Welcome to a long holiday weekend (at least here in the United States) edition of What Are You Reading? Today our special guest is Doug Zawisza, who writes reviews and the occasional article for Comic Book Resources.
To see what Doug and the Robot 6 gang are reading, click below.
I'm overwhelmed by cuteness right now! Capstone Press, which is a publisher I mainly associate with the library and school market, is launching a line of DC Super Pets chapter books, illustrated by Art Baltazar of Tiny Titans fame. I picked up Pooches of Power!, in which Ace the Bat-Hound and Krypto the Super-Dog team up to thwart a gang of sardine-stealing birds working under the aegis of The Penguin, and I have to say I enjoyed it. Despite being an early reader, it had a fairly complicated plot and plenty of interesting characters. I can see a lot of comics fans reading this story with their kids, but it's also accessible enough that a child who had never heard of Batman before could enjoy it.
So, to bring my blood sugar levels down a bit, I read the first volume of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead. Yes, I know it's been around forever, but I hate zombies so I never felt the urge to pick it up. Of course, I quickly realized what everyone else already knew, that this is far more than a zombie story; it's one of those comics in which, in the immortal words of Pogo, "We have met the enemy and it is us." In some ways, it's a very familiar and typically American story -- people thrust out of normal society (and away from the government) and forced to live by their wits, supplemented with plenty of guns. Kirkman makes it interesting even to zombie-haters like me with a varied cast of characters and some interesting interpersonal dynamics. By the end of the first volume, I knew I would be signing up for the duration.
Sean T. Collins
I'll tell you what -- if you ever wanna feel good about comics, spend a few days cramming with nearly every title you heard positive things about at the end of the year. Click the links for full reviews!
The Incredibly Fantastic Adventures of Maureen Dowd: A Work of Satire and Fiction by Benjamin Marra (Traditional Comics): In addition to being Marra what he does best -- sex and violence in '80s-trash fashion -- this is a killer satire of one of America's most satirizable pundits.
Crickets #3 by Sammy Harkham (self-published): As rock-solid a showcase of alternative comics as you're likely to find, centered on a story about life as a low-level hack in Roger Corman's '60s/'70s movie factory.
Powr Mastrs Vol. 3 by CF (PictureBox): Kinky, funny, focused alt-SF/F. The artist also known as Christopher Forgues is doing something special in this series.
Mould Map #1 by various artists, edited by Hugh Frost and Leon Sadler (Landfill Editions): Each artist in this giant-sized artcomix anthology gets one page to tell a sci-fi story; in many cases this leads to stuff that's more sci-fi tone poem than actual tale, and the material's the better for it. It's a British import, but American readers will recognize and welcome work from CF, Aidan Koch, and Matthew Thurber.
Bodyworld by Dash Shaw (Pantheon): Given the hubbub about how the webcomic version of this near-future sci-fi comedy was pushing that medium's envelope, I was surprised by just how straightforward and focused it was. Strong character work, too, in an indie-comedy vein.
Map of My Heart by John Porcellino (Drawn & Quarterly): This collection of strips and prose from Porcellino's seminal King-Cat Comics and Stories minicomic series is pulled mostly from around the turn of the millennium and tracks an ever more impressive refinement of the artist's minimalist style and frequently melancholy subject matter.
Okay, WAYR, you're part of my New Year's Resolutions too, so let's get to it! I read Daredevil Reborn #1 because I am supposed to. Daredevil is a popular character and if you don't know where he's going, you can't relate that info to customers looking to see where 'that guy Ben Affleck played that one time' is. After Shadowland, I was personally just done with Matt Murdock and whatever terrible thing he was going to do to himself this time, but I'm happy to report that Daredevil Reborn #1 is really good. This is exactly what Daredevil needs as far as character tune-up and this exactly feels like what Andy Diggle wanted to write about. The artwork has a hard line, empty feeling to it, where characters look rough and in the middle of nowhere, the perfect canvas for this little expedition to find himself. I'll admit that I wasn't surprised by Daredevil stopping at a mean, middle-of-nowhere locale for trouble he whines about not wanting in an internal monologue, but I love the pacing, the artwork and the art in the storytelling and -most importantly- I believe this is all going somewhere. Diggle isn't just going to give us this same sad Daredevil story we've been reading for years, he's going for change and I can believe that after this issue.
I also read Incredible Hulks #620 in an act of masochism. Don't get me wrong, it's well written, it's just not what I want to read. Me and the Hulk books have had a strained relationship since I want them to be a man's internal struggle with the monster inside, and they want to be a team book of heavy hitters with some inference to previous stories. I know, women always want to change the men we love, and I want the Hulk books to be more like when we met. I don't like their new haircut and hip attitude that's making them all popular. It's worse too, because this issue mentions the Devil Hulk and boy howdy, I love the Devil Hulk from Paul Jenkin's run on the book. It has Jarella too, plus Glan Talbot, Marlo Jones, two Abominations, Doctor Strange, Skaar and Korg and Hiroim and possibly the kitchen sink in a background cameo. Like I said, the story was good, but it doesn't feel like the Hulk I fell in love with.
Man I relate to Betty Banner more and more each day....
Last but not least I read Infinite Vacation #1 (Resolution #3!) because the cover looked interesting and a quick flip through looked weird enough for me. Other people will describe what happens inside the book better than I will, but suffice it to say that buying time to live your alter-selves' lives in parallel universes with an app on your phone is rad. They don't hold your hand through the idea, they just jump you right in with David Mackian artwork and smart and clever narratives. Do you like Cory Doctorow? Sure, we all do! Do you miss 'hard sci-fi' set in the real world and the idea that New Media could sell us on anything? How about a book that you'll have to read a couple times to really understand? Infinite Vacation #1 is all of these and more. I think this is what all the cool indie kids will be talking about this week.
Networked: Carabella on the Run by Gerard Jones and Mark Badger -- This is a unnecessarily convoluted story about a blue-skinned girl from another dimension who comes to our universe only to have the totalitarian regime from her world attempt to follow over to take over the Earth. The real purpose of the book is to warn everyone about the dangers of social networking and how the government can use stuff like Facebook and Twitter to monitor everything you do, etc. Considering the real dangers involved in sites like those -- i.e. stalking, harassment, bullying, sexting -- making grandiose arguments about how THE MAN is going to use FourSquare to create a one-world Orwellian state seems not only far-fetched, but a trifle irresponsible. Still, it's always nice to see Mark Badger's art.
Elephant Man by Greg Houston -- Fitfully amusing superhero parody that dares to say what if Jon Merrick fought crime. A lot of the problems that plagued Houston's last book -- Vatican Hustle -- plague this book: It's a bit too wordy, it's a bit too self-aware and a bit too in love with how "zany" it is. Still, I'd be lying if I said I didn't laugh several times and the plot is a lot tighter than Hustle's. For those who don't get easily offended and don't mind yet another collection of smart-ass jokes about superheroes, Elephant Man will suit you fine.
Rat Catcher by Andy Diggle and Victor Ibanez -- This is the latest book in Vertigo's Crime imprint, about a double-agent in the FBI who goes around killing mob informants and another agent who attempts to go after him. The book plays around with the two characters' identities to keep you guessing as to who's who, but it's pretty obvious from the outset. More to the point, the book's very plot-heavy, to the point where there's really no room for characterization. It moves speedily enough that fans of the genre probably won't mind too much, but it comes up short when compared to more notable recent crime comics like Criminal or 100 Bullets.
Used to be I believed the closest I would get to Mark Waid writing Superman was Waid on Irredeemable. But if Chris Roberson remains as strong as he is on this first issue of his Superman run ([#707]/part five of this JMS-initiated Grounded storyline), this is the closest we can get to Waid. I'm often nervous when a writer shares that he's been a fan of a character since childhood (as Roberson has said of Superman), but I was pleasantly surprised to see Roberson's healthy knowledge of Superman is something that he wields in a reasonable, while engaging fashion.
So, this week the final Thor: The Mighty Avenger came out and was as strong as the other seven issues. And I'm still waiting to hear from Marvel when writer Roger Langridge and artist Chris Samnee have their next ongoing or limited series is scheduled. Those two need to work together again on more than just Free Comic Book Day material.
Bryan Miller concocts the finest Damian Wayne scene to date in Batgirl #17, as he is forced to go undercover as a grade school student on a field trip.
For the past half-decade I start every year with the same resolutions: lose weight, eat better, read more. Every year, I fail at all three. I decided to bring those resolutions back again this year, and I’m trying, I really am, to knock them down this year. I’m sure most of you are familiar with similar resolutions, but the read more resolution is one that I try to apply to things outside of comics.
I’m the father of three very bright girls, all of whom love reading. My wife is a kindergarten teacher, so there’s never really a shortage of reading material in our house. As a matter of fact, there’s usually too much. Everyone’s reading two or three things, here, there, or wherever. I’ve always had multiple reading options open at all times, and right now is no different.
The Secret Zoo by Bryan Chick is a book that I happened across while researching an idea that’s been baking in my brain for longer than I care to think about. As a father of three voracious readers, I’m always trying to help them find new worlds. This is one world I’m glad we’ve found. My oldest and youngest haven’t had a chance at this book yet, but my ten-year-old and I have been enjoying it immensely. It’s the story about a boy who is looking for his missing sister, Megan. Noah Nowicki finds clues that tie his sister’s, disappearance to the Clarksville City Zoo. Most of those clues come to Noah via the animals AT the zoo. Chick delivers a story that is filled with adventure, child-like enthusiasm, and unbridled hope.
Chick has stated that he has a target audience of 9-12-years-old, but I’m enjoying it nonetheless. It’s a smart read that holds a great deal of potential beyond this book. Chick has planned the series to run over ten volumes, with the second set to be released on Feb. 1.
Skippyjon Jones came home with my wife. As I’ve already mentioned, she’s a kindergarten teacher and has her students bring in their favorite books to share. How my children made it past kindergarten without partaking in the free-wheeling, madcap imagination of Skippyjon is beyond me. Judy Schachner delivers the story of this creative young kitty who imagines himself as a Chihuahua and dreams up adventures for his “pack” of Chihuahuas (who are really stuffed animals in his closet). It’s zany fun that even my 13-year-old gets a good laugh at.
After the kids go to bed and when the wife tunes in to her shows, I find myself with some spare time to flip some pages, so I do. This week the highlight of my comic stack was Batgirl, a book I’ve been enjoying since issue #1. Issue #17 features a team-up between current Batgirl (Stephanie Brown) and Robin (Damian Wayne) in a story that Bryan Q. Miller delivers with equal parts humor, adventure and character. The team-up is driven by Batgirl’s first official Batman Inc. assignment. It’s definitely the lightest of the Bat-books, but strong enough to leave you wanting to read more in a hurry.
I’m also making my way through the anecdote-laden Superheroes, Strip Artists, & Talking Animals book by Britt Aamodt. Published by the Minnesota Historical Society, this book covers Minnesota’s Contemporary Cartoonists. It doesn’t limit itself to just mainstream comic books (and thereby the work of luminaries such as Dan Jurgens, Peter Gross, Doug Mahnke, and Pat Gleason) it also looks at the comic strip artists that call the North Star State home. Aamodt does a nice job of letting each artist – mainstream, independent, or comic strip – have a few pages of glory, including more than one sample from most of the artists. It’s a black-and-white book, but the art reprinted here translates well to grayscale life. The book itself has the heft of one of TwoMorrows’ Companion books, and the quality of the material within is pretty darn close to TwoMorrows’ standards.
The last thing I’m reading is on my iPod touch. I haven’t committed to a Kindle, iPad or other such reader device yet, but I have decided to experiment with the apps and my Touch. I’m reading The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer. The book just hit the stands (digital and deadwood) on Tuesday past, but I’ve been able to bust out the iPod Touch while waiting for kids at dance or swim, or heating up my lunch at work. This has given me the chance to pack an extra seven chapters of reading into a week that wouldn’t normally allow such an extracurricular activity. The book is standard-fare from Meltzer, playing close to his Decoded show while investigating the National Archives in more detail. Beecher White is an archivist who happens upon a secret that may or may not be tied to the President of the United States of America. From there, assumptions are made, conclusions are jumped to, and adventure busts forth. As he has done in previous prose works, Meltzer peppers the story with comic book-related winks and nods. It’s a page-turner at this point, and I’ve found myself unlocking the Touch to read one more page quite frequently.
As for what’s waiting for me next, well, I just checked out Ed Brubaker’s Rise and Fall of the Shi’Ar Empire from the library. I haven’t done much X-Men reading in the past few years, so I’m looking forward to an interstellar adventure with Nightcrawler, Havok, Polaris, Marvel Girl and Warpath. That will be waiting nicely over to the side as I finish one of these other books.