What are you reading?

Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading? Our special guest this week is Brigid Alverson, whom dedicated manga fans will know as the force behind the excellent Mangablog. If that's not enough, she's also a contributor to the Digital Strips podcast, and oversees the School Library Journal's Good Comics for Kids blog, which is about ... well, you figure it out.

Anyway, click on the link below to find out what Ms. Alverson and the rest of the Robot 6 gang is reading this week.

[caption id="attachment_2498" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Mouse Guard #1"]


Tom Bondurant: This week I finished Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, by David Petersen. On the whole I liked it. Petersen's an excellent artist, and I thought his designs and his use of color really conveyed a fantasy-adventure feel. At times I thought his storytelling was a little confusing, particularly when he switched from a mouse's perspective to a more normal one and I had to hunt for the mice in the corner of the page. I also had some problems distinguishing among the three lead mice, both in terms of costume and personality.

However, I thought Petersen did a good job keeping the plot moving and the reader focused, without making me feel like I was being led along. It was a straightforward story, but I have to admit I thought the exposition towards the end made it sound a bit more nuanced than the rest of the book portrayed it.

Clearly Petersen put a lot of thought into world-building. I appreciated his work, but I almost wish it had been more integral to the story instead of tacked on at the end. Still, I thought it was good, and I'm looking forward to Winter 1152.

I'm just about done with Essential Avengers Vol. 2, but the book's been worth it already. Finally I know how that Ultroids story from issue #36 ends! I read #36's story as a reprint thirty-odd years ago and always wondered how the team got free of their alien captors. (Issue #36 also featured one of Don Heck's creepiest alien females ever.) However, I did have some problems with the book's printing. Some pages were too light, like the inked art had been bleached away along with the color; and some pages (and covers) hadn't been bleached sufficiently. I wonder if Marvel hadn't perfected the process when this book was printed, or if the state of the original comics had something to do with it.

I've also started re-reading Geoff Johns' Green Lantern, and got from the Rebirth miniseries to the ongoing series' early teens. By and large these stories hold up pretty well. Rebirth works too hard to convince the reader that Hal is Teh Awwsum, but Johns does a good job putting all the pieces of the Silver Age GL status quo back together. I'm not a huge Ethan Van Sciver fan -- more often than not, his work can be rather stiff -- so that also cut against my enjoyment of Rebirth. I thought the regular series looked better under its original art team of Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Merino, and then under the current team of Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert. I'm finishing up "Revenge of the Green Lanterns," the big adventure story featuring the Cyborg Superman's new-model Manhunters, and I'm enjoying Johns' foreshadowing "Sinestro Corps" and its aftermath.

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John Parkin: While on vacation I had time to read several books, including:

Strongman by SLG: If you're going to read one book about a former Luche Libre star fighting against an organ smuggling ring, this is the book. It has a lot of heart, and I mean that figuratively ... it also literally has a lot of livers and kidneys and other organs that you'd expect from a book about an organ smuggling ring.Hercules: Love and War: I've been reading Hercules in collected format since he took over the Hulk's book. The last collection before this one featured the Secret Invasion crossover issues, which I found a little lacking compared to the stories that came before. So I was happy to see the book return to its usual level of charm with this collection. In it, Hercules and his sidekick Amadeus Cho both learn a little bit about love and heartbreak, as the pair runs afoul of a group of grouchy Amazons. And they fight Wonder Woman, kind of.

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Chris Mautner: Right now I'm about 200 pages into A Drifting Life, Yoshihiro Tatsumi's massive, 800-page memoir of his life in manga from Drawn and Quarterly. It's quite different than the grim material that Tatsumi's known for and that has graced the three volumes of his work that D&Q has released previously. It's much more of a straightforward "and then this happened" approach, with Tatsumi moving from event to event with freight train like speed, with lots of reference to artists and works that have never been released in the U.S. and quite possibly never will.

Still, it's a fascinating book, a great account of a young man's attempt to make the hobby he loves so desperately his occupation. And it's a fascinating trip through the early years of manga, an era very few Westerners know anything about. Despite some cluelessness, I'm really digging it.

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Matthew Maxwell: PREACHER v. 1No, I haven't read it before this. Yes, this is my first time through. No, I didn't like his run on HELLBLAZER. Yes, I like this a lot more. No, I can't see this having been written by anyone else. Yes, I like it quite a bit. Gonna take me some time to get through the whole thing I imagine.

MUSEUM OF TERROR v. 2More Tomie. I found this to be very hit and miss. Either Tomie is an all-powerful indestructible woman-girl of darkness who destroys for the fun of it, or she's a walking plot device. It's hard for me to like a lot of this because it's very much "Tomie just wrecks things and you watch." There's some really messed-up horror elements, but none of it's scary in the slightest. My interest picked up towards the end of the volume, when they actually decided to weave some character-driven plots and not just show off twisted imagination.

LONE WOLF AND CUB v. 8Slowly working my way through this. Unlike MUSEUM OF TERROR, it's all very good, meaty character/history stuff with gorgeous art (not that Ito is chopped liver in this regard). But getting the whole series is going to end up bankrupting me.

WORLD'S FUNNEST SPECIALEvan Dorkin and friends destroy the DC Universe(s) with the help of Bat-Mite and Myxlptzyk. I bet I only spelled one of those right. Fun, but not the sort of thing you need to read a second time (though seeing Frank Miller take the piss out of himself was kinda neat.)

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Michael May: Still catching up, this week I read a couple of final issues: She-Hulk #38 and Simon Dark #18. Both were bittersweet experiences.

Simon #18 was a peaceful issue. At first it feels like Steve Niles is kind of coasting through it. And you couldn't really blame him if he had. He and Scott Hampton had just finished a big story arc and of course you don't expect them to begin another epic in the final issue. Nor would a quick, snap-bang done-in-one story have been an appropriate wrap-up to the moody, elegant pacing of the rest of the series. But as Niles and Hampton show their cast winding down and going back to regular life for most of the issue, it's only to lower our guards and punch us in the gut at the very end with a perfect, emotional good-bye. And while you're still reeling from that, you realize that it's also a hopeful end. As in: I really hope this series finds another home soon.

She-Hulk #38 was also perfect. I generally enjoyed Peter David's run, but boy how I wish that every issue had been more like this one. Not that I blame him for wanting to address the aftermath of Civil War and World War Hulk and how it affected his main character. I don't blame David as much as I do the rest of the Marvel U for putting She-Hulk in the position where those were the kinds of stories David felt obligated to tell. From reading this last issue, it seems obvious to me that this is the fun, clever kind of story he wanted to have been telling all along.

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Lisa Fortuner: How far behind am I over here? I've only found the last issue of Final Crisis this month, thanks to AAFES superslow comic shipments (though I should be grateful to have the paltry selection I do), and finally have a chance to sit down and read them this weekend. Sadly I've missed the community gripefest over this one, but I think I'll recover.

I also got my Marvel Boy trade in the mail Friday morning, so I guess that makes for a Grant Morrison weekend.

Tim O'Shea: This afternoon I was enjoying a nice early spring afternoon, clearing some overgrown bushes and vines in my front yard, listening to Peter Gabriel on the iPod. And out of nowhere I flashed on a summer afternoon from my childhood, when I came back from a family vacation, only to find my brother had dropped off Avengers 200 for me to read. But first I had to clean my room, before I could read the comic book.

I was so excited to read the 200th issue (in retrospect the plot's pretty forgettable), but as kid, this was one of my first milestone issues. So excited I was, that when I was done cleaning my room, I laid the book down at the center of my made bed and took a picture of the issue. I kid you not. That photo is lost in one of my boxes of stuff somewhere, but I remember that moment clearly -- after years of reading many other comics. And this afternoon as I looked at the blue Southern clear sky, I caught that sensation I always feel when I discover a new book, song or work of art that affects me. I love spring.

Most graphic novels I grasp and enjoy on the first read. When I was doing my Anders Nilsen interview this week, this response -- "I suppose I would hope with most of my work that people are compelled, because they are interested enough, to reread it, and that they find something they didn’t see before that makes it worth the effort." -- really hit home with me. I enjoyed my first read of Nate Powell's Swallow Me Whole -- the art, the lettering, the whole damn thing is both lyrical and maddening. But I know I need to read it many more times to fully grasp it.

Also, this week, I really enjoyed the latest installment of Mark Waid's Potter's Field. I've not read the previous installments, but now I want to go track them down.

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Brigid Alverson: At NYCC I got an advance copy of The Color of Earth, a Korean graphic novel from First Second about a girl in a rural Korean village learning about love and sexuality. It’s set in the past and relies heavily on nature imagery, so it feels very poetic, yet at the same time the conversations are quite frank. I’m not sure that teens, who are the intended audience, will be comfortable with the subject matter and the way it is presented, but it offers a lot of food for thought for older readers and the art is lovely.

I’m also reading the collected edition of Svetlana Chmakova’s Nightschool, which has been running in Yen Plus magazine. The great thing about this book is that it’s about supernatural doings but at the same time it’s very down-to-earth, so the characters act in very believable ways. Svet’s style has matured a bit since Dramacon, but she has kept her very expressive character designs, and Yen is doing the book up with a bigger trim size and nice white paper that really shows it off well.

The first two volumes of Crown literally made me laugh out loud because the story is so over the top. The writer, Shinji Wada, is a big shoujo manga writer in Japan and the artist, You Higuri, is known for manga that blend beautiful men with romantic settings. Crown is the story of two deadly mercenaries who quit their jobs to protect the sister of one of them, a princess whose life is in danger. Higuri and Wada have a great time parodying all the clichés of shoujo and boys-love manga: The guys are constantly striking poses with their guns and winding up in compromising situations together, and the girl is so adorable and puppylike that by volume 2 Higuri has started drawing her with ears and a tail.

At Good Comics for Kids, we are celebrating Women’s History Month by focusing on comics with strong women characters, so Female Force: Hillary Clinton was a natural choice. Hillary is such a strong figure that it’s impossible to be neutral about her, so I liked the fact that the writer made himself a character and talked about his reactions to things and how her work had affected his life. I’m also reading Sabrina Jones’ bio of Isadora Duncan, which is entertaining but a bit choppy.

And here’s an unexpected treat: I ordered a graphic novel through Paperback Swap recently, and the person who sent it to me put one of his mini-comics in the package. Laterborn, by Jason Martin, is a small comic with a series of rather poignant vignettes of young love and longing. It was a refreshing change of pace, and I’m hoping to see more of his work in the future.

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