Category Archives: Reading

Covers for Tuesday

First, an uncredited but creepy one.Next an uncredited cover for Wylie’s Gladiator, playing up the Sex Sells angle.A pulp cover by Frank R. PaulOne by James TeasonAnd another uncredited cover.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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Feathers, Avengers, pandemics and a feral child: this week’s reading.

FEATHERS by Jorge Corona is a fantasy graphic novel in which a noblewoman’s daughter and a bird-boy work together to stop a mysterious Someone who’s kidnapping kids from the rougher areas of the city. I think this is targeted to a younger demographic than me, but I enjoyed it.

So as part of rereading the Silver Age, I’m now up to 1963 (which I’ve discussed in a couple of Atomic Junkshop posts here and here) which is when the Avengers debuted. So on impulse I ordered AVENGERS: The Origin by Joe Casey and Phil Noto, which expands the first issue into a five-issue miniseries (I’ve often joked about how many Silver Age stories would be expanded into a Big Crossover Event if they’d done them today — apparently I wasn’t wrong).

This updated version (Rick Jones’ Teen Brigade are now sound like a proto-antifa) resolves some of the oddities of the original tale, such as a circus stumbling across the Hulk and thinking he’s a giant robot they can use in their show and gives the Wasp more character and capability than Lee and Kirby gave her. It also does a good job on showing these new heroes interacting awkwardly with each other (though Casey did better in his previous two Earth’s Mightiest Heroes retcon minis — and Mark Waid did it better in JLA: Year One). However it never addresses something that leaps out at me reading the original story — the complete absence of Bruce Banner. At the time, Banner used a ray to turn himself into the Hulk. Avengers #1 never explains why the Hulk is just leaping across the desert and even Bruce’s sidekick Rick Jones never mentions Banner (given how much the Hulk’s short-lived first series kept rebooting him, I’m guessing this was another reboot, to see if Hulk worked better without Banner).

I’ll make the minor complaint that while I largely enjoyed Noto’s art, his view of Asgard is way too neon — it’s feels like Vegas.

THE RULES OF CONTAGION: Why Things Spread — and Why They Stop by Adam Kucharski argues the same rules that shape pandemics and analyzing pandemics also affect financial crises (Too Big To Fail banks being the equivalent of superspreaders for the 2008 crisis), how memes and false news spread online and the problems of research (you can’t ethically launch a pandemic to see how it spreads, and some people debate the ethics of spreading rumors). While I’m normally suspicious of this kind of one-size-fits-all explanations, Kucharski knows his stuff (he’s worked in both epidemiology and the finance industry) and he’s clear that one size doesn’t fit all: despite the popular concept of memes miraculously going viral, they don’t usually spread both fast and wide. Interesting.

BEASTS OF EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCE by Ruth Emmie Lang tells the story of Weylyn Grey, a feral child who can also control the weather (though often badly), talk to animals, grow plants instantly and teach himself to read overnight. While this starts off with a nice folktale feel,Weylyn, powers aside, is too bland as a character, not changing much from where he starts out. He’s more the excuse for the story, which is told almost all from other people’s viewpoints than its heart, and in the end that runs out of steam.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Kirby, all rights remain with current holder.

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Is Our Writers Learning? Pax Demonica by Julie Kenner

As I mentioned a while back, the editor who rejected Southern Discomfort suggested I read more urban fantasy. Perhaps she has a point because reading Julie Kenner’s PAX DEMONICA I discovered it shows exactly the kind of pacing problems she said I had (and in discussing them, there will be lots of spoilers. Be warned).

I didn’t expect that when I ordered the book because I love the Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom series. Kate Conner is Buffy with the serial numbers filed off, an orphan trained by the Catholic Church for Forza, the demon-hunting fellowship. By the start of the first book, she’s retired, married with a kid and her adventuring days are long behind her. Then the demons start returning … but after V5, Demon Ex Machina, her published killed the series. Kenner went on to other stuff but realized a few years ago that self-publishing was an option.

At the end of the previous book, Kate had a number of questions about Forza, such as how Eric, her dead first love and father of her daughter Allie wound up alive and possessed by a demon. They’re off to Forza’s Rome headquarters to get some answers. It’s a tense trip as Stuart, Kate’s husband, briefly walked out on Kate when he got the whole story about her side hustle.

Adding to the tension: demons attacking Kate demanding a McGuffin of some sort. A girl showing up who claims to be Kate’s cousin (Kate’s an orphan with no knowledge of her birth family).  Kate discovering she comes from a long lineage of Forza demon slayers. Eric’s warning that she shouldn’t trust anyone in Rome.

It turns out the McGuffin is a key that can bring on the apocalypse, literally bringing hell to Earth. Some of the demons are on humanity’s side in wanting to stop it: they like possessing mortal forms so they’re opposed to their fellows who simply want to destroy the world. Despite their assistance, the destruction demons get the key and open the gate to Hell. Kate and Co. figure out the gate’s location, rush to it, and discover that Allie has inherited some of Eric’s demon side — enough that her human/demon blood can close the gate. The world is saved!

It’s a solid plot, but the execution is imbalanced. Despite the demon attacks, the first three-quarters of the book spend way too much time on personal stuff: Kate rejoicing in being back in Rome, Allie pushing against her parents to go off and explore, sightseeing (a running gag is that they never actually make it to the tourist destinations. It should have been funnier than it was), Kate and Stuart rebuilding their relationship. All of which is typical for this series, but normally the threat level is high enough to balance it out. Not this time.

Instead we get the threat jumping to omega level in the last quarter. Backed up by a lot of exposition to rationalize how the Conners, Kate’s cousin and the McGuffin all showed up in Rome at the same time. It was too much exposition for such a small portion of the book, and Eric’s warning never pays off. Even the Forza priests who put a demon in him were doing so with an eye to his future child sealing the gates.

Which is a minor complaint: the book’s rosy view of the Catholic Church feels like the equivalent of “copaganda.” Not that every story with a Catholic priest has to make him a pedophile (Southern Discomfort has a perfectly decent priest) or that every nun runs one of the Magdalene laundries. It’s nowhere near as bad as Tarn Richardson whitewashing the Inquisition in The Fallen but it still feels like Forza should have had a little bit of a dark side.

I must admit, if Southern Discomfort made the editor feel as disappointed as Pax Demonica made me, I’m not surprised she rejected it.

#SFWApro. Cover by the Killion Group, all rights remain with current holder.

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Concentration camps, Black Lightning and Nancy Drew: a book and some TV

I’ve read for years that the British introduced concentration camps in the Boer War, but ONE LONG NIGHT: A Global History of Concentration Camps by Andrea Pitzer shows it started several years earlier, in Cuba. With the population supporting the guerillas fighting Spanish colonial control, one General Weyler “concentrated” thousands of civilians in camps under Spanish control to break the back of the revolution. Targeting civilians outraged a lot of the world, but when the United States took over the Philippines from Spain, the military adopted the same tactic to put down the ungrateful Filipino resistance. Then the British used the tactic in the Boer War. When WW I began, Britain and other combatants began using camps to hold foreign nationals, which in Russia eventually mutated into the Communist gulag. And from the same ugly root we got the Nazi death camps, colonial concentration camps in Kenya and Algeria, the Japanese-American internment camps and eventually Guantanamo Bay. Pitzer does an excellent job showing how it all fits together, and how quickly efforts to treat prisoners well fall apart. Grimly informative.

BLACK LIGHTNING wrapped up its fourth and final season last month, and went out on a win. Freed from prison, Tobias (Marvin ‘Krondon’ Jones III) schemes to take over Freedland, develop a weapon that neutralizes metas and destroy the Pierce family. It’s his revenge plan that elevates the season: rather than tackle them as superheroes he destroys their civilian reputations, for example framing Jeff (Cress Williams) for embezzling from the high school he ran for so many years. Oh, and buying Jeff’s father’s house just so he can destroy it for one of his building projects.

It’s a solid season but I think the short length (three episodes less than usual, and one episode devoted to an unsuccessful back-door plot) made some elements a little rushed. The mysterious Shadow Board Tobias wants to join never gets enough of an explanation; the meta-hating police chief gets a rushed arc in which she turns herself into a meta to destroy Lightning but it doesn’t have enough time to work (plus the idea just outing the chief as a bigot will discredit her as a cop — this show doesn’t usually go for such simplistic solutions). Overall, though, a pleasure. Tobias can’t feel shame — that’s why you’ll never become the kind of man he is.”

The second season of NANCY DREW wraps up the Covid-shortened first season, then moves in new directions. Nancy (Kennedy McMann) wants to take down corrupt local bigwig Everett Hudson, despite discovering that he’s her grandfather. As Everett’s quite willing to kill in self-interest, the threat level is even higher than S1. Meanwhile George (Leah Lewis) becomes host to the spirit of a 19th century Frenchwoman, Nancy starts dating one of the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift (gay and black) puts in an appearance (a back-door pilot — I imagine if the Hardy Boys hadn’t had a recent series on Hulu, we’d have seen them here too). The ending of the season is the discovery Nancy’s possessed and doomed if they can’t reverse things — but doing so only unleashes a worst menace to threaten Horseshoe Bay in S3.

I really enjoyed the first season and this one works just as well. The characterization is good and there are some great lines, like Nancy referring to “a creepy nature cult I exposed when I was 11.” One delightful episode has them repeatedly having to erase their memories because of an unspeakable name they’ve learned — a Groundhog Day set-up without an actual time loop. I’m looking forward to S3. “Everett didn’t ask about the numbers, only who knew about them.”

#SFWApro. Cover by Rich Buckler, all rights remain with current holder.

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Covers for a Tuesday

This has no good ending. Art by Dick Dillin.Another Dillin cover. I’m guessing the creature isn’t so bad and it all works out.A lively war-comics cover by Jerry GrandenettiAnd one of John Romita’s romance covers. Bonnie Taylor appeared in several Young Romance issues. If you’re curious, Jacqueline Nodell details this story here.And if you think that looks like heartbreak, how about this? Art is uncredited, probably by Romita. I hope Bonnie got a happy ending before her series wrapped up.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Batman and Anti-Heroes: A couple of comics collections

BATMAN: The Golden Age Omnibus Vol. 8 takes us up to the end of 1952 and includes a number of great stories. There’s “The Man With the License to Kill,” about a vigilante with angle. In “The Joker’s Millions,” the Crime Clown gets rich and retires only to discover … but why spoil it? Like that one, “The King of the Cats,” introducing Catwoman’s brother, is another I’ve wanted to read for years. There’s also a lot of no-frills Batman-fights-smart-crooks stories that were thoroughly enjoyable (as always YMMV with older comics).

The villain situation in this era is a little odd. The Joker makes lots of appearances but the Penguin only a couple and Catwoman only the one. Both the Bird and the Cat would make more appearances but they’d vanish for several years after the mid-fifties. A couple of fake Two-Faces show up, then in 1954 Harvey Dent returns to his life of crime … and disappears again until the 1970s. We do get a number of one-shot villains: The Executioner, Mr. Hydro, the Human Magnet and the Renter (a better crook than his name — he rents guns to crooks, then melts them down for recasting, thereby making it impossible to identify them). I have no idea why.

SECRET SIX: Friends in Low Places by Gail Simone, Ken Lashley and Dale Eaglesham revived Simone’s antihero team for the New 52 — or Rebirth, or Convergence or whichever of the endless reboots it ties to. Much as I liked the pre-New 52 S6, this one is like meeting someone you half know but they’re very different than you remember, and it feels frustrating talking to them; the characters and the set-up are different enough to be disorienting and a couple are too damn different. Plus I really hate the Riddler as a dangerous, homicidal badass but apparently that’s now the canon version. There’s lots of great scenes, but the whole is less than the sum of the parts.

#SFWApro. Cover by Dick Sprang, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Gods and religion, talking animals and a puppet fox: books and graphic novels

ARCHER AND ARMSTRONG: Far Far Away by Fred Van Lente and Pere Perez has the immortal party animal Armstrong and straight-arrow Archer breaking into Area 51, then getting sucked into the world the other side of the Bermuda Triangle, along with Archer’s adopted sister and dream girl Mary-Maria. Amidst the lost settlers of Roanoke, can they stop Douglas MacArthur (or a reasonable facsimile) from leading a battalion of Greys in their flying saucers to wipe our heroes out? A lot of fun with some great lines (“Who’s leading the international communist conspiracy now?” “My parents say it’s an Indonesian Muslim named Barack Obama, but I’m not sure they’re a reliable source.”).

THY KINGDOM COME: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America by Randall Balmer doesn’t work as well for me as Making of Biblical Womanhood because Balmer’s covering stuff I’m already familiar with — that evangelicals broke bad in the 1970s after segregated Christian colleges lost their tax-deductible status; while motivated initially by racism, they soon expanded to abortion, gay marriage, support for theocracy and a willingness to ignore issues such as torture, war and poverty that would require going against Republican orthodoxy (surprisingly outside of abortion there’s little discussion of the religious right’s deeprooted misogyny). This came out 15 years ago, but age hasn’t made it less relevant; definitely worth reading if the material isn’t familiar.

Marguerite Bennett’s second volume of ANIMOSITY: The Dragon has Jesse, Zandor and a handful of other friendly animals encounter a malevolent lammergeier whose organized a cult of hungry beasts into preying on everyone who comes into their territory; in between dodging danger, everyone discusses religion, life goals and how take care of a kid like Jesse in this strange new world. Strikes me as Kamandi: The Early Years, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.My brother’s birthday gift to me included DAVID NIXON’S BOOK OF MAGIC, a childhood gift to me and my sister that my bro stumbled across somewhere. I don’t remember Nixon, a stage magician and TV personality, but I do remember his puppet-fox sidekick, Basil Brush, who gets a couple of humorous stories in this book. Along with the stories there’s a bio of Nixon, some tips on magic and a few tricks, and several puzzles and games. Amusing nostalgia, and sooner or later I’ll  try Nixon’s method for identifying the card someone selected.

#SFWApro. Covers by Perez and Jack Kirby, all rights remain with current holders.

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Comics covers for Tuesday

I’d thought I’d have a real post, but last week’s activities coupled with our house guest have thrown my schedule way off.

First Luis Dominguez captures our mixed feelings on schooling in a time of pandemic. And yet he drew it in 1977!Dick Dillin shows a city where everyone but the ETs is still practicing social distancing.

John Romita’s cover makes me want to read this issue. Is Michael going to show? Or will it turn out the dude she’s with is Mr. Right after all?

Another Romita romance cover setting up heartbreak. Dude, the answer to your question is, just say it!#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Jennings, a Genius and television: books read

JENNINGS AND DARBISHIRE by Anthony Buckeridge wraps up that omnibus volume TYG bought me, as Jennings and Darby’s efforts to launch a Form Three newspaper leads to stuffing a parcel of fish up the chimney, wandering on the Sussex moors in the dead of night, trying to master algebra, eating way too many donuts and learning the dark secrets of Mr. Wilkins’ past. While I don’t feel the urge to seek out any more of the series just now, this was a fun one to wrap up with.

EVIL GENIUS by Catherine Jinks is a bizarrely engaging twist on that popular figure of Y/A and younger fiction, the Precocious Kid Too Smart To Fit In. The perpetually frustrated, outcast Cadel discovers he inherited his brains from his supervillain father, who then enrolls Cadel at the equivalent of Evil Hogwarts to train him into a master criminal. This is a lot of fun, though it runs out of steam at the end — the action packed climax doesn’t fit the rest of the book, and Cadel spends much of it acted upon rather than acting.

I read WELCOME TO THE DREAMHOUSE: Popular Media and the Postwar Suburbs by Lynn Spigel primarily because her chapter on paranormal sitcoms such as Mork and Mindy is relevant to Alien Visitors. Spigel’s thesis, which my friend Ross had told me about, is that the sitcoms subvert the cliches about suburban life much the way an ethnic family might have done in the 1950s — The Addams Family, for example, shows that while the Addams are unfailingly friendly and helpful to the neighbors, their utter nonconformity makes them outcasts.

Despite Spigel’s academic writing style, the rest of the book proved interesting too. Spigel discusses how TV was initially presented as a way to stay home with the family while seeing the world, the influence on family dynamics, the use of sitcom images as a version of historical reality, and The Truman Show‘s take on suburban domesticity as a trap.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

 

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Biblical womanhood and other undead sexist matters

Working on Undead Sexist Cliches, one thing I keep running across is the deep misogyny of the religious right. We have John Piper, who insists even if you’re dating Black Widow, in a danger situation, you do the fighting…but if the husband slaps his wife around, she has to suck it up. In the male supremacist world of complementarian theology, a man who fails in his duty to care for his wife is less of a problem than a woman who defies her man by not letting him assault her.

THE MAKING OF BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr describes the Southern Baptist author’s realization that complementarianism — the belief women and men have separate spheres and neither should intrude on the other — wasn’t what Piper and similar preachers said. They claimed that by steering Christianity away from the fallen world of “egalitarian” feminist thinking, they were keeping it pure and apart from the world. In reality, their embrace of rigid gender roles simply embraced secular male supremacy and made it Christian (as noted at the link above, separate spheres wasn’t seen as Biblically mandated until women’s liberation was established in the 1970s).

Barr argues that Piper, Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson and others of their ilk get there by ignoring the long history of Christian women preaching and witnessing; mistranslating the Bible to eliminate women’s roles (e.g., women deacons referenced in the New Testament get downgraded because they’re inconsistent with women’s roles) and reinterpreting the Pauline epistles. Barr argues that by Roman standards, what stands out is not Paul saying women must obey their husbands but a)setting responsibilities on husbands and b)addressing his directives to both of them, instead of telling the husband as secular thinkers of the time would have.

This focuses much more on theological issues than my own writing and thinking, but I still rate it excellent.

Now, some links:

The pandemic has hurt women’s careers as they struggle to both work and care for kids stuck at home. Unsurprisingly, conservatives are spinning this as women happily choosing family over career. We’ve been through this before.

A North Carolina bill would raise the age for marriage in this state from 14 to 18. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger is blocking its passage.

The “birthing people” controversy.

Stacey Abrams writes romances. Tucker Carlson thinks this is hysterical.

““It doesn’t matter who you are, what your life is, your situation, who you surround yourself with, how strong you are, how smart you are. You can always be taken advantage of. ” — singer Billie Ellish on abusive relationships.

Teargas can mess up menstruation.

 

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