It was a snake, cold of eye, its tongue flickering, its fangs dripping with poison. It hissed, and a drop of poison from its mouth dripped onto Loki’s face, making his eyes burn. Loki screamed and contorted, writhing and twisting in pain. He tried to get out of the way, to move his head from beneath the poison. The bonds that had once been the entrails of his own son held him tightly.
The Problem of Susan collects four graphic adaptations of Neil Gaiman fantasy stories. The first two are illustrated by P. Craig Russell, who also did the scripting and layouts for the third. The title story–a sequel/critique for the Narnia stories of C.S. Lewis–is the longest of the four, and it’s one I had read some years back. Russell’s adaptation is magnificent, with repeated visual motives and a really glorious concluding panel.
The second story “Locks” is a very short one built around Goldilocks and the Three Bears and again bringing adult reflection to bear on children’s literature. In the third tale “October in the Chair,” personified months of the year have assembled around a fire in the woods for what seems to be a recurring convocation in which they exchange stories. October’s contribution is the centerpiece, and it’s suitably autumnal and spooky. The final piece in the book is hardly a story at all, more of a short poem really, called “The Day the Saucers Came.” Paul Chadwick’s art for this one is entirely in full-page illustrations, just seven of them.
So, here’s Neil Gaiman’s take on Jack Kirby’s Eternals, in which alien space gods have created humanoid super-custodians for terrestrial life, themselves understood as deities by traditional polytheistic cultures. Readers could be forgiven for assuming that American Gods author Gaiman would focus on the characters’ altar-egos (that’s a pun, not a misspelling) as the gods of Olympus, Valhalla, etc., but that’s exactly what he doesn’t do. Instead, he creates a “reboot” scenario in which the Eternals have been deceived into thinking that they are human, and have forgotten what they knew about the Celestials and the deep history of Earth; and then he uses their process of anamnesia to portray a spectrum of attitudes from the conflicted human to the puissant and impeccable Eternal.
Gaiman cleverly works in a fair amount of Lovecraftian lore, in a hybrid with Kirby’s von Daniken plot-basis, and he gives the Deviants some self-respect as the “Changing People.” The plot integration with Marvel’s Civil War cross-title “event” was a little annoying to me, but part of Gaiman’s challenge was to integrate the outlier Eternals with the “Marvel Universe,” and he seems to have succeeded, at least as far as he took it.
The art by John Romita Jr. (JRJR) is often anatomically obtuse–a good example comes in a page-top panel toward the end of the book, in which Thena’s right foot looks like she’s wearing a clown shoe. But that’s actually in keeping with the Kirby spirit. As Gaiman observes of Kirby in an appended interview: “My little ten-year-old brain would go, ‘Fire doesn’t look like that!” and then you look at his women and go, ‘Women don’t look like that!'” So, like what Gaiman calls the “Kirbyverse,” JRJR manages to offer a coherent visual idiom with its own power. His panoramic images of prehistoric epic are especially fine.
The production values for this edition are positively splendid: a nearly folio-sized hardcover with a sturdy dustjacket, full-process color on glossy paper, and a set of appendices including the aforementioned interview, alternate cover illustrations, preliminary character sketches, Gaiman’s proposal for the series, and an essay about the original Eternals title.
He said nothing: seldom do those who are silent make mistakes.
Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology
Before the beginning there was nothing—no earth, no heavens, no stars, no sky: only the mist world, formless and shapeless, and the fire world, always burning.
Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is a retelling of a sequence of stories from the overall Norse corpus. There’s an arc, but it’s not a smoothly contiguous novelized story. But, the collection of stories are a good series, and well written. I also read this in conjunction with the Norse Mythology audiobook, read by Neil Gaiman himself. So, I had the author’s own voice to reinforce the rhythm and tone of the writing.
The brightest points were those where the alliteration and poetry arose in the writing and the reading. If this is your first approach to this material, I strongly recommend following up with the pure poetry of the poetic Edda and other source material. If you’re coming to this work already familiar with the source material, these bright points of alliteration and poetry will strongly strike you with memories of what you have already read. But, those moments feel a bit random in the whole, and not in places of the strongest action or in places that seem intentional for the story. They come and pass almost like a surprise for no reason other than, perhaps, they were inspired by such moments in the source material; though I didn’t try to go back and compare.
All in all, a good gift for someone new to the stories, and a welcome reminder for those already familiar with them. Also, having the whole read aloud by the author was a delight.
I made 70 highlights.
Originally posted on my personal blog at Norse Mythology
Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman, Andy Kubert, &al, is something I’ve wanted to read for a long time and finally got a round tuit.
This was originally an 8 issue series, now available as a collected graphic novel. Apparently there’s been others created in the 1602 universe, but this is the core story. This is an alternate universe story about the main Marvel superheroes out of time, for some reason, which is eventually revealed. On the main, the cool part is the period drama and how the heroes have turned out in another time, and an extended thought experiment about this alternate reality in which essential natures and essential stories still play out.
I think for me the real feature that drew me to this story was that it featured Doctor Strange, and moreover in the era of John Dee, but it turns out there’s a lot more I enjoyed. Lots of little things that tickled my interests, like Daredevil talking about mystery and audere, Fury and Peter Parker talking about secrets, powers and mysteries, & c.
I think I was really hoping that Doctor Strange would use Dee’s obsidian mirror, but if it was there, even in the background, I missed it. But there’s plenty I found interesting. Two moments that come to mind are the villainization of libertarian, individual as the myopic measure of right Doom opposed to the excellence in a collective of the various others coming together, and an almost Zen parable about tools and weapons that resolves into an oblique takedown of filthy lucre.
On the other hand, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that the Fantastic Four could be seen as the four classical elements. I still don’t enjoy FF much, but it’s a dimension to them I’d not thought about before, that’s kinda obvious now that I’ve read it.
The art is in that almost over-perfect style that is hand-drawn but finished on a computer, which tweaks that peculiar Alex Ross-like trigger of glossy detail while still being minimal. The writing is good, though not stunning, to be honest. The primary novelty is in the time-twist and what-if-ism, which does deliver a solid series. Overall, worth reading and a fun adventure that kept me interested and thinking beyond just what the story presented.
Originally posted on my personal blog at Marvel 1602
for knowledge of runes, and for power, he sacrificed himself to himself.
Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology
I found this book by chance at the public library, being interested in a few of the included authors. It’s one of those monster theme collections, gathering thirty-six stories in which “the Devil” features as a principal character, from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first. (Longfellow’s translation of the thirty-sixth canto of Dante’s Inferno is the oldest item, and concludes the book.) Six stories I had read prior to their appearance here. “Thank you, Satan!” quoth the editor, introducing his first effort at anthology. Despite the title, most of these stories don’t portray the Devil as sympathetic.
Charles Stross’s story “Snowball’s Chance” was a major attraction, and did not disappoint, other than its clumsy misquotation of the Law of Thelema. I suppose any 21st-century Big Book of Beelzebub is likely to include some content touching on the Great Beast who heralded the New Aeon. Nick Mamatas’s fictional protagonist in “Summon, Bind, Banish” may be a full (i.e. Ninth Degree) initiate of O.T.O., but Mamatas himself obviously isn’t. His pretended exposure of the Order’s sovereign secret is overshadowed by the way that he vilifies Crowley with an impressionistic biography of mostly-true episodes.
Elizabeth M. Glover’s “MetaPhysics” was cornball, but some of these pieces were genuinely funny. In particular I was delighted with the one-act comedy “Faustfeathers” by John Kessel, which casts Groucho Marx as the paradigmatic sorcerer. Jeffrey Ford’s “On the Road to New Egypt” was a key inducement to my reading the book, and turned out to be hilarious.
Some of the creepiest stories were the most questionably related to the book’s espoused theme, and these were often among the ones I had already read, such as China Miéville’s “Details,” “The Professor’s Teddy Bear” by Theodore Sturgeon, and “The God of Dark Laughter” by Michael Chabon. Probably the most horrific story in the book that was new to me on this reading was “The Goat Cutter” by Jay Lake. The most surreal story was either “Lull” by Kelly Link or “The Heidelberg Cylinder” by Jonathan Carroll, and both of these get high marks from me.
Older selections included Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” (still excellent), Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Bottle Imp” (how had I missed this one before?), and Mark Twain’s “Sold to the Devil” (justly neglected by a mass readership). “Big names” likely to appeal to genre fans include Stephen King (“The Man in the Black Suit”) and Neil Gaiman (“The Price” and “We Can Get Them for You Wholesale”).
The book is a fairly mixed bag on the whole, as one might expect with such a large number of stories and such a narrow criterion for inclusion. Still, it was definitely worth the bother. [via]
Lucifer, official trailer for the forthcoming series in 2016, from FOX
The Devil has come to Los Angeles…
Based upon the characters created by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg for DC Entertainment’s Vertigo imprint, LUCIFER is the story of the original fallen angel. Bored and unhappy as the Lord of Hell, LUCIFER MORNINGSTAR (Tom Ellis, “Merlin”) has abandoned his throne and retired to L.A., where he owns Lux, an upscale nightclub.
Charming, charismatic and devilishly handsome, Lucifer is enjoying his retirement, indulging in a few of his favorite things – wine, women and song – when a beautiful pop star is brutally murdered outside of Lux. For the first time in roughly 10 billion years, he feels something awaken deep within him as a result of this murder. Compassion? Sympathy? The very thought disturbs him – as well as his best friend and confidante, MAZIKEEN aka MAZE (Lesley-Ann Brandt, “The Librarians”), a fierce demon in the form of a beautiful young woman.
The murder attracts the attention of LAPD homicide detective CHLOE DANCER (Lauren German, “Chicago Fire”), who initially is dismissive of Lucifer. But she becomes intrigued by his talent for drawing out people’s secrets and his desire to dispense justice, doling out punishment to those who deserve it. As they work together to solve the pop star’s murder, Lucifer is struck by Chloe’s inherent goodness. Accustomed to dealing with the absolute worst of humanity, Lucifer is intrigued by Chloe’s apparent purity and begins to wonder if there’s hope for his own soul yet.
At the same time, God’s emissary, the angel AMENADIEL (DB Woodside, “Suits,” “24”), has been sent to Los Angeles to convince Lucifer to return to the underworld…can the Devil incarnate be tempted toward the side of Good, or will his original calling pull him back toward Evil?