Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Which Side Are You On?

Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, and Rod Reis “COWL volume 1:  Principles of Power” (Image, 2014)

Like so many Image comics, the high concept for this is simple:  Mad Men meets Watchmen.  It’s 1962, and the Chicago Organized Workers League has protected the city of Chicago for a number of years.  But their contract is up for renewal, and the city wants to lowball them.

If ever there were a concept that called out for some real class analysis in a superhero world, it’s COWL.  Unionized heroes?  Labor struggle in a city with organized crime and super criminals?  There’s a lot to chew on here.

Unfortunately, Higgins takes the easy way out.  This is more Mad Men than Marx.  There are bits of proto-feminist critique, but nothing truly significant, and it feels somewhat perfunctory.  If anything, Higgins’ tired deconstruction of the superhero tropes undercuts any real possibility for a radical critique.  As far as the reader can tell, the city negotiators are correct.  They don’t need to fully fund COWL any more.  And the members of COWL are assholes, so they lose our sympathy.

What should have been an opportunity for unique class discussion becomes nothing more than reheated Watchmen style “the capes are bad guys”. *sigh*

The art as provided by Alec Siegel and Rod Reis is fantastic.  By abandoning the normal house styles from the Big Two, the visual implication is that we are looking back into another time.  Perfectly fitting with the story’s setting.

I Call It a "Laser"

James Luceno  “Tarkin:  Star Wars” (Del Rey, 2014)

OK, I THINK this one is actually canon.  I know that all the earlier novels were expelled from the Council of Nicaea or whatever.  But they’ve started writing new novels, & so this is one of the new, now canonical works.  It would be so much easier if they just threw away canon like Doctor Who fandom.

Tarkin is focused on Grand Moff Tarkin, the evil commander from the first Star Wars movie.  There’s a burgeoning rebellion that needs to be crushed & Tarkin is building a huge base that will do some destroying.

This was a fun, if slight novel.  Unfortunately I put its flaws right at the feet of James Luceno.  First, it feels as if Luceno never met exposition that he didn’t like.  Wow.  The amount of talk:show is seriously out of balance.

And what unfortunately makes this imbalance even worse is that it is so mired in continuity.  I’m not a huge Star Wars geek.  I’ve seen the movies.  I’ve read some books.  I’ve read some comics.  I’ve watched a few cartoons.  But wow!  I was really having trouble keeping up with all the names etc that were batted around without any references.

This is not a book for someone interested in getting involved in the SW book universe.  This is a book for those already invested in the peripherals.  If you’re new to this, check out the James SA Corey novel from earlier this year, that one was much more newbie friendly.

It's Not You, It's Me

Peter F Hamilton “The Abyss Beyond Dreams” (Del Rey, 2014)

Back in the day, SF protagonists were competent men.  They were often heads of state or corporations or militaries (the distinctions usually depending on the authors’ politics.) It doesn’t happen as much these days, or at least not in the books I normally come across.  So very early in The Abyss Beyond Dreams I knew what I was dealing with.  We’re told of the wealth and importance of our protagonist.  In fact the explicit comparison to a King is made.  And then we find out how he has some 200+ children….

And it becomes difficult for me to be very sympathetic to Nigel.  

It’s not that there’s really anything wrong with this book.  It’s just that on some levels it’s so invested in classic SF tropes that I had trouble moving beyond them.

You’re a great book, and one day you’ll find a great reader, and you’ll be fantastic together.  But I think that we need to see other people.