Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Essential Godzilla

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

In the summer of '83, aged eleven and lacking much money, I found the complete 24-issue run of this 70s Marvel comic at Cobb Stamp & Coin for $12. I rushed home to beg my parents for cash and was given my first lesson in earning money with a goal in mind. They said that if I mowed the lawn, they'd pay me $15. So I followed instructions and cut the grass and went back the next day for what would prove to be the first complete set of any comic I'd ever collected, and was pleased and thrilled with my purchase for a few years, before I dumped them at Titan for a quarter apiece in store credit.

But the real pain came immediately, as I'd foolishly played into my parents' hands. Oh, they paid me $15 a time, but I was nevertheless conscripted into cutting the grass for years afterwards. Even after the Godzilla comics I'd bought in '83 were long gone.

Had you told me then that I would one day buy these mediocre Marvel Godzilla stories again for my own son, I'd have thought you were crazy. But time makes liars of us all, and I take some solace in knowing he turns eleven in a couple of months, and his butt'll be cutting the grass before Memorial Day. Except I'm no tyrant; I'll pay him $20. Recommended for nostalgists and under-15s only.

(Originally posted January 30, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Modesty Blaise: Death Trap

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

Another thirteen months of the Modesty Blaise newspaper strip (1976-78) are reprinted here. "The Vanishing Dollybirds" features a remarkable hired killer who reminds me of Camp Freddy from The Italian Job! The storytelling is solid, though this is towards the end of Enrique Romero's first run and as much as I like his stuff, I'm ready for the change in the next book. It's a good introductory volume, I suppose, though there isn't anything as "wow"-heavy as some of the earlier books. Recommended.

(Originally posted January 27, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Griffin & Sabine - An Extraordinary Correspondance

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

Marie lent me this breezy little read and I enjoyed it tremendously. Like 84 Charing Cross Road, it's a story told via correspondance, but this presents the "actual" postcards and letters sent between a bored designer in London and a strange woman on a South Pacific island who can see through his eyes. Removing letters from beautifully designed envelopes makes you feel like you're eavesdropping in something intimate and occasionally frightening. I felt it was hampered by the format - it ends far too soon, and I think the author agreed. Bantock has apparently revisited the scenario in several (five) sequel volumes, perhaps adding new "primary sources" to the story. Recommended, but putting all the false documents from the later editions under one cover and telling one story from end to end could be unmissable.

(Originally posted January 23, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Showcase Presents Wonder Woman

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

Months and months ago, the Hipster Daughter said that she wanted to read this. With a deep discount available, I confirmed that she really did want to read this and I wouldn't be tossing money away on something that would just sit there. She said absolutely and took it home with a big smile. She took it to school the next day and...

Well, she came home that night claiming she'd read the whole thing and was done with it. She doesn't lie very well yet, my daughter, and I hope she never learns. I asked her for some follow-up thoughts to share with y'all about this edition:

The Hipster Daughter: "The Wonder Woman Showcase was very horrible. If I were you and I wanted it, I'd say 'It is absolutely bad. Don't get it.' It's horrible because the comics and the pictures and she's not drawn right and it's just very horrible."

Me: "Was there anything in particular that struck you as horrible?"

THD: "Well, the one where there were three Wonder Womans."

Me: "I mean, in general, were there any storytelling tropes, or reliance on particular storytelling devices, which trigger your critical reaction to this set of stories?"

THD: "No."

Me: "What did you think of Wonder Woman's boyfriend, Steve Trevor?"

THD: "Booooo! I didn't like him!"

Me: "Any last thoughts?"

THD: "I think the illustrator is having trouble. I just don't like how she's drawn, she doesn't look like regular Wonder Woman."

Well, if you're not catching contemporary girls, will grown-up readers have any better luck?

Emphatically not. This has been the only Showcase I just do not want to read another word of. Well, I forced myself to finish The War That Time Forgot, another case of Robert Kanigher taking grandiose plots and making them dull and ordinary through repetition and a lack of internal storytelling logic. You will only have to read a few to start to see an incredibly common Kanigher trait - the stories almost always progress along a "three-beat" path: Wonder Woman tells Steve that she'll marry him if he can find him three times in a day, for example. But even when it isn't spelled out in a story's requirement, they almost always progress along the same predictable set of beats. Reading this after finishing The Haunted Tank and TWTTF, and now starting Sgt. Rock, is like masochism personified.

Speaking of which, the Steve-Wonder Woman marriage dynamic is nutty, and not in a good way. You know how in the classic Japanese turkey Prince of Space, the hero just keeps saying "I keep telling you, your weapons have no effect on me!" all through the film? Wonder Woman genuinely tells Steve "I've told you dozens of times that I'll only marry you when there's no more crime and injustice for me to fight!" in almost every issue. Trevor, you big fucking sap. TURN IN YOUR MAN CARD, SOLDIER.

Little girls who despaired that the Super Friends version of Wonder Woman had the powers of "Owns rope and airplane" might take some comfort in knowing that the Wonder Woman of these comics can do anything. She can breathe in outer space, she can flip islands above her head to get them out of the way of tidal waves, anything. So to challenge her, Kanigher makes her retarded. I gave up during a story when an evil scientist builds a robot Wonder Woman and convinces her that she's not needed anymore. But before she throws in the towel, she agrees to a challenge and will defeat the robot in any task. That task is: stay awake. The first one to fall asleep will leave for Paradise Island. While you get your brain around that gem, consider that the duel of not-sleeping plays out in front of a packed stadium, who've paid to watch Wonder Woman and a mannequin stare at each other. It's not a good kind of lighthearted goofy; it's played straight.

But I still had some sandwich to eat at lunch today and the restaurant TV was on Fox News, so I gave it one last try. The final story I read had Wonder Woman use her live TV special to reward Bonnie, a heroic teenage girl who saved two kids from drowning, her struggles captured by a photographer who thought he was shooting Marlon Perkins' Wild Kingdom or something and didn't try to save the kids herself. So Wonder Woman grants her three wishes. The third is - no shit - the third is, Bonnie wants to go back in time ten years and hang out on Paradise Island with Wonder Woman when she was a teenager. Who's expecting her on the other end of the time machine. Wonder Girl - that's who she was before Bob Haney got confused and thought she was WW's teen sidekick - and Bonnie hang with WG's love interest, a merboy named Mer-Boy, who can't get along with the mer-centaurs who also live in the waters off Paradise Island. And there's some sunken ship and a box which contains some robot grasshoppers which eat oxygen, and if Grant Morrison had written this or if Herbie the Fat Fury showed up, it'd be the best comic ever. But this is just lifeless hackwork from someone churning out as many pages a month as he could get 1959 DC to pay for.

And the Hipster Daughter's objection to the art? Holy anna, is she ever right. Ross Andru and Mike Esposito conspired to design the ugliest superheroine ever in these pages. There's no sense of anatomy or proportion or perspective in any of the pages. It's an ugly, ugly book full of unreadable stories.

And sure, I'm just some old grownup, but the way I see it, you put 500 pages of Wonder Woman in the hands of a nine year-old girl in the third grade and she gives up that quickly, you've got a book that has zero appeal whatsoever.

(Originally posted January 15, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

Tricked and Different Ugliness, Different Madness

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

Released in 2005, I finally got around to this and enjoyed it tremendously. It's an incredibly dense and incredibly filmic look at six characters whose lives slowly begin to intersect, and some lies and "tricks" which some of them play as their paths start converging. I was a little disappointed by the climax, but this is perhaps the fault of my expectations, and perhaps because I was enjoying the story too much to want to see it end. Read nothing about this book ahead of time; everybody seems to want to give too much of it away.

Giveaways on the part of reviewers is perhaps also a trait of this book, one of the last to come from the Humanoids/DC deal, and which I picked up in Cincinnati in the spring of '07 and just reread. Marc Malés uses gorgeous linework, which reminds me of Chic Stone inking Kirby. The story is about a woman in the 1930s travelling to nowhere in particular with a dwindling purse, who meets a kind-hearted, generous man in the country who lives a hermit-like life, shunning human contact. Again, revelations about Helen's past and the identity of the man with whom she stays are given away practically everywhere, even on the back of the blasted book, but if you avoid those, the book is a genuinely satisfying read, and I enjoyed it even more this time around. Malés uses a brilliant little "camera" trick from pages 95-101 which shouldn't work in a comic, but took my breath away.

Both books are recommended.

(Originally posted January 14, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

I saw a parody of 24 last month, where Jack and the CTU team attempt to fight techno-crime in the early 90s, dealing with dial-up modems, Prodigy and pagers. I was reminded of that in places while reading this remarkably funny crime story. In Oakland, 1973, the library police have a massive squad of elite officers to combat book theft, and the story behind the triple-locked room disappearance of a priceless Bible on loan from the Smithsonian, with a forgery left behind in its place months previously, initially feels like a particularly clever episode of Banacek, but as the library police close in on their culprit, they're stymied by the technology of the day. Some phone phreaking is assisted by that new touch tone calling feature, for instance.

The characters in this story get very little development - like Adam-12 or O'Hara, US Treasury, they're just organization automatons servicing a complex plot. I found myself wishing for a different take on Bookhunter that's twice as thick, and, like the best detective fiction, allows the characters to take wrong turns and make mistakes, which would both flesh out the plot and let the characters develop. Artwise, I adore Jason Shiga's strangely stunted, Muppet-like characters, and his pacing and storytelling are fantastic. I'd certainly like to see more of his work. Recommended.

(Originally posted January 10, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Simping Detective

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

This is a book for people who really love language. Simon Spurrier's amusing noir take on life in Mega-City One tackles some convoluted and twisted stories of crime and the clown on the mean streets who investigates it, but the plots are so strange, and so complex, that it is often difficult to follow the proceedings. His narration, on the other hand, is sublime. You can easily spend pages reading the amazing descriptions by the grouchy hard-boiled Jack Point before realizing that you lost track of exactly what it was Point was trying to tell you several minutes previously. If Spurrier's prose was poor, that'd be a problem, but it's told so well that it is worth the extra time spent contemplating the plot. And if you think that's not a compliment, you evidently haven't seen the Bogey and Bacall version of Chandler's The Big Sleep, which nobody can decipher either, but thrill to get lost in. Recommended.

(Originally posted January 07, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Moomin vol. 2

Here's how this works: I finish reading something, and I tell you about it, and I try not to bore you to death.

The second volume (of a planned five) of the oddball Moomin strip by Tove Jansson is every bit as weird and wonderful as the first. It's a bizarre, stream-of-conscious adventure, with unexpected twists and genuinely, gently strange characters showing up to throw the Moomins' lifestyle upside down. Since it's already a topsy-turvy place to start with, nothing happens here that anybody could expect. A genuinely smile-inducing joy, and highly recommended for all readers.

(Originally posted January 06, 2008 at hipsterdad's LJ.)