FIN-DE-SIECLE VIENNA: Politics and Culture by Carl E. Schorske looks at the Austrian capital in the late 19th century as the liberal consensus that had dominated the previous few decades began to collapse, leaving politicians, thinkers and creators looking for alternatives. Schorske writes this as a series of essays on key thinkers: architects, Freud, Zionist Theodor Herzl, Gustav Klimt, novelists and anti-Semites, all trying to figure out what society should be doing and what their place in it was. The individual profiles are interesting, but they don’t give me a sense of the big picture.
After Walter Gibson revived the Shadow in the 1960s paperback The Return of the Shadow Dennis Lynds took over for a brief series run. In THE SHADOW STRIKES, the Master of Darkness investigates the death of a Yugoslavian immigrant working with a Communist refugee group — was it an accident? And if not, who stood to gain by it? This lacks Gibson’s spark and shows an Ian Fleming influence — international intrigue, Commies and a fairly vivid torture scene; it’s much talkier than the original pulps with the Shadow talking his theories out with others rather than plotting alone in his lair.
Edward Eager’s THE WELL-WISHERS reunites the protagonists of Magic or Not for another round of good deeds that might or might not be helped by the wishing well, whether it’s saving a local apple orchard, battling bullies or helping a black family move into the neighborhood despite protests (it says a lot about the times that Eager avoids spelling out They’re Black, but I’d imagine even kids would figure it out). Atypical for Eager, this takes place during the school year rather than the summer (which even the kids comment on); I’m not sure why but it works much better for me than the previous book did.
A reference in the Eager book got me to look at E. Nesbit’s THE WONDERFUL GARDEN wherein three siblings spending the summer with an eccentric uncle stumble across a book of flower-based magic. When a young boy runs away from his Dickensian guardian and hides out with them, the magic seems to help — but is it just coincidence? While there are some touches that I like, this is a dull Nesbit that lacks the charm of some of her other non-fantasy stories such as The Story of the Treasure Seekers.
THE VISION AND THE SCARLET WITCH collects the miniseries by Bill Mantlo and Rick Leonardi, which I read to tie in with Wanda/Vision, as well as the Steve Englehart/Don Heck special where the couple tied the knot. The story of Wanda and Vizh settling into the suburbs for a life as ordinary people — needless to say, it’s not as ordinary as they hope — fluctuates wildly in quality. The first issue pits the couple against a stock Evil Druid type (druids rarely come off well in comics). The second issue, dealing with Wanda’s supposed father (it’s complicated), the 1940s Whizzer, is lot more interesting; the third, dealing with the Vision’s two sort-of siblings Wonder Man and the Grim Reaper much less so. The fourth, in which Wanda learns the truth of her relationship with Magneto (before Marvel retconned that out), is back to good. The Englehart story is great, but as the climax of a year-long story arc, I can’t imagine it makes much sense standing alone (I missed the preceding issue back in the day and I was confused by some details).
#SFWApro. Top cover by Gil Kane, bottom by Rick Leonardi. All rights remain with current holders.