What Are You Reading?

Well, the snowstorm that socked the East Coast may have shut down everything from Virginia to Philadelphia, but it won't stop the What Are You Reading train from keepin' on a rollin'. Our guest this week is Phonogram, Thor and S.W.O.R.D. scribe Kieron Gillen, who was kind enough to offer his thoughts on his current reading matter. To find out what exactly he is reading, click on the link below.

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Matt Maxwell: INCOGNITOI'd say "one of the strongest writer/artist teams in all mainstream comics returns" but this came out awhile ago, and I passed over reading it in singles. But it's true anyways. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' work seems tailor made for each other, but this is a particularly strong piece of work by Sean Phillips, who seems kinda overlooked in terms of artists working today. His work isn't flashy or overly-rendered (qualities which are usually eaten up by comics fans), rather it's a sturdy storytelling vehicle, focusing on the basics, but doing them so very well. He wrings a lot of emotion out of the characters on the page with what seems to be minimal work (though I know it's a lot harder than it appears to be.) Val Staples' coloring should get some recognition here too. It never gets in the way (and with an artist like Sean Phillips, who could be presenting his work in b/w and not lose any of its punch, that's a big deal.) The story itself treads some familiar territory, not unlike SLEEPER turning itself inside out, focusing on an ex-supervillain (sorry, "science villain") in a post-/stealth pulp universe who's trying to pass himself off as a normal schlub and failing miserably at it. A great read, both lighter and darker than CRIMINAL, oddly enough, but retaining its own sense of identity. I hear there's more coming, and that's welcome news.

SCALPED v.5I'm somewhat torn about this work. I wasn't really drawn in by the latest character turn from Dashiell Bad Horse, but he's really not the only character with any weight in Jason Aaron/JM Guéra/and company's ongoing SCALPED. All of the characters are fully-realized and have reasons for doing what they do. Though scriptwriting 101 will often say that why they do things isn't nearly as important as what they do. So, as I said, I'm of two minds. It's all great writing, though I could see how it can easily overwhelm the reader with its tone, which usually comes in either dark, darker or darkest. Even love in SCALPED isn't celebrated, but rather, shared self-destruction. It's all skillfully executed and still moving, particularly when you see glimpses into the lives of "side" characters (even though, yes, it often distracts from having them do what they do.) I'm hoping that this arc sees a turning point in things, but I suspect we're being led further into darkness and light will be short in supply. Still, I want to see where this goes.TABOO #6Steve Bissette's baby shambles on, like a monster lurking the bargain bins, occasionally grabbing your wrist as you flick past copies of YOUNGBLOOD and BATMAN VERSUS WHOEVER ELSE HE FOUGHT IN THE NINETIES. I only gave this a quick glance, and it's still like who's who of independent comics from the time. Moore, Gaiman, Zulli, Burns (doing fumetti!), Campbell, Nicholson. The original home of FROM HELL and LOST GIRLS (one of which I found far more interesting than the other) as well as a host of other surprises make these worth returning to.

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Sean T. Collins: In the past I've avoided regularly participating in this feature, because more often than not I've already answered the question "What are you reading?" with my thrice-weekly reviews on my dayblog, Attentiondeficitdisorderly Too Flat. But then it occurred to me--why not use those reviews as my answer over here?

So, this week I read...

The Winter Men, by Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon: A stunning use of language is the high point of this Russian crime/espionage saga with a superhero cherry on top. Please keep writing comics, Brett Lewis.

Night Business #3, by Benjamin Marra: Sex, violence, and the warped view of the big city of a sullen teenager who rented his way through Blockbuster's thriller section. One of my favorite ongoing comics today.

Mercury, by Hope Larson: This YA graphic novel is distinguished by Larson's radiant linework and a surprisingly bitter edge toward the end.

Click the links for the full reviews!

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John Parkin: The first Demo series, published by AiT/Planet Lar circa 2003-2004, was one of my favorites at the time, and as excited as I was that Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan were doing a sequel at Vertigo, I also had a little bit of trepidation going in, wondering if they could recapture the magic of the first series. I'm happy that, for the most part, they have. Let's start with the presentation: except for the inside and back-cover ads, this looks like one of those original issues, black and white with no interior ads and some "extras" at the end, like a conversation between the pair on the history of the book and some thumbnail layouts of the issue. Unfortunately there was no playlist, one of my favorite things from the original issues, but it sounds like they'll be back in future issues.

This issue is about a woman whose reoccurring dreams become an obsession, to the point where she can't sleep, loses her boyfriend and eventually walks out of her job to figure out what exactly she's seeing. There's a "twist" at the end that isn't really much of a twist, as it's pretty easy to see where everything's going, so plotwise there aren't a lot of surprises. Where they story excels, though, is in how it's told. Sometimes it isn't about the destination, it's about the journey; Wood and Cloonan capture the feelings of obsession, hopelessness and eventual relief so well that I didn't really mind that I saw it coming. I also gotta say that this is probably the best artwork I've ever seen from Cloonan -- which is saying a lot, as I've been a fan of hers for awhile. She did some excellent work on the interiors and exteriors of the cathedral where some of the story takes place, and I was also wowed by her depiction of the main character's expressions and moods from panel to panel.

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Tim O'Shea: Jeff Lemire and hockey meet again in issue 6 of Sweet Tooth. After last issue's surprise, I was not expecting Lemire to throw me again. I was wrong. To paraphrase Jason Aaron's blurb on the cover of this issue: "I would crawl over Jason Aaron while he crawled over broken glass to read this." Seriously though, I was expecting to not see Jepperd for while, and again I am happy to say I was wrong.

Speaking of Aaron, I'm dismayed that his Ghost Rider run comes to an end with the conclusion of the Heaven's on Fire miniseries. Even worse, Aaron was unable to fit a letters column into his last issue (Aaron's letter columns were almost as entertaining as the actual story).

Tim Drake comes back to Gotham in Red Robin 9 and the character shifts further away from the grim and gritty mode he was when the series started. Writer Christopher Yost squeezes in a bit of Ra's al Ghul's evaluation of Dick and Tim's comedic sense. One of the strangest moment's I've read with the character, but it worked for me.

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Tom Bondurant: Not "reading," but I did watch the two-hour Justice Society episode of "Smallville" Friday night. I don't watch "Smallville" much anymore, and so this will not be a What's Wrong With "Smallville" post, but ... would it kill 'em to put Clark in a pair of glasses already? His frickin' Daily Planet ID badge looks like Superman!


Overall, it felt like a Geoff Johns story, in both good and bad ways. I thought the fanservice scenes with the Justice Society were sappy but effective, and I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of trivia Johns (and the props and set designers) crammed into the episode. However, Hawkman still doesn't translate well to live-action, and Dr. Fate was too short. The story itself was rather thin, even with the extra layer of Amanda Waller's involvement. I suppose a fragmented JSA and a not-quite-formed JLA would have some trouble with a C-list villain like the one here, but his threat level did seem to vary with the situation. Finally, as much as Johns says this episode stands alone, its ending is rather open -- teasing not just the future of theJSA and JLA, but revealing a regular character's involvement with a certain shadowy government agency, and how they'll all be needed to fight what's coming. So it's more of a "here you go, DC fans -- watch 'Smallville' for once, willya?" I'll be interested to see what sites like Television Without Pity say about this one.

I'm up to Volume 4 of the Hulk Visionaries: Peter David series (still pencilled by Jeff Purves and inked most frequently by Marie Severin), and I gotta say, I'm getting tired of Mr. Fixit. I have the back half of David's run, from just before issue #400 to the end of that particular series, and I'm finding myself much more interested in how David brings together Bruce, Marlo, Betty, and Rick than I am all this stuff with Glorian, the Devil, and the Shaper of Worlds. There are still four HV:PD books to go before I can dig into the back issues, though; and by my reckoning there's at least another year of Mr. Fixit.

Not sure what I was expecting out of Milestone Forever #1 (written and drawn by various Milestone alumni), but in hindsight I shoulda read more Blood Syndicate. This story was a 48-page square-bound "you're on my side"/"no I'm not" exercise which, actually, reminded me of "Smallville's" JSA: no doubt meaningful tothose in the know, but a little boring otherwise.

I did like the Blackest Night revival of The Question (written by Denny O'Neil and Greg Rucka and drawn by Denys Cowan and Bill Sienkiewicz), because it got around the usual BN cliches pretty nicely. It also introduced a good way to avoid the BLs, which if nothing else is the kind of plot element that makes these tie-ins worthwhile. Not that that was the only reason to read the issue, mind you -- I liked how O'Neil and Rucka distinguished Charlie's Question from Renee's, and Cowan always does good fight scenes.

Chris Mautner: I decided in January that one of my goals for 2010 would be to start buying and reading the entire Hellboy/BPRD series. Too many of my friends, colleagues and just general folks whose opinions I respected were praising its merits to the skies for me not to feel left out in some regard.

As I already own and had read the first two Hellboy volumes, I started on my quest with Vol. 3: The Chained Coffin and Other Stories. Really, for me the pleasures of a book like this lies a good deal on just lingering on creator Mike Mignola's art -- the way he manages to draw out tension on the page, his supurb handling of the big action scenes, his moody evocativeness. As fun as the stories themselves are at this point, for me the biggest draw is just the chance to marvel at Mignola's craftsmanship.

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Kieron Gillen: In terms of new stuff I actually bought - as opposed to "Stuff I read a while back in PDF as it's a major marvel book which I'm writing a crossover with" - it's been a quiet week for me. The big stand out thing which I was excited to see return was Wood/Cloonan's DEMO. The first series of which - superhero/paranormal tropes re-imagined as micro-teenage vignettes - was an enormously important work for both Wood and Cloonan, and seeing what else they wanted to do it. The first was an influential book on the second series of Phonogram, in at least a couple of serious ways. The first was the formatting issue - DEMO was as important as Fell in terms of our thinking there, really. The second was as a model of the sort of sized story we'd be trying to tell. And... oh, this is about me. Let's talk comics.

Reading that set me back to re-read the latest Northlanders trade, which is Wood operating outside his traditional box, and plain lovely. I love historical fiction. I also found myself, re-reading Fraction's Invincible Iron Man run. It's material I'm familiar with, but I was trying to provoke a little thinking about mainstream superhero comics. I also picked up the last Young Liars trade and the latest House of Secrets one. It's an oddly Vertigo week, it seems, especially as I spent the last couple of weeks raving at anyone who made the mistake of standing near me of how good the first Unwritten trade is, especially the Kipling story which ends it and is as good as any single issue Vertigo have ever published. Sez I.

Oh God. This is turning into "Will Vertigo give me work if I'm nice enough about them in a public forum". Let's talk about something else. Well, I'm still picking my way around the Alec Omnibus, which is a phenomenal body of work with a very thick spine. Also, I'm actually now following Freakangels in a week-by-week basis. I was actually letting it sit for a few months before diving on through, but I've sort of been on a Wyndam-hook all of last year, so a piece-sized piece of English-apocalypse suits me nicely.

I also went present shopping, buying one friend a copy of Dear Billy trade from Ennis/Snejbjerg for Boom and my girlfriend her regular copy of the Buffy ongoing. It's the one comic she reads and she kept me up for a good half hour speculating about the identity of Twilight. Thankfully, she doesn't follow the comics internet.

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