CHILDREN FOR THE UNION: The War Spirit on the Northern Home Front by James Marten has an oddly familiar quality as it shows how kids in the North saw the Civil War as the most exciting event ever (they were, of course, exposed to fewer battles than the South), admiring military parades and uniformed soldier, playing at mock battles, browsing war stories in patriotic fiction and raising money for the war efforts—in many ways it’s the same sort of reactions kids would later have in WW II. The book also shows the darker side for children, including losing family members, enlisting under age or serving as drummers, which frequently brought them into military action. Interesting.
A BED OF EARTH (The Gravedigger’s Tale): The Secret Books of Venus Book Three by Tanith Lee has a variety of disparate plot threads set in an alternate-timeline Venice, all of which come together at the climax in a completely different way than I’d anticipated. The cast includes a tragic lover who drowns herself, the gravedigger of the title, and a young aristocratic girl who falls for a ghost, all of which turn out to be part of the same story. I’d forgotten how good Lee can be.
MANIFEST DESTINY: Flora and Fauna by Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts has as its premise that Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark west not to explore but to battle the astonishing monsters beyond the American frontier. I like the concept, but the execution was flat — the characters don’t grab me and the monsters aren’t that interesting. The best bit is a running gag about how to classify a man-bison they encounter, otherwise this is forgettable.
GENIUS: Siege by Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman likewise has a great concept: the great military mind of this generation, in the tradition of Hannibal, Wellington and Genghis Khan, is a teenage girl in inner-city LA. Rather than conquest, Destiny wants to help her people so she’s turned her skills to organizing an all-out gangs vs. cops war … but much as I like the concept, it’s ultimately sound and fury signifying nothing (they beat the cops, the National Guard moves in, order is restored). And the idea that Destiny can transform the narrative just with video showing how hard her people have it is ludicrous (if it were that easy, Black Lives Matter wouldn’t be necessary). And I’m so tired of reporters being written as nothing but attention whores — the one who covers Destiny asserts she’s doing it for no reason other than it’s a guaranteed Pulitzer (While the City Sleeps was scathing in its portrayal of the media, but it doesn’t make them that shallow).
SUPERGIRL: Last Daughter of Krypton by Michael Green, Mike Johnson and Mahmud Asrar (cover by Asrar, all rights with current holder) is the latest reboot of the Maid of Might but a surprisingly decent one. With minor alterations, this is the same origin as the current TV show, which is close to the classic Supergirl origin, although when Superman shows up, Kara’s response is to beat him up on the grounds he can’t be her baby cousin Kal. This introduces one boring corporate villain and the much more interesting Worldwreckers, superhuman living weapons engineered by Kryptonian scientists for an unknown purpose. For once the New 52 is an improvement as the efforts to do a darker Supergirl earlier in this century really didn’t work for me.
BATGIRL: Wanted by Gail Simone and Fernando Pasarin has Babs dealing with the aftermath of apparently killing her serial-killer brother; the new scheme by the vigilante Knightfall (arming chosen street gangs so they can wipe out the rest); and a new version of Batman’s old foe the Ventriloquist. Simone does a great job, but once again I find DC’s desire to make the Bat-books the most horrifying corner of the New 52 distasteful—the Ventriloquist is so over the top, it’s like Simone was writing after an all-night Chucky film marathon (the pre-Crisis Scarface and Ventriloquist were less horrifying, more entertaining). So not quite to my taste.
I picked up a cheap copy of SUPERMAN: The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen (by various writers and artists) on the Durham Library sale table and so once again entered the strange, goofball world of Silver Age Jimmy where it was perfectly routine for him to become a human octopus, a human porcupine, a giant turtle man or an alien freak. I actually liked this better than the first time I read it, but I stand by my assessment that this is definitely not for all tastes (even more than most Silver Age comics). It’s still more fun than anything the comics have thought of doing with Jimmy since the Bronze Age ended (aside from Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman).