What Are You Reading? | ‘King in Black,’ ‘Department of Truth’ 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. In this edition, we talk about King in Black, X-Factor, James Tynion IV and more.

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

Shane Bailey

Let’s start out with my favorite of the new X-Men line at Marvel, X-Factor. The concept of the resurrection team that investigates mutant deaths to see if they are real is such a great idea, but the character work is where the book really shines. These characters have real depth, and it’s not just in the dialogue, it carries through to the art as well. Little mannerisms and the characters’ body language convey so much information in this book. It really shows how in sync the creators are here. I also really love how there are nods to each character’s history throughout the stories in this book, both the good and the bad. This book takes its time with the story; the quiet moments are often the highlights of the story rather than the action. You can see bonds forming slowly. The interaction and relationships just feel very real — the shared trauma the characters have, the companionship, all of it.  Leah Williams, David Baldeon and the team shine here, and I hope this book stays for a long run.

I also read a few books from James Tynion IV in the writer’s chair.

First up is Something is Killing The Children and it is seriously messsssssssed up… and such a good read. It’s about monsters that only children can see and an organization that hunts then. I’ve read up to issue 12 now and I have a few notes. First I want those masks the monster hunters wear. They’re actually available. Second, Werther Dell’edera and Miquel Muerto are fantastic together. They compliment each other so well, and the designs, layouts and the atmosphere in this book are all so well done. Also their logo is perfect. I want more now. This is a book where you know even if the heroes succeed there’s going to be a cost. People are going to die in this book and things aren’t going to be ok. Being a parent probably makes this a harder read than it normally would as children are not only facing horrible things but are actually the main people dying in this story. It’s awful, but the pull of wanting to see what happens next keeps me turning those pages.

The second Tynion IV book I read is Department of Truth. It’s pretty much settled that he can write horror now. He’s just so good at these creepy ideas. This one is about a secret organization designed to combat misinformation and conspiracy theories. It takes stuff like Flat Earth theory and faking the moon landing and makes it terrifying, which seems impossible. Part of what really makes this work is the art by Martin Simmonds, who can take something relatively normal and turn it into something horrifying. His art really reminds me of Teddy Christiansen or Ted McKeever, mixed with someone like John Muth. The whole package is just really well done.

Finally, I just sat down and read every issue of The Plot up to #7, the finale #8 is out next month, and hooooo boy that’s a creepy book up there with the best haunted house stories. Stories with cold, dark, wet places and long buried family secrets rising to the surface out of the mire. The story, written by the team of Tim Daniel and Michael Moreci, lingers and always seems to give you just enough answers that you come up with more questions. Some of them might not be answered in the end, but you can’t help but ask just the same and turn that page and open the next issue. Its imagery, by Josh Hixson, Jordan Boyd, and K. Michael Russell, sticks with you long after reading the books. The ghosts from the bog that antagonize the family in particular. What I really found striking is the horror in the characters faces. Those faces sell the fear & dread, and that sells the story for the reader. When I reviewed #1, I said “Every page is filled with dread. I felt the same way reading this book as I did when watching The Haunting of Hill House, I knew something bad was coming and I tense up expecting it, but I didn’t ACTUALLY know what was coming, just that it was bad.” Having read six more issues from Vault Comics and crew I can say that same feeling permeated the entire story. You feel like you need to turn those pages even though you know it can’t be good for the characters. There’s just something pulling you down into the muck with them.

Carla Hoffman

We all know I love reprints, but even I have to balk at the $7.99 price tag on the square-bound collections coming out as Marvel Tales.  Normally, they’re centered around one character and have around four comics or so to catch you up on classic issues related to that topic.  I’ve personally picked them up sporadically because they’re great research tools to have on hand when you want to show someone what’s going on with characters like Hellstrom or Captain Britain, but that price is a lot to coax someone who is more interested in purchasing out of curiosity.  This week, we get Marvel Tales: Knull just in time for the King in Black event; at first I thought it was a little weird to see a collection that had books so recently published, but considering Donny Cates has been building this up for two years and not every comic shop has a bin of back issues, this is actually a very useful collection.   In fact, I’d go so far as to say this $7.99 comic could have been a lot more expensive as a “Prelude to King In Black” softcover trade for around $9.99 as these are hot ticket comics that give you everything you need to know about Venom, Knull and all the dark inky symbiote goo that links them together.

This collection has Venom (2018) #3 and #4, Web of Venom: Carnage Born (2018)  #1 and Venom #25 from this year and I would say that all of these issues are integral to getting into King in Black if you haven’t been keeping up on Donny Cates’ impeccable run.  Under his pen, not only has the mythos of the symbiotes gotten broader and more appropriately Cthuloid , but there’s been a lot of personal development for Eddie Brock as well.  His connection with his son, his fear of being alone, even how he interacts with Spider-Man has been fun to watch as Cates has taken him through a variety of events and adventures leading us to this point.  So you’re not just getting salient points about continuity, but also some flavor and characterization to help ease you in.  It might seem like a lot, but Marvel Tales: Knull is a great sampler of Venom stories, a catch up to recent events in the comic, and a style guide for what’s to come in King in Black.

Speaking of which, two years of trials and tribulations have brought us here: to King in Black #1 by Cates and Ryan Stegman also released this week.  I know a lot of comic events are advertised as the biggest thing ever in the history of comics and comic accessories and that this is the one that will blow your mind and change the way you look at anything ever again and…. Honestly, I can tell you that King in Black #1 won’t do any of that.  And that’s it’s greatest selling point.

From the far reaches of the universe, Knull has come to destroy Earth, as all good ultra villains do and comes with the powers of what feels like infinite Symbiotes.  The Avengers and the X-Men have been forewarned and they do their due diligence to fight the evil that comes from the heavens.  There are tactics and plans and exactly the splash pages and escalation you would want from a threat this ancient and unknowable, but that’s not the selling point of this book.  The mood and theme created under all of this grandeur and high stakes adventure is, for once, actually personal.  Yes, the Sentry tries to fly Knull into space and tear him in two, but that’s not why you’re reading the book.  You’re reading it because this is Eddie Brock’s most personal, trying moment as an actual, real live hero.  It immediately invests you in the story of one man and what it’s going to take for him to do the right thing.  What toll is all of this going to take on his and his symbiote’s connection?  What will this mean for the future of his son?  This book feels important, not because all the heavy hitters are here to fight an untold evil from the depths of space, but because this story is going to matter and impact one character and where he goes from here.  If you’ve ever been interested in Venom, read this book.  If you really like character studies and heartfelt journeys, read this book.  I’m not going to say it’s going to change everything you know, but … it might change the important things.

JK Parkin

For my son’s nighttime reading, we’ve settled into a weekly comic routine lately, and I thought I’d talk about a couple of our more recent reads. First up is Strange Academy, the Marvel series by Skottie Young and Humberto Ramos that’s kind of like Hogwarts in the MU. The first issue introduces a whole bunch of new characters in a bit of a chaotic way — a way that my son seemed to really enjoy and connected with. And that’s kind of the nice thing about this series; while it does feature appearances by Doctor Strange, Doctor Voodoo, Loki and other long-established characters, the main cast, the kids, are new characters. Sure, some of them have connections to other people and places we’ve seen before, but none of that really matters to a new reader who doesn’t have all that history (like my eight-year-old).

The same could be said for E-Ratic, a new teen superhero comic from AWA Upshot, created by Kaare Andrews and Brian Reber. I’m a big fan of the Iron Fist series Andrew wrote and drew a couple years back, so it’s great to see him in action again on a title like this. As far as first issues go, I enjoyed it, but my son, I think, was a little bored up until the point that our hero jumped into action. (I mean, we read at night before bed, so sometimes it takes a lot to keep him engaged when he’s winding down). He did have a lot of questions about E-Ratic, like where he got his powers and why he can only use them for 10 minutes a day, so we have a reason to keep reading.

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