Best Comic of the Week:
The Walking Dead #167 – There have been a few times over the last one hundred sixty-seven issues of this series where Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard have stopped me cold while reading with suspense or shock, or where they have brought me to the verge of tears as they’ve killed off beloved characters. This issue is going to be remembered as one of the five best whenever this series finally comes to its end. A very important character (I’m going to do my best to avoid spoilers, although I’m sure it’s not hard to figure out from the cover) has been bitten, and returns to Alexandria to die. Almost every surviving character in this book comes by to pay their respects, and the final conversations with loved ones are very effective. Beyond all that, Charlie Adlard absolutely blows me away with his work in this issue. Robert Kirkman wisely leaves most of the pages in this double-sized issue silent, and just gets out of Adlard’s way. He conveys so much emotion in the facial expressions he draws, and even his placement of things like rays of sunlight speak volumes. This is a truly beautiful issue, from the unspoken emotion on the first page through to Kirkman’s letter of apology at the end.
Batman #22 – I’m glad I stuck with The Button, as this was a pretty exciting issue. Batman and Flash have ended up in the Flashpoint world, which means that Bruce gets a chance to meet his father, although while the Batcave is under attack by Themyscirans and Atlanteans. This issue balances action and character well, even if there is a lot that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, but has me wondering how all of this can get wrapped up in the next issue of Flash.
Deathstroke #18 – Christopher Priest does what he does best with this issue, as he ties many threads together, going back to the very beginning of this run, in a comic that includes a big Wilson family reunion, as Jericho tries to kill his father, who he believes killed his fiancee on their wedding day. Of course, Slade had been sleeping with her, and we learn who she had really been working for. This is a big complicated puzzle of a series, and I love every page of it. I thought that Priest would wrap up every last plotline before heading into the crossover with the Titans (Teen and otherwise) for the rest of this month, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I hope the event doesn’t detract from how brilliant this comic is.
The Dregs #3 – This excellent Black Mask series keeps getting denser as Arnold believes he is getting closer to the truth behind the disappearance of homeless people in Vancouver’s worst neighbourhood. His Listo-fueled delusions seem to be getting worse and worse, but at the same time, we know that they are cutting people up and feeding them to the rich at a trendy restaurant. This series, written by Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler, has impressed me, but they are really going to have to pull a lot off in the last issue to keep me feeling that way. Regardless of what happens next, I know I’m going to enjoy Eric Zawadzki’s tight panel layout and detailed artwork. I feel like this series is really going to launch some careers.
Eternal Empire #1 – I loved Alex + Ada, the last series by Sarah Vaughn and Jonathan Luna, so I was excited to check out their new fantasy title. This issue doesn’t give away a lot. We meet a woman who is haam, part of a serf/slave caste that toils away feeding a growing empire. This woman receives visions, and one night decides to escape the farm where she is forced to labour. This story feels like it has a lot going on, even though we don’t know much about that yet. The woman’s character starts to show through, and as always, Luna’s clean artwork is gorgeous. I have high hopes for this book, and look forward to learning more.
Iron Fist #3 – Reading this, I couldn’t chase away a creeping feeling of disappointment with this book so far. I think that Ed Brisson is a gifted writer – his other (non-Marvel) work has never let me down, and Mike Perkins is an artistic legend. So why is this not clicking for me? I think that having Danny complete a series of kung fu trials against odd masters (one guy uses rats in his kung fu; another lacks arms) just feels like it’s been done too many times. There’s really nothing being done here that doesn’t feel like it was done better by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction in their run, and I find myself a little bored by what’s on offer here. I’m starting to wonder if I want to stick with this title. I think that I’ll read the first issue of the second arc, and if I’m not certain about this book by then, I’m going to be done. I wouldn’t give many writers this much of a leash…
Manifest Destiny #28 – The strange fog continues to force the expedition members to see things that aren’t there, and as they run around trying to kill each other in their madness, Clark and Sacagawea fight each other. It’s a good mid-arc issue; nothing too new happens, but it propels the story’s momentum nicely.
Outcast by Kirkman & Azaceta #27 – A few months have passed since the last issue, and Kyle has been training with his father, while his family got used to being together again. This issue goes further than any previous towards explaining just what has been possessing people, and why Kyle, his father, and his daughter, are able to hurt the possessed in their way. There’s also something strange going on with Reverend Anderson, who is living apart from the rest. As has always been the case, each issue of this title shows that Robert Kirkman has a definite plan for this book. Azaceta’s artwork continues to impress with each issue.
Paper Girls #14 – Yet again, Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang have given us a truly excellent issue of their excellent series. The girls meet the time traveller, and we learn a little more about who the three men that have been chasing them around prehistory. Really, there are just a ton of questions that need to be answered at this point, but these characters are so likeable, and the book is so pretty, that I don’t mind if it takes a few more years before we get there.
Planetoid: Praxis #4 – Ken Garing is a terrific artist/writer. This series takes a strong look at what happens when corporate interests conflict with the rights of people to live on the land they’ve always been living on. Despite the fact that this comic is set on a distant planetoid in the far future, much of this issue could also be read as being about Standing Rock or any other of the thousands of places where this same type of struggle is continuing today. Onica and her settlement continue to have problems with the corporation that has recently bought their solar system, while her son discovers something of the planetoid’s indigenous inhabitants while out exploring the Slab. This is a densely packed and rewarding book, and I’m feeling a little upset about how there are only two issues left.
Poe Dameron #14 – When this title started, I had hopes that it would help flesh out the Force Awakens era of Star Wars, having found that movie to be highly lacking in detail and explanation. For a while, I was disappointed in how little the book did, but that started to change at the beginning of the last arc. This issue, with guest art by Angel Unqueta is the first that really tries to dig into Poe’s character, and his relationship to Leia Organa. I do think we need to pause to talk about just how well Unzueta portrays Carrie Fisher in this issue, and how poignant and sad her remarks at a pilot’s funeral are. I’m glad I decided to keep going with this title (which wouldn’t have happened had Marvel not brought the digital codes back), and trust that Charles Soule is going to continue to build on what he’s done so far.
Secret Empire #1 – I’m going to hand it to Nick Spencer, he’s taken what feels on the surface like a pretty ridiculous concept, more What If? than big event, and made it work. This issue takes place a few months after the zero issue, and Hydra has consolidated its hold on America. They have rewritten the textbooks, control the media, and have managed to construct a dictatorship that is one part Ancient Rome (complete with triumphs!) and two parts Steve Bannon’s wet dream. The resistance, run by Hawkeye and Black Widow, is struggling to hold on, and things look like they’re about to get worse. Cap himself is portrayed as more complicated than he has been in his own title lately. He’s proud of the improvements in health and education that Hydra has managed to gain, and is still protective of the average person. He’s hurt by Rick Jones’s continued incarceration (and expected execution), and by the continued coldness he receives from Sharon Carter. Spencer takes jabs at Republicans, but also constructs a good old-fashioned Marvel event here. Most surprisingly, I wasn’t bored by Steve McNiven’s artwork. I like that Rayshaun, a character who has been showing up in Sam Wilson’s title lately, is given some prominence here. I’m curious to see where this leads, and am thankful that Marvel brought back their digital code program, which is the only reason I bought this comic, instead of waiting a few months to get it in a sale.
Spider-Man #16 – This is a pretty decent placeholder issue of this title, as Bendis has Miles chat with his mom for the first time since she learned his secrets, and later has Miles take out his frustrations on a bar full of bikers who try to help a purse snatcher. The art for this issue is by Oscar Bazaldua, who is new to me. He does a very good job of keeping this book in the same zone David Marquez established for it, and draws Miles very well.
The Woods #32 – This is a very action-packed and big issue, as Karen fights the leader of the Japanese Horde, and her friends confront Isaac, as he is now that the planet has changed him. This issue doesn’t check in on Sanami, who has made it back to Earth, but that’s fine, as there is a lot to digest here. This continues to be a very impressive series.
Free Comic Book Day
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy/Defenders – I guess the Guardians story is decent if you are more fond of the film portrayal of the team than anything else. Aaron Kuder’s art is very nice. The Defenders story helped remind me of why I’m done with Brian Michael Bendis team books, especially when and if they owe way too much to the Netflix versions of characters with long histories at Marvel. The story just did not interest me.
Avatar/Briggs Land – Personally, I do not feel like the world needs any more Avatar in it (of the non-airbending variety I mean), but I did like the Briggs Land short by Brian Wood and Werner Dell’Edera. I just don’t think anyone who hasn’t been reading Briggs Land would understand much of what’s going on in it.
The Ballad of Franklin Bonisteel – I think that this offering from Z2 might be my favourite FCBD book this year. It’s a Hollywood noir-ish story about a guy who feels like he was ripped off by his former drug dealer, who, singing one of his songs, has become the biggest new star in the music industry. The guy drags the narrator, and a few other colourful characters, around LA all night long looking for this guy. It’s a very well-balanced story, written by Gabe Soria and drawn by Warren Pleece. At the end of the book is a few pages of a colour story called Murder Ballads, which might be related to this story. It’s hard to tell, and I don’t know if Murder Ballads is a regular title from them or not – the kind of thing a free promotional comic should probably be able to tell us, for it to be truly successful.
Catalyst Prime: The Event – I’ve noticed that Lion Forge is attempting to launch a new shared universe, which seems like a very 90s thing to do at a time when I’m not sure the market can support it. If it’s all as good as this comic, which launches the line, then I do have some hope for it, and feel like I need to go check out Noble, the first title, which has already begun. The issue, co-written by Priest and Joseph Phillip Illidge, introduces a few different characters and begins confusingly, before centring on a mission to stop an asteroid from hitting Earth, which isn’t a complete success. There’s a twist at the end that really caught my attention, and makes me want to read more. This was a very successful use of an FCBD comic.
Captain Canuck Year One – This suffers from the same problem I always find with the Captain Canuck comics I’ve read so far – the plot is a little complicated, and the story very wordy. Marcus To is a solid comics artist, but I was having trouble keeping some of the characters straight.
Drawn & Quarterly Presents: Hostage/Poppies of Iraq – The excerpt from Guy Delisle’s new book Hostage definitely got my interest. He portrays a couple of days in the life of a man handcuffed to a radiator. This scene provides no context or background, yet is immediately arresting in its portrayal. The snippets from Poppies of Iraq, a new graphic novel by Brigitte Findakly’s memoir, drawn by Lewis Trondheim, are cute, but lack much depth. The lettering of these pages, which put weird gaps behind almost every ‘w’ makes it hard to read.
Secret Empire/Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man – The Secret Empire story, beautifully drawn by Andrea Sorrentino, helps show what happened between issues 0 and 1 of that event, and really probably won’t do much to draw in new readers. The last page is pretty questionable too. The Spidey story, set to preview the upcoming series by Chip Zdarsky and Adam Kubert, is cute, but a little too standard Spidey for my liking. I did enjoy the arrival of the new Trapster though.
World’s Greatest Cartoonists – Fantagraphics have put together the largest of the FCBD books, gathering a number of unpublished shorts or deleted scenes from most of their recent and upcoming catalogue, including Ed Piskor and Noah Van Sciver. It’s good, but I don’t always enjoy Fantagraphics line.
X-O Manowar – Valiant provides us with stories leading into X-O Manowar, which has already started, and Bloodshot: Salvation, which hasn’t. Both are decent stories designed to get us interested, and I feel like they work. I also just think it’s cool when a comic is by both Matt Kindt and Jeff Lemire.
Comics I Would Have Bought if Comics Weren’t So Expensive:
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy #1
Baltimore: The Red Kingdom #4
Black Bolt #1
Green Arrow #22
Jean Grey #1
Jessica Jones #8
Predator Hunters #1
Rise of the Black Flame TP
Savage Things #3
War Stories #23
X-Men Gold #3
Civil War II: Choosing Sides #3-6 – I do like anthology series, when they give impressive artists a chance to shine. That said, I only picked these up for Declan Shalvey’s cool-looking Nick Fury story; some of the other stories are good too, but too many suffer from a lack of meaning. As a Canadian, it’s cool to see our Prime Minister show up in #5, but I don’t believe that he and Tony Stark are old boxing buddies.
Invincible Iron Man #3&4 – I’m liking this setup with Riri and the Tony Stark AI more and more, although I’m not sure why Bendis keeps pushing this Tomoe character. I feel like there’s not a lot of direction to this title, but it is fun to read.
Star-Lord #1-3 – I’m not sure why Marvel keeps pushing these Guardians of the Galaxy solo titles out there, but getting Chip Zdarsky to write the adventures of the newly less-serious Peter Quill, and to give him a job at the Bar With No Name, and to have him hanging out with a crotchety elderly guy, is all pretty unexpected. Kris Anka’s art is incredibly nice, and the book has a good feel to it. Too bad it’s already been canceled…
The Week in Graphic Novels:
Dynamo 5 Vol. 1: Post-Nuclear Family – I’ve been on a bit of a Jay Faerber kick lately, reading his older Image series, like Noble Causes. Dynamo 5 is a cool concept – a Superman like character has been spreading his seed around, and after his death, his widow tracks down his illegitimate children and exposes them to the radiation that gave him his powers. She begins to mold the five young adults into a superhero team, and the results are pretty interesting. Things are a lot less soap opera than NC was, but Faerber’s strong ear for character development sounds out throughout. Mahmud Asrar’s early art is pretty nice, and this volume has me looking forward to reading the other four in the series, which I already own.
by Jeff Lemire
I’ve been a fan of Jeff Lemire’s work since I first read his Essex County trilogy, and I really feel like he’s returned to his roots, only as a better cartoonist, with Roughneck, his latest project.
Set in the town of Pimitamon (which means ‘crossroad’ in Cree), a fictional community in Northern Ontario, Roughneck digs into one man’s relationship to his family, childhood, and the source of his anger.
Derek Ouelette played professional hockey for a short time before being kicked out of his league and returning home, where he seems to split his time between working at the same diner where his mother used to work and getting into drunken bar fights with tourists who recognize him. Derek’s world is pretty small – he is friends with the local ranking OPP officer, Ray, and that has kept him out of jail for a while now, and with Al, an older man who lets him live in the janitorial room at the local hockey arena.
Derek’s sister, Becky, who he hasn’t seen since he originally left town, shows up one day with a black eye, a drug habit, and some other surprises. This book is, from that point, about the re-establishment of a fractured family. His story brings in elements familiar to Northern Canadian communities – alcoholism, domestic abuse, opioid addiction, the legacy of the residential school system, and disconnection with traditional ways of living. At the same time, it also weaves in the importance of connecting with the land, and the strength of familial bonds.
This is a very mature work from Lemire, who I imagine, got the idea while visiting Northern communities in preparation for his (short-lived) run on Justice League United at DC, which featured DC’s first Cree superhero. There is a definite understanding of these communities evident here, but also a strong sense of character that propels the story.
Artistically, this is definitely one of the best things that Lemire has ever done. His pages and panels are expansive and broad, and he allows the landscape, and the characters’ relationship to it, to tell much of the story. There are a few pages that are quite touching, such as when Al takes Derek hunting for moose, and his use of colour, which is limited to a blue wash with red highlights unless the scene is a flashback, adds much to the comic.
I’m not really sure how I feel about the end of the book, but I also can’t say much about that without spoiling the story. I just feel like it might not have been fully justified, although I did enter Derek’s confrontation with Becky’s ex with trepidation.
While Lemire has received a lot of attention lately for his Secret Path project with Gord Downie, this is by far the stronger graphic novel, and will likely turn up on many best-of lists at the end of the year.
Tags: The Weekly Round-Up