What Are You Reading? with Shaun Manning

Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at the comics, books and whatever else we’ve been checking out lately. Today our guest is Shaun Manning, a former staffer at CBR, occasional convention reporter and comics writer. His current project is a comic called Hell, Nebraska (with artist Anna Wieszczyk), and he's currently running a Kickstarter to raise funds to publish it. So go check it out.

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


Tom Bondurant

So I finally started Mark Waid's nightmare-Superman-scenario Irredeemable, and basically I thought the first collection (drawn by Peter Krause) was over way too soon. Waid and Krause establish the stakes right from the start, and basically they are "no one is safe." This is the story of a superman whose responsibilities ended up pushing him too far, and whose most sincere attempt at leading a normal life ended up in catastrophic betrayal. Accordingly, Waid has to make him sufficiently familiar to be both sympathetic (before, you know, it all goes south) and terrifying. So far, so good ... uh, so to speak.

Sword Of Sorcery #8 (written by Christy Marx, drawn by Aaron Lopresti) is House Amethyst's big blowout battle against Eclipso, and it works pretty well both as the end of an arc and the final issue of the series. I've said before I'm looking forward to re-reading these issues, because after a slightly rocky start I think they hold together nicely. Marx really put a lot of effort into world-building, including a decent-sized supporting cast; and I'm not sure Lopresti's work has ever looked better. He was drawing Justice League International before this came along, so here's hoping he gets another steady gig now that SOS is done. As for the issue itself, it's an entertaining fight between Amaya and Eclipso, with a clever bit of mundane deception as part of Amaya's final strategy. Marx also sells a closing bit of misdirection effectively. Other DC series have ended in such a way that they merely set up a big-event storyline elsewhere; and this does that too, to some extent; but generally (and Justice League Dark notwithstanding) this gives Amethyst's adventures an appropriate amount of closure.

Finally, I'm most of the way through Darryl Cunningham's How To Fake A Moon Landing, and boy, for a graphic novel with such a deceptively simple appearance, he really pulls no punches. I just finished the chapter on the MMR vaccine, and its assessment was absolutely brutal. Next to that, or the dangers of homeopathy or chiropractics, or the failure to heed the warnings of climate change, the notion that the moon landings were faked is almost trivial. Cunningham's arguments are laid out so plainly, but they land with such force, that they seem hard to dismiss outright. In that respect the moon-landing chapter (which opens the book) provides important context, since in order to believe the "hoax theory" you'd have to believe a host of other conspiracy-oriented things, instead of accepting what science has shown. Oh, and also, my wife really liked this book, and since she's still not a big comics reader, trust me -- that says a lot.

Corey Blake

Harbinger Vol. 1: Omega Rising by Joshua Dysart and Khari Evans (Valiant) - Valiant's Sales Manager Atom! Freeman handed me this book and was pretty confident that I would like it best among the publisher's line-up. I think that day marked the fourth time we'd been in each other's physical presence. And I've got to hand it to him, he was right. I was not expecting this comic to touch on mental illness, drug use and moral ambiguity. While it's clear that Peter Stanchek is the main character, and hence, the "good guy", his actions would probably be frowned upon by upstanding superheroes. Illegally squatting in an abandoned house is a misdemeanor in comparison to screwing up two people he wants to consider friends, with at least one of the relationships created by psychic manipulated. When Toyo Harada, the character that traditionally would be the villain in this kind of story, approaches him, he's actually completely right in his criticisms of Peter's life choices. In another twist, the huge mega-company run by Harada isn't an evil corporation, but a benevolent organization improving people's lives all over the world.  Harada's intentions seem honest until he starts manipulating his employees and twisting the truth too. The book doesn't have much time to explore any single status quo for too long before the inevitable big climactic confrontation is upon us. It's a fun ride with a little extra depth to feel like a satisfying meal.

Thor: The Mighty Avenger Vol. 1 by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee (Marvel) - Oh how this book made me long for an entire mini-line of books set in this world where the Marvel Universe is young again. Wonderfully merging the contemporary with the classic, Langridge presents a cocky yet homesick Thor who can't remember why he's stuck on Earth. Extra focus is put on Jane Foster who is probably as fully realized and enjoyable than she's ever been. Everything is new again, so it's a delight to watch Ant-Man and the Wasp meet Thor for the first time, and of course get into a fight with him. The Warriors Three and an unexpected but funny Captain Britain also show up but the focus remains on Jane trying to help Thor find his way back home and acclimate to modern society. It's not easy to bring back some of the magic of Stan and Jack's early days, but somehow Langridge and Samnee pulled it off.

Eve of the Ozarks #1: Guardian of the Bluffs by Gustav Carlson - comiXology Submit has all kinds of hidden treasures and this is one of the new releases. It's a wonderfully colorful fantasy adventure with a lyrical quality effectively juxtaposed with a rough and tumble tomboy pioneer girl who swings through the Ozark trees. There's a simplistic immediacy that seems intended for young readers, but there's a richness to the world and a wink in the script that makes it satisfying for all ages. This is a creative and playful comic easily worth the 99 cents. There's a webcomic strip at www.eveoftheozarks.com which is fun. This full issue is more lushly drawn and takes good advantage of the possibilities of panel compositions on a larger page. The issue ends with a cute activity page with a maze to get Eve back to her cave home.

Brigid Alverson

I didn't read Valiant comics during their original run in the 1990s, so I missed out on the original Quantum and Woody until now. Curious about this comic that everyone has been asking about since the first Valiant panel I went to last year, I ordered a copy from my local library system. Now I know what the fuss is about; if there were no other reason for Valiant Comics to exist, this comic would be justification enough. It's really, really good. By which I mean, it's really, really funny. It's a superhero story about two buddies, one who is overly serious, the other who takes nothing at all seriously, who become bonded for life as a crime-fighting team. Valiant is bringing Quantum and Woody back, and I have heard people express misgivings about the series being written by someone other than the original writer, Christopher Priest. I totally get that--the writing in this comic is hard to top--but I'm looking forward to seeing them try.

You know how sometimes when everybody is raving about a comic it makes you not want to read it? Or is that just me? Anyway, I have been putting off reading Glyn Dillon's The Nao of Brown, but I finally picked it up this weekend and I'm a convert. It's smartly done and shows real insight. The art reminds me vaguely of my beloved British girls' comics, just in the illustration style, but the story is far more sophisticated and at times it's dead on. I'm a bit tired of stories about twentysomethings adrift in the world, but Dillon's Nao goes beyond the usual bland Mary Sue character; her obsessive-compulsive disorder adds a real edge to the story, even as she goes through the paces of job-roommate-etc. Great stuff, and a pleasure to read.

Shaun Manning

My comics reading habits have actually been a bit odd in the last few months, for reasons no one is going to care about. But anyway, there are a few things I've been enjoying pretty regularly.

Shiftylook's Katamari webcomic is pretty much perfect, aligning well to the game series' offbeat sensibilities and translating the nonsensical goals of the King of All Cosmos and the Prince into one-page gag strips with a more or less coherent ongoing plot.

Keeping on the digital front, Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin's Private Eye is of course well worth throwing some money at. Vaughn has an ear for dialogue that makes every character believable and so makes every premise acceptable. I mean, PE is an oddball. But it's so much fun. And Martin strikes a mix between realism and just utterly seedy fantasy that holds the whole thing together.

Finally got around to reading Leela Corman's Unterzakhn, which I really should have read earlier. It's a history comic about an era and culture I'm completely unfamiliar with—early twentieth century, Jewish first-generation immigrants—and I like that sort of thing.

I've been digging Brian Michael Bendis' All New and Uncanny X-Men, especially the latter. I just really like stories about bad guys who honestly believe they're good guys; as much as Bendis tries to balance things out, as sympathetically as he portrays Uncanny's stars, Scott Summers is a bad guy at this point. And I think that's fun.

One more superhero book worth mentioning: Young Avengers. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie get young heroes right. Possibly because they have the right soundtrack.

Not-comics read of the moment is Present Shock by Douglas Rushkoff. I tend to hate it when Very Serious People talk about social media, the internet, and such, because every Weighty Insight is in fact blindingly obvious and not very interesting, but Rushkoff is smarter than that. He's actually got something to say, and it's fascinating stuff.

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