Weekly Round-Up #31 with Brian Michael Bendis' Scarlet; Godland; I, Zombie

It must be the build up to San Diego, but there is  a lot of new comics coming out every week.  Of course, as hot as it’s been, it’s made it easier to sit around inside and read…

Best Comic of the Week:

Scarlet #1

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev

It’s funny how comics have trained some long-time readers to expect certain things.  I never bothered to read any solicitations or the usual internet-hype ‘news articles’ about this title.  I saw that it was by Bendis and Maleev, and that it was creator-owned, and that’s more than enough to guarantee that I will buy it through the first five or six issues.  Looking at the art that I saw, I sort of assumed that they were doing a Typhoid Mary kind of book (that would be awesome), and figured it would read a lot like Alias.

I was pretty much wrong on most counts, as Bendis is doing something a little different from his usual type of crime comic.  Scarlet is a young girl of college age, who is pissed off at the world.  We don’t know the whole story yet, but we do know that she was wronged by a corrupt and drug-addicted police officer in a major way, and that she seems to be fighting back.  The book opens with her killing a man, who we later learn is a police officer, although not a good one.

Recognizing that the reader would have a lot of questions with an opening like that, Scarlet starts speaking directly to her audience, in a fourth-wall breaking technique rarely seen since John Byrne’s run on She-Hulk.  Scarlet starts to bring us up to speed in a hurry, using three pages of nine-panel grid to share most of her firsts with us.

The writing is not typical Bendis, in that there is very little dialogue; the space is instead given over to Scarlet’s monologue, which is kept separate from her speech by the type of word bubble used, and the placement of her gaze, which is usually aimed directly at the reader.

It doesn’t need to be said that Maleev’s work is gorgeous – this is exactly what one would expect from him.  While this issue is mostly set-up, it’s definitely got my interest.  Great stuff.

Other Notable Books:

Demo Vol. 2 #6

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan

This is a title I’m really going to miss.  I have gotten, over the last half year, used to a monthly Wood/Cloonan fix, and while Wood has two other monthly books to satisfy me, I have no idea what Cloonan is working on next (more East Coast Rising would be nice though).

The last issue of their return to Demo is thoughtful and enjoyable.  Kris and Jack have a bond that makes it impossible for them to be apart.  If they are, they both become very ill and suffer great pain.  As you can imagine, their relationship is not a happy one.  They have tried to arrange their lives so that they always remain within a safe proximity to each other, but live with little contact or intimacy.

The best of the Demo stories are grounded in relationships, and this is one of them.  That these two need to be together, and have a deep, biological love for one another, without actually liking their partner is at the heart of this story.  I imagine you can make any number of comparisons to the comics industry here – the uneasy symbiosis between mainstream comics and more artsy enterprises like this one; the unhappy codependency of comic stores with Diamond, the list can go on and on.

At the end of it all though, this is a great comic, which has come to its end.  I only hope these two perfect collaborators work together again soon.

Godland #32

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Tom Scioli

As much as I like Godland, I think I’ll be happy when it’s over.  The story has become more than a little exhausting, and as the lengths between issues become more pronounced (I’m not sure if they’re getting longer or if I’m just noticing it more), I find it harder and harder to get back into the story with each new issue.

And really, it should be easy to love this comic.  Things are getting really wild, as the entire issue is taken up with massive fight scenes, and double splash pages.  Friedrich Nickelhead’s crew is going up against the Almighty Decimator army, and are joined by Basil, sporting the new body you see to the right.  While all of this is going on, the little smoking butterfly thing fills Friedrich in on his origins, which get a little meta-textual in a very Jack Kirby way.

On the other side of the universe, Archer and his sister continue their battle with R@d-Ur Rezz, and their allies go all ritual magic thingamajig.  Actually, I’m totally bored with the Archers, and am happiest with the pages that feature the villainous characters.  Next issue looks interesting though, as Archer visits Maxim’s world.

Greek Street #13

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Werther Dell’Edera

The Ajax arc continues to be my favourite part of this series so far, as Alex, the former soldier who was injured in Afghanistan continues to crack up, and blame all of his misfortune on the Minister for Defense.

Milligan’s giving us a very clear portrait of post traumatic stress disorder, although in this case, there does appear to be a bit of a haunting involved as well.  Some elements of the story feel a little obvious – for example I expect we will find out that Alex’s friend Pat, who he is seen talking to a few times in this issue, doesn’t actually exist.

Also of interest this month is the way in which Milligan weaves this story into the larger Greek Street picture, as Alex meets one of the Fureys, and one of the stripper/narrators has a cameo.  I’m a sucker for war comics, but am just as likely to enjoy a good tale of the aftermath of war, which is what we’re getting here.

I, Zombie #3

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

I’ve been on the fence about adding this book to my pull-list, but half way through this latest issue, I realized that I really am starting to like some of the characters in the book.  Gwen, the titular zombie, who only has to eat brains about once a month to continue functioning is an interesting protagonist.  I like the conceit that she is privy to the memories and desires of her meals, making her feel the imperative to solve the mysteries of their deaths (if there is one).  Her companion, the forty-years dead ghost Ellie is a cute foil.

The character I see the most potential in is Scott, the werewolf geek who has been carrying a torch for Gwen for a while now.  In this issue, there is a full-moon, and he has to disregard his usual prohibition on going out, simply because Gwen asked him for some information.

Also of interest is the group of vampires preying on the town – on Scott’s friend in this issue – and the two mysterious men that seem to be hunting them.  Roberson is taking his time in establishing the facts of this title, and has reached a point where there is more than enough going on to keep me interested.

Having Michael Allred, one of the best artists in comics today, working on the book of course is a massive bonus.  Check this book out before it gets too far into its run to attract new readers.

Kill Shakespeare #3

Written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
Art by Andy Belanger

This issue helps to muddy up things for poor Hamlet.  Where he once he was willing to completely believe what Richard told him, now Falstaff is on the scene, giving him an opposite perspective of things.  According to this witty, portly man, Hamlet’s role is not to kill Shakespeare, but to bring him back to the world.  A brief meeting with Robin Goodfellow helps to convince Hamlet that he originally backed the wrong side.  That and the fact that people are trying to kill him.

At the same time, Richard is meeting with MacBeth and Lady MacBeth to arrange some form of partnership with regards to patrolling their shared Western borders.  Granted, when Lady MacBeth is on the scene, nothing is quite to be trusted.

As with the previous issues, McCreery and Del Col are giving us a decent fantasy book, albeit one wrapped in many layers of metatextual nuance and literary reference, which is a big part of the fun of this book.  Belanger’s art is either improving with each issue, or is just growing on me more.  I recommend checking out this title.

King City #10

by Brandon Graham

It’s only been two weeks since the last issue of King City came out, so this feels like a real treat.  Joe’s incursion into the evil hotel turns out to be a bit of a non-starter, especially after he gets poisoned, and has to sleep it all off while dreaming about painting on billboards with his ex.  Meanwhile, his friend Pete takes Earthling the cat to rescue the alien girl he’s been in love with since the original Tokyopop book.

Plot is incredibly secondary to the experience of reading King City, as it’s more about the city itself, and whatever strange visual creation Graham has thought of lately.  This month, we get the Echhhh Zu, a giant baby-eating slug, blood eels, and whores with pig tails, in addition to gigantic tentacled monsters that attack the city in broad daylight.

As much as I love the inventiveness of this title, I am beginning to feel like the newer issues are not really as structured as the first volume.  Perhaps it was the lengthy wait between volumes, or maybe this was Graham’s intent from the beginning.  It’s all good, because this is a fun comic.

Scalped #39

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

How many different ways can somebody find to praise the same comic?  With every issue, I just want to find a bunch of people and force them to read it, because I know that most of the reading public, were they to give this a chance, would be as hooked as I am.  I don’t understand why this book doesn’t sell more, aside from the usual obvious facts, like that it doesn’t star someone wearing spandex, and that it might make people think a little too much.  I like Aaron’s work for Marvel, but if you read an issue of Scalped next to something like Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine, it’s hard to tell that they are written by the same man.

This issue starts off the new ‘Unwanted’ arc.  It begins with a scene from Red Crow’s past, when Carol’s mother was pregnant with her.  This is all very relevant, as Carol finds herself pregnant, addicted to heroin, and unwilling to have her father involved with any of it.  She receives a visit from Granny Poor Bear (how’s Dino doing?  He was my favourite character, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen him), who offers to help her clean her life up.  Granny has been a great character throughout this title.  She was born in a bit of a stereotype – that of the old wise Aboriginal woman – but she has moved through that to be a real symbol of strength and resilience in the book.

Dash, meanwhile, is having problems of his own with drugs.  After the events of the last arc, he should be relieved that his plans have been working, but instead he is sinking into paranoia.  He does think that his secrets are safe, and they are so far as Red Crow is concerned, but Shunka, who we’ve learned has more than a few secrets of his own, can see through all of that, which is sure to lead to some sort of conflict soon.

This arc is going to be all about the characters’ relationships with their parents, and it is going to give us an interesting perspective on many of them.  The decision that Carol makes (in an amazing scene) is going to have a huge affect on her life, as the surprise appearance of the person on the last page is going to have, in light of the last issue, a more interesting affect on Dash than I would have previously thought.  Brilliant character work as always.

The Secret History Book 11: Nadia

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordey

It’s been only two weeks since the last issue of this book came out, which is impressive.  I’m glad that Archaia’s so on the ball these days, although I’m wondering what’s up with Okko…

Anyway, the first few pages of this volume were, I think, written just for me, as Pablo Picasso visits a secretive brothel, the cost of admission to which is a card with a picture on it.  This is because Reka’s putting together a new deck of cards, and to finish it, she has recruited a group of artists that include Klimt, Man Ray, Dali, and Egon Schiele (who didn’t die of the Spanish influenza!).

The name-dropping doesn’t end there, as Pécau uses this issue to explain a large number of strange events from the early days of the Second World War, such as the utter destruction by the Nazis of the village of Lidice, a bizarre meeting on the Isle of Man with Churchill, and the mysterious death of a person informing on Meyer Lansky.

The story jumps around quite a bit, but there are some seriously pivotal scenes in this issue, as both the War and the game continue.

Sparta U.S.A. #5

Written by David Lapham
Art by Johnny Timmons

I think this title has crossed the line into being almost impossible to describe.  Previously, this was a book about a isolated town modeled on small-town America, set somewhere in the mountains of a world that had undergone some drastic changes from the one we live in now.  The citizens of Sparta, trained from an early age to place their own needs above all else, and to love football, were sort of led by a blue man they called the Maestro.  Once their most famous football star, long believed dead, returns (he’s red now) and challenges the Maestro, we kind of settle into a story about his insurgency on the town, backed by the large number of women he’d slept with before he left.  There was magic, Yetis, and precognitive dreams, but within the realm of comic book logic, it was workable.

Now, there are Nazis invading the town, and bizarre historical and folkloric references abound.  I have basically no idea where this book is going now, but I’m okay with that, because Lapham is always an interesting writer.  There are now more references to Ancient Sparta – one character is told to take up the mantle of Leonidas, and the number 300 abounds, but there is also discussion of a town called Hamelin.  This has been a very cool story, and I’m eager to see how Lapham wraps it all up.

Simmons’s art looks a little rushed in this issue, and isn’t up to the standard that he set for the first few.  I’m hoping he’s back on track for the finale.

Sweet Tooth #11

by Jeff Lemire

As the last issue focused exclusively on Gus and his hypnosis by Dr. Singh, it is only to be expected that this issue would be used to finish filling in the back story of Mr. Jeppard, the man who delivered Gus to the hands of the militia that is currently incarcerating him.

When last we saw Jeppard in flashback, Abbot had taken his pregnant wife from him.  In this issue, Jeppard wakes up in a dog cage, and is only kept there because he may prove useful to Abbot’s plans.  He learns from a helpful worker that the facility he is in is used to experiment on pregnant women, and that his wife is in labour.

It should come as no surprise to learn that his rescue attempt fails, and we learn why Jeppard is out on the road and willing to kidnap Gus when they first met at the beginning of the series.  As usual, this is a hell of a good comic.  It’s a quick read – especially compared to Lemire’s Atom Special that came out this week, but I find this series has its own internal rhythm to it that is quite effective.

The Walking Dead #74

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard

Just like with Scalped, it’s hard to find new ways to praise this title, but each issue makes me want to sing its praises far and wide.

This is a terrific ‘character’ issue, as the different members of the usual crew continue to settle into the community they’ve found themselves in.  Abraham has basically taken over the construction crew after his bravery wins the respect of the other workers, and Glen goes off on his first foraging run to Washington DC, and Michonne begins to ease herself into her new role as deputy.

Of more concern is Gabriel’s reawakened faith after the latest expansion gives him a church to worship in, and Andrea’s refusal to take a pistol from Rick.  It’s clear that the old group is breaking up a little, as each person has a different experience in and understanding of their new positions.  This is what I love about Kirkman’s writing in this series – his understanding of group dynamics and his ability to construct these characters into individuals.

I can’t wait for the big 75th anniversary issue next month, just like I can never wait for the next issue of this book.

Wasteland #29

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Christopher Mitten and Remington Veteto

This is only the fifth issue of Wasteland to be published in the last year.  That is not so shocking for an independent title, especially one of this quality (check out stuff like Elephantmen or Godland, or Walking Dead a few years ago).  However, when this title began, it was uniquely regular in its publication schedule, and I have really noticed and disliked the change in regularity.

With this issue, Antony Johnston provides us with the explanation that Christopher Mitten, the extraordinary artist of the first 28 issues, can no longer manage the title.  This is a shame, as Mitten has done a fantastic job in constructing the Wasteland world.  This is a book with a lot of unique design elements, as the team have carefully and exhaustively constructed the science fiction world where this story takes place.  I consider myself a fan of Mitten, even though at times I found his art to be confusing and hard to follow.  I wish him luck in his future projects, and will be very likely to pick them up.

And so, with this issue, Mitten is only doing layouts, and new artist Remington Veteto is doing the pencils and inks.  This arrangement will last for a while, before Veteto takes over full art duties.  In these types of situations, its often hard to tell who has done what, but it seems that the baton is being passed to capable hands.  Veteto has a stronger line than Mitten, which gives the figures more weight.  I always felt that Mitten’s often washed-out look worked best in the desert scenes, giving the hint of brightness, but in this story, set within Newbegin’s buildings, this heavier look worked well.

The spotlight of this issue is on Dexus, the Watchman, as Johnston goes over the same events of the last few issues, this time from his perspective.  Had these books come out more quickly, this story might be getting boring by now, but with the lengthy delay between issues, I find it only helps to solidify each character’s take on events.  I look forward to some resolution of this story, and the focus being placed on Golden Voice in the next issue (which hopefully comes out soon).

Quick Takes:

Amazing Spider-Man #636 – As the Kraven family releases that it’s bad manners to resurrect somebody without first finding out that they want to come back, the artists for this arc need fill-in support, on both the main and the back-up story.  Marco Checchetto is a good replacement for Lark and Gaudiano, as they have very similar styles, but Emma Rios, a great artist on her own, generally fails in her attempt to draw like Max Fiumara.  The twists of this issue were pretty telegraphed, but I’m still enjoying this arc, mostly because it feels like it could really upset the status quo for the C-List Spider heroes.

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #1 – I really like that Heinberg and Cheung are back on the Young Avengers (even if the book isn’t called that), but I felt there were some pretty large inconsistencies that made this book a bit of a challenge.  I’m not talking about Captain America and Iron Man’s costumes – that’s sort of explained with the apologia at the beginning of the book – I’m more concerned with the fact that the kids are more or less in the same position with the Avengers that they were in their first title.  I would have thought that, after the Secret Invasion, the Siege, and the various Avengers teams that Cassie and the Vision have been on, that they would have a little more cachet with the adults.  The whole rebellious distrusting teen thing doesn’t work now like it used to.  Cheung’s art is really, really nice though…

Batman and Robin #13 – It‘s official.  I don’t want Bruce Wayne to return.  At least, not for a while.  I’m really happy with Dick Grayson Batman, and with Damien as Robin.  I love the different way in which Gordon and Batman interact, and the way that Morrison has been building up this story for such a long time.  The reaction to Oberon Sexton’s true identity, and the explanation of the domino stuff was terrific, as I find myself more and more enraptured with this title.  Of course, having Frazer Irving handle the art helps quite a bit, as he might be the artist I’d most like to keep on the book aside from Frank Quitely.  Terrific stuff all around.

Brightest Day: The Atom Special #1 – I was pleased to see the news that Jeff Lemire has signed as a DC exclusive.  He’s a very talented writer and artist, whose Essex County Trilogy is one of the best graphic novel series I’ve ever read.  I love Sweet Tooth too.  Getting him to write The Atom seems like a strange fit to me – this is a pretty standard superhero origin book, and I feel like it probably had a lot of editorial direction, as it doesn’t feel like a Lemire book, even though the father/son relationship is something he excels at writing about.  I’d have preferred to see him on art, although Asrar is a perfectly serviceable artist.  His Ray Palmer looks really young though – didn’t Ray go back to being his regular age?  I’m not a huge Atom fan, but as I’ll be buying Adventure Comics for the Legion stories, I don’t mind this being the back-up.

Great Ten #9 – It is a credit to Bedard that, while this book was truncated by DC, the premature conclusion here feels natural and well-paced.  I’ve liked this title a lot – the fact that I was able to look past Scott McDaniel’s art says a great deal about the writing, and hope to see the Great Ten show up somewhere in the future, although I guess sales are going to work against that, unless DC gets Grant Morrison to write them.  I like the way that each issue provided the background for each character (although Socialist Red Guardsman gets short shrift), and also advanced the main plot.  This was a very well-written series, and I recommend people get the trade whenever it comes out.

Jonah Hex #57 – This is a cool issue, as two young kids trade Jonah Hex stories, before finding out that the man himself is in their town, as are Bat Lash, Scalphunter, and almost the entire complement of the DC Western heroes.  The only artist who might have done a better job than Jordi Bernet on this issue would have been Mike Ploog.

Secret Six #23 – This is a John Ostrander-penned one-off that feels like an inventory story, and is set before the most recent story arc.  It’s all good though, as Ostrander has almost as good a feel for these characters as Simone.  At the end of the day, it’s all pretty inconsequential though…

Shadowland #1 – As much as most of what’s been going on in Daredevil feels like too strong a departure from typical Matt Murdock, I’ve been liking this leader of the Hand stuff.  This issue, despite some inconsistent art quality, is good at establishing the series, but it leaves me with a bunch of questions.  Do we really need eight other one-shots or mini-series, all priced at $3.99, to tell this story?  When did the Punisher stop being a Franken-Castle?  Bullseye again?  Are Raft guards hired based on their lack of IQ?

Steve Rogers Super Soldier #1 – With Rogers in his new role (is he in charge of SHIELD, or just the Avengers – it’s not clear to me yet), I expected that this mini-series would help establish his new status quo, but instead, it gives us a Captain America story, only one where he wears that bizarre Fighting American look-alike suit.  It’s a good story – Brubaker gets Cap better than most do, involving the grandson of Professor Erskine and his new formulation of the Super Soldier Formula that made Cap.  Eaglesham’s art works with this type of story, and the Simon and Kirby origin story is always a nice addition, even if I think it was last reprinted just a couple of years ago.

Wolfskin: Hundredth Dream #3 – Ellis and Wolfer’s barbarian epic keeps chugging along, as the Wolfskin and his friends face down the Black Beast, which is really a machine full of neo-capitalist barbarians looking for new natural resource opportunities.  Good stuff, but kind of routine.

X-Force #28 – We’re almost done with Second Coming, and a lot of the things that I always expected to happen in this event finally take place, in terms of Hope’s abilities and the death of another long-term Marvel character who, unlike Nightcrawler, exhausted his story potential years ago.  This has been a surprisingly good cross-over, and I look forward to reading the end next week.

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

Batman Odyssey #1

Irredeemable #15

X-Men #1

Bargain Comics:

Age of Heroes #1 – So what’s the thinking here?  Does Marvel really think that an anthology series featuring characters who have had their own books canceled is a good marketing idea?  That said, the stories here are cute.  They’re going for that old-school Marvel Comics Present approach to innocuousness, with nothing terribly ground breaking, but nothing that would be upsetting either.  For completists only.

Marvel Boy: The Uranian #3 – This was a satisfying conclusion to this mini-series, which while giving us a look at Bob’s early days on Earth, didn’t do too much to advance the character.  I still think it’s odd that Marvel chose to use Ruiz, with his Bill Sienkiewiczian approach to art for a story set in the 50s – I would have thought that Michael Cho or someone like Scott Chantler would have been a more appropriate choice.

The Spirit #2 &3 – There’s not too much that’s special or unique about this new Spirit series.  I like Moritat’s art, but the lead story seems kind of paint-by-numbers.  The back-ups are interesting, but again, more for the art (Kyle Baker and Justiniano in these two issues) than anything else.  Even the legendary Harlan Ellison’s story is not all that memorable.

Wolverine Weapon X #13 – Jason Aaron should be writing an Avengers book.  He really nails the dynamics in the New Avengers, with the best material going to the Thing and Spider-Man.  I also really enjoyed the scene where Wolverine and Cap fight with the future girl over killing one of the Deathlok designers.  This storyline has a very cool Terminator 2 vibe to it.

Set of the Week:

Scourge of the Gods #1-3

Written by Valérie Mangin
Art by Aleksa Gajic

I like French comics, but man they can be complicated sometimes.  Scourge of the Gods is a good example of the type of sweeping science fiction narrative I enjoy from time to time (it reminded me a little of Dune at the beginning), but it has a pretty convoluted tale to tell.

This three-issue series bills itself as a ‘Chronicle of Galactic Antiquity” (in other words, a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away), and details the conflict between the Roman Empire and the barbarous Huns.  Of course, the story is really taking place in the far future, and the Roman Orbis is spread over many worlds, linked by secret star routes.  The Huns, led by Rua, father of Attila, make use of an alien method of travel that can take them across the galaxy in a matter of seconds.

When the story opens, a group of Roman women have been given to the Huns as a sacrifice to their goddess Kerka.  One of the women is revealed to be the resurrected Kerka herself, and what follows are a number of plots and intrigues, as Attila takes over the Hun throne, and Flavia, the returned Kerka, makes plans of her own.

This is where things get really convoluted, and it becomes easy to lose the plot.  Once the reader has cleared the second half of the second issue though, the story becomes more clear and interesting.  A lot of work has been put into creating this particular future, and it is definitely an interesting take on things, especially once the secrets the Empress reveals to Flavia become known.

Gajic’s art is very cool.  It has the standard European look, and is incredibly detailed in scenes that take place in temples or aboard space ships.  The task of applying classic design to futuristic things is a difficult one, but he rises to it wonderfully.

I enjoyed this title quite a bit, and now am going to be hunting down the second volume, which I presume finishes off this story.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Lucifer Vol. 5: Inferno

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly, Dean Ormston, and Craig Hamilton

It’s been a while since I last read any of the Lucifer series, so it took me a little while to get back into the swing of the title with this volume.  A re-cap page or something that just listed off the characters would have been very helpful.

In this volume, Lucifer must complete his duel with Amenadiel, the angel who challenged him a while back, despite the fact that he is in a weakened state.  The combat takes place in Hell, and any number of the secondary characters from the first four volumes of the title make their appearance.  This is where I started to get confused, as I couldn’t always remember the exact relationship between people.

As usual, there is double-cross upon double-cross, as Lucifer enacts complex schemes, while his faithful assistant Mazikeen hunts down the Japanese god who has stolen Lucifer’s power.  Also included in the book are a two-part story concerning Solomon’s quest to find the killer of Elaine Belloc, and a one-off about a grocer who helps a demon to deliver a baby.

I admire the way that Carey set up his story to last over a very long stretch of comics, but the sheer number of characters and sub-plots makes it difficult to follow the story unless its read in a short span of time.  He writes Lucifer much like Priest wrote the Black Panther during his classic run; always three steps ahead of everyone else and completely non-plussed by whatever is going on around him.

The art in this book is always great, in that very classic Vertigo way.

The Territory

Written by Jamie Delano
Art by David Lloyd

I’ve finally worked my way through my huge pile of trades and graphic novels to the stuff I picked up on sale at Free Comic Book Day.  In the heated sale atmosphere, seeing a hardcover by Delano and Lloyd seemed like a sure bet, never mind that I’d never heard of the comic.  I just assumed it was something that had been published in England, and tossed it on my pile.  Had I investigated a little more, and realized that this was a limited series that Dark Horse put out a few years ago that I’d never heard of, I probably wouldn’t have bought it.

Where would that leave me?  This is not a bad comic, but it’s definitely not a great one.  The book opens with some guy abandoned on an island, who has no memory of who he is or how he got there.  He is ‘rescued’ by pirates, who sell him into slavery in a luxury community, where he instantly and implausibly falls in love with the overlord’s main slave girl (Scarlet).  Our man, called Ishmael, becomes a gladiator, before working his way up to the big house, where he tries to rescue his love.  It’s around that point that things get weird, as Ishmael ends up separated from her, and in a jungle where he is poisoned by slug venom, hallucinates, and ends up in the clutches of rich cannibals, before being rescued by rebels led by Scarlet, except now her name is Ruby.  And more weird shit happens after that.

Many of the themes of the book were addressed (better) be Delano in his more recent Avatar series Narcopolis.  Picture that title, wedded to The Matrix, but with narration by Raymond Chandler, and you start to get an idea of what this book is like.  You need to toss in some hallucinogenic drugs though to really make it all work.

I like Lloyd’s art, but I always find it a little stodgy.  That works for him here, although it does make the book feel like it really was first printed in England back in the early 80s.

The Professor’s Daughter

Written by Joann Sfar
Art by Emmanuel Guibert

This is another oddball Free Comic Book Day purchase that I made this year, based on the high esteem in which I hold Guibert’s other two First Second books, Alan’s War and The Photographer.  Really though, you’d never know that those books were by the same artist.

The Professor’s Daughter is a very weird, although also weirdly compelling, story about the daughter of a stultifying professor in Victorian London.  She feels that her father, an Egyptologist, does not give her any freedom.  And so, when he is away one day, she decides to take the mummy of Pharaoh Imhotep IV, out on the town.  For his part, Imhotep is a willing participant, as he has become quite smitten with the young lady, who reminds him of his long-dead wife, who was not mummified, and is therefore lost to him.

The story is a screwball romance, with bumbling police, bottles of poison, and a surprise appearance by Queen Victoria herself.  Imhotep’s father, Imhotep III shows up, wanting Lillian (the daughter) for himself, and much hilarity ensues.

This odd little story is disarmingly charming, as are Guibert’s watercolours.  This is very much not my usual type of graphic novel, but I found myself enjoying it quite a bit.

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born

Written by Peter David and Robin Furth
Art by Jae Lee and Richard Isanove

I have fond memories of reading Stephen King’s first Dark Tower book back when I was a kid.  There was something about the way he approached the novel that really spoke to me.  Of course, at the time I was reading a lot of crappy Dragonlance novels, so it’s no real surprise that a better writer would grab my attention.  The second book was okay, but I found the third hard to get through, and I was done.  I didn’t really expect to be reading any Gunslinger stories again, and had no real interest in Marvel’s mini-series when it came out, despite the fact that I have a lot of respect for both Peter David and Jae Lee.

Then, on Free Comic Book Day, I got a copy of the hardcover of the first series for free (thank you, Labyrinth), and figured it was worth giving it a go.  It’s okay.

Really, that’s about all there is to the book – I found it exceptionally mediocre.  David (with Furth, who is apparently an expert on all things Dark Tower) gives us a decent enough story about Roland and his friends, and their first mission.  The book starts with Roland challenging the guy who trains Gunslingers, so that he can become one.  He’s mad that his mother is sleeping with his father’s evil best friend (why is he so close to someone who is very obviously evil?  No clue), and figures that proving his manhood is the appropriate next step.

Anyway, he and his friends are sent to some town to count horses, but really they are there to spy on people to see if they are sided with The Good Man, who is also evil.  Roland falls for some girl who is promised to become a concubine to the Mayor, who works for the Good Man.  Stuff happens, although very slowly.

The problem with this book is that people basically just stand around posing for most of it.  It’s a very static comic.  There is a lot of narration, but little in the way of actual events for long stretches, and it gets a little dull.  Jae Lee’s art doesn’t help in this area.  Lee is a great artist, and is able to fill his pages with atmosphere and foreboding, but things feel really stiff in this book.  Richard Isanove’s colours look a little too digital here, like he was really intending to get his work noticed with this book, which is unfortunate, because a good colorist shouldn’t really stand out.

I don’t think I’ll be looking to pick up the trades for the subsequent books of this series.

The Hellboy Project: Abe Sapien Vol. 1: The Drowning

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Jason Shawn Alexander

As I’ve been reading my way through the full body of the Hellboy mythos, I’ve been struck time and again by how much I like a lot of the supporting characters, often more than I like Hellboy himself.  I think that’s why I prefer BPRD to Hellboy at this point, and why I was excited to get through the pile to the point of being able to read this book.

This story, set in the 80s, tells the tale of Abe’s first solo mission, during a period where Hellboy had left the Bureau.  Of course, there is water involved in the mission, as Abe has been sent to Saint-Sébastien, off the coast of France, where some form of ancient evil was stabbed with a magical dagger artifact thing, with the idea that he can retrieve it.

This, of course, sets off a chain of events that frees the ancient evil, or at least his creepy dwarf helper things, and Abe has to figure out what to do about it.  This is not the Abe of the BPRD volumes I’ve been reading lately, who is beginning to understand his strange origins and who has confidence as a field agent.  Instead, this is a very shaky, uncertain character, who is wracked by self-doubt and misgivings.  It’s an interesting reminder of how far the character has come.

The art, but Alexander, is wonderfully moody and atmospheric.  Dave Stewart has coloured the entire book – most of it happens on land – in thick undersea blues and greens.  Alexander’s Abe is lithe and expressive, looking both a little more alien than usual, and more human at the same time.

This is a very successful addition to the canon, even if the cover makes it look like Abe is wearing a fish for a hat.

The Hellboy Project: B.P.R.D. Vol.9: 1946

Written by Mike Mignola and Joshua Dysart
Art by Paul Azaceta

One thing that always felt like a possible error in judgment about the Hellboy series was the speed with which Mignola dispatched Professor Bruttenholm, the founder of the BPRD and Hellboy’s father figure, in the very first story arc.  With 1946, Mignola works to rectify that, giving Bruttenholm a story where he is the hero.

In post-war Berlin, strange things are turning up.  Bruttenholm and his friend Dr. Eaton are there to catalogue some of the Nazi forays into the spiritual and supernatural, but they are months behind the Soviets in their efforts.  Bruttenholm does become aware of Vampir Sturm, a Nazi plot to create artificial vampires, to be released behind enemy lines or as a ‘scorched earth’ back-up plan in the event of their defeat.  This quickly leads us into a ‘Howling Commandos vs. the Vampires’ story, where Bruttenholm and the paltry company of American soldiers that he works with have to join forces with their Soviet counterparts, led by the creepy Varvara, a little girl possessed by a demon.

This story combines all the best elements of the most successful Hellboy stories, and connects to other stories that were already told, providing a depth of background.  Azaceta’s art looks great, although I find his style to be a little jarring compared to Davis or Mignola.  I really enjoyed this story, even before the cyborg gorillas showed up.

Album of the Week:

Orgone – Cali Fever

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,