What Are You Reading?

Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading. We had a bit of a scare this week at WAYR Central, as our planned special guest fell through at the last minute due to a lack of proper communication on my part and a sudden illness on his. Quickly becoming panic-striken, I turned to the person I always turn to in such matters -- my wife, Evelyn, who handed me a paper bag to breathe into and said she'd fill in this one time as long as I promised never to ask her to do something like this again.

So without further ado, let me present our very special all-nepotism edition of WAYR! Click on the link to find out what delightful comics we're currently reading ...

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Michael May: I have very mixed feelings about starting Age of Bronze, Vol. 3A. On the one hand, I couldn't be more excited about visiting Shanower's ancient Troy again. On the other, unless I'm missing something, this will catch me up with the collections and I've got an impossibly long wait ahead of me for the next one. WAH!

Brigid Alverson: I’m on vacation at the moment, so I have the luxury of long stretchesof time to just read. Thus I was able to read The Impostor’s Daughter, by Laurie Sandell, in a single sitting. I’m glad I had that opportunity, as it’s the kind of book that just keeps you turning the pages. It’s a memoir, but it is structured like a novel in graphic form, with a well defined arc that builds slowly and thrusts you into the story, then winds up with a satisfying ending. It’s not as neat and perfect as a novel, but I admire Sandell’s willingness to show an unsparing portrait of herself and her family. Her cheerful pastel palette keeps the book from ever getting too dark, and while the simple art made me think the book would be a quick read, it was actually a very substantial story.

I also picked up Oishinbo: Fish, Sushi, & Sashimi. This is a series of standalone stories about a reporter on a quest to assemble the world’s best meal; each volume of the series focuses on a different type of food. Because it ran in a men’s magazine, there has to be an element of competition to it — the reporter is out to one-up his father, who is a renowned gourmet. He’s also sort of an emotional idiot savant, cynical and antisocial but possessing perfect pitch when it comes to food. The people are drawn rather crudely but the images of food and cooking are lovingly detailed. It’s not exactly food porn, but I’m learning a lot about the subtleties of fish from reading it.

Tim O'Shea: I'll start my WAYR input with a cameo by my offspring. G-Man: CapeCrisis 1 was released this week, much to my son's delight. He was introduced to G-Man through the "G-Man: Learning to Fly" digest a few months back, which compiled all of Chris Giarrusso's Comic Bits strips, so he had only one complaint: "I want more story." This is not a knock of the first issue, my son just went in assuming he would get as many pages of fun as he had in the digest. Bottom line: Both he and I are looking forward to the next issue.

When Starstruck first launched in the early 1980s at Heavy Metal, I was in high school. Even when re-released by Epic Comics in the mid-1980s, while I was old enough for mature audience material, my tastes were not sophisticated enough to seek the work out. This week my tastes and timing finally aligned for the release of the first issue in IDW's re-release of Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta's original story. Considering the work was originally done in the 1980s, I'm amazed at how Lee scripts scenes almost prophetically forecasting the overload of information thanks to technology. Years ago I bought a sketch from Kaluta that he had drawn on a restaurant doily. He could have drawn it on toilet paper and I would still treasure the piece. As dense (in a good way) as Lee's script is, Kaluta's art, inked by Charles Vess (as the back-up Galactic Girl Guides in each issue are) and re-colored by Lee Moyer is just mind-numbingly, overwhelminglyrich and delightful.

I read Don MacPherson's Eye on Comics every week, because he frequently writes what I'm thinking, but even better. This past week was no different as he and I both enjoyed Geoff "I don't really get into gore" Johns' first issue of Adventure Comics (DC I would not object if you reverted to the original Adventure numbering as you hinted at this issue). I found myself pointing at the screen and screaming "Yes" when I read MacPherson's praise mixed with concern: "It’s my hope that his future Superboy stories maintain this traditional, warm approach rather than turning to darker, nastier elements." (I know it's rude to point, but my laptop understands ... the screaming, however, annoys my family).

Last weekend I scored a used copy of Marvel Essentials Two-in-One Volume 2 (covering issues 26-52 and annuals 2 and 3). Marvel Two-in-One was the comic that established my long-term (platonic) affinity for Ben Grimm. Looking at this comic is like cracking open a time capsule. Impossible Man serving as a decoy President Carter, Jim Starlin showing Ben spooked by Spidey while in the middle of a late-night reading of Stephen King's 1975 novel, Salem Lot. But really my favorite moment may occur early in the collection, when Marv Wolfman has Ben flying "upstairs" (from the bowels of the old SHIELD pizza-parlor contact headquarters) to SHIELD's helicarrier with thenarration bit of "a huge flying fortress that would impress anyone ... except, perhaps, a certain pile of lumpy orange rocks named Ben Grimm". I mean Wolfman has a point, the helicarrier has always been one of my favorite Marvel transport (next to the Spidey-Mobile) but once you've hung out in the Negative Zone, I imagine a giant flying behemoth is not that nifty.

I wish I had read this first issue of The Replacement Thor storyline in The Incredible Hercules before interviewing co-writer Fred Van Lente. Why? I would have asked if the new pre-K age Zeus is based on Family Guy's Stewie. There's a modern day Bob Hope/Bing Crosby comedy vibe to this new Zeus/Hercules combo and I enjoyed it.

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Matthew Maxwell: HEATHENTOWN by Corinna Sarah Bechko and Gabriel HardmanThis somehow totally escaped me when it came out earlier this year.  Which was odd because I remember liking the same team's Zuda comics tryout of THE CROOKED MAN awhile back.  In fact, Gabriel Hardman was the second guy to buy a copy of the STRANGEWAYS graphic novel at the last Wizard LA show that I attended.  I talked with him then, but didn't recall hearing about HEATHENTOWN until a couple of months ago.

The book itself is a solid horror story about an ex Peace Corps volunteer, Ana, and her trip to a small town in rural Florida, to bury her friend, recently killed abroad.  Only what she finds there is that people 'round those parts don't stay dead for long.  It's a great twist on the Fountain of Youth legend, filled with plenty of chills and atmosphere, never relying on gore to get the job done.  In other words, totally and completely up my alley.

The writing was restrained and never got in the way of the art telling the story, which again is something I can admire (since I have a hard time getting myself to shut up and do the same thing).  Hardman's art is just great here, plenty of deep shadows and dramatic lighting, but also emotion on the page, which is crucial to getting the story told.  I'd easily put him in the same class of graphic storytellers as say, Steve Lieber (who is criminally underrated, probably because he doesn't do the exaggerated style that most superhero comics readers want to read) which is high praise indeed from a guy like me who values telling the story over making an artistic statement.

Recommended.DOOM PATROL #1Keith Giffen and Matthew Clark.I don't even know if this is a reboot or not.  I actually read a few issues of the "new" DOOM PATROL (of which only Cliff Steele from the original series was a part of) and thought they were okay, but didn't come close to the inspired lunacy of the Morrison run.  I guess John Byrne rebooted the team after that, but didn't touch on anything that made the team special for me.  So maybe this is a continuation, maybe not.

It doesn't really matter, because I don't recognize any of these characters.  I mean, there's Negative Man, ElastiGirl, etc.  But those were in name only.  I didn't recognize any of the characters beneath.  Nor did I find them being a super-powered commando team convincing in the slightest.  Now, having one of the recurring characters being what amounts to the team's group therapist is a great narrative device, but it's also kinda dull, leading to a lot of talking and not a lot of doing.  I want to love the Doom Patrol, but I'm not feeling this incarnation.

Maybe I liked 'em better when they were plain crazy.

The METAL MEN backup is charming but wasn't what I was in the mood for.  Is Platinum supposed to be hitting on Professor Magnus?  That seemed a little...weird to me.  I'm far from an expert on the group, so maybe this was playing to expectation, I don't know.

ESSENTIAL DOCTOR STRANGE v.1Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.I'm half-reading this again.  Not entirely sure why, other than the beautiful Ditko art.  Things are now beginning to kick into gear with the duel with Dormammu, leading up to Eternity and the Living Tribunal way down the road.  I'd probably pay too much money for a thick color collection of these on newsprint, just to look at.  I still wonder how supreme rationalist Steve Ditko felt about drawing all this black magic mumbo-jumbo and maybe he intentionally made it as crazy as he could (and maybe even a touch stupid, but gloriously so).

Took me into last week to finish off that second Fletcher Hanks book.  Head-hurtingly bonkers.  Take only in small doses under a doctor's care.  May be habit-forming.

Still have all those WEDNESDAY COMICS to read.  I may just wait for all of them to land and read each story all of a piece.  That's cheating, isn't it?

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Chris Mautner: It's not comics, but I took the family to see Ponyo, the new Hayao Miyazaki film yesterday. I had heard it was a bit more cutesy than some of his other recent films and was worried that my kids would find it too dull or babyish. I needn't have worried. It's a delightful, charming film and my kids were rapt the entire time, which is pretty good considering my son usually starts asking "Is it over yet?" around the halfway point of any film.

As far as comics goes, I've spent the last few days perusing the new softcover edition of Adrian Tomine's Shortcomings that D&Q sent me, even though I've read this story twice before already. I really don't get why some folks have such a full hate-on for Tomine. His work is smart, engaging and entertaining and I think Shortcomings is his best comic yet. The complaint that the main character is a jerk kinda misses the forest for the trees to me ... since when did the main character necessarily have to be likeable for me to be interested in what happens to him or her?

While I'm going on about Tomine, I should probably note I also reread the recent rerelease of 32 Stories, his original mini-comic version of Optic Nerve that won him  all that attention in the first place. D&Q repackaged the whole thing to look like the actual mini-comics -- they come enclosed in a sliipcased box now. It's a neat packaging stunt, and the comics themselves hold up relatively well, though they're a little crude compared to what Tomine's been doing since then.

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Evelyn Mautner: Oh, the drama of the bedtime story . .

Allow me to start by saying that I am a huge advocate of reading to your children, and am thrilled when I hear that folks routinely tuck in their little ones with a story read aloud.

However, they don’t put my kids to bed, which is a 40-minute nightmare.  If I could pick a lovely little story (something like Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf, which I adore), oh, what heaven it would be.  My daughter, especially, is a book hound, and knows what she likes.  She cannot decide which “read” is THE read for any given night, though, so what seems like hours pass before we’re reading anything.

As such, what I am reading at this given moment is what my daughter thrusts into my hands.

One of the latest titles with which we have been spending time is The Harvey Girls:  Little Audrey, Little Dot and Little Lotta, Volume 5 in the Harvey Comics Classics line.  The preceding 4 volumes have been hit-or-miss for me.  I found some of the Casper comics rather funny, and even some Baby Hueys were worth a look.  However, they weren’t funny enough to make me want to read the whole catalogue of stories, not addictive in the way that Little Lulu or Moomin can be.

Perhaps The Lulu Factor is the problem here.  I am not someone who grew up reading comics regularly, unless you count the Peanuts strip run in our local daily newspaper, and I guess some Barney Google and Snuffy Smith (ouch, I know).  Ergo, I had no idea how good the Lulu stories would be, and was a bit shocked when my husband was touting them as “really funny stuff”.  They are so good, and to read a few is to want to read a whole lot more (NOT a whole Lotta more, which I’ll get to presently).

When handed The Harvey Girls collection by my daughter, then, I’m “thinking Lulu”.  Well, I can’t say that it was another refreshing read, with a strong, wisecracking lead character, always “besting the boys” even that pesky West Side Gang (Yow! They pack a wallop, I betcha.).  Suffice is to say that Audrey and Dot are the same, practically, excluding the fact that Dot has dots on her dress.  The dots are a point driven home as Dot has a terrifying dream while sleeping on a dunce’s chair, in full dunce cap regalia.  First, no dots.  Then, poof!  Her dress has dots as a result of the dream (and the teacher thinks it’s all ink from sloppy penmanship. . .silly teachers!).

That’s about as good as it gets. Little Lotta is a whole lotta girl, very fat, with lots of cardiovascular surgery in her future.  It hurt me to look at her.  I kept waiting for a hull breach.  No, I’m not being cruel.  The strip is much worse.  Its entire gag repertoire is:  Gaw, this girls is HUGE, and she EATS so much.  The writers give her super strength for a young person, so I guess that’s supposed to be a tradeoff.  However, watching trans fat personified is not funny, it’s sad.  Perhaps it’s just me, Overprotective Mom, thinking about girls and body image. . .and is this trip really necessary?

Hey, it’s just my opinion.  You can go and laugh along with the antics of the fat girl if it works for you.

I think I’ll soothe my bruised Inner Self with some good Lulu now.  I am so SURE that Tubby’s got it right this time.  (By the way, Tubby’s fatness, and subsequent fat jokes bother me much less, because they are far from the sum total of his character, or the laughs had at his expense.)  If he puts a mess of mustard on that hot dog, there’s no WAY that little Alvin kid will want it.  Heh.  You’ve got to admire a sharp intellect, and good read.

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