Strange words and super-spies: book reviews (#SFWApro)

MRS. BYRNE’S DICTIONARY of Unusual, Obscure or Preposterous Words by Josefa Heifetz Byrne would probably have been better titled “A Really Small Dictionary of Words Mrs. Byrne Picked Quite Arbitrarily.” Of course any book of obscure words is going to be a little arbitrary—The Word Museum was, for instance—but this is an extreme case; at 10,000 words it’s too large to be very focused, and randomly jumps between technical words, archaic words and words I don’t find that remarkable. Just one two-page spread, for instance, includes “bight,” “bildungsroman” and “blancmange,” none of which I find terribly unusual. The end result is that it’s like one of those odd little museums that display all the junk the founder gathered over the course of their life.

nickfuryagentshield01NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD and NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD: Who Is Scorpio? collect writer/artist Jim Steranko’s legendary run on Marvel’s super-spies (they follow in sequence from the first NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD volume). Visually, Steranko offered a combination of wild pop-art imagery (his version of the MU looked way more contemporary than anyone else I can think of who was drawing at the time), spectacular two-page spreads, and some fantastic action sequences: Fury’s battle with Baron Strucker at the climax of Steranko’s Hydra arc, or a scene in which has to fight through SHIELD’s equivalent of the Danger Room (the villain having made it look like Fury is an android double of himself sent to undergo testing). Plot-wise, Steranko was more uneven: the Hydra arc is great, but the Yellow Claw story ends with an out-of-left-field twist that really doesn’t work (YMMV), then there’s the “To Serve Man” knockoff in a later story … and Fury’s new love-interest, Val (shown at left on the cover [by Steranko, all rights to current holder]) is not only colorless, the chemistry is of the “I’m the only woman in the book, you’re the male lead” variety that never works for me (as discussed here).

Despite which, I still love the books, if only for the action and the visuals. And they’re easier to find at an affordable price than the original Lee/Kirby run (why is Marvel not rushing Agents of SHIELD stories back into print? Don’t ask me). Well worth reading if you stumble across them.

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