What Are You Reading?

Welcome to What Are You Reading. Our guest this week is Sean T. Collins, who should be no stranger to most of you as he's been guestblogging with us all week while JK Parkin was on vacation.

To find out what Sean and the rest of us have been reading this week, just click on the link below ...

Tom Bondurant: Because the library had them, I read the two-volume paperback collection of "Knightfall," the prototypical Bat-event from the '90s heyday of hype and chromium. Taken out of context -- i.e., as setup for a year's worth of replacement-Batman shenanigans -- boy is it grim. Batman is unceremoniously beaten down, physically and mentally, until he's dropped like a sack of potatoes at the end of Book One. Book Two details the rise of said replacement, arrogant Jean-Paul Valley, such that his eventual defeat of Bane earns him Robin's grudging acceptance. I remember that Sean liked Book One for its visceral superhero thrills and its unsympathetic view of Bruce/Batman's decline, and I don't necessarily disagree. However, I don't know what to tell the hypothetical Batman reader who sees these on the shelves and just wants some reasonable Bat-action. Wait 'til the library gets a copy of the KnightsEnd collection, I guess.

Regardless, the art -- by Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan, Bret Blevins, Jim Balent, and the legendary Jim Aparo, a group not likely to do any more Batman anytime soon -- is quite good, and Kelley Jones' and Sam Kieth's covers (reproduced in their house-ad form) are suitably downbeat.

And since we're on the subject of replacement Batmen, I quite enjoyed Batman #690, which was written by Judd Winick and pencilled by Mark Bagley. I found it to be a suspenseful issue which played out like a good tennis match -- volleys and returns back and forth between Batman and Two-Face, with neither side having any apparent advantage until one finally missed.

Finally, I'm barreling through Essential Avengers Vol. 4 -- up to the high 80s, I think, with Arkon, the Lady Liberators, the Lethal Legion, and that evil capitalist who wanted to gun down Red Wolf's reservation -- and just marveling (no pun intended) at a couple of things. First, Tom Palmer is a very strong inker, but quite a good one. He makes everything look the same, but it looks terrifically clean and detailed, which is what you want in an Avengers comic, right? Second, these stories are all 20 pages (which for some reason seems too short for a monthly comic), but within that space, Roy Thomas and his artists establish this consistent rhythm, starting very strong and carrying you through the first 8 pages or so, then speeding up or slowing down as the story dictates, but then picking up again towards the end, so that even by page 18 you know there'll be some kind of resolution and it will make sense. While I found this volume slow going at first, somewhere around the Sons of the Serpent arc it got very engaging. Now I have to decide whether to read the Kree-Skrull War in color (in the separate paperback) or stick with the black-and-white.

Brigid Alverson: I’m working on several projects that require a lot of extra reading this week, so I’m sampling some new things.

In the webcomic realm, I have started reading two promising slice-of-life comics, Tails by Ethan Young, and Nothing Better by Tyler Page. Tails is an entertaining story about an art-school dropout who is trying to make a go of it as a comics artist while living at home with his parents and 40 cats on the Upper East Side of New York City. He works in an animal clinic, and there’s a lot of 20-year-old angst going on. What makes it work is that Young is a kickass cartoonist. His characters are animated and full of personality, and in the most recent chapter, where he draws the inevitable comic-within-a-comic, he really shows off his skills with a splash page of manga cats and a dog-powered Gundam. Good times. I want to stick with this one.

Nothing Better is about student life at a small Lutheran college. The main characters so far are good-girl Jane Fisher and her roommate Katt Conner, who is not so much a bad girl as a spicy girl. The first thing Jane puts up in her dorm room is a picture of her family at Disney World; she’s religious, studious, and abstemious. Katt is a partying, multiply-pierced, atheist art student who arrives late and promptly gets Jane drunk against her will. And then has the decency to feel bad about it, which is why she really isn’t a bad girl. Unlike most characters in college-life comics, Jane and Katt actually go to class, and their theology class includes an interesting discussion of the Bible. So it’s entertaining and somewhat thought-provoking as well.

In the print realm, I just read Burnout, by Rebecca Donner and Inaki Miranda. This is one of the last season of Minx books, and it’s a shame the line got canceled when it did, because their final season included some really interesting books. Set in the Pacific Northwest, Burnout is the story of a girl who becomes involved with a teenage eco-terrorist when her mother moves in with his father. The creators do a great job of putting a human face on the environmentalists-versus-loggers controversy, and they bring in realistic family issues as well— this is not a moral tale. On the contrary, the ending is rather morally ambiguous. It’s a good first effort and a good read. I wish Minx was still around to provide a vehicle for books like this.

Tim O'Shea: Jeff Parker is hitting his stride with Agents of ATLAS. Reading this latest issue, I am reminded of Busiek in his Avengers prime, pulling surprises out of his back pocket with almost every issue. More importantly, how long was Tom Orzechowski going to letter the book before I noticed? Back to Parker though, in one two-page spread scene (framed as The Smart Guy) the writer has more happen in those two pages than occurs in some of the Big Two multi-part/multiple crossover summer events, while also showing what a great team the characters are.

Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth #1. Only for a $1 (first issue of course). Lemire on a monthly basis? I'm there. The moment that made me flinch? When a hunter grabbed Gus' antlers.

Wednesday Comics. Neil Gaiman and Mike Allred? You're making my brain hurt with the narrative absurdity you're attempting on the Metamorpho story. Please continue.

Mark Waid and Peter Krause's latest issue of Irredeemable? Finally a scene where it appears you can make evil flinch. I've loved the creators use of flashback in this series, where you see a different side and era for most of the characters. But this issue marks the first time, where you see the Plutonian seem remorseful or with some form of sanity in the story's present day. Damn this is fun.

Last week, I neglected to mention Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's latest issue of Nova. What I really appreciate about this series is that I've not had to read one bit of the War of Kings books to enjoy the plotline in Nova. I appreciate any comic book that allows me to type political intrigue and Blastaar in the same sentence. Also, in other omissions from previous weeks, iterms of J. Michael Straczynski's The Red Circle over at DC--I hope he doesn't bail (bail in this case means "understandably pursuing quite lucrative and successful Hollywood opportunities") on me like has occurred with Marvel's The Twelve. I see some great potential with the Web title in particular. Time will tell.

Chris Mautner: I recently breezed through three reprints from Watson-Guptill of classic Spy vs. Spy material by Mad magazine artist Antonio Prohias -- Masters of Madness, Masters of Mayhem and Danger! Intrigue! Stupidity! These are reprints of some pocket paperback books that Mad put out back in the 1960s and 70s. And while this strip probably worked best in the larger magazine format, where the spies shenanigans could be unfurled in a single page, this is still pretty great material. Abusrd and violent in that way that only the best cartoons are, and love trying to figure out exactly how each spy will receive his particular bloody denouement before getting to the punchline.

Outside of comics, I'm currently reading J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to the Ring, The Grudge and Beyond by David Kalat. Vertical had sent me a review copy of the book when it first came out two years ago, but I'm only getting around to it now. I don't have any particular affinity to this type of film -- I'm a bit of a fraidy cat to be honest -- but Kalat is an amiable and informative author. I particularly enjoyed the social and cultural themes he pointed out that run deep within a lot of these ghost story franchises. Certainly he's intrigued me enough to want to make me add a few titles to my Netflix queue (if I had a Netflix queue that is).

Matthew Maxwell: INDIAN LOVERJack JacksonThe story of Sam Houston, the founding of Texas and the low-intensity (mostly) war waged on the nations of North America, told in comics.  And it's a compelling read, which shouldn't come as a surprise given the nature of the subject matter and the teller of this particular tale.  Jack Jackson's been a fixture in underground comix since before there was even such a thing as underground comix, though his later career saw him turning to a craftsman of historical comics, in particular the history of Texas.  Jackson does this very well, too.  His characters are clearly rendered, though not necessarily on the page, where his line focuses more on energy and action and not pristine draftsmanship.  The tale of Sam Houston, equal parts adventurer, statesman, orator, scholar, drunk and rabble rouser comes to life in a way that only comics could make happen.

Jackson's emphasis isn't on seamless storytelling or characters revealing themselves through dialogue, but to make history real, often in just two panels at a time, the narration and the action playing off each other in a very clever manner.  But it never feels forced, or being clever for the sake of itself.

Houston's story is neither triumph nor tragedy, but somewhere in-between.  The Cherokee that he so loved, however, are not treated kindly by their world, at least not by the US government.  Forwarding the causes of wealthy land speculators, the Federal government moves the members of the nations, repeatedly, breaking treaty after treaty (if not just in spirit, but in actual word), forcing the Cherokee (and the Kickapoo and the Choctaw and others) west so that easterners can enjoy the improvements made to the land.  In many cases, Cherokee were prosperous farmers and landowners.  At least until they were moved, leaving their farms behind.

Jackson doesn't flinch from indelicacies or rough patches in history (nor are the members of the nations always portrayed in a glowing light).  And to say that his view of history is incendiary is probably an understatement, but again, this is no surprise coming from a man who's regarded as the father of alternative publishing in America.  Highly recommended.

Sean T. Collins: For my purposes, you might want to retitle this column "What aren't you reading?" Most of what I read gets reviewed on my blog as soon as I finish it, so chances are good that if I read it recently, you already know about it. But here are some books that are lurking on my nightstand or in my backpack ready to be read the next time I have some spare time.

I recently snagged a copy of World War One: A Short History, by Norman Stone. And that title's really not kidding: He tackles the whole of the Great War in less than 160 pages! I think this sort of concise treatment of the topic is just what I need to get it all straight in my head.

Also on the prose front: Pygmy, by Chuck Palahniuk. Once I read this I'll finally be all caught up with the prolific Fight Club author, who it seems couldn't be hipper in some circles and couldn't be less hip in others. I think he's been on a bit of a hot streak lately--I greatly enjoyed both Rant and Snuff, even though the latter was more like a short story than a novel--so I'm looking forward to this, Clockwork Orange-style dialect and all.

As for comics, I will soon be diving into Ninja by Brian Chippendale for a freelance assignment. This isn't the kind of book you can take on the train, unfortunately--it's just too damn big. So I'll have to carve out some time to focus on it at home. Maybe after I beat Super Mario Galaxy?

Also on the way are a couple of nice little softcovers, Slow Storm by Danica Novgorodoff and Remake by Lamar Abrams. Both have been burning a hole in my backpack for quite some time.

Finally, a friend recently gave me copies of the first two Astounding Wolf-Man trades. I'm a longtime fan of Invincible and The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman's other two creator-owned ongoings, but for some reason -- well, okay, it was the art -- this one never grabbed me. I'll give it the old college try....

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