My Month in Reading, September 2019

In September, I read three more InCryptid books by Seanan McGuire, and finished out the series so far. Other than that, I read a few graphic novels and listened to a short sci-fi novella.

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Cannon by Wallace Wood

This book is definitely a relic of its time. Wood liked to write sexy action comics for servicemen, so these stories originated in comics sent to soldiers. Wood had a great art style, all bullet-headed agents and voluptuous, leggy women. He had a talent for drawing both action scenes and cheesecake pinups, and he was also especially good and looks of existential horror, which pop up once or twice in this volume.

One of the tropes of this series is that all the women are beautiful and none of them keep on their clothes. A handful of the female characters (heroes and villains both) are seemingly always nude or only occasionally dressed in see-through clothing. When given the opportunity to disrobe, they do, and if they need to escape a villain’s clutches in the altogether, they make the best of it.

This would all be a bunch of absurd, sexploitational fun if not for the threats of rape and casual misogyny that crop up throughout. I liked the art and adventure enough that the occasional sour note didn’t ruin the book for me, but my rating definitely comes with a big asterisk.



Magic for Nothing by Seanan McGuire

I think one of the biggest strengths of the InCryptid series is its ability to support switching viewpoint characters from volume to volume. These books exist in a shared world, but every Price sibling has a different perspective on life and a unique tone that comes along with it.

The whole series is funny, but the humor in each book comes at you from different angles. This book is the first of three focusing on Antimony Price, the youngest Price sibling, tasked with an important undercover mission after the world-changing events of the last book. She also ends up joining the circus.

One nice thing about Antimony’s story is that she gets a bit of new romance, which was missing from the last few books because Alex and Verity have more established relationships. It’s a fun time to mix romance and danger with death-defying feats in a carnival tent. I’ve already purchased the rest of the series so far, so it won’t be long before I’ve finished reading the remaining books.


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Imaginary Fiends by Tim Seeley, Stephen Molnar and Quinton Winter

In the world of this book, imaginary friends are real but are also trans-dimensional vampires that feed on fear, among other emotions. The main character, Melba Li, is a young woman committed to an insane asylum as a teenager after stabbing her best friend a dozen times because Polly Peachpit, her imaginary friend, told her to do it. The FBI recruits the now adult Melba to help solve a case that may involve another imaginary friend.

The art in this book is pretty great, and the story goes to some bizarre, oftentimes dark, places. I like the idea of someone who can only solve crimes with the help of a manipulative invisible monster. It’s an absurd trope, but it’s fun to see it play out in this scenario.

Unfortunately, I think this book was a casualty of DC shuttering Vertigo, and it seems unlikely the story will continue. At least the book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, and this story arc can easily stand alone even if there is plenty of potential for more in this world.


⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Giselle and Beatrice by Benoît Feroumont

This is an odd book. The art is exaggerated and cartoonish, but the subject matter is fairly explicit. It’s about a woman named Beatrice, mistreated by her sexist cad of a boss, George, until she gets revenge with magic that turns him into a woman named Giselle. Oh, and Beatrice has a penis because she was partially transformed by the man who gave her the gender-swapping magic.

After George becomes Giselle, Beatrice forces herself on her and then makes Giselle clean her apartment as her live-in maid. Complicating things for Giselle is the fact that she has a thick accent and speaks in broken English, so she has a hard time explaining her predicament to anyone. As time passes, their relationship changes in unexpected ways.

I liked the art, and the story kind of reminds me of Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, but this is also a book about two reprehensible people. George was a scumbag, but Beatrice isn’t particularly likable once she gets her revenge, and Giselle soon becomes sympathetic.


⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Tricks For Free by Seanan McGuire

Antimony is on the run from the covenant as well as hiding from her family, so she goes to ground and goes undercover as an employee at LowryLand, a Disney-like theme park with equally soul-destroying working conditions.

It wouldn’t be an InCryptid novel if she wasn’t surrounded by cryptids and the supernatural. Her dead aunt Mary hangs around to make sure she’s safe, and her roommates are a sylph and a gorgon. She doesn’t have her mice or her boyfriend Sam, but plenty of weird stuff keeps happening around her no matter what she does and how much she tries to hide.

When Antimony runs afoul of magic users in the park, she jumps at the chance when one of them offers to teach her how to control her magic. Everything seems great until strange, unexplained accidents start happening around the park and Antimony decides to investigate even though it might blow her cover.

This was yet another highly enjoyable entry in the InCryptid series. I did get a little frustrated late in the book when it felt like the characters were constantly rushing into danger without much of a plan, but it wasn’t enough to kill my momentum. The ending sets up further complications that will surely pay off with dividends in the third Antimony book, That Ain’t Witchcraft.


⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

That Ain’t Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire

And now, after six InCryptid books in a row, I come to the end of the series so far. Book nine comes out in February of next year, and you can be sure that I’ll buy it day one. I enjoyed immersing myself in this world for the last two months.

I especially liked how Antimony’s books served as a trilogy within the larger series, building a story arc that resolved with a confrontation against the most significant and dangerous supernatural villain in the series so far, while also tying up one thread of the Price family’s fight against the Covenant, now personified in Leonard Cunningham.

My favorite part of this book comes during a climactic moment that I won’t spoil here, but let’s just say that it was the only moment in the series so far that made me get a little misty-eyed.


⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay

I’ve seen a lot of rave reviews of Tremblay’s work, but this is the first of his stories that I’ve read, and although it was decent enough, it probably wasn’t the best introduction.

In it, an amnesiac wakes up in a strange facility and an unseen woman puts him through his paces. She prompts him to remember his past via mental and physical exercises. The tone is detached and a little unsettling, and I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that there is more going on than the main character first realizes.

This novella is part of a collection of thematically related short stories made available on Audible and Kindle for Prime and Kindle Unlimited users. It’s a fancy short story collection that you can download and read in any order. Even if this story wasn’t my bag, I plan on checking out the rest of the series.


That Familiar Darkness: Criminal, Volume 1

Criminal, Volume 1: CowardCriminal, Volume 1: Coward

Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Sean Phillips
Colors by: Val Staples

Published: February 10th, 2015
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Crime, Thriller
Format: Paperback
Length: 128 pages

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are one of the most consistent and compelling teams in comics, and Criminal show some of their early promise. I’ve never read any of Brubaker’s superhero books, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of his work with Phillips for Image Comics.

Criminal is one of their earlier collaborations, originally published by Marvel’s creator-owned comics imprint, and recently reprinted in a deluxe edition by Image Comics. Criminal is oftentimes cited as a masterpiece of the genre, but in this first volume, it feels like Brubaker and Phillips aren’t quite stretching their wings.

I get the impression that later volumes of Criminal are a bit more surreal and/or experimental, but the first volume is completely grounded. In fact, it feels downright familiar if you’ve read anything by Richard Stark. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think my enjoyment of this book may have suffered in comparison with their later works, i.e. Fatale and The Fade Out.

Criminal’s first volume tells the story of Leo, a career criminal known both for his strict rules for every job and his uncanny ability to get away clean when the shit hits the fan. When a dirty cop convinces him to arrange a heist targeting a police evidence van, things inevitably go south in a bad way and Leo is left to pick up the pieces.

I feel like I’ve seen the story beats in this volume a million times, but Brubaker’s writing and Phillips’ art help elevate it into something more than generic. Criminal might feel familiar, but the execution is top-notch.

I enjoyed reading this volume, and I’ll definitely pick up the next volume at some point, but it’s definitely not my favorite book by Brubaker and Phillips. So far, Fatale still wins that prize.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley.

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Tell Your Story to the Trees: Trees, Volume 1

Trees, Volume 1 CoverTrees, Volume 1

Written by: Warren Ellis
Art by: Jason Howard
Published: February 24, 2015
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre(s): Science Fiction, Graphic Novel
Format: Paperback
Length: 160 pages

Trees has a simple premise and a massive scope. It asks: what would happen if aliens invaded Earth and then completely ignored humanity?

The book opens ten years after massive alien “Trees” landed on and crushed cities across the globe. The invaders never tried to communicate with humanity, and there were no obvious signs of life inside their impossibly tall alien pillars.

Many people fled from under the shadows of the Trees, but those who remained found new ways to live. New societies formed in these most unlikely of places, and this volume tells some of their stories.

The book shifts back and forth between perspectives in a handful of far-flung locations, including an artist’s colony in China, a research station in the Arctic, an Italian city in the grip of warring fascist mobs, and a border skirmish in Somalia.

Although Trees doesn’t match the tone or worldview of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the narrative here is similarly ambitious and deeply concerned with the particulars of human behavior. This is, I think, the first time I’ve read a volume of an ongoing series that included eight issues in its first arc.

That scope and ambition is commendable, but it also means that the larger plot doesn’t have much forward motion. The Trees are essentially an enormous backdrop for more intimate, character-driven storytelling. The most compelling story told in this volume is about young love in a dangerous place.

However, despite the focus on character-driven stories, Ellis introduces so many characters at such a fast pace that I couldn’t tell you any of their names without referring back to the book.

Also, the pacing in this first volume is very measured, which makes me wonder how many issues Ellis and Howard have planned for the overall series. It looks like Trees is on hiatus and has been since December of last year, but Image says issue #14, which completes the second story arc, releases later this month.

As for Jason Howard’s art, it is chock-full of expressive characters and beautifully rendered cityscapes. My only real criticism is that several of the female characters look very similar, so I initially had a hard time keeping them straight in my mind.

If you’re the impatient type, it might be best to hold off on reading Trees for now, but if you’re into personal stories with a global backdrop, it’s definitely worth checking out.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley.

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Ugliness All Around: Todd, The Ugliest Kid on Earth Volume 1 by Ken Kristensen and M. K. Perker

Todd, The Ugliest Kid on Earth Volume 1Published: August 20, 2013
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre(s): Graphic Novel
Format: Trade Paperback
Length: 96 pages

Todd, The Ugliest Kid on Earth is an odd little series about a kid named Todd surrounded by terrible human beings. It’s not exactly surreal, but it is nonsensical in a way that is clearly meant as darkly comedic but mostly just feels sloppy. The main character, Todd, is a little boy who wears a bag over his head at all times because, we assume, he is incredibly ugly.

In this volume, Todd gets in trouble with the police when a child-murderer decides he’s too ugly to kill and gives him dolls (evidence) instead. A gung-ho police detective arrests Todd on the basis of this “evidence” and immediately puts him in prison with a bunch of hardened criminals… because that totally makes sense, right? Todd is a sweet little kid who likes chasing butterflies and now he’s in prison dealing with the Aryan Brotherhood. Comedy! Todd makes friends, learns about prison life, and narrowly avoids terrible harm on every other page.

This book, pitched as comedy, mostly just seems unpleasant and cruel. Almost all the adults in Todd’s life are uniformly awful; the only adult who isn’t terrible to him is another prisoner who kills one man and carves “snitch” in another’s forehead. The joke, see, is that Todd is so nice and everyone else is so awful.

The writing tends to forgo logic or believability in the name of “satire”. Characters behave in completely ridiculous, unbelievable ways for the sake of comedy. The author puts Todd in terrible situations because I guess it’s funny to see a nice, oblivious little kid get mistreated.

As for the art style, it’s certainly distinctive, but it mostly seems designed to emphasize the ugliness of the various characters. I guess that’s also part of the joke: Todd might be ugly under that bag, but we see nothing but ugliness and hate around him, so he obviously isn’t that bad.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Net Galley.

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