Suicide comedy, zombie Jughead & epic gamers: What I’m reading

Authors are always reading. I mean… when they’re not writing, of course. Authors gotta write.

Personally, I like to write short book reviews on Goodreads (follow me!). Here’s a selection of some of my favorite recent books.

A Long Way DownA Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nick Hornby writes like people talk and his books are about ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives. A Long Way Down presents one his most dramatic premises — four people intending to commit suicide run into each other on the top of the same building.

Hornby takes a unique approach of alternating perspectives every chapter. The effect is not unlike a documentary, in which interviews with several people are woven together to create a single forward narrative.

Because of the three act structure, large amounts of dialogue and relatively static set pieces, I could really imagine this acted out on the stage. In that way, it felt a little less “novel-y” than other novels, but if that kind of thing doesn’t bug you, then full speed ahead.

I should add that this is a funny book. Yeah, okay, it’s about suicide. But it’s great fun watching the characters’ personalities clash. In many ways they don’t like each other, but at the same time they realize they need each others’ help to keep going.

I really got to liking each of the characters, too, even though they’d done things (and continue to do things) that are not completely likable. And really, it’s a testament to Hornby’s talent that he can pull off a comedy about wanting to kill yourself so effortlessly.


Afterlife with Archie Book 1: Escape from RiverdaleAfterlife with Archie Book 1: Escape from Riverdale by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Who knew adding zombies to Archie would make it so good?!

I never really got into Archie Comics, but this fresh spin goes all in on the horror while preserving the characters everyone knows (yes, Archie is still waffling between Betty and Veronica).

I can’t say enough about the artwork by Francesco Francavilla — who is known for his horror stuff and not your typical Archie artist — so I won’t try.

So yeah, Afterlife with Archie is a total blast. Read it now!


Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ready Player One is the geekiest book I have ever read. That’s a compliment. Gamers, sci-fi and fantasy lovers — this is your book.

Even if you don’t understand all the references, you’ll understand some of them and get a big grin on your face. Meanwhile, the fun narrative — mixing action, comedy and romance — will keep you reading every day until Game Over.

If I have to nitpick, I’d say there’s sometimes a bit too much explanation about how the world functions, both in the virtual OASIS and the dystopian near-future real world. The hero Parzival often pauses to explain the rules when probably the reader could figure these things out along the way.

In the end though, I think your enjoyment of this book ultimately comes down to whether you like fun. Do you like fun? Yes? Well, then…

Ready Player One!

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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.

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