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 two is my full list of books, graphic novels, and trade collections that I finished reading in 2018, partly but 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 80 is to get to the point where my reading list is more than, say, 30% 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 29 years of reading Entertainment Weekly have gotten me addicted to the capsule format. The list is divided into a three-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. Onward!
1. David Mazzucchelli, Asterios Polyp. After making a lasting impression on the 1980s comics landscape with Daredevil: Born Again and Batman: Year One, Mazzucchelli abruptly walked away from the corporate mainstream and never worked on superheroes again, toiling away contentedly in obscurity on self-published works such as this experimental longform hardcover. Our unreliable jerk of a protagonist is a pretentious professor with architectural design skills but no follow-through, a wife who takes years to stop finding reasons to be impressed by him, and a comeuppance that forms a secondary narrative thread in which he seemingly learns humbling lessons about common decency and about his fatal flaw of embracing false dichotomies, including but not limited to the Duality of Man. The art styles shift from scene to scene to keep apace of the timeline, recurring motifs, and reductionist deconstruction that digs more deeply inside the cast’s emotions and physical forms, daring the reader to go meters below the surface of Rich Man Becomes Better Person.
2. Neil Gaiman and Colleen Doran, Troll Bridge. A fairy tale for adults about a boy who evaded a troll by making it a long-term promise, then making more sacrifices to save his own hide. It’s naturally bizarre, and so short that I debated whether or not to include it, but then I remembered the internet brightens a few extra watts whenever someone types the name “Neil Gaiman”, so here I am. Lovely painted illustrations by Doran, too.
3. William Gibson, Pattern Recognition. Presumably one of the first American novels in which the MacGuffin was a viral video. I’m woefully behind on Gibson’s stuff and made the mistake of reading its follow-up Spook Country first. Even though it’s fifteen years old, it’s odd that so much of its featured technology hasn’t yet become totally obsolete. Call it an advantage of writing up-to-the-minute speculative fiction instead of science fiction.
4. Kyle Baker, You Should’ve Killed Me When I You Had the Chance! Collection of funny comics, strips, panels, and ephemera from one of my favorite cartoonists (The Cowboy Wally Show, Why I Hate Saturn). I’d already read one-third of the contents in their original forms, but enough time passed that all the punchlines were new again.
5. Derf Backderf, Punk Rock and Trailer Parks. A souvenir from the Geppi Museum in Baltimore before they closed their doors last year. Before his autobiographical graphic novel My Friend Dahmer was turned into a 2017 indie film, Derf’s first full-length work was a roman à clef about the late-’70s punk rock scene in Akron, spawning ground for the likes of Devo and the Pretenders. The tale of one gangly, socially awkward scenester who finds his niche in life at the clubs is a fine excuse to walk through music history with the Ramones, the Clash, and other dissident voices who made Midwest stopovers on their road to fame that made a world of difference to thousands of disenfranchised misfits. Two parts nostalgia, one part comedy, three parts celebrating the lives of happy outsiders.
6. Jeff Parker and Sandy Jarrell, Meteor Men. Breezy, inventive first-contact tale from two of the gents responsible for DC’s recent Batman ’66 comics. Things get weird in an average small town when meteorites land everywhere, strange beings emerge, and the townspeople disappear one by one. It sounds generic laid bare like that, but there’s a light twist to it I hadn’t seen done before.
7. Paul Allor and Paul Tucker, Tet. Vietnam War murder mystery about two unconnected men left dead — one local, one American — and the veteran whose investigation puts a strain on his own burgeoning relationship with another local. In this case it’s not so much a whodunit as a whydunit, for a motive that ultimately reminds the reader this was written within the past ten years. The art is shaky in spots but largely conveys what’s needed.
8. Dara Naraghi and Brent Bowman, Persia Blues, vol. 2: Love and War. Two alternating stories whose connection is never explicitly defined: one of a young Iranian woman trying to live free and be herself despite her government and an overly cautious father; and one of an identical medieval warrior with the same name having Iranian D&D adventures. The present-day tales are sufficiently eye-opening on their own, much in the vein of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis but from another perspective. The exploration of Persian mythology in the side-stories becomes more engaging as it dives further in. The art in the first volume left some practicing to be desired, but improvement shows as the stories move forward.
9/10/11. Charles Soule & Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque, Letter 44, v. 2: Redshift; v. 3: Dark Matter; v. 4: Saviors. Six-volume sci-fi epic in which a new American President learns his predecessor secretly funded a zillion-dollar space mission to go investigate a mysterious alien craft at the edge of the solar system, which required much advanced military tech research that stayed hidden…until the new guy decides why not take it all out and start using it at once. World war is soon to follow, not helped by the previous President’s demented background shenanigans. Meanwhile the space crew’s long-term mission goes weird, the aliens’ motives turn out to be long-term, there’s a killer meteor and the later arrival of a guy with superpowers, and…the consequences keep piling on as everything goes off the rails. Fascinating fun in which solutions keep making things worse and nobody’s safe, which is technically realistic in the face of an onslaught of so many tropes at once.
12. Various, Regular Show: Parks and Wreck. Short-story collection based on the Cartoon Network series that I usually liked more than Adventure Time. Most of it is no less than what I’d expected, but I’m particularly fond of Hannah Blumenreich’s “Fancy Dinner”, a simple story about a selfish dude trying to do something nice for his girlfriend even though he has no idea what he’s doing, and the only friend who can help him is equally ignorant. Hilarity ensues, but so does heart.
13. Evan Wright, Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America, and the New Face of American War. A Rolling Stone journalist’s harrowing recount of his 2003 ride-along with a US Marines First Recon unit in the months leading up to the fall of Baghdad. This was later adapted into an HBO miniseries by the creators of The Wire, and now I think I know why — the ground-level look at average American guys who signed up post-9/11 compares and contrasts their initial motivations with their later attitudes in the face of countless discomfiting front-line experiences, nasty confrontations, frequently shifting Rules of Engagement as commanded from on high, civilian deaths that should’ve been avoided, unforgiving climate, and the later discovery that, by and large, their unit was basically used as one big decoy to distract the opposition while the larger main force headed for all the important places in Iraq. Curiously, I bought this in a small-town antique store, leaving me with questions about the local who originally owned it but decided to kick it off their bookshelf.
14. Kate Beaton, Step Aside, Pops. Another collection of comic strips and one-panel gags from the popular webcomic saturated with historicity, feminism, and deep-dive references to lots of 19th-century novels I’ve never read. 75% razor-sharp wit, 25% me not getting it, which isn’t Beaton’s fault.
15. Ken Pontac and Leonardo Manco, Wacky Raceland. Mad Max meets Cannonball Run in this grim-‘n’-gritty reboot of the cutesy old Hanna Barbera cartoon. The characters have the same goofy names and the cars talk, but bloody carnage abounds and now Dick Dastardly has a pitch-black origin rivaling Chris Evans’ in Snowpiercer. Maybe it makes sense coming from a former Happy Tree Friends writer, but it might have worked better as a Death Race 2000 sequel without pointlessly repurposing yesteryear’s Saturday mornings.
16. Adam Glass and Patrick Olliffe, Rough Riders, vol. 1: Give Them Hell. Harry Houdini! Jack Johnson! Annie Oakley! Thomas Edison! And their leader, man’s man Teddy Roosevelt himself, unite to track down the real perpetrators behind the sinking of the USS Maine. This early 20th-century American take on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen remixes real historical figures instead of penny-dreadful heroes, drawing from their combined wealth of true background details to formulate one rousing adventure. Guaranteed 100% less NC-17 than LoEG! My wife rarely brakes for graphic novels, but this one caught her eye when the publisher had a booth at C2E2 last year. Points to the good folks at Aftershock Comics for mining a neglected vein.
17. Adam Glass and Patrick Olliffe, Rough Riders v. 2: Riders on the Storm. The historical superteam is back in action: Teddy! Houdini! Jack Johnson! That big fat jerk Edison! And Annie Oakley, even though the first volume didn’t go well for her! This time the team takes on the anarchists who assassinate President William McKinley, only to learn they answer to a much higher power in the last place anyone expected to look. The adventurous lunacy continues to ramp up, with lots of explosions, more surprising historical faces, an improbably twisted monarch, and a shirtless Roosevelt ready to box his way to victory like a gentleman filled with more testosterone than blood.
18. Jeff Lemire, Roughneck. A disgraced hockey player tries to find redemption in protecting his estranged sister from her abusive boyfriend by retreating deep into the Canadian wilderness. Beautiful watercolored art belies occasionally ugly conflict over the poor choices that get us stranded in such situations.
19. Tom King, A Once Crowded Sky. One of DC Comics’ hottest writers, previously employed as a CIA analyst during the second Iraq war, Tom King kicked off his radical career change years ago with this debut novel about a world where all the superheroes (except one) gave up their powers to defeat an evil menace from beyond, only to find themselves helpless years later when a new threat begins murdering them one by one. Definitely influenced by Watchmen, early Brian Michael Bendis, and other post-superhero works of the past thirty years, the book picks up steam as it delves deeper into its deconstructions, but has a few early chapters that are sluggish chores to endure whenever the third-person narration adopts the rambling, repetitive voice of its drunker, more irritating characters.
20. Noah van Sciver, The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln. The inspired-by-a-true-story recount of the future President’s years in Illinois as a novice lawyer with a run of hard luck and undiagnosed depression inhibiting his demeanor and career. We tend to think of Lincoln in such reverent, deified tones that it’s unusual to see him examined from a humbled, humanizing position of weakness. If anything, though, seeing him overcome such trials — as much as one could in the nineteenth century, at least — adds a relatable dimension to his legacy without diminishing it.