Weekly Round-Up #16

Best Comic of the Week:

Shuddertown #1

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Adam Green

I pre-ordered this series based on the strength of Spencer’s other current title, Forgetless, which I have been enjoying quite a bit. The two series have nothing in common beyond the author’s name, but I am quite glad I picked up this comic. It’s really quite good.

The first issue doesn’t give us much. We figure out that the main character, police Lieutenant Isaac Harrison, who has recently been shot on the job, is in a bad place. He’s got a group of murders that he doesn’t know how to solve – in each case, the DNA on the scene identifies the killer as being someone already known to be dead. His closest cop friend is not willing to help him transfer into vice. There’s some unexplained stuff with some pills. So basically, things do look pretty bad.

This on its own is enough of a premise for a pretty decent cop comic, but Spencer really draws me in through the running narrative we get from Harrison. It’s basically an essay on lying, and how to be an effectual one. It makes me question if anything we are seeing is accurate or true, and calls out for repeated readings.

The art, by Green, works here. It’s got an Alex Maleev/Michael Gaydos kind of thing going on, which I like. I’m excited about this title, and looking forward to more.

Other Notable Comics:

Air #19

Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by MK Perker

With the start of this new arc, Blythe has begun her pilot’s test. Her first task is to recover the lost luggage of Jules Verne, which is apparently in Russia, not that she knew that’s where she was flying to. The reaction of the Russian authorities to the unpredictability of Hyperprax travel is a nice touch; I always like it when fantasy elements are treated to the scrutiny of public regulations.

This issue puts Blythe well on her way to self-confidence and self-actualization, as shown by both the way she handles the Russians (bringing in a character I never thought we’d see again), and the way she tells Quetz the winged serpent to take a hike. When the series began, I often found Blythe to be an annoying character, and so it’s nice to see that Wilson always had this plan for her, and took her time in achieving it. It helps add a layer of realism to the book.

As always, the art is great, and the story compelling. More people should be reading this.

Northlanders #26

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Leandro Fernandez

Things continue to get worse for Hilda and Karin. Gunborg moves to consolidate his control of the settlement, which means removing a number of potential and perceived threats. We also get to find out just what exactly Gunborg did on his mission to the closest town. Hilda gives comfort and aid to Boris, which of course draws the attention of Gunborg and his men, especially Jens, who still has a thing for Hilda.

What makes this long arc so interesting is the way in which Wood is studying the way people react to tragedy and isolation. In many ways, this arc is similar to some of the stufff Wood has done in DMZ; a community has cut itself off from the outside world, and has to make due with the resources at hand to survive. The difference is that, because of the time period this is set in, it is much more difficult to survive in this world.

Fernandez has been doing some amazing work on this story. There are a few splash-pages throughout this issue, and they are stunning.

Orc Stain #2

by James Stokoe

Orc Stain is well on the way to becoming one of my favourite regular series. Stokoe’s new comic is an amazing showcase for his particular brand of comics weirdness. In this issue, our hero One-Eye is betrayed by his partner, and almost gets his gronch cut off when he can’t pay a proper tribute to the local Orc leader. What follows is a flurry of violence, and the lopping off of a gronch or two.

If you aren’t sure what a gronch is, it’s pretty much exactly what you would expect. Apparently, they are currency in the Orc world.

Stokoe is imbuing each page of this book with a high degree of visual creativity. His Orcs are incredibly detailed, as are their surroundings. He is inventing some very interesting things, such as Dillo leather armchair disguises and living pop cans, while also constructing Orc culture and traditions. I’ve always liked Stokoe’s art, but it looks better than ever in the lush colours he is using here.

He’s really taking his time to establish some of these characters and their surroundings, before he flings One-Eye into the main plot, which involves a territorially aggressive Orc who is hunting for the one-eyed Orc to help him gain great riches.

This is fantastic stuff.

Scalped #36

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Davide Furnò

One of the things that I have enjoyed the most about Scalped over t last three years is the way that Aaron is always taking the book in unexpected directions. This issue is the start of a two-parter focusing on Shunko, Red Crow’s right-hand man and enforcer, and we learn something about him I never would have expected.

Red Crow sends Shunko out to the Potawatomi Reservation in Eastern Michigan, to speak to a fellow tribal leader and casino manager about the difficulty Red Crow has in booking A-level acts (which, let’s face it, at a casino really means C-level acts). Before meeting with the man, Shunko is forced to demonstrate some of his particular talents. This impresses the other Chief enough to recruit him to help with a problem he is having, namely his predecessor in his role.

As it turns out, the previous Chief has become a bit of an embarrassment since coming out of the closet, and the tribal council is planning on doing something about it. It is here that we learn something about Shunko I wouldn’t have expected.

Aaron has become a master at writing these types of character study issues. Shunko is obviously a very conflicted man, but also a rather inarticulate one, and so we must read into his thoughts through studying his actions. Also of interest was the small lesson included here on Native American attitudes and beliefs towards homosexuality, a topic I know nothing about, save a small curiosity in the concept of two-spiritedness, which I don’t understand.

Guest artist Davide Furnò once again provides some nice art.

Supergod #3

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Garrie Gastonny

Only Warren Ellis can write a book like this. The third issue of Supergod continues to tell the story of mankind’s experiments with artificially created super-humans, who are given god-like attributes and qualities.

We’ve already established that the Indian’s Krishna has unleashed nuclear Armageddon on the sub-continent, and now the other countries are rushing to respond. Conflict is inevitable, but the British are the ones who think to save themselves by having their Celtic space-mushroom trinity god go work out some form of accord. Like I said, only from Ellis.

Included in this issue is Dajjal, the American-backed Iraqi contribution to the proceedings, Dajjal, named after the Islamic version of the anti-Christ, and able to make use of ‘tactical perception’, an ability that allowed him to see into all timelines.

There’s a lot of crazy big ideas floating through this comic, and many of them shouldn’t be mistaken for an actual plot, which seems to be kind of missing, but when the concepts are this cool, who really cares about plot?

Quick Takes:

Avengers The Initiative #34 – I like the way they’ve been handling this book during Siege, fleshing out some of the better character moments in the main book, and filling in some important details.  The relationship between Diamondback and Constrictor has been handled really well, as is the fight between Bucky Cap and Taskmaster.  One thing I don’t get is why, with the abundance of terrific characters that have been used and created during this title’s existence, Gage’s new Avengers Academy title is going to feature mostly new characters.  I would be happier with some continuity with this title.

Captain America #604 – It’s the middle of the arc, so while it’s a good comic, it’s kind of a placeholder for things.  I did like seeing the Falcon get a fair amount of solo screen time.  He’s a great character, and I’ve always thought it a shame that he doesn’t get more time in the spotlight.  A Christopher Priest-written mini-series would be very nice…  Also, I’m just not feeling this Nomad back-up.  When I heard about the new Young Allies series, I got excited (I’m a sucker for WWII characters or revamps), especially with Toro on the team, but based on this comic, I think I’m going to pass.

Green Lantern #52 – More big stuff going down as Sinestro become the White Lantern, and gets some back-up from those ridiculous ‘ring entity creatures’ like Ion and Parallax (who I thought we just got rid of).  The art is nice, but I’m losing interest.  At least Blackest Night is almost over.  Continuity nitpicking – wasn’t Kilowog with Guy and Kyle, not John?

The Marvels Project #7 – This title got off to a slow start, but I’m really liking it now.  This issue features the advent of the Destroyer (who should win points for having the craziest costume ever), Bucky first putting on the uniform, Toro starting to work with the Torch, and Cap, Bucky, and the Angel fighting Atlanteans.  All in all, good stuff.

The Mighty Avengers #35 – Things felt a little random here, as Ultron takes over the Infinite Mansion at the same time that Pym hits another low point (busily constructing fleshy appendages for Jocasta while Broxton burns and the GRAMPA agents come calling to fire him).  Also they set up the Siege appearances of Cho and the remains of the team.  The pacing was off, which was the main problem with this issue, in what has been an otherwise memorable run.  While reading it, I got an immense urge for a GRAMPA mini-series or OGN written and drawn by Rafael Grampa.  The synergy is perfect, don’t you think?

Miller & McNiven’s Nemesis #1 – I checked the indicia; that really is the title.  How much cooler would this comic be if it were about the Alpha Flight character Nemesis?  I’d be more excited, that’s for sure.  Anyway, it’s Miller writing for McNiven, so the whole thing is in wide-screen, there’s a huge body count, stereotypical characters, unnecessary swearing, and shameless self-promotion.  But it’s only $3, so I figure it would be okay to pick it up.  There’s probably a three-month wait for the next issue, so we’ll see if I’ll still care by then.

New Avengers #63 – While there is not a whole lot happening in this issue that really has much impact on Siege (except for that last page that doesn’t seem to serious considering the new Avengers spin-off just solicited), it is a good example of how well Bendis really gets some of these characters, and marriage.  The book opens with a Luke Cage/Jessica Jones conversation that feels very right, and later digs into the relationship between Hawkeye/Ronin and Mockingbird.  The super-heroics really are only secondary.  McKone’s guest art looks really good here – I don’t think Immonen would have been as good a fit on this issue.

Secret Warriors #14I’ve been enjoying this book quite a bit, but I feel like it has had some on-going issues with pacing.  Last issue ended with a sense of urgency surrounding the mission that Daisy and crew were going to undertake, but now that Fury has gone behind her back, she has time to hang out with JT in a bar for the whole issue.  While it led to some nice character moments, it evaporated the sense of suspense from last issue.  It’s nice to see the Countessa back in her Steranko-designed spy clothes though, so everything else is forgiven.  Caselli’s art looks better than ever; I really like the way Gho is colouring him.  Final quibble – what’s with the headgear on the Hydra and Leviathan folk?  It would be hard to stay upright in some of that crap.

Superman #698 – While it’s nice to see Superman showing up in his own title, this issue is incredibly decompressed, featuring a drawn out confrontation between Superman, Brainiac, and Lex Luthor while Mon-El tries to rush to Superman’s aid, but gets held up by a bunch of Brainiac’s servants (who were somehow absent for all those months that General Lane had possession of Brainiac’s ship), which somehow includes a group of feral monkey creatures, because we all know what great servants creatures like that make, especially when you have the ability to create humanoid robots which could do your ‘serving’ for you.  Robinson’s been managing to do a decent job writing this title, while his other recent DC efforts have been disastrous, but it seems like he’s beginning to lose touch here too…

Thunderbolts #142 – Have you noticed how, ever since Parker took over, he tends to treat the Thunderbolts more like the villains they are, and give the spotlight to the heroes they are fighting?  It made sense in his Agents of Atlas crossover arc, since those are basically his characters, but it made this issue feel a little more like an issue of Mighty Avengers than Thunderbolts.  It’s all good though, as we get yet another Siege crossover this week.

Uncanny X-Men #522 – This was a pretty remarkable issue.  The news that Kitty Pryde has been brought back is quite welcome, even if we seem to be repeating a plot element from the Mutant Massacre here.  More welcome is the return of Dr. Cecilia Reyes, who at one point was one of my favourite X-Men.  I hope she sticks around and gets to work with the X-Club.  It was also interesting to see Whilce Portacio back on the book.  He’s not the greatest artist, but he’s much more suited to this title than Greg Land.  The last few pages of the main story are silent, and do a wonderful job of giving us an idea of the X-Men’s place in the Bay Area, and how the team is doing emotionally.  I really liked the back-up by Fraction and Phil Jimenez as well, even if it raises a few questions about how long Kitty was in that bullet thing for.

X-Factor #203 – So much for the new artist on the title, as Valentine de Landro makes a welcome return in this Guido/M spotlight issue.  Guido is searching for Monet, who he lost when their plane was attacked while they were looking for Monet’s father.  He gets some help from the local underworld in whatever South or Central American town they are in, reveals a little bit about himself, and fights what looks like Mindless Ones.  Of course, he and M never battle the dinosaur things on the cover, and the story doesn’t finish, which makes me wonder how next issue’s Second Coming crossover is going to work, but it’s all good, because it’s Peter David writing X-Factor.

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

Strangely, for these days, there weren’t any.

Bargain Books:

Malinky Robot 1 & 2

by Sonny Liew

I first came across Sonny Liew’s work in Liquid City, the Image anthology of Asian comics, and his Malinky Robot story was my favourite in the book. I found it quite charming, and resolved to track down the comics in the series that had been published (in 2002 and 2005). I got them both this week off Ebay, and I’m pleased with the purchase.

Malinky Robot is about two young kids living in a run-down Japanese city (I think). Atari is the scarred leader of the duo, always coming up with big plans or dreams. I don’t know what Oliver is – he looks a little like a stuffed trunkless elephant. They hang out in the rough areas of town, don’t go to school, and are watched over by Mr. Bon Bon, a friendly construction worker.

The first issue of the series, ‘Stinky Fish Blues’ is the exact same story published in Liquid City. The only difference is that this earlier publication is not coloured, and is harder to follow than the lushly coloured later printing. It’s still a cute story, although I was hoping for a little more content. This issue was self-published with a Xeric grant.

The second comic was published by Slave Labor Graphics, and is at least partially coloured. It is smaller than a regular comic, being about the size of Jason Lute’s Berlin or Chester Brown’s Louis Riel comics. In this issue, the two kids ‘borrow’ a pair of bicycles to travel to a suburb or other town and visit their friend Misha who has recently moved there. The middle of the comic is filled with two other stories, ostensibly told and illustrated by Misha and Atari, about Mr. Bon Bon. Between them are a series of comic strips modeled on a Sunday comics section, by Oliver.

There’s not much story to hold onto in this comic. Nothing really happens, but it continues to be pretty cute and charming.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Gulf War Journal

by Don Lomax

I entered into this with no preconceived notions or expectations. I like a good war story, and this looked like one, so I figured I’d give it a try. I have heard of Lomax’s earlier Vietnam War Journal, but don’t know much about it. Anyway, this is a pretty good comic, mixing both a fictional story of a journalist trying to cover the early days of the Gulf War with a pretty detailed breakdown of events in the war, including some first person narratives of soldiers.

The protagonist, Scott Neithammer, is a retired journalist who had written some amazing stories during the Vietnam War. He is pulled out of retirement to travel to Saudi Arabia and cover Bush I’s conflict with Saddam Hussein over the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. At first he doesn’t want to go, but then uses the opportunity to visit his semi-estranged daughter in Tel Aviv. Once in Saudi Arabia, Journal (as he is called) makes a pest of himself within the highly micro-managed press pools, and eventually sets out on his own (with his Sinhalese assistant/translator) to enter Kuwait.

The book constantly switches from Journal to reporting the war itself, and I like the context that this method provides. I was in high school during the Gulf War, and there is a lot of stuff included here that I never knew about. Lomax’s art is quite serviceable, and he is able to draw the detailed military equipment very well. His tanks look like tanks, which is sometimes not that common.

Now I guess I’m going to be hunting down the Vietnam books too….

Legion of Super-Heroes: The More Things Change

Written by Paul Levitz
Art by Steve Lightle, Ernie Colón, Keith Giffen, Larry Mahlstedt, Mike DeCarlo, Karl Kesel, and Mike Machlan

Even though I’m pretty sure I have all the original issues somewhere, when I saw this on sale at a store, I couldn’t resist picking it up. It was the Legion that first got me reading DC comics way back in the day (the 50th issue of this particular Legion series), and I’ve always had a soft spot for this team (and really, the last ten years, one was needed to put up with a lot of what was done to them).

The recent news that Paul Levitz is returning to the title has been most welcome, and I figured reading this would be a good way of reminding myself what his take on the Legion is like. This volume collects the seventh through the eleventh issues of the ‘Baxter’ series which came out in 1985.

Levitz’s Legion was always about volume of characters. Continually through this book, the characters complain about the drastic under-staffing the Legion is going through, with only 19 active members. That’s 19 powered individuals, not counting the Legion Academy, which is featured quite frequently here. Levitz is good at juggling all of these different characters, finding time for some nice character building for Element Lad, the founding three Legionnaires, and Timber Wolf. All the other Legionnaires get some screen time as well, and one is left with the feeling that Levitz had long character arcs planned for each of them.

Levitz’s Legion is steeped in team tradition, and values. He demonstrates respect for what has gone before, and is concerned with building the team. Okay, so the villains in this whole thing are goofy and dull, but the conflicts and super-heroing were often secondary in his plans.

Steve Lightle’s art is gorgeous throughout the book, and the Keith Giffen drawn short story is classic Giffen. Ernie Colón’s pages are not anywhere near as good, but are manageable.

Album of the Week:

CunninLynguists – Strange Journey Volume Two