Weekly Round-Up #40 with American Vampire, BPRD, Batman & Robin, & more

Well, the summer’s over, and as it goes, so does the majority of my leisure time.  There were some very good comics out this week to console me though…

Best Comic of the Week:

Daytripper #10

by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

With Daytripper finishing, I now have my pick for mini-series of the year.

From its beginning, Daytripper has been like nothing else being published by any comic company.  It is the story of a life, Brás de Oliva Domingos’s, told in different chapters that are each set at a specific age.  They are not chronological, but rather skip through his life at different phases (at least until the ninth issue, which is quite different from the rest).

The story is magical realist in nature, reminding me of the best of Garcia Marquez in its casual weirdness and lyrical beauty.  While Daytripper is about Brás, it is really about family and the bonds that help us through our lives.  Brás has a complicated relationship with his father, which structures his life even after his father is gone.  In this issue, at age 76, Brás is given a recently-discovered letter that his father wrote him on the eve on the birth of Brás’s son.  It helps echo and solidify the themes of this work, and helps provide a natural ending to the series.

While I’ve been impressed by the writing (which some might feel a little too self-consciously literary for a comic, but I’d disagree), the art has completely blown me away.  Bá and Moon are incredible artists, and every page of this book has been beautiful.

Now that this comic is finished, I’m going to miss Brás and his family, and also his Brazil, which is a charming and beautiful place.  This is one of those rare comics that has touched me emotionally, and has given me plenty to think about.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #6

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

I’m sure much of the commentary about this comic is going to focus on the fact that Stephen King is no longer contributing to the title, although I hope that most reviewers will agree with me that this issue proves he was not really needed to deliver an amazing comic.

With the book now his alone, Snyder moves the story to Las Vegas (after a strange introductory interlude) in 1936, while it is in the grip of its first huge construction boom, brought about by the advent of the Hoover Dam.  The story is centred on Cashel McCogan, the chief of police, who is having a hard time keeping control over the town.  He’s recently been promoted after his father, who held the job before him, was killed in the line of duty. He is joined by two FBI agents sent to assist him (one with a familiar last name), just as an important member of the dam-building consortium is murdered by a vampire.  Another familiar face shows up at the end of the issue (kind of spoiled by the cover).

Snyder really captures the sense of a frontier town exploding under the weight of the huge influx of low-skilled labour needed to build the dam, at a time when the rest of the country is suffering through the Depression.  It reminded me a little of Deadwood (always a good thing), and provided a real sense of place to the comic.

Albuquerque’s art is amazing.  I say that every month, but it’s no less true.  I mentioned last month that this title would have to prove that it’s worth the $4 a month when it became regular-sized.  While, if the book stays this good, it’s not going to be an issue.  Note to DC though – using the shiny cover paper doesn’t justify raising costs.  It’s kind of insulting.

BPRD Hell on Earth – New World #2

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Guy Davis

I really like this new direction for the BPRD.  This is a very character-driven arc, which I always appreciate, especially after the Bureau has been through so many changes.

Kate’s feeling overworked and is spending too much time having to manage her staff, especially as Johann keeps getting weirder and weirder, and Panya is starting to demonstrate that she’s not as trustworthy as previously believed.  I’ve found Panya, the reanimated Egyptian mummy, to be an interesting character, and I like that she is getting a larger role in the comic.

Most interesting this month is the return of Ben Daimio.  It’s unclear as to how affected he has been by the Wendigo, and the conversation between he and Abe is very nicely handled.

This arc is not terribly new-reader friendly, which is odd when you consider that the Hell on Earth era is supposed to be a totally new direction, but this is still a very good comic.

Fear Agent #29

Written by Rick Remender
Art by Mike Hawthorne, Tony Moore, and John Lucas

I think it’s odd that as I started reading this issue, I had a nagging sense that I just wished Remender would hurry up and finish the title.  I was thinking that poor Heath had been through enough, and that the constant beating down of the guy was getting a little predictable and monotonous.

And then, sometime after Heath has yet another close escape, and is flying off with/in Annie (his ship), and she gets threatened yet again, I suddenly found myself being concerned for her, and then by the end of the book, I was seriously hoping that the next issue is going to come out soon, as I can’t wait to see what happens next.

And therein lies the appeal of Fear Agent.  Remender keeps playing with old-school science fiction tropes, and frequently reuses some of the same ideas and set-ups to show how Heath is not really capable of learning or progressing as a character, and he does it so effectively, that despite lengthy delays between issues, the reader cares about this guy, and craves some resolution.

The Hawthorne/Moore/Lucas art team is doing some great work.  This time around, I wasn’t too impressed with the back-up story unfortunately.

Kill Shakespeare #5

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

This title is hitting its stride, as Hamlet continues his wandering through King Richard’s lands, seeking some sort of direction, as it seems that people on all sides of the Prodigal’s Rebellion are looking to use him for their own purposes.

In this issue, he meets with Lysander and Demetrius (from A Midsummer’s Night Dream), while Juliet takes Iago into custody, and Richard and Lady Macbeth scheme around one another.

The story is moving a little slowly, as Hamlet’s striking out on his own becomes a vehicle whereby the writers can introduce more characters, but at the same time, I like the way they are establishing the depths of Richard’s cruelty, and the wide-spread support for Juliet’s uprising.

This continues to be an intelligent and well-drawn comic.

Weird War Tales #1

Written by Darwyn Cooke, Ivan Brandon, and Jan Strnad
Art by Darwyn Cooke, Nic Klein, Gabriel Hardman, and Steve Pugh

What a shame that this is only a one-shot.  I love war comics, and have been eying the recent single issues that DC has been putting out.  I’ve ignored the others because of their price, but when I saw the line-up of creators on this one, I decided it was well worth buying.

The comic opens with a story by Darwyn Cooke set in some form of afterlife for soldiers, where their skeletal remains gather each year to engage in some Olympic-style games and some debauchery.  It’s a funny little story, gorgeously drawn.

Brandon and Klein (the Viking team) have a story about a submarine crew that is close to running out of fuel in the Second World War.  It’s an interesting tale, with great art.  Strnad (there’s a name I haven’t seen in a while) and Hardman have a pretty standard, but still effective, story about the loyalty of friends during a war.  As expected, it also has great art.

I would gladly buy a mini-series or anthology graphic novel of stuff like this.  I’m sure the recent rebirth of the various old war titles is a copyright-related thing, but I would like to think that DC is testing the market for material like this.  The other one-shots have not had the same caliber of artist and writer attached to it, but this one is a gem.

Welcome to Tranquility: One Foot in the Grave #3

Written by Gail Simone
Art by Horacio Domingues

Reading through this comic, I was struck by the idea of how much more surprising the revelation that The Furey and The Pink Bunny had a child (an evil child!) would have been, had the characters not just been created a few years ago, but were in fact beloved Golden Age superheroes.

Regardless, this is a great comic.  Simone starts the issue off with a flashback showing what young Derek Furey was like as a child (and what happens if you make him angry), before returning to the modern-day reunion between father and son, which is a little less than touching.

This issue raises a lot of questions, such as where Derek has been for the last twenty years, and exactly what transpired between him and Thomasina back in the day.  Simone continues to write this book as sharply as she does Secret Six, although with a much nicer frame of mind.  Domingues is still the perfect replacement for Neil Googe, as he has seamlessly taken over the look of this book without affecting its aesthetic.

Quick Takes:

Adventure Comics #518 – I think the biggest problem with this comic has been that it’s hard to know what sequence the stories occur in.  Last issue had the three founders, in the earliest days of the Legion, go up against a pretty generic space pirate named Zaryan.  This issue has them fighting him again, only there are a lot more Legionnaires on the team, even though their headquarters is still being built.  Another problem – why would Zaryan think it’s possible to launch a sneak attack on Naltor, the planet of precognitives?  The Atom story is a little better this month, but I’m finding that I’m back to being disappointed in this title.

Amazing Spider-Man #642 – I didn’t bother with the end of Quesada’s OMIT story (which kind of got summed up in one sentence in here anyway), much preferring my Spider-Man comics to be worth reading, and so jumped back on the title for this Origin of the Species (OFTS?).  There are a bunch of Spidey’s villains going after a certain goal involving Harry Osborn’s ex, and we get some nice Azaceta art throughout.  I was surprised to see who some of the villains gathered are, as I don’t think of Morbius as belonging with people like Electro.  Also, why was Hip Flask in there?  That was weird.  One thing that didn’t work for me is Parker’s penury.  He’s working for the official, government-sanctioned Avengers now, and doesn’t draw a paycheque?  That doesn’t make any sense, and the ‘doesn’t want to reveal his identity’ excuse doesn’t work for me.  Maybe in the 60s, that kind of idealism was believable, but come on…

Batman and Robin #14 – I can see that I’m going to have to give this a second read through (as is needed with all of Morrison’s better comics) to pick up all the nuances, but as usual with this title, this is a great comic.  The plot to this arc is pretty hallucinogenic in nature, aided by Irving’s glorious artwork, as Dr. Hurt and Pyg take over Gotham, and Batman and Gordon run into some trouble.  By far the best scenes in the book are the ones with Joker and Robin, who “even brought his own crowbar.”  Great stuff.

Daredevil #510 – Daredevil’s title has stayed relevant throughout Shadowland by focusing on Matt’s friends and the city of New York itself.  This is a good issue, even though the entire Shadowland event has felt rushed to me, with characters and the city descending into madness a little too quickly for my liking.  Checchetto provides the art this month, and he does a serviceable job, although I much prefer De La Torres for this book.

Greek Street #15 – So it would seem that Milligan has two issues to finish off this comic with, and so he returns to all the characters from the first twelve issues, only it’s been a few months, and I’ve kind of forgotten a lot of the specifics of the title before now, so it’s hard to get interested in their stories again.  Then we have Greek gods who look a little more like bad Inuit paintings, and I find it even harder to care.  Oh well, one issue left…

Invincible Iron Man #30 – As much as I love this run, it’s not always easy to find something new to say about each new issue.  Fraction and Larroca are handing in remarkably consistent work, and have a big story to tell, so some of the individual chapters are not that noteworthy, while still being very good.  Stark throws down with the younger Hammer, and the Detroit Steel iphone app becomes available for download, which can lead to problems for Tony and his crew.

New Avengers #4 – This is yet another all-action issue, as the team continues to fight silent demon things, and Hellstrom, Strange, and Brother Voodoo continue to argue and snipe at each other.  There’s a development right at the end which could be interesting or could lead to a pretty horrid retcon, it’s too hard to tell.  This is the Bendis Avengers title that I like, but seriously, more needs to happen.  Still no update on why Mockingbird had to steal some kid’s phone two issues ago…

Sixth Gun #4 – I’m really enjoying this series.  This issue has the legendary Thunderbird attacking Sinclair’s pursuers, and we get to learn more about his history with the General.

Thanos Imperative #4 – I wish all of Marvel’s mini-events were this good.  Abnett and Lanning have been juggling a lot of balls with this series – there are tons of major characters, yet they manage to give everyone a good moment or two while still moving the plot forward.  Sepulveda’s art has been incredible, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.  This is probably my favourite Marvel comic right now, and I hope that D’n’A get another cosmic title when it’s all over.

X-Force Sex and Violence #3 – I’m going to miss Kyle and Yost writing these characters.  This writing team has come a long way (I hated them when they first took over New X-Men), and this is a very well-plotted and executed comic.  Dell’Otto’s art is not really my thing, but there are some very cool action scenes in here, as Wolverine and Domino take on an interesting group of costumed villains.  This was a fun epilogue to the first X-Force run, even if it was obviously set before Second Coming.

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

Invaders Now #1 (I love the Invaders enough to buy another book written by Alex Ross, but only at a lower price point).

Irredeemable #17

John Moore Presents Dead Soldier #1

Shadowland: Blood on the Streets #2

Thor #614

X-Men #3

Bargain Comics:

Girl Comics #2 & 3 – As always, these are a mixed bag, but the third issue is by far the best of the series.  #2 has a nice Jill Thompson Inhumans story, while #3 has Simonson and Brigman reuniting for a Power Pack story (set in the X-Factor Forever-verse) and a lovely Marjorie Liu/Sara Pichelli story featuring Wolverine and Jubilee that feels like it’s even in continuity.

The Incredible Hulk #601 – In trying to figure out if I’m interested in the newly Loeb-less Hulk books, I thought I’d try a random issue from Pak’s run on the title when it was all Banner and Skaar.  There are some nice moments here (half come from Amadeus Cho guesting in the book), and Olivetti’s art is not as off-putting as usual.  The new She-Hulk back-up didn’t make a lot of sense, but whatever.

The Shield #5 & 6 – I really think this comic didn’t get the attention it deserved.  Trautmann’s very good at blending superheroes and a military setting, and these two issues feature Nazi robots in the Brazilian rain forest, and the Great Ten.  That’s pretty cool, although the introduction of the Jaguar could have been better.  Conversely, the Inferno back-up is hella boring.  Is anyone reading the Mighty Crusaders?  I’m tempted, but am balking at the price and the unknown factor.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Anchor Vol. 1: Five Furies

Written by Phil Hester
Art by Brian Churilla

I picked this up on the strength of Phil Hester’s writing on titles like Firebreather (which really needs to come back as a series, not the over-priced one-shot coming out in November), and the fact that it got positive reviews on Comics Should Be Good, but I ended up being a little disappointed.

The Anchor is about an old, strong monk, who is fighting a massive army of demons in Hell, while also fighting five big monsters in our world.  It’s his spirit doing the fighting in Hell, but any injuries he sustains there are visited upon his corporeal body as well, although they heal so quickly, you’d have to wonder why that would matter.

Clem (as he is called) first shows up in Iceland fighting a massive ice creature, and he gets help from Hofi, and local girl who likes history.  They start traveling the world fighting these monsters, and for a while are joined by the ghost of a recently-killed boy, and some part of the American army.

The writing didn’t do much to draw me in (although there are a couple of good scenes – usually between Clem and the ghostboy), and while the art is nice, it wasn’t particularly memorable to me.  This isn’t a bad comic, it’s just kind of bland.

Myspace Dark Horse Presents Vol. 4

by a lot of people

My thoughts on this volume of Dark Horse’s on-line comic collection are basically no different from my thoughts on the previous three.  Dark Horse is putting together a very mixed bag with this series, and while I appreciate diversity in story content and art, I don’t like it when there is a lot of diversity in quality.

There are some very good short comics in this book, but there are a lot of plain old mediocre ones too.  The mix is about 50/50.  As I prefer to accentuate the positive, I should talk about what I like.

I think my favourite story in this book David Malki’s ‘The Catch!: A Wondermark Tale.’  I think there may have been a Wondermark story or two in previous volumes, but they didn’t catch my notice the way this very funny story about a Victorian man who brings home an early computer to helps him find things, only to discover that it’s part of an ingenious marketing ploy.  The story is funny enough on its own, but when you start to accept the weirdness of people dressed in Victorian clothing talking about their TV remote, the story takes on a new level of enjoyment.  Very cool stuff.

I also loved the Achewood story, and really liked Matt Kindt’s Giant Man piece.  There are stories that didn’t do much for me but that had some very pretty art, contributed by people like Farel Dalrymple, Jim Rugg, and Kristian Donaldson.

As usual, most of the licensed stories (Star Wars, Buffy) were weak, and the stories that were effectively trailers for minis (like The Rapture) were pretty ineffective.  I keep holding out hope for more, but am increasingly disappointed.  I am now in the market for some of the Wondermark books though…

Album of the Week:

Madlib Medicine Show No. 7 – High Jazz

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