Weekly Round-Up #28 featuring Age of Bronze, Fable, Walking Dead, Amazing Spider-Man

Best Comic of the Week:

Age of Bronze #30

by Eric Shanower

It’s been about six months since the last issue of Shanower’s epic masterpiece re-telling of the Trojan War appeared on a comics rack, but I have been finding it easier than ever before to dive back into the story, where before I used to find it difficult to keep track of characters.

At this point in the story, the war is raging on slowly in the background, as Shanower turns the spotlight on some of the women of Troy, especially focusing on Cressida, the abandoned daughter of Kalchas, who betrayed Troy to work for its Achaean enemies.  This is about the third issue that has been telling the ‘Troilus and Cressida’ story, and I have enjoyed the way that Shanower has integrated it into his larger narrative.  The cover is very appropriate, as much of this issue is taken up by Pandarus’s efforts and machinations at bringing the two lovers together.

The rest of this issue is concerned with Helen’s decision to leave Troy in time for the birth of her child.  There is a great scene in a temple, where we learn a little about the reactions to Helen of the other women of Troy; it’s not all that positive.

While I’ve always found this comic to be interesting, it is the recent shift in focus to the women of Troy that has my attention now.  Women are usually secondary in any telling of this story, which is ironic when you consider Helen’s primacy in the whole thing.  It is nice to see so much detail and thought being put into the lives of Trojan women, who suffered so much through that war.

I know it’s a tough sell to convince a new reader to pick up a book like this, but Age of Bronze is a brilliant comic, and more people should pick up the trades and give it a try.

Other Notable Comics:

DMZ #54

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

Wood uses this issue to both finish up the MIA storyline and reset the entire title, taking it, and Matty, back to his roots as the series moves forward.

Basically, since giving his order that led to the deaths of a group of civilians, Matty has been overcome by guilt and self-doubt.  He’s been wandering through New York on his way to turn himself in to the US forces, and to turn over the dog-tags of a few dead soldiers he discovered a few issues back, this slight act of contrition taking on massive symbolic importance in his mind.

What Matty finds is not what he was expecting.  His father is on hand, and they have a very interesting conversation, before Matty is offered a new job.  So much of this series has been about chronicling Matty’s maturation, as he has moved from being a glory-hunting tourist to a political activist to his new role, as observer and conscience; in other words, he’s finally ready to become a true journalist.

I’ve often been impressed with this book, and I really like this new/old direction.  There has been a lot of talk lately about how comics do not permit any real change in their characters, and at first it felt like Wood was, by returning this book to something closer to its original concept, bowing to similar pressures, but I expect that this was the plan all along, and that the contrast between the Matty of the first year of this series to the Matty of now will be quite interesting.  Good stuff.

DV8: Gods and Monsters #3

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Rebekah Isaacs

Now that so much set-up is out of the way, this is starting to feel more like a Brian Wood book.

In this issue, Gem continues her tour of the strange stone-age world her and her teammates have been dumped on, going to visit Powerhaus, who has shacked up in a hut on stilts and is spending most of his days getting high with two beautiful women.  Not surprisingly, he’s happy keeping things like that, and doesn’t want to help Gem, who is looking to get the band back together.

This issue explores Powerhaus’s personality and his power set.  Wood is taking what was a cool Warren Ellis idea (that he gets stronger and bigger in relation to the negative emotions he can absorb), and expanding on it to see what effect these powers would have a person’s soul.  There’s some very nice character work in this issue, which I find interesting despite the fact that I don’t really know these characters.

Much of this book feels like it’s a spotlight for Rebekah Isaacs’s very nice artwork, which is improving with each issue.  There are some great pages here.

Fables #96

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and Andrew Pepoy

While this exploration of Snow White and Rose Red’s pasts is interesting and somewhat informative, I would prefer to see more of what’s going on with the characters in the present day.

In this issue, Snow and Rose’s dead mother continues to tell Rose Red all of the things that she didn’t previously know about her relationship with her sister.  We get to find out about how Snow was sent away to protect her life from the father of her suitor, and we are given a retelling of the Snow White fairy tale, complete with its seven degenerate dwarves.

I understand that it’s necessary for Rose Red to finally get rid of the chip on her shoulder through understanding the past, I just feel that it’s taking too long.  I guess Willingham is padding out the story a little so that issue 100 can be a momentous one.

Forgetless #5

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Scott Forbes, Marley Zarcone, and Jorge Coelho

I’ve really liked this little series about an exclusive club night in New York and the people that it attracts, including two models/hit girls, a television and movie star with a sex addiction who likes to go around in a big fuzzy panda suit, a guy who makes Youtube videos of himself having sex with public buildings, and a trio of New Jersey teenagers with dreams of the big city.

The first four issues were split between two short stories, which slowly filled in the plot-lines for these different characters.  This issue has everyone meeting up, except for the Jersey kids, who basically got their own back-up throughout the series.  The lead feature is split between two artists, who have pretty different styles, although that juxtaposition is used to good effect.

Forgetless is a fun and amusing story, which is really tapped in to the zeitgeist.  The characters are prime examples of technology-addicted youth, and the pacing is quick and witty.  This would read great in trade, and is highly recommended.

Four Eyes #4

Written by Joe Kelly
Art by Max Fiumara

I didn’t really expect to see another issue of this comic – I had forgotten it was resolicited and didn’t order it; it has been more than a year since the last issue came out, and Kelly and Fiumara are both pretty involved in Amazing Spider-Man right now.

Four Eyes is the story of Enrico, a young boy whose dragon-catching father was killed in Depression-era New York, when he went hunting alone for the mobster who raises and fights dragons in an over-sized version of cockfighting.  Enrico has started working for the mobster too, and last issue was involved in his first hunt, which ended badly for him.

This issue is mostly concerned with various people looking to bring Enrico home, and his standing up for his values and new friend.  These first four issues were mostly set-up for a longer series which I now doubt is ever going to be completed, which is too bad, because there is a lot of potential in this series.

I like Fiumara’s art a lot on this book.  It’s very much like the style he’s using in his Spider-Man issues now, and it’s a cool mix of manga and cartoon influences.

Shuddertown #3

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Adam Geen

I think that Nick Spencer just might be the next Brian Michael Bendis.  He’s definitely prolific, with Shuddertown being his third mini-series this year and another solicited, and he has shown himself to be versatile too, his work running the gamut from a science fiction thriller (which I haven’t read yet) to a teen and post-teen drama, to this gritty police procedural with a few twists.

I’ve been enjoying Shuddertown, although I found this issue to be a lot more disjointed than the previous two.  There’s a sequence taking up the first third of the book that I didn’t really understand, although I found the dialogue riveting.  This issue introduces some new characters without really introducing them; they just appear and interact with the established characters or the storyline.  Nothing is really explained, which I usually like in a comic, but I’m a touch lost here.

Geen’s art could be the culprit in some ways – not all of that opening sequence is clear, and that’s largely because of Geen’s heavily photo-referenced artwork.  It’s odd that I don’t remember noticing much about the art before, but now I want to go back and double-check to see if something in this issue is different.

Regardless, this is an interesting title and I intend to stick with it to the end.  And watch: when Spencer’s the next big name at one of the Big Two, other people are going to be claiming they’ve been fans since this came out.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle #6

by Michael Kupperman

I first came across Kupperman’s work in one of the Marvel 70th anniversary one-shots where he drew a story about a Golden Age robot (whose name escapes me right now).  I was amused by his marrying of Golden Age style artwork with a modernist sense of whimsy, and figured I should check out more of his work.

Kupperman’s sporadic anthology series feels like the work of someone who is mostly creating to amuse himself.  He plays with a lot of classic comics conventions, and is clearly having a great time with things.

The book opens with the adventures of Jungle Princess, a pink cone-wearing version of Sheena, who publishes a fashion magazine, fights ruthless rhino-traders, and is assisted by a deadly hawk/chim duo.  Other stories include an homage to good drainage, wherein a drainage system upstages a famous actress; and an outer-space adventure story featuring Mark Twain and Albert Einstein.

The comic is also filled with one-page strips that riff off of established classic comics like Richie Rich, and various spoof ads for things like The Dick Van Dyke Institute of Cockney Graverobbing.  There is also a page of wallpaper designs that I thought were terrific (Roses and Noses being one).

Kupperman is a major satiric talent, and this is a very well-designed book.  Now comes the hard part, tracking down all the back issues.

The Walking Dead #73

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard

It’s getting hard to think of new ways of saying how much I love this book.  This has to be the most consistently good comic on the stands, as Kirkman continues to deliver exciting and well-grounded stories, and Adlard continues to prove why he’s one of the best comics artists in the business.

This month Rick and his crew start their new jobs in the ‘community’ where they are now living.  Abraham starts working on expanding the walls of the town, and quickly establishes his skill at killing zombies.  He also has an interesting chat with one of the other workers, which provides some insight into the rest of the community, which is, of course, not as good as it seems.

Fearing just that, Rick takes some steps to protect his people, which might end up working out well, and might not, based upon his track record.

I like that Kirkman is starting to develop some of the townspeople as individual characters.  I imagine when everything goes to hell (as it always does in this book), some of these characters will end up sticking around for a bit.

Quick Takes:

Amazing Spider-Man #633 – This issue finishes up the Shed storyline, which has made interesting (and brutal) use of the Lizard, and has given Chris Bachalo the excuse to go nuts on art.  Pairing him with Emma Rios as fill-in artist is a strange choice, but giving her the smaller, more character-based moments was a wise decision.  This was a good arc.

Amazing Spider-Man #634 – ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ holds a special place in my memory.  When that story first came out it blew me away, both in terms of its artwork and the sense of momentousness that DeMatteis’s writing carried.  I remember reading the first installment over and over.  This current issue starts ‘The Grim Hunt’, the story of Kraven’s family and their plot for revenge against the Spiders (or Spyders).  This story also carries a lot of weight on its shoulders, and is ably written by Joe Kelly.  I love the Lark/Gaudino art, which makes me miss their Daredevil run.  This issue has Julia Carpenter in it, a character I have liked since Secret Wars, even if she is exceptionally underused.  The back-up is interesting, but I have no idea who Kaine is (remember, I haven’t read Spider-Man since Erik Larsen took over for McFarlane).

Atlas #2 – I’m glad to see this book back on the stands.  This issue has the usual Atlas stuff – strange monsters (controlled by guys that look like Rebel pilots from the first Star Wars), some great lines (most Ken’s), and layers of scheming.  I like the way they’re integrating The 3D Man into the team, although a new costume is desperately called for.  I want to really encourage people to pick this book up so that this incarnation lasts longer.  It’s a great comic.

Birds of Prey #2 – I really want to like this comic, but there’s something about this latest restart that feels a little too familiar, like Simone is just going through the notions of writing BoP instead of coming up with something new or fresh.  Any bets on whether or not the villain behind everything is the Calculator?  Benes’s art isn’t helping me stay too interested either.  I’ll give it a few more issues, because I have a lot of trust in Simone as a writer, but I feel like something has to change up quick.

Brightest Day #4 – I think I’m done with this.  A few years ago, when 52 was being published, I loved the way it jumped around to different characters and their stories, spotlighting some parts of the DCU that don’t often get seen.  With Brightest Day, I find that the way it jumps from character to character is irritating, as none of the individual stories are as compelling as they were in 52, and the writing is just not up to the same standards.  It really feels like this book exists to try to milk the success of Blackest Night as opposed to having its own important story to tell.  It’s not a horrible comic, but it’s not keeping my interest, as so peace out.

New Avengers #1 – I‘m not sure I understand why we need this title.  I like the idea of Cage getting his own Avengers team to run, and the reasons given in this book all make sense, if Cage wasn’t also in charge of the Thunderbolts, and if all but two of his Avengers (I’m not counting his wife) weren’t already on at least one other team.  Regardless of Wolverine’s previously unrevealed mutant ability to multi-task, this is stretching credibility to the ultimate limit, as Marvel seems to be simply trying to find as many ways as possible to have the same three or four characters in as many books as possible.  I’m surprised Deadpool’s not on the team…

New Mutants #14 – For me, the best thing about this book were the Nathan Fox pages.  Finally, there is a use for Legion, as Professor X’s son goes up against waves of Nimrod-Sentinals, more X-Men get injured, and the crew in the future begin their fight.  Having three artists on this book is a little jarring, but when this whole thing is collected in trade there will be so many artists it won’t be noticeable.  I do like the momentous feel of this story.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #17 – This post-Starro story has floundered a little, but if the purpose is to set up the new status quo in the Vega sector, then we’re ready to move on.  This issue barely featured the usual cast of this book, and that’s perhaps why it didn’t impress.  I hope Bedard recaptures the feeling this book had for the first year and a bit, because this doesn’t feel the same right now.

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

Age of Heroes #2

Amazing Spider-Man Presents: Black Cat #1

DCU Legacies #2

Farscape #8

The Shield #10

Spirit #3

Bargain Comics:

Astro City: Astra Special #1 & 2 – This two-issue series looks at Astra, the Johnny Storm member of the First Family, the Astro City version of the Fantastic Four.  Astra has just graduated from college, and while she has many different options in front of her, she knows that she wants to spend her future with her ‘normal’ boyfriend.  The couple is hounded by E! True Hollywood style sensationalism, and hunted by ‘flittercams’.  Even when they go to another dimension, Astra feels the effects of her celebrity in this interesting look at our fame-obsessed culture.  As always with Busiek and Anderson, we get a consummately professional book.

DCU: Legacies #1 – This is kind of like Marvels from back in the day, a street-level view of the masked men and women who populate the DC Universe.  This first issue has two narrators, a former street punk who had an early run-in with the Sandman, Atom, and Crimson Avenger which put him on the right path, and a reporter out to debunk what he feels are obvious fakes like Dr. Fate, the Spectre, and Zatarra.  The set-up is familiar, but the art by the Kuberts and JG Jones is very nice.

Doomwar #3 – It seems that each issue of this series is not as strong as the one that preceded it, which is unfortunate as the title started off really well.  There’s a little too much spiritual mumbo-jumbo for me in this one…

Set of the Week:

Hard Time: Season Two #1-7

Written by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes
Art by Brian Hurtt and Steve Bird

Having finished off ‘Season One‘ of this series last week, I quickly dove in to ‘Season Two’.  Gerber’s teenage prison drama, featuring New Age style mystical powers, was a very interesting experiment in unconventional super powered comics.

Ethan continues to get by in prison, and in this season the adopted parents of his girlfriend try to mount a publicity campaign designed to free him, while a lot of the usual prison stuff also goes on.  Further complicating Ethan’s already difficult life is the arrival of a new inmate, known as Cutter.  This guy experiments with scarification as an art form, and somehow has the ability to mess with Ethan’s khe chara, his energy or astral form.

Like the previous parts of this series, Season Two gives us very strong character work, in both the writing and in the awesome artwork of Brian Hurtt.  It’s a shame the series didn’t last longer, but I did like the final issue, which shows us Ethan ’49 Years Later’, and wraps up all the relevant plotlines.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Cleaners: Absent Bodies

Written by Mark Wheaton and Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Rahsan Ekedal

This is a unique and disturbing comic, not at all what I was expecting.  I thought that this would be a little something like Vertigo’s much-missed Exterminators series, except featuring crime scenes instead of bug-infestations.  Instead, this is the bleak story of Robert Bellarmine, a former surgeon who now obsesses over blood particles and their ability to contaminate and propagate disease.

A particularly messy operation leads Bellarmine to conclude that the supernatural is at work – what we would call a vampire, but what he refers to as a ‘harvester’, collecting the blood of a variety of victims and vaporizing it in a gas mask-type set-up.  This is a very bloody and creepy story.

Some of the finer plot points, such as establishing characters and their relationships to one another doesn’t really happen.  I was never too sure of who Bellarmine’s friends and colleagues were, or why one of them was collecting hair samples from dancers.  As well, Bellarmine’s relationship with the local police was never explained, nor was the reason why he left (or got kicked out) of medicine.  I can tell that the authors were setting things up for future arcs, but a little more exposition would have been helpful.

I’ve never heard of Rahsan Ekedal, but I do like his art.  He reminds me a little of Paul Gulacy at times, and his cover designs are excellent.

Girls Vol. 1 – Conception

by The Luna Brothers

Having enjoyed their recently-concluded series The Sword, I figured it would be worth checking out the Luna Brothers’ previous title, Girls.  It was definitely a safe bet, as this is a very enjoyable comic.

The general premise here is pretty cool.  The story is set in Pennystown, a small hamlet of 65 somewhere in a forested region of America.  The community is pretty tightly-knit, except for a few misfits, such as Ethan and his friend.  I guess it would be hard to find a suitable mate in a town that small, and Ethan has already lost the only available girl.  When a stranger comes into town, he makes a fool out of himself in a very funny scene at the store where he works.  Later, he makes a much bigger fool of himself at the bar in front of the whole town.  As he is tossed out of the bar, a large booming sound rings out, breaking windows everywhere.

Driving home, more than a little inebriated, Ethan comes across a naked woman on the highway.  He takes her home with him, and even though it’s obvious that there is something very wrong with her, he proceeds to have sex with her.  The next day, when he goes to get her help, his house is suddenly overrun with identical naked women, who appear to violently attack any other woman they see.  Things get a little weird after that.

This volume is mostly interested in setting up the plot.  The mystery of the girls is established, as are the parameters of this tale.  Most interesting though is the way in which the Lunas craft the various relationships in the town.  Even if there weren’t strange science fiction-y things going on all around them, I would want to read about these characters.  Toss in some gorgeous naked women and the book becomes a can’t-miss.

Odysseus The Rebel

Written by Steven Grant
Art by Scott Bieser

This graphic novel written by comics legend Steven Grant is about Odysseus, the hero of the Trojan War, and his long journey home.  This is not the Odysseus of Homer though, nor is it Eric Shanower’s.

Instead, Grant tells a very modern, at times metatextual, and frequently funny version of Odysseus’s long journey, and his conflict with the gods.  In this story, Odysseus never accepts the will of the gods, instead railing against them at every opportunity.  He is presented as a stubborn man, as is Penelope his wife, who has refused all suitors for years, in the hopes that her husband would return to her.  This hope is echoed in the actions of their son Telemachus, who searches for his father.

Grant makes use of more modern references in his story, and has Odysseus questioning his own place in legend.  There is an acceptance among some of the men and gods in this story that the age of gods is ending, and that people like Odysseus and Achilles will become more a part of a future cultural landscape than they would be.

At its core, this is a story about pride, and the far-reaching effects that pride can have on a people, or a land.  This is a very intelligent adaptation, made all the more so for its deceptive light-heartedness and Bieser’s breezy artistic style.

This was a sudden purchase at a used book store, and I’m very glad that I picked it up, as it’s one of the better graphic novels I’ve read lately.  I recommend tracking it down, but it can also be read on-line at the publisher’s website.

Luna Park

Written by Kevin Baker
Art by Danijel Zezelj

I was really impressed by this graphic novel.  I have no idea who Kevin Baker is (apparently his novel Dreamland has some similarities to this work) , but I have been a Danijel Zezelj fan for at least ten years, and knew that I would like this book for the art regardless of how the story turned out.

Luna Park is a really interesting story.  It took me a little while to get in to it; the beginning seems to breeze through the opening pages, but as the book progressed, I got wrapped up in its depth and layered use of story telling.

At the surface, Alik is a Russian immigrant scratching out an existence in Brooklyn by working for a minor Russian mobster.  Alik is still nursing emotional wounds he got in Chechnya, where he was a soldier ten years before.  He’d tried to help a woman he was in love with, and it ended badly for them all.

Alik today is in love with a woman with a similar name, who works for Alik’s boss’s rival, another Russian mobster who is buying up most of Coney Island, including Luna Park.  Alik is a heroin user, and is plagued by dreams of his time in Chechnya, although often the dreams seem to be taking place in the First World War, or during the Russian Revolution instead.

The story quickly becomes more of a historical novel than the crime story that I expected it to be when I started reading, as Baker explores the connection between these dreams and Alik’s present, in a manner that totally surprised and pleased me.

Baker’s writing, mixed with Zezelj’s incredibly moody and evocative artwork, capture a sense of ‘Russian-ness’ I’ve only encountered in actual Russian novels before.  They make strong connections between the shabbiness of Coney Island and the desolation of the trenches of WWI France.  Everything is seen through a window of unfulfilled promise, which is very much how Alik has led his life.  Recommended.

The Hellboy Project: B.P.R.D. Vol.7: Garden of Souls

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Guy Davis

This volume is one of the strangest and coolest of the BPRD stories I’ve read to date.  Abe receives a cigar case that belonged to Langdon Everett Caul, his former self.  He figures out that it was mailed from Indonesia, and travels there with Captain Daimio.  He ends up alone on a strange island populated by bizarre hybrid creatures and populated by three of Caul’s old friends, kept alive in Victorian-era metal suits that make them look vaguely like submersible robots.  This book also introduces Panya, an ancient Egyptian mummy.

While this story is nicely nuts, it’s also pretty compelling and very character-based.  Abe is slowly becoming the man he was before he discovered his origins, and Daimio is integrating much better onto the team (even while Johann is learning things about him that could become a problem later on).

The design work on this series is brilliant.  There are a number of strange creatures that Davis had to design for this book, but his Victorian cyborgs are brilliant, as is the crumbling mansion they live in.  I like how this book is frequently a brighter counter-point to Mignola’s Hellboy work, and this volume stands out as one of the most gorgeously-drawn to date.

Album of the Week:

Clutchy Hopkins – The Story Teller

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