What Are You Reading? with Alex Dueben
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading? Our special guest this week is Alex Dueben, who you probably know from his interviews for the main site, Comic Book Resources, as well as for sites like Suicide Girls.
To see what Alex and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
Haven’t had much time to get into this week’s comics, but I did enjoy the new creative team on Superman #7. Keith Giffen and Dan Jurgens have a good handle on the folks at the Daily Planet, with one particularly good scene (where Clark “agrees” to pick up Lucy Lane at the train station). Jurgens is identified so strongly with his Super-work of the late ’80s and early ’90s — not that DC wants you to forget it — that at times his pencils practically struggle under the weight of that association. However, providing some continuity with previous issues is Jesus Merino as inker. Merino knocks a lot of stiffness off Jurgens’ pencils and gives everything a nice, slightly scruffy, “organic” look. (In this regard, the Hories’ coloring also helps.) Both George Perez (on the New-52 Green Arrow) and Norm Rapmund (on the pre-relaunch Booster Gold) were “cleaner” inkers, but I like Merino for a change of pace. While the story is nothing revolutionary — alien despot comes to Earth, expects the resident Kryptonian to be ruling with an iron fist, decides to fight — Giffen and Jurgens sell it pretty well.
You know, given her changed New-52 circumstances, it’s entirely possible for one of these “why aren’t you a tyrant, Kryptonian?” types to appeal to Supergirl’s more dictatorial impulses — and I think it would be in character for her to play along. As much as I root for Superman and his ethics, I’d almost rather see a little of that.
Otherwise, I’ve been reading the new(ish) single-volume paperback of Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War. So far — I’m about four issues in, right when the Sentient City shows up on Mogo’s doorstep — it’s been a short buildup to nonstop carnage. I read these when they first came out (of course), and at the time it was pretty heady stuff. Ideally, I’d have read this in the course of re-reading all the post-Rebirth Green Lantern titles, but so far I think it’s fairly accessible. These early chapters are rather grim, though, so much so that they almost discourage reading too much at a time. I’m not sure how the pacing works out either, but I’ll reserve judgment on that ’til I’m done.
I finished the last of my Archaia Jim Henson books this week: Jim Henson’s Storyteller. I’m not familiar with the TV show that it’s based on, but that doesn’t matter for most of the book: an anthology of fairy and folk tales by most of my favorite creators today. You know when the first two stories are by Roger Langridge and Colleen Coover that you’re going to be in good hands and the roster stays on that level through the whole book. There’s also stuff by Mike Maihack, Jeff Parker, Marjorie Liu, Paul Tobin, Evan Shaner, Katie Cook, Ron Marz, Craig Rousseau, Nate Cosby (who also edited the book), and others who I’m just now getting to know. As someone who doesn’t know the show, the framing sequences with the Storyteller and his talking dog felt unnecessary (and frankly, I found those characters’ bickering tiresome), but children and fans of the show may feel differently. In subsequent readings (and there will be subsequent readings), those parts will be easy enough to skip in favor of revisiting only the awesome (and awesomely told) stories.
Why it’s taken me this long to read Chris Schweizer’s Crogan’s Vengeance is unknowable, but I’m glad I finally got to it, because it’s amazing. I’m a fan of a well-told pirate story and Crogan’s Vengeance is right there at the top of them. There are memorable characters, thrilling swordfights and swashbuckling, cinematic sea battles, and Dumas-like levels of deception and intrigue. Like Storyteller, there’s a framing sequence that I liked less than the story itself, but I imagine that will help tie the other volumes of the Crogan Adventures into each other. I’ll hold judgment on that part until I catch up with the series and see how the books are working together. Regardless, if you like pirate stories at all, Crogan’s Vengeance is among the best.
Continuing my round-up of books I read while zonked out on pain medication:
Ernest & Rebecca by Guillaume Bianco and Antonello Dalena — This is a kids comic about a sickly little girl whose parents are splitting up and her best friend, an anthropomorphic germ. Yeah, that was my reaction, too. Bianco and Dalena are clearly going for a Calvin and Hobbes vibe here, but they’re clearly trying far too hard and the cute aspect of things is forced and far to syrupy for me to bear. Plus, there’s the whole “best friend is a germ” thing which just doesn’t really … jibe I guess. The translation seems a bit awkward as well, but maybe that’s how it reads in its original language.
Yiddishkeit, edited by Paul Buhle and Harvey Pekar — Bob Levin’s review is what made me dig my copy out of the read pile. It’s basically a whirlwind tour through American yiddish culture, especially writers, actors and playwrights. This is the best of the Buhle/Pekar collaborations that I’ve read, although that’s not necessarily saying much. It jumps around a bit too much and doesn’t really linger on any character long enough to make a concerted impression on the reader. Pekar’s throwaway critiques of writers like Isaac Singer is also frustrating: Why exactly is he overrated? Pekar doesn’t take time long enough to say. On the one hand I was grateful to the book for introducing me to a world of culture I knew nothing about. On the other, I wish it had a bit more depth.
Infinite Kung Fu by Kagan McLeod — This was OK. Didn’t love it. Didn’t hate it. I was kind of put off by all the zombie stuff, mainly because I’m really, really, really sick of zombies right now. I can see why some folks are lovin’ this. But honestly, it didn’t do anything for me. I can’t even think of much to say about it.
Jinchalo by Matthew Forsythe — A sequel to the surreal Ojingogo. This had its moments, but I think I prefer the original book. I guess my real problem is the various sequences, though charming at times, don’t really build up to any over all narrative structure, however absurd and nonsensical that may be. It’s just a series of unconnected events and then the book’s over. Nice art though.
Comics Class by Matthew Forsythe — Ok, now we’re talking. I like this book a lot more. Forsythe presents himself as the worst possible teacher in the history of K-12 education as he attempts to school a bunch of elementary kids about comics. Not every gag in this slim little volume works but more than enough hit their mark to make me more than happy to recommend this tiny gem of a comic.
Avengers #24.1: I have never enjoyed Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers run to any great extent. And when he disassembled the Vision many moons ago, the Avengers became dead to me. I have next to no interest in AVX, meaning I will happily sit out most of the coming months. But with the internal healing process finally kicking in on Vision, plus the hype of a conversation with his former father-in-law (Magneto) as part of the story, I had to pick up this issue. It’s a great read, giving readers a Vision with seemingly a full range of emotions (but most of them fairly angry at present). Bendis’ unceasing penchant for banter (even when a scene would play better if characters said next to nothing) minimizes the impact of one scene between Cap and Vision, as well as another scene on Utopia—where background characters would have been better off silent as opposed to coming across as dollar store David Mamet players. I enjoyed the issue despite my dislike for Bendis’ storytelling style. In a world where Hawkeye stayed dead for seemingly less than a year (and/or was resurrected or whatever about two or three times), it flummoxes me that the Vision stayed off the grid of Marvel characters for nearly a full decade, partially I assume to facilitate the whole Young Avengers/Jonas Vision that bopped around for awhile. Hopefully the next Avengers writer does not kill him off again in the first issue or make him a the child of Scarlet Witch’s long secret twin sister/half Ultron cyborg…or whatever. After dissecting the writing of the issue, I must stress the appeal of the issue is mainly due to Brandon Peterson’s art. (Full disclosure, despite my long-term Bendis Avengers aversion, I will likely be reading the upcoming Avengers arc [rooted in AVX, I know] solely because of Walter Simonson’s involvement).
FF #16: I distinctly remember a late 1970s Captain America issue where Cap was vacuuming his apartment to clean up from a past issue where the Constrictor had plowed a Volkswagen Bug through Cap’s place. No really. I do not know exactly why, but it’s a great comic scene to me Reading this cleanup issue after the conclusion of the Celestials (and everything but the kitchen sink) arc was a blast. Hickman has a scene where the two Franklin’s give each other nicknames (Mister Franklin and Kid Franklin, for the record). Dragotta has a field day with several moments in the issue, namely the conversation between Future Franklin and Galen/Galactus. Dragotta does cosmos well.
Daredevil #10: Ya know, it’s quite feasible that Mark “Digital has potential, no I am not the enemy of brick and mortar stores” Waid is pulling off a far more successful version of the new DC 52 with this Daredevil run. Yes, I know DD is not a DC book, but consider the fresh start he has given to the Matt Murdock/Daredevil series, it’s almost like the start of a new universe. Best Waid bit of narration for this issue: “’Man without fear,’ they call me. Only because I’m blind. If I could see half the stuff I get into, I’d be scared brown.” Best art element? Joe Rivera on inks, I will miss him along with Paolo when they depart the book.
Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #1-3 (of a five-part miniseries): A few weeks ago, I stumbled across the third issue of this miniseries. Tonci Zonjic’s art (colored by the unparalleled Dave Stewart) drew me in so much, I tracked down the first two issues this week. Mike Mignola and John Arcudi team to write this Depression-era tale, rich with characters from all walks of life. Lobster Johnson is drastically different than the typical Hellboy adventure—and with a tinge of noir. Looking forward to reading the final two installments.
Lots of nice, meaty graphic novels have been crossing my path lately. I finally got around to reading Philip Gelatt and Tyler Crook’s Petrograd, which is a fictionalized story about the killing of Rasputin. This is a historical event I was only vaguely familiar with but Gelatt and Cook do a nice job of setting the stage without sounding like a textbook, and the characters that are their own invention seem real and solid. The art is a little confusing in places—I had trouble telling some characters apart at first—but once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down.
Ed Brubaker’s Criminal: The Last of the Innocent grabs you hard and keeps you reading as you follow the lead character plan and carry out the murder of his wife. What makes the book more than a standard-issue thriller, though, are the flashbacks to the lead character’s life, all drawn in kiddie-comix style by artist Sean Phillips. These flashback sections break the tension a bit but also flesh out the characters and add dimension to the story. It’s a clever device, not one that I’d use more than once, but in this case it really works.
I got an advance look at Arne Bellstorf’s Baby’s in Black, the story of Stu Sutcliffe, who was the first bassist for the Beatles and played with them during their early gigs in Germany, and Astrid Kercherr, the German photographer who fell in love with him. The book is done in a rough black and white style that looks like charcoal drawings, and the characters are so simplified that it’s hard to tell them apart. The Beatles certainly don’t look much like their usual representations, but that’s actually OK, as this story isn’t about them; it’s a love story about Sutcliffe and Kercherr, and it’s a quiet little love story at that.
I always feel funny when people ask me what I’m reading. I read a lot each week, but it’s usually for work or for specific projects of my own. Granted, I’m interviewing writers and artists, it’s not as if I’m reading technical manuals, but so much of what I read is for articles I’m writing, to prepare for interviews or just as background, but it’s rarely for fun, per se.
As far as my own projects, I’m preparing for a trip to the Middle East this summer so I’m reading fiction and nonfiction about the region in addition to looking at a lot of maps about the region. I’m a big fan of maps, which I think of as a relative of comics. I’m writing a novel and as research, am making my way through books about the Puritan mind, 17th century New England, King Philips War, Transcendentalism, farming and magic.
This week I’ve read three novels that haven’t been released yet: Alpha by Greg Rucka, As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson, Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore. Robot 6 readers, and Greg, will forgive me if I skip over his book, which comes out in May, except to say that Rucka fans will likely not be disappointed by it.
Johnson is one of my favorite contemporary mystery writers whose series about a Wyoming sheriff will be turned into the show Longmire on A&E this June starring some great actors including Robert Taylor (one of the agents in The Matrix), Lou Diamond Phillips, Katee Sackhoff and Cassidy Freeman. Start with Johnson’s first book, The Cold Dish, and you won’t be disappointed.
Sacre Bleu, which is subtitled “A Comedy d’Art,” comes out this week and is possibly Moore’s best book. A fantastic tale involving the murder of Vincent Van Gogh, the color blue, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and late Nineteenth century Paris, I keep grinning like an idiot every time I think or talk about this book.
There aren’t many comics on the list, which I feel a little bad about. Honestly I read very few pamphlet comics anymore, but there is a graphic novel I reread this past week and a webcomic that I wanted to mention.
Unterzakhn by Leela Corman. An incredible book about twin sisters growing up in New York’s Lower East Side in the early Twentieth century. It’s about the experience and struggles of women, the immigrant experience, and is just brimming with life. After two readings, I’m honestly still working out my own thoughts about the book other than to say, wow.
14 Nights by Kristina Stipetic. As someone who writes about webcomics a lot, I feel bad admitting that I hate reading comics on my laptop. I am impressed by Stipetic’s comic which is a dramatic look at the relationship between two men, one of whom is afraid of sex. The first part has just been printed and the second part is ongoing and it’s got me hooked.
Also, I always kept poetry books lying about. Right now I’m picking my way through Donald Hall’s most recent volume, The Back Chamber, and So What, a book of new and selected poems a few years old from the late Taha Muhammad Ali. I’ve been reading Hall for most of my life–I still remember the picture book that he wrote, Ox-Cart Man, which was featured on Reading Rainbow–and he never fails to amaze me. Ali is a revelation–though my inability to read it all in the original Arabic is frustrating–and I stand in awe of his work.