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Welcome to another round of What Are You Reading. Our guest this week is blogger, critic, Comics Comics editor and expectant dad Tim Hodler. To find out what Mr. Hodler and the rest of us are reading this week, click on the link below. And be sure to let us know what you’re currently reading in the comments section.
Michael May: I’ve tried, but I’ve not been able to become a manga fan. I’m just not fond enough of the specific things that make a book qualify as manga. I am, on the other hand, fond of great stories regardless of the way they’re presented, so it thrills me that I’m reading two manga right now that I’m digging the hell out of.
Samurai 7 was sent to me by the publisher, which is how I get most of the manga I read. Unlike most of the manga I get though, this one’s written above a middle-school level in terms of dialogue, characterization, and – well – just general sophistication. But it’s still a lot of fun too. It’s got fighting and humor and I’m loving the Seven Samurai plot with sci-fi trappings (like how one of the samurai is the disembodied head of a robot).
The other book, Anne Freaks, is something that I bought for myself. I was intrigued by the characters (a mysterious girl-assassin, a boy who’s just killed his mother, and another boy who’s just had his family murdered by someone else) and the plot (stopping a secret terrorist organization) that brings them together. I haven’t been disappointed. It’s a darker story than Samurai 7, but like that book it’s also very smart. I have no idea why the girl-assassin is gathering her emotionally wounded team, but going through the possibilities in my head is a delight. The translator has done a particularly excellent job of reducing the language barrier too, giving the characters Western voices that I can relate to without Westernizing what they’re actually saying, if that makes sense.
Brigid Alverson: Welcome to the fold, Michael! The range and sophistication of manga is constantly increasing, and I have high hopes for Viz’s Signature line and their Ikki website as sources for source of manga for grownups. They launched the Ikki site with Daisuke Igarashi’s wonderful Children of the Sea, which is worth taking a look at for the art alone. I’m not too far into it yet, but it is a supernatural story about children with a mystical connection to the sea. Igarashi’s art is wonderfully detailed and evocative — he really puts you into the scene.
I have spent more time writing than reading this week, but I’m really enjoying Warren Pleece’s webcomic Montague Terrace, on the Act-I-Vate website. It’s a familiar format—a series of short vignettes about the inhabitants of a single building. It has a bit of a Twilight Zone vibe to it, but it’s not as moralistic. He only has a few stories up right now, and each is only a few pages long, but the characters keep wandering through each other’s stories, which is kind of funny. There’s an ongoing story about a magician with a talking bunny that they keep coming back to, and the current story, about an elderly
former spy resisting relocation, is a hoot.
John Parkin: This week I read Bayou vol. 1, which I’ve had sitting on the nightstand for awhile. It was kind of by accident, as I was just planning to look at the first few pages and see how the transition had worked from screen to print. But I ended up reading the whole thing, and had a hard time going to sleep because, well, it’s quite disturbing. Especially when you sit down and read it all at once, versus reading it on the screen as it’s released every week.
Also, Wednesday Comics … it seems like everyone’s made a comment about it, but just to reiterate … it’s a lot of fun. The format is cool, the stories are well done … I can’t wait for the next one.
Tom Bondurant: I’ve been reading Essential Dr. Strange Vol. 3, which reprints the early-to-mid-’70s issues written by Steve Englehart and drawn by Frank Brunner and (later) Gene Colan. It’s really engaging stuff — Doc fights his way through a couple of different otherdimensional realms, often deprived of his magic, but with Wong and Clea always there for help. I’m almost to Englehart’s last two issues, the “Occult History Of America,” and I’m looking forward to them.
Because I got a haircut on the way back from the comics shop, I actually read the Superman strip from Wednesday Comics in the pages of USA Today. That was satisfying, although I know it was only a one-shot deal. The Batman strip might have been a better “first taste,” since it describes more of a plot, but I thought the Superman strip represented the book pretty well.
I’m not sure what to think about the big revelation at the end of House Of Mystery #15. Matthew Sturges hinted at such a thing ‘way back when the series was first announced, but it was still a little weird to see — kind of like when something similar happened in a recent Unknown Soldier. I liked the issue overall — I’ve always liked Luca Rossi and Jose Marzan Jr.’s art, and I enjoy the “embedded story” format — and I am liking the series more and more, but I don’t know if I’m responding to the mythology reaching a critical mass.
Finally, I have to say that I was shocked, in a good way, by that one page of Green Lantern #43. Generally speaking, I think Geoff Johns has eased up on the gratuitous dismemberments and other grisly fates over the past few years, and I think it’s served him well (vomiting Red Lanterns notwithstanding). Accordingly, he’s been due for some gore, and this issue was as good a place as any. Besides, Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy draw a right creepy Black Hand. I like Ivan Reis as well as the next person, but I don’t think he could have pulled this off like Mahnke and Alamy did.
Tim O’Shea: I was on vacation last week, so I missed out on chiming in my two cents about Batman & Robin 2. The scenes between Dick and Alfred made this issue for me. Morrison has an understanding of Dick Grayson that is on par with Peter Tomasi’s work. Plus I really appreciated Morrison’s utilization of Grayson’s carnival knowledge in the story. Reading Morrison’s approach on Alfred, I find myself wishing that Alfred could get his own miniseries, written by Morrison.
What can I say about Wednesday Comics that hasn’t been said? OK, one minor complaint. As a longtime fan of Louise Simonson, I found it rather annoying that we were supposed to assume it was written by Walter Simonson, when they listed Simonson & Stelfreeze (last names only) on The Demon/Catwoman one-page installment. My favorite one-page of the astounding first issue, no doubt, was the art team of Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Kevin Nowlan (colored by Trish Mulvihill) on Metal Men.
As much as I miss Jeff Parker writing the adventures of the X-Men in their early days, I’m pleasantly surprised at how successfully writer Scott Gray juggles the cast of the Uncanny X-Men lineup (Nightcrawler, Banshee, Storm, Cyclops, Wolverine and Colossus). But Roger Cruz’ art is the real highlight for me, particularly the fact that the Inhumans (plus in-law Quicksilver) feature prominently in this first issue of
Uncanny X-Men: First Class.
Last but not least, Molly Crabapple draws exquisitely beautiful burlesque entertainers amidst late 19th century New York landscapes in her first graphic novel, Scarlett Takes Manhattan. If you have not checked out her work, be sure to visit her site.
Tim Hodler: Okay, well, like Don Quixote, I love books more than is healthy, and it’s damaged my brain. I’m always reading about a dozen or more things at once, so this will be a selective list, and my remarks brief will be brief.
In terms of prose, I’m going through a history kick at the moment. On Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blog, I learned that David Blight’s lectures on the Civil War era are available on Yale University’s Open Courses Web site. Because I will always jump at the chance to follow along with any reading plan or list, I started watching the lectures and reading along using the syllabus. Currently, that includes two books: James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom and Bruce Levine’s Half Slave and Half Free. Battle Cry is amazing and actually often manages to get me really angry while thinking about various historical figures! This doesn’t usually happen to me when I read history. People are stupid in all times and places, but usually their particular vein of stupidity doesn’t seem quite so shockingly familiar. The Levine book is also good, and thought-provoking, but not quite so pleasurable in terms of style, and I wouldn’t recommend it to those who weren’t already interested in the subject already.
I’m also partway through book 8 of The Landmark Herodotus. This is my third attempt to get through Herodotus, and the first time I’ve made it past the halfway mark. I am going to do it this time, I can feel it. The Landmark edition makes the going relatively easy, as it includes a ton of maps and supplementary text. Herodotus is a tremendously enjoyable writer, even in this relatively staid translation, and his history of the Persian/Greek wars almost reads like an epic fantasy. (The part about the battle of Thermopylae—and the book as a whole, really—makes 300 seem kind of ham-fisted. I know: big surprise.)
I have also been reading E.H. Gombrich‘s art criticism, mostly just for his prose style. This all makes me sound more resolutely highbrow than I actually am, but it’s just a brief phase I’m currently going through: usually I read a lot more fiction, most of it not nearly so highfalutin. Lots of pistols and bricks and dimwitted behavior.
My recent comics reading list has been boringly conventional. I am slowly making my way through three recent reprints from Fantagraphics. I’m making a concerted effort to control my comics spending, but that company is making it hard for me this year. This fall will bring some difficult choices. Anyway, the three books in question are Humbug, Blazing Combat, and Prince Valiant. Humbug’s easily the best of the three, as it includes so many all-time great cartoonists (Kurtzman, Jaffee, Elder, etc.) at the peak of their powers and ambitions, but the other two are worthwhile, too. With people like Wood, Toth, and Heath involved, I knew the art would be fantastic in Blazing Combat, but I’ve been surprised at the quality of Archie Goodwin’s writing. I mean, it’s still got a bit of Twist Ending Theater to it, but it’s much more satisfying than expected. I’ve barely begun with Prince Valiant, which I’ve always avoided previously, mostly because it looked so stiff and proper and wordy. So far, it’s much more fluid and enjoyable than I would’ve guessed — beautiful work — but I’m still not sure it’s really my kind of thing. I need more time with it. I am also partway through Frank Hamson’s “Operation Saturn” storyline from Dan Dare, published by Titan. American comics fans who enjoy pulp sci-fi should be more familiar with this strip.
In terms of current corporate comics, I’ve been following and enjoying the fluffy but fun Grant Morrison Batman stuff, as well as the debut issue of J.H. Williams III’s Detective Comics run. There isn’t much to say about these two titles that hasn’t already been said by a hundred other comics internetters, but I will echo what someone else already said about Williams in this issue—it’s pretty impressive when you can draw so well that you make Greg Rucka’s writing seem (almost) sophisticated.
I also picked up the first issue of Wednesday Comics, and mostly liked it. Most of the stories aren’t really breaking any new ground, but some of the art is gorgeous, and it’s definitely the kind of experiment the big companies would attempt more often in a better world. Kyle Baker in particular really kills it. He keeps getting better and better. Paul Pope’s Adam Strange strip is another favorite.
What else? I’ve more been just looking at it than reading it (I already read it when it was serialized in the Times), but Seth’s new book version of George Sprott is beautiful. I used to not really been into his work, but ever since Wimbledon Green, I’ve been really digging his comics. I’m not sure if he got better or I got smarter (or easier to please). Or all three. He and Adrian Tomine give a presentation at the Strand bookstore in New York, and Seth’s talk was really good and surprisingly funny. He gave a speech in thirteen parts or something like that. Every part he read was good, but in my humble opinion, it was still about two parts too long, and I started to zone out. But that’s petty. Eleven out of thirteen parts held my attention and I should be more adult about it.
I am also planning to begin a re-reading of David Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp. People are hyping this like crazy, and it’s not really a perfect book (what is?), but it’s the richest, most formally engaging one I’ve read in a long long time. That’s what everyone else is saying too, and it’s starting to get annoying. If it’s so great and complicated, maybe you should just say why instead of saying you need to re-read it. But Chris Mautner has explicitly instructed me NOT to write real in-depth criticism here, but just to talk off the cuff, so I would be breaking the rules if I tried to be more specific. Also, apparently there is some kind of pact everyone has taken and we all need to be mysterious when we discuss this book.
In terms of manga: I will eventually read A Drifting Life, but haven’t had the energy yet. I look at it for a few minutes sitting on my shelf before I go to bed every night though, and that must count for something. I am still following Kentaro Miura’s Berserk, and it’s still very good and wonderfully inventive, but 29 volumes in, it’s starting to feel like the right time for him to move towards wrapping things up. I’m not sure swords and monster stories are really meant to be this long. (The bookstore fantasy section would seem to prove me wrong.)
I think it’s time I wrapped things up too.