30 September 2019

Review: Secondhand Memories by Takatsu

Kindle eBook, 529 pages
Published 2015 (originally 2008)
Acquired February 2015
Read September 2019
Secondhand Memories by Takatsu

This begins melodramatically, and it never gets out of that mode. The narrator is a high schooler who is just super super in love-- then his girlfriend ends up in a coma. So then he is super super sad. Then another girl comes along, so he is super super torn. And it just goes on and on and on and on for 529 pages... and 852 chapters! The chapters are these short little things, and the paragraphs are tiny, too; sometimes less than a sentence apiece. For example, here's a page literally at random:
I no longer had any patience left.

These dark desires to strike

were horrifying to me.

My patience had worn thin with time.

And it seemed to get worse.

What seemed like a long time ago,

a far off land separated by the seven seas,

while everything was still summer,

where everything was still simple,

I had been agreeable to all.

Slowly, surely,

things changed

and it was eating me

from the inside out.

I was no longer a pleasant kid.

I was no longer an innocent boy.

Worse, I realized this,

in this moment,

staring into the eyes of the Devil,

I realized my own darkness. (ch. 804, p. 494)
Sorry for the lengthy quotation there, but I wanted you to get a sense of just how overwrought the prose is, and just how excruciating its choppy, overemphasized short sentences are to read.

The novel was serialized originally, and gives every indication of being made up as it goes along. Key concepts seem to spring up out of nowhere, especially the identity of the so-called culprit. The end is particularly unsatisfying. This is a short book, and it took me weeks to drag myself through it. Irredeemably painful.

25 September 2019

Joe Casey's Adventures of Superman #595: Our Worlds at War: Casualties of War!

Our Worlds at War: Casualties of War!: "The Red Badge of Courage" / "Kissing on the Apokolips" / "Escalation" / "Split Decision" / "War Letters" / "Total Abandon" / "Amazons! Attack!" / "Trial by Fire" / "Finale"

The Adventures of Superman vol. 1 #595 (Oct. 2001)
Superman: Our Worlds at War (2006), reprinting Action Comics vol. 1 #782, Impulse #77, Superboy vol. 4 #91, Superman vol. 2 #173, Superman: The Man of Steel #117, Wonder Woman vol. 2 #173, World's Finest: Our Worlds at War #1, Young Justice vol. 1 #36 (Oct. 2001)

Writers: Jeph Loeb, Peter David, Joe Casey, Todd Dezago, Joe Kelly, Mark Schultz, and Phil Jimenez 

Pencillers: Ed McGuinness, Bill Sienkiewicz, Todd Nauck, Mike Wieringo, Carlo Barberi, Pascual Ferry, Doug Mahnke, Phil Jimenez, Kano, Mark Buckingham, Yvel Guichet, and Duncan Rouleau 
Inkers: Cam Smith, Bill Sienkiewicz, Marlo Alquiza, Jose Marzan, Jr., Juan Vlasco, Keith Champagne, Tom Nguyen, Andy Lanning, Walden Wong, Mark Morales, Wayne Faucher, Dexter Vines, Lary Stucker, and Duncan Rouleau
Colorists: Tanya & Rich Horie, Jason Wright, Tom McCraw, and Patricia Mulvihill
Letterers: Richard Starkings, Ken Lopez, Bill Oakley, and Janice Chiang

Asst. Editor: Tom Palmer, Jr.
Editors: Eddie Berganza, Joey Cavalieri, and Mike McAvennie

from Superman vol. 2 #173
(script by Jeph Loeb, art by Ed McGuinness & Cam Smith)
The last third of Our Worlds at War, "Casualties of War!", kind of thuds to a close. The middle third of this storyline was definitely the best part. In theory, things should be winding up, but instead, the story piles on unnecessary and seemingly un-thought out twists and complications that it has no time to explore the repercussions of.

At first, things get off to a good start. "The Red Badge of Courage" (Superman #173) kind of picks up from the end of All-Out War!, with Superman now voluntarily working for President Luthor (though at the end of All-Out War! he seemed very resigned and submissive, whereas here he's all confrontational), and still awkward around Lois. Superman leads a space expedition to destroy Imperiex with some American soldiers and Strange Visitor (back for the first time since Adventures of Superman #592), and this has some decent moments, though I thought it was a little cruel for the erstwhile Sergeant Rock to lecture Strange Visitor the way she did. She clearly did not ask for any of this, of course she doesn't know how it works!

At the end of this issue, though, things begin to spiral out of control. Imperiex is destroyed, but Warworld (from all the way back in the first issue of this storyline) reappears and absorbs Imperiex's power. Brainiac 13 somehow fires on Apokolips using LexCorp Towers (though the art here in confusing; when I first read the issue I though Warworld was firing on LexCorp Towers and on Apokolips), and Darkseid declares war on Earth, ending the alliance. I'm not sure why Darkseid is so dumb in this moment.

from The Adventures of Superman vol. 1 #595
(script by Joe Casey, art by Mike Wieringo & Jose Marzan, Jr.)
Superman goes to Apokolips to stop Darkseid, but is somehow surprised to learn Warworld is at fault even though we all saw it happen. Darkseid's son (?) Grayven says he's taking over Apokolips, but it's the worst conceived coup ever because Darkseid just shoots him with his eye-beams and throws him into a boom tube. Like, what did he think Darkseid would do?

Then things accelerate even more. The last two Super titles issues here, Superman: The Man of Steel #117 and Action Comics #782, are more exposition than story, piling explanation upon explanation about who Brainiac 13 is, what his plan is, what Imperiex (not actually dead) is up to, how they are going to be defeated, and how they are actually going to be defeated when that doesn't work. So much stuff happens in these two issues that it mostly has to be explained in narration boxes, and loses all of its potential impact. Maxima breaks the alliance (why?), Steel comes back to life, Wonder Woman volunteers to throw Paradise Island at Warworld, Jimmy Olsen has some kind of computer powers, the Amazons worship Darkseid to revitalize his depleted powers, the heroes decide to send Warworld back in time to jumpstart the Big Bang(!), and more. It's all a bit too much, and a bit too messy to be enjoyable.

A lot of things set up in the first third, "Prelude to War!", never really came into fruition. Like, why did the population of Metropolis have to be evacuated into space?

from Superboy vol. 4 #91
(script by Joe Kelly, art by Pascual Ferry & Keith Champagne)
As always, there are a few issues of other titles sprinkled in here. Three star Young Justice and its members (Young Justice #36, Impulse #77, and Superboy #91). They were running medical aid missions during the space battle when they got sidetracked and crash-landed on Apokolips; the three issues follow their attempts to stay alive on the most inhopsitable planet in the universe. These are both fun and dark at the same time; I was surprised how much I liked them. I've never read any Young Justice before, but it's a group of well-meaning but often-at-odds characters trying to do their best, but often doing their worst, so of course I enjoyed them. The Superboy issue was particularly good (showing what's beneath his 1990s "attitude" as he writes a letter home from the war), but they're all good. The issues do feel pretty irrelevant to the big story, though, so I'm not sure why they're in here. I also wish the issue showing how they actually escaped Apokolips (Young Justice #37, I think) had been included, since as it is, their story just kind of stops, aside from a one-page appearance in the "Finale" epilogue.

There's also an issue of Wonder Woman again, "Amazons! Attack!"* (#173), which makes sense as some pretty dramatic things in Wonder Woman's life happen. It's oddly placed, though (I would have moved it to after Action #782), and doesn't really answer the big question I had after reading Man of Steel #117: why would Wonder Woman make such a dramatic choice as to destroy her homeland so easily? On the other hand, the mental powers of Aqualad (I think that's who this "Garth" fellow is) prove key to the final battle... but were never mentioned before it. It might have been nice to throw in whatever the relevant issue of the relevant title was beforehand.

from World's Finest: Our Worlds at War #1
(script by Jeph Loeb, art by Ed McGuinness & Cam Smith)
The story is technically over before its final issue. "Finale" (World's Finest: Our Worlds at War #1) is an epilogue, showing various bits of fall-out: mourning for Aquaman (I forgot he died, actually), a ceremony for Wonder Woman's mother, Mongal (!) taking over Warworld, Strange Visitor's husband being mad, and so on. It's fine. Jeph Loeb's schtick of running famous speeches over the action of this series has lost its impact, though.

Overall, I feel like this series didn't live up to its potential. Too much spectacle, not enough humanity. The first third threw too many ideas out; the middle one had some great character hooks that never got followed up on because the last third got overtaken by the Big Action of the story. But it's possible the character moments will get followed up in Adventures of Superman going forward, which might redeem the story for me somewhat. We shall see!


* Note the two exclamation marks, which most indexers on the Internet seem to have missed. "Amazons Attack!" is something else entirely.

24 September 2019

Review: Star Trek: Movie Classics Omnibus by Mike W. Barr, Tom Sutton, Ricardo Villagran, Peter David, Arne Starr, et al.

Comic trade paperback, 370 pages
Published 2011 (contents: 1979-2009)
Acquired March 2012
Read May 2019
Star Trek: Movie Classics Omnibus

Adapted by Marv Wolfman, Andy Schmidt, Mike W. Barr, and Peter David
Art by Dave Cockrum & Klaus Janson, Chee Yang Ong, Tom Sutton & Ricardo Villagran, and James W. Fry/Gordon Purcell & Arne Starr
Lettering by John Costanza, Robbie Robbins, Agustin Mas, and Bob Pinaha
Colors by Marie Severin, Moose Baumann, Michele Wolfman, and Tom McCraw

This volume collects the comics adaptations of all six original series Star Trek films, which were published by a variety of publishers over the years: Star Trek I by Marvel, III through VI by DC, and II by IDW. Like a lot of archival IDW collections of Star Trek material, the basic idea is laudable (IDW even commissioned an adaptation of the never-adapted The Wrath of Khan just to plug a gap in this book), but very little care seems to have gone into it. The credits are riddled with errors: Marv Wolfman is listed as "Mary Wolfman" and Tom McCraw as "Tom McGraw," and no one is credited with the adaptation of The Motion Picture, seemingly because the original comic's credit of "Script/Edits" has been misinterpreted as "Script edits." The indicia also includes a number of errors, listing the original publication of the comics all being titled by the name of the relevant movies, but in fact the Motion Picture adaptation was originally published in Star Trek #1-3 (or, arguably, Marvel Super Special #15), and the adaptations of Search for Spock, Voyage Home, and Final Frontier were in Star Trek Movie Special #1-3. I mean, okay, "Who cares?" but I bet you Dark Horse would never have made such mistakes in their omnibus line.

For what it's worth, I actually read these by interspersing between them any collections of movie-era comics I already owned. So, for example, I read Star Trek Omnibus, Volume 1 (collecting issues #4-18 of Marvel's Star Trek) between The Motion Picture and The Wrath of Khan, or Star Trek Archives, Volume 6 (collecting issues #9-16 of DC's Star Trek vol. 1) between The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home. I think this did affect my reading: Search for Spock comes across as just the first step in a long epic when you read it before The Mirror Universe Saga.

Sorry about the scan here; should have pushed down harder, I guess.
from Star Trek #3 (script by Marv Wolfman, art by Dave Cockrum & Klaus Janson)

The actual stories here are decent. I enjoyed the adaptation of The Motion Picture a lot for how very of-its-time it was. Marv Wolfman's script has a totally different tone to the majestic, intellectual original, but it still works. He loves grandiose over-the-top narration, and that makes this story just as epic as Robert Wise's direction, just in a totally different way. There are some trims and cuts here, but also some expansions-- we get to see the unfilmed "memory wall" sequence, for example, and Kirk is actually with Spock during his journey into the heart of V'Ger-- but on the other hand, the art of Dave Cockrum and Klaus Janson doesn't always give things the epic-ness they deserve.

The whole comic is very dark.
from Star Trek II:The Wrath of Khan #3 (script by Andy Schmidt, art by Chee Yang Ong)

It's hard to say much about the Wrath of Khan adaptation. Published much later than the others, in 2009, I felt like it approached the movie somewhat reverentially. Everything you expect is here, rendered in a photorealistic style. Nothing bad, but it doesn't use the comics medium to do anything unique, either.

One thing I thought was interesting: the DC comics that precede and follow each film have to massage how the films fit into the comics continuity (e.g., why is the Enterprise crew back in exile on Vulcan in Voyage Home given they were all recommissioned in The Mirror Universe Saga?), but Mike Barr never puts any of that massaging into the comic adaptations of the films. Nothing in this sequence really fits with the fact that according to the comics, all of these characters served on Excelsior!
from Star Trek Movie Special #2 (script by Mike W. Barr, art by Tom Sutton & Ricardo Villagran)

Of the two adaptations scripted by Mike Barr and illustrated by Tom Sutton and Ricardo Villagran the first is solid, but unremarkable. It's solid space adventure comics, and I enjoyed reading it. On the other hand, the adaptation of The Voyage Home largely fails to translate the charm of the film to the comics page. The humor doesn't have the pacing or the performances to really work, and without that, what's the point?

This Rushmore bit was originally supposed to appear on screen. I don't think it's really discernible here that the fifth face is a black woman, though.
from Star Trek Movie Special #3 (script by Peter David, art by James W. Fry & Arne Starr)

The best adaptations in the whole bunch are the two scripted by Peter David. The Final Frontier reads surprisingly well as a comic; I guess it's a lot like a comic book in some ways, with its ridiculous twists and long-lost relatives and weird premise. David has a great grasp on the characters, which really shines through, and even massages some of the inconsistencies of the film in a way that doesn't come across as too Christopher L. Bennettesquely gratuitous. I also appreciated that the rock monster got its due, and probably looked better here than it ever could have on screen. The one of Undiscovered Country is also a good adaptation of a great movie, and reads pretty nicely as a climax to the whole sequence, especially if you've been reading a lot of DC Star Trek comics along the way as I have, where Kirk always seems to be facing down the Klingons.

On the whole this is a good idea for a collection, and I appreciate how IDW enhanced the project by commissioning an extra comic. I doubt this will be anyone's preferred versions of these stories, but they're a solid read.

In Two Weeks: We find out what happened between Star Treks I and II, in volume 1 of the Star Trek Omnibus!

23 September 2019

Review: The Undefeated by Una McCormack

Trade paperback, 109 pages
Published 2019

Acquired May 2019
Read June 2019
The Undefeated by Una McCormack

This Tor.com novella is by Una McCormack, who I know from her excellent work on Star Trek and Doctor Who tie-in fiction-- so excellent that I've long thought she needs to do more original stuff, so I'm happy to see her in such a high-profile venue as this. An aging journalist returns to her home planet, even as the area of the galaxy it's in has been evacuated in the face of an unstoppable onslaught. The book combines her youth with her return into one narrative. It is, as always, well written. I always like Una's narrative voice, and the book marshals a sense of inevitable tragedy in all its time frames, and its grasp of character and social dynamics is astute. I did find myself wishing the ending had been sharper; I felt like I ought to have learned something that I had not actually learned, and I don't know what.

20 September 2019


Dentist selfie, including a Mexican duck.
Little Buddy* is starting to learn language and sounds. This, I knew, would happen. What really amazes me, observing such a process up close for the first time in living memory, is how he can make leaps of understanding. For example, it's been some time since I was "Dada" and Hayley was "Mama." (In fact, this one kind of passed us by because at first we weren't sure he wasn't just making the noises at random, and then by the time we were certain, he'd been doing it for a long while.) But it was pretty impressive when he started fixating on a picture of me and Hayley on our honeymoon, which sits on the shelf behind the sofa. He would reach toward it and go, "Dada!", having figure out it was me in the picture. For whatever reason it took him longer to figure out mama was in it, too. (On the other hand, when we read him Baby Feminists, he says "mama" when we get to the page with the Obamas!)

Or a couple weeks ago he was reading a book of Spanish words with Hayley, and eventually came back to the food page and made the "unnhh" noise he makes when he wants something toward the pictures of yogurt (el yogurt) and a banana (el plátano). It turned out he really did want some yogurt. Later, he did something similar to me with a set of little board books that have words on them, one of which is "yogurt." It's impressive in multiple ways-- like he knows the mushy snack he eats is yogurt, and he knows the cartoon in the book is of the same thing, and it occurs to him that this is a way to indicate he wants it!

Perhaps most of all this happens with ducks. He has a wide array of rubber ducks for bath time, and one of his first words was "duck" (though it just kind of sounds like "duh" when he says it). What he's very quickly also learned, however, is how to recognize a duck in a book. Probably it helps that one of the books we've read him regularly since month one is That's Not My Duck... so he's heard it a lot, but he plainly recognizes ducks as ducks in books where the duck isn't even mentioned in the text. I guess what impresses me here is that it means he already has an abstract idea of "duckness" in his head that he is able to match up with new images. I didn't know kids did this this early! His errors are usually understandable ones, too (such as mistaking geese or chickens for ducks).

Last week he had a fever, and I stayed home with him one day, and during a particularly fussy moment, I turned on Llama Llama on Netflix. In the episode "Spring Fever" (1x07), Llama Llama's grandparents show him that their duck had a baby duck, and as Llama tries to complete a series of errands, the ducks keep randomly popping up and getting in his way. Every time they did, Little Buddy† went, "Duck!" So even an animation is recognizable as the same thing he sees still images of.

I guess the real question is, if he saw an actual duck, would he recognize it as the thing he knows from cartoons and drawing and rubber toys!?

* I don't like using his name on a public blog, so I will try this out for now.

† Eh, maybe not.

18 September 2019

Joe Casey's Adventures of Superman #594: Our Worlds at War: All-Out War!

Our Worlds at War: All-Out War!: "Death Be Not Proud" / "A Date Which Will Live in Infamy" / "The Doomsday Protocol" / "Chest Deep in Heroes' Blood" / "Thousand Yard Stare" / "Her Mother's Daughter"

The Adventures of Superman vol. 1 #594 (Sept. 2001)
Superman: Our Worlds at War (2006), reprinting Action Comics vol. 1 #781, JLA: Our Worlds at War #1, Superman vol. 2 #172, Superman: The Man of Steel #116, Wonder Woman vol. 2 #172 (Sept. 2001)

Writers: Jeph Loeb, Joe Casey, Mark Schultz, Joe Kelly, and Phil Jimenez
Pencillers: Ed McGuinness, Ron Garney, Mike Wieringo, Doug Mahnke, Kano, and Phil Jimenez
Inkers: Cam Smith, Mark Morales, Lary Stucker, Tom Nguyen, Marlo Alquiza, and Andy Lanning

Colors: Tanya & Rich Horie, Rob Schwager, and Patricia Mulvihill
Letters: Richard Starkings, Bill Oakley, and Ken Lopez
Ass't Editor: Tom Palmer, Jr.
Editor: Eddie Berganza

Imperiex arrives in the solar system in force in the middle third of Our Worlds at War, appropriately called "All-Out War!" Honestly, I found many aspects of the story confusing at first-- with a high focus on action, Superman vaults from escapade to escapade and there's not a lot of time spent explaining what's actually going on. Big events seem to happen off-page. Possibly they happen in tie-in comics not collected here, but still. (At one point, there's an alien armada coming to Earth's defense; at another, it's been destroyed.)

from Wonder Woman vol. 2 #172
(script by Phil Jimenez, art by Phil Jimenez & Andy Lanning)
There's an issue of Wonder Woman (#172) collected here in addition to the Superman-focused titles, and I'm not really sure why from a storytelling standpoint, as it doesn't seem to add much to Superman's story (it expands on events from JLA: Our Worlds at War #1 and Action Comics #781 from Wonder Woman's perspective)... but I was so thankful it was included, because it contains a bunch of exposition clearly designed to bring Wonder Woman readers up to speed. However, this is all exposition that was never provided to readers of the actual Superman issues of Our Worlds at War! Finally, someone explains who Imperiex is, how he works, what his goals are, and how his weapons function. I'll come to the actual story later, but by God I was so grateful for this much-need dump of information the characters already know because no one had ever told me!

The stories here chronicle increasing desperation on the part of Earth in general and Superman in particular as Imperiex advances. Lots of big fights and big losses and big deaths: Lois's dad and Aquaman and John Henry Irons and Wonder Woman's mother all die, Atlantis is destroyed. Some are more about what happens than how or why, and those I struggled to engage with. Jeph Loeb usually uses character narration to keep things grounded, but both of his issues in this span populate their narration boxes with famous speeches that counterpoint the action: the Gettysburg Address in Superman #172 and FDR's Pearl Harbor speech in JLA:Our Worlds at War. It's not really interesting enough to have a noteworthy positive effect.

from The Adventures of Superman vol. 1 #594
(script by Joe Casey, art by Mike Wieringo & Lary Stucker)
The best issues take you into Superman's head during all of this action. Joe Casey's Adventures of Superman story (#594) teams Superman up with Doomsday for a battle in space. It's called "The Doomsday Protocol," but I would argue that the "Doomsday protocol" of the title isn't Luthor's decision to release Doomsday and use him as a weapon to defend Earth, but Superman's decision to essentially become Doomsday in his mentality: "he has cut loose. Subsequently, the probes have offered little resistance. He can't help but think... if only he'd come to this conclusion on Earth, how many more might have been saved...? Is this how men like Luthor can walk between the raindrops...? By cultivating their inherent ruthlessness... their lack of conscience...?" I like how it's done, too-- a third person narration that's next to the imagery, not in it, giving it all a timeless feel, like you've lost track of time just as much as Superman has in the fight, pondering the difficult questions while the battle goes on automatically. It's well done and character driven, and I can also envision how it's going to contribute to Superman's legendary renunciation of violence whenever I get to that part of the run.

from Action Comics vol. 1 #781
(script by Joe Kelly, art by Kano & Marlo Alquiza)
I also liked Action Comics #781, where we continue to see Superman's emotional self-isolation; an increasingly desperate Lois keeps reaching out to him, but he literally cannot hear her even though he can hear everything else, because he cannot afford to let himself hear her, otherwise he will break. At the end of the issue, he has this cold, heart-breaking moment with her. They're in public, so they can't acknowledge that they're married as he tries to say he's sorry for the death of her father. But then he turns to Luthor and says, "Tell me what to do, Mister President. Whatever it takes to win this... I'm yours." Wow. Heck of a way to end the chapter!

Which is why it's kind of a bummer that Wonder Woman #172 comes next. If it had to be included, I think it would have been better placed earlier, before Action #781. As it is, the Wonder Woman issue feels like a backtrack, but moved earlier, I think the chronology of Superman's actions would be more straightforward, and we'd have a better sense of what he's actually doing in Action. The first issue of the next chapter, Casualties of War!, picks up with Superman working for Luthor, so it seems like it should go right after the cliffhanger. Anyway, the issue itself is fine, and Phil Jimenez's art is great, but it's really a Wonder Woman story, clearly tying up some big emotional threads from that series that the reader has to struggle to catch up on if they haven't been reading it already.

from Superman vol. 2 #172
(script by Jeph Loeb, art by Ed McGuinness & Cam Smith)
On the whole, this was okay, and better than the first chunk of Our Worlds at War because of the parts more focused on Superman himself. I hope the story continues to develop that approach going forward.

It's also interesting to note that this set of issues are dated September 2001 and this story is all about how you respond to an existential violent threat without compromising your ideals, including an American president who is willing to put values aside for security. But the on-sale date was July 2001, and of course it would have all been plotted and written much earlier than that. Something was in the ether, I guess. If the comic ends up doing anything particularly interesting with these themes, I'll discuss them more when I get to "Casualties of War!"


17 September 2019

Review: Star Trek vs. Transformers by John Barber, Mike Johnson, Philip Murphy, et al.

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 2019 (contents: 2018-19)
Acquired and read June 2019
Star Trek vs. Transformers

Written by John Barber & Mike Johnson
Art by Philip Murphy & Jack Lawrence
Colors by Priscilla Tramontano, Leonardo Ito, & Josh Burcham
Letters by Christa Miesner

This was a fun, a crossover between the cartoon of Star Trek and of Transformers, which turns out to be a good aesthetic match, even if one is from the 1970s and one the 1980s. The Enterprise discovers that Klingons and Decepticons have teamed up to attack a dilithium mining colony, and must team up with the Autobots to defeat them. It's got a lot of the stuff you might expect and that you want: someone says "more than meets the eye," Spock makes fun of why giant robots would "disguise" themselves as dinosaurs, Starscream makes fun of the Klingon language. The very best part is when Captain Kirk mentally bonds with Fortress Maximus, reconfiguring him into Fortress Tiberius.

Captain Kirk "knows every rivet and fuse"? Really? Hey, if it gets me a transforming Enterprise, I'll allow it.
from Star Trek vs. Transformers #3 (art by Jack Lawrence)

Honestly, the downside of this book is that it's not nuts enough, especially coming off the back of reading Transformers vs. G.I. Joe. That series had more craziness in its #0 issue than this does in five, and it's not as if this is a premise that demands to be taken seriously. And John Barber is a co-writer on both! Give me Spock vs. Shockwave in a logic battle (or Spock vs. Galvatron!), or Uhura finding a Decepticon cassette in her console. But what is here is fun.

I really liked Philip Murphy's artwork. It's styled after the old cartoons, down to basing panels on stock shots from Star Trek occasionally, but it uses those templates as a basis for being expressive and inventive. Occasionally storytelling was clunky, but to be honest, I'd read a whole legit Star Trek comic drawn this way.

Next Week: This turns out to be a good transition, because now I'm reviewing a series of Star Trek comics I read, from the movie era.

16 September 2019

Review: Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Trade paperback, 334 pages
Published 2019 (contents: 2012-19)

Acquired June 2019
Read July 2019
Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

This is a collection of stories set in the world of Lee's Machineries of Empire series (Ninefox Gambit, et al.), some previously published, several original to this collection. They kind of fall into four broad categories.

First, there are general scene-setting stories, pieces that aren't stories, really, but fragments of worldbuilding: "How the Andan Court," "Seven Views of the Liozh Entrance Exam," "Calendrical Rot." What you think of these will depend on what you think of the world of the series I suspect; I thought they were more curious than anything else, though I wish "Calendrical Rot" had served its original purpose as prologue to Ninefox, as maybe I would have understood that book more quickly.

Then there are prequel stories about the main characters of Ninefox Gambit, Shuos Jedao and Kel Cheris. These range from being just a couple pages to being full novelettes, and the Jedao ones go from the night he was conceived, through his childhood, up to key moments in his military career. Frustratingly, they are almost but not quite in chronological order. How interesting you find these will probably depend on how interested you are in Jedao. I'm not sure that learning he had a pet cat did a whole lot for me, but rereading "Extracurricular Activities" was fun, and "The Battle of Candle Arc" was the most straightforward explanation of calendrical warfare the series has ever provided. I would have liked more Cheris stories than the two we got, and honestly, I don't find Jedao terribly interesting. Give me some Kel Brezan prequels! I did really enjoy the Cheris story "Birthdays," which gives some insight into how the Hexarchate's calendar affects people's day-to-day lives.

Third, there are a few follow-ups to the original trilogy. A flash piece about Kel Brezan going to an aquarium; "Gamer's End," a second-person story about someone being trained by Jedao; and "Glass Cannon," a novella about Jedao's reunion with Cheris after the events of Revenant Gun. I wish the chronological placement of "Gamer's End" was clearer-- I couldn't figure out where it could possibly fit until I looked it up on-line after reading-- and the twist is kind of obvious. "Glass Cannon" is the longest story in the whole book, and it's an enjoyable high-stakes action piece with good character work and big implications for the future of this universe... should Lee ever choose to return to it.

Finally, there's a single story (the first in the book) that doesn't directly relate to the original trilogy, "The Chameleon's Gloves." I found this disappointing, and for a reason that relates to what makes some other of Lee's stories disappointing. "Chameleon's Gloves" sets up an interesting idea, that of a "haptic chameleon" who can perfectly imitate others' body language... but then tells a generic Star Wars-ish story where a wisecracking duo has to dispose of a gigantic superweapon, barely making use of its own concept. "Extracurricular Activities" is similar, mentioning its antagonists have a unique understanding of reality... but then telling a pretty straightforward (if enjoyable) caper story where the sfnal elements feel irrelevant. Most of the shorter pieces here are only nominally sf. Lee comes up with great worlds and great concepts, but I feel like the stories he tells make inadequate use of those worlds and concepts except as backdrop. I want the stories and concepts and plot twists to rise out of the sfnal stuff, but it doesn't consistently happen; one of the things that makes "Battle of Candle Arc" enjoyable is that it's the one Machineries of Empire space combat story where the fact that calendrical warfare is about the calendar actually feels relevant, instead of being flavor.

Anyway, this all makes it seem like I didn't like the book, but I actually did. In short form, Lee's writing is usually breezy fun, and the details of the worldbuilding are enjoyable to read about. The world of the Hexarchate is complicated and feels real, and has some interesting sfnal things to say about imperialism and oppression (it's not enough that we rule you, but you must think as we do). I would like to reread Ninefox Gambit now and see if it goes better for me than the first time.

13 September 2019

Reading Roundup Year in Review, 2018/19

By tradition, I track my reading from September through August, so now that September 2019 is underway, I am doing my annual report on what reading I did last year.

It was a slightly below average year for me (my annual average is 153), but pretty close to average, and better than I was expecting, actually, given the challenges and events of the past year. Maybe it was all the middle-of-the-night reading during sleep training?

Here's how my reading this year broke down by category: (I typically only break out a series or author if I read more than one in the past year)

Star Trek1 19½ 1.6 13.4%
Doctor Who 12 1.0 8.2%
Star Wars1 7 0.6 4.8%
Planet of the Apes 1 0.1 0.7%
Media Tie-In Subtotal 39½ 3.3 27.1%

The Expanse 5 0.4 3.4%
Ursula K. Le Guin 3 0.3 2.1%
Discworld 2 0.2 1.4%
Other SF&F 37 3.1 25.3%
General SF&F Subtotal 47 3.9 32.2%

The Transformers 0.5 3.8%
Superman 2 0.2 1.4%
Legion of Super-Heroes 2 0.2 1.4%
Other DCU Comics30.32.1%
Marvel Comics30.32.1%
Brian K. Vaughan 3 0.3 2.1%
Other Comics 5 0.4 3.4%
Comics Subtotal 23½ 2.0 16.1%

Hornblower by C. S. Forester 11 0.9 7.5%
Charles Kinglsey 2 0.2 1.4%
Other Victorian Literature 11 0.9 7.5%
James Bond by Ian Fleming 3 0.3 2.1%
Other Literature 3 0.3 2.1%
General Literature Subtotal 30 2.5 20.5%

Other Nonfiction2 6 0.5 4.1%

1. Comic books in series that are predominantly not comics I don't count under my "Comics" category, but under the series's main designation.
2. Nonfiction connected to a particular series or author (e.g., Le Guin, Hornblower) is included in that series or author's count.

I always kind of fret about this distribution; somehow I never read as much "literature" as I intend. Last year, "General Literature" was 5.8% of my total, so that is a pretty nice increase. On the flipside of the high/lowbrow divide, I went from 20 Transformers comics last year to just 5½ this year! Thank God I finally got to the end of all those Humble Bundles. As always, my non-tie-in SF&F is buoyed by reading Hugo finalists, which was the whole idea of doing it.

Here's a graphical sense of how this year compares with previous ones:

You can compare this to previous years if you're interested: 2007/08, 2008/09, 2009/10, 2011/12, 2012/13, 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18. (I didn't do ones for 2010/11 and 2013/14.)

11 September 2019

Joe Casey's Adventures of Superman #593: Our Worlds at War: Prelude to War!

Our Worlds at War: Prelude to War!: "Of Course, You Know This Means... Warworld!" / "Suicide Mission" / "Metropolitan Rapture" / "The End of the Beginning" / "Down And Out In Kansas"

The Adventures of Superman vol. 1 #593 (Aug. 2001)
Superman: Our Worlds at War (2006), reprinting Action Comics vol. 1 #780, Supergirl vol. 4 #59, Superman vol. 2 #171, Superman: The Man of Steel #115 (Aug. 2001)

Writers: Jeph Loeb, Joe Casey, Mark Schultz, Joe Kelly, and Peter David
Pencils: Ed McGuinness, Mike Wieringo, Doug Mahnke, Kano, and Leonard Kirk
Inks: Cam Smith, Jose Marzan, Jr., Marlo Alquiza, and Robin Riggs
Letters: Richard Starkings, Bill Oakley, and Ken Lopez

Colors: Tanya & Richard Horie, Rob Schwager, and Gene D'Angelo
Asst. Ed.: Tom Palmer, Jr.
Editors: Eddie Berganza and Mike McAvennie

And we're back in giant crossover mode, for what I am pretty sure was the most giant Super titles crossover of them all: Our Worlds at War. The crossover ran through 37 different issues across three months! Reading all that seemed excessive, so I decided I'd either buy just the Super titles (only 14 issues), or I'd pick up the trade (20 issues), whichever was cheaper. That turned out to be the trade. The trade is almost 500 pages long, so I'll be reviewing in three chunks; Our Worlds at War had a different subtitle each month, the first of which is "Prelude to War!"

from The Adventures of Superman vol. 1 #593
(script by Joe Casey, art by Mike Wieringo & Jose Marzan, Jr.)
It's not an entirely satisfying read, mostly because it's a lot of foreshadowing. First Superman goes into space to see if Pluto is back and ends up fighting the Fatal Five (from the Legion of Super-Heroes) and is warned something is coming; then he goes to a deserted military base and fights Manchester Black and a new Suicide Squad and is warned something is coming; then the inhabitants of Metropolis are abducted into space and Superman fights Darkseid and is warned something is coming; then goes to Germany and fights General Zod and is warned something is coming. Okay, I get it! But the hints are all so vague that I found them hard to put together into anything coherent as a reader. Plus it seems like Superman keeps punching people instead of actually trying to get explanations, and thus undermining his own purpose.

Part of the issue is, I think, that I've only been reading Adventures of Superman for five issues. This story draws on a lot, and is clearly a climax for a number of long-running storylines. But that just gives me a lot of questions: what did happen to Pluto? Who is the woman Brainiac? Is there some kind of connection between Mongal and longtime Superman foe Mongul? Why is General Zod a guy from the Middle East? How do all the myriad different villains here relate to each other? Maybe I should look some of this up in my copy of the Essential Superman Encyclopedia, but I'm worried I'll read spoilers for the storyline.

from Superman: The Man of Steel #115
(script by Mark Schultz, art by Doug Mahnke & José Marzan Jr.)
There were two issues I wanted to comment on specifically. First, I thought the Man of Steel installment was the weakest component of Return to Krypton, so I was pleasantly surprised when its contribution here turned out to be the best part of Prelude to War! In "Metropolitan Rapture" (#115), all of the citizens of Metropolis wake up to find themselves in some kind of internment facility. Superman must try to investigate things without giving away who he is; Lois must try to organize everyone. It's a neat premise that stands on its own as a story. When Superman figures out what's going on-- a cabal of people including Adam Strange abducted everyone so that futuristic Metropolis's technology could be used in the coming war-- the answer actually makes sense, and thus the foreshadowing works. Plus, Adam Strange is 1) someone known to me, 2) not a villain, and 3) actually somewhat explains himself. A great example of how to do a single issue that still manages to inform a bigger story.

from Supergirl vol. 4 #59
(script by Peter David, art by Leonard Kirk & Robin Riggs)
The other is the one issue here that's not actually part of the core Super titles: "Down And Out In Kansas" (Supergirl #59). I should say that near the end of Prelude to War! things actually start to happen instead of just being foreshadowed. At the end of Action #780, while Superman is fighting General Zod, a beam of energy hits Kansas, causing massive devastation. "Down And Out" follows Supergirl, who happened to be travelling through Kansas at the time, in the aftereffects of the blast, along with a friend of hers whose name I don't think is ever even mentioned but is clearly meant to be a loveable amoral jerk. (Also, judging by his over-the-top dialogue, English.) It's weird because between Supergirl having a concussion and the jerk's hijinks, it seems like writer Peter David is going for... comedy? In a story showing the ground-level devastation of a cosmic war? Of course it has its dark elements, but the result is a bizarre tonal mishmash that undermines what I imagine was the intended effect of closing out Prelude to War! with it.


10 September 2019

Review: Transformers vs. G.I. Joe: The Quintessential Collection by Tom Scioli & John Barber

Comic hardcover, n.pag.
Published 2017 (contents: 2014-17)
Acquired January 2018
Read May 2019
Transformers vs. G.I. Joe: The Quintessential Collection

Written by Tom Scioli & John Barber
Art, Colors, and Lettering by Tom Scioli

I picked up Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #0 solely because it was free at Free Comic Book Day 2014, which I guess is the point of it all. As a dedicated un-fan of G.I. Joe, I expected nothing out of it... and it blew my mind. Tom Scioli's comic told an entire story on almost every page, doing more with the medium in one issue than many writers accomplish in entire careers. People should be teaching that zero issue in universities. I knew from that moment that once a collection of the entire series was released, I would have to buy it, and I read it to cap off my run-through of all IDW's Transformers comics.

I love everything about this page, from the fact that it is technically a "silent interlude" because despite being covered in text, no one actually speaks, to the way the narration culminates in the triumph of the last line.
from Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #0

I'm pleased to say the entire thing is mostly as good as that #0 issue. Any single issue here could be a premise for an entire miniseries of its own. Scioli and co-writer John Barber rocket through ideas: Decepticons making a fake peace mission to Earth, G.I. Joe as insurgents on Cybertron, Cobra teaming up with the Decepticons on Earth, Metroplex as inhuman prison, Scarlett in an experiment to convince her both G.I. Joe and the Transformers are just toy lines... everything here is awesome, from the big ideas, to the small details. The whole thing has the exact right tone, alternating between the sublimely ridiculous and the ridiculously sublime. Scioli knows you can't take this seriously (someone goes "Yub Nub!" at a victory party) and that you can only take this seriously (G.I. Joe guns down the entire UN because they're not handling the conflict seriously enough).

I like the way Scioli and Barber often extrapolate worldbuilding from features of the shows: Decepticons can fly, while Autobots usually can't, so of course a Decepticon-ruled Cybertron would feature deadly highway traps.
from Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #2

It falters a little bit in the third quarter. Scioli and Barber's commitment to never staying still means the whole thing escalates too quickly for its fourteen-issue length, and it seems to me that some of the flashback stories in that part of the series are designed to stall things to keep the pacing in place for issue #13. But the last couple issues are delights all over again, as things keep getting bigger and better.

Has death in the gutter ever been more horrifying but matter-of-fact?
from Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #7

Honestly, there are times where it's like something you might come up with as a kid. I loved the occasional inclusion of maps and diagrams, the stuff I used to obsess over (or try to make!) as a ten-year-old fan of Oz or Narnia or what have you. But it's the pleasure of childhood combined with the seriousness of adulthood in a way that diminishes neither. Some Transformers comics and even more G.I. Joe comics often seem to want you to forget that this is all ridiculous by making everything Proper and Serious. But Scioli never loses the sense of play that drew you into these series to begin with. This is everything you could ever want a comic book about giant transforming robots to be, and more, and better.

On the one hand, this evokes kids playing with action figures by sticking them in their mouths. On the other hand, this is a guy being chewed to death inside Megatron's disgusting-looking mouth. Comics!
from Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #10
Next Week: Meanwhile, in the Federation... it's Star Trek vs. Transformers!

09 September 2019

Review: The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars by Michael Dante DiMartino, Irene Koh, et al.

Comic hardcover, 239 pages
Published 2019 (contents: 2017-18)
Borrowed from my wife
Read May 2019
The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars

Written by Michael Dante DiMartino
Layouts by Irene Koh and Paul Reinwald
Art by Irene Koh
Colors by Vivian Ng
Color Assistance by Cassie Anderson and Marissa Louise
Lettering by Nate Piekos

Legend of Korra never quite clicked for me the way its parent series did, and to be honest, that seems to have carried over here; I'm just much less invested in where these characters end up than the original Team Avatar. That said, this is a solid graphic novel adventure. I'm kind of over the melding of the physical and spirit worlds-- by the end of the show it was pretty clear no one involved had an interesting take on what this might mean-- but Irene Koh's artwork is great, evoking the show's without slavishly reproducing it, and the best part of the writing is the characters, whose voices come through strongly and humorously. There are some good jokes, and good explorations of the place of non-heterosexual orientations in the Avatar world (I hope these can be expanded on someday), and the Korra/Asami relationship gets some much-needed development. It's pretty cute!

06 September 2019

Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 at the SFRA Review

Last year, I was able to snag Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 for the "Media Reviews" section of the SFRA Review, the quarterly publication of the Science Fiction Research Association. I enjoyed the experience-- reviews for it are supposed to be less "good/bad" and more "why would this be interesting to scholars"-- so as soon as season 2 finished airing, I e-mailed the Media Reviews editor to stake my claim on it.

The issue is out as of a couple weeks ago. Here's how my review begins (with an embarrassing typo you can read in the published version silently corrected):
ALMOST every television program’s second season embodies a course correction: a discarding or alteration of what did not work the first time, a greater emphasis on what did. Star Trek: Discovery’s second season, broadcast in fourteen episodes from January to April 2019, is perhaps a sharper course correction than many. Discovery has had a tumultuous behind-the-scenes journey: the original showrunner quit partway through season 1, and his replacements were, in turn, fired partway through season 2, replaced by series co-creator Alex Kurtzman. Even without this behind-the-scenes knowledge, the transformation is visible on screen. A greater emphasis on traditional Star Trek optimism has replaced the first season’s grimness, even if a strong focus on action remains. Constant affirmations of camaraderie have replaced the antagonism within the main cast. Fans often criticized the first season for its lack of adherence to earlier continuity, especially visually; the second season is replete with references, especially to the original Star Trek (1966–69) and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–99), and it massages or eliminates many of season 1’s discontinuities.
     Like season 1, season 2 is noteworthy for its attempts to balance the “new” and the “old” of a long-running franchise. Significantly, season 2 makes heavy use of continuity elements from the original Star Trek series. Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), the USS Enterprise’s captain from the original unaired pilot (“The Cage”), assumes command of the Discovery. Spock (Ethan Peck) also joins the main cast; other characters from the original pilot also appear. The Enterprise characters wear the bright, primary-color uniforms associated with the original Star Trek, rather than the drab blue ones introduced in Discovery.
You can read the rest here (the link should take you right to it, but if not, it begins on page 70).

Issue #329 is a soft relaunch for the Review, featuring a new visual design, a new logo, color, and more. It also includes news of who won the SFRA's 2019 awards, and reviews of recent sf films and sf criticism, including critical studies of Madeleine L'Engle and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Check it out!

05 September 2019

Review: The Best Science Fiction of the Year, Volume 4 edited by Neil Clarke

Trade paperback, 599 pages
Published 2019 (contents: 2018)

Acquired July 2019
Read August 2019
The Best Science Fiction of the Year, Volume 4
edited by Neil Clarke

So for the science fiction creative writing class I'm teaching this fall, I wanted a source of short fiction. A lot of the thinking behind my class has been motivated by contemplating what would have helped me at my students' stage of development. I know that when I first started mailing short sf out to magazine, I piled up rejections very quickly. Looking back, it's pretty obvious why. At age 20, my understanding of sf was largely informed by two things: film and tv (especially Star Trek) and sf novels I read when I was a kid (so mostly ones published before I was born). I had no sense at all of what science fiction in the year 2005 was like, and was just churning out sub-Star Trek stories. No wonder I got rejected! So I want my students to see what is happening in print science fiction now. We're only a week in, and it's clear they all have a strong understanding of the genre from film and tv... but even the writing majors have clearly read little written sf. To provide such an overview, I decided to assign the most recent volume of Clarke's Best Science Fiction of the Year. I've never read any of his anthologies before, but based on the stories from Clarkesworld that I've read, he has a sense of good sf that accords with my own, and he always has sensical things to say on Reddit.

I read the whole anthology the month before classes began. I was impressed. Often, when I review "best of" anthologies, I go story by story and mark each story "thumbs up" (feels like it belongs), "thumbs sideways" (I'm neutral), or "thumbs down" (I don't see why this is here), but at twenty-nine stories, this would get to be a very long review very quickly! But what I can say is that I would stack many of these up against what made the short fiction ballots for the Hugo Awards this year. S. Qiouyi Lu's "Mother Tongues," for example, is better by far than anything that did make the ballot in Best Short Story, with its clever use of the second person and typography. (It did make the longlist, but was pretty far down in fourteenth.) And even though I did really like the Best Novelette ballot this year, Ken Liu's "Byzantine Empathy" would have been a worthy addition to it. There were only two stories both on the Hugo shortlist and in this book, both strong: "When We Were Starless" by Simone Heller and "Nine Last Days on Planet Earth" by Daryl Gregory. I was also pleased to see Vandana Singh's "Requiem" here, which I nominated, but did not even make the longlist. The advantage that Clarke has over the Hugos is that he clearly reads everything, whereas the Hugos are biased toward free-to-access e-magazines. "Mother Tongues" is from Asimov's, which used to dominate the Hugo ballot but now barely gets a look in; "Byzantine Empathy" is from an original print anthology series; "Requiem" is from a single-author collection (an impressively deep cut, I felt).

I speaks highly that I put all but eleven of them on the syllabus for my class. I put every story I liked on the syllabus, and a few more that I didn't like, but felt were doing something interesting. Just some quick notes on a few other stories here:
  • Kelly Robson's "Intervention" (from the anthology Infinity's End) takes place in the same world as her Hugo-nominated Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, and like it, is good at unspooling an sf backstory.
  • Alyssa Wong's dark "All the Time We've Left to Spend" (from the anthology Robots vs. Fairies) is a great example of exploring character through an sf lens.
  • There are two different stories about people being trapped in smart houses, Madeleine Ashby's "Domestic Violence" (from Slate) and Elizabeth Bear's "Okay, Glory" (from the anthology Twelve Tomorrows), but they're very different, and both very good.
  • Vanessa Fogg's "Traces of Us" (from GigaNotoSaurus, an e-mag that just does one story per month) is an interesting example of generic crossover, as it's both a romance and hard sf.
  • I wasn't super into Nick Wolven's "Lab B-15" (from Analog), but it's a great example of how to slowly reveal a plot, where each answer just leads to more questions.
  • Yoon Ha Lee's "Entropy War" (from the anthology 2001) isn't a proper story, but a set of rules for a dice game! I think I liked it, but I am curious to see what my students will think.
There's a wide diversity of storytelling styles and subgenres here, and it convinces me that short sf is a thriving field. I also really liked Neil Clarke's introduction on the state of sf in 2018. I'm glad my gamble paid off, and I will be picking up future (and past!) volumes in this series for sure.