Weekly Round-Up #33 With Scott Pilgrim, The Walking Dead, And More!

There was never going to be any doubt what my choice for the best comic of this week (if not this half of the year) was going to be, even in a week with an entry as strong as the 75th issue of The Walking Dead.  It truly is Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour….

Best Comic of the Week:

Scott Pilgrim Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour

by Bryan Lee O’Malley

I don’t think there’s ever been a comics series quite like Scott Pilgrim.  Bryan Lee O’Malley’s story blends so many genres – the plot is really a romantic comedy/kung fu action/science fiction/coming of age/screwball, with roots in anime, comics, and video games, not to mention indie rock.  Reading over that description, it sounds like it should be an absolute mess, but instead, it’s brilliant, and works on every level.

Scott has been working his way through fighting the 7 Evil Exes of his new girlfriend Ramona Flowers, and has only one left to battle – Gideon Graves, the most powerful and insidious of them all.  The problem is that Ramona has left, and Scott is even more lost than usual.  He’s not coping with her absence, and is instead making a pest of himself for all the other women that have been in his life.  It’s not until he finally faces Gideon that things start to improve, except that Gideon is a powerful foe, who owns a new nightclub at the corner of Bathurst and Queen.

The demands of plot meant that this volume has a little more going on in it than the previous five, leaving less time for some of the more charming character moments that this series is based on.  They’re still there, it’s just that they didn’t seem as frequent, especially in the latter half of the book.  It is the supporting cast, and their exasperated way of dealing with Scott, that makes me love this series.

Another thing that I find I get a lot of pleasure out of is the way in which O’Malley portrays Toronto.  I love my city, and it looks great in this comic. I love recognizing where scenes are taking place, even when they aren’t labeled (like when Scott and Wallace are shopping at Pages, an excellent and much-missed bookstore that closed down this year).  The sense of place is strong in this book, and it gives the characters a grounding that I sometimes find missing in comics where the scenery is treated as generic.

Scott Pilgrim is probably going to be attracting more and more attention over the next couple of months, leading up to the release of the movie, and this attention is richly deserved.  When I started reading the title (after the third volume was released – I know I came to it late), I never would have expected that it would become the type of book that would have midnight sales drawing in thousands of people (I’m sure that the Beguiling – my comic store – was the only store to get that type of turnout, but it’s amazing still).

It’s a credit to O’Malley that in the face of so much attention and expectation, he stayed true to his artistic vision, and has completed a truly historical comics series.  If you’ve never read Scott Pilgrim, go get the first book right now.

Other Notable Comics:

Air #23

Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by MK Perker

With only one more issue remaining in this title, it’s a little pointless to continue singing the praises of this book – clearly not enough people were listening to drive up sales, but it’s worth doing anyway, as this has been a great comic.

As Air comes to its close, Wilson brings together all sorts of characters on board the weird Etesian airship where Blythe and her friends were taken captive last issue.  There is more action in this issue than we’re used to seeing in this book, as Blythe fights Lancaster in that empty Hyperprax world, while Fletcher and Mrs. B, with the help of some friends, try to take out the other Etesians.

This issue is decidedly less conceptual than the last few, but I’m sure Wilson is working on an accelerated timetable to finish things off.  I imagine that next issue is going to have a few surprises, and explain quite a bit.  I’m looking forward to it, in a bittersweet way.

Battlefields #8

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Russ Braun

What really stands out in this issue, which has our favourite female Soviet pilot, (now) Captain Anna Kharkova, going up against a ridiculously large number of German planes, are the double-page spreads showing the massive dogfights.  Braun really outdoes himself on these two large images, showing the hectic action and madness of fighter battle.

This is a decent issue.  Anna gets some official recognition, and gets closer to her colonel.  Also, and most importantly, she begins to thaw a little, and actually interact with her fellow pilots and support staff.  Much of this arc has concerned itself with her distant attitude, so it’s good to see her becoming comfortable in her own skin again.

It’s a shame that there is only one more issue of Battlefields coming out.  I do hope to see a third set of stories soon.

Farscape #9

Written by Rockne S. O’Bannon and Keith R.A. DeCandido
Art by Will Sliney

Having recently gotten caught up on this series, and having watched a few episodes from Season 4 again, I think I’m going to need to add this comic to my pull-list.  Some of the earlier story arcs were good, but suffered from the usual curse of the licensed property – substandard art and slighty wonky stories.

With the last couple of arcs, this comic has really come into its own, and this issue, which starts the ‘Compulsions’ art has all the hallmarks of the best Farscape episodes: strife among the crew (Chiana), strange transformations (Noranti), spiritual awakenings (Aerynn, for a change), a big villain (the Grennij), and Peacekeepers up to no good (Grayza’s carrier makes an appearance, even if she’s not shown up yet).

Add this to some nice character moments involving the crew of the Cilla, the Leviathan that has joined Moya, and this looks like it would make an epic episode.  Will Sliney’s art has improved quite a bit since he came on the title, and this book is really starting to satisfy my craving for new episodes of Farscape.

Meta 4 #2

by Ted McKeever

I’m still not really understanding a single thing with this, but that’s not stopping me from enjoying it a lot.  I think that my standards and expectations are so different with a Ted McKeever book, that things that I usually see as important, like a coherent plot, count for very little, as I prefer to ride the waves of weirdness, and just enjoy his wacked-out figures, and bizarre aesthetic.

What we know in this issue is that the amnesiac astronaut guy is now hanging out with the woman who was wearing the Santa Claus suit, who only speaks in symbols.  Astronaut-dude is trying to figure out who he is, while the woman (named Gasolina in solicitation text, but not yet named in the comic) tattoos a recognizable symbol on some woman’s ass.

Also, the police whose radio conversation transcripts we are reading are calling in SWAT.  And some woman shoots a bird.  I think that’s about it.

And, as odd as it all sounds, like I said, I’m really enjoying it.  This is supposed to be an ‘allegorical series’, and the title is a pretty obvious (although I somehow didn’t notice it at first) play on the idea of metaphoric comics.  I just don’t know what things are allegories or metaphors for.  I still have three more issues to figure that out, right?

Red Mass for Mars #4

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Ryan Bodenheim

In the year and one month since the last issue came out, I’ve managed to completely forget what was going on in this book.

This issue has the heroes of Earth fighting against the alien horde (looking at my post of a year ago, they are called the Hun-Du, not that you would know this from reading this issue).  There is a black hole bomb, and a God Gun, all of which sound like the types of things one would see in Hickman’s Fantastic Four run.  There are also a couple of flashbacks, but they don’t add much to the proceedings I felt.

Really, this issue is a big disappointment.  I liked the first three quite a bit, and could have managed to read this as just a big epic ending if the books had come out in any sort of reasonable stretch of time, but at this late date, the whole thing feels a little like Hickman has forgotten his original intent, or has since used a similar idea elsewhere, so he just blows stuff up and kills people instead.  It’s a let-down.

On the positive side, Bodenheim’s art is wonderful, and more or less worth buying the comic for.  I would still recommend that people read this in trade, as the beginning was excellent; just don’t expect a great ending.

Resurrection #13

Written by Marc Guggenheim
Art by Justin Greenwood

There are a few reasons why this issue is pretty notable.

1.  The last issue came out just last week.
2.  This issue has a full-length story, instead of the usual short main story followed by a back-up.
3.  This is the last issue of the series (at least, in its present numbering and format), something that I didn’t notice when reading through the last couple of months worth of Previews, which surprises me, as I usually am more on top of these types of things.

Now, accepting all of the above, this is a pretty good issue, although I find that it is not a very satisfactory place to leave the story.  Sara and crowd are in the middle of a stand-off with the disciples of the Acolytes (aka Spock) over whether or not they should be allowed to take him out of Baltimore.  True to his character, Bill Clinton steps in to negotiate, and has a little chat with Spock about what the bugs were doing in invading Earth.  Sara doesn’t accept Clinton’s recommendations, and takes charge of things.

I would have expected a little more information to come to light in this issue, and therefore am disappointed.  At the same time, Guggenheim promises in a text piece that this series will be coming back, and that it is going on hiatus not because of poor sales, but because Guggenheim and Greenwood are going to be collaborating on a new project, called Stringers.  I don’t know if that is to be a mini-series, an OGN, or an ongoing series, and I don’t know what it’s about (the preview image shows two guys, presumably reporters because of the TV camera shown, standing in front of an SUV).  I’m sure I’ll check it out, as I like Guggenheim’s writing, but after the end of this issue, I want them to get back on this title as soon as possible.

The Walking Dead #75

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Ryan Ottley, and Cliff Rathburn

With almost every issue that comes out, I end up writing here about how much I love this comic.  Well, now it’s hit the big 75, which is almost as impressive as the fact that sales on this book are almost always increasing, which is rare in the comics world in general, let alone for an independent, black and white book.  And that’s even before the TV show starts…

This issue is amazing.  The lead story continues examining life in the ‘Community’, the safe haven that Rick and his crew have moved into.  Glenn is off on his foraging mission, where he sees some nasty stuff happening in DC, but most of the issue revolves around Rick, and his failings.  From the start of this title, we’ve seen Rick move from being uncomfortable with his leadership role to becoming someone who can, at times, be quite capricious in his decisions.  I remember back in the late-40s of the title, when Rick was almost constantly butting heads with Tyreese, as he entrenches himself in a position, and starts to think that he is the only person capable of keeping the others alive.

We’re back there with this issue, as Rick becomes increasingly concerned that Pete, one of the ‘Community’ members, is beating his wife and son.  Rick is the Sheriff in this town, although exactly what legal and moral obligations are placed upon him are unclear.  He feels, once again, like he has to act, and he begins to behave out of all proportions.  The last few pages of this story are among the best I’ve ever seen in this title.

Had this been the only story in the issue, I would have recognized it as a terrific anniversary issue.  But then, Kirkman decided to honor a promise he made ages ago, and has a back-up story, drawn by Invincible artist Ryan Ottley, that satisfies this need.  I don’t want to say anything about it, except that it’s brilliant.

After that are a long series of photos of the different actors, in role, who will be portraying the core cast of the TV series.  It works to build excitement for this title, but I would have been happier with a few more story pages instead.  The show looks good, but I had to pause for a bit to remember who Amy is.

Quick Takes:

Atlas #3 – I’m pretty bummed out that this book is being canceled with issue 5; as usual for Parker’s Atlas books, it’s great.  This issue has more 3D Man stuff, and a back-up that shows M-11’s history.  Hardman’s art is as good a it always is, and Parker displays his typically strong dialogue skills.

Avengers #3 – I’m feeling very disappointed in this series.  The fight with Apocalypse and his Horsemen is pointless, and does very little to advance the plot.  Romita  and Janson are just phoning this in, with some of the most rushed and scratchy art I’ve ever seen from these two usually stellar artists (who were apparently never told that the new Iron Man armor is sleek), and the cover doesn’t relate to the book hardly at all.  The only thing I liked were the interactions between Spiders Man and Woman, and Noh Varr.  I’m giving this book until the end of this arc, but if there’s not a drastic change, it’s going on the chopping block.

DV8: Gods and Monsters #4 – While I like this title, I find it hard to care about the characters or their situation all that much.  This is easily the least Brian Wood Brian Wood book I’ve ever read (I missed his Generation X issues, so that comment can not be fully trusted).  It has pretty art though…

Heroic Age: Prince of Power #3 – Personally, I’m okay with Hercules never coming back, as I prefer reading about Amadeus Cho.  This series keeps moving along at a good pace, matching the quality of the last two issues, and the Hercule run before it.  I like the way Amadeus deals with the Egyptian ‘Lady of Slaughter’, and it’s great to see Delphyne Gorgon get some more screentime.  This is an excellent series.

Legion of Super-Heroes #3 – Here’s another new title which, with it’s third issue, is causing me to have doubts.  I love the Legion, so I’ll cut this book a lot of slack, but I can’t help but feel that story elements aren’t really going anywhere.  Why make such a big deal about Earth-Man getting a Green Lantern ring (it was the cover image on the first issue), if that plot is only going to last three issues, and be so unspectacular?  And doesn’t the last page reveal smell a little of desperation, especially when you consider how in current continuity, that particular character doesn’t exist at the moment?  You get one more arc Mr. Levitz – impress me please.

New Avengers #2 – This is more like it, Avengers-wise.  This group of heroes feels more organic, and while Bendis has made a little too much use of Drs. Voodoo and Strange, with Hellstrom tossed in, lately, it’s still a much better read.  Immonen’s doing a nice job, and I like his panel layouts.  Why do we need two Avengers titles by the same writer, especially when the quality is so different?  I think this one might be enough for me…

New Mutants #15 – I really didn’t want to end up buying this book regularly, but Second Coming has reminded me of how fond I am of some of these characters, and the addition of Leonard Kirk to the book really caught my attention.  This is a strong issue, as the team goes on a retreat to lick their wounds and ‘talk about their feelings’, especially since Sam is questioning his leadership ability.  At the same time, those weird American soldiers from Limbo are hunting Illyana.  Okay, actually, that reminds me of my biggest complaint about this series (and it’s earlier incarnation, around the Bret Blevins days):  Illyana is not that interesting!  Stop making her the engine of almost every plot!

Thunderbolts #146 – I’m finding myself hesitant to embrace this title, which is strange because I usually like Parker’s writing.  I think part of the problem is that the central concept – lifted from Suicide Squad – doesn’t work here.  There are so many Initiative teams around, that it doesn’t make sense that anyone would need to use these villains (especially Crossbones) on these types of missions.  What made Suicide Squad work was that the missions they were sent on had to remain secret, and were usually morally questionable.  In this book, they seem like make-work.  Oh, and I hate Mach V’s costume, and Songbird’s hair.

X-Factor #207 – It’s so nice to see Peter David regain complete control over the book, without any pesky crossovers dictating anything for a while.  There’s lots of great stuff in this issue, from Madrox getting a new client (who’s identity is kind of spoiled by the cover, as the characters don’t realize who she is yet), M getting rid of Mordo, and Rictor and Shatterstar having a couple of heart to hearts.  The last two pages are brilliant, and I love how the page that shows the next issue’s cover is a perfect continuation of the last page of the story.  I like Sebastian Fiumara’s art (very different from Max Fiumara’s).  Altogether, another wonderful issue of X-Factor.

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

Alan Moore’s Neonomicon #1

Bullet to the Head #2


DC Universe Legacies #3

Bargain Comics:

Age of Heroes #2 – This is a letdown.  The Gravity story is pretty weak (and who, outside of the people that write the solicitations for Marvel Previews, says ‘For realz’?), as is the American Son story (featuring a magically de-aged Ben Urich?), and the Young Masters story was incomprehensible.  The only thing I liked was the Dan Slott and Ty Templeton Gauntlet story, and it was only one page and kind of pointless.  Avoid this one!

Amazing Spider-Man Presents: The Black Cat #1 – Javier Pulido’s art is brilliant.  The story is just fine – there is someone tracking down jewels and other precious items that once belonged to the Kravinoff family, and is framing Felicia in the process.  Really though, it’s the art that makes this a must read – I love Pulido.

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #2 – Andrews’s artwork on this title is phenomenal, and I like the way Ellis ties the story into his first Astonishing arc, but at the same time, very little happens in this issue.  Ellis and Andrews don’t get Emma Frost.

Batman Odyssey #1 – It’s cool to get Neal Adams on a Batman comic again, but who decided to let him write it?  This story is horrible – I couldn’t understand what was supposed to be going on, as Batman was just spouting stock phrases, Dick Grayson was wearing Tim Drake’s Robin costume, and Man-Bat was sort of chilling in the Bat-Cave while Bruce was telling old stories that negated Miller’s Year One.  Really, like we didn’t get enough horrible Batman from good creators with that god-awful All-Star series?  Avoid this one too!

Captain America: The 1940s Newspaper Strip #1 – This is a cute concept – to create a daily paper-style comic for Cap, and Kesel does a great job of it, but really, why do we need it?  The story is purposely slowly-paced and repetitive, and ultimately not that compelling.  Forgettable…

DCU: Legacies #2 – This series, so similar to Marvels in its structure, would do a little better to focus on the actual heroes of the book, and a little less on the narrator.  The idea is sound – to take an ‘everyman’ approach through the history of the DCU, but having the main character watching these big events on TV is a little anti-climactic.  Plus, it would have been wiser to spend more time building up the hysteria and paranoia that led to the HUAC appearance by the Justice Society; the way it’s shown, things seem very sudden.  Still, the art by the Kuberts is nice, and the 7 Soldiers of Victory back-up by JH Williams was as brilliant as you would expect (especially the scene with the Vigilante).

The Death of Dracula #1 – This got a lot of praise, so I figure it was worth checking out, and I liked it a lot.  Gischler’s tale of vampiric intrigue and betrayal read well, aided by the always impressive Camuncoli.  Their portrayal of Dracula doesn’t fit with the other Marvel appearances this character has made, but then, he’s gone so it doesn’t matter.  The different vampire sects are interesting additions to the Marvel Universe.

Doomwar #5 – I don’t know how necessary it was to bring Deadpool into this (and it stretches credibility to have Reed talking to him like he’s a friend), but at least Maberry makes good use of the character.  This has been a cool series, and I’m interested to see how it all ends.

Farscape: D’Argo’s Trial #4 – I’m pleased to finally finish this series.  This issue actually has D’Argo’s Trial, and a larger role for Bialar Crais than I would have expected.  This is the strongest of the D’Argo mini-series, and helps to fill in a few gaps left from the series.  Good stuff.

Hawkeye & Mockingbird # 1&2 – After reading the New Avengers Reunion mini-series (see below) earlier in the week, I was lucky to find the first two issues of this series at a store having a sale.  McCann has set up an interesting take on the Avengers’ favourite on-again off-again couple.  I love the work he’s doing to flesh Bobbi out as a character (something that wasn’t really done during the first ten or so years she was around), and the art is great.  I love Crossfire (Marvel’s second-string answer to Deadshot), and have always been a fan of the Phantom Rider, so there’s a lot to like here.  I may have to add this title to my pull-list…

New Avengers: Luke Cage #3 – This was a decent series.  There’s not much more to say than that.

Thor #610 – I picked this up because I thought #611 was great, and I can see it was a mistake to overlook Gillen’s run on this title.  He gets Thor, which is pretty hard to do.  Most writers don’t.

The Week in Sets:

Farscape #5-8

Written by Rockne S. O’Bannon and Keith R.A. DeCandido
Art by Will Sliney

This series just keeps improving, with these four issues being the best of the Boom Farscape comics I’ve read so far.  In this arc, which has the crew of Moya responding to a distress call on Pilot’s home planet, the creators have best captured the feel of the original TV show.

Issue five opens with four double-page splash panels, narrated by one of the five main characters on Moya (Jothee and Sikozu share their pages).  These pages are exceptionally well written, and help to establish some of the changes that these characters are experiencing as their stories continue.  The biggest change, as is usual in Farscape, is in Aeryn, who has been questioning many things since being exposed to ancient Sebacean religion in the last arc.

In no time, the crew gets the distress call from Pilot’s homeworld, which he is prepared to ignore, but Moya overrules him, and soon our heroes are working with a group of deserter Peacekeepers to protect Pilot’s race from an invading force of Grennij, strange aliens that came through a portal to this world.

Among all the action of these issues is a terrific sub-plot involving Pilot’s shame surrounding how he came to be on Moya.  He does not want to face his family, and the scenes where this happens are handled beautifully.  I’ve been resisting buying this series on a monthly basis, but if it’s going to stay at this level of quality, I feel I’m going to have to add it to my pull-list very soon.

New Avengers: The Reunion #1-4 – I’ve been curious about the new Hawkeye and Mockingbird series, and when I found this precursor to it for a good price, I couldn’t resist.  I really liked these two characters back in the West Coast Avengers days, and I feel like McCann has a good handle on them, especially the way in which he’s sort of reversed their roles and cast Bobbi as the one in charge of pretty much every aspect of their partnership, such as it is.  The notion of her more or less heading up her own spy agency (the WCA) doesn’t exactly fit with the current terrain in the Marvel U.  It would have made more sense to me if we found out she was working with Nick Fury.  Still, I really like the way the Lopezes draw this book – some scenes reminded me of the Luna brothers.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Stupid Comics: Phoenix Edition Vol. 1

by Jim Mahfood

There is a lot to like in this collection of Jim Mahfood’s comic strips for the Phoenix New Times, a counter-cultural newspaper.  The strip has a few recurring characters, but is more focused on cultural and political commentary from one of the more underground creators to achieve mainstream comics recognition.

Mahfood’s strip is concerned with many of the usual issues of the day – cultural complacency, environmentalism, Republican wars of aggression, the prominence of social networking technology in peoples’ lives, Democratic ineffectiveness, celebrity culture, and the ridiculousness of Twilight.  To that list, he adds issues that are much more central to life in Phoenix, most especially, the on-going debate about immigration and the institutionalized lack of support for Mexicans and other Latin Americans in the region.

To that end, Mahfood positively eviscerates Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his tent city prison, his pink underwear rules, and vicious anti-Mexican stance.  Sheriff Joe is an easy target, but that doesn’t make it less fun.  He also takes aim at Governor Napolitano, and the Mayor of Phoenix with great regularity.

Not being from the area, I’m sure there are many jokes that I missed, but I did enjoy this collection of strips quite a bit.  There are many pages in this book that made me laugh.

Gantz Vol. 1

by Hiroya Oku

I don’t know why, but I find I’m more likely to sample a manga series if it’s published by Dark Horse.  Perhaps its because I’ve come to trust these publishers in other areas and genres of comics, or it could be because I like the design aesthetic they apply to their book, but I find that I’m way more willing to try something like this out if it has the Dark Horse name on the cover.

Anyway, this is a pretty good book.  It opens with Kei, a high school student, waiting for the subway, when a homeless man falls onto the tracks.  Masaru, an old friend that Kei hasn’t seen in years, is the only person to climb down and try to help him.  He guilts Kei into joining him, but they are unable to get back on the platforms before the train comes, killing them gruesomely.

That’s just the beginning of the story, because the two soon find themselves in an apartment full of a broad collection of people.  In the centre of the apartment is a large black orb.  Everyone believes that they are dead, but don’t really know if this is supposed to be the afterlife.  After some talking, and the arrival of a beautiful naked girl (you have to love Japan – where else would you get a thought bubble that says: “That’s the grossest thing I’ve ever seen.  And yet I feel so horny right now!”), the orb opens up, providing the folks with strange futuristic weapons, and a mission – to track down and kill an ‘Onion Alien’.  Yah, I didn’t really understand that part either, but then neither do our protagonists.

It’s an interesting set up, and the book ends in such a way that it wants me to read more.  The characters are showing signs of development – I like the way that Kei and Masaru have conflicting memories of each other.

The art is decent, and I like the use of computer-modeled backgrounds here much more than I do when say Ariel Olivetti does it.  Mostly because they blend in nicely here.  I think I need to add this title to my watch list, and read the rest.

30 Days of Night: Beyond Barrow

Written by Steve Niles
Art by Ben Templesmith

It’s weird how I keep getting more 30 Days of Night collections, even though I’m generally unhappy with the series.  I know that the different series were really popular, and so I always assume that if I give the title another try, I’ll be happy with it.  And I’m almost always proven wrong.

Here’s what I’ve learned:  If it’s a 30 Days of Night written by series creator Steve Niles, don’t bother.  His writing is rushed and undeveloped, and he’s really only capable of a couple of tricks, which get used over and over again.  If the book is written by someone else, like say Ben Templesmith or David Lapham, it’s safe to buy.

So, knowing this, why did I buy this book?  Two reasons.  The first is that the art is by Bill Sienkiewicz.  I’ve been a Sienkiewicz fan since his run on New Mutants when I was a kid, and while his craft hasn’t improved much since the Elektra: Assassin days, it’s nice to see something new from him.  He has a few totally unreadable pages here, which is to be expected, but also some very cool images.

The second reason why I bought the book was because it was 75% off.  Good thing too, as it only contains three comics, and retails for $18.  That’s $6 an issue, for anyone calculating.  Sure, there’s a few pages of scripts, and some sketches, but really, what are they thinking at IDW?  I’m sure you can, with some hunting, get the original comics for a total of $3 on ebay.

As to the story?  It has a couple of nice moments, but it doesn’t make sense.  Night has fallen in Barrow Alaska again, and some rich Hollywood types decide to fly in and see some vampires.  They piss off some townspeople, and then inexplicably drive off into the middle of nowhere to set up camp.  Then they get attacked by something other than vampires.  Then the book ends.  Blah blah blah.

That’s it.  I swear I’m not going to buy any more of these – at least no more with Steve Niles’s name attached.

Dark Reign: The Hood

Written by Jeff Parker and Rick Remender
Art by Kyle Hotz and Max Fiumara

I found The Hood to be one of the more interesting characters in the whole Dark Reign/Norman Osborn saga.  Bendis did a great job writing him in New Avengers, and made him an interesting character; he’s a street-level crook with a family who ends up running an army of super-villains.  I never read the first Hood series (by Brian Vaughan – I should totally read this), and passed on this as a mini-series because of the $4 price tag on each issue.

It’s a decent enough series, focusing on the way in which Parker is pulled between his family and his life of crime.  It also shows his slow acceptance of Dormammu’s influence and control.  It’s written by Jeff Parker, so of course the writing is good.

The problem is that this series is hampered by Kyle Hotz’s art on almost every page.  I’ve never been a big Hotz fan – preferring the real Kelly Jones to his strange distortion of Jones’s style, but I found that his character designs here for the sorta heroes Force and White Fang were embarrassing.  I also hated the way he drew John King, as if Parker’s cousin was suffering from a degenerative neurological condition.  I would have much preferred to see this book in the hands of some of the excellent artists Parker’s worked with on his Atlas books – Gabriel Hardman would have knocked this out of the park.

Star Wars Legacy Vol. 3: Claws of the Dragon

Written by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema
Art by Jan Duursema and Dan Parsons

As I continue to work my way through this series, I’m increasingly impressed by Ostrander’s take on the future of the Star Wars franchise.  It’s almost exactly how I wish the films were – more character-driven and almost completely lacking in cute creatures and annoying droids.  Sure, there’s a little too much emphasis on ‘The Dark Side’ of the Force, but that really goes with the territory.

In this volume, Cade Skywalker infiltrates the Sith Temple on Coruscant, looking to free the Jedi he collected a bounty on at the beginning of the series, only to get captured by Darth Krayt.  This leads to lengthy torture scenes, but it also gives us a the history of this character, which ties back in to the Clone Wars period.  As of this volume, Ostrander’s universe is very well developed, and I feel like I have an understanding of all the different factions playing for power.

The secondary characters really begin to shine in this volume as well, as Cade’s mother organizes a rescue plan which involves the crew of the Mynock, Cade’s ship, and a few other shady characters.

As usual, Duursema’s art is wonderful, as she imbues the characters with real emotion.  If I had any complaint about this book, it would be the over-use of alien slang by the main characters.  It’s not half as charming as the Chinese swearing in Firefly was (I assume the writers are going for the same effect).

Lucifer Vol. 7: Exodus

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly

This volume of Lucifer is split between two stories.  The first has two oafish, clownish Titans decide that they should take Jahweh’s recently vacated throne in heaven for themselves, and they set about putting their plan in motion.  Lucifer and Michael don’t want the throne for themselves, yet they can not allow these two to take power, and so must work together to defeat them.

To be honest, this story didn’t really fit with the feel that this book has established over its run to this point.  It felt a little silly, and rushed, like Carey needed something to push Lucifer to the decision that drives the second story in this book, and this was the best he could come up with.

In the second story, Lucifer decrees that all immortals currently living in his own new realm must leave.  He doesn’t deal with this himself, instead choosing to deputize Elaine Belloc to take care of this for him.  Elaine has the right to choose her own team, and so works with Mazikeen, the two Cherubim that are usually in this book, her friend, and some little guy I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, to go about this task.  This story works much better, especially as it is split between the efforts of the aforementioned, and the story of a demon named Thole and the young human boy he rescues from a strange home life back on Earth.

I enjoyed this second story much more than the first, as it was better structured and more interesting.  I was confused towards the end though by the constant disappearance and then reappearance of Mazikeen’s mask.  It seems like a little more editing was needed here…

The Hellboy Project: B.P.R.D. Vol.11: The Black Goddess

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Guy Davis

There’s little better in comics than when a long-running storyline starts to reach its conclusion, and tons of disparate plot threads connect and overlap, just as the pace and energy of the book goes through the roof.

That’s basically what happens here, as the BPRD, with a contingent of American soldiers travel to the Chinese/former-Soviet border to track down Liz Sherman and her kidnapper, only to face off against a massive force of frogs and the creatures that they fought way back in Volume 1.

There are giant yeti, golden dragons, monks that seem to appear and disappear at random, and huge subterranean bug-like creatures.  There is also Martin Gilfryd, who now calls himself Memnan Saa.  Gilfryd is an interesting character – he’s been set up as a villain (especially in the Lobster Johnson mini), but as you read through this book, you have to question if he hasn’t perhaps been misjudged.

In amid all the chaos of this book, the writers have found plenty of time to focus on the characters.  Johann is not acting like himself these days, and Kate demonstrates her strengths in a terrific scene where she interviews a former partner of Lobster Johnson to learn about Gilfryd.  As I read more of these books, I find that I love them more and more.  I can’t wait to see how this whole thing wraps up in the King of Fear.

The Hellboy Project: Sir Edward Grey Witchfinder Vol. 1: In the Service of Angels

Written by Mike Mignola with Scott Allie
Art by Ben Steinbeck with Patric Reynolds

I really enjoyed this unusual entry into the Hellboy mythos.  Mignola has made some small use of the character of Sir Edward Grey, a paranormal detective who worked for the crown in Victorian England, having him appear in previous Hellboy stories, but this is the first time he’s been given the stage all to himself, and it’s a remarkable debut.

Grey, who hates being called ‘Witchfinder’, is sent to investigate some mysterious deaths of men whose bodies are being found without any blood.  While a vampire is an obvious choice, Grey soon discovers that these men were all involved in an expedition to an ancient Hyperborean city, and that they brought back with them the skeleton of a creature (the kind we’ve seen before in the Hollow Earth volume of BPRD).

To combat the spirit of this creature, Grey ends up working with some very interesting characters.  There is The Captain, who seems to be a leader in London’s underworld, and Mary, a medium whose brother works as her spiritual pimp.  We also get a brief appearance by Martin Gilfryd, who goes on to great prominence in the BPRD series.  Of course, working in the shadows are the Heliopic Brotherhood of Ra, another organization of note in the Mignola-verse.

This book is tightly plotted and intense, although most of the credit for its success lies with Ben Steinbeck’s terrific artwork.  His vision of Victorian England is gritty and detailed, and I enjoyed his designs for some of the more fantastical elements of the story.  If you’ve not read any of Mignola’s books, this volume stands alone quite well, and can be used to gain an appreciation of the work he has been doing.

Mixtape of the Week:

The Doomtree Standards Mixtape

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