Around the world from Gaul to New Mexico to Nowhere: books

The first volume of the French comic strip ASTERIX THE GAUL by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo collects three story arcs that are fun, but not as goofball as the book became later. Asterix is a Gaul in the days of the Roman Empire, able to defy them because of a magic druidic potion that makes the tribe super-strong; Obelix, Asterix’ BFF, fell into the potion cauldron as a kid and is now super-super-strong, delivering menhirs for a day job. In various stories Asterix outwits a Roman plan to learn the secret of his strength, breaks up a market monopoly on druidic golden sickles and battles the Goths. By the third story arc the strips definitely resemble the silliness I remember so I look forward to reading V2.

THE GIRL IN BLUE is similarly nowhere near as funny as P.G. Wodehouse’s best though for the opposite reason: this came out in 1970, in the twilight of his career, and it shows (one book I read said that at this point editing involved adding funny stuff in rather than trimming excess out). The plot concerns a stately manor that now takes paying guests, a valuable Gainsborough miniature, a Yank shoplifter and (as usual for Wodehouse), assorted people falling in love. Pleasant and occasionally inspired (“Love struck with the suddenness of one of those explosions in a London street killing six.”) but P.G. has done much better.

I only picked up DATIL: A Hidden History of an Historic New Mexico Town: Datil N.M. History Book One because author Jim Wagner was my first editor at the Destin Log. In his RVing around the Southwest he stumbled across Datil, now close to a ghost town, and took an interest in its history. The results include some entertaining stories and a lot of deep-dive detail in property ownership and local landmarks; it didn’t grab me as I have no particular interest in New Mexico history, but that’s not Jim’s fault — it’s true of most local histories. If the state’s history is in your wheelhouse, I imagine it would be worth reading.

SISTERS GRIMM by Menna Van Praag follows the lives of four women unaware they’re Grimms, warriors from a parallel world stripped of their true memories. Soon they will return to their home realm and battle their father but until then they have no explanation for the strange, baffling phenomena happening around them, nor any awareness one of their father’s soldiers is out to kill them. I gave up on this one midway through, as it came off mostly as a mundane accounting of the four women’s lives, and not as well done as Bloomsbury Girls.

THE ALL-STAR COMPANION Volume 3 by Roy Thomas and others didn’t work for me as well as V2 did. Writing about the Justice Society in the Silver Age — the teamups with the Justice League, the attempted solo Earth-Two series, finally getting their own book again in 1976 — means V3 covers lots of stuff I already know. That’s not a fault in the book but it does make it less interesting.

Still there’s plenty of stuff that did interest me such as the origin of the name All-Star Squadron, why Len Wein killed off Plastic Man instead of including him in the Freedom Fighters and other incidental details I found fascinating. It also goes into detail on All-Star Western which is what All-Star Comics turned into in the 1950s; that’s an era and a set of characters I don’t know at all. I’m glad I bought it but it’s very much a YMMV choice.

POWERLESS: The Hero Agenda #1 by Tera Lynn Childs and Tracy Deebs has the non-super daughter of the world’s mightiest superhero and a super-scientist mom discover that the Avengers/SHIELD analog is torturing and killing villains outside the law, leading to her joining forces with the Most Obnoxious, Most Irritating Villain She’s Ever Met. This is enjoyable but feels a bit too much like a big-budget popcorn thriller at times, such as how easily the good guys can get through supposedly world-class security. The worldbuilding doesn’t make much sense either: apparently metas are born either as heroes or villains, but it doesn’t have anything to do with actually being good or evil — so what’s the point? Enjoyable, but should have been better.

Writing Oh the Places You’ll Go! prompted me to pick up NOWHERELANDS: An Atlas of Vanished Countries, 1810-1975 by Bjorn Berge. Like Vanished Kingdoms, this looks at various nations that didn’t last, but did develop to the point they issued stamps (which he argues is one of the trademarks of stable nations). The list includes secessionist states, puppet governments, colonies given limited independence and vanity projects with little hope of success. This was dry, but interesting enough.

#SFWApro. Top cover by Mike Grell, bottom by Gil Kane.

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