Saturday, August 12, 2006

Can anyone read Dutch?

My blog is linked and namechecked on an intriguing-lookin' Batman post on a Dutch blog, but I can't figure out what it's saying in the last paragraph referencing me. Babelfish isn't helping much, although it looks like it might be referencing my occasional (though not recent) posts about the joys of 1950s Batman.

Any of my fine Dutch-speaking friends out there who can give a hand?

Meme #3: The Casebook of Tom "Pieface" Kamalku

Meme Weekend continues with Mike Sterling's Tom "Pieface" Kamalku's Casebook Meme. (I already used this joke in the comments on Mike's page, but when I saw everyone was Photoshopping theirs, I just had to jump off that cliff with them.)

Meme #2: "In one word--what?"

Brandon's Bat-Blank Challenge. (I cheated a wee bit.)

Tag! I'm it (a book meme)

Via the magic of the internet, Steven ran up to me while I was relaxing in my tiny hammock and sipping lemonade, tapped me on my little stuffed arm, stole one of my Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies, cried tag! and then ran away again.

After I was done shouting at him to get off my lawn, I looked at what he had tagged me with: a meme about books. Hmmmm. Never let it be said a meme dies in the hooves of a little stuffed bull, I always say. So without a lot of fanfare but with some careful thought that I know I'll second-guess ten minutes after I post this, here I go memeing merrily away:

1. One book that changed your life
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: my first tentative expedition into the grown-up section of the Liverpool Public Library (back when it was a dark, mazey, underground); the first book I devoured like yummy, yummy salty potatoes, craved more immediately, and was overwhelmed to find there were several other Holmes books for me to dive into: enough to last a lifetime, or at least a glorious summer vacation. Really, how can you resist a book with the single best cliffhanger chapter-ending in the English language: "Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered: 'Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!'" Aside from Encyclopedia Brown, The Hound of the Baskervilles was my first foray into the world of detective fiction, from which I've been happy never to escape. More important, it began my life-long love of London and all things British. The edition pictured here is one volume of an inexpensive mass-market paperback boxed set I received as a Christmas present one year: each volume contained an introduction by an author I would later explore; some of them obsessively. The introductions by Ellery Queen and P. G. Wodehouse led me to life-long love of both of their work. When all about me is chaos and sadness, a Sherlock Holmes adventure is the perfect panacea.

2. One book you have read more than once
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien: again a single book (The Hobbit) led me to crave more, more, more instantly, and I got it after a hurried trip to the now-defunct Economy Bookstore in downtown Syracuse, in another boxed set (with the psychedelic covers shown here). When I was much younger I would read The Fellowship of the Ring slowly and carefully to absorb all the rich hobbity goodness, but I would whip through The Two Towers and The Return of the King faster, skimming past the history and the battle sequences just to find out what Frodo and Sam were up to. I've read it about once a year, every year, since then. I love the movies and actually think some of Peter Jackson's changes for the screen were for the better, at least for a motion picture. But the books themselves reward repeated reading, and I'll get to them again later this year, I'm sure.

3. One book you would want on a desert island
I actually wouldn't turn down a one-volume of Sherlock Holmes or The Lord of the Rings, but to keep a variety goin' here, I'd be happy to pack Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, a book with a sense of place so strong I wouldn't miss my home because I will have brought it with me in his sparkling, magical celebration of the wonder of New York that exists just out of the corner of your eye on a cold frosty quiet Manhattan morning.

Either that or a book on how to build a boat.

4. One book that made you laugh
The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving reduced me to fits of rolling-on-the-floor giggles when I first read it. Not for children (probably not even for little stuffed bulls), but when Sorrow the dog falls out of the closet I was gasping for breath out of overexcited hilarity. I'm afraid to pick the book up again for fear I won't find it a tenth as funny this time around. P'raps my memories of it are better than the actual book.

5. One book that made you cry
I'm a weepy soul. Books can make me cry. Movies can make me cry. Even Christmastime phone company commercials can make me cry. But what comes to mind when you ask me to fill in this category is not a sad book about death, even animal death (Old Pig, Faithful Elephants), but instead a book that brings tears of joy and wonder to my cynical little button eyes, a glorious and golden description of the wonder of the world seen only by a few for a very short time. And it's in a children's book: P. L. Travers's Mary Poppins Comes Back. In the chapter called "The New One," Mrs. Banks has a new baby, Annabel. Annabel is visited by the Starling as she lies in her crib. All babies, it seems, can speak to the wind and the trees and the sun and the animals—but they forget how after their first birthday.
Inside her flannel petticoat Annabel was kicking furiously…."How could I forget?"

"Because they all do!" jeered the Starling harshly. "Every silly human except—" he nodded his head at Mary Poppins—"her! She's Different, she's the Oddity, she's the Misfit—"
Another thing babies can remember, but only for one week after they are born, is where they come from:
"I am earth and air and fire and water," she said softly. "I come from the Dark where all things have their beginning."

"Ah, such dark!" said the Starling softly, bending his head to his breast.

"It was dark in the egg, too," the Fledgling cheeped.

"I come from the sea and its tides," Annabel went on,. "I come from the sky and its stars, I come from the sun and its brightness—"

"Ah, so bright!" said the Starling, nodding.

"And I come from the forests of earth."

As if in a dream, Mary Poppins rocked the cradle—to-and-from, to-and-fro with a steady swinging movement.
If the only exposure you've ever had to Mary Poppins is the movie, please read the books. They're filled with a sharp wit, a poignant tenderness, and a fiery grace that Julie Andrews can't even hint at.

6. One book you wish had been written
P. G. Wodehouse's final book, published in rough unfinished form as Sunset at Blandings, is a wonderful look at how Wodehouse worked: elegant and precise planning and many, many ruthless rewrites sharpened his plotting and prose into his masterpieces of musical comedy on the page. But he never finished this novel, and though he gave us over one hundred of 'em, I love his books so much I want just one more. I've said this before and I'll say it again: I believe that Wodehouse was the single most brilliant writer of the twentieth-century. (Terry Pratchett often shows signs of being his heir in terms of turning a clever and pointed phrase.) As it stands, Sunset is only a quarter-book—an outline, a work-in-progress. He was brilliant right up to the end and I'd love to see how this would have been whittled and shaped expertly into yet another romp. But if there's one thing that Neil Gaiman's The Sandman has taught us, it's that every book even unwritten exists somewhere in the Library of Dream. Sometimes when I sleep I dream of finding a treasure trove of P. G. Wodehouse paperbacks at a London riverside book fair or a cluttered Oxford bookstore: two, three, five, ten Wodehouse books I never knew existed and gather up into my arms eager to take them home and dive into them. Among them, I'm sure, is the finished Sunset.

7. One book you wish had never been written
I puzzled over this one a long time. Should I go for the joke answer like "any Danielle Steele novel" or "Anne Heche's Call Me Crazy"? Then I thought about using my meme-given power of Superboy-punching reality until a book that has proposed and inspired evil in its name should disappear from history: something like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or Mein Kampf.

In the end, however, I'm going to go for no book at all. I don't believe in censorship. Whether a book is silly or stupid or even evil, I think it's up to each individual little bull and cow to decide what to read, and those choices should be available.

Okay, okay, that was a cop-out. You want a specific answer? Then please burn all copies of Raymond Benson's High Time to Kill, quite possible the worst abuse of the privilege given to a writer to pen an authorized James Bond novel. It reduces Bond to a clueless dullard and highlights an interminable mountain sequence as slow and tedious as that Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode about rock climbing. Punch that, Superboy!

8. One book you are currently reading
The Eight by Katherine Neville, a historical puzzle-box mystery based around chess. It's everything The Da Vinci Code was trying to be, but it's well-written, compelling, and yes, I'm re-reading it.

9. One book you have been meaning to read
Men Of Tomorrow: Geek, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones. I've had it so long—I got it as an advance paperback galley at BEA in 2005—but haven't sat down to read it yet. Everyone raves about it, everyone tells me I must read it. It's on my "gotta read" bookshelf. I actually pulled it down last week to start but didn't open it yet. Maybe I should take it to my desert island.

10. Now tag five people!
Oooh, golly. I always hesitate to do this. Here's five people. Tag, you're it!: Erin, Tegan, David, Blair. And you, Giraffo, you pompous long-necked twit. I know you are all very busy and of course you don't have to do this, but I would be delighted to read your entries if you do. But it's not mandatory.

Except for you, Giraffo. Grrrrrr. I hate Giraffo.

What the Sam Scratch is goin' on here?!? #5

Why are they fighting J.R. Ewing?

Friday, August 11, 2006

J'onn stumbles, I belatedly review Deadly Genesis, and a Greg Horn cover I actually like?!?

Greetings once again, Bully-fans! My little stuffed self is reporting from the road this week, back in the green and pleasant land of Seattle, Washington, where I helped John a lot in selling new Norton books to Amazon by leaping up and squeaking in excitement every time he told Mister Mulliner about some especially-keen new book. (My self-serving pick for fantastic photo gift book of the fall is the amazing and oversized America by the Yard, which features early Cirkut camera panorama photos, many reproduced in their original "yard-long" format that I got winded at just running from one end to the other! Seriously, if you want a photo book gift idea for this holiday, your dad, mom, or little stuffed bull will definitely love this.)

All sales rep work and no comic book play makes Bully a Dully, however, so of course there was time to hit Seattle's wonderful Zanadu Comics and pick up this week's books. I couldn't wait to read 'em on the plane like last time, so if you're wonderin' "were they fun?", well, just read on, true believer!

Martian Manhunter #1MARTIAN MANHUNTER #1: This comic is not fun. One of the comics I'd looked forward to following DC's Brave New World proved to be a big disappointment on the patented Bully fun-ness scale this week. I'm a big fan of J'onn J'onnz, but he's been handled in so many different ways—not necessary mishandled, but written inconsistently—that's it's got to be harder to please the Manhunter's fans, but it can be done, most recently in last week's Justice League Unlimited #24. But removed from the League in his new series, J'onn seems talky and reactive (rather than active) and is trapped in a clichéd plot of government black ops agents and an "everything you know is wrong" twist on his origin as "Last Martian Alive." That's an approach that's been potentially tricky for DC's more iconic JLA heroes like Superman and Batman, so it seems a risky move for a more minor character. More to the point, what's missing here is the promise of fun and adventure in this new series: it's fairly incomprehensible if you didn't read the teaser chapter in Brave New World, and for a character that seems to have found his best ground in recent years as the JLA's "heart," it's a remarkably soulless and emotionless comic. J'onn isn't Spock, and I don't like he's written that way. Although Martian Manhunter #1 was my Pick Up One New Comic Title I Haven't Been Reading book for this week, I won't be around for the second issue.

First Family #6FANTASTIC FOUR: FIRST FAMILY #6: This comic is fun. I sat in a Borders this afternoon and read the entire X-Men: Deadly Genesis graphic novel in one sitting. Yes, I have used a national bookstore chain as my personal library this afternoon! Why do I mention that while reviewing First Family? Because I want to argue that you can create an extensive continuity implant story that's different, entertaining, and yet doesn't violate the spirit of the original stories and characters it's being implanted into. I groaned at how Deadly Genesis served as a vehicle to "prove" that Professor X was all the time a manipulative mind-wiping controller covering up gruesome and tragic deaths and his own hand in the tragedy. I winced that the deus ex disaster setting Deadly Genesis in motion was a never-before-heard-of continuity implant Mary Sue character who was smarter, faster, stronger and better than the X-Men. I sighed when I turned the last page and realized it was all a set-up for the current year's worth of Shi’ar-focused X-Men stories. And I smiled when I put it back on the shelf and realized I didn't have to pay for having read it. My own questionable reading practices aside, I didn't at all like Deadly Genesis. But there's nothing wrong with the general concept of a continuity implant, because First Family is proof that you can do one that celebrates and honors the characters created by those before you, not pee all over them. (Ick.) Even though it's taking place concurrent with the first few issues of FF, First Family's final issue veers a good distance away from Jack-'n'-Stan's Fantastic Four—there's a Grant Morrison psych-tech that feels utterly modern—and yet that didn't bother me in the least because Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben are absolutely believable and their personalities and actions don't violate what has come before.

Escapists #2ESCAPIST #2: This comic is fun. I loves me the concept of the Escapist comic books: anthology adventure mixed with a fictional history of the comic books behind the character that's so earnest and loving that you have to call the whole concept fun and not just the books. To make another continuity implant comparison with a Marvel comic book, the recent "Sentry" storyline in New Avengers blurred the lines between reality and comic books in what seemed like more of an attempt to shoehorn a Thor-level superhero onto the Avengers than to celebrate the goofiness and charm of comic books. I'm sad to see the regular Escapist series has been cancelled (as confirmed in the pages of The Escapists) but if this is our even-temporary replacement, then I'm not going to complain. Brian K. Vaughan's story gives a new spin to the old chestnut of "what if an ordinary guy tried to be a superhero in our world," and the artwork of Jason Alexander (hey! I loved you in Seinfeld!) and Steve Rolston more than make up for my disappointment that Phillip Bond wasn't going to continue this serial. More than anything, the enthusiasm of Max, Case, and Denny mirror my own sense of wonder with superheroes and their mythology. If you haven't started picking up this series, don't wait for the trade, check it out now. The fun but subtle breaking of the fourth wall, the backwards switch between "cartoony" and "real-world" art, and the care and grace given to this concept not only make it the most fun comic of the week, but a comic that does the late great team of Kavalier and Clay proud.

52 Week 1452 WEEK 14: This comic is fun. After a few slumping weeks I'm pleased to see 52 is returning to some of the elements that intrigued me most about it: the darkening mystery and clues behind the scenes of Kahndaq, Steel, and the disappearing scientists. Sure, you probably need to suspend your disbelief higher than Pinocchio, especially in the scenes where Montoya and the Question seemingly just waltz into Kahndaq, but I'll definitely forgive that in an issue that gives us a heartbreaking scene of Dr. Will Magnus trying to resurrect one of his Metal Men (don't be too sad; there's a nice twist at the end), and where we start to see some of the dangling plotlines come together in a locked room mystery of the sort only the Elongated Man can solve. I'm okay with a few slow storylines of 52 as long as we get issues like this more often than not. If you're like me, you'll be grinning as wide as Doc Magnus by the end of this issue, coz I love a mystery, and this one's drawn me in like a siren.

SHE-HULK #10SHE-HULK #10: This comic is fun. For the second issue in a long series of complaints, this time I have absolutely no problem with Greg Horn's cover on this book: a fun and campy movie-poster parody that's even complete with fake fold marks. No comic celebrates the diversity and goofy appeal of the Marvel Universe like Slott's She-Hulk, and even if you're just aboard for the cameos (Hellcat, Ruby Thursday, the Grey Gargoyle, and the #1 mailman of fiction, Willie Lumpkin), the storyline they're stirred into will capture your attention and sense of fun. Unlike a huge percentage of Marvel Universe comics, She-Hulk deftly juggles a half-dozen plots and finds space and logical progression for each of them, rewarding careful reading but never confusing the new or casual reader. I'm pleased to see that the Starfox rape trial storyline I didn't much care for in issue #7 is not over: I stand by my initial belief that it's a subject that jars horribly with the fun and light tone of this book (not to mention driving Google-searchers for the phrase "superheroine rape" to my site...seriously, ick), but Slott looks like he knows where he's going with this and he's definitely not done with the story, so I'm interested to see where it's heading. There's even more subplots thrown into the mix here: the mystery of Artie Zix takes a deadly turn and you've gotta love the return of seventies mainstay Man-Wolf! And, oh yeah, the best line of the week: "So I won't have to 'pull a Parker'?". Nobody wants to pull a Parker, I'm telling you, but if I gotta have a Civil War tie-in, this one's definitely the most fun!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

In uncertain, scary times, keep your eye on the Alert

National Pie Alert

Because a forewarned America is a prepared America.

(Courtesy of the National Pie Alert: Eat some pie, every day!)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

So what the heck do I know? (shrugging)

Frequent readers of this blog will know that every now and then I get up on my little soapbox and scold Marvel for not doing enough to market and publicize their trade paperbacks and hardcovers to the non-comics market: the general trade bookstore where you'll find the next generation of readers buying manga, magazines, Harry Potter and most everything else except superhero comics.

Well, as this article from yesterday's Publishers Weekly shows, maybe I don't know what the bull I'm talking about:
Boffo Quarter for Marvel Publishing

Marvel’s investment in the book business paid off in the second quarter as the company cited higher sales of trade paperbacks and hardcovers into both the direct market and to bookstores as the main reason behind a 21% increase in revenue in the period. Sales in the quarter reached $25.1 million and profits improved 32%, to $10.4 million. In addition to books, comic books tied to Marvel’s Civil War series did well in the quarter.

For the first half of 2006, sales increased 13%, to $48.9 million, and profits rose 15%, to $19.3 million. Marvel said it expects “modest” top-line and bottom-line growth for the publishing segment for the full year.
Congrats, Marvel. Keep it up. But in this little stuffed bull's little button eyes, you still have a lot of work to do to increase readership numbers as well as sales in the trade bookstores.

Monday, August 07, 2006

If I ruled the world, every day would be the first day of Spring.

And, if I ran DC and Marvel Comics...

...well, then the answer to the question posed on this comic book cover:
Brave and the Bold #150

...would be this:
Marvel Two-in-One #91

A Bruce Wayne/Ben Grimm crossover has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

Highlight the following section for the real team-up partners: Brave and the Bold #150 co-starred Superman as the mystery guest. Marvel Two-in-One #91 teamed up the Thing with the Sphinx. I like my answers better, don't you?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ten of a kind: WW2. And sometimes 3.

(More Ten of a Kind here.)