Cross-Hatchings for May 2014

This and that. A few short items that I thought were worth mentioning, but not to the point where any one of them rates its own column. A little bit of bookbindery, some thoughts on TV and movies, some cool books that arrived in the mail... and oh, yeah, comics.

Gotham Thoughts: Well, I saw the Gotham trailer that everyone on my news feed is talking about, and I was... underwhelmed.

Don't get me wrong; it was a great trailer and it made me want to see the show. But here's the thing. The premise itself seems completely unworkable in terms of telling any kind of satisfying story over a series of episodes

Think about it. This is a show where, like Smallville, the engine that drives the whole enterprise is the idea that we know more than the characters in the show: we know what role everyone is destined to assume, we know who Bruce Wayne becomes. Just in the trailer we saw James Gordon's arrival at the Gotham City P.D., we saw the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, we saw a series of shots of supervillains before they became supervillains--Penguin, Riddler, Poison Ivy. They are really pushing the idea that this is a show about what will become the story of Batman and his city, the roots of where that all came from.

Okay. That's an interesting movie, maybe. But a series? A cop show built around the idea of a cop facing a series of criminals that are such super-geniuses that it takes a Batman to put them away, when there's no Batman yet to do that? The story of a cop that slowly becomes disenchanted with the police force he has sworn to serve, to the point where-- we all already know this, remember-- he decides working with a costumed vigilante is a better bet to stop crime in his city?

A movie, sure, Maybe even a mini-series, or, hell, a twelve or thirteen-episode maxi-series. But how do you sustain that downward spiral for a hundred episodes? Which is still the goal for ongoing network TV series in this country, as far as I know. Week after week, season after season, of Jim Gordon's increasing disillusionment and failing to stop crime in Gotham City. Doesn't that seem... I dunno, futile and depressing?

The trouble with these "we know their destiny" prequels is that the only way to generate dramatic tension of any kind is to make changes in the lore we all know. But at the same time, if they want us to watch, they have to give us the old familiar story, or at least acknowledge it. That was Smallville's big problem and they pretty much gave up after the first year and a half and created their own internal mythology. Which annoyed old grumps like me but it worked for them, they hung in there for ten years.

But Gotham strikes me as an even heavier lift. As far as I can tell from the trailer, the whole pitch for the show is that this is Batman's backstory.

And Batman's backstory is that Gotham City became so horrible, so overrun with crime and corruption, that it took Batman and Jim Gordon learning to work together just to fight a holding action. So everything leading up to Batman is about the slide downhill.

I'm reserving judgement-- I have to assume the showrunners have thought this through, it's THE problem they have to solve if they're going to sustain this as a TV series-- but my hunch is that it may prove insurmountable, especially since they probably aren't going to be allowed to do anything to screw up the Batman movie franchise. Which is the other needle they have to thread to make this work-- not only are they saddled with an inherently negative and depressing arc for their series, but they aren't allowed to tell any truly significant stories about it, either.

But on the plus side, we're finally getting that companion volume to Gotham Central I was hoping for a couple of years ago. Gordon of Gotham reprints not only the Batman: Gordon of Gotham mini-series by Denny O'Neil and Dick Giordano but also Batman: GCPD and Batman: Gordon's Law, the two excellent minis written by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Jim Aparo and Klaus Janson, respectively.

Twelve issues of really good comics collected in paperback for less than twenty dollars. That follows on the heels of the Lansdale-Truman Jonah Hex and the Ostrander-Mandrake Spectre collections of similar size and price. I'm liking this trend. The Gordon of Gotham trade is supposed to be out in September-- just in time for the TV show, I imagine.

And who knows? The TV show might be good. Arrow surprised a lot of us, after all.


Just For Fun: I have no idea where this is from, but it showed up on Twitter a few days ago and I thought I'd pass it on to all of you that are grieving over the cancellation of Community or whatever. Some wise words from David Letterman.

Although, just for the record, The Fall Guy in no way made up for losing The Six Million Dollar Man in OUR household. But I'm mostly over it now.


Home bookbindery: This is just a little something for the book people out there; I figure I can't be the only one out there who's run into this problem, and I found a really elegant solution for it.

As regular readers know, we like old books here. We can't afford to be true antiquarians, but I like having reading copies of older editions at least; I'm not a true collector so much as a reader, though we do love books just as artifacts here, especially the illustrated ones. The trouble is that a lot of the vintage juveniles we like weren't built to last, and they were kids' books anyway which means they took a lot of abuse.

Lately I've been on a Burroughs kick again and I've found a lot of older hardcovers offered as 'reading copies' for a buck or so that are just falling apart.

For example, this copy of Tarzan and the Golden Lion.

I love the old hardcover editions with the stunning J. Allen St. John illustrations, but the only ones we can afford are these beat-up old copies with the spines separating and pages falling out.

However, I've been working in and around commercial printing for a number of years, and there's an easy solution to this. It's what we in the trade call 'padding glue,' it's what you use for the gummed part at the top of a note pad that holds the sheets together.

You use a small brush to dab the stuff on to wherever your problem area is-- the spine separating from the hinges is the usual one, but if you have a light touch and are patient you can put individual loose pages back in place too. The stuff dries clear and it's rubbery and flexible, which makes it way better for the purpose than craft glue or whatever they sell to the scrapbook people. If you are too busy or too lazy to make your own personal craft project out of this kind of book repair (I enjoy doing my own, but I'm weird that way) you can take your disintegrating volume down to any copy shop and they'll be happy to do a simple spine fix at least, probably for five or ten dollars. But be sure to explain that you want them to use the rubber padding glue and put it in their note-pad clamp, or they'll just say "we don't do book repair" and refer you to some expensive bindery firm... who will do pretty much the same thing but charge ten times as much.

It's also a really good fix for all those crappy 1990s trade paperbacks from Marvel that had the worst bindery in the history of paperbacks, they fell apart practically on first reading. Again, it takes patience, but you end up with a better bind on the book than they sold you in the first place. And it's almost invisible, it's much nicer than library tape or other fixes.


From the Review Pile: I've said this before, but I think my favorite perk of writing this thing every week, apart from all the lovely people we've met, is getting to be on the review list for Hard Case Crime... which is where a lot of Max Allan Collins books seem to come from. If I can't have new Ms. Tree or Mike Danger comics, well, this is not a bad compromise.

And somehow that put me on the list for the new collaborative Mike Hammer novels that Collins has been putting together from old Mickey Spillane manuscripts. I interviewed Mr. Collins about those here a while ago-- well, not so much interviewed as 'geeked out at' -- and I continue to be delighted at the craft Collins brings to each one.

All this is by way of telling you that there's a new one out.

King of the Weeds was originally planned to be the final Mike Hammer novel, and as such it has an interesting "last hurrah" feeling about it-- even though Spillane put it aside in favor of The Goliath Bone, which technically takes place after this story, but that one doesn't have the feeling of closure that King of the Weeds does. Here's the blurb--

It should be a mellow time for America’s toughest PI, Mike Hammer. He and Velda are planning their overdue nuptials, and his friend Captain of Homicide Pat Chambers is nearing retirement. Then an assassin’s bullet almost brings him down on his office doorstep. Could the attempted hit have anything to do with the impending release of a serial killer put away by Mike and Pat, decades ago? And how to explain the sudden rash of “accidental” deaths that has hit the NYPD?

There’s also the small matter of the $89 billion in Mafia money stashed in a cave, in a location known only to Hammer. With everyone from wiseguys to the US Government on his tail, not to mention the malign influence of convict mastermind “The King of the Weeds”, Mike has to prove that he is just as sharp, and deadly, as ever.In what Mickey Spillane had planned to be the final Mike Hammer novel–begun in the late 1990s and completed recently by Max Allan Collins–the iconic tough guy has not dimmed with age. He is just as sharp, and deadly, as ever.

King of the Weeds is one of the strongest of these collaborations; I found it to be tremendously engaging and impossible to put down. I don't know if Collins saved the best for last or what, but I think this one and the one that preceded it, Complex 90, are the best ones yet. If you like tough crime stories and especially if you like Mike Hammer, this is very much recommended.


And that's all I've got, this time out. Except that I was reminded myself, and now I am reminding all of you, that CSBG has its own message board here at CBR. Right now I'm taking suggestions for the theme of our next trivia contest, so feel free to drop by and weigh in on that.

My hope is to have it figured out by next week... so I'll see you then.

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