Happy Easter and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look back at the comics and other stuff we've checked out recently.
To see what Chris and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click the link below.
Invincible #79: Earlier this week, in a CBR News interview with writer Robert Kirkman, he said of this issue " I just wrote a scene at the end of #79 that I don't think you'd ever see in a corporate superhero comic." And he is right about that. The plot reveal of a decision that Eve chose to make in Mark's absence is an interesting direction for the book to take with the characters, but I'm curious to see if certain social issue groups take umbrage at the creator's plot choice. I don't want to reveal the ending, but I will comment that I appreciated how Kirkman had both characters react to the news. Superhero comics rarely attempt real character moments like this, and I admire Kirkman's effort to do it.
Super Dinosaur #1: I was really struck by the difference in tone between the adult issues dealt with in Invincible, versus the full-out fun in the launch of Kirkman's all-ages Super Dinosaur. Kirkman does an impressive job of introducing the cast quickly and building the most unique father-son dynamic I've seen in an all-ages adventures ever (basically the child becomes the parent). It's an interesting element to attempt, but one hopes it's a plot element that is temporary and not status quo for the entire series. Here's hoping the female kid characters will be utilized as more than potential crush interest for Derek Dynamo (the book's kid lead). An aside, Stan Lee must be overjoyed to see Kirkman introducing a lead character named Derek Dynamo, son of Doctor Dynamo. The 11-year-old son found the book to be a solid read as well.
Justice League of America #56: I keep reading this title hoping a glimmer of old James Robinson will reveal himself. Is there any chance that Robinson was only a really strong writer when he was edited by the late Archie Goodwin? Longtime Titans fans let me know something, has Dick Grayson at any point in his friendship with Donna Troy ever called her "Don"? And kudos to DC editorial for shoehorning Doomsday in this Eclipso plotline (where Shade appears to be uncharacteristically weak-willed for the sake of the plot). Meanwhile, the Alan Scott family gets used as props in a very crappy plot (at least we're spared the odd costume that Scott is sporting in the JSA). Both the JSA and JLA keep throwing characters at stories with very little attention to how or why they are there.
Avengers Academy #12: Christos Gage continues to write the best Avengers title that Marvel publishes currently. This issue though I was really struck by the character moments that Tom Raney is working into the tale. For instance, in the opening splash page--after the team is granted access to future versions of themselves, I love how Raney has Finesse looking at her future self by using Mettle's surface as a mirror. But Raney's best work does not occur until the final pages of this issue, where Raney attempts (and succeeds) at showing Mettle's non-moving facial features with emotion. It's amazing what Raney accomplishes merely with Mettle's eyes.
Hulk #32: Jeff Parker's ability to capitalize upon Thunderbolt Ross' military instincts (and problem-solving ability) makes a different kind of Hulk than you get with Bruce Banner. I really love the use of Annie in recent issues and am curious to see what he does with this almost human character over the long haul. Plus artistically there are few books that beat the combo of Gabriel Hardman colored by Elizabeth Breitweiser.
Thunderbolts #156: I'm not sure who is having more fun: me reading this series since the introduction last issue of Satana or Parker getting to write it. The effort to develop a B-Team for the Thunderbolts (the Underbolts) is already bearing some great narrative fruit as well. But back to the new team member, the one panel where Satana "greets" Moonstone will have word balloon placement scholars talking for decades, I tell ya, decades! Be sure to see Erika Moen's alternate take on that scene --as well as see the latest installment of Parker and Moen's Bucko. Did I mention that Parker is my favorite Thunderbolts writer since Kurt Busiek?
Zatanna #12: Matthew Sturges pinch-hits for regular series writer Paul Dini--and reveals he'd be a great replacement should Dini ever want to quit the series. The scene that won me over was when Mikey quizzes Zatanna with flash cards, practicing backward versions of words. Extra bonus, Amanda Conner's cover where Zatanna's morning commute has her magically juggling an iPad, her coffee and a muffin just stolen by a bird.
The Sky Over the Louvre is the latest in NBM's series of translations of graphic novels about the Louvre, and I think it's the best so far. It is set in the French Revolution and the two main characters are Maximilien Robespierre, architect of the Terror, and the painter Jacques-Louis David, who was sort of the art-propaganda arm of the Revolution. The story revolves around Robespierre's desire to create the Cult of the Supreme Being, a sort of secular religion, and to make a martyr of a young boy, Bara, who had chosen to die rather than hand over two horses to the enemy, and David's attempts to create paintings for both. The backdrop of all this is the Terror, and David's struggles are contrasted with Robespierre's seeming obsession and the madness of accusations and death. It's a great read and left me wanting more.
I returned this week to Dylan Meconis's Family Man, another historical comic about a wayward theology scholar at a university in the hinterlands of Germany. It's a great story that wraps up bits of scholarship and history with a supernatural tale in a really beautiful setting. The romantic action is heating up right now, and there's nothing I love more than a love story between brainy people‹moments of passion interspersed with witty dialogue. I continue to be in awe of the way Meconis composes a page, using panels and pictorial elements to set the scene and move the action, and her characters have gotten even more solid and real as the story goes on.
It’s been a little bit tough to squeeze in comics reading for the last couple of weeks. I’ve been engrossed in Patrick O’Brian’s first two Aubrey/Maturin novels, Master and Commander and Post Captain, and have just started the third, and I’ve been scrambling to get the files to the printer for a large sketchbook that I’ll be debuting at HeroesCon. Nevertheless, I read any time I’m not actively doing something where I can’t be reading – in bed, in the bathroom, eating, at stoplights, in line at the post office, etc. so I do have a few that have slipped through my schedule barrier.
Blacklung by Chris Wright: I’m incredibly lucky, in that I was citing this book for a paper about the rise of genre in art comics, and asked Wright if he could give me a page or panel to use while presenting. He obliged by sending me the entire book as a PDF, which I printed out and bound, and have read four times in two months.
Though I’d read and been very impressed by the Wright’s short stories in his Inkweed collection a couple of years ago, I could not have imagined how impressive a work Blacklung would turn out to be. It’s a graphic novel, both in its vernacular term and in a more literal sense, violent and horrible and poetic at the same time – the sort of thing McCarthy might write if he were more interested in pirates than cowboys or Appalachians.
Our medium has had many excellent works, and usually I tend to be an ardent cheerleader for ones that I feel best epitomize the form. Segar’s comics, for example, are excellent in the larger context of the comics medium. But they don’t necessarily hold up against the great works of Western literature. They do to me, but I’m a toon-head, if I might borrow a phrase from Jeff Smith.
Blacklung is different. While trudging through it (and it IS a trudging read – the hatchwork is so heavy as to anchor one’s eyes to each panel, and the story forces regular pauses for contemplation), I couldn’t help but compare it to Conrad, as the reading experience seemed virtually identical – I expect he influenced the work, though I don’t know this for certain. And I genuinely believe it to be on par in quality with his best works. Blacklung is a great book; canonically great.
It does not have a publisher.
It had one, from what I understand, one of the more respectable GN publishers, but my impression is that this is no longer the case. Wright’s meticulous and minutiaed inkwork doesn’t allow for any reduction in scale from the original to the finished book, which means that the book must be large – 10 by 14 inches or so, I reckon – and for a book which the average comic reader will likely find difficult this may be a real stumbling block for publishers, financially. But I hope against hope that somebody who can give it the design treatment that it deserves will carry it to shelves.
It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Do I enjoy reading it? No. It hurts me to read it, both my mind (which I’m the first to admit is not nearly as quick as I’d like) and my sensibilities. But it’s a damn good book. I hope it becomes available very, very soon. It’ll make everything I do look like the Boxcar Children, but that’s a small price to pay for the elevation of our medium.
A God Somewhere by John Arcudi and Peter Snejbjerg: I can be kind of a snot regarding collaborative comics – I don’t mean to be, and I’ve got nothing against them, but it’s a rarity that I pick them up, the same way I tend to avoid books with two authors on the byline (Black House or Peter and the Starcatchers, for example). I enjoy reading comics, but I’m always analyzing them, and not knowing from which end, artist or writer, a decision comes is frustrating to me. I like having a clear sense of how the narrative was conceived and delivered, and it’s much harder to do that with team comics. I read the ones my friends make because I can gain that insight through conversation, but otherwise I don’t unless something comes highly recommended, and as a result I miss a lot of really good titles.
A friend sent me A God Somewhere, by John Arcudi and Peter Snejbjerg. I love Arcudi’s work on B.P.R.D., but haven’t read much of his other stuff – after this I plan to. Like Blacklung, it’s an emotionally uncomfortable read, a superhero story without any costumes and a terrifyingly account of the consequences of absolute power – real absolute power, Superman-level absolute power. Arcudi delivers this horror with the same approach to scale that he handles so deftly in B.P.R.D., consequences so far beyond my capacity for imagination that trying to fathom them puts me in the same state of panic and fear as his characters. Snejbjerg’s art is well-suited to the story, and he doesn’t pull any punches in depicting the human consequences of the events. It’s graphically violent without glamorizing the violence. It has to be shown vividly for the story to work. I’d like to see more works like this and less degradation of existing or iconic superheroes, as per the suggestions Roger Langridge made last week.
Moonshine by Falynn Koch: Also, another in-progress one, but at least this one you can read so far on the web. It’s Falynn Koch’s alcoholic werewolf coming-of-age western, Moonshine. I love seeing stuff as this is being developed, and Falynn’s an amazing storyteller. I can’t wait to see it all finished and in color (she’s a heck of a good colorist).