Welcome to What Are You Reading, where we talk about all the wonderful comics and other stuff we’re currently engaged with and hopefully point you toward some quality material. Our guest this week is Jamie S. Rich, author of the new graphic novel You Have Killed Me and, of course, our guest-blogger for the week.
A bad case of pinkeye kept me from doing to do much reading this week, but thankfully the rest of the Robot 6 team seems to have made up for my lapse. See what they’ve been reading by clicking on the link below …
Tim O’Shea: I bought Superman 690 looking forward to Steel versus Atlas (At the end of the day, I think it’s clear I am Robot 6’s Basic Superhero Fanboy Rep — sue me). What I read was a little of that, some Zatara and the rest of it was marketing pieces for Superman: Secret Files 2009; Justice League of America and Superman Annual 14. I try to only write about books I enjoy, but this issue annoyed me so much I had to single it out. As Greg McElhatton’s review so effectively points out, this is not the first time DC has so bluntly and poorly teased other stories, but I’m hoping the feedback is heard by DC editorial and they don’t do it again.
I’ve been ignoring Gail Simone’s run on Wonder Woman and I am ready to admit that was an oversight on my part. Any issue that has Wonder Woman and Black Canary doing undercover work (as it happens it issue 34) allows Simone to exercise her top-notch comedy muscles.
From last week, I doubt either creator would have the time, but after seeing the five-page Mark Waid and Colleen Doran Uncle Ben/Young Peter story in Amazing Spider-Man 600, I would love to see these two collaborate again. This and the mid-1990s Valor is not enough of Waid and Doran for me. Steve Wacker is my favorite Marvel editor for the effort he puts into Spider-Man. To commemorate the 600th issue, he wrote a great essay about Spider-Man–acknowledging the early work of Steve Ditko — even going to the trouble of listing the writers for the first letter column in Amazing Spider-Man. Wacker’s attention to quirk details is appreciated by me.
Also, in terms of last week, I am so sad that as much as critics loved Captain Britain and MI13, the sales never matched that love. Last week’s issue 15 was a nice swansong for the book — I really hope this creative team meets with greater, well-deserved sales success in their next effort.
Finally, I may be the last person to get around to reading it, but my local library just added Lynda Barry’s What It Is to its collection. I love how my tax dollars are spent.
Brigid Alverson: It’s all digital comics in one form or another this week. I spent most of yesterday, when I should have been doing other things, reading Punch and Pie, by Aerie and Chris Daily. It’s a relationship comic about two twentysomething women who aren’t really where they want to be in life — one works in a toy store, and when that closes she moves on to a chain bookstore. The other is going to school and working in a zoo, doing hair braiding for kids. At the start of the comic they are in what seems like the perfect relationship, and then it falls apart and they go their separate ways. The art style is loose, the characters seem very real, and the writing is dead-on. Really worth a look.
Then I’m reading The Eternal City by Sergio Carrera, on my iPod Touch. Again, not the most original concept — the main character escorts people who have just died to the other side — but very well executed. The art is very dramatic, black and white with no toning, and it reminds me a bit of Frederic Boilet — it has that same almost photographic look and a real sense of place. In this case, the setting is Buenos Aires, and I particularly like the sections at the end where the artist shows photos that he used for his backgrounds. The story is a series of short vignettes, each about a death—they are touching but not depressing—and I think that format works well for a handheld comic. Also, the comic is neatly divided and easy to read panel by panel. The only problem I had with it, and the editors warned me about this, is that there’s a bug in the app that makes it hard to turn the pages. A fix is in the works.
And I bought comiXology’s Comics app for the iPod/iPhone, which allows me to buy comics within the app. It costs 99 cents but you get a ton of free comics, which makes it a good deal. To try it out, I read the Ayn Rand issue of Action Philosophers, which I enjoyed immensely. I remember reading The Fountainhead when I was about 16 and thinking it was very deep and life-changing — yeah, I was 16 — so it was really interesting to see her life story. I’ll definitely be checking out more of these.
Tom Bondurant: Wait a minute, Tim — you are Robot 6’s Basic Superhero Fanboy Rep?!? What does that make me — Sidney Mellon?
This week I read Showcase Presents Bat Lash, a slim volume of black-and-white reprints which covers the seven issues of Bat’s solo series, a DC Special story, and a 3-part story which ran as a backup in Jonah Hex. Nick Cardy was Bat’s original artist, and his work here delves a lot more into caricature. It’s the visual equivalent of Eli Wallach in the Man With No Name movies — exaggerated expressions and anatomy — although Bat and his romantic entanglements tend not to get the same treatment. The series’ main joke is that while Bat abhors violence, he’s pretty good at it. From my limited exposure to the character, and the period when he was introduced, I thought this would be some sort of “hippie/surfer in the Old West” series, but that’s not really accurate. Instead, Bat favors flowers (more often than not wearing one in his hatband) because they remind him of the good things the West still can’t destroy. As written by various combinations of Sergio Aragones, Denny O’Neil, and Len Wein, Bat’s adventures are certainly more light-hearted than, say, Jonah Hex’s, but nevertheless they have a comparable capacity for tragedy. There is no over-arching storyline tying these issues together, and they are probably best experienced as single issues. Overall, though, this was an entertaining collection, and (regardless of various discounts) certainly an economical spotlight on Nick Cardy.
In other black-and-white-reprint news, my assault on ’70s Marvel continues with another look at Essential Spider-Woman Volume 1. I’m over the hump of the Marvel Two-In-One arc which followed the character’s introduction (in Marvel Premiere), but already I feel like Spider-Woman’s backstory can compete with Hawkman’s or Wonder Girl’s in terms of convolution. I mean, grown by the High Evolutionary, brainwashed by HYDRA, maybe she was human but maybe she wasn’t — and now we’re getting into an Arthurian connection too? Sheesh!
As for this week’s comics, I wonder if R. Lee Ermey knows his likeness has been appropriated for Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #3. That wouldn’t be quite so bad if Kilowog’s mannered dialogue hadn’t reminded me of David Hyde Pierce. By the end of the story, though, I was reminded of Sgt. Hulka from Stripes. If only Kilowog had adopted a Bill Murray-like approach to training his recruits….
I too liked Wonder Woman #34 quite a bit, but when did Black Canary start talking like Marge Gundersen? I read a good bit of Gail Simone’s Birds Of Prey and don’t remember Dinah using phrases like “pish tosh b’gosh” and “rumpus magoo.” That’s a very minor complaint, though, considering that Aaron Lopresti dresses our heroines in some ultra-glam cage-fighting togs. These are the kinds of clothes which would make Quentin Tarantino blush; which makes them perfect for this new arc. After the ultra-grim “Rise of the Olympian” storyline, a good dose of fun is just what this title needed.
Finally, I have just started the new Fletcher Hanks collection, You Shall Die By Your Own Evil Creation!, and am happy to see it is just as insane as the first one.
Tim O’Shea: Tom, I’m the fanboy, you’re the Basic Superhero Scholar (a much higher level than me).
Michael May: I’ve just started Phil Hester’s The Atheist. I’ll probably go over it in in detail for Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs because it’s Phil Hester and that means that there’ll be plenty to talk about. I’m only a quarter of the way through it and already my mind is buzzing with questions and possible answers.
Also reading Jimmy Gownley’s first Amelia Rules! collection. I read a couple of the single issues as they came out and remember liking them more than I’m enjoying it this time around. I do really like the character of Amelia and the stories can be very moving when they’re touching on her broken family life and how she’s dealing with it. There’s not enough of that though in what I’ve read so far. Hopefully that’ll change as I get further in, but for now it’s mostly cute, nostalgic stories about school, bullies, quirky friends, and wacky teachers.
Matt Maxwell: WIND RAIDER v.1
Written by Richard Finney and Dean Loftis, art by Gabriel Hardman
The only reason I know about this book is that I’m a fan of Gabriel Hardman’s (you’ve seen his work in AGENTS OF ATLAS, right?) and was meeting him at the Ape Entertainment booth at SDCC. I haven’t seen a single bit of advertising or coverage for it, but then I tend to breeze through sites like CBR and Newsarama and don’t have time to dig deeply. So maybe I just missed it. At any rate, this is a solid post-apocalyptic adventure in a world/setting that’s struck a balance between unique and familiar (aka “too weird” and “already-seen-it”). Not necessarily an easy thing to do. Storywise, it’s got roots in adventure tales from many generations and (mostly) satisfies. I say (mostly) because it’s not a complete story. I could easily see this going for at least another trade or more, not sure what the team’s plans for it are, though. Recommended for Michael May and folks who like the same kinds of things he does.
RED MOON (preview) “The Rising”
By David McAdoo, published by Cossack Comics. Dude. Cossacks. That rules. This is a preview book for an upcoming OGN that’s due to hit early next year, called RED MOON. Two dogs and a sinister flock of crows (not to mention some badass bluejays) along with an unnamed menace. Since it’s just a preview, it’s tough to get a sense of the whole story, but my guess is that this book could easily find an audience among younger readers and people looking for an animal-based fantasy/adventure. The art is the standout here, and while sometimes the texturing and crosshatching gets in the way of the rawer storytelling elements, McAdoo has a definite and strong style that conjures up some of the force of the early Image artists, but is far more aggressive in his panel layouts. Well worth a look.
X FORCE: DOOP/WOLVERINE
I found these for two bucks in a bargain bin. Not the biggest fan of either character, but I do like Peter Milligan and Darwyn Cooke’s art (with J. Bone inking and Laura Martin on colors). Is it the greatest story ever? Not really. Is it a lot of fun? Sure thing it is. Which reminds me that I really need to pick up some of those X-FORCE reprints. When you have an artist like Darwyn Cooke, it can be tricky to find a story that stands up to the art. But that’s not Milligan’s game here. He’s more on the whimsical side, more mercurial, which is a fine contrast to the strong blacks and vivid colors at play on the page. I shoulda picked this up awhile ago.
WEIRD WESTERN TALES
Why didn’t I know about this Vertigo series from the early 2000s? It’s probably best that I’ve done the lion’s share of writing for my own weird western anthology so I don’t unconsciously crib too much from these. There’s a great short from Paul Pope (not the first name to come to mind when I think of Westerns) and lovely art from a host of others. Only halfway through the series as yet, so I’ll probably drag this out to next week’s entry. As with any anthology, uneven-ness is the enemy, but the good stuff is pretty darn good. And hey, look! Darwyn Cooke on the cover of issue #1. He really should draw more westerns (and I think he’s doing something else for JONAH HEX now that I think about it.)
YOU SHALL DIE BY YOUR OWN EVIL CREATION
Nobody else’s comics read like these. They’re savage and brutal but have moments of eerie and unexpected beauty. All the same, they’re also hard to read in a big chunk. And don’t read this stuff right before bed: strange dreams are a documented side-effect.
Jamie S. Rich: I am actually a couple of weeks behind on my comics, since I usually pick them up on Friday, so the big haul that came out the week of Comic Con has yet to be devoured. I also have been reading my Comic Con grabs, which include the two-volume Rose & Isabel by Ted Mathot. I wanted to pick up these books at the show ever since, funnily enough, I spotted Ted’s blog in the recommended feed by Google Reader put up for me. The first duo in a series of books, it follows a pair of sisters during the American Civil War who dress as men to sneak through the battlefields in search of their missing brothers. Mathot juggles various timelines, including childhood experiences and lessons about ancient female warriors that inform Rose and Isabel’s mission. Mathot is a Pixar artist, part of the same crew that includes Scott Morse and Ronnie Del Carmen, both of whom have pin-ups in separate volumes. His style is similar to theirs, but a little rougher, he likes a more jagged line. Sometimes the story is equally jagged, maybe a little too like storyboards in how it gets from one panel to the next, but overall, a solid adventure story and totally unique.
Sticking with a fighting theme, the latest of Garth Ennis’ war comics, Battlefields: Tankies finished up this week with its third issues. Of Garth’s Dynamite material, I prefer the soft humanism and the female perspective of the first two in this go-around, The Nightwitches and Dear Billy, but I still liked Tankies a whole hell of a lot and it ended the triptych on a lighter note. I’ll admit Garth’s harsher stuff is no longer what I am looking for, so I love seeing him show this more serious side of his talent. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves for this sort of thing. I’m definitely wanting that hardcover collecting all three series in one he promises at the end of the book. Carlos Ezquerra’s art this issue is also appropriately dirty with details. It’s a shame this stuff hasn’t been getting more notice.
In terms of older comics, I’ve been digging through the 1980s series ‘Mazing Man by Stephen DeStefano, Bob Rozakis, and Karl Kesel. It was originally going to be my “Collect This Now” feature before I went with something more crime-oriented. This much beloved but criminally underappreciated DC series is about a comics writer with the face of a dog, his various neighbors, and his roommate, ‘Mazing Man, who dresses up like a superhero, complete with cape, helmet, and bloomers, and goes about Queens committing small good deeds in the name of justice. A lot of it probably went over my head when I read it the first time around, back in my early teens, but I am finding it really charming after all these years. In addition to the sweet humanity, the creators are questioning the lines between imagination and delusion. Who are we to say this little guy was not a true hero? Plus, Stephen DeStefano is a grand wizard of cartooning. His early stuff is rough, but you can really see him grow over the 14 issues. In some kind of synergy, he illustrated the latest issue of Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!, which came out this week. His fill-in on #6 is simply, well, marvelous. His cartooning is so masterful, and it’s full of clever touches. A gesture, a panel shape, the background action–it’s the kind of comic you read once, and stare at a second time, or maybe vice versa.
My favorite part of ‘Mazing Man, however, may be looking at the old ads and reading editorials like Dick Giordano’s 1985 piece about how these personal computer things just might catch on!
Finally, in the wold of printed comics, Madame Xanadu has been a top-of-the-stack must-read from the word go, and this current “Exodus Noir” arc drawn by Michael Wm. Kaluta is no exception. #13 is the midway point, and there is a great mystery brewing. I couldn’t be more giddy that Matt Wagner has tied this stroy cycle into Sandman Mystery Theatre, one of the greatest comics series of all time, as far as I’m concerned, and a great teaching manual in terms of writing You Have Killed Me. And since I just squeezed in a shameless plug: my pal Joëlle Jones is going to be a featured artist in the next story arc, doing two issues, #19 and #20. One of my mentors teams with my closest collaborator? It’s like I’ve won a prize!
My new “when will you update? Please, please?” webcomic is “EmiTown” by Emi Lenox. It’s a freeform daily diary that at first may seem a little too scattered, but the more you read it, patterns emerge, a rhythm develops, and it’s highly addictive. It goes from the mundane struggles Emi has over a breakfast burrito addiction to more surreal and impressionistic tales of black hearts and a heroine named Ocean Girl. Emi can also draw like nobody’s business, her style is fabulous. I just wish I’d be important enough to show up in her comics. Every time I run into Emi, she leaves me out in favor of chuckleheads like Craig Thompson.