Inside Pulse » Xenoholics 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. Sat, 22 Nov 2014 04:56:46 +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 » Xenoholics Were Money No Object on May 30th Wed, 30 May 2012 13:00:26 +0000 Welcome to my weekly look at what new graphic novels and trade paperbacks are showing up on the stands.

The Books I Think You Should Buy:

Channel Zero Complete Collection

by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan; Dark Horse, $19.99

It’s been a number of years since I read Channel Zero, Brian Wood’s first published independent comic, and my memory of it is hazy.  I will admit that I wasn’t up-and-coming enough to catch on to Wood’s work from the beginning, and instead tracked down this and Demo almost immediately after reading the first issue of DMZ, his long-running series at Vertigo.

When I read it, I was immediately impressed with Wood’s sense of design, and the strength of his vision.  If I had to pick a comic to compare Channel Zero, and it’s follow-up book with Becky Cloonan, Jennie One, also collected in this new Dark Horse edition, I would have to suggest Jonathan Hickman’s debut, The Nightly News.  Both books deal with similar themes, and both are created by people who have risen to be among the most respected names in comics, although neither of them draw much anymore.

The solicitation text for this book reads as follows:

A blistering take on media control in a repressive future America! DMZ and The Massive creator Brian Wood launched an all-out assault on the comics medium in 1997 with Channel Zero, an influential, forward-thinking series that combined art, politics, and graphic design in a unique way. Touching on themes of freedom of expression, hacking, cutting-edge media manipulation, and police surveillance, it remains as relevant today as it did back then.

The Channel Zero collection contains the original series, the prequel graphic novel Jennie One (illustrated by Becky Cloonan), the best of the two Public Domain design books, and almost fifteen years of extras, rarities, short stories, and unused art. Also featuring the now-classic Warren Ellis introduction and an all-new cover by Wood, this is the must-have edition. See where it all began!

Even though I already own both of the stories collected here in their AIT/PlanetLar editions, I’m sorely tempted to buy this book and read this all again.

Xenoholics Vol. 1

by Joshua Williamson and Seth Damoose; Image, $14.99

Xenoholics is a bit of an odd-duck comic, but it definitely has its appeal.  It’s about a strange group of people (an ex-soldier, an ex-boxer, an actress, a cop, a housewife, and an undercover journalist) who meet each other in a support group for people who have been abducted by aliens.  Everyone in the group has their own issues, but when concrete circles (like crop circles, only in an urban environment) appear in Times Square, and the kindly professor who runs the group’s meetings go missing, everyone has to work together to figure out what’s going on.

The first few issues of this five-issue mini-series were fantastic, as Joshua Williamson set up these bizarre characters and their stranger situations, as well as the environment they operate in (I love the cosplay brothel).  Later, when the series became a little mired in political conspiracy, it started to lose me a little, but I enjoyed the characters in this book until the very end.

Seth Damoose’s art turned me off when I first saw it, and then proceeded to grow on me quite a bit.  His characters are all a little stumpy, but he is deft at conveying a range of emotions.

This series would appeal to anyone who likes Chew or perhaps The Guild.  I’m not sure if this is a one-shot deal or if a second volume is planned – if there is to be more, I’m going to be buying it.

So, what would you buy Were Money No Object?

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The Weekly Round-Up #117 With Scalped, Orc Stain, Pigs, Spaceman, The Unwritten, The Walking Dead & More Mon, 05 Mar 2012 14:00:24 +0000 For a ‘fifth week’, which had a much smaller than usual list of things for me to buy, I think this may be the strongest new comics week I’ve seen in months.  Great stuff lies ahead.

Best Comic of the Week:

Scalped #56

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

With this issue, the final story arc of Scalped begins, leading us to the series finale in issue 60.  Scalped has been just about the best comic I’ve bought for the last few years, and with this issue, I am already beginning to feel its absence.

The first two pages of this issue follow immediately on the ending of the last – Dash Bad Horse takes Lincoln Red Crow to jail, before the story jumps forward eight months, and Jason Aaron begins to wrap everything up by showing us where these characters are ending up.

We see that those eight months have brought a lot of changes to the Prairie Rose Reservation.  Red Crow’s casino is closed, and Agent Nitz is living the good life.  Carol has continued to live cleanly, with the help of Granny Poor Bear.  Dino Poor Bear is still hanging out with his friends (Dino is my favourite character – I hope this isn’t the last we see of him before the book ends, and he’s the character I feel most deserves a happy ending).  Officer Falls Down is now the Chief of Police, and there are a lot more wild dogs around the reserve than their used to be.

The bulk of the book is given over to Dash and Red Crow, of course.  Dash has quit the FBI and the police force, and has donated money to build a new community centre, named after his mother, on the reservation.  He’s with Maggie Rock Medicine, the traditionalist we met back when her father decided to run against Red Crow in elections.  It looks like he’s finally got his life in order, and seems to be doing well for himself.

Red Crow is in jail, awaiting trial for murder.  It’s been made clear to him that the only way he could get free would be by discrediting Dash on the stand.  That’s not going to be hard, given the events of the last 55 issues of this comic, but this comic has always been about Red Crow’s redemption as a human being, and Aaron writes him as a man who prizes his soul over his freedom.  Red Crow’s scenes in this comic are terrific.

It’s too late to suggest anyone jump on to this comic, but I continue to urge anyone and everyone who thinks Jason Aaron’s work at Marvel is good to pick up the first volume of Scalped to enjoy some truly incredible writing and art.

Other Notable Comics:

Orc Stain #7

by James Stokoe

Orc Stain #7 is exactly a year late, having been solicited for February of 2011.  Lately, I’ve been thinking of the relaunched Prophet as a worthy (and probably superior) replacement to this series in my affections, and it’s nice to see a new issue to compare things to.

In Stokoe’s series, the Orcs, who are always nothing but fodder in other fantasy stories, are front and centre.  The hero of our story is a one-eyed Orc (called One-Eye – Orcs are nameless) who is believed to be the Orc that the Orctzar has heard about in a prophecy.  His minions had him captured, but One-Eye managed to escape from the belly of a gigantic beast thing.

In this issue, One-Eye works to escape his pursuers, and is aided by Bowie, the swamp witch who betrayed him once before, and her talking cloak, Zazu.  Bowie is interested in the abilities of One-Eye’s remaining eye, and she strikes a deal with him to help him escape the Orctzar’s army in order to learn its secrets.

They decide that the best way to avoid their enemies is to take the dangerous Mondo Pass through some mountains, which lands them in ever deeper trouble, especially when a group of River Orcs, riding Zors (picture a cross between a Harley Davidson and a squid) come chasing after them.

Stokoe is one insane comics master.  His pages are crammed with more detail than a Where’s Waldo page drawn by Geof Darrow, and he continues to play with anthropomorphic beast-items.  Every new panel of this comic is a bit of an adventure in reading, and there are some gorgeous double-page spreads.  This issue has 31 pages of story for only $2.99, making it well worth the wait.  My hope is that the next issue will come our way before another year passes though…

Pigs #6

Written by Nate Cosby and Ben McCool
Art by Breno Tamura and Will Sliney

I am finding myself increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of this series, but at the same time, I do enjoy it, and appreciate the way that the writers are trying to build on the various characters through the use of flashback.

Pigs is about a group of Soviet sleeper agents (actually the children of the original agents) who were left in Cuba back in the 60s, and have only now been activated.  They’ve snuck into the United States, and rejoined with Felix, who had left the group years before.

Now, they are out to kill a man who is locked up inside the San Quentin Correctional Facility.  Their attempt to hire a killer has failed, and so Havana, who appears to be the group’s leader, is planning a break-in, against the objections of the pacifistic Felix and her sister Ekatarina.

In a flashback (drawn by Will Sliney), we learn that as children, Ekat had a thing for Felix, but it was Havana that first slept with him.  The character dynamics are the most interesting thing about this book, especially since the plot is moving so slowly.

I know that Cosby and McCool have a lengthy plan for this title, but they’re going to have to get a move on it, or people will begin to lose interest.

Spaceman #4

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

There is a lot to like about Azzarello and Risso’s Spaceman, but I find that the linguistics of the comic are what interest me the most.  In this broken-down future, American society has separated very cleanly along class lines, and that distinction is made obvious by language even more than it is in modern-day England.

Orson, the ‘spaceman’ who has rescued the reality TV child star Tara from kidnappers, and everyone in his world (‘the dries’) speak a slang extrapolated from current usage of text and instant messaging.  Orson’s people ‘ear’ instead of ‘hear’, and ‘brain’ instead of ‘think’.  Tara, and her celebrity actor adoptive parents, meanwhile, speak clear contemporary English, although they are also able to stoop to Orson’s level.  Azzarello’s approach is novel, consistent, and very well thought out.  Sure, this type of thing has been done before (Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, which was baldly plagiarized for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome springs to mind in a way that A Clockwork Orange does not), but not to this degree in comics.

In this issue, Orson has to deal with a little too much exposure.  The wharf rats that are his friends now know that he has Tara, while Lilly, the girl with whom Orson has virtual sex, discovers that he is a spaceman, a genetically engineered human, designed to travel to Mars.  Orson’s next actions teach us a little about the social apartheid he’s lived under, and the degree to which our current civilization has fallen apart in this series.

Azzarello is giving us a very thoughtful and well-planned comic, made all the better by Risso’s exceptional visuals.  Great stuff.

The Unwritten #34.5

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and Gary Erskine

Each of these ‘.5′ issues of The Unwritten have been giving us a glimpse or two into the history of The Cabal, the shadowy group that use the power of stories and fiction to control the world, or into the history of some of the prominent characters in this comic.  Until this point, we haven’t seen Wilson Taylor, the father of main character Tom Taylor and author of the fictional Harry Potter-like Tommy Taylor novels.  We know from the regular issues of this comic that Taylor pere worked for The Cabal during the Golden Age of comics, but we have never learned a thing about his life before that.

This issue stars Will Tallis, who became Wilson Taylor some time after his experiences in the Great War.  Now, the First World War has long held an enduring fascination for me, and this issue has Taylor address the origin of some of the great myths of that war – the Angels of Mons, the corpse factory of Thiepval Wood, and the Blood Keep, the place where German soldiers tied nuns to their bells and tolled them to death.  As we learn, many of these stories came from young Taylor himself, although they then came true at the same time, suggesting the depth of Taylor’s connection to the world of fiction.  This is later confirmed when a certain fish-like figure appears before him.

Carey has really crammed these decimal-numbered issues full of information, and much of what I’ve seen makes me want to go back and re-read the series from the beginning, knowing what I know now, especially the ‘Leviathan’ arc, which featured the whale from Moby Dick, which was also all fictional whales.  There is definitely more going on in this comic than I would have thought at the very beginning of the series.

One thing that has consistently surprised me since the comic went bi-weekly is that Peter Gross is still drawing almost every issue.  In a world where it takes many artists three months to draw 20 pages, Gross deserves a lot of credit for almost doubling his output.  He’s joined by Gary Erskine as inker this issue, and the result is work that doesn’t really look like Gross’s or Erskine’s at first.  I’m used to Erskine’s inks making people look very harsh, especially around the jaw (look at Rick Veitch with, and without Erskine to see what I mean), but that didn’t happen here.

The Walking Dead #94

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Here’s a surprise – the new issue of The Walking Dead is very very good.  Month after month, I praise this comic, and month after month, it continues to earn that praise.  I remember when I first started reading this comic (around #9, and I was able to grab up 7 and 8 in a hurry), each issue held an immediate sense of suspense and fear.  I remember the first time a character I thought was important to the book (and therefore protected) was killed suddenly, and of course now, I couldn’t possibly remember her name.

The book has changed a lot since those early issues, and while Kirkman can still pull off those gigantic surprises (like he did when the Community where Rick and his friends have been living was overrun by walkers), the suspense and dread have shifted away from the immediate, to a general sense of fear for the safety of the characters that I’ve grown to really care about.

Currently, the threat is in the form of Jesus, a man who just recently showed up outside the Community, with the promise of introducing our heroes to a larger network of towns and communities that trade with one another.  As usual, Rick responded to this offer with great skepticism and distrust, because that’s what Rick does, although now, in this issue, after having scouted the area for threats, he’s inclined to believe Jesus.

Rick gets a group together to travel to Jesus’s home in the Hilltop.  It’s always nice to see these characters back on the road, as that opens Kirkman up to any number of variations on the usual scenario that we see in this series.  What makes this issue most interesting is the continued growth that we are seeing in Carl, Rick’s son.  Carl sneaks in to meet the tied-up and imprisoned Jesus early in the issue, with the result being that we aren’t all that sure of how much he’s told him.  Carl’s growing independence puts Rick’s plans at risk, and the growing tension between them can really keep this book interesting.  I also like seeing where Rick and Andrea’s relationship is going.

So, another month, another glowing review of Kirkman and Adlard’s greatest work.

Xenoholics #5

Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Seth Damoose

Xenoholics has been a fun little series about people who have been abducted by aliens, and are perhaps now a little addicted to the experience.  At least, that’s how it started out, but by the time this issue has finished (and the first volume of the story with it), we’ve moved squarely into X-Files territory, as the various characters uncover a couple of conspiracies, and an evil plot or two, but never the entire truth.

This started out being a series very much like Image’s popular Chew, but by the end, Williamson has taken it someplace else.  To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about the direction this series ended up taking.  When it appeared to be about a group of delusional people brought together by their twelve-step style support group, and about the reporter who wanted to write about them, I was into things.  Williamson did a great job establishing these characters very well from the beginning.

Even though the government agency conspiracy elements were with the story from the beginning, I found that some of the revelations of this issue lessened the work.  I don’t want to give anything away, so I can’t say much more than that.  There are still some good scenes in this comic, and Seth Damoose’s art has grown on me, but I’m not sure I would return for a second mini-series, were one to be solicited.

Quick Takes:

FF #15 - Nick Dragotta is one versatile artist.  Recently, he channeled the Silver Age in THUNDER Agents, drew modern superheros in Vengeance, and now is giving us a look that is equally June Brigman and Marcos Martin, with a bit of Jordi Bernet tossed in (if that makes any sense to you).  I think that Juan Bobillo’s art on the last few issues of this title was universally reviled (although I kind of liked it, it was wrong for this book), so Marvel has done the smart thing, helping the book to look unique, yet still fit with what Jonathan Hickman is doing in Fantastic Four.  Basically, this comic takes place between the scenes of the parent title, but it works because of the way Hickman uses these secondary characters, and because his story is so epic, it needs further examination.  If this book is to survive, it will probably need to be more essential, or stand on its own two feet though.  I don’t think you could read just this title and understand what’s going on.

Invincible #89 – Now that Mark’s in a coma, someone needs to be Invincible, and that person is Bulletproof.  I don’t know if I care about that – it’s not on the level with James Rhodes taking over for Tony Stark, but Invincible is still one of the most consistently entertaining superhero comics on the stands, and it just keeps getting better.  With Mark laid low by the virus, the Guardians, the Viltrumites, Allen, and Dinosaurus try to work together.  There’s great dialogue, and some terrific character moments – in other words, just another issue of Invincible.

The Shade #5 - This is the best issue of this series yet.  James Robinson is joined by one of my favourite artists – Javier Pulido, to move the Shade’s story to Barcelona.  In order to help his dying great grandson, Shade is looking for a vial of his own blood, which would have to date to the 1850s.  He approaches La Sangre, a vampiric superhero, the ‘protector of Catalonia’ and sort of his daughter, although their talk is interrupted by news that her archnemesis, the Inquisitor, has returned.  Robinson continues to humanise the Shade in this series, which keeps the comic interesting, but is also including many of the cultural details that made Starman so wonderful.  La Sangre lives in one of Gaudi’s apartment buildings, and Pulido draws it magnificently.  Great stuff.

THUNDER Agents #4 – I continue to find this comic very entertaining.  I like how Nick Spencer works a flashback into every issue, this time allowing Sam Kieth to show just how the inventor behind the THUNDER Agents weaponry came to live under the Earth.  There are some nice scenes showing his reunion with Noman, his old friend.  Also, Lightning gets his chance to be a hero.  Kieth’s art works very well with Wes Craig’s, and the book looks great.  The cliffhanger ending feels like something Spencer’s done with this title before though…

The Twelve #10 – The Twelve takes a few pages out of Agatha Christie’s book, with a meeting of the surviving members of the group wherein the Phantom Reporter builds his case and reveals the identity of the Blue Blade’s killer.  If, of course, Agatha Christie’s novels involved sexless robots who believe they are the pinnacle of humankind.  JMS’s story lost some steam when it went on hiatus for a couple of years, but I’m finding myself slowly remembering some of the better details of the earlier issues (having so many flashbacks in this issue helps with that), and I always enjoy Chris Weston’s art.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #7 - In many ways, this series is a better example of Jonathan Hickman’s approach to superhero comics than either his work on Fantastic Four or SHIELD.  It demonstrates his penchant for long-range planning and arranging all of his chess pieces before cutting loose with a well-developed and logical climax.  Threatened by the City, Nick Fury takes the Ultimates to the twin cities of Tian, to enlist the help of Xorn and Zorn, who were introduced in the Ultimate Hawkeye comic.  Esad Ribic draws the whole issue (and it looks great), as Hickman introduces the Hulk to Reed Richards’s City, an element out of Fury’s control.  This is good stuff.  I was disappointed to learn this week that Hickman would be leaving the title, but I’m very pleased to learn that his replacement is going to be Sam Humphries, who has been impressing me with his creator-owned and distributed books Our Love is Real and Sacrifice.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #680

Avengers #23

Moon Knight #10

New Avengers #22

Ultimate Comics X-Men #8

Bargain Comics:

DC Retroactive: Batman – The 80s #1 – There was a time when I was quite young where Todd McFarlane’s drawings of the Reaper blew me away.  I’ve been fond of the character ever since, even though I don’t think he’s been used anywhere other than in this ’80s tribute one-shot.  Mike Barr and Jerry Bingham do a fine job of bringing back that era where I first started reading comics, in a story that features Jason Todd as Robin.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller Vol. 2

Written by Frank Miller
Art by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

Was Daredevil ever better than it was when Frank Miller was involved with it?  It had been years since I had read the Daredevil/Elektra story, so when a local retailer I pop into from time to time was giving away books with a purchase, I thought this would be a nice selection.

This is the second volume of the Daredevil Visionaries series, featuring Frank Miller’s seminal work with this character. It includes issues 168-182.  To give some perspective, that runs from Elektra’s first appearance to the issue immediately after her death.  During that time, Daredevil has numerous run-ins with his ex-girlfriend turned ninja assassin, as well as the person who eventually kills her, Bullseye.  As well, the Kingpin comes out of retirement, his wife Vanessa becomes a crazy bag lady, and Ben Urich becomes a decent character.

So much was done in these fifteen issues that is still being echoed in contemporary comics today.  I thought I had a complete run of these issues, and was surprised to learn that there were some stories included here that I’d never read before.  I was six when the first of these comics came out, and so had gathered them up rather randomly, after Miller returned to the comic for the Born Again story, blew my mind, and caused me to go on a bit of a Daredevil buying spree.

Looking at these stories again after such a long time, there are a few things that really jumped out at me.  The first is Miller’s unorthodox approach to layout.  Most of these comics consist of long thin panels that stretch all the way across the page, making it a forerunner to the ‘widescreen’ look of the early 00’s, or which, at other times, extend vertically, helping bring home a strong sense of New York City’s landscape.

Reading through these comics was a great thrill.  I think issue 172 may have been the first Daredevil comic I ever read.  That’s the one where Bullseye kills a fly with a rubber band and a paper clip, a moment which forever cemented itself as one of the coolest things I’d ever seen in a comic.  It’s nice to see Bullseye as he was, before the strange logic of movie tie-ins caused him to have a target carved into his head.

Another thing which struck me was how little was done to establish the relationship between Daredevil and Elektra.  When I first read this book, her death was shocking, but now, after having seen so many similar scenes played out, I found that I didn’t really feel the depth of these characters’ feelings for one another.

Still, these are classic comics, and reading this reminds me that I don’t dig back into the piles of boxes I’ve amassed often enough to visit old friends.

Album of the Week:

Madlib – Medicine Show No. 13: Black Tape

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The Weekly Round-Up #111 Mon, 23 Jan 2012 14:00:54 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

Prophet #21

Written by Brandon Graham
Art by Simon Roy

I think I may have just found my new favourite monthly comic.  By now, everyone knows the story – Rob Liefeld is relaunching his old Extreme line of comics, known for god-awful art and stories, filled with shoulder pads, pockets, giant guns, anatomically impossible women, and an utter lack of feet.  A lot of these comics were popular for a little while in the 90s, before the lack of good story and the incredible inability to publish even semi-regularly took their toll, and the books all stopped coming out.  I have some vague memories of Prophet – I think he was some kind of Cable rip-off (and yes, I know Liefeld created Cable), but really, it’s not like the comics probably made sense.

Anyway, the relaunch.  This series is being written by Brandon Graham, who is a brilliant artist in his own right.  Graham is best known for King City, an amazing comic that I can not recommend enough.  He is joined on Prophet by fellow Vancouver-ite Simon Roy, who I first became aware of a couple of years back at TCAF when I bought his Jan’s Atomic Heart, a short little graphic novel.  At the time, I remarked that he would be a major talent one day, and I think he may be well on the road with this comic.  (By the way – while everyone is suddenly looking to get copies of Jan’s Atomic Heart, I imagine that it is easier to sample Roy’s second work – stories in Murder Book, an excellent crime anthology series, which can be purchased here – it’s very good).

This series is set in a far-off future, where the entire Earth’s ecosystems have changed radically.  John Prophet suddenly appears in a drill-bit shaped hibernation pod, having been buried a long time.  He has a mission to complete, which he receives updates about through his dreams.  He travels to a jell city (more on this soon) to meet his contact and receive information about his mission.  What this mission is, or what has happened to the planet, or why Prophet was willing to mate with his slug-like contact, are all being left as mysteries for now.

Graham is one of those creators who breathe out good ideas the way we do carbon dioxide.  Every page of this comic has something new and strange on it, from the variety of wild animals that Prophet encounters (he’s only awake for a few minutes before a Tulnaka attacks him) to the strange new inhabitants of the world.  We see a little of an Oonaka meat farm.  These are vaguely simian creatures being raised by some of the creatures that live in the jell city – basically a rotting living jellyfish spaceship that is inhabited by a caste society of creatures that I can’t exactly describe – they’re insect-ish.  Graham keeps his usual wordplay at a minimum, but I was amused by the drones that shoot live ammunition – living creatures that sink claws into their target.

I found every page of this comic a complete treat.  Roy’s art reminds me Moebius, Tony Moore, Paul Pope, and David Lapham (is such a combination is even possible), with a sense that James Stokoe has had an influence on things.  The story is definitely intriguing; I imagine this as being a future Conan comic, but written by William S. Burroughs.  Handing this series to these two is the best thing that Rob Liefeld has ever done in all his years of working in comics.

Other Notable Comics:

Caligula #6

Written by David Lapham
Art by German Nobile

I definitely lost faith in this mini-series somewhere in the second half, but David Lapham pulls everything together very nicely for this issue’s conclusion.  Junius, called Felix, has been both plotting to kill Caligula, the mad emperor, and assisting him in his depravities.  It’s been hard to say just why Felix has acted the way he has, except to suppose that Caligula has some sort of spell on the younger man.  In this issue, Felix and Laurentius, the trustworthy Praetorian, enact their plan and attempt to kill Caligula.

Lapham, at times, has lost the balance of this series, showing some pretty twisted things as Caligula, and his demonic horse (who was in fact installed in the Senate by the real Caligula) Incitatus, have debauched their way through Rome’s collected coffers.

I was critical of this series for colouring issues earlier; that has been corrected here, with the book looking a little brighter, and the art less muddy.  In the end, Caligula was an interesting and unique mini-series, exploring a time period not often seen in comics (scroll down for another Roman-era story though), and blending fact with fiction in an interesting manner.

Chew #23

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

Only John Layman could come up with a plot as twisted as the one that sportswriter Don Frank has concocted in this issue of Chew.  We know Don as the former boyfriend of Amelia Nitz, Tony Chu’s girlfriend.  Last issue, he and a group of his friends kidnapped Tony, and the reason is brilliant.

You see, Tony’s a cibopath – when he eats something, he learns its entire history.  Don wants to write a book about the sex lives of famous dead baseball players, and he’s realized that, were he to exhume the bodies of Babe Ruth and his contemporaries, and force-feed them to Tony, he’d be set.  So simple, it’s amazing no one’s ever thought of it before, right?

So, while Tony is being held captive, and his daughter is missing, we also get to check in on his former partner, Colby, who has been reassigned to the USDA.  We’ve seen this government agency in this comic before – USDA agents are partnered with animals, so Colby’s is now working with Agent Buttercup, a lion.  His career trajectory is taking a similar path to Tony’s at the FDA, as his superior clearly has it out for him.  Of course, Colby has a way of dealing with people…

As always, this book is wickedly funny.  Layman and Guillory are the Brubaker and Phillips of food-based comic science fiction.

Fables #113

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Rick Leonardi, Ron Randall, P. Craig Russell, Zander Cannon, Jim Fern, Ramon Bachs, and Adam Hughes

Every once in a while in Fables, we get the equivalent of a clip show.  In this issue, Willingham works with a number of highly talented artists to give us a few short stories about some of the lesser-known characters that make up the gigantic ensemble cast of this series.

We’re given the classic story (drawn by P. Craig Russell!) of an adulterous princess who is transformed into a turtle, destined to always carry her homeland in a teacup on her back.  Later, we’re given a story about some of the people who live on the islands that float in that cup (drawn by Ramon Bachs).

Zander Cannon and Jim Fern (a very nice combination) draw the longest story, about a sorcerer who casts a spell on Gepetto and the Emperor back in the homelands which has a long-lasting positive effect on Fabletown centuries later (and helps explain some ancient plot points in the earlier days of this series).

Finally, we are given a short piece explaining the reason for the amorous interest of a porcupine in human women.  This story is drawn by Adam Hughes – when is the last time he drew the interiors of anything?

This is a fun issue, but ultimately rather forgettable.  I suppose Mark Buckingham needed a break or something, and I’m not going to begrudge that, but I would like to get back to what is happening at the Farm, and the eventual return of our favourite Fables to New York.

Morning Glories #15

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

This issue of Morning Glories has thirty pages of story in it, for $2.99.  That alone should be enough of a reason to make it my favourite comic this week, and if this week’s issue of Wasteland wasn’t only $1, it would be the best deal.  Still, let’s look at this in perspective.  This issue is like getting one and a half issues of The Avengers, for half the price.  And then, when you factor in  the fact that there aren’t three or four splash pages, you realize you get even more value.

We don’t read comics for the value though, do we?  At least I don’t – I read them for some excellent character work and visuals, and that’s exactly what Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma give us with this issue.  The Woodrun (whatever that really is) is taking place at Morning Glory Academy still, and Hunter, Zoe, and Jun are on a team together, arguing as they wander the woods looking for a set of flags.

Early on in the issue, Jun is taken prisoner by a rival team, leaving Hunter and Zoe, who just had a huge argument at the beginning of this arc, alone together as night approaches.  They eventually stop taking shots at each other after Zoe rescues Hunter from a death trap in a Darma Station (oh wait, I thought I was watching Lost again – I don’t know what the bunker-like room they ended up in was; this is a comic that likes its mysteries) and engage in a meaningful conversation about Hunter’s pursuit of Casey that is both funny and a little sad.

The issue is sprinkled with flashbacks to Zoe’s past, specifically the time period after she killed a teacher at her school (which we saw a few months back in another issue).  Zoe is an interesting character – it’s been hard to tell if she is as tough and cold as she seems, or if she’s just fronting, although this issue, with it’s surprise ending, helps clarify things a great deal.

Spencer’s been doing some very interesting work on this comic, and as his output at Marvel appears to be scaling back a little (Iron Man 2.0 cancelled, Victor Von Doom stillborn), I hope that we will see more of this series being published on time.

Wasteland #33

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Justin Greenwood

In my opinion, some of the best news of the New Year is that Wasteland is back, and that the creators are committed to putting the book out on a monthly schedule again.  For the first year and a half of its existence, Wasteland was just about the most reliable independent comic published at the time, but something happened that caused artist Christopher Mitten to fall way behind, and eventually leave the title.  The first replacement artist didn’t work out for some reason, but now Justin Greenwood has joined the title, and it feels like things are going to work out for it again.

To celebrate getting back into the swing of things, this issue is only $1, and is well worth picking up.  It’s not a perfect jumping on point (Wasteland is a complex series), but Antony Johnston does his best to welcome new readers with a detailed recap inside the front cover, and by shifting the story back to central characters Michael and Abi, who are continuing their journey to A-Ree-Yass-I, a mysterious land that has been talked about as the birthplace of the Big Wet, the event that changed the world.

They are accompanied by Gerr, who they think is a Ruin Runner, like Michael, but who we know to be an agent of Marcus, the leader of Newbegin, who wants to keep Michael from getting where he’s going.

In this issue, we see a new aspect of society – a Cross Chains town.  Basically, this is an isolated place where Christianity is still practiced.  Most of society has become rather tribal at this point, with the Sunner religion claiming most souls, except for city people (who enslave Sunners), and groups like the Dog Tribes.  It’s a surprise to see a holdover faith from the old world still existing here, and I like how Johnston has the people who live in the town revert to a more superstitious and suspicious form of the religion (they think Michael is a demon).

Also of interest in this issue is the introduction of Zakk, a brother of the church who has lost his faith after a visit by a strange man who seems kind of god-like.  This strange man has also recently visited Michael, Abi, and Gerr in their dreams.  Johnston is setting this series up to go in some interesting new directions.

Justin Greenwood does a good job with this debut issue.  I liked his work on Marc Guggenheim’s Resurrection(I do wish we’d see more of that title too), but at first worried that he wouldn’t be a good fit for this title.  His art lacks the rougher, shabbiness of Christopher Mitten’s, which fit this world so well, but he does handle the characters quite well.  Here’s hoping for monthly issues of this series all year.

Xenoholics #4

Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Seth Damoose

Xenoholics has been a fun read, drawing a number of comparisons to Chew in terms of its brand of humour and subject matter.  This issue, I felt, fell a little flat, as it had a lot of plot to get through, and didn’t have as much space for the character interactions and strange little moments that made the earlier issues work so well.

Our group of Xenoholics, the members of a support group for people who have been abducted by aliens, are in the custody of the ‘Men in White’ a governmental group that has been pursuing them since the professor who ran their meetings went missing.  They are interrogated, and the truth about some of their abductions (or lack thereof) are revealed, before they manage to attempt an escape.

This series is well-written and usually pretty well-balanced, but as I said, this particular issue was somewhat lacking in the humour of the previous three.  I am looking forward to seeing how everything wraps up next issue.

Quick Takes:

Batman #5 - I know that Batman is just about everyone’s darling of the New 52 (unless it’s Animal Man, of course), and I have been enjoying it, but this issue bothered me.  There are a few reasons why it didn’t work.  First, when the comic opens, I thought that Bullock and Gordon looked way more like Sam and Twitch, the detectives from Spawn, than they did themselves.  This can be blamed squarely on Greg Capullo, who I think at times forgets which book he’s drawing.  Actually, I don’t know what’s up with Capullo – some of his pages are quite poor (looking like an homage to Todd McFarlane), yet other pages are fantastic; perhaps he’s grown as an artist, but is struggling with monthly deadlines?  I’m not sure.  The next thing that bothers me is that Bullock implies that the Bat-Signal has been running for eight days straight.  I would hope they turn it off in the daytime…  From here, we switch to Batman, trapped in the Court of Owl’s labyrinth.  He gets drugged, and things get a little trippy.  Someone (not sure if it’s Snyder or Capullo) decided to mess with the readers’ heads by turning some pages sideways and others upside down.  It came off as gimmicky, and didn’t add to the story one bit.  The book did redeem itself on the last page though, as we saw Damian’s reaction to Bruce’s disappearance, and it came across as genuinely emotional.  Overall, this issue was a disappointment, but as this arc has been so good, I’ll look past it.

Daredevil #8 – The Spidey/Daredevil cross-over that began in last week’s issue of Amazing Spider-Man concludes here, and it is a fantastic comic.  The two heroes are working to retrieve a stolen holograph projector device, which the Black Cat has been framed for stealing.  Her and Matt have some real chemistry (have they not met before?), as Mark Waid plays the whole thing in the lighter tone DD has adopted of late.  Artist Kano fits with the general look that Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera have established for this title, and the art is wonderful.  If for no other reason, you should buy this comic just to see the novel use DD puts his billyclub to – it involves a helicopter rotor, and is ingenious.

Generation Hope #15  – I had planned on dropping this series after Kieron Gillen left, but the news that this issue would be drawn by Timothy Green II caused me to stick around.  I’ve been a fan of Green’s work since he drew the Star-Lord mini-series that was part of the first Annihilation event a couple of years back.  The problem is, this book doesn’t look like that at all.  I’d say this looks more like Ron Lim drew it in a rush, which is a disappointment.  Storywise, things aren’t bad, as Hope brings the brain-wiped Sebastian Shaw home to Utopia, causing all sorts of problems, and the misfits of the island approach the ‘lights’, out of jealousy of their higher standing in Cyclops’s eye.  I like what James Asmus is doing with this comic, although from what I’ve read on Bleeding Cool, it sounds like this title isn’t going to be around for long – which makes sense, as Hope has a prominent role in Uncanny X-Men, and is going to be a big player in Avengers Vs. X-Men, but can’t hold an audience on her own…

The Invincible Iron Man #512 – Now this feels like the Matt Fraction Iron Man I’ve grown to love over the last few years.  Tony’s a bit of a wreck, as the repulsor that runs his heart is failing, and as the machinations of the Hammers, Stane, and the Mandarin take a toll on his public image.  Also, the Mandarin decides to attack China, which will lead to all sorts of trouble.  As always, the book looks great (this run is the best of Salvador Larroca’s career), and Fraction’s usual skill with character work is evident.  I do want to question the location of Mandarin City.  A text box refers to it as being ‘outside Mongolia China’.  I would assume that means Inner Mongolia; I just wonder why the establishing shot is of a junk sailing in water; this looks like a pretty land-locked region on any map I can see.  It’s all in the details, Marvel!

Legion of Superheroes #5 - I’d completely given up on the Legion after the New 52 Relaunch.  Paul Levitz’s writing was doing nothing for me, and the book was going nowhere.  Still, upon learning that Walter Simonson was going to be drawing this issue, I thought it would be worth checking out, as I’ve long admired his work (I have very strong memories of picking up one of his Thor issues in a department store and being blown away).  Turns out, I was very wrong.  Perhaps had Simonson also written this issue…  I don’t understand the need to give an artist as dynamic and exciting as Simonson a comic where absolutely nothing happens.  This is a ‘day in the life issue’, and each page is supposed to represent a different hour in the day.  That could work in a series like this, with so many interesting characters, but instead, we find that the three pages that consist of Glorith writing a letter, answering her door, and then walking to the mess hall are supposed to take three hours.  How big is Legion headquarters?  Clearly, the time stamp notion was added after the story was written, but to what effect?  And why does nothing more exciting than that happen in this comic?  Here DC had a chance to spotlight a potentially amazing series (because there are few better concepts than the Legion, when handled correctly) to an audience hungry to see new work from a fan favourite artist, and instead, they give us one of the most dull comics of the last ten years.  Shameful…

New Mutants #36 – The ‘Blink’ arc ends here, with the team fighting the demonic metal band.  There are some nice moments between Sunspot and Magma, as Abnett and Lanning understand that the teamwork and interplay between these characters is what makes this title work.  I’m enjoying the Lopezs’ (David and Alvaro) art on this series, but really wish someone would do something about the covers; the last two issues have looked terrible.

Nightwing #5I never would have expected to still be buying issues of this comic five issues in, but I am enjoying Kyle Higgins’s take on Nightwing, and the mysteries of Haley’s Circus have intrigued me.  I like the fact that this issue has Dick battling a demon in a New Orleans cemetery; it’s not the kind of thing we usually see from this character.  Eddy Barrows is also doing very good work in portraying Nightwing as essentially an acrobat who fights crime.

Planet of the Apes #10 – In this issue, we get a little better sense of the history of the conflict between the apes and the humans, and we see a little more of the shared childhood of Alaya and Sullivan.  We also follow a contingent of apes who have been tracking the humans who escaped the attacks on Skintown.  This is a remarkable series.  I was kind of confused in a few places though – especially in the scene where one person tossed another out of the airship – I don’t know who the guy with Native American-style face makeup was.

Superior #7 – Mark Millar finishes off his Superman series exactly as you would have expected the series to end.  The fact that this entire issue is predictable (except for the very nice scene where the actor steps up) doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a very winning formula.  This is a decent enough series, with some nice artwork by Leinil Francis Yu.  I’m probably going to be giving their Supercrooks a try – as much as I find Millar a hard personality to take, he is a pretty accomplished writer, and supporting creator-owned work is always a good thing.

THUNDER Agents #3 – I guess, when updating a group of older superheroes, and being confronted with one named NoMan, it’s natural to have him slant towards the existential.  Having this character reflect on his life, while searching for THUNDER tech in a gigantic underground city, works well.  I loved the flashback pages by Walter Simonson (two books in one week – very cool), and also enjoyed Wes Craig’s work.  Nick Spencer has done a solid job with this series.  I have no idea what’s up with the formatting of this comic though – the interior pages are printed on a thicker stock than the cover; it’s a nice reading experience, but I’m sure it jacked up shipping costs, and it didn’t seem to serve any purpose.

Thunderbolts #169You have to wonder, with the number of times that modern superheroes and villains have ended up in King Arthur’s Court, that they aren’t a little more savvy when they see people with strange technology or abilities.  Still, Jeff Parker takes the escaped group of Thunderbolts to Arthur’s time, and it’s a very good story.  I like how he’s writing Satanna, and it’s very nice to see Kev Walker working on this title again – his art is great.

Ultimate Spider-Man #6 – I hadn’t intended to get caught up in this title, but the first five issues were so good that I felt I should try buying this issue off the stands for a while.  I find myself really liking Miles Morales as a character – he’s a nice, realistic kid, trying to do some interesting things.  And, unlike a lot of Bendis’s other work lately, I feel like enough happens in each issue to satisfy me.  This particular issue has Miles stop a crime and get broadcast on the news as the new Spider-Man, and have a serious chat with his mom.  We also saw more of his uncle, The Prowler, who is building up to be an interesting character.  Also, as much as I’ve liked Sara Pichelli’s art on this book, I was very happy to see Chris Samnee show up for the issue; his art is fantastic.

Uncanny X-Force #20 – I kind of figured that X-Force couldn’t stay as good as it has been lately.  This issue is kind of a mess, as Captain Britain abducts Psylocke and Fantomex, and the rest of the team hangs out in a Danger Room, generally disagreeing with the Age of Apocalypse Nightcrawler.  It seems that Otherworld, the home of the Captain Britain Corps is under attack from mysterious forces, and so they decide it’s the right time to put Fantomex on trial for killing Apocalypse.  Not only that, but, because they believe so strongly in the importance of giving evil beings like Apocalypse the chance to reform, like Jamie Braddock did, they have no choice but to execute Fantomex and destroy his molecules.  Without irony, I might add.  Part of why this issue didn’t work all that well is due to Greg Tocchini’s art.  I liked it when he and Rick Remender worked together on The Last Days of American Crime, but here I found his work very difficult to follow.  I see from the solicitations for the next few issues that he’s sticking around; I hope his storytelling improves.

Uncanny X-Men #5Kieron Gillen’s writing some of the best X-Men we’ve seen in a long time.  This issue is so good, that I didn’t hardly notice that Greg Land was drawing it.  For the most part, this comic is taken up with Psylocke suggesting that the Extinction team check out the evolved region of Montana that was created in the Dark Angel Saga, in Uncanny X-Force.  Of course, she has to keep what happened a secret from everyone, so there is some nice conflict there (especially since Magneto knows about X-Force).  Checking out this strange land gives Gillen the chance to split the team into squads, which leads to a wonderful conversation between Cyclops and Storm.  Actually, all of the character interaction in this book, from Danger’s annoyance at being used only as a communicator, to Namor’s arrogance are spot-on.  There is a strange little conversation between Cyclops and Captain America that feels a little forced though, like Marvel was trying to foreshadow some kind of conflict between them and the Avengers…  (By the way, I’d be way more interested in that coming cross-over were Gillen one of the writers for it).

Venom #12 – I’ve been enjoying Rick Remender’s take on Venom, but I think I’m done.  To begin with, it was the concept of Venom as a government agent that appealed to me.  Now that Flash Thompson has taken the symbiote AWOL with him, I find my interest waning.  I probably would have stuck with the book for another six issues or so, but knowing that issue 13 will be followed by 13.1-13.4, with a new comic every week, guest-starring a bunch of characters who can’t make their own books work, like X-23 and the girl Ghost Rider, I just don’t have any desire to keep reading this series.  It’s too bad too, because the change that happens in Betty and Flash’s relationship in this issue surprised me, and I would like to see how it plays out.  Maybe I’ll check the comic out again after the Marvel greed-train rolls on down the track, but I feel like I probably won’t.  I hope someone at Marvel is reading this, and is learning that there isn’t that much interest in ‘events’ like this, at least from me.

Wonder Woman #5Well, this was an odd issue.  Diana meets someone who may be a half-brother, and gets into it with Poseidon, as Brian Azzarello continues to explore the Greek gods of the New 52.  Tony Akins draws this issue and the next.  I loved his work on Jack of Fables, and it’s nice to see him drawing again – his Poseidon is pretty crazy, and not the least what I expected.  This is an intriguing title, which is taking its time to move through it’s story, but definitely has my interest.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #678

Avengers #21

Avenging Spider-Man #3

Legion of Monsters #4

Moon Knight #9

Bargain Comics:

Justice League Dark #4 – Finally, after I stop picking this book up, it starts to come together, as some of the various characters meet (apparently for the first time), and we get a better sense of what is going on with the Enchantress.  I’m pleased to see some forward momentum, but everyone acts very overwrought, and I can’t really see this series working after the first arc.

Mike Carey’s One-Sided Bargains

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Mike Perkins and PJ Holden

This prestige format collection of three pieces that Mike Carey once published through Caliber came out in 2006, but I saw it for the first time a couple of weeks ago, with a nice $1 price tag.

I’ve been admiring Carey more and more over the last few years.  His Lucifer was brilliant, as is his Unwritten. I even found myself enjoying his long run on X-Men, although not always to the same degree. Anyway, this book has three parts to it.

Doctor Faustus, drawn by Mike Perkins, is a retelling of the classic story of the Professor who made a deal with the Devil to gain knowledge.  In Carey’s vision, the story is told through the testimony of Faustus’s young servant, who had great love for the man.  Carey incorporates modern understandings of astrophysics into the story, and it is amusing to watch someone from a distant time try to understand such new concepts.  It’s a very well-told, and well-illustrated story.

The second story, Suicide Kings, drawn by PJ Harvey, concerns very similar circumstances.  A group of meat packers who play cards regularly are irritated by the fact that one of their number always wins.  He strikes them as a bit of a religious freak, so they come up with a practical joke which involves an actor dressing up as the devil and playing for the man’s soul.  This is a very effective horror story.

The final story in this book is a bit of prose (with a spot illustration by Michael Gaydos) about a book reviewer who becomes the target of a writer whose work he panned.  This eventually leads to gigantic Arcade in Murderworld-style deathtraps.  It’s good stuff.

Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha & Omega #1 - I would have expected a lot more from Brian Wood returning to Marvel (and mainstream superhero comics) after so many years, but this mini-series is so clearly editorially-driven, that there is very little Wood can do with the plot.  Quentin Quire, one of Grant Morrison’s cooler New X-Men characters, takes over Wolverine’s mind, trapping him and Armor in a Days of Future Past-style environment modeled on a video game.  This story feels like it’s covering the same ground that the first year of Jason Aaron’s Wolverine series pounded to death.  I like Roland Boschi’s pages, and find that the Mark Brooks art is much better than I would expect (in other words, I wouldn’t have recognized it as his), but I don’t understand why thirty-odd colourists are credited here.  I wish Marvel would learn not to rush projects like this in the hope of cashing in on a fleeting sales uptick on other books, or slightly higher than normal interest in a character.

X-Club #2 – The X-Club could be an interesting off-shot of Marvel’s X-Men side of things, as it concerns itself with the tribulations of the team’s science-based members.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to think of threats that can be fought with science, but not super-powers.  Sure, scientists on TV and in comics are always battling some strange disease, so that’s here, but only Dr. Rao is handling it.  The rest of the team are kind of superfluous to the plot, as I understand it, except that Dr. Nemesis is just so amusing, and therefore the best part of this comic.  I really don’t remember what happened in the first issue though, so this issue, with it’s utter lack of recap, just confused me.  Si Spurrier writes a great Nemesis, but plotting?  Not so much…

X-Men #23 – As the first of the post-Regenesis arcs of this comics comes to a close, we see that the next one will involve Jubilee and vampires (again), making it clear that the stated intent of Psylocke’s team – to act as security for Utopia – will not actually be shown in the series that is supposed to be about that.  I still don’t understand how Victor Gischler got himself an X-Men comic (although, the way they’re starting these things up, soon enough there will be one for every writer working in comics).  Also, when did Will Conrad’s art start looking so much like Mike Deodato’s?  I had to check the credits to be sure a couple of times.  As for the actual comic, it’s okay, without being in any way original or extraordinary.  There are Sentinels.  War Machine’s in it.  Stuff happens.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Any Empire

by Nate Powell

There are some stories that can only be told in comics, and Nate Powell’s Any Empire is a perfect example of that.  His story, about childhood in the outer fringe of suburbia in the 80s, is about as impressionistic as a story can be.  I feel like I missed out on some of the nuance, but still enjoyed the originality of Powell’s vision a great deal.

Lee is a solitary, self-absorbed child with a fascination for GI Joe and warfare.  He fills his days imagining daring assaults on the backyard barbeque or picturing helicopters circling overhead.  Powell shows his imaginings as taking place within the same frame as the real world, so while Lee walks one way through a field of tall grass, we see a patrol of grunts coming the other.  We see his slightly-altered Snakeyes and Lady Jayne going through the motions of attacking Cobra bases all over the backyard.

In Lee’s circle is a kid named Purdy, who is a vicious little guy.  He too shares some of Lee’s interest in war, but he also always has to be the alpha male in any group; this leads to problems for him with The Twins, a couple of thugs in his age group who like to torture the box turtles that live throughout the area.

Sarah is a girl who lives around there as well, who is fixated on helping small animals, especially the turtles she keeps finding with cracked shells.  She fancies herself a young Nancy Drew, and so investigates the mutilations, and keeps a slightly disturbing journal.

As with most childhood acquaintances, these three kids circle each other without actually becoming friends.  As people move away, they drift apart, although eventually they all meet up in the book’s conclusion, which I’ll be honest, I’m not too sure of.  Powell’s incorporation of fantastical visions makes his plot a little hard to trust; the reader is left asking if what he’s reading is really happening, or is one character’s flight of fancy.  Powell used similar techniques in his first graphic novel, Swallow Me Whole, which dealt with issues of mental health.  The two books work well together.

Any Empire is a solid read, even if I am coming away from it with more questions than answers.

Freakangels Vol. 6

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Paul Duffield

If you set aside all of the ruined, flooded England, post-civilization trappings of Freakangels, Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield’s impressive and popular webcomic turned trade paperback series, you get an interesting study of twelve friends who try to do the right thing, and have a hard time maintaining their closeness with one another.

The Freakangels are twelve immensely powerful individuals who were all born at the exact same time, and who were ultimately responsible for ruining the world (or, at the least, England) in a fit of anger and fear.  Now, in this sixth and final volume, they are reunited and trying to make things right.

The various characters (who are very hard to keep straight, as they look very similar to one another) each have their own specialties, but since ‘upgrading’ their ‘package’, or rebooting their powers to be more effective, they are beginning to come together again in common purpose, and think they can fix their mistakes.

There is a lot more talking in this volume than in the previous ones, and the book would have been boring were Ellis not such a strong writer.  Duffield’s expansive panels work well with this type of story, keeping the pages turning where other artists might get bogged down in Ellis’s script.  I enjoyed this series, and look forward to seeing more from Duffield, who is a very talented artist.

Swords of Rome Vol. 1: The Conquerors

Written by Jean Dufaux
Art by Philippe Delaby

Ancient Rome has long held a fascination for me, but not to the extent that I’ve ever made a concerted effort to study it.  Instead, I’ve just sort of gleaned my knowledge from TV shows like Rome, movies like Spartacus(the TV show of the same name doesn’t interest me), or comics like David Lapham’s Caligula.  Therefore, my knowledge base is especially specious, but I don’t really care – stories set in this time are usually pretty interesting.  It is in that spirit that I picked up the first volume of Swords of Rome, a French comic published in North America by ibooks, the same people who published Don Lomax’s Vietnam Journal(at least at the beginning).

Swords of Rome tells the story of the assassination of Emperor Nero, and his succession by Nero, his adopted son.  The change of power has been orchestrated by Claudius’s wife, Agrippina, who he had planned to divorce.  We’ve seen all of this before – the intrigue, the alliances between different nobles and power-hungry slaves.  I don’t want to say that it doesn’t work here, because this is a decent read, but it doesn’t stand out.  I frequently found it difficult to remember which character was which (especially among the women), and found the plot a little predictable (and yes, I know it’s based on historical events).

Artwise, this book is as lovely as most French comics.  Delaby’s faces are expressive (if rather similar), and he has a good handle on period details.  I often found the colouring in the book to be strange – some pages look like they’ve been purposefully grayed, and so I’d assume we were looking at a nighttime scene, but then the next page would be bright and colourful, while still showing the same scene.  Also, it looks like the people at ibooks edited out some of the nudity in this comic – that doesn’t really bother me, but it’s kind of strange.

Album of the Week:

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Soul Time!

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The Annual Round-Up for 2011 With The Walking Dead, Scalped, Sweet Tooth & More 2011 Hits! Thu, 12 Jan 2012 15:00:13 +0000 2011 was a big year for comics, for reasons other than just DC’s New 52.  Here’s what I thought of the year that was.

Best Comics of the Year:

I was going to back through all of my Weekly Round-Up columns for the year and calculate a Top Ten list based on which books I’ve named ‘best of’ each week.  The problem is, that out of the 52 weeks of the year, I honoured 28 different titles that way.  Also, with mini-series and monthly comics, often the series is more than the sum of its parts, as the cumulative effect of the story, or some distance from reading individual issues, changes the reader’s opinion over time.  So, in inexact order, here’s what I thought was the best of the year.

Scalped got named ‘best of the week’ nine times this year, and I think they only published ten issues in 2011.  Scalped is hands-down the book I most look forward to each month.  Jason Aaron and RM Guera’s sweeping story of life on the Prairie Rose Reservation is incredible.  The series is building towards its conclusion now, and big things are happening in each issue.  I’m surprised by how much I’ve come to care about some of the characters in this comic, and I can’t wait to see how everything is going to work out for them.  This is one of the best crime comics ever written, and I think that anyone who has enjoyed Aaron’s Wolverine, X-Men, or Punisher should buy one of the Scalped trades – you’ll be amazed by how much better it is.

A close second for my favourite comic is The Walking Dead, which had an amazing year.  Rick Grimes and his people settled into their new community, although that was not without its problems, and one major cast member took a bullet in a scene that just about had me drop the comic in shock (and I’m not that kind of a reader).  This book is consistently great month after month, as both Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard pour their hearts into it.  As well, the TV show’s second season was awesome.

Brian Wood has had a bit of a difficult year, in that he’s had one series cancelled, and he seems to have been cut loose at DC/Vertigo (which is Dark Horse’s gain – he’s doing The Massive and Conan for them now).  None of that has affected the quality of his work though, as both DMZ and Northlanders have been excellent.  DMZ finished very well, and Northlanders, which is going to be cancelled at issue 50, has been very good, with it’s long-form Icelandic Trilogy, and some good done-in-one issues.  The quality of the art on that book has been great this year.

Some other Vertigo titles have maintained a high level of quality this year as well, as a couple of the writers there became the darlings of the New 52 relaunch.  American Vampire (written by Scott Snyder of Batman and Swamp Thing fame) has been very good, both in its parent title and its spin-off mini-series Survival of the FittestSweet Tooth, written by Jeff Lemire, who has gotten great acclaim for Animal Man, has also been excellent, although Lemire has not drawn every issue this year.  Luckily, the art on those issues has still been terrific, as they’ve been drawn by Matt Kindt.

As well, The Unwritten has really stepped up, experimenting with a twice-monthly publishing schedule, and explaining a number of the secrets that have filled the book since its inception.

In terms of independent monthlies, The Sixth Gun has been one of the most consistent comics on the shelves.  Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt have done some fantastic work on this genre-bending mash-up of Westerns and magic.

This has also been a wonderful year for mini-series at Image.  Jonathan Hickman’s The Red Wing was a little confusing, but ultimately a very impressive time travel space opera, with art by Nick Pitarra.  These two are teaming up again for The Manhattan Projects, which is an on-going starting in March.  I can’t wait.  The Infinite Vacation, by Nick Spencer and Christian Ward, got off to a great start but has kind of disappeared.  I’m hoping it gets finished soon.  I also really enjoyed Nathan Edmondson’s Who Is Jake Ellis?, an espionage story about a man with another man living inside his head.  Tonci Zonjic’s art made it one of the best looking comics of the year.  Echoes, by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Rahsan Ekedal was one of the creepiest comics I read all year.  It was about a schizophrenic man who discovered that his father was a serial killer, and then began to believe that he may be one too.  It was amazing.

Finally, this was a good year for new issues of incredibly random, unpredictable independent comics.  Adrian Tomine gifted us with a new issue of Optic Nerve, and Michael Kupperman treated us to more Tales Designed to Thrizzle.  Ethan Rilly finally continued his excellent Pope Hats as well.  I guess this is a good place to also discuss Sam Humphries and Steven Sanders’s Our Love is Real, a self-published and self-distributed one-off about a future society where people have sex with animals, vegetables, or minerals, but not each other.  I should probably also mention Nate Simpson’s Nonplayer, which was launched to universal praise, and was probably the nicest looking comic to come out all year.  Too bad the second issue hasn’t even been solicited yet, as I really want to read more.

The best superhero comic of the year was Xombi, by John Rozum and Frazer Irving at DC.  It captured the feel of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, while being its own unique thing.  There was a ton of originality to this book – powered nuns with pun-based names (Nun the Less has shrinking powers), ancient floating cities, and some very creative villains.  Too bad it only lasted six issues; I wish DC had held off and made it one of their New 52 titles – then it would have gotten the audience it deserved.

The second best superhero comic this year was the last run on Detective Comics, written by Scott Snyder and drawn alternately by Jock and Francesco Francavilla.  This was the best Batman I’d read in years, as James Gordon and his family were given centre stage for some very creepy and effective stories.  Snyder had a real good handle on Dick Grayson as Batman, and the book looked terrific.  I know that Snyder’s current work on New 52 Batman is getting a lot of praise, but this was so much better (the art has a lot to do with that).

Other Notable Comics of 2011:

The other independent and creator-owned comics that I enjoyed the most this year were Spontaneous, the latest Criminal mini-series, the relaunched Dark Horse Presents anthology series, Chew, Blue Estate, Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker, Li’l Depressed Boy, Morning Glories, The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, Xenoholics, Pigs, Skullkickers, Witch Doctor, All Nighter, and Severed (this was the year of Scott Snyder).  Invincible had another terrific year, as Robert Kirkman pushed the characters into new situations and really tested their convictions.

Becky Cloonan’s mini-comic Wolves was one of my favourite things this year, and Rick Veitch’s The Big Lie was thought provoking and fun.

One doesn’t normally expect much from licensed comics, but John Ostrander continued his expectation-shattering work with the Star Wars universe, finishing up Star Wars Legacy wonderfully in the mini-series War, and starting his new Agent of the Empire series.  At Boom!, Farscape ended its run with a huge, year-long storyline that had me anticipating each new issue more than I ever would have expected.

One of the biggest surprises of 2011 was how amazing Darryl Gregory and Carlos Magnos’ Planet of the Apes series is.  It is beautifully-drawn, and contains a ton of political commentary that could be as much about the state of Israel as it is Ape City.  The secondary title, Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes, by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko is just as good.

At DC, I mourn the passing of Secret Six (the new Suicide Squad book does not fill the gap at all) and Batman Incorporated, but have been very happy to buy monthly issues of books like Batwoman, Swamp Thing, and Animal ManThe Flash has been a pleasant surprise, as has Wonder Woman and The ShadeBatman and Robin also deserves way more recognition than its been getting.

Too much of the year at Marvel was taken up with Fear Itself, but in and among the endless tie-ins, there have been some very good comics.  Vengeance is one of the best books they’ve published in years, and Uncanny X-Force went from being a guilty pleasure to a book I really look forward to reading each month.  As well, Amazing Spider-Man has been great, and the new Daredevil series is gorgeous.

Jonathan Hickman’s titles have also been better than I would have expected.  I haven’t gotten this much enjoyment out of the Fantastic Four since John Byrne was on the book.  Likewise, Warren Ellis’s Secret Avengers has been sublime.

I loved the second issue of Matt Fraction’s Casanova: Avaritia, and can’t wait to see how that series ends.  It makes up for Fraction’s letting me down in just about every other area this year.

The Year in Graphic Novels:

The best graphic novel that I read all year was also the first.  Lint, the 20th installment of Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library, tells the life story of one man from birth to the grave.  As with all Chris Ware comics, it’s gorgeously drawn, quite thought-provoking, and very literary. Similar to this book is Daniel Clowe’s Wilson, a study in curmudgeon-ism told in a series of one-page strips.

Memoir became a theme to my reading this year, with Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life being one of the more impressive books I worked through (it is one big tome). As well, I found Sara Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, a fascinating window into a country I rarely hear anything positive about. I appreciated her ability to show Israeli reality as diverse and accepting, while still holding the society accountable for the ills it heaps on the occupied territories.

Local cartoonist Zach Worton’s graphic novel about The Klondike scratched my itch for good historical comics, while telling a variety of stories from the same era very well. This book is highly recommended.

This year Dark Horse collected into one volume the European series Vampire Boy, written by the (recently) late Carlos Trillo and drawn by the always-brilliant Eduardo Risso. This book plays around with the vampire genre, giving it roots in Ancient Egypt, and was surprisingly touching.

The best new discovery I made this year in terms of collections and original graphic novels is Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder. Dark Horse published a new story, Voice in its own volume, and I was completely blown away by the depth of her world, and the skill with which she tells stories of the people within it. Shortly after that, Dark Horse began releasing the two-volume Finder Library series (the secondof which I am most of the way through as of this writing). These collect all 38 issues of the original comics series, plus whatever additional material was published along the way. The first volume should be required reading for any fans of fantasy, science fiction, or just character-driven, beautiful comics.

Late to the Party:

No matter how many years you’ve been reading comics, you’re always going to find some title that you’ve never heard of, or that you ignored and were wrong to.

I haven’t put much time into webcomics, because I generally hate reading my comics on the computer, but I have become addicted to Wondermarkthis year, reading two of the Dark Horse collections, and stopping by the site a few times a week to read the newest strips.  David Malki repurposes old illustrations to make his strips, and they are very funny.

A long-running series that I was always aware of but had never read before this last year was Wet Moonby Ross Campbell.  It’s a very adult young-adult series about pansexual goth kids going to college in the Deep South.  I never thought I’d like this series, but I find I devour every installment that I get.  I just hope that Campbell has a new volume in the pipeline.

This was also my year for two other discoveries that I really should have been up on for years.  The first is Tony Moore.  I read his Echo, and loved it, and have now started in on Strangers In Paradise.  The other is Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto.  In this series, he reworks an old Osamu Tezuka Astro Boy story for a more modern audience.  I’m only 3/8s of the way through the series right now, but I can’t wait to finish it.

Best Music of the Year:

1. The Roots – Undun

2. Dessa – Castor, The Twin  (Doomtree!)

3. The Weeknd – House of Balloons (I still like this more than Thursday or Echoes of Silence)

4. Zara McFarlane – Until Tomorrow

5. Doomtree – No Kings

6. Blue Scholars – Cinemetropolis

7. Blue Sky Black Death – Noir

8. Foreign Exchange – Dear Friends: An Evening With The Foreign Exchange

9. Atmosphere – The Family Sign

10. The Knitting Factory re-releases of Fela Kuti’s albums (admittedly,they all came out in 2010, but I bought six or seven of them this year and played the hell out of them).

Best Books of the Year:

It’s not just about comics.  Books without pictures are also important.  These are the best ones I read this year:

John Sayles – A Moment in the Sun

Dave Eggers – Zeitoun

Joseph Boyden – Through Black Spruce

John Brandon – Citrus County

Colson Whitehead – Sag Harbor

Dany Laferriere – Heading South

David Mitchell – Black Swan Green

Roberto Bolano – Amulet

Joseph Boyden – Louis Riel & Gabriel Dumont

Eric Martin and Stephen Elliott – Donald

So what were your top picks for 2011?  Comment, and tell us what you loved this last year.

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The Weekly Round-Up #107 With The Activity, DHP, Fables & Xenoholics Mon, 26 Dec 2011 14:00:51 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

The Activity #1

Written by Nathan Edmonson
Art by Mitch Gerads

I loved Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country (which I was admittedly late to discover). I also got into the TV show The Unit for a while.  This new comic (I’m not sure if it’s a mini-series or an on-going; Image is pretty bad about telling us things like that) fills the gap that those two forms of entertainment has left.

The Activity is about a super-secretive group of operatives recruited from various military and intelligence organizations in the American government.  The book opens with them executing a perfect snatch-and-grab of someone we assume is a Mexican drug lord.

The team returns to their home base, where we learn that they recently lost a member, before they are sent to Rome for a new mission, with their new replacement.  The mission is pretty straightforward – they have to cover the tracks of a CIA operative who had to abandon his cover by burning down his office and scrubbing his car – but it allows Edmonson space to introduce the characters a little, and establish the book’s parameters.

There is some question as to the loyalty of the new member, dubbed Fiddler in typical, annoying code-name speak.  Other than that, we are given next to no information about what this team really does, or who their masters are.  What is clear though, is that this is going to be a very cool comic.

I like Gerads’s art a great deal.  He handles complex action scenes, like the one in the Mexican restaurant, very well, and differentiates the characters nicely.  Edmonson has proven his ability to write compelling spy-based comics (read Who Is Jake Ellis?), and I feel that this comic is already heads above his work on Grifter at DC.  Check this out.

Other Notable Comics:

Dark Horse Presents #7

Written by Mike Mignola, Andi Watson, Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, MJ Butler, Stan Sakai, Tony Puryear, Brandon Graham, Felipe Melo, and Carla Speed McNeil
Art by Mike Mignola, Andi Watson, Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Mark Wheatley, Stan Sakai, Tony Puryear, Brandon Graham, Juan Cavia, and Carla Speed McNeil

There are some new members to the the exclusive Dark Horse Presents library this month.

I don’t know who Tony Puryear is, but the first chapter of his Concrete Park definitely has my attention.  It’s set in a place called Scare City, a place beset by gangs, pimps, and protests, in what I assume is a not-too distant future.  These eight pages are spent introducing a few characters, and setting the scene, and I can’t wait to read more.  This has a real DMZ meets Love and Rockets feel going for it.

There is also a Brandon Graham story, which is a huge treat.  He is moving into some more abstract territory than King City, with this tale about a man’s voice who left him, returning over after the man’s death.  He has to deal with the various Secrets, Ideas, and Doubts that are inhabiting the man’s labyrinthine home.  Graham is working on some other level, with some of his usual puns being given centre stage, in a story that deserves to be read a few times over.

MJ Butler and Mark Wheatley give us the beginning of Skultar, a very self-aware barbarian fantasy parody that is decent, if not all that special.  There is also a Usagi Yojimbo story.  I can’t ever really get into these.

Mike Mignola has a Hellboy story, recounting one of the more mysterious cases during HB’s time in Mexico.  This is a very standard Hellboy story – there are monsters, bodies rising from the grave, and Hellboy falls down.  Mignola needs to shake this stuff up a little bit; it’s getting a little old.

Among the established stories, the Finder chapter is the best, as Jaegar meets a person with abilities that both represent the pinnacle of his profession, and which nullify the need for someone like him.  McNeil’s art is really evolving into something wonderful lately; it’s much richer than before (and I like her early stuff a great deal).

Howard Chaykin’s Marked Man is almost over, and that’s a good thing.  I hope Neal Adams’s Blood is going to be finished soon; it’s unreadable.  The Andi Watson story is decent, in a Borges-for-children way, and The Adventures of Dog Mendonca and Pizzaboy is pretty sub-par.

Fables #112

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, and Dan Green

Ah, the Christmas issue – proof that time really does move forward in comics.  This is an extra-sized issue, something I didn’t notice until I was more than half-way through and started wondering how Willingham and company had packed so much into one comic.

Anyway, the Fables return to the Farm just in time for Christmas, and after a large party, Rose Red is visited by a talking cricket (I think it’s safe to assume this is Jiminy), who takes her on a Christmas Eve journey to meet with three ‘Paladins of Hope’.  Apparently, a while back, when every issue was taken up with Rose Red’s conversation with the ghost of her mother, she decided to become a paladin of Hope.  I don’t remember that part happening exactly, so I was a little confused until I decided to just go with it.

The three paladins (there used to be fourteen) each represent a different aspect of hope.  Santa Claus, for example, represents the ‘hope for justice’, which is different from actual justice.  The Rose Red part is cool, in a Christmas Carol sort of way.

Willingham also checks in on Bigby and Snow and their family, who while still absorbing the news that their daughter will be the new North Wind, decide to have a quiet family Christmas at home.  Also, Nurse Spratt is laying a trap for the Fables back in Fabletown.

I still think it’s rather strange that Frau Totenkinder (I know that’s not her name anymore, but I forget what she’s called now – Briarthorn?) is back, but no one is talking about it.  Perhaps we’ll get there eventually.  Fables feels a little between big stories right now, and the next issue is going to be an interlude, but I feel confident that Willingham has something up his sleeve for 2012.

Xenoholics #3

Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Seth Damoose

It’s now very clear that there is a lot more going on in Xenoholics than there seemed at the beginning of the series.  This book is basically about a group of people who enjoy being abducted by aliens, who had formed a support group.  The professor who ran their sessions went missing, and then a government agent dressed all in white came after them.  The group hid out in a strange sex club for alien fetishists, before a larger group of Men in White showed up.

This issue opens with a massacre at the sex club, followed by the rescue of two of the group members by actual aliens.  Now, as this issue has progressed, we learn a number of things.  The government believes that only one member of the group was actually ever abducted, and this person is a ‘key’ to something (it’s a little Ghostbusters-esque).  The professor saw this group as an experiment, but in what, we don’t know.  The aliens don’t appear to be malevolent; instead, it is suggested that they are well-known to the government, and the aliens are actually the ‘good guys’.

Williamson has set up a lot of material in just three issues, and I look forward to continuing to explore this world with him.  The stylistic and thematic comparisons to Chew are easy to make; if you are a fan of that book, you will probably like this one quite a bit.  Seth Damoose’s cartoony, stubby people are growing on me.

Quick Takes:

Avengers #20 – Well, the Avengers actually do something in this issue, as they split up to try to find Norman Osborn, and instead find random henchmen who seem to get the upper hand quite easily.  I like Daniel Acuna’s art, but I find myself increasingly bored with Bendis’s writing.

Batman #4 – This issue really surprised me, as Bruce tells Dick about how, when he was a kid, he investigated the Court of Owls, which seems to have returned to Gotham, thinking they must have been responsible for his parent’s death.  It’s not the new addition to Batman’s back story that surprised me – this is the DCnU after all, but instead it was the different style of art used in these scenes.  I couldn’t quite figure out who drew these pages – it’s a little Max Fiumara, and a little Jock, and it looks very nice.  As it turns out, Greg Capullo is the only artist credited for this issue, so I guess it’s him.  Who knew he could be so original and good?  I just wish he’d draw the rest of the book this well (the Commissioner Gordon scene makes no sense to me visually).  I’m not sure how I feel about this issue hinging on residue found on Alan Wayne’s bones.  He wasn’t skin and bones when his body was found some eighty plus years ago, so that makes absolutely no sense.  Sorry Scott Snyder, usually your plotting is tighter than that.

Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! #1 – It’s only been five months – does that make it too soon to be completely nostalgic for the old DC Universe?  A lot of good has come from the relaunch, but I think that cutting off Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc. is one of the biggest mistakes DC made.  This book contains what would have been the 9th and 10th issues of Batman Inc. had the series not fallen so far behind before the relaunch.  The first is a straight-forward, standard team up story, focusing on the Stephanie Brown Batgirl infiltrating a Leviathan-run school for girls.  It has very nice art by Cameron Stewart.  The second story is more Morrison-ian weirdness, featuring almost all of the Batman Inc. operatives in a weird death-trap situation that will require a second read through to fully understand.  It has amazing artwork from Chris Burnham.  I’m not too enthused with the revelation of who is running the show at Leviathan, but I am excited that DC is allowing Morrison to finish off his story, despite the fact that they have fully abandoned the status quo that this story represents.  I suppose this is why we are barely hearing any mention of Batman Inc. in the DCnU.

BPRD Hell on Earth: Russia #4 – Things really pick up with this issue, as Johann goes to kill the creature in Russia that has been creating so many zombies, and Kate finally finds out what has been going on.  It’s mostly an action issue, that doesn’t check in with any of the other sub-plots that have been running lately, but it does show Johann in a new light.  I’m really enjoying Tyler Crook’s art on this series, and think that David Johnson’s Soviet propaganda cover is brilliant.

Daredevil #7 – Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera give us a slightly sappy Christmas story about Matt and a group of blind kids who are lost in the woods in the Catskills after a bus crash.  It shouldn’t work as well as it does – too much of the story is unbelievable (what kind of crash rips a bus in two?), but because of Waid’s straight-forward writing and Rivera’s lovely art, it works.

Fantastic Four #601 – I thought that the Human Torch was brought back way too quickly, but now that it seems that Jonathan Hickman actually changed the character, aging him, maturing him, and putting him in charge of the Annihilation Wave, I’ve changed my mind.  Johnny’s new forces fight the Kree above the Earth, while Ronan disagrees with the new Supreme Intelligence, and the Inhumans enter into things.  This is a big action issue, and it’s really very good.

Hulk #46 – The Hulk of Arabia story has ended, with Red Hulk having to accept the way world politics work.  This story had its moments, but Jeff Parker’s attempt to engage the Hulk in events styled after the Arab Spring fell apart pretty quickly, once a Rigellian somethingorother got involved.

Invincible #86 – Another terrific issue of Robert Kirkman’s superhero comic.  This issue has Nolan fighting Allen over whether or not the leader of the coalition should release a virus on Earth that will wipe out the evil Viltrumite race, but could also kill everyone else on the planet.  The fight scene was going well, and then Oliver, Nolan’s son, got involved, and things got even better.  This is a thoughtful and exciting comic, and it’s been great to see Cory Walker come back to draw these last two issues.  I’m looking forward to getting back to Earth now, especially since Mark took some drastic actions a couple months back.

Invincible Iron Man #511 – Dear Matt Fraction, you are the only person in the world who uses the phrase ‘samo-samo’, and you need to stop.  Other than that, this is another very good issue of Iron Man, with Stane and Mandarin starting to make their move, and Bethany and Pepper filling in the roles that used to belong to Stark and Maria Hill in their intense dislike of each other.

New Mutants #35 – This arc is weird.  The team is tracking down Blink, who is investigating a noise metal band that causes natural disasters to hit their venues.  Really?  It’s hard to draw a convincing fight between superheroes and a demonic drummer, and make it look credible.  I’m hoping this arc ends next issue, because I like the direction this book has been going post-Fear Itself, although this feels like another misstep.  I expect a lot more from Abnett and Lanning.

Planet of the Apes #9 – The third arc of this series starts here, as a group of humans commandeer an ape airship, and Voice Alaya interrogates Sully about the ancient tech weapons.  This series was one of the biggest pleasant surprises of 2011, and it continues to improve.  Carlos Magno’s art is incredible.  I also like how Darryl Gregory is taking some of the historical metaphors in this work further, as the apes begin tattooing numbers on the arms of humans before sending them to internment camps.  Very good stuff.

The Stuff of Legend Vol. 3: A Jester’s Tale #3 – I can feel my enjoyment of this series slipping some as the plot becomes more complex, and the number of characters to keep track of keeps growing.  What made this series so effective at the beginning was the simplicity of its story about a group of toys who enter into a strange kingdom to rescue their lost master.  Now, there seems to be a lot more going on, and while it’s still very good, I’m worried that the writers are going to lose the plot.  The art is great though, and I’m willing to concede that my dislike is mostly due to the great delay between this issue and the previous one.

THUNDER Agents #2 – I’m really happy that DC decided to give this title a second chance, and I think this volume is shaping up to be better than the first.  The threat of Demo, the villain that showed up last issue during a Subterranean festival, is explained after we are given a Jerry Ordway-drawn history lesson that reveals the real reason the THUNDER Agents were formed.  Much of the comic is taken up with a conversation at the Higher UN about how to proceed, while every second panel shows us what is happening underground with the members of the team that Demo has taken hostage.  This issue is paced excellently, and Wes Craig’s art looks even better.  This is very good stuff.

Thunderbolts #167 – I’m pleased to see that there was more going on in this Jack the Ripper story than it first seemed, as the escaped through time B-team fight ancient Celtic spirits in the streets of Victorian London.  This is a decent superhero comic, and I like the attention to historical detail that Jeff Parker brings to the story.

Uncanny X-Force #19 – With this issue, Rick Remender wraps up the Dark Angel saga while moving right into the team’s next big problem.  Beast and Kitty learn about the team (off-panel), and take responsibility for Warren and Genesis.  Robbi Rodriguez draws this issue, and it looks very nice, but the best thing here is the cover by Rafael Grampá.

Venom #11 – Rick Remender has a real good handle on the character of Flash Thompson, but I’m losing interest in this series with each new issue.  Perhaps it’s Lan Medina’s art, which, while very good, doesn’t grab me the way Tony Moore or Tom Fowler did.  Maybe it’s the fact that the new Jack O’Lantern, who is a very annoying character, has to talk so much.  I know the fact that this book is set to go weekly in February is making me not want to bother with it any more, so maybe I’m just looking for things to fault, knowing that I’m going to be dropping it at that point.  Regardless, I didn’t get a lot of enjoyment out of this issue.

Wolverine and the X-Men #3 – I feel like this issue strikes a much better balance between the comedic nature of the series and the portrayal of these characters in every other corner of the Marvel Universe.  I also think, for the first time ever, that I’m starting to like Quentin Quire as a character, which I never really expected to have happen.  Chris Bachalo is joined by a couple of guest artists, Duncan Rouleau, who I admire a great deal (finish The Great Unknown!) and Matteo Scalera, who I don’t know.  They mostly kept a consistent look to the book.  I’m enjoying characters like Kid Gladiator and Broo, but also think that Matt Murdock got the best scene in the comic.

Wonder Woman #4 – Reading this, I can’t help but wonder what led Brian Azzarello to decide that the Greek gods have such a liking of speaking in puns.  There are little witticisms and bon mots throughout this issue, to the extent that I checked to make sure that it wasn’t co-written by Brandon Graham.  This is a very emotional issue, as Diana comes to grips with her feelings about her mother, but meanwhile Hippolyta is confronting Hera, and that doesn’t go well for any of them.  This is one of the more original and interesting of the New 52, with wonderful Cliff Chiang artwork.

X-Factor #229 – It would appear that Madrox, having been killed two issues ago, is stuck in some sort of parallel world where ‘nothing is the same’.  This comic works well because of Peter David, but really, how many times have we read this kind of thing?

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

Amazing Spider-Man #676

Key of Z #3

Legion of Monsters #3

Punisher Max #20

Rachel Rising #4

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #5

Wolverine #20

Bargain Comics:

Astonishing X-Men #42-44 – Three different issues, three different creative teams.  I used to think that it was the adjectiveless X-Men title that was pointless, but I think this one is in the same boat.  The new team of Greg Pak and Mike McKone has already been replaced, and their debut issue doesn’t make a lot of sense.  There are so many interesting X-Men, but we only ever see the same small group in each and every title – maybe one of these more peripheral ones could focus on a more rotating cast.  Or, even better, be canceled.  I mean, Uncanny is coming out every second week for the next few months – how much X-Men do we need?

Fear Itself: The Fearless #3 & 4 – I think, now that I’ve read the first third of this mini-series, I can safely say that it doesn’t interest me.  Fear Itself was not a particularly exciting event, and the thought of reading eight more issues about Valkyrie and Sin looking for the bad guy’s hammers, with little more than stock statements of intent passing for dialogue, bores me.  I think Marvel wanted to have their ‘Brightest Day’, without realizing that that series sucked too.  It’s weird that this is written by three writers whom I respect a great deal – it feels more like it’s written by some assistant editor.

Vertigo Resurrected: Finals #1

Written by Will Pfieifer
Art by Jill Thompson

The Vertigo Resurrected series, like the DC Comics Presents series, really is a great idea.  A mini-series like Finals, from 1999, doesn’t have enough of an audience to warrant receiving a proper trade paperback, but this less-expensive format, similar to Dark Horse Presents, is perfect to bring some attention to some pretty decent comics.

Finals is a pretty amusing comic.  It’s set at Knox State University, a bastion of independent academic thought and the pursuit of knowledge.  It’s loosely centred around a group of seniors, who have to complete their final projects in order to graduate.  Wally, the more or less main character, is supposed to have been working on an example of extreme cinema verité for his Film Studies course, but so far hasn’t shot a single frame.  His girlfriend, Nancy, however has found great success with her project, and is therefore the godhead for an on-campus personality cult.  Dave is plugging away at his project, which involves violently robbing just about every business on the campus.  Gary is working on devolving himself into an animal, and so has left their rented house in favour of living rough on the campus, and Neil, the final main character, finally gets his time machine to work, although Dave shoots the future-Neil that comes through the portal.

There’s nothing particularly pointed about the satire here – Pfeifer is taking shots at the pre-9/11 atmosphere of self-indulgent pointless study that has infected higher education, but he doesn’t put a lot of bite into his story.  This is a fun little college movie, basically. Jill Thompson is terrific at everything she does, but this is the 90s Thompson, before she reached the heights of Beasts of Burden or her other more recent comics.

Finals is a fun read.

 X-Club #1 – Dr. Nemesis is the most amusing new X-Men to be developed in the last decade (it always surprises me that he came from Matt Fraction’s brain and not Warren Ellis’s, as he sounds so much like an Ellis character), so it’s good to see a book that he is more or less headlining.  Si Spurrier’s dialogue is sharp, even if the plot feels a little slapped together, as the X-Club runs in to mystery while helping some corporation build the world’s first space elevator.

The Week in Manga:

Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka Vol. 3

by Naoki Urasawa after Osamu Tezuka, with Takashi Nagasaki

With each volume of this series I read, I find myself ever more drawn in to Naoki Urasawa’s remaking of a classic Osamu Tezuka Astro Boy story.

This third volume introduces a few new story elements. Where the first two volumes were primarily concerned with police robot Inspector Gesicht’s mission to track down whoever or whatever is attacking the most powerful robots on Earth, and the people who support robot rights, this volume gives the story more sprawl.  We are introduced to Adolf (not so subtle, the choice of name), a man who is part of an anti-robot KKK.

Adolf’s brother was killed by a robot, something that is not supposed to happen.  Adolf has proof, in the form of the metal shell that was used – only a handful of robots can use such a device, including the intrepid Gesicht.  KR, the anti-robot group, is making use of a number of media outlets to try to discredit robots, and to further the Jim Crow commentary seen throughout this book.

Meanwhile, Uran, the robotic sister of Atom (Japan’s name for Astro Boy), starts to help a homeless and sick robot who paints pictures of flowers on the walls of abandoned buildings.  This nameless character has a connection to Pluto – the villain of the first two volumes.

I like how Urasawa is still building his story almost half way into it.  His characters are rich and nuanced, and I appreciate the amount of time and space he gives to new members of the cast, so they can be properly developed.  This is a great series.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Li’l Depressed Boy Vol.0: Lonely Heart Blues

Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Ed Tadem, Lindsay Jane, Sina Grace, Jose Garibaldi, Chris Fenoglio, Zach Trover, Kristopher Struble, Jim Mahfood, Kanila Tripp, Roman Muradov, Justin Stewart, Sam Kieth, Jim Valentino, Scott Morse, Evan DiLeo, and Jamie McKelvie

I’ve been getting a lot more enjoyment out of the Image series The Li’l Depressed Boy than I expected.  Each issue has an effervescent quality to it though – it’s utterly charming and fun to read, but it’s usually a very quick read, which doesn’t stick with me after I finish it.  Part of the problem I’ve had with the comic is that I don’t fully understand a few fundamental things – like why is LDB a rag doll while everyone around him is a normal human being?  Also, why is LDB called the LDB?  He hasn’t seemed all that depressed, at least not in the days leading up to his current state of confusion surrounding Jazz, the girl he likes.

I figured that this ‘Volume 0‘ trade, collecting the web comics where LDB got his start, would shed some light on all this.  It doesn’t really answer any of my questions, but it does provide a little more back-story and clarity on just who LDB is. And yah, he seems pretty depressed.

Many of the stories here are simple slice-of-life strips, wherein very little happens.  LDB microwaves food, or puts away Christmas decorations.  Nothing special really.  There are some strips that hint towards a dead girlfriend, or at least a dead crush, but really, we don’t get to understand just who he is.

There is a long list of artists who worked on this character before Sina Grace became the dominant artist.  It’s always a treat to see someone like Jim Mahfood working on a comic, but I think I was most impressed with the contributions of Chris Fenoglio, who I’m otherwise unfamiliar with.

This book could serve as a nice introduction to LDB, but could also put off new readers because it feels like it’s somewhat lacking in substance.  It’s probably best to start the series off with the first volume, which has a lot more story going on in it.  Still, this is a nice little collection.

The Sky Over the Louvre

Written by Bernar Yslaire and Jean-Claude Carrière
Art by Bernar Yslaire

I vaguely remember writing an essay almost twenty years ago about the artist Jacques-Louis David and his role in helping construct the public image of the French Revolution.  My memory of this is very vague, and I do wish I’d kept my university essays, simply because it would probably be amusing to read it over now.

Anyway, this beautifully designed over-sized hardcover graphic novel caught my eye, because I usually enjoy historical comics, and it centres on David at the time that he was the most famous artist in France, and was struggling to support Robespierre’s Revolutionary Ideal, even as the whole endeavour began to descend into madness and Terror.

Opening The Sky Over The Louvre, I figured I’d be in for a real treat – a serious, literary graphic novel that handles an interesting period of history, withe beautiful artwork.  Unfortunately, the book doesn’t quite live up to its promise…  To begin with, the art is quite lovely, and I like the way that Yslaire works digital reproductions of David’s art, and of the other painters who filled the Louvre at its opening, into his own drawings.  It adds a level of veracity to the book, and the paintings make an interesting contrast to Yslaire’s own slightly caricatured representations of the different historical figures.

The book is not just about David’s struggles to remain in the favour of the Revolution – a difficult task with Robespierre obsessing over his concept of the ‘Supreme Being’ as a replacement for a god figure in French society, but also about David’s obsession with Jules, a thirteen year old boy.  The art stuff works; the parts with the kid don’t.  We are told repeatedly that Jules is beautiful (although the thick swath of a unibrow that Yslaire gives him makes that a little hard to accept), and we are shown repeatedly how the child catches David’s eye, causing him to seek him out to use as a model for his portrait of Bara, a young martyr of the Revolution.  The thing is, David never makes a move on the boy, or seems particularly enamored of him, and so his emotional reaction to Jules’s trip to the guillotine later in the book feels completely forced and without justification.

I don’t know how much of this part of the book is accurate.  I don’t remember reading about this relationship, but it does come off as feeling rather forced.  Similarly, the structure of this story relies too heavily on large chunks of narrative text, as if there was no easier way for Yslaire and Carrière to establish what was happening in the story.

I did find this to be an interesting comic, but when compared to something like the old Vertigo series Chiaroscuro: The Private Lives of Leonardo da Vinci, which handled a very similar story, The Sky Over the Louvre comes off as the more shoddy of the two.  Still, I am more than happy to continue supporting graphic novels about important figures in the history of the visual arts, and am curious to find the rest of the Louvre/NBM collaboration books.

Summer Blonde (Stories)

by Adrian Tomine

Summer Blonde collects four stories from Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve, each of which is a minor masterpiece of literary comics.

In Alter Ego, a struggling writer obsessed with issues from his childhood that he hasn’t been able to let go, enters into a strange relationship with the teenage sister of a girl he had a crush on in high school.  The writer lives in a different town, and is in a stable relationship, but can’t seem to tear himself away from this young woman, with whom he has a platonic relationship, at least until she makes a move.  This story has a bit of a Paul Auster feel to it – the writer wrote one derivative autobiographical novel to middling acclaim, and then ghostwrote another for a celebrity, which received great praise.  One cannot escape the feeling that he is pursuing this young woman with one eye on how it would turn out to be a good story for his next book.

Summer Blonde is an interesting study in jealousy and obsession.  Neil is a sad, quiet man, who has decided he is in love with a girl who works in a gift card store, despite the fact that their interactions with one another do not extend past him going in and buying cards that he never sends to anyone.  He gets a new neighbour, Carlo, who has all sorts of success with women, including the card shop girl, who already has another boyfriend.  Neil steps up his game to stalking, and lets the boyfriend know that Carlo is around, with interesting results.

Hawaiian Getaway follows Hillary, a dour young woman who loses her job answering phones for a mail order catalogue, and descends into her own brand of weirdness.  She makes audio tapes of her roommate having sex, and starts prank calling a payphone across the street to amuse herself.  She has problems with her Chinese immigrant mother, and can’t maintain normal friendships.  Strangely, she meets a nice guy through her prank calling, and begins to see a brighter future for herself.

Finally, Bomb Scare is about Scotty, a high school student with one friend – Chris, who is kind of odd.  There are rumours flying through the school that the two are lovers, and Chris ends up alienating Scotty through his interest in extreme pornography and his forceful ways.  Scotty begins to get close to Cammie, a party girl with a reputation for being easy.  This story is a fascinating look at the horrors of high school.  Being roughly the same age as Tomine, the time period depicted in this story is incredibly familiar.

Tomine’s stories are excellent.  He has a tendency to not provide any sense of closure in his endings, preferring to close his tales on potentially pivotal scenes.  He has a strong understanding of people who find it difficult to interact with people.  Hillary receives a book on making small talk from her sister, while Neil and Scotty are equally uncomfortable in the same types of settings.

I really enjoyed this book, and am sad that I’ve now read Tomine’s complete body of work, at least until he gives us another issue of Optic Nerve.

Album of the Week:

The Weeknd – Echoes of Silence  You need to hear this free album.  The Weeknd is what you need.

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The Weekly Round-Up #102 With Blue Estate, Morning Glories, Walking Dead & More Mon, 21 Nov 2011 13:30:31 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

Blue Estate #7

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yenev, and Andrew Osborne
Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, and Tomm Coker

I was pretty surprised, looking through the credits of this issue to see that Tomm Coker was joining the Blue Estate team.  Previous regulars like Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, and Paul Maybury have a more similar visual aesthetic than Coker, whose work is more realistic.  A big part of the fun of this comic has always been trying to figure out who drew which page (although I think I’m usually wrong).

Anyway, Coker’s art fits surprisingly well with this particular issue’s content.  The story of Blue Estate has moved from sprawling and random to being very interconnected and tight, as characters who we previously thought had nothing to do with one another are getting tied together in multiple ways.  Bruce Maddox, the film star, and his bodyguard/lover Marcellus have decided to finally deal with what they’ve called ‘The Rachel Situation’ once and for all, by planning to kill her and set up a PI as a dupe to take the fall.  What they don’t know is that a mobster has hired Clarence, who is also Rachel’s secret friend and AA sponsor, to kill Bruce.

This leads to a spectacular action sequence (mostly drawn by Coker), which ends a little unexpectedly for everyone.  I love how so many plot threads are coming together, and can’t wait to see how the next issue plays out.  This is a book that rewards careful reading and attention to detail (like the fact that Clarence had to borrow someone’s car to get to his hit), and it’s never dull.  I do hate this month’s cover though…

Other Notable Comics:

Elephantmen #36

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Axel Medellin and Rob Steen

First, I want to mention how Richard Starkings makes sure that his readers get their money’s worth with this comic.  For $4, there are 35 pages of comics in here, spread across the main story, and two back-ups:  one a Mappo story set in the past, and (finally), a new chapter of the very cute Charley Loves Robots series.

The main story starts a new four part arc called ‘The Killing Season’.  In typical Elephantmen fashion, this story is set before the story that Shaky Kane drew a couple of issues back, and it concerns Hip’s investigation into the killings of Elephantmen for their ivory, which led to his bizarre visit to the plastic surgeon in the aforementioned issue.

Starkings uses this issue to check in with almost all of the cast.  Miki wakes up in Hip’s bed (alone), and goes to work on Tiny’s first day back.  Mr. Apostrophe takes a dip in a familiar canal, and finds the bodies dumped by the assassin who keeps showing up in this series.  Later, Trench oversees the recovery of all these bodies.  While all this is happening, Sahara and Ebony Hide have a visit from a Buddhist Elephantman, who has a long (and wordy) talk with Sahara about his religion.

In all, this is a decent issue, although it requires a better memory than mine to put all of the scenes in the correct context.  While I admire the complexity of Starkings vision for this comic, I do find it hard to pick up on all the subtle references to former issues that he makes, and I don’t have the encyclopedic knowledge at hand that this comic sometimes needs.  Still, I don’t want to fault someone for vision.  I just can’t imagine picking up a random issue for the first time and understanding it at all.

Medellin continues to grow as an artist, putting ever more detail into his backgrounds, while making his central figures look terrific.  I don’t think he can get much better than this, but then each month, he proves me wrong.

iZombie #19

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

iZombie has never been your typical zombie comic, but now that there has been an outbreak of the typical, shambolic zombie in the city of Eugene, Chris Roberson is getting the chance to play with some of the scenes we never see in the movies, aside from Shaun of the Dead.  We are in that special time where the outbreak hasn’t spread much, and so people are still going about their usual lives, although danger could lurk around every corner.  The National Guard is in town, under the command of the Dead Presidents.

This makes it hard for the cast of this book.  Gwen is going to ground (literally), staying in her tomb in order to avoid detection.  Spot is also a little nervous about being out and around, especially since he has his first date with Gavin (which doesn’t go all that well, but has lots of interesting implications for their future).

Every issue of this comic takes the time to check in on most of its cast, which gives each character only a small amount of screen time.  This works well, but also limits how much can happen in each issue.  This month’s chapter is no different, but continues to be a strong mix of intelligent writing and fantastic Allred art.

Morning Glories #14

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

Ah, Morning Glories, what are we to do with you?  With each issue, I expect to finally get some clues as to what is going on in this comic, but by the end of it, I’m always more confused and lost (perhaps I should say Lost).  This issue runs simultaneously with the previous issue, which showed us some of the ‘Woodrun’, a school-wide event about which we knew no more than the name.

This issue is focused on Hunter, Zoe, and Jun, who are put on a team for the run.  We still don’t know the rules of the game, but we do know that the prize is ‘stuff’ that Zoe wants, and so she forces the others into being involved.  There are plenty of great moments between Hunter and Zoe, whose animosity towards each other has reached new levels.

While this is going on, we see more of the growing tensions between the senior staff at the Morning Glories Academy, but still learn very little about their true purposes.  There’s also a strange flashback set in late 17th century New England that doesn’t explain anything, but instead opens up even more questions.

This comic is a really fun read.  I think I’m getting past caring about how little information we really have, and prefer to read each issue looking for clues, knowing that I’m either a) never going to find out the whole story, or b) be totally disappointed in the ending.  Either way, when the book is this good, I’m just enjoying the ride.

Northlanders #46

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Declan Shalvey

I’m going to miss this comic when it’s gone.  Wood has consistently given us a fascinating look into Viking culture, and this Icelandic Trilogy has been one of the best arcs of the title yet.

In this issue, Brida Hauksson, leader of her clan in her brother’s continued absence, has to respond to the provocations of the rival Belgarsson clan, and to their new relationship with the Christian church, who previously had very little hold on Icelandic society.  Wood has often made good use of this period between paganism and monotheism, as some members of the society have embraced the new approach to life, while others have clung to the old ways.

The character of Brida is fascinating.  She is not constrained by the usual roles of women, yet cannot be completely in charge either.  Wood shows her frustration with her limitations, but also shows her as a strong and proactive leader.

Declan Shalvey’s work on this book is great.  He’s using a much cleaner approach than he has when working on Marvel’s Thunderbolts, with the effect that his work fits within what could be considered the Vertigo ‘house style’.

Severed #4

Written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft
Art by Attila Futaki

Severed continues to be an excellent Depression-era coming of age horror comic, with a strong focus on character.  This issue hinges on an event that I don’t really understand though, and that caused me to be thrown out of the story completely.

To begin with the positive, I’ve really enjoyed reading about the friendship between Jack and Sam.  They’ve become a good team, looking out for one another on the road, and finding in the other a loyal companion.  They have a pretty big fight this issue, over the entrance of Alan Fisher, who claims to be a Victrola salesman, although we readers know he’s a predatory cannibal.

This leads to my problems with this issue.  Previously, Sam had stolen Fisher’s business card, which we saw him take from the real Alan Fisher a couple of issues back.  She calls the number, and speaks to someone at RCA Victor, who suggests he meet her at a diner in a remote setting.  In typical horror comic fashion, she agrees, and doesn’t seem to find anything strange about a completely abandoned restaurant in the middle of nowhere, where she discovers that the RCA guy she spoke to is really…. (I’m sure you can guess).

This doesn’t work.  If he altered the phone number so it would be his own, why bother using the card in the first place?  Also, it’s the Depression and we’ve established that the guy is living in a rooming house.  He wouldn’t have his own phone, so the fact that he answered when Sam called doesn’t make sense.  I understand that something like this would need to happen to continue the plot, but it just doesn’t work for me.

I’ll look past this though, as the rest of the comic works very well.

’68: Hardship

Written by Mark Kidwell
Art by Jeff Zornow

The high water mark of Vietnam War comics has to be Jason Aaron and Cameron Stewart’s Vertigo book The Other Side. It is a brilliant examination of the war, told from the perspectives of two reluctant combatants – one an American GI, the other a VC peasant.  I found the Vietnamese guy much more sympathetic, especially after the American started cracking up.

Why am I talking about that book when reviewing this first ’68 one-shot since the title became an on-going series?  Basically, if the soldier from The Other Side had come back to a zombie-infested America, that series’s epilogue would have been this comic.

Teddy Calhoun has completed two tours in ‘Nam, and has come home on a hardship exemption because his mother was dying.  The thing is, the hardship request came at on opportune time, since his commanding officer would probably have to have given him a Section 8 designation – period Army code for a psychological disorder.  Teddy’s lost it, but back home in the fields of Nebraska, it’s easy for him to give in to his paranoia and delusions.  Especially after the zombies start showing up.

This is a pretty classic horror story, following some rather predictable patterns (at least until the tornado shows up), but it’s still pretty interesting.  Kidwell builds up the characters quickly, and makes the story compelling.  Zornow’s art works, and he has the opportunity to really cut loose (both claymores and a wheat combine get used rather novelly).  Zombies and war – the concept is so good it has to work.

The Walking Dead #91

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Some time has passed since the last issue, and the Community, under Rick’s leadership, has continued to make preparations for the coming winter.  Glenn, Maggie, and some others have gone on a scrounging trip for a couple of weeks, while the rest of the town has gone on with their life as usual.  It looks like the trenches have been dug, the fences have been buttressed with vehicles, and Rick has been having regular meetings with his ‘inner circle’ to discuss matters like small-scale farming and food supply.

On the surface, this doesn’t sound like the most exciting comic, but it continues to work very well.  It’s rare in zombie comics and movies to see any attention paid to the mechanics of rebuilding, and I for one find that to be a fascinating topic.  Of course, it also gives Kirkman the chance to check in on a number of characters.  Sophia is slowly becoming less crazy as she gets older, finally admitting that she knows that Maggie and Glen are not her parents.  Carl and Rick are continuing to have problems, as Carl adjusts to life after his injury, and appears to suffer a very normal amount of anger and self-pity.  And then there’s the blossoming relationship between Rick and Andrea, which is handled exceptionally well.

And, of course, just as we begin to wonder if there is going to be less action in this comic as it becomes more about making the Community a permanent settlement, Kirkman tosses in the uncertainty of the last two pages, promising exciting things to come.  I love this comic.

Xenoholics #2

Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Seth Damoose

Where the first issue was kind of fun, and showed some good potential, this second issue really shifts into a higher gear, and proves that everyone comparing this title to Chew is probably correct.  Xenoholics is about an AA-style group for people who are alien abduction survivors.  In the first issue, we learned who the various members of the group are, and some of their secrets (one of them is a reporter looking to earn their trust for an article he’s writing).  Things take a sudden turn though when crop circles appear in the pavement of Times Square, and the kindly professor who runs the group goes missing.

Now, with this second issue, the group members go to the Professor’s apartment to investigate, and conclude from the hole in the wall, that he’s been abducted.  Their investigation is quickly interrupted by the mysterious Agent Wax, who claims to be from the FBI (and is probably of no relation to the Agent Wax who was in Wildcats 3.0).

That meeting doesn’t go well, and one of the group, a famous boxer, knocks him out.  Our heroes take refuge in a cosplay sci-fi sex fetish club that they discover the Professor frequents, and set about planning their next move.  The club scenes are really pretty funny, and have backgrounds worthy of study (although I don’t want to know what that Yeti was doing).

I like the way Williamson has set up this story, with plenty of intrigue and shadowy cabals, coupled with the fact that just about every cast member in this book is lying about something.  Much like Chew, this looks to be a series with some legs, and enough story potential to last a while.  Damoose’s art is really growing on me too.

Quick Takes:

Avengers #19 – Once again, not a whole lot happens here, but we do get a few new team members who are favourites of mine (I’m most excited about the character from Secret Warriors who joins up), but I’m very sick of the glacial pace of this comic.  Also, if both Avengers books are just about Norman Osborn again, how are they not more closely tied together?  I feel like Bendis is out of ideas, and just running on fumes here.

Avengers Academy #22 – Usually this is a book that I praise to no end, but I feel like this issue is a bit of a misstep.  While investigating the ‘murder’ of Jocasta, whose death goes strangely unmourned by the students, Pym discovers electromagnetic energy, which becomes an excuse to call in Magneto and the X-Men.  Predictably, this leads to a fight between the students and the X-Men, in a scene which feels familiar, because it happened last issue when the kids attacked the senior Avengers.  It’s too soon for another issue like this, and we’ve now gone two issues without introducing the other new students in any meaningful way.  There are still a couple good moments though, such as when Hazmat calls Julie Power out for being gay.

Batman #3 – There can not be any doubt that Scott Snyder is writing some of the best Batman comics of recent years, giving us a run that is standing up to some of the best of Grant Morrison’s work in terms of concept, and being much more approachable and digestible.  He’s choosing to make this Bat-title stand out from the rest by focusing on the city of Gotham, allowing it to be a character in the story in ways that we haven’t seen before.  This issue reveals some cool secrets about the Court of Owls that really appeal to me.  I’m also finding myself beginning to like Greg Capullo’s art, which is the biggest surprise this month.  I’d still much rather see what someone like Francesco Francavilla (Snyder’s sometime collaborator on Detective Comics before the relaunch) would have done with this, but Capullo’s work is becoming more acceptable.

Blue Beetle #3 – There’s an improvement this month, as this title starts to move into new territory with Jaime and the Scarab not getting along, but the story is still way too close to that of the previous Blue Beetle run for my liking.  Also, I’m questioning why, with almost all other characters redesigned for the relaunch, and updated, the people at DC didn’t just retire the Brotherhood of Ugly Villains.  Has Warp ever been cool, in even one comic?  Adding a 90s-weaponed giant gorilla named Silverback doesn’t help matters.

Captain America #4 – This issue is neither bad nor good.  I feel like this arc should have been an Astonishing Captain America mini-series in that it has no ties to recent continuity, and is so stand-alone as to have rendered itself completely disposable.  More and more I’m looking forward to Brubaker and Guice working on the Winter Soldier series, since the Bucky Cap series was so much more interesting than this.

Fear Itself #7.3 – I can understand the impulse to make a cross-over ‘event’ book huge by really mucking around with a shared fictional world.  To make an event seem huge, the urge to do something like destroy a city must be great – let’s say by doing something like having an anti-Asgardian power-infused B-list super-villain turn everyone in a city like Paris to stone.  Cool visuals, a horrific concept to consider, and perhaps a bit of anti-French sentiment left over from the last decade, all accomplished in one move.  Now that the event is over though, there’s the problem that the Marvel universe must always reflect our own world, where Paris is still standing and fully populated.  So, what is a writer to do?  Oh, here’s a thought, maybe he should invent some reason why the patriarch of a race of gods who has just left the Earth would come back, and fix everything to teach another character a lesson.  But you know, not also bring his son back to life at the same time.  Between this, and the sudden resurrection of Bucky Barnes some three minutes after Marvel killed him off, Marvel proves that event comics are even less relevant than they used to be.  That’s cool, because I don’t think I want to buy them anymore.  Thanks for helping with that decision Marvel.  (For the record, I usually love Fraction and Larroca on Iron Man, and hope that now that Fear Itself is over, I will love that again).

Mudman #1 – I’ve liked Paul Grist’s work since he did a Grendel Tales story way back in the day, but I’ve always been a little intimidated by Jack Staff and its long history, and haven’t liked the format of the first stories in that series (the ones that are in 4 or 6-page chapters).  With Mudman, we’re given the chance to start a new Grist series at the ground floor, and it’s a very good superhero comic.  A British teenager exploring a supposedly-abandoned house ends up with some strange mud-based abilities.  Not much is clear in this issue story-wise, except that this is the beginning of what promises to be an exceptional new series.

New Mutants #34 – I find I’m really enjoying this new direction for New Mutants, as the team moves into their new digs, and try to adjust to living like ‘regular folks’ (albeit ones who apparently have a Blackbird stashed somewhere close-by, which isn’t explained).  I worry about the reliance of tracking down 90s characters as a plot device, and have never had any love for Blink, but the story still seems like it’s going to be interesting.  I like Lopez’s art on this title.

Planet of the Apes #8 – I’m still stunned by how much I’m enjoying this comic.  I think it’s getting better each month (definitely the art is, and it was great at the beginning).  This issue is a pretty action-filled one, as last minute negotiations between the humans and the apes fail, leading to a massive ape invasion of Skintown.  The pacing and structure of this story has been wonderful.

Thunderbolts #165 – More WWII Thunderbolts fun (Namor and Satanna have the best time) in this conclusion to the Invaders’ guest appearance.  I’m not sure where this book is headed next – if we’re going to continue to stay on the escaped in time Tbolts, or if we’ll be returning to the present, but I am enjoying the sense of fun that Jeff Parker is bringing to the title.

Venom #9 – This works as a nice epilogue to Spider-Island, showing us where Flash’s mind is in the wake of his father’s death, as he Venoms out to deal with a guy in an unstoppable tank who is taking advantage of the chaos in Manhattan to rob banks.  I’m not clear how, if his army bosses are watching him on satellite, they don’t deal with him letting the suit take over, or insist that he come back to base to get rid of the suit later.  It feels like some of the constraints Remender put on this character are slipping.

Wonder Woman #3 – Azzarello and Chiang are killing it on this book, and have made one of the largest changes to a character to happen in the DC Relaunch.  Really, I’m surprised that no one has ever wanted to tackle the question of Diana’s mythic birth in this manner before, and it does make have a lot of interesting implications for this character.  This issue also answers another question I’ve had about Azzarello’s work on 100 Bullets.  Throughout the scenes on the beach of Paradise Island, the panels include, and often even focus on, two crabs who are fighting amid the Amazonian funeral.  100 Bullets is full of odd visual choices like this, but I always assume that they were unscripted and added by artist Eduardo Risso.  Now, I’m not so sure.

X-Factor #227 – This is a pretty standard issue of X-Factor.  There’s some jokes, perhaps a little more fighting than usual, followed by some quips.  Peter David tacks on a predictable ending, and then gives us a very bizarre twist on the last page that has me curious for the next issue.  This title really just chugs along on its own steam quite nicely.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #674

Incredible Hulk #2

Key of Z #2

Legion of Monsters #2

Ultimate Comics X-Men #3

X-Men #21

Bargain Comics:

Avengers Solo #1 – I used to love Solo Avengers back in the day, but having Hawkeye work a mystery case doesn’t really fit well with his character.  Also, with some thousand Avengers around, why give the back-up in this book to a team that already has its own book?  I mean, a story about the Avengers Academy, spotlighting at least three characters, doesn’t fit my definition of ‘solo’.  There is nothing here that makes me want to get the second issue.

Batwing #2 & 3 – I find myself enjoying this book much more than I did with the first issue.  Judd Winnick is remembering that this book is set in Africa, even if it is just the civil war-ridden and child soldier plagued Africa that is all we usually see in the West, and I’m curious to learn more about The Kingdom, a defunct African Justice League.  Ben Oliver’s art is bothering me though – too few backgrounds and too many silhouettes.

Birds of Prey #2 – I wasn’t all that impressed with the first issue, but I thought I’d give the series a second chance.  There’s nothing really wrong with this book, but there’s also nothing about it that I find all that interesting.  Starling has some potential as a character, replacing some of the skill sets that Oracle had in the first version of this comic, but without the strong friendship between Barbara and Dinah, this title feels as generic as the stealth suit bad guys.

Fear Itself: The Fearless #2 – I think this book is doing a good job of showing us why Valkyrie never got her own title, as a trio of usually decent writers can think of nothing better to do with this hammer-quest snorefest than to toss vampires into the mix.  Because putting vampires in comics is cool…

Irredeemable #27 & 28 – So now the Plutonian is back on Earth, trashing cities again, and for no reason?  Didn’t we read that already?  I’m not sure how much life is left in this title; it seems to be turning back on itself, and I’m losing interest.

Legion of Super-Heroes #2 – I imagine I’m going to keep returning to this book, despite the fact that it never quite rises above mediocre.  I love the Legion, but find that what Paul Levitz is doing with it is not very interesting right now.  Shunting a bunch of characters into the past hasn’t helped trim the fat in this book, which keeps much from happening in any given issue.  I do like Portela’s art, but I’m just not getting into the story.

Six Guns #1 – A while ago, I would have been excited at the thought of a modern day Western comic by Andy Diggle and Davide Gianfelice, but then they did Daredevil Reborn together, and it was incredibly lackluster.  In that sense, this comic was surprisingly good, although for a book about six guns, they probably should have introduced more than three of them in the first issue.  I imagine it’s going to be a very long time before we see another book like this from Marvel again, as they seem to be contracting rapidly, so I guess I should pick up the rest of this run.

Teen Titans #1 & 2 – I have to say that I’m a little pleasantly surprised by this book (I think that Scott Lobdell’s time away from the mainstream was good for him, as Superboy is pretty decent as well), and if I avoid all the logic bombs this incarnation of the TT is setting off across the DCnU, and that there is a main character named Skitter, I could see reading this comic again.  Booth’s art has not aged as well as Lobdell’s writing though.  Also, I don’t really understand where Red Robin stands in relation to the Bat-Family in this book.  He seems pretty free with taking his mask off…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Echo Vol. 5: Black Hole

by Terry Moore

A few weeks ago when I wrote about Volume 4 of Echo, I commented that the story had taken a swing in a different direction.  Well, things are getting even stranger now that I’ve reached Volume 5.

Moore’s story is still firmly grounded in strong character work, but the villainy of the people at HeNRI, the company that has been pursuing Julie, is getting stranger and stranger, as the scientist Hong Liu captures Julie and Ivy, forcing Annie, the test pilot and scientist who created the alloy suit that Julie is now wearing, to take control of the situation.

There are other strange changes afoot as well.  To begin with, Julie’s entire body is changing as a result of her wearing the suit, and Ivy, the secret agent, is regressing in age.  All of these changes work within the context of the story, and help to build it towards its climax in the next volume, but the revelation that the crazy old guy who has also been chasing Julie may be a figure from the Old Testament rather stretches things too far.

Really, it’s a testament to Moore’s strong handle on these characters that I’m still so eager to see where this goes, when that particular turn of events hit.  Echo is a great comic, but I’m starting to wonder if all these new elements were in Moore’s original plan for the story, or if he was driving without a map at this point.


Written by David Axe
Art by Steven Olexa

War-Fix is the last of the books that I picked up when I went out west this summer (yes, I am that far behind on my reading). I grabbed it in a used bookstore in Vancouver because it looked interesting.  As anyone who has read my reviews know, I have a thing for war comics, and am always interested in contemporary interpretations of war in comics.  I hadn’t realized that the writer was the same person who wrote War is Boring: Bored Stiff, Scared to Death in the World’s Worst War Zones, which I read about a year ago.

I quickly figured out that there was a relation here, as while I was reading this I was struck by some pretty strong comic book deja vu.  The two books are thematically very similar.  Axe’s contention is that war is addictive, and simultaneously very boring, and as a reporter, he finds himself highly motivated to seek out combat situations.

In this book, Axe talks his way to an embed in Iraq, where he plans to cover the war.  He sees some action, but also spends a lot of time sitting around thinking about things.  I felt like not much happens in this book – it really only comes alive when Axe is speaking to a journalist for the BBC, who has covered some twenty wars in twenty years, and was almost executed in Croatia.

A big part of the problem with this book was that Olexa’s page designs can be hard to follow.  This is a smaller, square-bound book, so double-page spreads have a habit of disappearing into the fold in the centre, making them difficult to recognize as double-page spreads.  And there really are a lot of double-page spreads.

This is an interesting book, but in the end not terribly memorable, and not as good as the more recent War is Boring.

Wet Moon Vol. 4: Drowned in Evil

by Ross Campbell

I’ll confess that I don’t even begin to understand the power that this comic has over me.  I’ve never been interested in punk, goth, emo anything, have never thought for a moment that piercings are cool (and only rarely have felt that way about tattoos), and usually would have little to no interest about the minutiae of the lives of a bunch of poly-sexual 18-21 year-olds attending college (occasionally) and hanging out with one another (unless the book is Scott Pilgrim).  And yet, this is the fourth time I’ve started a volume of Wet Moon and read it compulsively until it was finished.

Ross Campbell gets a lot of credit for creating such an interesting and compelling comic.  Really, very little happens in this issue – Cleo tells her friends that she is ‘with’ Myrtle, but then kisses Mara at a comics convention.  Mara sucks at babysitting monster children, the cat comes back, and Cleo starts her job.  That’s about it in terms of plot development.  Well, that and the appearance of a vigilante called The Unknown who stalks the campus parks keeping young women safe.

The strength of this comic lies in the steady succession of strong character moments.  Characters’ lives feel like real peoples’ lives (more or less), and watching them react to a number of both quotidian and strange events is fun, and vaguely voyeuristic.  This feeling is enhanced by the liberal use of Cleo’s journal, or Mara’s Livejournal to recap events and put a more personal spin on them.  While I don’t think I’d like many of these people in real life, I find that I do like reading about them.

The biggest strength of the book is of course Campbell’s art.  I’ve written before about how he draws real women with real women’s bodies, but also seems to enjoy indulging in an attraction for amputees, piercings, and tattoos.  This is a pretty sexy comic.

The best part about this volume though, has to be the cameo by Becky Cloonan.  She is immediately recognizable, and seeing her in the comics convention scene was a treat.

Album of the Week:

Zara McFarlane – Until Tomorrow

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The Weekly Round-Up #98 With BPRD, All Nighter, DHP, Fables, Farscape, ’68 & More Mon, 24 Oct 2011 12:00:50 +0000 It was an interesting week, with lots of series or storylines ending.  Some were handled very well (Farscape, Spontaneous, All Nighter), while others weren’t, although to be fair, those (Fear Itself, Uncanny X-Men) were really just imposed endings as preludes to something else that is coming later.  Oh – I’m not doing a ‘Were Money No Object’ column this week – there’s nothing coming out I wanted to discuss, and work is just too busy this week.

Best Comic of the Week:

BPRD Hell on Earth – Russia #2

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Tyler Crook

Putting Dave Johnson on covers for this title and the Abe Sapien mini-series was really a very good idea.  I’ve missed his cover work since he stopped working on Unknown Soldier a while ago; there is just about no one better at covers than him in the business.

This Russia arc is really pretty cool.  It’s always a good idea to explore counterparts of characters in other nations, and it’s a comics tradition to have those counterparts be Russian, so even though the Cold War is long over, this concept works here.

As it turns out, the Russian BPRD, called the SSS, is run by a monster, Iosif, who we last saw in the Abe Sapien Abyssal Plain mini-series (which I know I read, but can’t really remember at the moment).  We learn why he needs the Bureau’s help, which is pretty specific to Johann’s talent set.  Johann’s been acting very weird for a while now, so it’s good to see him returning to his usual function.  I would have liked for there to have been at least one scene devoted to what’s going on with Abe though.

Crook’s art is continuing to impress me.  There is a full-page spread where Johann meets the person at the centre of this mission, which is very nice looking.  The person in chains looks like he could have been drawn by Bá or Moon, which is the highest praise possible from me these days.

Other Notable Comics:

All Nighter #5

by David Hahn

All Nighter has been a difficult series to pin down.  My first take on it was that it was a slacker comic, in the vein of books like Scott Pilgrim and Pounded, but then David Hahn kept introducing other elements to the story that, while they worked, kept causing me to reassess what this comic was supposed to be about.

For a while, it seemed like a romance story, as Kit became ever closer to her housemates boyfriend, and spurned her previous relationship with Dwayne, who is a thief.  Then it seemed like the comic was more about Kit’s relationship with Marta, the mousy new housemate who seemed to be fixating on her.  Then, with the fourth issue, Martha disappeared, and suddenly, the series finished with the group of friends searching for her.

This last issue is easily the strongest in the series, as Hahn does some interesting things, both with the plot and the art.  I love how three pages use a parallel format to explain just how Martha’s case went from being a media story to a hipster trend.  Later, as the characters track her down, the story takes a final, tragic turn that was, while not unexpected, still pretty emotionally powerful.

Hahn is a very talented artist, and I’d be happy to read another comic he writes and draws on his own.  This series will make a nice trade – check it out.

Dark Horse Presents #5

Written by Eric Powell, Chuck Brown, Felipe Melo, Robert Love, David Walker, Peter Hogan, Steve Niles, Howard Chaykin, Andi Watson, Carla Speed McNeil, and Neil Adams
Art by Eric Powell, Sanford Greene, Juan Cavia, Robert Love, Steve Parkhouse, Christopher Mitten, Howard Chaykin, Andi Watson, Carla Speed McNeil, and Neil Adams

Let’s number-crunch for a moment.  This book has 80 pages of comics, divided into ten stories, for $7.99.  In contrast, this week’s issue of Avengers had 20 pages of story, of which 30% were single- or double-splash pages, for $3.99.  The value, even when subtracting stories that I don’t like, is plain to see.

This issue begins with a great little one-shot story by Eric Powell about a robot who is designed to explore a distant planet which could be the best hope for humanity’s survival.  The robot is made a little too human though, and so while traveling for hundreds of years, he begins to indulge in the gifts mankind gave him – weapons, religion, and porn.  My hope is that Dark Horse will continue to pepper this series with more of these one-off gems.  There is another in here, by Andi Watson, but I didn’t like it very much.  I have no problem with young adult comics; they just don’t fit very well in a series like this, the rest of which is pretty mature.

I loved the new chapter of Finder, which is no great surprise really.  In it, Jaeger starts delivering items from his courier company’s dead letter office, a concept that reminds me of reading Clive Barker in high school and getting swept up in the idea of being able to read undeliverable mail.

I also enjoyed the latest chapters of Number 13, Resident Alien, and even Howard Chaykin’s story, which has grown on me.  The werewolf private eye story is interesting too, if a little strange in its mixture of humour with pretty depressing story matter.

I still don’t care for Rotten Apple, which I think is over now, and the Criminal Macabre story still does nothing for me.  Neal Adams’s Blood remains one of the worst comics I’ve ever read.  Is anyone enjoying it?

Fables #110

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and Mark Buckingham

Generally speaking, I don’t like cute.  Sure, I love books like Chew, which are built around their own in-jokey cute-ness, but that’s more of an exception than the rule.  I especially don’t like it when the cute is mixed with the more serious.  Star Wars’s Ewoks and droids, the hobbits in Lord of the Rings; I hate them all.

Why do I mention this?  Because Willingham has moved things squrely into cute-land in Fables, and it’s affecting my enjoyment of the book.  This issue is split between two plot-lines (with another Nurse Spratt interlude) – the adventures of Bufkin in Oz, and the trials of Bigby and Snow White’s cubs in the land of the north winds.

The Bufkin stuff is getting to be annoying.  A giant who eats people for the Emperor of Oz, and who speaks like a cross between a recent immigrant and a child with a developmental delay joins Bufkin’s little rebellion, and I quickly found myself skipping over dialogue.

The plot concerning the search for a replacement for the North Wind is more interesting, mostly because we aren’t subjected to much of the cubs this issue, instead learning about the moral obligations of the other cardinal winds, one of whom looks like he belongs in Elfquest.

Usually I love Fables, but this arc feels a little tired.  Here’s hoping it picks back up again soon, and stays away from light-hearted cuteness.

Farscape #24

Written by Rockne S. O’Bannon and Keith RA DeCandido
Art by Will Sliney

I came late to Farscape, discovering the show Sunday afternoons on a cable station a few years back, but thanks to the twin magics of DVD and EBay, I quickly acquired all four seasons and the Peacekeeper Wars mini-series that wrapped the story up.  I really grew to love the characters on this show, a diverse group of escaped convicts from different species, and the crazy and improbable situations they kept finding themselves in.  The series was a lot of fun, and had a lot of heart.

When I’d heard that Boom Comics was starting up a series of mini-series, co-written (or at least co-plotted) by the series’s creator, I knew I’d be interested.  Like many a licensed comic, the earliest issues suffered from very stiff art, but the early stories were a treat.  It was nice to see familiar characters again, and unlike the Buffy Season Eight comics, they tended to stay in character.

After the mini-series approach gave way to an on-going series (and eventual spin-off featuring Scorpius), O’Bannon and DeCandido crafted a larger narrative around the idea of a new race, the Kkore, coming through a rift in space to conquer the Uncharted Territories.  This led to a twelve-issue arc that concluded with this issue.

During this arc, just about every world was subjugated to Kkore control, Aerynn Sun became the Commandant of the Peacekeepers and commanding officer to the large coalition of survivors and resisters.  Chiana found true love (with a bounty hunter hired to kill Aerynn and John Crichton’s son), and a number of favourite characters met their final fate.

This story could never have been told on television, yet it felt, at every step, like classic Farscape.  DeCandido really nailed the different characters’ voices, and among all the space opera bombast, found time to work in some good character-driven moments.  The art, by Will Sliney, worked well for character based scenes, although I never liked the way he drew spaceships.

There are some plot threads that were left unresolved.  We never did learn why Roiin was hunting Deke, Crichton’s son, and the story potential of all worlds being left in a state of chaos is vast, but in the end, this was a satisfying run for this comic.  I would not object to the Farscape universe being revisited again some day.

’68 #4

Written by Mark Kidwell
Art by Nat Jones

It’s been a while since we last saw an issue of this series, which we are told in the back is going to be an on-going series now.  My advice to the creators is that they get their scheduling together before soliciting any more issues, aside from the two one-shots that were supposed to come out quite some time ago.

’68 is a cool comic, so a lot can be forgiven, but it’s always tough to read the end of a series a couple of months after the previous issue; I find it really difficult to remember what had happened before, and who the characters are.

This series ends as many a zombie comic must, with the principle characters facing a massive horde of the undead, and with a very high body count, which means that the on-going series will need some new characters.  Firebase Aries, somewhere in the jungles of Vietnam, is surrounded by zombies, protected only by the group of VC who are now manning the perimeter of the base, while the Americans within continue to argue and drink themselves into oblivion.  The sense of impending destruction is palpable, and the idea of having the zombies use muscle memory to attack with scythes, knives, and rifles is a cool one, as is the closing scene, which pays homage to the famous escape from the Vietnamese embassy.

’68 takes a neat idea, and presents it with good artwork, that reminds me a lot of Steve Dillon.  What more can we ask for?  Oh yah, that the book come out on time…

Spontaneous #5

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Brett Weldele

Spontaneous is one of those mini-series that comes straight out of left field.  It features a bizarre topic, characters with questionable motives, and an unconventional approach to art and colouring.  It could easily have been a total flop, but instead, it’s a very impressive comic, showing tight plotting and some very nice character work.

Melvin Reyes has dedicated his life to investigating the reason why former employees of Grumm Industries have a tendency towards spontaneous combustion, starting with his own father when Melvin was quite young.  He’s been accompanied by a young wannabe journalist with delusions of grandeur, Emily.

Now, much more has been revealed, and we learn that Melvin may not be as innocent as he seems.  There are a couple of confrontations in this issue – Melvin is pursued by the FBI, and Emily and the local sheriff face old infirm Mr. Grumm, who has more going on than anyone is aware.

This has been a very cool comic.  Weldele employs the same style of art as he used in The Light, washing just about everything out gray, green, or sepia tones, which gives the light of the fire some extra warmth and menace.  Joe Harris also wrote the recent Oni series Ghost Projekt, and so far as I’m concerned, he’s 2 for 2 with his work at that company.  I hope he something new waiting in the wings.

Xenoholics #1

Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Seth Damoose

A more cynical comics reader would think that this book was designed to appeal to readers of Chew, Image’s hit humour comic.  There are a ton of similarities – the first page shows a scene that won’t be continued until the fifth issue, the book is populated with a bizarre cast of characters, and the tone of the humour is very similar.  You can almost hear the pitch – “It’s like Chew, only with people who are addicted to being abducted by aliens.”

The reality is, similarities aside, this is a pretty good comic.  As a first issue, it does its job, setting up characters and the general situation, and both begins and ends with a hook that makes the reader curious for what comes next.  A group of people meet on a weekly basis, in an Alcoholics Anonymous style session to discuss their experiences and interest in alien abduction.  Basically, they are xenoholics – abduction addicts.  It’s a good hook for a comic, and Williamson makes sure we understand how terribly weird all the characters are, letting the art show one thing while the narration suggests another.

When crop circles (concrete circles?) appear in the middle of Times Square, the group is spurred into action.  The comic is a lot of fun, with a few genuine laughs.  Damoose’s art is not really my thing – it looks a little like an early Steve Pugh, if he drew only stumpy dwarfs – but it does fit the story rather nicely.  I’ve been pre-ordering this book, and am not sure if it’s a mini-series or an on-going, but I’m definitely on board for a few months to see how this title turns out.

Quick Takes:

Avengers #18 – I find myself enjoying this book less and less.  Not knowing quite what to do now that Fear Itself is over, Bendis revisits every event book of the past decade that he has written in needlessly large double-page splashes, retconning in some mousy SHIELD agent who likes to collect super-DNA, while all the Avengers hang around the mansion like they always do now.  Oh, and somewhere off-panel Hawkeye decides to start dressing like his Ultimate self, or perhaps in the costume he’ll have when the Avengers movie comes out.  Despite nice art from Daniel Acuna, I think I’m getting close to dropping this title.  The fact that we’re in for at least a half-year of Norman Osborn as the main villain (again) helps me make that decision.  Note:  None of the characters shown on the cover actually appear in the comic, except for Captain America.

Batman #2 – The way that Snyder’s writing this book, it’s pretty easy to imagine that the relaunch never happened, and I think that it’s because the book is not working to establish how it’s different that I’m able to just sit back and enjoy it more than I am some of the other New 52 titles.  Capullo’s art still leaves me a little cold (he’s not bad, it’s just that he’s not right for more complex stories), but Snyder’s plotting makes up for it.  I like the idea of the Court of Owls, and its status as an urban myth that seems real.

Blue Beetle #2 – There is no doubt that this is a very competently put together comic.  My problem with it is that it’s really too similar to the pre-relaunch Blue Beetle of a couple years back, but without the slower pacing and heart that made that title so memorable.  I don’t know why Bedard didn’t do more to differentiate this BB from that one, but it leaves me with a powerful sense of deja vu while reading it.  Plus, having Jaime be able to fully communicate with the scarab from the beginning takes away all the fun of watching him learn to manage his powers.  I want to support this title, but I also want to read something new, not something I’ve already read.

Fear Itself #7 – Well, that’s all over, and of course nothing will ever be the same again.  At least, not until just before the Avengers movie comes out…  Really, this whole ‘event’ has felt very flat for me from the beginning.  It took forever to figure out who the bad guy was, or what was really going on, and I never really got to the point of caring all that much.  This was designed as a vehicle for Thor and Captain America, and worked at cross-purposes, restoring the status quo for Steve Rogers, and putting Thor in a position that is sure to be corrected before the Avengers movie comes out.  In the interim, I think all this series did was to interrupt most of the other Marvel books that I enjoy for six months.  I think I’m done with event comics – if they can make me dislike work by a writer like Matt Fraction, I’m not sure who could write one I’d enjoy now.  Also, none of the previews in the back of this book got me interested in following them over to the new series.  Defenders was the only one I was really interested in, but if that whole series, which doesn’t come out until December, only exists to wrap up some of this this mess, than perhaps I’m not that interested in it.  At the end of the day, Fear Itself read more like fanfic than anything else, and that kind of stuff you can usually find on the internet for free.

Fear Itself: The Fearless #1 – Just as Brightest Day followed the Blackest Night, we need a bi-weekly mini-series to tidy up the loose ends of Fear Itself.  The premise isn’t too bad – both Valkyrie and Sin are hunting for the hammers of The Worthy, presumably while being pursued by the various heroes of the Marvel U.  Unfortunately, Mark Bagley provides most of the art, so my interest is slight.  I may pick up the rest of this series in bargain bins.

Hulk #43 – There’s a real crowd-pleasing group of guest stars in this comic, with the Secret Avengers, Arabian Knight, and Machine Man all popping by to handle an Arab insurgency being supplied with extraterrestrial weapons.  Nextwave fans may not be too impressed with the more traditional approach to Machine Man, but I think it works here.  There are some serious continuity issues, since this issue takes place after the Fear Itself tie-ins, but still has Steve Rogers in his Fighting American-style garb, but the story and art are quite good.

Invincible Iron Man #509 – I really hope the ‘To Be Concluded’ at the end of this book refers to Fear Itself #7 and 7.3, and that with the next issue, Matt Fraction can go back to making this one of Marvel’s best books, instead of simply spinning his wheels expanding scenes from FI and having Tony sponsor a Norse dwarf through A.A.  On the up side, as is often the case lately, Pepper Potts steals the book once again.

Journey into Mystery #629 – I wonder where this series will be headed now that Fear Itself is finally over.  Since Thor’s title was relaunched, this book has focused on the newly-young Loki, and how he has been spending his time during the cross-over.  He’s put together a nice little supporting cast for himself, and for the most part, this comic has been enjoyable than FI and The Mighty Thor.  Now, I have to wonder if Loki’s little squad will be broken up, or just what the young god will do with his time.  Sadly, where last issue I praised Whilce Portacio’s art for not being horrible, that apparently couldn’t last.  Loki does not look like a child here, just short and skinny, and I have no idea what happened with that one Disir when she went through the portal.  Did she lose her arm, or was she cut in two?  The art is very unclear.  Doug Braithwaite has a few pages in this issue, and they serve as a reminder of how much better this comic looked just a little while ago.

Nightwing #1 & 2 – I didn’t get to the comic store in time to grab the first issue of Nightwing, so I picked up the first two this week, and it’s not bad.  I know that Dick Grayson is a tough character to work with – writers are never quite sure what to do with him (which is why he became I cop I figure), but I think the idea of returning to his circus roots is a little tired.  I really liked his stretch as Batman (at least under writers like Morrison, Tomasi, and Snyder), but don’t really feel like this is the same character here.  He’s much more interesting with Damian in tow.  Still, this is a very competent book, and I might be intrigued enough to pick up the third issue.

Superior #6 – Where before this series felt emotionally balanced, it’s moved squarely into ‘One to Grow On’ land with this issue, and feels like it’s falling flat.  Really, this is a strange approach for Mark Millar, who’s not exactly known for tugging on the heartstrings.

Uncanny X-Men #544 – I hate when nothing happens in a comic.  There is nothing in this, the last issue of the longest consistently-numbered series at Marvel (or DC, since the relaunch), that didn’t happen in X-Men Regenesis last week, save for a lot of pompous recap by Mister Sinister.  I knew this comic would disappoint (it is traced by Greg Land after all), but I expected that at least the story would be good.  Way to go out with a whimper and whine.

Vengeance #4 – I maintain that this is the best book that Marvel is publishing right now.  It has a smart, layered plot, involving the New Teen Brigade, the Young Masters of Evil, a pre-teen emo In-Betweener, and a variety of guest villains (Loki this month), and possibly the best art of any Marvel Universe book.  Sure, it can be a little confusing in places, but I think we should be supporting comics that make us think sometimes.

Wonder Woman #1 & 2 – This is the second of the new 52 books that I missed getting in a first print, and with Wonder Woman, I’m kind of glad that I got the chance to read both of these issues in one sitting, as it makes Brian Azzarello’s take on the Amazon princess much clearer.  I like how he’s using the Greek Pantheon in this series, in a way that reminds me a little of The Endless (I think it’s because Strife in a little Goth).  Cliff Chiang’s art is brilliant – it’s up there with Batwoman as one of the best looking of the new titles.  I’ll be back for the third issue for sure.

X-Factor #226 – It finally feels like all the gears are turning on this book again, as Madrox leads his team in pursuit of the Hangman, and just about everyone is bickering with each other.  It’s the standard stuff, but it works here.  I think Leonard Kirk was a good addition to the team – perhaps it’s his professional art that makes things click so well.

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

Deadpool Max 2 #1

Fear Itself Home Front #7

John Byrne’s Cold War #1

Key of Z #1

Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1

Ultimate Comics Hawkeye #3

Wolverine #17

X-Men #17

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Sleepwalk and Other Stories

by Adrian Tomine

Having decided to get caught up on Adrian Tomine’s library, I was fortunate to find two of his collections in used bookstores this summer.  Sleepwalk collects the tales in the earliest issues of Optic Nerve, his very occasional anthology series which recently had a new issue published.

There are a lot of stories in this lovely hardcover collection, although they tend to return again and again to Tomine’s usual themes – recent breakups, broken families, and lonely young people.  I suppose it’s easy to find Tomine’s work a downer, since so many of his characters are so sad and downtrodden, but there is also plenty of beauty to this book, and not just in his wonderful art.

Characters are faced with a lot of adversity here – they miss their ex, they have trouble communicating with their family, they hate their jobs but don’t see any other prospects – but there is also an underlying belief in the resilience of people that makes each story an enjoyable read.  Tomine frequently ends his stories in odd places, and many of the just feel like they stop, instead of end.  It’s a cool technique for this type of story, and where it would be pretty annoying somewhere else, here it works.

I love Tomine’s art.  His pencils are nice and clean, for the most part, and I like his use of ziptones for shading.  This is a good book, and I can’t wait to get to Summer Blonde, which is also on my shelf waiting to be read.

Album of the Week:

Dessa – Castor, The Twin  If only every week could have a little new Doomtree!

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Were Money No Object – The August Previews Edition With Pope Hats, Feel Better Now, Shade, Star Trek, Avengers & More Wed, 17 Aug 2011 10:00:33 +0000 Another month has gone by, and Previews has delivered the promise of hundreds of new items for the discerning comics reader to consider.  Here are some random things that got me excited, or made me wonder.  We won’t know until October how it’s all going to turn out…


I bought the first issue of Pope Hats two or three years ago at TCAF, and really liked its Scott Pilgrim-esque feel.  Like Pilgrim, it’s set in Toronto (also having scenes in Sneaky Dee’s), but its cast of characters (not counting the ghost) are more real and believable.  This was a nice surprise when I read it, and I’m very happy to see that it’s finally being continued.


I love historical comics, even when they are horror-based, so Black Fire, which features soldiers from Napoleon’s army dealing with weird stuff in an isolated Slavic town sounds pretty interesting, even if I don’t know anything about creator Hernan Rodriguez.

I wonder how many times Archaia is going to solicit The Grave Doug Freshley before we actually see it.  Years ago it was going to be a limited series, and then Archaia imploded for a while.  Then, I thought I’d read that it was going to be a $10 trade, but it never came out.  Now it’s a hardcover, but it still looks good, if you like Westerns.  Me, I’m mostly interested because of mpMann’s artwork, but who knows if it will ever happen.


If Avatar is soliciting the trade for Captain Swing, does that mean that the final issue is actually going to come out?

Dark Horse

Orchid sounds interesting.  I immediately feel like I should ignore it because it’s written by a musician from a band I don’t listen to (Rage Against the Machine), but I learned my lesson by shunning the Umbrella Academy.  The story sounds familiar – teen prostitute with a destiny in a post-Apocalyptic world, but with a one dollar introductory issue, I’ll check it out.  I love the Shepared Fairey variant – this is the first variant cover I’ve seen in years that I’m tempted to buy…

David Lapham is writing Kull?  That’s tempting, but I’ll probably see how it is reviewed and trade wait it.

There is a collection of random BPRD solo stories, Being Human.  A terrific collection of artists (Corben, Stenbeck, Moline, and Davis).  I imagine this would be a good introduction to these characters, and the best title that Dark Horse publishes.


Matt Kindt is writing a Robotman strip in My Greatest Adventure?  If it weren’t for the other two stories in this comic, or if he were drawing it himself instead of (I assume) Matt Ryan and Scott Kolins, I’d be all over this.  I hope this gets collected on its own some day.  At least Kindt is drawing this month’s issue of Sweet Tooth, which should be cool.

I’d also be all over a Huntress series, but Paul Levitz’s poor showing on recent Legion books has left me cold to the man.  I’ll look through this one on the stands, but it’s probably a no.

Now, I’m very excited about James Robinson’s new Shade series.  I’m also nervous, as the man hasn’t written anything good since Starman finished.  My hope is that returning to the world of Opal City will bring out the best of Robinson again – at least with an artist line up including Cully Hamner, Darwyn Cooke, Javier Pulido, Jill Thompson, Frazer Irving, and Gene Ha, it will be pretty to look at.  Here’s the thing though – if there was no Justice Society in the DCnU, how could there be a Starman Museum?  I would think most of what made Starman so good has been negated…

Brian Wood is writing a Supernatural series?  I’m torn – I love Wood’s work, but this is a licensed comic for a TV show I’ve never seen.  I’m probably going to pass; I remember being excited when David Lapham was writing a Call of Duty mini, but that was not good.

Spaceman, on the other hand, reuniting Azzarello and Risso at Vertigo, is a definite purchase.  Even if the first issue wasn’t only a dollar…

The Unexpected should be great.  It’s an anthology like the Strange Adventures one that came out a few months ago, and features work from Dave Gibbons, Brian Wood, Josh Dysart, and Jill Thompson, with a cover by Rafael Grampa, who we have not seen enough from.


As much as I love the Legion of Super-Heroes, and have been enjoying Chris Roberson’s writing on iZombie and Cinderella, I don’t think I am going to pick up Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes.  I just can’t see it ending up as a good comic, as both franchises have so much history and baggage, plus the burden of fans who will want to see the material handled correctly.  It could be goofy fun though, so I may get it in trade…

John Byrne’s new book, John Byrne’s Cold War also intrigues me, but I don’t have the trust for the man that I used to.  I’ll have to see how it’s reviewed before sampling it.

October marks the third month in a row I’m not preordering anything from IDW.  Before that, all I was getting was Kill Shakespeare.  I guess this company just doesn’t appeal to me.


Image is the new house of ideas, developing a ton of new and exciting projects over the last couple of years, often by unknown creators.  I’m always a little leery of preordering something that I don’t have more foreknowledge of than a Previews solicitation and maybe a few preview pages.  Luckily, I frequent a comics store that orders heavily on Image books, so there’s usually a copy or two to peruse on the shelf.  This month, I’m interested in The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, which is about a kid who gets a bodybuilding course out of a comic, but it works better than he could have imagined.  The Last of the Greats is another book I’m on the fence about – I like writer Joshua Hale Fialkov a lot, especially after Echoes, but it’s a $4 book, and I’m not sure if it’s a mini or an ongoing.

There is no doubting Feel Better Now, a 40-page one-shot written and drawn by Jonathan Hickman – the first thing he’s drawn since Pax Romana, I believe.  I’m not even reading the solicitation – I want the content to be a surprise.  This may be the most exciting thing in Previews this month.

Xenoholics is a book I’m going to take a chance on.  It’s about people with an addiction to getting abducted, and perhaps probed, by aliens.  This comic is giving off a Chew vibe, and I don’t want to be scrambling to get caught up like I had to with that title.

I’m stunned to see that The Infinite Horizon‘s fifth issue has been resolicited.  This was supposed to be out a couple of years ago, and I’d given up on it.  It’s a terrific series with art by Phil Noto.  It is about an army captain in a near future, who is trying to return to his home after war in the Middle East has kept him away.  It’s modeled on the Odyssey, and it was both smart and beautiful.  This is very good news.


Marvel’s two big San Diego announcements are starting in October, and at the moment, I’m being cautious and not pre-ordering them.  The Fearless will need to have a pretty good story reason to get me to read it (you can thank Marc Bagley for my reticence), while I need to wait and see if every issue of The Incredible Hulk is going to be $4 before I make a commitment.  I love Jason Aaron’s writing, but I have little affection for the Hulk, and don’t think Marc Silvestri’s the right artist for the project (granted, he won’t be around long – or the book will only come out four times a year).

Ahh, the membership drive cover.  What better technique to draw some interest in a comic?  Looking at the cover for Avengers #18, I’ll say right now that I hope it’s Photon (that’s what the girl Captain Marvel is called now, right?) or Black Panther.  Cloak would be cool too.  Let’s say no to Blade, Iceman, Storm, and Ghost Rider right now please.  Is it just me, or is there a high percentage of African-American (and just African) characters on this cover?  Maybe they’ll announce who the new Avengers are at Newsweek, and racist Americans can get all angry and blame Michelle Obama again.  Good times.

I loved Solo Avengers as a kid – it had a Hawkeye lead story, and a back-up featuring someone else each month.  It was often very good.  Now we have Avengers: Solo, with writing by Jen Van Meter, which is really tempting, but I’m trying to avoid $4 books.  As for Avengers 1959 by Howard Chaykin – not a chance.

Legion of Monsters sounds awesome, just because Juan Doe is involved, but with an unknown (to me) writer and a $4 price tag, I’m going to pass.  Anyone remember when Marvel announced that all new books would be $3?  Lies…

I’m very much on the fence about the post-Schism X-Men line.  I like the idea of having the two main titles – Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine & The X-Men; I just think it’s the right time for Marvel to trim the line a little, and ditch Astonishing X-Men, X-Men Legacy, and plain old X-Men.  Five monthly books (not counting Generation Hope, Uncanny X-Force, and New Mutants) is just too much.  If the title can’t be unique, it shouldn’t exist.  Or, be more blatant about it, and call it More Of The Same X-Men.

October’s Winners

Pope Hats and Feel Better Now are the two items in this catalogue I’m most looking forward to, with Spaceman and Shade tied for second.

So, what would you get Were Money No Object?

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