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What are you reading?

by  in Comic News Comment
What are you reading?

Welcome once again to What are you reading?, the weekly column where the Robot 6 team runs through what comics and other stuff they’ve been checking out lately. As Chris is in Bethesda this weekend, I’m filling in for him as your host.

Our special guests this time are Philip Gelatt and Rick Lacy, creators of the Labor Days graphic novels published by Oni Press. Volume two, Just Another Damn Day, is now available in finer retail establishments everywhere. (You can check out a preview here).

See what they’ve been reading, as well as the rest of the Robot 6 crew, after the jump …


Tim O’Shea: The first issue of Underground by Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber hit the shelves this week. There’s so much to like about this first installment of a five-part miniseries. But I find myself focusing one element of Parker’s writing–his ear for dialogue. The core of the story has people of opposing views conflicting quite frequently and I love how the storytellers allow the word balloons to overlap and interrupt characters in mid-sentence.

I rarely read Bongo Comics, despite the fact I enjoy the show and typically respect the writers that work on the comics. But with the release this week of The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror 15 (edited by Sammy “Damn Wasn’t the Last Book He Edited Huge?” Harkham) features an amazing collection of indy creators (including Jeffrey Brown, Jordan Crane, C.F., Tim Hensley, Ben Jones, John Kerschbaum, Ted May, Will Sweeney, Matthew Thurber, and John Vermilyea). Each creator takes a unique take on the characters, but for me the strongest off-the-grid comedic horror vibe is captured (not surprisingly) by Kerschbaum in a straightforward two-pager “Three Little Kids.”

I’m struggling to fully enjoy Hickman and Eaglesham’s Fantastic Four. In the positive column is getting to see a world of many Reed Richards (even one that’s fully bald/half doom and half ZZ Top; another that looks like he’s 1980s Atari logo Reed; and Reed as Morrison’s Seaguy) and Eaglesham’s ability to convey emotion in Ben Grimm’s rocky face. In the negative column, the tagline on the front cover: “…This morning, I helped kill a Galactus on Earth 2012.” Has the status quo of Reed Richards been made so “modern” he takes pleasure, or at least seeming indifference, in killing villains?

I’ve really appreciated Matt Fraction’s take on many of Marvel’s characters, and he’s really seemed to hit his stride with Dark Reign:The List–X-Men (Lord that title is a mouthful though). There’s three or four pages of the team in battle that is the closest to recapturing the finest rhythm and kineticism of Claremont and Byrne’s definitive X-run (the kineticism is thanks to the never-disappointing art of Alan Davis [inked by Mark Farmer]). That being said, as great as Fraction is with the X-team, his Namor is cracking snide lines in the midst of a fight. A few WAYRs back I spoke highly of Jeff Parker’s approach toward Namor. So, if anybody at Marvel is reading this, you’re seemingly leading toward giving Namor his own book again, please consider Parker and Davis teaming up for it.

With Wednesday Comics having finished this week, I have to go back and read them again. And that’s not going to be easy, as my son took a liking to the Metal Men arc. And when I say take a liking, I mean he took the issues apart, as he read and reread them (leaving the pages he did not like behind) –leaving me with a disorganized mess. It was only when I started trying to reconnect the issues that I realized, after the cover pages–there are no page numbers or issue number identifications on the interior pages. But I have a newfound desire to reread Paul Pope’s pages in particular after finding out through CBR’s interview that he was aiming for something Ditko-esque–rooted in Jungian influence and inspired by McCay’s Little Nemo pages.

In terms of music, I’ve got Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers’ Levitate in heavy rotation on my CD player, along with Death Cab for Cutie’s The Open Door EP.

Carla Hoffman: Believe it or not, I’m reading things. I bought the Dark Reign: Ms. Marvel HC on a dare from a customer who wasn’t sure if it was going to be good and I honestly couldn’t give him an answer. But seeing how hard Mr. Reed has been working on the character, I thought I’d give the book that switched main ‘heroine’ thanks to the new status quo. First part of the book, we’re thrown into a Alias-esque super spy style story in which we lose Carol Danvers due to the theme of Brian Reed’s run of ‘I can’t control my wacky powers’. The middle of the book is Karla Soften dealing with her new role within the Avengers and actually gets to be kind of entertaining, watching her deal with the public, her crazy boss and the fact she might have the psychological edge on them all.

And then we get reality-altering MODOK babies.

Any sort of seriousness I had given the book was lost. The rather deux-ex-mutant of ‘Storyteller’ (seen in the Ms. Marvel annuals) was fused with MODOK’s giant brain DNA and now 25 or so babies in jars can warp reality to AIM’s will.Everything had been so personal until then, a really good read and clever character development for Karla that her sudden need to ‘save the babies’ just lost me. The New Avengers show up, hell, Deadpool shows up, everyone fights for the babies and in the end, Carol Danvers can’t be kept dead for too long. Yeah, I’d say skip this aside from a couple issues in the middle, or at least don’t buy it in hardcover like I did

Unlike My Pal Tim(tm), I adored the horizonless Reed Richards consortium of geniuses ( I swear one of them was in Starfleet) and could have easily read this issue spread out better into a couple more installments of the weird cross-time-caper Reeds and all their kooky high science plans plus some more with the family who almost always get wasted in the face of the super sci-fi. I hope this high adventure grounds Reed once and for all on this whole ‘fix everything’ kick he’s been on since Civil War because I’m tired of him lording his big ol’ brain around and Hickman might just blow the lid of this thing once and for all.

Dark X-Men: the Confession as the weirdest Gift of the Magi as guilt trip seen yet. Or ever. Yes, Scott now knows that Emma worked with the Cabal! Yes, Emma now knows that Scott has a kill-death squad led by Wolverine and has generally been unsavory. “I ruied the Dream!” “No, I ruined the Dream!” “Oh, kiss me you fool!” The end. Playing fair, this is actually a pretty good intro comic for anyone wanting to jump into the main X-Men storyline right now as they recap a lot of the past year. So… there’s that for $3.99.

Tom Bondurant: Some prominent commentators (including Chris Sims and our own Chris Mautner) have called Superman: Secret Origin #1 “unnecessary,” or something similar. That was also my reaction at first. However, it got me thinking: so far this is the third, or perhaps fourth, account of Superman’s post-Crisis origin, and that’s getting into Gospel territory. (Think of the slipcased-hardcover possibilities!) I mean, we started with the Book of John (Byrne), and a while back we had the Book of Mark (Waid). If you count Superman For All Seasons, I suppose there’s a Book of Jeph too. Now, though, here’s the Book of Geoff, which apparently aims to be definitive.

And so far, it’s executed well. I’ve always liked Gary Frank’s Christopher Reeve-inspired Clark/Superman, both because it’s a fitting tribute to another “definitive” interpretation and because it’s a good mix of the character’s power and humanity. In fact, this issue is a very pleasant contrast to Frank (and inker Jon Sibal)’s work on Supreme Power‘s Dark Smallville. I found that book sterile and calculating, but here Frank and Sibal are warm and pastoral. For his part, Geoff Johns obviously intends to show how Clark overcomes this issue’s discomfort with his powers, especially those heat-vision “eyejaculations” (tm Television Without Pity). That was a nice lift from the “Smallville” series, and I also liked how Johns handled Clark’s nascent football ability. Still, that tornado was awfully convenient.

Secret Origin‘s larger story remains somewhat unclear, though, and that I think is where the true measure of necessity lies. I tend to prefer Waid (and artist Leinil Yu)’s Superman: Birthright to Byrne’s Man of Steel because the former actually tells its own story while the latter is more a collection of vignettes. Ironically, Secret Origin‘s purpose may vary inversely with its necessity. If it’s meant to stand alone on the bookshelf, it must tell us something about Superman we don’t already know. However, if it’s just another part of the great Superman plot-puzzle (as the “Secret Origin” arc in Green Lantern was), then I’ll wonder why this needed to be its own miniseries.

Earlier last week, I stayed up for about two hours Sunday night reading all of Planetary. I don’t have anything insightful to say about the series as a whole, mostly because I’m waiting for Ellis and Cassaday’s final issue. However, I stayed up for those two hours because each issue practically dared me to read the next one. Now I can’t imagine waiting months or years between issues, because the thing moves so quickly.

On a completely different note, I finished Essential Spider-Woman Volume 2 a few hours before picking up Planetary. ESW Vol. 1 started off on very shaky ground, thanks to the character’s scattershot background: she’s a freak of evolution! She’s a HYDRA agent! She’s got a Camelot connection! To his credit, once writer Chris Claremont came aboard for most of the series’ last quarter, he tried to pull these threads together; and those issues (drawn with quirky charm by Steve Leialoha) are probably the series’ high point. Writer Ann Nocenti then wrote the series’ final few issues, including a fourth-wall-breaking goodbye to the reader. Those issues weren’t bad, but I’ve read enough middle-of-the-road superhero books to know when a writer is just wrapping things up. I don’t dislike Spider-Woman, although the series (thanks to its eventual SoCal private-eye premise) seems firmly rooted in the 1970s, and I’m content to leave it there.

Matt Maxwell:

Elric of Melniboné
Roy Thomas, P. Craig Russell and Michael Gilbert, Tom Orzechowski
Based on the books by Michael Moorcock

I’ll admit to not having read the original books, which I should rectify, if they’re half as good as this adaptation. The real star is the artwork, by both P. Craig Russell and Michael Gilbert. It’s perfectly stylized, yet not sacrificing style for expression. There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty, gloating and triumph on these pages, and the linework doesn’t miss a step in relaying it to the reader. You could easily skip the text altogether and still follow the story clearly, perhaps leaving out only a few subtleties.

Before this, I hadn’t realized exactly how influential Moorcock’s take on fantasy had become. Certainly, Tolkien reigns supreme as high lord of fantasy. But Moorcock, with his blend of treachery and addiction, of magic that takes more than it gives, of graceful empires that are doomed by their very design, his dark vision has its fingers deep in modern fantasy (particularly influential in what is debatably the most popular fantasy today, that being World of Warcraft, though not strictly a book, but has a subscriber base that most books would kill for).

Elric presents a compelling story, last in the line of fabled sorcerer kings, ruling over a civilization slipping into slow decline, never brighter than the day that Elric takes the throne. Fighting off the schemes of his ruthless cousin Yrrkoon and becoming a pawn of the Lords of Chaos, Elric only barely begins to understand the powers at play in Melniboné, and will not fully grasp them in time.

Recommended, though I’m not sure of its status in print now, the graphic novel that is. I read it in the edition published by First Comics in the middle eighties (making it one of the first collected graphic novels, well before The Sandman and the like). Someone may have picked up the reprint rights to this, but it might require some sifting through the used bins as well.

Other reads this week, Batman and Robin #3 (I await the return of Pyg), Agents of Atlas #10 and #11 (M-11 is THE GREATEST) and the first issue of the new Dominic Fortune miniseries (Howard Chaykin is a very bad man.)

JK Parkin: Far Arden by Kevin Cannon starts off as a zany fun adventure comic, and at some point morphs into something a bit more serious. And somehow, it works really well, I’ve decided, after contemplating it for a couple of weeks. It’s actually kind of shocking how well it works, too, and how much emotional investment you realize you have in the characters when, well, stuff happens. I should probably read it again.

I mentioned a few weeks back that I was reading Peter & Max, the Fables novel by Bill Willingham. Despite the ending being a little bit telegraphed (at least if you’re paying attention), I thought this was an excellent outing for Willingham and the Fables characters into the world of prose. I recommend it for anyone who is a fan of the comic or just likes new twists on old fairy tales, and I hope to see more of these in the future. I’ve also started re-reading the first couple of Fables arcs, which are being issued as a hardcover, and it’s interesting to see how far the book has come, both in terms of the plot and how the characters have developed. And the first Farm story, which was the second story arc, is still one of the book’s best.

And finally, the second Guardians of the Galaxy trade was every bit as fun as the first. Although it’s billed as being part of War of Kings, there were no appearances by Inhumans or Shi’ar … just more zany fun cosmic adventures.

Philip Gelatt: I made a promise to myself that I was going to read butt-loads of science-fiction and fantasy novels during 2009. Sadly, with the year wrapping up, “butt-loads” has kind of turned into the far less impressive “half-butt loads.” But this quest of mine has introduced me to an author named Tim Powers and he is swiftly becoming a personal favorite. He specializes in well-researched historical action-fantasy-sci-fi pieces, that include a big dosages of both the surreal and the mad cap.

Yeah, that’s right: his books use every cool genre ever, mixed into one. And somehow he makes it all work.

Currently, I’m reading his On Stranger Tides. It is a pirate tale filled with Caribbean magic, large-scale ship-to-ship combat and so much swashbuckling. It focuses on a young pirate named Jack Shandy as he is caught between the plots of three powerful pirate captains, each possessing strong voodoo magic and nefarious intentions.

The Secret of Monkey Island and Pirates of the Caribbean (the movie) are both said to be loosely inspired by its heady mix of adventure, fantasy and high seas chicanery. Plus I’m getting an actual overview of the end of the pirate era in the Caribbean.

Oh and it has Blackbeard in it. And at one point he says “More blood salt than sea salt in the water tonight.” And that alone, my friends, is worth the price of admission.

On the comic book front, I just took my sweet time savoring every last panel of Brandon Graham’s first issue of King City. I didn’t read this title in its previous previous printing, so this is my first exposure to this strange sci-fi world. The larger format really suits Graham’s artwork and he’s made excellent usage of every square inch of this book, filling it with amusing extras and add-ons.

I’ve been a fan of Graham’s work for awhile (via Multiple Warheads and his amazing blog), and the first issue of King City is not disappointing me in the slightest. It is, to my mind, exactly what science-fiction should be: bizarre, charming, visually stunning and chock full of wild ideas that need not be fully explained. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Also I want a cat like that, god damn it.

Rick Lacy:

Mouse Guard: This is the book that’s currently on my nightstand. I fell for this book like a hot girl on Facebook I never met. It ‘s exactly the type of book I want to create… only with more Conan’s and Madmartigan’s. Not that mice aren’t dauntless and bold, it’s just not where my mind dwells. That being said, David Peterson has really created some interesting and compelling characters that are only a few inches high. My favorite parts of these books are the world building elements he uses. Everything from the mouse city of Lockhaven to the myth of the black axe to the “Moria” like caverns of Darkheather are all fully realized places. Places that I believe actually lurked under the roots of the woods in my old backyard. The supplemental work in this book is also very fascinating. It outlines the different roles of mice in the kingdom. The apothecaries! The medicines and armories! The working mouse elevators and the hierarchy. All well put together and creative. WITH MICE!

The City and The City: This is the latest novel from one of my favorite authors, China Mieville, It’s a departure (somewhat) from his normal genre of “new weird” and focuses on crime drama. Though it is mixed with a good hearty amount of fantastic creativity, by building a realm in a modern time that’s dotted with an alternate world of mystery. By that I mean, the crosshatched existence of two symbiotic cities Beszel and Ul Qoma that live side by side, but hold a very prejudice but checked border. To describe the elements within would take pages on pages! In my opinion, The City and the City is a fairly exhausting read, but Mieville proves yet again that he’s a master of word-smithing by dictating a slew of different dialects, personas and interspersed societal agendas. For more of his work I highly suggest his Bas Lag series. Start with The Scar!

Joan: I picked up this manga series for wicked cheap at my local comic shop on a whim. It’s gorgeously illustrated by Yoshikazu Yasuhiko in pen ink and watercolor, which was the initial reason I bought it. The story is a retelling of the Joan of Arc saga only with a different woman in the lead role reliving the same experience. I don’t entirely understand why the author didn’t just retell Joan of Arc, herself. Perhaps he wanted to have his own voice. The story is a variation on standard faire with uman rights, religion and loyalty to country taking the main stage. The huge draw, as I mentioned, is the art. The vistas and use of water coloring are beautiful. E very page is a masterpiece. I’ll definitely seek out more of Yasuhiko’s art.

Labor Days Volume 2: Just Another Damn Day: Yes, I know this is my own book! BUT! we just released this edition this weekend and I haven’t seen a copy until now. So this one just got bumped up to the top of the list. I hope it holds up! We definitely pushed the boundaries on our own title in the pages of Volume Two and it’s become closer, I believe, to what we wanted in our initial design. Volume three should be the coup de gras!

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