Like Jack Kirby’s 1970s work on Black Panther, JIMMY OLSEN: Adventures by Jack Kirby, Vol II is an example of why I never took Kirby seriously as a major talent. It’s certainly full of energy as Jimmy battles genetically engineered monsters and alien vampires (Kirby had hoped to get the first vampire in comics after the Comics Code approved them again, but Marvel’s Morbius showed up first), and better written than Jimmy’s oddball adventures in previous issues, it didn’t break fresh ground the way New Gods did (and Kirby’s handling of Superman often feels off). That said, it did add the DNA Project to the DCU (as Project Cadmus it continued playing an important role up through the reboot) and revived Kirby’s 1940s creations (with Joe Simon) the Newsboy Legion (adding a black member to the cast who was promptly forgotten by later writers).
MISTER X: The Definitive Collection Volume 1 by Dean Motter has a deranged architect stalking the streets of a city he once designed, fueled by drugs that keep him endlessly awake, seeking to fix the problems the city’s actual founders have created by distorting his “psychetecture” designs. Judging by the opening text pages, even Motter considered this an interesting failure, the German Expressionist design of the covers and opening pages looking much more interesting than either the stories or the art by the Hernandez Brothers and others.
MANGAMAN by Barry Lyga and Colleen Doran is a cute graphic novel about Ryoko, a boy from a manga universe yanked into our own but carrying all the manga visual and storytelling conventions with him (so he can actually change shape, throw off lines, etc). Lightweight but pleasant.
SUMMER FOR THE GODS: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion by Edward J. Larson does a very good job showing the convoluted politics and goals that swirled around the celebrated Monkey Trial, from Dayton’s eagerness for the suit (in the hopes the trial would draw a horde of tourists) to scientists’ reluctance to testify in Scopes’ defense (prominent evolutionists being turned off by either Darrow’s agnosticism or his opposition to eugenics) to Bryan’s conviction he was the liberal voice in the debate (seeing evolution as justifying Social Darwinism and thereby the oppression of the Common Man). Larson does an impressive blow-by-blow account of events from the passing of the original bill through the fall-out of the trial (at the time it was seen as a modest triumph for the fundamentalists rather than a crushing defeat) and how Inherit the Wind has influenced our perception of events (the play and film were written more as an allegory for McCarthyism than fundamentalism).An excellent job.
ELANTRIS was the debut fantasy for Brandon Sanderson, in which ten years after the eponymous city of wonders decayed overnight, it’s now populated by a plague of accursed mutates drawn their from the surrounding cities. The story follows a prince transformed into one of the mutates but trying to rebuild Elantis nonetheless, while his intended bride is stuck fighting off a theocratic takeover of his kingdom. A very good political fantasy, though despite Sanderson presenting the good guys as defending their own religious traditions, they come across more like modern-day secularists fending off the Republican right.