The Weekly Round-Up #160 With Mara, Hip Flask, Amazing Spider-Man #700 & More

Columns, Top Story

I’d like to wish you a Happy New Year, and all the best for 2013!

Best Comic of the Week:

Mara #1

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ming Doyle

One of the best things about Brian Wood’s shorter independent books, like Supermarket and The Couriers, is the way in which he shows the future.  In Mara’s world, America has become utterly obsessed with sports, with athletes trumping movie and music stars as the world’s biggest celebrities.Seventeen year-old Mara Prince is a volleyball prodigy, and the biggest celebrity on the planet.  She has multiple endorsements, a spacious free condominium, and a gorgeous girlfriend.  She also has some abilities, it seems, although it’s not clear from this issue if she is fully aware of them or not.

Wood takes his time setting his story world up in this issue.  We learn how important sports are to society, and we learn how they became connected to the military, as ‘special focus’ service was used to draw enlistment, much like it works at specialized high schools.  We learn that Mara was being trained full-time from a very early age, in a system that sounds very similar to the one used by the Republic of China today to produce (construct?) Olympic medal winners.

We first realize that something is special about Mara beyond her athletic abilities when she senses a that someone in a crowd is carrying a gun.  Later, during an exhibition game, Mara appears to stop time to manipulate a ball’s trajectory, but she gets caught.  It looks like the rest of the series is going to be about the consequences of that moment.

Wood is always an excellent writer, and in this issue, he presents a vision of the future that is well-planned and realized.  There is not as much political commentary as you would find in an issue of DMZ orThe Massive, but there is a suggestion that Wood is not okay with the level of esteem we sometimes hold our athletes in, as well as a gentle criticism of the Chinese system.  Ming Doyle is an artist I’m not very familiar with, but I do like the way she fits into the stable of artists that Wood regularly works with, somewhere between Ryan Kelly and Becky Cloonan.

This is a very good comic, and worth checking out.

Other Notable Comics:

Amazing Spider-Man #700

Written by Dan Slott, JM DeMatteis, and Jen Van Meter
Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, Giusseppe Camuncoli, Sal Buscema, and Stephanie Buscema

I have not been reading The Amazing Spider-Man regularly for the last few years.  I got interested in the title again after the whole Brand New Day thing happened, mostly because I liked the idea of rotating creative teams, especially when that meant that there were story arcs being done by people like Marcos Martin, Javier Pulido, Max Fiumara, Paul Azaceta, Mark Waid, and others who I really respect.  I started buying the book mostly for the art, because I’ve never been all that fond of Spider-Man as a character.I did start to enjoy the book enough that I put it into the regular mix, but started to feel that the book was just coming out too often, especially at $3.99 a pop.  When it was announced that Dan Slott would be the exclusive writer, I decided it was time to let the title go, although I’ve followed it ever since by grabbing up issues at sales or conventions.  For the last couple of years, it’s been my favourite Marvel comic that I haven’t been reading.

But, because I’m a well-trained comics purchaser, who has given perhaps way too much individual thinking over to the whims of the Marvel marketing machine, I did get sucked back in to the hype around issue 698, which featured Doctor Octopus’s final strike against Peter Parker.  That issue did surprise me, and I became pretty curious to see what was going to happen.  There has been a sense that Slott and his associates were ready to really shake up the status quo with this series, seeing as Marvel decided to end it and relaunch it as Superior Spider-Man next month.  That change of adjective really does imply a big difference in how the book is going to work.

Now, discussing this issue is not easily done, without giving away a ton of surprises.  I’m sure it would take less than a minute’s work to find all the spoilers somewhere on the internet (perhaps on this very site!), but I’m going to avoid that here.  It probably means I can’t say too much about this issue, except to say that the change Slott has put on Spider-Man is a huge one.  This issue is basically Peter’s last battle with Octavius, and it didn’t exactly end the way I’d expected it to.  There is a lot of stuff about how remarkable Peter is, and that got a little tiring, but otherwise, this issue was very effective at reaching it’s goal, which is to set up the new Superior Spider-Man series.

I’m sure that the way Slott chose to do that is going to set off a lot of fanboy rage, which always makes me laugh, because I’m pretty sure that things are gong to get reversed in about a year.  Marvel has proven that when they have a new, cool idea for their comics that is leading to better stories than we’ve seen in that title in quite some time (ie., Bucky Cap, post-Schism X-Men), they are not adverse to reverting to status quo the second a new movie is announced.  This change isn’t going to last, so there’s nothing wrong with embracing it for a while, and seeing what kind of new stories that Slott is going to be able to tell with it.

I know this is all very vague.  I would talk about the two back-up stories in more detail, but neither of them stuck with me.  The first, by DeMatteis and Camuncoli, with inking by Sal Buscema (which I thought was a nice touch) is set in the far future, where an aged Peter Parker is looking after his grandson, who apparently has a thing for antique video games.  It’s one of those sentimental stories that I think DeMatteis cranks out in his sleep, but it didn’t do much for me.

The second back-up is by Van Meter and Stephanie Buscema, and while it’s pretty, it’s also utterly inconsequential.

In all, this is probably going to be one of the biggest-selling comics of the year (or would be if second prints didn’t fall into a new calendar year), and it is well done.  I feel that it’s important to point out that for $8, you could also buy an issue of Dark Horse Presents, and get a lot more story (or two issues of All-New X-Men and get a lot less).  I will be checking out Superior Spider-Man, so I guess this was effective at reaching its goal, but I’m not sure I’m going to stick with it – it will depend on how often it comes out.

Hip Flask: Ouroborous

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Ladrönn and Juan Vlasco

Richard Starkings’s Hip Flask comic has had a pretty complicated publishing history.  The first issue,Unnatural Selection, was published in 2002.  The second issue, Elephantmen, came out a year later.  Mystery City, the book that introduced me to Hip Flask, and which starts the story continued in this comic, came out in July of 2005.  Since then, Starkings started the Elephantmen comic, a prequel series featuring the same characters, of which 44 issues (plus a zero issue), and a couple of mini-series or specials, have been published since 2006.Needless to say, picking up this comic and reading it was confusing as hell, seeing as Starking didn’t include any sort of recap page to help bring readers up to speed.  I read Mystery City, but it’s been seven years, so I think I can be forgiven for having no clue what was happening.

Basically, Hip Flask and his partner Vanity Case, are teleported to a secret space station, where they learn that Obadiah Horn, the gangster and Hip’s rival, is about to use a time machine to rescue his wife Sahara from certain death.  The time cops charge Hip with stopping this, knowing full well that he would never allow Sahara to die.

This leads to a story that becomes ever more confusing, as on top of this story taking place a few years past the story that we are used to reading, we now have to deal with all sorts of time paradox issues that reference a comic that came out seven years ago.  I suppose one day, when the Elephantmen series has caught up to the Hip Flask timeline, and they’ve all been completed, it will be possible to read everything in order from start to finish, and perhaps then it will all make sense.

I also worry that it will be a little too self-referential though, as I got annoyed with the scene where Hip, Vanity, and Horn all reference events from Elephantmen for no reason other than to help establish the timing of things.  Starkings has never had a very monogamous relationship with linear storytelling, but I found this book a little too confusing, and a bit frustrating, as this shows us that characters like the Silencer are going to be sticking around for a good long time (although, the lack of Ebony Hide in this book did worry me a little).

As is always the case, Ladrönn’s art is lovely, but is not detailed to such a degree that I can understand why it’s taken so many years for this comic to be produced.  The end of the book states that the conclusion of this story will be published in a year.  I’ll definitely be getting it, but I hope that some ten or twelve issues of Elephantmen come out between now and then.

Quick Takes:

Avenging Spider-Man #15.1It’s just as difficult to talk about this comic without spoiling it as it was to discuss Amazing Spider-Man #700 above, especially as this issue is basically a continuation of that comic.  In truth, the story here, by Chris Yost and Paco Medina, might have been more effective as the back-up in that issue, instead of the two stories that were used.  This issue shows us the thought process that the new, Superior, Spider-Man goes through in planning how he’s going to prove his Superiority in the role.  It’s a good prologue to the new series.  Most interesting is the news that Chris Yost is going to be the regular writer on this title.  It was originally announced as belonging to Zeb Wells and Joe Madueira when the book was launched, but they only lasted three issues.  I hope Yost sticks around longer; I like his stuff.

Daredevil #21 – Having heard that the Superior Spider-Man appears in this issue of Daredevil, semi-spoiling Spider-Man #700, I decided not to read it with the rest of my new comics last week.  That scene comes right at the end of the book, and the rest of the comic is the usual great work we’ve come to expect from Mark Waid and Chris Samnee on this title.  The Coyote story arc wraps up, and Matt and Foggy have a pretty serious conversation about how much they can trust one another.  It’s a good issue in a very good run.

Deathmatch #1 – I’ve started avoiding superhero comics from independent publishers that aren’t Valiant or Image of late, but with the first issue of this comic being only $1, and there being next to no new comics out this week, I thought I’d check out this new Boom mini-series.  It’s written by Paul Jenkins, who I find to be very hit or miss, and it has art by Carlos Magno, who did an incredible job on Boom’s Planet of the Apes series.  It’s a cross between The Hunger Games and Secret Wars (that it debuts two weeks after Avengers Arena started is odd – they are essentially the same book).  A bunch of heroes and villains have found themselves in some strange alien facility, where they are being forced to fight one another to the death.  The issue opens with Dragonfly, a Spider-Man stand-in, standing over the dead body of his former teammate, who he’s just killed.  Dragonfly has always lived by a strict ‘no killing’ policy, so that he was forced to do this is a surprise to him and every other person gathered.  The issue works well to establish some of the characters and their relations to one another, and the story moves at a good pace.  I’d like to know how long this series is supposed to last for, because I’m interested in it, and may be adding it to my pull-file list.  Jenkins does good work here, and Magno continues to impress me.

Bargain Comics:

All-New X-Men #1-4 I didn’t expect a lot from this series, as I’d gotten pretty tired of Brian Michael Bendis writing team dynamics after so many years of his Avengers (I do love Ultimate Comics Spider-Man though).  There are a couple of things in these first four issues that Bendis got very, very right though, and I think I’d like to focus on them first.  To begin with, he’s introduced a few new mutants.  Jason Aaron’s done the same thing in Wolverine and the X-Men, but those new characters, Eye Boy and Humbug especially, are the kind of stupid, jokey character that made the whole House of M/Decimation thing seem worthwhile.  The new characters in this series are very Claremont-ian; we first meet one of them while she’s out on the town with her friends in Australia, in a couple of pages that could just as easily have come straight from the Claremont/Silvestri, X-Men in the Outback days.  Another thing he’s done wel is capture the uncertainty of the post-AVX era for the central X-Men left running things at the Jean Grey School.  Bendis writes a good Hank McCoy.  The problem is, the core concept of this series, that the original five, teenaged X-Men have been brought to the present, is stupid and unnecessary.  Modern-day Cyclops is a tortured and confused character; the idea that his younger self could come and talk some sense into him is about as embarrassing as any of us would find a conversation with our sixteen-year-old self about our past ideals.  Another thing that is not working for me is that Cyclops, Emma Frost, and Magneto have lost control of their powers due to their connection with the Phoenix Force.  This is poorly understood (especially since Magneto wasn’t a carrier), and not something I expect to see followed up with in terms of how Namor, another carrier, is doing.  It feels tacked on, and poorly thought out.  Stuart Immonen’s art is pretty fantastic throughout these books.  I haven’t always liked his post-Nextwave work, but this looks great.  In the final analysis, these comics were better than I’d expected, but I’m not sure if that’s going to be enough to get me to buy this book every two weeks.

Amazing Spider-Man #691, 694-697The ‘Alpha’ issue among these was easily the weakest of the bunch (he’s kind of a jerk), but the Lizard and Hobgoblin issues were great reads.  I’m not going to wax all nostalgic for this title, because it’s still too soon, but I will say that I don’t see anything broken here, and wonder why they needed the Doc Ock thing to ‘fix’ it.

Avengers #33 & 34 – These two issues wrap up Brian Michael Bendis’s very long tenure with the Avengers, and they’re pretty decent.  The original squad are in the Microverse rescuing the Wasp, while the rest of the team does what Bendis’s Avengers have always done best – standing around trading quips.  The only thing that bugged me about these comics is the shifting, inconsistent command structure at SHIELD.  Is Daisy Johnson in charge now?  Is Maria Hill?  Is Captain America?  Is Nick Fury Jr.?  I wish this would be made clear.

Avengers Assemble #8 – In finishing his Avengers/Guardians of the Galaxy epic, designed to appeal to new fans that the Avengers movie was supposed to bring in in droves (I do wish someone would do a study of that), Brian Michael Bendis uses two or three deus ex machinas (deii ex machina?).  This storyline has been one disappointment after another, but I think the most disappointing has been how poorly he’s handled the Guardians, who were so brilliant when being written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.  Everything about this book feels rushed, including Mark Bagley’s pencils (and I noticed that either the letterer or colorist couldn’t tell the difference between War Machine and Iron Man in one panel).  This does not bode well for the upcoming Guardians series.

Avenging Spider-Man #14 – Spidey is in the Savage Land, so of course that means he has problems with dinosaurs, which leads to a team-up with Devil Dinosaur and Moon-Boy.  This is a fun, easy issue with decent writing by Cullen Bunn, and some very nice art by Gabriele Dell’Otto.

Cable and X-Force #2I thought I’d give this series a second chance, and while there’s a lot to like here, I’m not sure that I’m feeling this series.  Most of the action in this issue involves some techno-organic goo that has attacked a beach in Miami.  Domino and Hope rush off to save the day, with a device that Forge just happens to have sitting around.  While Domino is preparing the device, Hope has to race across the beach to rescue a girl in a lifeguard’s station.  The station is surrounded by the goo, Hope jumps up to the girl, the station collapses, and somehow they are nowhere near the stuff.  The sequence is incredibly unclear (Salvador Larroca does better with talking heads), and it tossed me right out of the comic.  Also, I don’t understand what’s going on with Colossus’s powers.  Oh, and this is like the fourth Marvel comic in three months where I’ve seen someone undergo open-head surgery – it’s the new vampires or zombies!  I might check out a few more issues if I can find them discounted, but I don’t think it looks good…

Captain America #1 – I don’t think this latest relaunch of Captain America is for me.  I usually like Rick Remender’s writing – Uncanny X-Force, Fear Agent, and Strange Girl were all very enjoyable – but this is not a take on the character that I can get behind.  The issue opens with a scene from Steve Roger’s childhood which portrays his father as an abusive drunk.  I don’t think I’ve seen that interpretation before, and I think it doesn’t jibe with the person that Rogers grew up to be.  Also, I’m not sure I even understood just how Steve got shanghaied to Dimension Z – he willingly got into a mysterious subway that took him there?  It just didn’t make a lot of sense.  John Romita Jr. (although the cover doesn’t include the Jr.) draws this, and while it looks better than his work on Avengers Vs. X-Men, it’s still the rougher, rushed looking Romita that I don’t enjoy as much as his older work.  Maybe I’ll pick up another issue or two to see if Remender just needs some space to work out his concept, but if the goal of a first issue is to make a new reader buy the second, this didn’t work that well.

Flash #13 – I think I have the same thing to say about just about every issue of The Flash that Francis Manapul draws – it’s very pretty, but not terribly interesting.  In this issue, Barry is caught between Grodd’s gorilla army and the Rogues; it’s like the recipe for someone’s idea of the perfect Flash comic, except I still can’t care one bit about Barry Allen.  Very, very pretty though…

Halloween Eve One ShotThere’s nothing wrong with reading a Halloween story the week between Christmas and New Year’s, so long as the art is as nice as Amy Reeder’s.  The story, by Brandon Montclare, about a young woman who doesn’t want to wear a costume for Halloween, but then falls ‘through the looking glass’ is pretty basic stuff, but the art more than makes up for it, as this is a very beautiful comic.

Red She-Hulk #58 – I’d gotten bored with Jeff Parker’s Red Hulk title (which didn’t have the ‘Red’ in it, but that’s what it was) when it began shipping way too often, but seemed to be spinning its wheels.  I was curious about the soft re-launch of Red She-Hulk, but this debut issue did nothing to impress me.  Betty is going up against General Fortean, the same antagonist from the previous series, but with no clear indication as to why she is doing this.  Since making her a Hulk, she’s been a tough character to pin down, and this first issue does nothing to make me care about her, or be interested in her.

Rocketeer Adventures 2 #3 – There is quite an impressive line-up of creators for this issue, including David Lapham, Chris Sprouse, Kyle Baker, Matt Wagner, and Eric Canete, but as has often been the case with these Rocketeer anthologies, there’s just not enough space in the story, or depth in the character, for things to really soar.  I have higher hopes for the mini-series that IDW has now started to publish, because this is a character with great visual potential.

Strange #1-4 – This mini-series, by Mark Waid and Emma Rios, came out in early 2010, along with a thousand other Marvel mini-series priced at $3.99 an issue, which I, and many other readers, completely ignored.  It’s a shame too, as this is an excellent comic.  It is set in the period after Dr. Strange lost his mantle as Sorcerer Supreme, and is actually finding life a little more enjoyable.  When he tries to stop a demon from collecting the souls of an entire professional baseball team, he meets a young woman who kind of becomes his apprentice.  The series involves demonic beauty pageants for prepubescent girls (does this series pre-date Honey Boo Boo?), and Eternity having a stroke, of sorts.  Waid is always good, and Emma Rios is always excellent.  This would make a great read in trade.

Team 7 #0 & 1 -I thought I’d check out this series which features a number of DC’s (and Wildstorm’s) spy and covert-ops based characters all on the same team.  The problem is, with some ten characters, all of whom are the type to draw attention to themselves, there’s not a lot of space left for plot.  Plus, a floating prison with automated defences, filled with Eclipso-possessed inmates?  Enh.

X-Men #39 – The Domino/Daredevil team-up two-parter ends very well, with more fantastic art by Paul Azaceta, with Matthew Southworth lending a hand.  I know this title, which never really needed to exist in the first place, is shutting down in a couple of issue, but with stories of the quality of Brian Wood’s recent run, and now Seth Peck’s, that’s a bit of a shame.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Coldest City

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Sam Hart

The spy novel has become a victim of the world’s progress moving away from the Cold War.  People have tried to retool it in the fight against global terrorism, or have tried to focus on rogue states like North Korea, but the genre has lost some of its effectiveness, mostly because of the sense of otherness inherent in those attempts, at least so far as the mainstream North American and European markets are concerned.That’s why I was a little surprised to see that Antony Johnston, writer of the brilliant comics series Wasteland, among other titles, had written a Cold War graphic novel, The Coldest City.  The book is set in the final days before the Berlin Wall came down, and it is very cool.  Britain’s number two spy in West Berlin (known as BER-2) has been killed, and a document he was carrying, which lists the names of every spy from each country active in that theatre, has gone missing.  MI6 sends Lorraine Broughton, one of the best operatives, into Berlin to find the list.

She immediately bumps up against BER-1, who has been in the region for so long that everyone fears he has lost all perspective.  He’s a misogynist, but Broughton soon begins to wonder if he’s also involved in an Ice Man operation – running his own network of international assassins from both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Johnston handles the spy stuff very well – the story propels itself along quite nicely, and like Broughton, the reader begins to wonder who can be trusted, and just which version of truth is the actual one.  The ending has a nice little twist to it which, to be honest, I don’t think is fully supported by the story, but I would like to read the book again with that knowledge in mind, to see if I missed some very obvious signs.

If the book has a weakness, it’s in Sam Hart’s overly minimalist artwork.  It mostly tells the story effectively, but there were a number of times when I wasn’t sure who a character was at first, and I didn’t feel that there was a lot of excitement in his rather static drawings.

Still, this is a very good book, and it nicely fills the void, at least for a little while, left by Queen & Country, which remains one of the best spy comics ever written.

Curse of the Wendigo

Written by Mathieu Missoffe
Art by Charlie Adlard

There are three things that the French graphic novelCurse of the Wendigo, translated into English and published by Dynamite, has going for it that make it a winner so far as I’m concerned:  it’s set during the First World War, it prominently features Native American mythology, and it’s drawn by Charlie Adlard.  And, with all of these elements firmly in place, this was a book that I enjoyed a great deal.This comic is set in 1917 in Flanders.  Both sides of the war have been bogged down in muddy trenches for some time, when both sides begin to suffer unexplainable losses – sentries disappear at night, and all that is found of them is blood.  Eventually, leaders on both sides decide to confer under a white flag, and they agree to send men from both armies to investigate.  A Cree man, Wohati, is somehow there with the French army, and he seems to have a good idea of what’s going on, blaming things on a Wendigo, a cursed spirit that relies on cannibalism for nourishment.

This is a horror comic through and through, and as the French and German soldiers investigate, they discover some pretty grisly sights (the cover can give you some idea of what is coming).  I wish there was more space in the book to examine just how these soldiers were able to interact with one another after spending so much time trying to kill each other, but instead Missoffe keeps the plot moving, and adds in a sub-plot about a French soldier who is in a hospital recovering from some very serious wounds, including a number that look like small bites.

I’m always happy reading stories set during the Great War, and I believe that Missoffe does a good job of capturing the frustration and detachment of front-line, trench soldiers.  After the joint squad is assembled, one of the characters makes a crack about celebrating Christmas with the Germans next, which makes me wonder if many soldiers were aware of the series of truces that took place in 1914 on Christmas Eve.

Adlard further cements his reputation as one of comic’s premier horror artists with this book.  Unlike his work on The Walking Dead, this comic is in colour, which is used effectively to add a sense of menace to scenes like the one where mustard gas wafts over our heroes.

I wish that more French comics were being translated into English, as I’ve long enjoyed their different sense of pacing and storytelling.  This book is a good argument for more French comics (although I’d be happy with just getting to the end of The Secret History).

Near Death Vol. 1

Written by Jay Faerber
Art by Simone Guglielmini

I’ve been enjoying Jay Faerber’s Point of Impact, and remembered liking the Near Death story back in Image’s Free Comic Book Day offering this year, so I thought I’d check out the first trade of Near Death, his recently cancelled Image series.It’s a shame that the book isn’t running anymore, because this is a very good crime comic.  It’s about Markham, a hired killer who, in the first chapter, has a near-death experience.  While dead, he sees the multitudes of people he’s killed in his life, and decides that he needs to restore the balance of life and death.  He figures that, in order to protect himself, he needs to save one person for every person that he’s killed.

Most of the chapters in this trade (which collects the first five issues of the series) are self-contained, and each shows a new ‘case’ for Markham.  First he rescues his intended target at the time of his ‘death’ from another killer.  Later he protects a police detective who is about to turn in some corrupt colleagues.  In another story, he tries to help a convicted sex offender, although the creativity with which he approaches that problem is emblematic of his new desire to really put the world to rights.

Markham is an interesting character, but not at first.  His moment of revelation comes a little too quickly to be believable, but as the series progresses, and someone who we saw as a heartless sociopath feels the sting of his only friend’s words, and later the guilt for causing her injury, we start to see that there is something to this character, and he becomes someone you want to keep reading about.

Faerber shows growth as a writer over these five issues, and makes me curious to read more about Markham.  Simone Guglielmini’s art reminds me a great deal of Sean Phillips’s, which is high praise indeed.  This book has a bit of a Criminalfeel to it (Phillips’s masterpiece crime comic, written by Ed Brubaker), although it operates at a much quicker pace.

Templar, Arizona Vol. 1: The Great Outdoors

by Spike

I still can not get behind the idea of reading webcomics on the computer.  There’s something about it that just doesn’t hold my attention, and even when I start to read a series (like this last summer, when I made plans to read every page of Achewood finally, figuring I could finish it before Chris Onstad even drew another page), I quickly lose track, or forget to keep reading it.

Anyway, some webcomics creators are kind enough to print their books for us dinosaurs, and therefore I was able to sample Templar, Arizona, a webcomic done by a very talented cartoonist named Spike.

This is one of those comics where, in a very short amount of time, you know you need to read all of.  It opens with our main character, Ben Kowalski being woken by a phone call from his editor at the Templar newspaper.  His editor is a pretty abusive person, and so we are treated to a few pages of ranting, which gets interrupted when a young girl comes wandering into Ben’s apartment.

In short order, we learn that Ben is one of those people who just lets things happen to him, and has moved to a city where nothing is as it is in the rest of the United States.  We are introduced to the book’s supporting cast – Zora is the young girl who does whatever she wants; Gene is her father, who is incredibly stupid; Scipio is a kind neighbour, a pacifist, and a bodyguard.  And then there’s Reagan, who is obviously the heart and soul of the book.  She’s a loud, brash woman, with a tendency to wear clothes that don’t fit her properly, and to tell people what to do, but in the kindest of ways.

Reagan is determined to get Ben out of his apartment and around the town, where we learn that Templar is home to many Pastimes (think cosplayers who dress from different historical perspectives), sects (like the Sincerists, who never lie), and strange statues like the one erected to Jimmy Carter.  There are ideas being tossed at the reader on almost every page, and just as you start to think you have a sense about what this book is going to be about, we discover that Ben has more than a few secrets of his own.

This book is compellingly readable, and filled with handy endnotes to help explain some of the quirks of Templar.  Spike clearly has a lot worked out in her head which hasn’t been put on the page yet, and I enjoy the pace at which she reveals things.  Her art is loose and organic, and her characters are loveable.  Recommended.

Book of the Week:

Dave Eggers – A Hologram for the King – This may just be the novel to capture the spirit of America as it dangles on the edge of the fiscal cliff (or perhaps has gone over it, by the time you read this).  Alan Clay, a late middle-age business man who has found his business and industry has evaporated in the out-sourced, anti-union America of the 21st Century, has one last chance to regain his self-confidence and pay off his debts, when he’s sent to Saudi Arabia to help broker an IT deal in the King Abdullah Economic City.  The problem is, no one in the Kingdom seems to much care, and Alan’s having a hard time holding himself together.  An excellent novel, with a lot to say about where things are right now, and where they’re headed.  Recommended.

Album of the Week:

Austin Peralta – Endless Planets – Sadly, it wasn’t until after learning of his recent death that I became aware that Peralta (who played keys on Flying Lotus’s latest album) had his own cd of beautifully spacey jazz music.  He was a true talent.


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