“You, too, must learn to ridicule. That way lies health.” (Irvin D. Yalom, from When Nietzsche Wept)
This is a fun comic about dwarves and elves … set in a western Pennsylvania coal mining town. Because of course there are dwarves in a coal mining town! Aleck is our hero, a young man leaving for college (at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh), but of course, given that the book is called “White Ash,” he doesn’t exactly leave the town that names the book, because that would be silly. His dad has an accident in the mine, and that leads to Aleck learning about his history as a dwarf (half-dwarf, actually, because his mother was human) and what that means. It’s an adventure, in other words, as he and that hot elf on the cover – the daughter of the town’s richest resident, because of course she is – have to fight monsters called the Brood and figure out why the monsters are suddenly active again after 500 years. Stickney does a good job with the characters, making them feel real even though they are running through a fairly standard plot, and it’s why the book works as well as it does. Aleck and Lillian have a good dynamic, and it’s clear that Stickney is setting up a love triangle with Katlyn, the local hottie who’s been friends with Aleck for a while but really wants to get in his pants. Even the villains are pretty interesting because they’re not just one-note, boring bad people. Hughes does a good job with the art, as his style is slightly cartoonish but, working in conjunction with Cramb, he gets the weirdness of a lot of these small towns, especially in Pennsylvania – the upper crust living in palatial mansions while the rest of the town slowly dies. It’s a good-looking book with a clever hook that takes many relatively uninteresting hooks of fantasy stories and gives them good twists. I don’t know if there’s only going to be one more volume or several, but the book is set up for either one, and I’ll be happy to check them out.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
The Wrong Earth volume 2: Night & Day by Tom Peyer (writer), Jamal Igle (artist), Russ Braun (artist), Peter Krause (artist), Juan Castro (inker), Andy Troy (colorist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), Rob Steen (letterer), and Cory Sedlmeier (collection editor). $17.99, 136 pgs, Ahoy Comics.
Peyer and Igle continue their very fun examination of pre- and post-Dark Knight Returns Batman, with Dragonflyman and Dragonfly still stuck on the opposite Earths, but coming together finally on a third Earth where the Big Bad and his evil scheme are revealed. It’s a groovy superhero story, sure, but Peyer is too smart to be locked into that, so he shows us how the two main characters have changed while they’ve been on each other’s Earths, and what happens when they are forced to deal with those changes and what it means for their “real” companions, especially Dragonflyman’s Stinger, who had no idea he was being mentored by Dragonfly and doesn’t really like finding out. Peyer also hints around at the weirdness of actually having a teenage sidekick without being too overt about it, which makes the book even more insightful even though it features men wearing green-and-purple “dragonfly” costumes. By bringing the two “Dragonflys” together, Peyer can examine both their methods and play them off each other, giving us a deeper understanding of why they do what they do. Igle is a terrific artist, so of course the book looks great, and while his style is a bit too “clean” for Dragonfly’s world, Peyer puts both of them in a shiny third world, where Igle’s design work and crisp line can really come through beautifully. This is really a fun book that’s a lot more thoughtful than you might expect (even when Peyer lays it on a bit thick, as he does with the misogyny of Dragonflyman’s Fortune City officials, it’s “fun” because it’s so ridiculous but feels, sadly, so true), and it’s cool that Peyer is still getting to do it. On to volume 3!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Space Bastards volume 1: Tooth & Mail by Eric Peterson (writer), Joe Aubrey (writer), Darick Robertson (artist), Simon Bisley (artist), Diego Rodriguez (colorist), Pete Pantazis (colorist), Simon Bowland (letterer), and Taylor Esposito (letterer). $19.99, 188, Humanoids.
The conceit of the book is pretty good – a mail service that has been weaponized, basically, because the mail carriers get paid if they deliver the package, but anyone can deliver it, and whenever one takes it off another carrier, charges accrue, so there’s a reason to apply violence to any carrier who happens to be carrying mail. This is the genius of con man Roy Sharpton, who’s trying to stick it to a big-time capitalist who used to work for him and is trying to turn the galaxy into the most boring place imaginable just so he can make money from it. This dude, Wayne Powers (who is not like Bruce Wayne at all, no sir!), is trying to drive Sharpton out of business, and that’s the big plot, but Peterson and Aubrey are more concerned with the carriers, who are a motley crew. The new guy, David Proton, was fired from Powers Industries, and he seems like too meek a dude to be a mail carrier, but he figures it out pretty quickly. The guy on the cover, Manicorn, is a big tough dude who starts out mentoring Proton but soon becomes his implacable enemy because Proton did what Manicorn told him to do: be a dick. The mail carriers go around wreaking havoc in the course of their duties, and it’s pretty insane but very fun. It doesn’t hurt that Robertson is drawing this, because of course he’s very good at drawing mayhem, and he has a lot of fun with this. There is, naturally, a cliffhanger at the end, because it seems that Powers has won his war, but I doubt that Peterson and Aubrey are done with this story. This is just a rip-roaring adventure, and it’s nice that Peterson and Aubrey don’t just tell the story from beginning to end – they jump around and let us piece it all together. It’s well done, and it looks great. Sounds good!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Girner gives us a story set in medieval Japan, which is an interesting time period (the back of the book claims it’s in the 1500s, which I guess we should believe, but it’s never stated in the book, although it’s clearly before the Tokugawa shogunate, which was established in 1603), and he gives us a clan that is ruled by a man who doesn’t want to be a warrior and his sister, who desperately wants to be a warrior but can’t because she’s, you know, a girl. So of course she pretends to be a man, wears a mask, and leads the clan into battle, with all the glory going to her brother. That’s not the story. The story begins years later, when she’s on the road and she meets up with men who want revenge on the clan that destroyed theirs … which works, as it’s also the clan that destroyed hers. So Ketsuko joins with the men, and she’s also protecting a woman she meets on the road, who leads the men to where their enemies will be. Nothing, naturally, is as it seems, and we learn terrible things about all the characters, and we learn why Ketsuko is wandering alone and what horror is in her past. It’s a gripping story, not always going where we think it will even if some things are familiar about it. Girner doesn’t shy away from the fact that these two women are among a group of unruly men during a time when they could not count on any protection but what they can give themselves (no, the story is not set in modern-day Texas, although I suppose it could be). I’ve always liked Bivens’s work, and it’s nice to see him getting some work (I don’t know if he works outside of comics, but he doesn’t seem to draw too much). He gets to draw a lot of violence, and he revels in it, but he’s also very good at the medieval setting, with the claustrophobic forest always closing in on the characters, monsters lurking in the shadows, and the transformation of Ketsuko into a demon when she puts on the mask particularly well done. It’s a tragedy, naturally, and Girner needs an artist to make the characters live so that when horrible things happen to them, it’s more brutal, and Bivens does that very well. Not for the first time, I wish Bivens would get higher profile work. We shall see.
Anyway, this is a cool comic about people forced to make horrible choices. Those are always cool, right?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Speaking of weird things happening in Pennsylvania towns, Carmen Maria Machado, who grew up near Allentown and lives in Philadelphia, decides to ask “What if the fire burning under Centralia was supernatural in origin?” Centralia, as you all should know, is the mining town in central Pennsylvania under which a fire has been burning since – wait for it – 1962. This fire has turned the town into a ghost town, as it’s wildly unsafe to live above a coal fire, and it’s a legendary place among Pennsylvanians. It’s not too far from where my wife grew up, so she’s actually been through it – I don’t know if my parents ever drove up there with us in the 1980s just to show it to us, but I doubt if you’re allowed to do that anymore. Anyway, Machado gives us Shudder-To-Think, PA (as with any state, Pennsylvania has its fair share of weird names, so this really isn’t as unusual a name as you might think), which has a weird human-deer thing in the woods, skinless men roaming around, women with big gaps in them (it makes sense in the context of the book, but that’s what they are – gaps), and an unusual water problem. Two teens, Eldora and Octavia, wake up in a movie theater, and they know they’ve been somewhere else, but they don’t remember where. Much like Aleck in White Ash, Octavia is trying to get out of town to college, but Eldora wants to investigate what happened to them, and that leads into the horror of the town’s history and what has been happening for a century. There’s a lot of magic, but it probably won’t surprise you that there are rich men doing horrible things, because of course there are. Machado doesn’t make it quite so clean-cut, which is nice, and the story brings up a lot about the relationship between men and women and their economic livelihood and what can be done about it. Dani’s art is terrific as usual – she’s very good at horror, and her designs for the weird creatures are wonderful – and Bonvillain does a good job coloring a lot of the book in a grubby brown, contrasting the beaten-down town with the amazing hues of autumn in rural Pennsylvania (which is, honestly, gorgeous). Dani keeps getting bigger jobs, which is very cool because her work is very good but also idiosyncratic, so she brings a different look to a regular comic. That’s always a good thing. Hill House Comics keeps putting out interesting horror stuff, and I hope Joe Hill and his collaborators can keep it up.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
The Aquaman book is the typical “80th-Anniversary” thing DC is doing – mostly decent short stories with good art, but nothing too memorable. I got the Wonder Woman one, too, which will probably be more of the same! The Autumnal is a pretty good horror comic about a woman who returns to the town where she grew up and discovers the horrible reason her mother sent her away. It’s not quite as good as the other two comics set in small towns that I read in September (see above), so that’s why it’s here, but it’s still pretty good, even if the protagonist is kind of dumb. Kieron Gillen and Esad Ribic do pretty good work on The Eternals, as one of the group gets murdered and the others are trying to figure it out. There’s a good twist at the end that puts the Eternals’ #1 power – you know, not dying – in a different light, but it’s tough to care too much about the characters, even if Gillen does his usual good job with characterization and Ribic is a good artist. Frank at Home on the Farm is a creepy horror book, as Frank returns from World War I to find out that his family has disappeared. Nobody in town seems to care, and then the animals start talking to him. Yeah. It works until the very end, when writer Jordan Thomas simply spells it out for us, which is a bit disappointing. Clark Bint is clearly channeling Frank Quitely in his art, but he does it really well, and while his coloring is a bit too dark, the book looks great. W. Maxwell Prince, who simply enjoys writing creepy-ass stories, gives us a bunch of sad clown stories in HaHa, which is set in the universe of Ice Cream Man but, you know, has nothing but clowns. Lots of good artists in this one. Zac Thompson and Andy MacDonald do a nice job with I Breathed a Body, in which a social media influencer does something awful and one of his handlers is tasked with cleaning up the mess, but things are a lot worse and weirder than she thought they were. MacDonald’s art is excellent as usual, but it’s a bit too … I don’t know, obvious? I mean, there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on, but it’s essentially a story about a man being horrible and the women who suffer because of it. Yes, I liked another book like that above, and I like this, too, but this seems a bit less subtle than Machado’s book. Garth Ennis and Goran Sudzuka have fun with Marjorie Finnegan, Temporal Criminal, which is about a young woman who jumps through time stealing things and the woman who’s after her and why they need to team up. It’s a blast, but it’s also only the first part, so once Ennis finishes, I’m sure I’ll like it more. Red Room continues to be entertaining, and it’s neat that Ed Piskor sets these stories in the same universe but focuses on different aspects of the murders, but it’s still finding its feet, so we’ll see how it goes going forward. I liked Scarenthood quite a bit, as Nick Roche gives us a story about four parents in Ireland who awaken something in their kids’ pre-school, and it ain’t pleasant. The horror stuff is fine, but Roche does a good job with the stresses of parenting and the isolation that some parents can feel when their entire focus is their kids. Roche is a good artist, too, so the book is very nice-looking. I don’t know how many volumes he has planned, but there’s going to be at least one more, it seems. Scout’s Honor is a clever post-apocalyptic story in which the Boy Scouts are the template for the army holding society together. The main character is a girl hiding her gender because these scouts don’t accept girls, and her best friend – the son of the “Scoutmaster” – is hiding the fact that he’s gay. Of course things aren’t as they seem with the “scouts,” and things spiral into violence. It’s not the most original story beyond the clever set-up, but it’s entertaining and Luca Casalanguida’s art is quite good. The second volume of Shadow Service isn’t quite as good as the first, but it’s still pretty good. Our hero, Gina, finds out more about herself and why she’s such a good witch, and she discovers she needs the spies she betrayed in volume 1 because bigger things are coming for her. There’s supposed to be a volume 3, and I’ll get it, because it feels like this was more of a “set-up” volume for that. Still good, though. Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Blood is a fun collection of short stories, all fairly tongue-in-cheek but with some good horror elements, too. The creators – Paul Cornell, Russ Braun, Mark Russell, Peter Snejbjerg, Dean Motter, Devin Grayson, Ryan Kelly, and Tom Peyer, among others – have a good time twisting some of Poe’s tales or giving us stories starring Poe, Sherlock Holmes, Count Chocula (yep), Thoreau, Longfellow, Emerson, Osgood, and Fuller, and Rufus Wilmot Griswold, among others. It’s a bit goofy, but lots of fun. In theory, I like S.W.O.R.D. volume 1, because Abigail Brand is awesome, Al Ewing is a good writer, and Valerio Schiti is a good artist. And it’s pretty good – Ewing does a good job with the characters, the way Brand and the others deal with their part of the “King in Black” crossover is pretty good, and it all looks good. But it’s still part of the Hickman Reboot, which sucks, so there’s that thought in the back of my head that this is crap. Sigh. The reboot of the reboot cannot come soon enough. Let’s move on!
In 2017, we went on a Disney cruise in the Caribbean with my parents and my sister for my parents’ fiftieth anniversary (and, because they’re well off, they paid for it, which was nice of them). We stopped a few places in the Virgin Islands, and while I was there, I had to visit a local bookstore (I think it was in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas, but I could be wrong), because of course I had to! I picked up this book while I was there, and it only took four years for it to come up in the alphabetical rotation! Considering some books sit on my shelf for a decade or more before I get to them, that’s not bad!
Parker writes about the British expansion into the Caribbean in the 1600s and into the 1700s and 1800s. It’s a good book – very exhaustively researched, and Parker has a good writing style that keeps things lively even as he gets deep into the horrors of the sugar plantations. He focuses on the three main families that dominated the sugar trade – early on, James Drax established himself on Barbados and became filthy rich (and yes, the villain in Moonraker is named after his family; Fleming was friends with one of Drax’s descendants); Christopher Codrington, a contemporary of Drax, also started on Barbados and also became filthy rich; in the later 17th and into the 18th century, Peter Beckford established himself in Jamaica and, what do you know, became filthy rich. Parker tells the entire story, but those three families remain at the center of the narrative. He delves deeply into how and why sugar became so big, how the sugar magnates influenced the government to keep themselves rich (something that we should be glad never happens anymore!), how the sugar barons played their part in starting the American Revolution and even bringing it to an end (the fleet that Cornwallis was waiting for at Yorktown never came because the rich British businessmen in the Caribbean wanted it to protect their interests). He examines the wars of the period through the prism of the sugar barons’ interests, which doesn’t tell the whole story, naturally, but because Parker’s focus is on the Caribbean and sugar, we can forgive him a bit. He writes briefly about the War of Jenkins’ Ear, which remains the best-named war in history. It’s an extremely informative book about an important industry that changed the world in both major and minor ways (England became a nation of tea-drinkers thanks to the abundance of sugar, for instance), one that doesn’t really get enough focus in history books, even those about the United States, despite the New England colonies’ strong links to the sugar-producing islands. Perhaps the reason this is so is due to the slave trade, which Parker focuses on heavily. In the early days, the workers on Barbados were white indentured servants, but when sugar became the sole cash crop on the island (something which Parker implies was terrible, as sugar can be very bad for the soil, although I assume overgrowing any one crop will do that to the soil), many more workers were needed than could be collected from the poor of Britain, so the government and the planters naturally turned to slavery. This led to the black population of the islands far exceeding the white population, which led to paranoia on the part of the whites, as they lived in fear of a slave revolt. On Jamaica, there was a substantial free black population living in the interior of the island, and it took decades for the British to “pacify” the island, which of course led to more paranoia. Parker shows how the planters basically invented racism as the current Republicans practice it – as the planters became richer and richer and did not share their largesse with the poor white population, they needed to drive a wedge between the poor whites and the slaves, so they emphasized the racial “differences” between the whites and blacks so the poor whites wouldn’t focus on the class differences and team up with the slaves to overthrow the existing order. It’s a depressingly effective strategy that still works today, as prior to the late 1600s, “racism” as we know it didn’t really exist – yes, there was a lot of stereotyping, but it was mostly due to unfamiliarity between different races. The planters figured out how to weaponize that stereotyping, and we got 400 years of racism. Thanks for that, rich white assholes! Parker does a good job showing the effects of slavery on both the black population (which we can figure out for ourselves), but also on the white population, where people who came to the Caribbean and were horrified by the treatment of the slaves gradually became inured to it, becoming brutal in their own right and justifying it so they wouldn’t have to deal with the fact that they became monsters. It’s a terrifying thought that doesn’t get as much attention, because fuck those guys, right, but it has major implications for the way some people think even today, as centuries of horrific behavior being normalized by the white slave-owners seeps into the consciousness of people today, who never owned slaves or are even descended from slave-owners. Parker also looks at the many people who railed against the treatment of slaves but weren’t around long enough to become brutalized by the practice. Many writers would visit the Caribbean for one reason or another and be sickened by the treatment of the slaves, but Parker makes the point over and over that they were still the products of their time and couldn’t quite make the leap to arguing for abolition – they just thought the slaves should be treated better. The slave trade has to be a major part of a history of the sugar trade, and Parker does a good job going through its evolution and eventual abolition, a deed done far too slowly.
Most histories bring in the Caribbean only tangentially, so it’s nice to read a book that is focused on it. I do wish Parker hadn’t been quite so Anglo-American-centric – the French built up some sugar plantations, after all, as did the Spanish to a far lesser degree, and the Dutch were ready to profit off of all trade, including the slave trade, and Parker doesn’t get into the Haitian revolution quite as much as he could – but as a book about the British involvement in the Caribbean, this is very good. It’s expansive and in-depth, but Parker does a good job humanizing the characters, so even if they do horrific things (and many of them do), they’re still people, and for many of them, we can understand why they act the way they do even if it disgusts us. You know you want to know all about the sugar industry in the 1600s, right?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
I am a particular fan of the subgenre of writers/historians writing quasi-memoirs about cities in which they live or spend a great deal of time, and so I enjoyed Pamuk’s quasi-memoir about Istanbul, where he has lived his entire life (in the same places he grew up in, as well). His major theme involves hüzün, the Turkish word for “melancholy,” a feeling he ascribes to İstanbullus in a way that isn’t necessarily completely sad, but a mixture of sadness, regret, and fierce pride. People who live in the city, Pamuk asserts, feel this because they are aware of their city’s fallen status from the center of the world (which it arguably was for centuries) to backwater (which it arguably was for decades of Pamuk’s early life and might still be). So he writes about his life and the nagging feeling of impotence he has felt for most of it, while also writing about the recent history of the city, especially how it is viewed by Westerners. In the late Ottoman period and then after the end of the empire, Turkey tried to become “western,” and Pamuk examines this phenomenon as part of this obsession with hüzün, because he points out that Istanbul can never be Western, and the more it tries, the more Westerners don’t respect it and the more fundamentalists rage about it. For him, as well as for many İstanbullus, this contradiction is hard to reconcile. He writes about the destruction of the old city in the name of progress, but shows that progress doesn’t bring satisfaction, because it takes the city further away from its “Turkishness,” for lack of a better word. Pamuk is no reactionary – he does not bemoan the loss of the old ways just for their sake, but he wonders has replaced it and whether it’s worth it. He doesn’t romanticize the past – he not only writes how decrepit the city had become before the relatively progressive Atatürk took over, but he uses many photographs to illustrate his point. He writes about the Europeans – mostly French – writers who came to the city and wrote about it, giving Europe a romantic version of the city that eludes native writers, who tried to write like “Westerners” but failed to capture the “exotic” essence of the city. He compares the Europeans – Flaubert is perhaps the most famous one – to Turkish writers of the 20th century, who were brutal in their assessment of their own city because they were, after all, afflicted with melancholy. Pamuk does a good job writing about his early life (he stops when he’s about 20, which is why this is only a quasi-memoir, plus he doesn’t go in chronological order) and how it ties in with this feeling, and his writing about the end of an early love affair is heartrendingly beautiful, showing why Pamuk is, after all, a Nobel Prize winner.
This is a neat book. I don’t know if people appreciate the subgenre as much as I do, but if you do, you should seek this out!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Parry is a journalist who went to Indonesia several times from 1996-1999, during which time President Suharto, who had been in power since the mid-1960s (as seen memorably in the terrific movie The Year of Living Dangerously) resigned (or was forced out, depending on who you ask) and East Timor voted for independence, two events Parry covers diligently. He also spends time in Borneo, where several ethnic groups turned on each other and began killing everyone they could find. None of these events happened smoothly, and Parry does a good job writing about them and how they spiraled out of control. The book jacket is somewhat deceptive – when Parry is in East Timor, the jacket claims, he “reached his own breaking point,” which makes it sound a lot more dramatic than it actually is. What happens is that Parry decides to flee Dili, the capital of East Timor, when the vote for independence is announced, because the pro-Indonesian militias and gangs, along with their enablers in the Indonesian army, were threatening to storm the UN bunker and kill everyone, even foreigners, and Parry decided that discretion was the better part of valor and got on a transport plane to Darwin in Australia. I mean, it’s not like he went all Colonel Kurtz on anyone – he just decided that maybe not dying was a good thing. He writes in the book as if it was shameful, but it doesn’t read like that. He goes into plenty of horrible places rather bravely, and gets a lot of different people to talk to him – killers in Borneo, politicians in Jakarta, gangsters in Dili, pro-independence guerrillas in the Timorese mountains – and is able to tell their stories very well, so it seems like he’s a bit hard on himself. Journalists writing in war zones are always interesting if they’re good writers, as they can give a good overview of what is actually happening while society crumbles, and Parry does that well, especially in the latter part of the book when he’s in Timor. There’s a good sense of both history being made and civilization faltering, and it’s a gripping book showing how a vast, multicultural country can come apart at the seams. Luckily there’s no relevance about that to, I don’t know, the United States, so we can safely ignore this. Obviously, Indonesia was a not much of a democracy when it gained independence in the 1940s and both its post-war presidents did nothing to help it along, but Parry makes the point that many ethnic groups managed to live alongside each other for a while, and the tragedy of Indonesia is that it didn’t continue.
It’s an interesting and compelling book, with enough of Parry’s personal thoughts in it to make it more like a memoir and less like a standard history (which is, again, a hallmark of journalists writing at history’s flashpoints), and while there’s kind of a happy ending (East Timor is independent and Indonesia has stabilized a bit since the late 1990s), it’s still tragic that people feel the need to treat others the way the Indonesians treated their neighbors. People suck sometimes, although Parry does keep a focus on the goodness in many of his characters, as well. People might suck, but any one person might be quite excellent. Even in a horrific place, you can find grace.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
A Discovery of Witches season 2 (AMC). My wife read the trilogy on which this is based and enjoyed it, so we figured we’d check out the show. It’s not bad, although season 2 wasn’t as good as season 1, as the two main characters – Diana and Matthew – went back in time to 1590s London, leaving the rest of the cast a bit adrift as they keep busy doing things. The series is set in a world in which three other “species” – witches, vampires, and demons – live among humans, and they have an uneasy peace which is always fraught and becomes more so when Diana, a witch (a very powerful one, as it turns out) falls in love with Matthew, a vampire very high up in the vampire hierarchy. They have to flee to the past to find a MacGuffin but also to escape the factions that want to kill them. The show hinges on the chemistry between Diana and Matthew, especially because they’re separated from the rest of the cast for the season, and … it’s okay. Teresa Palmer is pretty, but she’s just kind of there – I’ve actually seen her in a few movies prior to this and she made no impression on whatsoever. She doesn’t actively suck, but she’s paired with Matthew Goode, who’s really intense, and it doesn’t seem to work too well with them. They go through the motions in Elizabethan England, with all the people you expect to show up showing up (except Shakespeare, because there seems to be a bit of a Shakespeare backlash in fiction recently, as writers turn to the inarguably more interesting Christopher Marlowe to spice things up, and in this, Tom Hughes – so good as Albert in Victoria – sulks as Marlowe because he’s in love with Matthew and now Matthew has the temerity to hook up with a girl!), and it’s fun and all (Michael Jibson has a grand time playing Emperor Rudolf II), but the parts in the present don’t work as well, because everyone is just waiting around for the two leads to return. It’s a decent cast (James Purefoy stands out as Matthew’s broody father), and it’s fun to watch, but it seems the couple are going back to the present soon enough (I thought the season would end with them going back, but instead it ends with them preparing to go back), which should make the next season much better. We shall see!
The White Lotus season 1 (HBO). Mike White brings us this acidic satire, in which pretty much everyone sucks and nobody wins and the brief moment of hope at the end will surely be snuffed out very quickly. It’s a weird show, because it’s full of great acting and savage, biting satire, but it still doesn’t work as well as it should. Perhaps the lack of anyone to root for is the problem, although stories with nothing but assholes can certainly work. Perhaps it’s the fact that despite people really wanting to change, nobody really does (save for that one example at the end, and you could argue that’s not going to stick), even though there’s seemingly enough things pushing some characters to change. I think it’s because the two “worst” characters – not that they do horrible things, but that they’re the biggest assholes – are also the most “right,” and while I loved that, I have a feeling, based on the arguments on the AV Club, that most people don’t see it that way and are vaguely discomfited by the fact that White doesn’t make the most obvious characters the “right” ones. To wit: Jake Lacey plays Shane, a spoiled rich mama’s boy who’s on his honeymoon with Alexandra Daddario, looking as unbelievably and strangely scorching as usual. Steve Zahn plays Mark, who’s married to Connie Britton, the clear breadwinner in the family, and who thinks he has testicular cancer at the beginning of the show and when he gets the good news that he doesn’t, decides to become a better man and bond with his son, especially after he finds out his dad, whom he worshiped, died because he contracted AIDS, not because he got cancer. At the beginning, Shane is at the airport, his wife is nowhere to be found, and there’s a coffin getting loaded on the plane. We then flashback to the beginning of the week, and so we’re wondering what happens with his wife and who’s dead (it’s pretty clear early on that she’s not dead, although you’re never quite sure). White gives us a bunch of rich brats and contrasts them with the lower-income workers, with Murray Bartlett as the increasingly unhinged concierge doing amazing work. I don’t want to mention all the plots, but the actors are terrific: Britton as the overworked alpha to Zahn’s submissive (but wanting not to be!) beta; Jennifer Coolidge as the squirrelly rich woman who wants to scatter her mom’s ashes in the ocean; Fred Hechinger as Zahn and Britton’s teenage son, who loses his phone and begins to see the world around him; Sydney Sweeney as Zahn and Britton’s college-age daughter, who brings her friend, played by Brittany O’Grady, along with her, and their friendship gets seriously tested; Lukas Gage as a hotel employee whom Bartlett ropes into his weirdness; Molly Shannon as Shane’s incredibly hilarious but insufferable mother; Jon Gries (Lazlo Hollyfield!) as the man who digs banging Coolidge; and Natasha Rothwell as the hotel employee whom Coolidge latches on to. They’re all excellent, with Daddario in particular absolutely killing it as the woman who comes to realize she’s made a big mistake in her marriage (Daddario, I would imagine, doesn’t get a lot of respect as an actor because of her looks, but she’s really good in anything she happens to be in, even San Andreas). But White does something interesting. There’s a story involving Paula, the girl O’Grady plays, and because Paula is a young person of color, it seems like she will be more sympathetic. We think Daddario is going to be sympathetic because she’s a woman, married to kind of a douchebag. Bartlett’s character is gay, so perhaps he’ll be sympathetic (especially because Mike White himself is gay). Rothwell is black and on a lower social strata than the guests, so she’s supposed to be sympathetic. However, only one of those characters comes out looking especially well, and even that is not necessarily because of anything they do. Shane and Mark, the two rich white men, are the most in the “right,” even if they act in completely asshole-ish ways. Bartlett double-books Shane’s room (that his mother paid for) and never really admits he made a mistake, and Shane won’t let it go. As douchey as Shane is, he’s not wrong. Daddario goes through a crisis of identity when she realizes she probably doesn’t love Shane, and while Shane acts kind of dimwitted around her because it’s clear he’s not one for introspection, he never really shuts her down, allowing her to go off and think about things, even if it works out badly for him. Mark, meanwhile, feels attacked as a rich, straight, white man, and he fights back, and he’s not wrong, either, when he talks about privilege and power and why the world is so messed up. It’s very clever, and I think that by making all the characters – men, women, straight, gay, white, black, native Hawaiian, rich, not-so-rich – complex characters, White subverts our expectations and makes this a much more interesting show. It’s still not a great show, and I’m still not sure if White nails his targets as well as he wants to, but it’s a nice, wonderfully acted, ambitious show. That’s not too bad a thing.
SurrealEstate season 1 (SyFy). This is a nifty twist to your standard horror show – Tim Rozon runs a real estate agency that handles “problem” houses, meaning haunted ones, and he and his group figure out how to “de-haunt” them so they can sell them. Sarah Levy (who was on Schitt’s Creek, but I haven’t seen Schitt’s Creek, so I didn’t recognize her) is our POV character, the extremely motivated agent who comes on board after a bad firing from her last job and needs to get caught up with what the agency is all about. It’s a fun show because while the houses are haunted, Rozon points out that sometimes, it’s not haunting, so it’s not just “Let’s go and get the ghost!” but figuring out what exactly is going on. The team – the science guy, the ex-priest, and the office manager – is interesting, and Rozon has good chemistry with Levy (non-romantic) and decent chemistry with Tennille Read (romantic; she’s the client in the first episode whose house is the focus of the season-long subplot). Rozon seems like the kind of actor who has chemistry with everyone; one episode guest-stars Melanie Scrofano, with whom Rozon starred in Wynonna Earp for several years, and he has good chemistry with her, too. It’s a nice, creepy show with a good amount of humor, it comes at the scary stuff from a good angle, the settings are really nice (it was filmed in Newfoundland and Labrador, but it seems to be set in the U.S., although nobody ever really says where it is), and the cast is solid. It’s just an entertaining show.
Russian Doll (Netflix). I had heard about this when it came out, but we didn’t do streaming back in 2019, so we never got around to it. After we watched SurrealEstate, we didn’t have anything recent to watch, so we were looking around for some older stuff, and we remembered this. Lo and behold! So this is the show in which Natasha Lyonne keeps dying and coming back to life at the same moment at her 36th birthday party. She lives for a while, sometimes dying very soon after she comes back, sometimes making it into the next day or even the next night. She remembers what happened, so she keeps trying to figure it out. Eventually she meets Charlie Barnett, who also keeps dying and coming back, and they try to figure things out, eventually coming to the realization that they’re linked in subtle ways. It’s a pretty good show – it can be very funny, but it gets darker in a lot of places, and it deals with isolation, loss, the fear of death and the fear of losing your mind, and the inability (or ability) to change and why that might be so. Lyonne is often infuriating because she refuses to deal with stuff (Barnett is infuriating, too, but he’s not as loud and in-your-face as Lyonne is), and the show does a nice job showing how easily she gets distracted by things because she doesn’t want to delve deep into her own psyche. It’s a pretty good show, and the episodes are only 30-ish minutes, so you can blast right through it in a day or two! (I do find it humorous that Lyonne knows David Fincher’s 1997 movie The Game but not Groundhog Day, but I guess referencing that would have been too on-the-nose. Still, it’s odd. There’s also a possibility of two more seasons, which seems strange. I have no idea how that would work.)
Sasquatch (Hulu). This is an interesting and quick (3-part, each slightly less than an hour) documentary in which David Holthouse, an investigative journalist with a long history of going undercover in unseemly places, decides to revisit his own past, as he recalls a story he heard in 1993 while working on a pot farm in Mendocino County, California, about a Bigfoot that killed three people and tore their bodies apart. He wants to find out if what he heard was true, and what exactly happened. He doesn’t believe in Bigfoot, but the first part of the documentary is about him figuring out if it could have been a sasquatch, and he interviews several people (white men, naturally) who spend their time hunting sasquatches. Holthouse doesn’t denigrate them, just lets them explain what they think. He also investigates the pot business in northern California, which started out as a bunch of hippies doing their thing and evolved into a multi-million dollar and dangerous business. Obviously, the three men were killed – and Holthouse finds out that what he heard was almost certainly true, that three men were brutally killed, albeit not by a Bigfoot – because they got on the wrong side of a pot grower, and the second and third parts of the documentary focus more on the pot business and Holthouse’s efforts to find people who will talk about it. I won’t spoil it, but the point is not really to find the killers but to expose the kind of people these are and what this quest means to Holthouse himself. He’s an interesting dude, and his efforts to come to grips with his own past and the dark parts of it are the most compelling part of the movie. It’s a gripping film, and while it’s not exactly about a sasquatch – I know, shocking – it’s about a subculture we don’t know much about, and if we do think about it, we think it’s a bunch of earthy-crunchy types getting back to the land. It’s not, and Holthouse dives right into this seedy culture and navigates it well. It’s a pretty keen story, in other words.
In the world of reprints, we find:
Caliber Comics’ Dagon by H.P. Lovecraft, adapted by Steve Jones and Sergio Cariello. I suppose I should start reading some Lovecraft, and this allows me to do it in comic form!
Dark Horse keeps throwing out these EC collections, and in September I got two: Shock SuspenStories (the back cover of which I accidentally bent, which chaps my hide) and The Vault of Horror. Good stuff! The paper is glossy, but Dark Horse, it seems, has figured out how the reproduce the art (especially the coloring) fairly well, which is nice. So much cool stuff!
Craig Yoe keeps doing his thing, as Crime Comics Confidential is his latest in conjunction with IDW. It looks even better than the Dark Horse stuff, as IDW doesn’t use such glossy paper, and its dimensions are bigger than your regular book. Jack Cole, Gene Colan, Bernie Kriegstein, Alex Toth, Mike Sekowsky – good stuff!
Titan has the latest Philippe Druillet Lone Sloane book, Delirius 2, which is another artistic masterpiece. I know, yawn.
Finally, we get the Artisan Edition of Steranko’s Nick Fury work from IDW. Gawd, this is amazing. Steranko might be kind of a dick, but damn, can he draw gud.
All right, let’s check out my spending in September!
1 September: $167.42
8 September: $126.62
15 September: $120.57
22 September: $196.89
29 September: $243.70
Monthly total: $855.20
And now the breakdown by publisher!
Ablaze: 1 (1 graphic novel)
AfterShock: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Ahoy: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Albatross Funnybooks: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Archaia: 1 (1 graphic novel)
AWA/Upshot: 1 (1 trade paperback)
Black Panel Press: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Boom! Studios: 1 (1 single issue)
Caliber: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Clover Press: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Dark Horse: 9 (2 “classic” reprints, 1 graphic novel, 6 single issues)
DC: 3 (1 graphic novel, 1 single issue, 1 trade paperback)
Dead Reckoning: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Drawn & Quarterly: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Epicenter Comics: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Fairsquare Comics: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Fantagraphics: 1 (1 single issue)
Humanoids: 2 (1 graphic novel, 1 trade paperback)
IDW: 5 (2 “classic” reprints, 1 graphic novel, 1 single issue, 1 trade paperback)
Image: 6 (1 graphic novel, 4 single issues, 1 trade paperback)
Mad Cave Comics: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Magnetic Press: 2 (2 graphic novels)
Marvel: 2 (2 trade paperbacks)
Scout: 3 (1 graphic novel, 2 trade paperbacks)
Titan: 1 (1 “classic” reprint)
Vault Comics: 3 (3 trade paperbacks)
Viz Media: 2 (2 manga volumes)
A Wave Blue World: 1 (1 graphic novel)
Here are the totals! (With the totals for the year so far in parentheses.)
6 “classic” reprints (50)
2 manga (7)
18 OGNs (89)
14 single issues (89)
17 TPBs (127)
And, as usual, the number of comics by publisher so far this year:
Dark Horse: 61
Boom! Studios: 15
Viz Media: 7
Magnetic Press: 6
Mad Cave Publishing: 5
Source Point Press: 5
Oni Press: 4
Black Panel Press: 3
Abrams ComicArts: 2
Albatross Funnybooks: 2
Ahoy Comics: 2
Black Mask: 2
Cat-Head Comics: 2
Clover Press: 1
Dead Reckoning: 2
Drawn & Quarterly: 1
Epicenter Comics: 1
Fairsquare Comics: 1
21 Pulp: 2
A Wave Blue World: 2
Amulet Books: 1
Archie Comics: 1
Avery Hill: 1
Beehive Books: 1
Black Cat: 1
Conundrum Press: 1
Floating World Comics: 1
Gallery 13: 1
Grand Central Publishing: 1
Heavy Metal: 1
Hermes Press: 1
Iron Circus Comics: 1
Keylight Books: 1
Living the Line: 1
New York Review Comics: 1
Pantheon Books: 1
Plough Publishing: 1
Red 5 Comics: 1
Second Sight Publishing: 1
Storm King: 1
Top Shelf: 1
I apologize for the lateness of this post. I don’t usually start reading my comics until about halfway through the month, so they’re a bit more fresh in my mind, and this past month I got a lot of books in the last two weeks, so it delayed my reading a bit. Plus, last week (the last week of September) was awfully traumatic, as my daughter was going through shit at school that we had to get sorted. Has it been? Only time will tell! This week I’ve been home with my older daughter, as the wife and younger daughter went to Las Vegas (it’s Fall Break), a brief vacation they both sorely needed, so I caught up on my reading, but it was already late. Oh dear!
I don’t have much to ramble about – things are still shitty here in the U.S. of A., as anti-vax idiots continue to breathe and anti-abortion people continue to be horrible (although it seems like some of the ones in Texas are a bit surprised that horrible human beings are suing abortion providers, as the law says you can, because they don’t like to be associated with horrible human beings and isn’t there some saying about lying down with dogs?). I do like how Nikki Haley, who once hated Trump but is now yet another one of his lapdogs, claims that the most pressing issue facing the country is “anti-Americanism,” as if the problems that lead to people being critical of the country aren’t that important and that everyone should just smile, damn it. Does Nikki Haley get angry when a man tells her she should smile more? That’s essentially what she’s telling everyone who is getting the spirit crushed out of them by the “patriots” in this country. Jeebus.
Anyway, I was reading about the Herman Cain Awards, the subreddit devoted to anti-vaxxers who die of COVID. I briefly checked it out, but didn’t stay. It’s pretty morbid, but as I’ve been saying for 18 months – fuck those people. They can choke on their own blood, for all I care.
I also found this, which is a daily regimen for essential oil use. I don’t use “essential oils,” but more power to you if you do, but dang, that seems odd. Whatever gets you through the day. Instead of essential oils, I prefer Dr. Pepper. It works just fine!
Some of you might be wondering about Greg Hatcher, and I am here to update you (I hope he and Julie don’t mind). The latest from Julie (this was last Friday) is that Greg had an infection by his radiation site and they had a drainage tube in his chest. He was also a bit delirious, so they had to restrain him. It sounds awful, but Julie also said it seems to be slowly getting better, he just needs a lot of rest and care. When he’s awake and coherent he’s doing OT and PT to regain his strength. We obviously have no idea when he’ll be able to write more stuff, but we keep hoping it will be soon. I hope Julie updates us soon (possibly tomorrow?), because I’d like to know what’s going on as much as you guys do!
I’ll leave with something a bit uplifting, since that was a bit of a bummer. Here’s a Purdue cheerleader doing a quasi-belly flop into shallow standing water at Ross-Ade Stadium last Saturday.
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) October 2, 2021
That’s commitment to the team!
I linked to White Ash, if you’re interested, and remember that if you use that link to buy anything, we get a tiny piece of it. We also have the donation button up at the top right if you’re feeling generous – right now, I imagine anything we get will go to Greg H., because why not? I hope everyone is having a nice time, and I hope you all have a great weekend!