What Are You Reading? with Marc Singer

Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading. Our guest today is Marc Singer, author of the very excellent book, Grant Morrison: Combining the Worlds of Contemporary Comics, which is an excellent, excellent book that you should read if you're at all interested in Morrison and his work.

To find out what Singer and other members of the Robot 6 crew are reading this week, simply click on the link below.

Tim O'Shea: If Amazing Spider-Man readers were not already reading Daredevil before this two-part crossover (Amazing Spider-Man 677/Daredevil 8, both written by Mark Waid), the writer sure as hell gave them several

good reasons to start reading the book. And for Waid, this must have just been fun to write. In some ways, it read like a throwback to the 1970s Marvel Team-Up issues I grew up reading. In the first part, Waid worked in a scene where Spidey is confused about DD’s secret identity status. Spidey/DD banter is always fun to read, even when it’s marketing work intended to inform a non-DD reader. In the second part, we are given:

1. A Paolo Rivera cover that has me wanting the artist to do a 52-card playing deck of Marvel characters (and a great use of a fire escape for a cover)2. An exquisite splash page by Kano3. Waid writes the issue addressing previous plot threads and planting seeds for future issues (a risky approach considering the number of potentially new readers drawn in with this issue) but it works4. A great billy club meets helicopter scene5. A smidge more DD/Spidey banter

Amazing Spider-Man 678This week’s Spidey (Christ, I feel absurd even saying that) offers readers another part one of a two-part story. In the world of neverending event comics (is Fear Itself over yet?), the fact that I get to talk about two two-part stories in one week is a refreshing surprise. If you look back at the number of writers of Spider-Man over the years, there were some writers that seemingly did not know how to write Peter Parker outside of his longjohns. Slott, on the other hand, relishes it. The cast of characters and the scenarios Parker finds himself in, thanks to his Horizon Labs job, allows Slott to stretch his writing muscles. This issue revolves around a time portal doorway that one of his lab associates has developed (Slott, ever the comedic writer, has it be the doorway for the lab’s break rooms. I appreciate Slott and Marvel editorials restraint on this story. A glimpse into the future where New York is destroyed could have easily been stretched out into six parts, so I am appreciative of the fact that this is a fast-paced (so far) two-parter.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents 3In the third issue of this six-part miniseries, I am pleased to say that writer Nick Spencer surprised me. Admittedly he’s been revamping the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. history throughout his run with the characters, but his reveal at the end of this issue is one I never expected. I have been often on the fence with this series (a fascination with things Wally Wood-related has made me hang in there though). But there is no doubt I would have bought this issue, no matter what, given that I saw Walter Simonson pitched in to do some scenes. (And yeah, I cannot believe I forgot to pick up this week’s Legion of Superheroes 5, a standalone completely drawn by Simonson). On a Simonson-related note, if you are a fan of his like I am, go read the brief interview Josie Campbell did with him for CBR. Even in that brief exchange, Simonson unleashes some great gems of details—about his dad and other things.

Chris Mautner: You know who's great? Lewis Trondheim, the incredibly prolific French cartoonist. Evidence comes in two recent publications, both autobiographical. The first is Approximate Continuum Comics, an English translation of a six-part series Trondheim published in the 1990s concerning his struggles in the comics industry, desire for success and acclaim and just general angst, anxiety and feelings of self-doubt. It sounds all terribly self-involved to the point of tedium, but Trondheim is simply too skilled a storyteller to allow his own ego to override the quality of his work. Approximate is filled with wonderful visual inventions, like an early daydream about dealing with obnoxious passangers on the subway. More to the point, Trondheim's self-effacing sense of humor is so charming and revealing that the book never becomes too solipsistic or insufferable. Time has dimmed its

Trondheim continues to reveal his life to readers on a weekly basis over at his Web site (and the NBM blog), most of which has been collected in his "Little Nothings" series. The lastest book, My Shadow in the Distance, offers more of the same, and such a wonderful same it is. The material in Shadows is more one-page humor strips, similar to, say, American Elf, but Trondheim hasn't lost any of his angst or irritation at modern life and travel. If anything he's become a more accomplished artist, especially with watercolor, which graces the content of Shadows in lovely wash tones. Plus, it's really funny.

Marc Singer: I've just picked up a ton of books, scholarly and otherwise. Right now I'm in the middle of Do the Gods Wear Capes? Spirituality, Fantasy, and Superheroes by Ben Saunders (which is absolutely not about how superheroes are "a modern mythology" and is all the better for it). I've also been leafing through Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin's Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives, a collection of essays about comics, television, video games, tabletop RPGs, and other media that lend themselves to huge, open-ended narratives. For fun I've been reading Kim Newman's Mysteries of the Diogenes Club, a collection of short stories published by Chris Roberson's MonkeyBrain Books. Newman has created his own "vast narrative" about the Diogenes Club, a group of occult investigators and secret agents that stretches from Mycroft Holmes to the present day. But I need to clear some of these out of the way, because the book I'm most looking forward to reading is Charles Hatfield's Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby.

As far as comics go, I'm pretty much a lock for anything Grant Morrison writes, so I've been following Action Comics since the big DC relaunch. I have mixed feelings about this one. For all of Morrison's pre-release hype about writing a working-class "Bruce Springsteen version of Superman," the comic never really delivered on his promise of an old-school Siegel and Shuster superhero who takes on crooked contractors and greedy mine owners. Hints of that approach were wedged into the first two issues — just barely — before they were shoved out in favor of the kind of 'definitive' origin retelling that attempts to cram in Brainiac, Metallo, Steel, and as many other old familiar faces as possible.

On the other hand, social realism has never really been Morrison's strong suit and he handles the fantasy elements with more confidence. Each issue has been better than the one before it, with the possible exception of the origin story, which manages to do in twenty pages what Morrison once did in four panels and eight words. Still, he writes a suitably heroic House of El and each issue adds some new details that are collectively adding up to a bigger picture. I just can't shake the feeling that the book's craft and its ambitions are moving in opposite directions. (And it's never a good sign when you find yourself looking forward to the fill-in artists.)

Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes was much more to my tastes. I'm not certain this "corporate franchise" phase of Morrison's Batman mega-narrative is going to amount to much more than a fast-paced team-up book, but with incredibly talented artists like Cameron Stewart and Chris Burnham on board, I don't care. And Morrison's compact, modular storytelling lets him work in a wide range of genres without losing focus: any book that can go from St. Trinian's to Steranko is all right by me.

The most pleasant surprise of the DC relaunch has been Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato's Flash. Manapul's approach to the Flash — using the character's speed powers and accelerated perceptions as an excuse to experiment with different ways of representing time and motion on the page — is so perfect that you can't believe nobody's tried it yet. At the moment, Manapul's still deeply indebted to his influences (the most recent issue trades Frank Quitely for J. H. Williams III) but I get the sense that when he fully absorbs their styles and starts creating his own visual idiom, this book is going to look even more amazing than it already does.

Flash radiates a pure joy in being a comic book that, among mainstream superhero books, is rivaled only by Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, and Marcos Martin's work on Daredevil. This is another one of those so-obvious-it's-genius ideas—building a comic around Daredevil's senses, which forces Waid and company to devise new ways to represent sound and texture on the smooth, silent page. It's a testament to their skill that they make it look easy.

If you want to talk about sheer joy in comics as comics, it doesn't get much more ecstatic than the crescendo of creatively designed, emotionally charged pages that Jaime Hernandez builds up to in his final story for the latest volume of Love and Rockets: New Stories. But Jaime's command of his art—every aspect of his art, from lines to layouts to inks to body language to facial expressions—is so great that a single panel of Reno slouching away into the shadows can be just as breathtaking as the double-page spread that sums up the relationship of Maggie and Ray. A couple of years ago, I was hoping that Jaime's foray into the loopy superhero sci-fi of the Ti-Girls would lead to a renewed freshness and vitality in his more realistic stories. "The Love Bunglers" delivers, big time. At this point Love and Rockets: New Stories probably doesn't need any more rave reviews, but Jaime's work is still the highlight of my comics pile.

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