31 March 2013

Reading Roundup Wrapup: March 2013

Pick of the month: Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye. These low-yield months don't leave me with a lot of options, but I'm still happy to pick this book, which was pretty rad. Just like the character it's about!

All books read:
1. The Ring Goes South: Being the Second Book of The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
2. Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter by Gail Simone
3. Introduction to Cognitive Cultural Studies edited by Lisa Zunshine
4. Birds of Prey: Club Kids by Tony Bedard
5. The Walking Dead: Compendium One by Robert Kirkman
6. Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye
7. Birds of Prey: Metropolis or Dust by Sean McKeever
8. The New Adventures: The Sword of Forever by Jim Mortimore
9. Birds of Prey: Platinum Flats by Tony Bedard
10. Oracle: The Cure by Tony Bedard and Kevin VanHook

All books acquired:
1. Careless in Red by Elizabeth George
2. Legion of Super-Heroes Archives, Volume 11 by Cary Bates and Jim Shooter with Mike Grell and E. Nelson Bridwell
3. 52: The Companion by Mark Schultz, Gardner Fox, Dan Jurgens, Jack Miller, Greg Rucka, Steve Ditko, Grant Morrison, Steve Gerber, and David Goyer & Geoff Johns
4. World War III by Keith Champagne and John Ostrander with Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, & Mark Waid
5. Not-Radio Times Dr Who Special edited by Paul Smith
6. The New Adventures: The Sword of Forever by James Mortimore

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 512

29 March 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: Birds of Prey, Part XII: Metropolis or Dust

Comic trade paperback, 126 pages
Published 2008 (contents: 2008)
Borrowed from the library
Read March 2013
Birds of Prey: Metropolis or Dust

Writer: Sean McKeever
Penciller: Nicola Scott
Inker: Doug Hazlewood
Letterers: Swands, John J. Hill, Nick J. Napolitano

There's a new writer on Birds of Prey again, and this time it's Sean McKeever, known to you and me as the writer of Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood are still there on art, in their fourth volume, which makes this the most consistent Birds of Prey art team to date. Bravo! Also they still rock.

Metropolis or Dust never quite clicked for me-- it certainly doesn't rise to the heights of Mary Jane, though of course McKeever's doing nothing like that book here. There are two main plots: Oracle, Misfit, and Black Alice investigating a magical weapons ring, while Lady Blackhawk and the Huntress look into someone from Lady Blackhawk's past.

The former of these is... not great, with an out-of-character Superman, not to mention the constant bickering between Misfit and Black Alice, which is not at all interesting. I've seen a decent amount of fan venom addressed toward Misfit on-line, but I like here... except in this book. Which is odd, because McKeever is actually really good at writing teen characters normally. The vague conspiracy and villains didn't really light the imagination much.

The other one has a lot of good moments-- Lady Blackhawk attacking a volcano is great, and the underwater scenes are gorgeous and spooky-- but overall it's kinda meh. Are we still doing this Unwilling Bride of Evil thing in the 21st century?

27 March 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: Birds of Prey, Part XI: Club Kids

Comic trade paperback, 126 pages
Published 2008 (contents: 2007-08)
Borrowed from the library
Read March 2013
Birds of Prey: Club Kids

Writer: Tony Bedard
Pencillers: Nicola Scott, Jason Orfalas, David Cole
Inkers: Doug Hazlewood, Rodney Ramos, Jason Orfalas
Letterers: Travis Lanham, Ken Lopez, Rob Leigh, Swands

Tony Bedard takes over Birds of Prey for this volume; I previously enjoyed his work on Green Arrow and Black Canary and R.E.B.E.L.S., and what's here maintains that quality: fast, light action, but with a strong focus on characters and characterization. Rather than one overarching story, Club Kids is made up of five single-issue stories, a technique that works well as Bedard makes his mark on the title.

The first, "Stone Cold Knockout," alternates between Dinah and Barbara discussing Dinah's impending nuptials and a killer pursuing the New God (and Secret Six member) Knockout. The former is fun, and provides some much-needed preparation for that marriage, while the latter was hard to care about, but still decent. Best part of the issue was definitely Big Barda learning how to play Pokémon. It's nice to see Bedard get Dinah and Ollie's history right, too, instead of portraying (as has become de rigeur since Judd Winnick's run) Ollie as having been a constant philanderer.

The next, "The Fan Club," focuses on the Huntress, and well captures the character's awesomeness, as she simultaneously saves a hijacked school bus and stops a plot to do massive damage to Metropolis. Huntress is a violent, angry character, but not an impulsive idiot, and Bedard shows her at her best here.

"Nerds of Prey" is an Oracle-focused story, resuming the conflict between Oracle and the Calculator that had been dropped for the last few volumes of Birds of Prey. Again, this is just fun, as the two characters end up at the same software expo trying to outhack one another. (Also, it finally explains why and how Barbara's base was destroyed back in Between Dark & Dawn!) I found Simone's Calculator a little too one-note and creepy at times, but Bedard amps up the comedy enough to make it work.

The best story in the book is probably "The Warrior Wake of Zinda Blake," where Lady Blackhawk mourns the (cursory, off-panel) death of a friend in her own distinctive way... by boozing it up, hijacking a taxi, and going on a cross-country chase. Bonus points for gratuitous inclusion of an Amish buggy. It's a complete blast, and probably the best (only?) Zinda-focused story in the series yet.

The final story is the weakest, more so due to placement than any intrinsic problem, I think. "Club Kids" confusingly takes place after Metropolis or Dust, the next book, so Misfit and Black Alice have a history that hasn't actually been seen. Why not put it there? It's actually pretty okay, just nothing special: Misfit and Black Alice must work together to escape from the Dark Side Club. (This volume's third reference to the then-impending Final Crisis.)

Overall, this is a fun set of stories, and one of my favorite Birds of Prey books so far. The characters have nothing to worry about in Tony Bedard's hands, only they're about to change hands again...

25 March 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: Birds of Prey, Part X: Dead of Winter

Comic trade paperback, 124 pages
Published 2008 (contents: 2007)
Borrowed from the library
Read March 2013
Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter

Writer: Gail Simone
Penciller: Nicola Scott
Inker: Doug Hazlewood
Letterer: Travis Lanham

Dead of Winter picks up pretty close to the end of Blood and Circuits: the Spy Smasher has seized control of the Birds of Prey, sending them on a mission into Russia to track down a dangerous weapon, where they come into conflict with the Secret Six, who I guess are a supervillain/mercenary team that Gail Simone has also written for.

There's a lot of running around and fighting; it's a shame that Simone wasn't able to go out with something more character-focused, though Dead of Winter certainly has its moments. I loved the interplay between the Huntress and Catman, Harley Quinn was hilarious, I am starting to like Manhunter (and looking forward to reading her solo series someday), Creote is in it, and the bit where Deadshot shoots the villain was great. There are some confusing continuity touches, though: Ice, of old Justice League International fame, appears, but not in a way that's really clear to new readers. Or even this old one who hasn't read any JLI-era stuff in nearly a decade. Though bringing in other heroes is nice in theory, I think we have more than is needed here; the Birds seem to work pretty well with three or four.

The highlight is definitely the ending, where Oracle finally takes on the Spy Smasher, and we see what really makes her stronger (hint: it's not being stronger). Dinah puts in a final appearance, which is great, and then there's one, final page that sums up everything that's great about Barbara.

For the first time in so many Birds of Prey books I can't even remember it (six, actually), Dead of Winter is illustrated all the way through by one artistic team, Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood. The consistency is nice, of course, but what's even better is that Scott and Hazlewood are good. Their heroes (male and female alike) are attractive without falling into male gaze-type territory, and the artwork is nice and clean without being too cartoon-ish on one hand, or too "realistic" on the other. Good faces, especially. I don't like the way they draw Oracle's glasses, but if that's not nitpicking, I don't know what is.

This is the last (for now) Gail Simone volume, and though it's not as good as some (The Battle Within and Perfect Pitch are probably the apex of her run to me), it's a good way to go out. I look forward to seeing what happens next, especially if Nicola Scott and Doug Hazlewood are going to stick around.

22 March 2013

Review: Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye

Trade paperback, 410 pages
Published 2012
Acquired June 2012
Read March 2013
Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero
by Larry Tye

This book pitches itself as a "biography" of Superman from a writer who has written many biographies by this point, but it's not a fictional character biography or anything like that; Tye's book covers the publication history of Superman, but not just comics, tracing the development of the character throughout all media, including radio, film, and television.

I know a lot about Superman, but not as much as is present in this book, and much of the facts that Tye presents in an ordered fashion I only possessed in a random scatter: the attempts by young Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to create and refine their character, Action Comics's early unprecedented success, the way that Siegel and Shuster lost control of their character and finances. Much of the book is organized around those two's highs and lows, especially their attempts to gain recognition for their work. The end of their lives was saddening, but the battle continues, and I think that Tye presents it fairly evenhandedly, letting the reader draw their conclusions on who's right between Siegel/Shuster and DC Comics.

It's not just about them, though, but everyone who had some kind of impact on the Man of Steel, from his original publishers Harry Donenfield and Jack Liebowitz to director Bryan Singer. Tye has clearly done his research: this book draws on tons of comics as well as many unpublished letters and memoirs from key figures in the Superman story. Tye calls Superman America's "most enduring" hero, and he makes a good case: Superman has always been a key figure in American culture, never really going out of style, whether he appears in comics, on film, or even in Smallville. Superman is probably one of my favorite superheroes, and this is an incredibly strong tribute to him, filled with both fascinating facts and stirring tributes. A fun, worthwhile book.

15 March 2013

Review: Introduction to Cognitive Cultural Studies edited by Lisa Zunshine

Trade paperback, 386 pages
Published 2010
Borrowed from the library
Read March 2013
Introduction to Cognitive Cultural Studies
edited by Lisa Zunshine

The idea of cognitive literary theory either seems seductive or appalling to critics-- most seeming coming down on the side of appalling because of a tendency to reductionism, or maybe just because it'd put most of them out of a job. I didn't have any strong opinions on the topic myself, beyond the fact that the two cognitive science-based talks I'd been to were terrible... but if we judged literary theories by bad talks, we wouldn't have much of a field. So I asked a devotee to recommend a book that would (if any book could) sell me on the field, and he recommended this, an anthology of various essays edited by Lisa Zunshine. Actually, by the time I got around to reading it, I'd already read Zunshine's Strange Concepts and the Stories They Make Possible, but that's another review.

Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I read it (I did read it coming off nine months of exam reading), but I find myself unconvinced. Even by Zunshine's own essays, and I actually found the work she presented in Strange Concepts fairly convincing. It may be an artifact of the book's size: though in theory it's 386 pages long, the last 76 are notes, bibliography, and index, meaning you have 310 pages for 15 essays. That's 20 pages per essay, which might seem like enough, but these essays have a lot of lifting to do, in that they have to establish their cog-sci concepts for an audience of literary scholars and use them to do a compelling reading of a text. In Strange Concepts, Zunshine uses a full third of the book on the cog-sci setup! So you're left with a lot of hastily conveyed details of cognitive science and then an even more hastily conveyed literary reading.

The true proof of any literary theory is of course in the results it spits out, and I rarely felt convinced by the cog-sci reading of the texts in question. Or rather, at best, I felt no more convinced than I would be by any other literary theory, but cog-sci tries to make a special claim on truth beyond that of most literary theory: Zunshine says in the introduction, "cognitive cultural studies is cultural studies as originally conceptualized" (8). And later: "the grounding assumptions of cognitive evolutionary science... make this science indispensable to nonreductive cultural analysis" (13). But I never felt like I was reading analyses where the the theory was indispensable; the essays struck me as being like much literary criticism that attempts to bring in theories from other disciplines. Yes, that's neat... but so what? Why should I buy that more than any other reading? Because you read an article in Science? (I don't have a firm grasp of what actual cognitive scientists think of cognitive criticism, and I am curious.) Okay, I am being glib, but hopefully my glibness reveals an underlying point: as presented in this book, at least, cognitive literary theory does not offer any textual readings that make me more interested in it than in any other literary theory. Most are fine, some are awful.

I did quite like Patrick Colm Hogan's essay "Literary Universals," which made a cogent argument for both why we ought to look at literary universals and how examining such might be useful. I found myself agreeing, though not tempted to do such work myself (much as I agree we ought to study black holes, but have no desire to become an astrophysicist). Unfortunately, it's the second essay, so it's all downhill from there.

I found myself, on the other hand, a little baffled by the idea of cognitive historicism, which seems no different from any other literature and science criticism. It looks at how authors rendered the cognitive theory of their day in literary texts, just as (for example) Gillian Beer looks at how George Eliot rendered the evolutionary theory of her day in her novels. Those old cognitive theories don't have any compelling purchase on truth, as it is not based on those "grounding assumptions of cognitive evolutionary science," so why should I be into that kind of reading any more than Shuttleworth's? Not that I'm besmirching this kind of work-- I do a very similar work myself-- I'm just not convinced it belongs in this book.

13 March 2013

Review: The Ring Goes South by J. R. R. Tolkien

Hardcover, 253 pages
Published 2000 (originally 1954)
Acquired February 2011
Read March 2013
The Ring Goes South: Being the Second Book of The Lord of the Rings
by J. R. R. Tolkien

To my surprise, I didn't like The Ring Goes South as much as the previous volume in the series. While The Ring Sets Out has a pretty firm focus on the Shire and the dangers facing it, The Ring Goes South is a little more disjointed, alternating between excitement and boredom, and a little too overcrowded.

Unfortunately, it leads off with boredom: "The Council of Elrond" ought to be a textbook case of how not to handle exposition. I like the idea of the backstory, but the way it's related meant I had to go back over it multiple times in order to absorb it all, as I kept on skimming through whether I wanted to or not. I did notice that though there are many songs sung in Rivendell, they're all by Bilbo; the elves themselves do not sing much if at all. It's a marked difference to the more mischievous elves of The Hobbit.

Finally, though, the Company gets underway, and things begin to pick up. There are an awful lot of characters in the Company, and inevitable short shrift is given to most of them. Pippin is there just to be mocked by Gandalf (I loved it when Gandalf threatened to bash his head against the Gate of Moria), but even outside of the hobbits, I found it took a long time to get a grip on any one character's personality, beyond the fact that no matter what plan you come up with, Boromir will think it's a bad idea. They do get some moments, though, especially when Gimli visits Lothlórien and takes issue with the elves' prescriptions... but is then saddened when they must leave.

The visit to the Mines of Moria was definitely my favorite part of the novel: Tolkien very vividly communicates Moria's creepiness, and I'm a complete sucker for stories where characters find a fragmented narrative telling of a past disaster. The journey to Lothlórien is a complete shift, and though it has its moments (the stuff with Gimli, the looking in the Mirror of Galadriel, Galadriel's rant), it feels a little disconnected, and repetitive to the already-long stay in Rivendell.

The last chapter, though, is amazing, from Boromir's breakdown to Frodo's use of the ring to see all Middle-earth to Frodo and Sam's amazingly brave decision. The end of the book left me excited to see what would happen next; I just wish it had cohered a little bit more in and of itself, and that there's been more time to spend with any of the nine principal characters.

11 March 2013

Review: Trillion Year Spree by Brian W. Aldiss with David Wingrove

Trade paperback, 511 pages
Published 1986
Acquired April 2012

Read August 2012
Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction
by Brian W. Aldiss with David Wingrove

Perhaps the most important place for the history of a genre to begin is with defining its topic. Aldiss and Wingrove open by calling science fiction "the search for a definition of mankind in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science), and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode" (25). Later they clarify that the Gothic emphasizes "the distant and unearthly" and carries "us into an entranced world from which horrid revelations start" (35). This definition is at least partly circular, for it makes Frankenstein (1818) the first work of sf-- but it seems to have been designed to do so. Every now and then they let loose with another (usually perceptive) defining nugget:
  • Stipulations apply only to individual writers, not a genre. (155)
  • One of the pleasures of sf is considering its plausibility, experiencing a “sense of veracity” (155). Perhaps this is why so much early sf has plausibility-increasing frame stories? (Frankenstein, The Last Man, The Mummy!, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, The Purple Cloud, &c.)
  • Sf is like Nazism(!) in that both link modernity and the past into a sort of "technological romanticism" (176).
  • Prophecy is uninteresting. (340)
  • Good sf speculates and entertains. (363)
  • The delight of a first novel (in a series) is a new world; the delight of later novels is reacquaintance. (398) Not necessarily lesser, just different.
In any case, though Aldiss and Wingrove claim that they will modify the definition as they go, it comes up virtually never again. The idea that it involves "the search for the definition of mankind" seems unnecessary, but to reformulate it along the lines of saying something like that it 'takes us into an entranced world made possible through our advanced state of knowledge' would seem to come close to something more accurate and useful. I also like their comment that "transposition of reality" is what distinguishes sf from fantasy (49). They perhaps overplay the influence of the Gothic, but it’s a useful point to make.

The most useful thing that Aldiss and Wingrove do with genre is simply to be very, very careful about it. They point out that genres exist for readers, writers, and publishers, and though Swift was certainly not writing sf (they push against the tendency of genre fans to claim things for their genre), readers now read Swift for much the same reason that they read Wells or Asimov. Hence, their history of the genre charts not just works that exist within the genre, but the works that the genre is responding to, other works read by its readers, and writers outside of the genre undertaking similar projects.

They do fall into the trap of confusing the rhetorical project of genre with its features. For example, they mention Hardy as someone who has a "tremulous awareness set against the encompassing mysteries of space and time" and deals with the scientific revelations of his time, including Darwin (98). Surely the thing that stops Hardy from being an sf writer is that he doesn’t undertake a transposition of reality that relies on our advanced state of knowledge? But according to Aldiss and Wingrove, the reasons Hardy is not an sf writer are: 1) the changes in the social order he records aren't for novelty or sensation, but to impact characterization, 2) his tone is not rapid and light, and 3) he is a genius, whereas sf attracts talents at best (99-100). None of these are defining aspects of sf: Le Guin gives us changes in the social order for characterization, no one would accuse Orwell of being rapid and light, and sf has probably had more than one genius, and even if it hadn't  that’s a stupid thing to say. But otherwise, their tracing of these people outside the genre is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of their project, as is their careful delineation of who is connected to whom within the genre: when discussing the 1930s, they separate out the magazine tradition of Gernsback and Campbell from folks responding to the same ideas like Čapek, Kafka, Huxley, and Lewis.

Their discussion of 19th-century sf is interesting, but not groundbreaking. I suspect the Frankenstein thing was at the time, but now it's a critical commonplace! (Still right, though.) Part of the problem with this section is that it doesn't get the time the other ones do; the careful delineation that shines in most of the book isn't present here, with utopian fiction, future-war fiction, Verne, and the dime novels all dealt with together a little carelessly. His connection to Sherlock Holmes is nice: in talking with a friend, I suggested that both sf and mysteries rely on the existence of a rational universe to some degree.

08 March 2013

Review: Star Trek / Legion of Super-Heroes by Chris Roberson

Comic hardcover, n. pag.
Published 2012 (contents: 2011-12)
Acquired August 2012
Read February 2013
Star Trek / Legion of Super-Heroes

Writer: Chris Roberson
Pencils: Jeffrey Moy
Inks: Philip Moy
Colors: Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Letters: Chris Mowry, Shawn Lee, Robbie Robbins

While IDW's later Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who storyline is definitely the crossover I've always known I wanted, Star Trek / Legion of Super-Heroes is the crossover I never knew I wanted. The concept might initially seem a little goofy, but I love Star Trek, and I love the Legion, and much for the same reason. Both series provide teams of colorful characters in strange settings accomplishing awesome things through virtue of teamwork. What's not to like? And why not cross over?

Chris Roberson's script sure plays up the parallels between the Federation and the United Planets, between the Enterprise crew and the Legion, to good effect. Not too much time is wasted on the initial, mandatory confrontation, but even that is well-played and interesting: what would Spock do if faced with Braniac 5? The answer is, of course, awesome. Both groups end up working together, though, to figure out why both their universes have been replaced with this aberrant one, and the interaction is helped by the fact that Roberson knows all the characters on both teams; there's even a great Chekov joke. Roberson sure does have fun with the mashup: we get an Orion with the Emerald Eye, Klingons fighting Khunds. And I never thought I'd see the day where Superboy showed up in a Star Trek comics, even if just in a flashback! If the comic falls down anywhere, it's the end: something complicated seems to have been built up, but it resolved in a far too cursory fashion just before the story's end, which is a bit of a bummer. Roberson had done such good character work up to that point, that I was disappointed that it didn't really factor into the conclusion.

I really liked the art of Jeffrey and Philip Moy. The Legion was all on-character, but so too was the Enterprise crew: it was definitely them, without seeming traced or stiff. Get these guys on a regular Star Trek comic, stat! They also drew some great two-page spreads, especially the histories of the Legion and the Federation. I felt damn near inspired reading those sequences.

One other quibble: I am pretty sure the gap after The Great Darkness Saga where this story supposedly takes place in Legion continuity just doesn't exist. This certainly oughtn't take place after "The Day after Darkseid," but there's no point where it could fit in before that.

06 March 2013

Review: England in the Nineteenth Century by David Thomson

Mass market paperback, 254 pages
Published 1986 (originally 1950)
Acquired October 2008

Read January 2013
The Pelican History of England: 8. England in the Nineteenth Century (1815-1914)
by David Thomson

I felt much more grounded in this book than in the previous Pelican History of England, Plumb's England in the Eighteenth Century. Partially, I am sure, this is because I study Victorian literature, and thus have more of a background, but I think it helps that Thomson doesn't divide his book into phases based on prime ministers whose importance I am supposed to take for granted, but three different "phases" (1815-50, 1851-74, 1875-1914) that emphasize, in turn, reform, progress, and statehood. With less of politics and more of the social situation, Thomson provides a very readable, light history with occasional moments of insight, such as: "Later generations have come to regard as man-made and intolerable many things which the Victorians accepted as without remedy. The Victorians regarded as intolerable many others things which their ancestors had deemed without remedy, and they had slowly to invent appropriate means to deal with these new-found but not novel social evils. [...] Evils felt to be humanly remediable were tackled as promptly, and, on the whole, as competently, as the means at their disposal allowed" (115). He's obviously working at point to reclaim the Victorians from later criticism (i.e., Lytton Strachey et al.), and I too am all for that.

04 March 2013

Review: England in the Eighteenth Century by J. H. Plumb

Hardcover, 224 pages
Published 1976 (originally 1950)
Borrowed from the library

Read August 2012
The Pelican History of England: 7. England in the Eighteenth Century
by J. H. Plumb

I read this book for a general overview of the eighteenth century before I launched into my reading for my qualifying exams, which spanned 1780 to 1925. Some specific background knowledge on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries seemed like it would be worthwhile. This book was maybe not all that I hoped; Plumb seemed to assume a level of general knowledge with the era's politics that I simply did not possess, as the whole book was organized around three principal prime ministers who were referred to as though I was already an expert. So it was okay, but I find that I've already forgotten much of the knowledge it contained. (Maybe I should have taken notes as I read?)

02 March 2013

Reading Roundup Wrapup: February 2013

Pick of the month: The Battle Within by Gail Simone. Few books makes this distinction much less competitive, but this was probably the most well-executed book I read this month, though I was tempted to pick Star Trek / Legion of Super-Heroes for concept alone.

All books read:
1. Thomas Hardy’s Novel Universe: Astronomy, Cosmology, and Gender in the Post-Darwinian World by Pamela Gossin
2. John Brunner Presents Kipling’s Science Fiction by Rudyard Kipling
3. Birds of Prey: The Battle Within by Gail Simone
4. Birds of Prey: Perfect Pitch by Gail Simone
5. T. Tembarom by Frances Hodgson Burnett
6. Birds of Prey: Blood and Circuits by Gail Simone with Tony Bedard
7. The Obverse Quarterly: Year Two, Book One: Tales of the City edited by Philip Purser-Hallard
8. Star Trek / Legion of Super-Heroes by Chris Roberson

All books acquired:
1. The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E. B. Hudspeth
2. Star Wars Omnibus: At War with the Empire, Volume 1 by Scott Allie, Randy Stradley with Brian Daley, Paul Chadwick, Jeremy Barlow, Paul Alden, Ron Marz, and Welles Hartley
3. Star Wars Omnibus: At War with the Empire, Volume 2 by Ron Marz, John Jackson Miller, Thomas Andrews, Rob Williams with Brandon Badeaux, Jeremy Barlow, and Judd Winick
4. Star Wars Omnibus: The Other Sons of Tatooine by Mike W. Barr with Michael A. Stackpole, Paul Chadwick, Jeremy Barlow, Randy Stradley, and Rob Williams
5. Doctor Who: The Way through the Woods by Una McCormack
6. Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion by Terrance Dicks
7. Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters by Malcolm Hulke
8. Doctor Who and the Cybermen by Gerry Davis
9. Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen by Terrance Dicks
10. Star Trek: Vanguard: Declassified by Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, Marco Palmieri, and David Mack
11. Star Trek: Vanguard: What Judgments Come by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore with David Mack
12. Star Trek: Vanguard: Storming Heaven by David Mack with Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore
13. Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel by Jonathan Morris
14. Infestation v.1 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Mike Raicht
15. Infestation v.2 by Scott Tipton, David Tipton, Erik Burnham, Dan Abnett, and Andy Lanning
16. Star Wars: The Old Republic: Fatal Alliance by Sean Williams
17. Star Wars: The Old Republic: Deceived by Paul S. Kemp
18. Star Wars: The Old Republic: Revan by Drew Karpyshyn
19. Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection And The Re-Enchantment Of The World by George Levine
20. The Handbook: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to the Production of Doctor Who by David J Howe, Stephen James Walker & Mark Stammers
21. Star Wars: Red Harvest by Joe Schreiber
22. Star Wars: Blood Ties: Jango and Boba Fett by Tom Taylor
23. Star Wars: Blood Ties: Boba Fett Is Dead by Tom Taylor
24. Queen City Jazz by Kathleen Ann Goonan
25. Journey into Space, Volume One: Operation Luna by Charles Chilton
26. Batman: Knight and Squire by Paul Cornell
27. Time, Unincorporated: The Doctor Who Fanzine Archives, Vol. 3: Writings on the New Series edited by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith?
28. Soldier Zero, Volume One: One Small Step for Man by Paul Cornell
29. Queer as Folk: The Scripts by Russell T Davies

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 509

01 March 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: Birds of Prey, Part IX: Blood and Circuits

Comic trade paperback, 206 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 2006-07)
Borrowed from the library
Read February 2013

Birds of Prey: Blood and Circuits

Writer: Gail Simone
Co-Writer: Tony Bedard
Pencillers: Nicola Scott, Paulo Siqueira, James Raiz
Inkers: Doug Hazlewood, Robin Riggs
Letterers: Travis Lanham, Pat Brosseau, Jared K. Fletcher, Rob Leigh, Ken Lopez

Even though there's no year-long gap in the middle, Blood and Circuits feels divided in much the same way as its predecessor. The first half continues the Birds of Prey's encounters with the Secret Society of Super Villains that began in Perfect Pitch, as they compete for control of Black Alice. Dinah considers her membership of the team, because of the girl Sin she adopted in that volume, and Helena has another showdown with a mobster from that story. On the other hand, a mysterious wannabe-Batgirl has appeared in Gotham. It's an okay story, worth it as always for the characters' interplay and growth, which wraps up with Dinah really deciding to leave. She also publishes a book about her career, which is charming, though I found it hard to believe that Barbara wouldn't have noticed until it came out!

The second half gives us a very different approach, as Dinah recruits widely to find a replacement for the Black Canary. Huntress and Lady Blackhawk on a mission with Big Barda turns out to be every bit as amazing as you'd imagine, and we also get to meet Kate "Manhunter" Spencer for the first time. She is awesome;  I look forward to reading her solo series someday. We also get a villain matched to Oracle: the Spy Smasher. She seems good so far, though the fact that she went to college with Barbara is a bit much. Unfortunately, the story is hard to judge, as the book ends when it's only halfway over. In retrospect, the last few collections of Birds of Prey could have been handled a bit better, I think, with something like:
  • first half of The Battle Within (taking down rogue vigilantes; issues #76-80)
  • second half of The Battle Within and first half of Perfect Pitch (up against the Gotham mobs, ending just before the Infinite Crisis; issues #81-90)
  • second half of Perfect Pitch and first half of Blood and Circuits (Dinah and Sin, all after the one-year jump; issues #92-99)
  • second half of Blood and Circuits and... whatever comes next? (issues #100+)
The best part of Blood and Circuits, by the way, is definitely the little story in the middle, where Dinah explains her history to Sin. Well written by Gail Simone and Tony Bedard, and probably the best art that Paulo Siqueira and Robin Riggs did on the title. The second half introduces Nicola Scott on pencils and Doug Hazlewood on inks, and she's my favorite of the artists paired with Simone thus far; I look forward to seeing more of her work in future volumes.