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.
This week I read two new Mad Cave Studios books, Terminal Punks and Pantomime. Terminal Punks is by Matthew Erman, Shelby Criswell and Micah Myers, and involves a band on their way to a gig that gets stuck in an airport where a plane transporting a bunch of monsters crash lands. Next thing they know, they’re stuck in the terminal with a bunch of monsters slaughtering everyone in their path.
Despite how it sounds from the description, Terminal Punks is a fun, quirky read with characters that have unique personalities trying to survive comedically gruesome deaths by the aforementioned monsters. The artwork is hilarious, with the expressions on the band’s faces as they run around the airport being a special treat. I found the story’s quirkiness and contrast really entertaining, and I’m looking forward to reading more.
The other book, Pantomime by Christopher Sebela, David Stoll, Dearbhla Kelly and Justin Birch, was a surprise hit for me, and I found myself thinking about the book days after I read it because of its creativity both in story and execution. I didn’t read anything about it going in, so I didn’t have any expectations, but what I found is a pleasant surprise.
It’s about a bunch of well-written characters in a school for the deaf that all get a taste of thievery when stealing back a student’s item from the teacher. They then quickly get in over their heads and decide to plan a real heist from the wrong type of people. It was a great twist and not what I expected to read at all.
Of particular interest is how the signing is handled, as the character’s hands are always in motion. When characters who can hear aren’t facing the deaf characters, their speech appears as lines since they can’t read their lips; only the translator can be “heard.” It’s an interesting solution to portraying special needs in a comic and I’m looking forward to seeing more, both from the creators and their ingenuity, and, in the story, seeing how the kids get out of this jam.
I keep my copy of Allie Brosh’s first book, Hyperbole and a Half, in my bathroom. Not because it’s a light read or a factoid fest you can easily pick up and put down, but because the bathroom is the best place to have a nervous breakdown or panic attack. It’s a private place to cry or hold your head in your hands where no one will question you too hard about disappearing for awhile. If you know of Allie Brosh at all, it’s because you’ve seen her online comics: funny, basic and relatable drawings of simple dogs or over-enthusiasm for menial chores that are unique and very personal. Bringing them out of the internet to a fully realized book, the comics take on an even more personal tone as she talks about her struggle with depression and isolation. So, keeping that book in the bathroom for overwhelming emotional moments is a great way to feel less alone through troubled times with empathetic artwork.
Brosh’s second book, Solutions and Other Problems, was unexpected by me on many fronts. I only heard that SaOP was being released a few months ago thanks to a Reddit member finding a link to the book on Simon and Schuster’s website. Ms. Brosh herself popped up in the post to r/books to express gratitude and surprise that she was even missed. On Sept. 3 of this year, there was a new post on the Hyperbole and a Half website; this was the closest I’ve seen to an official announcement from the author, who’s last post was from 2013. Sept. 23 comes and I receive my copy of her work, the first I’d heard from her in seven years.
Solutions and Other Problems is a 518 page book of illustrated essays ranging from a general philosophy of meaning to personal anecdotes about her childhood, all told from a desperate place in the present. We learn what has been happening in her life the last seven years. We can relate to her obsessive plans to do better, be stronger and still feel like gangly failures despite our best efforts. We understand how someone “internet famous” could fall off the face of the digital Earth and could see how Allie Brosh could have never come back. She has an easy going writing style that can kind of repeat a point in a variety of different metaphors, but the stories are so entertaining you kinda don’t care. Each story connects to the next, whether fanciful or hard truths, and feels like a new form of Aesop’s Fables that allows the reader to take something new from each reading, even if it’s just a laugh. Her artwork may look crude and very MS Paint, but there’s a strong and dynamic flow to her animals and the composition of her panels create very stark senses of time and emotion. Bernie Wrightson she is not, but Brosh has a strong sense of line and color to create menace and fear to her personal struggles.
I was not expecting to hear from Allie Brosh again and now I have a 518-page hardcover book to read. I can laugh with the book, I can cry with it if I need to, but I’m not sure I’m going to keep it in the bathroom.
For a few years there, it felt like a lot of hip Marvel creators thought it was cool to say their dream project to work on was Shang-Chi. It was a nice little obscure nod to a different time for the Bullpen, in the same way Rom the Space Knight or Dazzler is brought up. Everyone thinks that in their back pocket is a way to revive a cult property. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure a lot of writers and artists are indeed chomping at the bit to bring these characters into the modern era, but as someone who works on the retail side of things, it rarely works out and the quarter bin is littered with good intentions.
However, we try again with the 2020 release of Shang-Chi #1 by Gene Luan Yang and Dike Ruan. For a first issue it has a lot of ground to cover; we have to be reintroduced to the legendary Master of Kung Fu himself, meet some supporting characters, and understand the danger and adventure he’s about to partake in. All of these are met, but it still feels like a lot to learn; if you’re not familiar with Shang-Chi, it’s best to think of him as a Jackie Chan-like protagonist, a man of honest intentions thrust into a world of martial arts and ancient secrets. There’s a simple bit of politics to learn about the Five Weapons Society and their threat, but that’s mostly because we already have a ninja clan called the Hand and now there’s a House of the Deadly Hand in play for China. Still, there are five Houses battling for control and Shang-Chi finds himself thrust into this intrigue on behalf of his past and his family. Don’t expect to be wowed or want to suddenly dig through the back issues for more information on Shang-Chi, just expect an adventure and hop on for a ride.
Coming off of a few multi-issue storylines and the big Empyre event, it was nice to see a done-in-one, standalone story in Fantastic Four #24. Dan Slott, with the help of Paco Medina and Jesus Aburtov, fills us in on why Iceman showed up earlier in the series when all the former FF members were called upon to help save the day. The story’s a flashback to the early days of both the FF and the X-Men, as the youngest members of each team gets upset with their teammates, quits and then a young Iceman ends up helping out Johnny’s team during his absence. The only thing it lacked was an appearance by Spider-Man, who has history of sorts with both longtime friend Johnny Storm and Amazing Friend Bobby Drake. Still, this was a fun issue, and was a nice reprieve before everything changes in the next big storyline.