Archive for April, 2015

Kissing Bandette

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Bandette, Volume 2: Stealers, Keepers!

It’s Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover’s long-awaited second collection of the daring and spectacularly French adventures of Bandette, the greatest thief in the world!

Bandette is still competing in a thievery contest with the courtly Monsieur, she’s still toying adorably with the heart of the hapless Daniel, and she’s targeting Absinthe and his deadly criminal organization FINIS for elimination. But while she still has her Urchins to assist her, and while Inspector B.D. Belgique of the Paris Police still pursues her (often just to see if she’ll help them take care of a more serious crime), Bandette has a new foe she must deal with: the deadly strangler Il Tredici!

There are old friends, new friends (like Pietro the Pig), unexpected allies, surprise returns, and more wit and derring-do than you can fit in the Louvre. There are also a number of backup stories about Bandette’s allies — and even one of her foes. Most of these are short comics, written by Tobin and illustrated by other cartoonists, but there’s also a prose story about how Bandette helps save one of the supporting characters in the main story.

Is there nothing Bandette cannot accomplish? Well, perhaps she cannot best Monsieur in their competition. Perhaps she cannot avoid the unlucky hands of Il Tredici. Perhaps she cannot avoid the vengeance of Absinthe. Perhaps she cannot save innocent lives from FINIS.

Ha ha! How droll! Of course Bandette can do all these things!

Verdict: Thumbs up. Like the first volume of this series, this is delightful, fun, charming, and an absolute joy to read. The stakes are higher, but the fun and the humor are still really strong — and there’s still nothing grander than watching Bandette pull off impossible and daring heists of wonderful things, all while keeping up a stream of hilarious and slightly demented patter.

Can’t say enough great things about both Tobin and Coover in this story. They both team up to create a beautifully French comic, with Tobin providing the gloriously Parisian plotlines and dialogue and Coover creating the romantic, exciting Paris that probably only exists in dreams.

You can also see Coover’s notes at the end of the comic about the people who inspired her depictions of all the major characters, which will probably send you reading back through the story to imagine what a “Bandette” movie would’ve looked like if they’d made it in the ’60s.

Don’t know what else to say. It’s an outstanding comic, great for kids or grownups, boys or girls. Go pick it up!

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Bullet Points

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Lazarus #16

This issue follows Sister Bernard, a nun and doctor — and spy for the Carlyle family. And she’s being sent into territory governed by the noxious dictator Jakob Hock, on an errand to find and retrieve one person, Victoria Aguillar, who has important information. When she finally meets up with her, Aguillar reveals that Dr. Hock has re-engineered a catastrophic plague to make it even more deadly — and he’s infected Aguillar with it. But when Hock’s troops show up, will Sister Bernard be able to get her charge to safety — or is there anywhere safe for either of them?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent story, with a ton of unusual graphics — lots of digital, computer-based imagery, to illustrate the espionage work that Sister Bernard is doing. The cliffhanger is excellent, too.

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Revival #29

Rotten teabagging terrorist-wannabe Edmund Holt finally quits being a wannabe, and his scheme involves the mayor, the mayor’s wife, and a bomb. And demon-obsessed Blaine finally loses his mind and goes after May Tao.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots and lots of stuff going on in this story, and I can’t tell it all, ’cause it’s all go good. Y’all been reading this series, right? ‘Cause it’s too good for you to miss out on.

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Devourers of Nuts

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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #4

Well, it’s a foregone conclusion that Squirrel Girl defeats Galactus, right? So how does it happen? Her powers involve squirrel strength and agility and the ability to talk to squirrels — she really shouldn’t stand a chance against the cosmic-powered Devourer of Worlds, right? So how does she do it? And do you really think I’m going to spoil the surprise?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good story. Super-weird story, really. Fun art, too. Some definite high points involve the letter column on the second page; how squirrels see Galactus; Galactus dissing Thanos; Galactus’s grubby keyboard and half-eaten Twinkies; and what happens when someone finally figures out Doreen’s secret identity.

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Convergence: The New Teen Titans #1

The classic-era Teen Titans — Wonder Girl, Starfire, Nightwing, Cyborg, Changeling, and (ugh) Kole and Jericho — have been stuck under the dome without their powers for a year. When it finally drops and their powers return, they have to face the Doom Patrol from the Tangent Universe. Both teams are heroes, but will they realize it in time? And will they be able to work together? Besides all that, Nightwing is questioning his marriage to Starfire, Cyborg is slowly dying as his parts wear out, and Donna is missing her husband (ugh) Terry Long.

Verdict: Basically a thumbs up. I still hate the concept of this series, but this one at least hits on the idea that groups of superheroes should try to work together to save their worlds, rather than try to kill each other. It’s nice to see Marv Wolfman writing these characters, even if there’s too much of Donna mooning over the horrible Terry Long — plus it’s always great to see artwork by Nicola Scott.

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God Plays Dice

TheBones

The Bones: Us and our Dice, edited by Will Hindmarch

Do you remember your first set of polyhedral dice? Mine came in the old mid-1980s Dungeons & Dragons boxed set. They were a ridiculous baby-blue color and were almost ludicrously ugly. I couldn’t keep them with the boxed set, so I put them in a plastic baggie and stored them in a dresser drawer for a few decades.

A couple years ago, I decided to dig my original dice out — it turned out that I’d actually lost two of the six dice at some point. The fact that I’d managed to lose two of my original polyhedrals sent me on a dice-collecting binge for about a month. I still can’t bring myself to keep my original dice with my newer ones — I still hold out a vague hope that I’ll find the two lost ones someday, and I’ll be able to return the originals to my dice bag in triumph.

Please keep in mind, this is all coming from a guy who never gets a chance to play any roleplaying games. But I’m still obsessed with my dice.

And that’s what this book is about: dice. The history of dice, and our relationship with dice.

We start off with a few history lessons from Kenneth Hite and Irving Finkel (and a cartoon history from “Dork Tower” cartoonist John Kovalic), all about the very first dice — known as astrogaloi, the anklebones of a sheep, which had four sides that could be labeled and thrown, either as gambling implements, toys, or prophetic devices. There are other essays about randomness in games — and about randomness in computer games — as well as an interview with the inventor of the magnificent Dice-o-Matic.

After that come a number of essays, remembrances, funny stories, and entertaining ruminations on dice, games, and the ways they impact our lives. We get work from Wil Wheaton, Matt Forbeck, Jesse Scoble, Paul Tevis, Jeff Tidball, Monica Valentinelli, Ray Fawkes, Keith Baker, and many, many more.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I’m really a bit amazed how much fun this book was.

The historical articles at the beginning, outlining the development of dice and gaming from ancient times to today, were genuinely eye-opening, and the analysis by gaming guru Greg Costikyan on randomness-vs.-skill in games was similarly fascinating. The interview with the guy who invented a Lego machine designed to roll over a million dice every day, just to keep players in play-by-email games satisfied that their digital rolls were actually random, was both informative and funny — there’s little statistical difference between computer-generated random numbers and the rolls of six-sided dice, but gamers are more accepting of the randomness of dice.

The shorter essays filling the rest of the book are great, too. Some of them are fun because they’re slightly alien to me — see, a lot of them discuss the rituals gamers use to keep their dice lucky, or to punish them for not being lucky. Praising dice for good rolls, scolding them for bad ones, destroying them for consistent bad rolls. I’m very big on accepting the randomness of the dice rolls — unless the dice are designed to give crooked rolls, which few polyhedral dice are, some rolls will be good, some rolls will be bad, a lot of them will be fairly middling. But it’s interesting to read about all the dice rituals out there.

A lot of the other essays are great, too. We read about a wedding themed around dice, a story about actress Daryl Hannah, a tribute to six-sided dice, a tale about a set of homemade metal dice, and essays on dice and divination, dice as weapons, lost (and found) dice, the scarcity of modern polyhedral dice in third-world nations, and much, much more.

If you love games, if you love roleplaying, and if you find yourself sometimes obsessing over new dice, old dice, and the long-vanished 12-sider from your first RPG, you should go pick this one up.

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The First Day of Camp

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Lumberjanes #13

In this issue, we travel back in time to see how our heroines met each other on the first day of camp. We see Jo and her adorably doting (and probably very wealthy) dads; Ripley and her gigantic family of mostly identical siblings — and Ripley’s gorgeous long hair that gets gum-filled and then cut down to the short style we’re familiar with; Mal, showing up with a cab; April with her take-charge attitude and weary father; and Molly, who goes on a grand but short adventure, narrowly avoids certain doom, and acquires her raccoon hat.

Verdict: Thumbs up. So very much fun. It’s great to see how kickass all these girls were even before they met each other and started going on insane adventures together.

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Sensation Comics #9

Our first story in this issue is written by Lauren Beukes and illustrated by fan-favorite artist Mike Maihack, as Wonder Woman must battle Circe, Medusa, and Cheetah — but what dire, mind-shattering secret lurks behind the scenes? The second tale is written by Cecil Castellucci, with illustrations by Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, and Jordie Bellaire, as Lois Lane interviews Wonder Woman for the Daily Planet. Diana initially dismisses Lois as a shallow, disinterested scandal-monger, while Lois thinks of Diana as just a short puff-piece feature. But when a giant robot attacks, both spring into action to prevent chaos.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s like every issue of this series is better than the last. These aren’t just fantastic Wonder Woman stories — they’re just plain fantastic stories, period.

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Ms. Marvel #14

Kamala Khan has a boyfriend! Her childhood friend Kamran grew up so dishy, and he’s an Inhuman, too, just like her! Kamran takes her on a whirlwind romance — he even sneaks her out of her house at night! So scandalous. But true love never turns out the way it should, does it. All this, plus Aamir and Bruno have a serious talk — Aamir knows Bruno loves Kamala, and he tries to lay down some hard truths about how utterly unlikely that romance is.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a great story — one moment sweet and romantic, the next tense and claustrophobic. And the conversation between Aamir and Bruno is excellent — Aamir may be holding the opinions we don’t want to accept, but he makes his case well and doesn’t play the villain. He’s a big brother worried about his sister, and even if we think his concern is directed the wrong way, we still have to respect him. It’s fantastic characterization.

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Beyond Belief

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Captain America and the Mighty Avengers #7

Monica Rambeau is heading after Jason Quantrell, CEO of Cortex and agent of the Beyond Corporation. Spider-Man, the Blue Marvel, and Dr. Positron are trying to work out a way to beat Quantrell on their own. And Captain America is on his own against a half-dozen monsterized superheroes and villains, including several of his teammates — and if he gets so much as a scratch from them, he’ll turn into a monster, too. Can Cap escape being shredded? Can Monica handle the hallucinations Quantrell throws at her? Can anything throw the Beyond Corporation back out beyond the beyond?

Verdict: Thumbs up — most especially for the “Kick ‘Splode” title of this issue. But I really, really do wish they’d figured out a way to get the rest of Nextwave into this issue.

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Ghosted #19

Markus Schrecken is dragging Jackson Winters and Nina Bloodcrow into the Land of the Dead so he can take control of death itself. He’s left Oliver King and Edzia Rusnak as captives of the Maestro. Sschrecken’s plan is to lure Death in by murdering Winters and then have Bloodcrow read a spell to bind and control Death. Can Jackson survive long enough to stop Markus’s plans?

Verdict: Thumbs down. Even with the big shocker ending, I just didn’t think it was all that exciting or scary.

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Ducks and Rats and Hawks, Oh My!

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Howard the Duck #2

Howard has been ducknapped by the Collector and stuck into his interstellar zoo — just like in his cameo from “Guardians of the Galaxy!” And sure enough, there’s Rocket Raccoon, who’s also in the hoosegow with Howard. But it’s all a cunning ruse — Rocket has a way to take over the computers, so he shuts down the forcefield around the prison planet, and the Guardians help Howard escape. But they have to leave all the other prisoners — all guilty of nothing more than being the last members of their races — stuck in the Collector’s zoo, and that doesn’t sit well with Howard, even after he makes it back to Earth.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of excellent and surreal jokes. A nice bit of characterization — Howard actually has a sense of justice, but he’s still just a talking duck, so he’s frustrated that he can’t do more to help others. And a wonderfully bizarre cliffhanger, too. And really, it’s worth a thumbs up just for the amazing duckface cover.

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Rat Queens #10

The Rat Queens and their mercenary allies continue their struggle against Gerrig, his soldiers, and the gods he’s wielding against the city. Skulls are cleaved, smooches are delivered, magic is zapped, and secrets are revealed. Can the Queens defeat ultimate evil?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s a great action sequence almost from beginning to end, with plenty of great character moments wrapped around the whole thing. I do wish we’d gotten some kind of excellent moment for Betty, the drug-abusing halfling — she’s the only main character who doesn’t get any focus this issue.

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All-New Hawkeye #2

This issue is again split between a couple different stories. We follow Clint and Barney Barton as children as they begin their new lives with the traveling circus. And in the present, Kate Bishop and Clint Barton rescue some kids — grotesque science-experiment super-psychic kids — from A.I.M.

Verdict: Thumbs up. The big winner here really is the art, which goes from gauzy, soft-focus, pastoral memories in the past to more traditional superhero penciling in the present. It’s impressive and beautiful work.

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Everyone’s Going Cosmic

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Captain Marvel #14

This is all the way into chapter 11 of the X-Men/Guardians of the Galaxy “Black Vortex” crossover, so it’s a pretty good guess we don’t know what the heck is going on. Basically, there’s this ancient artifact called the Black Vortex — it’s been lost for millennia but has finally showed up again. Basically, it’s a big mirror, and it shows you what you’d be like with insanely powerful cosmic powers — on a level with the Silver Surfer — and if you like what you see, it’ll turn you into an insanely powerful cosmic supervillain, because power corrupts, and absolute power makes you absolutely crazy. Beast, Angel, and Gamora have already grabbed at the shot for ultimate power (We see them in just one panel in this issue), and with other villains trying to get their hands on the mirror, Captain Marvel whisks it away into space in an attempt to keep it safe.

Well, first, if you ever decide to fly to outer space to keep something safe from cosmic supervillains, maybe you don’t understand how cosmic supervillains really work, ’cause sure enough, Carol doesn’t get three pages into the story before one of the bad guys shoots her with ray guns. From there, it’s a wild battle to keep the villains from killing her and taking the mirror away — but once Carol finally catches a glimpse of how powerful she could be in the mirror, will the battle be all over?

Verdict: Thumbs down. Getting in on the very middle of a crossover for just one issue, when no one knows what the heck is going on? And when the only interesting cosmic villains — Beast, Angel, and Gamora — aren’t in the story at all? And when none of the other crossover players are present either? And Carol handled these three or four cosmic-powered baddies incredibly easily, considering that people on the Silver Surfer’s power level should’ve mopped the floor with Carol. No, sorry, this one is a stinker.

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Astro City #22

A character we’ve seen periodically in the background of other stories is Starfighter, a cosmic superhero who had his glory days in the ’70s — and a stylin’ ’70s ‘stache, too. Nowadays, he doesn’t look much like a superhero. He’s Duncan Keller, an aging hippie who writes science fiction novels — but he still finds time to use his slowly fading cosmic powers to visit his wife Illula and his two kids Trill and Artie on their homeworld of Jarranatha. Duncan reminisces about his past and worries about his powers — and he learns that there’s more to life than being a superhero.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A fantastic story by Kurt Busiek, with strong roots on Earth and in outer space — and fantastic artwork by guest artist Jesus Merino, who gives Duncan the face of a man who’s lived hard but isn’t sorry — and isn’t finished either. Like just about every issue of “Astro City,” I would love to read more and more stories about Duncan Keller and his family.

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Nameless #3

Nameless and the rest of the crew of the exploratory ship are busy checking out the monstrous asteroid Xibalba, but things are going weird — or at least weirder than they expected. Their robot drones aren’t responding the way they expected and soon stop broadcasting. The massive door they opened reveals even more massive stairs. Their benefactors have gone violently insane. And the monsters in the basement of the universe are about to drag everyone into their horrific torture chambers.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Ye gods, this is creepy as hell. Oh, yes, bloody and violent and chock-full of creative disfigurements. But the creepiness is fantastically well done. I hope you’re reading this one, horror fans.

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So Much Convergence

So the first of the “Convergence” miniseries came out this week, and most of the stuff on my pull list all showed up at once. So hey, we’re gonna try to clear these outta here as quickly as we can.

We know the general premise, yes? A mysterious entity (Pssst! It is Brainiac!) had kidnapped many cities from old versions of the DC Universe or alternate universe variants. For the past year, they’ve all been held beneath domes, and the various superheroes under the domes have been deprived of their superpowers. Now the domes have been removed, everyone has their powers back, and the champions of each city must fight other champions, or their realities will be destroyed. And the first crop of books focuses on pre-Flashpoint characters, just before DC ruined everything with the Reboot.

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Convergence: Batgirl #1

We start off with Stephanie Brown as Batgirl, Cassandra Cain as the Black Bat, and Tim Drake as Red Robin. Stephanie has been designated Gotham’s champion, despite the fact that she hasn’t worn her Batgirl costume in a year — Cassandra and Tim would be much more capable than Steph would. They start training her but are all soon dragged off into the desert where they’re attacked by the Catman and Gorilla Grodd from the Flashpoint universe.

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Convergence: Superman #1

Superman has been without his powers for a year, but he’s been dressing up in a simple costume to fight crime Batman-style. Lois Lane has been assisting over a radio headset. Lois is also pregnant and due any day now. Once the dome is down and Supes has his powers back, he ends up tangling with Captain Thunder, Cyborg, and Abin Sur from Flashpoint, while the skinny teenaged Flashpoint Kal-El heads for Lois, believing her to be his Flashpoint benefactor.

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Convergence: The Question #1

Renee Montoya is trying to help keep things under control in Gotham, running around without her mask. Harvey Dent is running around with half a beard, beating up thieves — and his two-headed coin is only flipping good side up lately. The Huntress doesn’t really approve, but she’s not going to get in the way. And Renee is still going out nightly as the Question — and meeting up with Harvey, too. He wants to kill himself, but he can’t do it as long as the coin keeps flipping on the good side. But when the dome comes down, he decides to find a Two-Face in another city who’ll finally kill him.

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Convergence: Nightwing and Oracle #1

After the Flashpoint Hawkman and Hawkgirl kill off the Justice Riders‘ Earth, they get sent after our Gotham, where Oracle is giving Nightwing her cyber-assistance in crimefighting. Mr. Freeze has lost his edge from long imprisonment under the dome, and Nightwing is worried that he’s losing his edge, too. Dick Grayson asks Barbara Gordon to marry him, and she turns him down, just before the Hawks make their appearance and offer a bargain — if Barbara surrenders the city, the Hawks will take a dive — Gotham will live, the Hawks’ home will be destroyed, and the Hawks will take over Gotham. Nightwing plans to fight them, but Oracle has her own way to make war.

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Convergence: Speed Force #1

Wally West has been stuck powerless in Gotham with the rest of the Justice League, along with his children Iris and Jai. When the dome comes down and his powers return, he takes a high-speed tour of the other kidnapped cities. He gets to watch the Justice Riders’ home get atomized, then visits a bunch of other worlds, eventually picking up a new superspeed friend, Fastback, from the Zoo Crew! But they’ll all have to deal with the murderous Flashpoint Wonder Woman next.

Verdicts: Well, now, let’s add all this up.

First, I really hate the “We have to murder all these people to save our planet” plotline. It’s lazy. It’s not something that any legitimate superheroes would do, because it’s exactly the kind of scam that comic book superheroes prefer to find a way around, usually by beating up Brainiac instead of each other. And it’s short-sighted — is there any good reason to wipe out characters as awesome and fun as the Justice Riders? Only if you’re Dan DiDio, Geoff Johns, and Jim Lee, and you can’t stop thinking like a ’90s Image comic.

I liked getting to see Stephanie, Cassandra, and Tim again, but large chunks of the story bugged me bad. Steph had finally become an excellent superhero at the end of her series — now she’s struggling to do anything right, which is a severe backslide. We also don’t get to see her mother at all, and she was a great character. And I felt Cassandra and Tim were also a bit mis-handled.

Having said that, there are lots of good things here. Revisiting the pre-Reboot non-sucky DCU is a very good thing. Tom Grummett drawing the Flash and his kids is a good thing. Gail Simone writing Oracle is a good thing. Greg Rucka and Cully Hamner working on the Question again is a very good thing. Guest appearances from Two-Face, Starfire, Helena Bertinelli, and Fastback are all good things, too.

Altogether, I’ll give these a tentative thumbs up. I reserve the right to switch that to a thumbs down if DiDio is just going to kill everyone off but Flashpoint and the Reboot just to laugh at everyone’s tears.

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Marching for Equality

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March, Book Two

We’ve already reviewed Book One — check out the review over here.

I trust you know the general background of this one — it’s the autobiography of civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis, told as a graphic novel. It’s cowritten by one of his staffers, a comics fan named Andrew Aydin, with art by Nate Powell.

This second chapter of the series gets us deeper into the weeds of the civil rights movement, just as it begins to get a lot more violent for the participants. They’re attacked at movie theaters, someone locks them in a diner, then fills it full of poison bug spray, their buses are run off the road and set on fire, they’re beaten by local thugs, the Klan, and the police, they’re attacked at churches, they’re thrown in jail.

But all of this is getting a lot of interest from the public all across the nation and the world. Some of the people who are also being attacked are members of the press, and members of President Kennedy’s staff. The violence of the segregated South was getting more and more attention and attracting more and more people who felt it was time for everyone to be equal. Thugs like Bull Connor were making things even worse for the status quo, upping the savagery of his attacks on innocent people until just about everyone in the country was disgusted.

The last quarter of the book focuses on the March on Washington — not just the videos you’ve seen on YouTube, but the behind-the-scenes negotiations that made it possible. One of the organizers was gay and was outed by Strom Thurmond in an attempt to discredit the march. Lewis’s speech had to go through extensive rewrites to keep it from sounding like an outright call for revolution. It’s a triumphant note — but the struggle was far from over. Less than a month after the march, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed, killing four little girls.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This book is going to make you unbelievably furious. It has good reason to do so, and we should all be furious about the massive injustices of this period in our national history. Yes, the March on Washington is genuinely inspiring, but most of the book is a recounting of injustice after injustice after injustice, and anyone who doesn’t get mad about that just isn’t paying attention. And people who want us to forget this should be ashamed of themselves.

There’s another reason I get angry when I read this book. You already know there are a lot of people who want to restrict voting rights and invent barriers to keep non-white people from voting. They always tell you they’re not racist, they’re just worried about illegal voting. That’s bull. These people are racist scum, and that’s all there is to it.

Y’all have heard me rant before about liberals who’ve decided the only way to solve the problem of racism in the South is to expel the South from the United States. The thing these supposedly good liberals don’t realize is that when they say things like that, they’re also spitting in the faces of the great civil rights leaders and openly siding with the Bull Connors.

Liberals who want to expel the South would be giving Southern racists free rein to turn the clock back as far as they wanted, essentially abandoning millions of blacks, Hispanics, women, gays, trans people, atheists, and even other liberals to people who would gleefully enslave, imprison, oppress, and execute them. Liberals who want to expel the South are signaling their willingness to do the KKK’s bidding, to give the wingnuts the victory they’ve always dreamed of. They’re siding with Jefferson Davis over Abraham Lincoln. They’re looking at the hard work and sacrifices of John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and thousands of others, and declaring they don’t care, it was all a failure, and let’s just let injustice rule again.

That’s a lot of the reason this book makes me angry. We’ve come so far — but still not far enough — and too many people are willing to abandon all that progress because they’re bored. And because they know they won’t suffer any of the consequences.

March, Book Two is a great book. You should definitely go pick it up.

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