ARCHIE MEETS BATMAN ’66 by Jeff Parker, Michael Moreci and Dan Parent has the United Underworld (Riddler, Joker, Penguin, Catwoman) decide rather than keep losing to Batman, they’ll take over some small, middle-American town and use that as the basis for their crime empire. Suddenly, Archie and his gang notice everyone from Pops at the malt shop to Mr. Lodge acting peculiar, and there are these two new students, Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon, who seem to have a secret … This was fun, and it even manages to work in a Jorge Luis Borges joke in one scene.
ED THE HAPPY CLOWN by Chester Brown is a cheerfully insane story about Ed, who’s actually rather miserable as he deals with vampires, pygmies, sinister government agencies and having Ronald Reagan’s head on the tip of his penis. This takes a while to get going (partly because the first two chapters weren’t conceived as parts of an overall work) but when it does it’s gloriously whacko. Not to everyone’s taste, though, I’m sure.
Like Northwest Smith, CL Moore’s stories of JIREL OF JOIRY follow a consistent formula, starting with the first story, Black God’s Kiss: Jirel enters or is dragged into some unearthly alien hellscape struggles to stay alive and returns. However as there are only five stories (not counting her crossover with Smith), the worlds she enters are so weird and Jirel herself is such a striking character (even though she usually doesn’t get to do much beside provide us with an eyewitness to the weird) that they work much better. However the romantic element of Black God’s Kiss (he slaps her, he dominates her, how can she not love him?) hasn’t aged well.
THE HOUNDS OF SKAITH was Leigh Brackett’s sequel to Ginger Star in which Stark, having rescued his friend Simon from the Lords Protector of Skaith, must journey back to the planet’s spaceport before the ruling Wandsmen shut it down. Even with the psionic Northhounds as his allies, can he do it? This is a good page turner, though I’m curious what Brackett will do for the final volume as the fight seems to be won here.
THE GHOST AND THE FEMME FATALE: A Haunted Bookshop Mystery by Alice Kimberlyis the fourth in a series wherein Penelope, a bookstore owner, teams up with the ghost of a hardboiled PI who haunts her shop. When Penelope attends a film noir festival, it looks like a legendary B-movie Bad Girl has been targeted for murder, but as people around her drop like flies, Pen and her partner wonder if she’s the real target. Even if I were a cozy fan, I don’t know I’d like this (though I might dislike it less): The ghost’s hardboiled dialog gets tiresome and some of the characters snipe at each other like they were in a bad sitcom.
BLACKOUT by James Goodman looks at the 1977 New York power blackout which led to a night variously composed of looting, casual sex, helpfulness (two blind students at Columbia University led their class out of the blacked-out building; lots of people volunteered to direct traffic at intersections), looting, fear (“I can’t identify Son of Sam in the dark!”), jubilation, overwhelmed police, and looting. The morning-after follow-up led to intense debate on both Con Edison’s failure to keep the juice flowing and why this blackout saw looting when 1965 didn’t (Goodman points out that any analysis now should look at the similar lack of looting in the later outage of 2003). Goodman’s slice of life approach (random vignettes rather than following a few individuals) works for me, though not everyone, and his choice to identify most people by labels — “the social critic,” “the columnist,” “the city councilor” — gets annoying. Overall a good book though.
#SFWApro. Covers by Chester Brown (top) and Margaret Brundage. All rights to images remain with current holder.