From stage magic to 1950s monsters, this week’s reading

HIDING THE ELEPHANT: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear by Jim Steinmeyer (a professional designer of stage illusions) opens with Houdini making an elephant disappear, then comes back to that night near the finish to explain why this spectacular feat was met with a yawn (Houdini wasn’t particularly good at stage magic, and he’d chosen a theater where most of the audience couldn’t see what was happening). In-between, the book looks at Robert-Houdin, the founder of modern stage magic, and subsequent luminaries such as John Nevil Maskelyne, Charles Morritt, Harry Thurston and SE Pelbit (the man who made sawing a woman in half synonymous with stage conjuring). Steinmeyer explains how conjurors really do a lot of their tricks with mirrors, among other secrets, and discusses what makes a good stage performance — is spectacle more important than simple, well executed tricks, for instance? An interesting, if specialized work.

BLACK WIDOW: The Ties That Bind by Kelly Thompson and Elena Casagrande is a frustrating one. The book opens with Natasha ambushed, then picks up months later with “Natalia” working as an architect, in a relationship with her toddler’s father. Winter Soldier and Hawkeye realize something’s wrong, but she’s so happy — do they really want to snap her out of this?

The idea they’d even consider leaving her brainwashed strikes me as awfully creepy; beyond that, several of the developments late in the collection are cliched as hell. Despite which there’s a lot I enjoyed in the book but it’s not as standout as I’d thought it might be. I’m also puzzled how Natasha’s ex, the Red Guardian is alive again (though as he shows up in the Black Widow movie I’m not surprised).

IMMORTAL HULK: Keeper of the Door by Al Ewing and Joe Bennettworked much better than the last time I looked at the series. Several incarnations of Hulk are trapped in what’s either Hell or his own mind. The Leader is taking over. Bruce’s evil dad is back. I have no real idea what’s going on but I still found it entertaining.

I cannot say that for MONSTERS IN THE MACHINE: Science Fiction Film and the Militarization of America After World War II by Steffen Hantke. It opens by stating that nobody under the age of fifty could possibly remember these films (I watched almost all of them after 1980, via cable, videotape or DVD), then gets the publication date wrong for Castle of Otranto (1764, not 1864), then describes Satan’s Satellites as a super-cheap movie made entirely out of stock footage (it’s a movie serial re-edited into a feature — a common practice — so while Hantke’s description is technically accurate I think it’s also inadequate).  Getting past that, Hantke’s thesis that all 1950s SF movies are really about (and mostly propaganda for) the military industrial complex suffers from heavy academese and unconvincing analysis (the alien replacing the husband in I Married a Monster From Outer Space embodies the PTSDed WW II veteran!). Not without a couple of interesting points, such as why SF films didn’t show more nuclear explosions, but not enough of them.

#SFWApro. Cover by Adam Hughes, all rights to image remain with current holders.


Filed under Comics, Reading

2 responses to “From stage magic to 1950s monsters, this week’s reading

  1. Pingback: Jetpacks, Hulk and Supergirl: books read | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Marvel Comics in trade paperbacks! | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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