Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

What I bought, read, watched, or otherwise consumed – November 2022

To die hating them, that was freedom. (George Orwell, from 1984)

COMICS

G.I.L.T. by Alisa Kwitney (writer), Alain Mauricet (artist), Rob Steen (letterer), and Cory Sedlmeier (collection editor). $16.99, 102 pgs, Ahoy Comics.

The stakes aren’t particularly high in G.I.L.T. (which stands for Guild of Independent Lady Temporalists, but really stands for “guilt,” because that’s what Kwitney wanted), but Alisa Kwitney’s time travel story is still a fine comic, in which an old woman constantly visits the past – 1973 – to try to stop herself from marrying a dick. At one point, she gets a health care aide, who ends up traveling back with her, and they get into all sorts of hijinks. I mean, yes, there’s the idea of wrecking the present because you mess with the past too much, but that’s not too dire, and there’s a “bad guy,” but that’s more of a nuisance than anything. Kwitney really wants to examine aging, especially women aging, regrets over life choices, trying to fix yourself when you’re in a bad situation, and what makes a family, and she does a nice job with all of that. Hildy, the older lady, has obviously more experience than Trista, but Trista has her own regrets, and both women need to come to terms with their own lives before they can move forward. It’s a clever book in that regard, as the time travel shenanigans take center stage, and there are some weird things going on, so when Kwitney gets into some of the more serious themes, it remains a bit more subtle than you might think and it stays relatively light-hearted. We know nothing really bad is going to happen to the two women, so we can enjoy the weirdness while also getting into the seriousness. Mauricet’s excellent art keeps things light, too. His details are very good, even when he leans into the silliness of the 1970s a bit, and the way he shows Hildy and Trista’s expressions and body language as they get to know each other shows how close they’re becoming. He does a good job showing how the two women age without moving into caricature, so the temptation to remain in the past becomes more real, as no one really enjoys what happens to their body as it ages. It’s a terrific-looking book, which is keen.

I haven’t read a ton by Kwitney; I know she tends to write novels more than comics, and I haven’t read those, but she’s one of those comics writers who’s always been perfectly fine without being great. G.I.L.T. isn’t a great comic, but it is pretty good, and I wonder if focusing on “real” people – as opposed to DC archetypes, which is what Kwitney’s comics work has been about, as far as I know – is better for her, because she is a woman, after all, and she is a bit older than the DC superheroes, so this feels like she’s doing a bit more of the “write what you know” thing. But it works!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Feet are the extremities of Satan!

The Silver Coin volume 3 by Michael Walsh (writer/artist/colorist/letterer), James Tynion IV (writer), Stephanie Phillips (writer), Johnnie Christmas (writer), Pornsak Pichetshote (writer), Toni Marie Griffin (colorist), and Chris Hampton (editor). $16.99, 120 pgs, Image.

Walsh’s horror anthology continues to truck along, with the coin linking all the stories, naturally, but there’s also a bit more linking things as the series goes on, which is neat. Walsh and his collaborators don’t push it, but it’s still good to see, especially if Walsh continues on with the series. In the first story, for instance, a person clearly sets the evil events in motion, and we revisit him in the last story, so that’s keen. None of the stories end well, of course, because this is a horror series, but at least a few people manage to escape unscathed. Tynion’s tale is set in a diner, and if Tynion hadn’t just read Sandman #6 and though, “Hell, I can riff on that!” I’ll eat my hat (NB: I will not actually eat my hat). In the second story, Phillips takes us to World War II and Europe, which is a bit of a departure for the series (not a huge one, as we’ve gone even further into the past before, but a bit of one), and we get a soldier who wants to be a good comrade but doesn’t know if he’s able to kill. Yeah, you can figure out where that is going once he gets his hands on the coin. Christmas’s weird story is about a pregnant woman having just a bit of anxiety about her kid, and man, does it get weird and horrific. The best story might be Pichetshote’s, in which a screenwriters slowly unravels during the COVID year, as it’s told in segments, some of which move forward in time and some of which move backward, showing how it reaches its bloody conclusion. Walsh’s story is about an evil man who possesses the coin and what happens when the coin no longer needs him. The art, as usual, is excellent, as Walsh seems to really enjoy drawing the goriest stuf he can think of, and what’s great about it is that it never feels like too much (despite some truly horrific images) and it never loses its impact. Walsh is able, very quickly, to give us a sense of the “realness” of the characters, so when the horror starts, it hits very hard. Even the final story, with a character that we do not sympathize with, shows a very cool contrast with mundane reality and the creepy shit on the margins. Walsh is doing a very good job with this series, and I hope he has more planned!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I dunno, probably buy you some mouthwash

One-Star Squadron by Mark Russell (writer), Steve Lieber (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), Dave Sharpe (letterer), and Brittany Holzerr (collection editor). $16.99, 132 pgs, DC.

I’m a bit annoyed by a few things in this comic – the Heckler is in it (he’s on the cover there, in the yellow), and while he’s not a main character, he’s just not right. I know that Giffen doesn’t own him and DC can use him, but he’s a different hero than presented here, one far more competent than he’s shown here, and not someone who needs the money he’s getting in this comic. It’s just a bit strange – he’s too normal in this comic, and the Heckler is a bizarre dude, and Russell – who knows how to write bizarre stuff – doesn’t seem to get that. It’s weird. Also, Power Girl is very unheroic here, although she eventually comes around, and Kara just acts like a jerk too much in this book. HOWEVER, this is still a good comic. Russell gives us a “heroes-for-hire” kind of thing, with Red Tornado running a business (funded by mysterious rich douchebags) that sends heroes out for minor jobs or public appearances. It’s a funny book, as Russell’s books tend to be, and it’s smart to show how heroes actually make money, because that’s always a puzzle in a superhero universe. Tornado is a decent boss, but he’s still not happy and his bosses might not like him that much, and some of the employees are bitter about their lots in life, and it’s interesting to see him navigate a workplace environment in a dicey economic time. The plot is simplistic, as there are some behind-the-scenes machinations, some intrigue when something happens to the business, and some unexpected twists that aren’t really that unexpected, but Russell is very good at writing characters (besides missing the point of the Heckler and Power Girl), so the sadness of Red Tornado as he realizes that things aren’t working out too well for him and the despair of Minute Man because he’s kind of a loser hero works very well. I love superhero stories that try to show how superheroes live their lives when they’re not punching people, and Russell does a very nice job with it. The societal pressures on these superheroes is evident, too, and that’s well done, too. It’s not exactly a satire, which is what Russell is known for, but it is an interesting examination of people who seem to have good things going for them but really don’t. These are heroes, and Russell knows that, so they do act heroically very often, but it’s also difficult for them to do so all the time. It’s interesting. Meanwhile, Lieber is awesome. You know he’s awesome, I know he’s awesome, and he fits a comedic comic so very well, and he does here. I don’t need to say any more, do I?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

I mean, that’s just sound advice for anyone

Arkham City: The Order of the World by Dan Watters (writer), DaNi (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), Aditya Bidikar (letterer), and Arianna Turturro (collection editor). $16.99, 135 pgs, DC.

This is a very bleak comic, which means I probably shouldn’t like it, but it’s not like I dislike bleak comics, I just don’t want them all the damned time, damn it! It also doesn’t have Batman, despite being in Gotham, so that’s mitigated a bit, because I’m particularly tired of Batman being in bleak comics. Watters and DaNi are a terrific team, though, and this is bleak, yes, but also quite weird, so that makes it a bit less bleak (I mean, it ends with someone bleeding out, so it’s not too not-bleak, but still). It stems from one of those stupid events that DC and Marvel love, in which the Joker destroyed Arkham, I guess, so the inmates are running around town? The only doctor who survived the carnage (because she wasn’t at the facility), Jacosta Joy, is working with the cops to bring the inmates in, but her methods – “Hey, let’s not kill them!” – clash a bit with the cops’ – “Hey, let’s kill them!” – so there’s some tension between her and the police liaison, Detective Stone. Meanwhile, the very creepy “Ten-Eyed Man” – there on the cover – is at Dr. Joy’s apartment, where she’s helping him with a strange ritual in the hopes it will keep him from going out in the city and acting crazy. Azrael is wandering around, too, doing horrible things to the escapees because they need to be “cleansed of sins” or some such nonsense. Watters is very good at digging into the weirdness of Gotham, and while I don’t love the idea that Gotham is actually a haunted city (I know I’m going against the past 30-40 years of DC history, but so be it), he does a good job of showing us how twisted things really are in town. He also does a nice job showing us that the inmates are actually mentally disturbed and not necessarily evil, which is why Gotham needs an Arkham, even if the Arkham they have is woefully poor at providing care. As with most Batman-related comics, the thin line between sanity and insanity is always lurking, and Watters manages to tap into that without having Batman or the Joker in the book, which is nice. DaNi does her usual excellent job with the art, giving us a creepy and odd city full of horribly damaged characters, from Jervis Tetch’s pathetic mewlings to the Ten-Eyed Man’s arachnid movements to Dr. Joy’s haunted eyes. DaNi’s “Frank-Miller-by-way-of-late-career-Michael-Netzer” vibe works really well in horror-esque comics, and she and Stewart do a really nice job collaborating – she drops a lot of holding lines and Stewart comes in with great blotches of colors that pop nicely in the darkness of the comic, and it makes Gotham an even weirder place than just the drawings. It’s a very keen book to look at, and the art makes the story work better, which is nice.

I will read anything that these two collaborate on, so I hope they keep doing it! Maybe DC will give them more weird horror stuff to do. That would be pretty keen!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

It’s Gotham, so they’re as normal as anyone else!

The Out volume 1 by Dan Abnett (writer), Mark Harrison (artist), and Annie Parkhouse (letterer). $25.95, 132 pgs, Rebellion/2000AD.

Abnett gives us a story of Cyd, a photojournalist who lives in space (the “Out”) and sends her pictures back to a publication on Earth, which pays her. All good for her, as she likes the peripatetic lifestyle. Early on, she stops getting paid, and she doesn’t know why until she heads into a war zone and realizes that her bosses want photos of carnage. Good for her bank account, but bad for her, as she’s killed by the implacable enemy that is terrorizing the world. Oh dear. However, she’s brought back to life (with a shocking twist), and she decides to dedicate herself to finding other humans who live in space (she hasn’t seen one in years) and searching for her daughter, who was abducted by aliens – she claims – back in the day, which wrecked her marriage. Abnett does a nice job with these heavy themes, as Cyd is a fun and interesting person, and the nature of 2000AD means that Abnett tells his big story in smaller vignettes, so we can get some sidetracking while Cyd is wandering around, and the grand story slowly builds, until the weird creatures who killed Cyd in the first place make a reappearance. The book is occasionally wacky, and Abnett has a good handle on the ancillary characters, who get a lot of development in only a few pages, but Cyd dominates the proceedings, and he does well to slowly build her character, so through the wackiness, we eventually get a sense of her pain and why she left Earth and how terrified she can get. It’s nicely done, and Harrison’s wild artwork helps create the sense of strangeness of “the Out,” where no one knows what a human is and each scene is packed with odd creatures and the buildings are mechanical monstrosities and the bars are seedy. It’s very well done – Harrison crams stuff onto the page, overwhelming the reader with visual stimuli, and through that we get a sense of how Cyd feels as she wanders through the galaxy. The colors are great, too, ranging from lurid greens and blues to very soft beige and white, giving us a good sense of the diversity of the universe and the different moods that Cyd goes through on her quest. The book ends on a pretty interesting cliffhanger, so I hope Abnett and Harrison get to do more of it!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Direct and to the point!

The Box is a nifty private investigator story about a dude whose partner is an actual wishing box (whatever he happens to need just comes out of it) and the people who, naturally, want to take it from him. Jamie McKelvie wrote but did not draw Captain Carter (Marika Cresta provides solid art), and it’s a fun, alternate-universe story about “Captain America” (Peggy Carter) adjusting to the present world after being trapped in the ice. Lots of punching, of course, but also some thoughtful commentary about the way the world changed. I had vague hopes for an appearance by Fenris, but they were dashed!!!! The second volume of The Devil’s Highway isn’t quite as good as the first, but it’s still pretty good, so that’s nice. Fuck This Place (which they cowardly renamed) is a pretty good horror story about a woman who inherits a haunted farm and now she and her partner can’t leave it, so they have to figure out how to defeat the ghosts and creatures haunting it. Hellcop volume 2 is better than the first arc, as Brian Haberlin has settled in a bit, and he gives us a nifty story about a diplomatic problem with Sasquatch, plus a fun John Lennon subplot. Ice Cream Man continues to truck along nicely, and it remains amazing that Prince can keep coming up with these weird horror stories month after month. I liked the entire run of The Marvels, and Busiek goes a bit meta in this volume, but trying to fit Siancong into “real” history remains wonky, and the entire book suffered a bit because of it. Still, a pretty neat superhero book. Tyler Chin-Tanner keeps telling a compelling, Meso-American tale in Mezo, and I’m looking forward to more of it. John Ridley’s The Other History of the DC Universe is a bit of a mess, sadly. I’d get into it more, but Ridley is trying too hard to fit real-world events into a superhero universe, and it makes no sense. No, superheroes don’t ignore racial issues because they’re racists, they ignore them because those things don’t exist in superhero universes, and Ridley’s attempts to do so make this a herky-jerky story. It’s not a terrible comic, but it just doesn’t work for what Ridley wants to do. The Panic is a neat story about people caught in a subway car when something terrible happens in New York and how they get out of it, but man, the characters in it are dicks. I get that they might not like each other when the disaster first happens because they don’t think it’s going to be too bad, but even after the scope of the disaster is evident, they’re still being dicks. Sheesh, people, survive first, argue second! Grant Morrison’s Superman and The Authority is a typical Morrisonian superhero book, and that’s good, but it leads into a story in Action Comics, so it’s kind of a disappointing half-story. Vexing, in other words. There are more time travel shenanigans in volume 3 of Time Before Time, and it continues to be entertaining without being great. Warlord of Mars Attacks by Jeff Parker and Dean Kotz, which is only two years (!) late, has a fun twist – John Carter wakes up in the present to fight the green beasties, with the help of scientists who kind-of sort-of woke the green beasties in the first place (it’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s part of the fun of the story). Finally, Wiper is a pretty good private investigator story in which the lead, who wipes her memory after each case so her discretion is guaranteed, goes to a space station to find out what happened to a reporter and gets involved in the politics of the station. The plot itself is fairly standard, but the investigation is pretty interesting.

BOOKS

The Dark Queens: The Bloody Rivalry That Forged the Medieval World by Shelley Puhak. 367 pgs, 2022, Bloomsbury Publishing.

You might recall that I have my Master’s Degree in History, with a focus on early medieval France, which means the Merovingians (the title of my thesis is “Legislating Against Reality: The Political Conflicts and Context of the Seventh-Century Merovingian Church Councils,” and outside of my thesis committee, I might be the only person who’s read it!), so earlier this year, when I saw this book at Barnes & Noble, I had to snatch it up, as there is very little “popular” history about the Merovingians. As I read my books in alphabetical order by author, it was also handy that I get to read this soon after I bought this, as I was making my way through the “P”s at the time. I can’t even remember the last time I read a book in the same year that it was published! So exciting!

Puhak isn’t a historian; she is more of a poet, I guess, than anything, and this is her first non-fiction book. It’s “narrative non-fiction,” which means that some more rigid historians might take umbrage with the way she writes it, as it’s clear she invents some things – nothing important, but she does have the main characters express their thoughts occasionally, which of course we can’t know. She writes that the book started when she saw a “Valkyrie” costume for Halloween and it sparked something in her – it led her to Brünnhilde, the famous character in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and then the historical Brunhild, on which Wagner very, very loosely based his self-sacrificing diva. She began to research Brunhild and her counterpart, Fredegund, and from that came this book. It’s quite well done – Puhak does a lot with the primary sources, which are unfortunately very sparse for the time period – and she gives us a good portrait of late sixth- and early seventh-century Francia, when the queens ruled. Without getting into the knots of Merovingian history too much, Brunhild and Fredegund were married to brother monarchs who ruled kingdoms created when the original Merovingian kingdom was split among sons (that’s how the Franks split up property back then, and they considered their conquests personal property), and while Brunhild was a Visigothic princess, Fredegund was a servant who eventually made her way to the king’s bed. Merovingian kings tended to die young, either through violence (they were often fighting against each other) or through illness (dysentery killed a lot of people back before hygiene was a thing), and these women became more and more powerful as their sons and grandsons became kings while they – the kings, that is – were still young. Puhak has an axe to grind, of course, as she points out that the women were systematically erased from history, which is both a bit true and a bit false. It’s frustrating reading about the Merovingians, because the primary sources are so scarce – not due to a “Dark Age” where no one could read or write, but because the material they used – papyrus – was much more suited to warmer and drier climates, but also because the dynasty that supplanted them – the Carolingians – seems to have made an effort to erase them. So while Puhak can claim sexism with regard to the erasure of Brunhild and Fredegund, that doesn’t exactly explain why kings like Chlothar and Dagobert are also hardly known (in general history books, you usually jump from Clovis – who died in 511 – to Charlemagne, whose reign began in 768). The main chronicler of the sixth century, Gregory of Tours, is fairly sexist, but he doesn’t not write about Brunhild and Fredegund, and considering Brunhild probably helped him become bishop of Tours, a lucrative seat, he is fairly well-disposed toward her despite his sexism. Puhak makes a decent argument about the erasure of the two women, but the motives, I think, are less from sexism and more from a desire to erase the Merovingians entirely by a dynasty that supplanted them in a somewhat underhanded way and perhaps felt a bit of embarrassment about it.

This is still a fascinating book, as the women definitely did rule (through their proxy children, of course, but no one at the time was under any illusions) and they stayed in power far longer than their male counterparts. Brunhild married Sigibert in 567 when she was probably in her early 20s, and Sigibert’s brother, Chilperic, who ruled the adjacent kingdom, married her sister, Galswinth, not long after. However, soon Galswinth was dead (very probably murdered on Chilperic’s orders), and soon after that, Chilperic married Fredegund, who had been the servant of his first wife (whether Merovingians practiced polygamy has long been debated; it’s more probable they were simply able to put aside wives easily, being the king and all), and Brunhild, believing that Fredegund might have had something to do with her sister’s murder, never forgave or forgot. Brunhild was a power in Francia until her death in 613 – a 46-year career is pretty impressive – while Fredegund exercised power of her own for thirty years (and, Puhak points out, led troops into battle), until her mysterious death in 597 (Gregory was dead by then, and no chronicle survives from the time, so we don’t really know why or how she died). Both their husbands died violently – Puhak writes their death scenes very well, as it’s pretty clear Fredegund had Sigibert assassinated, and Chilperic was murdered in a stable, possibly on Brunhild’s orders (but possibly on Fredegund’s!). She does a very good job digging through the sources and extrapolating from there, so we get a good sense of what life was like in the Frankish kingdoms of the time, and how these women navigated hostile waters – again, sexism seems like too vague a term for it, as ruling a Frankish kingdom at the time was dangerous for men, too, and so their enemies didn’t need to fall back on “they’re women,” just that they did things contrary to some people’s interests. Both women suffered many devastating tragedies, as many of their children died young, and Puhak is clearly sympathetic to them, even though neither is 100% admirable (Fredegund ordered the assassinations of quite a number of people during her lifetime). After Fredegund’s death, Brunhild became even more powerful, as the first decade of the seventh century saw her two grandsons on two different Merovingian thrones, and her pretty much running both kingdoms. She came to a bad end – Fredegund’s son, Chlothar II (one of the more powerful Merovingian monarchs), finally defeated her armies in battle and had her killed horribly – but Puhak points out that both she and Fredegund had stabilizing influences on the kingdoms at a time when no king was able to do so, as they were so often young (Chlothar was the first king to reach the age of 30 in a few decades), and that allowed the Franks to replace the Romans as the power in the area, which of course had significant impact on Europe. Puhak does a good job showing this.

I apologize for going on so long about this, but this is right in my wheelhouse. Brunhild and Fredegund are fascinating people, and the fact that they’ve entered into legend is interesting, because people might know the legend without realizing there are real people behind it. Puhak is a bit dismissive of the influence of other women in Merovingian history, which is a bit disappointing, because they also had influence, but these two women were clearly the most powerful women in the dynasty’s history and two of the more powerful rulers period. It’s very neat to see a popular history book about these two women, and I hope that, as more Merovingian history becomes uncovered, we get more interesting histories about them!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books by Ken Quattro. 248 pgs, 2020, IDW/Yoe Books.

Quattro’s book is more important than really good, although it’s certainly worth your time. He gives biographical sketches of several black artists from the 1930s/1940s and puts them into historical perspective, but because of the nature of the book – his desire to include as many artists as possible – the book isn’t quite as deep as it could be, and that’s why it’s more important than good. Still, as a primer for an examination of the contributions of black artists to comics, it’s very well done. Matt Baker is one of my favorite artists, so of course the section on him, with two beautiful reprints of a Voodah story and a Phantom Lady story, are a highlight, but there are a lot of very good artists in the book, many of whom either never got their due or who only became more respected when they left comics. Quattro does make a good point about comics in the 1940s and the creation of “shops” – because of the demand for comics and the “assembly-line” nature of the shops, most of the people who ran the shops – Eisner/Iger is the most famous example, but certainly not the only one – did not care if their artists were black or white or brown, because they needed product quickly, so anyone who could produce got a job. It’s a cynical kind of equality, but equality nevertheless. Quattro does a nice job putting the men – all men, because a black woman creating comics at the time would have been a bridge too far even for the shops! – into their historical perspective, noting the white artists that didn’t care about their skin color as long as they could draw – Joe Kubert was friends with A.C. Hollingsworth, for instance, and helped him out early in his career – and he also does a pretty good job telling us about their careers and lives after comics – both Hollingsworth and Calvin Massey, whose comics art is terrific, became a highly respected fine artists later in life. We also get quite a bit about the vehicles of African-American culture, from the newspapers that some of the men worked for to the magazines that reflected black culture to the programs that organizations started in black communities, as these men would do newspaper strips, cartoons in magazines, and advertising posters. It’s a fascinating book, and as I noted, the only issue I had with it is that it’s not as in-depth as a true biography. But that’s okay, because Quattro does a nice job with the space he has, and the fact that there’s a lot of reprints of the artists’ comics means that there’s necessarily less room for text. It’s an important book, and I encourage any comics fans out there (are there any reading this?) to give it a look.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

The Confederate States of America: What Might Have Been by Roger L. Ransom. 352 pgs, 2005, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

I’m a fan of counter-factual history, and the South winning the Civil War is one of the most tempting of “what-if” scenarios in history for American historians, so I thought this might be an interesting book. Ransom is an economic historian with an emphasis on the 19th century and the Civil War, so he’s a good dude to write about it! He does a good job, too, as he limits himself while other writers and less disciplined historians might go a bit nuts – Ransom explains that the further in time we get from the event which we’re changing, the less able we are to speculate what might happen with any reasonable certainty, so he sticks to the 15-20 years after a Southern victory, which lends his work more credibility. He goes back to before the war and examines if it could have been avoided (probably not, he somewhat ruefully notes), and he tries to look at what people at the time said about the possibilities of different outcomes to base his speculations on. He changes as little as possible – the biggest thing he changes is that Stonewall Jackson isn’t killed, so that at Gettysburg, for instance, he’s able to change that outcome. Gettysburg is the big hinge Ransom changes, as once the Confederates win that battle (which many historians think they could have, not because of Pickett’s Charge, but because of events on the first day), they’re able to keep the North from scoring a huge victory before the 1864 elections, when Lincoln loses (which he probably would have had the North not been on a path to victory by then). Of course, whenever historians theorize about the South winning the Civil War, they wonder when the South gives up slavery, and Ransom thinks it happens in the early 1880s, with the government basically buying the slaves from the slaveowners and then freeing them (even though, as he points out, this means they basically enter indentured servitude on the same plantations where they were enslaved). The price of cotton suffered in the 1870s, and the South’s economy would teeter, so Ransom sees the secondary economy of selling slaves, which was a major part of the antebellum economy, also falling apart as plantation owners don’t need them as much and countries outlaw slavery. Most historians agree that the long-term prospects for slavery were limited, but it’s certainly unclear how long it would take to disintegrate. Ransom points out that the North would suffer a bit, too, as its economy would take a hit, although he does see them as recovering pretty well thanks to railroad technology connecting the two coasts (the South gets New Mexico and Arizona in his counter-factual peace treaty, but the North gets the rest). An intriguing idea he floats is that Britain and France would be more involved in the Western Hemisphere thanks to their alliances with the Confederacy and the United States’ inability to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. He doesn’t go too far into the future, but he does come up with an intriguing World War I possibility that is, he notes, largely rooted in imagination.

One thing Ransom does very well is provide a nice overview of the actual historical events that led to the war, which lends his speculations about what would have happened had the South won more weight. As I noted, he uses the people of the time as sources, so what they would have done had things gone a different way is a useful guide for him. It’s a fascinating exercise, as counter-factual histories, as Ransom noted, are an excellent way of examining what actually happened, as the people speaking and writing at the time had no idea what was going to happen in the future, so they did not have the benefit of hindsight. That’s one reason counter-factual histories have become popular – they make studying “real” history more effective. Plus, they’re just fun. If you like reading “what-if” scenarios or dig the Civil War, this is a good book to check out.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

TELEVISION

Resident Alien season 2 part 2 (SyFy). The second half of the second season (as I noted during the first half, why the split?) sees Harry and Asta trying to figure out the cryptic message they got in the first half, when Harry found out his aliens were no longer coming to Earth because a different alien race was already here, trying to take over. Asta, meanwhile, is dealing with the guilt over the fact that she murdered someone, which doesn’t make much sense considering it was in self-defense (Sara Tomko does what she can with the theme, but narratively, it just doesn’t make much sense). And there’s an alien baby that contains the rest of the message, so Harry is trying to find it after it escaped, while Sahar is trying to raise it after she finds it (she and Jonah, the other kid, aren’t in this season as much, and I’m curious why not, as they’re both pretty good characters and actors). The show remains good, with Tudyk doing his usual excellent job, Tomko being very good, and the rest of the cast doing well, too. The show never stays on Harry the entire time, but still finds ways to tie into the whole alien thing, so Elizabeth Bowen being a UFO believer ties in even though she doesn’t interact with Harry too much. She and Corey Reynolds as the sheriff continue to have great chemistry, which is nice. There’s more about parents and children – the show has always been about that to a degree, but with Harry having an alien baby to deal with, it becomes more prevalent, and while it becomes a bit maudlin at times, it’s not bad. The idea of small-town America becomes stronger, too, as the mayor wants to build a resort in town but he’s opposed by people who want to keep it a small town. There are some fun guest stars – Linda Hamilton continues to be delightful, and Terry O’Quinn lends gravitas to a UFO researcher role that could be goofy – and there’s a nice cliffhanger at the end. It resembles the comic less and less, but that’s fine, because it’s nice that they’re doing their own thing. It’s not a stunningly great show, but it’s very entertaining, so I’ll keep watching it!

House of the Dragon season 1 (HBO). Daenerys Targaryen was probably the least interesting protagonist in Game of Thrones, not because Emilia Clarke isn’t a good actor, but because her insistence on her “natural right” to rule Westeros was dull, and even someone like Jon Snow had a more interesting backstory. While Daenerys was freeing slaves in the East, she worked, but once she came back to Westeros, she got dull, so the fact that the first spin-off of GoT is about, in essence, a bunch of Daeneryses – her ancestors, who ruled the Seven Kingdoms two centuries before the original show – is a bit puzzling. And hey, what do you know? it’s not that compelling! I mean, the actors are fine – Paddy Considine as King Viserys has a tough job, because he’s a good king who feels out of place in the cutthroat world of Westeros, and Considine has to make him powerful enough so that people respect him but not too much of an ass, and he does a pretty good job; Matt Smith as his brother, Daemon (not too on the nose with the name, there!), is charismatic and creepy, which is nice to watch; and Milly Alcock and Emma D’Arcy, who play (ten years apart on the show) the main character, Rhaenyra (Viserys’s oldest child, whom he names as heir even though she’s, you know, an icky girl), do a good job showing how tough it is for a woman to even exist in this world. I appreciate that the show doesn’t just dive right into people getting violently killed, but shows the machinations leading up to such things, but again, for some reason the Targaryens just aren’t that interesting. They’re the “royal family” of Westeros – like the British royal family, they have a sense of their own superiority but they’re unbelievably petty and often stupid, and it’s frustrating. Rhys Ifan and his daughter, Emily Carey/Olivia Cooke (another recasting after the ten-year time jump halfway through the season), are much more interesting, because they’re constantly scheming even when they don’t seem to be, and Carey/Cooke plays Alicent, Viserys’s second wife, as a good person who slowly becomes corrupt but still tries to do the right thing, and it’s fascinating. The show is ostensibly about how Viserys thinks he’s not going to have a son so he names Rhaenyra his heir, but after he marries Alicent (Rhaenyra’s best friend), he gets male heirs, so some of his advisors begin pushing him to ditch his daughter, which he steadfastly refuses to do. When he inevitably dies, we get a set-up for a civil war, with Rhaenyra and her allies against Alicent and hers. It’s a fine grand plot, and the way we reach a boiling point is well done (I won’t spoil it, but the final episode gives us a “bridge too far” moment for both women), but, again, when one side is kind of dull, it’s hard to care too much. As with the final season of GoT (which I still think is the best one, don’t get me wrong), there’s not a lot about the greater kingdom – we’re almost always confined to the capital, and it feels a bit claustrophobic. When we do move about the world, the shows feels like it’s breathing a bit more, and I hope in season 2 we’ll get more of that. I like the show, but with Targaryens on both sides of the war, it’s kind of hard to root for a side!

Red Election season 1 (Hulu). This is a fun espionage series in which the British Prime Minister (played almost cloyingly sincerely by James D’Arcy) fulfills his campaign promise of allowing Scotland to vote on an independence referendum (the “election” of the title) even though everyone agrees it’s a terrible idea. Meanwhile, Lydia Leonard, playing an MI5 agent (although I don’t know if the agency is ever referred to explicitly in the show), gets information about a Russian-backed terror attack on British soil, so she’s trying to figure that out. Her father, played by Stephen Dillane, is the head of her division, so there’s family tension as well as professional tension between them. They get a lead to a missing Danish programmer, so they bring in his girlfriend, played by Vic Carmen Sonne, to help with the investigation, as she’s conveniently a Danish spy herself. It’s a pretty good show – there are a lot of plot threads that take their time to coalesce, Leonard doesn’t trust Sonne (with good reason, as it turns out, as she’s definitely working an angle for her bosses that is at odds with what the British are doing), Dillane doesn’t seem trustworthy but Leonard doesn’t want to believe he’s a bad guy because he’s her father, and different sides are trying to influence the referendum one way or the other. Events at the end happen a bit too quickly for plausibility, especially given that the show generally takes its time, but it’s a pretty clever plot even so, which is fun. It does end with a quasi-cliffhanger, so let’s hope there’s a second season! All in all, if you’re a fan of spy shows (and you know I am!), this is a pretty good one.

Gaslit (Starz). This is an uneven mini-series about Watergate elevated by a few excellent performances. It gets its title from the main-ish character, Margaret Mitchell, the wife of Attorney General John Mitchell, who speaks out against Nixon before anyone else and is dragged through the mud by not only her husband, but the men in the administration, mainly because she’s a woman. Julia Roberts plays Mitchell, and she is absolutely terrific as a bold woman almost broken by someone whom she loves and who loves her in kind of a twisted but unfortunately all-too-typical way. Roberts dominates the scenes she’s in, but unfortunately, the sprawl of the story takes the focus off of her too often. Luckily, Dan Stevens plays John Dean beautifully, as a pretty-boy dope who craves the attention of the president because he’s a star-fucker but is also smart enough to realize when he’s being set up for the fall (there’s also a great scene with Mitchell, played a bit oddly by Sean Penn, in the Oval Office realizing that he too is being set up and turning the tables on the others in the room). Dean is not the worst dude in the scandal, and his romance with Maureen, played by Betty Gilpin, redeems him a little (she’s quite good, but she doesn’t have enough to do). The last excellent performance is by Shea Whigham, who plays G. Gordon Liddy with such bravura and intensity you almost forget you’re watching a performance. Liddy was batshit insane, and Whigham captures his utter weirdness and scariness perfectly. The series is fine, but, as I noted, a bit sprawling. We get parts about the security guard who discovered the break-in and what it means to be a black man exposing a conspiracy among a bunch of white dudes; the Latino FBI agent who’s only on the job because the burglars were Cubans; the writer who bonds with Mitchell; and the unraveling of the conspiracy itself. Individually, the portions are pretty good – the security guard, played eagerly by Patrick Walker, just wants a job, but he’s radioactive because of his fame, while the black people he meets want to use him as a symbol. But they don’t add up to something great, just something interesting. The show is fascinating because of Mitchell’s predicament (which is harrowing in many places and sad in all of them), but despite the excellent performances by Stevens and Whigham and the good performances by the rest of the cast, it’s a bit off-kilter. Worth a look if you are interested in Watergate, but not a great show.

MUSIC

Indigo Girls, Look Long, Rounder Records, 2020.

As always, the Indigo Girls put out an album, I buy it, and it’s enjoyable but nothing earth-shaking. I just like their vibe, man! As they’ve gotten older and the environment has changed, they’ve been more open about their sexuality, but it’s still not a big deal, as their songs tend to talk about “you” rather than “he” or “she,” so they can be about anyone, although something like “K.C. Girl” is a bit more explicit about it. I don’t have much to say about this album – if you like the Indigo Girls, you’ll like this – but there are some highlights. The first track, “Shit Kickin’,” literally begins the album with the word “shit,” which is fun, and the twangy, jumpy tune sets a nice vibe for the album, as the Girls (who were in their late fifties when the album came out) are a bit more nostalgic than they used to be, which isn’t surprising. “When We Were Writers” is a typical Emily song (much like “Shit Kickin'” is a typical Amy song), a bit smoother than Amy’s stuff, a bit more wistful in its nostalgia, and a bit nicer about the past. “Favorite Flavor” is another interesting Amy song, a bit minor and scuzzy, like all good Amy songs. The Girls are always willing to add some interesting sounds to their base stuff, and here we get an interesting keyboard tone throughout that makes it feel a bit more urgent. I don’t know if the band is going to release another album, but I’ll get it if they do – I just like their sound, man!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

**********

Let’s take a look at the old reprints that I picked up. Those are always fun!

More fun EC stuff from Dark Horse, with that iconic Wood cover, but dang, the Frazetta cover to Weird Science-Fantasy #29 is amazing. Dark Horse also brought out a really nice hardcover reprinting Matt Kindt’s Super Spy (which has fancy gold on the cover, which doesn’t reprint well on scans), which I couldn’t resist! The Eightball collection from Fantagraphics is well done and pretty keen-looking. Marvel brings out their penultimate Conan collection and an Omnibus of the first 40+ issues of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, from which they eventually dropped the “Peter Parker,” because who else would it be? And Titan has another Ms. Tree collection! Good for them! IDW’s weird reprinting of “The Obscure Cities” series continues with The Fever in Urbicande. It’s weird because they’re reprinting them out of order – I don’t know if it matters, as I’ve only read the first one they did, but it’s still weird. This is a beautiful-looking series, though, so I look forward to reading it eventually! Oh, and Clover Press decided to release two (2) of their Terry and the Pirates giant books in November (volume 2 was a bit late, and volume 3 was on time), which was a bit hard on the wallet (I can’t fit them on my scanner, so no scans here!). These are almost 90-year-old comics – you’d think there wouldn’t be a problem keeping to a schedule!

Here’s the money I spent this month!

2 November: $259.35
9 November: $209.07
16 November: $89.30
23 November: $130.09
30 November: $515.52

Total for the month: $1203.33 (Last November: $1075.15)
YTD: $10195.54 (Last year: $794.22)

I had a lot of “classic” reprints the last few weeks of the month, but I saved them all for the final week, hence the large bump. I’ve been scaling down my comics-ordering, but it’s taking a while to take effect. We shall see in the new year what goes on!

Here’s the list of publishers!

Ablaze: 2 (2 graphic novels)
Abrams Comicarts: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Ahoy Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
AWA/Upshot: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Black Caravan: 1 (1 single issue)
Clover Press: 3 (2 “classic” reprints, 1 graphic novel)
Dark Horse: 8 (2 “classic” reprint, 2 graphic novels, 2 single issues, 2 trade paperbacks)
DC: 10 (6 single issues, 4 trade paperbacks)
Dynamite: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Fantagraphics: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
IDW: 2 (1 “classic” reprint, 1 trade paperback)
Image: 9 (2 graphic novels, 1 single issue, 6 trade paperbacks)
Invader Comics: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Magnetic Press: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Marvel: 6 (2 “classic” reprints, 2 single issues, 2 trade paperbacks)
Oni Press: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Rebellion/2000AD: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Red 5 Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Titan: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
TKO: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Top Shelf: 1 (1 graphic novel)
A Wave Blue World: 1 (1 trade paperback)

9 “classic” reprints (72)
12 graphic novels (136)
12 single issues (140)
23 trade paperbacks (190)

Here’s the publisher list:

A14 Books: 1
Ablaze: 9
Abrams Comicarts: 7
Action Lab: 2
AfterShock: 26
Ahoy Comics: 7
Amulet Books/Abrams: 1
Antarctic Press: 1
Archaia: 5
Archie Comics: 1
Asylum Press: 1
Avery Hill: 1
AWA Studios: 10
Bad Idea: 5
Behemoth: 5
Black Caravan: 2
Black Mask Studios: 1
Black Panel Press: 1
Bliss on Tap: 1
Bold Type Books: 1
Boom! Studios: 20
Caliber: 2
Cartoon Books: 1
Centrala: 1
Cex Publishing: 1
Clover Press: 8
ComicMix: 1
ComixTribe: 2
Conundrum Press: 1
Darby Pop: 2
Dark Horse: 68
DC: 38
Dead Reckoning: 2
Del Rey: 2
Drawn & Quarterly: 3
Dynamite: 4
Epicenter Comics: 3
Fairsquare Comics: 2
Fanfare/Ponent Mon: 1
Fantagraphics: 16
Floating World Comics: 3
Forged by Fire: 5
Frank Miller Presents: 1
Gallery 13: 1
Graphic Mundi: 4
Graphic Universe: 1
Graphix: 1
Harper Alley: 1
HarperCollins: 2
Heavy Metal: 1
Hermes Press: 1
Holiday House: 1
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: 1
Humanoids: 10
IDW: 9
Image: 83
Insight Comics: 1
Invader Comics: 2
Legendary Comics: 1
Little, Brown and Company: 1
Magnetic Press: 4
Marvel: 58
NBM: 2
NoBrow Press: 1
One Piece Books: 1
Oni Press: 6
Outland Entertainment: 1
Papercutz: 3
PM Press: 1
PS Artbooks: 9
Rebellion/2000AD: 6
Red 5 Comics: 4
Scout Comics: 8
Second Sight Publishing: 1
SelfMadeHero: 2
Silver Sprocket: 1
Simon & Schuster: 1
SitComics: 3
Soaring Penguin Press: 1
Source Point Press: 5
Titan Comics: 8
TKO: 2
Top Shelf: 3
Tuttle Publishing: 3
Udon Entertainment: 1
Uncivilized Books: 1
Vault Comics: 6
Viz Media: 6
A Wave Blue World: 2
West Margin Press: 1
Z2 Comics: 1

**********

I don’t have a lot to say this month – things haven’t been great here, but they’re looking up slightly, so maybe I’ll expound on that in next month’s post. It’s already the ninth, after all, and I’d like to get this posted! So, anyway, here’s something we can all appreciate: Cool Chicks Playing Instruments!

Cool.

Ring deeemmm beeellss

Here’s her YouTube channel.

Kazakh girls playing on dombra. πŸ™‚

View post on imgur.com

Speedy.

Here’s her YouTube channel.

Finally, just something fun:

Not mine but thought it best to help others be safe this holiday season

Have a good weekend, everyone, and I hope if you’re celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas, you have a great time. Usually I link to one of the comics in this post, but this time I’m linking to Greg Hatcher’s latest book, the Dr. Fixit book that came out recently. Give it a look!

17 Comments

  1. tomfitz1

    BURGAS!!! : Your feminist side is showing!!!! lol

    I like the gifs, especially the second one where the expression of the girl behind the sexy one is priceless!

    The spooky nurse isn’t bad either. πŸ˜‰

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Alisha Kwitney one of Vertigo’s editors?

    Personally, I don’t think that Arkham Asylum could be any bleaker than Morrison/McKean’s Arkham Asylum graphic novel. Man, that was disturbingly dark and bleak.

    I know what you mean about splitting tv seasons in half. They have done this with THE NEVERS, TITANS, and will do this with DOOM PATROL.

    Have you seen the new season of TITANS? Brother Blood, is all I’m gonna say!!

    Sexy gif at the end of post. Do more of them!!!! lol

    1. Greg Burgas

      Tom: Kwitney was a Vertigo editor, yes.

      Arkham City is up there with Arkham Asylum, honestly. It’s dark.

      I haven’t watched any of Titans. It just doesn’t seem like my thing, and we’ve had a lot of other things to watch!

  2. Edo Bosnar

    I’m sure the book about the Confederate States is well written, but I’m actually kind of tired of the ‘what if the South had won?’ trope. Even if it’s done in a more level-headed scholarly fashion, I’m just not really that interested, mainly because we already live in a world in which the South won the peace – as evidenced by all of the ‘Lost Cause’ and ‘State’s Rights’ crap that’s kind of a leitmotif of US culture and politics. I’ve mentioned this in some comments thread before (probably not here but I’m too lazy to check), but I think a more interesting line of speculation would be: what if Reconstruction hadn’t been derailed, i.e., what if the US really, consistently and thoroughly did right by the freed slaves, instead of nurturing the grievances of former slaveholders (to the point of paying them compensation for ‘lost property’) and other assorted racists?

    1. Greg Burgas

      I know what you mean, sir. That would be an interesting counter-factual thing, and sadly, you’re right about the South “winning” the peace. Lots of weak-willed people in this country over the past 150 years or so! πŸ™

  3. Edo Bosnar

    Oh, yeah, that last comment got my dander up so much that I almost forgot: Resident Alien. I’ve still got a few episodes of S2/part 2 to go, so – LALALALALALALALALALALALALALALA! Not reading your review! Don’t want any potential spoilers! LALALALALALALALALA! – but I just have to say that I absolutely love the show.
    Also – I’ve acquired, but not yet read (yep, on the old shelf of shame it sits) – the first omnibus of the comics, so I’m curious to see how they will compare.

    1. Greg Burgas

      You might not have read this because you skipped the review, but the show has diverged quite a bit from the comic. Both are good, but they’re different animals by now, which is perfectly fine.

  4. Yes, the comic is Diagnosis: Murder if Dick Van Dyke were an ET. The TV series (I didn’t read the review because I have a few S2 episodes to go) is very good but its own thing.
    Other History of the DC Universe isn’t a comic, it’s long interior monologues with comic book panels as illustration. It’s a great concept but the execution is flat in general.
    Has anyone seen the movie CSA? It’s a mockumentary looking back from the present at the history of the Confederacy, which did not abandon slavery β€” the most chilling scene is an ad for the Slave Shopping Network (“We make buying a slave fun again!”) because dammit, it’s horribly believable.
    I read Invisible Men earlier this year and it is good.

    1. jccalhoun

      I really wanted to like The Other History of the DC Universe but the choice to make it illustrated text just killed it for me.

      I saw CSA years ago and remember liking it but I don’t remember a lot of specifics.

    2. JHL

      Yeah I went to a theatrical showing of CSA years ago back when I still lived in Lawrence, KS. They had filmed some of the movie in Lawrence and some locals were in the cast so they did a showing along with a talk by the creators. I seem to recall the film being fairly well done, but even back then β€œWhat if the Confederacy won” was second only to β€œwhat if the Allies lost WW2” as the most well traveled alt-history trope out there.

  5. “Race and Reunion” by David Blight does a good job explaining how the South won the peace: basically it was easier for Northerners to embrace the Lost Cause (tragedy, brother against brother, both sides were noble but made mistakes, war was about … oh, something, can’t remember exactly) and get along than deal with Jim Crow, lynching and the other effects of slavery.

  6. jccalhoun

    I totally agree about Heckler and Power Girl in One Star Squadron. Including Heckler was just weird since the character doesn’t look or act like Heckler. Power Girl was also a weird choice. I guess he had the story and had to find someone to fit the part he had in mind.

    I think there is a great story to write about Power Girl feeling like she doesn’t fit in (because she doesn’t) and grief, depression, and survivor’s guilt. Hopefully, someone will write it.

  7. Eric van Schaik

    COMICS:
    The Peter Parker Omnibus should have arrived but Amazon Holland has delay issues… πŸ™

    MUSIC:
    Iamthemorning- Lighthouse
    Russian progrock. It’s mostly piano by Gleb Kolyaden and the beautiful voice by Mariana Semkina with occasional use of other instruments.
    Normally i’m not a great piano lover but somehow it hit me at the right spot.

    CONCERTS:
    11/5 Mystery
    We had seen them earlier this year but now they had no time limitations and we had a blast.
    Shirt: no. Someone beat me to a nice large shirt with small parts of all there albums.

    11/6 Perturbator
    One of the founding members of Synthwave. Just a drummer and a keyboard player who sometimes use a guitar. We were the oldest people during this show. LOL
    Shirt: no. Nothing worth buying, but they sold the Deluxe version of the Uncanny Valley album with an extra disc.

    11/7 Porcupine Tree
    We were not allowed to use our phone because the show was being recorded for a future release.
    Shirt: yes. Instead of the usual black they also had a nice light blue one.

    11/20 Voivod / Opeth
    I still have a soft spot for Canadian band Voivod. Tonight the were the opening act so just 7 songs that made me very happy.
    Opeth played a request set with mostly old stuff. Personally I like the new stuff with him singing instead of grunting.
    Shirt: yes. Voivod had 2 nice shirts.

    11/25 The Cure
    While we are still waiting for the new album to arrive it didn’t stop them from playing a few of them. Luckely also a lot of really old stuff which made is very happy.
    Shirt: yes. Just € 20 instead of € 30/35 they aan nowadays.

    11/29 Evanescence / Within Temptation
    After being rescheduled 5 times we finally saw them. Nicoline had bought 2 tickets before we even met so this was more her concert. Personally we liked Evanescence better because of the variation and the lightshow.
    Shirt: no. This made her very happy because she thinks I have to many shirts (mine version of My Wife Is A Weirdo). πŸ˜‰

    I’m very happy with my new job. After 3 weeks I’m getting the hang of it.

    We got a dormer. When the workers are finished we move out bedroom and after my daughter move her stuff to our old bedroom I’ll get her room which will become my mancave with bookshelf on most of the walls. We hope it will be ready within 2 months.

      1. Eric van Schaik

        Tomorrow another one and after that the streak of 9 weeks with a concert ends.

        I read that an American journalist (Grant Wahl) died during the Holland-Argentina match. Were you familiar with him?

  8. Darthratzinger

    Voivod and Opeth is a fantastic combination. IΒ΄m jealous (I DO prefer growly Opeth). The Cure sell their shirts for just 20 Euros. For a band with such a status, that is very cool indeed.

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