What Are You Reading? with Simon Monk
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? This week’s special guest is Simon Monk, an artist whose “Secret Identity” paintings we featured here on Robot 6 not too long ago. Monk is actually selling limited edition prints of his paintings on his website now, so go check them out.
To see what Simon and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
I finally finished Habibi (it wouldn’t have taken me so long if I wasn’t reading four other books at the same time. #WhenWillILearn?). As others have noted, it sticks with you long after you finish it. The sheer amount of time that I spent with Dodola and Zam means that I can’t just put them away and move on now that I’ve finished the story. Especially not after everything I watched them go through. It’s a manipulative book, and my natural reaction to noticing I’m being manipulated is to resist it, but Craig Thompson pushes through my defenses with the overbearing weight (in emotional terms as well as page volume) of his book. That sounds like a bad thing when I write it, but I suppose the important part is that it works. I felt strongly for these two characters and became invested in seeing how they turned out, even though I could see what Thompson was doing to make me feel that way.
I also read Howard Lovecraft and the Ice Kingdom. A friend of mine wrote the sequel, so I wanted to catch up on this before I check out his. There’s probably a way to turn HP Lovecraft’s C’thulhu mythos into an all-ages comic, but this wasn’t it. The tone is uneven, zipping back and forth wildly between disturbing horror and children’s cartoon. Ice Kingdom wants us to take its threats seriously (and is at its best when presenting disturbing monsters and their effects on young Lovecraft’s now-insane father), but it’s hard to do that when the boy adopts C’thulhu himself as a pet and insists on calling him Spot. On the other hand, I also could have bought into a fun lark through a tame version of C’thulhu’s world without the references to human sacrifices and child-eating elder gods. Ice Kingdom tries to have it both ways and doesn’t work.
This week I caught up with one book about which I’d been morbidly curious, and another about which I just learned but knew I had to have.
The first was Justice, the 12-issue bimonthly miniseries from plotter/finisher Alex Ross, scripter Jim Krueger, and penciller Dougie Braithwaite. I read the first issue when it came out (back in 2006); and despite a somewhat compelling end-of-the-world teaser, it never quite grabbed me. Still, at worst I figured it would satisfy whatever desire I might have to see Ross’s take on the ’70s DC of my youth. First I waited for DC to collect the whole thing in one book, and then I waited a while longer for an acceptable discount. And it’s not a bad story, as far as semi-gritty evocations of “Challenge of the Super Friends” go — it’s just that whatever good story there is, is buried under Ross’s watercolor sentimentality. The plot involves Luthor, Brainiac, and a Legion-of-Doom-ish array of super villains turning to the good side (or are they?) in order to cast the Justice League as an insensitive pantheon who’d rather keep humanity down than solve the world’s problems. Much of the book involves the villains incapacitating our heroes and their friends and allies, including an extended subplot about Brainiac’s experiments on Aquaman. (Apparently, if you ever thought “Super Friends” needed more surgical torture, this book is for you.) Because the cast expands geometrically as the book goes on, it all gets busier and busier; and between double-page layouts which don’t initially read that way and finishes which literally blur away critical distinctions, Justice can be hard to read. There are also some sequences which just don’t pass the smell test, like Solomon Grundy (apparently, since it’s off-panel) taking out both Robin and Kid Flash. However, Green Lantern’s “imprisonment” pays off, despite looking at first like an indulgent foreshadowing of “Emerald Twilight,” and there are a few other odds and ends which make me want to give it another chance. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of fan service here for those in the know, like extended homages to the ’60s “Batman” show and gratuitous attempts to “prove” that Plastic Man is eternally superior to Elongated Man. To paraphrase another cartoon from my youth, of all the Alex Ross books in the world, this one may be the Alex Rossiest.
The second book was Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s adaptation of Alien for Heavy Metal, a graphic novel called Alien: The Illustrated Story (lettered by John Workman and I suppose colored by Simonson). At 61 pages, it tracks the movie pretty faithfully, but it neither adds to nor subtracts from the movie’s essential beats. Instead, it translates them almost effortlessly to the printed page, capturing everything from the sterile opening sequence to the eerie ancient spacecraft and the xenomorph’s brutality. Simonson also does a great job with likenesses, which seems trivial but really helps with something like this. Perhaps because of the format, or even the painted color palette, this comes across as entirely separate from Simonson’s other licensed work on Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars. This adaptation boils Alien down to its visceral horror-story core, and makes it something which could easily have appeared in a sci-fi anthology like Heavy Metal.
Oh, and I read Winter Soldier #1 (by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice), which was as good as I was expecting from the team responsible for making Bucky’s revival both believable and sustainable. And yes, that means I was (once again) totally wrong about the predictive value of any similarities its promotional materials may or may not have had to a certain Stephen J. Cannell/Lorenzo Lamas syndicated TV series, and I am not just saying that because a guy named “Bonderant” (one letter off, but still) gets the crap kicked out of him halfway through the issue. In short, I’m on board for issue #2, okay? Okay?!?? (Sheesh!)
Finally read the final issue of the Alpha Flight miniseries/ongoing/nope, miniseries. It’s a shame to see a creative team firing on all cylinders (as Greg Pak/Fred Van Lente and Dale Eaglesham were on this project) and for the sales not to follow in response. The writing team’s approach toward Puck is one aspect I will miss the most.
This week two colorists really floored me with their work. First up is Dave Stewart bringing an outstanding cinematic sheen to the second issue of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Fatale series (Image). Sidenote: I am bewildered at the thin paper stock that Image is using for the covers of this series. But that is a minor complaint. It does not take away from the overall unique noir look to the series. I say unique in that Stewart is using a diverse (and sometimes vibrant) color palette that surprisingly works in the noir setting (which is typically rather dark by nature).
The other colorist is someone I’ve raved about before–Bettie Breitweiser. On the first issue of Brubaker’s Winter Soldier, she works wonders with Butch Guice’s amazing art. There is one scene where James Barnes is videoconferencing with Jasper Sitwell. The layers of floating red video screens countered with the cool blue tones of James’ panels are just astounding. One panel had me just sitting there and wondering how Breitweiser did it. I appreciate when art gives me reason to pause. In terms of characters, Black Widow is as much a star of this series as James, which is a welcome approach for my money,
Hulk #48. May I officially beg writer Jeff Parker to keep Machine Man as a member of the Hulk cast? In this issue, Parker has Aaron thank someone, in the heat of battle, when they hand his cut-off arm back to him. Heh.
One question to the readers: The countdown banner to AvX–is anybody else reminded of the Toys R Us Shopping Spree banner (among other banners) in the 1980 Marvel Comics?
I jumped right in to Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s The Unwritten with the first volume of the collected edition, and I loved it from the start. It’s the story of Tom Taylor whose father used him as the lead character in a Harry Potter-like fantasy series. His father disappeared under mysterious circumstances when Tom was still a child, but his whole past is coming back to haunt him. The creators do a really nice job of weaving the Tommy Taylor stories in with their ongoing plot, and they bring in all sorts of other literary allusions as well. The first volume ends with a side story about Rudyard Kipling that is simply stunning. Unfortunately, as I near the end of the second volume, I’m starting to wonder how tight the plot really is. The stories are becoming episodic, but there are also a lot of questions left unanswered, and I’m not sure the authors know the answers. I certainly hate it when a character in a book refuses to share information with the hero for no good reason, as is happening here. Still, even as a series of episodes, Tom Taylor’s adventures are good fun and full of interesting literary trivia, so I’m in this for the long haul.
I spent some time in the Mignolaverse as well this week, with B.P.R.D.:Being Human and Hellboy: House of the Living Dead. The B.P.R.D. book is a collection of short stories, each focusing on different characters, and it’s actually a good first B.P.R.D. book as it touches on a number of origin stories. The first, and longest, story features Liz Sherman as a sulky teenager dragged along by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm to help out with the exorcism of a house and forest where a witch was hanged during the Salem witch trials. The Salem witch trials are a bit overdone as a topic, but I like the way the story showcases the young Liz in all her awkwardness. In the other stories, an older Liz and Abe Sapien discuss the ethics of killing their enemies, Roger the Homunculus and Hellboy do a little zombie-fighting in the Deep South, and we see the origin story of the Ectoplasmic Man. There’s plenty of horror and action in these stories, but the creators do a good job of mixing in the human side of the characters as well.
Hellboy: House of the Living Dead takes Hellboy south of the border and turns him into a luchador who is compelled to fight a latter-day Frankenstein’s monster. At only 56 pages, this story is short and pretty straightforward, but it’s well done and an interesting take on the Frankenstein story.
I recently read Grant Morrison’s book Supergods in which he sets out clearly his ideas about life, the universe and everything. Although I tend to be more attracted to street-level narratives such as Daredevil and The Spirit, I have always enjoyed Morrison’s work for its exuberance and extremity. Reading Supergods encouraged me to reread some of his classic stuff such as Zenith and Animal Man, but the biggest surprise turned out to be The Invisibles. On its initial publication I gave up on it about half way through its run so I had never read it as a single entity. It was far more coherent and exciting than I remembered it, despite fizzling a bit at the conclusion. I was struck at how Kirbyesque it seemed, thematically it is very Fourth World and the team/family interaction felt like a twisted version of the FF.
I love autobiographical comics such as Eddie Campbell’s Alec, and I recently discovered a self-published gem titled Many Happy Returns by Jan Wheatley. It turns out that Jan is the same age as me and had a very similar upbringing just 10 miles away from my home town. These coincidences gave the two issues published so far an incredible personal resonance for me, adding up to a pretty moving reading experience. Jan Wheatley is definitely a creator whose development I shall enjoy following.
I have a six-year-old son called William, and we tend to read a lot of comics together. I love testing out new stuff on him to see how he responds. Big hits so far include early Fantastic Four (started when he was three!), Bone, Jack Cole Plastic Man, ’50s and ’60s World’s Finest and Chip Kidd’s Bat-Manga book. Perhaps surprisingly the trade collection he can never get enough of is The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen featuring Elastic Lad, Human Flame-thrower, et al. Some of these crazy silver age tales have been read in bed on a Sunday morning a dozen times or more. He is a big fan of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon so I tried a few of the ’70s Bob Haney and Jim Aparo issues on him. Not a great response from William but I was surprised at how gritty they were: some of them read like a ‘Kojak’ episode with superheroes added.