Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately.
Let us know what you read this week in the comments or on social media.
I had the pleasure of reading Blue in Green from Ram V, Anand RK, John Pearson, Aditya Bidikar and Tom Muller. I’m just in awe of every page. Ram V’s dialogue both internal and external feels real and live. Anand RK’s art reminds me of Sienkiewicz when he was breaking out and the colors by John Pearson perfectly set each mood. The lettering by Aditya Bidikar at times reminds me of reading House of Leaves as the text adapts to the imagery sometimes almost like it’s falling off the page. I can’t discount Tom Muller’s design prowess at weaving the feel of the blue note covers and design elements throughout the book either. Everything just flows together in this book where one person’s job not only complements, but often melds with another where you can’t tell who did what. That’s a sign of great comics and I feel like this one should be on some best of the year lists. If not, people aren’t reading the right comics.
The story is a bit complicated. At it’s heart is the story of a musician dealing with a complicated death in the family, but it becomes so much more. It deals with fears of death, fears of living, how our talents can become obsessions, how moments are important, how a life isn’t just good or bad, there are so many things you can take from this book and I think everyone reading it will find something new. The whole thing feels very subjective and left up to the reader. It doesn’t explain things in minute detail, but instead leaves things open for interpretation. It treats the reader with respect that they can take their own meaning from it.
About halfway through the book the story takes a turn and I don’t want to spoil it, but it’s an interesting take on an existing trope with talented musicians and with that trope comes an examination of art and what it means to create it as well. For a book to take such a common theme and not only make it interesting but have it stick with you after reading is a feat.
I think this book is definitely art; I just hope the creators don’t have to go through what the protagonist had to in order to make this wonderful book. If so the artists may suffer, but for our gain. It’s a necessary sacrifice to produce work like this.
Pick this beautiful, profound, haunting book up immediately, you won’t regret it.
This week I finally re-read a book that’s been at my bedside for a while, the collection of Saucer Country by Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly. Published originally by Vertigo from May 2012-June 2013 (14 issues), it’s the story of a presidential candidate who has to deal with her own close encounter of the third kind. Cornell balances horse-race politics and alien-abduction tropes well, and the mix is an effective one. Besides Governor Arcadia Alvarado (D-New Mexico), there’s her alcoholic but well-meaning ex-husband, her senior advisor (squarely in the Leo McGarry mode), her cutthroat political strategist, and her newly-hired UFO expert. Collectively they face off against a typically-vague shadowy group of operatives, including some obligatory men in black. Oh, and they have to win a couple of elections.
Accordingly, Saucer Country uses Arcadia’s abduction as a gateway into her inclusive political message. Naturally she’s running against the white patriarchy, which casts the UFO-assisted conspiracy in a more familiar, status-quo-preserving light – at least at first. However, Arcadia wants to be President so that she can use the tools of the office to a) find out what was done to her so that b) she can fight back. It’s an eminently reasonable motivation which allows Arcadia’s character to drive the plot, even as the conspiracy puts up roadblocks. After a while the issue of the election almost takes a back seat to the larger questions around the abduction; but Arcadia’s resolve is so strong that the narrative doesn’t suffer. Indeed, while Kelly sometimes depicts the stress Arcadia feels, he never draws her as weak or incapable. His character designs are simple but distinct, so much so that when the occasional guest artist steps in, the players are still instantly recognizable. Like Cornell, Kelly is able to make the mundane and fantastic coexist nicely.
While Saucer Country does have a sequel – the six-issue Saucer State (2017-18), which I haven’t yet had a chance to read – I can’t fault the pacing of these 14 issues. Saucer Country basically covers the Democratic primary, but there’s really not much which could have been added to or taken away from this plot. It’s a high concept that takes itself just seriously enough to be entertaining. Some of the political details don’t entirely ring true, and it’s certainly hard to remember what the political landscape of 2012 felt like. Still, Saucer Country succeeds as an affirmation of the American can-do spirit. This time, it’s directed at those skinny grey buggers with the big black eyes.
The best thing about Ryan North writing Power Pack is that you really don’t have to think too hard on this one. Power Pack is an old ‘80s staple that a lot of readers still have nostalgia for and some of their members have gone on to different titles and done bigger things than their original start but… none of that matters. Don’t think hard about continuity or how old they’re actually supposed to be or any particulars. No. Enjoy this oddball family comedy about four kids of story-appropriate age who all got super powers. That’s it. Any origin you can accurately communicate through crayon drawings is one I can get behind. The dialogue is funny, sweet and just self-aware at times to remind you not to take this too seriously. The panels are placed for quick physical comedy and the art by Nico Leon is fresh, clean and great for readers young and old. Dynamic design that keeps the original concept clear but updates it appropriately enough for new kids. This is going to be a fun book to share with nieces, nephews, sons, daughters, grandkids even; if you remember Power Pack from your childhood, this is a great title to pass along to the next generation. Though I’m not sure if ‘yeet’ was used correctly in a sentence; can you ‘yeet’ ideas into people?
In more “not sure if this is used correctly” news, Maestro #4 is giving us the first concrete step to Hulk ascending to the title of the book. As Peter David has been prequelling one of his most popular Hulk stories ‘Future Imperfect’, we’ve learned that the ‘first’ Maestro was actually Hercules, a familiar demi-god ruling over the ruins of mankind. Hulk takes him on this issue and … loses, surprisingly. It was a shocking turn while reading because, honestly, some of this story feels a little phoned in. Not that Peter David doesn’t have a clear vision of the timeline, just that it gets suddenly rushed in places; some story beats take a second to get through, others far too long for what they’re worth. For example, Hulk takes his defeat, we cut to Rick Jones who gets a few lines to say that the Hulk won’t take that defeat well. Next page and the Hulk is already at Hercules’s door with a new plan. Did time pass? Days, months, years? Herc just says it has been “some time” and that’s it. If this is a mini-series, I can see why moments don’t have the right breathing room as David might be trying to get as many story points as he can into what issues he’s given, but if this is an ongoing, then why aren’t we watching a Rocky training montage of the Hulk’s next move? Why not think about how this loss to Hercules makes the Hulk more cunning and cruel to win his next battle? The art is stunning and fits the original tone set by George Perez, though there’s a few pages in the middle that take a shift in inking style that I think I liked better. All in all, this might be a trade paperback to wait for if you’re not already invested.
Last but certainly not least, I got Ever, a sort of mini-trade from creator Terry Moore. A girl meets an angel on the eve of her 18th birthday, gets struck by lightning, and learns about her place in Old Testament cosmology. It’s a short story that moves quickly at times, asking the reader to let go and let the words and, mostly, the art to take them on a wild adventure. I honestly wish it was longer, a kind of meditation on what the angels Timothy and Samuel were trying to get across to our heroine Ever and how it fits into the creation myth and larger themes of the Terry Moore-a-verse. But then I realized that I was used to much longer stories in this vein because of writers like Neil Gaiman, taking moments of myth and rewriting them from the ground up to make them their own. Ever has a lot of that Gaiman-y feel — the origin retelling, the loneliness of the characters, the dark undercurrent that’s alluring and mysterious, but also has the benefit of not being up its own butt. Don’t get me wrong! Gaiman writes a lot of good stuff and deserves all the acclaim he gets, but sometimes you do just want a quick read about the powers of love and forgiveness told in a modern fairy-tale myth, and not some 800-page tome on reinventing the wheel. Moore’s art is fantastic as always, making the lightness of story weigh heavier on the mind as you can see brush strokes and pen ink, and imagine one man hard at work to bring this all to life on the page. I can’t explain to you the impact of his expressions and timing Moore’s comics has had on my life since I started reading Strangers in Paradise in the late ‘90s, but it has spoiled me on a lot of modern comic art due to how much a few lines on a face can convey emotional impact. After writing some 800-page tomes himself recently, Terry Moore’s Ever is a great way to get into his style and maybe venture forth into his other work.
So this may be the best thing DC has released this year. And I say “thing” because I’m going to spend some time talking about form here, more than content, and questioning what exactly this is. But let’s not let it get lost — this is a novel-esque retelling of the story of Black Lightning, pulling from his sparse history and casting it in a new light. And it does it very, very well. I was very engrossed by John Ridley’s words, for sure; I’ve read it multiple times now, and I feel like I’m still seeing things that are new or different each time I return to it.
Giuseppi Camumcoli, Andrea Cucchi, Jose Villarrubia and Steve Wands present the text and visuals in a unique way here that’s not quite a comic book but also not really a novel or short story, either. This isn’t simply text with spot illustrations, another common way to tell a story; this is actually a marriage of comic and prose. It certainly has the feel of a comic, even if it lacks some of the trademark structure we’d expect to see in a comic (like dialogue bubbles):
Shane referenced House of Leaves earlier, by Mark Z. Danielewski, and I think that may be an apt metaphor here as well. It’s almost ergodic in how it presents the story, breaking from traditional panels and dialogue, that structure we know as comics, but at the same time not completely jumping over into the world of prose. This story wouldn’t read the same without the work of the artists.
So is it a comic? Is it prose? Is it some sort of hybrid of the two? I think there’s a lot to talk about in that regard, but at the end of the day, what I do know is it’s really, really good, and I can’t wait to see the rest of the miniseries.