Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
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.
Special shout-out to our local library, source of a few of the books in this section. Also, please note the numbers don’t represent rankings. They were merely to help me count toward my grand total. On with the countdown! Some more!
21. Joe Pantoliano, Asylum: Hollywood Tales from My Great Depression: Brain Dis-Ease, Recovery, and Being My Mother’s Son. You may remember him from such films as Memento, The Matrix, The Fugitive, Daredevil, Midnight Run, and TV’s The Sopranos. The Emmy-winning character actor’s most recent memoir dives into a fair number of Hollywood anecdotes — his friendship with Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood; his fight for more screen time in The Fugitive; that time he ran and hid from a physically violent Rosie Perez during a bad Broadway experience; that other time he sneaked into a party Harvey Weinstein threw for new U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton. But the crux of the book is candidly discussing his late-life diagnoses of multiple lifelong conditions (ADHD, dyslexia, depression) that made way for a lengthy list of addictions (alcohol, painkillers, sex, shopping), all told in that distinct, inimitable voice of every character he’s ever played. Come for the acting backstory and frequent name-checking; stay for the reassurance that others like him aren’t alone out there, as expressly stated in the name of the mental-disease awareness charity he founded called No Kidding? Me Too!, which he brings up repeatedly for good reason.
22. Anthony Bourdain, Joel Rose, and Ale Garza, Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi. Origin prequel to a previous graphic novel (which I haven’t read) about an ex-Yakuza guy turned L.A. sushi chef. I bought this from the artist at a convention last year, but had planned to leave it in the reading pile until and unless I could find the first one. In light of Bourdain’s tragic death last June, I cleared my reading schedule and zipped through it anyway as my idea of a tiny, inadequate tribute.
23. Tyler Ellis, Chimera, v. 1: The Righteous & the Lost. In a sci-fi/fantasy universe where a holy cult runs and oppresses everything, a motley crew of humans and animal humanoids — one with superpowers, one a secret traitor — is tasked to retrieve a MacGuffin without getting killed by acolytes, giant locusts, or a Dark Side version of Splinter. Deeply influenced by Brian K. Vaughan, Ellis builds up a cast of unusual characters, drains away the clichés, loads them with surprises, and sets about to murder or at least damage as many of them as possible. Risky storytelling reaps engrossing results.
24. Adam Fotos, The Panopticorn. An elderly farmer reeling from months of drought pins his last hopes on a big batch of genetically modified corn swiped from the local giant evil farming corporation. He plants all the kernels on the same night as a strange meteor shower and finds himself overloaded with crops straight out of the Twilight Zone. It’s an unconventional premise in one of the least glamorous settings possible, but it kept me turning the pages because I had to know where such bizarreness was headed.
25. Amy Chu, et al., Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death. The longtime Bat-villain is the star of her very own whodunit. Pamela Isley tries to go straight and get a benign STEM job, only to see her coworkers begin dropping dead from vaguely plant-based causes. In between suspect interviews and famous guest stars from the DC Universe, further complications arise from her own pet project — creating her own children. Several artists play round-robin through a mere six issues’ worth of story and make for jarring transitions from one chapter to the next, all of which leads to an anticlimactic killer reveal, plus the day is saved by a bonus superhero tossed without preamble into the finale. Regardless, it’s interesting seeing Ivy have the time to explore her motivations at length instead of just making lots of plant puns or ordering Venus fly traps to attack Batman.
26. Jeremy Haun and Seth M. Peck, The Realm, v. 1. Post-apocalyptic fantasy in which an evil wizard with a floating fortress has plunged the world into chaos, and the landscape is cluttered with weird warriors and Dungeons & Dragons orcs and other humanoid classes. It’s like Walking Dead by way of Bright minus me cringing at Orc Cop’s fight for equality.
27. Jonathan Hennessey and Justin Greenwood, Alexander Hamilton. Graphic novel biography that tries to cover some of the same ground as Ron Chernow’s massive tome (yep, my wife’s read that), but at a fraction of the page count and with a lot more drawings. It’s a handy deep-dive for anyone who only knows him from the Aaron Burr story or from listening to Miranda’s soundtrack online, though I’m not convinced that the numerous pages spent on explaining the design of the original American banking system translated into an interesting use of words plus pictures. Points for trying, though.
28. Sholly Fisch, Rick Burchett, et al., The All-New Batman: The Brave and the Bold: Help Wanted. Collection of tales based on the erstwhile Cartoon Network series that starred Diedrich Bader as Batman. If you liked the cartoon, this is a worthy extension full of old-fashioned DC Universe superhero adventure. Fisch writes at an all-ages level but has fun plucking lots of villains from ye olde DC Who’s Who. He continues the show’s tradition of making Aquaman basically a competent Zapp Branigan, shows the Golden Age Green Lantern teaching Batman the difference between justice and vengeance, serves up a neat story about a henchman that just can’t win, and at one point tosses in an obscure in-joke that only Comics Buyer’s Guide readers from the mid-1990s would get. Now I’m mad at all other comics fans for not telling me about this sooner.
29. Frank J. Barbiere and Brent Schoonover, Howling Commandos of SHIELD: Monster Squad. The premise is clever: Nick Fury’s old pal Dum-Dum Dugan is technically brought back to life as an LMD (read: S.H.I.E.L.D. android) and put in charge of a team of Marvel monsters tasked with special missions involving other Marvel monsters. It’s amusing more in concept than in execution, weakened by the tossing of half a dozen characters into the mix without actually introducing any of them except Dum-Dum, but we’re expected to play along and care anyway. “It’s funny because monsters!” is not a joke in itself. Also, 700 demerits for getting the silent but deadly Man-Thing wrong.
30. Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore, Surviving Megalopolis. The sequel to their Kickstarter’d Leaving Megalopolis, about an entire major city taken hostage by a superhero team driven psychotic. Last time around, a group of humans tried to get out of town alive. This time around is a logical follow-up: a human rescue team going inside to extract one (1) human trapped inside the chaos. Simone excels at writing conflicts of bad guys vs. worse guys — the more unhinged, the better — and Calafiore, her frequent collaborator on the awesome Secret Six, delivers on Simone’s demands for creepy moods, scary metahumans, and darlings killed left and right when everything goes wrong. Superhumans don’t get much more engrossingly Dark Side than this.
31. Peter David, Pulling Up Stakes. High-concept YA from the longtime comics writer/Star Trek novelist about a young guy descended from a family belonging to a secret society of vampire hunters who can’t bear to tell his mom…that he’s been turned a vampire. Hilarity ensues as he goes through the motions of what traditions expect of him while contriving to hide his deep dark secret. It’s not trailblazing by any means, and I toll my eyes at any and every vampire story that starts by bragging about which vampire weaknesses aren’t true (toss out too many, and you’re not really writing vampires anymore, are you?), but David still knows from punchlines and fast-paced adventure.
32. Mikey Neumann and Agustin Padilla, Borderlands: Fall of Fyrestone. I spent two of my last three years’ worth of limited video-gaming sessions getting myself lost and mesmerized by the first two Borderlands games for PS3, and missed out on the short time when IDW Publishing brought the world of Pandora to comics. One of the game’s original writers and voice actors (who now has his own YouTube series called “Movies with Mikey”) was wisely put in charge, firmly maintaining the same tongue-in-cheek tone and inhabiting each of the four main characters in this loose run-through of the first game’s first main mission, thankfully with a new take on it rather than a beat-for-beat transcription.
33. Sarah Ganz Blythe and Edward D. Powers, Looking at Dada. Coffee-table companion to a 2006 exhibition at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art. I took a seminar in college that name-checked larger personalities from the original Dadaist movement, so it was fun to remember some of that and learn new names. Apropos of many things, this was a vacation souvenir from a modern art museum we visited in Utica back in July.
34. Cullen Bunn and Joelle Jones, Helheim, v. 1: The Witch War. Vikings plus witches plus one zombie-fied super-viking, with equal parts betrayal and sacrifice tossed in, equals much bloodletting but a surprising amount of subtle emotional moments.
35. Mike Carey and Mike Perkins, Rowans Ruin. A shiny happy American blogger agrees to swap houses for one fun summer with a British lady her same age. Sadly her U.K. counterpart failed to mention she lives…in a haunted house! DUN-DUN-DUUUUUUN. I guessed the biggest plot twist early on, but not every twist. Successful on the spooky side anyway.
36. Claude V. King, Henry Blackaby, and Richard Blackaby, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God. Recommended reading from our church, a Christian self-help book meant to draw inspiration and advice for everyday living and improvement from various pieces of Scripture. It’s been around for a while, so this is an updated edition with several chapters rewritten to include testimonials from readers and believers who got positive experiences out of the book. Frankly, a book filled with positive reviews of itself is kind of like having dustcover flaps attached to every other page. It’s also a little off-putting when you’re already holding the item in question, like an Amazon email recommending you buy the thing you just bought from them last week. This self-congratulation reaches its nadir when the authors talk about that time their book convinced Mike Huckabee to get out of ministry and into politics instead. That’s an actual thing in the book.
37. Cece Bell, El Deafo. All-ages autobio-graphic novel about growing up deaf, the ups and downs of using Phonic Ear devices, the teachers whose cooperation levels varied, the friends who sometimes understood her and who sometimes were a little dense, and her own, very human reactions to all of the above, not always on the patient side. Candid, humble, funny, wonderfully insightful.
38. Georgia Webber, Dumb: Living Without a Voice. Also an autobio-graphic novel, but from a different perspective. Once upon a time the author loved to chat and sing, but underwent the hardest months of her life when she lost her voice, had to rely on other forms of communication, and struggled with the difficulties of holding down a job in silence as well as giving up activities she loved most. Apropos of her experience, much of the book is abstract-impressionistic, sans words for entire pages at a time to better capture her frustration in isolation — some of it admittedly self-imposed but none of it endured without a fight.