Category Archives: Reading

Wonder Woman, screen rants and secret histories (#SFWApro)

So my new Screen Rant column is out: 22 Most WTF Moments in Wonder Woman comics. Such as the bondage-heavy story above from Wonder Woman #4 (art by H.G. Peters).

This isn’t meant to slam Wonder Woman — as regular readers know, I’m a fan of hers, even if the execution of some of her adventures is sub-part. As I note in the article, when you’ve been published for almost a continuous 80 years, it’s inevitable some stories will be WTF. More so when they’re overwhelmingly written by men. Not that a female writer is a guarantee of good WW stories (I wasn’t a fan of Jodi Picoult’s brief run), but I’d like to think they’d do better than some of the more sexist stuff in the later Kanigher run.

(Peters art again. This is a bad guy using Washington’s image to preach misogyny)

It wouldn’t have been as good a column (and I do think it’s good) without THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN by Jill Lepore, a book about how WW creator William Marston’s personal life and views (polyamory, submission and dominance, feminism) influenced his creation. While I was aware of much of this, Lepore shows I didn’t know as much as I thought. For example one angle of Marston’s menage a trois was Olive Byrne, niece of birth-control activist Margaret Sanger. And the birth-control movement frequently invoked women-in-chains symbolism to represent the burden of unwanted pregnancy (my wouldn’t that outrage the religious right today?). Marston’s WW stories likewise showed Wonder Woman bound, then breaking free — although as Lepore notes, sometimes the bondage is just kink. It’s an excellent book, though I’m not willing to write off the post-Marston Wonder Woman as much as Lepore does.

Check out the article and enjoy. Art below by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. All rights to all images remain with current holder.

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Southern cops, British cops, Lumberjanes, gods and Grail quests: books read (#SFWApro)

Although I’m not a fan of crime comics, SOUTHERN BASTARDS: Here was a Man by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour was pretty good. A military veteran, son of a small town police chief, returns home to bury his father. When he discovers the high school coach is also the local head of organized crime, he can’t quite resist trying to clean up the mess; suffice to say, it doesn’t go well.

WHO KILLED SHERLOCK HOLMES: A Shadow Police Novel by Paul Cornell is the third in his Shadow Police urban fantasy series about a squad of London detectives who’ve reluctantly found themselves tasked with monitoring London’s supernatural underworld. In this book, they find a series of Sherlock Holmes actors getting whacked, plus the spirit of Holmes himself is found stabbed to death in 221B Baker Street. So who is the killer and what exactly does he gain by replicating murders from the Holmes stories? Cornell does a good job showing the squad growing into their roles, and resolves one plotline from the previous book (the other, the Smiling Man taking over the afterlife, will presumably be the series’ big arc). While the Holmes stuff is fun, and Cornell clearly knows his stuff (though I’d disagree with the idea of Holmes as an agent of order) I do wish he’d done more with the idea of how many variant Holmes are out there (everything from supervillain Holmes to drug addict Holmes to gay Holmes). Still, the book is definitely a thumbs up from me.

LUMBERJANES: Beware the Kitten Holy is the first volume in the series (by multiple writers and illustrator Brooke Allen) about a group of young teens at a Lumberjane summer camp who discover there are some strange things in the wood, from three-eyed deer to Jekyll/Hyde Boy Scouts. I’m definitely not the target audience, but even so I found it delightful lighthearted fun. And that’s always nice.

Commercial Suicide, the third volume of THE WICKED AND THE DIVINE is apparently filler to compensate for artist Jamie McKelvie not being able to collaborate with writer Kieron Gillen this time out. So rather than following up on events at the end of Fandemonium, we get spotlight issues covering the various gods (“What idiot let Sekhmet loose? Especially sober!”). But don’t worry, this is good filler, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

EXCALIBUR by Sanders Anne Laubenthal (cover by Gervasio Gallardo, all rights remain with current holder) is the only Grail fantasy set in Mobile, Alabama, involving a Welsh archeologist (who’s also Arthur’s descendant) hunting Excalibur, a local scholar going on a Grail Quest and Morgan leFay and Morgause, who have their own agendas. This blew me away when I originally read it, first for the novelty of the concept (inspired by the legend of a Welsh colony on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico), second for introducing me to the idea of Morgan as a Celtic priest and one of the good guys. Even without those surprises, this still works well, with poetic language, a distinctive setting, and good fantasy elements (though the Otherworld is very Tolkienish). It is a little odd that the most outrageous declarations — yes, I’m the real Morgan leFay! — never startle anyone, they’re just accepted. But it still works (though it’s annoying the female lead, for all her talk about wanting more out of life, ultimately can’t do more than choose a man to marry). A shame Laubenthal died before working on more books in the same setting.

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My dead heroes Screen Rant article is live (#SFWApro)

Specifically heroes who died and came back within a few issues, or just one issue. That includes Warlock during his early religious allegory phase, Superman, Iron Man, the Metal Men and Spider-Man.

Art by Herb Trimpe (Warlock) and Ross Andru/Mike Esposito (Metal Men). All rights remain with the current holders.

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I know when I’m licked (#SFWApro)

Because I’ve been successfully posting every day for a while now, I can’t bring myself not to. However I’m also quite wiped, so this will be a brief cover-art post.

First we have Gervasio Gallardo’s cover for Sanders Anne Laubenthal’s Excalibur, which I reread recently (review will follow soon).

Then we have Gray Morrow’s cover for one of Thomas Burnett Swann’s mythological fantasies.

Lou Feck did this one.

And here’s a comic-book cover by Ruben Moreira in the Stupid Fool, Why Don’t You Believe The Absurd Superstition category.

All rights to images reside with current holders.

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Is Our Writers Learning: The Fallen by Tarn Richardson (#SFWApro)

What I learned from THE FALLEN: The Darkest Hand Trilogy Book 2 by Tarn Richardson (couldn’t find cover art credits but all rights remain with current holder) is that if you try telling me the Inquisition are the good guys, I’m going to roll my eyes at you.

The Story: It’s the middle of WW I. The Darkest Hand, a sinister conspiracy plotting to free the forces of Hell, is manipulating events on and off the battlefield, and eliminating Inquisitors who might pose a threat. Poldek Tacit, the consummate Inquisitor (in this setting, they’re like Slayers), is in prison and under torture. Can he break out to help the woman he loves fight against the Hand’s next move?

WHAT I LEARNED:

In a historical novel, setting matters. I hate historical novels that bury me in detail, particularly if it’s expository (I’ve seen novels where people constantly exposit about their daily lives, much like the characters in the fantasy Black Wolves do). At the same time, I don’t really see much point in a historical setting if the story doesn’t make use of the setting.

Richardson does a great job on the detail during the scenes at the front, no question. But his scenes away from the front, there was nothing that particularly grabbed me. Nothing that made me feel this was distinctly 1915, rather than well, a few years earlier, a few years later.

Attitudes matter too. There’s nothing about the characters that seems particularly WW I either — for example nothing as distinctive as the way the real-life people in Testament of Youth consoled themselves with poetry in tragic moments. Maybe that’s one reason that while the action scenes fly, everything slows to a crawl during the talky scenes. And there are a lot of talky scenes.

Capitalizing a generic word rarely works. One of the lead characters comes from an order of nuns that tries to seduce priests to see if they’ll hold fast to their vows. The name of the order? The Chaste.

Seriously? Like “the Burned” in that recent Green Arrow collection, the name falls flat. It doesn’t make them interesting, and you’d think (well I would) that a holy order would have a more formal name (The Sisters of The Testing of Virtue or something — that one’s not great either, but you get the point).

Some bad guys just ain’t redeemable. Rather like Hellboy’s fondness for making witch-hunters the good guys, Richardson’s use of the Inquisition just sticks in my craw (it’s not so bad with Hellboy because I like Hellboy). The Inquisition were not good guys. They persecuted heretics. They hunted Jews. They hunted witches. Lots of innocent people suffered under the Inquisition, as did people who were guilty but only of disagreeing with church doctrine.

Presenting the Inquisition as heroic evil-fighters … sorry, no. It’s like writing a story where the witches at Salem really were guilty. I don’t think for a minute Richardson is pro-Inquisition in the real world, but it didn’t work for me even a little.

Richardson’s writing is good and I didn’t have any trouble following the story (even though it’s Vol. 2 and I haven’t read 1) but I won’t be picking up Vol. 3.

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Clowns, mutants, pirates: books read (#SFWApro)

CITY OF CLOWNS by Daniel Alarcon and Sheila Alvarado (cover by Alvarado, all rights to current holder) has a journalist who recently lost his father reflect how his father’s life of petty thievery, and his not-to-secret second family by another woman, have shaped the journalist’s own life. Well done, not really to my taste, though.

XMEN: World’s Apart by Christopher Yost and Diogenese Neves has Storm struggling to balance her duties as Queen of Wakanda with her responsibilities as a member of the X-Men, a struggle made worse when the mind controlling Shadow King takes over the Black Panther. This is well executed but lost points for the use of the Shadow King, one of my least favorite mind controllers.

A GATHERING OF SHADOWS by VE Schwab starts well as female pirate Delilah Bard singlehandedly captures a rival pirate ship. And I like the setting in different alt.Londons that are linked together, some with magic and some without. Unfortunately I lost interest after the swashbuckling opening — from that point on there’s no real tension as everyone just wanders about thinking of life and exploring London (up to about page 200 when I gave up). And choosing Alucard as the name for one pirate really distracted me — characters who use the name are invariably Dracula (spell it backwwards) yet this guy doesn’t appear to be any sort of vampire (as Lin Carter says, don’t just throw recognizable names into a story). A shame the body of the book wasn’t as awesome as the beginning.

All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Before Captain America: 17 Other Heroes Who Were Secret Villains (#SFWApro)

As you may know, Captain America has been revealed as a closet Hydra agent all along (not that I think it will last). My new Screen Rant column looks at the long list of heroes who turned out to be villains under the cowl. We have the Cobra in the Shadow pulps, Moonstone in Captain America, the Thunderbolt and as shown above, Nighthawk in an issue of Daredevil (image by Gene Colan, all rights remain with current holder).

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