The Weekly Round-Up #122 With Chew, Fairest, iZombie, The New Deadwardians, Skullkickers & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Chew #25

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

I don’t know how Layman and Guillory are just so good at giving Chew fans what they want (even when they don’t know that they wanted it until after it happened) with each and every issue.  There are so many terrific moments in this comic, that it’s difficult to list them all.

Here are some reasons to buy this comic, more or less in order:

–  The first page is chill inducing in the utter horror that it evokes, while also being hilarious.
–  There is a flash-forward to the final issue of the series (number 60) that suggests great changes in Tony Chu’s future, while showing that other things will remain constant.
–  Amelia Mintz, Tony’s girlfriend, is the only person who seems to notice and/or care that Tony has been missing for ages, and takes on the mantle of hero, in her quest to go find him.
–  The auction that Amelia’s ex-boyfriend is holding to sell Tony and his cibopath abilities to the highest bidder is attended by some of the most visually interesting special interest groups you can imagine (and the two old guys from the Muppets).
–  Tony kicks ass, using a new manifestation of his abilities.
–  A fan favourite character makes his triumphant return (I’m not saying who, but it made me very happy) on the last page.

I absolutely love this comic.  Each issue cracks me up, but also maintains great consistency in terms of advancing its larger plot, and never gets lost in the jokes and endless asides. The next issue promises a Toni and Chow team-up.  I can’t wait!

Other Notable Comics:

Casanova: Avaritia #3

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Gabriel Bá

How nice to see that the much-delayed newest issue of Casanova shipped this week (and that the next, last issue is solicited for June).  Casanova, when the series first began years ago at Image, was my introduction to Matt Fraction, and to Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, three of my current favourite comics makers.

This current mini-series is being used to wrap up the adventures of Casanova Quinn, and those of the many people around him.  In order to stop the world (or maybe the space-time continuum) from being destroyed, Casanova, an agent of EMPIRE, has been jumping into every parallel reality to kill Luther Desmond Diamond, the man destined to become the evil Newman Xeno, leader of WASTE.  Somewhere along the way, Cass has fallen in love with Luther, so now he and his girlfriend, the time traveler Sasa Lisi are trying to save him, and still save all of space and time.

Meanwhile, Xeno, knowing what Cass is up to, has hired Kaito, a former friend to Casanova, agent of EMPIRE, and pilot of a Second World War battle robot, to hunt down and kill Casanova, alongside escape artist David X and Cass’s former lover Kubark Benday.

Confused yet?  If you aren’t, you will be when you read this comic, which jumps around in time and reality, and which has characters who are incapable of understanding when and where they are.

Total understanding is not necessarily important though, as the book flows well, and it’s easy to just sit back and enjoy the ride.  Much of the credit for that goes to Bá, whose artwork just keeps getting better.  There are some really crazy visuals in this comic, as Fraction and Bá take us on an emotional, spatial, and temporal roller-coaster.  It’s great stuff, but it will definitely read better in trade form, without the six-month waits between issues.

Fairest #2

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning

The second issue of Fairest still does nothing at all to distinguish itself from the parent Fables title.  Basically, I feel like Vertigo is taking a page from Marvel’s book (or The Unwritten’s), and is double-shipping Fables each month, and telling alternating story arcs.  Presumably, when other creators get their crack at this title once this first arc is finished, all that will change, but I don’t really know.

This issue is fine – don’t get me wrong – it just doesn’t feel very individualized to me yet.

In this issue, Ali Baba and the recently awakened Sleeping Beauty, with their bottle imp companion, are on the run from the Snow Queen, who was woken immediately after SB.  It is clear that, despite the rousing effects of ‘true love’, SB cares little for Ali, who continually tries to cozy up with her.  She also doesn’t much like the imp, whose incessant chatter is rather annoying.  I don’t remember SB being portrayed so haughtily in Fables; really, I remember her being more noble and self-sacrificing than she’s shown here.

Once the trio is captured by frost giants, the comic becomes a lengthy retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story (or perhaps the Disney movie – that’s all I’m familiar with), where the various fairy godmother characters are recast as being a little more Vertigo-worthy.  This story doesn’t get very far before the comic’s twenty pages are up, and I’m left wondering why the Snow Queen would be interested in hearing the story continue.

Saving this book is Jimenez and Lanning’s terrific art.  Jimenez always brings a highly polished look to the comics he works on, and that continues to be true here.  Andrew Dalhouse, the colourist of this book, does some very cool things to the hues and tones of each page, using the level of warmth on each page to reflect the cold temperatures that the characters are trudging around in.

Fatale #4

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

Things in this series are really starting to heat up, as many of the different threads of Brubaker’s story begin to tangle up in this issue.  Hank has been accused of viciously murdering his wife and his unborn son, but the reader knows he’s innocent, because he was with the mysterious, ageless Jo, murdering a cultist at the time.  Also under suspicion are the two cops whose mob connections Hank revealed in his newspaper.

Brubaker has been rather slow in setting up the more supernatural aspects of this story, aside from the fact that Jo doesn’t age (we’ve seen her in a parallel plot, set in modern days).  This issue, though, we learn that Jo’s previous companion and police detective Booker has always been able to see the supernatural world out of the corner of his eyes, including the squid-like creature that graced the variant cover of the first issue of this series.

Fatale has been an interesting read from the beginning, but I really feel that it’s found its stride over the last two issues.  I’m always going to be happy buying a comic with Sean Phillips’s art in it, but with each new issue, this series is becoming a more essential read.

iZombie #24

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Jim Rugg

The news out of last week’s Emerald City Comics Convention was that iZombie is not long for this world, with four issues remaining after this one.  I always treat news like this with two minds – I’ve been enjoying iZombie since it began, and am going to miss many of the characters, but at the same time, I buy way too many comics every month, and my wallet is usually okay with one or two of them disappearing.

I’ve been wondering for a while if the book was getting closer to finishing, as the long-promised Apocalypse has been getting started, and the end of the world always feels like the right place to finish a series (it’s safe to presume that the Apocalypse will be stopped by Gwen and her friends).

Knowing all of this going into this week’s newest issue of the series, I was a little surprised to find that regular artist Michael Allred didn’t draw this comic, and even more surprised to find that it is another flashback issue, this time focusing on Kennedy, the zombie Dead President, and introducing a new character/concept to the series.

When the book opens, Kennedy is putting down an incursion of other-dimensional beings that have taken over the bodies of employees at a burger joint.  She is aided by Horatio, Gwen’s monster-hunting boyfriend, who has either been possessed by, or is cosplaying as Strider, the fictional hero of a series of novels by writer Adam Morlock.

This all brings Kennedy back to the seventies, when she investigated a fantasy-rock band called Ghost Dance, who had connections to Morlock.  Clearly, Morlock is meant to evoke British writer Michael Moorcok, whose Elric novels hold some similarities to what we are shown here, and who was somewhat wrapped up in the psychedelia movements of his day.  It seems that this band was able to call forth Xitulu, the same entity currently threatening Eugene with Apocalypse.

This issue is drawn by Jim Rugg, of Street Angel and Afrodisiac fame, which was a nice treat. I don’t see nearly enough of Rugg’s artwork.

I’m very curious to see how Roberson is going to wrap up the numerous plotlines of this series in just four issues.  This book has a very large cast, many of whom have been working through their own character arcs, so giving each a complete story, while still dealing with all this Apocalypse stuff, is going to be difficult.  Personally, I’m most interested in learning what the story is with Dixie, the diner owner.

The New Deadwardians #1

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by INJ Culbard

The store where I buy comics was shorted of all of their copies of The New Deadwardians last week, so this was the first I was able to get my hands on an issue of this new mini-series by Dan Abnett (without Andy Lanning) and INJ Culbard.

The New Deadwardians is a very cool comic.  It’s set in London in 1910, but this is an alternate history, where zombies, called Restless, roam many areas of the city (designated Zone-B), and where many members of the upper class have been turned into The Young, which we would call vampires.  This information is not thrust at us, but is instead parceled out over the course of the issue.

When the comic opens, our hero, Detective Inspector Suttle is laying awake in bed.  He is disturbed by noises coming from ‘below stairs’, and descends to find one of his maids being devoured by a Restless.  He quickly dispatches the creature, and soon after learns that another of his maids has been bitten.  The next morning, he takes her to receive ‘the cure’, which turns her into a Young.

Later, Suttle goes to work, and catches his first murder case in ages (since most people in London are dead already, there’s not a lot of call for a working Homicide department).  This case is used to underscore the state of class warfare in ‘Deadwardian’ England, and also sets up what looks to be an interesting twist on the standard murder mystery.

Abnett is one-half of one of my favourite superhero comics writing teams (Legion of Super-Heroes, Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy, New Mutants, and many more), but it’s nice to see him working on his own, and on a project that is in such a different vein.  His approach to this alternate history is very well thought-out, and pretty interesting. Artist INJ Culbard is new to me, and I really like what I’m seeing.  His art looks like a cross between Guy Davis and the Luna Brothers.  He uses an expansive panel lay-out that works well on this type of comic, even though it doesn’t look particularly Vertigo-ish.

I somehow missed the information that this was a mini-series, and I was previously skeptical about jumping on this as an on-going series.  For eight issues though, I’m definitely on board.

Skullkickers #13

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang and Misty Coats

It’s been a little while since the last issue of Skullkickers was published, and I for one am very happy to see Baldy and Shorty back on the comics stands.

This issue opens with a nice, detailed recap, which makes this book very new-reader friendly.  If you’ve been hearing good things about this comic, now is the time to jump on board (not that it’s ever so complicated that an intelligent reader like yourself wouldn’t be able to figure it out as you go along).

Our two heroes have stowed away on a sailing ship, with the idea of getting themselves as far away from Urbia, where they’ve just gone through all sorts of trouble, as possible.  What they don’t know is that Kusia, the elf-girl who has been the cause of so many of their problems has also snuck aboard the same ship.  It’s not long before everyone is discovered by the all-female crew of the ship, who decides to put them all to work, while singing them a rather catchy song about their captain, Cherry Cutlass, wielder of the Ruby Blade.

This issue is filled with the usual Skullkickers hi-jinks, including a very funny food fight.  Really, there is no other comic quite like this – the Incredible Hercules series from Marvel probably came closest, but this is funnier.  Go check this out.

Sweet Tooth #32

by Jeff Lemire

Despite being Canadian, I’ve never developed an interest in hockey.  For that reason, the sight of Mr. Jeppard and his new friend/former torturer Jimmy Jacobs skating along a frozen river to rescue Gus and his friends, did not fill me with the sense of pride and excitement that it probably did for many of my countrymen, but I did think it was pretty cool.

Jeff Lemire wraps up the Unnatural Habits storyline in this issue, which has Gus and the other hybrid children affect their own rescue of Becky and Lucy from the twisted attentions of Haggarty, while Jeppard eventually talks his way out of Jacobs’s custody.

It’s cool to see how, over the course of the last few years, Gus has matured and moved from being more dependent on Jeppard for protection and guidance, to being an equal partner in their survival.

Also in this issue, Jeppard learns just how sick Lucy has been, and it doesn’t look like she’ll be in this comic for long.  Now that the dam, with its electricity and safe housing, belongs to them, I wonder if the group will be split between their desire to travel north and find out the secret behind Gus, or if they will be more tempted to stay.

As always, Sweet Tooth is an excellent read.

Whispers #2

by Joshua Luna

Whispers is an odd series, not exactly like anything else that I’ve read before.  The comic focuses on Sam Webber, a young man who suffers from OCD, and who has just discovered that he has the ability to control his out of body experiences, or to remote view.

In the first issue, we met Sam, his ex-girlfriend, and her friends, who have no use for him.  We also traveled with him as he checked in on his estranged mother and his first girlfriend, who is having problems with a drug dealer.  In this issue, we see the end of his trip, which has him ‘viewing’ a demonic creature, which eats a baby (I know, grisly).

The next day, Sam decides not to worry about the demon thing, and instead goes to visit his ex, to prove that he really can have out of body experiences.  This conversation doesn’t go well, as Sam just keeps coming off weirder and weirder.  Later, he meets a new neighbour, who seems quite open to his various quirks, mostly because she doesn’t feel all that normal her own self.  Sam tells her everything, and the girl is supportive, but a little surprised that he is more concerned with patching up his relationship than he is protecting small children.

And here is what really sets this book apart.  Firstly, there are very few comics that attempt to address real mental illness, so I find that the portrayal of Sam is very interesting.  There are also very few comics that star unlikeable characters though, and as much as Joshua Luna is setting up Sam’s problems as sympathetic, he’s just not a very nice guy; his self-absorption does make him hard to care about.  It makes him kind of fascinating, though.

Luna’s art looks nice here, and I find that I’m still trying to enumerate the differences between his solo work and his previous comics, which were done with his brother.  The people in this book have more expressive faces, showing fatigue and displeasure much more clearly than in the brothers’ other work, but otherwise, there aren’t a lot of differences.

Whispers is a very interesting comic.  You should check it out.

Quick Takes:

Action Comics #8In the past, I got very used to having to read through Grant Morrison’s comics for sub-text and hidden meaning.  With his Action Comics run, I can’t help but feel that he’s just pretending to have some kind of deeper purpose, as his story is not particularly challenging or deep.  Therefore, I wonder if odd things like the name of Clark’s landlady (Mrs. Nyxly) is supposed to evoke a certain other dimensional imp).  I also spend a lot of time wondering things like this, because I find the comic a little boring.  Superman finally defeats Brainiac, decides to keep his outfit, and learns Kryptonian while John Waters talks to the gangster we met in the first issue, for reasons I don’t really understand.  There are four artists on this book, and the art gets really inconsistent towards the end.  I’ve been continuing to buy this comic based solely on Morrison’s name (having never been a fan of Superman), but I’m starting to wonder if I should be bothering…

Animal Man #8 – Like this week’s Swamp Thing, this is another excellent issue chronicling the growth and viciousness of the Rot.  Maxine displays a new, creepy ability, and Buddy leaves his family to try to stop the rampage of the Rot through a small town.  Steve Pugh does most of the art on this book, so it is amazing, and Jeff Lemire continues to show that he really understands what’s always set Animal Man apart from other comics – the focus on the Baker family.  This is a great comic.

Avengers Academy #28 – The two-part guest story featuring the Runaways ends a little sappy, but is also genuinely touching in a number of scenes.  After rescuing Old Lace (and getting some foreshadowing for where things are headed for Reptil), the adult Avengers are revealed as wanting to take custody of Molly and Klara.  Many of the younger Avengers stick up for the Runaways, and so everyone takes part in some magical ‘understanding’ ritual, which really shows Christos Gage’s strengths at being able to juggle a large cast and make every character’s voice sound individual.  It’s good stuff.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 I wasn’t going to buy this, but like most comics reading sheep, I got caught up in the hype, and in the belief with so many writers that I admire (Brubaker, Fraction, Aaron, and Hickman) working together have to put together a decent story.  As a first issue, I suppose it’s okay, although it does portray both Captain America and Cyclops as a little more stubborn than makes sense within the context of the threat.  I don’t see Steve Rogers as the ‘show up on your island and make demands’ type.  He would have called ahead, and would have made sure to have some people, such as Namor or Hank McCoy, that both sides respect, on hand.  Other than that, some of the scenes in this comic, like when the Avengers are hanging out on their roof, or when Scott is training Hope, felt very forced, and a little awkward.  I don’t understand why John Romita Jr. was chosen to draw this comic – I know he’s a quick artist, but when he has too many characters to draw (these days), they all look a little off, and that remained true here.  As for the AR gimmick that Marvel is claiming as ‘added value’ to justify their exorbitant cover prices, well, the less said the better.  I just hope they didn’t spend too much money developing the tech, or that they have greater plans for it than showing us the original pencils of key scenes, or giving us self-serving and uninteresting commentary from people like Brian Michael Bendis and Axel Alonso.  In the final analysis, I guess this isn’t a great comic.  It is better than the beginning of Fear Itself, and it is going to be holding several titles I enjoy hostage for the next few months, so I can see myself continuing to buy it despite myself.

Daredevil #10.1 – I like Daredevil, but I don’t like these Point One issues anymore.  There is nothing about this comic, save for the recap of DD’s origin, that kept it from being a regular issue of the comic.  Matt visits a pyrokinetic who tried to kill him in prison, and things are a little predictable.  After that, he attends a meeting of the five different criminal organizations that are after him and the hard drive in his possession, and decides to take out one of the groups, but not the others, making things harder for himself ultimately, and demonstrating questionable ethics for a superhero and a lawyer.  Khoi Pham draws this issue, and while his art is nice, it’s a definite step down from the quality of art I’ve gotten used to seeing on this comic, which usually has work from artists like Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin.  Pham is a good artist, but he’s not in their league.  Now this comic is heading into a three-part crossover with two titles I don’t buy.  I find that all these gimmicks are choking what was one of Marvel’s best comics, and making me lose interest quickly…

Green Arrow #8 I had really high hopes for Ann Nocenti’s writing on this title, and while I appreciate that she’s introduced an environmental theme to things with this issue, I’m really not feeling this comic.  One of the three Skylarks, who kidnapped GA last issue, tries to free him, and then brings him back into her father’s house, who we learn is doing strange experiments with Arctic animals.  There’s some Cockney-speaking steampunk looking guy wandering around making sexually suggestive comments, but whose presence is never explained, and the intrigue at Oliver Queen’s company is anything but.  Harvey Tolibao’s art is incredibly confusing – I could not figure out what was happening during the fight between GA and Leer, and needed the text to tell me that he’d escaped again.  I think I’m done here – I’ll flip through the next issue, but I’ll be very surprised if I bring it home.

Hell Yeah #2 – The second issue of Joe Keatinge’s new Image book moves in a direction I didn’t fully expect from the first issue, as this becomes an alternate reality series, as Ben’s girlfriend from another reality comes looking to save him from someone who has been jumping from world to world killing him.  Basically, this is the Infinite Vacation, but with superheroes.  I’m not sure how I feel about that…

Invincible #90 – Lots of cool things happen in this comic, but the fight between Dinosaurus and Thragg, the leader of the Viltrumites, is probably the main reason to buy this issue (I love the panel where one character tries to bite the other’s head), although watching Zandale (aka Black Invincible) trying to put the moves on Eve is a pretty close second.  I love how this comic has become about so much more than Mark Grayson, who spends the entire issue in a coma (that happens to him a lot, have you noticed?).  Very good stuff, as always.  Also, as a villain name, the Walking Dread is perfect.

Men of War #8 – I think that DC didn’t know what to do with their cancelled war comic, so they decided to stick a Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE annual, written by that series’s current and future writers, into this comic.  Unfortunately, this book was drawn by Tom Derenick, so it’s not as effective as it could have been.  The comic is set in the Second World War, and features Frankenstein meeting, and then teaming up with, GI Robot.  It’s an okay comic, but it would have been much better had either of the co-writers drawn it.

Mudman #3 – Paul Grist’s Mudman continues to be a very fun look at the standard Spider-Man type character.  Our hero has somehow turned into a living mud-creature, although he still looks human, goes to school, and gets detention for things that other kids have done.  In this issue, he returns once again to the creepy house where he got his powers to try to learn what’s happened to him, but instead he only ends up activating a flying weapon device, which later gets him in more trouble at school.  We also are (sort-of) introduced to some other powered characters from the past.  Grist is taking his time, both in developing this series, and in getting individual issues out (this is very late), but it’s clear that he has a long story in mind for this book.  His art is great.

New Mutants #40 – There is way too much pseudo-science in this issue as Douglok (Doug Ramsay and Warlok) face off against the Ani-mator’s virus.  In the end, it’s a good issue, but it does drag some in the middle.

Secret Avengers #24 – Rick Remender’s take on this team really (finally) clicks in this issue, as various pairings of heroes scour the underground robot city looking for their missing teammate, while various members of Father’s council debate how to proceed.  Any comic with an Emperor Doombot in it can’t be bad, I think.  Remender is really playing up the clashing personalities of the various team members, with Hawkeye and Beast taking pot shots at each other, and Captain Britain and the Jim Hammond Human Torch arguing over fundamental forces.  Only Black Widow and Valkyrie manage to work well together.  As always, Gabriel Hardman’s art is excellent, as this title feels more and more like the win that is Uncanny X-Force.

Stormwatch #8 – It’s interesting that, although he’s only on the book for two issues, Peter Jenkins decided to introduce a game-changing scene wherein Midnighter tries to kill Jenny Quantum, deciding that her abilities make her too dangerous to live.  This issue is much better than the last (although still not as good as when Paul Cornell was on the comic).  I know that this Gravity Miner story has just been a placeholder until Peter Milligan comes onboard, but I hope that he is able to capture the interesting side of this team (the fact that his first story will feature Red Lanterns suggests that he won’t).  I’ll give him one issue to impress me.

Supreme #63 – When Alan Moore took over Supreme, Rob Liefeld’s horrible version of Superman, the results were pretty incredible.  He used the book to thoroughly explore the plot excesses and corniness of the Silver Age, and compare it to the comics of the day.  The art wasn’t always great (Chris Sprouse’s work was wonderful though), but the comic was always interesting, and was doing things with metafiction that not many other comics were doing.  So now, as part of the Extreme revival that has brought us such terrific books as Prophet and Glory, we get Erik Larsen drawing Moore’s final, previously unpublished script.  Now, this comic is one that would have benefited from a recap page, as new and old readers alike are thrust into an ongoing story, that has the villainous Darius Dax discover (through a comic written by Supreme’s girlfriend) that there has to be an inter-dimensional meeting place for alternate Supremes, just as there is for Daxes (called Daxia).  The story is really only okay, and I found Larsen’s art pretty hard to take, as in some places, he looks like he’s trying to ape Sprouse’s work on the title back in the day.  Perhaps I’m biased – I’ve never liked Larsen as an artist, but knowing that he’s taking over the writing of the book next month as well, I know that I won’t be returning.

Swamp Thing #8 – It’s only taken eight issues, but we finally get to see the Swamp Thing himself, as Alec Holland takes the fight straight to the Rot, in an attempt to rescue Abby.  Story-wise, there’s not a lot of space for more things to happen than this big fight, but visually, this comic is stunning, as both Marco Rudy and Yannick Paquette bring a ton of innovation and terrific design to their respective pages of the book.  I love the way Swamp Thing looks now, with his Sweet Tooth horns and leafy wings; this is a very cool comic that just keeps getting better.

Thunderbolts #172 The time lost Thunderbolt team is now in New York, around the time that the very first iteration of the team was just starting up.  This leads to the inevitable confrontation between the two groups (some of whom are the same people), but Jeff Parker makes it all a little more interesting, because of his great handle on these characters.  There are some very cool scenes where Parker plays with paradox, such as the one where Boomerang tries to retrieve some of his old gear.  This issue also serves as a strong reminder that Mark Bagley’s costume designs, made in the mid-90s, are more awful now than they were back then…

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #9 – Even though we’re now seeing our third artist on this book (David Marquez), I find this to be a consistently enjoyable read, at least when Miles is being featured.  Unfortunately, Brian Michael Bendis is giving too much screen time to the Prowler, Miles’s uncle, and I find that his issues with the Scorpion are a little dull.  I find the scenes of Miles trying to manage with the usual superhero issues  – relations with the cops, hiding his secret identity – to be much more interesting, and the reason why I buy this book.

Wolverine and the X-Men #8 – It’s great to see Chris Bachalo come back on this comic, as we are given an issue that has the Hellfire Club hire Sabretooth to kill most of SWORD in an attempt to cheese off Beast (it works), who has gone to SWORD to look for a device to help fix Logan’s legs, which were transmuted and deformed last issue.  Angel gets a bit of screen time, and begins to look like a more interesting character in this new angelic incarnation than he did before.  Good stuff – too bad this book is basically going on cross-over hiatus for the next six months…

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

Amazing Spider-Man #683

Brilliant #3

Wolverine and the X-Men Alpha and Omega #4

Bargain Comics:

Black Panther #525 – 529 These issues make up the ‘Kingpin of Wakanda’ storyline, which has the Panther and his allies (Falcon, Luke Cage, his sister, and his waitress) squaring off against the Kingpin, and his Hand operatives, who are trying to take control of Wakanda’s Central Bank in a bid to exploit the country’s resources.  It’s a much more exciting story than the previous ones in David Liss’s run with this character, and it has some very nice art by Shawn Martinbrough, Michael Avon Oeming (who is clearly not the reason why Powers is always behind schedule), and Jefte Palo.  My only problem with the story is that it underscores once again how ineffective the Hand, the world’s deadliest ninjas really are – I mean, they got taken out by the Falcon!  Terrific covers throughout this arc by Francesco Francavilla.  I wonder how long Marvel is going to leave the Panther alone now, before they try to resurrect his series again.  Here’s a hint – it won’t ever be as good again as it was when Christopher Priest was writing this character.

Incredible Hulk #2-5 – I thought perhaps I was a little hasty in dismissing Jason Aaron’s new Hulk series, so when I saw these four issues in a bin for $1 each, I figured I’d give it another try and see how it’s all shaping up.  Really, I’m still not all that impressed.  I want to like this comic, because I’m a huge fan of Aaron’s work on Scalped, and I like what he’s doing with the X-Men, but this story is just not making a lot of sense to me.  Hulk and Bruce Banner have been separated, but that has driven Banner to become a twisted evil scientist, and that doesn’t really fit with how he’s ever been portrayed, even allowing for the effects of the brain tumor he’s got.  Furthermore, the splitting of art duties between Marc Silvestri and Whilce Portacio, along with some twenty inkers, just makes the book look very inconsistent and rushed.  I’m a little curious to see how this storyline resolves itself, and where Aaron takes the story next, but only at the same price I paid for these comics.

Mystery Society #1-5

Written by Steve Niles
Art by Fiona Staples

I picked up the five issues that made up this 2010 mini-series for a good price, mostly because I like Fiona Staples’s artwork.  It’s a fun series, if not particularly original or memorable.

Mystery Society of the title is being operated by Nick and Anastasia Mystery, former independent bookstore owners who won big in the lottery, and decided to begin to investigate government cover-ups and occult happenings.  When the series opens, Nick is in the process of breaking in to Area 51 in the hopes of rescuing a pair of twin African American girls with mental abilities who have been held captive in suspended animation since the 1960s.  This involves fighting an aging general in a giant battlesuit, and that in turn leads to some problems for the fledgling society.

Over the course of the five issues, they gain two more members – the brain of Jules Verne now inhabiting a robot, and the Secret Skull, a masked undead woman.  I feel like the format for this team book was heavily influenced by The Umbrella Academy, only without the madcap unpredictability of that title.

As I’ve said, this is an enjoyable series, made all the more so because of Staples’s very nice art, but it never really moves beyond the limitations of the genre.  The B-plot concerns the Skull and Verne searching for the missing skull of Edgar Allan Poe, and their prime suspect in its theft’s name is Culprit, and it turns out that he is the thief.  I never quite got the sense that this is to be read as a complete comedy, but then there were these moments that are more suitable for a Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League reunion.  I can see why there hasn’t been a sequel…

Ultimate Comics X-Men #4-7 – I have not been able to get into this title the way I have the other two Ultimate comics.  Nick Spencer is weaving a dark little story here, but it’s way too dependent on whatever happened to these characters during the Ultimatum nonsense perpetrated by Jeph Loeb, and its aftermath.  Not recapping those events (probably because no one has figured them out yet) makes this book hard to follow, and the lack of characters to identify with makes it not worth the effort.  Also, Paco Medina makes it difficult to differentiate between Quicksilver and Stryker (when he’s not wearing his stupid Sentinel hat).  I wonder what Brian Wood will do with this comic when he gets his hands on it.

The Week in Manga:

Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka Vol. 7

by Naoki Urasawa, after Osamu Tezuka, with Takashi Nagasaki

This is the penultimate volume of Naoki Urasawa’s modern classic Pluto, which reworks and reimagines a classic Osamu Tezuka Atom/Astro Boy story into a much longer manga series, which is really quite excellent.

In this volume, the focus is very much on Epsilon, the incredibly powerful robot pacifist who refused to fight in the Central Asian War, and instead has been spending his time raising and caring for many of the orphans of that conflict.  Epsilon is pretty much the only powerful robot left after the gigantic robot Pluto has been rampaging around the world destroying them all.  Now it’s Epsilon’s turn to face Pluto (twice), and the consequences for this story are pretty huge, especially when it starts to become clear that Pluto is a reluctant player in this drama.

Urasawa has done a very good job of humanizing these strange characters, and making it easy to care about them.  As is often the case, he introduces a new character into the story – an orphan named Wassily who, ever since the war, only speaks one word – Bora – which is tied in with the other victims of Pluto’s campaign of terror.

I’m very excited to see how this story ends in the next volume.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Wondermark Vol. 3: Dapper Caps & Pedal Copters

by David Malki

Wondermark is one of the few webcomics that I actually make a concerted effort to read with regularity.  I enjoy David Malki’s humour, and the cognitive disconnects between his Victorian art collages and the modern-day issues and topics he discusses in his strips.  Also, unlike many webcomics artists, he sticks to his schedule, and is consistent about producing new material.

I am, at the core though, a collector.  Part of why I don’t enjoy webcomics usually is the ephemeral nature of them; just as I continue to buy all my music on compact disk, I prefer to read my webcomics when they are collected and published as books, such as this one, the third (and final – there hasn’t been a new one in a very long time) of Dark Horse’s Wondermark series.

As mentioned above, to construct this comic, Malki disassembles old pictures from the Victorian era, and then using xeroxes and other tools of manipulation, reassembles them into one, three, or four-panel comic strips (for the most part) that range in topic from family and relationship problems, alien (Gaxian) culture, and contemporary politics, all addressed with Malki’s oddball humour.  Malki’s visual creativity extends to creating some rather fanciful inventions, such as the pedal-copters of the title, or the robocall devices that have a steampunk aura about them.

There were many times when reading these strips caused me to laugh, especially when after a tough day at work, I read a strip that more or less portrays the person that made that day so difficult.  In addition to a collection of the regular strips, this volume also includes the long piece about timeshare sales gimmicks that originally saw print in a volume of MySpace Dark Horse Presents, and some ephemera.

I hope that another volume of this series is in the production pipeline…

Album of the Week:

Georgia Anne Muldrow – Seeds (with Madlib production throughout!)

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