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Monday, April 25, 2016

Get Jiro! and The Private Eye and a Coupla Battlefields

You guys thought I was exaggerating in that last post, didn't you? I'll let you in on a little secret. Before I started reading that book, I was three weeks ahead in reviews. I'd been maintaining that backlog for months. There are few things more satisfying than having three posts to your website that nobody has heard of all queued up and ready to be unleashed on an unsuspecting public.

That backlog is toast. It took me a long time to read Voices from Chernobyl, and it took me a long time to write about it. Then, it took a long time of lying down to get to where I wanted to type in this box again. Good news, though. Between writing the post and publishing it, I went on a work trip that was almost impossibly lovely. I visited streams, I saw battlefields, I saw new birds, I made new friends. You guys: I don't make friends. This is a new thing and I can't quantify how much it helps when you're in a post-Chernobyl funk.

Me being judged by a baby

I also dreaded this trip. I've dreaded it for months. The idea of going to West Virginia (would there be hill people? Would there be John Denvers?) was exhilarating. The idea of planning it, getting all my travel forms in order and approved, getting the plane tickets and booking the lodging and actually making it to the airport and on each plane and train and shuttle in time is just the kind of uncertainty that gives your chill friend Howie anxiety nightmares. At a certain point I'd forgotten what I was even going for, instead just focusing on getting home without something going wrong. You guys I am not fun to travel with.

I had so much fun. I am ready to do this. Now I just need to finish a book.

Here was my pattern for reading for the last three weeks: read two or three essays from Voices from Chernobyl, then read 18 graphic novels. Try to survive in a world that is often random and can sometimes feel as if it's conspiring against you. Repeat.

This is good self-care, but provides for poor blog-writing material. It leads to one of these comic book clearinghouse posts you sometimes get. So let's get to it.

Get Jiro! by Anthony Bourdain (!), Joel Rose, Langdon Foss

This is one of two near future dystopias where one weird thing has distorted society in various ways. In this case, foodie culture has taken over. Every business is a restaurant and people obsess over the hot new chef. Supply chains are controlled by two major cartels: the industrialized modern chefs and the vegan locavore hippy commune.

In this rigid world we meet Jiro, a master sushi chef working quietly and unaffiliated on the outskirts of town. In the opening scene three bros find his shop and dip their sushi in soy sauce (don't do this). Jiro promptly decapitates them in front of police officers who sympathetically lament the mess Jiro will have to clean up while chuckling to themselves as they enjoy their sushi.

It's that kind of book.

What follows is a revolution of sorts, revolving around Jiro, who wants to be left alone but is too important a chef to not be courted actively by both sides of the food wars. It's violent and gross and very funny. It feels like one of those one-off comic stories I love so much. No canon, no continuity, no endless future issues to dilute the idea. Just a fun story about a crazy, crazy world.

You know what else is like that? That's right, it's The Private Eye, by Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente.

In The Private Eye the hook is that sometime in the near future the cloud "burst," and suddenly everything on the internet became available to everyone. Search histories, chat transcripts, the works. With all these secrets freely available, the trend becomes wearing masks and elaborate disguises to hide from them. The internet no longer exists. Cassette tapes are cool again. And people from my generation are old and ridiculous.

The story follows the titular private eye, whose job is to find out who people are under the masks, for a fee. In typical private eye story fashion, this goes real wrong when a client is murdered and he gets implicated. In this future the press are the police, and reporting your face and name is a fate worse than prison.
Both of these books really work as graphic novels, where they might be silly as novel novels. I love the art. Both are colorful, with clean lines. A perfect antidote to the mega-dark layouts of a lot of the DC books I've been reading lately. What's going on with DC, you guys? Does anyone know that Superman dresses in red and blue and there's something compelling about that?

One wonderful exception is Batgirl of Burnside by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher, and Babs Tarr.

I don't know how much I need to write about this. This character sketch really covers what a great book this is.

Imagine a world for a moment, where instead of gritty reboots of classic fun things, we get fun reboots of gritty things. Don't buy it? Watch Blade Runner and The Fifth Element back-to-back. You should probably do this anyway. Just because.

Hate these kinds of posts? I'm sorry. I started two books on the plane and got about halfway through them. One I quit because I hated it, and one I will finish soon and you'll hear all about it. Howie's back, babies!