14 December 2014

Reading Roundup Wrapup: November 2014

Oh gosh, am I even trying any more?

Pick of the month: Dubliners by James Joyce. This is my second or maybe third time reading this book; anyway, it's still brilliant. "The Dead" is one of the most perceptive recordings of human thought in literature, I reckon. I think the literature 1890s and 1900s contains my ideal mixture of realism and modernism.

All books read:
1. Doctor Who, Volume 2: The Eye of Ashaya by Andy Diggle and Joshua Hale Fialkov with Richard Dinnick
2. Dubliners by James Joyce
3. Doctor Who, Volume 3: Sky Jacks! by Andy Diggle & Eddie Robson with Len Wein
4. Hyperion by Dan Simmons
5. Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis
6. Batman: The Man Who Laughs by Ed Brubaker
7. Justine by Lawrence Durrell
8. Batman: Shaman by Dennis O’Neil
9. Batman: The Ring, the Arrow and the Bat by Dennis O’Neil
10. Batman: Venom by Dennis O’Neil
11. The New Adventures: The Joy Device by Justin Richards
12. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine #2: The Siege by Peter David

All books acquired:
1. The Annotated Sandman, Volume Three: The Sandman #40-56 by Neil Gaiman, edited by Leslie S. Klinger
2. Miracleman, Book Two: The Red King Syndrome by The Original Writer with Cat Yronwode
3. Alias Omnibus by Brian Michael Bendis
4. Star Wars, Volume Three: Rebel Girl by Brian Wood
5. Star Wars: Rebel Heist by Matt Kindt
6. Star Wars: Legacy, Volume II, Book 3: Wanted: Ania Solo by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman
7. Star Wars: Legacy, Volume II, Book 4: Empire of One by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman
8. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 565

09 November 2014

Reading Roundup Wrapup: October 2014

Pick of the month: Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones. I'm not a big Hensonite in the way that some of my generation are; of course, I grew up watching Sesame Street, but I never saw The Muppet Show until I was an adult, just a few of the films. But reading this book gave me a huge appreciation for a man who was obviously quite talented, and now I want to see all those things he did that I never saw, and rewatch the ones that I have seen. I was surprised how emotional I was reading about his memorial service.

All books read:
1. The Professor Challenger Adventures, Volume II: When the World Screamed & Other Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2. Dark Moon Rising: Batman and the Mad Monk by Matt Wagner
3. Doctor Who II, Volume 4: As Time Goes By by Joshua Hale Fialkov
4. The Brontës Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson
5. Afterimage by Helen Humphreys
6. Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimiliation² by Scott & David Tipton with Tony Lee
7. Batman: Prey by Doug Moench
8. The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
9. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
10. Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones
11. Doctor Who, Volume I: The Hypothetical Gentleman by Andy Diggle and Brandon Seifert

All books acquired:
1. Star Wars: Dark Times, Volume Seven: A Spark Remains by Randy Stradley
2. Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi, Book Three: Force War by John Ostrander & Jan Duursema
3. The Star Wars: Based on the Rough-Draft Screenplay by George Lucas by J. W. Rinzler
4. Wait Wait...I'm Not Done Yet! by Carl Kasell
5. The New Adventures: The Joy Device by Justin Richards

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 559

01 October 2014

Reading Roundup Wrapup: September 2014

Pick of the month: A Passage to India by E. M. Forster. A lot of the books I read this month are quite likable-- Arrowsmith, The Third Man, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.-- but I've read them before. A Passage to India, though, I have not, and I really liked it. A strong depth of character, an interesting examination of a complicated issue. It's my first Forster novel, but I expect it won't be the last.

All books read:
1. Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear
2. The New Adventures: Return to the Fractured Planet by Dave Stone
3. The Purple Cloud by M. P. Shiel
4. Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis
5. Infinite Crisis by Greg Cox
6. The Third Man by Graham Greene
7. Batman: Year One: Deluxe Edition by Frank Miller
8. Dark Moon Rising: Batman and the Monster Men by Matt Wagner
9. Doctor Who: When Worlds Collide by Tony Lee
10. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster
11. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
12. Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Wild Space by Karen Miller
13. Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 13 by Paul Levitz with Jim Shooter and Gerry Conway
14. Doctor Who, Volume 3: It Came From Outer Space by Tony Lee with Joshua Hale Fialkov, Matthew Dow Smith, and Dan McDaid
15. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

All books acquired:
1. Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Wild Space by Karen Miller
2. Star Wars: Legacy, Volume II, Book I: Prisoner of the Floating World by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman
3. Star Wars: Legacy, Volume II, Book 2: Outcasts of the Broken Ring by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman
4. Star Wars: Ewoks: Shadows of Endor by Zack Giallongo
5. The Professor Challenger Adventures, Volume II: When the World Screamed & Other Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
6. On The Government of the Living: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1979-1980 by Michel Foucault

All books remaining on "To be read" list: 553

If I still have faithful readers, rest assured I will be back on track soon-ish. I still need to do my 2013-14 year-end wrapup!

15 September 2014

Review: In the Days of the Comet by H. G. Wells

Trade paperback, 221 pages
Published 2001 (originally 1906)
Acquired October 2013
Read August 2014
In the Days of the Comet
by H. G. Wells

This H. G. Wells novel is hard to like, though he carries it out with his usual attention to detail. We get a protagonist who doesn't see what's important, our man William who scrabbled along. What makes this work as well as it does is its retrospective tone: the world of today seems very strange when viewed from the future, and Wells emphasizes this with the kind of explanations our narrator has to provide. But then a magic gas makes everyone act perfectly rationally from then on, and a new society free of the problems of the old one is born. (There's sort of a subgenre of apocalypses caused by strange gases at the turn of the century: In the Days of the Comet is preceded by M. P. Shiel's The Purple Cloud, and followed by Arthur Conan Doyle's The Poison Belt. I don't know if there are others.) In terms of providing practical solutions, there's not a lot going on, but I think this book is more about suggesting a way of thinking and seeing that would do all of us some good. Or so Wells thinks; anyone who has read a lot of Wells will be unsurprised to learn that according to the book, free love is the way to go.

12 September 2014

Review: Doctor Who: The Ripper by Tony Lee et al.

Comic PDF eBook, 90 pages
Published 2011 (contents: 2011)
Acquired May 2014
Read August 2014
Doctor Who: The Ripper

Written by Tony Lee
Art by Andrew Currie, Richard Piers Rayner, Horacio Domingues, and Tim Hamilton
Colors by Charlie Kirchoff and Phil Elliott
Lettering by Shawn Lee and Neil Uyetake

Rory is added to the mix in this next installment of IDW's Doctor Who comics, which sees the ubiquitous Tony Lee back on writing duties. The first story here, the one issue "Spam Filtered" (art by Andrew Currie) is good fun, as the TARDIS is overrun by banner ads and spam e-mails when Rory links his smartphone into its systems. Lee captures the voices of the main cast perfectly, and the story is the kind of delightful thing that really shows off what Doctor Who can be in the comic book medium.

Less successful is "Ripper's Curse" (art by Richard Piers Rayner, Horacio Domingues, and Tim Hamilton), which just never engages; it's all a bit too rote. I did like the bit where the Doctor and Rory figure out where the Ripper's next victim is by hopping forward and asking a tour guide, but Doctor Who already has too many boring takes on Jack the Ripper, and this is just one more; I've never gotten the fascination.

10 September 2014

Review: Doctor Who: A Fairytale Life by Matt Sturges, Kelly Yates, & Brian Shearer

Comic trade paperback, 103 pages
Published 2013 (contents: 2011)
Acquired November 2013
Read August 2014
Doctor Who: A Fairytale Life

Written by Matt Struges
Pencils by Kelly Yates & Brian Shearer
Inks by Brian Shearer, Steve Bird, & Rick Ketcham
Colors by Rachelle Rosenberg
Letters by Shawn Lee & Neil Uyetake

This is kind of a neat idea-- the Doctor taking Amy to a fairytale world-- but it doesn't do enough with it to justify the four issues the story takes to tell. Despite the title, there's not much of Grimm-esque fairytale tropes in use here; rather, the story uses some very generic fantasy trappings, feeling more like we're looking at fairytales via Tolkien via Saturday morning cartoons. So the crashing of Doctor Who into fairytale tropes is maybe not as exciting as it could be. Still, Sturges really captures the voice of the eleventh Doctor in particular, and Amy, and the art by Yates and Shearer is clean and economic-- I hope they turn up on the main IDW title at some point.

08 September 2014

Review: Doctor Who: Final Sacrifice by Tony Lee, Matthew Dow Smith, et al.

Comic PDF eBook, 138 pages
Published 2011 (contents: 2010)
Acquired May 2014
Read July 2014
Doctor Who, Volume 3: Final Sacrifice

Story by Tony Lee, Jonathan L. Davis, Matthew Dow Smith, and Al Davison
Art by Matthew Dow Smith, Kelly Yates, and Al Davison
Colors by Charlie Kirchoff, Phil Elliott, and Al Davison
Lettering by Robbie Robbins & Neil Uyetake

I guess if you cared about Lee's original companions, you'd care about this book, but I don't and I don't. The situation here is contrived by a seemingly-omnipotent and poorly-motivated enemy, solely to teach the Doctor some kind of lesson that I don't really understand the purpose of. The end piles on crazy revelation after crazy revelation. Plus Torchwood is in this, which I guess is good for you if you like "The Time Machination" (I didn't) or if you thought what this story needed were a group of pointless characters to stand around.

There are some short stories in the back, which are decent: some are better in concept than execution, but I like the art in all three (and in the main story, too, actually; Matthew Dow Smith is great at capturing likeness but keeping it stylized). There's a lovely moment where the tenth Doctor dreams of the eleventh.

05 September 2014

Review: The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle

Trade paperback, 129 pages
Published 2001 (originally 1890)
Acquired July 2014
Read August 2014
The Sign of Four
by Arthur Conan Doyle

Though it has its inescapably Sherlockian moments (the Baker Street Irregulars, Holmes's various disguises, and so on), this is definitely duller than most of the short stories I've read, nor is it even as strong as A Study in Scarlet. Doyle will go on to perfect the formula, but he's not quite there yet, and the "romance" feels completely tacked on. I hate those chapters which are just characters explaining backstory to each other.

03 September 2014

Review: Zenith Lives!: Tales of M.Zenith, the Albino edited by Stuart Douglas

Trade paperback, 161 pages
Published 2012

Acquired May 2012
Read August 2014
The Obverse Quarterly, Book Four: Zenith Lives!: Tales of M.Zenith, the Albino
edited by Stuart Douglas

The last volume of the first year of Obverse Quarterly gives us a selection of stories about Monsieur Zenith, a supervillain who is apparently the archnemesis of Sexton Blake, a detective character I'd never heard of before, but was apparently continuously published from 1893 to 1978. Unfortunately, whatever appeal exists in the character of Monsieur Zenith is not really brought out by this collection, which mostly seems to depend on one's preexisting interest, I think.

"The Blood of Our Land" by Mark Hodder is the best of these, showing Zenith executing a heist that gets very complicated, very quickly-- though there are time it's a little rough, it displays why one might be interested in Zenith and his exploits. Michael Moorcock's "Curaré" is all right, but it's not really a Zenith story and more a story in which Zenith happens to appear; the focus is on the improbably named Seaton Begg and his delightful associate Yvette.

Weirdly, there are two stories that most serve to introduce a new nemesis for Zenith, George Mann's "The Albino's Shadow" and Stuart Douglas's "Zenith's End!" both end with Zenith getting a new lease on life by having a new good guy to fight. This makes neither particularly interesting as standalone pieces, especially as Mann's is a very weak story: basically Zenith threatens the Prime Minister, the protagonist asks people about him, the protagonist follows Zenith's henchman, Zenith decides that such skills will make him a delightful opponent. Skills? What skills?

There's also Paul Magrs's "All the Many Rooms," which again is not a Zenith story, but just a story Zenith is in, but even worse, is a complete jumble and total nonsense.

01 September 2014

Review: The Works of Christina Rossetti

Trade paperback, 450 pages
Published 1995 (contents: 1848-96)
Acquired June 2011
Read July 2014
The Works of Christina Rossetti

I'm not sure if this contains all of Christina Rossetti's poems (the apparatus of my "Wordsworth Poetry Library" edition is terrible), but it certainly contains a lot. Previously, my Rossetti experience was limited to selections contained in things like the Norton and Longman anthologies of Victorian literature, so it was enlightening to read a (seemingly) uncurated group of her poetry; I spent the first couple months of summer reading this in chunks.

We all know her now for "Goblin Market," of course, and justly so, but it's an oddity in her œuvre, by far the longest and not Christian. Not that all of poems are overtly Christian, but certainly a great deal of them are. On the whole, her work is less... well... sexy than the editors of college-level period anthologies had led me to believe, and more pious. Perhaps the nadir of this is one poem that simply has all of creation praising God, one by one, and to my atheist eyes looks more like rampaging egotism on the part of the Creator. But that's not to say they there isn't good stuff here. Other than "Goblin Market," I quite enjoyed her other sustained narrative poem, the fairy tale "The Prince's Progress." I marked each page with a poem that I particularly enjoyed, and beyond those two, ended up with over twenty-five such poems.

When next I teach Rossetti, I will have my own curated selection of poems to hand out, and a much stronger conception of her work as a whole. Though it was hard to read 450 pages of pure poetry, it was well worth it! I was surprised to realize that she could be political sometimes, such as depicting a revolution in "A Royal Princess" or even war in "The German-French Campaign, 1870-1871."

I was struck by the number of poems about death, many of them quite morose, especially in the way the dead are remembered: in "At Home," a dead person stops to hear their friends while remaining unseen, to find they talk of other things entirely ("I all-forgotten shivered, sad / To stay and yet to part how loth..."), while in "The Poor Ghost," someone does remember a dead friend, causing their ghost to complain ("'But why did your tears soak through the clay, / And why did your sobs wake me where I lay?'").

This one is echoed by "Remember: Sonnet," told by a dead narrator who wants to be forgotten ("Better by far you should forget and smile / Than that you should remember and be sad."); the same thing happens in one of her many poems called "Song" ("Plant thou no roses at my head"). Or there's "After Death: Sonnet," where someone is only remembered once they are dead ("He did not love me living; but once dead / He pitied me..."). They're very haunting, and some of her best work, well evoking the pain and emptiness of death in unusual ways.

Already in my conception of Rossetti (because they are commonly anthologized) were the poems of spurned love, such as "Noble Sisters," where one sister drives away the other's only potential suitor ("'I have none other love but him, / Nor will have till I die.'"), reminding one of the way female community trumps all in "Goblin Market." Or there's "Love Lies Bleeding," where (I think) a woman encounters a man she was once involved with who knows her not anymore. I liked "Freaks of Fashion," too, where birds consider that what is fashionable does not make one beautiful; it reminded me of one of L. Frank Baum's Animal Fairy Tales, though from quite a different angle!

It's disheartening to realize that today's male entitlement problems have deep roots as per "'No, Thank You, John'" ("Don't call me false, who owed not to be true"). Though I suppose Rossetti's concern with that kind of thing should be no surprise to anyone who'd read "Goblin Market" (when I taught that to my undergrads, some were quick to bring up "rape culture"). And I really liked the conceit of the "Monna Innominata: A Sonnet of Sonnets," where she imagines how those muses of the great Italian poets might have thought themselves, giving them the interior life that they lack as depicted by male poets ("you construed me / And loved me for what might or might not be--" or "Many in aftertimes will say of you / 'He loved here'-- while of me what will they say?").

Some of the poems are just evocative in their imagery, like "A Ballad of Boding," about the dangerous mission of three glorious ships, or "Hollow-Sounding and Mysterious," which really conjures the sound of wind. And I don't quite get the metaphor in "The Queen of Hearts" (indeed, you might say it "baffles me to puzzle out the clue"), but I like the imagery it conjures.

And, of course, a number of her Christian-themed poems can still appeal to the non-Christian reader; I always forget that she wrote "A Christmas Carol," better known as the lyrics to "In the Bleak Midwinter," one of my top five Christmas carols (I like Katherine Jenkins's version best). "Despised and Rejected," the story of one who accidentally rejected Christ is haunting ("Others were dear, / Others forsook me: what art thou indeed / That I should heed / Thy lamentable need?"). "De Profundis" conjures how far heaven always seems ("I would not care to reach the moon, / One round monotonous of change; / Yet even she repeats her tune / Beyond my range"). And you don't need to be a Christian to appreciate the "Weary in Well-Doing" ("Now I would rest; God bids me work") or the despair of "Why?" ("If all my heart loves Thee, what need the amaze, / Struggle and dimness of an agony?"). Would it be that I could always be so weary.

Some are still just bleak in their very conception of humanity, like "The World: Sonnet," about how the beautiful-seeming world reveals its true self at night ("A very monster void of love and prayer"), or "A Testimony," which concerns how all is vanity ("Our treasures moth and rust corrupt"). Slightly more optimistic is "Pastime," which postulates that there is meaning but it might come at a terrible cost ("Better a wrecked life than a life so aimless").

But even in the end, there is hope, as the last poem in the book, "'Love Is Strong as Death,'" tells us: "'Now the Everlasting Arms surround thee,-- / Through death's darkness I look and see / And clasp thee to Me.'"

31 August 2014

Reading Roundup Wrapup: August 2014

Pick of the month: 52 Omnibus by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, and Keith Giffen. A superhero epic for our time! It's not always perfect, but is ambitious, and there's a lot to like about it. A 52-issue weekly comics! And it even works!

All books read:
1. The Obverse Quarterly, Book Four: Zenith Lives!: Tales of M.Zenith, the Albino edited by Stuart Douglas
2. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
3. World War III by Keith Champagne and John Ostrander with Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, & Mark Waid
4. In the Days of the Comet by H. G. Wells
5. Doctor Who: A Fairytale Life by Matt Sturges
6. 52 Omnibus by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, and Keith Giffen
7. Doctor Who: The Ripper by Tony Lee
8. Star Wars: The Clone Wars by Karen Traviss
9. 52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen by Keith Giffen
10. The Lost World and Other Thrilling Tales by Arthur Conan Doyle
11. Doctor Who Magazine: Special Edition #37: The Official Guide to the 2013 Series by Andrew Pixley
12. Doctor Who Magazine: Special Edition #38: The Year of the Doctor: The Official Guide to Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary by Andrew Pixley

All books acquired:
1. The Lost World and Other Thrilling Tales by Arthur Conan Doyle
2. Star Wars: The Clone Wars by Karen Traviss
3. Four Novels of the 1960s by Philip K. Dick
4. Five Novels of the 1960s & 70s by Philip K. Dick
5. VALIS and Later Novels by Philip K. Dick
6. Star Wars: Purge by John Ostrander and Alexander Freed with Haden Blackman
7. Star Wars, Volume One: In the Shadow of Yavin by Brian Wood
8. Star Wars, Volume Two: From the Ruins of Alderaan by Brian Wood
9. The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells
10. Star Trek: Khan by Mike Johnson
11. Superman: Reign of Doomsday by Paul Cornell with Damon Lindelof, Paul Dini, Geoff Johns, David S. Goyer, and Richard S. Goyer & Derek Hoffman

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 550

29 August 2014

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part XXX: World War III

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2007 (contents: 2007)
Acquired March 2013

Read August 2014
World War III

Writers: Keith Champagne, John Ostrander, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid
Pencillers: Pat Olliffe, Andy Smith, Tom Derenick, Jack Jadson, Keith Giffen, Justiniano
Inkers: Drew Geraci, Ray Snyder, Norm Rapmund, Rodney Ramos, Walden Wong
Letterers: Ken Lopez, Travis Lanham, Pat Brosseau
Colorist: Alex Sinclair

World War III expands on week 50 of 52, giving details of Black Adam's war on the world, and in the meantime answering question no one ever cared about, like how did Cyborg get restored to normal, when did Supergirl return from the 31st century, why did (not-Martian) Manhunter quit her job, where did Booster Gold get a different device than the one he turned up with in week 52, and... uh... well, I'm sure it answered some other questions. Really, this is just pointless: Black Adam smashes things (people, mostly), Martian Manhunter ponders whether or not to get involved (I thought he was a hero? isn't this obvious?). Focalizing this through Martian Manhunter is supposed to make it more meaningful, I guess, but aside from the scene where he bumps into his coworkers from his old police detective days, it literally did nothing of interest. A completist might think you need to read this as part of 52, but really, omitting it from the Omnibus was the right call. (I do like what ultimately happens to Black Adam, but that's an event that happens in 52 proper, even though it's reprinted here alongside World War III.)

There's some focus on the Teen Titans here, which results in a couple of them getting punched so hard they die. Why anyone involved thinks that stories about teenagers being brutally killed is something I read I have no idea. Oh geeze, was a comic book about a group of teens who live together and fight crime on their own with superpowers somehow in need of gritty realism? Thanks, Geoff Johns. (Actually, John Ostrander writes the issue in question, but I'm willing to bet the action is Johns's fault.)

27 August 2014

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part XXIX: Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters

Comic trade paperback, 208 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 2006-07)
Borrowed from the library
Read July 2014
Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters

Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Daniel Acuña
Colors by Daniel Acuña and Javi Montes 
Letters by Rob Leigh

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters is the sequel to The Battle for Blüdhaven, like it taking place during 52; in this case, Uncle Sam covers the presidential election and its aftermath, beginning during week 26. To its credit, it is better than Battle for Blüdhaven, though that's not really thus much of an accomplishment. Thankfully, the overly large cast of its predecessor is excised in favor of just a few Freedom Fighters, and despite myself I even came to become interested in some of them, especially Doll Man and the new Ray, the former of which is tragic and the latter funny. (The previous Ray appears, too, but as someone who coincidentally just read thirteen issues of Christopher Priest's run on The Ray, he's very generic here.) Like its predecessor, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters tries to say something about America, but its villains are so ridiculously over-the-top it can't really be about anything meaningful. Perhaps I'm a fool to look for nuanced political commentary in a superhero comic, but I really think it is possible... but it definitely wasn't achieved here.

25 August 2014

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part XXVIII: Infinite Crisis Aftermath: The Battle for Blüdhaven

Comic trade paperback, 142 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 2006)
Borrowed from the library
Read July 2014
Infinite Crisis Aftermath: The Battle for Blüdhaven

Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Layouts by Dan Jurgens and Gordon Purcell
Finishes by Jimmy Palmiotti
Colored by Javi Montes
Lettered by Pat Brosseau and Nick J. Napolitano

One of the weirdest parts of Infinite Crisis was the Society's dumping of Chemo (a walking pool of toxic waste) on Nightwing's home turf of Blüdhaven, a move that didn't really seem to have anything to do with the story being told, nor did it crop up in its various spin-offs. Its aftereffects, however, are told here, in a story set between weeks 12 and 13 of 52 according to the timeline I am using, so that is where I read it.

Well, if it was all done for this, it was not worth doing. The Battle for Blüdhaven kinda gestures toward having something to say about the way the government responds to a disaster-- perhaps a heavy-handed Katrina allegory-- but soon goes off the rails when the U.S. government starts experimenting on people for no readily apparent reason and the villain is just a crazy person. This story unites a ton of heroes with patriotic pedigrees, especially the old Freedom Fighters, so many that you never really get who any of them are or what they do, and you certainly don't care about any of them. The Teen Titans and Green Lantern also show up for some reason. There are just fights, fights, fights. Really, this is superhero comics at their worst, but it's hard to get worked up about it because it's not actively bad in the way that, say, Jeph Loeb is-- it's just sheer laziness.

The one thing I liked is that when the Society gathers up a group of obscure villains from other comics with nuclear abilities to enter Blüdhaven (it's radioactive, for the reason we eventually learn is the return of Captain Atom, last seen in our universe in Superman Batman: Public Enemies), one of them is called Nuclear Family: a group of androids looking like a stereotypical family, all with radioactive powers-- even the dog. Delightful, but the only thing about this that is.

22 August 2014

Return of the New Jedi Order, Episode XVII: Star by Star by Troy Denning

Hardcover, 606 pages
Published 2001

Acquired December 2001
Reread July 2014
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Star by Star
by Troy Denning

Year Three of the Invasion (Months 1-2)
I still don't know why Luke Skywalker was so opposed to Jedi taking action in the earlier New Jedi Order books, and thus why he suddenly decides it's okay to take action here isn't really explicable. But, I'm glad he does because though it isn't quite as good as Conquest, Star by Star is the book that really kicks the New Jedi Order up a notch. While Luke, Leia, Han, and company try to do what they can as the Yuuzhan Vong advance on Coruscant, Anakin Solo leads a team of Jedi apprentices on a strike team to destroy the voxyn queen, the "mother" of Force-sensitive, Jedi-hunting creatures starting to plague the galaxy. Unlike the ponderous space strategy of the earlier books, this is really effective.

It's a little different for Star Wars, but it works. Denning brings concepts into Star Wars that are new but work with what we've seen before. The Jedi shadow bombs are a clever idea, but I love the Jedi battle meld, which is used to co-ordinate the actions of the strike team, but also to really make that strike team come to life as characters: this is a group of desperate people, pushed to their limits, and it's utterly engrossing to read about. Anakin Solo was brought to life by Conquest, and Denning really sustains that development here, plus lifting up Jacen and Jaina for the first time in the series. Meanwhile, Leia and Han's adventures on Coruscant are the danger-a-minute escapes you'd expect from them; other than the strike team, these are the best segments of the book-- you can see why Denning went on to write Tatooine Ghost, as he gets these characters perfectly. There are even nice parts for Lando and C-3PO! Heck, he's even the first NJO writer to treat Borsk Fel'lya as a genuine character, and not just an improbable obstacle for our heroes.

Famously, this is the book that kills Anakin Solo. Though I'm disappointed it had to happen given how much Del Rey mishandled the Solo kids in the years to come, the death scene itself is incredibly well done, and it's the right choice for both the book and the series. Anakin consumed by the Force as he dies to save his teammates-- it's marvelous. And then... that scene where Leia and Han find out... you can feel their grief, I got shivers just from reading it. How utterly devastating. This is the emotional low point of The New Jedi Order, this is its The Empire Strikes Back, and it promises that nothing will ever be the same again...

20 August 2014

Return of the New Jedi Order, Episode XVI: Rebirth by Greg Keyes

Mass market paperback, 292 pages
Published 2001

Acquired 2001(?)
Reread July 2014
Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Edge of Victory II: Rebirth
by Greg Keyes

Year Two of the Invasion (Month 8)
Rebirth is not quite the triumph that Conquest was-- it's too diffuse to be as good a novel. Instead of the sharp focus on Anakin that Conquest gave us, Rebirth divides up a number of characters: Luke and Mara on the run from the government, Han and Leia and Jacen trying to organize the Great River, Jaina and Kyp and Rogue Squadron investigating a Yuuzhan Yong superweapon (picking up a dangling plot thread from Ruin), the shaper Nen Yim trying to save a dying worldship, and Anakin and Tahiri and Corran on a supply run that goes horribly wrong.

It's reminiscent of the expansive approach used by Luceno in his Agents of Chaos approach, but Keyes makes it work much better: each of the threads follows interesting characters, and he hangs a good character development thread on each plot. Han and Leia and Jacen fighting the Yuuzhan Vong is exciting, Star Wars action, but there's also a nice examination and improvement of the relationship between Jacen and his father. I also really liked the birth of Ben Skywalker in the Luke/Mara plot. The strongest of the plots is the Anakin and Tahiri one-- like in Conquest and Emissary of the Void, Keyes keeps the twists and turns coming, providing a rollicking fun adventure that allows some youngsters to grow into the roles of heroes. It's not a great book, but it's one of the better New Jedi Order ones.

18 August 2014

Return of the New Jedi Order, Episode XV: Emissary of the Void by Greg Keyes

Kindle eBook, n.pag.
Published 2002

Read July 2014
Star Wars: Tales From the Great River: Emissary of the Void
by Greg Keyes

Year Two of the Invasion (Month 8)
Getting hold of this story is nearly a story in itself. It's a six-part, 40,000-word novella: the first three parts were serialized in Star Wars Gamer and reprinted on StarWars.com; the last three ran in Star Wars Insider. I managed to get the whole story through a combination of the Wayback Machine and DD/ILL requests and assembled it all into a Kindle eBook. I know I read this when it came out, but both reading on a screen (for episodes 1-3) and reading serially (for episodes 4-6) meant I retained very little of it.

Which is a shame, because this is good fun. Like with his work on Edge of Victory I: Conquest, Keyes shows that he gets Star Wars. Other than Uldir Lochett (who appeared in three kid's novels in the 1990s!) there are no familiar Star Wars characters here, but it instantly feels recognizably Star Wars, but switched up enough to be fresh. You have a somewhat straight-laced smuggler with his crew (except they're working for Luke Skywalker) coming into contact with a wildcard Jedi Knight, sending them on an adventure that risks both their lives and the whole galaxy. The relationship between Uldir and Klin-Fa feels like Han and Leia, if Han was a female Jedi!

Keyes really gets the serial format: each installment ups and changes the stakes, as our heroes go from avoiding pursuit on a Peace Brigade planet to fighting droid starfighters to uncovering the Emperor's secrets on Wayland to freeing refugees to trying to stop a bacta-poisoning plot! It's a great roller coaster with great twists, and it's a real shame it's been relegated to obscurity by never being collected anywhere or anything.

The subtitle, "Tales From the Great River," would seem to promise more adventures from this era (or at least other characters working for Luke to save Jedi from the Yuuzhan Vong), but that never seems to have happened. In one sense, I'm disappointed we've never gotten more adventures of the crew of No Luck Required (they're a great lot), but on the other, I like that we can get these one-off peaks into corners of the Star Wars universe and still recognize them as Star Wars.

(Continuity fans should note this story occurs in parallel with Edge of Victory II: Rebirth; during episode 6, the No Luck Required briefly intersects with events of Rebirth's climax. Indeed, considering that Rebirth consists of a number of parallel stories that only partially touch on each other, Emissary of the Void could easily be distributed among them as another part of the novel.)

15 August 2014

Review: The New Adventures: Tears of the Oracle by Justin Richards

Mass market paperback, 277 pages
Published 1999

Acquired and read July 2014
The New Adventures: Tears of the Oracle
by Justin Richards

Finally, we get a novel that really follows up on what the events of Where Angels Fear mean to Bernice herself. It's a little weird at first-- Bernice meets up with Braxiatel again, and they go on a mission to Dellah to rescue Commander Skutloid, a nonentity of a recurring character from Justin Richards's previous New Adventures. Given how much work Benny went through to sneak on and off Dellah two books prior to rescue Wolsey, it feels repetitive and easy and pointless. In fact, the whole beginning is surprisingly energy-less: instead of doing anything about the Gods, Benny, Braxiatel, and company decide to go off on a jolly archeological expedition to find the Oracle on asteroid KS-159 (which readers of Big Finish's Bernice stories will know later becomes home to the Braxiatel Collection and Bernice herself, though I don't remember the giant ringed planet ever being mentioned). Eventually this does turn out to intersect with the Gods arc, by way of the People, but that doesn't become clear to the reader for some time. In any case, it turns out to be a decent novel, definitely Richards's best Bernice New Adventure, with more character insight and narrative flair than I usually associate with him. Benny, Braxiatel, Jason, Chris, and Clarence are all here, and all put to good use in a clever plot. The framing device is excellent. Not the best New Adventure, but definitely the continuation of a pretty solid run since the big shakeup in Where Angels Fear.

13 August 2014

Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

Comic hardcover, 238 pages
Published 2014 (contents: 2013)
Borrowed from my wife
Read July 2014
Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search

Script: Gene Luen Yang
Art: Gurihiru
Lettering: Michael Heisler

Now this is more like it! The Search takes the potential that Yang and Gurihiru demonstrated in The Promise and really capitalizes on it-- this book really captures the characters and gives us a compelling, emotional story. Zuko was always one of the best parts of Avatar, and The Promise explores his mother's history with some heart-wrenching twists; some stuff that was in plain sight in the television series but I never put together is combined with new information to great effect. I also liked his reaction to some of the key revelations in the series. Azula is well-used, too, and the trip into the world of the spirits is really well done, too. The Mother of Faces is creepy and awesome, one of Avatar's best renditions of a spirit. This is great stuff, and I am really looking forward both to the next volume (The Rift) and finally starting Legend of Korra.

11 August 2014

Review: The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells

Trade paperback, 161 pages
Published 2005 (originally 1897)
Acquired May 2014
Read July 2014
The Invisible Man
by H. G. Wells

Rereading The Invisible Man-- which I last read when I was a kid, we're probably talking twenty years ago-- furthers my supposition that Well's main m.o. was to take tropes of the nascent science fiction genre and do them right. Wells gives us the fantasy of being invisible, but then works out what problems would logically have to follow on from it, and it turns out to be rather dreadful on the whole. (Though as Andy Sawyer points out in his notes to my Penguin Classic edition, he does ignore the fact that a completely invisible person wouldn't be able to see.) There's a lot of great stuff here, especially the slow build of who the mysterious traveler is-- those scenes where people get glimpses are haunting. But there are also a lot of small touches; in terms of have actual characters inhabit it, this is one of Wells's best scientific romances, I think; it's almost like this invisible man has walked right into the middle of a group of Thomas Hardy rustics. I think my favorite part is a small one: that image of the invisible cat, prowling the streets of London.

08 August 2014

Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru

Comic hardcover, 238 pages
Published 2013 (contents: 2012)
Borrowed from my wife
Read July 2014
Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise

Script: Gene Luen Yang
Art: Gurihiru
Lettering: Michael Heisler

My wife has spent the past seven months or so forcing me to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender with her (she had just watched the series through with a friend). Well, I say "forcing," but what began as skepticism soon transformed into enthusiasm. Avatar is a great television series, of exactly the kind I like: a scrappy group of outcasts having adventures. I loved the story, I loved the worldbuilding, I loved the characters, especially Sokka and Iroh. So I was excited to read the sequel comics as preparation for proceeding on to The Legend of Korra.

What struck me pretty quickly is the more complicated political backdrop of this series: though the show has some nuanced Fire Nation characters, most of them are out-and-out villains. Here, though, we see that decolonization is not a simple thing, no matter how laudable its goals are, and even though the Fire Nation may have invaded the Earth Kingdom, that was a century ago, and time has changed things more than most people realize. I appreciate these additional complexities to the world of Avatar.

The story, though, is a little haphazard. I like the central idea of Aang's promise to Zuko, but it doesn't quite come off in the execution, and it feels like things fizzle out. For Aang to thing of actually fulfilling his promise would require a desperate situation, but I don't think the comic quite succeeds in making the situation seem that desperate. The characters feel too reactive, as well, especially Katara, who mostly is there as Aang's girlfriend, not the outspoken idealist she was from the beginning of the show, and Sokka is not quite the leader he became by the end.

That said, Yang and Gurihiru capture the characters' voices perfectly: it's easy to imagine the voice cast delivering the lines given here to Aang, Sokka, Zuko, Toph, et al., and Gurihuri's art is a dead match for the art used on the show. Perhaps the funnest part (and the book at its most Avatarish) is Sokka's attempts to upskill Toph's metalbenders in their showdown with the firebenders. It's fun stuff, and it bodes well for the next Avatar comic if it can get itself more focused.

(The "library edition" we own contains marginal commentary from writer Yang and artist Gurihiru. It's often interesting, moreso Yang's than Gurihiru's. I like knowing Yang's thoughts on colonialism; it's less interesting to hear Gurihiru observe that it's easier to draw scenes without backgrounds.)

06 August 2014

Review: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

Trade paperback, 144 pages
Published 2001 (originally 1887)
Acquired May 2014
Read July 2014
A Study in Scarlet
by Arthur Conan Doyle

Though I've read some of the short stories before, this is my first time reading a Sherlock Holmes novel-- though I suspect "novella" is more accurate in this case. You can kinda see Holmes writing his way into the character and his milieu: Watson list of Holmes's supposed defects of knowledge is not only contradicted by later stories, but the later chapters of this one! (And doesn't really make any sense anyway.) It's hard to imagine the Watson of the later stories as the layabout young man he is here, though that might be more the adaptations influencing me. As for the story itself... it certainly has a number of good moments, but you can see why Doyle shifted Holmes to the genre of the short story, where he is a much better fit: even at its short length, this goes on a little bit too much. Though I actually did like the extended Utah flashback!

04 August 2014

The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Book 18

Acquired June 2014
Read July 2014
Just One Evil Act
by Elizabeth George

For three years now, I've read an Inspector Lynley novel every four months... finally I've caught up! Sometimes I wonder if it's really been worth it-- there have been some awful ones-- but Just One Evil Act is somewhere in the middle. It has a number of distinct phases: 1) Barbara Havers's neighbor Hadiyyah is "kidnapped" by her mother, 2) Hadiyyah is actually kidnapped and Lynley is sent to Italy to investigate, and 3) Havers crosses the line helping Hadiyyah's dad and Lynley debates intervention. Part 1 is a necessary prologue, but part 2 is just dead boring. As far as I can tell, Lynley never even actually investigates anything, he just talks to Italian policeman and magistrates while Havers tries to help from the UK. There are also long scenes where all of the dialogue is in Italian. How is that even narratively justifiable? Oh God, it was painful. It's George's wheel-spinning narratives at their worst, and it all could have been handled much more quickly because it's not the actual point of the novel.

It's all really there for part 3, the real meat of the book-- how far will Havers go? She makes choices that make you yell at the book, but George knows her character: they're all perfectly plausible ones. It's well written, and a great mystery even pops up. But man.. why's it got to take so long to get to the point of the great mystery? The thing about George is that even if you only get half of a good book, her books are so long that that's still more good writing than you might get out of a complete novel by another writer.

(Also, seriously, George needs to stop talking about computers, because no matter how much research she does, she just comes across like my grandmother trying to use facebook.)

02 August 2014

Reading Roundup Wrapup: July 2014

Pick of the month: The Search by Gene Luen Yang. As an Avatar: The Last Airbender fan, this is basically everything I could have hoped for from a series continuation.

All books read:
1. Infinite Crisis Aftermath: The Battle for Blüdhaven by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
2. Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George
3. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
4. Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise by Gene Luen Yang
5. The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
6. Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search by Gene Luen Yang
7. Doctor Who, Volume 2: Tesseract by Tony Lee
8. The New Adventures: Tears of the Oracle by Justin Richards
9. Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Edge of Victory II: Rebirth by Greg Keyes
10. Star Wars: Tales From the Great River: Emissary of the Void by Greg Keyes
11. Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
12. The Works of Christina Rossetti
13. Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Star by Star by Troy Denning
14. Doctor Who, Volume 3: Final Sacrifice by Tony Lee with Jonathan L. Davis, Matthew Dow Smith, and Al Davison

All books acquired:
1. Collected Tenth Doctor Comic Strips, Volume 3: The Crimson Hand: Collected Comic Strips from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine by Dan McDaid with Jonathan Morris
2. Collected Eleventh Doctor Comic Strips, Volume 2: The Chains of Olympus: Collected Comic Strips from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine by Scott Gray
3. Collected Eleventh Doctor Comic Strips, Volume 3: Hunters of the Burning Stone: Collected Comic Strips from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine by Scott Gray
4. Wooden Shoe Hollow: Charlotte Pieper's Cincinnati German Novel
5. Finlater by Shawn Stewart Ruff
6. Star Wars Omnibus: Wild Space, Volume 1 by Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Chris Claremont, Steve Moore, Alan Moore, Steve Parkhouse, Len Wein, John Stephenson, Ryder Windham, Mike W. Barr, John Wagner, and Robert Rath
7. Star Wars Omnibus: Wild Space, Volume 2 by Erik Tiemens, Michael Murnane, Derek Thompson, Alex Jaeger & M. Zachary Sherman, Stephan Martiniere, Robert E. Barnes, Feng Zhu, Sang Jun Lee, Ryan Church, Warren Fu, Ryder Windham, Jim Woodring, John Wagner, Kevin Rubio, Mark Schultz, and Sergio Aragonés & Mark Evanier
8. The New Adventures: Tears of the Oracle by Justin Richards
9. The Hunger in Our Eyes by Jared Demick
10. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
11. Star Wars: The Clone Wars: The Smuggler's Code by Justin Aclin
12. Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics edited by Mike Madrid
13. The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

#1-5 were birthday presents; take special note of #4 and #5, which are two my contributions to my ongoing Cincinnati novel collection, courtesy of my sister. Other than that, I've got no excuse!

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 544

01 August 2014

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part XXVII: 52: The Companion

Comic trade paperback, 224 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 1962-2006)
Acquired March 2013
Read June 2014
52: The Companion

Writers: Mark Schultz, Gardner Fox, Dan Jurgens, Jack Miller, Greg Rucka, Steve Ditko, Grant Morrison, Steve Gerber, David Goyer & Geoff Johns
Pencillers: Doug Mahnke, Carmine Infantino, Dan Jurgens, Alex Toth, Kano, Steve Ditko, Chas Truog, Murphy Anderson, Walter Simonson, Leonard Kirk
Inkers: Tom Nguyen, Carmine Infantino, Tim Dzon, Alex Toth, Stefano Gaudiano, Steve Ditko, Doug Hazlewood, Murphy Anderson, Walter Simonson, Keith Champagne

52 is, as you might know, an 52-part series filling in a year in the DC universe where Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are all gone. It draws on DC's vast tapestry of characters and concepts. 52: The Companion helps illuminate those backstories, making it useful preparatory reading for 52: here we see Steel's relationship with his daughter, Elongated Man solving a mystery, Booster Gold telling Blue Beetle his origin, Rip Hunter on a mission through time, Renee Montoya dealing with the death of her partner, the Question standing up for his principles, Animal Man on a trip to Paris with his wife, Adam Strange battling a threat to the planet Rann, the deaths of the Metal Men and the breakdown of their creator, and Captain Marvel learning the tragic history of Black Adam.

I'm about halfway through 52 now, and I can tell that some are directly relevant to it (Will Magnus's breakdown, Black Adam's past, Renee's emotional state, Booster's origin), while others are more general, just letting us see those heroes in action in younger days (Steel, Elongated Man, Rip Hunter, Adam Strange, the Question, Animal Man). But I find myself making note of things I learned from them frequently, so the time reading them was well spent. Also appreciated is the commentary from Mark Waid on why the characters were picked for 52, their place in DC history, and why the stories were picked for this volume. (Isn't Mark the greatest at continuity? It always feels like a useful foundation in his hands, never a prison.)

They're not all great stories, but most of them are good, and they reveal the breadth of what the DC universe has to offer at its best.

30 July 2014

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part XXVI: Superman: Infinite Crisis

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2006 (contents: 2006)
Borrowed from the library
Read June 2014
Superman: Infinite Crisis

Writers: Marv Wolfman, Joe Kelly, Geoff Johns, with Jeph Loeb
Artists: Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Cam Smith, Art Thibert, Nelson, Ed Benes, Mariah Benes, Howard Chaykin, Renato Guedes, Kevin Conrad, Dick Giordano, Jose Marzan Jr., Ian Churchill, Norm Rapmund, Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Lee Bermejo, Doug Mahnke, Tim Sale, Tom Derenick, Wayne Faucher, Kark Kerschl, Duncan Rouleau, Dale Eaglesham, Drew Geraci, Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, Ivan Reis, George Pérez, Dave Bullock, Kalman Andrasofszky
Colorists: Jeromy Cox, Guy Major, Renato Guedes, Dave Stewart, Tanya & Richard Horie, Rod Reis, Tom Smith, Michelle Madsen, Kalman Andrasofszky, Dave Bullock
Letterers: Travis Lanham, Pat Brosseau, Nick J. Napolitano

Like the Infinite Crisis Companion, this plugs some gaps in Infinite Crisis. The first story here shows what time in their "paradise dimension" was like for the Alexander Luthor of Earth-Three, the Superman and Lois Lane of Earth-Two, and the Superboy of Earth-Prime. Though it doesn't really help me comprehend Luthor's motivation, it does help make Superboy and Superman's actions more palatable. It's by Marv Wolfman, who revisits his theme that the new universe created after the Crisis on Infinite Earths was intrinsically darker.

It helps explain more clearly what all the Countdown to Infinite Crisis stories had to do with the main event. It's interesting to note that one of things Superboy-Prime observes from the paradise dimension that causes him to think the new timeline is too dark is Wonder Woman killing Maxwell Lord, but when Superboy-Prime crosses over into New Earth, he meets Blue Beetle during the events of The OMAC Project-- obviously before Maxwell Lord was killed. Superboy and Luthor manipulate events somewhat, but I think their manipulations must precede even this, as their interference was the reason Maxwell Lord was able to create OMACs to begin with. So it's all a little bit predestination paradox, but I wonder if this isn't a commentary in and of itself: just like Superboy and Luthor commit violent actions to rewrite the universe to eliminate violence, so too do authors like Geoff Johns depict awful violence in order to write stories about how awful violence isn't necessary for good stories.

One should also note that this is the origin of the infamous Superboy-Prime "retcon punch": as he hits the edge of the universe in frustration, he causes time and history to shift. We see changes to the form of baby Kal-El's rocket, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Jason Todd's death, Power Girl, Hawkman, Wonder Girl, Fury(!), and so on. I kinda both love and hate this. Like, it's both incredibly elegant and incredibly stupid!

Like the Companion, I think it would have worked better as part of the main story than on its own like this. Heck, if you chucked this story plus the four Companion stories in with the main miniseries, you'd have twelve issues: just like the original Crisis. Perfect!

The rest of this book fills in some of Infinite Crisis from the perspective of the Supermen of New Earth and Earth-Two. First we see some snippets from the eve of the original Crisis on Earth-Two, as Lois gives Clark a scrapbook she's made of his greatest moments, illustrated by Tim Sale with his usual flare and skill. Most of it is the two Supermen trading blows, causing them to experience each other's lives-- and make changes to them. It's a neat conceit, showing how each Superman perceives a simpler morality than the other: Superman-Two thinks New Earth is too dark and tries to act to correct it more forcefully; Superman-New thinks Earth-Two is innocent but that too many wrongs are allowed to happen. Both discovers nothing is quite so obvious as that, that the other universe is just as complicated as his own, and that each of them probably did the best they could, given the circumstances. It's not essential, but it slots nicely between the pages of Infinite Crisis and gives us some insight into both Supermen.

28 July 2014

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part XXV: Infinite Crisis Companion

Comic trade paperback, 165 pages
Published 2006 (contents: 2006)
Borrowed from the library
Read June 2014
Infinite Crisis Companion

Writers: Bill Willingham, Dave Gibbons, Greg Rucka, Gail Simone
Pencillers: Justiniano, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Jesus Saiz, Dale Eaglesham, Phil Jimenez
Inkers: Walden Wong, Wayne Faucher, Marc Campos, Oclair Albert, Michael Bair, Jesus Saiz, Art Thibert, Drew Geraci, Andy Lanning
Colorists: Chris Chuckry, Nathan Eyring, John Kalisz, Rob Schwager, Guy Major, Jeromy Cox
Letterers: Pat Brosseau, Jared K. Fletcher, Rob Leigh

This is a weird book, and by itself, it doesn't really work. It has a followup to each of the Countdown to Infinite Crisis miniseries (Day of Vengeance, Rann-Thanagar War, The OMAC Project, and Villains United), showing what its characters were doing during Infinite Crisis itself. These could have been tacked on to the ends of each Countdown trade, or even better, included in Infinite Crisis itself as they comprise somewhat important parts of its story, showing how the Spectre is brought under control, how the space heroes fight the rift in the Polaris Galaxy, and most importantly, what the heck was going on with that worldwide prison break. By themselves, they're just kinda weird little stories that don't mean anything. Or rather, parts of stories.

In "The Ninth Age of Magic," a group of over thirty magic users draws the Seven Deadly Sins out of Gotham after the explosion of the Rock of Eternity. It's pretty perfunctory: one by one a member of Shadowpact finds and confronts a Sin. Its real interest is in the gaps it plugs, not in it as a story. "Hands of Fate" has a similar problem: adding all the heroes recruited by Wonder Girl to the already-overcrowded space hero group doesn't make these people more interesting. Alan Scott's daughter Jade, who hadn't even been in the story before, is killed off for some reason.

Thankfully, the last two stories are the best. "The Lazarus Protocol" is the least "essential" to Infinite Crisis: Sasha Bordeaux leads a group to finally defeat Brother Eye after it crashes to Earth, but reading Infinite Crisis, you would just assume it was destroyed in the crash itself. But it brings Sasha's story (begun in The OMAC Project) to a nice conclusion, as she learns how to be her own person-- and a hero-- outside the confines of Checkmate, making it the best and most pointful story in the book.

Finally, there's "A Hero Dies But One": the Secret Six try to find their place in the world and Oracle and the Martian Manhunter draw together every hero they can to combat the global prison break. It's not a hugely complicated story, but it is fun. Simone, as always, has a talent for groups and a talent for humor.

25 July 2014

Review: Doctor Who: Tesseract by Tony Lee, Al Davison, & Blair Shedd

Comic PDF eBook, 134 pages
Published 2010 (contents: 2009-10)
Acquired May 2014
Read July 2014
Doctor Who, Volume 2: Tesseract

Written by Tony Lee
Art by Al Davison & Blair Shedd
Colors by Lovern Kindzierski & Charlie Kirchoff
Lettering by Neil Uyetake & Robbie Robbins

What's with the dreary covers on these collections? Anyway, it was a preview of the first issue collected here that back in the day convinced me I was right about my decision to skip the IDW ongoing. And on reading it in context, it's still awful. Though Al Davison's art in Fugitive was good, his characters are just ugly here, especially his David Tennant and his Matthew (even though he invented Matthew's appearance!). The dialogue is unnatural and awkward, and there are random, forced continuity references.

So, Tesseract completely squanders all the potential I saw being built up in Fugitive. We find out what the deal of the Shadow Advocate is, but it's just not satisfying: when Finch killed her, she was actually flung back into the Time War and she witnessed its final moments over and over again before escaping. Having seen what the Doctor did, she wants to kill him. But the only reason she got flung into the Time War is because after she escaped, she told Finch to send her back! Predestination paradoxes can sometimes drain the drama out of situations, and this is one of those cases: a writer can make a character do anything, no matter how implausible, on the pretext that they had to do it to maintain the loop. And though I kinda like the idea that someone seeing the Doctor use the Moment to wipe out the Time Lords and the Daleks would conclude that he's too dangerous to have around (the Doctor himself reaches that conclusion in "The Parting of the Ways," after all), she just acts like a generic scheming villain, using complicated plots to ensnare the Doctor for no readily apparent reason when she could just kill him multiple times. Also the plot requires a number of people who should know better (like UNIT) to trust the Shadow Advocate against all reason. What is it with the unlikeability of the new-series UNIT commanders? Until Kate Stewart, the show (and its spin-offs) seemed intent on giving us a series of assholes.

The new companions are not great, either. I liked them all right in Fugitive, but Tony Lee can't write them as people to save his life. I get what he's trying to do, but it doesn't work because it lacks all subtlety; Emily is all "I NEED A GUN TO FEEL SAFE" and Matthew is "I DON'T TRUST THE DOCTOR BECAUSE A WOMAN I JUST MET TOLD ME NOT TO." Why does Matthew listen to the Shadow Advocate? Who knows. The Doctor points out that the flaws in her story indicate she's manipulating him, and he basically goes, "She might be a manipulator, but she learned it from you, even though the only person who told me that was her, who we just established as an untrustworthy liar." I can't bring myself to care about either of these characters because there's nothing likeable or interesting about them. Also, Lee seems to keep forgetting they're from the 1920s, as Matthew explains he was too busy to read The Lord of the Rings (and not, perhaps, too from-the-past), and Emily does the "the TARDIS doesn't look like a proper spaceship" bit seemingly obligatory for new-series companions, but I'm not sure really makes sense for someone from the 1920s.

I haven't even talked about the stories here, but I didn't really like either of them. "Tesseract" is flimsy while "Don't Step on the Grass" is just an overcrowded mess of elements that don't work together.