Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Books With Pictures - and Some Without

Doug: Hello, and thanks for coming  around this week. It's good to be back in the blogger's chair, even if only for a few days. When last we met, it was over at Back in the Bronze Age when I contributed a post on DC's imaginary stories. That was over a year ago! And other than school work, I've really not written since May 2017. But I've done a heckuva lot of reading, and today I'd like to share some thoughts on the tomes I've consumed over the past 12 or so months.

A year ago I decided to start keeping track of the books I was reading. Since we quit blogging in November 2016, it really freed up time in the evenings for some leisurely reading. And as I got to forming that habit, I found that I'd missed regular reading - and particularly reading comics. Formerly, the comics I read were always blog-oriented. That's not a bad thing - I think our repository of reviews is a real treasure. But we're talking about me consuming 1-2 comics in a week over the 7+ years the BAB was active. However, that commitment had necessitated (at least, that's the story I'm telling) the acquisition of a massive amount of collected editions. At last count I have over 350 books on my shelves. For most of those books, they sat idle since arriving, waiting for a post idea or review to liberate them from their resting place. Once the blog shuttered, I felt able to crack open all of the books I'd amassed. If an evening goes the way I'd like, I'm on the couch or in the recliner with a tpb or hardcover, keeping an eye on some college sports or the Cubs. On a good night, I'll read 2-3 comics. I'd also add that the fact that our sons have been out of the house over the past few years has contributed to my disposable evening time. So you see how it's possible to rip through the amount of material I've read (see below).

Karen long ago said that we live in the golden age of reprints. She's not wrong. Just two weeks ago I finished the Batgirl Bronze Age Omnibus, collecting the character's early appearances in Detective Comics and Batman, up through the Batman Family years. Think about that... A 500-page hardcover devoted to mostly 8-10 page back-up stories, and featuring a C-list character. Karen was right!

You can count the Planet of the Apes B&W magazine strips among material I never expected to read. Thank goodness Boom Studios did what it took to put that mysterious content in my hot little hands. And if you've not seen these archive-like editions, you are missing out. The reproduction is outstanding - heavy stock, the same size as originally published, and wrapped by a sturdy hardcover. I have the first two volumes and intend to buy the next two. And speaking of those "damned, dirty apes", if you're into prose then you might like Tales from the Forbidden Zone. Karen and I both read it, and I can guarantee if we'd still been writing, you'd have seen our thoughts on it. Not every short story was a winner, but more often than not there was a smile and some thoughtful reflection before moving on to the next chapter. One story I'd mention specifically involved Taylor and Nova in a "What if Taylor had survived the nuke at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes?" Good stuff.

For our readers who've been with us for a few years, you'll recall that I have done contract work for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's education department. After spending 10 days each July in Washington, DC over the past seven summers, I am somewhat melancholy to report that I am not going back this year. However, my interest in the subject remains high, and you can see across my three reading logs that I've continued with my professional development by reading various selections in Holocaust witness and history. Two books I'd highlight to those interested: if you would be inclined to read a rather raw survivor testimony, told within months of liberation, then Five Chimneys is excellent. Certainly, it's a tough read, but very compelling throughout. If you want a concise history of some of the nuances of the event and era, then I heartily recommend Peter Hayes's very accessible Why? Explaining the Holocaust.

I didn't always care for the books I chose. Last summer I decided to give one of Edgar Rice Burroughs' last Tarzan novels a whirl. Tarzan and the Foreign Legion could best be avoided. In addition to Burroughs' formulaic storytelling, the racism that was so prevalent through the World War II era is off putting. I finished it, but can't say I bettered myself for the experience. Richard Wright's Come Together: Lennon & McCartney in the Seventies was OK, but the author's style was a little wonky; often he was repetitive. If he'd said one more time how much the four Beatles loved each other like brothers, I was going to scream. For funnybooks, I really liked the Essential Man-Thing once Gerber quit toying with the Nexus of Reality. I didn't care for that supernatural/occult stuff... which makes me wax hypocritical, as I absolutely loved the DC Comics Classics Library Roots of the Swamp Thing. I also found volume 2 of the Secret Society of Super-Villains disappointing as compared to my childhood memories. But overall, when you look at the almost-70 books on the lists, there were mostly hits among a few misses.

Shoot, why not toss you a good, better, best type of list?

Good: I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the Aquaman trade "Death of a Prince". Outside of Super Friends, I had zero experience with DC's King of Atlantis. So I was interested at my growing enthusiasm as I waded through these Bronze Age reprints from Arthur Curry's days as a back-up feature in Adventure Comics. Solid art from Mike Grell and Jim Aparo, and a nicely done payoff at the end. Recommended.

Better: Beatles '66 by Steve Turner was wonderful. Turner begins his book in December of 1965, and then charts the careers and lives of the Fab Four month-by-month through December 1966. It's tough to say that the book "centers" on any one thing, as the last world tour, the decision to stop touring, increased drug use, the recording of Revolver, and the appearance of Yoko Ono all conspired to make the year of my birth a landmark era for the Beatles. Great book, and I'd read it again.

Best: I gave no thought to this whatsoever beyond my initial impression. It wasn't even close, or worthy of further consideration. The best thing I've read in the past 12-15 months was the Uncanny X-Men Omnibus, volume 1. The 800+ page heavyweight collects Giant-Size X-Men #1, and X-Men #s 94-131. Also included is the George Perez-drawn X-Men Annual #3. As most of you know, this title just kept picking up steam. Aside from the 2-3 filler issues (the Dreaded Deadline Doom), every issue was pulse pounding and senses shattering. You know what I'm saying!

As to my coming-up reading list, I've already pulled three hardcovers for immediate consumption: Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams, volume 1, Spider-Man Newspaper Strips, volume 1, and The Inhumans Marvel Masterworks, volume 2. Once school's out in a few days, I'll commence to also wading through a large stack of real books -- I need to finish Rep. John Lewis's (D-GA) memoir Walking with the Wind, and then I have a caboodle of additional Civil Rights books already purchased: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. For lighter fare, my son gave me Tim Kurkjian's (ESPN baseball commentator) book, I'm Fascinated by Sacrifice Flies: Inside the Game We All Love and Keith Richards's autobiography, Life.

So what are your thoughts? What are you reading presently, or recently? What would you recommend to me, or do you see something we share that you'd pass along to a friend? If you are just happening by this space for the first time ever, you must know that in order to join our Loyal Order of Water Buffalo Lodge a comment must be made and left for all to see. True story. All you veterans -- you know the drill.


Edo Bosnar said...

A most excellent progress report on your many readings, Doug.
On the topic of Gerber's, er, strike that, Man-Thing by Steve Gerber, while I'm not as critical as you are about the initial stories, I definitely agree that the series got better once Gerber hit his groove.
I think you'll enjoy Inhumans v. 2. I used to have the whole set of the 1970s monthly series and thought it was pretty solid - plus it features early art by George Perez and Keith Pollard.
Also interesting that you're going to read that biography of Jack Johnson. About 2 years ago I read the 2-volume Original Johnson by Trevor von Eeden, a graphic-novel biography (although with some fictionalized details) about Johnson which I really enjoyed. Worth picking up if you're interested in him.

Some of my recent reading, comics first:
The late, great Len Wein's run on Amazing Spider-man, as collected in three Panini digests (of course!): Shattered by the Shocker, War of the Reptile Men and Green Grows the Goblin.
Speaking of digests, I also recently read the X-men digest (one of those now being distributed by Archie Comics) and found myself quite thoroughly enjoying the X-men: First Class stories by Jeff Parker.
And speaking of Archie, I'm slowly working my way through the massive Best of Archie: 75 Years, 75 Stories digest, which is really quite good, as it's a nice way to follow the development of Archie comics on a year-by-year basis.
And bringing it back to Wein, I fully intend to get to the Deadman tpb that collects his stories from Adventure Comics and DC Comics Presents.
Another recently-read comic was Mike Mignola's the Amazing Screw-on Head, which is simply brilliant. I like the character and setting better than Hellboy, and find myself wondering why he never did more of these stories.
And finally, not too long ago I read the interlocking mini-series from the metaseries Battlefields by Garth Ennis that focus on a WW2 Soviet combat pilot named Anna Kharkova. It deals with a bit of that era's history that most people in the West know little about: the Soviet airwomen who served with distinction during the war.

"Normal" books, non-fiction:
Tied to the above, I also recently read A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II by Ann Noggle. It's actually a collection of oral histories by these veterans that were recorded in 1990. It makes for fascinating reading, and I've putting together a post about this and the comic series for the Atomic Junk Shop.

In other non-fiction, I'd recommend A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong, which is an expansion of their Pulitzer Prize winning investigative report (full disclosure, Miller is a friend of mine and a former college house-mate).

Right now, I'm reading some classic SF by Leigh Brackett; her Skaith trilogy has been on my too-read pile for quite some time now, but I decided I wanted to first read the older stories that feature the same character, Eric John Stark, and that in turn led me to seek out her other space opera/planetary romance magazine stories from the 1940s and 1950s - all of which can be found at the Internet Archive.

Doug said...

Wow, Edo -

And I thought I'd been pretty prolifically reading!

I don't know why I took issue with Gerber's trip to the occult, because I didn't get that sense at all reading the Wein/Wrightson Swamp Thing issues. Perhaps it was better executed in the DC mag? Not sure, but the Gerber stuff just felt a little off to me. But we both agree that the series picked up steam as it rolled along. I'd had virtually no experience with either character prior to deciding to read those two collections. It's one of those things where, after finishing, I wondered why I'd waited so long.

I've known of Jack Johnson for years but my interest was piqued last summer when my wife and I took a tour of Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. It's a huge cemetery just a few blocks north of Wrigley Field. Basically all the movers and shakers of Chicago history are buried there, and of course there were many interesting anecdotes on the tour (not to mention comparing the various monuments and mausoleums was fun). I had no idea Jackson was interred there. I'm looking forward to the book, and I'll check on the graphic novel.

I'm about halfway through the Inhumans Masterwork and must declare that it's far better than I'd remembered from my first readings back when the books were purchased off the spinner racks. Doug Moench really crafted a nice story that should have set the Inhumans on a course to becoming Marvel's next big cosmic superstars. Obviously we know that didn't happen.

Thanks for the comment - appreciated!


Anonymous said...

Great to see the BABs back in action!

Man-Thing vs. Swamp Thing: Maybe you liked the Roots... stories better because they focused on horror archetypes (mad scientist, werewolf, etc.) rather than more nebulous mysticism? Maybe it's Berni Wrightson's gorgeous artwork? Regardless, I agree that Gerber's run went from good to excellent when he focused more on human interest horror rather than goofy fantasy (which I also liked).

Uncanny X-Men by Claremont, Cockrum, & Byrne: They're classics for a reason! I'm about to say something that might be controversial in these parts: I think John Byrne is overrated. Not bad (usually), but he's never been one of my favorite creators. His art and plotting on Uncanny X-Men, however, were startlingly great. Claremont, Wein, & Cockrum produced top-level comics, but Byrne's contributions (especially the Proteus, Dark Phoenix, & Days of Future Past stories) made the series a perennial classic. Only Paul Smith's run and a handful of other stories stack up.

- Mike Loughlin

Dr. O said...

I love reading about what other people are reading.

The irony of getting my PhD in literature in 2014 is that I have read fewer books in each year since than I read in most years of my adult life before then. Too busy and reading slower, I guess.

But I have still been reading lots of comics (and some other books)

Since the closing of BAB I have read all of the first Fantastic Four omnibus and most of the second (got distracted by other projects, but since I think them the best superhero comics ever written/drawn I WILL be returning to it). I also read the second omnibus of Deadly Hands of Kung Fu for the introduction of the original White Tiger (Marvel's first Puerto Rican superhero). Weird stuff. Not great. To be honest I am not a fan of black and white superhero art. More cartoonish indie b&w is much more to my tastes for uncolored art.

I have also been reading both volumes of Omega the Unknown - the original 1976/77 version by Gerber/Skrenes/Mooney and the reimagining from 2007/08 by Lethem/Resnak/Dalrymple. I am reading them a pair of issues at a time (like I did for my Howard the Duck blog series) and writing about them. I am nearly done. Installment #9 in in editing mode, and after #10 there will be one more wrap-up post covering the two issues of Defenders that tie up the original series and the backmatter in the collected edition of the Lethem version. You can read the "Alpha & Omega" series here.

I have been reading every appearance of Black Lightning I can get my hands on in preparation of maybe writing a book on the character.

I read Comic Shop: The Retail Mavericks Who Gave Us a New Geek Culture, which some folks on this blog will definitely enjoy. (You can read my review on Goodreads here.)

Not quite relevant to comics, but I also read Jujitsu for Christ by Jack Butler because a comics scholar colleague recommended it (not sure I liked it much).

I have also in the last year or so White Tears by Hari Kunzru, which is an amazing book about a couple of white kids in the post-college years obsession with black music and "authenticity" and some imagined consequences of chasing the "Black experience" as a kind of hobby.

I've been slowly making my way through all of Gaiman's Sandman.

I LOVED Nick Mamatas's I AM PROVIDENCE - a satirical murder mystery set at a Lovecraft con.

AND, the best book of the last 10 years (or any style or genre) - My Favorite Thing is Monsters - this AMAZING debut graphic novel (well, part one of two). You can read my Goodreads review here.

Oh and of course, I am reading lots of ongoing series. Ones I think even Bronze Agers might like include: Abbott - not superheroes, but follows a reporter investigating supernatural crime in 1970s Detroit. It is by Saladin Ahmed, who also did the recently completed Black Bolt series (so good). And Jason Aaron's run on Thor - both the God-Bomb arc and the more recent War of the Realms starring Jane Foster as Thor (the best Thor work since Simonson).

Okay that is enough for now!

Doug said...

Thanks for the comment, Mike. Sad to say, I've never read the Paul Smith-era of the X-Men. I generally love the art I've seen, but that all dropped during my oft-mentioned (see, doing it again) high school hiatus from comics.

Osvaldo, I have been reading Fantastic Four from the beginning using the DVD-ROM files and my Kindle. What an evolution! It's so fun to see Stan and Jack pick their way along, some ideas sticking, others ditched quickly and accordingly. Last night I read the Hate Monger story; unfortunately, it could have been current events. I've also been impressed at how valuable Joe Sinnott was to the latter half of the Silver Age and beyond. The work of George Bell and Dick Ayers just pales in comparison to what will arrive circa the mid-40s.

I got the first Deadly Hands omnibus for Christmas in 2016. I've had it out maybe three different times. The stories are OK, the art generally very good. But it's an effort to get through it. I'm not sorry I have it, but wish my interest level for the material was higher.

Thanks for the comments, fellows!


Dr. O said...

oh Oh OH! One thing I forgot to mention that I am (re)reading is my wife's debut YA novel which comes out in mid-August. Doesn't have anything to do with comics (though in her second book - coming out next year there is a snippet of a geeky conversation between some boys about superheroes overheard by a girl that I helped my wife develop ;) )

Anyway, for those who might be interested or know a kid into contemporary Young Adult fiction, See All the Stars is available for pre-order and comes out August 14.

Amazon link

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

Mike Wilson said...

Sounds like you've got some of the same tastes as me; I've read some of the stuff you mentioned, and a few others are on my list. I have that Keith Richards autobiography somewhere, but I still haven't read it.

Lately I've been reading comics for my blog, so haven't had much time to read for fun. As for fiction, I'm reading a book called Circe (recommended just a couple weeks ago by someone over at BITBA, though I can't recall who) and I might try Glen Cook's Black Company next (one of those books I've been meaning to read for years), or maybe I'll re-read Once and Future King. For non-fiction, I'm reading Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block, and dipping into The 1920s Day By Day, for some historical goodness.

Of course, the World Cup's coming up, so that might put a crimp in my reading, other than World Soccer Magazine :)

The Prowler said...

News today reported that 1 out of 4 people did not read a book last year. There's a company that pushes that most CEOs report reading as their number 1 key to success. They offer you that same opportunity for success by listening to Audio Books. I don't think listening to books is the same as reading... JMO.

Doug, I was wondering if you're still helping with local sports. Weren't you doing timekeeping or scoreboard? My youngest daughter graduated in 2015 but I still work with the High School softball team. During season, I do the announcing, play music and update on the whether the snack bar is open or not. During fall, I coach the Fall Ball team. It keeps me busy!!! And I get to hear what kids are listening to... so there's that.

(Maybe I hang around here
A little more than I should
We both know I got somewhere else to go
But I got something to tell you
That I never thought I would
But I believe you really ought to know

I love you
I honestly love you

You don't have to answer
I see it in your eyes
Maybe it was better left unsaid
This is pure and simple
And you should realize
That it's coming from my heart and not my head

I love you
I honestly love you

I'm not trying to make you feel uncomfortable
I'm not trying to make you anything at all
But this feeling doesn't come along everyday
And you shouldn't blow the chance
When you've got the chance to say

I love you
I honestly love you

If we both were born
In another place and time
This moment might be ending in a kiss
But there you are with yours
And here I am with mine
So I guess we'll just be leaving it at this

I love you
I honestly love you
I honestly love you).

Doug said...

Hi, Prowl (and Mike W., too!) -

Yes, I do the clock and PA for soccer, the scorebook for boys basketball, and the PA for baseball. I enjoy it (of course, it’s some extra money), as it keeps me around the games and athletes.


Redartz said...

Man, all you guys put me to shame! My reading time these days is scarce. Nevertheless, among the times I've read recently:

Scooby Doo Team-up, vol. 2: truly loads of fun. I highly recommend this; what a lineup of guest stars: Superman, Batgirl, Harley and Ivy, Secret Squirrel, Jonny Quest, Angel and the Ape, Flintstones and Jetsons! It's so rewarding to find a Just Plain Fun comic .

Essential Defenders vol.2. Worth it for the Heathen story alone.

New Teen Titans vol.1- even better than I remembered.

The DC Comics art of Brian Bolland- beautiful work. I'm determined to try a few issues of Animal Man.

In terms of actual books, I just read Bradbury's "The Illustrated Man", and worked through the Tao The Ching...

Redartz said...

Aaaaaaaargh, I hate autocorrect. That should be "Headmen", not heathen....

Humanbelly said...

Good lord-- Cuh-LEARLY several of you neglected to register as Mutants with Hyper-Speed-Reading Ability-! (Doug, yer killin' me, here!)

Books on CD have gotten me through a couple of long drives to Michigan-- in which I enjoyed some lesser-known Agatha Christie's (THE SECRET ADVERSARY-- introducing the nearly-unknown Tommy & Tuppence detective couple was smashing-- one of my favorites ever!). The problem they present is that I tend to miss exits, destinations, gas stations, etc, etc. I drove an extra couple blocks around Kalamazoo just so I could get to the end of a chapter. . .

Recent Comics? The MAX Comics campy take on The Rawhide Kid (by Zimmerman/Severin), re-imagining the character as being an unabashedly proud, unbeatable, and joyful gay gunslinger.

Been working my way through several more volumes of Fantagraphics COMPLETE PEANUTS-- currently up to 1980.

Dipping regularly into THE BIG BOOK OF THE CONTINENTAL OP. . . a collection of primarily short stories by Dash Hammett, centered around this long-running character of his that no one knows about-! (And who I totally adore--).

And---DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE? (How To Adjudicate Theatre Festivals)--- 'cause I might be interested in helping out at a local one later this summer. As a rookie, unheralded adjudicator, mind you. ..

I. . . do think FaceBook has taken a toll on my recreational reading time, I must confess. . . .


Edo Bosnar said...

HB - love the Continental Op stories, but then again, I really love Hammett's work in general. I think he's by far the best of the classic hard-boiled detective story writers.

Mike Wilson said...

@Colin Jones: Ah, I was hoping whoever it was would chime in. (I could've gone back to look, but I was feeling too lazy.) I'm about halfway through (Circe's just about to meet Odysseus) and I really like it so far. I've always been a fan of Greek myth, so I enjoy all the little references.

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