And Then I Read: GAY-NECK, THE STORY OF A PIGEON by Mukerji

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This was the Newbery Award winner in 1928. Ellen read it and didn’t like it enough to keep, so it was going in the donations box, but I pulled it out to try it myself.

Mukerji writes of a very different world: northern India before World War One,  when he was a boy raising pigeons, a popular hobby among him and his friends. Gay-Neck (so named because of iridescent feathers on his neck) was his prize pigeon, and this is the story of his life. It has some surprising elements, including trips to a remote monastery in the Himalayas near Everest (not yet conquered by men at the time) and a trip to Europe during the war to act as a courier pigeon for Indian troops fighting for the British. There are harrowing moments: encounters with hawks and eagles, not to mention war planes and guns, but much of the book is about daily life in India, at Mukerji’s home and in the forests and countryside. Some of the book is “narrated” by the pigeon himself, other parts are told by the author. The style seems unusual, with elements of mysticism, pragmatism and occasional sly social comments. Mostly it’s a good animal story, though. The plot is definitely episodic, and wanders off topic at times. I can’t say I loved it, but I’m glad I read it. Newbery winners are almost always worth a try. The illustrations by Boris Artzybasheff are stark, striking, all black and white patterns and shapes except for the cover, unique. I liked those too.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: STAR GUARD by Andre Norton

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Cover art by Richard Powers.

This science fiction novel by Norton came out in 1955, but somehow I missed it all these years, and have recently read it for the first time. In the far future, Earthmen have joined together as one people after disastrous nuclear wars and achieved space flight to distant stars. When they got there, however, they found a very old and long established government of beings and worlds called Central Control, (Federation, anyone?) which examined Earth and found it too violent and aggressive for full membership. Instead, Earth was assigned the role of providing mercenary soldiers, fighters for hire, for conflicts on distant worlds. There were two types of mercenaries, the Archs for service on primitive worlds, and the Mechs for service on more advance worlds. Weaponry for Archs was limited to not much more than swords and hand-to-hand combat.

Kana Karr is a young man who has just graduated from training as an Arch Swordsman, Third Class. He’s anxious to sign on for a first assignment, and is happy to take the one offered, with Yorke Horde on a police action mission to the planet Fronn. The fact that he’s had X-Tee training (alien first contact) helps him get the job. Once he gets to Fronn and the Horde goes into action, though, things don’t go as planned. They’re supporting a local warlord in a bid for power, but strange rumors abound about another Earth Horde supporting the other side, and it’s Mech. Mech’s are not supposed to be on primitive worlds at all, let alone fighting Archs. Before long things go from bad to worse, and Kana and his Horde find themselves on the run, fugitives among hostile aliens and fauna with very few options.

Great read. Norton does not delve deeply into emotions, but the wartime action is believable and thrilling, and there are plenty of surprises. Recommended.

Incoming: WONDER WOMAN BY GREG RUCKA, Volume 1

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Image © DC Comics.

Just in time for Greg Rucka’s return to WONDER WOMAN is this handsome and thick hardcover containing the WONDER WOMAN: THE HIKETEIA graphic novel and issues 195-205 of the monthly comic. It all looks great to me! HIKETEIA has wonderful art by J.G. Jones and Wade  von Grawbadger, the series has art by Drew Johnson, Ray Snyder and others, plus covers by Jones. I lettered all of it, and for you lettering nerds out there, you can compare my hand-lettering on HIKETEIA with my digital lettering on the rest, this work falling on both sides of the divide, when DC went all-digital on lettering. Not sure when it’s out, but I certainly think it’s worth your time.

And Then I Read: ASTRO CITY 35

AstroCity35Image © Juke Box Productions.

What a nice surprise to find the art of Ron Randall in this (and the next) issue of ASTRO CITY! I’ve been a fan and friend since we worked together in the early 1980s.

The story this time is about the family who are behind the hero named Jack-In-The-Box, one of the more flamboyant characters in the series. It’s told from the viewpoint of Ike Johnson, the grandson of the original Jack, and the son of the second Jack. Ike’s dad has passed on the hero identity to a friend, leaving Ike to wonder where he fits in, but Ike’s early attempts at heroic work didn’t go so well. Ike’s dad, meanwhile, has become the head of a successful toy company, and is using some of his money to investigate the crime scene where the first Jack fell for the last time. As always, it’s a story with depth and emotion as well as action. Writer Kurt Busiek and Ron Randall deliver a fine issue. I particularly liked the looks of the villain shown on Alex Ross’s cover, Mister Drama.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: THE FLASH REBIRTH #1

FlashRebirth1Image © DC Comics.

Like the WONDER WOMAN REBIRTH I read yesterday, this is sort of a prologue to the upcoming relaunch of the Flash series, but it does have more of a story. Wally West, Kid Flash, has been missing from the DC Universe for a few years, and has been brought back, first in the pages of the main REBIRTH title, now here. As with Wonder Woman, Barry Allen in this book is having visions, this time of his enemy Zoom. Barry takes his troubles to his father, and we learn in the story that continuity here is rather like the Geoff Johns reboot, also mirrored in the Flash TV show, though they’ve gone to weird places with it there. Wally West as Kid Flash appears to Barry, who can’t remember him at first, but once he does, things change and Wally is alive and well again. (Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but it’s kind of an obvious one.) Then the plot gets into other elements from the main REBIRTH comic I won’t describe here. I like the writing of this book by Joshua Williamson, and the art too, which has a looser advertising art feel than most DC hero comics, and reminds me a bit of Carmine Infantino’s Flash. The artist’s name is Carmine Di Giandomenico.

I wouldn’t call this an easy read for someone who has never followed The Flash, but it would make sense to someone who has at least watched the TV show, so it might well work for new readers. Recommended.