Another Weekend With the Review Pile

Fair warning-- most of these books aren't strictly comics, they're more comics-adjacent. But people keep sending them to me and some of them will, I think, be of interest to you all.

Let's Go Steal San Diego: You may or may not have been a fan of the cable drama Leverage.

We were, and we were sorry to see it end this year... although the finale was one of the classiest and most satisfying sendoffs we've seen on a TV show. But the good news is, it's not completely over. There are novels.

And the first one, The Con Job by Matt Forbeck, has the Leverage team running a con at... Comic-Con International in San Diego. The target is a Rick Olney-type ripoff artist who's cheating Grand Old Men of the comics industry out of their retirement by pretending to act as an agent for their original art pages, which certainly fits the Leverage formula of a villain who's got it coming in spades. Complications ensue when the team discovers that it's just the leadup to an arson scam. All the fun and suspense you'd expect from a typical episode of the show itself-- Forbeck's not reinventing the wheel here, but he does have a very good handle on the characters and their world.

The real fun of this novel, though, is the hilarity that ensues just by having essentially an extra episode of Leverage set at Comic-Con. The premise had me at hello and Forbeck executes it beautifully. Probably my favorite running gag is Elliot (the hardcase that Christian Kane played on the series) impersonating Warren Ellis by donning a fake beard and a bad British accent and getting away with it; he actually is doing portfolio reviews at one point. But as far as I'm concerned the line that put me on the floor was Hardison's explosion of dismay at learning none of the others knew who Luke Cage was: "Sweet Christmas, what is wrong with you people?"

There are lots more funny bits like that but I don't want to spoil them all for you. Yeah, it's licensed tie-in stuff and full of inside baseball but it's really, really well-done and terrifically engaging to anyone that either watched the show or has been to a comics convention. If you are in both categories, as my wife and myself are, then you just need to get this book, that's all. Well done, Mr. Forbeck.

There are two more Leverage novels coming and if they're as much fun as this one was, it certainly will take the sting out of the show itself being canceled.

[caption id="attachment_131626" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="I already have a lot of other books here in our home by Greg Cox and also by Keith DeCandido, so I probably will enjoy these upcoming books as well. But Mr. Forbeck certainly has set a high bar for them to clear with his first one. "]



Browncoat Stuff: As documented here, Julie and I were fans of Firefly from when it first went on the air-- when we were first dating, she'd come over to my place and watch it, it was 'our' show.

So when Titan Books sent over the giant hardcover Firefly: A Celebration, we were all over that. (It actually arrived a few months ago-- the release date was September 2012, but Julie grabbed it out of my hands the moment it got here and I haven't had much of a chance to look at it myself until this week. When a 'Review Pile' column shows up, you can be assured it is loaded with procrastinator's guilt.)

First of all, the good news-- it's a stunning book. Just as an artifact, the book itself is a lovely piece-- beautifully bound in hardcover faux-leather with gold-foiled title lettering, loaded with beautiful, crisp color photos and artwork, it's as much a coffee-table art piece as it as something to read.

Not that there isn't lots to read. The book only covers the television show itself, not the follow-up film Serenity (the movie gets its own separate companion volume) and even so, it still weighs in at 544 pages. It has extensive features about the cast, interviews with the crew, countless behind-the-scenes photos and actual shooting scripts-- it's probably the most thorough documentation of a network television series ever done, and I say that as a guy who owns Inside Star Trek and The Prisoner Companion. If you are interested in Firefly, this is the only book you will ever need.

The bad news is-- it's a reprint. This is an omnibus collecting The Firefly Companion volumes one and two, and also Firefly: Still Flying.

[caption id="attachment_131700" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="This is why it covers everything-- it's actually these three books."]


So if you are the kind of fan that would want a beautiful leatherbound hardcover about the show, you probably already own at least one and probably all three of the books it's reprinting. The extras-- apart from the fact that the others were trade paperbacks and this is a hardcover-- are some glossy photos of the cast and a prop piece of Firefly-universe currency. To my way of thinking that's probably not enough incentive to trade up if you already have the paperbacks.

But if you are a fan of Firefly and you don't already have the Companion series in paperback, this new omnibus is definitely the way to go. Right now it's available new on Amazon for about thirty dollars and change, which is less than half of the combined total of what getting the original paperbacks would cost you; moreover, the omnibus version's a classy hardcover that will last a lot longer and is much nicer to have around. So if you have the originals, that's how it stacks up; it's your call whether upgrading is worth it. I report, you decide.


Actual Comics: Small-press indie folks keep sending me PDFs, and though I don't promise to mention every one of them here, I will spotlight one if I think it's worth it. (Pause here to note that I get way too many 'deconstructed superhero' stories-- especially ones that are 'a new take on the idea of the superhero team!' So if you were thinking about sending yours, trust me, I'm not your guy. I generally don't care for that genre at all, other than the usual exceptions-- so yours would pretty much have to be better than The Authority or The Boys or Watchmen if you want it mentioned here. Fair warning.)

The ones I do enjoy are the odd, off-genre things, especially if they've got some interesting drawing work done by a talented artist. Jeremy Baum's Extravagant Traveler definitely makes the cut.

I have a real soft spot for indie books that are trying new things, and I especially like the ones that are using the actual tools of comics and cartooning to accomplish those goals. Baum's telling a very strange and disturbing story about UFO abduction and the resultant sexual awakening of the abductees, but he's using classic techniques of panel layout and caricature and so on to get there.

Baum calls it UFO surrealist erotica, and I guess it is in that there's lots of mature-readers sexual content, but the emphasis is definitely on the 'surrealist.' The story itself leans more towards "disturbing" than anything arousing.

[caption id="attachment_131723" align="alignnone" width="620" caption="Maybe if Picasso adapted MARS NEEDS WOMEN you'd get something like this."]


Anyway, you can get it from Mr. Baum's shop, here, along with several other interesting pieces. Worth looking into if you are hungry for a dark change-of-pace from the usual comics-shop superhero/adventure fare.


More Actual Comics: I also have a soft spot for old-school superheroics done well, and I was very sad to note that Avengers Academy: Final Exams was apparently the last one of the series. Damn shame, because I thought Avengers Academy was terrific and Final Exams is the best collection yet.

Greg Burgas told me I should be reading this title a while back, and I'm glad he did because I'd never have looked at it otherwise... and it's so completely my kind of book I'd have been very sad to miss it. Writer Christos Gage is doing the kind of old-school superhero fifty-fifty split between adventure and soap opera that I remember so fondly from the Steve Englehart Avengers and the Wolfman-Perez Teen Titans and a bunch of other books from ye olden days, and if you can't actually find that vibe in, say, the current Teen Titans, well, it was nice to have it around somewhere. And I love how Mr. Gage is totally willing to bite the hand that feeds him-- it cracked me up that the kids at the Academy apparently thought A vs. X was as silly an idea as I did and actually said so, and the follow-up story with the flag football game between the Academy and Xavier's school instantly leaped into my top five superhero crossover battle issues ever.

Anyway, it was a great series and I'm going to miss it. Somebody should give Christos Gage a new teenage superhero team book to write, stat.

In the meantime, there are five volumes collecting the series available for not that much money on Amazon; get 'em before they're gone, because I doubt they'll get second printings. Because I guess it's more important to repackage some other series yet again in a new Super Absolute Omnibus Edition or something... not that I'm bitter, but really, how many variant Bendis collections do we need? Marvel should let someone else have a turn.


Plug: The reason this is going up so late, apart from not wanting to step on Chad's Blogathon thing which you should totally contribute to, is because I am frantically trying to get student books ready for the upcoming Emerald City Comics Convention. The first of these is coming off the press this week, from my high school Young Authors class, and I have to say the kids did the hell of a job.

This is the first time we've tried this at the high school level, and the students really stepped up. I was ruthless with them about rewrites and revisions and meeting a base level of competence-- "People will be spending money on this, it isn't the kid's table any more, so you better bring the best you have" was our classroom mantra. And they did. Autumn and Jasmine, in particular, did stories that I thought were easily at a professional level. You can get one at ECCC, or if you like you can email me at the contact address in the sidebar and I can get you a PDF or epub version for your reading device of choice. No charge, though if you wanted to contribute something to the AfterSchool Arts program that makes it possible I certainly wouldn't say no.


And that's all I've got, this time out. See you next week.

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