“Comico, Ergo Sum”

Title: Superhero Thought Experiments:
Comic Book Philosophy
Authors: Chris Gavaler & Nathaniel Goldberg
Genre: Philosophy
Pages: 202 (plus citations, etc.)
Rating: 4.5 of 5
(Thank you to the authors and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of the review)

It’s Superman vs. Batman: consequentialism vs. deontology! Within these pages you will find this and other astounding speculations as our intrepid authors perform feats of daring philosophy.

Okay, this isn’t actually a high-action book, but if you enjoy philosophy it’s a lot of fun. Gavaler and Goldberg treat superhero comic as thought experiments to explore the nature of doing good, existence, time, identity, communication, etc. (or morality, metaphysics, meaning, and medium if you prefer the alliteration of their section titles). Fodder for philosophizing includes Bizarro world, Dr. Doom’s time machine, Scarlet Witch’s imaginary twins, retcons & reboots, and much more. To me, the first three sections that focus on characters and stories were much more interesting than the last section that focused on comic books as a medium.

If you’re the kind of person who when confronted with someone asking “how do I know I’m really here?” gets annoyed by anything more theoretical than pinching/punching them and asking “did that hurt,” this isn’t the book for you. If you enjoy thought experiments and speculating on the nature of life, the universe, and everything give this a shot.

The Zealot & The Sociopath

Title: Vicious
(Villains – Book 1)
Author: V. E. Schwab
Genre: Superhero/Supervillain Sci-Fi
Pages: 365
Rating: 4 of 5

If you enjoy antihero or supervillain-as-protagonist stories, this book is a must read! I won’t comment much on the plot because V. E. Schwab presents the story in a non-linear manner that slowly reveals what is going on, and that slow revelation is half the fun. Suffice it to say that this occurs in a world that contains people with X-Men-like powers (though not from mutation).

Both of our main characters are, as the title states, vicious in their own way. Neither is particularly sympathetic, but their ambition and rivalry make for a great story (and one of them has a little bit more of a “you should be cheering for this one” vibe).

Occasionally I wondered “why don’t they just use their power to [fill in the blank] and solve this problem right now?” but I think that’s a common plot difficulty with any story involving overpowered supers. If you can do the suspend-disbelief-and-ignore-a-few-plot-holes to enjoy a superhero movie, this is a lot of fun. The ending was satisfactory and tied up enough loose ends to be considered stand-alone while allowing for future stories in the same world with at least some of the same characters.

Vengeful (Villains Book 2) by [Schwab, V. E.]Title: Vengeful
(Villains – Book 2)
Author: V. E. Schwab
Genre: Superhero/Supervillain Sci-Fi
Pages: 478
Rating: 3.5 of 5

Speaking of which…this was an okay followup to Vicious. Throw a couple more nasty EO’s into the mix, make last time’s “you should be cheering for this one” sociopath even less sympathetic, give a lot more background on last time’s bad guy (worse guy?), end on an even bigger bang than last time, and you have this book.

The events of the story flows naturally out of what happened in the first book and add some interesting elements and characters. However, it is a bit harder to discern a central plot, and the wrap-up leaves quite a few loose ends. It is clearly intended as a setup for one or more sequels, and I personally find that annoying. I didn’t dislike the book as a whole, but the scattery plot, increasingly psychopathic characters, and partially unresolved ending meant it didn’t wow me like the first one.

Not My Usual, but Fun

Title: The Flash: Starting Line
(Issues #0-12 plus Annual #1)
Author: Brian Buccellato
Illustrator: Francis Manapul
Genre: Superhero Comic Book
Pages: 344
Rating: 3.5 of 5
(Thank you to the authors and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of the review)

Even though I enjoy superhero movies, I’ve been a bit annoyed by comic books the couple times I’ve tried to dip into them. For me, there’s just not enough plot per issue, and crossover plot points from other heroes leave you with the choice of spending more money on other titles or having only a vague idea of what is going on. This format does away with some of that, and I quite enjoyed it. With all the issues for the year bundled together, the “artificial cliffhanger after minimal exposition followed by a month-long wait” annoyance wasn’t there, and there were no major plot points that hinged on knowing something from another title. An acquaintance with Flash and his recurring villains would add to the experience, but a newbie would not be lost or frustrated.

The stories themselves fairly skillfully combined origins & explanation of the Flashverse (if that’s a word) kind of plotlines with regular superhero fare (foiling bad guys, balancing romance and secret identity, etc.). The artwork wasn’t bad, but did feature more talking head panels than I was expecting. Honestly, since I’m not a comic connoisseur, I don’t know how it stacks up against similar efforts. Overall, I’m probably not the usual audience for this book, but it was fun.

5 Mini-Reviews

I’m on vacation…I have two whole weeks off from having to prepare for Bible studies, sermons, counseling sessions, etc., so my brain has gone into “idle” and refuses to write any full reviews (to say nothing of Grandma’s slow/unreliable internet connection). However, I’ve been reading some interesting stuff so here are five mini-reviews:

Image result for book cover miseryTitle: Misery
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Psychological Horror
Pages: 339
Rating: 4 of 5

Author Paul Sheldon is “rescued” from a car accident by his “number one fan,” and held captive while he is forced to write a sequel to his most recent potboiler. The spectacularly unstable Annie Wilkes demonstrates that psychotic human behavior can be more terrifying than anything supernatural. As is usual with Stephen King, I’m not a fan of the profanity (though Annie uses silly/cutesy faux-curses), but that man can write!

Title: Inferno
Authors: Larry Niven & Jerry Pournell
Genre: Horror / Retelling
Pages: 237
Rating: 2.5 of 5

Allen Carpentier, a sci-fi writer (who is an agnostic), dies in a stupid drunken accident and awakes in what appears to be hell as described by Danté. There, he meets Benito who conducts him through the “nine circles of hell” in an effort to leave the same way Danté did. Along the way, Carpentier tries to figure out “what’s really going on,” sees some clever modern updates to “classic sins,” and explores a theology that is equal parts atheistic “God is a moral monster” argument, C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, and Rob Bell’s Love Wins. B+ for creativity, D- for theology.

Title: Gwendy’s Button Box
Author: Stephen King & Richard Chizmar
Genre: Horror/Weird
Pages: 180 (with a lot of blank space & illustrations)
Rating: 4.5 of 5

This short book falls more into the “weird” category than actual horror. It could be seen as a sort of twist on the story of Pandora’s Box…only this box comes with sinister buttons (especially the big black one) and a couple nice levers. This isn’t high action and doesn’t provide nice neat answers at the end, but it’s an excellent example of “the weird.”

Title: Wayne of Gotham
Author: Tracy Hickman
Genre: Superhero
Pages: 304
Rating: 2 of 5

This story digs into the background of Thomas Wayne (Bruce Wayne’s father) and dirties him up a bit. I’m only a casual Batman fan so I don’t know how well it fits with “canon” (poorly, I suspect). Continuity/canonicity issues aside, it just wasn’t a very good book; the author obsessively describes Batman’s tech (even in the middle of action scenes), mentions Batman’s advancing age and slowing reflexes every few pages, and somehow manages to make Batman boring.

Title: Trouble Is My Business
Author: Raymond Chandler
Genre: Hardboiled Detective
Pages: 224
Rating: 4.5 of 5

I love noir/hardboiled detective stories, and Chandler is one of the best (only Hammett is on the same level). The four (longish) short stories in this volume all feature his iconic detective, Philip Marlowe. Marlowe doesn’t seem to be as well developed in these stories as in his full length novels (he seems a little less snarky and well-read here), but this is still well worth reading.