Weekly Round-Up #10

Best Comic of the Week:

DMZ #50

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Rebekah Isaacs, Jim Lee, Fábio Moon, Ryan Kelly, Lee Bermejo, Riccardo Burchielli, Phillip Bond, John Paul Leon, Eduardo Risso, and Dave Gibbons

The last few years have been rough on Vertigo, sales wise, and so when one of their titles reaches the 50th issue milestone, it is cause for some celebration; especially when that book is frequently one of their most original and best.

DMZ has been telling, over the last four years, the story of New York City during the 2nd American civil war. New York is disputed territory between the American Army and the Free States Army. Matty Roth, a young journalist, was accidentally abandoned in the city, and the series has been chronicling his activities and changing personality throughout that time.

This anniversary issue is the perfect jumping on point for new readers, as it is designed as Matty’s “Notes From the Underground”, small stories, vignettes, and profile of the different people that have had an impact on Matty’s life. Wood uses this issue to showcase some of the many different facets of life in the DMZ that the series has become known for. There is a political story, wherein Matty meets the supreme commander of the Free States forces. There is also a story where he meets a man who has painstakingly protected some of the great works of fine art that were in Manhattan at the start of the war. We get a window into some of the relationships that keep the city functioning, such as when Zee helps recover an unexploded ordinance, and when Matty has dinner with Wilson. In short, this issue encapsulates all that is amazing about this series.

And I haven’t even talked about the art yet. Wood collaborates here with a number of incredible artists, and they all manage to display the city in its gritty majesty. I would have liked to see a page by Wood himself, as it’s been too long since the earlier issues, where he usually drew a single page.

The last arc of DMZ ended with a huge game changer, in terms of the political and environmental situation within the city. This issue feels like a last look back before Matty jumps into something completely new, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. If you are not reading DMZ, you’re missing out.

Other Notable Books:

Choker #1

Written by Ben McCool
Art by Ben Templesmith

I think even with a different artist, this would feel too much like an issue of Fell. Ben McCool (whose name keeps getting tossed around like it should be familiar – maybe it’s a Brit thing) has started this new series at Image, and he owes Warren Ellis at least a drink, if not more. The book is about Johnny Jackson, a disgraced and discarded police detective in Shotgun City, who has been doing the PI thing for the last few years, until he is given an opportunity by his former boss to return to the force; all he has to do is track down an escaped drug dealer he had put away the first time around.

The set-up is familiar from tons of futuristic neo-noir comics and movies. Shotgun City is highly reminiscent of Snowtown, Heavenside, or any other post-urban dystopian metropolis written by someone aping Ellis. There’s some kind of body-modification movement, called Man Plus (don’t they sell pills like that on late-night TV?) and a lot of people in wheelchairs. To be honest, the story is not doing it for me.

Templesmith’s art is as good as it always is. I’ve really developed a liking for his style, and find that I don’t think of Ted McKeever as often now when I read his work. I feel like Templesmith does his best to elevate the material here, but in the end, this is a pretty derivative piece of work. I would much rather read another issue of Fell….

Daytripper #3

by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

Well, it would seem that the ending of this issue clarified what was, at least to me, an ambiguous ending last month.

This time around, Moon and Bá give us a longer scene from the life of Brás de Oliva Domingos’s life, from the time when he was 28. Brás has spent the last eight years with the girl from the last issue, although neither of them have been particularly happy together. As the comic opens, she leaves him, after saying some particularly withering final words. This basically ruins our boy, and he spends months under a personal cloud of depression and inability to move forward.

While Daytripper has been an intensely personal comic from the start, this issue feels more so. It doesn’t come off as emo as it sounds when I read over my description here. Instead, it is a sensitive and finely rendered portrait of despair, but also of hope and optimism. Moon and Bá are doing some incredible work with this book, and I think its interesting that, while I originally bought this because I love their art, it is their writing that has captivated me.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #7

Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie, with Nikki Cook, Becky Cloonan, Andy Bloor, and Sean Azzopardi

This is definitely not what I expected for the end of this series. So far, each issue of The Singles Club has been showing us differing perspectives on the same night, at the same club. I’d sort of expected the last chapter to somehow pull together a number of the different threads of each character’s tale, but instead, we have an almost completely wordless issue focusing on Kid-With-a-Knife, David Kohl’s (previously) non-Phonomancer friend and muscle.

And it’s a great issue. Kid experiments with phonomancy, pisses off some London toughs, dances, and gets the girl. It sounds like the perfect night. As usual, McKelvie’s art is brilliant, and there’s a cool page where all the pictures are drawn inside the lyrics to a song hook.

The back-ups are where this issue really shines though, as there is a short story featuring Indie Dave drawn by Becky Cloonan. This was a huge surprise for me, as I love Becky Cloonan. The story looks a lot like her boyfriend’s issue of Northlanders, and it’s awesome.

I do hope that Phonogram returns soon, and doesn’t become the victim of Gillen’s employment at Marvel.

The Unwritten #10

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and Jimmy Broxton

A new arc has started in The Unwritten, and Carey is taking Tommy and his crew into new directions. Having escaped the prison attack last issue by using his magic doorknob, Tommy has now ended up in a ghostly version of Stuttgart, during the second world war, a location marked on the map Tommy has been carrying around. This causes Lizzie to reveal a great deal more about Tommy and her creation than she would like, and Tommy meets Joseph Goebbels.

While the set-up is all quite interesting, what I like best about this book is the scene wherein Goebbels and Tommy discuss the differences between the book and film versions of Jud Süss, a novel about redemption through Judaism that was appropriated and altered as a piece of Nazi film propaganda. The biggest appeal of Tom Taylor’s character so far has been, for me, his frequent use of literary trivia, and so I enjoyed this part of the story very much.

Quick Takes:

Action Comics #886 I am quickly losing interest in this title, as we are treated to a lengthy telling of Kryptonian creation myths in a lengthy part of the book, while in another, Nightwing and Flamebird get it on, which would be fine, if Chris wasn’t really just about eight years old.  The Captain Atom section was the best part, but only because it had the Shadowpact and great art from Cafu.

Adventure Comics #7 – I wanted to complain about this book being another pointless Blackest Night tie-in, but because Tony Bedard is such a good writer for straight-up superhero comics, I ended up liking it quite a bit.  Bedard’s work needs a lot more recognition – everyone should be reading The Great Ten and REBELS, and he should be given a regular gig on a higher-profile book.  I’d like to see him on JSA or something like that.

Batman and Robin #8 – This is a really quick read for a Grant Morrison book, but it’s great stuff from start to finish.  ‘Batman’ emerges from the Lazarus Pit, and some prophecy comes true.  Stewart’s fight scenes look great, even if it is hard to tell which Batman is which.

New Mutants #10I get the feeling that the discussion around Marvel about the hook, or raison d’etre for this title, came a little late, and so they thought they’d try to cram it in before the next few months of cross-overs obliterated any character building Wells was planning on doing.  Thing is, I’m starting to like this comic at the same time that I feel it’s a little misguided.

REBELS #13 – It’s a great week for Tony Bedard, as he delivers another great comic.  I’ve really enjoyed how this book has developed, and while the core team barely appears in this issue, the machinations of the two Doxes keep every page compelling.  Great stuff, and so nice to see DC’s rich intergalactic heritage used so well.

Secret Six #18 – The best thing to come out of Blackest Night has to be the three-part collaboration between Gail Simone and John Ostrander as the Six take on the Suicide Squad and the Black Lantern Suicide Squad.  This issue makes great use of continuity and tough-guy dialogue, as Deadshot faces off with Amanda Waller.  I was kind of hoping that the Six would end up working for the Wall, if it meant that my two favourite bad-guy teams would be seen together more often.

SWORD #4Such a shame that there is only one issue left in this basically stillborn series.  Gillen’s got some great ideas about how to write a title like this, and has given it a feel similar to the classic Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League books, but more updated.  Sanders art is growing on me with every issue, and the cover is gorgeous too.

Vengeance of the Moon Knight #5 – I had just been buying this for Opeña’s fantastic art, but this issue looks a little rushed as Moon Knight faces off against Bushman for like the 1000th time.  The pacing of the issue feels strange, and I don’t understand how MK ‘locks his armor in place’ to hold up a collapsing building, but then manages to get out of it to fight in his boxers.  The next issue needs to be impressive, or I’m gone.

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

Dark X-Men #4

Marvel Boy: Uranian #2

Punisher Max #4

Realm of Kings: Imperial Guard #4

Shield #6

Ultimate Comics Armor Wars #4

It’s B.P.R.D Week!

BPRD Vol 1: Hollow Earth & Other Stories

Written by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Tom Sniegoski, and Brian McDonald
Art by Ryan Sook, Curtis Arnold, Matt Smith, Mike Mignola, and Derek Thompson

I’ve written before about how I have been curious about the Hellboy universe, and have dabbled in it over the last couple of years, with mixed results. I’ve come to realize that I’m more interested in the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense than I am Hellboy, so I picked up the first trade to see what I thought.

I found this book to be pretty enjoyable. The main story features Abe Sapien working with Roger the Homunculus and newcomer Johann Kraus to travel deep into the earth to rescue Liz the firestarter girl. The plot seems pretty standard for this comic, but it is the way that the three writers allow the story to be strongly character-driven that made me want to keep reading. Ryan Sook’s art is very nice. This is early work from him, and that he was heavily influenced by Mignola is evident on every page.

Later in the book is an Abe Sapien solo story concerning strange possessions at sea, which is also well-written and very well-drawn. There are a couple of other short stories as well, which I also enjoyed.

In all, I’m afraid I might be a new convert to this series. I did pick up a few more single issues at a sale recently, so I’ll see how they go before I start investing heavily in this book.

BPRD: Dark Waters – This is a pretty cool done in one featuring Abe and Roger checking out the discovery of three perfectly preserved bodies found at the bottom of a pond.  Guy Davis’s art is always nice…

BPRD: Night Train – It’s Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins’ take on Mignola’s characters, and while it seems to be trying pretty hard, I wasn’t that interested.  Maybe it’s because I’ve always hated Kolins’s work….

BPRD: The Ectoplasmic Man

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Ben Steinbeck

I picked this up recently in an overstock sale, but held off reading it until I’d gotten through the first volume of the BPRD trades.

It’s a one-shot that focuses on Johann Kraus, the medium who had his body destroyed while on the astral plane, and now inhabits an exo-suit, much like Wildfire of the Legion of Super-Heroes, except that the suit was designed my Mike Mignola, so it looks like a balloon with a speaker for a mouth.

This issue retells Johann’s origin story, fleshing it out with an encounter with a soul-eating demon. It’s a quick, easy read, made more enjoyable by Steinbeck’s interesting, Richard Corbin-esque pencils.

BPRD: The Warning #1-5

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Guy Davis

This arc feels like a total mess, as it jumps all over the place. What starts as a story about a seance and an attempt to figure out who is stalking/haunting one of the characters leads into a huge War of the Worlds type fight in a German city. At the same time though, as a test case as to whether or not I want to start collecting the title, it has completely drawn me in.

I like the fact that some of the antagonists in this arc are related to the creatures that were causing trouble in the very first trade that I read the other day. I’ve always been attracted to comics that take years to unfold their story, and it’s clear from reading this that Mignola and company have been doing just that.

I also find myself drawn in by the characters. The strange crew that makes up the BPRD are a pretty interesting bunch. The character of Panya, an ancient Egyptian mummy that has been revived is of particular interest.

Finally, I’ve been a Guy Davis fan since I first read Sandman Mystery Theatre. I think I might be getting hooked here…

Bargain Comics:

Anna Mercury 2 #1 – I decided not to buy this new Anna Mercury series as it came out because, while I enjoyed the first one, it was pretty decompressed for $4, and I figured I’d trade wait it.  When I saw this first issue for $2 though, I couldn’t really resist.  It’s more other-dimensional Warren Ellis coolness, with Anna checking out a Three Souls Town, a place made up of Ashanti, Japanese Ainu, and Brits.  Cool stuff.

God Complex #1 – I skipped this when it first dropped because I ended up being disappointed with Oeming’s recent series The Rapture and Mice Templar.  It’s good, even if it has a lot in common with the recent storyline in The Incredible Hercules, what with its corporate Olympians.  I don’t understand how the art is credited solely to John Broglia when it looks so much like Oeming, including the same type of panel layout he uses in Powers.

King City #1 – I have the original Tokyopop edition of this book, so wasn‘t in a big rush to pick up the first 6 issues.  Now, as #7 and new material looms, I thought it would be worth getting reacquainted with one of the coolest comics I’ve ever read.  Seriously – if you’ve never read anything by Brandon Graham, you need to go check it out.  He’s amazing.

The Shield #2 – I’m starting to like this book much more than I expected.  Trautmann’s a good writer, and Marco Rudy is reminding me more and more of Chase-era JH Williams.  The Inferno back-up was much better this issue too, although I’d rather DC dump it and drop the price of the book  to $3 so I’d be more likely to buy it.

The Week’s Graphic Novel:

Museum of Terror 1 – Tomie 1

by Junji Ito

I’ve finally worked my way through my ever-growing pile of books to read to reach my Boxing Day spoils. I don’t read manga – the only time I’ve ever read any was the first volume of Tezuka’s Buddha – but I’ve felt like that could be an oversight on my point. This horror volume came highly recommended by the manager of my comic store, and was only $5, so I thought I’d give it a try.

It’s strange, and in the same vein as Japanese horror movies like The Ring and The Grudge (except that the requisite creepy kid is older here).

Tomie is a high school student of exceptional beauty. She is so desirable, that she invariably causes a level of obsession in the men who fall for her, also invariably resulting in her being hacked to pieces by them, although she always seems to return from the dead, growing new bodies out of the remains of her old one.

This book touches on a lot of themes that I think are common in Japanese manga. First, there is the obsessive nature of adult men towards beautiful teen girls. It seems quite acceptable here, as no one ever comments on the inappropriateness of the obsessions, only on how far things seem to go. Also, there is a strange approach to relationships; teen girls buy photos of the boys they like, and violent behaviour appears to be overlooked by the authorities.

At its core, this work seems a little misogynistic, but perhaps that is partly the author’s intent. I don’t feel like I know enough about Japanese culture to really comment on a lot of what I see here; I am simply pointing out the differences. This is a strange, and disturbing piece of work. It’s also pretty damn cool in places though…

Not Exactly a Graphic Novel:

The Rabble of Downtown Toronto

by Jason Kieffer

Every once in a while, you come across a book or film, with a central concept that you immediately wish you’d been the one to think of, followed closely by wondering why no one else had ever done it before. Jason Kieffer’s field guide to Toronto street people is exactly that project. When I saw it advertised on The Beguiling’s website, I knew I had to buy it.

The concept of this book is sound. Each double-page spread features a different individual, with a close-up illustration of their face and a map demarkating their usual territory make up the first page, while the second has a full-body illustration, annotated by little arrows pointing out unique features of the individual. Below that are notes as to their behaviour patterns, or history, if it is known.

Upon getting the book, I went through a few different reactions. At first, I thought it was funny in a juvenile, immature sort of way. Then, I started to fear that the book was pretty mean-spirited, pointing fun at the people within it and mocking their sad conditions. As I read through it though, I began to see that Kieffer was allowing his subjects to be somewhat ‘in’ on the joke, as his affection for them began to show through. I do think that a more responsible editing job should have removed entries like ‘Retarded Crackhead’, and instead focused the book on the more recognizable eccentrics of the city, like Zanta.

When reading a book like this, it’s impossible to not make up your own list of characters you would include. While they are both dead now, I kept hoping to see Ben Kerr (the guy who used to sing on the corner of Yonge and Bloor and who ran for mayor many times) or Crad Kilodny (the author who used to sell his self-published books of short stories). I also expected to see the guy who hangs out in front of the entrance to the parking garage under Nathan Phillips Square with a rat or five hanging out on his shoulders and arms.

The book is by no means complete, and does not add anything of merit to any learned discussion of issues like homelessness, drug addiction, or mental health on the streets of Toronto, but it did make me smile a few times, and sadly may be the only lasting testament to the existence of many of these individuals. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that.

Album of the Week:

Strong Arm Steady: In Search of Stoney Jackson Madlib!!!

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