December 2002 Books …

The year ended with a big month of reading: NINE books, including a biography of Agatha Christie and a stack of graphic novels. I read more than 80 books in 2022 and I surpassed my GoodReads challenge by sixteen or so additional books, topping off at 76 from an additional goal of 60. (Some of the books I read this year don’t appear on GoodReads, hence the discrepancy in totals.)

Angle of Investigation, Suicide Run, Switchblade, Blue on Black, and The Lincoln Lawyer: A Mysterious Profile eBooks by Michael Connelly

This quartet of eBooks from Bosch creator Michael Connelly appeared back in the middle of the 2010s. Each contains a few short stories (Blue on Black is just one story) featuring Bosch and some other characters from what is now known as the “Bosch Universe.” They’re all quick, enjoyable reads and kind of enlarge Bosch’s world a bit. I wish they’d publish one book collecting all of these short stories.

The Lincoln Lawyer: A Mysterious Profile is another in the series of short author pieces about how they created their signature characters. It’s published by The Mysterious Press, which also has the great Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. While I imagine there would be major rights issues, I’d love to see all these “Mysterious Profiles” compiled in one book, also.

Dead Rich by G. W. Shaw

William Shaw is one of my favorite British mystery writers (I’ve gone on and on about my love for his DS Alexandra Cupidi series) and here he’s trying something new, under a slightly-different name: A straight-up thriller about a Russian oligarch who’s billion-dollar yacht is the site of an assassination attempt. Seems the rich guy pissed off some higher-ups in Russia (no names are mentioned, but I’m willing to bet one of them has the initials V.P.) and a hit is ordered on him and his family. Along for the ride are first mate Erin and the Russian’s daughter’s boyfriend of the moment, Kai, who try and survive this wild ride through paradise. This one really doesn’t start moving until about halfway through the book, but once it does, it’s a pretty amazing and relentless thrill ride. On a personal note, I chased this book all through the UK on my trip in September, hoping to find it in either paperback (supposedly a special edition existed at WH Smith) or even a hardback, to no avail. I finally tracked down a copy on eBay in the beginning of December … it was well worth the wait. But I still want another Cupidi, novel @william1shaw !

Agatha Christie: An Elusive Woman by Lucy Worsley

I love Lucy Worsley from her BBC and PBS shows and her wonderful TV series/book A Very British Murder, which chronicles the obsession the British public has with murder and how it spilled into the culture via movies, art, and mystery novels. Here she documents the life of the absolute queen of British mystery, Agatha Christie, and covers her entire career, including the mysterious (pun intended) 11-day span in 1926 when Christie went missing. Dr. Lucy lets no stone unturned in her quest to explore Christie’s life, including her husbands, her tax problems, her daughter, and at times, her prejudicial attitude towards certain people. It’s a fascinating read, even if you’ve never read a Christie book (SPOILER ALERT: I haven’t!), but enjoy reading about the lives of authors. Christie’s life spans both World Wars and then some, and her story is engrossing and fascinating. There’s also an accompanying BBC series, which is supposed to debut in the U.S. soon, most likely on PBS. (You can find other Lucy Worsley series on the PBS app now, including The 12 Days of Tudor Christmas.)

Wolverine: Patch by Larry Hama and Andrea di Vito

I was curious about this book in its original five-issue comic book format, but held off buying it because it seemed like something that would be better read as a one-shot graphic novel. Writer Larry Hama returns to one of his signature Marvel characters and the fictional locale of Madripoor, but for the life of me, I can’t tell you what this confusing tale is about. There are Russian mutants on the run, local tribes and warlords, and Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D., all of which seem to want the mutants for some reason and Wolverine jumps in in his white tuxedo jacket (and black eye-patch, hence the name “Patch,” even if they never explain why a mutant with healing powers has it) and tries to save the day. The whole book is confusing and has a definite 1980s/90s vibe to it, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Di Vito’s art is great at times and meh at others, but the covers are beautiful, even if the art is in the traditional Marvel overly-colored mode. Shockingly, this is a Marvel TPB that doesn’t cost $24.95 or some other ridiculous price; it’s only $15.95, so about three bucks per issue, which is definitely cheaper than if you bought the original comics. Don’t tell Ike Perlmutter that, though.

Mighty Marvel Masterworks: Namor, The Sub-Mariner by Stan Lee and Gene Colan

The August 1965 issues of Marvel’s Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales dropped two bombshells: Long-time heroes Giant-Man and the Wasp were gone from TtA and the Human Torch and the Thing were gone from ST, replaced respectively by the Sub-Mariner and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. The latter would become one of my all-time favorite Marvel features, especially once Jim Steranko took over. But I can’t say the same for Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner (who, in classic 10-year-old fashion, I pronounced as “SUB-MA-REEN-ER”). If Stan Lee could never figure out what exactly to with Ant-Man/Giant-Man (and eventually Goliath/Yellowjacket), he knew exactly what to do with Namor: Make his new series an ersatz Thor, complete with Shakespearian speech and Vince Colletta’s lousy, wispy inking. One thing this series did do that had an impact on Marvel: Bring Gene Colan into the fold, albeit as “Adam Austin” for the first eight or so issues, while Colan continued drawing romance comics for the Distinguished Competition. Stan puts Namor on a quest to find the trident of Neptune and become the true ruler of Atlantis after he is overthrown by the evil warlord Krang while visiting the surface world. This collection starts with Daredevil #7, a classic by Lee and Wally Wood that makes poor Gene Colan’s art pale in comparison. Colletta is probably the absolute worst person ever to ink Colan; a later issue in this volume (which features TtA issues 70 through 80) has Bill Everett tackle the chore, with Dick Ayers inking the last issue. Colan would go on to greater superhero glory on Captain America and Daredevil (and Batman over at DC), but I only really enjoyed his art on Tomb of Dracula, perfectly inked by Tom Palmer. This collection is one of my least favorites of this run of budget reprints of Marvel Masterworks. It’s also the first to feature new cover art by Leonardo Romero, and he’s a worthy replacement for Michael Cho on these covers, totally capturing the essence of Cho’s colorful and graphic style. Smart of Marvel to do a Namor volume the same month as the character is introduced into the MCU in Wakanda Forever, but I’m still waiting for the Ant-Man and the Wasp volume, which I thought would come in February in time for the Quantumania debut. Oh, well.

The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 1: World Without Love by Zeb Wells and John Romita Jr. and Vol. 2: The New Sinister by Wells, Romita Jr., and Ed McGuinness

I enjoyed this new “relaunch” (well, new series starting with yet another #1) much more than I anticipated. I bought the first new issue by Zeb Wells and John Romita Jr. when it first came out and felt it wasn’t the Spider-Man I was hoping for. I haven’t read Spidey consistently since the J. Michael Straczynski/Romita Jr. run in the early 2000s—except for Dan Scott’s Superior Spider-Man run a few years back—and found Nick Spencer’s run (the one before this one) to be annoying (pretty much the way I feel about any comics Spencer writes), so I skipped it after a few issues. But I took a chance on this first trade—in the mighty Marvel tradition reprinting just 5 issues for a pricey $17.99—and really enjoyed it. It features the return of Peter Parker after some kind of catastrophe (there was a Spider-Man Beyond interim series before this one, an attempt to do a three-times-a-month Spidey book, which I skipped entirely; what he was beyond, I’ll never know). I wasn’t thrilled with Tombstone being the main villain in this first story arc; when it comes to Spidey’s Rogues Gallery, he’s definitely pretty far down the list, but both Wells and JRJR manage to make him fairly menacing and flesh out his backstory, even if Romita Jr. still can’t draw children (you’ll see what I mean if you read it). I did enjoy the art in this, mainly because Marvel made the wise decision of bringing Scott Hanna back to ink Romita’s work. Much as I like Klaus Janson as both an inker and a penciller, his latest work with Romita Jr. on the Brian Michael Bendis Superman books seemed rushed and too sketchy. Anyway … not exactly five stars for this one, but I enjoyed it enough to go right out and buy Volume Two …

Volume Two (The New Sinister) contains only three issues long, since one of them (#6) is another BS Marvel manufactured anniversary issue (like #900 or something), so it had a $9.99 price tag, while issues #7 and #8 are normal-sized. I’ve never really been a fan of Ed McGuinness’s art—he’s a bit too “bigfoot” cartoony for me for superhero books, but Wells’s script for the giant anniversary issue is decent, bringing back a very forgotten character from Spidey’s 1960s beginning (issue #8) and reuniting the Sinister Six. Issues #7 and #8 bring back the original Vulture and have Spidey form an unholy alliance with Norman Osborne, who is now supposedly “sin-free” (it’s a long—and not very good—story from the Spencer era) and trying to atone for his past transgressions. Romita’s art is a little wonky at times, especially with faces, but his figure and action work are better than ever and once again Scott Hanna’s inks really make it all sing. I’ll be doing the same thing with Spidey as I do with Daredevil these days: waiting for the trade paperback collections, rather than buying the individual issues each month. Fun fact: writer Zeb Wells is married to SNL’s Heidi Gardner!

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