On Wandavision, again (spoiler-free)

I think the most depressing thing about the finale of WandaVision, available today on Disney+, is that I really don’t have a lot to say about it, and that’s not a cute way to lead into a 1500-word post. I thought the show started off slow, and not necessarily in a good way, and it ramped up quite a bit after that, steadily getting better until the penultimate episode …

… and then the finale kind of fell flat for me. I have been religiously avoiding spoilers all day today (and, again, this will be a spoiler-free review) and the real interesting thing is that having watched the episode I’m genuinely not sure it was worth the effort. Not that things don’t happen that could have been spoiled– there are some major character developments in the finale and throughout the series– they’re just, and I hope this makes some sense, not the kind of events that spoiling them could have harmed my enjoyment of the show. Ultimately, WandaVision ends up being a very character-driven series about the nature of loss and grief, and if that doesn’t sound like typical Marvel fare, well, it’s because it’s not— there’s a couple of big fights toward the end (if you see that as a spoiler, I can’t help you) and there are some important developments for the future of the MCU in general, but they’re not any of the developments that I thought I might see going into this series in general or this episode in particular.

Was it worth watching? Yes, definitely, and it’s great to see Marvel finally putting some energy into their female characters– Wanda herself, Agatha Harkness, Monica Rambeau and Doctor Darcy Lewis all have substantial roles, and as a lifelong fan of Rambeau in particular it’s great to see her finally on screen. Do I want more? Absolutely, but I’m going to get more, that much is clear, and it’s exciting. And the show deserves some credit for reinvigorating an interest in the MCU that had been seriously flagging after the dual disappointments of Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home. You could make an argument that that reinvigoration was inevitable, and you’d have a point, but the show still did it. I don’t know that it’s a reason for a Disney+ subscription all on its own, but I suspect that’s not a particularly relevant criticism, as anyone invested in Wanda Maximoff enough to consider getting a Disney+ subscription just to watch her show almost certainly already had one anyway. If all the stuff that they already have plus The Mandalorian wasn’t enough to convince you … hell, you’re probably not reading this in the first place.

So we’ve got a week off now, I think, and then straight into Falcon and the Winter Soldier, another show that I’m not hugely hyped about but I’m still watching anyway. There’s pretty much something Marvel happening damn near every week for the rest of the year; I just hope I don’t actually have to go into a movie theater to see Black Widow in May. I’ll have both my shots by then, but still. Stream it and overcharge me, guys, I’m good for it.

I read books

My comic shop has been having a hell of a time lately. For those of you who aren’t comic geeks, Wednesday is New Comic Books Day. Every comic book shop I’ve ever frequented was closed on Tuesdays, because Wednesday is the day every week when new books come out and that meant that they needed to remerch everything in their damn store once a week. DC Comics recently decided they were going to take responsibility for shipping and fulfillment themselves, and they started shipping everything to be available for Tuesday. My comic shop shrugged and didn’t change anything, knowing that nobody was going to get pissed about having to wait that extra day, and if they’ve caught any grief from it I’m unaware of it.

The problem is that for the last several weeks all of their indie and Marvel books have been getting caught in weather nightmares and have been late. You can probably imagine that with this business model a comic shop makes a huge percentage of their weekly revenue– 75% or more– on Wednesday, and so if something prevents the books from being there on time it can cause serious cash flow problems. Last week’s Marvel books just got put on the shelf today, and last I heard they were hoping this week’s Marvel books would be available tomorrow. I popped in yesterday anyway because I had dinner plans with my dad and the comic shop is near his house, and since I’m not buying much DC stuff nowadays there really wasn’t much of anything available. So I picked up Nubia: Real One, a 208-page original graphic novel written by L.L. McKinney and drawn by Robyn Smith. You might recognize McKinney’s name from her books A Blade So Black and A Dream So Dark, both of which I have read and really enjoyed. This isn’t quite her first comics work, but it’s certainly her first major work– she’s done a story here and there, but debuting with a 200+ page OGN is … not a thing that’s really done, to be honest. I had a conversation with the owners about various prose authors who have made the transition into comics work recently– Daniel Jose Older, Saladin Ahmed, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jodi Picoult, of all people, all came up. Some authors have trouble with the transition, because in comics so much is handled visually.

LL McKinney is not one of those authors, and I’ll stop burying the lede: Nubia: Real One is one of the best comics I’ve read in quite some time, and to pull something like that off with a character I wasn’t terribly aware of or invested in is a hell of an accomplishment. I’m also completely unfamiliar with Robyn Smith’s work, and honestly a quick scan of the book didn’t initially impress me, as this is far from traditional superhero work. That’s not automatically bad, mind you, but Nubia is an Amazon. This is a DC book.

Well, all those concerns got blown to hell once I started reading the book. Smith’s art and in particular her character designs are just beautiful– it can be difficult to draw regular folks in a way that makes them instantly recognizable in a comic book (there’s a reason superheroes wear brightly colored costumes) and the characters are all distinct and clear without looking, other than Nubia’s towering height, disproportionate or exaggerated. And then there’s Nubia’s tooth gap. This may seem like a weird thing to fixate on, but she smiles a lot in this book, and she’s got this gap between her front teeth that just did an amazing amount of work in making her seem like a normal kid and a regular person. I have been reading comics for 35 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character with a gap in their front teeth that wasn’t supposed to be a small child. She feels like a real person, with real problems, and so do her friends, and so do her parents for that matter, and while anyone who knows anything about the character already knows what the big twist is (this is an origin story) the story itself is great as well. I loved this book unconditionally, and if you’re even a little bit of a comic book person you owe yourself to check it out.


I can’t find a properly high-resolution version of this cover, unfortunately, but I also finished Tochi Onyebuchi’s Rebel Sisters this week. This is the second book in a series, the sequel to his War Girls, which ended up in fifth place on my Best New Books of 2019 list. The sequel has a very different feel to it from the first book. War Girls was, in the author’s words, “Gundam in Nigeria,” only it ended up being quite a bit more weighty than that description implies. That said, there were giant mechs and blowing shit up, but for all that it was a cool action book it also had a lot to say about revolution and civil war, and it was all-around a hell of a thing to read.

(I have said it before, and I’ll repeat it again: if you are not reading African and African diasporic science fiction and fantasy right now, and particularly Nigerian science fiction, you are missing out. This is a real movement and you need to get in on it.)

Rebel Sisters is set after the future civil war that takes up the bulk of War Girls, and stars Ify, who was one of the main characters of War Girls. Ify has left Nigeria and moved to a space station and is working as a doctor, when a mysterious illness takes over among the children of many of the refugee families who live at the station. She ends up returning to Earth in an attempt to find a cure for the disease, and finds out that the Nigerian government has … well, they’ve dealt with moving on from the war in a unique way, I’ll just say that. Rebel Sisters is a quieter and more contemplative book than War Girls was, and bounces back and forth between Ify’s perspective and that of one of the synths from the first book, a character I won’t spoil much about. You kind of get the feeling that Onyebuchi got the “big robots smash punch BOOM!” out of his system in the first book, and this one is more About What It Is About, if that makes any sense, although it’s no less an accomplishment for all that. One interesting detail from the author’s afterword that I’m going to make sure you know about going in, because I wish I had: the disease the kids come down with may strike you as … rather narratively convenient, for lack of a better word. It is– and this kind of blew my mind and made me read more into it– actually based on a real phenomenon that has happened among refugee children.

Check it out.


Finally, from the This Book Doesn’t Really Need My Help department, I’ve also read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. I bought both of the other books in this post because of preexisting fandoms, but while I had heard of Coelho before ordering The Alchemist, I couldn’t have told you anything about him other than that he was an author. Well, I decided I wanted to find a book from Brazil for #Readaroundtheworld, and a search for Brazilian authors brought his name and this book up, and … well, if they’ve done a 25th Anniversary Edition of it it’s probably pretty good, right?

It is. It absolutely is.

If I had to compare The Alchemist to anything else I’ve read, two books come to mind immediately: Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. There are a number of commonalities, but what stands out is the length of the books (Haroun is easily the shortest of Rushdie’s works, Jonathan is basically a novella, and Alchemist is around 230 pages) and the fairy-tale feel of the stories themselves. Jonathan and Alchemist come off as more didactic than Haroun does, but all three books have Feelings About How We Should Live, and, well, Jonathan and Haroun are both books that have been intensely rewarding rereads, and I suspect Alchemist is going to be as well.

I don’t speak a word of Portuguese other than where it overlaps with Spanish, but for what it’s worth this is also a pretty superb translation, good enough that I actually made sure it was originally written in Portuguese and not English. There can be a certain awkwardness to translated works from time to time, where you have to sort of wrap your head around the style of the language of the book before you can get into it, but either Portuguese translates very smoothly into English or Alan R. Clarke is very, very good at his job. He’s translated several of Coelho’s books, and I enjoyed this enough that I’ll definitely want to read more of Coelho’s books in the future, so I’m glad they seem to be in the right hands.

It is decided

For our 12th anniversary, my wife and son and I will be attending C2E2, which is a huge show that I attended once as a vendor several years ago. This will be the first nerd convention that I have been to in years where I will actually get to be a fan and an attendee and not trying to hawk books, so it ought to be a lot of fun, although I’ll probably need all of Sunday to recover afterwards. I have important decisions to make during next week now, mostly along the lines of how much money am I going to allow myself to blow at this thing and when I find a giant sword that I want, should I consider buying it, or am I past the point where I should be buying giant swords?

I mean, realistically I know the answer to that, but still.

There will be tons of pictures of cosplayers, of course, and there may be pictures of me taken with a handful of my favorite authors, as John Scalzi, Sam Sykes, and Gail Simone are all going to be in attendance. I will absolutely go meet Gail; Scalzi and Sykes will depend on the length of lines, as we’ll have the boy with us and I feel like C2E2 is not an optimal place to “meet” people who I might want to talk to for more than ten seconds. We’ll see, though.

Finally! A plan!

On AVENGERS: ENDGAME

I don’t think I’m actually going to review it. It’s possible I’ll change my mind, but right now it’s just not that high on my priority list. Go read John Scalzi’s review if you like, which is close enough to what I’d have said as to serve as an adequate substitute.

Stan Lee, 1922-2018

Stan Lee.jpg

I never met Stan Lee.  I almost certainly could have at some point, if I’d wanted to; half the nerds I know have a picture of themselves with him at some con or another.  He passed away two full days ago and I’m still struggling with tears trying to write this.  That seems an odd thing to say about a man I never met.  Odd, but true.

Also true: I can think of two people, only one still with us, since JRR Tolkien passed away three years before I was born, whose work has had even close to as much of an influence on my life as Stan Lee’s did.  I have been buying comic books for 3/4 of my life, and I probably have 80% of all the Iron Man comics ever printed.  Today is Wednesday.  It’s new comic book day.  I went to the comic shop.

I go to the comic shop every Wednesday.  And I have gone to the comic shop every Wednesday for goddamn near my entire adult life, excepting only a short period of time where I lived in Chicago and didn’t have a comic shop in Chicago yet so I was still getting my comics from my local store in South Bend.  My two favorite superheroes are Iron Man and the Hulk.  Spider-Man is right behind Superman.  Number five probably slides around a bit more than the others, but Captain America is as good a choice as any.

Stan Lee created three of those five characters, and had an enormous influence on the history of the fifth.  Did he come up with everything about them completely on his own?  No, of course not.  Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Jack Kirby; the contributions of these men can’t be denied, and they were towering figures in their own right.  And we just lost Steve Ditko earlier this year, so it’s been a really bad year to be a Spider-Man fan.

(Steve Ditko designed the classic red-and-gold Iron Man armor.  I just found that out.  I don’t think I knew that before.)

This is one hundred percent true:  I have no idea what my life would look like if Stan Lee had not been a part of it.  I have no idea who I would be if I had never encountered Stan’s creations.  You don’t get to spend most of your life marinating your brain in stories about superheroes every single week and not be changed by them.  To say that Stan Lee was one of my heroes feels like it’s minimizing him.

It’s not enough.  He was too big for this.  I don’t have the words.  I’m reading this over and the whole thing just feels stupid, like I’m not trying hard enough.

Stan was Jewish.  Jews typically, or at least traditionally, don’t say “rest in peace.”  A more appropriately Jewish phrase to honor the recently dead is May his memory be a blessing.  And it’s also more appropriate to describe my relationship with Stan, a man who I never met and whose life’s nevertheless influenced me so deeply and thoroughly that I am unable to untangle what my life would be like had he never lived.  His memory– and his creations– will live on, if not forever, but certainly well beyond whatever years may be left to me.  Every day.  But especially, and undeniably, every Wednesday.

Stan Lee’s life was a blessing.  May his memory continue to be.