Thor, Avengers, Hellboy and love: comic book collections read.

MARVEL MASTERWORKS: THOR Volumes 3 (which I don’t think I’ve reviewed and four) show Stan Lee and Jack Kirby at their storytelling best (way better than the previous volume). We have the first one-on-one battle between Thor and the Hulk, then things slide into what’s almost one continuous story for several years. The Trial of the Gods leads into Thor’s first encounter with the Absorbing Man, then the Destroyer, which leads into a battle with Hercules, all spectacularly rendered by Kirby. It’s not all perfect — there’s a totally ridiculous plotline involving a reporter kidnapping Jane Foster. Overall, though, this is great stuff, assuming Silver Age Marvel falls into your wheelhouse.

AVENGERS: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (The Ultimate Collection) by Joe Casey and Scott Kolins takes a very different look behind the scenes of the Avengers’ Silver Age adventures. In the first of the two series we see Tony Stark struggling to get government support for the team while Captain America deals with the 21st century and then to his PTSD reaction to Zemo, the man who killed Cap’s partner Bucky (or so it seemed at the time). This runs from the team’s beginning to the replacement by Cap’s “Kookie Quartet” of Cap, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. The second series covers only a few issues, from the debut of the Vision to right after the wedding of Hank and Jan, but it’s a surprisingly fertile field (I’ve written about the wedding myself). However the subplot exploring Black Panther’s decision to work as an inner-city teacher is much weaker and why would a Wakandan assassin call himself Death Tiger (there are no African tigers)? Overall, well worth the reading and better than Casey’s retelling of the team’s origin.

HELLBOY: Return of Effie Kolb by Mike Mignola and various collaborators is a collection of standalone Hellboy stories. The title one is a sequel to the classic The Crooked Man but my favorite is the weird, eerie Long Night at Goloska Station which includes the phrase “The devil came to my village disguised as a goat.”

E.C. COMICS ARCHIVES: Modern Love by various creators is a poor shadow of their classic horror stuff (though most of that doesn’t work for me either). There’s some interesting stuff like a woman working as a dime-a-dance hostess to support her mother (it segues into a crime story, something else E.C. was big on) but others are stock and a few are cringeworthy. In one, a guy tricks a girl into staying overnight with him at a hotel (separate rooms, no attempt at anything), knowing it will destroy her reputation and her engagement, leaving him free to swoop in. Yes, he gets the girl. I didn’t finish this one.

#SFWApro. Covers by Jack Kirby (top) and John Buscema (bottom).


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Another year older and while not deeper in debt …

… some cash clients would be nice. As I’ve said before, being in a two-income family means the wolf is not at our door despite my various business/finance writing gigs drying up. But I’d still feel better the more I can contribute to covering our expenses. Plus I don’t spend much on myself when money’s not coming in and I like spending money on myself.

(In case you haven’t guessed this, it’s not my usual Saturday movie-review post).

That said, the last year has been a good one. Professionally I self-published Questionable Minds; McFarland published The Aliens Are Us; and both The Savage Year and Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates came out late last year. And while focusing on fiction the past three months hasn’t been lucrative, I do enjoy it.

Away from my computer, things are going well too. I’m still in good health, which I appreciate more with every year that goes by. I’m not at the “I’m just grateful I made it through another year” point — I still expect better than that low bar — but I am pleased when it happens. The dogs are in good health too; Plushie, as the older pup, has a few health issues but we’ve been able to manage them. TYG is much happier since changing jobs which makes me happier and our practice of weekend dates has worked out well too.

As far as I know I have not lived before so I’ve no idea what getting older is going to be like. Anything could hit any of us at any time but I’m a little more chill about that than when I was younger. Onward and upward!

Funny, my birthday posts (mostly on other blogs and websites than this one) used to be a lot deeper with a lot more soul-searching. But since meeting, and then marrying TYG, I’m a lot less stressed about the future. And for that matter the present.

#SFWApro. Covers by Curt Swan (t) and J. Winslow Mortimer


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In a sense, this week was inevitable

As I’ve written before, things such as workweeks have a tendency to average out — just by random fluctuation a string of good writing weeks will be balanced out by a bad one. Which was this week.

I knew today would be a non-starter because I’m spending it doing stuff with TYG, but I’d planned to make the most of the other four days. Monday I got maybe 2,000 words done on Let No Man Put Asunder; however I think much of it will need reworking before I go on.

Tuesday I put in some work on a short story and its showing progress.

Wednesday the cats came in and snuggled with me for around an hour (as in this older photo).That’s very cool, and Snowdrop even stayed in when I closed the door. However it left me no time for exercise or stretch before the dogs woke up which left me feeling off. After breakfast, I wound up squished between Wisp in the lap and Trixie next to her, both demanding petting and erasing my personal space — and my mind just balked. I got some blogging done, and a little research reading but no writing (blogging, when I’m point, does not count against writing time).Thursday my focus didn’t come back up. It’s partly my old devil of knowing I’m not going to work a full week so why bother to put in any work at all? I did get some stuff done, but low priority, low-intensity stuff, research for my planned Jekyll and Hyde and Doc Savage reference books. Writing would have been better.

Like I said, the law of averages says not every week is going to be stellar. This one wasn’t. But I did get $16 bucks for some of my books from Draft2Digital sales (thank you, whoever you are!). And over at Atomic Junk Shop I published some thoughts on what makes the Bronze Age of comics distinctive and a couple of Silver Age stories that just stuck with me.


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Filed under Personal, Short Stories, Story Problems, The Dog Ate My Homework, Time management and goals

Cats hanging out in our dining room

When Wisp and Snowdrop explore, they seem to like the dining room. We use it primarily to store stuff and the dogs don’t spend much time there so perhaps it smells like peace and safety?Plus it’s a more defensible fortress than any space we have in the living room.


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Conform to Party doctrine or you become non-citizen, comrade!

Several years back, someone described the 21st century right-wing as the radical left of the 1960s: better to burn it all down than live in a world that doesn’t conform to their ideals! While I think there’s truth to that, I also think they’re very close to our old enemy, the USSR. Back during the Cold War, the Soviet Union expected everyone to tie the line and accept Communist Party doctrine. Businesses. Schools. Parents, who must bring up their children to conform. That sums up the modern right-wing.

In Texas, for example, if your bar hosts a drag show — politically incorrect under current party doctrine — you’ll pay higher taxes.

The Georgia state government wants tighter control over prosecutors, such as the one investigating Trump.

Florida isn’t the only state trying to stamp out non-Republican thought in schools.

Florida Man also wants to block removing Confederate monuments because history! Given the bill requires the state sign off on any placques or signs providing historical context, I suspect statements like “The Confederate Army killed more American soldiers than any foreign foe in our nation’s history” will not conform to party orthodoxy.

While Florida’s current leadership talks about how they want to give power to parents, that doesn’t apply to parents who support their trans kids. Even if the custodial parent doesn’t live in Florida. Small wonder: right-wing misogynist Matt Walsh says having a trans kid is a fate worse than death — though as you’ll see at the link, he claims there’s no such thing as trans kids so obviously he didn’t mean what he said! Of course this just shows how the right is recycling old anti-gay propaganda (one Christian book described its author losing one kid to a fatal drunk-driving incident, another to the “homosexual lifestyle”) now that they’ve lost the fight for public opinion on that one.

Texas Rep. Bryan Slaton wants to give a tax break to families — provided they’re not gay, neither partner has ever been divorced, and they didn’t have the kids before tying the knot. Slaton also wants a referendum on secession. At least that would get rid of Ted Cruz as a senator …

Missouri wants to ban any sort of LGBTQ education in K-12.

The FBI and Justice Department have investigated Trump, the right wing Messiah — so Matt Gaetz wants to defund law enforcement at the federal level.

Utah will probably ban abortion clinics, forcing all abortions to take place in hospitals.

Republican Iowa State Rep. Brad Sherman (no relation as far as I know) insists banning gay marriage doesn’t take away anyone’s rights — gays can still call their disgusting abomination a marriage if they want, so what’s the problem?

As Paul Campos says, a basic assumption of right-wing ideology is that their beliefs are not ideology: “Right wingers are against indoctrinating children, but they are very much in favor of forcing schools to teach children that America is God’s extra special favorite country, because that’s not indoctrination, that’s just a plain Biblical truth … A more general point here is that anybody who complains about indoctrinating children is talking nonsense, because up to a certain age educating children and indoctrinating them is simply the same thing. So arguing, for example, that schools shouldn’t indoctrinate children is oxymoronic. The question is always and everywhere which doctrines they will be taught, and again the key right wing belief is that authoritarian ethno-nationalism, with an infusion of balsamic Christianity, isn’t a set of doctrines, but rather an unquestionable collection of shared truths, that together make America the Greatest Country in the World.”

See also Vaclav Havel on the power of dissent.


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SVB Bank: Too big to fail?

Back in the 2008 financial crisis, the US propped up a number of banks and financial firms that would otherwise have gone under. They were “too big to fail,” so large their collapse would do unacceptable damage, even if their bad judgment brought it on themselves. Critics said that gave the same companies a free hand to act without consequences — the government wasn’t going to let them fail, right?

And now we have Silicon Valley’s SVB collapse and the government’s promise to cover deposits way above the $250,000 federal bank insurance limit: “On a call with reporters, a Treasury official emphasized that the federal intervention would not bring SVB or Signature back to life, as the enormously controversial bank bailouts during the 2008 financial crisis had done for banks that were close to failing. Their executives would not retain their jobs. These new safeguards were aimed at protecting people and businesses who had made a reasonable decision to put their money into an accredited and regulated bank — not investors who bought risky securities.”

What reasonable? Everyone who has that kind of money should know they were putting in more than the limit; the idea they should get insurance anyway doesn’t work for me.

Republicans are screaming, inevitably, that the bank died because it was too woke, because they always scream that. Possible insider trading by bank management might have been a bigger issue, or the bank pushing for looser regulations. Fox News’ Jesse Watters claims SVB collapsed because of Pride Month. And here’s a goody the Wall Street Journal saying it’s because SVB didn’t have an all-white board.

The bank did a lot of business with venture capitalists and unsurprisingly venture capitalists were furious the government might not reimburse depositors. That includes (as noted at the link), a number of VCers who talk a lot about moral hazard and the dangers of things like student-loan forgiveness, but suddenly want the welfare state to prop up their industry.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think SVB is an outlier. We have a right-wing business group opposing tighter rail regulations in the wake of the Ohio disasters. Florida insurers have dealt with massive payouts in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian by rewriting damage assessments: ” “In one claim reviewed by The Post, a nearly $500,000 damage estimate on a house with a mostly tarped roof was reduced to about $13,000. In another, the desk adjusters blamed roof storm damage on past wear and tear, meaning it would not be covered.”

That the rot in American business is widespread does not, however, mean it’s excusable anywhere.

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Uncredited but interesting cover art.

This one looks a lot like Powers’ work.

Next, a novel repackaged to tie in with a movie adaptation.This one became a Barbara Stanwyck film.Is it just me or should that women’s nipples be popping out of that top?

This one’s chilling, I think.I like this cover too.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Bronze Vengeance: Doc Savage in The Land of Terror

THE LAND OF TERROR is the second Doc Savage novel and in several ways it’s an outlier, a clear sign Lester Dent and his editors were still figuring the series out.

At the same time the book follows the formula of The Man of Bronze. Both start with the murder of someone close to Doc (though his father’s death in the first book happened before the first chapter); both split time between New York and exotic location; both have a mystery mastermind with a secret identity. There’s a unique weapon the bad guys to use to kill, something Dent recommends in his writing rules.

Instead of the Red Death of the first book, though, the weapon here is the much more formidable Smoke of Eternity. In the opening chapter, crooks working for the sinister Kar murder Doc’s former teacher Jerome Coffern, then fire a pellet containing the Smoke of Eternity at his body. Once the casing shatters the substance disintegrates Coffern’s body and the street he’s lying on, leaving behind a cloud of grey smoke laced with electric sparks.

With no body Coffern’s disappearance would never be explained, except that a)his forearm and expensive watch fall just outside the radius of the Smoke’s effect; b)Doc Savage showed up to meet him. Doc tracks the gang, killing several of them, learns about Kar and his plans to use the Smoke of Eternity for crime.

The first four chapters are all Doc, with none of his five aides. He’s more ruthless than in any other book, killing one crook after the other when they try to shoot him (he’s not wearing a bulletproof shirt yet). While this could be grief over Coffern’s death, the narration makes it clear this is Doc’s code: cross him and you either reform or die. Doc doesn’t “mollycoddle” crooks.

Doc’s more than just a Shadow/Punisher-type vigilante though. When he encounters a poor, half-blind old woman while hunting the killers, he takes the time to give her some money and send her to an eye surgeon who’ll fix her vision for free, at Doc’s request. When a bank rewards him for stopping a robbery by Kar’s gang, he pays several restaurants to provide food to the homeless and poor. And for all the violence, his preferred solution to crime is sending them to a clinic for extensive psychotherapy to reform them (all crooks are mentally ill, you see), the initial concept for the crime college.

While Dent devotes the opening chapters to demonstrating Doc’s awesomeness there’s more show, less tell than in Man of Bronze. Coffern kicks things up by asking his colleagues if they’ve heard of Clark Savage; one remembers his recent groundbreaking work in organic chemical analysis, another remembers a breakthrough in brain surgery. Can one person be a giant in two such unrelated fields? Coffern says yes. Despite Doc’s father being a legend himself, nobody here thinks of Clark Savage Sr.

After the death, Doc goes into action. He can hurdle over a security fence effortless, track the crooks by the slightest traces left behind, outrun a car when it’s in first or second gear and kill one hood by throwing a pike through his body. Plus a few more spectacular stunts.

Kar’s secret identity is more prominent in the story than the official behind the mask of the Son of the Feathered Serpent in the previous book. That works better but I’m puzzled by his choice of pseudonym. Kar is a bland nom du crime compared to the Squeaking Goblin or the Man in the Moon but it’s distinctive enough I’d like to know why the villain picked it. We never do.

Just as the Smoke of Eternity is the most science-fictional weapon of the first year of Doc Savage Magazine, Thunder Isle is more SF than the Valley of the Vanished or the lost cities lying ahead. It’s a thousand-foot high volcanic crater in the Pacific and inside it lies the mineral from which Kar developed the Smoke of Eternity. When Doc’s plane descends through the thick mist over the crater they’re attacked by a pterodactyl; cut off from the outside, dinosaurs have survived on Thunder Isle into the present. This makes it a very bad place for the plane to crash as the good guys face both Kar’s goons and prehistoric wildlife.

Among other notes of interest:

•Doc still doesn’t have a bulletproof shirt or a pocketful of gadgets. He has no issues with using guns. His team have special guns but they’re simply compact machine guns rather than the superfirer pistols that would become standard later.

•It’s the only novel in the series I can remember with no pretty woman in it. Other thank walk-ons, the cast is all male. There’s a reference to Monk’s beautiful secretary but she doesn’t appear on the page.

•Monk rolls his own cigarettes. Dent went back and forth through the series on whether any of Doc’s men smoke — but of course Monk could have quit, then gone back to it.

•Johnny shows extensive knowledge of dinosaurs, as he would in several later books. Dent seems to assume that paleontology and geology are more or less the same thing. Dent has dropped the idea in Man of Bronze that Johnny gets crazy but accurate hunches. While the first book told us Johnny’s tall and skinny, this one emphasizes that he’s so “tall and gaunt” his shoulders “were like a coat hanger under his coat.” We also learn that his left eye is almost useless so he has a magnifying lens in the left side of his spectacles for convenience.

#SFWAPro. Covers by Douglas Rosa (top) and Walter Baumhofer.

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Feminism, dignity and tyranny

Someone in Iran has poisoned hundreds of schoolgirls with toxic gas, probably to drive girls away from schools.

In Tennessee forced-birthers are outraged that the legislature is considering a bill to make a clear abortion-ban exemption for life-of-the-mother cases (currently the doctor has to prove in court they were justified).A woman in Texas needed an abortion because one of her twins had fetal deformities and continuing the pregnancy would kill the other fetus. She had to leave the state to abort.

One college under Ron DeSantis’ thumb has closed its diversity, equity and inclusion office. DeSantis wants state colleges to drop the women’s studies major.

As Jamelle Bouie says: “The attacks on transgender people and L.G.B.T.Q. rights are of a piece with the attack on abortion and reproductive rights. It is a singular assault on the bodily autonomy of all Americans, meant to uphold and reinforce traditional hierarchies of sex and gender.

Politicians and those of us in the media tend to frame these conflicts as part of a “culture war,” which downplays their significance to our lives — not just as people living in the world, but as presumably equal citizens in a democracy. Democracy, remember, is not just a set of rules and institutions, but a way of life. In the democratic ideal, we meet one another in the public sphere as political and social equals, imbued with dignity and entitled to the same rights and privileges.”

I think that nails it. As another article put it, authoritarians everywhere crack down on feminism and gender equality because “gender is a way to express and promulgate core notions of identity and power at individual and structural levels.” Asserting that women (or gays, trans, POC, etc.) have equal rights, equal dignity with men, challenges the power of the hierarchy to decide who has worth. It undercuts the pride and arrogance of those who think they’re entitled to more dignity, more standing than anyone else.

Consider the deep right-wing conviction that women shouldn’t vote (another example here). As Frederick Douglass put it (quoted in the Bouie article), to “deny women her vote is to abridge her natural and social power, and to deprive her of a certain measure of respect.” A woman “loses in her own estimation by her enforced exclusion from the elective franchise just as slaves doubted their own fitness for freedom, from the fact of being looked down upon as fit only for slaves.” Conversely granting women the vote implies they’re equal citizens with men; misogynists would sooner drink rat poison.

The same applies to the ongoing outrage over women getting an education. Our misogynists aren’t as openly vicious as in Iran or Afghanistan but that’s more because society still restrains them than because they’re any better. It also applies to the view that it shouldn’t be women’s choice whether they become pregnant. Granting women dignity means they’re not means to men’s ends — and sexists and misogynists hate that.

Sexists began freaking out about feminist tyranny when second-wave feminism launched and they haven’t stopped. While women certainly have the capacity to be authoritarians — there’s no group that isn’t capable of it — feminists have never made an effort to strip men of their rights or dignity the way society, the right-wing in particular, has been trying to take away women’s since the anti-feminist backlash started in the 1980s. And the rights of everyone else who isn’t a straight, white, Christian male as well.

Misogyny is part and parcel of 21st century authoritarianism.

You can read more of my work about misogyny in Undead Sexist Cliches, available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers. Cover by Kemp Ward.

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Urban fantasy, urban terrorism and time rewinding: books read

The protagonist of Michael Merriam’s LAST CAR TO ANNWN STATION is Maeve, a lesbian child-abuse investigator in Minneapolis. Maeve’s skating on thin ice at work for having investigated a rich, powerful family for possibly abusing their daughter, plus she’s unsure whether her new buddy at work is just a friend or might be open to more.

Then Maeve takes a ride on the ghost of one of Minneapolis’ old street cars, meets death and finds herself in the middle of a sorcerous plot.  The girl she’s worried about is indeed abused but in ways Maeve can’t guess, just as she has a lot to learn about her family history.

I enjoyed this one. I’m also pleased that despite being a “new character stumbles into magical subculture” Merriam didn’t use this as an excuse to drown me in exposition.

PATTY’S GOT A GUN: Patricia Hearst in 1970s America by William Graebner looks back to when Hearst — granddaughter of the legendary William Randolph Hearst, college student, fiancee — was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a small group of would-be revolutionaries. Worse, Hearst eventually joined them, participating in a bank robbery as Tania, a fellow terrorist, and shooting at the cops to protect her comrades.

Graebner looks at how the reactions to Hearst weren’t just about her but about pundits and the public’s general frustration with living in 1970s America: was it permissive parenting that turned kids so rotten or was it the civil rights movement encouraging people to break the laws (a common complaint back then from conservatives who never seemed to worry that lynching people in earlier decades would encourage civil disobedience. Go figure). Unfortunately that didn’t make for a l0ng enough book so Part Two is a broader discussion of how the culture at the time interpreted victim-hood, survivorship and heroism (wouldn’t a hero have resisted SLA brainwashing?).

While this is not uninteresting it doesn’t feel like it has any relevance to Hearst’s case and sometimes has none at all — Graebner brings in The Exorcist on the grounds Hearst turning evil is really a lot like Linda Blair in the film getting possessed but he doesn’t convince me anyone at the time saw it that way. (It feels padded much like The Secret History of the Jersey Devil). I find his analysis off in other ways too: society has blamed rape victims for assault for decades so it’s daft to argue how the 1980s film The Accused shows a new skepticism about women crying rape.

COUNTER-CLOCK WORLD by Philip K. Dick is set in the late 1990s when time slowly rewinding causes the dead to wake up in their coffins, then eventually de-age into infancy. The central character runs one of the businesses that dig up the dead, then collect a fee from whoever assumes responsibility for the deceased. Unfortunately the new find is a revolutionary black leader and a great many people — including, possibly, his successors — would prefer he not start preaching again. This is so-so Dick, with the premise inconsistent (cigarette butts become full cigarettes as people smoke them but most events still follow cause and effect) and the female characters two-dimensional. Not that the men are complex, but the protagonist’s wife is exceptionally shallow.

#SFWApro. Cover by Kanaxa Designs



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