Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading. Our guest this week is scholar and critic par excellance Craig Fischer, whose musings on comics can be regularly read on Thought Balloonists, the blog he shares with Charles Hatfield.
To see what Craig and everyone else is currently reading, click on the link. And don’t forget to let us know what you’re reading this week as well.
Michael May: I enjoyed Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s Stumptown #1 this week. It feels familiar in a couple of ways, but familiar can be good. Rucka is obviously fond of strong, but broken, women detectives and Dex certainly fits that description here. But I’m also fond of reading about that kind of character. It’s one of the reasons I like Rucka’s stuff.
But he hasn’t exactly just renamed Renee Montoya or Carrie Stetko for this story. Stumptown doesn’t feel as weighty and serious as those comics do. It’s got a fun, Rockford Files/Magnum PI vibe to it that I didn’t realize I’d been missing. Even down to Dex’s relative whom she obviously loves, but is also exasperated by.
Reading it, I also realized that a well-drawn comic is my preferred way to take in a mystery story. Unlike books, where only the important details are described, or movies, where pictures move too fast for me to look for my own clues, comics allow me to explore the crime scene with the detective, pausing to stare at whatever I want; finding all sorts of things that may or may not be vital to the solution. I haven’t had this much fun with a mystery story since the first arc of Fables.
Matt Maxwell: OMEGA THE UNKNOWN: CLASSIC
Yes, I started reading this after buying it at SDCC. No, I didn’t finish it. Got sidetracked. Picked it up again and marveled at how this book actually got published. ‘Cause even for Bronze Age Marvel, this stuff is pretty out there. Gerber/Skyrene’s caped superhero lives in Hell’s Kitchen (long before Daredevil found it fashionable to do so) in a tenement storefront, occasionally crossing paths with villains like Electro (who’s defused by a handicapped child) and El Gato (witch-man of the barrio), fighting for no reason other than to fight and generally questioning a lot of the assumptions that you have about superheroes. Oh, and there’s a kid that Omega may or may not be. A kid raised by robots. The story here doesn’t end so much as it concludes, written in another book by another writer altogether (though Steven Grant might’ve been working from notes/conversations with Steve Gerber, not sure on that) in an unsatisfactory manner, given the time that things had taken to get started. Still, for fans of Steve Gerber (and those who might want to get an inside glimpse into Gerber’s HARD TIME, which had some relation to OMEGA, if not only obliquely), worth a read, though perhaps not the twenty five dollar cover price.
Also read BOB DYLAN REVISITED for the purposes of review. I’ll just say there’s a lot of very pretty and engaging art and leave it at that here. Finishing my re-reading of the remastered REBEL by Pepe Moreno. Some of the script revisions jump right out (but that’s always the case when an older work is ‘updated’), and I’m not in love with the remastered color, as part of the original’s charm for me was the hyper-garish coloring, making the look unique (at least in comparison.)
Brigid Alverson: Sometimes, it is good to be a comics journalist.
For instance, this week I am holding in my hot little hands an advance copy of the first volume of Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture, which will be released later this month. The premise is at once familiar and original: A young man has the power to see bacteria and other microorganisms. Happily, he has decided to go to agricultural school with his friend, who is the son of a brewer. The two of them quickly hook up with an eccentric professor who is probably up to no good, his hard-edged female assistant, and a pair of sophomores who start a rogue sake brewery that ends badly early into the story. Sawaki, the main character, uses his powers to figure out all kinds of things, and there’s a lot of talk of fermentation and rot in this book, which is educational in an icky-science sort of way. Also, it’s a little more hyperactive than most manga because the editors left in creator Masayuki Ishakawa’s marginalia and doodles.
I’m also reading Garen Ewing’s The Rainbow Orchid, a Tintinesque adventure comic drawn in the ligne claire style. This one is set in the 1920s and has the lead character, an adventurous young man named Julius Chancer, heading off to find a rare orchid in the company of a movie star, in order to preserve her family estate. It’s cheerily old-fashioned stuff, and the story moves along nicely with lots of complications. Ewing’s style is a touch more realistic than Herge’s and appears stiff in places, but his palette is spot-on, and he really creates a sense of place. You can read a large chunk of the comic online, but it’s only being published in the UK; happily, when I expressed interest, Ewing sent me a copy. The book is beautifully produced, with rich color tones, and worth seeking out if you’re a fan of period adventures.
Stuffed arrived with a set of almost random review copies, and I read it in one sitting. It’s like Driving Mr. Albert meets Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The main character, Tim, is an ordinary suburban guy who has put an unhappy childhood behind him, until his father dies and leaves him a homemade museum of curiosities. One of the objects on display is a stuffed African warrior, and Tim has to figure out how to deal with that, both physically and mentally. It’s an interesting exploration of family dynamics and racial attitudes on both sides of the color line, as Tim negotiates his situation with both his aging-hippie brother and an African-American anthropologist. Happily, the outlandishness of the story keeps it from being too heavy, and the characters all ring true.
Tim O’Shea: First off, I’ll start with Paul Cornell’s Black Widow. Why? Because I wished I had read it this week, but forgot to pick it up at the store. Saw it on the shelf, got distracted, did not snag it. I would love to hear if anyone read it among our readers? Should I be running out to get my copy?
There is a panel toward the end of Captain America Reborn 4 that I could have sworn Gene Colan stepped in do to a Cap facial reaction shot. I never notice that about Bryan Hitch or Butch Guice before. Maybe a little bit in Guice — either way the art is the real asset to this story. I grow tire of Brubaker usig Sharon Carter merely as a prop to be bandied about in this story. Given how critical she is to the story’s outcome, her perpetual victimhood undermines the appeal of the character and the strength of the story for me.
John Ostrander writing an issue of Secret Six? Interested. Story set in Gotham? More interested. The return of a great Ostrander character — Father/Reverend (read the story it makes sense) Richard Craemer? Sold.
Assault on New Olympus One-shot with Hercules and Spider-Man is a fun story to me. I enjoy Van Lente’s use of Spider-Man here — and most notably the comedic homage to the Ditko/Spidey heavy machinery lifting scene of years ago.
Stumptown had me damn curious when I heard the Rockford Files comparison. And it is an apt one. I love reading Greg Rucka when he’s unrestricted from corporate continuity. Dex lives in a rougher world than Rockford did, though–and fortunately she’s smart enough to survive. Comics can always use more strong female leads and I’m grateful to Rucka for creating the character.
Tom Bondurant: One of my not-so-secret shames as a DC fan is that I’m woefully unfamiliar with the details of John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad. I read a few issues here and there, but it was never a mainstay for me, and I didn’t read his Deadshot miniseries from several years back. Therefore, I liked Secret Six #15 (drawn by Jim Calafiiore) for its standalone value: Deadshot’s an antihero who used to be a Batman villain, and while he might not seem to care whether he murders everyone in a room, on the inside it’s a constant struggle not to. (That reminds me — I always think of Catman as the Secret Sixer who wants to be “good,” but as this issue shows, Deadshot’s actually had a taste of superherodom.) Given the people in his life, spotlighted herein, I can understand why he has these control issues. The Secret Sixers are each pretty fascinating on their own, and this issue shows why. Calafiore’s art isn’t a perfect match — his faces and figures are sometimes a bit too stylized — but it’s helped mightily by Gregory Wright’s colors. Still, if I weren’t already reading the book, this issue would hook me pretty effectively.
Justiniano comes in as guest penciller of Doom Patrol #4, the Blackest Night tie-in (written by Keith Giffen and inked by Livesay), and I think he does a decent job. The book doesn’t look terribly different, so I’d say Livesay and colorist Guy Major have a lot to do with that. The story is clever too: in what I thought was a darkly funny inversion of the DP’s history, the “New Doom Patrol” of the ’70s and ’80s are all dead, and the formerly-martyred original DPers have to fight the new Black Lanterns. There’s also a very clever Black Lantern who I really didn’t see coming, so nicely done, Mr. Giffen. (When did Val Vostok die, though? I thought she was part of Checkmate.) It has a good capsule history of both teams, and the stars of the book react to Blackest Night with their by-now-
familiar jaded attitude. As always, the “Metal Men” co-feature is a joy, and I hope Giffen, DeMatteis, and Maguire hold those Old Navy mannequins in the same amount of contempt I do.
As with the Thanagarian “menace” of the past couple of issues, Superman: World Of New Krypton #9 (written by Greg Rucka and James Robinson, drawn by Pete Woods and Ron Randall) seems to promise a huge throwdown between the Kryptonians and the Saturnians — including a couple of Faceless Hunters From Saturn (TM) — but then Superman has to step in and be all diplomatic. However, there’s more intrigue on Krypton and a locked-room mystery to boot, so it’s not like the issue is dull. I can’t tell, though, what the division of labor is with regard to the art. There didn’t seem to be too many solo-Randall pages … or maybe my eye’s just not that discriminating. (“You got Woods in my Randall!” “You got Randall in my Woods!”)
Finally, I’ve been enjoying the Let’s Be Friends Again collection, which is basically fifty-odd pages of annotated strips and over a dozen pages of sketches, bonus material, and tributes from other cartoonists. Buy it just so you can have a print version of Kim Jong-Il in a Luthor battlesuit.
Chris Mautner: Working on that big Collect This Now column on Al Columbia the other week had me rummaging through my back issues of Fantagraphics’ late, lamented Zero Zero anthology. That in turn had me running to the company’s Web site, where, lo and behold, the entire series was on sale for .99 cents an issue! I snatched up as many issues I was missing as I could and am only just now starting to delve into them. Re-reading this stuff, it really startles me just how good and how ignored this series was and continues to be. I mean, the level of talent in these pages is staggering. Kim Deitch’s Search for Smilin’ Ed! Dave Cooper’s Crumple! Richard Sala’s The Chuckling Whatsit! Joe Sacco’s Christmas with Karadsic! Not to mention Max Andersson, Skip Williamson, Mack White, Sam Henderson, Michael Kupperman, David Mazzuchelli and so many more. This really was the best anthology of the 90s, bar none.
Children’s author Michael Rosen pretty much gets a pass from me no matter what he does, having writing one of the most agonizing, astonishing and bittersweet picture books, Michael Rosen’s Sad Book. His latest, Red Ted and the Lost Things, is nowhere near as impressive, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t amusing. Illustrated by Joel Stewart, it’s a cute tale of a lost teddy bear who tries to find his owner again and succeeds, thanks to the help of a cat and a stuffed alligator. It’s an amusing kids’ comic; one I think small children will like. It’s no Sad Book, but then I’m not sure any writer is capable of something like that twice in a lifetime.
Craig Fischer: So what am I reading?
Last night I finished Richard Sala’s Cat Burglar Black (First Second). For the past week, I’d been limiting myself to only a few pages of Cat at bedtime, trying to stretch it out into serial-like installments. Which is only appropriate: Sala’s story — his signature mélange of creepy houses, suspicious characters, narrative double-crosses and cute girls (a cadre dressed in black, the cat burglars of the title) — reads like it should’ve been produced as a zero-budget serial by a Poverty Row studio like Republic or PRC in the mid-’40s. Great fun, and Sala’s art looks lurid and purple in the paperback-sized, full-color First Second format.
As soon as I polished off Cat Burglar Black, I started the first volume of Yumemakura Baku and Jiro Taniguchi’s The Summit of the Gods (Fanfare/Ponent Mon). I’m still in the early pages of the book (Fukamachi just bought the camera), and again I’m forcing myself to read slowly; I want to properly savor Taniguchi’s flabbergastingly detailed depictions of mountain vistas and Kathmandu streets.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve also read and enjoyed a few floppies: Astro City Astra Special #2 (Homage/Image), Citizen Rex #4 (Dark Horse), The Eternal Conflicts of the Cosmic Warrior (Image) and Strange Tales #3 (Marvel). And I’m not even counting the comics I bought for my kids, Simpsons Comics #158 (Bongo) and Archie #602 (Archie, duh). Did you know that Archie and Veronica have twins named Lil Archie and Lil Veronica?
The funniest book I’ve read recently is Alan Aldridge’s The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes (Abrams). Aldridge is an artist and graphic designer who began his career with book covers for Penguin UK — I own a copy of J.G. Ballard’s The Wind from Nowhere (1961) with an Aldridge cover illustration of psychedelically undulating ocean waves and bending buildings. Then Aldridge helmed several landmark hippie-era projects: he snapped the picture of the band in silver suits for Cream’s Goodbye record sleeve (1968), he drew album covers for The Who (A Quick One, 1966) and Elton John (Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, 1975), and (maybe of greatest interest to Robot 6 readers) co-edited The Penguin Book of Comics (1967) with George Perry. Kaleidoscope Eyes is primarily a showcase for Aldridge’s art, but it also features Aldridge’s rambling, episodic, eccentric autobiography in prose between the pictures. He knew everyone, and has hilarious tales to tell. Maybe someday I’ll meet Aldridge in a dive pub in Wales, where I’ll ply him with Jameson and persuade him to give me more details about his inadvertently embarrassing interview with Paul McCartney and his drawing duel with Dalí.
Heeding the recommendations of Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke, I’ve been plowing through Donald Westlake’s novels, most recently Cops and Robbers (1972, though I read the Mysterious Press paperback from 1993). The blurb on the cover of Cops hypes Westlake as the king of “comic mystery novelists,” but I didn’t find the book funny at all. Rather, it’s a satisfyingly dour study of two NYC police detectives who turn to crime because they’re fed up with their boring domestic lives and the carnage they see in their jobs. Here’s a representative passage, told from the first-person POV of one of the detectives, Joe:
For a long time, it seemed as though there was always something else to take up the slack, keep me interested in life even when the job was dull. Getting married, for instance. Having kids. Moving out of the apartment out to Long Island. Those are like the mountains, and the valley is your dull everyday life.
It had been a long time between mountains.
Holy cow, is this a book for guys in mid-life crises … which explains why I enjoyed it so much.
Finally, like everybody else, I have batters-up in a stack by my bedside table. Prose on deck includes Lucas Powe Jr.’s The Supreme Court and the American Elite and Stephen Prince’s Firestorm: American Film in the Age of Terrorism. The new book on graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister (Made You Look by Peter Hall) looks insanely lavish. And my forthcoming GNs? The Brendan Burford-edited Syncopated collection, and Hannah Berry’s Britten and Brülighty. Of the making of books there is no end…