Category Archives: Reading

Chinese Wonder: Wonder Woman #187-9

When we last looked at Wonder Woman during her Diana Prince phase, she’d defended her neighborhood from Them and Morgana. For the next three issues, written and drawn by Mike Sekowsky, she’s back in international super-spy mode as she and I Ching hunt Dr. Cyber in China.

We open #187, Earthquaker, with someone having gunned down I Ching (the story inside follows directly from the cover scene). I Ching gets a call for help from an old friend in Hong Kong and arranges passage with Patrick McGuire, a roguish Irishman he knows from back before he lost his sight. Diana, of course, insists on going along; on the flight they meet Lu Shan, an attractive Chinese woman. Mid-flight, stowaways with guns sneak out and try to steal something from Lu Shan, confident two women and a blind guy can’t be much of a challenge …

In the aftermath, Lu Shan identifies the men as members of the Tiger Tong, an adversary of her employer; I Ching identifies Lu Shan as his long-lost daughter by half of a broken talisman she carries (he has the other half). When they land in Hong Kong, the Tong strikes again so we get some lively action scenes as I Ching, Patrick and Diana deliver Lu Shan to her boss. Patrick gets lost along the way, but gets a dinner date from Diana.

Unfortunately Lu Shan’s boss is Dr. Cyber; the cargo Diana and I Ching helped Lu Shan deliver contains the power source for Cyber’s earthquake-generating technology, which will now level Hong Kong as a demonstration to the world. In return for her part in the scheme, Lu Shan gets her fondest wish: to kill I Ching in revenge for the murder of her mother! Despite which Cyber offers Diana a place in her organization.

At this point the Tiger Tong leader shows up to claim the Earthquaker. Cyber electrocutes him and his men with a booby-trap but one of them, dying, fires his gun at her, knocking over a brazier and pouring hot coals over Cyber’s face. Diana rushes I Ching to a hospital,, as Lu Shan does for her employer. Cyber directs her to activate the Earthquakers and also send hit squads after Diana and I Ching.

In the following issue, Lu Shan unleashes both earthquakes and kill squads; with I Ching in hospital, Diana fights back alongside Patrick and Hong Kong cop Inspector McLean. When she captures one of Cyber’s agents, the woman tells her how to deactivate the Earthquakers, but Diana deduces they’re booby trapped and forces the woman to show how to deactivate them.

At the last Earthquaker, however, Cyber’s waiting, filled with hated for Diana for scarring her — although as Diana points out, she didn’t have a thing to do with that Tiger Tong gunman. Cyber attempts to kill Diana but ends up falling into her own machinery, electrocuting herself and in the process destroying the Earthquaker. Cyber is dead, but Lu Shan swears to avenge her; in the end we learn she’s fled into “Red” China with I Ching, recovered from his injuries, on her tail.

Diana and Patrick disguise themselves in yellowface and slip into China. When they find I Ching, he’s been diverted from pursuit of his daughter by the need to help his friends in a small village: they will soon be shipped north to work in the mines unless they escape across the border. To that end, they’ve found an old riverboat with which to travel to Hong Kong, and enough weapons to hopefully hold back any Chinese forces that try to stop them. I Ching, Patrick and Diana travel along and help them accomplish the impossible. McLean informs Diana that for the unauthorized border crossing her passport is now revoked, but she won’t have to leave before he, and a slightly jealous Patrick, take her out to dinner.

The first two parts are a good spy/action thriller, the third more a war comic very much in the commie-smashing mode of the Cold War, plus some uncomfortable White Savior elements (just look at the cover). It’s noteworthy for being the first story in which Di wears the all-white pantsuit outfit most associated with this period, and for turning the formidable Cyber into a scarface disability cliche.

It should have been notable for launching Lu Shan as the book’s new villain, which clearly what Sekowsky intended. Too bad it didn’t happen before he left the book; we saw her one more time, as a kind of generic villain, and never learned anything about her blood feud with her father.

Oh, I almost forgot, the middle issue includes a backup story in which Diana roughs up a cross-dressing pickpocket, “Creepy Caniguh,” who’s a dead ringer for former WW-writer Robert Kanigher, whom Sekowsky loathed.

#SFWApro. All  images by Sekowsky, all rights remain with current holder.

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Apocalypses, Invasions and More: Books Read

COUNTDOWN CITY: The Last Policeman Book II by Ben H. Winters is the second in a trilogy about Hank Palace, an ex-cop turned PI in a world where a catastrophic asteroid strike is just three months away.  When Hank’s former babysitter asks him to find her vanished husband, Palace agrees even though people disappearing to squeeze in some last adventure or fantasy is par for the pre-disaster course (much as they said about a supposed suicide in Book One). Of course it turns out the case is more than it seems … and what about Hank’s sister and her claims there’s a way to stop the apocalypse? A good mix of S/F and hardboiled mystery.

EYE OF THE VULTURE: A Quest of the Gypsy Novel by Ron Goulart and Alex Niñ0 was the sequel to Quest of the Gypsy in the Weird Heroes 1970s neo-pulp series. It opens with the amnesiac psi (and cyborg) Gypsy recovering his friends from the sleazier section of the apocalyptic far-future (2033! How unimaginable!) Riviera, then setting off for Africa hunting clues to his past. To complicate things we have the vulture of the title, mocking and manipulating him, and the Scavengers crime cartel, which hopes to break Gypsy and turn him into an asset. This was a fun sequel, but I think Goulart cheats in one scene where Gypsy gets a Big Reveal but we only hear the synopsis (“Gypsy learned a lot.”). It’s more frustrating because this was the last novel (Weird Heroes died shortly afterwards) so we never got any answers.

Continuing the run of bad reference books read as background for Alien Visitors we have INVASIONS USA: The Essential Science Fiction Films of the 1950s by Michael Bliss. Where Them or Us? went with Jungian interpretations, Bliss relies heavily on Freud to get equally awful interpretations: did you know the only logical explanation for events in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers is that the protagonist is having paranoid delusions brought on by having to endure the nightmare of small-town 1950s life? Bliss is absolutely convinced these movies show the Dark Side of The 1950s and so he finds exactly what he expects. On the plus side, my book is going to stand out from the competition if I’m even marginally competent.

MARVELS by Brian Selznick is 50 percent a graphic novel about the wild history of British theater’s legendary Marvel clan and a pointless Y/A novel about a modern-day descendant moving in with his recluse of a grandfather, learning the history and then discovering everything he’s been told is a lie. The first part is reasonably entertaining, the rest feels like warmed-over Victoriana about tragic runaways and kindly old guardians.

THE SHADOW LAUGHS was Walter Gibson’s third Shadow novel and reuses several crooks from the earlier stories for a rematch with the Shadow involving a murder frame and a fortune in counterfeit money. This is much more a straight crime thriller than the supervillainy of The Death Tower but it works just as well, though with some plot-holes (who planted the counterfeit plates on one member of the gang? We never learn). And surprisingly Coffram, the mastermind of the piece, escapes (which other foes would do down the road) and never returns for a final beat-down, which I’m not sure anyone else did.

#SFWApro. All rights to Alex Niño image remain with current holder.

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Sherlock Holmes’ sister and other women of destiny

Stranger Things’ Millie Bobbie Brown is ENOLA HOLMES (2020), the teenage sister we never knew Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft had. When mom Helena Bonham Carter disappears and Enola’s brothers seem disinterested in investigating, Enola sets out, counting on the training she’s received from Mom — everything from deduction to combat — to get her past any obstacles. She succeeds, of course, and in the process saves a young nobleman who’s been targeted for death. Based on a series of kids’ books by Nancy Springer, this is fun, and Brown is delightful but Cavill is too bland and too laid-back as Sherlock (not to mention he doesn’t smoke!). Mycroft is simply the requisite stuffy relative determined to make Enola conform to gender standards and eventually marry well (I’ve spent more than a few minutes thinking how I’d rewrite the brothers so they’d be more canonical without stealing the spotlight). So a mixed bag for me, but I’m in a minority. “Look for what’s there, not for what you want to be there.”

WHAT’S UP DOC? (1972) is one of those favorite films I’ve rewatched countless times, enjoying Barbra Streisand getting Ryan O’Neal to buy her a radio, Madolyn Kahn counting to five, Kenneth Mars cheating, Sorrell Booke using his charm and Jonathan Hillerman recommending O’Neal not hang out in the hotel lobby. This time I bought the DVD rather than rewatch my old off-air version, so I got to enjoy Peter Bogdanovich’s discussion of the film on the commentary track: Warner Brothers had offered him the chance to do a drama with Streisand but he’d pushed for a screwball comedy instead, though keeping the idea of Streisand as a brainy polymath. After he and two writers developed the initial script, they turned it over to Get Smart co-creator Buck Henry, who considerably complicated the script (instead of three identical travel bags they had four) but for the better. Always a pleasure. “This man is in unauthorized possession of secret government … underwear.”

THE STRANGER WITHIN (1974) is an excellent SF horror film with a Richard Matheson script that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Twilight Zone (except too much talk of sex, I guess). Barbara Eden is thrilled to discover she’s pregnant, but she and husband George Grizzard are less thrilled when it turns out that no, his vasectomy of three years ago did not fail. Eden insists she hasn’t been with another man, and everyone wants to believe her but … And why is she over-salting all her food, drinking literally gallons of coffee and reading everything she can get her hands on? Could it be that the baby is Not What It Seems?

Yep, it’s another alien pregnancy film, with artificial insemination, like Village of the Damned, taking place through an alien ray beam. While the script gets a little repetitious (Eden keeps going to the hospital for an abortion, the fetus keeps stopping her), Eden’s bizarre behavior creates a sense of something truly alien inside her. However once again the rape aspects get hand-waved. David Doyle (playing a hypnotherapist) declares at one point that there’s no reason to assume the aliens aren’t doing something good, as if Eden being impregnated without her consent and then mind-controlled isn’t the teensiest bit objectionable (you’d think her husband, at least, would have made that point). Overall, though, a good film. “I know what you’re thinking — but there is no other man.”

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

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Covers that make me want to part with my money

Which is the purpose of book covers, right? For instance Robert Foster’s cover here is weird but I admit I’m kind of intrigued.This one by Paul Lehr intrigues me too.And so does this Morton Roberts cover for a short-story collection, even though I don’t see how the theme ties in with the image.Another interesting one by James MeeseAnd a creepy uncredited one.This uncredited cover ain’t bad either.Richard Powers’ covers are always interesting.And I’ll wrap up with a James Bama cover because evil flautists descending from space ships really is an eyegrabber. It’s even faithful to the novel.

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Hollywood, half magic and geopolitics: books read

THE RKO STORY by Richard B. Jewell is one of a series of coffee-table studio histories that came out several decades ago, giving the behind-the-scenes stuff along with a year-by-year, film-by-film account of production. Those films includes King Kong, Bringing up Baby, The Best Years of Lives and the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals, along with the Saint film series and far more forgettable series (comic duo Wheeler and Woolsey, Dr. Christian and the homespun philosopher Scattergood). Behind the scenes was constant turmoil with studio and production heads moving in and out, then Howard Hughes taking over the studio. This proved a disaster as Hughes demanded absolute micromanagement of everything but was never available when a quick decision had to be made, leading to RKO expiring in the 1950s. A fun book to browse, and easier if I were doing research than trying to work through IMDB or Wikipedia.

VISIONS OF THE MAID: Joan of Arc in American Film and Culture by Robin Blaetz is more limited than I expected, with a focus on the 20th century from WW I through the 1950s; Blaetz’ interest is how America handled the iconography of a woman warrior in a time when women weren’t supposed to be fighters (she does discuss movies up through the end of the century and the appendix looks at the previous several centuries of Joan’s legend). In WW I Joan was held up as a symbol of patriotism and heroic self-sacrifice, but as women exerted more independence in the world she became a warning against female independence or a vague template for movies such as Joan of Paris and Joan of Arkansas. Blaetz does a good job showing how Joan’s remarkable life story makes it possible to celebrate her as Catholic martyr, anti-Catholic rebel, anti-English martyr French national icon, delusional lunatic, mighty hero and naive innocent. Interesting.

HALF-MAGIC was the first of seven delightful children’s fantasies by Edward Eager, writing in the 1950s in the spirit of the British writer E. Nesbit (whom the children mention as a favorite in an early chapter). Four kids in the 1920s discover a magical wishing talisman which grants half of anything you ask for: they wish for the cat to talk but it babbles nonsense, they wish to visit a desert island and end up in the desert, etc. Despite which everything works out well for them and their widowed mother in a tale as charming as I remember it (though the stereotypical Evil Arab in one scene I could have done without).

PRISONERS OF GEOGRAPHY: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World by Tim Marshall was a local book clubs selection for September, explaining how geopolitics is really just geography: Russia is aggressively expansionist to shore up the weak spot in the terrain walling it off, China covets Tibet as a vulnerable spot, American geography makes it natural to build one nation where European natural features made them fragmented. Unfortunately I don’t think this makes a lick of sense; if the U.S. is one nation because of geography, why didn’t it have the same effect of uniting the hundreds of Native tribes? Why does Marshall spend so much time covering religion in the Middle East, or China’s aggressive military posture, neither of which really relate to the topic? A waste of time that I wound up skimming in several spots.

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

 

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Comic and pulp covers for Tuesday

First Jack Kirby —Then Virgil Finlay, for a creepy thriller by Joseph Payne Brennan.A Gil Kane actioner with a female Robin Hood in the old west.I don’t know the artist, but that’s a title that gives a good feel for what you’re getting into.One by John Romita catching an awkward romantic moment.A whimsical image by Hannes Bok—An eerie one by Boris Dolgov, though C. Hall Thompson’s work is third-rate Lovecraft.And one by J. Allen St. John to finish with.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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From Rome to Skull Island: books

THE EDGE OF THE EMPIRE: A Journey to Britannia From the Heart of Rome to Hadrian’s Wall by Bronwen Riley dramatizes life in the Roman Empire (circa AD 130) by taking us on a journey from the imperial city itself all the way to the ultimate thulei of the isle of Britain, where Hadrian’s wall at the northern border literally marked the edge of the empire, This was a very good premise, allowing Riley to talk about Roman food (fish paste and olive oil!), travel, ships, military structure, life in colonial towns and weather without feeling info-dumpy. Among other things it makes me see just how much travel was going on in that era, and how risky a great deal of it was. Very good.

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP: It’s Scooby Time! wraps up the Sholly Fisch and (mostly Dario Brizuela) series in the same cheerfully silly, fun vein as the previous volumes. Scooby and his human friends team with Mr. Miracle, Metamorpho, Black Lightning, Flash’s Rogues (haunted by the ghost of the Top) and in the final issue have to deal with pranks by both Batmite and Scooby-Mite. The issue is a tribute to all the Scoobies who’ve gone before, bringing back multiple sidekicks (Scrappy Doo, Vincent Van Ghoul, Red Herring) and multiple versions of the core characters (including DC’s rival series Scooby Apocalypse). Goodbye guys, you’ll be missed.

NIGHT RAVEN by multiple writers and artists collects the complete run of the Marvel UK series concerning a mysterious vigilante (“Night Raven” is one of the birds of abomination in the King James Bible, though the specific inspiration for the name was a John Milton poem) waging a one-man war on crime in 1930s New York, and leaving his brand on the faces of his victims. Much to my annoyance, this turns from comic strips to text pages — never as interesting — about a third of the way through; the early strips are decent, then they get really good under Alan Moore, who traces the battle between Night Raven and the immortal Asian crimelord Yi Yang across the decades. Unfortunately the last 40 percent of the book is text pages by Jamie Delano who is no Alan Moore (I’ve never particularly liked his comics work) so I wound up skimming a lot of them. I’ve been curious about the character but my curiosity is now satisfied. Still, the Moore stuff is really good.

As I said last week, I couldn’t resist reading Will Murray’s DOC SAVAGE: Skull Island, which opens with Renny applying his engineering savvy to figure out how to remove King Kong’s corpse from outside the Empire State Building. We then flash back to the post-Great War years, when Doc and his father went searching for Doc’s missing grandfather “Stormalong” Savage and found him on Skull Island, where Doc meets Kong. This confirms my opinion that Murray is no Lester Dent (not that he’s ever claimed to be) — he does great with the Kong scenes but Doc’s encounters with dinosaurs are nowhere nears as good as, say, The Other World, nor does the book capture how much Doc thrives on excitement — I think he’d have much more of a blast here. There’s also a lot of time spent battling uninteresting headhunters (and they’re a little too stereotypical savage brutes for my taste).

What does work, at least for me as a fan, is the spotlight on Doc’s prickly relationship with his father, and details such as how Doc acquired his nickname (working as a medic in WW I), a little about his mom (named Kendra Robeson, an obvious in-joke), Clark Sr. grumbling about his son reading puerile popular fiction such as Burroughs or Doyle and constant speculation about why Dad trained Doc the way he did. Regrettably it’s canon that Doc never learns so we can’t get an answer (I love Murray’s passing suggestion that it might have been Doc’s late mother’s idea, but that doesn’t work with what little we do know). So this one did have its charms.

Oh, and over on Atomic Junkshop I’ve posted an expanded version of an article from this site a few years back, about DC’s Beowulf.beowulf4

#SFWApro. Cover by Scott Jeraids, bottom by Ricardo Villamonte, all rights remain with current holder.

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Farewell, Dame Diana

So as you’ve probably heard, Dame Diana Rigg passed away last week. Which got me reflecting how much I insanely, madly crushed on Emma Peel in The Avengers as a kid.

Emma Peel was awesome. Intelligent (one episode established she had a higher IQ than Steed). Fearless. Able to take down the toughest foe with her bare hands. And gorgeous — even before I met TYG, I liked dark-haired beautiful women. I’m quite sure my crush was based mostly on her looks, but I don’t think it would have been so intense — certainly not as long-lasting — if she’d been a bimbo or simply Steed’s girlfriend. She was also an excellent actor, playing a chillingly ruthless Regan to Laurence Olivier’s Lear in a 1983 TV-movie. She’s delightful (and yes, beautiful) as a female reporter and early 20th century reporter in The Assassination Bureau and Vincent Price’s deadly daughter in Theatre of Blood. She was funny in an early 1970s sitcom, Diana — British professional working in the U.S. — though the series didn’t last.

She was also a big influence on X-Men, via an episode A Touch of Brimstone slugged in the UK’s TV Times as “Steed joins the Hellfire Club and Emma becomes a queen of sin.” I was too sick to stay up and watch when it originally aired but even at eight years old I knew “queen of sin” sounded awfully er, interesting. And yes, it was.Still is (I did see it eventually). And this episode had a huge influence on the Hellfire Club arc in the Chris Claremont/John Byrne era of X-Men, particularly how Byrne drew Jean Grey during her brief time as the Club’s Black Queen:Jason Wyngarde whom you see in that scene was modeled on Peter Wyngarde, the Hellfire Club’s leader in the Avengers episode.

#SFWApro. Comics art by John Byrne; all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Another ‘Other Doc Savage’ — Will Murray tries fiction

With the end of the Doc Savage canon approaching (about two more months and I’ll be done) I thought I’d take a break and check a couple of Will Murray’s “Kenneth Robeson” books from the 1990s. I own several, and would probably have more if money hadn’t been so tight in that decade, so presumably I enjoyed them back then. Rereading them with the original books fresh in my mind, not so much. Murray’s an amazing Doc Savage scholar but the two I read this month remind me of Lancer Books’ Conan series — bland imitations of the real thing.

PYTHON ISLE is based on an early 1930s outline by Lester Dent that his editor rejected. Snake stories, the editor believed, didn’t sell, though he also turned it down when Dent proposed making it Lion Island . We open with Doc in his first Fortress of Solitude (before he built the blue dome of Fortress of Solitude) then cut to a gang of South African smugglers led by Blackbird Hinton and King Hancock (“He hadn’t an evil bone in his body. Nor a good one either.”) who shoot down a plane coming too close to their boat. Then they realize the plane is a patchwork held together by gold plates and patches and decide to take a good look. The plane carries Tom Franklin, a pilot who vanished several years earlier, and the beautiful Lha of Ophir (an obvious Tarzan joke by Dent). Franklin escapes and gets a message to Renny, who’s working on a dam project nearby.

Renny gets word to Doc before he’s captured. Hinton gets word to Bull Pizano, a hulking brute (with a soft spot for animals) who can slap Monk around and more than hold his own fighting Doc. There’s the usual assortment of danger and escapes before Doc and his crew wind up on the eponymous island, currently in the grip of  evil high priest, Taxus, whose “invisible wrath” reduces his enemies to zombies (villains used similar gimmicks in Hex and The Czar of Fear but it’s unimpressive here). Eventually Taxus and the smugglers go down; Pizano winds up being eaten by sharks without a final battle with Doc or Monk (Murray says he didn’t think he could do justice to that showdown).

Dent wanted to do a series of stories spotlighting Doc’s aides, starting with Death In Silver but the rejection put paid to that (only The Sea Magician saw print). He did reuse several elements of Python Isle in later stories, for example turning the opening with Lha into the first appearance of the much more impressive Z in The Mental Wizard.  Murray follows Dent’s outline more faithfully than Dent might have (he often made changes when he got to the writing); Murray’s desire to make this just like a 1934 Dent novel is a weakness, reproducing the long detailed descriptions of Doc and his crew that Dent wrote into the early books. It wouldn’t have hurt to leave that out. Though the continuity references to earlier books are good.

THE FRIGHTENED FISH is based on a Dent plot synopsis rather than a detailed outline. Set after The Red Spider (unpublished until Murray dusted it off and got Bantam Books to reprint it in the 1970s) starts off effectively, as three hoods terrify a man with images of fish. The bad guys escape Doc but then the obnoxious, arrogant Celia Adams “of the Massachusetts Adams” shows up, demanding Doc find her missing boyfriend — why, yes, boyfriend Baker Eastland is unwittingly caught up in the same plot, how did you know? Investigating leads Doc & Co. to Massachusetts, where the fishing areas are mysteriously empty of fish; from there they eventually travel to occupied post-war Japan, where the same thing is happening. Doc points out that with Russia now having the a-bomb, the world is already unstable; Japan losing its primary food source would result in even more stability.

Enter Jonas Sown, the mastermind from The Screaming Man, to conform this is exactly his plan: just as his mind-control tech whipped the Axis leaders into war mode a couple of decades earlier, now he’ll do the same with the communist bloc. Japan will become communist and then WW III begins! This time Sown won’t fail!

Unfortunately Sown — added by Murray to Dent’s plot — remains underwhelming. Part of that is that like a lot of post-war Dent stories for the series, this is very talky: Sown spends much more time detailing his big and evil plans for the world than actually doing evil. Eliminating fish as a source of food is indeed a serious threat, but it’s not a very scary one. John Sunlight could have put this across, but Murray says that violates his What Would Lester Do? approach: Dent left Sunlight dead, so dead he must remain.

And then there’s the women of the book. Seryi, the Russian anticommunist from Red Spider, returns but only to break Doc’s heart by sacrificing herself to save him; Celia is written as a bitch with no redeeming features. Dent’s women were usually more capable and likable; even “she-male” Velma Crale in The South Pole Terror comes off better than Celia. She feels like a leftover from when Murray was ghostwriting The Destroyer, a series I found horribly sexist whenever I read it.

Despite my disappointment, I couldn’t resist picking up one of Murray’s later works, Doc Savage: Skull Island because a Doc/King Kong crossover set right after WW I seems irresistible. But that one will get a separate post after I finish it.

#SFWApro. Covers by Joe DeVito, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Women and their men: books read

Tim Hanley acknowledges that the title of his BETTY AND VERONICA: The Leading Ladies of Riverdale isn’t always accurate: for a lot of their history the girls have been supporting characters in Archie’s life, either prizes for him to win or plot obstacles (can he take them both to the same dance without either girl catching on?); progress away from that was often two steps forward, three steps backward (as might be expected from books created by men in their fifties, the women’s liberation era was particularly painful). At the same time, the need to create lots of stories within a limited fromula led to increasing emphasis on them being capable, and to their friendship becoming more important than their rivalry over Archie.

Hanley looks at how the girls’ stories has adapted to the many trends of Archie’s long history: the spy and superhero era (Betty became Superteen), writer/artist Al Hartley putting lots of Christian themes in the books (the point at which Good Christian Girl Betty began stealing some of the spotlight from Veronica), the rise of specialty comics stores (surprisingly good for them as the effects on the comics market led to their books outselling Archie’s), 21st century variations such as Life With Archie and Afterlife With Archie and the various attempts to bring them to other media (including a radio show, lots of TV cartoons and most recently the hit Riverdale). I’ve never been an Archie fan, but I still found this one fascinating.

Listening to the soundtrack of Six: The Musical (What If Henry VIII’s Wives Were a Spice Girls-Like Pop Group?) and realizing how little I really know about the women prompted me to check out THE WIVES OF HENRY VIII by Antonia Fraser from the library. Fraser does a good job showing there’s more to the women than their stereotypes (Betrayed Wife, Sexy Temptress, Good Woman, etc.). Anne Boleyn, for example, was just as interested in religion as Catherine of Aragon, though less devout and considerably more Protestant (a view that often put her at odds with her husband); Catherine Parr wrote a couple of religious texts herself. Fraser does well detailing the tangled scheming and political maneuvering around not only Henry’s marriages but the proposed marriages for children Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, as well as on some of the mundane details (no sooner did the royal decorator replace Catherine of Aragon’s symbols with Anne’s than he had to start over replacing Anne’s logo with Jane Seymour’s). She also makes clear that Henry was seen even at the time as an outlier, one monarch quipping he’d marry off his sister to Henry if only she had a second neck. Very good.

#SFWApro. Covers by Bill Vigoda (top) and Brittney Williams, all rights remain with current holders.

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