Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Welcome once again to What Are You Reading? This week our special guest contributor is comics writer Dwight L. MacPherson, who you might know from Sidewise, currently running on Zuda; the pirate story Dead Men Tell No Tales; or Kid Houdini and The Silver-Dollar Misfits, among other works.
To see what Dwight and the rest of the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click on the link …
Final Crisis came out in paperback this week, so I picked up a copy and read through it in a few big chunks. The last time I read the miniseries from start to finish was when issue #7 came out, over a year ago. Much of it was familiar, because it’s so full of “moments” — Turpin’s transformation, Supergirl vs. Mary Marvel, the Green Lanterns fighting through collapsing spacetime, etc. I’m not prepared to say it made any more sense as a collection, mind you, but I was able to follow the plot a little better. Of course it is very dense, because not only are Morrison and company constantly bombarding the reader with all manner of ideas, they’re pulling those ideas from various other series. For example, it may help to think of FC as a semi-sequel to Crisis On Infinite Earths by way of the reviled Countdown miniseries, at least with regard to the “final fate” of the Monitors.
However, Final Crisis is most effective when it’s scary, and boy does it get scary. Not so much with Mandrakk the Vampire Monitor, maybe; but with the people of Earth turned into Apokoliptian pawns, and the other sorts of horrors created by Darkseid and Libra. Fortunately, FC is also good at happy endings, and particularly Superman’s role therein.
Otherwise, I am now caught up with both Scott Pilgrim and Empowered, and I’m eager for the next volume of each.
Kid stuff! Rob Worley sent me a PDF of Scratch 9, an all-ages comic that is coming out in August. It’s a great Saturday morning cartoon-style comic with a lot of potential. The first issue doesn’t stray too far off the reservation—Scratch, an independent-minded cat, escapes from his owner, Penelope, who is trying to give him a bath, and winds up in a cage at some evil scientific lab. The mad scientist, Dr. Schrodinger (heh) wants to transfer minds between bodies so that he can become immortal, but of course the experiment goes wrong, leaving Dr. Schrodinger’s mind trapped inside a rickety prototype robot and Scratch suddenly capable of conjuring up his past selves (cats have nine lives, remember?). It’s all basically setup, so by the end of the first issue you have Scratch and his alter ego (a saber-tooth tiger) roaming the streets, Penelope and Dr. Schrodinger out looking for him, plus a dog and a chicken from the lab and some evil rats who presumably are going to play bigger parts as the story continues. The art is lively, the characters have a lot of personality, and this looks like it will be a really fun series; I can totally see it as an animated cartoon as well.
I’m not too far into Scott Chantler’s Tower of Treasure, but it strikes me as the kind of book that works very well as a graphic novel. It’s a fantasy tale of Dessa, a plucky girl who is a member of a traveling circus troupe whose members moonlight as thieves. Dessa doesn’t care much for this aspect of the job, and furthermore, she is preoccupied with finding her twin brother and the man who abducted him. All this plays out in a knights-and-peasants kind of setting in which the art economically describes the surroundings and the characters. If this were a prose novel, the reader would have to content with pages of description, whereas the graphic novel establishes the motley cast and the setting quickly and allows the author to get straight to the business of telling his story. The art is classic kids’ style, dynamic and cartoony, making this a timeless and pleasurable read.
Sean T. Collins
Here’s the stuff I read this week. Click the links for reviews!
Mr. Cellar’s Attic by Noel Freibert: A finely creepy EC Comics homage with a gorgeously colored cover.
Monstrosity Mini by Jorgé Diaz: A tiny comic about giant monsters, with some hits and misses inside.
Wally Gropius by Tim Hensley: It’s a silly parody of ’60s teen humor comics! It’s a scathing satire of 21st-century robber capitalism! Stop, you’re both right!
THUNDERBOLTS 142, 143
Jeff Parker and company wring some entertainment from the peripheries of a kind of non-event event book. Always nice to see the Paladin get some play. Solid one-liners, but really all of this feels like the lead-in to what he really wants to do with the book, which started last week with #144, which I haven’t gotten to yet.
Got the collection, after only getting the first four issues or so in the tabloid format. Nearly all of these are exquisitely beautiful, but most of them don’t really do much of anything past that. As fun as they are, there’s not a lot of there there, if you catch my drift. There’s a huge canvas to work on, and really, nostalgia seems to strangle a lot of whatever interesting could be going on. DEADMAN with art by Mike Bullock, WONDER WOMAN by Ben Caldwell and ADAM STRANGE by Paul Pope are a solid antidote to this, doing things either with story or form that the others don’t really match. Don’t get me wrong. There’s some beautiful art, and great cartooning (Amanda Conner on SUPERGIRL is so underrated as to be painful), but the stories don’t often match up to the promise. Still, my admiration to the teams for even getting something so anti-commercial out there to enjoy in the first place.
TORPEDO v. 2.
What’s to say? This is review-proof. Either you’re ravenously waiting for this or you don’t know about it (or you’re never going to care.) Jordi Bernet delivers on every single page, with actual honest to gosh cartooning, not simple draftsmanship. Enrique Abuli spins humorous tales so dark that I hesitate to call them comedy, and yet bust out laughing every single time, even if doing so marks me as possessing a soul so warped and twisted that perhaps I’m not fit for polite or even impolite company. Even if IDW never did another worthy thing as a publisher (and that’s not likely), the TORPEDO collection (which dialogue by Jimmy Palmiotti) would make them a publisher worth honoring. Is TORPEDO that good? Yes. Yes it is.
I’m loving the hell out of Dynamite’s Adventures of Red Sonja reprints (having just started the third volume). I’m not sold on Frank Thorne’s blow-up doll face for Sonja, but the guy really knew how to design a page and show fluid action. And Roy Thomas, Bruce Jones, and Claire Noto’s plots are a lot more fun than Thomas’ Conan the Barbarian stuff I’ve read (which, admittedly, is only the earliest issues), probably because they’re freed from trying to make stories fit into a pre-existing outline of the hero’s career. The Red Sonja stuff feels a lot more loose and spontaneous for that reason. I could do without the flowery “Hyborian” prose and dialogue, but the stories are fun and imaginative enough that I can put up with no end of “Tarim’s Bloods” and “polyglot populations.”
Dark Horse’s hardcover edition of Steven T Seagle and Tim Sale’s The Amazon is a good-looking book. Sale fills the jungle and its cities, villages, and rivers with lots of gorgeous details that pulled me right into the story. I was a bit put off by the overly clever device of using two different documents (the main character’s private journal and his final, printed, magazine article) to narrate the story, but it’s an interesting – if not entirely successful – experiment. One of the things I like most about Seagle is his willingness to try new things, so I can’t fault him for it. It was just a bit too much for me this time. I really do appreciate though that he was able to tell an important, sadly-still-relevant story about what’s going on in the Amazon and make it about something other than just a sermon. Impressive.
I also read Gene Luen Yang’s Animal Crackers collection from SLG. I loved American Born Chinese, but I agree with Chris Mautner that Prime Baby felt like more of the same and I was curious to see how Animal Crackers compared. It’s more complete than Prime Baby (which seems to just sort of end without resolving anything), but not as profound or tightly crafted as ABC. It certainly has its moments though and I loved its thoughts on how the world can be interpreted in different ways depending on how you squint at it.
Finally, I read Ryan Kelly’s Funrama #1. After seeing Kelly do so many “realistic” stories, it was a blast to see him cut loose with some goofy (in a good way), X-Men-esque villains like the Mutant Punks. I’m a big fan of Kelly’s highly-detailed, literal style and it’s fantastic to see him render a cartoonishly designed character like Bombcat and be forced to stick to profile shots because the design just doesn’t work in three dimensions. Actually, “forced” isn’t the right word, because a) Kelly’s a talented enough artist to figure it out if he needed to and b) instead of being restricted by the limitation, he’s obviously having a great time with it and finding ways to make it funny.
This week I started to get caught up on my review pile by reading a couple of First Second books, starting off with George O’Conner’s Zeus: King of the Gods and Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess, part of his new, ongoing series of Greek myth adaptations, Olympians.
For the most part I agree with Michael May — these are attractive updates of the tales that hew close enough to the original myths, and keep just enough of their disturbing undercurrents, to make for an enjoyable read. Part of me wishes that O’Conner had taken a different, less “comic bookey” (for want of a better descriptor) visual style — the “gods were the original superheroes” seems a bit cliched and obvious to me, and O’Conner frames a lot of the big action sequences in that manner, with Zeus and company leaping into the fray a la the Avengers. D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths remains my personal high water mark where these stories are concerned, especially in terms of conveying awe and mystery. That all being said, these remain excellent introductions into the mythical canon for younger readers, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to an interested kid.
I also read City of Spies by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan and Pascal Dizin, but was less taken with that book. I’m a sucker for the ligne claire art style, of which Dizin is obviously a devotee. But while his renderings were lovely to look at, the story itself is more than a bit overly familiar, with plucky kids stumbling into a Nazi spy plot during WWII-era America. The whole thing just felt a bit too lockstep and reliant on similar tales I had read before. I kept waiting for it to surprise me and annoyed that it didn’t seem interested in doing so. Kids will no doubt like it, but grown-ups might tire of it quickly.
I received a nice package in the mail from Joey Weiser, which included the recently released Cavemen in Space (which I haven’t read yet) and two issues of a mini-comic called Mermin. It’s about a merman, hence the title, or actually a mer-boy, who washes up on a beach and befriends a group of kids. He ends up moving in with one of them and starts going to school; it’s a classic fish out of water story, as Mermin tries to adapt to life on land, all the while trying to avoid being found by the denizens of the undersea kingdom he escaped from. It’s an all-ages story that has a lot of fun moments in it, such as Mermin learning to play tetherball and what happens when Mermin steps into the school swimming pool. And the underlying mystery of why everyone’s after him helps build the anticipation of what’s going to happen next — I hope the third issue comes out soon. You can order online here.
Dwight L. MacPherson
I would like to start off by thanking John Parkin for the invite—and for his patience. I have been extremely busy completing my first young adult novel, so it’s taken me a month to get back to him.
Without further ado, here’s what I’m currently reading:
100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson: An amazing coming of age story with interdimensional travel, strange worlds and being, and mysteries galore. This gem is one of the most imaginative and entertaining young reader books I’ve read in quite a while.
According to the publisher, the book is for 8-12 year-old readers, but if your young reader is easily spooked, you may want to wait until he or she is 11 or 12. There is some pretty intense imagery that may haunt them in their dreams. Literally. (Boo!)
The Little Country by Charles de Lint: A book with mysterious magical powers is awakened by an unwitting musician named Janey Little. Aware of the awakened magic, a secret organization of immortals will stop at nothing to possess it. Even if it means killing Janey, her grandfather or her friends.
An excellent fantasy adventure thus far. Plenty of magic, music and mystery in the coastal city of Cornwall, England.
Dare I say it? It’s a smashing fantasy adventure.
(You knew I would.)
Tara Normal by Howie Noel: Outrageous fun with wonderful art. If it doesn’t make you laugh out loud, there’s something wrong with your squeak box.
You never know who will pop up in this witty, audacious strip. We’ve already seen Baby Cthulhu, Abraham Lincoln’s ghost, a Dr. McNinja cameo, David Bowie, John Cusack, and–go see for yourself, why don’t ya? New pages are posted every Wednesday.