EXCL. PREVIEW: "Avatar: Smoke & Shadow" TPB Threatens the Fire Nation
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? Today our special guest is Kelson Vibber, Flash fan and proprietor of the Speed Force blog. To see what Kelson and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
I read …. uhm. Well, despite what the covers may tell you, I read Iron Age #1. Yeah, it may look like Avengers or Captain Britain, and you might have bought both covers by accident, but yeah. The red banner at the top is what is supposed to clue you in that this is Iron Age #1. I also re-read Iron Age Alpha to make sure this was an Iron Man story that’s just going to take us on a little tour of the Marvel Universe through time travel and yep, that it is. Strangely, it’s kind of an anthology from what I can tell: Alpha sets us up for the bomb: an old man who once went by the name The Phantom (this one) wants to take one last potshot at Tony Stark. He gets one of Doctor Doom’s time platforms, dials up a strange assortment of 70’s era Marvel heroes and then… well, he pulls the Dark Phoenix out of the time stream and then she blows up the Earth. Oh, villains. So the next issue is Tony Stark traveling through time to talk to a couple people on the Phantom’s list and kind of doing some eighth step work with them. He helps Hank Pym and Captain Britain work through some of their issues, as well as his own, and they are an interesting set of vignettes that should be some old school fun as well as quiet character development. Still, boo on you Marvel for making those covers rather misleading. Boo.
I also read Fear Itself #4, where Tony’s alcoholism is a symbolic sacrifice to the All-Father. I know some people are burnt out on event books, and I know the Distinguished Competition has so much stuff going on right now that just reading comics can be a chore, but if you can’t find the joy in Captain America coming to the rescue in a big red-white-and-blue colored parachute, or the quiet heartbreak of Black Widow in the background as she’s consoled by Nick Fury, or just the awesomeness of the Hulk-Thing-Thor fight to come, then I simply have no idea what to tell you. Yeah, I know you have so many books to read and yeah, you’re still not caught up on issue #2 or yeah, I know you hate event books and they are so confusing, but let me tell you: you are missing out.
To make sure I was being fair, I also read Flashpoint #3. I fully admit that my Distinguished Colleague is a far better man to sort all this info out, but this book is sadly not for casual reader. You gotta be in it to win it with Flashpoint, which is sad because I thought the ‘Project Superman Revealed!’ part of the story was fantastic. A lot of emotion and thought came through on those pages, and I might have to go hunt down the tie-in Project Superman issues if they’re anything like this. Andy Kubert’s artwork is phenomenal and while highly stylized, I’d say he’s selling this book as much as Geoff John’s ever-winding story-writing is. It doesn’t work well as something to pick up, and I’m still kind of lost in the great milieu, but there are moments that break free of The Big Event banner and remain entertaining and thoughtful regardless of trappings. Good job, comics.
I just got an advance copy of a truly remarkable nonfiction graphic novel: The Next Day, which tells the story of four people who survived suicide attempts. It’s illustrated by John Porcellino in a very simple, almost childlike style. The four stories are told in parallel, starting with the suicide attempts and then flashing back to their earlier lives. The last part of the book, which tells of their lives after their rescues, is the most interesting but also the shortest. Porcellino and the writers, Paul Peterson and Jason Gilmore, pack a lot of story into this slim volume, but I wish they had included more details about each person’s life after the attempt. Still, it’s a very moving and thoughtful book.
Another advance copy is Luz Sees the Light, a children’s graphic novel that conveys a serious message—we need to start preparing now for the energy shortages of the future—in a lighthearted way. It would be easy for Claudia Dávila to get all preachy, but she keeps it at a kid’s level and never gets too apocalyptic—in fact, one of the characters is a survivalist who comes off as a bit nutty. Luz is 12 years old and a pretty normal kid; she loves ice cream and lusts after an expensive pair of designer sneakers, insisting that her mother drive her to the mall to see if they are in yet. But peak oil impinges on her life in a number of ways, from blackouts (which turn into block parties) to high prices for imported food that force her family to change their diet—and eat rabbit, to the horror of her vegetarian neighbor who has a pet bunny of his own. This book started out as a webcomic, which is still up at Transmission X, but Dávila has really reworked it and developed both the characters and the story.
I was honored recently to be asked to take part in Favorites, a zine edited by Craig Fischer of the Panelists blog and featuring a host of respected critics and writers talking about their favorite comics. The zine is an offshot of Team Cul de Sac, an art project designed to help raise money to fight Parkinson’s disease (which Cul de Sac creator Richard Thompson suffers from). Brigid wrote a bit about the Favorites project here.
Anyway, I finally got my contributors copy the other week and wanted to take a moment to say what a great read it is. There’s a number of smart, well-written, short essays by folks like Jeet Heer, Joe McCulloch, Abhay Khosla, Johanna Draper Carlson, Andrew Farago, Jim Rugg, Tom Spurgeon, Caroline Small and many, many more. It’s not available for sale quite yet — Fischer’s selling copies at various cons and should have information on how to order a copy on the Team Cul de Sac blog soon — but I urge anyone interested in good writing about comics and/or helping to make a difference to pick up a copy once they become available.
Carla mentions above that she might want to check out the Project: Superman Flashpoint spinoff, but if I was going to recommend one Flashpoint mini to pick up to Carla or, well, anyone, it would have to be Flashpoint: Batman Knight of Vengeance. I read the first two issues this week, which see the 100 Bullets crew getting back together — writer Brian Azzarello, artist Eduardo Risso, colorist Patricia Mulvihill and letterer Clem Robins. And they are fantastic; I’d even recommend them to someone who wasn’t interested in the rest of the Flashpoint event. All of these creators are fairly awesome on their own, but when they get together — wow. Now I think I need to go dig out my 100 Bullet trades again …
I read the first issue of Elric: The Balance Lost this week. When I first heard that BOOM! was going to be launching an Elric series, I was somewhat interested, but not certain I’d pick it up. It wasn’t written by Michael Moorcock himself, and besides I hadn’t enjoyed his most recent Elric novel nearly as much as his earlier works. But then I read the preview they released for Free Comic Book Day, and I was hooked.
The story spans at least four worlds in Moorcock’s multiverse, and four incarnations of the Eternal Champion: Elric, last ruler of a dead empire, who wields the black sword Stormbringer and absorbs the souls of those he kills so that he can live; Hawkmoon, champion of a distant future Earth who defeated the conquering empire of Granbretan; Corum, last of a dead race who fought to protect the humans who inherited his world; and Eric Beck, a game developer living in a world not unlike our own. The first issue establishes all four characters and the worlds they come from, so that new readers unfamiliar with Moorcock’s work will understand the basics, and shows each world threatened by the tipping balance. Elric finds himself in a world overrun by chaos, while Eric Beck’s more familiar world is beginning to shift too far toward order. By the end of the issue, Eric finds himself drawn into the adventure. It’s one of the most effective first issues I’ve read in a while, managing to mix exposition and action and end on a hook that makes me feel like the next issue will jump straight into the story.
The Unwritten continues to hold the spot as my favorite ongoing series. The latest issue is essentially a caper, with Tom, Lizzie and Savoy trying to infiltrate the auction of author Wilson Taylor’s estate. It’s got all the twists and turns in terms of allegiances, who has the upper hand, and who *thinks* they have the upper hand, that you’d expect, and in the end it manages to both answer some questions about Tom Taylor’s origins and call into question some of what we thought we knew, all while setting things up for the next phase of the story. I’ve always been a sucker for stories about stories, which I’m sure is why Sandman resonated so well with me when I finally started reading it, but The Unwritten tackles the concept from an entirely different angle, focusing on the way stories — whether history, fiction, propaganda, or the stories we tell ourselves to justify our actions — shape the world.
Of course, as a DC reader and a Flash fan, it would be virtually impossible to avoid Flashpoint. I’m reading the main series and six of the tie-in miniseries. Of those, the ones I’m enjoying the most are Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown, Kid Flash Lost, and Citizen Cold. The first issue of Frankenstein is crazy World-War II action featuring the Frankenstein monster and lawyer-friendly versions of Dracula, the Wolfman, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and features Frankenstein personally killing Adolf Hitler with a sword. It’s hard to go wrong with that. Citizen Cold feels like a return to the glory days of the Geoff Johns/Scott Kolins run on The Flash, only with everything shifted around to make Captain Cold the protagonist. It’s interesting to see how little has changed in Central/Keystone City when the rest of the world is vastly different. Kid Flash Lost feels more like a continuation of The Flash Vol.3 than Flashpoint does, except better. It’s faster paced, despite the fact that the main character has lost his speed for the duration. It manages to justify some of the odd choices from “The Road to Flashpoint” that just came out of nowhere. Most importantly, Sterling Gates really understands Bart Allen’s personality in a way that I never really saw in Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans or Flash runs (though there were glimpses of him in Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds).
As for Flashpoint itself, it continues to remind me a lot of Geoff Johns’ first Flash story, Wonderland. The first two issues didn’t really grab me, but things are picking up with the third as it moves beyond exposition and into rising action. Maybe it’s just me, but in a five-issue miniseries, shouldn’t you be done with setup in the first issue, not half-way through the third?
Other comics I’ve read recently: Farscape is moving toward the conclusion of its year-long story about the invasion of the Uncharted Territories. It still feels a bit too much like New Jedi Order, with the arrival of an unbeatable enemy and the wholesale demolition of large chunks the universe that had been built up by four years of the TV series, but it’s continuing to hold my interest. And Tiny Titans #41, the All-Flash issue, was a welcome counterpart to the grimness of Flashpoint: Legion of Doom and Grodd of War.