To see what Akira the Don and the Robot 6 crew are reading, click below.
I finally caught up with Alpha Flight #2 this week with the return of Puck. I like the way he's a little unhinged after his time in Hell with Wolverine. He should be unhinged after that. But he's also still very much Puck, and I appreciate that even more. In the Unity Party, Van Lente and Pak have created a group of villains that I'm learning to hate with relish. They're not as overtly cool as, say, the Master, but they hit where it hurts most,and I'm looking forward to their comeuppance.
I also read Mystery Men #3 and though I'm not souring on the project, I'm not as excited as I was after the first issue. It keeps introducing new characters to join the team and while they're interesting, there are already so many of them that no one's getting the attention they deserve. Hopefully we're done adding members now and the next couple of issues will let us get to know them better and tie everything together.
As I read The Vault #1, it felt very much like an adaptation of a movie that hasn't been made yet. There's a diverse cast of characters in a tense setting and a cool reveal of the high concept on the last page, but the story that ties it all together feels clipped. Like it's just hitting the high points from a movie script without taking the time to get me invested in any of the characters. Now that I know that it's already being developed as a movie, that all makes sense. It very much reads like a comic that was created specifically to pitch a film, even if it's not. I think I'll wait to see the rest of it in that format.
Ending the week on a high note though, I read Cole Haddon and MS Corley's The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde #1. It's like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen except I don't need annotations to feel like I'm getting the whole story. Haddon includes some cool cameos in the script (Hello, Dr. Moreau!) and Corley's artwork is even sort of reminiscent of Kevin O'Neill. A different way to sum it up - Hollywood style - is Silence of the Lambs meets From Hell with Jack the Ripper as Buffalo Bill and Mr. Hyde's taking the place of Hannibal Lector. That description captures none of the charm and action of the finished comic though. Inspector Thomas Adye is a serious young man, but there's some very subdued humor in his weariness and that makes him likable. Haddon and Corley also know how to present a creepy Ripper and lay out a mean Underground chase sequence. I'm very excited to catch up on the rest of the series this week.
Vertical puts out a new volume of Black Jack every two months, so you can count on that being on my stack every two months as well. Volume 15 is a little odd. The first story mixes violence and sentimentality in almost equal measures as thugs torture Black Jack to find out where his money is stashed, and it turns out that (spoiler alert!) he spent it on an island tomb for a dear friend. Another story sermonizes about the evils of plastic surgery. Still, the stories are entertaining and you can't beat Black Jack for some good summer pulp.
Still in the manga realm, I got an advance look at one of Kodansha's new series debuting in August: Cage of Eden is a sort of cross between Lord of the Flies and Jurassic Park; a planeload of teenagers crashes on a remote island filled with prehistoric creatures—some large and bloodthirsty, some small and cute. Ordinary guy Akira, his brainy friend Mariya (whose laptop, thankfully, survives the crash—it's the manga equivalent of Piggy's spectacles), and perpetually bewildered but well-endowed flight attendant Kanako are somehow ejected from the plane, and they learn of their companions' fate from a video left in a video camera. With prehistoric-animal violence, a weird mystery, and plenty of fanservice, it's manga doing what manga does best.
In complete contrast to this, Allen Say's Drawing from Memory is a lovely, quiet, beautifully drawn memoir of a boy who wanted to draw manga. It's a picture book for older readers, filled with sketches, photographs, and illustrations of the people in Say's life. This is not a shonen manga—there is no noble struggle, no shaking of fists and vows to be the best manga-ka ever—just the story of a lonely boy who was more or less abandoned by his parents and taken in as a student by a kindly older man who just happened to be drawing one of the most popular manga in Japan at the time (1950). It's an unusual book and presents a very different view of the manga industry than what we are accustomed to seeing.
Favorites: The Team Cul de Sac Fanzine/benefit book is an impressive collection (edited by my pal, blogger/scholar Craig Fischer [http://thepanelists.org/]). Don't ask me to pick my favorite essay, the fanboy in me digs Ben Towle's dissection of Archie Goodwin/Walt Simonson's Manhunter; the critic in me was shocked to discover that both Noah Berlatsky and I share an appreciation for Jim Aparo; and there's a tie (between Ana Merino and Sean Kleefeld) for the most engaging personal essays about people impacted by reading comics. It's a hell of a 40-page read for a damn fine cause. As detailed at the website: "The cost is $5.00 plus $1.25 shipping and handling. (All the money that isn’t spent on envelopes and postage will go to Team Cul de Sac, and research into a cure for Parkinson’s disease.)" And any Richard Thompson fan will love the cover.
Superman #714: Sigh. As much as Chris Roberson salvaged a crappy JMS storyline and made it a delightful read, I hate hate hate that this storyline was the sendoff to the current incarnation of Superman. I would have enjoyed seeing what Roberson might explore with the whole "Supermen of America" network (which included several superwomen, despite the name). I have to say the plot resolution for Grounded had a Silver Age vibe to it--not sure if that is thanks to Roberson or JMS, but I did get a slight pleasure from that. Sadly I do not think Grounded will be looked back with fondness in the way many of us view 1986's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
Hulk #38: Jeff Parker is one sneaky bastard as he actually has figured out a way to write a new improved M.O.D.O.K. that wields as much wit as he has power--and possibly (God help us, introduce an opportunity for a love life. I'm not really digging this whole Fear Itself event, but I do appreciate the ability of some creators (like Parker) to build engaging tales out of the ruins of this event. Fellow Hulk fans, has Annie always called Red Hulk "Thad" or is this an acknowledgment of increasing affection on the LMD's part?
Snarked #0: Roger Langridge is the best creator producing All Ages comics. This special issue is a bargain at $1.00. Rather than sound like a stuck record, go back and read the intro to my Langridge interview to see how highly I regard this new creator-owned project.
Mighty World Of Marvel
I was pulled back into the Marvel Universe after a multi-year post -Civil War hiatus by one of these ill-ass Panini collections us Britishers can pick up in newsagents. I'd woken up on the floor of a strange house in Brixton the day after my bachelor party and had a 70 minute bus ride back to Olympic East London with the Godfather of all hangovers and a borked back (I had inexplicably decided I had superpowers and thrown myself down a flight of stairs on the way out of whatever club we'd ended up at the previous night), so I needed something engrossing to take my mind of the almighty pain and shame that clung to my personage like bricks. I fell into a newsagent, pulled myself up on my elbows and was faced with the leering face of Norman Osborne in an Iron Man suit clutching A COSMIC CUBE with shapeshifting asshole Hank Pym in it.
"Woah," I said, softly. I apologised to the newsagent, bought the comic, and hauled my sorry carcass onto the top of a double decker, where my world of pain became a world of joy, as I fell back into a familiar world of espionage and lunacy told across 76 beautiful pages of ridiculous fights involving seventeen weirdoes in tights swapping bad jokes and punching the crap out of each other.
Stuff was much as I remembered it, except the bad guys seem to be running the world which seems to me to be at once a way more realistic and way more fun state for a superhero universe to be in. And that was it. I thought I was out, but they'd pulled me back in again…
Amazing Spider-Man #666
Now, a few months later, I am reading flipping Spider-Man for the first time in a decade, and it seems to be in better shape than its been since JM DeMatteis and Sal Buscema were killing off the Vulture and I was waiting for my balls to sprout hair. It is SO FLIPPING FUN. Peter Parker is young again, spending seemingly 24 hours a day swinging around Manhattan being flipping Spider-Man, rather than mooning about over his wife or whatever it was that bored me to the point of not reading it anymore a decade or so ago. He's in the Fantastic Four. He's in the Avengers (who sit around being seedy and playing cards). He says things like, "But first things first. A quick adjustment to my unstable molecule suit", and does actual science.
Spider-world is a great big maniacal smorgasbord of action and intrigue. Some unspeakable supervillianous fakery means that bedbugs are giving people spider powers, and Manhattan is crawling with souped-up web spinners. Meanwhile sometime spider-boo Betty Brant is a self proclaimed "one woman newsblog" blogging from hospital much to the chagrin of her boyfriend FLASH FLIPPING THOMPSON who protests, "Betts! You were targeted by the Crime meter! Strapped to a bomb! And the recent victim of a violent assault!" FLASH FLIPPING THOMPSON meanwhile is flipping VENOM, doing sneaky superviolent CIA type shit for the government. Sweet baby jesus on a hoverboard, it is nuts in Spiderland! Beautifully drawn, deceptively simple but cleverly interwoven nuts that never feels cluttered, or confusing, or anything other than delirious FUN. Damn! I thought I was out…
Cerebus passed me by in the, um, past, apart from when he turned up in Spawn that one time, but last year one of my reader listeners started sending me the phone books every few months, and I got hooked instantly, and am now over half way through the thing.
What a ride it's been! From Conan parody to the meaning of life and the birth of the universe, via some of the most gripping character envelopment and the greatest speech bubbles in comics history. It even stopped being a comic a few phone books back and turned into a great big angry patience-testing lady-lambasting wah-fest presumably inspired by the writer's divorce, or something, but in Guys it is back on track, and a comic once more, exploring with documentary-detail and almost clinical attentiveness the nature of the Male in one of his natural habitats: the pub. Indeed, 407 pages of dudes sat around in a pub drinking and thinking and occasionally falling of bar stools might not sound like the most riveting thing in the world, yet somehow it is. It is sad, sweet, ugly, beautiful and unflinchingly raw meditation on the triumph and tragedy of the conditioned human male. With some jaw-droppingly amazing speech bubbles.
Batman and Robin Must Die
I just got back off of honeymoon, which myself and my new wife spent on a tiny Greek island, frolicking in the surf and reading Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin run in its glorious entirety in the hotel pool on a lilo. I'd been Waiting For The Trade on the thing since the third issue… the month plus wait for a new issue was was proving too painful and distracting, so I hung a poster of the first issue's cover on the wall above my twin monitors as a sort of inspirational sigil and left it alone for a year, in which time I made five mixtapes and completed my second album, knowing my reward was imminent.
And what a reward. It looks better than any superhero comics in recent memory, From Frank Quitely's scratch scratchy all action carnie-ballet at the start to Frazer Irving's Warhol-With-Photoshop Korean horror movie climax. And it reads like some all consuming Hitchcockian revenge fantasy, the story deepening and spiraling further with every page turn, a thrashing multi-layered abyss-dream with so many OH FUCK moments I had jaw ache by the end of the thing. I read it three times over in a week and if I were still out there on that fucking paradise island I would probably still be reading it, and still finding new things to go OH FUCK at.
My only complaint is the brevity of Tim and Damian's tenure before Pappa Bruce swashbuckles back into the picture. I could have had years of those two finding their way, but never mind. By the time I've finished another fistful of mixtures and my third album, the Multiversity will have explained away the DC Universe Reboot, or whatever they're calling it, and there'll be three trades worth of Batman Inc stories for me to enjoy on a lilo on some tropical island I've bought with the proceeds of my second album. I better switch the poster above my desk...