Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
Hello and welcome once again to What Are You Reading? This week it is our distinct pleasure to welcome our very special guest Bully, the little stuffed bull, who blogs about all sorts of comics with the help of his friend, John DiBello.
To see what Bully and the rest of the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click on the link below.
Tom Bondurant: This week I finally got a chance to read Justice League Elite, the 12-issue 2004-05 miniseries from writer Joe Kelly, penciller Doug Mahnke, and inker Tom Nguyen. It was their follow-up to/continuation of their run on both Justice League of America and Action Comics. Specifically, it picked up after “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” in Action #775, in which Superman (and Kelly) addressed concerns that he’d become irrelevant in a world which demanded different kinds of superheroes. Accordingly, Justice League Elite combined a handful of Leaguers with the do-what’s-necessary Elite, taking on missions too unsavory for the regular JLA. I read the first couple of issues back when they came out, but they never did anything for me, and I didn’t get the rest of the series. However, I’d always been a little curious about what I’d missed, and now I’m glad I got the two-volume collection. (Included in Volume 1 is Action #775 and JLA #100, which set up the team.)
In hindsight, JL Elite‘s mix of politics, black-ups, and superpowers reminded me of Greg Rucka’s work on Checkmate, except with the JLA’s reputation at stake instead of the UN’s. Basically there are two arcs, one dealing with a political assassination (which gets blamed on the Elite) and the other involving alien drug dealers who want an artifact from the Morrison/Porter run on JLA. I liked it well enough — I suppose a superhero-reader’s “reader-identification” character is Wally “Flash” West, who splits time between both teams and who becomes the JL Elite’s conscience. Wally’s often portrayed as idealistic, but going back to his New Teen Titans days he’s also kind of conservative, and I think both sides come out here. Contrasting with Wally is Green Arrow, whose liberalism gives way to pragmatic world-weariness. The new characters of the Elite don’t quite fare as well, although they each have distinct personalities. Basically they get lost in the larger plot. Overall, though, it’s engaging reading, and it makes me want to revisit Kelly and Mahnke’s contemporaneous DC work.
I’ve also started reading Tales of the Batman: Gene Colan Vol. 1, a handsome volume whose first story sucked me right in. “A Man Called Mole!” comes from October 1981’s Batman #340, and it brings back a villain from World’s Finest Comics #80 — but writers Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas also throw in some pretty obvious references to “Mole!,” a 1952 classic from Mad #2. (Two of the Mole’s victims are named Kurtzmann and Elder.) Still, apart from that, it’s a neat standalone Batman story, pitting the Darknight Detective against a grotesque (and somewhat tragic) foe. Colan tells it with customary style, whether he’s drawing a racing Batmobile, a driving rainstorm, or just our hero flowing smoothly into and out of scenes. Looking forward to the rest of the book.
Tim O’Shea: Justice League 1: If I was a teenager (the target audience), I think I would have been bored by this issue. That being said, I am not a teenager. Artist Jim Lee? Please go to a high school football game, I think the last high school that used a scoreboard like that closed in the 1980s. And what was with the American flag in the background of Vic Stone’s football catch. Can the kid really leap 10 feet? This does not bode well for the new 52. It read like a weak Elseworlds issue to me. Granted I do not think a 40+ year old man is the target audience for this book, but a woman who may have picked up this issue hoping to see a woman, any woman in this issue, you are out of luck. Wonder Woman on the cover and nowhere else (unless you count the sketchbook, where Cyborg is oddly referred to as “Vic Stone, a Titan to be”. What? He starts with JL and then graduates to be a Titan? Color me confused.
The Incredible Hulks 635: And so writer Greg Pak says goodbye to a character (and a cast) he made worth reading with this issue. The ending was not rushed and it was nice to see Pak end the run in the fashion he wanted to. But the part of the issue that really affected me and gave me pause was Pak’s tribute to Bill Mantlo, the former comics writer (who suffered a traumatic brain injury in the 1990s) who influenced Pak’s approach to his own run with the character.
Fear Itself: The Deep 3 (of 4): Continuity faithfuls may wince at this issue, but I love the fact that writer Cullen Bunn had the Silver Surfer utter a sarcastic line in the heat of battle. With Namor and Doc Strange likely unable to maintain a solo book (sorry to my pal Stuart Moore on that former point) I will be curious to see if this lineup of characters and creators becomes an ongoing.
Secret Avengers 16: Whomever concocted the idea to get Warren Ellis to write a series of done-in-one Secret Avengers issues should get a bonus this year. This is is the comic everyone should be talking about this week. Sure Ellis writes Steve Rogers, Black Widow, Moon Knight and the Beast quite contrary to how they are typically portrayed (Hank McCoy is played as an intellectual snob, but fortunately there’s enough of his wisecracks to make it the Beast I love), but the way each character plays off each other is delightful. Ellis is strong in terms of injecting an equal dose of wit and team chemistry, the latter of which is key in a book of this type. While I normally respect Jamie McKelvie’s art, some of his layout falls short in this issue (in one scene, a tank fires on the vehicle that the heroes are in, and after looking at the panel for a good 10 minutes, I still cannot fathom what happen in the scene to make the vehicle not blow up…). One more quibble (in what is otherwise a great read), with John Cassady’s cover, why is Black Widow petting the Beast like he’s the Secret Avengers’ pet/mascot?
Brigid Alverson: There are certain books that just make me happy, and Craig Yoe’s The Best of Archie’s Madhouse is one of these. Dating back to the early 1960s, Archie’s Madhouse was the Archie gang’s attempt to make a wacky comic in the vein of Mad Magazine and its many imitators. This is, of course, impossible, because Mad is transgressive and Archie is not. Still, some of the gags, especially the self-referential ones, are quite funny, and it’s a good opportunity to enjoy the work of classic Archie artists like Dan DeCarlo and Bob White. This book mostly sticks with the earlier incarnations of Madhouse (which changed quite a bit over the years, and even altered its title several times). Some of the stories feature the familiar Riverdale cast, while others wander away from that a bit. Sabrina the Teenage Witch made her debut in this comic, and I enjoyed the Lester Cool/Chester Square comics because they are so of their time. Yoe starts off the book with a brief intro and a few good anecdotes about the creators, then turns the rest of the pages over to reprints of stories, organized, as in the original, into sections on teenagers, monsters, superheroes, etc. It’s good, clean, kid-friendly satire, and that is not easy to do.
I’ll admit I was initially put off by the cover image of Chimichanga — that little girl with the beard and mustache (at first I thought she was wearing a Guy Fawkes mask) grossed me out so much I didn’t even notice she was standing on a monster. I’m glad I picked it up, though. It’s actually a cute little story about a cheery bearded girl who works in a washed-up circus and happens to acquire a pet monster, to her co-workers’ delight. The setting gives writer and illustrator Eric Powell lots of scope to be creative with his characters and their look, and he takes full advantage of that‹-the side characters are great, and I laughed out loud in places. There is a real solidity to the illustrations, and Dave Stewart has colored it beautifully in a muted, earthy palette that sets the tone from the beginning. Dark Horse is marketing this as an all ages comic, and it is all-ages in the sense that a kid can read an adult’s comic and enjoy it (plus there are fart jokes). Think of it as Jellaby with attitude.
Bully: What have I, Bully the Little Stuffed Bull, been reading? Why thank you…that’s a very good question. I of course picked up Justice League #1. And as it only took me five minutes to read it, there’s been plenty of time to read these:
In my book (and I have lots of them!), the All-Ages Graphic Novel of the Year award oughta go to Dave Roman for Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity (First Second). It punches every fun button I’ve got (got a lot of those, too). You could sum it up as “Hogwarts … in … SPAAAAAAAAACE!” — but you’re not capturing the full delight of Astronaut Academy, outer space’s top educational facility (with courses in advanced heart studies, anti-gravity gymnastics, and run-on sentences). It’s chock-full with time-stopping watches, transforming giant mechabots, panda professors (of Spanish), dinosaur races, the big Fireball match, and best of all, a large cast of strong likable characters both male and female…plenty to choose your own favorite! I really love Dave Roman’s writing and art style: he has a great skill in movement, expression (even with black dots for eyes on his characters), and honest-to-goodness laugh-out-loud humor: great for kids, entertaining and delightful for adults. Happy, heartwarming and high-adventured, this first book of a new series leaves me giggling with delight and anxious for the sequel.
I’m not great at cartooning, but I have the ideas and urge to want to create my own strips. That’s why I’ve been working my way through Ivan Brunetti’s Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice (Yale University Press)—an incredibly valuable volume for any beginning cartoonist or anyone who wants to learn the theory, and more important, the practice of creating comics. It’s not an “art” book: Brunetti doesn’t teach you how to draw (the book’s examples are stylized stick figures). Tools, style, placement, form, design, movement and timing are on the syllabus here. In a fifteen-week paced lesson plan, he covers creating comics from a single panel gag to a four-page story in weekly lessons and exercises (and homework!). Lessons are brief but challenging, and cumulative: each chapter builds on your previous work to increase your range, creativity, and understanding of the medium. If you’ve been intrigued by the ideas and theories in books like in Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics but want to put them into practice, here’s the book. Cartooning is a slim 88 pages, and yet it may become one of the most valuable books you ever pick up: a college course in cartooning, in book form, from a solid master of the field.
Dark Horse’s Little Lulu reprint series continually delights me. There’s nothing fancy about these reprints—no archival “remastering or recoloring” needed. The stories in their original four-color printing are just wonderful enough, thank you! John Stanley’s bright and energetic art shines in adventures of Lulu, Tubby, and their pals, and best of all: these stories are genuinely funny. I’d go so far as to say that Little Lulu stands right on the top of the pantheon of kids comics alongside Carl Barks’s duck comics. The newest volume is The Prize Winner and Other Stories, but pick up any volume, or one of the companion Tubby books by Dark Horse. Lulu’s chubby buddy is one of my favorite comic book characters of all time, so I’ve gotta highly recommend The Castaway and Other Stories , which reprints several solo Tub stories, including the wonderful Four Color #381, in which Tubby becomes the captain of a pirate ship using his personal weapon: a yo-yo.
Speaking of classic all-ages adventure comics, Boom!’s trade paperback series of Disney comics are well-produced and a great value, reprinting many stories that haven’t been collected in an affordable form before. I immediately snapped up the two collections of Don Rosa’s early Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck tales. They’re as fantastic fun and great adventure as I remember them from the Gladstone floppies of the nineties, and in a heavy paper stock, brightly colored paperback edition. Say, Boom!, why do these books have a “Thirteen and Up” age label? If there’s any comics suitable for all ages, it’s Disney, and Rosa’s stories present nothing further than light fantasy violence. But come on, who doesn’t want to see the Beagle Boys trip on marbles or Donald Duck fall down a manhole? (Communists. That’s who.) I don’t know how much longer Boom! will be able to distribute Disney trade books, so pick these up, and pick ‘em up now. These are comics to cherish for a lifetime.
When I heard the news that Fantagraphics was collecting in trade paperback one of my fave DC Vertigo comics of all time, my immediate reaction was the same as the title: Yeah! The adventures of an intergalactic girl group (think “The Go-Go’s in Outer Space”) and their ever-scheming manager (think “Ari Gold in the Twenty-Fifth Century) is high enough concept…now consider the creators: it’s written by Peter Bagge (Hate) and drawn by Gilbert Hernandez (Love and Rockets). But with such an alt-comic pedigree, Yeah! is a surprisingly delightful fun fantasy of kicky pop music, weird alien fans, and evil twin competition bands. The “girl group in the future” idea has been done before and done well (Battle of the Bands, Apocalipstix); what Yeah! adds to the concept is an all-ages appeal. Witty, high-spirited, and thoroughly fun, it’s the greatest Saturday morning cartoon adventure that never was. Although originally in color, Fantagraphics has reprinted the series in black-and white. It’s a sound artistic (Gilbert’s art is bold and vibrant in its original inks) and economic (keeping the price under $20) decision, and while purists may argue otherwise, a black-and-white Yeah! will appeal to teens, young girls, and manga fans: a whole new market for this sadly under-lauded comic.
Finally, I’m absolutely loving Marvel’s very-very-big Thor Omnibus by Walt Simonson … but it keeps falling over and pinning me down, so I now have to squeeze myself out from underneath it yet again. You’ll find it captures you, too. But not physically, I hope.