GrandevilleNoelImage © Bryan Talbot.

The Fourth Inspector LeBrock graphic novel is finally in my hands, and I can report it’s just as terrific as the others. This time the story deals in part with the lowest social class in this alternate version of Paris, people like us, who the many intelligent animal-headed species call “doughfaces.” It’s a nice turnabout that allows Talbot to make effective social commentary, and when he teams up with a doughface from America, also a detective, it leads to some funny moments. They’re both after a shady religious cult and it’s leader, a very rare unicorn, as seen on the cover, who has unusual powers of persuasion and is planning to use them to bring about a change of government, and a purge of doughfaces. LeBrock has a personal assignment to rescue a follower of Apollo, the cult leader, but soon finds himself drawn into a larger mission, and with help from his lady love and the American Chance Lucas, hatches a plan to infiltrate the cult and capture its leader.

There are plenty of other complications along the way, and the entire story plays out against a brilliantly thought-out society and world like our own in some ways, but with elements of steam-punk, Victoriana and just a touch of magic. It’s a wonderful combination, and the characters and plot are both top-notch. There’s a little Christmas in the opening and closing of the tale, but mostly it’s a mix of science fiction, fantasy, mystery and thriller that will keep you engaged.

Highly recommended.

And Then I Read: GREEN LANTERN 36

GL36Image © DC Comics, Inc.

In the continuing struggle between the GL Corps and the New Gods, this issue takes time out for planning and strategy on both sides. The Corps is on Korugar, Sinestro’s home base, and he and Hal Jordan eventually put aside their animosity to work together, which usually makes for entertaining reading, as here. Then Hal is off to recruit a most unlikely entity to help his cause, while on New Genesis, Orion and Highfather have harsh words about their end of things. Not a bad issue.


And Then I Read: THE POISON BELT by A. Conan Doyle

PoisonBeltThe second science fiction novel by Doyle featuring Professor Challenger is one I had high hopes for. First edition above, but I read it on my phone and iPad. The cast of characters is much the same as “The Lost World,” and the story begins with reports of unrest and cataclysms around the world, and a newspaper article by Challenger suggesting the cause: the Earth, and the entire solar system, is drifting into a section of ether or space that contains some kind of poison, one that is affecting all animal life on our planet. Challenger soon contacts his “Lost World” team-mates, reporter Edward Malone (again the story’s narrator), adventurer Lord John Roxton and Professor Summerlee and invites them all to his home in the country, asking each of them to bring a cylinder of compressed oxygen. When they arrive and have the situation explained, they seal off a small suite of rooms in the house and prepare to try to stay alive when everyone else they can see is falling to the ground, and apparently dying. The oxygen keeps them going for a day or two, and when it runs out, they discover the poison has dissipated, and they go out to explore a world greatly changed.

This seemed a promising beginning, and I was expecting an end of the world story perhaps along the lines of Jules Verne’s “Off On a Comet,” or an even closer idea, “The Purple Cloud” by M. P. Shiel, written in 1901, well before this one, and very much along the same plotline. I was disappointed in Doyle’s handling of Challenger this time, though, as he seems to have lost his passion for scientific inquiry. The group of survivors is surrounded by those apparently dead, but they don’t even examine the bodies, other than to move Challenger’s chauffer from the yard into his bedroom. The rest of the book, the four and Challenger’s wife travel by car to London, or as far as they can before the number of bodies halts them, then they walk into the city. There’s no realistic description of the mass death, other than huge numbers of prone bodies, no smell, no signs of decay…and perhaps you can already figure out where this is going. Of course, everyone is not dead, merely in a catatonic state, and before long they’re all coming back to life and resuming their lives as if nothing had happened. The chief wonder that everyone keeps exclaiming over is the silent city, but they hardly get up the nerve to enter a few buildings.

So, rather than getting involved, as Challenger and his crew did so much of in “The Lost World,” here they’re mere observers, and of an episode that doesn’t go very far. I can’t recommend the book, but there’s one more Challenger novel and some short stories that I’m going to try next. In all, I felt the plot of this one was a cheat and a disappointment.


HobbitArmiesIf I was required to pick one book from the thousands in my home and the thousands more I’ve read as my favorite of all time, it would be “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s been so since I first read it around age twelve, and I’ve reread it dozens of times since. While I did not initially warm to Peter Jackson’s version of “The Lord of the Rings,” I came around to it and now like it a lot, so of course seeing all three Hobbit films was a must. Having found a place in my head for Jackson’s version of Tolkien, I was able to enjoy and appreciate his version of “The Hobbit,” even though there’s so much in it that’s not in the book. A lot of that is, I think, a matter of creating a blockbuster action film, but even more, of introducing things he and his writing team wanted to see more of and more about.

It reminds me of fan fiction in a way, like “wouldn’t it be cool if, amid the madness, a dwarf and an elf-maiden fell in love,” or “what if the orcs had giant digging worms like the Sandworms in Dune,” or “let’s see the battle between the wizards and The Necromancer.” Some of these ideas are easier to go along with than others, I admit I liked the last one. Even Tolkien himself did some tinkering with his story after the first edition saw print to deepen the connections to “Lord of the Rings,” as evidenced in his introductory note in my edition from the 1960s. And of course it was a given that Peter Jackson’s version would have lots of action and lots of fighting, especially in this last film. It’s surprisingly non-gory action, but still very violent, and strays far from Tolkien, even when it’s kind of cool, as in the feats of Legolas, who of course isn’t in Tolkien’s “Hobbit” at all.

Despite all that extra stuff, the main points of the book are covered pretty well, I thought. And Peter Jackson’s version of Middle Earth is, in my view, a pretty cool place to visit, even if it’s not that much like Tolkien’s. Looking at my well-worn copy of the book, the one with Tolkien’s actual signature tucked into the flap, I see that the  Battle of the Five Armies is covered in one chapter of twelve pages. It’s about half the film. I did appreciate the many character moments in the film, even some of the ones not in the book, and could have done without so much fighting, but maybe that’s just me. In all, I enjoyed this and all the Jackson films. I think I liked the Hobbit ones less than the LOTR ones, but I did like them. It’s not something I would bring a kid to, let them read the book, and find the films later would be my plan, but I don’t have kids of my own, so I’m not sure how realistic that is.

The end of the film is not as satisfying as the end of the LOTR films, because Jackson has spent so much time connecting his Hobbit to those films, and as viewers, we know there’s lots more trouble coming for Bilbo and the Hobbits, so that’s a little disappointing, but I suppose if you wanted to watch them all in chronological order, it makes sense. I know I’ll go back to the book again, and find more enjoyment in that in the long run, but the things accomplished in the films will also stick with me.



AquaOthers7Image © DC Comics, Inc.

This title is headed into an espionage thriller, dealing with foes that are ex-KGB with powers. It’s an action-filled plot with lots of twists and turns, but I find it a little hard to see what Aquaman is doing here. In fact, he’s not here much, just doing a fly-in rescue. The previous storyline had Atlantis connections, this one seems rooted in Tom Cruise blockbuster territory, and not much water in sight. The writing and art are fine, but no one stands out in the rest of the team, there are no personalities to draw me in and get me involved. Having read this a few weeks ago, I now find it hard to remember the storyline, not a good sign.

Mildly recommended.