The New York Comic Con sucked up most of the past week, but I did read a few non-floppies since the last time I did one of these "What I've Been Reading" installments. The most important -- and the best -- book I read recently was "Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe." I wrote about how it was the book of the show, and maybe the book of the year, in my WWC con report, but I didn't talk about the book specifically.
Here's the deal: not only has Bryan Lee O'Malley developed into a phenomenal stylist (not that he was a slouch in "Scott Pilgrim" Vol.1, but his art has become a lot more dynamic and consistently well-designed from page to page), but he has also matured as a storyteller. Or maybe he always had that mature storytelling thing going on (he did create the excellent "Lost at Sea"), but he's now at the point in the "Scott Pilgrim" narrative when the maturity can move to the foreground and the fisticuffs and the frivolity can move to the background. That literally happens in Volume 5, as O'Malley presents the physical conflict (Robots! Evil Twins!) and then doesn't spend much time lingering on the video-game-style battles. Instead, the loss -- the devastating, empty, void-inducing absence of Ramona Flowers -- is one based not on juvenile violence, but on the complexity of romantic entanglements. Juvenile violence is good times -- "Scott Pilgrim" is based on it to some degree, and it's such an inherent part of its DNA that O'Malley cannot abandon it -- but if "Scott Pilgrim" is about growing up, and moving from innocence to experience, then "Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe" is the book in which that shift occurs.
I tore through it at the hotel on Friday night before my family rolled into town, and it was great.
I also read Jonathan Hickman and J. M. Ringuet's "Transhuman" trade. I didn't think it was very good. It's like a pitch for a longer, better series. It's like a prologue for something else, except the prologue jumps through time to tell, instead of show. It's not a story, it's an outline for a story -- an illustrated outline. I'm glad that Hickman is trying to tell stories that are different from other things on the shelf, but it's still just all about the telling. I wouldn't even call it compressed, I would just call it an essay on genetic engineering and the role of the corporation. Which is fine, if that's what you're into. But the danger with Hickman's approach is that his themes are too obvious, his attitude too obvious, and the characters are mere puppets in the service of social commentary. It's the 21st century equivalent of the "Green Lantern/Green Arrow" impulse, but without the revolutionary Neal Adams artwork.
I've had the first five volumes of "Drifting Classroom" by Kazuo Umezu sitting on my shelf for months, and I finally had a chance to read the first two books. Tucker Stone has mentioned the series a few times, and I've always had good intentions about reading it. But now that I've started, I really can't wait to read more. There's the addictive-serialization quality that plenty of good manga has (and most American comics lack, sadly -- how many of them really compel you to race to the comic shop to find out what happens next?), and there's also a pervasive dread from three angles: (1) the horrible idea of being a student trapped in school with a bunch of teachers, (2) the horrible idea of being a teacher trapped in a school with a bunch of students, (3) the horrible idea of being a parent who has lost contact with his or her child. And the interplay between those three layers of anxiety. It's surreal and haunting and it makes "Lost" feel like you're waiting in line at the DMV.
What are YOU reading?