What Are You Reading? | ‘Ultramega,’ ‘Batman/Superman’ 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 checking off their “to read” list lately.

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

Tom Bondurant

For a company which always seems to be on the verge of utter collapse, DC has been putting out some pretty good comics lately. That was certainly the case for Batman/Superman #16, which introduced writer Gene Luen Yang and penciller Ivan Reis as the headliners of the new creative team. (The issue was inked by Danny Miki and colored by Sabine Rich.) Right from page 1 you see that this isn’t going to be a typical issue. It’s literally framed as a pair of movie serials running parallel to one another, which also means that the panel layouts work like linear comic strips, newspaper-style. No flashy storytelling, and double the retro!

Yang and Reis use those old-fashioned trappings to establish and then subvert the reader’s expectations about what kind of story this is going to be. Yes, it involves different multiversal versions of Superman, Batman (and Robin) and their various friends and enemies. However, this book isn’t necessarily looking in on a familiar timeline from DC history. To say much more would get into spoiler territory, and Yang and Reis’ efforts deserve to be rewarded.

In terms of craft this is an excellent comic. Again, this isn’t Superman Smashes The Klan, but it’s very much in that retro vein. I always enjoy seeing the Dick Grayson Robin, and I hope Yang finds a way to work the Boy Wonder into this series on a more regular basis. Miki’s inks bring out the fine detail in Reis’ work, and Rich’s colors bring out the brightness of Superman’s adventures and the muted tones of Batman’s. (Even Robin’s costume looks a little dim with Rich’s palette.) I recommend the main Superman and Batman titles if you’re interested, but it looks like Batman/Superman is going to be a lot of fun as long as this team is around.

This week, the creative team from Future State: Teen Titans launched Teen Titans Academy, which looks basically to be a prequel to that micro-series. I wasn’t that excited about FS:TT, so I may not be sticking around very long for TTA. Writer Tim Sheridan is still doing his best to create a Marv Wolfman vibe, with Nightwing, Starfire and Donna Troy front and center. The mystery of Red X, which I know more from the old animated series and not so much from the comics, plays out against some typical new-student dynamics. Sheridan also lays out a new Titans hierarchy, with the Academy students at the bottom and a new-ish group of Teen Titans between them and the old guard.

That’s a lot for a single issue. It’s not a bad impulse on its own, but Sheridan throws so much at the reader that it’s a little overwhelming. For their part, penciller Rafa Sandoval and inker Jordi Tarragona do a good job keeping everyone distinct. Action is fairly well choreographed and Alejandro Sanchez’ colors complement the art nicely. I will say that Sandoval makes Raven and Beast Boy (and occasionally Nightwing) a little bulkier than I am used to. I know that Raven’s design has changed significantly since her introduction, but I wasn’t expecting her or Beast Boy to be this grownup-looking. The other side of that is, the younger characters look appreciably younger, which of course helps to sell the book’s premise.

Although Teen Titans Academy has some promising elements, it also has the potential to get pulled in a few different directions. Will it be an all-star team which has to keep up with its members’ other titles? How big will the classic-member reunion component be? Does it have anything new or innovative to say about a school for superheroes? This is almost three books in one, and it’s got to figure out what it wants pretty quickly.

JK Parkin

Like Tom, I also read Batman/Superman and Teen Titans Academy this week, and I agree with what he said about both. The only thing I’ll add is that I read Batman/Superman on digital, and while I appreciate the craft put into the overall structure, it did make it difficult to read on my iPad, as I found myself zooming in and out a bunch. So I’d recommend buying it in print.

I also read the first issue of Ultramega, the new “giant monster” series by Rumble artist James Harren, with colors by Dave Stewart. The setting is a world overcome by a pandemic — a pandemic that turns people into giant monsters that ravage cities, with only three government agents who can turn into giants themselves left to fight them off.

If you like well-drawn, well-colored battles between giant monsters, this extra-sized first issue has that in spades, but probably what most intrigued me here was this world that Harren created, the main character’s roll in it and how this mega worldwide pandemic crisis impacts him personally. It’s a well-crafted issue that’s more complex and goes deeper than you might expect. It’s probably the comic I most enjoyed reading this week.

W. Maxwell Prince’s clown anthology series continues in Haha #3, where he brings in Roger Langridge to draw the story of a mime — it’s wordless, of course, which makes complete sense. I’ve enjoyed all the issues of Haha so far, but Langridge has always been a favorite of mine, so this one might just take the cake. Like the other issues, it’s also a pretty weird story — it involves a robot, which was a bit unexpected going in, but it works in the context of the mime’s story.

Finally, Orphan and the Five Beasts #1 is exactly what you might expect from James Stokoe, and that works perfectly for me. His signature highly detailed art is the big draw, while the story itself is pretty straight-forward — five former students of a master trainer have gone bad, so he sends his current student out to take them down. It’s a great, finely crafted start to the hero’s journey.

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