August 2022 Books …

A bit more reading this month, once again offset by a stack of graphic novels and comics-related books, but book-ended by a crime thriller by a new (to me) author and the yearly offering from a favorite writer.

Missing, Presumed … by Susie Steiner
A vibrant, beautiful young woman from the British upper class goes missing and the local police do their best to find her, but have to navigate a circuitous trail. Is she dead, kidnapped, trafficked, or hiding? This complicated, slow burn of a book introduces DS Manon Bradshaw, a no-nonsense detective, who along with her cohorts Harriet and Davy try to crack this case which garners much press attention because the missing woman, Edith Hind, is the daughter of a doctor who is involved with the Royals. Bradshaw has all the quirks I love in a strong female character in crime fiction: Melancholy, searching for love or some kind of affection, gruff but compassionate, aloof but thoughtful.

I am always looking for a new author to follow and a new series to binge when it comes to crime fiction and I was very happy to stumble upon this one. There are three Manon Bradshaw books and while I look forward to reading the next two, they will be, unfortunately, the last ones. Author Susie Steiner died in July 2022 from a brain tumor. She was only 51.

Fantastic Four Artisan Edition by Jack Kirby
I’m going to say something that’s sacrilegious, I know, but I much prefer IDW’s Artisan Editions to their Artist’s Editions. Sure, the latter series is beautiful, with amazing production values and added bonuses. But they’re almost impossible to read, unless you’re sitting at a large high-top table and have enough space to lay the book flat to enjoy it. The Artisan Editions are smaller, flexi-bound books that can be comfortably held and enjoyed, and the reproduction is just as nice, thank you very much. This particular volume features primo Jack Kirby Fantastic Four art, inked by Joe Sinnott, with dialogue and words by Stan Lee. It reprints complete issues #s 71, 82, 83, 84, and FF Annual #6, and includes over 20 covers, splash pages and interior pages. This, to me at least, is the best of the best, the time period at Marvel when Kirby was hitting on all cylinders, just before his dissatisfaction with the way he was treated got to him and he put the brakes on a bit on what he was willing to create for Marvel as he contemplated his next move. The Artisan Editions also have a much friendlier price point: $39.95 to the usual $125.00 for the Artist’s Editions. And they’re easier to store!

Daredevil: Woman Without Fear by Chip Zdarsky and Rafael De Latorre
This slight volume collects Daredevil: Woman Without Fear issues #1-3 and the artificially manufactured Elektra #100, made from adding up the sum total of all Elektra comics published by Marvel from 1986 to 2022. It’s a continuation of Zdarsky’s Daredevil storyline and leads into the Marvel event series Devil’s Reign, which supposedly wrapped up his 36-issue run on DD, but there’s a new DD series by him, so who knows? While I definitely feel that Daredevil by Zdarsky is the best thing being published by Marvel right now, I’m not so sure what possessed him or the company to do a three-issue mini with Elektra as Daredevil, rather than just fold it in to the regular DD storyline, other than a new #1 gets more orders than #37, I guess. As it is, it’s a very wispy story which brings back someone from Elektra’s past with The Hand and features Kraven the Hunter and then something happens in the concurrently-running (at the time) Devil’s Reign series and this story ends. De Latorre’s art is reminiscent of Marco Checchetto, but gets sloppy in the third issue. All-in-all, not a great read.

Mighty Marvel Masterworks: X-Men Vol. 2 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Werner Roth (Jay Gavin)
It’s been a very long time since I’ve read the X-Men issues—#s 11-19—contained in this volume and to be honest, they were better than I remembered. Growing up as a Marvel Kid, I always felt X-Men was one of the lesser Marvels, still better than anything DC was churning out in the same era, but certainly not up to the level of the Fantastic Four or Amazing Spider-Man. Jack Kirby pencils only one of these issues (#11) but does layouts (or, as it’s sometimes referred to, “designed by”) for Alex Toth (who lasted one lone issue, inked by Vince Colletta, who totally obliterates any hint of Toth, thus robbing us of actually seeing a Toth Marvel superhero book), and then “Jay Gavin,” who is actually Werner Roth. By the time he takes over full pencils in issue #17, Roth is still Gavin, but with inks by Dick Ayers, his work isn’t half-bad. This was a great run for new concepts: The Stranger, Juggernaut, the Sentinels, and the Mimic (okay, that last one’s not so great) and for longer stories: The Sentinels saga is three issues. I’m afraid X-Men really went downhill after this and didn’t really recover until Roy Thomas and Neal Adams took it over, almost 40 issues later (although there was a two-issue Steranko run which is at least nice to look at). I’m sensing Marvel is pulling back a little on these new editions of Marvel Masterworks, cutting back from 10 issues to nine with this one, which also features a new Michael Cho cover, which I like better than his first X-Men cover in this series. I’m still really enjoying re-reading these books. A little nostalgia goes a very long way with me these days.

The Superhero Women by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, John Romita, John Buscema, et al
The fourth in the series of mid-1970s paperback collections of Marvel Comics published by Fireside Books (Simon & Schuster). In this one, Stan the Man focuses on the marvelous Marvel maidens and keeps bringing up women’s lib in all of his increasingly shorter (compared to the previous three volumes) introductions. The reproduction in this volume is shaky, at best, but the Romita painted cover is great, even if it does make Sue Storm Richards look like she just walked off the set of Doris Day’s late-60s TV series. Stories include Medusa (from Spider-Man #62 by Romita), Fantastic Four #22 (Kirby), Beware the Claws of the Cat #1 (Marie Severin and Wally Wood … rumor has it that Woody submitted this story inked with the Cat character stark-naked; her form-fitting costume leaves little to the imagination anyway, especially with Wood’s supple inks), a Red Sonja story (no # given, but by Bruce Jones and Frank Thorne), that black and white “Fury of the Femizons” story by Romita from Savage Tales #1, the first Wasp/Ant-Man story from Tales to Astonish #44 (Kirby), a two-part Hela, goddess of death story from Thor (Buscema and Sinnott), a Ms. Marvel story (from #1, I think, by Buscema and Sinnott), and a Black Widow story (again from Amazing Spider-Man—issue #86—by Romita and Jim Mooney). An interesting collection, especially with the inclusion of Red Sonja and the Femizons story, but you can tell by this fourth year in a row, the bloom was a bit off the rose for Stan and his intros for this series.

The Family Remains by Lisa Jewell
I’ve read eight books by Lisa Jewell now, including this one, which is a rare sequel to a previous book, The Family Upstairs. I discovered this author in a book that had a lovely cover, I Found You, and that remains my favorite of her work so far, with Then She Was Gone a close second. The Family Upstairs is one of my least favorite books of hers; too many characters, too much slipping back and forth in time (honestly, does anyone in fiction or comics just tell a story in a linear fashion these days?), and a group of pretty-much unlikable characters. To say the least, I wasn’t exactly pleased to hear that a sequel was in the works.

The Family Remains is a double-meaning title that means some of the family members are still here and also that there are the remains of someone from the first book discovered along the Thames River years later. Thus begins a long, convoluted trek back and forth in time, through multiple storylines (a detective investigating the remains, a family member looking for a character from the previous book, a new character married to someone from the previous book) and points of view, which all come together, semi-satisfyingly, in the end. There’s an added chapter in the Kindle version (I think the book is better without it, if it’s the chapter I think it is). And there’s also the never-ending confusion—for me, at least—of two main characters, mother and daughter, who are so closely named (Lucy and Libby) that each time they’re mentioned I have to stop and figure out which is which.

For the most part, I liked this sequel better than the original, because the characters become a bit more likable and there is redemption in the end, but Jewell herself says she was against doing sequels. I kind of wish she would do a recurring character and I quite liked the London detective in this one, DI Samuel Owusu, and would love to see him in another book or two.

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