Welcome once again to What Are You Reading?, where we talk about exactly what the title implies every Sunday. Today’s special guest contributor is BOOM! Studios editor Ian Brill, who works on their Farscape line, the Eisner-nominated Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and the upcoming CBGB comic, among others. He’s also the writer of a new Darkwing Duck miniseries coming from BOOM! later this year.
To see what Ian and the Robot 6 gang have been reading this week, click the link below.
I spent most of this week reading the new, paperback edition of Blazing Combat, which Fantagraphics released in hardcover format last year. For those of you who don’t know, Blazing Combat was a magazine-format war comic that Warren Publishing released back in the mid-60s, after the success of Creepy. It only lasted four issues, however, mainly because the U.S. military, the American Legion, and other like-minded individuals objected to what it saw as an anti-American attitude, especially in its Vietnam stories, and tried to keep it as far away from newsstands as possible.
Written mostly by editor Archie Goodwin and drawn by a stellar line-up that included Wally Wood, George Evans, Alex Toth, John Severin, Russ Heath and Reed Crandell, the comics slavishly follow the format set by Harvey Kurtzman with his EC war comics Frontline Combat and Two Fisted Tales back in the 50s. So much so that the tales at times creak and groan under the weight of their artifice. You can often sense the O. Henry style twist coming a mile away. When a soldier talks about getting a vintage bottle of wine on the first page, you can be sure it will lead to his undoing by the last.
And yet the artistry on display is so mind-boggling, particularly in the case of Crandall, Heath and Severin, that it seems churlish of me to not recommend this book simply because of a few overly and obviously ironic twists. The creators clearly had a real love for this kind of material, so much so that wish things had tipped slightly in their favor a bit more, and that the market had made at least a little more room for war comics when as the silver age gave way to the bronze.
I’m sorry to see the Chris Roberson/Shawn McManus Cinderella six-issue miniseries end this month. Because of the villain reveal in last issue (Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother) this final issue was part therapy session/part way too much talking. I’m not slamming Roberson, given the dynamics, it was necessary–but I just wish the issue could have allowed for more action in the end. I know from interviewing Roberson that he’d be game for writing an ongoing Cinderella series, but I’m unsure if sales would support such a book long-term. That being said, I loved this miniseries overall (despite the pacing at the end) and hope that Roberson gets to work with Cinderella more (possibly BBC-style in another miniseries, as opposed to an ongoing). In the meantime, fans of Roberson like myself got a sneak preview this month of his new collaboration with Mike Allred–I, Zombie, which is set to launch in May. Roberson and Allred make a great team, it appears.
I understand all the hype and excitement behind Spider-Man: Fever by Brendan McCarthy. The man is channeling a major Ditko vibe in this project. I will likely buy the remaining two issues in this miniseries solely for the art. But Marvel should have had someone else write the dialogue for it. McCarthy has no ear for dialogue: in a pivotal early scene, Doctor Strange literally narrates what’s happening on the page. Consider this three panel (spoiler ahead) bit: Panel 1: “It’s leaving.” Panel 2: “Down the drainhole!” Panel 3: “But it has taken Spider-Man’s soul.” (I like to imagine that Strange’s intonation [lack of exclamation point] on that last line was akin to if he had said: “Wong, that pizza we ordered seems to be running late.”) And if I never see the word “Harrah” (uttered more than 50 times by various characters in this issue) again in this miniseries, I’ll be happy. This project? Please come for the art, brace yourself for the dialogue. Harrah, indeed. It’s truly a shame, as McCarthy is quite selective in the work he does, and the art is so incredible, I wish
the dialogue could do it justice.
I just described to my wife the scene where Spidey’s soul being stolen while he lay in a bathtub. Her reaction: “One would presume being in a bathtub, they took his kidney as well.” I love my wife.
I just picked up vol. 1 of Ratman today, so I’m not too far into it yet, but I’m liking what I see so far. It’s almost self-critiquing—it’s a manga about a short kid who dreams of being a superhero someday. The Japanese handle this sort of story very differently from Americans—for one thing, superheroes in the new Japan double as corporate spokesman and there is a whole array of them. And in the first 30 pages or so we have already had a fight on the basketball court, a humorous mishap involving a tough guy from a school gang, and a martial-arts display that included a gratuitous full-on panty shot. It’s sort of a parody of all the conventions of shonen manga, and it’s well drawn and easy to read, which is a plus. The hero is fairly sympathetic, and the characters are less stereotyped than the usual run of manga characters, so I think I’ll be sticking with this one.
Also this week, I picked up Gene Yuen Lang’s Prime Baby. I’m probably the only person who will be disappointed that there wasn’t more math in it—I come from a family of serious math nerds—but there are other reasons to be disappointed as well. The story was cute but didn’t hang together very well, and I didn’t care for the ending at all. The story is told in comic strips and they were just a bit too small to read comfortably. I’m afraid this one just didn’t work for me.
One that did work better was Rabbi Harvey vs. The Wisdom Kid, an all-ages comic about a rabbi in the Wild West. It’s a clever story about a battle of wits between Rabbi Harvey and a slicker rabbi from out of town. The art is done in a naive but pleasing style with a muted palette. This is published by a Jewish publishing house, not a graphic novel publisher, but they get all the elements right, and I really liked it.
Oh dear Lord, I read so much comics since last we spoke! Finally I can cross Whiteout and Fun Home off my to-do list, because I read ’em both on the plane back from WonderCon. Fun Home sure lived up to its reputation, although I wish I’d paid a little more attention in 12th-grade English. I was especially fond of Alison Bechdel’s cartooning style, because it seemed to blend the best parts of Lynn Johnston and Garry Trudeau while staying unique. As a dad who wonders what his daughter will think of him when she’s older, Fun Home‘s story resonated with me pretty strongly.
I found Whiteout (by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber, of course) to be a deft thriller, and it’s hard for me to imagine it in color, let alone movie-fied. A few elements (including one of the twists at the end) were a little familiar, but I still liked how Rucka and Lieber worked them into the Antarctic setting. Carrie Stetko is the key to the book, though, and she comes across with depth and real personality.
I liked Batman And Robin #11 a lot, and it was good to see a certain Morrison character again in Doom Patrol #9, but my favorite single issue this week is, ironically, a comic which I missed picking up in San Francisco. Madame Xanadu #21 returns to the present (well, the ’50s) with penciller Amy Reeder Hadley for our heroine’s long-awaited team-up with a prominent DC superhero. Oh sure, Matt Wagner’s script was entertaining as always (although I thought the gangsters’ accents were a bit much). Nevertheless, I am really enjoying Hadley’s sprightly, energetic portrayal, and this issue gave her lots to do. Plus, that cover is really something.
And finally … last Saturday night found the Bondurants and the Hoffmans in the Marriott Marquis lobby talking comics. I shared my love for Detective Comics #500, which includes the classic Alan Brennert/Dick Giordano “To Kill A Legend” and Len Wein and Walt Simonson’s sublime “Once Upon A Time.” However, my presentation was
but a trifle compared to Carla’s. Not only did she lay out in detail — using the phrase “death-metal” a couple of times — why August 2008’s Thor: Reign Of Blood special (written by Matt Fraction and pencilled by Khari Evans and Patrick Zircher) was both a great Thor story and a great single issue; not only did she buy a copy of the issue at WonderCon just to make her point; but she in fact gave me that copy for my very own! So thank you, Carla, for introducing me to Matt Fraction et al.’s version of Thor! I read the issue again when I got home, and it is a well-executed epic which uses its 36 pages very efficiently. Plus it has, you know, the big scene at the end where Thor pilots … well, you’ll have to read it yourself. Or track down Carla, which is probably a better option.
Hulk #1 Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness
It came for free on my iPad from the Marvel Comics app. Go ahead and mock me. The art’s pretty and muscular, even if it’s serving a story that’s pretty bare bones at best and very much moment-driven in the style of The Ultimates. Colors look real good, though. But I’m not finding enough there for me to be really interested in additional chapters, even at two bucks apiece.
Spider-Man #526 (I think. It’s the first chapter of “Brand New Day.”)
Much meatier, story-wise, even if I’m not wild about the storyline that all this spun out of. The issue itself wasn’t bad, a little disjointed, some nice art, but nothing really amazing. I’m also not the biggest Spider-fan on the planet, so I didn’t have a lot of investment in this. The backup features did nothing for me, but I’d have been happy with a JJJ featurette.
Fantastic Four, whichever issue Jonathan Hickman started his run with.
Kinda neat, possibly leading interesting places. I’m not entirely convinced by his take on Reed Richards (particularly the buffed out, unshaven manly-man presentation we got from the artwork.) The reveal at the end was neat, but without a connection to the characters themselves (and I haven’t read the book since Simonson’s run, really), there’s not much for me to come back to. Of the Marvel titles listed above, this is the one I’m most likely to come back and pick up a second issue of.
Looked over the first issue/preview of Valentine, by Alex de Campi (writer of the oft-overlooked Smoke from IDW) and Christine Larsen. What I read here didn’t give me enough of an idea to see if I’d really enjoy the series or not. I will say, the presentation was interesting, where the panel would come up, then you “turn” the page to get the captions to show up. It did let the art hit you first, and actually seemed like it was offering a different way to read digital comics (instead of just translating the experience of reading a printed comic on a screen.) I may check this out further, but additional episodes would have to be much more substantial for me to keep going.
The first three were from the Marvel Comics app, the last is from Comixology. I also just downloaded the iVerse reader, but haven’t had much chance to check out their offerings.
Also reading the Conan the Barbarian Omnibus, which is a bunch of the original Robert E. Howard stories. Finished “The Scarlet Citadel” last night. Wish the Kindle reader app had an easy way to jump from story to story. It doesn’t, and that makes me sad. A clickable table of contents would really be helpful.
Besides that, it’s research. And you don’t want to hear about that.
The Last Resort by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray and Giancarlo Caracuzzo is pretty much an ode to the zombie genre, set on a tropical resort island where a virus has started turning everyone into flesh-eating monsters. The story doesn’t just pull out every B-grade horror movie cliche there it is, it revels in them, making the story a whole lot more fun than it sounds like on paper. The characters are fairly well developed, despite the fact that you know going into it that many of them are just cannon fodder, and the whole thing is loaded with humor, violence, sex, gore, foul language, gratuitous body parts and even monkey zombies — everything you need for a fun, over-the-top story. Plus the collection features all of Darwyn Cooke’s covers, which was definitely a bonus.
This week I also finally dove into the comic section of McSweeney’s San Francisco Panorama. The newspaper-style insert, which can be purchased separate from the larger Panorama, features some really great comics by Jon Adams, Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Seth, Jessica Abel, Adrian Tomine, Erik Larsen and many more.
Thank goodness you’re asking what I am reading, as opposed to what books I have set to read. If I were to write about all the books I still need to get to we might run out of Internet. In between writing Darkwing Duck, editing a good lot of comics (28 Days Later, Farscape, The Amory Wars and plenty more) I do get around to reading. Here’s a sample.
Planetary by Warren Ellis, John Cassady and Laura Martin: I decided to revisit this, one of the series that got me back into comics. Reading all the issues so close together, and yes Planetary is as known for its publishing delays as it is anything else, I really see what an amazing feat this series is. Warren Ellis, John Cassady and Laura Martin are telling a story of how the world works and they do it by using genre storytelling artifacts. When drawn by Cassady, characters inspired by Doc Savage, Tarzan and the actual Sherlock Holmes become the icons you’re always told they are. Ellis has the genius, he truly is one of the few people in comics who deserve the description, to take all of the pulp landscape and wrestle it down so it tells a story of power, corruption, lies and the universe itself. I feel only in their hands a story like “Death Machine Telemetry” (issue #21), which is basically a didactic where Elijah Snow is told the story of the building blocks of life, could work, and work brilliantly.
Doctor Who: Nightshade by Mark Gatiss: Anyone who knows me knows I’m an incurable Doctor Who fan. Guilty as charged, I feel DW demands storytellers give us tales of great imagination with intelligence, curiosity and empathy at their core. This novel is part of The New Adventures line, original stories featuring the Seventh Doctor told after the original series ended in 1989. A lot of people who went on to write for the re-launched show contributed, including former show runner Russel T. Davies and Paul Cornell, whose novel Human Nature was turned into a brilliant two-parter. Mark Gatiss has written episodes for the new DW, including the next episode to air in the UK, “Victory of the Daleks,” as well as acted as the titular villain in “The Lazarus Experiment.” This novel from 1992 promises to be somewhat of a tribute to the Quatermass series, Nigel Kneale’s creation that launched science fiction on British television. I’m two chapters in and can already appreciate how much care and detail Gatiss puts into setting up all of supporting players The Doctor and his companion Ace shall meet along the way. The maturation of DW that led to the re-launch being such a hit started here in this line of novels.
The BBC have actually posted this story as an eBook.
I also want to recommend Dorian Wright’s Paperback Book Club at Postmodernbarney, where he has reviewed every one of the New Adventures novels.
Mysterius the Unfathomable by Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler: I heard a lot of good things about this book so I decided to pick up the trade. I’m enjoying it so far. Fowler’s art is amazing. In the back cover Howard Chaykin declares it looking “like Jack David inked by Wally Wood.” That’s pretty apt. It’s wonderful to see such an expressive art style be used to tell a longform genre story, this time one of modern urban fantasy. Mysterius is a private supernatural investigator with a W.C. Fields nose and a female assistant, Delfi. Yes, as a DW fan I noticed certain similarities to our favorite Time Lord but this is a story of magic, not time travel. Parker has several strands going on at once and all bumping into one another, a storytelling choice I usually love seeing. I can see Parker loves giving Fowler fun stuff to draw. There’s a visit to another plane of existence in the first issue and Fowler does killer work with it! I hope to see more of his work in the future.