What Are You Reading? with Brandon Thomas
Happy Easter and welcome once again to What Are You Reading?, where we review the stuff we’ve been checking out lately. Today we are joined by Miranda Mercury and Voltron writer Brandon Thomas, whose collection of original art and other stuff we featured in Shelf Porn yesterday.
To see what Brandon and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato’s The Flash has been one of the New-52’s more successful books in no small part thanks to Manapul’s distinctive storytelling. This week’s issue 18 is the first of two issues featuring artist Marcio Takara, so I was glad to see he filled in admirably. From the opening double-page spread incorporating the book’s title to the closing cliffhanger, Takara did right by Barry Allen and company. The story was pretty good too, involving the Trickster, Barry’s temporary gig, and his new living arrangements. I’m looking forward to the Dial H and Justice League Dark crossovers, because the New-52 Flash has become one of the more reliable regular-guy characters in the superhero line.
Probably because I read Superior Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, my LCS decided to slip their Age of Ultron tie-ins into my folder this week. I’m still not reading Age of Ultron — mostly because it’s coming out so quickly and apparently moving so slowly that it seems perfect for a trade-wait — because these were both fairly nihilistic and (from what I could tell) fairly inconsequential. Spider-Man AU is a clever caper story which hinges on Otto’s history with controlling machines, and FF AU is a straight-up last-stand which seems to explain why one of the Four is still around to undertake a certain special mission later in the main miniseries. Granted, they’re both more concerned with character moments (although FF AU leaves a couple of “plot elements” hanging, one hopes not for too long), but still. I get the idea that Age of Ultron exists mostly to make things as bad as possible for the Marvel U so as to justify the Shocking! Reveal! and its accompanying aftermath. As long as it’s all disaster porn, I’ll be waiting for the paperback.
Finally, having gotten very close to a complete set of Nexus Archives — and yes, I know the second Omnibus just came out last week, but I made this choice long ago — I’ll be sitting down with them very soon. I think I left off around volume 3….
I finally got caught up on Wonder Woman this week and I can see why it’s divisive. It’s very different not only from any version of the series that’s come before, but from any other superhero comic period. I imagine it’s difficult for a lot of long time Wonder Woman fans to latch onto. I love it though. It darkens Wonder Woman’s world in a way that I don’t usually like, but in the midst of that, she remains a beacon of hope and love. As terrible gods do horrifying things around her, Wonder Woman assembles a family of supporting characters that’s stronger than any I’ve ever seen her with. And it thrilled my heart to see her in the depths of Hell, being forced to marry Hades, and to believe her when she tells the lord of the underworld that she truly loves him. Because Wonder Woman loves everyone. That doesn’t mean she won’t kick an ass when she needs to, but she still wants what’s best for even her enemies. I’ve often struggled to understand the dichotomy in Wonder Woman between brutal warrior and ambassador of peace. This version helps that make sense.
East of West #1: Jonathan Hickman is writing the script but the star of this violent as heck series is artist Nick Dragotta. For the most part, Hickman is just getting out of Dragotta’s way. Though I have to say there are some dialogue gems in this first part, including: “Doesn’t your kind have plenty of experience with men selling their souls just to breathe one more breath?” For once in a blue moon with this project, the actual product matches the hype that went before it.
FF #5: Getting to collaborate with Michael Allred is inspiring the best humor in Matt Fraction’s writing. I confirmed with Allred (https://twitter.com/AllredMD/status/318256174329917440) that the scene where Willie Lumpkin is lecturing the FF kids on the Birds and the Bees (via chart) was Fraction’s idea. The only thing that amused me more in this issue was Fraction’s reference to Ernie Kovacs. Of course, in general, I never tire of having Allred’s unique sense of layout and action in a Marvel monthly (plus the one of a kind dynamic coloring of Laura Allred).
Earth’s Mightiest Heroes: Avengers #12: The TV show is no longer producing new episodes, but Marvel is still producing issues. Not sure which I enjoy more about the latest installment—that Christos Gage is writing within this cartoon continuity universe or that he wrote a Bruce Banner/Hulk tale which homages the classic Lee/Kirby Thing story title (This Man…This Monster) with a slight tweak: “This Man, That Monster.”
Uncanny Avengers #5: Writer Rick Remender explores the team’s leadership dynamics further in this latest issue. I also appreciated seeing Simon Williams/Wonder Man written non-Bendis style (aka not a total jackass) and Janet Van Dyne (nice to have her undead or whatever she is).
I’m currently reading The Twelve by Justin Cronin, the follow-up to the vampire apocalypse book The Passage. Cronin has created a very compelling post-apocalyptic world, telling the story of the government’s failed attempt to turn vampires into weapons and the subsequent fallout when it all goes horribly wrong. His vampires are more akin to Man-Bat than anyone from the Twilight or Vampire Diaries books; winged monsters with mental powers who have pretty much taken over the United States. Our heroes from the last book have pretty much all migrated to Texas, which (naturally) is holding as firmly as possible against the “virals,” but there’s more going on up north that I’m just learning about. I haven’t had much time to read much prose lately, so it was nice to finally jump into this one while on vacation a few weeks back; now I just need to see it through.
Comic-wise, Josh Henaman was kind enough to share a copy of the first issue of Bigfoot: Sword of the Earthman with me. It’s a sci-fi meets cryptology story, as Bigfoot is brought to an alien world to become a bad-ass swordsman. Kind of like if John Carter was a big, furry Bigfoot. The first issue was fun, with a cool setting and a great set-up, and I look forward to reading more.
Been re-reading a lot of complete runs of comics recently, and here are my thoughts on three that I’m particularly attached to, for a variety of simple reasons—
Uncanny X-Force (Rick Remender/Jerome Opena/Esad Ribic/Rafael Albuquerque/Mark Brooks/Billy Tan/Richard Elson/Greg Tocchini/Robbi Rodriquez/Mike McKone/David Williams/Julian Totino Tedesco/Phil Noto/Dean White)
Sometimes, it’s love at first sight with me and other writers. I’ll read a single thing by them and know instantly—this is someone I’m going to follow and support throughout their entire career in comics. And then there’s other times when it takes a little extra exposure to warm up to someone’s writing, and Rick Remender was definitely one of those creators for me.
Now, I’d been sampling his work for years, on pretty much every book he’s written for every publisher, but there was always something that I just didn’t “get”. But you know what, I knew that he was assembling a legion of personal fans, so I took my opinion as an aberration and kept buying the first couple issues of anything with his name on it, waiting (and wanting) to connect with his writing the same way I’ve done with many others. The first breakthrough was The Last Days of American Crime, which is a great little crime book, with a fantastic premise and gorgeous artwork by Greg Tocchini. Right there, I started to feel like, “Okay, okay, I know what this guy is about now. Okay.”
What finally pushed me over the top though was his work on Venom, which I consider the greatest work ever done with that character, and a really insightful exploration of the sometimes damaging relationships between fathers and sons. Granted, that is a bit personal for me, but while following that series, I began to love and appreciate the work of Rick Remender. And all the while, I’m hearing all these outstanding things about his current run on a book called Uncanny X-Force, which I was already super behind on, and so decided to catch up with in trade. Let me be honest though, I caught up in hardcover, cause once I got started, I didn’t have the patience to wait for the softcovers.
After consuming it all in its entirety last week, I can comfortably say that it’s one of the best runs of comics produced in the last decade, and has made me love characters forever that I previously cared nothing about. I’m not a Deadpool guy (we’ll talk about this again soon) but his portrayal is amazing throughout, at times hilarious, depraved, and dare I say it, incredibly heroic. Fantomex deserves his own book now, and was always treated like a star here and a character that just needed a little more space to grow into a true heavyweight. Psylocke and Angel, and their evolving and then dissolving relationship, is the most vital, enduring portrayal of them both, and what happens between them is legitimately heart-breaking.
I could go on, but you get it—I think this was a great run of comics, with inspiring artwork held together by colorist Dean White, who gave the book a distinctive look, which carried throughout the veritable army of talented pencillers who worked on the series over the years.
I officially “get” Rick Remender, and now I’m exploring both his current and past work with new eyes and better understanding about his overall perspective. Took me a while, but I got there in the end…
Deadpool MAX (David Lapham/Kyle Baker/Shawn Crystal)
Not a Deadpool guy for the most part, but this creative pairing was just solid gold from start to finish. Using (and sometimes abusing) the MAX labeling, this book was hilarious, enormously profane, and fits the mold of something I’ve started calling “bananas comics,” which are, in a word…nuts. Comics that are completely unpredictable and are clearly proud of being comics. I’m talking stuff like Casanova, Hawkeye, Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine, Mind Mgmt, etc. etc. But Deadpool MAX is one of those comics, and even though there are familiar characters like Cable, Domino, and Taskmaster making key appearance, you have NEVER seen them like this before.
Don’t know how closely this tragic, alternate history for Deadpool matched up with what’s come before, but it was great to see these twisted relationships play out as identities and roles switch around as quickly as the pages turn. Baker’s artwork handles the comedy, the hyperviolence, and yes, even the sex, with equal skill, and without someone who could handle the shifting tones and vibes, the book would fall to pieces. But he does and it doesn’t, and it’s amazing as two masters of the game keep you on your toes for over 18 issues with tons of action, swearing, and childhood trauma. Oh, and insanity, and a character affectionately called “Hydra Bob.”
Wednesday Comics HC (Too Many Awesome People to Name)
I’m reading this again for research (mostly), but given this is one of my prized possessions, it never hurts to keep it close at hand for inspiration. I still have the originals of this series, but what an amazing collection of talent and innovation this hardcover is—proof that there are still interesting ways to present and package superhero comics. If it was up to me, this would become a yearly thing and an “event” that’s easy to get behind and provides a genuine payoff that sticks. None of the stories here “changes everything you know” about the characters, but they’re fun, exciting, and drop dead gorgeous. It’s also an opportunity to really showcase a host of talented artists that aren’t able to do regular work. Even the “weakest” of the strips has more life and spark to it than your typical average comic, and the stories are just an absolute joy to experience.
This is the book you keep on your coffee table to strike up conversations with guests, whose eyes are guaranteed to bug out when they lay eyes on it. The average person doesn’t realize that there are comics like these, and isn’t it just fantastic that there are?
I mean, just imagining who could potentially work on a follow-up just puts a Kool-Aid smile on my face, and I suspect, does the same for thousands of other comic fans that truly appreciated the craft and artistry that went into this series.
Come on now, Mark Chiarello…when’s volume 2?