Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly discussion about the comics we here at Robot 6 have been checking out lately. Today’s special guest is Lauren Davis, who blogs about webcomics at Storming the Tower and io9, and is the editor of the San Francisco comics anthology The Comic Book Guide to the Mission.
To see what Lauren and the Robot 6 gang have been reading lately, click below …
Good lord. When I read Paul Cornell’s final text piece for Knight and Squire #6 I was astounded to learn that 130 new characters had been introduced in the six issue miniseries. I still cannot believe the narrative curveball that Cornell threw readers in the last issue, but the whole damn thing comes together quite nicely in the conclusion. And even though I read all the single issues, I have a feeling the extras that Cornell is gonna toss in the collection will make that worth picking up as well. Page 2 of this issue is worth the purchase alone for the classic comics writer names that are plastered in graffiti on the wall.
Xombi #1: Not much of a fan of supernatural, unless it’s classic material by Archie Goodwin or current stuff by Jason Aaron. But DC Comics was kind enough to send me an advance copy of Xombi #1. Not to sound like a total idiot, but Fraser Irving is perfectly suited for supernatural tales like this material. And any writer like John Rozum, who references NC Wyeth in the first panel of a story draws me in with pop culture fun. I’ve not read any of the past Xombi material–and the nice news about that is even though I did not know a damn thing about David Kim before this story, I was interested in the character by the fourth page. Plus there’s talking coins at one point in this story. Kudos to Rozum (a longtime friend of Dwayne McDuffie) for dedicating this first issue to the recently departed writer.
Superman #709: Kevin Melrose has already documented one of wacky, enjoyable aspects of this issue. Roberson’s ability to work little elements into the story, like the fact that Supes and Flash have a conversation at superspeed in the time that a waitress almost trips and falls (as the scene ends, of course, Flash saves her from a fall). Until DC makes an official announcement, I will keep writing: “Give Chris Roberson a permanent assignment as writer of Superman. This guy turned a floundering arc into something entertaining.” Small smarky aside: When all is said and done on this Grounded storyline, I am going to check and see how many issues featured a scene with a white picket fence.
Avengers Academy #11: Christos Gage remains the most engaging writer on an Avengers-related title at present. And in the current arc, he gets to use a hell of a lot of Avengers, not just the academy students. How many, you may ask? Tom Raney draws characters I never even recognize, that’s not a complaint. I still remember back in the 1970s when I first read the Avengers and there would be a character I would not know about. That would not make me feel left out, quite the opposite it would leave me wanting to learn more. And that’s the feeling I get when I read Gage’s writing. Some writers when they use Jocasta characterize her as nothing more than a high-quality PDA, Jocasta by Gage is an asset to the Academy staff and the book’s cast (though you always have this suspicion fomented by the Gage that she can go Ultron on the team at any point). After this pivotal issue, I’ll be curious to see where the creative team takes Veil, in particular.
Thunderbolts #155: Jeff Parker’s affinity for Dr. Strange (who lends a hand in this single issue only) is clear from the issue’s outset. Getting the voice of Stephen Strange just right is no easy feat, but Parker does it. To me, the sign of a good writer in a team book like the Thunderbolts is when they can make the guest stars shine in an ensemble cast without taking away from the title’s core group dynamics. That’s what Parker achieves with Dr. Strange–and Kev Walker gives Strange almost a Russian look to a certain extent. It’s an immensely iconic tone to a certain extent. While it may be too early for another Dr. Strange miniseries, I would love for Parker & Walker give it a go.
Noche Roja by Simon Oliver and Jason Latour is the latest entry in the Vertigo Crime, and like previous efforts it’s a rather enjoyable effort, though it slips easily from your mind once you put it down. It’s about a former, washed-up cop now private detective who heads across the border to a small factory town in Mexico where young women are being rather gruesomely killed. It’s well done, I particularly like Latour’s just-cartoonish-enough art style, though the cheap paper it’s printed on does it no favors, particularly when Latour uses as much ink and ben-day dots as he does.
I suppose my big problem with Noche and much of the Vertigo Crime line is that it’s so plot-heavy that there’s little room for style or characterization. I realize that this genre tends to be rather plot-heavy in general anyway, but for me the pleasure usually resides in the character studies and little flourishes, and Noche Roja doesn’t have too many of those.
A more satisfying crime book to me, by far, was The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans, the latest entry in Rick Geary’s ongoing Treasury of 20th Century Murder. This time Geary tackles a rather obscure — nay, all but forgotten — tale of random and rather ugly murders that occurred in the Big Easy around 1918. Here the thrill exists in Geary laying out the various strands of the story. The case was never solved, adding an unsettling tone to an already grim story, and Geary’s methodical detective work makes the tale even more deliciously eerie.
This week I re-read just about all of Welcome To Tranquility (everything except the “Worldstorm” crossover) and I’d like to think there’ll be more from Gail Simone and company even with WildStorm gone. Eighteen issues (twelve of the regular series and last year’s 6-issue sequel) is a good bit of space in which to build a world, but Simone and artist Neil Googe got much of it done right out of the gate. The rest is mostly character studies — the revenge-driven gunslinger, the undead rockabilly star, the lawmen with unconventional backgrounds — which prove immediately engaging. Especially in the One Foot In The Grave miniseries (drawn by Horacio Domingues), I could see the same kind of dark streak which powers Secret Six, butting against the tenacity of Birds Of Prey. Moreover, since the villain of OFITG is a “forgotten character” from Tranquility’s past since turned into an unstoppable evil, I can see the sequel miniseries as something of a reaction to the Superboy-Prime style of stories. While some of OFITG‘s plot elements steer awfully close to women-in-refrigerators-type moments, I don’t think they’re meant to have the same effect; and in any case, the end of OFITG suggests that such things should never have happened to begin with. I’m eager for another sequel because OFITG seems to leave one plot thread dangling, and since it affects a couple of major characters, I hope it has a chance to play out.
I also picked up a few of Titan Books’ Star Trek reprints, specifically the first several issues of DC’s 1983 series and the first year or so of the ’89 relaunch. In a nutshell, while the first series (written by Mike W. Barr, pencilled by Tom Sutton, inked by Ricardo Villagran) was both entertaining and true to the spirit of Kirk-Movie Trek, I have to say that Peter David and James W. Fry’s work on the ’89 relaunch is zippier and more witty, with more detail-oriented art. (I do think Paramount should have let David and Fry use M’Ress, though.) The ’89 relaunch started off with a mega-arc about Kirk running afoul of The Salla, unquestioned charismatic ruler of his eponymous fanatical race. Kirk’s unconventional tactics in dealing with the Salla land him in hot water with both the Federation and the Klingons, naturally, and at the end of the issue I just finished, he’s assigned a “protocol officer” to keep him out of trouble. Then it gets wacky, with Kirk battling a bounty hunter “played by” John Cleese, and there’s a trial, and it’s a whole big thing. Still better than Star Trek V.
Anyway, I did want to mention one of the Barr/Sutton stories, “Mortal Gods” from the first series’ issue #5. This might have been the only one of Sutton’s issues not inked by Villagran, and by his absence he demonstrates how much his style sometimes overwhelmed Sutton’s pencils. In fact, Sal Amendola’s inks are practically delicate in comparison, bringing out the detail in faces and technology that Villagran often didn’t. The story is familiar Prime-Directive stuff — a stranded Starfleet captain changes the course of an alien society’s history — but this time it’s one of Kirk’s students, and he’s using his “alien powers” to stop warring factions from killing each other. That’s all well and good, and Kirk’s solution is, as you might expect, is about as radical as the original “fix.” However, I was surprised, and then a little amused, at one minor plot point. Captain Hodges’ ship was destroyed in the war with the Klingons which took up much of issues #1-4. Regardless, he had time to a) demonstrate his “godlike” powers to his new neighbors, b) impose his will on them, and c) fall in love, all in maybe a week to ten days. Either the war lasted a lot longer than I thought, or Hodges was just as good, if not better, with the ladies than his old professor….
I’m not a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying Lucy Knisley and Nora Renick-Rinehart’s Here at Hogwarts. I adore Knisley’s comic essays at Stop Paying Attention, so a 36-page Knisley comic is a real treat. She and her studio mate decide to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – with detours through Disney World and even a Jesus theme park. Knisley manages to take a clear-eyed view of the parks without being overly cynical. She investigates the ploys the parks use to keep visitors happy and spending money, but decides that, ultimately, trips like these are about recapturing joy.
Moving from Orlando to a solar system far, far away, I’m reading (or, more accurately, re-reading) the first collected volume of Chris Baldwin’s webcomic Spacetrawler. Space opera comics are a tricky thing to pull off – as are comedic space operas – but Baldwin nails it with his tale of human abductees roped into an alien activist mission. The characters have such remarkable chemistry, and there are some genuinely shocking moments where I still laugh out loud.
The webcomic I’m most excited about this week is Tom Siddell’s Gunnerkrigg Court, which is back after a brief hiatus. The underlying tensions of Gunnerkrigg Court are set between the Court, the technologically advanced boarding school Annie and her friend Kat attend, and the mystical Forest ruled by the god-like Coyote. After two years at Court, Annie decided to spend her summer break in the Forest. Now that she’s back at school, that decision is having powerful repercussions for her friendship with the scientifically minded Kat – and likely her larger life at Court. Siddell has done a beautiful job aging up the characters, and I find I’m dying to know how Annie spent her summer vacation.
Even though I picked it up at my local comic book store, To Timbuktu, by Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg, isn’t exactly a comic. Scieszka provides the words and Weinberg the illustrations for this post-collegiate travelogue about their journey from China (as English teachers), through Asia, and eventually to Mali for Scieszka’s Fullbright grant study. I’m obsessed with the minutiae of other people’s lives, and To Timbuktu delivers on a number of fronts: a formerly long-distance relationship that becomes suddenly intimate, the daily routine of life in a foreign country, two people trying to grow into who they are as adults. I suspect that if I’d read this in college, I would have dumped all my grad school plans and run off to China.