Weekly Round-Up #47 with Scalped, Hellboy, Avengers 6, JSA 44 & more

Best Comic of the Week:

Scalped #42

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by R.M. Guera

Okay, so by now we all know the drill – a new issue of Scalped comes out, and I spend praise it to the best of my meager abilities, and a month later, the cycle repeats itself.

This issue is no different, except for that fact that my usual praise seems paltry when compared to how powerful this comic is.  Last issue ended with Dash and Carol meeting in the road.  This issue, following a dream sequence, opens with them having two conversations.  We get the clipped, reticent conversation they are really having, while also being able to read what they wish they were saying to each other, but are both too afraid or just unable to give voice to.  It’s very effective, and fills the pages with emotion.

After that, we see FBI Agent Nitz intercepting Wade on his way to meet with Dash, thereby further entrenching in Dash the opinion that he is all alone.  While this is going on, Carol goes to the abortion clinic.  I don’t want to give away what her final decision is, as everything in this arc has been leading to this moment, but I will say that this scene, followed by her conversation with Granny Poor Bear, had me close to tears (which is pretty rare in comics).

I firmly believe that this issue should receive an Eisner for comic of the year.  Every aspect of it is perfect, from Aaron’s sensitive writing to Guera’s clear and expressive art.  Even if you have never read an issue of Scalped, and have no idea who anyone is, you should be able to be impressed by this comic.

Other Notable Comics:

Hellboy/Beasts of Burden: Sacrifice #1

Written by Evan Dorkin (with Mike Mignola)
Art by Jill Thompson

The Beasts of Burden was one of the coolest and creepiest mini-series of the last year.  Now Dorkin and Thompson have returned to the mystically-plagued town of Burden, and they’ve brought Mike Mignola’s Hellboy into the mix.

This is very much a Beasts comic, with Hellboy guest-starring.  He finds himself lured into the woods by a dog, where he meets our usual gang of heroes, who are once again faced with a problem.  As things play out, it becomes apparent that they are dealing with the same evil character that they faced in the last issue of their mini-series, as he tries once again to get resurrected.

There is the usual blend of humor and action that I like in this series, with some minimal character development tossed in for good measure (in other words, Pug actually does something for a change).  They never quite explain why Hellboy can speak to the dogs, and he doesn’t seem terribly impressed by being able to understand them, which is odd.  There is a very cool tie-in at the end of the comic to another of Mignola’s characters, and of course, the book is gorgeous.

Hotwire: Deep Cut #2

by Steve Pugh

I think Hotwire might be just about the most original and interesting science fiction comic being published these days.  The concept, which has to do with ‘blue lights’, returned spirits or souls taking an electro-magnetic form, is endlessly fascinating, as Pugh continues to explore it in novel ways.

One key factor of this issue has to do with the US military’s approach to the Blue Lights, which involves their recognition of them as immortal souls, and not the electric phenomenon that Alice, the hero of the book, has so strenuously maintained.  Of course, with this second volume of Alice’s adventures, we are learning that we don’t know the cantankerous Detective of Exorcisms all that well, especially since she is living with a former blue light boyfriend.

It’s the moral ambiguity, police politics, and paramilitary turf wars that make this comic so interesting, as a militarized blue light makes off with the ghost of a woman who died in last issue’s car accident.  This book is stuffed full with story and characterization, helping to demonstrate what a great writer Pugh is.

And then we get to the absolute best part of this comic – the art.  Pugh is incredible, and one of the few artists who paints comics that I find endlessly readable.  I usually get bored with painted comics (which is why I read so few of Radical’s other titles), but I love what Pugh is doing here.

Kill Shakespeare #6

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

The Shakespearian equivalent of Fables has now reached its half-way mark, and is showing signs of really picking up the pace, as Juliet’s Prodigal Rebellion gets underway, and her small band wins its first skirmish with Richard’s troops.

I found the beginning of this issue to be a little jarring – some time has passed from the end of the last installment, and Juliet and her group has found Hamlet again, negating the whole point of having him leave her in the first place.  I felt at first like I had perhaps missed an issue, but everything became clear shortly after that.

It’s nice to see Hamlet take some action; he was squarely back in his indecisive mode for a while, although it now seems he’s committed himself to Juliet’s cause.  Another interesting character this time around is Iago, who also signs up with Juliet, although his motivations are much murkier.

I’m pleased to see this comic is doing well – the first trade comes out this week, and I’d encourage people to pick it up if they aren’t already reading this title.  It’s pretty good.

Madame Xanadu #28

Written by Matt Wagner
Art by Marian Churchland

I haven’t been all that interested in this title, but when I saw that this issue was a one-off featuring art by Marian Churchland, I knew that I’d be picking it up.

Churchland is the creator of The Beast, a very interesting graphic novel, and is an equally interesting artist.  Her watercolour (I assume) approach to her art is perfect for this story of Carly, a young medical student who, in New York in 1966, decides to experiment with LSD with her boyfriend.

Their trip has consequences for Carly – afterwards, she suffers from Tony Chu-like flashes of memory caused by everything she eats.  Basically, she becomes a cibopath, and finds that she can’t eat or drink anything at all (I guess she didn’t try beets).  That the story is so remarkably similar to the premise of Chew, the indie darling comic series, doesn’t really detract from things here; the two stories are very different.

For a comic that is supposed to be about Madame Xanadu, she plays only a very peripheral role here, but the story is intriguing and quite beautiful.  Had the series started out like this (the next issue will be the last), I would have bought its entire run.

Quick Takes:

Amazing Spider-Man #646 – The Origin of the Species arc ends with a nice happy ending, as Mark Waid is not about to kill a little baby, and there’s a great three-way fight between Doc Ock, the Lizard, and Spidey.  I’ve enjoyed this arc, although I’m not sure I’m going to stick with the title once Dan Slott takes over – the price is going up, and I’m not that interested in another ‘new costume’ attention-seeking change for the sake of change thing.  What lured me back to this title was the variety in creative teams, although I’ll give him a chance.

Avengers #6 – This title is off my pull-list, but I thought I’d see how the story ended up, only to find that everything’s back where it was, making it kind of pointless.  I’m curious to see what happens next issue, but am finding very few reasons to stick with this title at all – especially if John Romita Jr. is going to stick around.  His art looks awful here.  Also, what’s with the cover?  This doesn’t even almost happen.  It’s like Marvel realized that they can’t just have a cover where nothing happens, so they decided to make some crap up.

Captain America #611 – I’ve complained before that Brubaker has been placing too much emphasis on Bucky’s past as the Winter Soldier in this title, but then this issue comes along, wherein the news of Bucky’s previous activities breaks, and it ends up being the best issue this comic has had in a while.  As Steve Rogers tries to figure out how to help Bucky (speaking with both the Avengers and Barack Obama on his behalf), Bucky Cap heads off to fight Nazis.  It’s convenient how many Nazi organizations there are in the comics, just in case a very old character needs someone to fight.  The art this month is by Daniel Acuna, and looks great.  The Nomad story, however, is just as okay as it usually is.  Marvel – take a hint from DC, dump Nomad, and make this a $3 book again.

Fantastic Four #584 – Hickman has so many ideas at play in this series that it sometimes takes a while to get back to one.  This issue has the Thing take the ‘cure’ that Reed’s think tank put together a few months back.  Now Ben’s back to normal (which isn’t the first time this has been done), and has a nice night out with Johnny.  Hickman also moves his other plotlines forward a bit.  I like this run.

Farscape #12 – I really like where this title is going, as Crichton and his friends basically effect a coup d’etat on the Peacekeepers, leading to a new job for Aeryn, just as things start to look bad across the universe.  I’m glad I decided to add this book to my pull-list; it’s just as good as the TV show.

Fear Agent #30 – As Remender winds down the series, we get a very complicated look back on Heath’s adventures, to reveal the myriad ways that the Jellybrains have been manipulating events since the first issue.  And that’s my problem with this book now – what started as an insanely unpredictable and fun comic has become so bogged down by its own continuity that it groans and creaks under its own weight.  I’m impressed by the scope of the story Remender plotted out years ago, but I feel that that same scope has caused him to sacrifice what made this title so cool to begin with.  Still, it has great art, and the second half of the main story is pretty exciting.  Also, there’s an amazing back cover by Michael Cho!

Incognito: Bad Influence #1 – Brubaker and Phillips have brought back their bad guy series, which is a great read, although still not as good as their sublime Criminal.  In this new series, Zac Overkill is now working for the good guys, and having some trouble fitting in.  He’s been given an interesting assignment though, and I’m curious to see where it will take him.  Whenever Brubaker and Phillips collaborate, the comic is amazing.

Incredible Hulks #615 – It seems more and more likely that I’m going to be adding this title to my pull-list, although I’m going to wait and see what happens after the Hulk finishes dealing with Hiro-Kala.  As much as I like the main story, I’d be happier without the back-ups, and with a lower cover price…

Justice Society of America #44 – It feels good to be buying this book again, now that Willingham’s best-left forgotten run is over.  The JSA are right up there as one of my favourite super-teams of all time, although I didn’t quite get the jolt of happiness I was hoping for with Guggenheim and Kolins’s first issue.  To begin with, the story was a little generic – some new villain (sorry, super-terrorist) shows up and causes havoc, while some of the team works really hard to put him down.  There is no motivation for the bad guy (or character development), and not too much going on with the team.  I’ve never been a big fan of Kolins’s art (I know that’s sacrilegious in some circles, but I don’t know why), but Guggenheim has consistently impressed me, especially on his Resurrection title.  I do hope that this is a creative team I’m going to want to stick with, as I love these characters.

Secret Avengers #6 – This new arc, which features Shang-Chi and the Prince of Orphans, fits much better with what I expected from this comic, as Rogers and his crew try to find a way to stop their new, shadowy antagonists.  I like that the more powerful members of the team aren’t around, as I think this book works best with a more street-level feel to it.

Secret Warriors #21 – This issue probably takes about as much time to read as this pellet review, but it’s still a pretty exciting issue, as Alex (Ares’s son) fights the Gorgon.  The issue opens with some poor Colak art, but when Vitti takes over, things improve a lot.  I do wish there was a little more meat to this comic though…

Thunderbolts #149 – This is pretty much just an all-action issue, as the Thunderbolts fight a bunch of Hand ninjas deep under New York, for no apparent reason that I can understand.  Why are the Hand keeping a handful of regular people captive in a deep tunnel, with a dragon to guard them, while they are using much smaller numbers to protect Shadowland?  I mean, if Dark Daredevil had a dragon, couldn’t he put it to better use?  Also, doesn’t Crossbone’s new abilities come across as too much of a deus ex machina?  If you don’t think about it too much though, this is a fun issue.

Uncanny X-Men #529 – I’m seriously starting to lose interest in this title, which is strange because I think Fraction is one of the best comics writers working in the superhero genre these days.  While I like the work he’s been doing with certain characters (specifically Emma Frost), I find that this book has been very disjointed and random since the end of Second Coming.  Also, I’m not a fan of Portacio’s art anymore.  Hopefully things will improve when Kieron Gillen joins the creative team.

X-Men Legacy #241 – Carey finishes up his X-Men in India storyline with yet another serviceable but not memorable comic.  I wish this title would get better or worse; as it stands, it’s always just on the cusp of being dropped by me, and I’d rather be able to decide once and for all what to do with it.

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

Bulletproof Coffin #5

Captain America Patriot #3

Incorruptible #11

Incredible Hulks Enigma Force #2

Klaws of the Panther #2

Shadowland Moon Knight #3

X-Men Curse of the Mutants: X-Men Vs. Vampires #2

Bargain Comics:

Amazing Spider-Man Presents: The Black Cat #4 – Especially with Javier Pulido returning to draw this entire issue, this under-promoted mini-series ended up better than the Spider-Man mini-event (The Grim Hunt) it was nominally tied in to.  I’d be interested in a regular Black Cat series if it was done by this creative team.

Invaders Now! #2 – This is the best comic Alex Ross has had a hand in writing, which means that it’s really only good enough, but I like the Invaders, so that’s good enough for me.

The Week in Sets:

Gorilla-Man #1-3 – As much as I liked the different iterations of the Agents of Atlas comics over the last few years, I found this Ken Hale, Gorilla-Man solo series to be kind of lacking.  There was too much emphasis on Ken’s history, and the plot seemed kind of dashed together.  Caracuzzo draws a terrific gorilla though…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Hulk: Planet Skaar

Written by Greg Pak
Art by Butch Guice, Ron Lim, Dan Panosian, Cory Hamscher, Terry Pallot, and Greg Adams

Much like the first Skaar volume, this book was a bit of a disappointment.  I found that Skaar’s character was very hard to understand, and his actions impossible to predict, not because Pak was playing things close to the vest, but because there didn’t seem to be any logic to his motivations.

Throughout the book, which has Skaar continuing his rampage across Sakaar, entering into conflict with the Silver Surfer, get exiled to Earth, and finally meet his father (twice), there was a lack of exposition that got in the way of following the story easily.  How much influence did Jeph Loeb have on this book?  It has elements of his extreme randomness.

Art wise, Guice’s pages are lovely, and it was a kick seeing Ron Lim draw the Surfer and Galactus again, taking me back to the old days.  Dan Panosian’s contributions were the weakest in the book, as he seemed to be imitating Ed McGuinness.

I’m trying to get caught up on these characters, as I’m finding the Incredible Hulks to be an interesting title right now, but I feel like my instincts, which told me to ignore these books the first time out, were bang-on.

Violent Messiahs Vol. 1: The Book of Job

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Tone Rodriguez

Having enjoyed Dysart’s run on Vertigo’s Unknown Soldier title as much as I have,  I figured I should check out some of his earlier work.  Violent Messiahs, originally published by Image Comics, was his first published comic, and it kind of shows.

The book is set on Rankor Island, which seems to be almost completely urban.  The city has been dealing with two large problems.  One is Citizen Pain, a vigilante who has been torturing and dispatching criminals all over the place.  The other is the Family Man, a serial killer who has been targeting the families of abused or mistreated children.  Citizen Pain is being investigated by Cheri Major, your typical tough as nails female police lieutenant who suffers from some sort of panic attacks.

As the story progresses, we learn that the two killers are connected, and tied in to some sort of strange conspiracy theory group called the Keepers of the Snake.  The story falls into some very predictable patterns, but stays entertaining enough, while never being very unique.

The most interesting figure in the comic is Citizen Pain, really named Job.  My problem with him is that he looks way too much like he belongs in Matt Wagner’s classic Grendel series.  The art is much like the story – serviceable, without ever being too impressive.

Album of the Week:

Flying Lotus – Pattern + Grid World

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