Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? This week we’re joined by music video director and comic book writer Alex de Campi, whose works include Smoke, Kat & Mouse, Valentine and the in-production Ashes.
To see at Alex and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
Hey, remember when I said DC doesn’t need five different monthly versions of Batman? Well, if Detective Comics #13 is any indication, I’ll want to keep John Layman and Jason Fabok’s. Their lead story featured a nicely-paced plot, good use of Alfred and Nightwing, and an ending which resolved the issue’s main questions while leaving room for a cliffhanger. Fabok’s work was clear and expressive, and he even managed to make the Batsuit’s New-52 seams look natural. The backup story was pretty nifty too, reminiscent of the bank-heist opening of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight in its message about how Gotham works. Here’s hoping for a long run from this team!
After last month’s somewhat-unrelated zero issue, I thought Earth 2 #5 (written by James Robinson, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Trevor Scott) did a good job getting back on track and building to a fairly effective cliffhanger. The fight scenes were staged well, and the bits with the World Army showed how this Earth has changed significantly from the one in the main books. However, I say the cliffhanger was only fairly effective because part of it depends on one of the oldest tropes around. At times it actually makes me wonder how smart this character could be for falling for it. I suppose issue #6 will tell us how long the “spell” will last.
I started reading Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover’s Gingerbread Girl online, but never got a chance to finish until I bought it at Top Shelf’s big blowout sale. I thought it was well-constructed, and had a unique storytelling style, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. It was lighthearted and sexy, but it was also multilayered and somewhat downbeat. It’s hard to describe (as if that weren’t already clear), so in short I think it’s the kind of book which rewards multiple readings. Fortunately, it’s endearing enough to encourage them.
Finally, I would say more about Action Comics #13, but then I’d just start weeping openly again….
When I recently compared Simon Bisley’s style on The Tower Chronicles to his work with Alan Grant on Berserker’s The Dead: Kingdom Of Flies, it inspired me to finally buy the collected edition of that series. I’d bought the first couple of single issues of that ‘un mainly because it turned up in my local newsagent. What I didn’t even realise at that time was the only reason it was on their shelves was because it was locally produced in Northern Ireland, something that had passed me by until the brothers behind Berserker were interviewed on the Sunnyside Comics podcast. Tracking the trade paperback down was something of a struggle – the publisher’s website is down, leaving me with the impression they’ve probably folded. The secondhand dealers selling through Amazon and Abe are starting to speculate on the book, offering it only at ridiculous gouge-y prices. The sods. Then I discovered that the guy behind the Art Of Simon Bisley site has a webstore flogging it at a sensible price. Result. Anyway, it’s a proper zombie story, done in a vintage 2000AD-ish fashion, unsurprising considering the talent involved – violent, sarcastic, cynical, with not a hint of the soap and sentiment that ruins The Walking Dead for me.
I know I’m really late to this (Kevin linked to it in June), but I’ve spent plenty of time this week going through the archives of Victor Santos’ webcomic Polar. I’ve been a fan of his since reading the none-more-noir Filthy Rich he did with Brian Azzarello, but couldn’t bring myself to pick up the Mouse Guard work he does with Bryan J Glass and Mike Avon Oeming for Image. While I love crime comics, I’m just a little fantasy-phobic (it takes a lot of Michael Moorcock or sex and violence to interest me in fantasy comics). The art is great – it wears its influences on its sleeve, but they’re all impeccable – Steranko, Risso, Frank Miller’s Sin City. Santos has got around the language problem by making the strip completely wordless, and therefore completely international. And his constantly imaginative use of just three colors (black, white, orange) throughout is amazing.
I read the first four issues of Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer’s Thief of Thieves on comiXology, and I liked it OK, but I think the floppy format is working against it. The story is good, but it’s too broken up. I love caper stories about clever thieves, and this one begins with the master thief, Redmond and his assistant, Celia, pulling off a jewel theft, then flashes back to give some background on how they met. It’s a great first issue. It was also free, but it was easy for me to spend $1.99 on issue 2. Each successive issue got harder to justify, though. The story started changing, but I felt there were some gaps in the storytelling–gaps that will probably be filled in in future issues, but after four issues we still weren’t in to the meat of the story. From the reviews, it looks like these first four issues are all setup, but after reading them, I just wasn’t motivated enough to pay another $2. If this was a graphic novel, I would pay $12 for it and sit down and read the whole thing through, but paying for it a chapter at a time gives me the opportunity to drop out early, and that’s what I did. The trade is out, but I was too lazy to go to a comic store, so I guess it serves me right; I wish comiXology would give me an option to complete the trade, like iTunes allows you to complete the album, but maybe with a bit of a discount.
I’m happy to say that Valiant’s revived Archer & Armstrong doesn’t suffer from this problem. At the end of the third issue, all I wanted was to read the fourth. Writer Fred Van Lente and artist Clayton Henry take breathe new life into the classic MacGuffin plot and with a fast-moving series of capers and some imaginative rewriting of history. Armstrong, the 10,000-year-old immortal with a prodigious love for wine, women, and poetry, is a perfect foil for the young, idealistic Archer, who was raised in a cult and sent out to assassinate him—only to team up with him instead. Together they are searching for the pieces of a doomsday machine, the boon, which pits them against (so far) a satanic Wall Street cult that uses blood sacrifice to increase profit margins and an underground convent of killer nuns. It’s like a smarter version of The Da Vinci Code, with more fights, better banter, and less pontificating.
I’m not a big fan of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, but writer Andy Diggle keeps his more irritating tendencies in check in the latest Doctor Who comic from IDW (technically, it’s Doctor Who, vol. 3, #1). In the first issue of a two-part miniseries, The Doctor travels back to 1851, with Amy and Rory, to visit the Crystal Palace, but their tour is interrupted when one of the exhibits freezes one of the guards. They quickly track down the couple who created the machine, a telepath and an inventor, but things start falling apart pretty quickly. Mark Buckingham’s deft art, colored in a loose, watercolor style with a muted palette by Charlie Kirchoff, is perfect for this period and this story. Again: Lots of story, ends on a cliffhanger, makes me want the next issue.
Daredevil: End of Days #1 (of 8): Along the lines of why I bought the recent issues of Avengers, despite my extreme distaste for Brian Bendis’ writing…I bought the first issue of this miniseries because of the art of Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz. There’s a few things I realized: no matter how great the art is: I am not coming back for the next issue; the telling a tale through Ben Urich’s eyes as narrator is a story ploy that needs to stop at Marvel. It was a great device when Frank Miller did it initially in the early 1980s…now? Not so much. Reading this story, I had a newfound appreciation for Mark Waid’s Daredevil run for another reason…so far no Urich that I can recall.
Avengers Academy #38: After the chaos and destruction of the past several arcs, a goofy flag football game was a shun shift in tone. But writer Christos Gage is still able to introduce a bit of drama (a surprisingly immediate follow-up to a plot development from last issue) amidst the tackles and comedy.
Edison Rex #3: In this issue, Edison Rex breaks into Valiant’s secret headquarters, allowing artist Dennis Culver to do some fun layouts. On page 9, there’s a full page where Valiant and M’Alizz fight through four levels of the headquarters. Much like Alan Moore’s Supreme run, this book is a fun read because it is a variation of the Superman dynamics. Edison Rex is not Lex Luthor by any stretch of the imagination (because in my mind Luthor is a borderline nutjob) though. Unless I am mistaken, writer Chris Roberson is building a superhero team made up of villains—as in this issue he introduced Cerebella, the latest addition to Rex’s cast.
Alex de Campi
I’m broke as shit so the things I read are basically: stuff I pledged for while surfing Kickstarter, stuff I bought at cons even though I swore I wouldn’t buy anything, and stuff people give me. So this is not a super representative list of what’s hot right now, but they are all books worth seeking out and investigating.
The most mainstream thing I picked up recently was Garth Ennis and Aaron Campbell’s Shadow reboot. Any way I say this is going to come out wrong, but here goes: it’s easy to forget what a great writer Garth Ennis is. I don’t go in so much for his hyper-violent gross-out stuff, but when he buckles down to a more historical thriller style (as in Shadow, or his wonderful Enemy Ace with Chris Weston, or any of his war story books) he really is unbeatable. This is a classic pulp thriller tale (which also feels very modern at the same time), set in Asia just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Evil Germans, eviller Japanese, beautiful but conflicted women, and more twists than an epileptic boa. Really, what more do you want? I can’t imagine anyone could have done a better job re-imagining this character than Ennis and Campbell. Well, let me put it this way: previously, I couldn’t give a toss about the Shadow. Now I’m really interested in the character. Mission? Accomplished.
On the more haute-cartoonist side, I picket up JT Waldman’s Megillat Esther which is basically the Biblical story of Esther told both in Hebrew and English…. charming, bawdy, twisty… and most importantly with some of the most gobsmackingly gorgeous layouts I’ve seen since Promethea… but all in black and white. Waldman truly has a quality of line to die for, and his black and white storytelling and integration of lettering is right up there with Dave Sim, but without all the hateful void creature nonsense. Pick this up, even if you hate the Bible/Torah/organised religion (though, trufact, this is the only part of the Bible where God is never mentioned, so you can just read it as a story of greed, idiocy, pride and a smart queen trying desperately to save her people), because it’s just BEAUTIFUL and beautiful things need encouragement. And also this will inspire you to better/more interesting panel layouts.
Also at Baltimore Comicon I was talking to Matthew Dow Smith about how difficult it is to draw teenagers and how emphasis lines can make them look old, so how do you create emphasis on the face? Well, my reading on the way home during my bazillion-hour JetBlue delay was Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder: Voice and ladies and gentlemen THAT is how you draw teenage girls. It’s a great story, you don’t need to know anything about Finder to pick it up… a wonderful riff on reality competitions, fitting in, and growing up/figuring out who you really are. Plus, dangerous, bitchy and fun. I could not put it down, and then I read aaaaall the footnotes. Which I never do (the comics world is divided into those who read all the prose stuff in Watchmen, and those who didn’t. I am firmly in the No Owls camp. Hell, I didn’t even read all the pirate stuff.)
Lastly on the comics side, Tezuka’s Barbara, the most recent of Digital Manga’s deluxe translations of Mr. Astro Boy/Father of Manga’s lesser-known works. This is a really fucked up story. Like, REALLY fucked up I mean, not that the previous one (Swallowing the Earth) was sweetness and light, and it’s still not as bent as his contemporary Hideshi Hino (NO NO THE MILLIPEDE DOES *NOT* GO THERE!) but yeah, this is a heck of a parable about the creative process and artistic madness. Pick it up if you’re a bit gothy and “woes” about how haaaard it is to make art. And stay the hell away from my dog. Drunk Barbara is by far the most sympathetic character in it, the youngest Greek Muse and family dropout.
Prose, I have Macho Camacho’s Beat by Luis Rafael Sánchez sitting by my bed. The chapters are short but so rich I only am able to consume one a week… it’s so incredibly poetic in Gregory Rabassa’s translation, I can only imagine how magical it must be in the original Spanish. If my Spanish were a little better than it is, I’d get it in the original but I fear I’d find it too hard thanks to basically all the words I’ve forgotten. I don’t know if you should pick this up; do you get annoyed by things without much of a plot? If so, not for you. Do you own books of poetry you crack open at least once a month? Then yes, o yes.