Weekend Shorts: Put Your Hands Up!

Why, yes, it’s time for yet another round of “Read all the single issues lying around Alison’s house!” This is a super extra long post today because I have been reading ALL THE COMICS lately, so let’s just jump in, shall we?

Sparks Nevada, #3-4, by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and J. Bone
Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars #3Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars #4Okay, so, who even knows where we left off here, but we pick up in the midst of Sparks and Croach rescuing the Johnsons and Felton from what turns out to be a space bounty hunter who thinks that Mr. Johnson, the lemon farmer, is a highly dangerous alien outlaw. This seems suspicious to Sparks, but if you’ve been ’round these parts before, you know things are never quite what they seem. There’s varmints and fightin’ and shootin’ and snarky talkin’ and so much onus and some quick retconning to make sure it all fits in with the show continuity. I loved it, and I’m sad to realize there aren’t more to come! (Yet? Please?)

I don’t remember from the first two issues, but these issues are particularly interesting in the way they play with the panels, with lots of two-page spreads and inset panels and sometimes it worked, with the speech bubbles guiding me through the maze of panels, and sometimes it really didn’t and I had to read a page (or two pages) over again a couple times to figure out what the heck was going on. But it made for some very pretty pages, so I’m not complaining too much! More? Please??

Back to the Future, #3-5, by Bob Gale and various artists
Back to the Future #3Back to the Future #4Back to the Future #5I’m ever so thankful to this series for having self-contained issues. Instead of being like, where did I leave off here, I can just say, hey, five cute little stories! Win!

In these three issues, we get our stories in the form of Marty’s parents seeking some relationship intervention from Marty but getting Doc instead, future Biff taking that almanac back to young Biff, Marty learning to stand up for himself (and getting the girl in the process), Doc visiting the future for the first time, and Doc and family preparing to travel… back to the future. Haaa. As always, they’re not the greatest comic stories ever written, but they are fun and well-drawn and catnip for Back to the Future-lovers like myself.

If I remember right, these issues were supposed to be the end of a little mini-series run, but then people bought so many they decided to make more! I’ve got issue #6 waiting for my next round of catch-up, so we’ll have to see if and how they change the setup.

Survivors’ Club #1, by Lauren Beukes and Dale Halvorsen
Survivors' Club #1I picked this comic up back in October with a couple other spooky Hallowe’en-y picks in a fit of RIP inspiration. I wonder if it would have seemed spookier if I had read it back then…

The premise of this series, it seems, is that there’s a mysterious list of mostly dead people, and one of the “survivors” on that list rounds up the other still alive people to try to figure out what’s up. She thinks that everything is related to an equally mysterious video game whose current incarnation is making people, including the survivors, go a little (or a lot) crazy. I didn’t really understand what was going on, and even the extra-creepy little end bit wasn’t enough to make me wish I had more issues handy. This is something I might check out if it ends up in my library, but probably not any sooner.

Descender #1-2, by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen
Descender #1Descender #2This series, on the other hand, had me super hooked. I had the first issue in my pile of things to read, and then I read it and I was like WHERE IS MORE and then I remembered that I had bought the second issue sort of accidentally and may have said “Hooray!” out loud. As you do. And now I need all the other issues. To the comics shop!

I wasn’t too sure starting out, though, as there is a Bad Thing that happens at the beginning that is not super well explained and then we flash forward ten years and several planets away and I was like wait, what? But then there’s this kid who’s been asleep for 10 years and everyone else on his planet is dead and I’m like, wait, seriously, what? but then of course he’s a robot and that makes more sense. Anyway, so, there’s this robot kid with a robot dog alone on a mining outpost, and he gets attacked by mercenaries but something something awesome robot fighting and in between there’s some flashbacks to how this robot came to be out here in the boonies and also there’s some stuff about a scientist back in the first place whatever ROBOT BOY. I love it. I can’t help myself.

Weekend Shorts: Comics in Space and also Ghosts

We’ve got a space spoof, a space western spoof, and an incredibly sarcastic horror spoof in the lineup today. Clearly I am taking this weekend very seriously. How about you?

Galaxy Quest: The Journey Continues, #3-4, by Erik Burnham and Nacho Arranz
Galaxy Quest #3Galaxy Quest #4So, yeah, after last time I was not exactly in a rush to finish off this series, even though it’s been sitting in my house staring at me for a while now. I just thought, you know, if I don’t read it, it might be good! But I needn’t have worried, as apparently this mini-series should have just been three issues instead of four, kicking out that terrible second one.

In the third issue, we get right down to it, showing up at the alien planet, making some wisecracks about science fiction conventions (not… not like cons, but like, tropes and stuff), and fighting a giant alien monster. Woo fighting alien monsters! It’s all very exciting and also a little super gross. In the fourth issue, our heroes finally make it to the thing they’re supposed to destroy and, spoilers, destroy the heck out of it. But with style! Lots of style, and wisecracks. Style, wisecracks, and potentially terrible mistakes. And then there’s a not-quite-cliffhanger at the end to pave the way for future issues.

I have to say, except for that terrible second issue, this was really super delightful. I love Galaxy Quest and many of the things it spoofs, and if you do, too, there’s no way to go wrong with this. But I’m thinking if another mini-run shows up at the comic store, I might hold off until the trade shows up. Those filler issues are rough!

Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars, #2: “The Sad, Sad Song of Widow Johnson, Part Two”, by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and J. Bone
Sparks Nevada #2Let’s be real, I love Sparks Nevada (and Sparks Nevada) and this issue could have been just him saying “I’m…. from earth” in every panel and I would be stupidly amused. But this was even better than that!

We pick up with Sparks’s party turned to glass and the bad guys chasing after him and Croach while also striving to be respectful of Mars’s culture and natural features. So considerate! There’s bad guy infighting, careful onus calculation, a trip through the never-before-mentioned (or possibly I wasn’t paying attention) Martian underground cities, trampolines, and some weird Martian planet thing that is, according to Sparks, sogross. Poor, poor Sparks.

Beyond Belief, #1: “The Donna Party”, by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and Phil Hester
Beyond Belief #1Woo! It’s finally time to send the little ones to dreamland and see what those lovely Doyles actually look like! Unsurprisingly, Sadie looks rather like Paget Brewster, but it only now occurs to me how completely incongruous it is that she and Frank, perpetually dressed to the nines and carrying martini glasses, would be fighting ghosts. You’d think Sadie’d at least change into a comfy pair of pants or something.

But, regardless, they take their natty selves where they are needed, and in this issue they are needed at the home of Sadie’s friend Donna, who has moved into a house that is absolutely delightful except for the part where it’s haunted. Frank and Sadie arrive to discover a host of creepy-pants dolls ready to have a never-ending tea party with them, but of course they figure out the root of the problem and send one poor, beleaguered spirit and his slightly crazy spirit wife back to where they belong. Then there’s a little lead in to what might be the next issue, which will be weird if it’s true because the podcast story is mostly self-contained. We shall see…

And, as in the first Sparks Nevada issue, there is an extra issue #0 tacked on to tell the story of how Frank and Sadie met, which I must admit was a little strange and underwhelming. I much prefer their vomit-inducingly adorable current relationship to any other way they might ever have acted, so I’m gonna stick with it.

Weekend Shorts: Sparks Nevada and Galaxy Quest

Spark Nevada: Marshal on Mars, #1: “The Sad, Sad Song of Widow Johnson, Part One” by Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, and J. Bone
Sparks Nevada #1Kids, shine your astro-spurs and don your robot fists! It’s time to finally see Sparks Nevada in action! Squee!

I have mentioned before in this space my love of The Thrilling Adventure Hour and especially “Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars”. It is amazing and wonderful and hilarious, and as soon as I heard that I could get it in comic form I grabbed it from my local shop, where the counter dude was like, “I don’t even know what this is.” Oh, counter dude, you are missing out.

In this issue we get to see Sparks in action way back before the start of the podcast, when it was just him and Mercury riding the plains of the fourth planet together, protecting this time Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and the ever-paranoid Felton on their trip back from one of Mars’s moons. Everything’s going fine until the Martians show up, deposit Croach with the party, and then skedaddle, with only the explanation that some bad guys are on their way. Sparks thinks he’s got everything covered, but of course he ends up needing Croach’s help and we end in the middle of a fight with a rather large gang of outlaws. Thank goodness it’s not the end of Sparks Nevada!

Also in this issue, an issue 0 depicting the event that brought Croach under onus to Sparks, annoying both of them for all time. Squee again!

I love how faithful this book is to the speaking style of the show’s actors. You’d think pauses and stutters and interruptions would be hard to translate but it’s done perfectly. I had the actors’ voices in my head the whole time and it never sounded odd. I’m not sure how it will read to someone who’s never heard the show before, but really you should be listening to the show so it’s a moot point. Also awesome are the illustrations — I love that Sparks is rocking an Eleventh Doctor haircut and that I finally get to find out what Croach looks like! I cannot wait to see how this series plays with the show’s world. I’ll find out next time!

Galaxy Quest: The Journey Continues #2, by Eric Burnham and Nacho Arranz
Galaxy Quest #2Speaking of things I have previously squeed about

I said last time that if all four issues of this mini-series were as awesome as the first, I’d be quite pleased. Sadly, this second issue is almost not at all awesome. Galaxy Quest what are you doing to me?!

We left off last time with a threat to the cast of our favorite space drama, and we pick up right there, with Jason staring down his lizardman double. But instead of instant action, we get this weird conversation between the two of them recapping the first issue (OF FOUR, I might remind you), and then like three punches and then the cast are roped into coming with the lizardman to help him defeat his enemies? Or something? I don’t know. They get a fancy spaceship and they leave behind a bunch of lizardmen clones to take their places on Earth, so I’m sure there’s going to be a broken spaceship and some interesting new relationships at the end of all this. Issue #3, you’d better step up your game!

The Martian, by Andy Weir

The MartianYou and I, we’ve known each other a while (unless you’re new here, in which case, hi! and, uh, prepare for swears ahead), and I think you generally know how I feel about things. So I hope it’s safe to say that you know what I was thinking when I saw the first lines of this book:

“I’m pretty much fucked.
That’s my considered opinion.

If you guessed anything other than “SOLD SOLD SOLD” or at least “…tell me more”, then, well, you should go explore the archives!

If you yourself are thinking “…tell me more”, then read on, because I’m going to oblige!

The Martian, as the name implies, is the story of a dude on Mars. Why is he on Mars? Well, he was part of the third manned mission to Mars, which was going swell until a huge storm blew in, knocked everything around a bunch, and caused the mission to abort. Everybody got back in the capsule except for our hero, Mark Watney, who was knocked out and, according to his malfunctioning equipment, dead. Except, of course, he wasn’t, and now he’s stuck on Mars indefinitely, with only vitamins, water, and a handful of Thanksgiving potatoes to sustain him while he works out a plan to get home.

Are you excited yet? Because I am still super excited, and I have already read this book. In fact, in going back to look up details for this post, I found myself starting to read the book all over again, because, spoiler, I absolutely loved it.

The book is told primarily from Watney’s perspective via his log entries, written partially for himself and partially for whoever might find them in the future and therefore full of technical science-y things (which seem plausible enough and I so don’t care if they’re not) but also full of swears and emotions. Interspersed with the entries are third-person chapters detailing what is happening back on Earth and on the spaceship with the rest of the crew and sometimes what is happening to Watney when he is not writing log entries.

It was, for me, a very tense reading experience because I read it only on my breaks at work and so had to wait hours between entries, usually with something terrible having just happened to Watney, because, you know, stuck on Mars.

Luckily, Watney is a Space MacGyver, and really a lot of my enjoyment of the novel came from imagining this dude on Mars cutting apart millions of dollars of NASA equipment (including Pathfinder!) and duct-taping it back together, or combining hydrogen and oxygen together to make water with some explosive results, all the while explaining how this could totally work (again, don’t care if it couldn’t!). The rest of my enjoyment came from Watney’s personality, which is just the right combination of snarky and serious to match how I think I would feel, were I a super-smart astronaut suddenly given what is likely the rest of my life to explore Mars. I am totally Team Watney.

I loved this book so hard, from beginning all the way through to the exciting ending and even into the less-exciting, wrap-everything-up ending, which is brief enough that we can just pretend it never happened, right? Good. That’s what we’re doing, then. I loved this book from beginning to end, and from the beginning all over again just now. If I don’t just read the whole thing a second time, maybe I’ll go check out the other stories at Weir’s fantastically old-school website, which include Sherlock Holmes AND Doctor Who fanfiction? Uh, ‘scuse me guys, I gotta go. Be back… soon?

Recommendation: For fans of space and potentially totally made-up science and snarky dudes.

Rating: 10/10

A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

A Princess of MarsLike Three Cups of Tea, this is a book I was never going to read. I hadn’t heard of it until John Carter, the movie based on it, came out and my interweb neighborhood was all, “Seriously, do you know what the name of this book is?” And I was like, “Seriously, I do not care about this book or this movie.” But then the book was offered free on the Kindle app, and I apparently cared enough to download it just in case, and then my place of employment gave me a first-gen iPad to play with for some reason so I decided to give it a shot as my first e-reader larger than my phone, using this nice short book that I could stop reading if the experience was terrible.

So first, the reading experience: not nearly as bad as I expected. I couldn’t read for more than maybe 20 minutes at a time, but that was perfect for those “got a few minutes before I have to go somewhere” times. I also couldn’t read in the dark for more than maybe two minutes, because dang that screen is bright even on its dimmest setting and with a black background, but hey, that’s why they invented lamps, yes? I would probably not read a long book or one that requires a lot of focus, but it will probably be useful for catching up with my short stories and classic sci-fi and all that.

Second, the book: also better than I expected! A win! It reminds me of the only other sci-fi book I’ve read from that general time period, The Time Machine, in that it goes real fast and doesn’t spend a lot of time on pesky characterization.

I can definitely see why they made an action movie out of this book, as I would say that the best-described scenes are the ones in which John Carter, with his Superman-like jumping abilities, beats the crap out of various Martian dudes. There’s also a Gladiator-like scene, and a fight with an aircraft, and basically there’s lots of fighting and that’s pretty cool.

The parts that aren’t fighting are much much less exciting. There’s, like, John Carter learning how to speak Martian in an absurdly small amount of time, and JC and the Martians (the name of my next band) wandering around Mars a while. And for all that those people were like, “Dudes, it’s called A Princess of Mars, let’s deal with that,” the very few scenes involving said princess are the boringest. She’s all, I’m a princess! He’s all, I like you but don’t understand Martian customs enough to tell you appropriately! She’s all, I can’t believe you just made that huge faux pas that I know you didn’t understand but I’m going to give you the silent treatment anyway! He’s all, fine, whatever, I didn’t want to talk to you anyway! I’m all, let’s get back to the beating of people!

There’s also vaguely political statements that may have been more sensational in 1917, I don’t know, and the usual amount of casual sexism and racism for the time, and a really really dumb ending that would have resulted in flying paper if I had been reading a print copy of this book. I just don’t even.

So baaaasically, this is the perfect kind of book to read when you don’t want to think too much and you’d like to imagine people getting hit and sworded and shot and all that. Just don’t tell me if that’s your default setting. 🙂

Rating: 6/10

Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson (21 February — 28 February)

Hmm. I read this book because Scott read it last summer on his trip to China and he said it was pretty good. But. I started reading it and it was not. He claimed that it got better (insert Monty Python joke here), so I buckled down and kept going. It certainly did get better… after the first 300 pages. Of 571. And then some of those remaining pages were also bad. But not all of them.

The story itself is a long-winded affair about the colonization of Mars, at first by a small group of Russians, Americans, and various other nationalities, and then by the rest of Earth. At the very beginning you read about one of the first hundred killing another, and you’re like, “Whoa! Crazy! Why did that happen?” and Robinson tells you IN EXCRUCIATING DETAIL, starting with the selection of the colonists several years earlier. There are also a lot of weird tangents about areology (the study of Mars) and psychology that are interesting to a point, but a) have nothing to do with the plot and b) read more like a journal article than a novel.

When the action picks up and the story goes back to the whole someone-getting-killed thing it’s fairly well done, but other than that it’s a snooze.

Rating: 4/10
(Chunkster Challenge)