What Are You Reading? with 'Task Force Rad Squad'

Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our look at what comics and other things we've been perusing lately. Today our special guests are Caleb Goellner, Buster Moody and Ryan Hill, the creative team of Task Force Rad Squad, the hot new comic find of 2013. Especially if you were ever a Power Rangers fan. Or even if you weren't, as Moody and Hill's art is just kind of wonderful on its own. Our old friend and former colleague Graeme says it "pretty much does for Power Rangers what Jeffrey Brown’s Incredible Change-Bots does for Transformers," and that's a very apt description. You can download it yourself here, and pay whatever you think is fair.

And to see what Task Force Rad Squad + the Robot 6 Irregulars are reading, click below ...


Carla Hoffman

I was not moved by the Movement #1. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a bad book, the start of this story simply didn't grab me and demand I add it to my pull list. My distinguished colleague, Mr. Bondurant, said enough on the nitty and the gritty of the book, but my perspective on current comics has a lot of youth movements and a lot of bad cops getting what's due and it all just seems like I'm missing the big twist. The thing that sets the book apart from ... well, like Tom says "the X-Men watched the V For Vendetta movie a few dozen times too many." Don't get me wrong, I'll read issue two and probably through issue five; Ms. Gail Simone is hard core and a great writer and I know there will be that little spark eventually that will take this book from cliche bundle to inspiration and action, but for now... I'm not moved.

On a more fun note, I love Indestructible Hulk #7 with all my little heart. Bruce Banner is in the best hands with Mr. Mark Waid and the time and detail he puts into character voices and motivations is just delightful. I grin watching a younger version of Thor beam a big smile at the gall and daring of the Midgardians lost in Jotunheim and now facing a bunch of angry frost giants. He's gleeful this is all fun and adventure for the young thunder god and I feel the same way. Mr. Walter Simonson's art keeps that energy going from quiet moments of personal revelation and all the bombast of Thor and Hulk fighting side by side. God I love this book.

Lastly, when I picked up Ten Grand #1, it was only because I love Mr. Ben Templesmith's artwork and a chance to own any of it is a forgone purchase. I didn't actually expect to like the story; personally, Mr. J. Michael Straczyski hasn't rocked my comic reading world in a long time and after Superman: Grounded, I assumed we parted ways as writer and reader. But the very simple premise of a private investigator who knows something of angels and demons is told cleanly and simply, letting Mr. Templesmith's art do the heavy lifting of weighting the book with drama. The pictures here really do tell the story and the words simply guide the reader with enough information and background to propel us from one dark scraggly image to the next figure bursting with light. I worry that luster of storytelling might dim with subsequent issues, but Ten Grand #1 was beautiful and got me to anticipate the next issue.

Tom Bondurant

As much as I love the Justice League and the work of George Perez, you'd think I'd read the hardcover DC Comics Classics Library volumes collecting his work more often. Well, this week I sat down with Volume 1, which includes the neat single-issue "Who Can Stop The Shaggy Man?" from Justice League of America vol. 1 #186 (January 1981) as well as the two-part super-comprehensive origin of Red Tornado from #191-92 (July-August 1981). Written by Gerry Conway, who pretty much owned the League for most of the Satellite Era (and a good bit of Detroit, too), these are both well-constructed stories. However, re-reading them I was struck by the amount of personality Perez gives each Leaguer. He makes the Flash pretty limber (not unlike his Kid Flash over in New Teen Titans), and his Batman is always draped in shadows, even on the well-lit JLA Satellite. However, his Aquaman and Superman both carry themselves rather regally, and his Green Lantern even comes across as somewhat arrogant. It's something I never really noticed, but it makes perfect sense. Perez did the same thing throughout NTT and Avengers, so why not here?

Haven't caught up with all of this week's haul, but I did read Swamp Thing #20 (written by Charles Soule, pencilled by Kano, inked by Alvaro Lopez). It's the second part of a story where Swampy fights the Scarecrow and Superman, and ends up almost destroying Metropolis during a bad fear-gas trip. However, it's more about Swamp Thing's fear of losing his humanity, and that's where the disturbing dreams come in. During the Scott Snyder run, artist Yanick Paquette would often have to draw monstrous insects, hideously-deformed people, and a lot of gore, and he'd wrap the panels enthusiastically in all manner of twisted lattices. Kano and Lopez take a much lower-key approach, sometimes letting the scary stuff creep in around the edges, and sometimes just going for the quick scare. In fact, the scenes of an apocalyptically-overgrown Metropolis are more over-the-top -- but in a way, that helps heighten the tension, like a little deviation for Swamp Thing can have disastrous results in the real world. The story ends about like you'd expect, but I am impressed so far with this creative team. Plus, Soule also writes a pretty good Superman.

Finally, in terms of what I will be reading, there's a whole stack of free comics to go through, plus Essential Hulk Volume 1, Showcase Presents The Elongated Man Vol. 1, Sandman: The Dream Hunters, and the first half of Thor: The Mighty Avenger. It was a good FCBD all around.

Oh, and Carla, I guess we'll always have Batwing....

Caleb Goellner

The Best of the Nintendo Comics System: I go on overzealous fauxstalgia kicks from time to time where I become stupid interested in things I feel like I might've overlooked or been unaware of as a kid. So when I discovered that Valiant's early '90s Nintendo tie-ins got collected in a full-color oversized hardcover some 23 years ago, I stalked eBay for weeks trying to find a copy I was sure wouldn't smell like a bus station.

Collecting a smattering of Valiant's 9-issue catch-all Nintendo Comics System title that ran from 1990-1991, the "Best Of" hardcover reads sort of like an anthology. In a time when Nintendo was more willing to let licensors play with its characters and when the now-longstanding gaming franchises like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda weren't as fully established as BRANDS, creators got to tell offbeat tales using a variety of art styles to bring reality and video game fantasy together. And when I say "offbeat," I mean it - the collection opens with a two-part storyline that concludes with a young girl saving two realities by playing Super Mario Land on a Gameboy... in space. There's also a bunch of really weird romance-y moments between Link and Zelda, plus an uncomfortable-to-watch Captain N/Samus Aran/Princess Lana love triangle written by George Caragonne (who it turns out founded and edited Penhouse's erotic Penthouse Comix on top of writing a bunch of licensed comics for kids).

The art of creators like Art Nichols, Ross Andru, Rodney Ramos and others really sells all the weirdness, too. Most page layouts operate according to variations on the six-panel grid, but don't skimp of storytelling info. Every panel has... actual backgrounds, and the colors heighten scenes that occasionally pack dozens of distinct characters. The overall collection's more expressive and engaging than it has any right to be, which makes me wonder if Valiant paid its creators with moneybags pulled straight from the mind of Carl Barks back in the day.

The Alliance of the Curious: Phillipe Riche's cartooning in this English language hardcover collection from Humanoids is every variety of awesome. The elegant simplicity of Riche's thin line and angular character construction convey a cast and world so killer that it all captivates no matter how deliberately muted the colors get. You ever look at something that's essentially swimming in sepia and consider it straight up rad? I didn't really consider it a possibility before, but then again, I hadn't been treated to as much of Riche's work as I'd have liked. The story packs a similar contrast, even, as it takes readers on a quest to save the world packed with action and intrigue while remaining devilishly deadpan. This book is just friggin' distinct. I really dig it.

The Legend of Ricky Thunder: Despite -- or perhaps as the result of -- my pretty miserable ninth grade wrestling record and some fair-weather WWF/WCW watching in the late '90s, I've never been a huge pro wrestling fan.... except for when it comes to comics. I got my rewards for backing Kyle Stark's The Legend of Ricky Thunder Kickstarter recently and had a lot of fun zipping through the main trade paperback's 162 energetic pages. There's a chance I'd get more milage from the book if I were an active fan of dudes like CM Punk and their WWE exploits, but I had plenty of fun with it as a guy who has just read a bunch of Kinnikuman/Kinnikuman II sei/M.U.S.C.L.E./Ultimate Muscle. It's fun and funny wrasslin' action that anybody can feel good getting bodyslammed by.

Ryan Hill

Nextwave, Agents of H.A.T.E. (Marvel): I will always take the opportunity to bring up what I feel is one of the best things Marvel’s published in the last 10 years (possibly 20). Friends have stopped asking me comic questions in a “best of” context because they don’t want to hear me evangelize this book anymore. I’m really always reading this and its never stopped being entertaining to me. Stuart Immonen is the best superhero penciller working. Period. He’s a bit more exaggerated and open-lined here, but that only allows for McCaig’s unique palette choices to come through. Their work combined together seamlessly. And I still feel this is the best work Ellis ever did for Marvel. The self-referential tone added something unique and needed to the Marvel U and its absence is something I really miss (and Deadpool breaking the 4th wall in a 1000 guest shots and spin offs doesn’t make for up it not being there... at least to me.)

Luminae 1&2: Ankama Editions: In the current “manga influence” trend with a lot of European albums, to me, Bengal is king. He’s one of my favorite artists in any medium right now. His color sensibility and palettes are utterly amazing. The economy and composition in his draftsmanship are equally stunning. Every line looks at the same time spontaneous and totally deliberate. From Meka to Naja and now Luminae (which came out in 2011 but I recently just got a hold of) he’s getting even better. I’m really in utter awe of his work. I had to have a buddy translate the stories for me and it’s a bit of a separated experience reading these by matching up translation notes to the art. I really hope someone makes english editions of any of his work at some point. Not that you can’t pour over the foreign editions which, in the absence of anything else, I can’t recommend more.

This Was Our Pact: Ryan Andrews' work is sublime. It has a poetic/lyrical tone and pacing to it that (with the infinite canvas of the internet) I think many others attempt and fail, while he really succeeds (I’ve only read the online version I haven’t seen how it breaks down in the available PDF). This Was Our Pact kind of feels like a mixed up remembrance of childhood you can’t tell is a memory or a dream. And to hit that sort of ambiguous-in-between intimate sensibility in static work is amazing to me (the magic of comics!). It’s a testament to his immense talent, which is also on display in his other great works like Sarah and the Seed, Our Bloodstained Roof and Nothing is Forgotten.

SCUD: The Disposable Assassin The Whole Shebang! (Image): The time it would take for you to read why I keep reading this book would only waste time you could be reading it. As another comic that’s been perpetually in my “one more time” pile ever since its initial fireman press publication If you haven’t read this yet (or even again recently), I genuinely feel for you.

Buster Moody

Zegas by Michel Fiffe: This is a comic about a pair of siblings trying to navigate a surreal landscape… and more. The tactility of Zegas is fantastic and its over-sized format suits Fiffe's artwork perfectly. Overall the book's a culmination of Fiffe's expressive style and his commitment to craft and experimentation. I don't know him personally, but I doubt he's big into the concept of comics as a purely disposable medium, and you probably won't see homeboy drawing on a Cintiq with 3D Google Sketchup models or something like that anytime soon… And the book is all the better for it. Check out his ETSY store for the books he has available.

Phase 7 by Alec Longstreth: Longstreth has been independently putting out issues of the Phase 7 series since 2002 and has said he plans to continue for the rest of his life. That's pretty cool to me. Each issue covers a variety of subjects, so it's difficult to communicate a super-crystal summation of any of them (plus, if I remember right, he released them out of numerical order), but #008 is among my favorites. It includes a continuation of a story that he did called Basewood. Longstreth's storytelling and writing are strong, but the thing that made me pick up his books initially was his exhaustive technique. I am a complete sucker for an abundance of texture, lines and overall mark-making in comic art, making this dude's steez right up my alley. Check out his website for what he has available (I think his out-of-print books are available to read online for free).

Prisoner of the Stars by Alfonso Font: A post-apocalyptic comic by Spanish comicker Alfonso Font, Prisoner of the Stars came out in the '80s originally, and a few years back IDW put out a collection for us English-gabbers. I draw heavy influence from Moebius and it's pretty clear that Font is informed by his stylistic execution as well. This is a book with a fairly generic plotline, but again, being a sucker for technique, I can open this book and get inspired to draw just looking at its heavy detail and fantastic landscapes. That's the best kind of book in my opinion.

The Third Eye by T. Lobsang Rampa: Rampa's The Third Eye is about a young man's spiritual upbringing in the Himalayas in Tibet. It's pretty engrossing and seemingly informative of Tibetan spiritual practices. The book itself is interesting and inspiring with no frame of context, but once you familiarize yourself with the controversy surrounding it's writer, another layer in the story is exposed. Either way, it can be an enriching book. Put succinctly, this book is either an autobiographical account of a Tibetan Lama's path of initiation at the Chakpori Lasery in the Himalayas covering the first part of his life (prior to mentally transferring his consciousness into the body of a British plumber), or it's a book that was written by a British plumber who was really into Tibet. Maybe it depends on whether you buy into the metaphysical or not? Either way, I think it's great… but you don't have to take my word for it.

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