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Saturday, to My Immediate Right

It was kind of a rough week here in our household– nothing terrible, just stupid work stuff and car trouble and a concurrent inability to shake any money out of the seven different establishments that owe us some. And then there’s all the news, about equal parts beloved celebrities dying and political things that give a fellow the “warm sweet urge to hit congresscritters repeatedly in the face,” as one friend of mine Tweeted. So this week I figured on something short and cheerful, and then it occurred to me that maybe some of you would like to play along at home.

It’s one of those meme questionnaires that show up in my inbox every so often. I generally skip the ones about which house you’d end up in at Hogwarts or who you want on your zombie-killing squad, but this one was book-related, and I always enjoy applying those to comics and seeing what I get.

So here we go!

It started with this:

Pick up the closest book to your right. It has to be fiction.

This made me laugh. Seriously? Like there’s ONE? Here is my immediate right.

If I did the questionnaire for every one of those, I’d be here a month and the column itself would be another book for the pile. Even just comics and comics-related, it’s a lot, and that’s not even including the longboxes of comics they’re all sitting on.

So for the sake of simplicity, we’ll take the top two of them. That would be these: SUPERMAN: Dark Knight Over Metropolis….

And this one: The Adventures of Red Sonja Volume One.

So just for the hell of it, I’ll do the questionnaire for both of these. We’ll start with the Superman book.

How long have you owned this book?

Hmp. Well, in this particular edition, not that long. But it’s a collection of individual comic books that I had once owned and then let go of. This has the Action Comics Annual I bought off the stands back in the eighties, and also the three-parter “Dark Knight Over Metropolis,” which I caught up with as back issues at a show about seven years ago or so, I think.

This particular book also includes the two issues that led up to that story, which I’d never read. So that value-add was enough to seal the deal.

What caught your eye about this book? Why’d you buy it?

Well, I have this ongoing sort of project I pick at where I trade up from individual comics issues to book collections. Realistically, I almost never reread the comics once they’re in the longboxes. I am much more likely to pull a book off the shelf if I want to re-visit something. So generally I will replace loose issues with a book collection when the chance comes up to do it for not very much money, and then we give the individual issues to kids who will enjoy them. In this particular case, the replaced comics went into a big pile of Superman stuff I gave Julie to take to the juvenile rehab where she works, and she assured me the boys in the cottage were all over that action. The trouble with us letting go of old books and comics is that we think of them like puppies, we want them to go to good homes. So I was pleased the Superman pile was appreciated.

Moreover, I approve of DC’s trade paperback program where they are putting shorter arcs and interesting theme collections into these $14.99 paperbacks, I like supporting that. And rereading the stories in this book, I was reminded how much I enjoyed the late eighties-early nineties Superman comics– when the triangle-numbered serialized approach was really working for them. It wasn’t “my” Superman– I talked about mine here– but it was a GOOD one, and ironically, though it was all born out of John Byrne’s much-publicized revamp of Superman, it was after Byrne left the books that this version really grew on me.

Who’s the main character? What do you like about him or her?

The main characters are Superman and Batman. I’ve probably written several miles of column inches about why I like each of them and I won’t rehash it here. But I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about why I like stories about the two of them having an adventure together…. and I must like those, because I’ve got a lot of those books here and they keep surviving the bookshelf purges.


In my youth, I just was in it for the extra bang for the buck you got with a team-up story. As I got older, I think I kind of liked the idea that these essentially isolated guys had found friendship– and I imagine that was a big selling point for a lot of kids, considering how many covers turned on the idea of that friendship being threatened somehow.

Frank Miller really screwed that up for all of us, though. After he did his version of the Batman-Superman relationship in The Dark Knight Returns, suddenly it wasn’t okay for the two of them to be pals any more. I think it really hurt both characters in the long run– not so much because of Miller’s own story but because everyone at DC in the eighties thought his one-off, maybe-someday take on the two heroes was the new bible for the characters. In particular, John Byrne co-signed this new take on them in his Superman revamp that was happening more or less simultaneously with Miller’s book, but there was a lot of support for it across the board. The idea seemed to be that Batman was too cool to hang out with a naive do-gooder like Superman. So forty-plus years of friendship stories were instantly jettisoned in favor of not only showing Superman and Batman being overtly hostile to each other, but being sure we all knew the writers totally sided with Batman and that Superman was a naive Kansas hick who deserved all the contempt Batman heaped on him.

Eventually DC figured out that perhaps that was a bit too much and started walking back the hostility, and one of the reasons I always liked Dark Knight Over Metropolis was that it seemed to be hitting a really nice balance between the two extremes. Superman’s not a tool and Batman’s not a jerk.

What don’t you like about the lead character?

Asked and answered, I think. I don’t like Batman acting like a sneering superior prick and I don’t like Superman portrayed as a naive doofus. Fortunately, that dynamic is not much in evidence in this particluar collection.

Would you buy more books like this?

Probably. I hung in there with Superman/Batman for its entire run and mostly enjoyed it. I haven’t tried the New 52 version of the title; mostly because DC seems to be returning to its crusade to make Batman a superhero for those fans who thought the Dark Knight trilogy of movies was too lighthearted and upbeat, and that’s not for me. I always enjoy Greg Pak’s writing though, so I might be persuaded to try a trade collection of the new series if I see one cheap.

So there you go. Let’s try it with Red Sonja and see what we get.

*

How long have you owned this book?

Couple of months, or thereabouts. I tend to lose track of them when they go into The Pile.

What caught your eye about this book? Why’d you buy it?

Oh, about equal parts nostalgia and curiosity, I guess. I was never that into Marvel’s Red Sonja comics when they first appeared– in fact, I wasn’t that interested in the monthly Conan comics they were spun out of either.

But I adored Marvel’s Savage Sword, and that magazine ended up being my gateway drug to the Conan prose paperbacks, Robert E. Howard, and sword-and-sorcery in general.

You know how people today find a TV show they like and go on Netflix binges? That was me with sword-and-sorcery paperbacks in the mid-seventies. I cleaned up the Conan books after cheerfully blowing about a month’s worth of lawn-mowing money on the set and was hungry for more. So I was all over the Zebra editions of Robert E. Howard as soon as I found out they existed. One of my very favorites of those was the paperback edition of The Sowers of the Thunder. The last story in the book is “Shadow of the Vulture,” featuring Red Sonya of Rogatino, the prototype for the Marvel version.

That was in fact a reprint of the really stunning Donald F. Grant limited-edition hardcover, with all the great illustrations by Roy Krenkel.

(I still lust for the Grant hardcover Howards… so far we’ve found Tigers of the Sea, Worms of the Earth, and Almuric. But I digress.) The point is, I knew that Marvel’s Red Sonja was sort of a version of Howard’s original Red Sonya of Rogatino, but it wasn’t enough to get me interested in the comics.

I knew that Frank Thorne had sort of taken custody of the character and though I’m not a Howard purist, his schticky dirty-old-man take on the whole thing put me off a little whenever the cosplay con photos would show up in Savage Sword.

I assumed the comics would turn out the same way, and I wasn’t really interested. (And, in fairness, from what I saw in Savage Sword they kind of did.)

But I’ve lightened up in the years since, and when this Red Sonja collection turned up for relatively cheap, I picked it up as an impulse buy. I love these new collections of the Marvel Robert E. Howard comics, especially when they get Roy Thomas to come and write a reminiscence about how the stories came about. The stories in this volume are mostly written by Roy Thomas and Bruce Jones, and in addition to Frank Thorne there’s also art from Dick Giordano and Esteban Maroto on a couple of them.

Who’s the main character? What do you like about him or her?

I like the idea of someone besides Conan getting to star in a series set during the Hyborian Age, and I like the idea of a woman warrior getting to headline. I love the original Red Sonya story from The Sowers of the Thunder.

What don’t you like about the lead character?

…although, well, I don’t know if I’m really interested in THIS version of Red Sonja. It’s almost impossible for me to get past the steel bikini outfit, especially as it gets skimpier and skimpier as the years go on.

I think I’d have much rather had a series about the pirate queen Belit, or Valeria of the Red Brotherhood. They’re just as interesting as Red Sonja and they are also dressed somewhat more practically for battling guys with swords and axes– not a LOT more, but more than Red Sonja with her G-string made of nickels. In fact, I always wondered why Roy Thomas didn’t go with one of those two ladies when he was trying to reverse-engineer a female warrior lead out of the Howard originals. (Well, he did end up making Belit a co-star in the book for quite a while, but I don’t think she ever got to solo.)

I also never cared for Sonja’s whole backstory where the attack on her in her youth caused her to take up the sword and adopt the philosophy of “I can only belong to a man who can best me in battle.” I’m absolutely certain that all Roy Thomas intended was for the character to be strong-willed and to show that she wasn’t going to take a back seat to Conan or anyone else, but what he actually put on the page, as Peter David pointed out in a column years ago, was someone who said, I can only respect a man who is capable of re-creating my most traumatic experience. Which is really pretty damaged and co-dependent and creepy. And between that and leering Frank Thorne taking charge, well, Sonja left me cold.

But I still enjoyed this first volume okay, especially seeing the earliest solo stories and Roy Thomas’ extensive look behind the scenes. A little Red Sonja goes a long way for me, though.

Would you buy more books like this?

Uh….

…probably, yeah.

*

So now it’s your turn. If you feel like playing along at home, sound off in the comments section below… though of course you don’t need to ramble on like I usually do unless you really want to. Here are the questions again:

Pick up the closest book to your right. It has to be fiction.
How long have you owned this book?
What caught your eye about this book? Why’d you buy it?
Who’s the main character? What do you like about him or her?
What don’t you like about the lead character?
Would you buy more books like this?

Have fun, and I’ll see you next week.

20 Comments

Those poor books! Find a better place for them, please. Sorry, it is a big pain for me to see books in that condition.

Hey Carlos, wait until you get a load of this…

http://studdblog.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-pile.html

Now as for the book…

Pick up the closest book to your right. It has to be fiction.

The paper back adaptation of the film, House of Dark Shadows

How long have you owned this book?

Decades

What caught your eye about this book? Why’d you buy it?

I was and always will be a huge fan of the old tv series Dark Shadows. Because of that I collected most of the paperbacks by author “Marilyn Ross”.

Who’s the main character? What do you like about him or her?

My favorite sad vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid, not Johnny Depp). He’s the classic anti-hero, a man who wants to do right, but whose own arrogance and nature lead him into evil again and again.

What don’t you like about the lead character?

Barnabas does get as whiny and as love struck as Edward from Twililight, but then he does come from a soap opera. Of course that’s not the problem in the adaptation of the enjoyably bloody feature film.

Would you buy more books like this?

Oh hell yeah.

I actually let out a whimper when I saw “The Pile,” Rick.

You poor comics…Come here, Kurt will save you.

You are the bookman, coo-coo-ca-choo.

Me, I had to go into the next room to find my tablet, where a couple of novels I keep meaning to start reading are hiding in my Kindle app. I should probably hide my face in shame…

“Pick up the closest book to your right.”

I swiveled my chair to the right and saw Golden Comics Digest #45, which I recently indexed for the GCD, but as I swiveled back I realized I had overlooked a closer book… and it’s kind of embarrassing.

“It has to be fiction.”

It’s a book of cartoons.

“How long have you owned this book?”

Just over a year.

“What caught your eye about this book? Why’d you buy it?”

It’s a self-published book of cartoons I wrote & drew. Why wouldn’t I buy a copy?

“Who’s the main character?”

The two characters who appear the most are Mr. & Mrs. Rockhound, although I suppose Mr. Rockhound gets most of the focus.

“What do you like about him or her?”

He’s fun to write and loosely based on my dad.

“What don’t you like about the lead character?”

Can’t think of anything.

“Would you buy more books like this?”

Well, as I’m working on volume 2, yes.

No comments on the new coloring that was done for the Dynamite Red Sonja trades? It is just TERRIBLE for anyone curious about picking these up. Which is a shame, because while I’ve never been a big fan of the character either, I love 70’s Conan and all the other REH-inspired comics, so I was looking forward to reading these solo Sonja tales. Thorne himself has publicly vented about how much he hates the re-coloring they did on the new trades.

No comments on the new coloring that was done for the Dynamite Red Sonja trades? It is just TERRIBLE for anyone curious about picking these up.

Well, first of all, I paid less for mine than a standard monthly comic retails for, so I’m not all that invested. As long as it’s not falling apart in my hands and beat to death, I think I came out ahead.

Secondly, I’ve heard these color complaints about the Marvel Howard reprints since Dark Horse started putting out the Chronicles of Conan books years ago, and honestly, I just don’t see it. Yeah, it’s a little garish and over-Photoshopped in places, but it doesn’t really hurt the readability of it the way, say, the dark muddy coloring makes some of the Captain America: Winter Soldier trade paperbacks completely illegible. Let’s put it this way; it’s on a level with, and often better than, the shitty newsprint coloring these stories originally had. I’d prefer a flat-color approach with a more muted palette, yes… but it is in no way a deal-breaker for me on these. The only Marvel Robert E. Howard reprint where I really thought they screwed the pooch on it was the newly-colored “Worms of the Earth” in Dark Horse’s Savage Sword relaunch, a story originally designed to appear in black and white and which was colored so dark in the Dark Horse reprint that it was difficult to differentiate figures from backgrounds.

It’s a self-published book of cartoons I wrote & drew. Why wouldn’t I buy a copy?

Hey, that’s great! But, dude… you gotta let US know where to buy it. Which is here.

Fair enough, Greg. To me, the coloring in the Sonja trades completely dulls the details and looks so muddy and ugly. I generally have no problem with updated/digital coloring but this was bad enough to take me away from reading the stories.

Pick up the closest book to your right. It has to be fiction.
Essential Avengers Vol. 4 covering issues #69-97.

How long have you owned this book?
8 or 9 years, I think.

What caught your eye about this book? Why’d you buy it?
Roy Thomas Avengers are some of my favorite comics of all time. I bought it because digging out the singles is a pain in the ass. Well, I really just own the Kree-Skrull War issues.

Who’s the main character? What do you like about him or her?
Uh…The Vision? Kinda? I don’t know what it is about this guy, but his learning how to be human while everyone around him takes it for granted kinda strikes a chord with me.

What don’t you like about the lead character?
He’s not Hawkeye.

Would you buy more books like this?
I have like 100 more of these Essentials. Of course now it seems they’ll not be printing more. I just made myself sad.

Heh, “G-string made of nickels.” I kid you not, when I first saw a Red Sonja comic in the racks as a kid, I remember thinking, “why is she wearing a bathing suit made of dimes?”
Otherwise, I always preferred Barry Smith’s version: still sexy, but a bit more practical for someone engaging in frequent swordfights and general swashbuckling.
By the way, I agree with Andrew about the coloring in those Dark Horse reprints: I wouldn’t mind having the first 5 or 6 Conan volumes, but unless I kind find them really, really cheap (not more than a few bucks each) I refuse to buy them, because the recoloring just looks awful to me.

And Rick, I left a comment on your blog, but I’ll just add that I, for one, did not gasp in shock when I saw the picture of your comics pile – quite the opposite, I got all misty and sentimental.

And here’s my contribution:
Pick up the closest book to your right. It has to be fiction.
I’m not typing this in the room where all my books are, so I’ll just go with the last book I read: Point Blank (a 1970s UK paperback edition of The Hunter) by Richard Stark (i.e., Donald Westlake).

How long have you owned this book?
Less than a week.

What caught your eye about this book? Why’d you buy it?
Nothing specifically caught my eye, as I bought it online from a used bookseller in England. I bought it because ever since I learned that the movie Payback (one of the few Gibson movies I can still watch) is based on it, I’ve been wanting to read it. And finding a cheap copy, meaning not more than about $5-6 total, with shipping, was surprisingly difficult.

Who’s the main character? What do you like about him or her?
Parker – a tough-as-nails criminal who specializes in well-planned heists with high pay-offs. Can’t say I like him as such, but I like the way he single-mindedly goes after the people who ripped him off, and gets his money back (sort of).

What don’t you like about the lead character?
He’s a little too amoral, I guess. One thing I like about the movie Payback is that the Parker analog, Porter, while still a professional armed robber with a penchant for extreme violence, has a sort of moral code. In the book, Parker doesn’t really seem to have any qualms at all, and actually ends up killing at least one entirely innocent person (a woman in a beauty salon he used for a stakeout) and after regretting it for a few seconds, just sort of shrugs it off.

Would you buy more books like this?
Yes, actually. This is the first book by Westlake I’ve ever read, but he seems to be a better writer than some of the other, more popular hard-boiled crime writers, like Mickey Spillane.

seeing that shelve shows how much you love book greg to the point of soon you may wind up with the shelves crashing from all the books if you are not careful. as for the red sonja trade. dark horse really should have just kept the things in black and white for the color kind of makes the story a mess.besides think burroughs might have prefered black and white

Hey Greg, incidentally, in the current Red Sonja series written by Gail Simone, she wears a more practical outfit most of the time, although she’s still in the chainmail bikini on the covers.

Simone’s Sonja also has pretty much the same attitude toward sex as Conan does–and in fact when she meets a swordmaster who says he can only give himself to someone who defeats him in battle, she says that’s the stupidest thing she’s ever heard.

I wrote a comment but it didn’t come up… weird.

Closest book to my right:
Marvel Masterworks Captain America Vol. 1

How long have you owned it?
I bought it in 1990 when I was 17 years old. It cost $55 at the time and was a huge investment for a teenager with little money, and at the time, no job.

What caught your eye/ Why’d you buy it?
It was the start of the Marvel Masterworks line with it’s prestige format and a chance to re-read some early adventures of my favourite superhero.

Who’s the main character? What do you like about him?
Cap’s always been my favourite superhero since I started reading his adventures as a 3 or 4 year old. In Australia,I first came across the character in a reprint series Newton Comics which reprinted all the original silver age Marvel comics. I think my gateway was a reprint of the second Sleeper arc (Cap 100 – 102.)

Originally what appealed to me about Cap was the action – in the first story I read about Cap he drives a speedboat into an enemy compound while blasting them with a raygun. The he opens up a can of whupass on the Red Skull’s henchmen. It doesn’t get better than that!

But then it grew to loving what the guy represented, and also seeing a guy who was forthright but conflicted. He wanted to live the dream, but knew he had to sacrifice his own dreams to protect others. Classic.

What Don’t you like about the character?
I don’t like how he’s constantly used and abused by Marvel Comics, from sidelining him throughout the eighties in preference for anti-heroes like Wolverine and the Punisher, to constantly replacing him because they keep getting writers on board who don’t know what to do with him. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Englehart, Roger Stern, J. M. DeMatteis, Mark Waid – all great writers who knew the character

Would I buy more books like this?
I’m grabbing more and more of the softcover Masterworks line as well as the Essentials and now Epic Collections.I already have a complete run of Captain America but it’s easier to pull out a trade than get an individual comic out. So yeah, I’ll keep getting them. Especially now that I’m cancelling my Cap run with Falcon-Cap.

Astro City: Local Heroes

I bought it when the new series started, about 4 months ago. Bought every volume and I’ve been working through them since then before I jump into the new weekly.

What caught my eye about this series was my fond remembrance of Busiek’s Untold Tales of Spiderman. That was the first and only comic that I bought monthly when I was a kid, but years of lapsed interest in comics had caused me to miss his other work.

The main character is..the city? This volume is all disconnected one-shots, but the world created here is brilliant, and original, and cohesive. I particularly liked the story set in Caplinville, because it depicted Astro City from an outside perspective, so you could better understand it’s place in the world.

There’s nothing that I don’t like about this lead “character.” Part of me wants to see different artists have a take on Astro City, especially in a volume of one-shots like this. I do appreciate the consistent aesthetic, though.

The whole series has delivered, and I’ve already bought everything there is to read. I might even look for single issues just for fun.

My favorite joke re: Red Sonja’s outfit comes from Cerebus (of course!). The parody “Red Sophia” whips off the chain mail bra and asks Cerebus “What do you think of THESE?!”

To which he replies something like “If you stopped wearing the chain mail the swelling might go down.”

Anyway, I wasn’t planning on do this immediate right thing, but Edo’s makes me HAVE to do it. Check it:

Ask the Parrot by Richard Stark aka Donald Westlake

How long have you owned this book?

A few days

What caught your eye about this book? Why’d you buy it?

It was on a dime rack at the local library and I enjoyed the first Darwyn Cooke Parker adaptation, and I keep my eyes open for pulpy fiction ever since I’ve been reading the columns of…some dude on the internet ;)

Who’s the main character? What do you like about him or her?

Parker, a robber dude who’s kind of amoral but tough and unsentimental, and his exploits spin way out of control. In a good way, for readers.

What don’t you like about the lead character?

He’s a bit too unsympathetic at times, and seems to exist only to plot his next heist.

Would you buy more books like this?

Oh yeah. I think I’ve read other Westlake stuff (thank you, Hard Case!), and this one is a real corker so far. I also dig that the prose goes along at a steady clip and I can zip through it fairly quickly, because the internet has ruined my attention sp

Anyway, I hope next week I will be able to fill this out with details about Storykiller! It’s still on the shelf of shame!

I wrote a comment but it didn’t come up… weird.

We are getting pretty aggressively spammed in our comments section and I think Brian or Jonah turned the filter a little higher, or something. Not exactly sure how those filters work, I’m not a techie. Anyway, occasionally the filter blocks people it shouldn’t. I do try to find these blocked comments when I can and tell our system “not spam” but sometimes it takes a day or so for me to be able to check.

And spam comments are eliminated after a while, so sometimes we don’t even see them before they’re gone. So the best thing to do is just contact me so I can unspam your comments. In the past, people who I’ve unspammed seem like the system eventually learned “Okay, this guy is not a spammer” and no longer sent their comments to spam. Just go to the “Contact us” section and my e-mail’s there.

the “Dark Knight Over Metropolis” has its place in my humble Batman box.

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