Summer Slummer: Jeff Tackles The Comixology Summer Reading List, Days 1-6

July 3, 2014

First and foremost: how great is Graeme’s takedown of MPH?  Reading that the other day was like having a triple shot of espresso.

As for me, I keep wanting to write capsule reviews—if I do ‘em right, they’re lively, fast-moving, and funny, plus it’s a little bit easier to ignore my shortcomings (“Oh, the art? Huh, yeah, I guess the art is okay”) —and I think I finally found my hook. What if I reviewed the books from Comixology’s recent Summer Reading List giveaway? Maybe broken out over two or three entries?

That might be okay, right? If I don’t give myself too much rope and end up writing eleven million words, thereby defeating the purpose, right?

Anyway, after the jump:  Days 1-6!

Day One

Detective Comics #871: Huh. So DC gets the starting position of a twenty day giveaway and comes out of the gate with issue #871 of its previous run of Detective Comics, the one featuring a non-Bruce Wayne Batman? Way to welcome new viewers, DC! Maybe they were worried about pissing off direct market retailers, but doesn’t it seem like it would’ve been smarter to put up Batman Eternal #1? It’s an issue that feels like a jumping-on point, it’s a photo 1weekly title that’s still relatively new, and you’ve still got Scott Snyder which I’m assuming is the draw…

Here’s a confession: I never read this when it came out! By the time I heard good stuff about this run, it was a little too late to jump on—I actually ended up picking the arc a year or so ago when it was on sale digitally and then they’ve sat around unread ever since. (I love the clutter-free nature of digital comics but it’s too damn easy to stock up on stuff in a fit of spree purchasing and then have them sit out of sight, out of mind.) So reading it now, after Scott Snyder has become a thing? It’s fun to read him back when his tics were still quirks—the guy sure likes his spooky natural occurrences, family anecdotes, and drug names, doesn’t he?—but in my opinion the guy definitely traded up when he went from Jock to Greg Capullo. Here, Jock draws a nice cover but the rest of it looks like something Phil Hester would draw while walking down twenty flights of stairs: it makes Francesco Francavilla’s back-up (“Commissioner Gordon Looks Startled, Part One of Three”) seem like fucking Suspira by comparison. (But then, I’m pretty much in the tank for the way Francavilla pumps up his colors and his inks for that oversaturated feel.)

Despite my kvetching, a perfectly fine free comic in that “hey, I got to read a whole Batman comic for free!” kind of way.

Day Two

Magnus Robot Fighter #1: Fred Van Lente and Cory Smith (with colors by Mauricio Wallace) modernize the Gold Key property so that anyone who can read it can be all, “Dude. The first Matrix movie came out fifteen years ago? Dude.”

Sorry, that’s me maybe giving away the big twist of the first issue, which finds our protagonist living in a mountain-side idyll, robots and humans side-by-side, until Magnus learns all—or at least some part—of that life was a delusion fostered by the only robot in a post-Singularity world capable of love.

We do get to see Magnus hi-yah some robots, which I’m okay with. (By all means, more hi-yahhing of the robots!) But after reading D4VE, it’s hard to take it as seriously as the book would like us to. Van Lente always has one or two super-clever bits in his scripts (I liked Magnus being found out as a human after he reads a Captcha) but…I kinda wonder what drives the guy, you know? Maybe he’s just a funny person who is good at writing funny stuff, but considering Van Lente has read more philosophy than I’ll ever pretend to know, I do wonder what’s really important to him. Because although this book was fine in an “I’d probably pay ninety-nine cents for another one” way, he doesn’t seem especially haunted by our post-Singularity apocalypse.

Day Three

My Little Pony: Pony Tales Vol. 1: Oh, the hijinks that would ensue if I were to read all 150+ pages of this! But no, I made it through the first

I'd be so happy if this was a House to Astonish shout-out...

I’d be so happy if this was a House to Astonish shout-out…

twenty-plus page Twilight Sparkle’s story (written and illustrated by Thomas Zahler), and a few pages of the Rainbow Dash’s story and packed it in.

But honestly, I didn’t pick this up out of a sense of sheer completism, I grabbed it so the next time my four year old niece was visiting and wanted a comic book to be read to her, I could break out something I know she already likes. We’d purchased the first issue of Friendship is Magic and, at the risk of being a heretic, I’d say I preferred what I read of this to what I read of that.

For one thing, Friendship is Magic #1 is a tough book for adults to slog through—the characters aren’t clearly identified so if you don’t know your Ponies and you’re reading it aloud, you’re really screwed. (I made do with a lot of pointing and occasionally asking my niece, “Uh, what’s this one’s name again?”) Also, the font size in Friendship is Magic #1 was bad enough her dad “accidentally” lost the comic after the third time my niece requested it read for bedtime: apparently, he chose lying to his daughter over murdering his own eyesight.

Thank goodness, this one has each pony in its own story with a big pin-up page at the beginning so you know who the hell you’re going to be talking about, and the font size seemed damn legible to me. At 150+ pages, it was a damn good deal for free: I’ll totally read it to my niece the next time she’s over, and maybe even pick up something at full price for her if she still has any interest in reading by the time she inherits her dad’s old iPad (which is pretty much her and her sister’s by now, anyway).

Be warned, though: if you don’t like horse-related puns and pastel colors, reading this will be like having your head shoved into cake frosting while someone punches you in the dick.

Day Four

Lumberjanes #1: Blabbed about it back here. I gotta give it up to Boom! for having two introductory comics that skew toward female readers (or I would  if Boom! published My Little Pony, not IDW–thanks, Alin!). Well done there, Boom! (For stuff unrelated to IDW publishing My Little Pony.)  Although I wonder what my niece would think if I tried to read this to her—it feels a lot more slapdash than the first story in Pony Tales and I don’t know if there’d be enough of a hook here for her (although maybe “girls having adventures at camp” is more than enough of a hook?).

In some ways, Lumberjanes reads like a licensed comic to me: a lot of the impact comes from a relationship the reader has already developed with the characters elsewhere, except there’s not any other place for a reader to develop the relationship but here?

Day Five

Werewolves of Montpellier: Remember that deleted sequence from Pulp Fiction where Mia Wallace grills Vincent Vega about whether he’s a Beatles person and an Elvis person? I wonder if there should be a similar Jason/Trondheim thing. Me, I’m a Trondheim guy as far as “anthropomorphized animals doing regular folks stuff” goes: Jason’s quiet—almost monotonous—style with its static panel sizes, silent panels, and understated expressions is fun, but I don’t know if I’ve ever read something of his where the story didn’t just deflate like a soufflé. I know that’s the kind of thing Europeans tend to find inherently funny—nothing can make a Westerner living in post-Empire conditions slap his knee like deadpan ennui—but for whatever reason it irks me in Jason’s work, where his twists on genre concepts seem more like attempts to wring juice out of said concepts in order to give his observational work a litle pep.

Take That, American Werewolf in London!

Take That, American Werewolf in London!

Here, for example, you’ve got a fifty page story about Sven, a recent émigré to France who robs (or at least breaks into) apartments while disguised as a werewolf, and ends up stirring the ire of a brotherhood of actual werewolves who think he’s caused too much negative attention. While that all shapes up, we see Sven read books, play chess, and fall in love with the woman across the hall who acts and dresses like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s. The whole time I was reading Werewolves of Montpellier, I felt like I was watching a short film by Wes Anderson, one of those twelve minute affairs he uses to sell Italian fashion or Natalie Portman’s ass or something. In fact, despite Sven being an anthropomorphic dog (I think?), I could totally see Jason Schwartzman playing him. It’s cute, it’s peppy, and very “indie movie” in that way, that “charming for the first fifty-five minutes and annoying for the last thirty” way that some indie movies have.

To be fair to Jason (cartoonist, not the actor), there’s an excellent case to be made that even he is a little sick of his shit. Thematically, Werewolves of Montpellier is about the pitfalls of emulation and imitation—by the time you see the drawbacks to what you’re emulating, you’ve already become that thing, and it’s too late. But even with that factored in, I’m just not a big fan of anticlimax. Unless it’s done really, really, really well, I always end up thinking the creator got lazy.

Big ups to normally tight-fisted Fanta for releasing an entire graphic novella for free instead of just a hefty excerpt–and I really liked the first half or so–but for all of the above are the reasons it didn’t really kung-pao my chicken.

Day Six

Archer & Armstrong #0: Fred Van Lente again, doing strong work (again) in the origin issue of Obadiah Archer, this time supported with artwork by Pere Perez, and colors by David Baron, which I found appealing in a “hyper-competent but bloodless” way (the art reminded me a bit of Dave Gibbons). In fact, that’s kind of the way I feel about fifteen or so issues I bought of this title before throwing in the towel. I’ve complained on the podcast before about not connecting with the Valiant books despite their laudable professionalism: I enjoy them while they’re being read but I put them down feeling restless.

Even here, for example, where we’ve got a kid kidnapped and brainwashed by the 1%, his life and memory stolen from him by a cult recruiting him to try and kill their immortal enemy, I never get much of a sense that Van Lente cares one way or the other. I mean, he knows what good is and what bad is, and he clearly supports the former over the latter.  But there’s none of the rabid dog fury that made a guy like Jim Starlin, for example, go out of his way to continually attack organized religions (in Warlock, Dreadstar, and Batman: The Cult, among others). Even if Van Lente does have something that really steams his clams, he’s not going to let something like that get in the way of keeping the story buttery-smooth.

As a free comic it’s perfectly cromulent, although as “zero” issues usually are when they don’t come out after a bunch of other issues, it’s less a strong introduction to Archer & Armstrong and more a decent pay-off to readers who’ve been following the book for a while. I wouldn’t kick it out of bed for eating crackers but, man, it kind of bums me out that the most influential comic book writer of the 90s is apparently Fabian Nicieza.

NEXT WEEK:  Books Seven Through Thirteen?  Really?

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14 comments on “Summer Slummer: Jeff Tackles The Comixology Summer Reading List, Days 1-6

  1. Ughhh, really Jeff? My first out-of-state travel in a year and you choose now to drop your negative review of Werewolves (and Jason’s work generally)? Now when I can’t dust off the old albums and formulate a rebuttal that goes beyond the “Grrahhh wrong!” I’m offering now?

    The best I can do you on the rebuttal front is that Jason’s work always struck me as the stuff I liked about Grant Morrison comics, only done much more effectively. The way that Morrison tosses a bunch of ideas and genres and influences into the pot, Jason does that too (let’s just throw the word “postmodern” out there, although I’m not literate enough to understand it as anything but a vaguely apt buzzword). The difference for me is that Morrison is typically verbose and his artists occasionally incompetent, or otherwise competent, but busy or showy – Morrison’s scripts certainly promote busyness in the artwork. The genius of Jason’s ultra spare aesthetic, along with the brevity of the stories themselves, is that it focuses the reader in an unfocused narrative. If you find something in the story that clicks with you, it’s effortless to read the whole thing again and just track that aspect. And speaking for myself, I always get something out of the second and third read of those comics. I also get something out of the third read of Final Crisis, but that reread is a slog. Too many inessential words, too much going on per panel, too many ideas for my internet addled brain to stay on the track of one.

    • Jeff Lester Jul 4, 2014

      Cass: I don’t know why Jason doesn’t resonate with me–I really feel like he *should*. (And obviously you’d agree.)

      I actually like Jason’s style, and the first two thirds of Werewolves was pretty darn peppy. But, as I said, the ending left me very cold. I’m sure it was to force the reader to look at the thematic concerns of the book, but…I’m just not especially patient with anticlimax.

      Anyway, it’s an interesting comparison–Jason to Morrison–and one I wouldn’t have made on my own, certainly. And Morrison is another one where I can be aggravated by his endings. I suspect the problem is more me than them.

    • Brendan Jul 5, 2014

      I gotta stick my neck out for Jason and Werewolves of Montpellier along with Cass here.

      Jason is a very self-conscious and genre conscious creator, to be sure, and that’s my main gripe with him, but as for the pacing and style, it’s all in good service of the story and mood. I find he pulls off the anticlimax with mastery. Makes me feel like I read the comics equivalent of Updike when it’s done.

      • Jeff Lester Jul 5, 2014

        Well, I think you both have pretty good taste. Maybe I’ll see what other Jason books I can get from the library and see if my opinion changes.

        • Jason is one of my absolute favorite living cartoonists. But Werewolves isn’t one of my favorites of his, even while I still love it – if you’re looking to see more of his stuff, I’d personally recommend his anthology Low Moon, or maybe I Killed Adolph Hitler.

  2. Doug A. Jul 4, 2014

    I think the description of Lumberjanes as a licensed comic where no-one’s heard of the license before sums it up perfectly. It’s utterly beautiful, of course, but it feels like I’m jumping into something that I should understand already. This wasn’t helped by Issue 1 being structured with action then exposition, rather than the other way round (there’s a reason most first issues start with the exposition). It’s not really a story either, which is odd because Nimona is a great example of storytelling structured to fit form.

    I really really wanted to love it (and I really hope others do because the package – art, design etc. – fills me with joy), but, if it was a choice of which book to read to my daughter, I’d pick MLP. Well, I’d really pick Godland, but don’t tell her mother.

  3. When you are talking about introductory comics from Boom! with female characters are you talking about Bee and Puppycat (about which you talked some time ago) or about the My Little Pony Book? Because the latter is from IDW.

    • Jeff Lester Jul 4, 2014

      ARGHHH.

      I was indeed confused about the publisher of the My Little Pony book and have corrected it accordingly.

      Thank you for the kindest correction in Internet history, Alin!

  4. George Jul 5, 2014

    Love the new website.
    Jeff, you reference Snyder’s tics, what do you think they are? I read his batman stories for the art. something always seems off about the writing. And I can’t figure out what it is, except for the exposition. Those panels in year zero where Alfred was explaining Bruce’s motivations to him through dialogue were awful.

    • Jeff Lester Jul 5, 2014

      Thanks, George! Glad the new site is working for you.

      As for Snyder’s tics, a few of them were the ones I mentioned in the review: he’s a big fan of opening up a story with a familial anecdote (“My father told me…”); a spooky natural natural occurrence (I hesitated to call them omens because in some cases I think they may be plot-related) like vultures on the Wayne Townhouse or all those damn owls or a two-headed cow being born at the beginning of Death of the Family; and he is very big on listing a bunch of pharmaceutical components in whatever chemical compound or poison people come across (pretty standard in Batman stories, I guess, but Snyder really takes it to the next level). I’m not sure I thought it through more thoroughly than that, although I know he also likes to have a dramatic opening scene without immediate apparent connection to the scene that follows, and a tendency to emphasize a character’s previous behavior before showing us the deviation.

      As for the actual tics in his writing…I think I’ve paid even less attention. (Like you, I guess I read Batman mostly for the art?) As you pointed out, some of the exposition is rough, and there tends to be a lot of it since it feels to me (not anywhere near my comics at the moment) he likes to explain someone’s previous tendencies or habits before changing them up. Like you, I think there may be something a little bit off about Snyder’s writing but I just haven’t looked into his other work (American Vampire or The Wake) to really thrash it out.

      Hope that helps…even though it’s obvious I’m generalizing hugely and without any substantive examples?

      • Brendan Jul 6, 2014

        Oh man, read American Vamp. Vol 1 and you will see the tics, both Snyder’s and King’s. “My dad told me…” vs. story about a writer writing a story where the writer is in the story. Snyder actually makes it work better in American Vamp. though.

        • Flasshe Jul 7, 2014

          Dang it, now I’m going to be reading Snyder’s stuff in a more detailed way than I’m used to, looking for those tics which I’m sure will now bother me.

          I recently read American Vamp Vol 1 for the first time and though I enjoyed Snyder’s story, the King stuff was a bit of a slog for me. I have nothing against King as a writer – I certainly read a lot of his novels in my youth. But I don’t think he quite gets the “writing for comics” thing. I know there were several places I had to keep re-reading to understand. The time jumps, for example, were not done very well. Or maybe I’m just stupid.

          I think the MLP volume was the only book I didn’t pick up from the giveaway that I didn’t already have. Does that make me a bad person? Will Bronies come to my door and beat me up? OTOH, my nieces and nephews are too old for that kind of thing, so I feel justified.

          Anyway, entertaining reviews, Jeff. Will be interested to read about the “back 6”.

  5. Brendan Jul 5, 2014

    I’m happy you’re doing the Comixology summer reading list. I was gunna suggest it, but then you just did it, so that’s some awesome serendipity there. I’m mainly looking forward to a Gravel: Combat Magician review.

    On the Batman arc, I enjoyed it somewhat, but not a whole lot. I’ve never beat the drum of Jock very loudly, either. His layouts are indeed ugly, which is strange because he’s such a strong designer on exteriors. Also, his characters morph unnecessarily. It worked best to his advantage when he drew the auctioneer, who was creepy in a Gerald Scarfe way.

    • Jeff Lester Jul 5, 2014

      There were a few books that made me think I should take a swing at the Comixology summer reading list, and Gravel: Combat Magician was definitely one of them.

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