What Are You Reading? with James Asmus

Welcome to What Are You Reading? Today's special guest is writer and comedian James Asmus, who you know from Gambit, Thief of Thieves and the just-released The End Times of Bram & Ben.

To see what James and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below ...


Michael May

I've been re-reading the two Athena Voltaire collections: Collected Webcomics and Flight of the Falcon. I still love the imagination and adventure in these books, but this time I've been paying special attention to the main character and she's really like no one else. There's not the slightest hint of cheesecake about her and she's got a great balance to her personality. She's not silly and she does things for believable reasons, so I can take her seriously as an action hero, but she also has a sense of humor and she's just fun. I love reading about her and I want more.

I haven't had a ton of reading time lately, so the only newish comic I took in this week was Godzilla #8, the most recent issue of Duane Swierczynski and Simon Gane's ongoing series. This was kind of a make it or break it issue for me, because I've been questioning how much longer I'd be able to put up with Boxer, the macho-man main character, but a couple of things are going to bring me back for more. First: Simon Gane's art gets better every issue and it started off really damn good. Second: I realized this issue that I'm very fond of supporting character Claire Plangman and invested in what happens to her. I kind of realized it the hard way (because of something that happens to her this issue), but now I'm hooked for #9. I guess there's a third reason too, and that's that this issue I started seeing holes in Boxer's tough guy facade. They may have always been there and I didn't notice them, but they're very evident now and I'm more curious about him as a result.

Tom Bondurant

Superior Spider-Man #1 (written by Dan Slott, pencilled by Ryan Stegman) is to Amazing Spider-Man #700 as FF #1 was to Fantastic Four #587. The latter titles were cancelled after particularly catastrophic events, but the former ended up (or will, I suspect, end up) being placeholders until the inevitable status quo reset. That's fine if you'd been reading Amazing Spider-Man, but it's not the best argument for Superior's separate existence. Otherwise, on the merits I thought Superior was good enough. In some ways it undermines the impact of Amazing's storyline, because "Peter's" behavior occasionally gets away from him, to the extent you'd think it would raise a red flag in at least one of the people closest to him. The final-page revelation could also provide a convenient explanation for his "out of character" moments, since [I AM TRYING NOT TO SPOIL THE ENDING] he's not in full control. In short, I don't see how this goes twelve issues without either exposing the whole truth, ruining Spider-Man's life, or both. That's probably the point, and I tend to agree with the theory that this will roll back all the "comfortable" parts of Peter's old life -- the Avengers, Horizon Labs, etc. -- but at the same time, I liked having a Peter Parker who could afford to relax now and then.

With Volume 8, Essential Avengers finally caught up with the issues where I started reading semi-regularly. In fact, Vol. 8 opens with the Count Nefaria 3-parter written by Jim Shooter and pencilled by John Byrne, where the Count uses the Lethal Legion to pump himself full of energy, wiping the floor with the Avengers until Thor shows up. It was good to read that story again, for the first time in a looong time -- but then the next arc is the "Korvac Saga," which I already own (and have read more recently) in a color hardcover. That's the long version of why I'm reading said hardcover, which opens with the 1977 Thor Annual (written by Len Wein and Roger Stern, pencilled by Sal Buscema, inked by Klaus Janson), guest-stars the Guardians of the Galaxy, and (if I read it correctly) explains why Thor was absent for the first part of the Nefaria storyline. So now, yadda yadda yadda, I'm on Part 2 of "Korvac" itself, which is the usual Jim Shooter/George Perez mid-'70s Avengers we all know. I mean, I like it pretty well, but I'll be glad to get back to less-familiar territory in Essential Vol. 8.

Finally, because a) it had been too long and b) I just got the movie on Blu-Ray, I decided to re-read all of Scott Pilgrim (by Bryan Lee O'Malley, of course). I just finished Volume 1, and was struck by how "fantastic" parts of it were. Mostly these related to the subspace doorways, and not so much to Scott's reputation as the greatest fighter in these here parts, but I suppose one helps justify the other. The rest you can probably predict -- Ramona's air of mystery, the contrast between her and Knives, the easy way O'Malley moves the Matthew Patel fight into a production number -- but the thing which really felt incongruous was Scott's X-Men patch. Of all the things to take me out of a story, I realize that has to be one of the odder choices. After all, why wouldn't a dude like Scott be an X-Men fan, and why wouldn't someone reading a graphic novel appreciate that? For me, though, maybe it was just an unnecessary element in a story which combines garage-rock, video games, and young love. I don't need to think about "hated and feared, etc." on top of all that.

J. Caleb Mozzocco

I spent the majority of my comics-reading (and comics-blogging) time and energy this week on a stack of hardcover collections of Marvel's many Fear Itself tie-ins. I really quite liked the main Fear Itself story as it played out in its own title, with its super simple premise: An Evil Odin gives Evil Thor hammers to a bunch of big strong guys, and the three main Avengers have to beat 'em up using their particular talents of viking heroism, weapons manufacturing and patriotic speechifying. I wasn't really expecting to like any of these nearly as much, although "Bad Guy hits Good Guy with hammer" is much more appealing than whatever Siege or Secret Invasion was supposed to be about, and I approached them with a sense of curiosity as much as one of expectation. Marvel decided to collect in some unusual ways, including branding books tie-ins and then filling them up with comics that had nothing to do with Fear Itself and, in a few instances, combining completely unrelated miniseries into single collections.

For hundreds or more words on Fear Itself: Avengers, Fear Itself: Deadpool/Fearsome Four, Fear Itself: Dracula, Fear Itself: Hulk, Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force/The Deep and/or Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Men, you'll have to click on those links and visit my home blog. Overall, I thought they were generally of professional but mediocre quality, and none really knocked my socks off. The Hulk comic was probably the all-around best, but each had their moments, even if some of those moments were bewilderingly weird ones, like the relay team of ten artists on the four-issue Fearsome Four or a re-lettered Jack Kirby page that showed up amidst all that awful Greg Land art in Uncanny X-Men.

I also tried reading the first volume of Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips team's crime/horror mash-up series Fatale, but only made it about an issue and a half into the collection: The art was nice, but the story and premise seemed so tired and derivative that it made the Fear Itself tie-ins look inspired. I did make it all the way through two other Brubaker/Phillips collaborations, though, and was quite happy to have done so, as they were definitely good comics.

I read Criminal Vol. 1: Coward and Criminal and Vol. 6: Last of The Innocent, and the fact that I skipped the four volumes between them didn't seem to matter, as these both stood perfectly well on their own. Both are perfect examples of this team, at this point about as well-oiled a machine as a writer/artist team can be, working in the genre they do best.

Last of The Innocent was a real surprise though, as it veered so far from the "Like a Good Crime Thriller Movie, Only In A Comic" vibe Brullips usually work in. The premise is basically that of Archie Andrews returning to Riverdale as his life in the big city with wife Veronica Lodge had started to fall apart, what with her cheating on him with Reggie and his boss Hiram Lodge being such a jerk all the time. Brubaker and Philips basically just change the names and hair colors of the Riverdale gang, and flashbacks are drawn in a super-simplified, Archie Comics-style. That this was being published around the same time that the real Archie Comics was publishing all of those various alternate future stories about Archie marrying this girl or that gave it extra resonance, as this is basically Brubaker and Philips doing their own version of Archie Marries Veronica as a crime comic.

As for new stuff, it was a very light week at the shop for me, and about half the books I read seemed to star Popeye: IDW's Classic Popeye Comics #6, reprinting a 1949 Bud Sagendorf comic, and the same publisher's Popeye Vol. 1, a slick trade paperback collecting the first four issues of the Roger Langdridge-scripted Popeye series, with art by Tom Neely and others. The latter is a hell of a package: Four issues of really great comics, a lengthy intro by Langridge and an "art gallery" section that includes all of the variant covers, which came courtesy of the likes of Jules Feffer (!), Tony Millionaire, Dean Yeagle and others.

James Asmus

I assume this is like Wheel of Fortune, and I don't even have to bother saying RSTLN E (which in this analogy would be Saga, Walking Dead, Batman, Daredevil, and Hawkeye).

Witch Doctor: Malpractice - Sometimes I feel like Witch Doctor is being created just for me. Its perfect blend of wit, cruelty, inventiveness and horror savvy is my comic book crack cocaine! I've heard people describe it as a monsters and myths version of House, M.D. -- but the book is so much more genuine and inspired than that. Both in the heady charm of Brandon's writing and grotesquely compelling creations in Lucas' art -- this book has more genuine life in its veins per scene than most major titles drum up in an entire arc.

Archer & Armstrong (current Valiant relaunch version) - I've long been a fan of Fred Van Lente as a writer (and as human being). And Archer & Armstrong is everything I want in a comic. Fred's skill for crafting characters, worlds, satire, and pure "Comics!" fun is on full display. I never knew the original series, but I was hooked half-way into the first issue, and it's been one of the books I most look forward to every month. And Clayton Henry has captured the full breadth of FVL's scripts with both macho gusto and wry subtlety.

Revival - I know a lot of folks are already singing this book's praises -- but if you're not reading it, you're a fool. A FOOL, I SAY! It's one of the intriguing, confident and truly human new series I've read in a while. And though I'm friends with the guys who make this one -- I have to be honest, it surprised the hell out of me in the best way when I read it. Tim Seeley, Mike Norton, Mike Englert, Crank and Jenny Frison all seem to be turning in their best work yet in this book. And I am thrilled to see where they take us.

Wolverine & the X-Men - The early run of Excalibur is what got me hooked into comics. And frankly, no one had captured that perfect balance of playfulness, drama, and comic book madness in the X-Men since -- until Jason Aaron teamed with Chris Bachalo and Nick Bradshaw on this. In fact, the sheer energy and soul that those guys put into this book blows me away and reminds me why I love comics -- every month. It has me falling for my first love (mutants!) all over again.

The Sixth Gun - I never would have believed I'd be buying a western. Of course, the book is much, much more than that. The weight of the characters, their pasts, and their debts to each other are as heavy and real as you'd find in books with ten times the published history. And for my money, Cullen Bunn masterfully expands the world of the series in a way that feels both earned and surprising. A book I thought wouldn't be for me has turned out to be one of my absolute favorites. So even if you think you wouldn't like it - I really hope you'll give it a shot. It's sheer excellence just might help you get over your prejudice against "westerns."

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