December 15, 2013

NextReads Newsletter, December 2013

December's 2013's NextReads newsletter on graphic novels and comics newsletter is now available, but because of some library website difficulties I'm sharing it here!  This month's list includes some titles dealing with identity issues, in coordination with John Davis' graphic book club, although I'm too late posting it here to be helpful.  Rats!

If I've got my intel right, NoveList is in the process of changing the format and delivery system from the NextReads newsletters, so the current Durham County Library's NextReads subscription page and NextReads archive page may or may not be working.  If anything changes, I'll be sure to post new directions and links here. In the meantime, enjoy this month's list. 

New @ Durham County Library
Avengers: Endless Wartime - Warren Ellis, Mike McKone
Publisher: Marvel Enterprises Check Library Catalog Pub Date: 10/01/2013 ISBN-13: 9780785184676 ISBN-10: 0785184678 reports that Endless Wartime is "a full blown Warren Ellis superhero story, [with] plenty of aspects familiar from his oeuvre. There is archeology, pulling a threat from the past. There are military folk doing military things beyond the ken of human minds. [And] there are horrors that man would not have made, and echoes of what the Nazis did, being replicated now... It is very much a superhero comic book about superheroes that doesn’t exactly challenge the medium. But there is enough about modern war, modern government, history, duty, pragmatic policy against idealism to provide plenty to chew over."

East of West book 1 - Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta
Publisher: Diamond Comic Distributors Check Library Catalog Pub Date: 09/24/2013 ISBN-13: 9781607067702 ISBN-10: 1607067706

Death himself is "protagonist" of this story, for lack of a better term, and he's not making anyone happy.  He's angered the other three horsemen after abandoning them in favor of a quest to free his wife.  Leaders of world powers plot his destruction in response to his reckless path across their nations.  Traitors among this group allow his existence but are even less trustworthy than his more obvious enemies.  It's not looking good for Death. This promising book expertly combines elements of science fiction, alternate history, mythological fantasy, and western epics, and it's especially recommended for fans of Saga and the like.
Law of the Desert Born - Charles Santino, Louis L'Amour, Beau L'Amour, Katherine Nolan and Thomas Yeates
Publisher: Bantam Books Check Library Catalog Pub Date: 10/08/2013 ISBN-13: 9780345528124 ISBN-10: 0345528123

A Louis L'Amour short story adaptation!  In 1887, the drought-stricken New Mexico Territory sees a series of revenge killings that stir the blood of local law enforcement and citizen alike. The killer is hunted by a posse whose unlikely leader is a half-Mexican, half-Apache convict who has more invested in the capture than the lawmen who reluctantly rely on his guidance. A classic plot of betrayal and redemption lies here, told with naturalistic black-and-white artwork that reminds us of classic E.C. Comics or even Will Eisner at its best moments.  It's no Blueberry (which is sadly out of print), but hopefully this publication will usher in a new round of westerns for comics readers!
The Sixth Gun (series) - Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt
Publisher: Oni Press Check Library Catalog Pub Date: 01/25/2011 ISBN-13: 9781934964606 ISBN-10: 1934964603
And speaking of westerns, here's a western of the weird variety, another subgenre we could use more of!  In The Sixth Gun, young Becky Moncrief is thrown headlong into a post-Civil War adventure with apolyptic consequences, thanks to her psychic tie to one of six cursed weapons that are in high demand by groups trying to bring about and/or prevent the destruction of the world.  Aided, sometimes reluctantly, by a group of gunmen who include an ex-Confederate soldier, a runaway slave turned freedman, and a faithful golem, Becky is drawn ever deeper into a supernatural plot that may take her life rather than free it.  This is a fun book with just the right balance of action and character, and its well-crafted artwork strikes a sweet spot between "cartoony" and realistic.  Recommended -- start at volume 1!

Secret Identities and Alter Egos
Superhero Origins and More 

It's no secret (get it?) that identity is an important issue in superhero comics, and rarely more than in origin stories.  Here's a selection of superhero origins and some other superhero books where identity is front-and-center.
  • Omega: The Unknown by Lethem, and Dalrymple (Editor's Pick!)
  • Batman: Year One by Miller and Mazzucchelli (Editor's Pick!)
  • Saga of the Swamp Thing , book 1 by Moore and Bissette
  • Spider-Men (featuring both Peter Parker and Miles Morales) by Bendis and Pichelli
  • Identity Crisis , a gritty examination of amnesia in the DC universe by Metzler, Morales and Bair
  • Wolverine: Origin by Quesada and Jenkins
  • Top 10: The Forty-Niners , set in a world where everyone is a superhero and everyone's identity is a secret, by Moore and Ha
  • Watchmen (Moore and Gibbons) and The Dark Knight Returns(Miller and Jansen), two classic stories of ex-heroes finding themselves in uniform again
  • Dial H , about an ordinary guy who accidentally adopts numerous heroic identities by dialing letters on a pay phone, by Mieville and others
  • Sleeper , which features a superhero (or is he?) working undercover in a crime syndicate, by Brubaker and Phillips

Identity Issues in Other Genres 

And of course, identity issues aren't limited to books in the superhero genre.  Give these a try if capes and tights aren't your thing.
  • Petrograd by Gelatt and Crook (spy fiction): An Irishman working for British intelligence infiltrates both Tsarist and anarchist circles in pre-revolutionary Russia. (Editor's pick!)
  • Phoenix Without Ashes by Ellison and Robinson (science fiction): A member of an isolated community defies his elders to explore the edges of his world, causing him to doubt their teachings and his own identity.
  • Good Dog by Chaffee (period realism of a sort): Stray dog Ivan goes on a journey of self-discovery without leaving town in an attempt to find where he belongs -- on the streets, in a pack, under the care of humans, or somewhere else entirely.
  • Fun Home and Are You My Mother? by Bechdel (memoir): Bechdel relates a series of recollections about childhood with her closeted gay father and repressed but artistic mother.
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Parker (science fiction): This expert adaptation of Philip K. Dick's novel (which was inspiration for the film Blade Runner) explores what it means to be human, particularly in comparison with the androids that the main character is paid to track down and "retire".
  • City of Glass by Karasik and Mazzucchelli (crime/mystery): In this Paul Auster adaptation, a mystery writer adopts the persona of writer Paul Auster (!) to solve a mystery.  Existential crisis ensues.  (Editor's pick!)

November 10, 2013

New Shelf: Superheroes Documentary on PBS

A few weeks ago, PBS aired a new documentary about comics called Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle.  While I don't quite get the subtitle, I found it to be a surprisingly good program, and not just because I'm a sucker for Liev Schreiber's narrative skills.

I went into the show skeptically because I've seen more than one made-for-TV documentary about comics that left me disappointed because they were superficial, USA-centric, and blind to any comics that aren't superheroes.  Last issue first: PBS' program was explicitly about superheroes, so its subject-specific focus was explicit and not part of an oversimplification of what comics are, what they have been, and what they can be.  The USA-centricity issue is addressed by this as well because the superhero genre is, on the whole, an American phenomenon (along with some very notable contributions from the U.K.).  And finally, the matter of superficiality is a mixed bag: a retrospective history film of anything is going to leave a lot out by its nature, but dealing with the lack of opportunity for depth is the final mark of its quality.

Stan Lee on set
The PBS show uses its brevity in the best way possible: it presents a selected timeline of superhero comics and uses it to cover historical events that shaped what followed and still resonate with readers today.  These are big moments that will be familiar to most long-term superhero comics readers (albeit presented with enlightening commentary by personalities close to the events) such as the anti-comics craze of the 1950s, the Vietnam-era shift in socio-political perspectives in comics, and the cynicism of the superhero stories of the 1980s and beyond.  Other topics include the unique partnership of Stan Lee with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko in Marvel's early days, the 1990s' investment disaster, and superheroes' movement into film, television, and video games.  Scattered throughout are amazing moments like Adam West reading dialogue from Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns (somehow bringing together the opposite ends of the campy-to-psychopathic Batman spectrum) and tantalizingly brief comments from a very wide-eyed and startlingly optimistic Grant Morrison.

My complaints are few. I'd like to have seen at least brief commentary on superhero stories that didn't start in comics such as the television series Heroes and Alphas and movies like The Incredibles and Hancock, as well as countless computer and video games. Coverage of race, gender, and sexuality are unsurprisingly minimal, but that doesn't stop my wishing for more.  Finally, most of the cartoonists, historians, actors, and other commentators featured here are given very little screen time -- hopefully this inevitability is countered by some DVD extras!  (A few are among the show's YouTube playlist.) 

Overall, Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle is a documentary I can heartily recommend to viewers of all sorts.  Comics experts won't learn any new facts, but they'll delight in seeing the faces behind countless familiar names.  Comics readers who are new to the world of superheroes, including young readers, will learn a ton of history and will no doubt find themselves seeking out the many books that flesh out these stories in deep detail.  It's an excellent tool for librarians of all sorts -- any age group; public service or collection development -- because it works as a primer on what superheroes are, what their stories are all about, why they're so popular, why their readers and fans are so passionate, and sometimes so angry about a given storyline or adaptation.  It'll also give them a fighting chance when trying to help patrons searching for comics by giving them a handful of notable titles, plot points, and characters to be familiar with.  

The film is for sale from the PBS store on DVD and Blu-ray, along with an accompanying book called Superheroes!: Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture -- I haven't seen it in person, so I can't comment on its quality or whether or not it diverges from the documentary.

November 3, 2013

Upcoming Events: DICE, NC Comicon, ComiQuest, and Chris Hardwick

This weekend is going to be FULL of events for the Durham-area comics lover!

Friday, November 8 and Saturday, November 9 find the Durham Indie Comics Expo (acronym'd as DICE) downtown at Durham graphic arts studio SUPERGRAPHIC, including a gallery show and appearances by Durham County Library Comics Fest alums Rob Clough, Eric Knisley, Rio Aubrey Taylor, and Jan Burger, as well as a visit by Amy Godfrey and the beloved Durham Comics Project's Comics Contraption. Special guest appearance by Tom Hart (Hutch Owen)! DICE is free to the public.

Saturday, November 9 and Sunday, November 10, the annual NC Comicon will taking place at the Durham Convention Center, and is packed full, as always, of events, panels, vendors, and guests including Gail Simone, Adam Hughes, Neal Adams, Frank Cho, Jeff Darrow, Jeremy Bastion, perennial Comicon pal Tommy Lee Edwards, and many, many more. Tickets are available at different price ranges.

Meanwhile, the Carolina Theatre will be hosting the first ever ComicQuest Film Festival, featuring a fun-looking range of comic- and superhero-themed movies that include Dick Tracy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mystery Men and more! Tickets are available for purchase at the door.

Finally, and least directly comics-related, nerd entrepreneur extraordinaire Chris Hardwick of The Nerdist will be at the Carolina Theatre Friday, November 8 for a talk/stand-up show/something-or-other.  More info and tickets at

November 1, 2013

NextReads Newsletter, November 2013

November 2013's NextReads newsletter on graphic novels and comics newsletter is now available! Along with new releases, this month's newsletter includes a list of comics with female protagonists in superhero books, contemporary realistic fiction, and other genres too.  Comics with female protagonists is the theme of this month's Graphic Book Club at Main Library, organized and hosted by John Davis.

Subscribe to this and other NextReads newsletters by visiting Durham County Library's NextReads page, and just select the check boxes for the genres and subjects that interest you and scroll to the bottom of the page to create your subscription account.  Enjoy!

October 21, 2013

Greensboro Comics Event

This weekend - October 26-27 - Greensboro, NC will be the site of the first ever Comic Book City Con!  The event, sponsored by Acme Comics of Greensboro, will host a ton of artists and other guests, including cartoonist Hope Larson and editor Susana Polo on a panel about the growing presence of the female fan and creator in the industry and community.  I'm sorry I'll miss it, and I'd love to hear from anyone who attends.