Hello and welcome once again to What Are You Reading?, where the Robot 6 crew talk about the comics and graphic novels that they've been enjoying lately.
Today's special guest is Ryan K Lindsay, a staff writer for comic news and reviews site The Weekly Crisis. He also runs a comic scripting challenge site called thoughtballoons where each week a character is picked, and every member of the site must write a one-page script about that character. He’s also been known to throw a think piece up at Gestalt Mash and is hoping one day to have his many comic pitches drawn by people with pencils.
To see what Ryan and the Robot 6 crew have been reading this week, click the link below ...
Sean T. Collins
This week I read three books that tried with varying degrees of success to put their stamps on familiar genres. Click the links for full reviews...
The Man with the Getaway Face by Darwyn Cooke (IDW): This short-form adaptation of one of Richard Stark's Parker novels incongruously meshed Stark's no-nonsense plotting and prose with Cooke's nostalgic, luxurious-looking art for a "two great tastes that taste weird together" whole.
Artichoke Tales by Megan Kelso (Fantagraphics): A killer clear line and an extremely sophisticated take on personal and political history make Kelso's decade-in-the-making fantasy a must-read.
Second Thoughts by Niklas Asker (Top Shelf): A familiar-feeling but nevertheless beautifully drawn and surprisingly subtle take on sexy twentysomething relationship angst.
I often point to the small details in explaining why a book clicks with me. In The Muppet Show #9, when Statler and Waldorf heckled Fozzie, writer/artist Roger Langridge perfectly captured the beaten-down humiliation of Fozzie that's done in such a way that still captures Fozzie eternal belief he can someday make them laugh. OK, maybe I was reading more into the panel than Langridge intended, but it clicked for me.
Jonathan Hickman continues to reveal his affinity (and wealth of knowledge) for the Howling Commandos in this final part of the Last Ride arc in Secret Warriors. And Alessandro Vitti gives this impressive moment where Dum Dum Dugan leaps into battle only to realize the odds are stacked against them. To see the battle-seasoned face of Dugan shift to fear/awe was effective, as well as a nice juxtaposition to the present day scenes where Dugan testified in front of a UN Security Council. I tip my hat to Hickman for pulling off a story that jumped between three to four different times/places and held together tightly/effectively.
Superman/Batman 75 is worth buying just for the two-page Joker and Lex story by Azzarello & Bermejo, executed as a twisted homage to Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes.
Captain America #609 had a few surprises for me, none of them involving James Barnes. First off, does anyone else think that Butch Guice's approach to drawing the Black Widow is similar to the way she is rendered by Gene Colan? I love it. Also I did not expect to see Falcon back on his feet (he was seriously injured in part 1 of this arc), but it allowed Brubaker to ever fleetingly give us the old Steve Rogers/Falcon team-up for a few moments. You rarely see writers work in scenes where a character makes a mistake (without it being a plot advancement aspect). But I love the scene (spoiler) where Rogers is interrogating a Zemo associate and accidentally breaks his hand, admitting: "I...I thought it was robotic...not a glove." Honestly while violent, there was almost a comedic element to the scene, though I'm unsure if that was Brubaker's intent.
I'll admit, I've not been very partial to Ariel Olivetti's art style, but Olivetti draws a pompous Namor quite well in the first issue of the new ongoing, Namor: The First Mutant. After talking to writer Stuart Moore earlier this week, I'm eager to see what he does with the character coming out of this initial vampire arc. I cannot thank Marvel enough for trying to summarize Namor's history in an eight-page back up feature. It was an effective summary of his long history and also reminded me how absurd he looked with long hair in the 1990s.
Speaking of vampires, judging from the first issue I can see myself really enjoying the "“Medieval Vampire Prince Meets Corporate CEO:Compare and Contrast” (as writer Daryl Gregory described it to me in our recent interview) that is the backbone of the Kurt Busiek-conceived Dracula: The Company Of Monsters. Any story that tackles 1462 and present day is both covering a lot of ground as well as drawing some parallels that give me pause. Plus, hey it's Dracula according to Busiek, it's bound to be fun and quirky with Gregory writing it.
Joey Weiser was kind enough to send me an advanced review copy of Mermin #3 (It will be on sale at SPX or from Weiser at his site. I use the term "review" in the interest of full disclosure, but honestly my 11-year old son came home, saw Mermin on my desk and said: "Hey, is that the latest issue of Mermin?" So really, it's only a review copy for a short while, then it becomes my son's coveted copy. The only other comic that makes his eyes light up and react like that is Langridge's Muppet Show. Mermin's storyline (a fish-boy washes up on the beach and is befriended by three kids) has hooked my son (as well as myself). In this issue, I also appreciated the design of the characters sent to come after Mermin. I'm looking forward to seeing where the story goes in issue 4, particularly given that Weiser tweeted to me after I praised 3 (and expressed interest in seeing where the story goes): "Hint: Things get cray-zay!"
Talk of Kody Chamberlain’s Sweets has been all over the Twitter lately and I finally decided I couldn’t wait for it anymore. I’ve read the first two issues and they’re every bit as cool as I’ve heard. Kody’s crafted a fine mystery and given us a couple of detectives I care about to solve it. Better than that though is the look he’s created for the series. Everything from the colorful palette to the antique fonts to his stylized, but detailed line-work puts me right in New Orleans during easier times. As does the important role that Southern cooking plays in the tale and the atmosphere. Kind of makes me feel at home, except for all the murders and the big storm all the characters say is coming.
When I was a kid, my mom used to make a dessert from three things I loathed on their own‹canned pears, coconut macaroons, and sour cream‹but that were delicious in combination. I never could figure that out. Joann Sfar's adaptation of The Little Prince is like that for me: I usually don't care much for Sfar's art, and I hated The Little Prince (it struck me as twee), but when Sfar illustrates The Little Prince, it's a whole 'nother story. In fact, as I read it, I felt that story is really well suited to the graphic novel format. He brings the narrator, author Antoine de Saint-Exupery, into the art, and Sfar's drawings are livelier and more robust than Saint-Exupery's thin line drawings. It is an audacious challenge to take on a much-beloved classic like this one, and a lot of advance reviewers seem to be put off because the graphic novel doesn't look much like the original, but I regard it as an improvement.
A Friendly Game is ironically named; it's the story of two friends whose dare escalates into the deadliest game of all. Both are young boys, maybe 10 or 12, which makes the book all the more shocking. They start out killing a mouse on a lark, then progress to larger and more complicated kills, assigning points to each according to difficulty. This escalates until one friend starts to falter, then takes a sharp turn in an even darker direction. It's not for the squeamish, but what keeps this book from being the graphic-novel equivalent of a splatter film is the story that runs through it, of one friend goading the other on, using both blame and shame to keep the other from betraying him. SLG Publishing gives the book a young adult rating, which gave me pause given the high level of violence, but I can see where it would hit a chord with teenagers. While the story is extreme, it is also a skillful portrayal of peer pressure, and of doubt and guilt. While it's a difficult book to read, the relationship between the two boys rings true, and the contrast between good and evil is evident but not clear-cut.
This is the third time I've read Ho Che Anderson's King -- the first was when it was serialized (three volumes in ten years, take that Bryan Hitch), the second when it was collected in trade a few years ago and now the third, a hardcover "Special Edition." Sadly, while I've come to appreciate it's better qualities more in the ensuing years, I still think it's a flawed, terribly uneven book that doesn't due it's subject -- Martin Luther King Jr. -- justice.
There are certainly high points. The book starts off strong enough, showing the bus boycotts and how portraying the steely hatred of racist southerners. And whenever Anderson deals with King's interpersonal relationships -- especially with his wife and family, the book is at its best. But it frequently gets bogged down, especially towards the end, in lengthy conversations about the effectiveness of King's nonviolence policy that go in circles. As a result, we learn a lot a bout the times, but not enough about the man. It doesn't help that Anderson frequently draws King in heavy shadow, to the point where by the last third he has to color King's speech balloons blue so you know which speaker is him. It's never a good sign you have to start color coding your word balloons.
Much better, in fact quite excellent really, is Anderson's more recent book, Sand & Fury: A Scream Queen Adventure. Freed from the burden of making a "serious" work, Anderson delves into some grim and gritty pulp material, and you can feel his relish and delight coming off the page. Sand basically deals with the story of a murdered woman who comes back from the dead as a banshee and eventually seeks revenge against her killer, who in turn may be a supernatural demon himself. It sounds like a Jim Balent comic, but Anderson creates a lovely noir atmosphere here, full of blood, sex and other nasty goings-on that never once becomes camp. It's a nice, effective little horror comic.
Ryan K Lindsay
I’m preparing to move house so plenty of stuff is in boxes, but the things that don’t get packed immediately are all of the baby items, in case he comes early before we’re in the new house, and an emergency stack of book supplies to keep me going over these next few weeks.
The Amazing Adventures of the EscapistI picked up the second volume of the Amazing Adventures of the Escapist through the Barnes & Noble remainder books sale. I have a massive history of love for the Escapist, a fictional comic creation by Michael Chabon in his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I’d easily claim the novel as my favourite book of all time (finally dislodging The Shining after a 12 year stay) and the comic additions have been very decent.
The first volume of the Amazing Adventures of the Escapist was good fun as this trade is working out to be as well. A slew of creators take stabs at giving us short tales of the Escapist and you never really know what to expect. Every writer uses a different voice, each artist finds a new angle and it works because the Escapist has been, supposedly, published over decades and been influenced by plenty of real creators and movements. An EC style tale, done. A Kirby-esque cosmic tale, done. Anything goes and it really opens the creators to have some fun and it’s good value to just sit back and enjoy.
But if you really dig the character you MUST seek out Brian K Vaughan’s The Escapists mini series as it just might be best supplemental tale to a novel ever published in comics form.
Marvel’s Icon ImprintDoing some packing is certainly a good way to catch up with old friends. I was rearranging some shelves and I came across my stack of comics published through Marvel’s Icon imprint. I had a good chance to sit down and just catch up on good ol’ times.
Incognito still packs a punch, and I cannot wait for the next series to begin. This first volume was my pick of top comic for last year and looking back over it I can see why. Sean Phillips makes it all look so dirty and yet real. If he does nothing but work with Ed Brubaker for the rest of his career I’d be a happy reader. I also dig that the book feels mired in the past as a pulpy pleasure but is also given a very new age feel through the female characters, mostly. Brubaker knows how to write some nasty chicks and does a great job of it here with both his superpowered and normal femmes.
I then picked up the first issue of Scarlet, again, and I’m still liking its vibe. I’m not a massive Bendis fan, but this series will hold me for a little while longer, that’s for sure. It’s kind of a shame you only get it bi-monthly but then that also works for me, it’s less of a monetary commitment and so is an easier fit into my budget. It means only one arc a year but when the quality of art is this good it’s well worth the wait.
I also got to look at Casanova (and yes, the Image floppies now sit in the Icon stack as their new home) and while the story has held up to many repeat readings by me ultimately it’s the back matter I love. Fraction really opens himself up in each issue and it’s almost like a personal conversation. He puts everything down on the page and sometimes after reading these journal entries (as they really are) I feel a little exhausted, as he most certainly is. It’s a taxing job to produce comics, and Fraction shows us this with each issue produced. I love that the reprints include new back matter, it’s just a classy move.
Marvel’s iAppI got an iPhone just weeks before Marvel launched, through ComiXology, their digital application for the masses, and I have not once looked back. Each week Marvel unleashes a glut of new and FREE material to this application and so far I have collected 66 free titles, and I haven’t even grabbed each one as it’s available. Most titles are released for one week only for free so you have to pounce quickly, like a lion in the Serengeti, but if you do you are duly rewarded.
Lately, they’ve been offering the first issues of some smaller titles so I’ve had the chance to sample Black Widow, Hawkeye & Mockingbird, Young Allies and Atlas debuts for free. They also generally give out the first issue of any newly added arc so you can get anything from JMS’ Thor to Runaways to Ultimate Spidey to Astonishing Spider-Man/Wolverine. I have plenty I haven’t read yet, but I’m saving them for the birth when I’m stuck crashing out on hospital floors, and my wife is passed out from all the screaming at me.
DaytripperThis is going to be the new comic you can hand to anyone to prove that this medium can hold itself up with any other. This tale has some serious gravity, which is interesting because we don’t even know if it all counts or not. In this we follow our main man, Bras, as he lives one day, and dies in it each time. Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba find new ways to kill off Bras so that each time the emotional impact is felt even more. They kill old man Bras, and little kid Bras and every time you know it’s coming but damn sure hope it isn’t.
Now there’s only one issue left and I can’t help but wonder what will happen. Will Bras finally survive an issue? Have all of these deaths been fantasy obituaries written by Bras himself? I don’t know the answer, and wouldn’t want to before I’ve read it all, but I am certainly intrigued. This series has stood out as such a stellar example of words and art mixed together and it’s masterful how well the creative twins have been able to capture the exact feeling of heart break, or familial love, or longing, or first love. They nail absolutely every issue and if this doesn’t get them an award somewhere down the track then the machine we’re in is broken and needs a maintenance repair man, stat.
Pregnancy BooksFinally, I’ve spent the last eight months reading lots of pregnancy books. And none of them have been in comic form. Is it too much to ask for Marvel to put out a pregnancy guide for the emerging fanfather? Instead of images of women I don’t know pregnant, how about a cross section of Emma Frost’s uterus (there’s a phrase that I never thought I’d type and will cause all sorts of grief for this site in searches)? Why can’t this information be packaged into a neat and tidy four colour bundle? And don’t think I’m not being serious.
I’m not expecting new superheroic names to be given to the stages of pregnancy, and I don’t want origin stories featuring colostrum, but a simple guide in comic form would be pretty handy. Instead I’ve had pages of thick and dense text to slay through and it’s not always fun. A comic guide, either Marvel or independent, would be much more soothing I feel, and lends itself to the diagram heavy style of the genre anyway.
But who to tap for the job? I don’t want these pregnant women sounding like Garth Ennis or Bendis so maybe I’d go for someone more like Kieron Gillen or Brian K Vaughan. The art could have multiple artists for the different phases, John Cassaday for that perky beginning, Frank Quietly for the brutal truth of late stage, and the Dodson’s for that breast feeding after glow. Whattayathink?