Inside Pulse 12

The Weekly Round-Up #320 With Imperium #12, American Monster #1, Carver: A Paris Story #2, Devolution #1, Star Wars #15 & More

If you read the online comics press much (and, since you’re here, I presume you do), you hear a lot of predictions about the declining sales at the Big Two, and how it will lead to a lot of problems for the comics industry.  This week, I bought comics from ten different publishers!  While the Big Two may be waning some, I think that we’ve reached a point where there is so much good product coming out of various companies that Marvel and DC are losing relevance as the backbone of the industry.  I hope that more and more people are taking the time to check out what other publishers are doing.

Best Comic of the Week:

Imperium #12The end of the Vine Imperative arc has a few surprises.  We get to know the complete history of Lord Vine-99, and how he was programmed by the Vine Planting Liberation Army.  The thing I’ve liked best about these last two issues is that Toyo Harada has barely been in them, allowing for other characters to get more of the spotlight than is usually the case.  As always, Joshua Dysart’s vision and approach for this series impresses me.  It’s really not like any other comic on the stands right now, and is the glue that binds the various elements of the Valiant Universe together (except for maybe the Anni-Padda brothers, but I’m okay with that).

Quick Takes:

American Monster #1 – A lot of the offerings from Aftershock Comics have looked interesting, but it took the combination of Brian Azzarello and Juan Doe to get me to commit to preordering one.  Azzarello is good at writing mean comics, and this first issue has that in spades.  A man abducts a middle-aged married couple, and puts them in a situation where one has to kill the other.  Another man, a veteran who is basically one large scab, draws a lot of attention to himself when he shows up in a small town.  A young woman flashes her breasts for a man on a seesaw in a park for money.  This issue mostly just sets up the atmosphere for the series, without really giving us much of an idea of what the plot will be.  I’d be a lot happier with some more cohesiveness to the book, but trust Azzarello to give us a good story.  Also, it’s always very nice to see Doe doing interiors on a comic.

Astonishing Ant-Man #4I continue to get a lot of pleasure out of Nick Spencer’s Marvel work.  His Captain America is great, and his Ant-Man is a lot of fun.  Scott, after hooking up with The Beetle, heads to work for his ex-girlfriend as her security head, just in time for a low-rent failed sportscaster version of the Purple Man to take over a charity basketball game that his daughter is attending.  Spencer keeps things very entertaining, while still building towards a future where we know that Scott is going to end up in prison.  Good stuff.

Batgirl #47 – It’s strange that we are getting yet another story where Barbara doesn’t trust her memories, but I like the way Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher are writing this comic now.  It’s becoming a lot more compressed, which leads to a good amount of story in each issue.  Spoiler and Bluebird appear, as Barbara has to break into GCPD headquarters to find out if they are hacking into her data.  I’m glad I caught up on Batman this week, or I wouldn’t have understood a lot of the references in this issue.

Blood Feud #4 – Our three heroes have made it into their town, only to discover that the vampires have struck there as well.  They hole up in a church with their only surviving neighbours before heading out to cleanse the community during daylight.  Cullen Bunn is doing a great job with this compelling Southern horror flick of a story, and I like Drew Moss’s take on vampires.  This is going to be a great trade for people who aren’t reading the book in this format.

BPRD Hell on Earth #139The fight against the Black Flame reaches its conclusion this issue, which should be a really big deal, but somehow doesn’t feel like it.  Instead, more problems arise immediately, and Iosif makes what could be a big mistake.  I’m sad to see that John Arcudi is leaving this title soon, but I like that he and Mike Mignola are wrapping up most of their longest-running plotlines before he goes.

Captain Marvel #1 – I’ve never been all that excited about the last two Captain Marvel series, but this one features members of the classic Alpha Flight team, which is pretty exciting for me, a Canadian comics fan for whom John Byrne’s Alpha Flight comics are practically sacred texts.  I have no idea why Puck, Sasquatch, and Aurora (whose first name gets spelled wrong) are in space, working for what is basically SWORD.  I also don’t know why Carol is making such a big deal about having to go live on a space station for two years, when she’s already appearing in two other team books (Ultimates and A-Force) and is able to get back to Earth in a matter of minutes.  Anyway, I usually like any comic that makes good use of Abigail Brand, and I did enjoy the light humour of this series.  The revelation at the end of the issue does almost nothing to get me excited about the first story arc, but Kris Anka’s art is so nice that it becomes the deciding factor; I’m probably going to be back for the next issue, where I hope a few more things get explained.

Carver: A Paris Story #2I liked the first issue of Chris Hunt’s Carver, and decided to return for the second.  This issue does a better job of placing the story in a particular time period, as we start to learn that someone has been manipulating Carver since before he arrived in Paris, but we don’t yet know why.  We also get to see some of Carver’s experiences in the First World War, and see how they shaped him as a character.  This is a good title.

Crossed Plus One Hundred #13 – Simon Spurrier jumps the story forward five years, but then spends most of this issue making clear what all has been going on since the last momentous issue.  It slows things down some, and makes me wonder if the timeline really works.  Future is now working with the character that took over Murfreesboro, and they have been taking out the intelligent Crossed in their area, and freeing the various towns that were pledged to them.  I think that we should have seen some of that stuff, as we are left with a lot of questions, but also a new status quo that doesn’t seem quite as interesting as the one that fueled the last arc.  Still, I trust that Spurrier (and to some extent, Alan Moore) know what they’re doing here, so I’m sticking around.

Devolution #1I’m not usually a fan of Dynamite’s comics, but I do like a first issue written by Rick Remender, and I thought I’d check this new title out.  At some point in the future, humanity has caused most people and animals to devolve, an unexpected result of an attempt at biowarfare.  Raja thought she was the only unaffected person left in the world, although by the time the issue is over, she meets with a camp of rednecks who apparently aren’t devolved, although in a lot of ways, it’s hard to tell.  There is a quest element to this story – she believes she can find a cure if she makes it to one specific place, and there are elements of Crossed to this title as well (this is a more ‘mature readers only’ comic than I’ve come to expect from a Dynamite comic that isn’t Vampirella).  The artist, Jonathan Wayshak, has a bit of a Heavy Metal/Simon Bisley thing going on which is interesting, and I love the way Remender has Raja explain the world’s predicament as the result of mankind’s’ adherence to religion.  There’s a sequence at the end, involving some people on the Moon that didn’t make a lot of sense.  I’m not sure how someone in a sealed spacesuit can become infected with an Earth-borne virus.  That will need to be explained.  I do think I’ll be back for another issue though, so maybe I’ll find out what’s going on with those people.

Ms. Marvel #3I really like how so many of these new Marvel series are sticking to three-issue introductory arcs.  I hope this is a trend that continues, as shorter arcs feel like they deliver a lot more story than the padded six-issue tales of the last decade.  Anyway, this is a very good issue as Kamala, looking to stop Hydra and free Bruno from their mind control, has to go to his new girlfriend in her Ms. Marvel guise for help.  The supporting cast of this comic is what makes it so special, and I’m glad that G. Willow Wilson is focusing on that more now, as some of the previous series went too long without checking in with Kamala’s friends and family.

Nowhere Men #7 – The last issue of this comic came out in October of 2013, so I think a recap page might have been called for here.  I enjoyed Eric Stephenson’s ‘scientists as rock stars’ comic, but that was a while ago.  Things pick up more or less where I remember them being left – some people have contracted a disease that is giving them abilities, while the aging Beatles of science are dealing with all sorts of personal problems.  Dave Taylor is a good replacement for original artist Nate Bellegarde, and I like the way the series continues to incorporate multi-media approaches to help explain some of the history shared by the characters.  It’s hard to maintain enthusiasm over a two year hiatus, but maybe I should dig out the original issues and remind myself of all the details before the next one comes out…

Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #6The latest Phonogram series ends very well, with Emily Aster having her final confrontation with herself just as Michael Jackson dies.  I still think this arc was not as strong at The Singles Club, but I’ve enjoyed seeing Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie return to their collaborative roots.

Secret Six #10 – I have not enjoyed this strange arc that has involved the Six having to free some elder gods to save Black Alice from her powers or something.  It’s been a bit of a mess from start to finish, and adding Superman (who apparently has all of his powers back?) into the mess does little to help things along.  I’ve stopped preordering this book (for the second or third time) so that means Gail Simone has one issue to turn things around for me or I’m done.

Star Wars #15 – Another between-arcs journey into Obi-Wan Kenobi’s journals provides some insight into his life on Tatooine, and his relationship with Luke Skywalker’s Uncle Owen.  Mike Mayhew’s art is very nice, but I don’t like that this issue is not a done-in-one story, instead setting up a longer arc that will take a year or two to finish.  With so many Star Wars miniseries being released into the world, including one featuring a younger Obi-Wan right now, I’m not sure why this story needs to be spread out like this.  Also, I find it hard to believe that the Obi-Wan we see here will age to Alec Guinness’s age in the first film within eight years or so of story-time.

Tokyo Ghost #5Rick Remender really is not one to keep things static in his series.  Shortly after Debbie and Teddy have arrived in Tokyo, the whole place gets torn up as Davey takes over Teddy’s body (and more importantly, his mayhem-bringing motorcycle).  I didn’t really expect things to end the way they did.  Sean Murphy outdoes himself once again with some of the action scenes in this book.

Wolf #5 – I was never too sure about Wolfe during its first arc, but now that the second one starts with a five-year time jump, and the inclusion of another character whose accent is managed in an incredibly annoying manner that makes it hard to read, I think I’m done.  Ales Kot had an interested updated Angel vibe going on (Joss Whedon’s Angel, not the X-Men’s), but with new artist Ricardo López Ortiz’s post-manga meets Sean Murphy art, and the fact that I don’t actually care about these characters, I’m jumping off (after the other issues I preordered come out).  I’d much rather see Kot continue working on Material than this title.

Wrath of the Eternal Warrior #3 – Gilad fights his way through Hell, on the road to returning to life.  This arc has been a little decompressed, but Raúl Allén’s art is so nice, I don’t mind at all.

Comics I Would Have Bought if Comics Weren’t So Expensive:

Amazing Forest #1

Batman #48

Batman and Robin Eternal #16

Crossed Badlands #92

Dark Horse Presents #18

Deadpool #6

Doctor Fate #8

Hercules #3

New Avengers #5

Pencil Head #1

Rachel Rising #39

Robin Son of Batman #8

Silver Surfer #1

Uncanny Inhumans #4

Uncanny X-Men #2

Bargain Comics:

Batman #39-47; Batman Annual #4It was time to get caught up on Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s work on DC’s strongest selling title.  I’ve not particularly liked this series, starting somewhere in the Court of Owls story, and by Death of the Family, I kind of hated it, but with every sale I attended, I kept picking up issues when I could get them for half price or so.  At that price, the jumpy inconsistencies of Snyder’s plotting, and the constant pauses of the main story for flashbacks or backups, aren’t as annoying as they are when you pay $4 a comic.  The idea of putting Jim Gordon in the suit is kind of interesting, but completely unbelievable, as is his easy subservience to his new corporate masters.  The amnesiac Bruce Wayne is very annoying, and I hate how Duke’s characterization here doesn’t fit with his appearances in We Are Robin, which is sort of his series.  The issue co-written by Brian Azzarello, and drawn by Jock, is very good, as it makes a nod to police brutality in American cities, before pulling away from that topic completely, and it’s always great to see Jock draw Batman.  Were he the regular artist on this book, I’d probably be buying it.  As this stuff stands, it’s a mess, but then I already knew that, so I’m not disappointed.  I would, however, love to read a good Batman comic again (Two footnotes to that: 1) I am reading a good Batman comic, but it’s published by Image and it’s called Sex; 2) A good Batman series only has the Joker appear every five years or so, not in every arc).

Gotham Academy #13I recently dropped this title due to its lack of forward movement, but this issue, which ties in with Robin War, and features a resurrected Talon, kind of made me wonder if that was the right decision.  This was pretty good.

Robin: Son of Batman #2-5 – I found the first issue of this title a little unclear in places, but Patrick Gleason has grown as a writer over these four issues, and has an interesting take on Damian, as he works to fix some of the deeds he was forced to do as part of his training at the hands of Ra’s al Ghul.  I like the new Nobody, the daughter of the assassin that Damian killed (if I remember correctly), who has become Robin’s Robin, if you will.  Great art, and the return of Talia makes this title work.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Graveyard Shift – Jay Faerber’s Copperhead is one of my favourite Image series, so I thought I should check out this slim trade paperback.  This is a vampire/cop/romance comic.  A group of vampires look for revenge on some police who have been investigating the disappearance of beautiful young women, and they end up turning our hero’s fiancée into one of their own.  This was a good read, and I liked Fran Bueno’s art, but this is not particularly memorable.

Blankets

by Craig Thompson

I can’t really explain why it’s taken me this long to readBlankets, especially since I read Thompson’s incredibleHabibi as soon as it came out, but I read a lot of comics, and there are a lot more that I’ve never read, so it happens when it happens.

Blankets is a beautiful, beautiful book.  It’s a very honest look at Thompson’s early days, living in a remote farmhouse in Wisconsin as a child, and it follows him through his first love in his final year of high school.  More significantly, it looks at his evolving ideas about religion, and how he eventually walks away from the harsh, unforgiving Christianity of his parents.

As a kid, Craig is an true outsider.  He’s artistic and sensitive, uninterested in sports, drinking, or drugs.  He does not easily fit into large groups, but also at home, is not all that interested in spending time with or getting to know his younger brother.  Craig is not mean or snobbish, he’s just pretty self-sufficient.

In high school, as he’s forced to attend yet another Christian camp during his winter break, he meets Raina, a girl from Michigan who is just about a perfect match for him.  They have a lovely (chaste) time together at camp, and then begin a relationship held through the mail.  Eventually, Craig is invited to stay at her house for two weeks (it says a lot about how trusting both kids’ parents are that they never even assume there could be problems with this), and we get to see their relationship grow.

I’m not sure to what degree Thompson chose to fictionalize some of these events, but what we get to see is one of the more touching coming of age stories I’ve ever read.  Craig is the type of kid who feels sad sitting next to the girl he’s in love with because he knows that soon he won’t be.  Raina, on the other hand, is dealing with a lot at home – her parents are divorcing, her sister keeps using her to babysit her baby, and her other two (adopted) siblings have intellectual disabilities of differing severity.  She’s looking for someone to make her feel less alone and overwhelmed, but is not exactly after the level of commitment that Craig is.

Woven through all of this is the austere Christianity that Craig’s been raised in.  He’s been taught forever about the rewards of heaven (which, to be honest, sounds pretty terrible, even if you like to sing), and has been singled out as a good candidate for seminary school from an early age.  He reads the Bible nightly, but, as we see, begins to question a lot more than word choice in the various translations.

This is a very good read.  Thompson’s art is lovely, and he plays with layout and design in interesting ways.  He is able to convey a great deal of emotion in pretty simple facial drawings, and makes great use of white space (the snow that blankets Craig’s life so often) to help focus the narrative.  I can easily understand why this is such an acclaimed graphic novel.

Saints

by Gene Luen Yang
I read Gene Luen Yang’sBoxers a little while ago, and felt it was time to dig into Saints, its companion graphic novel.  Where the other book looked at the Boxers Rebellion from the perspective of a young Chinese man who played a key role in that conflict, Saints is concerned with the experiences of one girl who converted to Christianity and lived in a small Christian community.

Four-Girl is born to a difficult life, shunned by her family, and convinced of her own inherent devilry.  At the age of eight, she goes around making a face at everyone she sees to convince them that she is a devil, something she’s been told by her family her whole life.  Her mother takes her to an acupuncturist, who introduces her to his Christianity.

Four-Girl, believing in her powers, places a hex on her aged grandfather, and then within days, he dies.  She feels guilt, and starts visiting the acupuncturist daily, mostly to eat cookies, avoid her chores, and nap through his stories, but the religion begins to stick.  When Four-Girl announces that she has converted, her family beats her, and she runs away, joining a French missionary as he moves to a new community.

She grows up there, taking on the name Vibiana.  Where before she imagined conversations with an old raccoon, as the story progresses, she begins having lengthy conversations with Joan of Arc, who often visits her in the evening and shares information about her life.  As Vibiana grows up, she becomes a little less religious, especially around the time that she starts to feel interest in Kong, a minor character from Boxers.

Vibiana sees herself as the new Joan of Arc, and as the person who is going to protect her community, as news arrives of the coming of the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist, the group that has been killing Christians and foreigners.

Yang’s work here is very nice.  He makes Vibiana a sympathetic character, while also making it completely okay to question her sanity and motivations.  I’ve personally always wondered about convert communities, and how ‘pure’ their faith must really be, or to what extent they are just looking to make substantive changes in their lifestyle, and their new religion becomes a means to that end.  Yang allows me to keep my cynicism with this book, as Vibiana really just looks out for herself.

I found it interesting that Yang kept the colours for this book pretty drab, while Boxers was brighter and more vibrant.  It’s not hard to imagine which side in the conflict between traditional and missionary cultures Yang feels more sympathy towards.  I particularly like his portrayal of Father Bey, the priest whose strict devotion and judgemental ways landed him in China in the first place, where he really didn’t trust even his closest followers.

This book, both on its own and with its companion title, belong as part of the larger conversation of post-colonial literature.

 

Tags: