Weekly Round-Up #20

Best Comic of the Week:

American Vampire #2

Written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

While vampires are as over-played as zombies these days (probably more, thanks to Twilight), American Vampire is a very good comic.  I like the way that each issue is split into two stories, the first set in 1925 and featuring Pearl, a newly-turned vampire; while the second is set before that, and is slowly filling in the back-story for Skinner Sweet.

The element that has garnered the most press and attention for this book is that Stephen King is writing the second story, in his original comics debut.  His writing feels natural here, as he provides the backdrop to the main story, and works at developing Sweet’s character.  In the first issue, I found I enjoyed Snyder’s half of the book more, but now I’m pretty evenly torn between the two.  Snyder has saved most of the set-up for his story to this issue, as Pearl ‘changes’ and has to learn what those changes entail for her.

What makes this book move from good to amazing is Albuquerque’s art. The entire book is gorgeous, with the Stephen King story getting a more textured, burnished approach.

Highly recommended.

Other Notable Comics:

Air #20

Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by M.K. Perker

Blythe continues her pilot’s test, having completed her first mission, and is now sent out on her second – to examine the plane that the writer Antoine de St. Exupéry died on.  There is definitely a literary theme going on as Blythe works through these missions, as she must examine the remnants of authors who either flew or wrote about flight, as HG Wells did.

It is interesting that Blythe is not interested in reading the book that Wells wrote about her, and when she speaks with St. Exupéry, she is not all that surprised that he knows her already.  Blythe takes a couple more steps towards independence and self-determination when she argues with her boss, and demonstrates that she is no longer happy allowing others to set the agenda.

While this book can be a little slow moving, I have been enjoying it quite a bit.

Battlefields #5

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Carlos Ezquerra

Here’s another strong issue of The Firefly and His Majesty, the follow-up to the earlier Battlefields story The Tankies.  Our tank crew is now hunting the King Tiger that they learned about last issue, and it has become somewhat personal for the Sergeant in command.  We finally learn why he hates Tigers so much, and what is driving his contempt for the German tank crews they have come across.

There is also some very nice character work involving the rest of the crew, and their German enemies are given some screen time as well.  Ennis usually personalizes both sides in these conflicts, which adds a lot of depth to his story, except for the Obersturmbanfuhrer, who he leaves a right scary bastard.

Most of this issue involves men sitting in and around tanks talking, and yet Ennis maintains a degree of suspense and foreboding throughout.  Ezquerra’s art is spot-on, and I like the reference to one of Ennis’s earlier War Story tales, Johann’s Tiger.  I never thought of these books as having a continuity before, but I like the idea of Ennis weaving together some of these different stories one day.

DV8: Gods and Monsters #1

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Rebekah Isaacs

I vaguely remember reading the first two or three issues of DV8 in its original run (because of Humberto Ramos, who I was really feeling at the time), but what drew me to this revamp was Brian Wood’s name; he’s one of the few writers I will buy unconditionally.

I have no recollection of who these characters are, and Wood gives us nothing in the way of recap, choosing instead to open the story with one of the characters, Copycat, being interrogated on a Carrier (the Authority’s?  I don’t know) about some stuff that happened on a planet.  She begins to tell her tale, of how she fell out of the sky on some primitive planet, right into the middle of a battle between two groups of barbarians.  Her teammate, Frostbite rescues her, and goes on to tell her how the same thing had happened to him and the rest of the team, and how they have split up and are being worshiped by different factions on the planet.

Most of this issue is set-up, and doesn’t really read like a typical Brian Wood comic.  There is enough here to give some hope for future issues, and Rebekah Isaacs’s work is nice, if kind of standard for the Wildstorm line.  I don’t really know why the decision was made to resurrect these characters from whatever limbo they were languishing in, or if this story is in the same continuity as all that World’s End nonsense that is happening in the other Wildstorm titles.  My intent is to stick with this for a bit, and see if Wood does something impressive with it.

Elephantmen #25

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by too many people to list here

Elephantment has reached 25 issues, and to celebrate, Starkings has brought in a pile of artists to each draw a single splash page picture.  There are some of the usual Elephantmen crowd, like Moritat, Ladrönn, Szymanowicz, Burnham, Churchill, Churchland, Cook, and Steen.  There are also appearances by artists that are some serious up-and-comers, like Brandon Graham, and Shaky Kane, and some pages by well-renowned veterans like Gibbons, Erskine, Guerra, Grist, Portacio, Rouleau, Sale, and Scioli.  The art throughout the entire issue looks fantastic, and it’s very cool to see different interpretations of the same characters time and time again.

As for the story, it’s been written as the perfect jumping-on point for a new reader.  The focus of the issue is on Hank Gruenwald, the executive director of the Information Agency, the organization that Hip Flask and Ebony Hide work for.  Most of the issue is recap from Grunwald’s perspective, and it runs right up to the most recent events (remember, this series is often non-linear, so it’s nice to see the order in which events were occurring), as well as provides a hint of things to come.

On the flip side of the comic is a five-page preview of Ian Churchill’s Marineman comic, which looks to be a Sea Devils sort of thing.  I have not been a fan of Churchill’s previous work, and the cover looks a little too much like an issue of the Ultraverse’s Prime, but this thing looks fantastic on the inside.  Churchill is taking a more cartoonish approach to things, and his description of No-Limits Free-Diving makes the sport seem very interesting (I only learned of this sport a few months ago when the New Yorker ran an incredible article on it).

This comic is well worth picking up for it’s great art, and I encourage anyone who has been curious about Elephantmen to use this book as a good excuse to try it out.

Joe the Barbarian #4

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Sean Murphy

There’s not a whole lot to say about this title at this point.  It continues to be an exciting story, as Joe continues to flip back and forth between the real world and the fantasy world where he is the prophesied ‘Dying Boy’, and the target of Lord Death (horrid name).

This issue does give us a little more exposition about Joe’s strange value in this world, this time coming from a group of animal skull wearing science monks who take vows of cowardice.  See, that’s why I like this series.  Morrison is really just playing around here, and letting his creative juices flow all over the place.

The art, as usual, is stunningly good, and this series continues to be a lot of fun.  I’m not sure why it’s a Vertigo series, as it’s not really a ‘mature readers’ title so far as I can tell.  If anything, it’s a little more young adult than anything else.

Okko: The Cycle of Air #1

by Hub, with Emmanuel Michalak

This issue marks the beginning of the third volume of the Okko stories, after the Cycles of Water and Earth, the second of which I enjoyed enough to continue with the characters, despite having never read the first volume of the story.

This time around, Okko and his crew are traveling in much nicer places, as they journey to a castle to help a young girl who has been afflicted by some strange fright.  As usually happens when Okko journeys through places, he runs across a few people looking to kill him, including a guy who lives on a bridge whose father Okko killed years before.

The story involves wind spirits, old rivalries, drunk monks, and Hub’s usual unconventional methods of providing exposition (this time largely coming from a conversation between two old people at a noodle hut).

Hub’s art is always beautiful, if cramped when squeezed down to fit the pages of an American comic, and I have been enjoying the ways in which he uses Japanese culture and mythology to ground his stories in a fantastical, and unfamiliar world.  Hopefully this volume will maintain a regular schedule…

Resurrection #10

Written by Marc Guggenheim and Ray Fawkes
Art by Justin Greenwood and Ray Fawkes

Guggenheim is sure taking his sweet time in telling this story; each issue has some significant events taking place, but the addition of the Resurrection Tales in each issue cuts back on the length of the main story by quite a bit.

This time around, we see a little more of the people that have been changed by the alien virus, and we get Bill Clinton finally doing some questioning of events (not that he wonders why he was locked up for so long).

I have been liking this book, but it’s beginning to make me feel a little like I’m watching Lost circa seasons two through four – like it’s time to explain something (although the fact that I’m still watching Lost does prove that I’ll be patient for a while yet).

The back-up by Ray Fawkes is a cool little story about people auctioning off Bug possessions and photos, and the types of people that want to buy them.  Fawkes is taking a Dean Motter kind of approach to the story, and it looks pretty great.

Quick Takes:

Amazing Spider-Man #628 More old-school Spidey from Roger Stern.  It’s not brilliant, but it’s entertaining.  This issue comes with a cute little back-up from Waid and Peyer, and with Todd Nauk art I didn’t hate.  Since when does the Juggernaut have the power to turn scrap metal into his helmet though?  That’s like the Hulk’s purple pants thing…

Avengers Vs. Atlas #4 – This has been a fun little series, but not very consequential.  It’s cool to see the Atlas team interact with the original Avengers, especially as Parker weaves in a number of continuity jokes, but it doesn’t really add much to the Atlas team, except perhaps to drum up some new readers when the title relaunches next month.

Green Lantern #53 – I know that when a large crossover finishes, it’s natural to have a quiet, reflective sort of issue.  Actually, I often like those issues better than the big event.  This issue feels off though, as too many ‘Next Big Things’ get set-up and teased, and there are too many sub-plots launched here only to be resolved in other titles, like Green Lantern has suddenly become the spine of the DCU.  Doug Mahnke art makes everything go better though…

Guardians of the Galaxy #25 – I really hope this book is just going on a hiatus during the Thanos Imperative, as it’s one of the best books Marvel is producing, and I would miss it.  So Thanos is back, and the Guardians are the first responders having to deal with him.  In addition to that, the Starhawk mystery is basically resolved.  As usual, the characterizations are perfect, and the art is really good.  Is the Fault thing fixed?  When did that happen?

Hercules: Fall of an Avenger #2 – So is it coincidental that a good chunk of this book is almost identical to last month’s issue of Nova?  I’m disappointed here – this issue had none of the great moments of the Hercules series, or even of last month’s issue, and now Amadeus is being set up to be the Red Robin of the Marvel universe.  Where before I was excited about Cho’s new Prince of Power series, now I’m feeling less enthusiastic.  At least Olivetti won’t be the artist….

Nova #36 – Nova gets itself back on track, finally acknowledges the Realm of Kings one-shot from a few months ago, and then just stops?  I’m not all that happy about Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy being canceled (or going on hiatus), and hope that the Thanos Imperative can satisfy me.  This is a decent issue, and  I think it’s funny it’s the second book this week that I read that had a Director Gruenwald in it.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #15 – It’s the first issue after the conclusion of the Starro story, and Dox is finding that his popularity in the galaxy is lower than Despero’s (which has to suck), and that it’s harder to rebuild than he expected.  Starro’s two surviving lieutenants are still fighting the good fight, and Adam Strange has some suggestions to help restore LEGION to a working state.  So why, with all this going on, is Bedard or DC shoehorning Starfire into the story?  It’s not like she’s a big draw, or the Titans would be selling better.

Supergirl #52 – This is better than a lot of the other Last Stand of New Krypton chapters have been, because of the focus on Supergirl and Brainiac 5, even though their interactions made my head hurt, as I tried to figure out how this Supergirl could possibly have been in love with this Brainiac 5 when he was younger, unless he thinks she’s the one that died in the Crisis?  And when she finds him familiar, is that because she sorta remembers the Mark Waid Brainiac 5 from when she was the headliner of that title?  So confusing…..

X-Factor #204 – Tying in to Second Coming, Bastion goes after X-Factor through the US military, who hire Absorbing Man to help them.  It’s not as confusing as it sounds, as once again Peter David deals with a crossover by doing his own thing, but still making it work.  I don’t know if I mentioned last month how happy I am to see De Landro back on art for this book, but I am.

X-Men Legacy #235 – I’m starting to really get into Second Coming, and even Greg Land can’t really ruin that for me.  This issue has the first of the ‘several’ deaths promised, although I don’t think too many people are going to be writing in to complain about this one.

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

Crossed Family Values #1

Deathlok #6

Doomwar #3

Farscape #6

Firestar #1

Spirit #1

Ultimate Comics Avengers #6 (although maybe not – I haven’t read any of this yet, and I haven’t heard good things)

Bargain Books:

The Secret History Book 3: The Grail of Montségur

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Goran Sudzuka and Geto

This is a little more like it, after the confusion of the last issue.

This time around, the battle lines are much more clearly defined: Reka is tight with the Pope and is attempting to influence the development of most of Europe, while her sister Aker is hooking up with the Holy Roman Empire, along with her brother Erlin, in an attempt to usurp her power, and to keep the Chalice runestone out of Dyo’s hands.

A lot more happens this time around too, as the Chalice stone is recovered, and the Cathar order, which has been charged with its protection, is wiped out.

As with the last issue, this is a period of history I know very little about, and so many of the casual references go right over my head.  Still and all, it’s an exciting story, and I enjoy the high level of planning that has obviously gone into it.

The art this time around is by Goran Sudzuka instead of Kordey, although he is drawing in a style very similar to Kordey’s, so the transition is barely noticeable.  There are two sequences set within a ‘magical’ woods, which are drawn very differently, which was a nice effect.

The Secret History Book 4: The Keys of Saint Peter

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Leo Pilipovic

I’m finding, as I’m getting closer to historical eras I’m more familiar with, my enjoyment of this title is going up.  Perhaps some more exhaustive footnotes or endnotes explaining some of the historical context would have been helpful; I don’t know if that was done for the collected edition.

This issue has Nostradamus, a servant of Aker’s House of the Sword, traveling with a group of  Swiss mercenaries to discover the identity of the person creating Ikons, symbols which represent the same powers as the Runestones, in Rome.  Of course, war is breaking out, as is plague.  The maker of the Ikons, Cellini, works with Nostradamus to fight off Dyo’s soldiers, and there is the usual mayhem.  Add to this the possibility of a fifth Archon existing, and things start to heat up even more.

The art in this issue is handled by Leo Pilipovic, an artist I am unfamiliar with.  He works in what I’ve come to recognize as the standard French style, and the art is consistent with the issues that have come before.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Bayou

by Jeremy Love

I’m feeling pretty squarely on the fence about this book.  I’m not a fan of reading my comics on-line, and so stay away from web comics.  I find that the whole process of reading them just doesn’t work for me.  I remember trying a few pages of this book back when Zuda got its start, and they interested me enough to pick up the print version.

Bayou is a strange little story set in the 1930s deep south, on the edge of a large swamp.  Lee is the young daughter of a sharecropper, whose only friend is the daughter of her father’s white landlord.  From the beginning, Love establishes this swampy land as having many fantasy elements, which seem largely unnoticed by the adult population.

When Lily, the friend, loses her locket in the swamp, she blames Lee.  Later, she goes to retrieve it, and is abducted by Cotton Mouth Joe, a Solomon Grundy-type figure.  Lee’s father is blamed for the disappearance, and is arrested.  This being the time and place that it is, he’s in danger of being lynched, and so Lee sets out to rescue both Lily and her father.  Along the way, she meets Bayou, a big green Solomon Grundy figure (there are a lot of those it seems), who she convinces to help her.

This slim volume only contains the first four chapters of this story, which feels like it’s going to be a long one.  The end of this book feels more like a beginning, so some of my dissatisfaction comes from just not having read enough of the story.  The world of Bayou is interesting, but is it interesting enough?  I don’t know….

The art in this book is gorgeous, but either the process of transferring it to print, or the original colours, have caused it to look very muddy and dark in places.  I don’t usually complain about paper quality, but that may have something to do with this problem as well.  I think this would have worked better in some gigantic collected edition…

Filler

Written by Rick Spears
Art by Rob G

This quick little graphic novel is basically Spears and G doing Sin City.  The book is in black, white and lurid red, and tells a noiresque story of a man who doesn’t really matter (in his own estimation) who lets himself get sucked into some major drama involving a prostitute and her pimp.

John Dough (ok – that’s a little heavy-handed) makes his money by being a police line-up filler – one of the guys that fill in the other four spots on the line-up – and by selling his blood.  He’s about as anonymous as you can get.  One day, while having a smoke outside the station, he meets a prostitute that has been getting smacked around by her pimp.  She seduces him, and he decides to argue her case with the pimp.  Predictably, things start to go seriously wrong at this point, and Dough finds himself in the middle of a pretty sticky situation.

As is frequent in Spears’s work, the writing is quite intelligent.  He’s playing in a well-established genre, but he manages to do something pretty unique on the last page.  Much of the story is told in large silent panels that help to establish Dough as a quiet everyman and nobody at the same time.

Rob G is a good artist.  This is a pretty minimalist book, and his style serves that aesthetic quite well.  It’s much more stripped down than his more recent work, like on the duo’s wonderful Repo.  These two work very well together.  I liked Repo a great deal, and see their Teenagers from Mars as a masterpiece.  It’s true that Dead West didn’t work for me, but that is their only misstep in my eyes.

The Tale of One Bad Rat

by Bryan Talbot

I remember reading this series when it was originally published by Dark Horse back in the early 90’s, and I still have the original issues in a box somewhere, but when I realized I could add the trade to another purchase on Ebay for a dollar or two, I felt the need to read it again.

I haven’t read much of Talbot’s work.  I’ve yet to check out Grandville, Alice in Sunderland, or Luther Arkwright, and re-reading this book tonight, I have to wonder why I’ve deprived myself.  This guy is incredibly talented and nuanced.

The Tale of One Bad Rat is all about Helen, a young British girl who has run away from home to escape the abuse she’s been suffering at the hands of her father for years.  She has all the classical signs of an abused child – lack of trust, fear of physical contact – and her only friend is a pet rat.

Helen has always had a strong like for (or fixation on) the work of Beatrix Potter, who she shares many qualities and circumstances with.  As the book progresses, Helen leaves London for the countryside, and faces down her fears and demons.  The book does transcend the typical ‘survivor’s memoir’ types of stories that have become so fashionable in the fifteen years since its publications, and gives us an interesting story, made all the better with Talbot’s art.

Highly recommended.

Star Wars Legacy Vol. 1: Broken

Written by John Ostrander
Art by Jan Duursema and Dan Parsons

I’ve avoided Star Wars comics since about the second Dark Horse series, as I’m not usually a fan of licensed comics, except where the original creators are involved (ie. Farscape, Firefly/Serenity).  Recently though, this comic was featured in Brian Cronin’s A Year of Cool Comics column at the Comics Should Be Good blog, and it piqued my interest.  I saw this first volume (I believe there are eight so far) on Ebay, and quickly made the purchase.

I should have expected I’d enjoy it – John Ostrander is one of my favorite comics writers, with his Suicide Squad being one of the best superhero (okay, villain) comics I’ve ever read.  I also really liked his runs on Firestorm and The Spectre.  Duursema has always been a capable artist as well, so I wasn’t too worried diving in to this.

And the book is really quite good.  The story is set about 125 years after the original Star Wars movies, and the Empire has returned, although just as it begins to consolidate power across the galaxy and wipe out the Jedi, the new Emperor is betrayed by his Sith allies (shocking, I know), and they take control of things.  During the final battle between the Empire and the Jedi, before they are betrayed, we are introduced to young Cade Skywalker, the descendant of Luke, who is still a Padawan.  He watches his father get killed, taps into the Force to revive his own master, and then appears to sacrifice himself so his friends can escape.

Of course, Cade is not dead, he just spends the next seven years getting increasingly bitter and working as a bounty hunter. When we rejoin our cast of characters, we find Cade hunting down scum with a couple of semi-trusted allies.  We also find Darth Krayt, the Sith Lord, still hunting for the former Emperor, Roan Fel, and Sazen, Cade’s old Master, is looking for him.  It doesn’t take long for them to all meet, along with Marasiah, the Imperial princess, and some Imperial Guards, as well as a small squad of Sith lords who are heavily tattooed.

This volume is all about the set-up, so it’s no surprise that a lot of time is spent on fleshing out some characters and their relationships to one another, although there were a few particular items that needed further explaining I felt, such as why Imperial Guards appear to have Jedi powers and lightsabers, but are not Jedi.  Maybe this has been explained somewhere else in the Dark Horse Star Wars books, I don’t know.

Ostrander has set up his cast along the usually accepted Star Wars lines: Cade is an interesting mix of both the Luke Skywalker and Han Solo archetypes, while Marasiah is clearly filling in for Leia (ie., needing to be rescued a lot).  Thankfully, there are no annoying droids or furry creatures yet, so my annoyance level is kept to a minimum.  There are a lot of characters with tentacles coming out of their heads though – I don’t understand why.

I will definitely be hunting down the rest of the trades for this series.

The Hellboy Project: Hellboy Vol. 3: The Chained Coffin and Others

by Mike Mignola

This third Hellboy collection features a number of stories that appeared as back-ups or as single-issue stories, encompassing the period around the second volume.  Many of these stories take the form of reinventing or revisiting different legends or examples of folklore (mostly British, with some Russian tossed in) in such a way that they include our big red hero.

In these stories, Mignola really shows a strong understanding for what makes these legends so resilient over time.  They are frequently creepy, or bizarre in the way they play out, and are quite enjoyable.  Stories like The Corpse, A Christmas Underground, and The Chained Coffin show Mignola at his atmospheric best.

Other stories here help to explain some of the events that were glossed over in volume 2.  Almost Colossus returns to the sub-plot about Liz Sherman and the homunculus that she discovered in the earlier story, and help to establish Roger the homunculus as a character in the BPRD mythos.  They Baba Yaga story also shows a key scene referred to in book two.

I’m having a good time working my way through these books that I now regret not picking up years ago.

Album of the Week:

Afro-Rock Volume 1

Tags: