Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at what the Smash Pages crew has been checking off their “to read” list lately. Let us know what you read this week in the comments or on social media.
Sometimes, I long for the days when the internet was young. Just message boards and usenet, a dozen different search engines and only the barest inkling of what you could research while “surfing the web.” Back then, I thought Adam X was cool.
This week I read X-Men Legends #1, and boy, was I wrong! Promising that sweet spot of ‘90s X-Men nostalgia in its debut issue, we are actually given a story for the wayward Summers brother, pulling together some threads from other disparate comic issues from the time. The plotting is solid, as only Fabian Nicieza can bring you; a blast from the past that’s quite literal for some pages as Cyclops and Havok explode many things with huge bursts of energy for little to no reason that it looks cool. You know, the way we used to in the 1990s. This is not exactly Shakespeare, not even Claremont as the drama is very cut and dry, as well as overly technobabble-y with descriptions of power sets and alien cultists.
Which is of course, perfectly fine because that is the quality I look for when I see Cyclops in his “classic” animated style uniform. What I wasn’t expecting was how jarring the art was. Maybe there was some heavy handing inking done by Adelso Corona, maybe Guru-FX saturated the colors too much, maybe I’m too old for this, but Brett Booth’s art is too much on every page and difficult to follow. I found myself staring at pages, not to savor the quality of the storytelling, but just to figure out how to digest what I was seeing.
Again, maybe this is just me. Maybe I know too much now, I have seen so much art and comic book storytelling that I can’t go back to those salad days of being extreme and wearing baseball caps backwards. Not all nostalgia is good nostalgia.
Speaking of nostalgia, I also got my hands on a reproduction of the Black Knight #1, a comic from 1955 by Stan Lee and Joe Maneely and I have to wonder why. The Black Knight of yore is nothing like Dane Whitman, so recently seen the pages of a King in Black tie-in! This is some high sword and sorcery storytelling: think The Adventures of Robin Hood with Claude Reigns style of swashbuckling high adventure, still with that mighty Marvel flare. The art is gorgeous and makes me think of Hal Foster and Prince Valiant, with broad caricatures of knightly valor and detailed courtly intrigue. The facsimile issue has four stories of knights and kings to tell, which is totally worth the $3.99 price tag alone.
But there’s a catch. The Black Knight stories are great, very fun and easy to get into the swing of, Arthurian mythos fan or not. The “Excalibur!” prose story (that’s right!) is a basic retelling of the familiar sword and the stone, an interesting look at what Stan the Man might have thought of these classic tales. But the Crusader story smack dab in the middle of the book is gosh darn atrocious! It’s too quick, too cluttered and WAY too racist! I don’t know why there are mongol hordes with the Saracens, but I do know why they are drawn like freakin’ goblins and colored a sickly yellow, and it’s certainly not historical accuracy. Even if you set aside the “it was the style at the time” yellow face, the story has too much going in its cringe-worthy five pages to feel like anything of importance was said. Sure, the book starts with a warning about it’s “outdated depictions,” but it still leaves a sour taste in your mouth.
All in all though, it’s a great piece of history at a nice price to enjoy the majority of the action-paced tales of the most daring knight of all. Until he becomes Dane Whitman.
The first issue of Paul Allor and Paul Tucker’s Hollow Heart came out this week, and I’ve been hearing a lot about it so I decided to check it out, even though I’m not a big sci-fi or horror fan. I do love a good story, though, and that’s what this issue delivers. It starts with a nightmare scenario: EL is someone with human consciousness but without much of a body; he is encased in a giant metal suit, and all we see of him is a skull-like face. He’s in pain, and he hates his existence. Mateo, a repairman, comes in to work on the suit but is captivated by the man inside. He’s able to see through the ugliness and the tangle of wires to the human within, and he resolves to help. What’s not clear is how he will help or whether what he intends to do will be what EL really needs. In this first issue Allor and Tucker not only set the story in motion but give us some things to think about as well as tantalizing hints of what is to follow. I’m in!
My favorite genre is puzzle mysteries, but you don’t find a lot of those in comics. So I was pleased to discover Jerome K. Jerome Bloche: Post Mortem, a French comic that’s part of a lengthy series (this was vol. 23) but is a self-contained story. Jerome (named for a 19th century humorist, although it’s not clear why) is a private investigator living in Paris with his fiancée, Babette, who is a flight attendant. His occupation doesn’t keep him very busy, so he has plenty of time to help when a friend of his, a parish priest, is unjustly suspected of blackmail. Meanwhile, Babette has to deal with the sudden appearance of her father, whom she thought was dead, and for whom she has little patience. Jerome is kind of a doofus – he clearly formed his notion of what a PI does from old movies, and he rides around on a motorized bicycle in a felt hat and raincoat – but he is smart enough to follow the breadcrumbs. It’s a fair-play mystery, in that the clues are out there in plain sight, but only if you don’t fall for the creators’ misdirection. It’s also great escape reading: Babette and Father Arthur are good foils for Jerome, and the setting and side characters add a lot to the story. The art style is straightforward yet detailed enough to make you feel like you are walking into the scene. I read this on Hoopla, the digital service my library subscribes to, and I’ll be checking out the other two volumes that are available there as well.
And finally, this week I read Chasin’ the Bird, the graphic biography of Charlie Parker published by Z2 comics last year. Creator Dave Chisholm focuses on a single era of Parker’s life, the two years he spent in Los Angeles from 1945-47, and he signals his plan by starting with the story of the five blind men who examined an elephant and came back with five different descriptions. Indeed, the heart of the book is accounts by five different people (all real) of their encounters with Parker, who was incredibly intelligent as well as talented but was also addicted to drugs and alcohol. Chisholm shows his different sides in these interlocking stories, from talking about life and art at a ranch filled with surrealistic sculptures to getting himself committed to a mental hospital. Chisholm shifts to a different style for each narrator, but the real virtuoso work is Chisholm’s visual renderings of Parker’s music. This book is absolutely stunning and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Iron Fist: Heart of the Dragon #2 continues the story began by Larry Hama and Dave Watcher last month; despite taking a “throw everything and the kitchen sink into this comic” approach — Zombies! Mystical Gods! Dragons! Wakanda! Luke Cage in a boat! — this comic holds together really well, almost impressively well. Given that Hama used to write G.I. Joe, which had such a huge cast with subplots galore to balance, it’s no surprise. It’s also got a fun pulp feel to it, as the action and adventure just doesn’t seem to stop. Next issue Iron Fist doesn’t even appear on the cover of his own book, which I kind of love (especially when you consider who does). This one is a whole lot of fun and comes highly recommended.
Meanwhile, Zoe Thorogood is the guest artist on Haha #2, the anthology title written by W. Maxwell Prince (Ice Cream Man) about clowns. This issue focuses on, um, let’s just say a certain kind of kink, a mother who makes a living off of it and the repercussions that are visited on her daughter as a result. This is a really different kind of title, and while I enjoyed the first issue, this second one really ramped up the emotional depth without sacrificing any of the weirdness that comes from a comic about clowns (that aren’t super villains or supernatural monsters or anything like that). Next issue is drawn by Roger Langridge, which should be a treat.
Finally, comiXology launched a new title, Snow Angels by Jeff Lemire and Jock this week. And what a week to launch it, given what was happening in most of the United States, weather-wise. It’s about a world covered in ice where all the people live inside The Trench, which seems to stretch forever across the world. They have not only the cold to deal with, but also some legendary monster called The Snowman. The heart of the story, though, is the relationship between the three main characters — a father and his two daughters. It’s an intriguing set-up, and Lemire and Jock get right into it in this first issue. I’m trying to remember the last time I read a comic that was actually drawn by Jock (not just the covers) — maybe Batman? So this was a real treat. I mean:
It’s stark and may hit too close to home for a lot of people right now, but I do recommend buying it and maybe waiting for a sunny day to read it.