Welcome to What Are You Reading, where we talk about stuff, but mostly books, especially comic books. Our guest this week is our fellow CBR blogger Brian Cronin, whom most of you no doubt know via the excellent blog Comics Should Be Good and author of the new book Was Superman Was A Spy: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed!
To discover what Brian and the rest of the crew are reading, simply click on the link below.
Chris Mautner: I spent most of the past week reading the first volume of Fantagraphics’ new hardcover edition of Prince Valiant — the company had originally published the entirety of creator Hal Foster’s run in the 90s, but has decided to go back to the well with better production values, including sharper colors.
I had always equated Valiant with everything that is dull and lifeless and boring and supposedly good for you, but it turns out I was completely and utterly wrong. On the contrary, it’s a rip-snorting good time, full of high adventure and thrilling escapades. And Valiant, far from being the schoolmarmish goody two-shoes I imagined him being, is full of piss and vinegar and quite a bloodthirsty young chap, which makes him a good deal more interesting than some of his contemporaries on the comics page.
I also started reading God of Comics: Osamu Tezuka and the Creation of Post World War II Manga by Natsu Onoda Power and published by the University of Mississippi Press. As anyone who reads this column regularly knows, I’m a pretty big fan of Tezuka, so I’ve been looking forward to digging into this, though I haven’t gotten very far yet, and Power seems to be taking her sweet time in getting to the meat of her book. More impressions later, hopefully.
Brigid Alverson: I had the pleasure of having dinner with Erica Friedman last week, and she gave me a copy of Yuri Monogatari 6 to review. Yuri manga features romantic relationships between women, and Erica’s company, ALC Publishing, is the only dedicated publisher of yuri manga in the U.S.
Yuri Monogatari features short Western and Japanese comics, linked only by the fact that they’re about lesbian couples, and as is always the case with anthologies, there is a mix of subjects, styles, and quality. As a manga lover, I particularly appreciate the opportunity to see some new Japanese manga in non-mainstream styles. I always enjoy Rica Takashima’s work (Shaenon Garrity described her work as “cute as a blenderful of kittens,” which about sums it up), and the other Japanese stories tend to be very high quality as well. The non-Japanese stories are more of a mixed bag, and some are closer to indy comics than manga. Some are very good, and I have noticed a sharp uptick in quality from YM4. It’s nice to see a new generation of artists coming into their own.
From girls to boys: I picked up volume 3 of Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys last week. I like Urasawa’s work a lot, but there was something ultimately unsatisfying about Monster—he set up a complicated, multi-plot, multi-character story, but I felt like the story didn’t quite jell in the end. He left some plot threads dangling, and the end of the series raised more questions than it answered. Beyond that, I felt like he was always skirting something—some engine that was driving the story—but he never really showed it. After two volumes of 20th Century Boys, I’m worried that he’s heading down the same path, but I’m giving it another volume and hoping he will change my mind.
Tim O’Shea: Leaving for vacation in 22 minutes. I’m sure a lot of reading will be done there. Not much time to spare. But I must must must highly recommend the Question co-feature on the backside of Detective Comics 854. Cully Hamner art colored by Laura Martin. Exquisite. One minor request for DC–when you have talent the like of Hamner on the inside, figure out a way to tell me on the cover, please.
JK Parkin: I saw somewhere (probably on Twitter) where someone described Fred Chao’s Johnny Hiro as “Scott Pilgrim in Brooklyn.” I didn’t make that connection when I was reading Johnny Hiro, but thematically, it makes sense — two young guys trying to find their way in the world, with the women they love, with a mix of zany, fun, fantastic elements thrown in for good measure. But there are a lot of differences, too, particularly in tone and the visuals.
But anyway, what I liked about Johnny Hiro was just how unpredictable it was. You move from big blockbuster-esque scenes involving Johnny fighting dinosaurs to scenes of Johnny’s girlfriend, Mayumi, dealing with office politics to guest appearances by New York Mayor Bloomberg and, um, the cast of Night Court. Which sounds cheesy, and in the hands of someone less talented than Chao, probably would be. And it’s that ability to move so effortlessly and naturally from the fantastic to the mundane that makes this such a wonderful comic.
Brian Cronin: Brian Fies’ follow-up to Mom’s Cancer, Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow, was a worthy successor to the magnificent Mom’s Cancer. World of Tomorrow examines the relationship of a father and son through the years as America (and the relationship) becomes progressively more cynical – interspersed with depictions of culture similarly changing over the years (like the change in Superman comics over 70 years). It’s a strong, poignant work by Fies.
Alexander Irvine has been doing a wonderful job with the Daredevil: Noir mini-series where he is matched perfectly with Tomm Coker’s beautiful noir-style artwork.
Jason Aaron’s most recent Scalped storyline ended beautifully as Aaron managed to have a series of “spotlight” issues that still managed to tie together to form a cohesive and intriguing whole – the twists even followed organically. Meanwhile, after a somewhat disappointing first issue, his Wolverine: Weapon X series has been quite strong with the latest two issues.
J.H. Williams III gave us all one of the most amazingly illustrated comic books of this, or any, year with the debut issue of Batwoman in Detective Comics. The Greg Rucka story was pretty good, but my goodness, the art was simply stunning – Williams conveyed more mood, tone and characterization in one issue of Detective Comics than most artists convey in a year’s worth of books. Cully Hamner does a fine job with the Question back-up, as well, but boy, it has to be tough to be the back-up artist in a book with J.H. Williams doing the lead feature!
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips continue to do wonderful noir work with Incognito. It often seems as though reviews of the series spend more time comparing the series to their other works together and less time just appreciating the fact that it is yet another well-written, well-drawn comic book from the pair.
Brubaker also produced an excellent lead story for Captain America #600, weaving together different artists to produce a commemorative issue that really felt like it was celebrating the whole tableau of Captain America stories (having back-ups by past Cap writing greats like Roger Stern and Mark Waid certainly did not hurt). It was too bad that Steve Epting didn’t get to draw any of the issue, though.
Tales Designed to Thrizzle #5, like all the previous issues by Michael Kupperman, did not fail at thrilling or dazzling me. The extended Twain and Einstein feature was brilliant this past issue (I particularly enjoy the parts where Kupperman does homage to classic comic book genres, only with Twain and Einstein).
Roger Langridge is about as close to a flawless comic book creator as you can get, and his work on the Muppet Show has been great, and hopefully it’s opening up new audiences to his brilliant work. In the Muppet Show #2, he even managed to get some pathos into the series! Such wonderful writing ability is almost unfair belonging to such a talented artist – he shouldn’t be allowed to be brilliant at both!
The latest Seaguy mini-series concluded with a final issue that was strong that it likely overshadowed the excellent work that Grant Morrison did in Batman and Robin #1, which is saying a lot, since Batman and Robin #1 was a very strong introductory issue featuring what seems to be the first impressive addition to the Batman’s Rogues Gallery in years. Also, one word – paracapes!!! So cool.
If I don’t stop myself now, I’ll just keep going for way too long. I read too many comics.