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December Cross-Hatchings… In the Stacks

We have this annual holiday ritual in our household.

Because we are employed by organizations that work with juveniles– I teach in public school, Julie’s a counselor at a youth rehab– my wife and I are constantly being exposed to whatever illnesses our teenaged petri dishes are carrying around. I sometimes think it’d be healthier working as a busboy in a leper colony. Or captaining a plague ship. Or… oh, hell, you can think of another example yourself, because I have to go blow my nose again. Enjoy this vintage Clifford Berryman flu illustration from 1918 for a minute.

…back. Anyway, despite our vigilance on health matters and our employer-subsidized flu shots and so on, about three times a year one or both of us gets hammered with whatever horrible illness is laying waste to the school district, and invariably one of those times is over the holidays. So we’re both spending this week huddled under a quilt, coughing and sniffling and eating chicken soup.

All this is by way of saying that it’s probably going to be a short column this week. Just the last of the capsule reviews from the current pile and a couple of other short items I wanted to talk about briefly that didn’t rate a full column of their own.

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Pulps, books, ‘n editors: I’ve occasionally mentioned what a bonanza the last few years have been for fans of pulp fiction, and I’ve talked about the wonderful reprint series from outfits like Adventure House and Sanctum Press and so on.

But you may not be aware of how many equally wonderful hardcover anthologies from the pulps there are out there, that can be had for literally just pennies. There was a flurry of these books that came out in the 1990s that got remaindered, and now are currently populating discount tables and dollar bins at a used-book emporium near you. On a whim the other day, I did a search on ‘pulp fiction hardcover’ on Amazon, sorted by price from low to high. And it was quite the bonanza.

I found a whole bunch of them on sale for one cent, plus shipping. Order from the same seller and combine shipping as often as you can, and you end up with a cartload of cool books very quickly for less than ten bucks.

And, well, that’s exactly what I did. I have no business doing that, the to-read pile by the nightstand is already three feet high, but I am weak.

A great many of these books were edited by a man named Peter Haining. He was a British writer and journalist with a moderately impressive backlist of his own works… but where he shone was as an editor and anthologist. He had a knack for putting together really fun theme collections and he was careful not to repeat himself, the same stories didn’t show up over and over again in different books. His specialty was horror and crime fiction, and he drew heavily from the old pulp magazines.

The stories are great fun, but what makes these books so terrific are the chatty introductions and appendices. Haining prefaces each story with a little bit of history about that particular author, often with a behind-the-scenes anecdote about the way the pulp magazine publishers did things back in the day, so the books work not just as fiction collections but also as little mini-histories of the genre. His book The Fantastic Pulps has been one of my very favorites since I spent my hard-earned lawn-mowing money on it back in 1975– I must have given it away and replaced it three or four times now. He also did actual– well, not histories, exactly, but coffee-table nonfiction scrapbook titles that were profusely illustrated and packed with all sorts of entertaining trivia.

The other anthology editor I’ve come to appreciate in the last couple of weeks is Jon Tuska, who’s basically the Peter Haining of Western pulp collections.

Tuska has the same basic approach to his Western anthology books, a pleasantly conversational introduction to each story and lots of cool behind-the-scenes author info. Well worth it, especially if you can get the books in hardcover at a penny apiece. And I think you still can, at least for a little while longer.

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Short Takes: I’m whittling down the pile of stuff I’ve been sent, slowly but surely. There was one more videogame comics album from Titan that I didn’t get to last week and that’s a shame, because it’s actually the one I liked the best.

Lost Planet: First Colony is a prequel of sorts to the Capcom game Lost Planet 3, a game I know nothing about. So I can’t really speak to how true it is to the Lost Planet mythology or anything like that. What I can tell you is that this is a pretty entertaining and well-crafted graphic novel.

Here’s the blurb: The planet of E.D.N. III seemed ripe for colonization – its icy climes ready to be warmed and terraformed, its huge buried stockpiles of T-ENG – Thermal Energy – enough to stave off the death of Earth. That was, until the first settlers discovered the indigenous Akrid – ravenous creatures who proved resistant to every weapon the colonists could muster. That first terraforming effort ended in tragedy, with the colony – and its rich haul of terraforming equipment – hastily abandoned. Now the ragtag crew of the pirate vessel Crusader have set course for E.D.N. III, looking to pillage these tempting resources before NeoVenus Construction (NEVEC) can swoop in and reclaim their investment! But this wintry world jealously guards her secrets – secrets that may kill all of the Crusader’s crew!

The story is by Izu and the art is by Massimo Dell’oglio and both are what I’d call baseline-good; not, you know, wildly innovative or anything, but entertaining with a couple of clever twists. (Part of my reaction is that I’m inclined to be sympathetic to people who are trying to do actual science fiction stories in comics, and I like that it gives us a tough female protagonist in the Crusader‘s captain without making a big deal out of it.)

The hardcover collects the two issues that premiered as digital comics on Comixology a couple of months ago, and priced at $9.99. I enjoyed it for what it was– I’m ambivalent about the price which is a little high for what you get, but it is a nice hardcover. So I guess I’m saying moderately recommended. (The digital version is still available on Comixology, too, if that’s how you roll.)

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A Day That Doesn’t Necessarily Have To Live In Infamy: On Pearl Harbor Day, December 7th, quite a few of the military folks on my various social media feeds were sad and a little grumpy that if the day was remembered at all, veterans were being kissed off with platitudes from politicians who spend the rest of their time actively trying to make those vets’ lives worse, and I can’t really blame the vets for being a little depressed about it.

But other things happened on that day too. In an effort to lighten things up a little, I’d point out that December 7th also gave us the wonderful Leigh Brackett, who would have been 98 this year.

She was a remarkable writer. Started in the pulps, then went on to screenwriting: THE BIG SLEEP, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, THE LONG GOODBYE, and– my favorite– RIO BRAVO. She was called “the Queen of Space Opera” in her heyday, but her later SF was very thoughtful and her husband, the equally-awesome Edmond Hamilton, put together a great collection called The Best Of Leigh Brackett that’s well worth having. (She got to put together The Best Of Edmond Hamilton in return, another book every SF fan ought to seek out.) I own both of them and they’re great books. Recently I acquired an omnibus edition of her Eric Stark novels, The Book of Skaith, and that’s a good one too.

But here is something I did not know about Leigh Brackett. She was a Batman writer. Briefly.

Her husband Edmond Hamilton did a lot of work for DC, and I dug a lot of his Weisinger-era Superman stuff, it really had that galaxy-spanning scope to it. His Batman work, on the other hand… well, it wasn’t that great. So it’s not terribly surprising that his wife helped him out a little. Leigh Brackett had much more of a background in detective fiction.

What is weird (and kind of hilarious) is that the only story she ever got credit on, the only one comics historians are sure that she worked on– is one of the craziest things ever to appear in a Batman comic book. “Lord of Batmanor,” from Detective #198.

It’s completely nuts but also kind of awesome. A dying Scottish laird bequeaths his castle to Batman in the hope that the world’s greatest detective can solve a mystery that’s hung over the clan for centuries, and finally clear the family name.

But that’s not the important part. The important part is that Batman and Robin are quick to adopt Scottish customs, including wearing kilts with the family tartan.

And taking up the bagpipes.

The story is reprinted in the hardcover collection The Batman Annuals, which is sadly out of print. I would love to have one of those myself but not for the insane collector prices it’s going for now. Pity.

*

And that’s it for this week. Have a happy holiday, everyone, whichever one you happen to celebrate this time of year, and me, I’ll be back next week. Probably still smelling of lemon and mentholatum, but apparently that’s how we do holidays around here. See you then.

15 Comments

“…but I am weak.”

The power of Pulp compels you!

Unfortunately for me (or perhaps luckily, given the size of my own to-read pile?), those cheapie deals on Amazon, i.e., books on sale for $0.01 to 0.99, come attached with pretty hefty shipping charges for non-North American addresses. Otherwise, I’d probably be ordering those Weird Tales anthologies as we speak.
I didn’t know Brackett (or Hamilton for that matter) had a brief career as a comic book scribe. That’s so cool. I’ve been wanting to pick up Brackett’s Skaith cycle for some time now, but I really want to get copies of the individual books that have those Steranko covers…
And that Lost Planet book has a really exciting premise, but the price is seriously way too high for a book that barely has 50 pages.
Anyway, Greg, I hope you and Julie recover enough for at least a little holiday cheer.

That Lost Planet comic sounds good. Too bad the games are awful. Really bad controllers and glitches everywhere.

“A Day That Doesn’t Necessarily Have To Live In Infamy: On Pearl Harbor Day, December 7th, quite a few of the military folks on my various social media feeds were sad and a little grumpy that if the day was remembered at all, veterans were being kissed off with platitudes from politicians who spend the rest of their time actively trying to make those vets’ lives worse, and I can’t really blame the vets for being a little depressed about it”.

I would guess that downplaying Pearl Harbor has it roots in the idea that emphasizing “the Japanese”* as a threat to peace and stability in the world stands as a very jingoistic and narrow-minded attitude that diverts one’s attention to more substantial continuing threats to peace, if not the survival of homo sapiens as a species.

*Some people complain about just referring to the Pacific Axis as the Japanese. Allied critics tended to describe the European Axis events as “Nazi” crimes. In the Asian theater enemy brutality almost always recounts as presented as simply “Japanese.” While the latter group neglected to coin a code name for themselves, I will attempt to discourage bigotry. While I will note that although the Pacific Axis derive from indigenous traditions of the Japanese, in contrast to the European Axis (Hermann the Cheruscan and Julius Caesar/Caesar Augustus/Caligula neither worshipped Yahweh or followed Moses, nor did to my knowledge they despise homosexuals), the push for aggression we may feel more certainly has dissipated amongst contemporary Japanese.

Cronin covered Pearl Harbor once in a column. Since Nick Fury, Captain Storm, and the Unknown Soldier had all lost confidants, friends, colleagues, and so forth due to Pacific Axis actions, adding Captain America to the list may have seemed uncalled for.

http://www.delusionalhonesty.com/2010/06/in-advance-of-hulk-23-flashing-back-to.html

http://blaklion.best.vwh.net/timeline597.html

http://www.ablecompanybase.com/1941

http://www.supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/captain_america_222-223225.shtml

http://www.supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/sgt_fury_and_his_howling_comma_7.shtml

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2012/01/07/the-abandoned-an%e2%80%99-forsaked-%e2%80%93-captain-america-had-a-brother-who-died-at-pearl-harbor/

http://www.chronologyproject.com/phpbb2/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=6240&p=36221&hilit=Pearl+Harbor#p36221

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2012/01/07/the-abandoned-an%e2%80%99-forsaked-%e2%80%93-captain-america-had-a-brother-who-died-at-pearl-harbor/

http://ikjeld.com/japannews/00000203.php#comments-in

http://archive.unu.edu/unupress/m-war.html#between

See also The ‘Nam#45

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“What is weird (and kind of hilarious) is that the only story she ever got credit on, the only one comics historians are sure that she worked on– is one of the craziest things ever to appear in a Batman comic book”.

You sure about this? As the poster Count Karnstein pointed out, those comic books, aside from a child sidekick in pixie shoes, green underwear, golden cape, and shaved legs:

http://monsterkidclassichorrorforum.yuku.com/search/topic/topic/14587
“had giant pennies and stuffed dinosaurs, was wearing caveman, zebra, and rainbow costumes, teamed up with Bat-Mite, split in two, melded with Superman, fought a living #2 pencil, drowned in giant gravy boats and menaced by giant sized water pistols, tennis rackets, and all sorts of insane absurdities long before the Batman movie or tv show were released….Dozier was bringing the characters to the screen in the manner in which they had been portrayed in the comics. Was there ever a silly, absurd, ridiculous Green Hornet comic book? If so, it’s escaped my attention for the better part of 40 years. Did we ever see a Caveman Green Hornet or a Green Hornet in a rainbox/zebra/dayglo red suit? Did we ever see Green Hornet being drowned in a giant gravy boat or being chased by aliens and dinosaurs? Was there ever an Ace the Green Hornet Dog? How about a Hornet-Mite?

No? I didn’t think so. There’s your answer. It’s literally that simple. Dozier was taking characters and putting them on the screen. Green Hornet was always played straight and serious in the comics/strips/radio, so he was done that way for tv. Batman was as absurd, silly, goofy, and ridiculous as anything else that has ever appeared in comics, and so that’s how he appeared on-screen”.

I think you may have misread the sentence, @PB210; as the wife of a current Navy chief, I can tell you the frustration comes NOT from the remembrance (Greg certainly didn’t bring up the Japanese or their allies at all), but from the way it is hijacked by grandstanding hacks who spend the rest of the year reneging on all the promises made to veterans and military in their puffery.

That is, when they even bother to show up for work enough to do anything at all. THAT is infuriating, and more the source of any grumping than any remaining ethnic animus you might want to apply to it.

“On Pearl Harbor Day, December 7th, quite a few of the military folks on my various social media feeds were sad and a little grumpy that if the day was **remembered at all**”.

I took that to mean he felt the event stood as rather uncommemorated and neglected.

the comma after that clause should have been a hint that he wasn’t finished, is all I’m saying.

No, PB, Becca nailed it. That was what my veteran and currently-serving military friends were crabby about. It went largely uncommemorated around here and when anything was said at all, it was politicians using vets for a photo op and then going back to Washington and screwing them on their benefits. I thought that was clear.

I didn’t know Brackett (or Hamilton for that matter) had a brief career as a comic book scribe. That’s so cool. I’ve been wanting to pick up Brackett’s Skaith cycle for some time now, but I really want to get copies of the individual books that have those Steranko covers…

They ARE great covers; whenever I’ve talked about Steranko’s work as a paperback artist one usually shows up. But I am trading up to hardcovers most of the time these days.

Edmond Hamilton wrote a LOT of comics, he was one of the go-to guys in the Weisinger era of Superman. Did a lot of World’s Finest, Superboy, and Legion too. His Batman stuff was always fun but he himself said he never quite felt comfortable with Batman, since Hamilton came from the SF community; he much preferred working on Superman stories, and he did quite a few of my favorites– “The Last Days of Superman,” “The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman,” and the jock vs. nerd classic “The Fantastic Story of Superman’s Sons!” He created a HUGE amount of Silver Age mythology, especially with Superman and the Legion– I think Hamilton was the one that really fleshed out Krypton and Kandor, including Nightwing and Flamebird. And he’s the guy that came up with Batman’s Club of Heroes that Grant Morrison got so much use out of.

And that Lost Planet book has a really exciting premise, but the price is seriously way too high for a book that barely has 50 pages.

I know. But two single issues from a non-DC or Marvel publisher go for $3.99 each around here, so you’re already out eight bucks– for two dollars more you get the nice hardcover. I got it as a review copy, and I have to admit I probably wouldn’t have shelled out ten bucks for it either. But I’ll bet it discounts HUGE from online dealers in the next three months and it is pretty good. I really am on the fence about it. It’s high but it’s reasonably competitive.

The trouble is that the price points ALL feel too high in comics compared to almost any other mass medium entertainment, which is why I get so annoyed with U.S. comics publishers when they hang on like grim death to the 32-page stapled booklet format. I work in printing and graphics and I assure you there are better, more cost-effective ways to print comics than that; the only reason we still do is because we ‘always have,’ which is a dumb reason to do anything. Spinner racks in drugstores are gone, there’s no reason comics have to size to fit there. They’re not really periodical magazines any more. They’re books released a chapter at a time, and if we would just cowboy up and BE a book industry all the way and attack the printing issues from that perspective I know the prices would go down. I know this. But there’s a whole industry that’s sprung up around enabling the 7×10 stapled booklet– longboxes, mylar, you know, all of that stuff– not to mention all the OCD fans that would throw a fit. It’s frustrating.

you can’t blame the vets for being grumpy greg espically on pearl harbor for as you pointed out the politicians are now a days using any day that honors bets sacrifice to just make them look good then turn around and do a screw you to them by going after their long earned benifits.too bad dc doesn’t reprint that batman annuals for would love to learn if batman does lift the curse but given how dc is with their universe now. better to try and find the back issues and Merry xmas to you and julia

This bringing up of Pearl Harbor reminds me of how I feel that for adventure stories, in contrast to slower moving dramas, the Pacific Axis should feature more, since contemplation of the European Axis requires more introspection.(e.g., why do you still present Moses as a hero despite Thomas Paine’s revulsion at Moses for mass murder and pedophilic war crimes?). I would guess at this point, one can handle Japanese foes without coming across as a call for Southern U.S. reactionaries to revive slavery.

The execution of Tojo Hideki occurred 65 years ago from tomorrow, so have a look this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLsSK1mPG98

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFpP8Y7uihg

Tojo Yuko died earlier this year. I suppose we leave Lady Deathstrike and Doctor Poison to carry on the Imperial Legacy.

The fellow playing Tojo rather resembles him in the clips.

Lady Deathstrike may want to join forces with other Yamato imperialists such as: Dragon Lord and theSunrise Society.

Wow, I seriously had no idea that Hamilton did that much work on the Silver Age Superman. Thanks for the information.
As for that whole set of problems surrounding price and format, you’ve covered that topic here before I think. I’ve nothing substantial to add to your points. I just think it’s sad that a part of the fan-base would very likely also resist the type of practical and ultimately cost-saving changes you’re talking about.

@PB210
“I would guess at this point, one can handle Japanese foes without coming across as a call for Southern U.S. reactionaries to revive slavery.”
I’m confused. What in the hell do you even mean by that sentence?

Sorry I’m a little late in commenting, but how do you combine shipping with marketplace sellers on Amazon? The default charges me per item, not per shipment.

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