Weekly Round-Up #13

Last week-end I went to the Winter Toronto Comic-con, a much smaller affair than Fan Expo in the summer, but packed nonetheless.  I spoke briefly with Guy Davis, who is as cool a guy as he is an artist, and picked up a pretty mixed bag of stuff, most of which is reviewed below.

Best Comic of the Week:

Demo Vol. 2 #2

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan

Okay, creepy.

This issue of Demo is a really interesting look into obsession and self-control, as the protagonist tries to adjust his meticulously observed and well-planned eating regimen for a potential new love interest in his life. As I started the book, I thought at first that the guy, who is crazy skinny, was simply suffering from some form of eating disorder, but as is eventually revealed, it’s much worse than that.

This is a very quiet issue, as Wood allows Cloonan to tell much of the story without dialogue or exposition. She conveys to us the extreme levels of thinness that surround the main character, including his sparsely-furnished home.

I found myself reacting quite strongly to this issue (it’s hard to write about without giving anything away), and found the line, “Everyone likes chicken. You can like chicken too” to be quite funny. I would love to have found out how the barbecue went….

Other Notable Books:

Chew #9

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

Another strong issue of Chew, as Tony investigates the strange goings-on on Yamapalu, and works to rescue his brother and the reporter he’s fallen for. There are vampires, lots of dead bodies and poo that needs eating (actually, I’m getting a little tired of that gag), and a chef who can only communicate through his cooking (awesome concept).

Perhaps what works best in this issue is the way in which Layman plays around with standard comic storytelling conventions. The book ends with three successive panels, each labeled ‘Cliffhanger!’ and each stepping up the level of drama or danger for Tony and companions. After that comes a full-page spread that was completely unexpected and hilarious, as Tony’s partner goes to great lengths to protect his friend’s whereabouts.

Dead Ahead #3

Written by Mel Smith, Clark K. Castillo, and Paul H. Birch
Art by Alex Niño

Well, this is certainly a comic I never expected to see reach the store shelves. In the year since the last issue came out, I remember reading about there being some massive in-fighting among the creators (something to do with the colorist?). Also, I’m pretty sure I remember seeing this book get canceled by Diamond, although the fact that I now own it tells me maybe I just imagined that.

So, one year on, how is this title? It’s a mess. The story is quite hard to follow in this issue. I’m not sure any more of who any of the characters are, and the layout, while being the best thing about the comic, contributes to the confusion more than anything.

Niño’s art is fantastic, but it seems like he did not put any thought into the flow of the story. The book doesn’t have panels really, but instead large spreads that look like they should move from left to right, but the placement of the text boxes and speech bubbles don’t always feel intuitive.

Furthermore, the prose here is pretty over the top. It’s like the three authors are trying to out-do each other and be more Jamie Delano than even the Jamie Delano who wrote Rawbone would think is wise.

But let’s face it: the book is about zombies on the high seas, and has art by Alex Niño. That makes this book special and all kinds of awesome, even if you don’t bother trying to read it.

Forgetless #3

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Scott Forbes and Marley Zarcone

I’ve been enjoying this series quite a bit. I like how Spencer is giving us a series of short, interconnected stories, and using different artists for each one.

The first story in this issue brings us back to our two model/assassins, and their strange encounter with their intended victim and the guy in a koala suit. It becomes a springboard into the girls’ backstory, this time focusing on Sara, the more experienced of the two hitgirls. This story continues to use small Twitter-like postings to give us some insight into the girls’ psyches.

The second story is once again about Darla and her friends, who have now made their way into New York, and are preparing to go to Forgetless. On the way, they run into other examples of the bridge and tunnel crowd, including Darla’s previous best friend, causing her to experience a crisis of faith.

Both of these stories are amusingly written and enjoyable to read. I look forward to next issue’s ‘sex-addicted koala’ story.

Greek Street #9

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Davide Gianfelice

Things keep looking up as Milligan gives us an increasingly coherent and linear story. Some random London-born Pakistani blows up the Fureys’ night club, causing them to escalate their war with the Limms even further, while Eddie goes to meet Inspector Dedalus, who is still being followed by the sorta-dead Medea.

It’s taken a while for this title to calm down a little and become more like a traditional Vertigo book. I find that I’m intrigued enough now to stick with the book, although it was stop and go for a while there…

Jonah Hex #53

Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Billy Tucci

This was a good issue of Jonah Hex. By now, it must be difficult for Gray and Palmiotti to come up with new concepts or ideas for a character who is, basically, pretty one-dimensional. There are so many twists and variations one can pull on the ‘bounty hunter hunts down prey’ trope, without setting your story in the far future (which I still hope they won’t do one day).

But let’s face it, much of what makes this title work is the alternating roster of artists. Billy Tucci does a great job on this issue, as Hex employs an actress to help him hunt down a train-robbing gang fronted by a pair of brothers. Tucci was born to draw characters like Lana, and his Hex is pretty good too – younger and less road-weary than other artists’ renditions, but still pretty faithful. Partway through this issue, I started imagining how good an issue by Mike Kaluta would look…

The problem with the book is that I saw the twist towards the end coming a mile away, even if it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Still and all, it’s nice to see this book continues to chug along.

Sparta U.S.A. #1

Written by David Lapham
Art by Johnny Timmons

David Lapham is very good at constructing enclosed, crucible like environments in which to set his stories. He did this in both his Spectre story for DC and his 30 Days of Night story, where almost all of the action was centred around apartment buildings. Towards the end of his amazing Young Liars title for Vertigo, he began to explore similar themes, while moving the action to the town of Browning, a corporate-owned and walled-off town.

Now, he is bringing us Sparta USA, an all-American heartland town where everyone works, lives, and breathes the American dream. At the heart of the town is football, which serves as both obsession and founding myth for the people who live there. As the first issue moves along, we quickly figure out that there is more going on in this town than just high-school football tournaments though. It seems that no one ever leaves the town, and the one person who did, gridiron hero Godfrey McLaine, promptly disappeared.

Except now he’s back, and he’s red in colour. At first, I thought this might have been a printing mistake, but then we meet the Maestro, the central figure of authority for the town, and the person responsible for distributing new citizens – given to him by the President of the USA – to Spartans to raise. The Maestro is blue.

I don’t really understand all that’s happening yet. I know that Uncle Bill dug a tunnel to his neighbour, Leonides’s house, and murdered his entire family, I think so that his son can take over the general store. Beyond that, Lapham’s playing it close to the chest, as he sets us up for the returned Godfrey’s big reveal on the last page.

The art for this book, sadly, is not by Lapham, but by a newcomer (to me at least) named Johnny Timmons. His art reminds me very much of Tommy Lee Edwards and John Paul Leon, which is never a bad thing. This is another example of Wildstorm publishing strange, genre-bending comics, which probably won’t get half the attention it deserves. If you’re bored by your recent comics purchases, you should give this a try.

Sweet Tooth #7

by Jeff Lemire

I love what Lemire has been doing with this comic. While the book is mostly about Gus, the deer/human hybrid child who has fallen into the hands of Dr. Singh, who has all the makings of the next Dr. Mengele, it is really Jeppard’s story that is grabbing my interest over the last two issues.

I’ve always had a weak-spot for post-apocalyptic stories, and the types of people that are able to live through them. Jeppard is clearly a survivor – ‘like a goddamn cockroach’ as he puts it in this issue – but it is increasingly clear that survival might not be the preferable state of existence.

I hope people are checking this book out, as it is very, very good.

The Sword #22

by The Luna Brothers

This issue is pretty much exactly what you would expect by this point in its publication history. Dara and Malia yell at each other a lot, and they fight. There are no flashbacks to Dara’s childhood, and barely anyone else above the level of ‘innocent bystander’ appears in the comic; it’s just the start to the final confrontation that has been building for a while.

And while this is a pretty quick read, it’s also a very good one. The Lunas have developed Dara and Malia to the point that we can see how the two women are trying to manipulate one another, and while Malia scores the first victory by goading Dara into attacking her first, it is Dara that manages to expose Malia’s true nature to the whole world, even though the consequences of that are pretty crazy.

There’s not much to say about this comic at this point in its run. People who like it have stuck with it, people who are interested from these reviews are going to wait and read it in trade. I do hope more people check it out though, because it’s some pretty cool stuff.

Underground #5

Written by Jeff Parker
Art by Steve Lieber

Underground has been one of the better mini-series I’ve read in the last couple of years, and the ending is just about perfect. As the two rangers are chased through the cave system, the rescue effort starts to discover the bodies of the men who had been chasing them and perished in earlier issues. This lends an urgency to the scenes, as Wes and Seth take some extreme steps to find the way out of the caves (and discover some really old moonshine in the process).

Parker has graced this story with a lot of strong character development, and has a feel for how people would react in and to these types of situations. Lieber’s art is fantastic throughout.

I’ve praised this book enough that it’s difficult to find new things to say, but perhaps the highest form of praise I have is that this issue reminded me of some of the earlier issues of Concrete, in its ability to marry a compelling and exciting story with a non-preachy message of ecological awareness. This is a title that seriously deserves some awards.

Quick Takes:

Adventure Comics #8As a huge Legion fan, I loved the first story, and enjoyed the second.  Both involve the Legion coming to our time to deal with the whole Brainiac situation building up in the other Superman titles.  The third story, about the double-agent sent from New Krypton was beyond dull, which is strange because I usually enjoy Trautmann’s writing.  I think it was pretty editorially-mandated though.  This is a bit of a throw-away issue, as it mainly attempts to fill in gaps and prep readers for an up-coming crossover, but I’m so Legion-starved lately I’ll take it.  I feel like I have to say something about the new Sensor Girl costume – she doesn’t need to expose her cleavage, but I can live with it.  The gold stuff at the top of her head needs to go though…

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #33 – I guess, had it not been leaked months ago, that would have been surprising.  Too bad from the moment where Twilight unmasks on, the story stops making all sense.  Prior to that moment, it was a pretty good comic – I’m enjoying the random nods to different comics that Meltzer is working into the script.  I don’t know if Rising Stars has ever been name-dropped before.

Detective Comics #862 – I don’t know, this feels really disjointed to me.  I have only been reading this book and Morrison’s Batman & Robin, and so have no idea why Bruce Wayne seems to be alive at the start of this comic (recent issues of Red Robin have confused me for the same reason).  I also don’t understand why Batman has his yellow oval costume on, when all other portrayals of Dick-Batman show him in the no-oval costume.  Finally, am I meant to recognize the costume Batwoman’s cousin has in her room?  Because I don’t.  At least the Question back-up continues to be awesome…

The Great Ten #5 – Since his appearances in Checkmate, I’ve always found the August General in Iron to be an intriguing character, so I was pleased to see his story displayed here, as well as an explanation of his relationship with Ghost Fox Killer.  This continues to be a very good comic.

The Invincible Iron Man #24 – As much as I’ve loved Fraction’s run on Iron Man, this arc has dragged a little, being better suited to four issues I feel.  This last issue delivers though, as Tony figures out his way back into his head, there’s a final confrontation with the Ghost, and something very interesting about the process by which Tony was brought back is revealed.  I’m very much looking forward to the next issue.

Mighty Avengers #34 – I guess some things needed to be resolved before Siege started up, but this issue feels a little slapped-together.  It may be because Neil Edwards’s art only sort of fits with the standard look for this book.  However, any missteps are forgiven by the wonderful way in which Pym uses Loki’s boon.  That was brilliant, as was the team’s reaction.  Slott really gets Pym, and I hope there is an opportunity for him to write the character again post-Siege.

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

Astro City The Dark Age Book 4 #2

First Wave #1

Nola #4

Realm of Kings Son of Hulk #2

Ultimate Comics Avengers #5

Wolverine Weapon X #11

Bargain Books:

Amazing Spider-Man #615-618I don’t really like Spider-Man.  At least, I don’t like him when he’s in his own book.  Spider-Man, when in the Avengers and written by Bendis, is quite enjoyable, but the usual, whiny, navel-gazing Spider-Man of his solo book is too much to take.  Ignoring Amazing Spider-Man has been pretty easy, except I keep hearing great things about the art on this book.  The four issues I picked up feature work by Javier Pulido, Max Fiumara, and Marcos Martin.  And they are beautiful.  The stories don’t really grab me (I like Van Lente’s take on the Sandman best of all), but these are some very pretty comics.

Blackest Night: JSA #2 & 3 – It’s nice to see that some writers remember that the JSA works best when it works together, not like the trainwreck that has become the main Justice Society book and its All-Star spin-off.  This is not a great comic, but it has some very nice character moments for Jesse Quick/Liberty Belle.

Doomwar #1 – I’d heard good things about this comic, and I can see they were mostly right.  When Christopher Priest was writing Black Panther (man, I miss that title), T’Challa was always a few steps ahead of all of his adversaries.  I’m not sure how Doom and the Desturi managed to depose him, but this issue, wherein he travels to Utopia to recruit the X-Men to his aid, shows both the schemer and the statesman that makes T’Challa such an interesting character.  Eaton’s artwork is very nice in this.  I’m not even going to complain about how over-used Doom is these days, or wonder what ever happened to the extra powers Mark Millar gave him in The Fantastic Four.  (Wait, I think I just did….)

Jack of Fables #42 – Nothing particularly wrong with this comic these days, except it’s no longer either a Fables book or really a Vertigo book.  My only regret in dropping this title is that I don’t get to keep reading the Babe the Blue Ox one-pagers.  They would make a great collection one day…

Justice League of America #38 & 42 – I have never liked Mark Bagley’s art, and that sentiment is not being changed by what I see here.  Robinson’s Justice Titans team is not grabbing my interest, and I don’t know why DC went to so much trouble killing off Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, if it is going to be brought back like this.  Even a brief appearance by The Shade wasn’t enough to save things.

Justice Society of America #36 – This was marginally better than the issues that caused me to drop this book, but I still don’t feel like Willingham has the right feel for these characters.  They don’t behave the way they have been for the last 60 years, which is a problem.  The art is nice, but I’m tired of watching the JSA fight Nazis.

Justice Society of America Annual #2 – And we’re back to trainwreck horrible.  By kicking Magog out of the JSA All-Stars, they basically also negate any reason for the team to have split into two.  It’s obvious that all the characters want the teams back together again, so it makes no sense that they aren’t.  Unless DC thinks that two books will sell better than one, which doesn’t appear to be the case.  It’s just alienating life-long fans of these characters (like me).  And there should be a new rule:  no more Tom Derenick.

New Mutants #1-4 – Since I seem to keep buying this comic (stupid tie-ins), I figured it was time to go back and read its first arc.  It’s not great, but it’s not bad either.  More recent issues show that Wells has a good handle on these characters, he just needed to go through the motions of setting up the title (to have it get wrapped into every cross-over going).

Punisher Max # 2 & 3 – I’m really liking Aaron’s take on the Punisher, and especially his approach to the Kingpin.  We get a lot of Fisk’s backstory, and some over-the-top amusing stuff featuring an ancient naked gang moll.  Cool stuff, with some very nice Dave Johnston covers.

Red Robin #8 & 9 – I dropped this book because I wasn’t enjoying the Council of Spiders arc, but thought I’d give it another chance.  I was really feeling #9, and was going to jump back on board, up until the point where I realized the book was going to tie in to Batgirl, a title I have no interest in.  I do like Marcus To’s artwork (somehow I missed him at the show).

The Shield #3I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating.  Marco Rudy is like JH Williams back when he was working on Chase.  The guy is doing some very impressive stuff – cool lay-outs and wonderful figure work.  Trautmann’s writing is pretty good too, and Grogg is the bad guy.  I really wish DC wasn’t packaging this comic with the Inferno back-up, which is not keeping my interest, and, at $4 a book, is keeping me from adding this title to my pull list.  And let’s face it, this comic needs some sales desperately.

Thor #607 – I like Gillen when he’s writing his own characters or a book that no one is paying much attention to (how else would you describe SWORD?).  Here, he’s pretty constrained by what is going on in Siege, and gives us a bunch of in-between scenes, or focuses on minor characters.  What I like most about this issue is that he takes the time to show us how the media is reacting to Osborn’s attack on Asgard, and gives Volstagg some much needed Youtube time.  The art is a a little rough…

Wolverine: Weapon X #9 – As much as  I love Jason Aaron’s writing, and have been enjoying this title, this is a bad comic right here.  The dialogue between Wolverine and Dr. Rot is painful, and I don’t like the way Wolverine’s character is portrayed.  It’s issues like this that are the reason why I’m not buying this book regularly.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Kinetic

Written by Kelley Puckett
Art by Warren Pleece with Garry Leach

Lately I’ve been working my way through the short-lived DC Focus line, and I must say that I really missed out by not picking these comics up when they were first published. These were some very nicely designed, nicely written comics.

Kinetic is about Tom, a seventeen year old high school student with a number of dangerous medical conditions. He’s a hemophiliac, diabetic, and due to his monomyelic amyotrophy, he can not move his right arm. He has been raised in an environment of fear and isolation, looked after by his well-meaning but over-protective mother. High school, obviously, has been hell for him.

Somehow, early into the book, Tom suddenly develops super strength and invulnerability. There is no explanation as to how this happens; he gets hit by a truck, and the truck wraps itself around him. From that point, everything is different for Tom, although he has no idea how to live in a world that now can’t hurt him.

Puckett keeps the story grounded in the real world. Tom still goes to school, and still fantasizes about beating up bullies and sweeping the perfect girl off her feet. He has a hard time adjusting to things, and it becomes clear that he has never learned how to interact with his world. Also fascinating is the way his mother reacts to things; she has spent 17 years worrying about her kid, and finds his new abilities as liberating as he does.

The book is coloured with just reds and blues (and in one scene, some green), an odd but effective choice. The covers for the first five or six issues were by Tomer Hanuka, which is always a nice treat.

The true strength of this book lies in Warren Pleece’s drawings. His teenagers look like real teenagers, and he has an eye for the way people actually wear clothes (quite rare in comics really). He excels at showing the subtle shifts in Tom’s moods through his facial expressions, and is able to convey his mother’s perpetual state of worry easily.

Dead Enders Vol. 1: Stealing the Sun

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Warren Pleece and Richard Case

I had no idea that this title lasted for something like 16 issues, and that only the first four were ever collected in a trade. This book originally came out during a time where my comics buying was quite limited, and so it stayed below my radar, until I became more familiar with Brubaker’s work.

It’s a very different title from what you would expect from this writer. Dead Enders is set in a post-cataclysmic future, where rich and poor are divided into different sectors, with the wealthy being able to enjoy artificial weather, while the poor suffer from gray skies and any number of environmental illnesses.

The story centres around Beezer, a drug-dealer and neo-mod (for lack of a better term). Beezer has this strange habit of seeing visions of the past, and has managed to draw the attention of some government guy, who is looking to make use of his abilities (this is never really made clear). This brings police to Beezer’s home, where they find his drug stash, sending him on the run.

Dead Enders is very much about Beezer’s friendships and his tempestuous relationship with Sophie, his girlfriend. When his closest friend, Jasper, is injured during a repo job, Beezer sets out to make his last days pleasurable.

Not a lot happens in this volume, but at the same time, Brubaker packs a lot of story and world-building into a small space. Other writers, these days, would take six to eight issues to accomplish what he manages in four.

The art, by Warren Pleece, looks quite nice, although Richard Case’s inks make his art look quite different from his work on Kinetic. My biggest art complaint would be that the colour of Beezer’s hair kept changing, making me wonder if he was the same character or someone else in places.

This was an enjoyable book, and I think I may now be on the look-out for the single issues, which are unlikely to ever get reprinted in trade form.

Album of the Week:

Madlib Medicine Show No. 2: Flight to Brazil