Weekly Round-Up #41 with Grant Morrison’s Joe the Barbarian, Farscape, Morning Glories & more!

This was a good week for comics, but strangely, I only picked up one DC superhero book.  It wasn’t that long ago that DC books were the bulk of my buying, but now, as they pin almost everything to their lacklustre Brightest Day banner, I find I’m buying less and less from them.  What’s the lesson here?  If DC let more titles stand on their own, and not just exist to fuel whatever Geoff Johns (or Grant Morrison) is working on, I’d buy a lot more.  Just like if Marvel stopped pricing everything that sounds like it might be worth a chance at $4, I’d be sampling a lot more of their event tie-ins and random mini-series…

Best Comic of the Week:

DMZ #57

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Cliff Chiang

Since the series began, I’ve liked the one-off issues featuring various supporting characters better than the main storyline, and this issue is the perfect example of why.

As with the other issues of ‘Collective Punishment’, Wood uses this comic to give us a wide view of life in New York under a bombing campaign by American forces (“The Liberation of Manhattan” their propaganda calls it) by examining what happens during it to one particular person.

The star of the book this month is Amina, the former terrorist who Matty rescued (and also manipulated).  She’s living in an apartment that was given to her by the Delgado Nation, and is just enjoying being on her own.  On the eve of the bombings, she sees a young baby that has been abandoned on the street.  She takes her in, and finds herself opening up to people again.  Aside from the bombing, this is a quiet, introspective issue, and is the type that Wood does best.  Amina’s only companion before this has been the mysterious pirate radio broadcaster we keep hearing from, who helps to provide exposition and continuity in the comic.  I would really like to know more about her one day.

The art on this issue is by Cliff Chiang, who I think has never worked on this title before.  As always, his work is incredible, although it doesn’t seem instantly recognizable as his.  It seems he’s channeling the aesthetic that regular artist Riccardo Burchielli has established for the title, and yet is still making it his own.  Great issue.

Other Notable Comics:

CBGB #3

Written by Kim Krizan, Robert Steven Williams and Louise Staley
Art by Toby Cypress and Giorgio Pontrelli

This issue is a disappointment compared to the first three stories across the two earlier issues of the comic.

The first story, written by Krizan (who is a screenwriter) is an odd tale about the origins of rock and roll (I guess), which can be interpreted as culturally insensitive or misinformed, and it has to do with three youth who leave their “tribes” and end up forming a band.  “Boy, do you like Big Noise?” is a good sample of the dialogue.  I was waiting for a character to say something like “Me make-um heap big music.”  The art, by Cypruess, is as strange as his art usually is (and I mean that in a good way), especially with wide vertical bands altering the tone of many panels.  The art should be enough to redeem this story for me, but somehow it doesn’t.

The second story, written by Williams and Staley (Williams edits the CBGB website) is a music and weed-fueled time travel story that is cute, but came across as flawed.  A professor of music (we assume) goes back in time to the night he broke up with his girlfriend and decides to stay for a concert instead, which somehow alters the timeline, although I don’t understand how.

I like this series (more in theory than in practice this month), and hope that the last issue is going to be impressive.  This type of project is crying out for a Vasilis Lolos story, although I think I’m going to be disappointed there…

Joe the Barbarian #7

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Sean Murphy

In the two and a half months since the last issue of this comic came out, I thought I’d lost interest.  I’d been enjoying Morrison’s riff on the old CBC show The Odyssey (which might not be an inspiration, but the parallels are clear), but was starting to find it a little drawn out.  When I saw this issue finally showing up in my pull-file, I expected to be underwhelmed.

Instead, I quickly got back into Joe’s story, as he and the various denizens of Playtown (more on whom momentarily) face off against King Death’s forces, Joe reaches the Fountain of Life (ie. the soda in the fridge), and then has to make some hard choices about what he does with it.  The pacing of this issue is excellent, and I appreciate some of the more bizarre asides (like the blue crabs).  Now I’m eagerly looking forward to the last issue.

Murphy’s art is as great as it’s been throughout this series.  The big kick in this issue comes from seeing which DC, Star Trek, Transformers, and other characters get the Playtown treatment and show up in the comic, albeit slightly altered to avoid copyright issues.  There’s a lot to look at with this comic, and it’s worth reading through it slowly to absorb all the details.

Morning Glories #2

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

While this issue didn’t have the intrigue of the first, it’s still a very good comic.  Spencer has set up a very strange place in the Morning Glorie Academy, where it seems that the people in charge find ways to torture and test teenagers who all share the same birthday.  This issue opens with Casey, reeling from the discovery she made on the last page of the first issue, as Miss Daramont, her teacher, quizzes her on advanced theoretical physics.

From there, she is sent to detention, alongside her peers, who then explain what they did that got them into trouble (explanations involve crashing a Satanic ritual in the basement and stopping a roommate from killing them).  The testing continues, as the room starts filling with water.

I’m not sure where this is going.  Casey has been established as a genius, and one of the other kids is clearly a sociopath, but the rest seem more or less normal.  This is not some weird take on Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and I’m not sure what Daramont and her colleagues are up to, or what their intended end result is going to be.  Right now it just seems like torture for torture’s sake, but I’m sure there is a plan.

Spencer’s writing is keeping this interesting, as some of the characters are becoming easy to identify with, although a couple others (psycho boy and the spoiled girl) are very hard to like.  Eisma’s art is decent, without being spectacular.  This book is pretty much unlike anything else on the stands, although I’m not sure if there’s enough going on to keep me coming back over a long run.  At least, not yet…

Northlanders #32

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

Metal, the latest arc in Northlanders, starts to really get moving with this issue.  Erik, our dumb brute of a hero, continues his vendetta against the Christians that have invaded his world, in the most brutal ways possible.  The Christians have brought in a man to hunt him down.  This character is basically the same person that we saw in the Ryan Kelly-drawn The Cross + The Hammer arc a while ago, which I continue to see as a companion piece to this story, albeit from an opposite perspective.

The two men have a confrontation, but before that we learn a lot more about Ingrid/Agnes, the girl who caused Erik’s rampage to begin in the first place.  It turns out that she really is an albino, which was somewhat unclear before, and may be as tapped into the spiritual nature of the old ways as Erik seems to be.  We also get a lengthy treatise on the proper way to make charcoal, which is the type of thing I love this comic for.

Burchielli is doing some cool work in this comic.  He has a couple pages to show Erik at his Christian-slaughtering work, and the style he uses is visceral and unsettling.  There is an undercurrent of hallucination throughout this arc, and it’s been very cool to see.

THB: Comics From Mars #2

by Paul Pope

I’ve never read any of Pope’s THB comics, mostly because I was sleeping on him when he started the series (I’m sorry to say it), and because they’ve never been collected.

When my comic store secured a stack of these, which were released with little fanfare at the Baltimore comic convention the other week, I figured it was time to dive in to this series.

Of course, so far as I can tell, this comic, which contains seven short stories, has nothing to do with the main THB series, or if it does, it doesn’t matter.

This is a very cool collection of comics, although many of the stories are very ephemeral. In some cases, like the ‘tone poem’ that makes up the fourth entry in the book, that somehow ties in to the work he has done for DKNY.  It’s very pretty, but I’m not sure I get it.

Other stories are more straight forward.  There’s a funny tale of a cartoon mouse and cat, and the film director who is frustrated that their careers have moved them beyond the ability to make good mouse and cat movies.  There’s a story about a young boy who’s interested in David Bowie, and a superhero-like story about El Pollo Diablo the Chicken Devil.

It’s nice to see some new work from Pope, and I hope to see more soon.  It’s probably going to be hard to find this comic, but it can be ordered from the Adhouse website.  It’s worth it.  (While you’re there, get a copy of Johnny Hiro – the best comic they’ve ever published).

Time Bomb #2

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by Paul Gulacy

Time Bomb is a very cool comic.  It feels like Palmiotti and Gray are writing for an eventual screenplay with this, and I think the story would work as well for a movie as it does for the comics.

A group of operatives have been sent through a ‘time bomb’ to 1945 Berlin to put a stop to a Nazi doomsday device that has devastated their own time.  They have a limited amount of time to secure the device, or destroy it.  They did not expect to arrive at this particular time, thinking instead that they would simply have to convince subsequent German leaders from staying away from it, and now have to improvise.

Most of this issue (the comic is in that wonderful Radical double-sized format) deals with these four splitting up and finding different ways to achieve the same goal.  Their technological advantages give them an interesting edge over the Germans, and it’s cool to see how the writers set the characters loose in this time period.

Gulacy’s art is great.  I know he’s a love him or hate him artist for a lot of people, but I really like his work, and feel that he’s well suited for this type of comic.  This comic manages to take some pretty standard ideas – Nazis, time travel, Armageddon – and do something unique with it.

The Unwritten #17

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly

I’m sure that a lot is going to get written about this issue of The Unwritten, as Carey has borrowed a page from the old ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ comics, and presented ‘The Many Lives of Lizzie Hexam’ as a labyrinthine example of that much-maligned and often horrible genre of children’s book.

Lizzie Hexam is a supporting member of the Unwritten cast, and she is either a living character from a Dickens novel, or is a real person who believes that’s who she is.  This comic clears up the mystery, but it depends entirely on which storyline you choose to follow, as Carey presents both as viable options, and links them together so that the main plot elements of this comic – Tom and Savoy bringing her out of her coma and escaping the hospital with her – take place no matter which path you choose.

And in that way, the illusion of choice in the story is really just a gimmick, but an interesting one nonetheless.  To tell this story, Carey increased the page count and had the book drawn in a landscape orientation, effectively splitting each sideways page into two, so that there can be more options and paths to follow.  However, most of the story progresses linearly, with the only option presented to the reader to be to ‘Turn to Page X’.

Regardless, this is an interesting issue of The Unwritten, although I don’t think it will do too much to retain any new readers that the format attracts.  The story is just too confusing at this point to draw anyone new in.  Also, I don’t think this will look too good once it’s collected in trade – the sideways orientation never works.

Quick Takes:

Amazing Spider-Man #643 – Waid writes this perfectly, as a ton of villains chase Spider-Man to steal Norman Osborn’s newborn baby, while cameras follow Spidey everywhere and Jameson rants about how it’s all Spider-Man’s fault.  The best scenes go to Carlie though, who is turning into a great character.  I think all the BND, OMIT stuff is ridiculous, but I’m going to miss the rotating creative teams on this title.

Birds of Prey #5 – I’m disappointed.  I figured once the first arc got out of the way, and Benes left the book, things would improve.  Instead, I still feel like Simone is repeating herself, as Oracle sets up yet another stunning headquarters, Black Canary leaves the team again, and Huntress gets angry.  The prerequisite scene with Hawk and Dove to make this a ‘Brightest Day’ comic feels forced, and the art is a little off.  I love Simone’s work most of the time, but this is a let down so far.

DV8: Gods and Monsters #6 – This is a hard comic to review, even in capsule form.  It’s a good comic, but I think this title would work much better as a trade, since Wood’s story is pretty decompressed, and I’m still having a hard time remembering any particulars for these characters.  I really like Isaacs’s art, and the cover this month is great.

Farscape #11 – Another decent issue, even if it doesn’t do too much to advance the larger plotline.  Aeryn is becoming a missionary of Yemahl, which I think is a strange change for this character.

Incredible Hulks #613 – I gave this another shot because I really want to like this comic – the notion of a group dynamic for the Hulk, many of which are relatives, is a novel approach to the character – but the whole Hiro-Kala thing is equally boring and unclear.  The second half, which is all Hulk and family is better, although not as good as the last issue.  Even Steve Rogers and Amadeus Cho couldn’t save things.  But there’s still this part of me that has faith in Greg Pak and might come back for one more try…

New Mutants #17 – A decent enough issue, but it seemed to fly by a little quickly considering how much ‘in-story’ time has passed.  If the team is wandering through Limbo for weeks, I would have expected Wells to come up with a few more character moments (aside from trashing the great Lila Cheney).  I like the way Kirk draws the Darkchilde, but I’m ready for this arc to end.  This book has a tenuous place on my pull-list, and so needs to wow me pretty soon.

Steve Rogers: Super Soldier #3 – Okay, so what’s with the ghostly shield thing?  There’s a scene where Rogers fights a few thugs in the Machinesmith’s secret lab (which, you know, would obviously employ thugs), and he suddenly has a digitally-ghosted shield.  Is this supposed to be the one he used (with no explanation) in some New Avengers issues right before Siege?  Is this supposed to be merely symbolic, representing his return to full strength?  It wasn’t in the first two issues, and it’s not referenced in the story at all, and so I’m confused.  It threw me right out of what has been a decent, in inessential, Captain America story, and perplexed me.  Any thoughts?

Thunderbolts #148 – With this issue, Thunderbolts is crossing into the Shadowland storyline, although it’s another example of a less-than pivotal part of that larger tale.  Cage sends the Thunderbolts into a suspected Hand dungeon, while he’s busy showing up in almost as many titles as Wolverine this month (who knew he was that popular?).  Parker continues to write this very well – especially the Ghost – but the scene where the ‘bolts had lunch in gen. pop. seemed a little forced and unrealistic.  I like new artist Declan Shalvey’s take on this title, perhaps more than Walker’s.

X-Factor #209 – This is a fun issue, as the X-Factor crew hits Vegas and puts Longshot’s luck powers to good use.  There are a few good lines regarding Rahne’s present state and who may be responsible for it, and a surprise guest appearance by a long-time Thor regular, which makes sense since the team is supposed to be looking for Hela.  X-Factor is always enjoyable, even if it is, as Jamie says, sometimes like herding cats.

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

Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine #3

Bulletproof Coffin #4

Captain America Patriot #1

DC Universe Legacies #5

Ides of Blood #2

Incredible Hulks Enigma Force #1 (aka the Micronauts)

Our Fighting Forces One-Shot

Shadowland Ghost Rider #1

Shadowland Power Man #2

Bargain Comics:

Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #2 – I don’t really know what’s going on with this time-travel story, but it’s got some nice one-liners, and the art is very pretty.

X-Men: Curse of the Mutants – Storm & Gambit #1 – This is Chris Bachalo at his best.  The story is serviceable, so far as anything involved in this Curse of the Mutants vampire nonsense can be.  Storm and Gambit are off searching for Dracula’s headless body, which at least allows Bachalo to draw some cool underground tunnels and creepy temples.

The Week in Sets:

Universal War One: Revelations #1-3

by Denis Bajram

It took me a while to track down all the issues of this French comic translated into English, but it was well worth the effort.  As much as I liked the first volume of this series, I enjoyed this one much more.

In the first series, the members of Purgatory Squadron, a group of misfits who were part of the United Earth Force (UEF) were sent to destroy a wormhole weapon (how Farscape!) operated by the Colonization Industrial Companies (CIC), an insurgent force fighting against the UEF.  The men and women of Purgatory emerged from the conflict three days into their past.

As this title opens, the Purgatory crew are rushing against the clock to destroy a wormhole station that is poised to destroy the Earth.  They are unsuccessful, Earth is destroyed, and they are again sent through time and space.  The story, as it plays out over three extra-sized issues, follows the ever-shrinking members of Purgatory as they try to stop the CIC for all time.

There is a lot of very hard science fiction in this title, involving time travel, wormholes, teleportation, and how foreknowledge can be used to influence societies.  Bajram uses some truly complex ideas, but integrates them into the story seamlessly, as the plot remains character driven.  The universe he portrays is very well-constructed and rich.  Each issue contains about as much content as a year’s worth of a mainstream North American comic, and it is a treat to read a story so dense and yet so compelling.

Bajram’s art is beautiful.  He does well with the human aspect of his story, but is also at his best when showcasing scenes of mass destruction or outer space.  This is a wonderfully designed comic.  I wish that there were more pieces of work of this caliber being produced in the US.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Lucifer Vol. 10: Morningstar

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly, Colleen Doran, and Michael Kaluta

I’d started to feel like this comic had played itself out a little over the last couple of volumes, and that feeling extended into the beginning of this penultimate book, but the latter half of the trade is amazing.

In this volume, Carey brings most of the plotlines that ran through the first sixty-odd issues of the comic to a head, as three armies (the Lilim, the Angels, and the combined forces of Hell and its damned) meet outside the gates of heaven while Lucifer fights the Fenris Wolf at the Primum Mobile, the throne of heaven.

The action and warfare is nowhere near as significant as some of the other things going on though, especially with Elaine Belloc and Lilith, who meet Jahweh and debate the future of all creation.

Wisely, Carey intersperses some of the more pivotal scenes with interludes, one of which involves a sorcerer who summons the most powerful demon in Hell to be his thrall, not realizing that Gaudium, the troublesome former cherub is the only creature currently in Hell.  That’s a great issue, with art by the incomparable Michael Kaluta.  An earlier interlude returns to some of the earliest supporting characters of this series – the crippled Jayesh and his conflicted ex-skinhead boyfriend.  This story is drawn by Colleen Doran, an artist who we see way too little of these days.

This book goes a long way towards helping me understand why this series is spoken of with such respect, something I wasn’t always getting earlier.  I look forward to finishing it all off with the next volume.

Star Wars Legacy Vol. 8: Tatooine

Written by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema
Art by Jan Duursema, Kajo Baldisimo, and Dan Parsons

As much as I usually praise this series, this particular volume is perhaps the weakest in the run so far.  It feels, in many ways, like it is an interlude volume, giving Cade Skywalker and friends something to do while Ostrander works to set things up for the next big storyline.

For the majority of the book, Cade and his crew are running scams on Tatooine (always Tatooine, the most pivotal backwater in the galaxy) and attacking Black Sun pirates who attack Imperial weapons shipments.  The Empire sends a fighter pilot we’ve seen before to arrest Cade, and pairs her with Morrigan Corde, a special operative and Cade’s mother.  There are also some vampires pursuing Cade, and this is where things all start to feel a little forced.

First, two of the bounty hunters are of a vampiric race that like to refer to the emotions and/or luck they drain from their victims as soup.  It’s hard to deliver threatening dialogue that way.  I don’t know if these are Ostrander’s creations, or if they are from some other aspect of the Star Wars universe, but they’re silly.  Also stretching credibility is the revelation about Corde that kind of slips out but isn’t used much.  What I love most about this series is the way that Ostrander has been playing with George Lucas’s creations, but ignoring much of the overly melodramatic or cloyingly cute crap that chokes the films.  Now, learning what we do about Corde, we’re back into the overly complicated family ties that irritated me so much when I was a kid.  Not everyone in the comic has to be related.

Finally, there is a one-off story featuring the Rogue Squadron of the Rebel Alliance.  This is what I usually like most about this comic, but this time around, I got a little lost.  One of the characters is revealed to be Mandalorian, which seems to me to mean being part of a samurai-like warrior tribe that wears Bobba Fett’s armor.  Perhaps these guys have been around before (a quick Wikipedia search reveals that these guys have had a long history – who knew?), but nothing is done to introduce them to a new reader.  It’s all good, but it threw me a little and made me wonder if I’d just forgotten something important.

In all, I’m still very impressed with this title, but I hope the remaining two trades in the run are better than this one.

Album of the Week:

Madlib Medicine Show No. 8 – Advanced Jazz

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