Welcome once again to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately. Our special guest today is Faith Erin Hicks, creator of the graphic novels Zombies Calling, The War at Ellsmere and the upcoming Friends with Boys. She also drew the recent First Second release Brain Camp and has a comic strip in her local weekly newspaper The Coast called The Adventures of Superhero Girl.
To see what Faith and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below ...
The original Books of Magic mini-series is best read in the mindset of a DC Comics fan who enjoys the continuity of that universe. There are lots of little cameos by DC's many magic-using heroes and villains and some really great moments for a couple of them. John Constantine has his defining moment when he rescues the young protagonist from a bar full of bad guys. And of course it's always great to read Neil Gaiman when he's writing about The Endless.
But as an actual story, it's like reading a travelogue. There are lots of cool places to visit and some exciting things happen in some of them, but nothing really ties it all together other than simply enjoying the trip. I read it in preparation to finally explore John Ney Rieber's run on the ongoing series, and I never thought I'd say this while comparing something to a Neil Gaiman story, but I hope that one is better.
Saying that Shazam: The Golden Age of the World's Mightiest Mortal is a beautifully designed book is severely overstating the obvious. It's written and designed by Chip Kidd, featuring photography by Geoff Spear! Of course it's a lavish, gorgeous-looking book! Are you a hardcore fan of the Big Red Cheese and has long felt the character hasn't gotten his due? Good news, your $35 ship has finally come in.
The book's basic goal is to remind remind readers that long, long ago, Captain Marvel was really, really popular. Like, more popular than Superman popular. To that end, Kidd fills the book photos and details on various Captain Marvel licensed material including toys, games, puzzles, club newsletters, tie pins and much more. It's page after page of gee-gaw and antiquated collector item until you cry "Ok, yes, I get it. Lots of people loved the Shazam guy!"
What isn't emphasized as much is the comics, and the people that created them. A lot of space is given to Republic's Captain Marvel serial, but not much to artist C.C. Beck or writer Otto Binder (though, to be fair, Captain Marvel Jr. artist Mac Raboy does get a fair share of coverage). And there's no sign of Mr. Tawky Tawny, Mr. Mind or the rest of the supporting cast, beyond Mary and Junior (though, again, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny manages to snag a couple of pages).
I realize that a thorough history of Fawcett's main hero isn't the point here, but I can't help feeling as though casual readers who will come across this title in their local bookstore, etc., won't really have any idea of what made the character and his universe special, what it was that made him stand out amongst the four-color crowd. Kidd says Marvel had an abundance of charm, but we don't get much of a chance to see any of that charm in the book. Again, it's a lovely book and I'm glad to have read it and am grateful for its existence and the hard work that went into it, but there's a big part of me that feels like I was just given a tour through someone's elaborate memorabilia collection without ever really understanding what it was that made them start collecting in the first place.
As I mentioned in the latest Food or Comics column, I have been reading 7 Billion Needles, the manga adaptation of Hal Clement's story about a schoolgirl who is possessed by a being from outer space. This is a familiar manga story, but the execution is first-rate. I love looking at creator Nobuaki Tadano's cluttered interior landscapes and the matter-of-fact depiction of high-school life, contrasted with the fantastic images of the alien that possesses the heroine. It's like a smarter, edgier version of Parasyte.
James Patterson's Witch and Wizard: Battle for Shadowland is set between the first and second volumes of a series of prose novels that I haven't read. Nonetheless, it's easy to pick up the story, although since Patterson's created world is rather complex, there's a lot of explaining in the beginning. Once we're past that, it's teens against the machine as plucky teen witch and wizard Whit and Wisty do battle with the totalitarian entity known as the New Order, which has taken over their country and forced their parents into hiding. It's a fast-moving, action-packed story with plenty of battle scenes and very little downtime.
Sean T. Collins
You'd think Gilbert Hernandez would have peaked by now, but nearly two months into my LOVE AND ROCKTOBER project of reading through both his and Jaime's work in its entirety, I'm finding there's always another high point on the way. From the soul-crushing darkness of High Soft Lisp to the kind-hearted happy ending of "Venus and You" to the quiet menace and mystery of New Tales of Old Palomar, these are extraordinary, deeply affecting comics, made some 20-25 years into Beto's career. High Soft Lisp in particular literally kept me up at night, I was so disturbed by it. Click the links for full reviews!
First off, I almost missed Jonah Hex #61 (released in early November). Due to budgetary constraints, I do not buy every issue of Jonah Hex (sorry Jimmy Palmiotti, nothing personal). But if Jordi Bernet is the artist, I definitely buy it. To read a Jonah Hex issue where he's romantic and downright nearly flirty on honeymoon with then new bride, Mei Ling is a rare read. And, of course, as always (and another positive about this series) it's done in one.
As for this week's releases, my stack to discuss starts with an issue that has conflicted me: Batwoman #0. When Greg Rucka dropped out of the project I told myself I would not buy a Batwoman sans Rucka. And yet, the JH Williams III cover sucked me in to buying it. It's too early to tell how solid a writer that Williams is going to be in concert with W. Haden Blackman, but I'm intrigued to see how the Williams/Amy Reeder dual art team works out long term. Reeder (who does a Kate Kane-focused parallel tale with Williams on the Batwoman tale) provides a tale that meshes effectively (thanks to Dave Stewart's colors) with Williams on this first round. And yet, in the back of my mind, I still miss Rucka.
Fantastic Four #585 gives us a load of Diplomat Sue hanging out with Namor while Reed goes on a buddy road trip with Galactus and Silver Surfer. And yet, the part of this issue that held my interest was Ben and Johnny hanging out with the kids that populate Baxter Building these days. I must be getting old if Jonathan Hickman's dialogue between Ben and Johnny expressing a desire to have kids (no not together, you goofballs) is my favorite part. But there it is.
Paul Cornell has the potential to write my favorite Batman & Robin (starting his guest arc with issue #17). Sure Grant Morrison has made this new status quo possible, but Paul Cornell is a funny writer and it clicked with me to have Robin and Batman (Damian and Dick) cracking wise in the heat of battle. In fact they even debate the appropriateness of being funny right then--and even that worked for me. I also loved Cornell's Action Comics this week, but I think that goes for everyone. Kudos to DC for snagging Cornell from Marvel.
I almost feel stupid praising Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee's Thor: The Mighty Avenger. Not because the story is not great. But because the bean counters at Marvel had to cancel this series with issue #8. Thanks for oversaturating the market with a bunch of Thor titles that mostly serve to undercut a great book like this, Marvel. And yet, I would love it if this book's sales skyrocket (not expecting it to, though) with the remaining issues. It's consistently a better read than anything during JMS' past run or Fraction's current run (yet I enjoyed both of those as well, just not as much). In a dream world, issue #8's numbers would eclipse the sales of issue #1 and Marvel would revoke the cancellation. I know that won't happen, but I can dream. As for issue #5, which came out this week, Langridge and Samnee's Heimdell is the most interesting take on the character in years, he's more than just Asgard's gatekeeper in this Thor universe--much more.
Ed Brubaker read the same 1970s Marvel comics I did, that's my best guess. Because in 2010 he's writing the coolest 1970s Avengers book, if Shang-Chi were an Avenger. That's not a slam, it's praise. I've never heard of this Prince of Orphans character introduced in Secret Avengers #6, but he gets to do more cool crap in issue 7. Yeah, I wrote cool crap. I'm channeling my 1970s self for this snippet review. Seriously though, Mike Deodato is doing a damn fine imitation of Gene Colan on this series, which suits this book perfectly. This issue features a dark moment with Steve Rogers on interrogation, it's a strong bit of writing and art. Small complaint/question: Did Marvel forget to put the creative credits in this issue, I looked everywhere and could not find them.
Every issue of Secret Warriors gives me great Nick Fury moments. Issue #22 is no different, particularly given how much build-up has been given with one character in particular. I don't want to spoil anything, but the way Hickman writes the payoff scene in this issue is truly cinematic (and Alessandro Vitti's art seals the deal).
Faith Erin Hicks
I've been reading two manga series this past week that really hit the spot for me, both as a creator and a reader: Saturn Apartments by Hiasae Iwaoka and High School Debut by Kazune Kawahara. I went to my awesome local comic shop (Strange Adventures) last week to buy the second volume of Saturn Apartments, and ended up taking home 11 previously viewed volumes of High School Debut as well. I'm on the 9th volume, trying to read it slowly and failing miserably.
Saturn Apartments is my dream book: it is character-driven science fiction, a slice of life contrast to the violent future imagined in the other great character driven science fiction series I read this year, Naoki Urasawa's Pluto. In Saturn Apartments, humanity has left the earth (now protected as a nature sanctuary) and lives in giant rings encircling the globe. The comic follows the daily life of Mitsu, a young window washer who's trying to discover who his dead father really was, as he follows in his dad's footsteps. I really love the slowness of the book; we see these people's lives in minute detail, and I find Mitsu's struggles very touching. Everyone in Saturn Apartments has a sense that they are not where they are supposed to be, and have this great longing for their lost home, the Earth. The art's adorable too, ramshackle backgrounds and patched space suits complimenting cartoony character designs.
High School Debut is something different, but I'm enjoying it just as much. A dorky tomboy, Haruna, is failing completely when it comes to finding a boyfriend, so she begs a popular upperclassman, Yoh, to basically teach her how to be a girl. Haruna kills me. She's blunt and unaware of her social awkwardness, and kind of a spaz, but she tries so hard and is so good-natured that it's impossible not to grow fond of her. So of course she and Yoh end up falling in love, and that's where I think the series really shines, showing how these two different teens try to make their relationship work, and grow and evolve together. It's really sweet and as someone who was TERRIBLE at the dating thing, and who was kind of a spazzy freak like Haruna for many years, I empathize with her a lot. I think the series goes to 13 volumes, so here's hoping the rest of it is as good as the first 9 volumes.
I love manga. I missed out on the whole manga boom of the early 2000s, and it took me a really long time to get into it (I didn't really start reading manga until about 2008), but I absolutely love it. I love the decompression and attention to character detail, how the authors are allowed to spend time with their worlds and characters... it's something I aspire to as a creator. Although maybe not 50+ volumes... I read volume 9 of One Piece the other day, and while I really enjoyed it, the thought of reading another 50 or so volumes is kinda crazy. I don't think that's going to happen.