Sunday, April 24, 2016

Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon: Marvel Comics and Brandon Sanderson

All righty then, I participated in Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon yesterday, which is almost no different than any other Saturday, since I read a lot anyway! On Saturday mornings I have a ritual. After breakfast, I use my Tune-In app to listen to The Wolf 102.7, which broadcasts Casey Kasem's American Top 40, one of the old shows from the 1970s. And then I read for at least 2 hours, comics, books, whatever.  

I did take the excuse to stay at home a little more and read. Unfortunately saying there is a "read-a-thon" is not a good enough excuse to get out of the regular Saturday chores.

Here's what I managed to read, in-between taking a long walk with my dog, going grocery shopping and watching a movie (The Big Short):

Appetizer A: New Avengers #1 by Al Ewing and Gerardo Sandoval, which I read on the Marvel Unlimited iPad app (so glad I finally reached the point where most of the new issues coming out are new to me). I like Al Ewing and think he's done some interesting stuff for Marvel. He's always figuring out inventive stories and bringing in multi-ethnic characters. This team operates under the leadership of Sunspot who has created a new AIM on the old Hydrobase from Roger Stern's run. The first story was fun and features a villain who survived the end of Secret Wars #9. I will keep reading this series.

Appetizer B: Uncanny Avengers #1 by Gerry Duggan and Ryan Stegman. Interested in this because of Stegman's artwork, which I liked on Wolverine and the X-Men, where at times he seemed to be channelling Art Adams. In this series Stegman's artwork is more cartoony, almost like a Mad Magazine parody. Partially this is a result of the story by Gerry Duggan and the fact that Deadpool is front and center part of this team--since he drives sales. I have never read a Duggan Deadpool story and probably won't after this, I didn't care for any of the character moments, they just seemed like different characters than what I have known before. Wasn't that crazy about this one, I may browse it on MU but I won't be a regular reader.

Main Course: The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson. Which I am reading on my Kindle but took this iPad photo because it is more colorful. I am big Sanderson fan, this extension of the Mistborn world is fascinating. It's about Wax and Wayne, two lawmen who live in the world of Mistborn just as it enters the Industrial Age, somewhat like the TV show the Wild Wild West. The magical system established in the original Mistborn trilogy still exists, but Sanderson manages to invent new situations around that as time progresses. I read a big chunk of this but didn't finish it yet. Sanderson could write a 10 volume series with Wax and Wayne as far as I am concerned, I love these characters and this Western world combined with fantasy powers.

Dessert: Howard the Duck Omnibus! I bought this back in December, when Rich Johnston said on Bleeding Cool that this was about to go out of print. I snagged one for less than $50, thinking it might be good as a speculation item. However the lure of Howard became too great and I decided to keep it, so the read-a-thon was a good excuse to finally unwrap it. I made a good decision to keep it, the early Howard stories look fantastic in these oversized pages. I will do a slightly bigger review of this over on Giant-Size Marvel.

I didn't do as well as many people on Twitter, some of them managed to read 2-3 books and truly stay up 18 hours or more just reading! Not possible for me, unless I am sick or it's raining outside with nowhere to really go.

Why do we need Readathons? Don't people who are passionate about reading do it anyway? I think it is good to have a day or two where we celebrate both books and reading. Enthusiasm kindles infection in other people, especially younger people, who are still reading despite all the electronic distractions around. I've become enamored of tumblrs like Polly and Books or A Literary Escape, which celebrate reading, libraries, coffee, and bookshelves with nice photography. Important to keep this fire going, in an age where bookstores are more endangered than ever. This weekend, one of my favorite used bookstores, Bookbuyers in Mountain View just closed. I bought so many SF books and graphic novels there, also traded tons of stuff I didn't want anymore. In March, Lee's Comics shut down their store in San Mateo, leaving us with no comics shops in the the North Peninsula (the closest one for me is Coastside Comics in Pacifica, a fine store but a bit of a drive). There are many reasons for these closures and I think that people not reading enough is not the problem - it's the rising rents and other things happening to the local economy here - but still I feel like when a bookstore disappears, it's like someone tore down my church / temple. Without a church I need online communities like GoodReads or these Read-A-Thons!

The next read-a-thon is schedule for October 22, 2016. Let's hope it rains that day! Nuff Said.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Wonder Woman: Earth One, Volume One

Let's call this review of Grant Morrison's Wonder Woman re-vamp The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good: The artwork by Yanick Paquette, luscious and lavishly detailed, the coloring is also exquisite. In fact for the artwork alone I might give this volume 5 stars if I did not have such problems with the story.

Wonder Woman - Earth One Paradise Island

Paradise Island. In the past, this island of Amazons has been depicted as a series of Greek temples with all the women carrying spears / swords. Morrison & Paquette have created a place where the technology has developed, in some ways beyond that of our world. It looks a bit like Barsoom, with air cycles, invisible airplanes, and purple healing rays. The latter two were in the original Golden Age Wonder Woman comics, nice to see Morrison bring them back.

Wonder Woman - Paradise Island 2

Also, the women on Paradise Island are not all walking around in thongs and bikinis, they are wearing pants, armor, boots. Remarkable! There are different ethnicities. Doesn't Queen Hippolyta's outfit look stunning?

The fact that an island full of women and no men has lesbians is shown in various ways here. DC Comics skirted around this topic for decades and now it's finally shown, although there's no outright pornography or anything, it is mentioned here and there. I believe when DC Rebirth happens this will be part of the regular comic series too.

Wonder Woman - Paradise Island 3

The Bad: One of Morrison's goals in this Earth One series of graphic novels was to bring Wonder Woman back to basics. Now in the case of this character, that is very complicated. If you have read The Secret History of Wonder Woman you will know that William Marston Moulton was into bondage, practiced it with his wife, and lived in a threesome with his wife and her lover. Bondage themes appeared all throughout the first decade of Wonder Woman comics, which flew over the heads of kids (including myself).

I am not saying bondage is bad per se -- consenting adults, do whatever you like. But in a character that has come to represent female liberation and independence, I don't think it fits in the modern era. The above image is the most tame example from Earth One. Later we find that Diana was supposed to submit to Mala, her lover. Diana asks Steve Trevor, a black man, to put on the collar and become her slave - HELLO, DOES GRANT MORRISON NEED AN EDITOR OR WHAT?

Someone needed to have the guts to tell him no. You can do that to an original character that never existed before. But women and girls need a role model and they are in short supply in modern DC Comics. Don't do that to Wonder Woman, no matter what her roots or history were.

Wonder Woman - Earth One Etta Candy costume

The Ugly: As I explained, the Amazons on Paradise Island wear practical clothing, pretty well designed. When Diana first arrives in Man's World (the United States) she is wearing pants. Diana meets Etta Candy, a real character and also a lesbian traveling to spring break with her friends. They decide Diana needs a makeover, cover her up with makeup and dress her in this ghastly outfit. My first thought was, honest to god, Amazons must shave!

WTF! A group of lesbians would chose to dress Diana up in the most tasteless and revealing costume, why? The thong she is wearing is even more scanty than her traditional costume for the past couple of decades.

I want everyone to see the last few Wonder Woman costumes...

Wonder Woman modern costumes

You've the traditional on the left by Alex Ross with the Star Spangled underwear. Kind of revealing, I don't really see a modern woman fighting crime in that, but, OK, it's canon. A great artist like George Perez or Alex Ross can make Diana look buff enough to wear that costume with strength. To the right of those we had a Jim Lee redesign where he tried to give her pants. When this came out there was a huge controversy. People didn't like it; I did like it but I thought the jacket was impractical - they tweaked that later to remove it. You can see Adrianne Palicki wearing a version of that in the aborted David Kelley TV pilot from 2011.  At any rate this redesign was supposed to be shown in the New 52 Wonder Woman series and was even shown on the first cover; at the last minute they switched back to the underwear (though you did see this costume in the Justice League series).

This has been a tough costume to redesign, many people tried and they never stuck too long. But I can't imagine why Paquette and Morrison went in that direction by shrinking everything down further.

I don't think this was a good revamp of Wonder Woman at all, I was terribly disappointed after being such a big fan of Grant Morrison's DC Comics work; he had even done a very good job writing Diana on his JLA series. I did not imagine he would be given carte blanche by DC to do anything he liked and come up with this. Greg Rucka (who originally was supposed to do this Earth One series) is about to relaunch Wonder Woman for DC Comics Rebirth, I hope he is the man to show how to write this character. Nuff Said!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

I have been looking forward to reading Charlie Jane Anders first major novel ever since Tor announced it was coming out. Anders has written some terrific short fiction, one of them won a Hugo (Six Months, Three Days). What do I really love about Anders work? Her voice speaks to me a deeply connected very geeky way. The Time Travel Club was about a group of people getting together in a basement to discuss adventures in time travel - all of them are lying out of their teeth except for one person. Palm Strike's Last Case is like an interplanetary Batman tale. As Good As New was an interesting wrinkle on the genie in a bottle story.  I could go on and on, the full bibliography can be found on isfdb.

What do I like about Anders' work? I find her prose almost effortless to read and her characters are usually both fascinating and relatable. Her genre related inventions are quite unique, new riffs on old tropes. Some writers just suck me into a story and never let go - we all have our personal favorites which do that magic trick - Anders falls into that category for me.

All the Birds in the Sky is a novel about a journey from childhood to adulthood, with Patricia meeting Laurence in high school. Patricia has an ability with magic (which comes about after she talks to birds) while Laurence has an affinity for technology (inventing a two second time machine wrist watch very early on). I found the high school years chapters to be the most moving. Patricia and Charlie are treated as outcasts at school, they are bullied, and their parents, instead of helping, keep punishing them. The descriptions of these incidents are heart-breaking. I was bullied a bit at school, but thank god I didn't grow up in the age of smartphones where things could be captured and passed around.

I found myself very interested in Patricia's arc throughout this story, even though personality wise I may be more like Laurence. Patricia eventually finds her way to the Etisley Maze, a school for witches. Anders has cooked up a nice broth of magic here, with the Maze combining two schools, the Healers and the Tricksters (I really like how they make deals). I don't want to spoil anything more, but every description of this place is cool, but not overdone. It's not even referred to in a linear fashion. After the high school years we find both Patricia and Laurence living in San Francisco in a slightly future time where environmental damage is reaching a crisis point.  Patricia is a practicing witch of great skill, but perhaps too great an ego, while Laurence is working for a very Google-like corporation that is hell-bent on saving the Earth with the most outrageous moonshots (anti-gravity, wormholes). Eventually they meet again as adults, and their worlds collide as magic meets high tech - and eventually comes into conflict.

I love any story set in California that manages to capture the wonderful craziness of life here. The setting of San Francisco comes alive here because, well, Anders lives in the city. Various descriptions of the Mission, Humphrey Slocombe, super expensive coffee, the Haight, Noe Valley, vegan donuts, various bars & cafes, even knowing the difference between Outer Sunset and Outer Outer Sunset (where my in-laws live), all these little details make the story come alive for me. I loved Cory Doctorow's Little Brother for much the same reason. There is also a subtext going on here, about the current clash in San Francisco between the techies (part of the economic boom driving up rents / prices to astronomical levels) and the artists / makers / regular folks (getting squeezed of the city). One thing that drives many people nuts are the influx of techies who don't have an appreciation of the city's culture - having arrived here in the late 70s I can tell you indeed the culture has changed. This book captures that attitude, not only from Laurence but from his co-workers who believe technology is the answer to every problem. Anders tries to give each side equal weight in this conflict.  The witches are ready to strike at the techies when they get out of control.  The techies, once they realize the this other faction exists, makes a plan to deal with them.

I love Anders humor, strewn throughout the book, lines such as "Laurence thought the two women in smart pumps and nylons were life coaches who were coaching each other, creating an endless feedback loop." And also throwaway lines like "Conventional Newtonian gravitation is so last year." Lots of geek references, too: Doctor Who fans will rejoice and so will fans of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

I found myself comparing Patricia's story arc to another geek milestone from 1980: Dark Phoenix from the X-Men. Patricia may be the most powerful witch on Earth, displaying power levels that threaten to spiral out of control. Like Jean Grey in the X-Men, Patricia needs an anchor which she finds in Laurence.

If there's anything negative about the book at all, it would be that the ending felt a little rushed. Anders lays out a lot of story elements in the beginning that come together at the end, perhaps a little too neatly. I could see how it was going to fit together, perhaps because I read too many stories, but at least everything was very consistent. I read this novel very quickly, almost unable to put it down and find out what would happen next--that is a sign of a really good novel. I hope Anders won't make us wait too long until her second novel comes out! Nuff Said.

Sunday, January 31, 2016


Fortitude is a British television series that premiered in 2015 on the Pivot channel. I never heard of Pivot before, but I did hear Tim Goodman recommend this series on his podcast, The Bastard Machine. I was just able to watch the entire series on Amazon Prime video - all 12 episodes ready to devour in a binge.

For about the first 5-6 episodes, I was ready to declare that Fortitude was one of the greatest murder mysteries ever made. Fortitude is the name of a fictional small town in Arctic Norway, home to miners, scientists, or outcasts who have run away to the one of the most remote places on Earth.  The cast has A-list talent: Stanley Tucci as a DCI (somehow an American works for a British police force), Michael Gambon (Henry Tyson, who we view accidentally kill someone in an opening scene), Christopher Eccleston (a researcher living in Norway). Even the cast I had never heard of before was stellar, especially Richard Dormer as Sheriff Dan Anderssen, who is a great cop but very flawed, tortured by personal demons and often making bad choices that put in the crosshair of Tucci's Detective Morton, who has come to Fortitude to investigate not one but two murders.

This show reminds me a bit of Twin Peaks.  In Fortitude, the initial two murders happen in episode one. Lots of red herrings are strewn about, we see partial truths and innuendos and are led down to rabbit holes to who the suspects may be. Like Twin Peaks an outside force comes to investigate, however in this show, Anderssen doesn't welcome Morton, because it will draw light on his own corrupted behavior. Complicating things for Anderssen is Tyson, who is dying of liver cancer, drunk off his ass and cold calling police hotlines. Fortitude makes all the supporting players come alive, including the Governor (more like a mayor of Fortitude); Elena, a fugitive from Spain who killed someone in the past; Frank Sutter, a war veteran involved in an affair with Elena while his son is terribly sick with a case of the mumps. What is bad for Sutter is that Anderssen has a powerful, unrequited love for Elena. And then there is Shirley, an overweight young woman who has a German boyfriend, Markus; Markus indulges Shirley a little too much, force feeding her to fatten her up.

Unlike Twin Peaks, Fortitude's plot moves along with each episode. You find out who murdered one of the victims around episode 5 or 6; at that point I wondered how the show was going to continue. But even though the murderer was revealed, there was more to the story. By the end of season 1, Fortitude, the town where people seemed safer than in any big city, becomes the murder/suicide capital of Norway!

Now here are some major SPOILERs so beware after the jump....

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

I remember when The Rook by Daniel O'Malley was published in 2012 it made the top books of the year lists for many people; for some reason I put this on my TBR pile for 4 years! This novel is fantastic, an action adventure that reminds me of a mashup between The Bourne Identity and Torchwood.

Set in modern day London, the story opens on a woman who wakes up in a park, drenched in the rain, surrounded by bodies wearing latex gloves. As the story progresses, she discovers that her name is Myfanwy Thomas; that she is one of the leaders of a mysterious organization known as the Checquy; and that she and other members of the Checquy possess superhuman abilities.  One of them is a being known as Gestalt, one personality inhabiting four different bodies (male and female). A senior member is a woman who communicates through dreams while another one is a 200 year old vampire (and vampires are very different in this world). Myfanwy goes on a quest to learn more about the Checquy and her past life while trying to find out who had her killed. There is some sense of the new Myfanwy being "reborn" into a new persona; the old Myfanwy was something of a tortured recluse, unable to use her powers to the fullest extent. The new Myfanwy is a bit more aggressive and adventurous.

This story is filled with very exciting action scenes, but also a lot of humor. Some chapters felt like an episode of Doctor Who, and I read on O'Malley's blog that indeed, The Rook will become a series for Hulu in the near future.  One very funny chapter was about a duck who could predict the future with accuracy, and even funnier, the duck does not talk but finds another way to communicate. Myfanwy herself is quite hysterical, sometimes stumbling through the upper crust of the Checquy and learning how to cope.

I read both the Kindle edition and did the whispersync deal with the audiobook narrated by Susan Duerden, who did a wonderful job and sounds exactly like Myfanwy should.

One of the great things about The Rook is the all the little bits of background history mentioned throughout. The Checquy has been around for centuries helping to ward off supernatural attacks, even spearheading a branch in the United States. O'Malley clearly has a rich mythology set up in this world and this will make ripe material for a TV series. The sequel Stiletto: A Novel (The Rook Files) will be published in June 2016.  Nuff Said.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Batman by Butch Guice

Butch Guice shared this on Facebook recently, a Batman commission!

With many touches that remind me of Jim Aparo! Glorious! Nuff Said.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Paul Smith on Green Lantern, Mister Miracle, Legion, and more!

Recently discovered a bunch of nifty drawings on the blog of Paul M Smith...

Mister Miracle (Scott Free) with his predecessor hanging over him.

Green Lantern - looks like a Gil Kane drawing inked by PMS!

Superman in his classic glory.


The original Saturn Girl meeting her Chris Sprouse inspired clone and wondering who in the world would wear that thong costume created by Dave Cockrum!  Nuff Said.

Ratings and Recommendations by outbrain