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Tim Lieder

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Books read in 2017 # 107 - Hidden Gems [Aug. 10th, 2017|08:54 pm]
Tim Lieder
107. The Red Magician by Lisa Goldstein - I don't always choose a book because I know the author or am excited by the themes. I don't buy all the books in my library. In fact most of my books were taken from free book shelves or bought in lots with other books. I might have a slight agenda when I choose these books but there is often a feeling of "what's it going to hurt" coming through. I don't know where I got this book. Was it at a science fiction convention or did it end up on the free books bookshelf outside Starbucks? I do have a good idea as to what I was thinking when I grabbed it. It's a book by a woman. It looks like fantasy. There might even be a Jewish element. And then I put it on the pre-selection pile for the pocket books and went through the queue of dozens of books before it, many unreadable, and it came up.

So there was a pleasant surprise when I read this book and found that not only was it well-written but compelling as Goldstein depicts a shtetl in Hungary shortly before the Holocaust with the tension of the town rabbi and a visitor who is having visions. For the first 75 pages, that's the idyllic novel. Just a town with a rabbi and a visitor and his golems that never work. And then the Nazis come. At this point the book works on a Primo Levi level with the move towards what people need to do for survival. It doesn't go into the most disgusting details but there's enough trauma to make the third act when the few survivors come together and the rabbi and the magician have their final confrontation.

I find it odd that I don't mention Kicsi, the main character, when I am reviewing it. Even though she's the only character in the second act, for most of the first and third acts she is just the person who watches as the perspective character.

Anyhow this is a short one and if you can find a copy definitely read it.
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Books read in 2017 # 106 - Portrait of the Hulk as a Young Douchebag [Aug. 1st, 2017|08:22 pm]
Tim Lieder
106. The Totally Awesome Hulke: Cho Time by Greg Pak, Frank Cho & Mike Choi - I have been arguing that Marvel's new direction is really amazing and I have a lot of examples to cite as proof that Marvel is a fun and diverse comic book company that puts out quality products that celebrate diversity and storytelling. Unfortunately, this is not one of the comics that I will cite in this argument. In fact, this might be the kind of comic book that the alt-right assholes would point to in that tired old "Marvel is just trying to push an agenda instead of telling stories" argument. That is a completely stupid argument because Marvel puts out white dude comic after white white dude comic that fail and they fall by the wayside. So here is an example of a book put out by Asian creators with an Asian hero and as much as I admire the effort, I found that it was ultimately a failure. The difference here is that I hope that Marvel puts out MORE comics with Asian creators and Asian heroes as opposed to the neckbeard contingent and marketing bros who assume that that's it. They got their shot.

But white supremacy should just fucking go away. It won't. But damn, it would be nice if I could just give a Hulk comic a bad review without discussing the diversity issue. If there were dozens of Asian superheroes with Asian writers in America, I wouldn't feel the need to address it. Maybe I should put everything on a global scale and compare this comic to One Punch Man, but of course that's ignoring years of cultural history on both sides of the Pacific and I'm already ignorant enough about Manga and Japanese culture.

Anyhow after you get past the "oh cool. An Asian Hulk" you have to deal with the fact that the main character is in that sitcom role as the fun loving horny dude who just wants to smash things with the sister who is the buzzkill. I've already talked enough about this subject, but yet this is really bro-ing up the bro culture. But also is kind of silly when you put women in that caregiver role. It's not THAT bad. The sister is stuck in the role and so is She-Hulk but there are villain women who are - um - sexy? I guess.

Also it took me a second to realize that the title was a crappy pun.

I really didn't like this one. The art was kind of cool but Cho Hulk is just annoying as fuck. And also why does She-Hulk get to be all cool and stable but all the dudes who are Hulk are raging hormones or temper tantrums. That just seems wrong.
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Books read in 2017 # 105 - How did the Bronze Age end? It's complicated [Jul. 30th, 2017|04:50 am]
Tim Lieder
105. 1177 B.C. The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline - Toward the end of the book, Cline outright rejects the title, stating that 1177 BCE is not THE year that Bronze civilization collapsed so much as one of the better dates to use since it was the year of a major battle. This was definitely a title that was made to bring in the readers. It even uses the Christian dating system instead of Common Era and Before Common Era.

Unfortunately the catchy title does not properly convey the rather dry academic work that is within the book. I do not feel like I am getting much context and many of these groups like the Hittites and the Myceneans fly by me with name checks of rulers that I never heard about before. There is a compelling story of a Hittite king but it all feels a little strained. The parts that I do latch onto are the parts about Israel (it was around before 1177 as it is named in a letter) and Troy because Homer. It's nice to think about how our western culture is held up by two epics about the collapse of the Bronze Age. But there is also the fact that neither of these events might have happened.

Most of the book is about the archaeological sites and these are great bits because a great deal of what we know about the Bronze Age is scattered, but this also presents a problem. How can we know what was going on in the Bronze Age, especially when most of the discoveries are recent? Most of this material is about the places where the cities collapsed.

Once it gets to the conclusion, it feels anticlimatic. Mostly the author is noting that there are several theories like drought, earthquakes, the sea people, etc. and yet there seems to be many explanations and it was probably the interdependence that meant that many of these places were destroyed after one of them fell. After a lot this verbiage, there is a shrug that states that shit happens and maybe it's just natural that societies collapse and besides we wouldn't have Athens and Israel without the end of the Bronze Age.

Ultimately the subject is fascinating but this is not a good introduction book since it expects the reader to know a great deal without providing the background. Who were the Hittites and what made the Egyptians so powerful? I found myself thinking about the fourth Gunslinger book and how it conveyed the feeling of an imminent collapse. I was actually pretty disappointed when the comics continued the Gunslinger series from Wizards & Glass and the villain in that book was the villain throughout. I wanted another villain. But I still loved Wizards and Glass because it showed the ways that people tried to carry on even as they were doing their part to destroy the old world.

I am not asking for that from a book about the collapse of an actual society or Bronze Age. But I shouldn't keep remembering it either.
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Books read in 2017 # 103-104 - Meh Superhero Comics [Jul. 25th, 2017|11:59 am]
Tim Lieder
103.Doctor Strange The Oath by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin - And I was just praising Vaughan too. But this is a mess, not even a decent mess, just a lot of crap based on the Dr. Strange mythos that keeps repeating his origin story (the doctor who treated his hands also found the Ancient One in a bad retcon twist) and reviving the troubling relationship between Doctor Strange and Wong, the manservant who keeps calling him master. Dr. Strange does say that its a voluntary servitude and he learned karate from him but yuck. I suppose this is one of those "hey new comic and new chance to introduce the characters" stories just like in the movies but it's so tired. It just goes over the same ground. Wong is Dr. Strange's servant (prefer the movie version where he's a cohort) and he is trying to find an elixer to save Wong that can also cure everything but you know it's not going to be allowed into the rest of the Marvel Universe since that would mean a disease free story telling tradition.

104.Hawkeye: Hawkeyes by Jeff Lemire & Ramon Perez - The art sucks on this one. I don't think that the artists were trying here. It's all blocky figures and maybe some kind of 80s New Mutants deal, but it's not really exciting. And then the story has a 30 years in the future element that is basically just serving to undercut the whole thing. At first I thought it was some time travel thing where the two Hawkeyes come together and will go back in time to keep them from giving up the New Inhumans (Mutants belong to Fox) but nope, it's just there to give us a post-apocalyptic future that goes badly for everyone. And then they come together in the present so what the fuck is that future all about?
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Books read in 2017 # 101 - 102 - Superhero Comics - Pretty good ones [Jul. 25th, 2017|11:18 am]
Tim Lieder
101. Runaways The Complete Collection volume one by Brian K. Vaughan & Adrian Alphona - Hey, I recognize that artist from Ms. Marvel! I know that Vaughan is a legend, but Adrian Alphona is impressive for the distinctiveness in the ways that people look and the expressions. Best of all, Adrian doesn't usually give us the butt first poses for women. There's a cover with the alien teenager flying that does that but mostly this artist is not objectifying and that's refreshing.

Beyond that, this book is a great story that was not planned out as an 18-issue miniseries but feels like it as it organically flows from one story to the next one as the six runaways come to realize their power, question everything that their parents were doing and take those tentative first steps toward figuring out their morality. I am rather sad that I didn't know about this comic until now and I find it even more ironic since I was publicly declaring that I was done with comics in toto when this came out (I also was talking about how I didn't want to read epic fantasy around the time that Game of Thrones came out with its third book but that's fine as I didn't have to wait forever for books 4 & 5).

The strangest part about this book was how Gertrude was supposed to be the hated teenager. She was supposed to be the know-it-all that no one liked and yet she was perfectly fine in the first issue. But later on, the parents take a special joy in beating the crap out of her and calling her fat, which just seems weird and cruel. It's only in reading the pitch where she's the hated one where it makes sense. So that's like the scene in High Fidelity where Jack Black states that Evil Dead 2 has the best soundtrack. It's only if you read the book and find out that the scene was taken word-for-word from the book except they were talking about Reservoir Dogs. So everyone is acting like Gertrude is a horribly obnoxious kid but she is actually a sweetheart with a pet dinosaur. Even the inevitable betrayal makes sense.

102.Astro City Victory by Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson - This is the third Astro City I've read but the first one with a story that focuses on one character in a multi-part story. Maybe that's a coincidence. Maybe most of the comics are multi-part arcs and I just read the single issue collections. I like the single issue collections the most. Winged Victory is rather boring. She's too good and the story concerns a villain trying to ruin her reputation. I don't even remember the villain. I just grabbed the book to look him up and I still don't remember him. Karna-Something. Basically he's an alt-right troll who hates women. He's forgettable but the material about how she is doubting herself and how the group that gave her powers is also doubting her is pretty effective. Not nearly effective enough for me to love this story, but effective enough for me to like it.
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Books read in 2017 # 99-100 - What the fuck was that? [Jul. 25th, 2017|10:25 am]
Tim Lieder
99. Ms. Marvel Civil War by Brian Reed et al - Carol Danvers is one of the most abused and messed up characters in the Marvel universe. It's like she is every writer's punching bag (and believe me I am thinking about the much more disgusting metaphors because they fit more). It's also that she cannot get anyone to write her as the badass superhero that she should be. Ok, lately she's been better but damn, she's had a long and a weary journey to some semblance of cool hero. And yes, I borrowed this comic because I was looking for Ms. Marvel titles with Kamala and figured what the hell when I got to this one. So there are two main stories here. The first one is the bullshit where Danvers takes Stark's side in the Civil War and harasses a bunch of heroes and I think "FUCKING HELL BENDIS" for writing that shit and then hating Marvel for making everyone else go along with it.

The second story is an alternate universe Carol Danvers story with Rogue and it asks the question "should you forgive your rapist, especially if they feel really bad about it?" And yes, Rogue didn't literally rape Danvers on that bridge, but most of the symbolism surrounding the act make it very clear that both Rogue and Danvers treat it with the same gravitas. And it's a complicated question that remains complicated for the first half until alternate universe Carol Danvers turns out to be just CRAZY VENGEANCE SEEKING BITCH - the comic's perspective, not mine. And then it just becomes a fight and a chase sequence where Rogue is good and Alternate Carol Danvers is evil and one has to be saved from the other. It's a disappointing flattening of characters that does nothing for the story (at least when Joe Hill did it in Heart-Shaped Box, it snapped the narrative into something exciting and fun).

Constantine vol 2: The Art of the Deal by Ming Doyle & James Tynion - First reaction is "Hey John is fucking a dude now" which was always implied when I was reading the old stories but never expressly depicted. John Constantine's bisexuality always seemed to be a flavoring to his mostly and aggressively heterosexual life. So good for them for making Constantine attempt to have a relationship with a man.

And then fuck everything else about this book. It's like a Constantine Greatest Hits with Swamp Thing and Papa Voodoo and Nergal all getting their shots in the spotlight in a story that is taken straight from the anti-Thatcher issue of the Delano run where demons are trading souls on the bear market only to find out that the market dropped out. Also we get another reminder that John can't have nice things because everyone who gets close to him ends up dead or in hell, which is what happens to the boyfriend. Have a nice day!
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Books read in 2017 # 95-98 - Diversity in Comic Books [Jul. 25th, 2017|09:33 am]
Tim Lieder
95. Esperanza by Jaime Hernandez - Scott McCloud wrote that when Love & Rockets premiered the number of Mexican characters in comic books automatically quadrupled. That doesn't really have much to do with this review, but it's nice to remember how fucking white comic books are. As a white male I am ok with not being catered to and I wouldn't even notice it if I had read this book earlier.

So this book is the continuing saga of Maggie and Hopey and their friends, but mostly it's about "Frogmouth" a woman who is emotionally unhinged but in that same way attracts everyone to her because she is exciting and crazy and wild. Ray is the one who becomes most obsessed and the book always implies but never outright states that he was there when her boyfriend was murdered. Maggie is also attracted to Frogmouth but Maggie actually has some sense. The end of the book is Hopey transitioning from bartender to teacher's assistant and this is the sweet ending to this one.

96.Ms. Marvel: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona - Kamala's mother knows! It's one of the sweetest most tear inducing scenes in the books and i love it. It's also the beginning of the Zoe/Nakia maybe romance, we don't really know that yet. At very least Zoe has a crush on Nakia and the silly dance party sequence that has ruined many a Dreamworks movies since Shrek is quite wonderful. And hell, Kamala's brother telling off her privileged ex-boyfriend was just great, not just because he's a jerk but also because there's an assumption that the religious older brother is going to be easily swayed by power fantasies.

One of the things i liked about the Spiderman Homecoming movie was just how much of it was about the characters and their drama with each other instead of convoluted plotting and action sequences. I think that Ms. Marvel is really a pioneer in this standard for comics. There is some plot going on here. She meets Captain Marvel and gets starstruck. Her ex-boyfriend tries to manipulate her brother who already hates him so that doesn't work and the world comes to a Secret Wars type ending to be continued in the big mucky muck series. But really none of it would matter without Kamala and her friends.

On the other hand, the insertion of two issues from Spiderman again demonstrate how fucking boring comic books can be. Also G. Willow Wilson is a great writer because whomever was writing those Spiderman issues does not know how to write Ms. Marvel. He thinks he does (I am assuming the writer is male based on the shitty almost-naked costume for Silk alone) but wow he's terrible. Ms. Marvel is reduced to the greatest hits for the character - particularly being starstruck in meeting heroes that she had been slash fiction writing for years, only we saw that Kamala. She did it with Wolverine. With Captain Marvel she was much more capable. Rehashing Kamala's meeting with Wolverine is not cute or even fun in a retro way. It's just a boring waste of a character.

97. A-Force: Hyerptime by G. Willow Wilson, Kelly Thompson & Jorge Molina - I'm not sure what to make of this one. It's G. Willow Wilson damnit and I don't like it. It seems like a clumsy way to bring the best of the B-heroines together into one team with Captain America, She-Hulk, Dazzler, Medusa and Niko from the Runaways all forming a team because some weird space anomaly decided that they were all friends during the Secret Wars so they should get together. I don't know if the Secret Wars already happened or if this is what they did with the first series which was to have all the characters come back and use the Secret Wars to fill in the blanks concerning Spiderman's black costume, Hulk's crankiness, etc. Also it's kind of obvious from other comics that Wilson isn't terribly fond of Captain Marvel. It's an origin comic and I will pick up a new one in the same title but thus far it's not much more than "hey let's meet. Oh hey Dazzler can't die. When did that first happen?"

There's also a pretty terrible story from the sixties where women get together to form a superhero team because Women's Lib. I suppose it's kind of amusing but also very irritating.

98. One Punch Man # 3 by One & Yusuke Marata - Why is there so much Kumba outside the door? That line made me laugh. Saitama is now using the monsters for his grocery shopping needs. Most of this book is about the ranking of superheroes which is probably a parody of manga tropes where the hero rises through the ranks of the superhero ranks like a video game character fighting increasingly dangerous monsters. Since Saitama is all powerful and can take out anyone with one punch, his ranking as a C-class hero at the bottom of the heap is just another joke, especially when he finds out that he has to do something heroic (like stopping a purse snatcher) once a week to stay in the club. (the joke in Spiderman Homecoming about Spiderman stopping a guy from breaking into his own car comes up).
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Books read in 2017 # 91-94 - Mostly Marvel [Jul. 17th, 2017|08:57 pm]
Tim Lieder
91. Ms. Marvel No Normal by G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona - This is the storyline that introduced Kamala to the world as Ms. Marvel and while the first issue is taking great pains to establish the character (she's a Muslim. She likes to smell bacon. Her parents are strict. Her best friend wears a hijab but by choice. Someone gives her alcohol and she gets angry when she finds out) that sometime seem a little overwhelming, all the wonderful stuff about Ms. Marvel was already in that first issue as blatant as the story was about establishing most of her personality (the fan fiction stuff and the fact that she wanted the big boot version of Ms. Marvel costume are wonderful and they never lost their charm under Wilson - although there's a Spiderman comic where it seems forced). So what else is there to say about this comic beyond how much you really should read it? I don't know, but I do think that Marvel is having a bit of a renaissance with character driven story telling instead of the old fashioned fight the bad guy superhero stuff and I rally think that this is the title that started it.

92.One Punch Man vol 2 by Yusuke Marata - In between reading this book and writing this review, I caught the show on Netflix and damn, it's great. Can't believe I missed this book until now but that's fine. I get to catch up on it. So this starts out with the story of the secret genetically modified group that Saitama just trashes and then realizes that he missed bargain day at the supermarket. Also the anti-work terrorist group makes up the end and they seem like broad parodies of student groups and a little too broad. It's fascinating in the same way that watching old 70s shows about "women's libbers" is fascinating. The conversation is entering society but people are purposefully missing the point (and this is the conversation about why we all have to work so fucking much. And apparently China is getting into the game as well as Bojack Horseman is popular among the "funeral culture" that considers Pepe the Frog in his original peeing all over himself form as an icon). Anyhow there's a super awesome killer dude who destroys that group and then Saitama just wants to stay out of it. That's the plot. The big faced crazy bug eyed fighting is also the draw but you can get that in a lot of manga. This is special.

93. Moon Knight: Lunatic by Jeff Lemire & Greg Smallwood - Just because I said that Marvel is going through a bit of a renaissance doesn't mean that they aren't putting out shit. This one came out last year and it's that old fucking trope of the main character waking up in a mental institution and being told that he's totally schizophrenic and everything in the series is just bullshit. It can be done well I think or I suppose or maybe theoretically you can see all the characters in a different light, but it's fucking old. It was old when Buffy did it and disgustingly inane when Smallville did it and there was a superhero vs. zombie series where it was kind of fun but only because I hadn't read the rest of the series. And this time I don't give a fuck about Moon Knight. There are some comic book characters that are established as part of the universe but weren't really famous when I was reading comics. When I was a teenager I think there was an attempt to start a Moon Knight comic and I think it was in the cool trippy shit genre of story telling that Marvel liked to do alongside Moonshadow and Blood, or maybe it was just normal. Anyhow I don't remember Moon Knight so this is supposed to sell me Moon Knight.

Instead it gave me some bullshit about Moon Knight being a dude who had a very elaborate fantasy life but is really a mental patient. But oh no, wait, he's actually Moon Knight and he's being fooled. Because that's the way these things always go.

94.Spiderman: Miles Morales by Brian Michael Bendis & Sara Pichelli - Like Steve Moffat, I sometimes defend Bendis but it's usually a weak defense that goes along the lines of he's not THAT bad. In both cases, there are enough great moments and stories to appreciate him when he's good. Bendis was great with Powers but utter shit with Civil War. I think that Miles Morales was his character when he was doing Ultimate Spiderman and it's fun to see Miles Morales in the Marvel Universe but please for the love of G-d LET SOMEONE ELSE WRITE THIS CHARACTER!!!!

I didn't mind this titles until the grandmother showed up. I even liked the fat friend who knows his secret identity and is his best friend. That seemed to be the character from the new Spiderman movie like revamped Peter Parker went and stole Miles Morales' best friend in the movies. There was even some great stuff about him trying to balance school and work and even the changes in illustration styles from realistic to cartoony were pure joy, especially when Morales meets Parker Spiderman and wants approval.

Only these good points made the crappy parts that much crappier. A blogger gets really excited that Morales is black because his costume ripped and while that echoes the diversity discussions we've been having about genre, it still seems like it's way too obvious to really be done well. Ok ok ok Bendis, you are writing a minority superhero and you've been doing it for a long time. Take your cookie and make the story work.

And then we get the broadly stereotypical Hispanic Grandmother who is trying to whip her grandson into shape with tough love. She could have been a decent character in another writer's hands but Bendis just feels lazy like she's completely one note and just there to get in Miles' way. Even when Kamala shows up to see if he wants to patrol (a clumsy cameo if there ever was one since what the hell is she going all the way out to Brooklyn to "patrol" with Miles? And no, nothing I've seen in either characters makes it believable that she's got a crush on him and wants to date him) she's just kind of there to support his Tough Hispanic Grandmother. And then she disappears - back to Jersey City. I read another story with Kamala in Spiderman that's even worse when it comes to capturing the character but I think that Bendis' weakness is even more obvious when you realize that Morales comes off as a much more interesting character when he shows up in Ms. Marvel than he does in his own title. Not even going to compare cameo Morales to cameo Kamala because cameo Kamala is the worst, but G. Willow Wilson should find many equally talented writers and just take over the whole damn company.
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Books read in 2017 # 90 - Much More Problematic than I remember [Jul. 10th, 2017|11:15 am]
Tim Lieder
90.House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende - I remember loving this book and for the most part I read this book and I loved it all over again, but there is a definite classist undertone to the book and I am not certain that is completely purposeful. There seems to be a doubling of classist attitudes in this book where on one hand there is the purposeful depiction of class inequality with the treatment of the peasants at the plantation and the growth of Communism in the nation (which is obviously Chile). On the other hand, all of the heroines are privileged to the point of being misery tourists for most of the book and Estaban gets way too much love even as he is a bullying rapist. The most evil character is the grandfather's grandson from the peasants who is a child molester. It's almost like Allende is saying that there is a revenge rape deal going.

I still think that most of this is the point of the book. Maybe I am just finding more ambiguity in the book. I don't like the women in this book as much as I did when I first read it. They all mean well when it comes to class relations but they are also all full of unexamined privilege and their love affairs (even the platonic one) with the peasants all feel a lot like they are fetishizing the poverty instead of loving these men as equals. In fact, the only reason why the daughter finally marries her lifelong love (the one that Estaban tries to kill when he finds out) is because he has to flee the country and they can live in wealth in Canada.

I felt that this one was warmer than 100 Years in Solitude but maybe there is a great deal of remove from both of these books and that magical realism exists to deal with things that we cannot talk about.
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Books read in 2017 # 89 - Finally done with this fucking book [Jul. 3rd, 2017|11:12 pm]
Tim Lieder
89. Patriotic Gore by Edmund Wilson - Edmund Wilson came of age during WWI and in keeping with the times, he became an extreme pacifist. Pacifism is awesome but Wilson takes it to the point that he can't conceive of any conflict where entering the conflict is a better option than letting things play out. His supposedly classic introduction lays out his philosophy which tends to skew towards WWII revisionist history and material about the Civil War where you know that you are in for a lot of bullshit about the lost South. This book was written in 1961 and it is certainly a product of its time and by that I mean that it's one of those books that thinks that it's very liberal but full of racist assumptions. Edmund Wilson also adheres so close to his cynical/idealistic take on war always being bad and corrupt that he writes such howlers as "no one know what caused the Civil War" when it's pretty fucking obvious what caused the Civil War. Another aspect of the book is that even though it's about the Civil War and the literature that came out of the Civil War, no slave narratives are in the mix. Not even Frederick Douglass who should have been known to Wilson as he wrote extensively after the war as well. So while claiming that slavery had nothing to do with the war but there was discussion concerning slavery, Wilson neglects to find writers who were most affected by slavery. In fact, there's only one black writer in the mix and she's a New England woman who attempted to help during Reconstruction and moved back home.

This book is a mixture of fascinating finds in literary history, interesting insight and a cavalcade of nasty stupid shit. I should have turned it into a drinking game whenever he mentioned the Radical Republicans who wanted to reform the South in the negative. It certainly would have helped. His critical assessment of many writers has a definite tsk tsk way, especially when he finds Ambrose Bierce to be a crappy human being who treats death in a cavalier manner (which is why he is still appealing) and a lot condemnation for the most hardcore abolitionists.

There are other moments when the editing becomes just fucking evil. For example, he's got a chapter on Southern writers and he writes about the rather melodramatic Cable who seems like a mediocre writer and then FINALLY gets to Kate Chopin, spends two pages on her and then returns to this Cable asshole. Same goes for John W. DeForrest who was supposedly a big deal in the 60s but is again forgotten. Oh maybe there are scholars for this guy but Wilson certainly didn't sell him.

Anyhow there was a point where I just felt like it was a chore to get through. Other moments, I felt like I was getting an interesting insight into what the 60s thought of the Civil War. Mostly this book pissed me off and there was just enough good stuff to keep reading the fucking thing, but thank G-d it's over.
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Books read in 2017 # 85-88 - Comic Books with Family [Jul. 3rd, 2017|02:22 am]
Tim Lieder
85. Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Dexter Soy - At the back of this book, there is a biography of Carol Danvers which hits upon most of her major plot points and holy fuck she is the punching bag of the Marvel Universe. For a genre where women are routinely killed off and objectifies (and there are some cheesy depictions of Danvers ass-first in the first chapter but less Playboy model after that), Carol is seriously the target for a wealth of horrible plot lines where she is fired, beat up, mind raped, discovers that her former teammates would prefer to hang out with the woman who sucked out her personality, goes through an alcoholic phase and throws Tony Stark out a window and her boyfriends keep ending up dead.

This very much feels like a transitional story between the comics of today which are (hopefully for good) diverse and entertaining and the comics of a few years ago which were about gritty realism and male gaze and doom. It's a fairly straightforward story about time travel where Carol takes a plane ride that her mother figure Helen Cobb gives her and ends up seeing Helen in various times and eventually figuring out that she wants the job even if it means having doubts about her ability to do it on her own (the irony is that the big story shows that she is a crazy drunk) and she's feeling pretty good about her life and her place in it because she reconnected with her surrogate family (and as the Job story at the end shows, her biological family is awful).

86. Astro City: Private Lives by Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson - Kurt Busiek's superheroes with private lives and taking novel approaches to their lives was a revelation when I first read it. And now there are a lot more comics with superheroes who are multidimensional and have stories that are realistic in a variety of ways, even John Cheever and Raymond Carver approaches. Thankfully he got even better. Some of these stories are cute slice of life stories like the one about the personal assistant to the big wizard character and others are confusing or rather dull (the criminal who really wants to go straight but loves shiny shoes), but the last story made me cry. It had all the elements to do it - a miserable kid who was a super genius super villain, a set up that involves a birthday party for the super villain/evil genius and then a revelation where the evil genius realizes that he has a core of emotional vulnerability that he finally lets himself feel. There's also the element of the fact that as the town super villain, he does not know how to deal with the fact that the superhero likes him and is always trying to change him. He thinks that he can just reject it, but when he finds out that the superhero is the guy that he always resented as the head football player, it wrecks him. Also the superhero is the only one who knows that he is gender confused and at the end he has accepted his feminine identity and decided to be the superhero as a woman. I guess that the trans-identity part was wonderful as well but it wasn't what I was mainly focused on, except for the self-acceptance aspect.

The story of the old woman who repairs sentient robots and considers them her family is also sweet.

87.Superman vol 2: Trials of the Super Son by Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleason - One of the saddest parts of Marvel: The Untold Story was the decision to end Spiderman's marriage because the writers wanted to write superhero comics and Peter Parker was just getting too damn old even in comic book time. They couldn't write about a happily married Peter Parker with a wife and (shudder) kids. So one of the novelties of this version of Superman is the fact that he has a son and he's living out in Smallville with Lois Lane. I am not certain if this is the canon version of Superman or an alternate universe version (it's in the DC Universe Rebirth title) but I am happy to see stories where Superman is going to the local carnival with his family and taking little breaks to foil crime, but mostly he's trying to juggle his family and work. The other stories are also great, but just the whole conceit of Superman trying to live a normal family life feels great, like finally superhero comics are marketed towards people who are past their teen years and their young years - people with spouses and children. We don't have to get Mephisto to make it so that Peter Parker was never married.

88. Spider Gwen: Weapon of Choice by Jason Latour & Robby Rodriguez - Spider Gwen is so great but this one is not one of the better stories. She is being stalked by Frank Castle and we have more of the tensions with the police department, which is especially powerful as Captain Stacy knows about her now. In the end her father turns himself in for something, I'm not sure what, and she makes a deal with Kingpin via Matt Murdock whose evil in this alternate dimension. It's all very silly and I kind of hate it when smart characters make stupid decisions. Still, there is a great one off about the Mary Janes going into Myterio's haunted house. And Jessica Drew shows up a couple times. Also she no longer has powers but can get them through a power pill thing or whatever. Anyhow, she's out of power and Kraven has one of her spider power vials.
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Books read in 2017 # 81-84 - Funny Books [Jul. 2nd, 2017|11:14 am]
Tim Lieder
81. American Vampire vol. 5 by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque - Unlike the third volume, the Hobbs & Book story in this one is actually pretty entertaining, mostly due to "the Renfield" a job for a smiling bastard who keeps trying to get Dracula to raise from the dead. And yep, they finally brought Dracula into this thing. It's a temptation too great for vampire series that go on for a long time. But this Dracula is the mind-controlling Dracula who scares all the other vampires so that's got some claim on the world building. Now for the Skinner Sweet & Pearl story, there seems to be just a lot of cleaning up as they go after the old producers from the original issue and they even bring back Pearl's deceptive roommate. Scott Snyder is a great writer and I enjoyed this book, but I guess I wanted something more out of it. This just seems like an intermediate chapter in a long series with one chapter that makes it clear that another old vampire is rising.

82. Deadpool Classic: Deadpool Team-Up by Various - Literally various. I only see one name in the credits for the various titles that reappears twice. So by the late 00's when these titles were being written, it seems like Deadpool Team-up was the title that Marvel gave to writers who were looking for one-shots. Actually now that I write that I should look it up. Anyhow since Deadpool is the hero that can do anything, the writers could have a lot of fun by throwing out all the normal conventions. There's also a reference to Giant Sized Man Thing which has a character trying to tell Man-Thing why that's funny.

83. Powers: Bureau by Bendis & Oeming - This is the last Powers book at the library and I am a little worried that the series is not going to continue much past these stories with Walker and Deana in the FBI now. Walker's disappearance from the last series is resolved at the end of the first issue where Deana just finds him and says that he's in the FBI now and then they chase after a super-sperm scam that leads back to the mafia family that was a big deal in the earlier ones. This one was fun but like the American Vampire volume above it all seems perfunctory and a greatest hits compilation. I guess Bendis is busy these days.

84. One Punch Man vol. 1 by Yusuke Murata - What else is there to say about this book. It's the anti-comic comic. The one joke comic that still yields gold. I don't know. Saitama punches huge monsters that seem unstoppable and then he punches them. Even the mosquito woman is able to be taken down with a punch. But he picks up a cyborg and then there are other cyborgs and it all ends with a gorilla cyborg being all threatening until he's lost and then going "ok well sorry about that. Here's the story" and that's the end of the book. Also Saitama is in an existential dread that is rivaling The Stranger.
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Books read in 2017 # 76-80 - Superheroes are Much Better These Days [Jun. 28th, 2017|08:39 pm]
Tim Lieder
76.All New Captain America: Fear Him by Dennis Hopeless, Rick Remender & Mast & Geoffo - In the 80s, superhero comics found their adolescence. So many heroes were angsty and trying to do the right thing and living in a world with very clear messages. The messages seemed pretty deep if you were a teenager but were pretty blatant is you weren't. By the 90s superheroes regressed into the power fantasies with way too many damn mutants all over the place and Superman running out of stories so they decided to kill him. Somewhere in the last couple decades, they finally grew up and started telling stories that went beyond the power fantasies.

Ok. I'm still a little surprised that I like superhero comics again. Who knew what a little character development could do?

So anyhow, this one has Sam Wilson fighting a supremely silly villain who might as well be a clone of the Scarecrow villain from Batman. He even has the silly mask and the freakout juice. The heart of the comic though is Sam and Steve's son (who is Nomad, I guess) running around the sewer systems and finding a colony of runaway kids. The part where Sam agrees to leave them alone while tripping balls on the fear juice is quite great.

77. One Punch Man 10 by Yusuke Murata - There's a joy in One Punch Man fucking around with the narrative tropes of the genre. No matter how dangerous or nasty the villain becomes, the ending is right there in the title. This is the first one I've read and I immediately put the rest of the series on hold at the library. Sadly, they don't have them past this collection yet so I will have to wait awhile to find out how our hero fares in the big martial arts contest where he's in disguise. But the first part where Garo is the monster who is beating all other heroes is the best setup until he just runs into our hero at a grocery store and Saitama goes "what are you bothering me for" and knocks him out as if it's no big thing. This joke might get old but not yet.

78. Powers: Gods - One of the insights into Raymond Chandler is that his mysteries are often not mysteries at all. No matter how much corruption Philip Marlowe digs up, the answer the to mystery is often just the client or the daughter of the client. The world is still a mess but the mystery itself is simple. Most of the Powers stories fall into these patterns. There's someone dead at the beginning, a lot of investigation that hints at a huge world of corruption and conspiracy, and then the killer is just some guy. Sometimes there's a big world changing event (like the Superman character killing a bunch of towns) but mostly it's a simple solution to a mystery with complex implications. The first few series were about superheroes as rock stars (including one where it turns out that the superhero just had a heart attack while fucking a groupie) but after the series went to Marvel the rock star metaphor went to a straight detective story.

So this one is totally a Raymond Chandler type with the background of superheroes who are powerful enough to be Greek gods, or at least they claim. Damocles is dead and the rest of the gods are not forthcoming. Hades is fucked up and Hecate is living in a church. There's a lot of talk about how gods can be superheroes as this is a takeoff on the Marvel titles. Artemis dies and who the fuck knows what's going on. And then a couple of humans who took the superhero juice that makes them crazy were super pumped and killed the rest of the gods. For revenge. For a rape. And a cover-up.

The epilogue seems more like an afterthought to lead to Bureau than an actual ending. Everything is done and then the last goddess alive in the pantheon gets pissed and tries to flood Chicago. All the big heroes disappear and the cops become FBI agents.

79.Captain Marvel: Rise of Alpha Flight by Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters - I just looked up the writers and found out that they were the producers on Agent Carter. They also wrote Dollhouse episodes. This was still pretty dead. I don't really like Captain America that much and putting her on a spaceship to negotiate with a kill spaceship that recognizes her as Kree because of her symbol and then gets all genocidal is too Babylon 5 for my taste. Interesting to see Alpha Flight but they got boring since I was reading the John Byrne run.

80. Ms. Marvel: Generation Why by G. Willow Wilson and Jacob Wyatt - Kamala Khan is the best. Actually Ms. Marvel is why I am trying to read Captain Marvel and being bored all over again the Carol Danvers. Maybe Ms. Marvel is why I don't like Captain Marvel because damnit Captain Marvel screwed up as a mentor. This continues the Inventor/Mr Edison who is half-bird and also using millennials as batteries there are plenty who think that they are useless (political points tend to be obvious in the comic just because they are still looking for teenage audience). But the sight gags are great. The part where she gets Lockjaw to protect her and she's hugging him for her parents is adorable. And how many superheroes run into Wolverine and start talking about their Wolverine fan fiction?
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Books read in 2017 # 74-75 - White Guys [Jun. 19th, 2017|04:41 pm]
Tim Lieder
74. The Stranger by Albert Camus adapted into a graphic novel by Jacques Ferrandez - I don't know why this novel is so fascinating. How do you tell a story about a guy who is so cut off from the rest of the world that he doesn't care when his mother dies or that he is killing someone? He doesn't even care that he is going to die and his speech to the priest at the end serves as the theme. Sure, he's a response to Raskolnikov who denies his humanity but is overcome with guilt. Instead he is the modern man who doesn't care. And moving around that plot is the implication of the story where a white man is so cut off from society that he kills an Arab character who is known only the Arab and refuses to feel bad about it. Kind of like most white dudes who have a filter that doesn't allow them to see the Other as anything beyond danger or victim. I don't know if The Stranger is a critique of imperialism. I want to read it as a critique of imperialism, else I am just enjoying a book that is about a man who is just a killer without remorse. It feels deeper than my reading of it but am I reading too much into it. I like Camus but I'm not certain that this book is anything more than an idea book for smartass teenagers.

75.Beef with Tomato by Dean Haspiel - I was wondering why I hated this graphic novel when I seemed to like other Dean Haspiel books. I had to look him to realize that I liked the books that he illustrated but he didn't write them. So he's great when he is writing other people's stories and his style is reminiscent of Darwyn Cooke, but when he writes his own stories they are really fucking boring. In fact, they are Gentrifying Asshole manifestos. The character of Dean Haspiel depicted in the comic is a boring white guy who moves from Manhattan to Brooklyn and bitches about how everyone considers him to be a gentrifier when he's really poor. He rides his bike around. He likes restaurants and there's a naked woman in the next apartment. He name checks the blackout and 9/11 as bookends, but at heart is a boring white guy who thinks that every insight is fascinating and every story is the gift of the gods to mortals. Sure, there are minority characters in his neighborhood but they are merely props to this guy feeling a little nervous.
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Books read in 2017 # 69 - 73 - Setting the Stage [Jun. 19th, 2017|03:38 pm]
Tim Lieder
69. Faith: Hollywood and Vine by Jody Houser and Francis Portela - This is a comic book that I admire more than I like. I actually wonder if that's an issue for me. There are various movies that I admire and I wonder if I would like them as much if I didn't admire the way that they serve as a corrective for a problem that is plaguing Hollywood movies. Movies like In a World, Dear White People and Spare Parts are all enjoyable movies that I suspect I would not recommend so much if they weren't outright working against a lot of baggage. In a World has a funny female character breaking the glass ceiling and refusing to be slut shamed (and a love story that is basically two characters who just like each other and want to give it a chance.) Dear White People has interesting black characters who are not stereotypes and Spare Parts gets away from the saintly white teacher guiding the stupid Hispanic students trope that is ironically the worst when Edward James Olmos was the teacher in Stand & Deliver. But then there's The Obvious Child which is a movie that I also admire but I don't like. So do the comics and movies with women become the ones I admire without liking?

Anyhow Faith is a superhero comic without fat shaming. The heroine is a superheroine who is full figured and she is comfortable in her non-Playboy model model. Also she is adverse to killing people and likes conflict resolution. The rest of it with the cult and the ex-boyfriend who is doing a superhero reality show doesn't work for me. And the main character isn't that engaging. She feels like a refutation to other books but not terribly well drawn.

70. American Vampire vol 1 by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque - This is a really well put together story. Skinner Sweet is a scary and intriguing character and the picture of him emerging from his coffin and swimming to eat the divers is one of the most memorable ones in recent memory. This book is about his origins as an outlaw and how he got some vampire blood on him when the bank owner turned out to be a vampire and how he evolved into his own type of vampire is contrasted with the hero of the comic which is the woman that he turns into a vampire in the 1920s after she is attacked by vampires. Pearl Jones allows Snyder to tell the old Hollywood scandal stories where young starlets are eaten alive (and famous actors lure disposable women into horrible places). Sweet is a western tale where the good guys are working for evil plutocrats and the bad guys are folk heroes. And murderers. So this is a great beginning.

71. American Vampire vol 3 by Scott Snyder & Rafael Albuquerque - So what do we do now that Sweet Skinner and Pearl Jones are equal characters in the same era. This one skips to the 1940s but not before giving us a prologue of sorts that connects the two stories from the first volume. Skinner Sweet watches an old timey wild west show in 1913 and then kills all the actors, except for the woman who turned him in. She explains that he would have died anyhow but this way they both could have gone out together. He accepts her explanation but the important part is that she looks like Pearl which kind of explains why he made Pearl into another American Vampire (sun is great, but gold is bad).

Once that's dispensed with, we move into WWII where Pearl's husband is drafted by the vampire squad and ends up on a South Pacific island with new Japanese vampires that don't have eyes. Just big mouths. Also Pearl comes in to try to rescue him and Sweet is bullying him. When the whole thing is over Sweet is dead (officially) and Pearl is telling the vampire squad to fuck off.

And then there are the boring characters. When Sweet was the outlaw, he made his main enemy into a vampire like him and that enemy killed himself because vampire, but not before getting a woman pregnant and now the daughter of the bounty hunter is with the vampire squad (I may remember the name) and is trying to get into a Nazi hold in order to find out what the vampires are up to. Apparently there are old giant vampires that most of the vampires are trying to destroy. Also there's a vampire toddler who can be cured. I don't know. I find her whole story with the vampire squad to be boring. More on this later.

72. Spiderwoman: New Duds by Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez - I seem to be on a permanent crusade to get pissed off by alt-right assholes claiming that diversity is bad and that comic books that have diverse titles are just not very good. I get mad at them when I see them spouting off their bullshit and then I read really great titles like this one and I get extremely pissed by how stupid and ignorant they are in talking about titles that they don't read. Jessica Drew is a great character as Hopeless writes her. She is funny and she is always questioning herself and better yet, she isn't afraid to admit that she's wrong like in the story about the super villain girlfriends disappearing. Eventually she finds out that her crusade has been counterproductive and after getting some promises, she leaves everything alone. And her give-and-take with the weird villain of Porcupine, a villain so inept that he's got no problem becoming a sidekick instead, is energetic. I feel like reading some of these comics is just an exercise in going COME ON READ IT! You'll love it. Also Spiderwoman now has a costume that looks comfortable and there is one reference to her googling SPiderwoman's butt which is a nice way to promise that they won't ever give us a cover with her ass in the air again.

73.The Manhattan Projects 2 by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra - I don't know what the fuck is going on in this one. There are aliens. I think that Einstein is a hero. There are presidents who are crazy. I think that Harry Truman is dressed like the villain in Temple of Doom. The art is good but the story is a fucking mess and I'm not going to blame myself for not being able to follow any of the threads.
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Books read in 2017 # 65-68 - Detective Fiction (also superheroes) [Jun. 19th, 2017|02:59 pm]
Tim Lieder
65. Raymond Chandler: The Detections of Totality by Frederic Jameson - I did not completely understand this criticism. I loved it, but I did not see everything that he was talking about with it. I think it was beyond me. I do like the insight that Raymond Chandler uses space in an innovative way and the fact that all the Philip Marlowe books end up at the beginning with some member of the family. But by the time we get to the butler doing it (ok, it's usually the daughter or the husband), there are so many bodies that the world has been completely changed. This explains why The Big Lebowski is such a welcome addition to the Philip Marlowe canon, where the mystery outright doesn't matter but it's so great to inhabit that world (Poor Donny). Basically this is a book that I am going to have to put back on my shelf and come back to it later. I think that my emotional connection is to second guess all of my choices in the detective book that I've been writing for years, but that entire book is a second guess since I started it with an excuse to engage in some toxic masculinity and somewhere in the revisions realized that I hated that type of human being and why imitate Chandler? So definitely recommend this one, but I can't discuss it until I re-read it.

66. Batman Arkham Knight Genesis by Peter J. Tomasi & Alisson Borges - This is a fairly forgettable comic book that is set up as a prequel to a video game. I don't play video games so I don't really get that much out of it, or more importantly I can't appreciate the greater world. I guess this is its own story and trying to judge it from its own story perspective is that it's not so bad. It's the story that they've been building up with Jason Todd back from the dead and really pissed off. There's also a great deal of material about how he doesn't like Bruce Wayne all that much but there are some father issues going on. Also Joker shows up, but just does the Joker thing.

67. Ms. Marvel: Civil War II by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Takeshi Miyazawa & Mirka Andolfo - There are two wonderful stories bookending this volume and one tragic one that makes up the title story that it feels like a major tonal shift. The first story is about a science fair where Kamala's friend Bruno blows everything up in order to beat the kids from New York and just makes trouble. Also Miles Morales is the leader of the New York kids and Nova is in there somewhere. So the fun superhero material that has been the most charming part of the series comes forward but it's evolved from Kamala from the ultimate fangirl of all the other superheroes to Kamala as an associate with Spiderman and Nova with all three trying to preserve their superhero identities.

Ultimately the Bruno material becomes the plot aspect that becomes important in the next story. While the Civil War II story is about Kamala losing her faith in Captain Marvel due to the precognition program that is way too close to the drug war strategies that saw millions of black teenagers in jail instead of college (while their white peers skated past all those indiscretions without too much consternation), the Bruno aspects are the tragic heart. In fact, all of Kamala's friends come to the forefront in this story and while they are all complaining that she is a big hero and doesn't have time for them, there is a serious Buffy the Vampire Slayer aspect where the big heroine is not a heroine on her own but in her relationship to her friends. It's the fact that one of her friends might blow up the school even though he doesn't mean to hurt anyone that drives the plot. Anyone else and you might think that this is some kind of terrorist story and ask why he shouldn't be locked up, but in this case the friend is just hurting and coming to dumb decisions which are dealt with when his ex-girlfriend (who was the resident bitch of the early stories) explains that she isn't into him because she is a lesbian and decided to be honest.

And not to draw too much of a parallel with Buffy but Bruno becomes the Xander of the group when he is the one who is guaranteed to be an idiot and try to blow up the prison. Bruno spends days in a coma and when he comes out of it, he's permanently damaged and wants nothing to do with Kamala. This is definitely the Buffy season 2 ending (damnit, Ms. Marvel is NOT Buffy. Stop finding parallels) where Kamala has to go on her own. Meanwhile the story with Captain America and her pre-cog crime fighting is resolved by trapping her into a particular situation where she has to confront Iron Man who also experienced the same loss. Basically, Kamala is the main character of the story, but as far as Iron Man and Captain Marvel are concerned, she's a walk-on character. More than the fact that Captain Marvel is crypto-fascist, the way that Captain Marvel figures that Ms. Marvel is her mini-me drives them apart.

The last story of this book is an immigrant goes "home" story where Kamala goes back to Pakistan and sees her extended family. It's got some wonderful material about how she feels even more out of place because instead of the Pakistani girl in New Jersey, she is suddenly The American in Pakistan. Material about how they are toning down the spices and how she doesn't understand local politics so how is she going to be a superhero in this town are pretty amazing. The local politics one might be a little too much of a point being made after all, how many American interventions were about good intentions and faulty knowledge?

68. The Invincible Iron Man: Reboot by Brian Michael Bendis & David Marquez - I actually don't remember the plot. I guess Iron Man is trying to stop an old girlfriend from killing a bunch of dudes because of magic, but mostly I remember Tony Stark referring to Dr. Strange as his Awesome Facial Hair Bro. It's a dumb joke but it's nice to see these character moments. The movies have rendered Iron Man a lot more interesting than he was when I was reading comics as a kid. Tony Stark is going to be the selfish guy trying his best to be a decent human being and not being such a self-involved cretin. I suppose you could say that Tony Stark is the modern man, uncertain about his past and trying to build up a masculinity that isn't based on the toxic masculinity, but maybe that's too deep. Mostly Iron Man is Robert Downey jr. Just deal with it. The movies have given comic book writers the template for what to write instead of vice versa. Also Dr. Doom is hanging out for reasons that are probably going to come up later.
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Books read in 2017 # 61-64 - Sex and Women [Jun. 4th, 2017|11:38 pm]
Tim Lieder
61. Sex Criminals Vol 3: Three the Hard Way by Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky - It's very strange to call a book sex criminals these days. Back in the 70s, you could be transgressive with the phrase because a sex criminal could be anyone from Oscar Wilde to Roman Polanski and since the 70s came out of a repressive 50s and challenging 60s, there was a great deal of confusion over what was accepted as a sex crime. This remained pretty much the same into the 80s where the flip side of the equation happened where all the sex crimes were terrible. AIDS paved the way for a lot of acceptance of gay people only after Reagan murdered them by not taking the AIDS crisis seriously. But the 70s was a time when NAMBLA could make an argument that they should be accepted into Pride Parades and outright predators like Jimmy Savile joked about all the teenage girls that he was raping in a wink wink nudge nudge manner.

So now even Rush Limbaugh gets that the difference between sexuality and sex crime is consent. Of course, he doesn't outright accept that belief.

I write about the title because I don't remember much of the book beyond the fact that these people can stop time by having sex. And then they commit crime, so they are sex criminals. The only memorable chapter is about an agent who is asexual and how lonely that felt growing up since everyone else was having a great time and she just couldn't be bothered.

62. Terrible Virtue by Ellen Feldman - I did not think that I would like this book as much as I did. Margaret Sanger is still a divisive figure even among people who love her overriding mission. There's that combination of ignorance and the certainty of her enemies that has tarnished but even though 90% of the "Margaret Sanger was a genocidal Nazi creep" talk is bullshit there was the kernel of truth in the fact that she did like eugenics and she did promote it. Not all eugenicists were the psychopaths that inhabit historical dramas these days who are busy sterilizing teenagers and denying health care to black people (can I mention right here that The Knick is a slog through a hellish cultural judgment where all the assholes win every time?). So even though she is being political when she asks for black leaders to help her distribute birth control and birth control information throughout the black community because she doesn't want to be accused of genocide and that got taken out of context (as in she really is in favor of genocide and just wants to cover her tracks) there are other things that can't be taken out of context.

This book doesn't necessarily give us both sides of the Sanger debate but it does change perspectives to the point that one perspective is Sanger telling her story and the other one is her family, friends and lovers grinding an axe at everything she's done wrong. Her lawyer mocks her for wearing black dresses like a nun even though he admires the strategy of hiding her free love tendencies. Her children are neglected and her husband is left by the wayside. And yet it really makes for a compelling narrative even as it circles around the plot.

63. Radioactive Spider Gwen: Greater Power by Jason Latour & Robby Rodriguez - This one plays more with the alternate universe Spidermans. Peter Parker is still dead in her world but Harry Osborne became Green Goblin in order to take revenge. Spiderwoman shows up and is pregnant (and really fun). Daredevil is an evil lawyer for Kingpin and Frank Castle is in the cops but he's still obsessive. There are also more lizards. The part that I really liked was how she actually has a heart-to-heart talk with Harry Osborne about how they are both guilty over Peter Parker. It's really pretty damn good and finally Gwen gets a personality.

64. Sandman Dream Country by Neil Gaiman - Sandman still holds up. I do have less affection for Gaiman these days because I read his short story collections and they were clever but not decent. But the Sandman comics are still amazing. This is the one with Calliope being held prisoner as the muse of a horror writer who experiences great literary success from raping a muse in his attic. There are some very pointed bits about how he always thought of himself as a feminist and the question "where do you get your ideas?" floating around. It's a writerly fantasy from a writer who was still a fun cult writer at the time. The beats of the story of the success almost overwhelm the horrific aspects, but then again that fantasy of writing anything you want including epic poetry and screenplays and being successful and richer at everything with everyone asking how you did it is a fantasy in every amateur writer's head. Anyhow there's also teh Midsummers Nights Dream story and the cat story. There's also the one where the character from Doom Patrol is very sad. And dies. I didn't like that one.
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Books read in 2017 # 59-60 - the end of the Alanna series [Jun. 4th, 2017|11:10 pm]
Tim Lieder
59. The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce - This was the weakest book in the quadrology. It is still pretty good though and I was impressed. Alanna in the desert among the desert people could have turned into white savior, but thankfully everyone in the tribes were multi-layered and not just waiting around for Alanna. Alanna's entry into the tribes as the tribes is based on her skills that she worked on and the fortune to get rid of some ancient demons that tend to nibble at the edges of these books. I rather love how Pierce doesn't feel the need to explain everything that is going on in the world so there is just enough to tantalize without going into long narrative digressions.

The part that gets to me is the end of the book where she has learned and taught all that she needed to learn and teach with the tribes and gets to the point where she finds out that Roger is back. It's all a lot of cliffhanger plotting which can be forgiven since anyone who is reading the third book in a four book series can reasonably be expected to want to buy the fourth book.

60. Lioness Rampant - When I talked about how much I liked Protector of the Small, one of the reasons people cited for liking the Alanna series more was the fact that Alanna was a lot more energetic and sexual. They thought that the character of Protector of the Small was too good while Alanna had flaws. Alanna also had a string of boyfriends. With respect to the Alanna fans, I did not like the fact that Alanna was stuck into another love triangle. The Prince is now a king and there's a lot of idiot plotting going on in the capital, but first Alanna takes off with a ninja warrior to find a magic icon. Having giving away that Roger is back from book 2 and that George is fighting rival gang leaders so all the adventure into the war torn and then the magic mountain feels like a distraction, even as she is collecting the people required for the ending.

Anyhow the last part is kind of anticlimatic. Alanna comes back, finds out that Roger is back from the dead and then wonders why her brother Alan is looking sick. THere are plots but they are fairly straightforward. The part of the book that bothers me the most is the fact that Roger has to be brought back from the dead for tension but then no one kills him or throws him in jail because the old king was just too sad or something. So again Alanna has to take care of him while he springs his plan.

Both of these books were fun reads and they were tightly plotted but the flaws seem more apparent the more I remember them.
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Last of the entries from Livejournal that were originally posted to livejournal. [Jun. 4th, 2017|11:08 pm]
Tim Lieder
Youtube's automatic next video feature combined with the fact that I can play youtube on my television (whether or not it is on) means that I can play Youtube Telephone where I just let the site lead me through dozens of videos just to see where they lead. I will play a Lorde video and it will end up on a Korean pop group in 24 hours. I will play an episode of Boogiepop Phantom and end up at a douchebag judging the videos by how many upskirt illustrations are in them (it's not always a winner). So when I started with a Bad Writing Advice video (videos that mock crappy books with advice like "make sure that your dystopia has a love triangle") I ended up on other videos with serious writing advice. Like the person who made the videos went through a lot of thought to come up with a weekly "vlog" about writing and how to create compelling characters or ramp up tension. She was actually better in the early ones I saw where she talked about bad female characters, etc. The writing advice was either very basic or very specific to her writing style.

The only thing I learned about writing advice is that it's good for some things but you cannot take it as a gospel because writing advice can be contradictory for a major reason. Everyone writes differently. And often their writing advice reveals their weaknesses. Stephen King says to just write without an outline and you can see how this plays out in his books. On one hand the plot does feel like it comes organically from the characters instead of a need to pigeonhole them into a plot and yet he rarely ends a book in a satisfactory manner. The longer the book, the more likely there will be an explosion that kills off most of the secondary characters.

Also amateur writers are the ones more likely to give writing advice. It's like how people who can't stay with their boyfriends or girlfriends more than a month are just full of relationship advice. In the case of this youtube channel, the woman has a self-published book with mixed reviews. It's like she thought of the success of being asked about her process without fine tuning her process.

But then this leads to the youtube debate over whether youtubers should write books. There are two themes that I noticed in the youtube videos entitled "Should Youtubers write books?" (go on google it). First, there was some woman who got a publishing contract and then a ghost writer for her book. Second, the videos are fucking painful. Like the people who are doing them can't be bothered to write down a script or even rehearse. So they just go around the subject and never get to the fucking point. They also think of exceptions to their statements as soon as they make them. Probably when they are making them. Sometimes they mention John Green but then kind of say that he doesn't count because he was already writing books or something. Anyhow, they probably aspire to be John Green who writes pretty good YA books and has a well produced set of videos.

The part that fascinates me is the fact that it's obvious that almost every single one of these youtube "personalities" (I'm sure they have fans) would love to make money in the book writing business. After all, book writing actually pays better than patreons if the books are bestsellers (big if) but they are probably just as bad as writing books as they are at speaking clearly with purpose when the camera is on. Only they can't write one and they are jealous of those youtube "personalities" who do get book contracts, citing the anonymous youtube personality (why the fuck doesn't anyone name her) who got a ghost writer. So they try to say that writing a book when you have a youtube channel is unfair, like you are jumping in front of the line or you are taking focus away from legitimate book writers. Of course, there are plenty of celebrities who write books so the "it's unfair" debate is pretty moot.

THere are also youtube channels where teenagers review books. It's actually kind of weird to see them want to talk about a book but take forever to get to it. It's even worse in the 10 Most Hated Books when you find out that the first book is a Twilight book.
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Books read in 2017 # 56-58 - Optimism (perhaps warranted). [Jun. 4th, 2017|11:06 pm]
Tim Lieder
56. Shadow Show: Stores in Celebration of Ray Bradbury by Various - Let's just take a moment to enjoy Rachel Bloom's very first big hit. Man, we shared this one a lot back in the day (and if you aren't watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend you are a terrible person).

And now let's get to the stories in this thing - they aren't really that good. Mostly they seem like the writers - and they were fine writers - including Joe Hill, Neil Gaiman and Alice Hoffman - are throwing out their early works, the works that they did when they were teenagers and trying to imitate Ray Bradbury. They got all the Ray Bradbury elements including the small town, the monsters at the edge of the sea, the childhood innocence and the master manipulators. It reads more like Ray Bradbury fan fiction than actual story telling. The one that I remember is "The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury" which is Neil Gaiman being clever. Neil Gaiman has been writing clever stories for so long that I was actually surprised to see that Sandman still holds up. The other ones are just forgettable. Ray Bradbury turns himself into a robot. A mysterious teenager shows up in the woods and manipulates two girls. Some shit about a father and daughter on a cruise.

Ray Bradbury is one of those writers that binds many genre writers, many writers. But I think that one of the things about Ray Bradbury that makes sense is the fact that everyone starts out imitating Bradbury but they have to let him go.

57. The Golden Age Superman vol. 2 by Siegel and Shuster. - Volume 1 in this series were the superman stories that I kind of remember. Superman lifting the car. Superman stops America from going to the war in Europe. Superman takes revenge on Lois Lane for her rejection of poor Clark Kent. So now that the years have passed and Siegel and Shuster are still writing Superman, what's up for the caped crusader? A lot of chasing after cars and racing trains. The world hopping mystical era of Superman was a long way away. In these stories SUperman spent most of his time spying on corrupt businessmen who were often out to kill Lois.

Sadly, this book is way too long not to get boring. I was going to use an anecdote abotu Siegel working for Marvel in the 70s and not being able to write to the market at the time. I think it fits here but I guess there were other places it could have gone. After reading SPirit comics, it's really easy to see that Will Eisner was a genius and a writer of classics while these old Superman comics were just old comics that sucked.

58.The Extraordinary X-Men: Kingdoms Fall - Nightcrawler drops Apocalypse from a great height in order to technically meet the deal made with him to free Colossus from some kind of a Four Horseman deal. Also there are demons. Lots of demons. Someone else dies. There are people becoming those Immortals or Invulnerables or whatever the fuck they are called because Marvel wants to do a show - Inhumans? But of course, the cloud that makes the Inhumans? - into superpowered beings (Yay Ms. Marvel!) is killing Mutants. So a couple mutants got to get rescued.

I don't read X-Men anymore but it all seems so much the same. That's the problem with the illusion of change. Who cares about the stories if the reset button keeps getting hit.
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