Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
At the beginning of each year I spend weeks writing year-in-review entries that cover the gamut of my entertainment intake, including capsule reviews for all the books and graphic novels I’ve read. I refrain from devoting entries to full-length book reviews because 999 times out of 1000 I’m finishing a given work decades after the rest of the world is already done and moved on from it.
As time permits and the finished books pile up, I’ll be charting my full list of books, graphic novels, and trade collections I’ve read throughout the year in a staggered, exclusive manner here, for all that’s worth to the outside world. Due to the way I structure my media-consumption time blocks, the list will always feature more graphic novels than works of prose and pure text. Novels and non-pictographic nonfiction will pop up here and there, albeit in a minority capacity for a few different reasons. Triple bonus points to any longtime MCC readers who can tell which items I bought at which comic/entertainment conventions we’ve attended over the past few years.
…and now, the big wrap-up.
32. A.O. Scott, Better Living Through Criticism.. The New York Times film critic argues the usefulness and necessity of developing aesthetic standards, examining what’s in front of us beyond our surface responses, articulating our responses to art in public spaces, contrasting opinions with others, and interrogating levels of evaluation beyond “cool” and “crap”. I read this earlier in 2019 and wish I’d taken notes so I could write six more paragraphs about it, but for now I’ll have to settle for recommending you watch Ratatouille, a deceptively complex film about creators and critics that Scott’s review called “exuberantly democratic and unabashedly elitist, defending good taste and aesthetic accomplishment not as snobbish entitlements but as universal ideals.” Scott spends several inspired pages near the end using that film to sum up his many arguments with aplomb. Presumably he didn’t write with the help of a rat under his hat, but his defense checks out.
33. Henry Winkler, I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River. My wife Anne figured out years ago if you want to see an actor’s eyes light up and their enthusiasm levels rise, ask them about any of their hobbies and interests besides acting. The Artist Formerly Known as “The Fonz” assembled his own devotional mini-memoir about fly-fishing (he does have his fish tales), about nature photography (numerous examples grace the pages), and about his loving family. Along the way, acting every so often figures into the narrative and trivia pops up about some of his past gigs, but that part isn’t meant to be a comprehensive overview. He’s also candid about his struggles with dyslexia, which went undiagnosed until well into adulthood. Winkler’s writing style is every bit as humble and gregarious as he is, as long as you’re not around to witness his wrath whenever a fish escapes his hook. (He jokes at first, then pivots to candor about how that once threatened to become a serious issue for him.)
34. Shelly Bond, ed., Femme Magnifique: 50 Magnificent Women Who Changed the World. A series of three-page biographies by dozens of all-star comics collaborators from across gender lines. The covered personalities run the gamut from those taught in schools (Joan of Arc! Harriet Tubman! Shirley Chisholm!) to pop-culture staples (Marlo Thomas! Margaret Atwood! Carrie Fisher!) to names I’d forgotten (Beth Ditto! Shirley Jackson! Bjork!) to recent times (the Broad City duo! Michelle Obama! Hillary Clinton! yes, not unexpectedly the lineup skews liberal) to less traveled corners of history from which names and accomplishments are brought to light that were previously unknown to an average lunkhead like me. Far too many quality vignettes preclude me from singling out a mere select few (I suppose I could simply post pics of the table of contents), but it’s nonetheless a dense, informative celebration.
35. C. A. Preece and Josh Reynolds, CheMystery. Educational graphic novel about kids becoming superheroes and then suddenly they notice everything around them is science that begs for explanations, formulas, and textbook boilerplate boiled down to the barest essences and then massaged into something closer to fun for all ages. I’m not the intended audience, but I’ve always been a huge fan of using graphic storytelling for teaching purposes (cf. Larry Gonick, Jim Ottaviani, Maris Wicks). I don’t want to nitpick this too harshly, but constructively speaking, there’s a noticeable difference between using a comics lettering computer program yourself and hiring a professional letterer to do the job. Longtime readers will always spot and wince at the difference.
36. Tony Isabella, July 1963: A Pivotal Month in the Comic-Book Life of Tony Isabella, Volume One. The longtime comics writer and creator of Black Lightning began a personal project to list the contents of every single comic book published during the month in which he discovered and fell in love with the medium. His quest wasn’t simple: back in the ’60s a plethora of publishers churning out a multitude of titles, not all of which were easy to track down (or afford) five decades later. This collection of the first twenty-two blogposts alphabetically by title (Action Comics #304 through Batman #158)are the tip of the iceberg. Some are odder ducks than others, like that time DC let Jerry Lewis star in a comic. Nearly one-third of the list is Archie stuff, and not from any era that would interest Riverdale fans. I’m used to revisits of Golden Age and Silver Age days by other writers being enlivened by tongue-in-cheek commentary and light MST3K-style poking, but Isabella limits any such judgments, relegating himself mostly to the role of a benign curator, pointing out stories and goofy ads of yore, then letting them drop without elaborating. A few entries feel less like he’s warmly reminiscing and more like he’s just…taking inventory.
37. Russell Lissau and John Bivens, Old Wounds. A dark look at what happens when superheroes age less than gracefully into their golden years. The Law of Economy of Characters necessarily constrains the mystery at the heart of the story, but it fits neatly on the shelf alongside such topical cohorts as Welcome to Tranquility and those old issues of Infinity Inc. where we saw the Justice Society turn elderly.
38. Jimmy Palmiotti, Matt Brady, and Domo Stanton, The Big Con Job. Another book in which the main characters are getting too old for this stuff. Satan must be having a chuckle trying to drag me down by using books to remind me how aging sucks. Anyway, Leverage meets Galaxy Quest by way of Cocoon as the cast of a beloved old sci-fi show makes a group appearance at yet another comic convention, where a shadowy third party enlists them to pull off a heist of so much sweet autograph/photo-op moolah that could leave them set for life and in a position to quit the degrading con circuit forever…if they don’t get caught. As a fan who’s attended too many cons these past few years, and as a Leverage fan, this book really spoke to me.
39. Chris Warner, Agustin Padilla, and Neeraj Menon, Predator: Hunters II. Another in Dark Horse Comics’ long line of Predator trade paperbacks, this time the action moves to Afghanistan for topicality but otherwise sticks to hunts and murders and grisliness. I genuinely liked two of the movies (the original is my favorite Schwarzenegger vehicle!) but the comics versions have generally reminded me of all those other Predator letdowns…though this time the artists scored bonus points for integrating some nicely detailed and nuanced landscapes behind and around the carnage.
40. Kyle Starks and Gabo, Dead of Winter: Good, Good Dog. Ending on a more positive note: in a world where a standard undead apocalypse ruins things and whatnot, casualties mount and ugly surprises abound and not every likable character makes it out alive, but one survivor among Our Heroes makes a major difference: an expertly trained Hollywood stunt dog named Sparky. Thus we see if The Walking Dead starred Rin-Tin-Tin, it would be one of the greatest zombie stories in history. After our own family dog died last April, life-savers like Sparky are the heroes I needed to light the way through the long tunnel that was 2019.
…and that, sadly, was it for 2019, thanks mostly to a thousand distractions and partly to Gnomon. My capacity would improve exponentially if I could quit all non-book forms of reading such as newspapers, monthly comics, and internet. And go back to speed-reading instead of worrying about retention. And go back to sleeping only five hours a night. And sell our TVs. And hide from my family. And stop writing. So many habits holding me back.
Till the next stack!