Hello and welcome to a special holiday edition of What Are You Reading? Actually it’s just a normal edition of What Are You Reading?, because changing the font color to red and green, and adding twinkling lights around the border just made it harder to read.
Our special guest this week is Andy Khouri, associate editor over at ComicsAlliance, where he drops comic news and commentary on a daily basis.
To see what Andy and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
Batgirl #4: While I’ve been generally pleased with the new Batgirl by writer Gail Simone, it has not impressed me to the degree of say Mark Waid’s Daredevil…until this issue. And oddly it was a simple line of dialogue that caused me to pause and stop to stare at the page. Batgirl had just saved a couple and when he checked on the victims, the man said: “Because of you, we get to see our kids again. Thank you.” Rarely in a comic these days do the folks that the heroes rescue get any lines. The fact that Simone devotes story space to a small moment like that speaks volumes to how great a writer she is. And then the end of this issue has a reveal that’s a doozy.
Avengers Academy #23: For the past half year or so, series writer Christos Gage has shown that no such thing as the status quo in terms of the Avengers Academy cast or infrastructure. This latest arc involves time travel and it is interesting to see snippets of Gage’s larger view of the Academy-verse. Added bonus? Gage taps into the old Rom series to use a character in the present Marvel universe.
The Shade #3: This is the last issue with Cully Hamner on art. I am so bummed, but wait-who is on the deck for next issue? Darwyn Cooke and J. Bone, wow. Nice consolation prize, I’ll admit. Robinson’s penchant for shifting from historical period bits to present day is in full effect (and to my enjoyment). The art of conversation is something that made the original Starman series so delightful, and that art is alive in The Shade. Another bonus that might entice longtime Starman fans that have not picked up this series yet? This month’s cover is by Tony Harris. Still not moved? Next month’s issue involves two words: Times Past.
The Ray #1: This comic held me in its sway until the last panel, which had a blip of violence I just do not need to see in a non-mature readers comic. I say this as a warning, it’s likely that folks who play a lot of video games or have a penchant for horror films will not be shocked. But when the villain from this issue puts his fist through a human head and you get to see it from a side angle, it’s just too sickening for my tastes. It’s visceral and likely the exact impact the creative team wanted. Do not get me wrong, it’s one misstep in an overall strong first issue, I just do not wish anyone to be surprised. I am a huge fan of artist Jamal Igle (and an equally supporter for writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray). I am 99 percent positive on this book, however, particularly the impressive manner that Palmiotti and Gray establish a unique supporting cast with a few scenes.
Marvel Adventures #21: I really do not know the rhyme or reason of this current all ages book, a few recent issues were reprints, but best I can tell this installment has two new stories, one written by J.M. DeMatteis and the other by Jen Van Meter. Van Meter’s Hulk story very much had the Bill Bixby TV show vibe to it (which works in the limited space she had and for the all ages audience). As much as I enjoyed it, I found myself shocked at how great the Dr. Strange/Captain America team-up was. I never thought that patriotism and mysticism could be mixed in a story, but DeMatteis proved me very wrong. I really hope the Strange/Cap artist Wellington Alves has more assignments down the road for Marvel, particularly given his strong eye for layout.
Batman: The Brave & the Bold #14: I really appreciate when DC or Marvel does a story like this in the holidays. Rather than going with the Christian-themed tale (which as a Catholic, of course I dig), this Sholly Fisch/Rick Burchett tale partially focuses on the story of Chanukah and has the fate of a neighborhood shul (synagogue) as the center of the story. For parents, aunts and uncles looking for a small holiday gift that might interest a kid in comics—please snag this.
Resurrection Man #4: For Christmas, Santa, I would like this Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning-written comic series to have a nice long run. The fight scenes in this comic are intense, but not in a disturbing sense—and I just love how Fernando Dagnino utilizes distinct panel choices—as well as his approach to the book’s lead character, Mitch Shelley.
Black Panther #526: This book may be cancelled, but it is still entertaining the hell out of me. Last issue I complained about the murky qualities of the coloring obscuring Shawn Martinbrough’s art. I am happy to say this issue’s coloring of Martinbrough by Felix Serrano is much more complimentary. And writer David Liss is really hitting his stride pitting Panther against the Kingpin, which makes for great storytelling.
This is a rarity for a First Second book, but Level Up has a terrible cover. I know it relates to the subject matter, gaming, but it’s drab and plain, while the story itself is quite imaginative. Written by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Thien Pham, it’s a twist on the Asian-American stereotype of the pushy parents who only want their kid to go to medical school. The hero, Dennis Ouyang, just wants to play video games, but his parents don’t get it at all, and he never has a quarter to play Pac-Man, let alone the bucks to buy a Nintendo system. On the day of his father’s funeral, as Dennis is about to graduate high school, he buys a game system and becomes completely absorbed in gaming. What happens next made me think he was having a psychotic break, but it’s really a fantasy tale–a group of angelic creatures emerges from a card his father had sent him years ago and nudges him toward medical school. Yang and Pham do a nice job of teasing out the nuances of Dennis’s dilemmas, his changing friendships, and his slow realization of the right path–and how his past has unexpectedly prepared him for it. It’s a quick read and a good one.
It would be easy to miss the fact that Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, a new anthology from Archaia, is based on the television show of the same name. If, like me, you weren’t watching a lot of TV in the 1980s and never saw the show, you could read the whole book and not realize it. It’s true, one of the stories is based on an unproduced Storyteller script, but aside from that, there doesn’t seem to be any mention of the show, which is odd–I would at least expect to see an introduction explaining the genesis of the book. Never mind, though, because this is a great little anthology of folk tales adapted and illustrated by some of the most talented comics creators around: Roger Langridge, Colleen Coover, Jeff Parker, Marjorie Liu, among others. This being an Archaia book, the design and production values are superb, and while it’s an all-ages book, there’s a lot here for older readers to appreciate.
Wet Moon by Ross Campbell
I’m a little ashamed to admit that I didn’t even know this existed before all five volumes showed up in the mail recently, but Ross Campbell’s Wet Moon became over the course of one rainy night one of my favorite comics series. There is no high concept hook to this story of variously gothic and geeky and gay girls (and some boys) attending art college in the American south, it’s just completely based on the fairly large cast and their complex relationships with each other. Light on melodrama but heavy on emotion, humor and character development, I’d say Wet Moon is a soap opera but in the best possible sense of that term. Campbell makes each individual truly that – an individual, and I found that as soon as I’d completed one volume (digest-sized paperbacks from Oni Press) I had to immediately start on the next one to see what happens next–not in the sense of a plot or cliffhanger, but just because I came to really enjoy hanging out with his characters. I read five books in just a couple of nights.
But what impressed me most about Wet Moon–and the sort of thing that I find myself caring more about with comics and film–is how Campbell created such an immersive world. From page one, you’re taken in. The uniqueness of the character designs, the details in the locations, the style of dialogue–everything about Wet Moon pulls you in, as opposed to being the sort of narrative you sort of observe and contemplate on some intellectual level. As much as I wanted to keep reading the narrative, I think I liked just sort of living in the world of Wet Moon even more. I can’t wait for the next book.
FreakAngels by Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield
You’ve got 12 kids all born on the same day and all possessing increasingly amazing powers like telepathy and telekinesis and teleportation and so on, and they operate as a gang in a post-apocalyptic London. Each character as a specific talent–agriculture, mechanics, security, etc.–and they work together to protect the citizens of their neighborhood from marauders and other threats from around the city while insulting each other in the best Ellisian tradition.
FreakAngels is remarkable in part for Duffield’s great artwork, particularly his often gorgeous background renderings and ability to make you understand how something like a bicycle-pedal-based flying machine might work. Indeed, FreakAngels spends quite a lot of time exploring the notion of getting on with life in a post-apocalyptic society, where cleverness and innovation would be crucial to survival when there’s no electricity or other resources upon which the world has become dependent. Duffield is amazing at depicting these kinds of lever-and-pulley kinds of things in a way that’s easy to understand and actually quite nice to look at.
Like Campbell with Wet Moon, Duffield makes FreakAngels into a time and place that is utterly specific to itself, and I found myself getting a visceral thrill from visiting that world (the book’s leisurely, perhaps manga-like pace helps immerse you in it in a very cool way). But what keeps you there are the FreakAngels themselves, who’re among the most vivid characters Ellis has ever created, and of course the mystery at the heart of the series: who are the FreakAngels and what did they do?
FreakAngels has been completed and is available in six trade paperbacks or hardcovers.