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The Reading Pile: November 8

We’re nothing if not eclectic here at Good Comics for Kids: This week, we’re reading superheroes, manga, classics, a super-cute kids’ graphic novel—and Hellboy. Join us for a quick trip through the contents of our bookbags and breakfast tables, and feel free to tell us about your recent reading in the comments!

Kate Dacey: I picked up the Beasts of Burden/Hellboy crossover just before Halloween. (I bought the Jill Thompson cover, for folks who care about these sorts of things.) It’s a smart example of how to do an event comic: find some commonalities between the franchises, then write a story that brings the principal characters together in a simple, believable fashion. This particular story takes place in Burden Hill, where Beasts of Burden is set, and follows the same formula as the rest of the BoB stories: the gang discovers some supernatural mischief in their community, then sets out to uncover—and banish—the cause, all while trading memorable one-liners. Hellboy’s arrival on the scene is handled with a minimum of fuss and explanation, allowing the story to unfold at the same quick pace as the rest of the BoB canon. Better still, Hellboy’s wiseguy persona is a good match with the smart-aleck dogs and cat of BoB, creating instant rapport between the two casts. Let’s hope Dark Horse makes this a Halloween tradition!

Also on my reading list was Resistance (First Second), the first volume in a trilogy that explores what it was like to live in Vichy France. One of the things I liked best about the book was author Carla Jablonski’s willingness to explore the moral ambiguity of the characters’ situations; she freely acknowledges that resistance took many forms, and sometimes had unintended—and undesirable—consequences. Though the story is nicely paced, and the setting novel—for young readers, at least—what really makes it work is the characters. Marie, the younger of the two main protagonists, seems like a real eight-year-old, acting out of a mixture of self-interest and moral outrage, displaying moments of true grit as well as moments of genuine fear, expressing it with a mixture of tears and obstinance. Jablonski’s script is informative without being didactic, makingResistance a good choice for classroom use or a summer reading list aimed at tweens and young teens.

Last but not least, I’ve been working my way through a big stack of recent Tokyopop releases. The best of the bunch is The Stellar Six of Gingacho, a shojo comedy about a group of teens who band together to defend the shopping district where their parents own businesses. It’s a little too antic for an adult’s tastes, but I could see the series’ mixture of slapstick comedy, gentle romance, and childhood nostalgia appealing to teenagers.

In the middle of the pack are Summoner Girl, a supernatural adventure about a teen demon slayer, and How to Draw Shojo Manga, an instructional manual. The former is competently executed but utterly forgettable; teens who’ve read Kekkaishi or Bleach will experience a strong sense of deja-vu when reading about Hibiki’s efforts to fight evil spider demons and recover six magic gems. The latter is similarly disposable; though it provides a step-by-step look at how manga-ka create comics, covering everything from tools to storyboards, the author presumes too much knowledge on the part of the reader for it to aid a beginner.

At the very bottom is Saving Life, a raunchy comedy about a poor little rich boy who’s inexplicably surrounded by buxom, attractive girls. It’s the kind of manga that gives the medium a bad name: the script is terrible, the jokes aren’t funny, and the exploitation of the female characters is so crude that it may inspire some cathartic bra-burning. It’s too bad Tokyopop continues to license material like this, as I think the quality of their recent acquisitions has been steadily improving.

Eva Volin: This week I picked up Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl and really enjoyed reading it. Zita is another in a long line of stories about adventurous girls who go off adventuring and have many adventures. I’m a fan of this kind of story, so the variations on the theme worked for me. Zita, in an effort to save her hapless friend, transports herself to a world trapped in the path of an oncoming asteroid. Zita must not only find her friend, but also save the inhabitants of the doomed world. She picks up a series of helpers, a few robots here, a giant mouse there, and together they save the day. The resolution is neat, if a bit cliched, and leaves plenty of room for a sequel. A cross between The Wizard of Oz and Mark Crilley’s Akiko stories, this book will work beautifully for second, third, and fourth grade readers, and anyone else with a fondness for cute, spunky heroines who get the job done.

Mike Pawuk: I’ve been reading some monthly comic books. I’ve been reading , 643 Amazing Spider-Man #642 and 644. It’s the first three issues of a five-issue arc called “Origin of the Species” and is written by one of my favorite writers, Mark Waid, with art by Paul Azaceta and Marcos Martin. Nothing, as usual, goes right for Peter Parker. He’s unemployed, his relationship with Mary Jane Watson is now kaput (which I won’t comment on), and Spider-Man’s once again caught in the middle of something terrible. When Norman Osborne’s baby is about to be born, a race is on pitting all of Spider-Man’s foes out to capture the newborn. It’s an exciting set-up and promises to be a story in which Marvel boasts “absolutely nothing will be the same.” They may be right, but I’m still not sure I think the book should be rated A for All Ages. A lot of terrifying stuff happens in the book that would be rated PG if this were a feature film. Still, it’s worth checking out or waiting for the collection in January 2011.

Also, I read The Incredible Hulks (note the plural title change) #612 and 613. It’s the first two-parts of a six-part epic called “Dark Son.” Co-written by Greg Pak and Scott Reed, the monthly book has moved to a bi-weekly schedule and a title change since the cast of heroes has expanded to feature not just Bruce Banner/Hulk, but his son Skaar, Rick Jones as A-Bomb, the Red She Hulk, She-Hulk, the Savage She-Hulk, and Korg the rock-like alien who befriended the Hulk during the amazing Planet Hulk storyline. The book has taken a daring but successful move by being a team book and also by having the Hulk now be a father himself to not only Skaar, but unbeknownst to anyone, he also has yet one more son—the son named Hiro-Kala who is a fraternal twin of Skaar. The final scene of issue #613 when Skaar and the Hulk become aware of there being yet another son is simply powerful. Who knew the Hulk could cry? I can’t pretend to understand a lick about Hiro-Kala’s “Old Power” but the rest of the story is gripping.

I’ve also in the middle of reading The Odyssey, adapted by Gareth Hinds. It’s a fantastic adaptation so far. It’s a labor of love and you can tell all the detail and love put into the book. Previously this year I also loved the All-Action Classics adaptation of The Odyssey, but I think there’s definitely room on the shelf for this one as well. Not quite done with the book yet, but Gareth has done a great job.

Lori Henderson: This week I dove into Bakuman vol 2. I wasn’t all that impressed with the first volume, but I think this second outing has won me over. Most of the volume is dedicated to Moritaka and Akito going to the Jump Offices, getting an editor and trying to create a manga to get into a special magazine that showcases new talent. This volume really gets into the details of how titles are chosen to go into a magazine, and how they stay there. It sounds boring, but Ohba and Obata make it a fascinating read.

Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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