5 Elements of the Pre-New 52 DC Universe We Really, Really Miss
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 our special guest is Bill Reed, who contributes to our sister blog Comics Should Be Good!. To see what Bill and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click the link below.
If you’re not up for reading recent event books in the Bat family, Bryan Q. Miller and Dustin Nguyen provide a hilarious cartoon-esque three-page summation from Wayne’s parents death through all the Robins to Wayne’s return from the “dead” in Batgirl #15.
Matt Fraction’s approach to Iron Man and Thor is much on the mind of fans and critics these days, but for my time and interest, what really captures my attention in Thor #617 is the art. I’ve been enjoying artist Pasqual Ferry’s since his days in the late 1990s on Marvel’s Heroes for Hire. The Thor series, colored by Matt Hollingsworth and lettered by legendary Thor letterer John Workman, is just making for some stellar scenes.
It’s easy to bash DC editorial for some of the oddball decisions they make every month, but whomever the hell made the call to greenlight the quirky Paul Cornell-written Knight and Squire should be knighted themselves. It’s a book in which Cornell creates a universe where Marvel’s John the Skrull would feel right at home. And as a reader, it’s the most bemused I’ve been by a mainstream narrative in a while.
Sean T. Collins
Batman goes to Palomar! Okay, not quite, but this week I continued my LOVE AND ROCKTOBER project of reading my way through Los Bros Hernandez’s Love and Rockets in its entirety, while also reading a whole lotta Bat-books in one sitting. Click the links for full reviews…
And just for fun, now that the current mega-arc has reached the end, I read the last 15 or so Grant Morrison Batman comics, alternating between Batman and Robin, Batman, and The Return of Bruce Wayne. (Click the link to see the order I put ‘em in.) Dense, thrilling, creepy, stuffed with beautifully choreographed action sequences, and imbuing Batman with an engrossing sense of mystery. it’s pretty much exactly why I read superhero comics.
I like the way Jen Wang draws faces. I like the way she draws round, ovally eyes that have just a dot of a pupil in them, and shades the area around them so the look like they’re going to sink back into the skull at any moment. I like how fluent she is with eyebrows, how she understands it’s one of the most expressive parts of a person’s face and uses it to help the reader gain insight into her characters. I like how they look like rolling hills when someone’s feeling inquisitive or sly. I like how everyone’s heads look like little eggs.
All that being said, I can’t say I cared much for her debut graphic novel, Koko Be Good. The book is about a carefree young woman (girl? I had trouble figuring out her exact age) who pals up with a shy, inhibited guy who’s heading for Peru with his girlfriend and they both affect each other in deep, meaningful ways. Despite the length of the book, the characters are rather ill-defined (especially a third young man who is unfortunately shunted to the sidelines for most of the book) and I found myself constantly asking unanswered questions about these characters’ behavior and pasts. Where is Koko’s family? Why does she behave like such a loon? Why does Jon put up with Koko’s nonsense and verbal abuse? Wang is reaching for grandiose themes about adulthood and responsibility here but they elude her grasp considerably. She seems to have trouble articulating her larger points and I felt like I was getting an incomplete picture of the characters and their lives. Still, great eyebrows.
I’m greatly enjoying IDW’s Library of American Comics series, partly because I’m a pushover for classic newspaper comics and partly because they are so well done. To be honest, I never heard of Secret Agent Corrigan X-9 before I saw their collected edition, but the brief introductory essay got me oriented and I was ready to jump in. X-9 was the creation of Dashiel Hammett (The Maltese Falcon) and Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon), but this volume starts in 1967, when the team of Al Williamson and Archie Goodwin had just taken over the strip. It’s sophisticated in that 60s way, with slinky women and chiseled men, and everyone is smoking cigarettes the whole time. The stories are delightfully preposterous, too, in the way secret-agent stories used to be. The art is stylish and rather dark, as befits the subject matter. Putting a daily comic strip into book format does point up one flaw that is inherent to the medium—there’s a lot of repetition, and characters say each others’ names way too often. Still, there’s plenty of action and a lot of twists, and this strip makes good reading in its own right as well as as a period piece.
I asked my teen-librarian friends for some recommendations recently, and they were unanimous on the subject of Hopeless Savages. Happily, Oni Press has just released a collected edition of the first three comics, and more are apparently on the way. It’s the story of a cheerfully dysfunctional family of punk rockers—mom, dad, and four kids, living the punk life in the suburbs. The art is dynamic and the characters are a bit stereotyped but easy to like; I’m only halfway through the first story arc, but I already know I’m here to stay.
The problem with getting all my comics through mail-order is that I’m usually weeks (and streets) behind the rest of the blogosphere, but coming to these books in critical isolation allows me to view a work fresh, unswayed by outside opinions. Unfortunately, that means I won’t get my clammy paws on Atomic Robo for another few weeks! I have only just digested the following comics:
The Spider-Man: Fever trade paperback, written and drawn by Brendan McCarthy, really should include Dr. Strange in its title, as well. A psychedelic tribute to the stories and mind-bending environments of Lee and Ditko, Fever involves Spider-Man’s soul being stolen by an extra-dimensional tribe of spider-beings, one of whom is the very spidey who bit Peter Parker that fateful day. By coincidence, Spider-Man’s body has crawled into Dr. Strange’s bathtub, and Strange has to journey down the drain to save his friend. McCarthy seems to make comics like Burroughs wrote novels, or Bowie wrote songs, cutting up and stitching together chunks of Ditko comics, old age mythology, and new age mysticism to create an effervescent, day-glo fever dream of a comic. No one makes comics like Brendan McCarthy; he is the only artist who can match Ditko’s surreal visualizations. That’s why McCarthy comics are always worth reading.
McCarthy’s longtime pal Peter Milligan weaves a similar path of magic and identity with the Hellblazer: India collection. As a neophyte to John Constantine, I’ve only read Milligan’s run on the title, which portrays Constantine as a bastard who is shocked to discover he has a heart, going to nigh-Orphean lengths to rescue his deceased girlfriend from death’s clutches. Ghosts rule the day, be they Englishmen transformed into demons, stealing Indian girls from the streets of Mumbai, or the specter of punk rock, come back to seek revenge on the conservative party. Giuseppe Camuncoli and Stefano Landini’s clean and angular art works well for the titular arc, but Simon Bisley draws his issues as I always imagined Hellblazer comics to look: swathed in blood and grime, so enveloped in inky darkness that the reader finds him- or herself squinting to make out the details. Milligan comics are often a coin toss, but when they hit, they really hit. Hellblazer is a solid baseline smack– not quite the stand-up triple of Human Target, but it may get there in time.
I also follow a few webcomics religiously. Written by a six year old, Axe Cop (by Malachi and Ethan Nicolle) continually reunites me with my own inner child, the kid completely awed by these bizarre comics books. Awesome Hospital (Chris Sims, Chad Bowers, Matt Digges) combines the genre absurdity of Adult Swim series Children’s Hospital with over-the-top madness and excitement that only comics can provide. Lastly, everything by Kate Beaton is worth reading, mixing the art of sketch comedy with a critic’s eye toward history and literature.