Batman and the Monster Men is Matt Wagner’s story of a young Batman and his first case with Doctor Strange. It’s kind of a follow-up to Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, and Batman is still kind of figuring out his role. It’s a similar kind of story arc to the Christopher Nolan Batman movies. He has a girlfriend and has been fighting Sal Maroni’s gangsters, not full on supervillains, but Dr. Strange is doing genetic experimentation and creating huge troll-like creatures to deal with the loan sharks he’s been borrowing from.
It’s a decent book, and you can tell it’s by the same guy writing Sandman Mystery Theatre. Very noirish, but the art in this is much better. It’s probably a bit more pulp than noir (especially with that title) but a good Batman story that doesn’t shake anything up too terribly.
The Hourman and the Python is another pair of Sandman Mystery Theatre stories. In these ones, Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont have become romantically involved and one of the things I loved about this book is all the unmarried sex they have. It’s not something I’m used to in stories about that time.
Another interesting thing is that Dian knows Wesley is the Sandman and they actually have a somewhat realistic relationship along with the vigilantism. The difficulties of that kind of life are dealt with in a thoughtful way, which I appreciated.
The Hourman is also introduced in this book. He’s another DC superhero, who uses drugs to give himself amazing strength but only for an hour at a time. There’s some interesting comparison between how he and the Sandman operate, but it does throw some of the noirish tone off a bit. I do appreciate how the Hourman’s meddling causes a lot of problems that punching something can’t solve.
I have a friend who loves the Sandman Mystery Theater series. He’s the one who first told me about the excellent crime stories Matt Wagner was making with these books. I read one volume, liked it and then never really followed up till last week. The Face and the Brute is volume two, and has two stories about Wesley Dodds, the wealthy detective who dresses up in a gasmask to follow up on the dreams he has about crimes.
The comic is most interesting in how it deals with its setting, New York in the 1930s. The racism against Asians is front and centre (not in Wesley, but in the secondary characters). Dian Belmont is dating an Asian man and grisly murders are happening in Chinatown. Everyone is scared for her safety and encourages her to leave that terrible foreign world alone. But she won’t. The dealing with class issues is done very well, in that the issues actually show up in the writing.
They’re good stories, but I’m not a huge fan of the artwork. It’s all just a bit garish for what I like in my noir comics.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Sleeper: Season Two picks up where Season One left off, with Holden working for “the bad guys” but now as a pawn caught between his boss and his former boss who’s out of the coma that left Holden out in the cold as a deep cover agent.
Both of the bosses are master manipulators and this book has a different feel than the first collection, which was more fun, I think. It’s more about Holden trying to find a path out from between the two sides, neither of which can really be said to have any concern for him as a human being. There are schemes and betrayals and it ends really well.
There’s a bit more integration with the Wildstorm universe in this book, but since I’ve never read any Wildcats comics, I didn’t have any previous connections with the supers involved. Everyone is used as pawns anyway, and not many of those get out alive.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are a pretty excellent team for comics in the noirish vein. Scene of the Crime: Little Piece of Goodnight is a decent detective story about investigating a woman and her family involvement in a cult.
What I liked best about it was how unglamorous the job of being a private detective was, and the reasons Jack Herriman has for working in that life. There are throwaway lines about how most investigations aren’t very interesting, and Jack’s uncle was a crime scene photographer which helps get him information.
I liked the story, and the backup story that’s also included in the trade paperback. The art was sort of ho-hum. It felt like muddy-coloured late 90s Vertigo stuff, which it was (the TPB came out in 2000, I believe). Nothing crazy ambitious here (there’s much bigger and better Brubaker stuff out there), just a good detective story that feels like it could make a good low budget indie movie.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Sleeper is an excellent dark story about a super-powered secret agent who was sent to infiltrate a criminal organization as a deep-cover agent. When the book begins the only man who knows who Holden Carver really is is in a coma, and he’s getting in over his head in the organization.
There was a lot of awesomeness to love about this book. Holden Carver’s superpower is that he doesn’t feel pain and hals really quickly, but he can also transfer injuries that were inflicted on him to other people. So he gets shot, doesn’t feel the pain, touches you so you’ve been shot to the equivalent degree, and then he heals up while you don’t. He does a number of assassination jobs in service of the bad guys, but then he did bad things when he was a government agent too.
The book is set in the WildStorm universe, so there are a couple of references to The Authority, and the existence of posthumans is very well-established. One of the neat recurring bits is playing “origin stories” when they’re doing the boring parts of the job. It’s just one of those things that seems so right in a noirish crime book in a superheroic universe. (Ed Brubaker also worked on Gotham Central, another bunch of great noir stories in a superhero world.)
I guess I went on a bit of a Jason kick there, but here’s my last review for a while. Low Moon is a collection of short stories, including one about a cowboy town where the sheriff and bad guy duel using chess (and the sheriff never wakes up without a bucket of water tossed on him). There’s also a very neat parallel story called & which has the tales of two men on facing pages but in vastly different timescales, only to end up enmeshed. I wasn’t such a fan of the Prehistoric Film Noir story becuase it seemed to rely too much on its ending, which was kind of meh. But all in all, I’m not going to complain too much because this kind of deadpan near-silent comic humour is hard to find anywhere but Jason’s mind (and pen it gets connected to).
I have been neglecting my reviewing duties. But don’t worry, I’ve still been reading. I haven’t given up on the printed word (and image). Just been slow in typing about them. So here is a list of the books I read before coming to Australia.
God’s War by Kameron Hurley wasn’t what I expected. I got the ebook for free to participate in io9’s book club (tomorrow), and had expected something sort of technothrillery with clumsy allegories about Islam and the terrorism and such. It was not that. It was fucking excellent.
The world in God’s War was colonized thousands of years ago. It’s lots of harsh desert and there are a few different nations, though you get the impression they’re all pretty small. Instead of running on fossil fuels and electricity most stuff is biological. Bugs are very important. Some people can control their pheromones to influence different bugs, so they use them as use them as communication devices, as weapons, drugs, self-repairing vehicle components, loads of stuff. This in itself is probably reason enough to read the book, just for the technology in use. There’s all sorts of cool biotech and people get new limbs and organs and just generally get rebuilt from scratch all the time if they can afford it/someone has an interest in them.
Another thing I love about the book is that Hurley doesn’t infodump anything on you. You piece shit together. This might be annoying if you like things to be settled in your mind quickly. I mean, here’s the very beginning of the book:
Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert.
Drunk, but no longer bleeding, she pushed into a smoky cantina just after dark and ordered a pinch of morphine and a whiskey chaser. She bet all of her money on a boxer named Jaks, and lost it two rounds later when Jaks hit the floor like an antique harem girl.
Nyx lost every coin, a wad of opium, and the wine she’d gotten from the butchers as a bonus for her womb. But she did get Jaks into bed, and—loser or not—in the desert after dark, that was something.
The butchers, the price of that womb and the amount it was worth to be able to be blown through in an evening are all things that never get explicitly spelled out, but as the book progresses you build up your picture of what it all means. It’s really well done.
Also well done? The gender politics in the book. It’s not clear in that bit above, but Jaks is a woman. In one of the countries women go around bareheaded, give birth only in breeding compounds and generally treat men as fragile delicate stupid flowers (because every male of draft age gets called up to the war and if they come back they’re disfigured and damaged from all the terrible biological weapons being used). There’s a lot of sex (mostly with other women, though fucking men is to some women’s taste) and they’re seen as godless, though they follow the same book as the other nation. In the country they’re fighting the mullahs are in charge and women are all chadored up to become one of many wives to a man who isn’t fighting the war, and there are calls to prayer that people pay attention to. Still their young men who’re sent out to the front though. In the book we see both of these nations through the eyes of an insider and an outsider and they’re well-drawn.
But the story is also pretty badass. The main character, Nyx, is a bounty-hunter whose job is to bring back the heads of deserters. Stuff happens. Aliens (ie humans not from this world) get involved. There’s lots of death, religion and cussing. The two things I liked most about the story were that the first part takes place 6 years before the main plot. Hurley could have put it in as flashback or something and done the classic writing advice thing of “starting as late as possible” but she didn’t. I feel it works a lot better this way because as a reader you have a sense of history with the characters, that they didn’t just spring into being to undertake this one mission. The other thing I loved about the plot is the noirish aspect of nobody in the team being the best there is in their field, just the best Nyx could afford. They’re all mediocre, not supremely talented, weak schmucks. Badass, sure, but there is no Neo or Yoda or whoever here. Just a bunch of working stiffs who are outmatched, not just who say they feel outmatched and then proceed to be super-amazing.
A Fire in the Sun is the second novel I’ve read by George Alec Effinger. When I finished the previous in the trilogy, When Gravity Fails, I immediately headed back to the bookstore I found it at and bought the next two. It’s not just that they’re good sf detective novels, it’s the setting of the Budayeen in this nameless city in a balkanized world that’s just so damned compelling. I love these kinds of created places. I guess all fiction is imagination, but I love the imagining that goes on in making these kinds of worlds.
In this novel Marid Audran is a cop, sort of. He’s been wired up with personality modifications he can slide in and out according to his needs and is still popping as many pills as he can get his hands on, and since the last novel that number has increased, because he’s also in the employ of the City’s crime boss, Friedlander Bey, who may be centuries old, no one’s exactly sure. It’s very noir but with personality enhancements instead of slugs of whisky. And the Americans you see are peripheral at best. This is a future where nations don’t really mean a lot. It’s a grimy future that still feels very possible, which is hard to say about a lot of near-future/cyberpunk work from the late 1980s.
I’m making another conscious effort not to read the third book in the series right away. It’s good to have something to look forward to, bookwise.