INTERVIEW: Spencer Declassifies "Captain America: Steve Rogers'" Hydra Secrets, Cosmic Connections
Hello and welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading? Our guest today is Caleb Goellner, pug lover and senior editor of ComicsAlliance.
To see what Caleb and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
This weekend I have been a catchin’-up fool. I read the last eight issues of Daredevil, the last four issues of Resurrection Man, the last five issues of I, Vampire, and the last six issues of Blue Beetle. Daredevil (written by Mark Waid, drawn by Khoi Pham et al.) covered the end of the Megacrime arc, Matt’s escape from Latveria, the Mike Allred issue and the latest mystery about who’s screwing with his head, and naturally it was all quite good. It’s like Waid is revisiting the whole “dump on Matt” motif, but without as much angst and more super villains.
In Resurrection Man (written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning and drawn mostly by Javier Pina), Mitch spends most of his time dodging a couple of shadowy high-tech spy outfits, including the Suicide Squad, on the way to learning the secrets behind his powers. The storyline has given the book some necessary direction, but sadly it comes too late. I liked the return of the angels and the Body Doubles, I thought Mitch’s taking Deadshot hostage was fun, I liked seeing Soder Cola (a staple of the pre-relaunch Superman books) again, and I even liked the ringtone gags. (Hard to do ringtone gags in comics.) However, the end of issue #12 felt a little predictable, so it’s up to issue #0 to stick the landing.
Following the crossover with Justice League Dark which left Andrew with a convenient set of do-anything powers, I, Vampire (written by Joshua Hale Fialkov, drawn by Andres Sorrentino) relocated most of its cast to Utah to live off cows’ blood and figure out some kind of peaceful coexistence. However, the Van Helsing organization and its squadron of B-17s had other ideas, so we’re now in the middle of a cheerfully-destructive battle between two sides which refuse to stay dead. I liked this book from issue #1, but if you told me it’d trade in Andrew’s moping for napalm and ancient Egyptian magic, I’d have looked at you funny. The most pleasant surprise is Tig, admittedly a somewhat familiar Sassy Sidekick, but a funny one regardless. (I particularly liked the Autopilot scene.)
Blue Beetle (written by Tony Bedard, drawn by Marcio Takara and Ig Guara & JP Mayer) likewise had Jaime relocate, but to New York City after a misunderstanding involving his friends Brenda and Paco. Said misunderstanding unfortunately became an Internet sensation on the TMZ-like Superfail site, giving this arc a very Spider-Man-like feel. On the way to restoring his good name (presumably, because it hasn’t happened yet), he’s fought a time-travel-obsessed mad scientist, Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, Mr. Bones and the DEO, and Booster Gold. It’s been a fun arc, despite Jaime’s inability to catch a break, because it’s been relatively uncomplicated. I suppose it’s also been a bit formulaic — the old “first they fight, etc.” — but at the same time the initial fights aren’t unreasonable. Probably my only complaint is Takara’s version of Kyle Rayner. With his stringy hair, too-scraggly stubble, and uber-slacker body language, the blood-vomiting Bleez looks more appealing by comparison.
I also picked up IDW”s latest Star Trek compilation, reprinting two WildStorm-era stories from 2000. The 44-page Embrace The Wolf (written by Christopher Golden and Tom Sniegoski, pencilled by Dave Hoover, various inkers) set Picard and crew against Redjac in a story which could have been a decent episode of the show. Although a little too over-the-top in places (the second page shows some pretty serious consequences which the story never quite gets back to), it explored the reaction of a planetary government to a) a nigh-omnipotent creature of pure evil running society into the ground for an extended period, and b) the Enterprise making itself a target. From the cover it’s obvious that the Holodeck will be involved, which I know is enough to send some fans screaming in a different kind of terror, but it’s actually not so bad. Hoover’s faces are a little off-model and a little too expressive, but overall his work is comparable to Trek-comics art from that period.
The other 44-page reprint, False Colors, was a Voyager story involving the Borg (again, I hear your groans) written by Nathan Archer, pencilled by Jeffrey Moy (with Philip Moy on some backgrounds) and inked by W.C. Carani. This art team did a fair amount of ’90s Legion of Super-Heroes/Legionnaires issues, back when the Legion could be a little cute. Of course, the Moys also did last year’s Star Trek/Legion crossover, but their style had since gotten a lot less cute. I’m not saying it’s Voyager Babies, but the faces are rounder and the eyes bigger. It works for Harry and Tom, and even for Chakotay, but not so much the others. Anyway, the story itself is fine — Voyager stumbles across a massive scavenger-ship which snags it in a tractor beam. The scavengers are using Borg technology, so Seven leads an away team to find out what’s up. From there it’s a little bit of a struggle for her soul, but more like a blend of familiar elements: the get-home-to-mama plot of “Galaxy’s Child,” an alien race that’s like a more evil version of the Pakleds, and the who-could-kill-a-Borg scares from “Scorpion.” Still, not so bad in combination.
Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson: For the folks that may respect my opinion, I am about to write something that will make you challenge your intellectual choice. Despite having met Thompson at HeroesCon a couple of years ago (and finding him [as everyone does] to be funny as hell)—and having numerous peers sing praises for Cul de Sac, I have never read the comic strip. To be honest, when you hear folks describe it as the last great comic strip, you’re afraid the expectations may not be met. And there’s always plenty of other things to read on my plate. But yesterday, after being encouraged by Tom Spurgeon’s tweets (like this one) about Thompson’s retirement (as well as my pal Craig Fischer’s post about Thompson, I finally started reading the strip, starting with The Cul de Sac Golden Treasury: A Keepsake Garland of Classics. Everyone who has praised Thompson’s work? Sorry to join the chorus so late. The appeal and quirkiness of the strip was summed up for me with this strip–when Petey (Alice’s older brother) said of her: “Four-year-olds shouldn’t know about sarcasm.” And yet she does. I hate that Parkinson’s will rob of us of new strips after Sept. 23, but I am lucky in that I will be catching up over the next month—so I will be able to fully appreciate then why everyone is so upset. On a personal note, here’s hoping that the Deep Brain Stimulation treatment that Thompson will pursue enables him to have improved quality of life and enjoy many more years of exploring non-Cul de Sac art projects. (And allow myself to crib off of another Spurge tweet. As to his point that the strip has “supporting characters worthy of their own feature”—I would love to see a standalone strip featuring Timmy Fretwork).
Daredevil #17: Rightfully so, most everyone is raving about Michael Allred’s art in this issue. Let me be the person that sings the praises of colorist Laura Allred. On page 6, the Allreds execute a half-page (portrait) panel of Matt changing into DD. The art sings not only because of Michael’s line (and the Escher-esque staircase), but because Laura intentionally uses drab background colors allowing DD’s red to pop off the page. I would love to know Laura’s thought process in the way she colored the archival footage of “Battlin’ Jack” Murdock. As a colorist, Laura Allred is a study in brilliance—and this issue is the latest evidence.
Avengers #29: I continue to love Walter Simonson drawing the Avengers (and ignoring Brian Michael Bendis’ script for the most part). But I have to say, when inked by Scott Hanna, am I the only person that thinks Simonson almost achieves Sal Buscema mouths? (Look at Wolverine’s angry face on page 4, folks who have the issue). One other thing, I do not care how long Wolverine appears in the Avengers, it is always weird to see him say “Avengers Assemble”.
Captain Marvel #2: A time travel story in the second issue? What? Maybe I am too traditional, but I was looking forward to being introduced to more of the supporting cast, setting up the status quo for the series in the second issue. But maybe time travel will be the status quo for this series, I dunno. But this issue bored more than it entertained me. Also Dexter Soy’s art continues to dismay me. It’s getting harder to hang in there with this series, despite my respect for Kelly Sue DeConnick’s writing in general.
The Shade #11: As much as I love James Robinson’s writing on this maxi-series (and hate that next month brings the project to a close), his work takes a backseat to Frazer Irving’s incredible art in this issue. I imagine that Robinson told Irving “draw some metaphysical crazy landscapes and I’ll put some words around it”. But wisely there’s one or two full page splashes where Robinson stays silent and let’s Irving art tell the tale. The results are just blisteringly delightful.
Flowers of Evil is sort of a Dostoevskian take on the standard high school manga. The story uses a lot of common manga tropes, such as panty fetishes, unrequited crushes, and blackmail but takes it to a new level of dread and despair. The main character, Takao, is no star in his school, but he takes secret solace in reading Beaudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (hence the title of the series). Takao thinks he has no chance to catch the eye of the girl he likes, so when he sees her gym clothes lying unguarded, he acts on impulse and steals them. This turns out to be a huge deal, with the teacher interrogating the class and the girl in tears, and we get to share in Takao’s guilt and horror at what he is done. Even as he tries to figure out how to put things right (which in a standard manga would involve some comical scene and lots of sweatdrops), another classmate, a creepy girl reveals that she has seen him commit the crime and forces him into an escalating series of unpleasant situations, threatening to reveal his terrible secret if he doesn’t comply. The psychological drama is totally out of scale to the original offense, and it’s excruciating to watch Takao not only suffer but slowly lose touch with his original innocence.
On a lighter note, I’m really enjoying Life With Archie. I just caught up with issues #20 and #21, in which (in the Archie Marries Veronica continuity) Archie and Veronica have reconciled and are making a new start and (in the Archie Marries Betty continuity) Cheryl Blossom has returned to Riverdale to undergo chemotherapy for her breast cancer. While those are major story hooks, both series are made interesting by the multitude of side stories that surround them—-Betty reaches out to an unhappy teenager with dyslexia, Jughead deals with being an expectant father, and something weird is up with Mr. Lodge. It’s not deep, but the stories have a solid underpinning of familiarity with the characters, and placing them in a less idealized world than the original Riverdale, and letting them grow up, produces some interesting results.
And finally, I got my hands on an advance galley of Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite, Barry Deutsch’s followup to his 2010 book Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword. I’m not too far into it yet, but just opening the book felt like coming back to a familiar place; Mirka and her Orthodox Jewish family are just as we left them, as is the troll she must contend with. This is a middle-school book, but Deutsch really stretches sequential storytelling with creative panel and page layouts, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes a good story, well told.
Spent most of my week reading up on cider production, as the apple harvest gets nearer. Let’s not dwell on my experiments in home-brewing. The post-Bradley Wiggins mod revival here in the UK meant I bought an (ironic, really) ex-library copy of Dave Gibbons’ The Originals, sold for pence by a charity shop on Ebay. I appreciate it rather than love it – I’ve all sorts of problems with Gibbons approach to the project, though his craftsmanship is never less than superb. But if you want a fictionalization of the mod experience, stick with the technicolor Quadrophenia rather than the monotone The Originals. I’ve always been an advocate of Big Dave’s writing, though. I don’t mean to always be so painfully obscure, but if you can track down the short story Survivor he did with Ted McKeever for the first issue of the late-80s anthology A1, do so. In a few pages and without mentioning any copyrighted characters by name, the pair manage to tell the greatest Superman story ever.
At work, I issued a book on learning guitar to some kid, and realised as I flicked through it that it was full of spot illustrations of classic guitarists by the great Rian Hughes. I really must try and retrieve the book and report back. Rian Hughes drawing Chuck Berry and Kurt Cobain! Who knew this book even existed?
I went back to the family home the other day to <strike>freeload some food from</strike> cook dinner for my parents when I spotted a copy of The Beano on the kitchen table. This is because the whole country has been talking about the probable cancellation of the print edition of The Dandy this week. It’s always great to see a comics news story capturing the nation’s imagination, but it’s a shame my mother grabbed the wrong end of the stick. The comic she should have bought my father was obviously The Dandy itself – not only because the title is endangered, but because its clearly the better comic of the UK’s two grand old ladies of kids humor anthologies. Elsewhere, previously, I’ve compared the editorial policy at The Dandy to Kurtzman’s at Help! in the sixties–they’ve recruited a generation of underground artists who’ve produced proof that funny is funny, it doesn’t matter what age group it’s theoretically aimed at.
I didn’t finish a lot this week except Magdalena: Origins, Volume 1. I bought three Magdalena collections at C2E2 this year because I wanted to read up before trying Ron Marz’ recent take on the character. I didn’t realize that Marz’ series would be coming to an end with #12 and wanted to highlight it for a future Women of Action column. Even though it’s been cancelled, I’ll probably still write about Marz’ comic, because one of the things I’m now interested in is comparing it to these early stories.
Origins, Volume 1 collects the Magdalena’s first appearance in The Darkness from the late ’90s and her first mini-series in 2000. It’s very much a product of its time, meaning that it’s not very good. I’m a sucker for creepy secret societies and their unstoppable assassins, especially when both are wrapped in cool-looking religious iconography, but the motivations of Magdalena and her controller aren’t just sketchy; they’re non-existent. I think that’s supposed to make them more mysterious, but it reads as just being sloppy. In the ’90s, story didn’t matter so much as long as things looked cool. I couldn’t even tell if the Magdalena from The Darkness was the same woman who appeared in the mini-series. The only character I could tell was the same in both stories was Cardinal Innocent, the evil clergyman who’s somehow – for some reason – maybe manipulating events that the Magdalena is involved in. Even then, there’s no story connecting Innocent’s activities, so there’s no sense that a larger conspiracy or plan is unfolding. It’s just two, unrelated, bland adventures with two assassins who may or may not be the same person. Having seen some of what Marz did to reinvigorate Witchblade, I still have high hopes for his Magdalena when I get to it. Meanwhile, this was a good reminder of everything I didn’t like about superhero comics in the 1990s.
Nonnonba: I’ve had a copy of Drawn and Quarterly’s English translation of Shigeru Mizuki’s Nonnonba my “to-read” pile most of the summer, but despite being stoked to soak up Mizuki’s acclaimed art and maybe learn some more about Japanese mythology, I was worried he’d wind up recounting a really unsettling childhood. The events of Nonnonba turn out to be anything but, presenting instead a portrait of life in rural Japan circa 1931 readers are happy to step into. Mizuki would be right to look back his childhood with fondness for the most part, communicating that he grew up with a largely loving and sensitive family that cultivated his talents. More important than his talent, however, is the source of his inspiration – a lifelong fascination with supernatural beings known as yōkai imparted on him by his grandmotherly friend nicknamed Nonnonba. Over some 400 pages readers get to see the world through Mizuki’s eyes as he confronts the harsh realities of life and loss with a heart and an imagination emboldened by both the seen and the unseen. It’s beautiful, moving stuff and I can’t wait to read more of D+Q’s translations of Mizuki’s GeGeGe no Kitaro next year to really explore where his fascination with the supernatural took him in fiction.
Biomega: I was familiar with Tsutomu Nihei’s work on Blame! before picking up Biomega, but all I really new about the book’s plot was that it somehow involved a talking bear who could shoot sniper rifles. That wound up being the most normal thing about the six-volume series, which evolves from a variety of zombie manga to an eventual transhumanist sci-fi epic. Nihei’s in his comfort zone drawing handsome humanoids doing battle with a cocktail of putrid foes across expanse after expanse of exotic urban decay. It’s a good thing, too, because the art is much stronger than the simultaneously simple and perhaps overambitious story of a world corrupted/reborn/saved by man’s hubris… I think? Whatever the case, it’s a really dope-looking series that I’ve been pitching to friends as a faux untold tale from Brandon Graham’s Prophet relaunch.
Dungeon Quest: Book Three: Remember how the third Harry Potter book dwarfed the first two titles in page count and class of content and transformed readers from simple fans into the kind of people who would camp out at bookstores brandishing homemade wands awaiting midnight releases of all future installments? That’s the kind of corner Joe Daly has turned with book three of Dungeon Quest. It’s twice as long and contains at least twice as much violence, potty-mouthed philosophy talk, trippy drug use and surreal nudity. Daly’s proven he can level up this series at every turn, which I guess has me kind of hoping to see lines of naked, pot-smoking warriors camping out in front of Portland’s finer comic shops whenever book four eventually drops.