I think we can safely call this the Summer of the Superhero.

You can’t go anywhere without encountering blockbusters, books, graphic novels, and YouTube videos, dedicated to the adventures of the suped-up denizens of the DC and Marvel (and various Independent) Universes.

(especially at the Davenport Public Library—just saying)

But when everyone is fighting for truth, justice, and the way of whichever rebooted dimension they happen to currently inhabit, and everyone’s base superpower is to look fabulous in spandex, how can a single super stand out?

With the power of Pure Obnoxiousness, that’s how.

Marvel’s Deadpool (aka Wade Wilson, aka “The Merc with the Mouth”) isn’t your usual superhero.  And he definitely isn’t for the kiddies.

Deadpool Dead PresidentsOther superheroes have healing factors (Wolverine) and are known for their sarcasm (Spiderman and Hawkeye), still others are egotistical (Tony Stark), have mental health issues (Duh), or dubious reputations (Winter Soldier and the Black Widow), and whatever they say their motivations are, most of them are adrenaline junkies with easily ignored self-preservation instincts.

But only in Deadpool do all these traits combine to make a deadly, invulnerable, happy-go-lucky sociopath who could use a double dose of Ritalin every four hours.

DeadpoolHe’s often drawn as having multiple personality disorder (or being possessed, take your pick), surrounded by different narration boxes that argue with him or amongst themselves.  He’s also one of the few Marvel characters who knows that he’s a character, making him incredibly delusional by the standards of the other characters and impossibly self-aware by ours.  Or vice versa.

Deadpool himself is aware that he’s crazy by anyone’s standards—and he runs with it.  He takes on impossible tasks, talks directly to the reader (and the artists) whenever it’s inappropriate to do so, and takes full advantage of his cartoon status by acting like a happily-homicidal, R-rated version of a Roadrunner who read Wile E. Coyote’s playbook, stole his Acme catalogs, and hung out a shingle.

And his success rate is phenomenal, if you ignore the collateral damage.

Deadpool Draculas GaunletDuring the course of his Extremely Varied Career, he’s saved the world from alien invasions and  undead presidents, punk’d Dracula, kicked it with Hawkeye, and contributed interesting things (including an excellent post credit scene) to Wolverine’s origins.

This is a man who appeares to thoroughly enjoy his (wet)work.

Though that doesn’t mean he can’t get cranky about being an immortal pawn in someone else’s script, to the point of making the odd attempt to take down everyone in all the Marvel Universes . . . and beyond.

Deadpool has a lot to be cranky about—even the mildest of his many, many origin stories is a nightmare: a highly skilled (and highly irritating) mercenary soldier, Wade Wilson was diagnosed with fast-acting, lethal cancer. In exchange for a cure, he agreed to join the Weapon X program (the one that gave Wolverine his metal skeleton), which hoped to use him to create the perfect soldier. Unfortunately, the scientists at Weapon X miscalculated (or lied); their excruciating experiments did give him a healing factor that made him essentially unkillable . . . but it didn’t actually cure his cancer or reverse the horrific effects of the disease . . . or of the experiments.*

Essentially, his cells regenerate just quickly enough to keep the cancer and his battle damage from killing him—but what’s underneath Deadpool’s mask isn’t pretty.  And what’s between his ears, by most definitions, doesn’t have a firm grip on what’s left of its sanity.

Deadpool versus HawkeyeStill, Deadpool is loyal (at least to the highest bidder) willing to do almost any mission (for a price), and occasionally takes a shine to other heroes (especially Spidey, Cable, and Hawkeye) and “helps” them with their own missions in a way that really, really doesn’t . . . at least, at first.

He cares, sometimes, in his own way, and if his ideas of right and wrong are a little skewed, he deserves partial credit for trying. Maybe.  And it might, just might, be possible that the reason Deadpool is so completely, utterly annoying is that his invulnerability is only skin deep and he’s desperate to protest what’s left of the rest of him.

Most of the time, Deadpool wants to be The Hero—or The Anti-Hero of Awesome—of his own story, but his methods are madness.

Though even his worst enemies can’t deny that he makes it work for him.

And it really works for those of us who dare to try his kind of chaotic supercrazy.

 

___________________________

*In another version, the Weapon X experiments worked as stipulated, and Wade Wilson was a covert superhero for a while, until he (mistakenly or deliberately) killed one of his team.  He was sent to The Hospice, a rehabilitation center for damaged mutants and supers, which was actually a secret playground for the sadistic Dr. Killebrew.   The doctor and his staff made bets—in a “deadpool”, get it?—on which of their patients would survive their terrible experiments.  As it happened, Wade Wilson held on long enough to kill his torturers and escape . . . thus “winning” the deadpool and earning a new name.  Isn’t that cheerful?

I love Robert B. Parker’s mysteries. I’m a big fan of both Spencer, his Boston boxer-detective, and Jesse Stone, his laconic small town police chief.

So when Mr. Parker passed away in 2010, I mourned not only one of my favorite authors, but Spencer and Jesse (and Hawk and Sally and Suitcase and Vinnie Morris, and . . .) as well.

And when I learned that Mr. Parker’s family had made to decision to allow other authors to continue these series, I had mixed feelings about it. On one hand: more Spencer and Jesse (and Hawk and Sally and Suitcase and Vinnie Morris, and . . .)! On the other: who could possibly write Robert B Parker’s characters as well as Mr. Parker himself?

Parker Lullaby AtkinsIn my opinion, Ace Atkins can. He picked up Spencer in Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby and ran with him through four more books, all of which have the snappy dialogue, moral quagmires, and occasional brute force that a reader could hope for. The style may not be identical, but it doesn’t have to be—Mr. Atkin’s isn’t ghostwriting for Robert B. Parker, he’s honoring him.

Fool Me Twice BrandmanI wish I could say I liked the Jesse Stone books as much, or at least the first one I’ve tried. Unlike the Spencer series, each of these new mysteries was written by a different author—I don’t know whether that was the publisher’s idea or the authors declined to pick up the series in favor of their own characters, or if the publisher hasn’t found the right fit yet.

Part of my troubles with Robert B. Parker’s Fool Me Twice, by Michael Brandman, might be because I listened to the audiobook first. No matter how talented a voice actor is (and James Naughton is very talented), if the reading doesn’t match how my beloved characters sound in my mind’s ear—and I’ve had years to fix these voices the way I want them—I have trouble getting past how things are said to pay enough attention to what things are being said.

This isn’t a fair assessment of Mr. Brandman’s writing, so I tried it in print . . . and still didn’t care for it.

I know that these books aren’t going to be perfect—every writer will bring a different style to the same story, even Ace Atkins. But while I think the styles of Mr. Atkins and Mr. Parker mesh well, the style that Mr. Brandman brings is too far off what I expect from a Jess Stone novel. The dialogue is excellent, but there’s too much omniscient narration and parts of it—particularly the sections that aren’t from Jesse’s point of view—read more like background notes than a story. The bare bones of the plot are intriguing . . . but that’s what the whole book seems like to me: bare bones.

Or maybe I just miss Mr. Parker too much to enjoy Jesse Stone’s adventures without him.

Will I give a different author’s Jesse book a try? Sure.

But this time, I’ll read it in print first.

Do you think a book series should outlive its author?

Do you enjoy the post-Parker Spencer or Jesse Stone novels?

Can you recommend a post-Parker Jesse Stone novel you really enjoyed?

Did you love Fool Me Twice?  Please let me know why in the comments—I’m willing to be convinced!

TaxiYou’d think that summer would mean spending less time driving the Mom Taxi, but even though there’s no school commutes, there’s day camp, play dates, vacation trips, and So Many Birthday Parties.

Since my pre-teen and I have a mutual dislike of each other’s favorite radio stations and my eight-year old’s tummy rebels when she reads in the car, audiobooks are a peaceful way to stave off boredom when the conversation runs out on those long rides.

As long as we all agree on the book, of course.How they Choked

A co-worker (the librarian who selects the audiobooks for our three library locations) recommended How They Choked: Failures, Flops, and Flaws of the Awfully Famous, written by Georgia Bragg and read by L. J. Ganser (CD NF 920 BRAGG GEO)

This book is a collection of the biggest LifeFails of fourteen historical figures, from Marco Polo (even Kubla Khan knew better than to send him into battle) to Amelia Earhart (her fame took off without her) to “Shoeless Joe” Jackson (baseball done him wrong).

As we listened, it became clear that the phrase “awfully famous” could mean “really famous” or “really awful”. Or both. This book provides ‘behind the scenes” 411 on well-known people who worked through their failures to achieve greatness . . . and those who refused to learn from their mistakes.

(My family will never look at Queen “You Should Have Expected The Spanish Inquisition!”Isabella of Spain the same way.)

Whether inspirational or a dire warning, each of these stories is fascinating and L. J. Ganser’s voice lends a certain dry sarcasm that perfectly matches Ms. Bragg’s wry and witty tone. He even manages to read the lists of fun (and “not so fun”) facts at the end of each chapter in a way that made us look forward to them (who knew George Custer was a clothes horse?).

There were even a few times that we arrived at our destination and didn’t leave the car until the chapter was over. That’s one sign of a pretty good audiobook.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to successfully convince my kids to clean their rooms by withholding chapters of How They Choked—because I didn’t want to wait!  But I’m planning to follow the example of Susan B. Anthony, learn from my failure, and try, try again.

TaxiI’ve been driving the Mom Taxi at least twice a day for the past ten years and getting my fares—I mean, kids—into the car on time has been something of a struggle, especially on school mornings.

But one day, I forgot to stop the audiobook I’d been playing on my way to pick them up and we listened to it on the way home. The next morning, both kids were up and ready as quickly as I could have wished, asking if I was going to let them listen to more.

How could I say no?

I did say no to portions of it; I’d checked out Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie, which is fantastically funny and has a manic-depressive beagle in it, but is still an adult romance.  I occasional had to lunge at the fast-forward button in the effort to avoid questions  for which I wanted more preparation time (say, ten to twelve years) to answer.

The kids still enjoyed it—partly because of the lunging, I suspect—and after the book was done, they asked if I could get another audiobook.

This time, tired of fast-forwarding (and rewinding after I’d dropped them off), I headed for the children’s section. All the branches of the Davenport Public library have audiobooks that appeal to my second-grader and others that appeal to my pre-teen.

It was trickier to find ones that would appeal to all of us.

Knights Tales Collection - MorrisEnter The Knights‘ Tales collection, written by Gerald Morris and read by award-winning voice artist Steve West.

The four tales included on the five CDs are about the adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great (“He’s sooooo handsome!”), Sir Givret the Short (and his friend, Sir Eric the Not Too Bright), Sir Gawain the True (and his frenemy, the Green Knight), and Sir Balin the Ill-fated (whose mother just wants him to marry a “nice Nothern girl.”).

The main characters spend a lot of time getting into impossible situations that are unraveled by a piece of astoundingly simple logic. They’re funny and clever and twisty and very well-written.

Mr. Morris doesn’t talk down to his target audience (3rd to 6th grade) and his plots and intelligent, witty style won’t bore adults.   Mr. West uses an assortment of voices and accents that make even the minor characters—like the herald Harold, the argumentative Lady Elaine, and the Old Woman of Some Nonspecific Mountain—come to life.

These stories ensure that my kids are eager to get up and get going for the next installment—even on Mondays—and that our morning commutes are full of intent listening, predictions about what might happen next, and a lot of laughter.

For this Taxi Mom, that almost makes up for the dismal lack of tips.

Almost.

 

Short on time?  With just a few minutes you can sneak a little literature into your day with the fourteen-line poems offered by Garrison Keillor in 77 Love Sonnets.  The topics range wider than the title suggests.  And the writings seem to be written off the cuff, not heavily edited, expressing Keillor’s momentary thoughts and takes on places and events.  In “Obama” he conveys his experience as one of the crowd on inauguration day.  In “October” he revels in the security and joys that fiscal security allow.  Among these pages you will discover sonnets that explore each of The Four Loves:  affection, friendship, eros, and charity.

In “Long Career,” Keillor states that “The secret of a long career is simply to not fade….”  This prolific author appears to be taking his own advice by publishing this collection the same year as novels Life Among The Lutherans, Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance, and A Christmas Blizzard.