The Weekly Round-Up #186 With Hawkeye, The Bounce, BPRD, Lazarus, Prophet, Star Wars, X-O Manowar & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Hawkeye #11Clearly Matt Fraction and David Aja have been OD’ing on the work of Chris Ware lately, as they give over the entire issue to Lucky, the Pizza Dog.  Our canine hero spends the book trying to figure out who killed a resident of Hawkeye’s building, and making friends with a smaller dog.  The issue is mostly wordless – when there is dialogue, we only are privy to the words the dog understands, but through the magic of comics, we can also partake in the dog’s enhanced senses, especially smell and hearing.  We do get some forward movement on the book’s main plotline – clearly Kate and Clint aren’t getting along so much these days, but the dog, and the art, are the big stars.  This is a very cool comic.

Quick Takes:

All-New X-Men #13 – The first of two Brian Michael Bendis X-Men books this week is entertaining.  Wolverine takes the original team to find Mystique, who is trying to use her mountain of money to buy herself a certain notorious island from Hydra.  There is a lengthy discussion on the Blackbird about the “M-word”, as the characters react to Havok’s speech from Uncanny Avengers; it’s a little heavy handed, but it also reminds me why I like Kitty Pryde so much.

Avengers Arena #11 – This time around the spotlight shifts to Reptil and Hazmat, who is not doing so well in the wake of Mettle’s death.  Her way of dealing with it is to lie around a beach acting ‘normal’.  I still don’t like the concept behind this series, but I have to hand it to Dennis Hopeless; he’s doing a terrific job with these characters.

The Bounce #2Joe Casey is taking his time to bring readers up to speed on just what is going on in The Bounce, but this issue makes things a lot clearer, as we get an origin story, and learn a little more about the main character’s life.  In a lot of ways, this is reading like a 90s comic with a lot more drug use; I’m not really feeling the Casey magic yet.

BPRD Vampire #4 – There’s not a lot of story in this issue, but Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon are doing such a great job on the art, I don’t even care.  There’s a battle between the vampire-possessed BPRD guy (I don’t remember his name) and some witches, and the visuals are stunning.

Daredevil #27 – The last few issues of this series have been just about perfect, as an old villain has taken on a new approach, and has really put Matt Murdock through the ringer.  This issue wraps up the story, with DD facing his enemies.  I love the way Mark Waid and Chris Samnee show the threat to Matt’s friends, and then reverse it.  Great stuff.

Elephantmen #49 – Gearing up to the big 50th issue, Richard Starkings checks in with many of his characters, and has Sahara talk about what happened on Mars.  This is one of the nicest looking issues of Elephantmen yet – Axel Medellin really outdoes himself on the art.

Fatale #15 – A new story arc begins, which means we readers are brought back to the present for some of this issue, as Nick escapes custody with the help of an acquaintance of Jo’s.  The rest of this issue is set in the middle of the 90s in Seattle, as Josephine crosses paths with a member of a one-hit wonder grunge band who has just robbed a bank.  Jo has escaped from some sort of bad scene, but doesn’t really remember who she is.  Fatale is such an excellent read, and it’s great to see it moving forward in time again, suggesting that it won’t be much longer until the series catches up to Nick’s story.  As always, brilliant stuff from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.

FF #8This is a pretty scattered issue of FF, as Matt Fraction digs at some of the relationships in the book, such as how She-Hulk feels about Medusa, and how the kids feel about Bentley and Ashura.  It has some nice moments, and we learn a little about Dr. Doom and his allies that suggests that there is a longer-range plan for the book, but the story is not all that satisfying.  Michael Allred’s art is though, so it’s not all a loss.

Fury Max #13 – Garth Ennis has written one of the best examinations of warfare in comics that I’ve ever read with this series.  This final issue looks in on Fury after all of his wars have been fought, and he and his closest associates (Nick Fury doesn’t have friends) have to try to find ways to live with all of the dirt they’ve been involved in.  This series is as much about the degradation of America on the world stage as it is about Fury – it’s interesting that one of the ‘villains’ of the title ends up being the most notable character.  This deserves to stand among the most respected of Ennis’s comics, and Goran Parlov’s beautifully expressive artwork is to be enjoyed.  I wish there were more series like this.

Green Team #2 – I’m still not sure if this title is going to be able to sustain my interest for more than a couple of months, but for now, I am intrigued by Art Baltazar and Franco’s take on the extremely rich youth of the DCU.  That Commodore has some noble intentions for his money is good, but his girlfriend is portrayed as a rather extreme example of Hollywood brat.  This issue was entertaining enough that I’ll pick up the next, but this is not a book I’m prepared to add to my pull-file list yet.

Jupiter’s Legacy #2 – This is a very beautiful book, thanks to Frank Quitely.  Mark Millar’s story, about the celebrity-obsessed children of the world’s greatest superheroes, is a little predictable, but he manages to hit all the right storytelling notes still.  This is the kind of book that you can feel very justified in buying, just for Quitely’s art.

Lazarus #1Greg Rucka and Michael Lark have reunited to bring us this new series set in a future where the world’s richest portion of the richest 1% have effectively taken over, structuring society around their corporate interests, and selecting one person from within their own families to serve as their enhanced protector.  Forever is one of these ‘Lazaruses’ (so named for their ability to recover from most forms of attack), and she’s the only one to have managed to develop a conscience.  When a rival family attacks her people’s farm, she is not happy doing her duty.  Rucka always writes strong female characters, and I like seeing how he is extrapolating on our current state of great income inequality.  This looks to be a very good read.

The Massive #13 – Brian Wood returns to the scene of his DMZ series, as The Kapital tracks Georg’s nuclear sub to the submerged island of Manhattan.  This is pretty typical for an issue of The Massive – there are disagreements among the command staff, people have secrets, and we get tossed a lot of facts about the Collapse which don’t always advance the plot.  I don’t really understand how the crew found Georg again – last we saw them, they were in the Alaskan Arctic, and now they’re in Manhattan – even if the ice caps had melted, that’s not a short trip.

Mind MGMT #12 – Matt Kindt finishes off his second story arc in this issue, revealing a lot of information to and about Meru along the way.  There are scenes here that help explain events from the first few issues, and provide a number of answers.  I’ve been engrossed in this book since it started, and love the way that Kindt is structuring this story.

Morning Glories #28I feel like this series has reached the point where the explanatory notes being provided in the back are necessary, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.  I am a pretty smart person, with what I consider to be a better than average memory, but I cannot keep all the threads of this book straight anymore.  Also, I’m finding that as characters are shown at different ages, it’s becoming a little hard to always know who a character is if they are not named in the text somewhere.  Nick Spencer has done some amazing things with this series, but I’m beginning to worry about his ability to bring everything together, and that the frequent comparisons to the TV show Lost may become prescient with regards to the payoff, which would be a shame.

Powers Bureau #5 – I guess Walker is not so good at being an undercover bad guy, as his new crew figures things out pretty quickly.  This is a pretty average issue of Powers – people swear in ways that people in real life never do, and some folks get bloody.  I’m finding myself getting bored.

The Private Eye #3 – Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s digital-only comic is one of my absolute favourite series right now.  It’s the only comic I read digitally – I’m pretty old school I guess – but since there are no print options at the moment, and I can’t wait for a new issue, that’s what’s up.  This issue has PI and Ravenna escape from their attackers, and seek refuge with PI’s grandfather.  We get a sense of what is going on, and a little more appreciation for the way Vaughan’s vision of the future, where the distinction between journalists and cops is blurred and everyone wears a disguise, works.  Martin’s art in phenomenal, but then you probably knew that.  If you aren’t reading this series, go to Panel Syndicate and get on it.

Prophet #36Some of the gelling of disparate storylines that I’ve felt this book has needed for a while begins to happen with this issue.  Troll is trying to recruit both Old Man John Prophet and Newfather John Prophet to his cause, which involves defeating some big floaty thing that can control minds.  If that’s not the clearest description you’ve ever read, that’s because Brandon Graham doesn’t really write this series for clarity; he’s more interested in immersing the reader into his strange and wonderful world, and letting them figure it out as he goes.  There are some nice moments in this issue; I particularly enjoyed the conversation between Diehard and the reptile woman (whose name escapes me right now).  This is a great series, and I feel like it’s regaining some of the momentum it lost in the last few months.

Secret Avengers #5 – Now this series is really beginning to feel like it’s been written by Nick Spencer, as a team of Avengers argue over whether they should assassinate the Supreme Scientist of AIM in his own country, and we get hints that everything is not what it seems.  This book has taken a little while to gel, but now it feels like its working exactly as it should.

Sex #4 – I’m finding myself getting more and more drawn into Sex, as Simon Cooke goes about the business of trying to put together a life for himself while not really feeling like having one.  We check in with a variety of different characters, and get a better sense of the city where this series is set.  This is building slowly, but I find I’m pretty interested in seeing where it goes.

Star Wars Legacy #4A lot of action takes place in this issue, as Ania Solo and her friends are captured by the Sith who is posing as an Imperial Knight, and later, they escape.  Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman have a good handle on how to approach this book, and Hardman’s art is great.

Uncanny X-Force #7 – This is another Marvel NOW! book that is finally coming together.  This issue focuses on Psylocke’s relationship with Fantomex, who has now been split into three different people.  We learn about Betsy’s time in Paris with Fantomex and Cluster (his female version), and catch up with her in the present, where she is trying to save Fantomex from Weapon XIII (his evil version).  Great art by Adrian Alphona and Dalibor Talajic really makes this book work.

Uncanny X-Men #7 – Illyana’s fight with Dormammu ends in a rather spectacular way, as it becomes increasingly clear that no one on Cyclops’s renegade team is able to control their powers very well.  Has Illyana always been able to use her ability to travel through time?  I don’t remember that, and think that it would have been put into use a little more frequently (i.e., someone just killed all these people, let’s show up five minutes before instead of after).  Frazer Irving’s art is very nice.

The Unwritten #50 – When I first heard that Tom Taylor would be visiting the Fables universe for his fiftieth issue, I thought it would probably be a bad idea, more driven by a desire for the marketability of such a cross-over than any story-based reason.  Now that I’ve read it, that’s exactly where we are, and I kind of wish I’d dropped this book from my pull-file for the length of this story arc.  Tom gets summoned by the witches of Fabletown to help them fight Mister Dark, the abstract evil that the characters took out a while back in their own book.  I think that the idea here is that this is not the same Fable-verse as in Bill Willingham’s series; instead it’s an alternate one where the fight with Dark went poorly.  Or, Willingham has cycled back on the same story in his book – I stopped reading it a while ago, and don’t know what’s going on there.  Anyway, Tom is secondary to the Fables characters, and the story feels very disjointed.  I expect a lot more from Mike Carey and Peter Gross.

The Wake #2Scott Snyder seems to return time and again in his writing to the theme of distant or absent fathers, but in the Wake, it seems he’s taking more of an evolutionary approach to the concept.  The collected scientists are given the chance to take a look at the creature that has been captured deep beneath the ocean, and they all have differing theories on what exactly it is, or how it has influenced human folklore.  Snyder has gotten most of the set-up out of the way now, and the story is beginning to move forward on its own quite nicely.  Sean Murphy’s art is stupendous, and it’s easy to understand why this is the best-selling Vertigo book of the last ten years, even though it’s quite different from what that imprint usually produces.

Wolverine and the X-Men #32 – I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to stick with this title.  The light humour approach is really not working for me – it comes off feeling way too forced, and too many characters are acting out of character.  Part of the problem is that I just don’t like Nick Bradshaw’s art – his Lockheed was unrecognizable, and I’ve noticed that whenever he is drawing an issue or two, my interest wanes.  I’ll stick around through the upcoming X-crossover (because I’m buying all the other titles in it), but probably not after that, barring drastic changes in the way this book is being made.

X-Men #2 – The most common description I’ve read of Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel’s new series is that it’s ‘Claremontian’, and I certainly agree, although it is missing the lengthy text boxes and overblown scripting for which that classic X-Men writer is known.  What it does have is tight plotting, great character work, and a sense that more is accomplished in the book than any two or three issues written by, say, Brian Michael Bendis.  This is definitely my favourite X-book now.

X-O Manowar #14The ‘Planet Death’ story comes to its close as Aric leads the various slave factions on Loam in a fight against their masters, effecting regime change for the Vine.  This is a solid issue, which effectively takes out the threat that Aric has been fighting against since the series began.  The trick now, moving forward, is going to be in finding new things for Aric to handle that will feel credible.

Young Avengers #6 – In a departure from the first five issues of this series, writer Kieron Gillen gives the comic over to Speed (a former YA), and Prodigy (one of the more likeable characters from the New Mutants/New X-Men revamp of a few years back), who has lost his powers but not the knowledge they gave him.  The two have ended up working for some company that is involved in the superhero world, and they have become friends.  When a mysterious intruder wearing The Patriot’s old costume breaks in, they try to stop him, although that has some very unclear consequences.  This is a terrific character issue, with very nice art by Kate Brown.

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

Age of Ultron #10AI

All-Star Western #21

Battlestar Galactica #2

Captain America #8

Guardians of the Galaxy #4

Ultimate Comics X-Men #28

Uncanny #1

Wolverine #5

Bargain Comics:

Alpha #1&2Okay, so like many people, I didn’t much like this kid when he showed up in Amazing Spider-Man a while back, but I do really like writer Joshua Hale Fialkov (at least, I do when he writes his creator-owned books), so I thought I’d give this a try.  The results are pretty bleh – Alpha’s an unhappy jerk who gets his powers back because of Dr. Octopus’s new residency in Peter Parker’s head.  Fialkov is trying to show him as a basically good kid who is just a little too arrogant, but the whole thing comes off like a bit of a throwback (do Americans still wear varsity jackets in high school?).  I do like Nuno Plati’s art – it reminds me of a strange mix of Humberto Ramos and Paul Smith, but I doubt I’ll get the rest of this mini-series.

Fantastic Four #3-7 – While I’ve been enjoying Matt Fraction and Michael Allred’s FF, I wasn’t as interested in the parent title, mostly because I’ve never been a huge fan of either the Fantastic Four or artist Mark Bagley’s work.  I decided to catch up with the book and see how Fraction’s concept of taking the family on an adventure through time and space was working out.  I think these are okay comics, but they really don’t excite me.  Fraction has a good handle on the relationship between Reed and Sue Richards, but his Ben Grimm is simplistic, and it feels like the character hasn’t developed at all over the last few decades.  The adventures seem random and a little bland.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #14-16 – Here’s another example of a New 52 series that just kind of faded out due to an unclear or undefined purpose (see my comments last week on I, Vampire and Blue Beetle).  Matt Kindt is one of the best writers working in comics today, but I think that corporate-controlled characters and editorially-mandated stories (like the tie-in to the Rotworld story) are not his forté.  Brian Wood can kind of pull it off, but Kindt is way too individualistic a writer, and so these tales fell flat.  Kindt’s good friend Jeff Lemire, who started this series, also had a hard time making a go of it, and he’s usually much better at straddling the independent and corporate worlds.

Threshold #1-4So this ‘ongoing series’, which has only lasted eight issues, is a good study in what DC is doing wrong these days.  First off, the title.  Why is this book called Threshold in all the press and solicitations, but then the cover makes it look like Threshold: The Hunted?  Neither of these are established DC titles that will awaken a sense of nostalgia, and Threshold doesn’t do a thing to suggest the content of the stories.  Next, this is a $4 book, with a back-up strip.  The main story is a Hunger Games knock-off, set on a world deep in space.  Writer Keith Giffen has brought together a potentially interesting crowd, headlined by a disgraced Green Lantern (because DC still thinks that is enough to draw in a big crowd), but featuring classic characters like Stealth (although she’s nowhere near as interesting as she was in LEGION under Giffen’s control back in the day), Tommy Tomorrow, and Captain Carrot (in the Rocket Raccoon role now), but none of them have enough space to be themselves.  Even Blue Beetle feels randomly tacked on to things.  It’s hard to believe this is the same Giffen who killed the first Annihilation mini-series, which revamped the entirety of Marvel’s cosmic characters, especially Star-Lord, very successfully.  The back-up strip features Larfleeze, and it’s pretty terrible.  There’s a new Larfleeze series starting up, and if this is any indication of what it’s going to be like, it’s not going to last much longer than this book did.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Holy Terror

by Frank Miller
 

For a very long time, I revered Frank Miller.  He was one of the first comics artists whose work I could identify on sight, and I can remember reading the first chapter of his seminal Daredevil Born Again story over and over again when it first hit the stands.

I followed his career from that point forward, but can remember getting a little bored around the time he did his fourth or fifth Sin City story.  There was a gaudy decadence in his story-telling, which was at odds with his ever more minimalist art, and it kind of bothered me.  The Dark Knight Strikes Again, the sequel to the excellent Dark Knight Returns really turned me off.

And then there’s Holy Terror, the “Batman” story he published 2011.  It was originally intended for publication at DC, but they wisely passed on this story that has a caped crusader and his cat burglar companion take apart an Al-Qaeda cell in his home town.  It ended up at Legendary, and enough minor changes were made to the characters so that Miller could avoid a lawsuit.

The book opens with The Fixer chasing Cat Burglar across Empire City.  When he catches her, they engage in some light S&M foreplay before bombs start exploding all over the city.  Of course it’s terrorists, and so the hero and the villain decide to team up (with help from some guy who looks like The Question with a huge Star of David tattooed on his face) to kill the terrorists.

There is a casual racism at play in this comic that would undoubtedly disturb many people, but it is the lack of character that bothered me the most.  Everyone here simply plays the most simplistic of roles, and the act only so that Miller can provide a number of bloody scenes that neither engage nor excite the reader.

Miller is a wonderfully talented creator who now makes terrible comics.  Maybe he’s gotten too big to take creative direction from editors (he does have a pretty famous ego), but sadly, that also means he’s gone too far down a path I don’t want to follow.  My eleven year-old self would not have believed that possible…

Shadoweyes

by Ross Campbell
 

I consider myself a big fan of Ross Campbell’s work, but at the same time, I have to say that the cartoonist confounds me sometimes.  Campbell is best known (aside from his recent work on Glory at Image) for Wet Moon, a sprawling late teen drama about punk kids who have trouble navigating their relationships, and who are dealing with a killer in their midst.  It’s a strange series of graphic novels, but there’s something about it that makes it almost impossible to put down.

Shadoweyes is Campbell’s newer OGN series (two volumes have been released so far), and it contains a number of the features one would expect from a Campbell comic – physical deformity, gender ambiguity, and girls and women shaped like real girls and women, in all their diverse splendour.  It’s also unlike his other work (predicting the evolution that brought him to Glory), as it has a much more frenetic pace, and the art is much more hurried.

Scout is a young black girl living in a dirty, crowded metropolis in the future.  She is vegan, and very politically conscious.  She likes to patrol the city as part of a neighbourhood watch initiative with her best friend Kyisha (who is, of course, intersex).  After taking a knock on the head while helping a homeless man, Scout later turns into a blue creature with a tail.  At first, she can control the transformation, and uses her new abilities as a chance to help others, but does that according to her own moral code.  For example, when she stops a guy from robbing a store, she then stops the cops from arresting him, since he didn’t actually do anything.

Scout rescues Sparkle, a girl from her high school, from a weird kidnapping scene, and they begin to get very close to each other.  It’s at this point that the series most begins to resemble Wet Moon, as Campbell suggests that the two girls fall for one another (the next volume is called Shadoweyes in Love), and as Sparkle is missing fingers and toes.

At times, I found myself frustrated with the pacing and lack of clarity in some scenes, but at the end of the day, this is a very good book.  Campbell tells stories that no one else in comics tells, and you have to admire the consistency of his artistic vision and gender politics.

Album of the Week:

Dessa – Parts of Speech – I can’t write an impartial review or recommendation for this album.  There are few recording artists that I respect more than Dessa.  Her writing skill, her voice, her ability to rap as hard as any MC out there, and her beauty combine into an almost-perfect package.  On Parts of Speech, she stretches herself into a number of new directions, co-producing many of the songs on here, and flowing over some beats that are unlike anything she’s tried before.  Oh, and she covers Bruce Springsteen.  The other day Dessa joking referred to her music as “songs to bleed out to” in an interview, and while there is a darkness to this album, it is surpassed by pure beauty.  This is one of the best albums I’ve bought this year.  Doomtree!!!!

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