As a kid I never cared much for Walt Kelly’s Pogo so I was surprised how much I enjoyed Kelly’s THE BEST OF POGO (whether my taste was bad back then or Kelly’s work, like many classic strips, had run out of steam, I know not). The story of the possum Pogo and his scruffy anthropomorphic friends in a Southern swamp included character studies (the porcupine is a misanthrope due to his inability to get close to people), political satire (Pogo ran for president!) and just humor (a running gag over the years was their inability to sing “Deck the Halls” correctly). I’d have preferred this be all strips — while I’m glad there was some biography in the book, there’s lots and lots, plus reminiscences, plus other cartoons Kelly wrote, and Mad‘s send-up, Gopo the Possum. Still, I’m glad I finally learned to appreciate Kelly. Illustration by Kelly (from this website), all rights remain with current holder
CITY OF FORTUNE: How Venice Ruled the Seas by Roger Crowley chronicles how Venice grew from a small city-state of fishermen into a republic of merchants and traders, then became an imperial power controlling the Adriatic, Crete, parts of Greece and even extending to the Black Sea. The turning point was the Fourth Crusade, which was sidetracked by the son of Byzantium’s recently usurped emperor convincing the Crusaders to put him back on the throne. That didn’t work out, so the Crusaders (including Venetians, who’d supplied the ships) sacked the city and divided up the Byzantine imperial possessions (which didn’t work out well in the long run, as it made it easier for the Turks to push into Europe). This isn’t a side of Venice I’ve come across before in either fiction or nonfiction, and I found it fascinating.
AQUAMAN: Black Manta Rising by Dan Abnett and Brad Walker, is the second book in Aquaman’s Rebirth arc (I haven’t read Vol. 1). This returns Aquaman to Silver/Bronze Age status — king of Atlantis, JLA member, battling with Black Manta to save his kingdom — and it’s a lot of fun. Not really much to say about it beyond that, but if I still bought current superhero books (I’ve been burned too many times by reboots and big crossover events) I’d definitely be picking up this one.
CALAMITY JACK by Shannon, Dean and Nathan Hale is second in another graphic novel series. Jack of beanstalk fame (apparently a supporting character in Vol. 1, Rapunzel’s Revenge), takes center stage as circumstances force him back to the city he fled for being a no-good thief. It seems the giants have taken over; can Jack turn things around for humanity? Can he admit how he feels about Rapunzel? And what will she say when she realizes he’s the kind of scheming crook she despises? A fairly charming juvenile novel.