Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? Today our special guests are Gardner Linn and Dave Lentz, the creative team behind the webcomic Registered Weapon — “the internet’s only webcomic starring a robotic cash register who fights crime.” They just kicked off their latest story, Case 006, on Nov. 12, and you can also download the first ten pages from their site if you prefer to read in bigger chunks.
To see what Gardner, Dave and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below …
Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
Kate Beaton’s wonderful webcomics look great in print, perhaps even better, as some of her shading and expressions read even better. I think I’ve read most of these already but it was great to rip through all of them in one sitting. She really brings a wonderful absurdity to literary and cultural issues that are generally considered kind of heady and intellectual. And the strength of these comics is that even when you have barely any knowledge of what she’s riffing on, they lose none of the entertainment. Drawn & Quarterly did a great job packaging this material. My one nitpick is I’m not totally sold on the placement of her accompanying text, as sometimes it’s not always clear when we’re still on the same theme or whether we’ve moved on to something else. But it doesn’t take long to figure it out.
Love and Rockets: Maggie the Mechanic by Jaime Hernandez
It took me a while to get through because of my embarrassingly slow reading, but it wasn’t for a lack of enjoyment. I really REALLY fell in love with Hernandez’s art. His people are drawn with immense charm – I love looking at them, how they stand, move, their facial expressions. I think it has to do with how his lines curve yet have these confident solid ink lines. They are so warm, comfortable, and a little flirty. The light sci-fi backdrop during Maggie’s adventures with Race feels a little disjointed from the very contemporary city setting when she’s back home with Hopey but it actually creates a fun juxtaposition of her two worlds. By the end of the collection, I’ve grown attached to these characters and can’t wait to visit with them again.
The Walking Dead Volume 15: We Find Ourselves by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard
Reading The Walking Dead in trades can be challenging, especially now with 15 volumes out (and I’m behind; 16 is already out and 17 is coming next month). With six month gaps between each installment, the trade reading experience could really benefit from some kind of “previously” recap page beyond the general premise blurb on the back cover that’s gone virtually unchanged since Volume 1. A brief character guide would do wonders as well, at least for the major players. Fortunately Volume 14 was so memorably shocking that I was mostly fine but there were some subplot details I had forgotten. I’ve really enjoyed The Walking Dead but this might be the shark jumping point, depending on your individual suspension of disbelief. The survival of a major character following some extremely severe head injury really pushed the rules of the world established and accepted for the last 8-9 years. Twists and breaking expectations is great, but it’s pretty obvious that if any other character received the same injury, they’d be dead and/or a zombie. That aside, this story shifts the series back into soap opera mode following a climactic zombie battle last volume, a now predictable rhythm to The Walking Dead formula. Characters exposit with heightened self-awareness or over-explain how tasks will be completed. Zombies are dispatched with relative ease during these periods, providing only an occasional reminder that this is a zombie comic. Death and desperate survival isn’t the biggest concern, it’s the tension between characters that’s the focus. Adlard also returns to similar tricks to keep talking heads interesting but he’s so good you might not notice. He uses shadows and page layouts to strengthen (and sometimes carry) the mood and pacing of a scene. Ultimately The Walking Dead is a frustrating series because when it’s good, it’s one of the most exciting, surprising and daring ongoing serialized comics today. And that makes it really hard to give up on during these stories, where characters and settings are being prepared for those big daring climaxes, because you know another mind-blowing moment is bound to show up.
Captain America #1
Rick Remender is a gutsy writer, it takes a great amount of guts to say: “Yeah, I’ll take over Cap after Ed Brubaker.” Remender is also a smart writer and a huge fan of Captain America’s history. I was pleased to read in a mini-essay written by Remender that he counts Roger Stern/John Byrne’s run among his favorite. With that being said, as a smart writer, Remender has opted to take the character and his dynamics into a direction (while he describes as being influenced by Jack Kirby’s approach) is also giving us a Steve Rogers/Cap who won’t resemble any era that has come before. Let’s hope he’s right, in a good way. If the run has a chance to succeed, it was Remender’s best bet. Unfortunately I wonder if John Romita Jr is the artist for this series. His art has always had an antiseptic air to it, which worked fine for me in Peter Parker’s New York. But for the places that Remender seemingly wants to take the series, I am somewhat doubtful about JR Jr’s artistic skills. I would love to be proven wrong on that count. Either way, Remender’s writing has me onboard to check out the next issue.
Captain America Corps #2-5
Speaking of Roger Stern, here is a limited series he did last year. The pitfall with the avalanche of books that Marvel releases on a seemingly biweekly basis (with some titles)? Some limited series get lost in the shuffle. I bought the first issue of this limited series—and then promptly forgot about it. That’s not to say it is an unforgettable project, per se. It’s just a limited series where Stern is allowed by editorial to play with Marvel/Cap continuity (using US Agent, Cap from WWII, Bucky from when he was Cap [right before his trial], American Dream and another future Cap [Commander A]) in a future tale, as long as he puts the toys/characters back where they belong in the end. And that’s what he did (also working in a bevy of alternate versions of Marvel characters). I was able to secure the remaining issues for $1.99 (less than the original $2.99) an issue—and the reason I decided to (other than my nostalgic affinity for Stern’s writing) was artist Philippe Briones. Unsure if Briones is an artist that works at such a pace he cannot do a monthly, or if workload is such that he is rarely available to do Marvel work. Would love to see him do more, but judging by the rate of his previous output, it appears unlikely.
Indestructible Hulk #1
Of all the new Marvel NOW titles launching this month (or in coming months), this was the one that had me most enthused. And dialogue-wise, writer Mark Waid met my heightened expectations by page 3 of the first issue, when he had Banner say to Maria Hill: “I’m not a mopey teenager, Hill. I’m one of the smartest men on the planet. When I decide to think big things happen.” Waid’s approach: Banner views Hulk as a condition he must monitor and best control, yet accept as a permanent condition, is a refreshing stance. Of equal interest is Banner’s vow to “Use Banner more time more productively … It’s past time I started balancing the scales by doing as much good for mankind as possible.” Waid wisely does not spend the entire issue setting up the new status quo, he allows Hulk to enter the fray fairly quickly. Artist Leinil Francis Yu is clearly onboard with Waid and makes the Banner pages as visually engaging as the latter Hulk smash portion of the issue. I hope the Hill/Banner dynamics is a mainstay of the series, as I enjoyed it immensely on this first round.
Read a bunch of all-ages books this week, including:
City of Ember — This is an adaptation of jeanne DuPrau’s popular children’s novel by Dallas Middaugh and Niklas Asker. I haven’t read the original prose version, but this seems like a pretty straightforward, shot-for-shot adaptation. For those who don’t know, it’s a book about a city that lives underground, and two kids that attempt to flee to the world above. As these things go it’s a pretty solid adaptation, though Asker proportions seem a bit off at times, especially when calculating the children’s head-size-to-body ratio. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that this is basically a “cliff notes” comic version — designed for those who don’t want to bother with the original book. it has a perfunctory feel about it and I can’t really imagine a reason why I would recommend this version to someone over or in addition to DuPrau’s book (which, I suspect, has more detail and background about the city and its denizens). The best thing I can say about it is that it made me want to take the “real” City of Ember out of the library and start reading it, which is an accomplishment of some sort I suppose.
A Trip to the Bottom of the World With Mouse by Frank Viva — This book for very young readers involves a mouse and his human friend taking a trip to Antarctica, with the impatient mouse constantly asking when they can go home. it’s easily the most visually striking comic in the Toon Books line to date — Viva utilizes basic shapes in a way that reminds me of Eric Carle and i really love his use of primary colors. In short, it’s a really lovely children’s book. If you’re shopping for a preschooler at all this holiday season I’d recommend this book in a second.
Maya Makes a Mess by Rutu Modan — Maya gets an invite to have dinner with the queen, but her table manners leave much to be desired. Can she learn how to behave like a polite young lady or will everyone at the dinner party be so entranced with her sloppy behavior that they’ll adopt it as their own? No prizes if you guess correctly. The author of Exit Wounds is no stranger to children’s books (she’s illustrated a few before) and she hasn’t lost any of her charm. If anything, her art has become more assured, detailed and accomplished. Check it out if only for the two-page spread that includes the image of the queen scarfing down a bottle of ketchup. Priceless.
Benny and Penny in Lights Out by Geoffrey Hayes — This is I think the fourth book in Hayes’ series. This time Benny and Penny pester each other right before bed, then Benny sneaks out because he left his favorite hat in the playhouse. But he’s scared to go in. So they go in together and run back home and go to bed. The end. It’s cute — all the Benny and Penny books are cute — but it’s not really anything I can appreciate or write about beyond going, ” Yeah, it’s cute.” I’m sure kids will like it. The fact that Hayes’ brother is the guy that made “Popoff Hayes the Drug Fiend” kind of freaks me out for some reason. Flip side of the coin and all.
I am woefully out of date when it comes to comics people are actually talking about, whether it’s Marvel Now! or Building Stories. Slowly catching up on Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man–most recently read Trouble on the Horizon, a collection of perfectly enjoyable but mostly forgettable Spider-Man stories. Like, Spider-Man finds out who Horizon’s “Number 6” is in this book, though I already knew who it was, and I can’t remember if that’s because it was revealed in a previous issue, or if it was spoiled in an interview or news article. Slott’s Spider-Man has been self-consciously “old school,” his Peter Parker over-earnest in his non-stop narration, and I find those qualities very appealing in small doses but somewhat wearying over time. My favorite thing about Slott’s run has been Peter’s relationship with the Fantastic Four, particularly surrogate big brother Johnny Storm, and there’s a pretty decent Spidey/Torch team-up in this collection, helped along by Giuseppe Camuncoli’s idiosyncratic pencils, which take on a bit of 80s-Frank-Miller character under Klaus Janson’s inks.
I also recently took some time to get caught up on the webcomic Signs and Meanings, by Kevin Church, Max Riffner and Rick Hiltbrunner. I’d read and enjoyed the first few pages when they debuted, but then life got in the way or something and it fell off my radar, but I came back to it the other day and found that the story of a young woman trying to put her life back together had taken an altogether unexpected but thoroughly delightful twist. It reminded me a little of the first Scott Pilgrim volume, when the fairly realistic relationship drama suddenly becomes Video Game Fight!!!, though I actually think the shift works better here–the injection of fantasy into a mundane world helps enhance the emotional stakes for lead character Ashley, whereas in SP I found the shift completely jarring and even a little disappointing (look, before you start writing angry letters, I did come around on Scott Pilgrim, but I stand by that initial reaction).
Always have a couple of prose books going. As has been the case for the bulk of the past three years, I’m currently buried in one of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire volumes–right now I’m capping off a third read of the entire series with the FeastDance megabook, as outlined by Sean T. Collins, as well as taking some time to stare goggle-eyed at the maps in the new The Lands of Ice and Fire collection. I haven’t been this immersed in a made-up world since my dad and I used to walk around the neighborhood looking for hobbit holes.
Also reading Old Frontiers by John P. Brown, a 1938 history of the Cherokee, as research for a project. For a 75-year-old history book, it’s remarkably non-dry, and though I’m still in the early going, it seems to be a pretty even-handed account. My hometown in Georgia is near New Echota, the final Cherokee capitol before they were forced west on the Trail of Tears, so I grew up visiting the historic site every year and learning the same basic facts about Sequoyah and his alphabet, so I’m glad to be able to dig deeper into the history. (Next up: James Mooney’s authoritative History and Myths of the Cherokee, which does seem to be as dry as its age suggests.)
Continuing the research theme, I’ve also got a stack of books about serial killers to read through, because we’re building up to a big serial-killer story in Registered Weapon. The Night Stalker by Philip Carlo does a thorough job of documenting the depravity of Richard Ramirez’s brutal murders in 1980s Los Angeles, as well as seemingly every motion, large or small, filed by both sides during his trial, but In Cold Blood this ain’t. The prose is mostly functional, and reading it leaves one feeling unclean, and not just because of the subject matter. Carlo has a tendency to make oddly sweeping generalizations about the behavior of certain demographics, particularly Latino men, and he also seems to have become somewhat chummy with Ramirez: his author photo is a shot of Carlo and Ramirez at the latter’s death-row wedding. Still, the particulars of the case are riveting: the young detective who sees that a new kind of killer has emerged, when nearly every other cop in LA is going out of his or her way to impede or bungle the investigation, and the heroic moment when Ramirez is brought down by a group of average citizens.
For a respite from such grimness, I’ve also started reading Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography by Jimmy McDonough. Earlier this year I got heavily into Young’s late-sixties/early-seventies albums and became fascinated by the man himself. I’m still in the childhood section of the biography, which is pretty absorbing, but really I’m just reading for some good Jack Nitzsche stories.
I’ve been sucked into a lot of the Marvel relaunches lately. The new Deadpool has been consistently hilarious. I’ve laughed harder at the first two issues of that then I have at any other Deadpool issue prior to this incantation. Amazing Spider-Man #698 was great as well. I read the entire issue thinking Dan Slott was slipping up, as Spidey was written very out of character throughout the entire issue, [SPOILER ALERT for those of us who are still behind! – G] only to have it be revealed that it was Doc Ock for most of if not all of the entire issue. Brilliant. Don’t think I’ve read a bad book out of all the Marvel Now stuff. Incredibly pleased overall.
The only DC book I read religiously is Batman by Snyder and Capullo. Can’t say enough about that book, especially with the “Death of the Family” storyline that’s going on right now. Really great stuff.
Extra shout outs for greatness have to go to The Goon, BPRD, Daredevil, Hawkeye (everyone needs to pay attention to this book) and believe it or not X-O Manowar. Yeah. I said it.