What Are You Reading? with Chris Smits

Happy Presidents Day weekend, America, and happy Sunday to everyone else. Welcome to a very presidential What Are You Reading?, which really isn't that different than a regular one, but you can imagine every entry being written by Daniel Day-Lewis if you'd like.

Today our special guest is Chris Smits, publisher of Aw Yeah Comics Publishing! and blogger at Creator-Owned Comics. Aw Yeah Comics, of course, is the all-ages comics series being created by Art Baltazar and Franco, with help from folks like Mark Waid, Brad Meltzer, Jason Aaron and many others ... including Chris. If you'd like to get your hands on the adventures of Awesome Bear, Daring Dog, Polar Cycle, Marquaid, Action Cat and more, then let me point you to their Kickstarter campaign, which has hit its goal but you can still get in on the fun (and the comics!)

And to see what Chris and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.


Brigid Alverson

I don't read a lot of science fiction, so perhaps the problem is with me and not with the book, but I'm finding vol. 1 of Knights of Sidonia rather hard to follow. It's a story about a teenage boy who has been drifting out in space, living alone once his grandfather died, spending his days practicing piloting his giant robot, until one day he runs out of food, goes to get some, and somehow ends up in civilization. As far as I can make out, he was in an isolated wing of a giant spaceship, but that's never made clear. The setup is that Earth has been destroyed and humankind is now living in space, evolving in different ways--they can photosynthesize, for instance, so they don't need to eat, there are new genders (that are self-replicating), and they have mastered the art of cloning, which results in an array of identical blonde teenage girls who keep popping up in awkward moments (hello, manga!). The book subscribes to the basic illogical trope by which teenagers are responsible for defending civilization (anyone who has spent time with teenagers knows this is a perilous course of action), so Nagate will be piloting a mech to fight against the formless, baby-faced, tentacle monsters that threaten civilization. Despite the elliptical storyline, this is a fun book to read; the art is smooth and easy to grasp, although the characters are hard to tell apart, and Nagate's new life in civilization starts out with a series of pratfalls. I'm halfway through the first volume and I'm hoping that the story will be clearer by the end.

I'm on firmer ground with Judge Dredd: Origins, which collects stories from Progs 1500-1535 of 2000AD. I haven't read a lot of Judge Dredd but the story is pretty easy to follow. Tougher to deal with is the shift in the art from the first arc, illustrated by Kev Walker's dreamy, almost Hellboy-esque style, to Carlos Ezquerra's more colorful and detailed art in the second arc. It must be said that the different art styles fit the two parts of the story perfectly--I can't imagine what it would be like if the artists were switched. The story, which meanders quite a bit, takes Dredd out into the hinterlands in search of the body of his clone-ancestor, Judge Fargo--or maybe someone else. It's action-packed and witty and sometimes ridiculous, but definitely a fun read.

Tom Bondurant

I enjoyed Katana #1 (written by Ann Nocenti, drawn by Alex Sanchez, colored by Matt Yackey) right from the first page. Sanchez' tight, slightly stylized work uses forced perspective effectively, making Katana fairly lunge out of the page at the reader. It certainly pulled me into the story, which is a good blend of character moments and fight scenes. I haven't been reading Birds Of Prey, so this was my first real exposure to the character. Not surprisingly, she's a seasoned warrior who knows how to negotiate a no-questions-asked living arrangement and can find her way into a seedy den of exposition. However, Nocenti presents those scenes nimbly and with good humor. (I especially liked meeting the landlord.) Moreover, this is simply a pretty comic, thanks to Sanchez' intricate work and Yackey's comparable attention to detail. There's a two-page, three-tiered spread towards the end of the issue which is all combat, but it really comes alive thanks to its use of white space and the attention paid to the color palette. This doesn't feel like a Justice League or Birds of Prey spinoff. It stands on its own very well.

Superboy #17 (written by Tom DeFalco, pencilled by R.B. Silva, inked by Rob Lean) is the latest chapter of "H'El On Earth," in which Superboy, Superman, and the Justice League must stop H'El and Supergirl from destroying the Solar System. It's also basically a series of fights, mostly involving Superboy, and as such it seems to mark time while the real action waits for the next issue of Superman. Because it features Superboy versus The Herald, who's the advance rep for an intergalactic world-destroyer, I was halfway expecting writer Tom DeFalco to draw on his old Fantastic Four chops for some self-referential fun; but instead it's all very serious, right down to a mention of the "Balance Cosmic." It looks nice, and it may read well in the collection, but it feels a little thin here.

Finally, writer Brian Wood uses Star Wars #2 (drawn by Carlos D'Anda) for some character-building of his own, focused mainly on Leia and Wedge. It sort-of reminded me of a Legion of Super-Heroes approach, where everyone is defined at least in part by their home planets, because Leia watches old Alderaan tourist ads and Wedge says "Never tell a Corellian the odds." When minor characters are introduced later on (including more from Alderaan and Corellia), they too are identified similarly. It risks being over-simple, but it reminds the reader of the stakes at the heart of the Rebellion. Meanwhile, Woods' new villain, Colonel Bircher, gets two pages to show off his particular hard edge. Oh, and there's some space combat with Han and Chewie aboard the Falcon, on the way to their own tantalizing undercover mission. This was a good second issue, laying some groundwork, reminding the reader of the overall plot, and keeping it moving forward.

Chris Smits

Trying to get caught up in my reading pile, so I'm not sure how current some of these books are. One thing I noticed while picking out which books to write about is the fact that Dark Horse has suddenly invaded my buy pile in a way they haven't been able to do in decades.

The Answer #1 by Mike Norton, Dennis Hopeless, Mark Englert, Crank!

My first experience with The Answer was in Four Star Studios' Double Feature digital comic app for the iPad. It sparked my interest back then and seeing it in print is even more fun. Mike Norton has a style that I think fits every kind of tale you could want to tell. He and Hopeless do a good job of establishing a sense of mystery, conspiracy and adventure in this first issue, and I'm definitely sticking around for the whole four issue series. Good stuff.

Indestructible Hulk #3 by Mark Waid, Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Sunny Gho, Chris Eliopouois

I am seriously digging this book! I've been declaring Waid's Daredevil the best superhero book on the market since issue #1, but this take on The Hulk may end up being my new favorite. No whiny, depressed, woe is me Hulk; this lets Bruce be the genius he is while still giving readers plenty of SMASH! moments. Indestructible Hulk makes him a superhero instead of a tragic behemoth always on the run. It is so awesome seeing Bruce get to one-up people now and show them that he is just as formidable (in different ways) as his alter-ego is. Seeing him beat the crap out of an entire AIM installation, and it's only issue #3, makes this a really fun read. Yu creates so much energy in the pages while transitioning from the quiet moments to the action...I love this book!

Superman Family Adventures #9 by Art Baltazar and Franco

I have a love for Superman that just...well...yeah. I'm one of those guys. Superman is the hero that sets the standard for me. He embodies the best of what the concept of a superhero can achieve with a reader and Superman Family Adventures is the best Superman book on the market right now. Turning pages and it's like "Oh! It's Braniac! OH! Now it's Braniac AND Lex Luthor! Hey Kandor!". It's not New 52 canon and I think that's why it works so well for Superman fans and young ones that are being introduced to him for the first time.. Art and Franco wear their love of the character on their sleeves, and it translates onto every panel of every page. This issue has Superman, Supergirl, Conner/Superboy, Krypto, Braniac, Lex Luthor, Bizarro, Lois Lane, Perry White, The Bottled City of Kandor, Superman's mother Lara AND Periwinkle Kryptonite. That, my friends, is way beyond the kitchen sink. This book shoulda gone on forever.

Conan The Barbarian #12 by Brian Wood, Declan Shalvey, Dave Stewart, Richard Starkings & Comicraft

Part three of "The Death" and I am still glued to this book as if it were the first issue. This issue shows the true accomplishment of what Brian Wood has reached with the character of Conan: emotional investment. Conan has been anything but a one-dimensional barbarian in this series. Sure, he still manages to fight a small horde of people in the middle of this, but it's why he's in that situation that elevates this comic. Every artist involved has been fantastic and Declan Shalvey is no exception. The world feels grand in it's scope, but the characters are very intimately portrayed. I would never have guessed that I would have loved a "sad" issue of a Conan comic, but I really did. Bravo, everyone involved.

Criminal Macabre: Final Night - The 30 Days of Night Crossover #2 by Steve Niles, Christopher Mitten, Michelle Madsen, Nate Piekos

I grew up on monsters. Movies, comics, books, toys, everything! I don't branch out with horror comics as much as I should these days, but I've always enjoyed Criminal Macabre. Most folks probably go to 30 Days of Night when they think of Steve Niles, but I've always been more of a Cal McDonald fan myself. Seeing the two series come together has been just as violent and horrific as you would expect, even though seeing Niles and Christopher Mitten work together couldn't be smoother. I've repeatedly said that these two together elevate each other and Mitten is the definitive Criminal Macabre artist for me. This issue is a great blend of conversation and all hell breaking loose. There are plenty of great scenes in here, none of which you'd like to imagine happening to you in real life.

Russell Dauterman's X-Men #1 Variant Gathers Every Version of Jean Grey

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