Weekly Round-Up #12

Best Comic of the Week:

Scalped #35

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Danijel Zezelj

It might seem a little early to cast votes for the best comic of 2010, but I feel confident after reading this book in saying that the bar this year has just been raised incredibly high.

Aaron gives us a stand-alone story about an elderly couple, Mance and Hazel, who live out at the far end of the reservation. They have managed to eke out a simple, subsistence lifestyle, which has brought them much happiness and satisfaction. As they have been aging, they have been finding it increasingly difficult to ‘take in the garden’, and set aside enough food to last them the winter. They are a proud pair, and find the indignities of age and indigence equally shaming.

The story is told in both of their voices (subtly lettered by Steve Wands), and Aaron quickly establishes them as strong individuals. Almost every page of this book is fraught with emotion. The scene where Mance goes to receive government nutrition aid is one of the most searing and effective things I’ve read in ages.

Zezelj’s work is perfect for this issue. His thick lines perfectly evoke the age and hard-scrabble existences of the characters. I’ve always liked his work, but this is one of the best things I’ve ever seen him do.

Scalped has been criticized for its negative portrayal of Aboriginal life in the United States, and I think this issue, with its honest and open portrayal of poverty on the reservation, works to silence that criticism. I have enjoyed this series from its beginning, but this is by far the best issue of the book to date. I love that Aaron is taking a step back from his story to give us a richer understanding of life on the Prairie Rose Reservation.

Other Notable Books:

Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #1

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Raulo Caceres

At this point, it’s enough to say that it’s a new Avatar mini-series written by Warren Ellis. His work for this company has been consistently good for the last few years, as he uses their generous editorial policies to explore just about any bizarre idea he’s interested in.

Captain Swing is a strange story set in an alternate London of 1830. It is a time where policing is just catching on in the city, and rival groups are operating. There are the Bow Street Runners, a group of former thief takers (paid vigilantes) who are now in the employ of the Bow Street Magistrates. Their rivals are the London Metropolitan Police, an under-armed group of hapless individuals.

The city has been plagued by sightings of Springheel Jack (who has also recently shown up in Proof), and weird flying boats. Ellis is playing around with the early days of electricity, although this book is set before the days of Tesla and Marconi. Captain Swing is a mysterious figure sailing over the streets of London in a rowboat that floats on a bed of St. Vitus’s Fire. Springheel Jack fires bullets made of glass and clockwork. It’s an interesting aesthetic that he’s going for here, and although this issue is mainly concerned with setting up the premise (including multiple text pages), there is more than enough going on to draw me back for the next issue.

Cowboy Ninja Viking #4

Written by AJ Lieberman
Art by Riley Rossmo

So just when I was ready to write this series off as being overly confusing, cluttered, and kind of uninteresting, Lieberman went and gave us an issue with some actual explication in it.

The book starts off as muddled as ever, with a group of Triplets having a conversation with each other, but things improve quickly when we cut to Ghislain, the ‘Jacob’ of the book, to put things in Lost terms, sitting down with a group of Senators, and finally explaining what happened in San Christobel, among other things.

Basically, we now know how many Triplets there are (14 or 15), who Blaq is (Ghislain’s protege turned evil), and have a template for where this book is headed. I don’t know why we were introduced to the fake Triplet Gary, or how exactly this title was originally supposed to be wrapping up with either this issue or the next. It doesn’t really feel like Lieberman is working off a plan here, and that makes me nervous about where this title is headed.

As for the art, my opinions remain mixed. I like Rossmo’s style, but find it much better suited to a book that’s in full colour, and has characters that are more easily recognizable. I’d rather see him continuing to work on Proof, and this title be given over to someone with a simpler, cleaner approach.

I’m not sure if I’m going to stick with this title or not. I think I’ll pick up the next issue, and decide from there.

Northlanders #25

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Leandro Fernandez

As the long months of quarantine in the settlement continue, Gunborg’s ambition finally gets the better of him, leading to a very violent issue of Northlanders. Gunborg and his men decide to take control, although any motivation beyond pure greed remains hidden from the reader.

What is odd about this issue is that suddenly Boris, the foreigner who originally recommended isolation as a means of avoiding the plague seems to know Hilda, our narrator, better than was previously revealed. He makes use of Hilda to try to learn Gunborg’s intentions, and then makes certain to protect her and her daughter when things hit the fan.

This is a good, exciting issue of this series. With three issues remaining in ‘The Plague Widow’, it’s hard to predict where things are headed, which is what I always like about Wood’s writing.

Unknown Soldier #17

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Alberto Ponticelli

I’ve really been enjoying ‘The Dry Season’, as Moses has been working to uncover what has been going on behind the scenes in the refugee camp where he has been staying. This issue he finds out the truth behind the stolen medicine and murdered doctor, although it’s not what he was expecting.

What I like about this series is the way in which Dysart portrays Moses as a basically good man, yet capable of great measures of violence on an instinctual level. The thinking Moses must always work to suppress the reactionary side of his nature, and the ‘voice’ that he hears.

As I’ve mentioned before, Ponticelli’s new approach to drawing this book has added a lot to it. While I liked it before, I like it much more now. Also, it’s nice to see Sara, even if only briefly, again.

Viking #5

Written by Ivan Brandon
Art by Nic Klein

To start off, this comic is beautiful. The ‘golden age’ size is used to great effect (unlike in Cowboy Ninja Viking, where the extra page space is just used to cram more confusion into each page), and the colours are gorgeous.

The issues with this comic all lie in the story. Basically, I find this comic very hard to understand. Maybe it will read better in trade, but I find it very hard to follow, as the plot and themes of the book seem to shift all over the place. Characters and their arcs are left stranded (the big guy wanted money before, but now he’s just going to stay in the woods hugging dying deer?), while other story elements just disappear – like the cat from the last issue.

I feel like there could have been a lot to say in this comic – Brian Wood has proven that Viking comics can be awesome – but a lot more editing and story workshopping was needed. I don’t know if there will (or even could) be a ‘season two’, but I hope it is better planned and executed.

The Walking Dead #70

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard

The gang has made it into the promised safe zone of the last couple of issues, and things are looking pretty positive. In this issue, Rick meets with Douglas, a former Congressman and unofficial leader of the new community where they are going to be staying. The conversation takes up most of the book, and makes everything appear to be on the level. Douglas wants Rick to become the settlement’s police constable, and is finding other suitable jobs for the rest of his crew.

Throughout the book, there is a palpable sense of relief. It seems like this might finally be a place of safety and comfort, although it becomes clear towards the end that these people have something to hide, and that it all relates to a man named Davidson, who was mentioned last issue, and who we learn was the founder of the community.

The Walking Dead is always a compelling read, although its pace does tend to vary over time. The last time our protagonists found a safe zone, it was the prison they stayed in for many issues. During that time, the book slowed down quite a bit, and Kirkman shifted his focus to character building and depicting the relationships among the group. I’m not sure where things are going now, but I am very excited to sit back and watch what happens.

Quick Takes:

Avengers: The Initiative #33 Gage has been doing a fantastic job of getting inside the head of the Taskmaster, and various other long-time Marvel villains, in this series, and continues with this here, in a ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ style approach to what is going on in Siege.  I especially love seeing Constrictor and Diamondbacks’ reactions to the big event of Siege #2.  Less interesting, but still quite serviceable, is the B-plot, where Gage is trying to wrap up some of the major storylines from the first two years of the book.  I hope there’s a place for the Taskmaster in the Avengers Academy (or whatever its called) title Gage is going to be writing post-Siege.

Batman and Robin #9 – Another fantastic issue, as (new) Batman uses the Lazurus Pit to rescue Batwoman, then rushes back to Gotham to help (new) Robin and Pennyworth fight (resurrected) Batman.  As it turns out, the Batman he tossed in the Lazurus Pit a few issues ago wasn’t Darkseid’s clone Batman, but actually a Batman possessed by the dog from Morrison’s classic We3 mini-series.  If you don’t believe me, read the dialogue; the clues are all there.  Stewart’s work on this arc has been amazing, and I find I’m liking Damian more and more with each issue.

Blackest Night #7 I don’t love this series as much as most other people seem to.  It feels a little bloated this issue, with too many characters competing for some screen time, and way too many pages being given over to Larfleeze and Luthor, both of whom I’m finding very annoying.  I am don’t find Nekron very interesting as a major villain either, which might be the source of my lack of enthusiasm.  I am interested in seeing how it all ends though…

Fantastic Four #576 – Jonathan Hickman shows that he really understands what makes the Fantastic Four tick when he has Reed say, “…is there anything we do better than exploration?”  He’s providing a much more logical premise for much of their scientific work though; Reed comes up with new advancements, and Sue administers a foundation for other scientists to apply his discoveries.  The FF head to Antartica to help out some scientists who are about to enter a giant sea keep separate from the rest of the world by ice, and who are racing against AIM to be the first to get there.  I really like the direction this book is going, although I don’t get why Eaglesham is drawing Reed as being so muscular.  It doesn’t fit with previous interpretations of him.

Flash Rebirth #6I’m surprised there wasn’t more on-line gripping about the fact that this book finished after its successor title Blackest Night Flash (which I held off reading until this came out).  Johns does a nice job of reestablishing Barry Allen in the DCU, although I don’t know why we need three Flashes.  This issue is full of Johns-isms, like the double-page spread showing the final fight with Thawne, and the whole thing with his lightning-rod baton thingie.  Van Sciver’s art is gorgeous, and in general, this is a decent issue, although it feels somewhat lacking compared to the last few issues.

Blackest Night Flash #1-3 – I saved these so I could read them in order after Flash Rebirth, and I must say that I’m glad I did, as the events of this series clearly build off of what happened before.  Like most of the Blackest Night mini-series I’ve sampled, this book exists mainly to show some of the moments between moments of the main series.  It does work to reestablish Barry Allen in the DCU, but more importantly, it gives Johns a chance to write the Rogues again, which is always enjoyable and entertaining.  I’ve never been a big fan of Scott Kolins’s art, but it looks alright here.

Marvels Project #6 Brubaker’s retelling of the early days of Marvel superheroics has been a little slow for me, but this issue was fantastic.  The Torch squares off with Namor over NYC while the other new heroes work to rescue people from the tidal wave Namor (somehow) hit the city with.  Eptings art looks great in this issue, and I really liked the way he laid out his pages.  It’s pretty dynamic stuff.

Nation X #3 – These types of books are always a mixed bag, but this issue has some nice art in it by Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and Karl Moline.  Chris Yost has a Madison Jeffries (is he going by Box now?) and Diamond Lil story, which, while not making up for the fact that he killed Lil recently, does scratch my Alpha Flight itch a little.  The Corey Lewis Cannonball story is fun, but not as good as his recent Longshot tale.

New Avengers #62 – This issue has a few continuity issues.  I don’t understand how, with such a long wait for Hitch to have finished up Captain America Reborn #6, Bendis never read the script.  But then, I think his own New Avengers Annual contradicts this issue too, and that’s just weird.  Overlooking that stuff, this is a decent, if not particularly memorable issue.  Acuña’s art is not really a good match with Immonen’s, but individually, their stuff looks good here.

Secret Warriors #13 – In recent months I’ve felt like this comic has been having some difficulty with pacing.  That’s not an issue here, as Fury prepares his team for a big (and secret) mission, Madame Hydra heads out to rescue Viper from Leviathan, and we see a little of the history between Strucker and the Kraken.  It feels like Hickman has been building this title towards something big, and I look forward to watching it play out.  I do wonder where this all fits with regards to Siege…

Superman #697 – As a huge Legion of Super-Heroes fan, it’s hard not to like this issue, especially when you consider which tiny Legionnaire was brought back from limbo.  The whole point of this comic was to serve as a prelude to next week’s issue of Adventure Comics, but I’m okay with that, as Chang and Pina provided some nice art, and I’ve been enjoying Robinson’s characterization of Mon-El.

Thunderbolts #141 – This is a great issue, as Parker puts his penchant for witty dialogue to good use.  Osborn sends in the Thunderbolts (minus a couple of members) to raid the armory of Asgard and get Odin’s spear.  The team is really beginning to fall apart, as Scourge becomes increasingly paranoid and dogmatic, and the material temptations of Asgardian gold cause some of the team members to really question their loyalty to Osborn.  Sepulveda’s art looks great.

X-Factor #202A strange ending to a rather bizarre story arc.  I haven’t much to say about this issue – the characterizations are wonderful as always, but I found the ending rather ambiguous with regards to Monet’s actions.  I think Doom is getting too much play in the Marvel universe lately; and David’s interpretation of a post-conflict Doom doesn’t really jibe with the premise of Doomwar.

X-Force #24 – There’s not a lot that happens in this issue aside from a huge fight between X-Force and Selene’s Black Lanterns, but the Vanisher has a nice moment, and we get one step closer to the end of the Necrosha X storyline.

X-Men Legacy #233 – I’ve been getting a little bored with Mike Carey’s second-tier X-book.  I’m hoping something will come along and shake things up soon, as Carey is an excellent writer.  Perhaps too many editorially-mandated crossovers are the problem?

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

Realm of Kings Inhumans #4

Ultimate Comics Enemy #2

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Color of Rage

Written by Kazuo Koike
Art by Seisaku Kano

My second Boxing Day manga purchase, Koike and Kanos’ Color of Rage is an oddball buddy story featuring two escaped slaves, one Japanese, the other African-American, who travel Edo-era Japan looking for a place to live peacefully, but of course, run into conflict everywhere they go.

The book is quite readable, as King (the American) and George (strange name for a Japanese person) are both noble, likable folk. Of course, King raises more than a few eyebrows, and so walks around dressed like The Unknown Soldier. He’s also exceptionally strong, as I suppose all large black men in comics must be. To be honest, I expected the book to be more racially-inappropriate or uncomfortable than it actually is. I don’t know if that is a credit to Koike’s writing and research, or simply reveals prejudices of my own. The book reminded me a little of Lone Wolf and Cub, if the cub were a large black man…

The book is labeled ‘mature’, and there are a few scenes that feature or suggest sexual exploitation of women, and I am left wondering how accurate its portrayal of gender politics is. I feel like there is a high degree of authenticity in its depictions of yakuza values and traditions, and found the book provided an interesting window into historic Japan.

The art is quite nice throughout the book. I often find manga action scenes difficult to follow, but that wasn’t the case here.

Sloth

by Gilbert Hernandez

I’ve never read the Hernandez Brother’s Love and Rockets series. I’ve made the odd attempt to check out their work, but it never really interested me that much. This graphic novel seemed a little more like my type of thing, and I’m glad I checked it out.

Sloth is set in a small town somewhere in the Southern US with an abundance of lemon orchards nearby. Miguel Serra is a teenager who has spent a year in a coma, which it is generally believed, he induced and ended on his own. Since recovering, Miguel has been moving at a much slower pace than before, but it otherwise perfectly healthy.

He spends his time trying to integrate himself back into his world. He gets back with his girlfriend Lita, and hangs out again with his friend Romeo. The three are in a band together, and they quickly return to their usual interests like rehearsing, and exploring the mysterious lemon orchards, which are said to be the final resting places for a few murder victims, perhaps including Miguel’s mother, who has been missing for years.

Lita has a strong interest in urban myths, specifically ones related to the orchards, and to the Goat Man, a strange creature that has been said to switch bodies with his victims. Hernandez starts the book as a pretty standard post-coma teen angst story (think Douglas Coupland’s ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’), and then, like that novel, switches things up completely half way through the book.

It’s difficult to discuss the remainder of the comic without ruining the reversals that Hernandez pulls off, except to say that the book becomes more interesting for the dissonance that he induces.

Sloth is an interesting study of small-town youth. Hernandez’s characters are fully aware of how limited their surroundings are, and feel despair because of it. The coma becomes a form of escape that requires little effort, and is quite tantalizing for that reason. This is an interesting book.

Album of the Week:

Black Man’s Cry – The Inspirations of Fela Kuti