The beautiful and adventurous Anne Steelyard is back in The Gate of Dreams and Starlight.
In the second installment of The Garden of Emptiness series, Anne is still searching for the City of Miyah and her ticket to independence from her aristocratic British family.
Ray Tate: Karyn?
Karyn Pinter: Hello, Ray.
Ray Tate: So our topic is Penny-Farthing's latest volume of Anne Steelyard, written by Barbara Hambly and illustrated by Ron Randall, Aaron McConnell, James Taylor, and Mike Garcia.
Ray Tate: I reviewed the first volume. Did you review that one as well, Karyn?
Karyn Pinter: Yes.
Ray Tate: So what did you give the first volume?
Karyn Pinter: Five bullets! It was brilliant
Ray Tate: Yeah, me too. I'm not used to this kind of quality, but then Barbara Hambly is an actual, honest to goodness novelist.
Karyn Pinter: I've never read any of Barbara Hambly's work before, but I think I'm going to track some down. I'm a new fan.
Ray Tate: She did some Star Trek novels in the eighties and a Victorian vampire novel called Those Who Hunt the Night.
Karyn Pinter: Anne is an incredible heroine. Smart and deadly. Usually it's one or the other, but Hambly writes Anne so perfectly with a mixture of both--and we can throw some sexy in there too.
Ray Tate: The characterization is so rich. What I know about Batman, how he thinks and should feel, comes from like about two hundred or so books from the pre-Crisis, but with Anne Steelyard, it's all there in one volume, and in this second one, Hambly makes Anne's characterization even deeper.
Karyn Pinter: The mark of a great writer. The art work is good, but I'll be honest and say it's Hambly's writing that really keeps the Anne Steelyard ship afloat. Her history is spot on, and it's such a great era of history too--one that isn't explored much. Pre-WWI doesn't get a lot of play in movies or books.
Ray Tate: No, it doesn't, and it's interesting to see the precursors to the Nazis in full swing.
Karyn Pinter: I like that the Turks actually play a bigger part than the Germans.
Ray Tate: The Germans are like the looming threat, and the bringers of death. Oh, and I should point out these are the period Germans. The German people of today are awesome.
Karyn Pinter: Just to make that clear.
Ray Tate: You're right about the Turks. The way they rule the Arabian people.
Karyn Pinter: There's much more magic in this volume. Sometimes that can really kill a story for me. Sort of like "Hey, guess what? I can totally use magic now." Out of the blue magic is a tool used to get you out of tight, boring spots. However, it was foreshadowed in the first volume even if it wasn't used by Anne too much--and she's still learning magic, so that saves her from being too much of a Mary Sue.
Ray Tate: Ah, I didn't think of that. I like also that the magic is ethno-centered. It's Arabian magic, and Anne knows it because she's a friend to the Arab people--the Sitt Rajul or "Lady Man," as she is referred to. We know that women were and are mistreated, so how do you get around that? Consider her a man.
Karyn Pinter: The Lady Man part was a good addition to the story. It's 1908, women in the US still don't have the right to vote, and here is this woman shooting guns riding horses, and wearing pants! She's a wonderful example of repressed feelings and desires
Ray Tate: Also there's this idea that she must succumb to an arranged marriage in England--so that's contrary to what most people think about "civilized" society.
Karyn Pinter: A woman like Miss Prawle, who looks like she's dying inside that shell of hers, aches to be Anne and have a little freedom.
Ray Tate: I think these factors make Anne Steelyard very different. It's actually about something.
Karyn Pinter: It's not just an adventure, find the treasure, and shoot up the bad guys novel. There's that underlying message about freedom.
Ray Tate: Because of who Anne Steelyard is.
Karyn Pinter: Anne's story and the story of the Arabs being controlled by the Turks run side by side.
Ray Tate: Yes, and outside forces are directing everything.
Karyn Pinter: Anne's father = Turks/Germans
Ray Tate: As well as the British foreign office.
Karyn Pinter: Oh yes, let's not forget them.
Karyn Pinter: And what's the ultimate goal? To find a lost city that is going to cause Anne nothing but trouble.
Ray Tate: But that trouble is better than the shackles of society.
Karyn Pinter: Do you know how many books there are supposed to be in the Anne Steelyard series? I swear I heard three, but I don't know where I would have heard that or from whom.
Ray Tate: That would mean she'll encounter the city next volume.
Karyn Pinter: Could be good or bad.
Ray Tate: I'm betting good--at least story wise.
Karyn Pinter: I wouldn't want it to be strung out and carry on and on, but it shouldn't be rushed.
Ray Tate: Frankly, I'm surprised to see the second volume come out so quickly. When I saw it in Previews, I said to myself, "yeah right."
Karyn Pinter: Really? I felt like it took forever--but that's the mark of a good book. It feels like forever and a day before you get to read the next chapter.
Ray Tate: Yeah, but we're not talking about Geoff Johns and his bloody zombies. We're talking about Ron Randall meticulously researching period dress, and just being overall smashing when rendering a visual narrative. I mean, yeah, I agree with you that Hambly is the Captain of the ship here, but Randall is the helmsman--and if Rob Liefield were illustrating this, neither of us would be discussing the book.
Karyn Pinter: Ha!
Ray Tate: So that kind of work takes time--and it was, I think you'll agree, time well spent. However, I was still shocked at how quickly this came out given the quality of the work.
Karyn Pinter: Randall's work is just right for the story. Anymore would be too much
Ray Tate: It's funny, but he and Hambly are both rare birds in their field. The last I had seen of Randall's work was in Justice League Europe or Justice League Quarterly. I have to say that words really fail to describe just how beautiful his art is--but it's not photorealistic beauty. Randall is a comic book artist.
Karyn Pinter: Could you imagine Anne being drawn by, let's see, Harvey Tolibao? I only use him because I have Psylocke within reach. Tiny little waist, lots of angles, nose bubble.
Ray Tate: God awful you mean?
Karyn Pinter: No, just way out of character.
Ray Tate: Forgive me, I'm known for my bitterness.
Karyn Pinter: I've been know to be catty.
Ray Tate: I really think that style of illustration would be detrimental to this series. Imagine, you've got this lovely made book--kudos to Penny Farthing. You've got this fantastic Glen Orbik cover, and you open it up, and it's bland, American manga artwork.
Karyn Pinter: How about that shiny cover!
Ray Tate: Shiny and tactile.
Karyn Pinter: It felt like a step up in the comic world.
Ray Tate: Yeah, that's it!
Ray Tate: Anne Steelyard is like an evolution in comic books and comic book art!
Karyn Pinter: True. This is more like a novel with pictures
Ray Tate: I was thinking that if comic books boosted their quality to this level--and DC healed Barbara Gordon's spine--I would have nothing to complain about.
Karyn Pinter: Ahaha. I'm with you on that. Bring back Bruce, and for the love of Betty, heal Babs. I can't take SpoilerBat anymore.
Ray Tate: Right, and just imagine if you picked up a Superman book that was written by Hambly and it looked like this. See, digital motion comics are just like an upgrade in the delivery system of the same old crap. Anne Steelyard is a real advancement for the form.
Karyn Pinter: DC should give Barbara Hambly Wonder Woman. I love Gail, but the story needs to change.
Ray Tate: I haven't liked Wonder Woman since--god, has it been that long? No, wait. Rucka's run was pretty damn good.
Karyn Pinter: Rucka's was great compared to what's going on now. I've been covering the latest series for a while, and it's dragging on, and on, and on.
Ray Tate: Well, what I was wondering is Anne Steelyard good just because Barbara Hambly is a novelist and not a comic book writer?
Karyn Pinter: I think it's that Hambly knows how to write a damn good story. I like to call what she possesses "talent." Ray Tate: Absolutely and she is crafting the story from characterization.
Karyn Pinter: And that's where stories should come from.
Ray Tate: Comic books nowadays are more plot first, character second. Not a very good plot mind you, but
a plot. Hambly, though, considers where this character came from and what societal mores helped make her a rebel.
Karyn Pinter: If I can't get behind a character then the story is immediately wasted. If I were seven years old again, I would want to be Anne Steelyard.
Ray Tate: I think this is my problem when it comes to enjoying current comic books. I can't accept the characters, and the stories are empty. Anne Steelyard is almost like the richest chocolate cake you can imagine. Black Forest Chocolate Cherry Cake. Everything else is like a year-old Twinkie.
Karyn Pinter: With a few exceptions here and there. Maybe a carrot cake or two.
Ray Tate: Yeah, I'll go for that. Nancy Drew and Power Girl are definitely carrot cakes--well-made ones.
Karyn Pinter: I don't remember how many five-bullet reviews I've written, but it's not many. I'm a big fan of the four-and-a-half and three-and-a-half, but Anne will always be a five. Unless Hambly throws us a curve and Anne ends up traveling back in time, and . . . I don't know . . . starts the Revolutionary War--which might be fun. Five bullets anyways.
Ray Tate: Well, I wouldn't mind her becoming a time traveler--causing a Revolutionary War might be a little much, but I'm definitely not wavering. Five bullets easy--and actually, I think this is a legal five with respect to the Comics Bulletin definition of five bullets. I think Anne Steelyard has historical significance.
Karyn Pinter: She's Lady Indiana Jones. Finally, we girls get an Indy. Lara Croft never counted.
Ray Tate: Hey, I like Lara Croft! At least the Angelina Jolie version.
Karyn Pinter: Uggg. It's so ridiculous, and I haven't even gotten to her bust size yet.
Ray Tate: Did you see Lara Croft and the Cradle of Life?
Karyn Pinter: Sadly, yes. I paid to see it in theaters--but I would like to say in my defense, Gerard Butler.
Ray Tate: Wait, what was so bad?
Karyn Pinter: Her accent.
Ray Tate: I didn't have a problem with it.
Karyn Pinter: It bugged me. I don't know, just wasn't my cup of tea. I hate Citizen Kane too--can't tell you how much flack I've taken for that one, being a film student and all.
Ray Tate: Don't worry about it. I get tons of flack. I thought, though, that Jolie's Lara Croft was ten times better than the super-heroine we usually get.
Karyn Pinter: True. I will say that the Tomb Raider movies were better than Catwoman. Halle Berry? Really? She wasn't even from Gotham
Ray Tate: Well, I was looking at it from the perspective of comics, but yeah, Catwoman was pitiful
Karyn Pinter: And there's no character I love more than Catwoman. It hurt me deeply.
Ray Tate: What I like about Lara Croft, Charlie's Angels, and Milla Jovovich is that they're alumni of the kick ass school of heroine.
Karyn Pinter: Totally Milla. I am a Milla fan.
Ray Tate: They're all walking for one thing. They're not taking any crap, and they're all professionals in their field.
Karyn Pinter: I agree that the world is lacking equal kick ass girls. We need more of them.
Ray Tate: Yeah, and see before the Crisis they were all like that.
Karyn Pinter: That's what's bugging me about Wonder Woman these days. She's too hung up on her personal life. The ultimate in heroine is whining over her boyfriend. WTF.
Ray Tate: That would be Nemesis right?
Karyn Pinter: Yeah. He was ok, but not man enough for WW.
Ray Tate: Well, the original version of the character might have been, but DC just saw him as a Steve Trevor substitute. He's blonde, he's kind of like a spy, he carries a gun.
Karyn Pinter: He was a bit cookie cutter. If Hambly was writing, then I'd be singing a different tune.
Ray Tate: Power Girl has everything you're looking for from Wonder Woman. You should trade up.
Karyn Pinter: Chris Power likes her, too, and says I should read it.
Ray Tate: So here's a question. Who would you like to see play Anne Steelyard in a film? I'm going with Emily Deschenel.
Karyn Pinter: Hmmm. That's a good one. I'm a big fan of Bones.
Ray Tate: Me too. It's one of the few shows I watch--that and Smallville.
Karyn Pinter: Anything more on Anne?
Ray Tate: You know it's funny but I think I could write books on how incredible this comic book is--but without spoiling the whole thing, I can only think of it as being so . . . professional.
Karyn Pinter: I would stand on the street corner on my soapbox with it held over my head and preach it's amazingness. I can't find a single thing wrong with it.
Ray Tate: Yeah, if it had a single flaw, I would be attacking it or apologizing for it. I got nothing.
Karyn Pinter: It's not long enough.
Ray Tate: Nope, I think it's long enough, and it relates an entire story that's nevertheless part of something bigger.
Karyn Pinter: It's wonderfully paced.
Ray Tate: It's just so . . . better. I think you run across an Anne Steelyard once in a lifetime.
Karyn Pinter: Anne is on a totally different scale than, say, Watchmen.
Ray Tate: It's like you said. A novel with pictures. How about this, if you like erudite, kick ass heroines that operate in a period that's detrimental to women's rights, pick up Anne Steelyard.
Karyn Pinter: Haha. Love it.