July 2020 Books Read Standouts: Peace Talks/Immortal Hulk, Vol. 1
The Dresden Files, #16: Peace Talks – Jim Butcher
I’ve been a die-hard Dresden Files fanboy for the last decade, through every stage of the affliction:
Discomfort With Increasingly Indefensible Sexism
“Harry’s A Misogynist But Butcher Isn’t, And Flawed Characters Are More Realistic And Interesting!”
“Harry Gets His Ass Kicked And/Or Saved By A Badass Dame At Least Once Per Book, So It’s Actually Feminist!” and finally, perhaps terminally
“Look These Are Garbage But I Love Them Okay, Just Let Me Eat My Garbage, It’s All I Deserve, Crown Me Lord Raccoon And Leave Me To My Stripéd Kingdom Of Rabies And Day-Old Bagels”
In the transparent spirit of this SHOCKING CONFESSION, I will not pretend to any kind of objectivity regarding The Increasingly Poor Choices Of Harry Copperfield Blackstone Dresden, Wizard, Private Eye And Idiot. That said, I am of the belief that loving a thing gives you not only permission but a responsibility to tear that thing to fucking shreds when the occasion warrants, and HOBOY did Butcher call up something he could not put back down.
Further complicating matters is the fact that this is the first proper Dresden entry in five years, since March 2015’s Skin Game ; the comics adaptation/expansion from Dynamite is ongoing for better or worse and released several entries in that span, Evil Hat released the Dresden Files Accelerated minimization and streamlining of the notoriously Byzantine DF tabletop RPG system, a cooperative card game was released (???), and the series’ second collection of short stories, Brief Cases, came out in June 2018. And furthermore, the next book, Battle Ground, came out six months after Peace Talks, as the two had originally been one book and had to be split due to size. So depending on how you look at it, there was either a five-year gap between books or there were three books in six years with a deluge of additional material in the meanwhile.
All of this to say that in addition to the general constant existential agony of 2020, Dresden fans had been waiting since the Obama Administration for the next full entry and had subsisted only on supplementaria and intermittent release-date pushback announcements, and as a result we were ready and eager to accept pretty much anything, although Brief Cases was very good in its own right and was an enormous improvement over Side Jobs, the series’ first short story collection. Fortunately what we got was good, at least for this citizen; opinion is divided over whether the wait was worth it, but then, a lot of Dresden fans have also done a hell of a lot of growing up since 2015 and not all of them were willing or able to continue to enjoy the series for its strengths while recognizing its very real flaws and problems with misogyny and toxic masculinity, and unfortunately Peace Talks did give that particular garbage fire quite a few empty K-Cups to melt into caustic fume-sludge, specifically the single grossest example of how the White Court of Vampires, who draw life energy not from blood but from various smoochin’-type activities, do what they do.
Narratively, Peace Talks is almost entirely exactly my shit, having largely to do with the titular peace accords being held between the various supernatural nations, as a result of which there’s quite a lot of talk about hospitality and unspoken rules and etiquette that aren’t formalities but are quite literally the equivalent of the laws of physics for supernatural creatures, and how Harry has to balance his position and obligations as Winter Knight under Queen Mab of the Winter Court of Faerie and as a Warden of the White Council of Wizards while solving a murder mystery, and goddamn do I just gobble that up like wet cat food, mm-MM.
There is a stage in the life-cycle of tabletop RPGs–your Dungeons & Dragons and similar–that we in the community refer to as bloat: when a specific edition or version of a game has been around long enough, and received enough supplemental materials and errata and expansions and weird specialist sourcebooks that you start to get “I’m a godblooded vampiric half-dragon half-angel multiclass Ninja/Mage/Pirate/Hamster with a feat that lets me retroactively succeed on any roll I failed”, and for better or for worse The Dresden Files, now at 17 full-length novels, two short story collections, and two tabletop game systems that are kind of canon, has definitely hit that point. Harry’s now the Winter Knight of Faerie, and a Wizard of the White Council, and a Starborn which apparently makes him the the only thing that can land a decent hit on Outsiders, the series’ store-brand pseudo-Lovecraftian eldritch horrors and implied servants of a yet-unseen Big Bad. Molly Carpenter, once the tiny boogan daughter of one of Harry’s pals, became his Wizarding Apprentice, then became the Winter Lady of Faerie, and is now living in an apartment made and maintained by Dark Elves for some reason. Even his buddy Waldo Butters, the entire point of whom was to be a normal human who proved that simple courage and goodness are as important as magical might, is now a Jewish Knight of the Cross/Kind of a Jedi and in a polyamorous relationship with two werewolf dames that we the readers have known since they were wee wereteens, which, don’t get me wrong, is handled pretty well and is a hell of a character development but also seems like a real “oh wait this character needs another Thing” choice. And just like in the death saving-throes of an RPG system’s final days, if you wanna point to all of that and say “What the fuck is this, you can’t tell a story with this, this is broken as shit, goddamn it I’m gonna go punch a police horse or my name isn’t Dylan Spencer”, you would be 100% correct. You would also be correct in the assertion that a psionic demonblooded weretiger Assassin/Sorcerer/Zombie/Robot would be one hell of a lot of fun to play in a game that didn’t take itself too seriously, and while The Dresden Files has definitely suffered from more than a little Cerebus Syndrome it’s still goofy and fun and dumb and isn’t afraid to play around with the million ridiculous ideas it’s got balanced very precariously on its head, and that makes it eminently readable.
Score: 8/10 Fuckin’ Dragons That Finally Show Up For The First Time In Thirteen Goddamn Books
Immortal Hulk, Vol. 1: Or Is He Both?
I’d never read a Hulk before! This was a wild place to start, although I understand it gently declines the modern treatment of the character and reaches instead to his horror roots, and yowza is there some weird shit living under that tree.
Immortal Hulk is, as I mentioned in a previous post, is a monster-movie from the monster’s perspective, and y’know, you wouldn’t think that would be more terrifying and upsetting, but it 100% is! SURPRISE! The MCU uses a lot of soft language to refer to the Hulk/Banner arrangement, calling him the Other Guy or Big Guy, but it’s fairly clear—especially by Endgame—that Hulk and Banner are aspects of each other but ultimately the same guy. NOT SO, FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS, or at least not here; the Hulk is an invasive intelligence that takes over Banner’s body come-a down go the sun, and he’s not the only Hulk in there. Some are smart! Some are dapper! One might ACTUALLY BE THE DEVIL. Now, admittedly my Hulk knowledge is pretty thin so I don’t know how many of these Hulks are established and how many are original to this title, but either way: they all have their own agendas and THEY’RE ALL TERRIFYING, as is the way Bruce Banner has almost no control over his life or what happens in his name when the dark rises.
Immortal wants very badly to establish that it is not a superhero comic; Bruce tries hard to save and help as many people as he can, mostly traveling to avoid high-population areas, and some of the Hulks in his system aren’t actively hostile to humanity and have been provoked into acting in a fashion the end result of which is beneficial to the safety of bystanders, but for the most part the Hulk is an engine of slaughter, committing as much individual human gore and carnage as he does collateral damage to his surroundings, and scaled down enough to make every human death visceral and flinchworthy in the way that a giant anonymous building falling over simply isn’t. The modern cinematic treatment of Hulk is dependent entirely upon the scale of the destruction he can cause and rightly so, because we can make that look good now, but the character’s horror roots are cemented unshakably in the personal-level, “an impossibly large thing is going to hurt me and there’s nothing I can do about it” helplessness and personal terror. It is very gross and very upsetting and leans hard into the body-horror that makes complete sense for a character whose origin story is, after all, grotesque large-scale mutation caused by radiation, a theme that continues to be present and forefront as the title progresses.
On a personal note I’d like to say that the bad buy of this first volume, some glowy also immortal irradiated Blight-from-Batman-Beyond bastard whose name and motivation escape me at the moment but who most certainly deserved to be Hulk Smashed, gets his limbs snapped off and is buried alive in a rubble-capsule several hundred feet below ground by the Hulk, awake and undying, crushed and unable to move, only to scream, alone, in the dark, forever, and that is pretty literally my idea of Hell. So, g-good job, writers? Also please tell me what I need to do to stay on your good side?
Score: 8.5 Pairs Of Miraculously Unshredded Pants
I’ve been waiting on the open invitation
Send this to a friend! Or an enemy! Or your State Senator! Or Dave!