Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

What I bought, read, watched, or otherwise consumed – November 2021

And one may add that if, despite thirty years of mutual royal and diplomatic visits of sincere good will, any given three men at any given time may find it possible to drive the whole unwilling world to slaughter, then there is something very wrong with the organisation of the world. (William Gerhardie, from God’s Fifth Column)

COMICS

Black Widow volume 2: I Am the Black Widow by Kelly Thompson (writer), Rafael de LaTorre (artist), Elena Casagrande (artist), Elisabetta D’Amico (inker), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Cory Petit (letterer), and Jennifer Grünwald (collection editor). $15.99, 100 pgs, Marvel.

The second volume of Black Widow is not quite as good as the first, but that’s not surprising, as first volumes tend to go big out of the gate and then the series settles down a bit. Thompson, as I’ve mentioned before, is a big fan of the Claremont X-Men and his immediate successors, so she understands the serial nature and soap operatic aspects of comics storytelling, so while the comic is divided into “arcs,” she hasn’t simply abandoned the stuff from the first volume. Natasha is still bummed about losing her husband and son, and she remembers their life together and wonders where they are, and I’m sure we’re not completely done with them yet. Meanwhile, Thompson also revels in the interconnectedness of the Marvel Universe, so we get Spider-Girl (Anya Corazon) and a surprise guest star in issue #10, who help out Natasha in this volume’s fight against evil. The bad guy is called Apogee, and he has a typically evil scheme, but Thompson also knows that the evil scheme doesn’t really matter, it’s how the good guys are able to thwart the villains, and she’s very good and finding solutions that don’t necessarily fit into the good guy-punches-bad guy paradigm. It’s still a Marvel comic, of course, so there is a good deal of punching, but there’s a lot of non-violent problem-solving, and given that’s it the Black Widow, there’s a lot of spying and such, which is fun. Thompson has always been very good at writing characters, so there’s a joy in seeing what she does with the interactions between these characters – Anya’s elation at being deemed worthy to help Natasha is wonderful, and Natasha’s repartee with Yelena is superb. As always with the best comics writers, Thompson thinks about how these people would actually interact with each other in a universe where super-powers are relatively common, and it’s always interesting to read those kinds of conversations. I hope Black Widow is selling okay, because it feels like Thompson could be writing something classic, and I want it to continue as long as she wants to!

The art continues to be quite good, as Casagrande and de LaTorre do their usual solid work. We still get some absolutely wonderful double-page spreads, packed with more information than you usually get in double-page spreads, as the artists show Natasha or Yelena (or both) fighting through bunches of bad guys, and there’s one in the final issue that distills Natasha’s fight against Apogee down beautifully and uniquely. When Anya gets recruited, Casagrande doesn’t forget this is a comic book and delivers a delightful panel that couldn’t exist in the “real” world (see below). Thompson asks her artists to do a lot of “quiet” work, with the characters processing complicated emotions, and both Casagrande and de LaTorre do excellent work with that. They do a good job showing the characters as “civilians,” too – far too many comic books never show the stars out of costume, and, I mean, they have to clean those things sometime! This is just a nice-looking comic.

I’m glad that Thompson has been able to keep up the quality of this comic after the initial arc (I wasn’t too surprised, because Kelly knows what she’s doing, but I’m still glad). Thompson’s Marvel career has been a bit up-and-down (mostly up, but some valleys), but it appears she’s getting more cachet around there, so maybe that will help her books sell so she can write a monster epic about Natasha that defines the character for years to come. That would be nifty.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy that my eyes turned into stars

Home Sick Pilots volume 2: I Wanna Be a Walking Weapon by Dan Watters (writer), Caspar Wikngaard (artist), and Aditya Bidikar (letterer). $16.99, 110 pgs, Image.

In this second volume, Watters expands the universe a bit, as Watters focuses a bit more on Meg, the quasi-antagonist of the first arc, who was taken away by the government to train in animating their giant robot that’s powered by ghosts. Look, it’s a comic, all right – just roll with it. He still tells us what’s going on with Ami, the nominal protagonist, who thinks she’s escaped the haunted house that she was able to power, but of course we know it’s not that easy, and not only is the government looking for her, the ghosts aren’t done with her, either. Watters does a good job giving us two sides, neither of which is completely bad or good – Ami is obviously a good person, but she doesn’t know what to do with her weird powers, and she isn’t sure she wants to do anything even if she could understand it, while Meg thinks she needs the government to help her even though she’s not sure what she’s doing is right. Obviously, in stories like this, the government is always evil, but Watters does a good job giving us government people who are just regular folk, so we’re not sure if they themselves are evil or if they’re just working for an evil organization. Of course, he sticks to a “punk aesthetic” in the story, which is funny when one of the characters assesses the government guys, and there’s a nice spirit of anarchy in the book, as Ami and Meg both try to figure things out. It’s slightly disappointing that the entire story is a build-up to something that’s going to happen in the next volume, but such is life, and the way Watters writes it goes a long way toward mitigating the plot device that writers sometimes use, which is suspending the plot longer than it needs to be suspended. But at least the next volume will begin with a bang, I guess!

There’s not much to say about Wijngaard, because he’s brilliant as ever. His ghosts remain extremely creepy, which is good in a ghost story, and his characters remain very humanistic, so they’re relatable even as they’re experiencing all these horrors. There’s a really nice sequence when Ami goes to a punk show, and Wijngaard, without sacrificing his crisp lines, makes it messier, using a bit more hatching and “sloppier” colors, which gives us a good indication of the chaos of the show and how Ami is trying to lose control so she can forget the shit she’s in, at least for a little while. Wijngaard is good at using colors rather than lines to “smear” his work a bit, so that some of the more violent scenes look more “chaotic” than his usual art, and it’s a cool counter to his more precise line work. Wijngaard is a terrific artist, and this volume won’t do anything to change that.

It’s unclear if Watters and Wijngaard are going to go beyond three volumes of this book, but I’m looking forward to the next one anyway, because it’s clear something cataclysmic is coming. Whether that means an end or not, I’m still looking forward to it!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Yeah, that about sums it up

The Dreaming: Waking Hours by G. Willow Wilson (writer), Nick Robles (artist), Javier Rodriguez (artist/colorist), M.K. Perker (artist), Matheus Lopes (colorist), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), Simon Bowland (letterer). $29.99, 264 pgs, DC.

DC has succumbed to “Marvel #1 mania” with this series, which, in a better world, would be “The Dreaming #19-30,” as Spurrier’s run ended right before this began, so there was no reason for a new #1 except that “Number Ones sell better,” which is sadly true and which makes my heart hurt a little. Wilson picks up the baton, and Wilson is generally a good writer, so I figured this would be good, and it is. She gives us a through story about a nightmare, Ruin, who escapes the Dreaming because he falls in love with a man he’s supposed to be nightmaring (I can turn nouns into verbs with the best of them!), but Daniel, ol’ Lord Dream himself, doesn’t think this is too good an idea. Ruin’s story isn’t the only one in the collection, though – in the first arc, he escapes from the Dreaming by accidentally trapping Lindy, a single mother working on her doctorate on Shakespeare, in a Shakespearean dream, which allows Wilson to reference the old Sandman series and also allows her to have some fun with the idea of “Shakespeare’s identity,” which people have been arguing about for centuries. It’s an interesting story, and it coincides with Daniel deciding to allow Ruin to walk around in the “waking world.” It also introduces us to Heather After, a witch who helps Ruin but pisses off Puck of the Faerie in the process, which plot point drives the rest of the book. Puck wounds Heather, and to fix it, she makes a deal with Auberon, the now-deposed king of Faerie, to get his kingdom back from Nuala, the faerie who took over. Nuala holds some kind of fascination to various writers, because she’s always showing up in these stories, and her arc has been one of the longest and oddest in all of the Gaiman-verse, I should think. So Heather and Ruin, along with an angel, head to Faerie, and it all works out in the end. Wilson does a good job juggling plots and giving us interesting characters to follow, including Heather’s awesome bohunk boyfriend, Todd, who’s way out of his depth but just goes along with what Heather says, as he recognizes she’s far smarter about these things that he is. Both main stories are there to show how Ruin earns what he gets, and Wilson does a good job keeping his quest in the forefront even when some other characters take center stage. Meanwhile, Robles does very good work with the main art duties – he draws the two main arcs, although in the second one, Perker steps in to draw Heather’s “origin” story – while Rodriguez does his usual stellar job with the design work of the middle story, in which Puck wounds Heather. Both main artists do well with the horror of some of the situations, but they’re also able to give us people who look like regular people, so when the weird stuff starts happening, it’s much more incongruous with the “ordinary” settings.

DC continues to do these “Sandman Universe” books, even after the death of Vertigo (this is technically a “Black Label” comic), and that’s fine, because they usually get good talent to work on them. They’re interesting stories, and that’s why I keep buying them!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Todd is the BEST!

Shadecraft volume 1 by Joe Henderson (writer), Lee Garbett (artist), Antonio Fabela (colorist), Simon Bowland (letterer), and Rick Lopez, Jr. (editor). $16.99, 119 pgs, Image.

I wasn’t sure about this book, just because the writer is a TV guy, and who knows if he’s any good at writing comics. He has a good hook, though – Zadie is a teenager who, it turns out, can control shadows, which we learn is a genetic trait, and she doesn’t know what’s going on and why the government (of course) is coming after her. Henderson does a decent enough job with the plot, but his characterization of Zadie – who’s a well-written and fairly typical teen – is what I like about the book. She awkwardly kisses a dude because she gets the wrong signals from him, she gets bullied by the queen bees and their emasculated boys (I would say that she’s too attractive to be bullied, but I’ve learned that if you’re attractive but not “conventionally” attractive in high school, you’re still the subject of bullying), she has complicated feelings about her brother, who was in a car accident a year ago and remains in a coma, and her mother, who has devoted her recent life to taking care of said brother. She’s very interesting, in other words, even without the shadow-controlling powers. The larger plot is fine and exciting, but I like Henderson’s character work better. He also wisely allows Garbett to have fun with the shadows, and the book looks great. Garbett has gotten better and better over the years, and it’s neat to see him cut loose with the “shadow effects” he uses, as the shadows are infinitely malleable. He does a nice job with Zadie, too, making her just awkward enough that we believe she doesn’t quite fit in at school, and he does good work with her face as she struggles with how she feels about her brother and mother. The book needs a “superhero” look at times, and Garbett can do that well, but the quiet moments work, as well.

I’m curious to see where Henderson goes with the story, so I’m looking forward to more of this!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Man, that mustache might be the only thing in this world that brings him joy – don’t take that away from him!

Geiger by Geoff Johns (writer), Gary Frank (artist), Brad Anderson (colorist), Rob Leigh (letterer), Brian Cunningham (editor), and Pat McCallum (editor). $9.99, 162 pgs, Image.

I wonder what comics would be like if Geoff Johns had decided, in 2004 or thereabouts, to go into indie comics completely, before he decided that Hal Jordan needed to be possessed by a scary yellow bug and everything at DC went to shit. I don’t solely blame Geoff Johns for the end of DC’s Golden Age – Dan DiDio deserves some blame – but Johns deciding that preserving his childhood was more important than telling good stories is a major blight on mainstream superhero comics of the 21st century, and his penchant for decapitation meant that it was tough to enjoy his comics even if you could ignore the cynical “nostalgic” bent they took. Because it’s clear that Johns knows what he’s doing when it comes to comics – I don’t think he’s the greatest writer in the world, but he knows how to construct a story that takes advantage of the comics format – he hits beats reliably, he uses cliffhangers judiciously, he allows his artists a lot of leeway, and while his sentimentality slides into maudlin occasionally, it’s never mawkish, and that’s not bad. His insistence on grounding everything in “family” is a bit annoying, but it’s not the worst thing in the world and it’s not like Johns is unique in this regard. Geiger is a sturdy example of all the best and worst of Johns, and it’s a nice adventure, which, had it not been drawn by the marvelous Gary Frank, might not have worked as well. Johns is creating a world in which individual soldiers turn the tide of war, and it appears he has two more examples lined up for next year – a Vietnam story starring a robot soldier that makes a cameo in this series, and an American Revolution story (possibly?), and they’re all set in the same “universe” but presumably will be relatively separate from each other (this comic takes place in 2050, for instance). In this series, for instance, we get Tariq Geiger (which, ugh), a dude whose cancer somehow saves him when a nuclear bomb explodes near his home, which is part of a war that takes humanity down a peg or two. His family managed to get into his bomb shelter, and at the beginning of the book, he’s just sitting around the shelter waiting for it to be safe for them to come out. That can’t end well, of course, and Geiger has some unusual powers due to his exposure to the radiation – he’s not quite the Hulk, but close enough. The various factions that have come into existence since the war want to either kill him or study him, and he becomes a surrogate father to two kids who have something the “king” of Las Vegas wants, and there’s a lot of fighting and emoting about family, and it works pretty well. There’s a lot of action, and Johns does a good job with the characters, and he doesn’t tell the story in a straight-forward manner, so we’re seeing the consequences of some things but don’t know how they came to that, which is not a bad way to do things.

Of course, the fact that Frank is drawing this helps a lot, too. Frank’s biggest problem has always seemed to be speed, and that’s not an issue with a six-issue series that didn’t need to come out until Frank was well on his way to being done, as I assume wrecking DC pays well for Johns, so he didn’t need to get this thing out too quickly (you’ll notice it’s priced to move at 10 dollars, which is a great deal). Frank is a superb artist, and teamed with Anderson, he gives us a marvelous radioactive Geiger, looking extremely terrifying when he needs to be but also remaining human underneath. Frank gets to draw two-headed wolves, giant insects, and all manner of oddly-garbed humans – apparently in any post-apocalyptic world, cosplaying becomes the norm for humans – and he does a wonderful job with it all. He’s terrific with the action scenes, as you expect, and he does a really nice job making even the villains look a bit pathetic – they’re fighting over a ruined mud ball, after all – which makes their evil a bit sadder but also, in a way, worse because it’s so petty. I really like Frank’s art, but he doesn’t draw too many comics anymore, so this was a nice treat.

Johns has the two more series planned for next year, one with Frank and the other with Bryan Hitch. If he sticks to non-DC comics, maybe I’ll change my opinion of him! … But probably not.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

He seems friendly

Nottingham volume 1: Death and Taxes by David Hazan (writer), Shane Connery Volk (artist), Luca Romano (colorist), Joamette Gil (letterer), Chris Fernandez (editor), and Brian Hawkins (editor). $14.99, 110 pgs, Mad Cave Studios.

This is a cool series – Hazan gives us the sheriff of Nottingham, Everard Blackthorne (now THAT’S a name!), who’s looking for a masked killer of rich people in 1192 CE, right around the time a certain green-garbed archer was making the rounds. In this story, Blackthorne is the protagonist, and he’s trying to stop the killer while finding out who it is (or they are) and keep the lower classes from revolting due to the oppressive policies of John, the prince of England who’s in charge while the king, Richard, is away on crusade (by the time this book takes place, Richard may have left the Levant, but of course he was famously captured in late 1192 and held as a prisoner for all of 1193). Alan Dale is his right-hand man, Marian is a tough-as-nails lady who knows a thing or two about sword-fighting, Will Scarlet is a simpering zealot, Friar Tuck is a recalcitrant revolutionary, and Robin Hood is … well, we’ll just keep that a secret because it’s fun to find out. Blackthorne is no hero, but he’s not a bad dude, either – he’s just trying to do his job, and trying to solve a murder, which he does in as modern a way as is possible in the late 12th century. Hazan does a very nice job using the Robin Hood tropes and showing them in a different light, so that even though Blackthorne isn’t exactly a hero, Robin Hood and Marian certainly aren’t, either. Hazan gives us a brutal, nasty, ugly world in which people try to live their best, but find it difficult. It’s a very interesting take on the legend, as Blackthorne was a crusader, which colors how he reacts to things and how people react to him. Hazan is helped by Volk, whose angular, rough artwork brings this rather shitty world to vivid life. It’s a bloody and violent place, and even the upper-class people in the book look beaten up by the world. Blackthorne himself is terrific – he’s bigger than most of the people in the book, and Volk gives him long, greasy hair and deep creases in his face and dresses him in beat-up armor and a shaggy fur cloak, so he just looks done with all this shit but he can’t get out of the world he lives in. It’s a very interesting-looking comic.

Hazan has set up at least one more arc, so we’ll see when that comes out. I’ll be checking it out!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

The sheriff has had some bad experiences with redheads

After Dark is a fun little horror anthology with four stories. There’s a story about a decaying dude who shows up at a diner and tells the waitress a story about his life; there’s a woman who made a bargain with … well, Satan, I guess, and she tries to back out of it; there’s a story about a man roaming a post-apocalyptic world who comes across an old man who survived said apocalypse; there’s a brief introduction to the world of Mother F. Goose, the longer one-shot of which came out this week. They’re all solid stories by solid creators – Cullen Bunn and Cliff Richards, Joe Pruett and Szymon Kudranski, Jim Starlin and Nikkol Jelenic, and Frank Tieri and Joe Eisma. It won’t change your life, but it’s pretty good. Scott Snyder finally gets to finish American Vampire, and it’s a bit predictable but still entertaining, and probably the best long-term comic he’s done, which is certainly helped by Rafael Albuquerque’s excellent artwork. The Unbeatable Blue Baron continues the “Binge Books” line, as we get a big-ass adventure drawn in the best 1980s style by Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema. This one is fun, as the Blue Baron switches bodies with a punk teenager, and neither of them know how to handle it. These books aren’t anything great, but they’re just good, solid superhero comics, and that’s not a bad thing. Children of the Atom is actually a lot of fun, as a group of kids fight bad guys and appear to have mutant powers, but they really don’t, they just admire the X-Men. It’s a cool adventure, although anything remotely associated with Krakoa gets points off, and it’s a bit too … I want to say “woke,” but that’s what asshole conservatives say, so I’ll say it’s a bit too earnest about diversity, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it also doesn’t help the storytelling, as it seems that Vita Ayala wanted to make sure the book was diverse and didn’t think how the story would be affected. I’m not explaining it well, but it just felt a bit off, the way things resolve, and while I don’t want people to be always in conflict, just knowing a bit about teenagers makes me think things wouldn’t be as rosy as Ayala makes them. Marvel does another of their “Let’s have a bunch of artists redraw an old comic!” with Fantastic Four Anniversary Tribute, in which they have artists redraw one page each of the first issue and the third annual, which is the wedding of Reed and Sue. I wondered who would get to draw quite possibly the greatest panel in comics history, and that honor fell to Leonard Kirk:

It’s no Kirby, but, you know, what is?

Groo Meets Tarzan is another fun Mark Evanier/Sergio Aragonés/Thomas Yeates jam, and it’s about as goofy as you’d expect. Home is actually pretty good for a while, and it’s not too bad even when it goes off the rails a bit. It’s about refugees who fear for their lives in Guatemala, so the mom brings her kid to the States to live with his aunt (the mom’s sister-in-law; her husband was killed, and that’s partly why she flees), but they arrive right when the Great Orange Turnip decided to crack down on immigrants, so they separate the two and take the kid to another part of Texas. Then we find out the kid has superpowers. Yeah. It’s not the worst twist in the world, but it does kind of take the onus off ICE, because even though they’re evil, the kid does seem to be a bit out of control, and in a world where no one has superpowers, you’d expect the authorities to freak out a bit. It adds too much gray to a situation that shouldn’t have it – separating kids from their parents is evil, and a shame on the United States – and I’m curious where Julio Anta will go with it, because it’s intriguing enough that I’d like to read the second volume, even though I’m wary. The House is an entertaining but kind of generic horror story, in which a bunch of soldiers in World War II take refuge in a haunted house that shows them all their sins and drives them crazy. It’s fun, but inconsequential. Paul Cornell has a cool monster story with I Walk With Monsters, in which an abused girl teams up with a guy who turns into a monster to get revenge on abusers, especially the creepy dude whom her dad almost “gave” her to (before the dad collapsed from a heart attack and the girl took off). It’s an interesting story with good art by Sally Cantirino. I liked the first volume of The Joker, even though it’s a James Gordon story, but because the Joker is the title character, James Tynion tries to make him not quite as evil as he’s been over the past 35 years, and it doesn’t quite work. It’s the problem with doing a series revolving around the Joker – these days, he kills everyone he even walks by on the street, which neuters him as a character, so you can’t pull back now, especially because he won’t be the same in the rest of the Bat-verse. In the Seventies, when DC tried this, at least the Joker wasn’t a murder-psycho, although the morality of the time meant he had to end up in jail at the end of every issue, which led to a whole other host of problems. This time, he doesn’t need to end up in prison, but the series still doesn’t quite work. Still, Guillem March is awesome, so the book looks amazing. Man-Bat is another weird series, as writers always try to make Kirk Langstrom kind of a tragic hero, but recently they’ve been highlighting the addict part of his personality, which makes him less sympathetic. He’s still an interesting character, and Dave Wielgosz does what he can, bringing in the Scarecrow as a villain for Kirk to fight against, which isn’t a bad idea. I got this because Sumit Kumar drew it, and it’s really terrific artwork, so I’m happy. The Miskatonic one-shot wraps up some stuff from the mini-series, and it’s a bit annoying that it’s done in something like this instead in a second series, but it’s not a terrible ending to it all, although there’s a slight possibility for more. No Ghosts in Hiroshima is a strange story about scientists battling demons with SCIENCE! drawn from holy relics, and it’s pretty good if a bit odd. The Recount is a Trump-era story about a mass uprising to overthrow the country, beginning with the assassination of the president as he resigns from office. It’s a nice, tense, political thriller with good art. Second Coming: Only Begotten Son follows up the first mini, and it’s not quite as good, although it’s still a worthwhile read. Jesus starts being Jesus, but finds the modern world a bit more difficult to navigate, while Sunstar begins to question his own mission on Earth. It’s interesting even if it’s a bit of a step down from the first series. Shadow Doctor is a fascinating “true” story in which the writer gives us the tale of his grandfather, a black doctor in Chicago in the 1930s whose only clientele for a while are Al Capone’s gangsters, as he had worked for Capone years earlier. It’s a fascinating story, because it shows how the doctor had to make compromises to do what he loved and how he was treated even when he was doing good things. Georges Jeanty draws it, so you know it looks good. And that’s that!

BOOKS

The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl. 367 pgs, 2006, Random House.

This is the second of three Matthew Pearl historical mysteries I’ve read, and neither this one nor the next one (see below!) is as good as The Dante Club, his first novel (which I reviewed last month). It’s not that they’re bad, it’s that Pearl decides to use actual historical mysteries this time, instead of using real characters solving a fictional mystery, so he’s bound a bit by what actually happened, which can be frustrating. In this case, a young man tries to discover what happened to Edgar Allan Poe (who would have hated the “Allan,” according to Quentin Clark, our protagonist) in the days before he died. It’s a strange mystery, because Poe’s whereabouts during the week before his death are largely unaccounted for, and Pearl builds a mystery out of that. Clark, a promising lawyer, almost wrecks his own life trying to find out what happened, for which he enlists the help of a French man whom he believes was the inspiration for Poe’s Detective Auguste Dupin, as proper Baltimore society ostracizes a man who doesn’t follow the path laid out for him. It’s not a bad read, but by necessity, the mystery has to remain unsolved, and so Pearl does a good job creating a plot around that, but it’s still frustrating. Clark is an interesting character, mesmerized by a man he never met (but communicated with briefly by letter), trying to redeem Poe’s reputation from those who would use him as a symbol for temperance (because he died a drunk, according to sketchy news reports) or from those who think his writing was sub-par. So it’s not a bad book, just not quite as gripping as the first one, which had an actual solution because it was made up. The same problem will haunt Pearl’s next book, which I’ll get to momentarily!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl. 378 pgs, 2009, Random House.

Pearl is back, as a minor character in his first novel becomes the protagonist of his third, as James Osgood, one of the partners in the publishing house that handles Charles Dickens’s work in the States, gets the word that Dickens has died, leaving The Mystery of Edwin Drood incomplete. Someone is killing people involved in the book, and the dastardly New York publishing house Harper and Brothers is trying to pirate the work (copyright law in the 1870s was a bit wonky in the States), so Osgood heads off to England with his beautiful bookkeeper in tow (I wonder what will happen between those two?) to see if he can find the rest of the book, even though he’s pretty sure it doesn’t exist. There’s a strange tangential story involving Dicken’s son, who was in India at the time, and his pursuit of unlawful opium dealers, but if we recall that the main character of Drood, John Jasper, is an opium addict, and that slowly comes into more focus. As with The Poe Shadow, the plot is incomplete, as we know no one ever found the rest of Drood, so the book is a bit frustrating in that regard, because we know Osgood is doomed to failure. However, there’s a lot in the book about the publishing rivalries in the States during the Gilded Age, the problems with gender and race that, sadly, still vex us today, and the idea of celebrity and how the celebrities and those who worship them deal with it. Much like The Poe Shadow, the title character is dead at the beginning of the book, so there’s the idea of legacy, although in this book Dickens is a much bigger celebrity than Poe was at his death and Pearl also flashes back a few years to when Dickens was alive, so he actually shows up in the book. It’s an interesting, twisty mystery, better than The Poe Shadow but not quite as good as The Dante Club. However, all three are very readable, so if you dig historical, literary mysteries, you might want to check them out. Pearl has continued writing these kinds of books, but I haven’t picked them up. I wouldn’t have a problem doing so, though, so I might down the line a bit!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

TELEVISION

Brooklyn Nine-Nine season 8 (NBC). Brooklyn Nine-Nine retooled its final season in the wake of George Floyd and other shootings by police, and the results were mixed, unfortunately. A television show is never going to solve the world’s problems or even examine them in any meaningful way, so while the effort was appreciated (and did lead to some funny moments), the best parts of the season were Andre Braugher’s estrangement from his husband, Marc Evan Jackson, due to COVID things, Stephanie Beatriz quitting the force to become a private detective because, as a woman of color, she couldn’t be “part of the problem” anymore, and Andy Samberg’s gradual realization that his family was more important to him than his job. Braugher remained comedic gold, but Samberg’s maturation was the best arc of the entire series. There were still some very funny episodes – the annual Craig Robinson appearance got weirder and weirder, and the final episode, which was another “heist” episode that also brought back several old characters for cameos (no Dean Winters, sadly, and whatever happened to Mary Lynn Rajskub?). John C. McGinley was a welcome addition to the guest star roles this season, playing the unctuous union rep for the police in his best John C. McGinley way (and his devotion to Billy Joel was hilarious), and the contentious relationship between “good cops” and those who simply want to keep things the way they are drove the season, but it just felt off. It was still a very funny show, and I’m glad they went out the way they wanted, but it felt like it never quite recovered from its first cancelation and the move to NBC. Plus, Melissa Fumero had less to do in the final two seasons, and she was kind of the stealth MVP of the series, so that was frustrating. Oh well. Fare thee well, Brooklyn Nine-Nine!

Heels season 1 (Starz). Stephen Amell decided to follow up Arrow by doing something similar, except he wanted to cuss more, so he moved to basic cable! Heels is about a very minor professional wrestling league in southern Georgia, which Amell inherited from his father and which is getting squeezed by the much more flamboyant league in northern Florida, which is run by the having-the-time-of-his-life Mike O’Malley. Amell is the heel of the league at the beginning, while his brother, Alexander Ludwig, is the face. Amell doesn’t think it’s time for Ludwig to win the top belt, though, and that leads to tension and Amell humiliating Ludwig in the ring, which gives Ludwig a chance to turn heel. It all leads to the finale, in which some surprising things happen that leave both Amell and Ludwig a bit flabbergasted. It’s a pretty good show – Amell is an underrated actor because he’s so pretty, and while Ludwig isn’t on his level, he’s not bad. Mary McCormack is Amell’s partner, and McCormack is always interesting. Alison Luff is Amell’s wife, and it’s interesting to see her slowly become her own woman, even though Amell isn’t really holding her back (it’s just how she was raised). I’m sure that will be something that comes up more in a second season. The wrestlers are a weird bunch, of course – Allen Maldonaldo is the flashy one, who thinks Amell might not let him have the belt because Amell is racist; Trey Tucker is the neophyte wrestler with a heart of gold; Robby Ramos is the “luchador” who’s far smarter than he looks; James Harrison (the ex-Pittsburgh Steeler) is the gentle philosophizing giant; Chris Bauer has a blast as the wrestler who left the fold for glory and has returned after his career hits the skids. Kelli Berglund as Ludwig’s “valet” steals the show, though – much like a lot of basic cable shows that want to make a splash, Heels requires her to get naked a lot in the first couple episodes before showing us her hidden depth, and she’s excellent as she’s forced to navigate this male-dominated world with very little help from McCormack, who’s busy navigating it herself. It’s an interesting show, and I assume it will be back for another season, but I can’t be bothered to look right now whether that’s true.

Grantchester season 6 (PBS). We dig detective stories, and “Masterpiece Mystery” does too, so we check some of them out, and Grantchester is a fun one. It’s set in an English village in the 1950s (this latest season takes place in 1958), and there’s a vicar who befriends a policeman and they solve crimes together. By this time, the oddness of a vicar sitting in on interrogations and checking out crime scenes is not remarked upon, as everyone just rolls with it. However, the show is still odd. Robson Green, who’s one of those sturdy English actors we all love, plays the crusty policeman, and James Norton played Sidney, the curious vicar. In season 4, however, Norton left the show and was replaced as vicar by Tom Brittney, who then started solving crimes as well. Norton was best friends with Green, and now Brittney is. It’s a bit bizarre, but again, we just roll with it (Norton’s character was actually referenced briefly this season, so it’s not like they completely forgot about him). Anyway, this season is noteworthy for a couple of things: Leonard, the curate (played by Al Weaver) is caught with another man and ends up in prison because homosexuality was illegal in England at the time, and Green has to deal with the time he spent in a prison camp during World War II. Leonard is tough to take – Weaver is very good in the role, but he’s scared of his own shadow, so it was nice to see Leonard, however timidly, begin to grow a spine. Green’s story is a bit more annoying, because he has plenty of opportunities to talk about the horrors he’s lived through, but being a stiff-upper-lip Englishman, he never does, even as he begins to break down (Green does a fine job with the part, but it’s still annoying that his wife begs him to talk to her, and he doesn’t, even as his marriage collapses). It’s a fun show, and the quaint English scenery is lovely, and justice is generally served. Leonard, of course, loses his job as curate, and a Nigerian dude gets the position, so next season should be interesting as, I’m sure, racism will become more of a plot point. We shall see.

**********

Here’s the older books I got in this Golden Age of Reprints!

Babes in Arms: Women in Comics During the Second World War has stuff Lily Renee and Fran Hopper, among others. It looks really neat.

Marvel put out a Gallery Edition of The Death of Captain Marvel, which collects not only the graphic novel but a bunch of issues featuring the good captain leading up to it. In all my years of reading comics, I’ve never read this. NO SPOILERS, PLEASE!!!!! Marvel also has the latest Conan Omnibus, volume 6, which has issues #150-171 and mostly features John Buscema on art. Marvel also finally got around to collecting Kurt Busiek’s Untold Tales of Spider-Man, which I’ve heard good things about.

Speaking of Marvel, Abrams and good ol’ Chip Kidd bring us Fantastic Four No. 1: Panel by Panel, which is just that: Every panel in the comic blown up and featured on a single page. It’s an odd thing, but interesting, and there are some essays in the back, so that should be keen.

After giving us later adventures, Titan and Max Allan Collins finally reprint the earliest stories of Ms. Tree in volume 3 of the series. That was nice of them.

Let’s take a look at my spending in November!

3 November: $248.45
10 November: $501.47
17 November: $274.06
24 November: $51.17

Total for the month: $1075.15
YTD: $7934.22

The eye-popping number up there is of course the 500 bucks I spent on 10 November. It was a confluence of events, related to, naturally, the “supply chain,” which has become a joke around the store due to late books. The reprint of Babes in Arms was solicited in October, but Hermes didn’t need to do much with it since it was just a reprint, so it came out and cost a tidy $60. The Book of Maggor Thoom ($15) was solicited in July, so technically it should have been out in September (I know some things are “advance solicited,” but I don’t know if this was). The Death of Captain Marvel ($45), a book that reprints material that is, after all, 40+ years old, should have been out on 1 September but was delayed for some unfathomable reason (“supply chain”). Children of the Atom ($18) was two weeks late. The latest Conan Omnibus ($125), a book that reprints material that is, after all, 40+ years old, should have been out on 1 September but was delayed for some unfathomable reason (“supply chain”). Hmmm … that seems familiar. Grass of Parnassus ($30) was solicited in July, which also means it should probably have been out in September. The same holds true for Lore Olympus ($20). Man-Bat ($17) was a week late. Nottingham ($15) was also solicited in July. The Sleepover ($13) was offered in August, which means it should have been out in October, but that’s close enough, I guess. Smart Girl ($30) was supposed to be here on 6 October. Untold Tales of Spider-Man ($40) was a week late, as was Yes, Roya ($15). All in all, I think no more than five of the comics I bought on 10 November were actually supposed to be there on 10 November. I don’t care that much – if I did, I wouldn’t have pre-ordered those comics – but it was a bit of sticker shock when the dude rang me up. He actually gave me the itemized receipt so I could check it myself in case he made a mistake. Sadly, he did not. Anyway, if you’re wondering what FIVE STINKIN’ HUNDRED DOLLARS worth of comics looks like, here it is:

Here’s the breakdown of publishers!

Abrams ComicArts: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
AdHouse Books: 1 (1 graphic novel)
AfterShock: 3 (2 single issues, 1 trade paperback)
Ahoy Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Andrews McMeel: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Cartoon Books: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Dark Horse: 4 (3 single issues, 1 trade paperback)
DC: 5 (1 graphic novel, 4 trade paperbacks)
Del Rey: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Drawn & Quarterly: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Fantagraphics: 2 (2 graphic novels)
Hermes Press: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Image: 8 (2 graphic novels, 1 single issue, 5 trade paperbacks)
Iron Circus Comics: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Mad Cave Studios: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Marvel: 6 (3 “classic” reprints, 1 single issue, 2 trade paperbacks)
Razorbill: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Renegade Arts Entertainment: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Scout Comics: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
SLG: 1 (1 graphic novel)
SitComics: 1 (1 single issue)
Titan Comics: 3 (2 graphic novels, 1 “classic” reprint)
Top Shelf: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Uncivilized Books: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Vault Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Viz Media: 1 (1 manga volume)
A Wave Blue World: 1 (1 graphic novel)

So that’s:

6 “classic” reprints (60)
1 manga (8)
19 OGNS (114)
8 single issues (108)
18 TPBs (166)

As we head into the year’s home stretch, here’s the master list of books by publisher:

Dark Horse: 70
Image: 65
Marvel: 38
DC: 34
AfterShock: 18
IDW: 18
Boom! Studios: 17
Fantagraphics: 14
Scout: 14
AWA/Upshot: 11
Vault: 10
Titan: 9
Viz Media: 8
Magnetic Press: 7
Humanoids: 6
Mad Cave Studios: 6
Oni Press: 5
Rebellion/2000AD: 5
Source Point Press: 5
Ahoy Comics: 4
Archaia: 4
Behemoth: 4
Hermes Press: 4
A Wave Blue World: 4
Abrams ComicArts: 3
Black Panel Press: 3
Ablaze: 2
Albatross Funnybooks: 2
Black Mask: 2
Cat-Head Comics: 2
ComicMix: 2
Dead Reckoning: 2
Drawn & Quarterly: 2
Fairsquare Comics: 2
HarperCollins: 2
Heavy Metal: 2
Iron Circus Comics: 2
New York Review Comics: 2
SelfMadeHero: 2
SitComics: 2
Top Shelf: 2
21 Pulp: 2
AdHouse Books: 1
Amulet Books: 1
Andrews McMeel: 1
Antarctic: 1
Archie Comics: 1
Avery Hill: 1
Beehive Books: 1
Black Cat: 1
Caliber: 1
Cartoon Books: 1
Clover Press: 1
Conundrum Press: 1
Del Rey: 1
Epicenter Comics: 1
Floating World Comics: 1
Gallery 13: 1
Grand Central Publishing: 1
Holiday House Books: 1
Hyperion: 1
Keylight Books: 1
Legendary: 1
Living the Line: 1
Pantheon Books: 1
Papercutz: 1
Plough Publishing: 1
Razorbill: 1
Red 5 Comics: 1
Renegade Arts Entertainment: 1
Second Sight Publishing: 1
SLG: 1
Storm King: 1
Uncivilized Books: 1
Z2: 1

**********

It’s December, and that means the nice weather is here to stay for a while. Whenever it gets a bit cooler in September or October, everyone goes nuts, but I always say, “Wait until Thanksgiving!!!!!” After Thanksgiving, we can be reasonably sure it will be nice in the Basin until March or early April. So we’re enjoying the weather right now – windows open, cool breezes coming in, just cool enough to have a thin blanket on at night, but not too cold. Good times in the Valley of Hell!

I don’t have much to say right now. We’re getting ready for Christmas, of course, and my parents are driving out next week to hang out with us for a while. They’re both 78 and my dad has Parkinson’s and my mom just got her left knee replaced, but Jeebus forbid they fly (my dad has disliked flying for some time, so they usually drive out here), so they’re taking a week to get out here. My daughter continues to have issues in school, but she’s not quite as depressed as she has been, so whatever medication she’s taking right now seems to be working. This weekend I’m playing in a tennis tournament, which should be fun. It’s divided by age group, and there are only four teams in the “Men’s Doubles 45+” category, so we’re doing a round-robin format, which means we play one match each on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I don’t know how they’ll determine a “winner,” but I don’t know what the winner gets, either, so I don’t care all that much (it’s a USTA-sanctioned event, but I don’t know if it’s a cash tournament – I don’t think so, but again, I don’t care). I think it will be fun – I play a lot, and the people I play with are competitive, but it will be fun playing against people I don’t know and in a more structured format (our coach has us play different ways – sometimes we go by ones, sometimes we play “no ad,” sometimes we start at 30-30 just to speed things up). Anyway, wish me luck!

It does appear that the Republicans and the Supreme Court think The Handmaid’s Tale is a how-to guide and not a cautionary tale, and that continues to vex me. I keep hoping for a bigger landslide next year, because I really do fear what’s going to happen if Republicans retake Congress and the presidency. I know they’re trying to stop everyone from voting because they want to establish a totalitarian government, but everyone can still vote, even with all the roadblocks, and I really hope those who are affected by the new laws are already making plans on how they’re going to vote. The Republicans can’t quite do away with voting yet, but if they regain control of the government it will only be a matter of time. As always, none of this is going to affect me too much, but dang, I hope that next year, non-white people don’t sit around bemoaning the racist policies of the Republicans and instead do something about it. What’s happening in this country is kind of depressing, so I’m done writing about it right now.

Speaking of sad things, the fundraiser for Julie Hatcher is still going, even though it’s slowed down some. Here’s the link, in case you haven’t donated yet and want to do so. No pressure, of course! Julie can use all the help she can get, unfortunately.

On that bummer note, I will finish up by wishing you a good weekend and a wonderful holiday season, if you’re into celebrating the holidays. I’d like to think 2022 will be better than the last two, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. But we can hope! In the meantime, I hope some things in this post piqued your interest, and if you have holiday shopping to do, you can use the link below and we’ll get a little bit of that! Have a good day!

24 Comments

  1. tomfitz1

    BURGAS: I thought that I read somewhere that there were some more stuff after AMERICAN VAMPIRE: 1976. I do remember Snyder saying that he was hoping that Stephen King might come back and write (or co-write) a back-up like he did in the first AV storyline years ago.

    I kinda like GEIGER. Don’t go nuclear on me, man!
    Sure go ahead and blame Johns! Everybody blames Johns for something or the other. He is just a misunderstood guy.

    Who was that scantily clad redhead? Who was that excited gal above her?

    Those Republicans and Supreme Court are nutcases. It’s a wonder anything gets done in US.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Well, the ending to 1976 certainly seems definitive. I mean, if Snyder wants to revisit it, he can, but it felt like a good place to end.

      I have no idea who the redhead is. The internet is full of beautiful women, and sometimes Facebook friends post pictures of them, and I steal them! The woman gyrating is, I believe, Anna Friel. It certainly looks like her.

  2. jccalhoun

    I am also not a fan of Johns. And it is frustrating because he seems to have similar taste to me because he’s worked on some of my favorite DC characters: The Flash, Green Lantern, and the Legion of Super-Heroes. And with the exception of his early Flash, I find it all unbearable.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Whenever I picked up a Johns comic in the past, I usually found something that made it just awful. It could have been just a minor thing in the grand scheme of it all or something huge, but some single thing – and occasionally a lot of things – was so tone deaf it just made me back away. So I never got the love many readers have for him. But I’m perfectly willing to read something of his that’s good, I just haven’t often found that!

  3. Der

    Umm, Greg, I don’t want to spoil you, but the title of the Captain Marvel book miiight be a spoiler.

    The US system appear, to me looking from the outside, to work in the belief that everyone will play fair and it doesn’t have much resources when someone decides to stop doing it. I hope everyone votes and stop trying to take “the high ground” against republicans.

    In local news, November was a shitty month for us. It started nice with birthdays(my wife and then my daughter) but then the job of my wife informed her that her contract ends in december 31st….unless she accepts a internal position that has the excelent benefit of a 75% or more paycut. Then a dear friend suffered a convulsion and ended up in a hospital for a week or so, he has suffered a lot in the last seven years or so(strokes, facial paralysis, diabetic shocks, you name it) so yeah, not a great month around here. At least we are all vaccinated I guess.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Der: How dare you, sir!!!!!! 🙂

      That’s not a bad description of the States. There’s this expectation that everyone will abide by some norms, and when that doesn’t happen, the injured parties are flabbergasted. To be fair, that seems like it was once a feature of many European states, but two devastating wars made them rethink that, and the U.S. hasn’t had that kind of cataclysm, so we’re not sure what to do when a large group of the population gets totally unmoored from reality. It would be nice if we stopped them simply by voting so as to drive them out of office, but I fear they won’t be deterred that way. Unfortunately.

      I’m sorry to hear about your recent problems, or yours and your friend’s, I should say. That’s ridiculous to expect someone to take such a pay cut. It’s comforting (I guess?) that American businesses aren’t the only shitty ones!

      1. Der

        oh no, you don’t have a monopoly in shitty business sir, of that I’m sure. My friend went to a private hospital, he has private insurance(you can also have government insurance…it’s complicated, but there are lots of government hospitals too) and he had to pay a lot, even with a very good private insurance. Something like 12K, usd? It might not sound that much to you, but remember that the average income here is around $600 usd a month. I know he earns better than average, but not THAT better, so yeah

  4. I like most of Johns’ Justice Society stuff and his early Green Lantern work. Then he became totally devoted to his grand GL arc — not only did the individual stories not standalone, the six-issue arcs didn’t stand alone.
    I liked his work on Wally, except he clearly didn’t want Linda around.
    His later stuff suffers from, I suspect, having too much clout for anyone to reign him in. However I have enjoyed the Stargirl TV series.
    There are popular writers I have a much lower opinion of.

      1. Bright-Raven

        The simple answer as to why some of you liked JSA but not the rest of Johns’ work is because Johns didn’t write JSA alone; he had David Goyer co-writing much of it. Oddly enough, Goyer on his own isn’t all that great, either.

        Outside of JSA with Goyer and his STARS & S.T.R.I.P.E. series (the basis for the STARGIRL TV show), Johns has done little else I’ve thought was worth my time.

  5. It’s so disconcerting that you refer to the Nine-Nine characters by the names of the actors!

    I too liked Johns on Flash, at least the first few issues post-Waid. Stargirl was also pretty fun as I recall. Other stuff I didn’t really warm to. He got more ridiculous with trying to explain Hal’s grey temples or Barry’s bow tie. And he wrote Flashpoint and that led to where DC is so crapped out today. So overall I’m not much of a fan but Geiger sounds interesting and I do like $10 trades.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Travis: In case you hadn’t noticed, I rarely refer to characters in shows or movies by their character names, preferring the actors’ names. I don’t know why – for some things, the names of the characters are so incidental that I don’t bother, but for others, I don’t quite know why I do it. Just a preference, I guess.

      The gray temples thing was dumb enough, but I think the bomber jacket thing was dumber!

    2. jccalhoun

      “He got more ridiculous with trying to explain Hal’s grey temples”
      Ugh I forgot about that. GL Rebirth was so bad. I remember when it came out that people online loved it and I was baffled. It just took a big eraser to so much of the past with very little logic. Hal killed a bunch of people? Nope, wasn’t him. Grey hair? Nope, wasn’t natural. I’m still amazed that they just hand waved away Guy being half (?) alien and no one at DC has mentioned it since. I mean it was kind of a dumb idea but just ignoring it was worse. And the whole rainbow lanterns is just so dumb.

  6. Eric van Schaik

    WTF Greg?
    No word about the new ABBA cd?
    Isn’t it cool to write about music? 😉

    I got the Kiss Destroyer 45th anniversary edition. Strange that they haven’t done more of them (apart from the Love Gun edition). I also found the Porcupine Tree Octane Twisted for a nice price, and Adele’s 30 for my wife.

    This thursday was up and down.
    My youngest son had his graduation, but on the same day I got my letter of resignation. Work stops at june 1, 2123. The new organization that took us over a year ago don’t need our service anymore. That hurt after 34 years of working there. So I feel Der’s pain concerning his wife. (:
    The only positive thing about is the transition allowance that I’ll get (it’s quite a bit after 34 years and being 58). If I find a new job soon we can use the money for a dormer.

    Later this day my youngest comes back to live with us, and next friday it’s my wifes birthday. So let’s end on a high 😉

    1. Greg Burgas

      Eric: I’m behind on my CDs, so the new ABBA might take a while …

      I do like writing about music, but I get wrapped up in so many other things, that it tends to be the first thing to get ignored. I’ll try to be better!

      I don’t know why you’re complaining about your job. By the time 2123 rolls around, I don’t think you’ll have to worry anymore …

      That does suck, though. I hope you can sort it all out.

  7. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

    Just gonna echo the “I like Johns’ JSA and Stargirl, but he definitely crawled up his own ass at DC” posts, haha.

    I’ve always viewed him as akin to Bendis, but with a lower ceiling and floor.

    BendisAvengers is unreadable…but that doesn’t change how goddamn great Alias and DD were, haha

  8. I can accept the handwave of Hal as mass-murderer because a)it was a really stupid story and b)much like rebooting Jean Grey, it’s necessary to bring back a character (though I’d have preferred keeping Kyle as GL and Hal as the Spectre).
    I didn’t have a problem with the rainbow Lanterns. I was much more annoyed by the Strength Force, Smart Force etc. getting added to the Speed Force.

  9. My jaw absolutely dropped when I picked up a used Alias TPB and realized yes, Bendis delivered.
    In answer to someone else’s comment on Johns, the fondness for dismemberment or more precisely threatening dismemberment is an annoying tic. It seems the default that his evil characters will prove their awfulness by statements that “I will rip out [body part] and eat it/break it in front of you!” It gets old fast.
    He also did a horrible job with the New Gods in JLA but as Azzarello in Wonder Woman did a terrible job with Orion first, I think it’s the New 52 as a whole that can’t get them right.

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