Season's Greetings and welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what we've been reading lately. Today our special guests are Geoffrey Golden and Amanda Meadows, editors of Devastator: The Quarterly Comedy Magazine for Humans. Their latest issue has a video game theme, with contributions from James Kochalka, Corey Lewis, Danny Hellman and many more. And if you head over to their website between now through Dec. 16, the code ROBOT6 gets you 20 percent off single issues.
To see what Amanda, Geoffrey and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click below.
I've been wanting to read Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet for a while now and have finally gotten to the first volume. It begins a lot like so many other fantasy stories for young people: with a single parent taking her children to an old, secluded, family property because lack of money has driven them away from the city. There, the family's dark history and a magic item or two involve the kids in an adventure to save their parent and possibly the world. It's an old premise, but a powerful one. Every kid longs to discover that there's something cool and powerful in their family history that will change their lives.
What separates the good versions of this story from the bad are the details and what happens once the secret is uncovered and the young heroes are engaged. In this case, Kibuishi unleashes his considerable imagination to plop his protagonists into a world of magic, robots, dark elves, and cephalopod monsters. It's an exciting, visually impressive story with a great deal of heart.
Things I read recently:
Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick -- As the title suggests, this is a basic biography of the famed physicist and Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman. Ottaviani attempts to mimic the scientist's wayward, anecdotal manner of speaking, which can take a bit of getting used to, but once you do, it's a pretty smooth ride. Myrick's loose, wobbly style fits Feynman's loose, haphazard manner rather well. This is a pretty basic biography, aimed clearly at readers who may have heard Feynman's name, but are unfamiliar with his life and work. In other words, it's a starting point, and not for someone whose already read one of the many biographies about the man. This graphic novel won't replace any of those books, either, but as a "basic intro" guide, it suits rather well.
The Adventures of Herge by Bocquet, Fromental and Stanislas -- Another biography, this time about the famous cartoonist George Remi, i.e. Herge, the creator of Tintin. Rather than attempt to completely chronicle the artist's life, the authors instead aim for a "significant snapshots" approach, dramatizing every two pages or so a particular event in artist's development. A picture does emerge of the artist as a conflicted, driven, relatively genial fellow, but it remains a rather cursory glance in the Herge's life. The book is really best suited for Tintin fans or fans of Stanislas' art, which is lovely.
I don't know, man. I just don't know. Defenders #1 has all the elements a gal like me should love: Matt Fraction (FRACTION 3:16), slick and stylish artwork, Doctor Strange and an assortment of quality characters who deserve a place in a book of their own, rather than a guest star role in an event tie-in. Betty Banner is here (kind of), Danny Rand is back, and oh my Lord there are tiny out-of-frame comments on nearly every page!
And then... we have two awkward hook-ups from guys who should be above making such freshman choices (okay, maybe not Danny Rand), the continual "I hate myself and want to die" theme from people who seem to be wallowing in it, the Silver Surfer seems to have powers that contradict his appearances in Thor (Fraction should talk to the writer of that book and get things straight!) ... I don't know. I'll give it three issues, but it seems to me like (yet another) Doctor Strange mini-series might have been a better idea.
X-Club #1 is a better first issue, strangely enough, probably because I am not expecting it to blow my tiny little brain. It's giving me what I want, the same quality of faux-Ellis techno-sarcasm I got from the past "X-Club" outings from Simon Spurrier, the snickering humor and delightful dance of characters that normally just bring exposition in the regular X-titles. A shady corporation builds a sky elevator with the help of Utopia and then monsters. This won't be Sandman, but it will be funny, and that's a rare quality in comics.
Which is why I continue to buy Deadpool MAX. It also confuses me as it makes me laugh, bringing an uncomfortable humor that makes me wonder if I'm a terrible person for finding any of it funny. Remember reading a MAD Magazine as a kid and finding it so unlike anything else normally marketed for kids that there was almost a thrill to getting an issue? Yeah, it's a little like that. Grab a copy of the Deadpool MAX X-Mas Special and hide it in a copy of Grant Morrison's Supergods.
I'm sort of all over the place this week. I read Craig Thompson's Habibi yesterday--I picked it up thinking I'll just attack it in small bits and ended up reading the whole thing in two sittings. I can't do it justice here, except to say that after all the discussions I was expecting it to be all literary and boring, and it wasn't. There were things I liked and things I didn't like, but the story kept pulling me along.
Everything else was on the light side, though. I picked up BOOM! Studios' Peanuts graphic novel, Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, and while it's very attractive, the opening sequence is basically a bunch of one-page gag strips, mostly about Linus and his blanket. I'm pretty sure some of them are old, because the gags seem very familiar, but at any rate, the structure makes for some disconnected storytelling. I'm hoping we get something closer to a linear story as the book goes on.
I'm also reading volume 17 of Osamu Tezuka's Black Jack. I'm always reading Black Jack, because Vertical puts out a volume every two months, and it's one of my favorite comics to just relax and enjoy--I don't feel like I have to analyze Black Jack or find a deeper meaning, it's just short stories about a bad ass surgeon. He starts this volume by doing surgery on himself, which is a pretty tough act to follow, but this is the last volume that Vertical is putting out. It does include a nice extra: A list of every Black Jack story, in chronological order, along with the volume of the Vertical edition it appeared in. That makes for a nice project for obsessive Black Jack fans--to read all the stories in order--except that there are a few that, on Tezuka's orders, were never collected in English or Japanese.
I started picking up Marc Andreyko's Manhunter only after its first cancellation, so this week I finally started from the beginning. Maybe it's the collected-edition effect, but I am through the first two paperbacks and didn't want to put either one down. Andreyko and penciller Jesus Saiz tell Kate Spencer's story in compelling fashion, with snappy dialogue and expressive artwork, making her transition from prosecutor to vigilante seem natural and seamless. What's more, these stories take place on the margins of Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis, but Andreyko integrates those events into his narrative pretty well too. The same goes for various references to DC history, like Hawkman's past with the Shadow-Thief, Cameron Chase's knowledge of Checkmate, and Superman's relationship with the (then-late) Firestorm. I thought Manhunter was good already, but I didn't know it was this good.
Mr. Mautner will be delighted to hear that I also got a chance to watch the "Ultimate Cut" of 2009's Watchmen movie. This is the one which incorporates the "Black Freighter" sequences, and some other previously-deleted scenes as well. Anyway, it turned out to be more of the same: faithful to a fault, except when it's cranked-up with Zack Snyder attitude. I still didn't hate it, though. I just think it's ironic that it tried too hard to be a big-budget Superhero Movie! instead of the more subdued work the comics depicted. Snyder's Watchmen is like Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings--enough of an effort that you hope someone gets it right later on.
Action Comics #4: Not sure which annoys me more: writer Grant Morrison having Superman enemy Sam Lane ask Superman to save his daughter, or the fact that this storyline is delayed until issue #7. On the first point, a case could be made that the guy who was holding Superman prisoner in issue #2, is a pragmatic military man who will use whatever resources he has (even an alien he does not trust) to save his beloved daughter. But still, the shift in Lane’s demeanor (going after Superman to seeking Superman’s aid) was made more jarring by the fact I swear that’s Lane’s only speaking line (and second appearance [the first is him running alongside Luthor in a panic) in all of issue #4. As for the delay of story, I am unsure if I am interested enough (yes, I know it’s Lord Grant Morrison and all, but still) to come back with issue #7.
Stormwatch #4: I bought Stormwatch because Paul Cornell was writing it. Am the only one annoyed that after settling in for a nice long run, I just found out he is leaving with issue #6? I do not know all of the behind the scenes machinations, Cornell may have taken the assignment to help out DC editorial as a favor, never intending to write past issue 6. Maybe he barely had anything he wanted to say after issue #6 and if he stayed on the book, issue #7 would have sucked. I kind of doubt it. Cornell is a good writer. So as much as I enjoyed this latest installment (what I loved about old Authority stories? The team’s ability to pull a victory or at least gain an upper hand in the midst of chaos, but typically a worldscale chaos, even)—this issue reminded me of the best of the Authority in that regard. The lack of leadership in the team is an intriguing aspect that gets some major play (and allows Cornell to do some great character bits) in this issue. Before I forget, artist Miguel Sepulveda continues to impress me.
X-Club #1: I almost did not buy the first issue of this X-Men miniseries because I thought it was a rave book (I am only 90 percent kidding on that point). I have never read writer Simon Spurrier before–and know next to nothing about the characters, but there was a humor amidst the action (particularly with Dr. Nemesis) that I enjoyed the issue. I am not reading all of the X books, but I am starting to see a pattern of Cyclops (jackass) and Wolverine (golden boy). Not sure if it’s that way across the board, but I wonder how many longtime Cyclops fans are feeling alienated by this approach (more informed X-Men readers, feel free to chime in in the comments with any counterpoints/info you may have).
The Amazing Spider-Man #675: I generally opted out of Spider-Island, no matter how much fun people said the event was gonna be, the folks turning into monsters did not look like fun to me. So I was glad to get back to Spidey fighting garden variety crooks (or in this case the seeming murder of crooks). What really hooked me to buy this two-parter (which wrapped in this issue) was the art of Giuseppe Camuncoli, inked by the great Klaus Janson. Many of the current Spider-Man artists seemed to have a sketchy quirky style to drawing the lead character. In the case of Camuncoli and Janson though, I get an element of Jim Mooney or Gil Kane. What I always loved about 1970s Spidey comics was when Spidey leapt into action, some artists would draw the progression of his movement from point A to point B, and that’s another element that Camuncoli works into a few scenes. Did I mention Spidey even uses a new and improved Spidey signal light in this issue? Yeah, I am a kid comic reader at heart sometimes.
Hulk #45: Writer Jeff Parker continues to give me an enjoyable supporting cast with this comic. In this issue, Machine Man uses his head to fight a foe. No really, literally just his head. Some might accuse this issue of being light on action, as Parker tries to connect the dots of the plot to position more action in the next issue. And yet, artist Patrick Zircher’s layouts are so dynamic there’s an energy to them that made me not care that a great deal of the story was flashback/background info. In fact, if you had told me I would be dazzled by a two-page spread of a microcosm, I would have doubted you… until I read Hulk #45. Zircher is enjoying himself on this arc, no doubt. Folks that bailed this title in the Jeph Loeb era should revisit this book ASAP, as it’s a different and better title under Parker and company.
Geoffrey Golden and Amanda Meadows
Hark! A Vagrant - Kate Beaton signed her exquisite Drawn and Quarterly collection for us at a signing at Skylight Books in Los Angeles, and this week we're revisiting all our favorite entries in her beloved webcomic. 80s Business Woman, Mystery Solving Teens, and of course, several AP classes' worth of mocked historical figures, with equally funny margin notes accompanying the strips. Fun fact: every single guy we know wants to marry Miss Beaton. Good luck, gents!
BLAMMO #6 - First of all, it's hard to argue against purchasing any comic with the title BLAMMO. Amanda found the latest comics collection from Denver cartoonist Noah Van Sciver at this year's APE and it was a stand-out purchase from our yearly haul. Amanda liked the honest dialogue, artfully crude illustrations and realistic characters in the autobiographical strips. Geoffrey liked the comic called "Punks vs. Lizards," in which a gang of 1980s British street punks murder a bunch of giant lizards and say things like, "anarchy and shit!" Van Sciver's humor is versatile, offering something for everyone.
Club Wolverine #14 - Logan and his nightclub's all-mutant staff continue to experience prejudice and pure ecstasy in mid-70s New York City. We love that writer Mort Bendis (not related to Brian Michael, though he keeps claiming otherwise) finally takes us into appropriately seedy territory as Mojo holds the club hostage for a swingin' orgy, in honor of Dazzler's new disco album, Can't Stop, Won't Stop, Oh My. Wolverine, warning Mojo that the club doesn't have a proper orgy license, says our favorite line yet in the series: "time to do the hustle on outta here, bub."
Buffalo Speedway #3 - Admittedly, we picked up the first Buffalo Speedway book at Meltdown Comics on a whim because Geoffrey's from Buffalo, New York and we thought a graphic novel series about a pizza delivery boy sounded like fun. Though the characters are actually from Texas, this series by Yehudi Mercado "delivers" the goods (Mmm... pizza puns). Charming characters, snappy dialogue and a fun story involving the busiest day ever in pizza delivery history -- the day of O.J. Simpson's Bronco chase -- the final volume was satisfying to the last bite. (Mmm... additional pizza puns.)
Pogo Vol. 1: Through The Wild Blue Wonder - Geoffrey has been eagerly anticipating this collection for years, making it the perfect early Christmas gift! Walt Kelly's classic comic Pogo was an inspiration for many brilliant cartoonists like Berkeley Breathed and Jeff Smith, in addition to a comedy magazine called The Devastator, which we've never heard of. Kelly's illustrations are masterful, with expressive characters who are warm and friendly. Pogo's deft social satire makes this collection about Pogo Possum and friends a must own for humor comics fans and people who just like good things in general. "We have met the enemy," and he is not getting this for Christmas.