A few good books (#SFWApro)

HORSE OPERA: The Strange Saga of the 1930s Singing Cowboy was Peter Stanfield’s follow-up to Hollywood, Westerns and the 1930s. Like the first book, Stanfield argues that while film histories focus on A-list Westerns (StagecoachMan Who Shot Liberty Valance, Shane) it was cowboy songs and spectacular stunts that appealed to Western fans in the 1930s so by treating Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and similar stars as unworthy of consideration, critics miss the true scope of the genre. Stanfield looks at how the singing-cowboy films drew on radio, folk music, minstrel shows and dime novels to create a film that appealed both to rural audiences and to working-class urbanites with rural roots. Academic in tone, but very interesting.

13194955THE ROUTEMASTER POCKETBOOK is a collection of pamphlets and reports about the classic British double-decker bus I grew up with (recently that model was retired, so it’s now generating lots of nostalgia): a kid’s guide to how bus drivers are trained, an in-house discussion on what makes a good route schedule, technical details on what made the Routemaster distinctive (faster accelerating made a big difference to speed) and newspaper articles about the new model (I’m surprised to discover the Routemaster is only a couple of years older than me—as a kid I assumed they’d been there forever). Very much a matter of taste—if you have no nostalgia for the double-deckers, I doubt you’ll get much out of this (all rights to cover with current holder)

PORTRAIT OF JENNIE by Robert Nathan was the inspiration for the film and a good, if old-fashioned read. A struggling artist meets a young girl, then meets her again only she’s older, and then older still … Unlike the film, it’s hard to see this as anything but time travel; surprisingly charming.

I’ve tried the HARK! A VAGRANT webcomic by Kate Beaton a couple of times and never seen what the fuss was about. Now that I’ve read the collection, I can safely say Beaton just doesn’t click with me—her historical jokes are sharp enough, but I don’t even find myself admiring them, let alone laughing.

I wasn’t impressed with the second volume of Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s Lazarus series but LAZARUS: Conclave handily makes up for it. The Carlyles and their arch-rivals the Hocks call a conclave of the world’s ruling families with both sides playing some devious games … What makes this work is that while it keeps the scheming of the first book, it really opens up the world (including introducing Forever’s counterpart enforcers in other family) and has some lively action sequences too. Very good.

ANT-MAN: Second Chance Man by Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanos has a good concept—Scott Lang relocates to Miami to be near his daughter and struggles to make life as a second-string super-hero work (including recruiting a couple of second-string ex-villains as sidekicks). Execution was flat though: Spencer’s Scott Lang talks like Spencer learned his dialog skills watching sitcoms, which doesn’t work for me—it’s not a sitcom (or rom-com or Chuck) and doesn’t seem to fit though Spencer’s not alone in this approach). And given that Ant-Man’s own series amounted to two tryout issues, mining that for so much of the elements here felt slightly silly (does it really add anything)? And given Scott’s daughter had her own stint as a super-hero, why does everyone treat her like an ordinary kid?

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