What Are You Reading?

Welcome and thanks once again for joining us here at What Are You Reading Central. Our guest this week is cartoonist, blogger and curator of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco Andrew Farago, who also has a book coming out later this year from Palace Press entitled The Looney Tunes Treasury. To see what he and the rest of the Robot 6 crew are reading, well, you know what to do.

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Tom Bondurant: I read the Peter Milligan/Edvin Biukovic no-subtitle Human Target miniseries, collected as part of the HT paperback which came out this past week. It was a real page-turner, and I think it probably works best read all at once. The plot is not particularly intricate on its own, but I did appreciate "HT" actor Mark Valley's comments about being confused by Chance's modus operandi. As I picked it up in mid-story over the past few days, I had to remind myself who was supposed to be whom on more than one occasion. This was not my first taste of Biukovic -- he drew the adaptation of Timothy Zahn's Star Wars: The Last Command -- but it's been a while, and I enjoyed his work. Right from the beginning, though, I could tell thatthis was not the style the TV show would be adopting. Themes of identity and alienation aside, it's definitely R-rated, thankfully in a way which isn't gratuitous or condescending. Looking forward to Milligan and Javier Pulido's "Final Cut," which rounds out the paperback.

I also read The Death Of Clark Kent, a collection of "weekly" Superman books from around 1995 or so, wherein Clark's old high school classmate Kenny Braverman discovers The Secret and starts making Clark's life a living h-e-double-hockey-sticks. It had its moments, but it may work best as an example of the larger storytelling style and the interactions of various creative teams. Dan Jurgens wrote and pencilled Superman, Karl Kesel wrote and Stuart Immonen pencilled Adventures of Superman, David Michelinie wrote andJackson "Butch" Guice pencilled Action Comics, Louise Simonson wrote and Jon Bogdanove pencilled Superman: The Man Of Steel, and (in the last issue reprinted) Roger Stern wrote and Tom Grummett pencilled the fifth-week-only Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow. There are clear differences, and sometimes jarring transitions, among these various teams, especially when it comes to Jurgens, who was at the height of his stilted DRAMA!! phase. (Booster Gold is so much more laid-back, you'd think Jurgens drinks Nyquil beforehand.) As a story, the book's big problem is that it resolves the main conflict a little over halfway through. The rest of the book is about the Kents and Lois (this is pre-wedding) putting their lives back together. This includes a diverting team-up with Captain Marvel, so it's not all bad; but along the way it takes a side trip into an unrelated Luthor subplot. The book also features Shadowdragon, a ninja-type character even I had trouble remembering, who ends up helping Superman. (Why Supes doesn't turn to a certainother shadowy ally, especially since he takes the alias "Wayne Jordan," is never really addressed.)

I would also say that TDOCK suffers mightily from being at the height of the infamous Mullet Era. Stories with the Super-Mullet are not intrinsically bad. (I know, you'd think so, but remember Grant Morrison's first JLA arc fell into this period.) The real problem with the mullet, especially in this book, is that each different artist interprets it a little differently, and after a while it gets very distracting. Unfortunately, as much as I love his work, Immonen's version of the mullet is the worst offender. It is shoulder-length, lustrous, and so full of body I expected Supes to break out into a Pantene commercial. I halfway think Immonen was playing a prank on readers, not least because as part of one disguise, Immonen has Superman wear a Hank Jr.-esque cowboy hat. ...

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Tim O'Shea: I have never been a big fan of the Ultimate line (though honestly learning that Art Adams is drawing Ultimate X has me tempted). But there's a quirkiness to Paul Tobin's Marvel Adventures line work that draws me in to his stories. This week the second installment of the four-part Secret Wars miniseries was released. Some of the issue's great moments include seeing Doctor Doom play hero (an odd sight) and Ben Grimm having to spend the night in a fan's shrine to him (which allows Tobin to use Spidey to crack wise on Thing action figures...). Superhero adventures with a sense of humor (a staple of the late 1970s when I first started reading comics) always pulls me in, to be honest.

In the first issue of the Muppet Show ongoing, Roger Langridge rewrites the Muppet Show theme to allow for its current Traveling Show incarnation. I ran out of adjectives to praise Langridge's Muppets months ago, but one must appreciate the musical aspect the man conveys in a printed work. It elevates his art and story to a level rarely achieved in comics. Name me another creator who brings vaudeville to comics in 2010. Extra points for placing Statler and Waldorf in a tree for their heckling of the show's current outdoor venue.

Iron Man 22 (third part of five in the Stark: Disassembled five-parter) read like a Wednesday episode of a soap opera: everyone essentially stood around and nothing of consequence happened until the last page. Fine in a trade paperback, I guess, but pretty crappy when you shell out $3 for a story.

Is it wrong that I was more entertained by Javier Pulido's backup tale in Amazing Spider-Man 617 than the main story? I think it appropriate that the cover of 617 has Rhino busting up the logo, given that this week also mark's the release HERO and Marvel's Ed Hannigan: Covered (benefit book for Hannigan, who has been from dealing with MS for the past several years). For $6 I got a hell of an education on Hannigan'sdesign work on many of Marvel's covers--and Hannigan was partial to doing funky stuff with the logo as shown in this collection. HERO and Marvel gathered many of Hannigan's cover sketches (some of them more dynamic than the final covers honestly). Until reading this, I had no idea that Walt Simonson ever did a Spider-Man cover (Amazing Spider-Man 222). Another quirk that I loved about this book were the remembrances from the artists that Hannigan advised. Get the Ed Hannigan benefit book, because A) It's for a good cause and B) It's worth far more than $6 in terms of what you will learn from it.

I skipped Adventure Comics for a few months, as the story dragged on for me. I am glad I came back for issue 6. There have been many ways in which folks have shown how twisted Lex Luthor is in stories over the year and yet Geoff Johns has written a story that takes his evil nature to new heights.

With the guest stars of Batman and Robin, writer Bryan Q. Miller is able to write some nice Dick and Babs work with Batgirl 6. And Lee Garbett is quickly becoming one of my favorite DC artists. I hope folks can ignore the baggage of the Stephanie Brown character (dead, undead, not in the cave shrine, Spoiler, whatever) and just check this book out. It's a fun read on multiple levels.

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Brigid Alverson: I spent the day on the exhibit floor of the American Library Association’s Midwinter meeting, and my head is still buzzing. So many books! So little time! One book that I picked up and dove right into is Foiled, written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mike Cavallaro. It’s about a high school girl who is a fencer, and each chapter is named after a fencing move, which is kind of cool. It has a high-school romance—first love for a determined loner, sort of a standard graphic-novel plot—but there’s a supernatural side as well. I’m not too far into it, but I like the main character a lot. Cavallaro’s art is expressive but readable; he does most of the book in soft shades of gray but breaks out the bright colors for the supernatural creatures. It’s tough to make that work, but it looks good.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which is based on a much-acclaimed anime, is a manga take on the standard time-travel story. Makoto, the heroine, has learned that she can leap back in time, and being a high-school girl, she initially uses that power for fairly trivial things, like not flunking a pop quiz. The story gets more involved and more serious, though, because she has two guy friends who are both getting romantically interested in her, and she’s not ready to deal with that. It’s a great story, and the time travel is handled well — she keeps returning to the same events but reliving them differently, with more control each time. The resolution of the story is very clever but also a bit confusing — time travel can be like that. The art is manga style but not overly stylized. This is a single-volume story and a very pleasing read. Highly recommended!

I started reading Fumi Yoshinaga’s All My Darling Daughters and was immediately unnerved because the opening dialogue, between a woman and her high-school-aged daughter, sounded just like a conversation I had just had with my high-school-aged daughter. Unlike the mom in the story, though, I did not marry a guy who is half my age and works in a host club. The book consists of five short stories, and the two I have read so far are both interesting, with moments that really ring true and elements that are truly over the top. Yoshinaga’s art is crisp and she renders her characters with such precision that they seem real. Most of Yoshinaga’s work is yaoi, a genre I’m not fond of, so it’s a real treat to see her working on a different type of story.

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Chris Mautner: Over the holidays we went to visit my mother's cousin, who we hadn't seen in awhile. She's a lovely person and she lavished my family in presents. She's also a big Pogo fan, and she gave me a copy of Pogo Files for Pogophiles, a 1992 tribute of sorts written by Kelly's widow, Selby Daley Kelly & Steve Thompson.

The book came out around the same time the syndicate attempted to revive a new version of the strip in various newspapers (it didn't last long) and this book was no doubt an attempt to help drum up interest. It basically provides an introduction to the strip and its characters, the various big storylines, and provides some background into how Kelly worked. The thing that will most interest Pogo fans/comics scholars/nerds is the original (or rarely seen) art work reprinted here and background information on how, for example, Kelly would send alternate strips when a particular week's satire proved to be too thorny.

The book was self-published by Kelly and Thompson and sadly it shows. A lot of the scans are of poor quality and the layout seems a bit sloppy. More annoying is the third-person tone that Kelly and Thompson adopt. It feels very odd to have Kelly talk about her relationship with her late husband in such a dry, journalistic manner. I really wish she had opened up a bit more and talked more intimately about her working and personal life with Kelly instead of writing things like "One frequent legend about Kelly is that ..."

Still, I'm enjoying the book despite it's flaws and I'm not even the most hardcore Pogo fan. It's making me antsy for Fantagraphics' eventual Pogo collection.

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Matthew Maxwell: KING CITY #2 and #3Wow, this is good. I thought #1 was good, but issues two and three really clicked for me, with Brandon Graham really stepping into the book and making his fictional city breathe. And it's funny, for a narrative, story-driven guy like myself, but story is the last thing I find myself caring about with this book. Instead, I'm more interested in just watching Mr. Graham bring up and casually throw away a thousand intriguing concepts and side characters as if he has them coming out of his ears (when in reality, coming up with stuff like that isn't very easy, much less integrating it into a world without things just seeming to be cluttered and busy.) I'm enjoying this book quite a lot and wishing there were more like it.

DAREDEVIL #502At least I think it's #502. I'm trying to figure out if I love this book or hate it. Haven't read DD in ages as a regular thing, and am not certain what I think about Matt Murdock being so closely tied to The Hand. This could be really, really great and do interesting things with the character or it could end up being another "Hero does the wrong thing for the right reasons" exercise. Hoping it's the former and not the latter. Betting the cost of the next two issues (which are in the bag next to me as we speak) that it is.

UMBRELLA ACADEMY: DALLASThe second Umbrella Academy series, collected. Read the first chapter and I wish I was more excited about it. I enjoyed the first one fine, I suppose, though I though Gerard Way showed his influences too clearly. Maybe it just didn't make that much of an impression, aside from the artwork (which I do love). Unfortunately, I'm not clicking with this book now, and maybe I'm just expecting too much out of it. Lots of intriguing setups with no depth, chacters chatting tersely and stuff just happening. All the pieces seem to be cool, but the whole isn't gelling. Not yet, anyways.

Finished my reading of THE PHILOSOPHY OF HORROR about as I started it. There's interesting critical perspectives here, but I'd have much rather read the abstract and that Mr. Carroll not reinvent the wheel and tackle much larger problems (like where the sense of reader suspense and suspension of disbelief actually comes from). Some useful language and rules set out here, but large swaths of the genre seem uncovered or ignored. Not a waste of time, but I'd only recommend it to die-hard academic types.

Starting reading of 100 BULLETS this week. No. I've never read it before. Looking forward to it.

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Andrew Farago: I picked up five new comics on Wednesday, which is actually a pretty big haul for me.

Batman 695: I haven't quite warmed to Tony Daniel as the writer/artist, and have to confess that the lone title that I still buy every month out of habit, regardless of quality or creative team. I used to have a dozen or more books that I'd buy just because I'd collected them month-in, month-out for a decade, but it was pretty easy to break myself of that once $3 became the standard price for a single issue. This is probably Daniel's best issue to date, but it's really just helping me pass the time until the next Grant Morrison Batman comic hits the stands.

X-Men Forever 15: I'm conflicted on this book. It's fun reading Chris Claremont's take on the X-Men team from the early 1990s, set not long after that Golden Age when he and Jim Lee blew everyone away with their run on Uncanny X-Men. The twice-monthly schedule means that those standard drawn-out Claremontian subplots aren't going to linger on for years and years. The artists are generally really solid, too, with Tom Grummett giving us something that's sorta like Jim Lee in most issues, although some of the fill-in artists haven't blown me away. (If series editor Mark Paniccia is reading this, please only hire X-Men alumni to draw this title. I'd plunk down money for a subscription right away if I knew that Paul Smith, Rick Leonardi, Mark Silvestri, Art Adams and John Romita Jr. were rounding out the creative team.)

What makes me come close to dropping the book is how much this book veers away from the initial premise of "X-Men if Claremont hadn't left the book in 1991." Instead of a good retro X-Men book with the characters as we remember them, Wolverine's dead, Sabretooth's pretending to be a good guy (again), Jean Grey never loved Cyclops (and was actually in love with Wolverine, except that now she's in love with the Beast), original Storm's totally evil and the little kid version of Storm is a completely separate person, Kitty's got Wolverine's attitude (and one of his claws), and Colossus ditched the team so he could shack up with the Black Widow in Russia, while Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. are overseeing everything. And they've all got new costumes.

Claremont's keeping it *just* fun enough that I'm going to keep reading, but if this veers away too much farther from the simple nostalgia trip I wanted when I started buying this book, I'll probably bail and just dust off my back issues the next time I need a Claremont fix.

Amazing Spider-Man 617: Digging "The Gauntlet" storyline. Joe Kelly can do no wrong with Spidey, Max Fiumara draws a great Rhino, and backup feature artist Javier Pulido has been one of my favorite artists of the Brand New Day-era Spider-Man. I'm a sucker for the classic Spider-Man villains, and the creative team is three for three on the revamps so far.

Invincible Iron Man 22: Who'd have thought that Matt Fraction would be the best Iron Man writer since Bob Layton and David Michelinie? And I haven't enjoyed Salvador Larroca's art this much since the mid-1990s. Turning the comic book Iron Man back into an interesting, even sympathetic character after all that had been done to make him into a villain was an unenviable task, to say the least. Marvel's Civil War turned Tony Stark into Dick Cheney with a killer robot suit, but Fraction and Larroca have me really rooting for the guy for the first time in 20 years.

The Muppet Show Comic Book 1: The last time a creative talent and a licensed property matched up as well as Roger Langridge and The Muppets was probably when Marvel let Evan Dorkin handle their Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures comic. Before that, it was Andy Helfer and Kyle Baker on The Shadow. Needless to say, it's pretty rare that the perfect talent and the perfect project line up this...um, perfectly? My only complaint about this comic is that I wasn't eight years old when Roger started it.

Essential Thor, Volume 4: I picked this one up a few weeks ago, and am only now getting around to reading it. Lots of great Kirby art, especially when he was hooked up with Bill Everett as inker (a combo I hadn't seen before, and am sorry didn't last longer). Unfortunately, Kirby's go-out-with-a-bang two part finale (not counting the one final issue he drew two months after that) was inked by Vince Colletta, whose feathery inks managed to water down one epic fight scene after another. The month after Kirby's final issue, Joe Sinnott came on as inker, and it kills me when I think of how great a Kirby-Sinnott combo on Thor could have been. (And it kills me further when I think of Kirby's earliest work at DC, with Colletta still on board as his inker. Didn't anyone have Wally Wood's phone number?)

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