Graphic novels of all sorts (#SFWApro)

BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2011, edited by Alison Bechdel was disappointing — a lot of the collection is excerpts from larger works, and didn’t really work without the context of the whole thing. Others didn’t work at all. I did love “Pet Cat,” a satire on comics that continue beyond their creator’s retirement, and “The Ultimate Graphic Novel (in Six Panels)” Only the excerpt from Rasl convinced me to check out the source.

LEAVING MEGALOPOLIS was a kickstarter funded project by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore reads like Irredeemable except instead of Superman it’s an entire team of heroes gone bad. What keeps it from being a knockoff is that the focus is on a handful of residents struggling to get out of the city and away from the heroes gone bad. Good reading.

SUPERMAN: Son of Superman and Trials of the Super-Sons by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Jorge Jiminez return the pre-New 52 Superman, somehow hanging out in the New 52 after the death of his counterpart, drawing attention from the Justice League (just what happened to the real Superman?), and the Kryptonian AI the Eradicator, which is determined to purify the Kents’ half-human son of his “tainted” genes. In the second volume, Damian Wayne and Jonathan Kent try to get along (but not very hard) while Batman and Superman shake their heads about kids today. Surprisingly entertaining, and a welcome change from the mopey New 52 Man of Steel.

SPIDER-GIRL: Too many Spiders by Tom DeFalco, Pat Ollliffe and Ron Frenz has May continuing to fight crime despite having lost her power in the previous volume, Endgame. May’s parents freak out, her love life continues to founder and what exactly is Tony Stark up to with this new mystery hero? Good fun and clearly demonstrating that it’s May’s heart, not her powers, that makes her awesome.

 

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India, Czechoslovakia, London, Argentina: Around the World in Movies (#SFWApro)

CHARULATA (1964) was a disappointing film from Satyajit Ray in which the wife of a 19th century Indian newspaper publisher finds herself strongly attracted to his ne’er do well intellectual brother. The best moments are between the husband and wife, so the focus on the wife/brother connection didn’t work for me. “Have you ever seen actors play dead soldiers on stage?”

HANGMEN ALSO DIE (1943) was made a year after the Nazi officer “Hangman” Heydrich was assassinated (though as the film notes, “executed” for his crimes would be a fairer term) in Czechoslovakia, showing the resistance struggle to shield gunman Brian Donlevy in the belief his escape makes him a symbol of the Czech spirit. But can they keep it together when the Germans start shooting random hostages and weasel Gene Lockhart is ratting out the resistance from within? Well made by Fritz Lang, who co-wrote the script with Bertold Brecht, and while uplifting, also grimly realistic about the price of defiance — parts of the plot concerns the efforts to get kindly professor Walter Brennan off the hostage list before he’s shot and they don’t work. “I happen to remember another Hitler joke.”

STORY OF A HANGMAN (2014) was a documentary special feature by the author of a Heydrich biography, revealing that unsurprisingly things did not go as well in the real world as in the movie. Not only was the Nazi retaliation horrifyingly brutal, but the execution was arranged by the Czech government-in-exile, not by the resistance. And depressingly much of the operation was given up by informers, resulting in the killers committing suicide rather than being taken alive. As all I know of Heydrich was watching films (e.g. Hitler’s Madman), this was a welcome addition.

THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1939) has George Zucco’s Moriarty inform Basil Rathbone’s Holmes that to pay the detective back for almost sending him to the gallows, Moriarty will destroy his reputation by pulling off the crime of the century under Holmes nose. Holmes is supposed to be helping with security at the Tower of London, but Moriarty knows a routine job will bore him compared to the spectacular mystery the Professor arranges to distract him (the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a fake clubfoot, Incan death music — it all makes sense!). This is an excellent film (nominally based on a successful stage play, but nothing of the play remains), though Nigel Bruce’s Watson remains an appallingly dim bulb. Zucco and Rathbone are both great though (though Rathbone is too high energy — he never does capture those moments when Holmes relaxes into uneasy calm) with great dialog between Holmes and Moriarty (“I admire your brain so much I’d like to donate it, picked in alcohol, to the Royal Medical Society!”) and Moriarty and his butler (“All that’s left of him is one boot.”). With EE Clive as a Scotland Yard boob and Ida Lupino as a damsel in distress. The commentary by a mystery-magazine editor was interesting too, pointing out the usual trivia along with comparisons to the stories (he’s quite right, stories of avengers rising from the client’s past to kill are quite common in Doyle). “This is no childish game, Miss Brandon, but a cryptic warning of avenging death!”

GILDA (1946) has gambler Glenn Ford become the right hand and kept man of George Macready (they don’t come out and say it but the subtext is pretty much text here), who gets knocked for a loop to discover his boss has not only married, but it’s Ford’s old flame, Rita Hayworth. What follows is a really twisted romantic triangle (as one of the special features says, it probably makes more sense if we think of Macready, not Hayworth, as the apex of the triangle) which is far more interesting than the crime plot involving a tungsten syndicate. Very good. “A man who makes his own luck, as I do, recognizes it in another.”

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On the plus side, I slept well (#SFWApro)

And I did finish Southern Discomfort, which is a big win. I also got more articles in for the Leaf project, which will put a little more money in the bank. And as usual, submitted a Screen Rant, 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Spider-Girl (cover by Pat Olliffe, all rights remain with current holder). I even found a little time to work on a short story, though it got squished between talking to a contractor and taking care of the dogs.

And sleeping well is a very sweet thing. I’ve found that if I wake up in the middle of the night, I’ll go back to sleep once I lie on the couch. This hasn’t always worked in the past and may wear off at some point, but for the moment it’s great.

Unfortunately, I’m still spending lots and lots more time than usual with the puppies, and as I said last week, my sense of personal space has evaporated. It’s not affecting the way I treat them, thank goodness — I still have no trouble cuddling and petting them, etcetera. But they leave me with zero space and zero privacy, and that leaves me feeling very uncomfortable a lot of the time (I can’t quite describe it, but it’s a very physical sensation). And that cuts into my ability to work and concentrate. Fortunately Screen Rant and Leaf don’t require as much creativity as working on a short story.

It doesn’t help that they’re really demanding of attention when I’m done for the day (I think it’s because they’re used to TYG coming home to play, and so if she’s out late, I’m the designated petter). So I can’t really do anything that gets away from puppy care. I’ve been compromising this week by putting in a movie so I have my hands free for petting and playing.

Another bright moment, there was an identity theft incident (someone took out a Verizon account in my name) and I got it successfully resolved this week. Kudos to Verizon’s fraud department and the Durham PD for being so helpful.

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Do you know who you are? (#SFWApro)

So for my birthday this year, I asked TYG to have my DNA tested through ancestry.com. She said yes. I’ve wanted to do it ever since TYG did hers because she’s had great fun with the fact she has a lot of British DNA (i.e., England/Scotland/Wales) — more than I could have, from what I know of my ancestry.

The process itself is simple. They sent me a small vial, and I had to spit and spit until it was around half full. Then I mail it off, then three months later the results came back. As I thought, biologically I’m not very British:

European Jewish: 40 percent.

Ireland: 34 percent.

West Europe: 6 percent.

Great Britain: 5 percent

Caucasus: 4 percent

Middle East: 4 percent

North African: 2 percent.

Scandinavia: 2 percent.

Iberian peninsula: 2 percent.

Italy/Greece: 1 percent.

(image taken from Science Daily, photo by DigitalGenetics)

The big one isn’t surprising. My Dad’s Jewish and his dad came from the Ukraine.

The Irish surprised me a little. I know my Great-Grandfather, Tommy Farrell, was Irish, but that’s 12.5 percent of my genes. But it’s not that remarkable that the rest of my English side had some Irish mixed in.

West Europe? My paternal grandmother was German, so that probably explains it.

Great Britain: Well, I am English.

Caucasus/Middle East: I’m guessing these might be something picked up among my father’s Jewish ancestors.

North African: Common in Spain and Portugal so it might be tied to that Iberian Peninsula DNA. A number of the genetic traces are found outside the region referred to so it may be I’m really tied to much fewer regions.

Scandinavia: I have been told there’s some Danish on my mother’s side.

And as there’s no Mongolian or anything east of the Middle East, it appears I am not one of the 50 billion people descended from Genghis Khan.

Overall, nothing that transforms my sense of self. Being English has never been about my DNA, any more than being American. And it’s certainly interesting. Also good for lots of fun with TYG (“You’re the really English one!” followed by whatever failing of Mother England I can think of to indict her with).

 

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Southern Discomfort: draft done (#SFWApro)

Which is good. But then again, it’s done because it ended about 8,000 words sooner than the last draft. 78,000 which is a little short. But not so short I can’t make it up next time. Add sensory detail, clarify some scenes that I suspect are confusing, etc.

This draft is, I think, a huge improvement (and the scenes I’ve read to the writing group confirm this). Characters are stronger, confusing bits are clearer, and the challenge level for the characters is higher. The troubled parts where I move into the Hither Country still need the most work, but they’re better too.

On the downside, I think character suffers as things move to the climax. Of course with everything that’s going on, personal issues are going to take a backseat, but still, Maria feels too much Generic Character and not herself. I’m not sure how to fix that, but I want to. And I think I need to.

Joan on the other hand, is a lot better, with more to do and a stronger character arc.

I think I have a better handle of all the supporting-cast scenes. Fewer POV characters, less scenes where people just stand around chatting with no tension. And I think the people who need ending scenes will all get them.

Of course, I feel like focusing on all the things that are still wrong, but I shall not. It’s finished, it’s improved, I think I can get the next draft I want done by the end of the year (story and scenes complete, so there’s only a final edit and proofread to go). This is good.

I shall probably wait until August to start replotting and rethinking. That will give my mind some clarity and I’ll be able to look at it with at least slightly fresh eyes.

Whoot! To celebrate, here’s a Pissaro from the North Carolina Museum of Art. I love the impressionists.

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Enter Moriarty, Exit Holmes: The Final Problem (#SFWApro)

Arthur Conan Doyle had much bigger ambitions than Sherlock Holmes. He was confident that his real achievements would be his sweeping historical epics, The White Company and Sir Nigel, but they didn’t make the cut (there are some fun bits in the first novel but it bogs down fairly soon. Never tried the second). Instead it was Holmes, with the second string being Professor Challenger (The Lost World) and swashbuckling French soldier Brigadier Gerard.

Doyle, however, had no way to know this, so he was probably confident he could wrap up the adventures of Sherlock Holmes in “The Final Problem,” the last story in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes opens the story by showing up at Watson’s house, obviously in fear of attack. He tells Watson how he’s come to realize that at the center of London crime lies a mastermind, someone who manipulate and controls all the lesser players, a “Napoleon of Crime.” Holmes has identified the man as mathematical genius Professor James Moriarty (illustration by Sidney Paget), a man of seemingly perfect respectability. He has everything in place for Scotland Yard to bust and convict the gang, but not if he’s killed first. He and Watson flee to the Continent until the arrests are made, but Moriarty and his top lieutenants escape. In Switzerland, Moriarty confronts Holmes and decides to settle things mano-a-mano, though he courteously allows Holmes to leave a note for the absent Watson. It appears to Watson that the finest man he’s ever known went over the Reichenbach Falls grappling with Moriarty, ending both lives (Holmes had previously stated that he’d consider sacrificing himself to take out Moriarty a Needs of the Many situation).

Partly based on master 18th century criminal Jonathan Wild (and possibly also the 19th century thief Adam Worth), Moriarty is a truly memorable figure. Their conversation together, as Holmes later recounts to Watson, is just a pleasure to read (“All that I have to say has already crossed your mind.” “I imagine my answer has already crossed yours.”). Although he would only make one more appearance, in The Valley of Fear, later writers have made far more of him. Not only the Cumberpatch Sherlock but the Arthur Wontner films of nearly a century ago, plus several appearances in Basil Rathbone’s 1940s series. He’s even shown up in multiple stories with no Holmes attached. Fans want more Moriarty, so they provide it.

The story also provides a feast for Holmes fans because there’s so much that can be read into it. At one point Holmes says without him the police can’t possibly arrest Moriarty and make it stick … but after running off to the Continent he’s surprised that Moriarty has escaped. And while Watson is completely ignorant of Moriarty here, in The Valley of Fear, set several years earlier, he’s fully informed about him.

Obviously in introducing Moriarty here, Watson had to pretend ignorance so he could have Holmes explain the professor to him (presumably a conversation they actually had on some earlier case). But establishing that Watson’s stories fudge the facts gives fans a lot of leeway to ignore what’s on the printed page rather than be bound by it.

The logical gaps likewise fuel fan speculation. For example, maybe Holmes actually couldn’t get the goods on Moriarty so he lured him into a confrontation that would end the master criminal. So Holmes himself would also be capable of fudging facts (things really kick into high gear when Holmes returns, as I’ll detail eventually).

“Final Problem” is a memorable story in more ways than one.

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The Secret Origin of Sherlock Holmes, plus more! Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (#SFWApro)

MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES is, I think, a much stronger volume than Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, even though it was meant to wrap up the series (art by Sidney Paget) Among the noteworthy stories:

•”The Gloria Scott,” in which Holmes tells Watson about the events that set him to becoming a private detective. A subsequent story, “The Musgrave Ritual,” details Holmes’ first big case.

•”The Greek Interpreter,” which introduces Mycroft Holmes. It’s one of his only two appearances in the canon (he’s backstage in a couple more) but he would become far more important to later writers, for example the current BBC Sherlock.

•And of course “The Final Problem,” which introduces Professor Moriarty — who again, appears only once more in the stories. The story which was supposed to write the finish to Holmes’ legend is worth discussing in detail, so I’ll do that in a subsequent post.

Reading over the collection as a whole, I think part of what made Holmes a success is that for all his genius and his personal presence, he’s very fallible. In “The Yellow Face,” for instance, he gets everything wrong. In “The Greek Interpreter” the bad guys get away (though as with “Five Orange Pips” in the previous collection, it’s implied they paid for their crimes down the road).

In other stories, Holmes is simply inconsequential. In “The Stockbroker’s Clerk,” Holmes’ involvement changes nothing. It just gives readers an explanation for what’s been going on, and Watson to narrate the events. “The Cardboard Box” isn’t quite that extreme but it’s close. At the same time I never felt like Holmes and Watson were ever shoehorned into the narrative.

On the other hand, Watson’s ability to drop his practice or leave his wife’s side at the drop of a hat does feel ridiculous. It’s easy to see why when Holmes returned from the dead in “The Adventure of the Empty House,” Mrs. Watson had passed on so Watson could return to Baker Street. It makes more sense that way.

And Doyle, as I’ve noted before, was a sloppy writer. “Silver Blaze,” as Doyle admitted after readers wrote to him about it, would have gotten most of the people involved banned from horse-racing for life for their conduct. Doyle simply knew nothing about the sport. At the same time the story does provide one of those classic lines when Holmes refers Watson to “the curious incident of the dog in the night time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night time.”

“That was the curious incident.”

Happily this was not the finish of Holmes’ career. I’ll discuss Doyle’s intentions when I talk about “The Final Problem.”

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