Inside Pulse » Phil Noto 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. Tue, 28 Oct 2014 21:00:28 +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 » Phil Noto Were Money No Object – the November Previews Edition With Dark Horse, DC Comics, Image, Marvel, Boom & Valiant Entertainment Fri, 08 Nov 2013 15:00:31 +0000 What will 2014 bring for comics?  We get our first glimpse this week, with the new edition of Previews.

Dark Horse

I’m very excited to see that Malcolm Reynolds and his crew are returning to comics in Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 – Leaves on the Wind, a new six-part mini-series that follows up on the wonderful Firefly TV show, and the less wonderful Serenity movie.  I don’t know why they decided to go with such an awkward title, but with the book being done by Zach Whedon and Georges Jeanty, I figure there is plenty to look forward to.


With the cancellation of The Green Team, which I’ve found to be an entertaining title, I’m now only buying five ‘New 52’ titles a month, the lowest number of DC books I’ve bought since the mid-80s.  Curiously, all of those five are books that were launched in the first wave of the New 52, which I guess proves that with their subsequent launches, DC was really not targeting whatever type of reader I am.

Speaking of decisions that DC makes that end up alienating me as a customer, let’s talk about The Unwritten.  Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s Vertigo book got off to a bit of a rough start, but by the end of the first year, it had me hooked.  I’ve been a huge fan of the title right up until the recent story arc featuring an alternate version of Bill Willingham’s Fables.  Now, the book is being relaunched as part of the push to its big conclusion, with the new title The Unwritten Vol. 2: Apocalypse.  I’m not sure how much longer it’s going to last, but if DC is going to insist on charging $3.99 an issue for it, I think I might just wait for the trade to come out in a year.  This is a smart, literary book with a niche audience; I don’t understand why DC thinks that shameless cash grabs (Fables! A new #1!) are going to work.  At least it doesn’t have a 3D cover…


Rick Remender and Wesley Craig are launching Deadly Class in January, a series about a high school for the children of crime families, which looks to be a bit of a cross between The Breakfast Club and Morning Glories.  I have a lot of respect for both Remender and Craig (who first caught my eye on Guardians of the Galaxy a few years ago), although I’m worried that Remender might be over-extending himself, with a couple books at Image and Marvel each.


I guess it’s a foregone conclusion that I’m going to be getting All-New Marvel NOW! Point One #1, which should win an Eisner for stupidest title in comics this year.  I’m a little surprised to see that G. Willow Wilson is credited with writing a story in this book.  I haven’t heard her name for a while, despite loving her Vertigo series Air.  Is she going to be writing the as-yet unannounced but probably happening Angela series?  That’s going to be a tough decision – support a writer I like, or ignore a character I don’t care about?  (I assume that Angela is the blacked-out character with the flowing ribbon things coming off her).

I’m also torn about Inhuman (reading the solicitation of which has probably spoiled a bit of Infinity for me).  The only time I ever really liked the Inhumans was when Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee published their mini-series; the rest of the time, I’ve found them limited and a little dull.  The concept of Inhumans taking on a role very similar of that to mutants in the Marvel Universe feels a little over-done, and Matt Fraction doesn’t have the best track record with Marvel comics with a wide scope.  Plus, with Joe Madureira being announced as the artist, we know that the book is either going to be drawn by a wide variety of people, or is going to be hella late.  I think I should pass on this one.

On the other hand, All-New Invaders gets a definite purchase, as it’s written by James Robinson and drawn by Steve Pugh.  No efforts to revive this property, with its roots in the Second World War, have ever worked since the end of the Roy Thomas original series in the early eighties, but with these two gentlemen working on it, it has a good chance.  I just hope they remember that Cap, Namor, and Bucky’s time in WWII has been dipped into so often, there’s hardly a week-end left that hasn’t been shown in comics.  I’d like to see very few flashbacks in this book, and definitely don’t want to have to deal with the Red Skull or the Nazi version of the Invaders.  That’s been done to death.

As for the rest of this All-New Marvel NOW! stuff, it’s a bit ridiculous.  I applaud Marvel for not just relaunching all of their main titles yet again to coincide with this new branding (you know they talked about it), but statements like “All-New X-Men #22.NOW = All-New X-Men #1 in All-New Marvel NOW!” make this month’s Previews sound like it was written by a group of accountants who have decided to take entry level marketing courses at an underfunded two-year community college.

I do really like Jonathan Hickman on Avengers and New Avengers, but kind of wonder why we’d also need an Avengers World title.  Is there enough of a different mandate for this book, when you consider that we also have Uncanny Avengers, Avengers Assemble, Avengers AI, Secret Avengers, and whatever is replacing Avengers Arena coming out on a regular basis?  Still, it’s Hickman with Nick Spencer, with Stefano Caselli, so I’ll end up buying it.  I guess Marvel knows that…

Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto doing a Black Widow comic is certainly tempting, but this should be a $2.99 book, not a $4 one.  I’ll check it out at a sale some day.

I feel the same way about All-New X-Factor.  Peter David returning to X-Factor after just a month’s absence, and the book’s having been among Marvel’s lower-selling titles do not add up to reasons to increase the price of the comic.  I’m a little curious about the notion of the new team working for a corporation, but the price increase, and the inclusion of Gambit, are both reasons to flee from the title.  I do like that Danger is on a variant cover though…

I’m excited that Marvel is finally reprinting the Alan Moore (now called ‘Original Writer’) Miracleman comics, but they are padding it out with tons of earlier Marvelman stories by Mick Anglo.  Therefore, I’m going to wait for the inevitable OW trades to come out, so I can finally fill in the gaps in my collection, and read this story from the beginning again.

I was intrigued to learn of the Revolutionary War titles that are bringing back the old Marvel UK characters, but the way this is being handled is off-putting.  Each character is coming back in their own one-shot, but these are all chapters of a larger story.  So, since I’m most interested in the Dark Angel book, because it’s written by Kieron Gillen, I’m not going to be able to read it, as it’s tied in to a larger story.  Therefore, I pass on the whole little event.  Pity, I liked the Knights of Pendragon a lot, back in the day.

It kind of looks like most of the plotlines from FF are being concluded in Fantastic Four this month.  I was afraid of this happening.  FF has been a lot of fun, but Fantastic Four bored me, and I gave up on it a long time ago.

I’m also not happy to see that Uncanny X-Force is tying in to Cable and X-Force for two issues this month.  While I like Uncanny, Cable has left me cold, and I think it’s probably best to just skip this whole cross-over, and maybe continue buying the book I like again after it’s over.  If I remember to.


Boom is reprinting Revelations, the excellent series by Paul Jenkins and Humberto Ramos about a mystery in the Vatican.  I loved this title when it was first published by (I think) Dark Horse a number of years ago.  What I find strange is that nowhere in this solicitation is it made clear that this book was previously published.  Weird.


Bart Sears is drawing Bloodshot and HARD Corps?  I was just ready to add this title to my pull-file list, but now I’m going to have to wait and see if I’ll be able to make it through this comic.

So, what would you buy in 2014, Were Money No Object?

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The Weekly Round-Up #184 With Sacrifice, Killjoys, American Vampire, Harbinger Wars & More Mon, 17 Jun 2013 14:00:19 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

Sacrifice #6

Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Dalton Rose

I’ve really enjoyed Sacrifice, Sam Humphries and Dalton Rose’s self-published and micro-distributed mini-series.  It’s told the story of Hector, an epileptic who was somehow transported to the Aztec Empire in the period immediately before the Europeans arrived.  The series has followed his attempts to protect the Aztecs from the genocide that Spain brought to them, but we’ve seen him fail again and again.

Now, in this last issue, Tenochtitlan is in Spanish hands, and Malin is leading her remaining guerrilla fighters into the jungle to regroup. Hector lies dead, but that in turn leads him to a conversation with Quetzalcoatl, the god who has turned his back on his people.

There were a number of things that hadn’t been explained yet, but with this issue, everything is made clear.  Humphries has done a terrific job of shining some light on a topic that is not usually explored in mainstream entertainment, and he handles it with sensitivity, while still telling a very good story.  This series is vastly superior to anything he’s done at Marvel as of yet.

Dalton Rose’s art is terrific.  He employs a number of different styles in this issue, from the psychedelic cartooning of the realm of the gods to a more realistic depiction of the pre-Aztec period.

Dark Horse is going to be publishing this entire series in hardcover in September – I highly recommend getting ahold of it.

Another Notable Comic:

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys #1

Written by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon
Art by Becky Cloonan

A while back, I skipped reading The Umbrella Academy, the first series by Gerard Way, because all I knew about him was that he’s in a band I’d heard of but never (knowingly) listened to.  Later, I went back to that series because of the art by Bá and Moon, and discovered it to be strange and rather wonderful.

Now, he has a new series with wonder-artist Becky Cloonan and co-writer Shaun Simon, and I was not going to miss out again.  On Free Comic Book Day there was a preview of this series, which intrigued me but didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  This first issue makes things more clear, but there is still a lot to be explained.

We know that Battery City is not a fun place.  It looks like it’s run by a company called Better Living Industries, and that it employs Scarecrows and Draculoids to keep the peace.  The Scarecrows look like astronauts (of course), while the Draculoids are created by putting a white mask over a victim.

Outside of Battery City, in an area that used to be protected by a superhero team known as the Killjoys, people seem to live in resistance to BLI.  We meet a young girl who was a companion to the super-team (in fact, they saw her as some sort of messiah).  She meets a group of rebels, who are quickly found by BLI, and stuff happens.

There is a lot of material in this book, as Way and Simon work hard to establish the strangeness of their vision of the future.  The main story hasn’t really started yet, I don’t think, but the issue stays interesting throughout, as the reader tries to piece everything together.  I’ll need to give this a second read to really absorb anything.

Becky Cloonan’s art is fantastic, but then we knew that it would be.  She’s great at this kind of dystopian story that uses some aspects of the superhero aesthetic, but is not strictly grounded in it.  This book feels a lot more serious than Umbrella Academy did, and I’m very curious to see where it leads.

Quick Takes:

American Vampire: The Long Road to Hell #1 - It’s been a while since we’ve seen anything from Scott Snyder’s Vertigo series, so I guess it seemed like the right time to toss this one-shot out into the world.  It’s about a couple who get turned into vampires, but who reject the culture and subservience required of them, setting out to get cured in Las Vegas.  Along the way, they meet a very observant kid, and eventually come across Travis Kidd (although he’s not named), the young man who works as an independent vampire hunter.  This story wears Snyder’s recurring fatherhood theme a little too clearly on its sleeve (parts of this read too much like his Severed), but it is a good story.  Really, any chance to revel in Rafael Albuquerque art is good for me.

Batman #21 – I was completely ready to drop Batman with this issue, the beginning of the Year Zero multi-part story, but there was enough here that I may just keep coming back.  We open some six years ago, in a Gotham that has gone all ‘I Am Legend’ on us, in terms of its general state of abandonment and decay.  Batman rescues a girl form some jerks, and learns that someone, presumably the Red Hood, has been telling everyone he’s dead.  From there we jump back a few more months, to the time period we saw in Batman #0 almost a year ago.  Bruce is establishing his crime fighting mission, we meet his uncle (has that ever happened before?), and we learn that the Riddler is around, as well as see the extent of the Red Hood’s villainy.  There are aspects of this story that I didn’t like (like the return to No Man’s Land at the beginning, and the focus on the Wayne family again feels like it’s too much), but generally speaking, Scott Snyder has set this up as an interesting look at the early days of Batman (despite it kind of negating much of Year One).  I didn’t hate Greg Capullo’s art all the way through, which is progress, but I’d have preferred to see back-up artist Rafael Albuquerque do the whole issue.

Demon Knights #21As the series moves towards its conclusion, our heroes find the Grail (or at least its box, we don’t know what’s inside yet), Vandal Savage gets betrayed, and Exoristos and Sir Ystin get close.  I feel like things are getting a little rushed now, but with cancellation looming, that’s to be expected.

Dream Merchant #2 – I didn’t expect to find that The Dream Merchant, Nathan Edmondson’s new mini-series would remind me of his other mini, Who is Jake Ellis?, but with its emphasis on perception and mindscapes, I now kind of think that Edmondson is working something out in his fiction from very unexpected angles.  This issue is mostly an info-dump, as we learn who is after Winslow and why.  I really like Konstantin Novosadov’s art on this book.

Great Pacific #7 – I kind of expected the transition into the second arc of this title would be awkward, and it sort of is.  As the settlement of New Texas has progressed over the past eighteen months into something resembling an Old West town (albeit on a floating island of plastic), the utter unlikeability of main character Chas Worthington has come further and further into the fore, making it hard to care about what happens to the guy.  New threats are introduced in the form of eco-terrorists (I think), but it remains hard to predict where this series is going.  I’m going to stay on-board for now, but I’d like to see Joe Harris find some more sympathetic characters within the story.

Half Past Danger #2 – Stephen Mooney’s WWII dinosaurs and Nazis epic is a fun read, and quite dense at 29 pages per issue, with no ads.  Basically, this is the value we should always get from a $3.99 comic.  Mooney’s book is perhaps a little wordy, and long on set-up before our heroes finally get to the dinosaur island, but it is pretty, so we have to accept that.  I’m starting to wonder if I should just start buying books based on colourist Jordie Bellaire’s name, as she seems to be colouring just about every book I enjoy these days.

Harbinger Wars #3It’s becoming increasingly apparent that this mini-series is being used to aid in the rebranding and revising of the Bloodshot series, as the HARD Corps come into play, setting up their eventual team-up with that character when they get second-billing in his book’s title.  This is still a very capable superhero story though, and I think that is completely because of the efforts of Joshua Dysart.

Helheim #4 – This fantasy Viking saga keeps getting more epic, as Rikard the Draugr’s army marches on the forces of Groa the witch, stopping first to add his father’s village to their ranks.  Cullen Bunn is doing a good job of keeping this story moving (although I worry that it doesn’t have the scope and longevity of The Sixth Gun), and Joëlle Jones’s art is terrific.

The Manhattan Projects #12 – In this issue, Harry Dahglian, the irradiated nuclear scientist learns the sad truth that, when your best friend and fellow man of science turns out to be an alien drone sent to evaluate the Earth as a possible threat to other civilizations, you’re going to get tossed into space.  The Manhattan Projects continues to surprise with every issue, as Jonathan Hickman keeps the story moving in unpredictable and wonderful directions.  We return to the moment when the Projects first travelled to an alien world, and we learn what was going on between Fermi and the one alien survivor of that encounter.  This is a terrific series, which keeps getting better.

Star Wars #6I continue to love Brian Wood’s Star Wars series.  This one wraps up the first arc, showing how Luke, Wedge and the others rescue Leia from her trashed X-Wing, as the Imperials show up.  I’m not sure that I fully understand the way in which the rebels take out the Star Destroyer – if shooting an X-Wing’s fuel cells has that effect, wouldn’t it happen every time one of their ships explodes?  Anyway, I like the montage-effect that Wood uses to close out the issue – it bothered me the last time it was used, but now it’s grown on me as an effective way of checking in on sub-plots quickly.

Suicide Squad #21 – I’m still pretty intrigued by Ales Kot and Patrick Zircher’s new run on Suicide Squad.  They are still getting their ducks in a row, as Harley Quinn takes on Amanda Waller, and James Gordon Jr. has to decide how he wants to play things.  While Kot gives us some glimpses of where this is going, he keeps things pretty linear and under control, unlike his Image work.

Uncanny X-Force #6 – I enjoyed this issue, which played around with time a little, showing a conversation between Psylocke and Wolverine inside her head in the present, while flashing back to the fight between Betsy and Spiral before that.  There are some things in this issue which seem to contradict current X-Men continuity, specifically Brian Wood’s just-launched title, and that make me wonder whether or not Spiral is going to become a member of this team or was simply used for promotional purposes, but still, Sam Humphries writes a decent Betsy.  The art is split between the incredible Adrian Alphona and the inconsistent Dexter Soy, making the book look pretty scattered.

The Walking Dead #111Rick and his growing crew prepare for their assault on Negan and the Saviors, but at the same time, Negan comes calling at Rick’s community.  I like the way Robert Kirkman balances the anticipation of the big fight to come with the dread of having Negan show up at Rock’s home.  The conversation between him and Spencer is fantastic.  This is always such a great read.

Wolverine and the X-Men #31 – And now this title switches back to goofy humour again, with this disappointing issue that shows what things are like at the Hellfire Academy.  A new mutant called Snot is introduced, basically so he can be a bad joke, and we see a number of X-Villains reduced to their simplest forms.  Quentin Quire is the main character here, but he’s much less interesting than we’ve seen in the past.  I don’t understand how Jason Aaron’s writing is so inconsistent on this title – we get a few issues in a row that work, and then it gets all silly again.  And really, what’s going on with Paige?

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

Astonishing X-Men #63

Avengers Assemble #16

Avenging Spider-Man #22

Doomsday.1 #2

Guardians of the Galaxy #3

Savage Wolverine #6

Six-Gun Gorilla #1

Thor God of Thunder #9

Ultimate Comics X-Men #27

Wolverine #4

Bargain Comics:

Age of Ultron #5-7I haven’t been keeping up with this book as it comes out, because as far as events go, this feels like one that I shouldn’t be paying more than $2 an issue for, but I have kept an eye on reviews, and I knew what I was getting into buying these particular issues.  But still, it’s a little like watching a shiny new bullet train to someplace unappealing (Cleveland?  Calgary?  You decide where you don’t want to go) slowly go off it’s rails – it makes the trip more memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.  The first five issues of this series make for a better-drawn than average issue of What If?, seeing as this book has no respect for current continuity.  Then Wolverine and Invisible Woman decide to travel into the past to kill Hank Pym, so that Ultron can never be made, and things get pretty awful.  First off, in the far future, Captain America gets decapitated and no one even notices.  Then, we see Logan and Sue in the new present (the Age of No-Pym), and Logan fights himself.  Because that’s how things work in time travel stories.  Brian Michael Bendis has more than lost the plot here.  I’m shocked that no one in Marvel editorial isn’t taking a stronger hand.  Furthermore, the switch in art from Bryan Hitch to Brandon Peterson (who looks like he did his pages in less than a week) and Carlos Pacheco (who is always good) is jarring and distracting.  This is a pretty bad joke of a series – I can now see why bringing back a toss-away character from a bad 90s Image comic has become a selling point for this book – nothing else about it would make people want to read it.  (That said, I can’t wait to find the next three issues in the $2 bin).

Avengers Assemble #15AU – This week news broke that Al Ewing will be writing a new Mighty Avengers title, featuring a more street-level team.  Most of the on-line commentary I saw about this was focused on the fact that porn tracer extraordinaire Greg Land will be ‘drawing’ the book, but I did see a few people question who Ewing was (despite the fact that he’s had a long career in British comics).  If this single-issue tie-in to Age of Ultron is any indication of how Ewing writes team books, I think that this new series will be in good hands.  This issue has Captain Marvel, Captain Britain, Excalibur, and a couple of others fight off Ultron in London, and the focus is very much on team dynamics.  Butch Guice draws this, mostly inked by the wonderful Tom Palmer.  It’s a pretty solid comic, which stands more or less on its own, and is much better-written than the main book.

Indestructible Hulk #7 & 8These are great issues, only for the way in which Mark Waid has allowed Water Simonson to revisit his Mighty Thor run, bringing in the Viking god for the story, and setting it in the distant past, so he can wear his traditional, classic uniform.  There are Frost Giants all over the place, and letterer Chris Eliopoulos employs a style that looks very much like John Workman’s, from back in the day.  Waid also uses these issues to develop some of Banner’s science crew a little better.  We learn that one of the scientists is looking to get herself killed by the Hulk, since she has Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is basically the human form of Mad Cow Disease.  Except, so far as I know, it’s impossible to diagnose without an autopsy.  Anyway, pretty good stuff, but I’m still not feeling this series enough to add it to my pull-file list.

Thunderbolts #2-8 – I wasn’t too impressed with the first issue of the Marvel Now! revamp of the Thunderbolts, but the line-up, which features Red Hulk, Punisher, Elektra, Venom, and (unfortunately) Deadpool has intrigued me, and I got these for a very low price, so I thought I’d revisit the title.  This reads like many a Daniel Way comic.  There’s not enough going on in each individual issue for the larger story to make sense, as his scenes are presented in a jumble of timelines, and his characters’ motivations remain hidden.  I’m not sure just what General Ross is after with this team, or why he keeps trying to play them off against each other.  The inclusion of the brain-damaged Leader is confusing, as is the scene in the eighth issue where Elektra shoots Deadpool.  The character Mercy was shown in the first issue, and appears again here around the third or fourth, but I still don’t know if she’s on the team, or what her deal is.  Things do improve a little visually when Phil Noto takes over for Steve Dillon; I do like Dillon’s art a lot, but he’s too stiff for superheroics.  I am probably going to give this title another shot when Charles Soule takes over as writer; there is potential here, but (as with most everything else he’s written), Way is just wasting it.

The Week in Graphic Novels: 

Templar, Arizona Vol. 3: And a Stick to Beat the Devil With

by Spike

Among the books that I was most hoping to be able to pick up at TCAF this year were the last two volumes (so far) of Templar, Arizona, Spike’s bizarre alternate world webcomic set in that strange location.  The series follows the inhabitants of one apartment building in this fully-realized and thoroughly imaginative town.

Volume 3 is mostly focused on the fringe religions of Templar.  We discover that Gene, the seriously academically challenged father of Zora, comes from a family of Jakeskins.  This religion is obsessed with race, categorizing each race with numbers and a role in the world after civilization falls.  They carry knives, shave their heads, and apparently use their naked children to beg for money.  When Gene’s family comes to visit, Scipio, the downstairs neighbour, worries that Gene should not be allowed to raise Zora, which leads to a big argument with Reagan, his closest friend.

The back-up story focuses on Moz and Sunny, and their connection to the Nile Revivalist faith.

There are some other things going on too – Ben has a strange encounter with his drunken neighbour, and Scipio gets peed on in the course of doing his body-guarding job, and gets his computer stolen, but most of the volume is centred on religion.

Spike’s work is pretty fascinating.  It has a very untraditional rhythm to it, and the story would barely make sense without the endnotes, but it is a lot of fun to read.

Album of the Week:

Henkel – Kevin Henkel is a local musician, producer, and audio engineer who put together this terrific album completely on his own, playing each instrument separately and mixing it all together (Madlib’s Yesterday’s New Quintet style) into a beautiful jass album.  Check this one out.

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The Weekly Round-Up #159 with Multiple Warheads, Comeback, DHP, Happy #3, Saga #8 & More Mon, 24 Dec 2012 14:00:27 +0000 Merry Christmas to Inside Pulse readers everywhere!  This week was just about the largest new comics week I can ever remember, as most publishers pushed out two weeks’ worth of material, in a bid to close off their books for the year, I assume.  I feel bad for all the retailers who had to process these shipments.

Best Comic of the Week:

Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #3

by Brandon Graham

Brandon Graham can never be accused of having the most linear and clearly delineated plots, but three quarters of the way through his new Multiple Warheads mini-series (following up on an Oni Press one-shot from years ago), we are meeting lots of new characters, and are finally getting some glimpse of a greater plot.

None of this bothers me though, because Multiple Warheads is an absolutely brilliant series.  Sexica, a retired organ smuggler, and her wolf-penised mechanic boyfriend are on a road trip, and have ended up in a hotel on the Whaling Wall.  They’ve just been chilling, eating pastries and putting legs on their Lenin (a car).  In this issue, two of Sexica’s old colleagues show up with a job for her – to break into a fabled wizard’s larder; she of course takes the job.

We also check in on the other organ smuggler, who spends a few dialogue-less pages searching for the body she’d been transporting, which flew off on her last issue.  It’s not clear if her story is going to run into Sexica’s or not.

We also meet a couple of new characters – Moontoone, a little platypus-like creature who likes to knit hats and works as a delivery boy, and Sunshine, his dancer boyfriend.  I have no idea how these two fit into things, but again, with a book like this, that kind of thing doesn’t matter in the least.

Multiple Warheads is one of the densest, most rich comics on the stands right now.  Each and every page literally drips with new ideas, clever wordplay, and numerous sight gags.  The thing is, this isn’t just a psychedelic science fiction humour comic; the characters are fully fleshed-out and quite relatable. I can’t wait to see how this mini-series finishes.

Other Notable Comics:

Comeback #2

Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Michael Walsh

Comeback is an odd beast of a mini-series.  Writer Ed Brisson is playing with some interesting ideas, but is also refusing to spell things out, leaving the reader to connect dots all over the place to fully understand the story.

This series is about Reconnect, a company which travels back in time (no more than 66 days) to pluck loved ones away from accidents or disasters, to save their lives.  They, for reasons we don’t understand yet, have to make it look like the accident still happened so that there is no problem with the timeline.  In the first issue, we met two of their agents, Mark and Seth.  Seth has not been feeling well, and has decided to quit.  We also got intimations that the company was being investigated, but we weren’t told by whom.

With this issue, we get some answers, as we discover that the FBI is fully aware of time travel, as apparently are medical examiners, and that one agent in particular has been spending a couple of years trying to put a stop to Reconnect.  We also get a fair number of new mysteries, as Seth ‘Freedom 55s’ himself, showing up to tell his slightly younger self a few things about the company he works for (and, perhaps between panels, talks to him about the importance of buying life insurance).

What makes this book confusing is that I’m not always sure of who the characters are, or their relationships to one another.  As with many time travel books, it’s also hard to tell what sequence we are reading the stories in; is young Seth the ‘now’ character?  How far up the line is older Seth?  I’m sure this is something that will be made clear, but these are the things I wonder about while I read the comic.

Ed Brisson is a writer that I have come to admire, but this is the longest story of his that I’ve read so far, and I can see where the pacing is at times a little off.  Still, I have trust that this series is going to all make sense in the long run, and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Dark Horse Presents #19

Written by Duane Swierczynski, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas, Joshua Williamson, Matt Kindt, Phil Stanford, Peter Hogan, Corinna Bechko, Gabriel Hardman, and Frank J. Barbiere
Art by Eric Nguyen, Steve Lieber, Tony Akins, Ulises Farinas, Victor Ibáñez, Matt Kindt, Patric Reynolds, Steve Parkhouse, Gabriel Hardman, and Giovanni Valletta

You know, I’m starting to wonder if it makes sense to keep buying Dark Horse Presents, since most of the stories I’m interested in, aside from Finder, are always getting collected into single issues before the mini-series that almost inevitably follow a three- or four-issue run in DHP.  I think the problem I had with this issue, more than anything though, was the lack of a Finder story by Carla Speed McNeil (which is the absolute best reason to buy this comic).

Anyway, there are still some gems in this issue.  Matt Kindt provides a Mind MGMT short story which helps showcase why his on-going series is such a wonderful thing.  This story introduces us to Duncan, an agent with the ability to predict the future by reading the minds of those around him.

Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, who have been impressing me on their Planet of the Apes stories at Boom, debut Station to Station, a new science fiction serial about a science experiment that has destroyed a small island in the Bay Area, and has somehow brought some very BPRD-looking creatures into our world.  Hardman’s a great artist, so I was very happy to see him working on this.

I am becoming every more intrigued by Gamma, a strange science fiction series by Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas.  We get a good idea of why the main character is considered a coward in this installment, but we are given a very bleak view of their fictional world, without an explanation of how society came back from it.  I hope this series is running for a while…

I also enjoyed the new chapters of Resident Alien and Deep Sea, although I got the sense that the latter story is finished for now, and not in a satisfying way.  It’s been a while since we last saw The White Suits, and I didn’t enjoy this chapter as much as I did the first, partly I think, because of the length of time that has passed.  I am enjoying the Captain Midnight serial.

The cover to this issue is given over to the relaunching of X, one of Dark Horse’s Comics Greatest World titles from the 90s.  I didn’t like it then, and it continues to read like a Punisher knock-off with a fetish twist.  Not for me.  Likewise, I’m not a fan of the Alabaster or City of Roses stories.

Here’s hoping for some Carla Speed McNeil next issue.

Happy #3

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Darick Robertson

Three issues in, and I still have to keep glancing at the cover credits to convince myself that I’m not reading a comic by Garth Ennis instead of Grant Morrison.

Nowhere in this book are the usual things we’ve come to associate with Morrison’s writing – sure, the main character has hallucinations, but they are of a blue flying imaginary horse, not of extra-dimensional gods or something like that.  Likewise, the plot of this book is more or less linear, as Nick Sax, disgraced ex-cop, assassin for hire, eczema sufferer, and general creep decides to ignore the exhortations of the imaginary horse to save a little girl from a Santa Claus impersonating serial killer, and instead tries to leave town to avoid the mobsters that are after him.  Add to this scenes of murder in a train toilet, and it’s hard to imagine that this really isn’t being written by Ennis.

Regardless, this is a good comic.  Sax is the type of curmudgeon we’re used to seeing in comics, and the surprise that his ‘redemption’ hinges on is telegraphed pretty obviously earlier in the book, but still, Morrison paces things nicely enough to keep our interests, and Darick Robertson’s is always a treat.

I doubt this will go down as one of Morrison’s more memorable comics, but it’s nice to see him try something that is not uber-ambitious and kind of obscure for a change.

Nowhere Men #2

Written by Eric Stephenson
Art by Nate Bellegarde

I was intrigued enough by the first issue of Nowhere Men to come back for the second, and I think now I’m hooked.

This series appears to split each issue between two related stories.  The first half of the book concerns the scientists who founded the company Worldcorp, and became the celebrity scientists of their age.  Now, those that are left, are old men, and they find that they are cut off from the world they helped create.  There is some intrigue among these guys, but it’s a little unclear just what’s going on with them, at least so far.

More interesting is the second half of the book, which has been following a group living in secret on Worldcorp’s space satellite.  They’ve all come down with a strange virus that is causing parts of their body to scab over in the most unappealing way.  Last issue, they learned that they’ve been cut off by the company, and are basically being left up there to die.  They began working on a secret teleportation device, which should make it possible for them to get home, even though that threatens to infect the world with their virus.

In this issue, the device is made operational, although there is not enough power to properly test it.  Most of the crew sees now choice but to walk through the gateway anyway, but one person starts to argue against it, and things get pretty crazy.  We don’t really know these characters, but Stephenson writes their scenes so that we care about what happens to them, and I am excited to see where they’ve ended up.

Nate Bellegarde is doing a great job with this book, giving it a Jamie McKelvie feel.

Saga #8

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

It’s becoming kind of routine to sing the praises of Saga, the brilliantly readable science fiction family drama epic by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, but let’s face it, books this good are anything but routine.

In this issue, Alana finds herself alone on the family’s spaceship tree with Marko’s father, and they begin to bond with one another, despite all the tension in the family caused by Marko’s marrying one of the enemy.  We get a lot of insight into Alana’s character in this issue, which starts with a flashback to when her and Marko first met, and the influence the romance novel she was reading had on her.  We also get a good idea of how unique she was among her people.Meanwhile, Marko and his mother are searching for Izabel, their ghostly babysitter, on the planet where Marko’s parents sent her.  This involves a fight with a rather nasty-looking ogre, and further arguing between Marko and his mom.

All of these characters are written so strongly that they are very believable, despite their wings or horns.  Character work is what makes Saga so wonderful, both Vaughan’s as a writer, and Staples’s as an artist.  I’m sure some would argue that the plot of this book is slowing down, as the focus becomes ever tighter on the family, but I appreciate the way in which the characters’ bonds are being shown, especially as I’m sure that the relatively peaceful moments in this book won’t last much longer.  This continues to be one of the best series on the stands.

The Sixth Gun #27

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

The Sixth Gun is a terrific comics series, and one reason why that is the case is because of the level of self-doubt and uncertainty that Cullen Bunn has written into his characters.  Drake Sinclair, who is more or less the main character of this book, is not the sort of person you would immediately choose as the guardian of something as deadly as The Six-  a collection of mystical six-shooters that together can usher in the end of the world.

In this latest arc, ‘Winter Wolves’, Drake and his companion Becky (the owner of the titular sixth, and most powerful, gun) have found themselves trapped in a winter reality, held captive by a Wendigo that is anchored in the bodies of a group of women and children from a nearby fort.  The usual way to kill a Wendigo is to kill the hosts, who are basically comatose while it wanders.  Drake is not one to kill defenceless and innocent kids, and he makes the mistake of engaging the spirit in conversation, with results that I didn’t really expect (the scene where the extreme cold takes its toll on Drake’s hand is chilling on many levels).

While this is going on, Drake and Becky’s friend Gord Cantrell continues to travel with the undead mummy Asher Cobb, and the lying gunman Kirby Hale.  These three have an interesting conversation of their own, as they each admit to wanting The Six for different purposes.  Whatever happens when they find Drake, Becky, and the guns, should be pretty interesting.

Brian Hurtt continues to make this book look terrific, as Bunn continues to spin out a very compelling story.  I know that Bunn is getting more and more work at Marvel these days, but I’m happiest to see him continue with this title for some time to come.

Thief of Thieves #11

Written by Robert Kirkman and James Asmus
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

As much as I’ve been enjoying Robert Kirkman’s heist slash family drama series Thief of Thieves, this second arc has been a good example of why sometimes it’s better to tradewait a series.  Usually, I can’t be bothered waiting months on end for a story to be completed, and prefer to get the smaller chapters on a monthly basis.  I find I prefer it in terms of keeping engaged with the story, and because I just love the monthly comics format.

This book though, moves at a strange pace that would work better in larger servings.  With each issue, which is always well-written, it takes me a while to back into the swing of the storyline, and then I always feel that the book is over too quickly.  I know that these are the complaints many comics readers have about most series, but there are only a few where I feel this so acutely.

Anyway, in this issue, Redmond and Augustus start to plan to rescue Augustus’s girlfriend from the cartel this is holding her hostage.  They don’t have as much time to plan as Redmond prefers, and so he’s having to work closer to his son’s pace, which is not good, considering what a failure of a thief his son has been.

It’s clear that Kirkman and Asmus want to reconcile the two men with each other, and I think that Redmond wants that too, but circumstances keep stopping that from happening.  Reading this, I can’t help but think about what a network like HBO would do with this property.

The Unwritten #44

by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

This issue of The Unwritten is book-ended by appearances from characters I didn’t expect to see again, one ever, and another, for about four more issues.

The rest of the comic was filled by following Tom Taylor, newly arrived in Hades, searching for a way out of it.  Tom had gone to the fabled land of the dead looking for Lizzie Hexam, his companion, but after drinking from the river Lethe, he has no memory of who he is, or what he is looking for.

Tom is joined by the Chadron children, who we last saw being killed in the Swiss prison where the Cabal first tried to kill Tom.  They travel across Hades, meeting a few old acquaintances of Tom’s, before figuring out a way to get across the lake of flames and arrive at Hades’s palace.

There is a sense throughout this book that the underworld is not what it used to be, although if that’s because of the sickness that has infected all stories, it’s not made clear.

As with most issues of this series, this is a very high-quality book, although I feel like some of the momentum is missing from this comic lately.

Wasteland #42

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Russel Roehling

Last issue, Abi and Michael went their separate ways, having argued over how to get to A-Ree-Yass-I, the fabled location where they believe they were born.  This issue follows Abi on her journey.

At the beginning of the comic, she finds herself in Sunspot, a town that is central to her faith as a Sunner.  The town is not what it once was – it’s done to having only twenty-three inhabitants, and all but four of them are sick with some form of plague.  Abi has the ability to heal, however, and she sets herself to work curing everyone she can.  For some reason, though, the cure doesn’t work properly, for the first time ever.

This issue returns the Sunner religion to a place of prominence in the book.  Since Abi and Michael left the city of Newbegin a while back, there has been very little discussion of religion.  The people of Sunspot interpret Abi’s abilities as being proof that she is one of Father Moon’s children, all of whom were long believed to be dead.  It is the close attention to world building, and faith’s place within that, that has made Wasteland stand out among other post-Apocalyptic comics.  I’m pleased to see Antony Johnston return to that.

This is a good character-study issue, and I’m happy for the extra insight into Abi’s character.  Russel Roehling is working well as the new artist of this series, and I’m especially happy to see it return to a monthly schedule.  This issue doesn’t have a text piece featuring the journal of Ankya Ofsteen, and that is missed a great deal.  Ankya is referred to in the story, which is a first for this series, but I’d prefer her story continue to be told on its own, and not just be woven into the comics.  I wonder if Michael or Abi are going to meet her on their travels…

Where is Jake Ellis? #2

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Tonci Zonjic

Nathan Edmondson keeps this book moving very quickly, as unknown men chase ex-CIA agent Jon Moore through Thailand, and he is forced to take a young American embassy worker with him in order to keep her safe.  Meanwhile, Jake Ellis, the man who spent years living in Moore’s head (or something like that – it still needs to be explained) is brought to Thailand, with the hope that proximity will engage their connection once again.

It’s not clear just who is after Moore, and whether or not the people who brought Ellis over are with them, or are with the American government.  Presumable, Edmondson’s going to shed some light on all of that at some point in this series, but who knows?  There could be a third series planned – How is Jake Ellis? perhaps?

Regardless, the plotting is very tight in this book, and Tonci Zonjic continues to provide some very impressive art.  I’m most interested in learning more about the guy who has his eyes sewn shut, but seems able to see what Jon is up to, much as Jake is.

Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #2

Written by Brandon Seifert
Art by Lukas Ketner

Witch Doctor is a really fun series that treats magic as a real, medical condition.  Our good Doctor, Dr. Morrow, has been infected with a strigoi disease, and is being extorted by some unknown figure, who wants to trade the cure to the illness for a very powerful spellbook.  Morrow, being Morrow, does not want to deal with this guy, and instead takes his assistant to a place called the Red Market, where magical spells and items are traded and sold.

Looking for a cure, and a way of remaining invisible to his assailants, Morrow makes a couple of questionable deals, one of which requires him to perform a post-mortem on a couple.  Later, he attempts to get in touch with some angels or demons (we aren’t told which they are), who can cure him, but are going to do it in the most painful way possible.

Brandon Seifert is really expanding on the magical elements of this series, stepping away from the more medical-based premise of the first series, and not following up at all on the elder god angle he introduced towards the end of it.  Instead, we are learning a great deal about the broader world where Morrow lives and operates.

One of the things that first drew me to this book was the depth of thought placed into the designs by Lukas Ketner.  His arcane hypodermics and other medical paraphernalia are inspired, yet in this issue, I was a little disappointed with his designs for the Surgeons – they look like they’ve walked straight out of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser.  I find that interesting, considering that Seifert is writing for that series at Boom right now.

Still, this continues to be a very original and entertaining book.  Recommended.

Quick Takes:

America’s Got Powers #4 – It seems we’ve come to the point in this series where people just hit each other a lot.  This is a good comic, but after such a long delay, I was hoping for a little more character than what came with this issue.  Still, it’s a decent read, with great Bryan Hitch art.

Avengers #2 – This book continues to satisfy, as Jonathan Hickman shows us how Tony Stark and Steve Rogers went about recruiting new members to the team (although I have no idea where Hyperion and Smasher came from, or who Captain Universe is) and what it was that sold them on joining.  The comic also explains the story of Ex Nihilo and his companions.  Basically, this issue was a bit of an info-dump, but it had enough character to it, and pretty art, that I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

Avengers Arena #2 – I’m still firmly on the fence about this title.  I probably wouldn’t have picked it up this week if it weren’t for the gorgeous Chris Bachalo ‘Lord of the Flies’ homage cover, and I’m not sure if I’m happy I did.  I like the fact that more of the characters are introduced, such as Kid Briton and his friends from the Braddock Academy (I’m assuming these are all new characters, but I might be wrong), as the issue is narrated by Ryker, the Deathlok-ette.  My problems with the title continue, however.  I don’t understand why Arcade would have selected such an obscure group of teen heroes to abduct, including one powerless teenage girl who was last seen bouncing around the deep cosmos, and I don’t understand why they aren’t banding together from the outset.  The characterizations are handled nicely by Dennis Hopeless, and Kev Walker’s art is terrific, but I just can’t get behind the concept.

Batwoman #15 – JH Williams and Haden Blackman take this issue to explore the character of Maggie Sawyer a little better.  Maggie’s been around the DCU forever, but I only know her from the brilliant Gotham Central series.  This is a decent issue, but with art by Trevor McCarthy instead of Williams, it’s only so good.

BPRD 1948 #3 – While I’m enjoying 1948, everything feels a little drawn out, like Mike Mignola and John Arcudi are writing for the trade, and making sure it’s going to feel thick enough.  Not a lot of note happens in this issue, except for Professor Bruttenholm’s awkward courting of a female scientist whose theories only he fully supports.

BPRD Hell on Earth #102 – The main BPRD title reads almost like an opposite to the 1948 title this month, as nothing but big things happen in this comic.  The Black Flame returns, and his arrival sparks off a whole bunch of catastrophic events around the world, as more of those giant monsters show up and start trashing major cities.  This is an exciting read, but with such a focus on fitting in so many big events, the issue kind of lacked heart.

DC Universe Presents #15 – This Black Lightning and Blue Devil story has fallen way short of my expectations of a Marc Andreyko comic, but if all you’re looking for is a straight-forward, old school superhero story, you could do a lot worse.

FF #2 – This title continues to be much better than the Fantastic Four, as the two titles finally diverge, and we see the new FF in action against Mole Man.  Matt Fraction’s written a fun story, and Michael Allred draws the hell out of it.  There’s a lot of potential here, although I’m not happy to see that the next issue likely revolves around the Human Torch.  I’d rather this new team get to do its own thing, especially since I have no interest in having to buy the other title.

Harbinger #7 – Joshua Dysart is introducing the rest of the original Harbingers, starting with Flamingo, who in this version, is a stripper who has had a difficult life.  Peter Stanchek activates her, and things get a little fiery.  Dysart is joined by Barry Kitson this month, an artist who I’ve admired for years.  Lee Garbett and Khari Evans also draw some pages, making this book a little too like DC’s New 52 for my liking; I wish books could stay more consistent with their looks.  Still, this is a very good comic, and I especially like the way Dysart is using the character Kris to explore the morality of Peter’s actions.

Hawkeye #6 – I think it’s safe to officially declare this Marvel’s best book, as Matt Fraction employs a frustrating yet awesome non-linear approach to telling a simple story about Clint’s efforts to take a few days off from being a hero, setting up his television set, and watching a season’s worth of Dog Cops on his DVR.  (I hope this isn’t some kind of Disney vertical integration thing, and Dog Cops isn’t the next big Disney cartoon or something).  His plans are interrupted by the Russian Bro Mob once again, as Clint starts to question his ability to effectively protect the building he now owns.  David Aja remains the real star of this show, as he continues to experiment with panel layout in a way that reminds me more of Chris Ware than anything else – a total rarity for the superhero genre.  I particularly love the page that has Hawkguy, Wolverine, and Spider-Man fighting a group of AIM guys – it’s laid out like a 90s video game.  Awesome stuff all around.

Haunt #28 – Okay, I officially don’t have any clue what’s going on in Haunt any more, on the level of the story, and on the business level.  This title was terrific when Joe Casey and Nathan Fox started on it, and delivered some weird but enjoyable comics.  Lately though, as it’s been plagued by delays, the stories have seemed increasingly static and uninteresting, and I’ve had a hard time remembering what’s going on.  Now though, with this issue, the story waffles all over the place, and then suddenly the book is taken over by Todd McFarlane for the last three pages, and stops making any sense at all.  Is Todd trying to recover the property (by having it continue into Spawn?)?  There is no text page or explanation, and I’m wondering what’s going on with all the other issues that have been solicited as being by Casey and Fox (this issue was mostly drawn by Kyle Strahm).  Either way, I think this is time for me to say goodbye.  This book is a mess, but I can guarantee that the one way to not fix it is to parachute McFarlane into the mix.  This kind of thing happens to Joe Casey a lot, doesn’t it (I’m particularly thinking of his excellent Youngblood run that got taken over by Rob Liefeld, got Obama-cized, and then disappeared unfinished).

Indestructible Hulk #2 – I think that Mark Waid is making a name for himself by taking characters that are known for their moroseness, like Matt Murdock and Bruce Banner, and finding ways for them to be happy again.  It’s an odd move in an industry that likes their heroes grim and gritty, but it works for him.  Bruce wants to show off his new approach to things to Tony Stark, and of course, they end up fighting somewhere off in the Himalayas.  I think that the fight feels a little contrived, and that Leinil Yu draws the Iron Man armor rather strangely, but in every other aspect, this is a very good comic.  I wasn’t going to buy it regularly, but I’m starting to think this might end up on the pull-list.

Nightwing #15 – I think the constant interruption of Bat-crossovers into this book, followed by a two-issue stint with a guest writer, has taken the shine off this title for me.  I’ve liked the way that Kyle Higgins has been writing Dick, a character I never liked until recently, but I’m not sure how many times I can handle seeing the good people at Haly’s Circus being threatened before I stop caring.  Oh wait, I think it already happened.

Number 13 #1 – I enjoyed the three or four serialized chapters that began this series in Dark Horse Presents, so I decided to jump on board for Robert Love and David Walker’s science fiction story about a young amnesiac robot boy in a world where humanity is divided between ‘Fected’ – people who have been badly mutated by a virus, and ‘Munes’, the people who are immune to it.  I like Love’s loose drawings, and the creativity that has been put into the characters.  I am curious to see what happens to poor little Thirteen, who is apparently the key to curing humanity.

Secret Avengers #35 – We’re very close to the end of this series, and it’s all plot now, as Captain Britain and his squad finish up their mission on the Undead Avengers Earth, and Father and his Descendents make their big moves in New York.  It’s a pretty exciting issue, and Matteo Scalera does a good job with a gigantic cast of characters.

Star Wars Agent of Empire: Hard Targets #3 – In the wake of the news this week that Marvel is going to be taking over the comics end of the Star Wars license in a few years, I’m left wondering what’s going to happen with characters like Jahan Cross, the Imperial secret agent that John Ostrander has used to such great effect in Hard Targets and the previous Agent of Empire mini-series.  I hope that books like this will continue, although only if Ostrander is around to write them.  Meanwhile, I’m going to keep enjoying these for as long as I can.  This issue has Cross racing off to save the young Count Dooku from his abductor, a sometime paramor of Cross’s, who he later has to spring from prison.  Ostrander is writing a pretty dense plot that rivals the best of the James Bond movies, and Davide Fabbri is doing a wonderful job of drawing this book.  It’s good stuff.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #18 – I have hated how the Divided We Fall and United We Stand mini-crossovers have derailed the wonderful Ultimate Spider-Man, but I feel that with this issue, Brian Michael Bendis has his story back on track.  Miles Morales gets a lot more room to breathe as a character this month, as he fights a Giant Woman on his own in a cornfield, and his relationship with Jessica Drew takes an interesting turn.  I’m especially happy to see art by David Marquez, who is one of only two artists who should be allowed on this book (the other, of course, being Sara Pichelli).

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #19 – I feel like this book is really floundering.  When Jonathan Hickman relaunched it, he made a huge mess of the world in a hurry, and spent lots of time really looking at just what that means for everyone the world over.  Since Sam Humphries took over, he’s made Captain America president, and has quickly fixed all of Hickman’s problems, with the result that this has kind of become a buddy-hero book focused on the Avenger’s version of the trinity.  The reveal on the last page is kind of interesting, but I’m getting bored of this book; I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to stick with it.

Uncanny X-Force #35 – It’s not going to be hard to imagine that this book is going to be remembered as one of the better Marvel runs of the early 21st century.  While it’s not rare for a mainstream book to keep the same writer for a span of thirty-five issues, it is rare for that book to stay so consistently good, and to tell a complete story from start to finish, without getting caught up in cross-over nonsense, or losing its focus along the way.  Rick Remender should be incredibly proud of his work here, and it shows what happens when a writer is given a non-headlining title and is allowed to just go nuts with it.  This issue works as an epilogue to the entire series, with Logan disbanding the team after the events of the last few issues.  Betsy works to rebuild bridges she’s burned (is she still missing her emotions?  that part was never clear), and Deadpool calms down a little, and has a nice moment with Evan.  Phil Noto was just the right artist to finish off this series, which also manages to hint a little as to its next incarnation, with an explanation of just why the promo images for that series have a female Fantomex in them.

Wolverine and the X-Men #22 – In the aftermath of Avengers Vs. X-Men, I’m surprised by how little interest I have in the more traditional mutant titles.  I’ve decided to not bother with the Bendis titles (until I can get them at half-price or better), and my enthusiasm for Jason Aaron’s book has fallen off precipitously.  This issue has more mind-controlled X-Men fighting against the students in a circus being run by Frankenstein so he can track down the last of his maker’s relatives.  The story is needlessly silly and too filled with characters the world really doesn’t need, like Eye-Boy (who sounds like he was made for the Legion of Substitute Heroes).  If things don’t pick up with the addition of Ramón Pérez as artist, I’m out of here.

Wonder Woman #15 – The best of the New 52 continues to impress as Diana meets another one of her half-brothers, who is apparently friends with Orion of the New Gods.  Meanwhile, Hera and Zola hang out in a hotel room, and a little more happens with the first-born of Zeus in the Antarctic.  Cliff Chiang’s design for Orion is great – using the best of Jack Kirby’s original, but updating the look nicely.  There seems to be a lot left unsaid in this issue, which has me looking forward to next month already.

X-Factor #249 – It’s another all-action issue of X-Factor, so I find my interest waning once again.  I like this title, but I find that the rapidity of its release schedule keeps Peter David from worrying about making each issue balanced between the necessities of action, character development, and plot.  I imagine him thinking, “We can make this one all one big fight, with a few one liners tossed in, since I only have to wait two weeks to move the story forward.”  I would like to see this book come out a lot less often, but be a little more dense and organized when it does, because we seem to be only hitting the mark with every second issue lately.

X-Men Legacy #3 – This is one of the more oddball of the Marvel NOW! relaunches, and I can’t fully decide if I want to stick with it or not.  The series is centred on Legion, the son of Charles Xavier, who suffers from a variety of mental illnesses and is host to hundreds of multiple personalities.  In this issue, Legion travels to Japan to rescue two mutant children from some Yakuza, except that they don’t feel the need to be rescued.  The writing is amusing (I especially liked the gangsters’ dialogue), and Tan Eng Huat’s art suits the material, but I really don’t know if there’s enough here to keep me coming back month after month.  I’ll probably give it one more issue to establish itself before I decide.

X-O Manowar #8 – It’s another excellent issue, as Aric and Ninjak attack MI-6 headquarters in London to purge it of Vine operatives.  There’s a lot of excitement in this issue, as Robert Vendetti continues to set up the upcoming big fight with the Vine forces that are on their way to Earth.  This is a very nicely balanced comic, with some character progression, and some very cool visuals thanks to Lee Garbett and Stefano Gaudiano.

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

A Plus X #3

All-New X-Men #4

Astonishing X-Men #57

Cable and X-Force #2

Captain America #2

Mars Attacks #6

Rachel Rising #13

Thor God of Thunder #3

Bargain Comics:

Astonishing X-Men #56 – The conclusion to Marjorie Liu’s first story arc is much more satisfying than most of the issues that led up to it; it feels like she’s relaxed into the characters a little better, and isn’t pushing so hard to write a memorable run.  This is an X-team with some potential, and I’m curious to see where the book goes from here.

Captain Marvel #3-7 – Here’s an example of a series that I really wanted to like, but which has just not clicked with me.  The first arc of this book dealt with Carol Danvers being lost in time and suffering from some serious hero worship issues surrounding a female pilot.  Carol did not come off as confident or self-assured as I’m used to seeing her, but at least the two issues drawn by Emma Rios were gorgeous.  Regular series artist Dexter Soy’s work began to grow on me too.  Issue 7, which has writer Kelly Sue DeConnick joined by co-writer Christopher Sebela, worked a lot better, as Carol gets called by former Captain Marvel Monica Rambeau to help out with a Bermuda Triangle-like issue off the Louisiana coast.  I think maybe, it’s just because I like Monica Rambeau that I liked this issue so much, but I have a hard time accepting that she has a fear of water that prevents her from diving in and helping out.  I’m not ready to add this series to my pull-list, but I will keep checking it out from time to time.

Infernal Man-Thing #1&2 – Like with many of the late Steve Gerber’s stories, I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here.  Gerber was like the proto-Grant Morrison, and this story, which sat in a draw for many years waiting for Kevin Nowlan to paint it (you have to check out the portable word processor the main character uses), is vintage Gerber.  It’s a sequel to an old Man-Thing comic he wrote in the 70s (reprinted in the back of these two issues), which was about a man whose creative ideas take on some form of real life (at least to him).  The guy ended up fixing his life and working in kids’ animation until a mental break sends him careening back to the swamp and weirdness.  Nowlan’s work here is beautiful, and it’s nice to see him doing comics on his own again (so rare).  Still, this story did not grab me much at all, I’m sorry to say.

Scarlet Spider #1-4 – I missed the entire Clone Saga back in the day, and so had no clue who Kaine was when he returned in Amazing Spider-Man a year or two back, and didn’t much care about the character.  I do like Chris Yost as a writer though, and always enjoy series set in non-traditional places (this book happens in Houston), so I figured it was time to check this out.  These early issues do a good job of establishing Kaine as a reluctant anti-hero, and start building a supporting cast.  I really like the costume they’ve designed for the Scarlet Spider, and the way that, despite being a clone of Peter Parker somehow (the recap page was confusing), he looks so much beefier than Peter.  I’m not sure what’s up with his camouflage powers, but otherwise, these are very solid issues.  I may need to start reading this book…

X-Men #38 – There has to be a place for solid stories of one or two issues in length featuring various X-Men in solo or small-group adventures by a rotating creative team.  This issue is a bit of a delight, as it begins a story featuring Domino, who ends up teaming up with Daredevil to take down a bar filled with bad guys.  Seth Peck (whatever happened to ‘76, his excellent Image mini-series anyway?) and Paul Azaceta deliver a light-hearted, enjoyable story that is not mired in continuity or cross-over madness, and can be enjoyed on its own merits.

The Week in Manga:

Black Blizzard

by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

I really enjoyed readingA Drifting Life, manga legend Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s gigantic manga memoir a couple of years ago.  It portrayed his early days in the manga industry, a business that he helped shape with his resolve to write darker, more adult stories for a more adult audience.

In that book, the act of his creating Black Blizzard is a watershed moment for the young Tatsumi, and I was curious to read this book.  Luckily, the fine people at Drawn & Quaterly decided that this book was deserving of a North American edition, and so I was able to get the chance.

Black Blizzard is a Japanese noir story set in the late 1950s.  It opens with a young pianist showing concern that he may have murdered another person, although he was drunk at the time, and does not remember what happened.  He is arrested, but while being transported alongside another prisoner, to whom he is handcuffed, the train derails.  The two men make good on this chance for freedom, and end up spending hours together in a forest ranger’s cabin, hiding from the police and trying to get warm (they’ve just walked through the titular blizzard).

The young man tells the hardened criminal his story, one of love, music, and the cruel ringmaster father of his circus performing girlfriend who does not want them to be together.  Later, desperate to be free, the older criminal contrives to drug the younger, and cut off his hand.

The story is pretty simple in its design and execution, but for all that, it is effective.  This is a classic noir story, and it illustrates how little that genre has changed in sixty years.  Tatsumi’s early art is much cruder than what was in A Drifting Life, but there is a charm to this work by a young man looking to stretch the possibilities of an entire medium.  As a story, this is entertaining.  As a historical document, this book is essential.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand

Screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl
Realized by Ramón Pérez

I’m sure it’s not possible to find someone who doesn’t have fond memories of something done by Jim Henson, be it his Muppets, his work on Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, or the Dark Crystal.  He was clearly a visionary artist, whose oeuvre has had a lasting influence on children’s entertainment and the psyches of generations.

Personally, I didn’t realize he was such a surrealist visionary as well.  A Tale of Sand was the name he put on a screenplay for a live-action movie he wrote with his frequent collaborator Jerry Juhl back in 1967 or so.  The film was never made, but the script was recently uncovered and adapted as a beautifully produced hardcover graphic novel by Ramón Pérez.

The story doesn’t explain much – a man is attending a party in a small town in the middle of a desert.  He is escorted away by the town’s Sheriff, who rather vaguely explains that he has a ten minute’s head start to run out of town, and that if he makes it to a group of mountains, he should be safe.  The guy has no clue what’s going on, but quickly heads out of town, with only a backpack of supplies, and an over-sized skeleton key to aid him.  It’s not long before he realizes that he’s being followed by a slim, bearded man, who starts shooting at him.

The guy continues to try to escape, and his journeys lead him through a surrealistic desert landscape, populated with angry Arabs, football players, Kalahari bushmen, busy highways, a shark-infested saltwater swimming pool, and other odd things.

As strange as all of this sounds, on the page, it seems to make perfect sense.  Pérez has done a phenomenal job of drawing this book in such a way as to present its internal logic as ultimately sane and very compelling.  He plays with colour and page layouts to help propel the story, and generally, has created one of the most gorgeous graphic novels I’ve read in a while.

This book is highly recommended.

Album of the Week:

Feten: Rare Jazz Recordings From Spain – This is an amazing collection of older Spanish jazz from the fine people at Vampi Soul.  This is not an era or place I’m familiar with, but listening to these recordings really make me wish I was born earlier, and on a different continent.

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The Weekly Round-Up #148 With Fatale, LP, Non-Humans, Sweet Tooth, Rotworld, AVX & More Mon, 08 Oct 2012 14:00:20 +0000 Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Canadians, and Happy Genocide Day to my American readers!  Let’s talk about comics…

Best Comic of the Week:

Fatale #8

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

Fatale is such a great series.  This second arc has jumped in time into the seventies, although the series central figure, in flashbacks at least, Jo, has not aged or changed.  This issue ties the first and second arcs together in a number of ways.

The book opens with another present day ‘interlude’, featuring Nick, who is still trying to figure out the mystery surrounding his godfather, Dominick Raines, Jo, and the creepy men who are following him around.  Nick has gone into hiding while trying to figure out his next move, although he can’t stay away from misfortune.  He suddenly remembers that he met Jo in his past, in an interesting scene which is later shown from a different perspective in the flashback.

Back in the 70s, Jo is rather freaking out, knowing that the cult she has been hiding from has discovered that she is alive and in LA.  She is wracked with uncertainty, and is more than happy to find comfort in the arms of the failed actor who has been our POV character in this arc.

We also learn a lot more about Hansel, the leader of the Method Church, and what his goals really are.

This is an incredibly well-scripted and drawn comic.

Other Notable Comics:


Written by Curt Pires
Art by Ramon Villalobos
I’m always up for an interesting, attractive self-published comic, so when I saw and flipped through this one-shot at the store I shop at this week, I figured it was worth bringing home.

LP is a comic about F, a rock star who owns a particular record.  It’s not clear just what the record does for him, but when it gets stolen backstage during one of his shows, he feels the need to track it down and slaughter the people who have it.  He finds it at the right time too, because the drug dealers he owes money to want it for themselves.

This is not a particularly long comic, but it’s pretty enjoyable.  Curt Pires develops F’s character and world just enough to give the story a more textured feel than we would get in a shorter piece, but it’s Ramon Villalobos who is the star of this show.  His art reminds me of Geof Darrow and Rafael Grampá, in that it’s highly detailed and pretty crazy at the same time.

Apparently this book was available at Fan Expo this summer, but I missed it.  I’m glad I got a chance to catch up with it.

Non-Humans #1

Written by Glen Brunswick
Art by Whilce Portacio

Often in comics, great ideas lack the execution or follow through that would allow them to become great comics.  I was unsure about picking up Non-Humans, the new series (mini-series?) by Glen Brunswick and Whilce Portacio.  I’m disappointed to say that this is an example of that type of idea.

Brunswick caught my eye with his series Killing Girl, which also didn’t live up to its potential (but the blame for that lies in the shift in artists half-way into the project).  Portacio is an artist that I’ve both liked and disliked over the years.  He was a cool alternative to artists like Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld back in the pre-Image days, but at other times, I’ve found his storytelling difficult to follow, and his art very unclear.

I think Portacio is the biggest problem with Non-Humans.  The central idea is very interesting.  NASA space probes have brought a strange disease back to Earth that causes inanimate objects to come to life.  Somehow, this birthing is caused by a person who is carrying the disease, which is most active in adolescents.  That means that it is most frequently toys that gain life.

The implications of this are wide-spread.  Everyone between the ages of 13 and 18 are forced to take medication to deaden their creative impulses, leaving the world full of addicts who have to continue buying the pills on the black market once they hit the age of 19.  It also means that toys and other things that spark imagination, such as the Internet and television, have been banned.

The living Non-Humans are conferred some basic rights, assuming they have the appropriate paperwork, but they are discriminated against, and live in ghettos.  One Non-Human, Humphrey, a former ventriloquist’s doll, has made a name for himself as a serial killer and assassin for hire.

Our hero in this series is Detective Aimes, your typical overworked brilliant detective, who comes complete with a failed marriage and a difficult relationship with his son Todd.  Todd has been dating a Victoria Secrets mannequin, and they want to start a family, so he’s stopped taking his medication.  Aimes has to manage this issue, hunt for Humphrey, answer to his bosses, and break in a new partner.

That part of the story is pretty standard stuff, but Brunswick makes the characters interesting.  The problem for me is mostly visual.  Many of these Non-Humans are impossible to understand.  Action figures, mannequins, stuffed animals all make sense, but there are some truly horrific, human-sized things wandering around in this future world, and I don’t understand what they are supposed to be, or why anyone would have made them.  There is a Non-Human detective, named Medic, and he looks like a robot.  Were he a crash-test dummy, it would make sense, but this doesn’t.

And, as is usual with a Whilce Portacio comic, there are sequences I just can’t decipher.  I wish this comic had a stronger artist, and had been workshopped a little further, because it’s an interesting read.  At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll be getting the next issue or not.

Sweet Tooth #38

by Jeff Lemire

As a long-running series like this gets closer and closer to its big finish, it becomes ever more difficult to say anything new about the final few issues.

Abbot, the main villain of this series, is approaching the small Alaskan town where Jeppard, Gus, and the rest of the cast have holed up.  Jeppard and Jimmy, his old hockey buddy, plan on holding off the attackers so that Becky can escape with the hybrid children.

As usual, plans don’t work out the way they are supposed to, and this is probably the bloodiest and most violent issue of this series to date.

Lemire continues to play around with the layout of his pages, and continues to do some very cool things with this book.  I love the two facing pages where Jimmy lights some dynamite as a way of slowing down Abbot’s men.  The lit fuse travels around one page before blowing up the explosives on the opposite one.  It’s little tricks like that that have kept this series so entertaining from the beginning.

Thief of Thieves #9

Written by Robert Kirkman and James Asmus
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

How much literature is built around the theme of sons trying to claw their way out of the shadow of their fathers?  It’s not hard to think of many examples, but I am having a harder time thinking about stories about fathers being disappointed by their children.  We tend to root for the underdogs, so therefore it is the children of the powerful, domineering, or wildly successful that we have more sympathy for, than for the men who have perfected their craft, and have to deal with the awkwardness of having their offspring attempt to follow, and fail utterly.

This, however, is what the second arc of Thief of Thieves is most focused on.  Conrad has gone to great lengths to get his son Augustus out of jail, and make it so that the FBI had to drop their charges against him.  Now though, Augustus is owing money to some very dangerous people, and is just not smart or skilled enough to keep himself out of trouble.  He’s spent too many years trading on his father’s reputation, and is now expected to produce the master thief, if he wants to protect his girlfriend.

Meanwhile, Conrad has discovered, through his own sense of hubris, that the FBI agent that has pursued him so vigorously over the years, has decided instead to target Augustus, since he’s easily the weakest link.

This arc is very well plotted, and nicely scripted by James Asmus, who is a positive addition to the team.  Shawn Martinbrough is always brilliant.  I can’t think of many other noir family dramas – this is an original and very cool book.

Westward #1

By Ken Krekeler

I gave this a serious look through at the comics shop last week, but decided not to give it a try.  Then, I read at the Comics Should Be Good blog about how this is an excellent comic, so I added it to my haul for this week.

It is a very good comic.  Ken Krekeler is telling a pretty different storie in this series.  We open with a few establishing scenes that let us know that we are a little ways into the future, and that not everyone is happy with corporate dominance.  We don’t know much more than that though, when we are introduced to Victor, who has just woken up from a ten-year long coma.  He has no real memories, although his personality seems intact.

As the comic progresses, we learn that Victor is the son of the owner of Westward Enterprises, a very powerful corporation with a wide variety of holdings.  His sister, Annabelle, more or less runs the company now.  We also learn, through flashback, that Victor was a high-priced model and complete and total moron.

What we don’t know, but can start to figure out, is just what kind of accident Victor was in, why so many people are so interested in just how his recovery is going, and why the ‘manifold’ project, which seems to involve him, has been so expensive.  There are a couple revelations handed to us in quick succession at the end of the book that make me look forward to the next one.

Krekeler is a fine writer, and his art is serviceable, in a way that reminds me a little of when Brian Michael Bendis used to draw his own comics (if he had a steampunk aesthetic).  This is a nice thick comic, that only cost $2.99.  There is definitely more than enough going on here to bring me back for the next issue.  You should ask your store to start carrying this, or order a copy online from Krekeler; it’s very good.

Quick Takes:

Animal Man #13 – Jeff Lemire really ramps things up in Rotworld.  A year has passed while Buddy was in the Rot, and now Arcane and his kind have taken over the world.  A few surviving heroes take him on a tour of what’s left, while in a flashback, Ellen goes looking for the missing Cliff.  There are some very strong visuals in this book, thanks to Steve Pugh in the Rotworld segment, and Timothy Green on the flashbacks.  These ‘few heroes left to defend the world’ stories always work for me, so I’m enjoying this.

Avengers Academy #38 – Now that all the Avengers Vs. X-Men nonsense (see below) is over and done with, Christos Gage is able to do what he does best – write a solid, character-driven comic.  The Academy kids and faculty host a flag football game against a bunch of students from the Jean Grey school, and we are given a very, very good comic.  Gage excels at the types of character interactions that fill this comic, as the students get to know each other a little better, and move forward (although, unfortunately, that looks like they’re moving forward to a new series where they end up killing each other (Avengers Arena)).  Tom Grummett’s art continues to leave me cold, but everything else about this issue is great, even if some of the moments between characters get a little saccharine.  Mettle and Rockslide discussing the state of each other’s ‘junk’ is worth the purchase price alone.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #12 – Well, this all ended pretty much as I would have expected it to.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but really, are there any surprises in this book?  I guess I didn’t expect one of the big changes of the Quesada era to be reversed here, mostly because I don’t feel like this change is going to improve the Marvel Universe, especially without a tent-pole X-Men book that would be interested in it (as Bendis is not into using new characters, just bringing back old ones).  I feel like this book neither impressed me, nor angered me.  I’m glad the cross-over is over (aside from the two mini-series that start this month following up with it – which I would ignore were Kieron Gillen not writing one of them).  Yawn.

Daredevil: End of Days #1 – I keep telling myself that I’m done with Brian Michael Bendis and his comics (with the notable exceptions of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and Powers), but then this series, set somewhere in the future and detailing the death of Daredevil comes out, and has two of my top three Daredevil artists attached to it.  After Frank Miller, Klaus Janson is my go-to Daredevil guy.  He followed Miller’s historic run (actually, Miller was still writing when Janson landed on the title), and he is an artist that I’ve long felt doesn’t get enough work in comics.  He’s being inked by Bill Sienkiewicz, who painted a Daredevil OGN back in the day that I found thrilling.  I had to get this, no matter who was writing it.  At first, this comic didn’t grab me, but by focusing the book on Ben Urich, the Daily Bugle reporter, Bendis and his collaborator, David Mack, slowly drew me in.  The comic shows DD getting killed by Bullseye very early on, but as Urich starts to investigate it for what is likely going to be the last real article the closing Daily Bugle ever prints, we learn a lot more about what Matt Murdock was up to over the years, which included him taking over Hell’s Kitchen and publicly executing the Kingpin.  Ben Urich has always been a favourite character of mine, this comic looks fantastic (I love the page where Sienkiewicz draws the Kingpin in one of those 80s vests), and the pacing is much less decompressed than any of Bendis’s recent superhero work.  I’m on board for this one now.

Defenders #11 – Here’s a story that’s destined to be retconned out of existence or just completely ignored.  The Silver Surfer discovers the secrets of the engines that the team has been investigating, and also learns just why so many wonderful things happen on the Earth in the Marvel Universe, as his teammates try to figure out what to do about the Death Celestial.  The story is making more sense now, and artist Mirco Pierfederici does a good job, but often his lines are thicker than I usually like.

Detective Comics #13 – Too many of the DC books I buy are Batman books.  I love the character, but don’t need to be buying one or two titles featuring him or his family every week.  However, when I learned that John Layman, the writer of the excellent Chew would be taking over this title, I figured I’d have to add it to my pull-list.  Obviously, I wasn’t expecting the writing on this book to be as funny, inventive, or as free as what Layman can do on his own title, but I was expecting a little more from this.  The story is about a large plot by the Penguin to keep Batman busy so he can kill Bruce Wayne, mostly so he can take his place as Gotham’s biggest philanthropist.  It’s a kind of pedestrian plot, and while I liked the focus on Batman as a detective, I felt like there was nothing new being done here.  I don’t know if this issue underwhelmed because DC editorial is placing Layman on too tight of a leash, or if it’s because Layman doesn’t have as much to work with when it comes to Batman as he does his own material, but I’m not sure this title will stay on my list, especially since it’s one of DC’s $4 titles…

Dial H #5 – “Most of the time, mix up math, philosophy, history, spiritualism, telephone engineering and an open mind, it would get you nowhere.”  Really, this is as good a description of China Miéville’s ‘Dial H’ as anything I can think of, and it’s kind of amusing to hear one of his own characters say it in what has to be the best (okay, maybe second best, because the zero issue was great) issue of the series so far.  Nelson has to face off against Ex Nihilo and the Abyss with only a broken dial to help him, and he’s been turned into Cock-a-Hoop, the half-chicken, half-hula hoop superhero.  This book is whimsical and strange, while strictly to its own internal logic.  It’s really growing on me.

Earth 2 #5 – This title also continues to grow on me, as the various ‘wonders’ work together to stop Grundy, and the council that runs the World Army brings in Terry Sloan to figure out how to stop everything.  There are hints of more characters (Red Tornado, Steel) to come, and a growing sense of cohesion among the characters we’ve already been introduced to.  Add to that Nicola Scott’s great art, and this book is really working well.

Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm #2 – The moon has exploded in a nuclear explosion, and now bits of it have come raining down on Ape City, causing fire, structural collapse, and other issues.  Where Darryl Gregory and Carlos Magno’s excellent Apes series seemed like a comment on Israel and other Apartheid states, Cataclysm has more of a Hurricane Katrina vibe to it, as Gorillas bar the Chimpanzees from leaving their part of the city, and flood waters begin to rise.  This is a very good book.

Swamp Thing #13 – Parallelling this week’s Animal Man (see above), Swamp Thing returns to the Earth to find that the Rot has taken over.  He journeys to the Parliament of Trees, with Poison Ivy and Deadman as companions, and learns that things look pretty hopeless.  This series continues to impress, and it’s nice to see Yanick Paquette draw an entire issue.

Uncanny X-Force #32 – Another excellent issue, as the team infiltrates the Brotherhood’s base looking to free Genesis before Deadpool kills him.  Rick Remender has managed to find the space to give all of these characters (okay, maybe not Eva), their own cool couple of moments as he continues to unspool his long storyline.  Phil Noto’s art is great.

Uncanny X-Men #19 – And now how much better is this than Avengers Vs. X-Men #12?  I firmly believe that Kieron Gillen is one of the three or four best writers employed by Marvel; in fact, I’d say that he’s tied with Jonathan Hickman for the top slot, but Jason Aaron, who wrote AvsX 12 is a damn fine writer too (read Scalped, not his Marvel work, and you’ll agree).  So why is this the better comic?  Because it’s not written by committee, and it doesn’t feel the need to give a number of different characters their one or two minutes in the sun.  Instead, it simply shows us where Scott Summers’s head was at during that final large battle, and in its immediate aftermath.  Gillen (and Matt Fraction before him) both understood Cyclops in a way that not even Chris Claremont could, but Gillen is the one that made him a great character.  Too bad Marvel has more or less ruined the character for a number of years with this crappy cross-over.  I’m really going to miss Gillen writing the X-Men…

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

Action Comics #13

Amazing Spider-Man #695

AVX: Vs. #6 (only for the Jim Mahfood strip)

Fashion Beast #2

Legends of the Dark Knight #1

Bargain Comics:

The Phantom Stranger #0 -I’m pretty sure this is the first Dan Didio comic that I’ve ever read.  I’m also pretty sure that it’s going to be the last.  It’s not horrible, but it’s also not the least bit interesting.  Didio is determined to make it clear that the Phantom Stranger is Judas Iscariot, but he’s never mentioned by name, which is weird.  It’s also weird that, in 2000 some years of wandering the Earth, PS has never started to ‘redeem’ the silver coins that are stuck to his skin (but which somehow let him put shirts and jackets on under them), but now he will.  I give this eight issues at the most, and that’s with the boost that the Trinity War (whatever that really is) is going to give the series.

Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha & Omega #4 & 5 – Brian Wood’s Wolverine, Armor, and Quentin Quire mini-series was decent, but didn’t need to exist.  Jason Aaron has already addressed the Quire/Logan relationship in the main title.  Still, this was a decent read.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Marquis Vol. 1 Inferno

by Guy Davis

I have been a fan of Guy Davis’s work since I first came across it in the pages of Sandman Mystery Theatre, the excellent Vertigo series that followed the early career of the Golden Age Sandman.  I’ve also found a great deal of enjoyment from Davis’s work with B.P.R.D., but I had never read his solo work, The Marquis.

To be completely honest, I was disappointed.  I had pretty high hopes for this book, because the concept sounded terrific.  Set in an alternate history in a fictional city in 18th Century France, the Church has taken over most aspects of society.  There is an almost fetishistic obsession with confession, and Inquisitors run the show.  This city, Venisalle, has been overrun with demons who are inhabiting the bodies of the citizens.

One elderly man has the ability to see these demons for what they really are, and the ability to dispatch them back to hell.  He takes on the guise of The Marquis, a masked and cloaked figure armed with very special firearms and a sword, and he tracks them down, gaining the attention of the Inquisition at the same time.

It should be really cool, right?  Especially given Davis’s incredible artistic skills, and penchant for creating incredibly bizarre creatures.  The problem is that the first story, Danse Macabre, which takes up most of this book, is in fact pretty dull.  The two subsequent stories, ‘Hell’s Courtesan’ and ‘A Sin of One’ are much better though, and by the time I finished this volume, I was wishing there was more to read.

Davis worked on these comics over many years, and it’s clear that over that time, he learned much about the craft of writing comics.  I would not hesitate to pick up a new Guy Davis-written comic (especially if he drew it), but I can’t really recommend this book.

Album of the Week:

Flying LotusUntil the Quiet Comes – This new album is easily Flying Lotus’s most accessible works to date, but that does not detract from its haunting beauty.  FlyLo is a master at spinning out thoughtful, intelligent post-hip-hop constructions that are steeped in tradition but chart their own path.  One of the best new albums of the year.

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The Weekly Round-Up #145 With Punk Rock Jesus, The Activity, Bad Medicine, Chew & More Mon, 17 Sep 2012 14:00:15 +0000 This was a gigantic new comics week, filled with some really great, and some not so great, stuff!

Best Comic of the Week:

Punk Rock Jesus #3

by Sean Murphy

Sean Murphy’s black and white mini-series, which has now reached the halfway mark, continues to be the best thing that Vertigo is publishing right now.  The series is set in the near future, and it revolves around the cloned Jesus Christ, who is the central person in a reality TV show called J2.

In this issue, Chris, the clone, ages from toddler-hood to being a teenager, as his mother continues to buck against the J2 system, especially the show’s chief executive, Slate.  She is able to negotiate so that Chris can enter a regular public school, but after Slate pays off Chris’s African-American prom date, and instead sets him up with a cheerleader, and then micro-manages his appearance on Larry King (it’s not called that in the comic, but come on), she finally has enough.

Murphy has taken his time setting up the series and building the characters, considering that the title has yet to apply (assuming that Chris ever becomes a punk).  It feels like we’re moving towards the pay-off though, as a newly isolated Chris will have to deal with the mess that his life has been, and a surprise ending suggests that the series may move in new, and more supernatural, directions.

Murphy has established himself over the last few years as an artist to watch, but I’m really quite impressed by his writing chops.  This book is excellently paced, and has a strong commitment to character.  The cast feels very well fleshed out, and I look forward to each new issue.

Other Notable Comics:

The Activity #8

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Mitch Gerads
I frequently find myself flip-flopping on this comic.  I loved the last issue, but found this one to be a little off-putting.  This one picked up from the last, as the team was in Uzbekistan, working a local criminal, or terrorist funder, or something, into coming in to American custody to give up his associates.The first issue played out very nicely, as the operatives played up his paranoia and fears by terrifying the man into thinking he was being hunted by his enemies.  This continued this issue, as they led him straight to Fiddler, one of the operatives, who was going to ‘rescue’ him and lead him to the American authorities.  The mission scenes worked well, but the scenes in America felt a little disjointed.

Last month, it was revealed that Bookstore had a relationship with a man named Mark, at least until she was told to end it by her commanding officer, with no reason given.  Now he suddenly shows up as a civilian who is working with the ISA, and the scenes between him and Bookstore are very awkward.  I feel like, if he was always intended to become a plot point, he should have been introduced into the series earlier; their break-up carried no emotional weight, and therefore his appearance in this issue doesn’t resonate at all.

Still, I’m enjoying this comic.  I like that there is a place for an espionage comic that is well-written, has good art, and is very grounded in the possible, unlike most war and spy comics.

Bad Medicine #5

Written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
Art by Christopher Mitten
I’m not sure what’s going on with this series.  It was launched as an on-going, and the second issue ended with a scene in South America that was used to set up an upcoming story, but which has not been addressed yet.  The thing is, there haven’t been any new issues solicited past this one, and I’m not sure if the book is taking a hiatus, or if this is the end of it.Bad Medicine is a good comic.  It chronicles the adventures of a loosely-organized group of scientists, doctors, and a police officer, who are being sent by the CDC to investigate occurrences of ‘bad medicine’.  This arc involves a werewolf outbreak in a remote Maine town.This issue finishes that arc, and does it quite well.  Dr. Horne has been the most interesting character in this series, and he arrives at a new point in his character arc this issue as he addresses some of his personal weaknesses in order to solve the current problem.

DeFilippis and Weir are strong writers of character, and they continue to put those strengths to good use with this series.  I would like to read more Bad Medicine, and so hope that the series is continuing.

Chew #28

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory
There’s nothing quite so satisfying as a new issue of Chew.  It’s been a while since we’ve checked in with Tony and his crew – there was the Agent Poyo one-shot, and before that the second printing of issue 27, which was first released out of sequence over a year ago, and so issue 26 feels like it was a long time ago.In this issue, Tony Chu is still in the hospital, although he has regained consciousness, even if he still needs high doses of pain medication to stay awake.  And whatever medication he’s on, it causes him to see people as talking animals, which is always fun.Anyway, Tony is needed by his former partners Colby and Caesar, who have come to him for help with their latest case, despite their each being from a rival agency.  It would seem that a scientist has learned how to weaponize meat, creating cows that spontaneously and explosively combust when they begin to decompose.  The terrorist group EGG have used this meat to bomb a fashion show wherein the models walk the runway in clothing made out of food, so both the FDA and the USDA are determined to put a stop to EGG and the scientist’s mad science.

Only in Chew would this be a viable plot, and that is what makes this comic so great.  It revels in its own weirdness, as it feels like Layman and Guillory constantly challenge each other to come up with something wilder each issue.

This issue is as good as this series gets.  We learn why Tony’s sister Toni is familiar to Caesar, Poyo gets to be Poyo (he’s one of the greatest comics characters of the 21st Century – he’s the cyborg rooster on the cover, if you didn’t know), and Guillory fills each page with sight gags in addition to telling a great story.

To top it off, there is a preview of the upcoming series Great Pacific, which looks very good.

Conan the Barbarian #8

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Vasilis Lolos
Yes, that really does say ‘art by Vasilis Lolos’.  I was pretty surprised to see his name in the Previews solicitation for this comic, as it’s been a few years since Lolos has had any work published, and I’m pleased to say that his work has only improved in the interim.This issue continues the ‘Border Fury’ arc, which has Conan and Bêlit traveling across Cimmeria in pursuit of someone who has been killing in Conan’s name.  Conan is revelling in the opportunity to romp across the land of his childhood again, but it is difficult going for Bêlit, a Southerner who has never seen snow before now.This issue is really an examination of the relationship between Conan and his pirate queen.  Previously, while they were together, it was in Bêlit’s world, where she held all the power.  Now, in his land, she sees how much of a burden she has become, and so she has him continue his pursuit on his own.  I like the way Wood portrays their time together.

Lolos’s art is a good substitute for Becky Cloonan (who, it appears, won’t be returning to the book any time soon).  They’ve always shared similar aesthetics, although Lolos’s Conan is a little more of a pretty boy.  Lolos’s art has changed since his work on Last Call andNorthlanders; some of his faces, especially that of the old man in the village, show the influence of Rafael Grampá and perhaps Dean Ormston.  I hope this means that we will see plenty more work from Lolos in the coming months (like perhaps Last Call Volume 2, or even, dare I say it, the conclusion to the excellent Pirates of Coney Island).

The Creep #1

Written by John Arcudi
Art by Jonathan Case
The Creep is an interesting new series at Dark Horse.  Like many of their new comics, this one began as a serial in Dark Horse Presents, and then had those installments reprinted as a zero issue, before this, ‘first’ issue came out.  Reading those prior chapters are essential to understanding this book, which I think could be problematic for people who like to start a new series by buying the first issue…Anyway, this comic is very good.  The titular ‘creep’ is Oxel, a private detective with a medical condition that has caused his body to grow to gigantic proportions, and which causes him to be wracked by headaches, uncontrollable sweating, and other discomforts.  Oxel has been contacted by a former girlfriend, who he knew only before his condition began, who wants him to look into the conditions surrounding her only son’s suicide.Curtis killed himself shortly after his only friend, Mike, killed himself.  Because of this, Curtis’s grandfather, who was close with both boys, has fallen apart to the point that he is living on the streets, and Cutis’s mother, Stephanie, is convinced that there was something more going on.  She sees suicide as a contagion that Curtis caught from Mike.  She’s asked Oxel to look into things, and while he is, he has been avoiding contacting her.

In this issue, Oxel interviews Curtis’s father, who he knew back in college, and works with the contagion theory.  Arcudi is setting the story up to suggest that there may have been more to Mike and Curtis’s friendship, possibly some secret involving the grandfather as well, but he’s playing it close to the vest.

Jonathan Case’s art is great.  There’s a cool scene towards the end of the book where he switches to a sketchier, watercoloured look when Oxel tries to imagine the boys’ lives, which then continues into his own reality.  It’s clear that Oxel isn’t well, but to what extent his condition affects his judgement, we don’t know.  This is a series worth checking out.

The Manhattan Projects #6

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra
Considering that The Manhattan Projects is set firmly in the middle of the Cold War, it’s a surprise that it is only with this issue that we see behind the Iron Curtain, and learn just what the Soviet equivalent of the Projects is.Like the Americans, the Soviets tried to snap up as many Nazi scientists as possible, and this issue revolves around one of them – Helmutt Gröttrup.  Gröttrup had led the Nazi science base Oberammergau just prior to the Americans seizing it, as was shown in an earlier issue, and instead ran into a Soviet patrol, which was filled with unexplained squid-headed robots.This comic follows Gröttrup’s career, as he is literally branded a Nazi, and made to work in Star City, a Soviet project that involves rockets.  Gröttrup works steadily for his freedom, although personnel changes in the Soviet system make that seem unlikely.

In relation to this book’s usual craziness, things are a little quieter this month.  We do learn that the Tunguska Event was alien-related, although Soviet attempts to reverse engineer the technology they recovered have not been too successful.  The preponderance of squid creatures is never fully explained, but I’m sure we’ll get back to that at some point.

This issue is much more human than any of the previous ones, as Hickman shows Gröttrup as the victim of a number of unfortunate coincidences.  Visually, this comic is as good as it ever has been, as colourist Jordie Bellaire mostly sticks to a red and blue palette.

The Massive #4

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Garry Brown
I love The Massive, but Brian Wood’s new post-environmental catastrophe epic is not without its flaws.  The series follows the Ninth Wave, a conservancy direct-action group who are now wandering the post-Crash world looking for their missing compatriots, and trying to continue their mission.This issue starts the second story arc, ‘Black Pacific’.  When it opens, the leader of the Ninth Wave, Callum Israel, is in Mogadishu negotiating with a local war lord for resupply of his vessel.  While walking through the city, he runs into Arkady, yet another person he knew from his time working with Blackbell PMC, a mercenary group that he quit in the late 90s.This man was not exactly ever a friend, although he does have some ideas for how he can use Israel and his ship The Kapital.  This confrontation shows the depth of Israel’s commitment to pacifism, and continues to reveal more about the man that Israel used to be.

The writing in this book is sharp, but I feel that what the Ninth Wave actually does has not been made clear.  Last issue, they were in Alaska; in this issue they are in the Arabian Sea.  By the end of the issue, they are setting off for Antarctica to find fresh water.  This is a lot of journeying around, and a lot of diesel fuel being burned, for a group that is supposed to be committed to preserving the environment, for no clear purpose.  This is something that Wood needs to clarify, and quickly.

The art for this issue has been done by Garry Brown, an artist I’m not familiar with.  He does a decent job, but I did prefer Kristian Donaldson’s work.  The revelation that Callum is in his fifties is not exactly borne out by how he has appeared in this series.

Saucer Country #7

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by David Lapham
The first thing that needs to be pointed out about this comic is that despite the fact that the cover credits regular series artist Ryan Kelly with the art chores, this issue was actually drawn by David Lapham, which was a treat, as he seems to be writing much more than he draws these days.This issue works as a perfect counterpoint to the last.  That one had Professor Kidd, Governor Alvarado’s UFO expert, expound on his theories surrounding the mythology of alien encounters.  This month, we visit with the Bluebirds, the shadowy group of scientists who are gathering information on alien visits from a technological perspective.

Astelle, the newest member of the Bluebirds, has come out to Nevada to meet with the man in charge (I have no idea what his name is), and he gives her a lengthy presentation on the history of their group, which has coalesced around the journals of an American WWII pilot named Joe Bermingen, who after a close encounter during the war, became the foremost expert on alien flying technology at Lockheed.

Bermingen’s story is an interesting one, as he bumps up against the American government, NASA, and the original ‘men in black’.  This is a very good series, and I like how Paul Cornell got things up and running for five issues before pausing to fill in the necessary back-story.  I am ready to see things move forward again though, as we get an ever-larger view of the world that Cornell is working with.

Stumptown Volume 2 #1

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Matthew Southworth
What a nice treat it is that Greg Rucka has decided to gift us with a second Stumptown mini-series, this one titled ‘The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case’.  Stumptown is a private detective series set in Portland Oregon, starring Dex Pairos, a typically plucky female PI.  The first volume introduced her and her world, and it stood out for its excellent character writing and sense of place.With this new mini-series, Rucka opens with Dex turning down one client (because of who his boss is), and gaining another.  A famous guitar player comes to see her because her Baby – her favourite guitar – has gone missing after the last night of a long tour.  The guitarist is friends with Dex’s contact on the police force, and there is some sort of hinted-at problem there.

When Dex goes to visit the guitar tech who last saw ‘Baby’, she finds skinheads in the middle of a home invasion, and it is clear to everyone that there is a lot happening with this case.  As Dex is the type of PI who gets roughed up a lot, this is surely going to be an exciting mini-series.

Greg Rucka is one of the best writers in comics.  I permanently associate his style with Ed Brubaker’s, and it’s great to see him working on a creator-owned book again.  It’s been made clear that his divorce from DC is looking permanent, and aside from Punisher, he’s not doing much work with Marvel.  So far as I’m concerned, that’s a great thing, as writers like him always do better on their own stuff.  Here’s hoping the rumours of more Queen & Country are accurate.  Matthew Southworth is an accomplished artist, and it’s nice to see his work on this book again.

Quick Takes:

American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #4 – Hobbes and Felicia Book find themselves having to try to work with The Firsts, a group of vampires who have spent decades hiding from the Prime Carpathian’s (we know him as Dracula) power.  This is mostly an action issue, but it does reveal how Hobbes came to work with the Vassals of the Morning Star.  Dustin Nguyen’s art is wonderful.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #11- Well, if there is anyone who was surprised by how this issue went, they’ve probably not read many comics before.  The big surprise ending, which got spoiled in the media anyway, was all kinds of obvious, as the Avengers and pretty much all the X-Men decide to try to shut down Scott Summers and his Phoenix powers.  There’s a lot of Charles Xavier declaring his love for mutants, collectively and individually, and a weird scene where Captain America takes all the Avengers to the desert to beg the Hulk for help, because there’s no one better on your side for a big cosmic battle than a guy who is strong and angry.  As for the big ‘death’ scene?  I found it a little ambiguous, as a person who is knocked out looks like a person who is dead in a static drawing wherein no character commented on that death.  Granted, very little here makes sense, but at least there are a few nice looking pages by Olivier Coipel.

Batman #0 – After the high of last month’s excellent issue, I’m not surprised that this month’s ‘zero issue’ is a big let-down.  The main story has a Year One-era Bruce Wayne attempting to take down the Red Hood Gang sans bat-suit, but with a whole bunch of James Bond-style gadgets.  It also has Bruce living in a brownstone near where his parents were killed, and is supposed to represent the time just after he came back to Gotham, as he was setting up shop.  I categorically prefered Miller and Mazzuchelli’s take on this era, which was a lot more down-to-Earth, and didn’t involve gimmicky boomerangs that work on a timer.  The conversation between Bruce and James Gordon was incredibly forced.  After that main story, by regular creative team Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo (whose work pales oh-so much compared to Becky Cloonan’s last month), there is a back-up by the back-up squad of James Tynion IV and Andy Clarke that shows the first three Robins in various crime-fighting activities five years ago.  There are problems with this too – Tim would have to be about eleven, but he looks sixteen, while Dick looks and comes off as being younger than Jason.  Like all the DC back-ups, this is just filler that I paid an extra dollar for.  Snyder’s run on this title has been excellent, but this issue was a misstep for sure.

Batman and Robin #0 – Unlike the above book, I thought that Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s fleshing out of Damian Wayne’s life in this zero issue was excellent.  The book ends where Grant Morrison introduced Damian in the old DCU, but before that, we are given a nicley written, and very nice looking romp through some of the high points of Damian’s childhood, including the annual fight between him and his mother, with the prize of knowledge of Damian’s father hanging in the balance.  This issue managed to satisfy the purpose of ‘zero month’, and provide a good read.  It’s rare this month, isn’t it?

Demon Knights #0 – This issue tells the story of how Etrigan and Jason Blood came to be entwined, and it’s all pretty standard, except for one surprise about Merlin’s parentage.  I’ve liked this title, but I fear that I’ve started to lose interest in it…

Fantastic Four #610 – As this series winds down, Jonathan Hickman continues to spin out minor plot points in an effort to sustain the series until Marvel Now! is ready to begin.  The result?  A comic that is okay, but not very memorable.  I don’t like Ryan Stegman’s art on this title – it’s a little too 90s for me.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #0 – I don’t really understand how Matt Kindt can be such an excellent writer on everything he’s done (3 Story, Revolver, and the excellent Mind MGMT, among others), yet his Frankenstein just doesn’t do it for me.  Well, I do understand – those other titles are things he writes without the benefit of DC editorial…  I thought Kindt could be the one to save this book, but I’m rapidly losing any desire to keep buying it.  This issue shows how Frankenstein was first recruited by SHADE, but the whole thing could have been summed up in a three-panel flashback in an interesting story just as effectively.  I give DC credit for trying a title like this, but it’s been over a year, and I’m still not enthused.  Time to say good-bye (unless I pre-ordered the next issue – can’t remember).

Harbinger #4 – The lustre is wearing off the Harada Foundation for Peter Stanchek, as he attempts to activate Faith’s latent abilities, and gets a spiritual visit from his friend Joe.  Joshua Dysart has done a terrific job of showing how questionable Toyo Harada’s mission is, while also making Peter a character that’s hard to like and trust.  This and Archer & Armstrong show that the new Valiant has some legs.

Haunt #26 – As Joe Casey and Nathan Fox’s run on this book continues, I will admit to losing some of my earlier enthusiasm for it.  Between the long delays between issues, and the slow pace and lack of forward momentum of the plotline, I’m feeling a little disappointed by this book lately.  The sort-of introduction of a character being called ‘Lady Haunt’ in the letters page, and the promise of a little more information about Still Harvey Tubman next issue, however, do give me hope that Casey will get out of whatever slump it is that’s not making this work as well as his first few issues did.

The Shade #12 – James Robinson ends his year-long revisit with his second most popular character (and no, Jack Knight does not appear), with a ‘Times Past’ story that shows us Shade’s origin.  It’s a tale that involves family, evil dwarves, Charles Dickens, and a lion, all beautifully illustrated by Gene Ha.  I feel like this series never quite reached its potential, but I am pleased to see that it was able to last out its full twelve issues; there were concerns at the beginning that its sales were too low.

Suicide Squad #0 – I continue to be completely disappointed in this series.  In this issue, we see Amanda Waller get recruited by one of her former Team 7 teammates to help stop Regulus and his Basilisk organization from exploding an experimental bomb in the same small Malaysian town where Waller has been hanging out.  The biggest problem this series has had since is its inception is that writer Adam Glass doesn’t know what to do with Waller.  Under John Ostrander, she was an incredible character – manipulative and a few steps ahead of everyone, but also firmly determined to do the right thing as her own moral code demanded.  When the ‘New 52’ made her skinny and Halle Berry-ish, they also took away every aspect of the character that made her interesting; now she’s vaguely angry, and sometimes very smart, but none of it is attached to anything.  Sure, we find out she loved her teammate in this issue, but who cares?  It’s all very facile.

Ultimate Comics X-Men #16 – Kitty Pryde and her group have found Nick Fury running a refuge for mutants in the Southwest, and now Kitty decides that it is her job to turn them into an army to fight against the Sentinels who have taken over the region.  Fury portrays himself as being there to provide logistical support, and there is no mention of the fact that he has been on the run in the Ultimates title.  I’m not sure if that’s because he’s playing at something, or if it’s because these Divided We Fall and United We Stand cross-overs are less well coordinated than even Avengers Vs. X-Men has been.  I want to like this title – it’s written by Brian Wood, who I admire greatly, but I feel that something is missing.  I blame a lot of that on the choice of artists – Pace Medina and Carlo Barberi are good artists, but they belong on light-hearted series, not something with stakes such as we are seeing here.  Mutants are fighting for their survival, but everyone has gigantic doe-y eyes, and there are only a few panels per page.  It just doesn’t work for me.

Uncanny X-Force #31- Another great issue for this series.  The team has returned to the present, and are setting about figuring out how they can save Genesis from the new Brotherhood.  While they are doing that, we get to spend some time with Sabretooth, Mystique, Daken and the rest, while they continue to try to turn Genesis into Apocalypse.  Great art by Phil Noto, and the right balance of light and dark from Rick Remender.  This is one of the titles I’m going to miss most when Marvel Now! rolls around.

Uncanny X-Men #18 – You have to hand it to Kieron Gillen.  In addition to handling the mantle of being Marvel’s best writer (shared with Jonathan Hickman), he really does do his best to redeem the ridiculousness of what Avengers Vs. X-Men has become, by trying to reconcile the story as its being presented in the mothership title with how these characters have been portrayed over the years.  He shows Colossus and Magik trying to come to grips with what happened to them, and finally makes it clear that since becoming Colossonaut, Peter has not been acting like himself.  What’s more, he honors the work done in New Mutants by showing Illyana to be totally nuts now.  This scene worked very well.  The scenes with Cyclops were a little less successful, but that’s mostly because he had to try to make his terrible characterization in AvsX make sense here.  He tried; we’ll give him that.  Ron Garney was a terrible choice to draw this book (that’s how I generally feel about him though), but at least he wasn’t Greg Land.  I do hope that Gillen is given the chance to finish off his Unit sub-plot somewhere before Uncanny gets cancelled and replaced by Bendis’s ‘All-New (characterizations) X-Men’.

Winter Soldier #10 – Marvel’s best Captain America book gets even better as original artist Butch Guice returns, and he and colourist Bettie Breitweiser tear this book up visually, with a solid Steranko feeling to all the scenes set on the SHIELD Helicarrier.  Black Widow has been brainwashed and is loose, and Bucky brings in some friends to help find her.  Excellent from start to finish – I’m really going to miss Ed Brubaker on this book when he goes.

Wolverine and the X-Men #16 – Where Gillen tries to rationalize Avengers Vs. X-Men, Jason Aaron finally decides to just ignore it in his X-Book, instead giving us a story about Kade Kilgore, the Damian Wayne of the Marvel Universe (before he attempted to reform).  We are given Kade’s origin, and do see him and his new under-age Hellfire Club take on the Phoenix Five.  The latter half of this issue, when Kade is incarcerated, works much better than the first half, but I think the whole thing would have been disastrous without Chris Bachalo’s art.  Still, I look forward to this book being about the Jean Grey school again…

X-Men Legacy #273 – Planet Rogue concludes this issue, as the warring factions of the unnamed other dimension where Rogue got dumped learn to work together thanks to the intervention of a certain skunk-haired mutant.  It’s obvious to me that some editor told Christos Gage to keep Rogue busy for three months so that Avengers Vs. X-Men could continue, and this is the best he came up with.

X-O Manowar #5 – I keep giving this series one more issue, and with this one, I think it might be getting close to adding this series to my pull-file.  Aric continues to be a little lost and disoriented in our time, and is being pursued by agents of The Vine, the aliens that abducted him 1600 years ago.  When their first attempt to capture him fails, they hire the mercenary Ninjak, who has more success.  Robert Vendetti has updated the original book quite well, and while I liked Cary Nord’s art on this title a great deal, I’ll admit that Lee Garbett and Stefano Gaudiano do a good job here.

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

Avengers Assemble #7
Avenging Spider-Man #12
Captain America #17
New Avengers #30
Rocketeer Cargo of Doom #2
X-Men #35

Bargain Comics:

Avengers Assemble #4-6 – If we are to look at this Avengers Vs. Thanos story as Brian Michael Bendis’s try-out for his rumored Guardians of the Galaxy series, then I know that this is not a book I will need to buy.  In these three issues, he has the Guardians team up with the Avengers to face the threat of Thanos, who has acquired a Cosmic Cube.  The problem is that Bendis’s Guardians lack the wit and characterization the team showed when Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning were writing their book.  Also, Bendis has made some rather random changes to the team, such as jettisoning some members, returning Star-Lord to the living without explanation (and making him blond, with a Quicksilver hairdo, although that may just be Mark Bagley’s fault), and taking away the team’s teleportation capability.  Also, the logic behind taking a team of Avengers that includes Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Captain America into space, without picking up some of the more cosmically-appropriate Avengers ‘assembled’ by Maria Hill escapes me.  Add to this Bagley’s sub-par art, and this is not a very good comic.

AVX: Vs. #5 – Time to check in with the proudly pointless Avengers Vs. X-Men tie-in.  The lead story features Hawkeye fighting Angel (and sort of Psylocke).  Clearly Matt Fraction hasn’t been reading Wolverine and the X-Men, because this is not the Warren Worthington who’s lost his identity and thinks he’s an angel.  The Jason Aaron-written Black Panther/Storm confrontation works much better, and goes to show that Aaron should be writing a Panther comic regularly.  He remembers to put some character into this fight, as the two reflect on their marriage, and show that editorially-mandated weddings, much like arranged marriages, don’t always work out for the best.

Captain America #15 – This series continues to underwhelm, as some new, short-lived agents of Hydra called the Discordians appear and trash New York, while a Fox News mouthpiece starts calling for Cap’s retirement.  Ed Brubaker’s plotting of this book has been the equivalent of ‘paint by numbers’ since it was last relaunched, and with Marvel Now! imminent, it’s clear he doesn’t much care anymore, and is just phoning it in (even with Cullen Bunn co-writing).  Talk about going out on a low note, compared to how this book was just over a year ago…

Captain America & Iron Man #634 – Unlike the main Cap book, though, this one is becoming more delightful, as Steve and Tony team up to fight Batroc and his brigade, while also tracking the new super-villainess that was introduced in the Cap and Hawkeye arc.  I think the big difference here is Barry Kitson, who excels at the straight-up superhero action comic.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Wet Moon Vol. 6

by Ross Campbell

Having forgotten what reading this book can be like, I stupidly thought that I could read twenty pages or so starting at 12:30 the other night before going to sleep.  Needless to say, it was a late night, and the book was done before sleep took me.

Ross Campbell’s Wet Moon is a completely unique comics experience.  It is a long-running series of graphic novels set in a Southern college town.  It revolves around the lives of a group of (mostly) young women (there are a few male characters) who attend school, argue, and fall in love with each other.  Most of the characters embrace punk styles, are bisexual or lesbian, and have bodies shaped like the ones that real women have, not like their comic book brethren.

Prior to volume five, which came out a while ago, Campbell’s story mostly stayed in the realm of teen/early 20s soap opera, but that fifth volume had one of the main characters, Trilby, viciously attacked and left for dead in a swamp by a crazed young woman (who is also sort of in a relationship with Trilby’s best friend).

This volume follows with the fallout from that attack, as Trilby lies in a medically-induced coma in the hospital, and main character Cleo and her circle of friends have to cope with mortality being thrown into their faces.  That’s not to say that this is a group of people that are unused to the curves life can throw us – this book is filled with beautiful young women who are missing an arm, are ‘thalidomide babies’, and have facial scars (to say nothing of the sudden appearance of a pair of women who are conjoined at the head).  But still, when you live in a safe college town, you don’t expect to get stabbed.

This is not the type of thing I would usually enjoy, but I find Wet Moon to be fascinating.  Campbell has such a strong sense of his characters, and also throws them into such strange situations, that I can’t put these books down.  His work is kind of trashy, but it also elevates itself beyond the confines of the genre he works in.

Artistically, Campbell’s work looks a lot looser in this volume compared to the others.  At times the characters appear less solid than they have in the past; it’s a nice progression.  Length-wise, I feel that this book could have had more story in it, especially given the price, but I also understand that with Glory coming out monthly (and being so good), Campbell is a pretty busy guy.

I eagerly await the next volume.

Album of the Week:

Brother Ali – Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color – Brother Ali is back with a very nice new album.  Ali has always been a very personal rapper, and on this disc, he continues to talk about the problems and triumphs of his life.  This time around, the beats are all by Jake One, and not by his usual collaborator Ant.  There are plenty of nice tracks, but it also feels like Ali is pushing for some more radio-friendly songs, with the result being that a few pieces are pretty bland.  Still, I love sitting back and listening to Ali’s warm, rich voice as he spits some truth.

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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 #142 With Scalped, DHP, Mind MGMT, Planetoid, The Unwritten & More Mon, 27 Aug 2012 14:00:02 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

Scalped #60

Written by Jason Aaron

Art by RM Guera

Scalped is a rare book in so many ways.  It’s become increasingly rare for a Vertigo title to live for sixty issues, with only The Unwritten and American Vampire poised to last as long (Fables and Hellblazer don’t count, as neither one of them is likely to ever reach a story ending), especially with the consistently unspectacular sales that this book brought in (which has never made sense to me).

Scalped is rare for other reasons though.  It is a crime comic set on a poor First Nations Reserve in the American Southwest – a setting so far outside of the mainstream as you can get, while still being in America.  The series featured First Nations characters in a variety of roles – good, bad, and endlessly complex, something that is rarely done in any form of media in North America.  It showed the desperate poverty of reserve communities, and never shied away from depictions of drug and alcohol abuse, family instability, and many of the other problems that plague Aboriginal communities.

More than that though, it showed the community as real.  People in this comic do some pretty awful things, but they also turn around and surprise the reader with their kindness, compassion, dignity, and fortitude.  Over the years there have been charges of appropriation of voice levelled against Jason Aaron, which is a serious issue when depicting Aboriginal characters, but I believe Aaron did an excellent job.

A big part of why I say that is because I felt a genuine sadness in finishing this book, knowing that I won’t be seeing these characters again.  There aren’t too many series I can think of where this has happened to me.  I miss Yorick and 355 from Y the Last Man, Zee from DMZ, and a few of the characters that have been killed off in The Walking Dead, but there are a number of characters in Scalped that I began to feel real affection for, the same way I miss characters like Bubbles, Omar, and Wallace from The Wire.  (Is that sappy?  I often feel the same way about the characters of a really good book, but you don’t spend five to six years with a novel.)

And therein lies the strength of Scalped.  Aaron created more than a kick-ass crime story, and his use of secondary characters transcended the travails of Dash Bad Horse and Lincoln Red Crow, the two central figures in this story.  It’s the background folk that I grew to love.  Carol’s transformation over the course of the series made me happy and proud of her, while Dino Poor Bear’s made me very sad.  I’m going to miss Granny Poor Bear and Lester Falls Down.  These are some great characters.

This final issue closes off the book perfectly.  The final confrontation between Dash, Lincoln, Catcher, and Agent Nitz ends just as you would expect it to, and the survivors are left appropriately.  Aaron doesn’t go in for the happy ending (except for Carol), but he does go for the correct ending.

I’ve felt for a long time that Dash stopped being the main character of the book before it reached its second year; really, this entire comic is about the redemption and growth of Red Crow.  He is one of the most nuanced and complex characters ever created in comics, and I love seeing where Aaron left him at the end of this book.

This series has featured a few great artists, but it is RM Guera who has worked on the lion’s share of issues, who gave it its distinct look and feel.  Guera’s rough art created just the right atmosphere for the Prairie Rose Reserve, and I look forward to seeing what projects he works on next.  This series has also featured some amazing covers by Jock, an artist who I consider to be one of the top three cover artists (with Brian Bolland and Dave Johnson)  I love the way this final issue’s cover echoes the one he made for the first issue.

It is my hope that we will see these creators working on something that they own again.  I have yet to read anything by Jason Aaron at Marvel that matches or even comes close to matching the intelligence, balance, and insight of this series.  If you’ve never read Scalped, I urge you to start at the beginning.  I also kind of envy you the opportunity.

Other Notable Comics:

Dark Horse Presents #15 

Written by Michael Avon Oeming, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Carla Speed McNeil, David Chelsea, Erika Alexander, Tony Puryear, John Layman, Bo Hampton, Robert Tinnell, Arvid Nelson, Nate Cosby, Mike Baron, and Kim W. Anderson
Art by Michael Avon Oeming, Phil Noto, Carla Speed McNeil, David Chelsea, Tony Puryear, Sam Kieth, Bo Hampton, Juan Ferreya, Evan Shaner, Steve Rude, and Kim W. AndersonAt this point, I’m pretty sure I would buy Dark Horse Presents every month just for Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder.  Were the rest of the book full of stories by Howard Chaykin, Neal Adams (writing his own work), Jeph Loeb, Rob Liefeld, Mark Bagley, and Chuck Austen, I would probably still buy it, and only read McNeil’s story.  That’s how good Finder is.In this newest chapter, Jaeger, stuck in the middle of the conflict over an Ascian burial ground, takes on his role as Sin-Eater, in an act that is equally horrifying and noble.  McNeil has often referred to her brilliant science fiction comic as ‘aboriginal sci-fi’, and that is clearly what is happening here.  It’s very good, very powerful stuff.This issue of DHP also brings back the series Rex Mundi, in a surprise story featuring Brother Moricant.  I’m not sure what all new readers would get from this comic, but it is nice to see Arvid Nelson and Juan Ferreya working together again, and I’ve always loved the masks that the brothers of the Inquisition wear.John Layman and Sam Kieth’s Aliens story snaps into focus this month, as we finally get a more solid understanding of the female main character.  Layman is not writing a traditional Aliens story at all here, and it’s a bit of a shame that it’s taken so long for that to become clear.  Were this a mini-series, that could be read in larger chunks, it would have probably worked better.Michael Avon Oeming’s Wild Rover, which gets the cover this month, also becomes clearer and more interesting, as a dark horror story.  Bo Hampton and Robert Tinnell’s Riven jumps up a number of years this issue, and continues to build the groundwork for a successful horror tale.

I’m continuing to get a lot of enjoyment out of Tony Puryear’s Concrete Park, which jumps all over the place, but is always an engaging read.

Kim W. Anderson gives us another story of twisted love, which works like an old school EC horror story, updated for the Internet age.  David Chelsea gives us an improvisational story with ‘The Girl With the Keyhole Eyes’, and the newest chapter of Ghost continues to be decent.

I’m glad that there’s so much to enjoy in this series beyond the Finder chapter, which makes this a must-buy.

Mind MGMT #4

by Matt Kindt

One of the coolest things (and there are many) about Matt Kindt’s new on-going series was that, the main story (each issue has two other shorter features) never even mentioned the words ‘Mind MGMT’ until the end of the third issue.  No, our main character Meru has found herself face-to-face with the man she has pursued around the world, Henry Lyme.

She was looking to write a book about a famous flight where every passenger on the airplane was stricken with amnesia.  She discovered that one passenger, named Henry Lyme, went missing from the flight.  Her quest to find him took her to South America, Africa, and China, and along the way she was pursued by Immortal killers, and assisted by a kindly CIA Agent.  Now that she has found Lyme, he begins to tell her his history with Mind MGMT.

It seems (and I say seems, because in a hidden message, Kindt tells us “nothing is what it seems”) that Lyme was recruited as a child, after a mishap with his mental abilities, to a school that taught him various psychic arts.  He was involved in the first Iraq war (which somehow had American soldiers liberating Baghdad, so I’m not sure if we are looking at an alternate history), but also clearly ended up leaving the organization.

This issue tells us a lot, but still leaves a great deal unsaid.  I really like the speed at which this series is moving – Kindt takes his time with setting up this world, but still has Meru going through a variety of experiences at a pretty quick pace.  Kindt excels at this type of book – where there are complicated rules of engagement and lots of complex backstory that he portions out on a need-to-know basis.

This title is up there with Saga, Manhattan Projects, and Chew in terms of leading creator-owned books that are more exciting and fascinating than anything being produced at the Big Two.

Planetoid #3

by Ken Garing

One of the things that most attracted me to The Walking Dead when I first started reading it was that Robert Kirkman wasn’t just interested in showing his characters escaping death time and again, he was interested in showing them trying to come to grips with all that had happened to the world, and to slowly begin rebuilding.
With this third issue of Planetoid, Ken Garing does much the same thing.  Silas, our main character, has found himself stranded on a metal-covered planetoid.  Last issue, he rescued a tribe of nomads from the planetoid’s robotic defenders.  At the very end of the issue, they pledged themselves to him.
Now, in this issue, Silas has become the leader of a coalition of tribes, solo scavengers, and a few members of a frog-like race.  His goal is to repair a recently-crashed ship, with the hopes of leaving the planetoid.  He spends the entire issue organizing and building a camp for everyone.  They all contribute, finding sources of food, engaging in reptile husbandry (there are no mammals), and learning to use tools and machines that they have scavenged.  There is little conflict or drama in this issue, but I found that I really got into the society-building aspect of it all.
Garing has come out of nowhere with this series, and it has impressed me a great deal with its intelligence and straight-forward approach to interesting science fiction.  I also really like his art – just check out how awesome that cover is.  This is a very good series that I’m not hearing as much about as I think I should be.

The Unwritten #40

by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

It’s been a while since we last saw Tom Taylor, so it’s nice to see this issue feature him again, as Inspector Patterson, the Australian police officer we’ve been following for the last few issues takes her unicorn to stop the leader of the Church of Tommy from interrupting Tom’s first stop on his Australian tour.  This leads to all sorts of madness, including a suitcase nuke, angry stories, and Tom perhaps being able to finally put the lightning back into the bottle of his public persona.

The Unwritten has worked really well for a while now, and this issue is a good example of why that is.  Carey and Gross work remarkably well together, and continue to move the story into new directions.  I thought that after the Cabal was finished off, the series would end, but it seems that there is more that Carey wants to say with this story.

What confused me a little is that the gigantic crowd that bought tickets for Tom’s show were actually just sitting in a giant stadium to watch him read children’s stories.  It made me think of the recent Charlie Sheen stage show, where people lined up and paid good money to listen to the man ramble.

Anyway, at the end of this issue, Didge announces that she has a message from Tom’s girlfriend, which I guess tells us where the series is headed next.

Quick Takes:

All Star Western #12 – This issue does a good job of wrapping up the Crime Bible stuff that has been going on, as we are shown once again that Tallulah Black is easily the most compelling character in this comic.  I do hope she sticks around, as ‘Hex in Gotham’ does not work for the character.  While I enjoy this comic, I would love to see it return to the one-off format with rotating artists that made the pre-52 Jonah Hex series so great.

America’s Got Powers #3 - The end of this issue marks the half-way point of this series, and yet we are still having plenty of new characters and concepts thrown at us.  I felt that the last issue did a much better job of working with these characters; in this issue, Tommy barely shows any personality, as the focus is more on governmental plans, a powers resistance (I think that’s the deal with the group that plans on rescuing Tommy), and the next big fight in the arena.  Bryan Hitch does his usual great wide-screen work, but this feels a little more hollow than it has before.

Batman Incorporated #3 – Time in the summer goes by very strangely.  On the one hand, it feels like summer just began, but then, having this book in my hands means that it’s been an entire month since the Batman Returns massacre, which necessitated the delay of delivery of this comic (for reasons that I can not, now that I’ve read it, understand).  This is another solid issue by Morrison and Burnham.  Batman spends some time in his Matches Malone guise, trying to find out some information about Leviathan, while Damian chafes at having to play dead, prompting him to find a new identity for himself.  Burnham continues to do incredible work here.

The Flash #12 – The fill-in art of the last two issues really helped reveal how much I was only reading this book for Francis Manapul’s wonderful art.  Now that he’s back drawing as well as writing the title, I can’t get back into it.  I’ve never really been all that interested in the Rogues, as it seems that every writer has been recycling ideas from Mark Waid’s historic run on this title, with nothing of interest to add.  Now, Golden Glider is taking over, and Barry Allen is upset that people don’t like him.  There’s a bunch of cool visuals involving a monorail, but the characters and story don’t interest me at all anymore (although, that’s how I’ve always felt about Barry, especially since he was brought back).

Invincible #94 – The new Flaxan invasion continues to go badly for the collected heroes of the Kirkman-verse, while Mark is stuck sitting and home watching things on TV, as his powers still haven’t returned.  This story alternates with the story of just what Robot and Monster Girl did for all their centuries on the Flaxan homeworld.  At the end, we get a very big surprise.  This is a good issue, with nice art from both Ryan Ottley (the current day pages) and Cory Walker (the flashbacks), but it’s not too spectacular.  I can’t help but feel like Kirkman is biding his time for the 100th issue.

Invincible Iron Man #523 - This story keeps chugging along.  We are so deep into Matt Fraction’s multi-year Iron Man/Mandarin epic, that’s there’s little to say about this title right now.  I like it, but I’m also ready for it all to finish, because I’m looking forward to seeing what Kieron Gillen is going to do with these characters.

I, Vampire #12 – Having read this issue, I think that Joshua Hale Fialkov would have been a good choice to take over Stormwatch instead of Peter Milligan.  He uses three of the characters quite well here, as they come out to the desert to investigate the strange goings on with Andrew Bennett, his vampire army, and the Van Helsings.  The book is well paced, and less decompressed than the last few issues, as the story moves to set up yet another new status quo for the series.

Justice League Dark #12 – I find that this book is working better each month, as Constantine’s team splits up to follow the Books of Magic.  This gives some space for Jeff Lemire to build the New 52 versions of Constantine and Black Orchid.  Dr. Occult makes a brief appearance, and we learn that someone else is calling the shots other than Felix Faust, but we don’t yet know who that person is.  Lemire is also one of the few DC writers who looks to be building a natural connection to next month’s ‘zero’ issue; something I would have expected from more of the writers.

Lobster Johnson: The Prayer of Neferu – We’ve really reached the point where there are just too many Mignolaverse comics coming out each month.  With the exception of whichever mini-series makes up the ‘main’ BPRD book each month, the others are usually kind of pointless and repetitive.  This issue, the Lobster breaks up some weird Egyptian-themed party, complete with stolen mummies, only to have to fight some returned Egyptian spirit thing.  It’s not bad, but it’s been done before, over and over again.  I do like new artist Wilfredo Torres’s work, but whatever.  This was like an 8-page DHP strip stretched over a whole issue.

Secret Avengers #30 – The Shadow Council’s plans finally all come together as the three different crowns are united, but only after Venom and Taskmaster have a big fight, and Hawkeye and Valkyrie go on a motorcycle chase.  This has become a fast moving, exciting comic again, and I’m liking Matteo Scalera’s art.  It looks like Rick Remender is working to wrap up all the plot-lines begun by Ed Brubaker when this series started, which is a good thing.

Supercrooks #4 - I’ve really enjoyed Mark Millar’s super-powered heist comic.  This issue follows the gang through their actual mission, with some a couple of nice twists tossed in to keep things interesting.  Leinil Francis Yu does some good work here too.  There’s really not much to this series, but it’s written and paced very well, with a few likeable characters, and one particularly Millar-esque way of dealing with a death trap.  I also like that Millar kept the length of this series reasonable, and didn’t pad it out to fill six issues.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #14 – The Ultimates spend this issue dealing with the newly separate ‘New Republic of Texas’, which launches a nuclear missile at New York.  More and more, we see the extreme influence of the mysterious Mr. Morez, who appears to be pulling all of the strings.  This is mostly an action issue, and there’s still no word on where exactly Nick Fury is hiding (also, the Falcon seems to be MIA), and it moves at a quick pace.  The art is split between Billy Tan and Timothy Green, which is a little jarring.

Uncanny X-Men #17 – While still the best writer embroiled in this whole Avengers Vs. X-Men nonsense, Gillen’s story in this issue has been left far behind by events in the mothership book, and so we are basically given filler, knowing that nothing can happen in the X-Men’s fight with Sinister that will affect any of the main players.  I know that’s basically true in all on-going superhero stories, but still…  I do hope that Gillen will still somehow be involved with the X-characters when Marvel Now! takes place.

X-Men Legacy #272 – Planet Rogue continues, as our lost X-Man is taken prisoner by the insect hive mind folk that were fighting her new Thundercat-looking friends last issue.  Being Rogue, she quickly gets to the heart of their conflict, and is now the only person who can save the two people.  This is a decent enough sci-fi story, but it comes a little too soon on the fight between the Shi’ar and that Friendless creature at the end of Mike Carey’s run.  Still, I presume that Christos Gage had to keep this series busy for a while while Avengers Vs. X-Men runs its course…

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

Amazing Spider-Man #692

Astonishing X-Men #53

Brilliant #4

Mars Attacks #3

Rachel Rising #10

Rocketeer Cargo of Doom #1

Untold Tales of the Punisher MAX #3

Bargain Comics:

Amazing Spider-Man #681 – Slott and Yost write a fun Spidey comic, and so long as you don’t stop to think about the mechanics of it (such as why Spider-Man has ‘magnetic webbing’), it all works.

Avenging Spider-Man #7 – So, I guess this series is really meant to be one fill-in after another?  I thought this was going to belong to Zeb Wells and Joe Madueira, but that only lasted for three issues.  Ah, Marvel, sometimes it really feels like you don’t have a clue what you’re doing.  This is a good, fun little comic, as Kathryn and Stuart Immonen have Spidey team up with She-Hulk (the real, green one) and deal with some ancient Egyptian god issues.  The atmosphere is much like old school Justice League International; good, mindless fun that you don’t really remember the next day.

Captain America #14 – This series has become exactly the type of thing you pick up at a sale for $2.25, and are happy with.  This is not a $4 comic, as the entire issue is given over to Cap fighting the new Scourge (who is an old friend).  It’s not bad, but most comics writers and artists can do this in their sleep.

Captain America and Iron Man #633 – As far as straight-up, old school superhero comics go, this is pretty good.  Cap and Tony travel to a weapons exhibition of questionable legality in Madripoor, where Cap is looking for a woman, for reasons I don’t know (or don’t remember).  The banter between the two heroes is well-written, and Barry Kitson on art is always a good thing.  Tony’s presence doesn’t quite fit with the way he’s been portrayed in his own book for the last few years, but that happens in every comic, but any issues are off-set by the decent use of Batroc the Leaper.

Dan the Unharmable #1 & 2 – I decided a while back to tradewait any Avatar Press books that interested me, because their publishing schedule is usually too erratic.  I’d actually forgotten that David Lapham has a new series with them, and so was happy to get the first two issues for a good price.  Lapham’s always been a bit of an odd duck (his Young Liars, at Vertigo, was brilliant and hard to describe), but I feel like with this series, he’s just going for Garth Ennis-style shock and awe, without investing his usual strong sense of character.  Dan is a bit of a bum, who is indestructible.  His daughter tracks him down looking for help in dealing with the cult that is trying to abduct her.  He has short-term memory and attention issues which make the dialogue a little tedious at time, as the father and daughter take a bus across the country while being pursued by a pair of cultist weirdoes.  This isn’t exactly bad, but it’s easily my least favourite creator-owned Lapham book.  It’s a shame he’s not drawing it…

Semper Fi’ #2 & 5 – I had high hopes for these Marvel war comics from the late 80s, mostly because of the excellent John Severin covers.  The art inside is not bad – very early Andy Kubert inked by Severin – but the writing is just terrible.  Every war story cliche you can think of gets trotted out twice in each issue (each has two stories), with no emotional impact or investment.  Or purpose really.

Wolverine #303 & 304 – These two issues finish off Jason Aaron’s run with Marvel’s most popular mutant.  #303 finishes the rather confusing Hand vs. Yakuza story arc, while 304 is a retrospective of Aaron’s run, which started with the last Wolverine title, moved to Weapon X, and then got relaunched and renumbered.  I don’t see why Aaron deserves such feting, his run was not that good.  Sure, he had some crazy ideas, but most of his stories revolved around people messing with Logan’s head, and that’s been done enough.  Also, 304 had 8 artists on it, making it a visual mess.

X-Men #28 & 29 – These two issues finish off Victor Gischler’s run on the adjectiveless X-Men title; a run that never quite seemed necessary, except to create a book with constant guest stars.  This story features the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, when Pixie is kidnapped by Skrulls and forced to help them escape the planet.  Nowhere in here are we told how the Skrulls got Pixie, because I guess showing the start of a story is boring and not important.  This isn’t bad, but it is kind of bland.  When contrasted with what Brian Wood has started on the book, it’s a wonder that Gischler lasted on the title for so long.

The Week in Graphic Novels:


Written by Douglas Rushkoff
Art by Goran Sudzuka and Jose Marzan Jr.Douglas Rushkoff can be a difficult writer to read.  His Vertigo seriesTestament was a clear case of ambition not being met by the material (it was about how Old Testament stories were living in a future where young people are under close government control).  With A.D.D., Rushkoff returns to some of the same themes, minus the Biblical aspect, but is more successful because the scope of the story is much more contained in this thin original graphic novel.The words acronym ADD stands for Adolescent Demo Division, a team of video gamers who have been raised in isolation to be be experts in their fields, as well as media stars.  The ADD kids are beginning to show some special abilities, such as main character Lionel’s ability to ‘dekh’ images that lie behind screen images.When team leader, and Lionel’s best friend, Karl, ‘levels up’, most of his teammates are jealous of him, but when he later turns up dead, Lionel and his few remaining friends spring into action to expose the truth behind Nextgen Inc., and the ADD’s kids histories.Rushkoff employs lots of futuristic slang that isn’t always easily understood (I kept thinking of ‘dekh’ as meaning roughly ‘grok’), but his message about media manipulation and corporate dominance of individual thought is pretty clear.

It was nice to see Goran Sudzuka’s art on this book; I haven’t seen much from this artist since his fill-in arcs on Y the Last Man, and I’ve always enjoyed his work.

In all, this is a decent read, which does raise some important points.

Book of the Week:

Born With A Tooth by Joseph Boyden – This collection of short stories blew me away.  I’ve read and loved Boyden’s two novels, but hadn’t read his short stories before now.  They are perfectly constructed glimpses into the realities of life on Native reserves in Ontario.  Boyden gives us a variety of stories, some funny, many heart-breaking, and a few truly terrifying (check out ‘Bearwalker’, a horror story concerning a shapeshifter who comes back to his reserve looking for respect – I was glued to it).  In all, just about a perfect collection of fiction.

Album of the Week:

Paper Tiger -Summer EP – This is only six tracks deep, but it’s some good instrumental hip-hop from one of the Doomtree producers.  It has a nice, soulful summer feel to it.  Doomtree!!!!!

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The Weekly Round-Up #140 With Punk Rock Jesus, American Vampire, Conan, Godzilla & More Mon, 13 Aug 2012 14:00:02 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

Punk Rock Jesus #2

by Sean Murphy

I enjoyed the last issue of Punk Rock Jesus, but I feel like Sean Murphy really brought his A-game to this issue.  There is so much to like about this series.  In it, Murphy has put together a reality show, called J2, around the idea that Jesus Christ has been cloned, and has been born to an 18-year old virgin girl who was carefully selected (and then surgically altered to reflect the correct demographics.

This issue takes place six months into the project.  Young Chris has become a media star, despite the fact that he has no contact with anyone other than his mother, his doctor, and the security personnel that protect the J2 island compound from incursions by the NAC – the New American Christians, who are opposed to the show and all it represents.  When the issue opens, Thomas McKael, the director of security and former IRA soldier, attacks them as they blockade the island.

From there, we learn that Gwen, Chris’s mother, is having a hard time dealing with her celebrity, basic incarceration, and postpartum depression.  She’s begun drinking, and is unable to understand why her family hasn’t visited.  Geneticist Dr. Epstein (don’t remember her first name) is worried about her, and announces her own pregnancy.  Eventually, McKael takes Gwen out for a spin, to try to cheer her up, although that doesn’t go so well.

There’s a lot happening in this comic.  Murphy uses a Larry King type character to show us how the media is responding to Chris, and his first two miracles, and it’s increasingly clear to everyone that the people behind J2 care nothing about anything other than profit.  No mention is made about the surprise ending of the last issue, although I’m sure that has something to do with Epstein’s announcement.

Murphy’s art is great, and while I still suspect that the book’s black and white presentation was a cost-cutting move on DC’s part, I like it a lot, and don’t even mind the cheaper paper stock used.  This is well worth picking up.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #3

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Dustin Nguyen

We all knew that eventually Scott Snyder would have no choice but to get around to dealing with Dracula, and I like the way it’s being handled.  The big D is the name commonly given to the ‘Prime Carpathian’, or the sire of an entire species of vampires, much like Skinner Sweet is to the American Vampire.  Dracula has been taken by the Soviets, and fed a little blood, which means he has the ability to influence any vampires in his line, and at times, even control humans.  This does not work out well for the Soviets.

At the same time, Dracula tries to use Gus, Cash McCogan’s son, to kill Agent Hobbes, although unsuccessfully.  This leads Hobbes and Felicia Book to travel to Germany, to seek out The Firsts, a group of vampires from older lines who have been hiding throughout Europe.

Even though we are half-way into the series, Snyder is still setting up a lot, as the conflict between the Firsts and the Carpathians is going to be the central focus of the book from this point on.  Book is a great character though, and the story flows really well.

Dustin Nguyen has been killing it on this book.  During an extended conversation between Hobbes and Book, Nguyen borrows a tool from Eduardo Risso’s bag of tricks, and shows us a scene involving animals in the snow, which perfectly encapsulates the tone and feel of this series.  It’s good stuff.

Blue Estate #12

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, and Andrew Osborne
Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, and Peter Nguyen

Blue Estate has been a truly unique comic experience, and with this issue, Viktor Kalvachev brings his experimental approach to a very satisfying conclusion.

There is no easy way to summarize or encapsulate all that has led up to this issue, except to say that through a long string of coincidences, bumbles, and fate, a large group of people have, when this book opens, converged on a termite-infested house, and, with few exceptions, are all looking to kill one another.  There are Russian and Italian mobsters, idiot sons, police, hitmen, private eyes, and Hollywood starlets all caught up in the mix.

This issue is full of the bizarre and violent deaths, and the strange coincidences (ie., a gangster escapes bullets and police, only to run into a football player he had his men brutalize months earlier) that have made this book such an entertaining read.  It also wraps up every storyline I can remember, and dangles the secret of the beluga, without explaining just what that mythical sex act really is.

What has made this comic so unique is the rotating roster of artists who have contributed different pages or panels.  Kalvachev has brought together some of the most interesting artists in the business, and has melded their different styles in such a way as to give the book a consistent look and feel, even when the styles used usually would clash.

I highly recommend picking this series up in trade.  I can’t wait for the second season to begin…

Conan the Barbarian #7

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan

Two Becky Cloonan comics in the same week?  It’s like the comic book gods knew it was my birthday this week or something…

This issue begins a new arc on Conan – Border Fury – which has everyone’s favourite barbarian return home to Cimmeria, because he has heard rumours that someone is going around killing his countrymen and putting the credit for it in his name.  Of course, being Conan, he’s there to track down and kill whoever this person is.

What makes this issue interesting is that Conan has brought Belit with him.  While in the south seas, and while on her boat, Belit is feared and revered in equal measures, but here in Cimmeria, she is just a foreign girl, ill-suited for the environment.  Wood and Cloonan do a terrific job of conveying the discomfort and rage Belit feels, and also do well at showing the conflict within Conan between his loyalty to his people and his need to protect his lover.

This arc feels much like Wood’s Northlanders to me, but that would be because I’m not all that familiar with Conan, and so immediately read the cold and harsh landscape as being somewhere Vikings would have lived.  As always, this is a very entertaining and beautiful comic.

Godzilla: The Half-Century War #1

by James Stokoe

Much like Conan before Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan came along, Godzilla is not a character or comics property I have any interest in.  Why then am I buying this latest IDW mini-series with such a sense of excitement?  James Stokoe.

Stokoe first caught my eye with his Wonton Soup English-language manga series at Oni, but it is his Orc Stain that really exposed the depth of his comics genius.  That series, which chronicles the adventures of a nameless one-eyed Orc who may have a role in fulfilling some great prophecy, has been on a hiatus for a while, and so I’m happy to get my fix of Stokoe with this book.

Stokoe excels at pages filled with finely detailed mayhem.  His work is like a cross between Geof Darrow and Brandon Graham, and it is never boring.  This series is about a Japanese soldier, Lieutenant Ota Murakami, who first encounters Godzilla in 1954, when the monster first attacks Tokyo.  Murakami and his friend are able to protect a large number of evacuating civilians by distracting the monster, and later they are offered a job which, we are told, leads to Murakami spending half a century dealing with the giant radioactive lizard.

Story and character are secondary to visuals here, and Stokoe does not disappoint.  There are some excellent scenes of Tokyo being devastated, and the book is fun, inventive read.  I look forward to the next issue (even though I’d rather be reading Orc Stain).

The Massive #3

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Kristian Donaldson

I love The Massive.  I can understand why some on-line reviewers have chosen to complain about how exposition-heavy this first arc has been, but I think it’s understandable when you consider the length to which Brian Wood has altered our current world.

Basically, a string of natural disasters and environmental catastrophes have created great upheaval throughout the world, upending established social orders.  The series follows a small group of ecological activists (some would say terrorists) as they search for the other ship that makes up their fleet, for their friends aboard it, and for a way to continue their mission of environmental protection and conservation in the face of global calamity.  Without the frequent examples and explanations that Wood has provided over these first three issues, the magnitude of change would not be properly understood.

This issue, which finishes off the first arc, is a little anti-climactic compared to the other two, but it feels necessary in that it helps establish just how the crew of The Kapital has been able to resupply and keep running where so many other ships have fallen apart.  It also provides some insight into just how Callum Israel, leader of the Ninth Wave, is seen by his crew.

Wood excels at this type of book.  Kristian Donaldson’s art is crisp and clear, and the book is intelligent and exciting to read.  I hope this is getting enough attention in comic stores, and that it gets a nice long run.

Wasteland #39

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Sandy Jarrell

A new issue of Wasteland is always a small cause for celebration, but I especially like the one-off issues that Johnston always writes between longer story arcs.  This issue takes us further back than we’ve ever been in this series, with a story set just ten years after the ‘Big Wet’, the disaster that changed the entire world.

This story is centred on Michael, Marcus, and Mary, as a trio of children (they look to be about twelve to fourteen years old) as they travel through the wasteland the world has become.  These names are familiar to regular readers of the book.  Michael is the ruinrunner who is the series’s main character.  Marcus becomes the ruler of Newbegin, a walled city that is probably the pinnacle of human civilization in this world, but he runs it as a dictator.  Mary is his consort, who only recently arrived in the city, having led an army of Sand-Eaters in an attack before switching sides.

This issue shows the three kids as allies, if not quite friends.  There is a rivalry between Marcus and Michael, although Michael doesn’t particularly care about it.  It’s clear that Marcus is in love with Mary, but she is more interested in Michael.  When a group of scavengers find them, and decide that they would like to take the girl, things get interesting, especially when Marcus has a vision of Michael killing Mary.

Wasteland has had a number of artists since Christopher Mitten made his departure (there is yet another artist coming on board for the next arc).  I’ve never heard of Sandy Jarrell before, but I like his work here.  It fits nicely with the look Mitten established for the book – scratchy and as sparse as the landscape, although still capable of telling a clear story.  I like Jarrell’s work much more than I did Justin Greenwood’s, and I hope we see him on this book again.

Quick Takes:

Archer & Armstrong #1 – I haven’t looked to see how the Internet is reacting to this relaunch of the Valiant classic, but I can imagine that a certain right-wing segment of the American population might not like the comic much.  In Fred Van Lente’s new series, Archer is the son of a preacher and congresswoman, who has been trained since birth in a variety of martial arts, to track down and kill an evil figure, who apparently has possession of a machine that made him immortal some 10 000 years ago, killing everyone on Earth in the process (the machine looks a lot like the one Einstein has in Manhattan Projects).  Of course, poor Armstrong has been lied to, as he is attacked by his parents’ allies just when he captures the enemy (a bouncer who likes to quote Carl Sandburg) because, “Greed is godly.”  This has a lot of potential – there’s the stranger in a strange land aspect to Archer’s story (he’s only lived in his family’s religious theme park), and the send-up of the 1%.  Clayton Henry is no Barry Windsor-Smith, but he does a fine job on art.  I may now be adding another Valiant book to my pull-file list.

Batman #12 – This was on track to being my favourite mainstream comic of the year, and then things get a little weird at the end.  The first twenty pages of this comic are written by Scott Snyder and drawn by Becky Cloonan (Becky Cloonan on Batman!!!!), and they are fantastic.  The story features Harper Row, a young woman who works on Gotham’s electrical system and tries to protect her younger brother from homophobes.  She’s living in one of the neighbourhoods that Bruce Wayne is working to revitalize, and we get a pretty good look at her life and its challenges.  One night, Batman rescues her and her brother from his tormentors, and Harper decides to start helping him in his mission, working on the boxes he’s attached to the city’s electrical grid.  This part of the comic is wonderful, but suddenly we hit the last eight pages, and Snyder is joined by James Tynion IV (with no real noticeable change in the story, although it becomes more conventional), and Cloonan is replaced by Andy Clarke, who makes everything look like a normal, everyday super hero comic.  I have nothing against Clarke’s art (and really liked his work on REBELS), but he is not the person to pair with Cloonan.  Actually, she should have been allowed to draw the whole comic, even if that made it late.  The maniacal insistence of DC’s editorial to sacrifice good art for timeliness has bothered me (assuming that’s what this is, because the alternative is complete editorial myopia) before, but here it’s just wrong.  I’ve seen it argued that Clarke came on for those pages because they showed Batman fighting a bad guy, and were not so exclusively Harper’s, but were that the case, Cloonan would have come back to finish the book.  Still, I did enjoy this comic a great deal, and only wish that this book could have art this good on a regular basis.  Greg Capullo has grown on me (and as an artist) since taking on this title, but he (and the rest of DC’s regular artists) are nowhere near being in Cloonan’s league.  I would love to see her return to this series, at least semi-regularly.

Batman and Robin #12 - Reading this right after reading Snyder and Cloonan’s book is probably not fair, but I think I’d be unimpressed even if I read this after reading Jeph Loeb’s Wolverine.  This title works best when focusing on Damian Wayne, and his relationship with his father.  The last couple issues have had Damian feeling the need to prove himself compared to the past Robins, and that’s worked well, but the plot about this Terminus dude who wants to fight Batman is not good at all.  This issue has Bruce put on some Iron Batman armor, and fly off to Bucky Barnes a missile full of neurotoxin or something, like this is some other comic.  Batman doesn’t work when it’s about selling new action figure variants.  Get back to Bruce and Damian, and this title is a winner.  More issues like this, and it’s going to be dropped.

Creator-Owned Heroes #3 – I’m not sure what to do with this title.  I like the Trigger Girl 6 story (by Palmiotti, Gray, and Noto) even though it gets a little stiff in this issue (check the scene where the dudes on the street are talking to the Trigger Girl – it’s a study in awkward dialogue).  I was enjoying American Muscle (by Niles and Mellon), but this month’s instalment is not good – mutants force one of the main characters to wear a dress and parade around in a stockade, yet there is no explanation for that or why the sheriff keeps shooting people – it’s like Quentin Tarantino and Roberto Rodriguez at their worst.  In terms of the ‘magazine’ content which is supposed to be setting this title apart from others, while it remains squarely in the realm of fanboy puff interviews (with Mark Waid) or self-serving, zineish columns.  The only interesting part had Phil Noto discussing painting.  Palmiotti and crew should read the back of any of Ed Brubaker’s creator-owned books to get a better idea of how that stuff should be done.

Dancer #4 - This Nathan Edmondson and Nic Klein thriller series is moving at a good pace, as the main character continues to try to find his younger clone in Austria.  This feels very much like an action movie, and Klein continues to play it much safer than he usually does (although I like the shape the man’s blood made in the snow).  Not bad at all, but also not exactly memorable.

Demon Knights #12 – The team fight Morgaine Le Fey, because there is a rule in comics that states that if you have characters from, or your story is set in, Arthurian times, Morgaine must make an appearance within a year.  It’s a good enough issue, but I prefer this book when it is more character-driven.

Fairest #6 – This spin-off of Fables has been better than the mothership title for the last few months, but I’ve reached the end of my enjoyment of Bill Willingham’s work with these characters.  I know that both titles continue to be popular with readers, but I feel like they are just going over the same old stuff again and again, and I’ve lost interest.  I may jump back onto this book from time to time, as it is going to have rotating creative teams, and I can see a day where it will have a line-up that is not to be missed.  But then, the way Vertigo is losing talent lately, that may not ever be the case…

Fantastic Four #609 – Do you remember the last season of Babylon 5, when JMS just kept explaining and revisiting minor things from earlier episodes?  It was a long good-bye, lasting half the season, and it bored the pants off me.  Why do I bring this up here?  Because it’s the closest thing I can compare Fantastic Four and FF to, now that Hickman has finished his big story, and yet is still writing the comic.  In this issue, he returns to the Nu-World characters that Mark Millar introduced to the book, including Banner Jr., the old Hulk dude.  At least he deals with them, but who really cares now?  The art is by Ryan Stegman, who I think has been reading a few too many old Art Adams comics, but mixes Adams’s large eyes with Ron Garney’s pacing.  There are only two or three panels on most pages, which works for a comic with next to no story.  I never thought I’d look forward to Hickman leaving this title, but it’s time to move on.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #12 – I thought that Matt Kindt coming on to this book would result in stories that were a little quieter and focused on the craft of whatever it is that SHADE does, but he’s gone in the opposite direction, amping up the comic book craziness of this series, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.  Frank kills the Leviathan that is a living prison for retired SHADE agents, and it goes to its graveyard, which is an underwater forest given atmosphere by the mystical bone energy of other Leviathans (seriously), gets a free verse poetry spell put on him that doesn’t work, and then causes some mayhem.  This kind of thing worked when Grant Morrison was doing it in Doom Patrol, but now it feels overdone and under-considered.  We are one year into this book, and I have yet to care about any of these characters.  Of course, now there is some sort of tenuous connection to the Rot stories in Swamp Thing and Animal Man, but I suspect that’s just a last-ditch attempt to gain some crossover sales.  I just put in my pre-orders for October, but I think that will be the last issue of this book that I get.

Spider-Men #4 – Almost this entire issue consists of the 616 Peter Parker sitting around and talking to Ultimate Aunt May, Gwen Stacey, and Miles Morales, and I have to say that it is excellent throughout.  I never read any Ultimate Spider-Man comics until Miles came along, so I know as much as Peter about what’s happened there (Kitty Pryde?), but in terms of straight-up character writing (and drawing), this was an excellent issue.  There is a huge problem with continuity though, as May and Gwen know Miles already, but we know that didn’t happen until after Nick Fury went into hiding, and yet here he is front and centre.  Leaving that aside, this is an emotionally poignant and fun book, with great art.

Suicide Squad #12 - I suppose this issue is a slight improvement over the last, but I’m seriously done with this book.  We meet Regulus, the leader of Basilisk, and learn that had DC stuck with Kobra, things would have been cooler.  We learn who the ‘traitor’ is, and of course it doesn’t match with how the character has been portrayed all along (and of course, it’s one of only three characters I like in this book).  I think some other stuff happens – I know that Captain Boomerang showed up to accuse Deadshot of stinking ‘like a sheila’, which I think is either the most misogynistic or just perplexing thing I’ve read in a comic in a while.  Partway through reading this, I realized that it’s like reading a 90s comic all over again, just without all the cross-hatching (although the awkward sense of anatomy does show up).  I’m done (unless I pre-ordered next month’s issue).

X-Men Legacy #271 – I guess Marvel needed Rogue out of the way of Avengers Vs. X-Men, because now Christos Gage has her on an alien world (or in another dimension), helping a race of characters that look like the Thundercats fight a race of insects for survival.  The characterizations are strong, but this basically feels like Planet Red Hulk, or any of a number of similar stories.  We are clearly just spinning the wheels until this book is cancelled and replaced as part of Marvel Now!

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

Avengers Assemble #6

Captain America #16

Mighty Thor #18 (I am not buying Journey Into Mystery now because of this cross-over)

New Avengers #29

Bargain Comics:

Rocketeer Adventures 2 #4 – I don’t really understand why the variant cover of this issue is a cover by Dave Stevens that has been used before, but whatever.  This issue is really pretty decent, with a solid story by the Simonsons that has Cliff showing his worth in Washington, and another good story by John Byrne that has Cliff working to save the World’s Fair from a 9/11-type attack.  These two stories, with some of my favourite creators from the 80s, really took me back.

Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1-6 – I really miss the Legion of Super-Heroes, having given up the title not long after the New 52 relaunch did nothing to restore it to its former glory, so to satisfy that gap, I thought I’d give this cross-over with the original Star Trek crew a look.  It’s a pretty decent comic – Chris Roberson comes up with a workable reason for the two teams to meet, and then does a great job of integrating their histories (I assume – I’m not that knowledgeable about the original Trek stuff).  The interactions between the two teams are a lot of fun (Spock and Brainiac 5, Kirk and Shadow Lass), and the art by Jeffrey and Philip Moy is very good.  I don’t quite understand why, in the 25th Century, Chekhov would be constantly complaining about Cossacks though – is that a thing he does?

Untold Tales of the Punisher Max #1&2 – Kind of like Before Watchmen, there’s no real reason to return to the Max version of the Punisher, especially after Jason Aaron finished the character off so definitively, but as we all know, the Big Two will return to the trough as many times as they can, and so we have a mini-series of one-shots featuring Frank in his more realistic (ie., more vulnerable) incarnation.  The first issue is by Jason Starr and Roland Boschi.  It’s a pretty standard story about an incurable gambler who gets himself in too deep, and is told to pay up or kill a man.  Starr does a good job with the crime elements, and despite yourself, you start to feel for the character, at least until Frank shows up.  The second issue is more interesting, as writer Jason Latour and artist Connor Willumsen show us what happens with a white trash drug family get Frank trapped in the barn, and end up turning on each other.  Just last week I saw Willumsen’s art for the first time in a story in Outlaw Territory, and commented that he had a bit of a Paul Pope feel to him.  This issue looks more like Kyle Baker in a lot of places – I feel like this guy is an artist to watch.

Wolverine and the X-Men:  Alpha & Omega #3 – Brian Wood has a great handle on Quentin Quire in this issue, although all the scenes featuring Wolverine and Armor feel a little too heavy-handed.

X-Men #30-32 – After being impressed with Brian Wood’s take on the Ultimate X-Men, I figured it was time to check out his new run on the adjectiveless book.  I don’t think of superhero comics when I think of Wood, despite the fact that I know he used to write Generation X, so it’s kind of strange to see him doing a book like this.  He is making good use of Utopia’s ‘security’ team, although I’m hard pressed to understand why two of the Extinction Team (Storm and Colossus) are on it.  What happened to Warpath?  Anyway, the team discovers that someone is using mutant DNA from an earlier era, proving that there were once proto-mutants.  Storm keeps this information to herself, causing a rift in her squad.  I like how Wood uses Storm as a decisive leader – I always think of her as the team’s leader, because it was during the mohawk days that I first started reading the book, and she’s been underutilized for a decade.  I found the team dynamics to be great, except for the conflict between Storm and Colossus, and the fact that despite his bald head, his Juggernaut issues aren’t mentioned.  The art, by David and Alvaro Lopez, is terrific.  I hope this book is sticking around after Marvel Now!; if it is, I may add it to my list.

The Week in Graphic Novels:


Written by Juan Díaz Canales
Art by Juanjo Guarnido

I kind of expected Blacksad, published here in English by the fine people at Dark Horse, to be a pretty standard noirish private eye comic, featuring talking animals acting as people.  That’s basically what this book is, but it is just about the best possible form of that.

There are three stories in this European-sized hardcover, each a self-contained tale although they are told sequentially.  John Blacksad is a private eye who investigates stuff, like so many of his literary, pulp, and comic book forebears.  In the first story, he gets involved when an old girlfriend, an actress, turns up dead.  In the second, he searches for a missing girl, and in the third, he tries to help an old mentor who has been marked for death.  All standard stuff, except for the quality in which the stories are told.

These are some very well-written stories.  Writer Díaz Canales sets these stories in post-war America, and makes very good use of the talking animal element to flesh out his tales.  In the second story, Arctic Nation, the young girl’s disappearance is connected to racial tensions, caused by white supremacist animals who make up the upper class and the police department, and directed towards black animals, especially the Black Claws gang, an analog of the Black Panthers.  One would assume that the easiest way to portray racial difference would be to have different species of animal stand in for races, much like Art Spiegelman did with Maus, but instead, Díaz Canales sticks with colour as the dividing line, and so a white cat is treated as different than a black cat, at least in that city.  It adds some texture to things, as we have a hero with a white muzzle, who has an established aversion to rats.  So this is a society where intolerance is even more ingrained and complex than in ours.

Juanjo Guarnido’s art is wonderful, in that European way, and displays great detail, especially in terms of the time period shown.  I was very impressed with this book, and am happy to know that Dark Horse is publishing more of these.

Book of the Week:

Rick Bass – In My Home There Is No More Sorrow: Ten Days in Rwanda  This is a travel memoir by a writer who went to Rwanda to help his friend run a two-day writers’ workshop for young would-be writers in a country with no infrastructure for publishing.  Bass’s writing is clear and inspiring as he travels to a few of the country’s genocide memorials, teaches the workshop, and travels up into the mountains to watch the gorillas with his family.  This is a surprisingly powerful book that reminds us of the power of the written word, as a way of serving witness, and of reminding that world that things are always more complex than we think.  I found this book very inspiring.

Album of the Week:

Kelan Philip Cohran & Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – The HBE are all children of jazz legend Phil Cohran, and on this excellent album, they pay tribute to him by playing his music.  It’s a very nice album.

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The Weekly Round-Up #137 With Saga, The Activity, DHP, Glory, The Secret Service, Skull Kickers & More Mon, 23 Jul 2012 14:00:52 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

Saga #5

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

I continue to be very impressed with this comic.  Vaughan’s chosen the correct title for this series, as it really feels like he’s building an epic story.

In this issue, Prince Robot IV discovers that he’s going to be a father, and that he won’t be allowed to return home for his child’s birth if he hasn’t caught Alana and Marko, the book’s heroes.  They run in to a group of Robot’s men, and are forced to fight – something that Marko said he would never do again.  While this is happening, The Will runs in to some problems on Sextillion, as he tries to rescue a child forced into prostitution.  Also, The Stalk is back on the scene, hunting for Alana and Marko’s baby.

There are a number of different plot-lines being woven throughout this issue, and it feels like each of them is given the right amount of screen time.  Fiona Staples is doing some incredible work on the art in this comic.  There are a number of very unique designs being shown throughout this series, and its clear that everyday objects such as the phone that The Stalk uses have been carefully considered for aesthetic and functional purposes.

I do really love this series, and feel that this is the strongest issue since the first one.

Other Notable Comics:

The Activity #7

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Mitch Gerads

The Activty, Edmondson and Gerads’s military black ops comic, has been criticized for being too TV, and for not building up its characters, as each issue has shown a done-in-one mission.  That all changes with this issue, which launches a multi-part story arc called The Goat, and which gives at least one of the team members a private life (at least for a little while).

The comic opens with a team infiltrating a cargo vessel, and while searching it, finding a known terrorist from Yemen.  He ends up giving some important information about an earlier Team Omaha mission to his interrogators, and soon our team is off to Uzbekistan to make their target, known as ‘The Goat’, want to come over to the American side.

The team employs a number of psy ops techniques to turn him, including having him wake up in his own bed to find a number of laser targets playing across his body.  There is a bit of humour to this issue, as Team Omaha finally have a mission that doesn’t fall apart on them (at least so far), and doesn’t have anyone shooting at them.

Back home, one of the team, code-named Bookstore, is told that she has to end her relationship with her boyfriend, but is not given a reason as to why.  I assume this will be picked up upon again.

Edmondson’s writing here is sharp, as is Gerads’s art.  I’ve enjoyed this series from its beginning, but am happy to see that something larger is taking place.  I wonder if this storyline is going to be the one that addresses some of the clues that Edmondson has been dropping about the team’s future.

Dark Horse Presents #14

Written by John Layman, Carla Speed McNeil, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Dean Motter, Mark Verheiden, Bryan Oh, Tony Puryear, Mike Baron, Bo Hampton, Robert Tinnell, Chad Lambert, Michael Avon Oeming, Nate Cosby, George Schall, Rodrigo Alonso, and Kim W. Anderson
Art by Sam Kieth, Carla Speed McNeil, Phil Noto, Dean Motter, Mark Nelson, Tony Puryear, Steve Rude, Bo Hampton, Apri Kusbiantoro, Michael Avon Oeming, Evan Shaner, George Schall, and Kim W. Anderson

This month, Dark Horse Presents is 104 pages long.  Take in the fact that that is equivalent to more than five comics from Marvel or DC, which could run you between 14.95 and 19.95, yet this book only costs $7.99.  Clearly, the fine people at Dark Horse know how to give you value for your money.  Even if you don’t love every story in here, you only need to love half of them or less to feel that you got your money’s worth, right?

For me, as always, the Finder story is worth the price of admission.  This month’s instalment is great.  Jaegar is still hanging out in Third World, the contested and unorganized region far outside the domed cities or tribal lands where he usually spends his time.  He comes across a cemetery in a field that is at the centre of a large, and loud, dispute between various factions.  It seems that a hotel corporation wants to build on the field, and were paying to relocate the bodies buried there.  That’s all good, but a large number of previously unknown bodies have been found, and they are clearly Ascian.  Ascians, like Jaegar, are an indigenous people in McNeil’s world, and the story can be read as a comment on problems that exist in North America today around sacred Aboriginal ground and the balancing act needed between tradition, cultural sensitivity, and the needs of commerce and current lifestyles.  But, this being Finder, it’s not long before Jaegar finds himself stuck in the middle, and being perhaps, the only person who can resolve this issue, whether he wants to or not.  Great stuff, although I was hoping we’d see a little more of Professor Shar.

Also of note this month is the return of Tony Puryear’s excellent Concrete Park strip.  It’s been a little while, so I was a little lost as to what’s going on, but I’m really enjoying Puryear’s gangsta sci-fi.

Dean Motter’s Mister X wrapped up in this issue.  This was a good enough story, but not among Motter’s greatest.  Kelly Sue DeConnick and Phil Noto’s Ghost works well, and John Layman and Sam Kieth’s Aliens is much improved.

Nexus, by Mike Baron and Steve Rude, still doesn’t appeal to me, but I did make it through this whole story about invasive alien bugs and a creepy space ship that has been in orbit around Ylam for fourteen years.

There are a number of new strips that debut this month.  Some are one-offs, and others are set to continue.  Some, I’m not sure if this is it or not.  Mark Verheiden (been a long time since I’ve seen his name), Bryan Oh, and Mark Nelson have a good story about humans fighting an alien invasion in Falling Skies.  It’s a little familiar, but it’s well told.

Bo Hampton and Robert Tinnell begin Riven, a creepy monster story involving a strange little girl adopted out of a Romanian orphanage right after Ceaucescu’s regime fell.  This story is full of suspense, and hinges on many successful little details.  I was pretty impressed by it, and look forward to seeing where it goes.

Radio Ga Ga is a memoir by Chad Lambert and drawn by Apri Kubiantoro (whose work reminds me of Francesco Francavilla, only rougher).  Lambert tells a story about his radio days, when a joke he made on the air was reported to the Secret Service as a threat to President Clinton’s life.  Lambert writes this like a Harvey Pekar story, a fact driven home as he narrates it in a comic store, in front of an issue of American Splendor.  I love this story simply for the fact that it references WKRP…

Michael Avon Oeming’s Wild Rover is a dark little tale about a man who is convinced that his vices are being caused by an evil entity in his stomach.  This is a very piercing story that shows a side of Oeming that I haven’t seen in his work before.

Buddy Cops, by Nate Cosby and Evan Shaner, is a fun little strip about a Green Lantern-like galactic protector who has been demoted to serving on the NYPD, and his super-serious android partner.  It’s cute.

A Spy Dream, by George Schall with writing assist by Rodrigo Alonso is a very cool little story about a female spy who dreams about settling down with her lover, who is on the other side, or is conversely about a bored housewife who dreams about being a spy.  It’s beautifully drawn.

Finally (I’m not going to mention the short humour strips, as they don’t appeal to me at all), there’s Love Hurts, Kim W. Anderson’s strip about a woman who meets the perfect guy in the park.  There’s a sinister side to his knowledge of all her favourite things though.  It doesn’t help that the guy looks just like Steve Buscemi.

In all, a very satisfying heap of comics for a good price.

Glory #28

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell

For the second month in a row, Glory is all action, and it is handled remarkably well.  Glory’s father’s army has attacked her home on a remote French island, with the purpose of abducting (or rescuing, depending on who you ask) young Riley.  As the issue opens, one of the creatures is trying to convince her to come with them, when he is suddenly split in half by a giant cat that shoots lasers from his eyes.  Because that’s how this comic works.

The cat is Glory’s pet, and this is the first we’ve seen of it.  Glory’s crew takes advantage of a lull in the action to gear up, before wading into the fight with the rest of their enemies.

Ross Campbell does some very cool work on this issue.  His monsters are endlessly inventive and strange, and the action scenes are very kinetic.  He also tips his hat to this character’s heritage as a Rob Liefeld property when he has Gloria (one of Glory’s friends) pick up a large Liefeldian gun labelled BFG 10K.  It shouldn’t take a lot of work to figure out what those letters stand for.

I’ve really enjoyed this series since its relaunch, and am finding myself more and more intrigued with each new issue.  At the end of this one, a new character from Glory’s family is introduced, and I look forward to finding out more about her.

The Secret History of DB Cooper #5

by Brian Churilla

I hadn’t realized, when I started buying this series, that it was going to end after five issues.  I was under the mistaken impression that the series was an on-going, and that it would chronicle just what DB Cooper was up to following his true historical disappearance.  Instead, this just takes us up to the events that happened on that airplane in the late 70s, but no further.

I’m not really complaining though, as this is an excellent comic.  Churilla has taken a real-life mystery, and weaved out of it one of the most bizarre and original comics of the last ten years.  In Churilla’s telling of the story, DB Cooper, famous airplane hijacker, was really an agent for the CIA, involved in a remote assassination program carried out in an otherworldly landscape called The Glut.

Cooper was so good at operating in the Glut that he no longer needed drugs to access it – he was really working in both worlds, going about his life (such as it was following the disappearance of his daughter and subsequent divorce from his wife) in our world, while tracking down monsters in another.

This final issue reveals a number of secrets, such as who had been working with the Soviets to access the Glut, where Cooper’s daughter has been all this time, and just what was going to happen with Cooper’s having become a gateway for Glut creatures to enter our world.  It also addresses just what happened on that airplane.

Churilla did an incredible job with this series.  It’s a very intelligent comic, with a new approach to historical fiction.  I enjoyed it a great deal, and will definitely be keeping an eye out for whatever project Churilla decides to follow this up with.

The Secret Service #3

Written by Mark Millar with Matthew Vaughn
Art by Dave Gibbons and Andy Lanning

I’m used to Mark Millar books being filled to the brim with excesses – ridiculous amounts of violence, brutality, and a sort of one-ups-man-ship to surpass the level of nastiness he reached in the previous issue.  It’s nice to see that Millar can still pull off a story that is compelling, but also has a touch of relevance to it.

Gary, nephew to Britain’s greatest secret agent, is continuing his training in this issue.  Gary is a rough council estates kind of bloke, but his uncle saw his potential, and pulled some strings to get him into the training program.  Now, Gary is showing true promise, outclassing all of his peers in things like observation and grand theft auto (which is an example of Millaresque excesses done right).

The problem is that Gary doesn’t exactly fit well with the social class that fills spy school.  He mistakes Barack Obama for Osama bin Laden, and lacks the refinement necessary to become the next James Bond.  The club scene, where the students are sent to infiltrate and score with women for points, is really pretty funny.

I wonder to what extent Dave Gibbons is reigning in Millar’s sensibilities.  I can’t imagine Gibbons drawing the splatter-porn that Kick-Ass 2 became, for example.  Gibbons’s art is fantastic, and the sub-plot about terrorists continuing to kidnap actors, writers, and now environmental scientists from around the globe is interesting.  This is easily my favourite Millar book since he left The Authority.

Skullkickers #16

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang, Kevin Raganit, and Misty Coats

As is to be expected, the new issue of Skullkickers is a lot of fun.  The baby Thool demon has taken over the minds of most of the women on the Mermaid’s Bottom, leaving only the Captain, the female Elf, and our two heroes to try to fight it, free the women who are attacking them, and keep the ship from capsizing in the sudden storm that has imperilled them all.

This is an action-filled issue, so there’s not a lot of space for character development or further explanation as to Baldy’s history and his arrival in this world.  I presume we’ll get back to that stuff eventually, but for at least one issue, I’m perfectly happy to wallow in the madcap action and amusing sound effects.

In all, a very successful issue of Skullkickers.

The Unwritten #39

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross

A lot is learned in this issue of The Unwritten, as Tom Taylor is still absent (he’s much discussed, and even receives a voicemail message, but has not been in the comic for three issues now), but a few mysteries are revealed.  Daniel Armitage, the former employee of the Cabal who has come to Australia and has ended up working with the police, learns which familiar item is now in the possession of the Church of Tommy, and just how he saw a woman turned to words before disappearing.  We also learn just how the leader of the church was connected to the Cabal.  The biggest surprise s that he’s also connected to Pauly Bruckner, who long-time readers know as the storybook rabbit who gets his own issue of The Unwritten every year or so.

I’ve been enjoying this book a great deal for a few years now.  When it began, I was not sure if I would stick with it, and I’d even decided to stop reading a few times, always giving it one more chance to impress me.  Now, I’m very pleased that I stuck it out, as Carey has built an impressive and well-structured story.

Peter Gross’s art has always impressed me, but I especially like the way he decides to tell the story of how the leader of the church and Bruckner had to deal with Wilson Taylor, Tom’s father.  These pages are drawn in black, white, brown, and red, using a more abstract style than Gross usually uses.  It really makes these pages stand out.

Quick Takes:

Avengers Academy #33 – Christos Gage really knows how to push the emotional buttons correctly some time, as he does in this story about the Academy kids defending Juston’s sentinel from Phoenix-ified Emma Frost.  There are a few good moments here, even when the outcome is kind of predictable.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #8 - This is pretty much an all-action issue, as Namor uses his Phoenix powers to attack Wakanda, and a whole bunch of Avengers have to beat him down.  There are a couple of odd notes in this book – Captain America doesn’t seem the type to be more concerned about being proven right than helping all the Wakandans who would be drowning in the wake of Namor’s tsunami attack, and it’s weird to hear Namor rep his homo superior status than his position as King of Atlantis.  Then I checked the credits and saw that Bendis was writing this issue, so incongruities are only to be expected.  Adam Kubert drew this issue, and it looks nice (and perhaps a little rushed in places).  I’d prefer Olivier Coipel though…

Baltimore: Dr. Loskovar’s Remedy #2 – This is a pretty standard Baltimore story – he fights some monsters, and acts all dour.  I enjoy the Mignola-verse comics, but I wonder if the decision to flood the market with at least three books per month lately isn’t perhaps too much of a good thing.  Everything in these comics is starting to feel routine.

Batwoman #11 – The second story arc finishes here, as the varying plotlines that JH Williams and W Haden Blackman have been showing out of sequence converge into a big fight, which kind of doesn’t resolve anything.  I find it interesting that new alternate series artist Trevor McCarthy needed Pere Perez to bail him out on pencils, and that this fact was not mentioned in the comics press nor on the cover.  On a series like Batwoman, where the visuals are so heavily stylized, I would prefer that the book just ship late and be completed by a single artist.  Granted, I’d rather the book be bi-monthly if that meant that JH Williams could draw every issue.

BPRD Hell on Earth: The Devil’s Engine #3 – Devon and Fenix are stuck in a boxcar being attacked by giant monsters while sinister things continue to happen at Zinco.  That’s about it for this issue – it’s got great art from Tyler Crook, and some nice scripting by John Arcudi, but not a whole lot happens.

Captain Marvel #1 - I expected to be more impressed by this comic than I was.  I like Kelly Sue DeConnick’s writing usually, but I felt that she was really struggling to choose the correct tone for this book.  It opens with a scene where Ms. Marvel (she hadn’t changed her name yet) and Captain America fight the Absorbing Man while trading quips in such a way as to remind me of the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League.  I thought perhaps that was where this book would be heading, and that thinking continued through the scenes where Carol chats with Cap and Spider-Man.  Then, suddenly, she flies off into space to reflect on her life and her greatest hero – a female pilot.  A couple of pages later, she’s talking with an old sick friend, and learns that her pilot hero has died.  Then there’s a flashback to the time she met her.  The tone of the book changed a great deal, and I’m not sure where this title is headed.  Silly as it is to complain about, the costume change is kind of bothering me.  I did love the old costume (it’s a classic), but I can see the need for change.  What I don’t understand is why a character who we know can function in space unaided (read the latest issue of Secret Avengers) would need a strange goggle-mask when flying through space.  It doesn’t ever cover her mouth.  Dexter Soy’s art is interesting and unique.  I think I’ll like his work as he matures into the profession, but again, the roughness of it does not match the tone of this comic.  I’ll probably give the book a second try with the next issue, as I do like Carol a lot, but it’s not looking good…

Daredevil #15 – DD is still in Latveria, and he’s lost the use of all of his senses, at least until his natural gifts try to compensate.  It’s an interesting issue, getting into the core of Matt’s new look on life, but I am glad to see this storyline not being too dragged out.  I don’t think Daredevil’s the right character to be getting involved in Latveria stuff.  I do like Chris Samnee’s art, although I have to wonder if artists get their same page-rate when some pages are simply panels of black.

DC Universe Presents #11James Robinson and Bernard Chang’s Vandal Savage story ends with this issue, and it ends well.  The ‘Silence of the Lambs’ inspired plot, while derivative, does give Robinson the chance to redefine Savage for the modern New 52 (Savage is also a regular in Demon Knights), and to build his daughter’s character.  I was hoping for a Scandal Savage appearance though, so I’m ultimately disappointed…

Fantastic Four #608 – When Jonathan Hickman took the Future Foundation to Wakanda last month, I expected that something more epic than this story was in the works.  As it turns out, Hickman was just re-aligning the character of the Black Panther, repairing some of the mis-steps the character was subjected to starting around the time that Reginald Hudlin ran the venerable character into the ground.  Now, Hickman addresses who is the real Panther – T’Challa or Shuri, but then more or less leaves the status quo in place, just in time for Wakanda to get trashed in Avengers Vs. X-Men.  In the end, this was rather disappointing.  I’ve said it before, but I think mybe it’s time to give Christopher Priest another stab at Black Panther…

Invincible Iron Man #521 – Matt Fraction jumps the story forward by six months as this new story arc begins, and we learn that during that time, Tony Stark has been the Mandarin’s prisoner, James Rhodes has been acting as Iron Man without telling anyone, and one of the people left at Resilient has become the new Steve Jobs, turtleneck and all.  This is a very good issue, but it does make me wonder how one of Marvel’s most visible characters is supposed to come off the board for such a long stretch of time, and have no effect on the rest of the Marvel Universe.  Also, does that mean this story takes place before or after AvsX?  I know that Marvel would never address such an issue, but it does show how poorly they manage their shared universe.

Journey Into Mystery #641A fantastic conclusion to the Manchester Gods storyline, as Loki and Leah borrow a page from V For Vendetta, Loki’s plans actually work, and he has a few existential moments.  This has been a terrific series.  I’m disappointed that the next pile of issues cross-over with Thor, a book I neither read nor wish to, and I’m torn as to what to do.  Do I buy the JIM issues of the story only?  Do I cave and spend the money on the Thor issues (I think it’s 3 per book, which is expensive)?  Do I trade-wait it?  Right now I’m leaning towards skipping the whole thing – I think that’s the only way that Marvel will stop putting out so many of these damnable things.  It’s too bad though, because I really like this book…  Were Kieron Gillen writing every issue of the cross-over, it would be a sure thing, but I haven’t liked Matt Fraction’s work on Thor (although I love Casanova and enjoy Iron Man).

New Mutants #46 – And now, in the rush to finish this series off before the Marvel Now relaunches start, this title is weekly.  I really am surprised at how far this series has fallen – when Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning came aboard and gave the book a clear mandate – to have the team clean up left over X-issues – I expected a lot more.  After all, these are the guys that reinvigorated Marvel’s entire cosmic line, but this book has just limped along, in an endless cycle of self-reference and little forward movement.  Monthly, it might feel alright; weekly, and it’s just too in our face how little is happening.

Nightwing #11 – The mystery of who is framing Nightwing for murder continues, as Nightwing deals with frustration at the way his name keeps getting tarnished.  Kyle Higgins has a good handle on this character, and continues to do good work.  There’s a new artist this month, Andres Guinaldo, who does a fine job, although I prefer Eddy Barrows on this title.  Damian Wayne has a cameo, and gets all the good lines (as usual).

Ultimate Comics X-Men #13 & 14 - I was not too happy to learn that the Ultimate books were going to be crossing into one another this summer, as I only regularly buy two of the three titles.  As much as I like Nick Spencer’s writing, his Ultimate X-Men did nothing for me.  Then they replaced him with Brian Wood, and I was still going to ignore the book, until this week I caved.  It’s a good thing I did too, as he has quickly fixed a lot of what was wrong with this title, refocusing the book on Kitty Pryde and her small band of mutant freedom fighters, who are travelling to the Southwest, where America has basically ceded territory to the Sentinels.  There’s a clear sense of purpose in this book, and it reads pretty well.  The big question is whether or not I’ll stick around after the cross-over.

Uncanny X-Men #16 – The Phoenix Five continue their assault on Sinister’s stronghold, and things don’t go as well as they may have hoped.  This prompts me to wonder if perhaps the Avengers shouldn’t have perhaps put Sinister on one of their teams, as he’s much more successful in fighting them than Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes have been…  It’s a good issue, but knowing that the events of AvsX have already moved past this story takes away any possible sense of threat or danger.

Wonder Woman #11 – So now that Diana and her crew have rescued Zola from Hell, she has to deal with Apollo and Artemis coming after her, and doing Hera’s bidding.  The stakes keep rising in this book, which is full of some very sharp writing and dialogue.  This really is one of the best books to come out of the New 52, but I don’t hear of it getting a lot of love.  I can see how it’s not for everyone, but it’s up there with Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and Dial H as a Vertigo-lite title.  It’s great to see Cliff Chiang draw the whole issue too!

X-Factor #240 - Like New Mutants, X-Factor comes out way too often.  This is a good stand-alone issue though, as Layla struggles with the uncertainties that exist in the wake of her decision to save Guido.  Peter David plays with the old movie Run Lola Run for an effective gag, and also plays around with how events can play out differently now that Layla has reintroduced chance to her world.  It’s interesting.

X-O Manowar #3 – Well, we’re three months in to Valiant’s relaunch, and I’m still coming back, so that’s a good sign.  This book isn’t as good as Harbinger yet, but I have liked seeing how Robert Venditti has updated the work originally done on the character.  This issue has Aric using the armour to fight the Vine aliens, and eventually make his way to Earth.  It’s good, but I’m wondering if it’s $4 good…

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

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #2

Infernal Man-Thing #2

Mars Attacks #2

Rachel Rising #9

Untold Tales of the Punisher MAX #2

Wolverine #309 (this one was $5?!!!)

X-Men #22

Bargain Comics:

Hulk #50-52 - I’d dropped Jeff Parker’s Red Hulk book because I found that it was constantly circling between the same few stories, and because I needed to cull my pull-list a little more.  It’s nice to be able to sit down and read one whole story though, as Red gets help dealing with an entity that’s been haunting him, from Dr. Strange, the Legion of Monsters, and the good vampires from X-Men.  Were Marvel not so intent on double-shipping this title all the time, I would have stuck with it.  Granted, it’s being turned in to Red She-Hulk soon, so it’s academic…

Stormwatch #11 – I’d decided to drop this book, but then thought I’d give it one more chance.  This issue is pretty awful, as the team fight a trio of immortal Neanderthals who have been trying to devolve humankind for thousands of years, and have kept bumping up against previous Stormwatch teams.  Beyond the poor pacing, it’s worth pointing out that the word ‘Neanderthal’ didn’t exist prior to the mid-19th century, but Peter Milligan has characters using it in the 1400s.  Also, only one of the three have Neanderthalic features.  I think, like his runs on Elektra and X-Men, we are looking at ‘Bad Milligan’ writing again.

The Week in Manga:

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 5

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Art by Housui Yamazaki

I can’t express enough how much I enjoy The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.  This manga series is pretty bizarre in its subject matter and characters, but I find it an effortless read (thanks in no small part to the helpful and informative notes by the editor, Carl Gustav Horn).

The KCDS is a group of underemployed Buddhist Studies graduates who have either an interest in, or abilities pertaining to, the dead.  They seek out corpses, and then communicate with them to help them achieve their final wish.  They hope that there will be some sort of profit in this, although there usually isn’t.

This volume has four stand-alone stories.  The first has to do with a small village that was left abandoned after a killer murdered all of its inhabitants.  The second story has to do with a professor of Egyptology who has been manufacturing mummies as a way of paying off his debts.  The third has the crew working as professional mourners at funerals, and stumbling upon a mystery.  The final story addresses the shadier sides of the cryogenics industry in Japan.

All of these stories work as examples of Otsuka’s ability to blend creepy horror with a sharp sense of humour and a lighthearted approach to writing.  It’s a difficult balance to maintain, but he does it well.  He also does a great job of showing the growth of the characters, and deepens the mystery of just where Karatsu’s abilities come from, and who the figure we see appearing around him at times really is.

This series is highly recommended.

Book of the Week:

David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas – This engaging novel is really six interconnected short stories, told in a nesting doll fashion (each of the first five are interrupted by the next, and then returned to later, in reverse order).  Mitchell touches on a number of different genres – mystery novel, travel journal, science fiction – and gives us six fascinating looks into very different worlds.  This is a fantastic novel which would have a lot for comics and sci-fi fans to enjoy.

Album of the Week:

Elzhi – Elmatic Elzhi’s tribute to Nas’s classic album is both respectful and fresh. Elzhi is an under-appreciated MC, who deserves this chance to shine.

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The Weekly Round-Up #136 With The Massive, American Vampire, Bad Medicine, Chew, Conan & More Mon, 16 Jul 2012 14:00:08 +0000 Warning:  There is no discussion of San Diego in this article; a rarity on comics websites this week, I know.

Best Comic of the Week:

The Massive #2

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Kristian Donaldson

Glancing at this cover while flipping through my pile of new comics this week, I caught myself thinking, “Oh good, a new DMZ.”  It’s an easy enough mistake to make, what with John Paul Leon’s cover showing a ruined city, but in many ways, The Massive has already surpassed Brian Wood’s earlier vision of a broken future by providing a much more complete, global and fully realized look into a future that is even more broken than the one that Matty Roth ran around in for five years.

This second issue of The Massive continues to detail some of the results of The Crash, the term that Wood has given to a series of ecological catastrophes, which have restructured the globe, and affected every person living on the Earth.  It continues to follow the crew of The Kapital, the only ship remaining to the Ninth Wave, a direct action environmental group, through stories set in two different time periods.

The present-day sequence (well, story time present-day, as it all happens in the near future) has the crew of the Kapital continuing to evade pirates off the coast of Kamchatka, while searching for their missing sister ship The Massive.  They pick up on that larger ship’s signal again, and even make radio contact with it, but all is not as it seems.  As well, Mary, one of the book’s main characters, has not returned from her mission last issue to draw off some of the pirates.  Ship’s captain Callum Israel, and his right-hand man Mag are concerned, and find themselves in a few tough places.

Interspersed between this story and scenes showing what happened during the crash are scenes set in Hong Kong shortly after the Crash.  Most of the city is under water, but the inhabitants built a new port out of recycled and repurposed junk, and when the Kapital arrives looking for refuelling and resupplying, it’s not long before Callum and Mary find themselves in trouble with the locals.

This book is very compelling reading.  There is a wealth of material that Wood is fitting into each issue, as he manages to satisfy my need for background while not sacrificing space to tell an exciting story.  Kristian Donaldson’s work is excellent, as always, and colourist Dave Stewart does a fine job of dividing the different strands of the story through their own colour palette.

This is one of the best new series to debut in a year that has already had a number of fantastic debuts.  This is a great time to be reading independent comics.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #2

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Dustin Nguyen

I don’t understand why Dustin Nguyen does not get more recognition, or have a higher profile among comics artists.  This guy’s work is amazing.  In this issue, he’s called upon to show the history of the prime Carpathian vampire, Dracula, for all intents and purposes, and over a series of pages, Nguyen shows us watercolour paintings, imitation woodblock prints, engravings, and maps.  The collage effect works very well, and underscores how versatile he is as an artist.  Later, he cuts loose on a splash page that would have made an amazing cover image.

This issue is mostly spent exploring Dracula’s history.  Agent Hobbes is filling in Felicia Book on the dangerous vampire’s story, and lets her (and us) know about his ability to mentally control any other Carpathian vamp or their offspring (including, perhaps, an American vampire).  While this happens, the people who took Dracula arrive at a rendez-vous with some a pair of Soviets, although the American who confronted Hobbes in the first issue have other plans.

This is a successful mini-series, adding to the American Vampire story.  Scott Snyder and Nguyen work very well together, although I still find it difficult to accept that Gus, who looks and acts like a ten-year old, is supposed to be fifteen.

Bad Medicine #3

Written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
Art by Christopher Mitten

Bad Medicine uses this issue to establish the future and direction of this new series.  The first two issues introduced a number of characters with varying backgrounds – a New York detective, a disgraced doctor who has travelled the world learning about alternative healing, and two CDC doctors, one nice and enthusiastic, the other crusty – and had them work together on a case involving an invisible man.

With this issue, a reason is given for this group to get back together when a werewolf is shot and killed in Maine, before turning into a young man who appears normal.  There is evidence of some sort of virus in the man’s system, and so this group, more or less under the control of Dr. Horne, is dispatched to investigate.

They are led to a very small town, which seems like a very strange place, in that way that small towns are always strange places in these types of comics.  The plot might be a little predictable in this comic, but the writers excel at strong character work, and that’s what makes this a successful comic.  Dr. Horne is a difficult character to pull off – his guilt at having caused a patient’s death has led to him spending six years talking to her, and she has taught him about his weaknesses and limitations.  Dr. Teague, the crusty CDC doctor, is very similar to him, and for that reason, he seems to dislike him the most.

I think it’s interesting that the last issue ended with scenes set somewhere in Brazil (I believe – I don’t have the book in front of me), and I thought they were setting up the next storyline.  I guess that story will be addressed after this werewolf one.  This book is following a very TV-friendly pattern, but it’s working for me.

Chew: Secret Agent Poyo #1

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

Poyo is a gamecock from an island in the South Pacific, who first appeared in Chew when main character Tony Chu was in that part of the world looking to rescue his brother from a cibopathic vampire.  There was something about Poyo, who was unstoppable, that resonated with readers, and so the character returned, enhanced with cybernetics, and as an agent of the USDA.

Now, Poyo finally gets his own one-shot, and it’s about as strange and over-the-top as you can expect.  Poyo is sent to England to assist in an investigation involving a twisted scientist who specializes in ranapuliva, or the raining of frogs from the sky.  He’s using his knowledge to terrorize England Dr. Evil style, with the threat of dropping all sorts of farm animals on downtown London.

It’s a silly plot, but it works for this book.  As is often the case with Chew, Rob Guillory peppers each page with little sight gags and amusing moments.  Tony Chu’s former partner, and Poyo’s new partner Colby has a cameo, but for the most part, this story exists outside of the Chew continuity.

There are some great pin-ups as well, by artists such as Ben Templesmith, Joe Eisma, and Jim Mahfood.  This is good stuff.

Conan the Barbarian #6

Written by Brian Wood
Art by James Harren

Among the many things that I like about Brian Wood’s new Conan series is that so far, each arc has only been three issues long.  This is pretty refreshing in an era where most mainstream comics only manage to tell one or two stories a year, and where two or three issues can pass with very little taking place.  It gives me confidence that there’s always going to be something new happening in this series, and I like that the artists rotate so quickly – it gives me a chance to see different interpretations of this character, who I’ve ignored for so long.

This issue has Conan escaping the city of Messantia, after Belit arranged his opportunity to avoid the gallows.  Now, because of the actions of Belit and her crew of pirates, the entire city is in chaos, and Conan is racing, with the old shaman N’Yaga, to return to the Tigress, Belit’s vessel.

This issue is full of action from start to finish, yet Wood also finds the space to have Conan examine the choices that he is making – to become a pirate who fights without honour, all for the love of a woman.

James Harren’s art is spectacular in this comic.  His fight scenes are vibrant and kinetic, and he’s just as good at showing the depth of emotion that exists between Conan and Belit.  This is a great series.

Dracula World Order: The Beginning

Written by Ian Brill
Art by Tonci Zonjic, Rahsan Ekedal, Declan Shalvey, and Gabriel Hardman

Were it not for a mention on Bleeding Cool, I would have completely missed this comic.  Ian Brill self-published and distributed this one-shot, following Sam Humphries model for the brilliant (and very late) Sacrifice, and this book was shipped to only some comics stores in North America.  I like supporting people who do their own thing outside of the Diamond system, and when I saw the list of artists involved in this project, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to pass up on this book.

Dracula World Order is a science-fiction vampire story (because we all know that the world needs more vampire stories) which shares a great deal of similarities with the work that Victor Gischler just did with Marvel’s take on Dracula in the Curse of the Mutants storyline.  In this book, Dracula has co-opted the language of the Occupy movement, and has elevated the richest one percent of the world to vampire status, recognizing their ability to herd and control the 99% into a more efficient system of slave labour and food sources.

There is nothing left to oppose the most powerful vampire, except for his son Alexandru.  The book is split into four chapters (each drawn by a different artist).  Three of those chapters follow Alexandru’s journey to gather allies in his fight against his father, including a seasoned vampire hunter, and a Vietnamese snake lady.  The second chapter is used to share Alexandru’s backstory.

This is a very attractive book, but I would expect nothing less from those artists.  The story is clear and engaging, if perhaps a little familiar.  The book ends on a cliff-hanger, and Brill writes in his afterword that he doesn’t know when it will continue.  That’s a little annoying, but not unfamiliar with independent self-published books.  I wouldn’t be too surprised to see this title popping up on Kickstarter soon.

The Li’l Depressed Boy #12

Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Sina Grace

I’ve written before about how I was growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of forward momentum in The Li’l Depressed Boy, and so I was rather pleased to read this issue and find that things more or less do happen in it.

The LDB has been getting used to his new job at the movie theatre, and has been enjoying the attentions of the kind and lovely female manager, Spike.  In this issue, he flirts with her a little, and then has a conversation about her with his friend Drew, who encourages him to ask her out.

This book is still not moving terribly quickly – there are five whole pages devoted to LDB waiting for Spike to drive him somewhere, but it is starting to feel a little more like there is a plan in place for this comic.

This title is always charming, but I have decided to stop pre-ordering it, because of the lack of content.  That gives the creators a few issues (since it’s pretty behind schedule) to make some changes, or to get me to change my mind.

Planetoid #2

by Ken Garing

I’m really enjoying this new series.  In the first issue, main character Silas crashed onto a strange planetoid in the territory of the Ono Mao, an alien race that does not get along well with humans.  Silas spent most of the issue scouting the planetoid, which is covered with the wreckage of many ships, and the remains of an abandoned mining operation.

Eventually he met another person, who in this issue accompanies him to The Slab, a large expanse of metal where people live.  When attempting to scavenge a recently-downed ship, Silas meets Onica and Ebo.  She is a human who has grown up on the planetoid, while he is a member of the Ono Mao slave caste.  Silas, and we as readers, learn more about how things work on the planetoid, including the dangers of the sentry robots taken over by the Ono Mao for their own purposes.

Garing is setting this series up to be similar to books like Conan, but set on an alien planet.  There are few advantages to technology, although it covers every page.  Silas helps a larger group of settlers, and we get a good sense of where this book is headed.

Garing’s art is awesome.  I’ve always been drawn to the post-Industrial look, and I love the splash pages that show the wasted landscape.  This is a good book for people who are enjoying Prophet, or who want a darker type of science fiction than what we usually see on the comic store stands.  Recommended.

Punk Rock Jesus #1

by Sean Murphy

Here is one comic that ended up being nothing like what I expected (and surpassed all of those expectations).  When I know that I’m going to buy a comic, and a comic by Sean Murphy is something I’m going to buy, I don’t read solicitations, and I don’t look at preview pages, short of just glancing at the art.  I prefer to be surprised, and to enter the project only with the expectations raised by the creators’ previous work.  Still, you can’t help but have preconceived notions, and there’s nothing about the cover to this first issue that told me this would be a story about cloning, reality TV, and the IRA.

When this comic opens, it’s twenty-five years ago (well, twenty-five years ago from the standpoint of 2019), and young Thomas McKael is having a nice meal with his family.  Suddenly, there are people outside the house, there’s some shooting, and Thomas is stuffed in a closet with a gun, and told to shoot at anyone who tries to open the door.  This night ends with both his parents dead.

We then jump up twenty-five years, to learn that a corporation called Ophis has arranged to have DNA belonging to Jesus Christ (taken from the Shroud of Turin) cloned, and to inseminate a woman (a virgin, naturally) so that she can give birth to a new Christ.  This is the basis of their new reality TV show, of course.  They’ve hired a gifted scientist who is working on fixing the world’s ecological problems to take care of this for them, but they’ve also interfered with her work, insisting that she change the messiah’s DNA to give him blue eyes, bringing his appearance into line with their childhood illustrated bibles.

Thomas McKael shows up as the head of security for Ophis, who know about his checkered past as an IRA terrorist and wanted man.  There is a level of brutality to this group, best shown when the woman chosen to play Mary also gives birth to an unexpected female twin.

Murphy’s previous solo work, Off-Road, was more of a light comedy and so I didn’t expect this to be such a serious science-fiction story, but I welcome it.  I also welcome Vertigo’s decision to publish this in black and white.  Part of me suspects that it could just be a cost-saving move, but it works well with Murphy’s detailed art.  This book is not at all what I expected, but I’m very pleased with what I’m seeing, and I’m definitely sticking with it.

Revival #1

Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Mike Norton

The fact that I picked this comic up is a tribute to the ability of Free Comic Book Day to generate sales, even a couple of months after the event.  Revival had a short preview in Image’s FCBD anthology, showing a police officer who was present when a dead woman woke up at a morgue.  There wasn’t a lot there, but it was enough to catch my interest.

In this first issue, writer Tim Seeley takes his time in getting around to sharing just what’s been going on with the ‘revivalists’.  We know that on a certain day, the dead reawakened, and we are given evidence that this phenomenon has continued afterwards.  We don’t know yet how recent the deceased had to be to qualify, or if the affected rural Wisconsin communities are suddenly awash in great great grandparents.  We do know that the area has been quarantined, which has led to some frayed tempers and strange conflicts.

Slowly, we are introduced to Dana Cypress, the police officer from the preview.  She is given a new task by her father, who is also the Sheriff, to be on the Revitalized Citizen Arbitration Team, keeping track of the revived people.  On her way to a call involving a genetically modified horse (do zorses really exist?), she runs in to her sister, who looks like she’s going to kill herself by jumping off a bridge.  She accompanies her, and things go pretty bad at the zorse farm.  Like Walking Dead bad, except that people don’t stay dead.

This book is being billed as ‘rural noir’, and that label is as good as any for it.  Seeley has a good handle on the community, from the way in which people indulge the old Hollywood actor, to the casual racism of the Sheriff (implied in his case) and the horse farmers (who don’t trust their Hmong neighbour).  Mike Norton is always great, so the book looks very good.  I think this is well worth checking out.

Saucer Country #5

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

Well I’ve been pretty intrigued by Saucer Country since it began, I had one concern with the book that I didn’t even realize until I read this issue, as Paul Cornell put that problem to bed.  Basically, the series is about Arcadia Alvarado, the Governor of New Mexico, and her campaign for President of the United States.  Just before declaring her intention to run, Arcadia and her ex-husband were abducted by aliens, giving her a new purpose for running (she is convinced that the aliends pose a threat to the country, and that she is the only person who will be able to use her office to stop them).

My problem was that Arcadia was being portrayed as someone to whom things happened, not as someone who took charge.  I know that every Presidential candidate has to give up a certain level of control to her handlers, advisers, and security personnel, but I also imagine that they are the ones driving the car, and I didn’t really see Arcadia in that role.

That changes with this issue, as she pulls of an impressive feat while being hypnotized by a disreputable therapist who had already caused her ex-husband to change his story while under his influence.  The hypnosis session gives us our best look at what actually happened to Arcadia and Michael, but that doesn’t mean that the therapist, who had already broken his non-disclosure agreement before even treating her, got what he wanted.

Cornell has been keeping this pretty mysterious in this comic.  We do know that there are at least two groups with an active interest in alien visitation, but neither of their goals are clear yet.  Ryan Kelly is the perfect artist for a book like this, and his collaboration with Cornell feels very smooth.  This is an interesting comic.

The Walking Dead #100

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Well, we knew going in that this was going to be a brutal issue.  Anniversary issues never end well for Rick and his crew (go back and read issues 50 and 75 if you need some proof of that), and when the cover (granted, one of many covers for this issue) shows Rick standing over a field of dead characters from the previous 99 issues…  Let’s just say that subtle foreshadowing has never been a strength in this series.

I doubt it’s much of a spoiler to say that someone important dies in this comic.  I’m not going to say who, but I will say that it’s a character I’ve grown very fond of, and who I’m going to miss, as will everyone else in the Community, assuming they survive having to deal with Negan and his crew.

As the issue opens, Andrea is patrolling the walls of the Community, having been left in charge by Rick when he led a small group to try to receive aid from the Hilltop, the community they have just entered into a trade relationship with.  Rick’s leaving had seemed really stupid, and sure enough, we know that Negan has people staking out the Community, and making plans to attack at dawn.

Rick, meanwhile, has misjudged the distance to the Hilltop, and has to spend the night on the road.  This leads to a scene with a little too much unsubtle foreshadowing for my liking, as Rick has a couple of heart-felt conversations with a couple of close friends, which only heightened my sense that one of them wouldn’t make to issue 101.

Later, a large contingent of Negan’s Saviors attacks, taking the small group prisoner.  That’s when we meet Negan, and learn that he makes the Governor look sane and reasonable.  This is a pretty harsh issue, and Kirkman drops enough F-bombs that soldiers and convicts might begin to feel uncomfortable.  Things really don’t look good for Rick and the other survivors of Negan’s visit, as Kirkman changes the tone of the book for the foreseeable future.

This issue is a bit of an odd duck.  Sure, it’s remarkable that an independent series reaches such a milestone issue in this day and age, and that it’s poised to be the top-selling comic of July, if the numbers reported on-line are to be believed.  Kirkman has really led the way in championing the creator-owned comic, and we’ve reached a point where the best comics on the stands are being made by people with real ownership of their content, which is a beautiful thing.  My problem is that this issue, and the last one, both feel a little forced.  Rick is operating without his usual caution and forethought, and I can not believe that Andrea wouldn’t be perched in her tower watching for Negan’s people.  These two mistakes are costing the characters dearly, and they are making the story feel less thought-out and realistic than I’m used to.

Still, this is a book that is able to force a real sense of dread on me (especially with some of the creepy twisted things that Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn had to show us this month – and show us so well), and for that, I love it.

Quick Takes:

Batman #11 – We finally come to the conclusion of the almost year-long Court of Owls story, as Bruce fights Lincoln March in a battle that stretches credulity numerous times (unless, of course, Batman can survive falling from a jet and crashing into the very building that March is hanging out in).  There’s a lot of talk towards the end, but Scott Snyder does bring the issue to a close in a satisfactory way, downplaying some of the retcon excesses of the last issue, and putting the Bat-Family in the right place for things to move forward.

Batman and Robin #11 – The scene between Damian and Jason Todd is excellent, but the rest of the issue, which involves this guy Terminus having a group of strange minions start branding all citizens of Gotham with a bat-symbol is just strange and pretty disjointed.  I’m not too clear on who any of this villains are, and that makes the story kind of weak.

Bloodshot #1 – It’s another Valiant revival, and writer Duane Swierczynski does a good job of establishing the title character as a sort of Weapon X – constantly being mindwiped and lied to by his military handlers.  There is a ‘bad guy’ introduced, who shares some truths with Bloodshot, but it’s not clear just who he is.  I didn’t like Swierczynski’s work on Iron Fist a couple of years ago, but I do like what he’s doing here.  I’m not sure how I feel about the art though.  The imaginary, or implanted, scenes feature the highly burnished art that always makes me think of Ariel Olivetti and Ben Oliver, which I’m not a fan of.  The ‘real’ scenes are more traditional pencils in a bit of a post-Neal Adams style.  I’m not sure who is doing what – Manuel Garcia and Arturo Lozzi are credited as artists, but neither section looks like the Garcia I’m used to.  I liked this enough that I will probably give the next issue a try.

Dancer #3 – Nathan Edmondson and Nic Klein’s series about a retired operative who is now having to hunt down his younger, better clone, continues to chug along quite well with some nice action sequences set in European public squares.  It’s a good read, although I can’t shake the feeling that it’s a treatment for a movie as much as it is a comic.  I wish Klein would use some of the cool visual tricks that he did in Viking.

Dark Avengers #177 – Two issues into the retitled series, and I’m still coming back, but that’s because the only thing that’s changed about this title is the title itself.  This is still Jeff Parker, Kev Walker, and Declan Shalvey sharing the adventures of the Thunderbolts every 2-4 weeks.  Sure, there’s a sub-plot involving the new team going to the alien city in Northern Africa that Parker introduced in Hulk a few months back, but most of this comic is concerned with the time-lost team fighting Dr. Doom and trying to make it back home.

Defenders #8 – Reading this issue, it struck me that one could easily swap out the characters that make up the Defenders with other characters with similar powersets, and the book would read exactly the same.  Perhaps Iron Fist is needed for the connection to the Immortal Weapons, but even that doesn’t seem all that intrinsic to the story.  Matt Fraction is giving us pure plotting here, in a story that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  On the up side, the art is by Jamie McKelvie, but it doesn’t really look like his work…

Demon Knights #11 – If you have a comic that is set in some sort of post-Arthurian time (the timeline for this book has been pretty difficult to pin down), then the reveal of the villain behind this latest cannot possibly be a surprise.  She’s been around the Marvel Universe for years, and is a public domain character, so her appearance here was expected for a while.  This is a decent issue, as the group make their way closer to Avalon, and get a new ally.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #11 – This is Matt Kindt’s second issue, and I think he’s figured out what this book was missing before he came along.  Frankenstein himself has not been developed at all as a character, and so that’s what Kindt is working on a little, as he has him and Nina explore Leviathan – a gigantic living retirement community for the SHADE set.  Everything is pretty off the wall here, and I’m finding it hard to care much about what’s going on, but I’ll give Kindt a few issues to settle in before I decide whether or not I’m staying with the book.  This is definitely not as good as Kindt’s Mind MGMT, but maybe he’ll be able to pull it together.

Harbinger #2 – I continue to be impressed with the relaunch of this old Valiant title.  Joshua Dysart has the book working in the opposite direction of the original – where it had Peter Stanchek and his friends escaping from Toyo Harada’s evil corporation, this one has him turning to Harada for help.  Is that because we look more fondly on big corporations in 2012 than we did in the 90s?  I doubt it, so there must be some other reason.  Khari Evans’s art is great, and Dysart is really building these characters well.

New Mutants #45 – This issue is better than the last, but with the news that Marvel is cancelling this book in October, I guess there’s nothing more to say.  I wonder if they are relaunching something with these characters, or just letting them rest.  I still think there’s a place for a ‘New X-Men’ style book among all the other X-Books, but would rather see something more like what Kyle, Yost, and Skottie Young were doing a couple years back.  I think that moving Illyana to the ‘Extinction Team’ proves that these characters can grow up and hold their own on the main squads.

The Shade #10 – Shade’s descendent has him captive, and that means he and his companion get to talk their way through most of this issue, before Shade gets to make his move.  This is a solid issue, although an artist like Frazer Irving is rather wasted on pages of dialogue.

Spider-Men #3 – The Spider-Men of the 616 and the Ultimate universes fight Mysterio together, and then Peter takes off to track down his own life in the Ultimate Universe.  I suppose it’s interesting, but having never read Ultimate Spider-Man before Miles Morales came on the scene, I guess I’m almost as confused as Peter is.  Still, this is a more focused and story-driven Brian Michael Bendis, and Sara Pichelli’s work is always a treat (even if a few pages look a little rushed).

Suicide Squad #11 - Where things were starting to tighten up, this comic is becoming a bit of a mess again.  Frustrated with the idea that she has a traitor on the Squad, Amanda Waller doubles their numbers and sends them on another mission.  Immediately all the new members are killed (easier than having to give them names, I guess), and the usual crew find themselves in a village full of Ancient Mayans who have never had contact with the modern world.  But they’re on the coast of the Yucatan.  I feel like Adam Glass is barely trying.  I’m starting to think that my loyalty to this title is being stretched to the point where it’s time to drop this book.  If I can drop a treasured title like Legion of Super-Heroes, I should be able to do it to my other all-time favourite DC property, Suicide Squad.

Swamp Thing #11 – There’s not a whole lot happening in each individual issue of this series lately, but with art by people like Marco Rudy, I don’t care all that much, because things are just so pretty.  Anton Arcane is back (as are his Un-Men), and they attack Abby and Swamp Thing.  There’s fighting, a child-like Parliament of the Trees, and an appearance by another super-hero who has been having his own issues with the Rot of late.

Uncanny X-Force #27 – After a couple of meandering issues, Rick Remender refocuses on what this series does best, in this new issue that appears to have killed off two of my favourite mutants (both of whom better not be dead) as the new Brotherhood snatches Genesis from his classmates, and Fantomex fights alone against the Shadow King and that skinless dude.  There’s some very nice Phil Noto art, and a good pace throughout.  The stuff with EVA is a little confusing though…

Wolverine and the X-Men #13 – When this series started, I wondered when we would get some of the backstory on some of the new characters, such as Kid Gladiator and Warbird.  Well, it’s taken thirteen issues, but we finally learn something about the young warrior who showed up at the Jean Grey school to protect the son of the Shi’ar Emperor.  This is really all pretty standard fare though, as the Shi’ar engage the Phoenix Five, and neither Wolverine nor the Avengers make an appearance (I normally wouldn’t care about that, but Wolverine’s name is in the title, and the cross-over is called Avengers Vs. X-Men, not Shi’ar Vs. X-Men).  I appreciate that Jason Aaron is trying to do something interesting with what is clearly an editorially-mandated connection to the summer’s ‘Big Event’, but it’s not very satisfying.

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

Avengers Assemble #5

Avenging Spider-Man #9

Before Watchmen:  Minutemen #2

Bulletproof Coffin Disinterred #6

New Avengers #28

Ultimate Comics X-Men #14

Bargain Comics:

Age of Apocalypse #2 - A lot more character work is needed if this dark alternate reality series is going to have much of a chance.  The only character that seems like an individual is Jean Grey, but since this is supposed to be a comic about the group of humans fighting mutant rule, that’s not a good thing.  I do like Roberto De La Torre’s art though.

Avengers #26 – It’s been a little hard to reconcile just how and where all of the tie-ins to Avengers Vs. X-Men fit together.  I believe this issue came out before some of the Secret Avengers comics that it follows, storywise, but since I didn’t read it until now, it all more or less fit together.  Bendis has suddenly remembered that Noh-Varr is on the team, and so devotes most of this issue to his exploits in trying to stop the Phoenix force from reaching the Earth.  Stuff actually happens, and because Bendis is joined by Walter Simonson, the book feels much more like an old-school action book.  Simonson’s stuff looks great here (it wasn’t so good on the previous issue), as the large-scale cosmic realm is where he excels.  It’s a thrill seeing him draw Thor.

Avengers Assemble #1 – For a completely pointless third (really, fifth or sixth, but I’m just counting the Bendis books) Avengers title, this is a lot better than I’d expected it to be.  Of course, Bendis is writing for the droves of people who started buying comics again because of the movie (and what makes up a drove these days?  10 people?  30?), so he’s actually crammed a lot more into the comic than he usually would.  Mark Bagley’s art didn’t bother me quite as much as it usually does, but I did wonder why two of the new Zodiac guys look exactly like Quicksilver…

Captain America #11-13 – It feels like his title is moving back to being on track, as Ed Brubaker brings back a few of the old 80s/early 90s Captain America standards (Diamondback, Scourge, Henry Gyrich), making this arc a bit of a love letter to Mark Gruenwald’s Cap.  I wish Marvel would clarify just what organization it is that Cap runs – they go out of their way to avoid calling it SHIELD, yet we have Dum Dum Dugan in a key role as a secret agent.  I don’t understand the mystery.  Anyway, these issues were almost good enough to make me regret having dropped this title – if this book were $3 an issue and never double-shipped, I’d be buying it.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Guerillas Vol. 2

by Brahm Revel

Brahm Revel’s Guerillas first began life as a series at Image in 2008, where four double-length issues were published within nine months, before Revel decided to move the project to Oni Press.  Then, in late 2010, the first three issues were reprinted in the black-and-white trade size that Oni often uses (bigger than a digest, smaller than a standard comic page).  And then there was nothing, until this week, when the second volume, comprising of the previously printed fourth issue, and the never before seen fifth and sixth issues, came out.

When Guerillas first hit the scene, I was immediately impressed and taken away by it.  The series is set during the Vietnam War, and it involves a group of chimpanzees who have been trained to be soldiers.  They are fierce fighters, and in their unit, have adopted the same command structure and various duties as the humans they are emulating.  The problem is, this unit has gotten loose, and are on their own mission through the jungles of Vietnam.

Guerillas is also the story of John Francis Clayton, a clueless private who was the only survivor of his first firefight.  Clayton has been adopted by the chimps, and he is accompanying them through the jungle.  This series is also about Dr. Kurt Heisler, the German who trained the chimps, and who is travelling with a group of American soldiers to look for them.  Heisler has brought his first project, the baboon Adolf, who is helping them to track the chimps.

This volume opens with the chimps assaulting a Viet Cong village, which they utterly destroy.  They begin to follow some escaping VC into a tunnel system, which eventually leads them to a fight so big that they take casualties for the first time.  Meanwhile, the soldiers that are following them link up with another group, and are ambushed by a large number of Vietnamese.  Adolf, meanwhile, snaps, and starts killing just about anyone he comes across.

Revel has done an incredible job on this book.  His art is great – he makes uniformed chimps firing rocket launchers believable, and he also excels at having his human and non-human characters display emotion.  His writing is also very sharp – Clayton is an interesting character; the coward who is determined to do the right thing and help his new friends.

I’ve long been a fan of Vietnam War fiction, and can count this among my favourites.  I hope the wait is not another two years before the final volume is published.

One Soul

by Ray Fawkes

One Soul, Ray Fawkes graphic novel which was released last year, just might be the most successful experimental comic I’ve ever read.  Fawkes has designed the book so that each page maintains a tight nine-panel grid.  Each pair of facing pages then consists of eighteen panels.  Each one of those eighteen panels tells one piece of eighteen different stories, all of which begin with the first moments of life for the character narrating them.  Each of these stories is told in first person, without any dialogue, and the position of each character’s panel does not move.

Right there, I know I’ve turned a fair number of people off, but I found this book to be utterly fascinating, if sometimes frustrating.  The eighteen people represent a variety of different eras, settings, and social strata.  One is from a pre-agrarian society, another is a vestal virgin in a Greek temple.  One raises silkworms in China, while another tends sheep, and another sees to plague victims in Europe.  There is an American Revolutionary and an African slave, a chorus girl and a thief.  Many of the characters are soldiers or warriors, but in different wars.

Fawkes has arranged their stories so that themes overlap and coincide, and so that their narratives interweave with one another, even though they never meet.  While they all begin life at the same time, they don’t all end it that way, and so some panels become blacked out before others, although Fawkes still provides the dead with a voice, and an opportunity to question their fates. This is a very philosophical piece of work, as eventually all of them have to accept their mortality and their place in the universe.

I suppose it’s possible to read each story separately by only reading one panel per page, but I liked the challenge of having to keep all of the different stories straight in my head while also looking for commonalities between them.

Fawkes’s minimalist pencils remind me of Keith Giffen’s a little, but that could just be because of the use of the grid.  This is a very thoughtful and provoking piece of work, and it’s a little hard to believe that it was done by the same person who wrote The Apocalipstix

The Underwater Welder

by Jeff Lemire

The introduction to Jeff Lemire’s new original graphic novel, written by Damon Lindelof, talks about the similarities between this book and The Twilight Zone.  Personally, I find that to be a little facile, because while there are definite points of comparison on the surface, I don’t think that the Zone ever got so deeply into the mind of the characters that it featured as Lemire does here.

Setting aside Lemire’s more commercial work at DC (Superboy, The Atom, Animal Man, Frankenstein, and now Justice League Dark), it’s easy to see a clear progression from his earlier (and still best) Essex County, through The Nobody and Sweet Tooth, to this piece of work (in fact, Gus and the two main characters in those other books have a bit of a cameo here, although its easily missed).

The Underwater Welder is about Jack, a man on the cusp of fatherhood who has never been able to reconcile with his own father’s disappearance when he was ten years old.  His father used to dive for treasure and salvage in the area around Tigg’s Bay, a small fictional town on the Atlantic in Nova Scotia, and Jack has always felt connected to the sea because of this fact.  After leaving town to go to university, he felt the need to come back, bringing his pregnant wife with him, and getting work as an underwater welder on the oil rig that is just a half-hour’s boat ride away.  Being under the water makes him feel close to his father, and he’s always happiest when completely alone.

This is beginning to cause some strain on his relationship with his wife, who is not from the area and doesn’t know anybody.  On a more or less routine dive, Jack experiences some strange things – he hears voices, and comes across a familiar pocket watch.  He comes to on the surface, and is sent home pending some medical tests.  This sends him into a bit of a spin, as he no longer feels sure of what exactly happened to him, and feels a growing compulsion to both return to the deeps, and to connect with his father.  It is here that the Twilight Zone comparison is most apt, especially when everybody else in town disappears, but this remains an intensely personal book, as Lemire dives ever deeper into Jack’s psyche and his wounds.

Lemire has often played around in terms of layout and design in his work on Sweet Tooth, and here he does similar things, having Jack morph into his younger self and his father at different places, and in one case, sit down and have a conversation with himself.  It’s the type of thing that only works in comics, and Lemire does it very well.

His art looks thinner than it has in his other black and white books, being much closer to what he’s done on Sweet Tooth, and different scenes are shaded very differently.  The look of the book is such an integral part of the story, and Lemire demonstrates a very tight control over what is shown, and how the different approaches inform the story.

This is one of the best new graphic novels to be released this year.  Lemire remains a very exciting creator to watch, and I like that while he is becoming increasingly better known for corporate ‘for hire’ work, he is also able to find the time and freedom to put together something as personal and insightful as this book.  Highly recommended.

Album of the Week:

Ryat – Totem   This is the album of the summer, if you are in the mood for some Flying Lotus meets Portishead kind of spacey, ethereal left-field electronic music.  Highly recommended.

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