What Are You Reading? Squirrel Girl, Grendel and more!

See what the Smash Pages crew has checked off their “to read” list lately.

Hey, Happy Easter! The Easter Bunny stopped by the blog and brought not only delicious chocolate eggs, but also brought back one of our favorite features — What Are You Reading? Like the title suggests, it’s a casual look at what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately. So without further ado …

Shane Bailey

I’ve been reading a lot of books that span generations lately. I finally got around to reading Black Hammer, and it’s as magnificent as everyone said it was. It’s as much a walk through comics history as Planetary was, taking new twists and turns where the books they were based on didn’t, spanning genres and time periods all the while. Simultaneously spooky, sad, funny, and uplifting at times, you really get to know these characters. I’m anxious to get into the spin-off books as well. 

Another generational series I’m reading is Grendel. Where Black Hammer is a relatively new book, Grendel has been around since the 80s. It’s a character I’ve been reading since it debuted and I’m really enjoying re-reading it now. I started in a weird order, I first read Darko Macan and Edvin Biuković’s Grendel Tales issues that examine the horrors of war and the people living in it. It’s one of the best Grendel stories that was way before it’s time. You can find part one in the Grendel Tales Omnibus v1 and part two is in v2. The artist, Edvin, would certainly be a star today if he hadn’t been taken from us too early. His work is gritty and rough, but his expressions and character work show the humanity of these characters. I recommend you look up his work, especially with Macan. Something about the two of them together clicked and became a comic book dream team. That’s what I like about the Grendel mythos, something about Hunter Rose’s legacy and transformation into this world spanning meme inspired creators, including it’s originator Matt Wagner. A lot of people prefer his work on Mage or the original Hunter Rose series, but for me, Grendel Prime is where it’s at. A futuristic look at the Grendel idea where it’s spread across the globe and changed it some for the worse, some for the better. In Prime, it’s a world full of war and rebellion against the Grendel Khan.

If you feel like picking these up, all the Grendel Tales Omnibuses and Grendel Omnibuses are around $7-8 on comiXology, that’s 600 pages each for that price. The first three volumes of Black Hammer are around that price as well. Enjoy!

Tom Bondurant

Not long before my local comics shop had to close (temporarily, I hope), I got the final volume of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Naturally, this prompted me to do a re-read of the entire series, including the OGN The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up The Marvel Universe (but not, unfortunately, the USG YA prose novel, which apparently is canon).

Anyway, I am well into the Derek Charm era, and specifically the storyline which kicks off with Squirrel Girl’s funeral. The transition to Charm from original series artist Erica Henderson was rockier than I remembered, but Henderson just nailed SG from the get-go and made Charm’s task that much harder. Even so, I like Charm very well, and I’ve enjoyed his work on everything from Jughead to the Star Trek miniseries he did for IDW a while back. I like his Squirrel Girl too; and in fact the Kraven storyline he drew ended with one of the most heartfelt SG scenes of the entire run (so far).Of course, the series kept the same writer throughout, and Ryan North’s work has made USG one of the most joke-dense comics I’ve ever read. From the endlessly entertaining tweetstorms which open each issue to the tiny-print footnotes at the bottom of most pages, and of course the rhyming animal-themed codenames, this series is a joy to read. Squirrel Girl is (or wants to be) everyone’s best friend, and by and large the feeling is mutual. North, Henderson and Charm have put Doreen Green and friends up against Galactus, Doctor Doom and Dinosaur Ultron, and even stranded her in Canada with no wi-fi. She’s overcome it all with the same unflagging, indomitable attitude. I’m starting to think this was a pretty good choice for being sheltered at home!

The first six collections of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl are on comiXology Unlimited. There are 12 total, plus the OGN.

JK Parkin

A lot of my reading these days revolves around my eight-year-old, who we read to every night. While my wife gets to read various chapter books to him, I became his “non-fiction guy” (his words) and was reading every factual encyclopedia about bugs, snakes, predators, sharks, dinosaurs, more sharks and anything else gross or dangerous he could find. I decided I didn’t want to be the “non-fiction guy” anymore, so I started ordering a bunch of age-appropriate graphic novels for him. (A good source for this is Comix Experience’s Book of the Month Club for Kids; you can order past selections and runners up here).

One of them we recently finished is Radio Delley, a story that falls into one of my favorites, the “kids on bicycles” subgenre. Radio Delley is by Alex Martinez and Xavier Bonet, and was published by IDW last year. This is one I bought from Comix Experience, and owner Brian Hibbs talked to both creators last year in a live chat that can be viewed on The Beat. It’s a story that’s both heartbreaking and uplifting, as three friends find a radio and start getting weird transmissions from a girl who needs help. I know a book is a hit whenever my son decides to read it on his own after we finish it, which he did with this one.

Another one I bought from Comix Experience is Mech Cadet Yu, by Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa. It was published by BOOM! Studios back in 2017-2018. We read the first volume, which is about a military initiative to fight off aliens using giant robots that mysteriously come to Earth and bond with a particular cadet of their choosing. The main character, Stanford Yu, wasn’t actually a cadet; he’s a janitor at the facility who happens to find a damaged robot out in the desert that was meant for a different cadet. There are three volumes, and we’ve only read the first one, so I see the other two in my future. Which is awesome, because it’s something I would have enjoyed on my own even if my kid wasn’t into it.

Then we have InvestiGators by John Patrick Green, which was published by First Second. This one is geared for younger readers and is in the vein of things like Dog-Man and Captain Underpants (without as many bathroom jokes). My kid devours those two series over and over, so I was looking for something new to add to the mix. It’s about two secret agent alligators, Mango and Brash, who investigate the disappearance of a famous chef. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did the previous two books I mentioned, my kid liked it the best — so maybe your kid will, too.

Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack
Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack

Finally, on the non-kid front, I recently read The Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack by Nicholas Gurewitch, a collection of the twisted webcomic published by Dark Horse Comics. In addition to a lot of the webcomics you’re probably familiar with if you’ve been following Gurewitch’s work for the past 10 years, it also includes early strips, rarities and “alternative” versions of existing strips — as well as some strips he didn’t feel really cut the mustard, so they never went up on his website. It’s a lovely collection of one of my favorite webcomics.

Corey Blake

I’ve been subscribed to Marvel Unlimited and DC Universe for awhile now. Both comics subscription services allow access to tens of thousands of comic books. I’m determined to make those services pay for themselves, and I figure if I read at least 2-3 comics in each service a month, it’s worth it. You’d think that would be easy, and yet, I am an easily distracted reader. I have so many comic book series with the first few issues or first couple volumes of collections. I used to be obsessively completist, following a comic to the bitter end, but over the last 5-10 years, the massive breadth of comics available has maybe short-circuited my systems. So many amazing comics, I start reading them and love them, and then oooh, but what about that one over there? Or I just get overwhelmed with choices and end up scrolling through Facebook for hours instead while I’m “thinking about it.” But with California’s stay-at-home order entering week four, I’m starting to find a routine. With my normal work commute time cut down to walking from my bed to my desk, I suddenly have an extra couple of hours in the day where I’m not stuck in a car. So I’m trying to make that my comics reading time.

So I’ve decided to try to reach as much of post-Crisis DC as possible. I grew up mostly a Marvel Zombie with a smattering of DC on the side. I’ve long wanted to correct that. I think I’ve started this endeavor a few times. Let’s see how well it goes this time. So to start by Discovering DC journey, I read The History of the DC Universe by Marv Wolfman, George Pérez and Karl Kesel. This two-issue mini-series was a crash course in hundreds of characters and what was then canon in DC’s comic books told from the perspective of Harbinger, a character from Crisis on Infinite Earths who now must observe and chronicle the new DC Universe, somewhat like Marvel’s The Watcher from Fantastic Four. The two issues themselves may not be true comics, and are closer to illustrated books. Pérez’s stunning artwork is used as spot illustrations and splash pages to visualize narrative text. There is no real sequential artwork, traditional panel layout or lettered speech bubbles normally seen in mainstream comics of the day. In a sense this is pure world-building and while the actual story that’s present is minimal, it all feels epic and exciting as a new beginning.

Meanwhile over in Marvel, I’m back in 2016. I just revisited Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s The Vision. Rumor has it this will heavily influence the upcoming WandaVision on Disney+. These are really excellent comics, and it’s no wonder it was considered among Marvel’s best titles at the time. It presents a fascinating exploration of family life and the human nature to protect domestic normalcy at extremely not-normal costs. Walta’s artwork is amazing, there’s an emotional steadiness that mimics suburban decorum until the facade is broken and the grim ugliness is exposed. It shows great restraint and discipline that really adds to the strengths of the story. Characters are stubbornly unwilling to acknowledge another character’s distress. It’s presented as due to their mechanical nature, but we’ve all seen humans do this too, whether because the pain is too intense to address or in the hopes that it’ll get better all on its own. King is equally disciplined in plotting out the steady decline of a crumbling family and the character arcs of each member of Vision’s constructed family. It’s tragic and yet somehow seems inevitable.

And last but certainly not least, I read the first installment of She Kills, after hearing about it on our very own site. I love LA’s early history. Maybe it’s because of how relatively new the city is compared to New England, where I grew up. Regardless, this seemed right up my ally, and the comic doesn’t disappoint. This has to be one of the most memorable opening scenes of a comic I can remember reading in some time. It grabs you by the face, sits you down and tells you to listen. It’s intense, fairly graphic and uses dark humor. But it’s still grounded in a very real time and place, Los Angeles in 1851. At this point, California had become part of the United States only three years earlier. Los Angeles was a sparse and largely lawless pueblo, far from the sprawling metropolis it is today. The art by GABO is great, depicting an L.A. with dirt roads, a few buildings, and populated by an unruly bunch of people living on the fringes of civilization. Usually historical comics, even historical fiction like this, aren’t thought of as funny, but this is surprisingly funny. It shouldn’t be a surprise, since it’s written by Family Guy executive producer Patrick Meighan. But don’t think this is stylistically like Family Guy. While funny, this is more grounded in its reality and in the characters’ unforgiving environment. I was really happy to discover this.

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