What Are You Reading? | ‘Batman,’ ‘Home Sick Pilots’ and more

See what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately.

Happy holidays and 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.

Shane Bailey

This week I read The Picture of Everything Else from Vault Comics, written by Dan Watters, drawn by Kishore Mohan and lettered by Aditya Bidikar, and it left me feeling like I was reading a classic tale written long ago. I was sent back to a time when photography was new and art was searching for meaning in this new world. The tale quickly took a turn and became a story full of dread instead of mirth. The Picture of Everything Else is about two artist/thieves from the early 19th century that get wrapped up in a series of murders by the famous “Ripper.” The way it tells this tale is key. The book does a great job of establishing the characters, defining the world they live in, and making you love them in an entertaining way full of wit and charm. Then once that’s established it puts all of that in peril by introducing the killer. All of this isn’t that uncommon, it’s a typical format and so far up until the last few pages, it’s a typical tale, but it’s all done so well and with such finesse that it elevates the whole package. By the end, I had already grown attached to Alphonse and Marcel. I had been entranced much as they are with their art. They made me want to look deeper, to know more, or the creators did through them, those rapscallions and Ne’er-do-wells! It’s quite a feat to create such likable creators and establish everything in so few pages today. The story doesn’t feel rushed and the comic doesn’t feel empty like a lot of first issues do. It feels complete. Not that you don’t want to know what happens in the next issue, you absolutely do, but that you’re not left unsatisfied like a lot of books today.   It’s a beautifully written, beautifully illustrated, beautifully lettered complete package that satisfies, delights, and shocks. It’s a wonderful piece of art these creators have made, and I’ll be waiting for more. I just hope it’s a bit safer than the art in the story.

I also read  Mad Cave Studios’s They Fell From the Sky by their Talent Search winners, Liezl Buenaventura and Xavier Tarrega, along with colorist DJ Chavis, letterer Joamette Gil and editor Chris Sanchez. It tells a familiar but interesting story of a nerdy kid who likes sci-fi comics that is bullied, but finds a friend in an alien that crash lands on Earth. It’s a pretty fun book, but I wonder who the audience is for this is. It seems geared toward a younger crowd but then has one very blatant cuss word. I’m not usually one to harp on that, but it just seemed to stand out and be unnecessary, a $&*! or something could have covered that up and gotten the same effect. It may limit the audience of this book. The art was good and I really enjoyed the character designs though at times it was a little hard to determine ages. I’m assuming Tommy’s sister & his bully are seniors and the friends are around 9th grade based on their looks. The expressions in this book are great. Other than that the one gripe, it kept my interest throughout the issue and I enjoyed seeing a little bit of Tommy’s home life and how he interacted with his friends. It’s kind of an establishing issue, as it’s a #1, and the story ends just when things really get interesting. While that’s good, I would have liked a little more of the alien to draw us in for #2, but I think the next issue will solve that dilemma and give us a little more to invest in there. All in all, I think I’ll check out #2 and see where this story leads. They Fell From the Sky launches February 2021 from Mad Cave Studios.

The real surprise this week though was Home Sick Pilots. After finishing the book all I could say is wow! I am 100% into this book. The art, the coloring, the writing, the characters, the premise, everything is just so much my jam it feels like it was created for me. The premise is a punk band decides to investigate a haunted house as a venue for a concert and gets sucked in. It’s just a fun ride and I’m really enjoying the vibe of the book from top to bottom. If you haven’t picked it up, I recommend getting #1, it’s got some meat on the story too, so it feels like you are getting your money’s worth, normally I would wait for the TPB, but not here. Forgot to tag Dan Watters Caspar Wijngaard, Aditya Bidikar, Tom Muller and Image Comics pulled out all the stops here. What an amazing package. I’m really looking forward to #2.

Finally, this week I was lucky enough to pick up TKO’s excellent Sentient. It’s about a colony ship heading to their new world in the midst of a brewing divide between colonists and earthers. It has that feel of an 80s space movie, down to the design and that lived in, industrial, feel of the ship. The idea is a well worn idea for a story, but they went another direction with it quickly and it pays off well. The big meeting pages with the crew on the ship seem epic and important as the creators pull out to show everyone and the body language of the crew there just sells the scene. The crew know their roles and you can tell they’ve been there for a while, but behind the walk to the day care that starts the book and as they make their way to the meeting there’s a sense of dread that something is going to happen today, and that makes you turn those pages, it pulls you in. That doesn’t stop the whole book as you go from problem to problem. It’s kind of beautiful in it’s ending and it doesn’t need anything more than what it is, but damn it, I still want to see more of this world. It’s one of those books where you sigh contentedly when it’s over and look around for more of that. Jeff Lemire, Gabriel Walta, Steve Wands,  Sebastian Gerner, Jared K. Fletcher and Jeff Powell should all take a bow for this beautiful, masterful book. 

Tom Bondurant

This week Batman #105 surprised me. Written by James Tynion IV, pencilled by Carlo Pagulayan and Alvaro Martinez, inked by Danny Miki and Christian Duce, and colored by David Baron, it’s the conclusion of the 4-part “Ghost Stories” arc which has introduced Ghost-Maker. When Ghost-Maker first came along, I thought he was a bit derivative, in that he was yet another Bat-villain who a) knew Bats’ secret identity, b) fancied himself sooo much smarter than Batman, and c) had a connection to Bruce Wayne’s past. Just off the top of my head, Hush and Henri Ducard each fit all of those categories, and there are a bunch more who fit two out of three. For example, we readers have just been through a couple of very ambitious arcs where the villains (the Designer and the Joker) only lacked the relationships with Young Bruce. Plus, I thought Ghost-Maker looked a bit too much like Fantomex (and/or Moon Knight, come to think of it). And as if all that weren’t enough, “Ghost Stories” also featured Clownhunter, the latest in a long line of aspiring vigilantes who thinks Batman doesn’t go far enough. Put it all together and it looks rather familiar.

Even so, issue #104 ended on a pretty decent cliffhanger. Ghost-Maker captured Batman and Harley Quinn and encouraged Clownhunter to work out his feelings about the Joker on Harley. While nobody thinks that Clownhunter will get to do anything to Harley (who hasn’t really been an outright villain for a while, but who’s getting something of a redemption arc in this series), it’s a good tease regardless. Issue #105 begins with a flashback to the day Bruce and Ghost-Maker finally split up, several years ago in Argentina. G-M wanted to eliminate crime systematically, and keep a little piece of the action for himself; while Bruce just wanted to clean up Gotham. The pair decided, practically through clenched teeth, to leave each other alone for the rest of their lives. That sets up the emotional climax of this issue, where Batman helps Harley get free of Clownhunter; and Harley responds by talking Clownhunter out of killing her. Harley not only explains why she’s committing to being a better person, she reminds everyone that she was trained as a therapist. Similarly, Batman tells Ghost-Maker (after a brief duel) that he doesn’t want to fight. Instead, he wants Ghost-Maker to stay in Gotham and help Batman clean it up. What surprised me about this issue is that Ghost-Maker accepts. That’s a huge paradigm shift for Batman, whose exploits often end with a clear, fist-pumping victory which totally owns the bad guy. This issue ends with Bats’ admission that he’s not getting any younger, and he can’t do all the things he used to. I’m kind of amazed that DC would let such a show of vulnerability into the main Bat-book, and it’s got me very curious to see where Tynion and company will take Batman in 2021.

Green Lantern: Season Two #10, written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Liam Sharpe, is actually kind of similar, since it deals with Hal Jordan, Carol “Star Sapphire” Ferris, and one of Carol’s parallel-universe counterparts taking down a bad guy by getting him in touch with his feelings. I’m not one for shipping or OTPs, but I do think that Hal and Carol haven’t had enough outright team-ups where they work together as experienced super-people. The whole issue has that sort of lived-in feel which stops just short of world-weariness, and it’s very appealing. One character sighs loudly, “There’s a Dark Multiverse? while another GL reminds Hal that “when I’m not just a walk-on in your epic life, I actually do stuff!” Morrison and Sharp’s GL hasn’t been the most memorable work from either, and I’m not sure where it falls on the spectrum of quality Green Lantern comics. However, I’ve liked how they’ve tried to marry the feature’s weirder qualities with Hal’s I’m-good-at-my-job attitude, and I will probably revisit it after it has wrapped up.

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