Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Welcome to the turkey hangover edition of What Are You Reading?, your weekly look into the reading lists of the Robot 6 crew. Our special guest today is Andy Hirsch, creator of Varmints and artist of The Royal Historian of Oz.
To see what Andy and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click below.
I have never been a big Daredevil fan, but so many people have been saying such good things about Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, and Marcos Martin’s work that this week I grabbed all five issues of the latest series. Overall I thought it was very good. Certainly it’s been put together well, especially the layouts designed to show DD’s point of view. The lawyer in me is still trying to process the ethical implications of Matt and Foggy’s new business (and also the practical considerations which drove them to it). I’m not sure it’s won me over to Daredevil for good, but I’ll probably follow the series as long as Waid’s on it.
Yesterday I was happy to see our library had a copy of Deadly Storm, the graphic-novel adaptation of Richard Castle’s first book featuring hard-luck investigator Derrick Storm. Being familiar with Castle primarily through his work with the New York City police department, unfortunately I hadn’t read the original Deadly Storm, but I suspect it had more room to flesh out its characters. This graphic novel was a quick read, propelled by Storm’s narration and various action sequences. It features a few reversals and red herrings, but on the whole it’s a pretty straightforward story of a rumpled gumshoe getting caught up in something much bigger than what he’s used to. I thought the script (by Brian Michael Bendis and Kelly Sue DeConnick) was talky without being wordy, capturing the feel of Castle’s prose pretty well. The art (breakdowns by Lan Medina with Tom Raney, finishes by Scott Hanna with Dan Green) was a little less successful. It told the story competently, but its characters’ features were often angular in an off-putting way, and there was at least one too many brunette femmes fatales. I take it from the credits that Medina was one of Howard Chaykin’s assistants, so some panels had that certain Chaykin flair, but the art tended to take me out of the story. As a Castle fan, I found Deadly Storm a pleasant enough diversion, but not quite essential reading. Maybe Marvel should have adapted one of the Nikki Heat books instead …
I finally got around to reading Stargazing Dog, the new single-volume manga released earlier this year by NBM, and honestly, I found it disappointing. Partly that was because the basics weren’t in place: The drawing was crude in places, the characters had a limited range of facial expressions (which robbed the book of much-needed nuance), and the book was poorly produced, with typos and backward text. I don’t usually mind flipped manga, but this was done without any attention to detail, so, for instance, all the numbers on a speedometer appeared backwards. Beyond that, the story itself was unconvincing‹the characters were simply flat, acting in stereotyped ways without much reflection. Basically, it’s the story of a guy who, without much explanation, loses his job and his family and travels around in his car with his dog until he dies (of a heart condition, but really of sheer inertia). The one part I liked a lot was the extra story at the end, about a social worker who goes to fetch the man’s body and attempt to return it to his family. The social worker had a lot of personality and a real back story, and I wish the rest of the book could have had that kind of depth.
The first volume of Only Serious About You was much more enjoyable, with characters who at least talk to one another and express emotion. It’s the story of a single dad who works as a cook in a restaurant and takes care of his five-year-old daughter; a customer at the restaurant makes a play for him, but the dad is straight. Then his daughter gets sick, and the customer gets to play Good Samaritan. It’s actually more complex than that, and it’s a good soap opera with an attractive male cast. My one complaint is that the ex-wife is such a flat character–more a story device than a real person, in fact. She leaves her husband and child for the vaguest of reasons and then abruptly demands the child back. This is a yaoi manga, so the focus is on male relationships, and the story is not really all that plausible, but the charming characters and straightforward art make it readable even for those of us who are not yaoi fans.
Breathe Deeply is a medical drama that weaves questions of ethics and philosophy into a romantic soap opera about a dying girl. The girl actually dies in chapter one, of a heart condition, but her memory haunts the two boys who loved her. Both boys grow up to be heart researchers, but with totally different approaches–one wants to use embryonic stem cells to grow new tissue, the other tries to engineer an artificial heart. The story is surprisingly nuanced, both in its consideration of the ethical issues involved and in its depiction of the romantic triangle. There’s also some good beaker-tipping lab intrigue to keep the plot moving. It’s a dense manga, filled with detail and plot twists, but it’s also complete in one volume, which makes for a very satisfying read.
Bear Quest, Zach Taylor’s surreal interpretation of 8-bit action platforming starring a cyclopean blue bear, reads like the fevered field notes of a six-year old watching his older brother play Nintendo. Yes, it is as cool and crazy as it sounds, and Taylor demonstrates a storytelling technique that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.
Y’see, Bear Quest exists as two simultaneous comics on a single page. Your classic sprite aesthetic runs along the bottom third as a series of screens, but above is a fully rendered version of “what’s really happening.” The plot is as absurd as any game of the 8-bit era, and flipping the book sideways for the amazing finishing move LINEAGE BURN makes for one of my new favorite pages.
Pirates of Mars, by JJ Kahrs and Veronica Fish, is a snappy pulp adventure about exactly what it says. Kahr writes a crew of believable, lovable misfits (yes, complete with meatbag-hating emancipated robot), and Fish knocks it out of the park with some gorgeous black and white brush work. Less immediately apparent but so very, very admirable is the efficiency of the whole project. There’s nothing self-indulgent or unnecessary holding it down; not a single wasted page. On the blog, Kahr rightly explains that a pulp adventure has to “sing for its supper,” and that it does. The whole first volume is up online, but the physical book is a newsprint comic, and you’d better believe I’m a sucker for that. Seriously, pick this up. Don’t you all like Firefly and swords?
David McGuire’s Gastrophobia chronicles the 100 percent historically accurate adventures of an exiled Amazonian, her son and their Pomeranian in Ancient Greece, and it’s got to be the webcomic I miss most between updates. McGuire has an outrageously charming and expressive style that’s just fun no matter what the particular tale is about. Go ahead and read the most recent storyline before coming back.
Yup… that’s some good Care Bears versus My Little Pony fan-fiction.
The day a new issue of Roger Langridge’s Snarked! comes out continues to be the day I head over to the comic shop. Honestly, Langridge is a fellow that knows what he’s doing, and what he’s doing is having an adventure that really earns the label “rollicking”. Every bit of it is so well-crafted, even outside the confines of the story pages. Reluctant protagonist Wilburforce J. Walrus (of The Walrus and the Carpenter) helms the (hilarious) recap page and letters section, and the zero issue included an honest-to-gosh activity section. An activity section!
Also, Daredevil, but at this point that ought to be a given.