Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately.
Marvel and DC’s big summer events are in full swing this week, as we look at new issues of Death Metal and Empyre, plus the wrap-up of Jimmy Olsen’s maxi-series. Also, Gunland! Do you know about Gunland? Michael May makes his long-awaited return with a look at a wonderful comic about cowboys who ride dinosaurs.
Let us know what you read this week in the comments or on social media.
A friend of mine recently turned me on to Shaun Keenan’s Dinosaurs of the Wild West drawings and since I missed the Kickstarter for the art book by a couple of years, I immediately started fantasizing about a role-playing game where I could explore a world populated by raptor-riding Indians and covered wagons on the backs of sauropods. And just as I was making myself really sad that nothing like that existed, I discovered Capitan Artiglio’s Gunland. It’s a dream come true.
Artiglio is the pen name of Italian cartoonist Julien Cittadino who has a fun, bonkers, hip hop vibe, which is fair since he got his start designing record covers and concert posters. His work reminds me of Brandon Graham’s or James Stokoe’s: full of ideas and detail. And in the case of Gunland the ideas are centered on a science fiction world that’s a melting pot of influences from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Star Wars to Lone Wolf and Cub and Land of the Lost. The characters live in a modern city where you might find a bulbasaur keychain sitting on someone’s table, but that someone is likely to be a blue alien who’s boyfriend is a cowboy who rides a parasaurolophus.
Gunland doesn’t just throw a bunch of cool elements together and hope for the best though. There have been two issues published by Magnetic Press so far, translating the comic into English, and the story is strong. Our cowboy is part of a gang of outlaws with his brothers and the relationships are fraught and real. Confrontations threaten violence, but the siblings are just as apt to hug it out as throw lead. The main source of conflict (at the moment) is over a young girl that our cowboy has adopted and is training to be a gunfighter. And he discovered her while using an ancient alien skull – one of a set of three – whose counterpart has made the most ruthless brother immortal. Great characters, mystery, and yeah… a bunch of cool story hooks. There’s a third skull to be found, bounty hunters to avoid, and a rampaging T-Rex in the city. Plenty to make me excited about the next issue.
Issue #12 is the last one for the Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen miniseries, but it goes out strongly. Writer Matt Fraction, artist Steve Lieber and colorist Nathan Fairbairn crafted a delightful generations-spanning tale that touched on Jimmy’s relationships with his Daily Planet colleagues, with the larger Metropolis community and with DC’s super-people generally. It was like a combination of The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck and the most recent Howard The Duck (but the duck thing is just a coincidence). Anyway, issue #12 isn’t quite as wacky as its predecessors, but it stays true to the miniseries’ overall tenor while grounding Jimmy’s adventures in current Superman continuity. Specifically, it reframes Jimmy’s family and work relationships in meaningful and lasting ways, but also in ways that shouldn’t get in the way of the regular series. Jimmy started off in issue #1 having to justify his existence, and with this issue he has. Regardless, though, this miniseries was worth it every month.
I had to read Dark Nights: Death Metal #2 a lot in order to make sure I had plumbed its depths sufficiently. In issue #1 writer Scott Snyder, artists Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion, and colorist FCO Plascencia depicted an effectively horrific DC-Earth remade in the image of the Batman Who Laughs. Such a post-apocalyptic superhero story creates a sort of perpetual dread, wherein the preponderance of prior disasters conditions the reader to expect more bad things to happen, suddenly and frequently. In that respect issue #2 is fairly quiet, going deeper into Wonder Woman’s plan to save the Multiverse and contrasting it with the bad guys’ next move. There’s a lot of looking around and talking; but it’s almost comforting, if not outright encouraging, to realize that this is a slow burn lighting a fuse which will almost certainly explode in issue #3.
One thing that I didn’t like about Tom King and Barnaby Bagenda’s Omega Men miniseries was its characterization of Kalista. Raised as a princess but swept into a revolution, she threatened to descend into a Lady Macbeth-style stereotype, manipulating those around her skillfully and dispassionately. It seems like King is taking Alanna Strange down a similar path in Strange Adventures #3, a murder mystery where our heroes are the suspects but we’re not really encouraged to root for them. Thanks to Mitch Gerads and Evan “Doc” Shaner, it looks great (especially a gladiator-arena sequence); but unlike Death Metal, there’s just a lot of disquiet without much hope. King is not a particularly nihilistic writer, and there are plenty of issues ahead, so here’s hoping this is a bit of misdirection, or a detour waiting on a course correction.
I read Empyre #1 and the non-spoiler opinion is that there’s a whole lot of comic in here for just $5.99. Every page is filled with something, whether that’s intergalactic space battle, grand throne rooms, quiet discussion between two characters, new character designs, flaming Ghost Rider spaceships, you are getting your money’s worth. And as a start to a larger storyline, it sets up the pieces of the board clearly; the threat to humanity is there, our team and their team is well defined with even some wiggle room to discuss the larger implications. It’s a great start to a large event.
SPOILERS-ish: why is it always Tony Stark? Why? Why do so many events start with “Tony Makes a Huge Mistake and Gets the Gang in Trouble”? I understand the humanity of the choice he makes and his actions within that fit his general characterization but you’d think the Avengers would all take a vote and say, “Hey, if like anything more than South Dakota is on the line, can someone else plan this one?” Considering the perspective presented in Avengers: Empyre #0, Iron Man is coming from less of a tactical stance and more of an emotional one, having connected to the Cotati. However, if you hadn’t read that or were expecting the rest of the Avengers to have a similar experience so that everyone would be making their own, but similar decisions…. I’d leave Tony Stark out of team meetings at this point. There’s obviously more to it all and we have several issues left ot go to understand the nuance of interstellar conflict, but man do I feel stupid having trusted anyone. Having the newer character introduced within the series reveal themselves to actually have been a threat this whole time just makes it worse. I’m not mad, just disappointed.
The art is great, clear and crisp but despite the oversized issue, I wanted more. There are some clear shots that would have made for awesome splash pages and could anchor all the chaos of the moment into more distinct story beats but that feels like nit-picking. All in all, I’d say it’s worth that high price point and #2 should really set the stage for what’s to come.
Dark Nights: Death Metal #2 has no invisible chainsaw. 0 out of 5 stars.
So this week I’m taking a slightly different track and I’m going to recommend some recent purchases I’ve made and am about to read or reread. All of these books are currently on sale on comiXology until the end of the month.
First up is House of X/Powers of X. This book hasn’t been on sale for a while, so I decided to pick it up. The reason I love this book so much is that it felt important. I try to pick up books that mean something to me and fondly remembering the discussion online around this book will be something I do with each and every read. This isn’t just a nostalgia buy, though, the story is immense and changed the way people look at the X-Men and how they interact with the larger Marvel Universe.
My second recommendation is Spider-Man: Life Story. It’s an alternate universe story where Spider-Man is allowed to age in real time. Having read the stories it’s based on I really like the different directions it takes given the premise of Spider-Man getting older and wiser. Having Bagley, an artist synonymous with Spider-Man was a nice touch to ground it, tying it into the normal Spider-Man book. This has the feeling and spirit of the old What If books while still being something new.
I’ll end with some quick recommendations:
Infinity Gauntlet– Marvel’s big event of the rear is an annual read for me and it still holds up today.
Champions by Jim Zub- I love what this team did with the Champions team and the next generation of heroes in the Marvel Universe. It went a long way to cement my love for them.
And finally Tales Through The Marvel Universe– I picked this up on a whim but this collection of stories from the 2018 relaunch of Marvel Comics Presents is surprisingly fun. There’s a ton of talent in these stories, and I can’t wait to see more of their work in the Marvel Universe. It was a steal for $3. A single issue would have cost more than that.
Now I’ve got some reading to do. There’s a ton more on sale so have fun browsing!