What Are You Reading?

Welcome to What Are You Reading. Our guest this week is none other than the highly esteemed Eddie Campbell, author of the autobiographical Alec series, as well as the mythological Bacchus and co-conspirator with Alan Moore on the acclaimed From Hell.

I had originally interviewed Mr. Campbell about a month ago in anticipation of the release of his whopping big Alec omnibus collection, The Years Have Pants, so this is more of a What Were You Reading than a What Are You Reading, but I nevertheless think you'll be intrigued by his selection. Look for the rest of my interview with Campbell to show up here at Robot 6 either later this week or next.

Click on the link below to continue reading.

[caption id="attachment_24750" align="alignright" width="100" caption="Brave and Bold #28"]


Tom Bondurant: After what seems like months of Essential Avengers (and assorted color reprints), I have reached a stopping point, having finished the Serpent Crown paperback last night. The next Essential volume was just solicited for January, so I'm glad for the break. "Serpent Crown" is probably as good a title as any for George Perez's introductory arc, although it doesn't much feature the Serpent Crown itself except as a plot device pitting the Avengers against the Squadron Supreme. In hindsight, of course, it's hard not to chuckle at Perez starting his Avengers run with an arc featuring more than one Earth and a good bit of time-travel. Really, though, I think he grew as an artist with each issue. After reading "Celestial Madonna" last weekend (also written by Steve Englehart, of course), I appreciated "Serpent Crown's" relative lack of complexity, not to mention its lack of reliance on arcane Marvel history. Speaking of which, while "Serpent Crown" does seem a little too proud of its many DC references, Englehart does a good job incorporating other books' characters into the Avengers. Moondragon, the Beast, Two-Gun Kid, and Hellcat play off the regular Assemblers quite well.

Another thing about the Avengers: having read both "Celestial Madonna" and "Serpent Crown" apart from their respective places in Avengers history (and out of order to boot), I think these big Avengers arcs work much better in context. Avengers -- at least in the late '60s to mid-'70s -- seems so invested in its various subplots (the Hawkeye/Thor/Moondragon subplot in "SC" comes out of left field if you haven't been following along) that the big-event arcs exist almost as an afterthought. Quite different from the Justice League story formula, so naturally one of the Squadron Supreme makes a comment about it.

According to writer J. Michael Straczynski, this week's The Brave and the Bold #28 (as opposed to that other B&B #28) apparently commemorates December's 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. That's fine, but I don't quite see much else justifying this story's existence. It's not a bad standalone issue -- the Flash is thrown back to wartime Belgium, but he breaks his leg in the process and spends several weeks fighting Nazis alongside the Blackhawks. The main point of the story is that while "the Flash" can't kill or carry a gun, Barry Allen can, and does, when he sees what's at stake. That's fine too. However, it takes away the main characters' signature moves. (At no point within the story do the Blackhawks ever fly their planes, because they too have chosen to help the infantry.) JMS could have substituted Sgt. Rock and Easy Company, the Losers, or the Boy Commandos for the Blackhawks without missing a beat, and honestly that might have been an improvement. Likewise, Barry didn't have to be thrown back in time -- it could have been any number of DC characters. I know it's only two issues into JMS's run, but he seems to be deliberately avoiding ostensibly "wacky" match-ups (like Batman using the H-Dial) in favor of examining serious issues. I like serious stuff as much as the next guy, but if I get a Blackhawk comic, I'd like a "Hawkaaa!" or at least see some planes. Anyway, Jesus Saiz is turning out to be a good fit for this title, since his unassuming style works well for a variety of characters and situations.

Finally, James Robinson, Mark Bagley, and Rob Hunter take over as the new Justice League of America creative team with this week's #38, and I have to say, I hope Blue Jay isn't dead. (And if he is, I hope it doesn't stick.) I'd like to think DC is finally turning a corner on the whole "kill off a nobody just to show we're hardcore" thing. Also, I'm not particularly attached to Plastic Man, but he too suffers mightily for the sake of gritty realism. Other than that, I thought Robinson, Bagley, and Hunter turned in a decent issue, equal parts talk and action, which set up appropriate questions about the future of the JLA (which, of course, we know) without just marking time until Blackest Night and Cry For Justice had ended. The characters sound more natural here than they do in CFJ, and Bagley's work also seems more lively here than it did in Trinity. His Despero in particular looks more dangerous, especially with Rob Hunter's scratchier inks. I remain cautiously optimistic about this book, and this issue did nothing to change that.

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Brigid Alverson: I’m all over the place this week with a couple of really offbeat comics. Dread & Superficiality is a collection of the comic strip of that name that ran from 1976 to 1984 in newspapers all over the country. It’s about Woody Allen. Somehow I managed to live through that entire era and never notice this comic. The book is a real labor of love, with an essay by the creator of the strips, Stuart Hample, an introduction in comics and text by R. Buckminster Fuller, and the strips themselves, many shot from the original art, complete with yellowed paper, blue-pencil marks, bits of tape in the margins, and scribbled notes. This makes the book seem more like a history book than a comic book; it’s as close as you can get to a primary source. Hample’s account of dreaming up the strip, pitching it to Allen, and mediating questions of taste and tone makes for interesting reading, and the strips hold up pretty well.

Speaking of history, Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel is a very convincing imitation of one of those pictorial-history books you can pick up on the bargain racks at Borders or Barnes & Noble. Only this history is fake: Guinan and Bennett have inserted their own creation, a robot named Boilerplate, into the great events of history, Forrest-Gump style. Everything in the book is either completely accurate or completely false, and they make no distinction between the two, which makes it an interesting and puzzling read. Boilerplate himself is a bit of a tragic figure, a robot designed to replace human soldiers and thus end the violence of war. Instead of achieving this noble aim, he and his creator, Archibald Campion, fell into obscurity until they were “discovered” by Guinan and Bennett. Boilerplate first appeared in one of their graphic novels and is the star of his own Web site, which is apparently convincing enough that a third of the visitors don’t realize it is a hoax.

And now for something completely ridiculous: Largo Winch in The Hour of the Tiger. This book was first published in France in the 1990s, but it has a super 70s vibe: globetrotting playboy millionaire, scantily clad women, big hair, bright colors. It’s a rescue adventure tale: Largo’s best friend, a dissolute Swiss photographer, is arrested in Burma on trumped-up charges and sentenced to hang. Largo has to get him out, which he does, using a combination of skill, quick thinking, helicopters, guerilla freedom fighters, and killer monks. This is thefourth volume, but it stands pretty well on its own. Excellent escapist entertainment.

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Tim O'Shea: I was more disappointed in Brave and Bold 28 than Tom. The cover has the Blackhawks in planes. I genuinely bought the book based on the dynamic nature of the cover ... not knowing that they never flew a plane in the entire story. So much of the book made next to no sense. How exactly did Flash break his leg -- getting it caught in a snow drift? Um, OK. Dialogue has the Blackhawks acknowledging they had dealt with Golden Age heroes, who last I checked weren't really gung-ho on killing people. And yet, they expect this Flash from the future to become a killing machine. And how about that rift that just sits around in the forest, that only Flash can enter at superspeed ... once his leg heals ... but fortunately it's a rift that can patiently wait. I admire JMS's desire to observe the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, but the story he structured around the event seems really forced and clunky.

Underground 2 takes some interesting turns with the bad guys playing against the expectations that Jeff Parker tricked me into assuming (damn he's tricky...) Steve Lieber's use of silhouette on the story's last page (And on the cover for that matter) is quite effective.

Beasts of Burden 2 has some hilarious dialogue (it is Evan Dorkin) counter-balanced with some damn creepy horror (perfect for late October).

Nick Bertozzi's "To Catch a WATCHER!!" (imagine a Uatu as a stalker...) opens the latest issue of Strange Tales 2 (of 3) and is the quite possibly my favorite Watcher story ever. Perverse and goofy? Sure. But still enjoyable. But the highlight of the issue for me is diagram happy Matt Kindt's Black Widow tale. Sweet Jesus, I can't wait to see Kindt do more Marvel work. Just a snippet of the Black Widow's narration while on a mission: "Every mission is a learning experience. Every scar is a mental note...Mental notes saying: 'do not do that again.'"

Batman Confidential 35 is the final installment in The Bat and the Beast storyline. I don't know if Peter Milligan has any ideas to explore the Beast character further, but I get the impression he might.

In non-comics reading, something I recently ran across (wish I could remember where) motivated me to track down a copy of Roger Kahn's 2006 memoir Into My Own: The Remarkable People and Events That Shaped a Life. Kahn has written many great books, which he discusses in the book. But the most effective part of the memoir for me was when Kahn wrote about his late son, Roger, who committed suicide at the age of 23. Kahn noted in the intro that a friend advised him "such personal matters would be difficult to write; it turned out also to be joyous. For when I wrote about Roger throwing passes, scoring hockey goals, or just being a kid, he was alive again and at my side."

[caption id="attachment_24755" align="alignright" width="98" caption="Music Box #1"]


Chris Mautner: In this week's Can't Wait for Wednesday, I talked about the new one-shot Angel comic from John Byrne and how, even though it's not really my cuppa tea, it shows an understanding of basic storytelling and downright readability that most comic book tie-ins can't seem to muster.

A number of similar titles from IDW serve to underscore that point. G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes, for example, is a dull, tepid affair, that speeds along so quickly to it's cliffhanger ending that it doesn't stop to question the plausibility of it's characters, or whether we know or care to know the characters at all. It doesn't help that the artist's "Japanese village" looks about as Asian as southcentral Pennsylvania. If this comic were any more nondescript, you could use it as wallpaper.

That Snake Eyes comic was at least partly written by actor Ray Park, one of the latest in the ongoing "celebrity who deigns to dabble in comics" type of nonsense we've been prey to lately. Another example of that is Jennifer Love Hewitt's Music Box, which while not so awful as to work me into a rage, it nevertheless fails to engage on any sort of level, even as a dumb, "fun" read. Its creators (and I doubt Hewitt did more than OK her name stamp on this) are seemingly more interested in its premise than is characters. And considering its premise is a reheated Twilight Zone plot, that's not a good thing.

And please, no dirty jokes about the comic's title.

Even worse is Clive Barker's Seduth, which is kind of surprising since Barker has written comics before and you think he'd know better. The thing is basically an excuse to throw a lot of trippy 3-D images at the reader, and yeah, the 3-D stuff looks nice, but I kind of was expecting some sort of story and serviceable art to go along with my red and blue glasses, not this incomprehensible, ill-thought-out Lovecraftian gibberish. This thing is a complete mess.

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Matt Maxwell: GRANDVILLE by Brian TalbotA most curious book indeed. Minus the anthropomorphic characters and the steampunk setting, it'd be a fairly typical revenge/thriller with the lone detective Doing It His Way as he takes down the aristocratic villains who are manipulating politics and even history itself to enrich and empower themselves. Played out against a familiar backdrop (airships crashing into buildings, being blamed on terrorists/anarchists in an effort to foment war and fear) everything else is intriguing. There's some sharp observations by Mr. Talbot, but to my reading, there's a lot of somewhat obvious plotting (unless of course by transplanting 9/11 conspiracy theories into an utterly alien setting, Mr. Talbot is making a point about the universality of conspiracies themselves). After the astonishing ALICE IN SUNDERLAND, GRANDVILLE comes off as a lesser work. Mind you, it's still plenty entertaining and might earn him some new fans in the steampunk cognoscenti, but it's not the heart-stopping, inventive and engaging ALICE. However, that's a pretty unfair comparison, given that ALICE is really in a class by itself. I'll note that the packaging itself is beautiful and certainly attractive for the price point.

Working through the JH Williams/Greg Rucka DETECTIVE issues as well. Mr. Williams makes every script he draws look so very smart. The way he attacks a page is an absolute joy to read. Can't comment on the story itself, as I haven't quite gotten through it yet, but man, are these some beautiful pages to look at.

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Eddie Campbell: The thing I'm reading right at this minute is Will Eisner's PS The Preventive Maintenance Monthly, which was the army technical magazine he published for 20 years. It's just been put online in its entirety by Somebody at Virginia University Libraries.

I'm even reading all the technical articles about firing pins and how to keep your jeep's engine heads from freezing in winter. I'm still working out why exactly it is taking over my brain. The feeling has always been that Eisner abandoned creative work to drop out of the public view and do this "commercial" and client work, but I think PS mag contributed something useful and practical to the daily life of the soldier, and I'm surprised at how it is transporting me to another time and place. It's made me seriously think about my own career. Have I wasted my life creating comic book stories? Is any of it of any use to the world? I feel a serious crisis of the soul descending upon me. Obviously if everybody loves Pants I will conclude that it does all amount to something after all.

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