What Are You Reading?

Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading, where we tell you ... well, what we're reading. Duh.

Our guest this week is Frank Santoro, the artist behind PictureBox's Cold Heat series, and the creator of one of the best graphic novels of the past twenty years, Storyville. He's a regular contributor to the Comics Comiclog and his latest work can be found in the pages of the behemoth known as Kramer's Ergot 7.

To find out what Frank and the rest of the Robot 6 crew is reading, click on the link.

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Michael May: I'm only on Volume Two of Akira and am already using every ounce of my willpower not to immediately find and watch the anime version. I can't wait to see Katsuhiro Otomo's amazing art animated, but I don't want to spoil the comic.

I just finished the most recent issue of Wonder Woman. I'm not sure how I feel about this Genocide storyline. It's good in the sense that it's well-written and is evoking the emotional response that it's supposed to, but I don't really like feeling sad and hopeless after reading a Wonder Woman comic.

Chris Mautner: I finally got around to reading Austin Grossman's superhero novel Soon I Will Be Invincible, which had been laying in my review pile for at least two years now (I'm a very bad person).

I think one of the reasons I was a tad hesitant to pick up the book was I was afraid it would be one of those smarmy, tongue-in-cheek satires that, while I don't necessarily have the emotional investment to get steamed up over, just really don't want to waste my time with either.

I needn't have worried. While there certainly is more than a bit of knowing humor in Grossman's tale of heroes and villains, there's also a lot of heart. Grossman wisely focuses on the characters' inner lives, particularly two, the evil Doctor Impossible and the cyborg Fatale, and makes them come across as human and familiar, despite all the fantasy and far-flug gee-whizzardry that surrounds them. It's a real warm, surprisingly touching book that kept me engrossed to the very end and I heartedly recommend it.

John Parkin: This week I started reading Alan's War by Emmanuel Guibert. I'm not too far into it yet, but so far it's a lot different than I expected, in a good way.

Up next: The Flash Gordon anniversary anthology, which I bought at WonderCon this weekend.

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Matt Maxwell: JOE'S BAR - Jose Muñoz and Carlos Sampayo.Sinuous and gritty urban drama. Not exactly a crime book. Not exactly a slice of life drama. Not really urban horror, but if you plotted a triangle with those three points, JOE'S BAR would fit neatly in there somewhere, though it would have a habit of sliding around. There's a lot of ordinary madness here, made extraordinary by Muñoz' cartooning, shifting easily between moments of mundane joys and sweaty, nightmarish desperations. I'd seen some of this work in THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF CRIME COMICS, which led me to picking up this collection on a recent trip to the Big City, and I'm glad I did. Though the stories themselves are bleak to the end, they squirm with a dark, smoky vitality. Worth reading and examining again more closely.

THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER 1 through 4 - Joshua Dysart, Alberto Ponticelli.Joshua Dysart reinvents the DC war comics character, transporting him from WWII and beyond to a Unganda ground down relentlessly by war without end. And not just war, but war fought by children, holy war, and ultimately the war within one man. Mr. Dysart's one-sentence pitch for the book at a Vertigo panel a couple years back ran along the lines of "By the end of issue one, a die-hard pacifist will become a murderer." My interest was piqued then, enough so that I sought out a chunk of the issues once they came out. I wasn't disappointed. It's not an easy book by any stretch. This isn't a black and white war comic, though the action on the page is stark and unflinching. But it's not an adventure book. Much like FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS was one of the best anti-drug movies to come out ever, THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER sucks the myth of the war book dry, and yet it trades on the thrills of those books. Recommended. But I'm going to read it in trades, thereby dooming it.

Started reading the METAMORPHO Showcase collection. Man, that's a lot of crazy on the page there, and Ramona Fradon's art is so perfect for it. But this stuff is largely review proof, you either love it or loathe it. Though I'd say there's a very mannered artcomix vibe to the illustration here, not sure what it is, for it's as intangible as a cloud of Fluorine gas. But it's there for sure.

Tim O'Shea: I am the worst organized comic book fan in the universe. The last time I put my comics in some semblance of order was around 2002 or 2003. I wish I was kidding. So my ability to go back and read floppies is rather challenging, it's in a pile somewhere, I know. But in no order.

So when I ran across a copy of Paul Dini's Detective TPB collecting Detective Comics 821 to 826 in the library, I scooped that puppy up as uick as I could. This aspect of the run includes the done-in-one Slayride, where Joker takes Robin for a ride against his will. As a longtime fan of Don Kramer's art, this issue stands out as one of Kramer's best. I bought most of these issues upon their initial release, but it is fun to revisit them here.

Thank god for folks like Craig Yoe. Were it not for Yoe, I doubt we would ever see a book like The Bizarre Comics of Boody Rogers -- set to be released in March. You can read a 12-page preview here. Where else can one find the cleancut fun of Centaur Land where Centaurs ride women in races (yea, I'm being sarcastic). Yoe dedicates the book to his late father, who once bought Craig a box of old comics that included his first Boody Rogers comic. The introduction to the book (aptly named Boody Call) includes interesting passages like this:

"Boody would be horrified to know I'm calling his material sexual. I'm sure he thought his assistant's ideas that probably found their way into the material as clean as a new-scraped carrot--just good clean wacky fun. His assistant was Eric Stanton, who went on to create some of the kinkiest underground S&M porn you're likely to ever find, assuming you're looking." In a very succinct, yet informative intro, Yoe reveals the history and appeal of Boody Rogers.

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Tom Bondurant: Doing the Trinity annotations has made me realize how little I know about Wonder Woman's history. Therefore, I'm slowly but surely building up my WW reference library. Naturally this includes Les Daniels' Wonder Woman: The Complete History, published in 2000 by Chronicle Books. It was designed by Chip Kidd (who also designed Daniels' books on Superman and Batman), so it looks great. Reprints include a Golden Age story where Hippolyte impersonates Wonder Woman, a "Trials Of Wonder Woman" story from the post-"Mod" early 1970s, and an Amazon-oriented tale from the late '80s. Accordingly, it's more of a coffee-table book than anything else.

This doesn't mean it's not a worthwhile primer, especially on Wonder Woman's creator William Moulton Marston. Daniels interviewed Marston's children, and Marston's editor Sheldon Mayer (who became a friend of the family) is also quoted extensively. While Daniels doesn't dwell excessively on Marston's personal life or worldview, he makes clear Marston's desire to use Wonder Woman for meaningful social change. Thus, Marston was apparently very protective of "his girl friend," to the extent that he rewrote her Justice Society chapter in All Star Comics #13. (In response, JSA writer Gardner Fox didn't give Wonder Woman a comparable spotlight until after Marston's death in1947).

Indeed, the separation of Wonder Woman from her creator has been a constant puzzle for her corporate owners. Daniels' post-Marston history details the character's subsequent development through a handful of writers and artists: Bob Kanigher (who worked with Marston's artist Harry Peter until 1958), Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, Denny O'Neil and Mike Sekowsky, George Perez, William Messner-Loebs, and John Byrne. However, Daniels looks at each major change in relation to Marston's original intent; for example, comparing Perez's "humanist" approach to the "bad girl art" of Mike Deodato Jr. Although it mentions the then-upcoming work of Phil Jiminez and Greg Rucka, for the most part the book's coverage ends with Byrne's departure.

Even so, the book lays a fine foundation for a continuing examination of the character. Through his Complete History, Daniels reminds the reader that even the most radical departure, from the late-'60s "Mod" phase to the death of Maxwell Lord, is ultimately a referendum on Marston's vision for the character. She is bound to him inextricably, which is probably just how he'd like it.

Frank Santoro: Bodyworld by Dash Shaw.

I just reread it last night actually because I wanted to see if it read different from when I ingested it as bite size installments. It was a far more intimate book when I read it straight through. I think it’s melodramatic and quite emotional. Funny but not so cheeky that the humor covers over the emotional tension. I think the clues to the characters' psyche are there in the drawings. I think people are overwhelmed by the form and struggle a bit with it. It’s not an easy book. It demands participation by the reader. Not like it’s purposefully difficult, it’s just all there VISUALLY. Shaw doesn’t spell it out for the reader. Doesn’t hold the readers hand thru plot points, especially the end. Definitely not as much as he did in Bottomless Belly Button. The tone of Bodyworld is raw. He’s playing these elegant passages of movement off of these dissonant colors and moods. There’s a real “sound” to Bodyworld. Very contemporary. It makes most black and white alt comix look “old timey”. Very fresh.

Incognito by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.

I picked up the first two issues of this title on a goof and loved it. It was surprisingly “quick” in a way that Criminal is not. The drawings are more sinewy, the material even more streamlined. Genre tropes but not to excess. It feels timely, what with Watchmen coming out soon. I dunno where it’s going but it made me laugh a lot. “I was a file clerk in a world gone paperless.”

Fellows volume 3 by various

A 708 page anthology that my buddy brought back from Japan. Something he just grabbed at the airport he said. I thought it might just be okay and I flipped through it and had a heart attack. There’s a story done in a style that I think I “ordered” in a dream at the comic book fast food build-your-own-style center of my brain. Think Paul Gulacy meets Jim Rugg meets Japanese pacing with a shootout standoff. That’s basically “Blasted” by Daisuke Muroi. His compositional approach is one of the most startling different styles in the anthology. He literally destroys the competition with 33 panel shootout double spread that would make any action comics fan faint in sheer disbelief at the skilled drawing on display. Not a lot of detail. Clean black spotting and fantastic jumps in scale. Unreal.

House of Mystery by various.

I found one of those “phonebook” black and white collection of House of Mystery from the '70s for 5 bucks in Stroudsburg, Pa, driving back from NYC. Now that’s a value! Toth, Neal Adams, Wrightson, the usual suspects. I have a lot of these comics but it’s fun to have something like this laying around during the winter. Makes me want to watch old Twilight Zone episodes. Does anyone make comics like these anymore? Easy 8 or 10 page stories with nice art and a real arc to the narrative. Something clever, mythic. Where have all the old editors gone who could cobble together monthly titles like this? Anyways. Fun read. Always feels like I’m reading a real comic book when I read one of those House of Mystery tales.

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