By the time you read this, we’ll be on the road again. With Julie now established in her new job and our work schedules actually aligned for the first time in about five years, the holiday weekend– all three glorious days of it!– is ours to enjoy as we wish. As it happens, since I have a printshop delivery that comes with a free hotel stay at the Tokeland, we are taking advantage of our three-day weekend to go to the coast.
But that tale will have to wait. This week I have something else.
One of the changes that came with my wife’s new gig is that she requires the car, which makes me a bus commuter again. Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but after a couple of weeks of this I’m finding I rather enjoy it. Mostly because I get so much READING done. I’m on the bus for anywhere from two to three hours every day, and I’m averaging a book a day. Here are some capsule reviews of my favorites from the last two weeks.
Thirty Notches by Brad Ward.
The blurb: THE SMOKING GUN: Fifteen notches on the right gun plate, ten on the left. Twenty-five grooves for twenty-five dead men. Ridge Harbin lived by the gunman’s code for fifteen years. then he made the mistake of helping a nester’s family in cattle country. It was a big mistake… and because of it, Harbin was forced to carve five more notches on his gun. Here is the blazing story of a killer who wanted to bury his past… and had to use his gun to do it.
What I Thought: It’s embarrassing how long it took me to get around to this one. I picked it up on one of our excursions to Lincoln City a couple of years ago, and it’s been on the to-read pile since then. I was watching Alan Ladd in Whispering Smith and got to thinking I should read all these Westerns I’d picked up, and this is the one I started with.
I loved it. It’s tough and cool and very adult without being gratuitously naughty. The story of the reluctant gunman who’s cursed to buckle on those guns for one last showdown to help the farmers who’ve melted his stone-cold heart has been around forever– Shane and Pale Rider are probably the most famous iterations of the idea– but I actually liked this version better than either of those and I like Shane and Pale Rider a LOT. With Thirty Notches you get the comfort-food pleasure of seeing someone play the hits really well, and Ward manages to ring some clever changes on the idea. I was shocked to discover its first publication was in 1956, because it has that dark seventies nihilist feel to it that showed up in a lot of Western films of that time. Anyway, you can find Thirty Notches on Amazon for a buck or so in various editions and it’s money well-spent.
New Avengers: Breakout by Alisa Kwitney.
The blurb: Fantasy/romantic fiction/comics author Alisa Kwitney (A Flight of Angels, Moonburn) reveals the secret backstory of Avengers couple Hawkeye and the Black Widow. Under secret orders to assassinate the Widow, the rough-edged marksman finds himself caught up in a violent prison break that releases some of the world’s most vicious and powerful criminals. Defying his superiors, Hawkeye joins forces with the sultry Russian spy – and with a mismatched group of personalities that include Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, Captain America and Iron Man. Unexpected betrayals and shocking revelations will lead the team from Manhattan’s top security Raft prison to the untamed jungle of the Savage Land in a dramatically different take on Brian Michael Bendis’ blockbuster Avengers comics debut. Learn the sizzling backstory of your favorite big-screen heroes in this adaptation, inspired by the best of page and screen!
What I Thought: I was ambivalent about Marvel doing these hardcover prose adaptations of popular story arcs from the comics, but when a couple of them showed up for a dollar and change, I thought it was worth a shot. In this particular volume, Alisa Kwitney makes some extensive changes to the original “Breakout” storyline and they’re all to the good as far as I’m concerned. This version has no Wolverine in it but lots of Hawkeye and Black Widow stuff, and it’s a good extrapolation of what we saw in the first Avengers movie. (It wholly contradicts what we saw in the SECOND movie, but Ms. Kwitney couldn’t have known that.) In fact the whole book seems much more for a general audience that likes the Marvel movies and wants to see more, and there’s enough good stuff here that even a jaded old comics guy like me who’d read the original comics was never bored. Still, I’m glad that this line of books is moving towards originals and away from the adaptations, and I’d love to see more Avengers prose from Ms. Kwitney that’s all her own. Get on that, would you, Marvel?
Bad Times: Helldorado by Chuck Dixon.
The blurb: They left a man behind. 100,000 years behind. Another chapter in the popular time travel thriller series Bad Times by bestselling author Chuck Dixon. Lee, Jimbo and the rest of the hard-fighting Rangers go back to prehistoric Nevada to find the man they left behind on their first mission. This epic quest brings them into dangerous encounters with giant predators long extinct. But the most dangerous of all these animals is man. Back in the present, one of their team is abducted by a mysterious billionaire seeking to grow his fortunes with the use of the scientific miracle known as the Tauber Tube. Also, their benefactor from the future shares a startling secret.
What I Thought: I’ve mentioned these books before, but it bears repeating– there is simply no part of this premise that’s not awesome. What’s not to love about the idea of a time-traveling squad of ex-Army Rangers going on missions to the ancient past to beat the shit out of cavemen, dinosaurs, Roman gladiators, and anyone else who deserves an ass-kicking. Chuck Dixon is the perfect guy to write it and the only thing that would make me happier is if these taut pulp tales had some pen-and-ink illustrations from the late Joe Kubert…. or, since that’s not possible, someone else working in that tradition like Sergio Cariello or Jordi Bernet. It baffles me that in all the various blogs about ‘new pulp’ and so on that no one ever brings up this series because there’s just nothing pulpier. This one may be the best yet, and Mr. Dixon is clearly having a great time. There are some interesting time-travel paradoxes he’s playing with here as well. It’s just plain fun on a dozen different levels. My only gripe is that this latest volume ends on a mild cliffhanger that’s setting up the next installment. If you like two-fisted adventure as much as I do I guarantee you’ll love this. I sprung for the paperback edition of this the day it rolled out and eagerly await the next one. It’s on Kindle as well.
Mighty Avengers: No Single Hero by Al Ewing, Greg Land, et al.
The blurb: Infinity tie-in! The Avengers’ main squad is light-years away in space, contending with the Builders! Thanos’ marauders are ransacking the Earth, doing as they please! Who will defend mankind? The all-new Mighty Avengers! Luke Cage! The Superior Spider-Man! Spectrum! The White Tiger! The new Power Man! A mysterious figure in an ill-fitting Spider-Man Halloween costume! And more! These unlikely heroes must assemble when no one else can – against the unrelenting attack of Proxima Midnight! But that’s easier said than done…and when Promixa begins killing New York City one block at a time, Cage’s ad-hoc Avengers might not be able to stop her…and the one hero who can is at the bottom of the Mariana Trench! And then things get worse! Will the Mighty Avengers be destroyed before they even get started?
What I Thought: I picked this up for the same reason I picked up Breakout, above– it and the second volume in the series, Family Bonding, showed up for a buck each. Despite my disenchantment with the current Avengers title, I figured two bucks was worth it. And it certainly was. Despite the Avengers branding and the promise of tie-ins, at its core Mighty Avengers is really the Luke Cage/Jessica Jones title I was hoping for, with lots of guest stars showing up from odd corners of the Marvel universe. I especially like what Ewing’s done with Adam Brashear, the Blue Marvel, and how he plays him off Luke Cage. I enjoyed the first two enough that I probably will get volume three in trade as well, although I really don’t care for the superskinny new trade paperback format from Marvel. Haven’t made up my mind about the latest relaunch with Sam Wilson as Cap, but if it’s as good as these were I’ll probably check it out.
That’s the best of the commuter reads so far. I’ll probably check in with more of them again from time to time since I am getting through a LOT of the pile….
…but right now I gotta go pack for the coast. Everyone else who’s getting a three-day weekend as well, have fun and stay safe– I’ll be back next week, probably with the report of how our trip went and what we turned up on the way. See you then.
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