What Are You Reading?
Here at What Are You Reading, we don’t let a little thing like a holiday weekend keep us from our comics, no sir. Nor do we stop blogging about them.
Matt Maxwell: DOMINIC FORTUNE
Howard Chaykin is a very bad man. Very bad indeed. I don’t unequivocally love everything he does, but I sure love this. The eponymous hero romps through the seedier side of the 30s, from Hollywood to the Berlin Olympics and back, lovingly trashing cherished notions about treasured history the entire time. The set-up? Fortune is asked to babysit three iconic actors who may have refined reputations, but the truth is they’re all party lunatics that make Bluto Blutarsky look like Gallant. And they’re going to the Berlin Olympics at a time of Nazi Germany’s ascent, when people openly asked if perhaps we shouldn’t be supporting the Germans after all. This is a great read by one of the living masters of the comic craft.
BPRD: THE BLACK GODDESS
I’d stopped reading this awhile ago, waiting to switch over to the trades. And I’d really missed it when I was away, though I hadn’t known how much until I read through this. Mignola/Arcudi and Davis have all hit a teriffic sweet spot between military fiction, occult conspiracies and pulp action. Instead of paranormal investigators tiptoeing around and avoiding the government, we get the two working hand in hand (mostly), which means you get to read splash pages of titanic monsters from before humanity’s birth wrecking armored columns outside mythical cities, US troops backed up by yeti and Kalashnikov-armed warrior monks. I’m enjoying this much, much more than I’m enjoying the current HELLBOY (have actually stopped reading those altogether, though I can’t entirely explain why other than I don’t dig ‘em anymore). But this? This stuff is great. Great ensemble cast, art by one of my favorite artists (and more imaginative monsters than you’re going to see anywhere).
Michael May: I bought Mighty Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest partly because Hercules and Amadeus Cho are in it; partly because I knew some of the Young Avengers would be joining. But it’s not my favorite Young Avengers and Hercules isn’t nearly as fun as he is when Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente are writing him. I would totally dig the Hank Pym as Doctor Who concept except that all the characters in the book keep talking about what an untrustworthy loser he is. I don’t really want to read about a superhero team led by an untrustworthy loser. I’d love to let that part of Pym’s history go and move on to concentrate on his being a half-mad genius, but Slott’s not letting me. I doubt I’ll be buying any more of this series.
Tom Bondurant: This week I bought a truckload — or at least it rhymes with “truckload” — of comics at the LCS. Fortunately, most were quite good. Detective Comics #859 was excellent as always, especially with the Huntress helping to enliven the “Question” co-feature. I also enjoyed the Amazonian intrigue in Wonder Woman #38 and the who’s-haunting-Betty-Draper storyline in Madame Xanadu #17. The conclusion of the current Unknown Soldier two-parter makes me want to re-read the whole series, because everything seemed to come to an emotional head and it’s a little hard to grasp month-to-month. I liked the shocking twist at the end of Blackest Night #5, and I thought Gary Frank (intentionally or otherwise) depicted the hard-luck Daily Planet staffers of Superman: Secret Origin as appropriately haggard. However, I’m still trying to figure out if I missed an important plot element in Justice League: Cry For Justice #5, or whether (gasp!) someone on the team really did do those horrible things to a colleague. Either way, CFJ just got a whole lot more maudlin.
As for the old stuff, obviously I’ve been reading selected JLA/JSA team-ups, and decided to take in the three-part Earth-S saga from 1976. These issues were Justice League of America #s 135-37 (October-December 1976), plotted by E. Nelson Bridwell and scripted by Marty Pasko, pencilled by Dick Dillin, and inked by Frank McLaughlin. In fact, JLA #137 was probably the first Justice League comic I ever read … not that I am susceptible to anything like nostalgia, you understand. As it turns out, though, the crossover doesn’t really come together until #137, when (SPOILER!) Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt provides the spark which restores the Marvel Family’s powers. The two issues prior are basically vignettes featuring various mixed-Earth teams, each fighting similarly-mixed villains. (Earth-2’s Joker meets Earth-S’s Weeper, and Dr. Light teams up with the Shade, that kind of thing.) It’s all rather light-hearted, which isn’t bad — but it seems like a lot of meandering up until #137. The main event that issue finds the two Flashes and the god Mercury, along with the two Green Lanterns and Earth-S’s Ibis, trying to stop the combined forces of Brainiac and Mr. Atom from destroying an Earth-1 “city of the future.” Now that’s a set piece I can get behind! After that comes a brief mop-up at the Rock of Eternity, where the just-gassed-up Captain Marvel takes on a Red-Kryptonite-angered Superman. That fight’s kind of anticlimactic too, but the rest of #137 makes up for it.
I went back to the LCS on Friday for a 20%-off sale and picked up (among other things) a Manhunter action figure and a copy of Secret Origins #40 (May 1989). I was a little disappointed that the Manhunter figure didn’t include his broom-handled Mauser, and when you pose him with the Bandi knives he might look like he’s fighting with crutches. Still, how could I have resisted that Secret Origins issue? It has all of the requirements for a successful DC comic-book cover, including apes, dinosaurs, a motorcycle, tears, a question, and the color purple!
Brigid Alverson: This week I treated myself to The Big Kahn, written by Neil Kleid and illustrated by Nicholas Cinquegrani. The story starts at the funeral of a rabbi, when the grieving is interrupted by an uninvited visitor — the rabbi’s brother, who announces that the deceased not only was not really a rabbi, he wasn’t even Jewish. That’s a great start, because so many questions flow from it, and Kleid does a nice job of showing not only how such a thing could happen but how it affects the family and the congregation as a whole. The strength of this book lies in its complex characters and the unexpected ways the rabbi’s death, and the truth about him, changes their lives.
With some time on my hands this long weekend, I re-read an older manga, the first volume of Mushishi. It’s an odd little series about mushi, semi-supernatural creatures that affect our lives in strange ways. It’s a very Japanese concept, akin to the germs in Moyasimon and the yokai in a million other manga, but unique unto itself. In five self-contained stories, a mushishi, or mushi master, helps someone who is afflicted by the mushi. The setting is vaguely pre-modern, and everything happens in rural villages, so there is a lot of nature imagery. The art is moody and the stories are all a little sad, as most of them deal with illness and death. This makes me want to read more of the series, though, to see how the concept and the characters evolve.
I just started reading a new webcomic, and while it’s a bit uneven, it definitely has potential. Cross Hare, by Matt Gorball, is a noir-ish detective story in which the PI is a rabbit. Or maybe a hare. It’s a cute concept and some of the gags are quite funny, so while the story is still a little wobbly, I’m adding it to my RSS feed.
Tim O’Shea: I am out of town for the holiday and not eager to find a local comic book store. So my reading for this installment is a wealth of TPBs from the local library or used book store.
I read the original single issues of the Batman: Year One arc by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli as they were released. Rereading it many years later, a few things stick in my mind:
— Just how well Mazzucchelli’s art holds up–after 20 some odd years.
— How solid an editor Denny O’Neil was on this project
— Why is this the first time I’ve ever noticed or appreciated
— Richmond Lewis’ coloring on the story (hat tip to Jeet Heer for more insight on Lewis). Question to the WAYR audience, does anyone know if she is currently involved with comics or graphic novels in any form or has she moved on to other creative pursuits?
A great many people online seem to love bashing Jeff Loeb — and after reading the first trade hardback collecting his first six issues of the relaunched Hulk series (2007-2008), I think in this instance heightened derision of his work is unfounded for the most part. I understand there may be some continuity gaffes in play here (I’ll admit I’m befuddled by the growth of Leonard Sampson’s hair between
issue 1 and 6)–and I could do without Rick Jones incessantly calling himself A-Bomb (clearly Jones listens to NY Yankees announced John Sterling too much and his “A-Bomb from A-Rod” call…). But overall, the story held my interest and was fairly straightforward. Plus, it’s hard not to enjoy the absurdity of seeing a Watcher punched in the middle of his “I am here merely to observe” speech.
I was an early fan of Matt Fraction’s Marvel work (and long for a day he is able to revisit his independent project Casanova, if his art team ever becomes available again). But I could never get into his Iron Man series. I bought the first few issues and bailed because I found it too bogged down and boring. It continues to garner strong sales and critical praise, so I scooped up the first two TPBs from his run to read. Alas I was still bored — and I was flummoxed by the decision that Pepper Potts iron costume had to be fashioned to emulate the shape of her breasts. This means that Pepper even has to tell guys her eye slits are “up here” when she’s in the midst of a fight. I just continue to fail to see what all the fuss is about on this project.
On the other hand, Fraction’s Secret Invasion Thor TPB released earlier this year was pleasure to read (as opposed to the Secret Invasion itself, which I tried my best to avoid, when possible). In the new Thor ongoing, the town of Broxton and its interaction with its “neighbor” Asgard has been a great dynamic for the series — an element that the writer taps into with this mini. Add to that the return of Beta Ray Bill and I really enjoyed Fraction’s approach on the miniseries.
Finally I snagged a used copy of The Essential Iron Man Volume 1 (Tales of Suspense 39-72), which features a variety of artists on the art chores, including a few appearances by Kirby, at least one Ditko and a majority of Don Heck (inked by a variety of Marvel vets, but one issue inked by Wally Wood [TOS 71). One highlight is the first appearance of Hawkeye (TOS 57) and another is the classic sound effect
of FOOM (TOS 71). For every great story moment that Stan Lee constructed in Marvel history, he stumbled into some duds. In this set, it is TOS 58, which features Iron Man battling the Chameleon — a
mistaken identity (he poses as Cap, but Shellhead is convinced the real Cap is the fake … wackiness ensues. It’s serviceable enough as story goes, but then out of nowhere Stan tries to add poignancy by
claiming to quote then President Johnson’s motto (no, not “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party as your President.”), but rather “Let us reason together! For a man’s brain is
still his most potent weapon.” Here’s a few aspects that really makes this scene grimace-inducing: 1) I can find no evidence that LBJ ever said it [only evidence of it is a 1968 government report on the
prevention of violence that quotes the comic book.]
Not to go off here, but really check this text out, as I love a point in history where Congressman Hale Boggs is connected to a report with gems like this: “One of the newest series is Brother Power, The Geek, whose leading character is a tailor’s dummy which has been given life and superpower by a bolt of lightning and who both protects the hippies of San Francisco and exhorts them to be productive contributors to society. Issue number 2 projects an exceedingly ambivalent picture of the hippies in what appears to be an attempt to use the hippie image to attract young readers in order to preach against the general hippie ethos.”
Anyway, back to the absurdity of the last panel with the supposed LBJ motto (which is at least partially from the bible…). Heck has him crouching side profile in the Rodin’s Thinker pose — while sitting on
nothing. If anybody can get the scoop on if this was really an LBJ motto or something Stan threw in as LBJ, I would love to know the backstory.
Chris Mautner: I actually spent most of the week (and the month really) reading two non-comics-type books. The first is Boilerplate by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett. The book is one of those “alternative history” type stories about the first robot or “mechanical marvel,” invented at the end of the 19th century. The book follows him and his inventor around on a variety of Forrest Gump-like adventures, where he meets lots of famous people from that era and beyond, like Theodore Roosevelt and Lawrence of Arabia and gets to participate in several significant historical events, like the Spanish-American War. And, of course, along the way, the reader gets to learn a bit of American history that may not have been taught in school (I didn’t know anything about how Hawaii became a territory for example) It’s all very clever, and I appreciated the time and effort the authors clearly took, not only with the text but with the forged pictures and Edwardian-styled illustrations, but Boilerplate, pardon the analogy, never came to life for me. He might as well have been one of those garden gnomes that show up on those travel commercials for all the personality he (and his inventor for that matter) showed.
I’m also reading Conversations With Woody Allen: His Films, the Movies and Moviemaking by Eric Lax. Lax is Allen’s official biographer, and this is a collection of interviews he had with his subject over a span of several decades, from his directorial debut with Take the Money and Run, to 2006 and Cassandra’s Dream. The book’s been on my shelf for awhile, I’m not sure what suddenly possessed me to take it down — I haven’t seen one of Allen’s movies in years, though I used to be quite enamored with his work. It’s a pretty engaging, interesting read overall, especially if you’re at all interested in filmmaking or Allen’s movies; his rather critical assessment of his own abilities is rather bracing and at times refreshing.
David Brothers: My interest in the major comics from the Big Two has waned over the past year or so. Dark Reign, Blackest Night, and Flash: Rebirth are all pretty much lost on me, so I’ve become pretty choosy about my comics. I’m still reading Amazing Spider-Man, of course. The thrice-monthly pace does a great job of keeping my interest even when the stories sometimes lack. The Gauntlet, though? That’s shaping up to be good stuff. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Criminal: The Sinners #2 was a delight, with my only complaint being that it doesn’t come out every single day of the week.
What’s really taken up all my reading time, though, is Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond, a retelling of the life of Miyamoto Musashi. Viz Media is re-publishing it in their VIZBIG format, and I can’t think of a better way to read manga. Volume 1 is a 700 page monster, chock full of realistic and beautiful samurai action. Inoue uses a variety of styles, ranging from painterly to hyper-detailed to blunt and harsh brush strokes, while telling the story of a boy becoming a man becoming one of the greatest swordsmen who ever lived. It’s touching, violent, and really very good. And like most good books, it has reignited my interest in Musashi and samurai stories, something I’d let lapse over the past few years. I’ve picked three of these volumes over the past week alone, and it’s just a matter of weeks days hours minutes time before I break down and pick up the rest.
There are a few older books that I’m looking forward to enjoying this week, too. I picked up John Layman and Rob Guillory’s Chew Volume 1 mostly because Ron Richards of iFanboy is a firm believer in peer pressure and supporting good books. One Piece: East Blue 1-2-3 is a collection of the first three volumes of One Piece. I remain convinced that One Piece is the best adventure comic on the stands, and a 600 page brick of OP is a good way to start the Christmas season. And Marvel’s Masterworks: Deathlok is the most tempting Masterworks volume in ages.