Weekly Round-Up #14

This was a very good week for new comics, especially with the return of a few titles I haven’t seen in a long time.

Best Comic of the Week:

Daytripper #4

by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

My but I love this comic. I would have thought that the concept, that each issue represent a day or two in the life of Brás de Oliva Domingos at different ages, with a similar ending each issue, would have become a little too precious by the half-way point, but instead, I find myself utterly drawn in and fascinated by this series.

Moon and Bá keep returning to the same themes – filial relationships in this one – and building on the foundations of earlier issues, negating the common ending of each previous issue. This month’s installment came as a surprise, as it is set when Brás is 41, and awaiting the birth of his first child. While taking his wife to the hospital, Brás misses the call from his mother informing him that his own father had died.

What follows is the funeral and birth, with Brás having to juggle his conflicting (and conflicted) emotions. He meets his half-sister after the funeral, and later has a conversation with her in the hospital. Brás is shown as having always fought for his father’s attention and affection, and his emotions are handled subtly and with care.

The art in this issue is as impressive as usual, and there are a couple of pages that are truly stunning. One is the double-page spread showing the internment, although my favorite panel would be the one that show’s Brás’s father’s study, a modernist room that looks comfortable, productive, and exactly like the type of room I would imagine a writer of his renown working in.

American audiences were first exposed to the twins’ work through books like Casanova, and so have come to expect of them a certain frenetic madness. Instead, they are showing that they are capable of telling small, sensitive stories with great beauty, and I’m thankful that Vertigo is giving them this chance.

Other Notable Books:

Criminal: The Sinners #5

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

There are a few things that happened in the conclusion to this latest Criminal series that I didn’t see coming. I think that’s what I always like best about Brubaker’s writing on this book; it’s quite unpredictable.

Sure, some of the main story beats were predetermined, like Hyde discovering that Tracey was sleeping with his wife, but the way things played out with the Triad, and between Tracey and his military pursuer were not what I was expecting.

The character of Father Mike and his motivations finally get some explanation, and I like the comparison drawn between him and the way in which ‘holy men’ in the Middle East draw young men into their violent worlds through appealing to their religious sensibilities. It’s interesting that no one else has developed this notion from a Western point of view (at least in anything else I’ve read).

I was surprised to read in the back that the next series from the Brubaker/Phillips team would be a new Incognito series. I felt like that had been a single-arc story, but as always, I’ll buy anything from this creative team.

DMZ #51

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

After all the cool things in the DMZ on display last issue, this month feels extra drab, as Matty hides out from the political, emotional, and nuclear fall-out of his actions in issue 49 in the Washington Heights area, a veritable no-mans’ land, sparsely inhabited by other loners.

The nuclear explosion that happened at Indian Point has been portrayed by Liberty News as a terrorist act by the Delgado Nation, and now everyone seems to be in hiding. Matty’s feeling more than a little sorry for himself, and his mood is not lifted when he watches a confrontation in the street outside the building where he has been squatting.

Instead of viewing New York as a resilient, living entity, he is now seeing it as a corpse in its death-throes. This is a pretty morose issue of DMZ, but it is, as always, well-written and well-drawn. I’ve given up on trying to predict where this title is going, and am just enjoying following along. I don’t much like Matty when he gets into these moods, but I think it is definitely time for him to enter into some serious self-reflection.

As usual, John Paul Leon’s cover is stunning too.

Elephantmen #24

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Moritat, Chris Burnham, and a small army of assistants

It’s been a while since the last issue of Elephantmen appeared, and it’s very nice to see the book back on the stands.

In this issue, Starkings wraps up his ‘7 Days of Smog’ arc with a big fight between Ebony Hide and Hip Flask, Hip being under the influence of an ‘imperiumite’, a device used to amp up the aggression of Mappo soldiers during the war. There’s also some interesting stuff with Sahara and Obadiah Horn, and the secrets they keep from each other.

It’s nice to see Moritat back on this book, even if he apparently needed a lot of last-minute assistance from the book’s usual stable of artists. They manage to maintain a level of consistency throughout the book so it’s not too noticeable. Chris Burnham provides a short back-up about the strange reporter who manipulated Vanity over the last few issues.

This felt like a largely transitional issue of Elephantmen, as Starkings sets up the book for his next big arc, ‘Questionable Things’.

Ex Machina #48

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Tony Harris

What really makes this comic work for me is that, with all the hell that is breaking loose in Hundred’s life, Vaughan still finds some time to squeeze some politics into the story. Suzanne Padilla continues in her plans to wreck havoc in New York, and Mitchell discovers that she has killed someone close to him. At the same time, he gets into an argument with Wylie about their political ambitions.

This comics strength has always been in its balance of superheroics with municipal politics, and as Vaughan moves ever closer to his big finish, it’s nice to see that he is not going to be ignoring that aspect of the story.

This is (I think) the second issue where Harris is inking his own art, and it continues to look quite different from his previous work, in a very good way. I don’t know if that is contributing to the length of time between issues, but with so little left in the series, I’m okay with it coming out in dribs and drabs, as I’m going to miss this book when it’s gone.

Ghost Projekt #1

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Steve Rolston

When I saw this project solicited, I was quick to add it to my pull-list on the strength of Steve Rolston’s involvement. I like his art, and like to support local artists. I had no idea who Joe Harris is, but I have a lot of trust in Oni Press’s ability to put out interesting and enjoyable comics.

As it turns out, I got just what I expected, a compelling new comic. The book opens with two thieves poking around a decommissioned Soviet-era research station, creepily filled with baby cribs and a fetus in a jar. They steal some hidden canisters, but only after opening one by error, and setting off an alarm.

A week later, there is a confrontation between two of the scientists that worked on Project Dosvidanya, as the program was known.

A week after that, two American inspectors are in the same research station, and have a run-in with some Russian police, who have discovered that many of the people originally involved in the project have been murdered, with strange welts on their foreheads being the only clue to the cause of their death. While all of this is happening, animals and children in the area are beginning to see something strange in the sky.

It’s a good set up. The notion of arcane or sadistic Soviet experiments is nothing new, but it’s always interesting. Harris does a good job of establishing the characters, and Rolston’s art looks as good as always. Oni does stories like this very well.

Resurrection #9

Written by Marc Guggenheim and Ross Campbell
Art by Justin Greenwood and Ross Campbell

Guggenheim is finally giving us some (however cryptic) information about the Bugs, and why they invaded Earth in this issue. We also see the end result of infection by the techno-organic virus last seen in the first volume of the series, as one of the main characters gets infected (or chosen, depending on your point of view) on the bug ship (or temple, same reason).

A lot of what Guggenheim is doing in this series has been done before – there are elements of Y: The Last Man, V, The Walking Dead, The Stand, and a touch of Battlestar Galactica – but the way in which he is combining them makes for a consistently interesting read. Bill Clinton’s inclusion is increasingly seeming less like a gimmick and more like an important story element.

The back-up this time around is by Ross Campbell, and it’s vastly different from anything I’ve seen him do before (ie., no round-bottomed teenage girls experimenting with their sexuality) both in terms of story and art. This has a much thicker look than his usual style, and boldly coloured to add dramatic effect. The lack of dialogue or narration works quite well here. I hope this is a two-parter, because the ending was unsatisfying and abrupt.

The Unwritten #11

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and Jimmy Broxton

This issue finishes off the Josef Goebbels story, and has a lot of information revealed about Tom, and what he really is, not that Tom knows any of this yet.

In this story, he meets with the story of Jud Süss, the Jewish novel that was re-worked by Nazi propagandists to be an anti-Jew movie. The story has become a canker, a story so conflicted and at odds with itself that it is in great pain.

As the story of Unwritten progresses, it’s becoming more and more interesting to see how Carey is playing around with the meaning of fiction in our lives.

Quick Takes:

Action Comics #887 – I have been liking the Captain Atom back-up in this comic, mostly because of Cafu’s very nice artwork.  The main story has gotten more than a little monotonous lately, as Rucka and Trautmann have been focusing a little too much on Kryptonian mythology, and have given Lois Lane an inflated level of importance in the DCU.  It’s all done soon though…

Batman and Robin #10 – Morrison goes all DaVinci Code in this issue, having Dick-Batman study the Wayne-family portraits for hints to Bruce Wayne’s location in history while Damian suffers an acute attack of separation anxiety.  This is a strange issue, but it looks great and reads well.

Doom Patrol #8 – Now with a reduction in price and the end to the Metal Men back-up, I’m adding Doom Patrol to my pull-list.  I especially like the way that Giffen is mining DP history for material.  This issue features the long-awaited return of Danny the Street (at least a brick of him), the much-loved character/location from Grant Morisson’s tenure on the book.  This series has not always been stellar since its relaunch, but I am interested in where Giffen is planning on taking it.  The art by Ron Randall is not as nice as Matt Clarks work…

The Mystic Hands of Doctor Strange #1 – I was expecting to enjoy this a lot more than I did.  The first story, by Gillen and Irving, was excellent as Doctor Strange tried to stop another mad Doktor from saving the world, but the subsequent stories, by Milligan and Ted McKeever, were a little too similar in their depictions of a melancholy and morose Strange.  Has this guy never enjoyed his job?  I much preferred Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s take on the character a few years back.  I do like these black-and-white specials from Marvel though – a little more indie cred would go a long way though.  Let’s see some Brandon Graham or Vasilis Lolos in these things.

Powers #3 – This issue is much better than the last, as Walker and Enki are pursued by the unexpectedly powered mob matriarch we met last time, and there’s another flashback showing Walker’s activities during the war.  This issue is extra-long (41 pages of story, no letters page), although many pages are one-half blacked out, so things could have been a little more condensed and the same amount of story would have been told.  I’m not sure yet why Powers was continued in this latest re-launch.  Previous iterations of the book have appeared to have some sort of theme to them, and I don’t see that happening yet, unless every issue is going to include a second world war aspect.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #14You have to give DC a lot of credit for allowing Bedard fourteen issues (plus an annual) to tell such a large story as this one.  It’s become very rare in modern comics to find any story lasting longer than the six issues needed to fill out a trade paperback, and for them to support a book featuring such obscure characters is admirable.  Of course, that the book has been consistently excellent helps argue for a return to some longer-form superhero stories.  in this issue, Dox completes his battle with Starro, and while many plot-lines are wrapped up, there is still much to build off of for the next fourteen or more issues.  This is a great comic.

Secret Six #19 – I didn’t expect this book to get better than it already was, and then Simone goes and gives us a chunk of Ragdoll dialogue examining the effects of childhood abuse and the possibility of having sex with butterflies.  This time around, the Six take on Brother Blood’s cult, and get manipulated by their client (you would think by now they would screen a little better).  Also, Cheshire sort of returns to the cast.  I was sad to see Nicola Scott leave the book, but Calafiore’s doing a fine job providing the art.

S.W.O.R.D. #5 – It’s a real shame that this title has had such a short-lived existence, as I would have loved to see where Gillen was going to take this book next.  SWORD has been a fun comic, updating the formula that worked so well on Justice League back in the day, and filling a niche that Marvel was lacking.  I can only hope that word-of-mouth will drive trade paperback sales to the point that the series may be resurrected one day.  So, if you haven’t read this – order the trade as soon as it becomes available.  It’s a good book.

Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton #1 – Picking up from Superman: World of New Krypton (because why just continue a series when you can have a new first issue?), Brainiac attempts to re-take Kandor, Zod stands around a lot and postures and disagrees with Superman, and the Legion shows up.  This story has been a while in coming, and it’s a little more middle-of-the-road than I would have liked.  It does work well as an action issue, I’m just tired of comics set on New Krypton ending with Zod arresting people.  There are other cliffhangers….

The Twelve: Spearhead #1 – I’d like to officially thank Chris Weston for returning to these characters while JMS abandons them to work at DC.  I really enjoyed the first 8 issues of the mini-series, and have been unhappy that it’s publication was suspended (not abandoned, like Squadron Supreme, if the ad in the back of this issue is to be believed), as it was doing a great job of satisfying my cravings for intelligent comics featuring Golden Age characters.  This issue features our characters in the days before they got captured in Berlin, as they generally make a nuisance of themselves in German-occupied Europe.  Weston is the perfect artist for this era – he manages to make the costumed characters look totally realistic and ridiculous at the same time.

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

Dark X-Men #5

Farscape: D’Argo’s Quest #4

Punisher Max #5

The Week in Sets:

Destroyer #1-5

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Cory Walker

Robert Kirkman has a unique way of writing super-hero comics, that doesn’t seem to translate well when he gets his hands on established, continuity-rich characters, but works amazingly well when he either creates his own world, or takes over a mostly-obscure one.

In Destroyer, he grabs ahold of the old Marvel/Timely Golden Age character, and gives us a story set in present day that supposes that the character has been working as a super-hero (and perhaps the world’s only one) since the war. In this series, Keen Marlow (the Destroyer) is approaching his hundredth birthday, and suffering from a heart condition. He’s still indestructible, and can be shot, bombed, or dropped from great heights with no ill effects, but his next heart attack is expected to be his last.

With the knowledge of his impending demise weighing heavily on him, he sets out to kill off any of his old nemeses that are still around, and to find the evil Scar, who had ripped off his wife’s arm years before. At the heart of this book is Keen’s relationship with his family. His wife wants him to retire, as does his daughter, who is married to his former sidekick (although she doesn’t know this).

The creative team of Kirkman and Walker gives this book a feel very much like the earlier issues of Invincible, yet without Mark Grayson’s youth and energy. The villains that are created (or updated?) for the Destroyer are as wacky and bizarre as the ones that regularly appear in Invincible, and the action plays out much like that series. Really, there’s no reason why Kirkman couldn’t have just made this a creator-owned series with a few simple cosmetic changes.

This is good stuff. It’s nice to see a Kirkman story that has a clear ending, and his work on developing these characters and their relationships is very strong. It’s also just nice to see some solid Jason Pearson covers.

30 Days of Night: Dead Space #1-3

Written by Steve Niles and Dan Wickline
Art by Milx

I’ve dabbled a couple of times now into the 30 Days of Night pool, and in each case I’ve come back with mixed feelings, except for David Lapham’s awesome contribution to the line. They consistently seem to fall short of their potential, which I find frustrating.

This series is no different. The concept hooked me right away – a space shuttle mission with a vampire on board. It’s a little like Aliens, except the creature can be a real character. What happens though, is that the entire crew of the shuttle is dispatched with off-camera, and the next two issues of the comic are all about the ‘rescue mission’ coming up to see what was going on, before they too get attacked.

It’s a quickly-paced story that depends on a couple of things happening that are rather ridiculous. I’m willing to accept that vampires can survive in outer space, since I assume they don’t breathe. What I can’t handle is that vampires that burn up if they are exposed to sunlight on Earth would be able to happily float in orbit around the planet for a month, and never once catch a glimpse of the sun. This is never discussed in the story, and I found it made it impossible for me to suspend my disbelief (being fully aware that I’m reading a comic about vampires in space).

The characterizations in this book are handled very quickly and with little development. The one person that the authors take the time to flesh out is the astronaut that becomes a vampire, but I’m not clear how he became infected.

The art is different – it looks like it’s all watercolours – but it works quite well for this type of story. I get the feeling like it might be time to abandon hope for this line, but I did pick up Templesmith’s Red Snow at the same Comic-con, so I guess it gets one more chance.

Graphic Novel of the Week:

100%

by Paul Pope

I can’t believe I waited until now to read Pope’s fantastic science-fiction series 100%. This is an amazing graphic novel. It doesn’t have much in the way of a central plot, being similar to movies like Magnolia in its rambling way of giving us a window into the lives of a few interconnected characters, albeit in a futuristic New York City.

Strel is a single mother and the dance manager at the Catshack. She hooks up her roommate (who purchases a gun to reduce her fear of living in the city) with her cousin Eloy, an installation artist who is working on a project involving 100 tea kettles tuned to the note ‘C’. Meanwhile, John, the busboy at the Catshack, hooks up with Daisy, a new dancer at the club who has an inability to stay in one place for long. Haitous, a boxer, is working to get his family back. All of these characters interconnect and collide frequently through the course of the book.

Pope has set this book, which is basically a romance comic, in a strange new future. The dancers that work for Strel dance in a Gastro-tube; a suite of imaging technology that displays their inner workings in the form of a large hologram overhead. It takes stripping to a new level when the audience can see the acid bubbling in the dancer’s stomach. Strangely, the same technology is applied to Haitous’s fights, which in my mind, makes a comment about the erotic nature of sports such as boxing and wrestling, and the voyeurs who watch them.

Of course, one reads a Paul Pope comic for his incredible art more than his accomplished writing. His work in this book looks incredible, with its thick lines and free use of ink. The best sequence (and there are more than a few really good ones) is when John and Daisy have their first date in a four-dee booth, which appears to be a room like a holosuite or Danger Room. Suddenly the two characters are having drinks on top of a satellite in space, and then on a desert plain surrounded by stampeding ostrich-like creatures. It’s a stunning few pages.

Definitely time to read Heavy Liquid….

Album of the Week:

Georgia Anne Muldrow – King’s Ballad