Category: Books and Reading Page 2 of 16

A Genealogy of Love: Alan Jacobs’ Breaking Bread with the Dead

Breaking bread with the dead is not a scholarly task to be completed but a permanent banquet, to which all who hunger are invited.

Alan Jacobs, Breaking Bread with the Dead

One of the ongoing debates that picks up steam every now and then is whether we should have high school students read old books in school (this WSJ opinion piece was everywhere recently and the #DisruptTexts tag on Twitter is on fire). Of course, a lot of the impetus behind this is to replace the canon of old dead white guys with a more diverse set of authors and subjects, but I can’t help but think another reason is because adults don’t really read old books anymore either. I mean, do adults even read anymore?

Alan Jacobs thinks we should, and thinks we should also read old books. “Breaking bread with the dead” is provocative phrasing that sounds much weirder than it actually is. Breaking bread is a common term, maybe especially in Christian circles (though this is not an explicitly Christian book) for sharing table fellowship – for sharing a meal and conversation with someone. Jacobs suggests we should see reading old books as an opportunity to join their authors for table fellowship.

Why would we do this? Jacobs actually has a fairly compelling argument, more convincing, probably, than my usual “because it’s good for you and also fun!!” reasoning. Taking an idea from Thomas Pynchon, he argues that expanding our temporal bandwidth increases our personal density – in other words, increasing our understanding of humanity over time (temporal bandwidth) increases our own weightiness, our own ability to stand up to every breeze that blows in our accelerated and windblown culture. For the Christians in the room, this of course brings to mind Ephesians 4:

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

Ephesians 4:11-16, NKJV

Paul is speaking specifically of staying grounded in the Word of God to avoid heresy, but I do believe that the idea is broadly applicable to life in general. It’s very easy, especially on social media, to get swept up with whatever the topic of outrage du jour is, and sometimes outrage is justified, but how quickly do we get swept on to the next one at a moment’s notice. And how often are we so buried in our own bubbles that we can barely see outside them, much less understand how different viewpoints have shifted throughout history rather than just since last week. Jacobs argues that it is precisely encounters with difference that give us more perspective and more focus for the present.

Jacobs takes up several objections – notably how to deal with the fact that we honestly and in many cases appropriately have major issues with viewpoints common to the past. Like racism and sexism to name two huge ones. His response won’t be enough, likely, for the #DisruptText crowds, but as an already-committed old book apologist, I found it quite useful – don’t discount our objections, but also don’t use those objections to dismiss an entire book/author. They’re complex human beings, just like we are, and because we rightfully denounce their racism doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them in some other way.

Besides increasing our personal density, Jacobs also recommends approaching this table fellowship thinking of the old writers as our neighbors. We don’t always agree with our neighbors. Sometimes we may vehemently disagree with them. Jacobs suggests that learning to engage strange and even sometimes repugnant ideas in books, where we have control over the encounter, is a relatively safe and stress-free way to “practice” engaging our actual real-life neighbors. Ultimately, he hopes we can treat our ancestors as well as our contemporaries and descendents with a spirit of generosity and love – a genealogy of love continuing throughout the generations.

One pushback I can make on the book is he doesn’t really address the value of reading cross-culturally among modern writers rather than reading cross-temporally. This question was actually asked of him during a podcast I listened to, and his response was basically that yes, reading cross-culturally is a great idea and definitely contributes to our personal density, but that reading old books still probably does it more just because our modern world is so globally oriented that even though there are plenty of cultural differences, they aren’t actually as great as the difference between modern culture and, say, Ancient Greek culture, or even Medieval European culture. I would’ve liked to have seen that idea explored in more detail in the actual book. Especially since we inherit our current dominant white culture from these cultures – maybe they’re more different than they are similar, but I can easily see a #DisruptTexts advocate finding this a hard proposition to swallow. Maybe a sequel!

As someone who doesn’t need to be convinced to read old books, I appreciated metaphors like the one I quoted at the top, which took my thinking slightly off his topic, but still relevant to reading widely. The idea of good books and culture in general being a feast echoes Charlotte Mason’s philosophy about spreading a feast for students in terms of offering them lots of great literature, music and art, letting them play in nature, etc. Not everyone will like everything, but everyone’s invited to the feast to browse and enjoy. If we can see and present old books like this, as a feast to enjoy rather than an assignment to dread or a checklist to complete, perhaps breaking bread with the dead would be more enticing for more people.

Like many books about reading, I do suspect this one will largely end up preaching to the choir. Most people who aren’t interested in reading at all, or reading old books in particular, are unlikely to pick this up. Those of us who are interested are likely nodding along in agreement all the way through, not needing to be convinced of his thesis. But I think his arguments on every point give those of us who think the value of reading old books should be self-evident do give us some good arguments for the challengers we run into ourselves, and for that I am very grateful.

Book 2 of 2021 for me. I won’t review everything, and not necessarily in order.

About the book

Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind
by Alan Jacobs
Published September 8, 2020, by Penguin Press
Hardcover is 192 pages

Purchase a copy:
Amazon Hardcover (affiliate link)
Amazon Kindle (affiliate link)
Audible (affiliate link)

Moviegoing Children in the 1920s (according to the book Half Magic)

I’m spending a good portion of my time lately reading elementary and middle-school books as I think about and plan for homeschooling my daughter, and I picked up one this week that’s about fifth-grade level called Half Magic, by Edward Eager. I hadn’t heard of this before, but the cover illustration looks like the ones on Eleanor Estes’ family comedy books for about the same age range, but this one has a bit of magic in it and name checks fantasy books like E. Nesbit’s The Enchanted Cottage. Anyway, that’s by the by.

Today I came across a couple of pages where the four children (ages about six to thirteen or so) head to the movies. The book was written in 1954, but set 30 years earlier, which makes it take place in the mid-1920s. I just found this humorous depiction of kids going to the movies in around 1924 to be pretty hilarious and also probably fairly accurate. For reference, Jane is the oldest, Mark is second at age 11 (if the other ages are given, I’ve overlooked them), then Katharine, and Martha is the youngest. The story takes place in Toledo, Ohio, which is middle America at its most middle American.

After lunch, it was time to choose what movie to see.

The children did this by first making a tour of all the movie theatres in town and looking at the pictures on the outside. A time of argument followed. Mark liked Westerns and thrilling escapes, but Martha wouldn’t go inside any theatre that had pictures of fighting.

Jane and Katharine liked ladies with long hair and big eyes and tragic stories. They wanted to see a movie called Barbara LaMarr in Sandra. Mark finally agreed, because there were a lot of pictures outside of a man who wore a moustache, and that meant he was the villain, and that meant that somebody would hit him sooner or later. Martha agreed because all the other theatres had either pictures with fighting or Charlie Chaplin.


All of the four children hated Charlie Chaplin, because he was the only thing grown-ups would ever take them to.

When they came into the theatre Barbara LaMarr in Sandra had already reached its middle, and the children couldn’t figure out exactly what was happening. But then neither could the rest of the audience.

“But, George, I do not seem to grasp it all!” the woman behind the four children kept saying to her husband.

The four children did not grasp any of it, but Barbara LaMarr had lots of hair and great big eyes, and when strong men wanted to kiss her and she pushed them away and made suffering faces at the audience with her eyebrows, Jane and Katharine thought it was thrilling, and probably quite like the way life was, when you were grown-up.

Mark didn’t think much of the love blah, but he watched the villain getting more villainous, and the hero getting more heroic, and patiently waited for them to slug it out.

Martha hated it.

That was always the way with Martha. She wanted to go to the movies like anything until she got there, and then she hated it. Now she kept pestering the others to read her the words and tell her what was happening (for in those days movies did not talk).

Book Notes: Divergent by Veronica Roth

I‘ve seen a few reviews (online and from friends as well) that Divergent has lackluster worldbuilding, with not enough back story to explain why the world is the way it is. Now, I’m a total sucker for worldbuilding, so that had me worried, but I was intrigued enough by the concept that I plowed into it anyway.

That concept is that the society is divided into five factions based basically on personality – the brave and bold are Dauntless, the honest are Candor, the peaceful are Amity, the scholarly are Erudite, and the selfless are Abnegation. Every child chooses at the age of 16 whether they want to stay with the faction they were born into, or change into a new one, based on aptitude tests that supposedly show which one they naturally fall into. Our heroine Beatrice, born into Abnegation but uncomfortable there, turns out to be equally suited for multiple factions, making her Divergent, which is dangerous to the status quo. She keeps quite about her divergence and joins Dauntless; much of the book is taken up with the brutal training she and other initiates must go through to become full Dauntless members. Of course, things must come to a head, and it turns out that there’s an insidious conspiracy by one faction to take control of the others and Tris is the one to stop it.

The Comics: Batman, Superman, Supergirl, Oh My!

Almost got it down to doing this weekly! There’s two weeks included in this update, maybe I’ll get it done every week going forward. Fingers crossed. A lot of good ones this week, with a few more third issues upping the ante from the second. Still a few relative disappointments, though. I didn’t flip through any this week, though, so kind of a smaller grouping than I’ve had before on here – only the ones I actually bought in print. I’ve really been enjoying noticing all the different at styles on display here – everything from the straightforward and cocky Birds of Prey to the bold lines of All-Star Western and Wonder Woman to the painterly looks of Supergirl and parts of The Flash. Obviously the quality of a book depends on both the art and writing, but it’s great to see so much variety just in the look. Makes it more interesting to pick up the next book and check it out.

Batman #3

Batman continues the trend of my being super-impressed with third issues after being slightly underwhelmed by the second issues. That’s not true in the case of all books, but there have been several so far. Last month, I enjoyed the book well enough, but the whole thing with the Council of Owls came out of nowhere really abruptly, which turned me off. This book explores that more fully, in a way that’s really engaging and worked for me really well. It also seems like it’s going to tie into the mysterious town council in All-Star Western. I STILL can’t tell Bruce apart from the politician guy, but the writing is so strong in this series and this issue especially that I’m fine with the somewhat generic square-jawed male face that everyone seems to have.

All-Star Western #3

They must’ve gotten the memo loud and clear that there was too much damn narration in the first issue of this, because this one pares it down to almost nothing again, relying on really eye-catching bold-lined drawing to move the action forward rather than narration or dialogue. There’s a little of that, mostly dealing with Jonah Hex’s outlier status, and his unwillingness to stay in Gotham City no matter how much he may be needed. At the beginning, he and Dr. Arkham take down the Religion of Crime members who had captured the guy at the end of issue #2 (possible tie-in with Batwoman and/or Batman?), but it does get a little confusing when two other groups of bad guys turn up – not sure how or if they’re connected to the others, or if they’re just part of Hex’s rock-em-sock-em lifestyle. In any case, this book is a blast to look at, lots of action, and I love the bold look of it.

Justice League Dark #3

The plot thickens in this issue, as we get the first real glimpse of what Sorceress is all about – apparently the Justice League Dark’s protection of June Moone is what’s bugging her, because she needs her for some reason. More good character interactions here, with Constantine and Zatanna, Deadman and June Moone, and Shade and his illusion girlfriend (here rendered with wonderful hideousness) all getting time. Straight-forward but often lovely art here, and the story and situations are definitely living up to the “dark” part of the comic’s title. This is one of the more thematically adult titles of the New 52, and I’m really glad I started picking it up.

Supergirl #3

The art style in this issue is VASTLY different than in the previous ones – a little more finished-looking and painterly, a little less quick and kinetic. That’s effective both because this issue is much less fighting and much more plot and character stuff, and also because frankly, it looks way better. The previous issues I was having fun with the action, but this one, I wanted to slow down and actually drink in the look. Storywise, we get a bit of Superman explaining his mission on Earth to Kara, but she leaves him despite his protests and promptly gets captured by a gazillionaire who works outside all governments to investigate extraterrestrial stuff, and hence wants to test Kara’s physical limits. Some echo here of Action Comics #2, but a little less mean-spirited on the captor’s part – he’s not sympathetic, but he just seems more clinical than anything else. He definitely has an agenda, though, and I’m curious to see what it is. And I hope they stick with this art style.

Superman #3

I may be fully turned around on the Superman title – I really disliked the first issue, but grabbed issues #2 and #3 just to see, and wow have they been a lot better. Less whiny monologue, more actual action and depth. This one really starts delving into the question of how many bad things happen in Metropolis simply because Superman is there – obviously something brought up by the anti-Superman journalist McCoy, but it’s definitely weighing on Superman’s mind as well. The ice monster part is fine, but honestly not as good as the first half of the comic (which also includes some nice shout-outs to Action Comics #1). There are some dialogue-heavy parts, but they’re much better written than the first issue was – even if this one does have still have a couple of cringe-worthy lines (“you’re heading for a meltdown!”…really?). I’m glad I didn’t give up on this one initially.

The Flash #3

I’m continuing to enjoy this series at a relatively low octane level. It’s solid, and there are always certain parts, certain panels that really grab me, but I’m still not totally into the military/clone/whatever storyline. This one does have an intriguing flashback that may explain some of the backstory to Manuel’s situation, but mostly I liked it because the painterly art style is really pretty. Meanwhile, an electromagnetic pulse has hit the city and Flash is trying to do what he can while also looking for Manuel…the biggest problem with this issue is this disjointedness. Is he saving people as Flash? Is he looking for Manuel as Barry? Did the guys who have Manuel sent the electromagnetic pulse? There’s a lot of stuff happening this issue, so it’s fun to read, but I’m having real trouble connecting it all together, which lowered my overall enjoyment.

Justice League #3

Justice League adds Wonder Woman this week, who has apparently been working with the Pentagon, who has also been trying to keep her out of trouble and off the streets, unsuccessfully as it turns out. So I guess there’s no connection between this and the individual Wonder Woman comic – I mean, none of the others really seem to have a connection with their individual comics either, but at least they feel like they inhabit the same world here as in their own titles. We’ll see how the integration works over time. I didn’t love this entry as much as the first two, as it gives a bit more time to large-scale action scenes against hordes of the demon creatures instead of the fun character interactions of the first two issues. Looks like the origin story for Victor/Cyborg is coming along, though, and I hope that connects to our main story more soon, because jumping between them is a little jarring. One by one the team is being assembled (one more gets teased by the end), and I hope the focus stays on the characters and not on the faceless action.

Wonder Woman #3

Three issues in, and I STILL don’t totally know how I feel about this book. This one is mostly taken up with Diana learning her true parentage and the circumstances that led to her birth, which result in her severing ties with Paradise Island. Still, she’s unlikely to join Strife, which is what Strife seems to want – although, her name being Strife, maybe she just wants to sow discord among the Amazona? In which case, mission accomplished. I’m not sure what her end goal is, and this issue has almost NOTHING to do with the current Zeus progeny problem (the girl who caused all the hullabaloo in the first issue is barely in this one at all), but I’m assuming that will take center stage now. This issue I noticed particularly how much of the story is told strictly through images instead of by dialogue, and I really like that aspect – especially since there are a few dialogue sections that hardly make any sense.

Birds of Prey #3

Big thing here is Poison Ivy joins the group. That’s…interesting. And not without its hurdles, as the first altercation is between her, Ev, and Katana. But there are bigger bads afoot, apparently, and after a captured stealth soldier explodes, they all go after some prominent politicians that are probably the next targets. But the next head-bomb victim may be someone even closer to them. This continues to be fun but not very deep, and the art is pretty plain, take it or leave it. The writing is decent, though, if a bit throwaway.

Aquaman #3

The fight from the previous issue continues, focused on Aquaman vs. the one really big Trench monster. There’s some good action here, but nothing as kinetic as some of the other books. After they deal with that, Aquaman and Mera go to find out what the things are from a guy he knew as a kid – they had a falling out when Aquaman wouldn’t show him Atlantis. I’m kinda anxious to see Atlantis myself at this point, since they won’t shut up about it. But instead they head for the Trench. I wasn’t too enamored of this issue; it was just all right.

The Comics: Massive Catch-up Post

Yeah, I know this post is weeks late, and yeah, I know new comics are coming out today for several of these series I’m talking about here. I’ve been busy with other stuff and this fell by the wayside, but I don’t want to let it get too far behind, so this is a catch-up and reset post. Hopefully after this week I can get these done weekly and not fall behind. I flipped through a bunch of ones over the past few weeks just to see how they were, found some I like more than expected and had some fall down a bit in my estimation. The best remain the best, though, and looks like that’s not going to change as we’re solidly into the third issues of each series.

One thing I’ve noticed as I’m gone through to write these up is that I find myself almost never caring about the big bad or the major plotline of the arc. The parts that draw me in and keep me interested are the character interactions, the bits of dialogue between people, or the insights into the characters from their own or others points of view. I guess this means I’m not bothered by issues that other people are calling “slow” or “not enough forward action,” because usually they’re filled with the things I like. Instead, I find myself getting bored when the alien/mech big bad shows up in Action Comics or they talk about Darkseid in Justice League, or the suited men terrorize clone guy in The Flash, and I have to reread the book to remind myself what’s even going on with that. But I remember Clark chatting with his landlady or Green Lantern snarking at Batman or Barry realizing his mental potential. It’s not true across the board – Swamp Thing, Animal Man, All-Star Western, and Batwoman all have me intrigued by the big bad plot as well as the character stuff. I don’t know what that means in terms of my relationship with comics. Anyway. On the individual books. Clicking the thumbnails will bring up bigger images in lightboxes.

Justice League #1-2

I initially avoided the Justice League flagship series because I didn’t think seeing a whole bunch of established superheroes working together would be all that interesting to me, but after a few people mentioned how fun it was, I figured I’d take a peek, and gorram, were they right. What I didn’t realize is that this book starts right at the formation of the Justice League, so most of the characters are meeting each other for the first time, and those “who the heck is this guy” interactions are a whole lot of fun. First off we get Green Lantern swooping into a fight Batman’s having with a raggedy villain (while the cops chase both vigilante and villain) – “Batman? You’re REAL?” Green Lantern is pretty much an arrogant jackass, but in the most entertaining way as he mocks Batman’s lack of supernatural powers. Wait until he gets a load of Superman, though, who’s none-too-impressed with Lantern’s theatrics. The Flash shows up in #2 and has a great evading fight with Superman that lets both characters display their strengths. There’s not a lot of story so far beyond setting up these relationships (the villainous creatures are leaving mysterious boxes everywhere that explode and seem to lead to Darkseid), but it’s written with so much vigor and humor that I don’t care. Wonder Woman gets added to the mix next month, and I can’t wait to see how she’ll fit in with this testosterone-laden group.

Swamp Thing #3

Wow, I was already loving this book, and if anything, the third issue has upped the ante. We start off with a young boy in a hospital, carefully sequestered in a bubble because he’s allergic to chlorophyll – allergic to plant life itself. Meanwhile, Alec is trying to figure out what Abigail Arcane’s agenda is, and it turns out her family has close ties to the black, to the rot that would destroy the earth, a connection the boy in the hospital also has. Alec’s connection to the green (and over in Animal Man, Bud’s connection to the red, that is, animal life) are going to be needed to stop the rot from taking over. Things are building up so nicely in both these books that I don’t even care that they’re about to crossover, even though I initially said I didn’t want any crossovers. In this case, it totally makes sense. This time out art duties have been split between Yanick Paquette (who’s done the previous Swamp Thing issues in the New 52) and Victor Ibañez, with Ibañez taking care of all the parts with the boy in the hospital – drawing in bold, simple but effective lines – and Paquette continuing the dark and twisty vine-laden panels in the swamps. It works out well, and I can’t wait to see what issue #4 has in store.

Action Comics #3

This continues to be a great story, extremely well-written and balanced by Grant Morrison. The world is starting to turn on Superman as the news outlets led by Glenmorgan (the guy Supes held off a balcony in the first issue) brand him as a dangerous alien, while Clark continues to delve into tough stories. I love that Morrison is giving so much time to Clark and his struggles to be a great reporter…it’s clearly more than a cover for him – uncovering corruption and trying to alleviate suffering through his journalistic endeavors is just as important to him as the more obvious stuff he does as Superman. Here he can’t catch any breaks, though, as the police investigate his apartment for basically no provocation, Lois is right on his tail for all the good stories, and, oh, yeah, he’s having dreams about the destruction of Krypton by an entity that has Earth in its sights next. The art is suffering a little now; different panels of Clark don’t even look like the same person at times, but the writing is so solid I’ll forgive the rushed look of some of the art.

All-Star Western #2

I picked on the first issue of All-Star Western for the interminable psychoanalytic voiceover by Dr. Arkham, and that’s thankfully gone this issue, leaving just wonderfully bold-lined action scenes with Jonah Hex taking no prisoners from the cowled assailants who threaten, and more staid but still great depictions of Gotham’s secret controllers. I don’t know how much the story was actually advanced this issue, but I love the way it looks so much, and Hex’s scowl is the perfect fit for this art style and setting, that I greatly enjoyed it. I’m hoping we’ll get more details on the secret society and their plans soon to give this gorgeous comic a bit more weight.

Animal Man #3

It took me a few issues, but I am totally on the Animal Man train now. With Bud and Maxine full enclosed in the Red, the drawing takes on almost Plympton-esque level of surrealism, which spills over into the now-staid-looking normal life panels with Ellen and Cliff as three hunters (bad guys) go after them with increasing levels of distortion. They can take human form by eating people, but can’t hold it for long, and soon they’re spreading their bizarre shapes all over. The family scenes continue to work great, with a nice page of Cliff trying futilely to get Maxine’s zombie animals to stop bugging him and Ellen joins him to play his “disgusting” video game. It’s a great dynamic, and the intrusion of the hunters is a wonderful juxtaposition. Meanwhile, in the Red we learn that Bud isn’t fully an avatar of the animal, but that Maxine will be, and she’s got to step up soon despite her youth because a rot is threatening both the Red (animal) and the Green (plant) – presumably setting up a crossover with Swamp Thing. The story is coming together nicely, and the art has now managed to win me over as well. Great stuff.

Batwoman #2-3

I didn’t totally love Batwoman #2, which picks up with Kate and Bette beating up some guys in an apparently random encounter – not sure what it has to do with the kidnapping ghost, who shows up for one panel, a lovely spread (once again, the book is almost completely gorgeous spreads, which I liked, but your mileage may vary), and then disappears again. One truly brilliant use of the spread style is when Sawyer deconstructs a crime scene; Williams presents lots of information density in a very concise and attractive way. Of course, Batwoman was involved in the crime scene, but it’s kind of nice to see Sawyer’s perspective on what Batwoman is doing/has done. Batman is also continuing to pursue Batwoman for membership in his worldwide league of Bat-people (something I didn’t know existed, but at least it’s introduced a little better than everything in Batwoman #1), but she’s wary. But issue #3 picked up really nicely, starting off with Batwoman held underwater by the watery ghost, plagued with visions of her sister’s death (and implying her own guilt-impelled death wish) before she escapes and returns home, insistent that cousin Bette stop being a costumed crimefighter out of concern for her safety. The art in these parts is great, with the very different styles clashing as a costumed but unmasked Kate walks into the Bette’s room. Fight scenes are done beautifully, with Williams capturing the movement like a strobe light, jagged lines using space to indicate time. The art has been privileged over the story a bit in the first two issues, but with the third, the storytelling THROUGH the art is really starting to coalesce.

Supergirl #1-2

This one I didn’t pick up the first month either, though it was in my second-tier of “interested if something else goes south” books, and hence I picked it up in month 2, and really enjoyed it. The first issue is basically Supergirl landing on earth in a meteor but not knowing where she is or what’s going on – she thinks it’s a dream, even as a bunch of mechanized soldiers try to capture her and she fights them off with strength she didn’t know she had. There’s a lot of great moments as she starts gaining powers, especially the panel where she starts overhearing everything, including snippets of dialogue from other DC #1s (Nightwing, Birds of Prey, Aquaman). That’s a nice touch. The second issue has Superman show up and the two basically beat each other up for the whole issue. Yeah, not a lot of plot development there, but it is FUN. The art’s a little slapdash, but I like it.

Chew #1

The only non-DC book this time around (though I’m still working my way through the American Vampire trade – hopefully will have that finished before I do the next one of these). This series by John Layman and Rob Guillory and published by Image Comics is up to issue #27 or so, which came out a couple of weeks ago and the preview on Comixology intrigued me. A lot of times they have the first issue of a series for free or severely discounted, so I got #1 to check it out. Tony Chu is a police detective with a special psychic ability – he get psychic impressions from whatever he eats. So he’s mostly vegetarian to avoid seeing, like, the slaughter of the cow in the cheeseburger he’s eating. Anyway, on a routine case (in a non-routine place – apparently chicken is outlawed here and there are chicken speakeasies), he eats some soup and realizes the cook, who sliced a sliver of finger into the soup, is a serial killer. The book is quite macabre, but also really funny thanks to Chu’s smartass character. I liked it a lot, and if I get a chance at some cheap collected editions or something, I’ll definitely check out more.

Demon Knights #3

This continues to just be flat-out medieval fun. Less battle action in this one, more preparation for a coming attack, with Xanadu (who I just realized is the same character as in Justice League Dark) giving all her strength and many years of her life to create a magical shield over the village, and all the other disparate characters trying to figure out how to work together to get ready for the coming of the hordes. Lots of individual character moments here, two-on-two or two-on-three interactions that are mostly well-written, and drawn with a great level of detail. I love the varied color work here, as a lot of panels have slighlty different tints depending on where they are and which characters are foremost. There’s not a lot of depth, but it’s fast-paced and exciting to read, and sometimes that’s all I need.

The Flash #2

I was a little hard on The Flash #1 because I thought the writing was a little weak, especially toward the end, and it just didn’t hit me anything very special. This issue was a big step up for me, though. I’m still not totally on board with the cloning plot or whatever is going on there, which I assume actually going to become the big bad, but the part of the story that focused on Barry increasing his mental abilities to catch up with his physical speed was tremendous. Loved every second, every panel of it. And I also liked the flashback panels more this time around, with their watercolor-looking evocation of Barry’s past with Manuel, which should also tie into the main villain story before long. There’s a lot of promise here, and this issue realized it a lot more than the first one did as far as I’m concerned.

Justice League Dark #1-2

I skipped over this one initially for the same reason I skipped over the main Justice League title, but I figured I’d check it out this time, and it’s pretty solid. There’s a pretty great fight with big bad Sorceress overcoming the main Justice League heroes with her otherworldly magic – a step beyond the supernatural powers they have – hence requiring the formation of Justice League Dark, made up of more esoteric characters whose powers are a little more, well, weird. Deadman is here, with his ability to possess other people, and John Constantine with his demon summoning, and Shade with his reality-warping powers, plus magician Xatanna and fortune teller Madame Xanadu (though I’m not entirely sure whose side she’s on, even if she is doing most of the narrating). Interestingly, the second issue drops a lot of the mysterious tone of the first one and focuses on Deadman’s relationship with Dove (of Hawk and Dove, yeah, another crossover/backstory thing I’m not gonna get) – I actually quite liked the domestic break, though I’m sure things will get crazy again in the next issue. I just wish I knew a little bit more about what Sorceress is up to.

Wonder Woman #2

I’m still not sure how I feel about Wonder Woman, to be honest. I know people who love it, and there are certainly elements I like a lot – I like the bold drawing on the fight scenes, but the looser style on the more relaxed panels isn’t grabbing me. It looks a little unfinished/unpolished to me, and I haven’t decided whether I like that yet or not. The mythology continues to intrigue me, even as I have to readjust some of the things I know about Greek mythology to fit into DC Greek mythology. :) The modern girl thrown into the mix gets some of the best dialogue, but I also liked Wonder Woman’s clear intention to protect her rather than side with either Zeus or Hera in the feud they’re about to have over her. Little things like that are starting to reveal Diana’s character to me, and I like it. The whole thing just feels a little…light-weight to me somehow, and I’m not sure if that’s due to the art or the writing. I’m obviously still enjoying it, but we’ll see if it starts coming together for me a little more cohesively in upcoming months.

Batgirl #3

This issue kind of has three movements – one in which Batgirl tries to stop Mirror from blowing up a train with a bravado play that doesn’t quite work, one with police activity and Barbara talking with her father, and one where Batgirl and Nightwing alternately talk and beat each other up. I still really like Barbara Gordon’s narration, the most self-aware and jokey of the New 52 without ever losing sight of her very real trauma, but it starts to go off the rails a bit toward the end. The whole sequence with Nightwing doesn’t do much except establish back story that I’m not sure really matters and provide an opportunity for Barbara to have mood swings that will induce whiplash. But there are panels earlier where her self-doubting persona works really well, especially when she’s talking with her father and gives two versions of how the conversation could go. I love that stuff. More of that, please, and less of other superheroes popping in for no good reason.

Batman #2

I won’t say I was necessarily disappointed in the second issue of Batman, though it’s going to seem that way since it’s so much lower on my list than the first issue was – I still quite liked it, and Scott Snyder is quickly becoming one of my favorite comic writers. But I’m kind of getting distracted by the samey drawing, especially in the Bruce Wayne parts where all the male characters look the exact same. And some of the panels didn’t make sense to me spatially (especially when he was falling in the middle section). I do very much like the continued VO probing of Gotham itself and its nature, and the holographic link Batman has to the autopsy room is pretty cool. The end seemed really abrupt to me, though, and didn’t so much leave me wanting more as going “huh, where did that come from?” Hopefully we’ll find out next issue.

Birds of Prey #1-2

I’d heard conflicting reports on this one – both that it was breezy fun and really boring. I vote “breezy fun.” My only exposure to Birds of Prey is the short-lived TV series WB mounted in the early 2000s, which I remember enjoying and my comic-book-nerd friends hating. Heh. Anyway, in this take, Barbara Gordon is on the periphery but not really involved (she’s shown wheelchair-less and Dinah mentions her being Batgirl again, so there’s consistency with the New 52 Batgirl); the main characters are Dinah/Canary and Ev/Starling, and they add a third, Katana, in the second issue. Yeah, this is just fun. Not overwhelmingly good writing or art, but it’s fast-paced and the dynamic between the girls is enjoyable and mostly witty.

Nightwing #1-2

I hadn’t intended to pick up another Batman subsidiary, but I kind of went crazy checking out random stuff this week, and it turns out Dick Grayson’s post-Robin character intrigued me the most out of the Bat-books I looked at. I know next to nothing about this character except the old Batman TV show, which doesn’t go into any of Grayson’s back story at all in the episodes I’ve seen. Like the fact that he grew up in a circus as a trapeze artist. Circus stuff is cool. The art in this comic is cool. Grayson’s pretty cool. So I might keep reading this one full-time, even if the “Seiko Killer” pun on the cover of #2 was pretty painful. That’s pretty much the worst thing in these first two issues, so I think I can overlook it. Oh, also, I didn’t know that Grayson took over from Wayne as Batman for a time, which is mentioned early in the first issue. Someone should catch me up on that sometime.

Superman #2

I know, I said I wan’t going to keep reading this one. And I still may not, but I figured I’d check out the second issue just to see, and you know what, I liked it a good bit better. Still not as much as Action Comics, I think, but at least it didn’t alternately bore me and piss me off like the first issue did. Here Superman/Clark is a bit down in the dumps thanks to his perceived failures in the first issue, both in terms of public acceptance of his superhero help and Lois’s romantic interest. Then he gets attacked by something he can’t see, but it turns out everyone else can, and that fight scene, with Superman at first unable to see his assailant and then helped thanks to Lois’s crew’s video coverage, is pretty awesome. I also liked seeing a bit more of Clark and Lois’s relationship.

Aquaman #2

I didn’t care for this month’s Aquaman quite as much as last month’s, even though it definitely has its moments. Most of it is a big, not particularly coherent or visually interesting fight scene with the Trench monsters (who are still pretty scary-looking). What I did find interesting is that Aquaman apparently doesn’t bother keeping his identity a secret – when the police guy looks for him, he just answers the door in his state of undress and seems utterly unconcerned about admitting his identity, and he and his girlfriend call each other by name during the fight. I also quite enjoyed their dynamic, of a committed but unusual couple that avoids the awkward flirtiness or outright sexuality of some of the other titles.

Batman & Robin #1-3

Yes, another Batman title. Don’t blame me, it’s DC going for maximum overload on their hottest superhero. This one has an intriguing dynamic between Batman and the current Robin, who happens to be Batman’s son Damien. I didn’t know Batman had a son until I started reading the New 52, but apparently he does, and he’s an amoral killing machine. It’s actually getting better as the series goes on, I think, with issue #3 having some really nice moments with Damien and Alfred and some great fighting panels with Damien doing his worst. I might actually add this one to my normal rotation.

Detective Comics #1-3

I chose Batman over this of the straight Bat-books, and I still think that was the right decision, but I gotta say after checking this one out, there’s some pretty gruesome and macabre stuff in here, in a good way. The Dollmaker character is f-ed up, and I’m actually pretty curious to see where that plot goes (one of the few villains that really intrigues me out of the whole New 52, to be honest). I actually wish it were just him and not Joker…just about every Bat-thing I’ve seen as a casual fan has had Joker, and even though he’s extra psychotic here, I don’t care that much. I was pretty back and forth on issue #3, as well – the Dollmaker is still scary, but some of the dialogue is really bad, and Batman just running around being ineffective only goes so far. A few of the plot elements are still intriguing, but a lot of is just “gotcha” shocks.

Resurrection Man #3

Picking up right from the end of the previous issue, our hitwomen wonder why Resurrection Man isn’t resurrecting immediately, but it turns out he’s chatting with a shadowy demon thing in an empty void of eternity, who reveals there’s some kind of battle over his soul going on between heaven and hell – his constant resurrecting is throwing off their rhythm. He fights off the demon and resurrects, only to have to fight the hit girls again, showing off various new powers as he dies and resurrects yet again. There are still elements of this book I like, mostly the basic idea, though. In execution, it’s getting a little old, and this issue ends with a WTF panel that pretty much makes me ready to give up on it. Might give it one more issue, we’ll see.

DC Universe Presents: Deadman #1-2

DC Universe Presents is going to be a catch-all title for lesser DC characters to cycle through instead of getting their own books. The first miniseries is Deadman, an arrogant trapeze artist who dies but ends up cursed to jump from body to body until he can redeem himself from the bad things he did in this life. The “bad things” seem to be stuff like “behaved arrogantly” and “looked down on others”, but whatever. This purgatory is run by a blue alien goddess person, but what exactly her agenda is and how long Deadman is going to have to go before escaping her realm is unclear, which is not a good thing about the book. Some of the individual scenes are fun, like when he works his way from person to person in a crowded nightclub, trying not be detected by paranormal-aware bouncers. Aside from that, I prefer Deadman’s more mature portrayal (as in, not an angsty origin story) in Justice League Dark.

Voodoo #2

Flipped through the second issue of this just out of curiosity, and still probably won’t be reading it for real. At the end of the last issue, Voodoo had killed the male cop and taken his form – she goes straight from there to sleeping with the cop’s partner, which is awkward. There’s a nice fight scene with the partner figures it out and goes in after Voodoo all angry, but the art continues to be bland, and the ending is essentially the same as the end of the first book. Not terrible, but not great.

I, Vampire #2

Another “can it possibly be as bad as the first issue” flip-through, and the answer is no, it isn’t as bad, but that’s still not enough. This one is from Mary’s point of view, and has a bit more of the vampire rebellion in it, which cuts down on some of the emo-ness, and the art is still quite lovely, but this book is just…boring. Possibly the worst of all sins in a line-up of 52 competitors.

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1-2

I’d heard some good things about this other book by Jeff Lemire (who also writes Animal Man), but I just don’t see it. Frankenstein’s monster is the head of a secret organization of superheroes made up of old monster movie characters like The Mummy and others that are made-up but in a similar vein, and they go to stop an invasion by thousands of giant monsters from another dimension. A flashback story to one character’s human life before transforming herself into a black lagoon-like creature is well-done, but most everything else just seems really messy, in both storytelling and art style. Could just be me – after all, the Animal Man art style is taking me some time to get used to, also, but I don’t like the story or character set-up here nearly enough to put up with it.

The Savage Hawkman #1-2

I had high hopes for a story about a superhero whose alter ego is a forensic archaeologist. How cool does that sound!? It’s not actually cool at all, the book I mean, which is probably the worst written of all the ones I’ve read. After a good opening when Hawkman drives out into the country to burn his costume and try to eschew his superhero identity, it just devolves into silliness and repetitiveness and…horrible writing. I gave it the second issue chance, and it’s just as bad. It’s a double shame because there’s some nice art in here, a painterly style that I haven’t seen in the other books.

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