Welcome to What Are You Reading?, the weekly feature in which your Robot 6 crew shares what's on our reading pile this week. Our guest this week is Robin Brenner, who is the Teen Librarian at the Brookline Public Library in Brookline, Massachusetts. She chaired the ALA/YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee, was a judge for the 2007 Eisner Awards, and blogs at School Library Journal’s Good Comics for Kids blog and at EarlyWord. Her guide Understanding Manga and Anime was nominated for a 2008 Eisner Award.
As always, feel free to play along in the comments section!
Michael May: Getting ready for Halloween, I’ve been digging into some horror odds and ends. I met artist Christopher Herndon at SpringCon this year and he gave me a couple of issues (numbers 4 and 6) of the Living with Zombies series he and writer Matthew Billman created. It’s hard to judge an entire series by two, unconnected issues, but if these are representative, then I want to read more. I don’t generally like zombie stories, but Billman and Herndon have made theirs cool and different by casting themselves as the “heroes” (not that they act very heroic most of the time; mostly they’re argumentative and back-stabbing, but in a good, funny way) and imagining life for themselves and what I guess are probably their real-life friends in a zombie apocalypse. It’s one of those rare books that pulls off being both nasty and amusing at the same time.
Judging from that one image of Cthulhu and the whale, Alan Moore’s Neonomicon looks pretty cool. I won’t know for sure until it’s collected, but while I’m waiting I wanted to read Antony Johnston and Jacen Burrows’ adaptation of the story it’s a sequel to, “The Courtyard.” I’ve always enjoyed Burrows’ highly detailed artwork and Johnston does a fine job making it feel like it was written for comics rather than adapted from a prose short story. It’s the story itself that’s disappointing. The idea of an FBI agent who specializes in Anomaly Theory sounds cool until you realize that it’s shorthand for Able to Jump to Wild Conclusions and Be Right About Them. Beyond that, it’s a typical, fatalistically hopeless, Lovecraft homage. It hasn’t killed my interest in Neonomicon, but now I want to read some reviews first.
Tim O'Shea: Jeff Parker's ATLAS came to an end this week, with the release of the series final issue, #5. I like the manner in which Parker and company wrap the series, and Parker crams a hell of a lot in the final installment with a slight cheat of a few pages of text (and I have to say, the two pages that are sheer prose makes me want to see more prose work from Parker). I'm an avowed Jeff Parker fan, as most folks know, and the ATLAS characters have always been a favorite of mine, because it allows Parker to cut loose in a manner he likely never could with Marvel's top tier characters. And yet, his work on ATLAS has led him to higher-profile assignments (such as Hulk and Thunderbolts) and allowed him to gain more fans. I'll miss ATLAS, am glad to see Parker end it on his terms and look forward to see where he goes from here. But I still hope that Gorilla Man will show up in one of Parker's other books.
I'm ecstatic to be getting my fill of Landry Walker this week with his writing on The Incredibles #14 and Batman: The Brave and the Bold #21. As much as I enjoy The Incredibles, I enjoyed Batman more, given that it teams Walker with frequent collaborator Eric Jones. My contribution this week is dedicated to my mother, who died on Sept. 16. Unlike some parents who discouraged their child's comic book collection (or tossed them when they moved away), my mother always allowed me to collect comics. In 2004, in fact, she allowed me to store my comics at her home after a divorce. She did many things for me throughout her life (and gave me life, of course). This is just one of the many things she did to support my interests, as a child and as an adult. I promise to not clutter heaven up with comics when I see you next time, mom.
Sean T. Collins: This week, I took a look at a pair of fun supervillainy showcases and kicked off a major project that will take me from Hoppers to Palomar and back over the next few weeks. Click the links for full reviews ...
Dark Reign: Zodiac, by Joe Casey and Nathan Fox (Marvel): Fox's tremendous art (augmented by Jose Villarubia's command performance on colors) really kicks Casey's villain-vs.-villain slobberknocker up a few notches.
Batman: Knightfall Part One: Broken Bat, by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench, Jim Aparo, Jim Balent, Norm Breyfogle, and Graham Nolan (DC): A while back, at the Savage Critics, I took a look at one of the few superhero stories I remembered fondly from my few years reading comics as a teenager, and it turns out it's still a thoughtfully crafted, rollicking great time in Gotham, for all its shortfalls.
Locas, by Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics): The big news 'round my way is that I'm spending the next month or so doing a marathon read-through of Los Bros Hernandez' Love and Rockets series — a little something I like to call LOVE AND ROCKTOBER. I kicked it off with my secret shame: A negative review of Jaime's Locas collection I wrote for The Comics Journal a few years back. I've since come around on the Maggie & Hopey (et al) material, and I'm looking forward to revisiting and reviewing it.
Robin Brenner: First off, I finally got my hands on Kathryn and Stuart Immonen's period Moving Pictures. I'd been meaning to pick it up ever since hearing them speak at TCAF, and I could finally find the time to sit down and appreciate it. Incredibly smart, subtle, and wonder of wonders, a story that expects the reader to do some hard work to comprehend the tale, I found it a wonderful challenge. The art is perfect—clean lines and dark shadows with small flashes of color. The script and art both leave all these tense empty spaces, allowing the reader to fill them in with the eerie noises of a not-quite stripped bare museum. I can't applaud enough a comic that expects so much of its audience — it felt a bit like the Mad Men of the recent slate of comics I've devoured.
I was also thoroughly charmed by Barry Deutch's Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, and the subtitle of the book says it all: just another troll-fighting Orthodox Jewish Girl comic. I'm pleased to see this title getting the kudos and coverage it has in recent weeks, and it's a book that achieves a strong balance between setting the story within a seldom seen in pop culture community and informing readers about the traditions and ideas of said community. I never once felt like I was being lectured to or invited to experience a very special episode of comics where I would learn about Orthodox Judaism. Instead, I got to accompany a smart, rambunctious girl on her journey through family tribulations, memories, outwitting pigs, and yes, troll-fighting. I'll never pass up on that chance!
This week I also re-read the bulk of After School Nightmare in the hopes of participating in the Manga Movable Feast — sadly, I cannot do more than report back that, once again, the series cemented itself as one of my top shojo manga of the past few years. The way that Mizushiro breaks and challenges all of the stereotypes and conventions of shojo manga is startling and brilliant. It makes me wonder how much of an anomaly it really is—is there more clever, let's mess with audience's head shojo manga out there on this level? How do I convince publishers to pick it up? No, it's never going to have a Fruits Basket level audience, but I'd love to see more of the kind of manga that takes conventions and twists them toward deeper meaning. It's terribly sad that it's now dwindling to out of print status.
Amid all of my comics reading, I've usually got a number of books going, so in case you're curious: I'm also almost done with the hilarious, wrenching biography Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters, re-reading Robin McKinley's return to the story of Beauty and the Beast Rose Daughter for my own pleasure, and reading for the first time YA classic I am the Cheese by Robert Cormier for my teen literature book club meeting next Wednesday. And there are still piles of books waiting for my attention! A librarian's work is never done.