What Are You Reading? with Ethan Young
To see what Ethan and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below …
As a child of the ’70s, I read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time more than a few times during my formative years. As a new dad a couple of years ago, I read it again, and wondered idly whether it influenced the works of Chris Claremont. (It was something about the prose style. I might also have been sleep-deprived.) Last weekend, I read Hope Larson’s new adaptation, which captures well the book’s freewheeling, adventurous spirit. Larson is pretty faithful to the book, and her style is well-suited to its straightforward message. The story was already timeless (sorry), but Larson makes it accessible to a new audience. Now I want to see how she handles the rest of the Time Quintet.
Speaking of the ’70s, July-August 1978’s Superman Family #190 is devoted entirely (80 pages, including ads) to a story which features all its regulars: Superman, Supergirl, Lois, Jimmy, Nightwing and Flamebird, and even Krypto. The villains of the piece are the Preservers, and if you think that name sounds like a group of civilization-seeding Star Trek aliens, you’re not far off. ’70s superhero comics had their share of Classic Trek references, and I suspect this was just another homage from plotters E. Nelson Bridwell and Tom DeFalco. Anyway, the Preservers kidnap Jimmy’s hometown and Kandor, and strand Superman in the Bottle City along the way. Making matters worse is a ticking clock which will destroy the Earth in a matter of minutes, blah blah blah, good thing Krypto finds Supergirl. It’s a pretty decent adventure, mostly because it shows how all these supporting characters could contribute something new. Jimmy’s become his own person, several years removed from both the Weisinger era and even the Kirby stories. Lois, wearing gravity-cancelling boots for her assignment in Kandor, figures out how to manipulate them to give herself Atom-style powers. Nightwing and Flamebird are kind of duds, but we’re reminded that Flamebird used to be in the Phantom Zone, and he has a certain pull with the other PZ villains when the time comes to liberate Kandor. Also, N&F use one of their flight-belts to help Krypto escape the Bottle City. All in all, a good overview of the Bronze Age Superman, and a nice advertisement for Superman Family generally.
Finally, I liked Saucer Country #8 (by Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly) pretty well, but I do have one complaint. Early in the issue, the various characters who are Democrats refer to their upcoming election as the “Democrat Primary,” and one handler mentions the “Democrat Candidate Debate.” Being a Democrat myself, I thought the preferred adjectival usage was “Democratic,” as in the “Democratic Primary,” “Democratic Debate,” etc.; because the Republicans have somehow turned “Democrat Whatever” into a subtle, but annoying, insult. In other words, unless they’re being extremely ironic, I don’t think Democrats would use the word “Democrat” that way. Other than that, it was a good issue, maintaining various subplots and setting up what looks to be an intriguing new arc.
Cuba: My Revolution by Inverna Lockpez and Dean Haspiel
At first I was frustrated at how this seemed to be skipping through time, almost rushing. But then the rhythm of it clicked in because of how it was showing the main character Sonya’s belief in the revolution lead by Fidel Castro in 1959. The portrayal at how Fidel was a charming and exciting figure, even sexy (!) was fascinating for an outsider such as myself. And then the slow process of disillusionment… heart breaking and tough to read. What’s especially startling is just how long she tried to hold on to her belief in communism and the revolution for so long after nightmarish treatment to herself personally and deteriorating treatment to her country and people in general. The end is such an emotional release. This is a fantastic book, bravely told by Lockpez and Haspiel, who don’t flinch from some of the more abusive treatment Sonya received. The story is based on Lockpez’s own life story and I’d love to know what happens next.
Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson
This celebrated comic strip just ended and as of September 24, it has gone into reruns, starting from the beginning (from what I understand). Since I foolishly missed the first go-around, I’m taking the opportunity to jump on at GoComics.com. I love Richard Thompson’s art style – a little rough around the edges, with hints of underground comix but still with the charm of the Sunday papers. There’s a delightful tour of Alice Otterloop’s world, which is introduced to us through the 4-year-old girl’s eyes. A parent/teacher back-to-school night that gives us a good feeling of Alice’s fellow students, all unique character with their own voice. I think that might be one of the most impressive strengths of the strip. Right from the beginning we’re introduced to a somewhat sizable cast of about ten (Alice and her classmates and teacher [and the class guinea pig], and her family) and each one of them comes out with a recognizable personality through their dialogue and how they’re drawn. I don’t even need to know their names because I can spot each of them already. And more importantly, I want to spend time with them, a good goal to achieve in a daily comic strip.
Rachel Rising Volume 1: The Shadow of Death
Strangers in Paradise always had darker moments of violence and suspense, so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that Terry Moore is doing a straight-up supernatural horror series. What’s more surprising is how it seems to be the series that brings all of Moore’s various strengths into the most cohesive and consistently strong package. Here his sense of humor seems perfectly juxtaposed to the terrible things happening to the characters. His super detailed settings and backgrounds, and use of shadows, perfectly sets the creepy environment. His expressive cartooning brings to life the horrible murders and deaths depicted without being sensational gore. His clean storytelling, along with his savvy restraint in dialogue (an obscenely under-appreciated skill), lets character moments breath, building suspense and atmosphere. It is perhaps his most focused and most effective work to date.
I’ve been a big fan of the Loch Ness Monster since I was a kid, so I was already all in for Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities and the Orm of Loch Ness. But that last page of the first issue… I think I may have actually dropped the comic to applaud.
Thun’da #3 strengthened my resolve to keep with that series a while longer. I was a bit bored by #2, but the introduction of a jungle girl and talking, mastodon-riding gorillas means that all is forgiven.
Reading Hawkeye #3 was a humbling experience. I don’t think superhero fans – and I include myself in that group – deserve a comic as good as the one Matt Fraction and David Aja are making. I now want an entire issue where Clint Barton runs around naked with a classic Hawkeye mask censoring his junk. Also, Kate Bishop’s been my hero since the first issue of Young Avengers and these guys remind me why.
Finally, I’m using Halloween as an excuse to catch up on some spooky graphic novels, so this week I read Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s The Damned. Sticking demons into a mafia story sounds like an iffy concept: like, “my mob story isn’t strong enough on it’s own; I’d better throw some monsters in it.” That’s what it sounds like. In reality, Bunn and Hurtt have an incredibly good mafia story already with a great lead character and a sticky situation to complicate his life. The demons just make it better with their creepy looks, supernatural powers, and infernal contracts. My only complaint is that the last page seems to set up a sequel that hasn’t come yet. I would have preferred a clean ending that lets the story stand on its own, but I’ll be okay once Bunn and Hurtt deliver Volume 2.
After attending the 2000AD panel at New York Comic Con last weekend, I was dead curious to see Brendan McCarthy and Al Ewing’s Zaucer of Zilk. It’s a psychedelic, candy-colored fantasy tale that’s extremely British in that the villain uses rain and damp to cow his enemies (having spent part of my childhood in Ireland and Scotland, I can testify to the corrosive effects of rain, grey skies and constant dampness). Plus the Zaucer himself, a sort of wizard prince, travels in a giant teapot. The plot is a little wobbly, frankly—it’s a standard fantasy story, with the bad guy trying to steal the wand from the Zaucer and snatching away a teeny-bopper fan, who must now be rescued—but it works if you don’t think too hard about it. What really makes this comic amazing is everything that surrounds the plot—the setting, the characters, the weird magical objects like the “fancy pants,” sentient bell bottoms that will transport the Zaucer to another realm—if he can leap into them from above. Living teeth who float above the earth on clouds, monitoring everything that goes on; the Zultan whose throne is a toilet; and two raucous, multicolored birds who narrate everything that’s going on as tabloid headlines—the comic is filled with rich little details like these that make it a lot of fun to read.
Flipping to the other end of the aesthetic spectrum, Mike Norton’s The Curse is done in simple black and white, as befits its origin as a 24-hour comic. Three 24-hour comics, actually, all spoofs of horror tropes. In the first, a guy who is sort of a loser gets bitten by a pirate and turns into a pirate himself; the second involves piranha birds and some sort of magical guy kidnapping a baby; and the third is a takeoff on The Human Centipede. The one character who appears in all three is a little pug dog who starts off as a pet and becomes a paranormal investigator and then the bringer of the apocalypse. It’s a quick read but really funny, and Norton’s deft linework, sly allusions, and skillful pacing make this a great read.
Daredevil #19: As elements of this arc play out in this issue, I was astounded to realize writer Mark Waid has constructed a series in which he is just now sowing seeds he planted in the first issue. That’s how rich and multilayered this DD run is. Also have to praise the cell phone in the skies of New York scene that Chris Samnee draws magnificently (Waid gives him beats he has to hit visually and Samnee executes the bit flawlessly). As much as the kid me loved Frank Miller’s DD run, Waid is starting to make 44-year old me think I might like this run even more. It is still too early to say that definitively, though.
Dark Avengers #182: Man, writer Jeff Parker is not easing up on the pedal as he races to the finish line with his Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers run. Also I want to give a tip of the hat to editor Tom Brennan for likely helping Parker to keep everything straight. At the end of the day, with this series—dating back to Kurt Busiek—the element I have always loved is when a former villain becomes the hero. This issue has plenty of that. As much as I look forward to the possibilities of the Marvel Now series relaunches, I will miss Parker’s Thunderbolts (which ends next issue).
I’ve been catching up on a lot of lit-comics over the past few years, mainly through strong recommendations from friends but also through my own curiosity. I’m currently reading Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse, which deals with issues of homosexuality and racism during the advent of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s told in a deeply intimate, confessional nature (which is a major appeal to me). Howard Cruse’s cross-hatching is rich without being too cumbersome, and the storytelling is very inviting. You become attached to the protagonist almost instantly.
I’m also catching up on Chester Brown’s history of work. Last year, I stumbled upon Paying For It, Brown’s mostly-tell-all about his personal experience with Toronto’s escort industry, and was hooked on his work immediately. I subsequently purchased Ed the Happy Clown and laughed my ass off, while simultaneously wanting to vomit. And after my jaw dropped in disbelief, I laughed some more. (I’m sure for some people I’m late to the Chester Brown party, but there are many who haven’t read his work and really, really need to. I won’t reveal the plot to Ed the Happy Clown because the comic is not about plot, it’s about ideas and how those ideas can contribute to one larger, crazy idea.) I’m about to dive into his other books now: I Never Liked You and Louis Riel.
And lastly, I have the latest hardcover of Blacksad waiting for me. If you haven’t heard of it, you’re missing the absolute best anthropomorphic comic out there right now. It’s expertly written by Juan Diaz Canales and superlatively illustrated by Juanjo Guarnido, both with a background in animation. It’s film noir in watercolor. It’s a Disney film with sex and violence. It’s gorgeous.