From the Stone Age to mystic Russia to the future: books and graphic novels

PALEOFANTASY: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live by Marlene Zuk looks at the widespread assumption that we haven’t evolved since the Stone Age, which I’ve of course encountered in reading about how modern gender differences are imposed on us by our caveman ancestors. Zuk’s book reminds me the theory takes in a great deal more.

By paleo-logic, we’ll be happiest and healthiest if we live like our ancestors: eat Stone Age food, exercise the same way (would they have been runners or merely walkers and weight lifters?), create environments compatible with the way we’re hardwired and, of course, submit to our genetically ordained gender roles. As Zuk shows in detail, however, there’s no reason for seizing on the Paleolithic era as our genetic turning point: some of our genes go back way, way earlier, and yes, as evolutionary psychologist David Butler has written, we haven’t stopped evolving. Our ability to digest dairy as adults (not a universal human trait, of course) may be as little as 7,000 years old. Nor, Zuk adds, does it look like modern science is really protecting us from evolution (she points out this is a very First World middle and upper-class view of survival). Very good.

KOSCHEI THE DEATHLESS by Mike Mignola and Ben Stenbeck is one of the best Hellboy-verse stories I’ve read in a while. The backstory of Koshchei, who battled Hellboy in Darkness Calls,  has a genuine folklore feel to it: the magic is frequently nonlinear and illogical (to protect his magic from Baba Yaga, Koshchei spits it up into a rag, then feeds the rag to a horse. Which then explodes) but it feels right — creepy, eerie and not at all like science. A grim story (when Koshchei talks of going down a dark path, Hellboy points out he’d already been on one) but well worth reading (and added, of course, to my Chronology).

As I mentioned earlier this week, James H. Schmitz’s THE WITCHES OF KARRES by James H. Schmitz is a delightful romp. Protagonist Pausert frees three underage girls from slavery only to discover Maleen, Goth and the Leewit are all powerful psis. Accompanied by Goth (he drops the other girls back on Karres) he attempts to start a new life as a trader, but everyone from an alien computer to scheming governments to a space pirate wants to pry the secrets of Karres’ space-warp drive from his mind. Given everything at the end is in place for more adventures, I’m surprised Schmitz never did a sequel, though other hands have tackled the job.

SUPERGIRL: Girl of No Tomorrow by Steve Orlando an various artists continues Orlando’s uninspired run on the Maid of Might’s series. Here the future villain the Emerald Empress tries to destroy Supergirl by recreating the Silver Age villain team the Fatal Five (it’s such a random collection of villains Orlando might have drawn them out of a hat); complicating the battle is that Supergirl’s powers have been boosted to the point she’s as much a threat to Capital City as the bad guys. The only bright spot was the Annual, in which Supergirl meets her cousin, plus the Superman of China plus a New 52 version of Wonder Woman’s former mentor I Ching (but the name doesn’t work any better now). It was fun, but can’t redeem the whole thing (like turning Cat Grant into a her0-hating J. Jonah Jameson knockoff)

The first volume of REDLANDS by Jordie Bellaire and Vanesa Del Rey fell flat for me. Set in a Florida town run by witches, it’s more a grim dark crime thriller as even the witches’ influences doesn’t make the locals any less misogynist. Sexist enough that I got tired of reading about it. I also find it annoying that the creators tie this in to Salem (as Heather Greene says, Salem is a standard marker for validating witch stories) — there were no witches at Salem, just 19 innocent women and one man hung for witchcraft they didn’t commit.

#SFWApro. Covers by Mike Mignola (t) and Kurt Miller, all rights to them and the poster image remain with current holders.

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