24 July 2012

Back to Burnett: The White People

Kindle eBook, n.pag.
Published 2006 (originally 1917) 

Read April 2012
The White People
by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This is a short book by Burnett about a girl who can see into the spirit world. There is the occasional creepy moment, but most of it is a rather pedestrian love story that outwears its welcome even at this length.

23 July 2012

Back to Burnett: Robin

Hardcover, 343 pages
Published 1922
Acquired March 2012

Read April 2012
by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Robin is the second half of the story began in The Head of the House of Coombe, telling what happened to Robin and Donal during the Great War.

It's boring. In that weird Burnettian way, we are constantly told how suited Robin and Donal are to one another, and how great of a romance they have, again and again for chapter after chapter, yet we somehow come away without having anything to actually point at that would demonstrate this. The Head of the House of Coombe himself continues to be the best character, but we never get enough of him, of course.

There's some psychic mind powers, but even that turns out to be underdeveloped.

20 July 2012

Inherit the Stars

Hardcover, 728 pages
Published 1981 (contents: 1977-81)
Acquired March 2008

Read June 2012
The Minvervan Experiment
by James P. Hogan

I have fond memories of reading James P. Hogan's Inherit the Stars from when I was a kid. It was passed on to me by my father, and I know I read it at least twice. A few years ago, I acquired this book-- the first I knew that Inherit the Stars had any sequels, much less four. It's first two are collected here, and I took the opportunity to reread the original and read the other two for the first time:

Inherit the Stars
It's pretty easy to read many sf stories as essentially detective fiction, but perhaps that has never been more true than with this novel. The novel lays out a very intriguing mystery-- how did the corpse of a human being in a spacesuit end up on the moon 50,000 years ago?-- and all of the information, and then proceeds to have the characters solve it. There's not much of characterization or depth here, really, but that's not what you're reading it for. Even if you've read the book before and know the answer, there's a certain joy in watching a set of skilled professionals at work, slowing piecing together the clues and unraveling the mystery.

Inherit the Stars was published around a decade after Thomas Kuhn blew open the scientific world with The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and it would not surprise me at all to learn that Hogan had read his work; the book in many ways epitomizes what Kuhn says about the moment of crisis that causes a paradigm change. Some attempt to keep on working in the old paradigm, ignoring bits that don't fit, others plunge ahead, and it's hard for everyone to communicate without a common language.

There are also some interesting echoes of Darwin. One of my favorite parts of The Descent of Man is when Darwin talks about the valiant little ape who saved his comrade, as it's inspiring; we as a species came into existence because of a countless number of events of tenacious survival. Inherit the Stars ends similarly, with the solution to the mystery actually being quite inspirational in what it says about humankind.

The Gentle Giants of Ganymede
This book suffers one of the most common problems of sequels. It's essentially the same book as the first one, only less compelling. It's structured around a mystery, but instead of "how did the corpse of a human being in a spacesuit end up on the moon 50,000 years ago?", it's something about amino acids. Of course, it grows more complex from there, but one central mystery never drives the novel, just a number of small and underdeveloped ones.

One of the big weaknesses in Inherit the Stars, by the by, is that the characters uncover the spaceship on Ganymede at the exact moment they need the information it contains. Lucky them! The Gentle Giants of Ganymede exacerbates this tenfold with its big coincidence; all in all, I found this a dull and pointless sequel.

Giants' Star
Thankfully, things pick up with Giants' Star, which takes the series from scientific mysteries to political ones; this is actually a pretty fast-paced thriller about alien interference in human development. There's spy missions, space warfare, alien invasions, and some really cool mysteries to unravel. It's a massive change in tone from the first two books, and involving in a much less intellectual way than Inherit the Stars, but I liked it a lot anyway-- you just have to enjoy it for what it is. The plots within plots get pretty elaborate at some points.

It does undermine the series' own mythology in some key ways, though. One of the problems I have with the Foundation series as it goes on is that it constantly undoes its own purpose: you start out thinking psychohistory predicts everything, but soon you find out that the Second Foundation's telepaths manipulated everything, and then you find out that there are even further levels of manipulation, so that psychohistory (ostensibly the core premise of the series) doesn't work at all. Something similar happens here; by the end of Giants' Star, you've learned that the scientists in Inherit the Stars were right about what happened... but for all the wrong reasons. It reads as though readers objected to Hogan's solution on scientific grounds, and he had to keep on coming up with reasons it could still work, disrupting the sheer elegance of the original. I also think that focusing on the giants is focusing on the less interesting part of the series premise-- Charley's people are the cool ones!

If you can just look at Giants' Star as a standalone though, it works pretty well, and I'm interested enough that I've picked up the last two books in the series, and hopefully I'll read them soon...

(These books also introduced me to the UK idea of the "cryptic crossword." Geeze! I struggle with the L.A. Times one enough, and I'll stick to that, thank you very much.)

18 July 2012

From Off the Streets of New York Comes...

Comic hardcover, 152 pages
Published 2006
Borrowed from a friend
Read June 2012
American Splendor: Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story

Story: Harvey Pekar
Art: Gary Dumm

Another full-length work from Pekar, Ego & Hubris tells the story of Michael Malice, who co-created Overheard in New York and co-wrote some wrestler's autobiography.  Malice is a guy who is smart, but thinks he's a genius. If he really was a genius, though, he'd figure out that part of the social contract is being nice to other people.  Pekar and Dumm tell his story in an entertaining enough fashion; Malice swings back and forth between sympathetic and flabbergasting.

17 July 2012

Before the Streets of Cleveland Comes...

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2005
Borrowed from a friend
Read June 2012
The Quitter

Writer: Harvey Pekar
Artist: Dean Haspiel
Gray Tones: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Pat Brosseau

The Quitter covers Harvey Pekar's childhood growing up in Cleveland. Some of this material was previously covered in American Splendor, but not much of it; that tended to focus on Harvey's later life, which only comes in at the very end here.  What can I say about it beyond that it might be my favorite Pekar comic yet?  He fills in his life in broad sketches, focusing into specific moments only a couple times, but this story really resonated with me-- as indeed, I suspect it would with anyone who's ever tried to do something and ended up giving up because it was hard. Or maybe just because of stupid reasons. The Quitter details Pekar's attempts to find something he won't give up at.

Pekar's short works resist "messages," but The Quitter has one, sort of, even if it's just that someday you might find something where you don't quit. Barely a message, but it's somehow uplifting, and I found myself feeling better about myself after finishing The Quitter, and I don't often like books that overtly try to do that to me.

Dean Haspiel might just be my favorite artistic collaborator for Pekar so far; his work is cartoony, but gritty, which suits Pekar's "neo-realist" style more so than some of the more realistic art I've seen in American Splendor, which tends to be too stiff to work as good comics.  Lee Loughridge-- who I know as Gotham Central's fabulous colorist-- accentuates the whole thing with good use of "gray tones."

Surely one of the better graphic memoirs I've ever read (and at this point, I've read too many!).

16 July 2012

From Off the Streets of Cleveland Comes...

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 1994
Borrowed from a friend
Read June 2012
Our Cancer Year
by Joyce Brabner and Harvey Pekar
art by Frank Stack

My previous experience with Harvey Pekar is just the first two American Splendor compilations and the film, which actually covered some of this narrative in much abbreviated form. This book tells of Harvey's bout with cancer-- or more accurately, his bout with chemotherapy to make sure that cancer doesn't come back.

The most immediately notable thing about Our Cancer Year is that, since it is written by both Harvey and his wife Joyce, it is not told from a first-person perspective but rather the third.  Given that so much of American Splendor's effect depends on Harvey's distinctive voice, this creates an immediate distance. This is exacerbated by the fact it seems like Joyce did more of the writing than Harvey; we get into her head more than his, and though what goes on in her head is okay, the book's standout sequences are those where we really get into Harvey's experiences. 

We also hear a lot about a group of refugee kids that Joyce is working with and the outbreak of the Gulf War, which is not as interesting as the amount of narrative it takes up would indicate. It might make an interesting independent book, but crammed into here, the kids don't get enough coverage to pop as characters, and so they feel intrusive.

Stack's sketchy artwork is the first time where I feel like one of Pekar's artistic collaborators have let him down.  It's okay, but it's sometimes hard to tell what's actually happening-- or even who someone actually is.

These are all complaints, and Our Cancer Year's not as bad as all this might imply.  But American Splendor had done better before and would do better again; given the immensity of its subject, it's an unfortunate blip.

13 July 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: The End of Green Arrow, Part V: Green Arrow: Salvation

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2012 (contents: 2011)
Borrowed from the library
Read June 2012
Green Arrow: Salvation

Writers: J. T. Krul, James Patrick
Artists: Diogenes Neves, Vicente Cifuentes, Oclair Albert, Agustin Padilla
Colorists: Ulises Arreola, Michael Atiyeh
Letterer: Rob Leigh

Well, this is it. The final adventure of Green Arrow. After this story, the DC Universe was rewritten, and the new Green Arrow is by no means the same as the old Green Arrow. Having read this book, I can once again truthfully claim to have read every Green Arrow collection there is. (And Green Arrow, in a roundabout way, is the character responsible for getting me into comics.)

Given the character's long and interesting history, this is a disappointing way to go out. Salvation says little about Green Arrow himself, getting more and more sucked into (what I assume are, anyway) elements of Brightest Day. There's a lot of fighting in the forest, the Demon Etrigan shows up, as does the Phantom Stranger, but who knows why. Then the forest comes to life, then Swamp Thing's there(???), and then it's all over for some reason. I've no idea what happened or why, and I think it actually ends twice. Then Galahad leaves (boo), and it's all over. Ta-da! The characters and mysteries that Krul set up in Into the Woods are all but gone: no crusader lady, no reporter guy, and the plot about the Queen taking over Queen Industries is not even touched upon.

There's three issues after that, but they're a fill in by James Patrick where Green Arrow helps a U.S. Marshal bring in a crazy Protestant minister. The minister himself is a dull, ranting villain with an unbelievable plot, and the story is made worse by a completely random Batman cameo-- who drops in to give Green Arrow some trick arrows. If we're so far from the trick arrows these days that Green Arrows can't make his own anymore, then this isn't a Green Arrow I want to read about. How can Green Arrow not make his own arrows!?

The U.S. Marshal lady is set up as a recurring character too, but of course she won't be back either. Green Arrow walks away and that's the last anyone will ever see of him again...

12 July 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: The End of Green Arrow, Part IV: Green Arrow: Into the Woods

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2011 (contents: 2010-11)
Borrowed from the library
Read June 2012
Green Arrow: Into the Woods

Writer: J. T. Krul
Pencillers: Diogenes Neves, Mike Mayhew
Inkers: Vicente Cifuentes, Guillermo Ortego, Mike Mayhew
Colorists: Ulises Arreola, Andy Troy
Letterer: Rob Leigh

Since we last saw Green Arrow standing in the middle of the devastated Star City in Justice League: Rise and Fall, a forest has magically appeared. I guess I'd know something about it if I'd read Brightest Day, but it works without that-- it's a mysterious occurrence anyway, so seeing it happen isn't particularly useful. Officially exiled from Star City, Green Arrow is hiding out in the forest, using it as a base of operations to fight the good fight. It's a good idea, making Green Arrow into a Robin Hood figure; it feels like it merges the patrolling hunter aspects of the character emphasized by Mike Grell (in The Longbow Hunters) with the mystical ones brought to the forefront by Kevin Smith (Quiver) and Brad Metzler (The Archer's Quest).

But J. T. Krul doesn't really capitalize on this setup. Oliver is given a new supporting cast-- a plucky charity worker, a crusading journalist, a man who thinks he's Galahad of the Round Table-- and a new set of villains-- the mysterious "Queen" who takes over his old company, the police commissioner who put him on trial-- but the book doesn't focus on this new setup enough. Green Lantern shows up, and there's some guff about a magic tree, the Martian Manhunter shows up for no readily apparent reason, there's more stuff about the tree, and he leaves too. To someone who hasn't read/isn't reading Brightest Day, it doesn't seem to have much of a point or hook. (Incidentally, there's a discontinuity with Krul's own Rise and Fall in that Hal and, implicitly, the rest of the League seem okay with Ollie whereas they were butts to him in that book, but it's a discontinuity I'm happy to have.)

When the story does focus on the new setup, it's not very interesting; the villains are kinda dull. The Queen has a connection to Oliver's past, and the book does a little with it (there's a beautiful flashback issue drawn by Mike Mayhew), but not enough. Her faceless goons are boring, and haven't we seen more than enough sexy female assassins in Green Arrow stories? I'd like to see a set of stories about raging liberal / ferocious hunter using his forest base to retake Star City for the forces of good with his band of heroes (how awesome does that sound?), but the book dances around that idea.

All that said, Diogenes Neves is the best artist to draw Ollie since Cliff Chiang sadly left, and it's least stupid take on the character since Tony Bedard's Road to the Altar and (the beginning of) Judd Winick's The Wedding Album. Not great stuff, but there's some real potential once Brightest Day is over and the title can go its own way.

11 July 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: The End of Green Arrow, Part III: Justice League: Rise and Fall

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2012 (contents: 2010)
Borrowed from the library
Read June 2012
Justice League: Rise and Fall

Writer: J. T. Krul
Pencillers: Diogenes Neves, Mike Mayhew, Fabrizio Fiorentino, Federico Dallocchio, Geraldo Borges, Kevin Sharpe, Sergio Arino, Fabio Jansen
Inkers: Mike Mayhew, Vicente Cifuentes, Ruy José, Federico Dallocchio, Marlo Alquiza, Mark McKenna, John Dell, Scott Hanna
Colorists: Nei Ruffino, Andy Troy, Michael Atiyeh
Letterers: John J. Hill, Sal Cipriano, Rob Clark Jr.

Rise and Fall is a direct sequel to Cry for Justice, though the timelining is a bit wonky: Blackest Night happens between the last chapter and epilogue of Cry for Justice (and the last chapter of Five Stages happens during Blackest Night). Despite the intervening events, everyone is acting like Roy Harper was only attacked and Star City only just devastated by Prometheus-- so they're searching for him. Only Green Arrow, as anyone who read Cry for Justice knows, has secretly already killed Prometheus.

This book deals with the repercussions of that-- in perhaps the stupidest way possible. Green Arrow is found out, arrested, and revealed as Oliver Queen, and quickly put on trial by a Star City court for murder. Why? First, Oliver killed Prometheus in a location outside of our own universe, where I suspect a Star City court has no jurisdiction. Secondly, this is like putting SEAL Team Six on trial for killing Osama Bin Laden... only Prometheus killed more people than Osama Bin Laden, and has consistently been portrayed (no matter how stupid I might find it) as someone who just by living is immensely dangerous.

Then, he is found not guilty, but sentenced to exile from Star City anyway, as though this is a thing that could actually legally happen.

All of this is made worse by the fact that the rest of the Justice League acts like complete dicks to Ollie, as though they cannot understand his actions at all. Oh come on! Now, there's an interesting story and potential real drama to be created from a setup like this, but it's not going to be found when the Flash shouts things like, "Well, I never liked you anyway, Green Arrow!" Also, Green Arrow somehow moves so fast that the Flash can't catch him. Yeah, I don't know either.

Also, Green Arrow and Black Canary break up. I'd complain that such an action is horrendously out of character for both of them, but comic book writers are so bad at marriage-- and especially this marriage-- that we're probably better off.

This book also contains a story about Green Arrow's old sidekick, Speedy-cum-Arsenal-cum-Red Arrow-cum-Arsenal again trying to put himself back together after his daughter died in Cry for Justice. This story is also stupid, for so many reasons. It features:
  • heroin doing things that I suspect it cannot actually do
  • a drug treatment facility where they just strap you on a table in an empty room and leave you there
  • a significant plot point being Arsenal's inability to get it up
  • Arsenal cradling a dead cat while fighting Batman

The art ranges from inconsistent (one chapter is drawn by three people who have apparently not consulted each other on whether or not Green Arrow's mask hides his pupils) to stiffly posed (Black Canary looks like she came out of Maxim at times) to just flat-out terrible for most of the book, though the Arsenal story looks surprisingly good, aside from the superround butts and boobs. I don't know who drew it, though, because there's no credits on individual chapters. Bleh.

10 July 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: The End of Green Arrow, Part II: Justice League: Cry for Justice

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2010 (contents: 2006-10)
Borrowed from the library
Read June 2012
Justice League: Cry for Justice

Writers: James Robinson / Sterling Gates / Len Wein / Mark Waid
Art: Mauro Cascioli / Scott Clark / Federico Dallocchio
Additional Art: Ibraim Roberson / Sergio Carrera
Additional Pencils: Mark Bagley / Don Kramer / Ardian Syaf / Scott McDaniel / Ivan Reis
Additional Inks: David Beatty / John Dell / Michael Babinski / Andy Owens / Oclair Albert / Vicente Cifuentes
Colorsts: Mauro Cascioli / Siya Oum / Giovani Kososki / Federico Dallocchio / Pete Pantazis / Alex Sinclair / Ulises Arreola
Letterers: Steve Wands / Sal Cipriano / Travis Lanham / Ken Lopez / Rob Clark Jr.

At the end of Green Arrow and Black Canary: Five Stages, Hal Jordan summons Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance up to the Justice League headquarters for an important meeting; Cry for Justice opens with that meeting. Hal's point is that too many heroes have died recently and what he needs is some JUSTICE.  JUSTICE apparently being a more proactive approach, where the League hunts down criminals before the commit crimes.  Notwithstanding that the characters in the first chapter use the word JUSTICE at an implausibly high rate, I'm not sure this premise makes sense.

(Can we talk about the hilarious panel where the Atom shouts "Yeah... JUSTICE!", which makes him sound like a member of the Tiny Titans, which I somehow doubt was Robinson's intention?)

Are you telling me that the League knows where (for example) the Toyman is, and just sits around doing nothing? Even if he's not currently up to criminal mischief, he's a wanted man, surely? To imply that superheroes just sit around waiting for crimes to happen makes them seem like incompetent chumps most of the time.  Anyway, Hal Jordan says he's gonna form his own JUSTICE League, and even though moments before they beamed up, Oliver and Dinah renewed their commitment to one another, Oliver takes no time at all to leave with Hal for completely nonsensical reasons.

So, even if the premise did make sense, it gets abandoned after about 22 pages.  Hal and Oliver go proactive in Gotham (why? isn't it kind of mean of GA to leave Speedy protecting Star City all by herself?), teaming up with the Atom, who is apparently a giant asshole, and soon discover that the villain Prometheus has a plot to destroy the world which they need to stop.  Okay, so just like every other Justice League title, then.  What was the point of this special team?

Oh, right! It's the torture. This is done in the heavy-handed way that every superhero comic handles torture, which is to say that the characters do a lot of it, then one of them shouts, "My God! We've gone too far!" for no readily apparent reason. If this comic actually examined the seductive aspects of torture, that would be one thing, but it just has a lot of it up until the point where it doesn't.

It's also the violence. This is famously the story that kills off a five-year-old girl to prove the situation is serious. Charming.  Also, Star City gets blown up. Again, for those of you who remember Winick's five-years-ago run on Green Arrow.  Oh geeze.

The worst part of this book is, of course, Prometheus. Seriously, has a worse supposedly-awesome-but-actually-lame villain ever existed? His power is that he has a power to stop any superhero's power. Does that even make sense? Some of his powers are so powerful that he should just use them all the time. He can chop off Arsenal's arms-- why doesn't he do that to everyone? Or he has bullets forged by Mercury to use on Supergirl-- surely that would kill anyone he came across? And for some reason the Justice League fights him one at a time. I am pretty sure that if anyone was jumped by Supergirl, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Stargirl, Black Canary, the Atom, Wonder Girl, Starfire, Green Lantern, Doctor Light, Starman, Plastic Man, Zatanna, and the freaking Flash all at once, there's no way he could be fast enough to win.  He was lame when he first appeared in Grant Morrison's JLA, and he's lame here.

There's also the art, which starts out nice, if stiff-- Mauro Cascioli does some good sub-Alex-Ross painted stuff. But time goes on, he gets rushed, and we get bad fill-ins and a never-ending stream of butt and boob shots.  Both at once if we're lucky!  The storytelling, too, is lacking.

Is there anything to like about this book?  Even the humor's B-grade sexist stuff. So apparently not.  Poor Green Arrow-- why'd you have to get sucked into this crap?

09 July 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: The End of Green Arrow, Part I: Green Arrow and Black Canary: Five Stages

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2010 (contents: 2010)
Borrowed from the library
Read May 2012
Green Arrow and Black Canary: Five Stages

Writers: Andrew Kreisberg / J. T. Krul
Pencillers: Mike Norton / Renato Guedes / Diogenes Neves
Inkers: Bill Sienkiewicz / José Wilson Magalhães / Ruy José / Vicente Cifuentes
Colorists: David Baron / David Curiel / Chuck Pires
Letterer: Sal Cipriano

From May 2009 to April 2010, I worked my way through every Green Arrow trade paperback and collection ever published, the first time I had ever done so with a comic book character, but something I would go on to do with Gotham Central, Y: The Last Man, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, and Jessica Jones, and am still doing with the Sandman. In August 2010, I popped back in for another Green Arrow story that had been published since that April, but since then five more have been published, and not only that, but those five represent the last gasp of the character as I know him, as he was completely rebooted by DC last year. So here it comes: The End of Green Arrow...

I never warmed to Andrew Kreisberg's Green Arrow and Black Canary-- he penned two previous volumes, Enemies List and Big Game. Part of what alienated me was that he sidelined Black Canary in what was theoretically 50% her own title; part was that his new villain Cupid was just pathetic. So I went into Five Stages expecting to be disappointed, and to my surprise, found that Kreisberg's last volume is his best. Not that that takes much. Cupid gets a backstory, and we find out that she's not a random housewife with a Green Arrow fixation, but a trained military operative who snapped on a mission. Though dressing men up as Green Arrow and raping them is still perhaps more than I want to read about, this went a long way to making her work more for me. Especially nice was a set of flashback stories about Cupid's days with COBALT, drawn by Renato Guedes, who has a nice clean style-- I liked it a lot more than Mike Norton's scratchy work on the main title.

It's also nice to see Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Mia working together as a proper team, though this must be the third time in the course of this series that Green Arrow and Black Canary have renewed their commitment to one another despite Ollie's dickishness. (They seem to do it once per writer.) There's some pleasing banter (I like it when Green Arrow put on his "Robin Hood" cap), and they seem to actually all like another. Still no Connor Hawke, though.

It's not all good. There's a lot of generic superhero quipping, which gets on my nerves. "I hope you fellas don't think me unpatriotic," says Black Canary as she kicks some COBALT goons, "but for all I know... you're not my army." Um, what? Who says that?

The worst part of this book is when Lieutenant Hilton, the Star City Police Department cop who has liased with Green Arrow throughout this storyline, gets a knife in the back of his head. At first I was bummed, because he was a likable character, and Green Arrow and Black Canary could really use a recurring cast. But he's not dead! Somehow he's still alive... but if the knife's taken out, he'll die?

what is this i don't even

But it gets worse from there-- the doctors send Hilton home from the hospital with the entire knife still in his head, not even cutting off the hilt and putting a bandage over the whole thing. Then he kills his family and some cops and renames himself... The Hilt. Ugh, really? Who does that? Why do something so implausibly stupid to a decent character? Especially since this was Kreisberg's last issue on the title-- unsurprisingly, the Hilt never made another appearance. Thank God.

I can't in good conscience recommend that someone read any of Kreisberg's run on Green Arrow and Black Canary, but if you read the first two, at least continue on to this last volume, since it's the least bad one.

The proper story of Five Stages ends with Hal Jordan summoning Ollie and Dinah up to the Justice League headquarters to lead into the events of Cry for Justice, but there's one last chapter, which actually takes place after (most of) Cry for Justice, during Blackest Night. Written by J. T. Krul, it sees Oliver as a Black Lantern. Maybe all this would be interesting if I'd read Blackest Night, but I haven't. At least Connor is in it.

06 July 2012

Faster than a DC Bullet: Prose Fiction #3: Batman vs. the Fearsome Foursome

I need a full week to review all the Green Arrow comics I've just read, but I only have a day left, so here's a Batman novel instead:

Mass market paperback, 128 pages
Published 1966
Borrowed from the library

Read July 2012
Batman vs. the Fearsome Foursome
by Winston Lyon

I don't think I'd mind the campy Batman if he was funny. 

Next issue: the END of GREEN ARROW!

04 July 2012

The Obverse Quarterly Begins

Trade paperback, 86 pages
Published 2011
Acquired July 2011

Read June 2012
The Obverse Quarterly, Book One: Bite Sized Horror
selected by Johnny Mains

In 2011, small press Obverse Books began a series of small quarterly paperbacks, each one an anthology of genre fiction: science fiction, mystery, tie ins, and so on.  The first one of these, Bite Sized Horror, was unsurprisingly a collection of horror fiction.  Though I like the idea of the book, I didn't like the book itself very much. I didn't dislike it either, though-- the works here by and large simply left me cold.  Paul Kane's "The Between" was the best of the stories-- about a small group of people trapped somewhere-- but even it started too early and finish too late.  I've never read much horror, so it's hard for me to calibrate.  Do I not like these stories, or do I simply just not like the genre?  Unless Obverse does more horror (and there's none in the lineup for the first two years of the quarterly), it's impossible for me to know.

02 July 2012

Good Old Times with Jeeves and Wooster

Hardcover, 527 pages
Published 1994 (contents: 1923-63)
Acquired August 2008

Read June 2012
The Jeeves Omnibus
by P. G. Wodehouse

For some reason, this book combines the 12th, 1st, and 2nd Jeeves and Wooster books-- in that order! The typography isn't consistent between books, so they must have bunged some preexisting plates together.   

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves kicks us off with a tale of Bertie Wooster at Totleigh Towers, once again threatened by marriage with the dippy Madeleine Bassett.  It's sheer fun, as Bertie does his damnedest to stay out of trouble, not to mention matrimony, despite the efforts of everyone around him to goad him into doing stuff for them.  This story includes a great set of incidents where various people become convinced that Bertie is in fact a notorious thief called "Alpine Joe."  The fun of the events is only enhanced by Wodehouse's peerless prose; it manages what I imagine is the most difficult feat of being readable, clear, funny, and written by someone none too intelligent all at the same time.  Allow me to excerpt:
Dinner is usually a meal at which you catch Bertram at his best, and certainly it's the meal I always most enjoy. Many of my happiest hours have been passed in the society of the soup, the fish, the pheasant or whatever it may be, the soufflé, the fruits in their season and the spot of port to follow. They bring out the best in me. 'Wooster,' those who know me have sometimes said, 'may be a pretty total loss during the daytime hours, but plunge the world into darkness, switch on the soft lights, uncork the champagne and shove a dinner into him, and you'd be surprised.'
(It helps, of course, to imagine Hugh Laurie reading it all. Has he recorded audiobooks of this stuff? If not, he should have.)

I found The Inimitable Jeeves, a novel formed by joining together a number of Wodehouse's early Jeeves and Wooster stories, somewhat harder going. He doesn't quite have Bertie's joyful voice down yet, and the formula hasn't quite been worked out yet, either-- a few too many stories hinge on Jeeves knowing how to solve the situation because he conveniently has a relative with a convenient piece of knowledge. And in one story, Jeeves has a romantic interest himself, with seems completely at odds with the character as he is later developed.  I found Charles and Eustace, Bertie's cousins, a bit useless as character, but apparently Wodehouse did too, as they are packed off to South Africa after a few stories and never heard from again.

After a while, though, Wodehouse seems to discover what makes the whole thing work, and soon I was having a good time again.  My favorite one was "The Purity of the Turf," where Jeeves and Wooster are part of a gambling consortium centering on a village school treat, and underhanded sabotage becomes quite normal; I also really enjoyed "The Metropolitan Touch," where Bertie's friend Bingo attempts to bring city music hall programming to an antagonist country audience. (Bingo is quite a fixture in these early stories, though he seems to have faded away by the later novels, which is where the majority of my Jeeves and Wooster reading has taken place up to this point.)

The last part is Carry on, Jeeves, a collection of standalone short stories, shows that Wodehouse has nailed the whole thing in only his second book. The only story that sticks out as not working for me was the last one, which is narrated by Jeeves, and though it has some great moments, it was also slightly at odds with how I see his character (which may, admittedly, owe more to Stephen Fry than to Wodehouse himself).

01 July 2012

Reading Roundup Wrapup: June 2012

Pick of the month: Moto Hagio's A Drunken Dream and Other Stories. Another one of those months where I read a pleasing amount of competitive books, but this one just barely sifted to the top. A collection of manga from one of Japan's top artists, I don't think I've ever read anything quite like it.  Harvey Pekar's The Quitter was also fairly enjoyable, and if Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor hadn't've been a reread, I probably would have gone for it. (Unfair, but there you go.)

All books read:
1. Justice League: Cry for Justice by James Robinson with Sterling Gates, Len Wein, and Mark Waid
2. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
3. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
4. Constellation Games: A Space Opera Soap Opera by Leonard Richardson
5. The Jeeves Omnibus by P. G. Wodehouse
6. The Obverse Quarterly, Book One: Bite Sized Horror selected by Johnny Mains
7. Our Cancer Year by Joyce Brabner and Harvey Pekar
8. Justice League: Rise and Fall by J. T. Krul
9. Green Arrow: Into the Woods by J. T. Krul
10. The Quitter by Harvey Pekar
11. The Minervan Experiment by James P. Hogan
12. American Splendor: Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story by Harvey Pekar
13. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation by Jeremy Bentham
14. Doctor Who Annual 2006 edited by Clayton Hickman
15. Doctor Who Storybook 2007 edited by Clayton Hickman
16. Moto Hagio's A Drunken Dream and Other Stories translated by Matt Thorn
17. The Sensible Folly by Paul Cornell
18. Star Wars: Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor by Matthew Stover
19. Star Wars: X-Wing, Book Seven: Solo Command by Aaron Allston
20. Green Arrow: Salvation by J. T. Krul and James Patrick
21. Star Wars: The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton

All books acquired:
1. Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye
2. Fort Freak: A Wild Cards Mosaic Novel edited by George R.R. Martin with Melinda M. Snodgrass
3. Star Trek: Cast No Shadow by James Swallow
4. Lemistry: A Celebration of the Work of Stanislaw Lem edited by Ra Page & Magda Raczyńska
5. Victorians and the Machine: The Literary Response to Technology by Herbert L. Sussman
6. The Years of Change by Mollie Hardwick
7. The White Mountains by John Christopher
8. The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher
9. The Pool of Fire by John Christohper
10. When the Tripods Came by John Christopher
11. The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes: 37 short stories plus a complete novel, comprising The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, and The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle: reproduced from the original publication in The Strand Magazine with the classic illustrations by Sidney Paget
12. Asimov's Guide to the Bible, Volume One: The Old Testament by Isaac Asimov

Finally!  I broke into a positive "book balance" this month for the first time in many months-- authorizing me to purchase 9 new books and plunge myself back into the negative.

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 414