Happy Veterans Day and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at the comics, books and other things we've been perusing of late. Today our special guest is Brady Sullivan, the writer of Death Springs, a free weekly webcomic with artist JC Grande (Image's Johnny Monster). He also has several print projects currently out or hitting the shelves soon, including the recently released action/satire Revolution Aisle 9.
To see what Brady and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below ...
I finally caught up with every one else on the planet this week and read the first Saga trade. A decent comic, that. I like the characters, Vaughan's world-making, Fiona Staples' art. I don't like the annoying narrator's voice yanking the reader's chain all the time. I could do without that. I'll keep buying it for now, I reckon.
Finally bought that Knight And Squire collection, due to some constant nagging from certain quarters of t'internet, enjoyed that, while realizing Paul Cornell is something of a one-trick pony. But he does that one trick well, so he'll keep getting gainful employment. Liked "Jimmy Broxton"'s art a lot. Reminded me of Fegredo's a little.
Greatest thing I read this week was definitely Krent Able's Big Book Of Mischief. Gleefully nasty, taking the public personas of rock stars and reshaping them into horrifying, hilarious simulacra. Reminded me of all the best vintage undergrounds, but probably even more depraved. Only for those of us with the blackest of senses of humor.
With John Constantine's impending New-52 exclusivity in mind, I re-read 1990's Books Of Magic miniseries. Written by Neil Gaiman, with art by John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess and Paul Johnson, at the time it was literally a magical mystery tour of DC's superhero-grounded books. Tour guides were Constantine, the Phantom Stranger, Doctor Occult and Mister E. BOM also introduced boy magician Tim Hunter, positioning him as the Next Big Thing in DC magic. Then and now, however, its draw for me was its all-encompassing look at a side of the superhero books which really got very little play. This was three years before Vertigo's launch, so Constantine, the Dreaming, Madame Xanadu, et al., were still well-connected to the superhero line. Accordingly, the book gets a little funky in the fourth issue, when Mister E's tour of the future includes glimpses of OMAC and Space Cabbie (!); but it comes back around with Mordru and Sorcerer's World, and gets downright chilling showing the descent of Dr. Fate. The overall effect is still dizzying, but at the same time thrilling, since it shows how these forces can be both separate from the superheroes' adventures while remaining informed by them.
I liked Simon Baz's encounter with the Justice League Green Lantern #14 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Doug Mahnke, inked by committee) pretty well, mostly because Johns and Mahnke have given Simon a sense of humor. That goes a long way toward lightening the otherwise-paranoid mood. I also appreciated the subplot maintenance which advanced the larger "Third Army" narrative. However, I'm hoping that the book will pick up more speed soon. For various reasons I am no longer able to re-read single issues like I used to, so I've become even more dependent on long-term memory to tie each new issue to its predecessors. In other words, it helps if each issue is itself memorable -- which, of course, is how the old newsstand-oriented comics used to work. It seems I am regressing even as the comics themselves advance.
The review copy of Heart of Thomas that arrived at my house on Friday is not only heavy in physical terms, it is weighted with expectations as well: This vintage shoujo manga by Moto Hagio, first published in 1974, is regarded by many people whom I respect as one of the great classics of shoujo manga, as well as one of the pioneering boys-love stories. It's hard to enjoy a book with so much context to it, and I'll admit that for the first 40 pages or so, it was a tough sell. The characters just seem kind of mopey, and it romanticizes suicide to a degree that seems dated and overly sentimental. At the same time, though, Hagio's storytelling, in terms of paneling and composition, is quite sophisticated. That's what kept me going, and I'm glad, because now that I'm further in, the story is looking a lot stronger and it no longer seems like a chore to read, the way classics sometimes do. The art is definitely dated, but I think most of the people who pick this volume up will be doing so because of its status as a classic, and Fantagraphics is certainly treating it that way: The whole 500-page story is contained in a single, oversized (for manga), hardcover volume, so it has a deluxe feel to it.
House of Five Leaves will be a classic someday, I'm sure. It's a samurai manga that omits most of the standard ingredients—there isn't a lot of sword fighting (and much of what does happen is offscreen), the main character is not driven by a strong desire for revenge or honor, and while there is some period detail, it's just a setting, not a big deal. Natsume Ono's simple, linear style is reminiscent of classic Japanese woodblock prints, with strong areas of black and white, and she often breaks the page into narrow panels, which heightens the effect. The main character is a diffident former samurai who lost his job because he wasn't intimidating enough; while he's an excellent swordsman, he is just too much of a mensch to be a good samurai. But he has no choice; he has come to Edo to learn to be fiercer and somehow earn enough money to get his family out of debt. He can't keep a job, even as a bodyguard, but he falls in with a gang of thieves, the Five Leaves, who have turned kidnapping into a serious business. The story unfolds slowly, as Ono introduces each character and lets little bits of backstory slip in one at a time, but the reveals are clever enough, and the pacing is good enough, to keep me reading. The eighth and final volume is out this month.
Eat More Bikes by Nathan Bulmer -- Anyone who has read Tucker Stone's weekly column over at The Comics Journal website should be familiar with Bulmer's work, as Stone highlights it pretty heavily in his column. This is the first issue of what I assume/hope will be an ongoing series, published by Koyama Press. It's basically a collection of gag strips -- some of them off-color, slightly offensive or involving blood or body fluids, but just about all of them prove to be really, really funny. Bulmer not afraid to go for the obvious, or even dumb, joke if it will work and his timing, especially in the opening sequence, where he attempts to allay parental concerns, is spot-on. Basically, I had a great time reading this and I'm betting that you will too.
Lovers' Lane: The Hall-Mills Mystery by Rick Geary -- This is the lastest chapter in Geary's ongoing "Treasury of 20th Century Murder," and concerns an unsolved death of a minister and married woman that seemed to have been conducting a lengthy affair. Geary doesn't delve into supposition, but merely presents as many facts surrounding the case as he can and leaves it to the reader to suss out what happened. As usual, he proves to be an adept and thoroughly engrossing storyteller and Lovers' Lane is another excellent entry in this rather admittedly macabre series.
Hawkeye #1-3 – Step aside, Daredevil, there’s a new “best mainstream comic” on the shelves. I was initially hesitant to pick this book up, despite the great reviews I was reading. The covers are clever and gorgeous, but this is comics, we’ve all been tricked into buying bad books by awesome covers before. More than that, I really had no strong feelings on the character of Hawkeye and figured a book starring him would be canceled pretty damn quick in this new “only the strongest will survive” Marvel publishing plan. But I relented to an avalanche of good press and gave it a shot anyway.
Hawkeye is the very definition of a book firing on all cylinders. The writing, art, coloring and lettering all work together seamlessly to create a book unlike anything else coming out of the big two. Hell, this thing feels more unique and indie than books coming out of Image and Dark Horse. It’s clever, well-paced, action-packed fun. Fraction has created a comic that tells standalone stories while still creating a bigger world from scratch, a side to this character that nobody has seen before. Who knew that Hawkeye, an Avengers star we usually see fighting world-conquering threats, would be the best street-level hero at Marvel in 2012? By placing Hawkeye in a gritty urban setting, giving him an actual supporting cast (Pizza Dog!), and showing off what makes a guy who shoots arrows unique, Fraction has given us a take on the character that feels fresh and rich for exploration.
I also respect that Fraction draws a line in the sand with the current status quo of Marvel creative on the very first page of issue 1: in a re-creation of Hawkeye’s biggest moment from the Avengers movie, the death-defying stunt that works so well on screen fails miserably here, landing him in the hospital. We didn’t get a ton of character development of Hawkeye in Avengers, but from what we did see this is certainly not that guy. While Marvel pushes other properties to more closely resemble their big-screen (and big money-maker) counterparts, they have seemingly stopped at Hawkeye’s costume and let Fraction craft an entirely new take on the character. A take that, as long as the book doesn’t get prematurely canceled, I think will redefine him for years to come.
Flying Sparks – If it wasn’t for Flying Sparks, I wouldn’t be writing Death Springs. Like many comic creators who write for print, I had a certain preconceived notion about webcomics: basically that it was the realm of poorly drawn comic strips about gaming humor or furries. So when I came across Flying Sparks thanks to its creator Jon Del Arroz (who, I should disclose, has become a good friend and collaborator since I discovered his comic), I was incredibly impressed. This was a real comic, but free! This led me down the rabbit hole into the world of top-notch webcomics, of which there are many.
The concept of Flying Sparks is deceptively simple: a hero and villain in love. An up-and-coming superhero named Meta-Girl (aka Chloe) falls head-over-heels for Johnny, an electric-powered black market arts dealer (commonly known as a “fence.” Clever, eh?), without either one realizing they’re truly at odds. Under that simple premise the comic is able to delve into the kind of stuff that made me fall in love with early Marvel comics: an equal balance of super-powered action and personal/relationship drama. The fleshed out supporting cast add comic relief, and long-gestating plots make reading week to week rewarding for those with the attention-span to keep up. And this is certainly no MSPaint webcomic disaster, Jethro Morales, the regular artist for Flying Sparks, just got picked up to be the artist for Dynamite’s latest Green Hornet series. This is the real deal, people. If you make it past some rough patches in art for the first 2 issues (which I hear are being redone by the current art team), you might just have a new appreciation for webcomics. I did.
Kasher in the Rye - Moshe Kasher, despite being a hilarious comedian, isn’t a household name (unless you live in a house with a comedy nerd, like me), and his memoir is a perfect example of why. First off, by giving it the title Kasher in the Rye (as hard to resist as that pun may be), he made it nearly impossible to ask a bookstore employee whether they had it in stock. Even I almost gave up after getting enough confused stares from shelf-stockers who thought I couldn’t pronounce “Catcher.” But beyond that, Moshe Kasher’s book is not a cheap cash-in filled with crowd-pleasing childhood and showbiz anecdotes, like many comedians’, but instead a fiercely, at times uncomfortably, honest narration of his life until the age of 16. Of course his adolescent life wasn’t exactly the norm.
A Jewish boy with two deaf parents, splitting time between his father’s extreme orthodox neighborhood and his mother’s home in a rough section of Oakland, Kasher’s early life was filled with drugs, alcohol, theft, gangs, vandalism, expulsions, rehabs and even a mental institution. Yeah, he had a busy childhood. Throughout his harrowing tale, Kasher fluctuates between hilarious anecdotes about the colorful characters he’d meet in his juvenile delinquent adventures and painful memories about his lowest of moments (hitting his own mother and filling his room with cups of pee, for example), but Kasher never flinches from telling us exactly what he did and why, at the time, he thought it was ok. Of course it doesn’t hurt that Kasher is an extremely talented comedian, making silly asides and flights of fancy a welcome break from the darkness of his actual life at the time.
What makes the book work is that Kasher is looking back at his rocky childhood without defending it or condemning it (ok, he pretty much has to condemn a few parts ...). He’s simply discussing it as an extremely changed man who can own his worst decisions, and even find the funny in them, without letting them define him.