Category Archives: Reading

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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Books for our time

In SANDY HOOK: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth, Elizabeth Williamson looks back at how Alex Jones kicked off the modern age of conspiracy with his claims the entire thing was a false flag and maybe those kids didn’t die or even exist — sure, there’s no hard and fast proof, but Something Just Feels Wrong To Him. Through the power of the Internet and social media, this deranged based-on-nothing bullshit spread wildly, thereby foreshadowing Pizzagate, QAnon, anti-vax paranoia and Stop the Steal.

The book is excellent, showing the growth of the False Flag legend, the impact on the families and there efforts to push back, including multiple lawsuits against Jones. Williamson also captures the variety of reasons people choose to belief this stuff: narcissism (Jones), grift (Jones again — he sells a lot of InfoWars swag), lonely people finding companionship in online conspiracist groups, 9/11 truthers hopping to a new conspiracy, people smugly convinced at their own genius in figuring it out and sociopaths who enjoy harassing the families. While one of the grieving parents has successfully talked some of the conspiracists off their ledge, the book is a depressing reminder how difficult it is to crush these ideas once they grow.

EMPIRE OF PAIN: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe shows how the infamous opioid-dealing clan first got involved in drugs in the 1950s. Dr. Arthur Sackler made the family wealthy by applying mainstream advertising techniques to drug marketing and targeting doctors, which he insisted was completely ethical — no amount of salesmanship can convince a doctor to prescribe a particular drug (this was a lie)! Sackler saw no conflict between marketing drugs and running a supposedly objective medical newspaper that promoted the same drugs (he was into advertorials before advertorials were cool).

Later in the century, Sackler’s family adopted similar approaches to promoting Oxycontin as an opiate for everyday pain (much as Arthur promoted Valium as a tranquilizer for non-mentally ill people). No risk of addiction, ever! If people suffer withdrawal, it’s really their underlying pain overcoming the opiates — what they need is more doses! Even when the family knew this was bullshit they kept saying it, just as they turned a blind eye to doctors writing impossibly large numbers of prescriptions. Well, a blind eye except when they sent salespeople to pitch the prescription mills.

This kind of immorality and corruption — some FDA officials who turned blind eyes of their own wound up with great post-government jobs working for the Sacklers — isn’t anything new to me but I still found this book horrifying. Possibly it’s the sheer, unimaginable scope of the damage the Sacklers caused to so many innocent people (while insisting the family were the real victims). Perhaps it’s their incomparable greed: when the family members learned their $700 million annual draws (that’s apiece) might not be sustainable, they demanded More Sales. Or their complete inability to even fake contrition or acknowledge their company’s drug had problems. Either way, they make Elizabeth Holmes look like a choir girl.

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

 

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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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The week that dropped out of time

As far as writing goes, this was a waste of a week.

For starters, I’d forgotten I had my six month medical checkup Monday morning, so there went all that writing time. On the plus side, everything checks out good, so that’s a win.

As TYG wrapped up her last week at her old job (as I mentioned this mornning), the amount of work she put into prepping her team ramped up. So more doggy care and running errands (if they had to be run) devolved to me. Which is fair — she did as much for me when I was wrapping up The Aliens Are Here — but still exhausting. Even when I had time to write, I felt too drained to get much done.

And I had to rewrite one of the Accounting Seed articles I’d done earlier this month. Perfectly reasonable, but that much more time.

I did get a good deal further in rewriting Southern Discomfort, though nowhere near as far as I’d expected. I also rewrote Adventure of the Red Leech and read it to the writer’s group on Tuesday. They really liked it, but did have a couple of suggestions how to improve things. For example, give more of Watson’s perspective on Holmes, which is, of course, a major part of the original stories. They also spotted one point where the logic didn’t hold up, but it’s fixable.

I’d thought I might make up a little time today but we had a thunderstorm this morning so Plushie was freaking. While he hid under the coffee table some of the time (as in this photo from a couple of weeks back), he also decided to climb up with me and demand cuddles for security. Cuddling a 20 pound dog is not compatible with work but obviously I wasn’t going to refuse.

This is how things go pearshaped, of course. A day here, a day there and suddenly everything’s behind. But TYG has started a new and better job and that’s a great thing.

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

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Covers for Tuesday

I’d hoped to do something more substantial today but life is not cooperating. So …

One by Johnny Bruck.This uncredited cover has me curious to read it and learn how unicorns and Nazis mesh together.This uncredit cover really doesn’t scream “mafia” to me though it does fit into the Sex Sells school of paperback art.And finally one by H.W. McCauley. Despite the lurid cover copy, the image intrigues me.#SFWApro. All rights to images 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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In a shocking twist, this week’s cover post is on Wednesday!

First an uncredited Sex Sells cover from 1965.Sex sold in 1954 too. Though the dark background makes this feel more like a witches’ sabbath to me than whatever orgy or wild party it’s meant to be.From the days of double novels, here’s one mystery cover I like——and here’s the other novel.#SFWApro.

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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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