What Are You Reading?

Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Robot 6 crew have been checking out recently. To see for yourself, click below ...


Tim O'Shea

Saucer Country #1: I’m not sure which surprises me more about this new Vertigo title: that British writer Paul Cornell is delving into the U.S. political system (albeit on a surface level) or the absurd art curveballs Cornell gives artist Ryan Kelly (a professor who takes advice from a naked miniature man and woman seeming hallucination). I’m not sure how often Cornell will get to have scenes where he has lead character Governor Arcadia Alvarado give speeches (it runs the risk of bogging the narrative down), but in this issue her speech partially exploring the concept of aliens is the high point of the issue for me. I’ll be back for issue 2.

Saga #1: I am ashamed to admit I have not taken great notice of Fiona Staples’ art until this comic. I have no idea how hard it will be for her to produce art of this quality (she Is coloring her art, as well as painting the covers for the ongoing series). But she and writer Brian K. Vaughan nicely mesh in this first issue. The two creators are relishing the world-building they are doing here and it successfully drew my attention. What seals the deal though, is the lettering approach of Fonografiks when the child of the lead characters narrates aspects of the story. (I am a sucker for lettering that has no traditional boundaries).

Scarlet Spider #3: Standard superhero fare (Not an insult, I like superhero comics) for the most part. But I was happy to see this issue feature a supporting character that just happens to be in a same sex marriage. Yost introduces it in a way that allows Kaine to be surprised at the reveal, but also quickly show his acceptance of the character’s orientation. Also unique is Kaine’s clear decision not to worry about protecting who he is behind the mask.

Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #7: Unlike a good chunk of the new 52 (which is merely a reworking of the old 52 [sometimes to an alarming degree {a point I will address further in a moment}]), Frankenstein is refreshingly different DC storytelling. It’s so rare that whimsy or humor is injected into comics narrative in a subtle fashion these days. Yet Lemire is pulling it off in this series (this issue in particular). Added bonus, visually I love the absurd juxtaposition when Frank and the child-sized Father Time appear standing next to each other.

Batgirl #7: Gail Simone is writing an incredible exploration of Barbara Gordon’s experience returning to the superhero biz, three years after being paralyzed by the Joker. She’s examining the emotional toll it took on the character, unraveling layers of the damage and the recovery. And yet, it is one of the many “new 52” that retreads elements of the old 52. If I had a clean slate with the Batgirl title, I genuinely wonder why we have to explore the whole James Jr (commissioner’s son) again, as begins in this issue. Elements like this make stale what is intended to be a fresh start on a story.

Shade #6: Javier Pulido draws this issue and that’s all that matters. He’s an artist that can make ancient architecture look and feel as vibrant as any standard comics action scene. And the James Robinson I loved in Starman is writing this comic, sneaking in back story teases throughout the dialogue. For instance, when La Sangre matter-of-factly explains: “He fought the Inquisitor during those three years when I vanished from the Earth.” It’s just incredibly enjoyable to read a Robinson-dominant universe unrestricted by the new 52 editorial mandates.

Michael May

I haven’t contributed to What Are You Reading in a couple of weeks and it’s caught up with me, ‘cause my reading hasn’t slowed down and now I have a lot to talk about it. To start with, I’ve marathoned some BOOM! series that I’m loving, starting with Roger Langridge’s Snarked. I mentioned how much I enjoyed the first issue, and it’s only gotten better since. If you’ve let the surreality of Alice in Wonderland turn you off from trying a comic based in that world, you should reconsider. Snarked takes place in a fantastic world of talking animals and ruddy royalty, but its humor and adventure is easily accessible whether you’ve read Lewis Carroll or not. You don’t even need to have seen a Disney adaptation to enjoy this comic.

To be perfectly honest, I was a little nervous about Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes. I’ve been as vocal as I can be about my love for Daryl Gregory and Carlos Magno’s ongoing Planet of the Apes series and I was concerned that Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman’s mini-series wouldn’t measure up. That fear was completely unfounded though. Though Betrayal takes place in the more familiar (and therefore, less mind-blowingly original) setting of just prior to the 1968 film, it matches Gregory and Magno’s work in creating fascinating, new characters and offering thought-provoking commentary on social issues. Both series have surpassed any of the films’ ability to do these things (as much as I love those movies) and prove comics to be the best possible medium for the franchise. I cannot wait to start Betrayal’s sequel, Exile on the Planet of the Apes, which began this week.

I also caught up on Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE, finishing off the opening, “War of the Monsters” story, enduring the crossover with OMAC, and beginning the new story, “The Siege of SHADE.” I say that I “endured” the OMAC crossover because I didn’t feel it was very substantial as I read it. Both Frankenstein and OMAC #s 5 relate the same fight, just from different points of view and some varied details. And on the surface, that’s all it is: an unwarranted slug match. Dumb, okay fun for a single issue, but not enough to justify two. But then I read Frankenstein #6 and realized that the crossover had a huge impact on this next, longer story. Now I’m even more in love with the series, especially if it makes a habit out of fooling me with smaller, seemingly inconsequential stories in between longer epics.

Finally (not really, but I’ll cut this short and catch up with the rest next week), I read the second Pilot and Huxley book, appropriately titled The Next Adventure, after thoroughly loving the first one. In this book, the boys try to get home from their first adventure by way of Holiday Land, where people and creatures have the opposite personalities of what they’re known for on Earth. So Halloween Land is fully of scary-looking, but happy and helpful zombies and ghosts, and Christmas Land has giant, terrifying snowmen, gingerbread warriors, and reindeer that shoot lasers from their shiny, red noses. Unfortunately, Christmas is coming and the boys’ best chance home is stowing away on a particular, blood-red sleigh. In The First Adventure, my complete ignorance about what to expect played a huge part in my delight with the book, so this one couldn’t possibly repeat that experience in full, but it’s a worthy, entertaining follow-up and I’m looking forward to Volume 3.

Tom Bondurant

Honestly, it is pure coincidence that for St. Patrick's Day I am talking about Green Lantern and the Hulk. First up, I really enjoyed Green Lantern #7 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Doug Mahnke, inked by committee), in which Hal fights Sinestro, the two fight the Indigo Tribe, Black Hand returns, and Carol Ferris does some ring-slinging. Essentially, it's a lot of plot threads converging, first in Carol's apartment and then on the Indigo homeworld, but Johns and Mahnke pull them together with style and efficiency. Mahnke in particular has been a real asset to the book since coming aboard almost three years ago. As much as I like Ivan Reis (currently drawing Johns' Aquaman scripts), Mahnke makes Johns' words pop with energy. I don't know how new-reader-friendly this stuff is -- it goes back at least to the Indigos' 2009 introduction -- but at the same time it's great to see a DC book mine its own history for an entertaining issue.

This week I also finished Incredible Hulk Visionaries: Peter David Volume 5 (pencilled mostly by Dale Keown and inked mostly by Bob McLeod). This collection of stories bridges the gap between the Gray Hulk's wanderings and the Classic Hulk's return. It also features early glimpses of the Pantheon and Betty Banner's reintroduction. Although that provides a loose narrative framework, and the stories themselves seem rather self-contained (the longest is the four-parter which opens the book), that's not a knock. In fact, the episodic nature of Vol. 5 helped endear me to the Gray Hulk more than the original Las Vegas setting. Maybe it was the similarity to the classic "why can't Hulk be left alone" setup, or maybe the Vegas stuff just went on too long for my taste. In any event, I did like Keown and McLeod's work better than Jeff Purves' or Todd McFarlane's. Their depictions of the mundane world set up effective contrasts to the Hulk's inevitable intrusions; and when the world went loopy (as in the two-part "Defenders reunion"), they made the transition look smooth.

Finally, Fantastic Four #604 (written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Steve Epting) brought a satisfying, cathartic conclusion to Hickman's multi-year mega-arc. The issue itself had a good bit of pyrotechnics, but the emotional core focused on the three generations of Richards -- which, to be honest, had previously left me cold. Nevertheless, Hickman and Epting stuck the landing, even getting me a little misty-eyed in the process. Well done, all!

Brigid Alverson

I'm not really an animal fan, but that didn't keep me from appreciating the humor and the artwork in Mush: Sled Dogs with Issues. It's the story of six sled dogs and two humans in some isolated, snowy place, and the general conceit of the book is that the dogs have a more complex civilization than the humans. Of course, the politics of the sled team mirror those of human society, with factions and power struggles. Writer Glenn Eichler and artist Joe Infurnari pull off the feat of giving each of the dogs its own personality and look, and while I found some of the fight scenes confusing, I loved Infurnari's art, which beautifully captures both the action and the snowbound landscape.

I'm also not a huge fan of Lynda Barry's work, although I have been reading her comics on and off since they appeared in the Village Voice in the early 1980s. Seeing her early work collected in Everything Blabber Blabber Blabber gave me a new appreciation for her Ernie Pook's Comeek, though, as well as her later comics Two Sisters and Girls and Boys. I find Barry's deliberately ugly drawing style off-putting, but the comics have a lot of interesting formal things going on that become more apparent when you read them all together as opposed to once a week.

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