Welcome once again to another edition of The Reading Pile, in which we share our first impressions of the comics we are reading this week. Take it away, bloggers!
Kate Dacey: I’m a big fan of Chris Mautner, so when he recommends a book, I go out of my way to track down a copy. A few weeks ago, he wrote an article for Robot 6 listing “six noteworthy debut comics” that highlighted, among other titles, Craig Thompson’s Goodbye, Chunky Rice. The story focuses on a turtle who leaves home to see the world, and meets an assortment of odd characters: conjoined twins, an unscrupulous skipper. I wasn’t expecting it to be as deep and sad as it turned out to be, as the cover art suggested something jollier. That’s not a criticism of the art, by the way—I really love Thompson’s bold, curvy linework—just an observation about the packaging, which screams, “Cute talking animals ahoy!”, rather than “Sensitive meditation on the nature of friendship, belonging, and finding one’s place in the world!” My local library shelves Goodbye, Chunky Rice in its Young Adult section, but it’s the kind of book that both teens and adults will find meaningful. Readers who liked Sarah Varon’s Robot Dreams are a good audience for Goodbye, Chunky Rice, as it explores the mystery of human connection in a similar fashion, using animals as stand-ins for young adults.
The other book on my reading list was The Maltese Mummy, the second installment of the Chicagoland Detective Agency. The series features a trio of crime-solvers: Rafael Hernandez, a “boy genius”; Megan Yamamura, a bossy oddball who writes dreadful poetry; and Bradley, Raf’s talking dog. When rock star Sun D’Arc comes to town, Megan is determined to land an interview with him for the school newspaper. It doesn’t take long, however, for Bradley and Raf to connect Sun D’Arc to the disappearance of a rare Egyptian artifact, leading to an epic showdown between the Detective Agency members, a mummy, and the kids’ arch-nemesis, Dr. Vorschak.
Given the talent involved with this series—Trina Robbins is the writer—The Maltese Mummy should have been a gem, but it isn’t. The dialogue is a big part of the problem. Not only is it exposition-heavy, it sounds like an adult’s idea of how teenagers talk to each other, and falls flat as a result. Tyler Page’s illustrations are also problematic. Though his basic character designs are stylish and appealing, his compositions are very busy, filled with clashing screentone patterns; I couldn’t help but wonder if color would have been a better artistic choice than black and white. I wish I liked this book more, as I think the creators’ hearts are in the right place. The cast is pleasingly diverse, and the plot is clever, with a few genuinely surprising twists. The execution, however, is oddly stiff, keeping the reader at arm’s length from the material.
Lori Henderson: I’ve been catching up on some of the older teen shonen titles I’ve had staring at me. Zombie Loan from Yen Press was one of their debut titles. Michiru is a girl with a special power; she can tell the living from the living dead. She becomes involved with two Zombie hunters and the agency they work for, Z-Loan, where they are paid for every zombie they terminate. Volume 11 sees the end of an arc really started at the beginning that deals with Shito past and future. It’s a decent read, with plot and action balanced fairly well, but an absolute must read for fans of the series.
Rosario + Vampire Season II is a surpernatural romantic-comedy from Viz Media. It is the continuation of Rosario + Vampire and follows the misadventures of human Tsukune who accidently enrolls in a school for monsters, where he can’t let anyone know he’s human. Fortunately for Tsukune, he makes friends with several girls at the school who develop a monster crush on him. Unfortunately for Tsukune, several girls develop a monster crush on him, including Moka, the vampire of the title who has a dual personality, one that is sweet and kind, and one that thirsts for Tsukune’s blood. Volume 4 introduces another of Moka’s sisters, this time an older one who is also an assassin who works for a mysterious organization that seems as set to keep humans and monster from living in peace as Yokai Academy is in seeing it happen. While is some plot movement in this volume, it’s mostly filled with chapters about the girls trying to find some time alone with Tsukune. Reading this volume has only proven how much harem titles like are not for me.
Brigid Alverson: I have been reading a lot of Archie comics lately, both classics in the first volume of the Dark Horse Archie Archives and very recent ones in the trade paperback Best of Jughead: Crowning Achievements. Unlike Craig Yoe’s Archie: A Celebration of America’s Favorite Teenagers, which contains extensive historical information and fascinating photos of bits and pieces of Archie history, the Dark Horse volume is strictly comics, starting with Archie’s very first appearance in Pep Comics #22 in 1941 and collecting all the Archie stories through Archie Comics #2, published in 1943. Archie and the gang look a lot different in these comics—Archie has distinct buck teeth, Betty seems much younger, Jughead has a distinctly surly air, and Veronica, who doesn’t show up until a couple issues in, is more sophisticated than her current incarnation. The dynamics are pretty much the same, though, with Archie innocently getting into trouble from page one and the Betty-Veronica competition beginning the minute Veronica arrives on the scene. The comics are definitely dated, but they are worth reading for more than just historical interest; even after all these years, they are still entertaining.
Best of Jughead spotlights the more amiable modern version of Jughead, and it’s worth picking up just for the lead story, “Something Ventured, Something Gained,” scripted by Robot Chicken head writer Tom Root. When the story first appeared, in Jughead #200, Chris Reilly of Guttergeek described it as “hands down, the best Archie comic I have read in decades.” In the story, a witch who owns a diner entices Jughead to trade his super-fast metabolism for an amazing tower of pizzas and hamburgers. Soon Jughead is getting noticeably chubbier, and his friends spring to his aid by making their own deals with the witch. It is a great story with a nice twist to it, and it would actually be a nice introduction to the series for a new reader. This volume also collects a number of other stories, including an interesting one on the origins of Jughead’s hat.