Weekly Round-Up #44 with Scalped, American Vampire, Sweet Tooth & more

It’s the Thanksgiving Week-end here in Canada, and one thing we can all be thankful for is the variety of really good comics that came out this week.  I feel like half the Vertigo titles I buy all dropped at the same time, which led to some serious competition for my coveted “Best of the Week” selection.  On any other week, Unknown Soldier, Orc Stain (yes, I know it’s not a Vertigo comic; it’s just damn good), American Vampire or I, Zombie would have taken home the prize.

Best Comic of the Week:

Scalped #41

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

Scalped sometimes makes me wonder why I even bother with other comics.  I find that Aaron’s writing is so good in this series that he manages to embarrass other writers, himself included (this is one hundred times better than his Marvel work).

The latest arc, Unwanted, has had most of the central characters reflect on parenthood, and the charged relationship between a parent and a child.  Each new issue starts with an abortion, sometimes completed, sometimes not, and the rest of the book, set in the current timeline, quietly examines the consequences of the choices made in the past, which reflect many of the choices the same characters must make in the present.

Dash wakes up in a hospital (after last issues drug-kicking escapade), to find his father standing over them.  Knowing Dash as we do, the reunion goes about as well as can be expected, although his father is pretty persistent.  At the same time, Lincoln tries to track down Gina, finally discovering that she is staying at Granny Poor Bear’s, in a very emotionally wrought scene.

The high point for me in this issue came when Gina had a chat with Dino Poor Bear about his own role as a father.  Dino has been my favourite character in this book from the first time he appeared, and it made me happy to see how he has grown into himself through looking after his daughter.

I think, when I write about this comic, I don’t give RM Guera enough credit.  His art is not particularly pretty, but neither is anything else on the Prairie Rose Reservation.  What stood out for me in this issue is the way in which he has gotten the hang of portraying the characters as Native American.  Dash’s father (blanking on the name right now) has a very realistic look about him that I appreciate.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #7

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

Snyder has a lot going on in this second arc of American Vampire.  We learn a little more about how Sweet has established himself in Las Vegas, and we discover that he’s not involved in the murder that set the arc off.

In addition to continuing to give us an interesting look at Vegas at the time of the construction of the Hoover Dam, Snyder also starts to structure the series for the long term, making reference to an anti-vampire group called the Vassals, which has at least one familiar member in it.  I’m sure we’ll find out more about these people as the series unfolds.

Another point of interest is the way in which the Vassals, posing as FBI agents, appear to know Sweet, and have information about the different breeds of vampire, suggesting that it is not just the ‘American vampire’ that is unique in its abilities.

As usual, Albuquerque’s art is great, although a couple of pages seemed a bit rushed.

Baltimore: The Plague Ships #3

Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Art by Ben Steinbeck

When this title started, I was impressed by the art and the strong storytelling, but I was pretty lost as to the character of Lord Baltimore, mostly because I’d never read the novel where he debuted.

Over the last two issues of this comic, the authors have filled in most of the important information about his character, and this issue contains a revelation about the genesis of the plague that has swept the world, effectively ending the Great War.

At first, I assumed that this comic would have Baltimore in conflict just with vampires, but Mignola and Golden are giving us a much wider range of creature than that.  This issue has strange floating jelly fish which are reminiscent of the War of the World Martian ships, as well as zombie-like creatures and creepy purple fungus.

Steinbeck’s really hitting it out of the park with this title.  The scenes set amid wrecked submarines are seriously foreboding.  If you are not a reader of Mignola’s other titles, this is a nice introduction to his aesthetic, as Baltimore is not a part of that shared universe.

Greek Street #16

Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Davide Gianfelice

I feel like this is a comic that should have worked better than it did.  Milligan is usually a terrific writer, and most of his best work has been at the Vertigo imprint.  Gianfelice is a terrific artist, and the book looked great.  But things never quite gelled for this series, and I think that Vertigo was pretty generous giving it almost a year and a half to work itself out before pulling the plug.

The concept of Greek Street was that a group of people living in modern-day London were reliving the lives and stories of Ancient Greece, but with a twist.  The main character was Eddie, a young man who killed his own mother in the first issue after meeting her for the first time, and sleeping with her.  Later, Eddie hooked up with Cassie, a girl that had visions of the future, which no one believed.  And so on, with Lord Menon, the Fureys, and a Greek chorus of strippers.

I’m not sure why, exactly, this book never worked.  It was hard to follow at times, and maybe a little too gratuitous in its violence and self-mutilation (Eddie tried to castrate himself at one time, and plucked out his own eye another).  I’m a little surprised that I stuck with it, but I felt like there was a lot of potential here, it just unfortunately was never realized.  I think Milligan must feel the same, as evidenced in his deus ex machina ending to the series.

I, Zombie #6

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

I, Zombie has been a pretty entertaining series, introducing an interesting and novel approach to all sorts of revenants and monsters that has a very reasonable internal logic to it, and introducing a large cast of supporting characters that have been given very little screen time.

This issue addresses that imbalance some, by focusing on Scott, affectionately known as Spot, the Were-Terrier.  In this issue, Spot narrates his entire life story, from growing up with his grandfather who was a voice actor for cartoons, to how he became a were-terrier, to meeting Gwen, the usual star of this comic.

Spot has been a favourite character of mine since the book debuted, and I’m glad to see him get more of the spotlight.  He’s usually portrayed as a pretty nice guy, although this issue reveals a level of self-centredness that I didn’t expect.  Basically, he stopped speaking to his aging grandfather for years because they didn’t always agree.  He comes around though, as his grandfather passes on.

The biggest draw for me, at the start of the series, had been Allred’s art, and that continues to play a massive role in this comic’s success.  In this issue, Allred plays with homages to old superhero comics (a little bit Doom Patrol, a little bit Legion of Super-Heroes), and the old Scooby Doo cartoon, as Spot indulges in a little positive visualization.

This is a really good book – if you haven’t tried it yet, this issue would be a good place to jump on.

Meta 4 #3

by Ted McKeever

I’d have thought that, as McKeever’s latest series moved past the half-way mark, that I’d start to understand what was going on a little better.

Instead, I found this issue more confusing than the first two, as the Astronaut guy talks to the kid was saw in the first issue, and finds a bullet that is broadcasting the police radio signals we’ve been reading.
Upon returning to Gasolina’s tattoo shop, he finds she’s burned it to the ground, and the two of them hop a freight car together.

I know that there is a message in all of this (the metaphor in Meta 4), but I have no clue what it might be.  So, why stick with a comic that I don’t understand in the slightest?  Mostly because I love Ted McKeever’s art, and find that even when I don’t get the book, I enjoy his work.

If someone has a theory they want to share, or can lead me to a website written by someone more intelligent than myself, please let me know in the comments.  Maybe if I read the whole thing from the beginning again…

Orc Stain #5

by James Stokoe

In terms of straight up originality, James Stokoe’s Orc Stain is completely in a class of its own.  His story, about the machinations of Orcs, is moving along slowly, but a lot happens in each issue.

This time around, our one-eyed protagonist has been taken prisoner by the forces of the Orctzar, who has been told in a prophecy that a one-eyed Orc will be key to his plans.  To figure out which of the thousands they’ve captured is their target, the Orctzar’s people are sending different one-eyes into a large creature that lives in a mountain (as with most things that happen in this series, this is not all that clear, but is visually very cool).

While this is going on, Bowie, the swamp-dwelling poison thrower we met last issue, is looking to avenger her burned-down hut by messing with the Orctzar’s men.  She disguises herself, and infiltrates the Orc’s town, causing no end of mischief.

Stokoe’s storytelling is incredibly bizarre, but at the same time, there is a very consistent internal logic to this title that shows he’s put a great deal of thought into how this story works.  The art and colours in this book are brilliant, and I hope it gets back to a more regular schedule.

Sweet Tooth #14

by Jeff Lemire

This is the second issue in a row where a lot goes down in Sweet Tooth.  Jeppard has convinced the weird mask-wearing city cult to help him take down the militia.  To do this, he’s promised them all of the hybrid children that are kept captive there, while he really intends to use them as cover so he can sneak in and rescue Gus.

Gus, meanwhile, is saved by Johnny, who sends him and three other hybrids out the back door.  Gus is starting to show some real direction, as he rescues one of the other kids from an alligator hybrid, and then takes charge of their destiny.

It’s going to be interesting to see if the two groups meet up, assuming that Jeppard and his companions ever make it to the militia base – something’s going on there too, although that is left for the next issue to be revealed.

Lemire’s doing a terrific job with this title.  While it can sometimes feel overly decompressed, this newest arc has a lot of plot movement while still finding time for some quieter moments.  I love what Lemire’s been doing with the covers on this title.

Unknown Soldier #24

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Alberto Ponticelli

With only one issue left in this title, Dysart uses this month’s installment to reveal all of the secrets surrounding the real identity of Moses Lwanga, and the source of the voice he’s been hearing in his head since the first issue.  As it turns out, Moses’s story is much more intertwined with the original, Joe Kubert 70s Unknown Soldier than I would have expected.

I don’t want to give anything away, except to say that I felt that Dysart has honored Kubert’s character very nicely here, and in a way that I didn’t expect.

As Moses has a lengthy conversation with himself, one riddled with flashbacks, he also approaches the camp of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, the real-life bad guys of this series.  That Kony is a real person, and that this series has been so grounded in the recent history of Uganda makes the conclusion to this series completely unpredictable.  I don’t feel like Moses should be able to succeed in his mission, but at the same time, I’m rooting for him.

I’m really going to miss this series.

Quick Takes:

Avengers Academy #5 – It’s only been two weeks since the last issue came out, as Gage continues to write an excellent old school superhero comic, but does a good job updating the tried and true New Mutants approach for today.  This issue focuses on Striker, one of the few characters left who hadn’t narrated his own issue yet, and features the master supervillain Whirlwind.  Jorge Molina guest draws the art, and things are very good.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #37 – This issue was better than the last, but I’m still having a hard time following this story.  Spike provides some useful exposition, and Willow’s acting all questionable again, as Whedon and Allie work in some time for each character to have a moment before things turn back to just fighting.  I don’t know, I’m just kind of bored of this title, and the news coming out this week that Season 9 will run across more titles is having the effect of driving me away instead of towards this line.

Chaos War #1 – After a few months of being absent, it’s nice to see Hercules back, even though not everyone in the Marvel Universe feels that way about him.  Herc returns in time to warn of the dangers of Mikaboshi, now called the Chaos King (stupid name).  I like the scene where he gets to listen in on various heroes’ opinions of him, but I’m not so sure I like him acting all Beyonder, and powering up such a wide cross-section of the Marvel U.  Also – this mini-event encompasses 19 individual ($3.99) comics?  That’s overkill Marvel…

Hawkeye & Mockingbird #5 – This story has gone on way too long, just to bring us back to places we’ve already been, as Clint and Bobbi finally finish fighting Crossfire and the new Phantom Rider, only to be faced once again with the differences between them.  Will they stay together?  The last page seems to have come about pretty quickly, as their rift feels forced.

Secret Six #26 – The team has split in two, and are now fighting each other in Skartaris, both groups working at the behest of conflicting parts of the US government.  As usual, the comic is a nice mix of brutal action and black humour, all head together by strong characterizations and wonderful writing by Gail Simone.  There’s a terrific confrontation between Amanda Waller and the Spymaster that is worth the price of admission alone.  I really like this comic.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #4 – I feel like I’m getting more of a handle on Hickman’s weird history comic, which features Isaac Newton, Nostradamus, and Leonardo da Vinci.  I still don’t know what the deal with Leonid, the main character is, but as he starts to interact more and more with the historical characters, I’m sure things will make more sense.  There’s some cool stuff involving Celestials in this issue (is it an intentional joke that the Celestials visited China 1000 years ago?), and a great Hickman-drawn confusing diagram that finishes off the book.  Cool stuff.

Uncanny X-Force #1 – Being a fan of the last incarnation of X-Force, I wasn’t sure I saw the need to have the title rebooted.  I don’t think that Deadpool or Fantomex really belong on a team book, and I don’t see how being on a secretive black ops team works with what we know about Psylocke.  Some of the other team members from Kyle and Yost’s run fit the tone of this concept much better.  As for the comic itself; I love Opena’s artwork (it looks even better than his Vengeance of the Moon Knight), and I like the kooky purplish-pink colour scheme that is used in much of the book.  Remender’s writing is good (this isn’t Last Days of American Crime though), but I don’t know how much I care about yet another Apocalypse story.  If this book is going to stay priced at $3.99, it better do more to impress me…

Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4 (looks like I might not be writing this section much longer!):

Captain America Forever Allies #3

Deadpool Max #1

Fantastic Four in Attaque del MODOK #1

Incorruptible #10

Klaws of the Panther #1

Shadowland Spider-Man #1

Taskmaster #2

Ultimate Comics Thor #1

Wolverine #2

The Week in Sets:

Skrull Kill Krew #1-5

Written by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar
Art by Steve Yeowell and Chris Ivy

Okay, so I figured that a 90s Marvel comic about a group of shapeshifters who got their powers by eating beef tainted with dead Skrulls and use these abilities to seek out Skrulls and kill them would not be very good, even despite the fact that it was written by two of the most acclaimed comics writers of the 00’s, but I had no idea it would be this bad.

Because the Skrull Kill Krew is BAD.  Really, really bad.  It’s obvious when reading it that Morrison had a very limited involvement in this title.  I can see the concept being his, but there is no way that he wrote even a word of this dialogue (even if it was the first comic he ever wrote not under the influence of something).  Instead, this has Mark Millar’s hands all over it, but not his usual hands, more like the ones that were recently reattached after some kind of horrible accident, before he started physiotherapy.

The book follows Ryder and Moonstomp, the founders of the Kill Krew, as they start to travel the country looking for new recruits.  I’m not sure how they found people, or how one batch of Skrull meat would travel so far before being eaten, but let’s not worry about that.  Instead, let’s worry about what horrible stereotypes all the characters are.  Ryder is an ex-SHIELD agent (or something) and a black activist who has Nick Fury worried (although not enough to do something).  Moonstomp is a British skinhead (who uses the word ‘fagging’ a lot) who is slowly turning black out of his hatred of black people.  Or something like that.  Then we get characters like Cowboy and Catwalk, who are as two-dimensional as you can imagine.

In the course of their mercifully short five issues, the Krew tangles with Hydra (and Captain America), and exterminates a town full of Skrulls, protected by the Fantastic Four (who are also Skrulls).  They kill them with guns and with their shape-shifting powers, which are apparently more formidable than the Skrulls’ own abilities.

The dialogue is ridiculously bad, and not even edited to reflect the fact that the book is American (unless people in the mid-West also call phone booths ‘call boxes’).  The art, by the usually skilled Steve Yeowell, is rushed and horrible in all kinds of 90s ways.  Truly, this thing is a trainwreck, and I can’t believe it’s by the same team (minus Millar) who gave us the wonderful Sebastian O.  What I also can’t believe is that Marvel brought these characters back for a bit part in the Avengers Initiative Secret Invasion chapters.  I’d have thought it would be better if all involved never admitted to this thing existing.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Irredeemable Vol. 3

Written by Mark Waid
Art by Peter Krause and Diego Barreto

While reading this, I came to the conclusion that Irredeemable reminds me a lot of Kurt Busiek’s Astro City.  Thematically, the two have nothing in common, but I consider them cut from the same cloth.  Both are well-written, well-drawn superhero comics that inhabit their own little worlds, and they both feature analogs of characters from the Big Two.  Where Busiek’s title is a bit of a mash-up of both companies, Waid is playing with Superman and Justice League stand-ins.  The other way in which the two titles are similar is that, while I enjoy reading them both, I don’t view them as essential, and so just catch up on them when I come across an inexpensive trade or can grab single issues for a good price at a convention.

This volume of Irredeemable continues the story, as the Plutonian goes on a little (murderous) trip down memory lane, and his former compatriots in the Paradigm get into a fight with a big demon-y thing that is now working for the US government.  It’s hard to get too invested in any of these characters, but the book is entertaining.

Lucifer Vol. 11: Evensong

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Zander Cannon, Peter Gross, Aaron Alexovich, Dean Ormston, Ryan Kelly, and Jon J. Muth

There was a stretch of time, through the second half of Carey’s 75-issue long Lucifer series, where I was becoming less and less impressed with the book.  The art was always lovely, and Carey’s writing was pretty strong, but I found that I was starting to lose interest in the plot, as it became more and more about the second war in heaven, and was losing its focus on the supporting cast that made this comic so good.

At the core of my displeasure was the fact that Lucifer, as a character, was never very interesting.  I never found myself caring about his plans, or his rage at his father.  What I liked were the creatures he’d surrounded himself with.

This final volume, which collects the last five issues of the series, wisely spends less time with Lucifer than it does with his crew, and for that reason, I found it to be an excellent send off.  Elaine, taking on her new role in the universe, spends a little time saying good-bye to her companions.  The book starts with her visiting a Centaur storytelling contest, where she meets an old acquaintance, and gains some positive human experience (I can’t think of a better artist than Zander Cannon to tell this story).  Later, Elaine has a ‘girls’ night’ with Mazikeen, Spera, Jill Presto, and Mona that is poignant and funny, and helps bring all of these characters’ arcs to a close.  There is also a final Gaudium story, which is always a nice addition.

Of course, the central part of the book is the last meeting between Lucifer and Jahweh, after Carey gives us a retrospective look at Lucifer’s existence.  This meeting is a big deal, but I found that the quieter moments were of more importance.

Also included at the end of this book is a one-shot painted by Jon J. Muth, and published in the early days of this title.  I found that it was jarring to read this so quickly after finishing Lucifer’s story, and it’s addition (beyond being beautiful) did nothing to add to my enjoyment of these characters.

I’m glad I finally got around to reading this series.  It demonstrated how well Carey and Gross have worked together in the past, and was a reminder of the days when there was some form of continuity among some of the Vertigo books.

Tumor

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Noel Tuazon

Tumor is yet another crime comic centred on a down on his luck private eye “with a twist.”  The thing is, unlike many of the Vertigo Crime graphic novels, this particular twist works really well.

Frank Armstrong has a tumor in his head which is causing him to have intense flashbacks, or fall into short-lived comas.  Frank was never a particularly good PI (neither in terms of quality nor morality), and so at the end of his life, he has very little going for him.

He takes a job with a notorious drug lord, who is looking for his missing daughter.  As it turns out, the daughter had stolen money from him, and he is looking to have her killed.  When Frank meets the daughter, Evelyn, she reminds him of his deceased wife Rosa.  In fact, he frequently confuses the two, and he decides to help Evelyn in the one way he couldn’t help Rosa.

The book is very tightly plotted, and Fialkov uses Frank’s disease as a way of driving the plot, as it adds to his confusion, but also works to help us understand exactly what went down with Rosa in the first place.  There are some interesting tricks done with the timeline of the story at the beginning, but as the book progresses, that aspect of the storytelling calms down.

Tuazon’s art is pretty nice.  It suits the story, and I like the way that the flashback scenes are drawn in what looks like charcoal (the book is black and white).  Tuazon makes Frank look old, and he seems to become more drained as the story progresses.

This story was originally sold as a webcomic on Amazon, but I think it works great in this nice thick little hardcover.  There is some supplemental material, including a prose story of Frank’s first job as a PI.  This is worth checking out.

Album of the Week:

Aloe Blacc – Good Things

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