28 February 2017

Review: The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Volume 2 by James Roberts, Alex Milne, et al.

Comic PDF eBook, n.pag.
Published 2012 (contents: 2012)
Acquired August 2014
Read December 2016
The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, Volume 2

Written by James Roberts
Art by Alex Milne & Nick Roche
Colors by Josh Burcham & Joana Lafuente
Letters by Shawn Lee & Chris Mowry

Even when reading a good Transformers comic, I still struggle. I guess I'll just have to accept this as a fact of life. But seriously, it is hard to tell robots apart when they don't have voice actors to provide you with another dimension of recognition. The problem with volume 2 of More than Meets the Eye is that the first two issues here are part of a story about medical robots-- and most medical robots are colored red. So keeping track of which guy is which was very taxing, and sometimes I made bad identifications that hampered my enjoyment of the story. The third story here introduces a group of scrappy Decepticon deserters, an idea I fundamentally enjoy, but man if keeping track of a whole new set of characters is just a bit too taxing for me. On the whole I didn't like this as much as the first volume, and I think it might be because of those factors; it's hard to get emotionally invested if you can't remember which robo-guy is which!

However, there's still a lot to enjoy. I do like Ratchet, the Lost Light's chief medical officer, a lot, and there's even a nice throwback to the Furman-written -ations series when Ratchet manifests his holomatter avatar, which I (like the characters) had totally forgotten about. Plus the way Ratchet gets his hands back is awesome and unexpected and dark.

The second story here was very good-- it's a hostage tale, where Rung the unassuming psychoanalyst is captured by Fortress Maximus, and the crew has to figure out a way to liberate him (as well as Whirl, Rung's current patient). A recurring theme of More than Meets the Eye is how psychologically damaged all these bots are by years of unremitting war, and this story brings a lot of that to the surface. My favorite moments are often those where the characters forge real connections between themselves, like when the hostage situation causes Whirl to confess something he never would in years of sessions with Rung:
Aw, poor Rung.
from The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye #6 (art by Nick Roche)

And like I said, though I found all the new characters hard to keep track of, I was predisposed to like a tale of Decepticon failures (the Scavengers) working to avoid the Decepticon Justice Division coming after them for desertion. The story is simultaneously dark and hilarious, something I'm quickly learning is a trademark of both James Roberts in general and this series in particular. Take for example this exchange:

27 February 2017

Review: Bringing Down Gaddafi by Andrei Netto

Hardcover, 302 pages
Published 2014 (originally 2012)

Acquired June 2014
Read February 2017
Bringing Down Gaddafi: On the Ground with the Libyan Rebels
by Andrei Netto

I now know more about the Libyan Civil War of 2011 than I did before, which is good, but I don't think Netto told his story as well as he might have. (Though, of course it could always be the fault of his translator.) Netto spent some time with Libyan revolutionary forces during the Arab Spring, and his firsthand experience is valuable, but sometimes I felt like I was drowning in dull details. Periodically, though, a striking event or image manages to break through the monotony: the actual death of Gaddafi, Netto's own time in a Libyan prison (and the events leading up to it), time spent in an overwhelmed hospital after the revolution (the description of how the hospital's pool changed color as people started to bathe in it will stick with me), the discovery that Gaddafi's daughter (supposedly killed in American airstrikes in the 1980s) was alive and well and working as a doctor. A lot of interesting tidbits, but not as interesting an overall package as I'd hoped.

24 February 2017

Well, if you can't get a tenured professor, why not just hire the next guy to break into your headquarters?

My wife and I must be watching tv unusually briskly, because it's been less than a month since we finished series 2 of Primeval, and we're already done with series 3.

It's just not the same without him
saying "anomalies" in his Scottish accent.
You know how television programmes go off the rails sometimes? Just, like, they totally abandon what kind of sense underpinned them? Series 3 of Primeval is like that. You may recall that it's about a crack team of evolutionary biologists hunting temporally displaced animals. Well, one of those biologists (Steve the Sexy Postdoc) died at the end of series 2. Another one (the professor and team leader) dies in episode 3. This leaves just Connor and Abby as the biology experts on the team-- and Connor, I should point out, has suffered the kind of character drift that takes someone from "knows a lot about dinosaurs and Star Trek" to "knows how to hack things and build incredibly complicated technological devices." I mean, he looks geeky, obviously he can do anything the plot requires.

Do military officers really carry
shells on them at all times?
There's a whole sequence of tumultuous cast changes during the series. At the beginning of series 3, Captain Hilary Becker debuts, replacing Steve the Sexy Postdoc as the Sexy Man of Action. Only I could never even remember his name, so nondescript is his character, and generally just called him "Captain Sexy." They make a joke in episode 10 about how he's obsessed with guns and nothing else-- and the joke doesn't land at all because his characterization doesn't even rise to the level of "obsessed with guns and nothing else," as mostly he just stands there.

Danny Quinn first appears in episode 2 of series 3 as a policeman who doesn't play by the rules-- he then forces his way into the team's adventure in episode 4 and ends up becoming the new team leader. Look, I know Primeval was never a sophisticated television show to begin with, but it's completely impossible for me to take seriously. Like, this guy's only credential is that he's a stereotypical television cop, and you're just like, "sure, this guy's suitable for replacing a professor of evolutionary biology as the head of our crack animal-hunting team." In his second episode, he steals a helicopter and fights a Gigantosaurus rex with it. And he's hired! I can't say I ever really warmed to Danny.

Even if you give her a gun, she's still
just too dang nice.
At the end of series 1, Primeval did something genuinely clever: because of a timeline change, Claudia Brown was erased from history and replaced by a new character, Jenny Lewis, played by the same actress. The characters were intended to contrast, I think: Claudia was a mild-mannered civil servant, warm and supportive, while Jenny was a sparky P.R. specialist focused on glamour and with a disdainful attitude toward the team's scientists. Unfortunately, Lucy Brown is, I suspect, just too dang nice, and it never comes off quite like it should, no matter how many times they dress her up in power heels and pencil skirts. By series 3, they seem to have given up on the Claudia/Jenny differences completely, as Lucy Brown is just basically playing the same nice character she played in series 1. Additionally, her role as the team's interface with the lay world seems to have been completely forgotten-- she's just another character. She leaves in episode 5 in any case: the third main character departure in six episodes, meaning the show is down 50% of its original cast.

Sitting around: the only power of the historian.
There's one more new character this season: episode 1 introduces Sarah Page, an Egyptologist who is brought onto the team to help them identify anomaly openings in the historical record. She promptly spends five episodes staying at the base contributing nothing at all, and only one of the ten episodes makes any use of her historical abilities (an almost decent episode where a medieval knight comes through to the present day). I really don't get the point of her character, as she builds almost no rapport with the other team members until the last couple episodes. It's like the writers added her to the team and then forgot about her. Partially I think this is because of the death of Nick: Nick spends the first two episodes of the series obsessing over this time map he's creating with her help, but it's destroyed when he dies. I feel like something was being set up there that was derailed by the unexpected departure of the actor who plays Nick.

The post-Nick team never really clicked for me, and series 3's background plot is terrible. It partially rehashes series 2's, in that the team is up against a conspiracy led by an evil civil servant, but her goals make no sense, and seemingly significant actions have no consequences. In one episode, she actually takes over the ARC, abusing her authority... at the end of the episode, everyone just takes their old jobs back! Like, she ordered them killed on a flimsy pretext, and everyone laughs it off and goes back to work. Long-running villain Helen Cutter completes her descent into irrelevance as well. Early in series 1 she seemed to be working to some kind of mysterious agenda not necessarily contrary to Our Heroes'; by series 3, she just does random shit that's evil (including building a clone army!?).

My wife pointed out that while series 1 and 2 had a succession of exotic locations, series 3 seems to have a succession of interesting vehicles: we have a racecar episode, a dirtbike episode, a helicopter/airport baggage train episode.

Couldn't get their money's worth out of this cast shot, huh?
I guess what I'm saying here is that the third series was not very good. I mean, how many times does their impregnable top-secret facility get broken into?

23 February 2017

Review: The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

Trade paperback, 428 pages
Published 2007

Acquired July 2014
Read October 2014
The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
since his death my Granddad had become more a collection of scenes than a real man to me. (79)
When I was assigned to teach The Modern Novel, I wanted to teach a novel about being a book-- in the physical sense. Novels are often books, of course, but in this electronic age they don't have to be. My students were pretty split on the far-out ideas Hall advances in The Raw Shark Texts-- some thought the book was baffling in the extreme, others thought it was the coolest thing they'd ever read. I'm okay with such a contradiction.

We read the book in the context of what N. Katherine Hayles in Writing Machines calls the "technotext": "When a literary work interrogates the inscription technology that produces it." (An "inscription technology" is a device that initiates material changes that can be read as marks, e.g., print books, computers, telegraphy, video and film, basically any technology that produces interpretable, linguistic information.) When a print book calls attention to the fact that it is a print book, it is a technotext, and Hayles argues that you should look at technotexts not just to see what the text "means," but how that meaning interacts with the material form of the text. (Hayles has actually written about The Raw Shark Texts herself, but ended up going in a different direction than what I'm going to do with her ideas here.)

The Raw Shark Texts is preoccupied with inscription technologies and how we're remediated through them: there's the quotation I opened this review with, but also: the idea that when a person dies, they leave an afterimage in the machinery they set up to run their life, which slowly runs down and dies itself (101); "I think we’re going to wear away from the world, just like the writing wears off old gravestones in the aisles of churches" (229); the narrator, Eric, reading the guidebook of Clio, a woman he supposedly had a relationship with but doesn't remember (266); Eric's admission that the journal we're reading is incomplete: they were never that witty or cool, Clio wasn’t always sexy, and all he has now is stories: "well edited tall tales with us in the starring roles," as the characters in the journal aren’t the two of them but actors regurgitating Hollywood clichés (412-13). And of course The Raw Shark Texts itself is a life remediated through an inscription technology: we only know what happened to Eric Sanderson because we have this book to tell us.

The book ends ambiguously. Did Eric die? Was anything Eric experienced even real? My students wanted to say "no" to the latter question, that he was hallucinating to cope with grief, but I reject that interpretation on the grounds of it not being very interesting. As for the first question, I think it depends on what you mean by "die." As the book emphasizes over and over again, we are the marks we make on the world. We are the scrapbooks, the gravestone inscriptions, the journals, the stories we wrote down about ourselves. Eric Sanderson didn't die fighting the conceptual shark, and we know this because we're holding Eric Sanderson in our hands. The Raw Shark Texts records his very existence. He is the sum of the inscription technologies used to mark his place in the world, much as we all are. The postcard at the end of the book-- another inscription technology-- shows that he continues to exist, that he hasn't worn away from the world yet.

22 February 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part LXIV: Futures End: Five Years Later Omnibus

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2014 (contents: 2014)
Borrowed from the library
Read November 2016
The New 52: Futures End: Five Years Later Omnibus
by Daniel H. Wilson, Eddy Barrows, Eber Ferreira, Dan Jurgens, Alvaro Martinez, Raul Fernandez, Sean Chen, Mark Irwin, Robert Venditti, Van Jensen, Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, Jed Dougherty, Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Ray Fawkes, Juan Ferreyra, Dan DiDio, Keith Giffen, Philip Tan, J. M. DeMatteis, Len Wein, Jason Paz, Andrew Guinaldo, Walden Wong, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Scott Hampton, Charles Soule, Jesus Saiz, Tom Derenick, Francis Portela, Phil Winslade, Martin Coccolo, Aaron Lopresti, Igor Lima, Ruy Jose, Rodney Buchemi, Geraldo Borges, Justin Jordan, Diogenes Neves, Marc Deering, J. Calafiore, Cullen Bunn, Tom King, Tim Seeley, Stephen Mooney, Sholly Fisch, Pat Olliffe, Tom Nguyen, Scott Lobdell, Scott Kolins, Christy Marx, Robson Rocha, Oclair Albert, Julio Ferreira, Gail Simone, Javier Garron, Marc Andreyko, Jason Masters, Eduardo Pansica, Amanda Conner, Chad Hardin, Derek Fridolfs, Brian Buccellato, Scott Hepburn, Cliff Richards, Fabrizio Fiorentino, Scott Snyder, ACO, Greg Pak, Jack Herbert, Vicente Cifuentes, Sean Ryan, Andre Coelho, Scott Hanna, Will Pfeifer, Andy Smith, Keith Champagne, Rags Morales, Jose Marzan Jr., Matt Banning, Bart Sears, Frank J. Barbiere, Ben Caldwell, Tony Bedard, Emanuela Lupacchino, Ray McCarthy, Pascal Alixe, Lee Weeks, Moritat, Will Conrad, Steve Lightle, Stephen Thompson & Ron Frenz

Five years before the "present," the New 52 version of the DC Universe came to life in Zero Year; now, five years after, it comes to an end. The Five Years Later Omnibus presents endpoints for the 52-ish comic books of the New 52. The future in which these stories take place is somewhat obscure: the back cover actually gives the history of a world thirty-five years later, and talks about Batman Beyond, who appears in literally zero of the issues collected here. The blurb ends by saying "Learn how all this and more could come to pass," but the book is actually very poor at filling in backstory; it took me around half the book to piece together that the Prime Earth had been overrun by refugees from Earth-2, and that Darkseid's forces had invaded at some point. I'm not sure if more things happened to create the dark timeline we see, though. Plus, some of the stories aren't consistent with one another: Justice League Dark: Futures End #1 claims that Etrigan is trapped in the House of Mystery outside time and space, but Etrigan also appears in Gotham City in Batwoman: Futures End #1, where he is killed.

Unlike the previous New 52 omnibi, this one isn't subdivided, so I'll just be reviewing the stories en masse, first with some comments on the overall set-up and then hitting up some specific stories. Of the three New 52 omnibi I've read, I found this one the most frustrating. Even though none of the stories in the first omnibus came to an end, they were all designed for new readers; most of the stories in the Villains Omnibus were easily grasped one-shots. But despite being set five years into the future, most of the stories here seemed really embedded in the continuity of the ongoings they span out of-- so too bad for me if I haven't been keeping up with Aquaman and the Others. I pick on it here because it was one of the first stories in the book, and it's filled with characters I knew nothing about, depicting alterations to a status quo I'd never seen before. Unfortunately a lot of the early stories in the book are like this: Flash, Green Arrow, Infinity Man and the Forever People, Star Spangled War Stories were also virtually impossible for me to understand.

I do feel like the artistic quality was higher across the board in this one-- take this nice linework and coloring as Billy Batson talks to Lois Lane, for example.
from Superman: Futures End #1 (script by Dan Jurgens, art by Lee Weeks)

The best stories, I found, drew on nothing more than the basic premises of their characters, meaning that I could be oriented without much effort. For example, the Phantom Stranger tale didn't really depend on me knowing anything particular to the New 52 version of the Phantom Stranger-- it worked as a standalone final Phantom Stranger story, as the Stranger (who you may know better as Judas Iscariot) is called up for judgement a second time, but the jury is made up of the worst demons Hell has to offer. I enjoyed its spooky, weird, mythical tone, even though the last Phantom Stranger stories I read were from his Action Comics Weekly feature back in the 1980s.

21 February 2017

Review: The Transformers: Robots in Disguise, Volume 1 by John Barber, Andrew Griffith, et al.

Comic PDF eBook, n.pag.
Published 2012 (contents: 2012)
Acquired August 2014
Read November 2016
The Transformers: Robots in Disguise, Volume 1

Written by John Barber
Art by Andrew Griffith
Additional Art by Casey Coller
Colors by Josh Perez
Letters by Shawn Lee

While the Lost Light gallivants through space having wacky space adventures, Bumblebee and the other Autobots have to figure out how to rule after the war is over back on Cybertron. The real strength of both these Transformers series is their strong character focus, but each writer takes a different approach to get there. While James Roberts's More than Meets the Eye is all about the dialogue, John Barber in Robots in Disguise uses narration; each issue is narrated in the first person by a different character, giving us a particular perspective on the events unfolding from Bumblebee, Starscream, Wheeljack, Prowl, and Ironhide in turn.

We get murder investigations, terrorist threats, ancient Cybertronian systems coming back to life, assassinations, and political machinations. Probably Starscream was my favorite character here, as he makes the ultimate power play: deciding to genuinely, actually, nicely help the Autobots... so that he can come out on top as always. Also he has a sense of humor, which always helps:
Megatron never cracked jokes this good.
from The Transformers: Robots in Disguise vol. 1 #2 (art by Andrew Griffith)

The real heart of this series is the question of when the war actually ends. Bumblebee is an idealist, and now that the fighting's over, wants to do things without compromising, as ethically as possible-- hence his forming a government that includes representatives for both the Decepticons and the non-aligned Cybertronians. Prowl, on the other hand, doesn't believe that the war can ever end, and is determined to be as cunning and manipulative as ever. Most of the other Autobots are somewhere in the middle, as Wheeljack's narration here indicates:
The ends justify the means... but how do you know when you've actually got to the end?
from The Transformers: Robots in Disguise vol. 1 #3 (art by Andrew Griffith)

I also really liked the ongoing saga of Dirge, a Decepticon who was abandoned by both sides when he escorted Autobot prisoners across the space bridge during All Hail Megatron and got stuck on Cybertron, where his partner was killed by the Insecticon swarm. He survived alone on Cybertron until the end of the war, and now wants nothing to do with either side, but every attempt he makes to build a new life is doomed to failure. Those he reaches out to die, but going it alone doesn't work either when he's perpetually a victim of others' machinations.

Poor guy.
from The Transformers: Robots in Disguise vol. 1 #4 (art by Andrew Griffith)

This book is not quite as good as the first volume of More than Meets the Eye, mostly because I had a harder time keeping track of all the characters, especially in action scenes, where I had to spend too much time attempt to decode significant events. (Thank God for the Transformers wiki.) I look forward to seeing where this goes, because Barber has the foundation here for a whole new kind of Transformers storytelling.

Next Week: Meanwhile, back in space, the Lost Light discovers the terrors of a space plague that's More than Meets the Eye!

20 February 2017

Return to the Threeboot: A Review of Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Manifest

Yours truly has a commentary up on the Torchwood 10th anniversary special over at USF this weekend. Every Torchwood character you loved, plus ones you didn't even remember!

Comic hardcover, 141 pages
Published 2009 (contents: 2008-09) 

Acquired and read September 2016
Legion of Super-Heroes: Enemy Manifest

Writer: Jim Shooter
Pencillers: Francis Manapul with Rick Leonardi and Ramon Bachs
Inkers: Livesay with Dan Green and Mark McKenna
Colorists: JD Smith
Letterer: Steve Wands

It's not like the Legion of Super-Heroes run of Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul, and Livesay is terrible or anything. It's a competently made superhero comic book. But it just doesn't hold a candle to what Mark Waid and Barry Kitson did before it. Waid and Kitson's run felt like it was bursting with ideas-- too many ideas, sometimes, because the title often felt like it wasn't giving all the ideas the focus they deserved. Shooter and company don't really capitalize on any of these ideas (the backstories ascribed to Sun Boy, Element Lad, Triplicate Girl, and Phantom Girl are never brought up), and many of them they outright contradict (Brainiac 5 says time travel isn't possible even though he arranged for Supergirl to travel to the past in The Quest For Cosmic Boy, and he gave her a message designed to save the life of his ancestor according to R.E.B.E.L.S.; the massive camp of Legion followers that defined the tone of the Waid/Kitson stories never turn up in this story, and then all of a sudden tons of superpowered underagers are auditioning for the United Planets Young Heroes, which doesn't really make any sense to me at all*). Shooter does at least remember that the Legion used to read 20th-century DC comics in this volume; Phantom Girl reads Princess Projectra an issue of Action Comics about the original Brainiac.

I wasn't always won over by the Legion's new uniforms either, especially given they were supposedly designed by some twelve-year-old kid. Apparently a twelve year old who loves cleavage and side panels.
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #46 (art by Francis Manapul and Livesay & Mark McKenna)

As I read more superhero comics, my growing hypothesis is that you can get away with this kind of thing if what you do is the same level of interesting (or, even better, more interesting) than what you supplant, but Shooter and co. fail this test. This volume sees Princess Projectra suddenly become a villain, and then moves into weird freaky-deaky incomprehensible mind stuff as she battles Brainiac inside his own mind-- the plotline alternates between farfetched and banal. The big overarching story that's driven this whole run, about mysterious aliens being deposited from across the universe, who are then followed by a whole planet, never really has the hooks to be interesting. It's a bunch of faceless goons, which is one of the least interesting kind of comic book villains. There's also some relationship melodrama, but because these characters don't really feel like the Waid/Kitson characters, it's difficult for me to invest in who Saturn Girl should be in love with. (Plus, Saturn Girl is portrayed as a bit of a sad sack, not the strong version of her I loved in the classic days of the Legion or in Abnett and Lanning's Legion Lost.) And I don't really care for M'rissey, the Legion's "business manager" who solves all the main characters' problems for them.†

Shooter's version of Saturn Girl sort of rapidly alternates between unlikable hard-as-nails invasive telepath, and unlikable spineless sobber.
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #46 (art by Francis Manapul and Livesay & Mark McKenna)

Francis Manapul is a decent artist, but still developing-- I like the later work I've seen from him on The Flash a lot more than this very anime style. And the way the script but especially the art insists on sexualizing these underage characters is a little uncomfortable. Like, there's nothing wrong with the Legionnaires being sexy, but here it mostly comes across as crude.

I know Invisible Kid was one of the younger Legionnaires, but I didn't think he was meant to be eight.
from Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 5 #50 (art by Ramon Bachs & Livesay)

Shooter's run was curtailed; the last issue here resolves many things far too easily (the massive threat of the past dozen issues is defeated with nine seconds of hacking from Brainiac) and leaves others entirely unaddressed (we never learn what happened to Cosmic Boy or the other Legionnaires who traveled through the time portals to the 41st century). If I had invested in the ongoing stories of this era, I'd be angry, but as it was, I was just kind of relieved. I am angry that the "threeboot" was dumped in favor of the "deboot," however, probably the most retrograde and harmful move in the long history of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and one that I would argue that leads directly to the fact that it's no longer published today, for the first time in five decades.

* Like, wouldn't people like this already be in the Legion? And surely they wouldn't want to work for the man!
† Actually, isn't a bit weird that Shooter introduces a slew of new Legionnaires here but ignores the new ones introduced by Waid and Kitson, like Dream Boy? I never really got the point of Gazelle.

17 February 2017

Review: Batman: Year 3 by Marv Wolfman, Pat Broderick, John Beatty, et al.

When I did my big readthrough of all of Batman's "Year One" stories (and related tales), there was perhaps one very notable omission: Batman: Year 3 by Marv Wolfman, Pat Broderick, and John Beatty, which was originally published in issues #436-39 of Batman vol. 1 in 1989. This is because Batman: Year 3, unlike Batman: Year One, Batman: Year Two, or indeed spin-offs like Batgirl: Year One and Two-Face and Scarecrow: Year One, has never been collected.

When you read it, though, it's easy to see why. Year One and Year Two were both interruptions to the ongoing narrative of Batman. Even though they originally appeared in issues #404-07 of Batman vol. 1 and issues #575-78 of Detective Comics vol. 1, respectively, they had nothing to do with what preceded or followed them-- they were sort of miniseries within an ongoing series. Year 3 is different: it was published between A Death in the Family and A Lonely Place of Dying, and has a frame story set during that time, with Batman dealing with the emotional fallout of the death of Jason Todd (Robin II) at the hands of the Joker.

"Frame story" is actually kind of misleading, as I would estimate that probably more of the story is set in the "present" than the "past." Year Three is when Dick Grayson's parents died, and he became Robin; the present-day storyline partially deals with the fact that Dick's parents' killer, Michael Zucco, is about to be released from prison. The flashbacks we see are primarily to provide context for this: the death of the Graysons, the hearing where Bruce adopted Dick, Dick's introduction to the Batcave, Dick's training and debut as Robin, and so on. (Much of this would later be re-depicted in Dark Victory and Robin: Year One.)

This means the bulk of the story focuses on Zucco's imminent release, and a gang war occurring in Gotham at the same time, which Batman handles with much more brutality than is typical. Part of the purpose of flashbacks is to show how parterning with Robin caused Bruce to soften from the Frank Milleresque way he was depicted in Year One-- and how now that a Robin is dead, his old brutality is reemerging. Wolfman is very good with the characters of both Bruce and Dick, and between this and A Lonely Place of Dying, I would definitely read more Batman stories by him.

But Wolfman's success with this is probably also the reason this story hasn't been collected. Batman: Year 3 is a good depiction of how Batman started to fall apart following the death of Jason Todd, but despite its title, it's not a very good standalone adventure in the early years of Batman: it's no Year One, that's for sure, but it's not even a Year Two. It ought to be collected, but not on its own. Better would be along with Wolfman's A Lonely Place of Dying, as it sets up Batman's need to always have a Robin, and Tim Drake (who becomes Robin in Lonely Place) even puts in a cameo at the circus during the flashback to the death of the Graysons.

Batman: Year 3 originally appeared in issues #436-39 of Batman vol. 1 (Early Aug.-Late Sept. 1989). The story was written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Pat Broderick, inked by John Beatty (#436-38) and Michael Bair (#439), colored by Adrienne Roy, lettered by John Costanza, and edited by Denny O'Neil.

16 February 2017

Review: Dreamworld and Catastrophe by Susan Buck-Morss

A few recent audio drama reviews at Unreality SF: the Doctor and Benny try to save Christmas in "The Hesitation Deviation"; the Doctor submits funding applications (not as good as it sounds) in Vampire of the Mind; and two Masters meet in, well, The Two Masters.

Hardcover, 368 pages
Published 2000
Borrowed from the library
Read September 2013
Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West
by Susan Buck-Morss

I liked the first chapter of this book a lot. It sets up a lot of interesting ideas: that there is an intimate connection between the state and violence (1) (shades of James C. Scott's Seeing Like a State), that state violence against noncitizens is more acceptable than that within the civil state (8, 16), that revolutions are simply wars fought in civil society for the control of time rather than space, i.e., the future rather than territory (22, 29), and that revolutions sacrifice the present to bring about a better future (29). Once Buck-Morss set up these basic principles, however, I found the rest of the book much less compelling; it was one of those critical books where I just kept flipping pages, hoping to find something insightful, but to very little avail. As always, this doesn't necessarily mean it was bad, but it certainly wasn't the book I was looking for.

15 February 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part LXIII: The New 52 Villains Omnibus

Comic hardcover, 1168 pages
Published 2013 (contents: 2013)
Borrowed from the library
Read November 2016
DC Comics: The New 52 Villains Omnibus
by Greg Pak, Paulo Siquiera, Netho Diaz, Marguerite Bennett, Ben Oliver, Cliff Richards, China Miéville, Mateus Santolauco, Carla Berrocal, Riccardo Burchielli, Liam Sharp, Jock, Tula Lotay, Marley Zarcone, Brendan McCarthy, Emma Rids, Emi Lenox, Jeff Lemire, Frazier Irving, David Lapham, Carmen Carnero, Sloane Leong, Kelsey Wroten, Michelle Faran, Annie Wu, Zak Smith, Alberto Ponticelli, Dan Green, Geoff Johns, Sterling Gates, Manuel Garcia, Rob Hunter, Matt Kindt, Sam Basri, Keith Champagne, Bit, Derlis Santacruz, Tom DeFalco, Chad Hardin, Edgar Salazar, Ann Nocenti, Dan DiDio, Fabrizio Fiorentino, Tom Derenick, Philip Tan, Jason Paz, Tony Bedard, Geraldo Borges, Ruy José, Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Aaron Lopresti, Art Thibert, Brian Buccellato, Chris Batista, Tom Nguyen, Francis Manapul, Scott Hepburn, Andrea Sorrentino, Charles Soule, Jesús Saiz, Marv Wolfman, Cafu, Corey May, Dooma Wendschuh, Moritat, Angel Unzueta, Robson Rocha, John Ostrander, Victor Ibañez, Brian Azzarello, Michael Alan Nelson, Mike Hawthorne, Ken Lashley, Raymund Bermudez, Sholly Fisch, Jeff Johnson, Andy Smith, Steve Pugh, Pascal Alixe, Scott Lobdell, Dan Jurgens, Ray McCarthy, Aaron Kuder, Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund, Robert Venditti, Rags Morales, Cam Smith, Jim Starlin, Howard Porter, Stefano Landini, Dale Eaglesham, Andy Kubert, Andy Clarke, Scott Snyder, Ray Fawkes, Jeremy Haun, Frank Tieri, Christian Duce, Peter J. Tomasi, Graham Nolan, Guillem March, James Tynion IV, Jorge Lucas, Tim Seeley, Francis Portela, Gail Simone, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Jason Masters, John Layman, Georges Jeanty, Derek Fridolfs, Javier Pina, Neil Googe, Szymon Kudranski, Scot Eaton & Jaime Mendoza

The Book as a Whole
This book ties into Forever Evil, an event where the Crime Syndicate (i.e., the Evil Justice League) temporarily took over the Earth. As a result, most of DC's monthly titles were "taken over" by supervillains-- like, Action Comics #23.2 featured General Zod. Yes, there were decimals in the numbering. Some series were taken over four times, some just once. One presumes this was in proportion to popularity; it's easier to get someone to buy four extra issues of Action Comics than of Swamp Thing. These vary in type: some show what the villain in question was doing during Forever Evil, some show random other adventures of the villain, some show the origin story of the villain, some do more than one. I'd guess that more than half aren't even stories, but just set-up: leading into Forever Evil itself, or a Forever Evil spin-off, or just leading into a forthcoming issue of an ongoing where said villain is going to turn up. Like when I reviewed The New 52 omnibus, I'm going to tackle each individual grouping of issues, since there are too many to look at each on its own.

That's the kind of casual, fun attitude I like my international spies to have.
from Justice League of America vol. 3 #7.3 (script by Tom DeFalco, art by Chad Hardin)
Justice League (Darkseid, Lobo, Dial E, Secret Society, Deadshot, Killer Frost, Shadow Thief, Black Adam, the Creeper, Eclipso, Black Manta, Ocean Master, Desaad, Solomon Grundy, Grodd, Reverse-Flash, the Rogues, Count Vertigo, Arcane, Trigon, Deathstroke, the Cheetah, First Born)
If I learned anything from this section, it's how few people should be allowed to touch the New Gods: to stories featuring Darkseid and Desaad are so mundane as to completely miss the point of the characters. Darkseid doesn't need an origin story, he's "the Tiger-Force at the core of all things! When you cry out in your dreams-- it is Darkseid that you see!" How can such a character have a youth and a backstory? It makes him mundane to give him a motivation, and Darkseid should never be mundane.