Tag Archives: Paper Girls

Truckers, sex, pseudoscience and girl heroes: books and TPBs

THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE WHEEL by RS Belcher makes me wonder if Highway Fantasy is the coming thing, as this shares a lot of elements with Sparrow Hill Road: America’s r0ads as a supernatural domain, phantom hitchhikers, demonic pacts at crossroads. The premise is that the Knights Templar are still around helping out travelers in the guise of state troopers, truckers, bikers and such. Now a supernatural serial killer working out of a town that doesn’t exist plots to commit a brutal sacrifice that will raise his dark god to destroy the world; can this motley group of heroes stop him? This is well done but doesn’t grab me like Belcher’s Weird Westerns — the nuts and bolts of trucking and forensic evidence didn’t interest me at all (but that’s more a YMMV thing than a flaw in the book).

SEXUAL SCIENCE: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood by Cynthia Eagle Russett looks at how breakthroughs in physics, medicine, phrenology and biology gave 19th-century scientists a chance to establish exactly what it was that made women inherently inferior to men — was it brain size? That women were simply more average and less individuated than men? Too emotional? Lack of maturity (children don’t have beards, women don’t have beards, so obviously women are immature men)? The need to divert their finite body energy supply to reproduction (the discussion of how researchers applied the Second Law of Thermodynamics to human bodies makes me understand why draining energy through masturbation was seen as such a threat)? Why yes, it does appear they might have been basing their ideas on sexism rather than science, though many of them were happy to pull the Different Not Inferior card (many of them recoiled from the implication women’s lesser intellects might make them unfit to be mothers). Very good, if depressingly familiar.

SCARLET ROSE: I Knew I’d Meet You by Patricia Lyfoung is a pleasant enough graphic novel about a proper young miss who to her grandfather’s horror is more interested in following the path of Robin Hood-esque “the Fox” than attending balls and making a good match. This was too familiar a set-up for me, but it’s YA so I’m not the target audience.

HOW TO FAKE A MOON LANDING by Darryl Cunningham is a collection of comics explaining that no, the moon landing wasn’t faked; yes, vaccines save lives; yes, global warming is a thing; and so on. While I applaud the intentions, there’s nothing new to me in the material and visually Cunningham’s work is very dull. I gave up midway through.

Rereading the second volume of PAPER GIRLS (this time following Volume One) by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang, I found it holds up really well. Mac, Tiffany and Erin arrive in the present (their future) and discover what’s become of them, with Erin decidedly unimpressed with her future self (it reminded me of Disney’s The Kid — no dog, no husband, and a stupid job?). Who’s the other Erin showing up in a spacesuit? Why doesn’t adult Erin remember any of this adventure? Very enjoyable, with some great pop culture references (“Oh my god, you grew up to be Airwolf!”).

#SFWApro. Cover by Chiang, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Writing historical specfic with Romans and paper girls

SHARDS OF HEAVEN by Michael Livingston and PAPER GIRLS by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang are both set int he past, one in ancient Rome as Octavian rises to power, one in the 1980s. They both faces challenges setting a story in the past, but while Vaughn brings it off, Livingston doesn’t.

Shards is a “what really happened in history” saga set during Octavian’s war against Antony and Cleopatra. When Octavian’s Numidian foster brother discovers the Trident of Poseidon, its power to command water guarantees victory in the battle. Beyond that, if they can unearth the secret location of the Ark of the Covenant from the Library of Alexandria, they’ll be able to wield power absolute on behalf of Rome.

My big problem was that the characters all felt contemporary to me. Cleopatra’s son, for example, is a major player. He’s the heir to Egypt’s rule, worshipped as a living god, revered by his people something I’d expect Egyptian royalty of that era to treat normally. But no, he’s written more like a modern celebrity uncomfortable with his sudden fame, more a president’s son than a future monarch. I didn’t buy it.

It’s more pronounced in the scene where a Jewish scholar reveals that artifacts such as the Trident and the Ark are literally shards of god,: to save us from a mechanistic universe, God had to die, and bits of his body fell to Earth, charged with power. The Trident is the same magical talisman as the staff of Moses and all gods — Yahweh, Olympian, Egyptian, Christian — are the same one deity.

That’s a pretty shocking set of revelations; even today being presented as fact would throw a lot of people for a loop. Livingston’s cast? They’re fine with it. They don’t come across like believers of 2,000 years ago, they sound more like the secular scientists of The Seventh Plague discovering the biological cause of the Ten Plagues of Egypt. I just couldn’t believe in them. Particularly the Jewish guy; even given that he already knows this stuff, the knowledge Yahweh and enemy gods such as Moloch and Baal are the same deity ought to have been shattering.

In PAPER GIRLS Vol. 1, the challenge is one I’m dealing with in Southern Discomfort, filling in background detail of the recent past. As someone who was in his twenties during the 1980s, I think Vaughn does a great job.

Much like Max Alan Collins in First Quarry, Vaughn tosses off period references without any context, apparently confident his readers will get it. This does make me curious: are the readers all people old enough to remember the 1980s? If not, do the references throw them?

The references are perfectly appropriate for the time, but some of them are particularly obscure. The 1980s War of the Worlds TV series. Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign. The latter, in fact, isn’t really tossed off, one of the protagonists’ moms refers to him as bringing on the Rapture by seeking political support from gays (or so I interpret her reference to “those people.”). It works for me because I remember Dukakis’ campaign, but millenials?

So am I wrong that when making these kind of references I should be as be unobtrusive and understandable as possible? In which case great, that will help if some of my 1970s references are too obscure. Or is it some other factor I haven’t thought of (not so great for me, probably). Either way, the series clearly works, so I guess Vaughn’s pulling the references off.

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

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Urban disorder, superheroes and 1980s teens: this week’s reading (#SFWApro)

URBAN DISORDER AND THE SHAPE OF BELIEF: The Great Chicago Fire, the Haymarket Bomb and the Model Town of Pullman by Carl Smith looks at how three title events each raised fears that Chicago (and by implication any metropolis) was a festering breeding ground of chaos due to looters, socialists, anarchists, unionists and more generally the unholy mobs of the working class, who refused to behave in a middle-class manner or accept the dictates of the rich. The default solution was authoritarian steps such as calling in the army to keep order (plus multiple, apocryphal stories of looters post-Fire). Pullman’s model town for his employees represented a kinder, gentler approach — placing the lower orders in an environment where they could be trained up to middle-class standards of conduct (like the more militaristic responses, Pullman assumed the less say the working class had in this, the better. Reminds me of a great many other books, such as the discussion in Weeds of weeds as a metaphor for uncontrollable urban environments; dry but worth the reading.

FLASH: Running Scared by Joshua Williamson and various artists has Barry grappling with a personal crisis (should he reveal his identity to Iris?) only to be plunged mid-grapple into a return battle with the Reverse Flash (I’m guessing his frequent appearances on TV made someone think he was due for resurrection). Unfortunately what follows bogs down in the kind of retcon the Crisis on Infinite Earths supposedly put an end to — Thawne has to explain his pre-Crisis history, the Flashpoint arc, his backstory in the New 52 and what I gather is a new backstory for DC’s Rebirth soft-reboot of the 52. I really don’t think the story benefited from that, and the idea of Thawne dedicating himself to destroying Barry’s life has never worked for me either.

SUPERMAN: Black Dawn by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason starts well as the Kents begin to realize that everyone in the town of Hamilton where they live now is part of some sinister conspiracy, which seems to be targeting Jonathan. Unfortunately the creators crapped out when they resurrected Manchester Black as the reason. In the pre-New 52 universe he was an interesting anti-hero/villain; here he’s just one more self-righteous psycho vigilante who thinks Good can only win by playing hardball. A shame, as I do love the Kent family here.

After reading Volume 2 and 3, I finally got around to the first collection of PAPER GIRLS by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang (cover by Chiang, all rights remain with current holder), which worked even though my reading order spoiled me for the big twists. It’s 1988 and a quartet of girls are delivering papers early one morning, only to encounter what appear to be alien invaders. Next thing they know, their small suburb is abandoned and pterosaurs are circling overhead … very good, with the same kind of retro references (“It’s like in that crappy TV show, War of the Worlds“) that everyone enjoys in Stranger Things (I prefer this version of the 1980s)


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China, Italy, the Old West, art theft and Paper Girls: books read (#SFWApro)


















KAI LUNG UNROLLS HIS MAT has the villains of the previous book descend on Kai Lung’s village, kidnap his wife and raze his home to the ground; with no allies and no money, can he cross China, track the bad guys down and outwit them with nothing but his storytelling skills? Well, obviously, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. However as with the first one this is a 1920s Orientalist fantasy of China, so if that’s not to your taste, avoid. Cover by Ian Millar, all rights remain with current holder.

TWENTY DAYS OF TURIN by Giorgio de Maria is a creepy Italian work from the 1970s, newly translated, in which a reporter investigating the eponymous reign of terror (individuals randomly attacked and battered against walls until death) discovers it was not only weirder than he imagined but that Sinister People would just as soon he not investigate it. The translator’s intro says this was probably intended as a veiled metaphor for the continuing presence of fascist and neo-fascist groups in Italy in the era it was written, but it works just as well as a magical realist Lovecraftian take. Also curiously prescient about social media in its portrayal of a library where people swap their diaries and intimate confessions.

SIXTH GUN: Sons of the Gun by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt was surprisingly disappointing — this story of General Hume’s band of killers tries to make them more than generic thugs, but it didn’t hold my interest at all. Partly that’s because without Becky and Sinclair as the focus, this is just a lot of horrible, eerie things happening to people I don’t ccare about at all.

MUSEUM OF THE MISSING: A History of Art Theft by Simon Houpt looks at the history of the topic including outright robbery, conquest (while I’m familiar with Nazi art thefts, I hadn’t realized Napoleon likewise sucked up art from his conquered provinces), cultural appropriation from the Third World and some of the more horrifying incidents (the mother of one art thief tried to hide the evidence by throwing it in a canal). Houpt concludes that in some ways, things are getting worse (paintings are now used as bargaining chips in underworld deals, which makes them much more profitable to swipe) and the laws for recovering them are surprisingly weak (in much of Europe, even a stolen painting can be kept if you bought it in good faith). On the other hand, the Internet makes tracking and identifying stolen goods a lot easier, and the methods for planting GPS trackers on art are surprisingly cheap. A good read.

PAPER GIRLS 3 by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang was less fun than Vol 2 because time travelers in prehistoric times is such a stock set-up, certainly more so than 1980s tweens winding up in the present (in the previous collection). Still, the characters kept my interest so I’ll be looking for Vol. 4



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