Friday, 28 May 2010

New Arrival: High-Rise by J. G. Ballard (1977 Panther Paperback)

Been wanting to get this one for a while. I was toying with getting a 1975 Jonathan Cape first edition hardback, but they're a little pricey. So instead, I snatched this 1977 Panther paperback up on eBay, the first UK paperback edition I believe, with a cover by SF artist Chris Foss (who recently provided a foreword to a book I worked on – Sci-Fi Art Now, out in the autumn, folks):

And actually, while there are plenty of copies of the Cape first edition online, I can't see a single copy of this paperback on AbeBooks or Amazon. It's in nice nick too, certainly better condition than the 1976 Panther paperback of Ballard's previous novel, Concrete Island, which I picked up in Arundel:

Bit grubby that one, but even so, the binding's tight, and it's perfectly serviceable. Amusing, too, how the cover illos on both books feature, to a greater or lesser degree, well, a lass with her tits out. Ah, God bless the '70s... Anyway, those are the two Ballard novels I really wanted to read, so now I can. Splendid.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Pity Him Afterwards by Donald Westlake

This one's for WalkerP, who wanted to see the cover of my first US edition of the early Donald Westlake novel Pity Him Afterwards, published by Random House in 1964. And here it is:

Quite an unnerving cover that. And I love that author pic of Westlake on the back. He looks so frickin' cool. That beard is awesome. Might have to grow mine a bit. I think this is one of my favourite author pics, right up there with that smouldering shot of Patricia Highsmith on a couple of the early Pan paperbacks:

That's The Blunderer on the left and Deep Water on the right. I've said it before but, holy cow, what a fox. Ah, if only I'd been alive in the fifties... and the right age... and in America... and, er, a woman...

Parker Progress Report: The Robert Hale (and some Mysterious Press) Editions

I think I've now acquired all the UK Robert Hale editions of the Parker novels I'm likely to get (that replacement copy of Breakout aside). Hooray for me. There's two I don't have: Comeback and Backflash; I've got American firsts of those instead. I guess I might pick up the Robert Hale editions at some point, but we'll see.

To recap: when Donald 'Richard Stark' Westlake returned to his character Parker in the 1997 after a twenty-plus year break, the novels were published in hardback by Mysterious Press in the States. It took quite a while before a UK publisher came on board, which turned out to be independent publisher Robert Hale. Whereas Mysterious Press opted for a largely typographic style of jacket for their editions (the first printing of Comeback and the later Nobody Runs Forever aside), Hale plumped for painted covers, all fairly literal interpretations of the books' content by artist Derek Colligan. Hale published all but the final two of this second run of Parker (Quercus took over for Ask the Parrot and Dirty Money).

Here, then, for anyone who hasn't nodded off after that recap, are the six Robert Hale first edition UK hardbacks, alongside their US counterparts:

Left: Robert Hale, 2001; right: Mysterious Press, 1997

Left: Robert Hale, 2001; right: Mysterious Press, 1998

Left: Robert Hale, 2002; right: Mysterious Press, 2000

Left: Robert Hale, 2002; right: Mysterious Press, 2001

Left: Robert Hale, 2003; right: Mysterious Press, 2002

Left: Robert Hale, 2005; right: Mysterious Press, 2004

New Arrival: Nobody Runs Forever by Richard Stark

The latest addition to my Parker novel collection is Parker #22, Nobody Runs Forever, published by Robert Hale in the UK in hardback in 2005 (originally published in the US by Mysterious Press in 2004):

Another Derek Colligan cover there. So, time for a Robert Hale round-up? I reckon so...

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

New Arrival: Breakout by Richard Stark

This arrived in the post yesterday:

A 2003 first UK Robert Hale hardback of Richard Stark's Breakout, the twenty-first Parker novel, originally published by Mysterious Press in the US in 2002. I got it for practically nothing on Amazon, and inevitably came a cropper: it's ex-library, and not that great condition. It's OK, the insides are clean and perfectly readable, but the dustjacket's obviously been well handled, and it's not as firm as it could be. Just goes to show you can't trust a lot of Amazon dealers when you buy cheapo books. I really like the jacket illo on this one – a slick, fist-slammin' painting by Derek Colligan – so, hopeless case that I am, I've just ordered another, hopefully better condition, copy. Mind you, there aren't many copies to choose from of this one; Amazon/AbeBooks only have a couple listed.

One thing I did find interesting was the case was a PLC with the same design as the jacket printed on it:

The other two Robert Hale editions I have – Flashfire and Firebreak – have standard imitation cloth cases, as most hardbacks do. I don't know if that means Breakout was only issued in hardcover for libraries, as sometimes happens? That would explain the PLC. It's also slightly shorter than the previous Robert Hale hardbacks:

Intriguing. And points deducted from the designers at Hale for not lining the spine designs up properly – checking that was drummed into me when I first started in book publishing. Anyway, I'll have a different Robert Hale edition in my hands shortly, at which point it could be time for a Parker Robert Hale cover gallery...

(UPDATE: Turns out that ex-library edition of Breakout with the printed case was an edition produced presumably for libraries only. When the other copy I'd ordered turned up, it had the same imitation cloth case as the other Robert Hale editions. So there you go...)

Because your kiss is on my List of the best things in lii-iiiife

Although, kisses apart, it's not much of a list at all this week. I count three comics I might wanna get. So after a couple of weeks where my cup runneth over, we're back down to the usual dribble of interesting comics. And I'm not even certain I'll get this one:

Amazing Spider-Man
#632. I picked up the previous two issues because they had Chris Bachalo on art, but Bachalo only managed to draw half of the second of those two comics, and the writing was, frankly, diabolical. These days reading Amazing Spider-Man is like stepping through a time warp into the 1970s-80s, except with any of the inventiveness or freshness of that period (if there even was any, which is debatable) surgically removed. I've got no problem with referencing the past or even remixing it, but the current editorial direction of Amazing Spider-Man seems to consist of trying to recapture the feel of a supposed golden period without understanding why that period was good in the first place – if it even was. Anyway, I might pick this up, but it'll be for the art alone, which is unusual for me.

I will definitely get this though:

That's Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato's Secret Avengers #1. I'm a big fan of Brubaker, and even though he's had some misfires – The Marvels Project was unforgivably dull – chances are this'll be pretty good. And I'll get this:

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne
#2, although I still haven't read the first issue. But it's Grant Morrison. It's bound to be decent. Hopefully I'll be able to pick up Frazer Irving's rather spiffing variant cover, the one on the right.

And that is all.

Monday, 24 May 2010

The New Adventures of Hitler

Almost forgot, I picked up some comics at the weekend too, in Brighton: Crisis issues #46–49. Crisis was a UK comics anthology published fortnightly by Fleetway in the late '80s, a kind of more mature, edgier spin-off from 2000 AD. There were a few interesting strips in it, notably Garth Ennis and John McCrea's Troubled Souls, about the so-called Troubles in Northern Ireland, and Peter Milligan and Brendan MCarthy's Skin, which featured a thalidomide skinhead. But the one I always wanted to read was Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell's The New Adventures of Hitler – basically a humorous exploration of Hitler's (unsubstantiated) time living in Liverpool from 1912 to 1913.

It ran in four parts (covers for parts 1 and 3 seen above), and it may have been collected at some point, although I don't think I've ever seen a copy if it has. But now I have the original comics (well, the strip first ran in a Scottish magazine called Cut, but anyway...). In fact I have two copies of each of them. Don't ask. I may stick one set on eBay at some point...

The Stark/Parker Coronet Editions (Slight Return)

I've blogged before about the UK Hodder Fawcett/Coronet paperback editions of Richard Stark/Donald Westlake's Parker novels from the late '60s/early '70s, and how I figured there were basically two types of design on the books over two printings, plus the odd movie cover. But with the arrival of a second printing (I already had the first and third printings) of The Rare Coin Score (Parker #9, but actually the second Parker novel Coronet picked up after Point Blank) I scored on eBay, I've now discovered there was another iteration of cover design:

From left to right we have the first Coronet paperback printing from 1968 (one year after the first US printing in 1967); the second printing from 1970; and the third printing from 1972. I knew there'd been a second printing of The Rare Coin Score, as the 'bullet-hole' edition stated as much on its imprint page; but I didn't realise it had been under a different cover design, a photo-cover which echoes the 1969 movie cover Coronet edition of The Split:

On the imprint page of the second printing of The Rare Coin Score, the previous Coronet edition Parkers are listed (in Coronet's order, not mine) as Point Blank, The Split, The Green Eagle Score, The Black Ice Score and The Sour Lemon Score. I stated in that previous post I thought that after Coronet published Point Blank (Parker #1) in 1967, they then jumped forward to The Rare Coin Score (Parker #9) because that was the most recent US Parker book. It now seems fairly clear that they published The Rare Coin Score, The Green Eagle Score (Parker #10), The Black Ice Score (Parker #11) and The Sour Lemon Score (Parker #12) consecutively around 1968(ish), under this type of cover design:

and then jumped back to The Split (Parker #7) to tie in with the 1969 movie, giving it a movie cover. After that, it looks as if they ran out of their original printing of The Rare Coin Score and had to reprint it, so they gave it a cover that reflected the movie cover of The Split.

So there you go. Of course, I'm still left with the question of which – if any – of the other Parker novels Coronet published with those photo covers, and also when it was they switched to the bullet-hole design, i.e. which was the first of their paperback Parkers to sport that design?

Unless anyone can help, those'll have to be questions for another day...

Books I Done Got Dis Weekend

What with the weekend post and the Lewes book fair, I ended up with a fair haul of books over the weekend. Friday brought a couple of things in the post:

That's a 1970 UK Coronet paperback second print of Richard Stark's The Rare Coin Score. I picked that up off eBay so I could compare and contrast, which I'll go into in a separate post. And this:

A 1962 first Pan UK paperback of Patricia Highsmith's A Game for the Living. And what that means is I now have all five of the novels Highsmith published under her own name in the 1950s as first edition UK paperbacks, most of which were published by Pan (usually a year or two after their hardback debuts):

Neat, huh? Some great artwork on those Pans by the likes of David Tayler and Sam Peffer. Anyway, at the Lewes Book Fair on Saturday I went in with twenty-five quid and found precisely two books that together set me back exactly... twenty-five quid. Sometimes it feels like the whole universe is built around me, which is awfully solipsistic of me, but there you go. It's my universe and I'll be solipsistic if I want to. Both books came from the same dealer:

A 1966 first edition of the second Modesty Blaise novel, Sabre-Tooth, by Peter O'Donnell (who sadly died recently), cover art by Jim Holdaway (the original artist on the Modesty Blaise newspaper comic strip), published by Souvenir Press (that's my first edition of the debut Modesty Blaise novel on the left next to it, published by Souvenir Press in 1965); and:

A 2005 UK hardback of George Pelecanos' Drama City, published by Orion, and signed by Pelecanos. At least I hope that's his signature. Hard to tell. I guess the dealer could've scrawled that there. I read Pelecanos' The Way Home and really liked it, and I'm a huge fan of The Wire, which he wrote for; this is another of his standalone books, as opposed to the various detective series he's written. Should be good. (And yes, that is me you can see reflected in the shiny dustwrapper, taking the photo. Jesus, what a doofus.)

And then when I got back to the house later that day the postman had been again and left me this:

A 2002 UK hardback of Richard Stark's Flashfire, published by Robert Hale (originally published in the US by Mysterious Press in 2000), with a cover painting by Derek Colligan (as with all the Robert Hale editions). This is the nineteenth Parker novel, and it was only when I had it in my hands I realised what Donald Westlake had done with the titles of the Parker books when Parker came back in 1997 after his twenty-plus year break: he tag-teamed them. He kicked off with Comeback, then Backflash, Flashfire, Firebreak, and then Breakout. He changed tack again with the subsequent Nobody Runs Forever, possibly 'cos he struggled with a coming up with a title starting with 'Out'. Interesting. Or maybe not. But there it is. So I now have the first twenty Parker novels (up to and including Firebreak)... and I'll have news on the next couple soon.

So farewell, then, Lost.

You were filled with non-sequiturs, and dead-ends, and dangling plot threads, and characters never answering questions, or often even failing to ask the right (and obvious) questions in the first place, and it was increasingly evident that your producers were making it up on the hoof. But your final episode almost made me cry a few times, so I must have been fairly invested. You'll be missed.

Friday, 21 May 2010

The Stark Stooges

I posted something a month or two back about the Stark Cutaways – the part in every Parker novel (or at least the eight I've read so far) where Richard Stark/Donald Westlake cuts away from the main action to fill in some back story or follow a different but still-related strand of the story. To a greater or lesser extent, these cutaways always focus on some hapless individual who's causing Parker problems, intentionally or inadvertently. Let's call 'em the Stark Stooges.

The first Stark Stooge is, of course, Mal Resnick, the guy who double-crosses Parker in the first novel in the series, The Hunter/Point Blank. Once he learns Parker's on his tail, Mal spends his cutaway trying first to get the Outfit (the crime syndicate that plagues Parker throughout the books) to protect him, and then... well, laying low with a hooker in a hotel room. Good plan there, Mal. Just as Parker comes for him, we flash back to the aftermath of the heist that set events in motion and Mal's betrayal of Parker, using Parker's wife Lynne as his instrument. Goes without saying, really, but: shouldn't have messed with Parker's moll, Mal...

Point Blank is obviously a terrific book, but Mal is a pretty loathsome individual, even for a career criminal; he's self-centred, sadistic and a coward, so it's no great shame when he gets his comeuppance. But the Stark Stooge in the second book, The Man with the Getaway Face, is much more sympathetic, mostly because he's so hopelessly dumb. Stubbs is a former Communist party activist who got thumped on the head one too many times as a younger man and as a result stumbles through life in a perennially befuddled state. He blunders into Parker's life after Parker gets plastic surgery on his face and the surgeon who performed the operation is subsequently murdered by a different patient.

So Stubbs embarks on a woozy manhunt, with Parker being one of the names on his shortlist of suspects. He catches up with Parker in the planning stages of a heist; Parker doesn't particularly want to kill Stubbs, so he puts him on ice, locking him in a shack in the middle of nowhere. But when Parker returns to the shack after the robbery, Stubbs has escaped, which is where the Stark Cutaway kicks in and we find out what Stubbs has been up to. This, for me, is the best part of the novel; witnessing Stubbs' plodding, fuzzy but methodical progress as he searches for the next name on the list. Needless to say, as with pretty much all the Stark Stooges, it doesn't end well for him...

The next Stark Cutaway in the third novel, The Outfit, is split between the various criminals who respond to Parker's letter-writing campaign asking them to hit the Outfit, and the target of Parker's ire, Outfit boss Bronson. Bronson is the Stark Stooge here, a miserable figure who's reached the top of the tree but takes little pleasure in his position, pacing around his ugly mansion, waiting for Parker to catch up with him. It's almost a relief when he does.

More unusual is the stooge in the fourth book, The Mourner: Auguste Menlo. Menlo is an odd fit for a Parker book. He's an Eastern European intelligence agent, sent to America to look into the actions of diplomat Kapor, who's been squirreling away cash with the intention of absconding. Menlo is educated, clever and ruthless, but also rather charming, so his (altered) mission to get his hands on the cash instead and defect himself is actually quite compelling. It's easier to root for Menlo than for previous stooges, which makes his ultimate downfall as affecting in its own way as that of Stubbs. Even so, Menlo is so different to the usual protagonists of the Parker novels that he feels somewhat unlikely; by my reckoning Stubbs is still the more believable and therefore sympathetic stooge.

Our next Stark Stooge, Edgars, in the fifth novel, The Score, is probably the least interesting stooge so far, which is odd, as the book itself is one of the best in the series. But his motivation is simplistic (basically revenge on the town Parker's crew hit), and he's overshadowed by the heist itself, which is glorious and bloody. But the main Stark Stooge in the following book, The Jugger, is much better. Captain Abner Younger is the police chief of the small town where Parker's 'mailbox' (i.e. how other criminals contact Parker), Joe Sheer, has retired. In fact we get two stooges for the price of one in The Jugger: in a flashback the previously opaque Sheer is fleshed out, as Younger discovers who he is and proceeds to blackmail and eventually torture Sheer in the hopes of getting his hands on Sheer's money. Even by the standards of Mal Resnick and Bronson, Younger is a real son-of-a-bitch. When he gets his, in Stark's standard matter-of-fact manner, I almost stood up and cheered.

The Stark Stooge in The Seventh (a.k.a. The Split) stands out by dint of something Westlake doesn't do: name him. (Westlake even has some fun with this, having characters state that it doesn't matter what the stooge's name is – and indeed it doesn't.) This un-monikered chancer careens into Parker's world after he kills Parker's bit of fluff (actually Nameless Stooge's ex-girlfriend) and makes off with the proceeds of Parker and his crew's latest heist. The result is the biggest bloodbath so far, as Parker and co. hunt for Mr. No Name and eventually turn on each other. The way this nobody, by no means a professional criminal, continually frustrates Parker is fascinating to watch, and becomes almost comical when it emerges he gets terrified and freezes during shootouts. The murder of his ex aside, Nameless Stooge is probably the closest character to the average Stark reader in the series so far; it's all too easy to imagine yourself in the nameless one's shoes at the end of the book, being pursued relentlessly by Parker through the woods.

The eighth Parker novel, The Handle (and the last one I've read to date), brings us Baron, owner of the island of Cockaigne off the coast of Texas and the casino that sits on the island. Baron is, in fact, an actual baron, who escaped from Germany after the war with his ill-gotten gains and eventually got involved with the Cubans, who set him up on his island. Baron is similar to Menlo from The Mourner; a more sophisticated and urbane foil for Parker. Although 'foil' isn't entirely accurate: Parker never really confronts Baron, although he is, at one point, shot by him. The fun with Baron is following him after the apocalyptic heist on his island, as he makes his escape in a boat and then to Mexico, meeting his unfortunate fate at the hands of a couple of peasants: class warfare, Richard Stark-style.

And those are the Stark Stooges thus far. Next up for me (after I finish the first Alan Grofield novel, The Damsel) is The Rare Coin Score. Wonder which type of stooge we'll get this time...?

(Some images 'borrowed' from The Violent World of Parker. Hope you don't mind...)

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Extra Comics

So I didn't buy Jim Woodring's Weathercraft – I flicked through it in the shop but, lovely though it looked, I couldn't bring myself to part with fifteen quid for a 100-page graphic novel that'll take about half an hour to read because it is, like most of Woodring's comics, 'silent'. It also looked really similar to another Woodring comic I already own where Manhog becomes civilized and ends up in a bathrobe; whereas in Weathercraft it looks like he attains enlightenment... and ends up in a bathrobe.

So I passed, for the moment. Instead, as well as the four comics I said I'd buy, I bought a couple of extra DC comics. Namely:

That's Jim Lee's variant cover for Legion of Super-Heroes #1. Yes, despite my protestations, it seems I am still a sucker for a variant cover. And weirdly, I don't even particularly like this cover. And also weirdly, I don't particularly like the Legion either. I've enjoyed the odd comic with them in, but the supposed glory years of the Legion – some of which were written by newly-ex-DC publisher Paul Levitz, the writer on this new series – passed me by completely. I remember my friend Wayne from school being really into the Legion, but I think I was more into Captain America or Batman at the time. The Legion seemed like this weird soap opera-y thing with lots of heroes with daft names like Bouncing Boy and Dream Girl and Lightning Lad and Alan Ladd. So I don't really know why I picked up this new #1. Clearly there's something wrong with me.

I also got this:

Which is the first issue of a ten-issue maxiseries called DC Universe Legacies #1. I've got a stronger reason for picking this one up (well, it couldn't be much weaker, could it?), which is, one of the things I've always liked about DC is the sprawling interconnectedness of the DC Universe. It was Crisis on Infinite Earths that got me hooked on that, where hundreds of superheroes, many of whom I'd never even heard of, were crammed together in one massive story with the fate of the universe in the balance. Even though I didn't know who the Crime Syndicate of America were, it was still pretty shocking to see them get swallowed up by a wall of nothingness and blink out of existence in the first issue of Crisis.

Over the years I read more and more DC comics, and became immersed in the complexity of the DCU, to the extent that I had a pretty firm working knowledge of continuity and the various changes to it wrought by Crisis and subsequent events like Zero Hour. So the idea of a maxiseries like Legacies, which looks like it'll chart the history of the DCU as the continuity currently stands, does appeal to me.

Mind you, if it's crap, I won't be getting the second issue.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Parker Progress Report: The Split, The Handle, and The Outfit (The Movie)

Eight books down now on my Richard Stark/Donald Westlake Parker novel marathon. I just finished #8, The Handle, which was a fairly straightforward heist tale with a few swerves to keep things interesting. Parker getting involved with the FBI struck me as slightly unlikely in this one; I'm pretty sure the Parker of earlier novels would have cut and run at the sight of the Feds, no matter how badly he needed money. But what the hell: it made for an interesting set-up. I was sad to see a semi-regular cohort bite the dust, but on the upside Alan Grofield gets a fairly meaty part in The Handle. I've just started reading the first solo Grofield novel, The Damsel, which follows on directly from The Handle, so it'll be interesting to compare that to the Parker books.

The Split
(a.k.a. The Seventh), Parker #7, was even better than The Handle. The runaround that Parker experiences at the hands of the nameless murderer is almost comical; it's funny to watch Parker seething that such an obviously incompetent criminal can cause him such a headache. It reminded me of poor old Stubbs in The Man with the Getaway Face. I really liked the final business in the woods at the end of the novel, and Westlake's parting shot, as Parker works out how much money is left. Brilliant stuff. You gotta feel for the rest of Parker's crew in the aftermath of the college football game heist though...

And I finally got round to watching the 1973 movie version of The Outfit. It's surprisingly faithful, with many of the beats of the novel translated almost verbatim. Also, Robert Duvall doesn't really look like Parker but he sure acts like him. He's abrupt almost to the point of monosyllabic in places, which is in keeping, although he does display a certain amount of tenderness to his girlfriend. I haven't seen that side of Parker in the novels yet, but perhaps it's coming – I think he hooks up with his squeeze, Claire, in the next one, The Rare Coin Score.

Anyway, other than the addition of a girlf, the other major change in the film of The Outfit is that Parker – or rather Earl Macklin as he's called in the movie – and Handy – or rather Cody – take all the scores themselves, rather than other criminals doing them. That alteration makes sense though: it gives the film more of a standalone feel, and a straightforward through-line. It took a little while for me to get used to the relaxed pace of the film (the occasional burst of excitement aside), but overall it's a pretty decent piece of '70s crime moviemaking.

Listifaction Time... Listification Time...

Looks like a fairly decent week for new comics this week. I count four definites for me, plus a graphic novel I'd like to get if it arrives, plus a few other comics I'll flick through. I can't be arsed to list the 'maybes' today though, so let's just look at the 'definites', shall we? Yes, let's.

Marvel launch their 'Heroic Age' thingy with this Brian Michael Bendis-written/John Romita Jr.-drawn new series. Woo hoo. Should be pretty good actually, although there's eight variant covers on this one, including the main cover. Eight! That's ridiculous. Silly old Marvel. Mind you, I like the sound of the 'Avengers Party Gatefold Cover'... No! Noooo! Resist! Resssiiiissssttt!

Ex Machina #49
Penultimate issue! I'll be sad to see this one go. Hope Brian K. Vaughan's got something new lined up. This and his Y: The Last Man were two of the best ongoing titles throughout the noughties.

Invincible Iron Man
Always solid this.

Walking Dead
And this.

This is the graphic novel I mentioned, Jim Woodring's Weathercraft, which is his first full graphic novel (it sez 'ere). I've read a fair few of Woodring's Frank comics, and they're weirdly compelling, although they generally leave you feeling slightly wrong, as awful things tend to befall the characters. I like feeling wrong though. Is that wrong?