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CSBG Archive

Back in the Stacks on Saturday

Wrapping up the capsule reviews from last week. Some superhero books, some fantasy, some western, and some oddball humor, even.

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Conan: The Nightmare of the Shallows by Brian Wood, Davide Gianfelice, Mirko Colak, Andrea Mutti et al.

The blurb:
In the wake of an unthinkable tragedy, Conan and Belit find their bond buckling under an enormous strain. When Belit returns to her childhood home, what she discovers in the sands of Shem could separate her from Conan forever. Conan then seeks clarity through the mind-altering power of the yellow lotus, but the visions revealed to him may be more than the barbarian can bear. Brian Wood’s defining run on Conan continues with art by the celebrated talents of Davide Gianfelice, Mirko Colak, and Andrea Mutti!

What I Thought: Well, mostly what I thought was, “This isn’t my idea of Conan at all.”

It’s a great-looking book, certainly, and everyone who worked on it is at the top of their game. The art is amazing, the colors are lush and gorgeous without looking over-photoshopped… it’s a really nice book. Moreover, Wood is telling an engaging story here. But those who came in, as I did, expecting to see a story of Robert E. Howard’s mighty barbarian are going to be shaking their heads and saying “huh?” and “hey, wait–” a lot.

I should clarify this. I not a Howard purist– I don’t think anyone who comes to Conan through the comics can be. Certainly, there’s room for interpretation. Both Roy Thomas and Kurt Busiek’s Conan came off as being more thoughtful and reflective than Howard’s, Tim Truman’s was meaner, Robert Jordan’s was sly and a bit of a schemer… and so on. But they were all recognizably the same guy. Brian Wood, in his zeal to try to capture what it’s like for a young uncivilized tribal kid to feel real adult love and passion for the first time, is giving us a guy who’s not Conan at all. I just don’t believe the young warrior he’s writing about is Conan the barbarian, and every time he is addressed as ‘Conan’ it pulls me out of the story. The scene where he is overcome with regret and vomits after accidentally killing a doe in front of her fawns is typical of the kind of thing I mean.

Seriously? Conan the pirate who routinely beheads his enemies? Weeping over a dead deer? No. Just no.

I sympathize with genre writers who long to try something different, and with those who are hoping to show another side of a character and not just play the hits. But in this case, I think Wood’s gone so far afield that he shouldn’t get to call it Conan any more. All that being said– it’s still a good book. Just not what I thought I was buying.

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Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Newspaper Strips by Nick Park and various hands.

The blurb:
Spawned from the three-time Oscar-winning animation shorts, Grand Day Out, Close Shave and the feature-length, Curse of the Were-Rabbit, the Wallace & Gromit Complete Newspaper Strips Collection collects 52 whole weeks and 311 individual strips of hilarious invention and unintended consequence! The strip, which appears daily in The Sun, the UK’s most popular daily newspaper, is read by an audience of 2.3 million readers. The full-colour strip features a self-contained, weekly-continuity that sees our plucky, bald inventor race from one hair-brained invention to the next with gusto, extreme silliness and more puns than you can shake a stick at!

What I Thought: This is a very classy little hardcover collecting a year’s worth of the comic strips that spun out of the original stop-motion claymation film shorts and as such, it is an entertaining enough book. The characters are more or less acting like they should, but things seem a little off. The whole package hinges on whether or not you like the movies. I do, so I found myself willing to forgive more than I otherwise might have. But really I was getting flashbacks to my original experience reading the Gold Key comics version of Bugs Bunny– the comic was good but it didn’t feel like the character I knew from the screen, and there’s a little of that same disconnect here.

Nevertheless, it’s a cute book, and certainly the price is right; $14.99 for a hardcover collecting a year’s worth of strips. Overall, though, I think it’s more for the kid in your life who likes the movies than anyone else. An adult fan with more exacting standards is likely to feel disappointed.

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Graphic Classics: H.G. Wells by H.G. Wells and many talented artists.

The blurb:
The long-out-of-print Graphic Classics: H.G. Wells returns with 80 new pages. New to this edition are “The Island of Dr. Moreau” adapted by David Hontiveros and Reno Maniquis, plus a newly-illustrated “The Time Machine” by Antonella Caputo and Craig Wilson. Returning are “The Inexperienced Ghost” by Tom Pomplun and Rich Tommaso, and “The Star” by Brad Teare.

What I Thought: I just can’t say enough good things about what Tom Pomplun and the folks at Graphic Classics are doing. I know from my own experience both as a reader and as an educator what an amazingly powerful tool comics are for helping kids achieve literacy and for de-mystifying the act of reading itself. Chances are, if you are a single person reading this column, then you’re probably already a book lover and the idea that kids have to be cajoled into reading anything is foreign to you. But most of you parents out there probably all know what a hurdle that is to get over, and presenting something as a comic is a terrifically effective way to get kids to TRY a story. Finding the old Classics Illustrated comic-book version of Hamlet before I ever encountered the original play made all the difference in the world– when it eventually came up at school, I was completely up for it.

I knew it was a great story with ghosts and intrigue and murder and cool swordfights and so on long before I knew it was also supposed to be Great Literature.

All that, though, is only the reason I approve of comics adaptations of classic lit books in general. What I love about Graphic Classics in particular is that they do it better than anyone else ever has.

This is the revised and expanded third edition of their H.G. Wells volume, and as usual, it’s terrific. The books are a treat for comics fans of any stripe– Mr. Pomplun always manages to load the books with an eclectic array of talent from both the mainstream and indy artist pools. H.G. Wells is no exception– there’s work in here from Reno Maniquis, Craig Wilson, Brad Teare, Rich Tommasso, Simon Gane… some of these are names I’d already heard of, and others I’m definitely going to be looking out for in the future. The retail price is $12.95 but if you go straight to the website you can get it for ten bucks. That’s a great deal for 144 pages of really cool comics. Check out some of the other volumes while you’re there, they’re all good. I’m partial to Western Classics and Adventure Classics, myself, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them.

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Superior Spider-Man Volume Three: No Escape and Volume Four: Necessary Evil by Dan Slott, Christos Gage, Humberto Ramos, et al.

The blurbs: Volume Three is, The Spider-Slayer is scheduled for execution and Mayor J. Jonah Jameson is leaving nothing to chance. To ensure that everything goes according to plan, Jameson’s called in the one man he can trust to oversee everything – the Superior Spider-Man.

And Volume Four reads: Back by popular demand, Spider-Man 2099 returns! But when the future Spidey and the Superior Spidey clash, who will be the most superior Spider-Man in the multiverse? It may not matter, because the end of the battle brings about a moment that will alter the world of Spider-Man – and the Marvel Universe – for years to come! But which Spider was responsible for this shocking change? Then, from the ashes of battle come the first team-up between the Superior Spider-Man and the Black Cat. Felicia Hardy always cared for the Spider more than the man…but what happens when that man is Otto Octavius? And as an Osborn we haven’t seen in a while returns, Otto celebrates a milestone! Is the world ready for “Dr. Peter Parker”…or what he plans to do next?

What I Thought: I know it’s blasphemy, I know it drives a number of Spider-fans right out of their minds, but I have to admit that Dan Slott and company have completely sold me on Superior Spider-Man. The book is just hysterically funny. I love seeing Otto Octavius struggle with trying to apply the obvious supervillain fixes to Peter Parker’s life, and constantly having it blow up in his face. It’s a hoot. (And it was very cool to see Spider-Man 2099 again… I still miss that book. Sigh.)

I don’t really understand the fans throwing a fit about Spider-Otto; for God’s sake, there’s big-budget movies and cartoons and everything else, there’s no way Marvel was going to lose Peter Parker forever. This is a long-form story like Knightfall or The Return of Superman or The Death of Captain America. I’d have thought we would have all learned our lesson about this by now. Anyway, I follow this book in trade so I’m months behind everyone else on it, but it sure is a good time. The only real downside is Humberto Ramos on the art; his stuff is just not to my taste, though it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. Either he’s toned down his cartoony bigfoot approach a little or I’m getting over it.

But it’s always the story that gets me and this is a good one. I enjoy Slott’s other stuff but Spider-Man is where he does his best work; he even has me sort of rooting for Otto from time to time. To my mild astonishment, Dan Slott has somehow managed to keep the feel of Spider-Man and his life and world without actually having the real Spider-Man in the story at all. It’s a fun book. People should calm down and enjoy it.

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The Lone Ranger Rides by Fran Striker.

The blurb:
At last, the origin of The Lone Ranger, written by Fran Striker, his original creator. Learn why our legendary hero wears a mask, how he acquired his horse, Silver, how he met Tonto, his faithful Indian companion, and why he uses silver bullets. Witness the ambush of the Texas Rangers by the Cavendish Gang and watch as the Lone Ranger goes on a journey of retribution. Join us for a classic rip-roaring tale set in the Old West with many twists and turns that will keep you guessing right up until the end.

What I Thought: This is a little oddity from a small-press house called Starry Night Publishing. The reason I picked it up is because it is actually THE origin of the Lone Ranger as told by his creator, Fran Striker… and it’s not part of the set of eighteen licensed Ranger novels from Grosset & Dunlap that came out throughout the forties and fifties. This one was originally published by Putnam in 1941, after the Lone Ranger was already an established hit. So Striker had the benefit of hindsight when he wrote this… in fact, I can’t swear to it, but this might be one of the earliest examples of a ‘retcon’ there is, because Striker made several changes to the main story and added quite a bit. As such, it’s the equivalent to one of those Year One stories you see in comics all the time.

At any rate, this is a nice book to have and I enjoyed seeing Fran Striker’s actual words on the page–we’ve seen the origin all kinds of ways but I’m going to assume this is THE version and accept no substitutes hereafter. I also appreciate the fact that they put in all the little black-and-white illustrations that I assume were in the Putnam book as well. I wish they’d reproduced the original cover though– i put it up for you there on the right, and as you can see, especially compared to that nice color rendering, the Starry Night trade dress is not very appealing at all.

For whatever reason, this book is in the public domain now, so if you prefer not to drop the ten bucks on the trade paperback, you’ll find it for free at Project Gutenberg, here.

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And there you go. That’s put a dent in the review pile, at least. Of course, the to-read pile is still waist-high, but progress is progress.

See you next week.

17 Comments

interesting for never thought any one would write conan losing his lunch over two baby deer. given how he is suppose to be a warrior. and think a lot of the early lone ranger stories may be in the public domain if not the character himself soon.

So I just finally read that Lone Ranger Omnibus trade from Dynamite (the 25 issue Matthews/Cariello/Cassaday art directed one), and I thought it was ok (it felt like maybe it skipped a few steps somewhere along the way, though), and I was wondering what you thought (and I’m too lazy to check the blog archives ;) ). I certainly can’t fault the art, it was beautiful, and elements of the story were fun, but I read it just after re-reading the Lone Ranger and Tonto (“break up!”) mini from Topps from … oh gee, that’s 20 some years ago now, by Lansdale and Truman, and while the supernatural-y element to it didn’t seem to necessarily fit, the relationship between the two men seemed more interesting than that Dynamite series. I dunno. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something just didn’t jive for me with the omni. I did like Cavendish in it, though, particularly the one issue that focused on him and his upbringing. I guess I’m just not really sure why he’d targeted the Reids.

It definitely is a foreign concept that you wouldn’t WANT to read. Of course, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading, so there’s that.

Man, I credit my very literacy to comics. Since I came from a partly non-English speaking family, they really helped me overcome some hurdles in reading comprehension in my first few years of school.

And wow, I had the same reaction to Bugs Bunny comics when I was a kid – which is why I only had a few of them. Interesting that you can’t say the same thing about the Disney comics. In fact, in the case of the Ducks, the comics were often better than the cartoons.
And based on the examples you posted here, it doesn’t seem like Wallace and Gromit translate to the flat comic format very well.

I felt much like Conan in that last panel when I read the first several issues of Brian Wood’s Conan. That book spends pretty much its entire run ignoring pretty much everything that ever has been established about Conan ever. It’s like Dark Horse decided they can’t write stories about the Conan of the last 80 years because someone realized he wasn’t politically correct enough.

The book is just hysterically funny. I love seeing Otto Octavius struggle with trying to apply the obvious supervillain fixes to Peter Parker’s life, and constantly having it blow up in his face. It’s a hoot.

Right? Slott is doing such a great job on this title. Doesn’t it also pump you up for his upcoming Silver Surfer series? Dude knows how to write fun comics!

I love Superior Spider-Man, and part of me wants to agree with Otto’s assessment of Peter before he completely expunges him from his brain, and watch Otto stay Spider-Man for years to come. On the other hand, this is a great example of the rare finite story within superhero comics, since Otto was destined for a fall the moment he decided to be a “Superior” Spider-Man, and all his attempts to stay ahead of his enemies are only prolonging the inevitable.

I’m also liking Superior quite a bit, although I’m even further behind you because I’m reading the UK reprints that bundle it with Scarlett Spider and Avenging Spidey for not much more than a regular comic. With you on Ramos’s art. Wish Marcos Martin could work at the same rate.

Apropos of not very much, Greg, how about a column on those great Further Adventures of Batman prose short story collections that came out around the time of the Burton movies? Some of my favourite Bat stories are buried in those, and they had an all-star lineup of classic pulp writers.

Glad you liked Graphic Classics: H.G. Wells. :)

Is this new Conan supposed to be a prequel? I’m not even a Conan fan and that seems completely wrong from what I know about the character, but maybe the point of the series is supposed to be showing how a man like that can become the ultimate warrior.

Is this new Conan supposed to be a prequel? I’m not even a Conan fan and that seems completely wrong from what I know about the character, but maybe the point of the series is supposed to be showing how a man like that can become the ultimate warrior.

It’s an extension of Conan’s time with Belit, set between the lines of the original Howard story “Queen of the Black Coast”– here it is on Project Gutenberg, for the curious– so he’s already pretty badass. For example, this is how he is introduced–

“Who invited you aboard?”

“Get under way!” roared the intruder with a fierce gesture that spattered red drops from his broadsword.

“But we’re bound for the coasts of Kush!” expostulated the master.

“Then I’m for Kush! Push off, I tell you!” The other cast a quick glance up the street, along which a squad of horsemen were galloping; far behind them toiled a group of archers, crossbows on their shoulders.

“Can you pay for your passage?” demanded the master.

“I pay my way with steel!” roared the man in armor, brandishing the great sword that glittered bluely in the sun. “By Crom, yin, if you don’t get under way, I’ll drench this galley in the blood of its crew!”

The shipmaster was a good judge of men. One glance at the scarred face of the swordsman, hardened with passion, and he shouted a quick order, thrusting strongly against the piles. The galley wallowed out into clear water, the oars began to clack rhythmically; then a puff of wind filled the shimmering sail, the light ship heeled to the gust, then took her course like a swan, gathering headway as she skimmed along.On the wharfs the riders were shaking their swords and shouting threats and commands that the ship put about, and yelling for the bowmen to hasten before the craft was out of arbalest range.

“Let them rave,” grinned the swordsman hardily. “Do you keep her on her course, master steersman.”

The master descended from the small deck between the bows, made his way between the rows of oarsmen, and mounted the mid-deck. The stranger stood there with his back to the mast, eyes narrowed alertly, sword ready. The shipman eyed him steadily, careful not to make any move toward the long knife in his belt. He saw a tall powerfully built figure in a black scalemail hauberk, burnished greaves and a blue-steel helmet from which jutted bull’s horns highly polished. From the mailed shoulders fell the scarlet cloak, blowing in the sea-wind. A broad shagreen belt with a golden buckle held the scabbard of the broadsword he bore. Under the horned helmet a square-cut black mane contrasted with smoldering blue eyes.

“If we must travel together,” said the master, “we may as well be at peace with each other. My name is Tito, licensed mastershipman of the ports of Argos. I am bound for Kush, to trade beads and silks and sugar and brass-hilted swords to the black kings for ivory, copra, copper ore, slaves and pearls.”

The swordsman glanced back at the rapidly receding docks, where the figures still gesticulated helplessly, evidently having trouble in finding a boat swift enough to overhaul the fast-sailing galley.

“I am Conan, a Cimmerian,” he answered. “I came into Argos seeking employment, but with no wars forward, there was nothing to which I might turn my hand.”

That’s the guy in the story that Wood is allegedly adapting, and that’s why I feel he’s strayed a little too far from the source material. Conan was killing humans in his teenage years; he’d never get upset over a dead deer, any more than he would a trout or a rabbit or other game. To him, deer is food. The end.

Greg: As you know, I feel the same way you do about Conan, and I think it’s pretty clearly established that these adventures take place AFTER all the Busiek and Truman ones. In the 12-issue Roy Thomas “Road of Kings/Throne of Blood” story, Thomas writes that his story is specifically supposed to link the end of Truman’s run to Wood’s run. So no matter where the Belit romance falls in Howard’s original stories, in this comics run, it’s coming after all the stuff he’s already experienced in the Busiek and Truman and Thomas stories. Which makes his characterization even weirder.

As obnoxious as Spider-Otto can be at times, his exploits are still fun to read. And naturally, Peter is coming back, so when you factor that in, your enjoyment level for these comics goes up.

I have not read any more of the story than the page posted here, but the art on the Conan story reminds me far more of art I would expect in an story about an indigenous youth coming of age than a story about a character who has become the definitive barbarian archetype. Seems an odd choice for a Conan story.

I also agree that having Conan vomit after killing the doe is not in character at all. Seems to me he would far more likely think he just gets some extra venison with this kill as he has two additional small deer to take as well.

The most offensive thing in that Conan excerpt is the typeset font… Are they trying to recall the look of the novel? Regardless, it looks really anachronistic.

Nate: They’ve done that for the entire Conan run. Busiek came by here a few years ago and explained that yes, they are trying to make it look like a typed manuscript from the 1930s. It’s supposed to look anachronistic. Whether it works for you or not is up to you, I guess!

Greg: As you know, I feel the same way you do about Conan, and I think it’s pretty clearly established that these adventures take place AFTER all the Busiek and Truman ones. In the 12-issue Roy Thomas “Road of Kings/Throne of Blood” story, Thomas writes that his story is specifically supposed to link the end of Truman’s run to Wood’s run. So no matter where the Belit romance falls in Howard’s original stories, in this comics run, it’s coming after all the stuff he’s already experienced in the Busiek and Truman and Thomas stories. Which makes his characterization even weirder.

Yeah, that does seem odd. I’m starting to wonder if anyone mentioned that to Mr. Wood.

I don’t want to beat the topic to death, because my position is that it’s out of character, whether Conan’s fifteen years old or forty, to get all puddled up over a dead deer. But to add a bit of a nerd footnote, the question of the chronology of Conan’s career has been a hobby for Howard fans since the original pulp days. The most common reference is A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career from 1936, completed during Howard’s lifetime by P. Schuyler Miller and John D. Clark. They actually ran it by Howard himself, who made a couple of suggestions but otherwise told them yeah, they had it. Letter’s online here for the curious.

So that’s really what everyone is going by, whether it’s ‘official’ or not. There are things that are just accepted as his biography by everyone, in this order — first, in his late teens, he helped with the siege at Venarium, then he left Cimmeria to be a thief in Zamora, then he was a mercenary ranging throughout the eastern kingdoms, then he was a pirate with Belit, then he was variously a mercenary and soldier ranging all over the place, even leading a tribe of kozaks for a while as well as a brief further stint as a pirate captain, until he seized the crown of Aquilonia while in his forties. That’s HOWARD’S outline, covering the stories he himself wrote. Fans have had a fine old time wrangling over all the pastiches since then, starting with DeCamp and Carter and continuing up through the new novels from Tor.

As for the comics, both the Marvel run in the 1970s and the current Dark Horse version are working with that same outline. So there’s a certain duplication of adaptation there. Kurt Busiek was extra-thorough in working out how his Conan fit into the general timeline, and Truman followed in that tradition. And of course Roy Thomas did as well.

So the thing that throws all us old-timers off is that no matter which way you try to fiddle with the chronology Howard laid out, Queen of the Black Coast is at a sort of mid-point. That’s one of those things everyone agrees on, including Howard himself. There is no way Conan was with Belit any earlier than while in his mid-twenties, and I think his late twenties is more likely.

All of us who’ve been long-time Conan readers tend to have internalized this chronology. Thief, mercenary raider, pirate, soldier-of-fortune, and king…. and at every one of those points in his life he was pretty callous about human life, let alone game animals. This is what leads me to speculate about whether or not Wood’s even read the originals. He always seems to me to be writing about a completely different guy. I’ve hung in there because the stories themselves are pretty good, but they don’t feel like Conan stories and that throws me off. I will be glad when Van Lente takes the reins.

I think the reason fans were “throwing a fit” over Spider-Otto was the constant, mendacious insistence that this was the new status quo and Peter Parker was never coming back, never not ever ever ever. This was so patently, obviously untrue, and came on the heels of so many similar instances of “this is the new status quo and things will NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!” (I can think of a dozen examples off the top of my head, from Spider-Man’s unmasking to the Bart Allen Flash to the death of the Martian Manhunter) that fans felt like their intelligence was being insulted. When you lie to your reading audience–to your customers–over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, eventually they’ll get to a point where they get sick of that.

I’m sure that the Spider-Otto story was good. I’ve heard good things about it. But Dan Slott’s interviews on the subject left a bad taste in my mouth and I didn’t want to buy his comic…and that’s despite liking his previous work and thinking he’s probably a nice guy. This whole idea of lying to the fanbase to hype a comic needs to die. If you can’t be honest, just stick to “You’ll just have to buy it and see what happens” and leave it at that, OK?

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