The 2021 Reading List: March

Since one of my writing goals for 2020 was also to read more, I thought it would help to keep track of what I knocked off Mount Tsundoku. Here’s as good a place as any to post what I’ve read in 2020 to keep me honest, and what I thought of each book immediately after finishing.

In 2020 I decided to be a little more systematic about my reading plans. I started putting an actual to-read pile to stack on the nightstand and limited the stack to five books, which seemed doable for the month. Occasionally comics and graphic novels or roleplaying games jump the queue, but I typically tried to get through the pile in the order I stacked them. I also used this strategy to try and diversify my reading. The goal was for each to-read pile to contain at least one book by a BIPOC or LGBTQ2S+ author, one book by a woman, one non-fiction book, and one book by an author I know personally.

Here’s what was on the to-read stack in February. I almost cleared them all, despite it taking me a few extra days to finish January’s pile!

The February 2021 to-read pile: Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite, City of Ghosts by J.H. Moncrieff, The Break by Katherena Vermette, Rings of Anubis by E. Catherine Tobler, and The Wave by Susan Casey.

The Wave by Susan Casey: I really enjoyed this one. I was expecting a bit more of the scientist point of view than the surfer point of view, but maybe that’s what made the book so engaging. You can feel a little bit of the ocean’s power while you’re reading it, and it brought back some happy memories of my first time swimming in the ocean (and made me even happier that I wasn’t dealing with fifty foot waves).

The to-read stack for March has six books again, because reading The Wave made me want to revisit Fluke.

March 2021 to-read stack: Fluke by Christopher Moore, The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris, Soul Kitchen by Poppy Z. Brite, Fragment by Craig Russell, Scion of the Fox by S.M. Beiko, The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara and Susan McClelland.

Fluke by Christopher Moore: A reread of one of my favourite Christopher Moore books to pair with The Wave (both have sections in Hawaii, and I don’t like reading non-fiction before bed). What worked for me in the past mostly still works for me, and what bugged me back in 2002 (yikes) when I first read it, still does, but I really enjoyed revisiting it, especially juxtaposing it with The Wave.

The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris: I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, and the timing synched up nicely with my nearing the end of a reading stack and a friend saying they’d just finished the book, and enjoyed it. This is the first read not to come from my own stacks in ages. A very enjoyable, and at times, gross, book. I’ve never been more thankful to not have been alive during the Victorian Age. Fitzharris does an amazing job of conveying the stink and squalor of the period. I’d definitely read more science/medical history from her, depending on the topic.

Batman Grendel Vol. 1: Devil’s Riddle by Matt Wagner:

Grendel Batman Vol. 2: Devil’s Masque by Matt Wagner:

Continuing my graphic novel (and my Matt Wagner) rereads. Oh man. I forgot how much I loved Wagner’s art in these two. And how dense every page is. I’d love to see a deluxe edition with a larger trim size that combines the two volumes and showcases Wagner’s page layouts, but I realize that’s not likely to happen. Anytime comic world’s crossed over in my youth was an exciting time, and having some fan arguments about who would best who portrayed was quite the treat (and usually led to more arguments). Grendel makes a great foil for Batman, and could easily sidle into Batman’s rogue’s gallery. Or vice versa. The contrasting portrayals of Batman/Bruce Wayne and Grendel/Hunter Rose make it. Wagner’s art in this series reminds me of David Mazzucchelli’s art in Batman: Year One.

Soul Kitchen by Poppy Z. Brite: Another fantastic culinary fiction read with some crime overtones. I think I liked Liquor better, as the freshness and rawness of Ricky and G-Man trying to get their titular restaurant off the ground was a bit more engaging than some of their trials maintaining it, but I love the characters and Brite’s writing, so I’m sure I’ll be adding Prime to my to-read stack soon.

Justice Riders by Chuck Dixon, J.H. Williams III, Mick Gray, Lee Loughridge: Another graphic novel reread. I think this was my first experience with the art of J.H. Williams III. I’ve always been a sucker for superheroes in the Wild West. This one mostly held up, but I kind of wish that a different assortment of heroes had been chosen to recast. I would’ve loved to have seen Zatanna, Black Canary, or Hawkwoman in the mix. Most of the Wild West takes I enjoyed, but I found the chemistry between Blue Beetle and Booster Gold to be lacking, or at least, not to my tastes, missing some of the Justice League International camaraderie.

Fragment by Craig Russell: I loved Russell’s previous work, Black Bottle Man, even saw it performed as a play. Continuing my water-themed reads, this book has a whale narrator, among the characters reacting to an Antarctic ice shelf the size of a country calving away and causing earthshaking changes to the world we know. I enjoyed Fragment quite a bit, although I think I still prefer Black Bottle Man, which is a bit more in wheelhouse, I’m looking forward to what he comes up with next.

Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert: Another graphic novel reread. It’s been a while since I’ve read this, and while I used to really enjoy how Gaiman weaved the Roanoke colony history and legend into this time-displaced Marvel universe, the story doesn’t hold up for me anymore. Kubert’s a fine artist, but his work as never really been to my taste. Glad I reread it before I let it go off to a new home, however.

Scion of the Fox by S.M. Beiko: The first book in Beiko’s The Realms of Ancient trilogy. Sam is an excellent friend and writer. Full disclosure that she was also my editor on Graveyard Mind. Scion of the Fox has an incredibly vivid start. I was reminded after finishing reading the opening that the first time I encountered it was when she read it aloud at an event on her phone and I was livetweeting her reading and tagging her and almost made her drop her phone/murder me. Great worldbuilding, and very evocative prose. I don’t know if it’s of interest to her, but some of the passages made me long for a Beiko-written horror story.

Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume One by Grant Morrison, J.H. Williams III, Simone Bianchi, Cameron Stewart, Ryan Sook, Frazer Irving, Mick Gray:

Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume Two by Grant Morrison, Simone Bianchi, Cameron Stewart, Ryan Sook, Frazer Irving, Mick Gray:

Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume Three by Grant Morrison, Ryan Sook & Mick Gray, Frazer Irving, Yanick Paquette & Serge Lapointe, Doug Mahnke, Billy Dallas Patton & Michael Bair, Freddie Williams III:

Seven Soldiers of Victory Volume Four by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke, Freddie E. WIlliams II, Yanick Paquette, J.H. Williams III, Serge Lapointe:

Another Graphic Novel series reread. Grant Morrison’s attempt to revitalize a number of minor or mostly forgotten characters in the DC stable through seven individual limited series, that when read together also told a larger story. To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of Morrison’s work, but this series was always one that worked for me.

Volume One has an introductory issue, and features The Shining Knight, Guardian, Zatanna, and Klarion the Witchboy. I love all the artists in this volume. I’m not sure I really dig Morrison’s take on Zatanna who is probably my favourite DC character, but the Ryan Sook art makes up for that. Volume Two continues The Shining Knight, Guardian, Zatanna, and Klarion the Witchboy. Volume Three concludes Klarion the Witchboy, Zatanna, and introduces Mister Miracle, The Bulleteer, and Frankenstein. Volume Four concludes Frankenstein, Mister Miracle, and Zatanna, and has a special outro issue that resolves the entire series. I loved The Shining Knight and Frankenstein series. Bulleteer and Zatanna were a mixed bag. Zatanna has always been one of my favourite DC characters, but I didn’t care for Morrison’s take on her, even if Ryan Sook’s art was great in that series. Where I liked the story on Bulleteer, the art got a little too cheesecake for me and felt exploitative. Yanick Paquette draws some beautiful women, but I think I preferred his art on Swamp Thing. The art for Klarion was gorgeous, but the character doesn’t do anything for me. I think Mister Miracle suffered from losing Pasqual Ferry on art in the first issue, the other artists didn’t capture the character as well, but then, I’ve never really cared for the Jack Kirby related 4th World characters, other than Darkseid as a villain.

I don’t think Morrison’s goals were met here, as none of his takes, beyond Frankenstein, who eventually got a series in DC’s New 52 relaunch, seemed to long survive the series. In the end, I was glad I reread it, but I’m also happy to let it go. I won’t be keeping it in the collection.

Spellfire by Ed Greenwood: A Dungeons & Dragons nostalgia reread snatched from a local “little free library.” I didn’t really enjoy it back when I first read it and was obsessed with the Forgotten Realms, and yet I always came back to it. While younger me didn’t like the story or the character of Elminster, I loved the banter of the Knights of Myth Drannor, who play a minor but significant role. As an adult, and a writer, I still have a number of issues with the story and pacing. For one, I completely forgot how randy this book was, and I still love the Knights of Myth Drannor, who if nothing else, feel like they come straight off the game table. It reminds me that the more the D&D novels became more traditional fantasy novels, with a single protagonist instead of an “adventuring party”, the less they reflected the game to me, and the less I enjoyed them.

I’ve decided to start making better use of my local libraries resources, so depending on when my holds arrive, it may involve shuffling my to-read stacks, but I am excited! My old hometown library got tons of use from me when I was growing up. Here’s my first library haul:

First Library Haul: Trejo’s Tacos by Danny Trejo, Invincible Ultimate Collection Vol. 6 by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley & Cory Walker, Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios, X-Men Vol. 1 by Jonathan Hickman & Leinil Francis Yu& R.B. Silva & Matteo Buffagni, New Mutants Vol. 1 by Jonathan Hickman & Rod Reis, and movie night choice, Detective Pikachu!

X-Men Vol. 1 by Jonathan Hickman, Leinil Francis Yu, R.B. Silva, Matteo Buffagni: Finally checking this out. I’m not sure if I like Hickman’s take yet, or that it’s what I want out of an X-Men story, but I am curious where it goes. Hickman seems to be playing with all the X-Men toys: Starjammers, Krakoa, Apocalypse, original and new X-Men, so that’s kind of neat. I haven’t seriously followed X-Men since Chris Claremont stopped writing them, I read a few of the major runs since then, but it was only a dip in here and there. Jason Aaron’s Wolverine & the X-Men was the last run I really enjoyed. For years, it’s felt like the X-verse was such a vast part of Marvel that you could follow it, or the rest, but not both. Maybe just me. I’m glad I’m getting these from the library, in any event.

New Mutants Vol. 1 by Jonathan Hickman & Rod Reis: Very different art style from X-Men, almost enjoyed it more than the main book, largely due to the awesome narration from Sunspot.

Pretty Deadly Vol. 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios: I love a good weird western comic. Beautiful art. Can’t wait to read more.

Invincible Ultimate Collection Vol 6 by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, & Cory Walker: I really enjoy the Invincible comics. Probably one of my favourite modern superhero launches. It probably helps having the continuity of creators that being an creator owned book allows. You rarely see Marvel or DC writers and artists spend so long developing characters. The new cartoon based on the series is looking fun too.

X-Force Vol. 1 by Benjamin Percy, Joshua Cassara, & Steven Segovia: Professor Xavier is dead. Again. Percy does some interesting stuff with it, and more of the mystery of what’s going on on Krakoa begins to unravel. The art suits the story well. Strikeforce-style black ops X-men comics still not something I particularly want though.

Fallen Angels Vol. 1 by Bryan Hill, Szymon Kudranski, & Frank D’Armata: Probably my least favourite book in the new X-Men storyline. Nothing technically wrong with it, but the characters of Cable, Psylocke, and X-23 have never really been my jam.

The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara (with Susan McClelland): Tough read, simply told, about a survivor of violence in Sierra Leone. I didn’t know much about the conflict in Sierra Leone and its aftermath, and The Bite of the Mango obviously focuses on Kamara’s story, but I’m glad I read it.

Here’s what I read in January.

Here’s what I read in February.

Also, check out the roundup of my 2020 reading here.

Holy Blog Post, Batman!

Of late, friends have acted gobsmacked when I tell them I’m not the least bit excited about going to see The Dark Knight Rises.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely going to see it. (I mean, c’mon. And I went to see Elektra, and while I expect DKR might be a downer, it should be a competent downer) I just wish I could excited about it.

Which is odd, because I loved Batman Begins. Still do. I was stupid excited to see The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger’s Joker was amazing, and I left the theatre thinking it was an fantastic film. And then I watched it again on DVD, and I turned it off before it was finished.

It was so relentlessly depressing (and I’m not saying all  movies have to be shiny and happy) but also it wasn’t a Batman movie. Not really. Comic book fans are still waiting for a real Batman movie. You could say it’s nerd rage, or any other buzz word for a disappointed fan. But bear with me.

Batman has so many facets, and we’ve never come close to capturing them all on film. (Or in the comics either, sadly. Batman has being growing aggressively more dickish and one dimensional since Frank Miller’s The Dark Night Returns. And as Adam West once asked: “Why doesn’t Batman dance anymore?”)

Batman is a perfect physical specimen. He’s among the greatest martial artists in the world. He’s a skilled actor and impersonator. He’s an escape artist. He has cool gadgets. He’s part of a larger superheroic world as a member of the Justice League. Most importantly, he’s the Dark Knight Fucking Detective. (I would watch the hell out of a Batman movie that used more mystery/thriller tropes than action tropes, but maybe that’s just me. It certainly feels that way judging from the sound of crickets every time I bring it up.) None of the films, Nolan’s or otherwise, have come even close to showing us all sides of Batman. (The cartoons have. Batman The Animated Series and Justice League, both produced by Bruce Timm, remain in my mind the definitive take on the character–even more so than the comics that spawned him.)

I rewatched Tim Burton’s Batman recently (the less said about the following installments in the franchise the better) and was surprised how well it holds up today. For instance, within six minutes, viewers have achieved Batman, and two of those minutes were the opening credit sequence! Compare this with pretty much every other superhero movie and Burton’s Batman looks even better. (Yes, yes, I’m aware of how horribly the Prince soundtrack has aged, so no need to bring it up. Or Basinger’s performance as Vicki Vale for that matter.)

Nolan’s Batman does has a lot going for it. Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne, Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth, Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon (somebody please make a GCPD HBO series!) chief among them. Come to think about it, everything I love about Nolan’s films turns on who he has cast to bring his take on Batman to life, rather than his actual take on Batman.

I’m sure Dark Night Rises will do huge bank. I’m reasonably sure it’ll be a good film. I’m sure I’ll go see it. I just wish I could be even the tiniest bit sure that I’ll enjoy it.