What Are You Reading?
Hello and welcome once again to What Are You Reading?, where the Robot 6 crew talk about the comics and graphic novels that they’ve been enjoying lately.
Today’s guest is Zom from the Mindless Ones blog. To see what Zom and the rest of the Robot 6 team have been reading, click below.
Sean T. Collins
I took last week off from What Are You Reading?, but in my defense, it was for good reason. For starters, I had a computer meltdown and an unrelated blog malfunction that really bollixed up my reading and reviewing schedule. On the positive side of the coin, however, I launched a whole new blog for myself! You can find it at seantcollins.com.
And that’s where you’ll find my latest slate of reviews for my increasingly inaccurately named “LOVE AND ROCKTOBER” project, wherein I’m reading my way through all of Los Bros Hernandez’s Love and Rockets collections.
Love and Rockets: New Stories #3: With Jaime Hernandez’s “Browntown”/”The Love Bunglers” suite, we reach the latest Locas story–the darkest, and one of the best, to date.
Heartbreak Soup: Switching over to Gilbert Hernandez’s end of the series, this is our introduction to the small Central American town of Palomar and its fascinatingly randy inhabitants. Things take a turn for the bleak right at the end.
Human Diastrophism: Beto rains destruction down on the town in the form of a serial killer, an earthquake, a plague of monkeys, a team of hitmen, and some extremely dangerous ideas.
Beyond Palomar: Contains Gilbert’s masterpiece, Poison River, and the more lighthearted but still substantive Love and Rockets X.
I also took a brief break from LOVE AND ROCKTOBER to review Mome Vol. 20: Fall 2010, the strong anniversary volume of the Fantagraphics flagship anthology, which came out this week.
Click the links for full reviews!
I read Vernon White’s Birdhouse this week and enjoyed it for its uniqueness. It’s constructed like a fairy tale – a ruthless king keeps his daughter trapped in the castle until she marries a particular nobleman – but it’s also very current. People wear contemporary clothing, live in modern houses, and (for the most part) hold twenty-first century values. The king’s men don’t carry swords; they wield handguns and rifles. The plot itself also breaks cliche by putting the princess in charge of her own destiny. She needs help to escape, but there’s no one prince that she’s relying on to break her free. Instead, she seeks assistance wherever she can get it, which adds the unfortunate complication of putting innocent people in danger from her father’s agents. It’s a fascinating story and I’m sure I’m going to want to reread it sooner rather than later.
I do have a couple of issues with the book though. Though it’s a fast read, it could have been faster. It’s extremely decompressed to the point of distraction. Dialogue doesn’t always flow smoothly because each speaker gets her own panel to talk in, making the reader pause for an awkward beat between sentences. There could also be a lot more expression in the characters’ faces who are often quite wooden. It’s not that they have NO expression, but they’re limited to two or three emotions in what should have been a powerful, moving story. As it is, it’s interesting, but it had the potential to be even more.
I’m curious to see where Jim McCann’s gonna take the Hawkeye & Mockingbird characters as the Widowmaker miniseries gears up; but before that can happen we had to read the latest issue of Hawkeye & Mockingbird (#6, and now the series is in undefined hiatus). As an old school fanboy, I crave anytime a writer puts Clint Barton and Steve Rogers in the same room; the character’s shared history is rich and McCann captilizes upon those dynamics effectively in this issue.
Kudos to my pal Dugan Trodglen for pointing out to me the Jeff Lemire/Sweet Tooth vibe to the layout of Superboy 1. Lemire is writing the series, while Pier Gallo is the artist, but I’m fairly certain Lemire is suggesting some layout advice, judging by the opening sequence and later the one page with six panels wrapping around a circular shot of the Kent homestead. As Lemire notes in his recent piece for DC Source: “I saw how all of the themes that I loved exploring in Essex County and The Nobody could also be present in Superboy…small town life, community , family…it was all there. Only this time instead of filtering it through the metaphor of hockey, I could filter it through the metaphor of the super hero.” I really hope this is the start of a long, successful run for Lemire and Gallo.
A few weeks back I got into a Twitter discussion with my pal Johnny Bacardi’s about The Doom Patrol and he made me want to reconsider the series yet again with this week’s issue 16. What brought me back was Bacardi’s admiration for Keith Giffen’s ability to effectively mesh all the incarnations of the Doom Patrol into this current ongoing. I just had to snag this latest issue after it opened with Ambush Bug doing an informercial featuring Danny the Brick (yes, the one remaining bit of Grant Morrison and Brendan McCarthy’s Danny the Street character). When I was younger, I never got Giffen’s art. There was an ugliness to it that warded me off. Now as I’ve gotten older, I realized my younger self expected all great art to have the clean antispetic nature of John Byrne. Fortunately now I can properly appreciate the gritty nature of Giffen’s art–particularly when inked by Al Milgrom. I agree with Bacardi’s tweet from this week: “Just read DOOM PATROL 16- another excellent issue. Giffen and Milgrom get their Kirby on. I wish more people bought that book.”
Just to shock long-time readers of this column, I actually enjoyed Morrison’s Batman & Robin 16. The nonchalant banter between Batman(s) and Robin, as well as Alfred’s line (acknowledging the return of Wayne): “I presume we have permission to cheer.” provided for some great comedy (as did Gordon’s return to the police station).
If you want to see how the hot dogs get made, or at least good metaphorical hot dog comics be sure to read former Marvel editor Nate Cosby’s tumbler account. He’s doing a multi-part behind the scenes breakdown of comics he helped edit. So far he’s done SPIDER-MAN LOVES MARY JANE #5 & AGENTS OF ATLAS #1. The Atlas breakdown is an eye-opener in terms of understanding what a pain in the ass Jeff Parker was to edit. Seriously though, as a longtime Parker fan, it was nice to read about the struggles of getting a series I greatly loved from concept to actual execution. It’s like a DVD commentary track, if read aloud.
This week I read Unexplored Worlds, the second collection of pre-Spider-Man comics drawn by Steve Ditko. This handsomely designed volume mainly collects work Ditko did for Charlton, a mix of sci-fi, western and post-code horror stories. Ditko is in fine form here. The early, awkward stuff that graced Vol. 1 is by and large gone; he seems more sure of himself here, full of verve, dramatic angles and odd hand gestures. In some stories, you can see the groundwork being laid down for what was to come in a few years — there’s a sequence where a guy travels to another dimension where you can see the beginnings of Dr. Strange.
But the writing! Oh, gloryoski, it’s absolutely terrible. You can’t even enjoy it on a “so bad it’s good level.” It’s just plain awful. Editor Blake Bell all but admits as much in his introduction, where he notes that the stories don’t come to a conclusion so much as stop. It’s as though the writer suddenly realized “Whoops, I’m on the last page … Ok, the evil alien and the heroic space pilot shake hands and become friends. The end.” That actually happens more than once. In fact, there’s a bunch of sci-fi stories in the middle of the book that are almost identical in their cookie-cutter nature. Two of them actually use a joke about honeymooning at Niagra Falls as a rim-shot close out.
So, ultimately, it’s a book really best enjoyed by serious Ditko/Golden Age fans. All other comers will only be irritated by the material Ditko talents had to work with. No doubt he was too.
Sasameke is a soccer manga with an unusual look: It’s drawn in a stylish, linear style with very little toning and big areas of white. The effect is enhanced by the large-scale format that Yen Press has chosen for it; the big pages show off the are nicely. The setup is standard-issue manga: Hotshot soccer player goes to train in Italy but comes back three years later with his tail between his legs, having failed at the sport. His companions include a sweet girl, a badass girl, and an alpha male who is the star of the soccer team. A nice sense of humor and fluid art keep this from becoming just another shonen manga, and the hefty volume (over 400 pages) should allow plenty of room for the story to develop.
It’s been a very manga week, as I am also reading Tokyopop’s How to Draw Shoujo Manga book. Stop yawning! It’s true that most HTDSM books consist of page after page of character designs — blond schoolgirl, dark-haired schoolgirl, blond hot guy, dark-haired hot guy with glasses — but this was written by the editors at Hakusensha, which publishes several manga magazines, and it’s the most nuts-and-bolts art instruction book I have ever seen. It’s really a manual for people who want to enter Hakusensha’s manga competitions, and it covers everything from the correct paper size for manga submissions to the importance of thumbnailing the whole story before starting to draw it. It’s not big and glossy and colorful, but it’s actually quite a good art instruction book, and an interesting read as well for the fan who wants to know how the sausages are made.
It’s hardly a secret that the Mindless Ones have a sweaty obsession with Grant Morrison so I won’t dwell on Return of Bruce Wayne or Batman and Robin. They’re not perfect, but for my money they’re the most ambitious superhero books on the racks, in part because they trade in that rarest of fictional commodities: atmosphere. I’m not going to spend too much time on Bullet Proof Coffin either as Sean Witzke covered it on this column a couple of weeks ago, except to say that it’s as much a demented psychological thriller as it is a deconstruction of the genre and an autopsy of fan obsession. I know there are readers who don’t like going to those places, but they’re missing out on some of the best comic art I’ve seen this decade. Matt Seneca talks on his latest podcast about the nineties being a golden age for “acid house” superheroes, a kind of hallucinogenic What If for the genre – Bullet Proof Coffin is a shambling resurrection of that sort of thing, and a very welcome one. I’m also mindful that I should probably keep my mouth shut about Orc Stain, again covered by Sean, a comic that reads like throbbing organic graffiti, and tragically shifts criminally low numbers. If H.R. Geiger had a sense of humour, a passion for colour and wasn’t completely mental he might produce comics like James Stokoe’s. Or maybe not. But your dad’s Fantasy Orc Stain ain’t.
Talking of strangely compelling comics I’ve been rereading C.F’s POWR MASTRS in preparation for the release of the third volume later this month. It’s a mesmerising series that contrary to what you might have heard isn’t a) drawn by an exceptionally talented 5-year-old, or b) merely an exercise in dry formalism. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with formalism per se, formal experimentation for its own sake has it’s pleasures, but to describe POWR MASTRS in that way would be inaccurate, although it would be equally inaccurate to suggest that it isn’t very arty comics. In my view the book’s minimalist, naïve style isn’t designed to distance the reader from the work in an effort to foreground the craft, but to impart a vibrant creative energy similar to the sort of thing Frank Miller was going for in the Dark Knight Strikes Again. C.F. goes much further than Miller, the entire story has a dreamlike quality, albeit one grounded by internal logic. Ostensibly a questing narrative stocked with genre archetypes, POWR MASTRS is if anything further away from traditional Sci-Fi than Orc Stain is from Middle Earth. C.F. is committed to that most traditional of genre concerns, world building, but the world he’s building has much more in common with the surreal fantasy landscapes of our childhood imaginations than it does with most contemporary genre efforts. Which isn’t to say that the comic is childish, far from it, just that it’s more directly in touch with the weird qualities of unexpurgated imagination, and consequently all the more fascinating and haunting because of it.
In other books, I’m really enjoying Thor: The Mighty Avenger. You wouldn’t know it to look at the blog, but like most of my fellow Mindless Ones I tend to find superhero comics rather dull. Not because I’m not a fan of the genre, quite the opposite, it’s precisely because I have such high hopes for superhero books that most titles leave me cold. On the face of it then it might seem strange that I would champion a comic which some might be tempted to describe as conventional, but there’s an uncommon elegance to writer Roger Langridge and artist Chris Samnee’s efforts that I find immersive in the slack jawed sense of the word. The book works a gentle magic: the art is accurate and beautiful without being ostentatious, and the writing deftly combines familiar tropes from outside the genre – fish out of water, odd couple, love triangle, journey home – with more traditional superhero genre fair. The aforementioned gentleness permeates the refreshingly continuity light plot, which while focussed and economical lacks the brow beating insistence of most contemporary entertainments, so much so that the quiet wonder of Samnee’s rainbow bridge seems curiously emblematic of the whole venture: magical, meandering and understated.