Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? This week our special guest is artist Ivan Anaya, one of the winners of the winner of the Skullkickers Tavern Tales Contest. He’ll join the other winner, writer Aubrey Sitterson, on a story for Skullkickers #18.
To see what Ivan and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
This week I had a Star Wars jones, and pulled two of Dark Horse’s novel adaptations out of storage. First up was Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye from 1978, turned into a four-issue miniseries some 20 years later by writer/inker Terry Austin and penciller Chris Sprouse. Of course it looked great (although Halla, the crazy cat-lady of ex-Jedi, was more put-together than I pictured her), and it flowed fairly well too. It helped that the story wasn’t that complicated — basically a run through a set of alien landscapes, racing to get to an ancient Force-augmenting artifact before Vader can — but that means leaving some plot threads to be resolved offscreen. Other nitpicks also have to do with this being the very first Star Wars novel: some of the dialogue feels a little off, there’s a bit of Luke/Leia romantic tension, and Halla and the giant hairy Yuzzum seem occasionally like stand-ins for Ben Kenobi and Chewbacca. Still, those are very minor complaints. Austin and Sprouse make the “retro” elements work within the larger SW context, and their version of Splinter is quite satisfying.
I then plowed through all 18 issues of Timothy Zahn’s 1991-93 “Thrawn Trilogy,” adapted only a few years later by writer Mike Baron and a stellar trio of art teams. Heir to the Empire was pencilled by Olivier Vatine and inked by Fred Blanchard, Dark Force Rising featured penciller Terry Dodson and inker Kevin Nowlan, and The Last Command boasted Edvin Biukovic pencilling and Eric Shanower inking. The miniseries therefore don’t have a uniform look, but I have no complaints. Layouts sometimes are very “open,” such that dialogue describes a winding path down the page, but overall the storytelling is efficient and the issues are paced well. Actually, thanks to Baron’s matter-of-fact use of Zahn’s matter-of-fact prose, the overwhelming impression I had was of a sweeping Nexus epic. I wouldn’t trade any of the art teams, but I’d love to have Baron and Steve Rude tackle Star Wars. My only complaint is that Baron sometimes doesn’t do enough to establish his characters’ locations. With different groups scooting all over the Galaxy Far, Far Away, often to unfamiliar worlds, it would’ve been nice to be reminded where everyone was.
My experience with Resident Alien didn’t start out too awesome, but it’s got a happy ending. I bought the “first” issue when it came out, forgetting that there was also a zero-issue that collected the Dark Horse Presents stuff. It was frustrating to open the first page of a #1 issue and be told on the first panel (and I quote), “Nope, our story doesn’t begin here. You need to read Resident Alien #0 before reading this.” Frankly, my first reaction was to stick the issue on the Donate Pile and forget about it, but people kept telling me how great it is, so last week I found #0 at the comics store and rescued #1 and – yeah – it’s really really good. Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse have created a lovely, believable, small town and filled it with murder and an undercover alien. I like so many characters in this story and am excited to see the mystery unfold, so I’m glad I got over my frustration. Thinking more about it, I’m not sure what the best solution is to launching a series out of Dark Horse Presents, so I’m going to give Dark Horse the benefit of the doubt, cut them some slack, and try to pay better attention to this kind of thing in the future.
I had sort of the opposite experience with Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child. I love voodoo stories, New Orleans, Denys Cowan, and those Rafael Grampa covers, so this series seemed especially made for me at first. Unfortunately, the script is extremely complicated and a challenge to get into. It shouldn’t be that difficult to ease readers into the world of New Orleans voodoo when the main character is a college student who doesn’t know anything about that world, but Dominique Laveau only spends part of its time on the title character. It makes its audience jump around between warring factions we know nothing about and – just to make things more confusing – in a non-linear format to boot. There’s so much going on right away that it was tough to get my bearings. That could have been helped by a friendly narrative voice, but the captions switch between overly serious, purple prose and an unseen narrator that sounds like Chris Claremont writing Gambit. Having nothing in the story to really latch onto, I got through two issues and gave up before finishing the other two on my stack.
I’m on the bubble about Batgirl. I’m a big fan of Gail Simone, not only because she can write some great comics, but also because she’s so aware of and sensitive to some important social issues. But as onboard as I am about that, it was jarring to me to hear Batgirl’s questioning her right to be beating up car thieves just because the cars belong to rich people. She doesn’t know these criminals or their motives, so her giving them the benefit of the doubt was weird. And when one of the crooks is horribly mistreated by a gang of extremely violent vigilantes, Batgirl’s compassion for him is so sudden that it was difficult for me to follow her emotionally. Simone saves it later by tying it into Batgirl’s recovery from being shot by the Joker, but the scene still got in my way. I totally understand that Batgirl would hate vigilantes who permanently maim and try to kill their opponents; I’m just not sure about her trying to comfort an injured criminal like he was an innocent victim. I trust that Simone knows what she’s doing with the character, it was just difficult for me to stay on board. For all that though, Simone’s still telling an interesting story with some worthy bad guys for Batgirl to fight, and tapping some powerful emotions at the same time, so I’m still on board, if maybe a little wary.
Finally, I read a comic I picked up at SpringCon last month: Cosmosaurs: Search for the Hovercat! by Chandra Reyer and six-year-old Gillian Chan. Chan came up with the story for Reyer to expand on and illustrate. It’s a cute, charming tale about some dinosaur astronauts who are searching for their missing friend (a flying cat; hence the title) on a planet filled with giant, furry cephalopods and space felines. It’s available through Ka-Blam and if you like fun, kids’ comics, it’s a joy.
Tom’s Grumpy Old Fan column already gave Archie Goodwin some love this week. But I would be remiss if I did not draw people’s attention to the release this past week of Creepy Archives Volume 13, which includes three of the four Archie Goodwin-edited issues in his second round as editor of the publication (61 through 63). I love Dark Horse for collecting these classic tales with a treasure trove of creative talent.
Hulk #54: For once, rather than gushing about Jeff Parker’s script (top notch as always), I am going to take a minute to zero in on the layout skills of artist Dale Eaglesham. Eaglesham is channeling a bit of Steranko with his use of panels: one page has multigrid/mapping analysis emanating from Aaron’s (Machine Man) eye socket. Then the very next page, Eaglesham works up some curved panels that help fuel the dynamic nature of the story’s action. I cursed the ads in the issue that broke up the rhythm of the pages—-I will need to remember to see how much better the pages flow when the TPB is released.
Avengers Academy #32: For 90 percent of Christos Gage’s Avengers Academy run, I have loved his approach to Hank Pym. But the way Pym is reacting to the A vs X mini-issue/multi-part tale, he seems like a weaker, less certain version of the character. That being said, I am enjoying his use of X-23 in recent issues.
Daredevil #14: As much as I love Mark Waid’s independent creator-owned push, I equally am drooling over his definitive Daredevil run. While everyone laments the departure of the title’s past artists, I am overjoyed to see how effectively Chris Samnee gets on board the nuanced radar sense art style that has come into favor during this run. A great selling book that gets more people aware of Samnee’s amazing visual storytelling skills is a win for everyone.
Insufferable Week 8: Speaking of Waid’s creator-owned drive—he (in collaboration with Artist Peter Krause, colorist Nolan Woodard, letterer Troy Peteri) are having a hell of a lot of fun with this experiment. The visual on the opening panel for this week is hilarious (Former sidekick/son riding a motorcycle with his former mentor/father riding in the sidecar). I also love a transition that the art team did (capitalizing on the technology) to have a panel be part of the action then switch the POV being the panel playing out on a monitor (the panel is the same except for an art overlay for visual effect).
I read X-O Manowar #2 this week and I continue to be impressed with this series. Writer Robert Venditti is taking his time‹by the end of the issue Aric is in the suit but has yet to do anything awesome with it‹but there is still plenty of story here. Aric is a fifth-century Visigoth who is a captive on an alien spaceship that has oddly unbalanced technology–they have palm-recognition pads for their jail cells and an overhead sprinkler system, yet they use slaves and carts to tend their gardens (in which, it is hinted but never state, they grow their young). Aric and his friend Gafti are among the slaves, and we get a good picture of their lives before they plan and execute an escape with their fellow captives. The spider-aliens are fairly generic, but there are a few moments where we see them speak frankly to one another and break out of the bad-guy lockstep. Then, on the very last page, the balance of the whole story shifts dramatically. Artist Cary Nord continues to do a great job, but the thing I really noticed about this book was Moose Baumann’s coloring; the garden is a candy-colored fantasy, while most of the other scenes are darker and muddier, and the coloring really works to set not only the mood but also the sense of space.
David Nytra’s The Secret of the Stone Frog is a pen-and-ink tour de force. The story is fairly slight–a sister and brother wake up in a strange forest and have to make their way home, encountering fantastic creatures along the way. Nytra puts some nice surrealistic twists on it, as when a bee tries to steal the brother’s word balloon, causing him to lose his voice, and the final scene, in which an entire city square comes to life, is amazing. Aside from that moment, the story isn’t very dramatic, but it’s Nytra’s art that sets it apart. He uses a clean black-and-white style that is reminiscent of Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo, John Tenniel’s illustrations for Alice in Wonderland, even 19th-century novelty art. His use of simply drawn figures against densely crosshatched backgrounds results in a style that is both complex and easy to read. This is a slim volume but it’s one to savor.
Since I can remember, one of the reasons I began reading comics was the classic “detective story”–how a good story takes you from one part to the other and keeps you on the edge on every page. A long time ago, Batman was exactly that–no space travel, no JLA, no other dimensions, no destroying the entire universe, etc. It was just him and Gotham, but in the last decade he totally forgot about Gotham. But with DC’s New 52, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo bring that back in an awesome way. They made it for 10 issues (with some downs, but mostly ups) and now in #10 the end of “The Court of Owls” just gives me an incredible feeling of having read an amazing story of a great detective and how I need to read just that comic to understand the whole story. Amazing story and even more awesome art, great new villain, something that refreshes Batman (he need it a long time ago) … it was actually like remembering why Batman is THE DC hero for me. It really is a must read for all Batman fans.
Also I’m traveling to my ’90s past and reading something from Cliffhanger (Do you remember that amazing company? Yeah, I miss them, too). I’ve started to re-read Crimson, from Humberto Ramos and Brian Augustyn. It is simple amazing how this story has not aged at all for me. It’s like revisiting an old town after you grow up and see old friends, and remember them. It just keeps you reading until the end. It is really an amazing story of what a real vampire should really be, and how the mix of tons of culture are well-packed in some crazy world; really well done.
I read Cow Boy by Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos. This is definitely a story you should read and make your kids, nephews or any other kid read. It is a really well-structured story, with a different graphic style, really ludic, but it is the right kind of style that the story needs. When you read it, you say, “Yeah, I get why the drawings are that way,” how the character’s expression simply feel right, and how it is not only for kids, it is for everyone. It’s a great story. Also at the same time I read The Cape from Joe Hill and Zach Howard, which has a totally different tone, the total opposite one, but it is also very well made. The art is absolutely amazing and totally enjoyable. It is like the kind of story you always talk about with your friends, like “What if I could fly and get myself a chainsaw?” Well, something like that, but really well-structured and beautifully drawn.