Hello and welcome once again to What Are You Reading? This week our special guest is Elisabeth Forsythe, marketing manager for online comic shop Things From Another World and frequent contributor to The Blog From Another World.
To see what Elisabeth and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, read on.
Captain America and Bucky #621: It's so nice to see Chris Samnee drawing Cap and Bucky.
Mystery Men #4: Writer David Liss and artist Patrick Zircher have assembled an interesting new team in a relatively unexplored Marvel time era (Depression era). Hate to see it ending next issue--hopefully Marvel gives this creative team and property another miniseries down the road,, but I am unsure if sales will justify it.
FF #8: New theory, I only enjoy this book when Sue Richards is in the cast. Thank God Sue was in this issue, even just being on the sidelines (with her concussion, Reed is following NFL policy it appears).
Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #13: I have never read an issue of this comic, but with the DCU coming to an end I could not resist one last time with Guy Gardner and special guest star Batman Bruce. I am happy to say that writer Peter Tomasi provided a solid done in one with this story.
Xombi #6: Really satisfying end to a series (ending far too soon) I hope writer John Rozum gets to explore this character more down the road. But more importantly I hope Rozum and artist Frazer Irving work together again. The two talents compliment the hell out of each other and make for uniquely engaging storytelling.
Oh, not another semi-autobiographical comic full of twee musings on the small wonders of life, I hear you cry. Well, yes, that is a fitting description of Joe Decie's The Accidental Salad ($7.99, Blank Slate Books), but Decie proves to be a funny, charming enough cartoonist that he manages to deftly avoid most of the usual cliches. Most of his tales, usually no more than a page long, start off with some common, everyday occurrence, like having a bad song stuck in your head, only to abruptly segue into fantasy, as when he gets rid of the song by pouring magical insects down his ear. His timing and wit is skilled enough that the strips never come off as insufferably cute or grating. I liked this book quite a bit.
In my recent plug of good Sparkplug books to buy, I didn't mention Habitat #2 by Dunja Jankovic. That certainly wasn't due to any lack of quality on her part, however. Jankovic tells stories about young, neurotic women trying to survive urban life. It's far from a realistic comic, though; Jankovic creates a surreal, expressionist world where people get their phone and video messages from the toilet and you pay your rent to the neighbor living above you. It's a trippy, at times bizarre comic that frequently breaks down into detailed abstract images in order to convey the nameless main character's angst and anxiety, but it remains a compelling read throughout. I look forward to the next issue.
Blackjacked and Pistol-Whipped: A Crime Does Not Pay Primer, out this week from Dark Horse, is a compilation of the classic crime comics from the 1940s that show crime not paying in a variety of violent and entertaining ways. Created by Charles Biro and Bob Wood (who himself ended up murdering his girlfriend and being murdered in turn), the stories are economical and told with plenty of action, if not strict accuracy (in one story, set in 1811, the characters not only wear 1940s clothes but speak in 1940s slang). Editor Denis Kitchen kicks it off with a truly worthy essay that begins with a bit of intrigue and doesn't shy away from the shady side of this comic. Good stuff!
Totally at the other end of the spectrum, the sixth volume of Chi's Sweet Home is as heartwarming a book as you can get. Chi was a stray cat who was adopted by a family who lived in an apartment complex that didn't permit pets, which added a few shreds of dramatic conflict to the story; now they have moved, and the book consists entirely of beautiful watercolor paintings of Chi being perky. Occasionally she goes into a potentially dangerous situation, as when she encounters a larger, more territorial cat at the park, but since she never acknowledges the threat‹interpreting all the other cat's actions as playfulness‹there's no suspense. It's good comfort food for the brain, and the book is saved from total blandness by a lovely and rather mysterious section at the end where Chi goes for a walk at night and encounters the neighborhood cats all sitting in the light of a streetlight. For a moment I thought there might be a cat cult or something, but no, this is Chi, so they're just sittin'.
The comic I was most excited to see last week was Captain America & Bucky #621, in large part because of Chris Samnee's retro-yet-timeless art (although I'm also a huge fan of Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko, see below). For a long time, Captain America was a difficult character for me to get into: one, because he's been around for 60-plus years (and has the requisite continuity), and two, on the (admittedly) rare occasions I checked in on him in the ‘80s and ‘90s, he seemed bland and boring, totally divorced from his WWII roots.
Captain America & Bucky takes us back to WWII and tells the origin story of our heroes, from Bucky's point of view. This was a smart choice: Bucky was created, in part, to be the "everyboy" the reader could identify with, the gateway character to Captain America. Putting him front and center and developing his back story in a real, bittersweet way made me immediately latch onto the story--I was emotionally invested at the get-go.
The story, which kicked off with issue #620, is just the right mixture of action and humor, with hints of darkness and even despair. This makes Samnee the perfect choice: his character acting is subtle, evocative, and always effective, and his action sequences are gangbusters. The look is retro but not costume-y; it feels authentic, instead of like it's trying too hard. There's a scene in #621 that takes place at a fair, and I swear I can hear the carnival music while I read. In short, Samnee, Brubaker, and Andreyko (check out his work on Manhunter if you haven't yet--great stuff) are knocking it out of the park. Captain America & Bucky #622 is due out September 28.
My other can't-wait-to-read-it obsession is Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' excellent crime series, Criminal: The Last of the Innocent. On Twitter, Kevin Chiat called it "Watchmen for Archie," and he couldn't have been more on the nose. I've read all of Criminal thus far, and have loved it--so much so that I was actually a little apprehensive when I picked up the first issue of Innocent. Was this when it would start to go downhill? How great could it be, for how much longer?
I needn't have worried: this is the best arc yet of a phenomenal series--new and different, yet totally in keeping with Criminal's dark, noir style. Riley Richards is an Archie Andrews-like character 20 years later, living in the big, bad city and married to rich-bitch Felix (after years of bouncing between her and the sweet girl next door, Lizzie), with a gambling habit and a longing to undo the mistakes of his past. Perhaps permanently.
Brubaker's trick with Criminal is to present us with flawed, even despicable characters, and make us care about them--or at least what happens to them--without softening them one iota. Riley is a selfish prick who is willing to sacrifice every one of his lifelong relationships to feed his darker desires, but part of me is still hoping he gets away with it, somehow. Of course, that's the best kind of noir.
Reading this series is like opening a trail of presents: each parallel to Archie is a surprise, yet so satisfying, and the flashbacks, drawn in a Dan Decarlo-esque style and titled "Life With Riley," are a real treat. Phillips' art is consistently excellent: his use of shadows and smoke give everything a dirty, tired look, while the flashbacks in this series show a completely different side to his skill, simple and sweet. Colorist Dave Stewart also deserves a big round of applause. The muted, greyed-out colors of the present day are a sharp contrast to the flat, bright colors of "Life With Riley."
Criminal: The Last of the Innocents #4 concludes this story arc September 14.
Speaking of Archie, one of my favorite things I've purchased this year is IDW's Archie: A Celebration of America's Favorite Teenagers. IDW has done an incredible job with their Archie collections, and Archie: A Celebration of America's Favorite Teenagers is just a fun book to own: oversized, hardcover, with a 3-D cover and gorgeous endpapers featuring Bob Montana's art. As a longtime (and until lately, closeted) Archie fan, this is a book that tickled my nostalgia bone and fed me all kinds of tasty morsels of Archie's birth and life.
Extensive sections on notable artists like Bob Montana, Bob Bolling, Harry Lucey, and Dan DeCarlo grabbed my attention--especially since back in the day, the names of the creators were rarely showcased. It was a lot of fun finally putting names and histories to the stories I've enjoyed since I was a little girl.
The book isn't a dry history lesson, however--scans of original artwork, both black-and-white and in color, are breathtaking, and an entire section of rarities displays great stuff like fan club letterhead, paper dolls, board games, calendars, and much more.