Review: The Palace Job

A magical heist where no one is who they first appear to be. Except Pyvic.

The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes [GoodReads] is a detailed story with a large talented cast, a floating city and a heavy dose of magic. There are a lot of plot lines that get introduced midway through the book. This confused me as I lost track of the central plot. But I was enjoying myself too much to irritated by the confusion.

It is an approachable story for people who enjoy Fantasy. It is heavier on the magic side. Pretty much every convenience is the result of magic and not technology. And the book has plenty of humorous scenes and dialogue to make life a little brighter.

Why I Picked it Up

I was trying out Kindle Unlimited and this was appeared in the Fantasy genre. Plus, it offered read along audio as well.

That got it on my kindle, but what got me to read it was a review on GoodReads (also available on her blog) that mentioned this more what they had in mind when they read Lies of Locke Lamora.

Favorite Characters

My favorite character is the narrator and that is only because of the amazing job Justine Eyre did on the audio version.

Otherwise, I think every character on the crew was unique and really engaging. If I could tweet at them this is what I’d say (not limiting myself to character limits because that is stupid, unlike tweeting at fictional characters on wordpress which is totally cool).

@Loch – You are filled with secrets and knowledge. Can anything take you by surprise? Not that I want it to. Your ability to out maneuver your opponent is captivating. Remind me to stay on your good side.

@Kail – Any other person and the “Your Mother” jokes would get old.

@Tern – I’ve noticed you seldom work by yourself and don’t shy away from a confrontation with your colleagues. Ever pulled any solo jobs?

@Icy – You execute inconceivable physical feats effortlessly. Have you considered becoming a fitness trainer? Hope I learn more about your circumstances in the sequels.

@Ululenia – Your motives are humorous, but they make me a little uncomfortable. I never thought I’d read about a unicorn that had problem with self control.

@Desidora – You are the one I look forward to the most in the sequels. Part mischief. Part death. And all heart. Don’t tell anyone else, but I’d totally dig a standalone novel where you are the main character.

@Ghylspwr – The character I would most like to hang out with.

@Hessler – You’re talented, but I feel like there is more you can be capable of achieving. Don’t let getting thrown out of the university derail your studies!

@Diary – You are fooling no one!

Things I Didn’t really Enjoy

Romances. I’m becoming aware that “shipping” is a big appeal for a lot of readers, but it doesn’t interest me.

BookTubers and Other Reviewers

There weren’t any reviews from BookTubers, but I found this gem on YouTube. It’s an online bookclub of 4 people who were broadcasting live at the time. People were sending messages during the broadcast. Check out how stunned they are when Patrick Weekes starts sending them messages after one of them calls it “A poor man’s Disc World”.

YouTube: Literally Geeky Book Club

While I didn’t get a chance to see their whole discussion, it convinced me to read the next book in the Rogues of the Republic series sooner rather than later.

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Life as a Slow Reader

I’ve been watching a lot of BookTube videos lately (Don’t know what that is? Check this out.) One of the things that clearly stands out is that these people read way faster than I do. That’s not surprising, because almost everyone I know reads faster than I do. Some of the BookTubers I’ve seen read something like 10-15 books a month! That’s like a stretch goal for me… for the year.

Out of all of my friends (including the ones that don’t enjoy reading on a regular basis), I am the slowest reader I know. And it has impacted my life in a few ways that are worth mentioning.

 

For starters, I catch things that other people don’t. It isn’t something that brings great insight or enjoyment. It is almost always a weakness with a book’s plot. If there is a weak link to a plot, I will probably find it. And trust me no author’s work, no matter how highly celebrated, is safe. At one point I asked a friend about a plot flaw in a series and he basically said, “You know what, you’re right. But that’s only a plot flaw you would catch.” In other words, flaws that only I could catch (regardless of how logical they are) didn’t count.

I keep these flaws to myself now because people don’t like hearing or talking about them. People get attached to a series, reread it several times and fall in love with it more each time. And then I come along and start asking questions that makes the book senseless. True fact: Pointing out plot flaws can be worse than sharing spoilers.

Another quirk of my slow reading is I tend to remember more details over a longer period of time. Watching some BookTubers forget basic details of a book they finished last week is painful for me to watch, since I remember some of the details I read in books more than 20 years ago.

When it comes to reading a series there are some barriers.

First reading a series, regardless of how fast or slow you read, is a time commitment. But let’s be clear, it is a longer time commitment for slow readers.

One of the most frustrating things about reading a series is the overly generous page space authors use in sequels to retrace the events of the previous books. This generally, does not benefit me and instead eats up my time. I’ve come to accept that certain minimum levels of retracing are necessary, but my patience for them is short.

There is also a genuine sense of betrayal for a series when the first installment in a series is 300 pages and the next one is 400 to 500 pages. That extra 100 to 200 pages had better justify itself or else suffer the consequences (via my review on goodreads).

When a series follows the same plot formula, it’s annoying on a level that I don’t think most people comprehend. Some fast readers share this frustration, but they lose a couple of days. For me, the author is asking me to go through the same plot line for 2 months. Maybe more. Think about that. Two months to read something that you’ve effectively read before. The effect is that reading becomes a chore and then it takes longer than 2 months to finish the book. It’s annoying and insulting to me as a reader.

The three previous paragraphs call out just how much the publishing industry is geared towards fast readers. I get it. I mean if someone is going to read 10-15 novels a month (and I bet they are buying more than that) versus 10-15 for the year they’d better be catering to the tastes of the individual that purchase the most books.

 

A few more quirks:

  • It’s next to impossible for me to read a book in a single day. Even a Novella.
  • Reading with a group of friends is next to impossible because I can’t keep up.
  • Rereading a book is not something I normally do, and the decision to reread one is not made lightly.

By far the largest impact being a slow reader had on me was my education. My school district assigned students to reading classes based on timed reading comprehension tests. Those tests presented a no win situation for me. In order to complete the test in time I had to race through the text at a pace I wasn’t comfortable with and get a bunch of questions wrong, or read at my pace to get more questions right and inevitably leave a bunch of questions unanswered. Either option I chose, the results indicated that I should be in the lowest reading level possible for my class. There were ripple effects that this had, but I’m electing not to share those. Let’s just leave it at, I disagreed with the assessment.

So there you have it: Some of the quirks and impacts from my life as a slow reader.

Are the Last Jedi Reviews Over-hyped?

Note: This review was a review I wrote last year, but never got around publishing. This isn’t the first time that this has happened on this blog and it won’t be the last. 

Episode 8 was released this past week, and plenty of professional critics love it. But what about the rest of us?

Well in my household, my oldest son and my wife loved it. I can’t stress the latter enough. She has seen all the movies, but doesn’t really count herself a fan. The Last Jedi may have changed that.

Then there is me. Who became a fan during the 90’s Star Wars Renaissance. And by fan, I mean that for at least one year (probably more) there was not a single weekend, where I did not watch at least one of the movies in the original trilogy. What did I think? It was alright. There were parts I liked, parts that were different and parts that I could have done with out.

The Parts I liked:

  • It leaves Episode 9 open to being an unknown. The Force Awaken, retraced themes from A New Hope. It makes sense that the Last Jedi would trace Empire Strikes Back. But it also traces Return of the Jedi. So what will Episode 9 retrace? Nothing. It is free to be it’s own thing.
  • Flight scene through the mine.
  • Luke’s comment, “What’s that all about?”
  • Luke becoming one with the force
  • Yoda knocking Luke on the head
  • Visually impressive
  • The scenes connecting Rey and Ben
  • The fact that it doesn’t matter who Rey’s parents are
  • The cast is split up, and it is largely a chase movie.
  • Lots of plot points to keep the story going.

The Parts that were different:

  • A lack of monsters. The original trilogy had many, many monsters. My wife specifically stated that this was one of the reasons she loved the movie.
  • The humor, was different. Granted, humor is woven throughout the original trilogy, so it would be weird if there weren’t jokes. But the pace, snarkiness and punchlines were different

The Parts I could have done without

  • The multiple scenes focusing on animal exploitation. Instead of monsters, we get all sorts of animals in scenes where they are clearly exploited. From watching Luke milk one animal and sloppily drink it. To Chewbacca trying to enjoy a meal while animals look on in horror as he is about to eat one of their own. To the creatures that have almost human heads being forced to run races for the ultra wealthy. Never would I have thought that there would be a Star Wars film that could be used as a recruitment tool for PETA.
  • The lack of explanation of the First Order, who Snoke was, or why he has force powers greater than Darth Sidious. It’s been rumored that Disney learned from Episodes I – III to avoid political stories. Avoid is not strong enough of a word. This is like a zero tolerance policy. In other words, I didn’t get what I was looking for from the movie.
  • Spelling out something, when it would have been better to leave it as a theme. “We don’t win by destroying what we hate. We win by saving what we love.” Nice sentiment. Important to the plot, but I found the delivery awkward.
  • Ninjas dressed in red.
  • The fact that all of the antagonists are jokes to be laughed at. Eventually, their fear wears off.
  • The complete lack of explanation of why R2D2 suddenly woke up at the end of TFA.
  • The code breaker knowing plans that Fin and Rose didn’t.
  • Ultimately, it breaks from what I love about Empire Strikes Back. That once the action starts, it does not pause. Ever.

Wow, thats an awful lot of stuff that I could have done with out. Does that mean I thought it was bad? No. But I probably won’t be watching it as frequently as the original trilogy.

 

BookTube. It’s a Thing.

As I’ve started to shift gears to reading more books than comic books, I’ve come across something (a phenomenon?) called BookTube.

BookTube is not a separate site. From what I can tell it’s all on YouTube. Unsurprisingly, the people apart of this digital subculture refer to themselves as BookTubers.

So what does a BookTuber do? This is what I’ve witnessed:

  • They talk about the books that they have read
    • Sometimes this all the books they have read for the month
    • Sometimes one post is dedicated to a single book
    • Sometimes its a themes like: Great Sci-Fi Novels, or My Least Favorite Popular Books
  • They create and participate in Tags
    • It’s basically a questionnaire that they respond to in a video.
  • They do bookshelf tours
  • They review their book hauls
  • They offer advise for new BookTubers
  • They spend a lot of time editing (ok, I haven’t witnessed this, but it seems like a safe deduction)
  • In between all of that, they read an inconceivable amount of books
    • Some say they’ve read an entire series in a weekend

My other observation is that the most popular ones, review a disproportionate number of YA titles. From what I understand, YA is a format that fits between Mid-Grade and Adult. It primarily features characters who are at least 13 and generally younger than 18. My hypothesis is that youtube is the first place that teens go for reviews/testimonials. And since book publishers offer some compensation for really popular BookTubers, reviewing YA titles is the probably the fastest way to get views and subscribers that publishers are willing to pay for some sort of access.

Also, some people just love YA. (Personally, I prefer Mid-Grade)

So if you start watching BookTubers in general, be ready for lots of content centering on teen drama. However, if you search for reviews of a particular non-YA title, the chances are good that you’ll find something good.

A quick warning to everyone, if you are watching a BookTube review a book that you are currently reading, assume it has spoilers unless it says spoiler free review. I saw one that was kind enough to say, “Mute the video now until I put the book down to avoid spoilers”, but there were others that offered no warning and blabbed a bunch of spoilers.

I’ll confess, for a brief instance I considered trying it. This was tied to my revelation that I’ve basically been treating the World As My Book Club and needed a healthy outlet (in addition to random people). But then I realized three things that discouraged me from posting videos to youtube.

  • I don’t know anything about editing videos
  • I’m lucky if I read 1 book in 1 month (this is partly because I’m a slow reader) and BookTubers try to post 2-3 times a week.
  • I have this blog where I write about random things related to fiction at random times. Why not just return to that?

So here I am. Also, I’ll probably start posting relevant BookTube videos when I actually get around to writing book reviews.

The World is My Book Club

My comic book reading has slowed down considerably over the past year. In that time I have been able to read more books. Which is awesome.

Recently, I caught myself treating the world as my bookclub.  Here’s what I mean: Not  many of my friends read the same things that I do but I really want to talk about the book I’m reading. So I’ll be in the middle of a conversation with someone and would bring up that I’m reading a book. It wouldn’t matter how long I’ve known this person, or how well I know them. I then ask if they’ve read this specific book. Most of the times they have not.

If it stopped there, it would probably be normal, but I go on. to describe the story and what I think of it. Then I ask them what they think of it. Which is really just asking them what they think about what I think about the book I’m reading.

I don’t think this behavior is awkward or problematic, but it’s not normal. And I’m comfortable not being normal.

Still, it would probably be a good use of my time to at least write some thoughts down on Issue 47 (it has been like a year since the last post) about the books I’ve recently read. Now, I just need to find the time to write down those thoughts (so many thoughts).

The Caverns of Chaos Part 1

This is an adaptation of a Dungeon World gaming session I ran with my two older children (9 & 6) and wife. It isn’t a perfect accounting of the events, but it definitely is in the spirit of the adventure. I don’t pretend that this is well written or even well conceived. I’m not aiming for positive reviews or a career in writing speculative fiction. Just attempting to capture some of the essence of our antics.

Up to this point Hawke, July and Raven had been seeking adventure with absolutely nothing to show for it. All other attempts had been fruitless and no one in their right mind would hire adventures that didn’t have any experience. That is until they found someone who may not have been in their right mind. He hired them to retrieve a stolen item of his which he believed was held in the Caverns of Chaos. Their employer only described the item as “You’ll know it when you’ll see it.”

But before they made there way the Caverns of Chaos they managed to become surrounded by 5 Ekeks, which is a type of creepy Bird/Human hybrid.

Hawke, a human fighter, and July, a dwarven fighter, charged with their shields knocking aside the Ekeks. In the scuffle Hawke dropped his shield, but held onto his ancient sword. Raven, a ranger with an eagle companion named Ellie said, “Seriously, I always have to pick up your stuff.” Although, she didn’t actually pick up the shield. Instead she used the room the two fighters cleared for her, to loose an arrow at their attackers. But in the panic of the attack she missed. Close by she could see something enormous beneath the surface of the water. Something that seemed much more dangerous than their attackers.

Hawke and July continued their battles. Each slayed and an Ekek. But in the process the monster Raven had glimpsed started coming out of the water, one giant leg at a time, before the head of the beast emerged. Raven recognized it as a Dragon Turtle.

The three adventurers abandoned their struggle with the Ekek’s and turned their attention to this monster. Raven successfully struck the beast with an arrow. It slowed the beasts progress but it started breathing fire. Hawke, braved the flames to get into close proximity to strike with his sword, but he slipped and only struck the beasts toes.

One of the Ekeks went for reinforcements. Raven remembered hearing a rumor that the troll clans were meeting in the swamps to unite. At the time she had dismissed it but she felt more certain of it now.

Another Ekek attacked Hawke, who successfully injured the feathered monster but dropped his sword in the process.

Then it came to July, who unlike every other dwarf in the realm valued keeping his armor and weapons shiny. He charged the Dragon Turtle with his bright shiny sword and struck a deathblow to the terrible creature.

Hawke once again attacked an Ekek, but didn’t have any success. July learned the hard way that the swamp’s ground was not to be trusted as he fell waste deep into mud screaming , “Not my shiny armor!”

This distraction gave Raven and Ellie a chance to attack one of the Ekek’s together. Their attack wasn’t enough to stop him, but certainly it was enough to slow him down.

The odds were more even now. 2 Ekeks (one injured) against 3 adventurers. On reflection, Raven knew her fighters were not going to be as effective. One was practically immobile and the other hadn’t even picked up his sword or shield yet. It was up to her. But she needed some time to think.

Thanks for reading. Future installments of this adventure will be posted under the “Caverns of Chaos” tag. Well, we’ll see. My track record for doing anything consistent on this blog is not great. But you know what life is inconsistent, so I’m good with it.

 

 

 

First Dungeon World Gaming Session

Last post covered my interest in introducing my older children (ages 9 and 6) to role playing games as a way to gain a window into their imaginative play. After researching the RPG options (so many options) I landed on Dungeon World.

After two gaming sessions the results are in, and they are impressive. One of the primary reasons I chased this idea was to gain a window into my children’s “solitary imaginative play”. Not only did I get that window, but I also got to see their problem solving skills and for about 30 – 40 minutes there was no arguing, tears, whining… just smiles and laughing. Smiles and Laughter people!

One factor for this success is the game itself, which focuses more on collaborative storytelling by reducing the complexity of game mechanics of the more complicated RPGs. Most outcomes are on decided by a player rolling 2 six sided dice, or 2d6 in rpg terms. The outcomes are adjusted by a modifier which corresponds to an ability. The modified rolls are segmented into 3 categories describing the outcome:

  • Complete Success (10 or higher)
  • Partial Success (7 -9)
  • Failure (6 or lower)

That’s pretty much the game, everything else is there to guide the Game Master to setting the foundation of a good collaborative story…

…which is harder than it sounds.

Which became another motivator for me to research the art of being a Game Master and the potential anxiety that surrounds it. It really wasn’t anxious for me, worst case my kids would have been bored and I was out the $10 for the pdf of the rule book.

But there is some good advice out there, and the absolute best advice was to find out each player’s expectations. Here’s what I learned from my wife and 2 boys.

  • One wanted to fight trolls
  • Another wanted to be ‘a little man’
  • The third did not want any of the player characters to die

There is a lot more useful advise for new GM’s on the interwebs, but there is next to none for new GM’s running a game for young families. So here are a couple of things I found useful.

Have an Adult Player

I worked with everyone individually to build their character before our first gaming session. Both my boys also wanted to be fighters, and they loaded up their abilities on strength and constitution. Which you would expect for a fighter. So I advised my wife to play a ranger and be the brains of the group.

This was not the last time I would ask her to participate in a specific way. Like identifying other solutions rather than just hacking and slashing.

Every family is different. Some don’t have two adults and those that do might not be able to have them play. But I strongly encourage including an adult.

Early Challenges To Learn Game Mechanics

Originally, I had intended to create plotless scenarios to teach them game mechanics. My thought was to do this individually with each player.

But, one of the players really wanted to jump into a full game. So we didn’t get to do this, but I included it anyway because it’s an idea worth trying.

Set Ground Rules for Character Creation

The rules I implemented were:

  1. No magical characters.
  2. Characters must at least have a neutral alignment, and preferably aligned to good.

The game was going to be challenging enough for me to run, I didn’t want a wizard casting spells I wasn’t prepared for.

The alignment thing is really a way for me to remind the boys about their character’s inherent motivation. And so that their characters won’t fight each other.

Roll the Dice

A lot of the imaginative fun does not involve dice rolling. And in my family’s second session, we had a lot of fun with very little dice rolling. When it ended, my 6 year old went from having been all smiles to practically being in tears. All because he didn’t get to roll the dice. It was quickly resolved by promising  him he could ‘go first’ next time.

The lesson for me is that the kids need to roll the dice at least once a session. It might seem weird, but consider that our sessions are shorter than most. More on that later.

Let Them Be Silly

This one is important for me, because my motive is to see their imagination in action. If it doesn’t fit with my setup, so what. I’ll try to adapt it for next time.

Short Sessions

An RPG gaming session can be somewhere in the ballpark of 4 hours. That doesn’t work for our family. Our first one was 40 minutes and the second one was 30. We clearly communicated the amount of time we would have to play at the start. Shorter sessions allowed me to be on the spot less as GM.

It also allowed me to do a soft unnoticeable reset to the game early on. This is similar to how a sequel will retrace an earlier installment and add in a few details that weren’t there originally. Had we gone on for several hours, I don’t know if it would be as engaging without those extra details that I was able to come up with inbetween sessions.

My advice would be sessions from 40 to 60 minutes. 30 minutes resulted in one of the characters not rolling the dice.

You Will Miss Something…

…so make it right when you start the next game/session. I managed to miss that they were not marking experience points for all their failure rolls. When the second session started I granted everyone 2 experience points.

They Will Miss Something Too…

…so mention it when you start the next game/session. The first game has so much going on and new information that they are bound to forget a character move or special ability.

A Few More Tips, But Not Related To Children…

Print Character Sheets & Info Sheets on Card Stock

This was really useful in a subtle way. While playing the game the players are trying to think quickly. Thin copy paper can distract in a number of ways: having to find something to write on, reading bent over on the table, or hold it up carefully without creasing the paper.

That might not be how we consciously think, but some portion of the brain is dedicated to thinking that way. And that slows down the part that is trying to think about what ‘Leverage’ they may have to successfully ‘Parley’ with a Non Player Character.

You Only Think You Have a Plot

Maybe not a plot, but an objective with obstacles for the party engage in. Here’s the thing, I was unprepared for how few times the players rolled a complete success and how many times they rolled a failure. That lead to the large monster appearing before I had intended. Now as GM, my intentions aren’t really important, but my preparation is. And since I hadn’t intended for the big monster to appear so early, I was unprepared for what happened next. They started rolling complete success on their attacks against it, while still struggling with partial success or failure with the other creatures.

To be clear, the fact that they were able to slay such a huge monster early on was huge for them, and a worthwhile part of the experience. It just made it more challenging for me, since a big portion of what I had prepared was annihilated in the first 10 minutes of the game.

In the second session I created what I would call a ‘wider’ set up. Meaning, more Non Player Characters, locations and dynamics. It was broad enough that the players could interact with these story elements in any order and under favorable or unfavorable circumstances to advance towards their end goal.

Just like the first session, the characters behaved and had outcomes different from what I had expected. But I felt that I handled it better, because there wasn’t a sequential order that events needed to happen in for the game to ‘make sense’ as a story.

I’m still learning though, so I’m sure there is advice here that is less than optimal. But if I don’t write it down now, I may never get around to it.

 

 

Role Playing Games

Over the past several months my older son has been increasingly spending more time in what I call “solitary imaginative play.” People may disagree with me, but I believe it’s good creative fun.

The trouble here is logistics: it’s hard for him to find space where his younger brothers don’t intrude. And then there are the times I interrupt, however briefly, to ask about what he’s imagining. I don’t get much of a response, which is understandable. He just wants to continue on whatever adventure I had inadvertently pulled him out of. Believe it or not, I get it.

So really, I desire 3 things:

  • A chance for my oldest son to have awesome epic level adventures
  • Him to play with at least one of his younger brothers and genuinely enjoy it
  • A window for me to see into those epic imaginary adventures without distracting him.

Which is where the idea of introducing Role Playing Games started to come in. Then during this year’s Free Comic Book day, we visited a shop that had an extensive RPG section. This year the boys were more curious about the RPGs, but not so curious to ask me to explain it to them. Which is good, because I couldn’t. I participated in exactly 1 rpg session when I was 14 and I had to leave early. So clearly I know more than someone who has never sat down at a table to play, but less than someone who has stayed through one complete session (which may not even be the end of the adventure).

But hey, there’s the internet which makes anyone an expert. Even me. I watched a couple of youtube videos, and showed my two older boys (even though they didn’t ask to see them). And they were really excited about the idea. I was honestly not prepared for how much my six year old was excited for the game.

These Pathfinder videos and I eventually came to the conclusion that Pathfinder is awesome… for someone who knows what they are doing and is at least 13 with a high IQ. It is safe to say that you want someone who has played more than a fraction of 1 game 2 decades ago to be the Game Master.

Someday we’ll play and when we do, I will not be running the game.

So the quest was on (ugh! Dad pun) to find an RPG that met the 3 criterea from earlier, plus these two:

  • A six year old can understand it enough to enjoy it
  • Its level of complexity is one that I can manage

After less then 30 minutes of research, I landed on Dungeon World [Wikipedia]. It has several of the same elements as Pathfinder (and D&D), but is more focused on creating a collaborative story.

The boys were on board and all we needed was dice… the rule book… character sheets… pencils… and wait I have to prep this game? All of which I’ll get into next time. Maybe.

Featured Image came from OpenClipArt.Org

Bargain Bin: JLA

Once I shied away from superhero titles, but now I’m on a quest to stretch my comic book budget further… (for a summary of that journey see this post.)

The Acquisition

I picked up 6 issues from a 50 cent bin at a used book store and won an auction of 10 issues for around $8. Lastly, I bought a single issue of the JLA at a comic book store for about $2. But it was accompanied by 3 free books from the 50 cent bin so, I view it as a 50 cent purchase.

So 17 issues for around $11.50 That’s around 70 cents an issue. On a good day $11.50 could be 3 new issues at the current prices.

I felt pretty good about the acquisition. Until I realized that the auction I won was for JLA Classified, which is different from JLA. Classified featured stories of the various iterations of the Justice League, but wasn’t tied directly to the 6 issues I had originally purchased. But since these were also acquired for about 70 cents an issue, I don’t feel too bad about my mistake.

Between the two JLA series the acquisition looked like this:JLA issues 17 – 26 (7 issues) and JLA Classified 1-10.

My Familiarity With the Title

I’ve read some digital editions of the Justice League, which is different. I didn’t recognize one of the characters (Zauriel) and didn’t recognize Superman in a few issues because he looked like he was a mutant smurf (this was one of the more radical costume changes for the character).

Grant Morrison and Mark Waid wrote the JLA issues (Waid was backup). From talks with other fans and perusing the internet, these two writers seem to be at their best when they write DC characters.

How were the Issues?

There was some great material in these issues, but there was also some stuff that didn’t sit right with me. I intended to read  the issues than loan them to a friend’s son. The friend does not read comics, so I looked with a critical eye.

The 7 JLA issues were fun, but I also think the phrase “far out” also applies. I feel like these are a great set of issues for someone new to comics to read, only because it has the potential to draw a very bright line on what someone finds appealing.

JLA Classified was also fun, but had a few moments that kind of soured it for me.

Classified had an arc that reintroduced Guy Gardner. I’m not really a fan of him, but I also haven’t read anything with him in it. In any case, his treatment of women was terrible. It seemed like it was intended to increase the “anti” part of his anti-hero role.

First he assaults Mary Marvel, while she is in her adult powered form, but still for all intents and purposes is a young teenager, if not a pre-teen. The actual touching part takes place off panel, but it is clear that there was contact and it was uninvited.

Now some might argue that it’s a situation that would be impossible to happen in real life because she’s a child in an adult body. True. Children don’t become super powered adults by using magic words. But there are adults with cognitive disabilities which have the mental capacity of a 10 – 12 year old child.

In short, not something I want my children thinking is acceptable, nor a friend’s child.

Mary eventually beats him up and he straight up apologizes. It did nothing for me as a reader. Stories with protagonists (anti-heroes) can be an intense and compelling read. But the way Guy Gardner is written doesn’t make him an anti-hero. It makes him a jerk who assaults women.

I thought I could get away with lending out the other issues from Classified, but in the next issue Guy Gardner is tempted to assault Power Girl… while she is asleep… and I’m pretty sure he was the one who magically knocked her out.

Both scenes were totally unnecessary. The plot would not have collapsed if these pages had been removed or included less disturbing content.

There was also a moment when Blue Beetle asks Booster Gold what his older wife sees in him. Nothing was said, but it was clear that it was physical. But it might not be clear to my friend’s 11 year old son. And I can only imagine him asking his Dad about it and then it just goes down hill from there.

I should point out that these issues were approved by the Comics Code Authority. It was towards the end of its existence and clearly long past it’s effectiveness.

Also, the books were not the greatest in bringing new readers up to speed on what was going on, which lead for a few moments of confusion.

Other than that (and I know that is a heavy bit of dissatisfaction), the books were good. The arc with Guy Gardner was actually pretty hilarious (absent the terrible things I just wrote about ).

Definitely worth the 70 cents an issue.

Will I read it to my children?

No surprises here. But I try not to over do it with censoring what they read. They’ll be able to read when they’re older and it will come with a conversation about what is wrong about how Guy Gardner was written.

 

 

Bargain Bin: Invincible Iron Man

Once I shied away from superhero titles, but now I’m on a quest to stretch my comic book budget further… (for a summary of that journey see this post.)

The Acquisition

I had looked for Iron Man lots on ebay for several weeks, but each auction was going for about $2/issue. While I wouldn’t object to paying that much, I pursued other bargains.

And then came a local comic book and toy convention. One stand was selling 15 comics for $10 and there was a large run of Iron Man. I took the 15 oldest titles they had and called it a day.

Not quite the 50 cent per issue standard that I seem to have settled on, but the fact that I considered the market value to be $2/issue made me feel like it was a good purchase. Plus, its still under $1/issue which is respectable… in certain circles. There are plenty of people in plenty of circles who would think any amount on comic books is a waste.

The run of 15 issues was from 197 – 216, with only one issue gaps. With current comic book prices, I would have only gotten 2 issues by spending the same amount on brand new titles.

My Familiarity With the Title

Mostly through Avengers titles that I acquired in my bargain hunting. In the issues where he was present, Tony Stark had developed a drinking problem and someone else (I presumed Rhodey) was in the Iron Man armor.

How were the Issues?

First off, they physically stunk. The moment I cracked the plastic I realized why they sold at such a bargain. Fortunately, it wasn’t a cigarette stench. Just musty. Probably the result of a previous owner storing them in a basement. I researched how to get rid of the smell and was relieved that there were a few techniques. What ultimately wound up working is that I switched their bags & boards. (Note this wasn’t even a technique I had found in my research).

Onto the stories… they were kind of all over the place. The run had some of the elements I love about comic books and plenty of the elements that were marks of lazy storytelling. What was especially surprising was that one issue consolidated both those extremes into one issue. I’m looking at you #202! I’m hoping to detail that emotional roller coaster in a different post.

But then there was issues #216, the last one in the run and wow was it one to end on! I refer to this as the issue of “No Ways”, because each time I turned a page to another plot twist I said “No Way!”

Not only was I lucky that I ended at #216, but in order to enjoy it I was lucky to start where I did. My run covered almost a two year time span in terms of publishing, and many of the story elements that build to #216 began around #175 from what I can tell from my (very lazy) internet research.

I found myself thinking that to get the amazing finale in 216 when it was released someone would have had to read the title for 2+ years!? No wonder story arcs are so much shorter now. With single issues priced as high as they are right now, no one has that type of patience. Then again, issues were written to take into account that many of the readers did not read consecutive issues. So there is a reasonable amount of retracing the story (admirably, not using flashbacks or making such light use of them that I cannot recall them). That is generally something that is lacking in the writing styles of current issues.

Some of the things that I felt detracted from the storytelling were:

  • The amount of time it took to read an issue. While I wasn’t timing myself, these definitely were close to 30 minutes. That’s fine. But a 30 minute comic book read needs to be flawless, and that just wasn’t the case.
  • The way Tony’s alcoholism was referenced. The characters reference this self destructive phase a lot, but in weird ways. The one that comes to mind is something like “back when I was pickling my brain with my alcohol problem.” I think another one could have been “drowning in cuckoo juice” or something to that effect. The point is that it trivializes the problem. This was pretty common in 1980’s storytelling across several formats. Sit-coms frequently had one episode dedicated to where a main character dealt with the demons of alcoholism for all of one episode. In TV time that might have been a week (the exception being Cheers whose introduced it’s main character as an alcoholic who owned a bar). Iron Man also borrows the idea that alcoholism is similar to nicotine addiction. It’s not. Neither are good, but alcoholism is far more complicated.
  • The various dialects in Rhodey’s dialogue are inconsistent and frequently cringe worthy.

Ultimately, I’m not sure I’ll be reading these again or even keeping them.

Will I read it to my children?

I’ve offered, but they weren’t interested. Which is funny, because Iron Man is the favorite of at least one of my boys.

Favorite Panels

At some point in my bargain reading I started taking pictures of panels that I thought I could sneak into a Facebook comment or two and look totally hip. Here are the panels I’m saving for the right occasion. (but I’m leaving out one from issue from 216 because its a spoiler).