Welcome to this week's edition of What Are You Reading? Today our special guest is blogger and critic Matthew J. Brady (not to be confused with the other Matt Brady). He and everyone else at Robot 6 have been reading some really interesting stuff, so click on the link to find out what ...
Matthew Maxwell: In Portland this week and not much reading time.
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN by Cormac McCarthyAfter my reading of THE ROAD, I've decided to get some more McCarthy. Only partly through, so comments would be meaningless.
GRENDEL TALES by Matt WagnerCollecting the story arcs that followed "The Devil Inside". These are dense, dense reads. Twenty panels to a page, lots of formalist play. Again, only partly through, and will remain so until I can find the damn thing again, but really I have to pack now and get on a plane.
Michael May: I'm about halfway through the first volume of Marvel Masterworks: X-Men. Whenever I read Stan Lee/Jack Kirby stuff, I always end up - like a lot of people - wondering how much of each story was done by whom while cringing over Lee's dialogue. A lot of the time Lee's simply describing what Kirby's already drawn, so I tend to belittle his contribution altogether. But something Lee pointed out in his intro to this volume made me realize a factor I'd been taking for granted: personalities.
It was Lee's idea to make Beast the intelligent one and Cyclops -- who under stereotypical circumstances would've been a dashing, charismatic leader -- into a gloomy, unlikable soul. I'm guessing too then that Lee's also responsible for turning Angel into a playboy and Iceman into the punk kid whom no one takes seriously. It's an interesting team dynamic and I don't usually give Lee enough credit for coming up with it.
On the other hand, that means he's also responsible for Marvel Girl's having NO personality outside of an object for the boys' affection, but from Lee's portrayal of Sue Storm in Fantastic Four, that's not really surprising.
John Parkin: This week I read Crogan's Vengeance by Chris Schweizer, which incidentally was nominated for an Eisner this year. And I can see why -- it's a well-done adventure story featuring lots of pirate-on-pirate action, and Schweizer's art style has a great narrative quality that's both cartoonishly fun and stylistically detailed. This is the first in what's planned to be a long line of tales of the Crogan family, whose lineage is detailed in the inside front cover (I love stuff like that). Based on the family tree, it looks like future editions will showcase soldiers, gun runners, ninjas and even a lion tamer.
Thom Zahler sent me an advanced copy of Loves and Capes #10, the Free Comic Book Day issue, the love story that happens to feature superheroes. In this issue, Abby decides she wants to know what it's like to have super powers, so with some help from one of Mark's mystic friends, she gets her wish. Page eight is hilarious, and pages 22 and 23 kind of choked me up. You'll be able to get this for free on May 2, so definitely check it out.
Lisa Fortuner: I have eight months of backlogged Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps issues on my plate. Surprisingly, I'm enjoying the stuff in GLC that made me cringe to hear about it -- Soranik and Kyle, the no-fraternizing between Lanterns rule, and the Star Sapphires making another appearance. I was particularly worried about the Sapphire storyline because I hated the Johns retcon. Then Tomasi managed to completely redeem it for me by giving the Zamarons the Golden Age Wonder Woman philosophy of love and gender. The Sinestro Corps members rehabilitation reminds me of the Venus Girdle storylines. They just need a Zamaron to use the term "loving submission." And the fixation on female enemies and female villains, suits the classic sexism of the Zamarons and weaves the love concept into it in a very ... Marstonian way? This is not something that suits Wonder Woman anymore because its too gender-essentialist, but it is very entertaining as founding principals for a sometimes allied/sometimes rivaling set of Lanterns that includes the main character's best love interest.
Also, I am so relieved to see a Star Sapphire uniform that is not missing a chest. I love Patrick Gleason so much for Miri's look.
Tim O'Shea: Two things to follow up from JK's thoughts, before sharing my own:1) If JK's endorsement is not enough, I second his mention of the book and suggest you check out my interview with Schweizer from several weeks ago.2) I am jealous that you got a sneak peak of Loves and Capes #10. Zahler deserves all the praise he gets for his work and much more.
I went to war this week, at least in my reading. Fantagraphics' collection of the four issues of Blazing Combat blew me away from the start. The size and heft of the hardback reminded me of my textbooks from my school days. And once I cracked open the book, I found myself getting a hell of an education with this one. Excuse my ignorance on this front, but I had no idea that as Michael Catron writes in the intro of this collection:
In 1965, when Blazing Combat burst onto the scene, the U.S. involvement in Vietnam was just beginning to escalate.
Blazing Combat’s realistic depiction of soldiers under fire — in the chaos of battle, in the no-holds-barred, no-man’s-land of instant imminent death — was viewed by the U.S. military, The American Legion, and those wholesalers as anti-American.
So, they killed it.
The military outright banned it from sale on military bases — government censorship with no apologies.
Wholesalers, at the behest of the American Legion, strangled it to death, slowly, by locking it in their warehouses, denying it a chance to go on sale.
There's more to the intro (go read it, that alone is a great read). But as a longtime fan of Archie Goodwin's work, I'm woefully behind on reading work from his Warren days. This book is full of amazing artists, including Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood, John Severin, Al Williamson, Russ Heath, Reed Crandall, and Gene (working as Eugene inthese stories) Colan. But best of all (and among these names, finding a "best" is not hard) is the chance to read three Alex Toth stories.
If you want a sneak peak at the book, Fantagraphics offers a 19-page PDF excerpt (3.4 MB) containing the first three stories" here.
This week the 70 years of Timely/Marvel celebrations is observed with a Sub-Mariner one-shot. The lead story features Roy Thomas with Mitch and Elizabeth Breitweiser on art, but what really sold me on buying this was the secondary tale, written by Mark Shultz with the aforementioned great Al Williamson on art. There is nothing like the detail rich style of Wiliiamson's work.
Finally, I missed it when Mark Waid originally wrote about it last month, but herevisited his thoughts on deadlines and freelancers with his discussion of the "Triangle Rule in comics" on his podcast. While I don't always agree with Waid, I really appreciate the knowledge he's been sharing (first at John Rogers' blog -- now athis own BOOM! blog) and you can beat the price (free).
Tom Bondurant: I'm in the middle of three things: Showcase Presents The Doom Patrol Vol. 1, Fantagraphics' Supermen! book, and the first twelve issues of Micronauts. They are (respectively) Silver Age crazy, Golden Age crazy, and ... not as crazy as I remembered.
My first real exposure to the Doom Patrol was in the early years of New Teen Titans, which built a very heartfelt tribute around Gar Logan searching for Robotman and Mento and getting a chance to avenge their teammates' deaths. I read all of the Grant Morrison/Richard Case Doom Patrol, and a fair amount of the John Arcudi/Tan Eng Huat series, but the original stories put all of that in a whole new light. The original Doom Patrol reads more like the Fantastic Four than the X-Men, because as much as they feel like "freaks" they seem to have a pretty decent relationship with the public. They also depend on each other a lot more than I'd have expected in a mid-'60s DC super-team book. The stories are charming and inventive, and I've just read the first couple of Mento stories, so Gar himself probably isn't far behind. (Mento is the freshmaker! ... oh, I feel dirty.) Looking forward to Vol. 2.
If nothing else, Supermen! puts Fletcher Hanks' career in perspective. It's easy to criticize these old stories for their huge gaps in logic, their inexplicable plots (I particularly like the one where the hero stays safe in the house while he convinces the guy in trouble to see what's in the old barn), and even their grammar and spelling. Clearly, though, it shows what the era's writers and artists were willing to try, on the off chance that they had the next Batman or Human Torch. These are comics designed to make you tear your hair out waiting for the next issue, just to see if these guys could top themselves. Great fun all around.
Finally, I read Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden's Micronauts off and on when it first came out, not because I had the toys -- I coveted the toys, but never owned a single one -- but because the comics themselves were so appealing. (Young Kurt Busiek gave the book his thumbs-up in issue #6's letter column.) Mantlo gave the toys a space-fantasy back story and grounded the book firmly in the Marvel Universe, giving it Captain Universe in return. Golden had one of the '70s most distinctive styles, which suited the book perfectly. He blended the toys' designs and real-world elements seamlessly with his own stuff. I mean, the artillery was drawn to resemble the toys, right down to the big orange-rubber "darts," and for a second it takes you out of the comic, but Golden (and inker Joe Rubenstein) made it work. Because it was the late '70s, there are obvious nods to Star Wars, but I was surprised to see, in hindsight, some elements straight from the New Gods (an Enigma Force, Dog Soldiers, and a character called "Bug"). In fact, the letter column of issue #5 (which includes a letter from future Eclipse publisher Cat Yronwode) reveals that "Bug" was indeed a Kirby homage, and "Commander Rann" honored Adam Strange.
Still, there's a lot of Buck Rogers in Rann, so I suppose Mantlo was going for a timeless feel. Not so timeless were the Marvel house ads and Bullpen Bulletins, hawking the company's other licensed properties like Shogun Warriors and Battlestar Galactica....
Chris Mautner: Baby Blues Vol. 24: My Space by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott -- I really like Baby Blues. It's one of the only comic strips in my newspaper that I can bother to read anymore and it's the only family strip after Cul de Sac I can read without wanting to committ a random act of violence.
It's more of an "my life is like that " strip than Cul, which relies more on verbal wit and surreal, off-kilter humor, making it the better strip IMHO. But Kirkman and Scott have a real eye for detail and honesty that manages to capture parenthood perfectly. More importantly, they're just as sympathetic to the kids' perspective as they are to the parents, a quality that Scott's other strip, Zits, severely lacks.
The Arcade of Cruelty by Joesph Patrick Larkin -- Yeah. I honestly don't know what to make of this one. It's got that sort of really uncomfortable, too-much-information quality that marks, say, the work of folks like Ivan Brunetti or Joe Matt, but is completely devoid of the sort of craft or storytelling skill those two provide.
It's got some funny off-color jokes about stuff like 9/11 that it unfortunately hammers into the ground repeatedly. It also uses up a lot of pages including things like Larkin's high school yearbook with smutty phrases drawn over the photos. Then there's Larkin's depressing, self-obsessed rantings about his lack of sexual experience and troubles with women. I have no idea how seriously I'm supposed to take any of this -- is any of it on the level? -- but the whole thing left me feeling awkward and uncomfortable. Mission accomplished, I guess.
Matthew J. Brady: This is kind of a rarity, but I'm actually reading a prose novel right now, rather than any comics (Cormac McCarthy's The Road, if you really wanted to know). But I've always got plenty of recently-read and soon-to-be-read books. After finishing my recent binge of Naoki Urasawa's Monster, I've read the second volume of Matthew Loux's Salt Water Taffy (a great kids' series about two brothers who go on adventures in a fantastical Northeastern vacation spot), Nate Powell's Swallow Me Whole (one of the best graphic novels of 2008, a harrowing depiction of mental illness with some sharply realistic characters and gorgeous artwork), the latest issue of Shojo Beat (there are some major developments in Vampire Knight this month), and (since I can't get enough of Urasawa) the first volume of 20th Century Boys. Next up are some Western comics I need to catch up on, including the most recent collections of DMZ, Godland, and Powers, and I'll be trying to get caught up on several other manga series, including Nana, Parasyte, One Pound Gospel, and Drifting Classroom. That should keep me busy for a few more months.