So, if you’re like me, you might be thinking about what to get yourself this coming holiday season. Heck, why not treat yourself to something on the upcoming Black Friday? You’ve been good this year.
Or, maybe, you just don’t need any justification to “look after number one”. Any old day will do.
If that’s the case, “any old day” is today.
And the treat?
The treat is as classic as classic comes in the history of the comic book medium.
The treat today is the classic, the gorgeous, the absolutely necessary in any collection, Absolute Batman: Year One!
Biff Bam Pop’s It’s All Connected – Just a Kid from Brooklyn: Captain America, American Memories of World War II, and the MCU, Part II
In the first part of this essay, I briefly sketched the construction of American memories of World War II that began slightly before the war and continue into the 21st century. In many ways the war has become a defining part of American identity, and the dominant, triumphal memory narrative we have created about it serves to elevate American participation in the war almost to the level of the sacred, and certainly to the realm of the simple black and white, good v. evil duality that is much more comforting than any messy and contradictory reality might be. The character of Steve Rogers/Captain America is one of the more perfect cultural artifacts to illustrate this process of memory construction, and the ways in which counter-memories, which challenge the dominant narrative, inevitably influence the national mythology.
The fine folks at Biff Bam Pop have put together a March Break reading list, so whether you’re on the beach with your kids, or are babysitting your parents who are still into family time when you just want to chill, here are some books and graphic novels to help you pass your week. You know, when you’re not sleeping, or doing “other”.
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
There are a number of graphic novels that have changed comic books and sequential art: broadened it, pushed its boundaries and turned it into something that it wasn’t before. For me, in that lineage of great works, the most recent is David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp.
For comic book fans, Mazzucchelli is perhaps best known as the artist on Frank Miller’s acclaimed gritty and noir Daredevil and Batman: Year One stories. Those works are great indeed. But with Asterios Polyp, the story of a lonely and immensely flawed professor of architecture, Mazzucchelli plays his character against design in both the telling of the story and its visual representation. The graphic novel is pushed into becoming an entirely different type of storytelling mechanism here.
No worries. Even though Mazzucchelli’s art is indistinguishable from his mainstream comic book work, he’s a masterful artisan of image and story and Asterios Polyp quickly becomes a tale that warms the heart as much as it broadens the art form.
The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
Best known as the writer and artist of Zot! as well as the brilliant and well-regarded non-fiction books Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics and Making Comics, The Sculptor is McCloud’s first work of graphic fiction in quite some time, just released earlier this year.
The Sculptor tells the story of a man who, with less than a year to live, has been given the opportunity to absorb himself in his childhood dream and sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. Who hasn’t been motivated by a deadline?
This is the graphic novel I’ll be reading over my March break.
The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
I read The Book of Three, the first book of five novels in Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series in Grade 5, courtesy of my childhood school’s book club. A new brochure would come each month, listing books that students could order via the club, and the cover of The Book of Three stood out from all the rest that September: a horned skeleton of a man riding a black stallion, sword raised threateningly; and the foreground, with his back to us, a boy with a knife drawn in plaintive defense. I had to read that book.
So began a Grade 5 love affair that still lasts today in adulthood: the story of a young Assistant Pig-Keeper, a princess of magical arts (his one true love), and his search for identity, as he grows to become a man. It’s a common story, to be sure, but this one, a fantasy series steeped in folklore and Welsh mythology, fired my imagination like no other. Everyone of every age should read it.
Joyland by Stephen King
This is King’s second novel for the Hard Case Crime line (his first was “The Colorado Kid”), a series of books designed to look and feel like the pulp crime paperbacks of the 1950s and 60s. King, who has had the best selling book s in the line, gets that original flavor right while keeping with his own style. This book was a delight to read, as were most of his older works. This is a step backward to his golden years, pun unintended.
Also, to maintain the charm of its nostalgia, this line took some time to go digital, so it was the one hardcopy book I read after moving on to Nook and Kindle. The story set in an amusement park in the 1970s fittingly is both a murder mystery and a coming of age story. Some things we’ve seen King do before and some we find out he’s also pretty good at. I dug it, and it’s a quick read, worth the time.
Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
Released last year under a storm of controversy, I had to see what all the fuss was about, so I bought it, and then didn’t read it. Like most of America, I was a fan of Lena Dunham when “Girls” first premiered on HBO but it didn’t take long before it became tiresome and a parody of itself. Why would I read her book when I couldn’t stand her show any more, right? Luckily one night in a fit of boredom, I started reading. Wow.
Dunham is still the same person she is on her show, still a incomprehensible millennial, but she’s funny, really really funny. Fully titled “Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s ‘Learned,'” it’s truth in advertising. We have a litany in the form of short personal essays about her misadventures and multiple mistakes, and she’s funny. It’s almost as if someone took your psycho ex-girlfriend from college and dropped her into a blender with early Woody Allen. It’s fun, twisted, and I liked it.
Murder on Edisto by C. Hope Clark
In the spirit of fairness I have to admit friendship with the author who has been a mentor and advisor in all writing matters for over a decade, but that said and out of the way, Hope Clark is one hell of a writer. I had compared her to a modern day Raymond Chandler when talking about her previous series, the Carolina Slade Mysteries, and while that’s true, she doesn’t really bring the noir full force until her second series, begun with “Murder in Edisto.”
With the Edisto Island Mystery Series and protagonist Callie Jean Morgan, Hope is mining film noir and hardboiled detective style like a champ. She fools you with beautiful idyllic places, but pulls the noose tight with the characters and the situations. Hope takes the big city crime and thriller and brings it down home, with style, finesse, and hardcore suspense. This is Hope’s best book yet, read it!
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
Leo Demidov is a feared and respected MGB officer in Stalin’s Soviet Union, until he starts noticing cracks in the philosophies of his beloved State. Several young children have been found murdered and mutilated, and the crimes are being covered up or passed off as tragic accidents because there is “no crime” in Stalin’s perfect society. Leo must decide whether to risk his life and find the killer or keep his mouth shut, but how do you find a killer everyone is too terrified to even admit exists? Tom Rob Smith’s debut novel was unbearably suspenseful and kept me up way too late every night until I was done. Child 44 is the first in a trilogy and I will be reading the next two books as soon as possible, as well as seeing the film version of Child 44 which is set to be released on April 17.
Wrapped in Plastic: Twin Peaks by Andy Burns
Andy Burns explains all the reasons to still love Twin Peaks 25 years later. Delving into the show’s origins and almost overnight success, discussing its lasting and undeniable effects on pop culture even today, and sharing his own personal connections to the show, it’s a pleasure to read. Whether you’re a longtime Twin Peaks fan or have never seen a single episode, pick this one up – Andy will even send you a signed copy if you send him a message on Facebook!
Stiff by Mary Roach
Mary Roach uses her dry sense of humour to make light of a topic we can all only avoid for so long – death. More specifically, dead bodies. What happens to your body after you die? How many ways can you die? What part of a plane or car crash actually kills you? In this scientific yet very un-textbook work, you’ll get all these answers and more. Stiff is fascinating, chilling and heartwarming all at once, if you have a soft spot for the macabre and an interest in the grim. Just don’t read it while you’re eating.
Avengers/X-Men: AXIS by Rick Remender and various artists
What happens when the world of superheroes gets literally turned inside out? When our greatest heroes suddenly become villainous and maniacal, and the only hope is monsters who appear to have seen the light? That’s the basis for the recent Marvel miniseries AXIS, which finds heroes like Tony Stark’s Iron Man and the new Captain American, Sam Wilson, suddenly overcome by evil because of the machinations of the Red Onslaught, best described as the Red Skull on steroids and in possession of the psychic abilities of the late Charles Xavier. Meanwhile, Deadpool puts his guns down in favour of pacifism while Sabretooth is riddled with guilt for his past actions and looks to atone.
AXIS flew a little under the radar this past year, what with Jonathan Hickman stealing all the glory as he rips the Marvel Universe apart. However, writer Rick Remender and a stellar line-up of artists manage to have a lot of fun with this miniseries that’s repercussions are still being felt today. Though not nearly as heady as Watchman, it does leave one wondering what would happen if the good guys in any world decide that they’re done saving us. Avengers/X-Men: AXIS is available now in hardcover, and comes complete with a digital download code so you can read the title on your tablet or desktop computer.
On the middle week of every month, regular Biff Bam Pop! contributor, JP Fallavollita, shares his musings on comic books, comic book art, comic book collecting and the overall comic book universe. That gives him a lot to talk about but don’t hold it against him if he speaks with a DC Comics slant. That’s just how he rolls (with the capes and the masks).
No, I’m not talking about a trip to the chiropractor.
After the numerous hectic shopping trips to the overcrowded malls and the continuous gorging of succulent holiday dinners and desserts, I’m saying that it’s nice to finally get those two or three days of come down.
You know. The days where there’s nothing left to do but gladly fill a Hefty garbage bag with ripped and torn wrapping paper, used bows and string and kick it out to the curb. The days where you make the creamiest of hot chocolates and, with the snow gently falling on a midweek afternoon, sit down on your most comfortable sofa, take a long, cleansing breath and crack open that graphic novel you’ve been meaning to read for ages.
If you’re me, that’ll be December 27th and 28th – a Monday and a Tuesday, respectively. I’ve got nothing going on those two 24-hour cycles and that means “reading time.” That means “me time.” A little holiday gift from myself, to myself.
And there’s a whole bunch of stuff to read. Some of it I’ve read before, much of it has been sitting on my desk, anxiously waiting on these restful days. A few are newly purchased. Regardless, they are all sure to please, filling my quiet time with a sense of artistic contentment, both literary and visual.
Absolute Promethea Volume One is one of those books that’s been waiting a long while to be read. Created by Alan Moore and J.H. Williams and first published by America’s Best Comics as a monthly series in 1999, Promethea has been compiled into various hardcovers and trade paperbacks over the years. Now, I like Alan Moore writings but it was J.H. Williams and my gushing love of his artwork in his recent Detective Comics run that forced my hand into the purchase of the oversized Absolute version of the Promethea series. I’d been wanting to read the story of magically powered college student Sophie Bangs, charged to bring about the apocalypse for, well, for forever.
In letting the first volume of the Absolute version sit on the shelf for the better part of the year, it seems I’ve unconsciously waited for the second volume in the series to be published. I’ll be picking that up on Boxing Day to be sure, so my holidays look to be well spent, awaiting our fictional end of days.
In Promethea, J.H. Williams pushed the boundaries of what visual art can bring to the printed story and it’s for that reason I’m keen on cracking the spine on these two companion volumes.
If I’m lucky this holiday season (I’ve been very, very good all year!), I’ll receive the first, second and third hardcover volumes of IDW Publishing’s Locke and Key as a gift. If I’m not that lucky (or someone deems me to have been bad during 2010), I’ll be picking them up on Boxing Day. Either way, I win. Written by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, the supernatural series concerns the Locke family, who encounter strange forces after relocating their lives in the town of Lovecraft, Massachusetts.
Now, if that sequence of name-dropping doesn’t get you interested in this fantastical series, nothing will! Not only am I keen to read what Joe Hill can bring to the world of fictional horror but the series itself has caught my attention after being nominated for and winning many industry awards. It’s being made into a television series, too, didn’t you know? And oh yeah! Steven Spielberg is one of the producers! I figure that all of that adds up to there being something truly good here…
I’m not a huge fan of Thor, but I do like the character. Truth be told, old 1985-1986 issues of Thor were some of the first comics I ever bought. Marvel comics! Who would have thunk it?!? Anyway, a few years ago, either during or right around the time of Marvel’s big event series, Civil War, writer J. Michael Straczynski took over the chores of penning the Asgard warrior’s tales on a monthly basis. The stories were well received, with more than a few of the various Biff Bam Pop! writers expressing their enjoyment of the series – and the fact that Straczynski moved the folkloric realm of Asgard from myth to somewhere in the clouds above Oklahoma!
Of late, possibly because of the reality of a Kennth Branagh directed Thor film (that recent trailer kicked some serious butt!), my interest in the character has resumed. Of course, Marvel Comics has, this year, published a hardcover omnibus of the Straczynki run. And of course, that’ll be the version I’ll be picking up. On Boxing Day.
Mazzucchelli is one of my favourite artists, famous for his work on Batman: Year One as well as a fantastic run on Daredevil. I’ve never read anything he’s written before so when Asterios Polyp was first published last summer, I wasn’t entirely sure of what to expect. The art style which I loved so much was not present in this story – the writer/artist had completely transformed his style into a version – actually versions would be more apt – that utterly strengthened the whole of the book. And it seemed that Mazzucchelli was just as adept at storytelling as he was at transforming his visual style.
The story of a professor of architecture who must assess and reinvent his own life, Asterios Polyp is one of the most amazing graphic novels I have ever had the joy of reading. It’s a book that pushes at boundaries and reinvents the art form, becoming something altogether new, standing shoulder to shoulder with great fiction – in any medium – at the same time. This holiday season, I’ll be enjoying Mazzucchelli’s seminal work once again.
So, this December 27th and 28th, let the snow fall and drift outside. I’ll be curled up on my most comfortable sofa, not by a crackling fire, but by the cracking spine of the graphic novels I open and read.
Happy holidays to me, indeed!
And happy holidays to you too! I hope your reading list is as extensive and interesting as mine – and that your hot chocolate is every bit as creamy.