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Weekend with the Review Pile, Redux

by  in Comic News Comment

Just trying to clean up the rest of the stuff from my to-review pile. Post-atomic horror, apes, steampunk cowboy vampires, and a few cats and dogs. No, really.

But first, the answer to a question I’ve had more than once.

It came up again last week; I got an email from someone demanding why I hadn’t reviewed a particular book he’d sent me, but somehow I found the time to write about some other book that had come out since then.

I’m not going to name the guy or the book, so don’t ask. But here’s the general answer to that question.

First of all, the chances are that it was an indie book. I rarely if ever get asked to look at big-publisher stuff (I’m still mildly astonished that I’m even on the radar for mid-list and small-press guys.) And if I am NOT writing about it, I probably either haven’t read it yet ….or I did read it and I didn’t care for it.

Giving a bad review to something from DC or Marvel or Dark Horse doesn’t bother me very much– but I know what a shoestring most indies are running on. I have produced indie books myself. It’s really goddamn hard. The people that do it are pouring their hearts and souls into it in a way that big publishers just don’t. Often the project seeing print is the culmination of months, even years of work, done in and around a day job and financed with the creators’ personal savings. It’s somebody’s dream project. After all that, for someone like me to snort and dismiss it as crap– even if it is– it feels to me like bullying. Using the visibility Jonah gives us here at CBR to excoriate an indie production that’s not getting press anywhere else… I just haven’t got the heart to do it. Picking on Marvel and DC, as futile an effort as that usually turns out to be, is at least punching up.

Apart from that, as a general rule, I don’t like to write bad reviews. I know the internet loves them. If I want to ratchet the hit count here way up and get the comments into triple digits, all I need to do is write an angry screed about something idiotic happening in the world of superheroes. I could write a weekly column called Publishers Behaving Badly and we all know I’d have years of material.

But it seems to me like we have way too many of those articles in the comics press already, and I just can’t deal with the swarm those pieces attract. When I was a forums admin here at CBR there were a cluster of fans posting here that somehow fed off their own anger. They were furious about comics, TV and movies… all the time. Seriously. For years. Their targets shifted from time to time– organic webshooters! Buffy and Spike! One More Day! –but the level of the rage was constant, and by and large it was the same group of people. I never understood those folks then and I really don’t understand them now. As expensive as monthly comics have become, the idea of continuing to buy a title every month that not only do you not enjoy, but in fact makes you vibrate with seething rage, just seems completely insane to me… especially since the publisher still gets to keep the money.

What’s more, their rage is strictly confined to the treatment of fictional people. Never in my experience has that free-floating ball of comics-fan internet fury been directed at comics professionals who’ve acted badly towards ACTUAL humans. It’s always about how they treat the made-up people, whether it’s twenty years ago concerning Ron Marz and “what he did to Hal Jordan” or last week’s kerfuffle about Rick Remender and “what he did to the Falcon.” But when, say, Gary Friedrich gets trampled by Disney lawyers for scratching out a few bucks at a comics con as the creator of Ghost Rider? Crickets. Nothing. Bad things that happen to real-life guys don’t get a week of Twitter rage with its own topic hashtag. But let someone like Kelly Thompson or Janelle Asselin write about how badly fictional women are depicted in comics, and the response is spit-spraying anger and rape threats.

I don’t understand those fans. Never will. Not particularly interested in figuring them out, either; that’ll take someone with a lot more psychological expertise and free time than I have available to me.

But I have made a deliberate decision not to feed their crazy if I can help it. As our friend Pol Rua likes to say, life is too short to spend it reading shitty comics… and it’s certainly too short to spend it ranting about them. I’d much rather talk about stuff I like.

And if your indie book you sent me isn’t among those books I like talking about? Chances are good that if it’s been less than three months since you sent it, I probably haven’t gotten to it yet. Here is the current Shelf of Shame.


… the TOP half of the pile, that is, there’s another stack of equal size going to the floor.


And apart from that I’ve got a day job and my own books I’m working on and, well, spending time with my wife and our friends and stuff. I do try to get to things when they’re sort of current but three months is the longest I will let the review pile stack up. At least that’s the goal.

If it’s been more than three months since you sent me your book or comic or whatever, well, it’s probably safe to assume that I didn’t care for it… but I didn’t see the point of ranting about why not. Just file it under “I guess my book is not Hatcher’s kind of thing” and move on.

All that being said… here are some books that I did like quite a bit.

*


Dead Man’s Hand: An Anthology of the Weird West edited by John Joseph Adams.

The blurb:
From a kill-or-be-killed gunfight with a vampire to an encounter in a steampunk bordello, the weird western is a dark, gritty tale where the protagonist might be playing poker with a sorcerous deck of cards, or facing an alien on the streets of a dusty frontier town.

Here are twenty-three original tales—stories of the Old West infused with elements of the fantastic—produced specifically for this volume by many of today’s finest writers. Included are Orson Scott Card’s first “Alvin Maker” story in a decade, and an original adventure by Fred Van Lente, creator of Cowboys & Aliens.

Other contributors include Tobias Buckell, David Farland, Alan Dean Foster, Jeffrey Ford, Laura Anne Gilman, Rajan Khanna, Mike Resnick, Beth Revis, Ben H. Winters, Christie Yant, and Charles Yu.

What I Thought: I guess I’m late to the party. I had no idea “weird western” had become such a thing, to the point where there are disputes over whether ‘steampunk’ is a part of the genre or not. (How do you know when a new genre has arrived? When fans start to argue about its rules.)

But the real question is whether or not the book’s any good, and this one is terrific. I love Westerns, I love SF, I love horror fiction, but what gets me more than any of those things is the clever genre mashup. What’s more, when I was a kid the show I adored more than any other– more even than Batman or Star Trek— was The Wild Wild West. So this anthology had me at hello. I especially appreciated the diversity of the roster– you have old pros like Joe R. Lansdale and Alan Dean Foster, you have newer writers like Christie Yant and Rajan Khanna, and even folks from comics like Fred Van Lente. The level of craft on display is uniformly excellent and the writers are pleasantly varied in approach. Some stories I liked more than others but I can’t point to one that I thought didn’t work or that I didn’t enjoy on some level. The book is just tremendous fun and I’m definitely looking for more. Recommended unreservedly.

*



Canine Classics/Feline Classics edited by Tom Pomplun and John Lehman.

The blurb:
Canine/Feline Classics is a unique, two-in-one volume, with half stories for dog-lovers, and half for cat-fanciers. Featured are “The Emissary” by Ray Bradbury, “Ancient Sorceries” by Algernon Blackwood, “The Beast from the Abyss” by Robert E. Howard, and 17 more great stories and poems, including two from the volume’s co-editor, John Lehman.

What I Thought: I really don’t understand why more people in comics aren’t talking about this series. Graphic Classics is doing amazing work and speaking not just as a fan of comics but also as a schoolteacher who knows how hard it is to get kids to read anything at all, I can tell you that Tom Pomplun and his crew are performing an invaluable public service.

But apart from all that, the books are good, and I’m continually delighted by the ways they find to re-invigorate the old Classics Illustrated formula. The anthology format is absolutely the best way to go, since it insures there’s something for everyone. You continue to see some really terrific art from a wide cross-section of comics talent– just in this volume there’s work from Shary Flenniken, Peter Kuper, and Mary Fleener, along with a host of other equally talented people. The theme this time out is ‘dogs and cats,’ and the selections range from antic humor to dark horror. The thing I liked best is that it’s a flip-book two-in one, like the old Ace Doubles. One side is Canine Classics, turn it over and it’s Feline Classics. My Level 9 summer students loved this book, my wife loved this book, and I loved this book. As I say every time a new one comes out, this is a wonderful book and if you don’t check it out you are missing some great comics. In fact, that’s true of all of the books in the series. The whole catalog is here and very reasonably priced. Give it a shot.

*


Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of Planet of the Apes: The Art of the Films by Sharon Gosling and Adam Newell, with interviews by Matt Hurwitz.

The blurb: The stunning new art book on Planet of the Apes! A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth’s dominant species.

What I Thought: I really wasn’t going to write any more about these coffee-table “Art Of” hardcover books that Titan sends me, no matter how gorgeously produced they are (and they genuinely are stunning volumes, the blurb does not exaggerate; The Art of John Harris, which arrived even after I said “don’t send it,” is breathtaking) because the review is always essentially the same– book looks great but it’s pretty much only for hardcore fans of the subject.

But I fell for this one because it’s not just about one new movie but also about the revitalization of the entire Planet of the Apes franchise, and as such it’s got a little more heft to it than usual. As listeners of Radio Vs. the Martians are aware, I dig Planet of the Apes and always have. So this one intrigued me more than Titan’s regular art-book offerings and I was pleased to discover my interest was warranted. The interviews and various other behind-the-scenes material are more wide-ranging in subject matter than they would be if tied to a single film, and it’s as much a book for those who are interested in the evolving craft of CGI motion-capture and how that affects traditional arts like acting and set design as it is a book for Planet of the Apes fans. There is the usual Hollywood puffery and ballyhoo that comes with any media tie-in product pushing a new release, but there is also a lot of actual stuff worth reading. And of course the art is gorgeous.


The retail price of $34.99 is on the high side of reasonable, and I don’t know that it’s something I’d buy for myself… but I daresay a little shopping around online will turn up a discount. In any case, it is absolutely a great gift for the Apes fan in your life. Or even the film nerd. Be aware that there are massive spoilers for both movies in here, though, so you might want to wait a bit to make sure they’ve seen the movies first.

*


Showcase Presents The Great Disaster Featuring the Atomic Knights, by Various.

The blurb: In these stories, heroes including the Atomic Knights, Kamandi and Hercules must face a post-apocalyptic future brought about by the mysterious “Great Disaster” in the run of Atomic Knights tales from STRANGE ADVENTURES, plus 1ST ISSUE SPECIAL #1, HERCULES UNBOUND #1-12, KAMANDI #43-46, WEIRD WAR TALES #22, 23, 30, 32, 40, 42-44, 46-49, 51-53, 64, 68, 69 and 123, HOUSE OF MYSTERY #318, SUPERMAN #295, HOUSE OF SECRETS #86, 95 and 97, THE UNEXPECTED #215 and 221 and AMAZING WORLD OF DC COMICS #12.

What I Thought: I say a lot of rude things about the current DC comics and I probably will continue to do so. But I have to give them props for when they get one right and this is one of those times.

Technically, this is supposed to be a series of stories with the unifying theme of “The Great Disaster,” the atomic war that led to post-holocaust SF comics like Kamandi. It strikes me that some of these inclusions are a stretch when you are allegedly trying to tie them to Kamandi or the Atomic Knights, let alone to both of them (Atlas from First Issue Special? Really?)

But that doesn’t matter. You know what this book really is? This is the anthology that I have occasionally wished for in this space, the Weird Shit From the 1970s collection. You’ve got Hercules Unbound and Atlas and all the odd little non-Kirby backup stories from Kamandi and stuff like that.



None of them are worth a trade paperback collection on their own but put together in one giant book like this you have an entertaining hot mess. If nothing else, I’m very pleased to see Hercules Unbound here in its entirety and I’d have bought this book for that alone, but the rest of it’s fun too. And I’m delighted that DC is continuing the Showcase Presents line; I can hardly wait for the upcoming Captain Carrot and Unknown Soldier volume two. If I can’t have the Marvel Essentials any more, I’ll take these.

*

And that’s all I’ve got… for the moment at least, the review pile is cleared.

More or less, anyway. There’s always something; as you can see in the photos of the pile above, I never get ALL the way caught up. I’ll probably have another review roundup in a couple of months, and in the meantime, I’ll see you next week.