In case it’s not obvious, when I start picking up books by author name alone, such as Mercedes Lackey or Tanya Huff, I spend less time and thought on actually looking up what the book is about. After all, I know I like just about everything I’ve read from said writer, so why bother spoiling myself.
That being said, it took me a little bit to get into Doomstalker by Glen Cook because I hadn’t realized the characters were not human. Also the cover art is…well, there’s a reason why I don’t usually buy books just for cover and usually ID them by spine. Anyway, this is book one of the Darkwar trilogy, though by the end of this book the term “darkwar” remains vaguely threatening. But goodness does a lot happen.
Our protagonist is Marika of the Degnan packstead. Think in terms of frontier homesteads, with the added caveat that the meth seem to be bipedal possibly canine omnivores. Anyway, the packstead consists of six longhouses, each ruled by a dominant female. Males are secondary and lesser beings who do contribute to the packstead but have far less power than any adult female. Marika herself is the daughter of Skiljan, one of the longhouse rulers. She and her brothers Kublin and Zamberlin are ten years old at the start of the book and it is a tough winter. Packstead life is not easy, but it is all she knows. But the older meth, especially the elderly Wise, know more and they fear that the Zhotak nomads will come down from the north…with cannibalism on their minds.
The packstead will do all it can to survive the terrible winter and the potential nomad threat. But there’s more to fear. Marika seems to have strange abilities of the mind, and one of her own longhouse’s wise, the sagan Pohsit, would like her dead for it. The sagan seems to be the religious leader of the longhouse, and Pohsit has no proof, but much fear. She also murmurs of “silth” and “witchery”, though young Marika does not know what those terms mean.
Doomstalker is a tragic origin story in so many ways. The Marika who celebrated her tenth birthday with her brothers while the adult meth muttered to themselves about the nomad threat would barely recognize the fourteen year old Marika who has somehow managed to survive to the end of this novel. And Doomstalker is clearly advertised as book one of the Darkwar Trilogy, so we all know there’s more to come.
What is most interesting to me is the fact that this book, for all its witches and strange powers, is science fiction. Not that Marika learns or can even begin to understand this until the second portion of the book. And even then her learning has upper limits. I, being a child of our fairly-advanced-in-comparison-to-the-packstead society, can make a number of guesses about what some of these vague references truly indicate. I can even make predictions about future paths for the story. Only time will tell if I am right or wrong of course.
On a semi-related note, yesterday I went to the Newberry Library’s annual book sale. And from what I’ve heard, I am very glad I do not plan my work schedule around it and make time to go the first day they’re open to the public. Apparently it was insanely crowded on Thursday, with a line wrapping around the block – and the building itself has a block all its own. One of my introvert friends said he only survived it by blocking out awareness of all the people around him. He didn’t even get inside a ring of tables where there were more sci-fi books on the inside that you couldn’t really see or reach from outside. This made a lot more sense when I got there for myself and discovered that there’s really only enough space for one person to enter or exit that inner bit at a time.
Still, I found about as much as I ever do when I go, and spent about fifteen dollars. Some of the books I bought were replacements for more damaged copies already on my shelves. One of them is the book one I missed getting at the Old Book Barn for a book two I’ve had what…three or more years now? At least this way it only cost a dollar. I also, amusingly enough, found the second Darkwar volume. So you know that’s coming up soon.
In the end, as far as new books go, I brought home five for myself from the Newberry. Then later I stopped at my local comic shop (my friend and I had gone to one in the city but I was not impressed with what they were asking for something of interest) and picked up some things from my pull list as well as bit more. Again, that’ll show up here once I read it. Overall, not a bad day at all, considering that I managed not to overspend. I really do not understand how it is that I go to the Newberry with people who do not read anywhere near as fast as I do, but still buy more books and spend more money than I do. I guess that’s a lifestyle choice or something. Even considering that I really should buy fewer books until I manage to reduce my Pile sharply. But again, that’s a lifestyle choice.
Anyway, I went on to read Warlock, the second Darkwar book by Glen Cook. Of course, I don’t have the third at this point, so it’ll be an unknown amount of time until I know how the story ends. What is most interesting to me as I finish this book is the fact that both have been read in what I consider to be a normal amount of time. This compared to the amazingly dense military fiction I’ve previously read from Glen Cook. I’m not really sure what to think of that, but I guess it means that this simply read like most other authors I’ve encountered, instead of having the same feel as the Dread Empire books or The Swordbearer.
So, Warlock opens right where Doomstalker ended. It even continues the story in a way that reminded me of Blake Hausladen’s books. As a reminder, he mentioned it as a fifteen book series, explaining that each published novel was actually five of the individual books. Here I found something similar. Doomstalker was made up of two books, Packstead and Akard, numbered accordingly. But Warlock opens with book three: Maksche, and follows that up with book four: TelleRai. Each book is named for the locale that will prove the chief setting for that segment, and follows Marika as she moves from the Degnan packstead of her birth in a Tech Two zone to higher population areas of increasing technology levels. Why, there are some silth who fly between the stars!
I think you may, if you are unfamiliar with these books, begin to understand why they are not at all fantasy.
Marika is a bizarrely selfish protagonist. She does not want power for its own sake, though she was born with a great deal of potential, should she survive to see it blossom. She sees more of the meth around her as people than her silth sisters do, and treats them accordingly. But if she is thwarted, rejected, or denied, Marika becomes a merciless vengeful bitch.
Early on in this book, she acquires a patron and sponsor. This is Gradwohl, most senior of the Reugge Community of silth. You see, the silth are not at all unified. Each separate Community of sisters is its own political and legal entity. The most senior is in charge, so each Community has their own. Being Gradwohl’s protege gives Marika a certain amount of protection, as well as notoriety. It’s also notable that in their first meeting Gradwohl observes with some annoyance that in their fear of Marika and her potential, the silth have given her no cause to feel loyalty to them or their Community. Which makes her the wisest meth we’ve seen to date.
But the violence that destroyed her home and family has not ceased and has gotten increasingly worse, especially given the higher and higher levels of technology involved. If political enemies started with the pretense of it being nomadic incursions, such a sham falls by the wayside at some point in this book. On the other hand, there’s rumors still of a powerful wehrlen, a powerful male silth. I do wish Marika wasn’t so self-centered that it takes the entire book for her to come to a logical conclusion there.
Warlock is your typical middle of a trilogy. We see the stakes upped, we see Marika grow and learn, and we continue to expand our understanding of her world. The stage has been set for a conflict, but given the events near the end of the book, a reader can no longer be certain what will happen in the big convention of sisterhoods. Certainly there’s more than a few loose ends that need tying up. But again, no one knows how long it will be before I can find out what happens next. That is up to the mercy of the used bookstores and library sales. On the other hand, it’s not like I don’t have plenty of other things to read while I search.
Speaking of, my impulse buy from the comic shop yesterday was the trade paperback for Infinity Warps. You may recall that I was rather intrigued when I saw the solicitation for Ghost Panther in an issue of Comic Shop News, and later that I also collected Iron Hammer. But it wasn’t until I started reading the new Secret Warps that I realized how engaging and intriguing all of these characters were. So I inquired at the shop yesterday. I’d been to another comic shop downtown earlier in the day and thought to browse through the back issues for more. I only managed to find Soldier Supreme #1, and they were asking $4.50 for it. As a note, the individual issues retailed for $3.99 when they were released, and I still do not understand the price increase less than a year later.
Anyway, I asked at my local shop and the owner was very surprised when he looked up. Firstly, Marvel seems to have an insanely advanced publishing schedule at this point. Meaning the Infinity Warps trade paperback was released in February which is maybe a month after the last comics came out. If that. He even told me there was a miniseries once where the final issue came out one week and the hardcover trade came out the next week. That’s…no little ridiculous. Anyway, this Infinity Warps trade, released in February, is already out of print. Luckily he did have a copy still on shelf, and given the reorganization has tended to Marvel and DC already in his shop, I could actually find it by looking for the proper place in the alphabet. So that was nice.
Now, there’s rather a lot in this book, which is no surprise for something costing $30. As a note, I’ve found that many of these trade paperbacks can be surprisingly cheap, down to around $15 for some collections. But it’s usually based on how many pages. In this case, there were five main Warps given two full issues. Then there were two more issues featuring multiple stories. So this book contains origin stories for Soldier Supreme, Iron Hammer, Arachknight, Weapon Hex, and Ghost Panther. The additional stories are about Observer-X, the Terrific Two, Moon Squirrel & Tippysaur, Green Widow, Foreverbush Man, Kamala Kang, Diamond Patch, and the Punisher Pack. And each of these characters interacts with their own warped crew, of course. I only vaguely know a number of these, so don’t expect me to be able to tell you exactly who got mixed here.
I think I mentioned previously when reading Secret Warps that the Soldier Supreme is a mix of Dr. Strange and Captain America. As per usual, Steve Rogers volunteers to be a lab rat for the sake of helping his country. But there’s not just a supersoldier formula that’s injected into him, but also magic. He has an instinctive grasp on it, but it will take years of practice to perfect. And given that Dormammu Red trapped him in the Dark Dimension, he’s had that time, as well as no reason to hold back from full strength while practicing. In some ways, the Dark Dimension beats being put on ice? Also, love the twist on the Winter Soldier.
I have read Iron Hammer before as stated, but I do want to mark how much I appreciate the opening pages here. They’re meant to invoke the old days of comics, when the first page was a splash of some strange situation with text hinting to the reader of how exciting it will be to find out how this image comes about. Between that and the narration, they’re really going for an oldschool feel. I still enjoy this story regardless, but wanted to make that point because I’ve talked about the content before.
Weapon Hex wasn’t especially interesting to me until I read her Secret Warps annual. She’s a combination of X-23 and the Scarlet Witch, born and raised to be a weapon and the vessel for…a demon? I’m not super clear but it’s a big black thing with lots of tentacles. Her story is a touching one even before her sister Speed Weasel comes along.
Having not yet read anything of Arachknight, I only had some half-remembered bits of a preview to tell me anything about him. Peter Parker was an ordinary boy out for a nighttime walk with his aunt and uncle when a big green goblin attacked the three. It bit Peter like a vampire and killed his family. The boy was dying but a kind spider decided to save his life by biting him and giving him spider powers…and a split personality. There are actually four inside of this body now – the original Peter, the superhero internally known as the Knight, a science expert, and a business CEO. I think they said that this is a combination of Spiderman and the Punisher? It’s an odd mix, but not a bad story. Just a bit disjointed, which is unsurprising given the four personalities bit.
Last of the big characters is Ghost Panther of course, the one who got me interested in the lot to begin with. And now that I’ve read more of the warps in general, I do have a further appreciation for the details of this particular story. I’m still not a huge fan of the art style in these two issues, but again, that’s because I’d rather see details. Again, I think the style does work for the story, it’s just not one of my personal favorites. I think something similar was used late in Sandman and I didn’t care for it there either. But a good story will go a long way to overcoming a number of problems.
So I guess Observer X is meant to be the Observer or Watcher or whatever and Professor X. There’s a lot of powerful figures that just kind of…keep track of shit and very rarely interfere in both Marvel and DC and they appear just often enough that I don’t actually care. He’s used to introduce the other three warps of the issue.
Moon Squirrel and her partner Tippysaur are utterly hilarious and everything about their story is done that way. The art style is cartoonier, the effects are bolder, the concepts are sillier, but it’s charming all the same. Also Tippysaur is a squirrel the size of a T-Rex wearing a yellow bow around their neck. Also Doom got warped with Galactus which…sounds like one of his power fantasies to be honest. Let’s hope the normal Dr. Doom never hears about it…
Then there’s Green Widow, who comes from Black Widow and She-Hulk. She’s breaking into a lab for reasons of who cares with a lookout in the form of Cat’s Eye, who’s an archer and hacker. Cat’s Eye is also a garrulous gossiper who talks all through the job.
The Terrific Two are quite simply a warp of the Fantastic Four. So there’s only the two of them instead of four, leaving Hot Rocks and Mister invisible, Ben and Reed Storm. I feel like this is one of the most stereotypical stories and could be any adventure of a superhero or two, with the only quirk being that they are warps.
The last issue has another powerful watcher in Foreverbush Man – I have no idea who he is made of. And frankly I don’t really care since he’s here a whole two pages. Nor am I familiar with the people making up Kamala Kang, who gets caught in discovering why you don’t change the past.
I have some serious questions about the Punisher Pack – a group of children on a mission of vengeance. I also wonder how the development of this warp relates to the new series Punisher Kill Krewe. See, in the wake of the War of the Realms, the Punisher seems to have found himself with a van full of kids, the implication being that he’s going to train them as his…team? I don’t know. I don’t really want to know, since the Punisher is generally a dark antihero.
Last is Diamond Patch who is half Wolverine and half…I’m not sure. He’s set up more as a villain in this case, though it’s hard to say as we only see him dealing with a subordinate of a rival gang and Deathstrique, who’s trying to kill him again. She’s a combination of Deathstrike and Mystique, I think I read.
Overall, I am much more interested in the main five warps, the ones who got a full two issues to explore their origin stories. The others range from okay to cute in terms of creators having fun and fleshing out the warped universe in other ways. They’re okay, but since I recognize very few of the characters they’re created from, and don’t care for all the ones I do know, I have far less investment in them. Which is probably part of why those ones did not merit even a full issue, let alone two of them.
It’s easy enough to theorize that part of what made them choose the five main warps was name recognition. Every character utilized has made it to the big screen at some point; Iron Man, Captain America, Spiderman, Wolverine, Scarlet Witch, Black Panther, Thor, Ghost Rider, Dr. Strange, and the Punisher. True, not all of them are currently part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but even the ones who aren’t are still known. Sure, my parents wouldn’t know the Punisher but I think they’d recognize Ghost Rider. But they aren’t even remotely close to a target audience anyway.
Overall, I have no regrets about spending the money for this trade. It’s certainly cheaper than tracking down another six issues of Infinity Warps (though that would not include Infinity Warps #1-2 because screw the “minor” characters). I didn’t know what to expect a year ago, and I didn’t really expect much. But that’s on me for underestimating the Marvel creators. I’ve been enjoying a lot of the current and recent work, so why should I expect Infinity Warps to be of lesser quality?
Ah well. Point being, it was good and I am happy.
Anyway, the best follow up to Infinity Warps would be my new copy of Secret Warps #4, the Arachknight annual. Which informs me that no, it’s Spiderman + Moon Knight, a character I have heard of and know nothing about. Which explains the white hood. Peter’s fighting Ulysses Klorb, a warp of Ulysses Klaw and The Orb, so therefore he has an ear for a head. While that fight wraps up, the Supreme Seven touch down. They’re from a different universe also within the Soul Stone and they’re here to destroy our heroes’ planet in order to anchor the multiverse inside the Stone. Because of course. They’re warps of a bunch of characters I’ve never heard of.
One nice bit in this issue is that Peter’s narration boxes change color to suit whichever personality is in charge. And when one of the Supreme Seven attacks his mind, we do have a lovely visual of the chaos inside due to four personalities. There’s also a backup story of how Arachknight met the Terrific Two and it’s kind of funny.
Of course the main story ends on a real cliffhanger while upping the stakes even further. Hopefully our heroes can get out of it before everything goes kablooey! Seriously, I’m loving the warped stuff and if they decide to make more, I’ll surely pick it up.
Now, since I was buying things at my local comic shop, there was a coverless comic thrown in as well. Which is notable because it’s actually been a while since I got one. Mostly it’s been Buffy comics with covers intact. Three of those, which again, were okay, but I don’t see myself springing for individual issues or trades. Though if I saw a trade at the library I might just check it out.
Anyway, today’s coverless comic was not at all what I expected. The main character is a redhead named Francine with an ability to predict the future that first manifested by preventer her mother from driving to the exact spot where a tree was about to fall over. Her father then determined to exploit his child by getting lotto numbers and winning horses out of her. Because, you know, once is never enough for some people.
It had started back in 1970 with the tree, and the present is 1978 where she’s in some sort of research facility as Six, the sixth person brought into a program concerning special abilities. And it turns out that her neighbor, from the house bought with her father’s lottery winnings, is also a part of the program. Which is about where the issue ends.
Most interesting of all is the comic’s actual title. Stranger Things: Six #1. See, I’ve never, ever watched Stranger Things. Oh sure, I know it’s supposed to be up my alley with geek culture and vintage setting, but it’s so popular I have no interest. I’ve been disinclined to seek out any real information and that’s been just fine with me.
Which makes me a little torn on this comic here. On the one hand, I think this was a very good opening and I am intrigued to see where it goes next. On the other hand, I still don’t want anything to do with a massive franchise and a very vocal fandom. I mean, you can argue that Marvel is a massive franchise and you’re not wrong, but I’ve been into that on a deeper level than most for years. I know a hell of a lot more than your average theatergoer, like my parents, and I do actively read comics. I still avoid the fandom, but that’s because I avoid fandom in general.
I guess you can also compare it to Game of Thrones. After all, I’ve turned up several short stories set in Westeros over the years. Of course, it’s also true that of those stories, only one is outstanding, one is fine but I suffer from lack of background, and the rest are pretty awful to my mind. And the one story I do like can be read as completely independent of the series if you so choose, which I do.
And that makes this Stranger Things comic immediately different from George R.R. Martin’s work in two ways. Firstly, I am quite certain it has a stronger connection to the series than “The Ice Dragon” does to A Song of Fire and Ice. Secondly, I actually enjoyed what I read. I won’t say it’s on a level with “The Ice Dragon” at this point, but I’ve only read the first issue of the story.
So I guess the relevant question is…how much do I want to know what happens next? I will admit to some curiosity. But I don’t think I’m curious enough to spend money on it. And I doubt another comic in this miniseries will find its way into my bag. However, I think I will hang onto this coverless comic for the time being, which is not the decision I saw myself making. And that says a lot now, doesn’t it?
Given the incredible mish-mash of things I’ve read today, I haven’t given any real thought to tomorrow’s reading. There are quite a number of options as per usual and most of them are reasonable choices. But I’ll worry about that in the morning. See if any thoughts get stuck in my head overnight that force a decision.