Thursday, December 31, 2009

Black Orchids

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Black Orchids (Farrar & Rinehart, 1942).

The ninth Nero Wolfe book in the canon is Black Orchids, the first of several collections of short novellas. This one contains two mysteries by Rex Stout that originally appeared in shorter form in magazines, "Black Orchids" and "Cordially Invited to Meet Death."

Each of these stories is only about ninety pages long. While it was interesting to read adventures without the space for so many twists and turns like the novels do, I was still left a little unsatisfied by them. In both stories, the method of killing is just this side of utterly ridiculous, and neither really rang true to the series so far. Perhaps I'm being influenced by the Chandler that I am also reading, but it does seem out of place. When someone becomes angry or desperate enough to murder, it's usually a matter of arranging time to just shoot them down with impunity, rather than concoct an elaborate deathtrap. As Chandler pointed out, that's the hallmark of the Sayers-Christie school, the British approach to killing, and it feels a little out of place in the very New York world of Wolfe and Goodwin. The deathtrap in the lead story really is silly, and I'm not saying it brings the whole piece crashing down - after all, The Nine Tailors features one of the most implausible killings I've ever read, and it's still among my favorite novels - but it certainly jars a lot.

"Cordially Invited to Meet Death" was more entertaining. While "Black Orchids" and its cast of flower-fanciers and living mannequins has its charms, it's the bizarre whirl of Manhattan socialites and their menageries of hangers-on that proved the more charming of the two. I'm certain that one of the many novella collections I've yet to read will prove a better introduction to the characters than these stories, but it's an entertaining enough distraction.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Get Lost

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Get Lost (Hermes, 2008).

I guess I was always loosely aware of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito's artwork from the superhero comics that I read in the 1970s. After all, they were the art team behind Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man, which everybody at Teasley Elementary School owned, so you couldn't help but know them. What I did not know was that around two decades previously, they had worked together as writers and artists of several titles released through their company MR Publications. Among these comics was Get Lost, a cash-in of Mad that was so blatant, William Gaines took the duo to court over it. I mean, look at that cover. It wouldn't be out of place on any of Mad's first thirty or so issues.

MR only published three issues of Get Lost. They won the lawsuit, but other problems at the company, apparently having a lot to do with a 3-D comic that didn't sell well, brought everything to a crashing halt. The original issues are incredibly scarce collector's items, which makes Hermes' repackaging of the three a very nice find. At thirty bucks, it's a little steep for the page count, but I found a heavily-discounted copy at Louisville's Great Escape and was willing to give it a try.

As for the contents, well... I wasn't as taken with it as I'd hoped. Hermes did a fine job with the reproduction, and they included some supplementary material, including an introduction and an interview, but they really overstated the importance of this comic in their hyperbole. The artwork is very good, and there are a couple of great chuckles to be found, but no more than that.

Perhaps having assistance from some more writers and artists might have helped. Apart from a single script, Andru and Esposito were responsible for every page of Get Lost, while Mad was the product of a great big Gang of Idiots working under Harvey Kurtzman's direction. A parody of the monster movie The Thing in the third issue was by far the funniest thing in the book; I could take or leave the rest of it. High marks to the publisher for such a good-looking package, but even for fans of 1950s humor comics, I really don't think this is essential reading.

Friday, December 25, 2009

High Fidelity

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of High Fidelity (Penguin/Riverhead 1995).

There's a blurb on the back of this book, Nick Hornby's debut novel, warning men to keep it away from women. Sound advice. There are some things about fellows that ladies are better off not knowing.

Maybe the most surprising thing about reading the book was learning how very faithful the film adaptation was. I remember that a mailing list that I used to be on was absolutely livid that it was relocated from London to Chicago, but I wasn't distracted by the change of venue at all. It's a story about archetypes as much as characters, and some folk are the same the world over, especially if they work at or spend lots of time in record stores like Championship Vinyl.

If you are not familiar with it, it's the story of a breakup and its aftereffects. Rob, like all men, can, if he chooses, catalog everything in neat and easily-followed lists. He does not forget the incidents in his past which he has elected to classify as being massively important. If he didn't do that, he'll forget completely in time, which is how some guys can easily remember the names of everybody who took the stage at the Concert for Bangla Desh but have trouble remembering our significant other's extended family. His lover Laura - their names coming from the leads in The Dick Van Dyke Show can't be a coincidence - has become fed up with his complacence and left him.

Rob broods, he justifies, he totally lacks insight into how his actions are perceived, and he's a whole lot like everybody I've ever met or been myself who's just been dumped. Maybe this book is less a secret strategy guide for women dealing with guys as it is a reminder to men that it's okay; we're all like that sometimes. Happily recommended.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Judge Dredd: Mechanismo

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Judge Dredd: Mechanismo (Rebellion, 2009)

It's been a couple of years now, but I was talking once in my Thrillpowered Thursday blog about how Rebellion really needs to bring the sprawling Mechanismo epic back into print. This was a mammoth story full of subplots and subterfuge, detailing the deterioration of Chief Judge MacGruder as she orders the development of robot judges. It seemed like a good idea at the time; with the judges' numbers seriously depleted after the high bodycounts of the "Necropolis" and "Judgement Day" epics, something needed to be done. Turns out, this wasn't it. The stories wormed their way through the pages of the weekly and the then-biweekly Judge Dredd Megazine from 1992-94, before coming to a storming conclusion in the aftermath of a 16-part story called "Wilderlands."

Back in May of '07, I suggested how Rebellion could repackage the story for bookshelves and they have done something quite similar, and very satisfactory. The new "Mechanismo" book, released in October, contains the first three serials from the storyline and deal with one robot, Number Five. These originally appeared from October 1992 to December 1993 and feature art by Colin MacNeil, Peter Doherty and Manuel Benet, with scripts by John Wagner. Although there is a great deal more of the story to come, this book ends on as satisfactory a point as is possible, and hopefully we will see MacGruder's next series of moves in a second volume in 2010.

Wagner does a terrific job in telling the story from multiple viewpoints. The focus shifts from Dredd to various robots to a hapless security clerk, and he uses his frequent Mega-City One trope of having dingbat teevee news announcers comment on the action, which is both effective and very funny. MacNeil and Doherty certainly bring their usual A-games to the party, and Manuel Benet does a laudable job for what I believe was his only assignment for the House of Tharg. It was certainly odd to see a new name dropped in the deep end for what was a critically important story, but Benet's work is pretty good, if perhaps not completely suited to Mega-City weirdness. Production of the book is mostly up to Rebellion's very high standards, but an unfortunate production error left a few erroneous credits on the spine and front cover for artists whose work does not actually appear in the book. Overall, though, a fine collection of a very good sequence of stories, and highly recommended. More, please!

(Excerpted from Thrillpowered Thursday.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sherlock Holmes: The Missing Years

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Sherlock Holmes: The Missing Years (Bloomsbury, 2000).

Here is a book that I wish I could say that I enjoyed more than I did. Jamyang Norbu is a Tibetan-rights activist who has lived in exile for decades. I found this promising Holmes pastiche, published in England and America under this title and more recently available under its original name, The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes, misfiled at a local library and suspected my wife might enjoy it. We both quite liked Laurie King's The Game, and I'm a big fan of William S. Baring-Gould's speculation about what Sherlock was up to during his years underground following the incident at Reichenbach Falls.

Fellow Baring-Gould fans will be disappointed to read that Norbu doesn't allow Holmes to linger in Europe, and there's no mention at all of Irene Adler, because Norbu ships him off immediately for India with a packed itinerary in the company of Rudyard Kipling's fat Bengali spy Huree Chunder Mookerjee. Doyle was pretty clear that Holmes did spend some time in the region and perform some assistance with politically sensitive matters around the Forbidden City in Tibet, and I can certainly see how this would appeal to Norbu's own interests, but it truly is a shame that he elected to fill in practically every possible blank and account for darn near every minute of Holmes' time between "The Final Problem" and "The Empty House."

As far as stories go, taken on its own it's still a bit dry for my liking. It's interesting to see Holmes cut off completely from his resources and unable to use his name as a calling card, but I never felt that Norbu really captured his voice. This Holmes is too friendly, too cordial, too willing to relate his past triumphs, and not at all the same man who, in King's novels, really wished that Doyle fellow had kept his mouth shut. If you have read The Game, then I can recommend this as a curious counterpoint, but otherwise it was an unsatisfying distraction.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Muppet Show Comic Book # 0

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of The Muppet Show Comic Book # 0 (Boom, 2009).

Well, I can't help but feel a little disappointed with this one. Having successfully published a pair of four-issue Muppet Show miniseries, Boom has committed to an ongoing title. I don't know that you can tell that huge of a difference if you're picking these up from the funnybook store, but this one is labeled issue number zero, as is the fashion among publishers. While the script is by the mighty Roger Langridge as usual, he has taken a well-deserved break and it is drawn by fill-in artist Shelli Paroline.

Don't get me wrong; her art is terrific and she does not put a foot wrong. She is easily the second best person to ever draw Muppet comics, but she's not Langridge, and I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed that a fill-in artist helped out this month, since it is his name that sold this book to me. Let's face it; there was a tremendous amount of subpar entertainment sold to us with the Muppets' brand stuck on it until fairly recently. That Christmas TV movie last year, for instance.

Anyway, issue zero is the story of the "Pigs in Space" movie, as pitched by Fozzie and Rizzo in alternate order to a pair of not-so-anonymous studio executives, each interrupting and carrying on the storyline into nonsensical directions. Somehow, it's further interrupted by Muppet Labs and Muppet News Flash breaks which further comment on the Swinetrek's mission. I've forced the News Flash guy's "bigamy" pun on about ten people since I read this comic; it's brilliant.

I'm not sure I believe the Muppets really need an issue zero relaunch, but having read it, I was as charmed as I could have hoped. It's a dense, funny read, with a lot of action in a wild story that takes a good while to read. You don't often feel like you get your money's worth in modern mainstream American comics, but Langridge packs so many gags into the fast-moving story that it really satisfied me. This is really good stuff, highly recommended for readers of all ages.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Best of 2009

A quick note to my readers: I have updated my LiveJournal with a list of the year's best, including my favorite books and comics of the year. Check it out!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Complete Ace Trucking Company Volume 2

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Complete Ace Trucking Company Volume 2 (Rebellion, 2009)

One problem American fans have learned about Rebellion's business is that they're forced to work with a deeply inept distributor called Diamond to get their product into American comic shops and, earlier in the year, Diamond elected to cancel quite a few already-solicited books in a cost-cutting measure. Among those impacted: the second volume of Ace Trucking Company, a demented, wild comedy by John Wagner, Alan Grant and the late Massimo Belardinelli which originally ran for five years in the eighties. Fortunately, the collection is available through British bookstores and eBay sellers, and from the 2000 AD online shop, so I eventually landed a copy and was very pleased to reread these lunatic adventures.

Ace Trucking is a barely-profitable shipping company run by a motormouth called Ace Garp, who's just one dirty get-rich quick scheme away from either the big time or a very long prison sentence. In fact, he starts this book in jail, a couple of years after he and his crew were put away at the end of the first collected edition. It's set in a very weird future where few humans can be found. This gave Belardinelli the chance to design a completely alien environment and huge casts full of freaky, comical aliens, strange architecture, bizarre spaceships powering through asteroid belts and gangly-limbed space pirates whose T-shirts smoke pipes.

Belardinelli drew all but two of the sixty-odd episodes reprinted in this mammoth book. While he was recuperating from an illness, an anonymous member of the Giolitti art agency, who represented him in England, stepped in for him. Otherwise, this book is all him, and you've not had the pleasure of enjoying Belardinelli before, you should really rectify that. Almost every page looks like he was really having a ball designing this series, and just laughing himself silly with the in-jokes and weird aliens eating each other. Admittedly, towards the end it gets a little dry. The final epic serial in the book was clearly one where the writers were running out of ideas, and Belardinelli wasn't finding very much inspiration as our heroes endlessly searched across the planet Hollywood and through one parody after another in search of some treasure. Before it started its downhill slide, though, Ace Trucking really was something great.

So the entire series is available in two omnibus editions. Obviously, the first is the more consistent of the two, but the second is still full of essential moments, including Ace's recurring enemy Evil Blood, parallel universes, chicken gangsters, labor unrest, sacred worms, porcine royalty, cargo holds full of space fertilizer and contraband beetles which, when ingested, blow your mind so far out that your eyeballs play table tennis against each other. It also contains the strip's spectacular farewell epilogue, in which Ace learns just how unnecessary he actually is to his company's fortunes. You won't find this book at an American comic shop, but I highly recommend that you track down a copy from England.

(Excerpted from Thrillpowered Thursday.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ghita of Alizarr

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Ghita of Alizarr (Catalan, 1990).

A couple of years ago, I noticed that Bizarro Wuxtry had a copy of Eros Books' old complete edition of Ghita of Alizarr. I didn't know what it was, but the photo-cover, featuring a model in one of those Red Sonja bikinis caught my eye. So I asked Devlin about it, and he told me that Frank Thorne had done it in the late '70s or early '80s for a European publisher, and I remembered liking Frank Thorne's art on Red Sonja, but honestly wasn't curious enough to even open it.

About a year ago, some blogger or other mentioned Red Sonja somewhere. I recalled again that I did enjoy the two issues of Marvel Feature that I had as a kid, and asked whether Bizarro Wuxtry had a collected edition in stock. Devlin did not, and I didn't want to commit to a special order for a passing fancy which might not last as long as a glance at Frank Thorne's pages, so I let it slide.

But for a buck, I'll try lots of things. The Great Escape in Louisville had the first chunk of the Ghita story, a 48-page album from Catalan, in their cheap box, so I picked it up. My eyes have been rolled to the top of my head ever since. If you're the sort of person who put down a Red Sonja comic and said "that was all right, but what this comic really needs is for the girl to get naked a lot and for the writer-artist dude to draw himself into the story as a totally cool old wizard who goes to bed with her. With comedy rape scenes, it needs that, too. That'd rock!"... well, then, this is the comic for you. It is not, however, the comic for me. To the garbage this goes!

If nothing else, the dollar spent has totally cured me of the desire to ever again revisit Thorne's Red Sonja. Thank you, Great Escape! When in Louisville, pay 'em a visit!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Doonesbury: The Original Yale Cartoons

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Doonesbury: The Original Yale Cartoons (Sheed and Ward, 1973).

I've been telling myself for years that I should track down the little reprint of Bull Tales, the comic which preceded Doonesbury, and found it surprisingly easy to find once I put my mind to it. Garry Trudeau started the strip when he was an undergraduate at Yale, and it appeared in the student paper there. After a few years, he felt ready for the big time, and reworked almost all of the comics into what became the first 18 months of the daily Doonesbury; material which later appeared in the 1972 collection Still a Few Bugs in the System.

If this isn't a unique experience in comics, it's certainly a darn rare one. I'm ready to stand corrected, but I can't think of another example of getting to see a cartoonist's "rough drafts," as you might call them, available so extensively as these were. Comparing the two is completely fascinating and fun for amateur archaeologists like me, and I could spend all day telling you about odd little differences between what the Yale students got to enjoy while waiting in classrooms for their profs to show up, and what those first dozen or so subscribing papers bought from the syndicate a couple of years later.

Most striking, in a broad sense, is that there are Mike-n-Mark strips, and there are B.D. football strips. The characters never meet, at least in the sequences reprinted here. One disagreeable flaw in Sheed & Ward's collection is that it is never clear whether this is a complete reprint of all the original comics, or perhaps it's an omnibus of the two small albums that Yale University Press had previously released, so it's possible that Trudeau did have the characters interact in strips we cannot see today.

The awkward roommate strips of Doonesbury's earliest days, with Mike and B.D. failing to get along, take on a completely different tone in Bull Tales, because it's a girl named Cathy Dillworthy who gets Mike as her dormmate, and that's what the original phrase "still a few bugs in the system" referenced. You can almost picture the meetings with the syndicate, can't you? I can imagine they were excited to try and sell something so daring, from such a strong new talent, but still realistic enough to know that middle America in 1970 was not ready to confront the possibility of cohabitation between co-eds over their Corn Flakes and coffee. So out went Cathy and in came the "odd couple" pairing of a jock and a turkey.

Plenty more was ditched for fear of offending the general public's sensibilities, including profanity and an amazingly tasteless rape reference, and if the 1971 Doonesbury sequence where a dean of admissions at then-unnamed Walden instantly admits a blonde wearing a little black dress seemed outre, consider that his Yale antecedent admitted the same blonde, not wearing anything.

Compared to the comics you can find on the web today, there's nothing shocking about Bull Tales, but I can see how this became such a big event at Yale forty years ago. This may not be an essential recommendation, but if you like Doonesbury or are interested in the evolution of newspaper comics, you should certainly hunt for a copy of this, and shouldn't find it too difficult to locate.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Taste for Death

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of A Taste for Death (Faber & Faber, 1986).

I realize that I tend towards the hyperbolic, but bear with me. Years ago, I read this book, after seeing the television adaptation on PBS's Mystery!, and concluded that it was among my two or three favorite novels of the last century. I liked it so much that, irrationally, I stopped reading PD James after her next three books failed to be as amazing as this. Well, I never claimed to be a very good or a very fair prose reader.

Rereading this, I'm still as sold as I was in the early '90s when I first absorbed it. This is a magnificent novel. It is the seventh Adam Dalgliesh story, written some nine years after the previous entry in the series, and it deals with the mysterious deaths of two men in the vestry of a London church. A former MP, who recently resigned after a religious experience, and a homeless tramp are found with their throats cut. Commander Dalgliesh has recently been assigned to a unit designed for the handling of potentially sensitive or scandalous crimes, and as baptisms by fire go, you couldn't ask for something more outre or potentially scandalous as this, particularly as the late Sir Paul Berowne had very recently been linked in a gossip sheet to the deaths of two young ladies who had worked in his household...

I love this book so much. I love the way it just sweeps through the social strata of contemporary London, with a series of crimes that links penniless children, political agitators, civil servants and aristocratic relics. PD James just effortlessly fills in backstory for a huge cast of players caught up in this horror, and man, I want to see the TV version again something fierce now.

I'm having trouble coming up with a way to explain what elevates this from a good novel to something that feels so special to me, and I think it's this. At no point reading it did I ever feel like I was reading a novel, with pages and chapters and a climax that was a measurable distance - centimeters of paper - away from me. The experience is just so immersive that, in prose, James was somehow able to make readers feel like these events were genuinely happening in London, 1986. It feels less like contrived fiction and more like modern history. Perhaps I'm the only one who gets this impression from the book; like most detective fiction, it is marginalized and certainly attracts little academic or critical attention, but this novel just bowls me over completely.

Over time, most great novels find their due, as they say, but this one, certainly among the greats to my mind, probably won't. I wish that wasn't the case. Every home should own it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Chronicles of Genghis Grimtoad

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of The Chronicles of Genghis Grimtoad (Marvel, 1990).

Well, this was an interesting little surprise. I have a few issues of Marvel UK's early '90s anthology Strip, and so had seen a handful of episodes of Genghis Grimtoad, a two-page sword-n-sorcery parody by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Ian Gibson, three of my favorite comic creators. However, my small collection left me with enough gaps in the story that I really couldn't follow it. On the other hand, Gibson's art is so darn great that I had actually pencilled the series in for a possible feature on Reprint This! one of these days. So yes, I was very surprised to find that the full series - a mere 48 pages - had already been collected; I found this early '90s Marvel Graphic Novel for $5 at Knoxville's remarkable Book Eddy.

Now that I can read the whole thing, however, well, the art sure is good. It's really less of a parody than I thought it was, and more of a straight action piece. It's simple, lighthearted and doesn't really do anything different with the genre's set pieces. You've got the heroes on the run from an evil warlord who has usurped the kingdom, and strange beasts in the hinterlands, and really everything that had been done to death in dozens of Conan cash-ins over the decades. The only oddball points are that all the magicians are big freakin' frogs, our hero is a little incompetent, and one of them speaks with a lisp.

If you like Ian Gibson's art, then rest assured that he draws the hell out of this comic and it looks completely terrific. On the other hand, the writers didn't bring their A-games this time around, and even if you like this Lord of the Rings/D&D stuff, you will certainly have read far better than this before. Recommended only for Gibson fans, really.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Over My Dead Body

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Over My Dead Body (Farrar & Rinehart, 1940).

I love the way Rex Stout created this remarkable character in Nero Wolfe and then apparently spent the better part of his career finding new ways and opportunities to make him uncomfortable and aggravated. In the fifth and sixth novels in the series, Stout moved the action away from New York City, forcing Wolfe out of his eccentric regime, and in the seventh, Over My Dead Body, he makes Wolfe deal with his younger days in Montenegro and confront his long-lost adopted daughter. Nobody in fiction can needle quite the way Archie Goodwin can; when he learns that Wolfe has a daughter, I had to put the book down from laughing.

All of this comes to light when Wolfe is asked to settle a claim about some stolen property. Naturally, it's just a matter of time before somebody ends up dead. With foreign nationals involved and war about to start in Europe - the book originally appeared, in abridged form, in American Magazine a couple of weeks before Germany invaded Poland - the FBI takes an interest in who might be spying for what nation, and whether Wolfe's loyalties might not lie someplace else. All of this conspires to keep him in a really bad mood, even by his own standards.

I enjoyed this one a lot. You can tell that Stout's not allowing comfort with his creation to allow him any complacency, and he's enjoying shaking up the formula as much as crafting a really solid mystery. It turns out that this is the earliest of the Stout stories to have been adapted for the 2000-02 Nero Wolfe Mystery TV series. It's not one of the handful that my wife and I have seen; I need to keep my eye out for those box sets, don't I? Recommended.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Showcase Presents Ambush Bug

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Showcase Presents Ambush Bug (DC, 2009).

"Only about a thousand people bought Ambush Bug, but every one of them went on to write for Robot Chicken." -- attributed to Brian Eno (poss. apocryphal)

In the grim, awful eighties, we had these standup comics who insisted, by right of their maximum-volume catchphrases, that they were funny. You'd have Joan Rivers bellowing "Can we talk?" and somebody, somewhere was laughing, but nobody you'd want to share a meal with. And they had to be funny, because they insisted that they were funny, and there was a laugh track, so it had to be true.

Ambush Bug started as a lighthearted, self-aware supervillain, created for Superman and the Doom Patrol to have somebody new to fight. Evidently, Keith Giffen and his collaborators fell in love with the idea, and then spent the next several years coming up with madcap comedies based around the idea that Ambush Bug and his cast all knew that they were characters in a funnybook and acted accordingly. And it's apparently all very funny, because the stories keep telling you that they're very funny.

So the Showcase book, it contains sixty squajillion issues of Ambush Bug, a series which people - trustworthy people, people whose opinions I respect - have said for years were the funniest things DC ever printed. When I read this book, I felt like the NASA bigwigs in that episode of The Simpsons who watched a six second clip of Married... with Children and concluded that my God, the people of America are idiots. Or, you know, finding Joan Rivers on USA Night Flight once in 1987 and spending the next fifteen minutes waiting for her to say something that made me laugh.

To be fair, there's a screamingly funny Steve Ditko parody about a third of the way through this book. Twenty pages later, Giffen, Fleming and Oskner repeated the gag, since it was too good not to. Those were the only laughs I got. They were resounding, stomach-hurting, kneeslappin' laughs, but the only ones. There are 480 pages in this book.