Captain America: The Red Menace, Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Javier Pulido, Marcos Martin
Yep, I get the feeling I’m going to love Brubaker’s entire run on Cap. This was a lot of fun, even when it brought in players I’m not terribly familiar with — Crossbones and Sin, Union Jack and Spitfire; actually, they made it more fun. I liked the interactions between Union Jack, Spitfire and Steve, and I actually found myself weirdly rooting for Sin and Crossbones in that messed up way where, well, it’s kinda not her fault she’s completely nuts, and they take such bizarre joy in the destruction they cause.
I also loved how damn happy Steve was when he realised Bucky really was alive and nearby. That bit where he picks Sharon up and twirls her around — just lovely.
The little flashback comic in the middle was good, too, Bucky being Bucky and getting to see the Howling Commandos and more of how Steve was involved with the war.
Alcestis, Katharine Beutner
I’m torn on this one. It was spellbinding, but in a soft, dusty way — Alcestis as a character is too obedient for most of her life to have any colour to her. The bit in the Underworld is still quite colourless, quite literally, except for Persephone. I was actually more interested in the relationship between Hades and Persephone than that between Persephone and Alcestis. I wanted to understand them, what made them tick, what made them volatile.
I understand that there’s actually a degree of historical accuracy here to way a real Alcestis would’ve lived, just with the gods treated as a rational part of everyday life as well, but she seems so meek and resigned — until she’s in the Underworld. I can appreciate the liberation of a female character from a stifling traditional role that must have been so flattering to the men in that male dominated world, and it makes sense it could happen in the Underworld, where the rules of life don’t apply.
I guess in summary, I just didn’t fall for it. There were some lovely sections, gorgeous imagery, and there was some interesting interplay between characters, but all in all it didn’t work for me.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Michael Lark, John Paul Leon
The film cannot come out soon enough. I need more Cap in my life. I have a wishlist of things I would like to see directly translated from book to movie — though many things will have to be changed, of course, to fit with MCU canon, there should be room for stuff like the “who the hell is Bucky?” moment. I’m looking forward to Falcon, who I haven’t seen before reading this TPB.
I also have a list of things I don’t want to happen, like that ending where Bucky just disappears leaving Steve believing he might be dead. Aaaah.
So in short, Brubaker is an amazing writer for Captain America — there are some moments where he just nails everything Steve is. The art’s good, too, and it all comes together really well in terms of pacing.
I don’t really get people who don’t like Steve. I mean, I can see plenty of reasons not to like the character, but the nobility and drive of him… It gets me right in all my feels.
The Origins of Virtue, Matt Ridley
Hmmm, The Origins of Virtue is an interesting examination of the possible evolutionary causes of virtue, mostly defined here as altruism. It works quite well as a supplement that falls somewhere in between three of my current classes on Coursera: one with an anthropological bent, one largely genetic, and one about morality. It draws some of those themes together quite well, for me, and explains some of the studies — and some of the pitfalls of the studies, and wishful thinking.
It’s also pretty well written: it’s divided into both chapters and sections, which makes it easy to digest and keeps the argument focused.
On the other hand, it’s a little old now (1996), and Ridley’s ideology is very obvious to the attentive reader, although camouflaged by his scientific tone. At least the last chapter unveils his ethical principles: anti-government, anti-socialism (including such familiar institutions to Brits as the NHS), pro-small collectives and curated communal living. To be fair, he does analyse some of the ways this falls down, but he mostly focuses on why government-run things doesn’t work.
I mean, I love the NHS unashamedly. I went from the diagnosis of gallstones to medication to having my gallbladder removed in the process of a couple of months, without paying for anything at the point of use, at a time when I couldn’t support myself and was in agonising pain. Throughout my life I’ll pay back into that system with my taxes, and I don’t begrudge it at all, whatever Ridley’s conclusions told him.
Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
I had trouble with Invisible Cities. It’s beautiful, light, a dream of a soap bubble of a book, insubstantial and for me, really difficult. I can appreciate the writing, the dreamy nature of the book, but I can’t love it. It just didn’t quite work for me. Maybe written by Catherynne M. Valente it would have worked for me — her use of language has weight, somehow — but in this translation at least, no, Calvino didn’t work very well for me. It’s gorgeous, but I quickly got impatient with it.
It’s still a worthwhile read, I think, but don’t look for a story here: that’s not the kind of book this is. It’s more like a dreamscape.
Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection, Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf, Vincente Cifuentes
I very much enjoyed my first foray into Batgirl — certainly much more than I did the volume of Batman I choked down a while back for a class. Barbara Gordon is fun, and I have a thing for redheads anyway, I liked the art and her interactions with Bruce Wayne, and it’s a good introduction for someone new to DC.
I had two nitpicks. One, I didn’t think terribly much of the villains. They seemed almost too easily dealt with, like Gail Simone was starting Batgirl out soft because of the point I’m about to get to. It kind of makes sense, since she is being reintroduced and she is portrayed as needing to get back into the game here, but. Eh. I didn’t really care about the villains, put it that way. It felt a little bit rushed, too, though when I flipped back through it didn’t seem too bad. Maybe because the villain I was more interested in, Gretel, had less space.
The other thing was, well… why did we have to have a miracle cure for a disabled character? I don’t know much about Barbara Gordon or how prominent she might have been as a disabled character, so maybe there have been other issues building this up, but just jumping right in and finding that she was completely paralysed and then got better “miraculously” (as several people point out), it just didn’t feel right. I thought I was okay with it at first, given the way she talks about the time in a wheelchair and insists she’s not delicate now she’s out of it, but it didn’t quite add up for me.
Still, enjoyable, and I’ll pick up some more Batgirl when I get chance.
Avengers: The Enemy Within, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Scott Hepburn, Matteo Buffagni, Filipe Andrade
Avengers: The Enemy Within is basically the conclusion of the storyline in Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight and Down, so I expect that if you haven’t read those, you won’t like this one. I’m not actually reading current Avengers, but that didn’t seem to spoil this crossover event. I have no idea how to keep track of all the timelines and so on, so I just throw myself in at the deep end every time and sink or swim. In this case, Carol’s background would help with the swimming, but Avengers background wasn’t necessary.
Love Carol and Jessica’s banter, love the appearance of characters like Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Wasp, love great lines like Carol and Thor’s exchange here:
Carol: You like hitting stuff with that hammer of yours?
Thor: It is an act of which I am singularly fond.
I’m not a huge fan of the art — I preferred the issues that Dexter Soy illustrated — but that’s personal taste and most of the art here does what it needs to do perfectly. All in all, I’ve really enjoyed Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run of Captain Marvel even when I didn’t enjoy the art so much. The writing is very satisfying. I love how many female characters she highlights — I’d have liked Widow to have more to say, but that’s just because she’s the character I know best.
The ending here… without spoiling it, eh, I didn’t find it that original, but I think a lot can be done with it in the right hands.
The Gospel of Loki, Joanne Harris
I love Loki’s voice in this. I promised Joanne Harris I wouldn’t mention A Certain Actor, but actually, I think she makes her Loki pretty distinct anyway. It’s recognisably her writing, her way of getting into a character’s head — I think I could recognise the style somehow without ever knowing the author — and she makes it work very well. I’ve actually found over time that I prefer her other work, like Chocolat, to Runemarks, Runelight and The Gospel of Loki, which are ostensibly closer to my usual genre, but I still liked this a lot.
It sticks fairly close to the source texts of the Eddas, while also linking fairly closely with Runemarks and Runelight, from what I can recall of those books. But you don’t need to read any of those to enjoy Loki’s version of his own story — though it would probably help you appreciate the wry asides and the neat little twists to the tale.
If I was going to compare this to anything, I’d actually talk about Sassafrass’ ‘My Brother, My Enemy’, which gives Loki a voice to justify what he did in a similar way. The main difference is that the song gives both Loki and Odin justification for their actions, while Joanne Harris’ version shows that neither of them are really justified, and left me wanting to bang the heads of both sides together.
Anyway, definitely fun and compulsively readable, as all Joanne Harris’ work has been for me. I love some of her descriptions of Ragnarok — she nailed it, even if I couldn’t stop seeing Chris Hemsworth smashing Bifrost. (Sorry. I didn’t promise not to mention that actor.)
Longbourn, Jo Baker
At first I was ambivalent about this — I’m not a huge Austen fan, but the idea of flipping Pride and Prejudice over to look at the people that supported the Bennets’ lifestyle seemed interesting — and then I got more interested in it and then… I put it down for a day or so while I read The Gospel of Loki, and when I got back to it, I just didn’t care. I think it helped at first that I don’t think it really is that intimately entwined with Pride and Prejudice; most of Sarah’s story is separate from theirs, or at least not so closely linked that you can’t have the one without the other. Which then got kind of irritating — why not take this and make it stand alone, as historical fiction?
Anyway, the problems with it… were mostly that I figured it all out way ahead of time, and then I didn’t care enough to properly read on. I skimmed to confirm what I expected to happen did happen, and then I didn’t care enough to fill in the details. The love triangle, particularly, just sort of exasperated me.
On the one hand, the idea of it is a worthy one — while reading a biography of Austen recently, it seemed that she was more aware of the world that conventional assessments of her reflect, but on the other hand, it also noted that she was weakest with the lower class characters. But Longbourn just didn’t work well enough for me as a story in its own right to reflect back on Pride and Prejudice, which though it isn’t exactly my favourite novel ever, is a clever and witty book.
Cosmos, Carl Sagan
I don’t get people who find this too dry, or lacking in a sense of wonder about the world. It’s full of a sense of wonder, no less potent because Sagan was agnostic (not atheist, as some people say), and he expresses this almost poetically. While some of the science is falling out of date now, it’s still worth reading Cosmos — as a primer, and for Sagan’s clear explanations of how the world works, and how our understanding got to this point.
I actually have the DVDs of the series as well, and while I know from seeing clips the book and the series are very similar, I’m gonna have to get round to seeing it soon. And if you’ve never heard of Symphony of Science, I definitely recommend it — my favourite is ‘A Glorious Dawn’.
One of the things reading this really made me wonder is what Sagan would think of what we’ve made of the world in the last two decades. We haven’t destroyed ourselves yet, but we haven’t yet disarmed, we haven’t even convinced everybody that climate change exists, and we still haven’t gone any further from our own small planet. I wish we still had Sagan, speaking clearly and rationally about all the problems we face — particularly because he had hope for us, as well as a warning.