Category Archives: Comics

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).

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

 

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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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This week’s reading material involves all sorts of women

AT THE DARK END OF THE STREET: Black Women, Rape and Resistance — a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle L. McGuire argues that a driving force for black women in the civil rights movement (sometimes working within it, sometimes alongside it) was to push back against the long history or white-on-black rape and harassment, with most victims staying silent and the few who stood up getting justice. McGuire makes a good (and unsurprising) case that women’s roles in the movement have been neglected in favor of heroic men, and that the movement itself was often divided about the more prominent cases, fearing the consequences if the victim wasn’t spotless in her respectability. Thus the book closes with the 1970s Joan Little case (a petty crook who killed a guard trying to rape her) to show that despite being not at all respectable, Little was able to win her self-defense case and generate extensive public support.

This is good, but coming out in 2010, the ending is depressingly optimistic: the author and one black rape victim watch Michelle Obama at her husband’s inauguration, feeling the worst is finally behind them. I also wish McGuire had put white-on-black rape in the context of general rape culture; it’s not as if the tactics used to discredit black victims aren’t standard defenses in white-on-white cases.

After two good TPBs of JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS I was disappointed in the follow-up, Dark Jem by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell. Here it turns out the supercomputer Synergy has developed a dark side, Silica, that plans to use the Holograms to spread its mind-controlling music and turn everyone into Goths (judging by the visuals). Not well executed (Silica’s defeat at the end is anticlimactic) and not the sort of story I buy this series for.

CATWOMAN: Copycats by Joelle Jones is well drawn (I’ll have to try her indie book Lady Killer sometime) but unsatisfying in the story. After her wedding to Bruce falls apart (I’ve no idea of the details), Selina relocates to a corrupt, Gotham-light city where her comatose sister is being cared for. The local power family warns her against interfering in their affairs; she tells them not to interfere with hers, and suddenly it’s a fairly pointless war between them. And one that ends listlessly, with formidable adversaries suddenly going over like dominoes. I like Catwoman enough I’ll try V2 at some point though.

THE BANKS by Roxane Gay and Ming Doyle has an investment counselor recruit her mother and grandmom — both professional thieves — to help take down a rich client who’s also involved with the crimelord who murdered the protagonist’s father. This is a good heist/family drama but the abrupt shift of direction at the end didn’t work for me.

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

 

 

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From Groot to middle-school, it’s a graphic novels post!

GROOT by Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger has Groot and Rocket heading to Earth to take in the sights when pirates kidnap the sentient tree (he has the bigger bounty, by far). An outraged Rocket sets out to rescue his friend, leading to encounters with the Silver Surfer, Skrulls and eventually the X-Men. Fluffy fun, but that was the goal and the creative team accomplished it well.

SUPERHERO GIRLS: Hits and Myths by Shea Fontana and Yancey Labat has Diana preparing to take her schoolchums to Themyscira for a slumber party only it turns out the Batplane Batgirl was going to fly them inn has been stolen. Hunting the missing plane involves descending into hell to confront Trigon and Raven (“Saving you will teach Dad a lesson — I’m tired of being homeschooled so that I can’t be expoesd to goodness.”) and Miss Martian having a Battle of the Bands with Black Canary and Silver Banshee. Fun, and I really love this origin for Etrigan, a demon whose encounter with human poetry inspired him to reform.

CAPTAIN MARVEL: Strange Magic by Kelly Thompson and David Lopez was a disappointment after the previous two volumes. Terrified that in the fuure, the magus Ove will kill everyone she loves, Captain Marvel sets out to learn magic, eventually turning in desperation to the Enchantress. This was amusing enough, but it’s too heavy on the “hot mess” cliches showing Carol may be a hero but her personal life is in constant freefall.

BITTER ROOT: Rage and Redemption by David Walker, Chuck Brown and Sanford Greene was a hard story to follow due to a multiplicity of flashbacks and a large cast involved in several plotlines. What’s significant is the Sangerye family discovering much of what they know as a new breed of demon shows up on Earth instead of the Jinoo they were fighting in V1. That said, I love that this establishes other American minorities — Chinese, Jewish, Irish, Mexican — have their own monster-hunting families (logical enough as the Jinoo are born of white prejudice) and they all have their own monster-slaying traditions and names for things. I’ll be back for V3 eventually.

SMILE by Raina Telgemeier, is a memoir of the author’s middle-school years after she fell and knocked out her two front teeth. Result: braces! Shame! Self-consciousness! Will the guy she likes ever notice her now? This one didn’t work for me.

#SFWApro. Cover by Greene, all rights remain with current holders.

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Robin Hood and the evil rich

“In times of economic downturns, in times of tyranny and oppression, and in times of political upheaval, the hero Robin Hood makes his timely call.” — from a history of Robin Hood discussing why the legend stays strong, even attaching itself to other people. For instance, the article notes, Jesse James was often portrayed as a Robin Hood figure who’d help out the poor — though I’ve read elsewhere that was a conscious Southern effort to hold him up as the enemy of Northern banking interests after the Civil War.

Part of that, perhaps is that the image of the corrupt rich, trampling are rights, is just as eternal as Robin of Sherwood. As the TV series Leverage put it, “The rich and powerful take what they want — we steal it back for you.” The series showed a team of crooks using their skills as modern-day Robins, providig the poor and pushed-around with “leverage” against the oppressor.

Go back 100 years and George Allen England’s The Air Trust isn’t that different. A grasping millionaire, bummed out that he’s gotten his hands on everything possible, thinks of something he doesn’t own yet — air. He establishes a series of oxygen extraction factories that provide pure, bottled oxygen for people who want it to pep them up. Nobody’s going to realize the amount of oxygen he’s extracting will eventually make air unbreathable — at which point we’ll have to pay any price for his oxygenators if we want to survive. It’s a great concept though heavy socialist exposition undercuts it (there’s even socialist poetry!).

Move to the 1940s and Leading Comics #5 (author unknnown, art by Ed Dobrotka) gives us the heartwarming story of “The Miracles Money Can’t Buy.” That is, I thought it would be heartwarming (“With all my money what I really want is love — a miracle money can’t buy.”) but the miracles in this case are things like the world’s largest diamond and the world’s greatest racehorse. The Skull, world’s wealthiest man, can’t buy them simply because the owners won’t sell. His solution is to bust five criminals off death row and send them out to bring in those wonder items. You could update that one easily, just give the Skull a made-up name — hmm, how does Elon Bezos sound?

Jump forward to the Silver Age and we have another timeless rich dude, Gregory Gideon (whom I wrote about recently at Atomic Junkshop). Gideon is a gazillionaire on the brink of total control of the world’s economy. When his three closest competitors beat back his takeover attempt he proposes a wager: set him any task and when he succeeds, they sell out. The trio come back with something they imagine not even Gideon can achieve — destroy the Fantastic Four! Gideon comes closer than you might expect (details at the link) before learning that yes, the best miracles are those money can’t buy, like the love of his son. Schmaltzy, yes, but Lee and Kirby make it work.

The idea of the rich screwing us over has lasting power because it’s so often true. So it’s not surprising we fantasize someone — the FF, the Seven Soldiers, Robin Hood — who can give us that leverage.

#SFWApro. Covers by Mort Meskin (top) and Jack Kirby.

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Titans, pseudo-romans and Rasputin: books read this week

After reading Mary Shelley’s life in Romantic Outlaws I checked Percy Shelley’s PROMETHEUS UNBOUND out of the library. This was a sequel to the partially lost Greek drama Prometheus Bound though Shelley acknowledges he’s taking the theme, involving Prometheus’  freedom and its effect on the tyrant-god Zeus, in a different direction. Unfortunately the poem deals with less with that theme than Romantic paeans to the beauty of nature; while any one page of that was a joy to read, at 100-plus pages it palled on me.

I picked up the Y/A fantasy AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir because I’m fascinated by the Roman Empire and this was supposedly set in an alt.Rome. I don’t find it very Roman other than the names and some ranks (centurion, augur) but it kept me reading nonetheless. One protagonist is Elias, an imperial warrior about to qualify as a Mask (a kind of ninja) only to be dragged into the struggle for imperial succession; the other is Laia, resident of s subjugated land and reluctant ally of the resistance in the hope they can help her free her brother. Need I say that their paths cross?

I could have done without all the sexual tension between Elias and his BFF Helene, but that’s just personal taste. I have a bigger problem with the amount of rape and rape threats; while I can buy Laia, who’s posing as a slave being on the receiving end of that shit (though as this review points out, it’s presented more as She’s So Beautiful than about power and dominance), there’s no reason to have Helene, a fellow Mask, treated that way (especially given women have apparently been Masks for centuries). No, “realism” doesn’t excuse it — underage male slaves would have been fair game in ancient Rome but we don’t see any male/male assault.

And I really hated the names of the various cultures — the Martial Empire, the Scholastic Empire, the Tribals living in the neighboring deserts. Those aren’t names, they’re classifications. But since I kept reading even when I was pressed for time, Tahir must have done something right.

RASPUTIN: The Road to the Winter Palace by Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo is a boring retelling of the story of the sinister priest (if you want the facts, I highly recommend Radzinsky’s The Rasputin Files). I really could have done without making him a Child of Abuse, which is very much a cliche for villains these days.

Case in point, it’s also the origin of the Absorbing Man in Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward’s BLACK BOLT: Hard Time. It’s good, and, surprisingly different in tone from Ahmed’s Miles Morales stories. Black Bolt’s evil brother Maximus has trapped him in an interplanetary prison and taken his form. Nobody’s coming to rescue him. His powers are gone. The Jailer is a parasite who feeds on suffering, to the point of killing  and resurrecting prisoners for more power. And Crusher Creel, AKA the Absorbing Man, is happy to show Black Bolt why he’s the toughest con on the cell block. Despite my reservation on Creel’s backstory, Ahmed’s writing is good; however the art is a murky mess.

#SFWApro. Portrait of Shelley writing his poem is by Joseph Severn, courtesy of wikimedia.

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