To see what Tony, Johnny and the Robot 6 crew are reading, click the link below.
I’ve been absent from What Are You Reading? for a few weeks while I’ve been working my way through Showcase Presents Aquaman, Volume 3. I’ve already shared some of my thoughts on these Silver Age stories and finishing this volume hasn’t changed my mind. These are some awfully silly comics where characters’ personalities change dramatically from issue to issue as the plot demands. But I can’t make myself hate them either. The art by Ramona Fradon and Nick Cardy is fantastic and the plots themselves are inventive and exciting.
The first appearance of Black Manta in Aquaman #35 is especially awesome. Bob Haney opens the story with a sudden attack by Manta and his terrifying manta-men on Atlantis and doesn’t let up for the entire issue. Aquaman and the Atlanteans try various tactics to defend themselves, but Black Manta keeps adapting. And then Ocean Master shows up. Other stories feature Aquaman on loan to the US government in Bond-inspired stories as he goes up against a criminal organization called O.G.R.E.
For the most part though, Aquaman stays beneath the waves, defending Atlantis and his family from various aliens, monsters, and invaders from the surface world. It’s great fun as long as you take a very relaxed attitude about characterization. Something I wasn’t always able to do.
I’ve been delving into a number of classic comic strips lately, thanks to a bundle of new books from Fantagraphics.
First up was the latest Krazy & Ignatz book, “1919-1921: A Kind, Benevolent and Amiable Brick.” What stands out for me here, other than George Herriman’s usual artistry, is the subtle jokes about race — Ignatz becomes dirty after rolling around in soot and Krazy doesn’t recognize him and refuses to have anything to do with him; Krazy ends up covered in white paint and suddenly becomes irresistible to Ignatz. Considering Herriman’s own ethnic and racial heritage, I find moments like this fascinatingly telling.
I also read the fifth volume of Popeye, “Wha’s A Jeep.” I’ve gone on and on about my love for Segar’s Thimble Theater here and elsewhere countless times before, so I won’t bore you by listing the all the numerous reasons this strip tickles my fancy so well. Suffice it to say I think it’s an American classic and earns my heartiest recommendation, whatever that’s worth.
Finally, I read the third volume of Prince Valiant, which covers the years 1941-1942. I still can’t quite get over just how much fun Hal Foster’s medieval epic is. Far from the dull, staid, storybook slog a first glance would suggest, the strip bursts with life and adventure, and not a little bit of bloodsport. I lost count at a certain point how many evildoers Val killed, although the highlight (violence-wise at least) has to be the viking who gets his hand lopped off by Val on the last page, itty-bitty, graceful splurt of blood included.
Ultimate Doom #2 isn’t half bad. On the whole, I would think more fondly of the Ultimate universe if we had read all of this instead of Ultimatum. Think of that for a moment, wouldn’t you? Yeah… Anyways, the action isn’t as slow or as startling as in, say Bendis’ Avengers work, and I would guess he is far more comfortable writing with the Ultimate characters than the ol’ 616 universe. But that’s me. I also know that it might be my gut feeling, but the whole villain of this particular arc of the Ultimate Secret/Ultimate Enemy/Ultimate Doom series is kind of disappointing. I understand their motivations and all, but without a reasoned and engaging explanation, I’m still down-hearted. I’m sure that’s even the point of naming this character a huge threat to their friends, loved ones and even the multiverse at large, so I’ll wait and see how it all develops.
I’ll totally admit to having not read Ultimate Secret or Ultimate Enemy before this, but it tells you how good a comic is if you can pick an issue up, read through it and understand the basic plotline enough to want to read more. In the same spirit, I also read Action Comics #897. The fancy character spotlight covers did not help me in this as I had to check the cover several times to remember what this issue was for later, but it also helped as Lex Luthor looking evil with Superman’s cape destroyed is pretty cool. Again, I haven’t read anything before it, but Paul Cornell is a pretty cool guy and the title’s been getting a lot of positive press from friends, so why not see what all this is? The good news is that it’s incredibly well-written. While the idea of a robot Lois Lane is lost on me, I caught quickly on to the fact that she was a robot and believed that Luthor want to create such a thing for his understandably nefarious needs. The black hole problem and his main reason for action? No clue. But the very idea of Lex Luthor taking his robot Lois Lane in to see the Joker at Arkham Asylum? Count me in. The exchange was engaging, fascinating and appropriately weird (“Jazz hands!”). Not sure if I’ll remain just as interested to pick up the next issue, but I might go back-issue hunting tomorrow and see if the last issue was as good as this one.
Last but not least, I read Infestation #1 because I need to know if Abnett and Lanning can make ANYTHING GOOD. Short answer: yes, yes they can. Long answer: you know when someone comes up with something so bizarre or unreal that you have to see it? Dynamite books and the internet work on this idea; we find strange and uncomprehendable YouTube videos and put them on Facebook. Infestation leaves your jaw open the whole time and you know it’s going to end in ZOMBIES in STAR TREK comics. That’s unheard of, but even on your way to getting to ZOMBIES in TRANSFORMERS comics, you’re not only given a fairly decent premise but throw in terms like Hofstadtian Strange Loop whi, if you Google odd words like I do, find out that it’s an ACTUAL THING. Not only did they jump on to a rather ludicrous idea of onvolving major properties in a current horror fad, but bothered to look up a Nobel Prize winning heirarchical theory. That’s right, you just learned something in a book that has robots, zombies and zombie-robots.
Sean T. Collins
Still bouncing between prose and comics this week. On the prose end, I’m knee deep in Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain fantasy series, which in terms of their underlying theme as they chronicle the life of a young pig farmer turned unexpected hero can be summed up as “put in the hard work necessary to learn how not to be a jerk.” As various people I’ve described them to have put it, it’s like the anti-Ayn Rand — something we need even more now than we did when Alexander wrote the books in the ’60s.
As for comics, click the links for full reviews!
Johnny 23 by Charles Burns (Le Dernier Cri): Burns “remixes” his own book X’d Out to stunning effect, reformatting its pages and reshuffling their contents to further emphasize their surreal, gorgeous images.
AX: Alternative Manga Vol. 1 by various artists, compiled by Mitsuhiro Asakawa, edited by Sean Michael Wilson (Top Shelf): The incredibly wide range of comics in this compilation culled from one of Japan’s most prominent alternative-comics anthologies guarantees that you’ll find something you really like — you just have to make it past some frustrating production choices involving the translation and lettering to get to them.
Uptight #4 by Jordan Crane (Fantagraphics): One all-ages comic, and one very adult one, comprise the latest issue of Crane’s impeccably crafted one-man anthology series.
Outside of a few webcomics I don’t think I’m reading anything that comes out regularly right now. As I’ve gotten older I like to sit down with a collection, a celebrated run or self contained graphic novel. I’ve been reading a lot in the last few weeks.
Batman: Knightfall – When they cast the next Batman sequel earlier in the month I dug out my old Knightfall trades. Bane is a great villain because unlike so many who came before him he was BOTH the physical and mental equal of the Dark Knight. They juxtapose his methods with the crazies that Bane breaks out of Arkham. Honestly I forgot how tight the plotting is; tons of fun to watch Bane marshal his forces and legitimately take down the Bat… The art is vintage 90’s; scratchy, inconsistent and full of splash pages but that stuff can be fun with the right material.
Kill Shakespeare – I lied. I do read Kill Shakespeare month to month. However, it’s new so it didn’t immediately spring to mind. It fills the void that Fables and X-Men used to, full of drama and romance and fighting. Comics are at their best when they aspire to be Shakespearean. Men and women running around the night, wearing masks, fighting for love or revenge or whatever. Kill Shakespeare has all of that for obvious reasons and capitalizes with clever twists on old standards. The art lends a real gravity to the source material, it feels real. Or better yet it feels like a play, a world built out of set pieces and cardboard trees. It’s a surreal brain treat that I can’t recommend enough.
Wednesday Comics – Finally got to crack the spine (Bane reference?) on my Christmas present to myself. The collected Wednesday Comics are just FANTASTIC. Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and Batman immediately jump out as gloriously crafted love letters to those characters. The Flash, Metamorpho and Adam Strange got experimental and these stories took chances. There was such a variety of talent on the series that all 12 stories feel completely unique. I dig anthologies in general, there’s something very ‘comic-book-y’ about a bunch of people coming together to tackle a project no one of them could handle on their own.
I have been crazy busy and haven’t had as much time to read since the Holiday.
Wonder Woman Archives, Vol 1 – I was never really into the Wonder Woman series until recently. I always thought of her as a campy TV show from the 70s… not that I don’t love Linda Carter, but you know what I mean.
These Golden Age stories are straight up weird and trippy. All, of course, in a good way. I do find them to be oddly fetishy, too. Which is pretty awesome considering when they were being published. I haven’t counted, but I think someone is bound and tied up on just about every single page.
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