The Weekly Round-Up #114 With Thief of Thieves, Blue Estate, Conan, Northlanders & More
by James Fulton on February 13, 2012

Best Comic of the Week:

Thief of Thieves #1

Written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

There was never any doubt that I would be buying this comic.  I have been a fan of Robert Kirkman’s for years, and have been avidly following Nick Spencer’s career since his second mini-series.  Shawn Martinbrough is one of those artists I’ve always admired, although I don’t often see his work these days.

Kirkman and Spencer’s story is all about Redmond, a master thief who has been working with a young female apprentice Celia.  When the comic opens, Redmond is pulling off a heist on a cruise ship which only works out because of Celia’s involvement.  From there, we are given a flashback to how the two of them first met, and began working together.

After that, we follow Redmond and Celia to their office, or somewhere like that.  We learn that Redmond has been planning a big job in Venice, but is now beginning to rethink whether or not he wants to go through with it.  We meet his backer and the talent he’s recruited for the job, and are given an ending that makes what will happen in future issues a little uncertain.

The book is well-written and drawn, but there are a few things that didn’t really work for me.  To begin with, the opening scene on the cruise ship is pretty unclear.  It is only through dialogue that we learned that we are on a boat – there are no establishing shots to clarify that until our main characters are flying away in a helicopter.  As well, I have no idea what it is that was actually stolen off the ship, or how exactly the ruse that Redmond and Celia pulled off worked.

The best scene in the comic is the one where Redmond and Celia first meet, as she is trying to break into his car.  The dialogue in this scene is very sharp, and gives me a lot of hope for the rest of this series.  Thief of Thieves would appeal to anyone who enjoys books like Criminal, or heist films.  It’s a little rocky in a couple of places, but it’s also very good, with a lot of promise.

Other Notable Comics:

Blue Estate #9

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, and Andrew Osborne
Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Robert Valley, Peter Nguyen, and Andy Kuhn

Before I even begin to talk about this comic, I want to take a moment to take in this cover, which is equal parts hideous and wonderful.  No, the characters in Blue Estate do not suddenly attend a Sci-Fi or comics convention, but Rachel Maddox does accompany Roy Blount Jr. to a pawn shop, where he is able to get his Stormtrooper helmet out of hock, but has to leave his Princess Leia slave costume behind.

You see, Rachel has to buy Roy off, because his photos of her visiting junior mobster Tony Luciano have him convinced that she was cheating on her recently murdered movie star husband, instead of going to rescue her useless brother from the mobster’s clutches.

After returning from the pawn shop, Rachel and Roy Jr. are set upon by Tony’s goons, and there is a shoot-out.  Poor Rachel is not having much luck these days, and quickly finds herself the unwanted guest of Vadim Razov, a Russian mobster whose money was stolen by Rachel’s husband’s murderer.

Yes, this book is intricately plotted and frequently complex, and it is also wonderful.  As the series progresses, it is impossible to predict where things will be going, or how they are going to end up.  The art, by the ever-changing large team that Kalvachev has assembled, continues to be excellent as well.  I love this series.

Conan the Barbarian #1

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan

I think that putting Brian Wood on Conan is a strange choice.  When I think of Wood’s writing, I think of the extent to which he places real locations front and centre in his stories.  DMZ and Local are obviously very grounded in their settings, but so are many of the stories in Demo, and Northlanders.  Usually, Wood is a very urban writer (I would argue that Northlanders, with its frequent themes of progress and change is full of pre-urban urban stories).

Now, I’m not terribly familiar with Conan, either in comics form or the original books, but I’m willing to snatch up anything that Wood writes.  Add to his name that of Becky Cloonan’s and I’m on board for sure.  Whenever they work together (Demo, Northlanders, Jennie One), the result is pure comics gold, and Cloonan is one of about four or five artists that I would consider my absolute favourites.

This story looks terrific, and it has some good moments.  Conan narrowly escapes the constabulary of one coast town by jumping onto a ship at sail leaving the harbour, after having gotten himself in some pretty big trouble in the town.  He quickly wins over the crew of this vessel with his charm and tales of his exploits, and soon the captain is telling him about Bêlit, a dangerous and slinky pirate witch woman.

I enjoyed this comic, but it kind of feels to me like a waste to have someone as talented as Wood work a story that is just an adaption of an earlier novel.  Not knowing the source material though, I have no idea how faithful he is being, or if he’s been given the freedom to move off in his own direction.  This was perhaps not as mind-blowing a comic as I had hoped, nor as introspective and beautiful as previous Wood/Cloonan collaborations, but with these two working on it, I’m going to be sticking with this title for a while.

Northlanders #48

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Danijel Zezelj

It really is a shame that there are only going to be two more issues of Northlanders.  I like how Brian Wood has used different time periods and locales associated with Vikings to tell stories that really explore human nature.

The Icelandic Trilogy, three three-issue arcs that examine different generations of the same family, has been a good example of the type of story that Wood excels at.  The first story was about how the Hauksson family established itself as one of the first to settle Iceland.  The second story showed how the family worked reacted to the Christianization of their culture (not well, in the case of Brida, the heroine of the story).

Now, with this opening chapter of the final tale, Wood returns to the beginning, with a story of filial ambition.  Godar Hauksson has led the family through a period of relative peace, as he did not want to seek out violence.  He preferred to consolidate his holdings, and write the family’s history.  His son Oskar, however, is an angry and warlike person, chomping at the bit of familial power.

Wood is joined for this final arc by Danijel Zezelj, who has been a favourite artist of mine since he drew Vertigo’s Congo Bill mini-series many years ago.  I’ve never understood why he hasn’t been given more regular, or higher-profile work, and I am very happy to see him working on this comic.  His thick lines and ink-heavy pages work well to underscore the bleakness of life in Iceland.

It’s going to be a shame to see this comic end, but I like that Wood is going out with the same level of quality that he started the series with.

Severed #7

Written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft
Art by Attila Futaki

I feel like I was a little harsh when I wrote about the sixth issue of this mini-series last month, but I did feel that the writers had pushed the limits of credulity a little too far.  This final issue of the series is much better balanced though, and the story ended in a satisfying fashion.

Severed has been about Jack Brakeman, a young boy who set out across Depression-era America looking for his father, who had given him up for adoption as an infant.  Along the way, he came across a cannibal serial killer, posing a a record player salesman.  This guy got rid of Jack’s traveling companion, a young girl dressing as a boy, and lured Jack into a particular home with the intent of eating him.

This issue begins with Jack in the guy’s custody, and things look pretty bleak.  Help does arrive, in the form of someone I didn’t expect to see in this comic again, but ultimately, it is the very quality in Jack that has made him such a tantalizing victim, his hope, that leads him to act on his own behalf.

Severed is a standard horror story in many ways, but it is nicely grounded in the era in which it is set.  Snyder and Tuft made Jack a very likeable character, and gave the reader many reasons to keep coming back, even when the conventions of the genre, and their reliance upon coincidence and the characters’ naivety made things a little hard to swallow.  I will definitely be keeping my eye out for more work by the talented Attila Futaki, whose art really made this comic work.

The Unwritten #34

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and MK Perker

Peter Gross must be one of the fastest-working artists in the business, as he’s basically drawing a new twenty-page comic every two weeks (that would be ten pages a week) lately.  Sure, he’s being assisted by the likes of Vince Locke (on the .5 issues) and MK Perker on inks, but still, that is very impressive.  Especially since all of this is being done without any change in the quality of the art.

This is a big issue of The Unwritten, as Tom continues his assault on The Cabal.  Their plan to leave him powerless falls apart once Lizzie and Richie get involved, and soon, The Cabal is left in ruin.  The one thing we, the readers, have known for a while though, that Tom and his friends haven’t figured out yet, is that The Cabal’s true power lies in the hands (or maybe just the wooden hand) of Pullman.

This is a great, action-filled issue of a comic that has been terrific for about a year now.

Quick Takes:

Batgirl #6 – Just last week I’d decided to take Batgirl off my pull-list, because the series has basically been a disappointment after the relaunch.  Then Gail Simone comes along and gives us this issue, which while still not terrific, is a step in the right direction, and feels a little more like a Gail Simone comic.  The explanation for Gretel’s powers and weirdness is kind of brutal, but makes sense storywise.  Barbara’s feelings of doubt are played to the correct degree, and Barbara’s mother’s sudden appearance in her life is played a little more for humour.  Don’t get me wrong, I would gladly trade this in for a new issue of Secret Six, but it’s beginning to feel like Simone is figuring out how to work in the DCnU, and I see some glimmers of hope for this series.  Next issue is make or break for me.

Batman and Robin #6New 52 or not, it doesn’t feel like there’s much left to be said or squeezed out of Batman’s history, but by adding the characters of Morgan and Ducard to his past, and echoing their father and son relationship in Bruce’s current relationship with Damian, Peter Tomasi is taking the Dark Knight somewhere new.  In this issue, Damian agrees to sign up with Morgan, and helps him in the interrogation of an ambassador.  There is a lot more to Damian than we’ve seen so far though, and Tomasi sets up a very nice moment late in the issue.  I haven’t seen this title get a lot of recognition in comparison to some of the other Bat-books, and I think that is a mistake.  Both Tomasi and Patrick Gleason are turning in some excellent work.

Batwoman #6 – I’ve been wondering for a little while now how this comic would read when Amy Reeder took over the art chores, and I was very pleased with the result.  She is working to maintain a consistent look to JH Williams sense of layout and general design, but her art is looser and more comic-bookish.  Like Williams, she uses different approaches over the course of the single issue, and is just about a perfect fit, giving him space to get ahead on drawing the next arc, and keeping the title coming out on time.  Storywise, I like how this second art is going to build and continue the first, throwing Batwoman and Cameron Chase on the trail of Medusa, while also finding time and space to check in on Bette, Kate’s father, and also Kate’s relationship with Maggie.  This continues to be one of the best New 52 titles.

Captain America #8 – I continue to be torn about this series.  On the one hand, Brubaker is writing some perfectly decent stories, and Alan Davis’s art is as good as Alan Davis’s art has always been.  On the other, I’m paying $4 for a comic that looks and reads much like the twenty-year old Cap comics in my collection.  It just doesn’t seem like there’s enough here to make this feel like I’m getting my money’s worth.  Not when so little happens – Cap fights the Serpent Sociey, and then loses his strength again.  Sharon tries to figure out what’s going on.  End.  At $3, I wouldn’t be complaining…

Demon Knights #6It’s taken six months to build up to the siege of the little village that all of our heroes have washed up in, but the payoff is good, as Paul Cornell gives us an all-action issue.  Most of the characters are given their own little heroic moment or two, and we finally get some serious forward momentum in this title.  I find this to be one of the stranger of the New 52, and I’m curious to see where this comic is going to go.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #6 – Now this is what I expected from this series.  I guess Jeff Lemire had to clear out all the introductory stuff of the first arc, and then get past the (I assume) editorially-mandated OMAC cross-over before the series started to feel like what it really should be – the DCnU’s answer to BPRD.  Frankenstein and all the male Creature Commandos are in Vietnam tracking down Colonel Quantum (and no, Corporal Woody never showed up), an old war buddy of Frankie’s, who has gone mad and killed a few thousand people.  While that is happening, one of the SHADE humanids becomes self-aware, and goes about arranging a humanid revolution in SHADE City.  This series is starting to get good.  I’m not upset that Lemire will be leaving this book, as was announced this week, as I expect that Matt Kindt will be keeping the book moving in this same oddball direction.  The scratchy look that Alberto Ponticelli is using on this title is growing on me.

Grifter #6 – I am definitely beginning to lose interest in this title, as Cole fights some Daemonites on their invisible space ship, aided by that woman he met a couple of issues back.  Not enough happens in each issue for my liking, and the translucent aliens are too visually complicated, without being interesting, for my liking.  Of course, with Rob Liefeld taking over the book in a few issues, I’m going to be dropping it anyway, but I’ll wait around to see if Nathan Edmondson has anything interesting planned for his last two issues.

Haunt #21Having read the first Haunt trade this week (see below), I’m really no clearer on what is going on in this comic.  At the same time, I don’t much care, as I’m enjoying Joe Casey and Nathan Fox’s madcap take on this title quite a bit.  The Kilgore brothers, now accompanied by the mysterious Still Harvey Tubman are trying to escape from the strange city they are in, and are being pursued by armored guys on futuristic motorcycles, while their Deacon keeps quoting some strange type of scripture.  This is a very Joe Casey comic – weird religion and a weird new character who knows more than anyone else in the book, and I do like that.  Nathan Fox’s art is great.  Even more entertaining is the letters page, where Todd McFarlane explains again and again that the shift in tone in the comic is ‘intentional’, as if his fans believe that they’d hired Casey and Fox to make the book look like Kirkman and Capullo, and that they’re just as surprised as everyone else about how it turned out.

Journey Into Mystery #634 – This remains one of my favourite Marvel titles.  Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan guest stars, as he and young Loki figure out that Nightmare is up to no good.  The scenes that have Hellstrom, Loki, and Leah (Hela’s young servant) interacting with each other are wonderful, while the Nightmare scenes drag a little (because nothing is more boring than dream sequences, I’m sorry to say).  Kieron Gillen is doing some very cool things with this series, and he’s found an able accomplice in Richard Elson, who is beginning to seem like the regular artist on this book.  I am looking forward to this comic having a plot that doesn’t grow out of Fear Itself though, I must say…

Last of the Greats #5 – The first volume of Joshua Hale Fialkov’s alien superhero drama finishes rather quickly, with the story left dangling a little too much.  When this series began, I was excited about it, but I feel like it lost its way amid the Last’s need to violate the people around him (his assistant and Oprah Winfrey) and the difficulty of pacing a comic like this.  This doesn’t really stand next to his more intelligent work like Tumor and Echoes.  I’m not sure that I’d be too interested in getting the second volume at this point, despite Fialkov being the type of creator I’d like to support.

Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #2So I wasn’t really feeling the first issue of this mini-series, which felt a little too derivative and slow, but this issue makes me much happier.  The Lobster actually appears in it for one thing, and we get to see him in action as hunts down his mobster target in a Westchester country club.  Also, there is a reveal on the last page that ties this series into the BPRD in a way I wouldn’t have expected.  Tonci Zonjic’s art looks nice here – it’s different from what he’s done recently at Marvel or on Who is Jake Ellis?, taking on more of a Dean Motter/Mr. X feel, but I suppose that matches the time period of the story well.

New Mutants #37 – I’ve been waiting for this comic to be this good since Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning took over the writing a while back.  This entire issue is structured around Amara (Magma) owing the Devil a date since the team ended up in Hell on their way to Hel a few issues back, during Fear Itself.  To get the team where they needed to go, Amara agreed to go out with the Devil, just once.  Well, now the Devil has come to get his due, and the result is a funny and charming comic.  Abnett and Lanning do some great character work on both the Devil and Amara, and David Lopez draws the hell out of it (pun intended).  Really, I wish every issue of this comic was this good, and don’t understand why it hasn’t been.  Great stuff.

Powers #8 – This comic was originally solicited for publication in August of 2010.  Why is it so late?  If you read the back matter, it’s because Brian Michael Bendis has been hard at work on the television pilot for Powers, and that took up all his time.  In contrast, Robert Kirkman has been heavily involved in many aspects of the television show of The Walking Dead, and his book has never been better at meeting its monthly deadlines.  I’m just point that out.  As for the comic, I’m kind of annoyed by it.  I decided about a year ago that I was not going to order any more issues of this comic, and would just buy up the ones that were still in my pull-list, so as not to stiff the store I shop at.  I’m annoyed because this was a really good example of why I loved Powers back when Image published it.  The dialogue between Walker and Pilgrim is great, as they (and Walker’s new partner) investigate a new murder of a Greek god.  This book has lost all momentum, but continues to be the best book that Bendis is involved in.  Also, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Michael Avon Oeming’s art, so this was a nice treat on a couple of levels.

Secret Avengers #22This is the first issue completed by the new creative team of Rick Remender and Gabriel Hardman, and there is a lot to like here.  Captain America has passed the reins of the team over to Hawkeye, and that is really annoying new recruit Captain Britain, setting up the old Cap America/Hawkeye dynamic, but with an interesting twist.  The team has moved to a new orbiting satellite that is equal parts Justice League and the SHADE base in DC’s Frankenstein.  My problems with this issue have to do with the fact that the so-called ‘covert’ team appears to just respond to threats that show up on their monitor, no differently than any number of superteams over the years.  Also, I found the battle between the team and the Adaptoids rather confusing, especially when some of the Avengers suddenly got shrunk down.  The last page reveal of who the bad guys are raises a number of questions, most importantly, whether or not this series is going to continue to deal with the Shadow Cabinet threat developed by Ed Brubaker and continued in Warren Ellis’s run.  Still, Remender has more than proved himself with his Marvel work, and I’m a big Hardman fan, so I’m looking forward to this series continuing.

Star Wars Agent of the Empire – Iron Eclipse #3 – John Ostrander has really been able to capture the excitement of the Star Wars franchise in this spy-story series.  Jahan Cross, an Imperial Agent, is investigating a family in the Corporate Sector, and has been framed for murder.  In this issue, he escapes from local police who are pursuing him, makes a business arrangement with Han Solo, steals money from a corrupt Imperial ambassador’s aide, and then stages an elaborate chase scene which has him flying a shuttle all over the place, including through train tunnels.  There’s a lot of story and action in this comic.  When I saw that usual artist Stephane Roux was being replaced by Stephane Créty, I was disappointed, but the art looks terrific throughout.  Créty’s style is very similar to Roux’s, and had I not read the credits, I may not have noticed the switch.

The Strain #3I decided that this vampire series is interesting enough to come back for another issue, and once again, I’m intrigued by what I’m finding.  There are a lot of characters wandering around this adaption of a novel by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, and it’s clear that David Lapham is having  sacrifice some character development for plot, but as a reader, I’m still getting enough of a sense of who everyone is to be interested in them.  Mike Huddleston’s work here is much more reserved than it is on Butcher Baker (which I would really like to see the last issue of), but it still works very nicely.  It is now clear to everyone that what seemed to be a viral outbreak is really vampirsm, and I’m curious to see how the doctors and scientists plan on addressing that.

Suicide Squad #6 – Once again, I decide to give this book a chance, and once again, it disappoints me completely.  This is more of a Harley Quinn origin issue than a Squad comic, and I’ve never seen the appeal of that character beyond her place as a henchwoman in a cartoon.  Also, I can’t get behind Amanda Waller sending Deadshot into the field with such a lame team – Lime and Light?  And why is Savant wearing Mad Dog’s mask?  Clayton Henry as guest artist doesn’t sell this book very well either – I preferred the previous artist, who at least managed to make things look darker and more menacing.  Should I finally just give up on Adam Glass and his take on one of my all-time favourite comics?

Wolverine and the X-Men #5 – Jason Aaron continues to have a good time with this light-hearted X-Men comic.  In this issue, Wolverine goes into space to find a new way to fund the school (and takes Quentin Quire with him), while the students take a ‘Fantastic Voyage’, and we discover the true nature of Kitty’s pregnancy, which doesn’t make sense on a few levels.  I appreciate how much story Aaron squeezes into each issue of this comic, but Nick Bradshaw’s art is a little too cute for my liking though.

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

Ferals #2

Next Men Aftermath #40

Punisher Max #22

Wolverine and the X-Men Alpha and Omega #2

X-Men #24

Bargain Comics:

Conan: The Weight of the CrownIn anticipation of Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s new Conan series, I grabbed this one-shot by Darick Robertson out of a dollar bin just recently.  I’ve never read more than a couple of Conan comics over the years, and haven’t really been too interested in the character until now.  Robertson’s story is a little overdone.  Conan becomes the King of Gaul, and runs the country into the ground in an orgy of self-indulgence and bloodshed.  There’s a little too much narration, and Robertson’s usually excellent pencils don’t have enough room to breathe properly.  If you like barbarian stuff, I’m sure this is fine.

DC Comics Presents: Son of Superman #1 – I grabbed this recent reprint of what I assume was an Elseworlds two-parter from at least ten years ago because of JH Williams’s art.  It’s not a bad comic – Superman is believed dead, and Lex Luthor has co-opted the American government and the JLA into doing his bidding, at least until a solar flare gives Kryptonian abilities to young Jon Kent.  It’s pretty predictable, but there are some nice visuals.

The Guild: Clara – Clara slowly became a favourite character on The Guild, and so this look into her life in the days before she discovered gaming was pretty enjoyable.  Ron Chan’s art was appropriately cartoonish and cute.  My only problem is that I’m having a hard time imagining that Mr. Wiggly was ever a juvenile offender…  I’m definitely ready for new episodes of The Guild.

The Week in Manga:

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 1

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Art by Housui Yamazaki

I’ve been a little more curious about manga of late, and was attracted to this series by the title alone quite some time ago.  When I saw it at a significant discount during an on-line Black Friday sale, I figured it was the perfect time to give it a try, expecting something very strange.

Well, there can’t be much stranger than The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.  The series follows the adventures of a small group of Buddhism students who decide to pool their special talents to help relocate corpses they discover to wherever they want to go.  One of the group members, Kuro, is able to speak to the dead, and he serves as the Service’s medium, taking orders if you will.  Another member, Numata, has dowsing abilities that lead him to undiscovered corpses.  Also among the group are Yata, who can channel an alien consciousness through a puppet he keeps on his hand, Makino, one of the few American-trained embalmers in Japan, and Ao, who serves as the group’s boss.

In this first volume, there are four different stories that all involve the Service finding a corpse, and then going through some sort of adventure to take it where it wants to go.  The story begins in Aokigahara Forest (also the setting for the IDW graphic novel The Suicide Forest which I’ve been meaning to buy).  Aokigahara is a famous place in Japan for suicides, and when the group, who are there to perform Buddhist community service (praying over the bodies), they stumble upon the knowledge that the man they find wishes to be reunited with his equally dead lover.

All of these adventures involve people dying in strange ways, and they are all pretty Japanese (except for the serial killer-centred third chapter, which could be an episode of Dexter).  The second chapter involves the concept of Dendera Field, the place where Japanese communities used to abandon their old in a form of euthanasia.  Were it not for some of the explanatory notes in the back of this book, I wouldn’t have been able to follow that one at all.

I found this book to be pretty enjoyable.  It was a quick read, but it provided me with some further insight into Japanese culture, and it was pretty amusing.  I’m not sure how many volumes there are in this series, but after I finish the next two on my pile, I’ll be hunting down more for sure.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Catwoman: Wild Ride

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Cameron Stewart, with Guy Davis and Nick Derington

This fourth trade is perhaps the best of Ed Brubaker’s run, at least the best since the first one, which had the benefit of Darwyn Cooke art.

In this trade, Selina and her sidekick Holly go on a road trip.  This leads them to a number of different locales in the DCU, and some run ins with the people who live in them.  We as readers get to see New York (Wildcat), Keystone City (Captain Cold), Opal City (Bobo Benetti), and St. Roch (Hawkman and Hawkgirl).

There’s also a plot line involving an ancient Egyptian cult, a story about a diner heist that goes badly, and Batman and Slam Bradley get into it over Selina.  Brubaker had a good handle on Catwoman, keeping her foray into being a good guy (or at least, not being such a bad guy) interesting.  What really makes this book work though are Selina’s relationships with Holly, Bradley, and Ted Grant.  Cameron Stewart’s art, as always, is excellent.

Although Brubaker’s run on this title continued for a while after this (with Paul Gulacy on art, which would be a pretty jarring shift in tone), for whatever reason, DC has not published any further trades.  Is the rest of the run worth tracking down in back issue bins?

Haunt Vol. 1

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Greg Capullo, Ryan Ottley, and Todd McFarlane

I never had any desire to read Haunt.  Sure, Robert Kirkman was involved, as was his Invincible collaborator Ryan Ottley, but the fact that this was a Todd McFarlane-driven project left a cold taste in my mouth.  Even after I began reading his Sam and Twitch issues, and was surprised that they were actually decent, I saw this series as a 90s throwback that held nothing for me.

Then, it was announced that Joe Casey and Nathan Fox would take over the comic, and my interest was piqued.  Casey is an imaginative writer who loves to mess with the sacred cows of established comics characters, and Nathan Fox is in the select company of artists frenetic and crazy enough to keep up with him.  The thing is, their debut issue (#19) did not do a single thing to explain the series to new readers, and that gave me enough of an impetus to read the first volumeof the series, to get a better sense of things.

And, for the most part, I learned that my earlier caution was highly justified.  This is not a very good comic, unfortunately.  There are kernels of a good comic, but the whole thing groans under the weight of what McFarlane and Kirkman are trying to do.

Kurt Kilgore is a super-agent for some secretive government agency that does secret government agency stuff (there’s no need to really explain this stuff, because comics readers know about this kind of thing).  He is abducted, interrogated, and killed after botching a mission that involves some Dr. Mengele type German in South America.  People are looking for a notebook that he left behind or lost.

His brother, Daniel, is a crappy priest who likes to visit a prostitute (always the same one).  Suddenly, he can speak to his dead brother, and they can merge their spirits so that he wears a superhero costume, and can shoot webby ectoplasm stuff that kind of looks like sperm.  Together, they help the secret government agency deal with the people who are now attacking them looking for that notebook.  Hear that creaking?  Me too – it’s on almost every page.

What amazes me is that almost no one reacts to how strange this situation is, and there is no attempt to explain why Kurt isn’t really dead.  Or where the jizz comes from.  We know where though – McFarlane wanted to do some Spider-Man stuff, and some spy stuff all at once.

I will say that the combination of Greg Capullo on layouts, with Ryan Ottley penciling, and then McFarlane inking (for this volume at least) is kind of a perfect storm of unfortunate art.  All of these artists are much better on their own (well, I’m not sure about McFarlane – he’s kind of the weak link these days).  Ryan Ottley’s work on Invincible has been brilliant from the jump, and looking at this here, I feel bad for ripping on Greg Capullo’s work on Batman – it is so much better than this.

Anyway, I was never the audience for a comic like this.  Were it not for Casey and Fox coming aboard, this series would have remained off my radar.  I must commend McFarlane and Kirkman for letting these guys take over their character – it’s leading to much better comics already.  Similar to what Rob Liefeld is doing with properties like Prophet and Glory, it is nice to see people with real indie cred get a chance at doing what they want with indie titles – especially when the original issues of those comics are so bland and uninspiring.

Lost At Sea

by Bryan Lee O’Malley

Once again, I’m a little surprised at where some of the gaps in my comics reading lie.  You would think, after getting so much enjoyment out of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series, that I would have snapped up Lost At Sea ages ago.  But no, for whatever reason, I waited until now.

Lost At Sea is O’Malley’s first published work, and it is a very different beast than Scott Pilgrim.  Where that comic’s charm lay in its humour, this is a much darker comic, although still structured around a likeable young person.

Raleigh is an eighteen year old woman who feels completely soulless and adrift in life.  She traveling with three other people by car from California to Canada (presumably somewhere in BC).  The other people – two guys and a girl – went to the same private high school as her, but are not really her friends.  Raleigh doesn’t really have friends.  She’s still mourning the fact that her best friend moved away in middle school, and she hasn’t really taken the time to develop a new one in the intervening years.

Instead, she prefers to just sit around and examine her own feelings of alienation.  She’s managed to convince herself that she doesn’t have a soul, thinking that perhaps her mother sold it away in exchange for commercial success.

I know that I’m making this book sound like a whiny self-involved teenage existentialist novel, and in some ways it is, but because it’s done by O’Malley, there is a lot of charm in this comic.  The other characters are pretty likeable, and there is something about a road trip story that draws me in every time.  As the story progresses, and Raleigh confronts some of her fears, I found myself drawn further and further into the story.

O’Malley’s art looks much the same as it does in Scott Pilgrim, but without any of the jokey or cute self-awareness of that title.  He shows a wide range of emotions in his art, and paces the story very nicely.

This book is a nice companion to novels like The Outsiders, or to comics like Ross Campbell’s Wet Moon.  It’s good stuff.

Album of the Week:

JariBu AfrobeatArkestra – Mediacracy



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