Weekly Round-Up #27

This has been a great week for comics.  Last Sunday, I went to the Fan Expo ‘Fan Appreciation’ Con, which was a free event, and I picked up way too many graphic novels.  Seriously – I think my pile is going to last me through the entire summer.  Then, on Thursday, I received a copy of the Ted McKeever Library edition of Eddy Current which I won in a contest at The Beat.  I’d like to publicly thank Heidi MacDonald for having such a great string of contests recently, and for running such a great website.  If you don’t read The Beat regularly, you should start.

Best Comic of the Week:

Power Out

by Nathan Schreiber

Power Out is a webcomic on the act-i-vate site, the first volume of which has just been published.  I don’t read web comics, and bought this slim volume on the strength of it being the 2009 Xeric Award winner.

This is a really powerful comic.  My only complaint is that it doesn’t tell a complete story, but is instead the first volume of a series, the length of which I don’t know.

The story is set in some New England suburb, and features Justin, a fourteen year old kid who doesn’t fit in at school, and would prefer to spend his days playing video games.  The kid is set up as a complete loner – he barely speaks throughout the comic, and could be a little autistic based on what we are shown of his life and interactions.

When his parents go on a cruise, he is left home with his older sister.  She promptly has a party, and then takes off for a week-end at the shore, leaving Justin completely alone.  Normally he would be quite happy with this turn of events, but a massive black-out kills any chance he has of playing video games without interruption.  Instead, Justin is at the mercy of the intense heat wave gripping his town and of his own inability to relate or interact with people.

Not much happens in this volume, but it’s all in the way not much happens.  Schreiber is really inside Justin’s head, and does a wonderful job of capturing both the callousness of teenagers and the confusion of adolescence.  As a reader, you feel for Justin, but at the same time, you recognize that you wouldn’t particularly like him if you met him in life.

Schreiber’s art is a little like David Lapham’s, and he does a great job at showing peoples’ expressions.  I particularly like his establishing shots – the cover had a huge appeal to me.  The interiors are coloured with only the same shade of blue as you see on the cover, and this was a very effective choice.  The book is published by Canal Press out of BC, and they use a type of ink that is almost glows on the page, providing an aesthetic experience I really enjoyed.

Recommended.

Other Notable Comics:

Chew #11

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

This new arc of Chew involves a group of ultra-rich gourmets with a taste for impossibly rare food (ie., perfectly preserved dodo eggs), whose latest dinner provides an opportunity for Tony to finally go out on a date with Amelia Mintz.

This title has fallen very comfortably into a sitcom-like pattern of creating a situation for Tony to use his abilities, which leads to him uncovering a crime, which increasingly requires the input of one of the supporting cast.  It’s a good set-up, and as Layman slowly advances elements of his main plot, involving vampire cibopaths and the missing Mason Savoy, things are only becoming more interesting.

This title, almost a year into its life, has proven that it’s not just a one-hit wonder, and that it has more than enough material for a lengthy run.

Daytripper #7

by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

It’s odd, when a book ends each month with its main character being killed, to say that this is a particularly brutal issue of Daytripper, but that’s the best word to describe it.

Brás, now 38 and a published author who has received great acclaim, gets a postcard hinting at the location of his friend Jorge, who has been missing for years.  Without hesitating, Brás goes looking for his friend, who has been living in a remote region of Brazil.  Jorge’s money has long since run out, and he has left the run-down town where he squatted for months to live in a hut in the desert.

Jorge’s lost his mind, but his friendship still means a great deal to Brás, who has missed him terribly.  When they do finally meet, they have an ugly confrontation, although throughout it, Brás is only remembering the good times they had shared.

This series has been really fantastic, although this specific issue is not one of my favourites.  Bá and Moon have been using this book to explore family, friendship, and love, and while this issue does just that, it felt a little quicker and less lyrical than the other installments.

Jonah Hex #56

Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Art by Phil Winslade and CP Smith

I’ve never understood the thinking at comic book companies when a movie featuring one of their characters is released.  Lately, they flood the market with a ton of content, most of it decidedly not new-reader friendly, and I’m sure they confuse and drive away many more new readers than they attract.  Look at Marvel’s recent Iron Man output – I love the character and his regular monthly book, but I have no idea what among the other four or five mini-series, specials, and new series are worth buying (and therefore, buy none unless I see Matt Fraction’s name on it).

So now, DC has their Jonah Hex movie come out, and they decide to do something very smart.  In addition to publishing a new graphic novel (which I totally missed in the solicitations because I thought it was a trade collection of issues I’d already read), they take the most recent issue of the character’s monthly book, give it a wonderfully iconic cover by Darwyn Cooke, and fill it with two short stories that do a great job of introducing the character’s past and character, giving new readers enough information that they can access the stories, and still being able to maintain the interest of a long-time reader.  They select, in Phil Winslade and CP Smith, two artists with very different styles and approaches to Hex, but with strong storytelling skills.  Basically, they put out one of the best issues of Jonah Hex this year at just the time that people might be looking for it.

And then they seal the whole thing in a polybag with a free movie poster, so that any prospective new readers can’t get a glimpse of the high-quality art, or a feel for the comic with its very cool ‘silent movie’ style titles.  It’s been said many times, but it’s always a wonder that this industry survives despite the best interests of the people running it.  Go read this issue of Hex – it’s not the 90s, so toss the bag and the poster.

The Light #3

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Brett Weldele

I think this has to be one of the most effective horror comics I’ve read in the last few years, and one of the most original.  Edmondson’s story of an infection or virus that is traveling through power lines takes something that we depend upon and view as intrinsically beneficial, and turns it into something that is dangerous and malevolent.  The characters in the story don’t know what’s going on, and are reacting based on instinct and luck.

In this issue, Coyle and Avery meet up with a pair of survivors who have armed themselves, and who wear Oakleys that they’ve taped to their faces as a way of protecting themselves from any stray light.  The two groups join up, and have plans to knock out power for most of Oregon as a way of hopefully protecting themselves.

Weldele’s art has been great throughout the series, but it is in his use of colour that he really stands out.  He captures the gray light of dawn perfectly, and it adds an ominous feel in this book that has trained the reader to regard any hint of brightness as sinister.

Meta 4 #1

by Ted McKeever

I love Ted McKeever’s comics.  I don’t always understand them, especially on the first read through, but I admire his ability to construct atmosphere and dissonance in a comic without being too pretentious.  This new series, which is set to run for five issues, is a good example of his style, except for the fact that it lacks the urbanity of his earlier work, of which my favourite has always been Metropol.

This comic opens with an astronaut lying on his face in a sandy landscape.  He’s in his space suit, and he’s having a confused conversation with himself.  He does not know where he is (the moon in the sky being an early hint that he’s on Earth) or what his name is.  It is slowly revealed that he’s near a Coney Island-style boardwalk, but there are hints that it might be in Nevada.  There is a large man in a Santa Claus suit who seems to only speak in symbols, like a rebus puzzle.  There’s a mens’ room with a beaten woman in it, and a big beefy guy with a baseball bat and a communications disorder.

All of this is intercut with police dispatch radio traffic describing a shooting taking place somewhere.

It’s way too early to understand this book, assuming that understanding is ever going to come.  McKeever describes this story on the cover as “A 5-issue Allegorical Series”, and it would seem to be way too early to figure out what it’s an allegory for.

None of this matters to me yet though, because McKeever’s art is very pretty in that hideously ugly way that he draws.  His people are freakish (think Ben Templesmith vampires, if you have no other frame of reference) but his backgrounds and establishing shots are carefully constructed.  He has a way of drafting post-urban environments that are fraught with wasted potential.  His prose is sharper than its ever been.

I don’t know if this is a book I could recommend to many people, but I’m definitely looking forward to the next issue and figuring a few things out.

Spider-Man: Fever #3

by Brendan McCarthy

This has been a terrific little series.  McCarthy’s homage to Steve Ditko has been crafted with a great deal of respect and love, and while the story doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense, it is so full of great moments and amusing lines that it’s nonsensical nature becomes its greatest strength.

It’s really not easy to describe or summarize the plot of this issue.  Basically, Dr. Strange works to rescue Spider-Man’s soul from the Arachnix demons that are forcing him to hunt the Soror Fly, which used to be a human being, while he wears the soul of the spider that gave him his powers as a hat.  There are talking dogs and an Aboriginal sorceress.

The comic is worth purchasing simply for the last couple of pages, where Strange and Spidey have some truly inspired dialogue on the nature of The Abyss (“Imagine that you are a wooden chair and the abyss is a termite.  There will come a moment when there is more air than chair.”), the tendency of spiders to end up in the bathtub, and the similarity of the way they both hold their hands when they cast a spell or shoot a web.  It’s funny how I never noticed that before.

This was a great series.  I’m glad to see Marvel publishing some more experimental and unorthodox stuff like this again.

The Unwritten #14

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross

We’re moving ever closer to the release of the new Tommy Taylor book, which we know to be a fake and an attempt to draw Wilson Taylor out of hiding by the Cabal, who we learn also have a grid to detect fictional anomalies, such as Lizzie Hexam.

It is this appropriation of fictional characters that I find most interesting in reading this series, along with Tom’s encyclopedic knowledge of London’s literary history.  He makes especially interesting use of Paddington Bear’s adopted home.

There’s some great stuff going on in this comic.

Quick Takes:

Avengers Academy #1 – Before reading this, I was ready to hate on the fact that so many of the well-developed and interesting characters that Gage worked on with Don Slott in Avengers: The Initiative were being relegated to limbo in order to basically start over with five new characters and another who has appeared so rarely he’s practically brand new himself.  But then I read this issue, and saw the semi-surprising twist at the end, coupled with the fact that the kids are being taught by the black sheep of the Avengers – Pym, Tigra, Justice, and Quicksilver, with Speedball tossed in for added drama – and I can see that this title has a lot of potential.  Gage is a great writer, and McKone’s art looks very nice.  This is worth keeping an eye on.

Batman #700 – I’m starting to think that no one other than Grant Morrison should even be allowed to write Batman any more.  This is a great story spread over three eras of the Batman, featuring the three different Batmen – Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Damien Wayne in the future.  This is the type of story that only Morrison can pull off, with a good amount of confusion and some very cool little moments.  The art is great in this anniversary issue – some very nice work from Tony Daniel and Andy Kubert, and some incredible stuff from Frank Quitely (featuring Frank Miller’s Mutants at that!).  I have no idea why they thought that Scott Kolins should have finished Quitely’s section for him – the contrast is jarring and looks terrible.  David Finch’s alternate future section is kind of pointless, but the pin-up selection is great.  I think it’s strange that my two favourites are by both by Dustin Nguyen.

Captain America #606 – This is a really good story as Bucky continues to have a hard time adjusting to being Captain America, especially now that Steve is back.  The dynamic between the two of them, is fascinating, especially when viewed from The Falcon’s perspective.  I love that Brubaker is keeping Sam around – he’s one of my favourite B-listers in the Marvel Universe.  Butch Guice is my preferred Cap artist now, so I’m glad to see him back on pencils.  I love his Steranko-homage dream page.  I do wonder why Zemo is the villain here and in Thunderbolts, considering how little he’s been used the last few years.  As for the Nomad story, this is the best one yet, although it does rely heavily on some pretty tired cliches, and this story was done a lot better when it was in Street Angel.

Daredevil #507 – This finishes off the set-up to Shadowland, which is looking to be an interesting title, even if there are way too many $4 mini-series and one-shots spinning out of it.  Whether you buy the whole Daredevil as leader of the Hand thing or not, you have to agree that Diggle and Johnston are telling a compelling story.  Checchetto’s art is great, although I didn’t know it snowed that much in Japan.  Little quibble – wouldn’t Murdock’s heightened senses be able to tell if the person he was talking to was just in a big fight?  I know he can’t see blood on a white costume, but still, you’d think he’d be able to figure something out…

Heroic Age: Prince of Power #2 – Van Lente and Pak continue to prove that The Incredible Hercules doesn’t actually need Herc in it to be a good comic, as Val Halfling takes over the Olympus Group, and Amadeus Cho gets in a fight with Thor (which has only Northern European sound effects).  This is a fun title.

Invincible Iron Man #27 – This is another excellent issue where next to nothing exciting happens, unless you can get into comics about business start-ups, internet applications for independent agriculture, gambling metaphors, and pages of dialogue in Japanese.  Personally, I love it.  This might just be my favourite Iron Man run of all time, especially now that Fraction has dusted off Mrs. Arbogast.  Larroca has been turning in some of the best art of his career, except he makes Jim Rhode’s War Machine costume look ridiculous, with missiles nuzzled in right next to Rhodey’s head.  This is not a complaint about Larocca’s art – it’s a comment on how ridiculous the War Machine design is.

Millar & McNiven’s Nemesis #2 – Less splatter, a little more exposition, and it’s clear that Millar is just riffing on Batman, were he a villainous mastermind.  It’s not horrible, but there’s not much that’s memorable either.

Secret Six #22 – This finishes off the story about Catman’s son, which has been pretty dark even for this title.  On the lighter side, Scandal and Black Alice fight, with Alice getting a couple fantastic lines, and we see Ragdoll in a way we’ve never seen him before.  There is no sign of Bane and the new team he’s put together; I assume that will be addressed next issue.  This is a great comic with no signs of letting up on the quality.

S.H.E.I.L.D. #2 – I think its best to treat this as an Elseworlds sort of thing, because I don’t know if I like the implications for Marvel continuity of having Starks and Parkers being part of a secret society charged with defending the Earth from all threats, which didn’t feel the need to shoulder tap their much more capable and powerful offspring.  Taken on its own though, this is a very cool Hickman comic, where Leonid, our cipher of a protagonist, spends most of the issue chatting with Leonardo da Vinci.  Great art, cool confusing story; this is different from anything else Marvel is publishing.

Uncanny X-Men #525 – More Second Coming which, with the inclusion of a certain iconic X-Men image, is starting to feel a little too familiar.  I have been enjoying this crossover a lot, but this issue felt a little too quick.

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

I wanted to make a quick comment here.  This week, I got called out by Jim McCann, a writer who I’ve never read, because I listed his last two Marvel books (Dazzler and Hawkeye & Mockingbird) as books I would have bought at a lower price.  He informed me that both of these books were extra-length, and therefore a better value than some of the other $4 books that I’m buying.  To respond to that – first of all, I didn’t know that these titles had extra story pages.  You can’t trust Marvel’s solicits anymore, because they often just fill their books with uninteresting back matter to justify their price increase.  Secondly, it’s because some of the titles I enjoy are now $4 a month that I have to be more discerning with untested writers.  Thirdly, I don’t understand Marvel’s policy of jacking up the price on a first issue, to only have the book drop in price with the second.  Vertigo has proven with the success of The Unwritten (among others) that a lower introductory price draws in more readers, who, if they like what they see, will stick around.  So, with that, here’s what I left at the store this week because of price:

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #2

Farscape Scorpius #2

Punisher Max #8

X-Men Second Coming Revelations Hellbound #2

Bargain Comics:

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #1 So does this mean that the other Astonishing X-Men story written by Ellis isn’t going to finish?  This is a fun comic if you like your X-Men to read like a sitcom, albeit a sitcom which analyzes African geopolitics while Emma Frost shoves her boobs in peoples’ faces.  Really, this is a deeply strange thing, although very readable and with lovely artwork.  It’s a trade-waiting kind of title though, it’s not worth $4 an issue.

Marvel Boy: The Uranian #2 – Another solid issue, telling us of Bob Grayson’s early days on Earth.  Well written, with nice art.  You never go wrong with Marvel’s Atlas titles and spin-offs.

Set of the Week:

Hard Time #7 – 12

Written by Steve Gerber
Art by Brian Hurtt,Rich Burchett, and Steve Bird

The second half of this series was never collected into trade, is not likely to be now.  The first volume caught my attention, so I’ve hunted down the rest of this title, along with the shorter Season Two.

Gerber really had a good thing going with his story of young Ethan Harrow, a fifteen year old sent to prison for his role in a school shooting.  The prison is populated with a number of interesting characters, and Gerber has a good feel for penitentiary life, politics, and the effects of institutionalization on people.  This is not just Ethan’s story, it’s the story of everyone in that prison, although the focus remains on the protagonist, and his strange ability to leave his body in the form of an energy monster.

In this arc, Ethan learns the origins of his ability (it’s pretty strange), and meets the granddaughter of his cell mate, who previously thought he had no family.  A number of sub-plots, including the conflict between the Aryans and the Latinos comes to its head.

Gerber was a gifted writer for off-beat comics, and this series stands up as being among his best work.  Hurtt’s art works very well here.  It’s a shame that this title didn’t get more recognition while it was being published, even if it was the only Focus title to achieve any real success.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Strongman

Written by Charles Soule
Art by Allen Gladfelter

It’s strange to me how luchadores have such a recent cachet in comic books.  There are the brilliant stories in the much-lamented Lucha Libre anthology series (which is in some way coming back from the new Humanoids series, but I can’t tell from the solicitation if it’s new material or stuff I’ve already bought), and the recent wonderful Hellboy in Mexico story.  And then there’s this book, which features a down on his luck former luchadore/super hero named Tigre.

Tigre used to be a big deal, starring in movies and the ring, and fighting injustice.  Now he’s just one step up from being a bum.  When an attractive woman who reminds him of a lost love appeals to his sense of heroism, Tigre begins to investigate a strange black market organ ring, with ties to cannibalism and local politics.  Tigre, who has never taken off his mask in front of anyone for years, feels like it’s time to put on a clean mask (his version of putting back on the mask, I guess) and clean up the streets.

This book dances all over traditional genre lines.  At one point, it starts to suggest that Tigre’s celebrated past is all in his head and on the small screen, while at other times, it feels like it could fit in a project like Rugg’s Afrodisiac in the way it apes styles of the past and builds on a sense of nostalgia.  At the end of the day, this is a straight-up adventure story with some very amusing touches (I loved the pornographer’s office).

The art is similar to Jim Rugg’s classic style, although it looks a little cramped in this smaller, almost digest format book.  I feel like the story was originally intended for a regular-sized comic, and then shrunk, which might not have been the best decision.

In all, this book isn’t groundbreaking in any way, but it is a satisfying superhero read featuring a new character.

Myspace Dark Horse Presents Vol. 3

Various creators

To be honest, there’s not much to say about this volume that would be different from my thoughts on the first two.  Dark Horse appears to be using their Myspace digital platform as a way of advertising existing properties or upcoming series through short pieces that work as a sampling menu of the greater Dark Horse line.

Anything with a Beanworld story in it can’t be too bad, and while this is a nice little bit about recycling, it doesn’t add much to the Beanworld mythos.  I also liked Becky Cloonan’s (I know, shocking that I liked this) short story about a man plagued by nightmares, Chris Onstad’s Achewood piece, and the Serenity and Buffy the Vampire Slayer shorts.

Some other pieces had potential, but didn’t go very far.  The Mister X piece and the Applegeeks story are good examples of this.  One piece that stood out for weirdness and originality was the Creepy: Om Nom Nom story by Andrew Mayer and Lukas Ketner.

Overall, this book is enjoyable, but not particularly memorable.

Star Wars Legacy Volume Two: Shards

Written by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema
Art by Adam DeKraker, Travel Foreman, Colin Wilson, Jan Duursema, and Dan Parsons

The second volume of this series is very different from the first.  This one has five different stories, used to help establish the ‘Legacy’ universe.  It is not until the last part of the book that Cade Skywalker and his companions make an appearance; the other stories feature various minor players in the big picture, giving them expanded backstories and roles in the comic.

I especially like the focus on the politics and scheming of the different factions in the galaxy.  Darth Krayt and his Sith-controlled Empire are working to consolidate their power in the galaxy, while Roan Fel and his off-shoot ‘other’ Empire are looking to expand their territory and broker allegiance with the much-diminished Galactic Alliance.  This volume contains a lot of the realpolitik that was glossed over in the Star Wars films, and which I think is most interesting.

I didn’t ever expect myself to read any Star Wars comics, having been turned off by earlier forays into the license, but Ostrander’s vision for this series is very compelling, even if he did make a huge error in having R2D2 show up.

Irredeemable Volume 2

Written by Mark Waid
Art by Peter Krause

These Irredeemable trades don’t really collect story arcs – Waid is writing this as a true on-going series, telling only the one story, and so the start and stop points feel a little arbitrary (kind of what I imagine reading The Walking Dead in trade would be like).  All the same, this is a very good superhero comic, and they rarely have true beginnings and endings either.

In this trade, the members of the Paradigm continue to try to track down ways to hurt The Plutonian, who is still on a rampage, although he does seem to be slowing down a little – no cities get destroyed this time around.  The heroes even make it into ‘Tony’s’ secret lair, a Fortress of Solitude that appears to be floating on lava inside an active volcano.  We, as readers, get a little more insight into what made The Plutonian snap in the first place, as Waid presents a well-meaning hero who has finally had too many unreasonable demands placed on him.  Toss in a good amount of guilt over a particular incident, and we see what happens.

Strong character work and nice, reliable art from Krause means that this book (and I presume the companion Incorruptible title) is something I want to stick with, although it will probably be a series I read in trades only.  The single issues are too expensive.

The Hellboy Project: B.P.R.D. Vol.6: The Universal Machine

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Guy Davis and Mike Mignola

This volume of BPRD is unlike the previous ones, in that Mignola and Arcudi are more focused than ever before on the characters in the story, and the plot is quite secondary.

Kate Corrigan, a generally underused character to this point, travels to a remote region in France to see about purchasing an incredibly rare old book, which may have the answer to reviving Roger, the homonculus killed in the previous volume.  This being a Mignola story, the rather odd bookseller is of course a long-lived Marquis who lives in a painting and who has lured her there as a way of acquiring another homonculus for his collection.

While Kate deals with this on her own, the usual members of the team get together in a coffee room and share stories about their pasts.  We finally learn how Captain Daimio was killed (although not how or why he came back), and see other glimpses into Liz and Johann’s lives.  In Abe’s case, he tells a Hellboy story featuring a Wendigo, largely because he’s not ready to share what he has recently learned about himself.

I really liked the way this story slowed down and helped build up these characters.  Daimio’s inclusion into the book was abrupt, and this is the first that the reader had any chance to gain some insight into his personality beyond the brusque military man we usually see.

Davis’s art is as great as ever.  I love the way he draws his women – they are so much more realistic than 95% of the women in comics, and somehow so much sexier because of it.  Mignola provides the epilogue to this story, which is very touching and flawlessly executed.

Album of the Week:

Madlib Medicine Show #4 – 420 Chalice All-Stars

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