What Are You Reading? | ‘Batman,’ ‘X of Swords,’ ‘Skin Horse’ and more

See what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately.

Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately — including two recent big events from the big two, and some fun webcomics.

Let us know what you read this week in the comments or on social media.

Tom Bondurant

This week I want to mention a couple of webcomic favorites, Skin Horse by Shaenon Garrity and Jeffrey Wells, and Steeple by John Allison.

It would take too long to summarize what’s going on in all three plots (I’m catching up on Skin Horse from 2011 as well as following the current storyline); but suffice it to say that both strips are full of fun, goofy adventures executed with genuine skill and craft. Both also convey a certain world-weariness without abandoning their characters utterly to cynicism. I feel like I am the last person in the world who’s discovered these comics – appropriately, I use “discover” in the Columbus sense that they were there long before me – but Skin Horse includes talking animals, zombies and other misfits who work for a secret government agency. Meanwhile, Steeple concerns a pair of women each struggling with her faith – one Christian, one Church of Satan – while investigating various creatures and other mysteries in an English seaside village. Oh, and Steeple currently takes place at Christmas, and there’s a mysterious sentai-type person who may or may not be an extraterrestrial.

Also, Ms. Garrity has resumed her delightful comics recaps of The X Files, called Monster Of The Week.

(By the way, do I need to say that I am not stalking Shaenon Garrity? I probably do.) She’s up to Season 6, Episode 2, a/k/a “Holy Cow It’s Bryan Cranston” back when he was just “the dad on Malcolm In The Middle. Thus, there are plenty of archives for your X-Phile pleasure.

I did read some regular old superhero comics, including Batman #100 by James Tynion IV and Guillem March. It’s the end of “Joker War,” thank goodness; but that kind of underscores all the Joker action with which we readers have been … blessed? Apologies if I’ve talked about this before, but last week was Three Jokers #2 and next week is Death Metal which features an omnipotent dark Joker-god. I kind of want the Joker to fight Wolverine now.

Anyway, the Joker is the kind of character who can feel overexposed even if he’s only in one story at a time; so “Joker War” does offer some closure to this particular mega-arc. It’s kind of hard to see what DC does for an encore, considering that this story was so huge and game-changing. It’s pretty well-executed, with good character bits for Nightwing, Harley Quinn and even Punchline (speaking of overexposed); and Tynion and March are an excellent creative team. For years – at least since the Snyder/Capullo days – Batman has been constructed out of a series of arcs, each one building on the last, but each kind of distinct as well. Tynion and March have a much lower-key approach (which sounds odd in light of “Joker War’s” carnage) which creates a sort of day-to-day feel to their storytelling. That’s effective in a very different way than trying to find out what Snyder/Capullo or King/Janin are up to in a particular issue. It’s all good, and I’ve enjoyed Batman a lot over the last few years; but by dialing things back a bit, Tynion and March have allowed the spectacles to speak for themselves.

Finally, I liked Star Wars #7 (by Charles Soule and Jesus Saiz) quite a bit. Focusing on an Imperial officer who was a protegé of Grand Moff Tarkin, and casting her as a sort of anti-Leia, it established her as a credible new adversary. Ellian Zahria could easily have been the kind of Thrawn-esque strategist who’s always (annoyingly) twelve steps ahead; but Soule and Saiz make her into a sort of scrappy underdog. To be sure, she’s a ruthless, ice-veined scrappy underdog whose one mistake was not engaging in a specific bit of barbarism; but that just means she’s got some flaws. The overall plot is just a Rebels-on-the-run scenario at this point, so I am hoping that Zahria’s character gets fleshed out some more as it unfolds.

JK Parkin

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had decided to go all in on X of Swords, the big event currently running through the X-Men titles. As you can guess from the title, the theme is “swords,” at least in the first act, as various X-characters go off looking for their respective blades based on a series of prophetic poems that were read in the first issue of the crossover. Well, with the exception of Magik, who already has her sword with her, since it’s part of her soul. She gets to sit this one out, but for everyone else, it’s quest time!

Benjamin Percy and Viktor Bogdanovic take the reigns for a two-parter that includes Wolverine #6 and X-Force #13, both of which came out on Wednesday, and boy is it a lot of fun. Wolverine needs the Muramasa Blade, which he’s wielded a few times in his past and was last seen being melted down into bullets. So Wolverine needs the help of Muramasa, who forged the original blade — but now he works for The Hand in Hell. Adding to the tension is a new character, Solem, who is just wonderful. He’s on the opposing side in the upcoming big sword battle that’s at the center of this crossover, and more than likely will be facing off with Logan before it’s all over. Marvel billed him as “terrifying,” but so far he’s just been delightful, bringing wit and charm to his obviously deadly, evil persona.

I think what I like about these issues in particular is the focus; crossovers can tend to become overwhelmed by plot, as tons of characters are thrown against a threat and no one gets any real spotlight time. Or, as Joe Bob Briggs used to say, too much plot getting in the way of the story. At least with these two issues, we get a really good Wolverine tale that ties into the larger narrative, but also reveals things about Wolverine’s past and fleshes out a new character. I’m glad they made this a two-parter, because it gave the creators room to breath and tell the story.

I haven’t been reading Wolverine lately — not since the first issue — but I believe I might go back and check them out now. And I hope Solem makes it out of this crossover intact, because he’s going to be fun one to follow.

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