Weekly Round-Up #45

Best Comic of the Week:

Atelier

by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

There are a number of reasons why I love my comic book store, but the main reason this week is because they returned from NYCC with a small stack of Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s recently self-published sketchbook/mini-comic/how-to guide, Atelier, and didn’t even over-charge for it.

This book is forty pages long, and is basically a stream-of-consciousness tone poem, complete with the twin brothers’ musings about creating comics, presented in four different languages.  The book lacks the story-driven punch of their incredible Daytripper series (which is on my very short list for ‘best series of the year’), but instead is designed to show off their impressive artistic talents and sensibilities.

This is a surreal piece of work.  A scene where the twins, as young boys, are drawing in the sand on a beach, slowly turns into a series of drawings centring on sea life.  It’s a very lovely piece of work.

I’m glad I got the chance to pick this up.  The brothers are favourites of mine (see below), and it was a nice surprise to see a book I didn’t even know had been (self-)published.

Other Notable Comics:

BPRD Hell on Earth – New World #3

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Guy Davis

As much as I’ve enjoyed BPRD in the past, I think I’m beginning to enjoy it even more since it’s become “BPRD Hell on Earth”.  This has always been a title where unpredictable things can happen, but I feel that they’ve really removed any sort of safety net now, and made the book even more random in terms of wanton destruction and the chance that characters won’t survive.  For example, in this issue, a volcano suddenly appears and kills millions in Texas.

What makes this book so strong is the interactions between the characters.  I loved seeing Abe working with Daimyo again, as they deal with some kind of tentacle-y thing in BC, and the conversation between Kate, Johann, and the UN guy (does he have a name yet?) is priceless.  As the world starts falling apart all around them, this book is funnier than it ever was before.  I appreciate that.

Northlanders #33

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

I’ve been enjoying Metal since it started, but I think this is the best issue of the story to date.

Erik and Ingrid are continuing their rampage across the Norselands like a Viking Micky and Mallory Knox, hunting down and slaughtering Christians everywhere.  Their legend has grown, and one night, while sharing a fire with some local Norsemen, they learn about how the locals see their deeds.

At the same time though, the spectre of Black Karl, the man they killed last issue, pursues them.  The way Wood has structured this arc, I’m not sure what is real and what is in Erik’s mind.  Northlanders has always been delivered as a historical fiction series, so this arc, with its spirits (and now Draugrs) is jarringly out of place.  I tend to read scenes like the last one in this comic as proof of Erik’s addled mind, but I suppose it is also possible that Wood is giving us an old school Vertigo story, with all the dark fantasy that usually entails.

Either way, I’m enjoying this book.

Strange Tales II #1

by Various Creators

I’m pleased to see that the first run of this title was successful enough for Marvel to do a second series of this anthology comic that showcases a wide variety of “indie” and comix artists playing in the Marvel sandbox.

Like the first run, there are a lot of stories in here that did absolutely nothing for me, but the stuff I liked made purchasing the comic worthwhile and rewarding none the less.

This issue has a number of strengths.  To begin with, Rafael Grampá‘s cover is phenomenal.  I love that Thor’s hammer has a handle shaped like a bread knife, and that he’s wearing lace-up high tops.  The first story is also by Grampá, and it’s a gritty and nasty tale about Wolverine involving the extreme fighting circuit and very kinky sex.  It’s also one of two stories in here that have Wolverine whining about how he can’t heal a broken heart – it’s cool in this story, and cheesy in the other.

Gene Luen Yang brings back the Frog-Man, a character I had forgotten about, but who seems to have been made for Yang.   I thought that Shannon Wheeler’s story about a “gone native” Red Skull was pretty funny, and while I didn’t enjoy the stories, I found Frank Santoro’s Silver Surfer tale, Dash Shaw’s Spider-Man story, and Nicholas Gurewitch’s Galacatus piece to be very pretty.  I also liked Jeff Lemire‘s story of the RCMP, the Wendigo, and the Man-Thing.  That’s a winning combination I’d read a twelve-issue maxi-series about.

This is by no means a perfect compilation, but it is pretty cool that Marvel is doing it.  I look forward to seeing who contributes to issue number two.

Sweets #3

by Kody Chamberlain

I’m glad I decided to stick with Sweets.  On the one hand, it’s a fairly conventional police procedural, but Chamberlain has done enough to the story to make it stay pretty interesting.

I like that the story is set in New Orleans just days before Hurricane Katrina is set to make landfall.  It adds a sense of urgency to the story, as the reader knows a few things the characters don’t about how hard it will become to catch the killer in just a matter of days.

Also, I like the way that the two detectives go about their business.  Their crotchety relationship, and innovative approaches to policing remind me a little of some of the better scenes in Homicide: Life on the Streets, which is always a kind comparison to make.  Finally, the flashback pages, with their bright colours and more primitive art style continue to be my favourite part of the book.

I did find the last few pages of the comic to be pretty confusing.  Was that Sweets, the killer, firing at the two cops, or was that just some random New Orleans violence?  The other two issues gave Sweets some screen time, and this issue does not, so I wasn’t sure who I was looking at.

Still and all though, this is a pretty good comic.

The Unwritten #18

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross

The last few issues of this series have had a lot of stuff happening, so it makes sense that Carey slows things down a little, and gives Tom a chance to examine his sub-conscious (guided by a huge load of illegal drugs of course).  That his revelation is that he should trust in his friends is a little weak, but then Tom’s a bit of a jerk, so it makes sense that he actually has to be told these things, even if it’s from his fictitious alter-ego.

Of far more interest to me were the scenes involving the Cabal that has been set up as the villains of the series.  Mr. Callendar, who up to now I took to be the absolute leader of the group, is looking to cast blame for the recent fiasco involving the new Tommy Taylor book.  He decides that the fault lies with Pullman, the Cabal’s assassin and enforcer.

This leads to an interesting scene involving a statue that dispenses justice, and a power shuffle in the Cabal.  This group is of a lot of interest to me – I like how on the first page Carey shows us some of their other on-going literary projects – and I’m pleased to learn a little more about them, even if that may actually raise more questions than it answers.

Welcome to Tranquility: One Foot in the Grave #4

Written by Gail Simone
Art by Horacio Domingues

I hope, when the dust from the cancellation of the Wildstorm line settles, that there will be a place at DC for another Welcome to Tranquility series.  I love Simone’s stories set in this small town mostly populated by retired super-folk.  The characters are very likeable, and the setting is pretty unique.

This second series, featuring the return of Mayor Fury and the Pink Bunny’s son, Derek, an incredibly powerful monster, is pretty plot-heavy, but Simone is still finding ways to make the individual issues stand out.  In this installment, there’s a scene where the Bunny, waiting in the hospital for Fury, has a chat with a little girl who is reading a monster comic.  While this is happening,  the Coyote Kid is in the middle of a pitched battle with Derek, and the narration matches the little girl’s comic book perfectly.  It’s a neat trick.

Quick Takes:

Adventure Comics #519 – The Legion story in this issue was pretty bland stuff, but I find I’m starting to like what Lemire’s doing with the Atom in the back-up (which is of course not going to be around past January).  I wish Levitz was doing more with the lead feature though – there is so much Legion potential he seems to be ignoring to give us some ret-conned Superboy stories, with the Legion spending a huge amount of time to deal with a lame-ass weapons dealer.

Amazing Spider-Man #645 – Origin of the Species has been a really good straight-up superhero story, and this issue is one of the best yet, as Spidey goes to town on anyone involved in the hunt for the baby, and tears up the city.  There’s a nice mix between classic Spider-Man villains and the odd F-lister (unless you think Hypno-Hustler is not that high in the standings).  It’s too bad that Azaceta couldn’t complete the whole issue, but Matthew Southworth (read Stumptown!) is a good substitute.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5 – I know that this comic is getting a lot of praise, and usually I love Morrison’s writing, but I’m tired of all of this.  The lengthy delays, and the plethora of tie-ins that probably have nothing to do with anything, are obscuring his story.  Also, the sheer number of coincidences upon which this particular comic are built is painful.  I like Ryan Sook’s art, but wish he could have finished the whole thing (although I’m glad they brought in Pere Perez to do it so the book wasn’t even more late.

Incredible Hulks #614 – So I think I’m going to be buying this title for the next little while at least.  I like Pak’s approach to the concept of a Hulk Family, even if some of the members don’t get any dialogue in this issue.  Seeing them fight the Secret Avengers was cool, even if the fact that the “Secret” Avengers were fighting alongside the American military seems like they aren’t such a secret.  Barry Kitson drawing anything is always a nice treat, and I found the back-up with a scene between Banner and Skaar to be enjoyable.  Hey Marvel – see what happens when you take Jeph Loeb out of a group of titles?  People like me start to read them again.

Invincible Iron Man #31 – It’s another issue in Matt Fraction’s stellar Iron Man run, and it continues to be amazing.  Tony unveils his new car while the Hammers decide to send Detroit Steel in to ruin his demonstration.  As usual, there is excellent characterization, and fantastic Salvador Larroca art.  This is the best this book has ever been.

Jonah Hex #60 – Why doesn’t Brian Stelfreeze get more work in the comics industry?  I hope it’s because he’s doing some other work, because the man is brilliant and deserves a lot of recognition.  Instead, he’s always done just covers and oddball mini-series for Wildstorm.  Anyway, he draws an almost pitch-perfect, rainy atmospheric Jonah Hex, in yet another story about revenge and people being angry with Hex.  As much as I like each individual issue of this comic, I feel like it’s getting bogged down in routine and something new needs to be done with it.  Of course, if they keep finding artists this good, I don’t really care.

Knight and Squire #1 – This is easily the best non-Grant Morrison, non-Batman Batman book being published (there are way more of those than there should be), as Paul Cornell gives us a fun little done-in-one story set in the Time in the Bottle Pub in London, a hang-out for heroes and villains reminiscent of the one in Ellis’s Stormwatch.  Of course, the ‘magical truce’ that keeps everyone from fighting doesn’t last the issue, and things get chaotic, but the first half of the comic is used to introduce fifty years worth of British DC history, and a ton of new characters.  Artist Jimmy Broxton is a good stand-in for Cameron Stewart.  This is something I was unsure of (I’ve been hit or miss on Cornell to this point), but I think I’m going to be on-board for the whole series.

New Avengers #5 – Bendis has taken way too long to get us to this point, but I find myself liking this comic despite myself.  There’s way too much questionable comic book science and magic for me, and the whole “everyone join with Wolverine but still be able to walk around and talk” bit didn’t make sense, but now he has the power of Victoria Hand, so you know he’s going to kick butt (oh wait, she can’t do anything – I forgot).  Also, next issue “One of these Avengers is going to DIE!”.  For at least a month.  I’m guessing it won’t be Wolverine or Luke Cage…  As usual, the best two things about this comic are Immonen’s art and Spider-Man’s dialogue.

Shadowland #4 – This issue is pretty much just a big fight between Marvel’s street heroes (and Wolverine, who was really a necessary addition to this comic) and the new, demon-powered version of Matt Murdock.  Tan’s art looks okay here, but some pages seem really rushed.  I’d say this is a decent, but not great comic.  Shadowland has too many characters acting differently from how we know them, and I still feel like the event was pushed out before it had had enough time to gestate in Daredevil’s own title.

Superior #1 – I’m always up to try out a new Millarworld title, as I find that I like Mark Millar a lot more when he’s working with his own characters.  This issue is a mashup of Captain Marvel (more Captain Marvel Jr., I guess) and Supreme, with a space monkey that looks like Travis Charest drawing Lord Emp in Wildcats Volume Two.  The boy in a wheelchair becomes a superhero story isn’t all that original, but it’s decent still.  I like Yu’s artwork here more than I did on Secret Invasion.

The Thanos Imperative #5 – While this continues to be a very exciting comic, this issue is more about setting up the big conclusion than anything else.  This has been a pretty fantastic mini-series, and I love how Abnett and Lanning have juggled so many characters.  The redemption of the Scarlet Witch from the Cancerverse is a nice touch.

Thor #616 – I’m not usually a Thor fan (with the exception of Simonson’s run, of course) and am really only buying this because of Fraction and Ferry, but damn if Thor and his cast haven’t gotten whiny.  He’s moping around over the loss of Loki, and claiming that “all this loss wouldn’t be so bad to bear, were I granted someone to bear it with.  Somone of my blood, of my flesh,” referring to Loki.  What’s weird is that he’s saying all of this to Balder, who is also his half-brother and, you know, not evil.  There’s a bunch of pretty pages filled with ugly red dudes too.  Really, I’m not too impressed yet.  This might be the only Fraction book I won’t buy if things don’t turn around quick.

Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4:

Amazing Spider-Man Presents Black Cat #4

Frenemy of the State #3

Green Lantern Emerald Warriors #3

I Am An Avenger #2

Invaders Now #2

Irredeemable #18

Mighty Crusaders #4

Shadowland Blood on the Streets #3

Tomb of Terror One Shot

X-Men #4

Bargain Comics:

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #3 – I’m sure that there are some old Captain Britain fans who are loving this story, which deals with the aftermath of the Jaspers Warp, but the plot is not doing much for me.  This book is all about the dialogue and the art, as Ellis continues to write the X-Men as stars of a biting TV drama where they take potshots at each other all day long, and as Andrews continues to show how wonderful an artist he is (if only he didn’t keep drawing such silly covers).

DC Universe Legacies #5 – We’re up to the 80’s now, as a bunch of new characters come on the scene, and the Crisis hits.  It’s cool that George Perez drew this issue – there’s no other artist more connected to that time period, but I do have to say that, as great an artist as he is, this issue is proof that many of the costumes he’s designed over the years are hideous.  The back-up has great art by Walt Simonson, but the story is practically unreadable.

Frenemy of the State #2 – This is a fun little title.  I wish we could see more from DeFilippis and Weir; they’re a good team.

G.I. Combat Featuring the Haunted Tank #1 – This is a good little one-shot from Matthew Sturges and Phil Winslade.  It works a lot better than the recent Vertigo Haunted Tank mini, keeping true to its roots in the Second World War.  Winslade’s art has a Kubert-ish feel to it, which is very appropriate, but the colours in this comic are very washed out and bland.

Punisher Max #7 – Jason Aaron’s Punisher run is fun in a depraved sort of way, but not particularly memorable.

Punisher Max: Happy Ending #1 – This, on the other hand, is fantastic.  Milligan gives us a blood-splattered story about an accountant looking for a ‘happy ending’ massage who ends up getting embroiled in a gunfight between the Punisher and a mob boss, and helping a masseuse with an incriminating computer disc.  Juan Jose Ryp excels at ultra-violence, and the art in this book is very kinetic.

Wolverine #2 – Aaron’s new Wolverine series is getting off to a great start, but that has more to do with the supporting cast than with anything Wolverine is doing in Hell.  This issue has brief appearances by two Ghost Riders, Daimon Hellstrom, Mystique, and Puck.  Puck!  Add to that long-standing Wolvie supporters like Yukio and Amiko, and this is all setting up to be a great run, with great art.  I just want the Hell part to be over with, because it’s the least interesting.

X-Men #3 – I still don’t understand why this storyline was considered so important as to lead to its own title.  There are about 30 X-Men on Utopia, but they send Wolverine off alone to free Jubilee from ALL the vampires?  They resurrect Dracula, and then just let him loose?  Matt Fraction’s worked really hard to portray Cyclops as a strategist and general, but I guess Gischler hasn’t read any of that.  Oh wait, maybe this is all part of a plan…

X-Men: Curse of the Mutants: Smoke and Blood #1 – This one-shot, featuring Dr. Nemesis and the X-Men’s Science Club ultimately adds nothing to the Curse of the Mutants event, but it is entertaining, mostly due to the slightly forced squabbling between Emma Frost and Nemesis.  The story is based on Alien – a vampire beast thing is loose in the science department, and Nemesis, Rao, and Jeffries need to stop it.  The art, by Gabriel Hernandez Walta is lovely, but way too murky.

The Week in Sets:

Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love #1-6

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Shawn McManus

I foolishly passed on this mini-series when it came out recently because I was trying to cut back on my comics purchasing, and was unfamiliar with Chris Roberson’s writing.  Now that he’s writing I, Zombie, which is becoming one of my favourite Vertigo titles, I figured it was time to check this out.

In this series, which has been collected recently, Cinderella sets off on one of her usual spy missions.  For this one, she’s to track down the source of new magic showing up in the Mundy.  While it’s a solo mission, she soon finds herself working alongside Aladdin, who has the same mission for his masters in the One, True Baghdad.

Cinderella and Aladdin have good chemistry, as they Mr. and Mrs. Smith their way through Dubai, the North Atlantic, and one of the Homeworlds, chasing down a trio of familiar Arabian Fables, and another Fable who had a huge impact on Cindy’s life.  While all this goes on, there is also a subplot involving Cinderella’s shoe store back in Fabletown.

This title restores some of the madcap fun that I got used to in the main Fables title, and the earlier Jack of Fables issues, which has been sadly absent of late.  Roberson’s writing is witty and sharp, and Shawn McManus is always a fantastic choice for this type of book.  I’m glad to see that there is a new Cinderella series on the way, and this time I’ll be sure to pick it up as it comes out.

Incorruptible #1-4

Written by Mark Waid
Art by Jean Diaz and Belardino Brabo

As with any number of spin-offs (Hellboy and BPRD, Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps), I think I like the secondary title better than the primary with Mark Waid’s Incorruptible.  This title features Max Damage, who, before the Plutonian went berserk in the pages of Irredeemable, was the baddest bad guy around.  Now, he’s undergone something akin to a religious conversion, and he wants to be a hero.  He’s torched his ill-gotten money and home, and is doing what he can to walk the path of the righteous.

What makes this series interesting is that Waid is using it to explore the world that the Plutonian is in the process of ruining.  There’s a more street-level feel to this book, and that makes it pretty interesting.  Damage is working with a police lieutenant who has spent years trying to capture him, and hasn’t been able to get rid of his sidekick, a young girl going by Jailbait yet.

The art is serviceable without being too showy.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

7 Psychopaths

Written by Fabien Vehlmann
Art by Sean Phillips

I had a few reasons to pick this new trade paperback up this week:
1.  I like Sean Phillips’s artwork a lot, and have gotten tired of waiting for the new Incognito series to start.
2.  I like French comics, although I wonder why so many of the ones that get translated and published in North America have a WWII theme (I like war comics, but there is so much more than that being made in France).
3.  I’m always willing to grab a $10 trade paperback or graphic novel.  That seems to be the magic price for me – anything more than that, and I’m likely to just sit and wait for it to show up at a used book store or on Ebay.

Anyway, 7 Psychopaths is pretty cool.  The high concept is a pastiche of movies like The Dirty Dozen and Inglourious Basterds.  As the Second World War gets progressively worse for the British, a Colonel is presented with a plan to gather together a group of mentally ill or criminally insane operatives to travel to Germany to assassinate Hitler.  Most of the book (which was published in three issues earlier this year) is taken up with the Colonel and Joshua Goldschmidt, the architect of the plan and one of the titular psychopaths, assembling their team.

The plan doesn’t work as planned, of course, but the way that Vehlmann has the story play out is pretty unpredictable, especially considering what is revealed about Hitler late into the book.  The plotting is very tight, and Phillips’s artwork is as perfect as it usually is.  This is a very cool comic.

Star Wars Legacy Vol. 9: Monster

Written by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema
Art by Jan Duursema, Dave Ross, and Dan Parsons

As I get closer to being caught up with Star Wars Legacy, I’m increasingly impressed by how well-plotted this series is.  Ostrander and Duursema have clearly organized their entire story, and are steadily working their way towards their conclusion (is this going to happen in Star Wars Legacy – War, or are there going to be more mini-series after this one?).

In this volume, Cade and his friends get lured to the planet of Wayland, the place where Cade’s father first started some terraforming experiment using the Yuuzhan Vong (who are an alien race that had invaded the galaxy in another Star Wars series, I assume).  Cade gets captured of course, and there is some stuff with one of the Sith, and Cade’s relationships with his friends get tested, and new characters pop up.  This plotline, while being the main one for this book, follows the usual path on this title.

More interesting is the single-issue story of an attack on Admiral Ghazi, and the continuing plotlines concerning a possible alliance between the Jedi and Emperor Roan Fel against the Sith.  These storylines have been my favourite since I started reading this title, and I found them to be pretty exciting in this book.

As I’ve said before, Star Wars Legacy is Star Wars finally done properly.

The Umbrella Academy Vol. 2: Dallas

Written by Gerard Way
Art by Gabriel Bá

Having just read the first volume of Umbrella Academy, the over-the-top superhero saga drawn by Gabriel Bá and written by some rock star who has become a bit of a comics darling, I quickly decided to read the second volume.

Dallas would never be able to stand on its own, as very little is introduced or explained here, but it is a pretty enjoyable replacement for Grant Morrison’s wonderful Doom Patrol run.

In this book, the surviving members of the team are all in worse places than they were at the start of the series (there is a general sense of lingering injury, depression, and discontent).  Number Five, the member of the team who has returned to the present after a lengthy sojourn in the future, has some unfinished business that soon embroils the whole team in a plot to assassinate (or protect) JFK in Texas in 1963.  The plot is hard to follow, but it does allow for a number of very cool moments.

As with the first book, the main appeal to me was Bá’s artwork.  It’s interesting how, on a title like Daytripper, he keeps such tight control over his characters’ environments, but with this book, he’s able to really go wild.  There are very interesting designs, and crazy scenes, like the one where Kraken and Spaceboy fight vampires and a giant mummy in the middle of the Vietnam War.

I’m not sure if this title is going to continue, but I’ll definitely be on board for any future installments.

Album of the Week:

Lazerbeak – Legend Recognize Legend

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