Best Comic of the Week:
Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Johnnie Christmas
I’ve been a fan of Ed Brisson’s writing since I first bought an issue of his Murder Book at TCAF a few years ago. He has subsequently written the Image mini-series Comeback, which was interesting, but nowhere near the quality of the first issue of his new series, Sheltered.
This mini-series is set in Safe Haven, a collection of trailers and underground bunkers set in some remote location in the United States. It’s populated by a group of ‘preparationists’, militia-types who are laying in supplies for the end of the government or the world. The adults in this small community busy themselves digging bunkers and buying canned goods, and we learn that not everyone in the group agrees with how they are going about things, but Brisson creates the impression that their sense of common purpose overcomes any procedural differences they might feel.
The kids are another problem though. It’s quickly apparent that not all of the teenagers that live in the area see things the same way as their parents, and as is normal with teenagers, they go about rebelling in their own way. A pair of boys borrow a HAM radio because their own is broken, but are pointedly shown not using it. A pair of girls like to sneak out into the woods to ‘hike’, but they take a flask with them.
During what looks like a normal day, the sound of a gunshot in the woods brings everyone running. It seems that some men are trying to attack the compound – just what the adults have been expecting and training for. Things are not exactly what they seem though, and I don’t want to spoil the book. Suffice to say, it’s a very good read, and I’m looking forward to the next issue.
Johnnie Christmas’s art looks quite nice in colour (I’ve only ever seen black and white work from him in Murder Book). This book reminds me a little of Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon’s excellent Elk’s Run, but the twists are quite different. I recommend checking this out.
America’s Got Powers #6 – It’s been so long since I read issue five that it took me most of this comic to remember what was going on, but I did enjoy the way Jonathan Ross has been moving this story forward. The best part of this comic is his and Bryan Hitch’s portrayal of President Obama, and the woman who looks remarkably like Sarah Palin (who is determined to take over the powers that our main character can confer on others). This book has really lost steam because of the delays, but if you compare it with Hitch’s other recent comic (Age of Ultron), it’s Sandman or Maus…
Avengers Arena #12 – In a nice reversal, a character previously believed to be dead gets better, and lays a whopping on the person that ‘killed’ him or her. In order to help things stay extra spoiler-free, Marvel decided to give this issue a cover that features a character that doesn’t even show up inside the comic. This is a good series, but this particular issue felt rushed; it had no character work in it at all, and the art seemed hurried. Maybe it should only be published monthly…
Batman #22 – The Zero Year continues, with Bruce Wayne posing as Oswald Cobblepot in order to flush out the Red Hood gang. This was a pretty cool issue, although I have to wonder what’s going on with Scott Snyder always finding ways to manipulate characters as close as Bruce and Alfred into slapping each other – it reminded me of the incredibly out-of-character slap Bruce gave Dick back in the Court of the Owls story. Another random thought – since Snyder is spending months on this flashback story, will anyone remember that the rest of the Bat-family is still pissed at Bruce by the time we catch back up to present day? It’s strange that so much time was spent creating that situation for it not to be explored at all in this title (or, I think, the other Bat-books, although I’m really only reading Batman Incorporated, which lives in its own continuity).
Chew #35 – A new issue of Chew is never a disappointment, but this issue, which finishes off the ‘Bad Apples’ arc is fantastic. Tony has to deal with a hostage taking in a giant pumpkin house, which leads to a prophecy by the leader of a radical chicken worship cult, while his partner Colby has to get used to a strange new living arrangement. Colby decides to stop working with Savoy, and Tony and his daughter have a heart-to-heart-to-toe conversation which ends with a welcome surprise. Just about everything in this issue is perfect – John Layman and Rob Guillory are at the absolute top of their game with this book.
Daredevil #28 – Once again, Daredevil delivers, as Mark Waid has Matt Murdock’s childhood bully show up at his office, needing his help in a false arrest case. Waid plays the emotional beats in this issue perfectly, contrasting Matt’s natural anger with his sense of justice. Of course, once the Serpent Society connection is revealed, things get a lot more interesting. Javier Rodriguez is handling the art, although his work looks so much like Chris Samnee’s, it’s hard to notice there was a change. This is a great series.
The Death of Haggard West – This one-shot, made up to look like it’s issue 101 of The Invincible Haggard West, a series that doesn’t exist, is a teaser for Paul Pope’s upcoming graphic novel, Battling Boy. This book has been highly anticipated for years, so I was happy to get a look at it. This comic shows us the last battle of Haggard West, a Batman-like hero who goes out fighting a group of creepy looking kidnappers. It’s a Paul Pope comic, so the art is dynamic and exciting, and everything looks incredibly cool. There’s not a huge amount of story here, but things are really very nice to look at. I’m definitely looking forward to Battling Boy…
Demon Knights #22 – The Knights make their way back to Al-Wadi with the Holy Grail, but are pursued by an army of giants, thanks to Vandal Savage. This is a pretty typical issue of this comic, and it’s pretty enjoyable. Robert Venditti has done a decent job of maintaining the feel that Paul Cornell gave this series.
East of West #4 – This was a pretty exciting issue of East of West, as Death and his two companions attack New Shanghai and slaughter Mao’s forces in a bid to reunite with Xiaolian, Mao’s daughter and Death’s lover. It looks like the events of this issue will have serious repercussions for the other three Horsemen and their plans. Nick Dragotta is just killing the art on this book, and Jonathan Hickman’s writing is solid.
Fearless Defenders #6 – I think this is the most solid issue of this new series yet, as Valkyrie faces her inner demons with the help of a new character. Cullen Bunn more or less sets the tone for future issues of this title here, and he catches my interest. Unfortunately, it looks like Marvel is planning on upping the price of this book to $4, and I think that means I’m going to be abandoning it. It’s a good comic, but is it $4 good?
Ghosted #1 – It may be too early in the life of Skybound, Robert Kirkman’s imprint at Image, to tell if they have a house style, but Ghosted reads just like a supernatural take on Thief of Thieves. In Joshua Williamson’s new series, a rich man busts a highly skilled criminal out of prison because he wants him to steal a ghost from a particularly creepy haunted mansion that is going to be demolished soon. Our protagonist goes about assembling his team, and things feel kind of familiar. Interior artist Goran Sudzuka opts for a style that brings to mind cover artist Sean Phillips’s work. It’s a very good comic, with a nice little twist at the end. I’m not sure how long this is supposed to run for, but I imagine I’ll be back for the second issue.
Great Pacific #8 – Things are getting a little stranger in this title, as Chas has to deal with being shot, and with vague threats from the Little Chief. I really can’t tell where Joe Harris is going with this series, but I am enjoying it.
Hawkeye #12 – Francesco Francavilla shows up to draw the book again, as we get an issue that focuses on Trickshot, Hawkeye’s brother. The last anyone saw Barney Barton, he was in the Dark Avengers (which i stopped reading), but I guess it didn’t work out so well for him, as he’s now living on the streets, and letting the Russian tracksuit mafia pay him to beat him up. There’s a very cool scene that was in the last issue – the pizza dog one – but which is much better explained here. It’s becoming more and more clear that Matt Fraction is structuring this book like he did Casanova, although not as insanely, and that he’s working through a very specific master plan, despite how random the book might feel at times.
Helheim #5 – This was a real quick read this month as Rikard finishes his battle with the with Groa, leaving him with only one witch to fight. Joëlle Jones’s art is lovely, but there’s not enough going on in this series, especially when compared to Cullen Bunn’s other Oni book, The Sixth Gun, to sustain this comic for long. I can feel my attention beginning to wane.
Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm #11 – All of the tension in Ape City boils over in this action-packed issue, as the chimps push back, arranging a coup against Dr. Zaius. I’ve been continually impressed by how well Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko have plotted this series, and am looking forward to its conclusion next month.
Secret Avengers #6 – I’m kind of surprised by the freedom it looks like Nick Spencer has been given in constructing his story in this series. This issue takes place before the events of the last one (kind of like reading Morning Glories), and has Mockingbird infiltrating AIM Island, while James Rhodes gets friendly with the squadron of Iron Patriots that are flying around causing trouble. The real story is the plot to remove Daisy Johnson as Director of SHIELD though, and it’s pretty interesting. Butch Guice draws this issue, and he’s the perfect artist for this series.
Star Wars #7 – As if Brian Wood’s Star Wars wasn’t already good enough, now Ryan Kelly is drawing it! It’s hard to imagine that the team behind the absolutely brilliant series Local would be as effective creating a Star Wars comic, but the proof was just in my hand. There was nothing wrong with Carlos D’Anda’s art on the first arc, but Kelly is a much stronger character artist, and Wood has made this series as much about the growth of the characters as it is science fiction swashbuckling. In this issue, Luke and Wedge hatch a plan to discover who the traitor in the Rebel fleet is by infiltrating the Imperial Star Destroyer, while Darth Vader puts his own plan in motion to regain his former command. There’s a lot more Han Solo in this issue than the last few as well, which is welcome. This series makes the life-long Star Wars fan in me very happy.
Storm Dogs #6 – I have absolutely loved Storm Dogs. I’ve mentioned before that there is a real dearth of intelligent science fiction in popular culture these days, but this series has satisfied that need on a number of levels. In this issue, David Hine and Doug Braithwaite really up their game, revealing a few surprises, including the motivations of one of the main characters of the book. This series could be described as Avatar done properly, but there is a lot more going on than that movie ever could have hoped for. This issue finishes the first mini-series, but it also promises a second season coming at some point; hopefully the creators will get more lead time so that the book is not plagued with delays. Still, I’m eagerly waiting more. When this comes out in trade, you should really check it out – great characterizations, an interesting vision of the future, and lots of cool anthropology.
Suicide Squad #22 – When it was announced that Ales Kot would be coming on as the writer of Suicide Squad with issue 20, I was intrigued, but reluctant to add the book to my pull-file, because DC has quite the track record lately of announcing writers and then firing them or having them quit in their first two issues. By the time issue 20 came out, it looked like Kot was staying with the title, so I bought it and enjoyed it. I have since added Suicide Squad to the ever-dwindling DC section of my pull-file list. Then we found out that Kot is gone after the next issue. Dan Didio claimed this was “always part of the plan”. I just wonder why DC would make a fuss about landing an up and coming writer like Kot, and never tell people that they only planned on keeping him for four issues. Because, and this is the big problem here, Kot’s Suicide Squad is actually really very good. This issue takes a slightly non-linear approach to a Squad mission that involves mind-controlling billboards in Las Vegas, and a giant creature made of the bodies of suicides. The book is strangely funny, exciting, and beautifully laid-out and drawn by Patrick Zircher. I guess the trick is to not get too attached to anything at DC these days; just because a book is critically acclaimed and increasing in sales does not mean that it’s safe from some wrong-headed editorial meddling and summary dismissal. DC still believes that their characters are what draws in customers, and that creators don’t matter. Like, perhaps, people are reading this book because they are huge King Shark fans, and would continue to read it if it were written by Chuck Austen and drawn by Rob Liefeld…
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys #2 – This is a pretty complicated series, as Gerard Way and Shaun Simon have tossed us into the middle of a complex society structured around control of citizen’s environments, and the rationing of batteries to robotic sex slaves. In the desert, the new Killjoys are recovering from the attack of the first issue. Way and Simon are throwing a lot of characters at us, but the book is very compelling, especially with Becky Cloonan’s wonderful artwork. I’m still figuring a lot of things out, but I love reading this.
Ultimate Comics Ultimates #27 – It’s become pretty apparent that the Ultimate line is being shut down or majorly overhauled soon, and it really feels like the powers that be just told Joshua Hale Fialkov to come on this book and kind of wreck everything. I can’t really explain much of what is happening in this title right now, except to say that Reed Richards is still crazy, and Tony Stark’s talking brain tumor is actually something else. I’ll ride out the end of this arc, but I think I’m not going to bother with Hunger and whatever comes after it. It all feels kind of pointless now.
Uncanny X-Men #8 – Chris Bachalo is back to drawing Uncanny X-Men, so things look really great, but I don’t know if the fantastic art is enough to paper over the thinness of Brian Michael Bendis’s writing. I know he has to draw things out a bit before the next cross-over begins, but I’m getting a little tired of seeing Cyclops’s team standing around talking about themselves and their broken powers or their lack of training. The new characters could be interesting, but every single one of them seems like a minor variation on the standard, snarky, Bendis character.
The Walking Dead #112 – Looking back over the ten years or so that The Walking Dead has been published, it really is a wonder that Rick has managed to stay alive for so long. He really can fly off the handle at times, and when he returns to the Community to discover that Negan has killed one of his people, it’s one of those times. Things don’t go well. Nobody is better than Robert Kirkman at building up such a crazy level of tension in a single issue, and then leaving the reader hanging for a month. This is great, great comic.
X-O Manowar #15 – Aric has brought his people back from their enslavement to an alien race, and decides to lay claim to a good-sized chunk of Romania for them to live in. This is a bit of a problem, but it is Gilad, the Eternal Warrior, an old friend, who comes to address the problem. This is a pretty solid issue, with nice art by Lee Garbett. The premise is a little silly, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
Young Avengers #7 – I’m not sure which series I love more – Hawkeye or Young Avengers (even though their depictions of Kate Bishop don’t match, perhaps she is the secret to great comics in the Marvel Universe). This issue has wannabe Skrulls, Nina Simone references, heart-to-heart chats, Instagram-fuelled exposition, and big breakfasts. Kieron Gillen’s writing couldn’t be smoother, and Jamie McKelvie’s art is phenomenal. This is such a fun, well-designed comic. Prodigy gets in touch with the team, and they go after Speed.
Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4:
‘68: Jungle Jim #4
Astonishing X-Men #64
Astro City #2
Indestructible Hulk #10
Rachel Rising #18
Six-Gun Gorilla #2
Superior Spider-Man #13
Avengers Assemble #10-13 – Avengers Assemble is the Avengers equivalent to Astonishing X-Men – it doesn’t fit into the plans of the more central Avengers books, nor does it have its own unique mandate, like Avengers Arena or Uncanny X-Force. It’s just sort of there to round out the line, I guess, as Marvel tries to squeeze every last $4 out of the franchise (hence Avengers AI and Mighty Avengers). The comics are not bad – Kelly Sue DeConnick is using her book’s lower profile to give more space to strong female characters like Captain Marvel, Spider-Woman, and the Black Widow, and that’s a good thing. The stories are pretty inconsistent though – the first one is all light-hearted fun, while the second is more serious. The lack of a consistent artist also makes this series feel like a string of fill-ins.
Avenging Spider-Man #20 – Chris Yost really takes his time getting this issue going, but once he does, things work pretty well, as Spidey-Ock infiltrates a SHIELD Helicarrier in a scheme to free the Chameleon, only to find that Black Widow and Hawkeye are there, and that a group of Russians are coming for the same guy. There are a lot of parts in play, but Yost writes a good Spidey-Ock, so it works.
Captain America #7 – I like the “Captain America as a father” approach Rick Remender has taken to his run with the character. It gives Cap a different angle, and makes him a little more interesting, especially with Ian having been abducted by Arnim Zola. The problem with this run continues to be John Romita JR’s god-awful artwork. Cap’s shield is never at a consistent size – sometimes it’s smaller than his forearm. I used to love Romita’s art, but his work here is really hurting this title.
Iron Man #9 – This was easily the most enjoyable issue of Iron Man I’ve read so far (in the Marvel NOW! era), and there are ___ reasons for this: 1) Kieron Gillen writes a perfect Death’s Head, as we learned in his criminally short-lived SWORD; 2) Gillen also does a good job of playing Tony Stark’s character against others who don’t always see things the same way he does; and 3) Greg Land’s art is only on the cover. Instead, the super-talented Dale Eaglesham draws this issue, and it looks great. With the news that Land has moved on to Mighty Avengers, I might actually start buying this series when it first comes out. I’m not sure how much I like the idea of Gillen retconning more stuff with Howard Stark though (this is the same guy we saw in Jonathan Hickman’s SHIELD, right?).
Minimum Carnage (Minimum Carnage Alpha & Omega, Scarlet Spider #10&11, Venom #26&27) – Had I known that the Minimum Carnage crossover included the Micronauts (now called the Enigma Force, of course), I would have bought it off the stands. This is the first time I’ve ever read a comic with Carnage in it (I think), and the character is really pretty annoying. He gets taken to the Microverse to destroy the universe or something, and Venom and Scarlet Spider give chase. This crossover has some nice Declan Shalvey art, and does a good job of keeping itself contained and complete. It’s not bad for that kind of thing, and it’s always a thrill to see Arcturus Rann, Princess Mari, and Bug again.
Savage Wolverine #6 – I wonder if this story arc was originally going to be the second arc of Avenging Spider-Man, seeing as it’s by Zeb Wells and Joe Madureira, who were going to be the on-going creative team of that book, and as it features Peter Parker as Spider-Man (with no hint of Dr. Octopus in his head), and is concerned with the dead body of Bullseye (see recent issues of Daredevil to see why that doesn’t jibe). Anyway, it’s kind of a fun comic, although Madureira’s art doesn’t lend itself to a lot of multi-panel pages.
Thor God of Thunder #7-9 – Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s epic story about three Thors and Gorr the Godkiller works much better in chunks like this than it would as individual issues. There are some pretty major fight scenes in these comics, and I’m enjoying it much more than I usually would a Thor comic.
Über #0 – As much as I like Kieron Gillen’s writing, I’d decided to pass on his new series at Avatar, mostly because I’d gotten a little tired of how that company’s comics all come out looking the same. Gillen’s taken an odd approach to this zero issue for a series about a German superhuman project that appears to have kicked into gear in the waning days of the second world war. The story is told rather kaleidoscopically, showing us a number of characters who are in and around Berlin as the Russians and Germans advance, and then eventually introducing the superhuman element. It was a little hard to keep some of the characters straight, but it was also very effective at drawing me into the story. I may have to rethink my approach to this title.
The Week in Graphic Novels:
by Gerry Alanguilan
I’ve wanted to read Elmer for a while now, although I have to say that I wasn’t expecting to love the book quite as much as I did. This is one fantastic graphic novel, mixing allegory, social commentary, and humour with a gripping, emotional read and fantastic art. I cannot believe that this book is not discussed ore as an example of the type of story that can only be told effectively through comics.
In Gerry Alanguilan’s fictional world, something happened in 1979 that caused all the chickens in the world to spontaneously evolve to human levels of cognition, speech, and ability. After a few very difficult months during which violence was the most common human response to this change, chickens were declared ‘human beings’, entitled to the same basic rights and freedoms as everyone else. It’s a crazy idea, but it does allow for a pretty interesting story.
Elmer is centred on Jake Gallo, an angry young chicken who has been having trouble finding himself decent work. He returns to his family’s home when he learns that his father, Elmer, has had a stroke, and after his father’s death, spends most of the book exploring his father’s journal from the time of his ‘awakening’. The first generation of self-aware chickens suffered a great deal, but Elmer was not one to let his problems stop him. His close friendship with Farmer Ben, the man who saved him many times over, and his ability to write eloquently for a local newspaper gave his life purpose.
Learning about the challenges his parents faced has a profound affect on Jake, and Alanguilan shows that beautifully. It’s rare to see characters so well developed in such a small amount of space, and to see how profoundly the events of a book can change them. Alanguilan has really thought out how this change would affect society, from the impact on the poultry industry to the way in which people would react to mixed marriages.
Alanguilan is best known for inking comics artists like Whilce Portacio and Leinil Francis Yu, but he shows here a draftsmanship and attention to detail that eclipses these superstars. His chickens are incredibly human in their facial expressions, while still being very chicken-like – it’s not an easy trick to pull off.
One thing I really liked about this book was how clear it was that the comic was not set in North America (Alanguilan is from the Philippines), while remaining universal in its storytelling. I cannot recommend this book enough – it’s an incredible read, and would be perfect for anyone who enjoys Chew (I’d love to see Elmer sit down for a chat with Poyo one day). Actually, I think this should be required reading for any true comics fan.
by Salgood Sam (with John O’Brien and A. J. Duric)
Salgood Sam is one of those comics creators that I feel we should see a lot more from. He first caught my eye on the excellent Sea of Red vampire series, and his graphic novel with Jim Munro, Therefore, Repent! is a favourite of mine.
Revolver is an anthology of shorter comics by Sam, which are very introspective and powerful. At the heart of the book is “The Rise and Fall of it All pt. 1”, a story about a man who was downsized during the recent economic turmoil, and unable to pull things back together in his life. This is a very poetic story, matched beautifully with Sam’s expansive page layouts.
‘Pin City’ is an interesting bit about a very special city in the sky, and the way in which a man has to go about making a life for himself within it.
Some of the other stories are comics based on dreams, or the usual sort of short ephemera of sketchbooks. Sam is a very interesting artist, and one worth keeping an eye on.
Album of the Week:
Thundercat – Apocalypse
– If this is what the Apocalypse is going to sound like, then I’m okay with it happening. Thundercat returns with his second album, executive produced by his label mate Flying Lotus, and it is a very lovely affair. There are a lot more vocals than there were on the first record, and that works well here with the laid-back tone of the album. The music is less spacey, and a little more focused on telling a story. This is a very good, very mellow collection of music.
Tags: Ales Kot, America's Got Powers, Avatar Press, Avengers Arena, Avengers Assemble, Avenging Spider-Man, Batman, Becky Cloonan, Boom, Brian Michael Bendis, Brian Wood, bryan hitch, Butch Guice, Captain America, Chew, Chris Bachalo, chris yost, Corinna Bechko, Cullen Bunn, Dale Eaglesham, Daredevil, Dark Horse, David Hine, DC, Declan Shalvey, Demon Knights, Doug Braithwaite, East of West, Ed Brisson, Esad Ribic, Fearless Defenders, First Second, francesco francavilla, Gabriel Hardman, Gerard Way, Ghosted, Goran Sudzuku, Great Pacific, Hawkeye, Helheim, Image, Iron Man, jamie mckelvie, Jason Aaron, Joe Harris, Joe Madureira, Joelle Jones, John Layman, john romita jr, Johnnie Christmas, Jonathan Hickman, Jonathan Ross, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Joshua Williamson, Kelly Sue DeConnick, kieron gillen, Lee Garbett, Mark Waid, Marvel, Marvel NOW! (All-New Marvel Now!), matt fraction, New 52 (DC Comics), nick dragotta, Nick Spencer, Oni Press, Patrick Zircher, Paul Pope, Planet of the Apes Cataclysm, Rick Remender, Rob Guillory, Robert Kirkman, Robert Venditti, Ryan Kelly, Savage Wolverine, Scarlet Spider, Scott Snyder, Sean Phillips, Secret Avengers, Sheltered, Slave Labor, Star Wars, Storm Dogs, Suicide Squad, True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, Ultimate Comics Ultimates, Uncanny X-Men, Valiant, Venom, Walking Dead, X-O Manowar, young avengers, Zeb Wells, Zero Year