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.
Trickster Makes This World is a book about how trickster myths work in different cultures and the impact they have on the cultures they’re found in. It was a very interesting examination of creativity and art and the importance of transgression to humans.
Before picking up the book I was expecting to be reading about Coyote, Raven and Anansi, but Lewis Hyde was interested in a wider interpretation of Trickster that included Hermes (never having read much Greek mythology I wouldn’t have assumed the messenger was a trickster, but now I do) and Loki and applied how trickster-like transgression is used within history by political agents like Frederick Douglass.
It’s written in a pop-science kind of style so it’s not a difficult time. Because of that the insights feel a little easy, maybe a little glib. There’s definitely room to argue with Hyde because of the simplification he does in looking at all these myths with his specific focus. I enjoyed the book but it’s about analyzing stories in a certain way, which might not be the kind of thing everyone would be interested in.
Metal is the fifth volume of Brian Wood’s excellent Northlanders series. As per usual, it’s got multiple stories in the book, each one with a different illustrator. I wasn’t such a huge fan of the story about the merchant captain who took his boat on a voyage of exploration instead of trade. I mean, it wasn’t bad or anything; it just didn’t grab me the way the big story, Metal, did.
Metal was about a crappy blacksmith who’s chosen by one of the old gods (while he’s tripping out on hallucinogens) to stop his village from bowing down and letting the Christians have their way with them just because they’ve got sacks of money. He rescues a woman the Christians are holding and then burns everything down. The two of them head off like an ancient day Bonnie and Clyde. They’re pursued by a hired sword who takes his job very seriously, and it’s violently excellent.
One thing I love about this series is how it is not tied to any sort of chronology. There are hundreds of years separating different stories, but they’re all Viking tales. It also means they’re easy books to recommend since you don’t need to read them in any really specific order.
In 2009 Robert Crumb illustrated the Book of Genesis. His introduction to the book dispels any thoughts that he’s trying to do some sort of parody or anything. It’s a pretty straight-up version of the entire text of Genesis (he does mention that he uses a couple of translations, but mostly the King James), illustrated in comic book form.
It’s kind of weird reading it this way because of the pacing (and also weird to be reading bible-stories in any form, but whatever). The panels of a comic train you to think of time in different ways, so you focus a bit more on who each of these people are in the “Echlehem begat Afinepek begat Khelipetev begat…” chunks. There are a lot of lists of descendents and while he didn’t give headshots of everyone there were a lot of them. And the choice of what he illustrated draws your attention to different things that you’d gloss over just reading the text.
There’s also a fair amount of nudity and nobody is very attractive, because they’re all drawn in a very R. Crumb kind of style.
It was an interesting experience, and did highlight how strangely the bronze-age people behaved (the story of Joseph and his brothers after he becomes the Minister of Finance for Egypt still makes very little sense) in one of the more influential and old myth-cycles the world has seen.
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.
The Bride of Hell and Others is a collection of Hellboy short stories. There’s a very good one about him fighting demons in Mexico with a couple of Mexican Wrestler brothers, and a great one where he actually uses the backup he leaves back in the car. I think I prefer these shorter one off Hellboy stories where Mignola just gets to pull in a bunch of cool ghosts and demons and get them punched in the face.
Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief was so very Harry Potter it was funny.
Percy Jackson is the son of a Greek god who left. I won’t say which one because it takes him what seems like forever to figure it out. This makes him dyslexic because he should be reading ancient Greek and ADHD because he should be in battles and stuff. I don’t know how I feel about that facile explanation of dyslexia and ADHD; they both seem like grasping at making the story relevant for contemporary youth.
Anyway. He goes to a camp for demi-gods (his mom is a human) and then gets forced out of it. And into adventure!
It’s a fast-paced little romp that actually does a pretty decent job of using the Greek myths and monsters. There’s a good battle on the St. Louis Arch and like in The Philosopher’s Stone the enemies aren’t the obvious ones, which I appreciate, especially in kids books.
The Sea of Trolls was my first book I’ve read by Nancy Farmer and it was really good. It’s about a Saxon boy named Jack who is becoming a bard and is kidnapped by Vikings (Northmen) with his sister and then he has to go to Jotunheim on a quest after he makes the vikings’ half-troll queen’s hair fall out. He does this accompanied by an unbearably bratty sister (who is mercifully struck mute and left in the Northmen village for the trek to Jotunheim) a one-legged crow and Thorgil, a young female wannabe berserker.
There’s a lot to like about this book. Jack’s quest is suitably epic and he has talent even before he becomes able to wield magic. The entire trip to Jotunheim is where it becomes much more fantastical, which I appreciated. In Middle Earth everything could be explained away by a rational sciencey 21st century observer, but when they cross worlds the magic becomes closer to the surface and it really takes off. The integration of different belief systems (Jack’s father is a Christian, but his mother believes very different things and hides them so as not to be constantly told she’s going to hell) works probably not realistically, but very evocatively for the story.
I don’t know tonnes about Vikings and Norse mythology but Jack’s first mentor is the bard who documented Beowulf’s tale. I love the idea that a kid reading this would later know Beowulf’s story when she has to read it for a first year college English class. This Jotunheim and the trolls and the whole story really are a way better (and by that I mean more faithful) introduction to Norse mythology than anything Stan Lee ever put together. It’s also got a different, less fairy-tale and more epic feel than something like Odd and the Frost Giants. We don’t actually meet any gods, not even in animal form.
I’m slowly catching up on Bill Willingham’s Fables series. It really is as good as everyone said. The general concept is that all the fable characters are immortal and have been living in New York since they were chased from storybookland by The Adversary. After Animal Farm (which saw a failed uprising by the more inhuman Fables in their upstate location), the status quo seems ripe for upsetting.
In Storybook Love there are a few stories. One is a caper where a bunch of the Fables, led by Bigby Wolf have to deal with a journalist who’s cottoned onto their “secret.” There’s also a story filled with political machinations (and some romance).
These stories are great. Not as literature dependent or complex as something like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but a lot of fun. Who’s a villain and who’s a hero isn’t as easy as remembering the original stories. Willingham does a really good job of making these characters fit their roles, but also develop. Excellent stuff.