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 reviews include two comics from Chip Zdarsky, Bootblack, Beware the Eye of Odin, Dark Crisis and more.
Let us know what you’ve been reading lately in the comments or on social media.
Stories of refugees’ journeys to freedom have almost become a graphic novel genre of their own, and while I’ve read quite a few, and they are quite moving, I wasn’t expecting anything new when I reached for the first volume of Hakim’s Odyssey, by Fabien Toulme (Graphic Mundi). This first volume, though, unfolds without a great sense of urgency. Hakim is a refugee from Syria living in France, where Toulme interviewed him for the book – interviews that he includes as a sort of framing tale – but this volume begins in Syria and shows Hakim growing up, building up his own business, and then losing everything during the uprising of 2011, when he was arrested and tortured, his town became a war zone, and his business was destroyed. Hakim’s brother, who took part in the protests, was arrested and never seen again, and Hakim and his family began to worry that the same fate would befall him. So he travels to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, staying with friends and relatives, trying to find work and stability but running up against prejudice and hard economic realities along the way (although he does meet his wife, who is delightful). This is the first volume of a three-volume series, and it’s a strong start to the story as we really get to know Hakim as a person and to see what he lost when he left Syria – or rather, what he lost before he left Syria.
Bootblack (NBM), by the singly named creator Mikael, is the second book in a planned trilogy about immigrants in New York City during the first half of the 20th century. Giant, the first, followed a massive Irishman who was a construction worker on Rockefeller Center; Bootblack portrays the hardscrabble life of street kids through the eyes of the son of German immigrants who, left on his own after his parents’ violent death, ekes out a living shining shoes and eventually becomes entangled with organized crime. I cannot recommend Mikael’s work highly enough. His books are cinematic and immersive, drawing the reader into Depression-era New York to the point where you can hear Walter Winchell on the radio, smell the fish, feel the chilly damp and the searing heat. At the same time, each of his graphic novels is truly a novel, with fully developed characters, themes, and a plot that circles around to a satisfying, if not happy, denouement. The third volume of the series will be set in Harlem, and I absolutely cannot wait.
In keeping with the title of this feature, I will start by saying I am currently reading The Dire Days Of Willowweep Manor, a graphic novel written by Shaenon Garrity and drawn by Christopher Baldwin. Garrity co-created the long-running (and just ended) daily comic strip Skin Horse, and this has a lot of its freewheeling energy. Its slightly manic tone also reminds me of John Allison’s various creations like Bad Machinery and Giant Days. Baldwin’s art is a big part of that. Willowweep is about a lover of gothic romance who is drawn into a classic gothic-romance situation — but I’m not finished, so a more in-depth exploration will have to wait.
Meanwhile, I cracked open Flash Of Two Worlds: The Deluxe Edition, a thin hardcover reprinting the first several Barry Allen/Jay Garrick team-ups. Starting with the classic Flash #123 (September 1961) and ending exactly six years later (September 1967’s issue #173), its six stories – most by Gardner Fox, but a couple from John Broome – are less about the Multiverse and more about incorporating Jay Garrick into the overall Flash family. Jay (and occasionally a few of his Justice Society pals) pops in to help Barry (and occasionally Wally “Kid Flash” West) out of various Silver Age-style scrapes. For example, Abra Kadabra prevents the (modern) Flash from seeing any crimes, the Shade steals from Earth-One victims so he can live it up on Earth-Two, and an otherdimensional being abducts Barry and Wally so he can hunt them. It’s about what you’d expect, plus you get to see how Carmine Infantino’s style developed over six years (and a couple of different inkers).
I seem to remember being a little less creeped-out than expected by the first issue of Dark Crisis, but boy howdy did everything ramp up in issue #2. Written by Joshua Williamson, drawn by Daniel Sampere, and colored by Alejandro Sanchéz, it’s mostly a big fight at Titans’ Tower, with the focus on the Deathstroke/Nightwing face-off. That escalates into another duel between counterparts (both legacy characters, in their way); and it ends with a cool rah-rah moment. Accordingly, with the pacing having picked up and the stakes becoming clearer, Dark Crisis is coming along nicely.
Finally, writer Chip Zdarsky joins returning artist Jorge Jimenez and colorist Tomeu Morey on Batman #125, and it’s a really excellent combination. Jimenez and Morey continue to produce some great Bat-art, while Zdarsky’s plot involves a frame-up, a Batcave mystery, Bruce Wayne’s nightmares, and the Penguin’s latest scheme to separate Gotham’s wealthy from their fortunes. Having known Zdarsky mostly from Howard the Duck and Sex Criminals, I am unfamiliar with his Daredevil, but his Batman would be right at home in the post-Denny O’Neil days of the ‘70s and ‘80s. He’s lost most of his fortune and with it, some of his social mojo; but Zdarsky’s Batman comes across as a seasoned, driven professional, just the way I like him. He even gets a little emotional, calling a punk a “flunky … pulling a trigger for money,” which put me even more in mind of O’Neil or Haney dialogue. What’s more, this is a Batman and Robin (Tim Drake) story that also finds time to check in with Catwoman and Oracle. All these classic elements, plus a solo Catwoman story written by Zdarsky with art by Bélen Ortega and colors by Luis Guerrero, make this an irresistible package.
I, too, enjoyed Chip Zdarsky’s first issue of Batman; I haven’t read the title in awhile, so it was a nice re-introduction to it. And speaking of Zdarsky, the first issue of Public Domain, which he writes and draws, debuted in print from Image Comics. The comic has been running on Substack for about a year now, but it’s my first time to read it. And I really enjoyed it. It’s about a family whose father created the world’s most popular superhero for a big-time media company, and they get treated as second-class citizens as that character blows up thanks to movie deals and everything that entails. Then something happens on the last page that’s a bit too spoiler-y to reveal here, but it seems to be taking the comic into an interesting direction. If you enjoyed Zdarsky’s artwork on Sex Criminals, you’ll probably like it here as well.
The other fun comic I read this week was the first issue of Beware the Eye of Odin, a new fantasy adventure title by Doug Wagner, Tim Odland and Michelle Madsen, which is the story of a quest by a Viking prince to return the Eye of Odin to its rightful owner. I think what really sets this one apart are the characters; I really enjoyed the two companions who join up on this crazy quest with our prince. I can’t wait for the second issue.