Welcome to What Are You Reading Our guest this week is the blogger and critic Noah Berlatsky.
Click on the link to find out what Noah and the rest of us are currently reading. And don’t forget to tell us what you’re reading too in the comments section.
Tom Bondurant: Well, I’ll get this out of the way first: I liked Batman & Robin #1 quite a bit. It did feel rather slight, but at the same time it said a lot about how the next eleven issues would go. (Now I want to re-read Batman #666 so I can connect that issue with this one.) The Dick/Damian setup feels both fresh and familiar to this longtime Batman reader. I was happy to see the Wayne penthouse and the downtown Batcave again, I really like the interaction of the new Dynamic Duo, and Professor Pyg is disturbing in a way I thought was reserved for Secret Six. As always, Frank Quitely’s work was excellent, and I’m looking forward to Frazer Irving’s arc as well. Most of all, though, I hope Dick Grayson’s character finally receives some lasting definition. When all is said and done, it’ll be a nice bonus if we get a good Nightwing series out of this exercise.
Speaking of Secret Six, the series just keeps getting better. Gail Simone and Nicola Scott can make the new antagonists pretty loathsome, while at the same time keeping the Sixers sympathetic — even though the Sixers are working for the “bad guys” without asking many questions. Seems to me like a pretty neat storytelling trick.
Also, I received in the mail the first issue of Alan Davis’ 2008 ClanDestine miniseries, courtesy of Dave Carter’s unbelievably-generous Free Comic Book Month program; and I’m really looking forward to reading that.
My run through Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four continues, and I’ve just finished the classic “Battle Of The Baxter Building” in FF #40. Next up is perhaps the greatest single ten-issue run in superhero comics, as the FF lose Ben to the Frightful Four, discover the Inhumans, and top it all off with the arrival of Galactus. So, you know, that should be good.
Chris Mautner: I’m almost finished The Brinkley Girls: The Best of Nell Brinkley’s Cartoons, 1913-1940, edited by Trina Robbins. It’s an … interesting book. Certainly Brinkley is a supremely talented artist with enough eccentricities to make her stand out from the crowd (the weaves of hair she piles on top of her heroines could rival the folds in Spawn’s cape). But the material is horribly dated, and in service to a kind of shallow romanticism. Her characters are all a bunch of bubble-headed pretty girls who are content to lean on the shoulders of their handsome paramours and talk about how lovely it is to love love. Ick.
I’m also about halfway through War Stories: A Graphic History by Mike Conroy, which, as the title suggests, is a cursory guide through all the war comics ever made. Conroy certainly is thorough, and there are a couple titles that I hadn’t heard of that sound intriguing, but overall I wish he had chosen depth over breadth.
One thing I did manage to finish is the new edition of Adrian Tomine’s 32 Stories, whch reproduces his initial mini-comics in their original form, letter columns and all, rather than try to collect them in a book. I’m not sure the material has any different effect on me than it did when I read them in book form, but overall they hold up surprisingly well, regardless of what Tomine says in his introduction.
Outside of comics I’ve been listening to all my Prince albums in chronological order (sort of) and have almost finished, though I need to go back and dig out my vinyl copy of Parade. You know, the Gold Experience is just as good as I remember it being.
Michael May: I’m re-reading Neozoic from Red 5. I liked it in individual issues, but the cast is so large and there’s so much going on that I had a hard time keeping everyone’s stories straight. I thought that wouldn’t be an issue when I read the collected edition, but it still sort of is. I’m doing better this time, but I’m tempted to go back for a third reading just to solidify everything. My seven-year-old saw it on my reading table and wants me to read it to him now, so it looks like I’ll have the opportunity.
Not that I’ll mind. The density of the story makes it a complicated read, but also gives you the feeling that you’re reading something epic and important. That’s also aided by the violence experienced by the characters and what’s at stake if they lose their war with the dinosaurs. Their lives really get turned upside down and (sometimes literally) ripped apart. And since they’re all well-written, mostly-likable characters, you care about that.
I should mention though that I’ll be reading it to my son with some care. I think he’ll be able to handle the book, but I’ll be watching him closely in case there are any parts we need to stop and talk over. Neozoic may be a dinosaur comic, but it’s not exactly intended for kids. In comparison though, it’s nowhere near as brutal as your average Geoff Johns superhero book.
Tim O’Shea: I have to agree with Tom’s endorsements of Batman and Robin 1 as well as Secret Six 10. There were scenes in both stories where the villains did some fairly horrific actions upon innocent victims. Upon first read, I thought Morrison and Quitely’s torture scene was too much for my taste, while Simone and Scott effectively conveyed the horror of the scene without going too far. But then, after a few days, I realized that the fact B&R 1’s scene disturbed me far more spoke to the greater effectiveness of the scene.
I’m really curious to see where Mark Waid is going with Irredeemable, as issue 3 came out this week. Believe it or not, I think The Plutonian’s failed love life (and the fallout from that) will ultimately be his downfall. But how they get there is anybody’s guess. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the read. And man, that Plutonian is a perv.
After reading Jeff Parker’s latest Agents of ATLAS (issue 6), I think (unintentionally or not) Parker proves he’d write an interesting Namor of Atlantis series. Considering the level of details and unexplored seascape that Marvel is giving to a post-Secret War Atlantis, I would not be surprised to see them launch a new series, post-Dark Reign. Parker seems able to fit a great many Marvel characters and dynamics into this series to date, while still shining the spotlight on the book’s core characters (Ken is as funny with dialogue asides as Ben Grimm [that’s a compliment]).
In non-comics reading, I’m soaking in the wit and snark of Roger Ebert’s film criticism in 2007’s Your Movie Sucks. While Ebert’s TV presence has been silenced in recent years due to surgeries connected to his cancer battle, his blog is a fine read for anyone yearning to be entertained and educated about film–past and present.
Brigid Alverson: Everything I’m reading this week is for younger readers. That’s not always the case, it’s just the way things worked out. I started Cirque du Freak last night. It’s a Japanese adaptation of a series of YA novels by Irish writer Darren Shan. It’s a supernatural-horror kind of thing, which usually isn’t my genre, but I’m enjoying it so far. The art is nice and clean, the boys look like typical shonen manga heroes, and the other characters are nicely stylized. The creators take their time about setting the scene and ease into the story slowly, so although I’m halfway through volume 1, I’m still a little unsure of where things are going to go.
Ninja Baseball Kyuma is a lot easier to figure out; the concept is right there in the title. This is one of Udon’s new line of manga for kids, and it’s a bit more complex than the others I have reviewed—more dialogue, more panels per page, more use of manga conventions. The concept is that that a ninja joins a ragtag Little League team, thinking he’s actually going into some kind of battle. It’s not an original idea, but the creator adds in a few things—a super-cute ninja dog and some interesting personalities on the team—that make it more than a one-joke book, and the situations were handled so well that I actually did laugh out loud in places.
One of the great things about editing a kids’ comics blog is that I have an excuse to read Archie in public again. Right now I’m reading The High School Chronicles: Freshman Year, written by Batton Lash (Supernatural Law) and penciled by Bill Galvan (The Scrapyard Detectives). As a longtime Archie fan, I’m enjoying the way the characters are drawn to look just slightly younger than the regular cast, as well as the fact that the stories break canon a bit — new characters are introduced, and Jughead’s family actually moves away for a while. It’s a little savvier than your typical Archie comic, and the creators threw in some sly references that only true Archie aficionados (like me!) will catch. Good times!
John Parkin: This week I finished up the second volume of North World, Lars Brown’s webcomic that’s been collected by Oni. Set in a world much like ours, only with monsters and magic, it’s the story of Conrad, an adventurer who decides to return home and work for his dad as an accountant in the small town where he grew up. But there’s something sinister going on than just the fact that his ex-girlfriend is marrying his best friend. It’s a fun book with a great cast of characters who you can’t help but root for.
And like everyone else, I enjoyed the heck out of Batman and Robin #1. I particularly like Damien and the confidence he displays in his new role; I can’t wait to see more of him in action.
Matt Maxwell: AGENTS OF ATLAS #5 and #6 — Wow this is good. And I would say so even if Jeff Parker were a mortal enemy of mine, even if he were evil incarnate, these would be great issues of what’s a consistently good book. Much of that comes from the tone of the books. Parker and the art team understand the characters and give them some dimensionality but they’re not glum and morose and so damn serious. Heath Ledger’s Joker does not apply here. I mean, yes, the book takes the characters seriously, but it doesn’t take itself seriously. Though as much as I like the character of Venus (particularly in Issue #2 where she walks right into the headquarters of the Bad Guys and holds her own), there has to be another way to put the kibosh on fight scenes besides have her singing. Still, that’s a minor quibble for these vastly entertaining comics.
I still have BATMAN AND ROBIN #1 to read and SEAGUY #3 to even find. Might luck out tomorrow, but apparently it was under-ordered at my “local” store. And no, I won’t pre-order. It’s against my religion.
Finished my reading of the CRIME SUSPENSE STORIES volume, and it didn’t finish quite as strong as it started, but that’s like saying that WATCHMEN isn’t quite the equal of V FOR VENDETTA. Solid storytelling and a good primer on how to compress things nicely for comics.
Dipping into THE GREATEST IMAGINARY STORIES EVER TOLD, which is a slice of silver-age goodness, but I only need a little of this at a time. The writing is by modern standards, crude, but wacky enough that you really don’t care. Or I don’t anyways.
Finished my reading of GANG LEADER FOR A DAY. Recommended.
Noah Berlatsky: The big thing I’ve been reading for the past couple of weeks is the first Essentials phone book of Man-Thing. Tucker Stone and I have been co-blogging our way through it. Unfortunately, it’s been a huge fucking disappointment. Besides a couple of moments of surreal nuttiness involving barbarians and peanut butter, most of it’s a lot of Steve Gerber whining about the environment and/or about how tough it is to be a sensitive artiste in today’s callous and complex world. And for variation, there’s some really stupid misogyny. It was godawful and endless and I resent anybody who’s ever praised Steve Gerber, thus suckering us into thinking we would enjoy reading this crap.
I’ve also been blogging my way through the original William Moulton Marston/Harry Peter run on Wonder Woman, which has really been a joy. Peter may be the most underrated illustrator in comics, I think – he combines stiff figures, incredibly fluid lines, and a bizarre imagination in a way that really sends me. And, of course, Marston is completely insane. I mean … bondage with gorillas. Can’t have enough of that sort of thing.
Relatedly, I’ve been poking at the Les Daniels Wonder Woman: The Complete History designed by Chip Kidd. There’s tons of interesting information in there about, for example, Marston’s experiments with sorority girls dressed as babies.
I’ve also been reading a lot to my son. He’s obsessed with Garfield, so we got a collection of the first three books and have been reading them over and over and over. I am impressed with Jim Davis’ cartooning chops; his slapstick is rendered energetically, and his timing is good. But he’s got a limited repertoire of jokes (cats are lazy, cats like to eat, cats hit people, Jon is lame) and they get really old when you’re reading them every. day. for. weeks. I think the grinding repetition is probably part of the appeal for my son, though. The fact that they’re all kind of the same makes them easier to memorize, and then he can pretend he’s reading them. (Though he can actually recognize the word “Garfield” now, even out of context.)
We’re also reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. We whipped through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but this second one is slower going. It has good bits (like the weird lumpy, shape-changing aliens that come out of the elevators.) But the plot just drifts from one thing to the other with the kind of irritating aimlessness we’ve all come to expect from sequels.
Finally, for a freelance project I’ve been reading a bunch of books on global warming. The one I’ve actually made a significant dent in is David Archer’s The Long Thaw, but I’ve also looked at Christopher Essex and Ross McKitrick’s more skeptical Taken By Storm. Among other things, I’ve learned that that scene in Grant Morrison’s JLA
where we see Aquaman swimming next to an almost completely submerged Statue of Liberty is total nonsense; even if all the ice on earth melted, there wouldn’t be that much water. In fact, the science of sea-level increase seems a little dicey altogether; other effects of warming, like increased rainfall in some areas and drought in others, seem more solidly based. Not that they’ll necessarily care much in Bangladesh when their nation is apocalyptically flooded by torrential storms rather than by rising seas … but it’s kind of an interesting distinction in the abstract.