And Then I Read: IRONTOWN BLUES by John Varley

Cover art by Florian de Gesincourt

I’ve loved Varley’s work since first reading his short stories in the SF digest magazines in the 1970s. I think of him as a “Heinlein school” writer, and the inclination in his work to use the themes and settings of Robert A. Heinlein as stepping-off points or homages has grown over the years. As Heinlein is one of my favorite writers, I have no problem with this, and it’s not like he’s imitating or retreading, he goes his own way, but the love for RAH is evident and strong. This one is reminiscent of “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress” taken further down the road, with other Heinlein novel elements in there too.

Chris Bach lives on Earth’s moon, but in his head he’s in 1930s film noir. He lives in an area where that era is recreated lovingly, and he works as a private detective, he and his partner Sherlock, a bloodhound. Sherlock is not an ordinary dog, he’s a CEC, Computer Enhanced Canine, with implanted links to the web and enhanced intelligence. Sherlock is a master of scents, of course, and he co-narrates the book with the help of a CEC communications expert who interprets his non-verbal language and translates it for us readers. Sherlock’s narration is often more interesting than Chris Bach’s.

As is expected for a private detective, Chris has a troubled past that we learn about in the story, he was part of a raid on some off-the-grid inhabitants of the Moon he thought was a simple clean-up operation, but it turned out to be much deadlier and more sinister. He barely survived.

Chris’s new client seems to want to drag him and Sherlock back to the place where it happened, Irontown. Chris is reluctant to go there for good reason. Sherlock wants only to protect Chris. Neither of them are going to get what they want or expect when they finally get to Irontown.

Great book, highly recommended!

And Then I Read: BATMAN, KINGS OF FEAR #1

Image © DC Comics. Written by Scott Peterson, art by Kelley Jones.

I decided to give this a try. The entire miniseries is already out, but I hadn’t looked at it yet.

I love Kelley Jones’ art, but I have to say it works best for me on characters that are already exaggerated caricatures of humanity. The villains, for instance. On Batman himself, Kelley’s distorted anatomy is sometimes distracting, but his art is full of love for the characters and the medium, and surely that’s a good thing. And how can you not love all the insane details?

Batman begins by taking down The Joker, whose dialogue by Scott Peterson is amusing and insightful. When Batman returns Joker to Arkham Asylum, he’s berated by a doctor there despite the fact that he’s helping. Suddenly the entire Batman roster of crazed villains are out of their cells, and Batman must take them on single-handed. I suspect Kelley Jones asked for that!

All this seems to be a prelude to the real threat, The Scarecrow, who has also escaped Arkham and whose fear toxins take Batman by surprise. The plot thickens.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: THE FLASH #59

Image © DC Comics. Written by Joshua Williamson, art by Rafa Sandoval, Jorndi Tarragona & Scott Hanna, colors by Tomeu Morey, letters by Steve Wands.

First, it seems to me that the cover art for issues 58 and 59 were switched. This one would have worked perfectly for issue 58, that issue’s cover for this one.

Gorilla Grodd and his secret African home of intelligent apes, Gorilla City were always fascinating to me as a child. Grodd is not here, but the issue takes place mostly in a devastated Gorilla City. Flash and Iris have arrived to find it mostly empty and spotted with gorilla corpses. A few scientists remain underground, and there they show Flash a hologram record from their former leader Solovar, now deceased, that begins to explain more about the four Forces Barry Allen and Iris West are trying to understand. Back in Central City, a future version of Captain Cold is holding the fort against super-villain Razer while helping them out with data location. I could wish for more gorilla adventures, but next Flash and Iris are off to investigate a new emergence of the Strength Force in Corto Maltese. Last issue’s villains, Gemini, are in Gorilla City, too, making things worse for the few survivors.

Recommended.

Incoming: PROMETHEA BOOK ONE DELUXE EDITION

Image © DC Comics.

This is the fourth version of the collected first twelve issues of PROMETHEA. First there were the original hardcovers, Books 1 and 2. Then there were the original trade paperbacks, Books 1 and 2. Then there was ABSOLUTE PROMETHEA BOOK ONE, now this Deluxe Edition.

As the designer of the original hardcovers and softcovers, I have to say I still prefer the design work on those, but since DC has decided to remove all traces of the America’s Best Comics brand, which I used throughout, I can see why they haven’t used my designs. Putting the first twelve issues into one book makes good sense, as was done for the Absolute editions, I like that. The Absolutes are much larger and on better paper, I can’t imagine how you could get better reproduction of the material, so that’s my favorite version, despite some redesigning inside. At least J.H. Williams III and I designed the covers and slipcases together.

The new hardcover is in the Deluxe format, meaning it’s larger than the original collections, but not by a lot, and definitely smaller than the Absolutes. The paper quality is better than the originals, very white, but not as thick as the Absolutes, and the book is glue-bound rather than sewn. It’s still a nice package, though I don’t like the design work much. At least they brought back the brief introductory poems/text that ran before each issue in the first versions. I wrote most of those. There’s even one on the back cover. The front cover looks pretty good to me, but it takes the art from the Book 2 softcover and changes it, something J.H. would probably not be happy with. The additional material includes Alan’s script for issue #3, which is something I’m sure he wouldn’t be happy with.

In all, I’m glad to see the material continue to be made available in a handsome edition. It’s a terrific series. Retail price is $49.99, hefty, but half that of the Absolute Edition, which is probably long out of print, so not a bad way to go if you missed that. Should be out soon, if it isn’t already.

And Then I Read: WONDER WOMAN #61

Image © DC Comics. Written by G. Willow Wilson, art by Xermanico, colors by Romulo Fajardo Jr., letters by Pat Brosseau, cover to Terry & Rachel Dodson.

This issue clicked for me, it’s my favorite so far of the story arc. “The Just War Part 4” takes us mostly out of the battle and into the presence of Aphrodite, who not only doesn’t know why she’s here on this war-torn island, she doesn’t even want to be the goddess of love anymore. Not where I expected G. Willow Wilson to go, and that makes it more interesting. She and Steve Trevor have a fascinating debate while she heals his wound, and elsewhere, Wonder Woman is saving the grandchildren of the Prime Minister. If she can get them all to an arranged meeting place, a truce may be possible…or maybe not.

Well done, liked the art and everything else too. Recommended.