Inside Pulse » Rob Guillory 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. Wed, 19 Nov 2014 19:00:08 +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 » Rob Guillory The Weekly Round-Up #196 With Trillium, Baltimore: The Infernal Train, The Bunker, Chew, X-Factor & More Mon, 09 Sep 2013 14:00:21 +0000 This was one of the biggest new comics weeks in a while, with the launch of Villains Month, Battle of the Atom, and Forever Evil, as well as the second issue of Infinity coming out.  At the same time, ignoring all of that stuff, I found it harder to pick my ‘best’ comic of the week than usual.  Chew, Sheltered, and Superior Foes of Spider-Man were all good enough to make the cut, had they come out in a quieter week.

Best Comic of the Week:

Trillium #2Jeff Lemire’s excellent Vertigo series foregoes the flip-book formatting of the first issue, as the two main characters have met now, and that format wouldn’t make any sense.  These people from two different times have difficulty communicating, as the woman from the future desperately tries to figure out how she got where she is, and if she can use the trilliums to cure humanity from a sentient alien disease.  I wonder if there is some sort of illicit thrill for Lemire to show people picking and eating trilliums, since to do so is illegal in the province where he and I live (one of Canada’s weirder laws, I’m sure).  This is great work from Lemire – much better than any of the DCnU stuff he’s doing right now.

Quick Takes:

Avengers AI #3 – I’ve given this book three issues to impress me, and while I am fond of some of the characters here, I’m just not really feeling this series.  Hank Pym is portrayed in a strange way – the issue of Avengers Arena that came out a few weeks back really underscored that, as this Hank is not the one that was shown there.  Likewise, the changes made to the Vision have only served to sever the character’s past, making him hard to understand.  I also don’t understand the whole AI Diamond thing.  Apparently, all of these artificial beings live in a world that moves at computer speed, and have developed their own society, yet they spend much of their time fighting off threats to their lives.  Except, the comic only shows one threat, still hours away, and moving at our speed.  It doesn’t really add up.  Similar storylines have played out recently in Ultimate Comics Ultimates and in Secret Avengers, and they worked better there.  I doubt I’ll be back for the next issue.

Baltimore: The Infernal Train #1Lord Baltimore is back in a three-part mini-series, giving Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden a lot more space to develop their story.  Baltimore is in Hungary, which is supposed to be safe from the plague, looking to confront the Inquisitor that has been hunting him, but he stumbles over something else that is going to keep him from hunting down Haigus, his usual prey.  It’s nice to see this character get a longer story, especially when it means more art from Ben Stenbeck.

Batman Black and White #1 – Amid all the hype for a bunch of inventory comics by mostly unproven creative teams with shiny covers, this new volume of Batman Black and White is quietly slipping into the marketplace, without anywhere near the push that it deserves.  This issue has some truly impressive creators working on it – Chip Kidd, Michael Cho, John Arcudi, Sean Murphy, and Chris Samnee all hand in some very impressive work.  Things are not all wonderful though – I found Howard Mackie’s writing to be a little stale, and the Maris Wicks and Joe Quinones Harley Quinn story was dull and predictable.  Neil Adams has a story that he wrote and pencilled (and that someone really needed to ink) wherein he tries to reestablish himself as a socially conscious creator, but instead just demonstrates once again that he can’t really pace out or plot a story.  It was pretty painful (but not as painful as his Blood or Batman Odyssey).  The $5 price tag is pretty steep, and some of the stories were over a little too quickly, but there is more than enough talent in this book to win the day.

The Bunker #2Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari continue to do some very good work in their web-only comic.  In the last issue, a group of friends discover a myserious underground bunker that has letters for each of them written by their future selves, outlining just how they will contribute to the ending of the world.  This issue doesn’t touch on any of the apocalyptic stuff, as the various characters instead are more concerned with some of the secrets that the letter writers use to prove their authenticity.  It turns out people in the group have some big secrets, enough so that for now the end of the world is overshadowed.  Fialkov does some very good character work in this issue, and Infunari is backing him perfectly.  This is worth a download.

Catalyst Comix #3 – I don’t know why exactly, but this issue of Catalyst Comix ‘clicked’ with me much more than the first two, as Joe Casey has settled into the three stories he’s telling in this book.  Frank Wells is taken on a bit of a spiritual journey that ends in slave camps in Côte d’Ivoire, Amazing Grace greets an alien visitor, and Elvis Warmaker indulges in some 90s style violence at his safehouse.  The art in this book is great.

Chew #36This flashback issue brings back Toni Chu, Tony’s sister who we haven’t seen for a while (for a reason I won’t explain, in case anyone is behind in the trades).  It so happens that Toni helped out her sister Sage a little while ago, in a story that is presented as Chew #29½ .  John Layman and Rob Guillory are always brilliant, and it was a treat to see Toni again.  I love this comic.

Daredevil: Dark Nights #4 – I’ve been a fan of David Lapham’s work from even before his classic Stray Bullets series, so the thought of him writing and drawing a Daredevil story had me pretty excited.  I didn’t think it would be one of the strangest DD stories I’ve ever read though, as our hero spends a whole issue chasing a little one-foot tall man named Buggit across the city to recover some evidence the guy stole from the courthouse.  The story is bizarre and funny, but also fits wonderfully with the general aesthetic of Mark Waid’s run.  Great, strange stuff.

God is Dead #1 – Usually, when you pick up a non-Marvel Jonathan Hickman book, there is an sense of design to it that tells you that it’s a Hickman book, even though he hasn’t been drawing his own comics in years.  That is completely lacking with God is Dead, his new series at Avatar Press, of all places.  In the story, which is co-written by Mike Costa, a fact that I’m pretty sure wasn’t in Previews when this book was solicited, various pantheons of classic mythology make their return to the Earth, causing widespread destruction and unrest.  Very few characters are developed, except for a group of scientists who are hiding out in a sewer and plotting to do something.  Awkwardly, one of the scientists is the spitting image of Albert Einstein, who is used to much better effect in The Manhattan Projects.  Clearly, the wheelchair-bound scientist is an homage to Stephen Hawkings, but he doesn’t have that man’s face.  The art, by Di Amorim, is pretty much the standard Avatar fare, and while there are some topless women, and some people chained up, there isn’t any of the gratuitous and juvenile splatter that Avatar is known for.  This book is not really what I was expecting – it’s kind of like someone got Hickman to plot out a series while he was drunk at a ComiCon bar, and the Avatar people are just going with it.  I’d hoped for something on the scale of what I’m used to seeing from Hickman.  I suppose there is always hope that the book will lead up to its title, as the ramifications of what this issue shows get explored.

Green Arrow #23.1 – Count VertigoJeff Lemire makes an alright use of this Villains Month issue to flesh out the backstory of Count Vertigo, who is currently being used to cause problems for Oliver Queen.  This issue is pretty straight-forward, but is made more interesting by Andrea Sorrentino’s excellent art.  He draws most of the flashbacks from young Werner’s perspective, which is kind of cool.  I’m glad that Lemire was able to work this into his current storyline, but it’s still rather obvious that this is a filler issue.

Infinity #2 – Jonathan Hickman is unfurling his event at a grand scale, and while that leads Jerome Opeña and Dustin Weaver to draw some pretty incredible images, it also means that the human scale and perspective is often lost.  I feel like this series will read much better in trade…

Invincible #105 – It’s the standard thing with Invincible:  a new issue comes along, various plots are advanced a little, and everything is very good.  There’s really nothing else to say.

Justice League of America #7.1 – Deadshot – In typical DC bait-and-switch fashion, this book, which was solicited as being drawn by Pascual Ferry, was instead drawn by Sam Basri, Keith Champagne, Carmen Carnero, and Bit.  Why?  No idea, but I’ve long since given up on the idea of DC comics being drawn by the people they say were going to draw it.  This book doesn’t have any creators listed on the cover either.  Why?  Because DC thinks that characters trump creators every time (remember, this is the 2D cover, which was only recently printed, so the ‘months before’ excuse doesn’t fly here).  Anyway, the book is okay, as it shares Floyd Lawton’s new origin in the New 52.  Gone is his monocled first incarnation, and his strange obsession with Batman, leaving us instead a very controlled, penny-pinching version of the Punisher, if Frank Castle fought his war for profit.  Also gone is much of the nuance that made Original Floyd such a compelling character when written by people like John Ostrander and Gail Simone.  Also missing is Floyd’s death wish, which always made him so interesting back in the day (I could also complain about his hideous New 52 costume, but I’m not going to).  Matt Kindt does an alright job here, but he’s clearly been horribly constrained by the dictates of Forever Evil, and just what is supposed to happen in his upcoming Suicide Squad arc.  There are glimpses of greatness – the scene where Floyd’s family is accidentally killed could have led to an amazing layout in the fashion of David Aja’s Hawkeye work, had it been handled by a better artist.  In fact, I would have loved to see Kindt draw that scene.  It’s hard to assess these one-shot Villains Month books.  Were this the first issue of a new series, I don’t think there’s enough here to bring me back for the second issue, aside from historic attachment to the character, and my great regard for Kindt’s creator-owned writing.

Love Stories (To Die For) #1I picked up this flip-book on a whim, and I’m glad that I did.  Both stories are written by Dirk Manning.  The first is set in Germany at the end of the first millenium, and features some Norse warriors fighting revenants outside of a monastery.  It’s good, with a bit of a twist at the end, and has some 90s style art by Rich Bonk.  The flipside story was my favourite, a story about a man fighting his way through a space station full of aliens to get his wife to safety, never knowing that she’s hanging out in a shuttle with her new boyfriend.  The husband looks and dresses like Cable’s friend GW Bridge, and Owen Gieni’s art is a nice mix of Tony Moore and Jerome Opeña.  Good stuff.

Satellite Sam #3 – Matt Fraction’s period piece, set in the dawn of the TV age, continues along quite well.  Michael White continues to explore his father’s secret life, trying to find the girl who was with him while he died, while just about everyone else involved in the LeMonde Network continues to scheme and plot for their own desires.  It’s a very rich story.

Sheltered #3 – Ed Brisson and Johnnie Christmas are doing some wonderful work on this ‘pre-Apocalyptic’ comic about a group of teenagers who have violently taken over their parents’ survivalist compound.  Two girls are not with the group, however, and they have to try to figure out how they’re going to escape, and just what is really going on.  Brisson taps into the paranoia that floats around the modern Western world, crafting a story that is believable and suspenseful.  Great series.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #3 - I think this book might just have surpassed Hawkeye as the second most delightful comic Marvel publishes (after Young Avengers).  Boomerang is out of prison, but he has Mach VII as his parole officer.  There is some long-standing animosity between these two characters, and his entrance into Fred’s life causes his crew to abandon him.  Also in this book is a wonderful story about the head of Silvermane, and we finally get the complete story of Mirage’s life and two deaths.  Nick Spencer is really packing this book full of great stuff, and Steve Lieber’s art is perfect.  Check this out.

X-Factor #262 – Peter David brings his long-running X-Factor to a close with a story that focuses on Layla Miller and Jamie Madrox.  In a lot of ways, I feel like this book has gone on for too long, and I’ve not been very happy about anything in it since the beginning of the Hell on Earth War story, but I am going to miss these characters, and David’s unique take on many of them.  I know it’s not Marvel’s way to leave properties alone for long, but I think the cast of this book should be off-limits for a couple of years.  I really don’t ever want to read anyone else’s Layla…

X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1Marvel’s other big event of the month launches in this comic, which is mostly drawn by Frank Cho, but a little bit drawn by Stuart Immonen as well.  The X-Men detect a new mutant (apparently they use cerebro again, and not cerebra), and Kitty heads out with the time-travelled junior original team to get her, and of course runs into problems with Sentinels.  Cyclops’s ‘Uncanny’ team show up to help out, and when young Scott almost gets killed, everyone finally figures out that having the kids in the present is problematic.  Eventually, a team from the future shows up, after Illyana travels there for reasons that are hard to believe, and using an aspect of her powers that I don’t think existed before Brian Michael Bendis got involved with her.  In other words, it’s a typical start for a Bendis event, with the kids playing the role of Wanda in House of M, and complete with a page of ‘shaky’ art for no clear reason, à la the beginning of Age of Ultron.  Here’s hoping that the whole thing ends better than it started.  At least the art was nice…

All-New X-Men #16 – The story continues here, as the Jean Grey School group get to chatting with the future X-Men (who strangely have only added one member to the team that isn’t around in the Marvel Universe today, and he’s a legacy character).  Wolverine smells them to confirm their identity, but clearly Xorn’s mask also masks her smell, because we have to wait until the very end of the comic to find out who she is.  Jean Grey is being set up as the problematic character, refusing to not go back to her own time, and manipulating Young Beast and Young Cyclops in the process.  This Battle of the Atom story isn’t working too badly yet, but like all Bendis-driven events, I expect it to collapse on itself.

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

Iron Man #15

Legends of the Dark Knight #12

The Star Wars #1

Suicide Risk #5

Superior Spider-Man #17

Uber #5

Bargain Comics:

Detective Comics #19-23; Detective Comics Annual #2The John Layman who is writing Detective Comics is really not the same guy that writes Chew.  While that book continues to be absolutely hilarious and unpredictable, Layman’s Batman is no-nonsense, straight-up good superhero stuff.  In this run, he celebrates the 900th issue of Detective with a Man-Bat story (which then continues in the back-up stories), wraps up his Emperor Penguin arc, and brings The Wrath to Gotham.  Layman makes good use of the GCPD (which the Wrath is picking off), and grounds Batman nicely through his interactions with Alfred.  This is a good Bat-book, with nice art from Jason Fabok, Andy Clarke and Scott Eaton.

Thunderbolts #9-13 – Of these five issues, the first three were written by Daniel Way, while the second two were by Charles Soule, and what a difference those two issues make.  Way has always struck me as a writer who enjoys plotting out long, oblique stories which introduce elements that may never get explained or meaningfully included.  That was definitely the approach he was taking to this title, tossing in characters like Mercy, and then barely using them, and introducing villains like Elektra’s brother, seemingly out of thin air.  Once Soule took over, he got right to work providing backstory and coherence to this book, making it much more readable, and a lot less decompressed.  It was a much-needed change.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Autobiographical Conversations

by Ryan Claytor with Dr. Harry Polkinhorn

A few years ago, Ryan Claytor had an appearance at the comic store I shop at, as he was travelling around supporting his self-published series And Then One Day.  That series is an autobiographical one, and creating it led to his pondering the nature of autobiography.

This book depicts, in comic book form, Claytor’s conversation with Dr. Harry Polkinhorn,  a professor at San Diego State University, who teaches classes on the personal essay.  At the time the two men met, Claytor was doing graduate work on comics, and they had a long and kind of rambling discussion on autobiography, the concept of objective versus emotional truth, and the proper way to convey personal experiences in a comic format.

Of course, the conversation is shown as a comic, and the two men move from Polkinhorn’s office to a lunch spot, and then walk around the campus while they chat.  The conversation is pretty academic, but is rendered in an easily understood format, and is quite interesting.  They do discuss other cartoonists, such as Craig Thompson and David Chelsea, but most of the conversation is given over to Claytor’s own approach to his work.

What has me most curious after reading this is seeing how the concepts touched on in this conversation shape Claytor’s future work.  He thinks about things at a level that few cartoonists do, and so I’m interested in seeing how these notions get applied.

This is an interesting little book, which can be grabbed at Claytor’swebsite, if it sounds like it might be your thing.

Album of the Week:

Oh No vs. Now Again 2 – Once again the fine people at Now-Again records have let producer and rapper Oh No into their vaults, and he’s put together a great mix of music.

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The Weekly Round-Up #188 with Sheltered, America’s Got Powers, Chew, The Death of Haggard West, Great Pacific, Star Wars & More Mon, 15 Jul 2013 23:00:21 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

Sheltered #1

Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Johnnie Christmas

I’ve been a fan of Ed Brisson’s writing since I first bought an issue of his Murder Book at TCAF a few years ago.  He has subsequently written the Image mini-series Comeback, which was interesting, but nowhere near the quality of the first issue of his new series, Sheltered.

This mini-series is set in Safe Haven, a collection of trailers and underground bunkers set in some remote location in the United States.  It’s populated by a group of ‘preparationists’, militia-types who are laying in supplies for the end of the government or the world.  The adults in this small community busy themselves digging bunkers and buying canned goods, and we learn that not everyone in the group agrees with how they are going about things, but Brisson creates the impression that their sense of common purpose overcomes any procedural differences they might feel.

The kids are another problem though.  It’s quickly apparent that not all of the teenagers that live in the area see things the same way as their parents, and as is normal with teenagers, they go about rebelling in their own way.  A pair of boys borrow a HAM radio because their own is broken, but are pointedly shown not using it.  A pair of girls like to sneak out into the woods to ‘hike’, but they take a flask with them.

During what looks like a normal day, the sound of a gunshot in the woods brings everyone running.  It seems that some men are trying to attack the compound – just what the adults have been expecting and training for.  Things are not exactly what they seem though, and I don’t want to spoil the book.  Suffice to say, it’s a very good read, and I’m looking forward to the next issue.

Johnnie Christmas’s art looks quite nice in colour (I’ve only ever seen black and white work from him in Murder Book).  This book reminds me a little of Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon’s excellent Elk’s Run, but the twists are quite different.  I recommend checking this out.

Quick Takes:

America’s Got Powers #6It’s been so long since I read issue five that it took me most of this comic to remember what was going on, but I did enjoy the way Jonathan Ross has been moving this story forward.  The best part of this comic is his and Bryan Hitch’s portrayal of President Obama, and the woman who looks remarkably like Sarah Palin (who is determined to take over the powers that our main character can confer on others).  This book has really lost steam because of the delays, but if you compare it with Hitch’s other recent comic (Age of Ultron), it’s Sandman or Maus…

Avengers Arena #12 – In a nice reversal, a character previously believed to be dead gets better, and lays a whopping on the person that ‘killed’ him or her.  In order to help things stay extra spoiler-free, Marvel decided to give this issue a cover that features a character that doesn’t even show up inside the comic.  This is a good series, but this particular issue felt rushed; it had no character work in it at all, and the art seemed hurried.  Maybe it should only be published monthly…

Batman #22 – The Zero Year continues, with Bruce Wayne posing as Oswald Cobblepot in order to flush out the Red Hood gang.  This was a pretty cool issue, although I have to wonder what’s going on with Scott Snyder always finding ways to manipulate characters as close as Bruce and Alfred into slapping each other – it reminded me of the incredibly out-of-character slap Bruce gave Dick back in the Court of the Owls story.  Another random thought – since Snyder is spending months on this flashback story, will anyone remember that the rest of the Bat-family is still pissed at Bruce by the time we catch back up to present day?  It’s strange that so much time was spent creating that situation for it not to be explored at all in this title (or, I think, the other Bat-books, although I’m really only reading Batman Incorporated, which lives in its own continuity).

Chew #35A new issue of Chew is never a disappointment, but this issue, which finishes off the ‘Bad Apples’ arc is fantastic.  Tony has to deal with a hostage taking in a giant pumpkin house, which leads to a prophecy by the leader of a radical chicken worship cult, while his partner Colby has to get used to a strange new living arrangement.  Colby decides to stop working with Savoy, and Tony and his daughter have a heart-to-heart-to-toe conversation which ends with a welcome surprise.  Just about everything in this issue is perfect – John Layman and Rob Guillory are at the absolute top of their game with this book.

Daredevil #28 – Once again, Daredevil delivers, as Mark Waid has Matt Murdock’s childhood bully show up at his office, needing his help in a false arrest case.  Waid plays the emotional beats in this issue perfectly, contrasting Matt’s natural anger with his sense of justice.  Of course, once the Serpent Society connection is revealed, things get a lot more interesting.  Javier Rodriguez is handling the art, although his work looks so much like Chris Samnee’s, it’s hard to notice there was a change.  This is a great series.

The Death of Haggard West – This one-shot, made up to look like it’s issue 101 of The Invincible Haggard West, a series that doesn’t exist, is a teaser for Paul Pope’s upcoming graphic novel, Battling Boy.  This book has been highly anticipated for years, so I was happy to get a look at it.  This comic shows us the last battle of Haggard West, a Batman-like hero who goes out fighting a group of creepy looking kidnappers.  It’s a Paul Pope comic, so the art is dynamic and exciting, and everything looks incredibly cool.  There’s not a huge amount of story here, but things are really very nice to look at.  I’m definitely looking forward to Battling Boy…

Demon Knights #22The Knights make their way back to Al-Wadi with the Holy Grail, but are pursued by an army of giants, thanks to Vandal Savage.  This is a pretty typical issue of this comic, and it’s pretty enjoyable.  Robert Venditti has done a decent job of maintaining the feel that Paul Cornell gave this series.

East of West #4 – This was a pretty exciting issue of East of West, as Death and his two companions attack New Shanghai and slaughter Mao’s forces in a bid to reunite with Xiaolian, Mao’s daughter and Death’s lover.  It looks like the events of this issue will have serious repercussions for the other three Horsemen and their plans.  Nick Dragotta is just killing the art on this book, and Jonathan Hickman’s writing is solid.

Fearless Defenders #6 – I think this is the most solid issue of this new series yet, as Valkyrie faces her inner demons with the help of a new character.  Cullen Bunn more or less sets the tone for future issues of this title here, and he catches my interest.  Unfortunately, it looks like Marvel is planning on upping the price of this book to $4, and I think that means I’m going to be abandoning it.  It’s a good comic, but is it $4 good?

Ghosted #1 – It may be too early in the life of Skybound, Robert Kirkman’s imprint at Image, to tell if they have a house style, but Ghosted reads just like a supernatural take on Thief of Thieves.  In Joshua Williamson’s new series, a rich man busts a highly skilled criminal out of prison because he wants him to steal a ghost from a particularly creepy haunted mansion that is going to be demolished soon.  Our protagonist goes about assembling his team, and things feel kind of familiar.  Interior artist Goran Sudzuka opts for a style that brings to mind cover artist Sean Phillips’s work.  It’s a very good comic, with a nice little twist at the end.  I’m not sure how long this is supposed to run for, but I imagine I’ll be back for the second issue.

Great Pacific #8Things are getting a little stranger in this title, as Chas has to deal with being shot, and with vague threats from the Little Chief.  I really can’t tell where Joe Harris is going with this series, but I am enjoying it.

Hawkeye #12 – Francesco Francavilla shows up to draw the book again, as we get an issue that focuses on Trickshot, Hawkeye’s brother.  The last anyone saw Barney Barton, he was in the Dark Avengers (which i stopped reading), but I guess it didn’t work out so well for him, as he’s now living on the streets, and letting the Russian tracksuit mafia pay him to beat him up.  There’s a very cool scene that was in the last issue – the pizza dog one – but which is much better explained here.  It’s becoming more and more clear that Matt Fraction is structuring this book like he did Casanova, although not as insanely, and that he’s working through a very specific master plan, despite how random the book might feel at times.

Helheim #5 – This was a real quick read this month as Rikard finishes his battle with the with Groa, leaving him with only one witch to fight.  Joëlle Jones’s art is lovely, but there’s not enough going on in this series, especially when compared to Cullen Bunn’s other Oni book, The Sixth Gun, to sustain this comic for long.  I can feel my attention beginning to wane.

Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm #11 – All of the tension in Ape City boils over in this action-packed issue, as the chimps push back, arranging a coup against Dr. Zaius.  I’ve been continually impressed by how well Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko have plotted this series, and am looking forward to its conclusion next month.

Secret Avengers #6I’m kind of surprised by the freedom it looks like Nick Spencer has been given in constructing his story in this series.  This issue takes place before the events of the last one (kind of like reading Morning Glories), and has Mockingbird infiltrating AIM Island, while James Rhodes gets friendly with the squadron of Iron Patriots that are flying around causing trouble.  The real story is the plot to remove Daisy Johnson as Director of SHIELD though, and it’s pretty interesting.  Butch Guice draws this issue, and he’s the perfect artist for this series.

Star Wars #7 – As if Brian Wood’s Star Wars wasn’t already good enough, now Ryan Kelly is drawing it!  It’s hard to imagine that the team behind the absolutely brilliant series Local would be as effective creating a Star Wars comic, but the proof was just in my hand.  There was nothing wrong with Carlos D’Anda’s art on the first arc, but Kelly is a much stronger character artist, and Wood has made this series as much about the growth of the characters as it is science fiction swashbuckling.  In this issue, Luke and Wedge hatch a plan to discover who the traitor in the Rebel fleet is by infiltrating the Imperial Star Destroyer, while Darth Vader puts his own plan in motion to regain his former command.  There’s a lot more Han Solo in this issue than the last few as well, which is welcome.  This series makes the life-long Star Wars fan in me very happy.

Storm Dogs #6 – I have absolutely loved Storm Dogs.  I’ve mentioned before that there is a real dearth of intelligent science fiction in popular culture these days, but this series has satisfied that need on a number of levels.  In this issue, David Hine and Doug Braithwaite really up their game, revealing a few surprises, including the motivations of one of the main characters of the book.  This series could be described as Avatar done properly, but there is a lot more going on than that movie ever could have hoped for.  This issue finishes the first mini-series, but it also promises a second season coming at some point; hopefully the creators will get more lead time so that the book is not plagued with delays.  Still, I’m eagerly waiting more.  When this comes out in trade, you should really check it out – great characterizations, an interesting vision of the future, and lots of cool anthropology.

Suicide Squad #22When it was announced that Ales Kot would be coming on as the writer of Suicide Squad with issue 20, I was intrigued, but reluctant to add the book to my pull-file, because DC has quite the track record lately of announcing writers and then firing them or having them quit in their first two issues.  By the time issue 20 came out, it looked like Kot was staying with the title, so I bought it and enjoyed it.  I have since added Suicide Squad to the ever-dwindling DC section of my pull-file list.  Then we found out that Kot is gone after the next issue.  Dan Didio claimed this was “always part of the plan”.  I just wonder why DC would make a fuss about landing an up and coming writer like Kot, and never tell people that they only planned on keeping him for four issues.  Because, and this is the big problem here, Kot’s Suicide Squad is actually really very good.  This issue takes a slightly non-linear approach to a Squad mission that involves mind-controlling billboards in Las Vegas, and a giant creature made of the bodies of suicides.  The book is strangely funny, exciting, and beautifully laid-out and drawn by Patrick Zircher.  I guess the trick is to not get too attached to anything at DC these days; just because a book is critically acclaimed and increasing in sales does not mean that it’s safe from some wrong-headed editorial meddling and summary dismissal.  DC still believes that their characters are what draws in customers, and that creators don’t matter.  Like, perhaps, people are reading this book because they are huge King Shark fans, and would continue to read it if it were written by Chuck Austen and drawn by Rob Liefeld…

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys #2 – This is a pretty complicated series, as Gerard Way and Shaun Simon have tossed us into the middle of a complex society structured around control of citizen’s environments, and the rationing of batteries to robotic sex slaves.  In the desert, the new Killjoys are recovering from the attack of the first issue.  Way and Simon are throwing a lot of characters at us, but the book is very compelling, especially with Becky Cloonan’s wonderful artwork.  I’m still figuring a lot of things out, but I love reading this.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #27It’s become pretty apparent that the Ultimate line is being shut down or majorly overhauled soon, and it really feels like the powers that be just told Joshua Hale Fialkov to come on this book and kind of wreck everything.  I can’t really explain much of what is happening in this title right now, except to say that Reed Richards is still crazy, and Tony Stark’s talking brain tumor is actually something else.  I’ll ride out the end of this arc, but I think I’m not going to bother with Hunger and whatever comes after it.  It all feels kind of pointless now.

Uncanny X-Men #8 – Chris Bachalo is back to drawing Uncanny X-Men, so things look really great, but I don’t know if the fantastic art is enough to paper over the thinness of Brian Michael Bendis’s writing.  I know he has to draw things out a bit before the next cross-over begins, but I’m getting a little tired of seeing Cyclops’s team standing around talking about themselves and their broken powers or their lack of training.  The new characters could be interesting, but every single one of them seems like a minor variation on the standard, snarky, Bendis character.

The Walking Dead #112 – Looking back over the ten years or so that The Walking Dead has been published, it really is a wonder that Rick has managed to stay alive for so long.  He really can fly off the handle at times, and when he returns to the Community to discover that Negan has killed one of his people, it’s one of those times.  Things don’t go well.  Nobody is better than Robert Kirkman at building up such a crazy level of tension in a single issue, and then leaving the reader hanging for a month.  This is great, great comic.

X-O Manowar #15Aric has brought his people back from their enslavement to an alien race, and decides to lay claim to a good-sized chunk of Romania for them to live in.  This is a bit of a problem, but it is Gilad, the Eternal Warrior, an old friend, who comes to address the problem.  This is a pretty solid issue, with nice art by Lee Garbett.  The premise is a little silly, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Young Avengers #7 – I’m not sure which series I love more – Hawkeye or Young Avengers (even though their depictions of Kate Bishop don’t match, perhaps she is the secret to great comics in the Marvel Universe).  This issue has wannabe Skrulls, Nina Simone references, heart-to-heart chats, Instagram-fuelled exposition, and big breakfasts.  Kieron Gillen’s writing couldn’t be smoother, and Jamie McKelvie’s art is phenomenal.  This is such a fun, well-designed comic.  Prodigy gets in touch with the team, and they go after Speed.

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

‘68: Jungle Jim #4

Astonishing X-Men #64

Astro City #2

Indestructible Hulk #10

Rachel Rising #18

Six-Gun Gorilla #2

Superior Spider-Man #13

Wolverine #6

Bargain Comics:

Avengers Assemble #10-13Avengers Assemble is the Avengers equivalent to Astonishing X-Men – it doesn’t fit into the plans of the more central Avengers books, nor does it have its own unique mandate, like Avengers Arena or Uncanny X-Force.  It’s just sort of there to round out the line, I guess, as Marvel tries to squeeze every last $4 out of the franchise (hence Avengers AI and Mighty Avengers).  The comics are not bad – Kelly Sue DeConnick is using her book’s lower profile to give more space to strong female characters like Captain Marvel, Spider-Woman, and the Black Widow, and that’s a good thing.  The stories are pretty inconsistent though – the first one is all light-hearted fun, while the second is more serious.  The lack of a consistent artist also makes this series feel like a string of fill-ins.

Avenging Spider-Man #20 – Chris Yost really takes his time getting this issue going, but once he does, things work pretty well, as Spidey-Ock infiltrates a SHIELD Helicarrier in a scheme to free the Chameleon, only to find that Black Widow and Hawkeye are there, and that a group of Russians are coming for the same guy.  There are a lot of parts in play, but Yost writes a good Spidey-Ock, so it works.

Captain America #7 – I like the “Captain America as a father” approach Rick Remender has taken to his run with the character.  It gives Cap a different angle, and makes him a little more interesting, especially with Ian having been abducted by Arnim Zola.  The problem with this run continues to be John Romita JR’s god-awful artwork.  Cap’s shield is never at a consistent size – sometimes it’s smaller than his forearm.  I used to love Romita’s art, but his work here is really hurting this title.

Iron Man #9This was easily the most enjoyable issue of Iron Man I’ve read so far (in the Marvel NOW! era), and there are ___ reasons for this:  1) Kieron Gillen writes a perfect Death’s Head, as we learned in his criminally short-lived SWORD; 2) Gillen also does a good job of playing Tony Stark’s character against others who don’t always see things the same way he does; and 3) Greg Land’s art is only on the cover.  Instead, the super-talented Dale Eaglesham draws this issue, and it looks great.  With the news that Land has moved on to Mighty Avengers, I might actually start buying this series when it first comes out.  I’m not sure how much I like the idea of Gillen retconning more stuff with Howard Stark though (this is the same guy we saw in Jonathan Hickman’s SHIELD, right?).

Minimum Carnage (Minimum Carnage Alpha & Omega, Scarlet Spider #10&11, Venom #26&27) – Had I known that the Minimum Carnage crossover included the Micronauts (now called the Enigma Force, of course), I would have bought it off the stands.  This is the first time I’ve ever read a comic with Carnage in it (I think), and the character is really pretty annoying.  He gets taken to the Microverse to destroy the universe or something, and Venom and Scarlet Spider give chase.  This crossover has some nice Declan Shalvey art, and does a good job of keeping itself contained and complete.  It’s not bad for that kind of thing, and it’s always a thrill to see Arcturus Rann, Princess Mari, and Bug again.

Savage Wolverine #6 – I wonder if this story arc was originally going to be the second arc of Avenging Spider-Man, seeing as it’s by Zeb Wells and Joe Madureira, who were going to be the on-going creative team of that book, and as it features Peter Parker as Spider-Man (with no hint of Dr. Octopus in his head), and is concerned with the dead body of Bullseye (see recent issues of Daredevil to see why that doesn’t jibe).  Anyway, it’s kind of a fun comic, although Madureira’s art doesn’t lend itself to a lot of multi-panel pages.

Thor God of Thunder #7-9Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic’s epic story about three Thors and Gorr the Godkiller works much better in chunks like this than it would as individual issues.  There are some pretty major fight scenes in these comics, and I’m enjoying it much more than I usually would a Thor comic.

Über #0 – As much as I like Kieron Gillen’s writing, I’d decided to pass on his new series at Avatar, mostly because I’d gotten a little tired of how that company’s comics all come out looking the same.  Gillen’s taken an odd approach to this zero issue for a series about a German superhuman project that appears to have kicked into gear in the waning days of the second world war.  The story is told rather kaleidoscopically, showing us a number of characters who are in and around Berlin as the Russians and Germans advance, and then eventually introducing the superhuman element.  It was a little hard to keep some of the characters straight, but it was also very effective at drawing me into the story.  I may have to rethink my approach to this title.

The Week in Graphic Novels:


by Gerry Alanguilan

I’ve wanted to read Elmer for a while now, although I have to say that I wasn’t expecting to love the book quite as much as I did.  This is one fantastic graphic novel, mixing allegory, social commentary, and humour with a gripping, emotional read and fantastic art.  I cannot believe that this book is not discussed ore as an example of the type of story that can only be told effectively through comics.

In Gerry Alanguilan’s fictional world, something happened in 1979 that caused all the chickens in the world to spontaneously evolve to human levels of cognition, speech, and ability.  After a few very difficult months during which violence was the most common human response to this change, chickens were declared ‘human beings’, entitled to the same basic rights and freedoms as everyone else.  It’s a crazy idea, but it does allow for a pretty interesting story.

Elmer is centred on Jake Gallo, an angry young chicken who has been having trouble finding himself decent work.  He returns to his family’s home when he learns that his father, Elmer, has had a stroke, and after his father’s death, spends most of the book exploring his father’s journal from the time of his ‘awakening’.  The first generation of self-aware chickens suffered a great deal, but Elmer was not one to let his problems stop him.  His close friendship with Farmer Ben, the man who saved him many times over, and his ability to write eloquently for a local newspaper gave his life purpose.

Learning about the challenges his parents faced has a profound affect on Jake, and Alanguilan shows that beautifully.  It’s rare to see characters so well developed in such a small amount of space, and to see how profoundly the events of a book can change them.  Alanguilan has really thought out how this change would affect society, from the impact on the poultry industry to the way in which people would react to mixed marriages.

Alanguilan is best known for inking comics artists like Whilce Portacio and Leinil Francis Yu, but he shows here a draftsmanship and attention to detail that eclipses these superstars.  His chickens are incredibly human in their facial expressions, while still being very chicken-like – it’s not an easy trick to pull off.

One thing I really liked about this book was how clear it was that the comic was not set in North America (Alanguilan is from the Philippines), while remaining universal in its storytelling.  I cannot recommend this book enough – it’s an incredible read, and would be perfect for anyone who enjoys Chew (I’d love to see Elmer sit down for a chat with Poyo one day).  Actually, I think this should be required reading for any true comics fan.

Revolver Vol. 1

by Salgood Sam (with John O’Brien and A. J. Duric)

Salgood Sam is one of those comics creators that I feel we should see a lot more from.  He first caught my eye on the excellent Sea of Red vampire series, and his graphic novel with Jim Munro, Therefore, Repent! is a favourite of mine.

Revolver is an anthology of shorter comics by Sam, which are very introspective and powerful.  At the heart of the book is “The Rise and Fall of it All pt. 1″, a story about a man who was downsized during the recent economic turmoil, and unable to pull things back together in his life.  This is a very poetic story, matched beautifully with Sam’s expansive page layouts.

‘Pin City’ is an interesting bit about a very special city in the sky, and the way in which a man has to go about making a life for himself within it.

Some of the other stories are comics based on dreams, or the usual sort of short ephemera of sketchbooks.  Sam is a very interesting artist, and one worth keeping an eye on.

Album of the Week:

Thundercat – Apocalypse – If this is what the Apocalypse is going to sound like, then I’m okay with it happening.  Thundercat returns with his second album, executive produced by his label mate Flying Lotus, and it is a very lovely affair.  There are a lot more vocals than there were on the first record, and that works well here with the laid-back tone of the album.  The music is less spacey, and a little more focused on telling a story.  This is a very good, very mellow collection of music.

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The Weekly Round-Up #176 With Chew, Miniature Jesus, BPRD, Comeback, Conan & More Mon, 22 Apr 2013 14:00:00 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

Chew #33

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

I’m not sure if there is any other comic coming out (more or less) monthly that I look forward to more than a new issue of Chew.  Layman and Guillory have worked into such a perfect groove for this title that each new issue feels better than the one before.

This issue opens on Colby having a terrible night at home, joined as he is by his boss, Director Applebee, who is forcing his company (and probably other things) onto him, and using his as a shoulder to cry on.

Tony Chu, meanwhile, is on loan to the US Navy for a mission that his him returning to the island of Yamapalu, the sight of an earlier mission for him.  Tony is being sent to abduct (render?) someone in a position of leadership in the Church of the Immaculate Ova, the chicken-worshipping cult that has been causing problems in the US.  To do this, he has to face a sciboinvalescor, a person who gains strength through ingesting food.

I don’t want to give away too much about this issue, but Poyo, the cybernetic chicken killing machine has a cameo, and Guillory’s depiction of the Navy is hilarious.  I’ve been fascinated by the turn towards darkness we’ve seen in Chu’s behaviour, especially since that same darkness is not reflected in the rest of the comic.

If you aren’t reading Chew, you really need to be.

Another Notable Comic:

Miniature Jesus #1

by Ted McKeever

Here’s a question for those of you who are more religiously inclined than I am – if a wall-statue of Jesus were to suddenly come to life, pull the nails out of its hands, and drop to the floor, what would you automatically assume?  If you are Ted McKeever’s preacher, you’d find it to be proof of demonic activity, a reaction that I find a little strange.  I would think that those that preach “the return” would be more inclined to interpret bizarre goings-on as proof of it, not its opposite.

But then, I’m not a preacher, nor inclined to think like one.

Anyway, it’s a new Ted McKeever comic.  It’s weird.  People act strangely.  Do I need to say anything else?

Most of this book is not about the titular miniature Jesus though; it appears that the true star of this series is a homeless alcoholic who has holed up in an abandoned motel, spending his days staring at the corpse of a cat.  His temptations take the form of a demon that appears to talk to him (when the dead cat isn’t).  Whether or not this demon is an actual demon remains to be seen.

McKeever is at his best when dealing with religious themes – hisMetropol is my favourite of his series, and this comic seems much more coherent than his recent Mondo.  I’ve always liked McKeever’s art – his establishing shots are beautiful, and his characters are always interesting to look at.  He’s the kind of cartoonist for whom Image’s ‘Golden Age’ format was created.

Quick Takes:

Avengers #9 – I know this came out last week, but this is the first I got it.  Jonathan Hickman  takes his plot further by having Nightmask and Starbrand confront the folks on Mars, before coming back to Earth and getting into a big punch-up with the whole Avengers team.  This story arc doesn’t balance character as well as Hickman’s Fantastic Four run did, but he is playing with some big, interesting ideas.  The switch in art from Dustin Weaver to Mike Deodato was pretty jarring.

Batwoman #19 – Trevor McCarthy is doing a fine job drawing this book, but in the wake of JH Williams’s departure from art chores, this comic feels a lot more traditional, and subsequently, a little more dull, as Batwoman’s complicated family relationships are once again the vehicles for driving the plot.  It would be nice to see Kate doing something else.

BPRD Hell on Earth #106 – The two-part ‘A Cold Day in Hell’ arc wraps up with Agent Giarocco going looking for Yosif despite her orders.  I like that the minor characters are getting so much play in this title these days, and I’m always happy to see Peter Snejbjerg drawing a comic.

Comeback #5 – I know this came out a little while ago, but I somehow didn’t get a copy of it until now.  Ed Brisson finishes his time-travelling crime comic off very nicely, as various threads and confusing elements come together, and the fate of Reconnect is decided.  This book will read very well in trade.

Conan the Barbarian #15 – It’s a shame that Mirko Colak didn’t finish off ‘The Woman on the Wall’, but the art duties are given to Andrea Mutti, who does a fine job.  In fact, this is the best work I’ve seen from Mutti, as we learn the connection between Bêlit and the fortress in the desert that has been under siege.  It’s a very well balanced issue, as Brian Wood continues to make Conan a fascinating character, seen in terms of his relationship with the Pirate Queen.

Daredevil #25Reading this issue, it’s not hard to see why artist Chris Samnee got an Eisner Award nomination this week – this book is just about perfect.  Mark Waid has Daredevil confront Ikari, a ninja with a radar sense who wears a very cool costume based on DD’s first outfit.  Waid has given a lot of thought to how a hero with radar sense would fight and use his environment, and really puts Matt through his paces in this fight.  This was a pretty thrilling comic, with one twist I didn’t see coming.  Great stuff.

Daredevil: End of Days #7 – I continue to love this series, as Ben Urich gets interrogated by the Hand before being rescued by the new Daredevil and the Punisher.  This series has been very well-written by Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack, and has terrific art by Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz.  The revelation of the new DD’s identity did not come as a surprise, having been pretty heavily telegraphed a few issues ago, but everything else about this book was bang-on.

Mara #4 – Mara Prince, once athletic hero and now super-powered pariah, takes a brief sojourn with the military in this issue, before striking out on her own.  Brian Wood is using this series to ask just how many self-absorbed, celebrity teenagers would, if they were to suddenly develop super-powers, suddenly begin to use them as heroes.  This is a contemplative and minimalist series, as Wood allows his themes to play out quickly, without much drama.  I’m really enjoying Ming Doyle’s artwork.

Nightwing #19 – When this series started, under Kyle Higgins’s pen, I was surprised that I liked it so much, having never really cared for Nightwing before.  Higgins and artist Eddy Barrows developed an interesting approach to Dick as an acrobat and as someone who was trying to create an identity for himself separate from his role as Bruce Wayne’s ward, while remaining an integral member of the Bat-Family.  Now, Dick has moved to Chicago (where, for some reason, police shoot at him when they see him) trying to track down the man who killed his parents, and is angry at Batman for the reasons that were never made convincing in the Death of the Family storyline.  This issue, which sets Dick up in Chicago, is a little hard to swallow in places, but the biggest problem with this book is the art by Brett Booth.  I remember being aware of him back in the days of bad Image comics, and I’m sorry to see that he has barely grown as an artist since the 90s.  All of his characters look to be about 20 years old, including Tony Zucco, who has an adult daughter.  Many of his pages are stiff and awkward, and the combined effect of his art and the magnitude of event-driven changes to the simple and interesting approach Higgins started this series with have led me to decide that it’s time to jump ship on this book.  Soon, I wonder how many DC books I’ll be buying…

Revival #9 - I really wonder what the long-range plan for Revival must look like.  With each new issue, Tim Seley is introducing a few more characters and story elements, but very little is getting resolved (although I’m guessing that the story with the three brothers won’t last much longer, after this issue).  I’m quite enjoying watching this story play out, and am always happy for regular doses of Mike Norton’s art.

The Sixth Gun #30 – A new arc, ‘Ghost Dance’ begins here, as Drake, Becky, and their crew are being held by some Native tribes who have been sent to find them after receiving visions about them.  Also on hand is the old guy from the New Orleans swamps.  The Natives are trying to cure Becky of some rather existential issues, while Missy Hume’s crew, bolstered by her mother-in-law’s lizard people, are closing in.  I don’t think that description is adequate in explaining how awesome this book is.  Just take my word for it.

The Sixth Gun: Sons of the Gun #3 – As much as I like these books, I wish that they could be scheduled so they don’t come out in the same week – it’s too much of a good thing, followed by too long a spell in between.  Anyway, this month the spotlight is on Will Arcene, who owns the gun that shoots fire.  As it turns out, he’s a much worse character than his brothers in arms, as we learn a little about his upbringing in this straight-up horror comic.  It’s good, but not as good as the parent title.

Thief of Thieves #13 – It’s been a while since the last issue came out, but the reader is instantly tossed back into the action as Redmond and his son have to escape a building crawling with cops and FBI, and also make their escape from the cartel, which they are less successful at.  This is always a pretty taut series, and as the issues between father and son come further into the spotlight, it gets better and better.

Wonder Woman #19I really like how the Wonder Woman team embraced the potential silliness of the WTF cover gimmick to deliver a bit of a surprise.  This issue serves as an epilogue to the long story about Zeus’s lastborn, while also setting up the coming conflict with Zeus’s firstborn child, who is making an alliance with Neptune and Hell.  I love Brian Azzarello’s take on the Greek gods, and love this book.  I’m sad to see a few members of Diana’s entourage (family?  army?) go, but completely trust in what Azzarello has planned.  This is my favourite New 52 title.

X-Factor #254 – Whenever Peter David gets into his longer arcs, I find my enjoyment of the book drops precipitously.  That’s where we are right now, with the team still figuring out how to deal with the war between the various lords of various Hells, and me wondering why I still buy the book.  The thing is, I know that the aftermath issue of this arc, where the team stands around being rude to each other, is going to be gold.  I just have to wait it out.

X-Men Legacy #9 – Regardless of your feelings about this book, you have to admire Marvel for publishing such a different and unique take on the mutant corner of their universe.  In this issue, Legion and Blindfold go on a date on the moon, where Legion tries to convince her that they have to put a stop to a superhero before he tries to kill all mutants.  I like the way Simon Spurrier spins out this story, and that this book is so hard to predict.

X-O Manowar #12 – Aric continues to bring devastation to the Vine’s homeworld, and meets a number of descendants of his people who have been kept there as slaves.  This is another good comic in a very solid series.

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

Age of Ultron #6

Black Beetle #3

Bloodshot #10

Cable and X-Force #7

Captain America #6

Iron Man #8

Savage Wolverine #4

Superior Spider-Man #8

Wolverine and the X-Men #27AU

Bargain Comics:

Bloodshot #7This is a flashback issue, showing how Project Rising Spirit had been using Bloodshot to track down Psiots over the years (always, somehow, in Manila).  I’ve been avoiding this title, as the first five or six issues didn’t do much to impress me, but this issue does help inform what’s going on in Harbinger Wars, and features some nice art by Matthew Clark and Stefano Gaudiano.

Detective Comics #18 – Aside from the clearly editorially-mandated images of Bruce standing by Damian’s grave, this is one of the better issues of Detective I’ve read since John Layman starting writing it.  The Penguin figures out that Ogilvy, his former aide-de-camp, has taken his money, property, and identity, and he begins to fight back, rather badly, while Mr. Zsasz enjoys his time away from Arkham.  This is decent stuff – were the book not $4 a month, I’d probably be buying it.

Legends of the Dark Knight #3 – This issue of DC’s digital-first Bat-book is pretty decent, at least until you think about it.  I’m not the biggest fan of writer Steve Niles, but I do like Trevor Hairsine’s art, so I gave this a shot.  The Joker escapes mere hours after being locked up (after conveniently being placed in a cell that has a model revolving door and wrapping paper in it), and this causes Batman to question his effectiveness.  Conveniently, and for reasons I don’t understand, Gotham PD updating their computer files means that Commissioner Gordon calls Batman to come pick up bags of mail that they had been storing for him for years, and this in turn inspires him to continue with his mission.  I’m surprised that Batman only gets thank-you letters, and not requests for help.  Also, I kind of question when Niles wrote this story.  Hand-written letters and a corded red phone made me feel like I was reading a comic from the 80s.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Annotated Mantooth

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Andy Kuhn and Tim Fisher

I think most readers aren’t aware of the fact that Matt Fraction was bumping around the independent circuit for quite a while before getting noticed and published by Marvel, where he has become one of their main writers.  Some of his early work, likeLast Of The Independents andFive Fists Of Science are terrific, and Casanova is sublime.  And then there’s Mantooth.

There were three Mantooth stories told as part of an anthology series at Image, which were later collected and published alongside their script pages and with Fractions annotations in The Annotated Mantooth.  This extra material was needed in order to justify calling this book a trade paperback; otherwise, it would be just a little longer than a regular comic.

Rex Mantooth is a talking gorilla trained in kung fu and making things ‘splode.  He has a sexy human agent girlfriend, and he goes on James Bond-style missions for the US government.  In the course of these three issues, he fights an Oprah Winfrey stand-in who is training an army of beautiful lesbians, a gigantic Nazi robot called World’s Greatest Grandpa, Adolf Hitler in Fu Manchu drag, and an evil scientist who turns a room full of Nobel Prize winners into zombies.  I’ll admit, zombie Stephen Hawkings is pretty funny.

If all of this sounds a little familiar, it’s because you’ve seen it all before.  There has, over the last fifteen or so years, been a movement to develop ‘awesome’ as a genre.  It’s where humour books like Axe Cop and Buddy Cops belong, but you could argue it also contains titles like Geof Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy.  ‘Awesome’ comics are created by cartoonists who look for the wildest idea they can find, and mash it up with some slightly less wild ideas, irregardless of character or logical plotting.  It can be fun, but it doesn’t stick with you.

If that’s your kind of thing, you’d probably like Mantooth.  It is a fun read, but it out Michael Bay’s Michael Bay.  You can kind of see the seeds that grew into Casanova here, and it’s always entertaining to check out a creator’s earlier work, but this is not a classic.

Album of the Week:

BonoboNorth Borders – I’ve only recently become exposed to Bonobo’s work.  This new album is less down-tempo (more up-tempo?) than his previous work, but still quite lovely.  A stand-out is the track that features Erykah Badu.  Recommended, if you like electronic music, and the Ninja Tune aesthetic.

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The Weekly Round-Up #172 with The Private Eye, Chew, DHP, Five Ghosts, Mind MGMT, Revival, Saga, Storm Dogs & More Tue, 26 Mar 2013 12:00:38 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

The Private Eye #1

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Marcos Martin
The easiest way to get me to overcome my dislike of reading comics on my computer?  Tell me that there’s a new digital-only series by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin.  Want to sweeten the deal even more?  Tell me that it’s being offered as a ‘pay what you can’ purchase.

The Private Eye, available here, is a pretty excellent comic.  Vaughan posits a world where the Internet has been abandoned after everyones’ personal information was made available to everyone, causing bankruptcies, divorces, and a ton of embarrassment.  In this future, everyone has become so concerned with their privacy that they wear disguises whenever they leave their homes.  Some of these disguises are mundane, making a person just look like another person, while others wear elaborate costumes (one guy has a fish face) or expensive holographic rigs to hide their true faces.In this environment, which is explained very naturally over the course of the issue, we meet a PI, also called a Paparazzi, in this world where the 4th Estate has some sort of policing role, who specializes in uncovering peoples’ real identities.  At the beginning of the issue he is staking out a young woman, photographing her real face for a man who has been in love with her since high school.

Later, he is asked by a woman with a tiger face, to investigate her background, as she is applying for one of the few jobs which require a background security check.  Of course, there’s a lot more going on with her than what the PI is told, but this is just the first issue, so we don’t know what that’s going to be yet.

Vaughan takes a slow, organic approach to explaining how things work in this world.  Most of the issue leaves us in the dark, until the PI has to talk to his senile grandfather, who clearly used to be a hipster when he was younger (i.e., in our time).  The PI, who sometimes goes by the code-name Patrick Immelmann, is an interesting character.  He has quite the collection of memorabilia, and is shown reading Joseph Heller. Martin shows us around his office, where books by Barack Obama and Henry Miller share prominence with Freakonomics.

Martin is always an exciting artist, although he is only given one opportunity to cut loose in an early chase sequence.  Still, this is a visually exciting comic, and I’m very pleased by the fact that there are nine more instalments to come.  Go check this out – and make sure you throw some money the creators’ way.

Other Notable Comics:

Chew #32

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

I feel like I could never get tired of reading Chew, especially an issue as dense and meaty as this one.

Tony and his FDA compatriots are called out to assist a group of USDA agents, who are completely swamped by a string of attacks by members of the Immaculate Ova Cult, who have sworn to kill all chicken eaters.  Tony and his crew show up at a Mexican fast food joint, where a torta-espadero is killing agents using shuriken-shaped tortillas.

Tony handles this problem, and returns to the office to continue his investigations into the whereabouts of the cibopathic ‘vampire’ who killed someone close to him, while Colby and Caesar stop of at a chicken speakeasy for a little lunch.

This is a pretty pivotal issue for a few reasons.  First, Colby figures out that Caesar is still working with his (and Chu’s) former partner Savoy, who has been set up all along as a villain in the book.  Colby has been steadily becoming a more complex character, and this issue really sees him grow.  The second pivotal event happens when Tony’s boss gets on his case one time too many – it’s a scene that made me want to cheer.

Layman and Guillory have taken this series, with its very odd central concept, and made it a very character-driven title.  While this is a humour comic, these characters have real weight to them, which makes the stakes in recent issues feel ever higher.

Dark Horse Presents #22

Written by Howard Chaykin, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Michael Avon Oeming, Geoffrey Thorne, Denis Medri, Mike Richardson, Patrick Alexander, Simon Roy, Jason Wordie, Kel McDonald, Shannon Wheeler, and Steve Moncuse
Art by Howard Chaykin, Steve Lieber, Michael Avon Oeming, Todd Harris, Denis Medri, Geof Darrow, Patrick Alexander, Simon Roy, Kel McDonald, Shannon Wheeler, and Steve Moncuse

It’s not easy to give up on an anthology title, especially one that serializes stories over many months, but I think I just might be done with Dark Horse Presents.  Increasingly, I haven’t found the stories on offer as interesting as they were when this series was relaunched about two years ago, and Dark Horse has made it pretty clear that most of these stories are going to be reprinted in ‘zero’ issues or as one-shots, which makes me wonder why I’m paying $8 a month for a fair amount of content that I’m not all that interested in reading.  Were Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder series still running, I wouldn’t even be thinking about jumping ship, as I consider paying $8 for 8 pages of her work completely reasonable, on the off chance that something else in the package would strike my fancy.

This issue, the story I enjoyed the most was the continuation of Simon Roy’s Tiger Lung, which is an indigenous spiritual adventure.  I have been a fan of Roy’s since buying his Jan’s Atomic Heart from him at TCAF a few years ago, and I’m always happy to find more of his work.

Howard Chaykin, who is not a creator I’m overly fond of, did entertain me with his alternate history about George Custer (he becomes President and declares war on Canada!), although I can’t tell if this was a one-off or if there will be more to come.

Journeymen, by Geoffrey Thorne and Todd Harris, is interesting, with its pirates, monsters, and teleportation, but I’m not sure I’m following the whole thing properly.  Arcade Boy, by Denis Medri, is kind of cute.

The interview between Mike Richardson and Geof Darrow was interesting enough, as they share their remembrances of terrible jobs for ad companies in the 70s, and talk about meeting Moebius, but it was the kind of self-serving stuff that tanked Creator-Owned Heroes.  I’d rather have just seen more Darrow art.

Beyond that, I found this issue pretty lacklustre, and not really worth talking about.

Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray #1

Written by Frank J. Barbiere
Art by Chris Mooneyham

I figured that it was an easy bet to take a chance on Five Ghosts, a new Image mini-series.  The writer, Frank J. Barbiere has caught my eye with his ‘White Suits’ stories in Dark Horse Presents, which deal with a mysterious Russian mafia.  The artist, Chris Mooneyham is new to me, but he has a style that reminds me a little of a cross between John Watkiss and Francesco Francavilla, with a little Frank Robbins tossed in, which is an interesting mix, giving this book a bit of a retro look to it.

The story is about Fabian Gray, a ‘treasure hunter’ who was somehow possessed by five ‘literary ghosts’ after touching an artifact.  Now, how exactly literary characters can exist as ghosts (outside of Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s Unwritten) is not very clear, but it does give Gray the ability to tap into the knowledge and special skill sets of Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, some wizard (Merlin?) and a samurai (that one stumped me).

The story is set in the Second World War, and after an Indiana Jones-like opening sequence in a Nazi castle, followed by a little canoodling with his client, Gray hangs out with his advisor, before getting all possessed and crazy.  We learn that there are forces coming for Gray, and then he and his friend get shot down in Africa by spider-eyed Zulu warriors, or something like that.

I don’t have a great handle on this book right now.  I like the art a lot, but am having some problems in following the story.  Perhaps a second read would help.  As it stands, I’m not all that sure if I’m going to stick with the title, but I would like to give it a second chance to impress me.  I think I was expecting something a little more literary (and yes, I know that Iago is in it), and maybe read this in the wrong mindstate.  I’ll give it another go before the second issue comes out and see how I feel about it then.

If you’re looking for an interesting adventure, you could do worse.

Mind MGMT #9

by Matt Kindt

I can’t think of another new title that accomplishes what Mind MGMT does on a monthly basis.  Matt Kindt is telling his large story on a number of different levels, showing us the main story of what is happening to Meru, Henry Lyme, and the small but growing group of ex-Mind MGMT agents that are helping them to try to foil the plans of The Eraser, but also filling in the background of the agency, and introducing us to a number of its agents through short strips at the front and back of the book.

In this issue, Meru and her crew survive the attack on Dusty, an ex-agent with music-based powers’s mansion, and try to use his half of a map to find Shangri-La, the former base of operations of Mind MGMT.  We learn that, despite the agency being defunct for a few years, Dusty has recently received missions.  We also become a little more intrigued about the often-mentioned figure Duncan, who we can imagine has some sort of beef with Lyme, but who is also likely to be essential to this mission’s survival.  Meru is getting closer to figuring out (again) her relationship with Lyme, as she becomes more and more convinced that she has had her memory wiped.

One thing that is really cool about this issue is the way in which Kindt shows us Dusty’s history, through the tracks of his first album.  The first letter of each song title spells out a message, furthering the use of subliminal information which is a theme in this comic.  Also of interest is the way in which the text from Meru’s book (which runs up the left-hand side of most pages) intersects with her own experiences.

Mind MGMT is one of the more impressive comics on the stands.

Revival #8

Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Mike Norton

Revival, Tim Seeley and Mike Norton’s rather involved series about a town where the dead came back to life, not as zombies but more or less as the people they once were, continues to sprawl and grow with each new issue.  Rather than making this a very focused, and limited, series that centres itself on the police procedural aspects of the story, Seeley is using the strange event of Revival Day to explore a number of facets of human, and particularly American, behaviour and culture.

This issue moves a little further into the politics of the situation.  Both the right and the left want to make use of the town of Wausau Wisconsin, and we learn that the Mayor of the town has some kind of hold over the Sheriff, who is the father of the two main characters.

Seeley touches base on a number of on-going plots, such as the difficulty of policing the quarantine zone, and Martha’s adjustments to her new role as a Reviver.  The hunt for Reviver murderer Anders is called off by the Mayor, and May, the young reporter, tries to trick her way into interviewing local fitness legend Lester Majak about his involvement with the ‘exorcist’ who tried to kill her and Martha.

We also meet some new characters at a gay bar, and are introduced to a couple at the end of the issue who are anything but normal.

I’ll admit that I sometimes have a hard time keeping track of all the various sub-plots in this title (a character sheet would be helpful), but I am enjoying this book very much.  It is a strange mash-up of The Walking Dead, Twin Peaks, and Picket Fences or maybe Fargo, and it has wonderful art by Mike Norton.

Saga #11

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

It’s another issue of Saga, which means it’s time to find a new way to praise a series that is consistently wonderful.  Maybe it’s not needed?  Saga is becoming synonymous with quality after all.  Maybe its sufficient to just give a short recap.

This issue opens with a flashback to the night that Hazel was conceived; it seems that Vaughan and Staples try to open each new issue with a splash page that people are going to find shocking, at least in a mid-American Wal-Mart.  I don’t really think it’s necessary, but it’s usually kind of fun (and this month, sexy).

After that, we see how Marko and Alana’s family escape from the perilous gravity-space-baby thing that showed up last issue.  To get their wooden, living rocket ship out of harm’s way, both Marko and his father have to resort to some rather extreme measures, both of which have consequences that are going to affect the family for some time to come.

On The Will’s ship, he performs a rescue of Lying Cat, who got sucked out to space (apparently exposure to space is not much of an issue for these guys), and argues a little with Marko’s ex.

Really, this is a pretty quick read this month, but as always, the book is absolutely lovely, and filled with good character work.  As always, I enjoyed it immensely.

Storm Dogs #4

Written by David Hine
Art by Doug Braithwaite

Storm Dogs is a rare comics series.  It’s an intelligent, thoughtful science fiction title with fantastic art, that features detailed world building, well-developed characters, and a number of surprises and twists on its way through the story.  It’s the kind of science fiction that I wish would show up on TV and in movies; something engaging, balanced, and with relevance to our world.  In some ways, this is Avatar done correctly, but that seems a little reductionist.

So much has happened in this series that I find it hard to believe that we are only four issues into things.  This issue opens with Sheriff Starck fighting with his deputy, Bronson, who he has decided is involved in at least one, if not all of the murders that have brought a special group of investigators to the planet of Amaranth.  Bronson goes to the mining consortium that he has secretly been working for to lick his wounds, and to help them in their interrogation of a Joppa, the race that seems to run things on the planet.  There is some sort of secret that the Joppa are keeping about some mysterious gems.

Our heroes, the investigative team being led by Cassandra Burroughs, make their way to a village of Elohi, a group that are roughly analogous to minimally-contacted tribes that live in the Amazon, where they are hoping to learn more about the work of the anthropologist, Professor Sarlat, who once stayed with them.  This leads in turn to more mysteries.

We also get to learn a little more in this issue about the wireheads – people who rent out their body so that others can move and manipulate them.  This practice is illegal in the rest of the Union, but appears to be tolerated on Amaranth.

In the letters’ page, Hine talks about having the story prepared for a second mini-series, and discusses the potential for much more Storm Dogs, if the demand warrants it.  I hope that this series gets the chance to continue to run, as Hine and Braithwaite have built an interesting world, with the potential for many more stories.  Reading the text pieces show that this is a fully realized universe he’s setting his stories in, and it’s one I would like to learn a lot more about.  Please check out this series.

Quick Takes:

All-New X-Men #9Just when I thought it might be time to start buying this book regularly, Brian Michael Bendis gives us the most Bendisian issue to date, as the original X-Men squabble with Kitty Pryde after an overly-long Danger Room sequence, and Jean Grey starts to look kind of evil, with motivations that are hard to understand or reconcile with how she was being portrayed just a few issues ago.  It felt like this issue was spinning its wheels waiting for the last page, so it could coincide with last week’s issue of Uncanny X-Men.  Marvel could have just skipped this whole issue pretty safely.  This does not bode well for me and this title…

Avengers #8 – Continuing with his integration of the old New Universe characters into the Marvel Universe (by way of Warren Ellis’s aborted newuniversal), Jonathan Hickman has the Avenger’s strike team face off against the new Starbrand.  This is a pretty quick-moving issue, with some very nice art by Dustin Weaver, but I can’t help but wonder if there wouldn’t have been a way to explain what’s going on without relying on such confusing explanations.  I also wondered if it really makes sense to have a Hulk on the team…

Batwoman #18 – I wasn’t sure what to expect from this issue, which is the first after the epic-length Medusa story ran its course.  JH Williams III and W. Haden Blackman plot this one rather strangely – Batwoman is now working with her cousin Hawkfire (I still want to call her Firehawk), but each of them receive their orders from different people at the other side of their earpieces.  They fight Mister Freeze, and Batman has a cameo.  Later, Maggie Sawyer goes house-hunting, and Bones and Cameron Chase make nefarious plans for Batwoman, which involve the return of someone Chase hasn’t seen for a couple of years, in one of the worst issue endings I’ve seen in ages.  The pacing of this book is very poor, mostly because of the ending, but Trevor McCarthy, who I assume is now the new regular artist, does a terrific job of maintaining the general look and feel of Williams III’s run, keeping me visually engaged in the whole issue.

BPRD Hell on Earth #105Two people return to the BPRD this month, and both made me very happy.  The first is Abe Sapien, albeit only in a very short scene, but I’ve missed BPRD’s central character over the half year or so.  The second is artist Peter Snejbjerg, whose monthly absence from store shelves is something I can never understand (although I hope it’s by his choice, and not because his work is underappreciated).  There’s a lot going on in the Mignola-verse these days, and I like the increased profile given to the Russian counterpart to the BPRD; this issue deals with the current location of Varvara, the young girl who used to run the organization, and also used to appear to Professor Bruttenholm.

Conan the Barbarian #14 – Another excellent issue, as Conan leads a small group through the walls of the fortress that the army he was pressed into is laying siege to, while continuing to pine for Bêlit.  Mirko Colak’s art is wonderful, and Brian Wood’s writing is tight and introspective.  This is a wonderful series.

Daredevil #24 – Once again, Mark Waid and Chris Samnee turn in an excellent issue of Daredevil.  Most of the focus is on Foggy’s cancer diagnosis, as he prepares for a procedure to learn how advanced (and therefore fatal) his cancer is, while Matt tries to make up with his DA friend, and the people who have been messing with him take another try, this time sending enhanced dogs to his offices.  Solid stuff all around.

Elephantmen #47 – Richard Starkings continues to take his plot into strange territory, as Hip Flask, Ebony Hide, and Trench are sent to the Moon to investigate the source of the virus-ridden meteors that struck ages ago (number-wise), and discover a Chinese installation that is not as abandoned as they thought.  I seriously don’t remember the ‘Elephantmen as astronaut’ story element before a few issues back, when we learned that Hip and his people had visited Mars, and I’m wondering if Starkings is actively retconning his own title.  Weird plot pacing aside, Elephantmen continues to be a solid source of strong character-driven writing, and with Axel Medellin drawing, is always lovely.

Harbinger #10I’ve been a big fan of this title since it started, but the presence of four different pencillers made me feel like I was reading a DC comic  Peter and his group arrange their escape from Project Rising Spirit, and that’s about all that happens this issue, as Joshua Dysart positions the book to be ready for the Harbinger Wars cross-over, which I rather would like to skip, seeing as I’m not as big a fan of the Bloodshot title this is tying into.

Indestructible Hulk #5 – I was enjoying the beginning of Mark Waid’s new take on the Hulk, but the last two issues have left me a little cold.  The whole Lemuria plot felt very forced, and I found it distracted from the new approach of making Banner a SHIELD scientist.  I’d say I’m done with the title, but the next two issues are drawn by Walter Simonson, so I’ll probably stick around to check those out.

Invincible #101 – In the aftermath of the last issue, people are working to put their lives back together.  Invincible shows up to help out with reconstruction, but not to a very warm welcome from his fellow heroes, while his father has to live under Cecil’s terms if he is to stay near the Earth.  As always with this title, Robert Kirkman has a lot of characters to juggle, and spends most of the issue checking in on them, but it is all very readable and enjoyable.

New Avengers #4 – As a new incursion begins, the Avengers Illuminati attempt to implement their plans, although they are not ready.  This has been a very talkative series since it began, and simply based on the appearances of Captain America (pre-Marvel NOW!), Reed Richards and Iron Man (early Marvel NOW!, before they both went off into space), and Beast (most recent appearance) this book does not fit anywhere easily within Marvel’s continuity.  Setting all of that aside, there is something very cool about Namor laughing in the face of cosmic doom, and something rather thrilling about the appearance of Galaktus and Terrax this issue.  Jonathan Hickman is doing good work here, but like the main Avengers title, it’s a little lacking in heart, although a strong scene between Dr. Strange and Wong does work to fill that gap.

Nightwing #18I’d felt like I’d stuck around this title a little too long, and have had that confirmed as Dick grieves for Damian, and then decides to uproot and move to a new city, to track down a figure from his distant past who everyone thought was dead.  It’s all pretty humdrum, and Juan José Ryp’s art looks very phoned-in, especially compared to the work he’s been doing in Clone.  I think I pre-ordered the next issue of this title, but after that, I’m done.  It’s too bad – for a while there, this was a pretty interesting title.

Star Wars Legacy (Vol. 2) #1 – John Ostrander’s Star Wars Legacy series brought me back into the franchise after some twenty years away.  His vision of the future of the Star Wars universe, set over a hundred years after the end of Return of the Jedi gave us Star Wars as it should have always been – without cutesy droids and furry aliens, focussing instead on high adventure (and perhaps a little too much Jedi mysticism).  Now, the timeline, if not the central characters, are being revived and put in the very capable hands of Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, the duo who have been doing amazing work at Boom on Planet of the Apes.  Even better though?  Hardman is drawing this title!  This series follows the descendent of Han Solo and Leia Organa; Ania Solo is a junk dealer at the far end of the galaxy, until she comes across a lightsaber lost by one of the Imperial Knights after a surprise Sith attack.  Most of this issue is set-up, as Bechko and Hardman bring us up to speed on galactic politics and the types of projects being undertaken by the new government to unite the galaxy under a banner of peace.  I was pretty impressed with this first issue, and am happy that I’ll be able to revisit this well-constructed time period with such fantastic creators.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #21 – Following Venom’s attack at his his home, which injured his dad, Miles tries to figure out what he needs to do, and is aided by Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacey.  A very good issue, that works as a bit of a rest in the middle of a big story.

Wonder Woman #18DC’s best comic continues to please me, as Diana fights Hermes for the fate of Zola’s child (with Orion at her side), Ares acts out of character, and the first son of Zeus has it out with Poseidon.  It’s a lovely issue, with a cobbled-together melange of artists who I admire, including Goran Sudzuka, Tony Akins, and Cliff Chiang showing up to tie it all up.  It feels like Brian Azzarrello’s first long arc on this title is finally finished, and I look forward to seeing where he takes things next.

X-Factor #253 – More Hell on Earth War means more middle of the road X-Factor, as the team is too swept up in grand events in the various underworlds of the Marvel Universe to be of any particular interest.

X-O Manowar #11 – Reading this book, I was once again reminded of what an incredible artist Cary Nord is – he illustrates the history of The Vine, the aliens who captured and tortured Aric for millennia, and lays out each page wonderfully.  Another solid issue in what has been an exceptionally solid series.

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

Action Comics #18

Cable and X-Force #6

Captain America #5

Savage Wolverine #3

Superior Spider-Man #6

Bargain Comics:

Batgirl Annual #1This team-up featuring Batgirl, Catgirl, and a female Talon (who apparently is in the Birds of Prey) is a pretty decent read, with some very nice art by Admira Wijaya.  I have no idea what the relationship between Barbara Gordon and Selina Kyle is in the New 52, and this didn’t shed a whole lot of light on that, but it was entertaining enough.  The mute Talon reminded me a little of when Cassandra Cain was Batgirl – I wonder if that was intentional.  I have never been overly impressed by Gail Simone’s Batgirl, and this didn’t do a whole lot to change my mind.

Punisher War Zone #1 – Greg Rucka on Punisher has been an impressive thing.  He knows that the story is not in Frank Castle himself, but in how others react to him, and construct his legend.  This issue is really as much a Spider-Man comic as it is a Punisher one; Spidey goes up against him, and then decides that it’s time for the Avengers to take him down.  I’m kind of kicking myself for not having bought all of this mini-series as it was hitting the stands – Rucka does good work, and Carmine Di Giandomenico’s art is lovely.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths

by Shigeru Mizuki

Take a moment and think about how the West has portrayed Japanese soldiers of the Second World War in films, novels, and other media.  The image that immediately comes to my mind is of tenacious fighters who attack suddenly, and who never give up an inch of ground.  I can’t think of a single movie I’ve seen or book I’ve read that gets into the Japanese perspective though.

That’s why I was excited to crack open Sigeru Mizuki’s Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, the collection of a manga story that was originally serialized in 1973.

This book is, according to the author, 90% true.  Mizuki was stationed on New Britain, an island in the Papua New Guinean archipelago, and was home to some fierce fighting between the Japanese and the Americans.  Mizuki introduces us to a number of characters of all ranks, and shows the boredom of the soldiers awaiting an Allied attack.

Much of this book is given over to portraying the officers as dehumanizing the men under their command.  Barely a page goes by where someone isn’t being slapped or beaten simply because of their lower rank.  The men have their time wasted by officers looking to keep them busy, and the men slowly lose all sense of respect for the war effort in general.  When it becomes clear that the soldiers holding an area around Baien have no hope of success, their leaders decide that the appropriate course of action is to attack the Americans in a frontal suicide charge.

Some of the men survive this, and make their way to their larger forces, far to the rear of the fighting.  That they survived is seen as something between an inconvenience and a complete insult.  Their deaths have been reported to military command, and so it is necessary for them to attack again, ensuring their fate is what their commanders expect.

This book lays bare the problems of Japan during the war.  The need for honor, and for keeping up appearances sent men to needless deaths, while doing nothing to halt the Allied advance.  Mizuki does a terrific job of humanizing this senseless slaughter, and portraying it in a light, enjoyable fashion.

Mizuki’s art is very interesting.  His backgrounds and establishing shots are exceptionally detailed and photo-realistic, while his figures are drawn in a very simple, cartoonish style.  Many of the characters look like the racially stereotypical drawings of the Japanese seen in American comics of the war period, which kind of surprised me.

I enjoyed reading this book a great deal.  None of the characters, with the possible exception of the doctor, stuck with me, although that is something that often happens to me when I read war comics; all of the characters are usually so similar that as individuals, they don’t matter.  Which was more or less the point of the Japanese command.

Shutterbug Follies

by Jason Little

Having read and enjoyed Jason Little’s second ‘Bee’ graphic novel,Motel Art Improvement Service, about a year ago, I set out to find his first book featuring his nosy young heroine.

Shutterbug Follies is a quick-paced a romp, but it is also a much more inconsistent graphic novel with more than a few problems that were never properly explained.

We are rather quickly introduced to Bee, an intelligent eighteen year old who works at a photo developing shop (this book came out in 2002, when I guess people still actually had film in their cameras and developed it).  Bee likes to keep copies of the stranger photos she develops, and shares them with her best friend, who is only a slight presence in the book.  One day, a man named Oleg Khatchatourian comes in asking for his pictures to be developed, and he warns Bee that they might be a little grisly.

As it turns out, Khatchatourian is a well-known fine arts photographer who specializes in Weegee-like portraits of recently murdered people.  For some reason, Bee becomes a little obsessed with him, and starts researching everything she can about his life.  She discovers that his wife was recently killed in an accident involving a hansom cab, and so Bee is off to prove that Khatchatourian is really her killer.  Through a series of unbelievable coincidences, she becomes friendly with Khatchatourian’s assistant, and a cab driver who is happy to help her trail the guy.

Eventually, Bee discovers that Khatchatourian has ties to the Russian mafia, and that his wife was poisoning their son in a Munchausen by proxy scenario that goes nowhere.  Likewise, she discovers that the artist’s assistant is a peeping tom, but that goes nowhere either.  Most difficult to understand is why Khatchatourian would need to have photos developed at her shop, seeing as he has a completely operational darkroom in his two-story apartment, along with an assistant whose only job is to develop his pictures.

It was these kinds of inconsistencies which really drew me out of the story.  Also, Bee’s character is not developed very much at all – had I not known who she was from the second book, I’d have found it hard to care at all about the character in this book.  Little’s art is nice, but the story needed a lot more work.

Album of the Week:

Spiritual Jazz 4: Americans in Europe Model, Esoteric and Progressive Jazz from the European Underground 1963-1979 – I can’t stress enough how much I have loved Jazzman Records’s Spiritual Jazz series, but this newest edition, a double-disc set, feels like it’s taking things to a whole new level.  Beautiful, rare groove music in a very nicely designed package.

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The Weekly Round-Up #164 with Chew, Bedlam, DHP, Prophet, Saucer Country & More Mon, 28 Jan 2013 15:00:59 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

Chew #31

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory
In the last issue of Chew, John Layman did something that has permanently changed the tone of this title, as a tragedy was visited on the Chu family.  This issue follows up on that event, returns the series to its roots, and also gives a clear indication of where the second half of the story is going to lead.

That’s a lot to do in a single issue of a comic, especially considering that Layman and Guillory also fit in some very funny scenes and images.

The book opens with the funeral of the family member killed last month (I’m trying my best to avoid spoilers for any trade-waiters who may be reading), which also causes Tony to flash back to his wife’s funeral.  This is significant because we haven’t really learned much about Tony’s marriage, other than that Tony keeps his wife’s finger in his freezer.  At the funeral, the Chu family solidifies around Tony, something that has probably never happened before.  Also, surprisingly, he gets reinstated in the FDA, and partnered up with Colby again.

Soon they are back on the job, trying to figure out why overweight people have been combusting spontaneously.  This in turn leads the two agents to discover a larger plot taking place.

As always, Guillory makes this book, and he even makes a cameo in a scene at a comics convention.  I like the change in tone the first half of this issue shows, but also that the book returns almost immediately to the light-hearted tales that marked the first year and a half of the run.  This book is always great, but I do believe that it’s getting steadily better.

Other Notable Comics:

Bedlam #3

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Riley Rossmo
Nick Spencer’s new series is a strange one, but I feel like it’s really hit its stride in this issue.  The series is about Madder Red, a Joker-style homicidal maniac, who has gone through ten years of psychiatric treatment, and has been sent back into the world by the strange doctor who treated him.

When this issue opens, he’s confessed to a grisly murder that happened outside his building, but we readers know that he didn’t commit this murder, or the others in a string of killings involving elderly people.  The cops like him for these crimes and others, and he’s interested in helping them investigate the case.  Most of the issue is taken up with him going over homicide files, believing that he’s in some sort of partnership with the Detective in charge of the cases, while she thinks that she’s got the killer, and that he’s toying with her.

It works very well, as Spencer portrays the guy as being off his rocker in a rather simplistic way, like an idiot savant of serial killers.  As the reader knows what’s really going on, without knowing why the real killer is doing these things, the story becomes more and more intriguing, as we hope for mysteries to be solved.

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of Bedlam, and I don’t like it as much as I do Morning Glories, but at the same time that I’m bored out of my skull with the Joker in Batman, I’m really interested in learning more about Madder Red.

Dark Horse Presents #20

Written by Michael Avon Oeming, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Geoffrey Thorne, Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas, Frank J. Barbiere, Corinna Bechko, Gabriel Hardman, Joshua Williamson, Peter Hogan, Duane Swierczynski, and Carla Speed McNeil
Art by Michael Avon Oeming, Steve Lieber, Todd Harris, Ulises Farinas, Toby Cypress, Gabriel Hardman, Pere Perez, Steve Parkhouse, Eric Nguyen, and Carla Speed McNeil

More and more, I feel like the lustre is coming off this title, as the serials are increasingly being produced in service of introducing upcoming mini-series, and the sense of getting a complete story out of this rather expensive monthly book is drastically diminished.  In addition, I’m not sure I’m happy about the increased presence of superhero-style stories.  That has never been a particular strength of Dark Horse, yet there seems to be a drive to compete in that area again.

This issue features a Victories story by Michael Avon Oeming.  The Victories is either currently running, or just finished running as a mini-series as well, so this story doesn’t feel the need to introduce the characters.  When Oeming writes his own superhero stories, they tend to be pretty bleak (check out his Rapture title of a couple of years ago), and this is no different, with a scene where a father cuts off the head of a dog, and forces it over his own son’s head.  This doesn’t work for me.

I was enjoying the Captain Midnight story, which ends here without an ending, but instead an ad for an upcoming mini-series.  Both Joshua Williamson and Pere Perez have done nice work on this, but I don’t know if it’s going to be enough to get me to buy the book when it comes out.

I do know that I don’t like X, Dark Horse’s answer to the Punisher.  I didn’t like the character in the 90s, and I’m not feeling him here under Duane Swierczynski and Eric Nguyen.

In the non-super hero category, the charm of Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Alabaster continues to escape me, although I did like this chapter better than the previous ones.

Journeymen is a new series by Geoffrey Thorne and Todd Harris, and I don’t really have an opinion of it.  I think it needed more space to grow, as it didn’t leave much of an impression either way.

Gamma, the strange story about monsters and cowardice, by Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas, ends on a very good note, as the story becomes one of redemption.  I feel that Farinas is a creator to watch.

Frank Barbiere’s occasional series ‘The White Suits’ takes a very positive turn with this instalment, which is drawn by the fantastic Toby Cypress.  This time, we get a story about an FBI agent who has dedicated her life to finding her missing father, who she now believes is somehow involved with the White Suits – Russian mobsters of great mystery.  I like how Barbiere has been building the mythology of this group without really telling us anything about them, and I like how he’s been working with a variety of artists.

Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman’s ‘Station to Station’ feels like it could easily fit into the BPRD world, and it continues to work well.

Resident Alien is one of my favourite serials in this series, and while it annoys me that the last three chapters haven’t even told a story, but just follow our good alien doctor through his recovery from his first mini-series, I do enjoy Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse’s work on this story, and will definitely be there for the next mini-series.

Of course, the best part of this comic is Carla Speed McNeil’s ‘Finder’, which finds Jaeger in a bad place, as he discovers that he’s in a city where everyone is terminally ill, and that they are able to pass their ailments on to another person, namely him.  This is a new type of sin-eating for Jaeger to perform, and I can’t wait to see what McNeil does with it.

I think I would continue to buy this book if Finder is the only story in it I want to read.  Luckily, next month we get Neil Gaiman and Paul Chadwick working together, which should be exciting.

The Massive #8

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Garry Brown

There is a lot going on under the surface of The Massive that makes this book rather hard to predict, especially since in the eight months since the comic began, we haven’t learned very much about the main characters beyond Callum Israel, the leader of Ninth Wave, the environmental direct action group that the series is focused on.

After a worldwide ecological collapse, the central leadership of Ninth Wave, alongside a number of recruits onboard the Kapital, are searching for their sister ship, The Massive, and trying to keep their operation running.  We’ve already seen the difficulty they’ve faced in securing supplies, and the way in which some members, specifically Mag Nagendra, have wrestled with the group’s pacifistic ideals.  When this issue opens, the crew of The Kapital are aboard Moksha Station, an independent nation made of oil derricks.

Callum is being held in custody by the director of the station, Sumon, while his girlfriend Mary runs about in a storm sabotaging the station’s communications, for reasons we don’t yet know.  Mag is in the bowels of the station, alongside to other members of Ninth Wave, making some kind of deal with a gigantic Russian.  It seems that everyone in the group has their own agenda, and Israel doesn’t seem to know about any of it.

When The Massive began its run, some on-line commentators complained that Brian Wood was cramming too much information into each issue, with his lengthy descriptions of the effects of The Collapse, but I think what he was also doing was obscuring the true designs of some of the crew.  Especially with the surprise that Mary drops at the end of this issue, I’m not too sure where things are headed in this book, and that’s exactly how I like it.

Mind MGMT #7

by Matt Kindt

When the first arc of Mind MGMT ended pretty much exactly where it began, I wondered if the next stories would perhaps not include Meru, the main character.  As it turns out, it looks like Meru will continue to be the centre of this series, as she wakes up in her apartment and realizes that someone has delivered a letter to her on a Sunday.  Since she’s convinced that she has sent a letter to herself, she pursues the guy who delivered it, and is once again sent on a journey of discovery, as she tries to track the original sender down, and is once again apprised of the existence of Mind MGMT.

Eventually, Meru ends up in New York, at the office of someone named Brinks, an adman with the ability to influence people through his work.  Brinks spills the beans, and is then assassinated by a gunman.  Meru is rescued by a familiar figure, and together the two go on the run.  It turns out that someone known as The Eraser is trying to put Mind MGMT back together again, and they see Meru as a threat.

This series is a very good read.  Kindt’s got a great sense of pace, and he continues to fill his pages with information.  Where the first arc had messages from the Mind MGMT training guide running along the left-hand side of each page, this arc is printing the text of a true crime novel called Premeditated, presumably written by Meru.  The bottom of each page (for about half the comic), contains information about the history of assassination letters, which helps inform the main story.  As always, there is also a ‘case file’ at the back of the book, this one introducing the Mind MGMT agent known as Hulk.  I find that many of these extras distract from the main story, but in a good way, as they almost caused me to miss the identity of the person shown following Meru; I guess that means they are doing their job in proper Mind MGMT fashion.

I’m really enjoying this book, and am happy to see that this new arc looks to be just as good as the first.

Prophet #33

Written by Brandon Graham with Giannis Milonogiannis and Simon Roy
Art by Giannis Milonogiannis

To the extent that you can have a typical issue of Prophet following its rebirth at the hands of Brandon Graham, this would be it.  I don’t want to suggest that this book is falling into a rut, because it remains wildly inventive and original, but there’s not much in this issue that doesn’t feel familiar and predictable, within the confines of the weirdness that Graham has set up for this story.

Old Man Prophet and his crew fly their ship to a rendezvous with the woman armada (it says Amanda in the book, but I think that’s a typo) of the Babel-Horolegion.  These are butterfly-like creatures that travel in living ships that are “a union of thought and form”.  We learn that their ship is being powered by the long-dead body of Supreme, and soon enough, they are attacked by some kind of wave of psychic pain.

One of the many things that I’ve loved about this series is the way in which Graham has taken his time setting up the coming conflict with the Earth Empire, and this issue continues in that vein.  This issue doesn’t really further that plot, and I kind of wonder at its inclusion in the storyline.

At the same time, Graham’s writing is sharp, and Milonogiannis makes use of some very cool designs.

Revival #6

Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Mike Norton

It’s kind of surprising to think that Revival has only been running for six issues.  In that time, Tim Seeley has introduced a number of concepts and characters, and has created a pretty well-realized environment for his story to take place in.

Wasau Wisconsin is a small community where the recently deceased have suddenly returned to life.  This is not a zombie comic – most of the Revivalists appear perfectly normal, but there is something wrong with many of them.  An old lady became murderous and deranged, and another appears to have been returned in a comatose state.  There are also glowing alien-looking creatures wandering around the woods who may be spirits, but we really don’t know what their deal is yet.

Our POV character is Dana Cypress, the police officer assigned to manage and and all Revivalist-related cases.  She is called in to investigate the death of a well-known man whose stepsister is a well-known TV personality in the community.  The pair were also in a relationship of some sort, although it’s not too clear who killed him, at least not at first.

Seeley is juggling a lot of balls with this book – something is going on with the older Hmong lady who was attacked by an exorcist, and now people are trying to sneak into the town from outside its quarantine zone.  Mike Norton is always wonderful, and his character-based art goes along way towards making this book successful.  I’m not usually the type to be attracted by a book billed as ‘rural noir’, but this book is definitely working for me.

Saucer Country #11

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Mirko Colak and Andrea Mutti
It was announced recently that Saucer Country, like every Vertigo book that I enjoy not called The Unwritten, is going to be ending in a few issues.  Knowing that, and knowing that Paul Cornell doesn’t have the space to tell the end of the story the way he would like to, I would have expected the pace of these last few issues to pick up, but that is not the case here, as he instead introduces a completely different element to the series.

Michael is Governor Alvarado’s ex-husband, her close friend, and the person that was with her when she was abducted by aliens.  We’ve seen him as a self-pitying drunk, and we know that he has been manipulated to believe that he was behind the recent assassination attempts on Alvarado and her security team.  What we didn’t know is that as a child, he saw and spoke to fairies.

This issue opens with Michael and Arcadia visiting the farmland in Colorado where he grew up.  He talks about how he and his older sister made up imaginary stories about fairies, and how one day, the fairies appeared to them as real creatures.  Their appearance also helped solve a different problem for Michael’s sister.

This is an odd issue.  I’m not sure how it fits into the larger story, which has dealt with alien abduction and governmental conspiracy.  Paul Cornell makes a thematic connection by discussing how the 90s were all about recovered memories of child abuse, while the 10s appear to be about conspiracy at higher levels as a way to explain society’s and individual peoples’ problems.

This issue is drawn by Mirko Colak and Andrea Mutti, who have a very different style than regular series artist Ryan Kelly.  The book looks very nice, but I do prefer the way Kelly draws Arcadia, with a little more weight and gravitas behind her.

I’m sad to hear that this series is ending soon, but I know that I’m going to enjoy what’s left of it.

Stumptown Vol. 2 #5

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Matthew Southworth

With this issue, The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case comes to a close.  After last issue’s terrific car chase, PI Dex Parios has finished her case, reuniting Mim, the guitar player for the band Tailhook, with her beloved Baby, her guitar.  The skinheads who stole it (the second time) are in custody, and Dex is wondering just what is going to end up happening to her.

As it turns out, Dex is not getting charged, and is instead told rather firmly by the band’s lawyers that her involvement with the group is at an end.  Of course, Dex doesn’t often listen to people, and the fact that she doesn’t know who took the guitar, or why, is bothering her. She convinces Mim and Click, the band’s drummer, and I suspect a future love interest for Dex, to help her try to figure out the drug-smuggling angle that was responsible for Baby’s original disappearance.

This has been a very enjoyable series.  Dex has been less combative than she was in the first volume, but she does remain her prickly self.  Greg Rucka excels at writing strong female characters, and Dex is just that; complex someone you want to keep reading about.

I’m not sure how I feel about Matthew Southworth’s continued experimentation into the colouring (with Rico Renzi) and texturing of the art; his use of markers sometimes leaves the pages feeling a little stiff.  Still, this is a terrific comic, and I hope we don’t have to wait too long before we get to read Volume Three.

Quick Takes:

Avengers #3I really like the fact that Jonathan Hickman found a threat big enough to pull together a huge Avengers team for his first story arc, but also easily enough dealt with that we won’t have to spend six issues seeing them fight it.  Ex Nihilo and the others are handled nicely, as we learn why it’s handy to have Captain Universe on the team.  This book needs a lot more character work, but I think that Hickman has set the title up to be interesting for a good long run.  And, it goes without saying, Jerome Opeña’s work is fantastic.

Banshee Origins – According to the inside cover of this freebie from IDW, there’s a TV show on Cinemax called Banshee, about a weird little town full of Ukranian gangsters and Asian cross-dressers and stuff.  I’ve never heard of this show, and don’t have access to Cinemax up here in Canada, but hey, free comic.  It’s not bad too, as we meet a guy who is figuring out a way to rip off the Ukrainian mob from the inside, and escape with his girlfriend, who is the mob boss’s daughter (of course).  It’s a decent crime comic, even if I’ve read a few times before (I think it was better when it was called Criminal), and I think I’ll look to see if I can find the show on-line.  That’s what free comics are supposed to do, right – lead you to free TV?

Battlefields #3 – Garth Ennis finishes up his Tankies story in this issue, as Sergeant Stiles uses his tank to help a group of soldiers retreat in the face of a massive Chinese advance during the Korean War.  Ennis writes these stories so well – this issue is a tribute to those who have fought against impossible odds, and it works perfectly.

Batwoman #16This was an absolutely gorgeous issue of Batwoman, as the main character and Wonder Woman arrive in Gotham to fight Medusa and the Hydra.  JH Williams gives most of the book’s main cast members a double-page spread and a share of the narration, as we move ever closer to the culmination of this long-running story.  Beautiful stuff.

DC Universe Presents #16 – Marc Andreyko’s story featuring the Blue Devil and Black Lightning wraps up this issue, and it’s enjoyable so far as straight-forward superhero stories go, but it’s not something people will be talking about in a year or two.

FF #3 – It may have taken three issues, but now that the Fantastic Four are well and truly gone (except for a John Storm from the future), the team is starting to come into their own, as Scott tries to get Darla back to the Baxter Building, they chase Internet jerks, and the Moloids begin working their own agenda, which is never good for anyone.  Michael Allred’s art, and especially his use of layout, is fantastic, and Matt Fraction’s clearly having a good time with this book.  I’m not bothering with Fantastic Four, and I’m happy to see that this book can stand on its own.

Harbinger #8 – Peter Stanchek is continuing his tour of the US, looking for other Psiots to activate, and that takes him to a sad crippled boy who lives in his head to a greater degree than the rest of us do.  Peter and crew are attacked by Project Rising Spirit, and things don’t look too good for them.  This is a pretty solid issue of a terrific series.

Nightwing #16I’m really getting bored of this Death of the Family stuff, and I’m questioning the Joker’s multi-tasking abilities, as it seems he’s set up death traps for lots of Bat-related heroes, yet all this stuff would be happening at the same time.  Also, I have to question why we’ve spent almost a year and a half building up the Haly’s Circus aspect of Nightwing’s life, only to wipe it out in this story.  Was that always the plan, or is this another one of Dan Didio and company’s random directives?  With Eddy Barrows leaving this book soon, as well as the general slipping in quality of the story, I may be leaving too…

Number 13 #2 – I think I enjoyed this story more as a serial in Dark Horse Presents, where strangely, the creators gave themselves more space to develop their story.  Thirteen, an amnesiac cyborg, has found a new home among a colony of Fected – mutated humans, but his own people are coming for him, and they are killing anyone they find along their way.  The story moves too quickly, with not enough space between scenes to allow any sense of time passing, resulting in a lack of empathy or identification with the characters.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #20 – I suppose it makes sense that, with Nick Fury in the 616 being made to look just like Samuel L. Jackson, Ultimate Nick Fury would suddenly turn up looking like the Nick Fury we all know and love.  Actually, that probably doesn’t make much sense at all, but there it is, as the Ultimates and SHIELD identify their former leader as a Hydra agent being called Scorpio.  It’s not too clear what side Fury is really playing for though, as he takes out Hawkeye when he is sent in to extract him.  Granted, Hawkeye is wearing the horrible costume he wore in Jeph Loeb’s Ultimates volume, so that alone is grounds for a beat-down.  This book is wavering a little in its focus under Sam Humphries, and I for one, would like to see it get back to the kind of epic-feeling story that Jonathan Hickman was writing on it not all that long ago.

Uncanny Avengers #3You’d think that a book featuring a combined Avengers/X-Men squad, created by Rick Remender and John Cassaday would be a slam dunk, but this book is really very dull.  The Red Skull has gotten himself Charles Xavier’s power, and is using them to turn crowds into murderous anti-mutant mobs, and luckily now mutants are everywhere in New York like it was 2001.  The characters are mostly going through the motions, and the Skull’s group of S-Men are some of the least interesting new villains I’ve seen in ages.  Writing this, I find that I’m having a hard time remembering what happened in this book, that I just finished reading, because it could barely hold my interest.  I don’t know how long I’m going to stick with this title…

Uncanny X-Force #1 – Sam Humphries and Ron Garney launch their new, Marvel NOW! take on this title, and I have to say that the debut was better than I expected.  Storm and Psylocke travel to LA where they meet up with Puck (yay!) to investigate a strange new drug, which is being distributed by Spiral.  We also see Bishop come back to our time (not a good thing, in my opinion – that is once character that needed a good ten years in limbo at least), and some small intrigue between Fantomex and his female clone, Cluster.  I don’t usually like Garney’s art all that much, but it seemed fine here, and I’m pleased to see both Storm and Psylocke dressing a little more sensibly.  I’m definitely curious enough about this series to come back for the next issue.

Winter Soldier #14 – I’m really going to miss Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice on this comic.  While this last story arc has dragged a little (and has been a little late), their work together on this character, along with extraordinary colourist Bettie Breitweiser, has been top notch.  This issue wraps up the mind control sleeper agent storyline, and kind of ends Bucky’s relationship with the Black Widow, setting him up as a complete loner character for incoming writer Jason Latour.

Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #3This series continues to be a source of great joy, as the crotchety Dr. Morrow sees that he has no chance to cure his strigoiism but to deal with the people who gave it to him in the first place.  Unfortunately, they don’t have the cure either.  As the issue proceeds, the number of double-crosses pile up like cars on the highway during a white-out, and the story gets ever more entertaining.  Great work all around by Brandon Siefert and Lukas Ketner.

Wolverine and the X-Men #24 – I was ready to drop this book after all the nonsense of the Frankenstein Circus and AVX arcs, but just in time, Jason Aaron writes a near-perfect issue of Wolverine and the X-Men, reminding me of the promise this title held when it debuted.  Various members of the teaching staff go on dates in this issue, while Logan is forced by Storm to reexamine his role in the school, and how he feels about it.  Teen Jean Grey has a good chat with Quentin Quire, and new Ape-Beast visits Abigail Brand.  Also, there is some forward movement in Broo’s story.  Helping things along is the wonderful art by David and Alvaro López, which I prefer very much to Nick Bradshaw’s.  I’m not reading any of the Bendis X-books, and I hope that the titles don’t tie together too closely, but I do think I’m going to stick with this comic a while longer, especially if it stays this good.

Wonder Woman #16 – Unsurprisingly, this issue of Wonder Woman is as good as the fifteen before it.  Lately I’ve been reading (and in a small way writing) about growing dissatisfaction among DC readers with the level of editorial interference and general directionlessness of the New 52, but this book really stands out as the opposite of all of that.  Brian Azzarello has been allowed to chart a path for Wonder Woman that has led her far away from what readers usually expect from the character, and in doing so, he’s made her more interesting than she’s ever been.  This issue has her meeting with one of her half-brothers and the New God Orion to try to track down Zola’s baby, while Zola and Hera run into a few other Olympians, and Zeus’s first son gets into it with some smallish giants.  This book is beautifully drawn (by Cliff Chiang), and is always an interesting read.

X-O Manowar #9Robert Venditti has done a great job of building this series up to this point, where the Vine are poised to wipe out all life on Earth because of the fact that Aric has taken the X-O armor there.  The Vine send in a small force to try to take him out first, and that doesn’t go exactly as they’d hoped.  Most interesting in this issue is that Aric is able to contact the hivemind that the Vine use to communicate.  Trevor Hairsine joins the book with this issue, giving it a grittier look than it had previously, which suits the stakes of this storyline well.  Good stuff.

Young Avengers #1 – There is no book in the Marvel NOW! stable that I was looking forward to reading more than this one.  It pairs the Phonogram creative team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, with Mike Norton thrown in, and features many of the characters from Allan Heinberg’s Young Avengers, along with Loki, Marvel Boy/Protector, and Miss America Chavez, from Joe Casey’s underappreciated Vengeance mini-series.  Needless to say, with all these awesome elements, my expectations were quite high, and happily, this is one book that delivers.  Kate Bishop has hooked up with Noh-Varr in space, and are attacked by Skrulls.  Wiccan and Hulkling have a heart to heart talk about being superheroes (“I’m not going to spend the rest of my life in the phone booth” is probably the greatest line of dialogue I’ve read in years), while Loki and Miss America get into it on top of their building.  So many great moments, a slightly shocking ending, and this book satisfies on every level.  I’m not even going to complain about not getting the Bryan Lee O’Malley variant cover…  I cannot recommend this book enough.

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

Answer #1

A Plus X #4

Astonishing X-Men #58

Bargain Comics:

Battle Scars #4-6I can’t really get my head around the decision to make the character of Marcus Johnson and then turn him into the new Nick Fury, so that there can be a Samuel L. Jackson look-alike running around the comics and the movies, after which point the character has barely been used.  I know he’s going to be in the upcoming Secret Avengers relaunch, but still, I doubt that there are too many fans who will be joining the comics directly from the movie now.  Still, for all its being the bastard child of corporate interference and editorial fiat, this ended up being a halfway decent comic, which is a testament to the skills of Chris Yost and Scott Eaton.  I kind of like Marcus as he’s shown here, but the decision to pluck out his eye and scar him up still sticks out as being unnecessary.

Batwing #11-14; 0 – I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating.  When this title was announced, I praised DC’s commitment to diversity in their line, and was pleased to see that a title would explore the Batman concept, but set it in Africa.  What we’ve gotten instead is a very bland comic that doesn’t really do that at all; instead it sets very traditional superhero stuff in a setting that could be New Orleans as easily as the fictional city of Tinasha.  I feel like Judd Winick has squandered the opportunity to make this comic groundbreaking (and, I suppose, so did DC, as he’s recently been replaced by Fabian Nicieza, although I don’t expect much better from him).  On a positive note, during these issues, at least Batwing has become more self-reliant, and the last two (13 and 14) are the first in this pile that don’t feature guest appearances by American heroes.  Still, this book could have been so much more than this…

Journey Into Mystery #643&644; Mighty Thor #20-22Instead of paying for $4 issues of The Mighty Thor, I opted to drop Journey Into Mystery a few months back when the two books crossed over for ‘Everything Burns’, despite it being one of my favourite Marvel comics at the time.  Digging back into that storyline months later, I realize that was a good decision, and I should have trusted myself more and left the whole thing on the stands.  The problem that plagued Matt Fraction’s run on Thor almost completely poisoned the great work that Kieron Gillen was doing on JIM.  The issue is that he wanted to write epic, sweeping Thor stories, but without spending the time necessary to lay the groundwork and invest in the tale.  Gillen was doing that in his half of the story, planting the seeds back in his earliest issues of JIM, but Fraction would just jump to some big event, expecting readers to care.  For example, when Odin is brought back to help save the day, I had no idea why that was important.  Also, Thor himself is an almost total cipher in this book – he’s there, people talk about him, but he has no personality on display.  It’s great to see Gillen return to writing Loki in Young Avengers this week, as no one has ever written the character so well, but it’s a shame that the end of his solo run with the kid had to end so poorly.  Even Alan Davis art couldn’t quite rescue things…

New Mutants #49 & 50 – Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s run on this title became frustrating, as the poorly-executed storylines outnumbered the excellent ones (like when Magma dated Mephisto), and I dropped the book, only to find out it got cancelled two issues later.  These are characters that I feel I grew up with, and have a lot of affection for, and I enjoyed issue 50, which had the team enjoy a nice big barbecue together.  I think it’s a shame that there isn’t a place for this team in the Marvel Universe, but I’m also excited to follow Sunspot and Cannonball to the Avengers, and especially to see more of Dani Moonstar in the upcoming Defenders series.

Album of the Week:

Mixed Blood Majority – Mixed Blood Majority – This group consists of rappers Crescent Moon and Joe Horton spitting over beats by Lazerbeak.  I preordered this as soon as I heard about it because I’m a huge Doomtree fan (where Lazerbeak produces the bulk of the crew’s work), and I was not disappointed.  Many of the beats are familiar, having appeared on Lazerbeak’s Lava Bangers beat cd, but their more street-based lyrics give it a different feel.  In some ways, listening to this reminds me of a lot of the late 90s, early 00s music that was coming out of New York.  It’s worth a listen, especially the eighth track, which features Cecil Otter.

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The Weekly Round-Up #156 with Chew #30, Saga #7, Fatale, Marvel NOW, DC New 52 & More Mon, 03 Dec 2012 15:00:21 +0000 My favourite store finally got in the Saga issues they were shorted two weeks ago, but didn’t get Bedlam.  You have to love Diamond…

Best Comic of the Week:

Chew #30

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

There were plenty of signs that this issue was going to be a big, important one, but I still didn’t expect it to go down the way it did.

As someone who has spent his whole life reading comics, it is rare that I am genuinely surprised or shocked by what I read.  Pretty much the only writer able to pull it off these days is Robert Kirkman, who has, three times in the last few years, caused me to pause and take a breath before continuing to read (twice major characters died, another someone special was shot in the head).  John Layman totally did it to me twice in this issue.

The book opens with Toni Chu’s wedding to Paneer.  It’s as great as that fold-out cover shown above makes it look, with the extended Chew cast acting much as they always do.  Oh, and Jim Mahfood makes a cameo!  It’s a great scene, but as Layman has often been doing to us, it’s not completely accurate, and then things take a decided turn to the dark, as some pretty terrible things happen.

I can’t discuss it at all without spoiling it, except to say that this issue packs a solid emotional wallop, while still being funny as hell.  The series is now half-way through its run, and this is clearly a turning point, as the Collector (the supposedly vampiric cibopath) pushes things to a new level.

Layman and Guillory are perfect collaborators, much like Brubaker and Phillips and Kirkman and Adlard are.  Chew is one of the best comics being published today, and this is one of its best issues.  I’m still spinning from what happened in it.

Other Notable Comics:

Fatale #10

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

The second arc of Fatale, set in the 70s, ends with this issue as many a 70s scene did – with a bunch of dead cultists and third-rate actresses.

Miles raids the Method Church’s compound to steal a book for Josephine, and finds the place deserted.  The reason?  The church has figured out where Josephine is, and they’ve gone after her in force.

This is a bloody, violent issue, and it’s great.  Brubaker announced this week that the series is now an indefinite on-going, and I am very happy about that (even if part of me worries that, as the story jumps forward through time, it will start to lose some of its strength, like what’s happened with American Vampire).

Anyway, there’s not a whole lot to say about this issue, except to make a comment about Brubaker’s writing style.  He’s always been very open about the fact that he starts arcs without knowing how they will finish, but he’s such a good writer that no one would believe that.  Jo’s gardener, first seen in the second issue of this arc, who appeared to be a complete throw-away character, gets a scene that feels like it had been predestined.  It is these little touches that make this book so great.

Morning Glories #23

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

I’m not uncomfortable admitting that I no longer have much of a clue as to what’s going on in Morning Glories.  Nick Spencer’s excellent series about a group of children who have been sent to a very strange, probably evil, secret school, has become very convoluted and confusing, especially for someone who is reading it in it’s (not quite) monthly comics form, as there are way too many plot threads to keep track of from issue to issue.

I don’t care though, because this book is still great, even when it’s just way too confusing.

Hisao (who we know as Jun) is angry with Irina for her treatment of Hunter and her decision to leave his brother Jun (who we know as Hisao) to be a sacrifice to something.  We have learned that Hisao/Jun used to be a part of Irina’s group, but we’re still not very clear as to what their mission is.  Meanwhile, Fortunato and Akiko, other members of Irina’s group, have made their way to Jun/Hisao’s sacrifice, and witness first hand what goes on there (the cover is a hint).

We are also shown some flashbacks to a point two years previous when Irina’s group made their first move against the Headmaster of the Academy.  It’s these scenes that are among the most confusing, as it’s hard to be clear on just what the kids are trying to accomplish (and because I have a hard time distinguishing between Akiko and Irina).  Also, we check in on Ike and Jade, who were last seen still playing the Woodrun game (I think – it’s been a while).

This is a very solid issue, despite all the confusion.  Spencer has a great handle on each kid’s personality and character, and in a lot of ways, it’s just fun to sit back and watch them all interact.  Joe Eisma’s art is always wonderful.

Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #2

by Brandon Graham

I wonder if it would be exhausting to hang out with Brandon Graham.  The man crams so many ideas onto one single page of comics, it makes me wonder if he does the same thing when you talk to him.

Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity continues to tell two, so-far separate, stories.  Sexica and Nikoli continue their road trip, driving up into some mountains.  Along the way, they meet some death-obsessed druidz, survive an alligator attack, and hang out in a nice hotel.

While this is happening, the organ smuggler (her name escapes me) finds a few more clones of her target, and enjoys some noodles (in a Pol Pot, of course).

It becomes clear, while reading this, that the plot mostly exists to serve as the vehicle for Graham’s next crazy idea, as he strings together strange sets and cute wordplay.  The characters feel developed however, and the book chugs along very nicely under its own set of rules.

Graham’s art is always beautiful, the lovechild of Geof Darrow and Moebius, and the comic is frequently very funny.  Highly recommended.

Nowhere Men #1

Written by Eric Stephenson
Art by Nate Bellegarde

When I think of Eric Stephenson as a writer, and not as the publisher of Image Comics, two things come to mind – god-awful work on Rob Liefeld’s god-awful comics back in the day, and hipster romance books like The Long Hot Summer.  That last one was enjoyable, but he’s never been a writer whose work I’ve sought out, and in the last ten years, he really hasn’t written much.

I was intrigued a little by Nowhere Men though, mostly because Nate Bellegarde’s name has been popping up in a few different places lately, and I’m always willing to try a new Image title.

This book owes a little to the success of The Manhattan Projects in making people want to read about scientists again, as Stephenson gives us a slightly confusing first issue.  When the book opens, we are introduced to four scientists who have just formed their own company – World Corp (they are all supposed to be brilliant, but that is the best name they can come up with apparently).

A couple of pages later, and we’re watching footage of an indestructible gorilla tearing through a lab.  We learn that it’s been ten years, and that there are only three of the World Corp. crew still around, and they do not get along with each other.

From there, we are introduced to a group of people who are working for World Corp. somewhere, and they are all getting sick with some unknown disease.  They discover that their funding has been cut, and that they are to remain where they are under quarantine in perpetuity.  The last page reveals where they are (which, so far as surprises go, wasn’t that momentous).

Stephenson spent most of this issue on exposition and introducing a large cast of characters.  He piqued my interest a little, and I definitely liked Bellegarde’s art, which is a little like a cross between the Luna Brothers and Nick Pitarra.  I’ll probably pick up the next issue, but I’m not sure if I’m in for the long-haul or not.

Planetoid #4

by Ken Garing

Planetoid came out of nowhere a few months ago – an interesting science fiction mini-series by a creator who I’d never heard of before – and it caught me up right away in its bleak tale of a human crash survivor who finds himself on a barren post-industrial wasteland of a planet.

The first three issues really stood out in terms of the quality of their art, and the strength of Garing’s story.  There was a bit of a pause between the third and the fourth issue, but I’m happy to see that this series is back, and moving forward as strongly as before.

Our hero, Silas, discovers a small space-worthy vessel in the hold of the large crashed ship he’s been trying to rebuild along with the community of scavengers he’s drawn to himself.  Before he can test it out, he receives word of a fresh crash, and decides to go investigate it personally.

He ends up in the hands of the Ono Mao, the alien race who claim the territory that the Planetoid the story is set on is in.  Silas is, of course, wanted by the Ono Mao for the actions that led him to the Planetoid in the first place, and his interaction with these creatures is pretty interesting, as are his actions after that.

Planetoid is definitely a strange series – it doesn’t follow the usual pattern of events in stories like this, and that is why I’m enjoying it so much.  Garing is a terrific writer and artist, and I look forward to following his career.

Prophet #31

Written by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, and Giannis Milonogiannis
Art by Giannis Milonogiannis

I feel like, as Old Man Prophet has gathered up a group of allies to help him stop the Earth Empire, this book is getting a definite Farscape theme to it, and that is something I don’t mind at all.

In this issue, John and his companions travel to the remains of the body of Ixpoliniox, a space giant whose body has now been colonized by creatures that mine his blood, muscle, and flesh.  The body parts are the site of an active trading colony, and, for some reason, are a target of the Earth Empire.

John’s crew confront one of his clones, while John runs in to The Troll, another one of Rob Liefeld’s characters from back in the day that I only vaguely remember (after looking at images on-line) as a bit of a cross between Wolverine, Puck, and the Beast.  He hints that another Youngblood mainstay is still bumping around the galaxy as well, but this is really not the focus of the book.

The characters are beginning to interact with each other a lot more, with the tree-alien Hiyonhoiagn providing some comic relief, and helping to add to the general Farscape feeling I mentioned earlier (this whole issue reminded me of the episode where the crew of Moya ended up on the body of a space-whale).

Graham is the master of the inventive and strange, and he uses a vastly different tone here than he does in Multiple Warheads, although both books are fantastic.

Saga #7

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

I know this issue came out a couple of weeks ago, but the store where I shop got shorted their entire order (thanks Diamond!), so it took until this week before I scored myself a copy.  As expected, it was worth the wait.

In the last issue, which marked the ending of the first arc, Marko’s parents appeared rather suddenly on the family’s new tree-ship.  They zapped Izabel, the ghostly baby-sitter, and now are confronted with the fact that their son has married an ‘enemy’, and that they have had a child together.

Marko and his mother take off to try to rescue Izabel (as it turns out, she wasn’t killed, but banished to another planet), while Marko’s father starts to get to know Alana, although the two of them don’t hit it off so well.

Among all the things that make Saga such a rich and gorgeous read is the extent to which Vaughan has structured this as a character-driven series.  We know that Marko’s parents are going to be around for a while, and I like how Vaughan has tossed the family into two different situations that are going to give the readers a chance to get to know them.

This book reads very smoothly, and is drop-dead beautiful.

Wasteland #41

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Russel Roehling

It is so good to see this series back on track again, as new regular artist Russel Roehling shows improvement in his art and his handling of the regular characters, and Antony Johnston does what he does best, providing another exciting chapter to his post-Apocalyptic epic saga.

Michael and Abi were visiting the small settlement of Far Enough when they saw an object come crashing from the sky into the nearby Pre-city.  They investigated with a man they had just met, Thomas, who has the ability to get a psychic reading off of people and objects.  The object that fell, an old satellite, provides Thomas (and a reader) with an image of how the world came to its end.

Our heroes don’t get much time to dwell on this new information however, as Thomas’s daughter, Diana’s boyfriend shows up in the Pre-city, being accosted by some Dwellers.  The group’s fight and flight from these mutated creatures ends with them back in Thomas’s home, where they all discover that they have a few things in common.

Johnston’s always done a remarkable job of building his fictional world, both through the main story and the text pieces narrated by explorer Ankya Ofsteen, and this issue continues that.  There is some dispute as to whether or not the ‘talking machine’ that Abi relies on to lead her and Michael to A-Ree-Yass-I, the fabled land they think they were born in, is leading them astray.  Johnston has been building the mystery of that place since the very first issue, and I hope we’ll get to see it for what it really is soon.

Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #1

Written by Brandon Seifert
Art by Lukas Ketner

I’d really enjoyed the first volume of Witch Doctor (Under the Knife), and I’m very pleased to see that the series has returned for a new six-issue arc.  The series follows Dr. Vincent Morrow, an occult physician, who alongside his two assistants, treats the medical conditions that cause a number of things we recognize as magical or unnatural phenomenon.  The first volume had Dr. Morrow ‘treat’ such conditions as vampirism, changeling babies, and demonic possession.  Basically, it was Dr. Strange done correctly, were Stephen Strange a total crank and misanthrope.

With this new volume, writer Brandon Seifert switches things up a little bit.  Instead of telling a series of one-off stories, he’s giving us a longer arc that has to do with the unfortunate after-effects of a one-night stand the doctor has indulged in.

Seifert tosses right into things with this issue, as the Doctor continues his treatment of the young boy suffering from multiple possessions (I think it was the first or second issue of volume one that introduced him), and he doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the medical explanations for things.  That could be a mis-step, as it doesn’t establish for new readers just what makes this book so unique.  If the concept sounds interesting, I urge you to track down the trade, or just dive in to the this new series, with the expectation that all will be made clear eventually.

Lukas Ketner’s art has continued to improve in the almost year-long gap since the last Witch Doctor comic was published.  He excels at inventing arcane-looking medical equipment, but is also a strong character artist.  The book looks very nice in his hands.

Quick Takes:

All Star Western #14 – The best part of this series in recent months has been the relationship between Jonah Hex and Tallulah Black, but for some reason, in this issue, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray have her head off on a new adventure of her own, with the Barbary Ghost, a Chinese female who has been searching for her missing mother.  This takes place amidst the chaos caused by Dr. Jekyll’s formula having been sold by circus snake oil healers.  Things in this comic are really rather strange, especially since this book is apparently launching whatever the Black Diamond Probability is.  More to my liking has been the Tomahawk back-up strip, which features DC’s fictional aboriginal hero fighting in the era of Tecumseh and his brother.

American Vampire #33 – It’s all big confrontations and big turning points this month, as Pearl and Hattie have their final fight, and we learn Henry’s fate.  This series has always looked very good (thanks to Rafael Albuquerque), but it’s felt like Scott Snyder’s attentions have been elsewhere for a while now.

Batman Incorporated #5 – Grant Morrison returns to the future world of Batman #666, where Damian is wearing the cowl, and all of Gotham has fallen to a new form of Joker toxin.  This issue is heavy on the doom and gloom, and is an enjoyable read, but I doubt anyone believes present-day Batman when he tells Damian that he’s going to have to stop being Robin.  The character is just too popular, and too rich a source of good stories.  Chris Burnham’s art is great, but you already knew that.

BPRD Hell on Earth #101 – Things just keep getting worse for the BPRD crew, as The Master becomes ever more powerful, the Zinco Corp animate the clone body (and not as you’d have expected), and Fenix takes off on the Bureau.  There are some nice character moments amid all the chaos, and a steady sense of moving forward to some big events.  Tyler Crook’s art is great.

FF #1 – I had not intended to add Matt Fraction’s Fantastic Four to my pull-file (due to a combination of my not really liking the characters or the artist), but FF was a definite from the beginning.  This book is being set up to star Ant-Man, Medusa, She-Hulk, and a girlfriend of the Human Torch in a Thing suit, and is drawn by Michael Allred.  I’m usually all over Marvel’s oddball books, and this promised to be a good one, based simply on cast and creative team.  Fraction is wisely keeping the Future Foundation in place as Jonathan Hickman structured it, and these stars are being pressed into service as the replacement Fantastic Four while the Richards extended family takes off on a space-time adventure.  This is definitely the Good Fraction writing, as he gives the characters plenty of space to be themselves.  At the same time, this issue is just a lot of set-up, so it’s too early to assess how successful the book really is going to be.  It is definitely pretty…

I, Vampire #14 – I’m ready to drop this book, but then I find myself getting more interested in it again.  Andrew Bennett (now evil) and Tig (also now evil) attack one of Andrew’s old girlfriends, who gets rescued by Mary Seward (now good) and the old professor guy (I keep wanting to call him Tot).  Andrew then goes off to start making himself a new vampire army.  Not a lot happens in each issue, but the story feels less random now than it used to.  I have stopped pre-ordering it as of now, so I’ll see how I feel next month when the new issue comes out…

Justice League Dark #14 – Jeff Lemire finished off his big story in the JLD Annual last month, and now this book is just spinning its wheels.  Constantine, Xanadu and a few others spend the issue trying to figure out where Zatanna and Tim Hunter went, while Black Orchid, Amethyst, and Frankenstein get lost in the House of Mystery.  The whole book barely goes anywhere, until Black Orchid finds the John Constantine equivalent of Rip Hunter’s whiteboard, the now mandatory method DC uses to hint at upcoming storylines.  Also, the Phantom Stranger pops up to preview the Trinity War.  I admire Lemire a great deal, but I think it might be time to cut this book loose – it’s not really going anywhere, and it feels like it’s going to be way too editorially driven in the months ahead.  On a positive note, I like the fact that Graham Nolan did the pencils this month a great deal.

Secret Avengers #34 - It’s strange how sprawling, multi-part storylines have worked very well for Rick Remender on Uncanny X-Force, but with Secret Avengers, I’ve found his story to be needlessly convoluted and kind of annoying.  This issue has Venom, Valkyrie, and Black Widow escaping the robots’ attack on their base, while Captain Britain, Hawkeye, and Beast fight undead Avengers in another dimension.  No one story gets enough space to become compelling, and the book ends up feeling a little rushed.

Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi – Prisoner of Bogan #1 – The first Dawn of the Jedi mini-series wasn’t as impressive as John Ostrander’s other Star Wars series have been, and I’m afraid that this new mini-series is heading in the same direction.  Like the first one, which is set some 37 000 years before the movie continuity, this book is more exposition than plot, as the Je’Daii, the precursors to the Jedi order we all know and love, continue to deal with the knowledge that there are other Force users in the universe.  Xesh, the Force Hound, is being kept prisoner on the moon of Bogan, although when he meets an exiled Je’Daii who had gotten in trouble for having visions that Xesh’s presence helps confirm, he also gets off the moon in a hurry, making the series’s title a lie.  Jan Duursema’s artwork is lovely, and John Ostrander has enough cred to get a lot of time to impress, but I do hope this becomes a little more like the pair’s Star Wars Legacy.

Talon #2 – This is only the third issue of this series (including #0), and we already have a guest artist?  Juan Jose Ryp takes care of the pictures this month, as Calvin Rose and his handler go after a Court of Owls base that holds their most prized possessions.  This is a solid issue, as writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV introduce some distrust between the two principal characters.  I still question just how long the writers will be able to draw out a book that is basically about a man fighting an organization, before it gets too old, and the constant revelation of new assets in the Owls’ possession becomes tedious.  I do think this is the best issue of the series yet though, which means I’ll buy next month’s too (I was looking to drop this title after the lacklustre zero issue).

Ultimate Comics X-Men #19 – I really can’t make up my mind about this series.  After being offered ‘the cure’, there are only twenty mutants left in the United States, and President Captain America has deeded them some desert wasteland that used to be used to test weapons.  Gone are just about all of the X-Men, and among this twenty are some new characters.  Kitty Pryde, who has been the leader, almost loses a vote for power to a twelve year old, and the group falls to distrust and in-fighting immediately.  I’m not sure why, with the regular Marvel Universe reversing the M-Day events, the Ultimate universe needs to go through its own version of Decimation and Schism all in the same issue (the mutants have even dubbed their new compound of shipping containers ‘Utopia’).  At the same time, Brian Wood is a great writer, and I feel like he’s finally exerting some control over this book after months of just writing what the editors have been telling him to do.  I don’t want to keep buying this series though – I wonder how I’ll feel about it when the next issue comes out…

Uncanny Avengers #2 – Is this really how this series is going to go?  The Avengers, with a couple token X-Men, stand around debating the ‘mutant situation’ while a clone of the original Red Skull goes around convincing humans to kill mutants, and gets the Scarlet Witch to sign on with him (for all of 5 minutes).  Suddenly, we’re back in the early 00s, with a whole bunch of weird mutants with no story potential bouncing around, Wanda being incredibly annoying, and the story feeling very disjointed.  And the Red Skull has a base that provides different landscapes?  Why?  Because one of his followers has powers that let her teleport through water, and we needed a way for Rogue to show up.  I expect a lot better than this from Rick Remender.  At least Cassaday’s art is nice…

X-Men Legacy #2 – FF has some serious competition for the most oddball book in the Marvel NOW! line-up, as X-Men Legacy continues to intrigue me, mostly for how unlikely a comic it is in the current industry.  Legion is on a bit of a rampage in China, while his personalities are on a bit of a rampage in his mind.  He meets a pair of disembodied eyeballs (seriously), who have some sort of plan for him, while the X-Men figure out that he needs to be found.  Simon Spurrier is making this story equally compelling and perplexing, and Tan Eng Huat’s art is much better suited to this than it was to the Annihilators.  I hadn’t intended to stick with this title, but I will definitely pick up the next one…

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

‘68 Scars #3

A Plus X #2

All-New X-Men #2

New Avengers #34

Thor God of Thunder #2

Ultimate Comics Iron Man #2

Bargain Comics:

Amazing Spider-Man #682-687 – These issues make up the Ends of the Earth arc, which has Spider-Man, Silver Sable, and the Black Widow running around the globe trying to stop Doctor Octopus and the Sinister Six from either curing the world of global warming, or frying it to a crisp.  Dan Slott paces this story very well, and blends character and action very nicely.  There is perhaps too much of a reliance on gadgetry, as Spidey wears special armor that looks kind of ridiculous.  Art-wise, this story is a mess, in exactly the way most Marvel books are these days.  In their insistence that their books need to come out multiple times a month, they are forced to use multiple artists on their comics.  This story is mostly drawn by Stefano Caselli, but a couple of issues are drawn by Humberto Ramos.  They are both great artists (at this point, I think I prefer Caselli), but since they have such different styles, switching issues is very jarring.  I understand the need for multiple artists (if not the need for double-shipping), but I wish they’d find more consistent pairings.

Astonishing X-Men #55 – Marjorie Liu’s run on this title has gotten progressively darker, as the nano-worm controlled X-Men have started trashing Madripoor under the control of Karma’s long-lost evil sister.  This is a decent book, but Mike Perkins’s art is not well suited to cramming so many characters into panels – I was having trouble telling Northstar from Gambit for a couple of pages.

Avengers Assemble #7 – If you want a perfect example of what’s wrong with Brian Michael Bendis’s team comics, this series is it.  Bendis has spent seven issues establishing Thanos as a cosmic-level threat, and has shown that the combined might of the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy are barely enough to deal with the Badoon.  Now, there will only be one issue left for them to deal with Thanos, who has just killed all of the Elders of the Universe.  Want to bet that issue 8 is even worse than this one?

Avenging Spider-Man #8 – This is an epilogue to the Ends of the Earth arc from Amazing Spider-Man (see above).  Spidey feels badly about how that story ended for Silver Sable, and decides to regale the rest of the Avengers with a story about her, Dr. Strange, and Doctor Doom set back in the day.  I’m not sure if this is an inventory story that Ty Templeton had written a long time ago, or if this was just what someone at Marvel decided was needed, but it is definitely an old-school punch-up.  It’s fine if you like that kind of thing.

The Week in Graphic Novels:


Written by Eric Trautmann and Brandon Jerwa
Art by Steve Lieber

America’s involvement in Iraq is starting to provide as rich a literary and filmic tradition as the Vietnam War did, as Americans come to grips with the extent of the damage their actions in that far-off country caused both places.  Among the more worthy of the explorations I’ve enjoyed of that war is Shooters, a graphic novel that explores the effects Iraq had on one soldier.

Terry Glass was a Chief Warrant Officer until the day that a friendly fire incident wiped out most of his troops and ended his war.  Back home, he had great difficulty adjusting to life with his wife and daughter, especially given that the military was hiding the truth about the incident, and that his soldiers were not being formally recognized for their sacrifice.

The book is a solid study of the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on soldiers who never quite manage to reconcile their military life with their civilian one.  Eric Trautmann and Brandon Jerwa capture the irrational rages that grip Terry, and the crushing apathy that keeps him from holding down a successful job, or keeping his marriage together.  Eventually, Terry returns to the only world he feels comfortable in, but as a private contractor.  Now he’s still an outsider, despite being involved in military operations.

This book is pretty gripping.  The reader feels for Terry and his situation; his desire to make things right is palpable, but he’s just not capable of pulling it off in a meaningful way.  I felt that the writers really captured the dilemma that a lot of former soldiers go through, and that they didn’t need to sensationalize things to make it feel dramatic.  I’m not sure how I feel about the confrontation that ends the book though; it feels a little too neat and predictable.

Steve Lieber is just the right kind of artist for this kind of thing.  He’s proven himself a capable artist for military-based action, but he also excels at portraying quiet human moments.  It’s rare these days for Vertigo to produce original graphic novels (or, increasingly, much of anything else), and I really wish they would create more work of this caliber.

Album of the Week:

The Hot 8 Brass Band – The Life & Times of The Hot 8 Brass Band – These guys are the sound of modern New Orleans music.  Some of these songs are familiar from Treme, the wonderful HBO series set in New Orleans.  This album is a great blend of jazz and hip-hop.

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The Weekly Round-Up #150 with Godzilla, Chew, Glory, Saucer Country, The Walking Dead & More Mon, 22 Oct 2012 14:00:15 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

Godzilla: The Half-Century War #3

by James Stokoe

It’s hard to describe how wonderful this comic is.  James Stokoe, an artist like few others, is telling a long story about the people who have worked for half a century to stop Godzilla, and the other monsters like him.

This issue is set in Accra, Ghana, in 1975.  All of the various monsters – Mothra, Hedorah (MF Doom taught me the name was Geedorah, but whatver), Rodan, and all the others, have been summoned to this massive example of 70s urban African sprawl, along with Godzilla.  They haven’t come there by chance – there is a clear reason for their behaviour, and it involves an American scientist who has betrayed the AMF (I don’t remember what that stands for) and set out for personal gain.

Stokoe quickly introduces a number of new characters, who make up the specialist teams tasked with stopping each of the monsters.  My favourite is the pair who are assigned to Mothra, an afro’ed Black Power type and his bearded hippie companion, who drive around in a tricked out VW van.

Stokoe’s work is always visually inventive and almost overpoweringly detailed, and that continues here.  This book is a lot of fun, and is absolutely gorgeous.

Other Notable Comics:

The Activity #9

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Mitch Gerads

Every month, I feel the need to comment on the fact that I like this book, mostly because with every issue, some if the title’s flaws get in the way of my full enjoyment of the comic.  I wish this series could fix its problems, because I believe that a terrific comic is hidden in here.

This issue, the team is sent to Somalia to help a British SAS group rescue a British national who is being held by a warlord.  We meet the British team, and one of them shares some awkward flirting with Fiddler.  The mission is put into jeopardy when American missile support moves up their timeline.  Meanwhile, Stateside, plans are made to test the team to make sure that no one has compromised themselves, in the light of some recent mistakes.

The writing is taut, and the pacing very good.  The problem is that, nine issues in, it’s still hard to care about these characters, because they haven’t been very developed.  I know that’s part of this book’s shtick – that these people are so dedicated to their job and servicing their country that they don’t have personal lives – but it leads to a lack of emotional investment on my part.

The other big problem with this issue is the art.  Mitch Gerads, the usual series artist, switches up his style this issue, giving us a sketchier, more messy style.  It works with the subject matter, but it makes it even more difficult to tell who is who, especially when the action switches from the usual team to the British one.  I’m all for artists experimenting with their style, but storytelling should still come first.

The Activity is a good comic, and Edmondson is writing it intelligently, by allowing the on-going story of what’s happening at command levels to build with each issue, while still spotlighting the mission.  There are things that need to be fixed though.

Chew #29

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

It’s time for another great issue of Chew.  What I’m finding very cool about this book lately is the way in which Tony Chu, the main and title character, has been relegated to a supporting role while he recovers from his injuries.

This month, Tony’s sister, his ex-partner, and his other ex-partner’s ex-(and still-)partner team up to foil a plan by the powerful cibopath known as the Vampire and the Collector, from adding a new power-set to his collection.

A victuspeciosian has set up a beauty parlour, and the FDA, NASA, and the USDA have decided that they need an inter-agency task force to bring her down.  What’s a victuspeciosian you ask?  Well, a victuspeciosian is a person who has the rare ability to use a combination of food products to temporarily alter the appearance of another person into whatever they wish.  I’m sure, for a gifted etymologist, that would be obvious.  The rest of us must continue to rely on John Layman’s helpful notes.

As always, this is a fun issue of Chew, with excellent writing and art, a novel situation, and more than a few terrific sight gags.  Oh, and Poyo the cybernetic rooster fights a giant Mecha-Turducken in Japan.  Great stuff.

Glory #29

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell

Having never read even a single issue of Rob Liefeld’s original Glory series, I don’t know if the recent addition to the cast of Glory’s sister, Nanaja, involves resurrecting an older character, or if this is someone new to the title.  What I do know is that, despite being about seven feet tall and having a tail, Nanaja is basically Trilby, the character from Ross Campbell’s excellent series Wet Moon.  She has Trilby’s face, and her mouth, and her inclusion in this book has added a new layer of enjoyment for me.

After having fought off an incursion by her father’s people, Glory and her friends pack up their weapons and head to Paris, with the idea that they will recruit Nanaja to aid in their cause.  First though, Glory has to stop off in a small town to visit her old friend Jim, who she fought with in the war.

This leads to a couple of discussions about the dangerous path Glory seems to be taking, and the threat she poses to her human friends Gloria and Riley.  Jim is clearly in love with Glory, but is also more aware of her dangerous nature than anyone else.  It also looks like her reunion with her sister won’t be all that pleasant.

I’ve liked how Joe Keatinge has taken his time explaining all of the problems in this book, but I also feel like it may be time to pick up the pace a little.  Still, this is a refreshingly good comic, and I love Campbell’s art.  No one draws women like him, especially gigantic, muscle-bound alien women.

Saucer Country #8

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

After two issues of data dumping concerning the existence of aliens and their technology, Paul Cornell returns to his main plotline, as Governor Alvarado prepares herself for a debate during the Democratic primaries.  Her opponent is a pretty smooth player, and Alvarado is still readjusting to life after her abduction.

Cornell gives most of the main characters some space of their own this issue.  The Governor’s ex-husband was abducted with her, and he’s also having a hard time, missing time, and having some difficulty managing reality (as we see in a beautifully executed, if complicated, scene).

Professor Kidd is using the campaign as cover to investigate other instances of abduction, including that of a woman who may have been on the alien craft the same evening as the Governor.  This is putting him on the trail, and quite probably the radar, of the ‘Men in Black’, who have a very peculiar way of keeping their existence out of the media, and paying homage to one of my all-time favourite TV shows at the same time.

Cornell is doing some very cool work with this series, and Ryan Kelly is one of the best artists for this book.  He excels at drawing real people, and putting them in real situations.  Few artists can pull off books that involve a lot of scenes of people sitting around talking as well as Kelly can.  This is a great title, and it proves that Vertigo still has some life in it.

The Sixth Gun #26

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

It’s often difficult to find much to say about issues that take place in the middle of an arc.  The Sixth Gun is a terrific book, that does not get as much attention and accolades as it deserves.  It’s set in the late 19th Century, in an America that is not unfamiliar with magic and the supernatural.

The book centres on Drake Sinclair, a former gun for hire, and Becky Montcrief, a former simple farm girl.  These two, between them, possess five of a group of six mystical pistols that each have a separate magical ability (one rots its victims, another shoots fire, and so on).  They are being pursued by any number of foes and opportunists, although at the moment, they are trapped in a wintry land by a Wendigo spirit.  In this issue, Drake reveals a story about the time he last encountered a Wendigo, and we learn the truth about the creature’s nature, and how to kill it.

While they are hunting for the creature, their friend Gord Cantrell is looking to find them.  He’s joined up with the lying gunman Kirby Hale, and the nine-foot tall mummy Asher Cobb.  They are being pursued by the Sword of Abraham, another group who want control over the guns.

This series is fast-paced, exciting, and excellently drawn.  I love how Bunn weaves a variety of traditional beliefs about the supernatural into the narrative, and I always look forward to the next issue.

The Walking Dead #103

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

It’s hard to imagine how the events of this issue must have felt for Rick.  Over the years, we’ve seen him swallow many a bitter pill, as his decisions and mistakes have led to the deaths of many characters that have been important to him.  Still, this issue must have been a rough one.

Negan shows up at the gates with a large force of his Saviors.  He’s there to pick the gated community where Rick and his people live clean, as per his new agreement with Rick.  His forces help themselves to mattresses, medicines (just the good stuff), and who knows what else, while Negan basically struts around like he’s cock of the walk.

Most of the issue is given over to this debasement, but thankfully, Kirkman does give us two scenes towards the beginning of the issue that tell us what is really going on.

As always, this comic is an excellent read.

The Zaucer of Zilk #1

Written by Brendan McCarthy and Al Ewing
Art by Brendan McCarthy

When I heard that IDW was publishing a two-issue mini-series by Brendan McCarthy, I immediately knew a few things about it – that it was going to be visually stunning and psychedelic, and that I probably wouldn’t understand much of it.

Surprisingly, this comic was pretty straight-forward in terms of its story and plotting, even if it was completely ridiculous from the beginning.  Basically, the role of Zaucer is a hereditary one, and the current Zaucer was the bastard child of his predecessor.  The Zultan of Zilk wants his powerful wand for himself, and so he has been obstructing his cousin’s heroic duties.

Enter into all of this Errol Raine, a drippy fellow who also wants the wand’s powers.  He abducts Tutu, a groupie who communicates through texting, and the Zaucer has to go rescue her.  The problem is that the Zultan has forbidden interdimensional travel, leaving the Zaucer no choice but to capture himself a pair of wild fancypants, which will let him travel to other worlds.

Like I said, this book is utterly ridiculous.  I love how McCarthy and his co-writer Al Ewing make use of many of the standard features of a hero’s journey, as outlined by Joseph Campbell, to tell a story that is pretty much all LSD-induced nonsense so wild that it makes Brandon Graham look like Marv Wolfman.

In terms of a comic delivering exactly what it promises, you can’t find a better example than The Zaucer of Zilk.  This book is a lot of fun, and is more inventive than any five books from the Big Two put together.

Quick Takes:

American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #5 – The second ‘Felicia Book’ spin-off mini-series draws to a close, with a pretty big shake-up for the Vassals of the Morning Star, the vampire-hunting organization.  This has been a decent mini-series, with some very nice Dustin Nguyen art.

AVX: Consequences #2 – This issue worked a little better than the last, but that’s because almost the entire book is made up of a conversation between Scott Summers and Logan.  Kieron Gillen is just about the only writer left at Marvel who could pull this off, as the two still try to justify their decisions throughout AvsX.  It’s hard to look at Summers’s stupid ruby crimson helmet and take the character seriously, but Steve Kurth does a better job with it than Tom Raney did last week.  I still don’t buy the non-Phoenix Five members of the Extinction Team being hunted, and I’m wondering when and where Gillen is going to be able to finish off his long-running ‘Unit the evil robot’ sub-plot.  I also think it’s time to see some Emma Frost, if only because Gillen writes her so well.

Batwoman #13 – JH Williams continues to impress with his Batwoman series, which is drop-dead gorgeous, but also an interesting read.  Kate is teaming up with Wonder Woman to track down Medusa, and this takes them to an ancient labyrinth, where the two women get attacked by a bunch of centipede-creatures.  I like how Williams (and co-writer W. Haden Blackman) are portraying Kate’s nervousness and awe at working with a demigod, as well as how they have her hold her own in the situation.

BPRD 1948 #1 – It’s been a while since the 1947 mini-series, and I think a short recap would have been in order, but this is an interesting start.  Professor Bruttenholm travels to Utah to investigate some strange goings on at a facility where scientists are experimenting with using atomic bombs to launch spacecraft.  That doesn’t sound like a typical BPRD story?  Well, flying creatures keep attacking their personnel.  Young Hellboy gets a little more play than he did in the previous 1940s stories, and Max Fiumara does a great job on art (I was going to complain that I liked Bá and Moon on 1947 better, but then I saw in the back the announcement that they will be drawing the follow-up to this, and all negativity left me).

Daredevil #19 – Mark Waid reveals just why Matt Murdock (and everyone who knows him) has been questioning his sanity so much lately, and upgrades an old Spider-Man villain to boot.  The problem with that is that this particular character had always been a favourite of mine, and I loved his design.  The new look doesn’t really work for me.  Besides that, this is once again, an excellent issue, with terrific Chris Samnee art.

Dark Avengers #182 – My lord but this title has gone downhill since it changed its name from Thunderbolts.  The long-running storyline about the time lost members of the team gets resolved here, as they arrive back in the present just in time to try to stop the Dark Avengers team from ruining the future.  Very little makes sense here, as Neil Edwards is not really able to manage so many different characters very well, and as Jeff Parker crams in a return to power for the Juggernaut (who came out of nowhere, and is given an even uglier helmet to wear than he previously had), and a completely unemotional emotional reunion for Troll and Songbird.  I get the feeling that this story was planned out to last a few more issues, but with Marvel NOW making a Thunderbolts relaunch imminent, Parker had to wrap it up quicker than expected (and with substandard art).  I know that DA is continuing featuring Norman Osborn’s team, but I won’t be there for it.

DC Universe Presents #13 – I had higher hopes for this arc.  Writer Marc Andreyko brings both Black Lightning and the Blue Devil into the New 52, and while I’ve never been overly fond of either character, there’s just not enough done in this first issue to establish them as new characters, or to show us how they are different from the originals.  We go through the usual set-up where the two heroes fight each other, and then Andreyko tries to backfill some characterization, but it’s not handled all that well.  I only jumped on-board because of how awesome and character-driven Andreyko’s Manhunter was, but now I kind of regret having pre-ordered the rest of this…

Harbinger #5 – The first story arc ends here with Peter Stanchek confronting Harada and his Harbinger Foundation.  Joshua Dysart has done a terrific job of building up this series, and it continues to be a great read.  The art is all over the place this month though, with a couple other artists pitching in to help Khari Evans.  I hope Valiant doesn’t become like DC, with random collections of artists completing single issues all the time – Evans had given the book a nice consistent look that I would like to see continued.

Hawkeye #3 – Hawkeye has easily become the most fun, and probably prettiest, book that Marvel publishes.  This issue has Clint head out on some errands, meet a beautiful woman with a beautiful car, buy the car, sleep with the woman, and somehow end up in a high-speed chase around Brooklyn involving some Mini-driving Russian mobster types (who, like in the first issue, brutally overuse the word ‘bro’).  David Aja’s art is fantastic, and Matt Fraction is clearly writing this just for him and his strengths.  Brilliant.

Marvel NOW! Point One #1 – Should I be faulted for expecting more from Marvel’s launch of their next big thing?  This book is designed to preview many of their new titles, but it sadly did very little for me.

  • There’s a framing sequence featuring the new Samuel L. Jackson version of Nick Fury (I know I never finished reading Battle Scars, and haven’t seen the Avengers movie, but did anyone else find it weird as hell that this guy has such a prominent role at SHIELD?) and his friend talking to a visitor from the future.  As far as framing goes, the transitions into the other stories made no sense (especially since one of them was a flashback), and this made me think that I may not be all that interested in Nick Spencer and Luke Ross’s Secret Avengers.  The inclusion of SLJ Fury was going to make that a tough sell already, but now?
  • The Guardians of the Galaxy piece just showed us the new, blond Star-Lord’s origin.  It neither read like a Brian Michael Bendis story, nor looked much like Steve McNiven.  I thought it had been drawn by Mike Deodato.  My interest in this project is waning even more, which is crazy, because I loved the Abnett and Lanning version from a few years back.
  • I didn’t hate the Nova story.  I don’t remember the last time I read something by Jeph Loeb that I didn’t hate.  That doesn’t mean that I’m going to be picking this up, but still, I have hated everything this guy has done since Batman The Long Hallowe’en.  What does this mean?
  • The Forge short, which is build-up for the Cable and the X-Force series gave me another reason to skip that title.  Dennis Hopeless’s story portrays Forge as a crazy eccentric, and suggests that there’s going to be way too much Cable in this series for it to be good.  Too bad, because without Cable, the rest of the line-up is gold.
  • Now for the good stuff:  Matt Fraction and Michael Allred have Ant-Man exacting revenge on Dr. Doom in a fashion inspired by Marcel Duchamp.  How can I not love this?
  • I’ll call it right now:  Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie is going to be the best comic Marvel publishes in 2013.  I can not wait to read this series, and that’s after a couple of pages where Loki has Korean BBQ with Miss America Chavez in an alternate dimension.

So, in the final analysis, this Point One special only confirmed for me that the books that already interested me will be good, while the rest will be skippable.  It also suggested that Secret Avengers may not be worth my time, because of the badly executed inclusion of movie characters that no one knows what to do with.

Nightwing #13 – I’m not sure why Tom DeFalco is writing this book for two issues instead of Kyle Higgins, but I don’t really like it.  There’s nothing exactly wrong with this issue, which has Dick hunting Lady Shiva while the rest of Gotham copes with the Joker’s reappearance, but there’s also absolutely nothing special about it either.  Higgins has a much better sense of the character I feel.  Good thing he’ll be back in two issues.

Star Wars: Agent of Empire – Hard Targets #1 – It’s good to see both John Ostrander and his character Jahan Cross back in the Star Wars playground.  Cross is an Imperial Agent who doubles as an envoy, which gives him access to some pretty powerful people.  He’s sent to assassinate an Imperial Count, as Ostrander sets up a new story that looks to be more filled with political intrigue than straight-up James Bond style espionage action this time around, which is what made the first series so unique.  It looks like Cross is going to become disenchanted with his masters in this arc, which I think may be a mistake – having Cross be such a true believer in an organization that the readers knew to be so evil was part of the appeal.  Still, there are appearances by Bobba Fett and the young Princess Leia, and the writing is sharp.  This is a very good book.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #16 – This time around, we’re given a pretty much all-action issue, as Miles decides to try to join the Ultimates just in time for a Hydra attack to break up the lecture he was getting from Captain America.  This is a fun, dynamic issue.  Pepe Larraz handles the art this time around – he does a fine job, but he’s no Sara Pichelli or David Marquez.  At the same time, since this isn’t such a character-focused issue, that’s not a problem.  I love that Miles uses Tony Stark’s Iron Man hand as a cellphone at the end; it’s a very nice touch.

Uncanny X-Men #20 – What a shame that Kieron Gillen wasn’t given more time on the Uncanny X-Men, as he has been the best writer on the book since Grant Morrison left.  This issue is pure housekeeping, as imprisoned Cyclops talks to Sinister, Danger has a final confrontation with Unit (I got my wish – see above – although it was less than satisfying), and Peter and Illyana fight in Siberia.  It’s fitting that Carlos Pacheco drew this issue, since he was the one who started this short-lived relaunch.  I’m going to miss reading a regular X-Men comic starting next month (I’m totally passing on Bendis’s series).

Wonder Woman #13 – As the title enters it’s second year, Brian Azzarello shows no signs of moving away from the Olympic-sized family drama that is Wonder Woman’s life.  While the full-blooded children of Zeus argue in their heaven, Diana starts off on a new quest to find her demi-god half-siblings on Earth, with the hope that they can lead her to Zola’s newborn child.  This quest begins in Libya.  This books is great – among the best that DC publishes – and I enjoyed Tony Akins’s return as the regular guest artist.  Also, I’m excited about the visitor in Antarctica, who I think we can assume is Orion.

X-Factor #245 – Peter David continues to clear the decks in this title, as Alex decides to leave the team (perhaps to join the Uncanny Avengers?), Lorna decides to stay, Jamie and Layla make another big decision, and a few other things happen.  Lately, I feel like this series is more focused on figuring out who is on the team at any given moment than at telling compelling stories.  I am getting a little bored.  My hope is that with the cast pared down, David is going to refocus his stories a little better now (or is that NOW!?).

X-O Manowar #6 – Half a year into this series’s run, and it’s time to officially put it on the pull-list.  Aric spends much of this issue knocked out thanks to Ninjak, which gives the Vine agent Dorian time to betray his own people, as news of an imminent Vine invasion sounds like a bad thing.  Robert Vendetti has really set this series up well, and while I preferred Cary Nord on this title, Lee Garbett and Stefano Gaudiano are doing a fine job.

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

Avengers Assemble #8

Mighty Thor #21

New Avengers #31

Ultimate Comics Iron Man #1

Untold Tales of the Punisher MAX #5

Womanthology Space #2

Bargain Comics:

Rocketeer Adventures 2 #1 – This is all pretty standard stuff, except for the incredibly bizarre short by Peter David and Bill Sienkiewicz (have they ever worked together), which shows a Looney Tunes style cartoon where Donald Duck is a Rocketeer-inspired character.  It’s pretty bizarre.  The rest of this comic is pretty, but not all that memorable.

Album of the Week:

Mike Mictlan – Snaxxx – It’s been more than a minute since we’ve seen some solo work from Mictlan, the scrappier, more pugnacious member of Doomtree.  For this project, which is available for free, or can be bought in an awesome pizza box with a t-shirt and some other goodies, Mike went outside of the Doomtree collective for production and guest appearances, and the result is a bunch of bangers.  Mike plays hard, and just about every track shows that, in this funny and irreverent collection.  Paper Tiger produced one beat, and POS is the only other Doomtree family member to stop by and grace two excellent tracks, but while I’ve never heard of the other people who showed up or produced this, I’m enjoying it quite a bit.

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The Weekly Round-Up #147 With Pope Hats, Elephantmen, Morrison & Robertson’s Happy and More! Tue, 02 Oct 2012 03:00:59 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

Pope Hats #3

by Ethan Rilly

I was very excited to be able to pick up the latest issue of Ethan Rilly’s excellent comics series Pope Hats at Word on the Street last week.  This book festival regularly disappoints, but with this single purchase, it was all worth while, even braving a bit of a downpour.

Pope Hats follows two women, Frances and Vickie, who have both spent years trying to establish themselves in their chosen professions.  Frances is an insomniac law clerk, and Vickie is an aspiring actress.  Last issue, Frances received a promotion, splitting her time between serving the kind and reasonable Seagull, and the imperious senior partner Castonguay.  Now, she finds herself completely snowed under by work and the exhausting oneupmanship, back biting, and careerism that define her workplace.  Vickie, meanwhile, has finally landed herself a part in a TV pilot, and is planning a move to California.

The book follows a slow and meandering path through the two womens’ daily lives, although it is clear that Frances is the main character and the heart of the series.  We also get to see much more of her co-workers, including the unfortunate lawyer Nina, who has watched her billable hours decline because of her colleague’s active sabotage, and who resorts to having to gamble on the Machiavellian intentions of Castonguay.

Vickie has a sizeable presence in this issue, but she still remains a rather elusive character.  When sober, she is capable of insight and self-reflection, but she is rarely sober.

Rilly’s work reads like the best of Adrian Tomine’s.  He presents snippets of quotidian existence, making good use of humour and a clean, natural drawing ability.  His plot moves slowly, as life does, and he cuts quickly from scene to scene to maintain momentum.  The more magical realist elements of the first issue (like the ghost that Frances talks to) are gone from the series, as Rilly focuses his story on the contrasts between Frances and Vickie.

Rilly rounds out this issue with a trio of narrated strips.  There are two comics adaptions from Spalding Gray’s Morning, Noon and Night, and an interview with the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.  They are odd choices, but they are also good reads.

I look forward to reading the next Pope Hats, whenever it may come out.  If it sounds like something you would like, it is solicited in the latest issue of Previews – let your comic shop know you want it!

Other Notable Comics:

Elephantmen #43

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Axel Medellin and Dave Sim

I ended up with some pretty mixed feelings when it comes to the forty-third issue of Elephantmen.  First, it’s wrapped in a beautiful cover by Brandon Graham, which got me very excited that he may have also done some of the interiors (sadly, he did not).  This is an amazing cover, and it actually depicts a version of an event that happens inside the comic, which is rare these days.Elephantmen, a series following the travails of some transgenic ‘Elephantmen’ – former soldiers who are now integrated into human society – who work in law enforcement or organized crime, is often a mixed bag story wise, ranging wildly over a variety of themes and genres.  Right now, it seems that Richard Starkings is mostly interested in giving us an updated form of romance comic, as the series follows the relationships of Hip Flask and Miki (and maybe Vanity Case?), and Obadiah Horn and Sahara (with a dash of Panya tossed in).  The story continues to work on the plot involving the pursuit of the Silencer, a hired killer who has been murdering Elephantmen, but it’s the romance angle that gets the most screen time.

Hip gets attacked by the Silencer at the beginning of the book, and spends some time in a Dave Sim-drawn dream, similar to Ebony’s from the last issue.  This in itself is fine, but with multiple pages given over to showing details from the same drawing, it kind of felt like filler.  Miki, Hip’s new girlfriend finds out that he also has a thing for his fellow officer, Vanity Case, and gets angry.  Meanwhile, Sahara, who is carrying Horn’s baby, further imposes on her body-double (and pregnancy-double) Panya to basically become her.

There are other things happening in this book as well, such as a small retcon to establish that Hip, Horn, and Sahara all went to Mars once, and that Mister Purchase, Horn’s robotic aide de camp, was originally constructed for that voyage.  I could be wrong, but I don’t remember reading about this part of the Elephantmen’s history before recently, and I’m not sure why it’s being included now.  That’s what bothered me with this book; that Starkings will often shoehorn information about the past into a story in a manner that is more distracting than informative.  The reference to Hip being an ‘astronaut’ made by the Silencer came out of nowhere, and felt out of place.

Artistically, this book is as good as it ever was, with an extended section of pin-ups from various conventions (including art by Becky Cloonan!) given to Starkings taking the place of meatier backmatter.  I think my problem with this issue comes down to the fact that it didn’t live up to its wonderful cover.

Happy #1

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Darick Robertson

Grant Morrison – DC’s biggest name writer (in terms of critical respect, if not exactly in sales) has taken his latest creator-owned project to Image, and that’s a big deal.  For years, Morrison has published his bizarre non-superhero projects through Vertigo, but with their terms having recently been changed, I guess Image was a better option (continuing to prove what I firmly believe – that it is the most exciting company publishing comics these days).

Happy is a strange beast.  It opens reading like a Garth Ennis comic, as a pair of hitman (part of a hitman family, the Fratelli Brothers) go to join their brothers in completing a hit on Nick Sax, an ex-cop.  Sax knew they were coming (for a pretty interesting reason), but he didn’t know that the fourth brother had recently returned from Italy, and is therefore not as prepared as he would like to be.

Sax ends up in the hospital with a gunshot wound, although not before he is given the password to a secret bank account which holds the Fratelli fortune.  Now, both the police and the mob are after that password, and Nick is hallucinating fiercely.  He sees a small blue horse named Happy.

That’s more or less all that happens in this issue.  We do get a rather random page or two of Nick taking out a serial killer who has been killing prostitutes, and there’s something weird going on with a creepy homeless looking Santa Claus, but there you go.  Now, this being a Morrison comic, I was looking for other meanings or interpretations, but couldn’t really come up with anything just yet.

It’s great to see Darick Robertson’s art again.  I never even sampled The Boys (it having come out at a point where I’d had my fill of Garth Ennis – maybe I should start looking for it in trade), so I haven’t seen Robertson on a comic in many years.  He’s a great character artist, although he draws a mean small blue horse with wings and a horn…

I don’t see this being one of Morrison’s greatest works, but it is definitely interesting and entertaining.

Mind MGMT #5

by Matt Kindt

I really do love this title, and for a variety of reasons.  One of the most striking, and inconsequential, is that this is a comic that actually smells like a comic.  The book is printed on a nice newsprint stock, and it brought back a lot of Proustian memories when I opened it.

The comic itself is excellent.  Kindt has slowly been building up the layers of complexity in this series, which involves a young woman’s investigations into the strange world of Mind MGMT, an organization which has so far remained very shadowy, but that we know it is involved in influencing and controlling world events.

Henry Lyme, the central character of the comic (despite his only having really shown up in the last issue), continues to narrate his life story to Meru in this issue.  Previously, we saw how Henry was Mind MGMT’s most powerful agent.  At this point in his story, he basically loses his shit, as he begins to question how pervasive his influence has become on the world around him.  Wherever he goes, people give him things for free, and he even questions his own wife and child’s love for him, which he suspects is the product of his own abilities, with disastrous results.

Towards the end of the issue, Henry reveals his connection to Meru, which I did not see coming.  That’s the thing I like most about this comic; by creating such a unique series, Kindt has made this book hard to predict, something that is rare in comics these days.  Coupled with Kindt’s fantastic art, sharp dialogue, and interesting backmatter, this title is terrific.

Mind the Gap #5

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Rodin Esquejo and Adrian Alphona

Do you ever have this happen to you, where you make some comments (okay, maybe they were complaints) about a comic one month, only to have them addressed the next?  After reading the last issue of Mind the Gap, I commented that I found certain aspects of the book – especially the scenes where Elle, the coma victim, just hangs out in her own mind and The Garden, a shared mindscape for coma victims, and the overly self-congratulatory text pages in the back – to be tiring me out, and causing me to lose enthusiasm for the title.

Then this issue comes out, and neither thing is in it!  Instead of keeping the action in the hospital where Elle is staying, Jim McCann decided to use this issue to explore one of the most important people in Elle’s life.  Dane is Elle’s boyfriend, and he’s been shown to be a difficult person.  Now, he is being accused of attacking her, and his own father has shown up with some pretty damning evidence against him.

The thing is, Dane hasn’t seen his father in some ten years.  Most of this issue is told through flashback, as we see Dane’s teenage years in a trailer park, where he lived with his abusive drunk of a father.  At age 17, Dane set off on his own, eventually finding himself in New York, and dating Elle.  For the first time since the comic began, Dane is shown as a sympathetic character.

We are also given some pretty big clues as to what has been happening in this series.  The whole point of this book is that the reader has no clue as to who attacked Elle, or why.  One fairly prominent character is shown interacting with ‘Hoodie’, the hooded character who has been present at every point of the series, although whether or not that character is ultimately responsible for what’s happened isn’t made clear.  I imagine that there are more than one guilty party in this book.

I’ve been enjoying Rodin Esquejo’s art in this series, but was pleased to see that (the uncredited) Adrian Alphona showed up to draw the scenes from Dane’s life.  Alphona’s art is much looser than Esquejo’s, and had a total Adam Pollina vibe to it that I liked a lot.

This is a comic that was in need of a shake-up, and I’m pleased that McCann chose to do that at precisely the time that I was wondering how committed I was to staying with this title.  Now he’s got me on board for a few more months.

The New Deadwardians #7

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by INJ Culbard

As we reach the penultimate issue of The New Deadwardians, Dan Abnett is still piling on the intrigue.  The issue opens with the intrepid Inspector Suttle being attacked by some Bright (human) Londoners.  Suttle being Young (a vampire), is able to easily defend himself, but he has no defence for the surprises that Mr. Salt heaps upon him.

By the time he has finished interviewing his only suspect in the murder of Lord Hinchcliffe, Suttle is not sure of anything anymore, including his own complicity in the murder, and in the Restless (zombie) incursion that killed his own cook.

Abnett has constructed an interesting alternate history with this book, and then populated it with an interesting character.

INJ Culbard’s art is the real star of this book though.  He’s got a Guy Davis meets Rick Geary quality to his work that I enjoy.  This issue feels looser than the previous ones, at least during the action sequences, and it works very well.

Prophet #29

Written by Brandon Graham, Farel Dalrymple, and Andy Ristaino
Art by Farel Dalrymple and Andy Ristaino

It must be a lot of fun to write this comic.  Since Brandon Graham resurrected Rob Liefeld’s god-awful comic from the 90s, each new issue has been a bit of an adventure, as Graham has introduced a wide variety of characters, settings, and strange situations.For this issue, Graham returns to the John Prophet clone we last saw in the other issue illustrated by Farel Dalrymple.  Prophet is with a group of his clone brothers, escorting an Earth Empire Mother through space towards her home.  These Earth Mother’s are powerful psychics, who control the clones.

Their route takes them through a centuries-old battlefield, and our tailed Prophet ends up being captured on a ship, where creatures control their prisoners and force them to work as slaves.  Prophet becomes involved with a group of rebels, and fights for his freedom.

Each and every page drips with creativity, as Graham and Dalrymple create a variety of races and strange creatures.  None of these are throw-aways for Graham; there’s a sense that a lot of thought went into each and every story element, no matter how briefly they grace the pages of the book.

Dalrymple’s work is always lovely, but I particularly like the way that colourist Joseph Bergin III’s limited palette on the pages where Prophet is under mind control really accentuate Dalrymple’s skills.

The back-up, by Andy Ristaino, features similar themes to the main book.  It’s about a man who is the caretaker of a large colonist spaceship filled with people in suspended animation.  The ship is badly damaged, and the man has to decide what to do with his brethren.  It’s a powerful little story.

The Sixth Gun #25

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

There’s a real sense of things converging in this latest issue of The Sixth Gun.  Drake and Becky are trapped in a vicious snowstorm that has kept them holed up a decrepit fort.  Their friend, Gord Cantrell is looking for them, and he meets up with Kirby Hale on his voyage (and the two do a good re-enactment of the cantina scene from Star Wars), and Asher Cobb, the giant mummy.  The Sword of Abraham are looking for them all as well.

So while all these groups are meeting up, Drake is more at a loss as to what to do next than we’ve ever seen him.  It’s unfortunate that it takes an attack by a gigantic wolf spirit to shake him back into action.

I like the way that Cullen Bunn has woven Aboriginal mythology into this comic.  Earlier, we saw a Thunderbird, and now, we’re getting a Wendigo.  I always like when indigenous culture is represented respectfully in comics.

Bunn continues to impress on this book in a way that none of his work at Marvel has, adding weight to the argument that creator-owned comics benefit from being a labour of love in ways that work for hire never does.  Brian Hurtt, as always, is amazing.

Skullkickers #18

Written by Justin Jordan, Blair Butler, Charles Soule, J. Torres, John Layman, and Aubrey Sitterson
Art by Tradd Moore, Enrique Rivera, Michael Mayne, Alberto J. Alburquerque, Rob Guillory, and Ivan Anaya

In some ways, I think I prefer the ‘Tavern Tales’ issues of Skullkickers that show up between story arcs more than I do the actual comic itself sometimes.  This latest version, ‘Son of Tavern Tales’, has six short stories that more or less perfectly distill what makes Skullkickers work so well.

The book opens with the Luther Strode team of Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore (who clearly has never seen another picture of a dwarf).  Their story is cute and amusing, as is the one after it by Blair Butler and Enrique Rivera.

Charles Soule and Michael Mayne give us a great story about the world’s best beer, and the strange creature that makes it so great.  J. Torres and Alberto J. Alburquerque show what happens with role playing games get out of hand (always zombies).

The Chew team provide the best story in this book, as our favourite mercenaries try to figure out a way to scam themselves free beer for life in a bar where the owner has an interest in collecting mythological    tail.  (I was hoping for a Poyo cameo, but no luck).

The final story, by Aubrey Sitterson and Ivan Anaya show that in medieval fantasy times, guilds operated much like unions do today.

This extra-sized issue was a nice treat.  This series is going on a bit of a hiatus until next year, and I look forward to its return, but I look even more forward to the Tavern Tales issue that comes after the next arc.

Quick Takes:

All Star Western #0 - If you read Palmiotti and Gray’s excellent Jonah Hex series, then you’ve basically already read this comic.  We get another retelling of Jonah’s life story, although without a lot of detail.  The end of the book ties in to the next story arc, but the last two pages don’t make a lot of sense, as I have no idea who is narrating them, and the woman shown could not possibly be Hex’s mother (as she looks to be younger than him).  I find my interest in this book waning.

American Vampire #31 – I can’t help feel like this story arc is taking way too long, as Henry wakes up from his coma, Pearl and Skinner have an argument, and Pearl then locates Bloch and his coven.  This issue is as pretty as it always is, but there is a sense of malaise settling over this comic that I don’t like.  The appearance of a character we haven’t seen in a long time at the end does give me reason to hope, however.

Batman Incorporated #0 – How strange to have to spend a whole issue providing backstory on a comic that really has only been around for a few years.  With this issue, we mostly just get little vignettes of Bruce running around the globe setting up Batman Incorporated.  I’m sure there are hundreds of continuity inconsistencies, but since this is a Grant Morrison book, I’m sure we’re all just supposed to look the other way.  I noticed that Chris Burnham, who is usually the artist on this title, got a story credit, which he shares with Morrison.  The art is by Frazer Irving, an artist I respect tremendously (cue request for more Gutsville), and the book looks great.  I do really feel like DC squandered the potential of this series though, by refitting all of their continuity around it, and now it’s like Morrison is just doing what he wants.  He’s telling a gigantic story, so it’s odd to me that it doesn’t impact any of the other Bat-books.

BPRD Hell on Earth – The Return of the Master #2 – This is yet another decent issue of BPRD, as it gets ready for it’s big 100th issue anniversary (and subsequent renumbering).  I like this book, but it has so many various plotlines running right now that each issue does little more than check in on each set of characters.  I can see why Dark Horse is abandoning the ‘series of mini-series’ approach.  Tyler Crook’s art makes me not miss Guy Davis.

Dancer #5 – Nathan Edmondson tosses a nice surprise into the end of Dancer, his CIA clone comic which was pretty good, but in a standard thriller movie sort of way.  It takes nothing to picture this as a Bruce Willis movie.  This series really does not stand up well against some of Edmondson’s other work, especially Who is Jake Ellis?.

FF #22 – This issue basically repeats the events of the latest issue of Fantastic Four, but is told from the perspectives of Valeria and Bentley.  The young clone finally faces his father, the Wizard, in a very memorable scene, but much of the rest of this issue felt like deleted scenes on a DVD.  I do love the art by André Araújo, an artist whose work I’ve not seen before.  This is not an easy book to assign to a new artist – there are a number of characters, many of whom are children.  Araújo makes them all distinct, cute, and visually interesting.  I would definitely seek out something else by him.

Invincible #95 – Robert Kirkman has finally finished off his story about just what Robot and Monster Girl were doing on the Flaxan planet.  Basically, that’s all there is in this comic.  Mark shows up for a single panel, as does his replacement, Bulletproof.  That’s not a bad thing, as the Flaxan story has been pretty interesting, but it does feel like Kirkman lost control of the pacing of this story, and now has to rush through things (this is one wordy comic) so he can meet his big goals for issue 100.  Cory Walker’s art is very nice, although the washed out colours kind of annoyed me.

Invincible Iron Man #525 – Tony Stark continues to make his move on the Mandarin in this all-action issue.  While Stark, Stane, and their new friends do all they can to survive in Mandarin City, Pepper Potts and Bethany Cabe put together a rescue operation using some characters that Matt Fraction introduced in the first issues of his run, and who I’ve hoped to see again.  I very much look forward to seeing how this all ends.

I, Vampire #0 – There’s nothing new in this comic, which shows the origin of Andrew Bennett, and how he came to be a vampire, and the prison for the spirit of Cain (if that’s what that really is).  Were this zero issue to come out back around the time of the I, Vampire/JLD cross-over, it would have helped inform what was happening in the comic, but now this title has moved (slowly) past that point, and revisiting it seems pointless.  I’m getting frustrated with the slow pace of this title, and may be dropping it soon…

Justice League Dark #0 – For this zero issue, Jeff Lemire and Lee Garbett show us the first meeting between John Constantine and Zatanna.  Constantine’s come to America to learn everything he can about magic from Nick Necro, Zee’s boyfriend, and, apparently, the man behind the team’s current problems.  It’s a decent comic, involving a mystic cult, the search for the Books of Magic, and matching trenchcoats and skinny ties, but I kept coming up against a major problem.  People (including himself) can’t keep talking about what a bastard Constantine is without actually showing him acting like one.  In this book, it’s more like he’s vaguely morally questionable…

Secret Avengers #31 – There’s lots of high-stakes action throughout this issue as just a few Avengers have to try to stop the power of the combined Crowns (Serpent and two others).  It’s a contagion situation, with Ant-Man, Venom, and Black Widow the only people who can save the day.  It’s a good, dynamic comic.

Talon #0 – I didn’t have any idea what to expect out of this new series.  I can’t help but feel like DC is stretching out the Court of Owls story from Batman unnecessarily in a bid to cash in on the unexpected success of Scott Snyder’s storyline.  Still, I picked this up because of Snyder’s name being attached to the project, even though the book is really being written by James Tynion IV, with only plot assist by Snyder.  The series follows Calvin Rose, who was the Court’s Talon for about fifteen minutes around five years ago.  He is a skilled escape artist, and he uses those skills to break away from the Court’s influence.  I guess this series is going to be built around his continuing to evade the Court’s other Talons, despite the fact that the organization was left pretty gutted at the end of Batman’s run-ins with them.  I don’t know if that’s enough for a lasting series.  Guillem March’s art is nice, if more visibly influenced by Joe Kubert than anything else I’ve ever seen March draw.  This debut didn’t really impress me all that much, but I am a little curious to see where this goes, so I’ll give it a few issues to gain my loyalty.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #16 – President Captain America is such a goofy, Silver Age-style idea, that it’s really rather fun to watch playing out.  Of course, within a few hours of being sworn in, President Cap has already fixed many of America’s new civil wars and secessions, all perhaps a little too easily.  We also find out just who Mr. Morez, the man who has been running all over the place taking America apart, really is (and it’s not Loki, so my guess was wrong).  Luke Ross draws this issue, and his work is much better than what Billy Tan has been doing for the last few issues.

Winter Soldier #11 – Bucky and Hawkeye spend most of this issue a few steps behind Novokov, the Russian sleeper agent they are pursuing, and the Black Widow, who he has brainwashed into working with him.  It’s a chase issue, but this is the kind of thing that the team of Brubaker, Guice, Thies, and Breitweiser do well, so I enjoyed it.

Wolverine and the X-Men #17 - For this issue, Jason Aaron takes a break from the Avengers Vs. X-Men nonsense that has completely disrupted everything he was doing with this title, and instead gives us a cool story starring Doop, the gelatinous green blob who first appeared in Peter Milligan’s excellent X-Force (which incited fanboy rage, and got turned into X-Statix).  And who better to draw a Doop story than Michael Allred (with colours by Laura Allred), the character’s original creator?  This issue perfectly captures the fun atmosphere Aaron originally filled this book with, while also showing us just what it is that Doop does at the Jean Grey School.  Here’s hoping for many more issues this good in the future.

X-Men Legacy #274 – Now that Avengers Vs. X-Men is almost over, writers are beginning to address its aftermath, instead of spinning out yet another unnecessary tie-in.  In this issue, Rogue and Magneto try to help rescue people from a crushed subway car in Washington DC, and that leads Rogue to re-examine a number of things, most especially her relationship with Magneto.  There is a bit of a ‘special episode’ feel to this book, but it works under Christos Gage’s capable hand.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #694

Astonishing X-Men #54

Fury Max #6

Mars Attacks #4

Rachel Rising #11

X-Men #36

Album of the Week:

Blu & Exile – Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them – After years of anticipation, Blu and Exile drop this follow-up to Below the Heavens.  This album is awesome – Blu is a very sophisticated rapper, approaching the art differently from just about anyone else in the game.  Exile is an incredible producer – I don’t really like his occasional tendency to sample from childrens’ shows, but the rest of the beats here are wonderful, especially ‘Seasons’, which lifts from a Tom Waits song.  Appearances from Black Spade and Fashawn put this over the top.  Highly recommended.

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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 #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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