Welcome to another fun-filled episode of What Are You Reading?, where the Robot 6 team talks about comics, graphic novels and whatever else we've read recently. I'm filling in for Chris Mautner, who is out of town this weekend.
To see what Scott and the rest of us have been reading, click on through, then tell us what you've been reading in the comments section.
Michael May: I'm reading Strongman from SLG. It's Luchador Noir. LuchaNoir? I'm loving the grittiness of it. It's about a former luchador who's asked to stop a ring of organ-peddlers who may or may not be selling body parts to cannibals. I say "may not be" because the main character's sanity isn't exactly assured. How much of this is just in his head? I'm looking forward to finding out.
I feel like I'd enjoy more of the luchador genre in general if I gave it a chance. I can easily embrace the sillier aspects of it, but it's off-putting to me that people in the stories always seem to take the luchadors so seriously. We're asked to believe that the ridiculous masks are badges of honor that command respect. Strongman plays around with that idea and I appreciate that about it. I'll probably do a longer review for Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs when I'm done so I can think it through some more.
Omega the UnknownJonathan Lethem and Farel DalrympleSomething of a frustrating read. Mr. Lethem wanted to play with many of the elements of the bronze-age superhero (crazy costumes, alien robots, freaky bad guys, freakier "good" guys, life or death combat), but it came across as very emotionally flat. It doesn't help that the main character is basically a high-functioning Ausperger's case, but even the humans around him are simply flatly weird or flatly nerdy or flatly streetwise. There's plenty of WTF moments (as there were in what I read of the original), but they didn't come together in a satisfying manner for me. Gary Panter's sequence about halfway through, however, is sublimely raw and flipped-out, cutting loose in a way that the rest of the series never even came close to.
EC Crime Suspense StoriesFeldstein, Craig, Kurtzman, Wood and othersThere was a time that I was stupid and dismissed Harvey Kurtzman's work, probably on the basis of MAD, as "kinda funny, but not really substantial." I was stupid then. S T U P I D. Recent reading of some archival volumes including The Mammoth Book of Crime Comics opened my eyes to this material in a way that made me realize that yes, I'd been stupid. This volume, which I'm barely halfway through, is a pure revelation of the lean (yet at times gloriously excessive) storytelling style at play in EC's absurdly rich back catalog. Kurtzman's style only looks crude, much like I'd once dismissed Jack Kirby's work on the same basis, but I'd misapprehended strength for crudeness. The stories themselves aren't always great, but the ones that are remind you how much you can really do in seven pages if you want to.
Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban PoorGang Leader for a DaySudhir VenkateshNo, you haven't mis-clicked somehow. I started reading the first of these for research, and found it interesting, but very slow going. Pretty dry, pretty formal, very much an academic document. The second of these, however, is utterly compelling reading, a great piece of ethnography from the projects of Chicago and in the life of the Black Kings street gang. It's research, but it reads like a great story. Also recommended on this tip is Freakonomics, where I'd read a very short excerpt of Dr. Venkatesh's work, as well as a bunch of really interesting and counter-intuitive glimpses into modern economics (really, it's more interesting than that.)
Oh, and something like 70 art samples that I'm going through for the third Strangeways book. There's a lot of surprisingly good work coming into my mailbox, stuff that's cutting into my reading time for sure, but business before pleasure, right?
JK Parkin: AdHouse recently published a collection of stories by Mike Dawson called Ace-Face: The Mod with the Metal Arms. The book includes several short stories about the title character, who was born with no arms, so his uncle created robotic ones for him. The stories focus on his life before he became a superhero, when he was the weird kid with metal arms, as well as after his career has ended and he's teaching college. It also includes two Jack and Max strips, about two brothers who constantly squabble about everything. One can teleport, and the other has telekinesis, so when they squabble, humorous destruction ensues.
I'd recommend the book based on those strips alone, but the ones that I really fell in love with feature Ace-Face's son, Stuart. Unlike the rest of the stories, they don't include anything remotely out of the ordinary -- they're slice-of-life pieces about a guy and his wife dealing with noisy neighbors. They hit particularly close to home for me because I dealt with this exact same situation last Friday night, and the dialogue between Stuart and his wife almost mirrored my own discussions with my wife. In fact, I read it to my wife a couple of nights ago, and she couldn't stop laughing ... hopefully we didn't wake anyone up.
Also this week I received an advance copy of Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter, the new hardcover by Darwyn Cooke that IDW will release in July. I haven't started reading it yet, but I did want to say that from a design and packaging standpoint, this thing is beautiful. I look forward to reading it this week.
Tom Bondurant: I've been re-reading Fantastic Four from the beginning, partly in order to justify owing all those Marvel Masterworks, and so far I'm through issue #20 (which introduced the Molecule Man). This time around, when I read the Rama-Tut story, I had flashbacks to Avengers Forever; and when I read the Mad Thinker story, I felt better knowing Awesome Andy eventually found a better gig. However, what stood out the most were the digressions. The story would be chugging along nicely, and then it'd stop for the better part of a page while the FF would go off on a Kirby-depicted tangent. "Imagine if X happened! I'd have to do Y! Johnny, you'd be powerless against Z! Ben, not even your strength could stop it/him/them!" Makes me wonder if the Family Guy writers have read these issues.
As for more recent comics, I did like Batman In Barcelona, written by Mark Waid and drawn by Diego Olmos. Essentially, it's a well-done Batman adventure, set in Spain with a little St. George & The Dragon overlay, but hey -- I like well-done Batman adventures. (I especially like the conceit of the Barcelona Batcave.) Waid's terse dialogue is well-suited to the lead character, and he even makes Killer Croc fairly interesting. My only complaint is the ironic use of Bruce's friend to nudge him to do something meaningful with his life. The art is quite good. Olmos' work strikes me as a cross between Phil Hester and Luca Rossi, and thus it too works well for a Batman adventure. Colorist Marta Martinez sets the appropriate moods, from sunny Spanish mornings to a washed-out, rainswept Arkham Asylum. It all comes together nicely on the first page, as the Wayne jet creates a bat-shaped shadow over Barcelona.
I thought the first installment of "Easy Kill," Unknown Soldier's latest arc (written by Joshua Dysart, drawn by Alberto Ponticelli), was very involving. It presents Moses, the title character, with the opportunity to turn global public opinion against his enemies, the L.R.A. Moses doesn't know, though, that the actress/activist he'll have to kill has just arranged to have his wife speak at his memorial service. It sounds very soap-operatic, but it's fairly compelling thanks to the work Dysart and Ponticelli have put into these characters.
Finally, inspired by a comment on the latest Grumpy Old Fan, I'm re-reading DC Challenge and will be discussing it in a future column. So far the miniseries itself is a mess, but the underlying mechanics are pretty intriguing.
Brigid Alverson: I really enjoyed the first two chapters of Children of the Sea, which Viz is publishing online as part of its new Ikki magazine. The art is absolutely gorgeous. The color sequences have a watercolor-like feel, and even in the black and white sequences, Daisuke Igarashi has a real way of bringing you into the scene and making you feel like you’re there, in a seaside village on a summer day. He really creates a sense of place. The story is just starting to unfold, but it obviously has a strong internal logic and I want to know more. This is manga for grownups, and it’s very well done.