My 2021 Reading Stacks #4

Neil Gaiman books!

One fun side effect of neglecting this recurring feature for months: now I have a much larger accumulation from which I can draw “two of a kind”, such as this easy pairing.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Welcome once again to our recurring MCC feature in which I scribble capsule reviews of everything I’ve read lately that was published in a physical format over a certain page count with a squarebound spine on it — novels, original graphic novels, trade paperbacks, infrequent nonfiction dalliances, and so on. 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, though I do try to diversify my literary diet as time and acquisitions permit.

Occasionally I’ll sneak in a contemporary review if I’ve gone out of my way to buy and read something brand new. Every so often I’ll borrow from my wife or from our local library. But the majority of our spotlighted works are presented years after the rest of the world already finished and moved on from them because I’m drawing from my vast unread pile that presently occupies four oversize shelves comprising thirty-three years of uncontrolled book shopping. I’ve occasionally pruned the pile, but as you can imagine, cut out one unread book and three more take its place.

I’ve previously written why I don’t do eBooks. Perhaps someday I’ll also explain why these capsules are exclusive to MCC and not shared on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites where their authors might prefer I’d share them. In the meantime, here’s me and my recent reading results…

(…after the hiatus…)

10. Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology (2018 paperback). I picked up this vacation souvenir from a Minnesota attraction where it was apropos of its surroundings and more credible than them. (That story will be told later in Our Road Trip miniseries around chapter 38 or so.) In the tradition of Thomas Bullfinch, Edith Hamilton, and others who compiled mythology anthologies for the benefit of our Gen-X childhoods, the celebrated storyteller delves into ancient resources back to at least the twelfth century, brings new life to the works of Snorri Sturluson and other contemporaneous poetry, and embarks on a campfire-gathering recount of the chronicles of Odin, Thor, Loki, and other long-standing dramatis personae thus far excluded from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (‘sup, Balder?)

At less than 300 pages the journey from the earliest worlds before Day One to the expectations of Ragnarok is streamlined to its essentials, but with key flourishes that weave into a single narrative as each separate tale is delivered, all shared with an impish spring in their steps. For anyone who insists on head-casting obvious actors in the lead roles, steel yourself for an Odin and Thor who are ultimately crueler than their current, more lovable incarnations. Assigning your imaginary Tom Hiddleston to play Gaiman’s Loki is a satisfying performance for the stage in your mind’s eye provided you keep in mind the old-school trickster god, who was beholden neither to swooning audiences nor to marketing departments, was not a misunderstood antihero. At all.

11. Neil Gaiman, Rafael Albuquerque, Rafael Scavone and Dave Stewart, A Study in Emerald (2018). Sherlock Holmes meets Cthulhu! Horrors ensue! The graphic novel adapts Gaiman’s Hugo Award-winning short story with eerie edges and hues by Albuquerque (American Vampire, Blue Beetle) and Stewart, whose visuals don’t give away the game that’s truly afoot, especially for newcomers or for anyone like me who forgot they read the original tale years ago in his Fragile Things collection but missed some nuances at the time.

Jeff Lemire graphic novels!

[“Chris Farley Show” voice] Remember that time when I met Jeff Lemire and I bought a book from him and then he drew a sketch in the book and then later I read the book? That was awesome.[/CFSv]

12. Jeff Lemire, Essex County (2009 omnibus). Before he transcended the meager output of his peers to become a prolific writer, artist, and/or overseer of roughly sixty-four comics every month, a younger Lemire garnered critical attention with a trilogy of low-key character studies about idiosyncratic loners who find comfort and community in each other, set firmly in the part of rural Canada where he grew up. One-on-one connections among unique misfits, aching loss, delicately delineated natural settings, magical denouements, and hockey culture would become hallmarks of his creator-owned oeuvre, to which I’m a latecomer and still catching up. As if the stories themselves weren’t bittersweet enough, this complete collection includes an enthusiastic introduction by fellow artist/countryman Darwyn Cooke, who passed away seven years later.

13. Jeff Lemire, Sweet Tooth, Book One (2021 re-release). Now a Netflix series! Which I haven’t watched because I’d rather first read the original series, which I slept on. Unfortunately instead of buying the trades before it got transmedia-cool, I had to settle for an updated version sporting a “Now a Major Thing on Screens That Normal People Have Noticed” photo cover instead of one with Lemire’s own art. Now any hardcore Sweet Tooth fans who see this on my shelf will know I jumped aboard their bandwagon and they can claim literary superiority.

Anyway, a post-apocalyptic society where normal humans are dying off and all newborns enter the world as Moreau-esque half-animals, as represented here in its first twelve issues, is at least as poetically, whimsically heartbreaking as Lemire’s other upstanding works and I regret my initial hesitation to explore it.

Comics to TV!

While we’re talking about “Now a Major Television Series!” comics…

14. Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse, Resident Alien, Vol. 6: Your Ride’s Here (2021). Now an acclaimed Syfy series starring Alan Tudyk! Which I haven’t watched because, despite Tudyk’s innate keenness, I have been following the Dark Horse series-of-miniseries since volume one issue one, and none of the commercials (which were an incessant nuisance during the New Year’s Eve 2020 Twilight Zone marathon) resembled what I’ve always dug about marooned alien Dr. Harry Vanderspiegle and his reserved cast of woodsy Oregon irregulars.

In what’s likely the series finale, Harry is faced with the possibility of being recalled to his home planet, one last crime to stop, possibly one last will-they-or-won’t-they moment with Asta, and a Man in Black whose suspicious stakeout comes at an awkward time. I’m unsure whether the creators ended according to their own plans, cut their losses due to low sales (our local shops stopped ordering the singles as of the previous miniseries, after years of barely stocking it at all), or decided to avoid brand confusion with the adaptation, but for longtime followers they’ve ended on exactly the right note and without any wacky comedy voices.

15. Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli, Runaways: Homeschooling (2010). Formerly a Hulu series that lasted three seasons and featured a cast of thousands, of whom five were delightful to watch! The original Brian K. Vaughan/Adrian Alphona saga is a must-read classic; the subsequent run written by Joss Whedon was a shoddy, time-travel misfire mired in ye olde oppressive England of yore (basically a rough draft of The Nevers); and I soon fell away from the kids as their returns kept diminishing. In this final arc before Marvel wisely benched the team for several years, Our Heroes spend many pages squabbling pointlessly with each other, then also spend many pages “buried” in the rubble of their destroyed mansion that’s portrayed as a featureless, non-threatening purple void. A major member is killed off with the kind of dismissive attitude that only an editor can demand, and what little is here peters out with a cliffhanger that to my knowledge was never resolved.

As a value-subtracting bonus, an unrelated done-in-one tale is also enclosed, “What If the Runaways Became the Young Avengers?” As perfunctorily typed out by former Marvel star Akira Yoshida and paired with sub-Liefeld “action” art, a mash-up of two previously brilliant teams of super-youths would produce…one awfully generic super-team ready for generic adventure. Of all the inessential reading in this volume, this watered-down alt-timeline is the most disposable. Go check out the recent Rainbow Rowell/Kris Anka revival instead.

More to come!

[See also: Stack #1: the one with Kickstarter rewards | Stack #2: the one with Trebek | Stack #3: the one with Stan Lee]

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