Inside Pulse » Hell Yeah A pop culture mega-site with Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games coverage for diehards, including news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary. Thu, 30 Oct 2014 17:00:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A pop culture mega-site with Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games coverage for diehards, including news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary. Inside Pulse no A pop culture mega-site with Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games coverage for diehards, including news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary. Inside Pulse » Hell Yeah The Weekly Round-Up #144 Mon, 10 Sep 2012 15:00:39 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

Thief of Thieves #8

Written by Robert Kirkman and James Asmus
Art by Shawn Martinbrough
When you watch a heist movie, things usually end with the criminals having pulled off an amazing job, and riding off into the sunset with their ill-gotten gains.  We never see what happens next. What’s it like to wake up the morning after?  There would invariably be some loose ends of some kind or another that need to be addressed, some ruffled feathers that would need to be smoothed.

Basically, it looks like that is the premise of the second arc of Thief of Thieves.  When Robert Kirkman started writing The Walking Dead, he described it as what happens after the end of a zombie movie; I feel like Thief of Thieves is now doing the same thing for its own genre.

For this new arc, Kirkman is joined by James Asmus as ‘writer’ (I’m curious to know how much they collaborate – does Kirkman plot and Asmus script?  Does Kirkman just provide the rough idea, and Asmus the rest?), and we see what happens after Conrad pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes (you really should read the first trade, if you haven’t been reading the comics – it’s great).

Augustus, Conrad’s son, may be out of prison, but he now has to deal with the people whose heroin he lost.  Conrad has some pretty big obligations to pay off to Arno and his colleagues, plus, his ex-wife’s new boyfriend is getting under his skin.

What makes this book work (aside from Shawn Martinbrough’s excellent art) is the complexity of the characters, as developed by Kirkman and Nick Spencer in the first arc.  Conrad is a very interesting guy, and it’s nice to try to work through his thought process.

I was a little worried that this book may not continue moving forward as well as it did in the beginning, but I see I have nothing to worry about.

Other Notable Comics:

Mind the Gap #4

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Rodin Esquejo
I want to be very clear – I enjoy Mind the Gap a great deal, and appreciate what a unique comic it is.  I’m having some problems with it though.  It tells the story of Elle, a young woman who was attacked in a New York subway station, and is now lying in a coma in the hospital.

That doesn’t sound like a comic in which much would happen, but Jim McCann is taking Elle’s tragedy and weaving a dense and complex mystery around her – we don’t know who attacked her, but just about everyone we’ve met, from her family, her sort-of boyfriend, a psychiatrist who is now in a coma in the bed next to her’s, and possibly even the doctor treating her seem like likely suspects, or are perhaps complicit in what happened.  Working to figure things out (so far, independently) are Jo, Elle’s best friend, a doctor who works at the same hospital and has been warned away from her case, and Elle herself, who is spending her time in The Garden, a place she shares with her fellow coma victims.

My problem with the book is that it’s becoming a little too precious in it’s “Everyone’s a suspect!  Everything’s a clue!” self-boosterism.  I love and appreciate the various clues that McCann is leaving for us, but I don’t know that it’s so necessary for him to draw our attention to them.  Personally, I would prefer it if, at some moment when a revelation is made, that it’s left to me to figure out whether or not it had been foreshadowed.  Or, you know, the Internet could tell me later.  A good point of comparison would be Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Each page is filled with allusions, nods, and easter eggs, but Moore doesn’t fill half the book explaining them.  That’s left to people like Jess Nevins on-line, and that works for me.

It’s a minor quibble.  This book is very interesting, although I find my attention wandered this issue during the lengthy scene that takes place in The Garden (or in Elle’s mind).  I prefer reading about her friends, family, and the goings-on at the hospital.

Rodin Esquejo is turning in some very strong work with this book, although I have to wonder what’s going on with the art nouveau-homage covers lately – for a moment, I thought that my comic store had put a copy of last month’s Elephantmen in my pull-file.

Sweet Tooth #37

by Jeff Lemire

The pace of this comic keeps increasing as we get closer and closer to the series’s finale in a couple of months.

In this issue, Gus has to deal with the accusations made by Dr. Singh about his parentage and the connection between his birth and the coming of the plague that has wiped out most humans, and the emergence of the new race of animal/human hybrids.

Gus and his friends don’t have much time to let this information sink in though, as Abbot and his people are not far behind.  Abbot makes sure that Jeppard knows he’s coming, and the few adults left in this title set about making plans to hold them off.

The relationship between Gus and Jeppard has been one of the most interesting things about this title, and Lemire finally places Jeppard in a position to admit to the depth of his affection for the boy, adding emotional weight to the coming confrontation.

This is an excellent series, and it’s nice to just sit back and watch it get ready to end.

Quick Takes:

Animal Man #0 – As much as I’ve been enjoying the whole Rotworld thing that has been taking up this comic since it began, I’ve also felt that we haven’t seen enough of Buddy Baker just being Buddy Baker before he got wrapped up in all the craziness that Jeff Lemire has been throwing at him.  Buddy’s never been like other superheroes; his middle class lifestyle, animal activism, and close family ties have always made him a little different, at least during Grant Morrison’s legendary run with the character; finally we see that side of ‘New 52’ Buddy in this issue, which retells his origin rather faithfully to the original DCU character, but also ties it in nicely to Lemire’s relaunch.  Steve Pugh’s art is as awesome as it always is, and I reveled in the minor details – Ellen at her drawing board, Cliff’s Penalizer comics (including a cover I remember).  Reading this makes me look forward to Rotworld ending, and whatever will come next.  A great place for a new reader to jump on.

Archer & Armstrong #2 – This series continues to be the most fun of all the new Valiant titles.  In this issue, Archer confronts the truth about his upbringing, and receives a message that he is to throw in with Armstrong, who he has been raised to believe is the Anti-Christ, to thwart the greedy plans of the Sect.  There is lots of amusing dialogue, a death trap left by Michelangelo, and ninja nuns.  Great writing, and great art, abound.

Avengers Academy #36 – Most of the members of the team are recommitting themselves to their powers this issue, as they have to decide between remaining powerless and helping their friends.  Striker goes all Rachel Summers, and the book is much less wordy than the last issue.  I know this title is ending, but I’m not sure where these characters will be afterwards.  I am going to miss some of them, and hope that Christos Gage gets some sort of youth-oriented book in the Marvel Now! shake-up.

Creator-Owned Heroes #4 – The two comics stories that run in this series ended this month.  Steve Niles’s story finished up much as one would expect, and continued to be entertaining.  The one written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, and beautifully drawn by Phil Noto, however, took a complete turn into left-field, as the assassin clone that was trying to kill the President turns out to be doing the bidding of a group of highly intelligent, talking animals that used to play with POTUS when he was a boy, and are disappointed with his right-wing policies.  Seriously.  I think this might be the strangest ending I’ve ever read in a comic, and that’s saying a lot.  As seems to be the norm with this series, the ‘magazine content’ continues to feel like mindless filler and poorly-conceived DVD-extras.  I find myself skipping over most of it.  There is a six-page interview with Scott Morse; I would have preferred he provide a short story.  The only thing I read was Kevin Mellon’s description of his work habits.  I want to support this title, and creator-owned comics in general, but want more comic and less ‘I was raised reading Wizard’ “journalism”.

Dark Avengers #180 – After figuring out that the whole ‘Dark Avengers’ name change was just a marketing gimmick, and that this was really the same Thunderbolts comic that I’d been enjoying, I decided to put it back on my pull-list.  This issue might be enough to take it off though, as Jeff Parker tries to pull his various plot-lines together in a way that is ham-fisted and hard to follow.  The biggest problem with this comic though is Neil Edwards’s art.  I liked his work on Hercules, but here, taking over for Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey, his more straight-forward style looks terrible.  I wish Marvel had tried to find someone with a style at least a little bit consistent with what this book has looked like for the last couple of years, but I feel that their only concern is pumping out another issue as quickly as possible these days.  This issue is disappointing.

The Defenders #10 – I suppose the best way to read this comic is to give up trying to figure out just what the plot is, and instead accept it as the closest thing to Casanova that Matt Fraction’s going to be able to write in the Marvel Universe, and just roll with it.  Our heroes have ended up back on Earth, but a Death Celestial has killed almost everything, except for Ant-Man (the Scott Lang version), who tries to help them out, while the Silver Surfer goes to heaven or something.  With art by Jamie McKelvie, it is some beautiful nonsense at least.

Dial H #0 –
Now this is what I was hoping for from DC’s Zero Month.  We see nothing of Nelson, Manteau, or any of the usual cast of this title, as instead, China Miéville gives us a story of a different dialler – a woman named Laodice, who lived in Ancient Babylon and used a giant stone sundial to gain the powers of Bumper Carla, a warrior of the bumper car, to defend her people.  We get some hints as to how the dials work, and where the powers come from in this issue, which is guest-drawn by the wonderful Riccardo Burchielli, an artist I’ve missed a great deal since DMZ finished.  I don’t know how useful this issue is as a jumping-on point, but it is a good read.

Earth 2 #0 – 
In an early issue of this series, we met Earth 2’s Terry Sloan, but we haven’t seen him since.  He narrates this zero issue, returning to the time of the war against Darkseid’s forces, when Mr. 8 (because he’s not Mister Terrific on this Earth) chose to pursue his own approach to stopping Darkseid, one that forever alienated him from the other heroes.  Basically, Robinson is setting up Sloan as the main villain in this series, a sort of New 52 Per Degaton, with the ability to travel to other worlds and predict the future.  This is a decent enough issue; the most interesting thing in it is the reference to another, eighth superhero whose identity is being kept secret.

Hawkeye #2 –
Most of the Marvel books I bought this week were written by Matt Fraction.  That guy is busy.  This issue of Hawkeye, which features Kate Bishop (the Young Avengers Hawkeye) and the Ringmaster works much better than the first issue.  David Aja’s art and use of layout is stunning, and Fraction’s depiction of Clint is much more on-character.  So long as this book looks this good, I’m sticking around.

Hell Yeah #5 – I wasn’t going to stick with this title after the last issue, but decided to finish off the first arc at least.  Joe Keatinge’s writing on this book has been all over the place – I’ve never been too sure of what’s going on exactly, although by the end of this issue, it seems he’s set up Ben Day with a clear purpose; I’m just not sure it should have taken five issues and infinite worlds to get there.

Invincible Iron Man #524 –
After months of laying groundwork, Matt Fraction is finally moving into pay-off mode, as Stark Resilient figure out where Tony Stark is, just as Stark is ready to make his move against the Mandarin.  This run has been consistently good (minus Fear Itself), and it’s always a pleasure to see a writer reach his goals.  I can’t wait for the next issue.

Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm #1 – 
Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman are writing this new Planet of the Apes series, which appears to be the only one that Boom is publishing for now.  They’ve set this story some twelve years after ‘Exile on the Planet of the Apes’, and eight years before Charlton Heston is due to appear.  The Anti-Vivisection Society led by (or comprised of) Prisca, the good chimp from Exile, is trying to put a stop to experimentation on humans, which is causing problems for Cornelius (a name familiar to fans of the movies).  Meanwhile, a rogue ape has gotten into an ancient missile bunker left by humans, and has fired a missile at the moon, with cataclysmic results (hence the sub-title).  This series starts off very well, and I enjoyed Damian Couceiro’s art, even though I would much prefer to see Hardman drawing this.

Swamp Thing #0 -This zero issue was the most predictable of the ones I read this week, as we learn little that is new about Swamp Thing and his world, other than that Anton Arcane has been the avatar of the Rot for a very long time.  Kano steps in on the art, and does a good job of being consistent with the layout styles of Yannick Paquette and Marco Rudy.  There’s nothing wrong with this comic, but it is not one of Scott Snyder’s better issues.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #14 –
This is a very good issue, that has Miles meet Aunt May, Gwen Stacey, and Mary Jane for the first time, as well as Captain America, who is adamant that he give up his super-heroics.  The women give him a good talking to, and some web-shooters, and then Miles goes to help Cap, against his wishes.  Brian Michael Bendis hits all the right notes in this issue, and David Marquez does a terrific job of showing just how young and slight Miles is, especially when contrasted to Captain America, helping underscore just how unsuitable he is for this lifestyle.  The problem is that Bendis is also writing Spider-Men, the book where the 616 Peter Parker comes to the Ultimate Universe and meets Miles and these same people.  This book doesn’t explicitly contradict the latest issue of that series, but it does make me wonder how things line up (in #4, Miles clearly knows May and Gwen, but seems to be only discovering the web-shooters for the first time).  I don’t get too hung up on continuity, but I do expect that a writer can keep things straight between two different books that he himself writes.

X-Factor #243 – 
How many times have we seen Lorna Dane go through some kind of breakdown, or need a telepath to wander around her head?  Well, Peter David gives us one more example of this, but also works to clarify why this keeps happening, explaining once and for all the story of Lorna’s parentage, and connection to Magneto.  It’s an okay issue, but Leonard Kirk’s art looks rushed (maybe because he’s having to pump out an issue every two weeks lately).

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

Action Comics #0
Amazing Spider-Man #693
Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #3
Bloodshot #3
Fashion Beast #1
Mighty Thor #19

Bargain Comics:

Action Comics #12 – When I decided to drop this title, I figured that I’d really just keep picking it up for a lower price, as when things are on sale, the standards of enjoyment are a lot lower.  There are some things to like about Grant Morrison’s take on Superman, but I don’t understand why he would take the time to introduce a new concept, such as Clark Kent’s death and replacement by Johnny Clark, only to get rid of the same idea two issues later.  There’s nothing wrong with exploring a concept; comics writers today are so quick to move to the next thing, and it’s frustrating.  The connection between Clark’s landlady and a certain 5th dimension was interesting, but not explored enough.  This issue had multiple artists, and the look of the book was hella inconsistent.

Avengers #27-29 – These three Avengers Vs. X-Men tie-ins are all over the map, as we see the end of the pointless plot involving Noh-Varr and the Kree, a good single issue that has the Red Hulk attempting to assassinate Cyclops, and a strange battle between the Avengers and X-Men that negates the character turn that Jason Aaron had Rachel Summers take in Wolverine and the X-Men.  As I stated above (see Ultimate Comics Spider-Man), we can’t expect Brian Michael Bendis to respect continuity, and that’s the main reason why I’m not buying these books as they hit the stands.  It’s nice to see Walter Simonson drawing superheroes (especially Thor) again, but a lot of his work in these issues looks rushed.

Avengers Assemble #2 & 3 – It feels like Brian Michael Bendis is trying to pull off a wide-screen adventure comic, similar in concept to series like The Authority or The Ultimates, yet set firmly in the Marvel Universe.  This doesn’t really work.  None of the things that make Bendis Bendis are here – amusing, halting dialogue, or small character moments.  Instead, we get an old-school fight comic that completely lacks heart or charm.  And when this type of writing is paired with a rather boring artist like Mark Bagley, there is nothing special about this comic at all, which is odd, as this is the book that Marvel designed to capture new readers who are fans of the movie.

Captain America & Hawkeye #631 & 632 – Once again, Cullen Bunn delivers a reliably entertaining superhero comic that could conceivably have been published back in the 80s.  I love Bunn’s independent work, but his Marvel stuff has yet to distinguish itself.

Teen Titans #5 & 6 -This was a title I was always a little curious about, as I am usually pretty fond of Tim Drake and Bart Allen, but I doubt I’ll be sampling this book again.  The new characters are a terrible melange of 90s-style generic super-heroes with terrible names (Bunker, Skitter), and the plot does not have anything going for it.  After Danny the Street’s appearance in an earlier issue, I had hope for this book, but it’s all been squandered.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Myspace Dark Horse Presents Vol. 6

Written by Mac Walters, LeVar Burton, Mark Wolfe, Frank Stockton, Art Baltazar, Scott Morse, Andi Watson, Larry Marder, Stan Sakai, Ron Chan, Jaime Hernandez, Jason Little, Garaham Annable, Matt Kindt, Gabriel Bá, Mark Crilley, Justin Aclin, Simon Spurrier, Jackie Kessler, and Evan Dorkin
Art by Eduardo Francisco, David Hahn, Frank Stockton, Art Baltazar, Scott Morse, Andi Watson, Larry Marder, Stan Sakai, Ron Chan, Jaime Hernandez, Jason Little, Graham Annable, Matt Kindt, Gabriel Bá, Mark Crilley, Ben Bates, Christopher Mitten, Paul Lee, and Hilary Barta
I’ll be completely honest – most of the comics collected in this book are completely skippable.  That’s probably one of the main reasons why the whole Myspace Dark Horse Presents experiment failed (well, that and the fact that just about the whole world stopped using Myspace).  It was a commendable concept, and I believe it did lead to the resurrection of the monthly Dark Horse Presents, which has been a very good thing, but it’s clear that Dark Horse was rarely coming through with their A-game on this thing.

Because I want to stay positive though, I will focus on what is good about this collection.  Scanning the credit list above, one name should immediately stand out to anyone who knows what I like – Gabriel Bá!  He provides a short piece called Fiction that could only work in comics.  A writer appears at a festival, where he grumbles about how his readers think they know him by reading his books, but they don’t.  After a few pages though, Bá pulls a switch on the reader, and we find out that that character is a character in someone else’s writing.  The whole thing has a very Borgesian feel to it, and is beautiful to boot.  Easily worth picking up this book for, as so far as I know, this story hasn’t been collected anywhere else.

Among the other things I liked were the Giant Man story by Matt Kindt, a companion piece to his 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man graphic novel.  I’ve read this before though – it was recently collected alongside two other stories in a one-shot.  It’s still good though.

Likewise the Beanworld story by Larry Marder.  I think it was included in the recent Tales of the Beanworld collection.  Every day needs a little Beanworld in it though, so it’s also all good.

I was also pleased to see a Bee story by Jason Little.  I read Motel Art Improvement Service a little while ago, and enjoyed it.  In this story, Bee spends a day in New York with her friend, and goes through some of the existential issues of Bá’s story.

Simon Spurrier and Christopher Mitten provide a creepy horror story involving a man whose pregnant wife was killed in a car wreck, and who is visited by the fetus’s ghost (in a really disturbing way).  Also of note are the collection of Brody’s Ghost stories by Mark Crilley.  These aren’t exactly my cup of tea, but I like the fact that Dark Horse gave over a fair amount of space to them, making them stand out a little more through sheer volume.

The rest of the book is a melange of licensed properties (Mass Effect, Buffy), children’s comics (which never feels like a good fit), and stuff that just didn’t resonate with me.

Album of the Week:

Getatchew Mekuria & The Ex & Friends – Y’anbessaw Tezeta – I picked this up on vacation in New York on the recommendation of the very knowledgeable staff at Other Music.  It’s a double-disc of powerful Ethiopian jazz by one of the masters of the field, accompanied by a band from Denmark or something.  It ranges from Mulatu Astatke-like compositions into the wilds of free jazz, and it is incredible from first track to last.

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The Weekly Round-Up #134 With Prophet, American Vampire, Fatale, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century & More Mon, 02 Jul 2012 14:00:15 +0000 Happy (belated) Canada Day to my people, and Happy 4th of July to my neighbours to the south!  Now, let’s look at some comics.

Best Comic of the Week:

Prophet #26

by Brandon Graham and Emma Rios

Since Brandon Graham relaunched this failed and best-forgotten Rob Liefeld property a few months ago, I’d been hoping that he would draw an issue as well as write.  Despite the fact that he’s worked with gifted artists such as Simon Roy and Farel Dalrymple, I wanted to see what Graham would do with the strange future he’s created.  This issue gave me my wish.

After the first three issues of Graham’s run, which contained a longer story, each subsequent issue has been a done-in-one story that involves a clone (or three) of the original John Prophet waking up on some strange world or other setting, and doing something that has to do with the return of the Earth Empire.  This issue is a little different, as its protagonist is a Jaxson, “one of old man Prophet’s unhatched eggs, brought to life to fight along in his fight.”  The Jaxson looks like a robot, although we know it has to eat to heal itself and generate energy to do things like fly.

This one is on a strange, mostly abandoned planet.  He senses one of his brothers, a larger creature named Xefferson, who joins him on a trip through the ‘Cyclops Rail’, a system of wormholes used for travel.  Like the other issues that came before it, what is really going on in this book remains a bit of a mystery, but Graham’s storytelling is so strong, I’m just happy to ride along with it, trusting that everything will make sense soon enough. This issue feels like a tribute to Moebius, with its alien worlds drawn in Graham’s simplistic yet complex style.  There is a sense of wonder in these comics that is lacking from just about everything else on the stands these days, and that makes this a treat to read each month.

There is also a back-up by the incredible Emma Rios, which shows another Prophet clone engaging in some sort of congress with a spider-creature.  I think; it’s a little unclear, but very lovely.  This book continues to climb to the top of my affections.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #28

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

It feels like American Vampire has returned to its core with the beginning of the new story arc, The Blacklist.  It’s been a while since the three main characters of this series – Pearl, Henry, and Skinner Sweet – have been in the same issue (I think not since their little Pacific WWII adventure), and it’s good to see them all back together again, even if Henry spends the whole issue in a coma.

A couple of issues ago we saw that Henry had been attacked.  This issue opens with Pearl dispatching his attacker, before she and family friend (and fellow American Vamp) Calvin are attacked at Henry’s bedside.  This leads to a visit to the Vassals of the Morning Star (a vampire-hunting organization), and the knowledge that a group of vampires are being protected and hidden by the Hollywood elite.

This story is set against the Senate hearings into Communist sympathizers in Hollywood, and Scott Snyder uses that atmosphere of fear and paranoia to provide his antagonists shelter.  Pearl and Skinner are going to be hunting these vampires down, and as this arc is set to last six issues, we can guess that there are going to be lots of vampires to find.

Rafael Albuquerque returns to the art duties on this title with this issue, so everything looks spectacular.

Fatale #6

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

The second story arc of Fatale starts with this issue, and it is an amazing start, perhaps even better than the first volume’s.  Like with that story, this issue is split almost evenly between a prologue set in the present day, and the first chapter of the arc, set in the 1970s.

We begin by looking in on Nicolas Lash, the godson of Hank Raines.  Since we last saw him, Nicolas has become ever more obsessed with discovering the secrets of Josephine, the woman who was both his godfather’s lover, and his companion when he lost his leg.  His obsession has led him to a level of paranoia which is confirmed as accurate when some people come after him, looking for some sort of object they figure he got from his godfather’s house or safe deposit box.  Brubaker is piling on the mysteries in this section of the story.

The rest of the comic follows a B-movie actor named Miles, who seems to be involved in the seamier side of Los Angeles’s drug fuelled star-wannabe scene.  Miles is looking to score some cocaine, and tracks a girl he knows named Suzy to a rather strange party.  He finds her in the basement with a stab wound, next to a guy whose head has been blown off.  It seems that Suzy is part of something called the Method Church, which I presume has some kind of link to the cult we’ve seen in previous issues of Fatale.  Anyway, it’s not long before Miles is trying to help Suzy escape, and they end up in Josephine’s backyard.

Most of this issue read not that differently from an issue of Criminal, which is of course, high praise.  There was more of a crime comic element to it than before, although I imagine that the horror aspect is going to be taking over as the story progresses.  Brubaker portrays Josephine as more of a victim of her circumstances, or ‘curse’ in this issue, which contrasts with how she was shown in the first arc, and in the prologue to this issue.

Fatale’s first trade was published this week, so now is the perfect time for curious new readers to get on one of the best and most successful new series of 2012.  You won’t be sorry.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century #3 – 2009

Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O’Neill

I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not all that impressed with this latest appearance of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

In a nutshell, this issue jumps some forty years since the team was last seen.  Orlando has been in the army, fighting in Q’Mar (a stand-in for Iraq?).  Mina has been in a mental institute, and Allan Quartermain has fallen off the wagon, and is living on the streets. Orlando is called upon to put the band back together to fight the Anti-christ, so that’s what happens.  There’s a little more going on, but not much.

And therein lies the problem with this series, as it moves closer to the present day.  When Moore first started writing the League, what made it work was the use of so many different literary characters (Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, etc.) in a shared universe.  When the story was set in Victorian England, that was easily done; all the characters were in the public domain.  When setting a story in 2009, when copyright laws are still in effect, causes Moore to spend more time being cute with his references (it’s pretty clear that the Anti-christ is Harry Potter, but it’s never stated) than with actually developing his characters and story into something very interesting or exciting.

I’d expected this issue to be a little easier to read, as many of the references would be more obvious than the ones set in 1969, a time where I wasn’t alive.  I didn’t really find that to be the case – instead, I felt that each and every time a name was mentioned, or someone walked through the foreground of a frame, that there was some sort of easter egg that I was supposed to decipher, making this the literary comic book equivalent of Where’s Waldo?.  I know there is an audience for this sort of thing, but it’s not me.

On the up-side, Kevin O’Neill continues to impress.

The Manhattan Projects #4

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

Since this series began, we’ve only seen Albert Einstein sitting in front of an obelisk studying it.  Finally, we get to see what the purpose of this object, which does remind me a little of 2001, actually is.  And, as has become typical in this series, it’s not exactly what you would have expected, even though the device’s secrets echo some of the events of the first issue.

The Manhattan Projects is about the various secret sides of the famous war initiative that gave us the atomic bomb.  Hickman is playing with a cast of historical figures, but has twisted all of them into strange and bizarre characters.  J. Robert Oppenheimer is really his twin brother.  FDR is not dead, but is now the first artificial intelligence.  Things like this are common in Hickman’s playground.

This issue opens with a visit from alien beings in the desert of New Mexico.  This apparently happens every decade, and on hand to greet the visitors are Manhattan Projects director General Leslie Groves, Oppenheimer, and representatives from the Soviet Union, Germany, and somewhere else.  The only thing is, it’s not the usual visitors, but people from another alien race that conquered them, who have an offer for Earth.

The rest of the issue is concerned with Einstein and his device.  I like the way that Hickman has used each issue so far to explore a different aspect of the Projects, without yet giving us a notion of a larger plot or story-line.  Instead, much like his earliest issues of Fantastic Four, it seems that he is just taking his time laying the groundwork for a gigantic tale.  It works here.

The New Deadwardians #4

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by INJ Culbard

As we reach the half-way mark in Dan Abnett’s alternative history comic, that posits an Edwardian England divided between Brights (lower-class normal people), Young (the vampiric upper classes), and Restless (zombies of all classes), he decides to share a little more of the mechanics of how society changed with the discovery of ‘the cure’.

Chief Inspector George Suttle, a Young, is investigating the murder of another Young – the first ever to take place using methods other than the usual, like a stake in the heart.  He’s doing his investigating in Zone B, where the Bright live, when a group of thugs try to rough him up.  He begins to go through some changes by being in the regions of London where people actually live, and it causes him to remember more of the man that he once was.  To contrast this, Louisa, his maid who he recently gave the Cure to, is having a hard time accepting after-life as a Young.

Abnett is having fun with this book.  He’s playing with the strict social stratification of Edwardian England, but he’s also telling a compelling mystery story that is full of strong character work.  This is an off-beat, but very good series, with very nice art.

Scalped #59

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

It’s the penultimate issue of Scalped, and it seems that all opportunities for redemption are off the table, as the central characters of the series, and many of the peripheral ones, collide in a violent confrontation in Lincoln Red Crow’s casino.

Dino Poor Bear (who was the character I was always rooting for the most) appears poised to take over Red Crow’s old gang, and is leading them in an attack on their former leader.  Into the fray comes Catcher and his captive, Dash Bad Horse.  It’s not long before the three are holding guns on one another.

Jason Aaron has spent fifty-eight issues preparing us for this final confrontation.  Catcher killed Bad Horse’s mother, who was the love of Red Crow’s life.  Bad Horse betrayed Red Crow’s trust.  Red Crow is the least innocent of all three.  The relationships and connections between these three men have fuelled this book for some time, and I don’t think anyone would have expected this to end any other way.

Scalped is the best comic that Vertigo has published in the last ten years.  Aaron has turned this into a subtle and nuanced study in character, and RM Guera has been a terrific collaborator from the beginning.  He really shines in this issue, with some strong images, such as that of a wooden ‘Indian’ in the casino burning while everyone around it tries to kill one another.

Jock’s cover for this issue is stunning.  I can not wait to read the next issue; I hope that Aaron takes the time to visit some of the other characters we haven’t seen much of lately, such as Red Crow’s daughter, and Granny Poor Bear.

Spaceman #7

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

We’re getting near the end of Azzarello and Risso’s science fiction reality TV child abduction genetic engineering epic, and a lot happens in this issue.

Through the flashbacks, we learn more about the connection between our hero, Orson, and the ‘spaceman’ who is now pursuing him, Carter.  They were in a tough spot together once, and that kind of thing either builds a bond, or it creates a lasting hatred.  Guess how these two feel about each other.

In the middle of this struggle is Tara, the abducted child star of a reality webcast.  Orson is trying to protect her, but when he is distracted by Carter, another faction makes their move.  Meanwhile, the police decide that they’ve been strung along enough by Tara’s adoptive parents, and shut down the broadcast.

I’ve mentioned before how the story is really just a vehicle for Azzarello to experiment with future forms of slang, and a type of low-class argot.  That continues to be one of the more fascinating aspects of this comic for me, alongside Risso’s bleak portrayal of the future.  This is a good series.

Whispers #3

by Joshua Luna

I haven’t seen very much buzz on-line for this comic, and I don’t really understand why, because it’s excellent.  Joshua Luna (without brother Jonathan, for a change) has put together a very interesting story about astral projection and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Sam has suddenly developed the ability to travel with his mind, and to read the thoughts of the people he visits spiritually.  He’s discovered that an ex-girlfriend has become a junkie, and owes money to a violent dealer.  He’s also stumbled upon a murderer who is killing children, who himself hears some sort of demonic voice.

Sam’s a smart guy, and in this issue, he sets about trying to handle both issues, in a way that I didn’t see coming.  I like that he’s beginning to make some use of his abilities, instead of passively observing, as he did for the first two issues.

I’m not sure exactly where Luna is going with this book, aside from the obvious escalation of things between Sam and this demonic figure, and that’s what I like most about it.  I also appreciate the way in which Sam’s OCD is being portrayed – it’s very realistic, and logical within Sam’s point of view.  This title deserves as much recognition as some of Image’s other recent terrific titles.

Quick Takes:

All Star Western #10 - Palmiotti and Gray’s ‘Jonah Hex in Gotham’ series has been all over the place in terms of story pacing and just what the series is going to be about, but this issue is one of the best since the relaunch began.  It has the Court of Owls picking a fight with the followers of the Crime Bible, and the return of Tallulah Black, a favourite character from the previous Jonah Hex series.  Also of note is a fun Bat Lash story featuring art from the legendary Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.

Batman Incorporated #2 – Grant Morrison provides us with a condensation of Talia Al Ghul’s full history in this issue, more or less outlining the extent of Batman’s dealings with the Demon’s Head in the New 52.  It’s a good issue, with some gorgeous work by Chris Burnham, but it’s a little difficult to follow without foreknowledge of just who Ras Al Ghul is, and just why he is unique among Batman’s rogues.  If you consider that the New 52 is supposed to be new-reader friendly, this fails.

BPRD Hell on Earth: Exorcism #1 – I’m a little surprised it’s taken this long for Cameron Stewart to draw an issue of BPRD; he’s a good fit for the comic.  This new two-part mini-series features a couple of characters that haven’t been seen in a long, long time.  The heroine is Agent Ashley Strode, the girl who we once saw trying to impress Liz Sherman.  She attends an exorcism where a demon insists that Ota Benga, the priest last seen in BPRD 1947, release a demon he’s held prisoner for a long time.  It’s a good issue, and I like the way that Mignola is revisiting older characters.

FF #19 – Here’s a fun little issue showing what the kids are up to while the Fantastic Four deals with a problem in Wakanda.  The villains are rather too convenient, but the character work is top-notch, and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s art works very well.

Flash #10 - With fill-in artist Marcus To taking over for the month, I can’t help but marvel at how much more I like Francis Manapul’s art than his writing.  The problem with this comic, really, is that Barry Allen is a boring character.  I think Manapul (and co-writer Brian Buccellato) know it, and that explains why they’ve turned to the twist that they use at the end of the issue.  I find myself losing interest in this title, and am thinking about dropping it.  With this issue, it’s clear that I am really only buying it for the art…

Hell Yeah #4 – I can’t make up my mind about this comic.  I was going to drop it, then I thought it was a five-issue mini-series, so I figured I’d see it through, but now I’ve learned that it’s going to be an on-going.  Basically, Alan Moore’s Supreme meets Infinite Vacation, and it’s pretty decent, if not all that memorable.  I will read the next issue, which is set to explain what all has been going on in this violent dimension-hopping series with nice art.

Hit-Girl #1 – I have two big problems with this comic.  The first is the cover, which refers to the prepubescent female main character as ‘the little bitch’.  Do I even need to explain my objection to this, or is it just self-evident.  I know that writer Mark Millar is looking to spoof superhero comics, but it strikes me as gratuitous.  My second objection is to the fact that this series takes place between volumes one and two of Kick-Ass, making this a prequel to a sequel (an interquel?).  Having read Kick-Ass 2, I was left with no questions about what happened before it, and this series seems completely superfluous.  On a positive note, John Romita Jr.’s work here is infinitely better than his work on Avengers Vs. X-Men, but it’s not going to be enough to get me to stay with this series.  I already know how it’s going to end, and don’t care enough about the characters to stick it out.  I might be back for Kick-Ass 3…

I, Vampire #10 - Artist Andrea Sorrentino gets a chance to shine here, as the Van Helsings (a large paramilitary order of vampire hunters) attack Andrew Bennett’s gathering of vampires.  Most of the narrative is made up of a conversation between Bennett’s friend (who I somehow spent most of the issue thinking was Tot from Denny O’Neil’s Question run) and a leader of the Van Helsings about relative moralism and the killing of monsters.  This series is a little too decompressed, but it looks pretty cool, in a Jae Lee knock-off kind of way.

Justice League Dark #10 – Jeff Lemire continues to establish a sense of purpose to this title, as John Constantine spirits everyone to the House of Mystery to figure out what to do with the magical artifact they took from Felix Faust last issue.  Faust is one step ahead of them however, so there are problems.  Lemire has a good handle on these characters, and gets the squabbling ant-team tone of their interactions with one another down perfectly.  He writes Constantine particularly well.

Resident Alien #2 – There aren’t a lot of other comics in the medical thriller/alien/mystery genre, so when I say this is one of the best murder mystery stories featuring an alien doctor hiding out of Earth that I’ve ever read, it would be easy to downplay how good this book really is.  Our alien doctor has figured out who is killing local people, while his nurse pursues her own suspicions about him.  This is a very well-written and nice-looking comic.

Spider-Men #2 – It still feels way too soon to have Miles meeting the 616 Peter Parker, but Brian Michael Bendis turns in a nicely balanced script which allows both principal characters the chance to be themselves.  Sara Pichelli does a great job of showing the differences between the characters in terms of their physicality and actions.  It’s good stuff.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #12 – The issue of Reed Richards and his Children of Tomorrow is resolved in a novel way this issue, as Tony Stark gets to save the day.  There’s no sign of Nick Fury and the sub-plot about him being wanted by SHIELD, probably because co-writers Jonathan Hickman and Sam Humphries have to set up the upcoming Ultimate Universe cross-over that will probably do nothing more than disrupt these titles for a month or two.  This issue is well-written, but visually a mess, as the art is divided between Luke Ross and Ron Garney (with an epilogue by Butch Guice).  These artists don’t compliment each other, and Garney’s pages are awful.

Wolverine and the X-Men #12 – Here’s kind of a novel idea for Avengers Vs. X-Men – an issue where a squad of X-Men fight a squad of Avengers, without things being all blown out of proportion and ridiculous (and yes, I know that Beast tries to eat Iceman in this issue).  Jason Aaron has a decent handle on Rachel Summers, who is the main character here, and Chris Bachalo is wonderful as always.  It’s a good tie-in.  I don’t understand why Beasts actions here contradict what he said and did last week in Avs.X, but I have learned over the years to not expect tie-ins to actually match what happens in the main book, even when they are written by the same person.

X-Men Legacy #269 – An attempt is made here to remember that the teams on opposite sides of AvsX were more or less allies before Marvel Editorial decreed that they be enemies, as Ms. Marvel decides to try to speak with Rogue, the one X-Man she has the most history with, and of course, they end up fighting.  Here’s the thing though – Rogue stole Carol’s memories back in the day, but they didn’t swap anything, so I don’t understand why Carol keeps insisting that she knows Rogue well.  It’s a little weird.  Otherwise, an acceptable issue, perhaps the best since Christos Gage took over this book.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #688

X-Men #31

Bargain Comics:

AVX: Vs. #1 – Well, I knew going in that this would be stupid, so if nothing else came from having bought this comic, at least I’ve  confirmed that I should trust myself more.  The saddest part is knowing that there are lots of people who probably wish that all of Avengers Vs. X-Men could just be scenes of characters fighting, without plot or reason.  This is like fan-fiction let wild.

Miracleman #9

Written by Alan Moore
Art by Rick Veitch and Rick Bryant

My Miracleman collection has more gaps in it than it does issues, at least during Alan Moore’s storied tenure with the character, so I was pretty happy to see this at a reasonable price the other day.  These comics are just about impossible to find in decent condition, and with a $5 price tag, I couldn’t resist.

The Miracleman story is only sixteen pages long, and, having not read (or not remembering the issues surrounding it), is hard to understand.  A pregnant woman wakes up because she is having contractions.  She walks outside to a ruined complex, where everyone still living is running away.  She is found by Miracleman, who puts her in a truck and flies away, until they find a nice safe place for him to deliver her (and his?) child.  This leads to a very explicit birthing scene which justifies the parental warning on the cover.  While watching the baby being born, Miracleman reminisces on and ponders his own life.  There is also an interlude which involve some strange creatures in human form visiting someone in a mental hospital.

Having read scattered issues of Moore’s Miracleman before, I think this is a series that needs to be read in order to be fully appreciated.  Reading it like this, it’s more of a trip to see some old school Rick Veitch artwork, and to try to remember just how groundbreaking this comic was when it came out (I was eleven, and definitely not buying it).

There is a back-up story, but it was unreadable.

Rocketeer Adventures 2 #2 – Once again, these stories are immediately forgettable (as I find all Rocketeer stories are), but there is some terrific art in this book by Colin Wilson and John Paul Leon, making it well worth the purchase.  There’s something about the design of this character that is just so cool, and that makes it a treat to see different artists try their hands at him.

Album of the Week:

Kae Sun – Lion On A Leash  This Ghanaian artist played an outdoor festival the other week, and impressed me with his music, which is a bit of a marriage of K’Naan (who he opened for) and Bob Marley.  It’s good stuff.

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The Weekly Round-Up #127 – The Post-TCAF Edition With Morning Glories, BPRD, Fairest & More Mon, 14 May 2012 14:00:14 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

Morning Glories #18

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

If there’s one thing about Nick Spencer’s terrific series Morning Glories that you can always count on, it’s that there is always another layer to the story waiting to be uncovered.  And it seems that each new layer adds new intrigue and mystery to the title.

This month, instead of the conclusion to the P.E. arc that we were expecting, we receive an issue that focuses on Jun, the quietest and most enigmatic of the main characters.  It’s worth remembering that Jun’s name is really Hisao, and that he switched names with his brother Jun, who is also a student at Morning Glories Academy.  Hisao has been thoroughly brainwashed by the faculty at the school, and it’s been very unclear as to just what Jun’s role in this series was going to be.

This issue begins a few years before the start of the series, where Jun (still called Hisao at that point) is being trained at an MGA-like facility.  We see him shooting a rifle, and then getting into a fight with his rival, a boy named Guillaume when he tries to take his target to Abraham, who appears to run this facility.  At that point, we see a glimpse of Ms. Darabont, the head teacher at MGA negotiating with Abraham for six students, one of whom is Guillaume.

In the present, Jun gets into a fight with Hisao, who believes that the strange events of a few issues back, which resulted in all the faculty and guards vanishing from the school, is his fault.  They fight, before Jun is rescued by Guillaume.

Apparently, Guillaume and Jun are there on some kind of mission to rescue Abraham.  It’s all a little complicated (not this series!), but also very interesting.  I would need to go back through some back issues, but I’m pretty sure that we saw Abraham visit each of the core cast members in flashbacks, but I’d assumed that he was recruiting them for the MGA, not for something else.  Also of interest is the relationship between Jun and Guillaume, which I’m sure could get the book banned in South Carolina…

Once again, Spencer delivers a compelling and mysterious book that raises more questions than it answers, but that is also a master class in character writing.

Other Notable Comics:

BPRD Hell on Earth – The Pickens County Horror #2

Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Art by Jason Latour

I’m a couple weeks late in reading this comic (thanks Diamond!), but it was well worth it, as these short little BPRD mini-series that the people in the Mike Mignola department of Dark Horse are putting out so many of these days are really quite excellent.

Everyone loves a big epic, sweeping story, but we sometimes forget that a focused, taut little mini-series can be just as, if not more, rewarding.  With the Pickens County Horror, Mignola and co-writer Scott Allie have crafted a terrific little look at the types of missions undertaken by the agents of the BPRD who aren’t Abe Sapien, Johann Kraus or Liz Sherman, but that are regular people involved in some deeply weird crap.

This issue concludes the story of just what some American vampires (no relation to Scott Snyder’s Vertigo characters) have been up to in rural South Carolina.  Mignola has rarely shown vampires in his Hellboy-verse (which is not in the same continuity as his Baltimore stories), but whenever they’ve appeared, there have been hints at a larger plot to literally seed the world with vampires, preparing for a particular date when they would all awaken.

In this story, Agents Vaughn and Peters have taken refuge in a shack covered in crosses, and lived in by an old man who is there to study vampires.  Peters is quite ill, and we learn that whatever the strange fog is that has descended on the town every night, it’s had a hand in changing Peters into something else.

This issue is mostly filled with action, and Jason Latour has done a terrific job of filling the scenes with some creepy images.  The creatures that come out of the fog are kind of like jellyfish-people, which he makes work, and his establishing shots are great.

When I first saw that Dark Horse was planning on flooding the shelves with BPRD mini-series this year, I was annoyed (for the same reasons I don’t like Marvel’s double-shipping of their titles), but I do really like the way they are using these short series to examine different aspects of the ‘Hell on Earth’ status quo in this series.  So long as they keep giving us new situations like this, with such terrific art, I’m going to be buying whatever they come out with.

Fairest #3

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning

I think that I’m getting closer and closer to being done with Fables and its spin-off title Fairest.  The parent book has moved from being an edgy ‘mature readers’ comic into being a drawn-out kids comic about kingdoms of lost toys and children being trained to take on ‘important roles’, with none of the dread or forward planning that used to make the book such a good read.  Fine, I thought, at least Willingham is going to use this new series, which is to spotlight the female characters of his gigantic cast, to tell the types of stories that he used to use the main title for.

Instead, we get a lengthy adaptation of the Disney Snow White movie, with a few bare breasts tossed in to keep things ‘edgy’ (because as we all know, breast are evil).  For a book that should be about the empowerment of female women, from a writer who has written a number of strong female characters over the last ten years of playing in this sandbox, this is a big disappointment.  The first issue was all about Ali Baba and his bottle imp.  The second was about Ali Baba trying to woo Briar Rose, and failing.  Now, this issue is mostly about the bottle imp working his powers of seduction – of a literary kind – on the Snow Queen.  None of these women appear particularly empowered; they are all acting in response to the two male figures in this comic.  Normally, I wouldn’t even notice something like that, but seeing as this title is supposed to come with a bit of a mission statement attached, I come to it with more sensitivity to things like that.

I’m definitely not disappointed in the art in this book though – Jimenez is killing it, if perhaps overdoing it a little on some of the ice constructs the Queen creates (kind of like Chris Bachalo drawing Iceman, only more delicate).

I’m going to stick out this arc, and from that point, I’ll read Fairest on an arc-by-arc basis, depending on who the creators will be.  I guess we won’t be seeing the next Chris Roberson Cinderella story anytime soon, after he so publicly resigned from DC the other week, which is too bad.  I hope they know better than to try to rush something through in order to meet publication dates; you never know with DC these days…

Fatale #5

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

The first ‘book’ of Brubaker and Phillips’s Fatale ends with this issue, as the reader really starts to see things come together.  Main character (of the flashback sequences, at least) Hank Raines has been abducted by the cultists, while Walt Booker, having performed some blood magic on himself, goes to meet with Josephine for what is probably the last time.

Since this book began, it’s been a bit of a guessing game to try to figure out where each character’s loyalties lie.  It’s been clear that Hank is under Jo’s spell, as Booker used to be, but the extent to which Booker has escaped her influence has never been too clear.

Those questions get cleared up here, and not necessarily in the way I expected.  We also get a good sense of the threat posed by Bishop and his people, and everyone ends up in a big fight scene in some creepy tunnels under San Francisco.

The issue then moves to an epilogue set in our time, where Nick is still trying to piece together what happened to his godfather, and what has happened to him.  I’m not sure if the next arc is going to remain in the current day, or if we will also see more flashbacks to Hank Raines’s day.

Fatale has been a huge success for Brubaker and Phillips, and it is completely deserving of that, although I’m a little surprised that Criminal, their noir crime series, hasn’t been more popular, as it was a much more accessible piece of work.  Who knows – maybe there is a renaissance of more sophisticated comics readers underway?  Or maybe it’s just because Image better knows how to market a book like this than Marvel can.

iZombie #25

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

After this, there are only three issues of iZombie left to be published before the series comes to its end.  That 28th issue will also be Chris Roberson’s last for DC, after he disparaged the company’s ethics on the Internet the other week, and was then removed from an arc he was slated to write for Fairest because of it.  Many people agree with Roberson’s viewpoints, some don’t, and to many, it doesn’t matter, because not all that many people read this comic, compared to the rest of DC’s output.

And therein lies the real shame of all this, because iZombie is pretty good.  Roberson has been building this story for two years now, and we are moving into pay-off mode, as the final story arc begins here.  There is going to be an apocalypse in Eugene, of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer variety, and Gwen and her friends seem to be the best bet for stopping it.

Much of this issue is used to set up the last few issues.  Gwen receives ‘training’ from Amon in tapping into her full potential, and they take a little astral tour of the town, which is suffering from multiple incursions of weird monsters, as a precursor to Xitulu’s appearance, which will destroy the world.  Along the way, we check in with every member of the cast of this book, and see just where they are placed on the grand chessboard.

This issue is notable because it reveals some of diner owner Dixie’s history, although not her connection to the line of dolls that share her name.  I suspect that the axe dropped a little soon on this title, or we would have seen a flashback issue or arc starring Dixie at some point.

As always, Michael Allred’s art in this book is wonderful.  I  think a monthly dose of Allred is what I’m going to miss the most when this title is gone.

Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #5

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Tonci Zonjic

I wasn’t all that invested in this series when it began, but by the end, I was really pretty happy with it.  I think the first issue started off a little too slowly for my liking and was too mired in the standard trappings of a pulp vigilante to really catch my interest.  What kept me coming back was the strength of Tonci Zonjic’s art (no surprise there – the guy’s stuff is gorgeous), although I slowly developed more of an interest in the story.

The biggest problem with this series is that I don’t care about Lobster Johnson at all.  The guy is a cipher – we know nothing about his motivations, or why he has such a dedicated network of helpers.  He doesn’t seem like the type that anyone would go out on a limb for.  I think that future stories featuring him will really need to work at fleshing him out – it’s not like when he first appeared in the Hellboy comics and fit in a supporting role – if he’s going to star in his own book, there has to be a reason to care for him.

Still, I did enjoy this series in the long-run, but mostly because of the incredible set pieces that Mignola and Arcudi set up for Zonjic to draw.  Previous issues had some very cool scenes featuring the Black Flame, and this issue has an amazing image of the Lobster and a basement full of cannibals (although I don’t understand how they are distinct from zombies).

Mind the Gap #1

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback

I wasn’t sure if this new series was for me or not, but I’m always willing to sample an extra-sized first issue when it’s released at a regular price, so I gave this a try.

Jim McCann’s Mind the Gap is definitely different, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to read it a second time to figure out some of the nuances of this comic, but it has me pretty intrigued right now.  The book opens with a series of phone calls, as friends and family of Ellis Peterssen, an actress (I assume) and beautiful young woman suffers some sort of attack at a subway station.  She is taken to a hospital, where she is in a coma.

There’s a lot more going on than just that though.  It’s clear that the attack on Ellis was planned, and is part of some larger group of events that have been set into motion.  A number of the people standing vigil around Ellis’s bedside appear suspicious.  Her brother is a jerk, and really, so is her boyfriend.  There is a dust-up between two doctors over Ellis’s treatment, and what information is being kept in her file compared to what is on her chart.

Oh yah, and Ellis is kind of hovering over her body watching the whole thing; at least she is until she meets another phantom, who is also in a coma somewhere, and is there to school Ellis on the whole situation.

There’s a lot happening in this comic, and its structure makes me think of the more recent vogue in television dramas of embracing weirdness and portioning out information over a long period of time (Lost being the best example).  In a lot of ways, this feels as much like a TV pilot as it does the beginning of a comics series, but I’m okay with that.

Rodin Esquero’s art is lovely.  He’s best known for his covers on the brilliant Morning Glories (which, in terms of tone, is similar to this book), and he does a good job with the various emotions that Ellis’s circle feels while standing at her bed.  I’m definitely going to be getting the next issue of this.

Mystery in Space #1

Written by Duane Swierczynski, Andy Diggle, Ming Doyle, Ann Nocenti, Nnedi Okorafor, Steve Orlando, Robert Rodi, Kevin McCarthy, and Michael Allred
Art by Ramon Bachs, Davide Gianfelice, Ming Doyle, Fred Harper, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Francesco Trifogli, Sebastian Fiumara, Kyle Baker, and Michael Allred

There’s nothing quite like a good anthology book, as I attest with each new issue of Dark Horse Presents.  Lately, Vertigo has also entered the anthology business, putting out a one-shot every quarter or so.  This one uses a space and science fiction theme, and it contains some very good stories, and some I could have done without.

What first struck me about this book is that it is largely made by people who I either don’t associate with Veritgo comics (Duane Swierczynski, Ramon Bachs, and Kyle Baker), or by people that I am completely unfamiliar with (Nnedi Okorafor, Steve Orlando, Kevin McCarthy, Fred Harper, and Francesco Trifogli).

There are a couple of themes that keep being revisited in this book, such as a future where people lack control over their lives and actions, and stories that involve people not perceiving things properly.  These are good stories, and they are all told quickly.

I did have trouble getting through Okorafor and Kaluta’s story about a carnivorous jungle (although it was lovely), and McCarthy and Baker’s story of two cultures discovering a powerful new substance.  It was kind of tedious, and Baker drew it in the cartoon style of his that I don’t actually enjoy.

I found that I most enjoyed Diggle and Gianfelice’s story about revolution, Doyle’s tale of love and suspended animation, and Rodi and Fiumara’s tale of love in a space junkyard.

Orlando and Trifogli’s story about centaurs and self-determination was one of the most interesting, but also a little hard to follow.  I would like to see more of Trifogli’s art.  I look forward to Vertigo doing another book like this soon, but would like to see a little more variety in terms of themes.

Skullkickers #14

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang, Misty Coats, and M. Goodwin

This issue of Skullkickers moved into unexpected territory very quickly.  We’d been promised the story behind Baldy’s gun, and we do learn where he got it from in this issue, but it was not in a way I ever could have predicted.

The comic starts with him still on the sailing ship from last issue, fighting a slimy monster that just hatched out of an egg.  He makes reference to having fought one before, and the comic then moves into a flashback set in New Mexico in 1876, where notorious bounty hunter and gunfighter Rex Maraud has just arrived in a small town to do some monster hunting.  After the usual display of skill for some town idiots, Rex moves out to a site known for supernatural goings on, and waits for a cult to begin some kind of strange ritual.

Eventually, after fighting another slimy monster, he ends up in thrall to a Lovecraftian demon-thing.  Somewhere in all of that, he gets his gun.  We are promised that the next issue will show us how he ends up in the medieval fantasy land that we are used to, and where his hair went.

Jim Zubkavich is not one to fall back on conventional plotting or ideas, and I love how fresh each new issue of Skullkickers is.  This is Jonah Hex played for laughs, which is a nice change from the usual in this book, although I hope it doesn’t take long to get us back to the main story.

This issue also has a back-up collaboration story featuring Shorty and a girl from a comic called Princeless.  It’s cute, and nicely drawn, but I don’t know if it’s enough to get me to check out that other title.

Thief of Thieves #4

Written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

With each new issue of Thief of Thieves, Kirkman and Spencer have been revealing a new side to Redmond, the series’s titular character.  The first issue introduced him and his assistant, and the idea that he was ready to retire.  The second issue let us meet his ex-wife.  The third focused on the police detective who has been tracking him for years, while this latest issue is centred on his son, who looks just like him.

It seems that Augustus has followed in his father’s footsteps, only without any of his innate skills and talents.  Augustus is in custody awaiting trial, and if convicted, will fall under a ‘three strikes’ rule, thereby placing him in prison for a very long time.  Knowing this, the cop (or is she FBI?  she’s not identified in this issue and I forget) is trying to get information from him, but for now, he’s standing firm.

This is a very well-plotted book, as the final pages loop back the beginning of the first issue.  I think that all the set-up is finished with now, and expect that we are going to find the book moving quicker from this point out.  I like that Kirkman and Spencer have taken their time to build this series, but I think it’s time for a little more to start happening.  Still, with all this excellent Shawn Martinbrough art to look at, I’m fine with whatever pace they choose to set.

The Walking Dead #97

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

The newest arc in comics success story The Walking Dead begins with an issue that spotlights many of this series’s strengths.  The book opens in the Community, where people are holding a Sunday church service.  There are prayers for the safe return of Rick and his group, who we later see coming home after their time at the Hilltop over the last few issues.

They are soon approached by some of Negan’s men.  Negan is the leader of a group that calls itself the Saviors, and who we learned last month are more or less holding the Hilltop community hostage, extorting them for food and trade goods.  Of course, people who cross Rick don’t last long, and the seeds of the next big conflict are sown.

Once Rick’s group returns home, the book gets back to what it does best – having people go about the business of surviving.  Plans are made to prepare for conflict with Negan, and we learn that one of the cast members is pregnant.  Also, Rick and Andrea inch ever closer to one another, and Abraham starts to chafe under the perception that he is now subordinate to Rick.

What always makes this book work so well is the balance between plot and character, and the way in which Kirkman doesn’t let things slow down for long.  Of most possible importance here is the observation that some of the walkers are looking more decayed, and that Carl’s memory is returning to him.  This is great stuff as always, and as we approach the 100th issue, I find myself beginning to feel a little dread, as we all know that Kirkman likes to kill off main characters in landmark issues.

Wasteland #37

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Justin Greenwood

Wasteland is really finding its feet again after its long hiatus and recent return with a new artist who is keeping the book on a monthly schedule.  For the last few issues, our heroes Michael and Abi, and their companion Gerr have been in some trouble in the Crossed Chains (read that as Christian) town of Godsholm.  Now, with the two men surrounded, Abi is confronting the leadership of the town, and a good number of its citizens while holding an open flame to their Bible.  Needless to say, she gets their attention…

Johnston uses this issue to show the lasting changes wrought in Godsholm by the main characters’ appearance in the town, and returns the trio to the road.  The thing is, both Abi and Michael know that Gerr, who saved them from the Dog Tribe, is actually in the employ of Marcus, the insane ruler of Newbegin, where most of this series took place.

Two things have made this comic work over the years:  the depth and detail of Johnston’s world-building, and his strength in constructing strong characters.  This issue balanced both nicely, and has me excited to see where the wanderers are headed next.

Quick Takes:

Batman #9 - The Night of the Owls is in full effect, as Batman has to fight off a number of Talons who have attacked him in the Batcave.  While fighting them, he wears his Iron Bat-Suit, and drops the temperature in the cave to twenty below (that’s insanely cold in Fahrenheit, right?  I don’t speak American), which somehow wakes up a bunch of bats in a scene I don’t understand.  Also, the dinosaur does some stuff, which is cool but weird.  I know everyone loves this title, and I do like it, but I think that the back-up, co-written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion, and drawn by the superb Rafael Albuquerque makes the issue.  The back-up is going to reveal some of the secrets of the Wayne family, as revealed by Jarvis (seriously?) Pennyworth which tie in to the Court of Owls stuff.  The main story feels a little disjointed, especially in the aforementioned bat scene, and at the very end – some of this is due to Greg Capullo’s poor storytelling I think.  If only Albuquerque (or Francesco Francavilla) were drawing the whole book.

Batman and Robin #9 – Damian gets to take on a Talon of his own, in this Night of the Owls cross-over.  He is tasked with protecting a National Guard General on a training exercise.  Damian demonstrates both his tenacity and his strategic skill in this issue, and it’s another very good read.  Lee Garbett does most of the art, and while I prefer Patrick Gleason on this title, he does a very good job with it.  Damian is a character who could handle his own title, and if he was written as well as Peter Tomasi’s been writing him, I’d be happy to buy it.

Demon Knights #9 – This issue serves to launch the next large story for this book, as the band of heroes are sent on a quest by the princesses of Alba Sarum to journey to mystical Avalon to try to bring the recently murdered Merlin back to life.  Of course, Etrigan has his own plan in mind, and I’m sure it’s not going to be long before Vandal Savage betrays everyone again.  This is a very solid comic, especially considering the strangeness of its subject matter – a medieval Justice League of self-interested and untrustworthy ‘heroes’.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #9 - I know that sales on this book aren’t all that great, so I’m not surprised to see that DC is trying to boost the books profile by tying in, very tangentially, to the critically acclaimed story that’s happening in writer Jeff Lemire’s other monthly book, Animal Man.  I think this is Lemire’s last issue of Frankenstein (soon to be replaced by Matt Kindt, another independent writer/artist I admire), but instead of closing things off, he’s leaving open the question of whether or not Frankenstein will remain with SHADE, and also builds the relationship between him and Nina.  It’s a good issue, answering the pivotal question of what ever happened to the body of that cop in Animal Man, but it still lacks the heart that that other title has.

Hell Yeah #3 – After the last issue, I was ready to drop Joe Keatinge and Andre Szymanowicz’s alternate reality series.  It felt way too similar to Infinite Vacation, and generally fell flat.  Well, this issue revived things quite a bit, with various versions of the main character appearing in this reality (including a Liefeld-90s version) trying to escape whoever it is that is killing them.  This issue was much more balanced and interesting, and I think I’ll give the book another chance, instead of dropping it next issue like I’d intended.

Higher Earth #1 – Sam Humphries is the new it writer, having made his splash with Our Love is Real and Sacrifice, and now splitting his time between his self-published projects, work for Marvel (see below), and a pair of series for Boom.  This first issue is only a dollar, so I thought I’d check it out, but I’m not sure if I was impressed.  It took a while to make sense of the random violence at the beginning of the issue, although the high concept – that some parallel Earths use others as garbage dumps and/or open pit mines – is interesting (if awfully similar to what Jonathan Hickman played with in The Red Wing).  There’s some guy who rescues a girl from a dump planet, and takes her to a better Earth, but I don’t understand why they are being pursued, and I’m not sure how much I care.

Invincible #91 - Invincible rarely disappoints.  This issue follows up on some of the bigger events of the last few months.  Mark is still recovering from the Viltrimute Plague, but now he’s woken up in Dinosaurus’s lair, except Dinosaurus has reverted to human, and also doesn’t know what is going on.  Meanwhile, Mark’s friends are looking for him, which leads to a big fight with a completely Kirkmanesque surprise ending (which means I didn’t see it coming at all).  Great stuff.

Journey Into Mystery #637 – The JIM/New Mutants cross-over, Exiled, continues here with a slightly re-made world that has recast all of the Asgardians in Exiled #1 into local folk, with no memory of their previous lives as gods or Disir.  It’s the New Mutants who figure things out, and who manage to restore Loki to help them put things right.  As with the first chapter, the writing is excellent.  I should have mentioned the art last week, but this issue is also drawn by Carmine Di Giandomenico (I wonder if he’s going to do the whole event?).  His faces, especially Dani Moonstar’s, remind me a great deal of Barry Windsor-Smith’s art, while everything else fits within the Camuncoli/Gaudiano style that I like so much.  I miss Barry Windsor-Smith…

Suicide Squad #9, and Resurrection Man #8 & 9 – There have been a lot of these little cross-overs in the DCnU of late, and I figured this would be another good chance to check out Resurrection Man, a book I’m as on the fence about as I am Suicide Squad, except I’m only buying one of the two.  The Squad is after Mitch Shelley, because Amanda Waller wants to study his regenerative abilities.  This leads to a fairly standard dust-up between the casts of the two books.  As usual, the Squad comic falls short because it lacks the type of characterization and character-driven writing that would make it successful.  I wish both of these books were better…

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #10 - I’ve always been a fan of comics where everything is falling apart, and Jonathan Hickman and new co-writer Sam Humphries have definitely put the Ultimate world into that state, with most of Washington wiped off the map, the Ultimates being hunted by SHIELD, and Tony Stark having health problems.  I do question some of the priorities of the new SHIELD leadership, but otherwise find myself enjoying this comic more and more.  Humphries is a welcome addition to the book – his Our Love is Real was one of the most memorable comics of last year, and I am loving his Sacrifice, and guest artist Luke Ross also performs commendably.  I still don’t understand how this is all happening in the same continuity as Ultimate Comics Spider-Man though…

Uncanny X-Force #25 – I hope Marvel isn’t planning on testing out this idea of stuffing some unwanted reprints in the back of a comic and then charging $4.99 for it, because that’s not cool.  This new issue of Uncanny X-Force is a good one – the team is dwindling as Psylocke and Fantomex both leave for various personal reasons, leaving only Logan, AoA Nightcrawler, and Deadpool to get involved with some high-tech assassination retail outlet, that has been cloning Omega Red (because every stupid 90s villain deserves a resurrection or two).  Mike McKone draws this issue, which gives it a very different look from what we usually see, but it works here.  The back-ups are both by Remender and Jerome Opena; one is a decent Wolverine story, and the other is a typically stupid Deadpool thing.

Wolverine and the X-Men #10 – At least Jason Aaron remembers that many people on opposing sides of the Avengers/X-Men fight are friends, especially with Wolverine having sided with the Avengers.  Cyclops pays the Jean Grey school a visit, and he and Logan have a chat, which doesn’t really resolve anything, but does give some of the other members of the cast the chance to defect to the Utopian perspective.  Wisely, Aaron also gives over some space in the book to Angel and Genesis, two of the most interesting characters in this comic, perhaps with the expectation that people reading this comic who usually don’t may stick around.  Chris Bachalo’s art is the best reason to keep coming back, as he is once again spectacular.  This is way better than Avengers Vs. X-Men.

X-Men Legacy #266 – I decided to give Christos Gage one last chance on this title (I generally like to support the $3 comics), and shee what he would do with the AvX-mandated crossover.  Rogue’s group (who strangely never really show up in Jason Aaron’s parent title) struggle with their response to the war with the Avengers, at least until an odd trio of that team (Falcon, She-Hulk, and Moon Knight) show up on their doorstep to keep an eye on them.  Marvel really isn’t going to great lengths to paint the Avengers in a sensitive light in this crossover.  Anyway, it’s a decent read, and I like how Gage is writing Fury.

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

Avengers Assemble #3

Avenging Spider-Man #7

Captain America #11

Dan the Unharmable #1

Fury MAX #1

New Avengers #26

Ultimate Comics X-Men #11

Wolverine #306

TCAF Goodies:

As I mentioned last week, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival is the best comics show that happens in Toronto each year.  It’s not like a comic convention – there are no dealers except for the shop that organizes the event, The Beguiling, few publishers, and almost no cos-players (I saw only one).  Also, the people who attend this free show are on the whole, better dressed, cleaner, and more attractive than the people you’ll see lined up for Fan Expo, the Toronto opposite.  Basically, TCAF is one gigantic artists alley, and the people who attend have to be vetted as having quality comics.  Here’s what I bought that I’ve read so far:

Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes

by Michael Cho

The first time I ever attended the Toronto Comics Art Festival was the last year that it was held at Victoria College, on the University of Toronto campus.  While looking around for comics to buy, I came across Michael Cho’s table, and was blown away by the prints he had made of some of his drawings and paintings of back alleys of Toronto.  I bought two, and they have been hanging in my house ever since.

Now, Drawn & Quarterly has published Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes, a collection of Cho’s urban scenes, which means I get to own all of these fantastic pieces of art, at an affordable price.

I have always been drawn to quiet or forgotten urban settings.  I have long been fascinated by abandoned buildings or spaces where progress has marched on.  The back alleys of Cho’s book are neither forgotten nor abandoned, but they often feel like they are.  The areas that he draws and paints are frequently shabby and devoid of human presence, just back walls, fences, and detritus.  There is a timeless quality to many of his pieces here, and save for the proliferation of satellite dishes and large plastic garbage and recycling bins, they could have been drawn at any point in the last hundred years.  These are the old neighbourhoods of Toronto that Cho captures here, and his record is appreciated in a city that is so determined to constantly reinvent itself.

These pictures were made using a variety of tools, from paints to ink markers, and they are largely organized by time of year and colour scheme.  His evening pictures perfectly capture the orangey-yellow of life under mercury vapor street lights, while his winter scenes, tinted blue, evoke the cold of a Toronto winter (okay, not lately).  Spring is filled with greens, while his autumn pictures are more reddish and yellow.

Every page of this book feels familiar, although there are few scenes I can identify with any certainty.  Cho has captured aspects of my city that I love, and I am certain that this is a book I am going to treasure.  It is a beautifully designed book, and I’m pleased that Drawn & Quarterly put this together for us.

Foster #1 & 2

Written by Brian Buccellato
Art by Noel Tuazon

When I looked through this month’s Previews, the one new project that most caught my eye was Foster, a self-published series by Brian Buccellato (co-writer of The Flash, and colourist of many titles), and Noel Tuazon (who drew the wonderful graphic novel Tumor). The title sounded very cool, so I figured I would give it a chance, and added it to my pull-list.

Luckily, I hadn’t sent in my July order yet, because Noel Tuazon was at TCAF this last week-end, and had the ‘Special Limited Edition’ of the first two issues for sale.  Despite their costing significantly more than the direct market editions will be selling for, flipping through these comics, I knew I had to have them.  That Tuazon drew a sketch on the back covers of each was really just a bonus.

Foster is a very good comic.  It’s set in a gritty, 1970s style city (apparently it’s an amalgam of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles).  Foster, the title character, is an unhappy alcoholic Vietnam veteran who lives in a rat-trap apartment.  When his junkie neighbour Trina disappears, he ends up looking after her young son Ben.  Foster feels some responsibility for the kid, as he and Trina were together for a while, before her behaviour brought back too many memories of his childhood.

The next day, after dropping Ben off at school, and deciding to wash his hands of the kid, Foster is visited by a large and menacing character – one of the Dwellers, a race that lives secretly alongside mankind, who is looking for the kid.  They aren’t vampires – they are more likely an offshoot of Neanderthal man.  There is a reason why they are after Ben, but I feel it’s pretty significant, so I don’t want to say what it is.

Needless to say, Foster feels the need to look out for the kid, although it’s not long before the police are interested in him as well, as is a researcher at the university.  There’s a lot going on here, as Buccellato plays with a number of genre tropes, but mixes them up in an interesting way.  By the time I got to the end of the second issue, I found myself completely invested in the story.

A lot of the credit for this goes to Tuazon.  He captures the urban environment perfectly, and his Dwellers are very menacing.  His art is not all that detailed, which leaves the finer features of the Dweller to the reader’s imagination, and that makes them all the more creepy.

This is a very good comic.  It’s in this month’s Previews, and I can not urge you enough to check it out and pre-order it.  I imagine that this is the type of project that a number of comic stores may not be aware of, so if you are interested, please speak to your retailer soon.  You won’t be sorry with it.  Also, check out Buccellato’s website to read previews or order your own copy (or a download).


by John Lang, with Jeff Sebank

This self-published comic was an impulse buy that I picked up at TCAF.  Lang has just written and drawn a comic about the Canadian WWI pilot Billy Bishop called Lone Hawk, and I thought this comic looked interesting.  I was not disappointed.

In a short amount of space, Lang constructs a pretty detailed vision of the future.  The story is set in 2036, in an America that has been riven once again with civil war and challenged by a new Depression.  Our main character wakes up for his night shift job only to learn that he and all his fellow employees have been laid off.  He makes his way to a bar, where we learn a great deal about the state of the Union from a news broadcast.  We also learn that our hero was involved in some ‘Uprising’ as a tech runner.

In a lot of ways, it feels like Lang was setting up a much longer series with this comic.  This comic was published in 2006, so it predates many of the financial problems that the comic depicts, which struck much sooner than the forecasted time frame.  If one sees the ‘Uprising’ as a form of Occupy Wherever, this book looks even more prescient.

Lang drew this comic in a noir-ish, thick lined manner that works very well with the material.  I enjoyed this comic, and I’m glad I picked it up.

The Mire

by Becky Cloonan

The Mire is a new mini-comic by comics goddess Becky Cloonan, which had its debut at TCAF last week-end.  This ‘TCAF Edition’ is slightly different from the version sold by Cloonan (buy it here, and get Wolves while you’re at it!) in that the cover stock is not of the same quality as what the official release will have.  Knowing that I already bought this comic as a preorder when it was first available months ago, I found I still couldn’t resist buying a copy from the lovely Ms. Cloonan in person.  That this edition has a very limited press run added to that desire.

Like Wolves, the mini-comic she made last year, this is a gorgeous little book.  It’s set in some medieval period, and it involves a young squire, Aiden, being sent by his knight to deliver a message on the eve of a great battle.  Aiden has to be sent through something called The Withering Swamp, as any other passage takes him through enemy lands.  This swamp is known as a haunted, supernatural place, and Aiden is forced to face his fears as he journeys through it.

This is a strange, creepy story, with some wonderful art.  There is a bit of a twist at the end of the book that I thought I could see coming, but I still found myself swept up in the story, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  Recommended.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle #8

by Michael Kupperman

This latest issue of Michael Kupperman’s whimsical anthology series isn’t scheduled for release until July (it’s in the issue of Previews that came out last week), but the fine people at Fantagraphics brought copies of it with them to TCAF this week-end, and I couldn’t resist getting my copy early.

As always, this is a great comic.  Kupperman opens this issue with some pages from ‘Red Warren’s Train & Bus Coloring Book’, a series of black and white images around the themes of trains (not many buses) and their peculiar mating habits.  These pages are narrated by Red Warren (I have no idea who that is) in a rather peculiar way.  Look out for the eyes!!!

The next story, ‘Murder, She Goat’ involves a famous lady detective who travels with a goat that helps her solve murders.  When she is invited to a party at a stately manor, the guests begin to question just why it is that people always die whenever this woman shows up.

After that comes an extremely educational comic strip history of Bertrand Copillon, ‘The Scythe’, a French hero who put his scything skills to good use in the 1400s to defend his country.

Almost half of the comic is taken up with ‘Moon 69 – the True Story of the 1969 Moon Launch’.  This story reveals, at long last, just how NASA was able to come up with their rocket design (a contest), where they recruited their astronauts (prison), and how the Three Musketeers saved them from Richard Nixon’s sandwich bombs.  This is a very funny strip, with guest appearances by Quincy and Columbo, and with an excellent sponsor in Roman pizza garden style ranch dressing – the salad dressing that will give you syphilis.

Kupperman is a singular talent, and his melange of old TV references with random story elements is never dull.  I highly encourage you to pre-order this comic now.

Bargain Comics:

Avenging Spider-Man #4 & 5 – I get it that the purpose of this comic is to replace the old Marvel Team-Up series, which had Spider-Man and a guest deal with some kind of problem in a done-in-one story each month, which frequently had longer arcs made up of individual chapters featuring a different guest hero.  These two issues have Spidey hanging out with Hawkeye and Captain America, and both issues feel pretty off.  To begin with, Hawkeye is acting like Johnny Storm without his Ritalin in his issue, not like the guy who has led multiple super-teams.  He’s juvenile, petulant, and annoying.  In the second issue, Spidey has some Captain America hero worship issues that might make more sense were he Miles Morales, and not Peter Parker, who has spent the last few years as an Avenger.  At least the fifth issue, with art by Leinil Francis Yu looks nice, unlike the Greg Land-traced fourth one.  I thought that Zeb Wells would have had a better handle on these characters though – it’s strange.

Born #1-4

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Darick Robertson and Tom Palmer

I haven’t read any of Garth Ennis’s Punisher comics, and I’ve never been particularly interested in reading any.  I think, some time after Preacher ended, I reached my saturation point on Ennis’s writing, unless he’s writing a war comic.  Somehow, his war comic starring the Punisher that came out in 2003 got past me until this last week.

Born shows us what the end of the Vietnam War was like for Frank Castle. He places Frank, on his third tour of duty, in a mostly forgotten Firebase (Valley Forge) near the Cambodian border.  The officer in charge just wants to wait out the war, and is concerned more about rocking the boat than keeping his men alive.  Most of the soldiers are addicted to drugs, and hardly anyone cares about doing their actual job.

Frank, being the super-soldier that he is, is holding everything together, although his motivations aren’t exactly pure either.  Ennis seems to suggest that the Punisher is a different persona, speaking to Frank, either from within, or from without, a concept that wasn’t ever picked up on again, to my knowledge.  I made a conscious decision to read this as more of a war comic than as a Marvel comic, so I tended to fixate more on how Ennis portrayed the war as one completely bankrupt of purpose and justification.  Many of the usual Vietnam tropes were trotted out (grenades in the latrines, the overwhelming number of enemies outside the wire, etc.), but Ennis always uses these elements to good effect.

Darick Robertson and Tom Palmer created some very nice art for this book, as both their reputations demand.  I did find that their Vietnamese did not often look very Vietnamese, but other than that, this was a very likeable comic.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Lost Dogs

by Jeff Lemire

In Timothy Callahan’s introduction to this new edition of Jeff Lemire’s first published graphic novel, Lost Dogs, he talks about how when he saw the first edition at MoCCA just after it came out, he almost passed on it due to the roughness of Lemire’s art.  This reminded me of a time a few years back, right before Sweet Tooth began, but after I’d read the Essex County books, when I was in a complete hole in the basement comic book store (we’ve all spent too much time in places like that) in Toronto’s north end, looking for some back issues.  They had a copy of Lost Dogs, I think priced at $10, but for some reason I don’t recall, I didn’t buy it.  Reading today that there was only a 700-copy press run for that book (it won a Xeric grant), I definitely regret not picking it up.

Anyway, thanks to Top Shelf, the chance to read the book, now with legible lettering, has come around again.  Lost Dogs is a pretty rough piece of work, but it’s not hard to see the seed of Lemire’s later brilliance in this very heart-felt graphic novel.

The book is about a gentle giant of a man who wears a red and white striped shirt, set some time in the late 19th or early 20th century.  He lives in a rural setting with his wife and daughter, and shortly after the book opens, they take a trip into a big city.  When the daughter begs to look at the boats in the harbor, the family is attacked by ruffians.  The man tries to fight back, but is overwhelmed and dumped in the water.  Later, he is found by some fisherman, and through a strange course of events, he ends up being used in some bare-fist boxing match to defeat the unstoppable Walleye Thompson.

As I said, the book, and Lemire’s art, are both very rough.  Lemire slops ink all over the place, and that creates a very distinct look for this comic.  Some of his panels and figures are awkward, but his better pages look very much like what we are used to seeing from him today.  I enjoyed this book as a piece of comic book archaeology, and as the only published piece of work by a creator that I admire a great deal that I have not read yet.

Strangers in Paradise Pocket Book Vol. 4

by Terry Moore, with Jimmy Palmiotti

I think it’s time for me to take a little break from Terry Moore’s award-winning and famous series for a little while.  I do find myself completely enthralled in the lives and tribulations of Francine, Katchoo, and all their friends, but I’m also finding reading these thick books so close to one another to be a little exhausting.

In the first three volumes, each of which contain some seventeen comics, there have been complete story arcs, which have always involved Katina Choovanski’s past rearing up to haunt her, and to drag her and her will-she or won’t-she best friend and wannabe lover into a maelstrom of violence.  In this fourth volume, that doesn’t really happen.  Instead, Francine gets engaged, becomes pregnant, breaks off her engagement, returns to Katchoo, they fight, Francine goes back to Brad, and the whole cycle keeps repeating itself.

I feel like perhaps,that Moore was starting to cast about for some new ideas to keep the series alive.  We have a number of new characters (a psychiatrist, a rape victim, an FBI Agent digging into Katchoo’s past), and old characters gaining new prominence, as Casey becomes close to Katchoo, and Tambi becomes close to David, for a little while at least.  We meet a couple more of the Parker Girls, deadly assassins and former operatives of Darcey Parker, Katchoo’s old boss.

Moore also plays around a little more than usual with time, and tries his hand at some metatextuality, such as in the scene where Francine’s grown daughter tries to sell the manuscript of her gigantic novel, which is basically a text version of this comic, and which asks some questions about how much of this comic is really taking place.  Actually, I found that kind of annoying, as it was abandoned almost immediately.

Still, strange tricks and circular plotting aside, this is an endlessly engaging and readable comic.  I look forward to reading the next two volumes, but I do need a bit of a break.

Album of the Week:

Fela Kuti & Egypt 80 – Fela Kuti Live in Detroit 1986

Strut Records has just released this recording of the Black President’s show in Detroit, with his Egypt 80 band.  It’s only four tracks, spread over two discs, but the tracks are often 40 minutes long.  Fela and his band are in top form, and this sounds like it was an amazing concert.

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The Weekly Round-Up #122 With Chew, Fairest, iZombie, The New Deadwardians, Skullkickers & More Mon, 09 Apr 2012 14:03:13 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

Chew #25

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

I don’t know how Layman and Guillory are just so good at giving Chew fans what they want (even when they don’t know that they wanted it until after it happened) with each and every issue.  There are so many terrific moments in this comic, that it’s difficult to list them all.

Here are some reasons to buy this comic, more or less in order:

–  The first page is chill inducing in the utter horror that it evokes, while also being hilarious.
–  There is a flash-forward to the final issue of the series (number 60) that suggests great changes in Tony Chu’s future, while showing that other things will remain constant.
–  Amelia Mintz, Tony’s girlfriend, is the only person who seems to notice and/or care that Tony has been missing for ages, and takes on the mantle of hero, in her quest to go find him.
–  The auction that Amelia’s ex-boyfriend is holding to sell Tony and his cibopath abilities to the highest bidder is attended by some of the most visually interesting special interest groups you can imagine (and the two old guys from the Muppets).
–  Tony kicks ass, using a new manifestation of his abilities.
–  A fan favourite character makes his triumphant return (I’m not saying who, but it made me very happy) on the last page.

I absolutely love this comic.  Each issue cracks me up, but also maintains great consistency in terms of advancing its larger plot, and never gets lost in the jokes and endless asides. The next issue promises a Toni and Chow team-up.  I can’t wait!

Other Notable Comics:

Casanova: Avaritia #3

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Gabriel Bá

How nice to see that the much-delayed newest issue of Casanova shipped this week (and that the next, last issue is solicited for June).  Casanova, when the series first began years ago at Image, was my introduction to Matt Fraction, and to Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, three of my current favourite comics makers.

This current mini-series is being used to wrap up the adventures of Casanova Quinn, and those of the many people around him.  In order to stop the world (or maybe the space-time continuum) from being destroyed, Casanova, an agent of EMPIRE, has been jumping into every parallel reality to kill Luther Desmond Diamond, the man destined to become the evil Newman Xeno, leader of WASTE.  Somewhere along the way, Cass has fallen in love with Luther, so now he and his girlfriend, the time traveler Sasa Lisi are trying to save him, and still save all of space and time.

Meanwhile, Xeno, knowing what Cass is up to, has hired Kaito, a former friend to Casanova, agent of EMPIRE, and pilot of a Second World War battle robot, to hunt down and kill Casanova, alongside escape artist David X and Cass’s former lover Kubark Benday.

Confused yet?  If you aren’t, you will be when you read this comic, which jumps around in time and reality, and which has characters who are incapable of understanding when and where they are.

Total understanding is not necessarily important though, as the book flows well, and it’s easy to just sit back and enjoy the ride.  Much of the credit for that goes to Bá, whose artwork just keeps getting better.  There are some really crazy visuals in this comic, as Fraction and Bá take us on an emotional, spatial, and temporal roller-coaster.  It’s great stuff, but it will definitely read better in trade form, without the six-month waits between issues.

Fairest #2

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning

The second issue of Fairest still does nothing at all to distinguish itself from the parent Fables title.  Basically, I feel like Vertigo is taking a page from Marvel’s book (or The Unwritten’s), and is double-shipping Fables each month, and telling alternating story arcs.  Presumably, when other creators get their crack at this title once this first arc is finished, all that will change, but I don’t really know.

This issue is fine – don’t get me wrong – it just doesn’t feel very individualized to me yet.

In this issue, Ali Baba and the recently awakened Sleeping Beauty, with their bottle imp companion, are on the run from the Snow Queen, who was woken immediately after SB.  It is clear that, despite the rousing effects of ‘true love’, SB cares little for Ali, who continually tries to cozy up with her.  She also doesn’t much like the imp, whose incessant chatter is rather annoying.  I don’t remember SB being portrayed so haughtily in Fables; really, I remember her being more noble and self-sacrificing than she’s shown here.

Once the trio is captured by frost giants, the comic becomes a lengthy retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story (or perhaps the Disney movie – that’s all I’m familiar with), where the various fairy godmother characters are recast as being a little more Vertigo-worthy.  This story doesn’t get very far before the comic’s twenty pages are up, and I’m left wondering why the Snow Queen would be interested in hearing the story continue.

Saving this book is Jimenez and Lanning’s terrific art.  Jimenez always brings a highly polished look to the comics he works on, and that continues to be true here.  Andrew Dalhouse, the colourist of this book, does some very cool things to the hues and tones of each page, using the level of warmth on each page to reflect the cold temperatures that the characters are trudging around in.

Fatale #4

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

Things in this series are really starting to heat up, as many of the different threads of Brubaker’s story begin to tangle up in this issue.  Hank has been accused of viciously murdering his wife and his unborn son, but the reader knows he’s innocent, because he was with the mysterious, ageless Jo, murdering a cultist at the time.  Also under suspicion are the two cops whose mob connections Hank revealed in his newspaper.

Brubaker has been rather slow in setting up the more supernatural aspects of this story, aside from the fact that Jo doesn’t age (we’ve seen her in a parallel plot, set in modern days).  This issue, though, we learn that Jo’s previous companion and police detective Booker has always been able to see the supernatural world out of the corner of his eyes, including the squid-like creature that graced the variant cover of the first issue of this series.

Fatale has been an interesting read from the beginning, but I really feel that it’s found its stride over the last two issues.  I’m always going to be happy buying a comic with Sean Phillips’s art in it, but with each new issue, this series is becoming a more essential read.

iZombie #24

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Jim Rugg

The news out of last week’s Emerald City Comics Convention was that iZombie is not long for this world, with four issues remaining after this one.  I always treat news like this with two minds – I’ve been enjoying iZombie since it began, and am going to miss many of the characters, but at the same time, I buy way too many comics every month, and my wallet is usually okay with one or two of them disappearing.

I’ve been wondering for a while if the book was getting closer to finishing, as the long-promised Apocalypse has been getting started, and the end of the world always feels like the right place to finish a series (it’s safe to presume that the Apocalypse will be stopped by Gwen and her friends).

Knowing all of this going into this week’s newest issue of the series, I was a little surprised to find that regular artist Michael Allred didn’t draw this comic, and even more surprised to find that it is another flashback issue, this time focusing on Kennedy, the zombie Dead President, and introducing a new character/concept to the series.

When the book opens, Kennedy is putting down an incursion of other-dimensional beings that have taken over the bodies of employees at a burger joint.  She is aided by Horatio, Gwen’s monster-hunting boyfriend, who has either been possessed by, or is cosplaying as Strider, the fictional hero of a series of novels by writer Adam Morlock.

This all brings Kennedy back to the seventies, when she investigated a fantasy-rock band called Ghost Dance, who had connections to Morlock.  Clearly, Morlock is meant to evoke British writer Michael Moorcok, whose Elric novels hold some similarities to what we are shown here, and who was somewhat wrapped up in the psychedelia movements of his day.  It seems that this band was able to call forth Xitulu, the same entity currently threatening Eugene with Apocalypse.

This issue is drawn by Jim Rugg, of Street Angel and Afrodisiac fame, which was a nice treat. I don’t see nearly enough of Rugg’s artwork.

I’m very curious to see how Roberson is going to wrap up the numerous plotlines of this series in just four issues.  This book has a very large cast, many of whom have been working through their own character arcs, so giving each a complete story, while still dealing with all this Apocalypse stuff, is going to be difficult.  Personally, I’m most interested in learning what the story is with Dixie, the diner owner.

The New Deadwardians #1

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by INJ Culbard

The store where I buy comics was shorted of all of their copies of The New Deadwardians last week, so this was the first I was able to get my hands on an issue of this new mini-series by Dan Abnett (without Andy Lanning) and INJ Culbard.

The New Deadwardians is a very cool comic.  It’s set in London in 1910, but this is an alternate history, where zombies, called Restless, roam many areas of the city (designated Zone-B), and where many members of the upper class have been turned into The Young, which we would call vampires.  This information is not thrust at us, but is instead parceled out over the course of the issue.

When the comic opens, our hero, Detective Inspector Suttle is laying awake in bed.  He is disturbed by noises coming from ‘below stairs’, and descends to find one of his maids being devoured by a Restless.  He quickly dispatches the creature, and soon after learns that another of his maids has been bitten.  The next morning, he takes her to receive ‘the cure’, which turns her into a Young.

Later, Suttle goes to work, and catches his first murder case in ages (since most people in London are dead already, there’s not a lot of call for a working Homicide department).  This case is used to underscore the state of class warfare in ‘Deadwardian’ England, and also sets up what looks to be an interesting twist on the standard murder mystery.

Abnett is one-half of one of my favourite superhero comics writing teams (Legion of Super-Heroes, Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy, New Mutants, and many more), but it’s nice to see him working on his own, and on a project that is in such a different vein.  His approach to this alternate history is very well thought-out, and pretty interesting. Artist INJ Culbard is new to me, and I really like what I’m seeing.  His art looks like a cross between Guy Davis and the Luna Brothers.  He uses an expansive panel lay-out that works well on this type of comic, even though it doesn’t look particularly Vertigo-ish.

I somehow missed the information that this was a mini-series, and I was previously skeptical about jumping on this as an on-going series.  For eight issues though, I’m definitely on board.

Skullkickers #13

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang and Misty Coats

It’s been a little while since the last issue of Skullkickers was published, and I for one am very happy to see Baldy and Shorty back on the comics stands.

This issue opens with a nice, detailed recap, which makes this book very new-reader friendly.  If you’ve been hearing good things about this comic, now is the time to jump on board (not that it’s ever so complicated that an intelligent reader like yourself wouldn’t be able to figure it out as you go along).

Our two heroes have stowed away on a sailing ship, with the idea of getting themselves as far away from Urbia, where they’ve just gone through all sorts of trouble, as possible.  What they don’t know is that Kusia, the elf-girl who has been the cause of so many of their problems has also snuck aboard the same ship.  It’s not long before everyone is discovered by the all-female crew of the ship, who decides to put them all to work, while singing them a rather catchy song about their captain, Cherry Cutlass, wielder of the Ruby Blade.

This issue is filled with the usual Skullkickers hi-jinks, including a very funny food fight.  Really, there is no other comic quite like this – the Incredible Hercules series from Marvel probably came closest, but this is funnier.  Go check this out.

Sweet Tooth #32

by Jeff Lemire

Despite being Canadian, I’ve never developed an interest in hockey.  For that reason, the sight of Mr. Jeppard and his new friend/former torturer Jimmy Jacobs skating along a frozen river to rescue Gus and his friends, did not fill me with the sense of pride and excitement that it probably did for many of my countrymen, but I did think it was pretty cool.

Jeff Lemire wraps up the Unnatural Habits storyline in this issue, which has Gus and the other hybrid children affect their own rescue of Becky and Lucy from the twisted attentions of Haggarty, while Jeppard eventually talks his way out of Jacobs’s custody.

It’s cool to see how, over the course of the last few years, Gus has matured and moved from being more dependent on Jeppard for protection and guidance, to being an equal partner in their survival.

Also in this issue, Jeppard learns just how sick Lucy has been, and it doesn’t look like she’ll be in this comic for long.  Now that the dam, with its electricity and safe housing, belongs to them, I wonder if the group will be split between their desire to travel north and find out the secret behind Gus, or if they will be more tempted to stay.

As always, Sweet Tooth is an excellent read.

Whispers #2

by Joshua Luna

Whispers is an odd series, not exactly like anything else that I’ve read before.  The comic focuses on Sam Webber, a young man who suffers from OCD, and who has just discovered that he has the ability to control his out of body experiences, or to remote view.

In the first issue, we met Sam, his ex-girlfriend, and her friends, who have no use for him.  We also traveled with him as he checked in on his estranged mother and his first girlfriend, who is having problems with a drug dealer.  In this issue, we see the end of his trip, which has him ‘viewing’ a demonic creature, which eats a baby (I know, grisly).

The next day, Sam decides not to worry about the demon thing, and instead goes to visit his ex, to prove that he really can have out of body experiences.  This conversation doesn’t go well, as Sam just keeps coming off weirder and weirder.  Later, he meets a new neighbour, who seems quite open to his various quirks, mostly because she doesn’t feel all that normal her own self.  Sam tells her everything, and the girl is supportive, but a little surprised that he is more concerned with patching up his relationship than he is protecting small children.

And here is what really sets this book apart.  Firstly, there are very few comics that attempt to address real mental illness, so I find that the portrayal of Sam is very interesting.  There are also very few comics that star unlikeable characters though, and as much as Joshua Luna is setting up Sam’s problems as sympathetic, he’s just not a very nice guy; his self-absorption does make him hard to care about.  It makes him kind of fascinating, though.

Luna’s art looks nice here, and I find that I’m still trying to enumerate the differences between his solo work and his previous comics, which were done with his brother.  The people in this book have more expressive faces, showing fatigue and displeasure much more clearly than in the brothers’ other work, but otherwise, there aren’t a lot of differences.

Whispers is a very interesting comic.  You should check it out.

Quick Takes:

Action Comics #8In the past, I got very used to having to read through Grant Morrison’s comics for sub-text and hidden meaning.  With his Action Comics run, I can’t help but feel that he’s just pretending to have some kind of deeper purpose, as his story is not particularly challenging or deep.  Therefore, I wonder if odd things like the name of Clark’s landlady (Mrs. Nyxly) is supposed to evoke a certain other dimensional imp).  I also spend a lot of time wondering things like this, because I find the comic a little boring.  Superman finally defeats Brainiac, decides to keep his outfit, and learns Kryptonian while John Waters talks to the gangster we met in the first issue, for reasons I don’t really understand.  There are four artists on this book, and the art gets really inconsistent towards the end.  I’ve been continuing to buy this comic based solely on Morrison’s name (having never been a fan of Superman), but I’m starting to wonder if I should be bothering…

Animal Man #8 – Like this week’s Swamp Thing, this is another excellent issue chronicling the growth and viciousness of the Rot.  Maxine displays a new, creepy ability, and Buddy leaves his family to try to stop the rampage of the Rot through a small town.  Steve Pugh does most of the art on this book, so it is amazing, and Jeff Lemire continues to show that he really understands what’s always set Animal Man apart from other comics – the focus on the Baker family.  This is a great comic.

Avengers Academy #28 – The two-part guest story featuring the Runaways ends a little sappy, but is also genuinely touching in a number of scenes.  After rescuing Old Lace (and getting some foreshadowing for where things are headed for Reptil), the adult Avengers are revealed as wanting to take custody of Molly and Klara.  Many of the younger Avengers stick up for the Runaways, and so everyone takes part in some magical ‘understanding’ ritual, which really shows Christos Gage’s strengths at being able to juggle a large cast and make every character’s voice sound individual.  It’s good stuff.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 - I wasn’t going to buy this, but like most comics reading sheep, I got caught up in the hype, and in the belief with so many writers that I admire (Brubaker, Fraction, Aaron, and Hickman) working together have to put together a decent story.  As a first issue, I suppose it’s okay, although it does portray both Captain America and Cyclops as a little more stubborn than makes sense within the context of the threat.  I don’t see Steve Rogers as the ‘show up on your island and make demands’ type.  He would have called ahead, and would have made sure to have some people, such as Namor or Hank McCoy, that both sides respect, on hand.  Other than that, some of the scenes in this comic, like when the Avengers are hanging out on their roof, or when Scott is training Hope, felt very forced, and a little awkward.  I don’t understand why John Romita Jr. was chosen to draw this comic – I know he’s a quick artist, but when he has too many characters to draw (these days), they all look a little off, and that remained true here.  As for the AR gimmick that Marvel is claiming as ‘added value’ to justify their exorbitant cover prices, well, the less said the better.  I just hope they didn’t spend too much money developing the tech, or that they have greater plans for it than showing us the original pencils of key scenes, or giving us self-serving and uninteresting commentary from people like Brian Michael Bendis and Axel Alonso.  In the final analysis, I guess this isn’t a great comic.  It is better than the beginning of Fear Itself, and it is going to be holding several titles I enjoy hostage for the next few months, so I can see myself continuing to buy it despite myself.

Daredevil #10.1 – I like Daredevil, but I don’t like these Point One issues anymore.  There is nothing about this comic, save for the recap of DD’s origin, that kept it from being a regular issue of the comic.  Matt visits a pyrokinetic who tried to kill him in prison, and things are a little predictable.  After that, he attends a meeting of the five different criminal organizations that are after him and the hard drive in his possession, and decides to take out one of the groups, but not the others, making things harder for himself ultimately, and demonstrating questionable ethics for a superhero and a lawyer.  Khoi Pham draws this issue, and while his art is nice, it’s a definite step down from the quality of art I’ve gotten used to seeing on this comic, which usually has work from artists like Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin.  Pham is a good artist, but he’s not in their league.  Now this comic is heading into a three-part crossover with two titles I don’t buy.  I find that all these gimmicks are choking what was one of Marvel’s best comics, and making me lose interest quickly…

Green Arrow #8 - I had really high hopes for Ann Nocenti’s writing on this title, and while I appreciate that she’s introduced an environmental theme to things with this issue, I’m really not feeling this comic.  One of the three Skylarks, who kidnapped GA last issue, tries to free him, and then brings him back into her father’s house, who we learn is doing strange experiments with Arctic animals.  There’s some Cockney-speaking steampunk looking guy wandering around making sexually suggestive comments, but whose presence is never explained, and the intrigue at Oliver Queen’s company is anything but.  Harvey Tolibao’s art is incredibly confusing – I could not figure out what was happening during the fight between GA and Leer, and needed the text to tell me that he’d escaped again.  I think I’m done here – I’ll flip through the next issue, but I’ll be very surprised if I bring it home.

Hell Yeah #2 – The second issue of Joe Keatinge’s new Image book moves in a direction I didn’t fully expect from the first issue, as this becomes an alternate reality series, as Ben’s girlfriend from another reality comes looking to save him from someone who has been jumping from world to world killing him.  Basically, this is the Infinite Vacation, but with superheroes.  I’m not sure how I feel about that…

Invincible #90 – Lots of cool things happen in this comic, but the fight between Dinosaurus and Thragg, the leader of the Viltrumites, is probably the main reason to buy this issue (I love the panel where one character tries to bite the other’s head), although watching Zandale (aka Black Invincible) trying to put the moves on Eve is a pretty close second.  I love how this comic has become about so much more than Mark Grayson, who spends the entire issue in a coma (that happens to him a lot, have you noticed?).  Very good stuff, as always.  Also, as a villain name, the Walking Dread is perfect.

Men of War #8 - I think that DC didn’t know what to do with their cancelled war comic, so they decided to stick a Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE annual, written by that series’s current and future writers, into this comic.  Unfortunately, this book was drawn by Tom Derenick, so it’s not as effective as it could have been.  The comic is set in the Second World War, and features Frankenstein meeting, and then teaming up with, GI Robot.  It’s an okay comic, but it would have been much better had either of the co-writers drawn it.

Mudman #3 – Paul Grist’s Mudman continues to be a very fun look at the standard Spider-Man type character.  Our hero has somehow turned into a living mud-creature, although he still looks human, goes to school, and gets detention for things that other kids have done.  In this issue, he returns once again to the creepy house where he got his powers to try to learn what’s happened to him, but instead he only ends up activating a flying weapon device, which later gets him in more trouble at school.  We also are (sort-of) introduced to some other powered characters from the past.  Grist is taking his time, both in developing this series, and in getting individual issues out (this is very late), but it’s clear that he has a long story in mind for this book.  His art is great.

New Mutants #40 – There is way too much pseudo-science in this issue as Douglok (Doug Ramsay and Warlok) face off against the Ani-mator’s virus.  In the end, it’s a good issue, but it does drag some in the middle.

Secret Avengers #24 – Rick Remender’s take on this team really (finally) clicks in this issue, as various pairings of heroes scour the underground robot city looking for their missing teammate, while various members of Father’s council debate how to proceed.  Any comic with an Emperor Doombot in it can’t be bad, I think.  Remender is really playing up the clashing personalities of the various team members, with Hawkeye and Beast taking pot shots at each other, and Captain Britain and the Jim Hammond Human Torch arguing over fundamental forces.  Only Black Widow and Valkyrie manage to work well together.  As always, Gabriel Hardman’s art is excellent, as this title feels more and more like the win that is Uncanny X-Force.

Stormwatch #8 – It’s interesting that, although he’s only on the book for two issues, Peter Jenkins decided to introduce a game-changing scene wherein Midnighter tries to kill Jenny Quantum, deciding that her abilities make her too dangerous to live.  This issue is much better than the last (although still not as good as when Paul Cornell was on the comic).  I know that this Gravity Miner story has just been a placeholder until Peter Milligan comes onboard, but I hope that he is able to capture the interesting side of this team (the fact that his first story will feature Red Lanterns suggests that he won’t).  I’ll give him one issue to impress me.

Supreme #63 – When Alan Moore took over Supreme, Rob Liefeld’s horrible version of Superman, the results were pretty incredible.  He used the book to thoroughly explore the plot excesses and corniness of the Silver Age, and compare it to the comics of the day.  The art wasn’t always great (Chris Sprouse’s work was wonderful though), but the comic was always interesting, and was doing things with metafiction that not many other comics were doing.  So now, as part of the Extreme revival that has brought us such terrific books as Prophet and Glory, we get Erik Larsen drawing Moore’s final, previously unpublished script.  Now, this comic is one that would have benefited from a recap page, as new and old readers alike are thrust into an ongoing story, that has the villainous Darius Dax discover (through a comic written by Supreme’s girlfriend) that there has to be an inter-dimensional meeting place for alternate Supremes, just as there is for Daxes (called Daxia).  The story is really only okay, and I found Larsen’s art pretty hard to take, as in some places, he looks like he’s trying to ape Sprouse’s work on the title back in the day.  Perhaps I’m biased – I’ve never liked Larsen as an artist, but knowing that he’s taking over the writing of the book next month as well, I know that I won’t be returning.

Swamp Thing #8 – It’s only taken eight issues, but we finally get to see the Swamp Thing himself, as Alec Holland takes the fight straight to the Rot, in an attempt to rescue Abby.  Story-wise, there’s not a lot of space for more things to happen than this big fight, but visually, this comic is stunning, as both Marco Rudy and Yannick Paquette bring a ton of innovation and terrific design to their respective pages of the book.  I love the way Swamp Thing looks now, with his Sweet Tooth horns and leafy wings; this is a very cool comic that just keeps getting better.

Thunderbolts #172 - The time lost Thunderbolt team is now in New York, around the time that the very first iteration of the team was just starting up.  This leads to the inevitable confrontation between the two groups (some of whom are the same people), but Jeff Parker makes it all a little more interesting, because of his great handle on these characters.  There are some very cool scenes where Parker plays with paradox, such as the one where Boomerang tries to retrieve some of his old gear.  This issue also serves as a strong reminder that Mark Bagley’s costume designs, made in the mid-90s, are more awful now than they were back then…

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #9 – Even though we’re now seeing our third artist on this book (David Marquez), I find this to be a consistently enjoyable read, at least when Miles is being featured.  Unfortunately, Brian Michael Bendis is giving too much screen time to the Prowler, Miles’s uncle, and I find that his issues with the Scorpion are a little dull.  I find the scenes of Miles trying to manage with the usual superhero issues  – relations with the cops, hiding his secret identity – to be much more interesting, and the reason why I buy this book.

Wolverine and the X-Men #8 – It’s great to see Chris Bachalo come back on this comic, as we are given an issue that has the Hellfire Club hire Sabretooth to kill most of SWORD in an attempt to cheese off Beast (it works), who has gone to SWORD to look for a device to help fix Logan’s legs, which were transmuted and deformed last issue.  Angel gets a bit of screen time, and begins to look like a more interesting character in this new angelic incarnation than he did before.  Good stuff – too bad this book is basically going on cross-over hiatus for the next six months…

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

Amazing Spider-Man #683

Brilliant #3

Wolverine and the X-Men Alpha and Omega #4

Bargain Comics:

Black Panther #525 – 529 - These issues make up the ‘Kingpin of Wakanda’ storyline, which has the Panther and his allies (Falcon, Luke Cage, his sister, and his waitress) squaring off against the Kingpin, and his Hand operatives, who are trying to take control of Wakanda’s Central Bank in a bid to exploit the country’s resources.  It’s a much more exciting story than the previous ones in David Liss’s run with this character, and it has some very nice art by Shawn Martinbrough, Michael Avon Oeming (who is clearly not the reason why Powers is always behind schedule), and Jefte Palo.  My only problem with the story is that it underscores once again how ineffective the Hand, the world’s deadliest ninjas really are – I mean, they got taken out by the Falcon!  Terrific covers throughout this arc by Francesco Francavilla.  I wonder how long Marvel is going to leave the Panther alone now, before they try to resurrect his series again.  Here’s a hint – it won’t ever be as good again as it was when Christopher Priest was writing this character.

Incredible Hulk #2-5 – I thought perhaps I was a little hasty in dismissing Jason Aaron’s new Hulk series, so when I saw these four issues in a bin for $1 each, I figured I’d give it another try and see how it’s all shaping up.  Really, I’m still not all that impressed.  I want to like this comic, because I’m a huge fan of Aaron’s work on Scalped, and I like what he’s doing with the X-Men, but this story is just not making a lot of sense to me.  Hulk and Bruce Banner have been separated, but that has driven Banner to become a twisted evil scientist, and that doesn’t really fit with how he’s ever been portrayed, even allowing for the effects of the brain tumor he’s got.  Furthermore, the splitting of art duties between Marc Silvestri and Whilce Portacio, along with some twenty inkers, just makes the book look very inconsistent and rushed.  I’m a little curious to see how this storyline resolves itself, and where Aaron takes the story next, but only at the same price I paid for these comics.

Mystery Society #1-5

Written by Steve Niles
Art by Fiona Staples

I picked up the five issues that made up this 2010 mini-series for a good price, mostly because I like Fiona Staples’s artwork.  It’s a fun series, if not particularly original or memorable.

Mystery Society of the title is being operated by Nick and Anastasia Mystery, former independent bookstore owners who won big in the lottery, and decided to begin to investigate government cover-ups and occult happenings.  When the series opens, Nick is in the process of breaking in to Area 51 in the hopes of rescuing a pair of twin African American girls with mental abilities who have been held captive in suspended animation since the 1960s.  This involves fighting an aging general in a giant battlesuit, and that in turn leads to some problems for the fledgling society.

Over the course of the five issues, they gain two more members – the brain of Jules Verne now inhabiting a robot, and the Secret Skull, a masked undead woman.  I feel like the format for this team book was heavily influenced by The Umbrella Academy, only without the madcap unpredictability of that title.

As I’ve said, this is an enjoyable series, made all the more so because of Staples’s very nice art, but it never really moves beyond the limitations of the genre.  The B-plot concerns the Skull and Verne searching for the missing skull of Edgar Allan Poe, and their prime suspect in its theft’s name is Culprit, and it turns out that he is the thief.  I never quite got the sense that this is to be read as a complete comedy, but then there were these moments that are more suitable for a Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League reunion.  I can see why there hasn’t been a sequel…

Ultimate Comics X-Men #4-7 – I have not been able to get into this title the way I have the other two Ultimate comics.  Nick Spencer is weaving a dark little story here, but it’s way too dependent on whatever happened to these characters during the Ultimatum nonsense perpetrated by Jeph Loeb, and its aftermath.  Not recapping those events (probably because no one has figured them out yet) makes this book hard to follow, and the lack of characters to identify with makes it not worth the effort.  Also, Paco Medina makes it difficult to differentiate between Quicksilver and Stryker (when he’s not wearing his stupid Sentinel hat).  I wonder what Brian Wood will do with this comic when he gets his hands on it.

The Week in Manga:

Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka Vol. 7

by Naoki Urasawa, after Osamu Tezuka, with Takashi Nagasaki

This is the penultimate volume of Naoki Urasawa’s modern classic Pluto, which reworks and reimagines a classic Osamu Tezuka Atom/Astro Boy story into a much longer manga series, which is really quite excellent.

In this volume, the focus is very much on Epsilon, the incredibly powerful robot pacifist who refused to fight in the Central Asian War, and instead has been spending his time raising and caring for many of the orphans of that conflict.  Epsilon is pretty much the only powerful robot left after the gigantic robot Pluto has been rampaging around the world destroying them all.  Now it’s Epsilon’s turn to face Pluto (twice), and the consequences for this story are pretty huge, especially when it starts to become clear that Pluto is a reluctant player in this drama.

Urasawa has done a very good job of humanizing these strange characters, and making it easy to care about them.  As is often the case, he introduces a new character into the story – an orphan named Wassily who, ever since the war, only speaks one word – Bora – which is tied in with the other victims of Pluto’s campaign of terror.

I’m very excited to see how this story ends in the next volume.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Wondermark Vol. 3: Dapper Caps & Pedal Copters

by David Malki

Wondermark is one of the few webcomics that I actually make a concerted effort to read with regularity.  I enjoy David Malki’s humour, and the cognitive disconnects between his Victorian art collages and the modern-day issues and topics he discusses in his strips.  Also, unlike many webcomics artists, he sticks to his schedule, and is consistent about producing new material.

I am, at the core though, a collector.  Part of why I don’t enjoy webcomics usually is the ephemeral nature of them; just as I continue to buy all my music on compact disk, I prefer to read my webcomics when they are collected and published as books, such as this one, the third (and final – there hasn’t been a new one in a very long time) of Dark Horse’s Wondermark series.

As mentioned above, to construct this comic, Malki disassembles old pictures from the Victorian era, and then using xeroxes and other tools of manipulation, reassembles them into one, three, or four-panel comic strips (for the most part) that range in topic from family and relationship problems, alien (Gaxian) culture, and contemporary politics, all addressed with Malki’s oddball humour.  Malki’s visual creativity extends to creating some rather fanciful inventions, such as the pedal-copters of the title, or the robocall devices that have a steampunk aura about them.

There were many times when reading these strips caused me to laugh, especially when after a tough day at work, I read a strip that more or less portrays the person that made that day so difficult.  In addition to a collection of the regular strips, this volume also includes the long piece about timeshare sales gimmicks that originally saw print in a volume of MySpace Dark Horse Presents, and some ephemera.

I hope that another volume of this series is in the production pipeline…

Album of the Week:

Georgia Anne Muldrow – Seeds (with Madlib production throughout!)

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The Weekly Round-Up #118 Mon, 12 Mar 2012 18:00:41 +0000 I apologize for the lateness of my column this week.  I was out of town.

Best Comic of the Week:

The Manhattan Projects #1

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

I’m not even sure where to begin with this new series by the brilliant Jonathan Hickman.  I am very happy to see Hickman make a more solid return to independent, creator-owned comics, after his recent announcements that he will be leaving the Fantastic Four and Ultimate Comics Ultimates in the coming months.  The Manhattan Projects, with his The Red Wing collaborator Nick Pitarra, is (I believe) an on-going series that is like nothing he has written before (although it is easy to see his slept-on Transhuman as a direct precursor).

The concept behind this series is that the famous wartime Manhattan Project, which created the first atomic bomb, was in fact only the surface of the much larger Manhattan Projects, which investigated any number of strange scientific applications that could be used for weapons.  This issue opens with the acceptance of Dr. Robert Oppenheimer into the Projects.

He is given a tour of the facility that houses the Projects by the unnamed General in charge of things, right before it is attacked by Japanese robots coming through a gate that was lobbed into the facility.  While all of this is happening, we are given flashbacks detailing the life of Dr. Oppenheimer, and his twin brother Joseph.  It’s hard to discuss this part of the issue without giving away a couple of surprises, and so I won’t, except to say that I found it very enjoyable.

I will say that Hickman’s writing in this series more closely resembles something written by Joe Casey or Matt Fraction than his usual well-orchestrated and plotted projects, which always contain a sense of great order to them.  Here, there is a sense of improvisation and maniacal oneupmanship, as he attempts to outdo himself with ever more crazy ideas and dialogue.  Here are a couple quotes that help demonstrate the timbre of this series:

“This is America… everyone gets a gun.”
“A Red Torii.  No doubt Zen-powered by Death Buddhists.”

Pitarra matches the writing with the correct level of insanity in the artwork.  His work is looser than it was in The Red Wing, with a little bit of a Rick Geary flavour to his faces – especially Oppenheimer’s.  This is a very visually interesting book, as he has to design retro-futuristic scientific devices, which is always a fun exercise.

I’m very intrigued to see where this series is headed.  If you have been enjoying Hickman’s Marvel work, here’s your chance to get in on the ground floor of something more satisfying.

Other Notable Comics:

Fairest #1

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning

Okay, I understand the math behind this new series, but I have a couple of problems with its execution.  Fables, this spin-off’s parent title, is Vertigo’s best selling series, and has been for some years now.  It makes financial sense to branch out into a new aspect of Bill Willingham’s fictional multiverse, based on the notion that everyone who ever starred in a fairy tale is a living creature in some realm.  Spin-offs of this series that came previously, such as Jack of Fables and the Cinderella minis, did quite well for themselves.

Also desirable is the notion of constructing a new series specifically around the women of Fables.  Comics are always criticized for not giving enough of a voice to strong female characters, and Willingham’s world has those in abundance (Snow White, Cinderella, Rose Red, Frau Totenkinder, etc.).

The problems with this book though are clear.  To begin with, I’ve felt that Willingham’s approach to Fables has been floundering for some time now.  Since the defeat of the Empire (issue 75?), the parent book has wandered and meandered all over the place.  It regained some steam for the Mister Dark saga, but with that having ended recently, it has felt like there is no real plan for the book.  Story elements are introduced and then abandoned for a while, and everyone (except regular artist Mark Buckingham, who is not given enough credit for his brilliance) appear to be going through the motions.  It doesn’t seem like the right time to bring a new series about…

My second problem is that, in this story, only one of two female characters speak at all, and that’s not until the very last page.  I get it that the entire plot of the book revolves around waking up Sleeping Beauty, but still, featuring the main female character as nothing more than a plot device does not make this a book about strong females.

Instead, the stars of the book are Ali Baba and a small bottle imp that he frees in the very beginning of the comic.  Together, they track down the goblin army that had spirited Sleeping Beauty (and one other sleeping beauty) away from the Imperial City before burning it down.  Ali Baba is in turn being tracked by a revenge-minded soldier from the Emperor’s wooden army.

In other words, this reads no differently from the issue of Fables that began the story in the first place.  There’s nothing about this book aside from Phil Jimenez’s lovely art to set it apart from the regular Fables title, a mistake that was not made with either Jack of Fables or Cinderella.  Now, this series is going to be made of arcs featuring different creative teams, so there is still a lot of potential for these problems to be fixed.  My point is that I feel this was a title born out of financial need more than creative vision.

Fatale #3

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

There are a couple of things about this comic that made me happy.  To begin at the end, in the text piece at the back of the book, Ed Brubaker discusses the planned length of the series.  Previously, I’d expected this to be a five or six-issue limited series, like Brubaker and Phillip’s recent work with Criminal or Incognito.  Instead, the current plan is to have this comic run for at least fifteen issues, making it the longest thing they’ve done together since Sleeper.  I see this as very good news, as I was having a bit of a hard time grasping the scope of this comic, as I felt things were perhaps moving a little slow for a six-issue story.  Now, I recognize that they are only just getting started.

The other thing that I liked about this comic is that about half of it continued the modern-day part of the story that the series began with.  Nicolas Lash, more or less recovered from his injuries, returns to the house his godfather left him, but doesn’t find any more clues as to Jo’s identity or intent.  He also rebuffs an offer to have his godfather’s lost novel published, and instead begins to research some of the events that happened to him before he started writing.

This returns us to the past, as Hank and Jo go on a little trip, conveniently happening at the same time that Hank’s wife is murdered (off panel).  Hank starts to learn a little more about Jo, as she takes him to the house where she ‘died the first time’, and they meet someone who was present at that event.  Brubaker is really stepping up the mystery in this series, and I’m starting to get a better understanding of where this is all going.

In the text piece he also discusses the success of this series, as both issues prior to this one have sold out at Diamond, and are selling better than anything the creators have ever done together before this.  It really is an exciting time for independent comics I feel, and I am pleased to see that creators I respect and admire a great deal are receiving greater success.

Hell Yeah #1

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Andre Szymanowicz

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a resurgence of the ‘superhero utopia’ genre of comics – books like Halcyon, Last of the Greats, and The Mighty, and I started to think that we didn’t need any more, but Joe Keatinge, who has recently made a splash with his new take on the Rob Liefeld property Glory, is approaching it all from a different direction.

In this series, super powered individuals first appeared during the Gulf War, rescuing a captured US soldier, before going on to end that conflict, and introduce great changes to the world, ushering a period of peace and prosperity.

It appears that this comic is centred on Benjamin Day, the son of that rescued soldier, who attends a university for powered individuals (many people now develop abilities at puberty), but is constantly under threat of expulsion for fighting, both on and off campus.  Most of this issue is used to develop Ben, who is a bit of a childish jerk, and to establish the status quo of his world.

Keatinge also drops numerous hints that things are not as they seem.  There is the mystery of the barcode tattoo that appeared on Ben’s neck around the same time as his abilities developed.  The identity of his mother is hidden from us, with the suggestion that Ben’s parents have been lying to him for years.  Also, at the end of the comic, there is the appearance of three people who have been looking for him, for reasons we don’t know.  All of this has managed to create a sense of intrigue around this comic, and so while it doesn’t exactly scream out ingenuity, there is enough here to keep me interested.

Andre Szymanowicz, who I only know from Elephantmen, does some very good work here. He is very talented at revealing character through facial expressions, and gives the book a nice look.

iZombie #23

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

It’s all about convergences this month.  Xitulu, an elder god previously worshiped by a South American tribe before the Spanish contacted them, is about to return to Earth, and Galatea, the Bride of Frankenstein-looking woman who has been lurking around this book for months is hoping to hasten him along.

This brings just about every character in the book (except for the grandfather chimp and Dixie the diner owner) up onto a mountain to either help Galatea or stop her.  The Fossor Corporation has joined up with the Dead Presidents, but they are held up by Koschei, the Frankenstein-like monster who works for a Russian brain in a coffee maker.  Amon has brought Scott along to help him, although that would involve a rather involuntary sacrifice on Scott’s part.  The Phantasm, the ghostly crimefighter currently inhabiting the body of Scott’s would-be boyfriend shows up, and much chaos ensues.

Gwen, meanwhile, finally begins to make some decisions for herself.  This book feels like it’s moving towards a climax, and I’m wondering how much is going to be left in this run.  Roberson has slowly moved away from the book’s original aesthetic (hipster monsters), but the series continues to be pretty interesting, and beautifully illustrated by Michael Allred.

Sacrifice #3

Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Dalton Rose

I feel very fortunate to shop at one of the few stores across North America that sell Sam Humphries’s self-published and self-distributed mini-series Sacrifice.

This is a very compelling story about a man who has somehow traveled back to the time of the Aztecs just prior to the invasion of the Spanish.  It’s not clear yet if Hector has really moved back in time or is simply imagining everything that has been happening while lying in a hospital bed after suffering an epileptic fit.  What is clear is that some time has passed since the last issue, and Hector has been on the run with Malintzin, the leader of a rebel army.

Malin is a fearsome warrior, but we learn in this issue that Moctezuma’s best warrior, Tlahuicole, is actually her brother, who had been captured when her people lost a battle to the Aztec forces.  Now, as a certain holy festival approaches, Tlahuicole wants Hector, the last trained priest of Quetzalcoatl to be the one who kills him, thereby ensuring another year of prosperity and safety for all the Aztecs.

This is a very cool comic, both in the depth of its research and presentation of Aztec culture, and in the strong visuals that Dalton Rose uses to tell the story.  I appreciate that Humphries is breaking ground in many different ways with this comic.

Sweet Tooth #31

by Jeff Lemire

Once again, Sweet Tooth does not disappoint.  Jeff Lemire is constantly finding new challenges for Gus and his group of traveling companions.

When this issue opens, Gus has been kidnapped by Dr. Singh, who has become obsessed with going to Alaska to solve the mystery of Gus’s birth (or creation).  Mr. Jeppard has been taken prisoner by some wild backwoods type, who has a small hybrid in a birdcage.  This guy thinks he knows Jeppard from somewhere (and it’s not from his hockey career).  The rest of the gang are being held captive by Walter, the man who lives in the dam where they have been staying lately.  Of course, his name is not Walter, and he’s a total psychopath who seems to have a particular interest in Becky.

This series often carries with it a certain level of menace, and like some of the better plotlines in The Walking Dead, it’s when the characters begin to feel safest that things go seriously wrong.

Jeff Lemire has become one of the most feted writers in DC’s New 52 stable, yet I don’t hear much love for this series from anyone beyond its already devoted fans.  Anyone who is enjoying Animal Man should be checking this out.

Quick Takes:

Action Comics #7 - Everything in this issue takes place seconds after the events of issue 4, with no recap or explanation of what’s going on.  Superman flies (for the first time) into space to confront the Collector, and try to recover the now shrunken inhabitants of Metropolis.  He learns about the existence of the bottled city of Kandor, his Kryptonian heritage, and about the existence of indestructible armor, all while Lex Luthor argues with the collector over a somehow-still working cellphone within the shrunken city.  It’s a good enough comic, but it’s still Morrison-lite, and the Steel back-up by Sholly Fisch and Brad Walker is just tacked-on.

Age of Apocalypse #1 – I care nothing about the Age of Apocalypse, and have never read the original event that started this whole parallel world where mutants are on top and working to exterminate humans.  The more recent appearances of characters from this world didn’t do a whole lot to excite me in Uncanny X-Force, either, although I did once have a strong liking of Nate Grey.  Anyway, I do like David Lapham and Roberto De La Torre, so I thought I should check this out.  It’s not bad, in the way that the future scenes in Terminator aren’t bad, and I do like that kind of thing.  Lapham spends most of the issue setting things up, so I don’t feel like I have a good handle on where this series is going to go.  I’m not sure how much I care though…

Animal Man #7 – Nothing feels more right for this title than having Steve Pugh back drawing Buddy Baker and his family.  Instantly, it feels like the focus of the story has shifted to Pugh’s strengths – the interactions between Buddy, Ellen, her mother, and the two kids.  That’s what’s always set Animal Man apart – the exploration of his domestic life as a superhero, and Pugh shows it beautifully.  Lemire’s story has been interesting, but last issue was more or less a fill-in, and while this one doesn’t do much to advance the plot (aside from a weird dream of the future that has cameos by John Constantine and Swamp Thing), it is probably the most satisfying issue of this series to date.

Avengers Academy #27 - While I’m very pleased to see the return of the Runaways to comics, I feel like Christos Gage was trying to cram a little too much into this issue.  There’s very little in the way of an introduction to readers unfamiliar with Brian K. Vaughan’s lasting contribution to the Marvel Universe.  I’d dropped the title towards the end, so had no idea where these characters were left, and little here helped me with that.  Basically, the team is looking for Old Lace, the future dinosaur they ran with, and for some very complicated reason, they need Reptil and Giant Man’s help.  There is some good character work, and some decent art by Karl Moline and Jim Fern (an odd combination).

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #9 – I’m beginning to think that Allan Heinberg is the new Jeph Loeb, as he casually kills off a couple of characters (one of whom a strong female character, because of course there are too many of those in comics), and then goes about dismantling the team he created in a way that neither makes sense within the context of the story, nor matches with the personalities of almost any of the characters involved.  This series, which has taken years to finish, has been a continuity nightmare from the beginning, and has left a sour taste in my mouth, while also giving me one more reason to not bother with Avengers Vs. X-Men.  It’s a shame too – the first Young Avengers series was brilliant.  Jim Cheung’s art is lovely, but that’s not enough…

Defenders #4 – Basically, this is a Dr. Strange solo issue, which has him dealing with some of the consequences of his recent one-night stand, when a two-bit street magician thinks he’s figured out a way to con the good Doctor.  Michael Lark draws this issue, which looks quite nice, but really, four issues in, I have no idea why this series exists…

Green Arrow #7I’ve never been a Green Arrow fan, but I’ve long held new writer Ann Nocenti in high regard.  Her Daredevil broke new ground in terms of introducing environmental concerns to comics, as well as creating such interesting characters as Bullet (whatever happened to him) and Typhoid Mary.  Her Kid Eternity was one of my favourite Vertigo series in the early 90s.  I’ve been unimpressed with DC’s return to the 90s approach to the New 52, but in this case it worked.  This is a bizarre issue, as a set of triplets with the ability to manufacture weapons seduce Oliver Queen into traveling to Canada with them (which of course looks like the Fortress of Solitude, because that’s how things are here) so they can capture him for reasons unknown.  It’s a weird issue, but I trust Nocenti enough to give her a few issues to impress me.  The art, by Harvey Tolibao is perhaps a little too busy, as it’s sometimes hard to follow.  This is by no means a brilliant comic, but I’ll stick with it for a little while to see where it’s going.

Hulk #49 – When I bought Jeff Parker’s first issue of Hulk, immediately after Jeph Loeb left the title, I never expected to stick with it, but for a while there, I really found myself enjoying it.  Lately, however, I’ve felt like Parker has been limited by what can effectively be done with this character.  This issue is a perfect example – for some reason the Eternals have been using Red Hulk as their exemplar for all superhumans, as they argue for the umpteenth time the extent to which they want to be involved in human affairs.  Naturally, this leads to a punch-up between Hulk and Ikkaris.  Yawn.  I really do like Parker’s writing, but I don’t feel like this book is going anywhere, and I’m actively trying to cull my pull-list, so peace out Hulk.

Men of War #7This is more like what I was expecting from this comic all along (and perhaps, if that’s what they’d given us all along, the book wouldn’t be getting cancelled next month).  There are two stories here, but I bought it for the first one, a James Robinson and Phil Winslade tale about a British SAS soldier who goes off on a revenge mission of his own in Afghanistan.  Winslade painted the story in soft pastels, which at times contrasted too strongly with the subject matter, but made the poppy fields very pretty.  It’s good stuff.  The second story, by JT Krul and Scott Kolins is much better than I expected, about a soldier who is having trouble finding his feet after returning to the US after his time in Iraq.  I do love me a good war story, although it’s strange how war comics always focus on individual action, when any successful military campaign depends on the coordinated actions of many.

Stormwatch #7 – I immediately lost interest in this title when Paul Cornell left (was removed?), but since Peter Milligan is going to be taking it over, I thought I’d give Paul Jenkins’s fill-in arc a try.  Jenkins has become DC’s go-to guy when they need some mediocre comics, and with this, he preserves his record.  I don’t know what happened to him – his Inhumans and Revelations were terrific, but now his work is just not that interesting.  The story, about some gravity mining creatures from another dimension doesn’t make a lot of sense, and some of the characterizations feel off.  The big question is whether or not the completist in me will force me to buy the next issue, of if I’ll just hold off to try out Milligan’s first issue.  I really wish Cornell hadn’t left this book.

Swamp Thing #7 – It’s only taken seven months, but we finally get to see Alec Holland make the change into the title character (is that a spoiler?  it had to happen eventually), as The Rot continues its assault on the Parliament of Trees.  This is a good issue, with some terrific art by Yanick Paquette, whose page layouts remind me more and more of JH Williams.  One of the best of the New 52 continues to impress…

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #8Another satisfying issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, drawn by original series artist Sara Pichelli.  I continue to really like Miles Morales as a character, and enjoy watching him confront a series of incredibly lame Spider-Villains.  The one thing that troubles me about this series though is that Miles is always seen carrying his backpack – I’ve never seen kids do that.  He’s in a school for bright kids; you’d think he’d have figured out what the shoulder straps are for.

Uncanny X-Men #8 – Once again, this book belongs to Hope and Namor who, when written by Kieron Gillen, positively electrify the page.  The rest of the issue is very good too – the Tabula Rasa stuff is wrapped up nicely, with an issue that has the Extinction Team working to achieve solutions that are not quite so violent as they usually do.  I’m really enjoying this title (even with the Greg Land art), and hope that Avengers Vs. X-Men doesn’t screw things up too much…

Villains For Hire #4 – A nice solid ending to an underappreciated series.  We learn just what Misty’s been up to with her villainous operation, and everything makes sense by the end of the book.

Winter Soldier #3 – The best Captain America book that Marvel is publishing (and soon to be the only one I’ll be reading) continues to provide a nice blend of spy and superhero comics, as James and the Black Widow figure out Von Bardas’s plan, and infiltrate Dr. Doom’s castle to put a stop to her.  I personally feel like this is one of the better-looking books Marvel is publishing as well, as Guice continues to do some very cool things with layout and design, and Bettie Breitweiser colours the hell out of this thing.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #681

Rachel Rising #6

Stitched #3

Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha and Omega #3

Wolverine #302

X-Men #26

Bargain Comics:

Magneto: Not A Hero #1 – I originally passed on this mini-series because I figured it would be rather standard stuff, and it appears that I was right.  I like Skottie Young’s feel for dialogue, and his grasp of characters like Magneto, Emma Frost, and Tony Stark, but think that this whole thing would have been a whole lot more exciting were it also drawn by Young, and were he allowed to cut loose.  And really, how great could a comic with Joseph, Magneto’s clone, really be?

The Week in Manga:

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 2

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Art by Housui Yamazaki

The second volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is quite different from the first.  Where the first one introduced the characters and the concept of a group of Buddhist students who have opened a business to help lost and unclaimed corpses find peace over the course of a number of short stories, this book contains a book-length story.

Basically, the group has been having a hard time finding paying clients for their service, which makes sense since to be their client, one must be dead.  They advertise on the internet, and quickly become embroiled in a plot by a rival organization, called Nire Ceremony.  What they do is revive the corpses of murderers, and then let the families of their victims have at them with knives.

Ao, the boss of the Kurosagi Service is contacted by her sister when they learn that the man who murdered their parents and sister has been executed.  Through strange circumstances, the KCDS has the man’s corpse, but they deliver it to Nire Ceremony.  Later, they discover that Ao’s sister’s fiance has some secrets of his own that are connected to everything that is going on.

What follows is a pretty densely plotted horror story, which hinges on some pretty unbelievable coincidences and some very strange concepts, but is overall a very compelling and readable story.  Otsuka is doing a good job developing these characters, and I appreciated the longer story in this volume.

Album of the Week:

Georgia Anne Muldrow – Owed To Mama Rickie

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Were Money No Object – the January Previews Edition Fri, 06 Jan 2012 13:00:02 +0000 Dark Horse

Jan Strnad and Richard Corben are starting something called Ragemoor, a mini-series.  I love Corben’s work, so I’m on board, with no need to even read the solicitation.  I do wish they’d tell us how long this thing is going to be though…

Dark Horse is also publishing a new printing of Channel Zero – Brian Wood’s debut comic.  Wood is an interesting, if kind of static artist, and there is more relevance in what he says about the media here than there was when this was written.  This book also includes the Becky Cloonan-drawn Jennie One prequel.  Good stuff – if you like Jonathan Hickman’s The Nightly News, you’ll probably like this too.

So I’m ordering 8 books from Dark Horse in March.  I don’t think I’ve bought that many comics from this publisher in one month since they did their huge superhero line back in the day (Remember that?  Neither do I, really, except for Barb Wire – I can’t seem to burn that out of my brain).


I haven’t read or been interested in reading Justice League since the re-boot, but #7 is going to be drawn by Gene Ha.  I may have to pick that up.  Likewise, I’m very curious to check out Green Arrow #7.  I’ve never liked the character, but I have fond memories of Ann Nocenti’s runs on Daredevil and Kid Eternity.

One of my favourite comics runs of all time was the stretch where Jamie Delano and Steve Pugh were on Animal Man in the 90s.  I’m really happy to see that Pugh’s name is attached to the seventh issue.  I’ve been enjoying the series, but not the art; Pugh would be a perfect fix for this.

I added Stormwatch to my pull-list last month, but with Paul Cornell being replaced by Paul Jenkins, I’m taking it off.  I may pick this up in the store, but I’m not going to commit to it.  I will add Demon Knights to my file though, as I’ve been enjoying it.

James Robinson coming onto Men of War has me interested (I’m enjoying his Shade), but Scott Kolins is drawing it.  I don’t know why this book keeps getting artists I don’t like (first Tom Derenick, now Kolins).  All of these are artists who receive acclaim, but their stuff doesn’t work for me.  I guess Mark Bagley or Mark Brooks will be taking over this title next…

Night Force?  Really?  I know DC has the Midas touch lately, but this feels like they are really pushing their luck.  Granted, if this lasts six issues, I suppose The Shade will make it through all twelve.  Shade has Javier Pulido on art this month – that’s exciting!

Seven months into the New 52, and I’m a little surprised by the number of storylines that are continuing.  It seems like DC is not just writing for the standard 6-issue trade anymore, and are instead crafting stories of varying length and complexity.  This is a very good thing, and DC should be commended for it.  Also, I’m surprised to see that none of the new titles have been canceled yet; I think this is a strong show of faith in the lower-selling titles by DC, and I believe it’s working, as I’m starting to add some of the more obscure books, like Demon Knights, to my pull-file.

Vertigo is launching a number of new titles this month, and I’m not sure if I agree with their approach.  I would be more likely to try a new series each month, but this is perhaps too many starting at once, causing me to be a little more selective.  Saucer Country looks promising, if a little like Xenoholics.  It’s by Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly, so buying it is a given.

I love Fables, so of course I’m going to give Fairest a shot.  It’s going to have rotating creative teams, and focus on the women of the Fables-verse, so I may not always stick with it, but I’m definitely on board for the first story, which is by Bill Willingham and Phil Jimenez, and follows up on Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty), who we last saw being abducted by Goblins.

I’m going to wait and see what happens with The New Deadwardians and Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child.  The former looks like it may be good, but I’m not familiar with the artist, or Dan Abnett writing without Andy Lanning.  As for the Voodoo series, the preview that was in the Unexpected anthology a few months back didn’t do much for me, despite my deep respect for Denys Cowan’s art.


They basically had me at ‘Brian K. Vaughan’, but the solicitation for Saga makes me very excited.  An on-going series by BKV and Fiona Staples (!), Saga is being described as Star Wars meets Game of Thrones.  Also, the first issue is going to be 44 pages, with no ads, for only $2.99.  Vaughan is terrific, whether he’s writing a book like Runaways, Ex Machina, or Y the Last Man.  I expect this to be one of the best new series of 2012.

And the hits keep coming.  Turning the page, there’s a new on-going by Jonathan Hickman and his Red Wing collaborator Nick Pitarra called The Manhattan Projects.  It looks like an alternate history series, where the Manhattan Project was used to create other things than just the atom bomb.  This should also be great.

Hell Yeah, by Joe Keatinge and Andre Szymanowicz, looks interesting – it’s about the first post-super hero generation, and what it’s like growing up in the shadows of metahumans.  It’s worth checking out, I think.

My god I buy a lot of Image books these days.  There are 20 on my pull-list for March.  They are the most exciting publisher in comics though…


Am I the only person finding it hard to care much about Avengers Vs. X-Men?  I feel like its existence just means that the end of Avengers Children’s Crusade, and whatever happens in Generation Hope for the next few months, just won’t matter at all.  Also, I’m starting to not trust Brian Michael Bendis much for these sorts of projects, and I feel that his talkative Avengers will be a bad mix for Jason Aaron’s more action-based, light humour X-Men.  Sadly, I’ll probably end up buying this despite the fact that I’m trying my best to drop the core Avengers titles.

Check out Ed McGuinness’s cover for Avengers: X-Sanction #4.  At first I thought that Colossus got turned into a Hulk instead of a Juggernaut, but then I realized that it’s techno-organic virus-ravaged Cable, whose hair somehow turned black in the process.  This is easily one of the worst covers of the New Year (and, since the comic is written by Jeph Loeb, we can guess that the quality of the contents will only match that of the cover).  Definitely staying far away from this one…

Hey great!  Just as I’m finally starting to find that the cons way outweigh the pros in Bendis’s Avengers books, Marvel decides to give him a third monthly Avengers comic, Avengers Assemble.  What makes this one stand out?  Well, it forces the cast of the movie onto one team, so that the fifteen or twenty people worldwide who decide that the movie makes them want to read comics will have a book to pick up.  It will be polybagged, the solicitation tells us, so they won’t know until they get it home that it’s going to be twenty pages of people standing around talking, with bad Mark Bagley art.  Why not just reprint the first Ultimates series?  It’s the same thing, but with better art.

On a more positive note, Marvel is only double-shipping one title on my pull-list in March; Uncanny X-Men.  They are double-shipping X-Men Legacy as well, but I’ve been on the fence about that comic (waiting to see what it’s like when Christos Gage comes on board), and the frequency with which it gets double-shipped becomes a good argument in favour of dropping it.

I’m going to give Super Crooks a try, even if it does sound just like Wanted.  Mark Millar’s recent comics have been pretty decent.  I wonder if it will come out on time?

I see that Marvel are continuing to bury their Season One graphic novels in the back of the book, between Marvel Masterworks and the Shattered Heroes hardcover.  I wonder how surprised they will be when these things don’t really get a lot of push in comics stores.  For the record, the only one that interests me is X-Men Season One, and only because Jamie McKelvie is drawing it.  I won’t be buying it though.


I guess Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t completely finish off its story, because now we are seeing Exile on the Planet of the Apes, from the same writers.  It’s unfortunate that Gabriel Hardman isn’t drawing this as well, but I imagine Secret Avengers sells better, so you can’t blame the man.  Still, Betrayal is very good, so I’ll be buying this.

Drawn & Quarterly

I’ve recently been getting interested in literary manga, and have enjoyed the two books by Yoshihiro Tatsumi that I’ve read (A Drifting Life and The Push Man).  Now D&Q are publishing Fallen Words, a collection of manga adaptations of traditional oral stories from Japan.  It sounds lovely.

Oni Press

The Coldest City, a new hardcover graphic novel by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, sounds great.  It’s an espionage story set against the backdrop of the last days of Communism in East Berlin.  Johnston is a great writer, so I expect this to be very good.

I’m also pretty intrigued by The Secret History of DB Cooper, a new series from Brian Churilla.  Cooper, the man who hijacked an airplane, stole a ton of money, and then jumped out never to be seen again is a modern American legend.  Churilla’s story involves a fringe CIA group, and should be pretty cool.  I’m not the biggest fan of his art, and don’t like that there are monsters on the preview pages, but I’m definitely going to check this out.

Well, that’s what my March will look like.  What would you buy Were Money No Object?

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