Welcome once again to What Are You Reading? This week our special guest is Justin Aclin, editor of ToyFare magazine and writer of Hero House and S.H.O.O.T. First, which you can read on MySpace Dark Horse Presents. To see what Justin and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click below ...
DC was kind enough to send me a copy of the new collected edition of Wednesday Comics, though It took a bit longer to reach me as my office space moved to a new location. Anyway, reading through the anthology for a second time, I found myself being a bit more forgiving and generous to most of the stories I had previously dismissed or disdained. Overall, I think having the chapters bound together and printed on glossy paper actually rewards the contributions a bit more. That's certainly the case with Ben Caldwell's Wonder Woman story, which is the most formally daring and interesting piece in the book, though not necessarily the most successful.
No, I think my favorite piece by far is the Flash story by Karl Kerschl and Brenden Fletcher, which manages to reference both silver age superheroics and the soap opera strips of the same time period and use them to not only create a stirring adventure but connect on a more emotional level regarding Barry and Iris' relationship. It's a smart, invigorating work with flashes of genuine genius.
As for the rest of the book, it mostly exists on the level of "beautiful to look at, story isn't much." Some, like Paul Pope's Adam Strange and Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner's Supergirl, rise above this, but most -- the Deadman story, the Batman tale, the Green Lantern bit -- don't. That's not necessarily a deal-breaker. These entries are certainly enjoyable on an immediate "eyeball" level and make good use of the larger page (only the Demon/Catwoman mash-up and the Teen Titans tale sink like a stone), but there's no getting away from the fact that most of these stories play in the shallow end of the story pool. I'm grateful for both the book and the experiment, but I hope if they do a sequel the writers take a few more chances as well.
Sean T. Collins
I was on the artcomix end of the street this week. Click the links for reviews:
Lose #1-2 by Michael DeForge: You can see why DeForge won the Doug Wright award for promising new talent in the first two issues of his one-man anthology title, featuring very funny comedy and very creepy horror.
Gags and Sloe Black by Michael DeForge: Weirder, more lo-fi zines from DeForge--still very funny.
New Painting and Drawing by Ben Jones: This may be the most viscerally exciting-to-look at art book I've ever seen.
Captain America #606 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Butch Guice) was a good start to a new storyline featuring Baron Zemo and a Bucky/Cap who's feeling a little, shall we say, conflicted about gunning down '50s Cap last time around. (That last bit, by the way, is recapped in a psychedelic flashback panel whose choice of homage was a very pleasant surprise.) So yadda yadda yadda, it's Zemo Jr. vs. Cap Jr., and it gets those preliminaries out of the way efficiently by incorporating the adversaries' character issues into the plot. That leaves just Zemo vs. Cap in the proverbial deadly came of cat and mouse, and that sounds like a pretty entertaining arc.
It was good for Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Chris Batista to get the Justice League International comparisons out in the open in their second issue of Booster Gold (#33). Those scenes take up most of the issue, and of course they hit all the notes and beats of the JLI style ... but at the same time, they work pretty seamlessly with the rest of the issue. (One difference which doesn't feel that different is J'Onn's first-person narrative captioning, which in the old days would have been a series of thought balloons.) The banter between Rip Hunter and his "granddaughter" Rani, and Booster's battle with Brigadoom, both echo those JLI rhythms. However, "our" Booster's interactions with his friends and colleagues demonstrate pretty clearly that (gasp!) he's more mature, and Booster Gold doesn't rely exclusively on previous work. This issue came out the same week as the latest Generation Lost, so the combination sends the message that Giffen is movingon, even if he's not quite done with these characters.
Finally, I liked a good bit of Batman #700, although I have to say it's not my favorite Batman centennial issue. That remains the first one I read, issue #300's "The Last Batman Story," by David V. Reed and Walt Simonson. (And it still comes in second to Detective Comics #500.) Set in the not-too-distant future, when Bruce's temples are grey and Dick has graduated to Neal Adams' "adult Robin" costume, it finds the aging Dynamic Duo going into action one last time to stop a color-coded conspiracy. Subsequent centennials were tied into ongoing storylines: issue #400's gauntlet of villains, with Ra's al Ghul at the end; issue #500's takedown of Bane by Jean-Paul Valley; and issue #600's "Bruce Wayne, Murderer" installment. So this issue #700's story of time travel and Batmen Through The Ages was a nice change of pace, if a bit uneven. For example, I'm not sure why Scott Kolins went for a quasi-animated style when everyone else's artwork was more "realistic." I would also have preferred more story to the pinups, or at least more veteran Batman artists on the pinups. The Batcave map was a nice touch, though.
This week I got caught up on a couple of friends’ projects that I’ve been meaning to read. The first issue of Mystery Society was a lot of fun. When I wrote about looking forward to it in an old Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs column, I mentioned that it sounded similar in premise to John Rozum’s Midnight, Mass (which is not at all a bad thing since I loved that concept and think there’s lots of room to play with it). It’s not surprising that Mystery Society takes a different angle to the Thin Man meets X-Files idea, but I didn’t expect the larger team approach that Steve Niles is apparently taking. Instead of just having a witty, wealthy couple solve supernatural crimes by themselves, there seems to be an actual “society” forming with the first member being Secret Skull from the mini-series that Niles did with Chuck BB (Black Metal) a few years ago. As a sucker for crossovers and universe-building, I love that.
I also read The Perhapanauts Special: Molly’s Story written by Scott Weinstein and illustrated by my pal Jason Copland. I’m not that familiar with these characters (I mistakenly bought the confusingly titled Perhapanauts, Volume 1: Triangle from Image thinking it was where the story began and haven’t yet gone back to buy Perhapanauts, Volume 1: First Blood from Dark Horse to correct my error), but I didn’t need to be to enjoy the creepiness and heroism present in Molly’s Story. It’s a standalone tale that makes me want to track down the collections I’m missing and read more about its main character.
Finally, I read Agents of Atlas, Volume 3: Turf Wars and I feel sort of the way I do after a great meal: comfortably satisfied and already starting to think about the next one.
At the top of my stack this week is the Muppet Show graphic novel The Treasure of Peg-Leg Wilson. I'm probably not a good candidate for these books, as I never watched the show, but I get it, and it's pretty funny in places. Roger Langridge's art is sweet. All the characters have a lot of personality and even though he crams the pages full of figures and action, the threads are always easy to follow. I have a hard time seeing this as a kids' comic, though. It's crammed full of dated allusions—a line from Casablanca, a mock Gilbert & Sullivan skit, and the Electric Mayhem band, which is straight out of 1967. Do kids these days get that? The story is pretty nonlinear—there's a treasure hunt, a Kermit impersonator, and a mad scientist who is trying to raise Monster's evolutionary status, and the different storylines all get tangled up with Star Trek skits and odd little jokes. I think a lot of kids would have trouble following it, but I can also see kids getting a real belly laugh out of the goofy jokes.
After blogging about Ed Piskor's Wizzywig, I downloaded the first two volumes of the graphic novel. He has a fascinating topic—the misfit who becomes a phone phreak and an early hacker—and I like the ingenuity of his protagonist, Kevin Phenicle. I'm only a few chapters in, but my biggest criticism so far is that there is too much narration. Big chunks of the exposition occur in text boxes at the top of the panels, or in thought balloons. Piskor is reformatting the comic as a webcomic now, and I'm looking forward to seeing how he refines it. His art is a classic underground-comix style, fairly realistic with a decent amount of detail, and you can see the R. Crumb influence, especially in the original, where he uses a lot of hatching. He's using toning in the new comics, and his style is a bit more sophisticated—I think it's a big improvement.
Thanks to the Robot 6 crew for letting me rant about comics in a public forum. The best thing about working in Wizard central is that you get access to every major release, every week. So I read a whole lot of comics, but these are a few of my recent and ongoing favorites.
Secret Six: I think Gail Simone is a criminally underrated writer. She’s one of the best things DC has going right now, and this is her best book—it’s hilarious and hardcore and unpredictable in a way that very few continuity comics manage to pull off. The way that she gets you to root for the bad guy, then pulls the rug out to remind you how bad they really are, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call it The Sopranos of superhero comics.
Fantastic Four: Marvel’s the spot for a lot of really exciting new-ish writers right now like Jason Aaron and Jonathan Hickman, and the fact that they’re able to put out work that’s so idiosyncratic and plays so much to their strengths says a lot about the way things are run over there. I’ve enjoyed a lot of FF runs over the years, but in just a few issues Hickman’s run has become my defining Fantastic Four. I don’t care if Thing never throws another punch, I’d read 100 issues of Reed Richards being the smartest guy in the room if Hickman was writing it.
Beasts of Burden: I’ve mentioned this in interviews, but Beasts of Burden is what inspired me to create S.H.O.O.T. First, just by virtue of how awesome it is. Jill Thompson’s artwork is clearly gorgeous, but what really floored me was how emotionally affecting Evan Dorkin was able to make it (translation: I cried) without it feeling like cheap manipulation. All that, plus monsters and magic and cute animals.
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: This is my favorite Bendis book right now by a country mile. The shared universe has always been my favorite part of superhero comics, and I love the fact that they didn’t try to rebrand this book as “Ultimate Young Super-Allies” or something. It’s a book about Spider-Man, but Spider-Man happens to live with Human Torch and Iceman and a girl who used to be Carnage and down the block from Nova. It’s just so damn fun.
Axe Cop: This webcomic was hot poop on Twitter a couple of months ago, but I want to give it a special shout-out because it managed to do something amazing: the joke has not worn out at all. And you can entirely chalk that up to the fact that it’s written by a 6-year-old (Malachai Nicolle, and drawn by his much older brother Ethan). You never think, “Ho-hum, a gun that shoots a tornado of unicorns and bullets. He’s trying too hard now.” Because a 6-year-old has unlimited enthusiasm, and it will never feel like he’s trying too hard. His plot twists are brilliant. Please, keep reading Axe Cop.