Category Archives: Comics

The Black Widow, other spiders and more! Books read

BLACK WIDOW: Sting of the Widow (by multiple creators) starts with Natasha’s 1964 debut in Tales of Suspensethen leaps forward to 1970 when a Spider-Man crossover served to introduce readers into her new series ——which as you can see debuted the leather jumpsuit that’s defined her look ever since. Credit goes to Spidey artist John Romita, who modeled the new look not on Emma Peel (a popular assumption) but the Golden Age hero Miss Fury.

The new take on Natasha is that having broken up with Hawkeye she’s trying to bury her past by living as a glamorous jet-setter (no explanation on the source of her considerable wealth) only to decide she needs action and danger more. While she’s relied on her weapons and her allies (Hawkeye, Crimson Guardian and others) in the past, this establishes her as a deadly martial artist. Which is, again, very Emma Peel though it also reminds me of Wonder Woman’s depowered years.

After a fairly stupid Hero vs. Hero fight with Spider-Man, she launches into her new series with Gary Friedrich scripting and Gene Colan as the primary artist. An activist group, the Young Warriors is taking over an inner city building owned by a corrupt NYC politician and Natasha winds up helping them, though pushing them to handle things through the system as much as possible (like a lot of “relevant” stories back then, it wants to be radical, but not too radical). It also has seriously dimwitted villains, as in they tie up the Black Widow but still leave her with her “widow’s sting” ray-blasting bracelets.

After guest writer Mimi Gold wraps up the story, Roy Thomas takes over as new scripter (Don Heck unfortunately replaces Colan on the art). Thomas’ story arc involves youth but less controversy — it’s a group of street kids and runaways who’ve been manipulated by a seemingly benevolent father figure into turning criminal (that one goes back to Oliver Twist). Natasha also has to deal with her growing worry that everyone close to her dies, which comes off a little overwrought. The main significance is that her chauffeur Ivan is elevated to a much larger role. He’s the one who’s watched over her since he found her as a toddler in WW II; he has the brute strength to be a formidable fighter; and he spouts cliches out of 1930s films because that’s where he learned English. He’d remain Natasha’s trusty sidekick all the way through the Bronze Age.

The book wraps up with Natasha guest-starring in Daredevil after her series went belly-up. This proved more successful as they became lovers and crimefighting partners for the next four years, with Black Widow getting cover credit alongside DD for some of that time.

Overall the material is readable. Not classic, and better for art than story, but I enjoyed it.

THE BOOK OF SPIDERS AND SCORPIONS by Rod Preston-Mafham is a very good overview of spiders (if you’re a scorpion-phile they get much less attention) covering biology, anatomy, classification, predation, web-slinging, life cycle, mating rituals, and weaponry (everything from a spider that spits sticky gumto one that can spit poison eight inches). I thought this would be a lot more basic than it was, but I’m very pleased with it.

THE X-FACTOR by Andre Norton has an alien freak (too big, clumsy and slow-witted for his elegant race) steal a spaceship to get away, crash on an alien planet and confront telepathic cats, imperiled archeologists, space pirates and the half-buried city of Xcothan. This is pretty good — Xcothan comes off eerie enough I’d incorporate it into my D&D campaign if I still had one — but so little explanation of anything it feels like it should have been Part One instead of a standalone. The ending is similar to several short stories in which a lonely disabled protagonist gets to live in a magical fantasy world, but at novel length it didn’t work as a payoff (though it felt less full of disability cliches than some of the shorts).

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Jack Kirby, John Buscema and Gil Kane. All rights remain with current holders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Women of comic books and comic strips

As a fan of Pam Grier’s Friday Foster I was delighted when FRIDAY FOSTER: The Sunday Strips by Jim Lawrence and Jorge Longaron showed up on my library’s Hoopla digital service. It collects the entire Sunday run from the strip’s birth in 1970 through it’s end in 1974.When we meet Friday she’s a photographer at a Harlem night club, snapping photos in hopes her subjects will pay for a copy. When it turns she’s caught legendary photographer Shane North’s fiancee out with another man, a malicious gossip sends Friday and her photo portfolio over to North in hopes of embarrassing him. Instead, he winds up hiring Friday as his “girl Friday” and sidekick and the first mainstream syndicated strip with a black female lead is under way.

Like a number of strips I remember (Mary Worth, for example), Friday Foster is almost an anthology show as Friday and Shane help out the guest stars of each story arc. The aging rocker who wants to get plastic surgery, then vanish into retirement. A cowboy torn between a job and fiancee in New York and going home to see his estranged father before he passes. Periodic love interests for either Shane or Friday made things a little more personal (there’s a story of Shane falling for a fiery feminist that … has not aged well). The most interesting arc involves Slade King, a black American athlete who’s quit and relocated to Africa where he lives as a black Tarzan.

Annoyingly, while the first year of strips so seem to be separate continuity from the dailies (common enough back then), they eventually start sharing a plotline so I didn’t really get the whole story. That’s sometimes okay but there’s one arc where Slade comes to NYC to help Shane save Friday from a lust-crazed voodoo priest (I don’t think the execution is as racist as that sounds, but I’m not the best judge). Overall they’re enjoyable enough, but not much beyond that. However for anyone who’s interested this collection has a wealth of added information on the strip, it’s development and its creators.

MEN OF MYSTERY COMICS was an anthology series reprinting public-domain superhero stories. This one, which I picked up on a sale table, was devoted to women, ranging from the A-lister Phantom Lady through variety of second stringers such as Black Venus, Torchy, Pat Patriot and a variety of Sheena-knockoff jungle princesses. I enjoyed this (isnert the usual YMMV warnings about old comics) and if nothing else enjoyed meeting Tomboy, a fourteen year old girl who socks it to the underworld with nothing but guts and gymnastic skills (The art, I believe, is Edvard Moritz)WONDER WOMAN: Tempest Tossed by Laurie Halse Anderson and Leila del Luca is yet another retelling of her origin but at least this time it’s not recycling Marston. Attempting to save drowning refugees, Princess Diana accidentally cuts herself off from Themyscira, eventually winding up in NYC where she has to battle human traffickers picking up poor and immigrant kids who seemingly have no defenders. The themes get heavy-handed in spots but they’re themes I agree with and the story is good, so thumbs up from me.

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Three books I liked that are not my sort of thing

I don’t read much in romance but the FB ads for LOVE ON THE BRAIN by Ali Hazelwood convinced me to check it out of the library. Protagonist Bee is a neuroscientist who sees her new NASA project as the chance to rebound from the collapse of her professional and romantic life. Only OMG, the Most Obnoxious, Most Irritating Scientist She Ever Met is her co-leader! Back when she was engaged (fiancee cheated with her BFF) the dude refused to talk to her, look at her or be in the same room with her, he hated her so much! And now he’s undercutting her authority and sabotaging the project! What’s with him!

As Roger Ebert put it, love is always a cliche but the changing players make it interesting (though fans of Hazelwood’s writing say the story is almost unchanged from her previous book). I did enjoy this though I found the male lead’s pining way over the top — if he’d confessed to kissing the ground she walked on, I wouldn’t have been surprised. And the Big Reveal who’s really sabotaging things relies on one of my least favorite twists, using “he’s barking-dog insane” as a motivation without setting it up at all.

THE LAST TSAR’S DRAGONS by Jane Yolen and Andy Semple is a fantasy about the Russian revolution only Tsar Nicholas has a squadron of dragons he periodically sends out to scour the Jews. I picked this up thinking it was exactly my sort of thing but no, history proceeds almost exactly as in our world, making the dragons pointless. As I’ve written before, I hate that. In this case, however, I enjoyed the book, so Yolen and Semple clearly pulled it off. Though I did notice that despite their assurances their history was indeed accurate, their version of Rasputin’s death is not (I’ve read other reviews that say their are multiple other errors I didn’t catch).

I’m not a big cozy fan either but MURDER THROUGH THE ENGLISH POST by Jessica Ellicott was a lot of fun. It’s the 1920s and series protagonists Edwina (village gentry) and Beryl (globe-trotting adventurer) run a small PI operation out of Edwina’s home village. When someone starts slandering the locals with poison-pen letters (a real thing back in the day — think of it as pre-internet trolling), the women go into action to find the culprit and keep tempers from becoming inflamed. I enjoyed the period setting and the drama was good, though the murder comes off almost as an afterthought to the main plot (but that didn’t stop me liking it)

The first volume of MISFIT CITY by Kirsten Smith, Kurt Lustgarten and Naomi Franquiz didn’t work for me at all. The four female teen protagonists live in a small coastal town whose only claim to fame is that it was the setting for the 1980s hit The Goonies —er, The Gloomies. None of the girls like dealing with endless tourists, they’re frustrated with their town but now they’re on a treasure hunt just like in the old movie … but I didn’t care. It feels like the creators are shooting for a Lumberjanes vibe but it’s not as fun as that or as well written as Paper Girls.

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A Jim Butcher/Ms. Marvel Quadruple Feature: Two of Each!

Butcher’s sequel to Peace Talks, BATTLE GROUND: A Novel of the Dresden Files, improves on its predecessor though that’s not saying much. Had both books been a shorter story, it would have been great: the battle to save Chicago from the titan Ethniu and the array of evil creatures swarming in her work certainly packs in plenty of action, paying off the build-up in the first book. But after 100 pages the non-stop battles begin to pall and frequently require hand-waving (Harry can suddenly use the fear of the normals caught in the crisis as a power boost). I dislike what Dresden does with Murphy (though it doesn’t look like it’ll be permanent) nor with the crimelord Marcone: striking a deal with the Denarii doesn’t seem Marcone’s style, and it changes him from a Kingpin-like guy who can hold his own with the occult to just another supernatural player.

The ending also dissatisfies me. I’d really like more advance on the overall series’ arc but one shadowy player’s appearance here doesn’t do that, it just acknowledges they’re still around. And as I said when rereading Storm Front, the “power creep” problems of the series keep growing worse. We’re supposed to believe that the White Council casting Harry out means he’s never been more vulnerable but come on: he’s the Winter Knight of Faerie, he just took down a demigod, he has scary-ass allies to call on — he’s never been less vulnerable. No surprise that the next book’s villain is Evil Harry from a parallel world, who else could match him?

When I finished the library’s copy of Peace Talks I said I’d buy my own copy eventually — but I think I’ll stick with the library for the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, THE AERONAUT’S WINDLASS: Cinder Spires #1 was great fun. It’s set in an where human cities let us live far away from the horrors of the Earth’s surface, with galleons and battleships traversing the skies (magical power sources but with sails as a backup for emergency). The various protagonists include a dishonored navy captain turned privateer, a talking cat, an aristocrat turned soldier and more, all caught up when a rival nation launches a military first strike. This was the first 600 page novel I’ve read in years that I didn’t think should have been half the length.

MS. MARVEL: Super Famous by G. Willow Wilson and various artists has the superhero of Jersey City struggling to balance her increased crimefighting activity — she’s an Avenger now! — with personal life and finding it’s not easy. Can she help her brother in his love life? What about her almost-boyfriend who’s now found someone else? Worse, there’s a gentrification project afoot and they’re claiming Ms. Marvel backs them 100 percent! None of this is new but Wilson’s writing and Kamala’s personality make it feel fresh.

MS. MARVEL: Civil War II by Wilson and various artists was a disappointment. Carol Danvers, Kamala’s idol, recruits her for a special plan: there’s an Inhuman (I’d forgotten how Inhumans filled the mutant role for a few years) who can predict crimes so why not lock the bad guys up before they carry them out? Things grow a lot more complicated when the precog fingers one of Kamala’s school friends as a possible shooter …

I will give Wilson points for not going with the obvious out — the precog Inhuman doesn’t make mistakes so the threats he sees are real. But the response is a binary where Ms. Marvel either locks them up or lets them carry out their plans. Why not intervention? Or let them know they’re being watched? Possibly this ties in to Civil War II but given how much I loathed Civil War I I don’t care.

#SFWApro. Cover by Cliff Wu Chiang, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Crossing racial lines, dimensional lines and more: books

WHITE LIES: The Double Life of Walter F. White and America’s Darkest Secret by A.J. Baime tackles a man I knew of — a white-skinned black man whose legendary undercover investigations into Southern lynching — but didn’t know much about. Baime shows there was a great deal more to White, who refused to pass outside of his undercover work, became a major player in the early radical days of the NAACP, wrote four books, became a celebrity in the Harlem Renaissance (and had the ego to go with it) and risked much of his rep by having an affair with, then marrying a white woman, which his associates worried would be held up as proof ending segregation was all about access to white women (the big rationalization of the era). The book also provides a grimly detailed history of the last century’s racial lynchings; very good.

CROSSOVER: Kids Love Chains by Donny Cates and Geoff Shaw looks at what happens when comic book superheroes erupt out of a cosmic event into reality, eventually sealing themselves off inside a dome to prevent any interference (“Or was it to protect us from them?”). A teenage girl whose family are trapped inside the dome, a metahuman kid and the son of a Bible-thumping, conniving evangelist are all caught up in the government’s schemes to capture stray superheroes and the resistance working to free them. While the concept isn’t bad, the execution is indistinguishable from any other comic where superhumans or mutants are hunted by the government, despite the appearance of several indie characters whose creators gave Cates the go-ahead (Samaritan from Astro City, Savage Dragon, Madman). I won’t be back for V2.

FOR THE WOLF by Hannah Whitten starts off well as protagonist Red prepares to honor an ancient obligation on the Second Princess of each generation, to enter the malevolent nearby forest and sacrifice herself to the monstrous Wolf. Her sister wants Red to stay but like Elsa in Frozen, Red is terrified the dark magic inside her will harm her sibling if she stays.Once in the woods, though, the book turns from a Red Riding Hood riff to Beauty and the Beast, with a tortured, not terribly monstrous Wolf whom Red’s instantly attracted to, even though he’s obnoxious and arrogant — and refuses to provide any exposition, even when it would be smart to do so. The story slowed to a crawl here and though it picks up later, it never completely won me back. Cool cover design by Lisa Marie Pompilio, though.

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

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Skyscrapers, lost cities and more: books read

SUPERTALL: How the World’s Tallest Buildings Are Reshaping Our Cities And Our Lives, by architect Al Stefan is a good look at the complexity involved in erecting skyscrapers that make the Empire State Building look puny — the higher you go, the more serious a problem wind becomes, for instance — and the tech that makes it possible. Stefan covers improvement in concrete (I finally know what Portland cement is!), computer modeling, superfast elevators and dampers to rein in the swaying. The downside, of course, is the massive ecological and community damage these buildings can do (a big stretch of concave glass in a London “fryscaper” concentrates the sun enough to burn things below), usually for the benefit of the exclusive rich folks in the building. While several cities have come up with solutions, a lot more needs to be done.

CANTO: If I Only Had a Heart by David M. Booher and Drew Zucker, has a plucky slave set out to complete the quest of a legendary knight against the sinister Shrouded Man to find out why he enslaved Canto’s people and to secure their liberty. This has some nice twists — the slavers are slaves themselves, getting easier treatment for dominating Canto’s people — but this Neverending Story-inspired graphic novel doesn’t quite hit the mark.

SHADOWLANDS: A Journey Through Britain’s Lost Cities and Vanished Villages by Matthew Green looks at the Hebrides’ neolithic community of Skara Brae (abandoned and covered by sand), the Welsh border town of Trellech (ravaged by plague), Wenchelsea (harbor silted up), coastal Dunwich (devoured by Cthulhu — er, the ocean), and parts of Norfolk taken by the army to use as a war-game setting. A running theme is the arbitrariness of so much of this — the 21st century’s surviving cities aren’t so much better as luckier. Stiff writing style but an interesting enough topic to be worth reading anyway.

Writers have many stories about disastrous book-signings and in THE BOOK TOUR Andi Watson offers a fictionalized black comic take. Fretwell, a literary author, endures empty stores (“We’re usually so full!”), sales clerks who can’t find his books, bills his publisher refuses to reimburse — oh, and the police are very interested that he’s the last person to see one female store owner, the latest victim of a serial killer. Oddball, but enjoyable.

BLOOMSBURY GIRLS by Natalie Jenner is a low-key drama set in London in 1950. The three protagonists are working in the Bloomsbury bookstore in London, all nursing various ambitions (love, professional success, questing for a rare book) which the store’s male upper management seems determined to block. I picked this up to see how the author handles the period detail, which turns out to be a lot of emphasis on fashion and makeup, references to the post-WW II rationing still in effect and some literary references (Daphne DuMaurier, The Naked and the Dead).  All of which worked — indeed, while the book is Not My Sort of Thing it’s surprisingly enjoyable. But then, that’s why I sometimes pick up Not My Sort Of Thing books.

MARVEL-VERSE: Thor is a rather odd collection of Thor stories from (I think) several different Thor continuities so I’ve no idea why they were all thrown together in this. As so often happens with anthologies, some stories are a blast, some are “meh” but overall it’s enjoyable.

#SFWApro. Covers by Watson and Jack Kirby

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More books with women protagonists

It’s not that I actively seek out books with women in the lead but sometimes I end up reading a lot of them anway.

MS. TREE: One Mean Mother by Max Collins and Terry Beatty is both the first in a new series of reprint books and a collection of the very end of the series (there’s one story left after the end of this volume) as Ms. Tree Quarterly from DC.

Michael Tree was the secretary, then the wife of PI Mike Tree; when the Muerta crime family killed him, she stepped up and took over the agency. In the opening story, current family leader Dominique Muerta sends the man who killed Mike after Ms. Tree, who kills him easily. It turns out that was Dominique’s intention — their kids have fallen in love so she hopes helping Ms. Tree avenge her husband will wipe the slate clean.

Despite Dominique getting murdered in the same chapter, the arc does wrap up Ms. Tree’s story. However this happens by a painfully trite ploy. Michael meets her high school crush, he asks for her help, they fall in love, she xtops his psycho ex from killing him — and it turns out he set the whole thing up to get his ex out of the way. He winds up dead anyway, then Michael discovers she’s pregnant. In the subsequent installments she steps back into a management role at her agency, makes peace with “Don Donny,” Dominique’s heir, and finds being a Mommy is just soooo fulfilling.

The story with the high school crush is below the Collins/Beatty standard: I knew where it was going as soon as the husband showed up. And the idea of Ms. Tree just fitting so naturally into motherhood, without any regrets or qualms? That’s a stereotype. It helps that the baby is apparently an angel that doesn’t cost her sleep, stress or energy to take care of, even when she first takes him home. Ms. Tree is still an awesome, tough character but …

Maris Wick’s and Jim Ottaviani’s PRIMATES: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikass (whom I hadn’t heard of before, but is Goodall’s orang-utan studying counterpart) looks at how the three woman were all inspired or nudged along their path by legendary anthropologist Richard Leakey and slowly mastered their respective craft. Decent biography — except the creators admit in the end-notes they’ve fudged some of the details and don’t specify which ones. That’s annoying.

COUNT CROWLEY: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter by David Dastmalchian and Lukas Ketner is set in 1983, as TV reporter Jerri Bartman’s alcoholism trashes her last shot at keeping her career. Fortunately her brother is station manager so he gives her an easy way to earn a paycheck, stepping on for the vanished actor who plays Count Crowley, the station’s horror movie host (I’m not sure any of this type of host were still around by 1983, except for tongue-in-cheek ones like Elvira).  Trouble is, monsters are real and Count Crowley is known as one of the hunters …. Fun enough I look forward to V2.

RED SONJA: Queen of Plagues by Gail Simone and Walter Geovanni has the Hyborian swashbuckler a help out the only king she’s ever been impressed with when an invading army threatens him; however his nation is overflowing with plague and a former BFF of Sonja’s is leading the invaders. A good story and I like some of the changes from Marvel Comics’ version (it’s a new publisher) such as stripping out the rape in her backstory.

#SFWApro. All rights to Terry Beatty cover remain with current holders.

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A wicked day for amnesiacs and flight attendants: books read

Mary Stewart wrapped up the story of Merlin in The Last Enchantment but then went ahead and gave us the Fall of Arthur in a final, fourth volume. THE WICKED DAY blew me away the first time I read it and it impresses as much on rereading (and I really like Steven Stone’s cover). What makes it work is that it’s the only time I’ve seen Mordred written as a rounded person rather than a complete villain (though often an entertaining one).

As covered in the earlier books, Morgause saved Arthur’s bastard from the massacre of baby boys arranged by Morgause’ husband Lot (though widely blamed on Arthur). Mordred is happy growing up as a fisherman’s son, but then a chance meeting with Gawain brings him to Morgause’s court. From there, events eventually lead him to Camelot, where he discovers Arthur is not the blackhearted villain of Morgause’ stories but a truly great king. Then Arthur reveals who Mordred’s father really is …

Stewart says in the afterword that the earliest sources to reference Mordred make no mention of him as Arthur’s enemy, but she’d already prophesied him as Camelot’s doom and couldn’t see a way around it. However she handles it beautifully — Mordred is ambitious, sure, but had events played out a little differently than they do at the climax, he’d never have set himself up as king. Stewart even shows Mordred has the potential to be a great king, taking what Arthur’s built up and improving on it. Alas, it’s not to be … a terrific finish to a great series.

When I found it in the library, SIRI, WHO AM I? by Sam Tschida looked like classic thriller material. The twenty-something protagonist wakes up in a hospital bed, amnesiac and has to figure out who the heck she is. Unlike characters from forty or sixty years ago, she does it in past by studying her cell-phone’s Instagram feed, Uber history and text messages. It turns out she’s a dynamic entrepreneur with a cool match-making website and an amazing boyfriend — or is that just the face she shows to the world?

My assumptions about the book are partly to blame for why it didn’t grab me: it’s not a thriller but a chick lit/New Adult novel about the protagonist finally outgrowing her shallow influencer role and getting real. That wasn’t as interesting to me, and led to further misconceptions: to me, the guy who’s so nice and helpful screamed “I’m the one who tried to kill you!” but no, he’s just a nice guy.

THE GREAT STEWARDESS REBELLION: How Women Launched a Workplace Revolution at 30,000 Feet by Nell McShane Wulfhart made an interesting companion to Jet Sex, taking us back to the 1960s when stewardesses were hemmed in by weight restrictions, height restrictions, age restrictions and makeup and dress requirements. Worse, their membership of the Transportation Workers Union produced no benefits as the union refused to take women’s complaints seriously (one leader declaring in the 1970s that they’d kick out the feminists just like they had the commies). Eventually, however, the stewardesses pushed back against both the airline rules and the TWU, forming their own union and turning flight attendant jobs from a brief pre-marriage phase (those age requirements got a lot of women tossed out) to careers. A bit more detail than I needed, but that’s not the author’s fault.

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Eternals, British comics and some Valiant heroes: graphic novels

The Eternals are Marvel characters who’ve never interested me outside of Jack Kirby’s original Eternals series — they’re such a very Kirby concept I don’t care what anyone else does with them. ETERNALS: Only Death is Eternal by Kieron Gillen and Esad Ribic doesn’t change that.The concept of the Eternals since the original Bronze Age series (see above for Kirby’s art) is apparently that they’re some kind of machine life serving Earth (which is also a machine) to protect humanity for the Celestials (this is close enough to Chloe Zhao’s Eternals I assume it’s as much an influence as Kirby). They’re not immortal per se, but the machine resurrects them when they die — except it’s not happening, Zuras is dead and they need to find out why? While the narration is often amusing, the story’s so-so and way too much stock recycling of Burden Of Immortality tropes. The Big Reveal about how the machine really works didn’t impress me at all. So I’ll skip Vol. 2

STEEL CLAW: Invisible Man by Kenneth Bulmer and Jesus Blanco collects the beginning of a long running British comic strip (this comes from the early 1960s and lasted on into the next decade) about Louis Crandall, who as a result of a freak lab accident gets the power of temporary invisibility whenever he’s exposed to electricity — except for his eponymous prosthetic. At first he uses his power for crime but by the end of the book he’s reformed and settled down (he thinks) to a quiet, ordinary life. This will, obviously, not work out. The art is good, the stories are decent.

DR. MESMER’S REVENGE by Donne Avnell and Carlos Crus was a much less successful collection. Mesmer is a somewhat deranged collector of Egyptian antiquities; when some crooks rip off his collection, he reanimates the mummy Angor to hunt them down and reclaim his goods. As Angor isn’t very fussy about collateral damage, Scotland Yard is soon involved in trying to stop him. This premise also shifted as it went along but doesn’t really hit its stride until Mesmer gets hurled back in time to ancient Egypt alongside some of the cops, then returns with even more powers. Part of the problem is that Tom Stone, the bobby trying to stop him, never really gets as much heroic action as Tim Wilson in Black Max. Overall, this was forgettable.Now some Valiant stuff — BLOODSHOT: Book One by Tim Seeley and Brett Booth focuses on the eponymous nannite powered hero, seeking to atone for the wrongs he did when he was working for the bad guys. As some online reviews put it, this is a very 1990s comic book, from the name to the constant Action Action Action (apparently this ignores some of the past character work on Bloodshot, whom I’m unfamiliar with). That said, I enjoyed this.

RAI: Book One by Dan Abnett and Juan José Ryp continues the adventures of another Valiant hero, in a distant future SF setting. Rai is a Japanese cyborg who overthrow the tyrannical Japanese AI Father and now seeks the remaining components of Father’s programming to destroy them too. It’s readable but not quite as interesting as Bloodshot, despite me liking lots of Abnett’s earlier work

MY LITTLE PONY/TRANSFORMERS: Friendship in Disguise by multiple creators is more fun than anything on this page except Steel Claw. The Changeling Queen of the Ponyverse attempts to summon other Changelings as allies, gets the Transformers, and we have a series of short stories where different ponies and robots pair up. This suffered from me barely knowing the My Little Pony stories at all (and this doesn’t make me want to read them more) but the same is true of Rai and Bloodshort and I still liked this better.

#SFWApro. Bloodshot cover by Booth, not sure who did the crossover image. All rights remain with current holders.

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