May 2022 Books …

A bit of a short month, with a 30th anniversary salute to Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, two new YA graphic novels, and a triple threat of nostalgic comics reading.

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

This is the first of Michael Connelly’s books about LAPD detective Harry Bosch (actually, Connelly’s first novel ever), and 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of its original publication. I’ve read all of Connelly’s books over the past three decades and his Bosch stories are my favorite, not to mention the now two streaming series based on them, Bosch and Bosch: Legacy, which premiered this month (and let me just say how pissed off I am about the cliffhanger ending of the last episode, not only making us wait an entire year to see the outcome, but also once again using a particular character in a very manipulative way). This “origin story” starts with Bosch being called out when a dead body is found in an abandoned irrigation pipe. He recognizes the body as one of his fellow “tunnel rats” from his time in Vietnam and as the investigation proceeds, the dead man is revealed to be involved with a group of thieves who use the tunnel network under Los Angeles to gain access to bank vaults over long holiday weekends; very particular bank vaults with very specific safety deposit boxes.

Two things surprised me about my re-reading of this novel, which I originally read out of order back in the 1990s (I started with either The Concrete Blonde or The Last Coyote, Bosch 3 and 4, respectively, after reading Connelly’s standalone novel The Poet, which I loved). First, Connelly’s writing is a bit more verbose; the elements of his style are there, but there are some things the Bosch of that first novel does that the veteran cop would never do. Second, I didn’t remember that Eleanor Wish, future wife of Harry Bosch and mother of Maddie, was introduced straight out of the gate in this first Bosch novel. Her budding romance with Bosch adds a different layer to the book when you know what eventually happens to her.

The book itself is a bit slow-moving, with not a lot of action until the last chapters when Bosch encounters the final heist of the tunnel robbers. The Bosch TV series tends to have a lot more action than the books, and this first novel is no exception. I vaguely recall the second book, The Black Ice, being a bit of a dog, but I loved The Concrete Blonde and The Last Coyote, so I’m tempted to try one of those two next, if I continue my journey down memory lane with the Bosch novels.

Hieronymous Bosch: A Mysterious Profile by Michael Connelly

Don’t be fooled by this new very short book. While the package is new, it contains an essay on the origins of Harry Bosch by Michael Connelly which was originally written in 2007. It’s only 30 pages in its Kindle form (there is no print equivalent) and it’s part of a new series of ebooks published by Mysterious Press featuring authors talking about their creations). Nonetheless, this is a fascinating read, with Connelly recounting how he came up with Bosch (originally named Pierce), and how his tunnel-rat past in Vietnam—featured in the first Bosch novel, The Black Echo—actually goes back to Connelly’s childhood and a drainage tunnel that ran under his street, a kind of rite of passage for neighborhood kids to scramble through. A good, quick read, but I’d love to see an extended look at each of the Bosch books by Connelly … kind of a series of “liner notes” about the origins of each story.

Red Scare by Liam Francis Walsh

This YA graphic novel tells the story of Peggy, a young girl recovering from Polio in 1950s America. She helps her mom clean motel rooms and this is where she comes across a mysterious man who is being hunted by the FBI. Before the man—who may or may not be a Communist spy—dies at the hands of the Feds, he hides a strange, glowing object in one of Peggy’s crutches, an artifact that gives Peggy the power to fly. Walsh’s graphic novel sums up all the paranoia of the 1950s—Communism and McCarthyism, UFOs and prejudice—in a neat Hergé-like art style with great coloring. It’s a quick read for a 240-page book. and features some back matter pages, including an explanation of the historical aspects of the story and some sketchbook stuff. The book is wrapped up a little too neatly for my tastes by a bit of a deus ex machina, but I still really enjoyed the story and art and was pleasantly surprised by this book, which I purchased blindly without knowing too much about it; the time period and subject matter—along with the art style—sucked me in.

Apple Crush by Lucy Knisley

This is the second in a series of “Peapod Farms” graphic novels by cartoonist Lucy Knisley that chronicles the story of Jen, a middle school-age girl who moves from the city to the country when her mother moves in with her new boyfriend. Along the way, Jen gains two step-sisters and a whole new world. Knisley’s tale is auto-biographical (just how much is revealed in the back of the book in a special section), and her art is wonderful (the coloring by Whitney Cogar is great, too, with a very autumnal palette). This volume takes place in fall, heading towards Halloween and young Jen has to contend with a new school and her budding confusion over romance vs. friendship. I’ve been a fan of Knisley’s work since her first graphic novel, French Milk, and loved Relish (her cookbook GN), and her two highly personal books for Fantagraphics, An Age of License and Displacement. Apple Crush is the sequel to Stepping Stones, and while I am decidedly NOT the target audience for this series of original graphic novels, I love Knisley’s clean, open cartooning style and her clever, honest writing.

Tails of the Super-Pets by Various

This wonky compilation of Super-Pet stories from 1960s DC Comics includes tales (or tails, if you prefer) about Krypto the Super-Dog, Streaky the Super-Cat, Comet the Super-Horse, Beppo the Super-Monkey, Ace the Bat-Hound, Aquaman’s pet octopus, Topo, Wonder Woman’s giant hare or captured kangaroo (I’m not sure which; both are featured in one Golden Age story), and Proty II, a blob of shape-shifting protoplasm that sacrifices itself to save one of the Legion of Super-heroes (that’s a tale for another day). They eventually team up for the inevitable “Legion of Super-Pets.” While the stories in the book definitely show their age and their publisher’s mid-1960s style of storytelling (DC was showcasing “The Revenge of the Super-Pets” around the time Marvel was getting ready to unleash the world-eating Galactus on the Fantastic Four), they do have their own sense of whimsical charm, something sadly missing in most comics today. And while the Super-Pets of Superman and Supergirl definitely take center stage, I wish there were more Ace the Bat-Hound stories in this collection, especially after he saves the day (alongside Batwoman) in his single story and proclaims, “Gosh! I only did what any red-blooded American dog would do!”. WOOF!

Mighty Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers Vol. 2 by Stan Lee, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby

This new reprinting features Avengers issues #11-20, a real mixed bag of stories. Jack Kirby had, for the most part, left this title with issue #8, and save for the covers (all uniformly great), he did layouts for only a couple of issues. Don Heck stepped in to take over the title, but he’s teamed here with some unsuitable inkers (for him, at least), including Dick Ayers and Chic Stone, both of whom did great work on Kirby. Wally Wood inks one issue, #20, the final issue in this collection, and once again Stan goes out of his way to praise the artist, with a “Special Note to Art Lovers” cover blurb. This was around the time Wood was pencilling Daredevil. As for Stan Lee’s stories and plots … well, let’s just say Count Nefaria isn’t going to go down in the Marvel Hall of Villainy as one of the greats. The big story in this run, though, is the changing of the Avengers line-up in issue #16, something that blew my 10-year-old mind when it happened back in 1965. Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye—all bad guys up to that point—took over for Iron Man, Thor, and Giant-Man and the Wasp, all who had bigger fish to fry in their own titles. At the time, Lee lamented how difficult it was for someone like Thor to be undergoing “The Trial of the Gods,” and still be battling alongside the Avengers. It was an interesting experiment (all four characters would eventually return to the book, with Giant-Man undergoing yet another transformation into Goliath and eventually Yellowjacket), and something that certainly shook up the status quo of superhero books. Heck would draw the book for the next two years—his best work on the title is when he inks his own pencils—and eventually John Buscema would take over the book with Roy Thomas scripting, and The Avengers became an A+ Marvel again.

The Elektra Saga by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

This is a trade paperback compilation from 1989 of a four-part series taking all the Elektra pages from Miller’s original Daredevil run and attempting to make a cohesive story out of them. It kind of fails, especially in the fourth section (issue #4 of the original “Marvel Special Edition” reprint series, also known as Baxter books, named after the type of paper on which they were printed). Too much of the DD story is eliminated and what’s left is disjointed and awkward. This was the work that put Frank Miller on the map, and I had the original Special Editions, which had excellent new covers by Miller. I wish Marvel would remaster this and republish it … some of the pages in this TPB look like they were photographed from an actual printed comic, and a lot of the reproduction is subpar. Still, it’s an interesting experiment of mining the source material for a totally separate story and it almost works. Almost, but not quite.

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