31 August 2017

Review: Science, Fiction, and the Fin-de-Siècle Periodical Press by Will Tattersdill

Hardcover, 200 pages
Published 2016
Borrowed from the library
Read September 2016
Science, Fiction, and the Fin-de-Siècle Periodical Press by Will Tattersdill

Will Tattersdill first came to my attention when he e-mailed me to ask a question about Fighters from Mars, the unauthorized American The War of the Worlds rip-off about which I have published. At the time we were both humble Ph.D. students, but with the way the American and British postgraduate timetables differ, he finished his dissertation and got it published with a top university press when I was still scribbling away on mine.

You might conclude from the topic of his query that Tattersdill is interested in the periodical press and science fiction, and that's what this book is about (though there's no Fighters from Mars here). The book discusses the ways that science manifested in the British "Standard Illustrated Popular Magazines" of 1891-1905, analyzing issues as wholes-- part of his argument is that these magazines did not demarcate between what we would now call "science fiction" and other genres, so he examines what sf stories were doing with science alongside factual articles, interviews, and all sorts of stuff. The four chapters discusss interplanetary communication, futurology, X-rays, and polar exploration in turn, pulling in a lot of H. G. Wells and George Griffith, plus some L. T. Meade and Francis Galton, showing how these pieces of fiction were reworking science little differently from how journalism was. There are a lot of neat tidbits in here; I especially liked the discussion of X-rays, which takes in an issue of Pearson's containing both an interview with Röntgen and the first-ever work of fiction with an X-ray in it, an interview with an artist in the Idler that includes an X-ray of the artist's hand, and the use of X-rays as a tool of assassination in an L. T. Meade story.

I also appreciated Tattersdill's call at the end of the book to make the intersection of literature and science about something more than using science to illuminate literature, similar to something Anne DeWitt argued for twenty-one volumes earlier in the same Cambridge UP series as Tattersdill, and an impulse I share myself.

29 August 2017

Review: Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank, and John Sibal

Comic hardcover, 158 pages
Published 2008 (contents: 2007-08) 

Acquired December 2012
Read November 2015
Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes

Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Gary Frank
Inker: John Sibal
Colorist: Dave McCaig
Letterer: Rob Leigh

So this takes place prior to Legion of 3 Worlds, but I actually read it afterwards. I wonder what I would think if I'd read them in the proper order, because as it is, this read like a less successful widescreen Legion action story in much the same vein as Legion of 3 Worlds. There are some good ideas here (I like the idea that a 31st-century nativist group has made the Earth's sun red as a giant "screw-you" to Kryptonians), but the story never clicked with me like Legion of 3 Worlds did, was never quite as fun or brash or crowd-pleasing.

Geoff Johns can sometimes do a great last-page reveal.
from Action Comics vol. 1 #858

At least part of this is due to the art, I think. Gary Frank is a good artist, but his linework makes young people look old, and youth is one of the essential qualities of the Legion, and everything was a bit too fussy. I guess what I'm saying is that he's no George Pérez. And yes, I know that's unfair. (I also don't really care for his costume designs.)

More like Legion of Teenage Super-Creeps. They should all be, like 13-15 here! Has Gary Frank seen a real teenager?
from Action Comics vol. 1 #858

There's a good idea here-- the diversity of the Legion standing against nativism-- but Johns doesn't quite pull off the thematic resonances, the end of the story getting kind of bogged down in a giant fight and gratuitous appearances by the Legion of Substitute Heroes. The Legion's large cast is, as always, its strength and its weakness.

Just imagine your John Williams fanfare swelling up here.
from Action Comics vol. 1 #863
Next Week: The Legion has been split... half of its members have been lost... and it faces a Hostile World!

28 August 2017

Review: Wiped!: Doctor Who's Missing Episodes by Richard Molesworth

Torchwood is back! Big Finish have brought us Series Five on audio, beginning with the first volume of Aliens Among Us, and of course I'm reviewing it for USF. Mr Colchester is the new best Torchwood character.

Trade paperback, 480 pages
Published 2010

Acquired August 2012
Read April 2017
Wiped!: Doctor Who's Missing Episodes
by Richard Molesworth

If you ever wanted to know how so many episodes of Doctor Who ended up missing, presumed wiped, then this is the book for you. Molesworth covers both the processes and procedures that led to the wiping of most episodes of Doctor Who from 1963 to 1974 from the BBC archives, as well as the slow and difficult details of their gradual recovery. Reading this book, it turns out that what's strange isn't that so many stories were wiped, but that we have as many of the episodes as we do. The strange anecdotes that surround almost every recovery make for good reading.

I appreciate Molesworth's thoroughness, but the book could sometimes be hard going-- there's a lot of detail that's difficult to read, about certain technical processes, and about what film trims ended up where when and stuff like that. But I suspect those parts were more intended as reference than as something you should read narratively.

(I read the first edition of 2010, but there was an updated edition that came out in 2013, adding details about the recovery of episodes from Galaxy 4 and The Underwater Menace in 2011. Alas, it was announced just after I bought the first edition, and I wasn't about to turn around and buy it again. Even more alas, a couple months after the second edition came out, the recovery of two almost-complete serials was announced, rendering the second edition out of date almost immediately! I don't know if there are plans for a third, but I feel like if it was published, the recovery of more episodes would be almost guaranteed, so that Molesworth can never be done with his work.)

25 August 2017

The Make-Believe of a Beginning

My new house!
So I have some big news I've never actually written down here: this past February, I was offered (and accepted) a job as a Term Assistant Professor of English and Writing at the University of Tampa. It's a non-tenure track position, on one-year contracts (but indefinitely renewable), teaching-focused: I'll primarily be responsible for delivering courses in UT's required academic writing sequence. At a big research school like UConn, these kind of classes were mostly delivered by graduate students; UT does it mostly through term professors (and adjuncts, of course). So I don't think it's my final job, but it is hopefully a good stepping stone to something later on, and in the meantime, a job that I am perfectly happy to have. It pays well, the writing philosophy of UT is very close to what I'm used to, and it already seems like there's a good set of people here.

A small fraction of my books and Doctor Who CDs.
So, I live in Florida now? It's still weird, it still hasn't entirely sunk in yet. Like, I look out the front window of my new house and I don't yet think of this as my place. I lived in Connecticut for nine years, and Hayley and I lived in the same apartment there for seven, which is one of the longest stretches of my life where I've done essentially one thing. Thankfully, the differing timelines of higher ed and secondary ed meant that after I got my job, Hayley could apply for one herself, and she's teaching biology and earth/space science at an area high school.

Everything we own in three boxes!
We came down in June to scope a place out-- that was the earliest we could down due to Hayley's work obligations-- and that ended up being a little extra stressful, thanks to a last-minute decision to look into buying instead of just renting a home. We looked at both rentals and potential purchases, ended up putting in an offer just before we left (it was rejected), then put in another offer and it was accepted! So then suddenly we not only had to move 1,278 miles, but we had to co-ordinate all the components of buying a home at the same time.

The guy said it was one of the heaviest he'd ever picked up.
Somehow, though we muddled through despite a couple near crises, and, feeling pretty certain we would indeed close on time, loaded up three pods with our stuff and hit the road with two cat carriers, all of Hayley's plants, and a bunch of stuff so unimportant that we forgot to put it in the pods and now had to drag around with us.

(One thing I learned from this whole process is that it's surprisingly hard to get rid of stuff. Like we almost couldn't get rid of our couch, I had to sneak a bunch of stuff into Eastern Connecticut State University's dumpsters, and I had to pay $20 for the privilege of throwing away a twenty-year-old television! I did somehow manage to sell six Doctor Who VHS tapes on eBay, though.)

The trip down was good, if long (twenty-five in-car hours across three days, I think). We stopped in Philadelphia, where my sister lives, and got to experience some of the city's good food, and we stopped in Columbia, South Carolina, where a couple old UConn friends of ours live, where we got to see a minor league ball game and I ate German sausages at a street fair. There were only two pooping incidents in the cat carrier.

Oracle wants more furniture.
The house is nice, but settling in is happening slowly. We have a very large credit card bill to pay off from all the moving expenses, and we should be fine, but we can't exactly rush out and buy furniture to replace the stuff we got rid of. So we will have to wait a little bit to have anywhere to sit. Hopefully not much longer, and hopefully even sooner we will get a washer/dryer because the laundry is piling up!

Hayley's been working a few weeks now, and teaching for exactly two. I had my first pre-semester meeting a week ago Tuesday, beginning six days of meetings: one day of English and Writing Department faculty retreat, three days of new faculty orientation, one day with an Academic Writing instructors meeting, and one day with a College of Arts and Letters faculty meeting. I'm one of three AWR term faculty hired this year (and one of five new professors in the department all together), so I'm part of a nice little cohort of folks also recently uprooted from their lives. So far people in the department seem nice, but I haven't had a whole lot of interactions.

My new office!
The semester starts Monday, but right now it feels like there's too much for me to do for me to be nervous or excited. I'm teaching three sections of AWR 101, the first class in UT's academic writing sequence, and I've taken an old ENGL 1010 syllabus from UConn and adapted it into UT's framework, easing myself into how they do things here.

I don't really feel like I've begun anything yet-- not my house, not my job, not being a Floridan. I worked for years to get a faculty job, and having one thus far is strangely undramatic. But just as I slowly faded out of my UConn life, I suppose I'll fade into my UT one.

(I have taken the opportunity to make a little bit of a new beginning here, with a new design scheme, and some more explicit identification. I decided I was okay with people Googling me and finding a bunch of DC Comics reviews.)

24 August 2017

Review: The Outlaws of the Air by George Griffith

HTML eBook, n.pag.
Published 2004 (originally 1894-95)
Read October 2013
The Outlaws of the Air by George Griffith

After a brilliantly inventive book in Angel of the Revolution (1893) and a moderately accomplished one in Syren of the Skies (1893-94), George Griffith's Outlaws of the Air (1894-95) is where the rot begins to set in. This book is basically Angel all over again, but less interesting. While terrorists plot, England and Russia go to war; the terrorists sit it out with their advanced weaponry with a goal of taking over once the war has ruined the world. Only in this book the anarchists are the bad guys (in Angel, they were one of the factions in the good guy coalition), and a Syndicate of preachy capitalists are the good guys. Running the world as a business (with Britain and Germany at the top) turns out to be the path to world peace. Blech. Angel was altogether more weird, more fun, and more fascinating, but three books in and Griffith has alread turned his new genre into something, well, generic.

22 August 2017

Hugos 2017: Saga, Book Two by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan

The past couple weeks have seen a few Doctor Who reviews of mine appear at USF, all of Big Finish's recent trilogy featuring the Season Nineteen TARDIS team of the Fifth Doctor, Adric, Tegan, and Nyssa: The Star Men, The Contingency Club, and Zaltys. Read 'em!

Comic hardcover, 464 pages
Published 2017 (contents: 2014-16)

Acquired May 2017
Read July 2017
Saga, Book Two

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Lettering+Design: Fonografiks

My Hugo blogging comes to a belated end with the second Saga compilation-- appropriately enough, I guess, as I started this whole adventure with the first one. Saga, Book Two is "more of the same" in a way that makes it hard to say anything about it that you don't say about the first one. Like: more weird space creatures, more romance, more sex, more grossness, more occasional heart-warming moments, more senseless brutality. If anything's changed, it's that Fiona Staples has got even better at what she does. The visuals of this series are just splendid, communicating character and story seemingly effortlessly while also being quite nice to look at. (And she does her own coloring! And she handwrites the captions!)

In this set of adventures, Marko, Alana, Hazel, and family/company live on one planet for a while while Alana tries out an acting career (and Marko flirts with a dance teacher), terrorists kidnap the characters, and Hazel spends some time in a prison camp while her parents search for her. Big jumps of time are covered here, more than in Book One, but Saga effortlessly mixes the crude and the cosmic in a way like nothing else... though maybe at times Staples and Brian Vaughan could go a little less crude. If there's anything not to like, it's that interesting side characters are brutally killed off with such regularity that at a certain point you stop caring about new characters because you don't expect them to make it, and you're more often right than not (though they do mislead you a couple times based on this expectation). I really enjoy the weird melange of characters here, as well as Vaughan and Staples's continual resistance to imposing a status quo. Though at times I'll admit I want it to slow down, so both I and the characters can process things. But that's clearly not going to happen! This phase of Vaughan's career is all about the speed. And let's be fair, he (and Staples) are good at it.

Next Week: Back to the "deboot" version of the Legion of Super-Heroes, in Superman and the Legion!

21 August 2017

Review: Top 10: The Forty-Niners by Alan Moore and Gene Ha

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2005

Acquired and read September 2016
Top 10: The Forty-Niners

Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Gene Ha
Colorist: Art Lyon
Lettering, Logos and Design: Todd Klein

Alan Moore and Gene Ha return to Top 10 to fill in some of the backstory of Neopolis. Following World War II, the United States confines its "science heroes" to the city of Neopolis. Heroes accustomed to ruling the battlefield during the war, like Steve "Jetlad" Traynor and Leni "Sky Witch" Muller, must adjust to life as civilians, and figure out a use for their powers outside of a military setting.

It's a book about finding your purpose in peace. Steve and Leni find theirs, but many of their fellow veterans can't manage it. Leni joins the Neopolis Police Department; Steve becomes a mechanic for the Skysharks, an aerial squadron. Though, since he's the captain of the Neopolis P.D. by the time of the present-day Top 10 stories, we know he must join up eventually. The original run of Top 10 revealed at its very end that Steve was gay (which he seemingly kept on the downlow from his fellow officers), and his finding of purpose is as much a finding of himself, as he tries to force a relationship with Leni that neither of them really wants in order to deny part of his own nature.

C'mon, Steve, admit the truth!

I really liked Leni, too: a statuesque woman who initially fought on the wrong side during World War II, now trying to make good. Her subplot, like the original Top 10 books, blends superhero stories with police procedural in a way I found satisfying-- instead of the police vs. the mob, it's the police vs. organized vampires.

I guess you could say the police are... on a witch-hunt.

Gene Ha is always a strong artist, but this is probably one of his very best books, with great character, clear storytelling and emotion, and some beautiful scenes. Art Lyon's subdued coloring adds to the retro feel as well as to the book's morose, contemplative vibe as its characters find their places in a less colorful world than the one they knew during the war.

Ha captures the scale of Neopolis ever better here than in the original Top 10 series, I think.

Overall, a much better permutation of Top 10 than Beyond the Farthest Precinct. Now I just have to hunt down Smax!

18 August 2017

The 2017 Hugo Awards: Results and Final Thoughts

So, with the announcements of the winners, the 2017 Hugo Awards have come to an end. I was looking forward to watching the livestream of the awards ceremony, as the rare example of an awards ceremony based on something I actually cared about, even if I couldn't quite watch it live; because Worldcon was in Finland this year, the awards were at 12:30pm Eastern time, and I was running errands during the day, but my plan was to come home and watch it ASAP without reading the results ahead of time so it would be "as live" anyway. But, my plans were foiled, the livestream failed, and I just had to read the results on-line.

So what did I think? Just some brief thoughts here:

Category What Won Where I Ranked It What I Ranked #1 Where It Placed
Best Novel The Obelisk Gate 3rd Too Like the Lightning 5th
Hard for me to object to my third-place choice winning when I declared that "I'd be pleased if anything in my top four won in Best Novel"; however, Too Like the Lightning came in second-last! I really enjoyed, but more than that, I predicted that either it or All the Birds in the Sky (which finished second) would win. I did say it would be tight, though, and I was right; four of the novels received first-place votes within a thirty-vote range of each other (out of 2,339 votes cast).
Best Novella Every Heart a Doorway 2nd This Census-Taker 6th
Obviously my choices are doing really well so far! Every Heart a Doorway is a worthy winner, and actually, I did predict that my first-place choice would not come in first. Little did I know how right I was.
Best Novelette "The Tomato Thief" 1st "The Tomato Thief" 1st
Obviously the Hugo voters are wise. I declared I was "pretty confident" they shared my taste in this category, and I was right; if you look at the full vote breakdown, it's a clear favorite. Incidentally, Alien Stripper Boned from Behind by the T-Rex came in below No Award, but 45 people voted for it to come in first, which I guess tells you how many people are just voting to troll.
Best Short Story "Seasons of Glass and Iron" 1st "Seasons of Glass and Iron" 1st
Again, the Hugo voters and I were in clear alignment. A well-deserved win. "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies," one of two stories in this category I voted below No Award, didn't place below it, but did come in second-last place. For me, both novelette and short story were categories with one clear best and then many good-ish/so-so stories, so I was glad the one I pegged as best was also seen as such by the community.
Best Related Work Words Are My Matter 1st Words Are My Matter 1st
Three for five for groupmind alignment! Interestingly, if you look at the full breakdown, Words Are My Matter actually received the third-highest amount of first place votes, but the Hugo's instant runoff voting meant that it ended up taking first place as its competitors were eliminated. I find it somewhat inexplicable that The Princess Diarist landed in second, though, and I was surprised Neil Gaiman was down in fourth (though, I guess I had him in third).
Best Graphic Story Monstress: Awakening 5th The Vision: Little Worse than a Man 6th
This was a very strong category, so I have no complaints with a work I ranked fifth coming in first, as I thought my top five "ranged from very good to great." But I am utterly baffled that The Vision came in last, and quite definitively so (it only got 149 first place votes, compared to Monstress's 517). To me, its quality seemed so obvious. At least my second-place choice of Ms. Marvel came in second. What's wrong with you people?
Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Arrival 1st Arrival 1st
I had no doubt, and indeed, 1278 of 2885 votes cast were for Arrival-- I haven't checked systematically, but I think it must be the best showing in the whole 2017 Hugos. I was surprised to see Stranger Things (which I ranked second) down in fourth though.
Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) The Expanse: "Leviathan Wakes" 2nd Black Mirror: "San Junipero" 2nd
As you can see, me and the voters ended up not really far off from one another. I was sad that Splendor & Misery finished last, though. Surely more interesting stuff was going on in here than in Doctor Who or Game of Thrones? Though I guess I oughtn't be surprised that sf fans didn't vote for a hip-hop album. Not that I have many stones to throw.

I didn't vote in Best Series, but I had a strong suspicion that the Vorkosigan saga would crush it, and I was right. Ninety-three people voted for No Award in Best Series, as I did, but the World Science Fiction Society business meeting ratified the category permanently going forward.

Overall, I really enjoyed this experience. It's nice to really be on top of contemporary sf for once (though many of the books I read have sequels out now that I need to read!); a lot of these books I intended to read someday, but I got to read them now (I always like excuses to ignore my self-imposed reading list sequence). I also liked feeling like part of a community. I mean, I don't know if anyone was reading my comments, but I was reading lots of other people's as I went, which I always enjoy. Plus, I got to make lists, and we all know how much I like lists.

Hopefully I can do it again next year. And maybe someday I could even go to a Worldcon. 2019 in Ireland sounds fun!

17 August 2017

Review: Vision, Science and Literature by Martin Willis

Hardcover, 295 pages
Published 2011
Borrowed from the library
Read August 2016
Vision, Science and Literature, 1870-1920: Ocular Horizons
by Martin Willis

Martin Willis is a kindred spirit when it comes to the study of literature of science: he's interested not in what scientists and writers saw, but how. That said, he (thankfully, I suppose) is interested in scientific vision in a very different way than I am. His book has an interesting arrangement, divided in spatial vision and temporal vision. Spatial vision is then divided into small-scale (microscopy) and large-scale (telescopy), while temporal vision is split into past-focused (archaeology) and future-focused (spiritualism). Each of these four sections is then divided into two chapters, giving a total of eight chapters.

Willis is one of those critics who treats literature as simply another example of a cultural phenomenon he's interested in, so his book flits easily from debates over germ theory to Le Fanu's "Carmilla" to a London guidebook to antivivisection protestors to Dracula in the microscopy subsection, for example. I hadn't read much about archaeology as a science, so that was a useful and interesting discussion, but the best part of the book was the last section, an examination of Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle in parallel. Houdini was a magician who did not believe in spiritualism; Doyle was a spiritualist who invented the ultimate rationalist. The two corresponded for a brief time and even met in 1920, and Holmes and Houdini even died around the same time! Willis shows how both were concerned with vision, but in ways that sometimes concurred and sometimes diverged: both connected visual unease to crime (178), and both needed the eye to be trickable (183); Houdini was disillusioned at Doyle's observational naiveté (203); Doyle believed in séances, which insist on the eye's deficiency, while Houdini celebrated the ability of the eye to learn (218). It's the best kind of comparison, one which provides a new perspective on both its subjects.

16 August 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part LXXII: Convergence: Flashpoint, Book 1

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2015 (contents: 2015)
Borrowed from the library
Read July 2017
Convergence: Flashpoint, Book 1

Writers: Dan Jurgens, Greg Rucka, Frank Tieri, Alisa Kwitney, and Gail Simone
Art: Lee Weeks, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund, Cully Hamner, Vicente Cifuentes, Rick Leonardi & Mark Pennington, and Jan Duursema & Dan Parsons
Colorists: Brad Anderson, Dave McCaig, Monica Kubina, Steve Buccellato, and Wes Dzioba
Lettering: Sal Cipriano, Tom Napolitano, Corey Breen, Nick J. Napolitano, Dezi Sienty, and Carlos M. Mangual

The Flashpoint volumes of Convergence strike me as distinct from the earlier ones. Almost all of the characters in the Crisis, Infinite Earths, and Zero Hour volumes continued to exist after the points where they were plucked from for these tales: the Earth-One Legion had many more adventures, so did the Justice Society, so did Aquaman and Kyle Rayner. Those stories mostly revisited old status quos that the characters had moved on from. But Convergence: Flashpoint picks its characters from around the time of Flashpoint: this is, from around the time they ceased to exist. After Flashpoint, the Superman we'd been following in DC Comics since 1985 was gone, so was Renee Montoya, so was Stephanie Brown, so was Nightwing and Oracle. DC brought them back in different forms, but these characters just stopped, without endings.

So Convergence: Flashpoint is different, in that many of its stories seek to give closure to characters whose stories never received it. How did Clark Kent's marriage to Lois Lane turn out? Did Barbara Gordon and Dick Grayson get over there will-they-won't-they thing? How did Stephanie Brown's tenure as Batgirl go? What ever came of Renee's weird relationship with Harvey Dent, the man who had outed her?

All of these questions (with the added complication that the characters spent a year in a domed Gotham) are answered in Convergence: Flashpoint. Unlike with some volumes of Convergence, these are character versions I'm familiar with: I know the post-Crisis, married Superman; I know Nightwing and Oracle from reading all of Birds of Prey; I know Renee Montoya from Gotham Central and 52. So these stories carried a lot more weight than the ones in, say, Infinite Earths or Zero Hour. Plus, in many cases, the writers in this volume worked on these characters themselves. Dan Jurgens wrote and drew the post-Crisis Superman a lot in the 1990s, Greg Rucka didn't create Renee but he may as well have, and Gail Simone defined Oracle in what's still the best Birds of Prey run.

All of this is to say that as exercises in nostalgia and loose ends, these stories mostly worked for me. The Superman tale, where Lois ends up giving birth to a super-baby, is a heartwarming one of how Superman stands for light against darkness. I liked that Rucka used the Convergence framework to have "our" Harvey Dent confront a version of himself who never became Two-Face in a city-to-city fight unlike any other in the series so far. I actually haven't read a lot of Stephanie Brown Batgirl stories, but this seemed a fitting and cute way of tying up her adventures, with her finally finding an identity of her own. And though I never was a Babs/Dick shipper, letting them both get married and be badasses one last time is a nice final story. There's some great art, too; both Lee Weeks and the Dan Jurgens/Norm Rapmund team draw a stunningly heroic Superman; and I was delighted to see Jan Duursema (who I know from decades of Star Wars comics for Dark Horse) doing her thing in the DC universe.

The book's not perfect. I've complained before that the rules for city battles are different in each story, and the ones in the Stephanie Brown story are in particular difficult to reconcile with other volumes-- Stephanie finds out she's Gotham's champion from watching tv (did Telos send them a news bulletin?) among other weirdnesses, and in the Nightwing/Oracle story, Telos has enforcer robots that appear in none other of the thirty-five Convergence battles I've read thus far. Also, I've never read the pre-Flashpoint Justice League, but Frank Tieri's take on it doesn't make me want to. They're obnoxious "strong female character" types, and they don't exactly acquit themselves well here.

The title has a double meaning. These are the versions of the characters from the time of Flashpoint, but in all of the stories, they're fighting Gotham from the "Flashpoint" universe. This actually worked surprisingly well, especially in the first story, where Jurgens extracts some pathos from having the Flashpoint Kal-El ("Subject One") meet the Earth-Zero Lois Lane, and having the Flashpoint Thomas Wayne (who realizes these characters come from the same world as the Flash he met) get to talk to Superman about the kind of man his son became. Wayne's sadness that his universe didn't vanish in a flash is a nice touch.

Next Week: Nothing! This feature goes on temporary hiatus as I transition between states and jobs. Once I get reliable access to an interlibrary loan service again, though, things will pick back up with Convergence: Flashpoint, Book 2 on some future Wednesday. I had hoped to get through all of Convergence before the hiatus, but it was not to be.

15 August 2017

Hugos 2017: Death's End by Cixin Liu

Trade paperback, 724 pages
Published 2017 (originally 2010)

Acquired May 2017
Read July 2017
Death's End by Cixin Liu

Each successive Remembrance of Earth's Past novel has gotten longer than the previous, duller than the previous, and worse than the previous. I struggled with Death's End a lot, though maybe that was exacerbated by my need to read all 700+ pages quickly because I was coming up tight on the Hugo voting deadline. As in The Dark Forest, the bland characters here are less than interesting, but unlike in The Dark Forest, the cool concepts don't seem to come very quick or fast to make up for it. Every now and then something really arresting happens (the Post-Deterrence Era was traumatizing, and the journey into the four-dimensional realm was great), but then it goes back to slow banalities.

That is, until the end. The last couple hundred pages suddenly get weird and wacky and completely fascinating, with low-entropy entities and fantastic weaponry and beautiful imagery and a mind-boggling scale beyond anything seen in this series up to now by several orders of magnitude. If the whole book had been like that, or if we'd just gotten to that stuff sooner, this would have been a much better book, but it was just so boring to get there that I got intensely frustrated.

This Friday: My reaction to the actual Hugo results!

Next Week: At last, my Hugo journey comes to a belated end, in Saga, Book Two!

14 August 2017

Review: Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct by Paul Di Filippo and Jerry Ordway

Comic trade paperback, 122 pages
Published 2006 (contents: 2005-06) 

Acquired and read September 2016
Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct

Writer: Paul Di Filippo
Artist: Jerry Ordway
Colors: Wendy Broome, Jeromy Cox, Jonny Rench with Randy Mayor
Letters: Todd Klein

The third Top 10 book picks up five years after the previous one, with a set of new recruits joining the Neopolis Police Department at the same time the mayor puts a new commissioner in charge. New writer Paul Di Filippo tries to do like Alan Moore did, and balance a number of ongoing plots, but with more characters and fewer issues, it seems like nothing gets the time it deserves. Interesting ideas are raised and then never come back, or have almost no impact on the story. How was Joe Pi affected by his undercover mission? Did Smax ever find an apartment that would suit the residency requirement? What happened to the new precinct captain and the new mayor's war on terror? Where did Toy Box's boyfriend come from anyway?

Yeah,why not introduce magic powers from a magic box to resolve the corner you've written yourself into?
from Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct #5

The death of a key character's family member warrants a mere page; the resurrection of another key character doesn't even get that. (Why bring someone back to life and give them one line of dialogue in over a hundred pages?) The overarching plotline is tied up when some guy just turns up and tells someone she has a power she didn't know about. That power works, the end. It's nice to see these characters and concepts again, but Di Filippo doesn't do them justice: this book has neither the laughs nor the drama of the first two. I hope that when Zander Cannon takes over as writer, it's better than this.

Clear and communicative and unassuming: the best of comic art.
from Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct #3

Who does do Top 10 justice is Jerry Ordway. Ordway is one of those guys who should always be drawing more comics, and his traditional heroic style is different than that of Gene Ha and Zander Cannon, but just as suited to Neopolis and its inhabitants. He has a mastery of facial expressions, and the storytelling is always clean and clear. The book looks great even when nothing great is happening.

11 August 2017

Steve and Hayley Watch Farscape: Season 1, Episodes 17-20

1x17: “Through the Looking Glass”

  • HAYLEY: The episode opens with Moya’s crew eating dinner together, and I don’t think we’ve seen such a domestic scene with them all together like that before. One of the first things I noticed was that Chiana’s mannerisms have toned down since “Durka Returns,” which is inevitable, I suppose, but I expected we’d see more of her adjustment.
  • STEVE: Hm, I hadn’t caught that, actually. But given she’s not being tortured, I guess she has an excuse to be less weird.
  • H: The crew are bickering over whether or not they’re going to leave Moya, because the pregnancy is once again affecting her ability to starburst. But Moya (listening in on their argument through the DRDs) starbursts anyway to try to prove them wrong-- and ends up stuck, fractured into multiple versions of herself in an in-between dimension. This has got to be another common sci fi trope, right?
  • S: What? Really? Obviously I spend a lot of time trying to match this show into patterns established by older sci-fi shows, but twenty minutes into this one, and I was like, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this. This one was weird! (Eventually I did come up with one, in a sense, but I’ll get to that later.)
  • H: I guess I was thinking of something like Star Trek’s “Wink of an Eye,” which admittedly doesn’t have different versions of the Enterprise, but it does feature different crew members existing at different speeds on the Enterprise, and therefore not being able to interact with each other. But what Farscape does here is indeed much more weird, and alien, and disorienting.
  • S: Moya is fractured across three primary color dimensions with physical rules unlike our own: the red one has a light that makes you feel sick to your stomach, the blue one is so loud it’s impossible to hear, and the yellow one makes you… find everything hilarious? It’s so bizarre and strange-- I loved it. I really like sci-fi stories where there’s a sense that our knowledge and understanding has broken down, and also ones where things from incomprehensible worlds are pushing their way into our own (I wrote one!), and this hit all the right buttons for me. The parallel Moyas were all really well done.
  • H: I thought the yellow one was the weakest, and after having sight and sound messed with, I expected another one of the five senses to be somehow impaired.
  • S: That’s part of why I liked it, I think-- it was just so different. And in some way it’s the most frightening, a universe where you just can’t think the way you want to think.
  • H: That’s true, now that you point it out. It is the version that you’re most likely to get trapped in, because you could stop taking anything seriously. And it gave Rygel a good excuse to make some ridiculous jokes.
  • S: The episode also lets us see some of the characters at their best, like D’Argo’s ingenuity in the red universe, or Aeryn’s growing understanding of technology-- the bit where she tells Crichton the sequence for putting the engines in reverse was cute. I guess we don’t see Rygel and Chiana at their best, but it was funny. (As was D’Argo’s frustration over Crichton’s vomiting.) Lots of good character bits in this one on the whole; I felt bad for Pilot when he was pleading with the crew to not abandon Moya at the beginning, and the scene where John talks to Pilot in Pilot’s chamber was really good too.
  • H: Zhaan has a moment when she puts her priest vestments back on; I do remember that she was no longer wearing them based on a conversation some episodes back, but I wish her vestments looked more different from her street clothes to better signal when she is and isn’t feeling priestly. I guess I just assumed earlier in the season that she took her wrap-thing on and off based on how warm it was, like John wearing his vest or not.
  • S: Yeah, I hadn’t registered the change and/or its significance until John commented on it.
  • H: The thing I really liked about this episode is that it divided all of the characters, and Crichton had to run back and forth between the different Moyas, gathering information and relaying instructions to everyone else. It nicely paralleled the differing motivations of all of the characters (as symbolized by the argument at the beginning of the episode), while showing that Crichton really is the glue holding them together.
  • S: Nice point. So about two-thirds of the way through, I did think of an analogue-- John avoiding the light made me think of the third ever Doctor Who serial, The Edge of Destruction, where a stuck spring in the fast return switch has the TARDIS hurtling backwards in time out of control as increasingly strange things happen in the ship (including a very bright light that comes pouring in through the doors when they open in flight). It’s a key story, because it’s where the original TARDIS crew moves from distrust (the Doctor and Susan vs. Ian and Barbara) to the beginnings of friendship-- and indeed, this episode gives us a scene where everyone ends up in Pilot’s controls just laughing in exhilaration that they’ve survived, and then a parallel scene to the opening, where the crew eats dinner together, but much more harmoniously. This weird experience has brought everyone together, and “Through the Looking Glass” gives us our first indication that these people aren’t just tolerating each other, but becoming a functional unit.
  • H: And that, right there, is exactly why we wanted to watch this show in the first place.

1x18: “A Bug’s Life”

  • STEVE: In this episode, the arrival of a group of Peacekeepers on a secret mission causes the crew to decide to bluff it out: Crichton and Aeryn will pretend to be in control of a Leviathan with the other characters as their prisoner. This requires Crichton to pretend to be a Peacekeeper commander, and let’s get this out of the way: Crichton’s accent is absolutely terrible.
  • HAYLEY: It definitely is, but I actually sort of love that he adopts it. It makes absolutely no sense: surely, given the translator microbes, it doesn’t matter what accent he speaks in?
  • S: And if it does matter, surely everyone would know the jig is up as soon as he opens his mouth?
  • H: But yet for some reason I can’t explain, I kind of think it’s awesome to see him strutting around in red leather, confidently speaking his lines in an affected accent.
  • S: Indeed, that opinion is completely inexplicable.
  • H: Maybe it’s the leather. Anyway, the jig is very nearly up soon after, as neither Chiana nor Rygel can resist opening the Peacekeepers’ secret locked box. They accidentally unleash an “intellant” virus. “Virus” is used fairly loosely here, although it is an infectious lifeform of some sort, it can only infect one person at a time, until it can spend enough time in one host to replicate itself by producing spores. It also seems to have self-awareness, perhaps; its host acts in the interest of the virus while infected. So when the virus ends up in Chiana, she claims it’s actually in Rygel, leading him to go into hiding and the others to begin a search for him.
  • S: This is another episode where I feel compelled to say, “I thought it was fine.” In an imagined version of this episode, you could get a lot of tension out of Moya’s crew having to deceive the Peacekeepers and save themselves from an intruder, but I don’t think this episode quite lands it. There are some good character bits (as ever) and for me that’s what made it work: D’Argo’s reaction to being “reimprisoned,” for example, I thought was really well done.
  • H: I agree with that assessment. There are also some good scenes between Aeryn and the Peacekeeper captain Larraq, where you get a sense of how Aeryn could have been happy in her life as a Peacekeeper. But in terms of the actual plot, the resolution is mediocre at best. There’s some science mumbo-jumbo that shouldn’t make sense to anyone who’s taken high school chemistry: the virus makes its host’s body acidic, but only after it has left, and Zhaan concocts some kind of alkaline antibody to negate what she calls an “acid-based lifeform.”
  • S: Well, I don’t even know that much about chemistry, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that something that can take over all your brain functions somehow leaves no physical trace! It also bothered me that this virus that people cower from in fear and can devastate entire star systems and is worth Peacekeeper commandos tracking for a year can be defeated by something Zhaan can whip up with her limited resources and limited medical skills in about fifteen minutes.
  • H: Ha, yeah. So this one is not the best. Did it have any other redeeming moments for you?
  • S: I actually did really like the stand-off at the end; I thought the episode did a good job of making it chaotic with everyone distrusting everyone else every which way.
  • H: They end up all standing in a circle pointing guns at each other. I agree, I liked that scene.
  • S: Unexpectedly, for what seems like kind of a standalone story, this one turns out to have a lot of ramifications in...

1x19: “Nerve”

  • HAYLEY: During the chaotic final stand-off of “A Bug’s Life,” Larraq stabbed Aeryn. It had seemed like a minor injury at the time, but at the beginning of this episode, Aeryn reveals that it severed an important nerve, which will lead to her dying very soon unless she gets medical treatment involving a tissue graft from a compatible Peacekeeper donor. Larraq had also given Moya’s crew the location of a secret Peacekeeper base in the Uncharted Territories, so Crichton gets to disguise himself as a Peacekeeper again (terrible fake accent and all) in order to enter the base to try to obtain the tissue needed to save Aeryn’s life.
  • STEVE: This one was also on my Blockbuster Best of Season One DVD, and though it’s pretty obvious why given how important it is (and also it’s pretty good I guess), but on the other hand, in retrospect, it’s kind of surprising because it pulls together a ton of threads from across the whole first season: Gilina from “PK Tech Girl,” Crais’s going rogue in “That Old Black Magic,” Moya’s pregnancy from “They’ve Got a Secret,” the desirability of wormhole technology established in “Till the Blood Runs Clear,” and maybe most importantly, we learn there was a secret message communicated to Crichton by the aliens in “A Human Reaction.” I really enjoyed the way this episode took all of these threads and began to pull them together to create an unexpected and tense hour of television.
  • H: True-- I was not expecting that many of these one-offs would serve to set up a bigger story, especially not in the first season! Gilina wastes no time in risking her own skin to help Crichton and Chiana (who comes along as a “distraction”). It’s one thing for Gilina to help out Moya’s crew when there are no other Peackeepers around (and Aeryn’s pointing a gun at her), but Crichton must have left a pretty big impression for her to take the risks she did here.
  • S: But it’s an impression he can’t live up to, since in the interim he’s begun (kind of) a thing with Aeryn, setting Gilina up for disappointment. He obviously doesn’t want to get all passionate with Gilina, but also doesn’t want to tell her the truth. (And, naturally, neither does Chiana.) I liked her in “PK Tech Girl,” so it was nice to see her here-- but it’s the best kind of reappearance, where everything’s changed. It would be easy for her to just be a “friendly insider” character, but her presence complicates as much as it simplifies.
  • H: Despite her assistance in passing Peacekeeper security checks and in acquiring what they need to cure Aeryn, Crichton is inexplicably caught as an intruder when a new villain, Scorpius, catches sight of him. (I thought it was interesting to see that not all Peacekeepers are Sebaceans.) I have to admit, although I’m pretty good at avoiding spoilers, I must have come across something recently that mentioned there would be a recurring villain named Scorpius introduced sometime soon. (I don’t know what!)
  • S: I thought that the scenes set in Scorpius’s laboratory were very effective-- both Wayne Pygram’s performance and the set design/lighting are intense. I don’t know why his memory-extracting chair has to rotate, but it does make the scenes disorienting, especially when he rides along with it.
  • H: The close-up shots of Crichton help sell the disorientation, too. The chair is definitely the most frightening weapon we’ve seen so far in Farscape, and John clearly knows what’s at risk if he reveals Moya’s location or pregnancy. The reveal of secret wormhole knowledge inside his brain from the aliens in “A Human Reaction” is a surprising twist, and also amps up the tension.
  • S: All the stuff on the base was great-- the subterfuge feels more tense than in “A Bug’s Life” (even if Crichton’s accent is no better), and this is the first episode to really make use of Chiana since she joined the crew. What we see of her is great-- she’s the most amoral and least principled of Moya’s crew, even less so than Rygel, willing to use sex and/or violence to do whatever needs doing.
  • H: She’s got several excellent scenes, whether it’s flirting salaciously with the creep Commander Javio, or working alongside Gilina once Crichton’s captured--
  • S: --or setting Javio on fire!
  • H: I was getting to that! That scene really floored me, and drove home Chiana’s amorality. Does Javio deserve getting set on fire? Probably. But no one else on Moya’s crew, regardless of how much they engage in violence, would quite go that far!
  • S: Yeah. But obviously Chiana isn’t completely amoral, or she wouldn’t have gone with Crichton to begin with. (Unless she was convinced Crichton was going to frell it up and saw a potential way off Moya before the dren hit the fan.)
  • H: She seems to legitimately want to help in this case, as evidenced by her rescuing the medicine that Crichton had hidden and returning it to Moya in order to save Aeryn’s life. She just will clearly do whatever it takes to achieve what she wants. And not just when it’s killing evil sexual predators-- she also lies to the overly-earnest Gilina, telling her Crichton is in love with her and that they’ll come back with reinforcements to rescue her as well. (If the latter isn’t a lie, it’s at least stretching the truth, and it seems unlikely that Chiana is sincere.)
  • S: Meanwhile, on Moya, the once utilitarian D’Argo continues to become a big softy. We don’t see a lot of the ship in this episode, but what we do see shows the crew really has bonded. D’Argo comes up with a plan to save Aeryn’s life that contradicts a promise he made her, so he won’t let her know-- and even Rygel agrees that the crew has to do the right thing by Aeryn.
  • H: D’Argo’s heart just seems to get bigger every episode! It’s adorable. Meanwhile, back on the base, Crais makes his first appearance since “That Old Black Magic.” Somehow, next to Scorpius and Javio, he doesn’t seem nearly as intimidating as he used to.
  • S: I thought it was interesting to complicate the Peacekeepers a bit: here we have three different Peacekeeper leaders, and all three want different things. (Though one’s dead now.) And I guess Moya will be caught in the middle.
  • H: I did like the scene in Crichton’s jail cell, when Crais tries to bluff that he’s already caught Moya and the others. John cleverly plays along, but asks if everyone onboard is okay-- ensuring that he knows Crais is lying, but Crais doesn’t know that he knows he’s lying.
  • S: So this most exciting and most tense of episodes leads to our first Farscape cliffhanger! Were you surprised?
  • H: I wouldn’t say I expected a two-parter at this point in the season, but I can’t really say I was surprised by it, either. It’s a big enough story that I’m glad they’re giving it the time. (Of course, I say that now-- we’ll see how I feel after we watch the resolution.)

1x20: “The Hidden Memory”

  • STEVE: Crichton gets away, Stark gets away, the baby Leviathan is born, Crais gets his comeuppance… all it cost was Gilina’s life.
  • HAYLEY: Overall this was a great episode, and while it might not have as many surprising revelations as “Nerve,” I’d say that it’s a satisfying second part to the story. Except, of course, I’m not happy that Gilina had to die. And it was so predictable.
  • S: Yeah, I felt like the writer was taking the easy way out. Once you set up the idea that they want Gilina to come with them, but she’s in love with John, you know she’s dead because the show can’t afford to bring her on board. And it seems morally negligent-- if John hadn’t been so hell-bent to save Aeryn’s life, Gilina never would have been in any danger.
  • H: I briefly hoped that her death would be averted, when she makes the decision towards the end not to go with them after all, and runs off through the base’s corridors. But no, she had to pop up at the end for no good reason and get shot by Scorpius. I agree, that was lazy writing.
  • S: It’s one of those instances where you can see the hand of the writer at work; the story never made it feel like it had to happen. And it seems cheap that the only consequence the crew experiences is the death of a guest character, even if she was one they really liked.
  • H: On the positive side, we get some interesting scenes of Scorpius interrogating Crais in the chair, and we learn some interesting things about John’s crazy cellmate Stark, who turns out to be holding a kind of energy source inside his head, which emits light and healing energy and also protects his thoughts and memories from Scorpius.
  • S: I had totally forgotten about Stark until he turned up in “Nerve,” but immediately upon seeing him I remembered that visual of him pulling open his mask to reveal the light. What a weird, great image.
  • H: And I love the enigma surrounding what Scorpius wants to get out of him-- “the memory of a place I saw when I was a boy.” Later, Stark willingly gives the memory of that place to Gilina, to grant her some peace on her deathbed. It’s weird and spiritual and interesting, and I love that Farscape doesn’t back away from going there.
  • S: Yeah, there’s clearly more to be told about Stark and his people (making it all the more annoying that he vanished without comment before the next episode begins!). I did also like the stuff with Crais here, as you said. Though it somewhat stretches credulity that Gilina can insert a perfect false memory of Crais and Crichton conspiring into the Aurora Chair, I liked seeing our once-proud Peacekeeper captain end up on the wrong end of his people’s cruelty. And that scene where Aeryn finds him stuck in it and turns the machine up to max is just chilling.
  • H: That scene might mean I need to take back what I said about Chiana in “Nerve”: that no one else in Moya’s crew would go as far as she did when she burnt Javio to a crisp. Here, Aeryn demonstrates a pretty remarkable level of cruelty and revenge. (The difference, I suppose, is that for Aeryn this is deeply personal.)
  • S: It was a great scene, though. The trajectory of the season has been Aeryn’s slow rejection of Peacekeeper ways. Back in “Till the Blood Runs Clear” she was still entertaining the fantasy of returning to the Peacekeepers (with a dishonorable discharge, albeit) and even in “A Bug’s Life” she seems flattered when the commando guy tells her she should join them. Here you see Claudia Black almost still considering Crais’s order for a moment (“As a Peacekeeper, you took a blood-oath to obey your commanding officer. Till death.”), but then she rejects him completely and utterly (“You will never order me again.”). Black is great at doing a lot with just a small twitch of her face and voice.
  • H: Meanwhile, Moya has gone into full labor, and Chiana has to help with the birthing process. In an interesting twist, Moya’s offspring is not normal; he is, instead, covered with Peacekeeper weaponry. I really enjoyed some of the banter between Chiana and Rygel during the scenes leading up to the birth; especially Rygel’s declaration that he’s had hundreds of progeny who were “tiny and handsome-- like their father!” I was not a huge fan, however, of the forced physical proximity of the two of them, when Moya had to vent pressure and they took refuge in some kind of storage tank. Rygel practically sexually assaults Chiana, and that’s just not funny.
  • S: It’s a little out of character for him, given he’s previously claimed to find humanoids repulsive.
  • H: Yes and no; he’s made some remarks in the past that suggest otherwise, but he’s never quite gone this far before. I guess the show is trying it to make it seem like Chiana is incredibly attractive regardless of species? I don’t know.
  • S: It was funny when he farted helium. I had forgotten about that; I don’t think we’ve seen it since the premiere.
  • H: And was Rygel’s hand on the glass of the pressure tank a reference to Titanic? I did sort of laugh at that, as weird as it was.
  • S: Totally on a different topic, I don’t know why Scorpius wears that headgear, but I love how his outfit looks like an insect carapace, like he’s a beetle.
  • H: I find the headgear distracting. Like, I find myself wondering why he needs the two little parts that wrap around the parts of his chin. Sometimes he when he talks I just look at those and wonder if it’s a separate piece that he just puts on his chin, or if it’s attached to the rest of the headpiece. So I guess I don’t love it, but it doesn’t detract from Scorpius being creepy and unsettling.
  • S: Wayne Pygram is great though. He’s very menacing. He’s one of those people whose very calmness is frightening.
  • H: And now, even though Gilina managed to temporarily shield Moya from the base’s sensors, Moya’s unable to starburst with her offspring-- meaning that she won’t get very far away before Scorpius follows, with some very real motivation to re-capture John.
All screencaps courtesy FarscapeCaps.com.

10 August 2017

Review: The Final War by Louis Tracy

Hardcover, 372 pages
Published 1896
Borrowed from my advisor
Read October 2013
The Final War: A Story of the Great Betrayal
by Louis Tracy

One of many pieces of 1890s future-war fiction I've read, this one is among the worst (I don't think it even has characters as such) but also the most influential. Along with Angel of the Revolution, it pretty much set the standard for the genre's form in the 1890s. France and Germany go to war with the world; reluctant Britain just has to conquer the world in order to save it, allying itself with the United States. The U.S. and the U.K. might seem as though they're in opposition at times, but really they're united by blood, history, language, feeling, character, and destiny. Eventually even the Germans sign on board: they're good Saxons, after all. The Final War is racial in the extreme. The moral superiority of the Anglo-Saxons stems from their military superiority which stems from their technological superiority. Because an Englishman invents the electric rifle, Britain wins the global war and therefore assumes control over all. That's just survival of the fittest, which is Darwin, which is science, and you can't argue with science, can you? Also it's the Divine Will. So basically everyone in the world is cool with the British takeover, because, hey, they're evolutionarily superior, and at least they're not French or Russian. The success of races was from Greek to Roman to Saxon: the Greeks were the Age of Art, the Romans the Age of Law, and now it's the Age of Science.

Anyway, this is basically the distilled version of everything George Griffith ever wrote, but considerably less fun-- there are no air-ships, no sexy princesses, no exciting battle sequences, no sexual thrill of complete obliteration, just banal war narrative and racism.

The original cover (1896, Pearson) is pretty swank, though. Love that little embossed bomb smoking.

09 August 2017

Faster than a DC Bullet: Project Crisis!, Part LXXI: Convergence: Zero Hour, Book 2

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2015 (contents: 2015)
Borrowed from the library
Read July 2017
Convergence: Zero Hour, Book 2

Writers: Tony Bedard, Larry Hama, Keith Giffen, and Louise Simonson
Artists: Cliff Richards, Philip Tan & Jason Paz/Rob Hunter, Rick Leonardi & Dan Green, Ron Wagner & Bill Reinhold, Timothy Green II & Joseph Silver, June Brigman & Roy Richardson
Color: John Rauch, Elmer Santos, and Paul Mounts
Letterers: Dave Sharpe, Steve Wands, and Corey Breen

This volume collects the Convergence adventures of five more sets of 1990s heroes, hailing from September 1994 or thereabouts. There's the hook-handed Aquaman (he lost the real hand in September 1994's Aquaman #2); Batman is joined by Azrael, who substituted for him during the Knightfall storyline (February 1993 through August 1994); Kyle Rayner is Green Lantern (he took over in March 1994's Green Lantern #50), and Hal Jordan has become Parallax; Supergirl is a protoplasmic blob from a pocket universe (she adopted the role in February 1992), working for Lex Luthor, who's transferred his brain into a younger, sexier, Australianer, hairier clone body (he first appeared in October 1990; the two dated until Supergirl #4 in May 1994, so there's some timeline wonkiness here); and John Henry Irons, who substituted for Superman while he was dead, is the superhero-in-his-own-right Steel (he got his own series in February 1994).

Maybe I lack nostalgia for these 1990s set-ups (I've read very little of any of them, except clone Luthor and protoplasmic Supergirl both feature in the Death of/World Without a/Return of Superman trilogy). Like all of these Convergence stories, it has to contrive to get the heroes all in the same city; apparently that was because everyone turned up in Metropolis to fight Parallax. Does this mean the city was domed during the events of Zero Hour? I don't remember the events of Zero Hour well enough to say; it seems a pretty tepid explanation that Azrael came to Metropolis because couldn't "miss a gathering of heroes like that." Additionally, the stories are inconsistent as to whether Superman was in the dome or not. He doesn't actually appear, but Kyle includes him among those who forgave Hal for his actions as Parallax, while on the other hand, both Steel and Lex mention that he's absent.

Whatever. Probably none of this really matters, what matters is the story... but I didn't really care about the stories here. It's impossible to care about Aquaman, the Azrael story was pretty uninteresting, and I don't know what planet Keith Giffen was on when he wrote the Supergirl tale, but it is bonkers, and sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way, most often in a what is this i don't even way. I did like that Parallax isn't evil per se (remember Hal's actions were all in aid of trying to bring back the destroyed Coast City), so he ruthlessly fights on behalf of the city against its enemies, and Kyle has to try to stop him from going overboard. But even though in theory I do like the character of Steel, his story still didn't do much for me, even if it did reunite the actual creative team the character had back in the 1990s.

Probably part of the problem is that in three of these stories, the opponents are from the Wildstorm universe. This is definitely thematically appropriate, as Wildstorm is the most 1990s thing of them all, and thank God that Grifter doesn't turn up, but seriously, who gives a shit about Wildstorm? And these folks are like the Wildstorm also-rans; I could tolerate the Authority or maybe even Stormwatch, but Gen¹³ and Wetworks? In two of the stories, it's the denizens of Earth-6, which is kind of random, but thankfully Giffen makes a joke at the expense of that randomness. Earth-6's Lady Quark was a member of L.E.G.I.O.N., which Giffen wrote, and he has a joke about that, though it's anachronistic to say the least.

Anyway, whatever. All the 1990s stuff I cared about was frontloaded in the first Convergence: Zero Hour volume, which didn't leave me with much to enjoy here.

Next Week: Superman, the Question, the Justice League of America, Stephanie Brown, and Nightwing and Oracle battle for their lives in Convergence: Flashpoint, Book 1!