Category Archives: Comics

Batman gets a new look: The Caped Crusader in 1964

SHOWCASE PRESENTS BATMAN captures the first year or so of the 1960s’ New Look Batman. Both Batman and Detective Comics had been foundering saleswise due to the emphasis on alien invaders and freak changes to characters——so Julius Schwartz came onboard as editor with his stable of talent (primarily Carmine Infantino, Gardner Fox, and John Broome) working on the stories. The art and style of the stories changed (click on my link above for more details).Among the changes were an increased emphasis on detective work; killing off Alfred in favor of Aunt Harriet (Schwartz said the goal was to dispel the homosexual overtones of Bruce, Dick and Alfred all living together); introducing a new villain, the Outsider (who debuts off-screen in “The Man Who Stole From Batman”); and replacing the clunky SF stories with ordinary crooks or non-costumed villains with distinctive gimmicks. There were some really clever stories such as “Two Way Deathtrap,” which deconstructs death-trap stories — why not just shoot him, as Scott Evil would later say — years before I remember comics doing that.

While it stopped the sales hemorrhaging, the New Look didn’t make Batman into a star; that took the Adam West TV show, which led to a much more gimmicky, campy take on the Caped Crusader. That, in turn, led to a backlash that made Batman, in the hands of Frank Robbins, Irv Novick, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams, a dark figure of the night again (even when he’s fighting in the middle of the desert).I’m not sure how this era plays to someone reading now. I wasn’t that into the New Look as a kid; now that I’ve been rereading the Silver Age, the transition from the previous phase (even though I’m quite fond of 1950s Batman) appeals to me a lot more. But this version of the Masked Manhunter is much lighter in tone than the O’Neil/Adams era, and that’s the one that has defined the character ever since. I’ve already picked up the second volume but YMMV.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Sheldon Moldoff, Carmine Infantino and Neal Adams, all rights to images remain with current holder.

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TV comics, bicycles, romances and Klaus: books!

I picked up AMERICAN TV COMICS BOOKS 1940s — 1980s: From the Small Screen to the Printed Page by Peter Bosch because the idea of devoting a comic book to The Honeymooners, Sgt. Bilko or Welcome Back Kotter must seem like an alternate reality to millennial comics readers.

But back in the 1950s and 1960s, comics routinely turned to TV for spinoff material, some of which made it to series (DC’s Big Town and Mr. District Attorney) to one or two issues of Dell’s Four Color (Bosch also includes specials such as the Saturday Night Live cast teaming up with Spider-Man). While it’s understandable that Westers and detective series made the jump to comics, it’s remarkable how many sitcoms did — even Hee-Haw had a respectable run in comic book form.

This is obviously specialized but if you’re interested in the topic it’s an informative source with some real finds (both Jack Kirby and Gil Kane did unpublished adaptations of The Prisoner, now available in a pricey TPB). However it doesn’t include animated shows — to save space, I assume — and it doesn’t have an index, which is a real pain in the but if I’m looking for a particular actor or show.

TWO WHEELS GOOD: The History and Mystery of the Bicycle by Jody Rosen looks at how the early 19th century Laufsmachine (literally running machine — like Fred Flintstone’s car, riders propelled it by pushing their feet on the ground) and its successors has been variously seen as an indulgence for the rich, a tool of women’s liberation, a vehicle for protesters, a workhorse (the Bangladesh economy runs on a rickshaw/bicycle hybrid) and a practical tool in surprising circumstances (some Yukon prospectors made the trip by bicycle), plus the target of endless flak even before the automobile (horse and carriage riders found 19th century velocipedes just as objectionable). Interesting, if unfocused, so there are some angles, such as women finding freedom on bicycles, that I wish Rosen had gone deeper on.

While at Concarolinas I’d meant to pick up Lucy Blue’s sequel to Guinevere’s Revenge but I wound up with #4 in the Stella Hart Romantic Mystery series, THE PRINCESS AND THE PEONIES. Stella has returned from Hollywood to England for her wedding, but assorted obstacles seem to derail the road to martial bliss, including obnoxious relatives, a burglar and her fiancé’s ex becoming part of the bridal party. The mystery aspect is very slight but as a rom-com it works enjoyably (probably more so if I’d read the two intervening volumes).

TALES FROM THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: YOU LOOK LIKE DEATH by Gerard Way, Shaun Simon and INJ Culbard shows how Klaus became the first of the six to split from Hargreaves, ending up in Hollywood where he discovers drugs and gets involved in a supernatural sequel to Sunset Boulevard (with the serial numbers filed off). Odd but enjoyable, though I’d have preferred a fourth volume in the original series.

#SFWApro. Covers by Robert Oksner, Oksner again and Dave Cockrum.

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Mostly so-so graphic novels this week

THE HUMAN TORCH Vol. 2 wraps up Johnny Storm’s Silver Age strip in Strange Tales, which improves on the first volume but not by much. The improvement is adding Ben Grimm rather than keeping Johnny a solo act but the stories and art — mostly by an assortment of Marvel second-raters — still leave this one of the weakest series of the Silver Age. Switching to Nick Fury, Agent of Shield in #135 was a genius move.

POSTAL by Matt Hawkins, Bryan Edward Hill and Isaac Goodheart, deals with an Asperger’s postal worker in a town where the population consists entirely of wanted criminals. Keeping the peace is essential because they don’t want outside attention but that understanding is beginning to break down … The central character didn’t come off like a character, just a disability, so I dropped this after the first issue.

BITTER ROOT: Legacy by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown and Sanford Greene wraps up the Sangereye saga for now as they struggle to save Earth from a demon invasion and worry all their work against the Jinoo has been nothing but a futile effort. This is a poor finish after the strong opening volume Family Business (and the follow-up, Rage and Redemption): the plotline bounces around so much I really wasn’t clear what was going on or why, or what the final battle with the Nazis means.

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Businessmen, wolves, dinosaurs, titans and Superman: graphic novels read.

In SHERMAN: The Promise New York by Stephen Desberg and Grifo, the eponymous tycoon witnesses his son, a presidential candidate, gunned down in front of him, which soon proves the first move in a campaign of revenge for one of the many dirty deeds in Sherman’s climb from tenement to penthouse. A good start to a multi-volume series.

BATMAN VS BIGBY: Big Wolf in Gotham by Bill Willingham and Brian Level has Batman and Robin investigating a series of monstrous murders where the victims were ripped apart. When they encounter Bigby Wolf from Willingham’s Fables series (which wrapped disappointingly several years back, but has recently started up again) it’s obvious he’s the monster, right? Only what is Bats’ old foe Bookworm doing in the middle of all this? Enjoyable, but it could have been better.

VORACIOUS: Feeding Time and Appetite For Destruction by Markisan Naso and Jason Murh wrap up the series launched with Feeding Time. Time-traveling Nate has had a lot of success feeding dinosaur meet to his diner customers, but he doesn’t realize the dinos come from the past of a parallel world where in the present the descendants of the saurians he’s killed are disappearing from existence. One cop struggling to hold onto the memories of his vanished wife sets out to find the psycho responsible—meanwhile Nate has some surprises to deal with in both his personal and his cooking lives.

The twist was great and V2 is excellent; V3 has some great bits such as Nate’s bestie Starlee calling him out but it needed a couple more issues to wrap things up smoothly (the bits I missed were Nate’s ex Jenna not even getting a goodbye scene and a too-quick resolution to another plotline). But I figure as they did a Kickstarter for Appetite for Destruction they probably couldn’t afford more — and overall, it sticks the landing.

TEEN TITANS: Full Throttle by Adam Glass and Bernard Chang is built around the edgy concept that superheroes need to take their gloves off and play hardball to protect people — oh, wait, sorry, that was novel and sort of edgy in the 1990s, now it’s a cliche. Nor is the cast any better, with Roundhouse (a knockoff of New Warriors‘ speedball) and Djinn (a tormented Raven-esque supernatural) among the uninteresting new members.

SUPERMAN, SON OF KAL-EL: The Truth by Tom Taylor and John Timms has Jon Kent stepping into his father’s shoes as Superman after his father goes off on a mission he’ll never return home from (if you believe this, I have a bridge to sell you). Jon’s struggle to live up to Dad’s legacy are good — who wouldn’t be intimidated at stepping into those shoes? — but otherwise this is dull. The villain, Bendix, is impressively bland, Jon’s relationship with his new boyfriend (this Superman is bi) lacks spark and the Truth website the boyfriend works for doesn’t impress me — it’s supposed to be a scrappy underground paper printing the truth the mainstream media ignore but that description makes me think more of right-wing propaganda networks like OAN.

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

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Women protagonists: some reading

After reading Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich’s LADY KILLER: The Library Edition I can see why Jones got the go-ahead to write and draw Catwoman. The story concerns Josie Schuller, a typical Seattle housewife and mom in 1962 — well, typical if you overlook she earns money on the side as an assassin. In the first volume of this collected edition, Josie has to carry out her jobs, keep her nosy mother-in-law from figuring out what she’s up to and thwart her employer’s decision to have her whacked. In the second, she’s engaged in similar games in the family’s new Florida hometown.

This is most enjoyable, well drawn and I really like that Josie is so matter-of-fact. She’s not unstable or working out her personal issues, she’s just a killer. I was, however, disappointed in the ending; after two volumes of Josie as protagonist, I wanted things to work out better (I’d be more understanding if V3 were on the way but I can’t find any announcements online that it is).

JOAN OF ARC: The Image of Female Heroism by Marina Warner looks at how “the only Saint who was martyred by her own church” in her own era transgressed the standards of gender (fighting and wearing man’s clothes) and nobility (conducting herself as a knight) while presenting her virginity and lack of menstruation (Warner argues there’s good reason for thinking her anorexic) as proof she was transcending rather than transgressing. Conversely, her enemies and judges sought to define her as unchaste, heretical or a witch, then later found good reason for reconsidering (the French king wanted her redeemed so her support would prove he was God’s chosen; the Church saw this as supporting their right to validate monarchs). In later eras she became variously a symbol of patriotism, peasant vigor, Rousseau-ian nature or feminism. A good study.

BE THE CHANGE: Menopausal Superheroes Book Four by Samantha Bryant has the “Liu-vian” metahumans freaking out when their powers run wild; super-strong Fuerte destroys everything he touches while Pam the Lizard Woman finds herself mutating into a more monstrous form and unable to turn back. The adversaries this time out aren’t particularly formidable but the heroes’ personal relationships — particularly Pam dealing with her Mom and step-family — are more than fun enough to make up for it.

WITCHNAPPED IN WESTERHAM: A Paranormal Investigation Bureau Novel by Dionne Lister has the Aussie photographer protagonist drawn into a world of witchcraft and paranormal investigations when a snooty British agent informs the photographer her brother, an investigator for the PIB, has been abducted. Unfortunately the cozy mystery that follows suffers from long, endless exposition explaining the magical world to the newbie so I lost interest fast.

Like that Kana Cold short I read a while back, A STUDY IN MISCHIEF by Lydia Sherrer is a prequel showing how her two series protagonists, a female librarian wizard (born with magic) and male witch (magical talismans and pacts) wound up working together for the first time. The story relies heavily on bantering dialogue but the conversations didn’t work for me at all.

#SFWApro. Cover by Jones, all rights to image with current holder.

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The life and death of Artemis, the new Wonder Woman

As I wrote last week, the death of Ares Buchanan plunged Boston into a gang war as Longo and the widow Sazia both vie for control of the mobs. Longo forms an alliance with the corrupt White Magician; Sazia starts recruiting supervillains. Meanwhile, however, Wonder Woman finds the Amazons.

In a dreadful two parter by guest writer James Owsley (later known as Christopher Priest), Circe reveals that she transported Themyscira away, just to be mean. Outside of his later work on Black Panther, Owsley was a dreadful writer and this is a dreadful couple of issues. Circe’s just a laughing maniac with no discernible connection to the woman Wonder Woman fought before.

However the Amazons are back. Initially, Diana couldn’t be happier. When she lands on Themyscira, though, she discovers the Amazons are shell shocked from what for them has been long years in a nightmare dimension. The Bana-Mighdal Amazons have returned to the fold, but there’s definitely a caste system: the Themysciran Amazons look down on their barbarian cousins. Annoyingly, Mike Deodato depicts the outsider Amazons — dark-skinned in their original appearance, having interbred with Arab men — as lily white, and very much in the 1990s Boobs and Butts style.

When Diana meets her mother, Hippolyta eagerly asks for a performance appraisal: Has her daughter ended patriarchy? Freed oppressed women somewhere? Anywhere? When Diana admits that nothing has changed, her mother proclaims a trial where Diana will compete with the other Amazons to prove she still deserves the title and costume of Wonder Woman (not the first time Wonder Woman’s had to retest).

Diana is hurt by her mother’s disdain. Visiting an Amazon shrine, she also starts receiving visions of her mother’s past. In the visions, contrary to the official story, Hippolyta can’t bring herself to turn against Hercules even after he captures the Amazons and enslaves them. It’s Antiope who takes the lead in freeing them; because she believes Hippolyta will be the better leader, she gives her the credit, then heads off into the world. The idea her mother submitted to Hercules and betrayed her sisters horrifies Diana, as does the implication in the visions that she’s Hercules’ daughter.

Despite freak events, like a whirlpool that only traps Diana, it’s Artemis and Diana neck and neck at the climax. At the last minute, Diana stumbles and Artemis crosses the finish line first. To me it looks like Diana’s angry and threw the race, but it could be the freak events just took too much out of her (Hippolyta’s later confession implies they were her way of ensuring Diana didn’t win). Either way, Artemis heads back to Patriarch’s World in Wonder Woman’s costume.

I’ll pause here and note DC was doing this a lot in the 1990s. After Superman’s death fighting Doomsday, several new heroes came forward claiming to be Superman resurrected. Sales boomed. Before long Bruce Wayne had his back broken, after which a guy named Azrael stepped in to replace him in the suit; and Kyle Rainer replaced the now insane Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. Artemis fit right into this mode.

To Hippolyta’s surprise, Diana refuses to stay on Themyscira, instead returning to Bosto, adopting a new costume (again rather boob-revealing) and working to clean up the town. Things heat up with villains including the Joker, Poison Ivy and Cheshire coming to town; fortunately Diana has an ally in the Cheetah, who goes to work for Sazia but secretly saves Diana (who rescued her in an earlier issue).

Artemis meanwhile takes a hard-core approach to toxic masculinity. She has no qualms beating up sweatshop owners, abusive husbands and rain-forest polluters, unaware it’s all for show: her enemies are actors hired to distract her and defeating them doesn’t improve things at all. This appears to be the White Magician’s work, though I can’t figure out why he’d care — did the big money hire him to deal with her?

Diana has a sense things are moving to a climax but before facing it, she returns to Themyscira to ask her mother about what she saw in the vision. Mom confirms that yes, she did submit to Hercules, though Diana is not his child, and Antiope saved her. She also reveals that she had a vision of her own, that Wonder Woman’s death was inevitable. The contest was her way to cheat fate, by appointing one of the unwanted Bana-Migdhal warriors as Wonder Woman long enough to die. Horrified, Diana flies back to the US to save her sister.

After an encounter with Circe, she realizes the sorceress isn’t herself (a commentary on the Owlsey issues?) and figures out why. As part of her plan to revenge herself on Diana (how she returned after War of the Gods remains unexplained), she turned herself into a sleeper agent, one who could get close to Ares Buchanan and then strike at Diana. Trouble was, she had to erase her memories to avoid Ares detecting her; Donna Milton was now a complete person, one capable of becoming Diana’s friend. When Diana reveals this, Donna freaks out.

Finally it’s time for a showdown with Randolph Asquith, the White Magician. Artemis, having learned he’s been tricking her, attacks first, but Asquith has upped his game. Pacts with hell have made him physically into a major demon, plus he’s turned the Cheetah and his former lover into slave warriors to fight for him. Even after Diana joins the battle, things go badly. Donna, arriving with half of her memories of magic recovered, teleports Barbara Minerva and Asquith’s lover away, evening the odds against Diana (“You’re my only friend.”). Asquith is still nigh unstoppable and deals Artemis a lethal blow. She gives Diana one of her weapons, the gauntlet of Atlas, which  multiples the wearer’s strength by ten; that didn’t make Artemis strong enough to stop Asquith but Diana’s already super-strong. Donna, arriving with half of her memories of magic recovered, teleports Barbara Minerva and Artemis away; Diana, Wonder Woman again, takes Asquith down.

Despite the loose ends it’s an epic end to Messner-Loebs’ run, and with typical touches such as Diana even being able to turn Circe to the light side. John Byrne took over with #101 but as I’m not a fan of his writing I never bought any of that run. I didn’t like the writers who followed him either until Phil Jimenez’ excellent run that started with #164. Now that I have the DC streaming app I can easily read all those issues, but that would amount to a year of stuff (reading at a rate of one issue a week) I don’t particularly care for. So maybe I’ll jump to Jimenez after Messner-Loeb’s spin-off series, Artemis: Requiem.

You’ll find out in my next Wonder Woman blog post.

#SFWApro. Covers by Brian Bolland, all rights to images remain with current holder.

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Assorted graphic novels I’ve read recently, plus a book

THE SALON by Nick Bertozzi is an interesting experiment but not one that worked for me. In early 20th century Paris, a hulking female killer makes savage attacks on the city’s artists; does this relate to the mysterious blue absinthe that lets the artists enter into paintings? This mix of art history and fantasy has some devout fans but it didn’t work for me at all — if I want that mix, I’ll stick with Midnight in Paris.

THE HOUSE OF LOST HORIZONS: A Sarah Jewell Mystery by Chris Roberson and Leila del Duca takes characters Mike Mignola introduced in Rise of the Black Flame and plunks them into an old-school murder mystery. Sarah Jewell and her companion Marie-Therese show up at the isolated coastal house of a recently widowed friend. A group of suspicious individuals have gathered to bid on the deceased’s occult artifact collection, the house has been isolated by a vicious storm and needless to say there’s a murderer among them. I enjoyed this one. It’s already added to my Hellboy Chronology.

I did not enjoy C.O.W.L: The Principles of Power by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel and Rod Reis. It’s 1962, Chicago’s superheroes have organized into a private contracting firm that provide super-services to the city. Alas, with the last supervillain recently busted, it’s time for … budget cuts! And some of the heroes are not willing to accept this.

There’s some potential in the premise (it reminds me a little of DC’s far superior GCPD) but not in the execution. I can live with a cynical setting in which everyone, including the heroes, is somewhat corrupt, but there are no standout characters, nobody I care about, nobody who’s anything but a recycled cop-drama cliche. Nor is there much conflict; I don’t doubt some writers could make a series where union negotiation is the big conflict interesting, but Higgins isn’t one of them.

CASSIO: The First Assassin by Stephen Desberg and Reculé Dessins the first installment in a French series about an ancient Roman lawyer who gets murdered but will apparently get better to take revenge (the bad guys also raped his wife). COWL was more interesting than this and COWL wasn’t interesting at all.

HOME SICK PILOTS: Teenage Haunts by Dan Watters and Casper Wijngaard isn’t bad, but it didn’t grab me at all. It’s the 1990s; Ami, the troubled young lead singer for the Home Sick Pilots rock group, suggests holding a concert in a local haunted house to grab some attention. This proves to be a seriously bad idea as the house recruits Ami to recover some of the haunts who’ve escaped. But it turns out the government is interested in ghosts too … There are some wonderfully bizarre moments here, but not enough to make this shine.

SECRET IDENTITY by Alex Segura is a New Adult novel, set in 1975 at a publishing company that to my eye resembles the short-lived Atlas Comics (here’s some background on them). Carmen, a Cuban-American lesbian who’s relocated from Miami to NYC, wants to write comics but her boss won’t give her the shot. A coworker suggests a work around: they work on a new character, the Lethal Lynx, but only put his name on it at first. You can probably guess this will go pear-shaped for Carmen, but it gets even messier when her colleague turns up murdered. Not only is there no proof now that she co-scripted, but inevitably she finds herself investigating the murder and, of course, drawing the killer’s attention …

Serious New Adult stuff (a lot of the book is Carmen learning to stand up and look out for herself in a cutthroat world) doesn’t appeal to me at all but I can’t blame the author for that (I’d picked it up with a wrong idea what I’d be reading). Segura does a good job capturing the energy and vibrancy that drew people to New York despite financial problems and rising crime. I’m also impressed by some of his obscure 1970s references — very few people will remember the days when Spider-Man had a stomach ulcer.

Oh, and over at Atomic Junkshop I have detailed reviews of History of the Marvel Universe and two TPBs of Morbius, the Living Vampire

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Taco Bell! Ares as a mob boss! Wonder Woman 73-87

Goodness, it’s been a year since I last wrote about my Wonder Woman reread; I think you can blame work on The Aliens Are Here for sucking up so much time and blog posts until I simply forgot. To set the stage: at the end of William Messner-Loebs’ first year, Wonder Woman returns from space to discover Themyscira has vanished, her room at Julia’s house has been rented out and the JLA have reported her as KIA so she can’t get her paychecks opened up. Where will she go? How will she support herself?

Would you believe working at Taco Bell — er, Taco Whiz?

Superheroes stuck working crap jobs in their secret identity is not new. The Silver Age Shield got jobs, then had to blow them so he could rush off and fight crime. Nova in the New Warriors was constantly working minimum wage to support himself. WML, however, puts a completely different spin on it. Instead of grumbling about living in wage-slave hell, Diana’s grateful. Her boss Hoppy has given her a chance to put a roof over her head — she’s going to be the best darn employee the company ever had! She’s in it to win it. It’s very true to the post-Crisis Diana.

Dark clouds are forming in Boston, however. Mob boss Ari “Ares” Buchanan isputting increasing numbers of increasingly powerful weapons on the street, to the point of causing dangerous instability and a looming mob war. Diana doesn’t know that Buchanan’s nickname isn’t idly chosen. When the Olympian gods left Earth during the Perez run, Ares couldn’t let go of his desire to spread chaos and war. By filling Ari, a loser low-life thug, with part of his essence — in the god’s phrasing, Ari is the potato, Ares is the chili-cheese stuffing — Ares will be able to keep sewing discord without technically violating Zeus’s decree.When Buchanan’s assassin Mayfly almost kills Diana, things ironically turn around. Donna Milton, an attorney with a tragic backstory (left homeless by boyfriend after she got pregnant, sexually assaulted by boss), strikes up a friendship with Diana. She gets Wonder Woman’s paychecks restored and together they help Hoppy collect back child support from her mob-muscle ex, even though he’s under the protection of the Antonio Sazia crime family (the story where they squeeze the cash out of him is delightful).

Alas, Donna is not what she seems. She’s a calculating, power-hungry woman who met and fell in love with Buchanan — the man is, after all, raw power — and its his baby she’s carrying. Her job is to lure Diana into Ares’ clutches. She does, but when she sees Diana helpless before him, facing death, it isn’t as satisfying as she thought. She’s totally not turning soft, nope; she doesn’t like other women, couldn’t stand her time with those saps Diana and Etta, would never give up her position as consort to a man of power … ah, crap, who’s she kidding? When she tries to win over Buchanan by telling him about the baby he shoots her and tries detonating a black hole-based weapon. He winds up dead; Diana and Donna, against all odds, survive the black hole, falling a hundred feet into an ice cold underground river and being buried under tons of debris. Diana even delivers Donna’s baby in the midst of all that.

So everything’s fine … well, except that with Buchanan gone, it’s open gang war on the streets of the city. They have high-tech weapons and some of them have magic: Randolph Asquith, the White Magician who sent Diana into space in the previous arc, throws inn with Paulie Longo, providing him with demonic muscle. Sazia buys it but his widow, Julia Sazia, promptly takes the helm.

And then, as we’ll see in my next WW post, the Amazons return …

This was a good, fun run, though Wonder Woman’s failure to confront the White Magician after learning he’s a villain never made much sense.

#SFWApro. Covers by Brian Bolland, all rights remain with current holder.

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African Americans battling dark powers! Books and one TV show

As Tracy Deonn is a friend of mine, I’m really glad I loved her YA fantasy LEGENDBORN: The Legendborn Cycle Book 1 (cover by Hillary Wilson).

Sixteen year old protagonist Bree starts the book in a crappy place. She’s attending some accelerated education at UNC (Deonn’s a graduate and a local resident) to get away from home because the trauma of her mother’s accidental death has become unbearable. One night, at a college party, she witnesses a supernatural manifestation; Selwyn, a teen mage, promptly wipes the witnesses’ memories, but Bree doesn’t wipe. Worse, she remembers a similar, more successful attempt to wipe her mind in her mom’s hospital room. What’s the connection?

Trying to find out introduces Bree to the Legendborn, descendants of the Round Table (Selwyn is a “Merlin”). They form the Order, dedicated to fighting the forces of Shadow when they intrude into reality. Striking up a friendship with Nick, the descendant of Arthur himself, Bree winds up apprenticing herself into the order and competing for one of the coveted squire ranks. It’s not easy. Selwyn suspects she has a hidden agenda. Although Nick is charming, the order is very white and some of them don’t think Bree belongs. She also learns she’s inherited some form of Rootcraft from her mother, and the Order doesn’t like independent practitioners. The rootcrafters Bree meets don’t like them either, seeing their magic as a perversion of the natural order. Someone in the Order is unleashing attacks from within, putting Bree, Nick and Selwyn in peril mortal along with the others.

There were a couple of things I didn’t like but they were strictly personal taste. The Order’s magic, as one character notes, is so organized and orderly it’s almost science and that’s a minus for me (the root casting is less orderly and more interesting). And there’s a lot of “explain the magical world to the newbie” exposition which I only like in very small doses. Despite those the book is still very entertaining. At its heart it’s a character story — Bree starts with a boatload of pain and an uncertainty where she belongs in the world and ends finding a place and a role she couldn’t have anticipated. While I did half-suspect a key reveal, I did not realize the way in which Deonn makes it entirely plausible.  It’s also good on the ethnogothic elements as Bree grapples not only with the Order’s racism but North Carolina and UNC’s ugly history in that regard.

Like Abbott, ABBOTT: 1973 by Saladin Ahmed and Sami Kivela works much better as a blacksploitation-style crime thriller than a fantasy. It’s a year since the previous book and Elena Abbott is living with her lover Amelia and working for the city’s top black newspaper. When someone launches a hardcore race-baiting campaign against black mayoral candidate Coleman Alexander Young (not named that I noticed, but he was real), Abbott goes into overdrive and discovers mobsters in bed with the current mayor want to keep him in office. She’s not down with that.

A further complication is that instead of dealing with the racist owners at her last job, Elena’s stuck with a new, sexist publisher. He doesn’t like that she smokes or swears, doesn’t think she dresses like a lady and in general she’s not “respectable” enough to suit him. Unfortunately that plotline gets changed by the fantasy stuff. In the first book, Elena discovered she’s the Lightbringer, a Chosen One destined to stand against the evil shadow entities known as the Umbra. It wasn’t that interesting in the first book; here it’s just plain bad. Umbra mage appears, gloating that his invincible power will crush Elena like a bug; things look grim for a couple of panels, then Elena gets glowy and blows up the bad guys. That’s all there is to it. I’m not sure I’ll try for V3.

The CW’s NAOMI (2022) stars Kaci Walfall as the brain and comic-book nerd Naomi McDuffie (the last name is a tribute to the late comics writer Dwayne McDuffie), who unusually for teenage superheroes is happy, well-adjusted and surrounded by friends and loving adoptive parents. But then things get weird — she sees what appears to be Superman flying overhead (annoyingly they never explain “the Superman incident”, a local tattoo artist turns out to be Thanagarian, and Naomi herself is manifesting super-powers. It turns out that on a parallel world her birth parents were among the 29, metahumans created by a freak cosmic accident; her adoptive parents took her to their current Earth to hide from Brutus, the evil meta who killed most of the others. But wouldn’t you know it, he hasn’t given up searching for Naomi, because as the child of two of the 29, she’s potentially a world changer.

This comic-book adaptation by show runner Averna DuVay was well done with some great one-liners but didn’t quite work for me. As I keep mentioning, teenage drama is a tougher sell for me than when I was younger and right after finishing The Aliens Are Here the trope of an alien chosen one in exile is too fresh in my mind (e.g., I Am Number Four).  I’m not personally disappointed it got the axe along with Batwoman, Legends of Tomorrow and Charmed, but at the same time it’s a shame a show with such a strong black cast couldn’t keep going (this relates to Warners looking to sell the CW network).

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Let us witness Thor covers for Woden’s Day!

To salute Odin/Woden, here’s some Wednesday Thor covers. The first three are from Jack Kirby, starting with Thor going into battle against Pluto to save Hercules from eternity in the underworld Back when the book was still Journey Into Mystery, we have this cover showing the key players, including Odin.Thor faces Hela. It doesn’t go well.Post-Kirby, John Buscema does a great cover showing Thor confronting the cosmic power of Infinity. Walt Simonson gives us the debut of Beta Ray Bill as Simonson begins his inspired writer/artist run on the series.And to wrap up, here’s some Kirby covers from when Journey Into Mystery was a monster book without any ties with Thor.#SFWApro. All rights to covers remain with current holders.

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Filed under Comics, Reading