Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

What I bought, read, watched, or otherwise consumed – January 2024

“Yes.” He looked at the cowering ingratiating fellow, and saw himself. “Yes.” (John Banville, from Doctor Copernicus)


Barbaric volume 3: Hell to Pay by Michael Moreci (writer), Nathan Gooden (artist), Addison Duke (colorist), and Jim Campbell (letterer). $19.99, 148 pgs, Vault Comics.

The biggest problem I have with Barbaric is remembering what’s going on – it seems like it takes a while for arcs to finish, and by the time I read them, I’m only vaguely recalling what’s going on. I mean, there’s the talking axe that loves killing bad guys, but I had forgotten what happened to Owen the Barbarian and who the vampire dude is. Oh well – this is still a lot of fun, and I got back into it easily, so it’s not too big a deal. Basically, this is two quests happening pretty much simultaneously, which come together at the end as we knew they would, and many, many bad people get slaughtered, because that’s just the kind of book this is. It ends with Owen back with Soren and the status quo kind-of-sort-of restored, and merrily we go along. Meanwhile, there’s a fun bonus story in which a different cursed weapon offers a different take on the bloodthirstiness of Owen’s axe, and it’s quite fun. This is just a fun, gory adventure, beautifully drawn by Gooden, and I enjoy it quite a bit. I’m sure I won’t remember too much about it by the time the next trade drops, but I’ll live with that!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Seems reasonable

Barnstormers: A Ballad of Love and Murder by Scott Snyder (writer), Tula Lotay (artist), Dee Cunniffe (colorist), and Richard Starkings (letterer). $24.99, 134 pgs, Comixology/Dark Horse.

Barnstormers has gotten some love on the interwebs, but the trade only came out in January, so I couldn’t join in! Now that it’s out, what do I think?


It’s fine. I mean, I think Clear, Snyder’s other recent Comixology story, is much better, but I get the appeal of this – Tula Lotay is a terrific artist, and the book looks terrific, and it’s an easily digestible story – but I do think it’s just fine, not great. I do appreciate that Snyder does NOT make this some kind of father-son thing, which he seems to do a lot (the main character has a dead mentor who sounds fairly fatherly, but it’s not a big part of the plot), and instead sticks a simple cops-and-robbers thing, but the “simple” part of that is the problem. This is a simple story, and Snyder really doesn’t do too much to make it stand out except set it in an unusual world – the world of barnstorming in the 1920s, which means Lotay gets to have fun with the artwork and Snyder can belabor some metaphors but doesn’t really add too much to the basic set-up. Anyway, the story is this: Hawk E. Baron (not, incidentally, his real name) goes from town to town performing air shows in the latter days of barnstorming, which was a big fad in the 1920s but by 1927, when this is set, is starting to fade away. Baron accidentally crashes into an outdoor wedding and disrupts the nuptials of Peyton Carlyle, the scion of a rich North Carolina family. Carlyle doesn’t take kindly to that and beats Baron senseless and locks him in his garage, but Baron escapes and gets to his plane, where he finds … Tillie, the young woman Carlyle was supposed to marry. Shockingly, Tillie doesn’t want to marry Carlyle and is only doing it under duress, so she convinces Baron to take her with him, and they eventually become thieves, as you knew they would! They’re doing the whole Robin Hood thing to a degree, because they can’t be bad guys, but of course the Carlyles are peeved, so they bring in Zeke West, a Pinkerton detective, to track them down. West quickly figures out they’re not bad guys and that Peyton Carlyle is a tremendous douchebag, but he has a job to do nevertheless! It ends pretty much the way you expect it to, which is a bit disappointing. I mean, I get that it’s an adventure and Snyder isn’t really trying for more, but he paints way too much inside the lines. There are some feints toward more interesting stuff – Baron claims to have fought in World War I, but it’s unclear if he’s lying; Snyder, a Luddite at heart, has some stuff in here about modernization and the death of the soul of man, and there’s some class stuff in here, too – but never goes far with it, and it’s too bad. Snyder is a good enough writer that the book hums along nicely, but it feels a bit hollow. We have all the stock characters – the misunderstood bandits, the grizzled and sympathetic cop, the rich dickhead – but they don’t stand out in any particular way. Only the weird businessman who’s the lovers’ first target is a bit unusual, and Lotay makes Baron’s interior life more of a horrorshow than it deserves, frankly, but otherwise, this is an entertaining confection and nothing else.

I will say, because I am nothing if not predictable (but you’re not paying to read my stuff, unless it’s with your time, so I can ramble!) that I’m annoyed by the cursing in this book. Snyder is writing these people as if they’re modern people, and they curse far too much. I get that we don’t exactly know how regular folk spoke back in the 1920s, because in recorded material there was both decorum and censorship, but even in books, which could slip through censorship easier, we don’t get language like this, even in literature that deals more frankly with sex, say. And there was, I’m fairly certain, a strong sense of classism in language, with people speaking differently to and among different social classes. Everyone curses in this book, including Tillie, and it just feels wrong. Cursing in general is the mark of lazy writing (obviously, there are exceptions – Deadwood comes to mind), and this just feels lazy. Cursing is so much better when it’s a spice in language, a punctuation, something surprising, something that makes you sit up and take notice. This scene is so, so great because it comes out of nowhere:

If they had been dropping “fucks” throughout the movie, it just wouldn’t have hit as hard or been as funny. But today, cursing is just nothing, and generally, in modern fiction, I don’t mind it. This scene (I know it’s a bit old, but it’s still “modern”) is great, and the cursing is crazy!

In “historical” fiction, however, it just doesn’t work as well. And even though Tillie is supposed to be on a lower social scale than Carlyle, I doubt if, as a woman, she would curse as much as she does. Maybe the men can get away with it (although I don’t think even that’s warranted), but not her.

I know, I’m a square. I just wish that if writers were actually going to write stories set in the past, they would at least try to figure out how people spoke in that time period. But then again, I’m a weirdo.

So. Barnstormers. It’s fine. Tula Lotay kicks ass. There’s a weird robot!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That seems wildly unsafe, young lady!

Daredevil: Born Again Gallery Edition by Frank Miller (writer), David Mazzucchelli (artist), Christie Scheele (colorist), Richmond Lewis (colorist), Joe Rosen (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $50.00, 203 pgs, Marvel.

This is one of the first trades I ever got, back when Marvel and DC didn’t collect too much, but the head honchos at the House of Ideas were smart enough to collect this! As it’s been in my possession so long, I’ve read it dozens of times, and man … it’s so frickin’ good. You know, I know it, everyone knows it, but man, it’s really good. That first page, with Karen Page selling Matt out in some squalid room, and the way Mazzucchelli does the Venetian blind thing, and the way, in one page, Miller ratchets up the tension so high … man, what a page. Every page feels like a classic, and every page, it feels, has something so quotable that every serious comics fan knows from where it comes if someone else says it to them. The art is phenomenal, the plotting is superb, the use of Marvel’s superhero stable is very well done, and it’s just … dang, it’s a great story. This is a nice, giant-sized edition (which doesn’t fit on my scanner, as you can see), and Marvel threw in issue #226, which is Miller (with Denny O’Neil) and Mazzucchelli (with Dennis Janke) telling a pretty cool story about Melvin Potter and which shows how Matt ended up where he is at the beginning of “Born Again.” It’s not quite as classic as the main story, but it’s still pretty darned good. Everyone has read this, I imagine, but if, on the off chance you haven’t, this is a really nice way to get it, so check it out!

(Also, because you don’t have enough to do, here’s an excellent article about “Batman: Year One” by Tegan O’Neil. Of course it’s long – it’s The Comics Journal!

Rating: I mean, it’s a classic, people, come on!

One (only one?!?!?) totally Airwolf panel:

What a great ending to the issue!

EC Archives: Crime SuspenStories volume 1 by all the people you know! $19.99, 213 pgs, Dark Horse.

Every so often, I get it into my head that not only will I have time to read all the single issues, trade paperbacks, and graphic novels I buy in a year, but I’ll also be able to read the older reprints (the ones I call “classic,” because some of them aren’t that old, but they’ve been reprinted before, and some are definitely not classic!) that I get, and this year, I’m giving it a try! (I tried it last year, planning to do a separate post about all the “classic” reprints I got, and it did not go well.) Ecce: the latest EC Archives from Dark Horse!

Crime SuspenStories is, of course, just another of the wonderful titles EC pumped out in the early 1950s, before Fredric Wertham and Estes Kefauver scared the hell out of the American public and the comics companies by claiming that comics would turn your kids into homosexual serial killers (what the hell kind of name is “Estes,” anyway, and why didn’t anyone investigate that?). This collection has the first six issues, from October 1950 to August 1951, and there’s not much to say about them, is there? Here are the artists: Craig, Wood, Ingels, Kurtzman, Kamen, Davis, Roussos, with Marie Severin doing some of the coloring. Here are the writers: Craig, Gaines, Feldstein, Kurtzman. NO FIRST NAMES REQUIRED!!!! The stories all have fun, crime-related twists, some are more familiar than others (in two different stories, a woman is on death row because she was convicted of a crime she didn’t commit after getting away with the crime she did commit), some are more horror because EC “borrowed” them from their horror titles, one is “The Cask of Amontillado” with the serial numbers filed off (wasn’t that story in the public domain by 1951?), and they’re all nasty fun. You go from the sophisticated sexiness of Wood to the zany cartooning of Kurtzman, and you get a ton of fun, reprehensible characters caught up in evil problems completely of their own making, with very, very few innocent people thrown in for pathos. It’s just really impressive how the writers keep coming up with bizarre twists on the crime story, but they do, and while these early 1950s EC stories, with some exceptions, aren’t great stories, they are very fun to read and they give you some cool artists inventing comics language on the fly, and that’s pretty keen. It’s very keen that Dark Horse is reprinting these in affordable packages, and I don’t love the glossy paper, but they have, it seems, figured out some of the coloring issues that plagued earlier versions, so these are always fun to pick up!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Hmmm … maybe Wertham had a point …

Junior Baker The Righteous Faker #1-5 by Joe Casey (writer), Ryan Quackenbush (artist/colorist), and Rus Wooten (letterer). $24.95, 150 pgs, Image.

Casey is back, doing his “superheroes are really cool but kinda weird and let’s have some kind of meta-commentary on that” schtick, but I happen to like his “superheroes are really cool but kinda weird and let’s have some kind of meta-commentary on that” schtick, so I was down for this. Plus, it’s a quasi-sequel to Butcher Baker The Righteous Maker, which is one of Casey’s more wacky comics, so I was looking forward to it. Mike Huddleston didn’t draw this like he did BBTRM, but Quackenbush is a very good choice, for reasons I’ll get to. Anyway, this comic stars Dizzy Baker, who we’re obviously supposed to believe is the son of our hero from the original series (but Casey, perhaps to make this more standalone, keeps it vague), a reporter working for a gossip web site but who wants to do harder news (and is occasionally allowed to by his old-school editor). Meanwhile, his girlfriend is pregnant and he doesn’t know how he feels about that. He gets onto a story about the superheroes, who ran out of villains to fight and so turned on each other, taking over a vague part of the world so they could have war games and cutting themselves off from society. Dizzy wants to find out more, and his quest becomes, naturally, quite weird. Casey has always been good at writing superheroes/villains gone to seed, and he does so here, as Dizzy learns that the superheroes are a lot more bizarre than he thought. If the ending is a bit predictable, at least getting there is an interesting journey. Casey often has his characters (or himself) comment on the strangeness of superheroes, and Dizzy is a good character for this, as he’s fairly intimately linked to their world. Casey is interested in figuring out What Matters, and Dizzy eventually has to figure that out, as well. As I noted, a bit predictable, but still pretty keen.

Quackenbush is very much in the Sienkiewiczian mold, as he uses a lot of abstract images, mixed media, and harsh lines and colors to create a moody, weird world. His angular style doesn’t seem to work as well with action, so it’s good that this isn’t a more traditional superhero story, but he’s very good with the tone of the story, as he toggles back and forth nicely between the mundane world that Dizzy lives in and the world of myth that surrounds the superheroes. His color choices, combined with the jaggedness of the linework, gives the book a disturbing, occasionally nightmarish feel to it, which works quite well. Casey allows him to go a bit nuts quite often, and Quackenbush is very much up to it, and the book looks wonderful.

As with a lot of Casey’s work, there’s a lot going on here, wrapped up in myth and history and lineage and power and ennui, and Casey is good at making that into a compelling story. This isn’t his best work, but it’s a good book that fits in well with his overall ideasphere. I’m sure it will be a handsome hardcover, too, because those Men of Action dudes always have nice collected editions of their work!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:


Klik Klik Boom by Doug Wagner (writer), Doug Dabbs (artist), Matt Wilson (colorist), and Ed Dukeshire (letterer). $16.99, 110 pgs, Image.

Wagner writes some odd comics, and so here we have this one, which seems odd but is actually fairly conventional in the final analysis. That doesn’t make it bad, of course, just not as odd as it certainly seems to be early on. He gives us Sprout, who walks into a bank in New York and starts shooting people (although, we learn quickly, they started it) and Serena, an on-line journalist who lets us know early on that Sprout has shot up businesses before, but this is the first time anyone got hurt. Sprout, we discover, does not talk, and she takes a lot of Polaroids and uses them to communicate. What’s the deal? Well, it’s fairly conventional, as I noted: a bad dude killed an old man who had taken Sprout under his wing, and she’s out for revenge. Serena goes along for the ride, basically so she can tell the reader what’s going on.

It’s not bad. It’s a fun, entertaining read, and Sprout’s kind of blasé attitude toward all the mayhem she perpetrates is fun in contrast to Serena, who freaks out on almost every page. Wagner hits all the regular beats – Sprout does very well early on, then the big heavy takes her on, but she manages to defeat him, then the big bad gets her, and Serena needs to woman up and rescue her friend, and Sprout faces the big bad alone. You know the drill! There’s nothing wrong with this kind of well-worn plot, especially if it’s a movie and the actors are good or it’s a comic and the art is good, and Dabbs’s art is very good. He gives this world a nice, drab feeling, and he does very good work with the violence, and his Serena – who’s slightly dumpy and not incredibly attractive – is excellent, because she looks like an actual human being, which makes the insane circumstances she’s put into even more harrowing. However … Wagner makes Sprout almost magical, and it’s just annoying. She takes thousands of Polaroids, and they always seem to be the perfect thing for what she needs for that moment. She has hundreds of copies of some of them, too, which is a bit strange. She has money, but it seems unlimited. She knows exactly where everyone is going to be at any time, and yes, I get that you can study tendencies, but it’s a bit ridiculous. She sets things up so that she can do some of these things, I get that, but in some spots, she in very public places, and I can’t imagine some random person not coming along and discovering her, because the things she sets up take time, and she seems to have all the time in the world and nobody ever notices her. It borders on the absurd, and it takes me right out of the story. The old man prepared her, sure, but this is ridiculous. With stories like this, a writer has to walk a fine line between the hero being extremely well-prepared and the hero being a wizard, and Wagner falls on the wrong side of it a bit too much. I was just rewatching The Accountant not too long ago (because The Accountant is awesome, yo), and Affleck is very prepared, but everything he does feels plausible if you knew what you were doing. This feels a bit too much like magic, and it’s not as good. But hey, that’s just my opinion, man.

Still, it’s not a bad comic. I just wished it had been better!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

That would be a fine obituary!

Love by Lamplight: Illustrated Poetry by Munira Mona Morsy (writer) and Devon Delcastillo (artist).

I thought I’d mention this comic, which appeared at my comics shoppe and I decided to pick it up. The writer is a local who, I think, shops at Greg’s Comics (or at least she knows about it) and asked them to shelve this book, which consists of poems she wrote and then had illustrated. They’re short poems – a bit more like prose musings – about love, and the art is quite nice – vibrant and colorful and tonally fitting. I don’t have a ton to say about this book, but it’s nifty. Check out this site and her Instagram to see more about the book if you’re at all interested.

Miracleman #23-29 by Neil Gaiman (writer), Mark Buckingham (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Todd Klein (letterer), and Nick Lowe (editor). $34.93, 158 pgs, Marvel.

Of course, this could never live up to the hype, and it doesn’t, but it’s still Gaiman, who knows what he’s doing, and it’s still Buckingham, who is superb, so it’s a good comic. Most people who read the Moore run would say that they had no need to read Gaiman’s work, but “The Golden Age” was a fascinating look at what happens when humans with free will live in a utopia, and so I enjoyed it immensely. Once Gaiman began “The Silver Age” and brought Dickie Dauntless – Kid Miracleman – back into the fold, it was almost pre-ordained that the book would suffer, because it would become a superhero-vs-superhero story, and while those can be good, they’ve been done to death. Gaiman manages to tweak that age-old, generic tale a bit, but he’s just delaying the inevitable (because in another 30 years we’re getting “The Dark Age,” of course!), and it makes this a lesser work than “The Golden Age.” In the end, Dickie learns who he is and decides he doesn’t want Miracleman’s utopia. Some people in “The Golden Age” didn’t either, but what was cool about that was that they were humans and couldn’t do anything about it. Dickie is superpowered, so he can do something about it. And so it begins.

The more I think about this arc, though, the more it annoys me. Not to the point where I think it’s a bad comic, and I certainly don’t think of Gaiman this way, but this arc is fairly anti-woman, isn’t it? There are, basically, four main characters in this arc – two men and two women. Miracleman, as he’s done since he became God, sits around and frets. Dickie goes on a vision quest. Neither of these ventures is presented as inherently bad or good – they just are. However, despite the end, it’s Miraclewoman who’s the real serpent in Eden, isn’t it? She insists that Dickie is in love with Miracleman, and so when Miracleman kisses Dickie, it drives him away. Avril isn’t stupid, so she had to have known what would happen there – even if Dickie was in love with Miracleman, he’s been woken up after decades of “death,” he’s being hit with all these changes that he can’t handle all that well, plus he’s definitely a child of the 1940s – he even tells Miracleman how upsetting it is to see a woman shamelessly flauting her skin and a bunch of good white folks hanging out with a “coloured” fellow … so why, if he is gay, would be he ok with Miracleman just coming right out and kissing him? I mean, Miracleman can be as dumb as a post, but he should have known better, and Avril definitely knew better. After he figures it out and confronts her at the end of issue #24, we don’t see her again until issue #26, and then only briefly, when she insists that she’s right about Dickie. When she reappears in issue #29, she’s definitely portrayed as conniving and slightly evil, and it’s unclear what she wants from her consort or Dickie himself. She’s always been smarter than Miracleman, but because Gaiman wants to keep things ambiguous (in issue #26, we get some foreshadowing about the upcoming “Dark Age” and Avril seems to know what’s going on), she doesn’t share things with Miracleman that she probably should. Meanwhile, Meta-Maid, who travels with Dickie, is a perfectly fine character, but in the end, she’s just a disciple, in love with Dickie, who basically ignores her. This isn’t evidence that he’s gay – he’s ignoring everyone – but for someone who seemed fairly vivacious when she was first introduced, to become a new god’s Girl Friday feels like a step down. Maybe I’m overthinking it, but it does not feel like the women come off well in this arc. I don’t have a problem with female villains, and I’m not even sure that Avril is a villain, but she does feel like more of a schemer, and in far too much popular fiction, “scheming” is a rough metaphor for “evil.”

Man, I go on, don’t I? Anyway, “The Silver Age” is finally finished!!! Huzzah! Onward to the next arc!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Nature’s Labyrinth by Zac Thompson (writer), Bayleigh Underwood (artist), Warnia Sahadewa (colorist), Rus Wooten (letterer), and Chris Fernandez (editor). $17.99, 144 pgs, Mad Cave Studios.

The plot of hunting humans in a wilderness is a very old one, and every so often, a writer wants to try it out, and it’s not necessarily a bad plot, just a familiar one. This comic takes that plot and Thompson puts his own spin on it, and it’s fine, but there’s only so much you can do with it. In this case, it’s that the hunted are actual really bad people, so they have no compunction about killing their fellow “contestants” but also nobody cares if they get dispatched. Of course, that makes it hard for the reader to care too much about them, either, despite the fact that our POV character is a ringer, sent to stop the “game.” So the contestants have to navigate a landscape that would make Arcade proud, as it shifts and changes to fit the necessities of the game at any one moment, and nobody is playing fair. The people have to play, as we find out early on when one refuses and is dispatched gruesomely, and it’s not clear if any of them can “win.” It’s fine, but it’s tough to really make this all that compelling. For one thing, some of the contestants, who seem formidable, are dispatched somewhat easily and don’t even get much “screen time,” so who cares? For another thing, the ringer is teamed up with a dude who doesn’t seem all that evil, and he never really exhibits any evil traits, so it’s tough to figure out what he’s doing on the island (Thompson gives us an explanation, but it’s a bit weak). For yet another thing, this has been going on for a while, and no one ever noticed? I mean, someone noticed because the ringer is sent to shut it down, but nobody from, like, the regular world noticed? No press? No relatives? Even if the people were evil, one of them probably had a family at some point. It seems inconceivable that this could go unnoticed for so long, but I guess in a world where you can have a fully functioning mechanical island that changes its landscape around easily, anything is possible. Anyway, it’s an entertaining comic, to be sure, and Underwood does a very nice job with the art (she doesn’t get to draw as many gory deaths as I would have liked, but the ones she does get to draw, she has fun with). There just seem to some undercooked things in it, and it’s too bad.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

The first of many!

Rogues by El Torres (writer), Pablo M. Collar (artist), Monkey Typers (lettering), and Andrea Lorenzo Molinari (editor). $4.99, 28 pgs, Scout Comics.

I’ve been a big fan of Rogues, Torres’s Conan/Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser spoof, for years, and I’m glad it’s back, even if it is for a one-shot (that, of course, may or may not lead to a longer series). Bram and Weasel are just such fun characters, and they get involved in ridiculous adventures that are funny even as they engage in a lot of violence and a lot of people end up dead. Torres has been writing the characters for years, and I just wish they would sell well enough for him to do mini-series with the characters in a stable environment. We shall see.

This is a good re-introduction to the characters, as they’re hired by one witch to retrieve something from another witch, but in her defeat, the second witch curses Bram and Weasel, so the first witch helps them lift the curse. This involves them traveling through time to different spots in their own lives, which allows Torres to revisit some of their past adventures and get readers caught up a bit. It’s a fun romp, in other words, and it shows what the characters are all about in an interesting way. Torres is a good enough writer that he hints around at the shittiness in their pasts that led them to their present circumstances, and he sends them into the future as well to show them a glimpse of where they’re going. Collar provides solid art, and the result is that we get a nice re-introduction to these two fun people. It’s all good!

If you’ve never read Rogues, this is a good place to check them out, as it’s just the one issue. I encourage you to give it a try, because these are just nice characters involved in keen adventures. Everyone can get behind that, right?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Not … chickens!

Sunshine Patriots by Howard Chaykin (writer/artist), Jesus Aburtov (colorist), Wil Quintana (colorist), and Ken Bruzenak (letterer). $19.90, 96 pgs, Fairsquare Comics.

Howard Chaykin likes several things, if we can believe his comics:

1. Jews.
2. Other marginalized groups.
3. People using wildly offensive language in his comics and him defending it by saying “it was the style of the times.”
3a. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a valid defense, it’s just that he really seems to take glee in writing language like this.
4. Sexy dames who are basically anachronisms, as they’re always kicking ass and taking names in time periods when that would be highly unlikely.
5. Motion pictures and how they get made.
6. Historical drama.

Obviously, a comic like Sunshine Patriots was begging to be born, as Chaykin gives us Appomattox Benjamin and Bob Hitler (yep), who fought for Roosevelt’s Rough Riders (black men like Appomattox could claim to be Native Americans – who Roosevelt respected – so they could fight, as he did not respect black people all that much) and formed a bond that, over a decade later, comes to fruition when they get involved in a Jewish-Italian feud during the early days of movie-making in Hollywood. It’s a fun caper, with Chaykin’s typical characters and his typical staccato-like pacing, and the bad guys get theirs while the good guys have the last laugh. There’s not a whole to say about it – Chaykin is a very good creator, and I tend to like his stuff, and since the early days of digital coloring almost ruined his art, Aburtov has figured it out and his art looks much better these days than it did 15 years ago or so (although still not as good as his 1980s heyday), and the story is fun. He mentions in the foreword that he deliberately uses some anachronisms, but the one that bugs me the most is the existence of Maximilian of Mexico, who by 1913 had been dead for over 40 years. Chaykin makes him far too young-looking for his age (he would have been 81 in 1913), but he also makes him Kaiser Wilhelm’s puppet, which rubs me the wrong way. Maximilian was a Hapsburg, and the Hapsburgs looked down their noses at the Hohenzollerns (Wilhelm’s family) and certainly did not think of themselves as doing Wilhelm’s will – Prussia defeated Austria in 1866, but left the empire alone after that, and while they were nominal allies, they certainly weren’t “puppets” of the German Reich. Germany did try to get Mexico into World War I to distract the Americans, but Chaykin could have done all of that – made Mexico and Germany quasi-allies – without Maximilian’s presence. It’s just a weird anachronism, and I’m not sure why he did it.

Anyway, this is a fun Chaykin book. You know what you’re getting with Chaykin, so if you like that, you’ll probably like this!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I mean, if you can’t trust Italian criminals, who can you trust?

Under the Influence by Eliot Rahal (writer), Stefano Simeone (artist), Frank Cvetkovic (letterer), and Chas! Pangburn (editor). $17.99, 112 pgs, Mad Cave Studios.

Rahal is a pretty good “genre” writer – he comes up with interesting, crime-tinged plots and throws a lot into them – and this book should work better than it does. A young FBI agent is tasked with going undercover on a college campus – as a teaching assistant, not just a regular student – to discover what she can about a social media influencer, as one of her fellow agents successfully argues that it resembles a dangerous cult, and our hero – Cara – grew up in a cult, so she has special knowledge of the situation. It sounds like a perfectly good way for Rahal to examine both the insidiousness of ridiculous internet culture (the influencer became famous because he stuffed an entire hot dog in his mouth some years before, and he encourages his followers to steal hot dogs) and the fact that older people don’t really understand it. Rahal, however, doesn’t really do much of that. There’s a bit of it, but the book lurches around a lot, from Cara’s partner shooting an innocent student to people committing suicide with alarming frequency, from Cara getting made by the influencer early on and the influencer pleading with her to rescue him from the internet monster he created to Cara deciding he’s just pure evil for not, it seems, terribly good reasons. The through-line is just messy, as Rahal keeps wandering off track, which can be fun but isn’t here. It seems like he’s going out of his way to make sure we understand who’s evil and who’s not so evil, and he loses focus on the story, which, in a perfect world, should reveal who’s evil and not. It doesn’t help that the tone veers between somewhat goofy and deadly serious, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Simeone can’t keep up. The art is decent enough, and it has some good kinetic energy, but occasionally it’s a bit confusing (which could be a function of the script, of course), and two big events are laid out very weirdly, and one suicide looks so goofy that it elicits a chuckle, and it’s definitely not meant to. Overall, the art is pretty good, but like the story, it kind of veers a bit too often. I like Rahal, in general, but this is a bit of a misstep. It’s not awful, but it feels like a missed opportunity.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Seems legit

Wild’s End by Dan Abnett (writer), I.N.J. Culbard (artist), and Sophie Philips-Roberts (collection editor). $49.99, 420 pgs, Boom! Studios.

I read the first two collections of this series, but I didn’t read the third, so when Boom! offered a nice, giant-sized collection of all three, I decided to pick it up. There’s another trade coming out soon, so I imagine that was what spurred the folks at Boom! forward. This is a solid, alien-invasion story, with that old standby of fiction, anthropomorphized animals, so it’s the slightest bit unusual, but in general, it’s just a good, solid, alien-invasion story, set in the 1930s in a bucolic England. Culbard’s art is nice, and he incorporates some good digital effects into the more traditional pencil-and-ink work, so that there’s a strange mechanistic vibe to some of the action, which works quite well. I assume the reason writers use talking animals is to match the animal with the personality, and Culbard does a nice job with that, as the dogs, cats, foxes, and other such animals seem to fit perfectly the characters that they embody. I’ve never been much of a talking animal person, meself, but that seems to be the idea, and it works nicely here. Also, sci-fi and talking animal stories allow the writer to be sneakily metaphorical, as has been noted often, and Abnett does a nice job shifting from the early, unsure portion of the “invasion” (which may or may not have been going on for some time), when people are getting killed and no one has any idea what’s happening, to the second stage, when the government moves in and begins formulating a plan to fight back. This is when the metaphors begin, as some government agents don’t trust the survivors of the initial stage, because maybe they’re actually aliens in disguise? (The aliens are bodiless souls inhabiting machines that look like lampposts, but who knows if they can appear to be friendly English animals?) The paranoia is, of course, standard when a government agency enters a story like this, but setting the book in the 1930s, in the aftermath of a Great War, allows Abnett to turn bucolic England into a metaphor for Nazi Germany, and the animals who fall under suspicion into Jews, because they look just like us but are obviously plotting our downfall! He also has some fun with the nature of the invasion, as the government enlists two science fiction writers to consult, and neither expects what they find with regard to the aliens. Abnett does a good job keeping us on our toes, as some characters get killed after we think they might be plot armored, and he also wonders if perhaps the government is right to be paranoid? This collection only takes us up to the animals finding a weapon that might turn the tide and the establishment of a kind of “safe zone,” so I’m not sure how much more Abnett has planned, but it’s a good, solid science fiction story, so I’m in for the duration.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I don’t see why that wouldn’t work

Xino by various creators. $17.99, 102 pgs, Oni Press.

This is an anthology of “surrealist science fiction,” as the back of the book says, but very much tinged with horror, as most of the stories have a savage “Twilight Zone”-ish twist to them. It’s a pretty good collection by good creators – the most notable are probably Shaky Kane (who draws one story), Justin Jordan (who writes one), David Lapham (who does both), David Hahn (ibid.), Zander Cannon (who draws one), Phil Hester (stunning double role as writer/artist), Dan McDaid (same), and Artyom Trakhanov (who draws one), but all the stories are pretty good. We get a 1950s suburban parody in which the Commie-hater gets a lot more than he bargained for (naturally, this is Kane’s story), we get a town made of … well, that would be telling, we get a robot that takes its creators’ wishes to their logical (and horrifying) extremes, we have a murder in which the top suspect is a cat, we have the unluckiest man in the world (weirdly, two stories are built around that premise, both very different and both pretty good), we have a Stone Age people visited by … aliens? It’s an interesting group of stories, and all are pretty interesting. I guess that’s all I have to say about this!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Well, that’s going to take some time to clean up


Ali and Nino by Kurban Said. 275 pgs, 2000 (originally published in 1937; originally translated into English in 1970), Anchor Books.

I will have more to write about the strange history of this book and author below, because it’s strange. The book, however, is not – it’s a romance between a Muslim boy and a Christian girl in Baku during World War I. Ali Khan Shirvanshir, the scion of a proud and fairly wealthy Muslim family, falls in love with Nino Kipiani, a Georgian girl who is very much not interested in becoming Muslim. They have many adventures together, due largely to the war and the cultural divide that opens up because of it. What’s fascinating about the book is that neither family is against the romance – this is definitely not Romeo and Juliet. Now, granted, the older men in Ali’s family have some very regressive ideas about women – I was enjoying reading their advice to my wife and asking her why she didn’t follow it – but, while Ali accepts the advice and even believes Nino should follow it, he never tries to put it into practice and allows her to remain herself. It’s part of the allure of the book and of Baku before the war – it was so far away from everywhere, including its Russian overlords, that the locals could live how they wanted, and its oil meant it was wealthy but also that as long as you were rich, nobody much cared if you were Christian, Muslim, or Jewish. Against this backdrop, the war comes to Baku, and the lovers’ lives change, naturally. An Armenian kidnaps Nino because he thinks she will become “too Muslim” if she marries Ali, and Ali’s revenge against him drives him from the town and into the wilderness. Later, the war comes to their doorstep, and they flee to Persia, where women are expected to conform to Muslim mores. The Turks sweep the Russians out of the Caucasus, and Ali and Nino are able to return, but the situation is still precarious. Through it all, Said writes their romance beautifully – they love each other deeply, they aren’t afraid to speak frankly to each other and that never interferes with their romance, and they are able to overcome their own prejudices and cultural backgrounds to be together. Said also evokes the time period wonderfully. His descriptions of Baku and the desert landscape of the eastern Caucasus and Persia are wonderful, and he gets deep into the social and cultural layers of the pre-war world and does an excellent job showing how it slowly broke apart in the war and the Communist takeover of Russia. The book, as well as being a very good romance, offers a fascinating snapshot into a vanished culture, or several vanished cultures, as the case might be. It’s not new to say the Communist regime in Russia severed so many places from their own history, places that have only started to regain it in the past few decades, and Azerbaijan is one of those places. This novel – which is apparently revered in Baku – is one of those interesting cultural artifacts that can help with that. Plus, it’s just a good book. That’s always nice!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life by Tom Reiss. 433 pgs, 2006, Random House.

Reiss went to Baku to write about the new oil boom there, and while he was there, he discovered that the Azeris consider Ali and Nino their national novel, and as Reiss began to ask questions about it, he became more intrigued by its author, Kurban Said. That’s a pseudonym, and at least two people are claimed to be “Kurban Said,” but the overwhelmingly likely author of the book is Lev Nussimbaum, who was born in Baku in 1905 and lived there until 1920, when the Bolshevik Revolution forced him and his father (his mother died when he was young) into exile. Reiss decided to track down Nussimbaum, and what he discovered about his life is fascinating and amazing. Nussimbaum was a “Jewish Orientalist” – a common type of Jew before the Great War, one who considered Muslims/Arabs to be fellow Semites and people with whom Jews could co-exist peacefully, and he eventually converted to Islam and styled himself Essad Bey, which was the name he used to write non-fiction. He and his father fled through the Caucasus, to Istanbul, to Paris, and finally to Berlin, where Nussimbaum became a very successful and famous writer. Eventually, he was forced to flee the Nazis, and he ended up in Positano on the Amalfi coast, where he died in 1942 from gangrene brought on by Reynaud’s Syndrome. Reiss tracks down many people who actually knew him (he mentions in an interview at the back of the book how lucky he was, as he caught most of these people in their eighties, and had he tried to write the book a few years later many of them would have been gone) and creates a wonderful portrait of not only the man but the era in which he lived. The strangest thing about the book is how “Zelig-ish” Nussimbaum’s life is – he went to school with Vladimir Nabokov, for instance, and there’s a photograph of him and some school friends and a baby who may be director Mike Nichols (although apparently Nichols denied that it was he, but the timing does work). Nussimbaum invented a lot about his own history, but Stalin may have stayed in his house when he was a toddler – his mother was clearly using his father’s money to fund Bolshevik terrorist groups, Stalin was Georgian and was in Baku at the time, so it could be true. Thanks to his writing, he was able to mingle with Berlin’s literati during its 1920s heyday, and Nussimbaum was able to stay ahead of the Nazis during the 1930s because he was more sympathetic to them than many Jews, as he was clearly a monarchist and he definitely hated Communism. His non-fiction writing made him famous but was not without controversy, as he was one of the first people to write critically about Stalin (at a time when most left-wing people were praising the Soviet leader), which got him in trouble with the circles he moved in, and he wrote presciently about the “sleeping giant” of the Muslim Middle East and how the West was ruining its relationship with the Muslims, which made the powers-that-be in the West unhappy. Nussimbaum couldn’t keep up his high-wire act with the Nazis forever, and after the Anschluss (which occurred while he was living in Vienna), he fled to Italy, where he lived in poverty for the remaining years of his life.

Reiss constructs not only his life, but the odd world in which he lived. Nussimbaum’s Baku, as I noted above, was more cosmopolitan than you might expect, and Lev’s Jewish father could become an oil tycoon and not face any discrimination. As they were forced into exile, Nussimbaum became more and more a fan of a strong ruler, as he wasn’t the first and certainly not the last person to see the evils of nationalism without caring about the benefits. He romanticized the “Orient,” of course, but he wasn’t wrong about a lot of things he wrote about. Reiss expands his book to examine the roots of the Russian and German revolutions, the cabaret scene in 1920s Berlin, the odd benign fascism of Mussolini (pre-1938, after whic Hitler forced him to be more stringent in his application of Nazi principles), and the connections between the U.S. and Nazi Germany (Hitler’s first press secretary graduated from Harvard and claimed the “Seig Heil!” cheer is based on Harvard’s fight song). We get a broad and interesting summary of the pre-war Caucasus and inter-war Europe, when things were generally weird, as it seemed everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop. As invented as some of Nussimbaum’s life may have been, Reiss is certainly able to prove that a lot of it happened, and he does an excellent job placing it in the context of the time. As good as Ali and Nino is (and it is), the story of its author is just as wild and weird, and you don’t have to read the novel to enjoy this book (which is why I read it after reading the novel, because I wasn’t sure if I needed to read the novel first). It’s not only a very neat biography, it shows us a history that has been largely ignored or even mis-interpreted. It’s always good to get new perspectives on seemingly familiar events, and that’s what we get from Reiss.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆


Fellow Travelers (Showtime). This is one of those shows that feels more important than it is good, although it’s still pretty good. Any show that shines light on ignored parts of our past is important, and this show is about gay men living through the 1950s to the 1980s, and what they had to endure. Matt Bomer, unsurprisingly, plays one of the leads, who works for the State Department in the early 1950s and is therefore very cautious about how he lives. He falls in lust with Jonathan Bailey, and the two begin a clandestine affair that lasts decades and is not terribly good for Bailey’s character, who is very much the beta in the relationship. Meanwhile, both Bomer and Bailey are friends with Jelani Alladin’s journalist character, who’s not only gay but black, which is also an important aspect of the show. The show jumps back and forth between the past and the “present” of 1986, when Bomer, long married to Allison Williams, decides to go see Bailey after several years because Bailey has contracted AIDS. Until the very end, most of the show takes place in the past, as we see Bomer and Bailey hook up, break up, get back together a few times, and keep their secrets. The biggest problem with the show is how disjointed it is. The first five episodes take place in the early 1950s and are largely about the McCarthy hearings, as Tail-gunner Joe goes after the homos as well as the Commies, so the atmosphere in the State Department is fraught. Bailey works for McCarthy (he thinks Commies aren’t cool), and so his relationship with Bomer is even more dangerous, especially when he begins helping Bomer – who’s allies with one of the decent senators in the hearings – what’s going on with McCarthy and Roy Cohn, his weaselly lawyer (who was, of course, gay … as was, quite plausibly, McCarthy himself). The tense cloak-and-dagger of these episodes – with Alladin playing a large role as a reporter who’s not afraid to ask tough questions, which of course gets him punished – are very good, but then, a bit unexpectedly, the show skips ahead for one episode set in the late 1960s, in which Bailey is protesting the war and Bomer helps him evade the law for a bit and Bomer’s son meets Bailey and bonds with him, and then the late 1970s, in which Bomer and Bailey reconnect on Fire Island in the wake of Bomer’s son’s death. These episodes aren’t quite as strong, although the final episode, set in the “present,” is a good one. So it’s a bit herky-jerky, which doesn’t help, and neither does Bomer and Bailey’s affair, which is extremely unhealthy. Bomer is a pretty good actor, and he plays Hawk Fuller as a charmer, but someone who’s so hidden that he simply can’t commit to Bailey, even though he wants to keep banging him. Bailey is playing someone significantly younger than Bomer (Bomer is 11 years older than Bailey), and he’s manipulated easily by Bomer, who only seems to have a crisis of conscience about it when Bailey is dying 30 years later. The older Bailey understands this, yet still falls for it; the younger Bailey is just duped. This is supposed to be a great, secret romance, but it feels completely one-sided – Bailey is star-struck by the gorgeous Bomer (and yes, Bomer is extremely easy on the eyes), but because Bomer is far more in the closet than Bailey (by the 1970s, Bailey is out of the closet, but Bomer isn’t), they never really know each other as well as they could, and it makes the romance weaker. It’s frustrating, because Bomer seems more arrogant than scared about staying in the closet, and it lessens the impact his story has. So while this is a fairly important story to tell – we think of McCarthy as going after Communists, but he went after homosexuals, too – it’s not as good as it could be. It’s certainly not bad, just not great.

The Gilded Age season 2 (HBO). I love this dumb show, because it’s mostly so low-stakes it’s just fun to watch the ridiculous 19th-century outfits that the ladies (and the men, sure, but they’re definitely not as wonderfully wacky as the women) wear, what with the wild, colorful dresses and the tremendous hats. This season, for instance, has as its central plot the battle between Bertha Russell (the always excellent Carrie Coon) and Lina Astor (Donna Murphy) over … the opera in New York. Mrs. Russell wanted a box at the Academy of Music, but Mrs. Astor, asserting her authority steeped in “old money,” denied it to her because she’s a parvenu. So Mrs. Russell helped get the Metropolitan Opera House off the ground, and the fight this season was about which faction would “win,” as Mrs. Russell insisted that the Met begin its season on the same night as the Academy, so the upper crust would have to pick sides. It’s ridiculous, but that’s why the show is so much fun. Now, they do try to bring in some more serious topics, and that’s fine. Coon’s husband, played by Morgan Spector with a big black beard that makes him look like a pirate (given that he’s a robber baron, the comparison is apt), is dealing with labor issues, and the show threads a needle trying to make him a typical robber baron without making him out-and-out evil (and does a pretty good job with it, and Spector sells it nicely); Denée Benton’s Miss Scott is still working at her newspaper, and she and the editor go to Tuskegee to interview Booker T. Washington and find out that life in the South isn’t all that great (the show does a better job with race this season, mostly because they stopped having Meryl Streep Jr. trying to be a white savior); and Caroline Baranski’s old money is wiped out because her son got scammed (fret not, a deus ex machina means she, Cynthia Nixon, and Meryl Streep Jr. can stay in their fancy house). Louisa Jacobson (the aforementioned Meryl Streep Jr.) isn’t the biggest focus this season (which is good, because she’s fine, but also … you have Coon and Baranski and Nixon, so let them shine, dang it!), but she’s becoming more of a modern woman, teaching at a school, deciding not to get married even though it’s a good match, and generally heralding the 20th century like a good little harbinger. This is just a fun show, and if I enjoy it, I can’t imagine the paroxysms of delight that gay men get into when they see all the costumes!!!! (Yes, I’m stereotyping. It’s all in fun!)

30 Coins season 2 (HBO). This second season of this gonzo show isn’t as horror-ey as the first, but it’s still pretty bonkers. In the aftermath of the Anti-Pope’s attempt to bring Satan to Earth (yep), the Judas coins were scattered among several members of the “black” curia – the priests who followed the Anti-Pope – but some groups have begun to consolidate, because while one coin can give the bearer powers, all of them together make the bearer invincible. In this season, an America kajillionaire – modeled, basically, on L. Ron Hubbard and played with delightfully evil glee by Paul Giamatti, sporting a white goatee and a shaved head – collects all the coins by hook and crook, because he has a weird scheme that becomes increasingly ridiculous the more we learn about it (I won’t spoil what it is, but the details seem to get dumber and dumber as we go along, unfortunately … although the show’s wackiness papers over a lot of that, as the climax of this season involves the literal Eye of God). So while this has become a bit more of a thriller (there are some horror elements, including some gruesome deaths in the finale, a very disturbing childbirth, and several scenes set in Hell), it’s still wacky, as everyone is trying to stop L. Ron Giamatti from pulling off his plan. Most of the characters from last season are still around, and they’re joined by a YouTuber named Haruka (Najwa Nimri), who wants to know what happened in the town last season and gets pulled into the weird conspiracy. Elena and Paco, the main characters from last season, have interesting arcs – Elena is comatose for the first two episodes, because her soul is trapped in Hell, while Paco – the dumbest box of rocks in Spain, still – ends up brainwashed by his ex-wife, who’s evil but still has a soft spot for her bohunk. Vergara, the ass-kicking priest, is dead, but that’s only a minor impediment in a show like this, as he’s also in Hell, but then he returns to Earth to help, and a lot of the comedy in the show (it can be very funny) comes from the fact that he’s still dead and he’s trying to hide it. It’s still a gorgeous show, filmed in very cool places, and the actors are leaning hard into the absurdity and terror of it all, and much like the first season, I’m the tiniest bit disappointed by the end of this season, because it sets up the third pretty well, but it also feels like a bit too much deus ex machina for me. It’s still a wild, wacky ride, though, so onward we go!

Fargo season 5 (FX/Hulu). I very much dislike stupidity in television characters, which is one (but certainly not the only) reason I wouldn’t be a good television writer – if I were in the room, I’d keep saying something like, “Are we sure we want our characters to be this stupid?” until everyone got sick of me. Granted, a show like Fargo is all written by one person – Noah Hawley – but someone – Hawley’s significant other, maybe – should give his scripts a once-over, because man! do some of his characters add stupidly, and it’s very frustrating, because this fifth season is a pretty good return to form for the series after the somewhat disappointing fourth season (I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it, either). This time around, we’re back in the present (2019, that is), and Juno Temple (killing it) is a (seemingly) timid housewife (who nevertheless Tases a cop in the first moments of the season – accidentally, but still) with a very wimpy husband (Dave Rysdahl) who’s devoted to her. Temple comes home when day and two men try to abduct her, and she turns out to be pretty fierce, causing them a lot of damage before they finally get her away, but then escaping when they’re pulled over by state police (they stole the SUV they’re driving). They go after her, kill one trooper and wound the other, but she manages to kill one of the abductors and knock the other one out (he’s played by Sam Spruell in a very weird – but effective – way and he gets away before the rest of the cops show up), and then denies she was ever abducted. What’s going on? Well, it turns out she was once the child bride of Sheriff Roy Tillman in Stark County, North Dakota (played with wonderfully nuanced menace by Jon Hamm), and she escaped him and built a new life for herself. Her arrest (for Tasing the cop) put her in the system, and that’s how he found her, and he decided to get her back. Meanwhile, her mother-in-law, played with gloriously obnoxious fury by Jennifer Jason Leigh (one of my all-time favorites), first believes she’s covering it up because she’s scheming against her (she’s super-wealthy), but soon gets caught up in a dick-measuring contest with Hamm, until finally embracing girl power when she realizes that Temple is a kindred spirit. It’s a well-plotted season, as Temple tries to keep her family out of it and figure out how to keep Hamm and his cronies (embodied by his douchebag son, played with MAGA-loving obsequiousness by Joe Keery) away from her, but she soon realizes she needs to meet the crisis head-on, and things, naturally, get bloody. The entire season is about how women are controlled by men, and we see this even with the local cop investigating the break-in, Richa Moorjani, who’s a tough, good cop who just happens to be married to an absolute douchebag (a lot of commenters on-line were upset by this because Moorjani is such a good person, but I can totally get it). In the Trump era (Leigh actually calls him late in the season to call in a favor), the idea of male dominance of women not being punished is all too relevant, even if, again, a lot of commenters on-line were upset that Temple never tells anyone what’s going on, because of course they’d believe her. I mean, would they? Anyway, it’s a good season – not as good as season 1 or even 2, but about on par with 3 – and the cast is very good. What I didn’t like is the stupidity of the characters! At one point, Temple tells her husband to do something, and it’s very clear that she knows what she’s talking about, but he panics and does something different, and it causes great pain and distress for him. That was in a tense situation, so I can live with it. Then, two different men decide to confront a problem mano-a-mano without any back-up, and it ends poorly for them both times. Both times, it’s so stupid for them to do what they do, and it’s clear it’s stupid for them to do it, but they do it anyway. I get that it’s to move the plot along, and if you squint you can say it’s because the season is about men thinking they know what’s best for women and they don’t really, but I’m not sure Hawley thought about it as much as that. I think he just thought it would be nice and tense to have these confrontations, and they are tense, but they’re also stupid. Also, why do bad guys hire other bad guys to do dirty work for them and then think they can get away with not paying them? I mean, if they hire bad guys, the bad guys they hire are probably fairly capable, so there’s a good chance your double-cross will backfire, and then you have bad guys who are pissed off at you! It’s just really annoying. Sigh. I’d be a terrible television writer, because I’m no good at complex, clockwork plots, but also because I try hard not to make my characters do stupid things.

Anyway, season 5 of Fargo: Good to very good. Give it a look!

(Oh, one last point: We never find out what’s going on at the very beginning of the show, the thing that causes Temple to Tase the cop. That annoys me probably more than it should.)

A Murder at the End of the World (FX/Hulu). This show wants to be “prestige” TV so badly, and in a lot of ways, it is: pretty good cast with some high-ish end actors (Clive Owen and Joan Chen are perhaps the most recognizable of the cast, but I guess series creator Brit Marling, who also stars in it, has been doing some critically acclaimed stuff for a while); really high production values; a very good setting (the frozen wastes of Iceland); and, of course, a murder. Can’t be prestige without killing people! And it’s not a bad show, it’s just … not great. Emma Corrin (who looks like an off-brand Jodie Foster) is the star, playing a woman who became interested in tracking down a serial killer with a dude she met on-line and wrote a book about it, which doesn’t sell very well but gets really good reviews. She’s invited to Iceland to a conference of tech geniuses, organized by weirdo billionaire Andy Ronson, played with chilling menace by Owen (because weirdo tech billionaires are all menacingly chilling). The dude she tracked the killer with, who she was digging when they were on the hunt but who thought she was getting a bit too obsessed and so left her, shows up as well, and immediately dies. Darby (of course the character is named Darby) suspects foul play, but it’s not until another person dies that anyone takes her seriously. Of course, a snowstorm comes in and traps them in the hotel where they’re staying, and Darby has to navigate all the paranoia and creepiness going around. Did Owen kill the dude? Did his wife? Did a guest? Did a staff member? Why are the people dying? You know the drill!

The biggest problem with the show is that Darby sucks as a character. Corrin does what they can with her, but she’s just not a great character. We’re told over and over how great her book is, and that’s always dicey, because it has to be great, and it’s … fine, I guess. But we’re also told how smart she is, and she’s really not. She doesn’t figure something out that’s wildly obvious until it’s staring her right in the face, she blurts things out that she really should keep to herself, and she doesn’t consider the one possibility about the killer that I – stupid old me – came up with several episodes before she figures it out. Now, the identity of the killer isn’t quite as important as other stuff in the show, and I get that. The creators want to examine the effect artificial intelligence might have on our lives, the destructive influence of the internet (which, yawn), Darby’s obsession, Owen’s fears about the end of the world – all good stuff. But they don’t get too far into that, either, and if they’re not going to, then the murder mystery has to work better, and it just doesn’t. Plus, there are too many wasted cast members. Chen is the worst example because Chen is fierce, but Raúl Esparza, Jermaine Fowler, and Pegah Ferydoni really don’t have a lot to do, and it’s annoying. They spend a bit too much time on the flashbacks to Darby and Bill’s hunt for the serial killer (I don’t mind the existence of the flashbacks, but they do seem to take up too much time), which hurts the rhythm and revelations of the “present” timeline. It’s just wonky pacing, perhaps simply for the sake of filling out the amount of episodes they have, and that’s no good. It’s an interesting show, but there are better things to watch out there!


AWOLNATION, Here Come The Runts, Red Bull Records, 2018.

I loved Megalithic Symphony, AWOLNATION’s debut, but didn’t love their sophomore effort, Run, quite as much (although the songs are better when they come up randomly on my “shuffle” mode of my phone; it’s just the vibe of the album doesn’t work too well). However, I figured I’d give them a chance, as my general rule of thumb is that if two consecutive albums are crap, I’m done with the band (everyone can have one bad album). Here Come the Runts is better than Run, so there’s that (I also got their fourth album, but not their fifth … yet). There are some really good tunes on this album, although it’s not quite as focused and solid as Megalithic Symphony. “Miracle Man,” with its groovy beat and cynical lyrics (“While everybody prays with a swollen tongue”), is probably my favorite song on the album, but “Handyman” is very good, too – it has that nice vibe of quiet verse and epic-feeling chorus that makes so many songs work beautifully. “Seven Sticks of Dynamite” is fun, country-ish song, and “My Molasses” has a good, grungy feel, which is fitting given its name. “Cannonball” is a bit more like their first album – all guitars and repeated lyrics driving home Aaron Bruno’s vulgar point, while “Table for One” is a good, plaintive cri de coeur. There’s some filler, but that’s kind of to be expected from AWOLNATION, so you just roll with it. Bruno, who’s basically the band (other members have come and gone, but he’s the constant), is a good songwriter with a decent voice and range as a vocalist, and he’s a fairly clever lyricist, so the band’s songs are usually interesting to listen to. They might never be as good as their first album, but they’re still a good band!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆


Here’s the money I spent in January. I started off pretty well, but some big ticket items late in the month drove my total up!

3 January: $32.09
10 January: $25.15
17 January: $86.75
24 January: $209.05
31 January: $76.36

Money spent in January: $429.40
Jan. ’23: $500.55
Jan. ’22: $765.86
Jan. ’21: $397.35

I’m heading in the right direction (well, not according to my retailer!), but I don’t know what was going on back in ’21!

Here’s the breakdown by publisher!

Boom! Studios: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Dark Horse: 3 (2 “classic” reprints, 1 trade paperback)
DC: 1 (1 single issue)
Fairsquare Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
First: 1 (1 graphic novel)
First Second Books: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Image: 4 (3 single issues, 1 trade paperback)
Mad Cave Studios: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Marvel: 3 (2 “classic” reprints, 1 single issue)
Oni Press: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Scout: 1 (1 single issue)
Top Shelf: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Vault: 1 (1 trade paperback)

5 “classic” reprints
3 graphic novels
0 manga volumes
6 single issues
7 trade paperbacks

As I noted, I’m trying to read the “classic” reprints, but I didn’t get to them all. These are, usually, much longer than your regular trades, so it might take a while. Those Marvel Omnibuses are big things, man!


A while back, an acquaintance of mine went to Germany with her family, and her husband took this photo. Apparently, the company sells bathroom supplies – hand dryers and the like. Did they know how cool that name would be?!?!?!?

Hey, how is everyone? How’s your new year going? Things remain fairly stable in the Burgas household – my daughter is working at Jersey Mike’s while she sorts through her life, and they like her quite a lot – I always said they should have paid her to go to school, because when someone is paying her, she’s an amazing worker who never misses time. She still has no idea what she wants to do with her life, but she did manage to ditch the loser boyfriend (who keeps texting her, thinking there’s a chance they’ll get back together, but my daughter, to her credit, seems to have moved on … even though she’s still bummed out about it), so that’s a win. Other than that, things are quiet here. I will probably start working at a real job fairly soon, but we’ll see. I need to pull my weight in the house at some point, so it might as well be now!

It’s a big election year, so you know how crazy things will get. I don’t think the Great Orange Baboon can get elected, because unlike 2016, people now know what he will do in office, and it was not good. Anyone who was kind of on the fence about him and voted for him in the hopes he would rise to the occasion can see that, no, he did not, so I can’t imagine anyone who’s not a hardcore supporter voting for him. Of course, stranger things have happened, but it does seem that Biden takes him a lot more seriously than Clinton did, which is a good thing. I very much hope for a landslide (in today’s day and age, we’ll probably never get something like Reagan’s 1984 victory, so I’ll take something around 55% for Biden), not only in the presidency but in the House and Senate, because I think the Republican Party needs to have a reckoning, and they keep burying their heads in the sand and they need to see how out of touch they are with the majority of Americans. The echo chamber needs to get blown up, and only a devastating electoral defeat can do that. If Biden wins only by a little (or, in the darkest timeline, Tangerine Dream wins) and the Democrats don’t retake Congress or only get a small majority, then we’ll have another four years or so of Republicans claiming everything is fixed. I don’t love Biden, but I’ll take him and a crushing defeat if it means the Republicans finally have to confront what they’ve become. We shall see. It’s going to be an interesting year.

Anyway, I hope you’re all doing well!


  1. Der

    I just read the Batman Year One article and got reminded that I read Daredevil Born Again but don’t own a copy, so I’m thinking of getting a copy. Should I get the one Burgas got or should I get the Artisan edition(That is the smaller version of the artist edition) Both versions are almost the same price around here so which one should I get?

    1. Greg Burgas

      That’s a tough one, certainly. I would go with the Gallery Edition (or I assume the smaller-sized trade is still in print), because the colors are really an integral part of the story, and as much as I dig the Artist/Artisan Editions, they seem to be more for people who already have the “regular” version and just want to dig a little deeper. You probably can’t go wrong with either, but that’s just my opinion.

  2. Eric van Schaik

    Not much, as usual. Just Miracleman and Savage Dragon. Not even dutch stuff.

    1/17 – Anneke van Giersbergen / Heavy Strings
    We are really big fans of this Dutch singer, who people might know from The Gathering. She is doing a theater tour with songs that influenced her with 3 violins, a cello and a pianoplayer. Songs like Thunderstruck (AC/DC) with mostly violins and South Of Heaven (Slayer) only with the piano sounded interesting.
    Shirt: no, because they weren’t selling any.
    1/21 – Soulwax
    I have some cd’s of this Belgium band and finally I got to see them. Started as a guitar oriented band they later turned to electronic music. I had a great time.
    Shirt: no. Just black with the name in white.
    27/1 – Rock Party Of The Year
    A group of musicians with rotating singers playing ’70 and ’80 rock. What could go wrong. A lot of people who liked talking loudly instead of listening tot he music. Just curious, is this also in the states?
    Shirt: no. None for sale.

    It’s still unclear if Wilders will bet he next prime minister of Holland. There are still talks with no end in sight.

    I see Trump has only Haley (still?) as his only opponent. I read that she could beat Biden but the orange ego tripper won’t let that happen. If thats great for the US? You tell me.

    I saw news about Taylor Swift and deepfake. It reminds me of a comicbook from 1990 : Twomorrow Knights. Amazing that they saw this possible more than 30 years ago. And it was a good serie from Epic.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Haley is the only one left, yes. I’m not sure she could defeat Biden, as she’s pretty nuts, too, but she’d have a better chance than Trump, I suspect!

  3. Der

    About the elections you wrote: “because I think the Republican Party needs to have a reckoning, and they keep burying their heads in the sand and they need to see how out of touch they are with the majority of Americans.”

    If the politicians are like the ones in my country, boy oh boy, they wouldn’t understand even with a reckoning. In 2018 the current president won the election in a landslide, he got majorities in the senate and, the congress, his party won like 5 of the 6 state elections, then in 2021 his party won like other 12 states and ended up with like 22 of 32 states because at the time(2018) everyone disliked the last president and they wanted a change(we got it? that’s another discussion) and the oposition(they are to the right of the current president) decided that no, they shouldn’t change a thing, they just have to yell louder and stupider than before. That didn’t work in 2021, so what did they do? They went and did some soulsearching to understand what is what the people want, obviously!

    No, obviously no, they didn’t. They keep using the same ideas, attack points(they even recycled some of them from 2006!) and think that this time everything will work for them

    Will it? I doubt it.

    Anyway, presidential elections are coming here too in june, and I’m already sick of hearing about them, so let me tell you about some anime I watched this month:

    -Odd Taxi: This is a weird but really great story about a taxi driver and how he gets in trouble with some yakuza. I don’t really know how to explain this anime except that is a mistery story and people just talking, and I’m all for it. It’s only 12 episodes so you pretty much can finish it in a couple of days(and a movie, that is a recap but it has extra stuff in the last 10 minutes, worth fast forwarding to check that)

    -We are watching an anime called The vampire dies in no time, about a vampire that is basically immortal but super weak(meaning if you brush his shoulder he turns into sand) that teams up with a vampire hunter. Funny stuff. Very much nonstop nonsense but more of an acquired taste

    1. Greg Burgas

      I certainly don’t think it would happen if they lost in a landslide this time, but it would be a start. If it keeps happening (and since Trump won in 2016, the Republicans have not been doing very well at all in any election), it might finally get into their heads. Maybe?

      Off-topic – I read to my daughter every night, and recently I got into a Mexican War groove – I read a book about the expansion of the U.S. prior to the Civil War, then a biography of President Polk, then a book focusing on the war and the soldiers in it who would later fight in the Civil War. I had read them all before, but not in a row, so now I am full of knowledge about the battles on the Rio Grande, Buena Vista, Monterrey, Veracruz, Cerro Gordo, and Mexico City, and I know entirely too much about what Santa Anna was up to during that time period! 🙂

  4. Edo Bosnar

    Wait, wha—?! There’s a Chaykin book that I knew nothing about until right at this moment? There’s another one to add to my want list…

    Otherwise, I’m sure I’ll like this, although I totally agree with your puzzlement over including Maximilian. It seems really pointless and not only anachronistic but also exceedingly ahistorical.
    Don’t get me wrong, I like alternate history-type stuff, but I don’t think too much license should be taken with actual historical figures and events or it becomes silly and offputting. I’m reminded of another Chaykin project, co-written with David Tischman, Barnum in Secret Service to the USA. The concept – P.T. Barnum and his circle performers are actually agents of the US government who fight bad guys – is stellar, but the execution was a complete misfire (my biggest problem was not only making Nikola Tesla and Ada Lovelace the villains, but also the fact that they bore zero resemblance to their real-world counterparts.)

    1. Greg Burgas

      Hmmm, I own that Barnum book, but flipping through it, I’m not sure I’ve read it, and I certainly don’t remember anything about it (which, even though my memory is terrible, probably means I didn’t read it, as I’m sure I would have remembered *something* about it). I think I picked it up at a sale at the comics shop and just never got around to reading it, but I’ll get to it soon enough. But yes, that annoys me as well – even if we ignore the fact that Lovelace died four years before Tesla was born!

  5. ” by the time I read them, I’m only vaguely recalling what’s going on.” I had the same problem with Monstress, which is why I stopped reading the series — I couldn’t tell one group in the ongoing war from another or remember who had which agenda.
    “Snyder is writing these people as if they’re modern people, and they curse far too much.” Max Collins made the same point about the film of his Road to Perdition: “These guys haven’t seen any Scorsese films, they don’t cuss as much.”
    Have read one volume of Moore’s Miracleman and Gaiman’s. That’s more than enough for me.
    I don’t think Republicans will course correct for a long time. They have already decided that if the voting is against them, that proves voting is bad so screw democracy (see multiple elections and abortion issues since Dobbs). Partly because they want power, partly because their pissed-off voters won’t tolerate any shift toward the center, even slightly.
    And Trump, who’s a cult leader at this point. They’ll espouse the same misogynist white-supremacist principles when he gone but there’s nobody in the wings who has his appeal to their voters. As one political blogger put it, the donors pouring money into Haley’s campaign should be sending checks to Biden if they want to stop Trump from winning another term. However they can’t bring themselves to do that.

    1. Greg Burgas

      I got one volume of Monstress and could just tell I was going to be confused about it. Gorgeous book, but no thanks.

      Me and Collins – sympatico! 🙂

      I agree with you about Republicans, but it has to start somewhere! I mean, the Democrats were the more racist party for a century, so it took them a while, too! 🙁

  6. The only comic we have in common here is Wild’s End, which I ordered but hasn’t arrived yet. I dig Abnett and Culbard.

    I didn’t realize they were doing more affordable reprints of the EC stuff. I’d love to buy them, but I also know I wouldn’t get around to reading them.

    I hope to pick up a trade of Junior Baker, though my memories of Butcher Baker are very hazy. Was there any backmatter in this new series?

    The best stuff I read recently was, as usual, written by Mark Russell: His Incal: Psychoverse with Yanick Paquette was my first foray into the Incalverse, but it was very fun and packed with ideas. Deadbox is a series about a haunted DVD rental kiosk and the failures of modern American society. Like Kilgore Trout meets Night Gallery.

    I also finally read Zoe Thorogood’s It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth, which is just incredible, like everyone says. Gorgeously cartooned. On Bluesky I described it as “Flex Mentallo meets Understanding Comics meets Junji Ito meets Kate Beaton meets Bojack Horseman, except also probably not like that at all.” Helped me view my own psyche from a new angle, which is lovely.

    Man, I had no idea what 30 Coins was about. Sounds like I should watch it.

    I liked Fargo a lot, though it probably could’ve shaved off an episode or two. Juno Temple, Jon Hamm, and Sam Spruell were all especially good. (IIRC, the opening scene is about a bunch of jerks causing trouble at a school board meeting, right, and then it descends into chaos? There has been a lot of that on the news in the last few years.)

    I liked A Murder at the End of the World a lot. I don’t necessarily disagree with your complaints– I don’t think it utilized the cast as well as it could’ve (though I also think maybe some of that was to throw us off the scent of whodunnit), and I preferred the present day stuff to the flashbacks. And yes, I figured out the mystery well ahead of time, but what I liked about the show was how almost every event or character could be interpreted multiple ways and lead the story down different paths, and how there were also a lot of thematic threads running through it. They all didn’t pan out or get fully explored, but the show was rife with possibility. It was one of the few times I turned to Reddit to read about a show as it was airing, and those folks had some crazy ideas of where it could go– they thought Darby was a robot, they thought it was taking place during the literal end of the world and/or entirely in a virtual reality, etc.– but they also revealed a lot of layers to the story or directions the plot could go, and a lot of it was plausibly set up by the show. In the end I think people too invested it may have ended up disappointed, but I liked it. And I love that whodunnits are trendy right now.

    You are much more optimistic about the future of America than I am.

    1. Greg Burgas

      No back matter in the new Junior Baker, sadly enough. I hoped for it, too!

      Thorogood is excellent – I haven’t read that one yet (because I got behind!), but her first book, The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott, is so, SO good!!!!

      Yes, the opening scene from Fargo is the school board meeting. I know they do that, I just wish we knew why in this instance, because it turned out to be so important.

      That’s not a bad way of looking at A Murder at the End of the World, but I’m not sure the creators SHOULD have tried to throw so much in there. I mean, sure, ambition is nice, but if the core of the show – the whodunnit – is going to be a bit weak, then the rest of it … not doesn’t matter, but doesn’t matter as much. At least in my opinion.

      I love whodunnits, so yes, I’m glad they’re kind of trendy right now.

      I mean, I guess I’m optimistic? I just don’t know how Republicans are going to get more than 20% of the vote of anyone under the age of 60, so unless they really do plan an armed coup (which, I mean, sure, they probably want that, but can they pull it off?), I just don’t see how they’re going to win. That doesn’t mean I’m terribly optimistic, just that in this instance, I don’t see a path forward for the Republicans.

      1. I dug Lonely so much that I turned right around and ordered Billie Scott. Looking forward to that.

        Setting coups and corruption aside– bear in mind every single aspect of local government is now weighted for Republicans, and they have done considerable work in rigging the game since the last election– I suspect a good portion of young folks and other folks who would vote for Democrats are disillusioned by them this time around and will just stay home.

        1. Greg Burgas

          Maybe, but if Dems really hammer the abortion issue and anything dealing with gay and trans rights, I think it will fire people up, because the Republicans don’t really have a leg to stand on with those things.

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