What Are You Reading?

Welcome once again to What Are You Reading? Today our special guest is John Jackson Miller, writer of Star Wars: Knight Errant and Mass Effect comics for Dark Horse and various Star Wars prose novels. He's also the curator of The Comics Chronicles research website. His next comics series, Star Wars: Knight Errant, Deluge, starts in August.

To see what John and the Robot 6 crew are reading, click below.


Tim O'Shea

Marvel Adventures #14: This story by writer Todd Dezago and the art team of Ron Lim and Scott Koblish reminds me why I love all ages books. A standalone story rarely occurs in monthly comics these days (unless a filler issue is required)--and the set-up needed for multiple issue arcs (and ultimately TPBs) prevents stories from being all-out action like this one. I mean, in Journey Into Mystery #623 (also released this week), I literally had to read one page 4/6 of a page devoted to a bird waiting for the next plot point to occur. I imagine there will be a great deal of padding like this as long as the Fear Itself event plays out. Anyways back to Lim's art, it's far simpler (for the younger audience), but I found it refreshing in this Spidey/Thor team-up (a quirky combo in and of itself). At the outset of the story, the creators credited Gerry Conway and Ross Andru for inspiring the story. I may be mistaken but Lim's layout even seems to carry an extra level of kineticism (much in the vein of Andru's style).

Free Comic Book Day: Captain America/Thor: It breaks my heart to read this Roger Langridge/Chris Samnee tale..,because it's so straightforward and delightful. And I'm still wondering why the hell the Langridge/Samnee series underperformed so badly--because it was just as solid as this tale. Extra points to Langridge for working in a Fighting American joke (as well as avoiding the whole "heroes meet/heroes fight/heroes clear up the confusion" cliche. I've praised Samnee's art enough in the past, but this issue it really struck me how great he is at distinctive facial reactions.

Flashpoint #1: This was more enjoyable when it was called Elseworlds. One highlight in this rather uninspired read: Barry Allen drives a car. Extra bonus, he has to borrow his mom's car, because apparently he's paid so poorly in this alternate universe he does not own one.

Cinderella: Fables Are Forever #4: How accurate is the 1985 flashback in this month's issue? A character is wearing an unstructured jacket (thanks to Miami Vice, a 1985 mainstay), so my hat's off to artist Shawn McManus. Later in the story, there's a 1986 flashback in which writer Chris Roberson has a chance to work with Snow White and Cinderella's character dynamics (and how frustrating Cinderella's cover story could prove). In that same scene, Roberson makes Vertigo history (I am fairly certain) and works in a 1980s Cheers sitcom reference.

Superman #711: Such is the way of media trends: all the outlets that covered that odd "Superman considers renouncing his US citizenship" in Action 900 seem to have missed out on Superman's speech in tribute to the American Way at the end of Superman #711. (Sidebar: DC and 7-Eleven missed out on some sort of Slurpee cross-promotion giveaway with this issue's number). Roberson's run (which he has confirmed on Twitter ends with 714) will only turn out to be seven issues, but it has benefited by being graced with the overall JMS isolated storyline mandate. What I mean is that the story has not had to work in Blackest Day, Doomsday or Flashpoint. It's just Superman on this Grounded quest. Much was made of Nick Spencer's recent writing of Jimmy Olsen, but Roberson in essence writes a damn fine Olsen/Superman team-up in this one. And while the overall tale is tied to the Grounded arc, this issue has a slight done-in-one vibe.

Chris Mautner

Flashpoint #1 -- I had promised myself I would never delve into another mega-superhero crossover again after going through the drudgery that was Secret Invasion, but having read the first issue of Flashpoint (provided to me by the good people at DC) I may have to rethink my vow. I'm a sucker for the alternate universe/"what if" type stories anyway, but I thought it was a pretty solid introduction. You can see where a good number of the pieces are going to fit in the narrative -- The Flash is clearly going to have to make a choice between setting things right and living in a world where his mother is still alive -- but I really liked the way Kubert and Johns set this up. I liked that I didn't have to work too hard to remember who The Outsider was or Shade, just simple, broad introductions that let you know as briefly as possible where everyone stood. I thought Batman's narration was a bit too purple, and the expository dialogue was stilted at times (especially among the Captain Thunder crew). Also, wouldn't be this Batman be ... really old? At least too old to do the things he's doing? Those are relatively minor caveats though. I've been wooed by solid first issues before only to be swiftly let down, but for now I'm tentatively anticipating the second issue, albeit with crossed fingers.

The Heavy Hand by C. Cilla -- A deeply off-kilter graphic novel about a middle-aged schlub who leaves his podunk town to try to get a job with an eccentric professor who is doing something unseemly in a cave. Surreal, nonsensical things happen in between and during his adventures. Then they all go to a party and things really get weird. The likely comparison would be Jim Woodring I suppose, but Cilla seems to be dealing with different demons. Not bad, but the pacing feels slack in parts and just a wee bit too random at times.

JK Parkin

I recently got caught up on Invincible; I've always been a trade or two behind on it, but since it's being released day-and-date on Image's iPad app, I figured why not download everything I was missing. I've read through the two recent "wars" -- the alternate reality Invincible attack, and the Viltrumite war. You can tell the creators are just having a ton of fun with this one, from the big world-altering plots to the character development between Mark, his dad, Eve and my favorite character, his little brother Oliver.

I mentioned earlier this week how much I liked Flashpoint #1. A little background: Barry Allen was never my Flash, not really. I was never a fan or reader of the comic until Wally West took up the mantle. I thought Barry's death was handled well in Crisis, and he became, to me, one of those characters whose death brought out the best in another character -- kind of like an Uncle Ben or a Bucky.

But looking at Flashpoint #1, the Barry Allen plot line was actually my favorite part of the book. I mean, yeah, it's the main plot line, as we're introduced to this alternate universe , from his initial discovery that everything is wonky to the parts with his mom and Iris, to the absolutely wonderful traffic jam scene to his confrontation with Batman at the end of the comic. That last page was obviously going for the Big! Shocking! Moment!, but I think it worked in the context of the story, as it really nailed down the "Everything is messed up and I gotta fix this" plot involving Barry. Like Chris, I'm hoping subsequent issues live up to this one.

Finally, I also recently finished the novel The Passage by Justin Cronin. It's an epic, decade-spanning novel about the vampire apocalypse -- with the vampires here being a far cry from what you'd find in Twilight or even American Vampire. They're monstrous, barely human creatures created in a lab by the government, with mind control powers that lead to things going horribly wrong. The novel is basically broken into two halves, with the first taking place a few years in the future as we learn the back story of this world and the second taking place about 100 years later, as the last remnants of humanity struggles to survive in a vampire world. Excellent, excellent novel that really draws you into the lives of the characters in both time periods.

Tom Bondurant

Batman Incorporated #6 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Chris Burnham) was great fun from start to finish, showing off the "Incorporated" concept in all its versatile forms. I'm hoping Chris Burnham stays on the title for a good long time. His work has echoes of recent Morrison collaborators (and Bat-artists) Frank Quitely andCameron Stewart, plus a little Kevin Maguire and Linda Medley to boot; but with an energy all its own. As Justice League International revitalized DC's signature super-team, so this book is transforming "Batman" from a singular avenging figure into something much more pernicious: an idea. "We'd have to invent him," indeed.

Speaking of ideas, part of the reason I enjoy the Fantastic Four is their honored spot in the Marvel U's hierarchy. As such, I always looked forward to their team-ups with other heroes -- but especially with Spider-Man, since he has unique relationships with each of them. He's Johnny's contemporary (which makes Sue something of a big sister), he shares Reed's intellectual curiosity, and he and Ben have both felt like outsiders, monstrous or not. Nevertheless, I haven't really warmed to the Future Foundation's role in these past couple of issues of Amazing Spider-Man. They're not bad stories, but I found myself drawn more to the subplot with Carlie than to the FF's switched-around powers or the secrets of the Sinister Six. Meanwhile, I don't mind Spidey's role in FF, because he's supposed to be part of that book; and I liked when the Avengers showed up earlier in "Big Time." I guess it's similar to what Carla talked about a couple of weeks back -- my idea of Spidey hasn't quite expanded to include his being a regular part of Marvel's first family.

Jesus Saiz picked a heck of a story for his debut as Birds Of Prey's regular artist (in this week's #12, expertly written as always by Gail Simone). While Huntress and the Question team up, the rest of the team goes undercover in what seems like perfunctory caper style. By the end of the issue, however, things have gotten extremely bad, and the worst part is, the Birds have no clue. It reminded me of the end of The Blair Witch Project, in that same it's-too-late-BANG!-it's-over sense. (It helps that the setting's almost the same.) Saiz is a good fit for the book -- closer to Nicola Scott's style than Ed Benes', but more earthy, and with a good eye for storytelling. It's more of a subdued feel, which suits this book better than something over-the-top like Secret Six. Ironically, though, this particular issue has a very Secret Six-ish vibe, and I suspect the next one will too....

Brigid Alverson

I'm a Weekly World News fan from way back‹back when space aliens were endorsing Bill Clinton's run for president, some guy was frying an egg on his bald head, and the talking carp was telling us to read our Bibles (there were actually two talking carps, and the second one only told us to read our Old Testaments, because he was Jewish ... but I digress). So I was tickled pink by IDW's collection of Peter Bagge's Bat Boy comics. Based on an actual character that was regularly covered in the paper, Bat Boy was a four-panel strip that picked up on the paper's obsessions and ran amok with them. In the first sequence, prophetically, Bat Boy kills Osama Bin Laden, but not quite the way it happened in real life. Columnist Ed Anger ("I'm madder than a canary in a blender!") pops up in these strips, which makes me very happy. I can't say I exactly miss the WWN -- the quality deteriorated quite a bit toward the end‹but these strips bring back some good times.

Still following up on creators I met at Boston Comic Con two weeks ago, this week I checked out Gabriel Dunston's A Funny Thing Happened Today. It's a slice-of-life webcomic that follows Dunston's personal life pretty closely, from big events like having a baby and putting his dog to sleep to little things like losing his toothpaste or the baby farting. The art is competent, and the format is all over the place--strips, pages, photo comics--but the writing makes it a lot of fun to read. By the time I had read all the strips I felt like I really knew Gabriel and his whole family, and that they were the kind of people I would enjoy knowing. One criticism, though: It seems like every blog entry is an apology for posting late or missing a post. While this adds a certain verisimilitude, given the events of his life in the past year and a half, it also gets tiresome, and it's not very relevant if you are reading through the archives. Other than that, though, it's a fun read, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next.

John Jackson Miller

My “new” comics reading stack is so tall it’s no longer able to defy gravity, so a lot of what read right when it comes in is limited to the other Dark Horse Star Wars comics that I need for my own writing. But consistent with my work on The Comics Chronicles website I do enjoy digging through older comics — reading some for the first time, and others with new eyes.

For example, I just finished the first several years of Marvel’s Doctor Strange title (the one that came after Strange Tales) as it appeared in The Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 3. I’d read some of this before but it was fascinating as a writer to watch four greats of the game, Steve Englehart, Marv Wolfman, Jim Starlin, and Roger Stern writing the same storyline in succession. Strange, by its nature, was a relatively title to make course-corrections to; it was amusing, for example, to watch Englehart send Clea into a love affair with Benjamin Franklin (!) and to see Wolfman make sure that it never happened. Also, reading it now and knowing it was one of Marvel’s few bimonthlies at the time, the back burner was truly the back burner, plotwise. Doctor Strange invites some house guests one issue, goes off on an interdimensional fandango, and we suddenly remember the guests are still in the Sanctum something like a year later in real time!

I also picked up at C2E2 the complete Marvel run of Star Trek — the first one, right after The Motion Picture. Having adapted a movie for comics myself, I did not envy Wolfman and Dave Cockrum their job of cramming the movie adapt into three issues, but it was interesting to see moments in the comics version that were cut from the script, such as Kirk saving Spock from being mummified in crystal by V’Ger.

In prose, I recently read Then Everything Changed, the new book by Jeff Greenfield, late of CBS — in-depth counterfactual histories of what would have happened if John F. Kennedy had been assassinated before taking office, if Robert F. Kennedy hadn’t been killed, and if Gerald Ford had won reelection. It differs from a lot of “What If” histories in that Greenfield was part of RFK’s campaign, so there’s a “you are there” feel to it. Greenfield wrote an interesting novel some years back, The People's Choice, that used as its springboard some of the really crazy outcomes that are possible in presidential elections because of the rules embedded in the electoral college. I enjoy stories where strange-but-true minutiae like that can have an outsize bearing on events — I tried to insert some of those moments during my Iron Man as Secretary of Defense storyline a few years ago.

Hoping to get started on the to-read stack before it buries another piece of furniture!

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