Weekly Round-Up #46 with Fables, DMZ, Morning Glories, Skull Kickers & more

This ended up being a pretty strong week, with two other contenders for the top spot: DMZ and The Walking Dead.  Some weeks you have to scrape to find something worthy of recognition, and other weeks, great comics rain from the skies…

Best Comic of the Week:

Fables #99

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Inaki Miranda

For a while now, the many characters of Fables have been dealing with the incursion of Mr. Dark into Fabletown.  He’s been a shadowy figure, working behind the scenes to influence the story, but very little has been revealed about him.

That has changed with this issue, which focuses on him and his plans.  The issue is narrated by Ozma’s cat, which has been observing the Dark One for some time now, as he continues to build his castle in Manhattan, and gathers his ‘witherlings’ to do his bidding.  Mr. Dark is visited by the North Wind, who delivers to him news of Frau Totenkinder’s (I forget her new name) challenge to a duel.

The two powerful creatures walk around the city and talk for a while, which has negative consequences for everyone they pass.  This issue does a great job of building up suspense and laying the groundwork for next month’s massive one hundredth anniversary issue.  I haven’t been this excited to read the next issue of Fables since the war with the Adversary.

This issue is drawn by Miranda, who is a very talented artist.  His cityscapes are wonderful, as is his zombiefied (I mean witherlinged) remake of James Jean’s cover to issue seventy-six.  Fabulous stuff.

Other Notable Comics:

CBGB #4

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and R. Eric Lieb
Art by Chuck BB and Dave Crosland

I hope this series, which was a bit of an experiment for a publisher like Boom, was successful enough that they will repeat it, giving us more thematic anthology mini-series, hopefully not just related to punk.

CBGB has been a pretty interesting title, each issue featuring a couple of stories set in, around, or inspired by the legendary New York punk club, all with a heavily indie feel.  This closing issue has two tales, the first of which, by DeConnick and BB, was amazing.

It’s main character, Tex, is about to leave New York for Portland, with her husband and two young children.  Over the course of the story, she reminisces about her life since coming to New York, showing us how she met her husband, and detailing some fantastic conversations with her best friend, a professional fortune cookie fortune writer.  It’s amazing how quickly DeConnick is able to develop these characters in such a short amount of space.

The second story, about a man who travels back from the future to CBGB to catalogue it for his society, is decent.  I like Grosland’s art, which lies somewhere between Bá and Moon, and Christian Ward.

In all, this has been a cool series, and people should pick up the trade when it is published.

DMZ #58

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Danijel Zezelj

With this done-in-one issue, Wood returns to the character Decade Later, a fine art graffiti artist not seen since issue 23, when he was captured by US military forces.  In this book, we get to see where Decade has been kept, and learn about the conditions he’s had to endure at Camp Shea Stadium, where he was tortured for information and eventually went on a hunger strike to preserve the only piece of artwork he was able to create in that time.

As the war shifts directions once again, Decade Later is suddenly freed from captivity and allowed to return to Manhattan.  He knows nothing of what has happened – no Parco Delgado, no nuclear explosion, no US bombing campaign.  Once back in the city, he quickly goes back to creating works of art.

The art in this issue is by Danijel Zezelj, who is one of my favourite artists.  I wish he would be used more regularly instead of on all these random stints as a guest artist or on the odd graphic novel.  His approach is perfect for a book like DMZ – his Manhattan looks more desolate than ever.

DMZ has been really good lately (I tend to like the issues that don’t have main character Matty Roth in them the most), but this issue was one of the best in a long while.  Wood uses a non-political artist like DL to show just how off-mission the American forces have gone.

Morning Glories #3

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

Morning Glories has been getting a lot of attention, and I feel that it is well-deserved.  The title is weird – it’s like Lost, if it was set in a boarding school – but it is most definitely a compelling comic.

In this issue, there is little learned about the Academy, as Spencer prefers to pile up the mysteries.  The issue opens in 1490, with a young Spanish girl imprisoned in some kind of fortress.  She speaks to her neighbour, who had apparently spent some sixteen years in her cell.  This opening also introduces the phrase “The hour of our release draws near”, which I suppose is going to be important, as it shows up twice more in the main story.

From this opening, we get Casey in open conflict with her teacher over whether or not she can go and visit the suicidal Jade, while Jade herself explores the rooms beneath the infirmary, where she makes some startling discoveries.

I’m not sure where Spencer is taking all of this, although he’s made it clear in this issue that the Academy has something to do with pre-Columbian Spain (when Casey goes to class, the teacher is lecturing on Tomas de Torquemada).  I like the ‘Lost’ vibe I’m getting off of this series, even if this issue was a little light on character development.  The vaguely psychotic member of the cast (don’t remember his name, and it’s not provided here) is continuing to be the most interesting and amusing, but the whole book has a lot of strengths.

The Sixth Gun #5

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

When The Sixth Gun started, I thought it was a cool comic based around an interesting concept, but I found it had some problems with pacing.  Increasingly, I now see this book as one of my essential reads each month.

Bunn has spun out his tale in such a way as to completely engage my interests, as in this issue, Sinclair and his small band travel to the Maw, the site of the General’s old prison camp.  There is something buried in the Maw, and while Sinclair and a group of former prisoners who now live there think it is vast riches, the mystical guns suggest that it is something much more evil than that.

I have enjoyed the way the book’s mysteries have been played so close to the vest, as information slowly trickles out to the reader.  Originally I thought this was only going to be a six-issue mini-series, but now I understand this title to be an on-going, which makes me happy.

Skull Kickers #2

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang

I don’t usually read books like this, and have been checking this out on the recommendation of the manager at the comic store I shop at.  The first issue intrigued me enough to come back for a second, and I’m afraid that this book is working its magic on me, and is likely to get added to my pull-list pretty soon.

In a lot of ways, this book reminds me of early issues of Chew.  At the start, I wasn’t that interested in the title, partly because of the artwork, and now it’s one of my favourite titles.  The same thing is working for Skull Kickers.  I’ve never been a big fan of what I think of as the Udon house style, which is how I would describe the art in this issue, with its manga influence and bright digital colours (I hate the way the fight in the burning building looks), but I find that it suits this type of story so well that it is growing on me.

The story, about a stupid human and a possibly stupider dwarf journeying to recover the body of a dead political official from a zombie-like creature, is amusing and quick-witted.  The two rescue a pair of merchants and their employees from a goblin attack just to rob them themselves.  This, and the scene where they threaten to eat a prisoner are pretty funny.  I’m not sure if there is enough material here for an on-going comic, but I’m curious to see where the story leads.

Turf #3

Written by Jonathan Ross
Art by Tommy Lee Edwards

Turf is now one-half done, and continues to get better with each new issue.  When I read the first comic, I thought that Ross had a lot of good ideas, but was tossing them all at the page like pasta against the wall, and hoping something would stick.  Now, as the story has progressed, and he’s started to tone down his excessive verbiage (this is still a wordy comic, but we’re out of Kevin Smith land), it’s become clear that he had a pretty involved and solid plot laid out from the beginning.

A lot of big things happen in this issue.  The Strigoli (not vampires) make their move on the police force, while Stefan Dragonmir makes his move for leadership, challenging his brother, who later is helped by Susie, our heroine.  While all this is going on, the gangster Eddie Falco (anyone else think of the Sopranos when you hear that name?) deepens his partnership with the alien Squeed, and they start looking for partners to help them take on the Dragonmir clan.

While this is a lot of plot to cram into this comic, Ross still finds time to work on and develop these characters, especially the crooked Officer O’Leary, who gets his own old school comic page explaining what a rotten sort he really is.

Few artists other than Tommy Lee Edwards would be able to pull off this comic – a Prohibition-era gangster/vampire/alien piece.  His work is phenomenal as usual.  I hope the wait before the next issue isn’t as long as the wait for this issue was.

The Walking Dead #78

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard

Is there anything more terrifying than someone with a gun calmly telling you that everything you have is no longer yours?  That’s the scenario that Rick and the other members of his community face in this issue, as, during the funeral for the three people who died last issue, a group of strangers show up at the gate demanding entry and implying that means ownership.

Rick being Rick, and being backed up by Andrea in her watchtower, goes about dealing with things in his usual take charge way, but Kirkman lets the scene play out in a gripping manner, while also hinting at even worse to come.  It’s great comics, as The Walking Dead always is, although once the shooting started, I had a hard time figuring out who was getting shot.

The rest of this comic is just about perfect, with the various townsfolk reacting to what went down last month.  If I had to complain about something, it would be that the scene depicted on the cover has not happened in the comic at all, although it’s been easy to see that something like this might be coming.  I think it’s very cool that by the time I read the next issue, The Walking Dead will also be on TV!

Quick Takes:

Batman and Robin #15 – What a great comic!  Morrison’s run is nearing its end, as Dr. Hurt captures Robin (who only just escaped from the Joker), and that weird box that keeps showing up all over the place is opened.  Frazer Irving’s art is fantastic on this title, and while I still don’t understand everything that Morrison is doing with this book, it is a fun ride.

Chaos War #2 – I  think it’s sad that the culmination of so many great issues of Incredible Hercules is coming in such a forced mini-series.  It really seems like Pak and Van Lente are working in certain plot turns (like the conquest of the lands of the dead by the Chaos King) simply to provide a rationale for the innumerable spin-offs to this comic that are coming up in the next couple of months.  This is an average comic which would have been so much better had it been published in an era not so concerned with creating opportunities for market over-saturation.

Daredevil #511 – It’s cool how Diggle has been able to keep the Daredevil title interesting during Shadowland, since nothing of great importance is happening anywhere in this event but in the titular series.  So, that leaves us with Foggy, Dakota, Becky, and Kurtz (who really needs to just yell about ‘the horror’).  It helps a lot that De La Torre is back on art with this issue, with some very lovely pages – especially at the end, after Foggy (Foggy!) scales Daredevil’s castle.

DV8: Gods and Monsters #7 – I’d say this is the most interesting issue of Wood’s take on the DV8 characters yet, as the war they’ve engineered on the primitive world they’ve been stranded on begins, and Gem waxes philosophically on the meaning and implications of godhood.  Isaacs has been really hitting it out of the park on this book in terms of art, and while I’ve been enjoying the comic, it hasn’t felt like a Brian Wood joint until now.

Green Lantern Corps #53 – I had dropped this title off my pull list, but liked the last issue, so I figured I’d give it one more chance.  I don’t think I’ll be making that mistake again, as this issue, which has Kyle fighting The Weaponer (who has a truly awful outfit) and then going off to get Sinestro to help him, left me very cold.  Bedard is a better writer than this; maybe I’ll give the book another shot after all the Brightest Day garbage is over, and he’s able to write the book, instead of just manage tie-ins.

Guarding the Globe #2 – This is fun, even if it does return to familiar ground from Invincible, as the team travels to Atlantis to deal with Octoboss.  There are a couple of new additions to the team again (Kaboomerang?  Really?), and a light-hearted feel.  I’m enjoying this title.

Hulk #26 – I like the work that Parker and Hardman are doing with this title, but I’m wondering how long it’s going to really be Marvel Team-Up Featuring the Red Hulk and _______.  Last month Iron Man, this month Thor, next month Namor.  How long can this book just have Rulk and Rick Jones (in the back-ups) dealing with problems started under the last creative team?  Still, Hardman’s art is great, and Thor gets the best line in the book, which is unusual.

Kick-Ass 2 #1 – Millar takes us back to Kick-Ass land, and things are more or less where we left them – Dave is still a loser, Mindy is trying to give up the superhero life, and there are a lot more people walking the streets in costumes.  This issue doesn’t have the meanness of the original series, which is kind of nice really, and Millar drops some hints near the beginning of some big things to come.  It’s odd how much I like John Romita Jr.’s work on this book, while I absolutely hate it on The Avengers…

Legion of Super-Heroes #6 – Levitz splits this issue into two different stories, one featuring art by Phil Jimenez, which is a nice treat.  The lead story has more Earthman drama, while the second has Cosmic Boy visiting the re-opened Legion Academy, where Comet Queen is still a student (it’s been years).  I feel like Levitz is in a huge rush to return to the status quo of his last run on this title, and is overlooking some things that don’t really match up.  What ever happened to Shady and Mon-El anyway?

New Mutants #18 – Landing Leonard Kirk might be the best thing that could have happened to this title, as it looks great now.  The team fights the grown-up Inferno babies in a fight that takes up the entire comic.  These new mutant antagonists are a pretty twisted bunch, and I can see how this fight would last a while, but I like to see more happen in a comic.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #21 – I’m a couple of weeks late getting a hold of this comic somehow, but it is another enjoyable entry in what is now Bedard’s “other” space police comic.  It’s interesting that Bedard is going to be taking the approach that he is here; namely that the LEGION exists as an alternative to, and in opposition to the Green Lantern Corps.  I hope that doesn’t mean that all of the future issues will be using the GL theme (although I can see how that may be tempting from a sales perspective), just as I hope that Lobo doesn’t continue to dominate the title the way he does this issue (despite the fact that it works really well here).  Granted, I’m kind of surprised that this book is still being published…

Steve Rogers Super Soldier #4 – Brubaker’s post-Captain America Captain America story has been a decent example of a straight-up super hero story, but I’ve felt it’s been missing a point since the beginning.  Luckily, Brubaker includes that point right at the end of the issue, tying this title in to what he’s been doing on Secret Avengers.  I still feel like this story ended up being a little hollow – I wanted to see a little more of what Rogers’s job actually is these days, and to figure out how he coordinates the Avengers teams for the President when it seems like all the work is being done by him and Sharon Carter in a single helicarrier-like ship.  Also – what’s the deal with the holographic shield thing?  It’s not being used in any of his other appearances on a given month, which also doesn’t make sense to me, as Steve’s been fighting with a shield for years – he seems to be adapting too easily to not having one.

X-Factor #210 – X-Factor’s been on a great run lately, and this is probably the best issue to come out in the last year or so.  It’s an interlude, or ‘Meanwhile’ story, so we don’t see anything of Jamie and the gang in Las Vegas, and instead focus on the group that stayed home in NYC.  Jamie and Rahne go to the doctor, and suffer through a hilarious cab ride, while Monet works with a client, which looks like it’s going to lead to a new problem for the team.  I like that David is slowly making Monet more human and likeable.  It’s great to see De Landro back on the art, although someone forgot to put the scar Monet references on the new client.  Unless of course, it’s a very little scar, but then, why would she mention it?

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

DC Universe Legacies #6

Ides of Blood #3

John Moore Presents Dead Soldier #2

Ragman: Suit of Souls #1

Shadowland: Power Man #3

Bargain Comics:

Farscape: Scorpius #5 – These comics have become hard to find in my city, and it’s too bad, because they really are very good.  In this issue, Scorpius has to negotiate with the Scarrans on behalf of his new masters, but he is completely alone and with no weapons.  Of course, Scorpius is a master of deception, and his efforts are a beauty to behold.

The Shield #7 – My favourite series that I didn’t buy (along with just about everyone else it seems).  Trautmann’s writing is good, and Rudy’s art is fantastic.  This is the team to do a new Checkmate or Suicide Squad series DC.  Jerwa and Oeming’s Fox back-up was a disappointment.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Jack Staff Vol. 2: Soldiers

by Paul Grist

I read an collection of Grist’s earliest stories with this character quite a while ago, and thought I’d take another stab at the character with this collection of his first colour stories.

I really want to like this book.  I like Grist’s art a lot; his style reminds me of a mix of Tim Sale and Ryan Ottley (from Invincible), and I enjoy his very clean approach to superheroics.  Also, I adore the design of Jack Staff, which is very reminiscent of Marvel’s Union Jack.

My problem lies with the plotting of this comic.  Grist often seems to be writing this in four or five page installments (was this material originally used in a British comics magazine?), and I find that the story is very hard to follow because of this.

The plot of Soldiers is about revealing the reason why Jack gave up the Staff some twenty years prior, as he deals with a threat in the modern day.  The time jumps are so sudden it’s hard to know which part of the story I’m reading at any given time, especially since there are frequently large sections of story given over to supporting characters.

There is a lot of potential in a character and book like this, and I know it has a large group of devoted followers, but I found this really didn’t work for me.

Side a: The Music Lover’s Graphic Novel

edited by Rachel Dukes

While this column is all about the comics that I read each week, I like to mention the music that I’ve enjoyed the most that week as well.  Comics and music would be my two main hobbies, and I’ve often wondered at how infrequently the two are paired.  There are titles like Phonogram, CBGB, The Amazing Joy Buzzards, anthologies like the Tori Amos one, and, at the lower end of the spectrum, Dazzler and Wu-Tang comics, but it’s rare to find an exploration of music in comics like the one completed by the thirty-odd cartoonists who contributed to Side A.

This black and white anthology pulls together a large number of creators to share their love of music in comics form.  The stories mostly take the form of memoir, although others are a little more fantastical in nature.  There are a variety of forms and styles represented here, and I found that I quite enjoyed moving from one story to the next.

I’m not sure that I’d heard of a single creator in this book before I picked it up, and while I’m not that tempted to check out the various websites listed in the table of contents, I liked being exposed to so many new voices.  At the same time, a collection like this is just begging for work by people like Rick Spears, Vasilis Lolos, Becky Cloonan, Chuck BB, Brandon Graham, James Stokoe, Corey Lewis, or Rob G, to say nothing of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie.

I found that there was perhaps too much representation of metal, making it harder for me to relate.  For that reason, I loved the story about the guy who dumped a girl because she didn’t know who John Coltrane was.  I would have liked to see more hip-hop than a reference to Kriss Kross, but hopefully some of that is in Side B, which is on my pile of books to read.

Skaar: Son of Hulk

Written by Greg Pak
Art by Ron Garney, Butch Guice, Carlo Pagulayan, Tim Truman, Timothy Green II, Gabriel Hardman, Jason Paz, Jheremy Raapack, and Greg Adams

Having found myself interested in the post-Jeph Loeb Hulk line, I thought it might be worth checking out some of the work that Greg Pak was quietly completing in Loeb’s shadow, involving the character of Skaar, the son of the Hulk.  This first trade includes the first six issues of Skaar’s solo title, as well as an anthology collection that fills in the backstory of his supporting cast, and another random short story.

Compared to Pak’s wonderful Planet Hulk storyline of a few years ago, Skaar really is the bastard child.  The comic lacks the coherence and character-driven storytelling of that epic adventure that had the Hulk slowly take over the savage world of Sakaar, and meet Skaar’s mother.  In this story, Skaar never really develops as a character – he’s brutish and angry, but, as one character keeps telling us, always supports the innocent.  Most of the plot involves Skaar claiming the Old Power, and there are many places where I found the story hard to follow.

Ron Garney seems to have been phoning in his artistic contributions, although Butch Guice does a great job, as do the other artists chosen to contribute.  I have picked up more trades in this line, and I hope they are better than this.

Ultra: Seven Days

by The Luna Brothers

Having enjoyed Sword, and the first volume of Girls, I set out to gather up the rest of their oeuvre, starting with Ultra, their debut eight-issue mini-series.

Ultra depicts a week in the life of three super-powered women who work for Heroines Inc., a para-police/talent agency for superheroines (Heroes Inc. is their male-oriented brother company).  The three women get their fortune told by a cracked-out psychic one night, who, among other predictions, asserts that Pearl Penalosa, Ultra, will find true love within seven days.

This comic is basically a super-powered Sex and the City.  The three friends argue, sleep around, fight crime, and try to push Pearl into a happier life.  She thinks she finds the man that satisfies the prophecy (and her), but things go horribly wrong, and she becomes the centre of a tabloid sex scandal.

The comic is much funnier than I expected from the Luna Brothers (Sword did not have a lot of laughs).  There are many scenes built around some double entendre, and some very funny situations (my favourite being the scene where a white man who can shoot ink-like fluids out of his hands wants to be known as Blackman).  The book is also peppered with faux-ads to help drive home the level of celebrity our heroes have achieved, and each individual issue’s cover is modeled on a different popular celebrity magazine.

This is an incredibly solid comic, especially if you consider that this was the first work that the Lunas had published.  Their art is as spectacular, and the writing is sharp and tight.  Recommended.

Album of the Week:

African Music Today

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