Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what’s been on our nightstands lately. Our guest this week is Jay Faerber, writer of Dynamo 5, Near Death and Noble Causes. The second Near Death trade just came out this week, and his new comic, Point of Impact, comes out Oct. 10.
To see what Jay and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
Punisher #16: It took Greg Rucka to announce he was no longer writing for Marvel to take notice of Punisher. My apologies to Rucka as the series ends with this issue. I actually cleared my local store out of all the back issues they had on hand (which meant I bought back to #11). As much as I love Rucka’s ability to write solid female characters, I am kicking myself that I did not read this series from the start. There’s just too many Punisher titles over the year (I mean currently we have Space Punisher [I know from an alternate reality]). But I should have known a Punisher book by Rucka would have depth and nuance to it. Such a shame that it is unlikely Punisher will ever be written by Rucka ever again—and that I came to appreciate it so late in the game.
Winter Soldier #11: I will forgo discussing the writing of the issue (it is Brubaker on Winter Solder with no crossover malarkey, so you know it is good). I will give a cursory nod to the dynamic, distinctive coloring of Bettie Breitweiser (is there ever anything she colors that is not breathtaking). In fact all I want to talk about is Butch Guice’s intricate layout on page 9 of this issue. As a kid in the 1970s, I got excited whenever I ran across a Jim Steranko reprint. No one else (Neal Adams came close) did layouts like Steranko. Guice exceeded the mastery of Steranko’s layout style with this issue. I am willing to bet some of my pals at SCAD Atlanta will be using this one page (and Guice’s art in general) as a teaching tool at some point. (And kudos to letterer Joe Caramagna for placing the narrative boxes in such a fashion that they complement rather than hinder Guice’s art). Dare I say this is the best work (in collaboration with the best creators) Guice has ever done? I think so. Let me know in the comments where he his work has excelled more, please.
Wolverine and the X-Men #17: Thanks to Jason Aaron for giving us a break in this whole AvX adventure. Mike Allred reunited with Doop Is as absurdist and as entertaining as one would expect. This is a great standalone issue for people who have never read this title to pick up as well.
FF #22: This was a solid tale of growth showing just how different The Wizard clone Bentley 23 is from his father. I love how writer Jonathan Hickman reveals Bentley 23’s aversion to helmets (subtext being that he does not want to become the Wizard). Sidebar: Am I the only person bewildered as hell to find out Val Richards is only three years old? Sure any kid of Sue and Reed is going to be smart as a whip, but three? I assumed she was seven or eight. Doom negotiated terms with a three-year old. How odd.
MIND MGMT #5: In this issue you see what happens when someone with psychic powers loses his mind. How writer/artist Matt Kindt explores the perceptions versus reality aspect of mind control in this series is just half the fun.
Daredevil #18: I immensely appreciate how Mark Waid draws upon Daredevil’s darker history to use as props in the lighter tone series he is currently constructing. I mistakenly assumed there were parts of Matt’s life that would never be addressed in this series relaunch. As continuity genius as Waid is, in the back of my mind, I hold out hope he tops Brubaker’s resurrection of Bucky, and someday figures out a way to bring back Karen Page. Imagine Page written by Waid, for a second, if you will. In the meantime, I enjoy wherever Waid (and tiptop artist Chris Samnee) take me. Sidebar—there’s a moment where the storytellers stop the adventure to have Matt brew some tea (albeit a very special, plot-changing blend), I love how Samnee takes the time to show Matt making the tea, rather than taking some storytelling shortcut.
I picked up Skullkickers #18 this week–it’s an anthology of short stories by different creators, sort of a break between story arcs. I think my favorite is the first one, by Luther Strode team Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore, about the Skullkickers’ attempt to fool a doofus knight into believing he has slain a dragon. Blair Butler and Enrique Rivera’s The Magic Bag is a charming little wordless tale with beautiful, very smooth art. Overall it’s a lot of comic for the money—all the stories are short, but each one is fun in its own way.
I started reading Mark Siegel’s Sailor Twain when they serialized it as a webcomic, but this weekend I read the entire story from beginning to end. I think it works better that way, as it starts a bit slow, and it takes a while to see what is really going on. Siegel chooses an unusual medium, smudgy charcoal rather than crisp ink, which fits the mood and the times—things were pretty smoky in the age of steam, with all those coal fires, and to heighten the melancholy atmosphere, it rains throughout the entire book. The characters cut through the fog though; they are drawn sharply both literally and figuratively, and Siegel creates an array of distinctive, interesting characters in a small space. Part of this is that we see bits of the everyday life of the side characters—they aren’t just there as plot devices, they are real people with lives of their own. The story itself is sad and beautiful; it’s about a mermaid who lives in the Hudson River and ensnares those who pass by. It doesn’t read like some old legend, though. Siegel skillfully blends myth and reality to create a world in which real people react to the supernatural in believable ways.
In the manga category, I started reading Keiko Suenobu’s Limit. Suenobu is the creator of another high school manga, Life, which dealt with cutting and was released by Tokyopop many years ago. She does not shy away from difficult topics, and with Limit she takes on the topic of bullying at full strength. In just a few pages she sets up the cast of characters–the golden-girl clique, the smart girl who operates under a different moral code, and the nerdy girl who gets teased all the time. Then she literally sends them over a cliff on a bus, as the school trip winds up in a wreck. Only a handful of students survive. This is a device that gets used a lot in manga—one wonders why parents would ever let their kids go on a school trip, when the mortality rate is so high—but Suenobu takes it in a different direction than the usual struggle-to-survive scenario; this book is all about power, and how people react when the balance suddenly shifts. It’s drawn in a sharp, clear-lined shoujo manga style that makes it easy to read and also points up the conflict between the everyday life of high school girls and the situation they are thrown into after the crash.
I read Charles Burns’ The Hive this week. It’s the follow-up to X’ed Out and it’s difficult to review other than to say that I see now why Burns is serializing it. X’ed Out introduced the concept of this f*ed up kid who’s having strange hallucinations of a Tintin-esque version of himself on a creepy, surreal adventure in a weird world populated by lizard-people and a tiny sumo wrestler. The Hive raises more questions than it answers, but I realize now that that’s the point. The only thing Burns has revealed for sure is that his main character is hiding something; probably even from himself. There are several things it could be – maybe having to do with his dad; maybe his girlfriend – but whatever it was, it was horrible. Forcing readers to dig out the secret in installments puts us in the same boat as the protagonist, who also wants answers, but is going to have to work through a maddeningly drawn-out process to uncover them.
I also read a couple of mini-comics by husband-and-wife cartoonists Tyler Page and Cori Doerrfeld. Page’s is the first chapter of Raised on Ritalin, his memoir about being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder as a kid, and his current feelings about having a child who’s exhibiting similar behavior. It’s as beautifully honest as Page’s college memoir, Stylish Vittles, but benefits from his having had several years to improve his craft since then. I’m looking forward to reading the whole thing when he’s done.
Doerrfeld’s Lost and Found is a shorter comic about a polar bear cub and an Inuit boy who lose things that are vitally important to them and then find… Well, it’s tough to talk about without spoiling it, but it’s a wonderfully illustrated, heartbreaking little book.
I just started re-reading Jon Sable, Freelance, one of my favorite comic runs from the 80s. Mike Grell wrote and drew this adventure series about Jon Sable, a “freelancer” who takes jobs as a bounty hunter, bodyguard, and detective. It was published by First Comics and ran for 56 issues. It’s great stuff — a combination of standalone stories and two and three-parters, with incredibly effective storytelling. Sable’s freelance lifestyle gave Grell a pretty big playground to play in. While Sable was based on New York, his work gigs him all over the globe. And Grell was able to play in multiple genres, as well. Sometimes the book was a murder mystery, sometimes a testosterone-filled action adventure story, sometimes a spy caper. It’s a great series, and a lot of it’s available in collections from IDW.
I’m embarrassingly late to the party on this one, but I just finished The Definitive Irredeemable Vol. 1 from Boom! Studios. I actually bought it months ago, but just got around to reading it this past weekend and it’s fantastic. Anything with Mark Waid’s name on it is pretty much guaranteed to be a good read, but this book blew away my expectations. It’s a meticulously plotted series, full of great set-ups and payoffs and a very deliberately paced story. I know Waid is a huge Superman fan, and he’s taken all his knowledge of that character and channeled it into this great saga. And it would’ve been easy to populate the rest of the book with other DC and Marvel analogues, but instead of doing that, Waid gives us a really original, diverse cast of characters in The Paradigm. I can’t recommend it highly enough — and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Peter Krause and Diego Barretto, both of whom deliver outstanding work on the series.
Speaking of Mark Waid, I hardly read any Marvel and DC books anymore, but at the top of that short list is Daredevil. It’s so rare to see a book like this these days, in that it adheres to the current Marvel continuity, but it never feels shackled to it. Aside from that small crossover with Spider-Man and The Punisher, I don’t ever feel like I have to read any other Marvel title to fully appreciate what’s happening in DD each month. It’s a fun, thrilling, comic, every month. And the art! From Marcos Martin to Paolo Rivera to Chris Samnee — DD’s had an embarrassment of riches.
I’m also loving the return of Stumptown, one of my favorite comics of the last few years. I know Greg Rucka a little, and I know we share similar likes and interests when it comes to private eyes — Robert B. Parker, The Rockford Files, etc. Because of those shared interests, Stumptown feels like a comic created specifically for me. The fact that other people like it (as well they should!) is just gravy. I love that the series is a private eye book, through and through. There’s no gimmick, there’s no forced high concept. It just is what it is. And Matthew Southworth really brings the story to life. Is there such a thing as a “location junkie?” Because if there is, I’m one. I love movies and TV shows and books and comics with a strong sense of place. And Greg and Matthew have really made Portland into a fully-realized character in this book. It’s obvious that Greg is in love with the town, and Matthew depicts it perfectly.
Speaking of private eyes, I just discovered a webcomic called She Died in Terrebonne, by Kevin Chuch and T.J. Kirsch. It’s another private eye story set in Oregon, this time in the 1970s. It features Asian-American PI Sam Kimimura on the search for a missing girl. It’s a nice neo-noir piece with strong atmosphere. It began in 2009 and has since been completed, so you can read it online or buy a collected print edition.