My 2022 Reading Stacks #1

Barry Windsor-Smith Monsters!

Maybe not the best place to start while writing over July 4th weekend…or is it?

Welcome once again to our recurring MCC feature in which I scribble capsule reviews of everything I’ve read 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 Anne 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 reading results, which I should’ve begun tracking months ago…

1. Barry Windsor-Smith, Monsters (2021). The largest and heaviest book I bought last year is also one of the best things I’ve finished this year. (I was halfway through it at New Year’s.) From a distance this mammoth tome from the celebrated artist (Conan, Weapon X, the underrated Machine Man, etc.) looks like a Frankenstein tale, but it wends backwards through its timeline (exactly a la Memento and its inspirations) to reveal the roots of its government-experiment-gone-awry tale as they extend through the subject’s traumatic home life and into the consequences of World War II atrocities that have haunted and in some cases destroyed entire generations ever since. The larger format is a beautifully terrifying showcase for Windsor-Smith’s exquisitely cross-hatched textures and the horrors they portray, wrought by humanity’s own twisted hands.

2. Kalinda Vasquez, Carlos Gomez, and Jesus Aburtov, America Chavez: Made in the USA. Now a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Among the more intriguing new characters to hang out in various Avengers comics over the past decade (I first knew her from Gillen and McKelvie’s Young Avengers), America’s distinguishing superpower — apart from the basic package of strength and flight — was her knack for stomping holes through reality into alternate Earths and other dimensions. Hence her inclusion in Sam Raimi’s Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. In her most recent solo tale, America’s pride and confidence are challenged when a mysterious attacker claiming to be a long-lost relative brings her a piping-hot bucket of Everything You Know Is Wrong about her family, her otherdimensional secret origin, and all the sci-fi trappings that made her bizarre yet cool. By this tale’s end, her backstory is rendered slightly more mundane and definitely more cliched, and her power set is diminished, as if someone in charge decreed she needed to be be less awesome. This doesn’t directly wound me considering I haven’t been collecting any Avengers titles regularly in years, but hobbling her seems a shame.

(This one isn’t pictured because it was a library checkout that I failed to photograph before returning. Also, I wrote this capsule months ago after I finished it but before the film was released, so I had to go back and rewrite all my tenses. This is why I need to keep up on this feature more regularly.)

Star Trek books!

Our year of getting back into Star Trek continues!

3. Brent Spiner with Jeanne Darst, Fan Fiction (2021). At an Indiana Comic Con panel back in April the beloved actor seemed let down that few in the audience had read his novel, released last October. This was the first I’d heard of its existence, so it seemed unkind not to check it out. Similar to Jim Carrey’s Memoirs and Misinformation, the tale is based partly on true stories and partly on whichever bits he felt like making up for kicks. Long ago while Star Trek: The Next Generation was still on the air, Our Hero begins receiving creepy notes and gifts from a stalker inspired in part by the episode “The Offspring”, the one where Data builds his own android daughter. In a cute running gag, nearly every other character likewise loves that same episode, including a few other fans trying their hand at the whole “stalking” game and keeping the plot complications coming. Spiner’s at his funniest when he’s self-deprecating and weakest when indulging in tangential subplots (e.g., a love triangle involving himself and twins), and the ending is so anticlimactic that one suspects it has to be what actually happened, but if you don’t sweat discerning reality from fantasy and/or are okay with constantly fact-checking online, it’s an entertaining read.

4. Scott & David Tipton, David Messina, Silvia Califano, Elisabetta D’Amico, et al., Star Trek: The Q Conflict (2019). After our recent Trek-heavy experiences (the aforementioned Indiana Comic Con, the same month’s Mission Chicago event, and season 2 of Picard), Anne was craving more Q stories. She nabbed this IDW trade and let me borrow it after she was done. The back cover confirms it’s a straight-up cheery ripoff of Marvel’s Contest of Champions, a classic from my early-’80s childhood: what if all-powerful beings forced your favorite heroes to fight each other Or Else? Thus Q, Trelane, and a couple of scrounged-up ringers kidnap the crews of the first four Trek TV series and make them compete in space Olympics and pretend to answer the pointless fanboy question “Which Trek Crew Is Best?” As is the case with most IDW Trek comics, the dialogue is wooden and/or recycled from better-written episodes, none of the characters are allowed to have facial expressions because the artists are required to trace publicity photos, there’re far too many characters to let everyone have moments, and nothing has any stakes because this is just ancillary merch to feed insatiable fans. Thanks in part to this, the Q-craving has passed.

Dirk Gently series!

35 years later I have closure at last with these first editions.

5. Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987). I very rarely do any rewatching or rereading, but I had a special reason for pulling this one off my dusty older bookshelf — the original edition I bought from the Sci-Fi Book Club when it was first published, complete with the free SFBC Boris Vallejo bookplate sticker that I signed and stuck inside the front cover. In 1987 I was in high school, a bit impatient at times, annoyed that Our Hero didn’t appear till page 89 of his own book, baffled by the ending in which the concluding events were all implied rather than spelled out, and ultimately disappointed that this wasn’t reheated Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy leftovers. 35 years later everything makes more sense except the ending, but now we have Wikipedia to hold readers’ hands and reassure them that, yes, everything was in fact wrapped up, albeit wrapped to look less like a gift and more like origami. But, y’know, rather nice antique origami.

6. Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988). The only finished Dirk Gently sequel was another SFBC time-of-release purchase, but relegated to my unread pile because (a) my reactions to the previous novel, and (b) 1988 was the year I got my first job and my precious reading time was slashed into slivers forever, thus necessitating the creation of my unread pile in the first place, which to this day contains several works with 1988 publication dates. Thanks to the pandemic I’ve made headway into my backlog and was at long last in a position to pluck Tea-Time from its hidey-hole and devour it. Though this one had more arcs woven into it (including Norse gods!), it required no virtual Cliffs Notes, amused me more frequently, and left me all the more regretful that the esteemed author died at 49, a year younger than I am now.

Miles Morales trades!

Only 11 months till Across the Spider-Verse! Time to get caught up some more!

7. Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli, Chris Samnee, David Marquez, et al., Miles Morales: Ultimate Spider-Man Ultimate Collection, Book 1 (2015). I jumped aboard the Miles bandwagon a short time before Into the Spider-Verse became my favorite film of 2018. I read his first five trades a while back but let this one slip through the cracks because most of it reprises those first two volumes. This contains one additional miniseries called Spider-Men, the very first cross-dimensional team-up between Miles and Peter Parker. It’s mostly great times when OG Spidey visits Miles’ Earth before it was later wiped out in Cataclysm and Miles had to take refuge here, and it’s especially endearing when Peter meets familiar faces who’re all dead on his own Earth, but the final chapter ends everything on an amateurish note when the climax is basically the Spider-Men, the Ultimates, and Mysterio all arguing anti-dynamically in a broom closet.

8. Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli, and Justin Ponsor, Miles Morales: Spider-Man, vol. 1 (2016). The next story after Cataclysm (which I’ve yet to acquire) brings Miles for good into the mainstream Marvel Universe, where he meets the Avengers (as they existed as of that minute); longtime baddies like Hammerhead, the Black Cat, and Blackheart; and fellow teen hero Ms. Marvel, with whom he’d team up multiple times over the next few years because Marvel’s marketing department makes their heroes constantly team up nowadays, as if every last solo hero is no longer capable of fighting their own fights. This trade is otherwise more of the same fun, but sadly ending with a caption warning me that the next chapter in his life was Civil War II, which you’d have to pay me to read. So this is probably where my Miles catch-up project ends.

More to come!

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