Monday, February 2, 2009

Finds from the stacks.

I've picked up a few interesting reads from the library's collection these past few days. Here's the pick of the lot:

Carpe Jugulum by Sir Terry Pratchett: If, like me, you've gone into Twilight-induced sugar shock and have decided that the next writer to present vampires as darkly romantic tortured souls looking for love over the long and painful centuries deserves a savage beating with a very large club, then this is your book. This Discworld novel hilariously skewers (stakes?) the Hollywood vampire in all of its major incarnations while telling a cracking good story to boot. Add Discworld mainstays like Granny Weatherwax and the Nac Mac Feegle (aka "The Wee Free Men"; think of the Smurfs if they'd patterned their lives after Braveheart), mixed with Pratchett's special brand of humor and "stealth philosophy" and you won't want to put this book down.

Justice League International, Volume One by Keith Giffen, J. M. DeMatteis, Kevin Maguire, etc.: It's kind of odd that this series popped up when it did, in 1987, just as mainstream comics were taking the wrong lessons from the previous year's hits like Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. "Grim and gritty" were the watchwords of the day, as heroes shunted aside moral codes and often became distinguishable from the villains they fought only by the occasional bout of tooth-grinding angst. So where did this bright, clever book about a dysfunctional superteam come from? Even Batman cracks a joke once in a while without breaking character. It's a bit jarring to see Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union pop up in the book, reminding me just how long it's been since I first read these books. Aside from that, the stories hold up well, and are still good for a laugh. Plus: "One punch! One punch!"

The Living Shadow by Maxwell Grant: The very first adventure of The Shadow. Originally published in 1931 in SHADOW Magazine, I stumbled across a bunch of 1970's paperbacks reprinting these old pulp stories (wonder if any Doc Savage can be found...?). The Shadow hardly appears in this first tale, which is told through the eyes of his newest agent, Harry Vincent. But his presence is undeniably felt throughout the story, appearing, seemingly invincible and always a step ahead of both the villains and his own operatives, only when straits become truly desperate. The prose is a touch purple (no surprise there), but the real reminder that this is the product of another era is an unpleasant one. The first sign of trouble is Harry's conversation with a chauffeur: "'Don't say nuthin', boss,' pleaded the chauffeur. 'Dis am Mr. van Dyke's cah, an' Ah had no right to take you men along.'" Yeah, it's like that. I knew it was going to be a bumpy ride from there as soon as I found out a significant portion of the action was going to take place in Chinatown. The racism is a stumbling block in an otherwise well-done adventure story, and a tough one to get past. Maybe I should stick with The Shadow's latter-day adventures, like the comics with Michael Kaluta's art.

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