Welcome to another edition of a little something we like to call What Are You Reading. Our special guest this week is none other than comics critic and blogger Johanna Draper Carlson, best known for her long-running site, Comics Worth Reading.
To find out what Johanna and the rest of the Robot 6 crew are currently reading, well, you know what to do ...
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Chris Mautner: If you don't mind the occasional bit of academic jargon, I heartily recommend checking out Alan Moore: Comics as Performance, Fiction as Scalpel by Annalisa DiLiddo. It's a rather insightful and entertaining look at Moore's work and major themes. The book divides into four basic subjects: Moore's formal play, his interest in cityscapes and time, issues of English identity and a special chapter devoted to Lost Girls. DiLiddo also talks about lesser-known works like the Ballad of Halo Jones, which I don't think has really gotten much, if any critical recognition.
I spent the better part of today reading the fifth volume of Osamu Tezuka's Black Jack. I've raved enough about this series that further encouragement seems redundant at this point -- I've either whetted your appetite or annoyed you to the point of near violence. Just let me say that this volume features not only a national abacus competition, but a boy who competes in it using only his tongue! Also: A wolf girl, a mobster who tries to change his fingerprints by undergoing a finger transplant and a pair of ghosts that want Black Jack to operate on their mother's soul.
Finally, I didn't mention it in my review but I really appreciated the Fletcher Hanks shout-out in the back of the new LoEG book.
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Tom Bondurant: I thought The Unwritten #1 (written by Mike Carey, drawn by Peter Gross) was one of the best first issues I'd read in a long time. It doesn't stop at Harry Potter parody -- it satirizes pop-culture fandom as a whole, from malleable mobs to the ComicCon logo. The backgrounds contain a good bit of wicked humor, including Tommy Taylor pornography and cable-news tickers which minimize global calamities. Still, what sucked me in was the Potter pastiche which opens the issue. It's the last battle between good and evil; but at the last minute we go right to the author's "afterword" goodbye, with this copy of the book being autographed by Tommy Taylor himself. Those four pages got me on Tommy Taylor's side, which is probably crucial to sticking with him for the rest of the issue. Tommy could very easily have been an unsympathetic character, but Carey and Gross make him fairly likable. Good thing, too, because Unwritten aims to tackle a lot more than Harry Potter before it's through. Best of all, though, the issue tells a complete story, involving a couple of characters from the book who turn Tommy's life upside-down. It's an extra-sized issue for $1.00 US, so treat yourself if you haven't already.
House Of Mystery #13 (written and drawn by various people) was also a standalone issue, and it actually interrupted the current "Space Between" story arc. I didn't mind, though, because each of the issue's three stories is a pretty fun riff on everyone's favorite unlucky number. (The issue's fourth feature is a darkly funny one-page gag by Sergio Aragones which features Cain, the series' former host.) The stories each get a little weaker as the issue progresses, but they're all at least decent, in a Twilight Zone-ish way. Matthew Sturges and Ralph Reese kick things off with a clever adventure story about a man trying to convince his girlfriend to join him in the"thirteenth hour" of every day. Sturges' dialogue and narration are lively, and Reese draws nicely cheesy giant monsters. Next up, Eric Powell contributes wonderfully moody art to a Bill Willingham-written tale about a couple facing their thirteenth wedding anniversary. It'ssort of "The Gift Of The Magi" gone horribly wrong. Finally, Neal and Josh Adams draw Chris Roberson's story of star-crossed lovers, destined to yearn for each other across their many lives. The Adamses' work isn't as fluid as it once was, and I would have liked the story better had I not read something similar in last month's HoM. Still, I applaud the series for taking the time to celebrate the start of its second year. In fact, if you've been waiting for the HoM trades, this issue may be worth getting -- who knows when it will be collected?
Booster takes a vacation to the paranoid '50s in Booster Gold #20 (written by Keith Giffen, pencilled by Pat Oliffe, inked by Norm Rapmund), where he meets a familiar team of spies, and almost meets a familiar team of fantastic adventurers. There are the usual '50s elements (Commies, space shots), but Giffen handles them well. (Booster tries to pass as a "carny," but the authorities remember that the Justice Society has been outlawed.) However, for all the nods to continuity, the big reveal gets the first name of the (late) DC hero wrong. Still a fun issue.
Finally, the best "Battle For The Cowl" tie-in, hands down, is Secret Six #9 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Nicola Scott, inked by Doug Hazlewood). Cat-Man and Bane (along with "Ragdoll, the Boy/Girl Wonder") take out a band of Gotham kidnappers, each vehemently denying that they want to be Batman. However, not only do their actions eventually reveal the truth, they run afoul of one of the Bat-clan in the process. This, in turn, sets up an excellent scene where the Sixers lay out why they will never be superheroes, and why they'll always despise superheroes. It's just another reason this is one of the best super-person comics around.
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Michael May: I've got to time my reading better so that I'm not just starting new books at the end of the week. I'm barely into The Apocalipstix, but it's off to a promising beginning. The first story (chapter?) in it doesn't have much in the way of plot, but I'm not sure that it's supposed to. My first impression is that - rather than being "about" something - it just seems to be celebrating its concept: an awesome girl band whose popularity has outlived civilization. It opens with a Road Warrior-style car chase that's as exciting as anything I've seen at the movies and it's funny to boot. I'm hoping there's more to it as I keep going, but I'm happy with what it's got so far.
Tim O'Shea: Looking back at CrossGen, there are a few titles I wished had survived the burn and crash of the company. One of them was Mark Waid's RUSE. Waid's greatest potential in all the various hats he's wearing at present (freelancer, EIC of BOOM!) is his chance to convince people what a great mystery writer he is. This week offers two examples of his mystery writing -- the release of the Potter's Field hardcover (which collects the three-issue miniseries). As Greg Rucka writes in the intro to the hardcover: "Potter’s Field is a modern pulp told with an affectionate reverence for what has come before, all the while being imbued with an unmistakable sense of the now."
In the floppy new release department for BOOM!, The Unknown introduces us to Catherine Allingham, "America's Foremost Detective". Waid might take issue with my reaction to the first issue, but I can't help but consider the character to be a modern day version of RUSE's Emma Bishop. This time around the concept is a female Sherlock with a male Holmes. This concept's Holmes is James Doyle, a former bouncer/ matchmaker/jack of all trades with an interesting tease of a back story.
This week's trip to the local library was a pleasant surprise, given that the acquisitions department is clearly broadening the library's collection with the addition of some SLG titles. I snagged Ben Towle's Midnight Son (2007) and Faith Erin Hicks' The War at Ellsmere. Once I've read them, I'll get back to you on these. But in the short term, I hope my local library is not the only loaning institution introducing folks to SLG goodness.
Johanna Draper Carlson: This is a tricky question for me, because my life is full of books, mostly graphic novels, I want to get to, but I only have one set of eyes. If I'm being optimistic, I look at it as fulfillment of Browning's definition of heaven, with my reach perpetually exceeding my grasp.
Thanks to my local library, I'm about to review Pyongyang, Guy Delisle's story of his two months in North Korea. I previously read Shenzhen (his trip to China), but this one is better because the country is so much weirder.
I'm also trying Blazing Combat, the war comic collection from Fantagraphics. I don't know much about the series, so this should expand my knowledge of a type of comic I'm not much familiar with. (This is a bonus from sharing a home with another comic fan -- we have it because KC wanted it, so that's a recommendation in itself.)
On the manga stack, I can't wait to start Pluto Vol. 3. Fellow reviewer Ed Sizemore got me interested in this expansion of an Astro Boy storyline (because I've never been interested in Astro Boy), and it's much more fascinating than the source of the inspiration. This story exploring the question of what makes someone human is thought-provoking while still being action-packed and emotionally deep. Even though it's told with robots. Naoki Urasawa has become the manga creator I will read anything by, even if it sounds weird, because his art is so great.
I'm two volumes behind on my favorite manga series, Nana, with 15 and 16 waiting for me. When it comes to stuff I know I'm really going to enjoy, I want to make sure to give the comics the time and attention they deserve... which sometimes mean I fall behind. But it's great to know you're going to have a terrific reading experience when you do start. Nana is the near-perfect manga series: realistic, diverse characters in larger-than-life situations that grab your emotions and never let go.
Oh, and Oishinbo's latest volume is about Ramen & Gyoza. I love this series, even though the art is near-perfunctory, because Japanese cuisine is fascinating. I doubt I'll ever be able to try many of the dishes talked about (I would have a hard time finding a restaurant in our area that did authentic ramen, let alone the many variations captured here), but just reading about them makes my mouth water.
In terms of prose, my husband just finished Superman vs. Hollywood, which I'm looking forward to trying. He says even though I think I know most of the stories about the problems making Superman movies, I'm still going to find out things I had no idea about. I love those kinds of behind-the-scenes stories.
The last thing on my immediate stack is the Azumanga Daioh Omnibus. I like having something that I don't have to worry about reviewing (in this case, because I've already covered it) to "clear my palate" and let me relax with something. I love thinking about what I read, and sharing my thoughts, but I also appreciate downtime.