Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Welcome to “What Are You Reading?”, our weekend feature where we tell you about all the cool books we’re engaged with and make you feel oh so jealous.
Doug’s got a lot of interesting and cool stuff by his bedside table this week, so click on the link to learn all about it.
Michael May: I got a little behind with a too-healthy stack of comics last week, so I’ve just now read Batman: Gotham After Midnight #10. I forget if I’ve mentioned Gotham After Midnight before, but it’s the best Batman comic in probably forever. Kelley Jones rightly gets a lot of credit for drawing some absolutely insane stuff, but Steve Niles also deserves mention for giving him plenty of craziness in the script. I mean, Clayface turning into a giant monster so that Batman has to pull out the Bat Giant Robot to fight him is so beautiful it makes me cry. Even the covers are hilariously fun. If you’re only going to read one batbook (and I am), it should be this one.
Matt Maxwell: BPRD v. 8: KILLING GROUND. Arcudi and Davis.
I’d stopped reading BPRD in single issues around last year and have waited up for a few of the trades to come out before picking things up again. Part of me wishes I hadn’t, as the story is structured such that it reads a lot like the classic long form serials that I used to love reading as a teenager. You know the ones, where there would be an obvious story arc, but there were many other threads that weren’t always neatly tied off at the end of the main plotline, and those in turn would feed into others. Add in some great plot twists and turns and top-notch horror/monster artwork courtesy Guy Davis (with coloring to match) and you’ve got a great read.
REBEL – Pepe Moreno
Ah, the 80s. I’m pretty sure that I followed chunks of this through HEAVY METAL or maybe I’d seen the albums at some forward-looking comic shop in the 80s or 90s. REBEL is Moreno’s MAD MAX meets ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK meets CAR WARS with punky attitude to spare. I’m not sure how the retro feel plays out to a new reader today, but I was cackling with glee over the high-octane and luridly-colored thrills on the page. The plot itself is pretty bare and major elements are left hanging at the conclusion of the action, leading me to wonder if there’s a second volume out there. Not for kids and very much of its time, but entertaining nonetheless.
ALEX TOTH: BLACK AND WHITE
What more needs be said? Some of Toth’s best work alongside sketchbook and commission pages, with a good representation of sequential and standalone pieces. This sort of thing is review proof. You either want more Toth or you don’t. Me? I want more. And considering I’m looking at sketching out my own breakdowns in order to better understand how to weight a scrip page, you could far far worse than by studying Toth’s work.
Chris Mautner: I’ve spent the better part of the week ensconced between the pages of the new, two-volume, slipcased Humbug collection, courtesy of Fantagraphics. For those who don’t know, Humbug magazine was one of Mad creator Harvey Kurtzman’s failed magazine attempts, in between Trump and Help!
It’s a really impressive collection of work, featuring not only trusted Kurtzman compadres like Will Elder and Jack Davis, but also (then) up and comers like Arnold Roth and Al Jaffee. While some of the humor is a bit dated, most holds up rather well, and the production design here is nothing short of stunning. Fantagraphics really knocked this one out of the park in restoration.
I also cruised through the advance galley of Century: 1910, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neil’s latest entry in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series. I definitely enjoyed it more than The Black Dossier, which I felt was a bit too clever by half, but it was a quick read, and definitely felt like the first chapter in an ongoing story rather than a self-sustained tale.
Tom Bondurant: My bedside-table reading includes the Tales of the Green Lantern Corps collection, which reprints the 1981 Len Wein/Mike Barr/Joe Staton miniseries and a few more backup stories from that period. It had been a while since I read the miniseries, but it looks like it will have a lot in common with Blackest Night. I know — not surprising that Geoff Johns would mine an old GL story.
I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed the first issue of Superman: World Of New Krypton (written by James Robinson and Greg Rucka, drawn by Pete Woods). Robinson and Rucka focus on just a few characters besides Superman — Alura, Zod, and Alura’s aide Tyr — each of which allows them to introduce us to various social and political aspects of New Krypton. It helps that their Superman seems a little more pragmatic than he’s usually portrayed. Woods does a good job with the art, starting with a fine two-page spread which depicts Superman’s brief spaceflight simply but powerfully, and including a short fight sequence between Superman and Non. All in all, it has the makings of a good sci-fi-oriented Superman story.
Finally, sticking with the big red S, I got a big kick out of Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures In The Eighth Grade #4 (written by Landry Q. Walker, drawn by Eric Jones). Along with a funny, Nibbler-esque take on Streaky the Super-Cat, it has a clever riff on the “Luthor discovers the secret” plot. This miniseries has found a nice balance between being referential enough for older readers (what with Lena’s battle armor and Streaky) and being broad and simple enough for the kids. Here’s hoping Walker and Jones get to do more Supergirl after it’s over.
Tim O’Shea: David Aja is an artist that I’ve noticed in the past, but never greatly appreciated. With Daredevil #116, Aja captures my attention with one page of art that hearkens back to Steranko at his finest. And Brubaker makes the one-note Kingpin have an interesting backstory for the first time in years. I enjoyed Tom Beland’s return to Puerto Rico with the Spider-Man & Human Torch one-shot. I’m curious to see if it performs as strongly as his last effort, as I would not object to Beland writing an ongoing monthly for Marvel.
Meanwhile, Jeff Parker has made some deal with the Marvel scheduling department, clearly. How else does one explain that The Age of Sentry 6; Agents of Atlas #2 and X-Men First Class: Finals #2 were all released in the same week? I’m torn as to which fictional Parker moment of the week may be my favorite — the scene in Sentry where Parker writes Spider-Man, in the heat of battle, saying: “Daredevil and I will swing around a lot.” or a tragic scene in which Iron Man sheds tears … from his armor eye-slit (kudos to artist Nick Dragotta for that last one). Ultimately the Parker award goes to Venus, as she enter the odd workspace of Bob (Marvel Boy), saying to herself: “And I enter the virtual bowels of Uranus.”
What kind of oddity am I that instead of wanting to see the Watchmen film, I’m more eager to see the second part of Cartoon Network’s Batman: The Brave and The Bold (initially broadcast on Friday and replayed on Saturday morning) two-parter where Batman battles wits with an alternate universe Owlman. And yet, I missed both broadcasts of the second part [I can totally vouch for Part 1]–fortunately Cartoon Network will be rebroadcasting Part 1 (Deep Cover for Batman) and Part 2 (Game Over for Owlman!) on Wednesday, March 11 at 5 PM.
I echo Tom’s hope that Walker and Jones get to do more Supergirl.
Douglas Wolk: I just read Eddie Piskor’s Wizzywig, Volume 2: Hacker – he’s got half the book up as a preview at his site. It’s a comics “biography” of a famous hacker, Kevin “Boingthump” Phenicle — a fictional character who’s sort of a hybrid of Kevin Mitnick and Kevin Poulsen, with a little bit of other hacking pioneers’ stories worked in there too. This one follows him through the early BBS era (and a stint in prison). It’s pretty unsubtle — Kevin’s misunderstood and angry, and almost everybody else is either a menace or a dork or both — but Piskor’s pacing is dramatically effective, and I’m enjoying the way he’s drawing this series enormously. His characters are broad, slightly grotesque caricatures — they remind me a bit of early Dan Clowes — but most of his images also involve finely rendered shading that gives them a touch of real depth. I appreciate the depth of Kevin as a character, too: he’s fascinated by the nuts and bolts of emerging technology, but he’s even more interested in it as an instrument of social control and as a way to create the power he otherwise lacks.
I’ve also been working my way through a pile of very peculiar comics I picked up from the fifty-cent bins at New York Comic-Con and WonderCon, especially a handful of thrashed copies of Strange Adventures comics from the ’50s and early ’60s; they make great bedtime reading if you like weird dreams as much as I do.
#128, from 1961, has a story called “Come Home from Earth!” that’s one of the most screwed-up variations on the who’s-my-real-father theme I’ve ever read. On the second page, 14-year-old Dave Wilson’s parents casually tell him that he’s actually an alien left with them for safekeeping — this is not the climax of the story, it’s the opening premise — and the rest of the story involves him deciding which of two aliens from two different planets is actually his father (spoiler: it’s the one who saves his life while appearing to endanger him, rather than the one who endangers him while appearing to protect him). It ends with the evil alien-as-father explaining to the good one that he’d hoped “to win Dave as my son, and then get him to use his superior intelligence to devise a super-weapon with which to conquer your planet!” Then Dave hugs his adoptive mother goodbye and tells her “I’ll come back to see you every once in a while — for an hour, anyhow!” while his adoptive father, a gentle, Sid Greene-drawn fellow with a crew cut, tells him “Bess and I will always love you as a son, Dave…” This was clearly somebody’s idea of wish-fulfillment. But whose?
(While I’m in the fifty-cent pile: I’ve started buying buck-or-cheaper romance comics whenever I can find them, and Charlton’s Love Diary #92 includes an impressively weird/psychedelic-style piece called “I’ll Always Love Him” drawn by one Enrique Nieto, or F. Nieto, or Joe Nieto. Here’s a cover he drew. He’s discussed a little bit here, but now I want to know more.)
As far as prose books go, I just started Lawrence Shainberg’s unbelievably strange Crust, an erudite, obsessive, mock-memoiristic, mock-annotated novel about nose-picking (and media/information overload). It won me over with this mock-Barbara Kruger image.