Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately.
Most of the comics in this edition came out this past week, so if you’re curious about new comics, we have some thoughts. Although a couple of older books managed to squeeze their way in between the Empyres and Green Lanterns.
Let us know what you read this week in the comments.
Empyre: Fantastic Four #0 was okay. Not great, not bad, nothing was done wrong or with flair. It was indeed, a comic.
Which if it was a regular issue of Marvel’s First Family would be fine; the characters have enough adventure and whimsy to get across the science-fiction setting in a way that makes sense of the Fantastic Four. It’s a good tone setter for the series and how Dan Slott treats these characters within the ebb and flow of their own title. But as a lead in to a major Summer Event(™)? This is mildly disappointing. There’s some context to the Kree/Skrull divide, how that particular war serves the galaxy and hints of what is to come, but it’s not given any real weight. This seems like a throwaway adventure for the regular ongoing, not a lead in to something big enough to fold in the rest of our Marvel heroes. Empyre: Avengers #0 brought a lot of grandeur, themes and emotions that collected the scope of an intergalactic war without being “Jonathan Hickman” about it, where you have to gather context clues and deep lore to put together what’s happening. Here, I don’t know if the creative team even tried to do the same, or just converted a back burner story they’d had sitting around into a cosmic event. In any case, Empyre #1 is this next week, so we’ll finally get this show on the road.
Strange Academy #2 is cute! I think the artwork might be kind of crowded for some, but this is a surprisingly bouncy all-ages title. It’s magic school! Marvel’s got enough magical people and settings that you can easily create a half-Potter, half-X-Academy group and this brings them together in a way that doesn’t feel too derivative of either. Judging books by their first issue is hard because there is so much set up and introductions to do in just 28 pages that I personally prefer a second issue to really see where things are going; we’ve met our cast, created a theme and a general problem to solve, now let’s let the characters do their work.
Skottie Young has a real flair for the imaginative, easily seen in his artwork and now brought to the plot and dialogue. His characters seem a little cartoony but do reflect a younger style that is hard to achieve when you’re a guy in your 40s writing for children. Humberto Ramos is the king of my childhood comics (anyone else read X-Nation 2099? Just me?) so his lively faces and animation from one panel to the next give all this magic and fantasy life. There’s just … a lot going on. You have detailed mystical artifacts, wild character designs, big set pieces of fire and brimstone; it’s a little crowded and difficult to connect to at times. I know kids these days with their hippity hops and TikToks are drawn to a cleaner style to the page, but I would still pass on this issue to the frustrated teen in your life. And maybe even sneak in a read for that bygone age of wonder.
Speaking of bygone ages of wonder (and by that, not speaking of it at all), Ghost Rider #7 is the most “does-what-says-on-tin” comic I have read in a long time. You pick up a Ghost Rider book, you expect to be taken to a place full of hellfire and damnation, motorcycles and guns and melodrama all fit for an Iron Maiden album cover. It’s a guy with a flaming skull for a face; this is what you are coming to the book for.
This issue delivers. Even if you haven’t been keeping up with the fairly new title by Ed Brisson and Aaron Kuder, you don’t need to. They tell you within the story all the context you will need to know about why the Punisher and Wolverine have to stop Ghost Rider from killing Doctor Strange. It brings me back to a time when comics could be their own self-contained moments, not pieces of decompressed storytelling or fragments of a trade paperback. This isn’t Watchmen. This is Ghost Rider fighting through his own damnation and hubris, through the art of swords and the flames of Hell. Whereas the art of Strange Academy felt busy and crowded, Kuder is able to get the most out of his pages through strategic page design and use of Jason Keith’s colors to spotlight what rad demon monster you should be looking at next. A super satisfying read that does as much as it needs to satisfy the reason you picked up the book in the first place and draw you back for more.
I had a pretty busy week, so I didn’t get a chance to read a lot of new comics. I didn’t even get through the stack I got on Friday! However, I did read Green Lantern Season Two #5, by Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp. Basically, Hal Jordan fights evil counterparts of Superman, Supergirl and Krypto; only this time they’re a married couple and “Superman” is using his civilian identity to cheat on his wife. Morrison’s characterization of Hyperman is reminiscent of his Ultraman from the JLA: Earth 2 graphic novel he and Frank Quitely produced in 2000; but this take on Evil Supes comes from a different enough perspective that it doesn’t feel like a copy. Anyway, it’s an extended fight sequence punctuated by some characterization and exposition, but it’s very well done and fairly suspenseful. I like Green Lantern as a concept very much, because it lends itself to all manner of diverse interpretations; but in these days of a half-dozen Earthling G-Ls, Hal tends to come across like the senior vice-president of sales who’s got the experience and the confidence, but isn’t one of the cool kids anymore. This issue is a good example of how Morrison and Sharp have helped make Hal seem very capable and self-assured, but with a certain edge that restores that coolness.
Also in Green Lantern world, I read Justice League Odyssey #22, written by Dan Abnett and drawn by Cliff Richards. It was a little confusing, because it involved the time-travel fallout from Jessica Cruz’s adventures with the Lord of Time. However, it was a pleasant interlude that also functioned (maybe?) as a soft reboot of Space Ranger, a C-list Silver Age sci-fi hero. Anyway, time-lost Jessica warps into a bar fight involving Space Ranger and her criminal quarry. There’s lots of pew-pew, the good guys escape, and from there try to return Jessica to her own time. As it happens, the story takes place shortly after Hal destroyed the GL Corps, so outside of Kyle Rayner Jessica can’t call on any backup. It’s all very pleasantly executed; but again, a little confusing.
Finally, I re-read the “Atom saga” from 1977’s Super-Team Family #11-14. This is reprinted in the clumsily named Justice League Of America: The Wedding Of The Atom And Jean Loring hardcover. It collects those issues plus Justice League of America #s 147-157, not all of which are about Ray Palmer marrying Jean Loring. These are, though; and they’re all written by Gerry Conway, who’d pick up the thread when he became regular JLA writer with issue #151. Essentially, the plot involves Jean getting zapped with plot-contrivance energy after being kidnapped (along with Supergirl and Iris Allen) by T.O. Morrow and sent to a living planet. The energy Jean absorbs is destructive to whatever’s around her, and it’s driven her out of her mind as well. After Flash and Supergirl rescue everybody, Jean teleports away to another planet, so Green Lantern and Hawkman help the Atom look for her. Finally she teleports back to Earth, where “weather pirates” – a band of pirate-themed bad guys with weather-control technology – are using her energy to fuel their natural disasters. It all ends in Gorilla City with Wonder Woman and the Atom fighting the Secret Society of Super-Villains, who have taken Jean for their own purposes. Again, Conway wrote all of this, with art from Alan Weiss and Joe Rubenstein (issue #11), Arvell Jones and Bill Draut (#12), and Jones and Romeo Tanghal (#13-#14). Each issue is pretty pedestrian, but overall it’s effective. The last two issues are the strongest, with Aquaman and Captain Comet helping the Atom stave off tornadoes, earthquakes and volcanoes worldwide; and Wonder Woman having to fight gorillas while being blinded temporarily. Heck, for a while it was probably the biggest Atom-related storyline until he went into the jungle in the early ’80s.
The latest graphic novel I’ve pulled off my shelf to read to my eight-year-old for our nightly bedtime reading is This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews. Honestly I was a little afraid it might be a little too old for him — not really content wise, but thematically and length-wise. We typically spend 15-45 minutes reading together at night, and given its length I was afraid he might get tired of reading the same thing for that long. So far, so good, though; it’s really holding his attention. I had forgotten just how wonderful this book is; the art is simply majestic, something I keep pointing out to my son whenever we come across a wonderful two-page spread. “Yeah, that’s nice, dad, next page!” Plotwise, it’s a “kids on bicycles” story, which is one of my favorite subgenres, as a group of kids on bikes decide to follow the lanterns they drop into the river every year as part of a festival. Their journey turns into a fantasy story after that, with talking bears, giant crows and an old lady with a basement full of everything. Will the kids find their way home? Will they see where the lanterns go? I know the answers but I’m looking forward to seeing them again with my son.
I gotta say that Dryad, the Oni Press title by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Justin Osterling, has gotten pretty interesting really fast. Think you’re reading a fantasy comic? Not anymore! It’s an interesting shift, but it does so without sacrificing the overall theme of the book — fighting for your family no matter what. Wiebe and Osterling are building an interesting world here, one that’s different than what we thought we saw in the first issue, and I’m looking froward to seeing where we go next.