"Gotham's" Cory Michael Smith Savors the Arrival of the Riddler
Welcome to a special holiday weekend edition of What Are You Reading?, as we take a break from hot dogs and street festivals to take a look at what comics we’ve been reading this week. Our special guest this week is Vito Delsante, writer of FCHS and the upcoming Stray. When he isn’t making comics, he’s selling them at Jim Hanley’s Universe, located in New York near the Empire State Building.
To see what Vito and the rest of the Robot 6 crew are reading, click below …
I read the first volume of Phil Hester and Brian Churilla’s The Anchor. It’s a lot more complicated than its simple concept about an immortal, demon-fighting Viking suggests. Of course, that’s no surprise because Phil Hester wrote it, but the specific complications are a lot of fun. Like how the Anchor is actually in two places at once, fighting demons in Hell as well as keeping them off the Earth. And how what happens to him in Hell is reflected on his physical body. And how he uses that to his advantage while protecting humanity. This is also the most overtly Christian book I’ve read from Phil, not only in its mythology, but also in its themes and the attitude of its hero. In a time when that belief system is under a lot of justifiable attack, I find the focus on love and peace-making refreshing and fascinating.
Sean T. Collins
Here’s what’s been on my nightstand and in my backpack for the past couple weeks:
Trigger #1 by Mike Bertino: A variety of familiar altcomix styles get a workout in this one-man anthology of the sort this entire segment of the industry used to consist of.
Weathercraft by Jim Woodring: Psychedelic funny-animal alternate-reality torture porn? Jim Woodring is a one-man subgenre.
The Mystic Hands of Doctor Strange #1 by Kieron Gillen, Peter Milligan, Ted McKeever, Mike Carey, Frazer Irving, Frank Brunner, and Marcos Martin: This is how Doctor Strange comics ought to be done.
Snow Time by Nora Krug: “A short, achingly lovely-to-look-at story of weather and murder” is how I describe this comic in my review. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Held Sinister by Conor Stechschulte: Inky alt-horror of the Edgar Allen Poe school from the Closed Caption Comics collective.
Big Questions #14: Title and Deed by Anders Nilsen: Twelve years and thirteen issues worth of scattered plot threads and dark philosophical musings entwine in a violent climax in arguably the most powerful funny-animal story this side of Watership Down.
Fairy Navigator Runa is a very typical magical girl shoujo manga, with all the requisite elements, from saucer eyes and an extravagance of screentones that fairly burst off the page to the usual storyline—clumsy girl with low self-confidence finds out she has a Special Power! Because she’s a Princess! There are a few moments that lift this one above the standard issue, though, like the raccoon with scythe blades instead of paws, and the couple from the fairy world who not only turn into an owl and a cat to evade detection, they turn into a super-cute owl and cat so they won’t scare her. This is the kind of book everyone likes to make fun of, and it’s not great literature, that’s for sure, but I can see a girl enjoying the basic story and the flashes of wit.
Shifting to an entirely different emotional key, How I Made It to Eighteen, by Tracy White, is a semi-autobiographical story of the author’s stay in a mental hospital after a nervous breakdown at 17. It’s a hard story to read. The main character, Stacy Black, is not very likeable, in part because her depression flattens her out and makes her hostile. Plus she has that teenage I-know-everything attitude that drives grownups (me) nuts. It’s hard not to get irritated with her and just want her to get on with it and get well; I felt like the book dragged on, but at the same time, that’s what depression is like. The art is done in a naive style that I assume is at least partly deliberate, but White does a good job of using the art to illustrate and amplify Stacy’s mental states.
I read Darwyn Cooke’s two Parker adaptations, The Hunter and The Man With The Getaway Face. Both were gripping and immersive, and just about everything you’d want from a crime novel. Perfect examples of the ideal fusion of artist, subject, and medium. I loved The New Frontier and his other DC work, but this leaves it all in the dust.
(Not that I didn’t read any superhero books this week, of course….)
The final issue of War of the Supermen did a fine job wrapping up the various “New Krypton” storylines, but not before delivering some good old-fashioned superhero fights. In this age of dismemberments, eye-gouges, decapitations, etc., it was kinda nice to see Zod piledrive Superman with a battleship. The Supergirl/Ursa fight was a little rougher, and of course the eventual disposition of Zod’s army was a little too neat, but by then I felt like the miniseries had done its job. I found one early panel, where Superman is pleading with Zod’s men to find some peaceful resolution, to be particularly effective, because it reminded me of all the diplomatic groundwork he’d so carefully laid throughout the World Of New Krypton series. Still, it was never going to end that way, so in that respect at least it used its villains — Brainiac, Luthor, and now Zod — very effectively.
I can’t remember who said that Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit was (probably paraphrasing) “Salvation Run without all the nuance,” but … yeah, pretty much.
All of the books I’ve mentioned so far have, in their own ways, been fairly violent, so it’s probably fitting that the last one is Unknown Soldier. I’m very sorry that this series is ending, because I think the past couple of issues have been excellent introductions to the character. Dr. Moses Llwanga is a disfigured surgeon trying to right innumerable wrongs as he makes his way through Uganda. Writer Joshua Dysart and artist Alberto Ponticelli don’t hold back on the brutality, but they don’t glorify it either. Instead, for the past two years they’ve done their best to put human faces on the kinds of tragedies we can otherwise easily ignore. Unknown Soldier has been a very smart series. It challenges me constructively every time I read it, and it always leaves me wanting to know more.
I’m happy to say that this week saw the release of the Hero Initiative/Marvel 128-page benefit project, The Invincible Gene Colan. For only $19.99, you get a hardcover collection of Colan’s work for Marvel (as well as some of his pre-Marvel work). Net proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit Gene Colan. Given Mr. Colan’s current fiscal struggles (and recent injury), this is a simple as hell way to show your appreciation for the years of amazing entertainment the artist has given us over the years.
My stack of other buys for this week was big, but I only want to single out two books. Jeff Parker wrote an issue of Thunderbolts where he takes us in a new direction and gives readers a genuine surprise (for me, while not approaching the surprise of Busiek’s first issue way back when, but still a damn fun surprise). And Ed Brubaker made the inner child fanboy scream with delight when he had the Beast rejoin the Avengers (albeit the Secret Avengers) in Secret Avengers #1. It’s the first Avengers book I have bought in several years (pre-Bendis). Oh OK, three books–Jim McCann delivered on his hype in our interview and the standalone Dazzler one-shot was a fun retro/yet present day read. He lays the groundwork for a good ongoing or mini if sales and Marvel gives him a chance.
Did I say I wanted to single out two comics from my pile? I was kidding myself. I always put my favorite/most anticipated reads at the bottom of my pile. And this week the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #37 is at the bottom. Why? Editor Stephen Wacker went the untold tales route–leading with Karl Kesel writing the first team-up between Captain America and Spidey. Until Kesel is a writer on a regular basis, I will shout from the rooftops: “Get Kesel writing on an ongoing basis, Marvel!” I’ve never heard of artist Paulo Siqueira, but if the guy is consistently this strong, he’ll be a name we’ll be seeing more of–hopefully. The other title is Kurt Busiek and Pat Oliffe (yea the original, bona fide, thank you Steve Wacker Untold Tale creative team) doing what they do best. I am a sucker for nostalgia tales. What can I say?
Atlas/Thunderbolts – Of all the Heroic Age restarts, these two have, so far, captivated me the most. No slight meant to any of the other books (I’m digging the oral history of the Avengers back-up so far) but Jeff’s take on the T-Bolts has me hooked. And Atlas was always good…should have never been canceled either time.
Batman & Robin – I rarely read comics to try to solve a bigger mystery than what’s presented, but Grant is taking us for a ride, and I don’t want to miss the sights. He’s so damn smart when it comes to visual language of comics, but also how to use the dialogue to further that same language. Always the last book I read because it doesn’t get any better.
Hark! A Vagrant and Let’s Be Friends Again – Too many of my friends do webcomics, so when I want to read something that I don’t feel any pressure to read, I go to these two. Kate Beaton was talked up to me by so many people, I prepared myself for disappointment. It never came, happily. I can’t get enough of H!AV. And Let’s Be Friends Again says everything I want to say…and says it meaner than I can.
The Man With The Getaway Face – Darwyn’s next Parker book can’t come soon enough! A friend of mine picked this up for me at WonderCon, so I’m constantly reading this…what he does in this…distills an entire book down to a 30 odd page comic is nothing short of a lesson in economy. If Darwyn ever teaches a comics making class, I will be in the front row.
Research – I have some books I’m working on currently, so I’m always doing research. Some of the topics of the books: the Kentucky Derby, the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911, New York in 1977, Grand Central Terminal, and cloning. I’m kind of all over the place.
Submissions – I’m working with Mark Andrew Smith and a few others on a new project (shhh!) as the submissions editor and I’ve received a few pitches that were good, and some that are dynamite. I can’t wait for folks to see these.
A map – I’m getting ready to head down to Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC this week, so I’m getting the maps and GPS ready for the drive. Rachel Freire and her fiancee will accompany me on the drive, so pray for their souls. I have a lead foot.
FCHS – I keep reading this, preparing for the sequel! 1/8 of the way in on the script, and I’m hoping that by the time I finish the script, everyone will actually get to read the book and want to see where we go with it. I’m very proud of this book.