Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? Today our special guest is Chris Wisnia, creator of the Doris Danger books.
To see what Chris and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
I like steampunk almost as much as I like female bounty hunters, so the printed Volume 1 of Kate Ashwin’s webcomic Widdershins is right in my wheelhouse. Actually, ‘steampunk’ may be a misleading description. The town of Widdershins is definitely Victorian-inspired, and bounty hunter Harriet ‘Harry’ Barber would fit nicely in any steampunk story, but Ashwin’s world is more magical than technological. In fact, Harry’s partner in the story is a stage magician named Sidney who got kicked out of wizard school, but is still a talented illusionist. The two of them reluctantly join forces when Sidney accidentally gains possession of a mystical bracelet that Harry’s been tracking called the Mark of Thieves; an artifact that leads to an even greater treasure and makes Sidney and Harry the target of Widdershin’s criminal underworld.
Ashwin’s got a charming artistic style that shows Eastern influences without directly mimicking manga. It keeps the story from getting dark, even though the stakes for Harry and Sidney are violently high. Both characters are resourceful and clever, but in different ways, and their flaws complement each other as well. Widdershins is a rip-roaring adventure and I’m looking forward to spending more time with Ashwin’s characters and world. She recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign for the printed Volume 2, but while I’m waiting for that, there’s the webcomic’s archives to keep me busy.
Nancy Likes Christmas by Ernie Bushmiller — Nancy likes lots of other things too, like ice cream, birthday parties and trips to the beach, and all are lovingly chronicled in this second volume of Nancy strips from Fantagraphics. As anyone who has read the strip knows, Nancy is the ur-gag strip, setting up in elaborate and occasionally convoluted fashion some rather surreal jokes. At times — especially on April Fool’s Day — Brushmiller breaks the fourth wall, having Nancy’s friend Sluggo tilt the panel so Nancy can speed away in her wagon, or, in a strip worthy of Luis Bunuel, havie Nancy and Sluggo switch heads, just for fun. The strip occasionally shows its age, recalling a bygone world full of traveling salesmen, drug stores that serve ice cream and men that wear top hats, but by and large it holds up remarkably well. For every joke that’s a groaner or awkward in its execution, there’s one that’s a surprising kneeslapper, smarter and funnier than you might expect.
Mickey Mouse Vol. 4 by Floyd Gottfredson — Gottfredson is well in his element her, setting Mickey on a number of lengthy, globetrotting adventures, joining the foreign legion, investigating a haunted house, visiting a literal castle in the clouds, hunting for treasure in Africa and impersonating Eastern European royalty. Gottfredson’s confidence is intoxicating; there’s a weeklong battle between Peg-Leg Pete and Mickey that modern superhero artists should be studying for constant reference on how to do fight scenes properly. The racism in the African segment is upsetting to put it mildly, but apart from that, this is great entertainment, the kind of thing that comics used to excel at oh so long ago.
Donald Duck A Christmas for Shacktown by Carl Barks — Speaking of great Disney talents, here’s another volume of top-notch comics from “the good artist” as he was known back in the day. The real gem here is “The Golden Helmet,” a rousing adventure story that has museum guard Donald trekking to Newfoundland to stop a greedy villain from getting a gee-gaw that will give the wearer complete ownership of North America. There’s other great stuff here too — the title story, where Donald and his nephews try to coerce Uncle Scrooge into being generous, a race for a uber-valuable stamp, and a great gag strip where the boys try to spend as much of Scrooge’s money as possible, only to find out that what can be spent can just as easily be earned. The most bizarre tale is one involving a wolf that aims to have Donald for supper, a story that seems more at home in your average Warner Bros. cartoon than here. Still, that’s the odd man out in a book that’s otherwise filled with such great all-ages material.
“Letters To Batman” (written by Steve Niles, drawn by Trevor Hairsine) in Legends of the Dark Knight #3 was not what I expected. It plays off a couple of standard Batman tropes — that his drive obscures his compassion, and that the super-criminals just escape anyway — to craft a clever little tale about their intersection. A device as hokey as thank-you notes from would-be victims risks being dreadfully hokey, but Niles’ pacing and the stories themselves ensure that this isn’t the case. Hairsine’s art works well with the material, too. It’s moody enough for the story’s introspection (and for a Batman story generally), but “realistic” enough to ground the stories behind the letters. I know it’s only three issues in, but the current LOTDK is turning out to be pretty good. There’s not exactly a shortage of Batman comics, but more stories like this will help justify LOTDK‘s existence.
Earth 2 #7 (written by James Robinson, pencilled by Yildiray Cinar, inked by Trevor Scott) finds our heroes catching their collective breath after the big fight with Solomon Grundy. The issue focuses on Hawkgirl, Green Lantern, Amar Khan, the former Mr. Terrific, and the current one, and it’s all pretty diverting. Hawkgirl tries to recruit Green Lantern for the team which, so far, includes only her and the Flash, and there’s a bit of angst involving GL’s dead boyfriend. The meatier story involves Khan and Terry Sloan — and let me just say that, as a lifelong Star Trek fan, it was a little weird seeing “Khan” in a position of high global authority — and along the way, they reintroduce a couple of familiar JSA-style heroes. Sure it’s a lot of world-building, but when your focus is a parallel Earth that comes with the territory. If Robinson and company can continue to flesh out Earth-2 without slowing the book’s overall pace, this could be one of DC’s better titles.
Finally, if you haven’t been reading Dial H — and perhaps even if you have — I’m not sure there’s a good way to summarize issue #7 (written by China Mieville, drawn by David Lapham). Basically it’s about a mismatched pair of unlikely heroes bopping around the globe trying out superpowers like they were loud shirts at the Hot Topic. Also, one of them transforms into a plankton-giant and punches out a whale . I have no idea how this fits into the larger New-52, and I don’t care. It’s just imagination unleashed, month after month.
Stumptown: The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case #4
As a fellow who has supported and enjoyed much of Greg Rucka’s work for DC and Marvel over the years, with this incredible issue of Stumptown, I will unequivocally state I never care if he has to write for the big two again. Rucka’s writing is unparalleled when unencumbered by corporate continuity. This may ring as a cliché to some, but as I read the opening scene to this issue, I thought: “Holy crap, I hope this comic gets optioned for a TV series.” But the car chases (which allows artist Matthew Southworth to experiment with ways to transition from portrait to landscape pages) are the star of this issue. A majority of the chases are done in landscape page. As a guy who still treasures that John Byrne Fantastic Four issue that did stunts like this, Rucka and Southworth hooked me with this issue (but hell I was hooked before). This is easily one of my favorite single comics of 2012.
Back in 1980, I remember when Spider-Man #200 came out, and I found out Marv Wolfman had not killed Aunt May. That was the first time I learned milestone comic issues could stink. As much as I have enjoyed Dan Slott’s run on Spidey, this Freaky Friday plot involving Doc Ock and Spidey has not captured my attention in the way I had hoped. Maybe it was the moment when Hydro Man came out of a water faucet that I really got bored. Honestly the most interesting part of the issue was when Lizard confessed to Ock/Peter that it was Curt Connors trapped in the body. And Slott yet again revealed how well he writes and gets the essence of Peter Parker’s character when even as he struggles in a dying body, Parker offers Connors a chance to redeem himself. As much as I am a Spidey fan (and an admirer of Slott’s work on this series), I am rolling into #700 with lowered expectations. Hopefully I will eat those words next month.
Red She-Hulk #60
Jeff Parker works in a conversation between Machine Man and Nikola Tesla in this issue. Name another mainstream comic that pulled that off, eh? One of the best damn writers that Marvel has knocks it out of the park again.
R. Kikuo Johnson’s The Shark King, from Toon Books, is a beautiful retelling of a Hawaiian folk tale about a woman who falls in love with a man from the sea. It’s sort of a gender-reversed version of the Scottish selkie legend: The woman almost drowns, a handsome man rescues her, they have a son, and then the man disappears back into the sea. As the boy grows up, he develops a set of shark teeth on his back, and with his voracious appetite, he clears out all the fish in the sea and drives a nearby fishing village to the brink of starvation. Ultimately, he can’t live on land and escapes to the sea. The art in this book is absolutely gorgeous, and the storytelling is first rate. It leaves me with sort of a bad feeling, though, because the story is told from the point of view of the woman, and yet she is the least dynamic character and the one who is left alone at the end of the story. The ending winds things up, but it’s not really satisfying.
I’m halfway through Luke Pearson’s Hilda and the Midnight Giant, and it’s delightful. Hilda and her mother, who live in an isolated house out in the country, suddenly find themselves on the receiving end of a barrage of pebbles and other annoyances, as well as tiny letters telling them to get out. It turns out that the Little People who live all around want them gone. Hilda investigates, and what results is a surprisingly sophisticated little story. Pearson’s art is dynamic and expressive, and he has a puckish sense of humor. The book itself is a large-format album, and sometimes the large number of panels on a page seems overwhelming. He only uses the full page a couple of times, but when he does it’s very effective. This is a really nice all-ages book that deserves to get a lot more attention.
I’m ashamed to say, with two crazy sons (age 6 and 3), a day job, and so on, my reading time has been limited to the few minutes in the mornings I can sit down in the bathroom relatively undisturbed. The evenings that I’m not home too late from work, I also have the opportunity to read comics to my boys before they go to bed. They each pick out a DC Archive or Marvel Masterwork (they can’t destroy the hardcovers as easily), and we’ve been slowly going through Ditko Spider-Man, 1940’s Batman, or the choice I push for – anything Kirby. His Avengers have been the primary preference, thanks to the boys’ appreciation of the film, although my older son has been asking for The Demon a lot lately.
The most “reading” I get done, I’ve found, is listening to audiobooks while I draw and ink.
I’ve been on non-fiction lately. I was utterly blown away, and my perceptions of the whole way I view the world and “truth” as I know it, were changed forever by Skeptic Society director Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies – How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. It encouraged a second reading (I actually read it once, then listened to an audiobook of it) and steered my interest to pick up two books by Cal-Tech physicist Leonard Mlodinow, The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives and Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior. Once again, fascinating, and shook up my whole perception of myself and my world around me.
In keeping with this high-brow, stuffy material, I’ve also been reading the Doc Savage pulp novel Dust of Death from 1935. I can’t get enough Doc Savage!