Saga: Vol 3 features a weird otherworldly board game. Here are the relevent panels.
Saga: Vol 3 features a weird otherworldly board game. Here are the relevent panels.
It’s weird being a parent as your child grows and begins exploring the world without you. More and more, my children watch shows and read books I haven’t read. Our worlds are diverging. So one does what one can — we watch cheesy television with them, and we read what they’re reading.
In the case of the latter, I guess I’m raising a kid with good taste…
Sidekicks by Dan Santat
Sidekicks is a graphic novel about an aging superhero, Captain Amazing, who’s feeling the endless creep of years sneaking up on him. He decides it’s time to get a sidekick, and that’s when we learn that his pets, the real protagonists of the story, have been yearning to team up with him forever. There’s an indestructible dog, a static-energy cat, and a hamster with no appreciable superpowers. And an iguana. A few thoughts:
It’s a cute and fulfilling comic. Well worth the twenty five minutes it will take you to read. According to the school librarian’s notes in the inside cover, you will also earn “4 points” for reading it. So there’s that.
The Manhattan Projects, Vol 1-5
written by Jonathan Hickman, illustrated by Nick Pitarra
In the 1940s, the United States wrangled many of its best scientific minds together into the Manhattan Project, a military research group with the aim of creating the Atom bomb. Hickman and Pitarra’s comic asks the simple question: what if the members of the Manhattan Project were power-mad psychopaths dedicated to megalomaniacal development of unethical and monstrous super-technologies?
The comic series takes a series of historical figures from the middle of the 20th century and reimagines them in a world reminiscent of Garth Ennis’ The Boys, where the good guys are only marginally better than the bad guys, and all of them do reprehensible things. Only this time, it’s Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer. A few thoughts:
The series has a delightful chaos to it, suited perfectly to Pitarra’s scratchy (almost filthy) art style. It’s science as science adventure. Worth a read, but gruesome and dark and funny.
Some comics I’ve read in the last month.
Chimichanga – The last few times I’ve been to cons (C2E2 2014, SDCC 2014, C2E2 2015), I saw Eric Powell, the smart and friendly writer of The Goon. I usually buy a new comic from him and ask him to sign an old one. This time around, I bought Chimichanga, a bizarre comic about a bearded girl from a circus who befriends a monstrosity that reinvigorates the circus’ flagging attendance and generally makes friends with her. There’s a side plot about evil pharmaceutical companies too. It’s generally enjoyable in the way that the Goon is. Worth reading.
Kabuki, vol 1 – I also read volume 1 of David Mack’s Kabuki, which is about an assassin in a dark-future Japan where a public-secret cabal keeps the people in line, but really works to keep the balance between the corrupt government and the vile gangsters even. It’s a good comic, but hampered by its age and style, which feels distinctly 1994. It feels of a piece with Snow Crash and, perhaps, some 1980s comics like American Flagg. Mainly, its art is a bit exploitative in a way that was completely standard in the 1990s but would be limiting for the comic today.
Locke and Key, Vol 2: Head Games – The adventures of the Locke family kids and the monsters haunting them continue in this edition. While some bad things happen here and there, the protagonists don’t quite realize how the villains are lining up against them, so Volume 3 looks like it will be especially terrible. The side story about the teacher from the school is great, giving depth and feeling and some drama to an edition that’s chock full of creepy ideas but not that tense.
Last, I read the first issue (not trade paperback, but good ol’ single issue) of The Fiction Squad, which wasn’t very good. It was about nursery rhyme detectives investigating — wait for it — the murder of humpty dumpty (an idea that’s done much better in both The Big Over Easy and Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse). On top of that, many of the female characters are drawn in the worst style, with pneumatic breasts and tiny waists. I won’t be reading more of this one.
Having written this, I don’t think it says anything new, so let’s categorize this as a summary of recent events for convenience sake, rather than a blistering think piece.
A. The Killing Joke Cover – A recent sequence of events in the comics world:
Now various misogynist assholes are crying censorship! But not about the company’s decision to remove its own artwork, but rather about the fact that protest got it removed. That protest, in their mind, is censorship.
B. Female Thor – A slightly older sequence of events in the comics world:
Had Marvel decided to pull this comic, would they have cried censorship? There’s no way to know, but my gut says they would not have cried censorship.
C. Threats vs Censorship – On the recent misogyny, threats, and censorship.
There’s a fascinating feature on BoingBoing about “How imageboard culture shaped Gamergate.” It makes it much easier to understand how many otherwise pleasant people could adopt such an horrific behavior profile online.
But it’s crucial to think about different kinds of suppression of speech.
The enduring irony of #GamerGate and other prominent “defense of that thing I like” movements is that they cry censorship while perpetuating intimidation. Without irony or a sense of distance.
The proper response to speech we don’t like is more speech. Not threats, not intimidation. The marketplace of ideas needs to be won with ideas. Any other tactics are unethical, and using them degrades the value and quality of your position.
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
by Randall Munroe; narrated by Wil Wheaton
If you don’t read XKCD or Munroe’s weekly “What If?” column over at xkcd.com, you’re really missing out. This book collects some of the best What If columns, plus adds a bunch of new ones. It’s a simple premise: people ask Munroe questions like “Can dropping a steak through the atmosphere cook it by means of the re-entry burn?” or “What’s the highest a person can throw something?” or “How long could I swim in a cooling pool storing nuclear waste before I died?” And he answers the questions in very funny ways.
The best part of the book is the repeating feature “Disturbing Questions from the What If? Inbox,” in which people ask things like the best way to chop up a body or how many nuclear bombs it would take to wipe out the US. I imagine they think these are innocent questions (and they probably are) but Munroe rightly recognizes the problems with them, and pokes fun.
There’s not a lot else to say about the book. It’s great, very entertaining. And Wil Wheaton’s narration is great, though it’s pretty “Wil Wheaton-y,” so I imagine that if you didn’t like Wheaton or his performative style (as seen on, say, Tabletop), you probably wouldn’t like his narration. The other down-side to the audio book is that you don’t get to see Munroe’s great pictures, of which there are many in the physical book.
The Spirit: Femmes Fatales by Will Eisner
I have, of course, heard about Will Eisner’s The Spirit plenty, so when I saw this collection at my library, I thought I’d give it a try. Not a best first collection for the new reader of the Spirit. While some of the adventures are entertaining, the book is chock full of straight-faced sexism that makes women out to be flighty, villainous, slutty, or all three. A lot of it’s played to humorous effect, but the gender dynamics really overpower the text. And to top it off, many adventures also feature the Spirit’s African-American sidekick, drawn in painful racist caricature. Best left to the dedicated Spirit reader, and even they probably won’t like this.
Deadpool vol 2: Soul Hunter by Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan, et al.
Posehn has a strong grasp on what makes Deadpool particularly entertaining. The snarky attitude and flexible morality make the tales he’s telling all the funnier, and like Garth Ennis’ Punisher comics, the other heroes in Marvel’s New York become foils for Deadpool’s antics. In this volume, Deadpool has to hunt down and kill some superpowered people who’d made deals with demons. Particularly amusing are the running jokes about people mistaking him for Spider-Man.
Luthor: Man of Steel by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo
In his afterward, Azzarello says his approach was to try to imagine a sympathetic Luthor, someone who strives to take Superman down not for his own ends, but for the altruistic motive of saving the city from a nearly-omnipotent alien who could turn on us at any time. Bermejo does a great job making Superman seem like a villain. When we see him through Luthor’s eyes, Supes is shaded in noir shadows, with burning red eyes that look positively demonic. Yikes.
Judge Dredd, Volumes 3 and Volume 4 by Duane Swierczynski and Nelson Daniel
Volume 3 finds Dredd in the wastelands, trying to track down criminals to save Mega-City one from “The Big Fail.” Think of it as “Dredd visits The Hills Have Eyes.” It’s a delightful, if goofy, adventure for everyone’s favorite Clint Eastwood doppelganger. Dredd’s celebratory return to Mega City 1 is hampered somewhat, by the return of a villain from a previous storyline, and the murder of oodles and oodles of judges. The tale continues to be enjoyable for its basic elements mixed up in new combinations. The short story one shots included in Volume 4 were particularly good.
Two Step by Warren Ellis and Amanda Conner
When a mercenary gangster and a bored “camera girl” accidentally bump into one another on the streets of a futuristic London, all chaos breaks loose for a romping ride through the city. While the comic teems with funny ideas (as with the part of Chinatown where dudes in suits are shooting at one another all the time amid flocks of doves), the characters and the story never really come together for me. I also found the depiction of Rosi Blades, the girl who makes her living streaming her life and adventures 24hours a day, too exploitative without compensating for it with an interesting character.
Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight Vol 1 by Alex De Campi et al
“Bee Vixens from Mars” and “Prison Ship Antares” are both great schlocky titles, and the stories that accompany them are delightfully bloody and awful, in the way grindhouse movies were (and that Tarantino and Rodriguez captured so well in their double-feature). Alas, De Campi and the artists working the stories spent a lot of time on naked ladies as well, which detracted, for me, from the stories they were trying to tell. I suppose this is to be expected in a comic drawing on exploitation films, but I think the stories would have been more enjoyable if that aspect of the genre had been kept in check a bit more.
Here are the four (six) best comics I read this year, in no particular order:
|Revival, Volume 1-3 by Tim Seeley, Mike Norton, et al
A smart, interesting zombie comic in which the zombies are just people who have woken up (ala The Returned) but are also dead and, well, off in some way. All three volumes so far are GREAT.
|Mind Mgmt, Volume 1: The Manager by Matt Kindt
A creepy SF tale about a government organization that trains people in mass control — not completely dissimilar from Lexicon, except in this comic it’s a supernatural power that the individuals are honing. Also, cool indie art.
|Fatale, Volume 1 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
A Lovecraftian hard boiled tale with an intoxicating lady and terrible things hiding in the shadows. Creepy and wonderful.
|Incognito: The Classified Edition by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
When a supervillain joins the witness protection program, he bums around like Henry Hill for a while, but then he starts using his superpowers to fight for good and things get all weird and wild.
|The Lindburgh Child by Rick Geary
Perhaps the best of his treasuries so far, this detailed account of the kidnapping and murder of the Lindburgh baby discusses both the crime and its aftermath, and helps us ask whether the man they caught and convicted was really the man who did the deed.
Shadowland: Moon Knight by Gregg Hurwitz and Bong Dazo
In what will be the last of my efforts to understand this odd character, I read Gregg Hurwitz’s short run on Moon Knight. I pulled a rookie move and failed to research what “Shadowland” was, so inadvertently found myself reading a mini-series from the middle of a large cross-comic event. It’s sort of like picking up LOST in the middle of season 3 for two or three episodes–difficult to follow or evaluate character motives and no context for the larger actions of the characters (like, why is Daredevil evil now?). That said, the art in the series is fantastic, and Hurwitz makes great hay from the recurring theme of Moon Knight as haunted by the ghosts of gods and those he’s killed.
Hawkeye: My Life As a Weapon by Matt Fraction and various artists
This series of short stories (a couple one-shots, one two-issue arc) gives us some context for Matt Barton, the sharpest shooter of them all. Fraction’s time-out-of-joint storytelling style works well, using in medias res to full effect. The iconic art on the covers is the best part, and I found myself wishing to see these stories being told in that style — with a trippy, 1970s + schematic drawing style. I would love to see an Ashley Wood Hawkeye comic, for example.
Lazarus, Vol 2: Lift by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark
In what’s proving to be a very compelling story about social inequality and environmental collapse, Rucka and Lark advance the story of Forever, the Carslyle family ‘Lazarus.’ We learn more of her back story, and we meet a couple new characters who give up everything for the lottery of the lift, a massive “American Idol”- type search for ideal people to serve the family, and thus be lifted out of “waste” status and into “service” to the family. It’s a heartbreaking and stunning storyline, as we both want Forever to do her job well in protecting the family, but we can also see how the system is, well, pretty messed up. Last–and perhaps best–the comic makes strong arguments about the present wealth gap without sinking to heavy-handed proselytizing.
Before Watchmen: The Comedian and Rorschach by Brian Azzarello, J.G. Jones, Lee Bermejo
There are two schools of thought about creating something like Before Watchmen. One group is appalled that a classic like Watchmen would be tampered with at all. It is a glistening jewel of perfection, an icon of graphic narrative that ought to be left alone. Anything less is artistic sacrilege. The other group argues that comics have always been a medium of revivification, of amplification and remix, and this is particularly true of remix as well. The people in the first group are angry that Before Watchmen was produced at all. The second are interested to see what these talented artists and writers would do with this venerable property. Then there is a third group, of which I am a member, who agrees with both groups. So I read Comedian/Rorschach with some trepidation, but also eagerly.
The Comedian’s story reveals his shift from badass patriot to cynical badass patriot, from jokester to cynical jokester. Rorschach’s story was much more firmly established by Moore and Gibbons in the comic, so the tale just follows a bit more from his early career as a vigilante. Both are fine tales comics as written, but neither feels like it alters or builds what’s in the original comic. I think after I read all three collections I’ll re-read Watchmen to see what additional insight I have, if any, on the characters and the story.
Moon Knight, Vol1 and Vol2 by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
Bendis was one of the first comics writers I really liked — I have the first 60 or so issues of Powers which, coincidentally, came out right when I started reading comics. Since Bendis has become the Marvel mega-writer, I’ve been less interested just because I’m less interested in these established characters. But After I read the Warren Ellis Moon Knight, I discovered that Bendis took a crack at the character just a couple years ago, so I thought I’d give it a try.
Bendis’ take on the character has him hanging out in Los Angeles, producing a show based on his life as a mercenary. Meanwhile, he is hearing the voices of Captain America, Wolverine, and Spider-man in his head as he hunts down a new super-being who is setting himself up as the Kingpin of Los Angeles. As always, Bendis’ strength lies is snappy dialogue (there’s a reason he was so successful on Ultimate Spider-Man), and the humor of having three big Avengers in Moon Knight’s head, arguing with one another, works very well. But ultimately, I still don’t have any reason to care about this character, and it still feels like a Batman knock-off. This is especially true with the armor/weapons man that Moon Knight recruits. Maleev’s art works well, though Moon Knight’s cape gets a bit out of control – almost to Spawn levels. I get the sense that this is the nature of the character.
The best part of the comic is the ex-Avenger Echo, who teams up with Moon Knight for much of these comics. She’s deaf, and Bendis handles this part of the story well — making it a part of the story without making it the story or making her seem like a freak.
Overall, Bendis’ Moon Knight is moderately entertaining, but comes up short if you aren’t steeped in the history of the character.
Mind MGMT, Vol 1: The Manager by Matt Kindt
Mind MGMT starts with a creepy premise — in a moment, everyone on a passenger airplane from the pilots to the passengers forgets who they are and how they got on the plane. This kickstarts a story of spies, intrigue, and psyops with a world-spanning narrative, creepy “immortal” superspies who will stop at nothing to track their targets, including getting shot in the face. It’s a parable for the modern superstate, a tight thriller, and an artful comic with a surprising and deep story. I look forward to reading volume 2.
House of Mystery, Vol 1: Room and Boredom by Matthew Sturges, Bill Willingham, Luca Rossi et al.
The venerable anthology series got a gruesome grown-up reboot in 2008. This collection uses a wraparound tale that tells the story of the house itself, a place where visitors from many worlds and era can meet to have a drink, share stories, and perhaps be doomed. To pay their tab at the house, visitors tell stories of varying degrees of madness. Unfortunately, the downside is that the anthology stories, which range from silly to downright horrifying, are necessarily so brief that they’re inconsequential. In between these stories, the authors weave a wraparound story about the house itself, focused on a young woman who finds herself in the crummy position of permanent resident. It’s a good introduction to the series, with plenty of horror and mystery on its own; worth a read, but I’ve not decided yet if I’ll pick up the next volume.
Codeflesh by Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard
When Cameron Daltrey gets in trouble with a judge for using too much force on a bail skipper he’d apprehended, he is banned from bringing in such men. but Daltrey specializes in super-human bail notes, and it’s difficult for regular folks to bring them in. Plus, he likes beating people up. So what does Daltrey do? He dons a barcode mask and hunts them down himself. Codeflesh feels like a comic that planned to have a broad understory — some explanation of the genetic engineering that some of the characters mention, some rhyme or reason for the protagonist’s costume or the comic’s title, and perhaps a big bad for Daltrey to fight against. But in the short run of the comic there’s not much for the reader to grab onto – Daltrey is neither noble enough to admire nor delightfully vicious enough to admiringly hate, he’s just grubby, like a two-bit side character from the dark hero ages of 1990-2004. I picked this up because I think Automatic Kafka is amazing, and I can see a similar interest in disrupting the normal “hero = amazing person” trope, but where AK hit, I think codeflesh misses. There is one exception, though — the villain “Rotor,” who has many body parts, including his genitals, replaced with flamethrowing apparatus. If only the series had included more moments like that.
Moon Knight, Vol 1: From the Dead, by Ellis and Shalvey
I always like Warren Ellis’ work. He brings a jaunty righteousness to his vigilantes that satisfies like a well crafted hamburger. Delicious but not that good for you. At the same time, Ellis is at his best when constructing his own worlds and characters. Thus, my feeling about Moon Knight: From the Dead is mixed — it’s a character that exists already and seems nearly unkillable, that protects people who ‘travel at night’ in the city? So far there just isn’t much there to grab on to. I’ll give it another volume, surely, because it’s Warren Ellis. But so far, it feels like the Punisher but with a dumb mask.
Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether, Vol 1, by Rucka and Burchett
Few male comics writers do better writing women than Greg Rucka. His stock in trade has always been the whip-smart woman who defies lazy stereotypes. So it makes sense that he’d shine in a world of pirates, airships, swords, gunslingers, and clockwork. The Lady Sabre story is a great adventure, and I look forward to the next chapter. (I’m not reading it online, so I’ll wait until they release another volume or they announce that they aren’t going to.)
Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Hill and Rodriguez
A great start to a creepy comic series. After a tragedy sends them fleeing from their normal lives, the family seeks shelter at their ancestral home, each trying to find solace in their new environment. But it turns out that there are secrets in this old house, fantastical keys that create magical effects. And circling this vulnerable family are forces of darkness, seeking to manipulate and consume the family. This first volume shocks and appalls, and sets the stage for a great story. Also, this is the first time I ever remember getting a ‘jump scare’ from a comic book. I’m looking forward to Vol 2.
Revival vol 1, 2, 3 by Tim Seeley and Mike Morton
It’s winter in rural Wisconsin when the dead come back to life. Neither mindless nor totally right with the world, the zombies in the story are struggling with being alive again. They can’t feel things the same way they did, they have some memory blackouts, and they hear weird voices from ghastly figures haunting the woods around Wausau. Add in the family and friend politics of a small town, a murder mystery, and the pressures of the rest of the world wanting to know just what happened on Revival day, and you’ve got a great comic.
A few more thoughts:
Definitely worth reading if you’re a fan of noir comics or zombie comics. If you, like me, occupy that sweet spot in the middle of that particular venn diagram, you ought to read Revival right away.