My 2020 Reading Stacks #12

Cairo and Wonder Woman graphic novels.

G. Willow Wilson: then and now.

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…it’s readin’ time. Again.

44. G. Willow Wilson, Cary Nord, Zermanico, Jesus Merino, et al., Wonder Woman: The Just War. Olympus is gone! Nobody knows what happened to it. It was just right there. Naturally this is vexing for Princess Diana, but just imagine the confusion for its former residents. Ares, for one, is having second thoughts about his whole “War is AWESOME” shtick and ponders upholding loftier ideals, but has no capacity for judging the “correct” side of a conflict and can’t tell the difference between justice and revenge, let alone what they might have to do with war, if anything. Aphrodite and a cadre of wandering mythical creatures are likewise drifting away from their usual stomping grounds and of course it’s Diana’s responsibility to solve everyone’s problems. It helps that she’s the wisest even though she isn’t the oldest. Regardless, there’s one thing the two displaced gods agree upon: the God of War and the Goddess of Love are sick and tired of humans committing horrid deeds in the names of their respective domains.

That story ends early and leads into a confrontation with a female Lex Luthor and a costumed villain who looks like a cybernetic Medusa, which springboards off Operation: Omitted Olympus and dissatisfyingly ends To Be Continued, a required state of existence for DC books wherever possible, because every reading experience must lead to the buyer’s next purchase or else why bother publishing comics. I’m not enamored of storytelling methods that are blatantly driven by marketing departments.

My interest in DC’s mainstream universe is at a historic low, confining me to the occasional tangents, but as a fan of Wilson’s Ms. Marvel run I thought this might be worth a look-see. The super-fights are granted appropriate space to unfold as blow-by-blow events rather than singular, motionless pinups, and Wilson’s flair for always leading readers to a Moral of the Story is a perfect fit for Wonder Woman, that ostensible paragon of virtue whose entire mission statement is to enlighten Man’s World to better ways of living.

The last time I collected WW’s title regularly was Phil Jimenez’s run from the early 2000s. I chafed at unexplained bits from the current continuity. I was fine with the all-new all-different Etta Candy, but I was annoyed by the complete stranger who shares Ares’ early scenes and who isn’t explained till a few chapters later (even then, just volleying the phrase “Darkseid’s daughter” with no further supporting verbiage is not a helpful recap). I would’ve been happier if the incomplete backup story had been shunted to the next trade and left Ares’ arc as a standalone. That said, her debate with him over moral issues is the best WW solo story I’ve read in ages, for what that’s worth.

45. G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker, Cairo. While Wilson’s name was at the forefront of my attention, I decided to dive into my staggering unread pile (it is large, it contains multitudes, and it reaches back literally decades) and unearthed her 2007 debut graphic novel, drawn by her future collaborator on the two-year DC/Vertigo series Air. A magical-realism version of the titular city plays host to a crisscrossed ensemble from assorted countries converging by their destinies and their choices in a tale involving a bespoke genie in a hookah, a wizardly crime lord, a persnickety devil, other monsters out of Middle East lore, bits of bloody gunfire, and probably more than a few Islamic concepts and references that flew over my head. Not in a confusing way at all, mind you, but don’t ask me to cite chapter or verse from their sources.

The characters and the competing motivations are more intricate, nuanced, and realized in depth than the superhero paper merchandise. Perker’s art reminds me of a lot of the guys who worked at First Comics back in the ’80s (Rich Larson, Barry Crain, etc.) — cartoonish in spots, but effectively conveying what’s going on and propelling us forward through this land unlike our own, yet whose people are no less driven to love, to live, to survive, and, fate permitting, to keep seeking their true north.

Books about dead languages and clowns.

One is all about saving words for cultures’ sake; the other avoids words to save face.

46. K. David Harrison, When Languages Die. Not the first book to be covered here that was one of my son’s college textbooks. As of 2001 Earth was home to 6,912 languages in varying states of popularity and practice. Within a century, half those languages may be dead. Some civilizations will go extinct and take their distinctive linguistics with them. Some communities will adopt new languages to fit into the modern world. Some tribes will be forced to cooperate with their oppressors and abandon their ways. Some will see their elder generations pass away without instilling a sense of tradition or historical continuity in their incurious inheritors. Some languages are already down to their last handful of native speakers. A few may have died off in the years since this was published.

Harrison is one of many anthropologists working to save languages wherever possible. He’s traveled worldwide throughout his long career, interviewed numerous speakers, and learned volumes about the syntax, style, uniqueness, and inherent advantages of each tongue that can’t necessarily be replicated in English or in other cultures, sometimes not even by their own neighbors. The participants cover a wide range — Tofa, Tuvan, Lardil, Wayampi, Klamath, and Ös are just some of the names that pop up among the hundreds as I flip through again. America’s own indigenous vocabularies are equally dying or already off the map. As of 1995, even Hawaiian was on the endangered list, with only 1,000 native speakers remaining, obviously not counting tourists keeping just “aloha” and “luau” alive. Blame the pervasiveness of English for crowding out the competition.

The intended academia audience may be more patient with the repetitiveness of later chapters that are really, really excited to comb over specific expressive details for pages on end that begin to feel formulaic in their own way. But forgiving that, this was an eye-opening look into an aspect of the world that’s far too easy to take for granted here in our insular communities, both online and off-. The author’s crusade continues to this day with the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, who chronicle their ongoing efforts to preserve all these disparate means of communication and categorization as much as possible so that future generations can have the widest possible tableau of human endeavor to learn from and experience, including but not necessarily limited to their own local descendants.

47. Roger Langridge, Fred the Clown. One of New Zealand’s brightest gifts to the comics world most recently illustrated the mondo movie midquel miniseries Bill & Ted Are Doomed, whose final chapter hit shops this very week. Ten years ago he wrote a Muppet Show series for Marvel that matched the original for wit and out-of-the-box referential gags. Farther back in his career and my reading pile was this 2004 volume, a collection of vignettes about a most pathetic clown who rarely speaks, never wins, degrades his profession, gives loners an even worse name, and shames himself and us for having dared hope his frantic antics might achieve anything other than a painful loss. He’s not evil. He’s just super put-upon and helpless and makes us glad we’re not him or standing in his area code. funny at times, sadly touching in others, head-shaking in a piteous, face-palming way in still others.

Fred the Clown!

For anyone who loved those old Charles Atlas ads but never became Hero of the Beach, this clown’s for you.

More to come!

[See also: Stack #1 | Stack #2: Becoming Superman | Stack #3 | Stack #4 | Stack #5 | Stack #6 | Stack #7 | Stack #8 | Stack #9: Antkind | Stack #10 | Stack #11]

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