What Are You Reading?

Welcome to What Are You Reading, where we pull the curtain back and show you what's on our bedside tables. And yes, we have curtains in our room. Don't ask.

Our special guest this week is Miss Lasko-Gross, whose second autobiographical graphic novel (in a projected trilogy), A Mess of Everything, was just released from Fantagraphics.

To find out what Lasko-Gross and the rest of us are reading, click on the link below ...

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JK Parkin: The Guardians of the Galaxy trade I read a few weeks back put me in the mood for more of Marvel's cosmic comics, so I bought all four Nova trades. I've read the first two, and now I've paused so I can read the Annihilation: Conquest books before moving on. Abnett and Lanning have made Richard Ryder such a great "everyman" who has been thrown into extraordinary circumstances, with a healthy dose of weirdness to boot. How can you not love a telepathic Russian dog who speaks like a character in a Cold War movie, and still displays his natural "dogness" in all his interactions? Some of those little moments, like when he grabbed Nova's arm with his mouth, are priceless.

On the single issue front, Noble Causes #40 wraps up the long-running soap opera hero saga; I respect Jay Faerber for ending it on his terms, and I loved the little twist he threw in at the end with Race and Liz (both in terms of occupations and super hero-ness, he said, trying not to spoil anything). Overall this was a consistently fun series that I'll miss.

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Matt Maxwell: Things that I've brought back from the recent Stumptown comics festival. Not all have been read so this may be cheating.

BLAZING COMBAT - Archie Goodwin et al.Formerly-suppressed, entirely classic, these stories are all solid examples of comic storytelling and craftsmanship. I'm no good at boiling a story into six or eight pages. Maybe if I study these enough, I'll begin to figure it out. But the teams here make things look too easy. Not surprising since we're talking about master artists like Toth, Frazetta, Severin, Crandall and others. The stories have all aged surprisingly well, and while some are slighter and more obvious than others, there's still surprises to be found there. Highly recommended and this has really whetted my appetite for the other Warren reprint volumes.

THE BLOT - Tom NeelyIs it horror or something else entirely? Hard to tell, but I'm certainly looking forward to digging into this.

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN - Jonathan Lethem and Farel DalrympleI got two issues into this re-imagining of the Steve Gerber/Tom Sutton (I think it was Sutton) series and decided that I'd wait on the collected edition. So here it is. It'll be interesting to see where this goes, given that you look at this project and compare it to the rest of Marvel's output and your head just kinda explodes. But then we apparently live in a time of wonders where these little gems bubble up to the surface.

THE DEMON - Jack KirbyNothing beats 70s Kirby. Crazy, vibrant and powerful. Still absorbing.

HARD CANDY - Andrew VachssI'm about twenty pages from finishing this. It's interesting, unrelentingly grim, making a point to remind you at every turn that monsters do indeed walk the earth, and they all wear human skins so you can't tell them at a glance. I'll finish this one out, but I'm not sure how much more I need to walk in Burke's (the lead character's) shoes.

THE HUNTER - Donald Westlake and Darwyn CookeYeah, I'm cheating. I'm only reading the preview, and I'd promised that I wouldn't. But I'm lousy at keeping those kinds of promises. There's maybe only one other book coming out this year that I'm looking forward to more than this one (that'd be the TORPEDO collection by IDW), and the preview does nothing to diminish my enthusiasm. I'd say glowing things about the comic storytelling at work, but really just go read the damn thing, 'cause I won't do it justice.

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Tim O'Shea: The Spider-Man/Brand New Day reboot was a bad idea in my mind. I remember thinking: "Mephisto? Really? In all the years of Spidey's history, he's encountered Mephisto how many times (none, best I recall) and suddenly this guy becomes a universe changer?" But I have to admit when certain writers take a spin at writing in this new status quo, I find myself enjoying the book. Last issue's "wow where did those two months go" issue was really uneven for my money (and I normally enjoy Dan Slott's Spidey). But Amazing Spider-Man #592 with Mark Waid offering a glimpse of Mayor J Jonah Jameson's administration is a fun turn. The last page? Well at least for once I get to see Aunt May out of the F.E.A.S.T. (lamest name evah!) center. There is a hilarious bit in the issue where Spidey is heckling JJ while eating OsCorn Popcorn. I am betting that is a Steve Wacker-ism. Can someone please explain why Wacker is not writing in comics--more than a letter column that is? And speaking of the letter column, I can't remember the last time I've read a letter from an International Red Cross employee (and regular Spidey reader) with a geopolitical perspective and an accusation of racism. In all seriousness, the letters written by Uros Smiljani, a 37-year old Serb and the response by Marc Guggenheim and Wacker are a cut above the typical "Man, give me more 'Jackpot, tiger!' " feedback.

A lot of folks are expressing bewilderment and disappointment with the second part of the two-part "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert. The two-parter is goofy as all get out. This second part has Bruce Wayne symbolically saying good-bye to his life in the style of the children's tale Goodnight Moon. The Bat universe has run off the rails, thanks to the need for giant crossovers and event comics. I got the Batman RIP hardback out of the library -- and Lord that reconvinced me how unreadable the whole thing is. I'm sorry, Batman R.I.P was sheer crap. So for my money, I actually enjoyed the absurdity of Bruce saying to himself: "Goodnight, Mechanical Dinosaur. Goodnight, Giant Penny. Goodnight, Batmobile."Comics are ink on paper, as my friend Ron once said. The Bat universe is a set of props. Right now, the Bat universe is being guided by creators that just don't click with me for the most part (though it has clicked with many). Batman has become like a bad soap opera with no plot resolution in sight, just a tease of more giant events to come, new launchs, new mysteries (like who the hell the new Bats is and where's Bruce) to be solved. And I don't care. Right now, as a longtime fan of Batman as a character, I'm settling for the small moments, the glimmer of entertainment amidst the crap. While I found the second part as nonsensical as many others -- I was glad I read the issue for these lines from Bruce: "The End of the Story of Batman is, He's Dead. Because, in the end, the Batman dies. What else am I going to do? Retire and play golf? It doesn't work that way." I just love that hypothetical, of a bored retired Bruce calculating the complexity of the back nine on a golf course.

Back to Marvel, JM Straczynski's take on the Warriors Three is a great approach in Thor #601. It's one-half David Mamet/one-half Mel Brooks.

This week's installment of the biweekly Next-Door Neighbors series features Bzzt by the NDN series editor, Dean Haspiel. While I enjoyed Dean's tale of his former mid-1990s neighbor, I think he stretched the "true-life" label that the series uses a bit. Oddly what I enjoyed the most was a small detail -- I really loved how Haspiel's red lettering popped off the black and white art.

And in the music department, I'm revisiting Lyle Lovett's 1992 release, Joshua Judges Ruth. The opening piano on North Dakota could be played 100 times straight and I would never tire of it. The lyrics to Family Reserve are some of Lovett's best.

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Chris Mautner: More comic strip collections again. This time it's Saturday Evening Pearls, the latest Pearls Before Swine collection. Creator Stephan Pastis has an annoying tendency to repeat his basic formulas and gags again and again, and he often relies upon easy jokes and premises. That being said, when he's on -- and he's on quite a bit in this new collection -- he's hilarious.

In the manga department, I'm about 3/4 of the way through the first volume of Orange Planet by Haruka Fukushima (and published by Del Rey). It's basically a harem manga with the genders revearsed. Cute teen Rui fends off three potential suitors, one of whom is a playboy teaching intern (cause it isn't shojo if there isn't an uncomfortable age difference between two characters). Honestly I don't have much to say about it at this point. It feels rather generic.

Finally, I'm about halfway through The Photographer, the new First Second book by Emmanuel Guilbert and the late photojournalist, Didier Lefevre. It's about Lefevre's trip to war-torn Afghanistan during the 1980s and is a engrossing tour through a completely foreign country and culture. Even though I'm not finished it yet, I feel pretty confident in saying it's the best book I've read so far this year.

Tom Bondurant: I thought Justice League of America #32 (by Dwayne McDuffie, Rags Morales, and John Dell) was quite good, even though it is the middle of what has been a rather disjointed Shadow Cabinet/Shadow-Thief/Starbreaker arc. Morales and Dell's art is a nice change of pace from the Ed Benes style, and it works for both the "housekeeping" part of the book and the supervillain-fight part. Personal issues and deaths have sliced the team's whole roster to five active members -- Green Lantern (John Stewart), Vixen, Dr. Light, Firestorm, and Zatanna -- but although it's not the heavy-hitter lineup of recent years, I found this group very appealing. McDuffie seems to like writing them too, pairing the prickly Dr. Light with the brash Firestorm, while having everyone act like professionals. This includes acting like he or she belongs in the Justice League, which is also a nice change of pace from previous rebuilding-the-League stories. More importantly, McDuffie seems more comfortable writing the book than he has in a while, and he makes the aforementioned supervillain fight engaging and suspenseful. As I understand it, McDuffie, Morales, and Dell are back for issue #33, and then Len Wein, Eddy Barrows, and Ruy Jose give them a break for a couple of issues. It's been a while, but Justice League of America seems to have found a good groove.

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Miss Lasko-Gross: Osamu Tezuka's Dororo (book 1). The story is simple and too grotesque not to be good. A Japanese feudal lord offers his newborn son to 48 demons in exchange for power. His son Hyakkimaru is born missing 48 body parts. Armless, Eyeless, Legless etc.. he's cast out and adopted by an understanding Naturopathic Doctor. growing up ensues, then demon hunting ensues, then adorable impish sidekick hi-jinx ensues. For every Demon killed, Hyakkimaru regains a body part. My only criticisms relate more to my feelings about Manga than to this book in particular.

1) The characters and backgrounds appear to be drawn by different hands.2) You neither get a sense of what's going on psychologically with any of the characters nor see any emotions that feel honest (rather than theatrical)3)The dialog/sound effects are often redundant to the images.

But these stylizations are, although not to MY taste, appropriate and expected in this context. I will be picking up #2 soon.

Gabrielle Bell's Cecil and Jordan in New York. A collection of short dreamlike vignettes my favorite of which was Felix. Felix begins with a Professor towing the "modern" (circa 1960's) art line and eviscerating the figurative work of a female student (Anna). Bell shrouds in haze the art within the story so the reader interprets, based on their own predispositions, if anyone involved is meant to have real talent. Felix is the son of a famous and overrated artist who casually informs Anna that she's untalented and just as calmly mentions that Felix was unwanted. None of her characters (even in the hilarious autobiographical stories) pander or seek the reader's love which is to be respected.

The stories are compiled from various sources however a delicious and unsettling theme that runs through a lot of the work is the exploration of young women compromising themselves in lopsided relationships with uncaring powerful men.

By the way Gabrielle and I will be signing our new books at the Strand May 19th (SHAMELESS PLUG)

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