Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at the comics and other stuff we've been enjoying lately. Our special guests this week are Aaron Alexovich (Invader Zim, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Serenity Rose, Fables) and Drew Rausch (Sullengrey, The Dark Goodbye, Cthulhu Tales), the creative team behind the horror/comedy comic Eldritch!
To see what Aaron, Drew and the Robot 6 crew are reading, click below ...
Of course I read Mighty Thor #2! I nearly loved it as much as I loved Mighty Thor #1; the first issue had an amazing balance of the incredible and those who try and understand what credible is to begin with. Don't get me wrong, as long as Mr. Fraction continues to add nouns to Colossuses (Colossi?), I will be there and ready with cash, but there was just something missing, some spark of life that the first issue captured so well that the second issue lacked. My guess? This was the bridge that get us to the chorus of issue #3.
I also read FF #3, and I fully admit to having a hard time calling the book "eff-eff" rather than the Fantastic Four. The contents of the issue are well aware of the HUGE name change and its impact on the characters within and the universe without. Everyone in that book is important, no one goes without a piece of dialogue or business that is essential to the overall arc of what Mr. Hickman is doing. We're talking Brubakerian levels of wheels within wheels storytelling that is fantastic to see unfold with every page. Maybe that's why I keep calling it the Fantastic Four....
Because there was some catastrophically disordered back issues, I read Batman #614 rather by accident. In this issue, Batman thinks long and hard about himself and the Joker and makes a hard decision about his responsibility as a the better man. Holy crap does Jim Lee draw the ever-loving heck out of this issue. Every panel is just gorgeous and jaw-dropping in weight and stature as Batman fights himself more than the Clown Prince of Crime on why he just doesn't off this guy by right of vengeance. Sure, Mr. Loeb is a little wordy at times but the pacing and tone is pitch perfect on modern day Batman theme. This is great issue on its own merit and while the Hush storyline may have had a sour note to end on for some fans, you have to admit the artwork is a symphony of expression.
It's hot, it's a Saturday, and I felt like just vegging out, so I pulled out IDW's collection Felix the Cat: The Great Comic Book Tails, edited by Craig Yoe. It's a very nice lazy-summer book, with just enough background on the cartoon to make you feel like an expert on Felix the Cat, who really had his heyday as an animated cartoon in the 1920s. Charles Lindbergh had a Felix decal on the side of The Spirit of St. Louis, and when NBC wanted to test the first television camera, in 1928, they focused it on a Felix statue rotating on a turntable. There! Feel smarter? The bulk of the book is given over to Felix comics from the 1940s and 1950s, drawn by Felix creator Otto Messmer and his follower Joe Oriolo. The comics aren't particularly eye-catching in terms of the art, but the stories have a hallucinatory quality that makes them entertaining reading for kids of all ages, as vegetables seek their revenge on humans for eating them, or Felix's rocket comes to rest on the crescent moon—and drops away when the moon wanes to a sliver. It was certainly a pleasant way to while away a Saturday afternoon.
And hey, what's summer without Archie? The Archie folks have been publishing a lot of collected editions lately, and Jughead: Crowning Achievements is notable because it includes "Something Ventured, Something Gained," by Robot Chicken creator Tom Root. Chris Reilly called it "the best Archie comic I have read in decades," and it certainly is a great story. There's also a story on the origins of Jughead's hat. Again, not rocket science, but a good read for the first weekend of summer.
I finished Eureka’s Western Classics anthology this week. It’s the 20th volume in their excellent Graphic Classics series and a worthy heir to the others. Though I love Western movies and TV shows, I’m not well read at all in Western novels and short stories except for some O Henry, so these were all new stories for me. In fact, except for Zane Grey and Robert E. Howard, I wasn’t even familiar with any of the authors.
I especially enjoyed Tim Lasiuta and Dan Spiegle’s adaptation of Clarence E. Mulfurd’s Hopalong Cassidy story, “The Holdup.” Thanks to some vague, childhood impressions of the character, I’d always dismissed Hopalong as a comedic sidekick, not a leading man. “The Holdup” corrected that notion.
Wila Cather’s “El Dorado” -– adapted by Rich Rainey and gorgeously illustrated by John Findley -– was another treat. It’s the story of an Eastern businessman who’s swindled into coming West, but refuses to leave until he gets back the money he invested in the ghost town he now calls home. Findley’s precisely detailed artwork is incredibly eye-catching, but it’s the emotional ride of wondering whether Colonel Bywaters is a stubborn fool or a hero to root for that makes the story special.
The book highlights the diversity of Western stories. There’s a horror story (Bret Harte’s “The Right Eye of the Commander,” adapted by David Hontiveros and Reno Maniquis), a romance (Gertrude Atherton’s “La Perdida,” adapted by Trina Robbins and Arnold Arre), and even an interesting treatise on faith (John G Neihardt’s “The Last Thundersong,” adapted by Rod Lott and Ryan Huna Smith). Even Zane Grey’s classic Riders of the Purple Sage (adapted by Tom Pomplun and Cynthia Martin) is a fantastic combination of romantic opera and Western pulps.
And for those who prefer their cowboys to be tough guys with six-guns, in addition to Hopalong Cassidy and some of Grey's characters, Robert E. Howard’s “Knife River Prodigal” (adapted by Ben Avery and George Sellas) is exactly what the sheriff ordered.
I also started reading Charles Fulp and Craig Rousseau’s Uncouth Sleuth this week. I expected it to be an irreverent take on classic adventure pulp, but I wasn’t prepared for how irreverent. The main character is named Harry Johnson, so it’s my own fault for not realizing how far Fulp’s willing to take the sex gags, but “uncouth” doesn’t scratch the surface of Johnson’s behavior. It's strong enough to be off-putting.
Still…Craig Rousseau. I’m a fan, so I’m going to let this sit for a couple of days and then come back to it better prepared.
Although its scheduling wasn't optimal, I did enjoy reading this month's three installments of "War of the Green Lanterns" in one sitting. (Green Lantern #66 was written by Geoff Johns and penciled by Doug Mahnke, GL Corps #60 was written by Tony Bedard and penciled by Tyler Kirkham, and GL: Emerald Warriors was written by Peter Tomasi and penciled by Fernando Pasarin.) It's been a pretty decent crossover all around -- Krona has captured all the various Lantern Corps' patron entities and taken control of the Green Lantern Corps by putting Parallax into the Central Power Battery. Naturally, our four Earthling Lanterns are able to oppose him, mostly by donning the rings of other Corps. Thus, they get to do ring-slinging with a little bit of a twist, which is nice. What's more, this arc gives everyone a turn in the spotlight, not just Hal. In fact (spoiler alert), Hal and Guy have to be rescued at one point by Kyle and John. Guy then plays an integral part in fixing the Central Battery, and Kyle gets to repair some lingering damage from when Guy was previously a Red Lantern.
Probably the most dramatic moment goes to John, though, who finds himself having to make an impossible choice. I'm not sure how I feel about this turn of events, but I have to say it didn't feel as egregious or as gratuitous as I thought it would. On the other hand, having read John's adventures off and on for a couple of decades now, I'm having a hard time reconciling these events with his past history. In the context of the story, it works, even if it's by a slim margin. It's also the kind of thing that I could see being reversed -- maybe not soon, but eventually.
I have decided that this summer I will try to go through all of Jonathan Hickman's Fantastic Four, in order to capture all the nuances and subplots which escaped me during the month-to-month experience. Accordingly, this week's FF #4 (written by Jonathan Hickman, penciled by Barry Kitson) was both a good way to bring together two of Hickman's plots (the Reeds and the Four Cities) while moving the overall story forward. I also appreciated Kitson's work on this issue -- obviously his storytelling skills are clear and precise, and he's good with characters too -- although I did have to work a little to follow his Spider-Man choreography. The issue ended on a clever cliffhanger, to boot.
Otherwise I still have a couple of books to read from this week, including the Strange Adventures special and Xombi #3, so I'd better get to those....
I was hoping for more out of Mark Waid's Ruse (this week saw the release of issue #3 out of 4). I treasured his initial run on the original CrossGen series and was greatly enthused when Marvel tapped Waid on this for the miniseries revival. The appeal of the series to me was always Simon Archard's assistant in name only/ partner in reality, Emma Bishop. Hell, the slogan for the miniseries is: "He's the World's Greatest Detective. She's even better." This miniseries has proven to me that she's better at finding ways to sport her heaving bosoms in multiple scenes. While Emma is given moments where she is clearly a person of action, it is always beyond her control, frequently being set up by Simon. I guess in a sense, Bishop is Watson (always having to bail out her partner), but with a great pair of legs, as the reader is frequently reminded in some odd layout choices by artist Minck Oosterveer. Bishop is often left to react to plot events and have lines like "Who else could hide a trail this thoroughly?" I went in expecting too much of the miniseries, in the final analyses. But Waid has one more issue to surprise me and make the "She's even better." line accurate.
With the latest installments of Secret Warriors (#27) and FF (#4), I have come to the (already obvious to many) realization that Jonathan Hickman's complex machinations are best read as collected trades, as opposed to individual issues. This issue of FF sports art by Barry Kitson--with his art looking like the Kitson I adore. It would appear that Kitson is inking himself, which is critical for him to look his best. In recent years while working at Marvel, there have been times he's been inked by others and his art has suffered for it. I throw this question out to the readers (as our great readers always know more than me): "Is Kitson's work pace/quality that he can only do arcs these days? Is that why he's not got a permanent assignment on any series?"
As a person who considers Avengers Academy to be the best Avengers book that Marvel currently publishes, I was pleased to see series writer Christos Gage writing the two-issue guest arc on the Amazing Spider-Man (featuring his Avengers cast). For Spidey fans not reading AA, Gage concisely built a tale that capitalized on Peter's love of teaching and meshed the series' lead character effectively with the guest stars. One hopes he converted a few Spidey fans to check out AA. Extra points to Gage for writing a funny Spider-Man (essential when writing him, but some writers give the character lines that they think are funny, but often miss the mark)--writing comedy is hard.
Venom #3: Remender had my interest with the first two issues, but he (or the dictates of Marvel editorial) has brought Peter Parker/Spidey into the mix a little too early for my tastes. Also, the revelation of his identity to a villain is being played out too quickly as well. Then again, after weeks of harping about books with glacial pacing, I am grateful for the impressive amount of narrative ground that Remender has covered in three issues. But the aspect that really caught my attention was a letter run in this month's letter column. The reader explains that as a kid he never read comics, but decided to pick up some for he and his girlfriend after seeing AMC's Walking Dead. In a market of seemingly decreasing numbers, it's good to see at least two folks picking up comics for the first time.
The Incredible Hulks #629: For a longtime reader like me, who has always been partial to the soap opera lives of Betty and Bruce Banner, this issue delivered exactly what I wanted. Plus I love any comic that sports Tom Grummett's clean line art.
I seem to be reading mostly history books these days... Fatal Purity is a good one. It's about Robespierre and the French Revolution, but the thing reads almost like a slasher movie. "Who will be The Terror's next victim?" You can almost FEEL the Guillotine stalking all these characters, waiting for them to slip up and fall under the blade. Which every one of them does... No "Final Girl" in Fatal Purity. Age of Wonder is pretty interesting, too. It's about science during the Romantic Era, and has a section on all the strange people and bizarre public experiments that inspired Frankenstein. This one guy named Aldini used to plug corpses up to voltaic batteries and make them do tricks for spectators. One corpse "laughed and walked," it says. Good stuff!
As far as comics go, I've recently read Fantagraphics' gorgeous new printing of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, which absolutely blew me away. I'm always impressed by people like Jacques Tardi, who can build these deep, rich worlds out of really loose, simple linework. It's definitely not a skill I have. The book also has pterodactyls menacing early-1900's Paris, so it's pretty much required that I love it.
One of my favorite RECENT comics is Shadoweyes by Ross Campbell. The second volume just came out recently. It's a superhero story, but not like any superhero story I've ever read. It's dark and creepy and oddly emotional, fantastically well-drawn. Ross has this way of making bizarre things seem so down-to-earth and REAL, which of course just underlines their strangeness. Really recommend those books.
The last one I'll mention is The Weird World of Eerie Publications. It's a big, fat non-fiction hardcover about this fairly low-rent magazine publisher in the late 60's/early 70's that would redraw old pre-code horror comics with extra gore. (Warren Publishing's cheapskate, disreputable cousin, in other words.) But what's incredible about this book are the COVER reproductions... Every one of these Eerie pubs had a bold, garish, almost DELIRIOUSLY over-the-top cover. They'd have, like, robot Dracula and his hunchbacked Wolfman assistant surgically removing a fish-lady's brain while, say, Mummy Devil kicks in the laboratory door in the background, bloody severed body parts in each hand. You feel INSANE just looking at these things. You've got to see this stuff to believe it.
I don't get to go to the comic shop as often as I like, and when I do I end up grabbing trades, which then sit in a large pile ("no human being would stack books like this") or a shelf 'til a moment in between drawing pages comes up. Still playing catch up, but here's a couple recent ones:
Mysterius The Unfathomable by Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler: I have a soft spot for modern sorcerer tales. This one's like taking the best things about Doctor Strange and Doctor Who and then have them illustrated in a Jack Davis-esque style. I really wish there more of these, sadly with Wildstorm going away, my hopes and dreams are once again extinguished.
Locke & Key Vol 1 by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez: Was recommended this one a lot. I'm hoping it gets better in future installments. Either that or I missed something because I couldn't get into it. It did a fine job of introducing the world and its rules, but I personally wanted it to be moodier. Gabriel Rodriguez can draw the heck out of some houses though, let me tell you.
Strange Science Fantasy by Scott Morse: Basically a collection of off the wall one shot stories that really capture the hey days of comics, the Jack Kirby pre-Stan Lee days. No frills, no mess, just FUN. I really dig Morse's bold line art and color palette.
Secret Six: Unhinged by Gail Simone and Nicola Scott: My wife actually brought this one to my attention. Physically handing it to me after she was done, screaming "READ IT!" at me. I admit to it being a bit different than what I'm used to reading, but I was pleasantly surprised. The arc follows a group of DC bad guys (some of which I had to Google) on a mission to get a card forged by the devil, but the plot is almost secondary to Simone's dialogue which was engaging, without being bogged down with tons of historical back story.