still working at the office, but a lot more quiet.

    I really hope your gouverment makes smart decisions but with Orange Guy in charge I have my doubts. Economics seems more importants than lives it seems to me.

    Stay safe and stay healthy!

  5. Edo Bosnar

    Re: ” (…) DC decided to revive Kirby’s dormant Mister Miracle series, and instead of giving it a new #1, they just kept the old numbering, after a hiatus of, what, five years? Man, the Seventies were weird.”

    No, they weren’t. At least, not for that reason. I like the continuation of numbering. For example, when DC revived All Star Comics, also in the 1970s, after a 25 year hiatus, they simply picked up the old numbering with issue #58.

    As for that Mr. Miracle book, that’s something I’d really like to get. I used to have that whole set of post-Kirby issues, bought on the cheap in 1981 or thereabouts, and really liked them. The art is gorgeous, and I liked the stories being told by both Englehart and Gerber – I’ve always been particularly curious about how Gerber’s direction with the character would have proceeded if the series hadn’t been cancelled.
    However, the price tag is a bit too hefty for me; I would have preferred a less expensive paperback edition.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Edo: I like the continuation too, but you have to admit it was a little weird, especially after so long a hiatus.

      Yeah, the Mister Miracle book is a bit expensive, unfortunately. I assume DC will come out with a paperback soon enough. At least I hope so!

  6. papercut fun

    I quite like Tynion IV these days. At first I found his stuff to be very standard fare but I really think he’s grown into a more “straight forward” version of Snyder. Which I don’t think is a bad thing, especially given Snyder’s tendency to reach for even bigger and more complicated stories these days. I especially liked Tynion’s run on Detective Comics during Rebirth and Justice League Dark (though I’ve lost track of that series over the last year or so).

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