Sunday, July 20, 2014

Read these comics! - Part II

I read comic books. You should read comics. I've recommended some to you before. Here are some more recommendations:

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood - This is the latest in Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, and as you can maybe guess from the title, it's all about World War I. It probably sounds inappropriate, but I'm going to say it anyway, I've never associated The Great War with so much fun before, but this comic was a really compelling and entertaining read. It's the kind of thing you could hand to a kid who's showing some interest in that major historical event, or, in my case, it's a relatively quick refresher on all of the important events - while tossing in some facts that I had not known before. (I suppose it's also a handy lesson for anybody who wants to feel like he or she has some knowledge of the war but doesn't necessarily want to read any lengthy history books - which I've done in the past.)

Perhaps the most clever bit is how Hale uses different animals to represent the various warring factions (see image). It definitely helps having that visual cue to keep track of who's who, as there's a lot of different countries that got involved - and he barely even gets into the Middle Eastern campaign. Of course, it leads to a bit of a problem as both Germany and America have eagles as their national birds, so the Americans get to be bunnies instead.

I should probably point out that it, admittedly, makes sure to get to the American involvement, not so much because of the significance of the doughboys entering the war, but because this work is aimed at an American audience, and Hale figures that the readers want to know about its involvement. Still, it's not a piece of American propaganda (your first hint being that we are turned into bunnies) so people of any nationality could probably enjoy this fun history lesson.

Thor: God of Thunder - I realize that right now the buzz is all about Marvel and the (trust me, it's temporary) decision to make Thor a woman. People have asked me what I thought, and I for one am willing to give it a chance. Why? Because it's going to be written by Jason Aaron, who has been consistently turning out some of not only my favorite Thor comics, but favorite comics in general. There are no doubt a few collected editions of this particular series by this point, but I've been getting it in the individual issues.

There have been some multi-issue storylines and some done-in-one issues as well, and I really have a hard time picking what my favorite ones are. The first lengthy story involved a god-killer, and one of the single issue stories dealt with a "day in the life of Thor" and I thoroughly enjoyed them both.

What really separates Aaron's run on Thor is how the main character is treated. There isn't any of this hemming and hawing about him not really being a god but just an alien who was worshipped in the past as a god. No, he's a god. He shows up on a planet to provide rain because the inhabitants prayed to him. I guess we live in an age where people feel less worried about offending religious sensibilities (and why should it offend if you're a believer? It's not pretending to be fact.) Check out the following quote from CBR interview:
Aaron admitted that there's an undercurrent of faith and belief in much of his work, and that despite him being an atheist for half his life Thor is the god he would want to believe in. "It's a book about gods and I wanted to lean into the fact from the get go that Thor is a god," Aaron said. "I don't like in the movies where the Asgardians are aliens."
I didn't know this about him when I started reading the book, but it made sense to me why this book held such an appeal after finding out about it.

Black Science - I just breezed through a re-reading of Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera's series, and I found myself eagerly waiting for issue number seven. (The first five issues have been collected in a trade paperback.)

How to describe this series? Imagine a guy with a crack-addict's dedication to punching through the barriers of what can be done scientifically. He ignores the safety of himself, his family, his friends, and possibly the entire "Eververse", as it's called. Jumping through dimensions, things keep on getting crazier and crazier, and just when you think you've got a grip on where it's all going, another monkeywrench is thrown into the works.

Remender is doing some great work as well over on Marvel's Uncanny Avengers and some hit-and-miss stuff on Captain America. With this creator-owned project, he's really letting loose, and Scalera is the perfect pairing. His art style reminds me of the sort of thing you'd see in some old EC sci-fi comics, which I think is deliberate, without looking like a conscious attempt to mimic the style. I'm not sure how much instruction Remender gives him when it comes to rendering the different dimensions and aliens, but it all looks like it's come from some bizarre nightmare. Perhaps if I had done psychotropic drugs, I could have some point of reference with which to compare (or, you know, traveled to other dimensions) but this is what's great about comics - there's no limit to the imagination as a page filled with giant tortoises carrying pyramids on their backs costs just as much as a couple of people sitting down to talk.

Chicacabra - I greatly enjoyed writer/artist Tom Beland's True Story: Swear to God, so I was an easy sell on this particular graphic novel. Unlike his other work, which was pretty much autobiographical, this one delves into science fiction. However, just like True Story, the characters are complex and likeable, and there's a real sweetness to it all. Also, the art is lively and expressive.

Summarizing the plot doesn't do it justice, but the gist of it is that a Isabella, a teenager in Puerto Rico, gets "joined" with what's likely the last of the chupacabras, a strange species that was nearly wiped out by humanity long ago when settlers arrived in Puerto Rico, where this all takes place. That's all good and fun, and it's reminiscent of the early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko Spider-Man comics, although it takes its time to really explore the characters and is equally concerned with realistic human drama as it is sci-fi hijinks.

I've written recently about the growing influence of a female fanbase in comics and how I think that it's a positive thing. I don't know if that influenced Beland one way or the other when it came to creating this particular series, but if it did, then it's another sign that comics can only get better when they become more diverse. If you're looking for a fun comic that mixes superhero tropes with sci-fi, strong characterization, and a believable female protagonist, then this is a good one to get.

Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me - I've been reading comics a long time, and although I watched and enjoyed the movie American Splendor, I've yet to read anything by Harvey Pekar. This actually came out a couple of years ago in hardcover, but it's in paperback right now, and I just finished reading it a few days ago. Considering that Israel is in the news right now (hard to remember a time when it isn't) I was compelled to pick it up, and I breezed through it.

I'm not Jewish, and I don't know what it's like to be Jewish. I do try to listen and empathize with people though, and I imagine that few things must be more frustrating than to be Jewish and have criticisms of Israel. Even if the criticisms are legitimate, there are people (not just Jews) who are eager to label such a person as a "self-loathing Jew" because that's a lot easier than dealing with the content of their arguments. No doubt Pekar took some flack for this particular book.

If you're looking for some kind of hatchet-job on Israel, you're not going to find it here. If anything, the man is jaded, as he was raised to think that the formation of Israel was the right thing to do and that they were the good guys. As he got older, he discovered that things are not quite so black and white.

What's great about this is that it gives an overview of the history of the Jewish people, and there is no denying that they're a people who have endured a ridiculous amount of hardship and prejudice. What also becomes clear is that they're as human as any other group of people. They don't all think with a hive mind, and their actions should be as open to critique as any other.

I guess the one thing that surprised me is that I was almost expecting to find a really harsh indictment of Israel. That simply wasn't there, although I'm sure that those who have more of a black-or-white view of the world will find it anyway.

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