It’s been over a month since I last posted on the blog, and this has been because most of the past month or so has been consumed with packing and moving. I have recently relocated to Texas, and the last several weeks have been crazy. But things are settling down, and I finally have some time to reflect and catch up.
During this time, even though I was packing and going through moving hell, I nonetheless have been doing my share of reading. Much of my reading has been non-fiction comics criticism, although I’ll write about those books in another blog posting. Here, I want to mention some of the major comics (graphic novels and series) that I’ve been reading and my reaction to them. Back in late May I finally got around to reading Dean Motter’s Terminal City series (both Terminal City and Terminal City: Aerial Graffiti). These are wonderful stories, and I’m sorry I hadn’t read them earlier. The comics originally came out from Vertigo in 1996 and 1997, but they has lost none of their punch in the interim. Michael Lark’s art is perfect for the series, lending both a fantastical and humorous tone, and the story lines are truly engaging. One of the things that immediately caught my attention and pulled me into the book was the fun Motter has with the character names and punning. There are the German brothers Micasa and Sucasa, Kid Gloves, Eno Orez (read it backwards), and Lance Boyle, among others. What’s more, there are many references to Aldous Huxley, and the comic does have a “brave new world” feel to it…in that it’s futuristic, not dystopian and foreboding. In fact, one of the joys of reading this title is that it was set in the future while at the same time mindful of past innovations, almost steampunk-like, a curious mix between ultra-modern technology, art nouveau, and the early twentieth century. (For example, zeppelins can be seen in the skies throughout the series.) The protagonist of the series, Cosmo Quinn (another great name), doesn’t really seem like much of a hero at all. Indeed, when we first see him his hero days are long gone. Once a human fly-like character with a penchant for invention, he now has taken his high climbing and technological skills and applied them to the job of a window washer. Quinn is more of an everyman, in that sense. And although the entire series doesn’t completely revolve around Quinn to the exclusion of others, you do see the evolution of a one-time hero as he becomes a hero redux. I highly recommend Terminal City for those still initiated.
Another comic I have recently read is Garth Ennis’s and Amanda Conner’s The Pro. I’ll be honest, the thing that got me to reading this book is Conner’s sexy, revealing/teasing art and the fact that a prostitute served as the protagonist. And no, it’s not the Julia Roberts kind of prostitute–god, I hate that movie–but the down and dirty, gritty, raunchy, foul-mouthed, kinky kind. And this is a raunchy title. Of course, we’re talking about Garth Ennis here, not known for pulling back or being subtle when it comes to violence and sex. The book was pretty good, although not the best thing I’ve ever read. Still, it was a fun take on the superhero genre, a more satiric look at these kind of mainstream comics than you will find in revision-type comics such as Watchmen, Civil War, and Squadron Supreme. Just to give you a sense of the kind of narrative this is, check out a short animated version of the first part of The Pro on YouTube.
Cinderella: Fables Are Forever, is another title I’ve read since late May. Much like the earlier Fables spinoff, Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love, the titular character is engaged in espionage adventures…although the more recent title is much more intricate, much more involved, than the earlier series. And reading this mini-series got me to finally catch up on my readings in the regular Fables series. I had fallen sorely behind these past several months. I went back to reread some of the earlier issues, so that I could freshen my memory and get a jump start into what I haven’t yet read, going back to issue #86, part of the Witches narrative arc. From there I worked my way up to the more recent issue #117. It was fun going back through Willingham’s stories and immersing myself for awhile in the Fables world. I can’t let myself get behind like that again. But catching up on Fables, and reading the recent Cinderella title, I was reminded of how much I love this franchise. There are times, especially recently, when the storyline of the main series has flagged a bit, not really certain where it is going. (A good example of this is the recent Bufkin in the Land of Oz storyline.) Still, this title is head and shoulders above what you’ll find with most comics, and I’ll stick with it until the end.
In early June I read Superman: Earth One. I’ve had this book for about 9 months, and have been meaning to read it all this time. But other books kept getting in the way–what usually happens with me–and I eventually forgot that it was on “to read” list. So I finally decided to pick it up and read it. And I’m glad I did. Good narrative trajectory and an interesting retelling of the Superman origin story. One of the reasons I thought to read this is the upcoming publication of Batman: Earth One. That’s a title I’m really looking forward to.
I’m not really a fan of the Teen Titans, but I had heard such wonderful things about The New Teen Titans: Games, and from so many different sources, that I felt impelled to read it. Great book! The tale of the Gamemaster is engaging enough, but another thing that made me want to read this original graphic novel is the story behind its composition. George Perez and Marv Wolfman started this book in the very early 1980s, and they kept adding to and editing the storyline in fits and starts though out the next few decades. It was finally completed and published last year, and to much praise. It’s a solid and engaging story, and the illustrations are wonderful, reminiscent of the kind of comic art you’d find in the 1980s. In many ways I was surprised, not being a Teen Titan fan, in that I really liked this book.
I also finally got around to reading Greg Rucka’s award winning Queen and Country series. Great books! I read all of the four “Definitive Edition” texts, so I got the entire sweep of this title…including the spinoff series Queen and Country: Declassified (although the latter didn’t stack up to the main series). I’m a sucker for detective/noir/thriller/intrigue comics, and this is one of those titles that definitely didn’t disappoint. I appreciated Rucka’s decision to employ different artists with each narrative arc, in that it gave the series a freshness and, to some degree, a reinterpretation with each new arc. For example, with some artists, Tara Chase is an average-looking woman, albeit an attractive one, whose sexuality is bottled up and basically revealed through her actions at moments of stress and crisis. With other artists, she’s not only behaviorally alluring, but she’s also physically so…something like a Victoria Secrets model. (Personally, I prefer the former to the latter, in that I don’t think the sexed-up physique comports with her character.) And the series’ other protagonist–although one could argue that Tara is the series main protagonist–Paul Crocker, is complex and engaging as well. In fact, part of the beauty of this series is the problematic nature of all of its players and their various relationships. There are no happy endings here, no retreats into comfortable and predictable feelings. You never know when a character will be killed or what a figure that you have grown to respect will suddenly make a decision that will change your view of him/her forever. These are complicated characters with complicated lives and performing complicated jobs. Intelligence work isn’t for the two-dimensional. Now I have to read Rucka’s other series which, I think, is linked to Queen and Country, Whiteout.
Other comic-book series I have been reading lately–an issue here, an issue there, a string of issues at times–include:
- The Unwritten – I’ve loved this series from the beginning, but much as I have with Fables, I had let my reading of The Unwritten fall way behind. I gravitate toward self-reflexive comics, those that draw attention to themselves or, more significantly, highlight the very process of creativity and identity formation. That’s why I’m a big fan of Grant Morrison and continue to read Fables. The Unwritten is one of those comics, as well. Plus, I really appreciate the work of Mike Carey.
- Animal Man – This is one of the titles in the New 52, and it’s one of the few new DC titles that I continue to get. This, along with Swamp Thing, have a more Vertigo feel to them, which is why I like them. The first narrative arc, as well as the first part of the next one, are great. In creating the Red, Jeff Lemire is bringing us something analogous to the Green in Swamp Thing…and in the process, bringing these two titles together.
- Swamp Thing – Like Animal Man, a good surreal/supernatural title, and something that belongs more in Vertigo–where it once was–than the man DC line. I’ve caught up on this series, as well as with Animal Man, and I look forward to seeing how these two titles come together.
- Fear Itself and Fear Itself: The Fearless – So so. I had heard a lot about this crossover series, so I wanted to check it out. I just read the main series, not the various crossovers in various Marvel titles. But the main one was enough. It was entertaining, but after awhile I really get tired of the Marvel heroes all fighting, both others and each others. In fact, many of the Fear Itself comics were nothing but wham bam action orgasms. That only sustains my attention, and patience, so far.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation – Two tastes that go great together. This was an interesting premise, bringing the Star Trek TNG world into contact with Doctor Who, and teasing out the similarities between the Borg and the Cybermen. While I’m a fan of both television programs, I’m not an obsessive one. Still, I have enough interest to read the first two installments of this series, something that I’ll continue doing.
- Avengers versus X-Men – This has been all the fanboy rage for the past few months, and while I’m not a big fan of Marvel heroes fighting other Marvel heroes (see my comment for Fear Itself), I wanted to see what the buzz was all about. As with my reaction to Fear Itself, my reaction to this series is mixed. It’s entertaining enough, but it’s not the kind of insightful, thought-provoking, and well-done series that you’ll find in such Marvel events as Civil War or even Secret Invasion. (In fact, I don’t think there’s a major Marvel event I’ve liked since Secret Invasion.) I’ll continue reading the main AvX issues as they come out, but not the various crossover titles. I just that Bendis would vary his writing style and not give us the same ol’ stuff over and over and over again. Give it a rest, for friggin’ sake, Michael!
- Daredevil – I have been hearing such wonderful things about Mark Waid’s Daredevil series that began in fall of last year, so much, in fact, that I felt impelled to check it out. Glad I did. These are wonderful Daredevil narratives. The stories are solid, interlocking, and engaging, leaving you wanting more and waiting in anticipation for the next installment. Paolo Rivera’s is solid, as well. I’m glad that Daredevil is now getting the careful and quality creative attention that it deserves. I’ll certainly continue with this title.