book review: norse mythology

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology translation is a fine little basic sampler book of tales about Thor and Loki and Freya and all that lot. I realized reading it how much the Marvel Comics versions of Asgard have warped my brain around this mythos, but yeah. They’re fine stories. There are bits where the Gaimanish language pokes through more than others, which I liked even if it felt a little anachronistic. This felt more like Fortunately the Milk… Neil Gaiman rather than American Gods Neil Gaiman, if that makes a difference to you.

If I had a lot of Norse myth stuff I might have stronger opinions on which stories were included and which weren’t but like I said, most of my knowledge comes via Kirby so I’m no expert. I didn’t have a book of Norse myths on my shelf before and now I do. eems like a win.

book review: supergods

I want to recommend Grant Morrison’s Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human as if it was just a straight up recounting of superhero comics and how they developed. It’s a prose book, not comics itself. Very readable history. Yep. That’s it. Go read it.

Okay, I can’t do it. Even though I want to completely obscure the idiosyncratic bizarre excellence that the book contains, I won’t paper over the fact that an unsuspecting reader of comic-book history blithely following along with the tales of Bob Kane and Stan Lee and Kirby and Miller could be blindsided by this turn into Grant Morrison’s time in Kathmandhu when he met higher dimensional beings who explained to him how the universe works and how that affected his superhero comics (like the amazing All-Star Superman).

It’s a crazy great book about one writer’s relationship with superheroes and because he’s a bit of a mad egotist (in a very charming way) it feels like it’s more than just a story about a drug trip, at least more than one man’s psychedelic voyage but about a chunk of society’s weird shamanic voyaging.

If that sounds like a totally wankery waste of time to you, I won’t feel bad if you skip this one. I loved it though.

book review: pre-holiday 2013 roundup

I suppose I’m getting used to the fact that this is less a book review blog than it used to be. I’m sorry. Maybe I’ll be more diligent in 2014? Regardless, here’s what I’ve read (for a certain value of) recently.

  • Mendoza in Hollywood by Kage Baker. A sequel to In the Garden of Iden, but there’s another book in between that I haven’t read. I like these books because they’re all about the historical anachronism. This one wasn’t as tragic as the first though.
  • Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut. This was the only Vonnegut novel I hadn’t read when I started Unstuck in Time, Gregory Sumner’s book about Vonnegut’s novels. I liked Galapagos more than I’d expect to like a book about inbreeding, stupidity and evolution. Which means I liked it a lot. Unstuck in Time was a decent bit of biography around what was going on in Vonnegut’s life when he was writing the novels, which, fine, whatever, but was also a really good Cole’s Notes kind of refresher on what was actually in those books. It tickled my Vonnegut itch which means I can keep tackling new books in my to read pile rather than rereading the ones I know I love.
  • Paintwork by Tim Maughan. Three short stories set in a near future SF world. I liked the Cuban giant fighting robots story the best, though they were all fine stories in a Strossian vein.
  • Battling Boy by Paul Pope. A boy-god is sent to Earthish to fight monsters as part of his adolescent trials. I love Pope’s art, but wish the story was less of a first chapter and more complete. Selah.
  • The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. This is the second book in The Raven Boys cycle, and this one I liked a little less than the first because it was such a continuation, instead of introducing us to characters and situations. Yes, this almost directly contradicts my issue with Battling Boy. Whatever. I quote Whitman at you.
  • The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf. I am not a history buff, but a friend who is one recommended this and I loved it. Part of the appeal is that I know shit about the crusades from the European perspective since my education wasn’t really big on celebrating wars of any sort, so now all I know about them beyond very basic Indiana Jones stuff is from this book about bickering Seljuk princes and the politics between Damascus, Aleppo and Baghdad. Neat stuff did happen in the past (and it totally gave me a lot more context for when I play Crusader Kings, which I enjoy anyway).
  • Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon and Little Hits by Matt Fraction & a bunch of artists. These are good gritty-ish Marvel crime comics about what Hawkguy does when he’s not being an Avenger. Funny and clever. I read this because Fraction is probably my favourite superhero writer these days. The Pizza the Dog issue in Little Hits is the best though. The best.
  • The Land Across by Gene Wolfe. This one is about an American travel writer going to a strange European dictatorship. It feels like it’s going to be a Kafka pastiche but then it turns into a ghost story and noir secret police detective tale. It’s very weird and I really liked it. I like The City & the City better, mind you, but not by much.
  • Battle Bunny by John Scieszka, Mac Barnett & Matthew Myers. This is a picturebook a well-meaning grandma has given to a little boy about a Birthday Bunny that the boy has repurposed into the tale of thwarting Battle Bunny and his evil world domination plans. I love love love the idea of this so much. That said, I’m a little nonplussed by the gender role implications that boys have to turn everything into violent confrontation for it to be interesting and wish that the protagonist (who is the person defacing the “original” book) was a girl. I might have to write separately about this book.
  • Plow the Bones by Douglas F. Warrick. This collection of mostly dark SF short stories was excellent. The writing in its density and consideration of the implications of the premises reminded me of Ted Chiang. Really really good stuff.
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. This is a dystopian novel that’s far more realistic than most. Economic downturn has forced communities to hunker down and maybe hope for the best, while drugs and deprivation force people who have even less to descend upon the people who have a little bit. And in all this, a teenage girl with overdeveloped empathy (she feels injuries in other people) is building her own way of seeing and being in the world. It’s hard to take a lot of other fanciful dystopia at all seriously when this was done so well. I’m kind of ashamed it took me so long to read this classic.

Phew. I’m leaving out a few that I’ll try and do separate writeups for.

book review: psychotic (powers vol. 9)

Brian Michael Bendis’ comic Powers is about police in a city with superheroes but it’s a bit cartoonier and with more of a wink/nudge to the genre than Gotham Central. I’ve read some of the series in the dark mists of time, so I’m not very steeped in the metaplot, but in Psychotic there’s a serial killer after Powers.

It’s interesting because superpowers have been outlawed at this point, but some vigilantes are coming back with them, making a stand. Detective Christian Walker used to be a Power, and now he’s coaching the new Retro Girl. There’s a great TV interview sequence where the constitutionality of a law against a certain kind of people is brought up, specifically compared to a law against being Latino, which is interesting. Detective Deena Pilgrim is being harassed by an ex-boyfriend, and neighbourhood favourite Power the Blackguard has been killed.

It’s a good twisty little investigation and stuff is set up for future volumes. If the Vancouver Public Library hadn’t cut off my ability to place hold on items for free, I would be seeking the rest of the books out right now.

book review: revolution (the authority vol. 7)

I’ve only read Warren Ellis’ run on The Authority before reading Ed Brubaker’s Revolution (Book 1). The Authority is the Wildstorm universe’s Justice League analogue, except rather than just maintaining the status quo they take an active role in getting governments to behave better.

In this book, Jack Hawksmoor God of Cities, has taken over the presidency of the United States and is on his way to making the world a better place whether people like it or not. Renewable energy for everything, healthcare and all the good stuff. But not everyone is happy about it. The Authority has to deal with a rebellion by a bunch of “patriotic” superheroes who are much more powered than they used to be. And Midnighter (the Authority’s Batman analogue) has been brought into the future by Apollo (the Authority’s Superman analogue) to see what a terrible fascist dystopia the Authority hath wrought with the best of intentions. Midnighter is sent back to try and make sure that future doesn’t come to pass.

It’s a good story about politics and superpowers that deals with things differently than the mainstream DC or Marvel continuity really would.

My big problem with this book is that the VPL doesn’t have book two, so I haven’t been able to learn how it ends yet.

book review: everything went white (newuniversal vol. 1)

I picked up Newuniversal: Everything Went White because it’s written by Warren Ellis. It’s a different 2006 and a celestial event happens on Earth and at least a couple of superhumans are discovered. Government plans to neutralize these creatures are started up before they can find each other, because if superhumans meet then they will out compete humanity. They’re seen as an evolutionary threat. It’s the kind of issues that the X-Men as mutants sort of embody in a much gentler form.

What I wasn’t too big a fan of was the mythology behind these superheroic roles these characters have. They don’t quite understand them and because this is just the first volume it doesn’t need to be explained. I think I prefer these kinds of stories about new superheroes in a more self-contained format, like that DV8 book I recently read, or Warren Ellis’ Black Summer.

4-panel Comic worksheet

knowing my niche

I can get a little lost in my job here, working with Koha, troubleshooting code, trying to make things work for our clients, doing training courses and the like. Not that I can’t do it. A lot of my job consists of being the filter to handle everything I can so Edmund isn’t getting swamped by little things, but clients are demanding and I’m hitting my limits every day.

So it’s awesome when I get to do reader advisory work, even if it’s on a volunteer basis.

The other day I got a stack of Marvel comics from the library and spent a good chunk of the afternoon reading them in one of our house’s common spaces. This didn’t go unnoticed. A couple of days later, Javier’s brother, Luis, asked about them, was amazed that the library had comics, and asked if he could borrow one or two. I got to talk up my favourites and recommend Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk and generally be a bit geeky.

Today on Google+ one of my library school friends asked about Warren Ellis’ Freakangels, and then about what I would consider more mind-blowing than that, so I got to talk comics again.

Those kinds of interactions are my favourite part about being a librarian. I love telling people about stuff that’s awesome. In our class right now we’re talking about participation in social media and what the limits are or should be for information professionals. And I tend to think there shouldn’t be limits. Like we should be actual people recommending things we think will be useful. The difference isn’t that we’re professionals, it’s that we’re just a bit better steeped in this stuff.

When I was done telling Luis about why Ultimate Human was a good read but he should read Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk first, Holly looked up from her book and addressed him: “You just made Justin very happy.” Which was true. And it’s not the same kind of happy I get when figuring out a knotty system preferences problem.

I should really do my best to find a job in comics librarianship when this degree is done.