What Are You Reading? with Thomas Hall
Welcome once again to What Are You Reading?, where we share what comics, books and other good stuff we’ve been checking out lately. This week our special guest is Thomas Hall, writer of the science fiction/fantasy comic Robot 13.
To see what Thomas and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
It’s been a busy week, and most of my reading has been catching up on Birds of Prey and working my way through Kagan McLeod’s Infinite Kung Fu. I’m still not done with IKF yet (it’s huge!), so I’ll mention a couple of other books I finished over the last few weeks and haven’t talked about yet.
I dig both steampunk and Warren Ellis, so his playing in that genre with Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island is something I’ve wanted to read since it was first announced. I’ve only read the first volume so far, but it’s possibly the best (modern) steampunk story I’ve ever read. Ellis gives it themes that remind me of Alan Moore stuff like V for Vendetta and maybe even a little of From Hell, but I don’t mean to imply that it’s anything but distinctly Ellis. It’s about social rebellion against a corrupt state, but it holds up science and technology as the way to achieving that goal. Very timely in the days of Internet and Arab DAWN. I wish it didn’t feel the need to be so over-the-top in language and graphic violence, but it’s an Avatar book and I shouldn’t fault the scorpion for being what it is.
The other book I read recently was Locke and Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft. Someone described it to me as “the new Sandman,” so that comparison finally hooked me. I don’t totally see the similarities just from this first volume, but I understand it gets more deeply intricate as the series goes on. One thing it does have in common with Sandman right away though: it’s incredibly immersive. There are hints of a larger story, but even though the first volume concentrates on a family dealing with a horrible tragedy, the members of that family – especially the three kids – are so realized that I’d want to spend time with them even if they weren’t dealing with a homicidal stalker and a haunted house. I’m looking forward to catching up with the rest of the series.
I am enjoying working my way through the overstuffed Chase trade paperback. I’m about halfway through, but it didn’t take long for D. Curtis Johnson and J.H. Williams III to make Cameron Chase a credible, endearing character. There have been a number of guest-stars too — you’d expect that in a book about a federal agent investigating superheroes, and moreso if that book were struggling to find an audience — but they don’t take anything away from Chase’s development. Instead, we get fun takes on Batman, Nightwing, the Justice League, two Green Lanterns, Booster Gold and the mid-’90s Teen Titans. (Booster and the Titans jockeying for publicity make for a particularly fun issue.) You have to think Williams’ work was a big factor in reprinting this series, but here he uses a thicker line and heavier blacks for a more moody effect. Anyway, Chase was one of several DC series from fifteen-odd years ago which tried to carve out their own unique niches in the shared superhero universe, and although its publishing life was fairly short, its protagonist and her little world have endured. In fact, if she does well enough in Batwoman, maybe there’ll be a spinoff….
Chris Roberson and Jeffrey Moy have taken a slow-burn approach to the Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes crossover, using fully two-thirds of it to survey the malevolent mashup of the two franchises’ universes. Sure it’s been fun to see Khunds and Klingons, the Federation and United Planets combined into an evil empire, and the ultimate revelations surrounding their shared nemesis, but there hasn’t been much in the way of plot until this week’s issue #5. Here we learn just how it all went down, and if it owes a little to Sandman, that’s okay. At least now our heroes know what they’re up against, and how to fix it. I’d been waiting for this point in the story, so now I’m eager for the conclusion.
Speaking of cathartic narratives, Batman #6 (written by Scott Snyder, drawn by Greg Capullo) was fairly good at building the Owls into a truly scary group. (Of course, last issue’s beatdown also did a lot towards that goal.) It’s tricky for any creative team to build up a new villain (or set thereof) as a threat capable of defeating Batman utterly, particularly when Batman enjoys the proverbial “air of invincibility.” Doing it right involves making both sides look capable, which in turn means not letting Batman look like a chump. “Knightfall” did it, “Batman R.I.P.” did it, and I’d argue the first Prometheus story in JLA did it — and Snyder and Capullo have done it here. Batman is still Batman, even at the end of his rope, and that’s why he lives (just barely, it seems) to take on the Owls in the next issue. This has been a terrifically suspenseful arc so far, with each issue apparently calculated to make the reader anticipate the next one that much more.
I thought I would take a look at vol. 3 of Cardcaptor Sakura (a three-volume omnibus from Dark Horse), even though I haven’t read the first two volumes. As it turns out, this volume starts a new arc so after a few pages of backstory, I could jump right in. CLAMP is known for their sinuously detailed linework, and this book is no exception; sometimes it’s hard to see what’s going on for all the art. And the story moves rather slowly. In the first two volumes, Sakura captured all the magical Clow Cards that were somehow threatening the universe, so life should be good, but a new menace crops up and in an interesting twist, she must re-create each of the cards herself. The manga has many of the elements of Sailor Moon–the magical girl, the supernatural advisers, the special objects–but the pace is slower, and there’s a lot of chat between the battles. Also, while CLAMP’s artwork is indeed beautiful, it’s often hard to tell what’s going on inside all the swirls. It’s really a first-class shoujo manga, though, with all the elements that make it so enjoyable to its fans (and so outré to those who just don’t get it).
On a completely different note, I finished the third collected trade of Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s The Unwritten, and I’m still enjoying it, although I find the violence jarring for some reason. It’s not a surprise–there’s plenty of violence in the first volume, so it doesn’t come as a surprise in the second and third, but it seems out of place with the magical feel of the rest of the story. And honestly, I found the choose-your-own adventure sequence tiresome. At that point, I was invested in the story, and even though I acknowledge it’s clever (and fairly reductive–most of it is actually a single sequence), it interrupted the narrative flow. On the other hand, the Peter Rabbit parody at the end of the second book was brilliant. It looks like the story is changing direction a bit at the end of the third collection, and I’m planning to stick with it.
Thunderbolts #170: Carla said it best in this week’s The Fifth Color: “The Thunderbolts are fueled by a fantastic imagination and some amazing storytelling.” Kev Walker’s art is sheer delight when inked by Terry Pallot. Writer Jeff Parker jams the latest installment of the current time travel romp with great character moments, be it: Moonstone opining on Lancelot’s sexual role in Arthurian history—right before throwing him out of a castle; or Troll lamenting the fact she did not get to keep a dragon they encountered in this latest round of battles.
Batman & Robin #6: Peter Tomasi is quickly making this book my favorite of the myriad Bat titles (really, of the new 52—how many are Bat connected? Yikes). And it’s all because of the father-son dynamics/struggles of Bruce and Damian. One flaw to the Damian character, though, when mom and grandpa have such ready access to Lazarus Pits and the like, is his life ever really in danger? Sidebar: If Tomasi wants to write more untold tales of Bruce Wayne before he was Batman, color me interested. Also, I hope Patrick Gleason gets some praise for his work on this series, he’s really doing some solid layouts—and seems to be able to deliver on a monthly deadline (which not every artist can).
Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #6: Would love to see Jeff Lemire’s character bible on this series, given that in this issue there is a flashback to Frankenstein’s involvement in 1969 Vietnam. I just love typing that phrase. Here’s hoping Matt Kindt keeps the tone Lemire established rolling once he takes over the series writing in a few issues. Dear Matt, please consider dropping the SHADENET computer program narrative device, it kills the story flow for me and is annoying.
Scarlet Spider #2: What a steal for $2.99. Did I mention every regular issue will cost $2.99 (trying to make up for my error in last month’s review). Kaine Parker as written by Chris Yost is definitely gonna be a great reluctant hero. In this issue that’s exemplified in many ways, the most entertaining being when he is trying to save a woman’s life and informs her that she is “in my way” as he shoves her away from being hurt by the villain.
Super Dinosaur #8: The sign of a great kids book? When writer Robert Kirkman introduces a new threat to Derek Dynamo—Miss Finkle, the official who has the power to revoke Derek’s grade school exemption (which allows him to fight crime while being home schooled). Kirkman has even General Casey quaking in response to her presence. It’s a threat that appeals to every kid (and kids getting to see adults even dreading her adds another layer of amusement for the reader). It’s a small detail (among many that add up) to make this book a solidly fun read.
Nightwing #6: Kyle Higgins understands the key to writing Dick Grayson. Unlike Batman, Dick/Nightwing is entertained to a certain extent when fighting crime. Case in point, this issue where he bemusingly laments/pities the villain Shox’s (a name that Dick mocks) rookie mistake of exposing his electrically charged/powered suit to water. One minus on almost all of the DC 52 books? They take a damn long time to tell what appears to be a simple story (how many parts are these arcs gonna have—12?)
Winter Soldier #2: This book has to be read for the art alone. Butch Guice and Bettie Breitweiser are treating consumers to a modern day Steranko-like romp. Espionage eye candy at its best. There is a scene where Sitwell is providing a briefing in a situation room, and yet Guice & Breitweiser go to town with multiple layers, overlays and colors. There is no other series looking like this on the market. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments, but please bring evidence.
Secret Avengers #22: Hard pressed to decide which I enjoy more in Rick Remender and Gabriel Hardman’s first official issue: the wit of Remender’s characters (particularly Beast, Hawkeye and Captain Britain [Hell, he even gives Captain America a funny line, before showing him the narrative door]) or Hardman’s layouts. Oh my stars and garters, Bettie Breitweiser is also coloring this monthly. Hardman and Breitweiser make a hell of a team. To be honest, Breitweiser and anyone make a great team. But for this week’s books Breitweiser’s Secret Avengers while still great is not as staggeringly delightful as Winter Soldier , I must admit.
My reading is all over the map, and I read very few traditional superhero books. I am reading Batwing because a friend from Twitter sent me copies and said he thought so much of the series that he wanted my take on them. What is cool about Batwing is that it’s actually fun, and has lots of the action and adventure that the Perez Teen Titans used to have or the X Men from the same era. I am not ready to call it a “classic” like those series yet, but I will say that I have read every issue and that’s a feat these days. Aside from Batwing, the only “New 52” book I will touch is Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE. That book is tons of fun and reminds me a lot of the Marvel stuff that Gene Colan did back in the day.
I also have been reading the Milk & Cheese hardcover, but I would read any Milk & Cheese book ever, and if you have to ask why you are dead to me! I mean, that book needs a permanent MOMA exhibit… and if you know me at all, you know I would be petitioning for that if I thought there was a shot of making it happen. Other than that, I read Blackest Terror from Moonstone. I know it’s supposed to be a “Super Hero” book, but to me it’s the kind of thing that needs to be made into the next Samuel L. Jackson movie. Really great stuff! Eric Esquivel is genius in that, and how nobody in Marvel or DC is calling Ander Sarabia and giving him a shot is beyond me. Out of anything I have read lately, I would grab Blackest Terror because those guys are going to be huge.