May 2012

Collects Avengers vol. 3 #36–40, 56, Avengers: Ultron Imperative, and Annual 2001


Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artists: Steve Epting, Al Vey, Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, Yanick Paguette, Ray Snyder, Ivan Reis, Scott Hanna

Issues 36 and 37 have a two issue story where our heroes deal with two threats.
“No Rest for the Weary” starts with Iron Man, Ms. Marvel, and the Vision dealing with the aftermath of Maximum Security, in other words, a high powered alien who is still loose on the Earth. Hank is testing Wonder Man but he can’t find a way to protect Simon from being taken over by Neferia again. Wanda doesn’t like the way that Hank is all cold and scientific about it, and then Jan talks to Hank about the same thing; about how withdrawn Hank has been lately. Also the Triathlon/Triune Understanding subplots are developed. 3-D Man’s wife comes to the Mansion and accuses the Triune of doing something horrible to her husband because Triathlon has the 3-D Man’s powers and uses his symbol. However, Triathlon hasn’t heard about that hero but promises to look into it.

Then both Pagan and Lord Templar attack. Apparently, Lord Templar has turned Pagan into his disciple and is convinced that the Avengers are all that stand on the way of Lord Templar’s plan to bring peace on Earth. Guest stars Photon and Jack of Hearts join the fray. Then Cap calls and says that he needs help in Slorenia. And Yellowjacket Hank kidnaps Giant-Man Hank!

In “Scorched Earth” Cap, Wanda, Simon, Monica, and Tony are trying to figure out to a way to battle the Bloodwraith who is connected to all the dead souls in Slorenia whom Ultron killed in earlier issues. Bloodwraith is in unidentified energy form and he intends to punish the whole world for their deaths. Meanwhile, in New York Pagan and Lord Templar are tearing the Mansion apart while the Wasp, the Vision, Triathlon, Ms. Marvel, and Jack of Hearts are battling them. Giant-Man joins the fight and his mood has improved a lot – of course, because he’s an impostor!

I enjoyed the divided team but there’s so much going on that the latter issue is starting to feel crowded. However, both of the threats are old Avengers business coming to bite them again. Not surprisingly, Cap feels frustrated about the situation in the end.

In “Above and Beyond” the Avengers expand their teams and the way they’ve operated so far. For starters, Cap and the Wasp are now co-leaders. Instead of responding to threats, which they also do of course, they send a team (the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Triathlon, Ms. Marvel, and Wonder Man) after the Taskmaster’s training groups. They also have an early warning platform in space which is manned by Quasar and the Living Lighting with Photon popping in every now and then. The Black Knight and Firebird are in Slorenia looking into Bloodwraith’s situation. Carol and Vision go finally on a date. And then the government liaison contacts the Avengers: a horde of Hulks is decimating a small Greek village.

Oh, and Wanda gets a new costume. It’s much more practical than the flowing skirts.

In “Condition: Green” and “Thoom!” the main Avengers team (Cap, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, the Wasp, Giant-Man, the Vision, Iron Man, and Ms. Marvel) battle the many Hulks in Greece. Dr. Banner also shows up to help. Meanwhile, the villain responsible for the Hulks, the Wizard, is skulking around near the Avengers’ Mansion and Silverclaw confronts him. Later, Wonder Man and Triathlon help her.

This was just cheesy fun and I really enjoyed these two issues! Silverclaw gets to really shine with her shape shifting abilities against the Wizard and she has a lot of courage to take on such a long-time villain. On the other hand, I didn’t really care for the way that the (fake!) Hank took over leading the Avengers by not telling his plans to the Wasp before executing them. The Wasp is supposed to be the team leader, after all. She was curiously hesitant around him and unfortunately it also felt weird, or should I say dumb, that she didn’t suspect that Hank had been replaced or mind controlled or from another universe or something.

Issue 56 “Lo, there shall be an… accounting” might be worth a few giggles but it’s otherwise quite forgettable. A couple of accountants from the Maria Stark Foundation are quizzing various Avengers about a case they had because the accountants have to know if all the destruction (and so the use of money) was necessary. One of the accountants is new and apparently would prefer for the Avengers to retire and let Kang or Thanos or somebody to rule the world instead. The other one is more experienced, though. Thor, She-Hulk, the Beast, USAgnet, Cap, and Jack of Hearts tell their own sides of the case.

Annual 2001 solves the two Hank Pyms plot line. Yellowjacket-Hank collapses and is turning translucent. The Avengers’ regular doctor, Dr. Foster, can’t do anything about it. Hank tells Jan about the other Hank who is being kept as a prisoner in The Horner Hideaway, right on the Avengers’ front yard. Triathlon suggests that Hank has been split into two (instead of being a doppelganger or alternate universe double or… Good guess!) and that the Triune Understanding’s Tremont can heal them into one man again. Janet is out of options and so she asks Tremont for help. He agrees. We get to see the two Hanks talking through their issues in some sort of mental space.

Meanwhile Photon and Triathlon bond. Triathlon still feels out of place because he’s the new guy while the others are old friends and Photon, who has been the new member once, too, tells him that in time he will fit in just fine. They also talk about being black in a white man’s world.

Photon also finds out that Justice and Firestar aren’t on vacation but undercover at Understanding. They’ve found out that the Understanding is waiting for some great evil to come from space and they are building a spaceship which will either work on brain energy or kill everyone. They are concerned.

The Hank plot line is solved here with three Hanks merging into one. Hopefully, Hank’s behavior will be less erratic in the future.

The annual also had short story “House Cleaning” where Jarvis answers queries from the government (actually from the readers, presumably). The three Tony Starks plot line, which emerged right before Onslaught is explained; apparently, the Tony who killed three women doesn’t really exist anymore even though the current Tony has some memories of the time. Also, Janet turning into a giant insect right before Onslaught but returning as regular Janet was explained; Franklin Richards recreated the heroes from his memories which “fixed” Janet – and Clint’s hearing problems, too.

(Yep, a bit a of cop out for Marvel dropping plots without any awkward consequences.)

The Annual tied up the Hank plot line and I really enjoyed the many Hulks story (in fact, I’ve used it in a table-top role playing game and we had a blast). However, I was less thrilled with the way that Janet, the presumed team leader was sidelined.

The collection is a continuation of previous story line and not a good place to start for new readers.

The first book in the Blood series.

Publication year: 1991
Format: print
Page count: 272 in the Blood Books, volume 1
Publisher: DAW

Victoria “Vicky” Nelson is a former cop and now a private investigator. She loved her job as a homicide detective and was in a tumultuous relationship with her fellow cop Mike Celluci. However, she has an eye disease called reginitis pigmentosa which has already destroyed her night vision and peripheral vision, and caused nearsightedness. In time, she might go blind. The disease forced her to leave her job. She still knows people in the force, though, which comes in handy.

A murderer is stalking Toronto and the papers have dubbed him (or her) a vampire because the victims have been found with their throats torn and blood drained. Vicky stumbles into the latest killing in a subway but manages only to catch a glimpse of the killer, and she doesn’t trust her failing eyes. Later, the first victim’s young girlfriend, Coreen, wants to hire Vicky to catch the murderer. Coreen is convinced that the killer is a real vampire. Vicky hesitates but takes the case.

Henry Fitzroy is a vampire hiding among humanity. He’s convinced that the killer is a newly made vampire who isn’t being taught properly and he wants to find both the new vampire and his (or her) maker. Of course, his detective work is limited to nights.

Henry is the bastard son of Henry VIII, over 450 years old, and we get see flashback from his long life. I really enjoyed them. Henry remembers most of them because something in the present reminds him about the past (similar to the Highlander series). He’s a romance writer and there are brief snatches of his current work.

The Blood books were written twenty years ago, before the big surge in the vampire paranormal romance books. Huff manages to make Henry a sympathetic protagonist but not a glittering romance hero. While Henry requires human blood to survive, he doesn’t have to kill to get it. In fact, he seems to enjoy gently biting his partner in the middle of sex and drinking a little so that she (or he as it’s hinted in a small scene that Henry’s bisexual, though he seems to prefer women) doesn’t even notice. Also, Henry is a Catholic and religious items and places don’t bother him.

Vicki is an independent woman who isn’t afraid to use violence when she has to. She’s also a skilled investigator and uses her connections to the police. She feels like she has to prove to herself and everyone else that she can still do her job. This makes her forceful, angry, and driven.

The third major POV character is Norman Birdwell, a student at the local York University. He doesn’t have any friends and feels that the others just laugh at him (which they do). He’s out to get respect for himself. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very interesting character but of course he’s very realistic.

The plot is a pretty basic mystery with engaging characters. I enjoyed Vicki and Henry, and the fact that they both already had lovers and weren’t just waiting to meet each other. I was less impressed by the relationship Vicki and Mike had; they screamed at each other and then fell to bed.

A fun, quick read.

1. Chapter 6 begins with Richard chanting the mantra, “I want to go home”. How do you feel about Richard and his reactions at this point to the unexpected adventure he finds himself on?

I feel sorry for him. He’s been thrust into a very dangerous situation without knowing anything about it and just because he wanted to help Door. He’s lost his whole life because of that act of kindness.

But then at the Ordeal of the Key it seems that his meeting with Door and all the rest are “meant to be”; that fate or a higher power has arranged the whole thing. Unfortunately, I don’t really care for that type of story.

2. The Marquis de Carabas was even more mysterious and cagey during the first part of this week’s reading. What were your reactions to him/thoughts about him as you followed his activities?

He clearly had his own agenda. The world of London Below isn’t a happy place so it felt to me that the Marquis’ plotting has to be something sinister. And then Door’s father calls him a monster and in Door’s memories we see the Marquis doing something which I interpreted as slavery or perhaps pimping.

3. How did you feel about the Ordeal of the Key?

I didn’t remember it from my previous reading so it was a surprise. I didn’t know what to expect. It seems very fitting and fairy tale like, especially when combined with the previous tasks, of fighting skill and wit. The Ordeal itself is also fitting for Richard who is being torn between Above and Below, and is constantly pointing out that people and events around him can’t exist even though they do. It’s also easy to see how Richard could fail the test by relying on “common sense” that London Below doesn’t really exist but it’s instead insane hallucinations. Unfortunately, the Ordeal is also very convenient test for him. So it’s great that it ends with Richard finding the bead and is starting to really believe in the Below and the people in it.

4. This section of the book is filled with moments. Small, sometimes quite significant, moments that pass within a few pages but stick with you. What are one or two of these that you haven’t discussed yet that stood out to you, or that you particularly enjoyed.

Near the start of this section in the British Museum Door explains to Richard that the people in London Above simply don’t see the people in the London Below. Yet, Richard was able to see Door before he became one of the people from Below.

The discussion between the Marquis, Croup, and Vandemar when we realize that the Marquis isn’t going to betray Door.

Oh, and the monster in the Gap was great!

A stand-alone SF novel.

Publication year: 1962
Format: Audio
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Narrator: Kevin Foley
Running Time: 8 hrs and 20 minutes

William “Will” Halloway and James “Jim” Nightshade are best friends and live in the Green Town. They meet a lighting rod salesman who predicts that a storm is coming. Sure enough, that same night several men in the village sense that something is coming. They smell cotton candy and licorice in the wind. Then Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show comes to town. At first the boys are eager to explore the carnival’s rides and shows. However, soon they find out that a horrible evil lurks in the carnival wanting to corrupt everyone it meets.

Will and Jim are twelve years old. They run and play in the town and find excuses not to go to school. But when they are faced with the carnival’s evil, they think that they are helpless; they’re just kids in adults’ world and nobody will believe what they say.

In addition to Will and Jim, Will’s father Charles is a major character. He’s a janitor in the library and has a tendency to wax philosophical about life and the nature of good and evil. At first the boys are very reluctant to tell him what is going on, but when they tell Charles, he turns out to be very useful. At the start of the book, Will and Charles aren’t very close; Charles is jealous of Will because of the boy’s youth. But they grow closer during the story.

Bradbury’s writing style is very chatty especially when he describes Charles’ thoughts. This might feel pompous and can slow down the story.

Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with the characters at all. Technically, the book is very good but to me it didn’t have any emotional impact.

Foley is mostly a good narrator. Unfortunately, he makes a high, whining voice for the boys and that started to grate on my nerves quickly.

Writers: Kurt Busiek and Fabien Nicieza
Artists: George Perez, Dick Giordand, Al Vey, Mark Bagley, Al Milgrom

Collects Avengers vol. 3 #31–34, Thunderbolts #42–44
Publisher: Marvel
Publication date: 2004

This collection deals with Madame Masque and her father Count Nefaria who is one of the Avengers’ most powerful enemies. It deals with a lot of back story for Iron Man and his relationship with Madame Masque so it’s not a good starting place for new readers, at all. Busiek’s stories often use Avengers’ rich history but these issues use it even more. Furthermore, all of the issues also continue story lines from both Thunderbolts and Avengers so unfortunately the collection doesn’t really work on its own.

Avengers issue 31 starts with the Vision’s return. He’s been absent from the Avengers for several issues. The Vision asks the team to help with Maggia because his “brother” the Grim Reaper is involved with it and the team agrees. During the battle, Madame Masque’s head seems to explode but Iron Man is convinced that she isn’t dead. He’s right, of course.

Meanwhile, Hank Pym is going through tests because his Giant-Man powers were in a flux in the previous adventure. They seem to be okay now but Iron Man is concerned over Hank’s mental health. We’re also shown who is the mysterious figure who has been following the Avengers: Yellowjacket alias Hank Pym! The Avengers’ main computer also recognizes him as Hank. He’s shown in later issue just having fun (drinking and brawling which is very unHank like behavior) and plotting something but that isn’t resolved in this collection.

In the Thunderbolts 42, Simon attacks the ionic powered Thunderbolt Atlas. However, most of the issue deals with Dallas Riordan whose mystery has been confusing the Thunderbolts for quite a while. Unfortunately, this is pretty irrelevant to anyone not already familiar with the comic.

The rest of the collection reveals Madame Masque’s secrets and the Thunderbolts (minus Moonstone who is having her own issues in a subplot) and the Avengers (together with reservists She-Hulk, the Black Widow, and Cap) unite against Count Nefaria and his pawns Wonder Man and Atlas. The two teams part as grudging allies which isn’t a huge surprise.

Unfortunately, this collection feels disjointed with various unresolved subplots from two different comics and lot of back story from Iron Man. Starting with Avengers 32, Paul Vey’s style is taking over the art and George Perez left the book with Avengers 34. He’s a great artist and I’ll miss his style.

Booking Through Thursday

Do you have any pet that has a name inspired by your readings?

If not, what would you pick if you DID?

Do any of your friends have book-based names for their pets? (Or their children?)

When I was a teenager, I had a German Shepard. I named her Kara after Supergirl.

A stand-alone science fiction book.

Publication year: 2002
Format: print
Page count: 422
Publisher: TOR

Jayachanda Nihalani, Jaya, is the daughter of a conjurer, a scam artist who preyed on the gullibility of the poor and desperate people around him. He claimed that his magical powers came for the gods and the people wanted to believe him. However, Jaya could really hear voices from someone or something outside herself and her father made use of that, too, and Jaya became known as Jaya Devi. Then Jaya got involved in a civil war, supporting the side who didn’t want the old Indian caste system to come back. Her side lost.

Now, years after her father’s death Jaya is suffering from a debilitating disease called Selengue and a creature appears whom Jaya at first thinks is a goddess but it claims to be a rakasha, a demon. However, it turns out that the creature is neither, but an alien who has come to Earth to make the planet part of a vaster interstellar empire. The empire seeded the Earth long ago and now considers the planet and the people its property. Jaya is the first Receiver who is able to hear the alien depth ship in orbit. The alien Ir Yth doesn’t seem to care about Earth or the cultures on the planet. However, then another alien arrives, Sirru, who might be more interested on Earth. Jaya hopes that the aliens might be able to cure the disease but don’t know if she can trust them.

Jaya’s country, India in 2030, has suffered under various conquerors and Jaya is very skeptical about the aliens. She knows that colonizers bring disease and suffering. Her caste, the untouchables, are already suffering from the Selenge which even the Westerners can’t cure.

In this near future story, India has brought back the caste system. People who have been used to having lives and careers are suddenly unemployable, and of course not happy about it. The alien ìrRas empire has also a rigid caste system but one where it’s possible for a person born in one caste to improve his or her whole caste’s position. One of the castes is apsara: a courtesan-translator. The aliens claim to use sex as means of communication rather than for pleasure and procreation. However, we only see this communication aspect used once and I’m not entirely sure how it would work or why it would be needed on their own planet.

The aliens use living technology; even their houses are alive and it’s difficult for the aliens to grasp of living in a place which has never been alive. They seem to be empathic; they can project their feelings and thoughts to each other, and communicate more through them and through controlled pheromones than words. They also have implants which control their emotions and devices, which are technically illegal, which control what emotions they are projecting.

There are some satirical elements in the story: the Westerners are not happy that the aliens didn’t land in US and many of the Indian people aren’t happy that their representative is from the untouchable caste. From the alien side of things, they aren’t evil conquerors or monsters, but more like bureaucrats doing their paperwork about Earth and how it will fit into the Empire. I also got the feeling that they aren’t terribly competent. Also, a movie is being made from Jaya’s life and the lead actress decides that she’s more important the Jaya.

This isn’t an action/adventure tale but focused on scheming. Jaya isn’t sure who she can trust, if anyone. There’s a strong sub plot set in the center planet of the empire where Sirru’s lover gets mixed up in politics. The story explores also colonization and alien use of diseases.

The ending leaves many things unanswered and feels to me more like a first book in a series. I would be happy to read more about this world.

The first Read Along post:
I read Neverwhere years ago. I first started to read Gaiman through Sandman and then found his books.

1. What do you think of our two villains thus far, Messrs. Croup and Vandemar?

They’re certainly quirky and memorable and very, very creepy. One of the creepiest things is that Gaiman uses funny descriptions for them. At the same time, they also don’t have any redeeming qualities; they kill people and enjoy it. They’re also not human. They seem to have the ability to travel through time, or in time, because we first see them in 1550 and they discuss going to London Below, four hundred years forward. And they don’t bleed. They’re certainly very effective and scary villains.

2. Thus far we’ve had a small taste of London Below and of the people who inhabit it. What do you think of this world, this space that lies within or somewhat overlaps the space the “real world” occupies?

It has very much an Alice in Wonderland feeling except that while Wonderland was somewhere else, London Below is right there, if you want to see it. It’s filled with the “undesirable people”; the homeless, the unemployed, the sick, and the suffering who have fallen down society’s safety nets. They’ve formed their own society with their own rules because they have to.

People of London Above don’t even see the people of London Below, much as we have a tendency to ignore the nastier sides of our society as long as we can.

3. What ideas or themes are you seeing in these first 5 chapters of Neverwhere? Are there any that you are particularly drawn to?

There’s the allusion to Alice in Wonderland with Richard obviously as Alice but he’s happy to get away and back to his normal life.

Above people also ignore Below people like the “ordinary” in society ignore the homeless and desperately poor.

There’s also commentary on the coldness of our society. Jessica is a prime example: she donates to charity but just steps over wounded Door like she isn’t there. She also says to Richard that “they all have homes to go to. Really.” In her priorities, her life and any advantage she can get, is far above anyone else.

4. We’ve met a number of secondary characters in the novel, who has grabbed your attention and why?

Door is an obvious one. She’s the damsel in distress, a plot device, but she’s also intelligent and resourceful. She also has to constantly make deals and think about politics.

However, my very favorite character in Neverwhere is Hunter: competent and deadly. She doesn’t flaunt her skills until she needs to impress Door and the Marquis. Her short conversation with Richard is funny and apt: She sells her body and Richard immediately jumps to the conclusion that she’s a prostitute. (What else can a woman be, right? Yet, from a certain point of view, that’s what we all do: sell our labor and so our bodies.) In my mind’s eye I can’t help but see her as Gina Torres (from Firefly).

The Floating Market is also a whole character by itself.

5. As you consider the Floating Market, what kind of things does your imagination conjure up? What would you hope to find, or what would you be looking for, at the Market?

Lost, stolen, forgotten items. Probably all the socks I’ve lost, especially just one of the pair… Possibly lost artwork, like unheard of Shakespeare plays.

I’d be looking for all the things I lost in my last move.

6. If you haven’t already answered it in the questions above, what are your overall impressions of the book to this point?

I still haven’t warmed up to Richard. He has the tendency to let others decide his life and do what is expected of him instead of what he really wants. OTOH, that’s probably true of most of us, to a point.

But I love, love the setting of the London Below and Above.

Carl from the Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting Neverwhere read along and I decided to participate. I’ve read Neverwhere before but that was years ago. I haven’t seen the TV show or graphic novel, though.

The schedule will be as follows:

Read the Prologue through Chapter 5, May 13th-20th. Discussions for this section posted Monday, May 21st.

Read Chapter 6 through Chapter 6 through Chapter 12, May 20th-May 27th. Discussions for this section posted Monday, May 28th.

Read Chapter 13 through the end (Chapter 20), May 27th-June 3rd. Discussions for this section posted Monday, June 4th.

The first book in the Chronicles of Tornor but can be read as a stand alone.

Publication year: 1979
Format: print
Page count: 222 plus an appendix about the cards of fortune
Publisher: Berkley

Col Istor has just conquered Tornor Keep and killed Lord Astor, the Keep’s stern but beloved ruler. However, Col lets Astor’s son and heir Errel live if Astor’s commander Ryke will work for him. Ryke has no choice but when he realizes that Col has made Errel a jester, it’s almost too much. Errel works in his new role while he and Ryke plot for escape. When two messengers arrive to Tornor, Errel thinks that they can be persuaded to help. The messengers are feared ghyas, hermaphrodites who skin their enemies alive.

Watchtower starts as a pretty standard epic fantasy but turns out be about clash of cultures. Errel and Ryke flee to a valley which they thought to be a myth. The society in Tornor and the Keeps around Tornor has strict hierarchies and gender roles. In Tornor, women are essentially chattel and men are either rulers, soldiers, or peasants. However, there’s no stigma for having a child outside marriage for the woman or the child. In Vanima, there are no servants and masters, women have as many opportunities are men, and everyone has to work for a living in the fields or as goat herds or doing something else productive. Errel takes to this life easily but Ryke considers it alien and can’t wait to get back to his normal life. The story also tells about brutalities done during a war.

In Vanima, fighting is also done differently. While elsewhere soldiers rely on strength and weapons, in Vanima both men and women train in martial arts. They also have dancing which resembles martial arts.

Ryke is pretty standard fantasy hero. Even though he’s not yet thirty, he’s set in his ways and more loyal to his lord than his family. His mother and siblings live in the village near Tornor and we get to see them a few times. However, he’s more worried about Errel than if his mother or sisters are going to live through war. Errel is more scholarly than a warrior but he’s also bound to his duties and will do what he can to his people. There are also several secondary women characters and even a lesbian couple.

Errel uses the Cards of Fortune to get vague hints about the future. They are apparently very similar to Tarot cards. They are supposedly magical although Ryke doesn’t believe in them.

The book has a map which confirms something I found a bit strange: all of the Keep are withing a few days ride to each other. The supposedly mythical Vanima valley is just eight days ride from Tornor. That seems a bit strange. Surely people would have explored at least a little around their homes? The book is set in the North with bitter, hard winters so people are pretty much forced to hunt and scavenge to keep alive. Also, the highly hierarchal society seems out of place in such a harsh environment.

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