29 November 2013

Review: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Volume Ten: War

Comic trade paperback, 116 pages
Published 2012
Acquired and read May 2013
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Volume Ten: War

Script: John Jackson Miller
Pencils: Andrea Mutti
Inks: Pierluigi Baldassini
Colors: Michael Atiyeh
Lettering: Michael Heisler

It was around three years ago that I finished up Knights of the Old Republic, the only Star Wars comic series so good that I persuaded my wife to read it. War is a coda to it, which I finally picked up so that she could have an uninterrupted reading experience. It's okay. Zayne has gotten hit by a bit of an idiot ball at the beginning, and KotOR just isn't KotOR without most of the supporting characters, but once the big cons start coming, it feels just like the Knights of the Old Republic I knew and loved. I just hope this isn't the last we see of Zayne and the gang.

26 November 2013

Review: Old Friends by Jonathan Clements, Marc Platt & Pete Kempshall

Hardcover, 274 pages
Published 2006

Acquired April 2013
Read November 2013
Bernice Summerfield IX: Old Friends
by Jonathan Clements, Marc Platt & Pete Kempshall

This is third "novella trilogy" in the Bernice Summerfield, and the most successful one. It takes a slightly different format to the earlier ones-- instead of being three largely parallel tales, we get the first part of a larger story in Jonathan Clements's "Cheating the Reaper," an extended flashback in Marc Platt's "The Ship of Painted Shadows," and then the end of the larger story in Pete Kempshall's "The Soul's Prism."

Let's talk about the flashback story first: Platt's tale oozes atmosphere, and I liked his depiction of "young" Benny (she's 23, I think), who is plausibly the same character, but less experienced without being written as stupid. He write great characters all around, as well as a great setting, but I never fully understood why anything was happening, especially the history of the villain. Parts of it reminded me of Platt's own Paper Cuts.

The main story sees Bernice and Jason attending the funeral of a character Benny first met in "The Ship of Painted Shadows." Clements doesn't quite get the dialogue voices of the principal characters, I don't think, but he gets their interiority very well-- his Jason especially balances the man's desire to do well with his baser instincts in a way that doesn't make him seem a moron. There's not a ton of plot, but this story really gets us into Benny's emotional space-- the woman who left everyone behind, and for a long time. The last line, by the way, is utterly perfect.

"The Soul's Prism" continues this story, but adding some physical danger to what had been a mood piece. It has to do a lot in a brief space, and I don't think it playing coy helps it along-- someone from Benny's past turns up, but it isn't made clear what this person actually did to Benny until late in the game. If I'd read all of the New Adventures, I think I'd know, but I haven't. There are also some contrivances about a character being unable to find Benny that I don't really buy. But on the whole, this is an enjoyable tale, and it succeeds at the doubly tough job of finishing Clements's story while resonating with Platt's admirably.

25 November 2013

Review: Collected Works edited by Nick Wallace

Hardcover, 283 pages
Published 2006

Acquired January 2013
Read November 2013

Bernice Summerfield VIII: Collected Works
edited by Nick Wallace

I've said it before (I think), but in any case, I'll say it again: the best Bernice Summerfield stories are the short-story anthologies. They're works of art, they are, taking shorts by various writers about various characters and managing to blend them into a coherent whole. Collected Works spans the events of the audio dramas in Bernice Summerfield's seventh season, picking up after the events of Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Crystal of Cantus, and ending around the time of The Oracle of Delphi. (See the timeline for more details.)

This book does everything I like about the Bernice anthologies, giving a strong, character-based focused to Benny and the other residents of the Braxiatel Collection, the fallout from The Crystal of Cantus proving a strong hook to hang a lot of stories from. I especially liked the renewed focus on Bev Tarrant (who has really benefited as a character in general from the prose anthologies) and, surprisingly, Parasiel. (Bev especially does well in "The Cost for a Collection" by Ian Mond.) As a result, it's hard to single out any particular favorites; it'd be like claiming chapter 4 was the standout bit of a novel.

That said, there are some strong ones: Wallace's frame story and "Work in Progress" provide a great start, the latter especially haunting in light of what I know is to come in the series' future. Simon A. Forward's "Grey's Anatomy" brings back Mordecan from Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Bone of Contention and  Doctor Who: The Sandman, who I like, and it was an enjoyable story in its own right. Eddie Robson's "The Two-Level Effect" is a fun look at Jason Kane with a cheeky Doctor Who nod, and Hass (the gaseous life-form turned gardener) gets a good turn in "Let There Be Stars" by Mark Michalowski. Dale Smith ties up many of the book's (and, in general, the seventh season's) threads with the chilling "Mother's Ruin." And, of course, I liked Philip Purser-Hallard's recurrent "Perspectives," about a strange group of futuristic historians visiting the collection, a whole lot. No one does this thing quite like Purser-Hallard can-- I like it when my aliens are genuinely alien, and these ones technically aren't even aliens!

Picking out favorites feels like cheating, though. This is another Bernice Summerfield collection with scarcely a weak link, and I continue to love the way the series weaves between media-- each format lends strengths to the others, and Collected Works plugs right into the heart of the seventh season.

22 November 2013

Review: The Starman Omnibus, Volume Three by James Robinson

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2009 (contents: 1997-98)
Acquired June 2009
Read October 2013
The Starman Omnibus, Volume Three

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Tony Harris
Inker: Wade von Grawbadger
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Additional Pencillers: Steve Yeowell, Gene Ha, Mitch Byrd, J. H. Williams III, Bret Blevins, Michael Zulli, Richard Pace, Dusty Abell, Mark Buckingham, Phil Jimenez, Lee Weeks, Stefano Gaudiano
Additional Inkers: Drew Geraci, Gene Ha, Bret Blevins, Michael Zulli, Dexter Vines, Norman Lee, Phil Jimenez, Robert Campanella, Steve Yeowell, Stefano Gaudiano, Ray Snyder, Wayne Faucher
Additional Colorists: Pat Garrahy, Dave Hornung, Gene Ha, Trish Mulvihill, John Kalisz, Noelle Giddings, Lee Loughridge
Additional Letterers: Chris Eliopoulos, John Babcock

Volume Three was the weakest installment of Starman for me thus far. Not that it's bad or anything, but that I felt there was a little too much Shade, not quite enough Starman. Throughout the series, I've felt that maybe James Robinson likes this character more than I do-- he strikes me as someone best used in small doses, but we lead off with a large one: four issues of "The Shade" miniseries, plus some diary excerpts, plus the Shade intervenes (yet again) at the end of a story in order to resolve it when it gets out of Jack's control. All of this is a shame, though, because "The Shade" miniseries, about the Shade's recurring rivalry with an English family, is actually very, very well done, especially the issue with the Flash. It's just that when you bundle the whole Starman series together, "The Shade" feels like a mistimed digression.

The first actual Starman story, "Infernal Devices," is only okay, which exacerbates the problem. The stuff with Solomon Grudy is fine, and I loved the appearances of Batman and Alan Scott, but there didn't feel like there was enough of a personal connection for Jack. (I did really like the Woody Allen movie metaphor, even if, unlike Batman, I have actually never seen a Woody Allen movie.)

Thankfully, a number of the one-shots are strong. "Stars in My Eyes!", where Jack tells his girlfriend three tales of superhero romance, was excellent: I liked the story of Scalphunter, but as a big Black Canary II fan, I was really pleased to see her mother's relationship with Jack's father fleshed out and expanded on, following on from two Silver Age tales where the characters team up. It's an oddly bittersweet story about fidelity and trust and truth. This year's "Talking with David," where Jack has dinner with the dead members of the Justice Society, was good too.

On the other hand, the issue where the Mist kills off Justice League Europe just to prove how badass she is is the most crass, cynical kind of superhero storytelling. "Oh, these characters are in limbo-- let's brutally murder them!" I expected better of Robinson (though maybe I shouldn't have, given he'd go on to kill kids to prove the situation was serious in the awful Cry for Justice).

Thankfully, that bad taste is leavened by the final story, the parallel "Talking with Ted..." and "...Talking with Jack...", where Ted tells Jack's girlfriend about Ted while Jack tells his tattoo artist about his dad. If Starman has an emotional core, it's the father-son relationship between these two, all the respect they can't bring themselves to say, and the parallel narratives here develop that beautifully. Jack might struggle with his father's superheroic identity, but we all struggle with our parents' identities. The final page, especially, got me right in the heart. Brilliant stuff, even if the volume as a whole seemed to tread water a bit.

20 November 2013

Review: The Starman Omnibus, Volume Two by James Robinson

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2009 (contents: 1996-97)
Acquired March 2009
Read October 2013
The Starman Omnibus, Volume Two

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Tony Harris
Inker: Wade von Grawbadger
Colorist: Gregory Wright
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Additional Artists: Craig Hamilton & Ray Snyder, John Watkiss, Steve Yeowell, Matt Smith, J. H. Williams III & Mick Gray, Bret Blevins, Guy Davis, Wade von Grawbadger, Chris Sprouse, Gary Erskine
Additional Colorists: Kevin Somers, Pat Garrahy, Melissa Edwards, Debbie McKeever, Trish Mulvihill, Dave Hornung
Additional Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos

This book collects a couple storylines of Starman; the first big one is "Sand and Stars," which see Jack Knight traveling to New York City to check in on Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont for a case he's working on. As someone who loved Sandman Mystery Theatre, I really appreciated this storyline-- it's awesome seeing Wes and Dian sixty years on, older but still recognizably themselves. The story even ends with Wes and Dian heading off on a final globetrotting journey, which will lead into their final appearances in Sleep of Reason and Justice Be Done. The plot here is kinda so-so, but who cares? I especially liked the fact that Jack primarily geeks out over Dian, not Wesley. Nice to see that she got that writing career off the ground!

It is a little weird to see a story that very much uses the Sandman Mystery Theatre version of the Sandman but also acknowledges the Sandman's participation in the Justice Society, something very much against the tone and feel of SMT itself. What's really awesome, though, is a flashback drawn by Guy Davis, the main and best of the SMT artists-- it really adds to the whole feel of the story as authentically rooted in the other series (which takes place way in the past, but was then-ongoing, I believe).

From there, we segue into "Hell and Back," where Jack and the O'Dares must figure out how to activate a poster that's a portal into hell, inside which the Shade and and one of the O'Dares has been trapped. It's a good story, with nice insights into our characters, but I really loved Tony Harris's decorative borders for the pages. I don't know what it adds, specifically, but it really adds something.

My favorite story in this volume, though, is definitely "Christmas Knight," a simply, sappy, Christmas story, where as characters roll into the O'Dare house for Christmas, Jack helps a mall Santa Claus get his life back together. Yes, I did get a little misty-eyed. Christmas is awesome, and so are superheroes.

18 November 2013

Review: The Starman Omnibus, Volume One by James Robinson

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2008 (contents: 1994-95)
Acquired June 2008
Read October 2013
The Starman Omnibus, Volume One

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Tony Harris
Inker: Wade von Grawbadger
Colorists: Gregory Wright, Ted McKeever
Letterers: John Workman, Bill Oakley, Gaspar Saladino
Additional Pencillers: Teddy H. Kristiansen, Matt Smith, Tommy Lee Edwards, Stuart Immonen, Chris Sprouse, Andrew Robinson, Gary Erskine, Amanda Conner
Additional Inker: Matt Smith, Christian Hojgaard, Bjarne Hansen, Kim Hagen, Gary Erskine
Additional Letterers: Bob Pinaha, Ken Bruzenak

I've owned the first volume of Starman for five years now(!), but my desire to read it goes back even further than that-- I remember reading about it in Scott Tipton's Comics 101 column, which rated it as one of the very best comic books ever. Thankfully, that turned out to be exactly that. Starman tells the tale of Jack Knight, son of the original Starman, Ted Knight, and a young man who never wanted to be a superhero... but found himself forced to be one by circumstances... and found himself starting to like it.

That "liking" is a key part of what I find appealing about this book. Starman goes to dark places, both narratively and visually, but it's often enjoyable, often fun. This isn't a series about a grim antihero, but one about someone who likes being a hero. There's a sense of joy, of enthusiasm, of heroism to the events that happen here. This book doesn't ask, "Do we really need heroes?", it just gets on with the business of having them. But it's not a Golden-Age froth fest; this is a story about terrible things happening to good people... just thank goodness that sometimes the good people can stop those terrible things. This is the ethos I like from my superhero comics.

This was writer James Robinson's first real big break, I think, and it shows-- in a good way. This book bursts with new ideas and reworkings of old ideas: the O'Dares, the Shade, the Mist, Mikaal, the "Conversations with David" segments (where Jack talks to his dead brother), the evil poster, the evil circus, the mysterious Hawai'ian shirt. There's a lot going on, and little of it is generic superhero vs. supervillain theatrics. I like how Starman has a third-person narrator, one with a distinct voice and tone. I think this was Tony Harris's first big break, too, but he also shines here, with art that's purposefully a little rough, and perfectly suited to the task.

Like a lot of DC's Modern Age work, this retcons levels of personality and depth onto Golden Age characters that, quite frankly, was not there to begin with, just like in Sandman Mystery Theatre. Most blatant in this regard is "13 Years Ago: Five Friends," a bleak story of how a few members of the Justice Society reunited to take out a killer cult-leader. The JSA stories in Crisis on Multiple Earths were never like this! But of course, I like this, and I like this mode of going about; this is the kind of thing I think the best modern comics do: respect the past, use it as a foundation to build on, but not be overly beholden to it.

15 November 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Houses of Mystery and Secrets, Part III: Showcase Presents The House of Secrets, Volume One

Comic trade paperback, 541 pages
Published 2008 (contents: 1969-72)
Borrowed from the library
Read October 2013
Showcase Presents The House of Secrets, Volume One

Written by Mike Friedrich, Gerard Conway, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Steve Skeates, John Costanza, Robert Kanigher, Raymond Marais, Jack Kirby, Mark Evanier, Virgil North, Sergio Aragonés, Lore Shoberg, John Albano, Jack Oleck, Mark Hanerfeld
Art by Jerry Grandenetti, George Roussos, Bill Draut, Jack Sparling, Werner Roth, Vince Colletta, Dick Dillin, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Alex Toth, Mike Royer, Mike Peppe, Sid Greene, Jack Abel, Don Heck, Ralph Reese, John Costanza, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Gray Morrow, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Frank Giacoia, Rick Buckler, Wally Wood, Sam Glanzman, Murphy Anderson, Bernie Wrightson, Alan Weiss, Tony Dezuniga, Jim Aparo, Sergio Aragonés, Nick Cardy, Lore Shoberg, Bernard Baily, Joe Maneely, Nestor Redondo, Bill Ely, John Prentice, Ralph Mayo, Jose Delbo, Mike Roy, Adolfo Buylla

The House of Secrets begins with a fairly lengthy (for this kind of comic, anyway) origin story for the House of Secrets itself. "Don't Move It!" (written by Mike Friedrich, art by Jerry Grandenetti and George Roussos) tells this whole tale of a house in Kentucky, built by one Senator Sandsfield with his bare hands entirely from materials found in Kentucky, who swore no one who wasn't of "pure Kentucky stock" would ever live in it. Quite what this means, I don't know, but when our story opens, the House's new owner is trying to transport it over state lines. (Presumably into Tennessee, as no river is mentioned, and I believe Kentucky's southern border is the only one not determined by a river.) With the House 200 yards from the state line, the owner dies, and the House stays where it is, and some time later, Abel shows up, recruited as caretaker by a mysterious man who turns out to probably be an embodiment of the House itself. How all this squares with the histories of Cain and Abel given in The Sandman, I don't know.

Like in The Witching Hour!, the reader is often a viewpoint character in House of Secrets, coming to visit Abel and hear his stories-- along with Goldie, Abel's friend that no one else sees or hears. In The Sandman, Abel had a pet gargoyle named Goldie, evidently after this invisible friend. The frame stories are fairly fun. They're never quite as complicated as those in The Witching Hour! at its heyday, but they usually run a few pages and feature Abel and Goldie up to something, often investigating the strange House they live in. Cain pops up a lot, and you can see the seeds of their wonderfully macabre relationship in The Sandman, though Cain never murders Abel here.

I liked the reference to a "wandering wolfman" who told Abel one of his stories-- presumably the wolfman's name was Marv. There's even one story where Abel and Goldie wander into the nearby suburbs for some tale-telling, pass through the middle of a tale currently happening, and end up meeting Mordred from The Witching Hour! (In another, all three witches come over for a visit.) Not to mention that at one point, we readers get to enjoy a comic book that Abel himself is reading: "Reggie Rabbit, Heathcliffe Hog, Archibald Aardvark, J. Benson Babboon and Bertram the Dancing Frog" (written by Len Wein, art by Ralph Reese), who end up mocking their own dialogue balloons! House of Secrets is definitely more inventive than the other series in this way, I think. With time, alas, the frames shrink away to just a page or so, and Cain stops appearing.

As in both The Witching Hour! and House of Mystery, there are some good stories here. I particularly enjoyed "Bigger than a Breadbox" (writer unknown, art by Mike Royer and Mike Peppe), where an elderly woman enjoys a postal romance, "The Ballad of Little Joe" (written by Gerard Conway, art by Bill Draut), where aliens mistake a man's beloved puppet for an Earth life-form, "After I Die!" (written by Jack Kirby and Mark Evanier, art by Bill Draut), about a man determined to find out what the dying see, "World for a Witch" (written by Jack Oleck, art by Bill Draut), about a group of orphans whose orphanage-runner escapes her life's misery in a magic picture, and, of course, "Swamp Thing" (written by Len Wein, art by Berni Wrightson), the beginning of that much-famous character. I also really enjoyed "The Day After Doomsday..." (written by Len Wein, art by Jack Sparling), a recurrent series of two-page shorts about Adam and Gertrude, the last two humans alive after a holocaust (the same as Kamandi's Great Disaster?). They're both kinda hilariously dumb.

Overall, it's another good bunch, and I'm glad The Sandman led me to it, even if the two series don't line up quite precisely. (Well, unless the Dreaming is in southern Kentucky.)

13 November 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Houses of Mystery and Secrets, Part II: Showcase Presents The House of Mystery, Volume Two

Comic trade paperback, 552 pages
Published 2007 (contents: 1971-73)
Borrowed from the library
Read September 2013
Showcase Presents The House of Mystery, Volume Two

Written by Joe Orlando, Sergio Aragonés, Jack Oleck, Gerry Conway, Lore Shoberg, Len Wein, Sam Glanzman, Archie Goodwin, Lynn Marron, John Albano, Steve Skeates, Robert Kanigher, Virgil North, Carl Wessler, Mike Fleisher, E. Nelson Bridwell, Virgil Redondo, Bill Meredith, Joe Schenkman, Sheldon Mayer, Bill Riley, Maxine Fabe
Art by Joe Orlando, Sergio Aragonés, Nestor Redondo, Mort Meskin, George Roussos, Ralph Reese, Bernie Wrightson, Bernard Baily, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Gray Morrow, Alex Toth, Wayne Howard, Lore Shoberg, Nick Cardy, Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia, Jack Sparling, Leonard Starr, Dick Dillin, Mike Sekowsky, Sam Glanzman, Carl Anderson, Wally Wood, Jack Kirby, Rich Buckler, Bob Oksner, John Giunta, John Albano, Bob Brown, Tony Dezuniga, Adolfo Buylla, Ruben Moreira, Jim Aparo, Gene Colan, Sid Greene, John Prentice, Ernie Chua, Win Mortimer, Alex Niño, Gerry Talaoc, Alan Weiss, Ralph Reese, Bill Payne, Tom Palmer, Ernesto Patricio, George Tuska, Dan Adkins, Joe Schenkman, E. R. Cruz, Ruben Yandoc, Alfredo Alcala, Bill Riley, Rudy Nebres, Jose Delbo, Dan Green

The House of Mystery is hosted by (and the House of Mystery is resident to) Cain, who in The Sandman we'll find out is a resident of the Dreaming, so here I am. There's not a lot to him here, as in most of the issues, he's just there for a page of introductions, usually with some kind of quick gag. Cain has a well-developed personality in those comics, but there's not much to him here. Interestingly, "Sno' Fun!" (written by Sergio Aragonés, art by Wally Wood) establishes that the House of Mystery takes in tenants, one of whose tales Cain tells, but this is the only time we hear of this idea.

These were enjoyable stories, if less fun than those in The Witching Hour! or the earlier issues of The House of Secrets. I particularly enjoyed "Ghost Ship" (written by Jack Oleck, art by Jack Sparling), about a writer on a doomed 1858 sailing ship, and "The Poster Plague!" (written by Steve Skeates, art by Sergio Aragonés), where mysterious posters appear on a college campus, is interesting, even if it doesn't quite add up. Also,  I hope that the idea that a real space camp exists on Earth, as established in "The Secret of Camp Galaxy" (writer unknown, art by Bob Brown) is used elsewhere in the DC universe. I'm not sure the depiction of Death in "Mr. Mortem!" (writer unknown, art by Leonard Starr) is very consistent with Gaiman's, though.

There's an awful lot of people murdering their spouses for money-- especially men murdering women. I guess it quickly establishes where your sympathies should lie. The real highlight of the often-repetitive stories is the artwork: there's many talents you've heard of, and many you haven't, but their artwork is gorgeous, lush, and evocative; these stories wouldn't be half so good without it.

11 November 2013

Faster than a DC Bullet: The Houses of Mystery and Secrets, Part I: Showcase Presents The Witching Hour!, Volume One

Comic trade paperback, 551 pages
Published 2011 (contents: 1969-72)
Borrowed from the library
Read September 2013
Showcase Presents The Witching Hour!, Volume One

Written by Dennis O'Neil, Alex Toth, Don Arneson, Alan Riefe, Steve Skeates, Gerard Conway, David Kaler, Marv Wolfman, John Costanza, Mike Friedrich, Jack Miller, Sergio Aragonés, Ron Whyte, Len Wein, Jack Oleck, Alan Gold, Murray Boltinoff, George Kashdan, Phil Seuling, Carl Wessler, Charles King, Howie Post, Bob Haney, France "Ed" Herron, Jack Phillips
Art by Pat Boyette, Alex Toth, Jack Sparling, Dick Giordano, José Delbo, Sid Greene, Vince Colletta, Bernie Wrightson, Mike Sekowsky, George Roussos, Stanley Pitt, Mike Roy, Mike Peppe, John Celardo, John Costanza, Bill Draut, Jack Abel, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Neal Adams, Nick Cardy, Bob Brown, Murphy Anderson, Gray Morrow, George Tuska, Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia, Jeffrey Jones, Al Williamson, Carlos Garzon, Wally Wood, Art Saaf, John Calnan, Bernie Case, Tony Dezuniga, Lee Elias, Joe Orlando, Don Heck, Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, Sherman Howard, Jerry Grandenetti, Jim Aparo

My quest to read every comic remotely linked to The Sandman continues with its (hopefully) last strand: those horror comics whose hosts were later appropriated by Neil Gaiman to be denizens of the Dreaming. The Witching Hour! is hosted by Mildred, Mordred, and Cynthia, the three-part witch-being who popped up in various guises throughout Gaiman's Sandman run. Post-Sandman, the Witches got their own story in James Robinson's awful WitchCraft, but maybe he should have taken a page from this book, because it is good plain fun.

Most of the stories were disposable, but they were usually also enjoyable. The highlight of the book, though, is definitely the frame narrative. Mildred and Mordred are "traditional" witches, while Cynthia is "mod"-- dressing in the latest fashions and using store-bought canned soups in her witches brews. They constantly bicker over what a good witches tale is, as well as how their never-seen manservant Egor should be treated (Cynthia likes him more than the others). Each issue weaves some small plot around their storytelling competition, like an attempt to take a group photograph, new neighbors at the swamp, or a visit from Cynthia's old college flame. Alex Toth usually provides the amazing artwork for these frame stories. The reader is often directly addressed, putting one in mind of the issue of Gaiman's Sandman where the reader is positioned as a dreamer talking to Matthew the Raven, Abel, Cain, et al. in the Dreaming-- which is presumably where all this takes place?

The witches eventually move to an apartment in the city for some reason, which would seem to promise some new hijinks, but unfortunately by that point the frame story has been squeezed down to a mere page or two per issue, rather than its original five or so. I'm not sure why that happened, but it robs the issues in the second half of the volume of a lot of their character.

The stories are pretty good throughout. Obviously a lot are about witches, and ostensibly each of the witches has a "theme" to their stories, but this is honored as much in the breach as in the observance-- Cynthia is criticized for telling "modern" stories, and then one of the other two will come out with one about a psychologist or computer dating! (In fact there are three stories about the perils of computer dating... I wouldn't've guessed it was already a thing and a worry in 1969-72.) I particularly enjoyed "Trumpet Perilous!" (writer unknown, art by Jack Sparling and Jack Abel) for its audacious ending ("I'll grant you a little creativity Mordred--but what are you going to do with the world totally destroyed?") and "The Maze" (written by Al Gold and Marv Wolfman, art by Gray Morrow), which is about a guy trapped in a formless dimension, accompanied by some effective and chilling second-person narration. The whole issue of space horror stories, culminating in, of course, "The Haunted House in Space!" (writer unknown, art by Al Williamson and Carlos Garzon) was pretty fun, too.

It seems unlikely that anyone will be scared by any of the stories in here, but they're pretty enjoyable when you're in the right mood, and those three witches can lift most any material, no matter how weak.

07 November 2013

Review: Harvey Pekar's Cleveland

Comic hardcover, 120 pages
Published 2012

Borrowed from Hayley
Read April 2013
Harvey Pekar's Cleveland
by Harvey Pekar
illustrated by Joseph Remnant

One might wish that this history was a little more Cleveland and a little less Pekar-- the autobiographical details will often be familiar to anyone who's read previous Pekar works. But then I supposed it wouldn't be a Pekar book. I'm not from Cleveland, but my wife is, and I am from Cincinnati, so I enjoyed this take on the city's history. Pekar's affection for his oft-mocked home city really shines through, and it's a good (if slight) read.

05 November 2013

Review: The New Adventures: Another Girl, Another Planet by Martin Day and Len Beech

Mass market paperback, 245 pages
Published 1998

Acquired and read July 2013
The New Adventures: Another Girl, Another Planet
by Martin Day and Len Beech

In terms of emotional complexity, this is one of the best Bernice Summerfield New Adventures-- on the scale of insight into adult, human emotions, this is like the excellent Professor Bernice Summerfield anthologies (such as A Life of Surprises and A Life Worth Living) later published by Big Finish. The relationship between Bernice and her new "old" friend, and between that friend and her ex, feel startlingly real. Unfortunately, in terms of plot, it's a bit of a non-starter-- another dig with a mysterious backer goes awry, blah blah blah, someone's a traitor, blah blah blah...

04 November 2013

Reading Roundup Wrapup: October 2013

Pick of the month: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. Wilkie Collins, but with lesbians! Flipness aside, this is a beautiful book and a suspenseful one. That said, before this came along, I was having a tough time picking my pick: coulda been either of the first two volumes of The Starman Omnibus (some of the best superhero stuff I've read in a while) or Seeing Like a State (certainly the best academic monograph I've read since finishing my exams).

All books read:
1. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by James C. Scott
2. The Starman Omnibus, Volume One by James Robinson
3. Hartmann the Anarchist; or, The Doom of the Great City by E. Douglas Fawcett
4. Showcase Presents The House of Secrets, Volume One edited by Scott Nybakken
5. The Dark Clue by James Wilson
6. Looking Within: The Misleading Tendencies of “Looking Backward” Made Manifest by J. W. Roberts
7. The Starman Omnibus, Volume Two by James Robinson
8. The Final War: A Story of the Great Betrayal by Louis Tracy
9. The Outlaws of the Air by George Griffith
10. Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
11. Showcase Presents The House of Mystery, Volume One edited by Scott Nybakken
12. The Starman Omnibus, Volume Three by James Robinson
13. His Wisdom the Defender: A Story by Simon Newcomb
14. Gloriana; or, The Revolution of 1900 by Lady Florence Dixie
15. Zalma by T. Mullett Ellis
16. Showcase Presents Secrets of Sinister House edited by Scott Nybakken
17. The Starman Omnibus, Volume Four by James Robinson with Jerry Ordway
18. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

All books acquired:
1. Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics edited by Mike Madrid
2. The Fantastic Four Omnibus, Volume 1 by Stan Lee
3. The Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus, Volume 1 by John Byrne, Chris Claremont, Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, Stan Lee, and Roger Stern
4. Fantastic Four by Jonathan Hickman Omnibus, Vol. 1 by Jonathan Hickman
5. Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual by Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda
6. Star Trek: The Next Generation #7: Masks by John Vornholt
7. Star Trek: The Next Generation #13: The Eyes of the Beholders by A. C. Crispin
8. Star Trek: The Next Generation #33: Balance of Power by Dafydd ab Hugh
9. The Shade by James Robinson
10. The Golden Age: A Different Look at a Different Era by James Robinson
11. New Amazonia: A Foretaste of the Future by Mrs. George Corbett
12. What's the World Coming To?: A Novel of the Twenty-First Century, Founded on the Fads, Facts, and Fiction of the Nineteenth by W. Graham Moffat and John White
13. Afterimage by Helen Humphreys
14. Sixty Lights by Gail Jones
15. The New Adventures: Beige Planet Mars by Lance Parkin and Mark Clapham
16. The Sleeper Awakes by H. G. Wells
17. The New Machiavelli by H. G. Wells
18. The Shape of Things to Come: The Ultimate Revolution by H. G. Wells
19. The Last War: A World Set Free by H. G. Wells
20. In the Days of the Comet by H. G. Wells
21. Screenshots by Lauren A. Walton

Okay, that's not good.

Books remaining on "To be read" list: 519

Review: The New Adventures: The Sword of Forever by Jim Mortimore

Mass market paperback, 293 pages
Published 1998

Acquired and read March 2013
The New Adventures: The Sword of Forever
by Jim Mortimore

In some ways this feels like a dry run for Mortimore's later, superior novel Campaign, what with the universal reboots. I liked the stuff about Young Benny, but I don't feel like what we see of Earth here fits well with what other Doctor Who sources tell us about this century. There's a lot of big, audacious ideas in it, but I don't so much like them as feel as if I ought to be liking them. A weird book that doesn't really hit its target... whatever that might have been.

01 November 2013

Review: T. Tembarom by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Hardcover, 518 pages
Published 1914 (originally 1913)

Acquired March 2012
Read February 2013
T. Tembarom
by Frances Hodgson Burnett

What's that, Burnett? Stuffy old England can old be revitalized with good-old American knowhow? You don't say. C'mon, get a new deal. How do you swing so easily between magnificence and tedium?