How Lee & Kirby's "Fantastic Four" Birthed the Marvel Universe, Part 1
It’s old home week at What Are You Reading today, as our special guest is none other than Graeme McMillan, who, before he became a writer and editor for the sci-fi blog io9, used to pal around with us back when we were at that other blog that shall not be named for fear of … something, I dunno.
Anyway, to see what Graeme and everyone else is reading this week just click on the link below …
Tom Bondurant: This week I read a couple of stories from the JLA: Strength In Numbers paperback: an Adam Strange guest-shot written by Mark Waid and pencilled by Arnie Jorgensen, and the Starro/Sandman mash-up “It” from the regular team of writer Grant Morrison, penciller Howard Porter and inker John Dell. Plot-wise, the Adam Strange story hinges on (surprise!) a novel way of using Zeta-Beam teleportation; but it may be more notable for Jorgensen’s expressionistic take on the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes. His Orion literally froths at the mouth, and at one point he zeros in on Adam’s half-crazed expression like Steve Ditko on crystal meth. I could (and might) do a whole post on the religious overtones in “It,” but for now I’ll just say it’s a scary, suspenseful, and ultimately sweet two issues.
Big week for Batman in the regular books. I read Scott Shaw!’s “Oddball Comics” entry on Brother Power last week, so I knew a little about him going into Brave and the Bold #29, and I also liked the story right up until the end. With his lament about “what have we lost since the ’60s,” JMS’s heart was in the right place, but in story terms it felt redundant and preachy. I’m with Tim overall, though — this was a definite improvement over last issue.
I hadn’t been particularly impressed by Christopher Yost’s work on Red Robin, so I only bought the first issue. However, I did like the conclusion of his Huntress/Man-Bat two-parter in this week’s Batman: Streets Of Gotham #6 (drawn by the regular art team of Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs). In fact, the issue worked pretty well on its own: Black Mask gives a goon an invisibility suit and doesn’t care who he kills, so he tricks a priest into thinking he’s the Voice of God and Huntress and Man-Bat are beasts from the Pit. Not a bad setup for the anyone-can-die-at-any-time atmosphere which must permeate Gotham City, and the twist ending also makes good sense in that context. I’m not sure how well the twist works in terms of story logic, but on the whole, it was a well-told tale.
Big week too for Geoff Johns. Flash: Rebirth #5 didn’t quite live up to its “this changes everything!” hype, mostly because its shocking reveal wasn’t particularly unexpected, considering Johns’ affection for continuity. The rah-rah moments made up for it, though; and I liked seeing the assembled speedsters. (Too bad XS couldn’t join ‘em, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time … uh, so to speak.) I don’t have any big complaints about Ethan Van Sciver’s work either, except for that one forced-perspective splash page.
Meanwhile, I bought Adventure Comics #4 dreading the return of Superboy-Prime, since I thought Legion Of Three Worlds had given him such a perfect ending. Nevertheless, this was a very fun coda. Superboy himself is none too happy himself about being part of Blackest Night, and to make matters worse he’s being chased by Black Lantern Alex Luthor. The result, co-written by Sterling Gates and ably drawn by Jerry Ordway and Bob Wiacek, isn’t that subtle (Luthor calls the Internet “a conduit for … rage, and you continue to evoke quite a bit of rage”), but that’s part of its charm. I mean, it’s not like I love the little punk now, but this issue was a good bit of rehab.
I also bought the first issue of Ian Edgington and Davide Fabbri’s Victorian Undead, ostensibly a Sherlock Holmes story but more a steampunk horror tale with some Holmes in it. For one thing, Watson isn’t the narrator. That’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s not what I was expecting. Still, it might have avoided some problems with execution, like with the doctor whose speaking style and general demeanor initially led me to believe he was Holmes. When our heroes finally do show up, Holmes looks and acts rather like Reed Richards, which is to say a little younger and more action hero-y than I might have thought. Fabbri’s art is like a cross between Mike Wieringo and Chriscross, so it’s bright and energetic, and that’s not bad but it too is at odds with the darker elements of the story. I will say this, though: it
didn’t remind me constantly of Blackest Night.
JK Parkin: As Sean and Kevin pointed out this week, SLG is having a sale over on their site through Monday. So I thought it might be a good time to talk about two books I recently read from them that would be worth your time and money, should you decide to take advantage of the 40 percent discount.
First up is Pinocchio Vampire Slayer by Dustin Higgins and Van Jensen … just in time for New Moon! Well, not really. This is a book that received a lot of press and praise before it even came out because of the simplicity-yet-brilliance of the concept — the wooden kid whose nose grows when he lies, taking on creatures who die when you impale them with a wooden stake. Sometimes high concepts can fall flat in the execution, and I was happy to see that wasn’t the case with PVS, which I liked a whole lot. There are some fun twists and a lot of heart in the book, and I’m looking forward to the second one.
Second is Weird Fishes by Jamaica Dyer, which collects her webcomic. It’s good stuff, but don’t take my word for it … go check it out for yourself.
(Sean pointed out that Buenaventura is also having a sale, and you couldn’t go wrong with picking up Fight or Run, or The Aviatrix, or any of their other comics as well).
Tim O’Shea: Steve Lieber continues to cram an amazing amount of action into the caves of Underground 3 (. I don’t know how long it took for Jeff Parker and Lieber to do this five-issue miniseries, but if they can spare the time (and their family budgets can take the hit) I would love to see these two collaborate again. As much drama as they have in the caves, the creators have built a great parallel tale outside the caves. And the shift outside the caves to the vibrant colors of the outside (colored by Ron Chan) is quite distinctive (but Chan is to be credited equally for inking the dark cave interior scenes as well).
The cover to Flash Rebirth 5 (please god let there never be a Flash Afterbirth) is a twisted reworking of Flash 123’s (1961) cover. And fortunately that’s the only sour note in this issue’s read. I think there’s three schools of superhero comic fanthought: 1) Toss out the status quo–explore new ideas with the corporate property; 2) Keep the hero the same age, the character/story dynamics-give me what pulled me in, in the first place; 3) Toss out some of the status quo, keep the stuff I like.
OK, maybe there’s more than three schools of fanthought. But the bottom line, I missed Max Mercury and am glad to have him back in the Flash Family. After the wringer that Bart Allen has been run through by DC editorial in recent years, it was nice to see Bart reunited with Max. I wonder if Max will be put back on the DC universe shelf after this miniseries has run its course or if they have a gameplan to utilize him going forward. I’ll just have to wait and see, but in the meantime this miniseries has become immensely more enjoyable.
Paul Azaceta drawing Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man 612) reminds me of when Bill Sienkiewicz did a mid-1980s stint on Fantastic Four. It’s jarring, but it works for me. In an effort to keep the book on its intense (three issues a month) schedule, editor Steve Wacker is taking some inspired risks–namely this issue’s use of the I Kill Giants (Image) team of Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura on the second tale. Back to the first tale in the issue, however, did Mark Waid really sneak in a Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell reference into his representation of Electro’s origin? (“I was a lineman for the county.” Nice, Waid, nice).
After my worship of Waid in last week’s column, no one will be surrprised that I got a huge kick out of the beatdown that Plutonian received at the hands of Charybdis in Irredeemable 8 (BOOM). Waid is good at surprises and the character path with Charybdis has taken a great turn in recent issues.
Last month I fairly well tore down J. Michael Straczynski’s Brave and Bold 28, so I was heistant to pick up B&B 29 which features a team-up between Batman and Brother Power, the Geek. I do not know a thing about BP, but as dated
a character he clearly is — JMS set up a modern day setting for his return that runs the risk of being one-note but fortunately does not. Crazy as this may read, I think JMS could build a great BP the Geek ongoing. Stop laughing. It could work. Saiz does a great job shifting from the 1960s to present day with his art. JMS’ examination of Batman’s history played off his reaction to BP is a quirky, but effective way to go–and I’m glad I bought the issue. It’s a nice recovery after the last issue.
O’Shea: Next Generation (aka my 10-year-old son) continues to enjoy Chris Giarrusso ‘s G-Man: Cape Crisis, which saw the release of issue 4 (out of 5) this week
Michael May: I just finished X-Men Legacy: Salvage and my main reaction is that it’s about frickin time. Rogue’s always been my favorite X-Man, but the tragedy of her inability to control her powers has gone on far too long. She was in danger of Wolverine-syndrome for me, by which I mean that Marvel kept Wolverine’s true background a mystery for so long that I lost interest in whether or not they ever revealed it. By the time they finally did, I’d stopped caring. Fortunately, they got to Rogue in time and I’m thrilled that the woe-is-me part of her life is behind her. (Not that I expect her to be completely done with all drama, but you know what I mean…)
I also appreciate what Carey’s done with Charles Xavier. I actually like Professor X again. I’ve been away from the X-Men a while, but I’m kind of excited about keeping up with their adventures again, if only in the collected versions.
Chris Mautner: Short and sweet this week cause I’m tired. I spent a good part of the week reading Goats: The Corndog Imperative, the second collected volume of Jonathan Rosenberg’s Webcomic from Del Rey. I’m of two minds about the strip. On the one hand, I admire the attempt at world-building and extended storytelling Rosenberg is attempting here, even if it is more than a tad silly, and it’s interesting to see him try to move beyond the traditional joke-a-day concept he began with. On the other hand, while he can be funny, I tire of the constant punchline/rimshot/punchline repartee that plauges the dialogue. No one can make any comment without someone offering a bit of surreal smartassery. It gets a little weary and it makes it hard to develop any attachment to anyone in the large cast. Still, he’s trying something. God love him for that.
Graeme McMillan: It’s completely unintentional, but I’ve just gone through a few “real” books that’ve impacted how I’m reading comics these days. Two of them are kind of process books – John Ortved’s “The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History” and Russell T Davies’ “The Writer’s Tale” – and the third is Chip Kidd’s second novel, “The Learners,” which is – like his first, “The Cheese Monkeys” – as much about graphic design as anything else. They’ve all got me thinking about how comics, especially mainstream superhero comics, are assembled, and
what their purposes are these days.
That train of thought has been helped by speeding through this week’s “Showcase Presents: DC Comics Presents: The Superman Team-Ups Vol. 1,” which was a really strange experience; I hadn’t realized how many of the stories I’d read in reprints when I was growing up, so half the book had this unexpected nostalgia to it. It doesn’t hurt that the book is full of the old school “Hello, chum!” quasi-professional, quasi-friends relationships between the characters that, were I somehow Geoff Johns for a day, I’d selfishly try and get back into the current line as quickly as possible. Also, that Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez art! Man, he’s such a great artist.
What else have I enjoyed this week? The new issue of Phonogram, even though I think I read a different story from the one Kieron Gillen wrote, judging from his talk of villains in the backmatter.
The new Underground, which isn’t just enjoyable on its own merits (Again, the book just looks wonderful, with Steve Lieber and Ron Chan doing some great work together; I love the limited palette in the cavern), but makes me feel like Jeff Parker is one of those Most Underrated Writers In Comics guys: Between this, Mysterius The Unfathomable and his Marvel work, he’s put out some really, really good, and really varied, work this year, I think.
Superherowise, I was kind of disappointed by Flash: Rebirth #5, which seemed much lighter and stretched out compared with earlier issues, and Adventure Comics #4, which started like Ambush Bug and ended like… well, like a kind of generic superhero comic, really. That said, I’d still think about picking up DC Comics Presents: The Superboy Prime Team-Ups just for the cheap metatextual jokes, if someone wanted to make it happen.