Q & A 26: So what are you waiting for?

In Q & A, a weekly feature of Fantastic Fangirls, we ask our staff to tackle a simple question — then open the floor to comments. This week, however, we’re doing something a little different. Spring is here, and spring is time for new experiences. So those of us at Fantastic Fangirls decided to challenge ourselves (and anybody else who wants to play along) to try something new in May. Specifically, we’re all going to read something we’ve never read before.

It’s a little more complicated, though. Our choices don’t consist of things that we simply haven’t taken the time to read, or couldn’t locate, or couldn’t afford. We haven’t passed them up because we think they’re bad, either; in order to be considered for this challenge, we have to have some reason to believe the books have merit. Somebody whose taste we respect likes these things, even if we have a feeling it isn’t going to be us. No, these are books that we’ve had the opportunity to read in the past, but felt that something internal was stopping us — texts that, for one reason or another, we’ve resisted.

Resistance is nothing to be ashamed of, of course. Often it’s quite sensible. But the downside of the Great Unreads (Unseens, Unlisteneds, et cetera) is that they don’t go away. You find yourself in enough conversations where you end up admitting, “My strongly-held opinion about that text is based on never having read it.” So, eventually, the question becomes, “What are you waiting for?” In the month of May, our answer is going to be, “Nothing!” In the paragraphs below, each of us will discuss the book we’ve decided to read. Then, over the month of May, we’ll take turns posting our reviews, and find out how well our preconceptions line up with our informed impressions. Maybe it will turn out we were right all along; maybe we’ll find something new and surprising.

Only one way to find out.


Anika

In the summer of 2004 I was reading (obsessively) Avengers Disassembled and I paid absolutely no attention whatsoever to my husband’s choice of Comic Event, Identity Crisis. I wasn’t reading any DC titles at the time and though he strongly suggested I read it after reading the second issue I shrugged him off. Now, it is widely known that Avengers Disassembled is one of my most favorite story arcs EVER so at the time, I was distracted. The odd part is where I have never gone back to it.

Now, I know the story. I’ve seen some panels. I’ve heard a lot of opinions on it. Sometimes I forget I haven’t actually read the issues. I have even used it in discussion as an example of the “that never happened” gimmick. A gimmick I hate. I am also not a huge fan of the “we’re going to have a big huge event to FIX things that are wrong in our comicsverse” gimmick (cough:House of M:cough). And I don’t like the “we are going to prove comics should be taken seriously by being violent and sexual” plan. With all that, it’s not so odd I’ve never read the book.

But I hear it’s really good.


Caroline

The first trade paperback of the Vertigo series Preacher has been on my shelf for over a year, and I’ve never gotten past the cover. That would be this cover:

First I see the writer’s name, Garth Ennis. He’s probably the only mainstream “A-list” comic book writer that I haven’t ever read. This hasn’t exactly been a deliberate strategy, though I have a vague idea of his stories being violent, gritty, and macho, in a way that doesn’t appeal to me. I like plenty of violent/gritty/ macho writing, though — in prose and in comics — so it isn’t just that.

Then I look at the title, “Preacher: Gone to Texas”, and the accompanying visual — a church in flames, a man in a clerical collar, smirking diabolically. So this comic, it seems, is going to have something to say about: religion, specifically Christianity; and Texas and, by association, the American South. Now, religion and Southernness are two concepts I have a troubled relationship with. It’s not, by any means, that I think they should only be written about in a positive light. But a story about religion and the South has a good chance of getting a lot of things wrong and thus infuriating me (“Where’s this Ennis character from, Ireland? And he’s going to tell me about Texas??”) or getting a lot of things right in a way that hits so close to home I don’t want to read about it. I can imagine a good story with these elements, but most days I’d just as soon not take the risk.

None of the above, of course, has anything to do with Preacher, a critically-acclaimed comic book that I have not actually read. Let’s see what I can do about that.


Jennifer

In the process of writing my senior undergrad thesis on Captain America, I had to do a lot of comic book research. And there are two self-contained comic book stories that are mentioned in pretty much every piece of professional comic book criticism and history: Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.

I learned a lot about those texts, from the research. I found out what they were about (including their endings), and I found out why they were important. As a result, I immediately went out and read Watchmen, and loved it — much more than I expected to, actually, since I’d assumed it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. But I never picked up The Dark Knight Returns, and I didn’t see any reason why I should. I wasn’t interested in Batman. I wasn’t interested in “dark” and “edgy” comics. I wasn’t interested in Gotham City, or, really, the DC universe in general. And everything I’d heard about Frank Miller — his obsessions with whores and gratuitous violence, especially — made me never want to pick up any of his works.

But if I want to be a comic book scholar, there’s no way I can get away with never reading this book. This is the book that changed the direction of superhero comics; this is the book that inspired my fellow Princetonian Jim Lee to become a comic book artist. Its importance to the industry trumps any personal distaste I’ll probably feel. If I wind up loving it, it’ll be a happy surprise. But even if I don’t, I know the experience will have been worthwhile.


Sigrid

Well. I’m going to read American Flagg. It’s a ground-breaking work, vitally important to the rise of the darker comics of the late 80s. It — like Watchmen and Camelot 3000 — was part of an important shift in the kind of storytelling done in comics. I’ve read almost all the major works from that era. Sooooo . . . what am I waiting for?

Part of it is just that I missed my window. During the years I was reading all the darker classics — The British Invasion, Moore, Morrison, Ennis — during the years I was catching up on indy titles and comics and reading Roberta Gregory and Los Bros. Hernandez, I didn’t come across American Flagg. And now it’s out in this gorgeous hardcover, and I look at it and think, “geez, didn’t I read this sorta thing already? Aren’t I off the hook?” But why do I think of it as a hook in the first place? The only thing I can come up with is that I am put off by my preconceptions. For whatever reason, I imagine American Flagg as being depressing, cynical, sarcastic, and without any ray of light at the end. I also expect that it will have no likable female characters. I do have my biases; if the comic doesn’t have women in it, I am far less likely to pick it up.

So. I’m expecting this to be bleak and depressing and without either cute eye-candy or intelligent, assertive women. Let’s see if I’m wrong.

**

Now, it’s your turn! We challenge our readers to try something new this month — whether it’s a comic book, a novel, a movie, or an album by a band you’ve never given a fair listen to. If you think you might want to play along, tell us about it in the comments below. Or write about it on your own blog. Throughout the month of May we invite you to share your own experiences. We’ll put up a masterpost tomorrow and update it throughout the month. Right now, we invite your comments about our Great Unreads, or yours, in the comments below.

So what are you waiting for?

  • I’m fascinated by how this is going to go. I’ll note I haven’t read Sigrid or Jennifer’s entries *either*. (Probably no excuse for DKR, I’ll try and pick that up this month myself).

    I notice that 3/4 of these entries are by writers I perceive as uber-macho (Meltzer’s the exception to that — and his is really the most traditional ‘superhero’ entry here, for what that’s worth). But I don’t know if that’s because as female readers, we shy away from some of this stuff, or because those are the kinds of works that tend to be canonized so that we feel like we *should* be reading them.

    I have to note that, after writing this up, I went ahead and started ‘Preacher’ (since I have to write my piece by next week) and it’s TOTALLY DIFFERENT FROM WHAT I THOUGHT. Though that’s all I’ll say at this juncture except, maybe, oops?

  • I was just going to say, I haven’t read any of the other items on this list, either. Hearing my cobloggers’ reviews might influence me to pick them up — I really know nothing about Preacher or American Flagg, and have no good reason to avoid them. (Identity Crisis is another story.)

    No matter what, this should be an interesting and productive month!

  • Anika

    I’ve read Dark Knight Returns but I have avoided Preacher like the plague and….I have honestly never heard of American Flagg (Sorry!).

    I think it will be fun!!

  • @Anika American Flagg has been out of print for a long long time, from what I understand.

  • I’ve read three of the four. Well, I read the first two volumes of Preacher, and then I didn’t ever get around to picking up the rest of the trades. I don’t remember why. But American Flagg sounds really interesting, and that’s the only one I’ve never read.

    I guess if I’m going to play along I should probably read Annihilation Conquest? People keep saying it’s awesome, but… I really just don’t care about Cosmic Marvel. (Yet I’m reading War of Kings. But not the Nova or Guardians of the Galaxy tie-ins.) So I guess I could give Cosmic Marvel a shot.

    Interesting choices!

  • Identity is my favorite Crisis. Good picks.

  • @Margot Not sure about annihilation or AC as events but I suspect you’d like the character of Nova. That sounds like a fun place to start!

  • So fun! Can’t wait to read these. I’ve read 2 of the 4 (DKR, Identity Crisis) and the other 2 are in my home and ready TO be read, whenever I get around to it. (The American Flagg hardcover has been in my “read this now fool” drawer in the living room for months! I am ashamed.)

    We’re gonna play along over at alertnerd.com but I’m not sure what everyone else has picked. I’m tempted to read something new (Y the Last Man, which I’ve never read, is calling to me) but I think I’ll go with my original inclination and finally sit down to watch Blade Runner, which is a HUGE gap in my geek vocabulary.

  • Really interesting range of choices, here! I still don’t know what I’m doing, but I am participating :)

  • First off: TDKR is amazing and is seriously worth the read, but I haven’t read any of the others on this list. One day I will get to Identity Crisis (as I begin to very slowly start to read more DC comics) and also Preacher is on my long list of ‘wants to read’

    Second: For me… X-Treme X-Men was staring me in the face for a long while, but I buckled down and read it. Now, like @Margot, I’m staring into the demon eyes of Annihilation Conquest. I need to bring myself to read it somehow.

  • handyhunter

    I have read none of the items on anyone’s list, but the one I’ve meant to read for some time and haven’t gotten around to it is Watchmen, which I actually have now too, on (permanent, at this rate) loan from my brother.

    Oh, and Secret Identites: The Asian American Superhero Anthology, which I think is supposed to arrive any day now. It’s not really a Great Unread, since it just came out, but I’m adding it to my list anyway.

    an album by a band you’ve never given a fair listen to

    Are you suggesting there is music out there other than Bruce Springsteen?

  • @handyhunter

    Are you suggesting there is music out there other than Bruce Springsteen?

    Well there is but it doesn’t MATTER :P.

    I have the ‘Secret Identities’ anthology on order; look forward to discussing it with you when we both get it in! And I’m curious for your thoughts on ‘Watchmen.’ I forget if you ended up seeing the movie?

  • handyhunter

    @Caroline haven’t seen the movie yet, but when it hits the $2 theatre, I’ll probably go then.

  • @handyhunter I think I said, but. . .book first, if you can squeeze it in. Especially since you’ve held out this long and it IS ‘what are you waiting for?’ month 😉

  • handyhunter

    @Caroline heh. Will do!

  • Ok, delurking to say, this is an awesome post, ladies. I love the idea…and I honestly have to say that DKR and Preacher are two of my favorite graphic novels. Identity Crisis wasn’t a huge high for me, and I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t even heard of Sigrid’s pick! That said…I have to fess up and say that I’ve never read Witchblade. I have the first graphic novel on my shelf…but I haven’t yet picked it up and committed myself to reading it. I’ll go hide in shame now.

  • lilacsigil

    The thing that people miss about Garth Ennis – who is indeed violent/gritty/macho – is that he is pants-wettingly funny. Absolutely hilarious. Preacher, like with his first run on Punisher as a Max title, is a perfect example of this. It’s very black, cruel, ridiculous humour, but it’s unforgettably hilarious.

    The Dark Knight Returns is early Miller, before he was bitten by the “whoreswhoreswhores” bug. His later obsessions are beginning to be visible, but there’s at least one good, hopeful, non-sexualised female character, in the case of the memorable, merry young Carrie Kelly, and a few other female characters who are neither saints nor whores. Definitely worth the read.

    American Flagg I haven’t read, but Howard Chaykin’s women usually annoy me too much to go anywhere near him and that’s probably why!

  • Graciela

    I also think this is a really cool experiment for the month of May. I hope Anika likes Identity Crisis. I’ve read so many men’s reviews of the comic and I didn’t take the same offense to the violence and sex that the men took, and I’m a lady! So I’ll definitely want to read a review or a blurb about it from you.

    I don’t have much time for reading these days (I am SOOOOO behind) but my something new will be to give the Harry Potter movies a chance. My bf and I just moved in together and I told him he couldn’t bring them into the house (joking, of course) and I know he really wants to go see the new one. So maybe I should get over it and just sit through the movies for his benefit. Maybe I’ll like them?

  • Cash

    For once, I’m ahead of ALL FOUR of the FF?!

    Jeez Louise, what are the odds?

    But I will say that all four choices are excellent, though for wildly different reasons. Anika and Jennifer have picked books that are relatively well known, so I won’t pick over them.

    But I will tell Caroline that Preacher is a book that did not immediately appeal to me, so I came to it very late as well, having started the first volume in mid-2007, but once I started, I gobbled it up. Ennis’s strength as a writer (aside from a great ear for dialogue) is that he’s got something to say and he’s not afraid to say it good and hard. You may or may not agree, but by gum, you’ve heard him. He’s also playing with more than just the South; he’s playing with the whole of American iconography: cowboys, serial killers, conspiracies, vampires, sheriffs, teenagers, and soldiers. You’ll go to Texas, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, D.C., and points in between, not to mention Europe and Southeast Asia. And as bloody and obscene as it can be, it’s one hell of a ride.

    Sigrid: Congratulations! American Flagg is one of the great lost gems of comics, and a look at the singular vision of Howard Chaykin, one of the field’s great craftsmen and great cranks. I honestly think the first 12 issues of Flagg comprise the best science-fiction comic I’ve ever read. It’s a mile-a-minute look at a society where (despite First Comics’ PG-style standards) people have sex and enjoy it, play politics and don’t enjoy it, and dress in weirdly fetishistic costumes at the drop of a hat. Chaykin’s vision of the 21st century (created in the early 80s) is surprisingly similar to much of what we deal with today, what with the the black market basketball games, the televised biker riots, and the in-your-face advertising. But it’s never, never boring.

    Also, Flagg gets BIG bonus points for the talking cat.

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  • Dave

    i think lilacsigil made a great point about Garth Ennis in that a lot of his stuff has humor in it. A lot of it is dark humor, but its funny nonetheless. Aside from Preacher, which I would highly recommend, his work on Punisher is great too. I haven’t read his Max stuff, but Vol. 3 (Welcome Back, Frank) and the 6 issue mini series War Zone are both great reads.

  • Caroline

    @Dave I never would have thought I’d enjoy PUNISHER but I picked up Duane Swierczynski’s run on the MAX book and have been surprised how much I’m enjoying it. I may have to give the Ennis a look after PREACHER.

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  • Hi, I’ve just happened upon the blog. Great idea. I think I’ll try reading The Invisibles or Sandman and watch Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.

    Look forward to reading how you guys found your coices.

  • Caroline

    @Valhallan Glad you’re joining in! And “Invisibles” was almost my choice, but I happened to already have “Preacher”.

    (Though “Butch & Sundance” is my favorite movie, so I’m biased there).

  • I ended up reading the Invisibles and Sandman and was surprised by my feelings on both (I still haven’t seen Butch and Sundance, and getting The Wire Series 5 through the post the other day means that I probably won’t see it all that soon). Both books were repeatedly recommended to me when I was doing Philosophy at uni, and like most things that were recommended to me at that period, I either took a prejudged dislike to it or made a mental note to look it up and invariably proceeded to do no such thing. I took a prejudged dislike to Sandman, on the grounds of pretentiousness and pledged to look into The Invisibles (but didn’t).

    Five years later…

    I liked Sandman a lot more than I thought I would, and disliked The Invisibles for the reasons I thought I wouldn’t like Sandman for.

    As for the art, I wasn’t sure about Sam Keith’s work here (though I really dig it in The Maxx), the sloppiness of it gives a nice(?) transient feel, I’m not sure if Dream looking like a different person from one panel to the next is intentional or not, but it’s quite a nice effect. The art in the second half was certainly more to my liking and the John Constantine cameo helped bring a bit of humanity into the process for me. I’d certainly pick up the next volume, but I wasn’t compelled to do so right away.

    The less said about the art in The Invisibles (vol 1) the better. I found the story really pretentious and found it was trying too hard to be “too cool for school”. Also (I may be stating the obvious here) but King Mob is just Grant Morrison as seen by Grant Morrison. What a vanity piece! I found the “look at us, aren’t we so painfully cool?”-factor really took me out of the story in places. Despite my annoyance with the seemingly onanistic reasons for its existence, I have to admit there were some nice touches, and I’d try volume 2 at some point, though not in a hurry.

    Really enjoyed the peice on Preacher, it was my favourite book when it was running, but its been so long since I read it that I’m worried I wont like it on a re-read and I don’t want to ruin the memory.

    ps. A really pedantic gripe about the Sandman art: We don’t have yellow cabs in London, we have big black taxis. It shouldn’t matter, but I’m quite anal. Like the issue of Queen and Country where she give someone a hundred pound note. They don’t exist!

    I’ll shut up and go away now.

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