What I Read in September 2015

This month I’ve decided to include any comic collections I’d read in the month in their own special section at the end.  If every month is as full as this one, they might get splintered off into their own monthly comic roundup.  I still kept up with my usual reading this month.  I finished a book about Paris I had been reading for more than two months, and read a couple of other things.  It was a good month all together.

ldc

The Last Defender of Camelot
Roger Zelazny

Zelazny was a name that I was familiar with, but I have never had the opportunity to read anything he had written.  I picked up a cheap old copy of this short story collection from a used book store a couple of months ago and just now got around to reading it.  It was great.

Not every story was a winner, of course, but the vast majority of them are excellent.  The title story is great.  It features Lancelot, who has been alive for over a thousand thanks to Merlin, teaming up with Morgana le Fey to stop Merlin from waking up and trying to recreate Camelot in the modern world.  Also amazing is Auto-de-fe, a story about a “mechador”, a matador that fights not bulls but cars.  There is also one about a robot vampire.  The stories run the gamut from interesting and thought provoking to just silly little asides.  After reading this, I am very interested in tracking down some more of Zelazny’s work.  This was just a lot of fun.

hpb

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City
Joan DeJean

One of the great things about non-fiction is how descriptive the titles can be.  This is a book about how Paris became the first modern city.  It details the social and structural changes to the city that turned it into something special.  Using Paris as the example, it shows how the world changed during the 17th century.  It starts with something as simple as a new bridge and builds from there as Paris becomes a recognizable metropolis.  This is not the most engagingly written book, nor the most exciting subject, but it was still very interesting.

mim

Murder in Mesopotamia
Agatha Christie

Another Poirot mystery. This one deals with a group of archaeologists in the Middle East and one of the my ludicrous twists I can recall.  A Dr. Leidner hires a nurse, Amy Leatheran, to watch over his wife who is acting strangely while they are the site of his dig.  She narrates as she joins the dig company and gets to know all of the members.  When the Doctor’s wife ends up dead, she assists the conveniently nearby Poirot in tracking down the killer.

I love the central thread of this mystery, that Poirot is trying to figure out who Mrs. Leidner was to determine who would want to murder her and everybody on the dig team has a different take.  Since the narrator gives one of these takes, it makes it hard to trust her at times.  Not that it is possible that she was the murderer, but maybe her observations were not quite accurate.  None of the people around appear to have much reason to kill her, though many have their problems and reasons to dislike her.  The revelation of the culprit is a black mark, though, since the reasoning behind it makes no sense.

talol

The Alloy of Law
Brandon Sanderson

I’ve read this before, and probably wrote about it here, but I felt the need to read it again with its sequel coming in the next week or so.  I positively love the setting, mixing the Wild West with some more usual fantasy tropes.  Sanderson clearly spends a lot of time thinking out how magic in his world works, and it shows here with how the presence of guns changes how people use their powers.  He also set up a trio of really interesting characters in Wax, Wayne and Marasi, though Waxillium might be the most ridiculous name I have ever encountered.  It does end up feeling a but slight, as though it winds down just as it gets going, but it is a charming enough tale anyway.  I can’t wait for the follow up.

tstrike

The Striker
Clive Cussler & Justin Scott

Sometimes you just want to read an adventure.  That is what Cussler and Scott’s Isaac Bell stories are, adventures.  Nothing more, nothing less.  They leverage an interesting setting, the start of the 20th century, and some fun characters into fast moving romps.  There is nothing new or groundbreaking or even especially good here, but it is certainly entertaining.

This time, the story moves back the the early days of Bell’s career as a detective for Van Dorn.  He is looking into someone trying to turn the coal strikes violent, and gets tied up with a beautiful woman and a former protege of his mentor.  This is a clearly younger Bell, a little less sure of himself and less adept at his business, but he is no less interesting.

I do have to wonder about doing this early days take the next book after Bell got married.  His long running romance with Marion reached that milestone in the previous book, but this time it jumps back to before they met and Bell falls for a different girl.  There is no drama there, since readers know she won’t be in the picture for long, so it feels like a wasted note. While this book is not the best of this series, it is still plenty good.

Collected Comic Reading:

Harley Quinn Volume 1

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I am a big fan of the writers on this. I have long enjoyed Jimmy Palmiotti’s stuff, usually co-written by Justin Gray, and Amanda Conner is an excellent artist.  This is exactly what a Harley Quinn solo book should be.  I know people are not fans of the Nu52 Harley costume, which is terrible, but classic Harley shines through in this collection. That being said, I don’t know how much I actually like it.  Harley Quinn’s unique brand of delightful insanity doesn’t lend itself well to a continuing narrative.  This book does its best to force her into something that resembles a plot, but it is mostly stops and starts before the book arrives at its culmination.

It is set up as a mystery, with someone sending hitmen after Harley as she takes over an apartment building full of circus performers.  She gets a pair of jobs to help pay for the upkeep, one as a therapist and one playing roller derby.  Other than an issue or two of fun, those threads don’t really go anywhere.  The eventual conclusion of the mystery is goofy, but not unexpected.  The book does manage to be fun, but it is the attempts at ongoing plot seemed forced.  It just feels stuck in between being a joke book and being serious.

Superman Doomed

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The fact that this story is readable at all is a tribute to the skills of Charles Soule and Greg Pak, as well as Aaron Kuder and the rest of the artists.  THe story starts out as a mess, with a scattered and moronic set up with Superman becoming Doomsday.  Doomsday is the among the least interesting villains in comics.  He is terrible but for some reason people keep bringing him back and trying to make him important. Just because he has an important part in the colossally overblown Death of Superman cash grab does not mean that he is in any way important to the Superman mythos.  Here, Superman is infected with a Doomsday virus that is part of a plot by Braniac to take over the world.

It is dumb.  The story is scattered and borderline nonsensical.  Occasionally some bright moments leak through, but it is barely coherent at its best.  There are some good character beats, like Steel and Lana forming something of a relationship.  But overall Superman Doomed is a mess, a lot of good creators slogging through some bad work.

Justice League International Volume 4

JLI

JLI is one of the best superhero comics ever.  That is just a fact.  This is maybe not the most focused collection of the title, but it is still a really great collection.  It starts with the coda to another story, with a break for a story that’s in another collection, then comes back with a backdoor pilot for the spin-off before ending with a some actual good issues.  

Those first few issues are a mess in term of telling an ongoing story, they are fin comics in an of themselves.  The rest are some classics.  There is the issue that has Guy and Ice go out on their first date, which ends exactly as badly as one could expect, and also has a story where Barda’s car gets stolen and some gangbanger gets ahold of her Mega Rod.  While the book never loses its comedic touch, that story with Barda is actually kind of tragic, with our heroes, in this case Huntress Barda, Mr. Miracle and Fire, trying to get the Mega Rod back from him before he hurts too many people, including himself and failing to save him.  While this book does set most of the league up as a bunch of jokers, they actually tend to be pretty good at the superheroing stuff when the time comes.  The humor ismostly in their downtime.  

JLI is great, and the fact that the collections only get a little more than halfway through the good part of the series is downright tragic.  Some of that is on the publisher, though.  I really want this stuff and even I didn’t realize that there were two more collections after this one.

Star Wars Union

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One’s enjoyment of this book is likely strongly connected to a person’s investment in the Star Wars Expanded Universe that was. Without not just a strong connection to the Star Wars movies, but also the numerous books and comics that have come since this is not a particularly compelling work.  As a celebration of a decade or so’s worth of stories, it is a very nice comic.  It brings back a lot of characters for at least a cameo and tells a fairly simple story. Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade get married.  It goes through the usual sort of pre-wedding hijinks and adds a plot by former Imperials to disrupt things.  There is nothing especially exciting or unexpected here, but it is rather charming.  If you want a fun, low key adventure with Star Wars characters, this is not a bad pick up.

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