Monday, June 27, 2022

Some books I've read 52

American Pastoral by Philip Roth
Slow beginning, then gets better, but for some reason I found it hard to get into this book. Isn't this supposed to be his masterpiece? Portnoy's Complaint is better!

The Sinner and The Saint: Dostoevsky, a Crime and Its Punishment by Kevin Birmingham
A book about Dostoevsky and the writing of Crime and Punishment, and also about the French murdercase that was an inspiration. Time to reread the novel!

Stephen Spielberg by Jim McBride
An okay biography of Spielberg. I believe there is a more recent edition, but I bought the original paperback from 98, so the book ends with his double triumph of Jurassic Park and Schindler's List.

Apropos of Nothing by Woody Allen
Fairly amusing autobiography from the Woodster. The self deprecating style of writing can grate occasionally. And I believe he's innocent in the molestation accusations, but his descriptions of some of his younger female actresses don't help.

Marvel Visionaries: John Romita Sr.
A nice collection of his comics, including Daredevil, Fantastic Four and, of course, Spider-Man. 

The Mighty Thor: The Invasion of Asgard
The Mighty Thor: The Vengeance of Loki
The Mighty Thor: The Wrath of Odin
The Mighty Thor: To Wake the Mangog
The Amazing Spider-Man: With Great Power...
The Amazing Spider-Man: The Sinister Six

Hmm, seem to be going through a Marvel phase these days. The Marvel Masterworks paperbacks in a slightly smaller format is a good way to finally read these early comics. A lot of this, like most of Kirby, I never read before. Early Thor comics are not that interesting, but then Kirby is given full freedom, and look out! I still find the book hard to read. Stan Lee's Shakespearean thee, thou and so on has not aged well. At some point I just look at the pictures. The Spider-Man stories have a charm that survives the occasional overwriting. He works well as a character, and Ditko's art looks great. Thor on the other hand, is there a more boring character? "Thor says thee Nay!" Okay, pal.

Currently reading:
Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham
Can You Feel The Silence?: Van Morrison by Clinton Heylin


  1. You may have Marvelmania!

    I had it as a kid but finally got over it around high school or college. Then, 35 years later, it came back, like shingles.

    It stays dormant in your brain cells until one day you Google ‘Jack Kirby’ and can't believe how his Captain America splash pages from the ‘70s still reside in your synapses somewhere—and unlike most things in life, the images have not aged with time. Thus, a potent mix of nostalgia and klepto-consumerism is triggered.

  2. Hey, in case you're curious, our library picked up some of the new Penguin Classics Marvel Collections. I wrote a review for the Captain America volume. I usually post these to Amazon, but I haven't bought anything there in ages and they have a $50 minimum purchase requirement these days. So I have nowhere to post this.

    Highlight reel of Cap's early years
    5 stars

    This is a solid collection of Captain America's early years, a highlight reel from the first issue of Captain America Comics in March 1941 to the mid-‘60s revival by Lee & Kirby in Tales of Suspense to artist Jim Steranko's late '60s work on CA #110-113. Scholar Ben Saunders looks at the series in chunks, according to key moments in the character's evolution and the challenges and successes of the creative teams involved. He makes a good case for Lee & Kirby's innovations in reviving Captain America as a man out of time, haunted by the trauma of death and loss (of his WWII sidekick Bucky), while acknowledging the team's struggles to develop successful storylines and maintain interest in the series.

    I appreciate the insight and perspective. It's halfway between ‘Son of Origins’ or ‘Bring on the Bad Guys’ and an academic thesis. Saunders is taking on the role that Lee once did in the Fireside collections of early Marvel work but without the hype. This helps readers to see shape in what is otherwise a pretty ropy ongoing soap opera. By cutting out the dross, he gets to the heart of the matter. (It's a trade-off, of course, as not every great issue gets included; Saunders calls appropriate attention to Sinnott's inking in issues #92-98, but you won't see the two Black Panther issues that concluded his run. Likewise, several lovely Chic Stone issues failed to make the cut.)

    The book appears lovingly and tastefully designed, printed on quality, off-white paper with gilt edges and dynamic endpapers. The cover treatment would be very appropriate for a revamped B&W Essentials series, but this is in fact digitally recolored. Marvel's efforts in this regard have improved over the years, and this book benefits from those advances, but the reproduction is not significantly better than other reissues of a recent vintage—the line art in particular is no clearer than the last Essentials printing, while the colors still come across a bit punchy compared to earlier, bygone eras. But the blacks are crisp, and everything is well-aligned.

    There are a couple appendices, including a 3-page excerpt of Cap's revival in Avengers #4. There's also a detailed 4-page Afterword by Steranko, annotating his efforts on the series, page by page—a great bonus feature borrowed from the Captain America Omnibus Vol. 1. There are suggestions for further readings, resources for students and scholars, and footnotes. Plus a few introductions. (And, oh yeah, select reader mail/feedback pages appear with some stories!)

    Includes: Captain America Comics #1; Tales of Suspense #59, 63-68, 75-81, 92-95; Captain America #110-111, 113.

  3. Thanks! I got the first volume of the new Mighty Marvel Masterworks edition. Great comics!

    1. Incidentally, your books were a welcome discovery in the midst of my Marvel/Kirby nostalgia phase.

      It was the title ‘I Killed Adolf Hitler’ that leapt out at me off the library bookshelves—so ridiculously up front and over the top. Still I was a little hesitant; there's something in me that wants to prejudge whether something will be worth my time, which causes me to screen out a lot of stuff based solely on visuals or initial impressions. In this case, the idea of legal killing by hired assassins—part of the opening setup—gave me pause, but I decided to go ahead. Of course, it won me over and prompted me to check out your other books. ‘Isle of 100,000 Graves’ was my initial favorite, with ‘Adolf’ probably a close second.

      The problem with the Marvel stuff is that I was buying it more for the visuals—a fascination with the penciller/inker dichotomy, the chance to revisit works I remembered, getting to see the linework without the color (via the Essentials series). When it came time to reading, it could be a slog. With Kirby, there's a lot I'd never experienced, like his DC work, so it was more of an auteur exploration. I enjoyed the fact that he was making comics in his 50s while I was buying them as an 8-year old. That's quite a bridge across generations and seems rare.

  4. Thanks for enjoying IKAH! At least for the colour books, I think it's my best seller.

    Thor and Fantastic Four I mostly just look at the images. I find them hard to read. Vince Colletta is not the worst Kirby inker, by the way. For me that's rather Chic Stone.

    My favourite Marvel book is still Spider-Man. It's the one I read as a kid and still have nostalgic feelings for. I hope to get the complete Ditko and Romita, Sr runs as the books get reprinted.

    1. Shame on you! ;) I adore Chic Stone.

      (Do you really rate him below Paul Reinman or George Roussos?)

      Believe it or not, I have 5 volumes of Essential Thor, which is well out of proportion with my interest in the character. But Volume 3 was possibly my favorite in the Essential series so far, just because it was such a revelation in terms of unread Kirby at the peak of his powers. And it was kind of fun seeing his work through the lens of Vince Colletta. (I later went on to purchase the TwoMorrows book The Thin Black Line: Perspectives on Vince Colletta.)

      One of my fave, undersung Kirby inkers is production manager John Verpoorten (who did some Captain America issues in the mid ‘70s).

      I've got four volumes of Essential Spider-Man, most of which are yet to be read. Although I've been off the Essentials for awhile, I am looking forward to getting around to it. I was reading a lot of SuperMegaMonkey's reviews of various Marvel comics (his ‘chronocomic’ project), and he definitely rated Spider-Man as a consistently better title—and he's read all of them! In the volume I read (no. 3), I noticed a big shift in storytelling when Gil Kane took over for Romita. And I was surprised to discover I'm a Jim Mooney fan.

      Speaking of storytelling, I kind of enjoyed Essential Avengers 1, at the point where 3/4 of the original team left, leaving only Captain America to lead a group of replacements he'd never approved of. (Hawkeye, in particular, hated his guts.) It seemed to have more of that dysfunctional tension that makes for a more interesting superhero comic. Still, I've yet to press on with that series.

      …Oh, I almost forgot: I recently watched the 2004 movie ‘Primer’ for the first time. It's a big one if you're into time travel stories (à la IKAH).

      And: One of my nephews is a fan of your work, too. At one point, I recall him mentioning ‘Why Are You Doing This?’ as a top pick, which surprised me. That book almost didn't make it onto my radar. It was sort of an Easter egg, as a title I'd initially missed.

    2. I remember reading articles about what a terrible job Colletta did on Kirby. I think his inking works quite well. You can see that sometimes he worked fast. But Joe Sinnot couldn't ink it all. Reinman also was very good.

      Ah, sorry, I don't like Mooney! Those crazy eyes... Esposito was definitely the best inker of Ross Andru. Who might possibly be my favourite Spidey artist. Maybe because those were the first Spider-Man comics I read. And then discovered Ditko and Romita later.

      And have no idea of or interest in what happened in the comic after Andru.

    3. Andru's one of those artists I never saw enough of to develop an opinion. In my childhood, I think I saw more of Spider-Man in the culture at large—the daily newspaper strip, TV shows, Marvel magazines and promotions—than in comics. He was like a cultural ambassador to Marvel, always ready with a quip.

      Do you read many contemporary graphic novels or comics these days? I just finished Keeping Two by Jordan Crane (well done, well designed, but not my cup of tea). I'm trying to look into Michael DeForge, whose style feels familiar to me from the Adventure Time cartoon series (on which he was a designer) but whose comics were completely unknown. I also have Benjamin Marra's Disciples on deck (thanks to Cartoonist Kayfabe's amusing read-through of his comic Terror Assaulter: O.M.W.O.T.).

      I applaud your reading actual books, btw.

    4. I buy the occassional graphic novel. The last Adrian Tomine was one. And Copra Round Six by Fiffe. But most of the books on my night table are novels or biographies.

    5. I've not heard of Copra! I'll look into it. Some day, I will get around to giving Tomine a try, probably starting with his recent work.

    6. I've just gotten started on Copra Round One. It looks promising. Also breezing through Things We Create by Axel Brechensbauer, a very snappy read—so easy, I think I'll need to give it some thought and another read or two to get the most out of it. Graphic non-fiction is a genre you don't hear much about.