Axel-In-Charge: Waid & Samnee on "Black Widow" and the Dawn of the All-New, All-Different Era
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? Today our special guest is Ivan Salazar, public relations and marketing manager for Studio 407.
To see what Ivan and the Robot 6 crew have been reading (and playing), click below.
THUNDER Agents #4 (written by Nick Spencer, drawn by Wes Craig with Sam Kieth) was brutal and glorious. Flashbacks tied the Agents’ genesis to the war with Subterranea while betrayal and sacrifice drove the present-day plot. Spencer and his artistic collaborators have spun a wonderfully complex melodrama out of the “superpowered ’til you die” setup, balancing its pragmatism (if not fatalism) with the pure-adrenalin thrills the super-suits provide — and this issue’s climax may be the most potent example yet. There are only two more installments to go, and perhaps not much of a future for the feature past that, but there’s enough in this miniseries (and the ten-issue first series) to keep me coming back for multiple readings.
The Unwritten #34.5 (written by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, drawn by Gary Erskine) takes us to World War I’s infamous trenches for the “origin” of Wilson Taylor. It’s not as harrowing as some of the other Point-Five issues have been, and to tell you the truth it may reveal too much about the fundamental forces underlying this series’ cosmology. I don’t think it does, though — at most, I suppose it adds a few more characters to the series’ cast. I’m afraid that doing much else would encourage the kind of detail-oriented nitpickery that threatens to undermine any magic-oriented landscape. Still, on its merits the story was exciting and the art engaging, and it’s an appropriate way to begin the Taylor family’s mystical explorations.
Wow, this was the week for origins, wasn’t it? Here’s another, sort of, in The Shade #5 (written by James Robinson, drawn by Javier Pulido). Here we learn the role of a shipload of vampires in the Shade’s development, and in the life of his “daughter.” Now a masked avenger in Spain, she and the Shade team up to take out one of her worst arch-enemies. For all the dark-and-broody associations we may have with such things, the issue’s tone is pretty bright, almost jaunty. Pulido’s work is less moody than I remember. In fact, in places it looks a lot like a less-stylized Tim Sale. The characters have a certain lightness (for lack of a better term) which helps them pop off the page, so the issue has a particular propulsive energy. Still time to jump aboard, you curious latecomers!
Someday soon I will sit down with the six issues of Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League, but for now issue #6 was a decent end to the book’s first storyline. It had a few significant beats which felt pulled from other fondly-remembered Justice League stories, including Superman tortured by nigh-omnipotent beings (like in the Morrison/Porter JLA #4), Superman going full-out on Darkseid (recalling the final episode of “Justice League Unlimited”), and the inelegant dogpile-on-bad-guy style of super-scrum Johns used in Infinite Crisis and “The Sinestro Corps War.” Ultimately there was a bit of strategy involved, and even a little pep talk from Batman, to liven things up. Although I understand why it was in the book, the “OMG SUPRHEROZ” lionizing at the end was a bit much, and the whole book-excerpt element felt redundant at best. Perhaps its existence will be justified later on. And speaking of “later on,” here’s hoping Johns and Lee realize they don’t have to go all widescreen every issue just because it’s the Justice League. Yes, previous League books have gone too far in the other direction, whether it was Brad Meltzer’s interminable fantasy draft or Gerry Conway’s dalliances in Detroit. However, the League is always best when it’s about relationships, not pounding; and I look forward to the former.
I’ll be honest, I actually haven’t done a lot of irregular comics reading lately. This is because someone snagged me a copy of The Darkness II Collector’s Edition and it pretty much has ruled me these past couple weeks. Now, please know that I’m nowhere near 1337 (that’s what the kids say these days right?) and cracked my first frag on the likes of Doom, but as far as first person shooters go, The Darkness II is awesome! I don’t think it tops Team Fortress 2 as my favorite game of all time but it’s pretty darn close; as Jackie Estacado, you brutally murderize truckloads of mafia goons and mindless cultists all while questioning your own sanity and fighting for the last thing that gave you any hope: your lost girlfriend Jenny. It’s been a few days since I finished the game but I already missed Grabby and Slashy, my evil tentacle buddies from the Quad-Wielding game.
I wasn’t surprised in the least to see Paul Jenkins name listed in the credits as the writer for The Darkness II and I have to praise 2K Games for finding the most amazing mix of comic book drama and old fashioned shoot-‘em-up to play out on the screen. Maybe it’s the first-person narrowed perspective on my screen or the attention to detail in Marc Silvestri’s artwork (an attention to detail that I wish was brought to the pages of Incredible Hulk), but it really felt like playing out the visuals in a comic book. While there’s enough from the comics as far as plot and characters to drape around the shoulders of the pretty awesome game play, it’s the basic motivation of Jackie Estacado that kept me playing. Towards the end I was rooting for Jackie Estacado more than I thought I’d be; I cared when NPCs died, I felt a little shell shocked after a return from the false realities the Darkness used to distract Jackie from death. I’m not saying it was terribly deep, but the personal struggle kept me returning to the controller, day after day, a testament to the compelling writing and depth brought out of the game.
There’s enough from the history of the Darkness to be entertained if you’re a fan of the series. Plus, in a stroke of true genius, my Collector’s Edition came with code for Comixology for two volumes of the Darkness series. Yeah. Two volumes. If this is future of comics marketing, if games like this that can introduce people who might have never picked up this book to a Top Cow character and perhaps even entice them to pick up a comic, I think I’d be okay with that.
I haven’t finished it yet, so maybe this will change, but so far the plot of Jim Woodring’s Congress of the Animals could be summarized as “A cat goes on a walk. Strange things happen.” By this I mean that while there is a sequence of events that is strung together, it’s not at all clear that they are related to one another to form any sort of overarching plot. It’s just one odd incident, then another. Looked at as an art book, though, this is an amazing piece of work. Woodring’s art has a real solidity to it and like the best surrealists, he creates unreal shapes and figures that seem real—he has figured out how to make new bodily orifices that mimic the old and yet are totally different. Like visions in a dream, they are convincing and false at the same time.
I also finished the fourth collected volume of The Unwritten, which collects issues 19-24. Writer Mike Carey and illustrator Peter Gross take on Moby-Dick in this arc, which is an ambitious undertaking, but they handle it well. At the end of the last volume, I was afraid this was going to turn into a story that just drags on and on with no resolution. I am still not sure that won’t happen, but at this point I’m enjoying the ride, and the creators’ delightfully demented take on all of literature, so much that I really don’t care.
So I moved not too long ago and the funny thing about packing all your stuff is that things like movies and books get clumped in one place. This has made me want to revisit a lot of my comics and in some cases actually read the books that I forgot I even owned. One of the later is actually Will Eisner’s New York The Big City, a fantastic gritty, tender and some times tragic view of New York City. It’s definitely a snapshot of the Big Apple in (what looks like) the late 70’s, rendered beautifully in a series of short vignettes. The movement and emotion conveyed in all the silent strips of this book were really amazing and a treat to read, especially when I didn’t feel like unpacking the rest of my books.
Reading Eisner’s kinetic illustrations of New Yorker’s on the move reminded me of another book I hadn’t read in a while but completely adored, Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido’s Blacksad. This is a collection of three noir detectives tales featuring a savvy street wise anthropomorphic cat John Blacksad. They’re hard-boiled, gritty and nuanced tales which showcase not just animals who act like people but as Steranko put it in his introduction, “people who resemble animals.” In my opinion, these stories are right up there with the caliber of detective fiction you’d read with authors like Raymond Chandler, Walter Mosley and James M. Cain. My favorite story in this book is “Arctic Nation” a tragic story of revenge and betrayal in a city gripped by racism. The art in this book feels like the panels could animate at any moment and the writing grips your heart in ways you’d never thought you’d feel about a humanized cat. Definitely a great read.
Lastly as I was rummaging through my comics I felt the need to lighten up my reading so I went with one of the comics that always makes me laugh out loud (lol) when I read it – Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen’s Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. About a band of misfit, D-list heroes, taking on some the weirdest threats to America by punching it in the face and blowing it up. When I first read this series it was the most fun I’d ever had with comics. The sheer absurdity of every enemy they faced and the characters’ dysfunctional banter was enough to keep me reading but Immonen’s art made every fight scene an epic battle and something that kept me turning pages dying to see what came next. One of my favorite moments is in the second to last issue that has six double page spreads back to back (SIX!), in which the Nextwave crew fights everything from Elvis MODOK’s, to nude ninjas, and even chimpanzee wolverine clones. If I ever need a quick laugh I usually pick up this series.