Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately — including comics from the past, present and future.
Let us know what you read this week in the comments or on social media.
Yesterday I read Doctor Tomorrow from Valiant Comics, Alejandro Arbona and Jim Towe. It’s an interesting book, but the first two issues felt uneventful and were mostly setup. When you’re Ultimate Spider-Man that’s ok, but with a character like Doctor Tomorrow it’s important to get to the hook quickly to keep people interested. Having said that, the rest of the book was great and dealt with alternate universes, multiple versions of the hero and others, and time travel. I absolutely loved all of that. In single issues the pacing is a problem, but it will read really well collected. Once it got going the book kind of has a Shazam! with time travel vibe, which I really enjoyed. We need more books like this that bridge the gap between adults and children; this is a book that works for both.
The reveals and the battles in the last three issues come at a breakneck pace, but they feel meaty and really build to a nice climax while leaving questions open for future stories and problems open for the character to solve. All in all I think that this series really shows promise. I can definitely say I want to read more about the character after reading this series and as an opening salvo for a character in the Valiant Universe, it serves its purpose. The premise involving multiple timelines and time travel is unique there and the theme of being a better person than you think you can be, that’s something I can get behind in this day and age especially, as a lot of us are trying to build a better tomorrow.
I also spent the week reading the entirety of DC’s Checkmate series written by Greg Rucka and Judd Winnick, as it contained an Outsiders crossover. (I loved seeing Grace and Thunder again.) The art by Jesus Saiz and others is perfect for the series as well. I can honestly say I missed this time in DC, even though it was around Infinite Crisis, which I really didn’t enjoy. I still have pangs of nostalgia seeing characters like Sasha Bordeaux and Fire running around trying to stay one step ahead of the machinations of Amanda Waller. Every single character in this comic has multiple levels in their characterization, and it truly digs deep into the DC Universe exploring multiple locales. It uses the entirety of the DC Universe at the time to tell its story. It feels like a great TV series, full of spies, explosions, betrayal and subterfuge. I want so many things in this serious back. I want The Wall to be in power again. I want Sasha Bordeaux back in the DCU and in a strong relationship with Mister Terrific. I want Kobra to be a real threat, because they make a great threat. I want DC’s spy game back that was promised with Leviathan. DC, get on this. This is good comics. This is something modern DC is missing. If you haven’t read Checkmate already, you have to read it. It’s on sale now digitally for about $18 for both volumes. I promise you won’t regret it.
Having re-read Final Crisis last week, I decided to plunge deeper into the mind of Grant Morrison with 2014-15’s The Multiversity, a miniseries he wrote and apparently had in the works for a while. I mention that because Multiversity came out during the New 52 period but was steeped in classic DC continuity. Naturally, all the old stuff has come back around again.
Multiversity is heavily metatextual, centered around an all-out assault on DC’s cosmology by The Gentry, a group of malevolent beings looking to corrupt the various parallel universes for their own purposes. Beyond that things start to get a little fuzzy. I could read Multiversity a dozen more times and probably still not comprehend everything Morrison’s trying to say. This time I got a little more insight into the “hand of creation,” and after a while I just enjoyed it on a superficial level. There are pastiches of the regular Marvel Universe, Ultimate Marvel, and Image superheroes including Savage Dragon; there’s the Frank Quitely-drawn Watchmen parody; and arguably the Nazi Superman issue (drawn by Jim Lee and Scott Williams) is a commentary on Superman: Red Son. The Doug Mahnke-pencilled “Ultra Comics” chapter, which asserts that the comic itself is part of the Gentry’s evil scheme, is also very effective, in part because of the conceit that comics themselves are windows into parallel worlds. The whole package looks great, even the text pages of the Guidebook portion, so it brings that conceit to life in a very real sense.
Spoilers, though – the Gentry aren’t destroyed at the end, just driven off thanks to President Superman and an all-star multiversal group. That message might have landed harder in 2015, when the New 52 was at a crossroads and reader discontent was palpable. Now we’re seeing DC itself in the midst of significant real-world change, running alongside a Big Event which all but guarantees a reversion to a more comforting status quo. It’s not just landing a plane which has caught on fire, it’s having to fix the flight control systems before you hit the ground. In that light Multiversity doesn’t say that everything’s going to be okay, but it does offer some reassurance that there will be a DC multiverse where that’s always on the horizon. Final Crisis, the two Metal miniseries and Doomsday Clock are all about the power of story in one way or another; and Multiversity tries to make that tangible. It can’t be separated from real-world concerns – here I note in passing that the “Thunderworld” chapter was drawn by Cameron Stewart, and the “group editor” was Eddie Berganza – but Morrison argues that if these characters have lives of their own, then maybe they can be separated from the failings of their storytelling stewards. Or maybe I just need to read Multiversity one more time.
Seven Secrets is a new title from, BOOM! Studios, Tom Taylor and Daniele Di Nicuolo that I was looking forward to, based on the early publicity materials — a secret group guarding seven world-changing secrets, and how their newest member, Caspar, has to face down with a new enemy to keep those secrets. So the series is all about secrets, and the first issue seemed to take that way too literally — although it seems that Caspar is the narrator, we never actually get to see him in the comic, like he’s some kind of secret. What are these secrets they’re guarding? Secret. This organization he works for? Secret. Their enemy’s motivations? Secret. I don’t feel like I have a good sense for what this comic is even going to be about after reading the first issue, at least not any more than I did from the solicitation information; it’s all so … secret. It’s not a great start, and I have to wonder if I’m even really interested in reading more.
Empyre: X-Men #4 wraps up a very uneven miniseries, which isn’t unexpected, given that the creative team changed every issue. Jonathan Hickman wrote the first issue, then returns to wrap it up here. The concept is a pretty simple, winning combination — you’ve got the alien Cotati plant guys on one side, trying to take over the Earth, and you have a bunch of zombified Genoshans on the other side, resurrected by a guilt-ridden Scarlet Witch and looking to eat. Hence, Plants vs. Zombies, with mutants in the middle. I’m not sure if issues #2-3 really served much of a purpose, and this issue, well … I kind of forgot which comic I was reading in those first few pages, as Dr. Strange lectured Scarlet Witch in a flashback, and the two of them resolve everything before the X-Men even showed up. It made the previous few issues feel even more unnecessary. That being said, the conversation between a resurrected Explodey Boy and his zombie self was one of the best things I’ve read in a comic in awhile, so it’s hard to say how I felt about this one. The miniseries started strong, dropped a bit, but bounced back in the end.
As far as first issues go, Shadow Service really worked for me. It served as an introduction to the main character and the creepy world she inhabits, then after setting those expectations twisted them up at the end. It’s a nicely done first issue from Cavan Scott and Corin Howell, whose already creepy artwork is made even better by the mood-setting coloring of Triona Farrell. I’m looking forward to seeing where this one goes.