THE FREE STATE OF JONES: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War by Victoria E. Bynum looks at the anti-Confederacy guerilla war waged in Jones County Miss. by the Knight Company of renegades, driven by a mix of unionism and class issues (the Twenty Slave Rule was a flashpoint for a lot of them in proving this was a “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight”) and possibly anti-slavery. Bynum’s revisionist take on the war shows that contrary to legend, the South was hardly united in secession, the woman weren’t all genteel Southern belles (many of the wives and daughters of the guerillas assisted the fighters) and the color line (as Invisible Line showed) was way more porous than officially admitted: Newt Knight was head of a mixed-race clan and the book’s finish is one of Newt’s 20th century descendants fighting charges that by marrying a white woman he’d committed miscegenation. A good job, but very dry—a few more dramatic incidents from the Knight Company’s adventures might have helped. Given that the Knight Company has inspired novels, films and legends (such as the claim the county actually seceded from the Confederacy), was Bynum trying to avoid adding to the legend?
“YELLOW PERIL” The Adventures of Sir John Weymouth-Smith by Richard Jaccoma is a curious Fu Manchu riff in which a two-fisted but bigoted Brit comes to realize that “Chou en Shu” is actually the good guy inasmuch as he’s working against Hitler whereas the counterpart of Rohmer’s heroic Dennis Nayland-Smith sees der Fuehrer as the savior of the white race. While I’ve thought for a while that a role-reversed version of Fu Manchu could be fun, the narrator is too obviously unreliable not to see that development coming, and this still uses a lot of “sinister oriental” imagery. Plus the plot involves a lot of then-current crackpot occultism which I’m not sure really adds to the story. Jaccomo certainly knows his Rohmer though.
SUPERMAN: Before Truth by Gene Luen Yang and John Romita Jr. is one of the better New52 Superman TPBs I’ve read, though that’s not saying much (but as I’ve liked Yang’s indie work, I’m glad he’s not one of those writers who tanks when he gets on a Big Two project). Yang employs the time-honored trope of lowering Superman’s power levels, the result of a new energy-blast ability that leaves Kal largely depowered after he uses it; this makes for a bad time to encounter the sinister hacker Hordr who threatens to expose Superman’s secret identity. Fun, but I assume most of the big twists will be undone within the year—and the idea of a villain who knows everyone’s secrets has been done better before (the old Shadow War of Hawkman series).
After two good volumes, SEX CRIMINALS: Three the Hard Way by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky was a disappointment. While Jon and Suzi’s relationship progresses some from Volume Two, otherwise the book is just treading water. We meet a lot of new sex-powered characters I assume will pay off in later installments, but they don’t do enough to be interesting; there’s a lengthy lecture on what constitutes normal; and way too much metafictional stuff, some of which works but not the biggest piece. I hope this picks up with Vol. 4 or I won’t bother with this again.