What Are You Reading? with Josh Wigler

Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at exactly what the title says. This week we welcome special guest Josh Wigler, editor of MTV Splash Page and former CBR contributor.

To see what Josh and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.

Michael May

Plume #1 - I don't completely understand the relationship between Devil's Due and Kickstarter in getting K. Lynn Smith's webcomic published, but I've decided that I don't need to. However it got into my hands, I'm glad it did. The first issue barely introduces the concept, but what it lacks in plot development it makes up for in characterization and beautiful, emotive art. Vesper Grey is a tough, enthusiastic heroine whom I'm going to enjoy getting to know and I'm also eager to know more about her enigmatic friend Corrick. I may not be sure yet why Vesper wants revenge (or on whom) or why Corrick's helping her, but I know that I have strong feelings for these characters and want more.

Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities and the Orm of Loch Ness - I read the first issue when it came out, but have been saving up the rest to read in one chunk. Now that I have, I'm reminded what comics like this have over movies. Usually when I'm reading a comic with a strong concept, clever dialogue, and impressive set pieces, I imagine what that story would look like on a movie screen and get a little sad that I'm not enjoying it that way instead. That doesn't happen though when I'm looking at Kyle Hotz' artwork and I know that this is EXACTLY the way I want to be consuming this story. It's the same as when Mike Mignola draws Hellboy. The art doesn't just serve the story, it's as vital to my enjoyment AS the story and becomes the reason that the story has to be told in this particular medium. That's the definition of a great comic and the Billy the Kid series is one.

Guarding the Globe #1-5 - In the back of the second issue, Phil Hester has an essay about how immersing he wants the series to be. As in, how he wants to throw readers into the deep end of the pool and see if they like it. In other words, there's no "jump-on point;" no super-decompressed first issue to slowly introduce readers to characters. Hester believes - as I do - that contrary to what readers SAY we want, what we're really eager for is the discovery of a fully realized, already-in-progress world that we need to catch up with. "That's what happened to me," he writes, "when I picked up the third part of an X-Men saga off my cousin's pool table, or borrowed the fifth part of a Teen Titans arc in study hall." That's the feeling of Guarding the Globe, especially if - like me - the reader isn't all that familiar with Robert Kirkman's Invincible world. Hester continues, "If it's good, you want to learn more [...] the missing pieces entice you [...] you follow the trail of bread crumbs. God, I hope it's good." He needn't worry. If you're looking to rekindle that feeling of when you first discovered superhero comics, Guarding the Globe is the way to go.

Tom Bondurant

I liked Demon Knights #16 -- featuring Robert Venditti's debut as writer, joining artist Bernard Chang -- pretty well. With this issue, the series jumps ahead 30 years, during which the group has drifted apart. Naturally, much of the issue concerns them getting back together, mostly by less-than-ideal means, in order to fight a pair of vampires. Now, Venditti seems to have a decent handle on our characters, and he sells the script's major points (threat level and time jump) effectively. (Chang's art is reliably good too.) However -- and I don't think this is a spoiler, since it's on page 3 -- when I saw that one of the vampires was Cain, it activated one of the less-ordered parts of my nerd brain. See, Cain-the-vampire was part of an early New-52 I, Vampire arc, but Cain-the-Biblical-figure also appeared pre-New-52 in the Final Crisis: Revelations miniseries, where I want to say he had some connection with Vandal Savage, who of course is/was one of the Demon Knights. (Vandal also appears in DK #16, not acting so friendly.) So I liked the issue well enough, but it's made me turn to Wikipedia to sort out the ramifications.

Somewhat similarly, Frankenstein, Agent Of SHADE #16 (written by Matt Kindt, pencilled by Alberto Ponticelli, inked by Wayne Faucher) would have been a nice, self-contained refresher on the basics of the series. However, a) it was the final issue of the series, and b) it came right after a string of "Rotworld" crossovers, with no real explanation for why everything was suddenly back to normal. Still, it was good to see a "normal" Frankenstein story, because it leaves the characters available for future New-52 use. And, of course, it's a nice advertisement for the collections, whose steady sales could encourage more such stories....

Finally, Threshold #1 (written by Keith Giffen) was a fairly-successful first issue. It includes two features, "The Hunted" (drawn by Tom Raney) and "Larfleeze" (drawn by Scott Kolins), one introducing a rag-tag team of outlaws and the other focusing on the eponymous Orange Lantern. The main character of "Hunted" seems to be Jediah Caul, an ex-Green Lantern (with a ring embedded in his chest) who has somehow become an unwilling contestant in a to-the-death intergalactic reality show. Basically, you're declared a fugitive and anyone who wants to bring you in is welcome to do so. That's all explained on page 1, in an infodump disguised as an infomercial. It actually comes off pretty well. Caul's pursuit begins when a photo of him in full GL regalia is shown on a huge TV screen above a crowded city square. That would have come off better if Caul hadn't been wearing civilian clothes, no mask, and shorter hair. Anyway, that serves mostly to set up a chase scene which shows how capable Caul is without his ring. The second part of the "Hunted" installment introduces the New-52 versions of Space Ranger and Stealth, who respectively were a Silver Age sci-fi character not unlike Adam Strange, and a member of the L.E.G.I.O.N. group which debuted in the late '80s. That part is mostly exposition, since of course this Space Ranger has a checkered past too. "Hunted's" tone overall is cynical but not heavy, sort of like Giffen's work on the most recent Doom Patrol series. Again, I think there's enough here for a good first issue, even if it doesn't introduce everyone. Same goes for "Larfleeze," which is basically a recap of the Orange Lantern's unique history and "special relationship" with his power battery. There's enough in this first installment to fill in readers who haven't been reading the Green Lantern books, and the story itself kicks off on the last page. Generally there's a lot of familiar elements in Threshold #1, but I liked it well enough to wait for #2.

J. Caleb Mozzocco

It was a fairly light reading week for me, including a comics-related art book in The Art of Betty and Veronica and the rather fun anthology series Comics About Cartoonists, both of which are pretty much exactly what they sound like.

I also read the fourth and latest volume of Shuzo Oshimi's melodramatic manga series of teen angst and weirdly chaste perversion, Flowers of Evil. As the events in the previous three volumes came to an over-the-top conclusion in the last volume, dramatically altering the dynamic between the three points of the...character triangle (I almost said "love triangle," but that's not the right word for it) that stars in the book, this volume felt a little strange. Our supposed hero Takao has abandoned his remarkably successful pursuit of the girl of his dreams to instead pursue his tormentor Nakamura, whom he courts by committing the most perverted act he can think of.

The change in tone, focus and pacing is suggested by the cover design, a radical departure from the black and white character portraits of the first three volumes.

Finally, I read Fear Itself: Spider-Man, one of the many, many Fear Itself tie-in collections I've been reading over the course of the last couple of weeks. It was a pretty odd one in that only 3/5ths of it featured Spider-Man, and the rest of the contents were FI tie-ins, but were Spider-Man free (Fear Itself: FF #1 and Fear Itself: The Worthy). They were all decent comics, with better than average art, and some rather interesting art in the short, four-page stories in The Worthy, but I remain fascinated by the logic that went into collecting this particular event/series' many tie-ins, given how random much of that logic seems to have been.

Brigid Alverson

I picked up Lila Quintero Weaver's Darkroom because it got a Cybils nomination, and I had read an interview with the author that got me interested. Weaver and her family moved from Argentina to Marion, Alabama, in 1961, when she was a young girl and lived there during the events of the Civil Rights movement, some of which occurred literally around the corner from her home. Weaver has a nice mix of reminiscences about her family, who were interesting in their own right, and the way the racial politics of the times intertwined with their lives. As an outsider, she had a unique point of view. As with any such memoir, the book is painful to read at times, but it also brings a fresh perspective. Weaver's father was an amateur photographer, and she uses photography as a storytelling device to tie everything together in a very sophisticated way. This book is published by the University of Alabama Press, not your usual comics publisher, but it's worth seeking out.

I also read Jane Yolen's Curses: Foiled Again, in preparation for the interview I did with her at Good Comics for Kids. I was not a fan of her first book, Foiled, because it started as an urban teenager story and then shifted abruptly into a fantasy storyline about halfway through, with little foreshadowing—basically, the heroine, Aliera Carstairs, finds out on her first date that she is the Defender of the Fairies and winds up doing battle with all sorts of creatures in the main concourse of Grand Central Station. I liked this second book a lot better. The fantasy and realistic elements were well integrated, and the whole story just worked better. I particularly like the hapless Avery, the boy in the story, who is a troll (literally, but people keep commenting "aren't they all?"). And Yolen and artist Mike Cavallaro do a great job of mingling the fantasy world with the real world of New York.

Another comic that mixes fantasy and reality is The Order of Dagonet, by Jeremy Whitley and Jason Strutz, in which a logging crew pulls up the wrong tree and unleashes the Creatures of Faerie on modern England, where they proceed to wreak havoc. (My favorite moment: They try to play chess with a real queen but are thwarted because Prince Philip isn't a real king. Ha!) Merlin himself summons the Knights of Dagonet to defend England; the problem here is that the Knights of Dagonet are an order that honors those who contribute to arts and culture, so England's defenders are a rock star, an actor, and a writer of children's fantasy books. References to real-life counterparts are obvious, although the writer writers like JK Rowling but looks like Neil Gaiman. It's a great premise and Whitley and Strutz carry it off with a great deal of wit, although they work the old gay guy thing a little hard in my opinion. Whitley is the writer of the much-acclaimed Princeless, and this is a different direction for him as it's definitely not a kids' comic (lots of cussing, a beheading, and some nudity). Strutz's art, which looks like it was done in pastels, has a Fauvist boldness to it that makes it lovely to look at but a bit hard to "read" as a story. The first issue is available free on comiXology, and it's a robust 48 pages long, so it really gets the story started.

Tim O'Shea

Daredevil #22: I hesitate to praise Chris Samnee's work on this series. Why? Because anytime I publicly get attached to a Daredevil artist, the person seems to leave within a few issues. Seriously though, as many great artists that writer Mark Waid has worked with over the years, it's always enjoyable when he is paired with someone who perfectly matches his storytelling sensibilities. Waid and Samnee are in syncopated narrative rhythm in one of the oddest Spidey (given that he’s Doc Ock these days)-DD team-ups, that includes the great line: “Thank god for Stilt-Man” as well as a reference to the film, Midnight Cowboy. But the creative team saves the best for last, with a relationship breakthrough scene for Foggy Nelson and Matt—that includes a doozy of a reveal.

Indestructible Hulk #3: Bruce Banner/Hulk as an agent of SHIELD is a concept that pays off in more ways than one can imagine so far. Add to the mix, Mark Waid mining the history of Marvel to toss foes at Hulk and I am hooked. This issue features a bait and switch involving Bruce Banner, and that is not a typical go-to maneuver you see in a Hulk comic. Also another element that rarely plays a role in a Hulk series is humor. Waid is infusing humor in the lead character and it works well. The last time anyone tried that to the best of my recollection is the great Peter David.

X-Factor: I have not typed the phrase “the great Peter David” in a long while. And it is a mistake on my part. Upon reflection, I realized this weekend that unconsciously I have taken PAD for granted the past several years. Somewhere around the time of Supergirl/Fallen Angel, the writer and I parted ways because the runs did not hold my interest. It was always solid storytelling, just not stories that held my attention.

Then the stroke happened.

Do not mistake this write-up as a “guy is having health problems, pity him”. I am not looking to insult PAD. I can best liken it to the day years ago I realized Jim Aparo was no longer on a monthly comic (no PAD is nowhere close to retirement). With the stroke, I found myself thinking (after the initial core concern for his health, of course): “What if PAD was no longer in comics?” Of course, we have closely covered how you can help PAD—by buying his work—but it is worth reminding folks where to go to do that.

And yesterday I bought PAD comics for the first time in a long time. I bought X-Factor #241 to #250. Part of why I had avoided X-Factor was because I feared it would be like trying to catch up on Chris Claremont-level continuity complications. I could not be more wrong. Fortunately, in so many ways, I was reminded that PAD is nothing like Claremont as a writer. Sure there’s a lot of X-Factor history that I am not privy to, but I did not need it to enjoy these stories. PAD is at his best writing a team book (consider the Pantheon era of his Hulk run, Young Justice). Banter is his friend, humor is his ally. After reading all of those issues, my favorite character is Pip the Troll. Many fans praise how PAD brings his personal life into his professional work—and I had forgotten how much I enjoy seeing into PAD’s life. I loved reading the “previously…” (issue summaries) where we got to learn what’s going on with the David family, such as when his daughter Caroline earned her kung fu green sash.

I am sorry that PAD had a stroke. I am glad he is on the road to recovery. While I am sorry it took his stroke to make me appreciate him again, I am glad to know he has more stories to tell. Support his work and help him pay his bills. The entertainment is worth every penny.

Josh Wigler

I've been binging on so many great comics lately that it's impossible to list them all. (Like James Asmus last week, I don't think you need one more person to tell you how awesome Saga, Daredevil and Hawkeye are.) So I'll highlight just a few of the books that have knocked my socks off recently.

Black Beetle (Dark Horse) Francesco Francavilla's new pulp tale is what comics are all about for me. It's a thrilling, energetic, never-ending page-turner of a good time, featuring a character who feels like he's already been in comics for decades. The book also makes me insanely proud of good friend and former Wizard compatriot Jim Gibbons (aka Jimmy Big Shins, the man with shins to win) for his stellar work as the book's editor and WCCR host. Nothing in comics gave me greater joy this week than Jim's letters column.

Morning Glories (Image) — Nick Spencer, Joe Eisma and the rest of the Morning Glories team are fully on fire and have been for quite a while. What started off as something so easily explained as "Lost in a boarding school" has grown into a tale so much bigger and weirder that I can't believe we're only just now on the cusp of finishing "season one." Spencer and Eisma's story of gifted children on a collision course with destiny faces a major turning point with the upcoming Morning Glories #25, and based on all of the developments over the last handful of issues, I'm not even going to try to guess what's about to happen … I just know it's going to be awesome.

Locke & Key: Omega (IDW) — Over Christmas, I finally bit the bullet on Locke & Key, thanks to CBR's very own Steve Sunu, who graciously gave me the second and third volumes of the series. (I already owned volume one.) I don't think a comic book has ever grabbed me so immediately and so intensely as this one. I devoured it all in a single weekend, and now I'm suffering month-to-month, sometimes longer, waiting for the full journey to come to an end. I'm so psyched about what Hill and Rodriguez have already done with their final arc (they dedicated a whole issue to Rufus! They have time for that?! That's incredible!) and everything that's coming up as Dodge readies to make his final move. There's no comic currently being published that has me more amped up than this one.

Lookouts (Cryptozoic) — "The Hobbit meets The Goonies" is how I'd describe it to a stranger, but that doesn't do justice to what Ben McCool and Robb Momaerts have been churning out in Lookouts. This book feels like it was ripped out of the airwaves of my childhood Saturday morning cartoon routine, and I mean that in the most flattering way possible. Filled with a fantastic cast of characters, brilliantly imaginative creature design, and a whole lot of laughs, Lookouts is guaranteed fun, every single time. Not since Bone have I encountered a comic I could recommend to pretty much anyone in my life … high praise, if I do say so myself!

Sweet Tooth (Vertigo) — It's always scary when a thing you love is about to end. But Jeff Lemire made sure his readers had nothing to worry about when he brought the story of a boy with antlers to an end with Sweet Tooth #40 this month. Lemire packed a Gus-ton of story in one of the single-best issues of comics I've come across in quite a while: we see how the future generations of hybrids could have easily made for their own ongoing tale, but that open-endedness comes paired with more than ample resolution for the characters who made the journey so meaningful in the first place. If I were wearing a hat right now, I'd take it off to Mr. Lemire. He did a hell of a job wrapping this one up.

Life is Strange #10

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