Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, where each week we detail what comics and other stuff have been on our reading piles. Our special guest today is David Harper, associate editor over at the recently redesigned Multiversity Comics.
To see what David and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
Isle of 100,000 Graves was even better than I expected, and that’s saying a lot about a pirate comic by one of my favorite cartoonists. I’ve only ever read Jason’s short story collections before now, so this was my first introduction to his long-form work. It’s funny, adventurous, and totally had me rooting for wily little Gwenny and her unlucky pirate companion as they searched for Gwenny’s missing dad in an island school for executioners.
I also recently completed the first volume of Royden Lepp’s Rust. It’s a steampunky story – not quite an adventure tale yet, but you can see how it’s going to get there – about a young farmer in a world where robots were used to fight a recent war. Some of the other farmers have been re-purposing the leftover automatons to help with chores and young Roman would like to do that too. He’s cautioned against it though by a secretive, jet-pack-wearing farm hand who know more about the war than a boy his age should. The drama is mostly personal as Roman struggles with the farm, clashes with his mom, and writes to his mysteriously absent father. There are a couple of action scenes though and Lepp uses his intimate style to highlight the gentleness of farm life before disrupting it with robot attacks. He could speed the pacing up by taking a few panels out of some of the action scenes, but other than that, it’s a great start to an intriguing series.
Next I read Hades: Lord of the Dead, the latest volume in George O’Connor’s Olympians series. It’s getting difficult to find new ways of praising the series, but I need to try because O’Connor’s work is just as impressive as when he started. Like the previous volumes, he sneaks other heroes into the title character’s story (Perseus in Athena; Herakles in Hera), so Hades deals a lot with Persephone. He also continues the trend of finding new things to say about these characters and bringing them to life in relatable ways. Persephone’s relationship with Demeter, her mom, rings especially true, but I also like the change she brings about in Hades.
Finally, I’ve been on a Sherlock Holmes kick lately and read Ian Edginton and INJ Culbard’s graphic novel adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s the second comics adaptation I’ve read in a few months’ time span that included about five different movie versions, so I’m getting tired of repeating the same story beats. That’s not Edginton and Culbard’s fault though. Like their other Holmes adaptations, it’s faithful both to the story and the depictions of the characters and settings. Culbard’s got an expressively simple, but wonderfully detailed style that brings Holmes’ world to life and makes me glad to be exploring it, even when it’s for the eighth or ninth time with this particular story.
Bunch of DC stuff ended up in my mailbox this week:
Dial H #1 — There are some really fun ideas here, especially in the superheroes area — I for one would love a “Further Adventures of Captain Lachtymose” — but I agree with Tucker that it feels a bit like warmed over Grant Morrison at times, and some of the extrapolation necessary to keep the plot moving (he just happens to accidentally dial HERO while trying to make a call for help? Really?) are painful. File it under “potential.”
Earth 2 #1 — Oh the angst! Oh the tragedy! The earnestness is turned all the way up to 11 on this one, but I give DC credit for willing to really revamp the Golden Age Flash and Green Lantern. Again, the level of exposition that gets thrown around here is awkward to be generous, and Nicola Scott’s art does nothing for me, but I can see it hitting your average DC fan’s sweet spot pretty easily.
World’s Finest #1 — I like both George Perez and Kevin Maguire, but their styles are pretty apart so it was jarring to move from one to the other in this comic. Levitz’s attempt at witty banter is also cringe-inducing at times, but the core concept — globe trotting heroines fight crime while trying to find a way back to their home world — is pretty solid. And hey, way to make sure the new PG costume still totally focuses on her breasts.
Batman Vol. 1: The Court of Owls — I think I was a little harsh in my initial assessment of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s run on Batman here. Capullo’s got a nice cartoony vibe going on that works especially in those moments where exaggeration is called for. I’m getting more than a little tired of the “Menace from Wayne’s past/Gotham’s past/Alfred’s past/etc. returns to plague everyone yet again” and Snyder makes some extreme leaps of logic that strain reader credulity, but I appreciate their willingness to play with the go a little loopy in that “labyrinth” sequence. Overall I’d say it’s a slightly above average Batman story, but I’m not sure that’s more than faint praise these days.
Justice League Vol. 1: Origin — This, on the other hand, is simply awful. Awful, over-rendered art; awful, awkward dialogue that mainly consists of everyone showing each other what a bad ass they are. Not embarrassingly bad like Red Hood. Just plain, flat-out bad, full stop.
For a feature which promises Dinosaurs vs. The Army, G.I. Combat‘s “War That Time Forgot” (written by J.T. Krul, drawn by Ariel Olivetti) skimps on crazy. After a slow opening (soldiers bonding cutely with one’s wife and child), there’s a dry briefing about the anomaly (or whatever it is) which facilitates everything, and then the rest of the story is pteranodons vs. helicopters. And that last part is fine — it’s basically the point, I imagine, at this stage — but Olivetti’s art is almost too pretty. In fact, the whole thing is just too buttoned-down. Sure, a pterosaur cracks open a ‘copter as easily as you’d peel a shrimp, but there’s no sense of chaotic abandon. I hate to put it this way, but you’d think the writer of Rise of Arsenal could really bring home the feeling of “Game over, man! Game over!”
In that respect the second feature, “Unknown Soldier” (written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, drawn by Dan Panosian), was better, but it too needed a little more to distinguish itself. For starters, if I understood correctly, the newest Unknown Soldier isn’t much of a mystery to his colleagues; and that right there seems to undermine the premise. Still, it’s denser and more lively than “WTTF” (not the best abbreviation…), and I’m still curious to see where it’s going.
Because I was a fan of SpongeBob long before I became a dad, naturally I was glad to see that Bongo’s FCBD issue included a couple of SpongeBob stories. I was even happier to see that the main story, which featured Aquaman knockoff Mermaidman, was drawn in part by the great Ramona Fradon. (It was written by the show’s Derek Drymon, with the SpongeBob sequences drawn by Gregg Schigel.) It’s basically SpongeBob reading his Mermaidman comic to Squidward, and Squidward getting annoyed, until his curiosity gets the best of him and he tries to break into SpongeBob’s longboxes. It was a cute story, and Ms. Fradon’s work was impossible to pass up. The issue also included two short SpongeBob strips from James Kochalka, which were sweetly gross and silly.
Finally, because I wanted to support Memphis’ own Chris Haley, who drew it, I bought Captain American Idol (written by Rich Johnston). It was a fine mashup of reality-style competition shows with the plot of last summer’s Captain America movie, and Haley’s style fit it pretty well. Basically, Cap just wants to sing his way through World War II, but he needs Gordon Ramsay (in the Prof. Erskine role) to help him bulk up. In one of the high points, David Hasselhoff plays Nick Fury. I liked it well enough, but let’s get Chris Haley more work, okay?
Dial H #1: My hat’s off to DC on this one, as assistant editor Joe Hughes/editor Karen Berger shepherded a quirky first issue from writer China Miéville/artist Mateus Santolouco. In revamping the Dial H for Hero concept in the new DC 52, this horror vibe is a departure from most past incarnations. Gone is the dial, replaced by a phone booth. I’ll be honest, not sure how plotwise Miéville’s always going to be able to make the stationary phone booth work in the long term (versus the portable dial of the past). But the true appeal to this series, long haul—the heroic characters created by that phone booth. And if Miéville has more characters like Captain Lachrymose up his sleeve, this will be a consistently fun read.
Avengers Academy #29: Writer Christos Gage deserves a medal for succinctly summarizing the AvX event in the span of three word balloons. More importantly when the kids of Utopia become prisoners of war in residence at Avengers Academy, Gage constructs some spectacular character scenes (as well as some narrative bait and switch that works). Added bonus in this issue, the out-and-out John Byrne homage that artist Tom Grummett pulls off on the last page.
Daredevil #12: Chris Samnee and Mark Waid execute a stunning done-in-one untold tale of Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson’s law school days, framed by a Matt and Kirsten McDuffie first date element. The only downside? Because of the flashback nature of the issue, we are delayed in getting to see how Samnee is going to handle DD in present-day action (but that’s a minor downside, rest assured). As much as I wish Waid would concoct a means to resurrect Karen Page, there’s another part of me that hopes that McDuffie (Waid’s tribute to his late friend, the great storyteller Dwayne McDuffie) is a character that becomes a permanent and popular DD cast member.
J. Caleb Mozzocco
A few weeks ago I discovered the graphic novel section in a library I had never visited before, and took the chance to stock up on some collections of DC books I had previously avoided in single-issue format (I really can’t recommend your local library as a source of comics strongly enough. You could, or at least should, be able to get
just about everything that makes it into a bound collection there, and reading comics in this format, where one gets a whole story all at once rather than 20-22 pages of it every month and where one doesn’t have to pay for it at all really takes a lot of the frustration out of reading not-totally-awesome comics).
These included Superman: Return of Doomsday and Superman: Reign of Doomsday, Huntress: Year One, Blackest Night: Green Lantern Corps, Flash Vol. 1: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues and Secret Six: Cats in the Cradle.
I was rather pleasantly surprised by all of ‘em (You can read my full reviews of them on my home blog, Every Day Is Like Wednesday, by clicking on the links, by the way), with the exceptions of Return of Doomsday and Cats in the Cradle, which were exactly as bad as I thought they would be, and in the exact same ways I expected them to be.
I also read Justice League: Rise and Fall out of morbid curiosity, but found it so bad that I couldn’t even bring myself to write at length about it even to make fun of. There are a few bits of stupidity that are surreally bad, and thus at least interesting, like writer J.T. Krul’s Reefer Madness-level of understanding of drugs, or the scene where Green Arrow gets put on trial for murder in the second degree in a Star City municipal court for killing a super-villain in an upopulated alternate dimension (I was trying to think of a Law and Order version of a similar story, and I guess that would be like if District Attorney Jack McCoy charged Detective Stabler for excessive force because he roughed up a child molester on the astral plane, maybe….?) and the now Internet-famous image of Roy Harper clutching the rotting corpse of a cat, while a halo of angst radiates around his head.
But those are just bits. It’s just puerile, formally incompetent, sub-professional trash that everyone involved with should be deeply ashamed of. After finally reading it for myself, I think it may be sole the reason DC decided to reboot their continuity with the New 52. Sure, the reboot have been like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but with bathwater this poisonous, there’s not much else you can do—the baby was already dead.
I also read The Punisher: Barbarian With a Gun, which I was disappointed to find wasn’t at all about Frank Castle traveling back in time to Hyperboria to fight ancient crime with a handgun while wearing a black loincloth with a skull on it. Instead it collects a five-issue Punisher War Zone arc by Chuck Dixon and John Buscema, in which Frank pursues a drug dealer to fictional South American island country, at the exact moment said drug dealer is desperately trying to leave the island before it falls to a Communist revolution.
Dixon is maybe one of the world’s most reliable comics writers, and can do these reasonably entertaining 80s action movies-as-comics stories in his sleep. Since most of the Punisher comics I’ve read were written by Garth Ennis, it was somewhat strange to see how similar Dixon’s was. Ennis exaggerated the character for effect, but he didn’t exaggerate him by too many degrees. Buscema’s art isn’t too terribly well-colored here, but it’s gorgeous nonetheless, like a slightly grittier version of 70s Joe Kubert comic, with his title character a hulking, monster of a man with dead eyes that look as angry as they look weary.
I also also read Stars Wars: The Force Unleashed, a graphic novel adaptation of a video game based on a film series. Set between the second trilogy (Episodes I-III) and the first trilogy (Episodes IV-VI), it’s about a droid with a neat set of programming telling Jimmy Smits and a hot imperial pilot all about his dead master Starkiller (Ha ha, an in-joke!), who was Darth Vader’s secret apprentice. The art varies sharply from chapter to chapter—it being provided by three different artists—but it was fun seeing the sort of Jedi-powered hero from the prequel trilogy fighting stormtroopers, Darth Vader and the sorts of villains familiar from the original trilogy. They never adequately explained why this Starkiller dude is so damn powerful when it comes to manipulating The Force—his powers seem to dwarf Vader’s—but it was still fun to see the mix of the new and the old Star Wars in comics form.
I also also also read Erik Craddock’s Stone Rabbit: Dragon Boogie. Craddock has a whole series of little digest-sized graphic novels for kids about an anthropomorphic rabbit having wild adventures. They are more kids comics than all-ages ones, but even if the writing is written under my head, I really like Craddock’s designs and art style, and the premises of some of his books are fun. This one, for example, sees our rabbit hero and some of his friends forced to play the dice and board fantasy role-playing game “Dragons & Stuff” one stormy night when they lose power and thus can’t play video games as per usual. They use a pair of cursed die, however, and end up inside the game.
I think that’s everything I’ve been reading this past week or so … Oh! I also read Archie Meets Kiss (which I reviewed here earlier in the week, along with a handful of other graphic novels I read in April), and a mere two serially published, comic book-comics, Daredevil #12 and Hulk Smash Avengers #1, which I reviewed here.
Having covered the Valiant relaunch pretty heavily of late, there was no way I was going to miss their first issue, X-O Manowar #1. I’m coming to this story fresh, as I didn’t read the original Valiant comics from the 1990s, but that was no problem as Robert Venditti and Cary Nord build their story from the ground up. We start with some nice Visigoths-vs.-Romans action that serves to introduce the main character, Aric, a Visigoth warrior who is has that combination of hotheadedness and cleverness that makes for an interesting hero. When an alien spaceship appears on the battlefield, Aric doesn’t stop to wonder about it; he just charges forward and ends up being captured and transported to another world. Nord’s clean artwork makes this a smooth read, although his battle scenes seem a bit sterile, and Venditti gets the story rolling and foreshadows the conflicts to come quite nicely. I’ll be sticking around for more of this one.
I also read the first two issues of Brian Churilla’s Secret History of D.B. Cooper, which purports to explain the most famous hijacking in U.S. history as the actions of a rogue CIA agent who has been conducting psychic assassinations with the help of hallucinogenic drugs. The first issue pitches you right inside of Cooper’s head, and Churilla creates a convincingly creepy dreamscape, filled with monsters and landforms that have a convincingly biological feel yet are like nothing on earth. Accompanied by a one-eared teddy bear, Cooper takes out his targets, and then Churilla brings us back to the real world and shows the killings from that perspective. The first issue is just that, while the second issue fills in backstory and sets up what is to come next. The real-world and dreamworld segments flow together seamlessly, which is part of the point. This is another comic I want to see more of.
Yesterday was Free Comic Book Day, and the book I was most excited for ended up being pretty fantastic. Archaia always seems to bring their A game to FCBD, and this year was even better than usual as they went all out and produced a high quality, hardcover storybook. Not only did it feature new short stories from David Petersen’s Mouse Guard, Jim McCann and Janet K. Lee’s Return of the Dapper Men and, my personal favorite, Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos’s Cow Boy, but the presentation of it adds a ton of appeal, especially with the inscription spot at the open. It’s one of the best FCBD books I’ve ever seen, and is a perfect introduction for new readers on FCBD.
This week’s releases had some real gems too. In particular, I really dug Garth Ennis’ return to Fury MAX. Ennis has a pitch perfect voice for the character, and Goran Parlov’s art complimented it really well. Plus, it helps that the German soldier character in the book, Chef Steinhoff, is outrageously entertaining. Ennis is always great at creating standout supporting characters, and Steinhoff is no different. This book is certainly not for the easily offended, but for those with a steely reserve? They’ll be all about Ennis’ Fury.
Another big debut issue this week was Mind the Gap from Image. It’s a supernatural mystery story from writer Jim McCann and the art team of Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback, and its setting up to be a really engaging whodunit. The two things that really stand out about it for me though is the phenomenal character work by McCann, a trademark for all of the writing work he’s done in the past, and the interiors by Esquejo and Oback. We knew Esquejo was pretty much amazing based on his cover work, but his sequential work stands out for his expressive, emotive storytelling. And I have a feeling its just going to get better from here.
For upcoming books, I just read the third issue of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga. As someone who is an unabashed fanboy of Vaughan, owing my return to comics and the shift in my reading habits to his work on Y the Last Man, it’s to be expected that I’d be a fan of this book, especially when you consider that ever since North 40 I’ve been gaga about Staples’ art. But this book is completely exceeding my expectations, and the third issue continues that trend, turning in an issue that is alternately high stakes, hilarious and filled to the brim with fully realized characters. Even in a year that finds my favorite ongoing (Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera’s Scalped) coming to an end, 2012 really feels like it belongs to Saga for me.
Lastly, I’ve been really digging Bobby Pins and Mary Janes, the prose novel Jamie S. Rich is serializing online. It’s being positioned as an inside look at the comic industry, but the real reason to check it out is some old standards from Rich: stellar character work and a wonderful female lead in Parker. The guy is just a great writer. It’s funny, smart and it’s free. What can top that? There’s absolutely no reason why you should miss this book. New chapters arrive every Friday, with the second one dropping this past week.