We’re deep into close of academic year territory at present, a bramble and thicket-infested jungle of time which lays snares for the unwary teacher who can find him or herself prematurely relaxing only to be reminded that they have 75 reports to write. And they were due in last Friday. For that reason, I’ve been a bit lax when it comes to this blog and I can only apologize. I am reading things, honest. It’s just I haven’t had much time to write about them. Even my output for the ever-wonderful Weird Science DC Comics site has slowed down a bit. The summer beckons, though, and with it there will be time. Time to read, time to write, time to do jobs around the house… Ah. Ah, well…
Well, never mind, eh?
What I have been reading recently includes…
Dial H Vol 1: Into You. Comprising the first six issues and 0 issue of China Mieville’s New 52 run on one of the weirdest superhero comics you’ve ever (or, more likely, never) read, Into You chronicles the adventures of overweight schlub Nelson Jent as he encounters a mysterious telephone dial that unexpectedly turns him into a superhero. I’d read this before and I’ll probably do so again. Mateus Santolouco’s artwork takes a little getting used to (among other things, he’s heavy on inking and shading, giving the whole thing a dirty gritty feel – to be fair, this is entirely appropriate for the story), but the fecund imagination of Mieville is on full display and it is a wonderful, glorious thing.
Jent is a remarkably sympathetic protagonist, as is the other dial-wielder, Manteau, who wears a mask and cloak in an attempt to hold on to some semblance of her self-identity in defiance of the dizzying range of super-powered characters the dial turns her into. This first trade finds Nelson and Manteau trying to cope with being hunted by villains who know much more about the dials than Nelson does and are trying to summon an extra-dimensional entity to Earth. (And, coolly enough, the Abyss is an old Dial H for Hero villain from Adventure Comics.)
What’s truly impressive about this book is just how many heroes Mieville conjures up and how well thought-out and grounded their characters and power sets are. Each one has a quirky, quotidian quality (oh, I do love me some alliteration) to their abilities and identities. One of the best panels of the book is the moment Nelson ‘remembers’ his biggest ever fight against the Rake Dragon alongside Team House, a superhero combo whose members’ identities and powers are all based on architectural features: The Door-Pilot, Open-Window Man, Spiralstair and an unnamed character who appears to be an animated wash basin. As weird as it sounds, it just… works.
I could wax lyrical about Mieville’s playfulness, his exploration of themes of identity and heroism (the moment in which a de-powered Nelson rescues Manteau is just marvelous), his convincing mythologizing – but I wouldn’t be doing the book justice. You really do have to check it out for yourself.
I’ve also checked out the first couple of issues of Royals, a series which should probably just be called ‘Inhumans In Space’. Writer Al Ewing is someone I quite like and, although Jonboy Meyers is a pretty decent artist if you like a slightly angular, cartoony style, the whole thing feels just a little lightweight to me. Ewing does some pretty decent things with the characters he’s got. Medusa dying is an interesting touch and it’s always good to see Noh-Varr get some panel time, too. I’ll stick with it for now, but it probably needs to pick up soonish.
In terms of non-comics stuff, I’ve got some interesting books on the go. Houllebecq’s Submission probably needs a blog entry all of its own. I’ve almost finished it and it’s one of the most thought-provoking things I’ve read for a long, long time. I’m getting close to finishing Time of Contempt and it is just phenomenal. I can’t recommend Sapkowski enough and this is tremendously impressive stuff. Highly recommended if you like your fantasy middle-European-influenced instead of anglo-centric.
Anyway, that’s me done for now. Hopefully, I’ll be back to posting regularly soon. 🙂
It’s been a little while since I’ve updated the blog. This is not, I should point out, because I’ve not been writing. It is simply that I’ve not been writing here. Over at the Weird Science DC Comics site, Jim Werner has been kind enough to allow me to post some indie reviews and has asked me to do some reviews of DC crossover titles too. As Jim is such a nice chap and, consequently, is a man to whom it is remarkably hard to say ‘no’, I’ve been more than happy to oblige. Those reviews will turn up here eventually, but I’ve been a little dilatory in transferring them over, for which failing I can only apologise. In addition, I’ve made my podcasting debut on the Weird Science behemoth of a podcast which can be downloaded here. I appear about eight hours in. (Well, I did warn you.) I’ve also got a slightly longer section on their latest podcast. If you want to hear me discuss the Batman/Shadow and Planet of the Apes/Green Lantern crossovers, that’s the place to go (6 hours and 20 odd minutes in for that one).
Apart from that, I’ve been reading some stuff you might be interested in.
I suppose the big new thing I’ve been reading is comics in translation, specifically European comics. Every now and then Comixology has a sale and I bite. Recently, I finished Raptors which is a four volume series about renegade vampires and the two New York cops that become entangled with them. Written by Belgian creator Jean Dufaux and with art by Enrico Marini, the story starts very well with some wonderfully atmospheric moments. The Raptors are a brother and sister team of vampires determined to wipe out the ‘mainstream’ line of vampires who they believe have become ‘soft’ and ‘corrupted’, trading their predatory nature for the ability to walk in sunlight and, essentially, behave like human beings, albeit horribly selfish ones. This is a pretty good premise and the story is indeed rather entertaining. The final volume suffers from being a bit rushed and, consequently, a bit confusing. Lenore, the main character, makes some decisions that are a little difficult to reconcile with what’s come before but, on the whole, this is stylish stuff. The title does contain some nudity and is really for readers aged 18 and over.
Also on Comixology, I’ve acquired Warren Ellis’ original run on Stormwatch which is a useful touchstone when considering his current run on The Wild Storm for DC. The political sensibility is definitely there, but the early stories are still very much rooted in the gaudy action of the 90s/early 00s superhero genre. They are, arguably, the superhero genre taken to their logical conclusion once you factor in real world politics. Henry Bendix may seem to be well-placed to identify and fix the world’s problems, but his interventions do have unforeseen consequences, particularly his questionable decision to include Rose Tattoo on the team. What’s happening with The Wild Storm at the moment is much more subtle and much more character-based. The ready-made structure of the Stormwatch series just isn’t there and, as a result, relationships between characters and factions are less clearly defined, all of which makes for a more engrossing and enjoyable read. There’ll be a review of issue 3 of The Wild Storm up shortly, incidentally. If you’d prefer, you can see it at the Weird Science site now.
Other stuff I’ve been reading is Tim Shipman’s All Out War which offers a very engaging insight into the shenanigans around Brexit. It is not especially interested in the pro and con arguments for staying in or leaving the EU; what it does do is trace the political manoeuvrings behind the scenes and the (some would argue disastrous) steps Cameron took that ultimately ended his career. I’m only a dozen or so pages in, but already it’s proven to be very enlightening. If the ‘inside story’ of one of the biggest political decisions/catastrophes/upheavals of the last few decades is your cup of tea, this is worth checking out. It’s exceptionally readable, well-researched (Douglas Carswell’s dad was apparently the man on whom the character of Dr Nicholas Garrigan in Giles Foden’s The Last King of Scotland was based. Fancy) and rather fascinating.
Well, that’s me done for now.
Just a quick update, because time is a bit squeezed at present and I’ve got important things (like, well, marking) to do. A couple of novels and a curiously moving issue of Howard the Duck this time round.
A couple of weeks ago, I finished Daniel Silva’s The Kill Artist, a library loan that took me about three months to finish – which is about average for me. A colleague of mine, it turns out, once had to read this novel for his reading group and found it rather unappealing. I actually quite enjoyed it – enough to be tempted to pick up another Silva book in the future. This novel is about Silva’s Israeli art restorer-turned-spy Gabriel Allon who is, as is usually the case with these things, dragged out of retirement by the opportunity to settle old scores with a Palestinian terrorist who killed his family several years ago. So far, so predictable, I suppose, and it’s true that Silva’s plotting, with one or two exceptions, is not exactly ground-breaking. What is compelling, though, is his decision to portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a great degree of sympathy for both sides; he also displays a distinct coolness when it comes to describing action and a somewhat refined, at times lyrical, prose style that elevates this above your typical spy thriller. At times the novel seems to be straining against the boundaries of the genre, but it never quite manages to test them sufficiently to be particularly memorable. That said, it was enjoyable enough and, if you’re looking for a spy thriller, you could do a lot worse than pick this up.
The Witcher series of novels continues to impress; Andrezj Sapkowski’s second full novel The Time of Contempt sees Geralt of Rivia trying to protect his protege Ciri and prevent her from being used as a pawn in the increasingly murderous machinations of a variety of kings, a coterie of wizards and one particularly cunning emperor. If you’ve played the rather impressive games based on these novels, you’ll be aware of how rich and gritty the world of the novels is, but that doesn’t quite prepare you for Sapkowski’s storytelling which manages to plumb the depths of human baseness and take in the rarefied air of abstract philosophy sometimes in the same scene. In a genre swollen with bloated multi-volume Tolkien derivatives, Sapkowski offers something rather special – a fantasy world based fairly clearly on medieval Eastern Europe and a plot that is as much driven by the petty and short-sighted desires of men than it is by ancient prophecy. In short, this is good stuff, although, if you’re tempted to dip into his work, you might be better starting with his collection The Last Wish, which is so good I’ve read it twice and will doubtless do so again.
Howard the Duck. Alright, then. I like Zdarsky and Quinones’ run on the character, although it doesn’t really have much of the satirical madness of the Gerber run from the 70s. That’s not to say that there isn’t madness, mind you. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the current creative team’s gentle send-up of some of the more prevalent tropes of the Marvel Universe. Issue 2 of volume 2 (yes, Secret Wars is responsible for spawning yet more number 1s!), though, offers something rather unexpected – a touching tale dealing with female versions of Howard and Rocket Raccoon, cloned by the Collector when he captured Howard and Rocket during the first run. Expected to… ahem… keep our favourite duck and raccoon company during their long captivity, the two female clones strike up a close friendship and escape with the help of a Gatherer who should be keeping them prisoner but has formed a close surrogate parent bond with them. I won’t spoil the issue any further but I will say that it’s been a while since a comic book had quite the emotional impact that this one had on me. It’s nice to see that comic books still have the capacity to catch you unawares.
Well, that’s it for now. Be cool and awesome and wonderful.