What are you reading?

Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading, where we exclaim as loudly and stout-heartedly as possible what comics and other reading material we're enjoying this week.

Our special guest this week is none other than Comics Reporter extraordinaire Tom Spurgeon. To find out what he and the rest of the Robot 6 crew are currently reading, click on, my friend, click on ...

Carla Hoffman: I am reading a lot of comics.


Being hospitalized for two months means that 'catching up' is nearly as a full time job as the recovery. Saving you the nigh-250 count of books I'm pouring through (what do you mean they killed Batman?), I'm currently digging Space Raoul, by Jamie Smart and released into the wilds by SLG. Follow the adventures of SPACE RAOUL and his little green sidekick, Quibble, as they protect the universe from dastardly evil and narrowly escape dangers untold in time for tea and cake. Quirky fun, it's pocket-sized for portability, good for a quick and delightful read of space adventure. If you though Invader Zim was funny but hate the consumerism, if you're one of those indie-comic-readin'-latte-drink'-weirdos who need a good chuckle, or if you just like tacking on the word 'space' on to things (space bees!), it's great.

Now back to the box; did something happen to the Sentry when I wasn't looking?

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Matt Maxwell: FINAL CRISIS - I finished it out of a sense of obligation, really. The long commentary can be found over at my blog. The short commentary is that there was too little of what I'm looking for in a story and too much of what I feel are the toppings. It's like going to a burger joint and getting a hamburger the size of a silver dollar and a mound of french fries bigger than your head. Tasty, I suppose, but not particularly substantial. But then maybe that was the point.

CRIMINAL: LAWLESS - Read instead of working one morning, but there's a lot to be learned by reading this book. Of course, to pull off this kind of character and dialogue-driven book, you need an artist who isn't afraid of putting nine panels on a page, or what to put into them. Heavy stuff, and among the best that's being put out today.

KING SIZE SPIDER-MAN SUMMER SPECIAL - No, it's not summer, but anytime is perfect for Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. If they took over the Marvel Universe, there'd be a lot of upset people, but I wouldn't be among them.

AGENTS OF ATLAS #1 - Hey lookit that, I'm buying a monthly book! Anything I'd have to say should be considered against the fact that Jeff is a friend of mine, but I'd buy this even if he weren't. Given Marvel today, this book is pretty unbelievable in that it's not a heavy episodic-television-emulating drama, but rather an adventure book that neither takes itself too seriously nor mocks itself to get laughs.

NIKOLAI DANTE v.6: HELL AND HIGH WATER - Another great adventure book, that I probably mentioned I was reading before, but haven't sit down to finish just yet. But I have gotten up to the Luther Arkwright cameo. Or is it? And does Bryan Talbot know about this? Inquiring minds, etc...

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John Parkin: I read two older comics this week ... the first was AiT's Annotated Mantooth, by Matt Fraction and Andy Kuhn. And a lot of other people as well, as the book has introductions by Warren Ellis, Greg Rucka and Joe Casey, as well as an afterward by Larry Young. The comic itself may be a little rough, but it makes up for that with humor and quirky fun and flesh-eating ducks. Highly recommend.

Next was Dead Eyes Open, a six-issue mini-series by Matthew Shepherd and Roy Boney Jr. SLG put this out in 2006, per the indicia in the last issue. The premise is that people are dying and coming back as zombies ... but not the traditional flesh-eating monsters we've come to know and love from movies and other comics. Nope, besides changes in appearance and smell, the still retain the personality and traits of the original person. So the book is less about a full-scale zombie invasion and more about overcoming the prejudices that come along with looking like a zombie. Again, it was a little rough in places, but overall it was a different twist on a familiar tale. Oh, and it has Wil Wheaton in it, in a fun cameo.

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Chris Mautner: Picked up A Comic Studies Reader again after having put it down for a bit. It's enjoyable but definitely slow reading as there's a lot to digest.

I'm also near completion on From the Shadow of the Northern Lights, a collection of Swedish comics courtesy of Top Shelf. Like a lot of anthologies, the stories range between meh and rather good, but I'm always fascinated to see what other countries and cultures do with the medium.

Finally I just finished Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: Prodigal Son, a Dabel Brothers production that featured the talents of Chuck Dixon and Brett Booth. It was awful.

Tom Bondurant: I'm re-reading DC's Doctor Fate series from the late '80s/early '90s. I had dropped it after the first year, picked it up again when I heard there was going to be a creative-team change, and never got around to completing my collection until now. It's basically two very different takes on what is superficially a very similar setup.

For its first two years (24 issues and an Annual), the book was written by J.M. DeMatteis and drawn (mostly) by Shawn McManus. DeMatteis, who of course was scripting the Justice League International books at this time, framed Fate originally as a superhero sitcom -- lots of witty banter and broad humor -- in the JLI style. This was not surprising, since the book featured a bickering couple (Eric Strauss, magically aged to adulthood, and his stepmother Linda) who combined to form Doctor Fate; their mentor Nabu, an omnipotent being crammed into a human body; Jack Small, their hapless neighbor; and Petey, an other-dimensional demon who posed as Eric and Linda's extremely ugly dog. McManus' art was kinetic and expressive, and perhaps intended to remind readers of JusticeLeague artists Kevin Maguire and Bart Sears. It was well-suited to both humor and horror. (Indeed, McManus drew Sandman's Game Of You arc soon afterward.) However, I found the comedy a little wearying, and a couple of the running gags felt run into the ground after a few issues.

Thankfully, DeMatteis had higher aspirations for Dr. Fate, setting it up to be an all-inclusive take on the world's religions. Although Fate was nominally an agent of the Lords of Order, DeMatteis used religious imagery and terminology to show that neither Order nor Chaos had all the answers. This still didn't take Fate too far from familiar superheroics, and the book featured guest appearances by the JLI and Darkseid. Ultimately, however, it became clear that DeMatteis was using various arcs as pieces of a larger story, one which would take two years to tell. The climax of his story featured an Anti-Fate, a man forced into a black-and-white choice between Order and Chaos. It all ended amicably enough, and DeMatteis' entire cast each got graceful exits, so that the new team of writer Bill Messner-Loebs and artist Vince Giarrano could have their own husband-and-wife Doctor(s) Fate. And now I am preparing to read their seventeen issues.

I also want to mention Batman Confidential #26, written by Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFillippis and drawn by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan. It's the start of a story introducing the villain King Tut into the comics, forty-odd years after Victor Buono debuted him on the "Batman" TV show. I like each of these writers and artists pretty well, but I honestly didn't know what they would do with what on TV was basically a buffoon. I was pleasantly surprised. This issue took Tut seriously, but not to the point of overcompensation. (Maybe "serious, but not overcompensating" should be DC's new motto ... but I digress.) It reminded me of a good Len Wein, Doug Moench, or Gerry Conway story from my teenage years; and it lacked only a yellow oval on Batman's chest.

Finally, last weekend I re-read Avengers Forever, and let me just say this: if you think Trinity is too steeped in arcane lore and obscure references, it's pretty much Dick And Jane next to AF's twelve issues. Its plot isn't hard to follow, and it does feature a couple of issues with the future Agents of Atlas (including a Frank Quitely "1950s Avengers" cover) -- but it's like a doctoral thesis in Avengers history. I suspect that, in order to get the most out of this book, you have to like Kang -- and I mean, really really like Kang, Rama-Tut, Immortus, and the Scarlet Centurion. Lucky for me I re-read Essential Avengers Vol. 1 over Christmas. Oh, and it features excellent Carlos Pacheco/Jesus Merino art, and a good star turn by the winsome Wasp.

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Michael May: I'm nearly done with Planet Saturday Comics, Volume 1. It's a print collection of Monty S. Kane's webcomic about fatherhood. It's sort of like Family Circus only really funny and charming. Once I finish the print version, I'll be catching up on the online stuff.

I got a little behind on Simon Dark and I'm catching up with that too. I'm really looking forward to seeing this go to another publisher now that DC's canceled it. Not that it suffered at DC or anything. What I mean is that if DC's not going to publish it, I want to see someone else do it. I've become very attached to these characters. It'll be interesting to see how/if they're transposed to another city besides Gotham, although it would be pretty easy to just pretend it was New York all along.

I've also started reading Akira again. I'm only on the first volume (which I've read before), but I'm remembering why I liked it so much. The story is mysterious and intriguing, but the art is what's frickin' unbelievable.

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Tom Spurgeon: In terms of comics I’m mostly heading out of 2008 and into 2009, but I‘m not all the way there yet. In the last few days I’ve read the new League of Extraordinary Gentleman advance copy that’s going around (entertaining, solid), Koren Shadmi’s In The Flesh (there’s a quality to it, but I didn‘t care a great deal for it), American Elf 3 (a comics effort that I’ve warmed to very, very, very slowly) a collection of the late, lamented strip Spot The Frog subtitled “It’s Hard To Comb A Grass Toupee,” a book called Pohadky I keep pulling back out to stare at, an effort by the great Jiro Taniguchi called The Quest For The Missing Girl (surprisingly clumsy), and the Wolverton Bible Art book that Fantagraphics just put out, whatever the hell it’s called, that I found kind of off-putting -- not the reaction I thought I‘d have. I really enjoyed Jeff Smith’s first RASL book. I didn’t get one of those until recently. Smith’s work looks great at that size. I plan to re-read it before putting it away.

In addition to the Smith I’m going to take some time this weekend to read the rest of Dash Shaw’s lovely-looking Bodyworld on-line and get caught up with some of the sitting around reading. I recently ran across my beat-up copy of The Realist from May 1967 that seems to have both The Death of the President and Wally Wood’s Disneyland Orgy in it, which is astonishing to me. Pretty good month, there: the meanest and funniest thing ever written about LBJ and hands-down the best cartoon ever about Disney. I want to re-read that issue cover to cover. Other than an Ed Fisher page, I have no idea what else is in there.

In terms of prose my reading is all over the place. A very good friend gave me the funny and easy-to-devour actor’s memoirs With Nails: The Film Diaries of Richard E. Grant, which is about what you’d think. (Hugh Laurie’s book was pretty good, too -- all the funny British people can write.) That same friend gave me a subscription to a magazine called Monocle. I can’t remember the last time I had a normal person’s magazine subscription, by which I mean a magazine coming to my home that wasn’t comics-related. So even though I don’t think I’ll be able to afford a private jet vacation to the resort in southern Japan they claim has the best breakfast, I’m sure going to enjoy reading about it.

At night when I can’t find something else to read I have a stack of 1910 encyclopedia volumes that I got at the local library sale for two bucks. It has articles in it on things like the sensuality of Indian architecture. I live in a small town, so the monthly library sale is a super big deal. Last time there I got a bunch of Mr. and Mrs. Smith books -- the Smiths were like Nick and Nora Charles except with healthier livers and a cat instead of a dog. Or, if you prefer, like Ralph and Sue Dibney minus the stretching and the being raped and murdered.

I also have a printed out copy of Hapworth 16, 1924, which I will read wearing an ascot while sipping tea and listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s “A Dangling Conversation” on my iPod.

The late Gil Kane once said something to the effect that you read a lot fiction when you’re younger and then when you’re older you become more interested in how a lamp works. I’m pretty sure that’s what he said; there was likely a “My boy” in front of it. Anyway, I think I’m getting to that place.

That’s my roundabout way of apologizing for not reading something cool like 2666.

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