I RETURN LIKE A HOT BLACK WIND, THE CRACKING OF A FRESH DIET COKE YOUR ONLY WARNING.
Listen: I started my new job this month, and I like it but it’s A Lot and at the end of the workday your Bageler desires only to be wrapped in the trumpety embrace of a gentle jazz gummy and just fucking massacre a family-sized bucket of spaghetti.
BUT I SWORE A SACRED OATH TO PROVIDE YOU PEOPLE WITH THE FINEST IN FAKE LIES, YELLING, AND JOKES THAT AREN’T WORTH THE LEGWORK, and it is time to make the friggin’ donuts. And also the milk tea with passionfruit boba because my wife likes those and she deserves a delicious beverage after a long week. This also includes some stuff I read earlier in the month but haven’t summoned the will to write about, you get it.
Look, I’m a complicated man, and one of the facets of that complication is that I’m actually a simple man: I see a comic with a guy in a big robot suit looking like he regrets his life of state-sanctioned violence, I buy and read that comic.
I expected robot fisticuffs and instead received…whatever the hell is happening here, jeez:
It’s early pages yet but this looks like it’s gonna be a fun, upsetting time, and the art is obviously incredible.
Maaaan I keep finding myself drawn into sports manga against my will, if we can allow that ‘competitive poetry-card match-game’ falls broadly into the category. But it’s got everything you want from the genre: competitiveness out of all proportion with the contest itself, a plucky hero girl who wants to make her mark and get out from under her famous sister’s shadow, and a boy that no one believes in but her, because he’s from the sticks and never talks because nobody can understand his accent, but even without the glasses he desperately needs he’s still a force to be reckoned with:
(Reminder: Manga reads right-to-left, panels and pages)
She comes to realize they have complementary gifts, and decides unilaterally that they’re going to work together to achieve their dreams, out of a desire to be the best and the sheer joy of honest competition.
Thankfully it’s not all poetry-jocks slappin’ cards and bustin’ what I presume are rhymes in the original Japanese; this is a story about kids, and friendship, and learning to believe in yourself and the people who choose to stand beside you.
This enormous, unwieldy, kind of uneven story-system continues to be an incredible time, even for someone like me with only the barest, pop-culture osmosis knowledge of this world and its occupants. Example: Am I at all clear on what Apocalypse’s1 deal is? No citizen, I am not, but I am all about him being a terrifying, ancient presence who can completely car-crash any conversation by saying the bagels here aren’t as good as the ones they had at the cafe at the Library of Alexandria.
Similarly, I guess Rogue and Gambit are married now, and then she was in a purple coffin for a while, and now she’s loose and about to bring a war to the big blue jerk who made Gambit bust out his grandmere‘s recipe for Mourner’s Gumbo.
Also, who among us is going to pretend we aren’t a bunch of damn chumps for anytime you can get both Wolverines at the same time and place:
As I mentioned last time, not every title in this system is a hit for me–New Mutants is growing on me but I cannot skim through Fallen Angels fast enough, though Marauders continues to kick a herd of asses every issue, Excalibur rocks, and X-Force is pretty good despite the intentionally odious presence of Quentin Quire–but it continues to provide more than enough bang for buck, especially since the first thirteen volumes are up for borrow on Comixology Unlimited2.
As a man who once sold graves door-to-door to earn his bread3, I have a soft spot in my heart and feet for people who walk the sidewalks and say a prayer when they ring a doorbell. Fortunately for me, while I did meet many weirdoes in this endeavor, none of them were demons, monstros, Fair Folk, or garden-variety goblins. Not so with this gang of misfits and jamokes!
There’s something that we understand instinctively as a culture, and always have: monster-hunters kinda have to be fuckups. We have no interest in well-adjusted, happy people wandering the country to put a stop to the Ogopogo’s shenanigans, although that’s also probably a function of story-shape informing our relationship to narrative: that kind of lifestyle, as we’ve seen countless times, is inherently unstable and traumatic, and any balanced people who get roped into it aren’t likely to stay that way. To which point: booze and blades and the Good Book are all these people have to bring to bear against the forces of darkness and it is not at all clear that any of them are actually effective, in their hands or in ones that are actually competent.
It gets a little more difficult when the lines get weird and wiggly between ‘personal demons’ as a metaphor and as a thing that you meet in the last hour of the workday when you just wanna take a shower and go to fuckin’ Applebee’s, jeez.
When all else fails though, one can always fall back on one’s primary skillset and hope for the best:
This book rules, Cullen Bunn remains the best, I can’t wait until the next volume.
I love, love, love a story that deals with the And Then What problem: the heroes succeed, the day is saved, peace and prosperity reign, and now it’s time to…uh. Something? Something. And that question, frankly, is a lot bigger for some people than others depending on the setting, to which point we meet our protagonist Frieren, who helped defeat the evil overlord at the Elf equivalent of barely-even-drinking-age and now has to figure out what to do with the rest of her ridiculous lifespan.
The gang decide to meet up again for the next meteor shower, and when they do Frieren is shocked to learn that they’ve grown old without her, in the space of what to her is the equivalent of only a couple of years. And then, before she knows it, they begin to leave her.
WHY INDEED, FRIEREN. Well, we know why: you were being a self-centered teen, as is only appropriate, natural, and horrible to be anywhere near.
And so, like anyone after their first meaningful brush with mortality, Frieren sets off to appreciate the remainder of her time and spend it with the remaining people she knows and loves; I won’t spoil what she gets up to, because it’s actually really good, but would be remiss in my duties if I did not confirm the presence of a Very Good Giant Tortoise:
I fell off the Power Rangers wagon after Turbo, and oddly enough I remember the exact moment: the Rangers were fighting the Big Bad’s minions before the special Monster of the Week was revealed (per formula, nothing wrong with that); this particular series’ Big Bad was aquatic-themed and so were her minions, and when Tommy (White-née-Green Ranger of my youth) defeated one with his sword, he said “Guess I forgot to tell you guys, sushi is my favorite food.” I heard that, nodded to myself in the wisdom of the ten-year-old, turned the television off, got up, and left my cousin’s basement, his house, and the State of Indiana forevermore, taking with me only my dignity and the black basement-mold in my lungs.
All of that to say I haven’t cared about a colorful team of teens with attitude since the Clinton Administration (NO, NOT EVEN THE FLOWER POWER RANGERS), but GGLR asks a question that lured me in against my better judgment: what if the Rangers weren’t the good guys? What if capitalism and fame and the status quo led them to enslave an ‘invading’ alien race so they could defeat them once a week and remain beloved (and unquestioned) heroes?
That’s super gross, right? It reminds me of a volume of Youngblood I got in a Comic Bento back in the day, which series has a similar idea involving teen superheroes receiving sponsorships and endorsement deals, with their battles being televised with commentators talking about “what a tremendous battle” this and “looks like we’re in for a clash of titans” that. I didn’t finish that comic and I wouldn’t have finished this one if the focus hadn’t immediately switched to the minions, who have to scramble to think of a new monster and performance every week, and the one among them who is sick of this horse-corn.
Most of us, at this point of worldwide cultural exchange, know that Japan has different feelings regarding individuality and the concept of “knowing one’s place” than Americans do, but monster or not, there’s only so much a guy can take, and following yet another fight in which he has no choice but to make the heroes look good, our protagonist-minion quits, shapeshifts into a regular dude, and joins the Ranger Corps, because he wants to make the world a better place…by bringing down the corrupt institution that’s holding society back, and doing it from. the inside.
Give ’em hell, Mr. Monstro.
As I believe I’ve mentioned before, it has long been the custom of our house for me to read to She Who Is My Wife at bedtime, then when she gets all tiny and sleepy and dumb and adorable I switch over to one of my books that she doesn’t care about, keep going, and she falls asleep to that. Occasionally though, I’ll try a new book for her to fall asleep to and it sinks its hooks into her; it happened with 20th Century Ghosts, it happened with Fletch and Friday The Rabbi Slept Late, and now it’s happened with Out There Screaming, because the first story, by N.K. Jemisin, is about a piece of shit corrupt cop who determines whom to hassle and/or brutalize by whether he sees eyeballs growing out of their car’s headlights. Is he losing his mind? Is there something more going on? Will he ever be held accountable for that dashcam video? You’ll have to read to find out!
By nature an anthology is a mixed bag and your mileage may vary, but we haven’t hit a clunker yet and my list of authors to investigate further grows ever longer, alongside the shadows at day’s end.
Shōgun (Book 1 Of The Asian Saga)
Yeah I quit, fuck this book, I’m not even linking to it. Like it’s good, the historical and cultural whatnot are extremely interesting and it’s well-written, but it’s also so riddled with all the worst things about White Guy Visits Other Country fiction4 I’m still excited for the show/miniseries/however they’re doing it, and I wish them all in the luck in the world with the problem of sorting out real historical humans and their imperfect lives from what a white guy thought about them three hundred years after the fact.
If there are two things people love, they’re dogs and murder, so I’m honestly surprised it’s taken this long to combine the two like so much chocolate and peanut butter. But what this blood-filled Reese’s cup asks is: Can there be a…bad master? Is that a thing?
I mean look, sure we don’t exactly remember how we got here. We’re dogs! Our memories don’t work like that! But we…we had other people before the master, right? Didn’t we? But if we did, what happened to them?
Okay well even IF this is a problem–and that’s a big if–what are we supposed to do about it?
This is ridiculous. Even IF there were such a thing as a bad master, really, how bad could he BE? Like what’s the worst that could happen?
Stray Dogs is extremely upsetting and good! Also none of these things above are really spoilers; a book whose back-cover copy describes itself as “Silence Of The Lambs meets Homeward Bound” isn’t really trying to surprise you, just horrify you. And it does! It does but good!
Gang I’ll be honest: I only started this because I needed a Hugo winner for my year-long reading scavenger hunt and it’s fairly short, but I am SO glad I did, it’s so weird and beautiful and fun. Time-travel is iffy at best for me, an time war would be an automatic no-thank-you if it weren’t for Max Gladstone, whose Craft Sequence is one of the wildest, strangest, most interesting series I’ve ever read and got me to care about stock fraud. (I don’t mean to downplay Amal El-Mohtar’s presence and effort, I just don’t know where those percentage-lines fall and Gladstone’s work is all I was familiar with prior to this.)
PICTURE IT: the Time War, happening Now/Always and everywhere across every version of reality. The sides in this war–inscrutable and distant–have placed agents all throughout time, and two of these–referred to as Red and Blue–have noticed one another, and suffice it to say they’re a-lookin’ and they are a-likin’. What follows is the two ladies undertaking a Cold War Courtship in letters across millennia and countless timelines, written in a dragonfly’s scales and ink and flesh and fire and radiation and the rings of a 700-year-old tree when they find a moment between assassination and evacuations of a thousand Atlantises and laying a penny on tectonic plates that are about to collide to make a souvenir. It’s much more interested in beauty and cool setpieces and neat ideas than in “how a war works” or “how time travel works” or “wait are these two robots”, and I think that works to its benefit.
In complete honesty, I’ve just hit the 50% mark and I’m beginning to feel the lag, but I also think Something Big is About To Happen, so this could just be me lulled into a false sense of security. TIHYLTTW is officially recommended for fans of any of the bullshit I just talked about.
Kyle Starks is an automatic-buy name for me, and I’ve been waiting eagerly and wife-annoyingly for this, ’cause I wanna see what he thinks the monsters get up to between movies. Turns out: HOA bullshit5 and supply-runs for food and*checks blood-smeared note* does this say ‘eyedrops’ or ‘eyedrill’? Somebody better get me an answer because I AM NOT MAKING TWO STOPS, PROFESSOR PUZZLEMAN.
YEAH, YEAH, PUZZLES, GOT IT. Jeez. Anyway, it’s about a loose-cannon cop who finds monsterville after a lifetime of searching and goes fully Dirty Harry on them, meaning he treats his badge as a means to an end and quits being a cop the second he draws iron on the Fuckmaster. Oh yeah, do you guys know the Fuckmaster? Surprisingly nice guy, very into his gardening lately.
I’m gonna let these caps do the talking for the rest of this; enjoy.
Also, Starks pulls off the impossible: He wrote cops you kinda have to like, if only because on the scale of Cop to Possessed Doll, most readers are closer to the former than the latter.
This is apparently a sequel to Inuyasha; that’s probably most of what you need to know. Here, have a badass half-demon niece in a suit fighting some kinda monstro:
Folks, don’t you hate it when a mysterious masked woman who may or may not be the spirit of your ancestral tree appears and gives you a vague quest and no advice?
And featuring my legit favorite part of any story that includes it: Extensive notes on the mysterious magical otherworld.
My only experience with Inuyasha is the intense background-radiation exposure that every first-generation Adult Swim viewer received, but this is a lot of fun so far.
And now: I am off to bed; I’ve gotta get up early tomorrow to track down something Professor Puzzleman refers to as a ‘teethgrater’, and of COURSE that’s on the opposite side of town from where I have to get Franky Rubberdick his new skinside-out peeler, which he INSISTS is different enough from last year’s model to warrant the upgrade. I’M NOT MADE OF GAS-MONEY, GUYS.
Until next time, be good to yourself and be good to each other, or I’ll make YOU write a whole list of stuff and make your wife choose a phrase for the title, and THEN where will you be? Wherever it is: I’ll see you there.
- Who’s going by the unpronounceable :–IAI–: now, which I respect but won’t inflict on the reader and also imagine as sounding like a Gen-1 Pokemon cry
- Hopefully that’ll stay true following the upcoming final collapse of Comixology on December 4th; stay tuned for my INCANDESCENT rage about that in this month’s Other Pursuits
- Gotta get those grindin’-bones from somewhere
- “Y’know what this scene needs”, thought celebrated historical fiction author James Clavell, “a whole paragraph about how every Japanese woman we’ve met so far is absolutely obsessed with our protagonist’s colossal, white, Dutch dick”.
- THE TRUEST EVIL OF ALL