Inside Pulse » Xombi A pop culture mega-site with Movies, TV, Music, Sports, Comics, Video Games coverage for diehards, including news, reviews, live event coverage, audio podcasts, exclusive interviews and commentary. Wed, 01 Jul 2015 11:05:55 +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 » Xombi The Weekly Round-Up #119 With BKV & Staples’ Saga #1, Glory, Haunt, Cornell & Kelly’s Saucer Country #1 & More Mon, 19 Mar 2012 12:00:24 +0000 Well, this was one massive week for comics, with a number of new series starting, some ending, and a couple reaching the point where I feel it’s better to part ways with them.  This is an exciting time to be a comics fan, especially with the quality of creator-owned books coming from publishing houses like Image, Oni, and Dark Horse.

Best Comic of the Week:

Saga #1

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

I came to this comic with some very high expectations, and am very happy to say that the first issue of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s new series Saga exceeded every one of them.  To begin with, this book is 44 pages and only costs $3, which on its own is pretty awesome.

Saga is set in a huge, sprawling science fiction/fantasy galaxy, where two planets – Landfall and its moon Wreath have been at war for generations.  This is a proxy war that has spilled out across every known planet, and is deeply engrained in the cultures of the various races of that galaxy.  The people of Wreath are horned and use magic, while the people of Landfall have wings and are pretty technologically advanced.

When the book opens, we meet Alana and Marko, deserters from opposite sides who met and fell in love when Alana was assigned to guard Marko.  Their baby is born in the first couple of pages, and they are now on the run from their own people, looking for a way off the backwater planet they are on, with the hope that they can find somewhere to live safely and raise their daughter.

There are tons of antecedents to this series.  As I read it, I was reminded of various stories like Star Wars, Dune, Farscape, Finder, and the short-lived and forgotten Keith Giffen/Colleen Doran series Reign of the Zodiac.  Vaughan and Staples take the influences of all of these classics, and others, and move them to a new level of quality (okay, myabe not Finder, because it’s just about perfect).

Vaughan is known for strong character work, and for giving key roles to women.  When Marko and Alana try to escape, I couldn’t help but think of the dynamic between Yorick and Agent 355 in Y: The Last Man.

Fiona Staples has done an incredible job of constructing such a visually fascinating and complex world.  Various types of aliens and creatures abound, and there is a very unique visual aesthetic to the whole thing, with space helicopters, and TV-headed robots.

Image Comics has been on fire lately, and I imagine that this series is going to be the jewel in their crown.  I can not praise this title enough – if you didn’t get a copy this week, you need to go find one as quickly as possible.

Other Notable Comics:

The Activity #4

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Mitch Gerads
I really like this series.  I’ve long been interested in war comics, and have had some experience with the more modern warfare-based video games like Call of Duty Modern Warfare, which this series appears to owe a great deal to (apparently, you can play against the creators of the comic on Xbox Live).  So far, most issues of this comic have had the Omaha team – a special Direct Action team of rather murky black ops provenance, complete a single mission.  There hasn’t been a lot of building from one issue to the next, and the characters remain rather one-dimensional, but it’s becoming clear that Nathan Edmondson is slowly building towards something.

In this issue, the team has to figure out a way of bringing down a Colombian drug lord’s helicopter in such a way as to keep him alive, and extract him from the country without being identified.  They are partnered with a Delta team, and the main chunk of the issue, which involves attaching a device to the helicopter without being seen, is pretty suspenseful.

Things don’t work out exactly as they were intended to, and from that, and the mistakes of last issue, I can predict that we are moving towards a longer story arc.  I like, so far, that each issue has stood on its own, but am ready to see a little more overlap and character development, now that the ‘rules’ of this series have been established.

Blue Estate #10

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

I don’t think there’s ever been anything quite like Blue Estate.  It’s a multi-faceted screwball mobster comedy with something for just about everyone.  It’s getting harder and harder to explain what goes on in any given issue (all the elements are actually on the cover, if not very literally), but I’ll give it a try.

Tony has to get his Italian mobster father’s horse (the titular Blue Estate) to the racetrack, but he also has to meet recent widow Rachel for sex (which is really a set-up by the Russian mafia to kill him for arranging the hit on Rachel’s husband, which lost the Russians a lot of money), so he has Billy, Rachel’s brother who owes him cash on a real estate deal that went wrong, take care of it, but he passes the horse off to his stoner tenants so he can sell Rachel’s house, in order to have the money to pay off Tony.  Got all that?

That’s not the whole synopsis though, as there is a lot more going on in this issue, as both the Russians and Italians gear up for war, and the cops prepare to make their move on all of them.  Also, we learn about the effects of second hand marijuana smoke on racehorses, and get to listen in on a mystifying conversation about a sex act known as the ‘beluga’ (and no, Google and Urban Dictionary were no help – if you can explain, please comment).

This book has more characters than it does artists, but the writing team never causes us to lose track of any of them, and the subtly shifting art styles continue to make each new page a treat.  This is an incredibly complicated comic, both in terms of story and the logistics of the large number of people involved in making each new issue, but it works remarkably well.  Reading this issue, it was very easy to imagine this story as a mini-series on HBO, and I think it would be excellent.

Conan the Barbarian #2

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan

I’ve come to realise that I have to read this new Conan series differently than my original expectations of it would have allowed.  When I hear that Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan are collaborating on a comic, I expect a very literate comic, such as the two volumes of Demo, or, closer to this material, their collaboration on Northlanders. That’s not what they’re going for with Conan; in fact, this comic is closer to Cloonan’s sadly unfinished East Coast Rising than it is to anything else the two have done together.

Basically, Wood and Cloonan are having a good time giving us an action movie of a comic.  The pirate Belit is drawing closer to the vessel that Conan is on, having befriended its owner.  Most of the issue is spent with Conan firing arrows at his enemies, before boarding their boat and fighting with almost the entire crew.

Wood keeps the story moving, and Cloonan’s art is divine.  While she is an artist I always associate with the urban experience first, she is very comfortable drawing barbarian action at sea.  Her Belit is gorgeous, and I found the way she drew (and Dave Stewart coloured) the African pirates to be very interesting.

I’m not getting the cerebral high that I thought may be possible from this book, but I am getting a visceral one, and that’s just as good.

Glory #24

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell

While I really enjoyed the first issue of the relaunched Glory, in the more-than capable hands of Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell, I did leave it without a clear sense of where this series was going.  Basically, Keatinge used that first comic to introduce young Riley, and through her to make clear which aspects of Glory’s previous (cheesecake-y) incarnation were kept, and which were jettisoned.

Now, with this issue, Gloriana actually gets up out of bed and speaks for a bit, and we sort of learn where she had disappeared to for many years.  We do know that her conflict with her father has cost her her health and peace of mind.  We also learn that she is planning on building an army, of whom Riley is going to be member.

There are some other revelations at the end of the issue that maybe came a little too early to carry much emotional weight, but which do suggest what direction this series is going to be going in.

Keatinge is doing a good job of building this story in an interesting way, and Campbell’s art is, of course, gorgeous.  The art doesn’t look like what I’m used to seeing by Campbell (granted, I haven’t read his new Shadoweyes series though, so I may just be behind the times a little.  I love the large spread of the Glory-cave (that sounds kind of dirty, doesn’t it?), and look forward to seeing where this series is headed.

Haunt #22

Written by Joe Casey
Art by John Lucas and Nathan Fox

I feel like, with all the attention being given to some of Rob Liefeld’s Extreme relaunches, that Joe Casey and Nathan Fox’s similar revamp of Todd McFarlane’s Haunt is not getting the recognition it deserves.

I recently read the first trade of the series, in an attempt to better understand what Casey is going to be doing with the series, and I was a little surprised by how little anyone seemed surprised to learn that the living Kilgore brother could see and speak to the recently deceased one, never mind join with him to receive weird powers.  Maybe that was explained later in Robert Kirkman and McFarlane’s writing of the series, maybe it wasn’t.  I’m not particularly interested to find out.

Joe Casey, however, has some interesting ideas involving the whole ‘speak to dead people’ aspect of this series.  In his second issue, he introduced the character Still Harvey Tubman, who could see the dead Kilgore, and seemed to know a great deal about the brothers and what was going on with them.  He helped them escape the Casey-esque religious army/church of the future organization that had abducted them, and when this issue opens, he is on a military flight back to the US with the living brother (I really don’t remember their names).

Most of this issue is spent in ‘backflash’ (as it is called on the title page), and is drawn by John Lucas (despite the fact he doesn’t get credited on either side of the cover).  We learn that Tubman is the last of the conductors (clearly the Tubman name wasn’t accidental) who goes around leading the spirits of the dead to their heavenly reward.  We watch as he and his assistant look after the ghost of a mobster’s sister in the 70s, after which, Harvey has to spend the rest of his days avoiding the mobster’s desire for revenge.

It’s a very good issue.  Still Harvey is a great character – equal parts The Dude from The Big Lebowski and Stick from Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil.  Lucas’s art is a nice change from Nathan Fox’s usual frenetic explosion of action, although I look forward to him drawing the whole next issue.  Casey has finally laid out some sort of plan for where this book is going, and I think it will be interesting to see how the Kilgore brothers react to Harvey’s duty of separating them permanently.

Northlanders #49

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Danijel Zezelj

I guess the theme of this last arc in the Icelandic Trilogy (which is also the final arc in the series) is ‘be careful what you wish for’, as Oskar Hauksson, the eleventh generation of the family we’ve been following since the trilogy began, takes his family to war.

It was established last issue that Oskar’s father, Godar, has led the powerful family’s people (Iceland was feudal) through a long stretch of peace, and while things have always been difficult in Iceland, under Godar’s leadership, it was not necessary to pick up the sword.  Oskar feels differently, and immediately after having secured his father in a hunting cabin somewhere remote, he leads his people into an attack on another family.  Oskar’s goals, beyond personal glory, are not clear, and so, of course, things do not go well for him.

There are two great scenes in this comic.  In the first, the imprisoned Godar tells Oskar’s wife what is going to happen to Oskar and the family.  His prognostications are not given bitterly or with malice, but simply as fact; Godar is a historian, and he understands how the forces of history work.  Later, Freya, Oskar’s wife, begins to take matters into her own hands, not trusting her faith to her husband.  In this way, she shows that she is more a Hauksson than her husband.

One thing I’m going to miss about Northlanders once it is finished next issue is the work that it gave to artists that I admire a great deal.  Danijel Zezelj is perfect for this story, and I love the bleak and cold landscapes he draws in it.

Saucer Country #1

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

It’s kind of a shame that Saucer Country had to debut the same week as Saga, because while this is a very good comic, it is definitely going to be overshadowed by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s masterpiece.

Saucer Country is a dense first issue – I went back and counted the pages, because Cornell and Kelly fit a lot into just 20 pages.  The book introduces the readers to the Governor of New Mexico, Arcadia Alvarado.  She is a divorced Latina Democrat who has been considering taking a stab at the Presidency.  When the book opens, she is in a car with her ex-husband, and something strange has gone on.  He has some cuts and bruises, but neither of them can account for the last couple of hours.  Obviously, this has her security team quite upset.

As the book progresses, Arcadia wrestles with the decision she has to make – whether she should announce her candidacy or not.  She hires a Republican strategist, who suggests that by suggesting that her ex-husband was abusive, she would be able to lock down large numbers of votes.  Arcadia’s bad dreams suggest something like that may have happened to her, but her epiphany, during a speech about illegal aliens, has more to do with the extraterrestrial kind.

This is very much a comic of the moment, and I like that it is being written by a British writer who is able to explore the American political zeitgeist from an outsider’s perspective (which, being Canadian, makes sense to me).  We seem to be touching on a lot of the themes that make Americans jumpy – immigration, abortion, and race, and that’s always interesting.  I wonder how this comic has played on Fox News.

It’s very nice to see Ryan Kelly working on a monthly title again.  I’ve been a fan of his since I started reading Local (still one of the greatest comics I’ve ever experienced), and I feel that he’s an excellent artist to pull off a series like this.  I’m on the fence with most of the rest of the new wave of Vertigo titles, but expect to be with this one for the long-run.

The Secret History of D.B. Cooper #1

by Brian Churilla

I really didn’t know what to expect going in to this comic.  I tend not to read solicitation information for books I know I’m going to buy, and Oni Press had my interest with the title alone.  I was a bit skeptical though, because the only other comic I’ve read by Brian Churilla (The Anchor) wasn’t really my thing, but I decided to keep an open mind and give this a few issues based on originality of concept alone.  And that’s when I just thought it was going to be about one of the first successful skyjackers.

As it turns out, this book is about so much more than that.  DB Cooper is known for taking over an airplane in 1971, receiving $200 000 in cash (how quaint a number like that seems today) and a pair of parachutes, and then jumping out mid-flight and disappearing forever.  This comic takes place a week before that event, and we learn that Cooper is a Federal Agent who apparently is part of a remote assassination program.

We spend most of the issue in a strange landscape, where Cooper’s only companion is a one-eared walking teddy bear.  He gets into a fight with a monster, and we see the consequences of that fight in the real world.  It’s an interesting concept, and I’m curious to see how this job (he’s been an agent for about three years we are told) leads to his moment in the spotlight.  I assume most of this series will take place after the highjacking, as there is only so much that can be fit into a week, even in comics.

Churilla is having a good time designing the monsters and strange landscapes of this book.  His art is a little reminiscent of Mike Mignola in his attention to shadow and use of dark colour, but is also more cartoonish and loose.  His Cooper is a pretty complicated and unlikeable guy, and it’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

This is definitely worth taking a look at if you are in the market for an intelligent independent comic.

Thief of Thieves #2

Written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

We knew from the first issue that Redmond is a master thief, and that he’s spent a long time planning a big job in Venice.  We met his assistant/partner, and how they started to work together.  We also got a strong sense that Redmond wanted out of the thieving business, but not much more than that.  A comic about a guy not stealing things is usually less interesting than one about a guy who is, and therein lies the challenge of this series.  The only way to make that work is through strong writing, and strong characters.

Well, this issue has all those things.  We learn a lot more about Redmond this month, like for example, that his name is Conrad, and that at one point, he was married and has a son somewhere.  His ex-wife is the sister of an earlier partner, and when he joins her for dinner one night, we learn that she did everything in her power to get him to quit his ‘job’ back when they were together, and so greets the news of his retirement with anger.

Basically, this whole issue is a further study into who Conrad/Redmond is as a character, and it’s pretty interesting.  Kirkman’s plot and Spencer’s script take their time establishing Redmond’s world, and I appreciate that they aren’t just rushing into a big action movie set-up (there is action thanks to a flashback).  Shawn Martinbrough’s doing some very nice work on this series, although I keep thinking, when there are panels of women’s faces, that I’m reading something by Tony Harris, which is kind of strange.

Anyway, it’s good stuff.

The Unwritten #35

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and MK Perker

Finally, after almost three years of build-up, just about every secret or mystery that Mike Carey has developed in this series has been explained.  Tom Taylor (or should I call him Tommy now?) has a double-lengthed confrontation with Pullman, the real power behind the Cabal that has given Tom so much trouble.

Not surprisingly, Pullman’s origin lies in Old Testament times, when his story became one of the first stories, therefore giving him great power and longevity.  Now, Pullman wants to die, and figures that manipulating Tom into confronting the Leviathan is the way to do it.

I don’t want to give away much of what happened here, except to say that I’m a little surprised that we haven’t heard about an end date for this series yet.  I can really only see the need for a few more issues, unless Carey has another big surprise waiting for us.

Once again, I’m blown away with Peter Gross.  He’s been the primary artist on every issue (but one) of this series since it started double-shipping with its 0.5 numbers, and now has drawn an extra-long issue on top of that.  I hope he’s getting danger pay.

Wasteland #35

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Justin Greenwood

How quickly we as comics fans can become spoiled.  I had more or less given up hope that Wasteland would continue as a series, and now we’ve had something like three issues in a row come out on time, one month apart.  It’s a pretty amazing thing.

In this issue, Michael decides to test Gerr, who we know was sent by Marcus to kill Michael and Abi.  Michael, having some form of telepathy and telekinesis doesn’t need to lay a hand on the man to question him, and their scenes together are pretty interesting.  Abi, meanwhile, has been taken prisoner by the Knights Templar, who don’t believe she doesn’t know where her traveling companions have gone.

This is a good issue, but being smack in the middle of this story arc, it’s a little hard to discuss.  As thankful as I am that new artist Justin Greenwood is able to keep this book on track, I do miss Christopher Mitten’s work here.  His pencils were a lot dirtier, and that seemed more fitting for the types of environments that Johnston’s created.

One thing that really grabbed me with this issue is the Ankya Ofsteen text piece.  People who have only trade-waited this series don’t know about this, but each issue contains one page from the travel journal of a woman who has been wandering around the various communities and barren places that fill Johnston’s world.  Except for one other tale, each of these one-page pieces have been self-contained, but now Ankya’s story about meeting a tribe of people who live inside a mountain is continued from last month, and will carry into the next issue.  These are often a favoured part of this comic, and I like seeing that Johnston is giving Ankya more space to develop her story.

Quick Takes:

Batgirl #7 – I want to begin discussing this comic by mentioning the depth of my respect for Gail Simone.  Her Secret Six was remarkable and twisted.  Her Birds of Prey (before she left the title and came back) was a real treat.  I also loved Welcome to Tranquility, which was way too ignored.  Having established all that, I’m really not feeling Batgirl.  At the core of Simone’s best series are the relationships between the characters, and for whatever reason, those are not being developed in this comic.  In this issue, when Barbara visits Black Canary, their scene feels off – it’s not been established yet whether or not Barbara was Oracle while in the wheelchair in the New 52, so the long years of partnership and friendship between these two characters can’t really be used to inform their friendship, especially since Barbara was de-aged, and Dinah probably wasn’t.  Beyond that, the threats in this series – Mirror, Gretel, Grotesque – are hokey and not on the level I would have expected.  This is really just an average comic, which has the odd good moment.  The problem is, I’m buying way too many comics that are great these days to stand by the ‘average’ ones, so I think it’s time to bid Ms. Gordon, and Ms. Simone, adieu.  DC:  Put Simone on Suicide Squad, please, and let her get back to what she’s best at.

Batman And Robin #7 – Peter Tomasi has done a terrific job of showing a more emotional Batman, and now that Nobody has his son Damian, and is torturing him, we see Batman go all out in a very exciting action-filled issue.  Patrick Gleason does some incredible work with this issue, and the ambiguous ending has me really anticipating the next issue.  I get that Scott Snyder’s Batman is getting a lot of attention, but am puzzled about why this book isn’t being talked about a lot more than it is.  It’s really quite good.

Batwoman #7 – It really is a shame that Amy Reeder is not going to be on this comic any longer, as her work here is exquisite.  This is a pretty complex issue, as JH Williams and W. Haden Blackman have their story jump all over the place in a very non-linear, yet character-driven fashion.  Everyone knew that this series was going to be gorgeous, but I am definitely surprised by how well-written it is.

Captain America #9 – Ed Brubaker and Alan Davis are giving us a perfectly good, traditional Captain America comic, with such traditional Captain America threats as Madbombs, the Serpent Society, Machinesmith, and Hydra, with traditional Captain America guest stars like Falcon and Tony Stark.  There’s really nothing wrong with this comic, except its price, which at $4 is just too high.  I like this book, but it’s not as good as it was a year ago, and The Winter Soldier is better, and cheaper, so I’m just going to buy that now.  Peace out Cap.

Demon Knights #7 – We finally get to the end of the battle for that small medieval village all of our heroes found themselves in, and while there is a ton of action and chaos, Paul Cornell finds time to work in plenty of good character moments.  I really like what he’s done with this title, from giving Vandal Savage some good qualities to playing with Sir Ystin’s gender confusion.  At times I’ve felt like it’s taken a long time to get to where we are, but I’m very excited to see what happens next.

Exile on the Planet of the Apes #1 – This is the follow-up to Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman’s Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes series which ended last month.  It’s a couple of years later, and it seems that Tern, the human who could speak sign language, has been training other humans and organizing a revolution.  This is an intelligent exploration of the classic movie world, and it’s really quite good.  New artist Marc Laming is a good replacement for Hardman (who now just contributes to the writing), in that he’s kept a consistent look to the series.  If I had any complaint to make, it’s a little hard to tell the apes apart, but I had that problem in the movie too.

Fantastic Four #604 – I feel like this should probably be Jonathan Hickman’s last issue with Marvel’s first family, as he wraps up all of the main plotlines he’s been working since he took over the title a couple of years ago (to the point where the last two pages echo his first ever on the book).  There’s a lot of splash-page bombast going on, but the comic is still very well balanced, as Future Franklin faces off against the Mad Celestials.  It’s so nice to be able to read a story that digs so much deeper than the six-issue trade that most comics writers are working on these days, and Hickman’s FF is going to stand out as one of the greatest runs of this title’s long history.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #7 – An odd issue, to be sure.  The Humanids of SHADE City have started a revolution, and released some monsters, so our heroes split up and slaughter indiscriminately throughout the city.  That’s all good, but Alberto Ponticelli’s art looks very different from what I’ve gotten used to on this title.  I notice that he’s joined by inker Walden Wong, but even still, the art is cleaner and more cartoon-y than anything that Ponticelli has ever done, and I found it didn’t work with the subject matter all that well.  I remember how gorgeous some of his issues of Unknown Soldier were – man, I miss that title.

Grifter #7 – Compared to The Activity, Nathan Edmondson’s other comic that came out this week, this series is not going well.  The almighty hand of editorial is all over this thing, as Grifter investigates a collapsed piece of Stormwatch’s space station, and fights Midnighter, all in a bid to reveal the return of a villain who is now going to go fight Superman in his own book.  So really, most of this has little to do with the title character, except that he comes to the decision that he has to try to con the world into thinking that he’s a villain now.  Here’s the thing – he’s already on the Most Wanted list, so that won’t be hard, and maybe he should just change his name into something less synonymous with crime, and then he wouldn’t need to worry about his image.  One more issue until Rob Liefeld takes over, so I don’t have to wonder if I would drop this book or not.

Journey Into Mystery #635 – Well now, that is one wordy comic.  For much of this issue, Kieron Gillen introduces different characters, ‘dreamers’ who have been infected with the Serpent’s fear stuff, and have since fallen asleep.  Each is given a few panels, and in that space, Gillen creates characters fully, many of whom would have been comfortable in an issue of Phonogram.  Journey Into Mystery continues to be one of the most impressive comics Marvel makes, but that is entirely due to Gillen’s skill as a writer, and his ability to discover ‘Loki solutions’ to problems.

Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #3 – With each new issue, I’m enjoying this title more, as Lobster and his crew fight the German guy who controls the black fire (last seen in BPRD).  Mike Mignola and John Arcudi are keeping the story pretty simple here, but it’s an effective look at pulp-style heroics.  Tonci Zonjic’s art is terrific.

Powers #9 – It would seem that Powers really is back on track, with this being the second issue to come out this year, an amazing track record.  More than that, I find myself falling in love with the book that introduced me to Brian Michael Bendis’s writing all over again.  I’ve been pretty much done with his mainstream Marvel writing over the last few months, but this series proves that he can still throw down with the best.  Walker, Pilgrim, and Sunrise continue to investigate the murders of the Golden Ones, god-like beings, and arrive at their home in time to see a massacre.  What makes this book work though, are the interactions between the characters.  Great stuff.

The Ray #4 – I’m not sure if the end of this series is hinting that we’ll be seeing the new Ray again in a team book (please don’t try Freedom Fighters again DC, it’s not working) or what, but it seemed to be a little sudden and clipped, like maybe this was originally going to be an on-going series.  Anyway, this is not the most satisfying end to a mini-series that started with a lot of promise, but it’s still a pretty solid superhero comic.

 The Shade #6 – We’re given more superhero stuff set in Barcelona, as the Shade and his companion La Sangre, with the help of new character Montpellier, fight against the Inquisitor at the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s most famous building.  Wonderful art by Javier Pulido and great writing by James Robinson make this a terrific comic.  We haven’t heard anything lately about this title’s longevity being threatened by poor sales – does that mean it’s safe?  I certainly hope so, as this is a fantastic series.  I would gladly buy a La Sangre and Montpellier monthly, were it done by this creative team.

Star Wars: Agent of the Empire – Iron Eclipse #4 – Once again, John Ostrander proves that Star Wars comics can be great, as we finally learn the backstory of his Agent Jahan Cross, and why he is such a true believer in the Empire, while still being a more or less decent human being.  Cross travels (with the help of Han Solo) to the Iron Eclipse station, and we start to learn just what has been going on in the Corporate Sector.  This is a very good comic – if you ever loved Star Wars, but hated cutesy droids and aliens, this is the series for you.

The Strain #4 – I think I’m going to be sticking with this title, as it is doing a good job of holding my interest.  The infected start to roam the streets, and it becomes ever more clear that there is someone pulling the strings for everything that has happened in the series so far.  I’m not likely to ever read the novels this is based on, but I’m perfectly happy with what David Lapham and Mike Huddleston have been doing to adapt them to comics.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode #6 – When this series started, it was a fun and amusing look at teen power fantasies.  Along the way, it became yet another splatter-fest like Kick-Ass and the more violent issues of Invincible, but rather lacking in the heart that makes those series work.  I found this ending to be a little too predictable, and am disappointed in it.  The sudden mention of someone named Cain is really just a poor way of working up to a sequel which I won’t be around for.

Suicide Squad #7Finally, Adam Glass writes Deadshot like Deadshot.  This series has been a consistent disappointment, yet I keep buying it because comics fans are like that sometimes.  I do like that two characters I can’t stand get cleared off the team this issue (and I really hope that that final killing, which is a spoiler, sticks).

Wolverine and the X-Men #7 – I feel like the lighter tone of this series has really clicked into place with this issue, which has most of the team fighting microscopic Brood within Kitty Pryde, while she and Broo (the nice Brood) fight an alien biologist on their own, and Wolverine and Quentin Quire fight an entire casino in deep space.  It’s fun, but Jason Aaron still manages to give some of the characters moments that are more serious and consistent with their usual portrayal in comics.  Good stuff.

X-Men Legacy #263 – I thought I’d give this one last chance, and it’s better.  Wolverine’s team fights Exodus with the help of Hope’s team and a few other teenage X-Men from Utopia.  I’m not sure why we needed to revisit the whole Schism thing again so soon in this title, but whatever.  I’d consider sticking with this series, were it not double-shipped so much.  As it stands, I’m going to take it issue by issue.

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

Avengers #24

Avengers Assemble #1

John Byrne’s Next Men Aftermath #41

Ultimate Comics X-Men #9

Bargain Comics:

Amazing Spider-Man #676 & 678-679 – Dan Slott’s Amazing run continues to be just that – a lot of fun, while recognizing Peter Parker’s scientific intelligence.  The last two issues I read here contain a very cool story about a time travel door to tomorrow, and all the things that Spidey must do to make sure that the city doesn’t get destroyed.  It’s very good stuff.

Amazing Spider-Man #679.1 – It’s easy to make an argument that the Marvel Universe doesn’t need Uatu Jackson, the teen scientist that works with Peter Parker at Horizon Labs, because it already has Amadeus Cho, but I’m pleased to see that the next generation of geniuses (genii?) in comics are from a more diverse, and interesting, background than what we’ve seen for years.  This is an enjoyable issue that has Spidey and Uatu discover the identity of the secret scientist in Lab 6 – Michael Morbius, who is always good for some laughs.

Avengers #21 & 22 – I’ve missed the Avengers since I dropped the two main titles.  I don’t hate Bendis’s approach to Marvel’s main team, but I have felt like the books were meandering too much, were coming out too often, and were costing too much to keep up with, especially considering how little happens in each one.  Therefore, I decided to put it on my ‘bargain’ list, and look for issues only at sales and conventions.  These two issues confirmed that I’ve made the right decision – they were entertaining, but that’s about it.  At $2 an issue, this is something I would read forever.

Avenging Spider-Man #3 – A fun comic, which has Spider-Man defeating his enemies through humiliation, while the Red Hulk just lies around and heals.  It’s a good comic, but definitely not $4 good.

Batman: Ego – I miss ‘prestige format’ one-shots.  This one, by Darwyn Cooke, dates from 2000, and features Batman having a good long talk with himself.  It covers ground that we’ve gone over one hundred times by now, but is nice and stylish, due to Cooke’s usual attention to design and furnishing.  Not bad, but not memorable either.

Blue Beetle #4 – I fear I may have been a little too hasty in dropping this title, as Tony Bedard starts to deviate a little from the Giffen and Rogers take on this character.  The scarab is not letting Jaime tell his friends or parents about his new battle-suit, which makes conversations at home difficult, and chats with his friends deadly.  This is an inversion of how this title used to work, which depended on Jaime’s closest relationships for its heart.  That makes things interesting suddenly.

DC Retroactive: Batman – The ’90s #1 – I have some very fond memories of Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle’s run with Batman, and so liked that this Retroactive one-shot let that team reunite and revisit the early 90s.  Of course they come up with a story about Scarface and the Ventriloquist, who alongside Mr. Zsasz is their signature villain, and it’s pretty decent.  The same can be said for the reprint story.  This was a good time to read Batman, before all that broke-back Azrael 90s horribleness set in.

DC Retroactive: Justice League America – The ’90s #1 – Who doesn’t love the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire days of the Justice League?  Their work was a breath of fresh air that flew in the face of the grim and gritty virus that had embedded itself into most comics by the end of the 80s.  It was great for a while, but eventually, after fielding the Justice League Europe spin-off, things just started to lose steam.  Now, reading this attempt to recapture the past, it feels a little old and forced, although the new story made for this special is one hundred times better than the ‘classic tale’ they reprinted as a back-up.  When the creators finally left the series, it was at the end of a fifteen-part story that meandered all over the place, yet that is what DC decided to include here.  Why?  Because the good stuff was from the 80s, but they gave that Retroactive special over to Justice League Detroit.  This isn’t worth getting.  Just read the first year of the original run over again instead.

Legion Lost #4 – I really wanted to like this title, and I do find Pete Woods’s art to be very pretty, but it can’t fix the fact that this comic is kind of boring.  The time-lost Legionnaires are having a lot of trouble handling one guy who is, for all intents and purposes, just a shapeshifter.  It doesn’t really make a lot of sense, and the plodding pace is a killer.

X-Men #24 & 25 – It’s so clear that Victor Gischler really just wants to write a vampire series, and so keeps finding reasons for the X-Men to get embroiled in vamp-y intrigue.  It’s also clear that, when he’s allowed to do that, this series is at its best.  Jubilee is being trained by some ‘good’ vampires to not want to drink human blood, but her friends still want to protect her.  Here’s an interesting point – if Jubilee needs transfusions of Wolverine’s blood to stave off her hunger pains, why did she stay on Utopia?  Doesn’t seem too well thought out…

Xombi (1994) #1 – I had no clue how good this series was back in the day.  I had completely ignored the Milestone line, seeing it as another example of 90s expansionism, and while I’d always admired Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan, neither of them were enough of a draw to get me to buy the books.  Xombi was completely under my radar until the recent six-part series, which was the best DC comic of 2011.  This issue has David Kim’s origin, and features many of the things I loved about the recent comics – the Rustling Husks, Nun of the Above, and Catholic Girl.  Very good writing from John Rozum, and great art from JJ Birch (who I remember liking a lot on Firestorm once upon a time).  Now I need to start tracking down the rest of this series…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Guild

Written by Felicia Day
Art by Jim Rugg

I was rather late coming around to watching The Guild, but when I finally did give Felicia Day’s web television show a try, I was hooked.  I knew that there had been a mini-series (I’d tracked down the issues for a friend who doesn’t buy comics), but had paid it no mind, despite being drawn by Jim Rugg (of Street Angel and Afrodisiac fame).  I did start to buy the various one-shots that Day was writing with the various actors from the show, but it wasn’t until this week that I got around to reading the original comic, collected in trade.

The web show follows the on- and off-line tribulations of a group of total strangers who met playing a fantasy MMORPG, and began spending all of their free-time together.  When the show opens, they’ve not met, or even know each others’ real names.  That doesn’t last past the first episode, as their worlds collide in a number of ways that make them very uncomfortable.

In writing this comic, Day decided to share the ‘secret origin’ of the Knights of Good, by showing us what led Cyd (Day’s character) to abandon the real world and move into the on-line one.  She has always been wracked with uncertainty, and we watch as her boyfriend Trevor alternately uses and ignores her.  Seeking some sort of personal connection, she tries out this new videogame, and it’s not long before she’s met all the other main characters of the show.

As this is written by Day, who also writes the show, the characters’ voices are spot on.  Jim Rugg is a good choice for the art – he uses his standard style to show the everyday world, and has also developed a more Frazetta-esque, digitally painted style for the in-game scenes, which are more detailed than they could ever be on the show.

Reading this has left me yearning for more Guild; too bad it doesn’t look like the show will be returning.

Inanna’s Tears

Written by Rob Vollmar
Art by mpMann

I’ve been waiting a long time to read this book.  Inanna’s Tears began life as a mini-series back in 2007, around the time that I was becoming infatuated with most of the books that Archaia was publishing.  Sadly, that coincided with their implosion as a publishing house, and so only two issues were ever published (this happened with other books they were publishing, like Some New Kind of Slaughter or had solicited, such as The Grave Doug Freshley, oddly, all of my examples have the same artist…).  Eventually, Archaia figured things out (more or less – they are usually very late), and this got published as a hardcover.

Inanna’s Tears is set in Ancient Sumeria, at a time when writing was just beginning to be used to keep records and accounts.  In the city of Birith, people worship the goddess Inanna, and society is structured around the temple, and run by the Ugula, who are more or less guild-masters, controlling the people who have various functions within the city.  At the top of the social order is the En, the consort of the goddess, who attends her feedings three times daily, and whose wisdom and advice are well respected.  Outside the city lies a teeming tent-city of outsiders, who were given rights to farm the land so that they would not attack or conquer Birith.  They are run by the Lugal, an ambitious man.

When the book opens, the En, an old man named Ardru, is at the end of his life.  He names his successor – a young woman named Entika, who he raised and who has always lived within the temple.  It is unheard of for a woman to be the goddess’s husband, although Entika quickly shows herself to be an inquisitive and capable En.  However, the Lugal uses this as an opportunity to take control of the city, and conflict quickly breaks out.

It is very interesting to see such a distant time portrayed in comics with such realism.  It is difficult to ascribe motivations and behaviour that we recognize to a people we know so little about, but Vollmar’s story rings true and works well as historical fiction.  mpMann is no stranger to portraying ancient times – his work with A. David Lewis on The Lone and Level Sands and Some New Kind of Slaughter fits very well with this book, stylistically and thematically.  I’m very fond of his minimalist approach to comics, and would like to see more from him.

If you are looking for an intelligent and beautiful historical graphic novel that explores themes of religion, duty, and loyalty, you can’t do much better than this book.

Strangers in Paradise Pocket Book 2

by Terry Moore

It’s hard to know what to expect with Terry Moore’s classic series Strangers In Paradise.  On the surface, it’s a light romantic comedy about a love triangle between close friends Francine and Katchoo, and David, the man who is in love with Katchoo.

The girls argue and joke around a lot, and constantly dance around their attraction towards one another.  Well, that’s not entirely true, Katchoo is openly gay; it’s Francine who can’t figure out what she wants.  David has entered the mix, and is seriously interested in Kat, but early on in this second volume (which collects the first seventeen issues of third series), they get into a huge argument that drives David away for good.  Kat decides to follow him to California to apologize, and to bring him back.

That’s more or less where the rom-com stuff ends, because David is the brother to Darcey Parker, a powerful mobster who used to be Kat’s lover and pimp.  Darcey wants to use Katchoo to help her with an elaborate plan to win control over the White House.  Another one of her girls is positioned to marry the front-runner in the Presidential elections, and to draw heat off of her, she wants Kat to seduce the wife of the Senator who runs an committee investigating organized crime.  Not so funny, now.  Except, it still is.

Moore really found a winning formula with this series.  We all want to see Francine and Kat get together and help heal each other, but it always seems like such a long, dangerous road.  It doesn’t much help that there is a framing device used that shows how, in ten or more years, the two women aren’t even talking.  Moore sets these things up, and then doesn’t return to them for fifteen issues or so – it must have been frustrating to read this comic as a monthly.

We are also given a nice flashback sequence that shows how the girls developed their friendship in high school, and, very oddly, an issue that is more or less a tribute to Xena, Warrior Princess that doesn’t fit with the larger narrative at all.

In terms of strong character-driven comics, I can think of very few that can hold a candle to Strangers in Paradise.  Recommended.

Album of the Week:

Onra – Chinoiseries Part 2

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Were Money No Object on Feb. 1 Wed, 01 Feb 2012 14:00:05 +0000 The Books I Think You Should Buy:


by John Rozum and Frazer Irving; DC, $14.99

I remember when Grant Morrison took over Doom Patrol, which had previously been an absolutely middle-of-the-road comic, and suddenly contained more ideas in one issue than any other five comics on the rack put together.  I found the series incredibly exciting in the way that it combined surrealistic thought with superheroics in a way that no one has really attempted (successfully, there were the god-awful follow-ups to Morrison’s run on that title) since.  Until Xombi that is.

I have no idea what the old Milestone Xombi comics are like – I’ve only read one (issue 0, which is mired in some kind of cross-over), but the six-issue relaunch that DC published early in 2011, pre-new 52, was the closest I’ve come to capturing the excitement and originality of Morrison’s DP work.

This series stars David Kim, a man who had his blood replaced by nanites, and who because of that is now immortal, and able to do any number of cool things.  Kim is the title character, but really, this is a team book, as he shares his adventures with a strange group.  There’s an old rabbi who is accompanied by a pair of golem, a raffish mystic, a trio of nuns with amusing names that describe their superpowers (Nun-the-less shrinks), as well as a super-powered teenager named Catholic Girl.

They are in conflict with a very smart man, who has manipulated himself into taking over a Stronghold – a floating city of immortals.  There are an endless parade of strange characters showing up, such as an ancient spirit of vengeance, and ghost-like creatures made out of wasp hives.

Rozum’s writing is sharp and endlessly inventive.  Frazer Irving is just about the perfect artist for this level of weirdness, and the strange locales that the Xombi and his friends travel to.  This was a beautiful series, with some incredibly cool concepts providing the foundations for a very interesting story.  It’s a huge shame that this series didn’t last beyond the six issues.

Get this.  You won’t regret it.

Rat Catcher

by Andy Diggle and Victor Ibanez; Vertigo, $12.99

Here’s what I wrote about Rat Catcher when I read the hardcover in April of last year:

I think Rat Catcher may be the best of the Vertigo Crime books I’ve read.  Andy Diggle show the same penchant for twists and turns that he demonstrated regularly in The Losers, and keeps the reader a step behind him for most of the book.

This is a difficult book to discuss without spoiling some of the surprises, but I’ll do my best.  The title refers to a legend among the FBI and US Marshals Service in Texas, who have had many witnesses die on them before they are able to testify or turn state’s evidence. A couple of agents believe that these mysterious deaths were perpetrated by a single killer, who has been able to avoid detection.

When this book opens, an FBI safe house is burning, and one man, who has been shot, comes running out.  It turns out that a new witness was in the safe house, along with up to three agents.  We’re not sure what happened, but the one agent’s partner, Agent Bourdon, believes that the Rat Catcher is responsible.  The story that follows is taut and quick moving, and very well illustrated by Victor Ibañez.

So, what would you buy Were Money No Object?

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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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Wednesday Comments – The Comics That I Don’t Read Wed, 16 Nov 2011 21:01:38 +0000 Wow. Is it just me or do things look different around here? I don’t know how I feel about it. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

I have a confession to make. It’s a secret that I’ve been hiding. But, I’m going to share it with you.

Every week I head down to my local comic shop. I talk to the owner, I grab the comics in my box and I peruse the shelves for what else came out that I might be interested in picking up or giving a shot. Some weeks I find something some weeks I don’t.

And when I get home I figure out what order I’m going to be reading and in which order. I have the comics that I can’t wait read, then the comics I’m looking forward to reading and then the comics that I’ll get to when I get to (aka the comics on the chopping block.) And after the chopping block comics come the comics that I’m not going to read.

Yes, you read that right; I buy comics that I don’t plan on reading.

Ok, that’s not quite true. I do plan on reading them, at some point in the future. But that could be months down the line. Or possibly even years later, after the series has wrapped.

Allow me to explain.

Often times these comics that I don’t plan on reading are titles that are just mini series and I’m waiting for them to wrap. See, I’ve been burned in the past with books that take forever to wrap. Joe the Barbarian, Who is Jake Ellis, The Infinite Vacation, Turf and of course the infamous War Heroes all suffered from long enough delays where I’d often forget the status quo of the book between issues.

As such I tend to read minis as they wrap. That’s why Hellblazer: City of Demons, American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest and Gates of Gotham are stacked and waiting to be read. I’ll probably do the same thing with the current Penguin mini.

There are also the books that I’m collecting that I’m just behind on. I collected the first year and a half of DMZ then fell behind and dropped it, only to pick it back up about a year ago. I decided that DMZ was going to be the next book that I collect. A few years back I completed a run of Sandman Mystery Theatre and I wanted to do the same with DMZ.

I collected all of the issues of DMZ that I’d been missing at a couple cons and some sales and I added the book to my weekly pull list. So, I’ve been buying DMZ knowing full well that I’m so far away from cracking those issues open. And I’m ok with that.

Criminal is another book that’s like that. I’m a relatively recent convert to the cult of Brubaker/Phillips having discovered Sleeper two years ago. I’ve been playing catch up ever since. When Criminal: The Last of the Innocent started coming out, I’d just picked up the trade for The Dead and the Dying. Right now I’m waiting for the perfect moment to sit down with The Sinners and then it’s on to The Last of the Innocent.

Lastly are the books that aren’t really tied to an overarching continuity. I read the first issue of Xombi and loved it, but it was a book that I a) wanted to savor reading and b) didn’t really tie into any other book, so I let the issues pile up. So, despite only having read one issue, I can not only lament the book getting the axe, but be guilt free knowing that I purchased every issue.

The G.I. Joe books from IDW are much the same thing. Cobra is the book that I really love and I get G.I. Joe so I can get the full story. But those are two titles that I’ll let pile up for months on end before I dig in and read in a marathon session. And believe me, Cobra works much better in a single setting.

I’m sure some of you might be wondering why I don’t just go the trade route. I certainly could go the trade route for miniseries. Gates of Gotham, and the Vertigo minis will certainly come out in trades so there’s no real danger of missing out on the story completely.

I think in those cases I don’t go the trade route because I’m not really into trades. I haven’t really invested in a bookshelf and most of the trades that I do have are from books that I didn’t have the opportunity to buy as single issues. Issues is just my preferred mode of comics.

Now Criminal offers up some great supplemental material in the single issues. There are essays and editorials plus the occasional interview. It’s certainly a huge selling point for the not waiting for the trade.

With DMZ it’s sort of the old school fun of tracking down issues trying to make a complete run. I’ve done it with Starman, Sandman Mystery Theatre and now DMZ. My current project is getting a complete run of the Milestone books. It’s the collector in me. I love the rush that comes from finding an elusive issue.

And there you have it, the reason why I don’t read every comic book that I buy. I’m not ashamed of it, but I felt you deserved an explanation.

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Were Money No Object – the November Previews Edition Sat, 12 Nov 2011 14:00:06 +0000 It’s time to see what the New Year will be bringing us in the world of comics!

Dark Horse

There seems to be some sort of rule that there now has to be two Mike Mignola books being published at any given time, which is fine with me, especially when one of them is a new Lobster Johnson series, featuring art by Tonci Zonjic, who just finished impressing on Who is Jake Ellis?.  It’s been a while since we’ve seen Lobster – a pulp hero who always runs up against the occult.  This should be pretty good.

Two writers from the Stargate TV show are launching Dark Matter, a four issue sci-fi mini-series that looks like it could be good.  I’ve been in the mood for a nice big science fiction comic; I’ll wait to see it on the stands before I decide if this is what I’m looking for.  The fact that it sounds like Alien, but with a robot, makes me think it isn’t.

There is a Compleat Terminal City trade coming out!  This was a very cool retro-future series by Dean Motter and Michael Lark.  If you’ve never read this, you should, especially since it contains 14 comics and only costs $25.

DC and Vertigo have decided to cut Brian Wood loose for reasons I don’t understand.  Their loss is Dark Horse’s gain, as his new comic, The Massive debuts in Dark Horse Presents this month featuring art by Kristian Donaldson, who worked with him on the brilliant Supermarket.


I hope that one doesn’t need to read OMAC #5 in order to understand Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE #5.  If that’s the case, I’ll be skipping Frankenstein that month, not buying Dan Didio’s ego-fest.  Note to DC:  I’m not interested in cross-overs like this.

The trade of John Rozum and Frazer Irving’s recent Xombi series is being released in January.  This was a brilliant comic.  Order it, and send DC the message that you would like to see more books like this.

A new graphic novel by Colleen Doran is always cause for celebration.  Gone to Amerikay follows a family of Irish immigrants over a span of ninety years.  I’m not familiar with the writer, Derek McCulloch, but I’m sure the art will be more than enough on this one.

This is the second straight month where there are no new series starting at DC or Vertigo (I’m not counting the Batman Inc special).  I have to commend them for taking the time to build up their library instead of trying to quickly cash in on the increased profile and interest they’ve garnered in the relaunch.  I hope that their books continue to be successful.  I know that I’m pretty much out of my experimental phase (still can’t make up my mind about Stormwatch), and have settled on the core 15 titles I’m going to stick with for now.


I’m curious to know what led Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips to bring their newest mini-series, Fatale, to Image instead of publishing it at Icon like they do Criminal and Incognito.  Either way, this is going to be an excellent comic.

When I first heard that Rob Liefeld’s different properties were going to be resurrected, I didn’t care at all.  I figure that the books may never come out, and the characters were never that interesting.  Then I saw the solicitation for Prophet, a character I barely remember, and I realized I had to buy this.  It’s being written by Brandon Graham of King City fame, with art by Simon Roy, whose self-published Jan’s Atomic Heart was wonderful.  Add a cover by Marian Churchland, and this becomes my most anticipated book of the month.  It’s strange that they have chosen to continue with the original series numbering instead of starting over with a new number one – it kind of goes against conventional wisdom, and what is a massive industry trend right now.

I’m not sure why the Luna Brothers have split up, or if they’ve just chosen to work independently for a while, but Joshua Luna’s new title Whispers sounds like a take on Deadman, which could be pretty interesting.

I often don’t get Ted McKeever’s comics, but I do love trying to figure them out.  Mondo looks like his typical thing, which is not for everyone, but is always hideously pretty.


I think I’m done with Avengers and New Avengers.  There is not enough value in these comics to justify continuing to read them at $4 a month.  I’m mildly interested in the story (but not in the return of Norman Osborn, or the cramming in of new team members like Daredevil and Storm just cause), and will probably continue to pick them up at conventions or sales, when I can get them cheaply.

Any bets on how much longer Captain America & Bucky will last?  With the Winter Soldier comic coming up, I can’t imagine there is enough demand for three monthly Cap books.

I wonder what happened with Alpha Flight.  First, it was announced that it was an 8-issue mini-series, then we were told it was going to be on-going, and now we see the final, eighth issue, solicited.  I wonder who makes these decisions at Marvel, and if anyone is even talking to each other anymore.  This was a good comic, but I was a little surprised to learn that it was bringing in enough numbers for a monthly.  I guess it wasn’t.

And then there’s Victor Von Doom, the five (originally four) issue mini-series by Nick Spencer and Becky Cloonan.  I was very excited about this – I love Cloonan’s art, and usually enjoy Spencer’s writing.  Bleeding Cool reported this week that the series was dead in the water and wouldn’t be published, yet here’s the third issue solicited.  Confusing, and disappointing, especially when you consider that a mini-series about Magneto’s clone Joseph is being published.

I want to be excited that Brian Wood is writing a Wolverine mini-series, but there are three things going against it:  it’s drawn by Mark Brooks, it’s $4 an issue, and it features Quentin Quire.  I’m passing now, and I’ll see how I feel in January.


Tell me what’s wrong with this sentence:  “David Lapham returns to his Stray Bullets roots with a brutal supernatural crime drama that features the grueling horror of a new type of werewolf.”  What Stray Bullets did they read?  Here’s what needs to be done to that sentence for it to make sense:  “David Lapham returns to his Stray Bullets roots with a brutal supernatural crime drama that features the grueling horror of a new type of werewolf.”  Anyway, I love Lapham’s work (more so when he draws it), but I think I’ll trade wait Ferals.

Is the Warren Ellis Atmospherics graphic novel composed of new work, or is it a reprint.  I can’t tell from the solicitation.


I think it’s worth pointing out that the Steed and Mrs. Peel comic by Grant Morrison and Ian Gibson was published in North America (by Eclipse?) some twenty years ago.  I remember that it’s not bad, but the solicitation should tell us that it’s not new.


I’m very excited to see that Wasteland is going to be coming back on a monthly basis.  This comic has been brilliant – it’s an involved, well-written science fiction series that had been incredibly stable up to its 25th issue, and which has been crippled by delays since then.  According to this, Justin Greenwood will be taking over the art chores, which will hopefully fix all the problems the title has been suffering.

January looks like it’s going to be a quiet month, which is always good after the holiday madness.  So, what would you get Were Money No Object?

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The Giant Round-Up (#88,89, and 90) Featuring Fables, Chew, American Vampire, Morning Glories, DMZ, And So Much More! Tue, 30 Aug 2011 13:00:52 +0000 I know I’ve been a way for a bit, but I went on vacation out west, and explored the used book stores and comic shops of Victoria, Seattle, and Vancouver.  I also attempted to check out music stores, but those are one dying breed.  This is a long long article – I apologize for that.  If anything, it proves to me that I’m perhaps buying way too many comics.  My thanks to anyone who reads right through to the end – there is a small reward there, as apparently I stumbled across a little comics investigative journalism on my trip.

The Best of Each Week:

The Red Wing #2

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

Now this is what I’ve been looking for.  The Red Wing has cool space ships that remind me of Battlestar Galactica, nice character development, interesting ideas and settings, and a twist that actually surprised me.  Once again, by working on a creator-owned book, Jonathan Hickman demonstrates why he’s one of the best writers in comics.

Our two new recruits, Dom and Val, are working their up through the ranks of whatever the military organization they joined last issue is called.  They both have their own TAC fighters, although Dom kind of sucks at flying his.  The reason for this is that he is having a difficult time adjusting from a linear thinking style, that seriously hinders him in battles that flow through time as well as space.

We also get to see Dom’s father, who was stranded somewhere in South America in the period before European exploration, as he interacts with a local chieftain of an Aztec tribe (I assume based on the images shown).

Matching Hickman’s peerless writing is Pitarra’s terrific art.  He’s equally comfortable drawing ancient times as he is designing the futuristic look of the vehicles that the two forces fly.  I’m completely drawn into this comic; I just wish it was longer than four issues.

Fables #108

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha

There have been a couple of moments where I’ve wondered if Fables should continue.  When the Adversary was defeated, I wondered if there was much point in the series moving forward without an established antagonist.  Then Mr. Dark came along, who was a weak replacement at first, but ended up very effectively shaking up the status quo, driving everyone out of Fabletown and then the Farm.  When he was vanquished a couple of issues ago, I wondered again if it may not be time for Vertigo’s second longest-running series to fold.

With this issue it finally became clear to me that plot really has become secondary in this series.  Like a good soap opera (if those actually exist; I’ve never watched one, but they seem popular), it’s investment in the characters that drive this series forward.

In this issue, Rose Red returns with a small group to sweep the Farm for traps, while Nurse Spratt plans for the eventual return of her enemies to Fabletown.  We check in again with Blufkin and his new friends, as they try to make their way across hostile territory in Ev (is that the cat from the latest Cinderella series?).  The heart of this issue lies in the North Wind’s castle, as it becomes clear that one of Snow White and Bigby’s children will have to replace their grandfather.  These scenes are amusing and touching, as we see a side of Bigby that is not often shown.

So what I’ve learned from this issue is that, after so many years, I really like the characters in this comic, and am perfectly happy if it meanders a while, so long as Willingham keeps such strong characterizations afloat.  Also, I’m not sure what was going on with the art this issue, but Buckingham and Leialoha look better than ever.  I suspect it’s the new approach to colouring that Lee Loughridge uses here, with more of a watercolour washed effect on the background, and it looks great.

Xombi #6

Written by John Rozum
Art by Frazer Irving

I get it that sales probably weren’t that great, and that I should just be thankful that a six-issue arc of a book like this got published at all in today’s climate, but really, I’m just sad that this book is ending, and won’t be returning in the DC relaunch.  I think that Xombi would work just fine as a Vertigo book, with absolutely no changes made to it, but it is what it is.

This issue finishes up the Stronghold story that began with the first issue.  Through most of this series, the book has really been an ensemble title, with David Kim, the titular Xombie, being the lead, but not the centre of things.  And that approach worked really well I felt, as when a comic with super-powered nuns with funny names shouldn’t be about just one person.

In this issue, our collected heroes have their final confrontation with Roland Finch, the mastermind who stole the Skull Stronghold, and is now hoping to wage war on other Strongholds (floating islands of immortals).  The writing is clever throughout, and Frazer Irving’s art is beautiful.  This comic has had more than its share of interesting new ideas and colourful villains (this month, the Sisterhood of Blood Mummies), and I hope to see more work from Rozum (other than Static Shock, which has art by Scott McDaniel) and Irving (who I’m really hoping is going to finish Gutsville now).

If you haven’t read this, pre-order the trade and let DC know that you want more comics like this.  It is definitely the best thing to come out of the DCU in years, and is up there with Scalped and DMZ as one of the best books the company publishes.

Other Notable Comics:

All Nighter #3

by David Hahn

The more I read of this series, the more I like it and the characters that populate it.

In this issue, Kit gets closer to Martha, her new house-mate who has claimed to be her guardian angel, and is generally a little creepy, and also gets a lot closer to Jim Magirl, the boyfriend of one of her other housemates.  To be fair, they had a connection before he started to date Donna, but both of them know that it’s wrong.  There are other things going on too – Kit has an argument with her friend and final housemate Sally-O, but we learn nothing more about how Kit’s mother died.

Basically, this is just more of the usual slacker late teen/early 20s genre, but it’s a genre I enjoy.  Hahn’s art is always great, but this issue looks a little looser than I remember the other issues looking.  I’d have to dig out the first two to be sure, but I find that this light style works very well with this material.

I’m definitely interested to see what happens next, especially with Martha, the oddball girl.

American Vampire #18

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

I do so enjoy this series.  This World War II story, set on a fictional island in the Pacific, has worked really well to explore the relationship between Pearl and Henry, as Skinner Sweet has used the chaos of the war to make a move against the man that he apparently sees as his rival.

Most of the plot of this arc falls away in this issue, as the focus is squarely on the conflict between the two American vampires, and Henry.  I was a little surprised at the depth of Pearl’s feelings for Skinner – I’m not sure that we’ve seen enough evidence of that before now – but I also found it pretty interesting, especially as something is going to pop up again.

I also found the last page of the story to be pretty interesting.  As the Vertigo line contracts (DMZ, Northlanders, and Scalped are all finishing in the next year), this book stands as a good example of why DC should continue to invest in the imprint.

American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #3

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Sean Murphy

Here’s something that popped into my mind as I read this issue of American Vampire’s spin-off mini-series (which really only has a partial American vampire in it; the rest are European):  the Nazis have joined forces with a large contingent of Carpathian vampires, who feel that their position in the order of things is similar to that of the Aryans.  Master race, and all that.  What’s interesting is that the vampires aren’t really a race in the traditional sense; they breed through turning humans, and in the mythology that Snyder and Stephen King set up, the type of vampire they become is dependent on where they turned.

Now, since most people that would be turned in the Carpathian region would likely be ‘Carpathian’, it is not a requirement.  Were that the case, then ‘American’ vampires like Skinner Sweet wouldn’t exist; instead, there would just be some very old school indigenous vamps running around the States (actually, that’s now something I want Snyder to explore in this book).

Why am I talking about this?  I think it’s because I don’t know that the Nazis would view their new vampire allies as ‘racially pure’, following their own definitions.  Of course, the Nazis are being more opportunistic than doctrinally consistent, so it’s all good.  But this is what I thought about throughout this comic, which is odd, because this is an exciting story.  I’ve really enjoyed the James Bond feel to this one, as our two heroes learn about sunlight death ray weapons, and try to free the defecting German scientist.  Great writing, and terrific artwork – this mini is as good as the mother book.

Baltimore: The Curse Bells #1

Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Art by Ben Stenbeck

I don’t know that I was exactly clamoring for another Baltimore comic, but it seems that the Mignola comics machine is trying to maintain a greater output these days, with Baltimore and Witchfinder trading story arcs as the two outliers of the Mignola-verse (and yes, I know that Baltimore is not set in the same continuity as everything else, thank you).

I enjoyed the first comic arc (never read the novel) well enough, but appreciate the fact that I know what’s going on, and who is who in this new series much more.  The first series didn’t explain things until a few issues in, and it was confusing.

Lord Baltimore is still pursuing Haigus, the ancient vampire who ruined his life, and is still coming across traps the creature has left for him.  Some stuff happens in a small town in Switzerland, but of course, that’s just the pre-credit action sequence.  Later, still on Haigus’s trail, Baltimore meets an American journalist who knows a few things about vampires and the other creatures awakening on the Earth.  Baltimore needs this kind of character – the man barely speaks, so this new guy will provide most of the explication as we go along.

Ben Stenbeck’s art looks different here.  It’s looser and more open than before – it feels like he’s less concerned with staying within the Mignola house style (which is pretty broadly defined), and is making the book a little more of his own.  Strangely, that sometimes means that Baltimore takes on a Munch-ian quality, but that would go away were he to allow his hair to grow.

Blue Estate #5

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, and Andrew Osborne
Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Paul Maybury, and Marley Zarcone

Blue Estate shifted in tone a little with this issue.  While there has always been a humorous aspect to this comic (dark, dark humour), this issue seemed to be much lighter and almost sillier, from word play (the Sudoku scene), physical humour (termites), and the silliness of bodyguards trying on wigs.  I’m not even going to talk about the garden gnomes.

I don’t get it – Kalvachev and his team have been angling this to be a pretty dark story, but now I’m not so sure.  Still, it’s pretty entertaining, so I’m not going anywhere.

There is a new introduction to the art team with this issue, and that is Marley Zarcone.  I first noticed Zarcone’s work on Nick Spencer’s Forgetless, and I was immediately impressed.  She’s a talented artist whose style fit seamlessly with the others who work on this comic.

BPRD Hell on Earth – Monsters #2

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Tyler Crook

Tyler Crook is a good addition to this title.  He’s keeping so many of the elements that Guy Davis introduced to the title that worked, but is also putting his own spin on things.  This issue continues to focus on Liz Sherman, who finds herself stuck in a trailer park full of creepy trailer trash Satanist frog worshipers.  Crook has a knack for drawing trailer trash, I have to say.

It’s been a while now since we saw the main BPRD cast, so I was appreciative of the few pages tucked in here featuring Corrigan, Abe, and that UN guy whose name I don’t remember.  It feel like this book is going to be getting back on track after it’s Liz Sherman-centred hiatus, and I’m pretty happy about that.

This is consistently one of the best comics on the stand.  Next month it looks like the team is going to Russia, which should work for Crook, as he is the artist for the Petrograd graphic novel that looks so good.

Chew #20

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

I think we all know the drill by this point.  Another issue of Chew comes out; it contains a few surprises and moves the plot in an unexpected direction; it’s funny and very well-drawn.  Is there anything new to say?  Chew is one of the most innovative comics on the stands, yet it becomes hard to say that in some new way month after month.

Instead, a short recap.  The book opens on cast wildcard Mason Savoy, who has been experiencing a days-long cibopathic vision (cibopaths are people who receive knowledge through ingesting things), and has missed that the strange alien sky writing that has been encircling the Earth has disappeared.

Tony and Colby are sent undercover to check out the Church of the Divinity of the Immaculate Ova – a church/cult of egg worshipers who predicted the disappearance of the writing.  The leader of the church, Alani Adobo (who we have seen before) runs a pretty tight ship where eating chicken or eggs is concerned.  Some stuff happens.

As always, the story just chugs right along, paced perfectly.  Guillory always does a fantastic job on this book, and I love his little visual gags, like the face on the Kool-Aid pitcher, which ends up being an example of foreshadowing.  Great stuff, once again.

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #3

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

So you’ve put together a plan that is both simple and complicated at the same time, and killed your wife.  Everything works the way it’s supposed to – the police have followed the clues you laid out to the person you are trying to frame.  Your friends are flocking to you in support and sympathy.  Your father-in-law, who has never liked you, is showing support.  Now the big question – can you really pull it off?

It’s at this stage that I would suppose the killer is most vulnerable.  It’s human nature to let down your guard, or to slip up in the slightest way, and blow it all.  This is where Riley finds himself in this whole issue; everything is going so well, but he’s having a hard time deciding to what extent he’s acting and where genuine emotion begins.

This issue is a very powerful character study.  Riley doesn’t have guilt over his wife, but does feel badly that he led his friend Freakout, who had been sober for a year, off the wagon.  He also is beginning to see the sheer variety of possibility open to him in his new existence, but only if he doesn’t slip.

This is a very taut story.  There is nothing to like in Riley, but Brubaker and Phillips have me caring about what’s going to happen to him.  This has been the best Criminal arc yet.  Also, Jay Faeber’s essay in the back actually makes me want to watch an episode or two of Magnum, P.I., a show I never liked growing up.

Cyclops #6

Written by Matz
Art by Gaël de Meyere

Oh, Archaia.  Sometimes, I just don’t know what’s going on at that place.  They put out some of the most beautiful comics on the stands, and have very high production values, but on the last issue, they had the wrong artist’s name credited, and this issue, which is issue 6, states on the cover that it is actually #5.  Don’t people check for this kind of thing?  It’s a little embarrassing.

The comic itself is always good.  Pistoia, our hero and general puppet of his Multicorps bosses, is finally pushed a little too far.  His affair with a Multicorps employee (who seduced him) is exposed as a way of trying to rein him in, and has the opposite effect.  On a mission, Pistoia and his squad decide to disobey orders, and expose to the world what they know about their commanders’ dirty dealings in the international security business.

This comic has been slow in building to this point.  Matz has methodically set the stage for Pistoia’s awakening of conscience, and now it looks like the rest of the series will involve mercenaries hunting down the good guys.  This has been a very solid story, and it’s really heating up.

Art wise, I miss Luc Jacamon a great deal.  His replacement artist, de Meyere, is decent, but Jacamon has a much stronger sense of human expression, and panel design.

Dark Horse Presents #3

Written by Dave Gibbons, Robert Love, David Walker, Carla Speed McNeil, Paul Chadwick, Howard Chaykin, Jim Steranko, Patrick Alexander, Richard Corben, Chuck Brown, David Chelsea, Neal Adams, and Michael T. Gilbert
Art by Dave Gibbons, Robert Love, Carla Speed McNeil, Paul Chadwick, Howard Chaykin, Jim Steranko, Patrick Alexander, Richard Corben, Sanford Greene, David Chelsea, Neal Adams, and Michael T. Gilbert

There are a lot of comics in this book.  This issue of DHP, while keeping it’s $7.99 price point, increased its page count to 104 pages, which is appreciated, as that is a nice chunk of comics to digest.  I do wish I liked all of them though…

Dave Gibbons ‘Treatment’ is not bad.  Really, it’s a lot like Archaia’s French reprint comic Cyclops, starring a group of SWAT-like police officers who are broadcast live on a mix between a football game and a reality show.  It may be an interesting idea, but it’s going to need more developing than we get in this first installment (I assume there will be more).

As always, the two stand outs in this book are Paul Chadwick’s Concrete, and Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder.  In Concrete, Chadwick addresses the issue of unjustified police tasering.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but the best Concrete comics are the ones that have the stone giant explore a social issue that doesn’t often get much play, especially in comics.  Chadwick’s environmental stance had a huge influence on me when I was younger, and it’s nice to see that he’s still using his work as an engine for some kind of social change.  I think this may meander a little too close to being preachy, but I admire Concrete’s usual stance that there can be a better way of doing things than what is current practice.

Finder is incredible.  Having read Voice, the most recent graphic novel, I now get a lot more of the context of this DHP strip, and I’m loving it.  In this chapter, Jaeger helps an old lady who has missed her train stop by taking her through a short-cut which crosses the incredible city that McNeil has built.  The story ends on a pretty creepy note that I thought was very effective.

I’m enjoying Love and Walker’s Number 13.  There is more happening in this chapter that is getting me interested in this post-apocalyptic story, and I’m curious to read what’s going to happen next.  Also, I’ve been enjoying Richard Corben’s pieces, although I found this month’s to be a little disjointed.

Beyond that, the book becomes kind of mediocre.  I know this may be sacrilegious to many comics fans, but I didn’t feel Steranko’s Red Tide excerpt much at all.  For all his bombast about his own ingenuity, he’s written a fairly standard and cliche-ridden private detective prose story, which is only marginally assisted by his art.  I don’t think I’ll be looking for the full book when it comes out.

Howard Chaykin’s Marked Man is growing on me a little, but I still don’t like his art.  Likewise, Neal Adams’s Blood continues to be incomprehensible and way over-written, but pretty.  I find Brown and Greene’s Rotten Apple, which debuted last issue, to be pretty incomprehensible too.  Snow Angel, which I found refreshing earlier, doesn’t even appear to have a point this month.  It’s pretty rambling.  And, after having been burned last time, I didn’t even bother to read Michael T. Gilbert’s Mr. Monster.

DMZ #68

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

I can see where some may feel that this final story arc in DMZ is a little anti-climactic, as this issue is all about Matty driving around Lower Manhattan with Zee, meeting people and talking about the future of the city, but I find it fascinating.

To start with, the proposal to divide New York into ‘Five Nations’ in the wake of the peace armistice between the US and the Free States is pretty interesting.  Matty has two weeks to finish up his work before he has to turn himself in to the government, and he’s using that time to organize his notes and complete as comprehensive an accounting of the war as he can.

He and Zee travel to Ground Zero, a first for Matty, and then meet with a representative of Lower Manhattan – the ‘First Nation’.  He is, of course, a “finance real-estate douchebag”, which is what Lower Manhattan is known for.  I like how Wood shows us the real Ground Zero, and then shows us exactly the type of people who profited from it.

There is something wistful about this arc, as we ride with Matty through the city for a final time.  I plan on soaking up as much nuance as I can from the remaining three issues of this series.

Graveyards of Empire #2

Written by Mark Sable
Art by Paul Azaceta

I like zombie comics (when they are well written).  I love war comics.  So, putting the two together obviously grabbed my attention, just as it has in ’68, the Vietnam War zombie comic also being published by Image right now.  And as much as I’m enjoying that title, I think this one is far superior to it.

I have a few reasons for saying this.  To begin with, I’ve been following Paul Azaceta’s career since he drew Mark Sable’s Grounded a few years ago, and I feel that these two work particularly well together.  The main reason why I’m enjoying this book so much though, has to do with its portrayal of American involvement in Afghanistan.  There are a number of flashbacks in this book that show an older, widowed farmer and his family having to deal with successive waves of Taliban, American army, and American military contractors, all trying to influence his actions.

The Taliban force him to grow opium, and threaten his children.  The Americans try to buy him off while an Afghan police officer threatens his son.  Later, the military contractors burn his crops, leaving him destitute, and in danger of Taliban reprisal.  It’s clear that, once again, it’s impossible to win ‘hearts and minds’ without understanding the local conditions.  I love that no one is bothering the members of Karzai’s tribe who are also growing poppies in the next field.

In the present, the American FOB is under attack from a group of Afghan zombies.  They repel the attack, but are soon faced with a larger group approaching, with the locals stuck between them.  Sable handles the distrust between these groups, and the on-going cultural misunderstandings beautifully, adding tension and intrigue to a story that could easily just be a repeat of genre tropes.  It’s good stuff.

Hellboy: The Fury #3

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Duncan Fegredo

I’ve always liked beginnings better than endings.  In life, as in stories, the start of the journey always seems more exciting, fraught with dangers, and alive with possibilities.  Endings seem kind of final, even when they open the door to something new.

I’m a recent convert to Hellboy, having only started reading the title about two years ago, and quickly getting caught up to the current storyline.  Basically, ten plus years of storytelling culminates in this issue here, as plots that have been running as long as the series more or less get resolved, and Mignola puts his big red hero in a new environment, where he will start his next adventure.

The book is full of massive battles, and tons of gorgeously detailed images of destruction, but I liked the beginning of the whole thing better.  Endings to large sweeping epics always seem a little small and a little like a cop-out.  That said, I do look forward to the next time we see Hellboy, even if it’s not going to be for at least six months.  In fact, I kind of need a break from him, which is something that never happens to me with Mignola’s other regular title, BPRD.  I expected that this conclusion would bring HB back to his former comrades-in-arms, but that wasn’t to be.

I realize that I’m not actually on the fence about this comic; I’m just kind of indifferent to it.

Hero Comics 2011

Written by Neil Gaiman, Christopher Ivy, John Layman, Jason Craig, Sam Kieth, Ralph Reese, and Richard Starkings
Art by Mike Dringenberg, Sam Kieth, Christopher Ivy, Rob Guillory, Jason Craig, Ralph Reese, and Dougie Braithwaite

I picked this up for two reasons.  The first reason is that, being on vacation, I couldn’t buy anything that was on my pull-list back home, and knew I’d never ordered this.  Secondly, there are some seriously impressive names attached to this anthology fund-raiser comic.

The biggest thing about this book is that it reunites the creators of The Sandman for a creepy little nine-page story.  Gaiman has a narrator talk about the odd little hotel he stayed at near some beach in England, and it is very clear that this story is being told from beyond the grave.  What makes this work is more the art than the writing – Kieth and Dringenberg meld their styles (more on this momentarily) in such a way that I’m not sure who has done what.  The story looks like a marriage of Jon J Muth and the Expressionist painters, and it works very well.

What didn’t work was the follow-up story that Kieth illustrated, which is made up completely of the texts of e-mails between Kieth, Dringenberg, Gaiman, and editor Scott Dunbier.  I’m sure there are a lot of people who would greet this ‘peer behind the curtains’ kind of thing, and would like to learn how the comic was made (or at least discussed in its inception stage), but personally, I found it dull as paint drying.  Also, I strongly developed a dislike for Mike Dringenberg, who comes off sounding like a pompous ass.  I don’t disagree that he is as talented as he says he is; I just don’t need to read it coming directly from him.

Also of interest in this book are short pieces from two of my favourite Image series.  The Chew short is brilliant – Tony has to ingest a strange new hallucinogenic pill in order to discover where it comes from, and he trips out.  Guillory clearly had a good time with this one.  In the Elephantmen short, Richard Starkings kept the atmosphere pretty sombre, as he tried to match his story with the theme of the charity that this comic supports (Hero helps comics creators with medical or financial issues).

Finally, there are three one-page strips by creators who have benefited from Hero’s help.  These are affecting, and useful for reminding the reader why he’s bought the book.  In all, a decent enough collection that it’s worth your $4, especially considering that buying it is a good deed.

Kill Shakespeare #12

Written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
Art by Andy Belanger

I really want to congratulate the Kill Shakespeare team on completing their series.  It’s rare for independent titles to make it to issue twelve, and to do so in a relatively timely manner, and maintaining such a high level of artistic and story-telling quality is impressive.

Kill Shakespeare is an original book.  Basically, it’s like Fables, but populated with characters from Shakespeare’s oeuvre.  The great villains – Lady MacBeth and King Richard are in opposition to the more heroic figures – Juliet, Othello, and even comic relief-providing Falstaff.  Hamlet, the prophesied Shadow King, starts stuck somewhere in the middle, but eventually comes to the right side of things, as all heroes will.

The story wraps up nicely, if a little predictably.  On a larger level, this series asks questions about what life would be like if people could actually meet their creator.  The writers don’t delve too deeply into this aspect of the story, but I presume that future volumes (and we are told to expect more from this world) may explore this train of thought.  To be honest, that’s something that would draw me back more than another action-based story.

I’ve really enjoyed watching Andy Belanger grow as an artist and experiment with some new techniques in panel layout.  This issue, he does a thing to show action by having the same character appear more than once in a panel, and it didn’t really work for me.  At one point, I thought there were two Richards.  It was weird.

Morning Glories #11

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

It’s about time that the most interesting member of the Morning Glories crew gets his own issue.  Ike has been the smarmiest, cruelest, funniest, and most selfish character in this book since it started, playing first season Sawyer to Casey’s Jack at every turn.  I was worried that as his back story became more clear, he would become a more sympathetic, perhaps just ‘misunderstood’ character.

Thankfully, the more we learn about him, the worse he seems.  Gribbs, the sadistic enforcer of the Morning Glory Academy wants to recruit Ike to kill someone for him, and think he knows what to offer to get his cooperation, although he’s wrong.

These scenes are cut with flashbacks to Ike’s life before the school.  He is just as manipulative and mean-spirited as we have been led to believe.  Of course, there is an appearance by the mysterious Abraham, who has shown up throughout this arc (and is, perhaps, the model for Ike’s scarf-wearing aesthetic?), and an unexpected twist at the end.

As much as I enjoy this series, I am concerned that the sheer weight of the constant twists and turns will erode any structural foundation, and make this story impossible to resolve.  This is the longest and most complex story we’ve seen from Spencer so far, so I have a slight fear that he may not be able to pull it all off.  But it’s a fun rides, so it’s all good for now.

Northlanders #43

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Paul Azaceta

This is a good week for Paul Azaceta.  He has this book out, and Graveyards of Empire, and they are both excellent and vastly different.  In Graveyards, Azaceta gives us dusty and dry Afghanistan, whereas here, we get to see 880 AD Iceland, with wonderful battle sequences and a cool whaling scene.

Ulf, the child we saw being so mistreated in the first chapter of The Icelandic Trilogy, has grown up into a right little prick, and has taken over his father’s role as leader of one small section of Iceland.  After his livestock is stolen, he leads his men on a vicious raid against the neighbouring Belgarssons, and begins to assert his authority over the whole island.

It’s interesting how Wood has changed Ulf from the slightly sympathetic character that he was last issue into a proper little monster.  I’m curious to see where this story is going, and still saddened by the knowledge that this is going to be the last arc of this thoughtful and engaging series.

The Secret History Book Sixteen: Zion

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordey

What I like most about this title is that it asserts, with almost every issue, that history is important.  Now that the storyline has moved into the post-war, early Cold War days, Pécau is mining the events of earlier issues to help provide context for these current ones.

Now that the Archons have lost one of their number, they need to redivide the city of Jerusalem, which has always belonged equally to all four (each getting one of the historic quarters).  The problem now, is that humanity has moved beyond the Archons, and no longer feels the need to bow down to their guidance or counsel.  In other words, the ‘American Century’ is under way, and we all know what it’s like to try to tell Americans something…

Actually, it’s a little easier than trying to tell something to the Israelis, which is also documented through the actions of Adam and his band of fighters (who were introduced last issue).  They are now fighting against Jordanians, and require the help of their friend from the war, our recurring hero Curtis.  He is also in Israel, working as a mercenary, and he makes a pretty significant break with Reka.

As always, a lot happens in this issue, but it doesn’t suffer from the occasional lack of coherence that often plagues this comic.  Of course, even when it’s at its most confusing, I still enjoy it, because, as someone with a degree in history, I appreciate the importance it gives it.

Spontaneous #3

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Brett Weldele

Things take a few turns for the weird with this issue, as we get many of the pieces of the spontaneous human combustion puzzle put together for us, while other, new mysteries come to light.

It seems there is some corporate military contract work origin to the reason why so many people are suddenly bursting into flames in this one little town – a more more fiery version of Gulf War Syndrome, and our two heroes are figuring things out.  Of course, that may not work for them, as Melvin finds himself in some new kinds of trouble.

Also of interest is Melvin’s relationships.  It’s been pretty clear that he’s going to fall for Emily, but what I didn’t expect is the unrequited love of his former investigative partner and general tech-support guy Kenny.  This adds an interesting wrinkle to things, as does the appearance of a voice that Melvin hears.

Harris and Weldele are doing a great job building up some suspense and wonder in this comic.

The Stuff of Legend Vol.3: A Jester’s Tale #1

Written by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith
Art by Charles Paul Wilson III

The Stuff of Legend seems to be growing into an ever more sprawling adventure epic.  In the second volume, The Jungle, the group of toys who have ventured into “The Dark” to save their young master faced great divisiveness in their ranks, as a revelation of guilt splits them irrevocably.

This new arc is mostly focused on one of the toys – the Jester – who in the real world is a jack-in-the-box, and his quest to find his Princess, who appears to have been kidnapped and taken to the Indian lands (as this story is set in 1944, when kids played Cowboys and Indians, I’ll let the misnomer go).

What makes this most interesting is that it seems there is another Jester roaming The Dark, sticking to the seas and terrorizing the Boogeyman’s navy.  As always with this series, Charles Paul Wilson provides some excellent visuals, which really help propel the story.  I’m getting a little tired of the sepia tinting though.

The Walking Dead #88

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

As much as I love this series, there is always the odd issue that is only very very good, as opposed to the usual level of fantastic I’ve come to expect.  This is just one of those issues.

Carl is awake, but doesn’t have all of his memories.  Rick is having a hard time coping with all of this, so he decides to go out scavenging in the area around the town.  Andrea tries to get rid of that guy that likes her, and there is a possibility of new intrigue taking place within the community.

It is a very good issue, but it feels a little like a conduit between two places in the story, and so doesn’t hold up well as its own thing.  As always though, there is strong characterization and great art.

Quick Takes:

Alpha Flight #3 – Aside from a couple of characterizations that still feel off (namely Vindicator), I’m enjoying seeing one of my favourite teams getting a respectful and mostly faithful treatment, as Alpha Flight escapes from the new Prime Minister and attempts to plan their next move.  This is a straight-up old school superhero comic, without all the decompression, and it’s pretty enjoyable.  Maybe it will start a trend…

Avengers #16 – I’m glad someone decided to address the fact that Steve Rogers may not be happy that Bucky Barnes was killed (again).  I would have thought that it would have fallen to Ed Brubaker to handle this in Cap’s own title, but I guess that would be foolish.  Instead, we get this story of Rogers (along with the various female SHIELD agents he hangs with most of the time) going after Sin somewhere between the panels of Fear Itself #4.  It’s a decent story, but I’m so sick of the framing device that Bendis is using in these Avengers tie-ins; he wastes page after page with characters repeating the same thing.  It’s tiresome.

Avengers Academy #18 – Another decent issue, with an image at the end that has me really looking forward to the next issue.  This whole Fear Itself thing is taking a little long in this title too, especially since it’s so frequently bi-weekly, but at least Gage is putting it to good use in terms of character development.

Batman and Robin #26 –  Under Grant Morrison and Peter Tomasi, this comic was excellent.  I really enjoyed the interplay between Dick Grayson as Batman and Damian Wayne as Robin.  It was the freshest these standard characters have felt in years.  I thought I’d pick up the last issue, written by David Hine and featuring his Night Runner character, who despite the ridiculous mini-controversy he caused, was actually pretty interesting.  Unfortunately, Hine is just playing around with this Dadaist tribute to early Grant Morrison, which is all about flash and deconstructivist humour, but totally lacking in substance or heart.  Even with Scott Snyder and Peter Tomasi involved in new Batman titles, I don’t expect to enjoy the character as much.  In a way, it’s fitting that this issue was let-down; it should make next month’s less disappointing.

Batman: Gates of Gotham #5 – In the end, this is a satisfying story, and I suppose the last time we’ll see Dick in the bat-suit working with Tim, Damian, and Cassandra.  It’s too bad, because this series shows how the Batman Inc concept can work with other creators.

Batman Incorporated #8 – Well this is all kinds of confusing.  I don’t mean the art – which is that really difficult to follow digital stuff, or the story about Internet 3.0 and a group of investors who come under attack while taking a tour of it, but how exactly DC is rectifying continuing Grant Morrison’s story, but as a part of the DCnU.  To begin with, when Volume 2 rolls around, it will have a Batman/Stephanie Brown Batgirl story, but I thought we’d established that Brown wasn’t going to be Batgirl anymore.  It would be cool if this title stayed in the old DCU, and could therefore somehow be the thing that brings it all back (which we all know is going to happen within two years).

Birds of Prey #15 – Here we have a mediocre fill-in to finish off the relaunch of this title that never quite seemed to find its legs, even under the guidance of Gail Simone, the creator who has done more for Barbara Gordon, Black Canary, and Huntress than anyone else ever could.  I’m going to be following Batgirl (even if I don’t like that Barbara appears to be walking again), but am not too interested in a Birds of Prey written by Duane Swierczynski.

Captain America #2 – I wonder if Ed Brubaker has even read Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Warriors series.  Or, conversely, I wonder just when this story is supposed to be taking place, as it seems like Nick Fury is running SHIELD (although they seem careful not to call it that), and there is still no substantive mention of Bucky.  It’s like this is Astonishing Captain America or something.  The story is okay, but not particularly gripping, and Steve McNiven manages once again to be technically perfect in his art, and still dull as paint drying.  I’m not sure I’m long for this new series…

Captain America and Bucky #621 – Whereas this one is keeping me pretty happy.  I feel like Cap’s exploits in the Second World War have been covered to death, but I like that writers Brubaker and Andreyko are writing this more from Bucky’s perspective, which gives things a fresher feel.  The real star here is Chris Samnee, of course, who is his usual incredible self.

Daredevil #2 – I’m really enjoying Mark Waid’s more light-hearted approach to this book, as DD gets back to some straight-forward superheroics, trying to help a client of his, and uncovering Klaw.  There’s a good cameo by Captain America (which does set off some continuity issues, since he’s back in costume and slinging his shield, so this should be happening after Fear Itself, negating what happens in #5), and great art by Paolo Rivera.  I wasn’t going to buy this new series, but now I’m hooked.

Detective Comics #881 – Now that is one satisfying way to finish off a run of a book.  I sure hope DC knows what they’re doing with this relaunch, because in my current opinion, they’ve totally disrupted a fantastic team at the height of their game, and by replacing artists Jock and Francisco Francavilla, are saddling writer Scott Snyder with a much less versatile artist who isn’t capable of drawing the types of stories he’s been telling here.   This leads me to fear that his Batman is not going to be as sophisticated as this Detective run has been.  In this issue, Snyder has Batman and Barbara face off against James Gordon Jr., and we learn that he’s been involved in everything that’s happened since Snyder started on the title.  Amazing writing (okay, it’s a little wordy, but it all had to fit), terrific art, and narration that hearkens back to Snyder’s first issue on the book.  I hope this long story is recognized as one of the better Batman stories ever told.  And with 19 issues before #900 – any bets on how long the new DCU is going to last before we do the re-numbering trick?

Farscape #22 – In typical Farscape fashion, it seems that Chricton has an idea to defeat the near-indestructible Kkore, and it more or less involves having everyone sit in a circle and sing ‘Kumbaya’.  But, because this comic has become as good as the show in terms of writing, I totally buy it, and can’t wait to see how it turns out (and goes wrong, because Chricton’s plans always do).  Apparently there are only two issues remaining in this series.  I don’t know if it’s going to be returning or if that’s it, but I have to say once again how impressed I’ve become with this comic, it’s sense of character, and its ability to honour what happened on the TV show, without being trapped in a cycle of repetitiveness, or totally jumping the shark (I’m looking at you, Buffy).

Fear Itself #5 – I guess there is commercial reasons for giving people exactly what they want, but it rarely leads to exciting or compelling storytelling.  Most of this issue is taken up with a big brawl between Thor and the Worthy-ized Thing and Hulk.  Because the world needs to see another one of those fights.  There are a couple interesting things happening with Captain America (who for some reason is wearing a helmet through most of this issue, and looking like a cross between Bryan Hitch Ultimate Cap and the dude in the Captain America movie from the 80s), except that they are more or less proven temporary by the latest Captain America #1, and therefore lose all weight.  I’ve reached the stage where I wish this series would just finish, so that the comics I enjoy could be about what they are usually about again (I’m tired of only getting one good storyline a year out of titles because of event hijacking).  Also, for the first time, I noticed that when the Thing became a tool of the Serpent, he got a Starro attached to him.  Secret DC crossover perhaps?

FF #8 – We’re thankfully back to the present after the recent diversion through Kree history, and there is both a lot of chaos in this issue and more than a little character juggling going on, as the Future Foundation receives a bunch of new, villainous, members, and the team heads to the sight of battle between Attilan and the High Evolutionary’s City.  This book is at its best as it works its way through Hickman’s complicated plot.  Having Epting back on art helps things along considerably.

Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown #3 – This mini-series was a disappointment.  It’s final issue is crammed with exposition, story elements that felt out of order (how did Jake II get there first?  why did the old guy talk so long, and then notice the dying werewolf?), and general filler.  I really want to have hope for the new Frankenstein series coming out of the DCnU, but this has made me wary instead of piquing my interest, which is what I think it was supposed to do.

Flashpoint: Project Superman #3 – I figure, if I just remind myself that it’s rare to see Gene Ha art, then I don’t mind that I bought this comic.  The story did nothing for me, and I’m not sure I understand why Kal and Lois were the same age last issue, but now that time has passed, Lois is so visibly older.  Maybe if I was up on reading or cared about Flashpoint, this would be exciting or relevant.

Generation Hope #10 – I think this may be my favourite part of Schism so far, as Kieron Gillen takes the concept of the Museum of Mutant History and fleshes it out beautifully, and in such a way that it really adds to Idie’s actions in Schism #3.  The more I read of Gillen, the more I like him doing corporate work at Marvel (would still rather be reading Phonogram).  This blends perfectly with Schism, especially where Idie is concerned.  Tim Seeley is starting to grow on me as an artist.

Hulk #39 – Jeff Parker spends a good deal of this issue having Red Hulk walk around  old family farm reminiscing, and it reminds me of why I started reading this book under Parker in the first place.  Of course, Hulk’s multiple enemies show up once again.  I’m happy to see Gabriel Hardman back on this title, and hope he sticks around for a while; he and Bettie Breitweiser are a terrific team.

Invincible Iron Man #507 – Nothing gets advanced here.  While last issue was all fun with cursing dwarves and drunk Tony, this gives us more of the same, as Fraction has to drag things out to last the length of Fear Itself.

Journey Into Mystery #626 – Loki’s plans continue to come together in the most delightful ways, as he messes with Surtur and steals something from the armory of Asgard.  Kieron Gillen delivers such terrific character work – this series is the best thing about Fear Itself and any of its tie-ins.  Also, this helps explain what’s going on in New Mutants, which was not clear in that book.

Justice Society of America #54 – Another unsatisfying conclusion to a less than mediocre run on a title I used to love (this review could be interchangeable with that of the Legion issue below).  Guggenheim really disappointed on this run, and the decision to just randomly kill off a character because it’s the ‘end of the DC universe’ is pointless – what’s the value of killing a character unless the ramifications of that death can be felt.  I do like the Darwyn Cooke cover, so at least there’s that.

Kick-Ass 2 #3 – If you can overlook what a ridiculous figure Mark Millar has become, with his constant self-promotion and general disinterest in putting out timely comics, you have to sometimes admit that, when doing creator-owned work, he still brings it.  And somehow gets a better performance out of John Romita Jr. than Bendis has gotten in even a single panel of his work on Avengers.

Legion of Super-Heroes #16 – Well, that ended off as mediocre as this whole run has been.  Levitz’s return to the Legion has been one huge disappointment, and I don’t really understand why.  His legendary run on the title back in the day still stands up, whereas this run will be quickly forgotten.  So, will things get better with the relaunch?  I’m not even sure I care anymore.

New Avengers #15 – I suppose there are some people out there who are happy to see a Squirrel Girl-focused issue, especially since the character has barely been used since being hired as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’s nanny, but much like this week’s issue of Fear Itself, this felt more like fanboy pandering and tie-in water-treading than it did anything else.  It’s a good issue for what it is, but it’s basically something that would show up in the deleted scenes section of a DVD.

New Mutants #29 – I read this story of Dani Moonstar trying to leverage Hela to help with the Fear Itself stuff before reading the most recent issue of Journey Into Mystery, and wondered if  Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning had talked to Kieron Gillen, but then JIM cleared up everything in a single panel.  I don’t know Marvel, you start a new direction on this book, and it lasts for one arc before we’re stuck in tie-in land, which will last until the next new direction rolls around post-Schism.  It’s hard to justify sticking with Marvel comics these days for this very reason.  No idea gets time to be developed.  Also, I hate the way David LaFuente draws Sunspot.  He should not look like The Beast.

New Mutants #30 – More of the same really.  Not bad, but not exactly good either.  I expected a lot more from Abnett and Lanning…

Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger #1 – I’m not reading Spider-Island (I will eventually, but not at cover price), and haven’t really ever felt Cloak and Dagger, aside from the strong visuals the two evoke.  So why did I buy this tie-in series, especially when I’ve come to the point of hating tie-ins?  Two reasons – Nick Spencer and Emma Rios.  And it’s exactly what I expected – a well-written, novel approach to the characters that is absolutely gorgeous.  If this were a monthly, I’d be on board in a second.

Superboy #11 – I liked Jeff Lemire’s take on Superboy, but feel like he wasn’t given enough time to really develop and work with the small-town approach.  This issue shoe-horns in the conclusion to the Phantom Stranger story, and glosses over the Psionic Lad plot in a ridiculously facile way.  I don’t remember if Pier Gallo is getting a book in the DCnU, but he should; I’ve really come to like his art.  I won’t be getting any Scott Lobdell comics in the New 52 (short of stunning reviews), so I guess this is good-bye to this character.

THUNDER Agents #10 – A satisfying conclusion for the first volume of this book.  I’m very pleased that it’s going to be returning in November, and am looking forward to seeing how an artist like Wes Craig’s style will work with Spencer’s writing.  He usually does best with a realist artist, but I’m intrigued to see how this is going to look.

Thunderbolts #162 – Jeff Parker is another writer who can make good use of the cross-over nonsense of Fear Itself to progress what was already working in this comic.  As Chicago is attacked by weird creatures, the Underbolts make their move, and Man-Thing proceeds to the next stage of his evolution.  Tons of action, great character work, and some real pay-off for hints that Parker has been laying out since he came on the book.  Good stuff, with some great art from Valentine De Landro and Matthew Southworth (who don’t really complement each other well, but are both great artists).

Uncanny X-Force #13 – I suppose the fact that X-Force’s sales went up with the start of this ‘back to the Age of Apocalypse Dark Angel Saga’, just as my interest in the title started to go down says something about my tastes as opposed to the rest of comic land’s.  I don’t care; this comic was more interesting when it was just about the team members; there are a few too many people to keep track of here, and  I find it hard to care about what is happening on an alternate Earth that always stands out as an exemplar of why I dropped almost every Marvel comic back in the 90s.  Oh, and I don’t like Mark Brooks.  I thought I could handle it at the start of the arc, but it’s not working.

Uncanny X-Men #542 – Accepting that this is another filler story, biding time for Fear Itself and Schism to end, it’s actually very good.  I like how Gillen is applying the different power and skill sets of the X-Men to stop the Worthy-ized Juggernaut, and giving some oft-forgotten mutants a little bit of the limelight.  Unfortunately, the book is still drawn by Greg Land, so it’s often hard to tell which X-Men is which without reading the little identity boxes his art necessitates.  Also – this story takes place before Schism, right?  I mean, it would have to, as the X-Men all get along still.  So does that mean that the changes we see in Colossus this issue will be reversed next?

Vengeance #2 – Reading this comic almost requires a master’s degree in third-rate secondary characters, and I’m not too sure I know what all’s going on yet, but I have to say this may be my favourite Marvel comic right now.  The Teen Brigade move shop and hang out with emo pre-teen In-Betweener, while the Young Masters move into an old Hydra ship, and try to steal Bullseye’s body, before getting attacked by Lady Bullseye.  Nighthawk and his Defenders crowd sit around and chat, and some more stuff happens back in 1944.  This is definitely a comic that rewards close attention, but Joe Casey is also filling it with nice character moments (he gets Angel and Beak in a way that no one has since Grant Morrison wrote X-Men), and Nick Dragotta proves that he’s one of the best artists in the business.  Fantastic stuff, better even than the Dark Reign: Zodiac series Casey wrote a year or two ago.

Venom #6 – I’ve been enjoying this title more than I expected to, and like that Rick Remender pulls off the Spider-Island tie-in while still staying true to the feeling he’s established on this book (complaining about tie-ins really has become a theme for this column, hasn’t it?).

X-Factor #224 – Finally, the story of Rahne’s baby comes to its conclusion, but its not too satisfying.  It does allow everything to go on as it has been, which I’m not sure is a good thing.  I really feel like this title needs to get shaken up a little (and I don’t think bringing Havok back is going to do it.

X-Men Legacy #253 – This little Legion arc finally comes to its close, and Carey sets up his next storyline, which will finally address what’s been happening with Havok and his team, last seen in Realm of Kings.  This book remains frustratingly lacklustre.  Carey is a terrific writer, but his work on this book feels constrained (in an X-book?  Imagine).  I know he’s only got two arcs left, and I’ll stay with the title through them, but I’m hoping for something amazing when he leaves, or better yet, cancellation (there are too many X-Books).

X-Men Legacy #254 – And then this issue comes along, which is much more what I would expect from a Mike Carey-written X-Men comic.  Rogue, teleporting across the galaxy to find Rachel Summers, finds herself hanging out with the Shi’ar merc crew we met a while ago in Carey’s run, while Magneto and the rest find themselves in a space station that is about to be burned up by a sun.  Lots of interesting stuff happening, nice Steve Kurth art, and the return of Havok and friends (if only briefly).  Good stuff.  Maybe the secret lies in taking Xavier out of the book…

X-Men Schism #3While still pretty enjoyable, I do find that the conflict between Cyclops and Wolverine that is this series’s raison d’etre to be pretty forced.  These same situations have happened time and again without the same level of conflict.  I would have thought that Jason Aaron would have come up with something a little better or more original.  Also, I’m not buying that Logan feels so strongly for Idie compared to any of the other younger X-Men.  That he has to always have such a strong connection with with a young girl (Kitty, then Jubilee, now Idie) is getting a little creepy…

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

Amazing Spider-Man #667

Astonishing X-Men #41

Incorruptible #21

Punisher Max #16

Supreme Power #3

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #1

X-Men #16

Bargain Comics:

Xombi #0 (from 1994) – Seeing as the new Xombi series has become my favourite DC title (for another month at least), I jumped at the chance to read David Kim’s first appearance.  A lot of the strange weirdness is there from the start, such as a character named Twilight who looks like a walking Magritte painting.  The problem is, this series started in the middle of a crossover called Shadow War, so I don’t really understand what’s going on much.  I do know that Rozum’s writing is nice, that Denys Cowan’s art is incredible (man, do I miss seeing him on a regular book – he should be doing something for the DCnU), and that despite it’s obvious 90s-ness (metallic ink cover), had I been smart enough to buy this comic back in the day, I wouldn’t be searching for the run of this title now.  This is some good stuff.

Graphic Novels:

Borderline Vol. 1

Written by Carlos Trillo
Art by Eduardo Risso

Having been so impressed with the first chapter of Vampire Boy when I read it about a year ago, I figured it was time to track down the rest of Trillo and Risso’s collaborations.  They deserve to be seen as one of the legendary writer/artist pairings in comics, as their work together is phenomenal.

Borderline is set in a strange, dystopian future.  Two organizations, the Commune and the Council, run the show, although they do not communicate well, and often allow their rivalries to supersede anything else.  One group (I never did quite get a handle on which was which) employs Crash, a ‘captive agent’ and the girl on the cover.  She looks a little like Kelly Lebrock in Weird Science, if she had a gun and was unable to communicate with people around her because she had most of her organs removed and replaced with technology.  The other group employs Blue, a ‘ten year'; an agent who has signed a contract making him an indentured servant for the period of a decade.

Now Blue and Crash have some history, having been in love before Blue sold Crash to organ harvesters so he could buy drugs.  Now the two are in conflict with each other in a game of one-up-manship between their controllers.

This is a nice gritty comic, told in short episodic chapters.  There is an interesting set of supporting characters – I particularly like Mike and Jack, Crash’s handlers, who are insanely jealous lesbian lovers.  There’s a strange sense of humour at play in this bleak comic, and I’m very interested in reading the next three volumes.  I always knew I could trust that I would enjoy looking at any book Risso has drawn, but it’s heartening to see that Carlos Trillo’s writing is just as good as his reputation says it is.


by Daniel Clowes

Drawn & Quarterly make some wonderful comics, both in terms of their content and their design, but they are expensive.  Regular readers will have a feel for how many comics I read in a given month, and so it’s hard to justify dropping $22 or $24 for what is essentially an 80 page graphic novel, even when it is over-sized, hard covered, and beautiful.

However, while on vacation in beautiful and kind of sleepy Victoria, BC, I stumbled across Russell Books, which must have some kind of arrangement with D&Q, or their Canadian distributors, because they have a plethora of overstock graphic novels at very reasonable prices.  I stocked up, and found a few other surprises along the way.

Anyway, Wilson.  This story is told in 70 one-page strips, which work in chronological order, but frequently jump over periods of time, leaving it to the reader to figure out how much time has passed.  Clowes changes styles frequently, often using a realistic approach, but at other times drawing Wilson more like a cartoon figure.

Wilson’s a jerk.  He wanders around, pontificating and grilling people in coffee shops and on transit about their lives, before cutting them off and delivering some withering criticisms.  Where his self-confidence comes from is a bit of a mystery, as he is jobless and divorced, with only a dog to love him.  After his father passes away, Wilson decides to look up his ex-wife, who has apparently fallen on hard times, and together they track down the daughter that his wife put up for adoption.

Slowly a more sympathetic picture of Wilson begins to develop, although this is frequently shattered by him opening his mouth.  There are touching moments in this book though, and it is sometimes very funny.  It fits comfortably alongside work by Chris Ware, Joe Matt, and Chester Brown.  Very enjoyable.

Red Snow

by Susumu Katsumata

I found this collection of short pieces done in the gekiga style in the same treasure trove of Drawn & Quarterly remainders in Victoria.  I can never make up my mind about manga – what little I read I usually enjoy, but I never feel like I completely understand it.  Having read Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s masterpiece A Drifting Life, I understand the context surrounding these stories, and their place in Japan’s history, which is good because the back matter in this book did little to address that.

These are all rural stories, set in places that wouldn’t even qualify as villages.  The characters in these stories tend to live in very small communities, bordering on total isolation.  They have a deep connection to their surroundings and its seasons, and the reader picks up a number of details of pre-WWII Japan, such as some of the complexity of sake manufacturing.

Frequently, these stories are about people lusting after or mistreating women, and many of them have magical realist qualities.  A girl falls in love with a chestnut tree, which begins visiting her at night.  Also, there are tons of Kappa around; these are mythical Japanese creatures who live in the water, and resemble turtle-shelled Fraggles.

I enjoyed this book, but found that many of the stories ended in ways that I felt left most of the plots unresolved.  I freely admit that there are any number of cultural connections that I am not making, and think it’s a shame that the people at D&Q didn’t include some explanatory notes in the back of the book, as was done for A Drifting Life.

Echo Vol. 1: Moon Lake

by Terry Moore

I’m not sure why I’ve never gotten into Terry Moore’s work.  Strangers in Paradise gets a lot of love, but I never gave it a chance.  When Echo started, it looked interesting, but I never picked it up, until I recently got a few of the trades on Ebay.  It’s really very good.

The series opens with a female test pilot flying around in a strange metallic suit, which her military contractor bosses decide to test to failure, with a volley of missile attacks.  The suit explodes and tons of small metallic droplets fall on a dry lake bed.  Another woman, named Julie Martin, is there taking photographs, and is covered by these small beads.  Later, she finds a large chunk of the metal in her truck’s bed, and it attaches to her skin, and attracting any of the rest of the metal that is in the vicinity.

Julie quickly learns that this portion of the reconstituted suit won’t come off, and has a habit of randomly shocking people who seem to have hostile intent towards her.  The military is after her now, and they’ve brought in a special agent who excels at profiling people.

At this point, the comic seems like pretty standard fare, but what makes it stand out is the strength of Moore’s characterizations.  Julie is a mess.  She’s in denial about the fact that her husband is divorcing her, she’s broke, and her only living family member is institutionalized in a psychiatric facility.  She’s not someone who is well equipped to handle the weirdness that has just come into her world, even with the help of the dead test pilot’s park ranger boyfriend.

Between Moore’s sharp, character-driven writing and his nice clean artwork, I’m hooked.

Crogan’s March

by Chris Schweizer

I love these books.  Schweizer is writing and drawing a lengthy series of graphic novels set in different historical periods, featuring the men (strangely, none of the books will be about women) of the Crogan family, a long line of screw-ups who have somehow found themselves involved in military matters throughout history.

This book is about Peter Crogan, a member of the French Foreign Legion, assigned to Northern Africa in 1912.  The Legionnaires were mostly men that were running away from their lives, for a five-year term, and were looked down upon by regular army and their own officers alike.

Crogan is nearing the end of his service, at a period where the French were in almost constant conflict with indigenous Taureg.  During a march to a fort somewhere in the desert, Crogan’s column is attacked, but they are able to repel their attackers.  Later, when after they arrive at their fort, they make plans to track down the interlopers, but are again attacked instead.

There is plenty of action of the usual war story type.  There are humorous soldiers, blundering, blow-hardish Captains, wise long-suffering Sergeants, and bravery in the face of insurmountable odds.  There is, however, also an intelligent and realistic sub-text about the attitudes of colonial empires, and the people who serve them.  The locals are given a voice and some sympathy, but nothing is ever treated in a heavy-handed way (except perhaps the modern-day framing sequence).  This is an enlightened view of history, which I can appreciate for its attention to detail and context, which never gets in the way of telling a good story.

Schweizer’s art is not the type of cartooning I usually enjoy, but his writing is so good that it doesn’t get on my nerves at all.  I can’t wait for the next book, Crogan’s Loyalty, to be published.

Album of the Week(s):

The Weeknd – Thursday    If you don’t know about The Weeknd, you owe it to yourself to check out the link for this new free EP.  This is that next shit.  Download House of Balloons too – you won’t be sorry.

The Final Word:

Okay, I promised a reward for making it all the way to the end.  Well, when walking through the very touristy and busker-filled Inner Harbour in Victoria, I found out why Brian Michael Bendis is more than a year late in writing Powers, and way behind on his other creator-owned titles.  Instead of sitting at home writing, he’s shilling for loose change in Victoria.

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The Weekly Round-Up #86 Featuring The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, American Vampire, And More! Mon, 01 Aug 2011 13:00:29 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century#2 – 1969

Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O’Neill

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two years since the last issue of LOEG: Century came out (I reviewed it in May 2009), but there you have it.  Any time there’s a new comic by Alan Moore, there’s a cause for some celebration, and this was easily the best and most impressive thing I picked up this week, but at the same time, I will admit to being a little disappointed.

First a recap:  Mina Murray, Alan Quartermain, and Orlando have returned to London after an absence of many years, because they believe that their nemesis for this series, Olive Haddo, has returned and is at work preparing for the birth of an anti-Christ or some such.  The trio are tasked with hunting down Haddo, who has been jumping bodies for a while now.

The twist is that our trio is not particularly prepared for life in 1969 London..  Mina’s been around recently (apparently with a team of super heroes), but the others are not prepared for the free love and copious amounts of readily available drugs.  Nor are they prepared for Mina’s desperate need to fit in, and not appear as ‘square’ as her companions.

That’s what I found most interesting about this book.  Sure, it’s fun to hunt Easter eggs (more on this soon), but what interested me was watching a trio of immortals (two of whom are relatively new to that status) adjust to the tempo and social revolutions of the twentieth century.  Quartermain and Orlando aren’t particularly interested in staying relevant, while for Mina, it seems to be a necessity.

The rest of the book was secondary to me, as I find the relationship between these three characters most interesting.  Not being British, and not having lived through the ’60s, many of Moore’s clever plays on names and literary allusions were completely lost on me.  Having skimmed Jess Nevin’s annotations, I am both awed and humbled by how much is in here that has escaped me.

Thus, I’m happy that Moore and O’Neill manage to keep things so interesting and fresh while still playing their own little reference games.  I think this book succeeds much better than The Black Dossier did because the focus is on the people, whereas that book got too caught up in the construction of its story.  With this book, it’s not necessary to know that Oliver Haddo is supposed to be Aleister Crowley, or that the Purple Orchestra is a stand-in for the Rolling Stones to enjoy things; it does take things another level if you know that though.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #17

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

Scott Snyder is a master of pacing.  This issue, which is the penultimate in the ‘Ghost War’ arc, is packed with action, but also manages to bring us back to the beginning of the arc, which started with Henry writing a letter to his wife.

In this issue, we learn what the Japanese have planned for the vampires they have captured on the island of Taipan, and see the fruits of the uneasy alliance between Henry’s Vassals of the Morningstar unit and Skinner Sweet.

This is a very cool issue, as Albuquerque pulls out all the stops to give us an impressive and exciting visual experience, enhanced by Dave McCaig’s great colours.  I’m not sure why this is, but I find that the colours in this week’s comics are really standing out (see Butcher Baker below).  As always, great stuff.

Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker #5

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Mike Huddleston

There’s a lot to like about the newest issue of Joe Casey’s patriotic superhero grindhouse extravaganza, but I want to talk about the thing that stood out the most in this issue first.

Mike Huddleston’s been doing a great job on this comic from the beginning, but in this issue, his colours really stood out as the best thing about the comic.  I don’t normally notice the colouring first, but the fight scene is New York is made so lovely because of the way he makes everything look like it’s happening at sunset.

The rest of the comic is great too.  Butcher finishes off the three villains that have attacked him, but not without gaining the enmity of the United States army.  This causes Butcher to have to go into hiding at a retirement resort for the powered set.  Poor Arnie, the highway patrol guy that’s hunting him just misses him.

The comic is really very good, but Joe Casey’s essays in the back are almost worth the purchase price alone.  This month he talks about the trailer to the Michael Keaton Batman movie (I must only be a couple of years younger than Casey, and remember the excitement of that summer very well), how a crazy non-fan reacted to Butcher Baker, and the info scroll technique he used in The Intimates.  Has it really been six years since that comic was published?  Man, I loved that title.  It hasn’t even been collected I see – look for it in the quarter bins, it was great.  Stupid Wildstorm….

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #2

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

One approach to crime writing that I always find interesting is when the main character knows that he’s going to commit some sort of heinous crime, and has to go about his usual existence as the only person with that knowledge.  In this case, Riley, our protagonist, has a plan to kill his wife, Felix, and we are left watching him go about the motions before he does the deed.

Brubaker excels at this kind of thing, of course, and so it is fascinating to watch Riley line up his alibis, corrupt his former best friend, and put everything in motion.  The cover tells us how it turns out, but that image would probably be more fitting as the first panel of the next issue.

That we find ourselves so engrossed in the actions of a character that is so unlikeable is a hard thing for a writer to pull off effectively, but it’s worked great here.

Another thing that’s been working exceptionally well in this arc is the way that Phillips portrays Riley’s youth as a series of one-page strips in the Archie comics style (if Archie smoked weed, swore, and had sex that is).  It’s a cool visual trick that helps to differentiate this arc of Criminal from all the previous ones.  This is a pretty brilliant book.

Fables #107

Written by Billl Willingham
Art by Terry Moore

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in on Briar Rose, the Sleeping Beauty, who is still doing her duty to Fabletown, and you know, sleeping in the Imperial City.  Since we last visited that city, a variety of new pretenders to the throne have been setting up camp outside of it.

One, Mirant, has been consolidating power, and has been elevating many men to the position of king of as-yet unconquered realms, so that their handsome sons can become princes.  He then marches them past Briar Rose and they each get one kiss, in the hopes that he can manufacture the true love needed to break the spell.

Of course, other factions have other ideas, and it quickly becomes clear that we will have to come back to Briar Rose’s story another day.  And therein lies the strength of Fables after such a long run – even when major plot lines get resolved, there is always something else to look in on.

This issue is drawn by Terry Moore, and he’s a very nice addition to the list of artists who have worked on this book.  He draws in a very clean style, and it’s nice to see his work in colour for a change.

The Mission #6

Written by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber
Art by Werner Dell’Edera

For the last six months, I’ve been wondering if this comic is an on-going series or just a limited one.  Now, with this sixth issue, we reach a point which is a good conclusion to an introductory arc, but also a cliff-hanger that should lead into a second.  The problem is that no further issues of The Mission have been solicited so far, and the writers have been silent in terms of a text-piece in the comic.  I suppose I should hunt around on the internet for news, but that feels like too much work.

I would, however, gladly buy a seventh issue of this title.  This one has Paul track down the man who stole an artifact from him, thereby keeping him from finishing his latest mission.  When he finds the guy, he employs a level of brutality that I wouldn’t have thought him capable of (the cover image says it all – he’s not soldering).

What I’ve enjoyed about this series (in addition to Dell’Edera’s art) is that Paul has been trying to hold on to his morals and values, wehile being thrust into a conflict he does not understand the rules of.  He’s been a good everyman for the readers to latch on to, and while this issue’s twist wasn’t coming out of the blue, it still holds a lot of potential for some future stories.  I hope this isn’t the last we see of this comic.

The Sixth Gun #13

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

Train heists are a lot of fun. It’s easy to see the appeal of train robbery movies – the speed, the constant danger of falling, the cluelessness of conductors who don’t slow down or simply uncouple wrecked cars…  Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt bring all the excitement of a train heist – with zombies and a mummy, no less – to comics in a way that makes it just as thrilling as any film.

Our two heroes, Drake Sinclair and Becky Moncrief, traveling with the Sword or Abraham group, came under attack from the zombies last issue.  Drake is trying to take the body of General Hume someplace safe, while his widow is trying to retrieve it, hence the zombies.  This entire issue is taken up with the fight (the mummy shows up right at the beginning), and it’s all very cool.

I especially like that Drake, who has a pretty shady past and is relatively new to the hero game, knew the mummy in his former life.  The issue ends with a couple of surprises, and leaves us in a place where it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen next.

Cullen Bunn is beginning to get a fair amount of attention from Marvel.  I’ve found his Fear Itself: The Deep to be a disappointment, but it appears that he’s going to be involved in the post-Fear Itself book.  Like Jonathan Hickman and Jason Aaron before him, his independent work is better than his pay for hire work.  Jump on this now, and if he becomes really popular, you can always say you’ve been following him for ages.  Comics fans love doing that, right?  You won’t be sorry.

Skullkickers #9

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang and Misty Coats

The solicitation text for this issue read:  “This issue: More of the SAME!”, and that’s exactly what it delivers.  Skullkickers has been remarkably consistent, meaning that it is a very dependable book, if you are looking for a level of hilarity and unpredictability that we don’t often see in independent comics these days.

When last we saw our heroes, they were being tossed into a pit to fight a giant horned ape in order to prove their mettle to a gang of thieves.  This issue opens with the poor ape, named Ape Wit’ Horns, having received the worse of the situation.  The ‘Kickers are sent to buy new clothes, and retrieve a map for their new associate.  Strangely, all of this stuff works out perfectly for them, as they retrieve their own clothes and weapons (did anyone else think the woman in the market looked like Gran’ma Ben, from Bone?), and they later run in to just the person they are looking for.

Zubkavich is playing around with themes of fate and destiny, and so none of these things are really coincidences.  As always, there’s a lot to love about this comic.  My favourite part of this issue is that the tall bald ‘Kicker doesn’t understand Thieves’ Cant, the argot of the underworld, but he is able to communicate with squirrels.  I look forward to having that explained at some point.

As always, Skullkickers is one of the more unique titles on my pull-list, and I appreciate it for that.

Spontaneous #2

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Brett Weldele

It’s been a while since Free Comic Book Day, so I sort of forgot about this title, but was very pleased to see it scheduled for release this week.  The way this issue was structured made it very easy to slide right back in to the story, which is pretty interesting.

Melvin’s father died of spontaneous human combustion (SHC) when Melvin was a small child.  Since then, he’s made a study of the phenomenon, and has become very good at predicting who may be a candidate (for reasons which start to become clear over the course of this issue).  He’s partnered up with a freelance (read unemployed) journalist, who is questioning whether he should simply predict SHCs, or try to help people.

Harris is setting up a very compelling little story, with hints of cover-up and collusion at some level, and lots of great character work.  Melvin is a pretty complicated guy, which Harris suggests very well.  There are a couple of bizarre elements in here, such as the police chief who brings her young daughter to work with her without explanation, but I am definitely engrossed by this story.  I love the Erin Brokovich references.

Brett Weldele deserves a lot of credit for this book working so well.  Like he did with electric light in The Light, he makes excellent use of colour to convey the harshness and danger of the fires.  It’s surprising to me just how much Weldele has grown on me as an artist – I pretty much hated his work on Julius back in the day.

Undying Love #4

Written by Tomm Coker and Daniel Freedman
Art by Tomm Coker

Like with The Mission this week, I’m not sure if or when this series is going to be continued, as this issue ends with the words “End: Part 1″ and I don’t believe anything else has been solicited.  Unlike The Mission, the ending here is not terribly satisfying, as very little has been resolved, and if anything, there is more confusion than there was before.

John, the American soldier, and Mei, the vampire he is protecting, have come under attack from a group of vampires who can shape shift into crows.  They are rescued by an unlikely set of allies, and it becomes ever more clear that there is much more to Mei than we previously thought (although we are given no information as to what that might actually be).

This is a comic that I originally picked up for the art, and Tomm Coker once again does not disappoint.  He has a terrific style – a little Paul Gulacy-ish, and a clear love for the darker parts of Hong Kong.  This book looks great, and I hope that the story continues soon.

The Vault #1

Written by Sam Sarkar
Art by Garrie Gastonny

These days, I’m willing to give just about any new Image book a shot, as they’ve had such a great track record lately, and I thought this book looked intriguing when I leafed through it in the store.

It’s about a group of treasure hunters and archaeologists who are convinced that there is some valuable treasure in a water-filled pit on Sable Island in Nova Scotia.  They have a lot of high-tech equipment, although not enough to retrieve it, and have to bring in some other dude, who has a robotic diving dog thing, although they don’t want to pay his price.

It’s sort of established that they are working against the clock, because of an impending hurricane (how often does that happen in Nova Scotia?), and there is a strange supernatural element to this story, as hinted at in the first few pages, and then mysteriously revealed at the very end.

I feel like this comic has a lot of problems.  To begin with, it took me a while at the beginning to get a grasp of what’s going on.  It’s hard to understand what makes this particular dive so different, and why it requires such amazing technology.  The biggest problem with this book is the hurricane though.  In a classic example of tell, don’t show, we know there’s a hurricane coming because the characters keep talking about how worried they are about it, and how it’s going to wreck their communications with the mainland, but it doesn’t seem to materialize in any way that matches the amount of concern on display.  It seems they have to abandon their boat, but have plenty of time to bring up treasure chests.  There is also the concern that other people may come and take their treasure, but they don’t explain how these other people would have the needed tech…

There’s some stuff to like here – especially Gastonny’s clear pencils, but I don’t think there’s enough.  Even though that last page really caught my interest, I’m not sure if I’ll be back for more.

Xombi #5

Written by John Rozum
Art by Frazer Irving

I love this comic.  After this, there is only one issue left before the DC Relaunch, which looks to have canceled this title very prematurely.  But instead of complaining, I will instead try to focus on how lucky we were as readers to get a six issue run of a book that is so unique in today’s market.

In this issue, David Kim and his crew pursue Roland Finch, with the goal of reclaiming the Skull Stronghold that he has taken over.  Most of this issue is interlude and preparation for the final battle, and Rozum has filled it with fascinating character work and back story.  To give you a hint of how well-written this book is, here are a few descriptions of the Skull Stronghold, a floating city of immortals:

“Over centuries the skull was trained into a glorious city by experts in architectural bone topiary.”  “The chamber of tangible music, the sand children, the alphabetical flower garden, the lake of knives, the ivy lamp posts, Mr. Salt and Pepper, the hall of wishes.”  Rozum is tossing out ideas like Grant Morrison, and that’s what the series has been like from the beginning.

We also get a better sense of David Kim, our Xombi, in this issue.  Having never read a Milestone comic, I still don’t know much about this character, so I appreciate learning about his relationship and how he has adjusted to the change that gave him his abilities.

Of course, the writing, as good as it is, pales in comparison to Frazer Irving’s stunning artwork.  His designs for the Skull and other Strongholds are amazing, and he manages to create believable people, and then have them fly on pterodactyls.  I love the palette he has chosen for the different Strongholds.

I can’t recommend this comic enough (for at least another month).

Quick Takes:

Captain America & Bucky #620 – I feel like this is going to be my favourite Captain America title now.  I haven’t been happy about Marvel giving the shield back to Steve Rogers and doing away with Bucky just so they can try to cash in on the movie, but part of my dislike with the whole thing is that the excellent group of artists who have been working on Cap (Butch Guice, Stefano Gaudiano, and Chris Samnee) were replaced with Steve McNiven (I believe that issue 2 has already had its release date pushed back – shocking).  At least Bucky and Samnee have both found a home as the stars of this new title, which continues the previous Captain America numbering.  It’s a flashback series, examining Cap and Bucky’s experiences in the war, co-scripted by Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko – at least for the first arc; I imagine that Andreyko will be the sole writer soon enough, and I’m fine with that.  This first issue is pretty standard stuff, rehashing Bucky’s origin yet again, but it has heart, and Samnee’s work is brilliant as always.

Detective Comics #880 – Some very creepy stuff going on this issue, as Batman and Commissioner Gordon hunt down the Joker, although maybe they should be dealing with another character first.  I feel like going on again about how disappointed I am to see that Snyder, Jock, and Francavilla’s run on Detective is ending, but I’ll save that for next month’s final issue.  Still, big mistake DC…

Fear Itself: The Deep #2 – Basically, this is one of those filler mini-series that Marvel likes to do during their big events.  I only preordered it because I love Cullen Bunn’s The Sixth Gun, but this does not feel like it’s coming from the same writer.  If you are dying for a Defenders reunion, and can’t wait a few more months until Fraction and the Dodsons’ title comes out, you should get this.  Otherwise (and that’s going to be pretty much everybody), don’t bother.

FF #7 – I haven’t really liked this two-part Black Bolt interlude.  To begin with, I thought the way BB’s death was handled in the Abnett and Lanning cosmic series was poignant and helped move a pretty static group of characters into new, interesting territory.  Also, I feel that this foray into Kree history (where we learned that their design aesthetic and uniforms haven’t changed in over three hundred thousand years) really derailed the forward momentum Hickman had built up in this title since its relaunch.  Finally, Greg Tocchini’s artwork looks like someone just coloured his rough pencils – it’s hella rough and rushed looking.  Here’s hoping that the next issue will impress again.

Flashpoint: Project Superman #2 – So now we know what would have happened had the military gotten ahold of the baby Superman instead of the Kents.  It’s a little predictable (except for the strange actions of Luthor Sr., which don’t really make sense), but very well drawn by Gene Ha, even though he seems to be working at only about 3/4 his usual brilliance.  I wonder if this comic would make more sense were I reading Flashpoint…

Invincible #81 – There’s a lot going on in this issue, as Mark deals with what happened in Las Vegas, faces a couple of villains, and has a few chats with Cecil and Eve.  Kirkman really shows how much Mark has grown since going off to space, and has him questioning the value of the type of superheroics he’s been used to doing.

Justice Society of America #53 – I was disappointed to learn that the JSA would not be rebooting with the rest of the DCU (except, inexplicably, for Mr. Terrific, who needs to be a legacy hero to explain why someone would pick that name in today’s world), but as it gets closer to its finish, I think it’s time to put this book out to pasture for a while.  This book just keeps getting worse – not even Jerry Ordway can redeem it this month.  The team finds an ancient city under the Earth, that dampens metahuman powers.  When did Miraclo pills and Stargirl’s cosmic rod become metahuman powers?  If it also trashed technology, I’d get it, but the Challengers of the Unknowns’ communicators work just fine.  This whole run has been plagued by shoddy attention to detail, which is strange because Marc Guggenheim is usually a much better writer.

New Mutants #28 – Abnett and Lanning do their take on the famous psych. exam issues of Suicide Squad and X-Factor, as Dani Moonstar brings in an outside therapist to look at some of the walking wounded associated with her team.  He’s a little abrasive and confrontational, and it shows that D’n’A are putting character first in this run (at least, until next month’s Fear Itself tie-in, and until Schism inevitably shakes things up).  Michael Ryan does the art, and it’s a step up from the last few issues, but this therapist dude doesn’t look much older than Dani, and that’s jarring.

Secret Avengers #15 – I thought this issue was brilliant.  Nick Spencer has the Black Widow bust into the office of a celebrity muckraking website after they post an article that claims that Bucky Cap isn’t dead.  She has a long conversation with the various employees about what death really means in the Marvel Universe.  The not so subtle subtext has Natasha calling out comics publishers (and fans) for only caring about characters when they die and are ultimately reborn.  It’s interesting stuff, although having Natasha stand on the furniture through the whole issue does look a little silly.  It’s nice to see that someone is talking about Bucky’s death – it’s been glossed over in Cap’s own title, and I don’t think it was handled well in Fear Itself.

Secret Warriors #28 – Jonathan Hickman’s first Marvel series ends with more of a whimper than a bang, and leaves a few things open to interpretation (especially after having read Captain America #1 the other week), but also has enough nice little character moments to really satisfy.  I eel like I’d have to go back over this whole series from the beginning to really know where a lot of things stand in the Marvel Universe right now – does Hydra still exist?  what is the name of the organization that Daisy has taken over, and how is it different from the one that Steve Rogers runs? – but I have t osay that in terms of a two and a half year run on a series, this has been a pretty impressive comic.  I’m going to miss it, and I hope we see some of these characters again soon.

Uncanny X-Force #12 – Having never read the Age of Apocalypse comics, I was finding this return to that world (because everything is the 90s again lately) to be manageable enough, until I got to the stupid ending of this issue.  Remender has filled this comic with some interesting character work, reuniting lost loves from alternate dimensions and the like, but his ideas for the Black Legion (Iron Ghost is a Ghost Rider/Iron Man mash-up, Grimm Chamber, White Cloak, and Orange Hulk, among others) are beyond laughable, and that last page ‘surprise’ is just kind of sad.  Usually this book is better than this.

X-Men Legacy #252 – Well, this is just going on a little too long.  Legion and a few X-Men are running around Paris (I guess that the Grey Gargoyle hasn’t trashed it yet) hunting one of his missing personalities, and things are stuck somewhere between dull and mediocre.  I would drop this title right now, but I want to see how the Starjammers story that follows it plays out.  Still, with two ‘flagship’ X-books starting in the fall, I’m going to be looking to trim my X-list.  This had best get better.

X-Men: Schism #2 – While I’m enjoying the fact that this mini-series attempts to make use of just about all of the various X-groups, I feel like the disagreements between Cyclops and Wolverine are a little too forced, as the intended outcome of the team split in two drives the characterizations, instead of the other way around.  Logan’s a little out of character, but not as out of character as Scott and Emma when they just expect Quentin Quire to confine himself to quarters (which he wouldn’t have yet) instead of delivering him to Danger in the X-Brig.  I’m not sure how I feel about the Hellfire Club being run by children either…

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

Amazing Spider-Man #666

Astonishing X-Men #40

Deadpool Max #10

Incorruptible #20

John Byrne’s Next Men #8

Mighty Thor #4

Planet of the Apes #4

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Aaron and Ahmed: A Love Story

Written by Jay Cantor
Art by James Romberger

I went into this original graphic novel from Vertigo without being too sure of what to expect or how I felt about reading it.  I’ve become pretty sensitive to outward expressions of Islamophobia of late, especially in light of the events in Norway that happened last week, and the ridiculous anti-Islamic furor in my city regarding the topic of whether or not students should be able to perform their Friday prayers in school instead of having to excuse themselves for a large chunk of the afternoon.  I mean, none of this stuff is new (anyone remember the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’?), but I find that it’s building in momentum, and I didn’t really want to read more of it in a comic.

And the thing is, I’m not sure where I stand on this book now that it’s finished.  I will say that I liked the way this book was written, and think that Romberger’s art is incredible.  I’m just not sure I am all that impressed with the premise.

Aaron Goodman (I know) is a psychiatrist who enlisted after his fiancee died on 9/11.  He always believed that the best way to help his patients is to build a bond, and to get them to love him so he can help them.  He wants to apply this same theory to the interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, and so is assigned Ahmed, a detained ‘enemy combatant’.  Aaron starts pumping him full of estrogen, and treating him kindly so that Ahmed will fall for him and be open to further manipulation.

Aaron’s superior at Gitmo has some strange ideas about how suicide bombers are carriers for a meme – an idea virus – and wants to learn more about how to activate them.  Aaron decides to bust Ahmed out of Guantanamo, so the two of them can travel to Pakistan, and Aaron can learn about how the ‘magic power words’ work.  This is where I felt things starting to fall apart, as we learn that Ahmed, who seems to have been chosen randomly, and whose reason for being in US custody is never explained, is way more hooked up than anyone would have believed.  Aaron and Ahmed meet with the Old Man in the Mountain (who is not Bin Laden, but actually the character Ozymandias from old Uncanny X-Men comics), and Aaron gets infected with one of these infectious memes.

In other words, this book gets bloody bizarre pretty quickly.  And I think that is it’s problem.  First, the discussion of memetics feels like it’s coming out of old 90s issues of Wired magazine – I didn’t know anyone still went on about this stuff.  Secondly, G. Willow Wilson (an actual member of Islam!) addressed the notion of fundamentalism being viral much better, and with more sensitivity, in her much-missed comic Air.

This book isn’t bad, but I would have preferred a more grounded examination of the relationship between interrogator and detainee, than the over-extended commentary on the origins of suicide bombing that it became.

Album of the Week:

Africa Boogaloo – The Latinization of West Africa

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The Weekly Round-Up #82 With Scalped, American Vampire, Skullkickers, Walking Dead & More Mon, 04 Jul 2011 12:00:34 +0000 This week’s pile of DC books are pretty much the best argument I’ve seen for not doing this whole re-launch thing.  Look at how good these titles are – nothing needs to be changed; DC’s other books just need to get this good (please note – I’m not talking about Justice Society of America, sadly, when I say this).

Best Comic of the Week:

Scalped #50

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera, Igor Kordey, Tim Truman, Jill Thomspon, Jordi Bernet, Denys Cowan, Dean Haspiel, Brendan McCarthy, and Steve Dillon

For as long as I’ve been writing about comics on the Internet, I’ve been hoping to draw new readers to Scalped (it was the first comic I ever reviewed).  I have been, on a monthly basis, blown away by the quality of this comic, and it is something that I think most comics readers would appreciate if they gave it a chance.  One hurdle, though, has been accessibility.  Scalped is a sprawling, complex story that, had a new reader not started at the beginning, it would be difficult to follow.

This fiftieth anniversary issue (and congratulations – that kind of number is amazing for a book like Scalped in today’s market) is a perfect sampler for a new reader to get a sense of what this book is all about.  The issue opens with a father and son scalping a Sioux man in Montana in 1876.  The father, from a long line of ‘Indian hunters’ is passing on the finer points of scalping to his son, and shares with him their family’s story, which is basically the story of the worst aspects of American history.  Things soon shift to a Sioux father and son, whose actions and lives parallel that of the Americans’.  The Sioux son’s name is His Many Bad Horses, a name with great resonance for readers of Scalped.

Later, we see Bad Horses as a man, brought to the Prairie Rose reservation in 1889 by government soldiers, after being one of the last hold-outs among his people.  Once there, he has a vision which is shown in a series of splash pages, each drawn by a different artist.  The narration of these pages reads like a tone poem, giving a new reader everything they would need to know about Scalped in terms of its atmosphere, while rewarding long-time readers with a new perspective or way of looking at most of the central characters.

It’s interesting to read Scalped as a book about hope and resistance.  So often, the title feels to be more about despair, acceptance, and defeat.  Aaron is a subtle and gifted writer, and I found it awesome to see so many different artists provide their interpretations of things.  The best sequence in the book belongs to regular series artist RM Guera however, as he hand-letters his pages, and makes the old Wild West look as dirty and sad as it really was.

I also appreciate the way that Jill Thompson snuck the Beasts of Burden into the book too.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #16

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

This current arc, Ghost War, set during the Second World War, has been great.  Henry, Pearl’s husband, has joined a group of soldiers from the Vassals of the Morning Star on a mission to Taipan to investigate reports of indigenous vampires.  Now the unit has been captured by the Japanese, and are being used as part of a strange experiment.

Skinner Sweet, the vampire that turned Pearl, has tagged along with the group, disguised as a normal soldier.  As it turns out, Henry has seen through his subterfuge, and proposes using Skinner to help them effect their escape.  While this is going on, Pearl has arrived on Taipan herself, looking to warn Henry of Skinner’s presence.

This arc is tightly plotted, and Snyder is doing a fine job of using the Vassals to help propel the story.  I like how, even as they are being killed off, their characters are being developed, making them seem like they are not the cannon fodder I first assumed they would be.

Take Snyder’s fine writing (this guy can do no wrong these days, prompting me to be excited about the Swamp Thing relaunch) and add to it Albuquerque’s amazing art, and there is no wondering why I am enjoying this book so much.  Great stuff.

Feeding Ground #5

Written by Swifty Lang
Art by Michael Lapinski

I was very happy to see another issue of this cool werewolf/illegal migration story, especially since the creator seemed to use the gap between issues to really perfect their craft; this is the clearest issue of the book so far in terms of storytelling.

Feeding Ground is about a family that works to help migrants cross into America from Mexico, and the paramilitary organization that operates in the area and is a front for a werewolf pack (would that be the right term?).  This issue has the family separated, as Flaca, the young daughter who has been infected and turned, is taken to the Blackwell compound, while her mother and brother continue their crossing after being helped by the Border Patrol agents who survived the werewolf attack with them.

Miguel, the main character of the book, is having a much rougher go than the rest, as he continues to cross through the desert on foot.  He’s pretty delirious, and Lang and Lapinski make good use of the comics medium to show us things from his perspective.  It’s a pretty trippy scene, and I thought it worked quite well.

This has been an interesting series, as it attempts to recast a typical horror set-up in a setting with political and social relevance.  It’s pretty cool, and I like that they include a Spanish version of the comic on the flip-side for no extra cost.

The Secret History Book Fifteen: The Amber Room

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordey

Okay, is it a cash flow problem at Archaia that causes their translated, previously published books to be so late?  It’s been ages since we’ve last seen an issue of The Secret History, and watch – there’s going to be another one in two weeks or so; there would pretty much have to be, if they plan on catching up with their publication schedule, as they still solicit this book like it’s a monthly, even though they are about six months behind schedule.

Anyway, it’s The Secret History.  It’s always good, if pretty confusing.  This issue is concerned with the beginnings of the Cold War, as the American and Soviet occupying forces continue to try to extract as many powerful artifacts out of Germany as they can.  This time around, the object of desire is an ‘amber room’, which does some stuff I didn’t fully understand.  Among the players in this issue are a group of Jewish partisans who walked across Nazi Germany, fighting for their lives the whole way.

As always, Pécau does an incredible job of weaving his fictional world into our historical record, and Kordey continues to draw the hell out of the book.  I do wish that the pace would pick up a little, but I enjoy reading this series (when it’s published).

The Sixth Gun #12

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

The Sixth Gun is one of the best independent comics on the stands these days.  With this issue, the series embarks on its third story arc, ‘Bound’.  In this issue, which is an excellent jumping-on point for new readers, the widow of General Hume, the main villain of the first arc, makes her reappearance.  She is trying to track down our heroes, Drake Sinclair and Becky Montcrief, who between them possess five of the six guns.  She has information that they are traveling by train, with the guns and with the remains of her husband.  She sends an agent to deal with them, and he reanimates a local gang of train robbers to do the job.

This issue is nicely balanced between the action sequences with the corpses attacking the train and some quieter scenes involving Sinclair, Becky, and the Sword of Abraham leader Brother Roberto.  We still don’t know much about this organization of weapon-wielding priests who have such an interest in the guns, and I hope we learn more as this arc progresses.

As always, The Sixth Gun is a nice blend of Western and occult, with terrific art and strong characterizations.  As this is such a good place to jump onto the story, I suggest you give it a try if you aren’t already reading it.

Skullkickers #8

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang

‘Five Funerals & a Bucket of Blood’ continues, after the first of the titular funerals, with the pursuit of our two heroes, after they were mistakenly accused of massacring a group of nobles last issue.  The duo want to retrieve their possessions, especially Baldy’s gun, but since their lodgings are full of local guards, they concoct a plan to wait until nightfall, find the city’s nest of thieves and lowlifes, and get help.

The plan works about as well as all of their plans do, with very funny consequences.  First, they can’t find any lowlifes, and so try to get robbed themselves.  From there, things go even worse for them.  At the same time, the guards have found Baldy’s gun, but since it appears to be the only one of its kind in the Skullkicker-verse, they are surprised when they start shooting themselves with it.

Zubkavich’s writing in this title is very funny.  Huang’s art has grown on me with each issue, and I now consider myself a fan of his.  I don’t normally enjoy books like this, but I’ve become very enamored of this title.

The Walking Dead #86

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

I don’t remember the last time I read such an optimistic issue of The Walking Dead.  Rick still doesn’t know what’s going to happen with Carl (is it okay to talk about this yet?), but he has a new-found sense of hope for the future that has been building for the last couple of issues, and really seems to blossom this month.

Really, not a whole lot happens this issue, but it is very nice to see Rick, Andrea, and the others making plans to fortify their community, and make it someplace that they can turn into a bastion of civilization, instead of just a safe haven for a limited time.

Kirkman has such a good handle on these characters.  I particularly love how he writes the two central women in this book, Andrea and Michonne.  Andrea has become a strong person as she has progressed through the last eighty-odd issues, and we see that now in the way that others look up to her and admire both her toughness and her marksmanship.  Michonne, meanwhile, has started to soften and actually care about the people around her.

This is such a consistently remarkable book.  This month, on the flip-side, we get a reprint of the recent Elephantmen: Man and Elephantmen one-shot, which is also pretty good reading (reviewed here).

Witch Doctor #1

Written by Brandon Seifert
Art by Lukas Ketner

I wasn’t originally going to give this series a try, mostly because the cover to this first issue didn’t appeal to me, but after reading the preview zero issue in last month’s issue of Walking Dead, I changed my mind.

Witch Doctor is a mash-up of Dr. Strange, Jeff Parker’s Mysterius the Unfathomable, and the TV show House, M.D. Doctor Morrow is Earth’s Witch Doctor; the person charged with defending humanity from supernatural diseases and infections.  In the preview issue, he explored the medical origins of vampirism, discovering that vampires are just aggressive parasitoids that inhabit their victims.

In this issue, Dr. Morrow confronts a rare and complicated case of parasitic diabolis, which in layman’s terms, is demonic possession.  Dr. Morrow has a bleak and ineffective bedside manner, as evidenced by the way in which, in outlining his course of treatment, he ends up chasing away the parents of his patient.

This is a pretty creative and unique comic.  It’s clear that Siefert has spent more time thinking about the medical implications of the supernatural, and everything in this comic, while completely fantastical, has an internal logic behind it that makes things credible.  His work on developing these characters is strong too.

Ketner’s art reminds me a little of Neal Adams, and he’s clearly having a blast designing the strange apparatus and devices that Morrow uses.  I’m definitely on board with this series now.

Xombi #4

Written by John Rozum
Art by Frazier Irving

I’m very bummed out by the fact that Xombi is not going to survive the DC Relaunch.  This is by far the best superhero-ish comic that DC is producing, and the way that John Rozum is laying groundwork to re-establish David Kim’s world, has the most potential for years of interesting stories.

This issue is almost all talk, as Annie, the woman who had freed a monster in previous issues, explains her life story, and how she has come to be both a tool for Roland Finch, and the best hope for defeating him.  She tells of twenty-seven floating strongholds, like the one she was born on, populated by immortals with advanced scientific and artistic knowledge.  Finch has taken over Annie’s home stronghold, with her unwilling assistance, and now has a chart which will lead him to all of the others.  Kim (the Xombi) and his crew of super-powered nuns and large golem are going to try to stop him.

While most of this issue consists of Annie’s narrative, Rozum still squeezes in some nice character moments, and helps build on what has to be the most interesting and original supporting cast in comics.  Frazier Irving’s work is always genius, and he continues to please as he designs the unique looks of a few of the strongholds.

I really wish this title was going to last longer.

Quick Takes:

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #6 – I’m not sure why Marvel is letting Heinberg make some big changes to the Marvel Universe in this book, unless we’re going to eventually find out that the whole thing is happening on an alternate Earth (which will explain all the continuity issues surrounding Captain America and Iron Man, not to mention the fact that Jessica Jones is friends with Scott Lang).  Still, the story is quite readable, and Jim Cheung’s work looks great.

Batman Incorporated #7 – At some point in the future, comics historians are going to point to the interruption and editorial interference of the DC Relaunch on Grant Morrison’s Batman Incorporated as the biggest mistake of the 2010s.  This title is brilliant, and this has to be the best issue yet.  Man-of-Bats, the Lakota Batman, runs into Leviathan in the small reserve town that he polices.  Man-0f-Bats is the perfect example of the Batman concept as it can be enacted on small budget; the equivalent of locavore superheroics.  Brilliant writing.  Also, I love Chris Burnham’s art on this title.

Butcher Baker The Righteous Maker #4 – I’m really enjoying Casey and Huddleston’s work on the patriotic hero type, as three of Butcher’s enemies catch up to him, and Arnie P. Willard, the cop he pissed off in the first issue, is on his trail.  There’s also a nice flashback to Butcher’s contribution to Desert Storm.  Huddleston is doing some amazing work – check out the last page – and Casey is having a lot of fun.  As always, the text piece is as good as the comic.  This month Casey writes about Neal Adams’s belief in cosmic growth, and shares his musings on the disposability of comics as an art medium.

Detective Comics #878 – Snyder’s doing some very cool stuff with this book.  On the one hand, he’s got Batman caught up in an insane mystery involving killer whales and a modern-day pirate unlike any other we’ve seen before, and on the other, he’s carefully constructed this quiet and creepy story around Jim Gordon Jr. that has some real surprises.  I’m glad that Snyder gets to stay on a Bat-book after the relaunch, but I would so prefer to see him continue working with Dick as Batman, and Jock and Francisco Francavilla on art than have him write Bruce Wayne with Greg Capullo.

FF#5 – FF has been remarkably consistent, as Jonathan Hickman keeps moving his story along at a decent pace, but also provides most of the principal characters (and this book has a lot of them now) a moment or two of their own.  Barry Kitson is a good artist for this book.  The ending features the appearance of a character who has been pretty dead for a few years, and I think it was a mistake to bring him back.  I can’t discuss it without spoiling the book though.

Flashpoint: Project Superman #1 – Even though I’m mostly skipping Flashpoint, this is co-written by Scott Snyder, and has art by Gene Ha, so I wanted it.  Snyder and other writer Lowell Harris (who?) have an interesting take on Superman as a government-created super soldier, more in a Captain America vein, but with more abilities.  He’s feeling under-utilized, and has some kind of daddy complex issue around General Lane; not much happens in this issue, but there is an interesting event at the very end that makes me question just where this title is headed.  Good stuff, but I found that Gene Ha seems to be drawing like he’s Howard Chaykin, and that’s not a good thing.

Justice Society of America #52 – So you have some 25 people on your team now, and when you find a great big door deep under the Earth, you call in the Challengers of the Unknown before bringing in some of your heavier hitters?  Meanwhile, the newly Forrest Gump’ed Mister Terrific doesn’t tell anyone that he’s lost his intellect, and investigates on his own?  I remember when the operative word for this book was ‘Society’.  Basically, this arc is telling me two things:  that Marc Guggenheim does better on his own books (bring back Resurrection!), and that I should know better than to buy a comic with Tom Derenick’s name on it.

THUNDER Agents #8 – This is one of the better books that DC publishes, with three different stories in this issue; a modern-day sequence interwoven with one set in the 80s (drawn by Mike Grell), and a back-up set in the 60s with art by Nick Dragotta.  My only complaint is that I don’t like Dan Panosian on the main story; Cafu and Bit were killing this book, and I hope they come back soon.  I’m pleased to hear that this comic is going to survive the relaunch, and is just on a hiatus.

Uncanny X-Men #539 – Kieron Gillen gives us an interesting Hope and Wolverine story with this issue, and I like how he explores their relationship.  The problem with this comic lies in its premise – why would the Crimson Commando need to kidnap Hope to get her to help him – I’m sure he could just go to Utopia and ask – he has a better relationship with the team than Magneto, and they made him a central member.  Very nice art by Ibraim Roberson.

Venom #4 – Remender and Moore have hit a good groove with this title.  I like how Flash Thompson is making some uncharacteristic decisions because he doesn’t want to lose the freedom and mobility the Venom symbiote gives him, even though keeping the suit puts everyone he loves in great danger.  I think that I’m going to be adding this title to my pull-list now.

X-Men: Prelude to Schism #4 – I’m mad at myself for getting sucked into buying this thing.  This issue basically repeats dialogue from the last three, while showing us scenes from Barry Windsor-Smith’s wonderful Weapon X story, and Jenkins and Kuberts’ not so wonderful Origins mini-series.  I can just tell that this isn’t going to match up to Schism at all.  I wish Marvel would stop with the blatant cash grabs.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #664

Fear Itself: Black Widow #1

Incorruptible #19

Incredible Hulks Annual #1

Bargain Comics:

Amazing Spider-Man #659 I’m only going to buy Amazing Spider-Man when I can get it for a reduction on the cover price (unless Marcos Martin or Javier Pulido are drawing it).  I like what Dan Slott’s doing on the book, but I haven’t felt the need to buy every issue.  This issue is another fun story guest-starring the FF, and is full of zombie pirates.  Great, funny dialogue almost makes up for the god-awful Spider-Man/Ghost Rider back-up that guarantees I will not be sampling the new Ghost Rider series.

Amazing Spider-Man #661 & 662 – Christos Gage came on board for a two-part Avengers Academy story that hopefully found that title a few new readers.  Spider-Man supply teaches, but class is interrupted by the Psycho-Man, always a strange villain, but useful if a writer wants to explore a character’s doubts and fears (which is pretty much what every writer on Spider-Man wants to do to some extent).  Good stuff, as is always the case from Gage.

Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths #1 – Being a fan of both John Layman (Chew)  and Alberto Ponticelli (The Unknown Soldier), I figured I could easily overlook the fact that this is a Godzilla comic, and give it a chance (the Geof Darrow cover helped there too).  It’s a decent enough comic about a Tokyo police man escaping the clutches of gangsters, to end up on Monster Island (I just don’t know why they would take him there to kill him).  It was over pretty quickly though; I’m not sure if I’ll hunt down the rest of the series.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Blokhedz Vol. 1: Genesis

Written by Mark Davis, Mike Davis, and Brandon Schultz
Art by Mark Davis

I started picking up the Blokhedz mini-series when it debuted back in 2004.  I’ve long felt that there is nowhere near enough hip-hop in comics (and no, I’m not counting the garbage put out under Wu-Tang Clan’s imprimatur) and I wanted to support this book.  The only problem was that it was hella difficult to find, and I never did get a hold of the final issue.  Even though this trade was published a while ago, I only just found it recently, and was happy to finally take this book off my list.

Blokhedz is about Blak, a teenager with lyrical skills, who is growing up in Empire City.  Picture Gotham City, if the entire place was housing projects, and you’d get an idea of what Empire looks like.  He wants to become a famous rapper, and struggles with wanting to remain true to his conscious roots, and taking the commercial route and glorifying his brother Konzaquence’s past misdeeds.  Blak gets into conflict with Vulture, the local king of hip-hop (who looks a lot like Ja Rule), his brother is killed, and the story starts meandering all over the place, involving some super abilities, a lion medallion, and the spiritual influence of Empire City’s projects being built over Aboriginal graves.

In other words, the book suffers from too many ideas being crammed into too short a space.  The first issue is terrific at establishing Blak’s character and his inner conflict, but from there, the trio of writers lose focus.  There are too many elements introduced that don’t really work – the police officer with a cyborg arm, the motorized tricycle chase scene, and the demonic record company executive just get in the way of what could have been a very good little comic.

I don’t know if the Davis brothers have written any other comics since Blokhedz.  If they have, I’ve never laid eyes on it, which is too bad, because they are very talented.  With a strong editor, this could have been a very good book.

Catwoman: The Dark End of the Street

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Darwyn Cooke, Cameron Stewart, and Michael Allred

Somehow Ed Brubaker’s run on Catwoman escaped my notice when it originally was published, and I’ve only now gotten around to looking for any of the trades, starting with this first one.

Really, I missed out on something very good, as Brubaker is joined by the always-brilliant Darwyn Cooke, who was in turn inked by two artists who are better known as pencilers – Michael Allred and Cameron Stewart.

The book opens with a four-part Slam Bradley story that was originally used as a back-up in Detective Comics.  Bradley’s been hired to prove that Catwoman is still alive, and he investigates the mysterious death of Selina Kyle as part of his search, not knowing that the two women are one and the same.  This story was alright, but ultimately reminded me of something I’ve read before, although I’m not sure where (I suppose it’s possible I read the original comics, but I would have to check to see if I own them).

After that, we get the first four issues of the newly-relaunched Catwoman series (circa 2001).  Selina comes out of retirement when she learns that someone is killing prostitutes in Gotham City.  She hunts down the perpetrator, although things are not what she expected, and the guy is not a garden-variety psychopath.

The story is well-told, but the real star of the show is Darwyn Cooke, and his unique way of setting up pages of story.  The art in this book is incredible, as it always is with Cooke’s work.  Now I need to find the rest of Brubaker’s run, because I like his take on Catwoman as someone who wants to do good, but will use whatever means she deems necessary.  I also like the way Brubaker uses Dr. Leslie Thompkins in this comic; she’s an under-utilized character.

Album of the Week:

True Soul Vol. 1 – Deep Sounds From the Left of Stax

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Wednesday Comments – Is the DC Comics Relaunch’s New DCU Really That Diverse? Wed, 15 Jun 2011 15:00:07 +0000 DC has been making a bit of a fuss about how diverse things will be with their upcoming September relaunch. And it looks pretty impressive when you consider that Firestorm, Mister Terrific, Batwing, Batwoman Static and Blue Beetle are getting their own books. Plus you’ve got Cyborg, John Stewart, Fire, August General in Iron, Vixen and probably Aqualad playing roles in the new DCU things look optimistic.

But there’s a flipside to the whole announcement; because it’s a relaunch there are characters that who are going to be leaving. Some characters are going to be retconned out of existence and some of them aren’t going to be white males.

Here are some characters that I’m guessing are going to leaving and making the DCU a bit less diverse than advertised.

Steel – Given that he’s was inspired by Superman’s death, you’ve sort of got to guess that Steel isn’t going to be around. All of the signs point to the DCU being a relatively new place and Superman being it’s first superhero. I really don’t know if he’ll have met Doomsday yet. So I’m betting John Henry Irons won’t be playing the superhero in the DCU.

Jakeem Thunder – Jakeem Thunder has two strikes against him. First he’s a legacy character and it’s difficult to have a legacy character in a pretty new universe. Secondly he’s a JSA legacy and the JSA seems to be MIA in the new DCU.

Natasha Irons – Given her relation to Steel, I think it’d be difficult for Natasha to pop up without her uncle being introduced.

Thunder – Thunder is sort of a double whammy in that she’s both Black and a lesbian. So the (assumed) loss of her is a pretty strong blow. I doubt she’s appear because I’m doubting that Black Lightning will be old enough to be a parent in the new DCU.

Lightning – Ditto, expect for the lesbian stuff.

Grace – While she hadn’t been seen lately, Grace, like her partner Thunder, is a double whammy; Asian and a lesbian. Now there’s a chance that Grace might show up, but I highly doubt it.

Impulse (Iris Allen) – I don’t know what the future holds for Wally West, but I’m guessing that it doesn’t hold parenthood. As a character who was half Korean, her absence will be felt.

Connor Hawke – This is another offspring character and a legacy character. There’s a shot that he’ll pop up, but I doubt Connor survive into the new DCU.

Vulcan – I was a huge fan of the Vulcan character. I even enjoyed the Titans East one-shot that involved his massacre. Unfortunately his origin involved a decent amount of continuity, which means that I don’t think he’ll make the cut.

El Diablo – An underused character, to be sure, but still a minority character and still a legacy character who’s unlikely to show up in the new DCU.

Xombi – David Kim was one of the first Milestone character to show up in the DCU and even though he was first to get their own title, there’s no indication that he’ll be in the new DCU. Xombi, who’s book is awesome, didn’t get announced with the various other DC Dark titles, so I don’t think he’s showing up.

Chronos – It would be awesome if Walker Gabriel were around, but again you’ve got a legacy character so the odds are against him.

Gangbuster – I’ll concede that Gangbuster could show up, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. He doesn’t really have that many creators who champion him, and he’s barely an afterthought. Still, his absence would undermine the “diversity” claim.

Arsenal – I’m going to include Arsenal, because as an amputee he’s representative for an underrepresented segment of the population. It doesn’t appear that the new DCU’s Arsenal is missing a limb.

Oracle – Everyone knows that Babs is going to walk again, so the loss of the paraplegic Oracle is a huge blow to the DCU.

I’m a fan of the DCU and I’m glad that they’re willing to try something new, but I still wish they’d try to be more inclusive and diverse in terms of their characters. They have access to the Wildstorm and Milestone characters so there’s really no reason why out of the three Justice League books there appear to be only two Black members, one Asian and one Latino.

Given that and the characters that I’m guessing won’t be appearing, I really don’t think DC should be so self-congratulatory, do you?

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The Weekly Round-Up #77 with Walking Dead, American Vampire, Butcher Baker, Star Wars: Legacy, Xombi & More Mon, 30 May 2011 09:00:35 +0000 Best Comic of the Week:

The Walking Dead #85 / Witch Doctor #0

Written by Robert Kirkman and Brandon Siefert
Art by Charlie Adlard and Lukas Ketner

One of the things that has always appealed to me about ‘end of the world’ stories has been the actual mechanics of putting life back together.  The difficulties of rebuilding and reconstructing day-to-day comforts and routines would be massive.  Kirkman, in his long-running zombie comic, has addressed these issues a few times, like when Rick and his group moved into the prison a few years back, but now that the decision has been made to stay in the community where they’ve been living, and to improve upon it after their recent troubles, this is what’s taken centre-stage.

There’s a terrific scene where Rick meets with some of his friends, and the leaders of the community, to talk about methods that can be used to improve their safety, preparedness, and quality of life.  It’s a cool scene, as so many people have good suggestions.  Previously, this comic was about survival; now it’s beginning to become about rebuilding, and I’m looking forward to seeing these themes explored.

Of course, everyone is still recovering from the events of the last few issues.  Rick is in an especially dark place, for reasons I still don’t want to spoil.  Leave it to Kirkman to end the book with such an ambiguous scene, which has me worried about a certain character that I like very much, all over again.

On the flip-side of this book is the 0 issue for Witch Doctor, a new series being published next month by Kirkman’s Image imprint, Skybound.  The previews I saw of this title didn’t interest me, but reading this whole issue did.

The Witch Doctor is a man studying the mystical from a medical standpoint.  In this issue, he and his assistants (one of whom is X-23?) medically examine a vampire.  In this world, vampires are parasitic creatures, like the Goa’uld of Stargate fame crossed with the Aliens from Aliens.  The way in which this investigation is conducted is interesting, and the art in this book, with it’s attention to detail like stained glass hypodermic needles, is excellent.  I’m afraid I may have to buy the first issue when it comes out…

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #15

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

It’s becoming hard to find new ways to praise this comic, as it is so consistently impressive.  We’re in the middle of an arc (always the hardest time to review a comic) set during the Second World War.  Henry has traveled to Taipan with a squad of vampire hunters which is now under attack from a group of local vampires that are faster and more vicious than any type they’ve ever seen before.

They learn that the Japanese have built something strange on the island, but the locals don’t know what it is – only that it’s horrible.  What Henry and his compatriots don’t know though, is that Skinner Sweet is with them, posing as a normal American soldier.  While all this is going on, Pearl is rushing to Taipan to try to alert Henry of Skinner’s presence.

This issue flew past pretty quickly, but was still very satisfying.  As with every issue he’s done on this book, Albuquerque’s work is amazing.

Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker #3

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Mike Huddleston

The last issue left me a little unsure about this series, but with this one, I’m back on board whole-heartedly.  Casey really find a balance this month between his principle characters – Butcher Baker (who is maybe not all that interesting except as a walking, talking plot device), Arnie B. Willard, the walking cliche of a small town cop that is chasing Butcher, and the super villains who are looking for revenge.

I think the most interesting character in this comic is Jihad Jones, who in this issue, breaks into Butcher’s home/headquarters, and does some pretty nasty stuff.  He’s got that wise psycho thing going for him, and its interesting to see how the other, more bumbling villains relate to him.

Willard is another great character, in his homespun aggression and blissful embrace of trashiness.  And that, of course, is the central concept of this comic as a whole – the embrace of trashiness.  Casey admits as much in his essay this month, which compares comics to junk food.  What makes this comic work is its self-knowledge, as Casey tries to outdo himself with wackiness and trash, while maintaining a structurally sound exploration of superheroes.

I don’t think this comic would work without Mike Huddleston.  He employs a few different styles and art techniques while drawing this comic, and this helps keep things fresh and interesting on every page.

Kill Shakespeare #11

Written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
Art by Andy Belanger

We’re getting very close to the conclusion of this remarkable series, but it seems like most of the big story moments that readers have been waiting for occurred in this issue, leaving the last chapter for final confrontations and wrapping up.  In this issue, we see Romeo and Juliet reunite, just after Will Shakespeare finally reunites with his children.

And that is where this issue is at its most interesting.  Shakespeare has been established in this series as a god, having created his ‘prodigals’, and then having abandoned them to the detrimental effects of free choice.  He likens himself to a father who has abandoned his children, and it falls to Hamlet (no stranger to daddy issues, him) to set him straight.  With this issue, it becomes clear that Del Col and McCreery have a lot more to say than just writing “Fables with Shakespeare characters”, which is how I saw this title when it started.  Instead, they are commenting on the nature of religion and higher powers, and the role that these things play for the common man.

Belanger continues to show remarkable growth, filling most of the book with terrific double-page layouts.  This book ends on three different cliffhangers, and I look forward to reading the conclusion.

The Mission #4

Written by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber
Art by Werther Dell’Edera

I’m really enjoying this title.  The Hoebers are making very good use of the single issue story to build upon a larger storyline, and are very slowly portioning out some information, leaving the reader to guess and puzzle together what is going on.

In The Mission, a man named Paul has been contacted by a man (or perhaps angel?) named Gabriel.  For the second time now, Gabriel has given Paul a mission, without explaining why he needs to do it, or what the greater purpose is.  The first time out, he commanded Paul to kill someone.  This time, it’s a much simpler task – Paul is to steal a carved ivory box from a small town museum.

The problem with this whole set up is that there is another side to whatever war Paul is fighting, and as he tries to complete his mission, he begins to run into the people from that other side.  Really, reading through this issue, I’m beginning to wonder if there is anyone who isn’t a part of this great war.

I like the way the Hoebers are keeping Paul, and by extension, the reader, in a state of confusion.  I’m curious to see where this title is headed, and how long Paul is going to be able to keep his activities a secret from his wife.  Dell’Edera’s doing a fine job on the art, and the writing is pretty sharp.

’68 #2

Written by Mark Kidwell
Art by Nat Jones and Tim Vigil

This mash-up of war and zombie comics is really working well for me.  Kidwell continues to introduce and develop characters, such as the CIA agent Declan Rule, while establishing that the zombie phenomenon that our soldier protagonists is experiencing is happening across Vietnam.

Reading this, I had the thought that this comic is taking place in the same year that Night of the Living Dead was released, which explains why none of the characters are able to figure out what is going on exactly, and why the z-word hasn’t been used yet in this comic.

The main story jumps around some, introducing Rule, and also checking in on Yam, the Chinese-American soldier we met last month.  Yam has to decide whether or not he wants to rescue the sergeant that has been making his life miserable.  Meanwhile, back at Firebase Aries, the brass is figuring out what to do about the zombies.

Like the first issue, there is a back-up story set elsewhere in Vietnam, showing another aspect of the outbreak, this time in a comfort woman like enclosure.  In all, there’s some good stuff going on with these comics.

Skullkickers #7

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang

I’m still more than a little surprised that I’m enjoying this comic as much as I am.  I don’t usually go in for lighthearted sword and sorcery comics – it’s just not my cup of tea – but Jim Zubkavich has constructed this book in such a way that I’m really enjoying it.

This issue marks the return of the series after a short hiatus, and starts the new arc, ‘Five Funerals & a Bucket of Blood’.  Our heroes, who actually, finally, get named in this issue, are being taken to the capital city to be feted in their new roles as ‘Heroes of Mudwich’, after they saved the town from a monster in the first arc.

As is to be expected with these two characters, trouble is not far behind, and they quickly find themselves being ambushed while having dinner with a bunch of noblemen.  It’s not much of a surprise when they get blamed for what happened, and have to go on the run once again.  The character work in this comic is excellent, and the dialogue between the two is often very funny.  I like Huang’s artwork, which is starting to remind me of Leave It To Chance-era Paul Smith, were that book more influenced by manga.

This is a fun title.  If you haven’t been reading it, this issue is a great place to pick it up and give it a try.  Plus, the trade is only $10, so you should get that too…

Star Wars Legacy: War #6

Written by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema
Art by Jan Duursema and Dan Parsons

I’ve been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember, but since I was fourteen, I found it to be a guilty pleasure, tempered by my acknowledgment of the corniness and sheer hack-ery of George Lucas’s stories.  What I’ve always loved most about Star Wars was the potential to tell fantastic, sweeping stories on a grand scale.  That each of the movies (Empire Strikes Back least of all) fails in this has always bothered me, and I’ve tended to avoid the novels and comics that the franchise has produced.

And then I heard about John Ostrander and Jan Duursema’s Star Wars Legacy, and decided to give the first trade a try.  This is what Star Wars should have been.  The Legacy book, which lasted for fifty issues before being wrapped up with this six-issue mini-series, is set while after the closing of Lucas’s stories.  It has a Skywalker, Cade, who is a roguish pirate, unsure of his connection to the Force.  It has a universe that is suffering under the grip of Darth Krayt and his vision of the One Sith.  Krayt is opposed by Roan Fel, who claims to be the true Emperor, and by Gar Stazi, the last free admiral of the Alliance.

The series was as sweeping as Star Wars should be, and Ostrander took the time to develop a number of characters, each with their own sense of a story arc.  This book delved into politics, and the usual Star Wars theme of good versus evil.  Best of all, this series was completely lacking in cutesy alien races and animals, and only had one droid, who got next to no screen time.  Like I have said before, it was Star Wars done right.

This issue, which wraps up the entire series, brings every sub-plot (except the Mandalorian one) to a fitting close.  Characters act according to their own internal logic, and the end of the book feels very satisfactory.  John Ostrander is a giant among comics writers, and it’s great to see him still putting out such good work.  As always, Jan Duursema does a wonderful job working with Ostrander.  The two of them are apparently working on a new Star Wars title; I can only hope it will be as good.

Strange Adventures #1

Written by Selwyn Hinds, Talia Hershewe, Peter Milligan, Lauren Beukes, Jeff Lemire, Ross Campbell, Kevin Colden, Paul Cornell, and Brain Azzarello
Art by Denys Cowan, Juan Bobillo, Sylvain Savoia, Inaki Miranda, Jeff Lemire, Ross Campbell, Kevin Colden, Goran Sudzuka, and Eduardo Risso

I wish that Vertigo did this type of thing more often.  This is a 75-page anthology of science-fiction themed short stories, by a nice blend of Vertigo all-stars (Azzarello, Risso, Milligan, Denys Cowan!), new comics royalty (Campbell, Lemire, Cornell, Miranda), and some up-and-comers who show that they deserve more of a spotlight.

The stories are pretty varied in their style and delivery, ranging from social commentary sci-fi through dystopian, and stopping off at alien abduction and weird alien space hero.  As with any project like this, not every story will work for every reader, but some of these stories were fantastic.

I think the Milligan/Savoia story about imaginary friends may be my absolute favourite.  It’s not exactly science fiction, but it fits with the tone of this anthology quite nicely.  A pair of friends are no longer sure which of them is real and which is imaginary, and they go to great lengths to prevent finding out.

Beukes and Miranda have an interesting story about consciousness sharing and the Brazilian favelas, which is beautifully illustrated.  Jeff Lemire resurrects Ultra the Multi-Alien in a bizarre, nostalgia-twinged tale.  Cornell and Sudzuka (now there’s an artist I’ve missed) give us a cool story about a writer who experiences alien abductions.

Surprisingly, Ross Campbell’s story didn’t work for me.  I love his work normally, but just like his recent story in an issue of Marc Guggenheim’s Resurrection, this tale didn’t actually end, and was therefore disappointing.  Likewise, I found Kevin Colden’s story about genetically engineered creatures as disturbing as it was wordy.

Most of the attention this book draws will be focused on The Spaceman, the introduction to a new character by Azzarello and Risso.  As usual, Risso’s work is brilliant, but I’m not sure I liked Azzarello’s writing.  I hate stories that rely on a lot of ‘future slang’, so I was quickly turned off this.  Still, I’m going to be giving their new series a try whenever it comes out.  I learned my lesson by not jumping on 100 Bullets very quickly.

In all, this is a great anthology, even if DC ruined a lovely Paul Pope cover by putting a ridiculous Green Lantern banner across the top (purposely not pictured here).

Xombi #3

Written by John Rozum
Art by Frazer Irving

Xombi has become my favourite DC Universe comic, and could be my favourite superhero monthly.  John Rozum and Frazer Irving are doing an incredible job with this book, and while I’m not surprised, I am saddened that this title is not getting more acclaim.

I don’t know anything about this character’s previous run with the Milestone imprint, except that it was also written by Rozum, and doesn’t appear to have ever been collected.  I gave this new series a try based solely on the strength of Frazer Irving’s artwork, and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing.

In this first arc, David Kim, the Xombi, has been called in to investigate the escape of a prisoner from a prison comprised of a miniaturized subdivision, run by an interfaith coalition of jailers.  Aiding him are Catholic Girl, and a pair of superpowered nuns named Nun of the Above and Nun the Less.  As the story unfolds, David and his friends, along with a couple of golem and a creature made up of the souls of wasps that have died on windowsills have to fight Marantha, a lion-like wrath of god creature.

There’s more going on than this, but hopefully you can get the picture – this comic is crazy good.  In some ways, this book reminds me of Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol, but it has more of a heart to it than that legendary series.  Amid all the action of this issue, Rozum treats us to a monologue on living given by a ghost, and uses a few pages to set up his villain, Roland Finch, as very smart man who only makes mistakes by design.

Wonderful writing, beautiful art.  Please, go buy this book; I fear it’s too good to survive in today’s comic market unless people start to get the word out.

Quick Takes:

Captain America #618 – It really is a shame that the current status quo on this book, with Bucky being the star and Steve Rogers working a supporting role, alongside Sharon Carter and the Black Widow is going to end, as it’s made the book very good.  I love the juxtaposition between the Butch Guice Bucky pages, and Chris Samnee handling everyone else, as this complicated story of Russian spies and grudges gets more tangled, and Bucky finds himself in an ever-worse position.  This is a great comic right now.

Detective Comics #877 – I still am really enjoying Scott Snyder’s run on Detective Comics, but found this issue suffered from a relative lack of Commissioner Gordon, who has been the best part of this series since Snyder took over.  I’m finding this arc a little strange, as Batman deals with villains like the Road Runner and the Tiger Shark, and confronting his own perceptions of the daughter of the man who killed his parents.  The writing and art are great, but I feel sometimes like the plot is designed to help show off things like Dick’s new Bat-Boat and Bat-Gauntlets.

FF #4 – I’m really enjoying FF, as Hickman is bringing together all of the plots and ideas he’s introduced into this book since he took over the Fantastic Four, yet is also finding lots of time to include some character moments.  This is easily my favourite FF run.  Reed is meeting with most of his deadliest enemies to figure out how to stop the alternate Reeds that are endangering the planet, while the Reeds make their first move, and Sue and Spider-Man head to Old Atlantis to stave off a coup.  Barry Kitson does the art on this issue, and it’s always great to see his work (even if him being on this title means that Ariel Olivetti is on Iron Man 2.0).

Iron Man 2.0 #5 – I was really enjoying the first arc of this series, and I think it’s a shame that a) Fear Itself has taken over the book for the next little while, causing that story to be abandoned, and b) Ariel Olivetti is the new artist.  What we get with this issue is a pretty disjointed story about the Immortal Weapons, that War Machine has just somehow been shoehorned into.  The story is way to decompressed, probably because it can’t go anywhere until Fear Itself #3 is published, and the art is as ugly as Olivetti’s worst.  I expect way more from Nick Spencer.

Justice Society of America #51 – Guggenheim’s doing just enough to keep me coming back, despite the fact that DC replaced one artist I don’t like (Scott Kolins) with another I like just as little (Tom Derenick).  I like the Monument Point angle – that there is something secret about the town that the JSA has decided to move to, and I’m really enjoying the parts that focus on The Flash as mayor.  I didn’t find much to like in the Dr. Fate and Lightning plot – it was too pedestrian – and wish that we would get some explanation of some of this new characters (like who the hell this Ri chick is).

Power Man and Iron Fist #5 – This was a decent enough mini-series, but wrapping up the overly complicated plot left little room in this issue for much interaction between the two title characters, which is what brought me to the comic in the first place.  I like Vic as Power Man, and think he’d be a good addition to Avengers Academy.

Secret Avengers #13 – I think we’ve now read what is going to have to be the strangest Fear Itself tie-in, as War Machine and Ant-Man fight to defend Capital Hill from Sin’s forces, while the Beast hangs out in Congress with an old congressman who has decided to hold his ground in an attempt to pass a bill for miners’ rights.  It’s strange even before the Lincoln Memorial comes to life and starts fighting Nazis, but gets even more bizarre when Beast hijacks Al-Jazeera to broadcast the politician reciting the Gettysburg Address.  Really, I’m not making this up.  I was excited that Nick Spencer was taking over this title, but now, I’m just curious to see where he’s going to go next.

Secret Warriors #27 – We’re close to the end now, and while I’ve been enjoying this book a lot lately, I found this issue to be pretty unbalanced.  We see the end of the Fury/Strucker/Kraken scenario that has been filling up the last few issues, and it’s quite final.  Then, there’s some stuff at the UN, and we check back in with Daisy and some of her team.  I’m not sure that this issue works on its own, but as a bridge between issues, I suppose it’s fine.  I’m not sure how I feel about the revelations of the last two issues – they cast a lot of doubt on a huge vein of Marvel history.

Super 8 #1 – This short comic was included in almost all of the DC books I bought this week, and while it was way too wordy, it had art by Tommy Lee Edwards, so I liked it.  I wasn’t sure what this movie was going to be about, so using this comic to bring us up to date on the backstory was clever.  So was not revealing how the aliens actually look.  Now I’m curious to see this movie.

Uncanny X-Men #537 – So Kruun is making his move on the X-Men, and taking them out one-by-one, at least until he starts to deal with Colossus and Kitty.  It’s good stuff, but it’s the middle of an arc, and it’s an all-action issue that leaves little to talk about.  I do like it when the Dodson’s are doing the art for this book though…

Venom #3 – I really didn’t expect that I would like this series as much as I have been.  Tom Fowler takes over for Tony Moore in this issue, but maintains a consistent approach to the title, as Venom gets manipulated by the Crime Master, and Spider-Man shows up for the obligatory third issue guest appearance (although not putting him on the cover probably negated the impact his appearance would have on sales).

X-Men Legacy #249 – This issue covers too much of the same ground as last week’s Prelude to Schism issue; in other words, Magneto revisits his time in Nazi Germany again, while the other members that make up the core cast of this book continue to recover from their experiences in the Age of X.  I’m hoping that next issue will be more impressive, or I might be done with this title (again).

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

Amazing Spider-Man #662

Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine #6

Incorruptible #18

Mighty Thor #2

Planet of the Apes #2

Wolverine #9

Bargain Comics:

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #38 – I picked this up because I like John Layman’s Chew so much.  It’s a good enough Spider-Man version of the plot of Flashpoint, where Spidey, the Hulk, and Deadpool are pulled into an alternate dimension, where the Amazing Spider is the only hero the world needs, but is not what he seems.  Good enough, but I’m not tempted to pick up the next two chapters.

Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #5 – This series had started out so well, but has degenerated into Mojo-centred foolishness that can’t be saved by the efforts of either Adam Kubert or Jason Aaron.

Batgirl #20 – I don’t find this title to be as terrific as all the other writers on this site seem to, but it is a completely serviceable Bat-book.  That’s all I really have to say about it though…

DC Universe Legacies #10 – This trip down memory lane series was enjoyable, although bringing things right up to Identity Crisis and the OMACS in this issue made everything feel a little too recent.  I don’t know if this series was meant to smooth out any continuity issues post-Final Crisis, but it serves as a good primer to the DCU for any new readers.

Deadpool Max #7 – Things move from amusing to just kind of silly with this issue, as Deadpool goes through fatherhood and marriage issues.  Still, anything drawn by Kyle Baker makes the cut…

X-Men #9 & 10 – Okay, so the story is about as useless as this series (unless we needed a third or fourth monthly X-Men book), but Chris Bachalo positively kills the art on this thing.  The pages in issue 10 of Spider-Man and Emma Frost crawling through sewer tunnels are brilliant, as is just about any panel with the Lizard or one of his Lizard-y brethren.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

American Splendor: Another Day

Written by Harvey Pekar
Art by Ho Che Anderson, Zachary Baldus, Hilary Barta, Greg Budgett, Gary Dumm, Eddie Campbell, Richard Corben, Hunt Emerson, Bob Fingerman, Rick Geary, Dean Haspiel, Gibert Hernandez, Leonardo Manco, Josh Neufeld, Chris Samnee, Ty Templeton, Steve Vance, Chris Weston, and Chandler Wood

This is the first that I’ve read any of the late Harvey Pekar’s autobiographical comics series American Splendor, and I was surprised by two things.  The first is the caliber of artist involved in this anthology project.  Look over the list above – there are some incredible artists contributing here.  What I enjoyed most about that is seeing the different ways in which they draw Harvey.  He’s always recognizable, but each artist plays with his image subtly, emphasizing different aspects of his personality or appearance.  I think Richard Corben’s take on him was the furthest from the mark, but it was still very cool to see how he went about it.  I love Chris Weston’s contribution, and am always up for some Ty Templeton.

The second thing that surprised me was the utter aimlessness of the writing.  I expected that Pekar’s stories would be small, slice of life things, built around the struggles of everyday life.  What I didn’t expect was that they would be so dull in their depiction of the quotidian.  A typical story in this collection has Harvey get up in the morning, go to the bank, and then go to the pharmacy to get his prescription filled.  When it isn’t ready, he has to go to the HMO.  End of story.  There is no observation about life, or lesson learned; that’s just it.

Another good example has him call over the neighbour to help him fix the toilet.  Then he feels gratitude.  That’s it.  There’s another toilet-fixing story earlier in the book, but at least in that one, we can revel in Harvey’s victory.  Better stories involve conflict with his foster daughter, and there is one in which he remembers hurting a friend as a child.  These fit better into the autobiographical mode.  I know that the minute attention to boring detail was Pekar’s thing; it just doesn’t make for compelling reading.  Thankfully, the art is really good.


by David Collier

Chimo is an autobiographical graphic novel from David Collier, who decided, in his early 40s, to re-join the Canadian military, with the goal of traveling to Afghanistan.  Collier was in the army as a young man, and achieved his first brush with success as a cartoonist during that time.

Now, married with a child, he wants to be involved in the Canadian Forces Artists Program, a successor to the glorious Canadian War Artist Programs of the first and second World Wars.  In its original form, the Canadian War Records, under the control of Lord Beaverbrook, sent Canada’s best artists (including the various members of the Group of Seven) into the trenches and along the front lines to paint what they saw.  This led to some incredible artwork.

The participants in the modern iteration of this program are not actual soldiers, and therefore are restricted, for insurance reasons, from going anywhere that is actually dangerous.  In order to get to Afghanistan, Collier re-enlisted, and almost immediately blew out his knee in a training exercise.

The bulk of this book is about a man fighting against time, and striving to live life on his own terms, albeit within a highly structured and regimented environment.  The text digresses all over the place, as we learn about the history of skipping rope, and the life story of Jackrabbit Johannsen, Collier’s childhood hero and pioneer of cross-country skiing.

I found the book to be very readable, and worked my way through it quicker than I expected.  That no part of this book ever took place in Afghanistan was not the disappointment I would have anticipated it to be.  Good stuff.

Hell Lost

by James Turner

I’ve become a big fan of James Turner’s work over the last few years, having first read Rex Libris, and then moving on to his other books, Nil, and Warlords of Io.  In each book, Turner has displayed a penchant for creating complicated bureaucracies and amusing characters.

This time around, he’s turning his satirical eye towards Hell.  This book, which I picked up at TCAF, comprises the first chapter of a new story, although I have no idea when or how the rest of it will be made available.  This is just a teaser, introducing characters and setting, and giving the reader just enough that he or she will want more.

The main character is Balthazar, a fallen angel who has just been released from “spiritual rehabilitation”, and tasked with fighting Archduke Baal.  We meet Balthazar, his pet dragon, his parents, and various other denizens of Hell.  Because this is a James Turner comic, we also get an exhaustive history of Hell, and a very detailed map.

This is a fun comic, although all it’s done for me is make me want to read the rest of the story.

The Tattered Man

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by Norberto Fernandez

I’m not ever quite sure how I feel about the writing team of Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.  I find their Jonah Hex to be wildly inconsistent, but often good.  Their superhero books, like the Freedom Fighters, have been disappointing, but their independent work, like The Last Resort and Random Acts of Violence have been brilliant.  I also enjoyed their Time Bomb at Radical.

So, when I saw this forty-page graphic novel being solicited, I thought it was a no-brainer.  It’s okay, but it’s not great.  Basically, the writers use this book to revisit the DC character of the Ragman, and re-write him into a slightly grimmer character.  That’s about it.

Of course, both the Ragman and the Tattered Man of this book have their origins in Jewish mythology.  In this book, an old man is assaulted by a trio of costumed junkie thieves on Hallowe’en, and while ransacking his home, come across a box of rags.  They ask him about them, and he proceeds to tell a lengthy story about his experiences as a child Holocaust survivor.  Then some stuff happens, and the rags are re-awoken to bring justice.  At that point, this book basically becomes an issue of the Spectre.

I’m not sure why these two writers felt the need to tell this story.  To read the back matter, both of them are incredibly proud of the originality of this book.  The thing is, there isn’t any.  I don’t see a single new idea or approach in this comic, and so I’m puzzled by this self-congratulation.  Fernandez does a good enough job on the art.  This isn’t a bad comic, it’s just not a special one.  I hope that the forthcoming one-shots written by these guys that I’ve pre-ordered are better.

Album of the Week:

Fallin’ Off the Reel III

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