“The simple are meat for slaughter, to be used when they are useful in causing trouble for the opposing power, and to be sacrificed when they are no longer of use.” (Umberto Eco, from The Name of the Rose)
Die #16-20 by Kieron Gillen (writer), Stephanie Hans (artist), Clayton Cowles (letterer), and Chrissy Williams (editor). $19.95, 122 pgs, Image Comics.
The final issue of Die came out in September, but I was already swamped, so I didn’t read it, figuring I’d wait until October, and now I’m swamped again, so there’s that. I read a lot of comics, y’all. Anyway, Die has been consistently one of the best comics out there during its two-year run, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the final arc is terrific. Gillen constantly subverts our expectations, as he continues to examine the nature of role-playing, not only in a game, but in life (it’s a metaphor, yo), and how the games people play can have so many effects, both good and bad, in our lives. In this arc, the group has to face a weird Lovecraftian world (Gillen notes that he had to get to Lovecraft eventually, and he does an interesting job with the controversial author) and get to the “final boss,” which doesn’t turn out the way they think it will. Gillen likes writing stories that don’t rely on punching someone in the brain to get resolved (even though he’s pretty good at violence), so when the group has to figure out a way to beat the game, it comes down to what they bring to the table as individuals rather than their ability to fight. This has been a relatively short series, but Gillen is one of the best writers around right now at characterization, so the people in the book have a lot of depth, which makes their choices that much more difficult for them and gut-wrenching to read about. Gillen still gives us some “Fuck yeah!” moments, but what’s cool about Gillen is that they’re often unusual and they stem from the personalities of the characters rather than the necessities of the plot.
Hans’s work remains amazing, and it’s nice that she was able to finish the book after her accident. She designs some extremely interesting things, with the “final boss” being a weird creation that fits the game’s aesthetic while being both scary and a bit pathetic. She turns the Lovecraft world into a creepy, nightmarish place, and she adds some nice details about the characters’ “real” lives when they reach the final stage. As always, her coloring is stunning, and each page just feels like a marvelous work of art. It’s a stunning book to look at, and I hope it means that Hans will do more interior work, as prior to this she did covers only, while it’s clear she can do interiors very well, too.
Gillen continues to show why he’s one of the best writers in comics today. Maybe there will be a nice giant-sized hardcover of the entire series in the future!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
The second volume of The Department of Truth isn’t quite as good as the first, but that’s splitting hairs a bit, because it’s still excellent. It’s a bit wordier than the first volume, as Tynion has characters – especially Hawk, the weird mentor to our hero who takes him around the country showing him stuff – expound on a lot of things, and one dude writes a long letter to his son in prose, so there’s a lot of that, but what is written is pretty fascinating, so that’s all right. And it’s not like it’s just straight prose, as Simmonds usually gets to draw weird shit while the characters are talking. Hawk and Cole, our hero who found out in volume 1 that conspiracy theories become real when enough people believe them, go on a countrywide journey that takes them to Denver to change the belief system of some of the theorists; Oregon to hunt sasquatches; and finally to Cole’s old school in Milwaukee to confront the weird man Cole has seen since his childhood, where Tynion drops the next major bombshell on us that spurs the book forward. It’s not that the first two volumes have been simply setting up a bigger plot, because they’ve been very interesting in their own right, but it’s clear that this is where Tynion wanted to get, and it’s actually pretty cool. Tynion does a good job explaining the premise of the book by weaving actual history into weird conspiracies, and with the sasquatch hunter who writes the letter to his son, we see the human cost of these things, as well. And Tynion makes sure to include the ideas that occasionally, the “truth” is weirder than fiction, as he obliquely references the fact that Trump did, after all, get elected (without ever referencing his name, which is nice because it doesn’t become simply a book about how shitty Trump is, which anyone with a brain can plainly see). So there’s a lot of exposition, but it’s freaky exposition, so it works. Simmonds continues to do a superb job on the book – his sasquatch is amazing, and at the end, when the creepy man from Cole’s childhood shows up again, he’s even scarier than in volume 1. Simmonds also does a nice job with the scene from Cole’s childhood, turning it into a parody of a 1960s cartoon (despite Cole being a child in, what, the Nineties?) that the weird creepy man intrudes upon. It’s very neat.
Tynion is having a good year, if the other book he’s writing, A Nice House on the Lake, is as good as people are saying it is. So that’s nice for him. Take a look at this series – it’s nifty!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
The Secret Land #1-4 by Christopher Emgård (writer), Tomás Aira (artist), and Mauro Mantella (colorist). $15.96, 112 pgs, Dark Horse.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Secret Land, as it was from creators I hadn’t heard of, but it turned out to be quite a good tale, which is always nice. Toward the end of World War II, a husband and wife are separated because he’s going off to Japan and she’s going undercover for the OSS to find out what the Nazis are doing now that Hitler is dead. It turns out they’re heading to Antarctica, where they have schemes. Of course, given that this is a comic, those schemes involve calling up an ancient evil thing, and the woman – Katherine – has to stop it, while her husband – Ben – tries to rescue her after finding out she’s not dead like the government told him. So it’s a tense thriller about Nazis and evil things from an evil dimension, with plenty of gory violence and plenty of surprises. Emgård does nice work making both Katherine and Ben interesting and independent characters, and he does a clever thing by not giving us a completely happy ending but also resisting the urge to do a “jump scare” or something annoying when all is said and done. It’s a complete story and it goes a lot as we expect, but he does a good job showing how scarred the survivors are from fighting against Nazis and extra-dimensional terror-things. Meanwhile Aira has a strong, clean line, so everything is very clear, which helps when we get to the monsters, which are drawn crisply and starkly so we get the full effect of their monster-ness. It’s a well-colored book, too, so everything is bright and clean, which helps create a good contrast to the oozing things that want to kill everyone.
This is a well-done monster story with Nazis and two people in love. It has everything you could want!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
The Silver Coin volume 1 by Michael Walsh (writer/artist/colorist/letterer), Chip Zdarsky (writer), Kelly Thompson (writer), Ed Brisson (writer), Jeff Lemire (writer), Toni Marie Griffin (colorist), and Chris Hampton (editor). $16.99, 110 pgs, Image.
Walsh had a cool idea – create a book where he would draw everything, but different writers would jump on board and write individual chapters. He uses the titular coin to link them all, and I imagine the writers (all of whom are credited as co-creators) came up with a general plot outline, and then they all got to work. I thought the coin would be one of the ones that Judas was paid, because why not, but it appears that it’s just your run-of-the-mill cursed coin, which causes some problems to everyone. We go from the past (colonial times, which is where we discover the “origin” of the coin) to the distant future, and in between we get some nice, nasty stories about people who held the coin and found out that wasn’t a good idea. In this kind of book, you don’t get to know the characters all that well, because each story introduces a new cast, so the hook has to be strong (and it is) and the plots have to be clever (and they are). None of the writers re-invent the wheel (the coin corrupts, but most of the people who are corrupted don’t really care all that much), but they do go full-on with the horror, and Walsh, who’s become a very good artist over the years, draws it all with great verve and panache. He gives us a grungy present, a depressing past, and a garbage-filled future, and he’s good at it all. The writers bring in the coin in clever ways, and the links are interesting to see. And hey, there’s at least a bit more, as I guess it’s an “ongoing” now (which could mean only one more collection or it could go 100 issues). That should be fun, as it feels like there are several more chapters in the coin’s existence that could lead to more ironic horror. Sign me up!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Bermuda #1-4 by John Layman (writer/letterer), Nick Bradshaw (artist), Len O’Grady (colorist), and Scott Dunbier (editor). $19.96, 80 pgs, IDW.
As I was reading this, I kept thinking, “This would make a great movie.” Animated or live-action, it doesn’t matter. It’s all-ages but isn’t “kiddie,” it has all kinds of action, it’s a quasi-coming-of-age story, it has big potential to be a franchise, and it’s just fun as all heck. Layman probably doesn’t desperately need the money, but some sweet movie money might allow him to keep Chu going longer than it will, as it’s on the verge of going away. And it might allow Bradshaw to stick around and draw more instead of going back to Marvel and drawing covers, because he’s such a great artist and we already lost Arthur Adams to covers, so I don’t want to lose the modern-day Adams to them as well!
Bermuda is not the name of the island, but the name of the redheaded girl who lives on an island in the Bermuda Triangle (maybe) with a kindly old grandfatherly mentor, fighting off the various fauna that want to kill her and also the many humans and humanoid things that live on the island and also occasionally want to kill her. The comic is really about Bobby Randolph, the son of a super-rich dude whose plane goes down on the island (which looks like a triangle and is called Trangle, because Layman is goofy) and whose sister gets kidnapped by Mermen (not that one) who plan to sacrifice her for some nefarious purpose. Bobby wants to rescue his sister, but Bermuda has to be convinced because the Mers are not very nice. Of course she does help him, as Layman takes us on a nice tour of the island, where many humans actually live, because they were swept away in the Bermuda Triangle over the centuries. Bobby’s father, meanwhile, is working on something that connects to the island, of course, and in the end, there’s a big fight against the Mers. Because you knew it was coming! However, while we get a fairly complete story, there’s plenty of stuff left over that Layman could work with, so the hope is that he and Bradshaw can do more.
Layman is a good writer, of course, but Bradshaw does so little these days that the big draw is his artwork, which is stunning. Each issue is only 20 pages, but they feel longer, because Bradshaw doesn’t take any of them off. His creatures are wonderfully designed, of course, because he’s good at that, and he does a nice job showing the riot of nature and how it encroaches on the small pockets of human civilization on the island. His people are wonderful, with interesting and functional clothing that it’s clear have been put together haphazardly, as the humans don’t have access to a lot. And his action scenes just pop off the page, partly due to O’Grady’s terrific coloring, but also because Bradshaw knows how to choreograph the action so that the most bombastic stuff comes right at you. Bradshaw is a wonderful artist, and it’s nice to see him do something that really feels like is in his wheelhouse.
Obviously, I’m friends with Layman, so I want him to do well, but this is a terrifically fun series, and there’s just so much potential for more stories and in other media for this thing. Layman needs a new pair of shoes, people!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I liked this a lot more than I thought I would – it sounded pretty good, but Starr does some nice things with it that elevate it nicely. A high-powered lawyer who doesn’t have time for her kids or stay-at-home husband (who works in “I.T.,” but is basically a stay-at-home dad) has a one-night stand with a charming stranger who, naturally, then starts blackmailing her. Starr twists it just enough that it becomes a very intriguing story, but I don’t want to give any of it away. Suffice it to say that our protagonist – Jennifer – is in more shit than she knows, but it’s lucky she’s a lawyer and that her husband worked in the computer field, because they can figure some things out too. So it becomes much more of a cat-and-mouse game than you might expect.
I’m always a bit annoyed when there are cheating stories in which the people who cheat aren’t actually bad people. Jennifer isn’t a great mother, and her husband – Matthew – definitely doesn’t deserve to be cheated on, but she’s still not a terrible person. Her cheating seems like an idiotic thing because it is, and it’s very hard to make her a decent character because of that. Starr tries, and he does a pretty good job, but it seems like she cheats because she wants some excitement, and I always chuckle when it’s presented that way, because she – I suppose – chose to get married and have children. You make compromises when you do that, and that’s never really something that comes up. Jennifer suffers for her actions, but it doesn’t seem like she learns much, and it’s frustrating. Saying “Gosh, I won’t cheat on you again” isn’t the same as knowing what is at the root of the cheating. Yes, this is a psychological thriller and such self-reflection doesn’t really belong in it, but it’s still something I ponder whenever there’s a story about cheating in which the cheater isn’t evil. It bugged me back in frickin’ 1987 when I saw Fatal Attraction in the gol-danged movie theater when I was 16, and it bugs me now. (I am positive I saw Fatal Attraction in the movie theater, but it was rated R. Did no one care that I shouldn’t have been able to see it? The Eighties ruled, man.)
Talajic does his usual excellent job on art, which helps because so much of it is people talking to each other. He does a good job with the man whom Jennifer cheats with, turning him slowly from very charming to slickly evil, and he does another nice job with Jennifer, as she slowly falls apart before putting herself back together again. A lot of the power in the book comes from the way Jennifer and Matthew relate to each other with body language and facial expressions, and Talajic does an excellent job with that. He shows Matthew being haggard with his responsibilities early in the book, and the way he’s the tiniest bit superior to Jennifer in the way he acts around her gives her the tiniest bit of justification for cheating on him. It’s extremely tiny, but it’s there, so we know that Matthew, as “good” as he’s presented, isn’t perfect. There’s still no excuse for Jennifer, but anything that might not be perfect in their marriage comes from the way Talajic draws them together, and it’s pretty keen.
This is a nice, slick thriller that has a little more on its mind with regard to women and how they are not believed about what they say about their sex lives, because men still think a woman who sleeps with more than one man is a slut. Starr gets into that a bit, and that also makes the book more interesting. So it’s definitely more clever than your regular thriller. That’s very neat.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Okay, look, I buy a lot of damned comics. I like reading comics, I don’t spend a lot of money on anything else (movies, video games, stylish clothing), and my wife makes good money and I contribute a bit to that even though I haven’t had a real job in fifteen years. So when I go buy comics and people express surprise at the stack I get each week, I say, “Sure, but I read every single one of them – well, 95% of them – and I just like them.” A dude I hang out with at the comic book store gets every variant cover under the sun and almost every single DC and Marvel comic, and he barely reads them. He wants to sell them to make a profit, but he doesn’t even do that. I don’t know where he puts them, but it’s insane. So yes, that’s a lot of comics right there. Dang.
The other problem with it is that I decided this year to write in-depth about only the five best comics of every month (I cheated this month because Die finished in September and I didn’t get around to writing about it), but this month I got so many that it was hard to figure out what to cut. Some of these above were just solid stories. Abbott 1973 is a sequel in which our intrepid reporter gets mixed up with more magic-wielding racists, and it’s pretty good. Bankshot is the story of a dude who gets super-soldiered and his problems with the American government, which wants to steal what’s inside him, and a violent maniac from his past, who wants to steal what’s inside him. It’s a nice, solid action-adventure. Batman: The Audio Adventures is a lead-in to the podcast series that will be coming soon (or has it arrived already?), and it’s fine – lots of interesting artists, and the stories aren’t bad – but I have never liked the idea of the Riddler as a murderer, and the way the writer – Dennis McNicholas is the primary writer, with some co-written by others – turns Gotham into kind of a theme park for crime doesn’t sit well with me. It’s just a bit weird. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale are back for The Long Halloween Special, in which Julian Day kidnaps Gilda Dent for dumb reasons (I mean, it’s Loeb, of course it’s kind of dumb), but like all the “Long Halloween” stuff, you endure the dumb story so you can bask in the Tim Sale art. And yes, it’s gorgeous. Chariot is a strange Knight-Rider-esque story about a dude who finds a car with an artificial intelligence in it, and he needs it to save his daughter. It’s honestly pretty decent, and Priscilla Petraites’s art is quite good. Mike Carey and Peter Gross are back at it with The Dollhouse Family, which is a nice horror story about a haunted dollhouse. Naturally. I’ll never be the biggest Carey fan, but this is pretty good – he does well with the curse on the dollhouse following one particular person and why that person might be haunted by the house, and Gross is a good artist, so that’s nice. Happy Hour is a decent satire about a society where it’s illegal to be unhappy, but Peter Milligan goes a bit over-the-top (which, given the state of American politics these days, is probably necessary) and doesn’t quite stick it. It’s like everyone is saying everything that should be a bit more subtle, but again, given where we are as a country, subtlety doesn’t really work anymore. Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook continue the Harrow County saga, as the new County protector, Bernice, has to deal with the legacy of the old County protector, Emmy, who took off. It’s not bad, but it’s still not as good as the original series. Inferior 5 gets very weird at the end, because DC canceled it and didn’t print the final two (I think?) issues, so this collection is the first time they’ve been out there. It begins with a plot by the Dominators of Invasion! fame (yes, this book takes place not too long after Invasion!, which is, of course, 30 damned years old) to follow up their failed Invasion!, but it becomes super-meta in the final issue, when Giffen and Lemire write about plots being canceled with no warning and things not getting proper endings. It’s not great, but, like a lot of Giffen’s work, it’s charmingly odd. Inkblot continues on its merry way, as the cat continues to cause trouble and the family of sorcerers continue to bicker with each other, and all sorts of weird stuff happens. It’s a nice comic, but nothing terribly special. Midnight Sky is a strange alien invasion book, which is kind of like Body Snatchers but not too much, and it’s pretty good. In The Modern Frankenstein, a doctor falls in love with the crazy guy trying to “fix” humanity, and eventually she has to turn against him, which isn’t too shocking. Nexus, as usual, is weird and occasionally unreadable (Baron is a tough writer to love), but Rude’s amazing art makes it fun to look at! The Nuclear Family is a strange time-travel story, in which a family in 1957 somehow ends up in a irradiated 1968 and just wants to get back to their idyllic Fifties lifestyle. It’s not bad, but it’s a bit abrupt, as it’s only five issues. Redemption is a fun Western set in a future dystopia, and Deodato’s art is superb – he’s really killing it on these AWA books. Christopher Sebela’s Short Order Crooks is okay, but a bit disjointed. A dude runs a food truck – poorly – in Portland, and he and a young woman who wants to work for him have to get him out from under the thumb of the Food Truck Mafia. It’s a bit too herky-jerky in terms of plot to really shine. The Wonder Woman 80th Anniversary Special is another one of these comics that generally features good art and some decent stories, although, as I have pointed out a lot recently, current Wonder Woman is far too much of a “female icon” to be a good character, and this book kind of reflects that. The best story is the Tom King/Evan Shaner one in which Diana and Clark Kent go on a date, because it’s fun as heck and it’s set in the late 1960s, and Clark is super-square. The Mark Waid story is pretty good, too, because Diana keeps giving advice to everyone until she gets sick of it and starts snapping at people … but then Waid pulls back on that, so it’s not as good as it could be. But it’s drawn by José Luis García-López, so, I mean, hot damn.
The others were ones that just missed the cut, because there were just a few better than they were. Paul Allor and Paul Tucker make good comics together, and Hollow Heart is a love story between a sentient science experiment and the dude who repairs his containment suit, and it’s tragic and very powerful. Lighthouse is based on a Verne story, but this is set out in space, and it’s a cool adventure story about racism, sexism, oppression, and betrayal. Maniac of New York is a cool horror story, in which a seemingly unstoppable killer roams New York and the government just tells everyone to live with it. Two women are determined to bring him down, but they’re fighting against an apathetic mayor’s office and the supernatural nature of the killer himself. It’s pretty keen. Tony Daniel has come a long way since his eye-gougingly bad art on The Tenth, and his stuff on Nocterra is quite good. Scott Snyder’s story of a world where the sun “disappeared” and because of the darkness, things started turning into monsters is pretty good, as Snyder certainly knows what he’s doing. I liked Parasomnia quite a bit, but was a bit annoyed because it’s only the first arc and I don’t know when or if it will be coming out again. There’s a dude wandering through a fantasy world, full of evil queens and mysterious Native Americans and clockwork men, but there’s also our world (or at least a reasonable facsimile), in which there’s a missing boy and an old man determined to find him. We know the two worlds are linked, but it’s not clear yet how. It’s pretty nifty. Time Before Time is a fun time-travel story, which doesn’t make my head hurt like most time travel stories because co-writers Declan Shalvey and Rory McConville simply make it so history never changes, so the characters can zip back and forth through time. It’s more of a crime drama that happens to take place in different time periods, and it’s pretty neat.
So that’s a bit about all the comics I bought this month, or at least the ones that weren’t graphic novels (which I’ll get to eventually!). Phew. Man, I love comics.
Pauvert’s novel, his first (and only?), is a strange, slightly science fiction thriller set in a dystopian future France, in which an unnamed narrator discovers a butchered body on a golf course on which he is smoking a joint with another man, also unnamed. The police decide he’s the killer, so they take him away, but an accident in the police van allows him to escape, but he can’t quite remember if he did, in fact, kill the young woman whose body he found. So he tries to find out what happened to him, but odd things keep happening to him – his wife, for instance, wants nothing to do with him, and he doesn’t know why – and there’s a nationalist political party in charge of France, so he’s being tracked by mysterious agents. What’s an unnamed narrator to do?!?!?
It’s a pretty good book – Pauvert does a nice job creating this slightly odd world that, sadly, feels closer to us today than it did when the book was published (although it certainly wasn’t too far-fetched back then, either). The government is persecuting minorities in subtle ways and rendering them invisible to the white population, so they can do more horrible things to them. Our protagonist isn’t black, but his weird status as a fugitive forces him to seek aid from minorities, who know a thing or two about avoiding the cops. So he needs to get help from the marginalized, and Pauvert does a good job of showing how these people manage to survive, even if many of them don’t. The narrator zips around France, from Nice to Paris to the east coast to the Alps (many of the places he visits outside of the two main cities are real locations), trying to uncover what has happened to him. It’s an interesting journey, because he learns some crucial things early on, and so his quest takes on a more urgent tone as he comes to terms with what he’s learned (I won’t spoil it, just in case you find this intriguing!). It’s not a terribly happy book by any means – in the best tradition of dystopian future books, Pauvert recognizes that it takes a lot more than one man peeved at the system to change it – but it is fairly gripping and it follows a somewhat logical course. Some of the choices the narrator makes seem misguided, but what’s interesting is that in a world where most choices have been taken away, he has little recourse but to do what he does. That’s the nice subtle thing about the book – Pauvert makes it clear that in this world, everyone’s lives have been narrowed, and that means they are locked into certain actions and can’t do much else.
It’s a pretty good translation – I don’t know how the original French reads, but the English has a terse, even paranoid feel to it, which feels right for the tone. Our narrator has a purpose, but he is also able to describe the world he lives in pretty well, so we get a good sense of what it might look like. There are a few places where the story seems oddly written, but I assume that’s not a translation problem but a choice by Pauvert to obscure or confuse things. He doesn’t do it often, but it seems like it’s there to show that our narrator himself isn’t quite clear on what’s going on. At least that’s how I see it.
This is an odd, tense book. I’m not sure what prompted me to buy it, but it’s pretty good. So that’s all right.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would – I expected it to be an enjoyable “beach read,” but Pearl’s story is somewhat deeper than that, and his writing is quite good, as well. Yes, it’s a historical fiction murder mystery, but it’s also a bit weightier than that, which is nice. The murder mystery is very well done – in autumn 1865, someone begins killing people based on the punishments that Dante finds in Hell as he travels through it … and the people who are killed fit into the categories of Bad People in Hell, as well (or at least the murderer thinks they do). The murders are bad news to the members of the Dante Club, which is the group of poets and literary people who congregate at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house in Cambridge, MA, to translate Dante, the first American translation of the classic work. Longfellow is joined by Oliver Wendell Holmes (the father of the Supreme Court Justice, who’s a young veteran in this book), James Russell Lowell, and J.T. Fields, who are helping him with the translation. They soon realize that the killer is following along with their translation, and so they are rather exercised to figure out who’s killing the people before the police start putting two and two together. As far as I can tell, Pearl does a good job with the “fair play” aspect of the mystery – there are some clues throughout that become obvious once you find out what’s going on, and the characters do not gain special knowledge that’s hidden from the reader – as soon as they know it, we know it, so we can play along. It’s a good, gripping mystery.
What elevates the book, however, is Pearl’s setting of Boston in late 1865 and how he examines the society that exists there. It’s a few months after the war has ended, and many veterans returned home with severe psychological problems, which Pearl delves into a bit in the book. Holmes Jr. is a vet, but a fairly well-adjusted one, but Pearl can still use his presence as a link between the older generation and what the younger generation had to endure. Pearl creates a character, Nicholas Rey, the first black policeman on the Boston force, and he examines the virulent racism of the time through Rey and how people treat him (Rey is half-black, too, which brings up a host of other issues with white men treating black people poorly but being perfectly willing to have sex with them). The people who run Harvard don’t want Longfellow to translate Dante, not only because they’re religious zealots who think the quasi-erotic way Dante describes punishment might be too much for the dull Unitarian stock of Boston, but also because they don’t want to champion “foreign” work, especially work by swarthy Italians that stinks of “popery,” so there’s that angle in the story as well. It’s well done, as Pearl does a good job taking real elements (Longfellow did do the first American translation of Dante, and he did have a “Dante Club” that helped him) and blending in the horrible crimes being committed. He does a nice job with the poets and publisher who are the stars of the book – they aren’t superheroic, and they’re prey to the normal foibles of normal people, and they pursue the killer in a fairly realistic manner. It’s a nicely done book.
I own two other Pearl books, so I’ll see if he can keep it up in the others. This is a strong debut, though!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Wallander seasons 1-4 (HBO). We watched one season of this a decade ago, probably, but I couldn’t remember which one, so we decided to sit down and watch the entire thing, which comes out to only 12 episodes (each episode is 90 minutes, though, so it comes out to 18 episodes of hour-long dramas). This is Kenneth Branagh’s cop series, in which he plays a Swedish policeman in Ystad who solves crimes and has lots of personal problems. You know, like no other cop show around!!!!! It’s based on a series of novels, and it’s actually filmed in and around Ystad, which is cool, and the misc-en-scene is absolutely stunning – this is a series that takes advantage of the scenery, whether it’s Sweden or South Africa (where Branagh is attending a conference) or Riga (where Branagh follows one of his cases). It’s also notable because for the first six episodes, one of the cops who works with Branagh is Tom Hiddleston, and presumably Branagh liked what he saw in him, as he directed him in Thor right after the second season (and, of course, Hiddleston was then off the show, because he got too damned big for his britches; after he disappears, his character is never mentioned again, and I wonder where he went?). Hiddleston sports glorious curly hair in this show, which is apparently his natural style, and he looks like he should be on a poster in some 12-year-old girl’s room in 1978. It’s amazing.
The show is pretty good, although Wallander is a terrible cop. He misses obvious things, he’s always doing things that aren’t strictly legal, he puts his co-workers in harm’s way because he does things that aren’t strictly legal, and he has little respect for his co-workers and little interest in them as people. He has a shaky relationship with his daughter (although they do become closer at the end of the show), he can’t keep a romantic relationship going (he has one with a woman who actually moves in with him, but then she disappears from the show and is mentioned only once more), and he has a contentious relationship with his father (played by David Warner). His dad dies halfway through the show, and Wallander spends the rest of the show worried that he is going to get dementia because his dad did. Wallander’s health is actually the most interesting part of the show, and Branagh does a nice job showing how it affects him. The mysteries are fine, and while they do usually involve a lot of death, they’re not always simply murder mysteries, as the show delves into human trafficking, the organ trade, politics, xenophobia, hackers, religious mania, espionage, and all sorts of shady topics. He always figures things out, but he doesn’t always get his man (or woman), and there’s a nice melancholic tone throughout the entire series that implies that justice is fleeting and evil is always ready to take over, and the best we can do is hold it off a little. It’s depressing, but what are you going to do?
It’s a strong cast, although the final two seasons (or, I suppose, “series”) aren’t quite as strong because his team isn’t as strong. In addition to losing Hiddleston, some other shuffles in the casting occur, and the focus stays more on Branagh in the final two series, and the show suffers a bit because of it. He feels more of a lone wolf in the final six episodes, and while the stories are still pretty compelling, he feels more adrift. I suppose that’s the plan, as he begins to suffer poor health and he doesn’t know what to do about it, but they still feel a bit weaker than the first six episodes. Still, the show is quite good – not great, because it relies a bit too much on “cop show clichés,” but Branagh is a good actor and he does nice work with the character. It’s a pretty good way to spend some time.
I own every Foo Fighters album (well, not the latest one that came out this year and not the weird EP they just released, although I will get those in time), and I dig them, generally, but Concrete and Gold is possibly their worst album – the only one that is in the running is their turgid first album. It’s not a terrible album, but it features some bad songs and lacks the general overall awesomeness of the rest of their catalog. I read somewhere that FF is “Dad Rock,” which is fine – I’m a dad – but even in their “Dad Rock-ness” they’ve been able to crank out some great tunes. The album starts off well – after a brief introductory tune, Grohl and the boys kick out the jams with “Run,” a thrashy song about, well, running. I know, it’s shocking. It’s not a great song, but it’s a good one, and it bodes well for the rest of the record. “Make It Right,” the next song, has a cool, funky guitar riff, but the chorus is a bit weaker than the verses, where Grohl does some nice snarling before the chorus throttles down a bit. The best song on the album is “The Sky Is a Neighborhood,” which comes next – it has a throbbing guitar and drum part, and Grohl sounds a bit more pissed off than he does on the other songs, which is not a bad thing. The band adds violins, too, which is a bit odd but works nicely, as it lends the song a bit of an epic feel to it. Things start to turn a bit with “La Dee Da,” which is another thrashy song, but it doesn’t quite land as well as “Run,” mainly because the verses, not the chorus, kind of hang there limply. The Foos do this quite often – they have good, rocking choruses with slightly dreary verses, and it’s a bit weird. “Dirty Water” is another one of those annoying FF songs, where they sound like the Starland Vocal Band for far too long (almost three minutes of a five-minute song) before they remember they’re allowed to rock out a bit, and it’s a bit too late. Again, not a terrible song, but annoying. But it’s the last pretty good song on the album, although, as I’ve noted, the band is too talented to really make bad music. The succession of songs that follow – “Arrows,” “Happy Ever After (Zero Hour),” “Sunday Rain,” “The Line,” and finally, “Concrete and Gold,” run a gamut of almost-there-but-not-quite songs, as they sound like songs from earlier FF albums that either had better lyrics, or more emotion from Grohl, or that je ne sais quoi that makes a song great, with the exception of the title track, on which the band sounds like they’re actually stuck in concrete as they’re playing. It’s a disappointing end to a mediocre album.
I’ve heard that the most recent album (which came out earlier this year) isn’t very good, either, but I’m not ready to give up on Dave and the band. They’ve done some great music over the years, and even on this album, no song except the title track is really bad, just somewhat uninspired. Yes, they’re getting old, but other bands get old and don’t rest on their laurels, and I guess the fact they did an album of Bee Gees songs this summer is a good omen, as it’s something weird and different. I’ll get around to their newer music, but Concrete and Gold is fairly skippable, which is too bad.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I got reprints!
Hermes Press managed to get two of their offerings out (Hermes is notoriously slow with these things): Nuke ‘Em: Classic Cold War Comics Celebrating the End of the World, which looks fun, and Ribit! by Frank Thorne, which was published back in 2019 but which I didn’t get until now.
ComicMix has Soulsearchers and Company volume 4, the Peter David book from back in the 1990s. I read the first volume and some of the second, and then fell behind, so I’ll read them all at once at some point!
Finally, DC finished collecting George Pérez’s Wonder Woman with volume 6, and I picked it up just so I could read War of the Gods #1, which is collected with it. And it was not good. Oh well.
Here’s my spending in October!
6 October: $182.10
13 October: $241.16
20 October: $134.40
27 October: $104.94
Total for the month: $662.60
And here’s the breakdown of what I bought by publisher and format!
AfterShock: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Ahoy Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
AWA/Upshot: 3 (3 trade paperbacks)
Boom! Studios: 2 (1 single issue, 1 trade paperback)
ComicMix: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Dark Horse: 5 (3 single issues, 2 trade paperbacks)
DC: 6 (1 “classic” reprint, 3 single issues, 2 trade paperbacks)
Fairsquare Comics: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Heavy Metal: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Hermes Press: 2 (2 “classic” reprints)
Holiday House Books: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Humanoids: 1 (1 graphic novel)
IDW: 1 (1 single issue)
Image: 10 (1 graphic novel, 3 single issues, 6 trade paperbacks)
Magnetic Press: 1 (1 graphic novel)
New York Review Comics: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Oni Press: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Scout Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Vault Comics: 1 (1 trade paperback)
A Wave Blue World: 1 (1 graphic novel)
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s:
4 “classic” reprints (54)
7 OGNs (95)
11 single issues (100)
21 TPBs (148)
And, of course, the publishers I have bought from so far this year:
Dark Horse: 66
Marvel: 32 (None this month?!?!?)
Boom! Studios: 17
Magnetic Press: 7
Viz Media: 7
Mad Cave Publishing: 5
Oni Press: 5
Source Point Press: 5
Ahoy Comics: 3
Black Panel Press: 3
Hermes Press: 3
A Wave Blue World: 3
Abrams ComicArts: 2
Albatross Funnybooks: 2
Black Mask: 2
Cat-Head Comics: 2
Dead Reckoning: 2
Fairsquare Comics: 2
Heavy Metal: 2
New York Review Comics: 2
21 Pulp: 2
Amulet Books: 1
Archie Comics: 1
Avery Hill: 1
Beehive Books: 1
Black Cat: 1
Clover Press: 1
Conundrum Press: 1
Drawn & Quarterly: 1
Epicenter Comics: 1
Floating World Comics: 1
Gallery 13: 1
Grand Central Publishing: 1
Holiday House Books: 1
Iron Circus Comics: 1
Keylight Books: 1
Living the Line: 1
Pantheon Books: 1
Plough Publishing: 1
Red 5 Comics: 1
Second Sight Publishing: 1
Storm King: 1
Top Shelf: 1
Obviously, we’re still a bit upset around here because of Greg’s death, but we’re getting through it. If you can donate to his wife, here’s the GoFundMe page for it, and here’s Greg’s Author Page on Amazon, in case you want to buy his writing. Julie is a wonderful person, and she deserves far better than this. As I noted in the earlier post about Greg, we’ll be reprinting all his columns here, but we’re figuring out how to do that (in what structure and format and chronology, in other words, not how, because that part’s easy). It will happen, though, so if you ever missed one, stay tuned.
I went out with some friends after tennis on Monday, which none of you should care about because you don’t know any of them, but I went out because I like the people I play tennis with, and we had a good time. Greg’s death actually had something to do with it, because I liked Greg a lot, and I didn’t see him that often. Living over a thousand miles apart will do that, you know. In the modern world, it’s easy to meet people from far away, but naturally, it’s harder to hang out with them, too. I don’t see my best friends all that often, because many of them still live in southeastern Pennsylvania where we grew up, and even the people I have become friends with in Phoenix don’t live that close to me, and they – like me – have a lot going on in their lives. So I wanted to go out with my “tennis friends” because I like them and Greg’s death reminded me – I don’t need that big a reminder, as I’m a sentimental doofus at the best of times – that we should reinforce the connections we have in this world, because you never know when they will be severed. I can’t jump on a plane and fly to Seattle, or Portland, or Philadelphia, or any other place where I know and love people, but I can ask my friends to hang out after tennis at the Angry Crab in Mesa and get a beer and eat some jambalaya. That’s not a bad thing. Here we are:
I don’t have much else to say. We’re still having issues with my younger daughter, who’s still going through shit at school. Everyone she meets tells her that it gets better once she’s out of high school, and she appreciates that, but that doesn’t really help her right now. She has a little over a year and half left of high school, then she can tell everyone to fuck right off and never look back. We’re just hoping she can keep it together until then. She started a job at Walgreens, and she likes having a bit more money, and they love her (the customers don’t because thanks to COVID and Trump, people think it’s their God-given right to be dicks, but the other workers love her), and she enjoys the work to a degree (I mean, she has to deal with the dickish customers, so there’s that), so that’s something. It’s just frustrating living with her, because it’s very hard to help her, and we’ve tried a lot of stuff. She definitely needs better friends, but that would mean teenagers would stop being assholes, and I’m not sure that’s going to happen anytime soon.
I apologize for bitching. It bothers me that kids are such dicks, and it bothers me that people in general are such dicks. It shouldn’t surprise me, I guess, because I’ve had many years to get used to it, but I still can’t. Don’t be a dick, people.
I hope everyone is enjoying their autumns. We’re gearing up for the holiday seasons, so I hope you’re not too stressed out about that! Have a nice day!