A Month of Wednesdays: The Smurfs, The Pet Avengers and every new graphic novel I read in July

The Astro Smurf (Papercutz) Despite mild—or should I say morbid?—curiosity, I’ve decided to  hold off on seeing the new Smurfs movie until it’s on DVD. Or has been on DVD for a few years. Mostly because I’m afraid that seeing it will make it that much harder for me to enjoy Papercutz’ repackaged reprints of Peyo’s original Smurfs comics, which, even in the seventh volume, remain a surprising amount of fun.

The Astro Smurf features the unnamed Smurf whose defining characteristic is to be the first Smurf to fly into outer space and visit another planet. Papa Smurf and the rest of the village go to great (bordering on insane) lengths to make the little Smurf’s dream come true, even if it’s not technically possible for Smurf technology to send a Smurf into outer space. It’s paired with another story of Smurf tech, as a pair of Smurfs invents a submarine, and Gargamel builds his own sub to destroy it (That one’s titled “The Smurf Submarine,” not “The Hunt For Blue October”).

As with previous volumes, there are some less-than-perfect packaging decisions and questionable translation choices, but they're more glitches than mortal wounds—The Smurfs trades remain one of the better amount of quality comics to price of comics values on the stands.

Avengers Vs. Pet Avengers (Marvel) Writer Chris Eliopoulos and artist Ig Guara’s latest miniseries featuring an all-star group of Marvel Comics super-pets had a pretty great, big-stakes conflict (Fin Fang Foom leads an army of dragons to retake earth from human domination), and seemed specifically designed to be the best-read of their efforts to day, given the inclusion of the human Avengers (And, this being Marvel, the Pet and human Avengers naturally fight and then team-up).

As much affection as I have for the Pet Avengers concept, and particularly Eliopoulos and Guara’s versions of many of the individual characters that make up the team (and it’s well worth noting this does give Guara the chance to draw much of the modern Marvel Universe, as well as Foom), this outing seemed as thin and blood-less as the previous one did. There’s not much to it narratively, to the point that it actually reads like scenes connecting and expanding on various beats within the series were missing, not unlike a 115-minute film getting chopped down to an 86-minute run-time in deference to kids’ attention spans.

As with a few of the last Marvel collections I’ve read, this one includes a back-up page-filler that seems more-or-less random in its inclusion: The Frog Thor (Not Throg, but Thor from that time he was a frog) team-up with Spider-Man written and drawn by Eliopoulos that originally appeared in Spider-Man Family #6 and, somewhat irritating, already appeared in another trade I bought.

Cindy and Biscuit Dan White’s self-published book is a mini-comic, but it’s also a collection, featuring a trio of short stories, so I’m including it here. Cindy is a little girl with Little Orphan Annie eyes, a cute little nose, a knack for getting into strange situations and a greater knack for getting into trouble with her mum. Biscuit is her dog, who White gives a wonderful, arrow-shaped body.

In these three stories, the pair save the world from aliens by brutally killing them, have an unusually idiosyncratic meeting with a werewolf (my favorite of the three) and appear in a strangely upbeat apocalyptic dream sequence. The whole shebang is less than 24 pages, so each short story is pretty short, but White nevertheless manages to make each of them complete and satisfying all on its own, thanks to economical storytelling and fine art that does much of the narrative heavy-lifting via character expressions and between-panel action.

Beyond the pleasures of the individual stories, however, are the pleasures of the individual panels: White is a really great artist, and his art rewards studying and dissecting just as much as it does reading.

While the rest of the books on this list should be pretty easy to find at your local comic shop, if you want to track down Cindy and Biscuit, your best bet is probably White’s milkthecat.wordpress.com.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 1969 (Top Shelf) Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill have strayed considerably far from the simple but brilliant premise of the first two volumes of their League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (What if all the “s

uperheroes” of Victorian adventure fiction formed their own team, like the Justice League? And what if all the similar literature of that area shared a universe, similar to the way comic book superheroes share their universes?).

That’s not at all a bad thing, but as the story sprawled forward and backwards in time, and Victorian adventure fiction became 19th and early 20th century literature which in turn became fiction of any kind and from any medium, the work got awfully dense, and, for me at least, frustratingly so—while recognizing the scores of allusions made verbally and visually throughout is a great deal of the fun, if you’re not familiar with the scores of sources they’re being pulled from, then reading through the books can be a little like listening to a group of people trade inside jokes and laugh heartily at each, while feeling left out.

One would imagine that the closer we get to the present, the easier it would be to recognize the allusions, but that’s not really the case, as the allusions have gotten more obscure and more, um, British. Again, maybe it’s just me, but I’ve read more Victorian adventure fiction that I’ve absorbed late sixties British pop culture, I guess.

Factor in the amount of time between the previous two installments of the complicated serial narrative (The Black Dossier came out in 2008, and Century: 1910 in 2009), and you can be forgiven for feeling a bit lost now and then.

If I felt ill-equipped to properly engage with a few levels of the book, however, it didn’t make it any less of an enjoyable read. Alan Moore is still a hell of a comics writer, and on a plot and character level, this is a very compelling, page-turner of an occult and action thriller (with loads and loads of sex and healthy nudity that was so much more comfortable than the bizarre pornographic violence and offensive objectification paired with PG-13 “TV nudity” we see in superhero comics that POW! BAM! aren’t just for kids anymore).  Kevin O’Neill is still a masterful comics artist, the characters and story gliding effortlessly through rather formal, even rigid page lay-outs that contrast nicely with the naturalistic weirdness of the story. And Todd Klein remains the best letterer in the business.

If anyone were keeping score, I’m afraid I would have done poorly at in-joke getting this time out, recognizing maybe one in ten of the allusions, but what I do recognize quite clearly is extraordinary comics, and that’s what Moore and O’Neill are still producing.

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