Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading? Today our special guest is Kevin Colden, whose comic work includes Fishtown, I Rule the Night, Vertigo's Strange Adventures and Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper, among others. He's also the drummer for the band Heads Up Display.
To see what Kevin and the Robot 6 crew have been reading lately, click below ...
I spent most of my week getting caught up on the New 52. I liked some of Justice League #1, but have many of the same problems others did. I'm primarily interested in Justice League to see what kind of relationships the heroes have with each other in this new version. That's what I like most about team books anyway, and I did enjoy Green Lantern's feeling like Batman needed to prove himself and how Batman reacted to that. It was a new take that couldn't have been done without the reboot. But stretching that out to an entire issue was disappointing and I may wait until Wonder Woman shows up in the series before I buy another issue. I'm very curious to see how Johns' version compares to the way Azzarello's going to write her.
Action Comics #1 was a nice surprise though. I love, Love, LOVE the less-powered Superman. I've been watching the Fleischer Superman cartoons lately and this reminded me a lot of those. Superman's incredibly tough and strong, but not invincible and I sincerely hope he stays that way. Even though it reminded me a lot of Batman: Year One and Spider-Man 2, I also liked the Superman vs. the cops scene with the people coming to Superman's defense. I don't care that it's not the first time I've ever seen that kind of thing, it's the first time I've seen it with Superman and it was awesome. Lois reminds me of Fleischer's Lois too: badass and capable, but not immune to getting in over her head and needing some help. There's so much storytelling potential there that doesn't have to have her be as goofy and helpless as her Silver Age version. I bought the issue out of curiosity, but I'm very much looking forward to more like it.
Batgirl #1 was another disappointment though. I typically love Gail Simone's work so much, but I wanted a light-hearted superheroine (like the one on the cover) and didn't care at all for Batgirl's dealing with the Post Traumatic Stress of being shot by the Joker. I'm not saying it's a bad story, it's just very heavy and not what I'm looking for. I won't buy the second issue, but may come back to it in the collected version if the buzz is good.
Static Shock #1 - My hopes that this will include more Milestone characters than just Static are encouraged by Hardware's playing a major role in Virgil Hawkins' story. I'm hoping for more like that (Blood Syndicate please!), but in the meantime, this was a lot of fun with some great, new villains and I can't wait for the next issue.
Demon Knights was always going to be a hard sell for me because I'm not a big Demon fan, nor do I generally care for the way Marvel and DC have portrayed medieval times. But Diogenes Neves has some nice designs and halfway through the issue Paul Cornell threw in a romantic triangle that hooked me but good. Then he netted me and put me in the boat with the last page. I not making any long-term commitments, but there are some great elements here and I'm excited to see where it goes.
I got an advance copy of MetaMaus this week, and when I sat down and started flipping through it I couldn't put it down. It's basically a book about Art Spiegelman's Maus, and the heart of it is a lengthy interview with Spiegelman himself in which he talks about the thought process that went into the book, how the making of Maus affected his relationship with his father and the origins of many of the images in the graphic novel. The book is crammed with visuals, including photos from Spiegelman's bar mitzvah album and pictures from books about the Holocaust that once belonged to his mother. The result is fascinating, at least for a Spiegelman fan like me. The book comes with a disc that includes Maus in its entirety as well as recordings of Spiegelman's father. I haven't cracked that yet, but I know it will add a whole new dimension to the experience.
On a much, much lighter note, I worked my way through the first year of the Life With Archie magazine, with its dual Archie-marries-Veronica and Archie-marries-Betty storylines, this week. I have been picking these up and putting them down all year, but sitting down and reading them all at once makes the stories come into sharper focus. It's interesting that some events occur in both storylines, while other outcomes are totally different—for instance, Moose becomes mayor of Riverdale in one story and janitor of Riverdale High in another, for reasons that have nothing to do with Archie's choice of a spouse. Although the multiplicity of characters and subplots makes it a bit confusing to read both at once, it's hard to put the stories down, as writer Paul Kupperberg keeps the plot twists coming thick and fast. It's good melodrama, and because the characters are all familiar faces, it's fun to see what directions they evolve into from their teenage selves.
Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1: When I picked up this week's comics from the local store, my pal Dugan admitted that this comic reminded him somewhat of Hellboy. After I read it, I had to agree with him to a certain extent. Oddly enough, it also reminded me of another Dark Horse property, The Umbrella Academy. One major thing that annoyed me about Jeff Lemire's writing (as much as I typically enjoy it) was this issue seemed really too text-intensive--and I hope the S.H.A.D.E.NET narrative. (If I never see another writer use narrative elements like "Data incoming...97% downloaded" I will be happy). But the first issue, despite its hiccups, introduced enough interesting characters (I bailed on Flashpoint after the first issue) to me to want to return for issue #2.
Black Panther: The Man Without Fear #523: This series is at its strongest when writer David Liss is teamed with artist Francesco Francavilla (as with this issue), Since this series began (with the departure of lead character) a major focal point of the series has been the importance of Hell's Kitchen. T'Challa/Black Panther's efforts to help Hell's Kitchen continues to pay off in the neighborhood's darkest hours. In terms of the supporting cast, I love love love Sofija.
Daredevil #3: I would not be surprised if Marvel is pitching Mark Waid's Daredevil run as a TV series at some point. The surprise twist involving Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson's law firm in this latest issue was really what triggered my theory. While the book is called Daredevil, Waid has devoted a good amount of time to showing Murdoch attempting to rebuild his life and career, which has entertained me to date. This was my favorite read of the week.
Gladstone's School for World Conquerors #5: I feel for independent creators trying to garner attention for their respective series in a month like this, where the new DCU 52 dominates the news and review cycle. If you have not checked out Mark Andrew Smith and Armand Villavert's Gladstone's School for World Conquerors, you are genuinely missing out on a quirky series. In this issue, all the kids get a hold of the comics that the Nefarious Kid has been reading. (The two-page sample of those comics that Villavert offers early in this issue is executed with such great homage-level attention, it actually reminded me of some of the scenes from Jim Rugg's Afrodisiac). The story really kicks into high gear in this installment and I really love where the creators leave things at the end of this installment (always leave folks wanting more, of course [which surprisingly some creators fail to do]).
Prison Pit 3 -- I had the opportunity to do a Q&A panel with Johnny Ryan at SPX last weekend. One of the more interesting parts of discussion was when Ryan said how each volume of Prison Pit had to have a different vibe or theme so that the different books didn't feel interchangable. That's certainly true in volume three, as we see the inclusion of a new character, who, while just as violent and vicious as CF, is completely different in attitude and demeanor. Plus, he has one of the most amazing (and utterly grotesque) resurrection scenes I've ever seen. There's also a neat little bit toward the end where it seems like Ryan is heavily drawing upon the Fort Thunder crowd, particularly Mat Brinkman. All in all, it's another excellent volume.
Prince Valiant Vol. 4 -- This volume covers the most of the WWII years, 1943-44, when the paper shortage was at its highest. As Brian Kane notes in the introduction, this meant creator Hal Foster had to format the strip so parts could be cut for papers that had been forced to shrink their page count. He did this by adding a bottom strip, The Medieval Castle, which, while certainly informative and amusing, wasn't necessarily as good as pure, unadulterated Valiant, especially since this new situation meant that Foster was unable to do the big, impressive vistas that had quickly become the strip's trademark. Still, while no doubt hampered by this new situation, it did nothing to harm his storytelling skills, and Valiant remains a hugely enjoyable action strip, as Valiant battles a variety of ne'r do wells on a quest to find his true love, Aleta.
Mome Vol. 22 -- I've talked at length before about how good the Mome anthology has been, and while I'm sad to see it come to a close, it's nice to see it end on such a high note. Seriously, this is the best volume of Mome yet, with standout contributions by Chuck Forsman, Eleanor Davis, Laura Park, Dash Shaw, Jesse Moynihan and Sara Edward-Corbett. But really, there's not a bad story in this entire book. It might seem weird recommending the last book of a series, but if you gotta only read one of these things, this would be the one.
Besides obsessively lurking on my Twitter feed and the typical mind-sucking websites like Damn You Autocorrect my, um... INTELLECTUAL reading time has been chock full of good stuff.
I suppose the elephant in the room would be the DC New 52 books – of which I've read about half so far (maybe 13 of the 27 to date). The overall concept of the reboot is solid, though some of the books have nailed it better than others. Animal Man in particular is one of the best new books I've read in a long time. I've always thought that Jeff Lemire was an interesting, unorthodox choice to write DCU books, and he and Travel Foreman have crafted an eerie, tonal work that recalls Moore and Totleben's Swamp Thing – and it lives up to its pedigree. I got really excited for this title when I saw a preview of Foreman and inker Dan Green's artwork for this book – creepy, angular and distorted, with a tasty late-80's vibe – and it delivers. Colorist Lovern Kindzierski complements their work by smartly keeping it subtle, not eating the ink with rendering and doing some sweet limited-palette work as well. This one is on my regular list now and forever.
Keeping my comic selection broad and stroking my passion for well-crafted manga, a few months back DC Digital super editor and newly-installed Angeleno Kwanza Johnson recommended I read Bakuman by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Or maybe he strong-armed me into reading it. I don't remember. Either way, I loved the creators' previous work Death Note (which I also highly recommend; I read the first five volumes -about 1000 pages - in one sitting), so I figured this one was a good bet. Bakuman is about two high school-age kids making comics. Yeah. It's about writing and drawing – possibly the least interesting and least active things in the universe – yet somehow the creators infuse the story with drama, tension and suspense. Besides some inexplicably bizarre behavior by two characters that requires Herculean suspension of disbelief, it's thoroughly enjoyable and the art is stellar. Interestingly, Viz released volume 4 as a digital day-and-date experiment, and then promptly abandoned that plan with volume 5. Boo.
On my bookshelf, you will find many, many a finely bound graphic novel. You will also find my only two other reading passions – mountain-climbing memoirs and music biographies. I kid you not. I love reading about climbing because I will never be able to do it myself. I like to read about being a touring musician, because I will likewise never be able to do it myself. My current musical selection is See A Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody by Bob Mould. It's a great companion piece to Andrew Earles 2010 Husker Du biography (for which Mould declined to be interviewed, in anticipation of his own book), detailing Mould's view of the band's acrimonious history, and moving further into his time with Sugar, his solo career and his life as a gay man. It's a fascinating, unflinching, sometimes brutal portrait of a self-made artist, and it's one of the best and most inspiring I've read.
Those selections, by the way – all purchased and read digitally. The revolution is here, and it will not be televised. It will be downloaded.
Which is not to say I'm all ones and zeroes here – quite the opposite. I'm a biblio-junkie with a bad habit. Two weeks ago, I read WE3 by Morrison and Quitely, Green Lantern Willworld by DeMatteis and the late, great Seth Fisher (buy all of his work – ALL OF IT), and when my wife is done with it, our pal Mike Dawson's Troop 142 is in the pile. Last weekend, I was at Small Press Expo and went on such an insane buying binge that I'm not even sure what I bought. I know I had Jennifer Hayden sign a copy of her new book Underwire, and I picked up Eddie Campbell's Alec (both from Top Shelf), got a few Roger Langridge's books, and went on a blind spree at Fantagraphics with Four Color Fear, an Alex Toth collection, some books by Jordan Crane and an impulsively bought Jacques Tardi book because CBLDF's Alex Cox told me I needed it. That's the first bag of three.
What am I reading? Everything, apparently.