What Are You Reading? with Ed Piskor
To see what Ed and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click below.
If Planet of the Apes gets any cooler, my eyes will explode. With issue #14, Daryl Gregory and Carlos Magno have turned major characters into pirates and figured out how to work King Kong into the story. Also, one of my favorite characters from earlier in the series is back and bad ass.
Still catching up on some C2E2 swag, this week I read the first couple of issues of Sean O’Neill’s Rocket Robinson and the Pharaoh’s Fortune. The simple characters and abundance of educational exposition make it more of a kids’ book than truly all-ages, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying it a lot. Rocket is a neat kid and I love ‘30s Cairo as the setting and the Tintin/Young Indiana Jones feel. I was only able to get two issues at the convention, but since it’s also a webcomic, there’s a lot more to catch up with and I’m looking forward to it.
Speaking of kids’ books, I also read Superman Family Adventures. It’s cuter than it is funny, which was also what kept me from loving Tiny Titans. Another problem with both books is their unnecessary adherence to continuity. With Tiny Titans that took the form of lots of references to major DCU stories. It bugged me more than it did my son – who got none of the references, but didn’t care – so I learned to ignore it. With Superman Family though, it means a traditional depiction of Lois Lane as an ace reporter who’s still pretty clueless about Clark Kent and Superman. I kind of hoped that Superman Family would improve on the character, but maybe that wasn’t realistic. I’d quickly recommend it as a book to give to children; I just wouldn’t read it for my own enjoyment.
Finally, I copied Ryan Ferrier from a couple of weeks ago and read the first issue of Rachel Deering (Womanthology) and Chris Mooneyham’s lesbian werewolf series, Anathema. I kind of hate calling it a lesbian werewolf series, because that reduces it to its high concept and doesn’t accurately communicate the skill that went into this thing. Mooneyham was born to draw horror with a mixture of influences from Bernie Wrightson to Mike Mignola. The book looks amazing. For her part, Deering’s story resists exploitation and presents a believably tragic romance that just happens to be between two women, one of whom is dead. It uses sixteenth-century attitudes about lycanthropy and witchcraft as metaphors for current attitudes about sexuality, but it does so gently; always keeping the focus on the characters and the story instead of on the message. It’s not easy to find a copy since Deering’s Kickstarter campaign ended, but she’s working on a website and hopefully updates will be coming soon.
This week I re-read Batwoman: Elegy, in which Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III reintroduced the world to Kate Kane in Detective Comics after her debut in 52. The collection includes the title arc and its follow-up, the origin story “Go,” and this time around I really connected with the latter. Whenever I’ve heard or read Rucka talking about the character, he’s emphasized the need for Kate to have her own unique motivations, and “Go” drives all that home in emotion-laden waves. First is the story of Kate and her twin sister growing up as twelve-year-old Army brats, and having their lives shattered by kidnappings and murders. That drives Kate into the Army, but “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” drives her out. She just wants a way to serve, she tells her dad; and she finds it in a near-archetypal encounter with the Batman. It may sound narrow-minded to say “my favorite moment in the Batwoman story is when she meets Batman,” but the way it’s presented it has much more to do with Kate. Batman shows up because Kate’s just been attacked by a mugger and has taken out all her frustrations on him. Arriving after the fact, the Darknight Detective is a silent, monolithic presence who, for lack of a better term, bonds with Kate when he sees what she’s done. He helps her to her feet before swinging off into the sky, and leaves her awestruck under the gigantic, glowing Bat-Signal. Thus, Batman inspires Kate to find her own way to serve, and the way Rucka and Williams lay it all out, it’s practically an encounter with her spirit guide. “Go” ends on a melancholy note, as Batwoman confirms “Elegy’s” tragic revelation; but overall the book is full of energy.
Speaking of “don’t ask,” last night for some unknown reason I had a yen to re-read Secret Wars (written by Jim Shooter, penciled by Mike Zeck and others, inked by John Beatty and others), and so far I don’t seem to have reached the good part. There’s a lot of randomness in the first few issues: Professor X is apparently able to walk again, but no one says much about it, the X-Men decide to team up with Magneto, Captain America isn’t automatically the heroes’ leader, and the Wasp gets Stockholm Syndrome. Because he acts with the most purpose, Doctor Doom is becoming the book’s most interesting character, although I’m not sure that was intended. I am trying to read it with the target audience of toy-minded boys in mind, so maybe that will help.
Finally, I was a little disappointed with the big Mr. Freeze revision in the new Batman Annual. The issue itself (written by Scott Snyder and James T. Tynion IV, drawn by Jason Fabok) was well-executed, balancing a nice sense of menace with some good character interaction between Freeze and the Penguin. However, what disappointed me about the climax was Batman’s oh-spare-me attitude. You’d think Batman would have a little more sympathy for someone (even a villain) who kept trying, day after day, to bring back a lost loved one. The rest of it, about Freeze’s mother and about Nora, reinforced his psychopath credentials, and took him farther from the well-liked animated series-derived characterization; but that kind of thing can be mitigated depending on how it’s presented. Mr. Freeze is scary enough on general principles — like losing the frozen-flagole Triple Dog Dare with extreme prejudice — that he doesn’t need to be too-far-gone crazy to boot. Maybe Batman was just having a bad day…
Wax Cross by Tin Can Forest — Woof, how to describe this one? It’s a bit of a jumble, a crazy, seemingly free-associative melding of various Eastern European and Ukranian folk legends and tales. Vampires, bees, pitchfork-bearing ladies in babushkas, wolves, demons and the grim reaper all put in an appearance at one point or another — not that there’s any obvious plot to speak of. The test is dense, poetic even though lacking in any strict narrative sense — “Taking refuge from the open air, assessors leagued with appraisers, load themselves into towers stacked high down empty mine shafts.” The art itself, resembling almost a stained glass window at times with its bright colors and thin, declarative lines, often spills from one panel into the next, and clutter — food, animals, bottles, the natural world, fills the tableaus to near-bursting. It’s a stunning, vibrant, pulsating comic — one that sticks in your head long after you’ve read it; but not one seems to deliberately elude easy meaning and cohesiveness, even upon repeated re-readings. Definitely track it down (it’s from Koyama Press). Just don’t expect an easy time of it.
By This You Shall Know Him by Jesse Jacobs — Another Koyama Press book. This one, like Jesse Moynihan’s recent Forming, deals with creation myths. Here, a quartet of otherworldly beings, dabble in playing with the elements for their own edification and entertainment, until one decides to create some carbon-based life forms. All seems well until one of his compatriots grows jealous and decides to make man. And naturally everything goes to hell from there. It’s a rather facile view of the world and humanity (for one thing, Jacobs seems quick to highlight man’s savagery, but ignores the fact that all animals consume other life forms in order to survive) but what saves the book is Jacobs’ playful abstract sequences, where blocks and blobs shift and reform and transform to great effect. I wouldn’t mind a whole comic of just that quite frankly.
The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde: The Happy Prince, adapted by P. Craig Russell — Russell has done an excellent job adapting this series to date and Prince continues the trend. Russell manages to capture the tone of the fairy tale perfectly, neither letting Wilde do most of the heavy lifting nor leaving so much out that the original author seems ill-served. The tale itself is a bit heavy-handed and sentimental, but Russel’s talents manage to dampen down the more saccharine aspects. Would that all literary to comic adaptations could be so graceful.
Moyoco Anno’s Sakuran is the down-and-dirty flipside of books like Memoir of a Geisha. The characters in this story, which is complete in a single volume, are not geisha but oiran, or prostitutes, and there is more sex, if not more cruelty, here. The main character, Kiyoha, is sold to the brothel as a child and works her way up from maid to high-level courtesan, with plenty of conflict along the way. The storytelling is highly compressed, which makes it hard to follow at times, and sometimes it’s hard to tell the characters apart (especially the men, who all have the same period hairstyle), but it’s a good story if you have time to savor it. This book was the basis for the film of the same name.
Jiu Jiu is a new shoujo manga series from Viz that I’m guessing tween girls will love and their parents will hate. It’s the story of Takmichi, a girl who hunts monsters but isn’t taken seriously by her family because she’s a girl. (Hisssss!) Her father gives her two wolves to comfort her after her brother’s death. The wolves have the power to become human, although they keep their dog-like personalities, which causes all sorts of hijinks when they enroll themselves in Takamichi’s high school. The fact that the wolf boys sleep in Takamichi’s bed is likely to raise some eyebrows, but it’s all pretty innocent and the story being set up has some interesting complications.
Antony Johnston’s The Coldest City is a spy thriller set at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It starts out as a straightforward caper story but winds around itself and gets more and more complex as it goes along. Sam Hart’s straightforward black-and-white art keeps the story grounded and easy to follow, which is important with a puzzle story like this one, especially as the bodies pile up and the twists start to twist on one another. It’s a great escapist read for a lazy summer day or a long flight.
My reading habits, of late, have been pretty project specific, and certainly not very current.
1. I’ve been revisiting the GI Joe series by Larry Hama. I’m working on this long, sprawling comic called “The Hip Hop Family Tree,” about the history of rap music, and Hama’s GI Joe comics are a big influence in a way. Hama and I both had/have similar challenges in terms of the size of our ensemble cast, and I can’t think of anybody who was able to continuously introduce new characters while maintaining bigger, overarching storylines too. I remember that the toys would obviously be available before the characters appearance in the comic, so I already had some preconceived ideas about who the character was, and whenever Hama would introduce someone new, it would give me chills as a kid. I’m trying to deconstruct those parts of Hama’s work, and create some of those moments in what I’m doing now.
2. EC Comics (specifically these Russ Cochran slipcase editions) A local, Pittsburgh store had recently had a big sale so I was able to finally grab the Tales From The Crypt set for dirt cheap. I love everything about these comics. They’re juvenile, overly written, poorly lettered, and beautifully illustrated, without apology. Feldstein was good at moving the stories along and choosing the exact right moments to cover, which is essential for the massive story I’m trying to tell, with my current project.
3. I’m slowly re-reading about 10 books on Hip Hop in tandem. I have a semi-encyclopedic knowledge of the records, but, have always been curious about the actual relationships that built the culture, from a niche Bronx scene into a monolithic, global phenomenon. Here are some of the books that have been helping me keep my facts straight, and in some sort of order, while putting together the Hip Hop Family Tree comic:
a. Yes Yes Y’all: The Experience Music Project Oral History Of Hip-hop’s First Decade
b. The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop
c. Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists
d. The Rap Records by Freddy Fresh
e. Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label
f. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation
I’m also reading a bunch of different biographies and interviews (and watching every available documentary), to zero in better on particular moments in history.