What Are You Reading?
We’ll be taking a break from talking about comics next Sunday, as it’s a holiday weekend and all, but for now, click on the link to find out what we’re currently reading.
Michael May: I can’t believe it took my brother’s girlfriend handing me her copies, but I’ve finally read both volumes of Maus. I’m not sure what took me this long to get to it, but I’m sorry I waited. It’s worth every bit of its reputation.
I guess I expected a straightforward (though anthropomorphic, obviously) account of the Jewish experience in WWII Europe. But as interesting as that would’ve been, I wasn’t prepared for how honest and moving Spiegelman’s portrayal is of his relationship with his father. As sobering and captivating as it is to hear about the horror of trying to survive in Nazi-occupied Poland – including ending up in Auschwitz – the real story is about Spiegelman’s dad once the war was over. As seen through Spiegelman’s impatient, intolerant eyes, his father is nearly insane in his miserliness and completely impossible to get along with. It’s heartbreaking to keep reading though and realize where those traits came from and how the elder Spiegelman was changed by his experiences. As the younger Spiegelman notices towards the end, in some ways his father didn’t survive the war.
Tom Bondurant: Hooray! I read Infinite Crisis and Sinestro Corps War and…. “Marriage: Impossible!” from Detective Comics #407 (January 1971) was written by Frank Robbins, penciled by Neal Adams, and inked by Dick Giordano. It is about Batman spoiling a friend’s marriage ceremony on multiple occasions. Re-reading Batman Illustrated By Neal Adams Volume 2 had gotten me used to the peculiar, not-quite-pulp early-’70s Batman, but this story jumped out at me.
Brief recap: ‘Tec #400 introduces Batman admirer Kirk Langstrom who, after turning himself into a true nocturnal critter, helps the Darknight Detective take down a gang of stealthy burglars. Batman wonders which side of the law Man-Bat will choose. ‘Tec #402 then finds M-B going a little nutty, embracing his more savage instincts and alienating his fiancee Francine. Batman ends up trapping him in the Batcave and accidentally-on-purpose knocking him cold with the closing garage door. Holy severe head trauma! A remorseful Batman decides that if M-B dies from his injuries, it’ll be as a human.
Well, issue #407 tells us that ran into a snag. Man-Bat escapes the Batcave, so Batman looks to Francine for help stopping him. However, we soon learn a couple of important details: Francine still thinks it can work, and (just to make sure, I suppose) Man-Bat has injected her with the bat-serum. So now they’re both bat-people, and neither one of them wants Batman interfering in their lives together. If I were Batman, at this point I would have wished them all the best and started looking at their Bed Bath & Beyond registry. Oh mais non. Batman chases each of them, injecting them both with the anti-serum and turning them both back into humans. (As I remember, though, this isn’t quite permanent.) His thoughts during the pursuit are revealing: “She really loves that twisted thing! Enough to sacrifice her human beauty to become his animal mate!” and “If they kill me … they kill their only chance for human survival!” In the end, though, everyone’s happy, as Francine summarizes. “We did it to each other, Kirk — our love turned into an evil obsession! And only the Batman understood….”
Now, the case can certainly be made that the bat-serum was doing wonky things to both Kirk and Francine’s minds, so they weren’t entirely capable of making informed decisions (and might not even have had sufficient mental capacity to get married, but that’s a little beside the point). As humans they definitely have a more negative opinion of their bat-creature lives. Perhaps in the early ’70s this was something of a drug-abuse parable. Today, though, I can’t help but think that Batman comes off a little more draconian than everyone intended.
I’ve also been enjoying Hulk Visionaries: Peter David Volume 3 (pencilled mostly by Jeff Purves), which opens with a couple of crossovers. As part of Peter Parker’s book tour, Spider-Man visits Vegas for an extremely entertaining two-parter involving a group of professional mercenaries playing “tag.” A few issues later, the Hulk visits New York for another fight with the Thing. I had read the Fantastic Four issue, but not the Hulk conclusion, so to see the gray Hulk stalk and defeat the (stronger-for-the-time-being) Thing was suspenseful and a little sad for blue-eyed Benjy.
Chris Mautner: The Definitive Prince Valiant Companion from Fantagraphics kind of defies any sort of in-depth review. You’re either a big Hal Foster fan and are going to buy this book, or you’re not,, and you’re not.
Still, if you do have a hankering for all things Foster, this is a pretty in-depth compendium. The first third of the book is mostly taken up with summarizing all the plots from Valient, from 1937 to today (!). Then there’s an essay by editor Brian Kane on Foster’s influences, and then a plethora of interviews with Foster, his successor John Cullen Murphy, and Murphy’s successors, Gary Gianni and Mark Schultz. Like I said, it’s great stuff if you’re a fan of the stirp and those who are should add this to their last minute Christmas list right away. But everyone else can go on about their business, you’re not really going to find any insights into the strips greatness here. You need to pick up Fanta’s new reprint collection to do that.
Matt Maxwell: ERIC by Tom Manning
I’ve been a fan of Mr. Manning’s work since I was steered to RUNOFF by a friend of mine who said that if I had to buy all three books and if I didn’t like them, he’d give me double my money back. Needless to say, I liked them a lot. So I was quite happy to find this new book at APE this year. Finally had a chance to read it and, while I really dug the alien underbelly of Los Angeles and the music industry (as well as the just plain alien) that Mr. Manning carefully evoked with his sinuous blacks, I wanted more. It feels like the beginning of a larger story (and I hope I’m right) even though it is, essentially, complete as it stands. This is available via Mr. Manning’s site. Not sure that he has other distribution at the moment (which is a shame).
MUCH THE MILLER’S SON v.2 by Steve Le Couillard
A copy of this was pressed into my hands by Mr. Le Couillard himself at SDCC. Sad to say that I’m only reading it now, but after this week, I was ready for some levity. And he certainly delivers with his subversive and irreverent retelling of the Robin Hood legend through one of the lesser characters of the stories, Much the Miller’s son, who’s a reluctant member of the Merry Men (only because he has eyes only for Maid Marion). If you don’t like expressive cartooning and want only musclebound overly-rendered crosshatching, then stay away. If, however, you enjoy the ability of just a handful of lines to convey emotion and action, teasing out a whole world with a minimum of fuss, then give this a look. Not for kids certainly (but I wouldn’t hesitate passing it along to worldly teenagers, even with the presence of naughty bits, both male and female. This isn’t your father’s Robin Hood, and that’s just fine by me.
AIR v.2 by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker
I’m still enjoying this series, though I’ll say that I’m glad to be reading it in collected editions and not as single issues. I realize this makes me a pariah in hardcore fandom, but AIR is a book that really isn’t well-served by the monthly delivery system. Yes, I understand that the monthlies subsidize the trades and why do I hate comics…I’ve heard all that before. This second volume finds the mystery of the Device deepening and the addition of Amelia Earhart to the “regular” cast. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of tension in the entirety of the book, at least in terms of the ostensible conspiracy and counter-conspiracy plot. I continue to find Ms. Wilson’s voice a breath of freshness in mainstream comics (is AIR even mainstream, I wonder, if for anything other than by virtue of its being published by Vertigo/DC?), but my baser, plot-driven instincts sometimes feel thwarted (which is probably not a bad thing.)
Tim O’Shea: The reboot of the Spider-Man books has proven to be a chance to revitalize more than just Peter Parker’s status quo. We’re getting to enjoy new dynamics with Betty Brant and Glory Grant (who in a comical bit are now roommates…)–as well as in those character’s careers. But a scene between Robbie Robertson and Mayor J Jonah Jameson was one of the best parts of Spider-Man 615. Not the best part, though, the best part is the fact that it’s only the first of a two parter drawn by Javier Pulido.
It’s a double shot of Jeff Parker this week. Underground gets the reader feeling even more claustrophobic. I continue to love the jarring shift between the cave scene darkness and the comparatively colorful vibrancy outside the cave. It’ll be interesting to see where the story goes with the conclusion next issue. I’m still undecided as to how I feel about Parker’s Thunderbolts, the group of folks answering to Osborn is incredibly unlikeable (as they are supposed to be) but I imagine with Seige on the doorstep of the book, the tone of the book is likely to shift.
Captain America: Reborn hits the five issue (of six) mark. As much as I appreciate Bucky Cap knocking the crap out of Red Skull-possessed Steve Rogers, the whole series has played out far too slowly. How slowly? Well Steve Rogers has already appeared in two to three comics as the recently returned Cap. Sure we knew Cap was never truly dead and that Bruce Wayne will be Batman again eventually. But why not get the books out on time or don’t build Cap into other ongoing monthlies if it runs the risk of spoiling the outcome? It’s quite fanboy of me to complain about this, but it did annoy me. While the name of the series is Reborn (so of course it’s tipping the hand about the conclusion) but I think the Cap appearances elsewhere takes some of the wind out of Brubaker’s tale.
There’s a tone to J Michael Straczynski’s Brave and Bold that almost smacks of “I won’t be writing comics much longer.” I hope I’m wrong, but it just seems like he’s trying to convey larger statements about the superhero genre with these team-ups. There’s a bittersweet, but touching element to this Kent Nelson/Dr. Fate team-up with Hal “Green Lantern” Jordan.
You can call me the Mayor of Simpleton, but Mark Waid hooked and amused me simply when he named Max Daring’s female teenage sidekick Jailbait. BOOM’s Incorruptible aims to be a nice counterpoint to
Irredeemable. And given that Waid told me last week he hopes to have a little humor in the book makes me want to come back for more.
Alan David Doane: I have to admit that I have not been reading a lot of comic books lately; I suppose we all go through cycles of passion and disinterest to greater or lesser degrees, but a good 90 percent of the comics I read this year just did not do it for me. Looking back on the decades I’ve been reading comics (I started in 1972), the ones that really stick with me are the ones that created whole, intriguing new worlds that begged for me to explore them, from Claremont and Byrne’s Uncanny X-Men to Alan Moore and company’s Swamp Thing to Love and Rockets, Cerebus and so many more, they all created a solid sense of time and place and most importantly, an impression that I was in the hands of confident storytellers who knew what they were doing and where they wanted to take me.
The only creator working at either Marvel or DC right now who really meets that criteria for me is Ed Brubaker, so it almost goes without saying that his Criminal with artist Sean Phillips is always at the top of my monthly comics-reading stack. I love the art JH Williams is doing for Detective Comics, but the stories don’t last in my mind any longer than it takes to read the book. Greg Rucka’s done great comics before (Whiteout, Queen and Country, Gotham Central), so I am hoping he and Williams start to mesh a little better so the book’s stories rise to the level of the images they contain.
I should mention that I am a huge fan of Rucka’s Atticus Kodiak prose novels — even more so than his comics work — and I recommend those very highly.
The Umbrella Academy – I’ve read both miniseries now and I have to say that the series comes VERY close to that world-building I mentioned a little earlier. I wish it came out more regularly, because comics needs something that good on the stands every month.
I also read Buffy The Vampire Slayer every month (who doesn’t?) and love the true feel of the TV series that most of the comics have managed to convey. I hope the revelation of the “Big Bad” doesn’t disappoint, but the fact that I care at all is a minor miracle.
It took me three or four days to read The Comics Journal #300, and I am amazed at the quality of this last regularly-published issue. The artist-on-artist interviews are almost all invaluable documents of the experiences and work habits of the participants, and the very best pieces, like the Howard Chaykin/Ho Che Anderson one — stand alongside the very best comics joournalism TCJ has ever offered up. You may know TCJ has now moved online, and while updates are frequent, there have been some hiccups along the way, but it’s well-worth having a look at tcj.com and seeing what the best magazine about comics ever is up to these days.
Also online, I have been enjoying the living hell out of Chris Allen’s Daily Breakdowns columns at my own site Comic Book Galaxy. Chris has really brought his A-game to our new group blog Trouble with Comics, and if you ever wonder why so many people think he’s such a great critic and commentator, check out his work on TWC.
The bulk of my reading the past couple of months has been prose fiction, specifically H.P. Lovecraft and Raymond Carver — I devoured huge Library of America anthologies of both — and now I’ve moved on to the complete Conan stories by Robert E. Howard, collected in three volumes by Del Rey. I just started the second volume, and enjoyed the first one so much that I also ordered the Kull volume that is a companion to the series. I’ve read Conan comics for years, but never gone to the original source before, and his writing, when it is at its best, is visceral, thrilling and absolutely impossible to put down.
On a closely-related note, I just pre-ordered Volume 8 of Dark Horse’s Conan series — I hate the “remastering” they subjected the original Marvel comics to, but their new series has been really entertaining, and I’m enjoying collecting the hardcovers as they come out. Vol. 8 will be the first one collecting comics I didn’t read on a monthly basis, so I am really looking forward to seeing what I was missing by “waiting for the trade.”