July 2021 Books …

I’m not sure what happened to July. It passed quickly and quietly. Maybe it’s because I spent a lot of time reading comic books and books about comics, although I did fit in one disappointing novel. Let’s get that out of the way first.

Falling by T. J. Newman
This is the second time this summer I’ve fallen for the advance hype on a book as being “must-read”; the first was The Plot. This tale by first-time author T. J. Newman (and it shows) is a suspenseful Die Hard take-off that takes place both on a plane and on the ground. It has too many characters trying to save the day (pilot, 3 flight attendants, numerous FBI agents, the pilot’s wife), awkward and stilted writing, stereotypical Middle Eastern villains (who the author tries to “understand” through her main characters), and long stretches of descriptive text that become (at least in one case) almost like GPS driving instructions. The book would have been improved immensely by editing out about 50 pages, thus making it much tighter and more suspenseful. And some of the writing is just eye-roll inducing:

“Steam billowed in balletic swirls and twirls as little bubbles rose to the coffee’s dark surface, reflecting the fluorescent purple glow of the overhead light. She observed all this abstractly; the graceful steam, the singsong lilt of a far-off voice, the flowing movement of light and shadow. A gossamer, dreamlike state was the lens through which she viewed reality and, while Jo was not a sleepwalker, she distantly wondered if this is what it felt like.”

Me, too Jo … me, too.

It literally is a movie on paper though, and I truly believe it would make a great movie, with the right director and cast in hand and a script that stopped playing “can you top this?” like the book tries to do at every turn. But I’ve learned my lesson for this summer … the next time some big-name author breathlessly extolls the virtues of an upcoming novel, I’m going to pass.

Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller
I didn’t really read all of this, so I’m not including it in my GoodReads count for the year (40 out of 50 books read so far … retirement has its benefits). But I did read this book years ago when it first came out (1998, I think) and it “went away” in one of my downsizings/purges. I’m happy to say this new hardbound edition put out by TCM with Running Press is an upgrade over the original paperback edition. Muller is the host of TCM’s Noir Alley, which I dearly wish I could watch, but I’m a cable cord-cutter and I refuse to backtrack on that. (Maybe if TCM would get with the program and offer their own pay channel that doesn’t require a cable company verification, I could watch it again, but don’t get me started on that.) Anyway, if you love film noir, Muller is definitely the man, and this book is a big treat. I especially enjoyed the sidebar bios on various noir stars, and the upgrade to color helps, especially with the posters and lobby cards that illustrate most of the articles.

Daredevil, Vol. 3, by Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checchetto
Much better than Volume 2, this collection of issues 11-15 in the Chip Zdarsky run has all five drawn by Marco Checchetto. There are interesting parallel stories about Kingpin—sorry, New York City Mayor Wilson Fisk—”interacting” with the world’s richest family and of Matt Murdock forsaking his DD identity to become something else, with the help of old-time main squeeze Elektra. Great art and story still make this Marvel’s best book, IMHO.

The Warren Companion edited by David Roach and Jon B. Cooke
I had this book years ago and it went “away” in a purge when I had to move and downsize into a smaller apartment … and it eventually reappeared and I snapped it up. It’s sadly long out of print. It’s largely a collection of interviews expanding on Jon B. Cooke’s Comic Book Artist magazine #4. The best part about it is Cooke’s interviews with Jim Warren, the almost-reclusive publisher of Famous Monsters, Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella, and so many other great comics and movie magazines of the 1960s through the 1980s. Cooke goes toe-to-toe with the publisher in a long interview, divided up into segments in the book, surrounded by other interviews with artists such as Bernie Wrightson, Neal Adams, editors like Louise Jones Simonson and Bill Dubay, and more. Warren is a piece of work, but always erudite and entertaining at the very least. This book was originally published in the early 2000s, almost 20 years ago, and I really wish Cooke and TwoMorrows would reprint it in a new color edition (even though the bulk of Warren’s mags were black and white, of course). There are only two books on Jim Warren, this one and the late Bill Schelly’s excellent biography, James Warren: Empire of Monsters. Warren was an important figure in pop culture and comics publishing spanning three decades. He deserves more credit and examination.

Old Gods & New: A Companion to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World by John Morrow
Really great history of Jack Kirby’s early 1970s work at DC Comics. Kirby leaving Marvel in 1970 was a seismic event. His subsequent creation of the Fourth World series (Jimmy Olsen, The New Gods, The Forever People, and Mister Miracle) was groundbreaking and is still being reprinted and talked about today, 50 years later. Possibly Kirby’s own personal favorite work, he was never really allowed to finish his epic as he originally intended, although DC invited him back to complete his epic story almost 15 years later. This book documents the entire arc of Kirby’s five years at DC, primarily his Fourth World books, but also mentioning Kamandi, The Demon, OMAC, and more. Wonderfully laid out and filled with full-color illustrations, this is a must-read if you care about Kirby and his incredible legacy to American comic books. (The is actually Jack Kirby Collector #80.)

The New Gods by Jack Kirby
After reading Old Gods & New, I was very curious about the New Gods once again. This great all-in-one edition (published in conjunction with the centennial of Kirby’s birth in 2017) collects all his stories for DC Comics from the 1970s through the mid-1980s, when he finally got the chance to finish his epic about Orion vs. Darkseid.

As a kid, I hated the fact that Kirby left Marvel for DC and I didn’t really “get” the whole Fourth World thing that Kirby did. Adding insult to injury, at least for the first few issues, he took along inker Vince Colletta, one of the worst–and laziest–inkers in comics. Once Kirby found out Colletta was selling him out to Marvel, giving them an advance look at Kirby’s pencils, he was done and Mike Royer entered the scene as Kirby’s finisher and letterer, a marked improvement on the art. But I still hated the stories. Fifty years later, I intensely admire Kirby’s concepts and characters. His writing? Well, still not so much. He is a horribly stilted and awkward writer, but the power of his pencils had not diminished in his shift to DC. The Fourth World saga, with New Gods as its centerpiece, was cancelled after 11 issues and Kirby went back to Marvel. But he was allowed to finish his saga in the 1980s and this book collects it all: the first 11 issues, the 1980s reprints and two “new” stories: the set-up to his conclusion, and the conclusion itself, the graphic novel, The Hunger Dogs. It’s awkward and strange and Kirby shows definitely his age in his fifth decade of creating comics, but it’s also a bravura almost-last hurrah from the most creative man in comics. They don’t call him “King” for nothin’, folks.

Mighty Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four Vol. 1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
This is where my love of Jack Kirby’s work started for me. I have read these stories countless times, being lucky enough to get them in their original form when they came out on the newsstand almost 60 years ago, and in countless reprints, but I fell hard for this new repackaging of the original Marvel Masterworks series. These editions are smaller in size and feature great, graphic covers by one of my favorite artists, Michael Cho, and have a much less expensive price point: $15.99/volume. As I grow older, I find my nostalgia for these stories by their original creators only grows, so yes, I’m all in, at least for the first volumes of each series (which so far includes FF, Spider-Man, X-Men, Avengers, Thor, Hulk, Dr. Strange and Daredevil). And the covers are absolutely gorgeous (although you can opt for the original first-issue covers with the Direct Market variants, too). It’s a pleasure to re-read these for the umpteenth time and it constantly amazes me how much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was created in the 1960s by Lee, Kirby, Ditko, et al, and how it still resonates and thrills today.


2 thoughts on “July 2021 Books …

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  1. Without that lazy inker you’d have gotten a lot fewer comics over the years. And, he did great bold, graphic-style inks on Kirby’s pencils at DC.

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    1. Agree to disagree, Ed. Colletta’s inking style is the opposite of graphic. His wispy pen lines were better suited for all the romance comics he drew and inked. I much prefer Joe Sinnott, Frank Giacoia, and Mike Royer, personally … but to each his own. Colletta was fast, I’ll give you that.

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