Weekly Round-Up #29

With my city going crazy over G20 protests and tons of thuggish behavior, there’s no better way to spend the week-end than to sit at home and read some good comics.

Best Comic of the Week:

The Killer: Modus Vivendi #3

Written by Matz
Art by Luc Jacamon

If there’s one thing that I feel is lacking in most of the comics that I read, it’s a nice learned explanation of things like Western cultural hegemony, and the way in which such things are viewed from the smaller, forgotten corners of the world.

In this issue, our Killer is in Cuba, where his next assignment for his mysterious employers, who he now believes to be CIA, is to assassinate the special commissioner in charge of negotiating oil deals.  Having walked around Havana for a few days, and having reflected on the effects of a half-century of embargoes, and the nature of genocide and the types of excuses it engenders in partner nations, he decides that he doesn’t want to kill this man, and turns to the Cuban government for assistance.

This is, as always, an interestingly paced book.  It is both languorous and terse, as the Killer has long periods of downtime before arranging his next hit, yet there is always a sense of urgency in his actions.  The lengthy essay (for want of a better term) doesn’t slow down the book at all, but it does make it very dense with information, which is something I appreciate.

Jacamon’s art is typically beautiful, and he makes interesting use of digital backgrounds, inserting his characters into the Havana skyline, or using other manipulated photos for establishing shots.

Other Notable Comics:

Air #22

Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by MK Perker

It seems that everyone, including the characters of this terrific Vertigo series, know that the book is coming to an early end.  They seem to mention ‘endings’ enough in this issue, as Blythe embarks on her final test to become a Hyperprax pilot – she has to circumnavigate the world, following in the footsteps (flightpath?) of her mentor Amelia Earhart.

Of course, this time around, the expectation is that Blythe will succeed where Amelia failed.  Blythe is determined to do it on her own, and not call in the assistance of the friendly Aztec god Quetz.  Of course, the Etesian Front has different goals, as they make their return to these pages.

I’ve been saying since the series began that I find Air to be a unique and refreshing comic compared to most of what is on the stands these days.  Wilson is using her tale of a slightly neurotic girl’s journey to self-actualization as a platform for some interesting notions about the nature of time and our perception of it, and has crafted a terrific example of strong characterization.

American Vampire #4

Written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

I’ve been liking this comic a lot, as Snyder establishes the tone and direction of the series, and King fills in the back-story and helps set up the rules and regulations by which this story functions.

In this issue, Pearl faces off against the Euro-Vamps, and recruits a compatriot in her cause against them.  In the back-up, Jim Book and his friends confront Sweet, and things go very badly for him.

As I’ve mentioned for every issue so far, Albuquerque is turning in some terrific artwork.  In addition to that though, I really appreciate the sense of time and place that the writers and the artist imbue this book with.  I feel like a lot of research was done on the two time periods these stories depict, and I always like that level of authenticity in my wildly impossible stories.

Battlefields #7

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Russ Braun

With the start of this latest Battlefields story, Ennis and Braun return to the story of Anna Kharkova, the female Russian pilot who was the star of their first Battlefields arc.  The war has progressed since the first story, and Anna has changed quite a bit.  She now has a reputation for getting herself into trouble, and has just been transferred to an all-male front line unit.

The story runs like many of Ennis’s war stories.  There are toadyish functionary officers, and there’s a big battle scene.  Anna is still talking to her close friend, who was killed in the first story.  It’s clear that her experiences have hardened her, as is seen when she meets a female mechanic who idolizes her, and treats her with open disdain.

As usual, this is a very competently-told story, with great artwork.

Joe the Barbarian #6

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Sean Murphy

Grant Morrison’s fairy tale story about a hypoglycemic boy flitting between two worlds – his own and a fantasy world where he is a legendary figure, the Dying Boy – is coming close to its end, as Joe finds his way to Hearth Castle, the only place left in the kingdom with light and power, for now at least.

There, he is welcomed by the citizenry who recognize him for his legendary status, and by the flood of refugees who have arrived from the attic.  This issue is filled with some of the toy-based characters we saw at the end of the first issue, and although they are not given important roles in this comic, it is kind of cool to see Murphy’s take on the main DC characters like Wonder Woman and Batman, but also on characters from various sci-fi movies, tv programs, and toy lines.

I’ll be honest in saying that I’m getting a little bored with the whole ‘kid needs to get to the kitchen for a soda but is instead in a fantasy land’ plot.  Things are starting to feel a little stretched out or decompressed, like this might have worked better as a six-issue series instead of eight, but then, I do like the way Morrison is writing these characters, especially Smoot, the giant dwarf, and Sean Murphy’s art is wonderful.

King City #9

by Brandon Graham

King City is just such an easy comic to love.  Graham’s inventiveness and strange sense of humour fill each page with whimsy, and his characters are very likable, even if plot is not much of a focus in his work.

In this issue, our Cat Master starts snooping into the Owls’ business, meets his friend in the park, and then runs into his ex-girlfriend.  Meanwhile, Max decides to do something about his chalk addiction.

That’s about all there is, except for the fact that each page is filled with visual gags, and that there is a King City board game included in the comic (you can see that the cover has the game pieces).

Graham seems to have given up on the idea of the story’s pace being dictated by issue size; this issue seems to end at a random place.  It doesn’t really matter much to me though, as I just love poring over each over-sized page to take in his brilliance.

The Secret History Book 10: The Black Stone

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordey

I love that Archaia has sorted out all of their production problems and that this book has become reliably monthly.

With each issue, I’ve been enjoying this comic more, as the time gap between issues has been shrinking, meaning that the same characters appear in multiple volumes.

This time around, Pécau has set his story in 1926, a year of revolution in many corners of the world.  The first half of the book deals with Saud’s conquest of Arabia, with the help of Philby, the player from a few issues ago.  The second half returns us to Itzak, the former apprentice to a rabbi, who is now caught up in the conflict between various groups in early-Soviet Ukraine.  Everywhere around him are Reds, Whites, kulaks, and partisans.  He is following the path of the crooked cross (ie., the swastika), and is pursued by Baron von Sebottendorf, his long-time rival.

Interestingly, this issue didn’t feature any of the Archos, the four central characters, instead choosing to focus on their ‘players’ and operatives, who are seeking new avenues of power.  I love this kind of meticulously researched historical comic, and look forward to seeing Pécau deal with the Second World War, an event he has been anticipating in the comic for some time.

Quick Takes:

Amazing Spider-Man #635 – As the Grim Hunt continues, it moves deep into some mumbo-jumbo about how important Spider-Man is compared to the other spider-based heroes.  I’m not really into that aspect of things, but am really enjoying the Michael Lark artwork.  Is this a suitable sequel to Kraven’s Last Hunt?  Ask me when this is all over.

Avengers #2 – It feels a little like Bendis is phoning this one, with highly repetitive dialogue (“Time is broken?”  How many times do we have to say that), and poor understanding of current Marvel continuity, as the main focus of Iron Man’s own book these days is that Tony Stark is broke, and doesn’t even have a company called Stark Enterprises anymore.  It’s good to see Noh-Varr – I’ve always liked the character – but I think he should go back to his old costume or get another new one, the Chris Bachalo one is hideously generic.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3 – Another issue, another era, as Bruce squares off against Blackbeard in the proto-Batcave.  This is Morrison in obscure mode, and it works pretty well.  Paquette’s art is nice enough in the more static scenes, but it seems kind of stiff when there is action.  Also, what’s up with his Congorilla?

Detective Comics #866It’s always a good thing to get a Denny O’Neill Batman story.  This is a pretty standard one, with Dick/Batman working to solve a mystery that has lasted as long as his career as a crime-fighter.  Most of the story is a flashback to his earliest days as Robin, and for those scenes Dustin Nguyen gives us his version of Dick Sprang artwork.  It’s a strange look, but it works quite well for me.  It’s weird that O’Neil is trying to retcon some Order of St. Dumas stuff into here, but it’s all good.  With the next issue, Detective is going to be David Hine’s book.  He’s a fine writer, but not one whose take on Batman is all that interesting to me (not at $4), so peace out Detective.

Fantastic Four #580 – Hickman’s run on this title has been consistently interesting (and receiving more and more attention here on the Nexus), and this issue continues to demonstrate his strengths, with Reed’s new think tank approaching the issue of curing the Thing from a novel and quite plausible (within the realm of comic book logic) way.  The Arcade/Impossible Man main story was silly and kind of forgettable, but for the strength of Hickman’s characterizations.

Garrison #3 – I’m enjoying this little story about spy agencies, a mass killer, and now government bio-weapons.  Francavilla’s art is always a pleasure.  There’s just not that much to say about it all.

Green Lantern Corps #49 – I really like Tony Bedard, but I feel like there is a lot of editorial interference going on in this story.  The Alpha-Lanterns are turning evil too quickly; isn’t this just the second story to ever use them?  Bedard has a good handle on these characters, and uses a fan-favourite villain, but the increasing intertwining of this title with Brightest Day makes me less likely to stick with it, instead of more.

Legion of Super-Heroes #2 – Now this is how I like my Legion.  Levitz has a number of different sub-plots up and running, and approaches the main story – the destruction of Titan – from a couple of interesting angles.  While Brainiac 5 and Ultra Boy fall victim to Saturn Queen in space, the Legion has to protect the Titanian refugees from xenophobes on Earth, giving their newest member, Earth-Man, a chance to prove himself.  Cinar’s art is nice, although I wish they’d shave the mutton chops off Earth-Man; they drive me nuts.  Oh, and Tyroc is back!

Namora #1 – Namora is one of my favourite Atlas characters, and this is a competent enough one-shot, although it doesn’t do a lot to add to the character.  Parker’s writing is always strong, but this reads like a fill-in.  Pichelli’s art is very nice, and I would like to see her do more work.  One strange note:  Namora speaks of her daughter dying at Camden, when it was really Stamford.  You would think people at Marvel would remember that.

Powers #5 – Finally, a great new issue of Powers.  This is a very character-driven issue, as Walker suffers a huge set-back in life, and Enki Sunrise actually starts to become a character, with a life and problems and everything.  Oeming has some beautiful pages here, as Bendis and he make good use of their extra pages to expand the story and atmosphere of the book.  The best issue of this latest re-launch.

Secret Warriors #17 – One of the things that I like most about this book is the way in which Hickman changes it up so regularly.  This issue features DumDum Dugan and Jasper Sitwell testifying at some UN thing about their actions in China against Hydra, introduces Alexander Pierce’s team, and keeps cutting to a Howling Commandos reunion party.  This series has so many balls in the air that I’m impressed that Hickman can keep them all floating.

Thunderbolts #145 – I think I’m going to like Luke Cage’s Suicide Squad, as he messes with the Tbolt’s minds a little (he’s no Amanda Waller), meets the new warden, and then takes the team out to hunt down some Trolls.  Parker’s giving us some nice character work on everyone except Cage, who doesn’t seem like he does in a Bendis book.  Walker’s art is cool, but I don’t like how he draws Songbird.

X-Factor #206 – Great moments all around, although the best line goes to Longshot.  Peter David managed to make good use of the Second Coming tie-in to bring the team back together and resolve a few long-standing issues.  As always, this is one of the best books that Marvel is publishing these days.

X-Men Legacy #237 – The X-Men finally get a break or two, but it appears that it will be short-lived.  This is a pretty action-filled issue, so it’s a really quick read.  Magneto does some cool stuff, as does Cypher, and Hope starts to prove why she might be of value.  Unfortunately, the art is by Greg Land, but it’s not too horrible.  Why would Husk be fighting Sentinels without using her powers?  Is it because Land couldn’t find a porn star that can turn into rock or some other substance to trace?

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

Bullet to the Head #1

Incorruptible #7

7 Psychopaths #2

Wolverine Weapon X #14

Bargain Comics:

Farscape: Gone and Back #4 – I’m finally getting myself caught up on my Farscape reading, and I found I liked this issue.  I was surprised that the writers went to an alternative (sorry, unrealized) reality story so quickly, but it was fun seeing some older characters, and a few surprises, especially when Lo’La showed up.  The art was too stiff though…

Farscape: D’Argo’s Trial #3 – Whereas this title has fantastic art by Caleb Cleveland.  This has been a great series, exploring the relationship between D’Argo and his wife, and her death at the hands of her brother.  This issue has D’Argo escaping arrest with his son, and helps fill in one of the major back-stories of the TV series.

New Avengers: Luke Cage #1&2 – Luke Cage gets a lot of play these days.  He is all over the place, but this series feels very true to the character as Luke heads to Philadelphia to help a former client from his ‘Hero for Hire’ days.  Arcudi has a good handle on the character, and Canete’s art is fantastic (although he doesn’t draw all of the second issue).

Rescue #1 – There’s nothing wrong with this Pepper Potts one-shot, but it’s not particularly memorable either.  My problem with the Rescue armor is that it always reminds me of Rom’s girlfriend in her second incarnation…

X-Men: Hellbound #1 – This Second Coming spin-off is all about rescuing Illyana from Limbo.  Chris Yost practically gives us a ‘New X-Men’ issue as Cannonball puts together his team.  Decent writing and decent art – I feel like I perhaps shouldn’t have overlooked this series.

Set of the Week:

Farscape: D’Argo’s Quest #1-4

Written by Keith R.A. DeCandido
Art by Caleb Cleveland

Set between the third and fourth seasons of Farscape, this story follows D’Argo as he heads out to track down Macton Tal, his brother-in-law and the murderer of D’Argo’s wife.  Working off information he received from the Peacekeepers, he’s arrived on the planet T’Lohrcate, where he’s just chilling at a Sebacean bar, waiting for Tal to arrive.

Instead of finding his prey, he is instead found by Raxil, the annoying alien drug dealer that starred in the season three episode ‘Scratch ‘N’ Sniff’, which was one a huge cult favourite.

Raxil needs D’Argo to work for her as muscle in a Freslin sale, although they quickly end up in enforcement custody, before being used to infiltrate a criminal organization that holds the whole planet hostage.

This is a good, quickly-paced, amusing story.  DeCandido has a good ear for Raxil’s speech patterns, and manages to capture the unique mix of anger, nobility, and humour that is Ka D’Argo.  Cleveland’s art is very good; he manages to draw the characters convincingly, while avoiding the stiffness of most licensed comics.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

High Moon Vol. 1

Written by David Gallaher
Art by Steve Ellis

This is a book that I really wanted to like more than I did.  It’s a Western with werewolves, vampires, Aboriginal spirits, a mechanical golem, steampunk cyborgs, and great art.  It sounds like a slam dunk.  The problem is that the story is not particularly well-explained, the characters not that well developed, and the plot seems more than a little random.

From what I was able to follow, there’s some werewolf guy named Eddie Conroy who might or might not be a decent person, who is being hunted by some guy named MacGregor.  There is some stuff with some vampires that have kidnapped a little girl, and when MacGregor, who I thought was going to be the hero of the book, gets killed, Conroy steals his identity and heads off for more adventures.  He somehow hooks up with MacGregor’s brother (I think), who is the cyborg guy, and they have another adventure that involves two brothers who want to kill each other or something.  After that, they get called on by a Native girl to go fight some soldiers, the leader of whom is sleeping with the cyborg dude’s wife.

The episodic nature of the storytelling doesn’t give much time for the big picture to be absorbed.  I don’t know what Conroy’s all about, and find it hard to keep track of the people that keep filtering into his life.

Ellis’s art looks great, although it is very cramped on the small landscaped pages that the Zuda books are being published on.  It often made it hard to follow the action.  I feel like there is a lot of potential in this story, and if you are just looking for some crazy action, this book satisfies.

The Hellboy Project: Hellboy Vol. 8: Darkness Calls

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Duncan Fegredo

I’m not all that sure how much I enjoyed this volume of Mignola’s Hellboy series.  It’s a different type of book this time around – it’s the longest Hellboy story I’ve read yet, and it has art by the amazing Duncan Fegredo, who draws in in a style that I think I would describe as shabby-Mignola (I mean that in a good way).

Fegredo uses Mignola’s usual aesthetic and panel layout, but then roughs up the characters and figures by making the art more scratchy.  It’s very effective, and the whole book looks great.

I think it’s the story that doesn’t do that much for me.  Basically, the various witches that have shown up at different times in the series – people like Hecate and Baba Yaga – are up to their usual tricks, as the Russian folk character attempts to exact revenge on Hellboy for having stolen her eye.  To do this, she employs another deathless Russian folklore character.  There are also appearances by Bromwich, the creepy character from earlier stories, and the pig-creature from Hellboy’s underwater adventures.

Personally, I found the story a little hard to follow, but still full of interesting moments and exciting scenes.

Album of the Week:

The Roots – How I Got Over


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