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It’s like something out of a movie— (#SFWApro)

Brooklyn Dodgers
Ever see the show Leverage? One of the world’s top insurance investigators and a handful of top crooks (burglar/enforcer/hacker/grifter) work together to take down criminals the law can’t catch. One of the show’s shticks was that the hacker, being a gigantic nerd, would give them cover names such as “Emma Peel and John Steed.”
A number of people asked John Rogers, the show-runner for the series, how come nobody ever caught on (though one person did in one episode). His response: what seems obvious to Internet geeks (holding that anyone who bothers to visit his blog is presumably some degree of geeky) isn’t common knowledge to the rest of the world.
It’s a good point to remember. Not everyone has the same pop culture references. And not every fictional character should, either. One of the problems I had with Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was that while I can buy Oscar’s constant geek references, I didn’t believe in the narrator tossing LOTR references out all the time. Likewise, I have some trouble with Harry Dresden squeezing in as many geek references as he does since he never seems to read comics, just make references. And I really, really don’t believe he’d know the Evil Overlord List—that’s the kind of thing I think of as only serious Internet geeks (including, obviously, myself) knowing about (maybe I’m wrong and it’s on everyone’s lips, but I don’t think so).
A lot of people in contrast use mainstream TV or sports (for example) as metaphors and references, but I rarely run into that, even in contemporary fantasy. Not that having characters who read fantasy or watch SF movies is implausible, and sometimes it works great (the Middleman TV show, for instance), but other times it feels like all the characters share a very narrow range of taste (the similar problem in future SF is having everyone fixated on the past)
The flip side is when a character announces he sees everything in, say, terms of movies, but his observations don’t live up to that. The protagonist of Le Divorce opens by saying she’s a film student who sees everything as a movie, but that’s never brought up again (at least not before I gave up on the book midway through). Likewise Trent in Dying Is My Business comments that much of what he knows of life comes from watching old movies, but it never feels that way (as someone who really does see a lot of stuff in comic-book terms [case in point] I use myself as a measure, rightly or wrongly).
In working on Southern Discomfort, I’m trying to get away from that. Of course, it’s 1973, so speculative fiction isn’t anywhere near as mainstream as I think it is now. Lord of the Rings gets mentioned quite a bit, but that silly TV show Star Trek? Not so much. Many more characters have seen the Beverly Hillbillies (after all at the time The Beverly Hillbillies was way more popular). And yes, some sports references, though they don’t come naturally to me.
One thing I have to keep in mind is that even though the show is set in 1973, the characters’ lives go back much further. My protagonist Maria was born in 1946, the beginning of the baby boom. She grew up with Milton Berle and I Love Lucy on TV, discovered Dr. Kildare and the Twilight Zone in her teens. Joan Kirby is 18, so her childhood TV is more Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Maria crushed on Sinatra, Joan went for the Beatles (despite her father grumbling their hair was too outrageously long).
How much of that will make it into the story, I don’t know yet. But it’s good to keep in mind.

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Books (#SFWApro)

(In case you’re wondering, we had house guests last week so no movies to review just now.)
ATOMS AND EVIL shows Robert Bloch’s funnier side, starting with the first story (“Once there was a sane scientist who had an ugly daughter.”) though in a lot of cases, it hasn’t aged well—the satirical comparison of marriage to buying a car in “Wheel and Deal” now comes across as painfully sexist. “You Could be Wrong,” however is a great one as the protagonist begins questioning not only the truth in advertising (advertising during the 1950s was regarded with a kind of morbid fascination by people as it became obvious how much it influenced our purchases) but the truth of everything. “Dead-End Doctor” may be unique in having a psychiatrist as the good guy, Bloch not being a fan of the profession. Overall, a good collection.
CRUCIBLE OF GOLD: A Temeraire Novel by Naomi Novik has Laurence and Temeraire no sooner get reconciled to their exile in Australia than they’re recalled to stop Napoleon waging war on Brazil (thereby pressuring Portugal to prevent Wellington landing there). Even getting from Australia to South America proves difficult, and their landing has them mired in Inca politics (the imperial dragons having massacred the conquistadors, the Incans are still doing fine in 1800). A good entry in the series, which Novik has announced has only two books left to run.
WHERE ARE THE CUSTOMERS’ YACHTS or A Good Hard Look at Wall Street by stockbroker Fred Schwed Jr. is a 1940 Anti-Investment Guide that concludes, as countless later books would that there’s absolutely no miracle secret, strategy or predictive skill for mastering the stock market, despite the claims of countless pros (“A depressing number of people study the past thousand spins of the roulette wheel on the assumption that they can divine a pattern. Worse, they usually find it.”). Schwed’s conclusion is that the further you stray from conservative investments, the greater the certainty you’ll lose your shirt, though he argues it’s more a matter of incompetence than outright fraud (“A great many losers in the crash of ’29 found it more plausible their money went to their broker than that it simply disappeared.”). Enjoyably wry, and still relevant.
SWORDS OF MARS is one of Burroughs more conventionally SF stories as John Carter’s efforts to root out the Assassin’s Guild of Zodanga (by going undercover as a wandering sell-sword) is almost immediately forgotten in favor of a space flight to one of Mars’ moons in a computer-operated space-ships. Though of course, ERB doesn’t avoid the usual thrills of swordfights, kidnapped women (I must say I’m surprised the princess who falls for John doesn’t show the usual insane jealousy) and weird alien races. A standard entry for the series, but standard here was never as low as in Tarzan (maybe because the setting had much more flexibility)
ARCHITECTURE: A Crash Course by Hilary French jumps rapid-fire from Egyptian pyramids through Greece, Rome, Gothic, Palladian, Neoclassical, Neogothic, Baroque and Rococo architecture and on into the modern area as architecture constantly careens between Formal and Rational principles and Natural and Free-Flowing ideas. There are lots of spots where the details aren’t as clear as they should be (or the visual examples should be better) but as a condensed reference, pretty good.

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Peter Wimsey investigates THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT THE BELLONA CLUB when an old soldier turns up dead in his regular chair—which wouldn’t be so unpleasant except that he’s been lying there for possibly hours and the timing of his death determines who in his family inherits half a million pounds. Not as tightly plotted as Unnatural Death or as memorable a villain but a good story nonetheless.
I love Richard Condon’s work on Manchurian Candidate and Winter Kills and no question the premise of MILE HIGH fits his kind of black humor: In the early 20th century, a corrupt, powerful lawyer single-handedly revitalizes the temperance movement to bring about Prohibition, with an eye to the inevitable gains from bootlegging. Unfortunately, this is written more in the manner of a biography, more an account of the protagonist’s life than an actual story; while Candidate had some of that, it was a strong enough story to make it work, but this one ain’t.
CONAN AND THE TEETH OF GWAILHUR is P. Craig Russell’s adaptation of a Conan story in which the Cimmerian is embroiled on both political intrigue and the quest for a chest of priceless gems. It’s a minor Howard story and while attractive, Russell doesn’t give the Hyborian Age the energy that Barry Windsor-Smith and John Buscema did at Marvel.

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A bit more on this morning’s rape apologist

Following up on this morning’s post:
•Landsburg asserts that of course he knows that rape usually has horrible consequences and that the post was clearly about other peoples’ reactions to someone raped—why should that be more important in law than someone’s reactions to other people’s porn? But the post was also quite clear that the victim’s psychic harm was also up for grabs (why did it matter more than the pleasure someone else got from rape?). He also asserts he wasn’t really arguing, just trying to figure things out for himself, which is not good as an excuse either—he really has trouble figuring out why anger over rape is more serious than anger over what other people read?
I’ll explain it simply: I’m not upset about rape because it infringes on my religious beliefs, but because it’s a serious act with harm and there’s no circumstances in the real world where it’s not. Even if we go by his “she never knows about it” hypothetical, rape still infringes on the rape victim’s rights to control her body and decide who she sleeps with. I believe those rights are basic and axiomatic, not something that has to be justified. They’re fundamental principles. If he wants to explain that they’re not, he’s got to come up with an argument why they shouldn’t be so—and he doesn’t. As noted at the previous post, he simply equates my being distressed over rape to someone being upset stores are open on Sundays.
If, as he says, he was just tossing out hypotheticals (and I’ve seen comments online making the same argument) it was a piss-poor thought experiment. When someone raises property rights as a grounds for harm he blithely asserts that’s one of the things that’s not clearly established. Which he doesn’t say in the initial argument. And if he’s seriously asserting the rapists have an actual claim on her body as long as she’s not awake, that’s a sufficiently counter-intuitive statement (counter-intuitive? Batshit stupid is closer to the mark) he needs to offer some arguments to justify it.
And I don’t trust people who insist they’re just tossing out ideas. As has been observed about people who argue “blacks are stupid” should be approached as a serious, rational, not-bigoted-at-all scientific theory, it’s not usually abstract debate. Black inferiority (and women’s) has been linked to countless rationalizations for why it’s okay to Keep The Coloreds Down, for all some people claim that of course, they’re just looking at the science, nope, no bigotry here.
Landsburg’s selection of corresponding examples, as I noted in the first post, gives me that reactions. Why compare rape to someone who sees other people violate his religious beliefs rather than say, someone breaking into your house for a party? Or borrowing your car without permission but filling it up so there’s no loss of gas or harm to you (hey, maybe they check the tires and change the oil, so you’re good)? Those are of course clear violations of property rights—I think his choice of comparisons is more telling than he claims it is.
Keep in mind, Landsburg also argues that women calling for contraceptive insurance coverage are just trying to get someone else to pay for their sex, so I can see a sexist trend here (my response to that general theory here)

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Filed under Politics, Uncategorized, Undead sexist cliches

Writing links

My friend Bill Ferris has begun a weekly humor column at Writer Unboxed. First post is on affectations for writers to adopt.
•This article suggests we think of stories as upheld by two pillars. One early in the first act that gets the protagonist into their trouble, one at the start of the third act that makes the final showdown inevitable. I find this just as arbitrary and useful (or not) as every other structural breakdown (including Lester Dent’s breakdown of which I’ve spoken in the past)—it’s great if it works for you, but if you have some other approach you like better, go with it. There’s no miracle answer here.
•LGM on Juan Williams being caught plagiarizing—which in this case means the flunky who typed his column plagiarized it and Williams didn’t catch it.
•Courtesy of Kate Traylor, we have an interesting discussion of omniscient viewpoint and how to use it. For a good example of how it’s done, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast books are excellent.
•Patricia Wrede discusses the problem of losing interest in the story you’re working on. I’ve discussed this before, and I’ve recently realized I have more examples.
Bros Before Ho’s started out as a darkly satiric look at dating and dating advice, but it either needs to go a lot darker or a lot funnier.
I began writing Eye of White Cathay because of reading about Islamic Spain, an era when for several centuries Jews and Muslims got along fine (this flies in the face of our usual images enough to intrigue me). The trouble is, while I had a setting, I’ve never really come up with a plot. However, the lead character in one draft (a mediocre kabbalist unaware his father brags about him as a mystical master—which draws much more attention than he can handle) really works for me, if I can come up with the right story for him. I also think I need to read more about kabbalism so that I can get the magic in synch. If that doesn’t work, this one may be doomed.
All Things to All Men was inspired by an idea, from the early Christian teacher Carpocrates that we don’t get to Heaven until we’ve experienced all of life, happy, sad, good and evil, and if we blew it, we’re reincarnated for another try. Although I’ve written stories from ideas successfully before (Everybody’s Doing It, which sold to Allegory some years back), this one isn’t catching fire. I’ll give it maybe one more thinking session, then consign it to the back of the queue (which given the length of the queue probably means Never).
•Last week I linked to discussion of Alibi, Random House’s ebook mystery line, and its contracts. Here’s some more criticism of Random House regarding their SF e-imprint, Hydra, which Science Fiction Writers of America has delisted as a SFWA-qualifying market. On the plus side, the bloggers concede Hydra might work out, which is more than anyone said about Harlequin’s attempt to set up a subsidy press.

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Hickory dickory links

A sex-abuse scandal in a conservative Protestant church leaves Slacktivist pondering why powerful groups never realize the cover-up is always worse than the crime.
•Guantanamo prisoners are still looking at life in prison, even the ones we know are innocent. Which is the sort of thing that makes Roy Edroso conflicted when someone like Rand Paul takes a stand against drone strikes. As Edroso points out, Paul’s just posturing, but that’s preferable to, say, the administration explaining it will never, ever target Americans for assassination unless it has to.
•A Christian college fires a woman for having premarital sex. But it has no problem offering her job to the man she slept with.
•Rick Perlstein looks at how much Bob Woodward’s assessment of Bush II has changed for the worse since W stepped down. Which is something I’ve noticed with other reporters and pundits. David Broder went from insisting W respected the Constitution to referring to our “long constitutional nightmare”; Ron Hart went from gushing over Sarah Palin as one of the Greatest Candidates Ever to talking about what a worthless idiot she was (but I bet money if she’d run again, he’d have discovered she’d matured amazingly).
•Some thoughts about Venezuela after Chavez. As I’ve mentioned before, our government and media’s obsession with Chavez as some kind of Big Bad only shows how remarkably sensitive some Americans are to foreign leaders who don’t genuflect before us. One of my friends on FB posted that Chavez should say hi to Osama and Saddam in Hell, as if criticizing the US and being a left-wing autocrat (as noted at the link, right-wing ones are fine with us) compared to genocide and terrorism.
•A Starbucks trailer offers free coffee right outside a competing indie coffee place.
•Robert Nielsen concludes the Great Irish Famine, while not genocide, was certainly horrendous neglect on England’s part.
•Earlier this week I mentioned John Hawkins who laments that “Chances are, you’ll probably go your whole life without shooting anyone or having to defend yourself from a thug trying to beat you to death on the street. Echidne points out that part of his rant is that we no longer have a 1950s style world where “The woman stayed home, took care of the kids and the house, and treated the man as the king of the castle. In return, he was expected to work as much as necessary to provide for his family.” Instead we live in a world where women get everything handed to them and men are really the oppressed ones! And they don’t even get to rule as master of the family!
•A number of conservatives have ranted about the cable show Girls (as alicublog has noted—just scroll down to find one or two). CollegeHumor imagines Seinfeld getting the same treatment.
•The Daily Caller decides Ashley Judd is unfit for Congress because she’s done nude scenes. I remember when people talked about Scott Brown posing for Cosmopolitan as showing how awesome he was. Why it’s almost like there’s a double standard or something.
•Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford says his sex scandal of a few years back has transformed him. He now feels much more compassion—for other people caught in sex scandals.
•If the religious right thinks our marriages should be Bible-based, then concubines are okay, right?
•The always-interesting Paleofuture looks back at 1989 predictions of the 21st century: No pennies, no drinking from taps, no videostores, no disposable diapers.

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The Man With the Golden Links

Along with all the other data it gathers, Equifax’s Work Number database collects job information right down to years of paycheck data. Some lawmakers are curious who Equifax sells to, and whether it includes debt collectors.
•Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been warning Iran will have nuclear weapons within five years. Trouble is, he’s been saying this since 1992.
•Corey Robin looks at the time-honored argument that free speech doesn’t extend to falsely crying “Fire!” in a crowded theater.
•Ruth Rosen shows how far feminism has come (reminding me of this League of Ordinary Gentlemen post) and how far we still have to go. I often wonder if one of the rationales for female anti-feminists is that they don’t remember when “I can’t give you a credit card without your husband’s approval” or “I’m not hiring a woman for that job” were not only legal statements but perfectly acceptable ones. That must make it easier to believe feminism hasn’t affected their lives.
•Speaking of which, here’s one man’s attempt to define a Sensitive Man, circa 1976.
•Do we have death squads in Afghanistan?
•For all the jokes about guns being phallic symbols, here’s an Illinois Republican who really does equate gun control to castration. And here’s a right-winger laments that while he knows how to shoot and throw a punch, he’s never actually had a chance to do it for real.
•Daily Howler applauds a Megan McArdle piece on how journalists (including herself) are completely out of touch with the average American. I must admit it’s a good piece despite my disdain for McArdle’s writing. Here’s some more reasons to disdain her (enthusiasm for violent attacks on anti-war protesters, for instance).
•More Repub outreach to women: A New Hampshire Republicans says getting “big government” involved in preventing domestic abuse is wrong because abused women obviously enjoy being slapped about. Another male pol asserts that he doesn’t think transvaginal ultrasounds are intrusive, but admits he’s never had one. And yet another Republican insists Todd Akin was right.
•LGM wonders why Republicans fought so hard against Chuck Hagel’s appointment as SecDef.
•Since I recently ripped into the idea that having a camera in your phone makes you a photojournalist, it’s only fair to admit that some cell-phone photos are awesome. And a professional-photographer friend TYG and I were hanging with Saturday can take absolutely amazing photos on her cell (of course, she is a pro).
•Supreme Court Justice Scalia really, really wants to get rid of the Voting Rights Act, to the point he cites overwhelming Congressional support as proof America should get rid of it. Of course, he’s a bitter old Republican white guy, so it’s only to be expected. ThinkProgress explains why protecting voting rights is not the same as affirmative action. Here’s a look at what some people were willing to do to establish those rights.
•Business Week suggests the real problem with the housing market is minorities.
•Digby critiques the insanity of the sequester. Oh, and after a White House official tells Bob Woodward he’ll regret blaming the White House for the sequester, right-bloggers freak out.
•Bradley Manning, alleged leaker, pleads guilty. New Republic argues that the Obama administration is taking its war on leakers to a new extreme.
•When the Iraq war was getting ready, columnist Tom Friedman said he wanted to sit down and watch the fun with a big bowl of popcorn.
•You may have already heard that Repubs in Washington state want to tax bicycle sales. One supporter of the tax argues that bike riders breathe out carbon dioxide, so they’re increasing global warming, so there, tax needed!

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Filed under economics, Politics, Uncategorized, Undead sexist cliches

Being interesting

Due to massive schedule cockups on mine and TYG’s part last weekend, we were only able to catch two feature films at Nevermore (even though I volunteered) and one of them had to be The Casebook of Eddie Brewer (2013(. Which did, however, get me thinking about the problem of build-up in a fantasy story.
One of the critiques I got on the earlier draft of Affairs of Honor was that if I was presenting a Colonial American world where magic works, it needed to be clear up front what sort of magic we were working with. Which, judging from reading it to the writing group this week, I’ve done successfully.
I think this is generally good advice for alternate histories (I’ve given it to other people). If you’re writing a world where the Nazis won or Chairman Mao is a vampire, it needs to be obvious up front: Writing 50 pages of straight adventure or drama, then revealing things are different is going to leave people feeling the rug’s pulled out from under them.
With an “intrusion” fantasy—it’s our normal world, except magic is somehow intruding it into it—you have more flexibility. You can take some time to set up the normal world before the weirdness starts, introduce one weird moment then let everything lie fallow (so readers have to wonder when it’ll pop up again) or slowly build to something freaky.
The trouble is, in all these cases, the mundane ordinary part has to be interesting. Which is where Eddie Brewer falls flat.
The British film has a TV reporter following the eponymous paranormal investigator around (yes, it’s another of those hand-held camera films) through his fairly dull investigations. Then we get to a supposedly haunted block of flats, where we get a few creepy incidents, but mostly a lot more talk, talk, talk about what’s going on, and more talk from people who don’t believe. And then finally we get a murky climax in which lots of weird stuff happens and people die and at the end Eddie is just left wondering what the hell happened.
This could have worked fine if the focus had been on Eddie’s character, but it isn’t; he doesn’t have anything that could be called a character arc. He doesn’t grow or change, but his failure to grow isn’t the point either. Instead, they seem to be shooting for a cinema verite depiction of life as a paranormal investigator … but even if it’s spot-on, it’s a pretty dull life (which ties in with this earlier post). I imagine they’d have cut most of the footage for the TV report. We should have been so lucky.
A minor problem is that in one scene, a girl whispers the true name of the creature haunting her and Eddie is clearly horrified. We never learn what the name is. I would count that as a cheat.
My other Nevermore film was much better, so I’ll save it for Saturday.

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The meme gets it wrong

One of the posts getting shared a lot on FB recently says that if someone from the 1950s showed up today, the most mind-boggling thing to them would be that we have devices in our pockets that can access all the world’s knowledge—and we use them to look at funny cat pictures.
A cute joke. But not even close to true. I don’t think anything in the tech world would astonish them as much as the changes in the social world.
•In the 1950s, women’s role was to stay home and let men be the breadwinner (even though in reality lots of women were working) and protector. Prior to John Kerry’s appointment, the last three secretaries of state were women. Women work as cops, MPs, doctors, now front-line troops and for millions of Americans this isn’t even controversial.
•Gays were considered sick, disturbed people and also criminals. Now gay marriage is becoming just one more relationship. Homosexuality is legal and being out is common.
•Segregation as a law of the land is gone (even if we’re far from happily integrated). Not only that, black/white intermarriage is legal everywhere and for millions of people not even controversial. By contrast, I seriously think Obama being the product of what used to be called miscegenation would freak some Southerners out as much as the fact he’s black.
•Women having babies alone is no longer scandalous. Using birth control is, for most Americans, not a controversial act (no matter how much the right-to-life minority screams).
•Men staying home with the kids are still a minority (as far as I know) but it happens. And even when the man works outside the house, there are far fewer couples where the man just gives orders and the woman obeys (as used to be the ideal). Men change diapers. They’re in the delivery room when their kids pop out. They assume a share of child care. Women still do most of the work, on average, but that men do as much as they do is a seismic shift … and yet to millions of Americans it’s still normal.
•Smoking, which a majority of American adults did, is illegal in offices, hospitals, restaurants and countless other places.
•Rape is taken a lot more seriously as a crime. Spousal abuse and sexual harassment are taken seriously (remember my jarring reaction to reading Nackles?).
•Women aren’t virgins before marriage. And they don’t pretend to be. Even a perfectly respectable Good Girl can deliver good oral sex or practice the Kama Sutra.
•Unions have largely vanished. The government’s talking about slashing Social Security instead of increasing it. Instead of guaranteed pensions from your employer, you have to trust the stock market.
•The difference between rich and poor is several hundred times greater than it was 60 years ago.
As the Paleofuture blog has pointed out, the early 1960s series The Jetsons had no hesitation presenting a future in which technlogy has transformed everything, but the nuclear family (man works, woman shops, daughter goes boy crazy, mom who doesn’t work still needs a maid) remains identical (given that they used an equally conventional family in The Flintstones, I doubt this was based on any deep analysis of the world that’s coming, but still). Even with the civil-rights movement under way, there was no hint of how much seismic change was ahead.
I’m not saying everyone in the fifties would hate today. Some people would be thrilled. Others would be thrilled by parts of it, outraged by others. But I don’t think any of them would have seen it coming.

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Graphic Novels

METHOD MAN by Method Man, Sanford Green and David Atchison is an urban fantasy in which the eponymous rapper portrays himself as a member of a former demon-slaying cult, reluctantly dragged back into the fold to help stop a scheme by Lilith to fight her way back into heaven. Routine.
THE ROCKETEER by Dave Stevens has young aviator Cliff Secord discover a stolen rocketpack hidden in his plane, which plunges him into adventures alongside Doc Savage and the Shadow, battling Nazi spies, defeating a freakish serial killer and pursuing his dream girl Betty. This one didn’t work for me anywhere near as much as I expected—the individual stories are too minor to work alone, but they don’t add up to anything like an arc. Secord just bounces from adventure to adventure, as if Stevens wanted to do a pulp story but really didn’t get how.
INCORRUPTIBLE Vol. 6 by Mark Waid and Marcio Takara has Max Damage continue struggling to keep Coalville a functioning community despite a deluge of super-villains, the return of the Dr. Doom-esque St. Lucifer and the Plutonian’s return to Earth. There’s a bit of sleight of hand to keep both series’ going by having Max xomehow convince the Plutonian to give Coalville a free pass—but assuming the eventual reason is valid, I’m okay with that.
Now, two that fit together, sort of—ALBION, by Alan Moore, daughter Leah Moore and John Repton, with pencils by Shane Oakley, is a tribute to the British comics heroes Moore and I grew up with, such as the Steel Claw, the Spider (actually a villain), the Wild Wonders and the robot-master Dolmann. A young comics nerd named Danny learns from Dolmann’s daughter Penny that the government locked away the heroes 20 years earlier and begins working to free them. Meanwhile, security at the prison begins to suspect something bad is coming down the pike … This suffers because the focus is on Danny and Penny are dull, generic twentysomething types, while the heroes sit in prison (even if they were hoping for a sequel, this comes off as too much build-up without enough payoff); lord knows what American audiences with no nostalgia for the characters made of this. I have the original series, but picked this up for the collection of original strips of various characters in the back.
JACK STAFF: Everything Used to be Black and White is an expanded version of the Jack Staff collection I read last year, takes pastiches of the same characters and puts them to much better use as John Smith (AKA the mysteriously disappeared hero Jack Staff) copes with Victorian escapologist Charlie Raven, the invisible Claw, the Question Mark Squad (apparently an original creation) and the Spider (I guess he isn’t under copyright since Grist uses the real one rather than a close copy). Even though Jack does relatively little, he’s the center of a much livelier world than Albion gave us.


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