What Are You Reading? with Tom Scioli
To see what Tom and the Robot 6 crew have been read, click the link below.
My part of this week’s What Are You Reading opens with writer Sam Humphries and artist Steven Sanders’ creator-owned one-shot, Our Love is Real, which the creators intend to self-publish/release. The book is not set to launch until July 6, but Humphries was good enough to send me a preview PDF. Here’s the creators basic pitch (which they suggest you file under “OMG/SCI FI/WTF) for the 24-page one-shot: “FIVE YEARS AFTER THE AIDS VACCINE…Plantsexuals riot in the streets for equal rights. Humans fall in love with dogs. And crystals are more than just jewelry. A chance encounter on the job changes a riot cop’s life forever as he finds himself caught in a bizarre love triangle that blurs romance, crime, and lust beyond recognition.” Pardon the pun, but don’t be turned off by the pitch. There are no graphic sexual scenes (though the lead character Jok cusses a lot). The story impressed me for how economic Humphries was with his words and his script for the story. He effectively covers a great deal of ground and is even able to work in a three-page fight scene with no dialogue. Oddly enough, I loved those three pages the most, because of Sanders’ dynamic art. Go to the website and check this story out.
Long before Fred Van Lente was cracking us up with the adventures of Marvel’s Hercules, he teamed with artist Ryan Dunlavey on Action Philosophers! The creators have just released The More Than Complete Action Philosophers, which collects all nine issues, but rearranging the philosophers’ tales in chronological order. It’s hard to single out any one aspect of this historical comedy, but for me, I love the panel introducing Saint Augustine drunk in two bed with two women, with the narrative blurb “Does this man look like a saint to you?”
Initially, I had planned on taking a vacation from buying any monthly comics this week, since I was literally on vacation. But then out of curiosity I let Google Maps tell me if there were any comic book stores within 30 minutes of where I was. That’s how I found out about Apocalypse Comics in North Myrtle Beach, SC. The store, which recently moved to a new location, probably has the best signage I have ever seen for a comics store (as shown in the photo). Another point in its favor? The comics are not laid out in alphabetical order, but rather they are divided up between independent, DC and Marvel. Better still, the independent titles are the first set of comics you hit when you walk in the store.
Speaking of independents, my son and I continue to love Robert Kirkman and Jason Howard’s Super Dinosaur (this week saw the release of issue 3).
In the mainstream, I have rarely bought a comic based on the cover but Batman Incorporated #7 (by Chris Burnham) sported a great cover. Yet the cover has little to do with the actual story, but fortunately the story inside is an equally good read. And given how I have a very hot and cold reaction to Grant Morrison, for me to praise his writing is not that common. After reading it, I will likely track down issue 6 at my local store.
I have heard good things about Scott Chantler’s Two Generals, his narrative of his grandfather’s experiences as a Canadian officer who took part in the D-Day invasion, so I brought it along on my vacation for some summer reading. I’m not finished with it yet but it’s a fascinating book, filled with little details. On one page, Chantler shows his main character, his grandfather, in two successive frames, and the changes in his face between those frames speak volumes. I also keep noticing his careful composition; Chantler starts with a nine-panel grid but he breaks it frequently to introduce horizontal or vertical shapes, and more subtly, he balances the panels across the two-page spread, often mirroring an object or shape from one page on the opposite side. He also uses color in interesting ways, sticking mostly to a gray-green shade but using red in limited quantities for moments of violence or shock. It’s an amazing book and well worth the read despite the violence of the subject matter.
The other book I’m enjoying this week is Dave Roman’s Astronaut Academy. I go back a ways with this one, as Dave sent me the original mini-comics years ago, and the new version retains much of the silliness and childlike humor of the originals while reflecting Dave’s growth as an artist. The book is a series of short stories featuring different students in an outer-space school, with some unifying plot threads running through it, such as the competition between rich girl Maribelle Mellonbelly and spunky Miyumi San. Dave is a former editor for Nickelodeon Magazine (which was a treasure trove of good comics back in the day), and his style is cartoony and a bit exaggerated. It’s a fun read, especially for kids, who will really appreciate the silliness.
Rocketeer Adventures #2: So far this series has been nicely-drawn and genial, so it’s a fitting tribute to Dave Stevens’ original series. The first story, by Mark Waid and Chris Weston features a Captain Marvel analog. There are probably a lot of references I’m missing in this story. The original Rocketeer stories were filled to bursting with authentic period detail and references to 1940’s pop culture, rewarding the careful reader. I imagine that’s something the various creators are trying to achieve with these new vignettes. I imagine Stevens would’ve found a sly way of including the actual Captain Marvel rather than an analog, the way Lamont Cranston made an appearance in Cliff’s New York Adventure. A quick google search didn’t reveal anything about a character called Aeroman, but the costume does look familiar, maybe an old Nedor character. Waid is fond of dropping in obscure references to old comic and pulp characters, so I’m sure there isn’t anything random about Aeroman. The story itself is attractively drawn and plays on the Rocketeer-worthy trope of the hero who saves the day, but gets none of the credit.
Darwyn Cooke’s story starts off in high style. The intro page, with it’s saturday matinee feel is so effective that when the story proper gets going in the next page it really hits hard. You can almost hear the narrator’s voice change from old-timey announcer to the hear-and-now. I guess each of these creative teams is trying to answer the question, what is the Rocketeer? What is a Rocketeer story? 1940’s Cheesecake? Darwyn’s story takes that on directly. A cliffhanger feel? Check. Cooke’s story ends with a cliffhanger hinting of a Cliff vs. the Nazis payoff. Geoff Darrow provides that next piece, but in the form of a double-page spread, rather than a full story. I was a little disappointed at first, but Darrow’s single image packs a lot of punch. This is the first time it’s occurred to me, probably from seeing Darrow’s art in a golden age milieu, that his spray of bullets motif is reminiscent of Fletcher Hanks’ flocks of birds that taper off into the distance. I wonder if that’s a conscious connection.
The issue is rounded out with a story by Lowell Francis and Gene Ha. It consists of a well-choreographed aerial gunfight. Superimposing blow-by-blow boxing announcers is a well-worn device in comics, but it works nonetheless.
Like the Escapist series from a few years back, I imagine they’ll go the rotating creators on short stories route for a few issues before sinking into a longer sustained run by a creative team. I’m enjoying these bite-sized strips and look forward to when they try something a little more ambitious.
Dave Stevens was just able to scratch the surface of his creation. I imagine he’d be very pleased if these new teams were able to excavate something really amazing from the concept. It seems like they’re well on their way to that.
Breed III #2: Starlin is really good at getting new readers up to speed, so if you haven’t read Breed books 1 and 2 or issue 1 of Breed III, you’d still be able to get something out of this one. It’s unclear to me if this is a previously-drawn story from the 90’s that Starlin’s been sitting on, or if this is something he drew very recently, but it’s very strong stuff, as tight as anything he’s ever done. He was an early experimenter with computer graphics in comics, and that’s on display here. He has a very idiosyncratic and recognizable approach to computer effects. Some great MC-Escher-esque cityscapes and a hum-dinger of a double-page spread. Readers might recognize some familiar faces among the demonic fifth columnists in this issue. The best sequence is a very unassuming one. There’s a series of nuanced drawings that set up a punch very effectively. It give the punch real impact.
Batman Inc. #7: Between Grant Morrison’s books and the currently-delayed Batman:Odyssey, I’ve been buying more Batman comics than I have at any point in my life, except maybe the lead-up to the original Tim Burton film. This is probably the most interesting time to be reading Batman comics since Miller’s heyday with the character. This issue is my favorite so far of the recently-christened Batman Inc. series. Sometimes you can get some mileage out of the superhero genre by grafting some real-life situation that superhero comics haven’t gotten their hands on yet. For this issue Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham transposed the Batman myth onto reservation culture and came up with an entertaining read. I haven’t read Scalped yet, but I’m guessing it was an influence on this book? It’s got a lot of surprises which is hard to do in a 20-some page superhero comic. It’s got me looking forward to the next issue which seems to feature a Tron-like virtual world.
Eternals #10 by Jack Kirby: Here’s a comic you can study and pore over. There’s a series of beautiful epic shots of a Space God casually causing a series of disasters in an underwater city, before swimming away with a school of whales. This issue is one of the peaks of this woefully underrated series, the sub-plot of Thena and Kro’s anti-love story in the land of the Deviants. It’s only the millionth time I’ve read it.
Invincible Iron Man: Fear Itself #505: It’s part 2 of an arc titled Cracked Actor (Bowie reference). I didn’t read part 1, but with superhero comics that’s usually a plus. It’s a nice little story, in the old-school Marvel tradition. There’s some cool apocalyptic imagery and a well-choreographed fight. This is a tie-in with Matt Fraction’s current line-wide crossover Fear Itself, which if you haven’t read, centers around classic Marvel characters getting evil Asgard-powered upgrades. In this one, Iron Man goes head-to-head with an amped-up Apokoliptic version of the Grey Gargoyle. The way GG’s super-sized powers are imagined here is very effective. Salvador Larocca’s layouts and linework are a lot more lithe than I remember them being in the previous Iron Man volumes I’d read. The depictions of Iron Man almost enter into John Romita jr. territory. I’m liking it.
Steve Ditko’s Package #1 from 1999: I don’t usually like Ditko’s late-late-era Randian tracts, but this one really delivered. Great art, great stories and he plays with the form in ways only someone with multiple decades of following his own muse can do. He rearranges the players in a murder story, creating something I can’t quite put my finger on in the repetition. In another story he has one of the most effective uses of a talking robot head I’ve ever seen. Maybe this is obvious to everybody but me, but this is the first time I’ve noticed how strong the similarity is between Ditko and Los Bros Hernandez. This “package” is composed of short stories of varying lengths, but they add up to something very satisfying and strangely unified. I enjoyed this way more than I thought I would. I’m partway through his book The Mocker from 10 years earlier and am also enjoying it. Ditko’s b/w work is made for b/w. The range of textures and visual vocabulary is intoxicating. I’d read one of these Mocker stories in color in the back of an issue of Silver Star. It did not work at all in color, but works gloriously in b/w.
Incredible Change-Bots 2: This series has been a nice gift to those of us who’ve sat through the Transformers film series. Aside from being cute and funny, these are rock-solid, good transforming robot stories, a genre I grew up with. I hope he makes at least one for every Transformers film.