What Are You Reading?

Welcome to this week's edition of What Are You Reading. JK Parkin is off enjoying the APE convention this weekend, so I'm filling in. Our guest this week is blogger and critic Sean Witzke. To find out what he and the rest of the Robot 6 staff have been reading this week, just click on the link below.

Tim O'Shea: Bruce Wayne: The Road Home. What a crappy title. It actually sounds like an Elseworld title for a universe where Bruce Wayne does infomercials. And yet, I bought some of the books this week. In a sense you get double the story as their dueling narrators in each tale (Bruce Wayne "journaling" his observations, as well as typically the lead character [Red Robin; Batgirl] internal monologuing along). Oddly in the Batman & Robin one-shot, Vicki Vale is the other narrator. I think the Batgirl installment is the most interesting read, given Bruce Wayne and Stephanie Brown's convoluted history. Of all the Bat books, I'm an oddball and enjoy Red Robin and Batgirl the most. I am enjoying the Wendy Harris/Proxy character development. But am the only person disturbed that DC editorial seemingly plotted out the paralysis of a character seemingly to create an Oracle Jr? Back to the story though, I imagine Cassandra Cain fans (no she does not appear, she merely comes up in a conversation) are not going to be very happy with the latest plot reveals in terms of her career path. But who knows, maybe Cain will be head of HR in the new Batman Inc. series.

Paul Cornell's Knight and Squire 1 (of 6) is the most enjoyable introduction issue I've read in a good long while. Even though it's set in the DC universe, thanks to the fact it's a British-based comic continuity, Cornell has essentially a vastly underutilized set of dynamics with which to build stories. And yet, Cornell covers a hell of a lot of ground in this first issue, set the entire time in a pub -- a very special pub. Jimmy Broxton's art is an acquired taste for me, but by the time I got to end of th eread, his style grew on me a bit. In some ways, Cornell's approach on this book is slightly reminiscent of Alan Moore's goofy style on Supreme (and to a lesser extent on some of his America's Best Comics series).

Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee bestowed us with another issue of Thor: The Mighty Avenger (issue 5 for those of you counting) this week with the introduction of Langridge's take on Namor. What superlatives can I use? Hell, I've run out. In a sense, it seems that Langridge has chosen to make Jane Foster be almost the co-lead on this book (Thor would not succeed in this issue were it not for Jane's help). It's a great use of the character and I hope parents, looking for a good story with a strong female lead for their children to read, take notice of this series.

I was sorting through some old comics the other night and found some gems. Consider the following:

-- The Comic Reader 209 (March 1983): featuring Mike Tiefenbacher's review of the Comic Buyer's Guide as it transitioned from Alan Light as editor to Don & Maggie Thompson; the final installment (150 strips in total) of Captain Kentucky by Don Rosa-- Amazing Heroes 48 (June 1, 1984): featuring "Ace" MacDonald on Mister X (Dean Motter, Paul Rivoche; Gilbert, Mario and Jaime Hernandez) and Mark Waid's piece "The Bizarro Papers"--Amazing Heroes 167 (June 15, 1989): featuring a look at Batman at Fifty, which included a Kevin Nowlan cover, as well as a Rich Morrissey essay on Gardner Fox and interviews with Dick Sprang and Charles Paris.

Brigid Alverson: I returned from New York Comic Con with an abundance of comics, and the first ones I turned to were the Life With Archie magazines (the November one isn't out on stands yet, but you could get it at the Archie booth). The stories keep the basic simplicity of Archie comics, but the characters are now in their 20s and dealing with a different set of issues than their high-school avatars. The result is something that doesn't really read like an adult graphic novel -- the characters are too broadly drawn, the storylines too simple -- but still has plenty of narrative pull. In other words, I couldn't put the damn things down.

I'm also enjoying the first volume of IDW's Library of American Comics compilation of Blondie. I was really curious to read this, as I had heard that when the strip started out, Dagwood was a wealthy playboy, Blondie was a penniless flapper, and Dagwood's family violently opposed their match and cut him off when they were married. This turns out to be true, but the situation is played more for laughs than for drama, and the gags are pretty weak at first. The comic goes better as it goes on, though, and it makes a fascinating period piece. I particularly enjoyed Brian Walker's essay on the history of the strip, especially the elaborate marketing campaign that preceded the launch. It's clear that the strip was well thought out from the beginning, and the promotional materials pictured in the book are really cute.

Chris Mautner: I didn't read this recently, but I realized that I never spoke up about Like a Dog, Zak Sally's collection of early short stories that Fantagraphics published last year. More to the point, I don't think very many other people spoke up about it either, which is a a shame. Sally's doing great things in Sammy the Mouse, his oversized Ignatz series, and this collection of early comics shows he didn't just spring up out of nowhere. Bitter, haunting stories like "The Man Who Killed Wally Wood" and "The War Back Home" show a striking willingness to ask uncomfortable questions about himself and the world around him. His account of Dostoyevsky's time in prison is a real highlight and I think marks a turning point in his storytelling ability. And the fearless, self-lacerating essay he provides at the end brings the book to a near-perfect close. Really, it's a tight little collection.

I really like Drew Weing's art style, his big feet, round bodies and sausage noses really hits my cartooning sweet spot. That being said, I had a bit of trouble with Set to Sea, a slight, fitfully amusing chapbook about a would-be poet who gets shanghaied and ends up becoming a sailor. At the risk of spoiling the whole story, my gripe with the book is its central idea that true art can only be made after having truly "lived," or in this case, gone through a traumatic experience. It's a line of reasoning that I see cropping up in stories every so often but it's not one I'm particularly enamored of. Great art comes from working relentlessly on your art and having talent and insight and little else. The notion that the protagonist could only become great through a life-changing experience rings as more thn a little false to me.

Sean T. Collins: Over on my personal blog, LOVE AND ROCKTOBER is still going strong. This week I read through the Jaime Hernandez Love and Rockets collections Perla La Loca, Penny Century, and Ghost of Hoppers. Taken together they're as powerful a depiction of what it means to become an adult as any you're likely to find in comics. Click the links for full reviews!

Sean Witzke: Well, the two big comics that I'm really looking for every time I step into a comic shop these days are Brandon Graham's King City and David Hine and Shaky Kane's Bulletproof Coffin. Bulletproof Coffin is kind of the gonzo version of Jack Staff - it's about the revival of old comics that are long dead, and its just as well drawn, but it's not a nostalgia-fest. Its full of comics-within-comics where EC comics, Kirby, Steranko, and '90s Image all kind of happened at once to create this alternate comics history. It has this real disturbing undertone to it too, as if the fantasies and fake comic stories were both coming from the same disordered mental state that the character is going through. It's messed up in all the right ways. King City is Brandon Graham's almost-completed (one issue left!) science fiction epic. Well, epic isn't the right word, but it's close. Graham has spent the second half of the series compounding background detail and letting the plot slowly burn. Story-wise, issue #11 he finally lets things jump off and huge events happen - but more importantly in #10 and #11 Graham is upping his own game. There are things here I've never seen before, like the panel snapping in half along with the guy who says it. My favorite moment is when the sniper says about his clone "I love that guy". I know its been hard for a lot of people to track this book down, but there might not be a trade coming, so its worth seeking out.

Along the same lines, I was just rereading James Stokoe's Won Ton Soup 2, which is kind of a of middle ground between The Mighty Boosh and Alex Nino's old Heavy Metal style. There's a lot of uncomfortable talk about a Sex Bear and exactly what you need to do to take care of one, and the two leads get so high at one point that Stokoe gets exhausted and leaves two pages blank. Its the rare comic that is more about how much fun the artist had drawing it than the book itself. Every frame is just about how jazzed he was that he could have the story of blood cells in Johnny Boyo's stomach lining. Stokoe's Orc Stain is great too, but its been almost impossible for me to find a copy of the fourth issue.

I'm still going through some of the books I picked up at NYCC, my favorite of which is Darwyn Cooke's latest Parker book The Outfit. Which has my favorite opening splash page in a comic this year, of Parker ducking a bullet as it bounces right next to his girl's head, the caption reading "When the woman screamed, Parker awoke and rolled off the bed." The rest of the book, with its intuitive brilliance of how Cooke uses shot choice and his magazine-illustration style jumping, is just a victory lap.

I finally grabbed Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit book 2, which is the funniest shit I've read in years. MF Wilson and Nathan Fox's Flourescent Black too - its huge, and Fox has leveled up since his work on Dark Reign Zodiac. He draws less like Paul Pope now and more like himself, and these pages vibrate in neon. But, the best purchases of the con were at the Alca booth which had exorbitantly expensive and gorgeous french albums - I grabbed the the latest Arzak: L'arpenteur by Moebius and Meka: Outside by Morvan and Bengal. I've wanted a physical copy of Bengal comic for years, ever since I had a friend tip me off to his website 5 years ago. The books are in French, but who cares when they look this good, right? Bengal's pages (and colors) are fluid and massive, and his characters are actually expressive - you really don't need to know what they're saying, and much of this book is two characters arguing. Moebius' new Arzak - well I'm sure you've heard, it's the best looking thing. His new style (and how many people at Moebius' age are dropping a new style this late in their career) is immaculate, and maybe shows a little bit of an urge to one-up his stylistic godchildren like Frank Quitely and Ladronn.

Also while we're on Jean Giraud, I've finally just read Moebius' Airtight Garage for the first time in color. It's a completely different experience, I read scans of it in black and white (and in French, which I can't read) a few years ago, but in color it's not just a great comic but a perfect comic, Moebius draws in a dozen different styles, improvising from short to short, from his Blueberry style to psychedelia to cartoony minimalism to full-on superhero fight sequences. In black and white, it was nice and interesting, in color it feels like Moebius is branching out even further. I know that Incal and Arzach and his Silver Surfer are all more famously accepted as great, but this is my favorite thing Moebius has ever drawn. The ending is so perfect, I won't spoil it, but I can't imagine that story ending any other way.

Finally, I've been rereading Howard Chaykin's Black Kiss, which is brilliant and gross and the best thing Chaykin ever did. It's one of my favorite comics, and I've been rereading through stuff I consider classics. Black Kiss is almost impossible for me to write about though, and I don't know why. I guess its because any time you quantify it, well you're talking about a book where in the first issue the main action is prostitute pretending to be blind so a priest thinks its okay to sleep with her in a confessional booth. Chaykin is here doing the best pages of his life, with a story that's like Brian De Palma's Body Double but a thousand times better and more complicated, with hermaphrodites and vampires and repeating pages where you just stare at an answering machine (one thing that still gets me is that back when I was a kid, Chris Bachelo was sneaking in tributes to Black Kiss into his Uncanny X-Men run with that shot of the answering machine). This is great comics the same way that a lot of all this stuff is, because Chaykin was drawing whatever the hell he thought was great and doing it so well you didn't care. All of these guys - they love this stuff and you can tell.

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