Welcome to another round of What Are You Reading, where we all sit around the virtual coffeehouse and talk about the books we're currently enjoying (or not as the case may be). Our guest this week is Wilfred Santiago, author of the soon to be released biography of Roberto Clemente, 21. Look for an interview with me and Santiago about his new book in the coming weeks. In the meantime, click on the link below to see what he and my fellow Robot 6ers are reading this week.
Michael May: Somehow Turok: Son of Stone #1 (the recent Dark Horse version) slipped down in my To Read pile and I just found it again. It boasts 48 pages on the front cover, but of course 10 of those are ads and another 16 are the reprint of the original Turok story from 1954. That still leaves 22 pages of original Turok story though and the whole package was only $3.50, so who’s complaining? Those 22 pages are packed with action as Turok and Andar not only meet, but run a tense, grueling race against pursuing Aztec warriors. And it’s fun to compare the modern version with the original and see what Jim Shooter has changed and what he’s kept the same.
In 1954, Turok and Andar are already hunting companions, but are in desperate need of water. An enormous, swirling colony of bats reveals a cave that Turok hopes has water in it, so they explore and discover an underground “land of the lost.” It’s no less tense than being chased by Aztecs, but not quite as thrilling. In 2010, a strange, possibly supernatural storm replaces the bat colony and appears to be responsible for sending both Turok’s group and the Aztecs back in time. What caused the storm is a mystery that I hope to see solved one day; almost as much as I want to read the resolution to the frying-pan-to-fire cliffhanger at the end of the issue. I’ll be looking forward to the collected edition.
Continuing to dig deeper into the To Read pile, I found a four-page mini-comic by Sigrid Ellis and Erika Moen (Bucko) called Plants vs. Zombies: Bedtime. The only thing I love more than the splash page of gourds, melons, flowers, and cattails defending a family from a zombie horde is that the Bedtime sub-title suggests the possibility of more like it. Also, there’s a great first page of a little boy’s room with toys scattered around (including a Millenium Falcon) and a poster on the wall for Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber’s Underground.
I also completed the first volume of Daisuke Igarashi’s Children of the Sea, mostly on the recommendations of Chris Mautner and Brigid. Like Chris, I feel a deep Miyazaki vibe, though I wouldn’t have been able to recognize it as that before re-reading his review. What I felt was the book’s ability to pull me into its world and make me feel like I was part of this seaside community and witnessing the strangeness there for myself. There’s one scene when the main character is floating in the ocean and looking down into the water below and you can actually feel how deep and endless the water is. It’s frightening and exhilarating at the same time. Just a wonderful book and I can’t wait to dig into volume two.
What else? I’m a big fan of James Baker’s Rocket Rabbit, so while I’m waiting for the collected edition of that, I’m enjoying some of his mini-comics work like Sephilina the Nauti Girl. From her tentacle-like hair, I thought at first that she might be a mermaid-like character, but in actuality she’s an alien in a charming and funny space pulp story. She’s a Squoid, a race of aliens so hideous that just looking at one puts intelligent beings into a coma. Fortunately for Sephilina, the Squoids are also shape-changers, so she’s able to transform into a cute space girl. Unfortunately, everyone knows what she is and avoids her like death in case she accidentally reverts to her true form. It’s a fun concept and Baker’s cartooning makes it pay off.
Tom Bondurant: Not that I am a great prognosticator, but I had a feeling that Justice League: Generation Lost #21 (written by Judd Winick, drawn by Aaron Lopresti) would turn out like it did. That feeling only grew stronger the deeper I went into the issue. You all know by now how much I've enjoyed JL:GL, and I thought this issue did a particularly good job of using character moments in conjunction with advancing the plot, and even building a little suspense.
I've also enjoyed Zatanna (written by Paul Dini), but issue #11 (drawn by Cliff Chiang) might be my favorite issue so far. Zatanna takes an especially bitter enemy back to the ol' homestead in hopes of restoring him to his human form -- an ineffectual human form, to be sure -- but things don't exactly go as planned, resulting in one of the creepiest cliffhangers I've seen in a while. In this regard Chang really sells the story, giving Zatanna's ancestral home the appropriate airs of grandeur and mystery, making the magical battles exciting and unpredictable, and wrapping everything up with a sequence whose apparent banality makes it all the more horrifying. Can't wait for issue #12.
Finally ... well, last week I mentioned the Gen13 paperback, which reprints the introductory miniseries by Brandon Choi, Jim Lee, and J. Scott Campbell. I did not expect to have such a strong reaction to this book. I don't have anything against the creators, and I've liked other things they've done. Regardless, I remember buying Gen13 out of curiosity lo, those many years ago, and it will be a long, long time before I take this book off the shelf again. Put simply, it hasn't aged well. Campbell's work isn't as off-putting in its exaggerations as, say, Rob Liefeld's, but it still takes some getting used to. The script reads like a laundry-list of teen-superhero tropes run through a military-conspiracy blender and distilled until only the most potent sugars remain. This book was garish, obvious, and overly familiar. I could practically feel the creators elbowing me in the ribs, daring me not to like it. Sorry, fellas -- I'm sure Gen13 got better, and I know you all did -- but I come from a land of well-made liquor; and this turned to vinegar long ago.
Brigid Alverson: Jason Shiga's Empire State is sweet, funny, and depressing all at once. It's a sort-of love story that reminded me very much of what it was like to be in my 20s, and why I'm glad I'm not any more. It's the story of a cigarette-smoking, wisecracking girl who moves to New York and a quiet, stay-at-home guy who follows her there. It doesn't end up being the romance of the century, but there's a lot to enjoy about this book, both Shiga's sly humor and his dead-on portrayal of difficult emotional moments. His cartoony style helps keep the reader from getting too emotionally involved‹his characters are all rounded and slouching, and I wouldn't have guessed that the male lead was Asian if it one of the characters hadn't mentioned it. On the other hand, Shiga includes lots of details and gives his characters quirks and interests, which makes for a rich reading experience.
Page by Paige, by Laura Lee Gulledge is a YA graphic novel that walks a very fine line between preachy and surrealistic. It's the story of a self-conscious, introverted high-school girl who has just moved from Virginia to New York. She confides her feelings to her sketchbook, and sometimes her internal monologue sounds like something out of a self-help book. What redeems it, though, are her surrealistic drawings of Paige's states of mind‹a crowd reduced to bundles of paper dolls, a landscape scattered with banana peels, her family's faces replaced by framed pictures. She has an uncanny knack for drawing what teenagers think. I do think the book would be better in color, though. Gulledge works in black and white with lots of toning and grays that get a bit lost on the page; color, even limited color, would really bring this book to life.
Tim O'Shea: Man, I was sad to recently read that Zatanna's numbers continue to drop in sales. Plenty of books are dropping in numbers, but in my opinion Zatanna's stories have improved over the months. Honestly I dropped the book a few months back, but because I like Paul Dini's writing typically, I was willing to give it another go. And with this current arc featuring the art of Cliff Chiang, I'm over-the-moon happy with the book. Zatanna 10 ended with a plot twist that ensured me I'll be back for issue 11. If you are not currently reading Zatanna, I'd loved to learn the reasons why not.
Ben McCool's Captain America: The Korvac Saga overall was a tad uneven for my taste. That being said, with issue 4, McCool sets up a scenario where Cap has to make a choice that I would have never considered constructing in a Cap story. While I cannot recommend the miniseries to folks if it comes out in TPB, I do hope to see more writing for McCool down the road. I also hope artist Craig Rousseau gets more high profile work at Marvel in the near to long term.
Superboy 5: Jeff Lemire has surprised me by making Lori Luthor one of the most interesting cast members in Superboy. I expect she'll eventually become the book's villain, but for now I enjoy her presence in the book.
Hawkeye-Blindspot 2 (of 4): I never tire of Jim McCann's encyclopedia-scale knowledge of Hawkeye history. And he jams this issue full of Hawkeye's history, with Nick Dragotta & Brad Simpson delivering absolutely stellar flashback scenes.
Cinderella-Fables are Forever 2 (of 6): Artist Shawn McManus is known for drawing great monsters, but dang if his female characters are not equally exquisite. I doubt writer Chris Roberson and McManus would want the grind (and pressure) of an ongoing monthly, but damn if I would not read it. Roberson's use of flashback (in this issue alone he takes us to 1943, 1983 and 1984 [in addition to present day action]) is another factor that pulls me into this miniseries. I never tire of this female Fable equivalent to James Bond.
Wilfred Santiago: On my nightstand...
The complete TORPEDO volume one.Good reprint by IDW. Not for everyone. Torpedo is a mean, slimy, nasty asshole. He is not too smart, he knows he is not and he has no scruples. In real life you don't want to be near someone like Torpedo. If you don't mind reading about this type of character then get this book now. In glorious black & white, Bernet has an amazing range with his brush and his synergy with Sanchez Abuli's script is seamless, simply one of the best writer/artist teams. Alex Toth is an all-time favorite of mine and he did a couple of stories in this volume, but Bernet owns this series. You can smell the pee on the streets.
Dark Horse reprint- THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN volume 1John Buscema's* pencils are amazing. You could read one of his stories without word balloons and still get it. Simply put, his characters act. Interesting, the different but excellent interpretation of such strong line work through the inks of individual artist like Alfredo Alcala and Pablo Marco. This is so much more enjoyable if you block the narrator's captions. No offense to who is ultimately responsible (Roy Thomas or Robert E. Howard?). Sometimes superfluous with redundant mood and scene descriptions, things that are clearly already rendered in the great art featured. Good stuff. (For more Buscema magic, check kids, Wolverine #1 - #16 (Vol.1)!)
MAD ABOUT THE MOVIES Mad BooksA collection of Mad Magazine movie parodies. I read these growing up; Mad was a staple of my reading diet 'till my late teens. Mort Drucker is an unequaled master at what he does, and the main reason for looking at this book. And don't forget the deceiving simplicity of Sergio Aragones!
MY DEAREST FRIEND Letters of Abigail & John Adams Belknap HarvardA fascinating book of correspondence between John Adams and his wife Abigail through the years. Revealing accounts of their relationship as intellectual equals, which it was at odds with the times. As its backdrop, a new nation is being built. Loving and sometimes heartbreaking. Great supplement if you enjoyed the HBO mini-series, John Adams.