My reading has been varied these past several weeks…then again, that’s nothing new. However, in some ways I’ve slowed down a bit, not reading as much as I usually do or as I would like. And also as usual, I’ve been intermixing comics with more traditional narrative. Some of what I’ve been reading pertains to Jewish Russian émigré writers in America, the topic of a paper I’m currently writing. Specifically, I’ve been reading Jewish Russian émigré short story collections, at least those that could be called short-story cycles. But more about that reading later; I’ll devote a separate blog entry for that (picking up where I left off in my last posting). For now, I thought I’d just type out a few words on some of the other things I’ve been reading, and also what’s on the horizon. Not long after finishing Long/Demonakos/Powell’s The Silence of Our Friends, I picked up the latest volume from Tom Pomplun’s Graphic Classics series, African-American Classics. I really appreciate the Graphic Classics series, each edition featuring brand new adaptations of classic literature by contemporary comics artists. I have a particular interest in comics and adaptation, having written two papers on this genre of comics, one on Edgar Allan Poe and another on Mark Twain. And there other paper ideas I have on this topic. But I was recently asked by the editors of Studies in Comics to review the new African-American volume, which is why I turned to this book. Like the others in the series, this installment features a variety of adaptation styles, some reverential, some approaching faithfulness, some completely whacky, and some that give a curious new (and contemporary) spin to literature published before the last half of the twentieth century. Lance Tooks, along with publisher Tom Pomplun, edits this volume, and they bring in many wonderful artists and adaptors. Those works that stand out for me are adaptations of Florence Lewis Bentley’s “Two Americans,” W. E. B. DuBois’s “On Being Crazy” (I love the art of Kyle Baker), Zora Neale Hurston’s “Lawing and Jawing,” Robert W. Bagnall’s “Lex Talionis,” Charles W. Chesnutt’s “The Goophered Grapevine,” and another Hurston piece, “Filling Station.” Tooks himself adapts two works in this collection, Alice Dunbar Nelson’s “A Carnival Jangle” and Frances E. W. Harper’s “Shalmanezer.” Tooks is very adept at this kind of comic art, doing a wonderful job in translating classic texts in new and intriguing ways. (I highlight his adaptation of “A Dog’s Tale” in my Mark Twain paper, in fact.) The great thing about these Graphic Classics books is that they bring older literature alive for a contemporary audience, doing something different from the old Classics Illustrated comics of the last century, which tended to be “true” and reverential to the classics. The Graphic Classics adaptations are reverential, of course–why have the series if not to showcase wonderful writing?–but they’re much looser in their adaptive interpretations. I like that.
Another comic I’ve recently completed is The Last Days of Animal Man. I’m a big Animal Man fan–you really can’t beat Grant Morrison’s rejuvenation of the character–but I’m only two issues into the New 52 Animal Man. Before I go any further, I thought I’d read the relatively recent mini-series, especially since it’s something that’s been on my “to read” list for quite some time. This is a pretty good narrative, an interesting way to “end” the character as we have known him. I’d be curious to know if the authors and editors at DC knew about the 2011 relaunch when they conceived of Last Days. If so, then that would explain them wrapping up Buddy Baker and his powers. Why not create a rather dramatic ending of this superhero if another year or so down the road you’re going to relaunch–DC’s words…more like reboot–the character and title? I also like the fact that this mini-series brought to the fore the relationship between Buddy and Kori, or Starfire. There seemed to be something there brewing between the two back in 52 when the two of them and Adam Strange were marooned in space, but the writers really didn’t do much with it, outside of show Starfire in a series of sexy and provocative poses (as they have in the New 52…nothing really changes). Overall, a nice temporary wrap up for one of the most interesting characters in the DC Universe.
Another comic I’ve recently read was Batman: Through the Looking Glass. As I’ve posted on this blog many, many times, I’m a big Batman fan, and I try to read most of the collected editions or original graphic novels of Batman as they come out. This was an okay book, overall. It’s definitely a much more whimsical take on the Dark Knight–I don’t even think you could justifiably use the phrase “Dark Knight” within the context of this narrative–than you normally get. What gives the book this curious spin is not so much the writing of Bruce Jones, since the idea of a Mad Hatter figure playing with the head of Batman, tapping in to Bruce Wayne’s past relationships, and kidnapping unsuspecting women isn’t that unlikely in a Batman story. (And by the way, doesn’t the costume of the female victim, Grace, look a lot like Wonder Woman’s when we first see her? And isn’t there a lot of bondage in this book?) What gives Through the Looking Glass its unique tone is the art of Sam Keith. At first, I found Keith’s art a bit off-putting, if for no other reason than because I’m used to the dark, brooding atmosphere of Batman comics. Then I thought, “Why not have fun with the Caped Crusader?” And Keith definitely has fun, inserting a variety of cartoony images, text that serves almost as winks to the reader, and a number of visual jokes along the way. It’s not what I would call outstanding Batman, but it’s interesting and gives you a temporary light breather from the intensity usually found in Batman stories.
Finally, I’ve also read Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s The New York Four. I wanted to read this for at least a couple of reasons. First, it was part of DC Comics’ now defunct Minx imprint, a series of graphic novels that were supposed to appeal to a young female audience. I don’t know why exactly the imprint went under. Perhaps the sales just weren’t what DC had been expected, or what they needed, or perhaps whatever editor(s) behind this project decided to go in a different direction. For whatever reason, the series is no longer around. But I was intrigued by this idea, and several years ago I got most of the books in the series, wondering if they might be appropriate for my (at the time) 9-year-old daughter. I read a few of the titles at the time, including Good as Lily, Clubbing, Re-Gifters, and The Plain Janes. They were okay, given what they are, but at the time I thought they might be a little too mature for my daughter. Now I think she’s ready for them, and I wanted to read The New York Four to check this out once again. Another reason I’m reading this book is because I appreciate the work of Wood and Kelly, especially Kelly’s art (check out his blog). Their collaboration on Local was pretty good, and I have been meaning to read the mini-series The New York Five, a follow-up to the Minx book. At times the youth-oriented tone of the book bothered me. I realize I’m not the audience for this kind of book, but it strikes me that Wood is working too hard to appeal to a young crowd, that the narrative structure is a little too derivative of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim books (and O’Malley handles the “youth appeal” with irony much of the time). Still, it’s an interesting quick read.
Now on to other things. I had thought about beginning Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, since I’ve been wanting to get back to a good history text. But yesterday I began two other books, Bradford W. Wright’s Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America and the fifth hardback collected edition of The Walking Dead. Regarding the former, I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t yet read it. It’s supposed to be a groundbreaking work in comics and cultural history, and it’s been on my “to read” list for a long time. In fact, a friend of mine wants me to review this book–it came out in 2001, but the review would be a kind of “looking back” reading, he tells me–for The Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics (he’s the journal’s book review editor). I told him I would, but first I need to complete my review of Siegel and Schuster’s Funnyman: The First Jewish Superhero, from the Creators of Superman, which I agreed to do last year. As for the fifth book of The Walking Dead, this is something that I read when it first came out, back in 2010. And I’ve read the sixth book. However, it’s been awhile since I read those, and honestly, I really can’t remember the things that have gone on in the series after Lori was killed and Rick and Carl flee from the prison where they were holed up. So I need to refresh my memory about the storyline after that. And the reason for this is that last fall, I got the latest hardbound collection, the seventh book that recently came out. I didn’t want to jump into the latest collection and have to keep wondering what I’m forgetting the whole time. That’s one of the downsides of not reading a series in an ongoing manner and waiting until the collected editions come out.