Category Archives: Comics

Jetpacks, Hulk and Supergirl: books read

As a kid, it seemed as inevitable we’d be flying to work on jetpacks by the 21st century, just like we’d have a lunar colony. Thus I was thrilled to order JETPACK DREAMS: One Man’s Up and Down Search (But Mostly Down) For the Greatest Invention That Never Was by Mac Montandon … and much less thrilled to read it. While this covers the history of jetpack as real-world tech adequately enough, along with appearance in TV, comics and movies from Gilligan’s Island to Thunderball to The Rocketeer, Montandon devotes far too much of the book to talking about himself.  How it was inspired by a mid-thirties crisis, his family’s experiences at a jet pack convention, his road trips to talk to jet-pack designers (people are still hopeful) …

This works in a book like Catch and Kill where the work to get the story becomes part of the story, but here it’s just tedious. And he makes one sloppy error, referring EE Smith’s The Skylark of Space as a person, not a spaceship (minor in the context of this topic, but still annoying). I wish he’d written more about the problems with jetpacks — while he covers the big ones (a pack with enough fuel for a long flight is heavy), one former pilot mentions in passing the problems with avoiding mid-air collisions — more on that would have helped. As is, a pretty feeble book that I’ll give away soon (not the first time I’ve regretted an impulse purchase).

IMMORTAL HULK: Or Is He Both? by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett opens some time after Hawkeye killed Bruce Banner in a crossover event (unlike so many TPBs that leave me guessing about this stuff, the ending includes the relevant backstory); now he’s somehow alive, wandering the country and trying to only hulk out when there’s someone who needs smashing. But there are things about the Hulk that Bruce has never fully understood, like the reasons he can never die forever …

When I read V3 of this run I wasn’t impressed, but V8 worked a lot better for me, so I decided to start from the beginning. Ewing says he grew up with the Hulk cartoon of the 1980s and was quite stunned to read a collection of the first Hulk series and realize Hulk could also be a figure of horror. While most reviews describe the book as horror, as I said reading Hulk in Hell, it’s not that different from the stuff superheroes deal with on a regular basis. But it’s well done, even though I’m not a Hulk fan, so I’ll continue with the series.

SUPERGIRL: Daughter of New Krypton by Sterling Gates and Jamal Igle is a good example of not providing context: this is part of a big Superman event involving New Krypton (the Kryptonian survivors had set up a new planet in our Solar System) and several key events take place between the issues collected here. On the plus side, Gates writes a good Supergirl, decent but still a little insecure, and unsure how to balance her Kryptonian and human lives. Unfortunately  it didn’t take as DC’s kept rebooting Supergirl over and over (they did that pre-Crisis too, but only to the extent of changing her job, her supporting cast, etc.). I haven’t seen a better take since Gates’, though.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jack Kirby, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Disappointments of Marvel’s Early Years

As I recently observed over at Atomic Junkshop, for all the praise Marvel gets for reinventing comics, much of its early Silver Age stuff was mediocre; the company’s rep rested on the A-list work of Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. Case in point, THOR: God of Thunder, which collects the first year and a half of  the thunder god’s Marvel run. While Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are best associated with Thor in this era, there are multiple different creators working on the strip, which explains why it’s so “meh.”

In the first story, Dr. Don Blake is trapped in a cave during the invasion of the Stone Men of Saturn. Having dropped his cane (he has a bum leg), he finds a walking stick in the cave and discovers when he strikes it on the ground he transforms into Thor, Norse god of thunder! A few issues later, Thor’s brother Loki attacks him; he and everyone in Asgard just accepts Don as the Thor (this wouldn’t be explained for a decade). Which I can overlook because bringing Asgard into the book was much more interesting than the uninspired Red agents and thugs Thor fought otherwise.

f course, even without Thor, Dr. Blake doesn’t make much sense: depending on the story he’s a brilliant neurosurgeon, a G.P. or a tech genius who builds androids. Even Asgard doesn’t help much at times — Loki runs around playing pranks much like Mxyzptlk in Superman stories. Blake becomes the first of Lee’s disability cliches, wishing he could express his love for Jane but he can’t because he’s — a cripple! Late in the book they ditch that idea in favor of having Odin forbid Thor from marrying a mortal, which would be the dominant obstacle for several years. It generated much better melodrama, as did Lee and Kirby whenever they were writing the book (from most accounts, Kirby was really down with writing about mythology). For the moment though, it’s a second string book.

MARVEL MASTERWORKS: The Human Torch suffers from similar problems, including the assorted creative teams working on it. The Golden Age Human Torch was one of Marvel’s few A-listers, so it’s not surprising they tried Johnny Stor as a solo act. The result is a stock teen superhero story (more stock than Spider-Man or Supergirl as Johnny’s not as independent — he’s still answering to the FF and particularly his sister) which even gave Johnny a secret identity in the early stories (they eventually explained “well, you wanted to have a normal teen life so we pretended we didn’t know you were the Torch.”). And it’s very weird how the Human Torch can use his flame like Green Lantern’s power ring, forming nets, saws, darts …

On the plus side, this does set up Johnny’s long frenemy relationship with Spider-Man, and introduced a number of long-running villains (Trapster, Wizard, Eel), as well as a villain impersonating Captain America (the response led to the resurrection of Cap in Avengers). Still, it wasn’t the success they’d hoped for; by the end of this collection the Thing had guest-starred and he’d soon be c0-star (and Dr. Strange had become a much superior backup feature). It didn’t help — “Agents of SHIELD” took over the slot.

As a big fan of Count of Monte Cristo, I picked up a copy of COUNT by Ibrahim Moustafa. An SF reworking, it has the protagonist, like Edmund Dantes, sentenced to life in an inescapable prison by three schemers. Years later, though, he does escape, bent on revenge, despite warnings that he should use his newly acquired wealth to make the world better, not simply satisfy his bloodlust. Will he gain revenge? Will he listen to the better angels of his nature? While I can’t say the answers are surprising, I did enjoy the telling.

WITCH DOCTOR: Under the Knife by Brandon Seifert and Lukas Ketner introduces us to Vincent Morrow, a doctor come occultist dealing with possession, changelings, being a Chosen One (he’d rather not be, but Excalibur picked him), Cthulhu’s fleas (“When the Great Ones came to our dimension, some creatures hitched a ride.”) and the magical bureaucracy, ably assisted by EMT Gast and freakish nurse Penny Dreadful. While I’m glad I went with a library copy than buying, What If Dr. House Became Dr. Strange made for a good read.

#SFWApro. Covers by Jack Kirby, all rights to images remain with current holder.

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Post-apocalyptic adventures and a retconned Hulk

THE ATOMIC KNIGHTS by John Broome and Murphy Anderson was an early 1960s series in DC’s Strange Adventures, set after the devastating WW III of 1986. Anti-radiation treatments have protected humans from fallout, but all plant and animal life is gone. Canned food is the only source; give someone a stockpile of cans and the energy-weapons to protect it and people will crawl at his feet to feed their families.

Enter Gardner Grayle, literally the average man (the exact average of the atomic-age American soldier). When he discovers some ancient armor in a museum is proof against rayguns (a freak bit of metallurgy) he organizes the Atomic Knights, a Round Table type fellowship devoted to rebuilding civilization. Fighting against ignorance, battling petty tyrants and occasional oddness (alien invaders, time-tossed Atlanteans) they set out to remind a world of might-makes-right that might should serve right.

This series was a lot of fun, though a later retcon story in the 1980s felt that was unacceptable: nuclear war will be bad, it shouldn’t be written as a fun adventure. While it is certainly true that post-WW III won’t be gloriously exciting, I still love the series. Though they could have done better by the one female knight, Marene, who serves primarily as Gardner’s love-interest.

THE RAMPAGING HULK by Doug Moench and various artists blew me away when I first read it back in the late 1970s (it was a black and white magazine released to cash in on the Hulk TV show). The story, involving the Hulk and sidekick Rick Jones battling some rather stupid alien invaders, didn’t grab me. What did was that it was a retcon set in the early Silver Age, with the Hulk running into the X-Men, Namor and the Avengers members in the period between his original book getting canceled (something Tom Brevoort discusses here) and his return in the first issue of Avengers.

That kind of retcon has become common since, but at the time I’d never seen anything like it. Sure, Roy Thomas set his Invaders back in WW II, but that continuity meant little to me back then; early Silver Age was my childhood, even if I was more DC than Marvel. Having Hulk interact with the original X-Men or Namor grieving after his people abandoned him was just soooo cool.

However as several older fans pointed out it was also quite discontinuous. When Hulk’s first series wrapped up Hulk was still speaking English (though rougher, more blue-collar English than Bruce Banner). Changing back and forth had nothing to do with his anger; he did it with a ray machine. Moench, however, wrote the Bronze Age Hulk who spoke pidgin and changed when he got angry. Whether it was low sales or the complaints, Moench wrapped up the storyline in #9 and switched to contemporary stories closer to the tone of the TV show. As I didn’t care for that era of the original series, I left it unfinished.

#SFWApro. Covers by Murphy Anderson and Ken J. Barr.

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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.

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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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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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Hawk and Dove, algorithms and applies, plus Hellfire!

After my recent Atomic Junk Shop post on Hawk and Dove, I realized I didn’t have the complete miniseries that launched the 1990s reboot of the characters. Ordering HAWK AND DOVE: Ghosts and Demons by Barbara Kesel, Karl Kesel and Rob Liefeld plugged that gap. Hank Hall is back in college (after a stint in Nicaraguan jail for trying to overthrow the Sandinistas), trying to start his regular life over while occasionally fighting crime as Hawk. Then a woman turns up claiming to be the new Dove, the identity taken by Hank’s dead brother Don. Hank is not happy and determined to find out who’s behind the mask. Then there’s Kestrel, a claw-fingered psychopath who’s determined to become Hank’s new partner for reasons of his own.

This was a fun five issue mini-series, like the ongoing one that followed. Making Hawk and Dove avatars of War and Chaos was a great idea, and it’s a shame later writers dropped it.

WEAPONS OF MATH DESTRUCTION: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by mathematician Cathy O’Neil looks at how Big Data algorithms have become increasingly popular as a totally rational way to evaluate college applications, job applicants, figure where to prioritize policing and so on. Unfortunately they’re put together by people, which often results in perpetuating biases or social inequities. As O’Neil says, if colleges in 1960 had an algorithm to evaluate applications, it might have noticed that male graduates do much more with their education than women (it was still legal to discriminate against women in hiring back then); obviously men are better suited to college than women! A lot of this is stuff I’ve read about before, but O’Neal does a good job putting it together. That said, I don’t buy that Big Data is the real issue in some of the examples she cites; it may make it easier for Facebook to curate political news and shape what we see, but Fox and Rush Limbaugh were sucking people into their alternate facts years earlier.

Lisa Goldstein’s IVORY APPLES is a welcome return to form after her disappointing Weighing Shadows. Protagonist Ivy is niece to Maeve, the reclusive author of the eponymous cult classic fantasy (I thought of her as Harper Lee if To Kill a Mockingbird had been a fantasy, though Goldstein has said her influence was Lud-in-the-Mist author Hope Mirrlees). Enter Kate, an initially friendly, then creepy woman who insinuates herself into Ivy’s family, takes over and proceeds to gaslight and abuse everyone (Goldstein describes her as Evil Mary Poppins though she reminds me of Diana Wynn Jones’ Aunt Maria) — if that’s is a trigger for you, think twice about reading this. Ivy flees and takes to the streets for three years, then decides she has to return home and help her siblings. But Kate wants to find Maeve and she’s not giving up until she does …

Goldstein’s magical realist work is always a little off-the-wall, and this is no exception. It feels like a rather grim Y/A mashed up with a fantasy about children’s fiction (something she’s done before — I must reread Dark Cities Underground soon) and creativity. Tying creativity to some sort of magical muse is a concept that has come to annoy me; while it’s not a dealbreaker, it did bug me some. Overall, though, I liked this one.

As a fan of The AvengersHellfire Club episode and the Marvel Hellfire Club inspired by that episode, I was interested to learn about the real club in Evelyn Lord’s THE HELLFIRE CLUBS: Sex, Satanism and Secret Societies. Unfortunately the book was a major disappointment: while I’m not surprised to learn the club’s reputation for diabolism and blasphemy was exaggerated, the reveal that they mostly sat around drinking, whoring and maybe talking atheism and politics (“maybe” because the Club’s activities were secret and there’s still little known for sure) hardly requires writing a book.

Apparently Lord couldn’t make a book out of it as she brings in multiple other clubs (the Mohocks, the Beggars Benison) with similar reputation only to assure us they weren’t as black as they were painted either. Another problem is that Lord’s a ploddingly dull writer. If this had been shaped as a narrative it might have held my interest but instead the information just sits there like a lump puddying.

#SFWApro. Covers by Rob Liefeld (top) and John Byrne (bottom).



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Two noteworthy failures: LGX: Tempest and the Golems of Gotham

When League of Extraordinary Gentlemen debuted, it blew me away. The final volume, Tempest, barely rates a “meh.” Creators Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (who did the cover here) didn’t stick the landing, but then the series has been on a downward path for a while. I don’t think I actually hate Tempest as much as Century: 2009, and there’s maybe less rape than usual, but that’s hardly a thumbs up.

The plot pits Mina, Orlando and Emma Peel against James Bond, who’s recovered his youth in the waters of Kor. While Emma tries to take out Bond, Mina recruits Jack Nemo to reach the Blazing World and Prospero. It turns out Prospero has his own plan for the world, however, and it’s finally coming to a climax. A second plot involves the Seven Stars, a team of public domain British superheroes Mina organized in the 1960s (cue Moore’s tedious grumblings about how worn out and overdone superheroes are). This storyline comes off like a parody, but it isn’t funny.

The plot threads multiple increasingly, complicated with flashbacks, until I lost track of who was doing what to whom.  There’s more heavy-handed name dropping, like a pointless imitation of Sheldon Moldoff’s cover for “Robin Dies at Dawn” which serves no purpose. And much like Black Dossier, the good guys are ultimately useless. Ultimately they abandon Earth to its fate and go ff to have fun among the stars. The final chapter has Moore and O’Neill snickering at readers for wanting more “Bloomsbury Justice League” and other things (though they pass over readers who dislike the rape elements and the racial stereotyping). The results weren’t good but I’ve added them to my LGX Timeline nonetheless.

Thane Rosenbaum’s THE GOLEMS OF GOTHAM has a teenage girl, Ariel, create a golem and summon her grandparents — Holocaust survivors who killed themselves before she was born — to occupy it (she bases the combination of letters used in the ritual on an alphanumeric code derived from the numbers in their camp tattoos). She hopes they can help snap her dad Oliver, a mystery writer, out of his writers’ block.

Ariel summons her grandparents but also several writers’ ghosts, all Holocaust survivors and suicides, who proceed to turn the Big Apple upside down. Smoke reminds the “golems” of the death-camp crematoriums so they remove all sources of smoke. The pinstriped New York Yankee uniforms remind them of camp uniforms so they erase the stripes. Tattoos are contrary to Jewish law so poof, no more tattoos. And Rosenbaum apparently hates feel-good Holocaust films like Schindler’s List (I’ve seen the movie and that is definitely not how I’d describe it) so the golems erase that and other movies (the narration rants that saving Jews is meaningless, it’s the deaths that are important!). They’re also horrified that Holocaust denial is a thing — that’s outrageous, nobody denies the ugly truth about slavery (which was bullshit even then)!

While I’m sympathetic to some of Rosenbaum’s points, such as the hollowness of “never again,” a lot of what he had to say is unconvincing. The novel’s discussion of Art! and how it comes from Suffering! (those writers committed suicide because as artists they couldn’t put away their memories of the camps) didn’t do much better. I don’t think it holds up as a work of fiction, either: the mix of Holocaust tragedy with humor doesn’t work (particularly the sort-of lighthearted ending) . Then there’s an entire chapter where Ariel gives some of the ghosts physical form to enjoy New York but at the end of the chapter Rosenbaum announces none of that happened, it was only a What if. That’s nowhere near as clever as it probably looked in his head.

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