Noir, cowboys and asteroids: What I’m reading

Not sure if you knew this, but I regularly review books on Goodreads. I have an author profile there as well, so please follow! Anyway, thought I’d share a few of my latest reviews.

Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

I love the premise of this series. An asteroid is about to crash into Earth, destroying everyone… but Detective Henry Palace wants to keep on solving ordinary murders and missing person cases.

In the end, you get a compelling mystery that would work as a novel in its own right, surrounded by an equally gripping per-apocalyptic atmosphere, all injected with a healthy dose of conspiracy theory!

Countdown City reminded me what I loved about The Last Policeman (the first entry in the series), and I think Winters’ writing is even stronger in this second book. Looking forward to the next one!

Valdez is Coming by Elmore Leonard

I loved how compact and straightforward this Western was. It’s got everything you want for the genre–a character seeking justice, a power-mad cowboy, gunfights and chases through the desert.

My only complaint is that the love story is a bit thin and not so compelling.

Overall, this is a blast and a good choice if you’re just getting into the genre.

Scene of the Crime by Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark and Sean Phillips

A gritty crime/noir from one of the best crime writers in comics. Ed Brubaker writes an interesting mystery and the memorable characters here really bring it to life. The people in this story feel human thanks to their flaws, baggage and, yes, senses of humor.

Also loved the art by Michael Lark — that guy knows how to draw a vintage car, man.

The deluxe hardback is a real treat. The printing really makes the artwork pop and I appreciated the behind-the-scenes look on how this story came together.

Holy Reboot, Batman! DC Comics Now More Accessible

Detective Comics #1 is a must read for Bat-fans

I’ve been following the DC Comics reboot with a lot of interest. I’ve always been a comic book fan but for the last several years have felt a bit left behind.  Too many conflicts in the so-called “continuity” had made it hard for even a fan to explain what was happening.  Some heroes had died and come back, others gone evil and back.  Or both, in the case of Green Lantern.

So I’m glad they’ve decided to start fresh and renumber every comic back to #1.  I know some people out there are miffed at the lost history, but I personally was getting tired of having to go to Wikipedia every time a comic referenced a mysterious super vortex first seen in issue 367. I was also getting sick of all the crises constantly afflicting the DC universe.  Seriously, they had a “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” an “Infinite Crisis” and a “Final Crisis,” and the last two happened in the span of a few years.  I don’t care about earth-shattering events; I just want to read a good story!

Swamp Thing #1: Better than you might think!

And good stories they are.  DC so far has only released about 14 of the planned 52 books labeled #1 this month, but there have already been some winners.  I’ve read five of them — Justice League, Action Comics (Superman), Detective Comics (Batman), Swamp Thing and BatgirlJustice League is a great introduction to the DC Universe and has more action than a Michael Bay picture (in a good way). If you’re looking for something a a little darker and more sophisticated, check out Detective Comics, which is a classic Joker story with a twist, or Swamp Thing, a devilish tale of  horror (environmental horror?)

Action Comics reminded me of old-school 1940s Superman, but didn’t wow me as much as the others (though I guess some might find it interesting seeing Superman in jeans and a T-shirt). But then, I’ve always been more of a Batman fan. The Batgirl book has strong writing, but feels very much like the first in a larger story arc. Oddly, it also seems to require some knowledge of the character’s past.

The thing I think is really going to boost sales at DC Comics isn’t the narrative reboot, though. It’s digital comics.

Have you heard about this yet? You can now buy digital versions of all of the new comics, the day they are released, and read them on your PC, smartphone or tablet.

This addresses two of the main reasons I stopped buying actual issues of comic books:

  1. I had to make special trips every time I wanted to go to a comic book store. The two shops I know of in Washington, DC are in Georgetown (which takes a Metro ride and a bus transfer to get to), and Union Station (which also requires a $2 Metro ride)
  2. I have very little space to store comic books.

Digital solves both of these problems.  I can buy a comic with a mouse click or a tap on my phone’s touch screen, and they’re all stored online so I don’t have to buy an entire filing cabinet.  The price per comic feels a little steep since it’s the same as what you’d pay for a print edition, but damn if it isn’t convenient.  Longtime comics fans might scoff at the idea, but I am sure it’s going to bring in a lot of people like me who were having trouble keeping up.

What do you think of the DC reboot? Does digital distribution make the difference? Please leave a comment below!

Batman Still Cool in the Future

The idea of taking classic characters and sticking them 50 years in the future never appealed to me. So when I heard they were doing it to my favorite DC Comics hero Batman, I was less than eager to see the results. The show introduced a “younger, hipper” Batman who wasn’t even in the comics, and it was easy to see that the creators meant this to replace their classic Batman: The Animated Series.

Batman Beyond

It seemed like a pure marketing move. It was 1999, a year before the millennium, and everything on TV seemed to be going space age. Even the creators of The Simpsons were making Futurama.

So I never really got into Batman Beyond. I watched a handful of episodes, and that was the end of it. But now, more than a decade later, I decided it was time to give it a second chance.

Let me tell you, I was wrong to abandon this show back in the day. The first thing that struck me about Batman Beyond was how dark it is. This was a Saturday morning cartoon, but season one’s topics include chemical warfare and drug overdosing. The next thing I noticed was how well it honored the Batman character’s past despite taking place so far in the future. While most of the villains are brand new, there are references and sometimes entire episodes about classic villains. Particularly clever is an episode discussing what happened to Bane (the villain of the next Batman movie) after pumping himself with the steroid-like “venom” his entire life.

Did I mention that Will Friedle (Eric from Boy Meets World) provided the voice of the new Batman? That’s almost as awesome as Mr. Feeny doing the voice of KITT on Knight Rider!

Batman's secret identity?

You can get all 52 episodes on DVD for about $50 if you shop around online. If you’re any kind of comics fan, you owe it to yourself to check this show out. The writing is terrific, not to mention the shway pre-digital animation.

If you like it, I also recommend the feature-length film Return of the Joker. It’s even darker than the show (so much so that they released censored and unrated versions) and includes flashbacks of present-day Batman.

Change Comes to Gotham City

Batman and Robin Vol. 1: Batman Reborn Batman and Robin Vol. 1: Batman Reborn by Grant Morrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been pretty resistant to the Grant Morrison Batman books because of all the radical changes: Bruce Wayne is dead, he has a son named Damian, Damian is now Robin, Dick Grayson (the original Robin) is Batman, Bruce Wayne is actually not dead but lost in time… It’s all a bit much.

Still, this first collection of the Batman & Robin books featuring Dick and Damian is a pretty good read. These are some of the most fun and yet dark/bloody Batman stories I’ve read in some time. And it’s nice to see a focus on two Batman heroes, rather than the veritable Batman family featured in the books preceding the Grant Morrison run. Unlike the dynamic duo of yore, Batman and Robin don’t always get along, but in the end they always come together to stop the bad guys. Morrison also invents a gaggle of psychotic new villains who fit into Gotham perfectly. And the artwork by Frank Quitely and Philip Tan is always colorful and expressive.

I’m probably still going to avoid the Bruce-as-caveman comics, but happy to see there still is good writing in Batman.

View all my reviews

They Didn’t Want Their Comics Taken Away…

The Ten-Cent Plague by David Hajdu

It happens every generation: the kids pick up a new piece of pop culture and frightened parents get riled up.

Video games are the most recent target of adult ire. After several attempts to make laws banning violent games, the Supreme Court announced this month that it will take up whether states may ban  the sale of explicit games to minors. The groups that back bans argue that violent games encourage youth delinquency, increase aggression, and yes, train future killers. The other side–gamers and civil-liberties wonks, mainly–say banning games violates freedom of speech. Besides, they contend, an industry-run parental ratings system gives parents control over the games their kids play.

Interestingly, this fight has played out before. When today’s angry parents were children, they had to defend their own controversial hobby: comic books.

I recently read a great book on the subject, The Ten-Cent Plague by David Hajdu.  The author chronicles the panic that ensued in churches, local communities and the Congress… and the parallels abound. Like games, comics were blamed for acts of violence when it turned out the bully owned a few illustrated stories about criminals. The comic book industry even tried protecting itself from government intervention by establishing a “comics code.”

It seems that history is repeating itself. One can only wonder what today’s gamers won’t want their kids doing.