The Weekly Round-Up #152 With CBLDF Presents Liberty Annual 2012, Fatale, Ghosts, Happy & More
by James Fulton on November 5, 2012

Best Comic of the Week:

The CBLDF Presents Liberty Annual 2012

Written by Jonathan Hickman, Andy Diggle, Howard Chaykin, Steven T. Seagle, Joe Keatinge, James Robinson, James Asmus, Richard Starkings, Chris Roberson, Chris Giarrusso, David Hine, Brandon Graham, Jim McCann, Kieron Gillen, Terry Moore, and Robert Kirkman
Art by Jonathan Hickman, Ben Templesmith, Sina Grace, Marco Cinello, Chynna Clugston-Flores, J. Bone, Takeshi Miyazawa, Ian Churchill, Roger Langridge, Gabriel Bá, Chris Giarrusso, Doug Braithwaite, Brandon Graham, Janet Lee, Nate Bellegarde, Terry Moore, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn

I’m always impressed with the line-up that Image and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund are able to put together for these Liberty Annuals.  There is an impressive list of creators involved in this book, and while the stories are all very short, there is a lot of stuff to love about this book.

First and foremost, there is a Walking Dead story featuring the Governor.  This story doesn’t really fit into the book’s theme of preserving free speech, but at the same time, it is so rare for there to be side-projects featuring the characters from this series, that for many, this alone should be worth the purchase price.  Basically, in this story, we learn about the origin of the Governor’s collection of fish tanks (seen in last week’s episode of the TV show).

The rest of this book does deal with the free speech or liberty themes, in a variety of ways.  David Hine and Doug Braithwaite preview their upcoming Image series Storm Dogs by giving us some of the history of the science fiction world it is going to be set in – this series looks like it’s going to be very good.

Andy Diggle and Ben Templesmith give us a great story wherein the Devil appears in front of a trio of young people, only to learn that the people of the 21st century have moved beyond many of the concepts that once gave him entry into peoples’ minds.  If only this were more true…

Jim McCann and Janet Lee tell a nice story of a conversation between an older woman and a young man who has what can be referred to as an ‘unconventional family’, although the theme of their conversation is that it’s not all that unconventional.

James Robinson and J. Bone totally grabbed my attention with their short story of an American soldier who has come to Canada to escape something, and is being pursued by two men who are probably something other than men.  The story is tagged as a prologue to ‘The Saviors’; I hope this means that these two gentlemen are working on a new series together.  Bone’s art is wonderful – blocky, and coloured only in green, it doesn’t look at all like his all-ages work.

Joe Keatinge and Chynna Clugston Flores share a nice little story about a family movie theatre.  James Asmus and Takeshi Miyazawa give us a great short story about the things that people do when they know that the world is about to end.  Beyond that, there are some terrific one- and two-page strips by the rest of the creators listed above, and a beautiful Gabriel Bá cover.

This book is well worth buying, even if the proceeds didn’t go to support the CBLDF.  Go get it.

Other Notable Comics:

Bedlam #1

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Riley Rossmo

Bedlam is a very strange new series from Nick Spencer, a writer who excels at writing strange comics (Morning Glories is excellent, but almost impossible to predict).  Basically, this is a Joker comic, but featuring creator-owned characters.

Madder Red is very similar to the Clown Prince of Crime – he wears a creepy mask which shows off a toothy grin, and he likes to kill people – especially children.  As the series opens, in a flashback, we see his greatest crime – slaughtering a large group of children on a field trip to the symphony.  This vicious crime ends with his incarceration, after The First (in other words, Batman), beats him down.  This is part of Red’s plan though, as he has a broadcast arranged that announces that, if he is not killed within an hour, bombs that have been planted at a number of local schools will go off.  This leads to bedlam in Bedlam, and the police station explodes, killing Red.

There are the usual conspiracy theories that he wasn’t actually killed, although after then years, he’s never resurfaced.  In the ‘now’ part of the book, we meet a man who is clearly mentally ill, and is taking a great interest in the murder of a few old men in a series of home invasions.  This man ends up interrupting an internal dispute among some drug dealers, and generally gives us the impression that he may be Madder Red.  The flashbacks suggest that he did survive the explosion, but not in a way that makes a lot of sense.

Basically, Spencer is using some of the same tricks that work so well for him in Morning Glories – setting up some mystery, and effectively using flashbacks to lead our thinking in one direction, without ever revealing the truth.  It works, as I’m very curious to see where this goes next.

Riley Rossmo has become Image’s go-to guy for mini-series.  Since Proof, his ongoing series, went on what looks like a permanent hiatus, Rossmo has been involved in a large number of books, often having more than one comic on the stands in any given month.  That’s pretty impressive, especially considering that this first issue is double-sized.  He’s never been a favourite artist of mine – his work is pretty scratchy and hard to follow at times, but I do think he did a great job of constructing a sense of dread in this comic.  The use of colour (the flashback scenes are coloured only with some reds) works well to support the dual narrative of this comic.

I’m not sure how long this series is set to run, but they’ve got me on board for a mini-series at least.

Fatale #9

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

Fatale is one of the best series on the stands right now, period.  Each issue is packed with excellent pacing, dialogue, and character work, and each issue is absolutely gorgeous.  Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips do some amazing things each and every issue.

In this issue, we learn the fate of Suzy Storm, a messed up young 70s actress wannabe who has fallen afoul of the Method Church, a cult centred on the evil Hansel (who has been in this series since it was set in the 30s).  Miles, Suzy’s only friend, searches for her, but isn’t sure if he is worried about her because she is her friend, or because her disappearance hurts Jo’s chances of recovering the book she wants from the Method Church’s library.

Jo, you see, is the femme fatale who gives this series its name.  She’s immortal, and has some strange effect on men.  Miles is beginning to recognize that effect, as he learns a little more about his new woman.

I’ve been enjoying this 70s arc even more than I had the prior one, as the occult weirdness of the story translates nicely into that time period.  Brubaker’s writing and characters are very sharp, and I found this to be a story that is very easy to get lost in.

The best thing about this issue is the announcement in the back that Brubaker and Phillips are expecting the story to last past issue twenty.  It’s great to see an independent book by a couple of highly acclaimed creators reach such success since leaving the confines of Marvel’s boutique line Icon (Criminal and Incognito, their previous series were published under that imprimatur).  This really is the decade of the independent comic…

Ghosts #1

Written by Al Ewing, Toby Litt, Cecil Castellucci, Joe Kubert, Neil Kleid, Mary HK Choi, Paul Pope, David Lapham, Gilbert Hernandez, and Geoff Johns
Art by Rufus Dayglo, Mark Buckingham, Victor Santos, Amy Reeder, Joe Kubert, John McCrea, Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Paul Pope, Gilbert Hernandez, and Jeff Lemire

Once again, Vertigo sends us a nice large anthology comic, similar to Dark Horse Presents, although without using any established characters or properties.  Like any anthology of this size, we are given quite a mixed-bag in terms of the quality of what’s being offered.  Part of the problem with this is that Vertigo has lost a number of the writers and artists who have always been a firm part of their stable in the last year.  As such, they have cast a much wider net for this book, bringing in a number of writers I’ve never heard of before (Toby Litt, Neil Kleid, and Mary HK Choi), while still being able to attract some creators who are not definitely top shelf, like Paul Pope.  The theme here is suggested by the title, but not every story is a ghost story, which is a good thing, as that single note would have gotten played out quickly.

Let’s go through the book, and see what’s what.

  • The anthology opens with a fun little story about a man who is haunted by the ghost of what he could have been.  When he takes a job as a data entry drone, the part of him that wanted to be a rock star literally starts to haunt him, although when it becomes clear that everyone can see and hear the ghost, things change.  This is a very British story, by Al Ewing and Rufus Dayglo.  It’s nice.
  • Much is made on the cover about the inclusion of a new story featuring the Dead Boy Detectives, who originally showed up in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics.  This story is a complete disappointment – it’s disjointed, childish, and doesn’t even end in this volume; it is to be continued in the next Vertigo anthology, which hasn’t even been solicited yet.  On the up side, it’s drawn quite nicely by Mark Buckingham, whose work is the only thing I miss since I dropped Fables a few months back.
  • Cecil Castellucci and Amy Reeder provide ‘Wallflower’, a very nice story about a family, and how it changed with America, as the wife in the family discovers who she really is only after raising a child and looking after the house for many years.  Lovely.
  • Joe Kubert’s last story is printed in this book, which alone makes it worth the purchase price.  Kubert never finished the story – only his rough pencils are reproduced here – but it is a nicely-written tale of an Aztec grandfather and his grandson, on the eve of the older man’s death.  There’s a lot to read in to this, if one is so inclined; for myself, I was just happy to read one more Kubert tale.
  • Demonic chili is the subject for the story by Neil Kleid and John McCrea.  It’s a cute tale; there’s not much more to say than that.
  • Mary HK Choi and Phil Jimenez, on the other hand, tell a downright strange story about a young man who is mourning for the death of his much older wife.  This story is full of excess and strangeness, but neither horror nor ghosts, so its inclusion here is strange.
  • The best thing about this anthology is ‘Treasure Lost’, a story by Paul Pope (with scripting by David Lapham).  It’s a science-fiction epic about two children, heirs to a throne, who are kidnapped by space pirates, and who both undergo a form of Stockholm Syndrome.  Introspective, and beautifully illustrated, this is a good reminder of what a huge talent Pope is.  It totally doesn’t fit with the themes of this book, but really, who would care?
  • Gilbert Hernandez has a nice little story with a conceit made way too obvious by the themes of the book – had it shown up in Dark Horse Presents, it may have given a bit of a surprise to the reader.
  • Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire finish off the book with a nice little story about two brothers who are in the haunting business – a task made easier by the fact that one of the brothers is a ghost.  Really, I’m just happy for any chance to see some of Lemire’s art.
In all, this is a decent anthology.  I appreciate that Vertigo is giving some new talent the chance to show their stuff, and find it regrettable that none of those new faces impressed me much.  It would have killed them to get Becky Cloonan to do something for this?  Still, Paul Pope and Joe Kubert…

Happy #2

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Darick Robertson

I still have a hard time believing that this is a Grant Morrison comic.  It feels and reads like it was written by Garth Ennis more than anyone else, although this issue borrows from Who is Jake Ellis? as well.

Basically, Nick Sax is an ex-cop who now works as an assassin.  He’s had a heart attack, and is being held in a mafia hospital by people who believe he has the password to an off-shore bank account.  Nick’s only friend at this moment is Happy, a small blue winged horse, who only he can see.  Happy is the imaginary friend of a young girl who has been kidnapped by a pervert in a Santa suit.

Happy has to keep Nick alive in order to get him to go rescue Hailey, but Nick is pretty sure the horse is just a hallucination.  This leads to him sitting down at a high-stakes poker game, so that Happy can help him out.

This is a fun read, with the right amount of rough-hewn weirdness and viciousness (hence the reason why I keep ascribing it to Ennis, and not Morrison).  There doesn’t appear to be any sort of meta-textual stuff going on here; perhaps Morrison just felt like cutting loose.

Darick Robertson is always great, so the book looks very good.

The New Deadwardians #8

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by INJ Culbard

Eight months ago, Vertigo launched four new titles in a mini-wave of new material, perhaps in an attempt to replicate some of the attention given to their new ‘waves’ of New 52 titles.  The plan didn’t seem to work too well, as one of the ongoing books has already been cancelled (Dominique Laveau Voodoo Child), and the best of the bunch, The New Deadwardians, never received much press or critical buzz.

That’s a real shame though, as Dan Abnett put together a very well-constructed and interesting mini-series with this book.  It’s set in a world where much of the upper crust of Edwardian England became vampires (called The Young) in the wake of a massive outbreak of zombies (known as The Restless).  This series has followed London’s last homicide detective, Inspector Suttle, as he investigates a case involving the murder of one of the Young, something no one thought was possible outside of the usual methods.

Suttle’s investigations revealed to him the machinations of a secret society, the presence of magic in his world, and the stirrings of his own dead heart.  This issue wraps things up very nicely, as Suttle confronts the magician Salt, and learns just what has been going on for behind the scenes.

Is I’ve been saying all along, Abnett has done a terrific job of building up this world, and thinking through how people at each level of society would feel about it.  INJ Culbard was a great choice for the art, with his style that reminds me of Guy Davis.  This was a very satisfying little series.

Wasteland #40

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Russel Roehling
Yet again, Wasteland has a new artist.  Since Christopher Mitten left this title, it’s seemed that Antony Johnston has had great difficulty in finding someone to stick with the book.  I don’t know why some of the other artists – Remington Veteto and Justin Greenwood were both announced as new regular artists – have moved on, but I do hope that Roehling sticks around.

His work is more realistic than Mitten’s or the others’, and that takes a bit of getting used to, but he’s an accomplished artist.  At times, I’ve found the level of abstraction in this book to be kind of annoying, as it’s not always been clear what has been happening.  Greenwood gave the book a more cartoonish feel than I felt appropriate for this series.  Roehling works for me, especially if his joining the crew means this book will come out regularly.

That is because Wasteland is one of the best-written comics on the stands.  This new issue starts a new arc, which has Michael and Abi, still travelling across the wasteland, arrive at a town just before an asteroid crashes to the Earth, obliterating a nearby pre-city.  At the town, they meet Thomas, a learned man who has the ability to pick up psychic traces off of objects and people (kind of like Longshot’s power).  His daughter Diana scavenges for interesting items from the pre-city (like the ‘fown’ she finds this issue)), and together they seem to be more enlightened and knowledgeable than their neighbours.

Johnston is definitely taking his time in getting these characters to their destination – the mysterious A-Ree-Yass-I – but as he keeps diverting their attention in ways that reveal a little more about their strange provenance, I don’t mind.

Whispers #4

by Joshua Luna

Whispers is a really interesting, bizarre comic.  It’s about a guy who develops the body to ‘remote view’, or project an astral form (to use a Marvel Comics explanation).  The guy has obsessive compulsive disorder, and great difficulty relating to the world around him.  He used his power to check in on people in his life, and became aware of a demonic entity inhabiting a man, causing him to do some pretty horrible things to small children.

In the last issue, he figures he can save an ex-girlfriend from a drug dealer who has been threatening her, and get rid of the serial killer at the same time, but this plan does not work as hoped in this issue.

To begin with, our man discovers that there are other demons working through people, including a guy who likes to lock up women in a tiled cell for weeks on end.  Also, the drug dealer figures out that he’s involved in his downfall, and comes looking for him.

This is a pretty unique horror comic.  I don’t have a good feeling for where Joshua Luna is taking the story, and that’s probably the thing I like the most about it.  He’s spent a lot of time building up this main character, and now he’s landing him right in the middle of some very strange things.  His art, without any contribution from his brother, continues to surprise me, in the way that it can take a while to get used to someone you know well when they wear a new hairstyle.  I do wish this book would fix its scheduling issues though, as it’s running pretty late, especially considering that it’s a bi-monthly book to begin with.  Still, this is a very good series; I hope that enough people are checking it out.

Quick Takes:

American Vampire #32I was wondering when we’d see Hattie again, and this issue fills us in on what she’s been up to for the last while.  This book had started to feel like it was dragging a little lately, but this issue ramps up the action as Pearl is held captive by her former friend, and discovers that an unlikely ally is anything but.  It’s a very good issue.

AVX: Consequences #4 – I take issue with the way Marvel editorial has decided that Magneto should just be a bad guy again – Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen did such great work with this character, that setting him up to regress into who he once was is a real shame.  I’m hoping that’s not what happens, even if he ends up working with Cyclops, but it certainly looks like it’s going that way.  On the plus side, I love seeing more Abigail Brand, although I’m not sure how I feel about what she reveals about herself (unless this is something I already knew, and just forgot).  There’s only one more issue of this series, which means that Kieron Gillen’s tenure with the X-Men will come to an end, and that’s the saddest thing of all about this comic.

BPRD Hell on Earth #100 – So what happens when a long-running series of mini-series gets to a milestone issue?  Well, they renumber, and then decide to become an on-going series, which is what this book has always been, just one that relaunches every three to five months.  Comics – no wonder people don’t understand them anymore.  Anyway, this is a very solid issue, with BPRD forces getting closer to the castle stronghold of a major threat, while the Zinco crowd works to resurrect Rasputin, and Fenix has trouble fitting in with the rest of the Bureau.  There are a lot of plotlines running through this comic, but Mike Mignola and John Arcudi balance them nicely, and Johann, for a change, gets to be the voice of reason.  Good stuff.

Haunt #27Joe Casey finally puts the storyline surrounding a dead prostitute to rest, gives us the Catholic Church’s opinion of the Second Church, and otherwise does very little to move this series forward.  When Casey and Nathan Fox took over this series, I was pretty excited about it, but I feel like it hasn’t lived up to its potential very well.  I keep hoping that things pick up, but I don’t think I’m going to keep pre-ordering it.

Justice League Dark Annual #1 – The Books of Magic storyline wraps up in this large (and over-priced) annual, as Jeff Lemire brings a few new faces to the team, namely Frankenstein and the Princess of Gemworld, although neither of them are given much space to shine.  This is a well-written, exciting, and beautiful book.  I was getting a little bored of JLD, but this annual, with its good cliffhanger ending, will keep me around for some time longer.

Swamp Thing Annual #1 – Unlike the JLD Annual, which concludes an on-going story, the Swamp Thing Annual fills in a story from Alec Holland and Abigail Arcane’s pasts.  The story doesn’t really add much to the Swamp Thing mythos, but since it’s drawn by Becky Cloonan, I automatically love it.  I also love that DC is giving her some mainstream work these days, even if I’d prefer to see her on a new Vertigo book more than on a superhero one.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #16.1 – This is a very good comic.  Brian Michael Bendis gives the whole issue to Betty Brant, who I presume got herself into a lot of trouble at the Daily Bugle during the first two Ultimate Spider-Man comics, as it seems that no one trusts or likes her very much (I never read the pre-Miles Morales series).  She’s figured out that the new Spider-Man is related to the Prowler, and goes about doing her investigative journalist thing, which is fun to read, just as a good police procedural can be.  What doesn’t really work for me is the strong stance taken by J. Jonah Jameson to not out the new Spidey – isn’t this the same guy who ran a bunch of articles about how he’s a killer in the wake of the Prowler’s death?  I guess we aren’t supposed to remember that…

Ultimate Comics X-Men #18 - This issue sets up the new status quo for mutants in the Ultimate Universe, after Kitty Pryde leads her army through their last confrontations with Stryker’s Sentinels, and Kitty gets some face time with President Cap.  I like where Brian Wood has taken this book, but I’m still having problems with the overly cheery art, provided this month by Carlo Barberi and Agustin Padilla.  This book needs a more serious look, to match the story.

Winter Soldier #12 – I’m going to miss this title when Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice aren’t on it even more, even if I continue to buy it.  This story has the usual Bucky stuff going on – lots of mind control, some cool guest stars, and terrific art.

Wolverine and the X-Men #19 – I know that many people find Jason Aaron’s light-hearted, Justice League International-style take on this book to be refreshing, but I can’t help but feel that it’s out of place, considering that this is effectively the main X-book now.  In this issue, Kitty interviews new teachers while Logan hunts the people who attacked Broo.  New students are showing up (although they seem to be the type of one-joke mutants that led to Joe Quesada wanting to pull off House of M in the first place), and there are a lot of cameos.  I think part of my problem with this comic is that I don’t really like Nick Bradshaw’s art that much – it has too much of an ‘all-ages’ feel to it for my liking.  Were Chris Bachalo still drawing this, I’m sure I’d feel differently.

X-Men Legacy #275 – I’m not sure if Christos Gage would have done more with this book, had he not taken it over just in time for Avengers Vs. X-Men to make things difficult.  To wind up his run, he gives us yet another issue of Rogue showing how she’s gotten her act together, and it’s a little overly wordy (or just preachy).  This has not been the best of runs, but I’m sure that’s not entirely Gage’s fault.

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

Avenging Spider-Man Annual #1

Fashion Beast #3

Joe Kubert Presents #1

Rachel Rising #12

Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #3

Bargain Comics:

Avengers #30 & 31Brian Michael Bendis is wrapping things up, and so we get a bizarre issue of Hawkeye and Spider-Woman arguing their way through a big fight with Mister Negative’s goons (why can’t Hawkeye ever find a woman he gets along with?) in one issue, while in the next, we get the much-mocked scene where Captain America forgives Wonder Man, while a mystery Avenger recreates the Star Wars pod-race scene in the Microverse.  There was a time when I really liked Bendis on the Avengers, but that time was quite a while ago.

Mighty Thor #19 – Having read Kieron Gillen’s last issue of Journey Into Mystery, I thought that perhaps I was being short-sighted in dropping the title for the duration of the Everything Burns cross-over with Thor’s book.  Reading this issue, which is the second chapter of that story, I realize that I made the right decision; this is just nowhere near as good, and that’s with art by Alan Davis.  The problem is one that has plagued all Thor stories over the last long while – it’s too tied in with ancient Asgardian history.  How can there always be that much drama that started a millennia or two ago?  Anyway, I continue to find Matt Fraction’s run on this title  disappointing.  Bring on Young Avengers!

New Avengers #30 & 31 – These two issues bridge Avengers Vs. X-Men and the End Times arc, which is going to close out Brian Michael Bendis’s time with the Avengers.  The immediate impression I come away with is that if Bendis can’t play with Luke Cage (who really wouldn’t fit in All-New X-Men), then no one else can either, as he has Cage decide to leave the Avengers to focus on his family.  Meanwhile, there’s something weird going on with Victoria Hand, who is going around beating up mystics.  The art is by Mike Deodato (okay, but never changing) and Michael Gaydos, who always impresses.  I am looking forward to Jonathan Hickman’s take on this team.

Stormwatch #12, 0, & 13 – If you wanted to read a case study in how to squander some serious comic book potential, you need look no further than the way in which DC has handled Stormwatch since relaunching it as a ‘New 52’ title.  The series is on its third writer, and it has become ever more convoluted, as each issue is more concerned with foreshadowing coming problems than it is in telling interesting stories.  The zero issue ties the team’s history into that of the Demon Knights book, but not in a terribly interesting way (especially since that title doesn’t have a ‘century baby’ character), while the 12th issue clears the Martian Manhunter out of the title, so he can appear in the upcoming Justice League spin-off book.  Of course, the reasons why he’s leaving can’t be discussed, as they involve some future (as in, not now) story.  And of course, he retcons his way out of his teammates memories, because there hasn’t been enough of that sort of thing.  In short, skip this puppy.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

303

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Jacen Burrows

I’ve become very skeptical about Garth Ennis’s writing, having become pretty bored with his gross-out humour, but I’m still more than willing to dive in to one of his war comics.

If there’s one character that Ennis excels at writing, it’s that of the hardened soldier, surrounded by incompetents and/or newbies.  In 303, he introduces us to an unnamed Russian Colonel who fits the mould perfectly.  He is stuck leading a pretty useless group of Russians on a mission in Afghanistan.

It seems that an American plane has gone down in a remote, mountainous region, and it clearly holds some secrets that someone in the American government needs kept that way.  In advance of the American recovery effort, both Britain and Russia have sent men in to take a look around.  Our Colonel and his crew are trailing behind the Brits, but he’s determined to catch up.  This leads to some of the usual Ennis-style messed up situations, as the three groups demonstrate the lengths to which they will go for this mission.

The second half of the book is much stranger (I presume this trade is collecting a couple of mini-series or something, as there are three separate stories featuring the same character), in that it features our Colonel embroiled in the plight of migrant workers from Latin America working in an American slaughterhouse.

Still, Ennis writes this book very well, and Jacen Burrows capably illustrates in the usual Avatar house style.  What I like best about this book is the way in which it can be read as a tribute to the Enfield 303 rifle.

Album of the Week:

The Coup – Sorry to Bother You After many years, Boots Riley (and Pam the Funkstress, although she’s not as much a presence on this album) finally return with a new offering, ‘Sorry to Bother You’.  Boots is a true revolutionary, but he’s learned from the musical greats to package his strong anti-capitalist message in funky, hand-clapping, enjoyable hip-hop.  He’s also a master storyteller, and one hardcore MC.  It’s great to see him back in the game, continuing to preach what he believes in with humour and hot rhymes.



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