Journey Into Mystery Volume 1: Fear Itself

Monday, December 31, 2012

Journey Into Mystery Volume 1: Fear Itself
Kieron Gillen, Doug Braithwaite, 2012 (Issues released 2011)

Premise: Loki brought destruction down on Asgard, then sacrificed himself to save the world. No one knows why. But Thor still cares for his brother, so he found him (reincarnated as a boy) and brought him home. Young Loki isn’t quite the god who died, but he’s not sure who he is, either. No one trusts him, but as war comes to the Marvel Universe, he will find his own path to walk.

This is fabulous. Beautiful, evocative art, clever, intriguing dialogue and narration, twisty, fascinating plots. Oh, this is everything I had heard and more.

I have always wanted to love Thor and his supporting cast, it seems it should be a great blend of superheroics, fantasy and high adventure. And I’ve read some that I liked, and some that I disliked, but this? This I loved.

This story is set during the Fear Itself crossover from 2011, and you can see the larger plot playing out around the edges. You don’t need to know what’s happening in the larger world to follow this story, just that something big and scary is going down, but Gillen does a decent job implying the danger and purpose of the war without getting bogged down in details. All the backstory I summed up in the premise section above is nicely spelled out on a prologue page before the actual story begins.

I don’t want to say much about the plot, but Loki travels to a few different realms to gather allies and make enemies and spin brand new plans. He’s adorable, tricky, too clever by half, untrustworthy and unsure of himself, so I kind of love him. There are parts that are terribly poignant and parts where I laughed out loud. There were parts that I thought more about later and then said: “Oh. Oh, I get it. That’s brilliant!”

This book deserves all the good press I’ve heard about it. It goes on the shelf snugly between great amoral heroes and great epic fantasy comics.

Right there.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Get Journey into Mystery, Vol. 1: Fear Itself at

A Christmas Memory

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Memory
Truman Capote, 1956

Crossposted for Mainlining Christmas

Premise: A ostensibly autobiographical story about an unlikely friendship. The narrator, known only as “Buddy”, describes his memories of celebrating Christmas with his best friend, an older relative whom no one else seems to understand.

This was recommended to me by a friend, and I’m so glad I sought it out. It was just lovely.

‘Buddy’ and the elderly woman called only “my friend” have a lot in common; they are both thought of as strange and they both have a rather whimsical view of the world. The relationship here is touching and sad, you only get little subtle snippets as you follow them through the ritual of making holiday fruitcakes for all the people they like. Not “friends”, but rather shopkeepers and politicians and other public figures; anyone who they feel a connection to or think could use a fruitcake.

The larger family seems to be somewhat low-income, but not poverty-stricken. It’s worse for the two main characters, though, who both rely on what they can scrounge from odd jobs and scrimp from gifts. It’s another connection between the very old and the very young, along with never being far from home and a vivid internal life.

The most important thing about this story, though, is the lovely prose. It was delightful to read the words; I could almost taste the descriptions.

Both melancholy and uplifting, this is a perfect Christmas read.

5 Stars - An Awesome Story

The Gift of the Magi

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Gift of the Magi
O. Henry, 1906

Crossposted for Mainlining Christmas

Premise: You know. No, really, you've seen or read something based on this story. You know, anything with two people who buy each other gifts but give up something important to do it, making the gift exchange generally somewhat ironic? I told you you knew.

I’ve seen so many versions of this story as part of Mainlining Christmas, that it hadn’t occurred to me until yesterday that I’d never actually read the original story. And hey, it’s better than I expected.

The style is humorous and playful, with more than a few sly jokes. The story focuses on the wife, Della, and while she’s a bit childish at times, she's also forthright, determined and loving. The ending is much sweeter than I expected. I quite enjoyed reading this.

Why am I still talking about it? It’s a short story and it’s Free. Here, read it yourself!

Holiday Comics: DC Universe

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

DCU Holiday Bash (1997)
Dennis O’Neil, Walter Simonson, Sal Buscema, Jim Aparo, et. al.

This is a pretty fun assortment of stories. First Lois tells a story about Superman’s early attempts at being a hero to a lonely guy on Christmas Eve. I thought the story about Highfather and Orion filling in for a department store Santa was surprisingly awesome. Denny O’Neil’s contribution is a little noir tale about Catwoman rescuing a woman and child who were targeted by mobsters. There’s a humor piece starring Etrigan, and a maybe-too-preachy piece about Green Lantern going after some punks who desecrated a synagogue. Flash shops for a gift for his girlfriend (Reprinted in DC Universe Christmas) and Alfred closes out the issue with a little wordless piece called “Just Another Night”.

This is a really solid assortment, and a very enjoyable read.

DC Universe Holiday Special (2010)
Joey Cavalieri, Tony Bedard, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, et. al.

This was much less interesting an issue, unfortunately. Who compiled this? First an “Anthro” piece with confusing art and writing. Next is a Jonah Hex Hanukkah piece of all things, which is very awkward in execution. The Green Lantern piece that comes next has redeeming qualities, but it’s a smidge too melodramatic and obvious. A Superman story that’s incredibly cornball and has ugly art is followed by a tedious tale of the Spectre. The only story in the whole issue that’s actually kind of good is the last one, a half-humorous piece starring the Legion of Superheroes. There are a series of false alarms on the universe-spanning day off only called “Holiday” and the Legion needs to get to the bottom of it.

Don’t bother looking up this issue, stick to the older ‘Holiday Bash’s or the DCU Infinite Holiday Special from 2006.

DC Universe Christmas

Monday, December 17, 2012

DC Universe Christmas
Various Writers and Artists
Compilation released in 2000, Issues originally copyright 1940-1999

Premise: A collection of holiday-themed stories from across the first six decades of DC comics.

Talk about hits and misses! This is a really interesting read, but it’s not always interesting because it’s good. There is a huge array of styles and quality here.

It starts really strong, with a Denny O’Neil Batman tale from 1980 about an ex-con turned mall Santa, and a cute piece from the 90's about Flash (Wally West) shopping for a present for his girlfriend. Then we get a Wonder Woman story from 1943. There’s some historical interest here, but mostly it’s all kinds of horrible. Soon after it is a Teen Titans tale from 1968 with a hokey plot-line and a lot of ‘groovy jive-talking’.

There’s a Robin story which is corny, but cute, a Legion of Superheroes bit that’s wild and kinda wonderful. I was really intrigued by a Green Lantern/Green Arrow team-up that’s Kyle and Connor. I don’t know that I’ve read anything with Connor Hawke before, and I liked him. There are a bunch of short pieces, some well done, some baffling. There’s an old Joe Simon & Jack Kirby Sandman bit that’s terribly dated.

The last two stories end on a high note, too. There’s a 1999 story about Bart Allen (Impulse) and his doubts about Santa, and a 1940 story about Superman and Lois preventing some mustache-twirling villains from preventing Santa’s flight. I mean, Lois mostly “helps” by getting captured and tied to things, like oversized rockets, but it’s pretty amusing.

I’m not sure whether or not I recommend this volume, though. There aren’t any parts that are just amazing, except maybe one or two of the really short two-page stories. I enjoyed reading it, but you have to have a healthy knowledge of and interest in the history of comics to get through some of the older pieces.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Letters from Father Christmas

Friday, December 14, 2012

Letters from Father Christmas
J. R. R. Tolkien, 1976, 1999

Crossposted for Mainlining Christmas

Premise: This whimsical volume reproduces a series of letters that Tolkien’s children received from “Father Christmas” between 1920 and 1943.

This was very interesting, as a student of early fantasy writing and as someone with interest in different ideas of Santa. It is not, however, exciting to read.

These letters were clearly never intended to be published. They were purely a gift from a father to his children, and while they are often elaborate and entertaining, there is very little in the way of plot here. Plus we are only getting half the story, as Father Christmas often thanks the children for their letters or answers their questions.

The time and skill involved in creating these mementos is obvious. Most letters came with an enclosed drawing, all reprinted in lovely color here. As more characters were introduced over the years, they developed their own writing styles. Happily, the text is transcribed for ease of reading, although I’m glad the book preserves examples of Father Christmas’ shaky scrawl, the Polar Bear’s use of a broad marker to make marks like runes, and the scribe elf Ilbereth’s small script.

Most of the letters tell of some happening at the North Pole that year, whether the bears were mischievous and delayed packing the sleigh, or local gnomes helps flush attacking goblins out of a tunnel. Bear in mind, though, that the intended audience here is quite young, so there’s never any real sense of tension or danger, and anyway all the stories are being told after the fact.

The first few are more unfocused, before the style and the cast of characters were really formed, and the last few are a bit melancholy, as war ripped through Europe. Tolkien’s own Anglo-centrism shows through every so often, most notably when Father Christmas exclaims at how busy he is because in addition to his normal routes, he is “getting stuff down to the South Pole for those children who expect to be looked after though they have gone to live in New Zealand or Australia or South Africa or China.”

It’s more biographical than anything else, revealing little hints to the relationships between the children, or the children and their dad. It’s a very pretty book to flip through, and an interesting piece representing a minor work of a creative person.

I enjoyed reading it, although it wouldn’t be for everyone.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Holiday Comics: Marvel Universe

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Marvel Holiday Special (1991)
Various Writers and Artists, including Scott Lobdell, Walter Simonson, Dave Cockrum, and many more.

There are eight short pieces in this double-size special, plus a selection of art pieces. Some I think might have been reprints, but it’s unclear. They’re a mixed bag, overall. The X-men story is rushed and strange, the Fantastic Four one is kinda nice and kinda heavy-handed. There’s a short Punisher piece with a nice melancholy tone, and a corny-fun Thor piece which is quite explicit about the Asgardians’ roles as gods, and Odin’s connection to Santa. After that is a sweet little story about Captain America meeting Bucky’s elderly sister, and a zany tale about a blind kid who mistakes Ghost Rider for Santa. There’s some badly written Marvel-themed lyrics to be sung to the tunes of various carols, and a farce about Captain Ultra (yeah, I don’t know who he is either.) The issue closes out with a piece about Spiderman visiting a children’s hospital over the holidays.

There’s redeeming qualities to these stories, but for the most part they’re dated and odd enough that most people shouldn’t spend the time to track this down.

Marvel Holiday Special (2004)
Tom DeFalco, Takeshi Miyazawa, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Roger Cruz, et. al.

This special issue contains three stories. The longest one, and the most fun, is a spin on Christmas Carol, featuring the Marvel U’s resident curmudgeon, J. Jonah Jameson, as Scrooge, and various heroes appearing as the spirits. It’s a really cute story. There’s also an X-Men story about Scott and Emma comforting a mutant student who doesn’t have anywhere to go for holiday break, and a story about Franklin Richards asking each of the Fantastic Four what the holidays mean to them. That one edges into schmaltz here and there, but it’s mostly sweet.

This is a pretty fun issue, and I recommend it if you get a chance.

A Christmas Journey

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Christmas JourneyAnne Perry, 2003

Crossposted for Mainlining Christmas

Premise: A bunch of rich snobs drive a young lady to suicide at a Christmas party and then make another lady travel to Scotland because she feels guilty.

What in the hell did I just read? It wasn’t a romance. It wasn’t suspense. It barely had a plot. I guess it’s tepid historical fiction? It was really odd.

I liked the beginning, I thought maybe it was going somewhere. I liked that the main character’s name was Vespasia, that’s dramatic even just to read. However, as the insignificant details mounted, and discoveries came to light about a character who really got very little page time prior to her death, I just couldn’t bring myself to care.

There were some almost okay parts where Vespasia reflects on her friendship with Isobel and how it brought them both to the back end of Scotland in the dead of winter (to carry the news of the deceased young lady to her mother). But sadly, most of it was just navel-gazing. Boring navel-gazing.

Vespasia’s obsession with one obnoxious male character who could seemingly do no wrong was especially creepy. The prose wavers between overwrought and too vague. It’s just a story about two women travelling and then coming back, with nothing to show for it but a lot of significant looks and talk, and then the end was really pretentious.

One Star - Didn’t Much Like it.

Manga Claus

Friday, December 7, 2012

Manga Claus: The Blade of Kringle
Writing: Nathaniel, Marunas, Art: Erik Craddock, 2006

Crossposted for Mainlining Christmas

Premise: One small disgruntled elf plus a large amount of black magic spells trouble for the North Pole. Can even his magic swords help Santa save Christmas now?

This was an odd, cute little book. The art was fun, and the story was silly. The beginning was probably the best part, and I wish it had been a story about Santa just hanging out in feudal Japan.

I really wanted to like this more; it seems like a cute idea and one of the creators thanked a (sadly now-gone) comic store I’m rather fond of. But it wasn’t great, just fine.

The evil magic teddies were cool. The larger plotline of the elf messing with magic worked at times, but the resolution felt really wrong to me.

I just don’t have much more to say about this. It was really short.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

Holiday Comics: Generation X and Futurama!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Crossposted for Mainlining Christmas

Generation X Holiday Spectacular (1995)
Scott Lobdell, Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham

This little story about Generation X (Generation X is a team of teenage X-men, mostly second and third stringers I don’t know much about) intervening in a hostage situation in a Maine town isn’t terribly holiday related except for the snow. And the fact that the narration seems to be done by an elf hiding around the edges of the panels. That doesn’t have any bearing on the story, though. It’s okay, I guess, although the little snippets of characters unconnected to the story are more interesting than the story itself, and the villain seems awfully annoying.

Generation X Holiday Special (1998)
Joseph Harris, Adam Pollina,

The same super-lame villains strike again, this time trying to kidnap a kid on Christmas Eve who’s only wish for Santa is to not be a mutant. The art is stronger in this one, and there’s some interesting snippets of character stuff early on when all the young mutants are shopping at the mall. Then some of GenX gets captured, and the mutant kid holds Santa prisoner, and the villains keep screwing up... it’s occasionally amusing, but kind of a mess.

Neither of these are especially recommended unless you’re a super-big fan of these characters. Jubilee does get a few good scenes, though.

Futurama #64 (2012)
Script: Ian Boothby, Pencils: James Lloyd, Inks: Dan Davis

Hey, a new holiday comic! I picked this up at my local comic shop last week. It's a pretty cute little tale of blackmail and Robot Santa, but it's not great, just good. There was one part that really threw me, since I thought it showed a fundamental misunderstanding of Futurama, but Erin tells me that the show was inconsistent on the point. It still marred the experience of reading it for me.

The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas
Madeline L’Engle, 1984

Crossposted for Mainlining Christmas

Premise: Vicky Austin is always excited in December, but there’s a lot more to be excited about this year, since she’s been cast as an angel in the Christmas Pageant, although her Mother is very pregnant, and who knows whether she’ll be home for Christmas!

This little short story was.... fine. Cute, even. It’s all from little Vicky’s perspective, so the drama is very small and the solutions are very black-and-white. Oh, no! Mommy might be in the hospital over Christmas! Oh, now she’s being sensibly reassured. Oh no! Vicky is too clumsy to be an angel! Oh, Mom just taught her how to walk with a book on her head, so she’ll be fine. Well, good thing there wasn’t any tension.

The title alludes to the Austin family’s habit of doing something “special” every day leading up to Christmas. However, since some of those “special” things are as simple as opening Christmas cards and there isn’t even a list of all the activities for kids to ask about and/or copy, this gimmick fell a little flat.

At the end, it looked as though there was going to be a plot, because the mother starts to go into labor but there’s a blizzard and the Dad isn’t home... but then the Dad gets home, and since he’s conveniently an obstetrician, the other kids worry a bit, but there isn’t really anything to worry about.

This is a fine story for, say, a five year old. I mean, I wouldn’t give it to a five-year-old of mine unless I was ready to have the “some kids believe in invisible forces that grant wishes” conversation, but other than a smattering of explicitly religious content, it’s pretty innocuous.

In place of this, for a similar feel but more interesting setting and story I might recommend the Christmas chapters from Little House in the Big Woods.

No Rating, as I am so far from the target audience I don’t think I can see them from here.