BELLA AT THE BAR by Jenny McDade and John Armstrong is one of a number of British sports comic strips for girls (I know of several ice-skating ones for instance). Bella Barlow is that classic figure of children’s adventures, an orphan with cruel caregivers (Uncle Jed and Aunt Gertrude) who use her as unpaid slave labor. Bella, however, is a naturally gifted gymnast who has a shot at become a serious competitive athlete — as long as Uncle Jed doesn’t find out. While this doesn’t appeal to me as much as Fran of the Floods, it is an engaging enough adventure to work.
By contrast, CHIAROSCURO: The Private Lives of Leonardo Da Vinci by Pat McGreal and Chaz Truog was a slog. This is the story of DaVinci as told by his thieving, conniving but handsome servant Salai, who bitterly resents Leonardo for not being the father-figure he needs. Salai’s an unpleasant character and I know enough of the historical Leonardo that the details of his life, as presented here, aren’t terribly fresh. Truog’s art didn’t work for me either.
BLUE BEETLE: Shell-Shocked by Keith Giffen, John Rogers and Cully Hammer launched the Jaime Reyes incarnation of the character (the names been in use since the 1940s). El Paso teenager Jaime discovers a strange scarab which then bonds to him, turning him into a powerful armored superhero. This upends his life and puts him into conflict with the metahuman street gang the Posse, local crimelord La Dama and a lot of superheroes who aren’t sure he’s trustworthy.
The idea of introducing a young rookie superhero to the world of metahumans is one comics have tried several times in the past three decades. This is one of the few times it works. Jaime’s a likable character, the stories are fun and this seems to avoid Hispanic stereotypes (I don’t deny I could miss one). However because it’s tied in to Jaime’s role in Infinite Crisis some readers have a hard time figuring out some of what’s going on (a perennial problem with TPBs including Big Event tie-ins).
THE DEPARTMENT OF RARE BOOKS AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS by Eva Jurczyk is a literary mystery in which the aging second-in-command of a university rare book library steps in for her ailing boss and discovers the collection’s most prized antiquity has gone AWOL While I liked the premise, I gave up after fifty pages — Jurczyk is doing a literary mystery and her literary style left me cold.
HIGH SORCERY is a five-story Andre Norton collection in which four of the stories involve disability cliches about tragic deformed or disabled figures such as the musician in Ully the Piper (who gets a Miracle Cure as his reward). That aside the collection is okay, not great; Ully is a witchworld book but it could just as easily have been set on Earth. The most interesting is Toys of Tamasen about a dream-inducing psi who finds herself and her client trapped in the dream and Wizard World, which reads like a Witch World riff (Esper flees to a setting very reminiscent of Estcarp or Alizon).
Much like The Time Axis, Henry Kuttner’s Well of the Worlds seems overstuffed with ideas for a short novel. For instance, this 1953 book is set in 1970 but that doesn’t affect the story at all. The government assigns Sawyer, an investigator, to help Klai, the amnesiac owner of a uranium mine which is slowing production because of ghosts. Investigating the supposed spirits delivers Sawyer into the hands of the mine’s malevolent co-owner, then they and Klai get hurled across the dimensions to a world under the control of the godlike Isier. Being on an immortal race’s shitlist isn’t a good position to be in, but Sawyer’s ready to fight against all odds. This gets so wild, the climax resembles an acid trip of special effects, but I enjoyed it.
#SFWApro. Top cover by John Armstrong, bottom by Duncan Rouleau, all rights to images remain with current holders.