Being a nerd has never been as cool as it is right now. Every second movie is a comic book adaptation, and celebrities admit publicly how much they’ve always loved Dungeons & Dragons.
As great as this new age is for us (yes, I count myself among this group), it can mean weeding through mountains of nerdy products to find good presents to give to your fellow dweebs. Look no further, true believers! A pair of books is here to save the day.
In Alec Nevala-Lee’s dynamic literary history, Astounding, John Campbell finds himself in the right place at the right time. A longtime contributor to the magazine Astounding Stories, he was named editor at just 27 years of age, beginning an incredible 40-year career collaborating, mentoring and stewarding some of the most famous sci-fi writers in history. The writings of Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Scientology’s L. Ron Hubbard directly or indirectly addressed America’s experience during World War II, the dawn of the Cold War and the advancement of digital technology. Brought together through Campbell’s magazine, these authors shaped what we now think of as the golden age of science fiction.
At no point does Astounding become stale or detached—each character is distinct, rendered with care and fidelity as their stories unfold. That said, Nevala-Lee is happy to point out his subjects’ missteps, weaknesses and, in the case of Hubbard, their outright lies. Some of the funniest passages involve Hubbard’s continued failed attempts to become a captain in the Navy, finally succeeding only to be removed from service due to ineptitude. Even a reader unfamiliar with sci-fi can get behind this poignant, funny and revelatory look at a group of iconic writers.
Jon Morris’ The League of Regrettable Sidekicks is full of a warmth all its own. A cross between a coffee table book and a nightstand page-turner, it is as singular a reading experience as its predecessor, The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains. Where that book focused on the misguided bad guys that have graced the pages of comics, here readers get to relive some of the forgotten foils to the heroes we know and love. Who could forget Fatman, Unggh or Superman Jr.? That’s the best part: Most of us have. Accompanying each sidekick is an informational summary, including who created the character, when he or she debuted and with whom he or she is primarily associated. In addition, we get hundreds of images of these hopeless saps.
This snarky, vividly illustrated ride through comic book history is a hoot. However, there is some real substance here, particularly for uberfans of comic books. Sidekicks provides a good amount of context about the time or place the sidekick appears, and many will be delighted to see where these characters fit into the overall timeline of the genre. And digging for Morris’ many jokes (he categorizes the three Lieutenant Marvels as “triply redundant”) will have you coming back to this title for years.