What Are You Reading?

Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading. Our guest this week is none other than acclaimed cartoonist and co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, James Sturm. Sturm, the author of such books as The Revival and The Golem's Mighty Swing, has a new book coming out next month from Drawn & Quarterly entitled Market Day, and you definitely want to check it out, it's a lulu.

In the meantime though, let's simply check out what Sturm and the rest of the R6 crew is currently reading.

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Tom Bondurant: It was good to see Greg Rucka return to the Jax-Ur subplot in Action Comics #886, and I have enjoyed his forays into Kryptonian mythology, so I liked the issue overall. Unfortunately, both of these elements have been lost in the larger plot twists of "World Against Superman." Specifically, the Earth-based Super-titles seem preoccupied with General Lane's conspiracy, which itself is getting hard to figure. (Has Mon-El's return changed public perception? Is Metropolis still without potable water?) At the risk of throwing around an unfair in-my-day comparison, when Steve Englehart had Councilman Thorne outlaw Batman and Robin back in the mid-'70s, it didn't get in the way of the regular supervillain action. I think there are some good ideas floating around the Superman books, but lately they haven't been managed well.

I liked Batman And Robin #8 quite a lot, and what I'm about to say hasn't changed that -- but it strikes me now that I've been reading Essential Avengers Vol. 7, which features two stories about re-animated Avengers (Wonder Man and the Black Knight) coming back for revenge. Superficial similarites, I know; but weird synchronicity regardless.

Thought The Unwritten #10 got back on a good track, but perhaps that's because it's hard to screw up Nazis as villains. The big reveal about two main characters didn't hurt either.

Finally, the best for last. I thought The Muppet Show vol. 2 #2, by Roger Langridge, was a delight -- a great little story which featured some entertaining side bits, including the wordless epilogue. I'm growing extremely fond of this book, and hope it and Langridge have a bright future together.

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Sean T. Collins: This week, I read three very different comics that were all very successful at what they set out to do...

The Book of Genesis Illustrated, by R. Crumb: Just about the most gorgeous showcase of one of our greatest cartoonists imaginable, in service of bringing a very old, very weird, and very influential book to life. I pretty much beg you to take a look at this book.

Monkey & Spoon, by Simone Lia: A perfectly observed little relationship comic. Makes a great Valentine's gift!

The Death of Superman, by a cast of thousands: The very model of an action-based event comic.

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Matt Maxwell: TORPEDO: 1936 - V.1Abulí and Bernet. Of course. Who else would do this?

This is the IDW reprinting of the now-classic crime/humor series. I originally read a handful of these by way of the Catalan Communications printings that showed up in the 80s (you can still find 'em if you're lucky--though I never found the whole set). To say that this is one of the books that I'm most eagerly anticipating this year would be a colossal understatement. Only I'm not anticipating it anymore. The new printing (with design and layout by this guy Darwyn Cooke and translation/dialogue by this guy Jimmy Palmiotti, maybe you've heard of either of them) is gorgeous and worth every penny that you're going to lay down for it.

A word of warning. The Torpedo in question is a bastard, a monster, cruel to his enemies and crueler to his friends (yes, he has friends). He double-crosses and is double-crossed, treats the distaff in a totally abhorrent manner and generally espouses a view of the universe as utterly corrupt and irredeemable, primarily there for what amusement he can strangle from it. Not for kids. Very much for grownups, and some of the blackest humor you're likely to read. It's also a tour-de-force from Jordi Bernet the likes of which we haven't seen before (unless you're lucky enough to be reading JONAH HEX).

CRIMINAL: THE SINNERS - parts 2-4Brubaker, Phillips, Staples.

Stupid me. See, I thought I could get all the rest of the miniseries and not have to wait for the stories to come out. So I sat down last weekend with what I thought was the rest of the series, ready to enjoy it all. Then I'm reading through the fourth chapter and saying to myself, "Man, Ed's not leaving himself a lot of room to finish this off...how the hell is he...?"

And then I cursed myself for being an idiot because I hit the "to be concluded" box at the end. Yeah. Outsmarted by the CRIMINAL crew again.

This is as good as CRIMINAL has been since "Lawless." I'll probably get yelled at here, but I think that CRIMINAL works best when you've got a character who's dark, but still ruled by his own moral center, and Tracy Lawless definitely has one (even when it works against him). Even so, he's drawn deep into the murky waters of working for criminal boss Mr. Hyde, a forbidden affair with the boss' wife and a gang that seems to be bent on picking off all the important lawbreakers in the city. Did I mention he's on the run from the Army? 'Cause he is, and they just found him.

This book is a treasure. It's the best book being put out by Marvel right now (even if it's under the Icon imprint.) The team loves every page in here, and you can tell. I tried to stay away, tried to read it just in trades, but goddammit, those CRIMINAL bastards managed to pull me back into the Undertow when I thought I'd gotten free.

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Chris Mautner: This week I surveyed my "Someday I'm going to read this if I ever have the chance" pile and pulled out Vol. 5 in the Comics Journal Library series, "Classic Comics Illustrators." The oversize paperback book features interviews with folks like Frank Frazetta, Russ Manning, Mark Schultz, Russ Heath and Burne Hogarth that were originally done for the (much smaller) magazine.

Right now I'm still knee-deep in Hogarth's interview, which is the longest of the bunch (as I recall it originally extended over two issues). Hogarth strikes me as a bit of a fussy grandpa -- he seems to have a very limited sense of what art should and should not be and is way too dismissive of Crumb and the other underground artists (not to mention having both feet firmly planted in the "reading violent comic book stories will result in juvenile delinquency" camp -- lord only knows what he would have made of Grand Theft Auto). Still, great illustrator all the same.

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Tim O'Shea: In addition to being one of the busiest writers at Marvel, Jeff Parker is the type of storyteller that works fun into the adventures he constructs. Latest example is in Marvel Boy: The Uranian 2 (of 3), where Ben the beat cop begs his way into a ridealong with Bob on his rocket. Ben's reaction to seeing the Earth from space is the closest a writer's gotten to Busiek's Marvels common man perspctive in a long time.

This week, DC gives readers two kinds of Dick Grayson as Batman characterizations. And I'm shocked to express that Bryan ! Miller's use of Batman in Batgirl 7 is more in character than Grant Morrison's approach in Batmon & Robin 8. Really, Dick comes off like an idiot in Morrison's issue-tossing the Bat-corpse in a Lazarus Pit without even asking Alfred. Morrison's never written Dick as an idiot before, and I'm unsure why he chose to do it here -- other than to advance the plot he wanted to tell.

I really hope Mark Waid wants to tell more stories with Stephen Strange because I expected more of an ending with this four-issue Strange miniseries. Instead I was introduced to two or three characters who seem to be people Waid wants to play with some more. Here's hoping the sales warrant a second miniseries. Note I did not ask for an ongoing series. Strange, while a great character, is not a property that can carry strong sales on a monthly basis (few new series can these days, really). With the cancellation of Doctor Voodoo, I wonder how long Marvel will stick with Strange no longer being the Sorcerer Supreme. Time and space will tell.

I probably had read and forgotten that the Blue Beetle co-feature was coming to an end in Booster Gold 29. But I was still surprised and sad to see it end. With any luck some team book will utilize Beetle down the road, but that's likely the last we see of a great supporting cast.

Amazing Spider-Man 620, I sadly expect that is the first and last time a groin kick in a battle scene results in the sound effect of GROING. I hope I'm wrong. But the highlight of this issue--and the reason I still love reading superhero comics was one panel by Marcos Martin. The panel features Spider-Man pulling himself out of the water onto a barge and is evocative of that great 1970s Neal Adams panel of Triton.

Sometimes I wish my comic books came with commentary tracks. I can think of several negative instances where a commentary track could help a bad story, for example. But Secret Six 18 is not a bad story. Rather, I'd love the commentary track just so I could find out what great character and story moments were concocted by Gail Simone and which were the work of John Ostrander. It's rare when a character's actions surprise Amanda Waller, but this issue features such a rare moment.

Spider-Man: Secret Wars 3 (of 4) is another great story craving for a commentary track, writer Paul Tobin scripts a scene where the many heroes are in a hallucination/trance of their dream life. You don't see their hallucinations, you merely see them reacting collectively to them, with lines of dialogue. Hulk's line of "Betty. I'm off to work." makes sense, but I'm left wondering what Tobin was referencing when he has Wasp saying: "Mommy didn't forget. Mommy didn't forget." It's times like this, while I still enjoy the story, I wish I remembered Marvel history better than I do.

My pal Dugan sold me on Tails of the Pet Avengers 1 this week with five words: Two stories with Colleen Coover. Nuff said.

I totally agree with Tom about Muppet Show 2. In other Boom titles, I gave the Anchor TPB and issue 5 a try this week. Phil Hester and Brian Churilla's hero/monk is a man from another era who is unsure of his own past. The series stalls a bit for me in places. Oddly what appeals most to me of anything is the sense of humor the series sports periodically. One running gag I enjoyed is the supporting characters effort to not say Jesus Christ in front of the monk, for fear he will chastise them for blasphemy. I'm hoping that BOOM! has the time to let the book's voice and audience build--as I think it's a tale with potential.

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Brigid Alverson: Yen Press’s Black Butler got a lot of buzz when the news first broke that it was licensed, and the idea is great, but I’m less than thrilled with the execution. The concept is sort of Jeeves meets James Bond, except that instead of being a super-spy, the butler is a super- bodyguard for his 12-year-old charge. It starts out sort of light-hearted, with the butler smoothly going from flattening his opponent in martial arts to fixing the perfect cup of tea, but halfway through the first volume, the tone shifts and the story becomes darker and more violent. Despite the lighter tone, the first half of the book is very weak, with incredibly annoying characters and an almost nonexistent plot, so it was almost a relief when the blood started spurting. I’m not entirely sold on this one, but the fact that I liked it better at the end than at the beginning is a good sign.

J. Torres’s Alison Dare comics are coming back into print shortly, in a new edition from Tundra Press, and I have been reading them in galleys. These are the comics I wish I had as a kid! Alison’s mom is an archaeologist, which gives her an excuse to hang around in Egypt and make all sorts of trouble, and her father is a superhero, the Blue Scarab. Her folks are separated, which is an interesting choice, and when she’s not out at a dig, Alison goes to a Catholic girls’ boarding school. Jason Bone’s art really brings the story to life; it’s expressive without being exaggerated, and he really brings out the goofy humor of the stories.

Reading Alison Dare made me curious about Torres’s other work, so I read Lola: A Ghost Story, which is a very different type of a tale but shares a bit of the same sensibility. Lola is about a young boy, Jesse, who is visiting his family in the Philippines for his grandmother’s funeral. Torres does a great job of capturing the awkwardness of early adolescence and the strange-yet-familiar feeling of visiting your faraway family. But part of that strangeness is the way everyone takes his grandmother’s psychic gifts in stride—and Jesse’s confusion about his own ability to see things. This is one of those rare books that both kids and adults can relate to, each in their own way. It’s really something special.

James Sturm: Here's what's on the pile by my bedside right now.

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Afrodisiac by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca. This book went right to the top of the pile. I marveled at every panel: clever writer, amazing art and a thrilling attention to detail.

Snakeoil Five: Wolf by Chuck Forsman. From content to product/design this is one great little zine. On the surface, Chuck's work is quiet but it radiates an intense inner life (maybe like Chuck himself??).

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. Reading this out loud to my daughter. Man do I love those armored polar bears (and Lyra too).

The Family Moskat by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Big sprawling, multi-generational novel of Jewish family in pre-WW II Poland.

The Mighty Thor #166. When I was around 14 or 15 I decided I needed to have every appearance of Adam Warlock (including his earlier incarnations as "Him.") so I mail ordered this comic (isolated in the suburbs in 1980 it was the only I could attain it). I've been returning to this issue over and over during the last month. Just looking at the cover thrills me. Thor is such a dick in this issue— and if I had a drink every time the phrase "warrior madness" was uttered I would be loaded by page four! And there is not one period in this entire comic! Not one!!!

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