Time again for the annual entry in which I remind myself how much I like reading things besides monthly comics, magazines, and self-promotion from internet users who have me muted. Despite the lack of MCC entries about my reading matter, I’m always working on at least two books at a time in my ever-diminishing reading time. I refrain from full-on book reviews because nine times out of ten I’m finishing a given work decades after the rest of the world is already done and moved on from it. I don’t always care about site traffic, but when I do, it usually means leaving some extended thoughts and opinions unwritten due to non-timeliness.
Presented over this entry and the next is my full list of books, graphic novels, and trade collections that I finished reading in 2017, not entirely in order of completion. As I whittle down the never-ending stack I’ve been stockpiling for literal decades, my long-term hope before I turn 70 is to get to the point where my reading list is more than, say, 40% new releases every year. That’s a lofty goal, but I can dream.
As with last year’s experiment, every book gets a full capsule summary apiece, because 28 years of reading Entertainment Weekly have gotten me addicted to the capsule format. The list is divided into a two-part miniseries to post on back-to-back evenings in order to ease up on the word count for busier readers. Triple bonus points to any longtime MCC readers who can tell which items I bought at which comic/entertainment conventions we attended over the past few years.
Once more: onward!
27. John Leguizamo, Christa Cassano & Shamus Beyale, Ghetto Klown. You might remember him from such films as Moulin Rouge, Romeo + Juliet, Super Mario Bros., one scene in John Wick, and the Ice Age series. His candid, often self-immolating autobiography pulls no punches in recounting his early days as a class clown in Queens, his one-in-a-million route to Hollywood via Manhattan acting coaches, the pros and cons of playing endless stereotypes on demand, his more creatively fulfilling one-man off-Broadway shows, his rise to supporting actor stardom, and his recurring issues with relationships, ego, drugs, self-sabotage, and A-list male divas. Come for the behind-the-scenes cautionary tales; stay for the lessons he learned the hard way; and in between you can recoil at his retelling of the time an overnight bender turned a morning on the set of To Wong Foo into a debacle of rage and vomit.
28. Kim Gordon, Girl in a Band. The autobiography of Sonic Youth’s bassist/singer/co-founder, alt-rock queen and one-time co-founder of her own fashion line. Written shortly after her acrimonious divorce from adulterous frontman Thurston Moore after 27 years of marriage, her memoir is a candid deep dive into her early family life marred by a toxic relative, the NYC post-punk rock and art scenes, and the frequent question of What’s It Like Being a Woman in Rock, which later morphed into What’s It Like Being a Mom in Rock. Her insights and confessions are surprising even before you realize Gordon isn’t exactly the ultra-feminist you’d expect.
29. Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen, Superman: Secret Identity. In a world where Superman is a fictional comic character, one seemingly normal youngster cruelly named Clark Kent by his parents, who has a closet filled with years’ worth of unwanted Superman gifts from relatives who think they’re clever, one day finds himself suddenly possessing Superman’s powers. With no clues to his own origin, no super-villains to fight, and an American government far more intrusive than the one depicted in DC Comics at the time, the “real world” Man of Steel must figure out what to do with his new talents and how to fit into an otherwise ordinary world. Busiek admits this project was basically his take on the ’80s “Superboy of Earth-Prime” character, but the emotional heft and contemplative assessment of what else comes With Great Power make for one of the more offbeat and fascinating post-Crisis/pre-New 52 Superman projects around.
30. Dean Haspiel, Beef With Tomato. Collection of semi-autobiographical shorts about life as an artist in Brooklyn, down amongst the sinners and weirdos and far, far away from the tourists. Anyone who enjoyed the quotidian anecdotes and curmudgeonly observational style of Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor (on which Haspiel worked as one of Pekar’s many artists) will dig this in equal measure, particularly his memories of 9/11 as witnessed from his apartment window in Carroll Gardens.
31. Joe Harris and Brett Weldele, Spontaneous. In a town where random residents keep catching fire and disintegrating from causes unknown, one young man with a tragic past has a theory: spontaneous human combustion. But is the cause truly random, or are there connections at play? This creepy story unearthed an old childhood memory for me — an old episode of That’s Incredible! that was my first exposure to the bizarre phenomenon, which I don’t recall seeing used as a plot device anywhere else before unless you count Firestarter, which wasn’t the same thing.
32. Derf Backderf, Trashed. The most recent book from the creator of the autobiographical My Friend Dahmer delivers another project that’s one part research, one part personal experience as Derf explores the less-than-wonderful world of garbagemen, which was his actual job from ’79 to ’80. Learn the workaday awfulness, the smells, the dumb bosses, the dumber coworkers, the objects that are the worst to pick up, the dangers of wintertime routes, the mechanics and schematics of landfills and garbage trucks (the latter have basically been the same design since the ’30s), what happens when you toss an upright piano into the truck, the twin scourges of disposable diapers and doggo leavings, the sorrow of abandoned foreclosure piles, and the amusing ineffectiveness of families that routinely throw out three dozen trash bags a week, then toss three (3) milk jugs into their recycling bin and consider themselves “going green”. Also included are tons of stats and trivia about American residential waste in general that are at least as frightening as you’d expect. Another solid dose of behind-the-scenes education and nightmarish reality, not unlike the Dahmer book.
33. Marv Wolfman and George Perez, New Teen Titans: Games. This 2011 hardcover graphic novel, a story 22 years in the making, was the last original tale by the writer/artist duo who relaunched the team when I was 8 and made it one of the cornerstones of my comics-collecting childhood. Set in late-’80s continuity, it has everything an old-school fan could want: a complicated plot that drags Our Heroes all over Manhattan, a new super-villain team, supporting characters from way back when, Perez’ dynamic yet ornate art, upsetting casualties, and a firm classic-comics reminder that Super-Heroes Don’t Kill. Except for the part where they let Danny Chase live, it’s like Wolfman and Perez peeked inside my brain decades ago and kept the notes around ever since.
34. Various, Wildstorm: A Celebration of 25 Years. A hardcover salute to Jim Lee’s former Image Comics imprint that was later subsumed into the DC Universe, but not before a lot of top talents made their mark in style. It’s partly a clipfest, with lots of pin-ups and black-and-white reprints of previously published comics (e.g., the original WildCATs #1, the first two issues of Mark Millar and Frank Quitely’s The Authority run but with the original dialogue restored), but a few new gems are included. Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch reunite for a Jenny Sparks story; Jim Lee himself draws a few new Deathblow pages; for some reason Backlash takes up a lot of real estate; and we’re treated to the complete script for the never-drawn second issue of Grant Morrison’s 2006 WildCATs relaunch. I wouldn’t recommend paying full price for this hardcover, and I’m glad I didn’t have to, but longtime fans might appreciate the diamonds in the rough.
35. Melinda M. Snodgrass and George R. R. Martin, ed., Wild Cards: Lowball. The 22nd and next-to-most-recent book in the long-running shared-world superpower anthology series spends about 150 pages reconnecting with characters from previous recent books before finally revealing that its central plot is Superhuman Fight Club. The violent consequences, standard both for this plot and for this series, venture into the realm of whacked-out body horror before dropping a big fat To Be Continued on us. I have the finale on deck for a 2018 read.
36. Joe Harris and Martin Morazzo, Snowfall. In a world where water is nearly extinct and mere moisture is a rarity, one man fights back against The System by making it snow a lot through magical science. Extreme climate transmogrification is a stretch of a premise far beyond the usual post-apocalyptic fare in this vein, but it suffers even more from a blatantly rushed ending, taking a hard turn toward fantasy instead of science, made necessary when the comics series needed to be truncated for presumably low sales.
37. Various, The Best of Omega Comics Presents Vol. 2. Anthology reprinting several short stories from a publisher whose works are rarely seen beyond comiXology or conventions, where at least one of their creators has become a recurring friend at the conventions we attend. Interesting just to note that there can be life in print comics beyond what Diamond Distribution allows through its kept gates.
38. Dan Gearino, Comic Shop: The Retail Mavericks Who Gave Us a New Geek Culture. An illuminating history of your local comic book shops, one of the least profitable and often least professional industries in America. Comic book fan and accredited journalist Gearino charts the early beginnings of geeks selling comics out of backrooms and basements in the ’70s (e.g. future Mile High founder Chuck Rozanski) to the ’80s when shops began to proliferate and some of then began to buy actual cash registers; from the expansion of the direct-sales distribution system to the ’90s implosion caused chiefly by Marvel that led to today’s Diamond Distribution monopoly; with stops along the way for success stories from the owners of some of those very shops, including an extended appendix profiling some of the better survivors still around today despite the obstacles. Parts of the book focus intently on Gearino’s current stomping grounds of Columbus, OH, which is why Laughing Ogre Comics is offered up as a curiously extensive example of a shop that’s lasted, but anyone who’s interested in the retailer side of things — and of the younger days of a lot of its more famous participating superfans — will find this a must-read.
39. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me. Award-winning longform epistle by the celebrated intellectual, comics geek, and beloved Twitter user (well, till he deactivated his account literally the day after I started reading this), whose primary purpose is to tell his son that America was built on a foundation of white evil, there is no God, everything is horrible, there’s basically no hope, and he should get woke so he can feel hopeless and miserable too, unless he doesn’t, in which case, that’s cool. And, side note, Howard University is awesome and here’s a list of the best black intellectuals to follow. Interesting at some turns, distressingly nihilist at others. In the book’s concluding anecdote, he details his meeting with Dr. Mavis Jones, an accomplished black woman whose son was murdered by a black police officer, but who today remains a pillar of strength imbued by her faith in God. Coates respects her but doesn’t get her. Frankly, I’d rather hear more from her.
40. Alex DeCampi, Fernando Ruiz, and Rich Koslowski, Archie vs. Predator. Not a hoax! Not an underground comix parody! Wanna see America’s goofiest teenager and his old buddies shot, stabbed, decapitated, vaporized, skinned and deboned? Have we got a twisted travesty for you! When a teen Predator comes to Riverdale on the trail of a MacGuffin weapon, Our Heroes have to save each other from R-rated fates with more than just creaky punchlines and hamburgers. Predator fans can count the movie references (only to the first one, of course) while all the other ex-kids watch the bodies piling up. Despite the bloodletting, it’s still not as weird as the idea of rebooting Miss Grundy as a young-adult hot babe for Archie to sleep with, though.
41. Dylan Horrocks, Hicksville. Peculiar tale about an American comics journalist who visits a comics-happy New Zealand town to research their most famous former resident — a corporate comics juggernaut who’s like a cross between Stan Lee and Walt Disney with an extra dash of conniving greed. He hates the town, the town hates him, and everyone hates the journalist for asking. What ensues is a curious reflection on how far some guys will go to succeed at comics, what others will do to stay true to themselves, and the value in creating stories for reasons other than luring in a wide audience.
42. Jonathan Case, The New Deal. In 1930s Manhattan, the famous Waldorf Astoria is the setting for a wacky caper involving a young bellhop in deep debt, a black maid/Shakespearean actress, an outgoing socialite with a mysterious birdcage, and a series of jewelry thefts for which someone is about to be framed. A fun period piece with unexpected twists that would make a nifty 90-minute Wes Anderson project.
43. Mimi Pond, The Customer is Always Wrong. 450-page hardcover original graphic novel inspired by the creator’s own young-adult years as a California waitress in the post-Summer of Love days trying to figure out her life after the happy hippie times have faded but the heavy-duty drug culture never went away. Pond eventually broke out and went on to become an accomplished cartoonist for various magazines (National Lampoon, et al.) as well as a onetime TV writer with credits including the first full-length episode of The Simpsons, but she watched the rise and fall of a lot of friends along the way. Imagine Alice meets Trainspotting done as a sequel to Mad Men‘s California episodes. Though the initial focus is on our main character and her thwarted attempts to rise above, the best parts come later in examining her friendship with the restaurant’s manager, the guy everyone in her circle respects most but who continually has the worst luck, sometimes but not always by his own doing. A prime example of why there should be more actual novel-length graphic novels, if it were economically feasible.
44. Kyle Baker, Nat Turner. Before 2016’s The Birth of a Nation was exiled from Hollywood for its director’s past sins, this graphic-novel biography depicted the life and times of the leader of one of the most infamous, bloodiest slave rebellions in American history. It’s mostly silent at first, then complemented with passages of Turner’s own words taken from the 1831 tract “The Confessions of Nat Turner, the leader of the late insurrection in Southampton, Va., as fully and voluntarily made to Thomas R. Gray”. Racism is terrible, slavery is worse, and the horrifying violence it enabled was the worst of the worst, and Baker pushes the damage even harder than 12 Years a Slave did. But he also doesn’t shy away from Turner’s response as a self-professed man of God who’s not a saint by any definition — like, at all, judging by the level of sanguinary atrocity he and his followers committed in response to centuries of cruel oppression. Much of our history is violence in response to more violence, shocking and messy and regrettable, but for better or worse, this is how things went down in America. Anyone who thinks “slave” was just another word for “employee” back in those times is a liar or a fool, and needs to have works like this shatter their unintelligent hermetic bubble so they can be brought to repentance and maybe America can just…I don’t know, start over, maybe.
45. Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer, and Erin Humiston, Calla Cthulhu. All-ages action adventure that’s what if Buffy were the daughter of Cthulhu but she fought monsters anyway and had green tentacle hair. Highly recommended for girls who dig monsters and/or monster-fighting.
46. Noelle Stevenson, Nimona. In a vaguely steampunk-ish fantasy world, a shape-changing teen girl with a very tiny moral compass wheedles her way into an apprenticeship with the local villain. Eventually a relationship develops despite the clash of styles — he prefers old-fashioned complicated sinister plots, while she wonders why they can’t just go murder all the good guys. They’re like Dr. Evil and Scott Evil but differently funny. Over time we learn not everyone is the stock cliché they appear to be, and what starts as peppy buddy comedy soon escalates into far darker, more explosive consequences. All-ages fun that turns grim yet epic.
38. John Arcudi and Peter Snejbjerg, A God Somewhere. Quite a few super-hero creators have contemplated the question of what might happen if someone got superpowers in the real world. Nine times out of ten the answer is a corrupted conscience followed by nasty hyper-violence. Here, a simpleminded happy dude gets turned into Superman and takes about 15-20 pages before he begins to view us normals as ants. Bleeding ensues, along with ambiguous thoughts on humanist godhood and the friendships it leaves behind as the body count rises.
48. Dustin Harbin, Diary Comics. Thick collection of several years’ worth of autobio comic strips that are seemingly about nothing at first until enough time passes that the author begins to accumulate experience and light wisdom that inform his noodling and broaden his horizons. Memoirs by young-adult artists used to be a bread-and-butter subgenre for indie comics publishers in past eras, and often read alike, but Harbin’s condensed meanderings and anecdotes form a more fully realized portrait as the years accelerate and life changes come harder and faster.
49. Various, Spitball 2: A CCAD Comics Anthology. A brilliant idea by a professor at the Columbus College of Art & Design: commission a series of comic-book short-story scripts by some of the medium’s most renowned writers, give them to the school’s top art students to draw, sit back and enjoy the results. Greg Rucka, Jonathan Hickman, and Kelly Sue DeConnick are among the pros who contribute ideas and inspiration for the new kids to turn into panel-by-panel narrative. The results are wildly experimental, wholly unbeholden to ye olde Marvel and DC standards, and a good sign of what the future of comics — or webcomics! — might yield one day.
50. Alec Longstreith, Weezer Fan. Happy memoir chronicling the life cycle of an OG Weezer superfan, from their debut album up through 2010’s Hurley, from merely loving “My Name is Jonas” to co-running their official fan club to meeting them in person to meeting them again so he could say less stupid things to them. I’m not sure how much non-Weezer fans would get out of this, but I thought it was a blast and, as a fan but a bit short of “super-“, learned a lot. Weezer are coming to Indy this July with the Pixies, but we’ll probably be on vacation that weekend, and even if we aren’t, the seat prices are horrendous by my standards, and I learned in 2016 that I hate hate hate hate HATE cheap lawn seating, so for now I’ll have to settle for living vicariously through this book and this lucky guy.
51. Tom King, David Finch, Mikel Janin, Ivan Reis, et al., Batman, Vol. 1: I Am Gotham. One among the first wave of DC Comics’ “Rebirth” initiative, which was conceived as sorry-not-sorry atonement for the fatal flaws of its 2011 “New 52” line-wide reboot. Batman didn’t start over so much as he was given new life in the hands of Tom King, one of the best new comics writers of the century. Between The Vision, Omega Men, and The Sheriff of Babylon, King has produced basically all my favorite comics of the last two years. I figured I might as well give his Batman a shot, and largely wasn’t disappointed. I’m still irked that new readers are given next to no inkling of who new supporting player Duke Thomas is, but Batman himself is put through a number of outlandish challenges, from dealing with Silver Age losers like Kite-Man to trying (single-handedly!) to prevent an airliner from crashing into Gotham. The main story arc involves a Superman/Supergirl-analog duo who try becoming superheroes through shady internet superpower dealers, which…doesn’t go well. So now I’m more excited and have some Batman to catch up on in the year ahead.