Category Archives: Reading

Doomsday Times Two, and more: books read.

DOOMSDAY MORNING, which I mentioned last week, was C.L. Moore’s last novel and decidedly different from her usual work. Rohan, once a theatrical star, is now a migrant farm worker in a dystopian near-future America run by the sinister Comus (Communications of the U.S.), which drags him back onto the stage to perform in a traveling show in parts of rebellion-prone California. But why does the show have to be done exactly as written? What’s the meaning of Rohan’s strange dreams. And what is the mysterious Anti-Comus weapon the rebels are supposedly developing.

This was a good, though grim book, very much of its time in some ways; Comus is all-seeing but via psychological testing and monitoring rather than the surveillance tech they’d use today. As I said last week, the theater stuff is dead-on, which was a plus for me. However the various mental compulsions laid on Rohan frequently make him little more than a puppet rather than a free agent.

DOOMSDAY: A Remy Jones Adventure by Heather Elizabeth King is urban fantasy in an off-the-wall setting: a post-apocalyptic, corporate-run city where we have outcast mutants, magic, and a team of magic-powered superheroes (with Heroine Complex going the same route, I wonder if it’s a trend), not to mention a hunky manbeast named Vincent (and obvious reference to the 1980s Beauty and the Beast TV series). The urban fantasy aspects of mutant Remy Jones (one odd point is that the mythos term for mutants is “parasite”) hunting down a zombie making sorcerer didn’t work for me, as I’m not much of an urban fantasy fan, but I give King (whom I met and bought the book from at Mysticon) credit for doing something different from most of the books I read in the genre.

ROUND ABOUT THE EARTH; Circumnavigation from Magellan to Orbit by Joyce E. Chaplin looks at the history of round-the-world journeys, starting with Magellan’s attempt to reach China, then following through Sir Francis Drake, James Cook and other explorers to the development of commercial tourist trips and then on to railroad, plane and rocket (with sidelines such as several attempts to bicycle around the Earth). This starts well and has interesting thoughts on how growing national cooperation made things easier (the more ports you can stop in, the simpler it is to restock your boat with provisions) but too much of the book is just a list of This Person Went Around The World, Then This Person, Then This Other Person … I got bored.

CAPTAIN BRITAIN by Alan Davis and Jamie Delano was the final collection of Brian Braddock’ superhero adventures before he became part of the Excalibur super-team. While there’s the usual action and peril, it’s surprisingly gentle too. Brian accidentally kills someone in a fight, but the guy’s parents don’t freak out or send anyone to kill him — they know what their son was like and they sympathize with Brian. Dai Thomas, “the cop who hates superheroes” from Chris Claremont’s early run on the series shows up again and apologizes for being a jerk to Brian. And everything ends on a note of peace and affection. That doesn’t sum up the book but after years of reading comics, that’s wht jumps out at me.

SUPERGIRL SILVER AGE V1 by (mostly) Jerry Siegel and Jim Mooney reprints Supergirl’s Silver Age adventures up to the point Superman’s ready to reveal her existence to the world. This goes slightly past the stories collected in Showcase Presents Supergirl (it skips a couple of crossovers into other Superman Family books to fit it all in) but the added stories are frustrating.The long arc of Supergirl being replaced by her Kandorian lookalike Lesla-Lar (probably my favorite Supergirl villain), ends with Mxyzptlk as a deus ex machina (thwarting Lesla Lar’s plans without even realizing it). This appears to start an arc where he’s made Supergirl more powerful than Superman, but instead we get two stories of Supergirl undergoing freaky red kryptonite transformations (red k could always provide enough weirdness to fill an issue) and then it’s done. I half wonder if the editors made Siegel cut the Lesla-Lar arc short, or if he just ran out of ideas. As I said reviewing the Showcase, fun but YMMV.

#SFWApro. Art is uncredited all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Science and comic book science fiction covers

Once again, a mix of visuals and interesting links.

A thought experiment suggests at least one of quantum mechanics’ principles (the theory is universal; it’s consistent; and two contradictory facts cannot both be true) are wrong.

How the right wing came to embrace the anti-vaxxer movement. Oh, and Russia helped.

“Someone I was dating asked me if I could reschedule my period so it didn’t coincide with his birthday.” A look at things too many men don’t know about women’s bodies.

How worried should we be about facial recognition software?

Andrew Wiles cracked Fermat’s last theorem. He almost blew it.

Researchers look at black genes to explain racial differences when they should be focused on black lives.

IP mapping and its discontents. An article at Citylab argues this is one reason why print maps are still useful.

“Most people struggle with the idea that medicine is all about probability.” A look at why a lot of what doctors do to treat us doesn’t make a difference.

#SFWApro. All covers by Gil Kane, rights to covers remain with current holder.

 

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Airboy, hero of the indie comics skies!

So having written about the Unwritten series last week, I thought I’d tackle a less arty, but still enjoyable series today, Eclipse Comics’ 1986-89 Airboy (I finished up the series last year, using TPBs to fill gaps in my original run).

Airboy was a revival of the hit WW II character, who started in Air Fighters from Hillman and eventually took it over. How could he miss? A teenage boy taking the fight to the Axis in his personal plane, Birdy — and better yet, the plane has wings that flap, making it the most maneuverable thing in the skies (never mind whether it’s aerodynamically sound, the point is it just looks so cool!).

The premise of the Eclipse version is that Davy Nelson Jr. is the son of the original Airboy. His father has always been distant, and Davy doesn’t discover Dad’s true history until after his death. Inevitably, with the help of his father’s right hand, Hirota (a Japanese ace dad shot down during the war) Airboy steps into his father’s shoes. With the help of some of his father’s old friends, such as Skywolf, the Iron Ace and the Heap (the prototype for Swamp Thing and Man Thing), Davy, Birdy and Hirota go up against Misery, a demon of suffering whose flying fortress, the Air Tomb, holds the souls of aviators who die in despair. It turns out he’s also holding Valkyrie, a reformed Nazi aviator he captured on the eve of her wedding to Davy Sr. Sparks immediately fly between the new Airboy and Valkyrie (she hasn’t aged any) but he’s freaked out by the idea of dating his father’s girlfriend.

The stories are fun, action-packed and as I said last month, don’t use the retro aspect of the series to perpetuate sexist/racist cliches. The action jumps from the US to Central America to the USSR and Afghanistan, pitting Davy and his crew against drug dealers, dictators, werewolves and the living dead (Misery’s work). In the process he has to grow up fast, get a handle on his relationship with Val and wrest back control of his father’s aviation company, which Dad had largely neglected as Misery worked on his soul.

Although I associate Airboy writer Chuck Dixon with being anti-gay and very conservative, a lot of readers thought of his Airboy work as ultra-left wing, for example because it criticized US support for Latin American dictatorships (one of whom has Reagan’s autographed photo on his desk). This may be partly because Eclipse editor Catherine Yronwode was way to the left of Dixon, but from his responses to letters, he seems to have been perfectly comfortable with those choices (he also has a long history of writing capable women, having been the original writer on Birds of Prey).

In the final arc of the series, Davy learns how Misery captured Val on the eve of her wedding to his father, and how losing her broke Dad, leaving him writhing under Misery’s influence the rest of his days … until his soul ended up on the Airtomb. Davy rallies his allies and takes the fight to Misery, destroying the Airtomb (temporarily) and apparently dying himself. The next arc would have involved Davy finding himself in Africa, where he winds up battling with a Tarzan-type white jungle god.

But it wasn’t to be. In the last issue, Yronwode said she and Dixon were both a little uncomfortable with the idea of a teenage boy shooting bad guys for no better motivation than his father doing it — plus, Kid With Guns Killing People raises hackles in a way killing people with mutant powers doesn’t. And while both she and Dixon liked political stories, they invariably got flak for them, yet they didn’t want to rely purely on supernatural villains or bad guys it was acceptable to kill (child molesters, drug dealers, etc.). All of which wouldn’t have mattered if sales were stellar but they’d been dropping. So game over.

But while it lasted, Airboy was a kick.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Tim Truman, uncredited and Joe Kubert, all rights remain with current holder.

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Is authenticity a white people’s illusion?

That’s LGM blogger Erik Loomis’s argument in a response to a WaPo article by Mexican American John Paul Bremmer on why people should stop expecting him to eat “authentic” food. Bremmer jokes that he’s from a Mexican family that can’t cook (“I had already discussed all the recipes in our family tree after just two essays.”). His family’s Mexican food in childhood came from Taco Bell.

Bremmer looks at white folks craving “authenticity” in their Mexican food and concludes “it assures the visitor that whatever they’re experiencing, be it a meal or a poem or a human being, is rarefied and exotic, something they can’t get anywhere else. People going about their ordinary lives, whatever their ordinary lives look like, don’t have to think about authenticity any more than my mother has to think about whether her microwaved eggs and bacon in bread is ‘Mexican.’ At that point, calling something authentic can help you sell it.”

Conversely, Mexican food that doesn’t fit what people expect is dubbed inauthentic (CityLab discusses whether “authentic” means anything other than ‘customers like it.’). “Heritage and tradition are important, there’s no doubt. But it’s also important to free our imaginations from the tyranny of authenticity … Our culture — any culture — isn’t static. It is a living thing. It pulls from its surroundings to adapt in a world that in equal turns marginalizes and fetishizes it. The truth is, I see myself more in Taco Bueno, in my abuela sacking the salsa bar, in the Parmesan crispy taco, than I do in whatever Yelpers think is authentic.”

Which reminded me a lot of Michal Wojcik’s recent post about children of immigrants being told drawing on their homeland culture is inauthentic: they’re not part of it, they can’t claim it. So they only “authentic” thing they can write is immigrant fiction.

I don’t think authenticity is all about the outside view. Preeti Chhibber at Book Riot expresses her fondness for books about Indian characters by Indian authors who know the culture. In An Offer We Can’t Refuse, George di Stefano wrote about how much of The Godfather connected with him for being so very Italian (no, not the part where Italians are all mobbed up).

But at the same time, I do think Bremmer and Loomis raise good points. Most importantly, Loomis argues that whether food is “authentic” has nothing to do with whether it’s good; I’d say the same is often true of fiction. I could certainly write a more authentic story of being an English ex-pat in America than NK Jemisin but the odds are she’d write a better story; that’s why she won all those Hugos.

And authenticity really is subjective when we judge a culture we don’t know. Daniel José Elder’s Shadowshaper felt authentic when I read it, but as I said at the time “if he were pulling it all out of his butt, I wouldn’t have a clue.”

It is important to get it right, whatever “it” is, but if that required “authentic” writing then we’d have nothing to draw on but personal experience. Take CL Moore’s Doomsday Morning, which I just finished. The story involves a theatrical troupe caught up in a government plot and the stage details are just perfect. Struggling to come up with stage business to fill a slow expository scene. Adapting to theater in the round when you only know conventional staging. Rehearsing your lines until they feel absolutely canned, then finally feeling them sound spontaneous again.

Did Moore have a lot of theater experience? I can’t find any reference to it, which doesn’t prove anything (if it was community or college, biographers might not know); maybe she talked to someone who does have experience and listened. But I don’t care whether it’s her authentic experience or not, because she got it right.

#SFWApro. Shadowshaper cover photo by Michael Frost, cover design by Christopher Stengel; all rights to images remain with current holder.

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Gods, clones, superheroes and flappers: this weeks reading

After the disappointing filler of Wicked and the Divine V3 the series gets back to form with THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE: Rising Action by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McElvie. It turns out Ananke’s murder of Laura, the groupie recently turned into Persephone, didn’t take; Persephone’s back but can she convince the other gods that Ananke has an agenda they need to stop? As odd and absorbing as always — though it suddenly struck me how odd it is one of the deities is Baphomet, as he wasn’t any sort of a god (confused crusaders identified him as the god worshipped by Muslims, but he was never actually worshipped by anyone).

X-23: Family Album by Mariko Tamaki and Juann Cabal was an exercise in frustration: the character bits are good, the action scenes are good and the creators are capable but the whole thing is less than the sum of its parts. Partly that’s because the plot (pitting X23 and her clone sister Gaby against the Stepford Cuckoo Clones of Doom) never made a lot of sense (it’s also really hard to sort out one Stepford clone from another), partly because clone angst is just as annoying as mutant angst; as one clone in DC’s Power Company put it, nobody in the world ever chose to be born so just suck it up.

ASTRO CITY: Aftermaths by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson wraps up the long-running series not by resolving the plotlines in Broken Melody (I presume that will in one of the planned graphic novels) but with three stories dealing with loss, and what happens afterwards. A two-parter spotlighting the man-Corgi superhero G-Dog made me cry (admittedly that’s no great accomplishment when it comes to stories with dogs); a three-parter catches us up on Michael, the protagonist of The Nearness of You in which he learned the wife he loved had been erased from history as collateral damage a cosmic time war. He’s running a support group for people who have similar losses, but how will they react if they learn his story — especially when there’s no way to prove Miranda ever existed. The one part story dealing with a woman learning her father’s final fate was minor, though I do like the idea of a superhuman whose response to police brutality or government overreach is purely defensive (as opposed to Magneto like militarism).

FLAPPERS: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell is not the book I thought it was (my fault for just going by title and not reading the flyleaf) — rather than an overview of the flapper generation, it’s six biographies of prominent artistes of the era, from Zelda Fitzgerald to Josephine Baker to Russian emigre painter Tamara de Lempicka. As a collection of biographies it’s good, as an exploration of flappers in general it isn’t (though it does have a lot of general cultural perspective in the early chapters). And while I agree Zelda and Brit party girl Diana Cooper could reasonably qualify as flappers, I can’t see Baker or de Lempicka making the cut.

Oh, and over on Atomic Junkshop I have a post up about my fondness for DC’s largely ignored 1990s superhero Gunfire.

#SFWApro. Cover by Alex Ross, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Writing about the Unwritten

So it occurred to me a while back that reviewing long-running comics series TPB by TPB doesn’t really convey the overall effect. So as I recently finished rereading the 2009-13 Vertigo series Unwritten, I thought I’d try doing a whole-series review (with spoilers, be warned)

Created by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, the first issue introduces us to Tom Taylor, son of legendary children’s author Wilson Taylor. Wilson’s masterwork is the Tommy Taylor series about a boy wizard (yes, Harry Potter is the template, though not the only one) which has made his son’s life hell. Just imagine if JK Rowling had a son named Harold Potter: the jokes, the fans who want to jump him just for his name, the crazies who insist Harold is no mere boy — he is the real Harry made flesh! That’s Tom’s life.

Then at one con, a young woman named Lizzie Hexam challenges Tom, claiming he’s not Wilson’s son at all. This sets off ripples in fandom, accelerating when Tom, retreating from the fuss, is framed for a series of murders. Oh, and he also meets the Frankenstein monster, who identifies him as a fellow artificial creation, neglected by his father. Tom, Lizzie and reporter Savoy begin investigating what’s going on, and who framed Tommy. Weirdness continues to multiply, such as one man getting transformed into Tommy Taylor’s archfoe, the vampire Ambrosius.

It turns out there’s a secret organization, the Cabal, that has been shaping humanity’s storytelling for centuries. Which stories are remembered? Which are forgotten? Do they teach us war and heroism? That greed is good? That self-sacrifice is good, or a waste of our potential? Inconvenient storytellers are broken, or dispatched by the Cabal’s enforcer, Pullman. And Wilson, a former Cabal agent, is telling stories the Cabal doesn’t like at all. Killing Wilson would only make the stories more popular, so Pullman went out to frame Tom; when that doesn’t work the Cabal launches a scheme to discredit the series with a really horrible book.

It turns out there’s much more going on. The Cabal is an unwitting front for Pullman, who belongs to one of the oldest stories ever created, that of Cain and Abel (which he says was a distortion of true events). The legend that grew around his fight with his brother attracted the attention of Leviathan, an entity that lives on human imagination; because of that, Pullman can’t die, as Leviathan preserves him in story (the relationship between Leviathan and human fiction is symbiotic). Pullman’s goal is to kill the Leviathan so he can die, even though humanity may die with the great cosmic whale.

Wilson, meanwhile, created Tom (who is his son) as a weapon against the Cabal. As belief that Tom=Tommy Taylor grows in fandom, Tom becomes able to tap his counterpart’s magic. Because of the way Wilson raised him, Tom is able to slip in and out of stories, understanding them at fundamental level. He fails to stop Pullman wounding Leviathan but is it possible he can put the whale back together?

It’s a strange epic journey, but it works. Carey and Gross do a great job playing with stories and how they influence us, though the idea we’re all stories to someone else never quite came across. They throw in some great characters such as Pauly Bruckner, a horrible human being Tom accidentally trapped in the Hundred Acre Wood (sans serial numbers) and willing to do anything to get out. They also make effective use of the way the Internet plays such a big role in fandom.

I wasn’t entirely happy with the ending on first read, but it worked better on this go-round. Tom’s fate isn’t quite as dark as I thought and he never does forgive Wilson for using him as a means to an end (I’d remembered some sort of warm hug that never happens).

There are 11 volumes collectiong the series plus Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice, depicting the first Tommy Taylor novel with cuts to show Wilson formulating his master plan. I recommend them all.

#SFWApro. Covers by Yuko Shimizu, all rights remain with current holders.

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Is Our Writers Learning? A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard

Howard says in the introduction that she wrote A CATHEDRAL OF MYTH AND BONE as a way to reinvent the stories she grew up with — myth, fairytale and saints’ lives — for a new era. Howard says hagiographies fascinated her with their “glorious impossibility” and their ties into something bigger and more cosmic; at the same time she didn’t want to replicate the moral preaching that came with them. So we get stories in which ..

  • A woman gets written into her lover’s fiction to the point she stops existing outside it (A Life in Fictions)
  • A woman becomes a saint only to discover it’s damn hard work (The Saint of the Sidewalks).
  • The legend of Camelot is re-enacted on a college campus, with Vivian and Morgan both trying to change the outcome in different ways (Once, Future).
  • Getting answers from oracles requires a painful sacrifice (The Speaking Bone).
  • The Green Knight’s wife gets tired of her husband using her as a pain in his game (The Green Knight’s Wife)
  • In a world where science is part of religious faith, a duelist fights to defend them (The Calendar of Saints).

Speaking Bone was particularly instructive because there really isn’t a plot or a central character; it’s just telling us how this strange, grotesque oracle works. I’ve written stories that were similarly unfocused, but they didn’t sell, so it’s encouraging to see someone do it and sell it (that Howard has a lot more style to her writing than I do didn’t hurt I’m sure).

More generally I find it inspiring to read a story where the magic is believable without making logical sense. As I’ve said before, I hate magical systems so it’s good to see stories where the magic is wild and irrational, without much explanation. It makes me want to write more of them.

The flip side is that sometimes I wanted explanations. Saints Tide is an absorbing story about a dying girl and the way the sea creates saints, but the magical logic of the other stories was lacking; the ending left me feeling there was no connection between the magical events. Which is instructive too.

Overall, though, an excellent collection.

#SFWApro. Cover by Amy Haslehurst, all rights to image remain with current holders.

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Mars, monsters, black hair and copyright: books read

Leigh Brackett’s THE NEMESIS FROM TERRA reads like a mash-up of Brackett’s Martian adventures with her hardboiled movie scripts (she worked on both The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye). It’s set in an era when a powerful Earth corporation has taken over Mars, press ganging lower-class Martians and Earthers to work in the mines (reminding me of Diana Wynn Jones’ joke about how miners in fantasy novels are always slaves, never actual miners). Tough-as-nails protagonist Rick is on the run from the press gang when a Martian seer tells him he’s destined to rule. To succeed, though, he’s got to defeat the corporation, it’s ruthless leader and deal with their mutual interest in an attractive revolutionary (the Bacall to Rick’s Bogart). Plus, of course, a lost city.

This is a grimmer, tougher yarn than most of Brackett’s Mars stories (people smoke a lot more than they do in her other stories too), but it also fits what Edmond Hamilton (Brackett’s husband) saw as the theme of her work: a man who pursues a great dream only to find it hollow. A good story, in any case.

HAIR STORY: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps does an excellent job tracing the history of African-American hair and hairstyles from Africa (where elaborate hairstyles were as much a status marker as a bespoke suit today) through slavery to post-Civil War segregation. In both freedom and slavery, straight “white” style hair became the marker of a superior person (and also more acceptable to the white world); later in the 20th century, the popularity of the Afro (and later dredlocks) led to debate whether this represented True Blackness, meaningless fashion or was just tacky. There’s a lot more stuff covered in the book; while I know some of these issues exist, the authors did a great job making me understand them.

TwoMorrows Publishing’s MONSTER MASH: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze in America, 1957-1972 by Mark Voger looks back to the late 1950s when Universal released its Shock Theater package to TV, containing its classic monster films (and a lot that weren’t so classic), introducing Frankenstein, Dracula and others to a generation of kids who’d never seen them (the last film in the cycle was 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). Kids were blown away (so was I when I encountered the films in syndication a dozen years later), leading to an explosion of marketing (sweat shirts, Aurora models, Count Chocula cereal, board games) and TV spinoffs such as The Munsters (surprisingly Voger never mentions the film version, Munsters Go Home), The Addams Family and Dark Shadows. Voger argues that while the classic horrors and their spinoffs are still around this era of film horror ended in 1972 as The Exorcist took the genre in another direction. A good job.

HOLLYWOOD’S COPYRIGHT WARS: From Edison to the Internet by Peter Decherney, shows how copyright struggles were part of the movie industry from the early days, when it wasn’t clear if copyright applied to photography (if you just photographed real life, what creativity was there to protect?), let alone to films, which were seen as collections of photographs. Following that debate would come battles over pirating other studios’ films (a common problem in the early years), adapting books and plays for the screen, whether TV editing movies violated creator rights (the Monty Python were one of the few who won that fight, when they sued ABC for butchering their skits for a late-night showing), then into the age of the VCR, DVD and Internet (while I’m more familiar with the issues of this period, Decherney still told me a lot I didn’t know). An excellent job.

#SFWApro. Brackett cover art is uncredited; all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Doc Savage, Man of — Gun-Metal Grey? The Nemesis of Evil by Lin Carter

Previously I’ve looked at the Doc Savage pastiches The Mad Goblin and Doc Sidhe to take a break from the real series. This month, it’s the first of Lin Carter’s books about Zarkon, Lord of the Unknown: THE NEMESIS OF EVIL from 1975.

We open on a meeting of the Lemurian Wisdom cult, which is using its apparent occultism, mixed with murder, to drain money from wealthy suckers and intimidate anyone who snoops. One snooping reporter has infiltrated the upper levels of the cult, but he’s been made: after the meeting he dies in “invisible flames” (which just means he writhes on the ground and cries out in pain). His publisher calls in Omega, a secret crimefighting NGO led by Prince Zarkon, former monarch of European Novenia. They soon identify Lucifer, the cult leader, as Zandor Sinestro, a scientist who supposedly died in prison after their last battle. His long-range plan is to create a shadow government with wealth and influence enough to run the country. Sinestro’s occult wisdom is fake, of course; the invisible flames are just an obscure, untraceable poison.

While Lin Carter was an amazing editor for Ballantine Books’ fantasy line, his own work tended to second rate imitations of better writers (Burroughs and Howard primarily). I enjoyed Zarkon when I first read it (pulp pastiches weren’t common in the 1970s) and even when I reread it a few years ago; now that I’m reading with a more critical eye, and with a lot of Doc Savage fresh in my memory, not so much.

For one thing, the cast is way too derivative. Zarkon has black eyes instead of gold, and dresses in gun-metal grey as an imitation of the Man of Bronze. His five-man team includes Scorchy, a two-fisted bantam redhead who constantly squabbles with his elegantly dressed buddy Nick, and a tough but frail looking electrical expert; the woman in the adventure packs a big six-shooter just like Pat Savage and insists on horning in on the action.

Carter’s also a much weaker writer than Lester Dent. After the initial murder, the next few chapters are exposition and talk, with no action and little suspense. Dent never lets things go quiet for that long. Zarkon’s aide Scorchy spouts Irish dialogue right out of a 1930s B-movie. Zarkon’s really not doing very much evil at this point, despite the murder. And the timescale is wonky: it appears to be set in the 1970s or close to it, but Nick talks about performing with Houdini which would put him in his seventies (a later book has a woman in her twenties hanging out with Pat Savage and other pulp women, raising the same problem). And Lucifer’s final defeat is just a freak accident. However a few details do make the book stand out”

  • Zarkon’s origin: he’s a genetically engineered time traveler from the future, sent back to stop criminals like Sinestro from bringing about WW III and the dark age that follows it.
  • Easter eggs: Appearances by pulp and comics characters became a staple of the series; Ace Harrigan, one of Zarkon’s team, is related to Golden Age comics character “Hop” Harrigan for instance. It’s relatively light here — the only one I spotted was a reference to the radio/TV series Big Town.
  • The intro, in which Carter asserts the events in this story are real, only all of the names and a lot of the details have been changed. He explains his intent was to write a nonfiction novel a la In Cold Blood (as someone in Capote’s book references Doc Savage, I suspect that’s another Easter egg); I’m guessing the real reason was Philip José Farmer’s Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life which came out two years earlier and claimed Doc had been real. Alas, claiming a popular fictional character was real is one thing; introducing a made-up character and pretending he’s real doesn’t have the same punch. Especially when you claim a lot of the book is made up anyway.

I don’t anticipate reading the later Zarkon books again.

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

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A disappointing set of books this week

I love Jack Kirby’s post-apocalyptic Kamandi series and I really dug the DC Challenge round-robin limited series (each issue ends on a cliffhanger; the creators of the next issue have to solve it). Combine them for THE KAMANDI CHALLENGE and you get a mess. The story of Kamandi hunting his parents through a post-apocalyptic world of intelligent, evolved animals has many bright moments, like Tom King’s issue (a powerful story with Kamandi stuck in a single room the whole time), but when they get to the end of #12 they apparently couldn’t figure out a solution so they pull a deus ex: Jack Kirby shows up, reveals Kamandi is one of his creations, and that saying his name outloud (“Command D!”) will delete the entire Earth and restore things to normal. What a lousy, stupid resolution that was, the kind that retroactively makes me hate all of it.

METAMORPHO: Two Worlds, One Destiny by writer/artist Aaron Lopresti was this week’s other big disappointment. This New 52 reboot of the shapeshifting chemical freak has him on the run with scientist Sapphire Stagg (this is the first version to give her anything to do besides be beautiful and rich), seeking a cure for his condition but instead winding up on another world. The inhabitants need him to save them, but Sapphire’s corrupt father and the alien tyrant Kanjar Ro both have other plans. This just petered out at the end though, with some disappointing twists and some set-ups not paying off (the implication Kanjar Ro has ties with Simon Stagg just got forgotten). A shame.

DOCTOR STAR and the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows by Jeff Lemire and Max Fiumara is a spinoff of Black Hammer written as a love letter to James Robinson’s 1990s Starman series. While I admire the series too, that didn’t make me any fonder of this routine variation in which “Doctor James Robinson” gets so distracted by adventuring he neglects his family and loses their love; a lot of the themes Cat Stevens did better in Cats in the Cradle.

LAZARUS: Cull (following V4, Poison) by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark reveals a great deal about Forever Carlyle’s backstory and secrets (she’s a clone and the family has another one being trained in the wings) while the Carlyles’ battle with some of the other ruling families continues. Like the previous volumes it’s competent, but nothing I want to spend money on.

Switching away from graphics to novels, FAIR FIGHT by Anna Freeman is a historical novel in which the lives of compulsive gamblers, a gambler’s wife and a female prizefighter intersect and interact over the years. I became interested in reading this after finishing A History of Women’s Boxing and the boxing scenes are certainly good. However they’re only a part of the story and historical novels aren’t my thing (which is not a flaw in the book, of course).

#SFWApro. Top image by Jack Kirby, bottom by Sal Trapani, all rights remain with current holders.

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