What Are You Reading? | ‘Punderworld’ delivers ‘a fully fleshed out world of relationships, Greek lore and bang-on comedic timing’

See what the Smash Pages crew has been reading lately, including ‘JLA,’ Ka-Zar, ‘Defenders,’ ‘Blue & Gold’ and more.

Welcome to What Are You Reading?, our look at what the Smash Pages crew has been checking off their “to read” list lately. Today’s edition includes thoughts on recent issues of Defenders, Justice League Infinity, Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Land and The Me You Love in the Dark, as well collections of JLA, Punderworld and SHIELD, among others.

Let us know what you’ve been reading lately in the comments or on social media.

Tom Bondurant

Issue #2 of the current Defenders miniseries (written by Al Ewing, drawn and colored by Javier Rodriguez) felt a lot to me like Grant Morrison doing his level best Jack Kirby impression. It’s a trip (in multiple senses of the word) to the Sixth Cosmos, a universe from the time-lost past that a) had its own Galactus-style devourer and b) was the birthplace of the Marvel U’s own Galen. Guiding the way is Taaia, the local apex superhero, whose joyously bombastic speeches are peppered with Kirbyesque quotation marks, 1970s-style. In fact, the whole issue screams 1970s DC, from the Mother Cube to the crib for baby Galen which seems to have come from Marlon Brando’s Krypton. In light of such things, Doctor Strange and the Silver Surfer can only bop along in Taaia’s wake – but that’s okay, because there’s still room for the clash of Powers Cosmic and a little moment of nudging the timestream. As the King used to say, “don’t ask – just buy it!”

Meanwhile, the Distinguished Competition’s Omniverse faces down its latest threat in the conclusion of Infinite Frontier (issue #6 written by Joshua Williamson, drawn by Xermanico, and colored by Romulo Fajardo Jr.). A lot of it is a battle between the Justice Society and Justice Incarnate (President Superman’s multiversal all-stars) on one side, and Darkseid and Injustice Incarnate on the other. There’s metafictional pastiche here too, as Darkseid (inspiration for Thanos) kills Machinehead (Earth-8’s version of Iron Man), but it’s not exactly the point. Infinite Frontier has been something of a low-key DC event, content not to command the spotlight like a common Metal or Crisis. It’s the cosmic calamity which takes bits and pieces from all the others and mixes them into a smoothie which … cleanses the system for what’s to come? An epilogue teases a 2022 sequel, and that would be annoying if Infinite Frontier hadn’t established its own chill tone. This has been the sort of story for DC fans who wish DC would do more with the implications of its multiversal structure and all the shenanigans it engenders. It is not for the casual DC fan – that probably falls to whatever 2022 brings – but it’s gone down easy.

The casual DC fan who still wants a multiversal fix would probably enjoy issue #3 of Justice League Infinity (written by J.M. DeMatteis and James Tucker, drawn by Ethen Beavers, and colored by Nick Filardi). Set in the continuity of the Justice League Unlimited cartoon, it ropes together a few alternate universes, including the homes of Overman (basically Nazi Superman) and the Justice Alliance (featuring a guy in President Superman’s costume who is apparently not President Superman). Essentially, various heroes’ multiversal counterparts are swapping places with each other at random, so Overman shows up on the main DC-Earth and Superman joins the Freedom Fighters on Overman’s world. After the League subdues Overman and Superman has a standard-issue “wait, villains are heroes here?” epiphany, the Leaguers decide to head into the unknown. It’s a lot of well-done comfort food, but the creative team evokes the feel of the animated series effectively.

Finally, issue #2 of Blue and Gold finds Blue Beetle and Booster Gold once again trying to establish their rightful place in the superhero pecking order. Most of this happens in the context of industrial espionage directed against Kord Inc., so the issue starts off with a hijacked driverless truck and includes a livestreamed takedown of the thieves. While this miniseries is infused with nostalgia for Beetle and Booster’s wacky Justice League International adventures, it’s toned down somewhat. Remember, these two were a significant part of Heroes In Crisis a few years back, and apparently Beetle had something sinister to do with the Suicide Squad…? (I didn’t read it.) Nevertheless, writer (and Booster’s creator) Dan Jurgens succeeds at updating Booster’s marketing strategies for the social-media age, although his tweet skills aren’t quite on the Ryan North Squirrel Girl level. However, artist/colorist Ryan Sook has brought his A-game. I may be totally imagining this, but I can even see a little bit of Kevin Maguire in Sook’s work. The issue ends on a note that will be familiar to JLI fans, but I think this will go in a different direction than the two Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire reunion stories. It would have been easy for Blue and Gold to follow in those footsteps as a sort of joke-driven hangout comedy – and I say that as someone who loved JLI and those reunion arcs – but again, this is trying to occupy a middle ground that is still good-natured and funny. So far, so good.

Shane Bailey

I’ve been reading Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s JLA run and I had forgotten just how fun those stories were. Each character gets their own moment to shine and they all seem well written, despite Wally seeming like he’s a spoiled kid bickering with Kyle and Kyle being super novice even though he was sort of experienced at that point. This was a little out of character at the time because Wally had come into his own in his series after Barry’s seeming return, and he realized he wasn’t living in his shadow anymore. I guess they needed some juvenile humor and decided to use Wally and Kyle for that role. But that’s a minor gripe. I think my favorite stories so far are “The Return of the Key,” “The Injustice Gang” and “Darkseid’s Dark Future.” I really liked that Connor Hawke got a chance to shine in that story in one of the greatest moments where he takes down Darkseid with the help of a diminutive friend. I would highly recommend picking these stories up and reading them again if you haven’t in a while. They stand up really well, except maybe the Zauriel arc, which was just strange because they couldn’t use Hawkman. It’s not bad, just not great.

I also recently reread Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weavers SHIELD, and I absolutely love that series. It was a little hard to read when it was coming out because of the long gaps between issues, but when read as a collection, it’s magnificent. I love how it blends historical figures in with Marvel history. It had me a feeling a feeling I hadn’t felt since the first time I read Busiek and Ross’ Marvels — that mystery and grandeur at how big and wonderful the Marvel Universe is. How can you not love seeing ancient historical figures stare down Celestials? How can you not love Tony Stark and Reed Richards’ dads traveling through time trying to stop Tesla, then realizing that no, they need to join forces to stop freaking Isaac Newton! I love it so much.

Finally I read DC Universe by Alan Moore, which contains a good selection of his work at DC minus his most famous runs or one shots. No Watchman, Killing Joke, Swamp Thing or the Wildcats run. It does contain “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” which no matter how many times I read that story it still feels new and fresh. Curt Swan was a treasure. It also has the famous Black Mercy/Mongul story, which is just devastating to read as a parent, as Superman has to tell his son he loves him, but God help him, he doesn’t think he’s real. That’s hardcore. It has his Vigilante story, which is good but not up there as far as Moore stories go; a few nice Green Lantern stories; an Omega Men story; and a lovely Green Arrow back-up story that appeared in Detective Comics that I adore. A random no name, no powers criminal almost kills Black Canary with an arrow and Green Arrow takes off on his own to go take him down before he can do more harm. With a Clint Eastwood-style Sergio Leone face-off on the rooftops drawn by Klaus Janson. One other thing it did remind me of is how freaking good Mr.Majestic was at Wildstorm, as there’s a Moore-written Wildstorm spotlight issue featuring him in this collection. It’s got a few other tales in the collection, too. Check it out to see if you think it’s worth buying, but I didn’t have most of these so it was worth purchasing to round out my Alan Moore trades.

Carla Hoffman

This week I read Punderworld vol. 1… again. You see, I’ve been a big fan of the webcomic from Linda Sejic for quite some time, from its humble beginnings as some color work and doodles to take Sejic’s mind off her bigger project of Blood Stain to its home on her Patreon and Webtoons sites as each page or so is released. This particular experience has given me a lot of information on that undiscovered country of digital to print media comics; it’s been absolutely a fun and community-building experience to chat along with fellow Punderworld fans and having that direct line to the author as we ooh and ahh over behind-the-scene sketches and designs, some cheeky NSFW gags and thoughts on how the story is progressing.

It’s another thing to hold the comic in your hands, to read and fully envelop yourself in the story. What seems like a pretty basic romantic comedy of gods and goddesses (specifically Hades and Persephone) becomes a fully fleshed out world of relationships, Greek lore and bang-on comedic timing. I can’t describe to you how funny and charming this story is and how vibrantly that’s all expressed through the color work, panel timing and expressive figure drawing. It’s a bit cartoony, but still less than your average manga of the same genre. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that rom-com fans, fantasy fans, mythology fans and manga fans can all gather under the big tent of Punderworld!

I’m glad I’ve gotten to see the “behind the curtain” of the comic and found a cool group of people among Linda Sejic fans, not to mention the woman herself, but I can’t recommend the book, the real physical book, enough to really watch the world come to life.

On the other side of the fantasy spectrum, I also read Lester of the Lesser Gods #1 by Eric Powell, Lucky Yates, Mac Cushing and Gideon Kendall.

No, I don’t know how it took three people to write this.

Lester is your typical overweight nerdy loser who just so happens to be a bastard son of Odin, the Allfather, Wielder of Gungir, and King of the Valiant Dead. At least that’s what he shouted at his mother as he plowed her in a truck stop bathroom. This is not a delicate retelling of ancient lore, this isn’t a well thought-out tale of swords and sorcery, this isn’t even really a one-page backup story in Heavy Metal. This story is absolutely stupid. Offensive in a way that delights a certain type of Iron Maiden-loving barbarian teen who needs Mom to know he’s different, okay?! The satire is thick and rude, the artwork by Gideon Kendall a perfect mix of Eric Powell’s grotesque comedy and Barry Windsor-Smith if he sniffed glue while listening to Ronnie James Dio ballads.

I do not recommend this book to everyone, some readers I might actively shoo away from the man-boobed cover, but there is a demographic that will pounce on this book. The kinda people who grew up reading the grossest MAD Magazine issues and totally knew someday that they were meant for greatness. GREATNESS, MOM! NOW GET OUT OF MY ROOM!

JK Parkin

Zac Thompson and Germán García brought back Ka-Zar this week, complete with a new power set thanks to his death and resurrection in last year’s Empyre event. No, he can’t suddenly fly or shoot laser beams or anything off-brand like that; these new powers connect him in different ways to the Savage Land, which is much more interesting. The other fun aspect of this new series is Matthew, K-Zar and Shanna’s son, who likes to run around the Savage Land and get into trouble, much like kids do.

Ka-Zar’s never been a top tier Marvel character, despite appearing in some really fun stories in the past, like those early Marvel Fanfare stories with the X-Men and Mark Waid’s run on the title. Ka-Zar: Lord of the Savage Land seems to be another story to add to that list, based on the first issue. I’m looking forward to more.

The Me You Love in the Dark is the new miniseries by Skottie Young and Jorge Corona, the team behind Middlewest. It’s about an artist who moves into an old house to try and find her muse again, and ends up finding … something else entirely. So far it’s either a set-up for a great horror story or a gothic romance; I’m not really sure which yet (although that last panel of issue #2 seems to hold some clues).

But I do know it looks absolutely spectacular; while the setting is limited to this old house where our protagonist, Ro, now lives, Corona does such a remarkable job with angles, close-ups and perspectives that it really presents it as this entity into itself. Jean-Francois Beaulieu’s color art also helps set the scene for this creepy-yet-compelling relationship being built between Ro and whatever it is she’s living with now.

What’s the old saying, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst?” That’s how I’m approaching Ro’s relationship over the rest of the series.

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