"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
To recap: I started doing (almost) daily writeups of different books in our collection as part of a New Year’s resolution to be a little less obsessive about adding new books to the home library and take more time to enjoy the things that are already here. Moreover, as pictured above, I just rebuilt the whole damn thing again by adding a couple more six-foot shelves, and every time I do that I come across all sorts of cool things I’d forgotten I had, as they come out of storage and go back on the shelves where they belong.
Blackjacked and Pistol-Whipped: A Crime Does Not Pay Primer by Bob Wood, Charles Biro, Dan Barry, and others. Edited by Denis Kitchen.
The blurb: Gangsters, kidnappers, maniacal killers, and thugs of all stripes had their lurid stories recounted in Crime Does Not Pay, a seminal ’40s comic-book series. Bob Wood, its editor, brutally murdered his girlfriend, did prison time, and was then murdered himself! This fascinating sidebar is described in an essay by cartoonist, historian, and co-editor Denis Kitchen. Featuring thrilling, disturbing, and brutal tales and despicable characters, Crime Does Not Pay enthralled a nation. With a claimed readership of over 5 million it was the most popular comic book of its day. The series was a favorite target of Dr. Frederic Wertham and other censors and is partially responsible for the creation of the Comics Code Authority, yet it was an inspiration for Harvey Kurtzman’s reality-based EC Comics. See why this series was revered and reviled!
Why I Like It: As much as I love the fact that there are so many wonderful archival reproductions of classic comic book series available today, the fact of the matter is that most of those hardcovers are well out of my price range, even getting them deep-discounted from Amazon or other online dealers. Moreover, the honest truth is that I probably wouldn’t ever reread a ten-volume set of the collected run of whatever classic comic is getting that kind of archival treatment. Sometimes all you want is a sampler, a greatest-hits collection. And that’s exactly what this book is. Blackjacked and Pistol-Whipped is a terrific overview of what Crime Does Not Pay was about as a comic-book series and you get a great look at work from classic artists like Charles Biro and George Tuska just as they’re hitting their stride. A very classy paperback with a nice introduction by Brian Azzarello.
The Time Patrol by Poul Anderson.
The blurb: Forget minor hazards like nuclear bombs. The discovery of time travel means that everything we know, anyone we know, might not only vanish, but never even have existed. Against that possibility stand the men and women of the Time Patrol, dedicated to preserving the history they know and protecting the future from fanatics, terrorists, and would-be dictators who would remold the shape of reality to suit their own purposes. But Manse Everard, the Patrol’s finest temporal trouble-shooter, bears a heavy burden. The fabric of history is stained with human blood and suffering which he cannot, must not do anything to alleviate, lest his tampering bring disastrous alterations in future time. Everard must leave the horrors of the past in place, lest his tampering– or that of the Patrol’s opponents, the Exaltationists– erase all hope of a better future, and instead bring about a future filled with greater horrors than any recorded by past history at its darkest and most foul.
Why I Like It: Before there was Timecop or The Terminator or any of those other gotta-fix-history tales, there was Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol. I like time-travel stories and I like Poul Anderson books, and I’m always a sucker for big omnibus editions, so this book was an easy sell– especially since you can usually find it in hardcover for less than a buck. This hefty tome collects all eight of Anderson’s Time Patrol short stories and also the novella “Star of the Sea,” original to this volume. The compilation was put out as a companion piece to the Time Patrol novel The Shield of Time, which is also recommended.
Children of the Night by Dan Simmons.
The blurb: An evil legacy comes to life in this classic and ultimately human novel about believable vampires, featuring a brand-new introduction by Dan Simmons. Children of the Night will take you to a place that no one knows—yet all of us fear. In a desolate orphanage in post-Communist Romania, a desperately ill infant is given the wrong blood transfusion—and flourishes rather than dies. For immunologist Kate Neuman, the infant’s immune system may hold the key to cure cancer and AIDS. Kate adopts the baby and takes him home to the States. But baby Joshua holds a link to an ancient clan and their legendary leader—Vlad Tepes, the original Dracula – whose agents kidnap the child. Against impossible odds and vicious enemies– both human and vampire – Kate and her ally, Father Mike O’Rourke, steal into Romania to get her baby back.
Why I Like It: I’m as big a sucker (you should pardon the expression) for vampire stories as I am for time-travel stories, as long as the vampires involved are the scary, old-school, non-sparkly variety. Here is a great new take on the classic vampire myth– that is to say, the vampires in question are still nasty evil monsters that are not at all empathetic or sensitive, but the writing itself is very smart and modern, and there’s lots of plausible Romanian politics and hematology along with all the night-stalking bloodlust. Great twist at the end, too. One of the coolest vampire novels I own not written by Kim Newman. Another impulse buy …found it in a thrift store, in hardcover, like new, for a buck. I daresay you could probably find one at a similar price; it’s not a collectible or anything, but it is a spectacular read.
The First Saint Omnibus by Leslie Charteris.
The blurb: ‘I am the Saint – you may have heard of me. Just a twentieth-century privateer. In my small way I try to put right a few of the things that are wrong with this cock-eyed world…’ This is the mission of Simon Templar, also known as the Saint. On the side of the law and yet outside it, the Saint, exciting, debonair and very slightly disreputable, lives for adventure. Here he is at his ebullient best, spreading terror among London’s drug dealers, rescuing a lady crook from distress and much, much more.
Why I Like It: This one is a classic of detective fiction… or, rather, a bunch of classics. THE FIRST SAINT OMNIBUS by Leslie Charteris is a collection of Simon Templar’s 1930s adventures, or as one review puts it, “the GOOD ones.” Today, if anyone thinks of the Saint at all, usually they think of Roger Moore in syndicated reruns, or maybe the Val Kilmer movie. The Kilmer effort is a fun movie but it’s not the Saint. On the other hand, Roger Moore did well enough as Templar and I confess that reading the books I tend to picture him in the role…. but what the Roger Moore TV show missed was the wonderful supporting cast Charteris gave him in the books. In particular, Simon’s allies, his beautiful and tough girlfriend Patricia Holm (spiritual godmother to Fiona on BURN NOTICE) as well as his incredibly dense but incredibly loyal sidekick Hoppy Uniatz, and his favorite antagonist, perpetually frustrated Chief Inspector Teal of Scotland Yard. Moreover, the crooks Simon takes down are truly evil bastards who really have it coming; there’s something very satisfying at a visceral level about watching him separate them from all their assets and then hand them over to Scotland Yard. The original Saint stories are terrific, written with great humor and swashbuckling flair. I found this book, the original 1941 hardcover, for fifty cents in a pile of used books in a junk shop on Mount Hood when I was in high school and was instantly a fan for life. I’m a snob, though, I only want the books Charteris actually wrote (everything from VENDETTA FOR THE SAINT on up was ghosted) and preferably in Doubleday Crime Club hardcover. You can get this collection cheaper, but this edition is the one I have. A great sampler.
The Collected Works of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century edited by Robert C. Dille.
The blurb: Introduction by Ray Bradbury. This coffee-table book collects the original Buck Rogers comic strips which debuted on January 7, 1929. Within these pages, thrill as the futuristic spaceman Rogers meets the Mongols, the Tiger Men of Mars, the Monkey Men of Planet X, ventures to the sunken city of Atlantis, and defends Earth against a Martian invasion. This is the original sci-fi hero who inspired the adventures of Flash Gordon, Adam Strange, and a young George Lucas to create Star Wars. Also included is an extensive glossary to the Buck Rogers universe, diagrams to spaceships including Rogers’ own Flying Needle, a map of the Planet Venus, along with pictures of weapons, vehicles, and gadgets. Some of the strips are in B&W while others appear in full color.
Why I Like It: This was a beautiful coffee-table hardcover that I first found in my junior-high school library. There was ALWAYS a waiting list to check it out, and when I finally got my turn, I fell swooningly in love with it. Then I saw it on the display table at B. Dalton’s and saved all my lawn-mowing money for a month until finally I could afford the staggering $7.95 retail cost. This was the first comics collection I ever owned, and the beginning of my ongoing battle with my mother throughout junior high and high school about whether I should blow my money on books or not. It didn’t survive my college days, though, and so I was delighted to finally replace it a few years ago– blessedly, for about six bucks at a local comics show, because it goes for a hell of a lot more today. Mine’s the first edition from 1969, with the near-unbroken run of the first couple of years or so of the strip, and also all the horribly racist WW2 stuff.
Lois and Clark: A Superman Novel by C.J. Cherryh.
The blurb: In this exciting new novel, award-winning author C. J. Cherryh takes us deep into the private lives and thrilling adventures of Lois Lane, Clark Kent, and the world’s most famous super hero, Superman. Their entire relationship is founded on a secret. Now that secret is in jeopardy. The Daily Planet offices rumble in the aftershock of an enormous explosion. As Lois Lane stares through the settling dust, a terrifying sight takes shape: the high-rise hotel down the street has completely collapsed. Hundreds of people are trapped inside, including an entire children’s soccer team. And Superman, the guardian of Metropolis and the love of her life, is half a world away. Even with his super powers, Superman can’t be everywhere at once. As he struggles desperately to save a village threatened by a bursting dam, Lois races through the pandemonium of the collapsed hotel, throwing herself into the rescue effort—and emerging a hero. Not just a reporter anymore, suddenly she is a celebrity caught in the glare of national media attention. Recognized everywhere and hounded constantly by the press, nothing in her life will ever be the same again . . . including her relationship with Clark Kent.
Why I Like It: First of all, I always liked the television show Lois and Clark, unlike many other DC and Superman fans. (At least, I liked the first couple of seasons, though I think they lost their way somewhere midway through the third… around when the frog-eating clones showed up.) But that’s a moot point, because in spite of the title and the trade dress, this really is not in any way evocative of the whimsical, romantic-comedy version of Superman that particular TV show strove for. Instead, this novel is a straight-ahead superhero adventure story, told very seriously– it’s almost dark, at least as far as Superman stories are concerned. But the important part, the thrust of the novel, is an examination and extrapolation of how Clark and Lois struggle to make their relationship work despite all the insane demands their chosen lives put on that relationship, and a look at what those demands would be. As such, the story is one of those things that doesn’t fit into any particular type or era of Superman story– it’s not really adventure enough for the comic-book fans and it’s not comedic or romantic enough for the TV show fans. But that very off-model weirdness is the main reason I like it, though it is a bit slow in places.
And there you have it. I hope you enjoyed these– I certainly enjoyed writing them. Trust me, collectors, it’s fun to re-acquaint yourself with the stuff you already own. If you haven’t done it lately, I really recommend it; if you have a collection of any size at all, you’ll probably surprise yourself with a bunch of nifty items you’d forgotten you had, and it almost feels like getting a surprise gift. It feels like that for me, anyway.
Back next week with a real column, I promise.
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.