Tuesday, December 31

The Superman Files: The Story of Kal-El, Compiled by Brainiac 5

Translated from the Original Interlac” by Matthew K. Manning (2013)

This is an interesting coffee-table book published rather late during this just-ending 75th anniversary year of the first appearance of Superman. The simplest, most straightforward short description is that it comprises an in-DC-Universe biography of the greatest super-hero of the 21st century compiled from the perspective of his 31st-century comrade in the Legion of Super-Heroes, Brainiac 5.* Generally speaking, it combines commentary from Brainiac 5 with documentary material from the Man of Steel's own journals, news reports, and sundry other faux “sources” to form a more-or-less cohesive narrative stretching from background on his lost homeworld of Krypton to the 2013 present. It does fall short of being a comprehensive history of the character in that virtually no account is taken of materials published before ca. 1985 when the Crisis on Infinite Earths remade the DC Universe and was followed by the 1986-1987 Man of Steel mini-series reimagining the flagship character with a stripped-down, more cohesive continuity that would prevail for approximately the next 25 years. But over the last quarter-century, as far as I can tell, most everything, every major event and story-line, is reconciled into a fairly organic whole that hangs together remarkably well. There are various contradictions intrinsic to the ongoing nature of the comic-book medium, with its serialized, continuous narrative inevitably necessitating period rewritings of the internal history along the way (termed “retcons” for “retroactive continuity”**), but even these are accounted for as far as possible via Brainiac 5's acknowledgment of the various chronal discontinuities that have become virtually a staple of DC's story-telling – with the most recent Flashpoint Event that gave birth to the current “New 52” and its sometimes radically different DC Universe that began in 2011 being frankly acknowledged in the final few pages. Even if you have read Superman continuously from the mid 1980s to the present (which I have not, mainly reading a few years from the beginning as well as the last half-dozen years or so, with scattered specific story-lines in between), I can imagine fans of the character paging through this large volume with immense enjoyment, reveling in the variety of art selected from across that period, generally presented as if photographs posted into a scrapbook, with attendant commentary and textual pieces telling the overall story as if from a variety of perspectives and viewpoints. I know that I have done so, since receiving it from my wife and son for Christmas.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Directed by Peter Jackson

Well, here I am for the second Hobbit movie, as late or later seeing it than I was the first last year [link]. December is just an intrinsically busy time of year what with end-of-semester duties, holiday preparations, and so forth. Plus I had a very bad cold on top of a pile of essays to read over the opening weekend. Long and short, as much as I was looking forward to it, I seem to be the last person I know who wanted to see it who has seen it!

Also, whereas last year the delay in seeing it meant that my only option was 3D, a format I generally do not prefer, this year my only option was 2D. Frankly, I did not miss the 3D, although I may well have opted for it if I had a choice, based on the recommendation of a couple of friends. Oh well. I don't think my enjoyment of the movie suffered in the least.

Saturday, December 28

Treecat Wars (A Star Kingdom Novel, 2013)

By David Weber and Jane Lindskold

This is the third in the series ancillary and remotely prequel to David Weber's ever-expanding Honor Harrington series of interstellar war and politics. It is a more direct sequel to the second young-adult “Star Kingdom Novel,” Fire Season [link], than was the latter to the first volume, A Beautiful Friendship [link]. This will be a short post since I don't have a whole lot to say about this book that wouldn't be repeating what I said about the other two. I love virtually anything set in Weber's Honorverse, and this story continues the tale of Honor Harrington's several-centuries' great-grandmother Stephanie as she continues to grow through her 'teen years, dealing with consequences of her discovery of the treecats of her new homeworld Sphinx as well as the various issues facing any normal teen-aged girl.

The major themes introduced in the first two books continue to be worked out in this volume: 1) the continuing conflict between humans of the Manticoran Star Kingdom as well as the wider galaxy as to whether to regard the treecats simply as incredibly clever animals or as sentient beings with “human” rights – and if the latter, what should be the relationship and interaction between humans and their “more primitive” neighbors?; and 2) new conflict between treecat clans stressed to the point of crisis by the ecological catastrophe of the recent “fire season,” with autumn advancing and Sphinx's long, hard winter approaching swiftly. But this time, except for at the very beginning and the very end, the story is told in parallel narratives as Stephanie and her friend Karl are dispatched by the Sphinx Forestry Service to receive three months forestry training at the University on Manticore, a rare opportunity for interns who are not full forestry agents – but which means that Stephanie is separated by the gulf between neighboring worlds from her new boyfriend Anders … who remains on Sphinx with the group of xenoanthropologists headed by his father but finds circumstances compelling him to spend a great deal of time in the company of Stephanie's best friend Jessica with predictable (even were it not broadcast on the inside front cover text) results. Once again, it's a well-written and engaging tale that weaves another thread into the growing tapestry of Weber's fictional universe.

Cheers! – and Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 25

Shazam! (DC 2013, The New 52!)

By Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. Reprinted from Justice League #7-11, 0, 14-16, 18-21 (2012-2013)

Well, nobody's more surprised than me that I ended up buying this collection, and in hardcover to boot! From the very beginning of the New 52 version of The Hero Formerly Known As Captain Marvel, I found so many things to dislike about Geoff Johns' portrayal, mainly centering on the surly characterization he imparted to Billy Batson, which seemed very much a stereotypical obnoxious brat just like his similar and nearly simultaneous portrayal of young Bruce Wayne in Batman: Earth One. That wasn't the only aspect of the “updating” of the story that I didn't care for, to be sure. The new Dr. Sivana, bulked up and looking more like a cheap Lex Luthor knock-off, also rubbed me the wrong way. And the mess just seemed to get worse and worse as month after month of the back-up series appeared in the pages of Justice League, what with Billy and Freddy first attempting to capitalize on Billy's new powers to make money, then considering Billy's new adult appearance as a way for them to get alcohol. For someone like me, who loves the simple, almost childlike wonder and charm of the original Captain Marvel, which has, however imperfectly, informed most of DC's portrayals of the character hitherto (Dark Mary Marvel and subsequent developments being lamentable departures from that model, essentially exceptions that prove the rule), it seemed like these newest horrors were just going from bad to worse. It was heartbreaking.

And then...

The Date of Christmas Revisited

Two years ago I posted regarding what was then my new-found realization that the widely held notion that the specific day of the year upon which Our Lord was born is unknown and that the prevailing celebration of that birth on 25 December owes more to pre-Christian pagan custom is incorrect, that there is indeed solid Biblical evidence, based on the Archangel's appearance to Zachariah, that the Nativity did take place some time in what according to the current Gregorian Calendar would be late December.  As has, in my mind at least, according to good medieval thinking, become a custom ("twice makes a custom"), I re-present that post, followed by a few notes and further references.
* * *

Tuesday, December 24

Don't Mess With Santa Claus!

It's well known that Santa Claus, "Jolly Old Saint Nick," is based on an historical figure, St. Nicholas of Myra, who lived in the early 4th century, whose Feast Day is celebrated on 6 December.  According to the most famous legend associated with this good bishop, upon learning that one of the members of his church, a poor man, had three daughters for whom he could not provide dowries and who were thus in all probability fated for spinsterhood or worse, Nicholas secretly left gifts for the girls to provide for good marriages.  Out of that story, no doubt encouraged by the timing of his feast and the easy association with the Gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child, evolved the idea of Santa Claus as the giver of Christmas gifts.

For more about St. Nicholas and how he "became" Santa Claus, I can do no better than refer you to a wonderful web site devoted to the saint both historical and fanciful, St. Nicholas Center:  Discovering the Truth About Santa Claus [link].  Included there is another somewhat lesser-known tale regarding St. Nicholas, however, that I have seen referenced more and more in recent years and which has given birth to a host of memes compiled in a humorous post by "Dan" at Rockadoodee! [link] (which I have freely mined for some of the images here), how the historical St. Nicholas "dealt with" the heretic Arius of Alexandria during the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 [link].

Thursday, December 19

Wonder Woman, vol. 3: Iron (DC, 2013 – The New 52)

By Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. Reprints issues #0, 13-18.

It's actually been several weeks since I read this volume, as part of my new luxury of reading the current month's batch of comics quicker and leaving time to pick up various collections. I think I read it early in Thanksgiving week, but the latter part of that week's family activities followed by the next two weeks finishing up the fall semester, with all the papers and final exam grading which that entails, as well as my son's soccer season kicking off (pardon the pun) and a fairly miserable head cold over the past week left little or no time for blogging. This will likely be a short entry  no worries about spoilers!

I've mentioned several times how my regard for this series has shifted radically, from high to low, and back to high with a realization that, for me at least, Azzarello's tale is much more readable and enjoyable in large chunks, which led me to drop the monthlies after the first dozen or so to wait for the collections. This is the first volume to pick up after the point I had gotten to about a year or so ago. It took a little review to get back set to proceed, but once I settled into it I really enjoyed this batch of stories. It definitely is not your standard super-hero fare, and doesn't mesh very well in terms of tone with Diana's other appearances in the new DCU even though it is during this period, especially with the re-introduction of the New Gods in the pages of this book, that it becomes clear that the events of this book are indeed contemporaneous with the rest of the DCU. But taken on its own terms, and with the possible exception of the introduction of Orion of the New Gods into the story, Azzarello is crafting a tale that is considerably more mythic – no pun intended – than your standard, run-of-the-mill super-hero fare, one that easily stands on its own. It's complemented very well by Chiang's straightforward artistic style. This series has been polarizing among Wonder Woman fans – my own reaction has run the gamut – but I think it will ultimately go down as one of the high points in the character's long history. I'm definitely looking forward to future volumes.

I liked this one so much, indeed, that I have already pulled out the previous twelve issues and prepped them for library-binding – one of the thinnest volumes I've ever had bound, but I would like to have those issues standing beside this one and future collections in this series.

Cheers! – and Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 5

Green Lantern: Rise of the Third Army (DC 2013)

By Geoff Johns et al. (reprinting various issues, see below)

Like a couple of other DC series, I like Green Lantern – and indeed much of the Lantern'verse corner of the DC nUniverse – very much … in collected format. Readers of this blog may in fact remember how I chose to drop back to collected format with the advent of the New 52 after “burning out” on monthlies and repeated Lantern'verse-wide events in the months beforehand, but when I acquired and read Green Lantern vol. 1: Sinestro, the first New 52 collection, I enjoyed it so much [link] that I jumped back into the monthlies – for just a couple months that quickly reminded me that the series indeed reads much better in collected format.

Then a few months back came the realization that with the return of Lantern'verse-wide events, DC was going to collect the four franchise titles (GL, GL Corps, New Guardians, and Red Lanterns) both in their separate titles and in “compendium” volumes centered around the event and interweaving the four titles' issues to (presumably) tell the entire multifaceted story. I initially decided to just stick with the collections for the two titles I was interested in (GL and GLC), but then accidentally neglected to pre-order the next GL volume. Finally, a few weeks ago, I was in Barnes and Noble and, seeing this “compendium” volume, I impulsively bought it.

Of course, an effect of me, relatively speaking, whizzing through my monthlies that I received early in November was that for the first time in a while I was actually able to get to a pretty vast and growing backlog of collections that I have accumulated. (I actually got through several in the past couple of weeks, what with also being off for Thanksgiving week.) Rise of the Third Army was the first.

Friday, November 29

DC Comics – December 2013, New 52 Month 26

A record of the DC Comics that I read that were released during October that I received near the beginning of November. Caution: Linked reviews may contain spoilers! [Link to previous month]

Well, as I hoped, I did enjoy this batch of comics better than previous months. Simply not feeling the constant pressure to read overly critically (in the technical sense of the word) and take notes geared toward having something “meaningful” to say about each and every issue was liberating. And it sure did speed me up! I can't tell you how relieving this is. Comics have been part of my life, to one degree or another, all my life, and while I couldn't imagine giving up on them entirely, working my way through that stack every month was really getting hard. Plus the prospect of six or eight hours, all told, composing that bloated monthly roundup post that I had been doing....Putting together the illustrated list with review links is, comparatively speaking, a piece of cake. Not that everything was bad, it just wasn't fun anymore. This month was different.

Tuesday, November 26

"What's this you say about binding comic books...?"

... as in several of my past posts concerning one of my far too many intermittent obsessions (see various posts with key-word "library-bound comics" [link])...?  Well, here's a little something more, courtesy of a video blogger who posts various comics/pop culture stuff under the name of "ROH," from ComicFest 2013 back in June.  About five minutes about Herring and Robinson Bookbinders [link], whom I use for my comic binding, starts about 1:14 into the video:

Fascinating stuff!  Top-notch craftsmanship by incredibly nice people.

Makes me want to get off my duffer and finish prepping my latest volumes for binding....

Cheers! -- and Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Saturday, November 23

The Weekend of the Doctor

Well, I do not remember the premier of Doctor Who fifty years ago today.  For one thing, it was only in England, and for another, I was only two years and five days old!  And, honestly, I'm only a very recent "convert" to Doctor Who fandom.  I was vaguely aware of the property maybe as early as the 1970s, when reruns ran here in the States on PBS, but it was only during my college years in the early 1980s that I knew anyone who actually watched the show, and under his influence I made a brief effort to get into it.  That attempt was fostered by the fact that the new Doctor at the time was Peter Davison (fifth from the left above), whom I already liked from his role as Tristan Farnon on All Creatures Great and Small, a show that I watched -- again in reruns on PBS -- with my father, who was a huge fan of James 'Erriot (giving it the proper Yorkshire accent my father always mimicked with reference to the show).  Nonetheless, the show really did nothing for me and I drifted away from it fairly quickly.  Frankly, the primitive special effects were a major reason, I admit.  It was only a few years ago, with the premier of Matt Smith (far right) as the latest Doctor, that I gave the show a chance again, and this time I was hooked, and have been ever since.  I even went back and watched Christopher Eccleston's tenure (third from right) on Netflix, as well as some of David Tennant (second from right).  But mainly I have gotten far more interested in the property as a whole, although I've not sought out and watched any of the "classic" episodes.  It's a bit overwhelming -- Where to start?

Friday, November 22

My First Real Memory - 22 November 1963

I have maintained all my life the firm conviction that the first clear, specifically dateable memory that I have is of Walter Cronkite cutting in during the CBS soap opera As the World Turns and announcing the death of President John F. Kennedy.  I was two years and four days old, playing in the living room while my mother folded clothes and watched television.  I remember it in great detail.  I do, of course, have scattered flashes of memory from probably before and after that event, but this is, as I said above, my "first clear, specifically dateable memory."  In any case, my grandmother always insisted that there would be no way that I could possibly remember something that clearly from that early in my life.  My mother always corroborated the context and the details, however.  

Wednesday, November 20

DC Comics – November 2013, New 52 Month 25

Well, my OCD is indeed getting the better of me, to a certain extent. No, I'm not going to restart blogging the New 52 with pages and pages of commentary [link]. But I have liked having a record of what I read each month ready at hand here on the blog, as well having a quick link to ComicBookRoundUp.com [link]'s compendium of reviews for each issue. So I will put in the work each month to compile and post that much – yes, starting with “Villains' Month” which I finally finished trudging through a couple of weeks ago.  As usual, my reading is delayed by roughly a month from the comics' official on-sale date since I receive my comics by once-a-month shipping from Discount Comic Book Service [link].

As to the news round-up I used to start with, it was never very thorough in the first place, and I don't like being constantly negative – which it's too easy to be when talking about DC these days. Any news items that do compel me to comment will get their own separate post in a more timely manner.

As to these particular issues, I just couldn't bring myself to take notes as I went along, and frankly most of the issues are pretty forgettable. As I figured I would, I consider this to be basically a wasted month – and the most wasted money I've ever spent on this hobby. But I do like having the quick links to various reviewers for myself to refer to if need be, so I am putting this little bit of work into it before going forward and hopefully wiping the bad taste of “Villains' Month” out of my mouth. Truthfully, without the pressure of reading toward writing something “meaningful” for each issue, I have already enjoyed the next month's issues (which I've mostly finished already) more than I can remember in many months. But I do not believe my growing distaste with the direction of DC Comics is totally due to my own issues (pardon the pun) – I just do not like some directions they have taken. More perhaps on those points later.

Friday, November 15

Kings of the Comic Books (2013)

By Martin O'Hearn [Kindle Edition link]

We all know the story of the two Jewish boys who created, for all intents and purposes, the American pop cultural phenomenon of the comic-book super-hero, right...?  – Who had trouble finding a publisher for their creation but who believed in it themselves and persisted over several years until they finally succeeded...?  – But who, young and naïve, yes, but necessarily bowing to what was standard business practice in the nascent industry at the time, the late 1930s, signed away all their rights to their own creation with that first sale for a mere pittance...?  … Well, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster do indeed appear in this charming, well-researched, and well-written little book about the origins of the genre, along with many other famous names of that heroic age in which comic books literally exploded into late-Depression-era America standing on the cusp of the Second World War, but they are not the main characters.  They serve instead as the general models for O'Hearn's own self-styled “Kings of the Comic Books,” two high school boys in New York City – Steve Hersh and Curly Goldman – and Superman is a close enough archetype for their own creation, Sam Stark, Super Sleuth, that although they had created him before April 1938, DC Comics' Harry Donenfield was able to interdict publication and kill the feature.  In that, of course, O'Hearn bleeds in the famous case of Victor Fox's Wonder Man [link], the first and most blatant outright imitation of Superman, who hit the stands for a single issue in 1939 (ironically, the same month as DC's own Detective Comics #27 featuring the first appearance of Batman).  And from that mix of general models, plus a generous helping of period flavor and sensitively written characterization, O’Hearn creates a tale capturing perfectly what I imagine life at the birth of the Golden Age to have been like.  As I stated in my short Amazon.com review [link], “This is a must-read for any fan of the comic book genre.”

Cheers, and Thanks for reading!
 * * *

Note:  O’Hearn also runs a wonderful blog [link] wherein he seeks to identify the writers and artists of the Golden and Silver Ages when most went uncredited in the published stories themselves, a task that requires a considerably more discerning eye for subtle distinctions in style than I myself possess.  It’s an amazing accomplishment.  – The Prof

Tuesday, November 12

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Directed by Alan Taylor

My wife and I went to a matinee showing of “Thor 2” Sunday afternoon. We both enjoyed it. Unfortunately I can't say much more than that – it was enjoyable. It did not, however, WOW me like the first one or The Avengers did. Perhaps because it was a sequel, but that doesn't necessarily mean that much to me. There's no doubt it has top-notch visuals, and that it was a good story – in which Loki again steals the show. You just can't help but like that wascally wabbit. Nonetheless, I found the story pretty much utterly predictable – each time what in another movie might be shocking or poignant or otherwise emotionally charged scenes, I knew that Loki was doing what The Trickster God does best, pulling the wool over the other characters' eyes – besides the fact that here was yet another story in which not just the world but ALL OF EXISTENCE IS IN DANGER YAWN. I recognize that it's an inevitability with these kinds of blockbuster movies, but damn it gets old. Which all makes it sound like I did not like this movie. I did. But unlike others in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise of franchises, my wife and I didn't leave the theatre talking about how good it was, and I don't have any burning desire to see it again. I will of course be there for the inevitable “Thor 3,”as well as most anything else I figure they're likely to add to the Marvel Cine'verse, so it did its job in that sense. And I guess not every one of them can or will be awesome.

Cheers, and Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 6

DC Comics – Announcing open-ended hiatus on blogging the New 52

If you've been reading my increasingly delayed blog posts regarding DC Comics, over the past few months you've doubtless perceived my discontent with the direction the company and its stories have taken. [Last month is here - link.] That discontent really goes back virtually to when I began this blog, which was almost coincident with the announcing of the New 52 at the end of May 2011 [link], only a few months before its actual advent in September of that year. Last year I posted a fairly substantial summation of how I saw the situation a year into what DC insisted was not a line-wide reboot, and yet clearly was – what I sometimes called the “Nottaboot” [link]. While I have changed my mind on certain points (most notably gaining a new respect for Azzarello's Wonder Woman through a complete rereading only a few weeks after posting that review [link]), in general I have come to like much of what I've been reading less and less. In fact, it staggers me to see how many of the points I actually did approve of a year ago that DC seems to have discarded! If they were actively trying to drive me away as a reader they could not do much better.

It occurs to me that the burden I took upon myself in attempting to blog about these comics month after month has perhaps contributed toward my decreasing enjoyment of them. I finished reading September's “Villains' Month” stunt a couple of weeks ago, but although there were individually good issues I disliked the concept so thoroughly that I have been unable to bring myself to the keyboard to compose a post about it. Its cornerstone, Forever Evil #1 kicking off the latest-in-a-series-of-events-collect-them-all, wasn't much better – an okay story but ultimately going forward will depend on a plot device so laughably stupid that I am aghast somebody didn't catch it. Or do they not care? If they do not, it's hard for me. And so I have decided it's time I gave up that blogging commitment. My hope is that by simply reading the comics I am getting – which do look to be fewer in number over the coming months than it has been, given some shifts in story-direction in some titles I've been reading that I really have no desire to continue with [e.g., link] – perhaps I can recover some of that enjoyment. I sincerely hope so. There are some titles I have continued to enjoy and intend to stick with, but I will henceforth only blog about any that strike me as truly worthy of my time and effort to write about. Even among those that I am enjoying, there are frankly not that many.  And given what I perceive, rightly or wrongly, as almost contempt on the part of DC for its readers, especially those like me who have been with the company for decades (45 years in my case), I don't see that situation changing very soon.

So for now, at least, I'm done with blogging the New 52.

Monday, November 4

Nick Cardy (1920-2013)

If I had to select a favorite
Nick Cardy cover...
News hit late Sunday evening that the comic book artist I have long considered my favorite had passed away at age 93. I had seen earlier in the day, or perhaps Saturday, that he was in the hospital, and sent up a prayer for him.  By today, Monday, Nick Cardy's passing was widely reported, including by DC Comics [link] where he worked on some of my favorite series in the late 1960s-early 1970s, Aquaman and Teen Titans, and for several years in the early 1970s was the cover artist for virtually every DC title.  His delectable "Cardy Women" are legend [link].  He is the comic book artist I will most regret never meeting at a convention and getting a personalized sketch from.  My condolences go out to his family, many friends, and innumerable fans.

Requiescat in pace.

Thursday, October 31

Quick Hits!

Sometimes I read or watch things quicker than I have time – or motivation, or perhaps even focus – to set down in a full blog post. Nothing against whatever those items are. I feel a compulsion to gratuitously share my thoughts on virtually everything, but sometimes get backed up, and I don't want this to turn into a barrage of short posts. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Anyway, hence the periodic “Quick Hits.”

Screen Shot
from iPhone Kindle app
A State of Disobedience (2003) by Tom Kratman

I've been meaning to blog this novel ever since I proceeded to it directly out of his Caliphate last month, but never got around to it. I reserve the right to come back to it with a more thorough review some time in the future, because I'm thinking I'll eventually read it again. Get past the somewhat contrived opening setting up the Texas Rebellion of ca. 2010 (as best I can figure it), as well as the very transparent identity of the utterly wacko and caricaturishly evil US President “Willie Rottemayer,” and it settles into what I think is a fair depiction of how such a valiant but ultimately outnumbered and outgunned attempt at secession from the rapidly socializing, increasingly morally repugnant and anti-Christian United States would likely proceed. Although it was written a decade ago, and in no way foresaw the explosion onto the political landscape of Barack Obama, just how much cultural, political, and social developments in the succeeding decade (really, mostly in the past five years) do seem to be have been foretold sent chills down my spine as I read. As much as Caliphate did [link], this book struck me as a prophetic wake-up call in the guise of a very compelling and exciting story.  As I titled my Amazon.com review, it seems "Frighteningly Plausible."

Monday, October 28

DC Comics – October 2013, New 52 Month 24

Reviews, commentary, general reactions, and random notes on the DC Comics that were released during August that I received near the beginning of September. Caution: Spoilers ahead! [ Link to previous month ]

Here's the link to the October solicitations (for comics to be released mostly in December): (link).

I only made note of a couple of news items. One is that Smallville Season 11 is shifting to a “series of miniseries” format, dropping the “Season 11” branding and sequential numbering, supposedly to remove a perceived bar for new readers picking it up (link). This mainly irks me because it will make the weekly purchase from Comixology quite a bit more cumbersome, especially since they just a short while ago introduced an efficient “subscription” function which automatically purchases each week's installment for me and has it ready for me to download whenever I want, rather than having to manually go in and make the purchase each week. Being title-based, the subscription will no longer work. Also, it will be harder (impossible) to keep reading order straight if you're not purchasing them week-to-week. Yeah, that helps the new reader.

Secondly, and we're far enough along into October as I write this (the 12th) that sales data for September has been released, it seems that the September-released “Villains' Month” stunt paid off big time for DC. More next month, maybe – except that DC's immediate exultation really rubbed at least one retailer the wrong way (link). By all accounts, the retailers were the ones who really got screwed in the resulting debacle.

Whatever, before “Villains' Month,” there is this one more month of story-driven rather than stunt-driven comics to get through....

Saturday, October 12

Gravity (2013)

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón.

This has been a busy semester so far, filled both with professional duties and with personal stuff. I'm quite a ways behind in blogging, but I'm going to try to get caught up. I may end up having to resort to a “Quick Hits” post for some, but I really want to give this movie its own separate consideration, albeit not very long or in depth.

Last weekend, on the second day of its general release, my wife and I went to the matinee showing of Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. I'm always up for a realistic near-future space movie, and based on the previews I saw over the past few weeks, I could tell that this one would be about as realistic as they come, right up there with Apollo 13, and that if anything would be worth subjecting myself to 3D (a format I can usually do without) it would be Gravity. And the billed actors were enough to get my wife to go with me.

Sunday, September 29

DC Comics – September 2013, New 52 Month 23

Reviews, commentary, general reactions, and random notes on the DC Comics that were released during July that I received near the beginning of August. Caution: Spoilers ahead! [ Link to previous month ]

I am 'way, 'way, 'way behind this month, so this write-up may not be much more than a fleshing out of my notes, without much expansion along the way....

In the news over the past month or so: 1) The September solicits went up mid-August per usual [link]. 2) The Justice League 3000 fiasco [link], wherein DC fired or drove off another high profile creator, Kevin Maguire, replacing him with Howard Porter, and lost this sale to me. 3) Batman was cast for Man of Steel 2 – Ben Affleck [link]. Outcry ensued [link]. I actually can live with this. He's a capable enough actor. My main problem with him would be The Voice. He really should study Kevin Conroy's portrayal (the voice of Batman in the animated series) – not Christian Bale's. 4) The Justice League of America is emigrating to Canada [link]. 5) Rumors flew but ultimately no real clarification on whether Bryan Cranston will play Lex Luthor in Man of Steel 2 [link]. I like Breaking Bad, but I'm not sure I see him as Lex Luthor. 6) DC drove off another set of Batwoman creators – J.H.Williams III and Haden Blackman – allegedly over whether to marry Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer [link]. It may or may not have been because of the homosexual nature of the relationship; they tapped Marc Andreyko, who is homosexual himself, as the new writer [link] (possibly keeping me on the title since I loved his Manhunter), and proclaimed their stance as that the Bat-family's personal lives have to be sucky, and heroes can't be married [link], both of which I think are stupid as mandates. They also announced their intent to pull Batwoman closer into the rest of the Bat'verse. 7) Finally, another blogger put the sad state of affairs regarding DC Editorials' bad relationship with creators and the general chaos that has plagued the company since even before the New 52 into a timeline that makes for terribly depressing reading [link]. Something is definitely rotten in Denmark.

Let's discuss some comics:

Thursday, September 26

Caliphate (2008)

By Tom Kratman

I'll put up a warning for those who perhaps would prefer to read no further. This post will probably be accounted, as has been the book, as “Islamophobic.” So be it. As, I believe, may be inferred from my long-ago post commemorating the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 [link], I have some pretty strong views regarding how pathetically weak has been our reaction as a civilization to what became obvious that day is a ongoing war between two largely incompatible cultures. It is a conflict that we have little hope of surviving without recognizing the reality of the situation. After the initial shock of that day wore off, and our subsequent national rallying petered out into partisan bickering, our chances have diminished, and continue to do so at an alarming rate. I wish it were not so.

Sunday, September 1

Nobilissima: A Novel of Imperial Rome (2012)

By Carrie Bedford

This has been my (mainly) bedtime reading for the past several weeks. A little about my reading pattern: Typically, I have several things going at once, besides some kind of professional reading and spending too much time browsing the Internet for current news, commentary, and random whim-driven “research” – some main “real” book that I lug around during the evening and end up reading in bed before turning out the light (currently I have just started what will probably take me through the next several months, Shelby Foote's monumental three-volume history of The Civil War: A Narrative); something in the nature of a graphic novel that I will dip into every couple of days (currently the second volume of Fantagraphics' wonderfully restored representation of Hal Foster's Prince Valiant Sunday comic strips, two years per volume, the second comprising 1939-1940, reproduced from the artist-author's own colored proofs); an issue or two of the box of comics I received near the beginning of the month from my mail-order comics source, therefore the comics that actually hit the stores during the previous month (e.g., currently I'm working my way through the comics that went on sale on Wednesday, 24 July; i.e., I'm always well behind comics fandom at large in my reading – and blogging), usually when I first head for bed; and, once I turn out the light, something on one of my iPhone e-reader apps. It's also handy to have during odd times of the day when I have a few unexpected moments to read. That's what Nobilissima was, read via the Kindle app. I think it appeared as one of the daily bargains offered via the BookBub mailing list, to which I subscribe. I don't remember if it was free, or a couple of bucks – the BookBub bargains are never more than that. Whatever, the short description provided in that email intrigued me enough to download it.

Tuesday, August 13

Comics Other Than DC – September 2013

Reviews, commentary, general reactions, and random notes on comics by publishers other than DC that were released during July (mostly) that I received near the beginning of August. Caution: Spoilers ahead! [Link to previous month] [Link to this month's DC Comics]

Buck Rogers #1 of 4 (Hermes Press)

They say that a functional definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. I may fit the bill. I have never cared for the writing of Howard Chaykin – and yet I have tried various of his comics over the years thinking that if he's as great as everyone thinks he is maybe I'll like this one. His art I actually kind of like, and in fact think it fits very well for something like we have here, the retro-flavored attempted revival of a beloved quasi-pulp character who deserves much more modern exposure. But I find myself invariably put off by the generally politically-charged revisionism that he usually imposes on such projects as he undertakes, which is invariably pretty much diametrically opposite to my own values. Add to that my belief, based on various things I've read and heard about him (seemingly confirmed in an about-the-author blurb appended to a two-page interview here, that “[h]e has a terrible reputation among fans for profanity, limited patience with nonsense, and spite”) as well as from him (see below), that I would not like him very much as a person, and I can't give you a good reason that I keep giving him repeated chances. But I do. Almost invariably with the same result as here – visceral revulsion.

Monday, August 12

Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate #1, 2009)

SFBC 3-in-1 Omnibus
By Gail Carriger, as printed in The Parasol Protectorate 3-in-1 Omnibus, vol. 1, by Science Fiction Book Club, 2011.

Okay, let's get this out of the way right off the bat: I have major theological/philosophical problems with the very idea underlying this series, specifically the rationale that supernatural creatures such as vampires, werewolves, and ghosts (as of the end of this first book, all that have been introduced – well, if you ignore the robot zombie that also appears!) result from a surfeit of “soul” in certain individuals who are balanced off by others who have a deficit of “soul,” the most extreme example being the “preternatural” heroine of these tales, Miss Alexia Tarabotti. I cannot truly conceive of a “soulless person.” It is, however, fairly easy to get past that dodgy foundational concept as a stumbling block – which I'm sure others wouldn't share anyway – by considering the quasi-scientific theory postulated to be about as accurate as others of the time-frame which provides the setting, the late 19th-century, e.g. that of a luminiferous aether that supposedly provided the medium through which light propagated [link] – which is to say, not so. I'm sure that by a century and more after Miss Tarabotti in that literary alternate universe of “The Parasol Protectorate” the anima theory of nature (my term) will have given way to something radically different as the "luminiferous aether" has fallen before quantum mechanics and general relativity. Indeed, the hubris of a scientific theory perversely co-opting a theological concept seems to me to fit well the zeitgeist of the age, especially in an imagined mash-up of steampunk and urban fantasy. The result is an indescribably clever and hilariously written send-up of Victorian England that is best described by the author herself in the introduction, “In Which Gail Discusses Building the World of the Parasol Protectorate”:

Tuesday, August 6

Love and Capes vol. 4: What to Expect (IDW, 2013)

By Thomas F. Zahler

I have declared my high regard for the work of Thom Zahler a number of times now, have the pleasure of owning several commissioned pieces of art from him, and have had the privilege of meeting him in person two years running at Houston's Comicpalooza. My love for his work goes back several years now, to my discovery of the series with which he is most identified, Love and Capes: The Heroically Super Situation Comedy, as a web comic strip. At the time it was also being published as a small-press independent comic book, and was on the verge of the first collected edition being published by IDW, who have since continued publication of the comic book as a succession of short series each of which have subsequently garnered collections. This is the latest.

Thursday, August 1

Beginnings (Worlds of Honor #6, 2013)

By David Weber with Charles E. Gannon, Timothy Zahn, and Joelle Presby

One of the greatest things about David Weber's Honor Harrington franchise is his incredible generosity in allowing others to play in the wonderfully (and increasingly intricate) sandbox he has created over the past two decades. Whole books and sub-series have been written – with his oversight, to be sure – by other great science fiction authors. This is in addition to the very actively involved consulting group BuNine which recently gave us The Honorverse Companion [link]. It all adds to the rich breadth and depth of the world in which Honor Harrington's own story is being told. This sharing of the Honorverse began as early as 1998 with the appearance of More Than Honor, which contained three novellae and short stories in addition to an extensive infodump regarding the background, history, and theoretical science of “The Universe of Honor Harrington.” That collection was followed by several more released with varying frequency over the next fifteen years, with stories written by a variety of authors both known and unknown to me – Weber himself always contributes, joined by such as David Drake, Timothy Zahn, Jane Linskjold, and S. M. Stirling – culminating in this, the sixth. Sure, the stories have been of varying quality and relevance, but they are always entertaining and more often than not, even when written by other than Weber, introduce characters and background that will show up and play integral roles in his own “main” narrative. None are to be missed by fans of the Honorverse.

In this volume we get, as usual, a mixture of novellae and short stories – I'm not sure where to drawn the line – two of which are by Weber himself. And as Weber's contribution to the very first volume gave birth a decade and a half later to the Star Kingdom series of Young Adult Novels, so does at least one of the other stories herein serve as a springboard for an ancillary series to come. As will be seen, I hope, in my short little discussions below, the overall title of this volume, Beginnings, is well-chosen.

Wednesday, July 31

DC Comics – August 2013, New 52 Month 22

Reviews, commentary, general reactions, and random notes on the DC Comics that were released during June that I received near the beginning of July. Caution: Spoilers ahead! [ Link to previous month ]

The online previews of the DC solicitations which will appear in the August issue of Diamond's Previews catalog (and therefore solicit items mostly on-sale during the month of October) appeared while the days of July were still in single digits, earlier than I ever remember. Not sure why so early, but you may see them here (link).

News that dropped during the period I was reading this batch of comics included George Perez's announcement of what he had cryptically referred to when I was talking with him in Houston (link). It turns out he is going to Boom! Comics (link). He's the second creator in as many months that has left DC for Boom! – Paul Jenkins (last month) also was headed that direction, and although Perez's announcement is not filled with the vitriol some others' departures from DC have been, he has clearly been dissatisfied with the corporate culture that increasingly prevails at DC. That was clear both of the times I've had the pleasure of meeting him, and comes through clearly albeit graciously in the linked interview. It's DC's loss, is all I can say.

Sunday, July 28

The Wolverine (2013)

Directed by James Mangold

The first thing I said when I returned home after watching this movie was, in answer to my wife's query, “It's really nice to go to a comic book movie where the heroes' objective is not 'saving the world'!” Sure, there is plenty of over-the-top action here, there, and yonder, from start to finish but especially toward the end (although the far superior and most memorable sequence is the 300-mph fight atop the bullet-train much earlier), but this is primarily a character story with both an inner and an outer conflict springing from the very nature of The Wolverine. Inner, Logan's actions at the end of the chronologically previous X-Men movie, The Last Stand, literally haunting him with the knowledge that his mutant healing factor makes him potentially immortal while all he loves will eventually die; outer, a Japanese business magnate, Yashida, whose life Logan saved almost seventy years ago at Nagasaki, not understanding that reality – though he thinks he does – striving from his death bed to steal that potential for eternal life for himself. Add a large dose of family and political conflict as well as conflicting issues of love, loyalty, and honor in the exotic locale of Japan and you end up with what I think is perhaps the best story of any of the X-Men franchise.

Cheers! ... and Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 23

Library-Bound Comics: Grant Morrison's New 52 Superman in Action Comics; “Retroboot” Legion of Super-Heroes; and Young All-Stars

A few weeks ago (Monday, 1 July), I received a box with my four most recently library-bound volumes of comic books, which I had sent off to Herring & Robinson Bookbinders about three months ago. I had been looking forward to this shipment for some time, because it contained what I consider one of the highlights of DC Comics' New 52 “reboot” that launched in September 2011 with the appearance of the new Action Comics #1, featuring Grant Morrison's revisionist version of the origin of Superman and his earliest adventures. Also included were two volumes completing the pre-New 52 Legion of Super-Heroes as well as a single-volume collection of the full run of Roy Thomas' Young All-Stars sequel to All-Star Squadron.