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  • What Are You Reading?

    Comic Book Resources
    Aug 30 2009

    What Are You Reading?
    Posted on August 30, 2009 - 10:00 AM by Chris Mautner

    Welcome, welcome, welcome to another round of What Are You Reading. I
    am very pleased this week to say that our guest is Jeet Heer, the
    peerless critic and historian who, when not writing introductions for
    Little Orphan Annie or Krazy Kat collections, can be found at the Sans
    Everything or the Comics Comics blogs.

    Jeet and the rest of the crew have been reading a lot this week and
    are eager to share, so get clicking on that link pardners.

    Peter and Max
    John Parkin: Right now I'm reading Peter and Max, an advance copy of
    the Fables novel coming later this year from Vertigo. I didn't really
    have any expectations for it when I started reading it; although I do
    like the Fables comic a great deal, I wasn't sure if anything would be
    lost in the move, so to speak. It focuses mainly on fairy tales
    characters who haven't appeared in the Fables-verse yet: Peter Piper,
    his brother Max and Little Bo Peep. Although it starts out on the
    Farm, most of the action takes place in the past, when Peter Piper's
    world was invaded by the Adversary's forces, as well as in present-day
    Germany as Peter looks for his brother. (Bigby, BTW, makes appearances
    in both time periods, while Rose Red and other Fables staples have

    Quite frankly, I love it so far. Willingham writes really great prose,
    and I was about to type the line "The characters really translate well
    to the format," when I realized how ridiculous and obvious that line
    was considering the source material. What I'm not sure about, though,
    is if I would like it as much if I didn't know anything about the
    Fables universe. Everything is explained fairly well, I think, in the
    beginning, but since I already knew the story, I may not be the best
    judge of that. So my plan is to have my wife read it after I'm done,
    to see if someone who doesn't read comics will appreciate it as well.

    Typically when I'm reading a prose novel -- and I'm a fairly slow
    reader, I think -- I'll put it down if I have comics to read and let
    it sit for awhile as I jump into the weekly stash. But in this case
    the comics have been sitting and waiting.

    Dark Entries
    Before I started the novel, though, I read Dark Entries, the Vertigo
    Crime novel featuring John Constantine. I really liked the idea of the
    premise -- Constantine is hired to investigate the haunted house where
    a reality show about fear is being filmed. It seems that the house is
    really haunted, so the producer sends Constantine in to figure out
    what's going on. It's a fun premise, and was a fun, engrossing read up
    until the big twist is revealed. At that point, I had to shut the
    book, because I really hated the twist, at least for a 24-hour period.

    The premise of what's going on in the book changes; Constantine, it
    turned out, had been tricked, yet again, and ... well, I don't want to
    give anything away, but at this point I started thinking about past
    Hellblazer stories where Constantine faced similar situations, and I
    realized I was coming down on this book because of continuity
    problems. Which seems like a really silly thing to do for what should
    be taken as a stand alone Constantine story. But the other thing that
    grated on me was that from a storytelling standpoint, the twist made
    everything really easy. It was the obvious way to go, esp. considering
    the main character, and I would have much rather seen Constantine deal
    with the situation as it was first presented.

    Anyway, I did let that twist sit with me for a bit, then jumped back
    in. It's not a bad Constantine story, but it turns into a very
    familiar Constantine story -- I'd probably like it better if I hadn't
    read stories by Ennis and Delano and other writers who handled these
    sorts of stories before.

    Fantastic Four 570
    Tim O'Shea: Fantastic Four 570 marks the first issue of Jonathan
    Hickman and Dale Eaglesham's run on the book...and the return on the
    1970s cover logo (a fun throwback, but I'm partial to the original
    logo). I've always liked Eaglesham's art and he's part of the reason I
    picked up the issue (after bailing early in the Millar/Hitch
    run). Hickman is continuing a plotline that Millar had started, where
    Reed has decided (in one of those "greater good" rationalizations) to
    lie to Sue. This first issue's conclusion, involving "The Bridge" has
    me interested, so I'll be back. One small question, when did Reed
    become so musclebound? It's an odd visual revision of the character,
    considering how he's always had a slight build--and the George Michael
    1980s beard stubble look for Reed is plum absurd (or possibly another
    visual clue that things are not what they appear).

    The Incredibles #0
    The Incredibles 0 features Landry Walker as a co-writer on the new
    ongoing series. The story is partially about the birth of Jack-Jack. I
    don't know who to give credit to (Pixar, Waid or Walker) but I want to
    see more of the villains Mr. Pixel (kudos to artist Marcio
    Takara/colorist Andrew Dalhouse for pulling off that character) and
    Tronasaurus. In fact, I want to go on record, no longer will the craze
    be talking gorillas, the comic industry is on the eve of worshipping
    mechanical dinosaurs sporting top hats. You read it here first.

    I'm enjoying Greg Rucka's writing on Batwoman in Detective Comics 856
    -- not because of the lead character, but rather her supporting cast,
    which as of this issue includes Maggie Sawyer. Rucka gives Kate's
    father the best line of the issue with: "Faith was proven when I got
    my first face-full of werewolf halitosis."

    In terms of music, I'm starting to enjoy Regina Spektor's new release,

    20th Century Boys Vol. 4
    Brigid Alverson: I'm up to vol. 4 of Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century
    Boys, and my initial misgivings about the series have been
    resolved. The first volume felt like it was all setup, but by now I
    feel like I have a solid sense of what the story is about and where it
    is going. Of course, you have to willingly suspend disbelief about all
    kinds of things to enjoy this story, but if you are willing to take
    that plunge, it really pulls you in. The main character is a guy who
    is in his 30s and realizes that he has not achieved any of his
    youthful ambitions. And then, suddenly, he is given a chance to
    literally live out his most childish dreams of saving the world. So
    Urasawa takes a really universal feeling (for those of us over 30,
    anyway) and puts a bizarre spin onto it to turn it into a suspense
    story. What I love most about Urasawa's work is the way he draws his
    characters; even someone who is only onstage for a few minutes has a
    distinct, clearly
    visible personality. I'll be sticking with this one for the duration.

    I only recently realized that BOOM! Studios has put some of their
    titles up as free webcomics on their site. 2 Guns, written by Steven
    Grant with art by Mat Santolouco, is a nice buddy/enemy story about
    two guys who rob a bank. Neither realizes at first that the other one
    is not just a crook; one is a DEA agent and the other is a naval
    intelligence offers. The plot is fairly twisted and no one is ever
    what they seem (of course). With plenty of action and banter, it's a
    perfect end-of-summer read, a bit of escapism to enjoy before the
    heavy reading begins.

    In the non-comics realm, I'm finishing out my summer with Cheating at
    Solitaire, by my favorite mystery writer, Jane Haddam. Haddam's
    mysteries all feature an Armenian-American detective, Gregor
    Demarkian, and the denizens of his old neighborhood in Philadelphia,
    but somehow she manages to come up with a compelling cast of
    additional characters for every book. She tells the story from
    multiple points of view, following one character around for a while
    and then switching to another, which gives the reader a lot of insight
    into the various characters' problems and motivations. This particular
    story is set during a movie shoot on an island very much like Martha's
    Vineyard, and Haddam has obviously modeled some of the characters on
    real actors (Paris Hilton and Patrick Stewart come to mind'now imagine
    them together), but she throws a bunch of other interesting types into
    the mix as well. It's great stuff, much more entertaining than
    anything on
    TV right now.

    Cursed Pirate Girl #2
    Matt Maxwell: CURSED PIRATE GIRL #2
    Jeremy Bastian, ringleader of the madness
    This is hitting me just right, and there's every chance that it might
    not have done so. My tolerance for fantasy changes on a near-daily
    basis. Sometimes it's far too cute and clever for its own
    good. Sometimes it's just pastiche of other (better) books that I've
    read years ago. But once in a while, you get the right voice telling
    the right story, and pretty soon, you find that you're not getting
    hung up on what you do and don't like about the genre and just
    enjoying the story. This is one of those times. Yes, Mr. Bastian
    tips his hat to Rackham (and Teniel, it occurs to me, particularly
    with his doddering twins) but CURSED PIRATE GIRL is so unlike anything
    that I've read recently that I find myself utterly charmed by it, not
    just for the rendering or the beautiful hand-lettering, but for the
    way the pages are broken down and the story is presented in a way such
    that only
    comics could present it.

    FCBD HELLBOY (from 2008)
    This just turned up. I'd probably grabbed it from BEA last year and
    somehow lost track of it. My fondness for HELLBOY has waned somewhat,
    though I still follow BPRD in trades. The Hellboy story in this book
    was somehow just right, not stretched out to take up an entire issue,
    but too big for a backup feature. There's a wonderful sense of
    lightness in it, particularly in Duncan Fegredo's artwork (something
    that I think has been lost since I always felt that Mr. Fegredo was
    being directed to draw more like Mike Mignola, even if there's no
    basis in fact for that.) The BPRD story is another great little
    character portrait with art by Guy Davis (who if you haven't figured
    is one of my favorite artists in comics, then I need to work a little
    harder) that hits the spot. Same for the final story, which is from
    the historical 1946 spin-off (so far as I can tell), a nice little
    Lovecraftian chiller by Josh Dysart and Paul Azaceta (who I'd love to
    see more
    work from). You know, I'd eat up a bunch of done-in-one stories like
    this, should they put 'em out regularly. As a sampler for the current
    Hellboy-related books from DH, this seems to do a pretty fine job.

    Blackest Night #0
    Johns, Reis, Mahnke
    Not my thing, though perhaps I should read more of these to try and
    get a handle as to why they're lighting the superhero comics world on
    fire right now. I wasn't able to pull much out of this other than two
    formerly dead superheroes talking about their past funerals and just
    feeling really, really creeped out by it. Yeah, you're superheroes,
    but when you do this sort of thing, you're basically making the
    character in-human. Un-human, whatever. I'm sure there's an audience
    for graveside chats that take up the entire intro issue, but I'm
    testing well for that demographic. Though I will say that this book
    does strike me as being emblematic of DC's main-line output for most
    of the 00s, and why I'm not following as much of it as I used to, once
    upon a time (in 2005).

    More DR. STRANGE. That essential volume is taking forever to plow
    through, a couple chapters a night before I nod off. But what dreams,

    Silver Age #1
    Tom Bondurant: Can I say that I finally watched the Louis
    Leterrier/Edward Norton Incredible Hulk movie from last summer? It
    was okay, although it felt too short and I have never liked Liv
    Tyler's mutant ability to suck all the air out of a scene. Also,
    William Hurt was great as Capt. Stottlemeyer. I did like the
    references to the TV series, and I would like to see what Tim Blake
    Nelson does in full-on Leader mode.

    While looking through the "S Misc." longbox on another errand, I came
    across DC's Silver Age miniseries from the spring of 2000. Headed up
    by Mark Waid, the "fifth-week event" aimed to tell a retro version of
    a modern-day crossover. However, it had to fit into current
    continuity, which meant Luthor was a tycoon, Black Canary was a
    founding Justice Leaguer, and Wonder Woman and the Silver Age Hawkman
    weren't yet in the picture. Naturally, another big difference was the
    presence of Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps, who got a lot of
    play in the miniseries. Ironically, though, with all the rollbacks in
    continuity since then, Silver Age has become an artifact of a
    different era.

    That still doesn't stop it from being a lot of fun. Waid writes the
    giant-sized bookend stories, and an all-star cast produces the
    anachronistic one-shots which tie them together. Kurt Busiek and
    Brent Anderson get the pivotal Green Lantern book, Bob Haney writes a
    Batman/Metal Men team-up for The Brave and the Bold (drawn, as it
    happens, by Kevin Maguire), Barry Kitson joins Waid for Dial H For
    Hero, Marv Wolfman writes Teen Titans and Mark Millar writes Justice
    League, and a young master Geoff Johns writes Showcase Presents Seven
    Soldiers Of Victory. With a sprawling yarn like this, though, you
    tend to notice the little things. The plot involves villains
    switching bodies with heroes, so (just as in Identity Crisis'
    flashback) the bad guys quickly learn whose faces are under the masks.
    Catwoman makes a pass at Doctor Light, but he says he's more
    interested in physics than women. When Green Lantern wields
    Sinestro's ring, he finds himself almost
    overwhelmed by the power within it. Perhaps most strikingly, once
    the villains achieve ultimate power, they wreak havoc with a set of
    power rings for each color in the spectrum. (Shame that idea wasn't
    expanded upon....) The whole thing wraps up in a monster 51-page final
    chapter by Waid and Eduardo Barreto, where the Injustice League
    (wielding said power rings) drives the JLA into hiding. Of course the
    day is saved, and in fairly clever ways to boot, but I have to say, no
    one does the horror of omnipotent evil quite like Mark Waid.

    Superman #691
    I've been pretty happy generally with the Superman titles, but this
    was a particularly good week. Superman #691 finished up the four-part
    "Codename: Patriot" crossover, and the Jimmy Olsen Special #2 featured
    Codename: Assassin stalking Jimmy (no, not in that way). James
    Robinson wrote both books, with Renato Guedes and Eduardo Pansica
    pencilling the Superman issue, Jose Wilson Magalhaes and Sandro
    Ribeiro inking it, and Bernard Chang drawing the Jimmy Olsen Special.
    I thought both were pretty suspenseful, mostly because both find our
    heroes in tight spots and then show things getting worse. Without
    giving too much away, "Codename: Patriot" seems to be at least as
    important to the overall New Krypton arc as the infamous "Sacrifice"
    four-parter was to Infinite Crisis. Its ending is rather unsettling,
    but on the bright side, we're only halfway through the World Of New
    Krypton miniseries. That's where the Jimmy Olsen Special comes in,
    together subplots and characters from all around the Superman titles
    before ending on a very-nicely-done cliffhanger. While I don't believe
    for a second that you-know-who is really you-know-what, I had a great
    time getting there. In fact, these two issues are a fine way to
    demonstrate the utility of serialized comics. They each give you
    exactly as much information as their producers want, and leave you to
    stew for a week, a month, or however long, until it's time for you to
    learn more. Glad I'm not waiting for the trades on these!

    Speaking of waiting, I'll have a lot of time to pore over the details
    of Flash: Rebirth #s 1-4. This week's issue #4 was five weeks late,
    and issue #5 (which was supposed to be out this week) is now scheduled
    for October 14. Still, it looks like the bulk of the plot has been
    revealed, thanks to issue #4's infodump. If you remember the issue of
    Green Lantern: Rebirth where all the metaphysics and pseudoscience
    behind the power rings was explained, Flash: Rebirth #4 is a lot like
    that. Most of it is a big fight in the Speed Force which artist Ethan
    Van Sciver pulls off fairly well, although some of his more dramatic
    moments -- both during the fight and otherwise -- seem too posed and
    static. Regardless, Geoff Johns manages to make Barry Allen the
    center of the Flash universe without the puffery which characterized
    issue #1, and that's a neat trick on its own. (Plus there's a good
    scene with Jesse Chambers, who I've always thought was criminally
    underused as a speedster.)

    Whaddaya know -- I got this far without mentioning Batman And Robin #3
    or Detective Comics #856. Huh. Well, it goes without saying that I
    enjoyed the heck out of both, especially Frank Quitely's amazing
    choreography of both Robin fighting and Professor Pyg dancing. I also
    liked seeing JH Williams III introduce yet another new art style (kind
    of a shaggy Dan Brereton thing) for the were-creatures, and it was
    good to see Bette Kane again. Man, if Rucka and Williams end up
    making Bat-Girl/Flamebird the next sensational character find, is
    there no end to their power...?

    Wolverine: Prodigal Son
    Michael May: I'm checking out the Wolverine "manga," Prodigal
    Son. Three chapters in isn't a lot of time to form an impression, but
    I'm enjoying it so far. Official Wolverine's background is so
    convoluted that I appreciate a simplified version where a secluded
    dojo replaces Xavier's and Logan's just a punk kid. The story's not
    very original so far - Wolverine's "specialness" makes him feel like
    an outsider to all the other students except for the sensei's daughter
    who's the only person who truly understands him - but there's still
    lots of time for that to change.

    I've also started reading BPRD, Volume 1: Hollow Earth and Other
    Stories. I've been re-reading all the Hellboy/BPRD stuff in tpb and
    it's been fun, but I'm a bit disappointed in how a lot of the material
    is organized. Especially the stuff around Roger the Homonculus'
    introduction to the BPRD. If you read the Hellboy collections in
    order, keeping track of Roger's story is kind of like watching Pulp
    Fiction. And even then, you have to skip over to the first BPRD book
    to pick up a crucial episode. It's all doable, but I wish it were
    easier to read the whole saga in more or less chronological order.

    Ghostbusters: Displaced Aggression
    Chris Mautner: I managed to make a trip to my LCS the other day and
    finally got caught up on some pamphlets -- mainly Wednesday Comics,
    since that's almost all I'm reading in serialized form right now. I'm
    pleased to find that many of the up-till-now mediocre stories are
    starting to pick up some steam. Except for the Teen Titans one. That's
    still horrible.

    Like everyone else, I also picked up the latest copies of B&R and
    Det. C. The former was still immensely enjoyable; the second .. well
    the art was immensely enjoyable at any rate. The villain in that story
    reminds me of one of the characters from the Lucky Luke Jesse James
    book. In that, he constantly quotes Shakespeare, but only snippets
    like "Sirrah" and "Tis true." Same kinda thing going on here, but for
    dramatic, instead of comedic effect. She looks cool though.

    IDW also sent me the first issue of their new Ghostbusters series,
    Displaced Agression. The story involves the various characters getting
    displaced in time (hence the title), which is a good idea, but it's
    just not very funny. And more than anything, a Ghostbusters comic
    needs to be funny. Is there really that big a clamoring for more
    Ghostbusters material anyway? Didn't the second movie and the recent
    video game pretty much kill any goodwill the first one merited?

    Masterpiece Comics
    Jeet Heer: Love and Rockets, New Stories #2. The Hernandez Brothers
    have been producing such consistently good comics for such a long time
    that I often feel they get taken for granted. But their recent comics
    just maintain their high level of previous achievement, they also have
    a freshness and liveliness that any young artist would envy. Jaime's
    100 page superhero epic `Ti-Girls Adventure Number 34' succeeds at
    pulling off something Alan Moore has often aimed for (but failed at)
    in series like Tom Strong: recreating the frothy care-free fun of
    space-age superheroes. The tone is jaunty and insouciant, there are
    many fine nods to Kirby and Ditko but no musty nostalgia. And amid all
    the fight-scenes and shifting alliances, there is a healthy moral as
    well, about the need to cultivate your gifts in a world that
    encourages you to settle for less: this is what a superhero comic
    should be. Gilbert's `Hypnotwist' is an unnerving excursion into
    dreamland, reminiscent of some works by Richard Sala and the Dan
    Clowes of Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron. What makes this story so
    curdlingly unsettling is that it expertly mimics the associational
    logic of a nightmare, where heat can easily expand into a ballon and
    you're always running into your doppelganger. I also enjoyed Mario and
    Gilbert's new sci-fi romp Citizen Rex (from Dark Horse), a welcome
    return to their retro-futurist mode, and look forward to seeing how
    the story unfolds.

    R. Sikoryak's Masterpiece Comics. These stories are familiar friends:
    I've read many of them when they were first published in magazines
    like Raw, Snake Eyes, and Drawn and Quarterly, and over the years have
    often returned to them. Encountering them again in this definitive
    volume, I remain amazed at how multi-layered Sikoryak's comics are,
    which a big reason why they repay many close readings. Each story
    works on at least 3 levels: as a scarily-precise parody of a classic
    cartooning style (say the Winsor McCay of Little Nemo or Wayne
    Boring's Superman), as a surprisingly faithful (albeit truncated)
    adaptation of a classic work (Wuthering Heights, Crime and
    Punishment), and as a echo-rich dialogue between the style and the
    story (for example, seeing Tubby enact the role of Roger
    Chillingworth, the relentless persecuting husband in The Scarlet
    Letter is a comment on Tubby's vindictiveness when he plays detective
    and the petty childishness of
    Chillingworth's hunger for revenge). Dollar for dollar, this is one
    of the best investments you can make in a graphic novel, since it
    offers many hours of pleasure.

    Toon Treasury of Classic Children's Comics
    Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman's The Toon Treasury of Classic
    Children's Comics. Full disclosure: I was on the advisory board that
    Mouly and Spiegelman consulted when they put together this book, but I
    think that experience gives me an insight into the books production
    that is worth sharing. Mouly and Spiegelman are the greatest editors
    in comics because of the time and thought they put into each
    project. Too many collections of old comics are just slapped together
    with whatever material is at hand. Mouly and Spiegelman, by contrast,
    take the job of editing an anthology seriously enough to 1) rigorously
    define their ambit, 2) search out the best material, and 3) organize
    the selection in such a way that it makes sense. In this case, they
    could have easily picked a handful of stories from the big names (Carl
    Barks, Walt Kelly, John Stanley, Sheldon Mayer) and come up with a
    passable book. But they aimed to make a definitive book, not just a
    `good enough' book so they read through the oeuvre not only the four
    masters but countless other cartoonists, with an eye in every case for
    the best. The stories selected really are the cream of the
    crop. Everything about the book (the design, the cover, the
    introduction, the reproduction, the stories selected, the paper stock)
    is impeccable. What the book does is define a particular genre
    focusing tightly on the best material: kids comics, as the book shows,
    are not just comics aimed at little kids. Rather, kids comics are
    comics that nurture the culture of childhood, the cocoon-time after
    toddler-hood but before adolescence when curiosity and imagination run

    Fantagraphics has been busy in the graphic novels department lately so
    I have a big stack of their books to read, including The Squirrel
    Machine, Giraffes in My Hair, The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book,
    and West Coast Blues. They all look good. 8/what-are-you-reading-35/