Hello and welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading? Our guest today is writer and artist Jimmy Palmiotti, who you know from All-Star Western, Monolith, Phantom Lady, Unknown Soldier, Creator-Owned Heroes, Queen Crab and countless more.
To see what Jimmy and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
Wanting to check out some of the new Valiant, I read Archer and Armstrong #1 this week. Fred Van Lente is one of my favorite superhero writers and the concept (a superhero version of The Odd Couple) sounded pretty cool. Unfortunately, the humor is too on-the-nose for my taste. The villains are nothing but tired caricatures of religious conservatives and the 1%. They’re not interesting as bad guys, nor is there anything new or insightful going on with them as satire. I did like the two main characters though. There’s a good series to be had with these guys, but the social commentary needs to be more thoughtful and subtle for that to happen.
Continuing the topic of books I didn’t care for, DC’s working on driving me away from the few series I still read from them. Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE has been one of my favorites for the past year, but #12 compressed what feels like two or three issues worth of story into one in order to get ready for next month’s #0 issue and #13’s joining in the Rotworld crossover. I don’t mind crossovers as long as they’re short and relatively contained, but I do mind clunky, rushed stories that are told entirely by one off-camera character to another. There’s nothing wrong with the plot of #12, but it deserved to be told in an exciting, organic way, not hurried through in order to hit an artificial, externally-imposed milestone.
On a couple of positive notes though, there were two, new series that I very much enjoyed this week. The first was James Stokoe’s Godzilla: The Half-Century War. Starting during the events of the original Godzilla film, the comic introduces a couple of soldiers who were present in the monster’s famous, initial attack on Tokyo. Though the soldiers didn’t defeat Godzilla, they demonstrated courage and ingenuity that got them noticed by an international task force seeking to fight the giant menace and his peers. I’m not totally sure where Stokoe’s going with it, but I’m geekily hoping the mini-series follows these characters through the events of the early Godzilla films, tying them more closely together than the movies did themselves. Whatever the plot though, Stokoe’s artwork is all I need to keep me coming back. He’s given the series a manga-like look that’s as exciting as it is appropriate, especially once colorist Heather Breckel finishes with it.
Finally, I read the first issue of Dynamite’s new Thun’da series. As explained in the reprint of the Golden Age story in the back matter, Thun’da was a creation of comics legends Gardner Fox and Frank Frazetta. A military pilot who crashes in an unknown land filled with prehistoric creatures and people, Roger Drum puts his survival training to work and becomes known by the locals as Thun’da. At least he does in the original version. I assume that will eventually happen in the update, but of course the modern comic moves more slowly than the Golden Age one. There are no cave or valley people yet, but Drum does encounter some nasty beasts in satisfying, enjoyable ways. I also like how writer Robert Place Napton communicates Drum’s initial amnesia and gradual coming to grips with his situation. Early narration takes the form of small, one-word captions like, “survive,” “hide,” “safe,” and “defend.” As the story progresses, Drum calms himself and finds his inner voice, letting the reader in on things at the same rate that Drum processes them. It reminds me a bit of how Christopher Nolan kept his audience guessing in Memento. Nicely done.
The Sky Over the Louvre by Bernal Yslaire and Jean-Caude Carriere — This is one of a series graphic novels commissioned by the Louvre museum in Paris to celebrate the storied gallery’s history (and published by NBM). The most notable thing about the book for me is that one of the authors, Carriere, was a prominent screenwriter back in the day, penning the stories to many of Luis Bunuel’s (one of my own fave directors) movies like “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” and “Belle Du Jour”, as well as other films like The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Danton.
His experience writing that last film no doubt served him here, as Sky also takes place in the midst of the French Revolution — the Terror to be exact — and concerns neoclassical painter Jean-Louis David and his attempt to paint “the Supreme Being” at the bequest of the bloodthirsty revolutionary Robespierre. Faced with an impossible task — attempting to paint otherworldly perfection — David instead finds himself drawn to an impossibly beautiful young man who speaks enigmatically of trying to locate his “mother”, a figure which quickly takes on some symbolic meaning. It’s a good book that could have been better if Yslaire and Carriere had lengthened it out a bit more. There’s a lot of lengthy “meanwhile” bits of narration that Yslaire could easily (well, OK, not easily) have drawn. There’s no real surprise about the underlying thesis — the horrors of the Terror led to the safety and totalitarianism of Napoleon.
Rohan at the Louvre by Hirohiko Araki — And here’s NBM’s latest Louvre book, and the first to be done by a manga-ka. Araki is best known for the surreal Jo-Jo’s Bizarre Adventure. Rohan is equally strange. It’s about a manga artist who can read people like a book. No really, they’re faces become pages under his touch and he can flip through them. It’s a deliciously creepy image.
Anyway, Rohan ends up heading to the Louvre in search of a mysterious, all-black painting, one that might have a strange connection with an equally mysterious woman he’s been infatuated with since his youth. Things quickly spin out of control and turn very, very gory very quickly as the painting seems to house an evil supernatural presence. What I liked about Rohan is whereas the other Louvre books were tempted to say something about the nature of art, or museums or history. Rohan just wants to be a straight up horror/action comic — no muss, no fuss. I admired it for that.
I’m sure it had been there for a while, but I only noticed this week that the LCS had a copy of Don Rosa’s The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck (published by Gemstone, so out of print as well). Needless to say, I was glad to get it, since I’d heard nothing but good things about it. So far I’ve only read the first story, which explains how Scrooge got from Scotland to America, but it lived up to my high expectations. Ghosts, centuries’ worth of fortunes gained and lost, and a flaming, armor-clad apparition are only making me more eager for the rest. (Plus, of course, it lays out the McDuck work ethic pretty well.)
A couple of months ago I had soured on Captain America, but this week’s issue #16 (written by Ed Brubaker and Cullen Bunn, pencilled by Scott Eaton, inked by Rick Magyar) is shaping up to close out Brubaker’s volume in style. Basically it’s Cap Vs. Glenn Beck, which might be a bit tiresome if not for the air of inevitability which hangs over the entire book. It’s one thing to argue with someone who refuses even to consider another position; it’s another for that person to have a significant media presence and a squad of super-henchmen. Cap’s faced angry mobs before, but this one is fueled by a whole new kind of crazy, and that makes it even more chilling.
While Greg Capullo has been a great fit for Batman (both book and character), Becky Cloonan really knocked Batman #12 (written by Scott Snyder with James Tynion IV, and with an art assist from Andy Clarke) out of the park. The story of Harper Row and her brother was very engaging, although at times it seemed like she was being set up for her own red-and-green outfit. It’s funny — when I saw the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird, I got a very Robinesque vibe from Scout, and here I got a Scoutish vibe from Harper. Anyway, I will not argue with a well-done “Batman cares about the downtrodden” issue, especially when it includes a bowels-evacuating appearance like the one on page 14. More like this, please.
After using the first issue to lay out the character dynamics, the lead story in Marceline And The Scream Queens #2 (by Meredith Gran) sets up the larger story. Essentially, Marceline has been noticed by a record executive who could sign them to his label, but his Jagger-esque lips are dangerously close to triggering her “Red Fury” berserker mode. However, that almost takes a back seat to more laid-back interactions, like with Princess Bubblegum and the bushy-haired Guy, or the adorable bespectacled squirrel who interviews the band for college credit. The second story, by Faith Erin Hicks with Tim Larade, also concerns Marceline’s diet, but features one of Bubblegum’s robots frustrating Marcy as it discovers emotions through music. Accordingly, the whole issue creates a very easygoing, easy-to-like vibe. It’s not as hyper as regular Adventure Time, but that’s fine: it’s more like a relaxing melody at the end of a long day.
Last week I found a box of assorted fanzines, small press, and undergrounds from the late Eighties/early Nineties in the attic, and brought them down forthwith. Some old albums from Knockabout, including the star-laden Outrageous Tales From The New Testament (including work by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean). Some stories played for laughs, some retold dead straight to shock you with the violence of the original text (if you’ve read Issue #25 of Paul Duncan’s fondly remembered fanzine Ark, the first issue published by Titan, and a real snapshot of a global comic scene about to explode (an interview with Art Spiegelman about his then-unfinished work on Maus; Pat Mills interviewed while working on book one of Marshal Law, and about to launch Slaine The Horned God and Third World War, strips by Brian Bolland and Eddie Campbell; an ad for the first issue of Deadline; a plug for the first issue of A1).
There were half a dozen issues of the much-missed magazine Escape, simultaneously the UK equivalent of The Comics Journal and Raw. There were also various albums published by Escape, including some Eddie Campbell Alecs and a first edition of Gaiman and McKean’s Violent Cases, complete with preface by Alan Moore (and off to eBay I go!). I found self-published comics by other “Escape Artists” (as contributors were drolly called) including three issues of The Pleece Brothers’ Velocity. Back then I though these guys would be the UK’s own Los Bros, but Gary fell away from writing, and Warren became a jobbing comic artist for Vertigo and the 2000AD stable. That said, they’re back working together, with a collection of strips from assorted sources of this era due from a reborn Escape imprint, The Great Unwashed (that said, this book has been rumored for a couple of years, so class this as “believe it when you see it”). Meanwhile there’s no reason not to enjoy Warren’s webcomic Alby Figgs.
The greatest find of the lot was my copy of the Tundra Publishing album Skin by Pete Milligan and Brendan McCarthy. There’s an essay somewhere to be written about recurring underdog archetypes in McCarthy’s work, but I’m not the man to write it. This is their angriest work together, the art extending the theme by being rendered more brutal by Carol Swain giving Brendan’s linework good going over with chalks and pastels. This book is crying out to be reprinted, and hopefully the long-rumored, long-gestating Milligan/McCarthy reprint program will include this.
Dark Horse Presents: The most bang for your buck, issue #13 came gift wrapped in a Phil Noto cover and featured 81 pages of all-new material by some of my favorite comic people. Putting together an anthology is tough for the simple fact that getting that many creative people to do their work is next to impossible. Mike Richardson and crew deliver some of the finest creator-owned work, and this issue was no different. There was the “Ghost” story by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Noto, “The Creep” by Arcudi and Chase, “Finder” by Carla Speed McNeil, “Criminal Macabre” by Niles and Mitten, “Aliens” by Sam Kieth, “The Occultist” by Richardson and Seeley, “The Black Beetle” by Francavilla, a short story by Andrew Vachs, “Nexus” by Baron and Rude, and “Mister X” by Dean Motter. Each month some of these stories rotate and for me, a kid that grew up reading Heavy Metal month after month, this is the closest I can come to reliving that experience. I love it so much that I even have a story coming up in a future issue.
Blue Estate: Loved everything about this series. A comic made for adults dealing with a lot of West Coast insanity, featuring brilliant art by a wonderful team of artists and some of the most beautiful covers ever. The color and art alone made it a stand out for me, but as I got more and more into the story, I swear, the book couldn’t come out fast enough for me. Pure art and insanity. I wish it wasn’t limited, but I will be there for anything Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta, Toby, Robert, Andy and Nathan bring to the table.
RASL: I trust Jeff Smith to always bring me something fun and interesting, and this series has both. Jeff’s storytelling and art have never looked better, and he made a bold move moving in this direction after Bone. I love that he is writing a book like this, mixing sci-fi and drama, and will follow him anywhere. One day I shall own a piece of art of his. Yes, this is me fishing. Jeff is one of my personal heroes…though he probably doesn’t even know this.
Rachel Rising: Terry Moore delivers the perfect mix of sci-fi and soap opera for a reader like me to get hooked into. He gets how people speak, and his acting in his illustrations are all classics. Amanda and I have been hooked on this series since day one. It’s the first time in a long time Amanda would ask me to pick up the trades even after she has all the single issues. Terry and Jeff understand black and white comics like no one else.
Punk Rock Jesus: Sean Gordon Murphy does it all on this book, and it’s beautiful. The story is interesting as hell, the storytelling spot on and best thing is I have no idea where he is going with this story … which for me, a guy that has read a million books, is saying something. It’s nice to see Sean’s art evolving this way and even better that he is stepping out and getting his own voice heard. Let’s hope after this he continues to do his own thing and stays away from existing characters. We really need more voices like his. As well, he is a pretty cool guy, which goes a long way in my book.