Will the rain of golems never end?

Seriously, the non-stop reading makes me feel like I’m on this Ross Andre/Mike Esposito cover —Or this Neal Adams one.That said, here we go with more kabbalistic goodness.

GOLEM by Scott Barkman, Alex Leung and Mark Louie Vuycanklat starts in Sarajevo when a young kabbalist sees his best friend killed as the Balkan War heats up. Srojan the kabbalist creates a golem for vengeance and justice but as the golem later points out, Srojan’s not skilled: he ends up with a golem that has the power of speech and free will. It’s still committed to Srojan’s goals but it’s approach is more Punisher than Captain America. Can Srojan put the monster he’s unleashed back in the box? This wasn’t bad at all.

JOE GOLEM: The Drowning City and The Conjurors by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden and Peter Bergting wrap up the original arc (I don’t know if there are sequels in the works) which I realized reading is set in the same world as Mignola’s Baltimore graphic novel series. The occultist Cocteau has a plan to contact the cosmic entities in the Outer Dark, making himself into a god; trivial questions like the cost to humanity don’t trouble him. Can Joe, Simon Church and tough street-kid Molly stop him? These two volumes were based on a novel by Mignola and Golden so it’s not surprising they’re the strongest of the series. Very good.

GOLEM IN MY GLOVE BOX: A Monster Haven Novel by R.L. Naquin doesn’t qualify for my golem article (the golems are generic magical animates) and isn’t memorable otherwise. This urban fantasy has an empath protecting Earth’s cryptid population, battling a mind-manipulating Empath of Doom turned serial killer. This was third-rate for the genre, and gets way too cute trying to be different (the monster under the bed is a thing?); the whimsy and the bloodshed don’t mesh well either.

Rereading Helene Wecker’s THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI proved a wise move as I can see how the book stands out from most of the pack. In contrast to the golems yearning for freedom, Chava here is horrified when her master’s death leaves her free and independent, as it’s her nature to take directions from others and to work slavishly at her tasks (what makes for disastrous household work in some comical golem tales here proves a boon when she works tirelessly as a baker or a seamstress). The story of her bonding with a djinn for whom freedom is life itself works well as an opposites-attract romance; the sequel comes out this year but fortunately too late for me to have to incorporate it into my article.

FURRY AND FLO: The Solemn Golem by Thomas Kingsley Troupe is part of a kids’ series about human Flo, whose apartment building has a dimensional gateway in the basement, and her BFF Furry, a werewolf prince hiding from his evil father. In this episode, a golem comes looking for Furry but turns to the side of good when he realizes it’s nicer. Doesn’t make the book — the golem here is just another animated figure — but cute enough.

SILENCE FALLEN: A Mercy Thompson Novel by Patricia Briggs has the series hero — a coyote shapeshifter/ghost whisperer — kidnapped to Prague by a powerful European vampire as part of an elaborate scheme I didn’t really care about. While in Prague Mercy encounters the ghost of the Golem of Prague (which she fits into the series mythology) and despite its obvious eagerness to go Hulk Smash on the city, allies with it against a vampire conspiracy. This didn’t work for me at all, as the seemingly endless discussion of vampire and were politics and culture bored me silly — but in fairness, that’s a matter of taste (I assume for her fans it’s as interesting as a detailed discussion of kryptonite varieties is for me).

FEET OF CLAY: A Discworld Novel by Terry Pratchett has city watch commander Sam Vimes investigating a series of murders where the only clue is streaks of clay left behind; of course it can’t actually involve golems as those clay figures (animated by written instructions placed in their hollow heads) only exist to serve man, right? Pratchett does a good job tackling the slavery aspect of golems, though there’s a lot of other stuff going on in the book, as usual for Pratchett.

#SFWApro. Joe Golem cover by David Palumbo; all rights to images remain with current holders. Hopefully next week will be the last golem post

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Some TV, a couple of movies and a play

As I kid I loved Gerry Anderson’s UFO (1970-3), a British series about SHADO, the Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization, fighting to stop aliens from rebuilding their dying race with transplanted human parts (the episode speculates they’re also planning an invasion). Cool tech, UFOs and ETs and some wild-looking futuristic outfits and hairstyles, not to mention sophisticated future tech (the series was set in 1980).

Rewatching a few episodes for Alien Visitors, it’s obvious the critics I resented for talking smack about the show were spot on. Ed Bishop as SHADO’s top dog is a wooden actor and the other cast members aren’t much better (we do get capable guest actors, such as Jean Marsh). Then there’s the sexism, like the butt and boob shots in the opening credits — it’s as if Anderson heard all the criticism of sexism in Star Trek and declared, “Gene Roddenberry, hold my beer!” Having just watched Filmed in Supermarionation last year, I notice the SHADO vehicles look a lot like they were adapted from props for Thunderbirds. So this was a disillusioning rewatching. “Electronic tissue identification is as infalliable as a voice print.”

I had my doubts removing Kate Kane from BATWOMAN would work for me, and sure enough, it didn’t. The season opener has Kate apparently killed (word is the character will be recast eventually), homeless Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie) finding the suit and stepping into the Batwoman role, at first reluctantly, then with more confidence.

While I could live without Ruby Rose as the lead (though she had a hard edge I miss), the heart of the show was Kate Kane’s relationships with her father, her good and evil sisters, Luke Fox and Sophie. Without that core, the show just feels hollow. It doesn’t help that new villain Safiyah (Shivaani Ghai) feels like the third and least interesting of Ra’s al Ghul’s daughters. So regrettably, I’m done with this one. “It appears we are under attack — from Bats!”

THE MYSTERIANS (1957) are alien invaders who show up on Japanese soil asking for a home and oh yes, the use of some of our human women; this doesn’t go over well, but with the aliens’ tech advantage, is there anything we can do about it? A spectacular, colorful, entertaining adventure though it’s jarring now that the alien outfits look so much like Power Rangers. “You ask will humans or Mysterians rule the world? Neither — science will rule.”

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: Ghost Protocol (2011) ups the stakes considerably from III as Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) team gets tricked into serving as a red herring while the bad guy steals Russia’s nuclear launch codes. Now he’s just a few steps away from triggering the apocalypse (confident that a better world will arise in the aftermath), the IMF has been shut down — can Hunt stop him, even with the help of new team members Jeremy Renner and Paula Patten (“Agent Carter” which wouldn’t have triggered other associations back then). This does explain what happened to Hunt’s marriage (staying on made her a target, so he chose Country over Marriage — bad Ethan!) but not how the villain set up the IMF at the start (if the original “your mission” taped message was a fake, that makes the third time Hunt’s been manipulated by someone in the organization — seriously, how bad is their security?). The plot is just something to bridge the action scenes, but they’re good enough to make that work. “I believe that nuclear war has a place in the natural order.”

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASCHA AND SPIKE was a Christopher Durang production from 2012 that I caught streaming (legally).  Three of the four title characters are siblings named after Chekhov characters (their parents were fanatics for Chekhov’s plays); Vanya (David Hyde Pierce) and Sonia spent years caring for their aged parents and have lived in their home since the parents passed. That makes it unsettling when Mascha (Sigourney Weaver) announces she’s tired of paying the bills on the place and intends to put it up for sale. This is very funny in Durang’s usually askew way. “The younger generation are like that — they strip down to their underwear all the time.”

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My battle plan did not survive first contact with the enemy

As I mentioned at the start of the month, I thought breaking down my schedule into blocks of time and assigning them to different projects (e.g., eight units for Leaf, eight for Veterans Network articles, eight for the golem article). That way, when my schedule takes some kind of unexpected detour, I can make sure I’m still putting enough time on everything.

This week that did not work, though I think it’s less a flaw in the plan than just life. But then again, if the plan can’t cope with what life throws at me, it’s not much use. But really, this situation is exceptional. I have several projects due before the end of the month and I’m getting my second vaccine shot on April 27. If it leaves me feeling like crap I need to have all my essential projects done so I can just lie in misery. TYG is getting her shot around the same time (I really should have listened to her and gotten mine further apart, but when I saw an opening, I panicked and grabbed it) so even if I’m fine, she might be sick — and I know from experience that’s going to kill my productivity too. So the golem article and all my Veteran Network stuff has to be done by April 26.

Plus next week I have an Alexander Technique appointment, our dogs’ trip to the rehab vet and allergy shots for them. That’s going to eat up quite a bit of time.

So this week I wanted to work on veteran articles, Leaf pieces and the golem piece. I did well — the golem article is finally looking good — until yesterday. About 10:30 Wednesday night, Plushie became scared of the invisible monsters he’d spotted somewhere in the bedroom and insisted on climbing on me for safety, then licking my face for about 20 minutes. Finally he calmed down, but by that point I was completely awake. I got up, worked for a couple of hours, got ready to go back to bed … and Wisp meowed to come in and wanted attention for a little while.

I did get to sleep eventually but it didn’t help much. I finished an article on Agent Orange, and did a little work on Undead Sexist Cliches (final proof of Chapter Two. Looks good) — I’m actually quite impressed what I can do when my brain is utterly fried — but I didn’t get the golem article finished as I’d planned.

Last night I took an Ambien to ensure I’d get a decent night’s sleep. The price was waking up late, then Wisp came in, snuggled with me and fell asleep in my lap (it was cold outside).The result was that I never had the private time I need to get my head in the game. Today was not productive. If I didn’t have the deadlines and the possible sick days ahead, I’d have devoted it entirely to reading the remaining golem novels on my list.

I will try my plan again next month, but for the moment the onrushing deadlines render it moot.

Oh, I had Southern Discomfort come back from a publisher with some critical feedback. I’ll discuss what they said when I’ve had time to mull it over.

To end on an upbeat note, here’s Trixie sniffing a flower.#SFWApro.

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So I made some bread

Normally I wait until the end of the week but I’d used up the beer bread I made last week. And the recipe for Cobb bread (a traditional English bread) I found in 100 Great Breads was a low-work one so I was able to fit making it into my afternoon’s work without much trouble.I tried calculating the correct dough temperature again and it did make the bread rise very well. It’s a basic white bread but with a salty tang and a great texture.

I highly recommend the 100 Great Breads book.

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Florida man makes lousy governor, and other links

Some cruise lines want to require proof of vaccination from their passengers. Florida Man and Governor Ron DeSantis says if they’re Florida-based, he won’t allow it. He’s a shit, but the media love him.

A new bill headed to DeSantis’ desk will monitor Florida universities for liberal bias. Okay, they talk about “diversity of viewpoints” but I don’t believe for a minute they’re as worried about, say, Holocaust deniers or anti-vaxxers as about tolerance for gays, discussions of slavery and racism in American history or science teachers pointing out creationism is a lie. It’s the old problem for their side: reality is against them, so they have to deny reality. I imagine that in a few years the Legislature will be wondering why schools are denying replacement theory.

Similarly, I’m sure Florida’s anti-protest bill will result in cracking down on Black Lives Matter harder than neo-Nazis or the Klan. Perhaps I’m overly cynical, but we’re past the point at which Republicans are entitled to any good faith in their intentions.

Of course Republicans are rejecting America too. They’ve been in paranoid mode for a while. And they’re still fantasizing about secession. Or that Biden isn’t president. And they’ll try very hard to ensure the next Democratic president can’t be president: “The difference between the 2020 and the 2024 elections will be the difference between a reactive Republican party focused on trying to flip the Electoral College and a proactive Republican party prepared to move past the Electoral College to the next pathway to victory.”

Republicans in Texas want to puts trans kids in foster care if their parents provide trans-appropriate medical care. It’s part of the GOP’s new war against trans kids now that bashing gays doesn’t have as much support.

Anti-semitic preacher/pundit Rick Wiles wants Antony Fauci waterboarded until he confesses the truth about the Trump Virus.

Is the corporate pushback against voting restrictions a game changer? Or just a nine-day wonder? I suspect it’s the latter, but for the moment Republicans are freaking out that corporate America dares question them. More freaking out. Much like Republican concepts of “freedom of religion,” the freedom of businesses to do as they please is conditional on them doing the right things.

A community adapts to surviving without the cops. And Maryland passes laws that radically restructure the rules for bad cops.

Here’s an extreme example of cops’ infamous “blue wall of silence”: the Boston PD believed allegations Officer Patrick Rose was a child molester, but they kept him on the force. Rose went on to molest a lot more children.

John Hopkins University decided the pandemic was a good excuse to cut off contributions to the faculty retirement fund.

 

 

 

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Covers for a Wednesday

An interesting cover by Ed Emsh.And this by Robert Gibson Jones. I wonder why there are leprechauns in the Andes?And what would Hump Day be without Edmond Swiatek introducing us to a giant pink ape.And an uncredited cover to finish up.#SFWApro. All rights to cover remain with current holders.

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And youth keeps right on growing old (or) Alan Moore becomes a grumpy old fart

As my recent birthday reminded me, we’re all getting older, including creators way more successful than me. And just like everyone else, age can warp us creative types in various ways.

To take an obvious example, let’s say you start out your career doing something both original and good. The response from readers is often not “now give us something else original and good” but “give us more like that one.” The financial pressure to keep doing the same thing, even if you want to experiment, can be very strong (I’m reminded of Jack Kirby’s lament that he wanted to inspire other comics creators to do what he’d done and create new things; instead he inspired a lot of them to work on stuff he’d already created like New Gods or Fantastic Four). Even if that doesn’t happen, very few creators can stay on the cutting edge forever. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s work on Oklahoma was ground-breaking, as Ethan Mordden details in Beautiful Mornin’. By the 1960s they were still successful — Sound of Music was a mega-hit on stage and on screen — but their shows were what the avant-garde musical creators were breaking away from.

Another effect of age is that creators, just like the rest of us, get nostalgic for old stuff and grumpy about new stuff. Richard Rodgers didn’t think anyone would be able to make a musical out of rock music. Harlan Ellison, in his late 1980s writing, objected to DC’s reboots of Superman and the Shadow (admittedly the latter was dreadful) — why were they disrespecting fans who like the old stuff? — but he also objected to Marvel’s New Universe line. Not because it was crappy (it was) but what if fans spent money on the new books instead of Spidey and Captain America? What if that led to the classic characters getting canceled in favor of the New Universe? Not good!

If it’s not acceptable to launch new books or reboot old ones, the only option is to keep doing old ones the way they’ve always been done (which was the point of his short story Jeffty Is Five). Ellison was in his fifties by then; he’d gone from being an angry young man speaking the truth to power (okay, yelling the truth to power) to a crotchety old fart wishing kids would get off his lawn (of course, George RR Martin’s Armageddon Rag was bewailing how the world had turned to crap and he was in his thirties at the time)

Alan Moore seems to have wound up in a similar place.

It’s noticeable in LGX: Century in which he seems displeased with 21st century culture in general and particularly with Harry Potter — what a sad, juvenile set of stories those were, unfit for mature minds! In the series’ finish, LGX Tempest, which I just finished (review to come soon), we get more of the same. James Bond, who was believably vicious in Black Dossier, is now a homicidal maniac taking great glee in killing people for sport. Complaints about how America has been infatuated with superheroes, plus snark that Birth of a Nation was the first masked-superhero film (the KKK as masked vigilantes — makes you think about Batman, doesn’t it? Well DOESN”T IT?). Elric (not officially) tells Orlando in one scene that stories about superhumans make readers think “only impossible beings are capable of greatness … they cease attempting it for themselves.”

It appears the characters are speaking for their author as Moore has made the same points in several interviews (here, here and here). They’re not fit fodder for adults. People who watch superhero movies are clinging to their childhood, afraid to face the world. They’re escapist fantasy. Despite a little added diversity, they’re a master-race fantasies fit only for white supremacists.

My short answer: bite me, Mr. Moore. As JRR Tolkien once said, the only people who object to escape are jailers.

My longer answer: Getting nostalgic for childhood, wanting to escape whatever your life’s woes are for a while, these are not bad impulses. And it’s not a binary thing, where if you read comics you can’t possibly read anything serious or “mature.” I read superhero comics. I also read a lot of other stuff (very little of it is serious literature, true), and I stay informed about politics and what’s going on in the world. And no, reading comics or fantasizing about larger than life adventures does not mean we give up on doing anything ourselves (he reminds me of a Bill Maher rant I blogged about a few years ago).

As Kurt Busiek once pointed out, if comics can express the fantasies of teenage boys, they can express anything: the fantasies of girls, fantasies of justice, the frustrations of middle age. Nerd Reactors compares comics to videogames, another field that initially targeted kids but now spreads out to appeal to all kinds of people.

I’m sure part of this is Moore’s frustrated anger over the way DC Comics has made his work into their intellectual property (you can find the details of his issues online). But that doesn’t make his argument any less cranky and unreasonable.

#SFWApro. Covers by Howard Chaykin and Kevin O’Neill, all rights to image remain with current holders.

 

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Let’s finger-wag at some people, shall we?

“In two late-night Venmo transactions in May 2018, Rep. Matt Gaetz sent his friend, the accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, $900. The next morning, over the course of eight minutes, Greenberg used the same app to send three young women varying sums of money. In total, the transactions amounted to $900.” — nope, not suspicious at all. Especially when his women employees defend him … anonymously.

White supremacists are big on replacement theory, where Jews are plotting to make this a non-white country. Tucker Carlson says it’s true! Similar anxieties motivated the Sedition Day revolution. Jim Bakker, however, thinks the real threat is the coming zombie apocalypse. He’s not kidding, though I’m sure he knows he’s lying.

How about Amy Chua and Jeb Rubenfeld of Yale Law? Although neither of them is currently teaching, having been suspended for their treatment of students (harassment in Rubenfeld’s case; I’m guessing as he refuses to say if he’s still being paid, he is)). Chua is banned from socializing with students as part of the deal, but oops, she did anyway (parties at the couple’s home). Chua says the complaints are bullshit, some students say otherwise.

The GOP investigation into North Carolina voter fraud found nothing but it won’t change the narrative about stolen elections: “The “respectable” Republican position is that while the 2020 election may not have technically been stolen restoring the confidence of the typical Trump voter that it was requires vote suppression and plenty of it, with strong hints that if Trump asks them to steal the next election they’ll oblige.”

Male supremacist Jordan Peterson thinks a current Marvel arc involving the Red Skull makes the Skull sound like Peterson.

Senator Joe Manchin says he refuses to end the filibuster, which in the current Senate is impossible. He says the filibuster pressures both sides to reach bipartisan solutions; I wonder what he’ll say when that doesn’t work (and it won’t).

Two cops pulled over a black Army officer and allegedly pepper-sprayed him, kicked him and told him he’d better not tell anyone.

Some good news:

Trump officials aren’t finding it easy to re-enter the corporate world, though I’m sure that will change.

Biden’s taking executive action on gun control.

The White House is also working on help to save renters from eviction, but it’s tricky.

 

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I love the detail on this cover

 

Due to that muzzy-headedness I mentioned Friday, I didn’t focus enough to get today’s book-review post written. So instead I’m going to give you a comics cover I like because of the detail.

The cop whose hat has apparently been pushed off by his headcrest. The girl clutching her Mom. The military members here and there. The obvious shock, conveyed so well even without human faces (though part of that is knowing what’s happening — crop out one of the figures from the context and I don’t know they’d say “shock” so effectively).

It’s very easy to do a crowd scene that’s just a crowd of people. Making them a crowd of individuals is tougher. Murphy Anderson does a great job here. The story inside involves the last survivor of Mars plotting to conquer Earth; a scientist who escaped the effect of his morphing ray sets out to stop him. It’s not a standout, but it’s enjoyable if you like Strange Adventures yarns, which I do.

But even if I hated it, I’d still think the cover was cool.

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A Blob Gets Furious: Movies and some TV

According to producer Jack Harris on the commentary track for THE BLOB (1958), his goal was to combine an SF film and a juvenile delinquent film. That gave us this story of a meteorite that hatches out an oozing mass of protoplasm that absorbs any animal matter that comes near it like, for instance, people. Steve McQueen and his girlfriend know it’s true, but can they convince the cops or their parents the town is in danger?

While the film comes off as what Seeing is Believing classifies as conservative centrist — the community of regular folks comes together to fight the menace, no need for a brilliant scientist to whip up a cure — it also strikes me as straining the formula. The sort-of delinquent kids see the threat first but so does the town’s doctor (he dies too soon to weigh in) and cops and parents ultimately turn out pretty reasonable. It’s not an entirely successful mix of genres but it’s an interesting one. “Thanks to you, we’ve wasted our eighty cents.”

FURIOUS SEVEN (2015) is a direct sequel to Furious 6, starting with Shaw (Luke Evans) in hospital, being visited by his brother (Jason Statharn) who vows to avenge him; the camera then pulls back to see how much damage Shaw 2 has wrought getting past the guards which is effective but dumb (Statharn wants his brother to live, which is a lot less likely with the hospital half-demolished). Shortly afterwards Shaw’s revenge puts Hobbs in hospital (in a later scene he busts his arm out of its cast just by flexing his muscles) and blows up Brian and Mia’s house.

All of this forces our heroes into an alliance with enigmatic agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). If they’ll help him stop bad guy Djimon Hounsou from hacking into Godseye, a satellite that can instantly access any security camera anywhere (we’re apparently supposed to be chill with the U.S. government having the tech), Nobody will help them nail Shaw. This leads to the racers traversing the globe, driving between the tenth floor of two skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi, Michelle Rodriguez having a clash of titans with Ronda Rousey and a final showdown in which the cast races around Los Angeles dodging Predator missiles. This was more preposterous and less interesting than the previous film, partly because Statharn’s one-man army doesn’t seem as formidable as his smarter sibling in 6. This was the last movie for Paul Walker, who died in an unrelated traffic accident mid-filming (the ending makes a big deal of saying goodbye to his character). “Only two things keep a group like this together, fear or loyalty — and I don’t see a drop of fear in you.”

GRAY MATTER (2018) is an utterly mindless low-budget SF film with a threadbare plot — Grays send a reprogrammed abductee to hunt down alien parasites taking over humans and turning them cannibal — that justifies endless uninspired action scenes. I watched a lot of this on fast-forward and didn’t miss anything. “Boobs … boooooobs!”

I recently finished the first season of EXTANT, a 2014 CBS SF drama starring Halle Berry as Molly Haskell, an astronaut in a near future setting who returns home from a year in space to discover she’s pregnant. Her boss, Sparks, initially tells her the agency hit her with experimental fertility drugs without telling her because her last miscarriage was so rough (like other stories in this vein, it doesn’t provoke half the outrage is should). In reality, she’s carrying an alien/human hybrid; Sparks is willing to let it happen because the creature can create 100 percent realistic illusions, like making him think his daughter is alive again. A dying techtrepreneur has skin in the game, believing the aliens can save his life. Can Molly stop them from getting a foothold on Earth? How will her android son respond to having such a peculiar brother? Not classic SF but it’s well-cast and I did enjoy it. “I assume you’d like to see your family again — interpret that any way you choose.”

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