Wow, it’s been a while since I did one of these, isn’t it?
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART ONE (2010) has, of course, Voldemort assuming Power Absolute (“That statue shows the Muggles—in their appropriate place.”), Harry, Ron and Hermione hunting for horcruxes and Dobby playing the hero’s part. Good, though the endless wandering through the wilderness is, well, kind of endless. “Just keep talking about that ball of light in your heart guiding her back to you—she won’t stay mad.”
UNDERMIND (2003) is a decent drama in which two parallel world counterparts (musician turned petty hood and dissipated rich kid) find themselves stuck in each others’ lives with the effect of putting right what their counterpart was doing wrong (standing up to the rich kid’s mother and catching the hood’s father’s killer, for example). Enjoyable, though I’m surprised there’s no explanation for why this happened (not even a deus ex machina). “That’s why we’re partners—you understand my sick and twisted mind.”
MORNING GLORY (2010) is a fun comedy in which bouncy morning show producer Rachel McAdams recruits dour anchorman Harrison Ford to cohost her floundering show alongside Diane Keaton only to find Ford balking point blank at doing anything that would sully his Hard News credentials (“He objects to using the word ‘fluffy.’”). Ford does a wonderful stoneface here, and I give the film extra points for actually taking McAdams’ job seriously (rather than the stock She Has A Guy, She Doesn’t Need A Career approach so many romantic comedies take) “It’s bran and it’s a donut—it’s a bran donut!”
Given my dislike of most super-hero novels, I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE by Austin Grossman. The story concerns a battle between the world’s greatest super-hero team and arch-villain Dr. Impossible, told from the viewpoints of Impossible himself and Fatale, a cyborg black-ops agent newly joined the team. Grossman uses this mostly to set up a character study for the two leads, but the backdrop feels believable (i.e., I could see everyone showing up in a real comic book—much more so than in From the Notebook of Dr. Brain.
PIGEONS: The Fascinating Saga of the Wrld’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird by Andrew D. Blechman ponders how a bird that was favored as a delicacy for centuries, a vital form of long-distance communication and military messaging for almost as long and for at least a couple of centuries a popular racing bird has now become identified as a “rat with wings” that should just be stamped out. While not as fascinating as the title makes out (the subculture of pigeon racers comes off as generically eccentric, if that makes any sense), the story of pigeon breeders, wildlife activists and military historians does make for entertaining reading.
THE LAST MAGICIANS is a good non-Brak fantasy by John Jakes in which the last survivor of an order of evil mages is reluctantly agrees to help save the world from the undead armies of his former deity and the god’s high priest. Enjoyably gritty and dour, though rather deus ex in the finish; while I doubt Jakes would ever have given Robert E. Howard a run for his money, it does make me wonder what he’d have written if he’s stayed in-genre.
INTO THE VOLCANO: A Mallory & Morse Novel of Espionage by Forrest DeVoe Jr. is an extremely unsuccessful 1962-set Bond pastiche as the assassination of a Turkish agent of “the Consultancy” leads the title agents (Tough Redneck and a female Bostonian martial artist) into an encounter with a megalomaniac building an earthquake-maker. Part of my problem with this was that it’s quite lacking in period detail or attitudes (in fact, it wouldn’t take much tweaking to have it in the present) and it doesn’t mesh the realistic and glamorous spy schools as well as Fleming did.
THE COMPLETE PEANUTS: 1953-1954 shows the strip as we know it starting to take form—by the end of ‘54, Lucy is a confirmed fussbudget (along with short-lived traits such as compulsive stargazing), Charlie Brown is showing flashes of his unloved loser persona (with baseball and kite-flying becoming running themes) Schroeder has gone from just musical to a Beethoven fanatic and Linus is occasionally shown with a security blanket. We also get two new additions to the cast, the unsuccessful Charlotte Braun (though it’s quite possible Schulz only intended her as a short-lived guest-star) and Pig-Pen, here rather a Dennis the Menace type (i.e., more deliberately dirty than the magnetic power that seemed to manifest later). Still a long way from what it would become, but it’s getting there.
SHARPE’S SIEGE: Richard Sharpe and the Winter Campaign, 1814 is an excellent entry in Bernard Cornwell’s series as Wellington’s subterfuge, Ducos’ scheming and a few ambitious naval men result in Sharpe and Harper holding an impossible and indefensible position against the might of the French Army (points to Cornwell for the fact Sharpe doesn’t pull it off and only his subterfuge with the privateer saved him from capture).
THE ESSENTIAL CAPTAIN AMERICA VOL I makes me wonder if Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had the same problem so many movie adaptations have faced of fitting a World War II legend into the present: After a few stories, they shift Cap back to a World War II setting and admit they only returned him to the present in response to fan requests. And of course, his greatest foe in this period is his World War II adversary the Red Skull (plus Baron Zemo, the Exiles and the Nazi Sleeper robots). Entertaining, but far from my favorite the Marvels essentials—interesting to study though (it strikes me the couple of issues Lee did with Spider-Man collaborator John Buscema were a lot more Spidey-style melodramatic than when he worked with Kirby).