Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Month in Books: November

Since I had a vacation during November, which I am on the last day of right now (Farewell, vacation! You may be gone, but I promise to think wistfully of you throughout the next week, sighing heavily and swooning to my fainting couch in grief.) I read a few more books than usual. My vacation books had a theme, but before I could get to them I read a few other things and I had to finish October's Vampire Madness.

Yes, that's right: I had to finish the last insane book in Christopher Pike's insane The Last Vampire series, which Wikipedia has just informed me may not be the final book after all. Will I descend once more in Vampire Madness? Sure, why not? I've already read this far.

1) The story of Sita, the Last Vampire, reaches a frenzied conclusion in Christopher Pike's Thirst 5: The Sacred Veil. Having foiled the IIC and the immortal Telar, Sita and her friends now find themselves on the run from the federal government due to a malevolent computer program unleashed by the IIC at the moment of defeat that has made them the top five people on the FBI's most wanted list. They're also pursued by all of the leftover plot threads from the previous four books, including the aliens from Book 2, Lucifer, time travel, and the surprise addition of Nazis! Yes, somehow their current troubles are linked to the time that Sita fought Himmler for Veronica's Veil just before the invasion at Normandy, and now Sita struggles to remember her repressed memories of that period while trying to stay one step ahead of her time traveling foes. At the same time, she also struggles with her feelings for Sexy Matt, now that she's returned to her own body and Teri and Teri's body are dead and out of the way. Can Sita and her friends survive this latest struggle for their lives? And can Sita help Patton, who is also the reincarnation of Ulysses S. Grant, invade Europe while Rommel's out of town? And why can't she remember? And will she use time travel to erase herself and all the other vampires from history again, and actually mean it this time, or will a last minute sexy intervention by a time traveling Sexy Matt be enough to stop her?

This was just as crazy as the previous books, in case the summary didn't make that clear. Are these good books? Not really, but they're entertaining like watching a dumb movie with lots of explosions is entertaining.

2) Elliot James' Charming introduces John Charming, the latest in a line of monster hunters and creature slayers, protecting humanity from all manner of terrible things as part of an order of knights. Now on the run from his order due to a supernatural curse, John is trying to lay low and stay off the radar, but the vampire and Valkyrie who walk into his bar have other ideas. This was ok, and somewhat entertaining, but not engaging enough to make me want to pick up the sequels.

3) When I said I was done with Douglas Coupland, many of my friends said, "What about Microserfs? It was such a good book. I just love Microserfs."

I do not love Microserfs.

It was long, tedious, and painful to force myself through. It also seemed pretty dated. I don't mean in the sense that the technology and pop culture references are dated, but more that the whole tone of the book seemed very specific to when it was written. When I mentioned this to my friend Jackie, her response was, "Jane Eyre? So dated. What's Rochester doing riding a horse? People drive cars now," but the difference, for me, is that the themes and characters and feelings in a book like that transcend the time in which it was written, and Microserfs, to me, doesn't do that. I could be wrong about this book, and it could be wonderful and relevant and well worth reading, but it did not seem so to me.

4) Gillian Flynn's The Grownup is a short story published as a book. Charitably, I guess you could call it a novella, but it may not be quite long enough for that. Regardless, this story of a former prostitute turned fake psychic trying to con her way to a good score was entertaining and much less depressing than any of her full length novels. The unnamed narrator sees Susan, an unhappy housewife who has some sort of spiritual trouble at home, as her chance to move up to higher class clients, offering to cleanse the dark spirits from Susan's house and spooky stepson in hopes that Susan will refer her to her rich friends, but as the story unfolds it quickly becomes a question of who, exactly, is conning whom? I enjoyed it, but again, this is very short and probably not worth the price for the length.

5) Jake is The Last Werewolf in Glen Duncan's novel, and he's ready to die. Almost 200, hunted for decades by a secret paramilitary organization, tired of fighting with vampires, and jaded from outliving all of his friends, Jake is ready to surrender to Grainer, the hunter whose father Jake killed a few decades ago. On his way to the forest clearing where he was created, watched from a distance by agents of Grainer's organization and the vampire families, Jake encounters the unthinkable: a living, breathing, female werewolf. In one minute, everything changes, and now Jake has to figure out how to keep them both alive and how to get them out of the final, noble death he'd arranged for himself.

This was sort of interesting, and the author tried really hard to characterize the werewolf as an animalistic, pragmatic human obsessed with eating and sex, but I'm not sure the best way to do that is to describe every woman in the book's vagina as a warm cunt, over and over and over, to the point that I wonder how someone lives to be 200 years old and never picks up any other vocabulary.

Right after that book, I started my vacation, and pulled a bunch of comic-related books from my stacks to read.

6) Grant Morrison's Supergods was an interesting discussion of the history of comic books, the social impact on pop culture, and a semi-autobiography of Morrison himself. While I could have done with a little less of Morrison's consciousness-expanding personal journeys (there's a stretch about 2/3 of the way through when he's having an out of body experience with neon gas beings who are showing him the superstructure of the universe where I was thinking, "Are we getting back to comics soon? Please?") I did pick out three really interesting points:

a) Morrison talks about how the cultural explosion and immense profitability of characters like Superman and Batman were copied and reflected overseas. This is the first comic history I've read that talks about how the UK, Italy, France, Japan, etc. took the idea of the superhero and made it their own. This discussion also ties into the second point.

b) I didn't realize that Fantomex, one of Morrison's additions to the X-Men cast when he wrote that book, was a direct homage to the French and Italian characters Fantomas and Diabolik.

Fantomex

Mais oui, Fantomex. Morrison doesn't come right out and say it in this book, but while describing those characters, who started out as Batman clones, it's pretty clear how many of their plot and costuming elements translated into Fantomex, right down to the name. When Wolverine tells Fantomex in "Uncanny X-Force" that there's nothing about him that's all that original:

"Uncanny X-Force" #4

he was way more accurate than I realized at the time.

c) Morrison points out how canny Lee, McFarlane, and Liefeld were in naming their new comics when they split off from DC and Marvel to found Image comics in the 90's. In what is either a shocking coincidence or a strategy to place themselves next to the books that made them famous on the alphabetic new release racks at comic stores, those three went from working on "Uncanny X-Men", "Spider-Man", and "X-Force" to writing and publishing "Wildcats", "Spawn", and "Youngblood". The proximity to their old titles meant that their fans didn't have to look very far to see their new stuff. Whether or not it was on purpose, it's pretty funny when Morrison points it out.

7) Mark Evanier's Kirby: King of Comics is a biography of Jack Kirby, co-creator of the Mighty Thor, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, Spider-Man, Darkseid and the New Gods, the Challengers of the Unknown, the Fantastic Four, and a bunch of other creations that he didn't get a lot of payment for even though he eventually got the recognition. While Stan Lee tells a very different story of the co-creations on the Marvel side, this book takes Kirby's side pretty strongly, asserting that he did a lot of work that other people put their names on and that he was cheated out of a lot of royalties. Outside of that, this book is filled with gorgeous examples of Kirby's art, but is also a fast read.

8) The Empire State is a fog shrouded island where Prohibition keeps the nightlife under control, the citizens live under rationing because of the constant state of Wartime with an unseen enemy somewhere beyond the fog, giant steel ironclads are constructed and sent with the robot armies through the fog to war, and the Empire State's City Council rules from an unseen boardroom high above the city in the Empire State Building, the tallest structure on the island. Rad Bradley, a private detective, stumbles through the streets of the Empire State, combing the island for clues to the mysterious disappearance of Sam Saturn, a missing young woman. Finding her will be more than Rad bargained for, though, because Sam is dead, killed by Rad's double, a very different man from a mysterious city called New York, and the answer to the mystery of how and why that's possible could mean the end of the Empire State and New York City and everyone living there. Adam Christopher tried to make this tale of parallel universes overlapping each other interesting, and at some points it was, but for the most part it was choppy, didn't follow its own rules about travel between universes, and one character double crossed the rest so many times I wasn't sure why he did anything at any point in the story. Despite all of that, though, I still put the sequel on my amazon wish list, as there seemed to be some possibility there that maybe didn't quite carry over in the execution.

9) I've had Mary Jane 2 sitting in my book pile for a while, even though I read the first book a few years ago. This one picks up where the last one left off, continuing Mary Jane Watson's adventures in high school as she fights self esteem issues, contemplates dropping out of ballet, wonders if her boyfriend Peter could maybe possibly be that new superhero, Spider-Man, and worries that Peter will break up with her for the much hotter Gwen Stacy, who has an obvious crush on him for some reason. It's not bad, but not really all that exciting. I'm guessing the target market felt the same way, since there isn't a third book.

10) Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story was a lot more fair regarding the debate over whether Kirby or Lee created most of Marvel's icons than I'd heard it was. It doesn't give either of them full credit and makes it very clear that their accounts differ, that a lot of other creators and workers at Marvel at the time side with Kirby, and that there is unfortunately no proof at this point and no way to definitively settle the issue. The book also doesn't dwell on it and moves on to other things, such as Marvel's history of corporate buyouts and ownership shuffles, near bankruptcies, and ultimate success. There's a lot of information here that a lot of comic fans will really enjoy, like the reaction to Alpha Flight's creator sneaking Northstar's coming out under editorial radar and the reaction to it, the reason why the New Universe experiment happened at all, the creator of Howard the Duck's lifelong battle with the company over the rights, redesigning the Black Panther's costume not to show any of his non-white skin so that newsstands in the south would still sell comics with him on the cover, and a lot of other Marvel trivia that I really enjoyed but that a non-fan would probably find a little boring to sift through. If you're coming at this as a person who has really enjoyed the last ten or so Marvel movies and wants to learn more about the company, this will probably be a little dense and ultimately not that exciting.

Moving into December, I'm in the home stretch as far as reading goes. How many books will I finish this year?

We'll know in thirty days.

1 comment:

Mrs. Splapthing said...

Ah, "Microserfs".... I'm with you, Joel. Thought it sucked. There are certain books that certain nerds who think very highly of themselves always recommend. One of them recommended this book to me, and - rather predictably - I hated it. I think they know everyone will hate it, which makes them feel superior for having even finished it. Just - UGH.