The Weekly Round-Up #119 With BKV & Staples’ Saga #1, Glory, Haunt, Cornell & Kelly’s Saucer Country #1 & More
by James Fulton on March 19, 2012

Well, this was one massive week for comics, with a number of new series starting, some ending, and a couple reaching the point where I feel it’s better to part ways with them.  This is an exciting time to be a comics fan, especially with the quality of creator-owned books coming from publishing houses like Image, Oni, and Dark Horse.

Best Comic of the Week:

Saga #1

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

I came to this comic with some very high expectations, and am very happy to say that the first issue of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s new series Saga exceeded every one of them.  To begin with, this book is 44 pages and only costs $3, which on its own is pretty awesome.

Saga is set in a huge, sprawling science fiction/fantasy galaxy, where two planets – Landfall and its moon Wreath have been at war for generations.  This is a proxy war that has spilled out across every known planet, and is deeply engrained in the cultures of the various races of that galaxy.  The people of Wreath are horned and use magic, while the people of Landfall have wings and are pretty technologically advanced.

When the book opens, we meet Alana and Marko, deserters from opposite sides who met and fell in love when Alana was assigned to guard Marko.  Their baby is born in the first couple of pages, and they are now on the run from their own people, looking for a way off the backwater planet they are on, with the hope that they can find somewhere to live safely and raise their daughter.

There are tons of antecedents to this series.  As I read it, I was reminded of various stories like Star Wars, Dune, Farscape, Finder, and the short-lived and forgotten Keith Giffen/Colleen Doran series Reign of the Zodiac.  Vaughan and Staples take the influences of all of these classics, and others, and move them to a new level of quality (okay, myabe not Finder, because it’s just about perfect).

Vaughan is known for strong character work, and for giving key roles to women.  When Marko and Alana try to escape, I couldn’t help but think of the dynamic between Yorick and Agent 355 in Y: The Last Man.

Fiona Staples has done an incredible job of constructing such a visually fascinating and complex world.  Various types of aliens and creatures abound, and there is a very unique visual aesthetic to the whole thing, with space helicopters, and TV-headed robots.

Image Comics has been on fire lately, and I imagine that this series is going to be the jewel in their crown.  I can not praise this title enough – if you didn’t get a copy this week, you need to go find one as quickly as possible.

Other Notable Comics:

The Activity #4

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Mitch Gerads
I really like this series.  I’ve long been interested in war comics, and have had some experience with the more modern warfare-based video games like Call of Duty Modern Warfare, which this series appears to owe a great deal to (apparently, you can play against the creators of the comic on Xbox Live).  So far, most issues of this comic have had the Omaha team – a special Direct Action team of rather murky black ops provenance, complete a single mission.  There hasn’t been a lot of building from one issue to the next, and the characters remain rather one-dimensional, but it’s becoming clear that Nathan Edmondson is slowly building towards something.

In this issue, the team has to figure out a way of bringing down a Colombian drug lord’s helicopter in such a way as to keep him alive, and extract him from the country without being identified.  They are partnered with a Delta team, and the main chunk of the issue, which involves attaching a device to the helicopter without being seen, is pretty suspenseful.

Things don’t work out exactly as they were intended to, and from that, and the mistakes of last issue, I can predict that we are moving towards a longer story arc.  I like, so far, that each issue has stood on its own, but am ready to see a little more overlap and character development, now that the ‘rules’ of this series have been established.

Blue Estate #10

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, and Andrew Osborne
Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Dave Johnson, Peter Nguyen, and Kieran

I don’t think there’s ever been anything quite like Blue Estate.  It’s a multi-faceted screwball mobster comedy with something for just about everyone.  It’s getting harder and harder to explain what goes on in any given issue (all the elements are actually on the cover, if not very literally), but I’ll give it a try.

Tony has to get his Italian mobster father’s horse (the titular Blue Estate) to the racetrack, but he also has to meet recent widow Rachel for sex (which is really a set-up by the Russian mafia to kill him for arranging the hit on Rachel’s husband, which lost the Russians a lot of money), so he has Billy, Rachel’s brother who owes him cash on a real estate deal that went wrong, take care of it, but he passes the horse off to his stoner tenants so he can sell Rachel’s house, in order to have the money to pay off Tony.  Got all that?

That’s not the whole synopsis though, as there is a lot more going on in this issue, as both the Russians and Italians gear up for war, and the cops prepare to make their move on all of them.  Also, we learn about the effects of second hand marijuana smoke on racehorses, and get to listen in on a mystifying conversation about a sex act known as the ‘beluga’ (and no, Google and Urban Dictionary were no help – if you can explain, please comment).

This book has more characters than it does artists, but the writing team never causes us to lose track of any of them, and the subtly shifting art styles continue to make each new page a treat.  This is an incredibly complicated comic, both in terms of story and the logistics of the large number of people involved in making each new issue, but it works remarkably well.  Reading this issue, it was very easy to imagine this story as a mini-series on HBO, and I think it would be excellent.

Conan the Barbarian #2

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan

I’ve come to realise that I have to read this new Conan series differently than my original expectations of it would have allowed.  When I hear that Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan are collaborating on a comic, I expect a very literate comic, such as the two volumes of Demo, or, closer to this material, their collaboration on Northlanders. That’s not what they’re going for with Conan; in fact, this comic is closer to Cloonan’s sadly unfinished East Coast Rising than it is to anything else the two have done together.

Basically, Wood and Cloonan are having a good time giving us an action movie of a comic.  The pirate Belit is drawing closer to the vessel that Conan is on, having befriended its owner.  Most of the issue is spent with Conan firing arrows at his enemies, before boarding their boat and fighting with almost the entire crew.

Wood keeps the story moving, and Cloonan’s art is divine.  While she is an artist I always associate with the urban experience first, she is very comfortable drawing barbarian action at sea.  Her Belit is gorgeous, and I found the way she drew (and Dave Stewart coloured) the African pirates to be very interesting.

I’m not getting the cerebral high that I thought may be possible from this book, but I am getting a visceral one, and that’s just as good.

Glory #24

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell

While I really enjoyed the first issue of the relaunched Glory, in the more-than capable hands of Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell, I did leave it without a clear sense of where this series was going.  Basically, Keatinge used that first comic to introduce young Riley, and through her to make clear which aspects of Glory’s previous (cheesecake-y) incarnation were kept, and which were jettisoned.

Now, with this issue, Gloriana actually gets up out of bed and speaks for a bit, and we sort of learn where she had disappeared to for many years.  We do know that her conflict with her father has cost her her health and peace of mind.  We also learn that she is planning on building an army, of whom Riley is going to be member.

There are some other revelations at the end of the issue that maybe came a little too early to carry much emotional weight, but which do suggest what direction this series is going to be going in.

Keatinge is doing a good job of building this story in an interesting way, and Campbell’s art is, of course, gorgeous.  The art doesn’t look like what I’m used to seeing by Campbell (granted, I haven’t read his new Shadoweyes series though, so I may just be behind the times a little.  I love the large spread of the Glory-cave (that sounds kind of dirty, doesn’t it?), and look forward to seeing where this series is headed.

Haunt #22

Written by Joe Casey
Art by John Lucas and Nathan Fox

I feel like, with all the attention being given to some of Rob Liefeld’s Extreme relaunches, that Joe Casey and Nathan Fox’s similar revamp of Todd McFarlane’s Haunt is not getting the recognition it deserves.

I recently read the first trade of the series, in an attempt to better understand what Casey is going to be doing with the series, and I was a little surprised by how little anyone seemed surprised to learn that the living Kilgore brother could see and speak to the recently deceased one, never mind join with him to receive weird powers.  Maybe that was explained later in Robert Kirkman and McFarlane’s writing of the series, maybe it wasn’t.  I’m not particularly interested to find out.

Joe Casey, however, has some interesting ideas involving the whole ‘speak to dead people’ aspect of this series.  In his second issue, he introduced the character Still Harvey Tubman, who could see the dead Kilgore, and seemed to know a great deal about the brothers and what was going on with them.  He helped them escape the Casey-esque religious army/church of the future organization that had abducted them, and when this issue opens, he is on a military flight back to the US with the living brother (I really don’t remember their names).

Most of this issue is spent in ‘backflash’ (as it is called on the title page), and is drawn by John Lucas (despite the fact he doesn’t get credited on either side of the cover).  We learn that Tubman is the last of the conductors (clearly the Tubman name wasn’t accidental) who goes around leading the spirits of the dead to their heavenly reward.  We watch as he and his assistant look after the ghost of a mobster’s sister in the 70s, after which, Harvey has to spend the rest of his days avoiding the mobster’s desire for revenge.

It’s a very good issue.  Still Harvey is a great character – equal parts The Dude from The Big Lebowski and Stick from Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil.  Lucas’s art is a nice change from Nathan Fox’s usual frenetic explosion of action, although I look forward to him drawing the whole next issue.  Casey has finally laid out some sort of plan for where this book is going, and I think it will be interesting to see how the Kilgore brothers react to Harvey’s duty of separating them permanently.

Northlanders #49

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Danijel Zezelj

I guess the theme of this last arc in the Icelandic Trilogy (which is also the final arc in the series) is ‘be careful what you wish for’, as Oskar Hauksson, the eleventh generation of the family we’ve been following since the trilogy began, takes his family to war.

It was established last issue that Oskar’s father, Godar, has led the powerful family’s people (Iceland was feudal) through a long stretch of peace, and while things have always been difficult in Iceland, under Godar’s leadership, it was not necessary to pick up the sword.  Oskar feels differently, and immediately after having secured his father in a hunting cabin somewhere remote, he leads his people into an attack on another family.  Oskar’s goals, beyond personal glory, are not clear, and so, of course, things do not go well for him.

There are two great scenes in this comic.  In the first, the imprisoned Godar tells Oskar’s wife what is going to happen to Oskar and the family.  His prognostications are not given bitterly or with malice, but simply as fact; Godar is a historian, and he understands how the forces of history work.  Later, Freya, Oskar’s wife, begins to take matters into her own hands, not trusting her faith to her husband.  In this way, she shows that she is more a Hauksson than her husband.

One thing I’m going to miss about Northlanders once it is finished next issue is the work that it gave to artists that I admire a great deal.  Danijel Zezelj is perfect for this story, and I love the bleak and cold landscapes he draws in it.

Saucer Country #1

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

It’s kind of a shame that Saucer Country had to debut the same week as Saga, because while this is a very good comic, it is definitely going to be overshadowed by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s masterpiece.

Saucer Country is a dense first issue – I went back and counted the pages, because Cornell and Kelly fit a lot into just 20 pages.  The book introduces the readers to the Governor of New Mexico, Arcadia Alvarado.  She is a divorced Latina Democrat who has been considering taking a stab at the Presidency.  When the book opens, she is in a car with her ex-husband, and something strange has gone on.  He has some cuts and bruises, but neither of them can account for the last couple of hours.  Obviously, this has her security team quite upset.

As the book progresses, Arcadia wrestles with the decision she has to make – whether she should announce her candidacy or not.  She hires a Republican strategist, who suggests that by suggesting that her ex-husband was abusive, she would be able to lock down large numbers of votes.  Arcadia’s bad dreams suggest something like that may have happened to her, but her epiphany, during a speech about illegal aliens, has more to do with the extraterrestrial kind.

This is very much a comic of the moment, and I like that it is being written by a British writer who is able to explore the American political zeitgeist from an outsider’s perspective (which, being Canadian, makes sense to me).  We seem to be touching on a lot of the themes that make Americans jumpy – immigration, abortion, and race, and that’s always interesting.  I wonder how this comic has played on Fox News.

It’s very nice to see Ryan Kelly working on a monthly title again.  I’ve been a fan of his since I started reading Local (still one of the greatest comics I’ve ever experienced), and I feel that he’s an excellent artist to pull off a series like this.  I’m on the fence with most of the rest of the new wave of Vertigo titles, but expect to be with this one for the long-run.

The Secret History of D.B. Cooper #1

by Brian Churilla

I really didn’t know what to expect going in to this comic.  I tend not to read solicitation information for books I know I’m going to buy, and Oni Press had my interest with the title alone.  I was a bit skeptical though, because the only other comic I’ve read by Brian Churilla (The Anchor) wasn’t really my thing, but I decided to keep an open mind and give this a few issues based on originality of concept alone.  And that’s when I just thought it was going to be about one of the first successful skyjackers.

As it turns out, this book is about so much more than that.  DB Cooper is known for taking over an airplane in 1971, receiving $200 000 in cash (how quaint a number like that seems today) and a pair of parachutes, and then jumping out mid-flight and disappearing forever.  This comic takes place a week before that event, and we learn that Cooper is a Federal Agent who apparently is part of a remote assassination program.

We spend most of the issue in a strange landscape, where Cooper’s only companion is a one-eared walking teddy bear.  He gets into a fight with a monster, and we see the consequences of that fight in the real world.  It’s an interesting concept, and I’m curious to see how this job (he’s been an agent for about three years we are told) leads to his moment in the spotlight.  I assume most of this series will take place after the highjacking, as there is only so much that can be fit into a week, even in comics.

Churilla is having a good time designing the monsters and strange landscapes of this book.  His art is a little reminiscent of Mike Mignola in his attention to shadow and use of dark colour, but is also more cartoonish and loose.  His Cooper is a pretty complicated and unlikeable guy, and it’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

This is definitely worth taking a look at if you are in the market for an intelligent independent comic.

Thief of Thieves #2

Written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

We knew from the first issue that Redmond is a master thief, and that he’s spent a long time planning a big job in Venice.  We met his assistant/partner, and how they started to work together.  We also got a strong sense that Redmond wanted out of the thieving business, but not much more than that.  A comic about a guy not stealing things is usually less interesting than one about a guy who is, and therein lies the challenge of this series.  The only way to make that work is through strong writing, and strong characters.

Well, this issue has all those things.  We learn a lot more about Redmond this month, like for example, that his name is Conrad, and that at one point, he was married and has a son somewhere.  His ex-wife is the sister of an earlier partner, and when he joins her for dinner one night, we learn that she did everything in her power to get him to quit his ‘job’ back when they were together, and so greets the news of his retirement with anger.

Basically, this whole issue is a further study into who Conrad/Redmond is as a character, and it’s pretty interesting.  Kirkman’s plot and Spencer’s script take their time establishing Redmond’s world, and I appreciate that they aren’t just rushing into a big action movie set-up (there is action thanks to a flashback).  Shawn Martinbrough’s doing some very nice work on this series, although I keep thinking, when there are panels of women’s faces, that I’m reading something by Tony Harris, which is kind of strange.

Anyway, it’s good stuff.

The Unwritten #35

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and MK Perker

Finally, after almost three years of build-up, just about every secret or mystery that Mike Carey has developed in this series has been explained.  Tom Taylor (or should I call him Tommy now?) has a double-lengthed confrontation with Pullman, the real power behind the Cabal that has given Tom so much trouble.

Not surprisingly, Pullman’s origin lies in Old Testament times, when his story became one of the first stories, therefore giving him great power and longevity.  Now, Pullman wants to die, and figures that manipulating Tom into confronting the Leviathan is the way to do it.

I don’t want to give away much of what happened here, except to say that I’m a little surprised that we haven’t heard about an end date for this series yet.  I can really only see the need for a few more issues, unless Carey has another big surprise waiting for us.

Once again, I’m blown away with Peter Gross.  He’s been the primary artist on every issue (but one) of this series since it started double-shipping with its 0.5 numbers, and now has drawn an extra-long issue on top of that.  I hope he’s getting danger pay.

Wasteland #35

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Justin Greenwood

How quickly we as comics fans can become spoiled.  I had more or less given up hope that Wasteland would continue as a series, and now we’ve had something like three issues in a row come out on time, one month apart.  It’s a pretty amazing thing.

In this issue, Michael decides to test Gerr, who we know was sent by Marcus to kill Michael and Abi.  Michael, having some form of telepathy and telekinesis doesn’t need to lay a hand on the man to question him, and their scenes together are pretty interesting.  Abi, meanwhile, has been taken prisoner by the Knights Templar, who don’t believe she doesn’t know where her traveling companions have gone.

This is a good issue, but being smack in the middle of this story arc, it’s a little hard to discuss.  As thankful as I am that new artist Justin Greenwood is able to keep this book on track, I do miss Christopher Mitten’s work here.  His pencils were a lot dirtier, and that seemed more fitting for the types of environments that Johnston’s created.

One thing that really grabbed me with this issue is the Ankya Ofsteen text piece.  People who have only trade-waited this series don’t know about this, but each issue contains one page from the travel journal of a woman who has been wandering around the various communities and barren places that fill Johnston’s world.  Except for one other tale, each of these one-page pieces have been self-contained, but now Ankya’s story about meeting a tribe of people who live inside a mountain is continued from last month, and will carry into the next issue.  These are often a favoured part of this comic, and I like seeing that Johnston is giving Ankya more space to develop her story.

Quick Takes:

Batgirl #7 – I want to begin discussing this comic by mentioning the depth of my respect for Gail Simone.  Her Secret Six was remarkable and twisted.  Her Birds of Prey (before she left the title and came back) was a real treat.  I also loved Welcome to Tranquility, which was way too ignored.  Having established all that, I’m really not feeling Batgirl.  At the core of Simone’s best series are the relationships between the characters, and for whatever reason, those are not being developed in this comic.  In this issue, when Barbara visits Black Canary, their scene feels off – it’s not been established yet whether or not Barbara was Oracle while in the wheelchair in the New 52, so the long years of partnership and friendship between these two characters can’t really be used to inform their friendship, especially since Barbara was de-aged, and Dinah probably wasn’t.  Beyond that, the threats in this series – Mirror, Gretel, Grotesque – are hokey and not on the level I would have expected.  This is really just an average comic, which has the odd good moment.  The problem is, I’m buying way too many comics that are great these days to stand by the ‘average’ ones, so I think it’s time to bid Ms. Gordon, and Ms. Simone, adieu.  DC:  Put Simone on Suicide Squad, please, and let her get back to what she’s best at.

Batman And Robin #7 – Peter Tomasi has done a terrific job of showing a more emotional Batman, and now that Nobody has his son Damian, and is torturing him, we see Batman go all out in a very exciting action-filled issue.  Patrick Gleason does some incredible work with this issue, and the ambiguous ending has me really anticipating the next issue.  I get that Scott Snyder’s Batman is getting a lot of attention, but am puzzled about why this book isn’t being talked about a lot more than it is.  It’s really quite good.

Batwoman #7 - It really is a shame that Amy Reeder is not going to be on this comic any longer, as her work here is exquisite.  This is a pretty complex issue, as JH Williams and W. Haden Blackman have their story jump all over the place in a very non-linear, yet character-driven fashion.  Everyone knew that this series was going to be gorgeous, but I am definitely surprised by how well-written it is.

Captain America #9 – Ed Brubaker and Alan Davis are giving us a perfectly good, traditional Captain America comic, with such traditional Captain America threats as Madbombs, the Serpent Society, Machinesmith, and Hydra, with traditional Captain America guest stars like Falcon and Tony Stark.  There’s really nothing wrong with this comic, except its price, which at $4 is just too high.  I like this book, but it’s not as good as it was a year ago, and The Winter Soldier is better, and cheaper, so I’m just going to buy that now.  Peace out Cap.

Demon Knights #7 – We finally get to the end of the battle for that small medieval village all of our heroes found themselves in, and while there is a ton of action and chaos, Paul Cornell finds time to work in plenty of good character moments.  I really like what he’s done with this title, from giving Vandal Savage some good qualities to playing with Sir Ystin’s gender confusion.  At times I’ve felt like it’s taken a long time to get to where we are, but I’m very excited to see what happens next.

Exile on the Planet of the Apes #1 – This is the follow-up to Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman’s Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes series which ended last month.  It’s a couple of years later, and it seems that Tern, the human who could speak sign language, has been training other humans and organizing a revolution.  This is an intelligent exploration of the classic movie world, and it’s really quite good.  New artist Marc Laming is a good replacement for Hardman (who now just contributes to the writing), in that he’s kept a consistent look to the series.  If I had any complaint to make, it’s a little hard to tell the apes apart, but I had that problem in the movie too.

Fantastic Four #604 - I feel like this should probably be Jonathan Hickman’s last issue with Marvel’s first family, as he wraps up all of the main plotlines he’s been working since he took over the title a couple of years ago (to the point where the last two pages echo his first ever on the book).  There’s a lot of splash-page bombast going on, but the comic is still very well balanced, as Future Franklin faces off against the Mad Celestials.  It’s so nice to be able to read a story that digs so much deeper than the six-issue trade that most comics writers are working on these days, and Hickman’s FF is going to stand out as one of the greatest runs of this title’s long history.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #7 – An odd issue, to be sure.  The Humanids of SHADE City have started a revolution, and released some monsters, so our heroes split up and slaughter indiscriminately throughout the city.  That’s all good, but Alberto Ponticelli’s art looks very different from what I’ve gotten used to on this title.  I notice that he’s joined by inker Walden Wong, but even still, the art is cleaner and more cartoon-y than anything that Ponticelli has ever done, and I found it didn’t work with the subject matter all that well.  I remember how gorgeous some of his issues of Unknown Soldier were – man, I miss that title.

Grifter #7 – Compared to The Activity, Nathan Edmondson’s other comic that came out this week, this series is not going well.  The almighty hand of editorial is all over this thing, as Grifter investigates a collapsed piece of Stormwatch’s space station, and fights Midnighter, all in a bid to reveal the return of a villain who is now going to go fight Superman in his own book.  So really, most of this has little to do with the title character, except that he comes to the decision that he has to try to con the world into thinking that he’s a villain now.  Here’s the thing – he’s already on the Most Wanted list, so that won’t be hard, and maybe he should just change his name into something less synonymous with crime, and then he wouldn’t need to worry about his image.  One more issue until Rob Liefeld takes over, so I don’t have to wonder if I would drop this book or not.

Journey Into Mystery #635 - Well now, that is one wordy comic.  For much of this issue, Kieron Gillen introduces different characters, ‘dreamers’ who have been infected with the Serpent’s fear stuff, and have since fallen asleep.  Each is given a few panels, and in that space, Gillen creates characters fully, many of whom would have been comfortable in an issue of Phonogram.  Journey Into Mystery continues to be one of the most impressive comics Marvel makes, but that is entirely due to Gillen’s skill as a writer, and his ability to discover ‘Loki solutions’ to problems.

Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #3 – With each new issue, I’m enjoying this title more, as Lobster and his crew fight the German guy who controls the black fire (last seen in BPRD).  Mike Mignola and John Arcudi are keeping the story pretty simple here, but it’s an effective look at pulp-style heroics.  Tonci Zonjic’s art is terrific.

Powers #9 – It would seem that Powers really is back on track, with this being the second issue to come out this year, an amazing track record.  More than that, I find myself falling in love with the book that introduced me to Brian Michael Bendis’s writing all over again.  I’ve been pretty much done with his mainstream Marvel writing over the last few months, but this series proves that he can still throw down with the best.  Walker, Pilgrim, and Sunrise continue to investigate the murders of the Golden Ones, god-like beings, and arrive at their home in time to see a massacre.  What makes this book work though, are the interactions between the characters.  Great stuff.

The Ray #4 – I’m not sure if the end of this series is hinting that we’ll be seeing the new Ray again in a team book (please don’t try Freedom Fighters again DC, it’s not working) or what, but it seemed to be a little sudden and clipped, like maybe this was originally going to be an on-going series.  Anyway, this is not the most satisfying end to a mini-series that started with a lot of promise, but it’s still a pretty solid superhero comic.

 The Shade #6 – We’re given more superhero stuff set in Barcelona, as the Shade and his companion La Sangre, with the help of new character Montpellier, fight against the Inquisitor at the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s most famous building.  Wonderful art by Javier Pulido and great writing by James Robinson make this a terrific comic.  We haven’t heard anything lately about this title’s longevity being threatened by poor sales – does that mean it’s safe?  I certainly hope so, as this is a fantastic series.  I would gladly buy a La Sangre and Montpellier monthly, were it done by this creative team.

Star Wars: Agent of the Empire – Iron Eclipse #4 – Once again, John Ostrander proves that Star Wars comics can be great, as we finally learn the backstory of his Agent Jahan Cross, and why he is such a true believer in the Empire, while still being a more or less decent human being.  Cross travels (with the help of Han Solo) to the Iron Eclipse station, and we start to learn just what has been going on in the Corporate Sector.  This is a very good comic – if you ever loved Star Wars, but hated cutesy droids and aliens, this is the series for you.

The Strain #4 – I think I’m going to be sticking with this title, as it is doing a good job of holding my interest.  The infected start to roam the streets, and it becomes ever more clear that there is someone pulling the strings for everything that has happened in the series so far.  I’m not likely to ever read the novels this is based on, but I’m perfectly happy with what David Lapham and Mike Huddleston have been doing to adapt them to comics.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode #6 – When this series started, it was a fun and amusing look at teen power fantasies.  Along the way, it became yet another splatter-fest like Kick-Ass and the more violent issues of Invincible, but rather lacking in the heart that makes those series work.  I found this ending to be a little too predictable, and am disappointed in it.  The sudden mention of someone named Cain is really just a poor way of working up to a sequel which I won’t be around for.

Suicide Squad #7Finally, Adam Glass writes Deadshot like Deadshot.  This series has been a consistent disappointment, yet I keep buying it because comics fans are like that sometimes.  I do like that two characters I can’t stand get cleared off the team this issue (and I really hope that that final killing, which is a spoiler, sticks).

Wolverine and the X-Men #7 – I feel like the lighter tone of this series has really clicked into place with this issue, which has most of the team fighting microscopic Brood within Kitty Pryde, while she and Broo (the nice Brood) fight an alien biologist on their own, and Wolverine and Quentin Quire fight an entire casino in deep space.  It’s fun, but Jason Aaron still manages to give some of the characters moments that are more serious and consistent with their usual portrayal in comics.  Good stuff.

X-Men Legacy #263 – I thought I’d give this one last chance, and it’s better.  Wolverine’s team fights Exodus with the help of Hope’s team and a few other teenage X-Men from Utopia.  I’m not sure why we needed to revisit the whole Schism thing again so soon in this title, but whatever.  I’d consider sticking with this series, were it not double-shipped so much.  As it stands, I’m going to take it issue by issue.

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

Avengers #24

Avengers Assemble #1

John Byrne’s Next Men Aftermath #41

Ultimate Comics X-Men #9

Bargain Comics:

Amazing Spider-Man #676 & 678-679 – Dan Slott’s Amazing run continues to be just that – a lot of fun, while recognizing Peter Parker’s scientific intelligence.  The last two issues I read here contain a very cool story about a time travel door to tomorrow, and all the things that Spidey must do to make sure that the city doesn’t get destroyed.  It’s very good stuff.

Amazing Spider-Man #679.1 – It’s easy to make an argument that the Marvel Universe doesn’t need Uatu Jackson, the teen scientist that works with Peter Parker at Horizon Labs, because it already has Amadeus Cho, but I’m pleased to see that the next generation of geniuses (genii?) in comics are from a more diverse, and interesting, background than what we’ve seen for years.  This is an enjoyable issue that has Spidey and Uatu discover the identity of the secret scientist in Lab 6 – Michael Morbius, who is always good for some laughs.

Avengers #21 & 22 – I’ve missed the Avengers since I dropped the two main titles.  I don’t hate Bendis’s approach to Marvel’s main team, but I have felt like the books were meandering too much, were coming out too often, and were costing too much to keep up with, especially considering how little happens in each one.  Therefore, I decided to put it on my ‘bargain’ list, and look for issues only at sales and conventions.  These two issues confirmed that I’ve made the right decision – they were entertaining, but that’s about it.  At $2 an issue, this is something I would read forever.

Avenging Spider-Man #3 – A fun comic, which has Spider-Man defeating his enemies through humiliation, while the Red Hulk just lies around and heals.  It’s a good comic, but definitely not $4 good.

Batman: Ego - I miss ‘prestige format’ one-shots.  This one, by Darwyn Cooke, dates from 2000, and features Batman having a good long talk with himself.  It covers ground that we’ve gone over one hundred times by now, but is nice and stylish, due to Cooke’s usual attention to design and furnishing.  Not bad, but not memorable either.

Blue Beetle #4 – I fear I may have been a little too hasty in dropping this title, as Tony Bedard starts to deviate a little from the Giffen and Rogers take on this character.  The scarab is not letting Jaime tell his friends or parents about his new battle-suit, which makes conversations at home difficult, and chats with his friends deadly.  This is an inversion of how this title used to work, which depended on Jaime’s closest relationships for its heart.  That makes things interesting suddenly.

DC Retroactive: Batman – The ’90s #1 – I have some very fond memories of Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle’s run with Batman, and so liked that this Retroactive one-shot let that team reunite and revisit the early 90s.  Of course they come up with a story about Scarface and the Ventriloquist, who alongside Mr. Zsasz is their signature villain, and it’s pretty decent.  The same can be said for the reprint story.  This was a good time to read Batman, before all that broke-back Azrael 90s horribleness set in.

DC Retroactive: Justice League America – The ’90s #1 – Who doesn’t love the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire days of the Justice League?  Their work was a breath of fresh air that flew in the face of the grim and gritty virus that had embedded itself into most comics by the end of the 80s.  It was great for a while, but eventually, after fielding the Justice League Europe spin-off, things just started to lose steam.  Now, reading this attempt to recapture the past, it feels a little old and forced, although the new story made for this special is one hundred times better than the ‘classic tale’ they reprinted as a back-up.  When the creators finally left the series, it was at the end of a fifteen-part story that meandered all over the place, yet that is what DC decided to include here.  Why?  Because the good stuff was from the 80s, but they gave that Retroactive special over to Justice League Detroit.  This isn’t worth getting.  Just read the first year of the original run over again instead.

Legion Lost #4 – I really wanted to like this title, and I do find Pete Woods’s art to be very pretty, but it can’t fix the fact that this comic is kind of boring.  The time-lost Legionnaires are having a lot of trouble handling one guy who is, for all intents and purposes, just a shapeshifter.  It doesn’t really make a lot of sense, and the plodding pace is a killer.

X-Men #24 & 25 – It’s so clear that Victor Gischler really just wants to write a vampire series, and so keeps finding reasons for the X-Men to get embroiled in vamp-y intrigue.  It’s also clear that, when he’s allowed to do that, this series is at its best.  Jubilee is being trained by some ‘good’ vampires to not want to drink human blood, but her friends still want to protect her.  Here’s an interesting point – if Jubilee needs transfusions of Wolverine’s blood to stave off her hunger pains, why did she stay on Utopia?  Doesn’t seem too well thought out…

Xombi (1994) #1 – I had no clue how good this series was back in the day.  I had completely ignored the Milestone line, seeing it as another example of 90s expansionism, and while I’d always admired Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan, neither of them were enough of a draw to get me to buy the books.  Xombi was completely under my radar until the recent six-part series, which was the best DC comic of 2011.  This issue has David Kim’s origin, and features many of the things I loved about the recent comics – the Rustling Husks, Nun of the Above, and Catholic Girl.  Very good writing from John Rozum, and great art from JJ Birch (who I remember liking a lot on Firestorm once upon a time).  Now I need to start tracking down the rest of this series…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Guild

Written by Felicia Day
Art by Jim Rugg

I was rather late coming around to watching The Guild, but when I finally did give Felicia Day’s web television show a try, I was hooked.  I knew that there had been a mini-series (I’d tracked down the issues for a friend who doesn’t buy comics), but had paid it no mind, despite being drawn by Jim Rugg (of Street Angel and Afrodisiac fame).  I did start to buy the various one-shots that Day was writing with the various actors from the show, but it wasn’t until this week that I got around to reading the original comic, collected in trade.

The web show follows the on- and off-line tribulations of a group of total strangers who met playing a fantasy MMORPG, and began spending all of their free-time together.  When the show opens, they’ve not met, or even know each others’ real names.  That doesn’t last past the first episode, as their worlds collide in a number of ways that make them very uncomfortable.

In writing this comic, Day decided to share the ‘secret origin’ of the Knights of Good, by showing us what led Cyd (Day’s character) to abandon the real world and move into the on-line one.  She has always been wracked with uncertainty, and we watch as her boyfriend Trevor alternately uses and ignores her.  Seeking some sort of personal connection, she tries out this new videogame, and it’s not long before she’s met all the other main characters of the show.

As this is written by Day, who also writes the show, the characters’ voices are spot on.  Jim Rugg is a good choice for the art – he uses his standard style to show the everyday world, and has also developed a more Frazetta-esque, digitally painted style for the in-game scenes, which are more detailed than they could ever be on the show.

Reading this has left me yearning for more Guild; too bad it doesn’t look like the show will be returning.

Inanna’s Tears

Written by Rob Vollmar
Art by mpMann

I’ve been waiting a long time to read this book.  Inanna’s Tears began life as a mini-series back in 2007, around the time that I was becoming infatuated with most of the books that Archaia was publishing.  Sadly, that coincided with their implosion as a publishing house, and so only two issues were ever published (this happened with other books they were publishing, like Some New Kind of Slaughter or had solicited, such as The Grave Doug Freshley, oddly, all of my examples have the same artist…).  Eventually, Archaia figured things out (more or less – they are usually very late), and this got published as a hardcover.

Inanna’s Tears is set in Ancient Sumeria, at a time when writing was just beginning to be used to keep records and accounts.  In the city of Birith, people worship the goddess Inanna, and society is structured around the temple, and run by the Ugula, who are more or less guild-masters, controlling the people who have various functions within the city.  At the top of the social order is the En, the consort of the goddess, who attends her feedings three times daily, and whose wisdom and advice are well respected.  Outside the city lies a teeming tent-city of outsiders, who were given rights to farm the land so that they would not attack or conquer Birith.  They are run by the Lugal, an ambitious man.

When the book opens, the En, an old man named Ardru, is at the end of his life.  He names his successor – a young woman named Entika, who he raised and who has always lived within the temple.  It is unheard of for a woman to be the goddess’s husband, although Entika quickly shows herself to be an inquisitive and capable En.  However, the Lugal uses this as an opportunity to take control of the city, and conflict quickly breaks out.

It is very interesting to see such a distant time portrayed in comics with such realism.  It is difficult to ascribe motivations and behaviour that we recognize to a people we know so little about, but Vollmar’s story rings true and works well as historical fiction.  mpMann is no stranger to portraying ancient times – his work with A. David Lewis on The Lone and Level Sands and Some New Kind of Slaughter fits very well with this book, stylistically and thematically.  I’m very fond of his minimalist approach to comics, and would like to see more from him.

If you are looking for an intelligent and beautiful historical graphic novel that explores themes of religion, duty, and loyalty, you can’t do much better than this book.

Strangers in Paradise Pocket Book 2

by Terry Moore

It’s hard to know what to expect with Terry Moore’s classic series Strangers In Paradise.  On the surface, it’s a light romantic comedy about a love triangle between close friends Francine and Katchoo, and David, the man who is in love with Katchoo.

The girls argue and joke around a lot, and constantly dance around their attraction towards one another.  Well, that’s not entirely true, Katchoo is openly gay; it’s Francine who can’t figure out what she wants.  David has entered the mix, and is seriously interested in Kat, but early on in this second volume (which collects the first seventeen issues of third series), they get into a huge argument that drives David away for good.  Kat decides to follow him to California to apologize, and to bring him back.

That’s more or less where the rom-com stuff ends, because David is the brother to Darcey Parker, a powerful mobster who used to be Kat’s lover and pimp.  Darcey wants to use Katchoo to help her with an elaborate plan to win control over the White House.  Another one of her girls is positioned to marry the front-runner in the Presidential elections, and to draw heat off of her, she wants Kat to seduce the wife of the Senator who runs an committee investigating organized crime.  Not so funny, now.  Except, it still is.

Moore really found a winning formula with this series.  We all want to see Francine and Kat get together and help heal each other, but it always seems like such a long, dangerous road.  It doesn’t much help that there is a framing device used that shows how, in ten or more years, the two women aren’t even talking.  Moore sets these things up, and then doesn’t return to them for fifteen issues or so – it must have been frustrating to read this comic as a monthly.

We are also given a nice flashback sequence that shows how the girls developed their friendship in high school, and, very oddly, an issue that is more or less a tribute to Xena, Warrior Princess that doesn’t fit with the larger narrative at all.

In terms of strong character-driven comics, I can think of very few that can hold a candle to Strangers in Paradise.  Recommended.

Album of the Week:

Onra – Chinoiseries Part 2



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