Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? Our special guest this week is Beth Scorzato, managing editor of the excellent comics news and commentary site Spandexless.
To see what Beth and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
I’m getting caught up on some Archaia books lately, staring with Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand. It’s based on an unproduced screenplay by Henson and Jerry Juhl and if you know anything about Henson’s weird, subversive, non-Muppet work in the ‘70s, his fingerprints are all over it. I doubt I understand surrealism enough to identify it outside of its most famous practitioners, but as I read Tale of Sand, the stream-of-conscious surprises and bizarre juxtapositions of story elements certainly brought that term to mind. Its extremely loose plot (a man is sent into the desert for mysterious reasons by a small town and pursued by an enigmatic hunter) adds elements as quickly as Henson and Juhl could think of them, and yet the story bombs and their relationships to each other feel purposeful, not arbitrary. Maybe it’s just me trusting Henson, but there’s symbolism here that I haven’t begun to unpack. I’ll love doing that though, especially since it gives me the chance to look at Ramón Pérez’ artwork again. You could do a whole series of blog posts about this book and what everything means.
Sticking with Henson, I also read Volume 1 of The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths. I’ve never been a huge fan of The Dark Crystal outside of its great visuals and irritating my friends (and myself) by imitating the Chamberlain’s whimper. What kept me from engaging more fully with the movie was the sense that there was this ton of backstory that it wanted me to know existed, but didn’t want to give me any details about. The world was simultaneously too complex and not detailed enough. Creation Myths corrects that by filling in some specifics, especially about Aughra, whose similarity to Yoda in the film was off-putting for me. She now feels like a real character. I still wouldn’t call myself a Dark Crystal fan, but I’m more interested in the world than I was before I read the book and I’d pick up the second volume to see if that trend continues.
The third Archaia book I read was Josh Tierney and Company’s Spera. It took some adjusting to because I was expecting a cohesive fantasy quest about a couple of girls trying to rescue the kingdom of one of them from the evil family of the other. Spera is a lot more meandering and episodic than that. The quest is the framework that holds the book together, but the format is more like an anthology. Each story is written by Tierney, but drawn by a different artist, and the tales vary in how much they relate to the main plot. Some push it along directly, while others are diverting side-adventures. That’s a template that works for a lot of TV shows, so it can work here too; it just takes some getting used to and a willingness to sit back and enjoy the ride across future volumes. The art is all lovely, so enjoyment isn’t a problem; the challenge is in relaxing and patiently letting Tierney go where he wants. For those who can do that though, Spera is a lot of fun.
Finally, I caught up with BOOM! Studio’s Peanuts comics. I’m always cautious about comics that continue after their creator has died or retired, but this comic is representative of the reason I don’t make rules about it. The creators that BOOM! has picked are doing a fine job of replicating the tone of Schulz’ strips; so much so that it’s not even jarring when the comics intersperse the new stories with classic, Sunday Peanuts strips. I’d have no problem handing this to a Peanuts fan and expecting her to enjoy the heck out of it.
I have been laid up for the past several weeks following shoulder surgery, which is why I haven’t been posting to Robot 6 that frequently (not that you were wondering). During my convalescence, and in-between watching episodes of The Kids in the Hall, I read a lot of comic books. While I still didn’t manage to burn through my “to read” pile I did at least make a sizable dent in it. Here are some quick reviews of what I read:
God the Dyslexic Dog #1-4 — A really muddled, convoluted, poorly written story about mythological gods, monkeys, Pavlov, time travel and god knows what else that is made bearable by the utterly sublime art work of Alex Nino. That shouldn’t be a surprise, Nino’s work is always stunning, but his gorgeous double-page spreads and intricate vistas make this otherwise execrable comic a slightly more pleasant experience.
Chick and Chickie Play All Day by Claude Ponti — This is another new Toon Book, designed for just beginning readers. It’s about two baby chickens that frighten each other with masks and then torture the letter A, a bit of surreal literalism I appreciated. It’s cute and engaging; kids will probably like it. Moving on.
Zig and Wiki in The Cow by Nadja Spiegelman and Trade Loeffler — Another Toon Book and the second in the “Zig and Wiki” series. This time the minuscule pair go traipsing in a pasture and get eaten by a cow. No, really. Along the way facts about cows’ stomachs and micro-organisms are thrown out in-between plot points. I’m not wild about this “Hey, did you know” approach, but again, I’m not the target audience here. I know this because of the number of poop jokes.
A.D.D.: Adolescent Demo Division by Douglas Rushkoff, Goran Sudzuka and Jose Marzan Jr. — I’m pretty much with Caleb on this one. This is a blandly imagined, sci-fi story that doesn’t have the courage (either in the writing or art department) to take chances or push its central conceit (test tube kids raised to become media/video game stars and spur consumer complacency) into interesting directions. The confusing and annoyingly enigmatic ending (what exactly happened to those kids again? And what’s the deal with the snowglobe?) only makes things worse. Also, word to the wise: Don’t try to come up with coy, futuristic slang words unless your name is Anthony Burgess.
Sybil the Backpack Fairy by Michel Rodrigue, Antonello Dalena and Manuela Razzi — This is exactly what it sounds like. A young tween finds for some reason she’s acquired a fairy in her school bag that will help her cheat on her homework and generally making her life exciting by doing things like transporting ancient Egyptians to modern times. And of course there are bad, bad fairies that are constantly trying to thwart them from doing whatever because there’s some grand plan that this girl is a part of and blah, blah, blah. It’s all generic, rote fantasy stuff that any 12-year-old has read about 100 variations of already and there’s nothing here to make this one particularly memorable. This is the kind of comic that leaves so little an impression that you have to flip through it to remind yourself that you did actually read it.
Complete Crumb Comics Vol. 1 by Robert Crumb — This is a newly revamped edition of the inaugural volume, featuring some new, (I’m assuming) just discovered art, which mainly consists of some more Fritz the Cat stuff and a Jim and Mabel strip. There’s also a bunch of journal entries by Crumb’s brother Maxon here for some odd reason, perhaps to provide context or just for the accompanying illustrations? It’s hard to figure out why this was included and some editor’s notes in the back or front of the book would have helped. The real discovery here is the Jim and Mabel story, as Crumb is able to wring an amazing amount of depth and characterization from this seemingly simple story of a surly twenty-something woman bringing lunch to the elementary school kid who’s got a crush on her. As raw and awkward as it is at times it’s also rather poignant and shows how skilled he was at an early age. The rest of the book is the familiar early material, stuff that’s of interest to hardcore Crumb nuts like myself but not likely to interest general readers.
More “what I read while on short term disability” next week!
Justice League #7 (written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Gene Ha) was a nice change of pace from the first six issues’ big Darkseid arc. Set in the present (as opposed to “five years ago”) and told from Steve Trevor’s perspective as the federal government’s League liaison, it picks up the “world’s greatest superheroes” angle introduced in the last issue. Specifically, the League has become both wildly popular with the public and distrusted by the government — so much so, perhaps, that the public might just prefer rule by superheroes to representative democracy. That’s probably a bit of exaggeration, since I doubt Johns intends Justice League to be a new Authority, but there it is. Troubling implications aside, though, I thought this was a good example of the League being about more than just widescreen action. While there was action in this issue, it was grounded in the League’s larger societal context, which made it feel more substantive than the Darkseid arc. In this regard, Gene Ha’s weightier linework and clever layouts were a big help, especially in Trevor’s conversations with the League and with Congress. It’s still a little hard to link Johns’ League characterizations with the ones in their own books (yes, even Green Lantern), but if he’s going for the old Giffen/DeMatteis banter, I give him points for trying.
As for the “Curse of Shazam!” backup (drawn by Gary Frank), I liked it more than I was expecting. The “auditions” introduced into Billy’s origin were a nice way to introduce the classic end-of-the-subway-line element, the archaeological discoveries cleverly brought in Black Adam, and Billy’s new characterization was surprisingly appealing. The latter included a good twist on Billy’s orphan status, both exploiting and subverting his wide-eyed innocence. Why does Sivana look so much like Luthor, though…?
I finished Hulk Visionaries: Peter David Volume 6 (pencilled by Dale Keown), which introduced the integrated “Doc Banner” Hulk to the Pantheon. These were fine as a collection, but I think if I’d read these month-to-month, I’d have been kinda bored by the Pantheon after a while. They’ll be around for the next few volumes, though, so I’d better get used to ’em.
Mystery Society: Like everyone else in comics, I read Saga #1 this week, but to pregame for it I picked up Mystery Society because I couldn’t wait a minute longer for my Fiona Staples fix. I could talk endlessly about the things this woman’s art does to me. I’d never actually read through Mystery Society in it’s entirety before and while I was a bit disappointed in the book’s big reveal at the end (I didn’t think it was as shocking as it was made out to be), overall it was a really fun way for me to procrastinate for 45 minutes.
Lackadaisy: I picked up volume one of the webcomic last year at SDCC after reading a blog Tracy J. Butler did on drawing facial expressions that while, as absolutely not an artist, did me little good, impressed me immensely with it’s detail. I’m sad to say that I never got around to reading the Eisner Award-winning volume until now. Thank goodness there’s more of it online because if I had to stop at the end of volume 1… let’s just say things would have been thrown.
Manhattan Projects #1: Again, like pretty much everyone else in comics, this came home with me from the comic shop. I think I liked it, but as with everything by Jonathan Hickman, I’m sure I’ll have to read it three times before I get everything. (No comic in my life besides Watchmen has ever taken me as long to read as Pax Romana. Hickman is a brilliant but wordy man.)
Hell Yeah #1: Yes, I do read superhero books. I just haven’t gotten much into the New 52 because my heart is still broken over the loss of Nightwing’s fingerstripes. And Avengers v. X-Men confuses me… But the few superhero books that Image does carry, I think they do very very well and I can see Hell Yeah following in the footsteps of Invincible. It’s strength in this first issue was that it was heavy on character. It more followed the model of “people who happen to be superheroes” than “superheroes who happen to be people,” and it made Ben very endearing, if a bit of a miscreant. If the title can keep it up and not get bogged down by it’s superpowers, I look forward it having a long and healthy run.