Weekly Round-Up #50 with Hellboy, Morning Glories, Avengers, Batman Inc. & more

This ended up being quite the week for late independent comics – I don’t remember the last time I bought so many indie books on the same day.  Now if only Avatar would get around to finishing up some of their Warren Ellis series….

Best Comic of the Week:

The Killer: Modus Vivendi #5

Written by Matz
Art by Luc Jacamon

It’s always nice to be sucked back into the world of The Killer, as dark and bleak as it is.  With this issue, our nameless protagonist starts taking out leaders of the Venezuelan military coup that has ousted Hugo Chavez.  He’s doing this on behalf of the Cubans, and goes about the job in a variety of interesting ways.

As the story progresses though, it begins to become clear that he is, for the second time in this series, being manipulated by people who are more in the know than he is, namely his Cuban contact and (perhaps?) girlfriend.

This issue is less philosophical than previous ones, but that helps to support Mariano’s assertion that the Killer is currently thinking with an organ other than his brain.  Like usual though, this issue is filled with beautiful artwork (I love the way that Jacamon layers shadows and has light penetrate through foliage).  The sniper sequences are perfectly laid out.  I look forward to the conclusion of this series.

Other Notable Comics:

Elephantmen #28

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Axel Medelin and Marian Churchland

It’s always nice to see a new issue of Elephantmen.  This is mostly an action-filled installment, as Hip Flask, Ebony Hide, and Janis Blackthorne fight a bunch of recently activated Crocodile Elephantmen in a slaughter house.  It’s a pretty good action sequence, which becomes funnier with the introduction of the Mappo Simms – repurposed androids originally designed to provide sexual pleasure.

Medelin is showing himself to be a capable artist on this book, and it’s nice to see Starkings actually wrap up a plot thread or two, as that’s not something that happens all that often with this title.

My favourite part of the book would be the unexpected short back-up story featuring Miki, with art by Marian Churchland.  Not much happens in the story – I just really like Churchland’s art, and am always really happy to see some of it.

The regular back-up story, Charley Loves Robots, is still cute, but not as charming as its first chapter was.

Ghost Projekt #5

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Steve Rolston

While this is easily the most perplexing issue of this mini-series, Harris and Rolston bring their post-Soviet bio-warfare supernatural story to a fitting close.

This series began as a very conventional story about an American chemical weapons inspector working in Russia when there is a theft of some strange canisters, and as it continued, became more and more a horror thriller.

In this issue, Harris brings together all of his various plots, but ends up choosing to end the series with a few new surprises, and an ambiguous ending (which steals a little from Raiders of the Lost Ark).  Rolston has provided this title with some great art throughout, and I enjoyed the characterizations.  This is worth picking up in trade.

Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Richard Corben

It’s a one-shot with two Hellboy stories, both drawn by Richard Corben.  So, of course it’s good.

The book opens with a strange framing sequence involving a busted up old movie theatre.  Since my first job was at a struggling live theatre, I’ve always felt connected to run-down theatres, be they for movies or plays.

The first story is a haunted house tale, with Hellboy investigating a building that has somehow compelled a man into committing many murders.  The second story, which is pretty short, has Hellboy dealing with a museum employee that has been possessed by an Egyptian god.

While neither story is particularly groundbreaking or stretches the Hellboy mythos into new territory, both are exceptionally nice to look at, and are well-written.  It was Corben’s art that first got me to give Hellboy a chance, and I’m always happy to see him work on the character (or do any other comics for that matter).

Kill Shakespeare #7

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

This issue served as a bit of an eye-opener to me with regards to how this series has been progressing.  I’ve found myself more and more wrapped up in the story, as Juliet has begun her rebellion, and Hamlet has become more and more involved in the events of the world, but I haven’t been giving much attention to the art since the series started.

Now, with this issue, I’m coming to really appreciate the work that Andy Belanger is doing on this title.  Kill Shakespeare is frequently compared to Fables, and one source of that comparison would be the way in which Belanger is starting to design his layouts.  Many pages in this issue are framed by stage curtains, in a manner that reminded me of Mark Buckingham’s work on Fables.  There are a number of inventively-laid out pages in this issue, as Hamlet and company watch (and participate) in a play put on by some traveling actors, and later, as Hamlet and Juliet revisit their pasts in a strange, hall-of-mirrors like environment.

This has been an interesting series, and it deserves the praise it has been receiving.

Morning Glories #4

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

The last issue of Morning Glories provided a number of hints as to what this series is really about, but this month’s issue plays things very close to the vest again, with lots of vague allusions to something by the staff at the Academy.

What really made this issue work was the focus on the students’ personal interactions again.  Casey has a plan to try to rescue Jade from the Nurse’s Office, but in involves gathering the rest of the ‘glories’ together.

Spencer lays out the way in which the kids join up, and then gives them a lot of time alone together in the basement, where they are able to talk as they make tear gas out of kitchen ingredients (including a large case of wine that doesn’t seem to be necessary in a boarding school).  The four kids don’t really get along or like each other, but they are trapped by their circumstances into having to get along, and perhaps build a level of understanding of one another.

My favourite part of the book would be when one of the kids waxes nostalgic about the Bloor Cinema, a Toronto cultural landmark that played an important role in my teen years as well.  The end of this comic was not unexpected, but it does make me very interested to see how events play out next month.

Northlanders #34

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

Metal, the arc that concludes with this issue, has to be the strangest story Wood has told in Northlanders to date.  While he has danced with the supernatural in some of his stories in book before, they have always been told in the context of the characters perceiving a new thing in mystical terms.

This is the first arc that has ever moved from historically verifiable and plausible plots into the fantastical.  Prior to this issue, it was quite believable that Erik, the protagonist and berserker murderer of Christians, was quite simply insane and was imagining the supernatural elements of the story.  This issue makes it seem that the odd parts of the story were really happening, as Erik has a big fight with Black Karl, who grows in size during their brawl.

Also, Hulda, the goddess that Erik has been communicating with almost since we first saw him, also speaks to Ingrid, Erik’s love.  I’m not sure how effective this story was when compared to some of the finer Northlanders arcs, but I did like the way that Wood inverted peoples’ usual expectations for this title and made it fresh and unpredictable.  It’s been cool to see Burchielli draw something other than a bombed-out Manhattan for a change too.

Okko: The Cycle of Air #4

by Hub with Emmanuel Michalak

There aren’t many comics out there like Okko.  It’s a Medieval Japanese comic told in a French style, with plenty of busy small panels, and unpredictable events.

This issue, which wraps up the third series, or cycle, deals with the final confrontation between Okko, his friends, and Kubban Kiritsu, the monster hunter who almost murdered Okko a couple issues back.

The fight scenes are very frenetic and visually interesting, if sometimes hard to follow.  Hub’s artwork is gorgeous, but I did find a few pages to be overly detailed and difficult.

The Secret History Book Twelve: Lucky Point

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordey

It’s been quite a series of treats this week with so many overdue Archaia titles dropping at the same time.  This latest issue of The Secret History continues to impress, but I have a big complaint about this issue, which I feel I need to address before I can talk about the comic itself.

My issue is that Archaia has dropped the quality of the cover stock.  That in itself is not so much the problem, but they’ve gone with the type of cover that is easily marked with fingerprints on the black surfaces, which is most of the cover.  My copy was covered in prints, and although I was careful in reading it, I added more than a few.  I’m not all that particular about keeping my comics in hermetically sealed environments, but I do like to keep them looking attractive, and that didn’t happen with this one.  Okay, rant over.

The comic itself is pretty good.  The Secret History is an exceptionally complicated title, and so it’s hard to keep on top of everything when there are delays of many months between issues.  The story is still set in the Second World War, as the different Houses jockey for position.  With this issue we get the full story of the Battle of Midway, learn one of the true goals of the Holocaust, and get to see some bombers blow up a dam, while quoting Star Wars (a really nice touch, I thought).

This is a very cool series, which really should come out more often.

The Sixth Gun #6

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

I’m very excited to see that this title is going to have a life beyond this conclusion to the first arc.  With a title like The Sixth Gun, the sixth issue seems like such a natural place for the story to end, but I suppose that sales are good enough that Bunn and Hurtt are going to continue their tale in an on-going format.

This issue is almost entirely taken up by the battle between Sinclair and his friends with General Hume at The Maw, the General’s place of power.  Over the last couple of issues, Sinclair has been collecting some of the mystical guns usually used by the General’s men, so we get a great fight between the General’s animated corpses and Sinclair’s mud golems.

Each page of this issue is laid out in a double-page spread, which makes for a nice widescreen look to the fight scenes, helping emphasise their importance.  I think this book has the nicest looking work I’ve ever seen from Hurtt, and I feel that the story has really gelled nicely.  I know I’ll be staying with this title for as long as it lasts, and encourage others to give it a chance if you aren’t reading it already.

Quick Takes:

Avengers #7 – I’m having a hard time even believing that Bendis is writing this title, as each issue is worse than the one before it.  With this one, we get Parker Robbins (formerly the Hood) chasing down Infinity Gems, and finding them very easily (because that’s clearly the type of thing that the Inhumans would just leave lying around when they move Attilan).  We also get The Thing claiming that he gets paid well in the New Avengers, which contradicts everything Spider-Man has said about being an Avenger in his own title lately.  Then we get a couple of pages of Noh-Varr introducing his girlfriend for no reason.  Oh, there’s also a scene where Thor and Iron Man track down Wonder Man to ask why he’s so negative lately.  He’s easy to find, because for no reason at all, he’s hanging out on top of the Brooklyn Bridge.  Really, nothing in this comic makes much sense, and Romita seems determined to degrade his style further with every issue.  I’m done with this title.  New, Secret, and Academy are enough for me anyway, and they’re actually good most of the time.

Batman: The Return #1 – Aside from the fact that the title is a complete misnomer (Batman doesn’t return in this book, that’s already happened a few times elsewhere), this is a good comic, used by Morrison to lay out his plans for the Bat-verse.  While I enjoyed this, I feel like the story is slapped together from a few different sources – Batman Incorporated is the same general concept behind Morrison’s X-Corps. from his X-Men run.  Bruce’s new plans for Wayne Industries seem to borrow heavily from Iron Man, and his new network of villains, Leviathan, are already causing trouble for Hickman’s Secret Warriors at Marvel.  Still, it’s Morrison, so things are going to stay interesting.  Also, I want to go on record as saying that I’m nowhere near as much in love with David Finch’s artwork as the people at DC seem to be.  I’m going to be passing on his Dark Knight title.

Batman Incorporated #1 – I’m surprised that Morrison’s taking the slow build approach to this title, seeing as it’s the cornerstone of his new approach to Batman.  This debut has Bruce-Batman and Catwoman traveling to Japan to recruit Mr. Unknown, a street-level hero.  It seems that Mr. Unknown is having problems with a villain named Lord Death Man.  The story seems kind of light, although I like the commentary on manga.  The art is decent, and JH Williams’s cover is gorgeous.

Farscape: Scorpius #7 – There haven’t been any more issues of this book solicited, so I suppose that the title only existed to position Scorpius where he is in advance of the Kkore’s war with the Peacekeepers.  The last few issues of this book have served as an interesting examination of Scorpy’s ambition and sense of survival, but I like the idea of having all the action in the Farscape universe take place in only one title per month.

Flash #6 – Really?  That’s the motivation behind this story?  It’s been six issues in like nine months, and the ending is just silly.  I’m not impressed.  I love Manapaul’s art on this title, but I think I’m not going to stick around much longer.  This relaunch has been one disappointment after another.

Hulk #27 – As much as I like Parker and Hardman, they are falling into too much of a pattern with this title.  There’s a new threat, Steve Rogers brings someone in to work with Red Hulk to fix it, and the guest hero and RH fight.  They switch up the order of events, but that’s basically all there is going on these days.  I’d like to see some more…  Also, I’m still not feeling the Rick Jones/A-Bomb (stupid name) back-ups.  And since when is the Philippines Sea in the Atlantic Ocean?

Legion of Super-Heroes #7 – I think I’m starting to figure out why this run is not impressing me more.  To begin with, Levitz is writing the Legionnaires like they are still relatively new to the super-hero game, when they really should be written as seasoned veterans.  Their dealing with an assassination and its Durlan perpetrators rings very false.  Also, is that supposed to be a cliffhanger at the end of the back-up story?  It just kind of ends.  I’m also confused as to why the cover has nothing to do with what’s happening in the book.

Supreme #2 – You know, when Millar’s not just trying to out-do himself in terms of ultra violence or shock tactics, he can still put together a decent comic.  Sure, Superior’s not too original, but there’s something touching about the formerly-crippled new superhero and his best friend testing out his powers and just hanging out.  Yu does a great job on the art, especially with the very confusing double-page spread at the end of the issue.  The biggest problem with this comic is the laughable tag line Millar stuck on the cover, proclaiming that this is the most important comic since 1938.

Thunderbolts #150 – I guess a comic like this is typical of Marvel these days.  They want to have an anniversary issue, so they find an excuse to bring the big 3 Avengers into the comic, and then add a huge reprint to the back of the book, and charge $5 for what is really $3 worth of new material at best.  The new story was entertaining, although very contrived.  Parker writes a terrific Ghost though, so that makes it worth reading.  As for the reprint, the first Thunderbolts #1, it does a great job of reminding me why I never liked Mark Bagley’s art, especially when he designs costumes.  Those were some ugly characters…  Also, I find it interesting that the Thunderbolts timeline makes no mention of the amazing Arcudi/Velasco extreme wrestling reboot, which I think was this property at its absolute best.

X-Factor #211 – Most of this issue is taken up with a lengthy fight between X-Factor and some dead Norsemen.  Things don’t really pick up until Thor comes on the scene, and then the writing becomes a lot funnier than the rest of the issue.  I wish Marvel could find a regular artist for this title; the constant shifting is annoying.

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

DC Universe Legacies #7

Deadpool Max #2

Heroic Age Villains #1

Ides of Blood #4

Osborn #1

X-Men #5

The Week in Sets:

Incorruptible #5 – 8 – The second volume of Mark Waid’s story about one supervillain’s redemption keeps getting better the more I read.  This arc has Max Damage continue to struggle with his new vows of hero-dom, as he has to rescue his sidekick and gains another one.  Artist Horacio Domingues gets looser and more comfortable with each issue, and begins to adopt the style he’s currently using in the new Welcome to Tranquility series.  This is good stuff.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Girls Vol.2: Emergence

by the Luna Brothers

I really like the way that the Luna Brothers set up their long-form, finite comics series.  The Sword was great, and it got me to look into their back catalogue, of which I think Girls might be their most impressive work.

The story is kind of simple, a strange naked girl is found on the side of the road in a small, isolated town.  The man who finds her sleeps with her, and the next day, there are more naked girls being hatched out of eggs in his bathroom.  There is also a giant sperm in a corn field that shoots lasers, and an invisible shield around the town (that was all in the first trade).

This trade opens with the townspeople stuck on a bridge that is falling apart (since it has been bisected by the invisible shield).  The survivors hole up in a nearby house, while some of the men (the Girls attack women on sight) try to find their way out through the northern road.

What elevates this series far beyond its straight-forward science fiction plot is a few things.  For one, there is a liberal use of naked women, which can’t ever be seen as a bad thing.  Most importantly though, is the incredible character work the Lunas put into this series.  The people of this town mostly don’t get along, and as they are placed under more stress, relationships and manners get strained beyond the breaking point.  It’s wonderful to watch these characters take cheap shots at one another, and at times things escalate into open warfare.  The character dynamics become more interesting than the plot.

Of course, the Lunas never let things go very long before we are reminded of the precariousness of everyones’ situation, as attempts to contact the outside world fail, and the Girls attack.  The series really builds on a sense of suspense and confusion.  Normally I’ll spread a book like this out over a couple of days, but I read this in two sittings, since I found I couldn’t put it down.  Definitely recommended.

Side b: The Music Lover’s Comic Anthology

Edited by Rachel Dukes

This sequel to Side A, which I read a couple of weeks ago, gives more of the same great short comics pieces, influenced by music, and addresses the few shortcomings I found with the first volume.

Like its predecessor, this volume is filled with stories and strips that examine the effects that music has had on their creator.  Many of these pieces speak to the loneliness of adolescence and the way in which identification with a particular musical genre or subgenre can provide someone with a network of friends or a sense of belonging and understanding.  These stories are often touching and very honest.

Also, there are stories which detail the Proustian aspects of music, in the way in which particular songs or albums become touchstones in our lives, or act as mnemonic devices, allowing us to return to treasured memories or eras of our lives.

Most of the creators in this book are unknown to me, or are members of the underground scene that I don’t usually spend much time reading about.  There are some bigger names in this book as well.  Brandon Graham provides the introduction, and some of the pieces feature creators like Ryan Kelly, Jim Mahfood (how can you have a book like this without him?), and Rob Guillory (who probably wasn’t a big name when he drew his bit).

This is a pretty cool project.  Check it out.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Written by Chuck Dixon
Art by Esteve Polls

I’m not a big Chuck Dixon fan, but I do like reading the occasional Western comic, and this book was only $5, so I thought it was worth the risk.  Before discussing it at all, I feel like I should include the following disclaimer:  I have never seen he original The Good, The Bad and The Ugly movie, and therefore entered into this book with no knowledge other than the fact that the guy who kind of looks like Clint Eastwood is probably the hero.

It’s a good thing that I was able to figure out that much at least, because there is next to no exposition in this comic.  The story that takes up most of the book involves the Man With No Name chasing a train full of gold that is rolling across Mexico, guarded, for some reason I never figured out, but a group of French soldiers.  I’ll admit I’m not all that well-versed in Mexican/American history (aside from what I got out of Vollmann), but I had no idea that French forces once worked within Mexican borders.

Anyway, this story was kind of confusing, as the Man kept making and breaking partnerships, and no one seemed to have a clear story.  The other stories that fill out the book are clearer in the way they were plotted, but at no point did this book do anything original.  In fact, had the Man suddenly become Jonah Hex, I probably wouldn’t have noticed.  It’s like reading the poorer issues from that title.

My biggest problem with this book lay in the artwork.  Polls is quite good at drawing static scenes, but his action sequences were very hard to decipher at times.  Also, I noticed that depth was an issue here – at a couple of times, two characters have a conversation about a third that he apparently can’t hear, but in the artwork, it looks like they are all standing together.  There was a lot of shoddiness like that.

Weekly World News

Written by Chris Ryall
Art by Alan Robinson

When I first saw this mini-series being solicited, I thought it might be an amusing read, but I didn’t bother picking it up.  After reading and enjoying Chris Ryall’s Groom Lake, I thought it was worthwhile to track down some of his other comics; then I found this trade at a very low price, and snatched it up quickly.

I’ve never read the Weekly World News, except for headlines at the grocery store, and so don’t know if the character of Ed Anger is a real pseudonym used by the paper, or if it was invented for this comic.  Regardless, this book tells Ed’s story, as he wages a one-man war against WWN mainstay freaks like Bat Boy, the Manigator, the Ph.D. Ape, and a Communion-style alien.

The comic is meant as a satire of the current American right-wing media, as Anger blames Obama for many of the country’s ills.  In that, the book is occasionally funny, but I found it mostly predictable and bland.  Perhaps an artist like Ben Templesmith (who worked on Groom Lake) would have been able to elevate the material, but Robinson’s art doesn’t do much to add to the level of discourse.  I did find that the comic was fun to read, but by the time we learned that the big threat spoke French, I felt like I could have written the book myself had I spent three weeks watching Fox News.

Album of the Week:

Madlib Medicine Show No. 10 – Black Soul

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