My various social media feeds are blowing up with news from all fronts; the outpouring of promotional clips and announcements from Comic-Con International, and closer to home, a bunch of hilarious party photos and such from Donna Barr and Roberta Gregory and others at the Clallam Bay Comic-Con out on the Olympic Peninsula.
Well, we're not at San Diego this weekend, or even at Clallam Bay. Or at any of the half-dozen other local events we were thinking of dropping in on this weekend. Between the unscheduled Portland trip a couple of weeks ago and then the car suddenly sputtering out on us again, our recreational outings have been severely curtailed for the time being.
So I might as well get caught up with some quick capsule reviews of the books and comics that have been piling up here at home. Join me, won't you?
Asian Pulp edited by Tommy Hancock and Morgan McKay. The blurb: Following in the tradition of the best selling Black Pulp, from today's best authors and up-and-coming writers comes Asian Pulp from Pro Se Productions! A collection of stories featuring characters of Asian origin or descent in stories that run the gamut of genre fiction! Asian Pulp includes works from Don Lee, Naomi Hirahara, Kimberly Richardson, Percival Constantine, William F. Wu, Gary Phillips, Calvin McMillin, Mark Finn, Dale Furutani, Steph Cha, Henry Chang, Sean Taylor, Gigi Pandian, Louise Herring-Jones, Alan J. Porter, and David C. Smith. The anthology opens with an introduction from Leonard Chang, novelist and writer and co-producer of the TV crime drama Justified. Mysteries, westerns, stories of crime and noir, and more, all with Asian characters in the lead! Between these covers are 17 tales of action, adventure, and thrills featuring heroes and heroines of a different shade that will appeal to audiences everywhere! Asian Pulp! From Pro Se Productions!
What I Thought: Full disclosure-- Tommy Hancock, who runs Pro Se Press, is an occasional correspondent of mine and I contributed a story to the benefit anthology for his family that's coming out in a couple of months. That said, I have to admit that I don't really care for a lot of the Pro Se catalog; the usual design for their books is just not to my taste. The few I've purchased are very thin books with tiny type. It feels like you're getting short weight for the money. I get it that small-press publishing has to charge more because this kind of short-run printing is expensive. But it often feels like the wrong corners are getting cut-- I think I'd rather pay a little more and get a book with some heft to it. When Tommy offered to send me a review copy of Asian Pulp I agreed out of curiosity, but I had low expectations.
All that is preamble to me eating some crow, because Asian Pulp is a satisfyingly hefty tome with a lot of good stuff in it. Like all anthologies it's a mixed bag, but there's not really a clunker in the bunch and the high spots are really something. I think my favorites are "Hatchet Man" by Percival Constantine and "China City Flame" by William F. Wu but they're all very cool. (Irrelevant aside: I've been wondering this ever since I first saw his name on a Hugo ballot way back when, but can this award-winning SF author be the same William F. Wu that was all over the DC and Marvel comics letter columns when I was a lad? It's gotta be, right?)
Anyway, Asian Pulp was most of this week's bus commute reading and a very welcome diversion from this insufferable heat wave we've been having. I think I might have to go check out the predecessor volume Black Pulp now, as well.
So, good stuff. More like this, Pro Se, please.
Grayson Vol. 1: Agents of Spyral by Tim Seeley, Tom King, and Mikel Janin.The blurb: Unmasked, targeted and presumed dead, Dick Grayson’s world has been turned upside down. No longer Nightwing, former Boy Wonder, he’s now a man who doesn’t exist . . . which makes him the perfect double agent.
Dick will have to leave behind the black and white world of super heroes to infiltrate the shadowy inner workings of the mysterious spy agency known as Spyral. Without a costume to hide behind, the would-be 007 must find the answer to one important question: just who is Dick Grayson?
Co-writers Tim Seeley & Tom King team with sensational artist Mikel Janín for GRAYSON: AGENTS OF SPYRAL-a high-octane, highly acclaimed super-spy thriller that reveals an all-new side of one of the DC Universe’s most legendary heroes! Collects issues #1-4, GRAYSON: FUTURE’S END #1, and a story from SECRET ORIGINS #8.
What I Thought: Honestly? I was prepared to hate this. My current pet peeve with superhero comics in general and DC Comics in particular is their apparently incurable case of ADHD that's been going on for the last decade or so. Titles launch, they last a year, a year and a half, then the creator gets bored or there's an editorial panic and suddenly there's a new Event that is going to Change Everything. Which is fine if you're doing novels or one-offs, but doing episodes of series fiction implies a certain stability of premise at least. This is a large part of what finally chased me off the Bat books after forty-plus years.
And Dick Grayson, in particular, is a character that's taken a beating over this tendency. No one really knew what to do with him once Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel left the Nightwing solo title. Every time it looked like someone had figured out something that worked-- Peter Tomasi's wisecracking collegiate Bat-vigilante in the final days of Nightwing v. 1, or Grant Morrison remaking him as a cheerful Batman paired with a homicidal grim-n-gritty Robin in Batman and Robin-- it seemed like it got canceled as soon as it built a little momentum. Finally Dick got unmasked and killed in Forever Evil because of course that's what DC does any more when they want to juice a book-- no, wait, he's only PRESUMED dead-- well, whatever. Usually you have to be Hank Pym or Aquaman to get that kind of years-long indecisive abuse from a parade of writers.
So this latest effort, Grayson, just stank of DC stunt desperation as far as I was concerned. But after the eighth person told me I was missing out, I caved and picked up the first trade collection. And you know what? I actually really liked it. It's FUN. What I love about Grayson as a title is that it is taking the hell-for-leather swashbuckling approach to superheroics that has always been my favorite-- Ian Fleming's Bond novels, Goodwin-Simonson Manhunter, Waid-Garney Captain America, that kind of thing-- and adding wry self-deprecating humor to the mix. Seeley and King are taking the attitude that the only person more jaded than comics fans about Dick Grayson is, well, Dick Grayson. He's seen it all by this point.
My complaint with DC's constant reboots has always been that they jerk the rug out every 15 or 20 issues and throw all the good stuff away that came before. But that's not happening with this book. He's still Dick Grayson, still the best of Batman's protégés, having solo adventures. My only concern is that it feels like one long story and not a series, and I'm kind of nervous that DC will, yet again, pull the plug somewhere around issue #20 or so. But I'm hoping not. In the meantime, I'm in for the time being.
When Life Hands You Lemons, Check For Lymes by Phil Gerigscott.The blurb: I've written a graphic novel about my experience with Lyme disease. It's personal and light-hearted and not yet printed! Help me out! I am raising money to print my 155 page graphic memoir about my experience with Lyme disease. It is an exploration of medicine, relationships, young adulthood, and more! Check out the video for more info.
What I Thought: More than once in this space I've talked about small-press indie books I would like to see get more mainstream attention. So the word's out now, I guess. About twice a week now, someone sends me an email about a comics-related Kickstarter they'd love for me to plug in the column. Mostly I don't. But this one I will. Because it's good.
The book sounds like something in the vein of Mom's Cancer by Brian Fies or Harvey Pekar's Our Cancer Year, but frankly I prefer this to both of those. For one thing, it hits a little closer to home. Both my wife and myself are in poor health a lot of the time, we both deal with joint pain and walk with canes, and there were many horrified laughs of recognition as we read this.
Phil's doing an autobiographical comic about illness, yeah, but it's not JUST about the illness, and really it's a collected series of gag strips. What it's about, more than the illness itself or any kind of heroic battle to retain dignity or whatever, is about all the dumb things you do when you're living with chronic pain and how crazy it can make both you and everyone around you.
Both Julie and I really loved this book, although Julie was occasionally discomfited by some of the R-rated material; she felt that it would be nice if it was accessible to kids who are dealing with illness as well. (My own feeling is that today most kids have smartphones and cable and the R-rated ship has pretty much sailed, but mileage varies.)
Gerigscott's art is jittery, much the sort of thing you see in alt-weekly papers and so on, but it serves the story well. And he understands how to use a page.
We'd really like to see this book happen, and with the way his Kickstarter's set up, $15 is essentially a pre-order for the paperback. Amounts pledged beyond that, you get some of his other comics too. Check it out.
Spider-Verse by Dan Slott and Christos Gage and Peter David and David Hine and many others.The blurb: When the evil Inheritors begin exterminating spider-characters throughout the Multiverse, every single Spider-Man ever is needed to save the day! An interdimensional Spider-Army gathers to fight Morlun and his deadly family, but none of them is safe as the Prophecy comes to fruition! What will this brutal war for survival mean for Peter Parker and the rest of the spiders? Starring the Superior Spider-Man, the Ultimate Universe's Miles Morales and Jessica Drew, Spider-Man 2099, Spider-Woman, Silk, Kaine, Scarlet Spider, MC2's Spider-Girl, Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Man 1602, Spider-Ham, Spider-Monkey, Lady Spider, Spider-Punk, Spider-UK, a spider-powered Gwen Stacy...and hundreds more, from the beloved to the obscure!
What I Thought: Okay, I've grumped about Big Event Crossovers and so on disrupting regular runs of books I like, but if you're going to do it, this is how it ought to work. I was interested enough in the bits that played out in Spider-Man 2099 -- a book I get regularly-- to be curious about the rest of the story, and by great good fortune I was able to pick up this giant hardcover omnibus for almost nothing. (It showed up in the local Goodwill priced as a children's hardcover. Which is something like a 90% discount, otherwise we could NEVER have afforded it.)
The premise is great fun-- a lot of the in-jokes might be too subtle for anyone who's not a walking encyclopedia of Spider-Man lore, but even if you don't get all the references there's enough there that it's still a good time.
This is one of those the-background-is-actually-the-foreground stories, where the plot almost doesn't matter. The real fun of the thing is watching the various Spider-characters interact; the conflict with the Inheritors is just the hook to hang it on.
Even granting that the plot isn't all that vital, though, I kind of wish someone had actually EDITED this omnibus a little bit to make the narrative clear. As it is, the book is assembled with the main story in the front and then the various ancillary titles and side-plot tie-in series like Spider-Man 2099 and Edge of Spider-Verse coming afterward. So it feels like you get the beginning and the end and THEN the middle. It wouldn't have killed them to actually put the stories together in the right chronological order, would it? I suppose I could have looked it up myself and tried to read the stories in order by flipping back and forth, but having a book's pages arranged in its actual internal narrative sequence to begin with does not strike me as an unreasonable request.
But apart from that I DID like it and considering that I practically got it for free, I shouldn't complain. I'm slighting the art because I'm a story guy but I do want to get it on the record that the art in the book is a joy. The folks drawing this were obviously having a great time doing the different Spider-characters in their original art styles. All those various art styles colliding along with the different characters adds enormously to the fun.
And that's it, this time out. I hope all of you that are whooping it up in San Diego or at whatever other various cons happening this weekend have a safe trip, and I'll see you back here next week.