Weekly Round-Up #15

Having the week off meant extra time to get caught up on some graphic novels!

Best Comic of the Week:

American Vampire #1

Written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

I came into this book with mid-level expectations. Aside from a few New Yorker pieces, I haven’t read any Stephen King since I was a teenager, and I don’t know who Scott Snyder is. The big draw for me was Rafael Albuquerque’s art, more on which in a moment.

This is a pretty good comic. The first issue (I haven’t read any of the interviews or internet puff-pieces about this, so I don’t know if this is going to continue) is split between two stories, set forty-five years apart from each other.

The first story (written by Snyder) focuses on Pearl, a wannabe-starlet trying to break into the silent movie industry in 1920s Hollywood. She’s holding down three jobs, and maybe finally gets her big break when she is invited to the producer’s house for a party (avoiding the warnings of a strange drifter-type who hangs out near her apartment complex’s swimming pool).

The second story (by King) is set in 1880s Colorado, where a group of Pinkertons are transporting the leader of a bank-robbing gang to jail by rail. They are attacked by his crew, who are attempting a daring rescue. As it turns out though, the mine owner who hired the Pinkertons is not what he seems…. There is one character who appears in both stories.

The art in this book is awesome. Albuquerque’s stuff looked good when he was drawing the much-missed Blue Beetle series, but this is a step above that. The first story has a classic Vertigo look to it, while he changes his style a little in the second story, giving it a more burnished feel.

While there is nothing particularly ground-breaking about this comic, (it is classic Vertigo), and the world is not really crying out for another vampire franchise, there is more than enough going on here to grab my interests, and I’ll definitely be sticking around for at least the first arc.

Other Notable Books:

Battlefields #4

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

With this latest arc of Battlefields, “The Firefly and His Majesty”, Ennis returns to the character of Sergeant Stiles, last seen in the arc ‘The Tankies‘. Time has passed, and Stiles and the other tank units have taken the war into Germany. They are pushing their way closer and closer to Berlin, although as usual, Stiles’s team is way behind their main force and perhaps a little lost.

Stiles and crew meet up with a group of American Shermans which have been attacked by a King Tiger – the German super tank. What follows is some soldierly conversation, a good story about how the newest crew member was needed in the tank, and generally, set up for the fight between Stiles’s Firefly tank (American tank, British gun) and this Tiger that we keep hearing about.

As usual with an Ennis war comic, this is some pretty good stuff. When he works with Ezquerra, he always find a nice balance between the comic and the gritty.

Fables #93

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by David Lapham

So what began as a fun baseball story has become an examination of Flycatcher’s approach to justice in his kingdom of Haven, as Brump, the goblin accused of murdering a squirrel goes on trial. The stakes are high for Fly – if he is seen as being too soft in this case, he will have a hard time upholding his other laws, but if he is seen as being anti-goblin, racial tensions could rip his kingdom apart. Also, he has to avoid the perception of acting out of spite since Brump was the goblin responsible for defeating his baseball team.

Willingham sets up a nice little courtroom drama, complete with an eloquent and novel defense brought in by Trusty John, that paints the case as a part of the endless nature vs. nurture debate.

This has been an enjoyable little arc, and it’s been good to see Lapham’s art again (still missing Young Liars here), but I am looking forward to finding out what’s been happening on the Farm.

Fade to Black #1

Written by Jeff Mariotte
Art by Daniele Serra

I usually like Jeff Mariotte’s work – specifically Desperadoes and Graveslinger, so I thought I’d give his new Shadowline mini-series a try, although I am afraid I’m a little disappointed in it.

The premise is a good one – a group of actors leave their film crew to hike through a remote desert, blocking scenes for tomorrow’s shoot, and when they return, find the crew slaughtered and their vehicles damaged. Nice horror movie set-up right there. Then, we find out that they were killed by the Children of the Radiant Night, a cannibalistic cult, looking for ‘the one’, who is apparently among the group of surviving actors. Should be fantastic, right?

The problem is that the pacing feels a little off, and the art is quite muddy. I had to read over the first few pages a second time to realize that the characters weren’t really being chased in the desert, and I felt like I was playing catch-up from the very beginning. Furthermore, there’s very little in the way of character development (or even differentiation in their appearance), making it hard to care much about any of them.

I think that this could have worked a lot better with a cleaner artist and a little more editing.

Joe the Barbarian #3

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Sean Murphy

Morrison’s latest Vertigo title continues to be an entertaining ride, as it takes on more of the classic features of a hero’s quest, now saddling Joe and Jack with the company of Smoot, a giant dwarf (which means he’s Joe’s size) from a kingdom of submarine pirates that (I think) live in the pipes of Joe’s house.

The story continues to cut between Joe’s adventures in some fantasy land with his attempts to get himself to the kitchen for some soda (he’s hypoglycemic remember) in interesting and visually arresting ways. There is a little more background information provided this time around, as we learn a little more about the ‘Dying Boy’, a prophesied hero that everyone assumes is Joe.

The big draw of this book continues to be the art, as Murphy is doing some amazing stuff here. I found it interesting that, considering the book’s content, that Morrison would have a character use the phrase ‘the stuff of legend‘. Intentional shout-out?

Quick Takes:

Avengers Vs. Atlas #3 – This continues to be a fun, if inconsequential, title featuring the Atlas team fighting some time-lost Avengers.  There are some good character moments, and nice art.  The Venus back-up is cute too.

Dark Avengers #15 – More pre-Siege than actual Siege, as Bendis continues his look into what makes the Sentry so nuts, as Bullseye maybe (or maybe not) carries out Osborn’s orders with regards to Lindy, the Sentry’s irritating wife.  Deodato’s art is all over the place here – some pages are drawn, while others look a little more CGI or painted.  It’s a bit jarring.

Green Lantern Corps #46 – This book has been pretty much sidelined throughout Blackest Night.  Sure, it’s had Kyle, Guy, and a bunch of the different Corps fighting the Black Lanterns, but it’s never felt like that has ‘mattered’ so far as the main book (or the GL title) have been concerned.  Therefore, I was surprised to see Gardner’s Rainbow Coalition take on the Anti-Monitor at the Black Lantern battery (where strangely, the only hero around is Dove, who just seems to be waiting for them) as they ignore the hundred thousand or so BLs up in space, that I guess are just sitting around waiting for them to come back.  So in other words, the pacing feels a little off here…

Guardians of the Galaxy #24 – Here’s another strong showing for one of the best comics Marvel is publishing.  Abnett and Lanning have a good handle on all of these characters, and can consistently find new ways for Phyla to be manipulated into doing stupid things.  I really like Craig’s art on this title.

Hercules: Fall of an Avenger #1 – Before the mantle of ‘Prince of Power’ can be passed on to Amadeus Cho, it is only fitting that there be a memorial service for Hercules, and Amadeus starts one at the Parthenon, attended by many of Herc’s companions (and lovers) from the last few years (with more emphasis than expected on the recent run of his title).  There are lots of amusing stories shared, although the best line in the whole comic goes to Northstar.  I don’t really like Olivetti’s art anymore, although he does make Cho look Korean for a change (but his Snowbird is way too mannish for me).  There’s a nice back-up featuring Venus and Namora closing out Herc’s estate as well.

Nation X #4 – Any comic with art by Michael Allred (written by Peter Milligan and starring Doop!) and Niko Henrichon (with writing by Joe Caramagna) has to be worth picking up, and those two stories don’t disappoint (even though the Henrichon one is a little pointless).  Also included is a nice little Warpath vs. some of the X-Fodder story (written by Ivan Brandon and nice art from Rael Lyra) and a so-so Stepwich Cuckoos story by Aguirre-Sacasa and Tolibao.  This series was enjoyable overall, but had too many filler-type stories.

Nova #35 – This current Sphinx arc is, I think, the first that I haven’t liked in the almost three years that Abnett and Lanning have been writing this title.  Because this is usually such a great comic, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to a certain character that they’ve brought back from the dead, but it’s not someone I see integrating well with the cosmic stuff they’ve been doing here.

Siege #3 – This is an all-around great issue, although as a comics fan, I would expect that Obama would be more able to identify some of the people on the news than his advisors….  Bendis is really put a lot of action into these comics, but balancing it with a good handle on character development.  There are some great moments in this issue, and Coipel is continuing to turn out some awesome art.  He can really give us a sense of the scale of some of this issue’s events.  I know that Siege has been getting some flack for not being as financially successful as other recent ‘event series’, but I’d take this over Secret Invasion any day.

Spider-Woman #7 – Well that didn’t last too long, did it?  In the textpiece at the back, Bendis claims that this book is ending because Alex Maleev got tired of drawing Jessica Drew.  It couldn’t be because this book has such low sales, after like three years of being hyped up, could it?  If it were in the top ten, you can bet Marvel would have found a replacement artist.  Anyway, this has been an okay title, with some nice art and the odd good moment.  Maybe it wouldn’t have been so boring to draw had it been a little more compressed.  It took seven issues to beat like two Skrulls?  Secret Invasion would still be running for another ten years if they were that hard to kill.

Supergirl #51 – This is basically a place-holder in the ‘Last Stand of New Krypton’ crossover, as Kara flies around a lot, fighting some Brainiac robots, arguing with Connor and her mother, and then helping them.  It’s like this character can never be consequential on her own.  At least the Legion are rescued from the indignity of last week’s retread cliffhanger ending.

Vengeance of the Moon Knight #6 – As much as I want to like what Hurwitz is trying to do with this title, integrating it into the Marvel Universe better than its predecessor title, and having Mark Specter look for both redemption and sanity, it is Opeña’s art that has been keeping me buying this first arc.  At times the story seems too stretched-out; this would have been an excellent four-issue arc I feel.  Also, the next issue has Deadpool guest-starring, which is probably a deal breaker for me.

X-Men Legacy #234 – This feels like a bit of a filler before Second Coming starts, as Rogue tries to play guidance counselor to the former New X-Men crowd, and ends up telepathically broadcasting Cajun porn to all of Utopia.  I like Carey’s writing, but it’s clear he’s dealing with some editorial mandates that are weakening this book.  Depending on how Second Coming plays out, this might be done soon for me.

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

Choker #2

Doomwar #2

Farscape #5

Marvel Boy Uranian #3

Shield #7

Siege Embedded #3

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Promethea Volume 5

Written by Alan Moore
Art by J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray

It’s hard to be critical of a comic this beautiful, but Alan Moore’s intent in Promethea was not so much to tell a gripping story as to expound on his own knowledge and beliefs in the tarot, and other arcane things.

This volume starts quite conventionally for this series, with Promethea in hiding in Millennium, the home town of Tom Strong and his compatriots, who get asked by the FBI to help find her. Because she is discovered (in her Sophie form), she now has to end the world (for reasons that are not clear, nor memorable from the last volume).

From there, the book moves into the kind of random, although very scholarly mumbo-jumbo of the last two volumes, and the world ends, and then somehow continues, just in a different, nicer form. After that is the epilogue to the series, more about which in a moment.

As always with Promethea, the draw is Williams’s art. As with the other volumes, he employs a number of different techniques and styles throughout the book, relying heavily on photo-referenced work for the scenes where the world is ending, and all fictional realities become real. The pièce de résistance of the book is the final issue of the series, which was originally printed as a huge fold-out double-sided poster, showing two images of Promethea in the background, while the character narrates another essay on magic. It’s visually quite stunning when read as individual pages, and a small fold-out page is included in the back of the book to give you a scaled-down representation of the original work.

In the final analysis, I think reading Promethea was too much like going to wizard school to be totally enjoyable, but the series did have a number of very enjoyable moments (I would buy an issue of the Weeping Gorilla if I could) and was visually so inventive as to be worthy of an honored space on any shelf.

Larry Marder’s Beanworld Volume 3: Remember Here When You Are There!

by Larry Marder

I’ve written before about the pleasure I get from reading Marder’s Beanworld comics, and I won’t go into that again, except to say that it is a pleasure heightened, not diminished, by the recent easy availability of Beanworld stories thanks to Dark Horse republishing the original comics, and now, with this volume, ALL NEW material!

This volume (somewhere between thin and chunky in length) concludes what Marder is referring to as the ‘springtime cycle’ of the Beanworld, a strange and inventive land.

A lot happens in this volume. The Pod’l’pool Cuties are getting older, and getting more involved in the day-to-day life of the Beanworld. Mr. Spook is still mourning the loss of his trusty fork, while Proffy is still trying to figure out the float factor, and now has the new mystery of float force to deal with. Heyoka is still stuck with the Goofy Service Jerks, and the Boom’rs are still booming. The Elusive Notworm is now pitching in to help raise the Cuties. I know that none of that makes sense if you haven’t been reading this title for a while, but trust me, it’s all good stuff.

If there is an emotional centre to this volume, it is Beanish, and his quest to understand his relationship with Dreamishness, his secret friend in the sky. She asks him to sing her a love song, and this causes him no end of grief. Beans in the Beanworld each have a particular job or function to perform, and Beanish is increasingly feeling like he’s having to step outside of his usual place in society. He’s keeping secrets from his friends, and is even neglecting the Look-See Show, his contribution to Bean society.

Marder’s books are infinitely charming and readable, even though there is a steep learning curve to starting out with this series. It’s such a treat to be reading new material, and I hope that the books are finding a whole new audience. This is a completely unique project in comics, and it deserves much more recognition.

Showcase Presents: The Unknown Soldier Vol. 1

Written by Joe Kubert, Bob Haney, Robert Kanigher, Archie Goodwin, Frank Robbins, and David Michelinie
Art by Joe Kubert, Irv Novick, Doug Wildey, Dan Spiegle, Jack Sparling, and Gerry Talaoc

It’s taken me a few months to work my through this mammoth volume of stories taken from thirty-eight issues of Star Spangled Stories originally printed between 1970 and 1975, the hey-day of DC war comics.

As much as I enjoyed the individual stories, written and drawn by some of the legends of DC Comics, including some incredible work by Joe Kubert, I found that I could never read more than two in one sitting, as the stories were so remarkably similar. For almost every issue, there would be a great Kubert cover structured around some kind of gag – the Unknown Soldier would declare a town clear of enemies, but there’d be a Nazi hiding in a window; the Unknown Soldier would call soldiers into a cave for cover, but there’d be a Japanese soldier coming out of a tunnel, and so on.

Within each story, the Soldier would take on the identity of someone – usually an enemy officer of low rank, and with the help of partisans or resistance fighters, would foil some Nazi scheme or Japanese offensive. The stories were always enjoyable, but the effect of reading too many in succession was mind-numbing.

It was interesting to see how, as the series developed, the authors (especially Michelinie) would occasionally toss in a two-part story. It was also interesting to see how the stories jumped back and fort in time throughout the war, inserting the Soldier into a variety of big-name battles as well as smaller, lesser known (or invented) conflicts.

The original comics predated me, and I’d never read any of them as a kid. I enjoyed reading this book, but couldn’t help but look at it as a historical artifact in many instances. I much prefer the current Unknown Soldier being published by Vertigo…

Astronauts in Trouble: One Shot One Beer

Written by Larry Young
Art by Charlie Adlard

I’m never entirely sure of what I think of Larry Young’s ‘Astronaut’ stories. First of all, they feature art from Charlie Adlard, so I’m immediately inclined to like them. My problem is, they seem to assume a level of gravity (no pun intended) and importance in themselves that they don’t really have.

This volume is a quick read about a group of guys hanging out in a bar on the moon (the only bar on the moon, we are led to believe). As often happens, they start talking and telling stories, and it comes to pass that some of them had some involvement in the events depicted in the first of the AiT series, later subtitled ‘Live From the Moon’. This might be more interesting if I remembered more of what happened in that comic, but it has been a few years since I read it, and it wasn’t all that memorable I guess.

This book does have some nice moments to it, and some quick character work, but it is, when all is said and done, not that memorable.

Not Exactly Comics:

Dodgem Logic #1

Alan Moore’s new zine is a bit of a strange beast. The famously recalcitrant comics writer has started, with a large cast of other players, this magazine that is more or less about life in Northampton, but is also about community activism, music history, recipes, and comics (a little bit).

Design-wise, the book reminds me of early issues of Wired or Mondo 2000, where you couldn’t always read the text for the fractally-psychedelic backgrounds, and that gives this a slightly dated feel (looking over that sentence, it looks like I said this book is illegible, it isn’t, but I kept expecting it to be).

To get a sense of the diversity of the articles in here, let me give you a list of just the things I enjoyed most while reading it:
– Moore’s history of underground publishing
– a comic about guerrilla gardening
– the ‘Daily Mustard’, a two-page parody of news magazines
– an article about a couple who tried to spend no money, and dumpster-dove for food
– Kevin O’Neill’s weird-ass picture of alien sex (I think that’s what it is)
– Josie Long’s comic about love
– ‘Notes from Noho’, a supplemental section that featured fiction (I think) and reporting about Northampton, including Moore’s piece ‘The Destructor’ about the lack of services in the area that became the catalyst for the whole magazine
– two columns on the NHS, the British National Health Service
– Melinda Gibbie’s (Alan Moore’s wife) column on feminism

Not bad for a thin magazine. I had no interest in the articles about music, although there were a couple of good tracks on the cd that was included with the magazine (who are P-Hex? worth looking for…). The comics were too much like the gross-out 60’s underground books that I think we should have moved past by now. The recipes (yes, there are seriously recipes in this) and craft project (turn old ties into button-holes?) were odd inclusions.

In all, this is an interesting project, and I wish them the best of luck with it. I imagine it will be difficult to get subsequent issues in Canada, but I’m interested enough to grab whatever I can find.

Album of the Week:

The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble – Miles Away