What Are You Reading?

Welcome to What Are You Reading?, where we give a great big hug to all the comics, graphic novels and what have you we've been reading lately.

Our special guest this week is Ben Morse, assistant editor of Marvel.com and one of the several contributors to the Cool Kids Table blog. He's also written a few stories for Marvel as well.

To see what Ben and the Robot 6 crew have been reading recently, hit the link ...


Tim O'Shea

I missed out on last week's WAYR jam session (dammit, a missed opportunity to team-up with Dirk Deppey [seriously, I love Deppey's writing, I sure as hell hope his recent pronouncements that we all write about a dying industry is premature...]). So first off, I have to address what I read the week before that still sticks to the inside of my head...If you are not reading Langridge & Samnee's Thor: The Mighty Avenger you are missing out on a damn fine read. Langridge's take on the Marvel universe is sheer delight--a Brian Braddock/Captain Britain oblivious to the fact his pals know his secret ID as well as Volstagg revealing his child-rearing philosophy (redefines "smothering the child" really). The visual comedy of this book is just one of its myriad assets.

Given the mercurial way DC editorial aborts series and creative teams, I have been pleased to see Bryan Q. Miller, Lee Garbett and Trevor Scott still on Batgirl. Issue 14 is a great done-in-one team-up with Supergirl that sees them facing a legion of faux Draculas (favorite Dracula--the one riding a Segway). Miller writes a witty Batgirl, which is what brings me back every issue (and the fact that it's not a $4 book).

But in the $4 department, my blind allegiance to any Karl Kesel-written stories continues. This week saw the launch of the Captain America: Patriot, featuring the tale of Jeff Mace in the post WW-II era. Folks seem to salivate when Mitch Breitweiser is on art duties, particularly when colored by Bettie Breitweiser (as she is credited in this first issue of the four-part miniseries). There's a pulp vibrancy to the Breitweiser art team that meshes perfectly with Kesel's script. Plus there's an engaging supporting cast.

I really like the writing of Gail Simone's Birds of Prey, but this returning arc is dragging on a little long. Yes, the four-part arc ended with last issue, but this new two-parter continues to leave the first arc unresolved to a large extent. But what truly annoys me about this issue in particular is the compositional approach of art team of Alvin Lee & Adriana Melo. There were two to three pages where the point of view for the reader appears to be as if we were small insects looking up at these giant women. I feel odd when the layout of a panel draws my eyes to stare at the crotches of the female characters, but that's what happened a few times. Icky.

Legacies 5 leaves me asking one question. When do we convince Walt Simonson to do more Adam Strange stories (he draws a back up tale featuring Strange along with Tommy Tomorrow, Captain Comet, as well as Space Ranger and Cryll). The main story? George Perez drawing every DC character you can imagine (and given the 1980s Crisis timing of the narrative, it includes his take on a few Charlton characters...). Yes, buy the book.

Steve Rogers without his super soldier serum in issue 3 (of the four-issue mini) gives Brubaker a chance to get inside the heart of what drives Steve Rogers. Getting to see scrawny Rogers use his fighting skills allows both writer Brubaker and artist Eaglesham to shine. Rogers and a fire extinguisher prove to be a lethal weapon in one well choreographed scene. But what really makes the scene sing is Brubaker's writing as he internal monologues "And I'm not an underdog you ever want to bet against...not if you know anything about me." Extra kudos to Eaglesham for some quirky as hell visual moments with Machinesmith (at one point he lectures Cap with his back to Rogers, but his head facing the hero).

Sean T. Collins

An unusually superhero-heavy week for me. Click the links for full reviews...

Bound & Gagged, edited by Tom Neely (I Will Destroy You): A few dozen alternative and underground cartoonists try their hands at the one-panel gag cartoon format to varying effect.

Batman and Robin #14 by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving (DC): The best single-issue Batman comic I've ever read, and a true tour-de-force by Irving.

Incredible Hulks #612-613 by Greg Pak, Scott Reed, Tom Raney, and Brian Ching (Marvel): I like the new "Giants Roam the Earth" era of the Hulk in theory, but in practice I had a hard time getting into it.

Chris Mautner

Here are some things I've been reading. Not terribly recently, but I did read them:

Boneyard Vol. 7 by Richard Moore. This is the final (for now) volume in Moore's long running supernatural situation comedy. It doesn't really end on a high or low note so much as it simply just ends, as so many of the previous volumes do (Moore obviously plans on returning to the series at some point) It's engaging and witty enough to make me wonder why it hasn't found a larger following, especially among the fantasy crowd. At the same time, it's very formulaic. It plays with some of those cliches, true, especially in the horror/fantasy genre, but not so much that there's any real surprises in store. It's a agreeable series, with the occasional dollop of "good girl" art thrown in. That's about the best I can say about it.

Fogtown by Andersen Gabrych and Brad Rader. One of the newer entries in the Vertigo's Crime series. I wasn't wowed by the initial two books in this series, and I'm even less impressed by this utterly rote story about a private eye uncovering a case that turns out to be personal and blah blah who cares. The one twist in the story is the detective is a closet homosexual in 50s America, so of course the story is set in San Francisco. Brad Rader's figures are stiff and off-putting. Gabrych's text is insipid and leaves open far too many gaping plot holes. The whole thing strikes me as amateurish work, and I'm kind of surprised Vertigo gave it the OK.

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel. Man, I wish I liked this better than I did. The premise is pretty great -- kid inadvertently travels to weird afterlife world, where different cities represent different views of the dead, i.e. there's a city for mummies, one for spectres, etc. But TenNapel stumbles in his handling of the characters. They never break out of their assigned roles and become truly memorable or unique, and thus the book feels like one more all-ages adventure story that you've read a dozen times over, albeit one with strong Christian metaphors. There are some good jokes here, and I like TenNapel's art, but the book will only pass the muster with young readers who haven't read too many of these sorts of books.

Adventures in Cartooning Activity Book by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost. Man, I'm quite the hater today, aren't I? Good thing I liked this kids' book, a sequel to the first Adventures in Cartooning. Like the first book, this attempts to teach young readers some of the unique features of comics and encourage them to make their own. The back quarter of the book is a bit of a cheat as it's just a bunch of empty squares for kids to create their own comics, and some of the activities have more to do with doodling in general than with making comics per se, but it's still a good activity book for a rainy day.

Brigid Alverson

I just finished Cathy Malkasian's Temperance, and I'm not sure what to make of it. On one level, the story is easy to follow, and for big chunks of it, the narrative simply carried me along. On another level, though, I kept stopping and wondering what was really going on. Temperance is the story of a group of people who are led to believe they are at war with an unseen enemy. Every day Minerva, their leader, spins a fictional story of the battle their brave Pa (actually a cruel manipulator who has abandoned the group) is fighting. Malkasian weaves her story carefully, pulling the different narrative threads together in unexpected places, and while the parallels to the real world are clear, this is no simplistic fable. The story she tells is ultimately elliptical‹it makes sense, and yet something is missing, as if we missed a few sentence from the backstory. Malkasian's art is incredibly expressive, and her characters are filled with vitality, which helps keep the story moving even when it's not clear what exactly is going on.

Fraggle Rock is another allegorical tale of a closed society, but what a different world it is! Cheerful, guileless, and never terribly serious, the Fraggles, Doozers, and other inhabitants of Fraggle Rock are a delight to behold. I have never seen the show, but this anthology begins with introductions to the characters and their world, so I could jump right in. The stories are light-hearted, the characters are goofy, and the world of Fraggle Rock and Outer Space is well thought out. Everything about this anthology is first-rate -- the writing, the art, the production values -- and it struck me as being the sort of book that both adults and children could enjoy, each in their own way.

Ben Morse

Much thanks to JK Parkin and the rest of the Robot 6 crew for letting me participate here in one of my favorite features on one of my favorite blogs. I can only speculate how many other people had to say “no” in order for them to have to resort to me.

THE BRONX IS BURNING – I’ll attempt to seem a bit brighter right off the bat by coming out the gate with a “book without pictures” entry. I just got done with Jonathan Mahler’s novel about the summer of 1977 in New York City, which got adapted a couple years back into a mini-series on ESPN primarily due to its coverage of the Yankees’ World Series win. My boss spotted me reading this on the plane ride back from San Diego Comic-Con and said “That looks cool—whose book is it?” alluding to the fact that he doesn’t think I’m enough of a man to be reading a “sports book;” I do enjoy sports plenty and particularly reading about them, but this was about a far broader range of topics, including the ’77 NYC mayoral race, the “Son of Sam” killings, the city-wide blackout and subsequent looting, and more. I’d say that potpourri of subject matter was both Mahler’s greatest strength and weakness, as it certainly helps an ADD reader used to 22-page comic books that the focus keeps jumping around, and he does it well, but at the same time, it does suck when you’re getting really invested in the Reggie Jackson-Billy Martin feud and then get interrupted by 50 pages on how the police dealt with riots in Bushwick (which honestly was the weakest part of the book, somewhat surprisingly). Still, for a transplanted Bostonian like me, this was a well-written and compelling look at the city I’ve now worked in and lived under the shadow of for four years now, even though it has an unhappy ending (that would be the aforementioned Yankees World Series win).

JUSTICE LEAGUE: GENERATION LOST – I mentioned this on my own blog recently, but seriously what has impressed me most about Generation Lost is that somebody has found a way to make the Justice League International work in a role other than the one they fit 25 years ago. Like, so many fans—myself included—have fond memories of that classic Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis era where the JLI rode high as a kinda high-minded (at times) parody of the super hero team, but after that run came and went, they really had no place in a DC Universe that had moved on aside from limited comic relief or just cannon fodder to tug at the heartstrings of folks who really liked them. I dig that in Generation Lost, Judd Winick has recast them as almost Rodney Dangerfield heroes in the sense that they get no respect from anybody, but at the same time, they establish pretty much every issue that they’re more competent than anybody gives them credit for. I mean, they’re certainly not the JLA, and they’re self-aware and self-deprecating when it comes to that, but they’re not total buffoons either, so they’re working to prove that. I always like rooting for the underdogs, and that’s the situation we’ve got here, in a pretty cool slow-burn adventure that Winick’s unraveling. I also think a lot of the artists working on this book, particularly Aaron Lopresti and Joe Bennett, are certainly underrated, and Winick himself has always gotten so much flak, so this really is the little book that could, and I’m rooting for it.

X-FACTOR – I always knew that I was a fan of Peter David to some degree or another—in that I was always reading his stuff, his Hulk and Young Justice in particular—but it’s been a sort of “whoa” revelation for me over the past few years just how much of one I am. A lot of that has come from reading the early end of his Hulk run for the first time in trade, but also in that X-Factor has just really grown on me month after month to the point where it leaps to the top of my read list whenever it comes out (and working for Marvel, I get a pretty substantial stack of books each week, which makes them a more impressive thing I do declare). Like most of PAD’s work, X-Factor isn’t for everybody; he’s certainly earned his reputation as a guy who likes to really layer the series he’s working on with a real web of intersecting plots and sub-plots that play out over a long period and lots of in-jokes and continuity nods that I personally love but others may see as too inside baseball. Since we’re talking about what I read here though, PAD’s style is right up my alley as I’m a pretty comprehensive nerd who appreciates the hat tips to the past as well as a writer who is committed enough to a title that he knows he’ll be around to pay off something he sets up early on a couple years down the line. That aside though, X-Factor is just a great combination of smart and funny, where goofiness gets balanced with genuine emotion and big action nicely breaks up really well-constructed mysteries that are befitting of a book that is at the end of the day supposed to be super heroes as a detective agency. It’s a wonderful and diverse cast, too, from Madrox’s neurotic wannabe noir hero to Layla Miller’s obnoxiously omniscient troublemaker to the absolute joy Shatterstar has become as PAD seems determined to transform him from one-note warrior archetype into manic thrill-junkie. I particularly like when other more “traditional” Marvel heroes are drawn into X-Factor’s strange world, ala the Fantastic Four a few issues back, so the current arc wherein Hela is manipulating the group into subduing Pip the Troll and Thor’s right around the corner lands right in my sweet spot.

DAYTRIPPER – Stupidly forgot to get the final issue of this sucker the week it came out, then just grabbed it the other day, and was very much pleased as it ended nearly as strong as it began from my vantage. There are a lot of comics I enjoy and have a great time with and lots of praise for, but not as many that genuinely get me on an emotional level and Daytripper is the first one of those in awhile (maybe since a buddy lent me Blankets a couple years back). I think the best compliment I can give Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon is that they set up a premise where you knew the end of the story every single issue, but not a month went by where I wasn’t hoping against hope that it was going to go another way this time around, because that’s how invested I got in these characters. It was just a great meditation on life, family, passion and so many other things and they put all that stuff into great focus with the lens of “this could all be taken away at any time” and certainly made me appreciate my own blessings more. It was also a pretty neat lesson on cultures I had no idea about, and maybe more than anything I’m always grateful for comics that “feel” like they’re smarter than me, but that I’m able to still understand and don’t feel talked down to by. A beautiful work from every standpoint, the visual certainly included, and one I hope people give a shot in collected form as I bet it will read great.

THOR: THE MIGHTY AVENGER – I’m really proud as a Marvel guy of plenty of the stuff we’re putting out across the line right now, but I’ve got to say that Thor: The Mighty Avenger has a special place in my heart. It’s so beautifully executed and I know every person working on the book has a genuine love and enthusiasm for what they’re doing, so that’s really cool to see and hear. What I’m most impressed by, though, is that despite the fact that Thor is a character who has kicked around the Marvel Universe for somewhere around 50 years now and has a boatload of history and prestige behind him, this truly is a completely new take and something I never would have come up with, and that’s just real cool and quite an accomplishment in its own right. Like, the trappings of Thor are all there, from the hammer to Asgard to his supporting cast, and that’s all gravy, because I love Thor, but the whole “stranger in a strange land” routine is much bigger than that, and it’s being done here in such an elegant way that I really believe will hit home for people of all ages. I genuinely feel for Thor as this dude—and he really feels more like a kid than a man, despite being able to thrown down with Mister Hyde and whatnot—who has been kicked out of his house by his dad, ripped away from his friends and all he knows and holds dear, and worst of all he has no idea why. That’s something I feel like we can all relate to, and for me it’s more compelling than trying to figure out how this jives with traditional takes on the character or the fight scenes or the guest stars, even though all that stuff is great too. We spoke with Roger Langridge on Marvel.com this week, and he talked about the book and in particular how he focuses a lot on Jane Foster because she’s our eyes here and how he’s trying to recapture that sense of how crazy it would be if a homeless thunder god showed up in your backyard, a feeling of wonder I think we don’t get to experience enough in super hero comics anymore, so I really love that he’s trying to restore it here. Chris Samnee’s art is so perfect here as well, as he grounds the wild over-the-top stuff going on in a way that synchs up perfectly with what Langridge is going for. You mix in the great array of cameos and co-stars lined up from Giant-Man to Captain Britain to Namor and beyond and you’ve truly got one of the best books around here, one again that I’m truly proud to be even a little associated with despite having contributed nothing aside from the occasional “nice work” in the hallways to editor Nate Cosby.

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