Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? This week’s guest is Alex Segura, executive director of publicity and marketing at Archie Comics. But we’ll always know him as the guy who founded The Great Curve, the blog that would one day morph into Robot 6.
To see what Alex and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click below …
So this week, I snagged a few books from the library, one of which was Fantagraphics 2006 volume one edition of E.C. Segar’s Popeye. It was still in the car when my son first started reading it and brought it into the house for himself to read. And thus inspired by a shot I saw of Chris Mautner (obscured by his copy of Kramer’s Ergot 7), I photographed my son reading Popeye. He’s enjoying the read, but when pressed to give a critical analysis of what appeals to him, the 11-year-old confided: “I don’t know, I just like to read it.”
Now on to the rest of this week’s pile, as read by me.
Cyclops #1 (one shot): Dean Haspiel plays with Cyclops and Batroc the Leaper, among a cast of many others. For me, all it took was Dean’s art. Jose Villarrubia on colors was just gravy.
Wonder Woman #609: Phil Hester continues to improve upon JMS’ initial plot pitch.I hope he gets a chance to tell his own Wonder Woman tales without a JMS structure before he leaves the book. It is interesting and effective how the book’s editors have used the reinstated letter’s column to help defend the JMS plot. Savvy use of the forum by the editor Brian Cunningham and assistant editor Darren Shan.
Detective Comics #875: I’m a longtime fan of Jim Gordon, so while Scott Snyder’s writing got seemingly bogged down at points, the exquisite art from Francesco Francavilla makes this issue a must read. Francavilla gives J.H. Williams III a run for his money in terms of trippy layout.
Captain America #616: So much talent in this giant-sized 70th anniversary issue. I’m not sure what I love more: the Mike Benson and Paul Grist 1940s vampire tale or Cullen Bunn and Jason Latour tale about the complicated aftermath of a tornado in Oklahoma. Let’s call it a tie. Honorable mention to Howard Chaykin (an artist I love) who drew an entire story involving at least two women with not one erect nipple in the whole tale.
Zatanna #11: I love Jamal Igle’s art and I want to see him have a nice long run on Zatanna. But just as Paul Dini had just won me back over to reading the book with Cliff Chiang’s arc, he’s driving me away again. For one thing, was the actual last panel of this issue’s story an inexplicable black panel? And there is a character in this issue protected by magic (not Zatanna’s) that serves as a major plot point, which is never explained. In fact, Dini has Zatanna acknowledge the plot point and then say: “I don’t have time to explain this.” Really? Where was DC editorial on that one–it cries for a revision.
What with all the talk about the Cowboys and Aliens movie, I thought it would be interesting to check out the graphic novel. My expectations were pretty low, given the unfortunate publicity stunt that launched this comic a few years ago, so I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a basic action comic with a bit of a plot twist, which is spelled out in the prologue so you can’t possibly miss it: Manifest Destiny is a lot like an alien invasion from outer space; in both cases, the invaders have superior weapons, don’t speak the language, and regard the indigenous people as disposable. The metaphor is carried through with ringing clarity as this particular bunch of aliens chooses to invade a wagon train of settlers who have been duped into buying land that belongs to the Indians. Then it all gets tossed out the window as the Indians and settlers gang up on the aliens, steal their weapons, co-opt their technology, and kick them out of Dodge. It’s good old-fashioned fun, with a fairly predictable cast but some clever moments. I know people think the movie should be a comedy, but it actually works pretty well as a straight-faced western.
On the same theme, and frankly, more to my tastes, is Graphic Classics’ latest volume, Western Classics. As always, the Graphic Classics folks do a great job of pairing artists and writers to really bring out the essence of a story. The book opens with an adaptation of Zane Gray’s “Riders of the Purple Sage,” a straight-up horse opera and a good one, and also includes the vaguely supernatural “The Right Eye of the Commander,” by Bret Harte, and an over-the-top Robert E. Howard tale of the big, dumb guy who sets everything right, “Knife River Prodigal.” There’s a nice blend of styles and stories, and not a clunker in the bunch.
Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels: If you read my interview with Tim O’Shea on this here blog, you probably know I’m a big mystery and crime fiction fan. One of the best things about reading crime novels is that you can get in on the ground floor of a good series and you know you’ll have a ton of great books to plow through. I loved Mankell’s standalone The Man from Beijing, which I read last year, but was hesitant to dive into the Wallander books until a few months ago. Now, I can’t stop. Set in Sweden, they spotlight the grizzled Ystad cop Kurt Wallander, as he battles his own doubts, insecurities and general malaise while tracking down some of the deadliest thieves and murderers his country’s ever seen. Well paced, intricate and full of surprises, the books are a handy guide to what a great mystery should be. Start with The Faceless Killers and you’ll be hooked.
Stumptown HC (Oni Press): See above. Add a dash of Greg Rucka’s writing and Matthew Southworth’s moody pencils and you’ve got a certified crime comic classic. Dex Parios isn’t your typical P.I. — she’s got a drinking problem, gambles too much and isn’t scared to dive into things feet first. And that’s what makes her a compelling read. Rucka knows how to tease readers and cagily build up the tension. Plus, the whole series is out now in one handy HC. What more do you need?
Detective Comics (DC Comics): If you kept up with my antics at my old gig, you know I’m a Batman fan. That hasn’t changed. And when I want a instant classic Batman story, I know which book to pick up at my LCS: Detective Comics. The all-star team of writer Scott Snyder, artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla have pieced together a story that feels grounded, gritty, dirty and epic all at the same time. From mysterious figures from the past lurching into the present to a host of new villains, this book’s got it all. Don’t wait for the trade on this one.
Life with Archie Magazine (Archie): One of my earliest fan geek memories involved me staying up past my bedtime with my sister to watch the live-action TV movie To Riverdale and Back Again, which featured older, adult versions of the Archies reconvening in Riverdale for their high school reunion. Now, let’s be frank — that movie wasn’t very good. But the concept is sound — what would life be like for the ol’ redhead and his friends once high school was over? Well, with Life with Archie, you have the answer, in two great storylines — one telling the tale of Archie after he marries Betty and the other featuring Archie’s married life to Veronica. Full of cameos, real life drama and great characterization from writer Paul Kupperberg (along with some of the best work of artist Norm Breyfogle’s career!), the stories are a treat for fans of Archie new and old.