Weekly Round-Up #51 with the Walking Dead, Skull Kickers, Batman & more

Best Comic of the Week:

The Walking Dead #79

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard

So now that the TV show has started, is it going to become necessary to establish Walking Dead bonafides with every review?  For the record, I’ve been with the book since around the 7th or 8th issue, and therefore feel pretty qualified to say that the comic is perhaps better than it’s ever been.

I hope that the TV show is bringing new attention to the book – comic stores could definitely benefit from ‘civilian’ interest in a title that is easily bought from the beginning, and which isn’t trying to flood the market with hundreds of confusing and nearly-identical mini-series and trades in advance of a media release (*cough*Marvel*cough*).  New readers to the Walking Dead can get caught up in a number of handy different ways, and they shouldn’t be disappointed.

Of course, if they pick up this issue, they’ll only recognize perhaps three or four people, and will be confused as hell.  But for us long-time fans, this is another stellar chapter.  After the gun play of the last issue, a number of walkers have shown up around the gates of the Community, so Abraham leads a team outside the walls to try to clear things out a bit.  It’s nice to have an issue of Walking Dead that’s about the zombies again – it’s been a while, and I think we periodically need something like this to happen to remind us of the real threats out there.

While this is going on, Aaron returns to the town, after having made an unsuccessful attempt to bring in a new recruit.  He and Douglas have a chat about leadership, while various other members of the Community go about their lives.  This issue feels like it’s a lead-in to the next big arc, “No Way Out”, which starts next issue.

Other Notable Comics:

DMZ #59

Written by Brian Wood
Art by David Lapham

This issue finishes off the ‘Collective Punishment’ arc, which has consisted of one-off stories focusing on different inhabitants of New York as the American army rains down missiles on the city.  With this issue, we turn the camera back to Matty Roth, the usual main character of this title, as he holes up in a bomb shelter with a varied cross-section of the city’s inhabitants.

Now, Matty has become an increasingly controversial person in the city, what with his involvement in Parco Delgado’s mayoral regime, the fact that he procured a nuclear bomb for Parco, and was the person who set off the current hostilities by acting rashly.  He bribes his way into the shelter with the materials that Liberty News gave him, and proceeds to spend the night with this group of New Yorkers.  He meets a former Central Park ghost (they were a radical environmental militia), one of Parco’s drivers, a deaf music student, and a rich jerk.  Basically, your typical crowd.

The issue has Matty being all introspective and navel-gazing again, which is what he really excels at, but it is a good issue none the less.  The ending is pretty poetic, and it is kind of nice to check in with Matty again, as much as I prefer the stories without him.

Part of what makes this issue interesting is Lapham’s artwork.  He brings a different level of realism to peoples’ expressions than regular artist Riccardo Burchielli brings to the table, and this helps to get a sense of the silent majority of rooms’ feelings and opinions about Matty and their situation.  I know there’s not much left to this series (and really, NY can’t take much more), and I look forward to seeing how Wood is going to wrap this all up.

Feeding Ground #1

Written by Swifty Lang, Michael Lapinski, and Chris Mangun
Art by Michael Lapinski

Although the story in the first issue of Feeding Ground can be a little hard to follow in a few places, it’s an interesting debut from a trio of creators I’m unfamiliar with.

Feeding Ground is set in a Mexican border town, and appears to be centred on a coyote (a man who helps people cross the border illegally) who seems to have some sort of connection with Blackwell, a military contractor-type company with ties to a farm that has taken over large parts of the region.  There are some things going on with the coyote’s family back in Mexico – his wife has had a run in with someone who appears to be from a drug cartel, and his daughter has had a strange thing happen to her along the fence that involves blood and dogs, but it’s unclear.

There are also many hints that something strange is going on in the desert.  One of the pollos – the men that the coyote helps cross – is running around naked and cutting into his flesh at one point.  I think this is supposed to be a werewolf comic at some point, but the creators are keeping that close to the vest here.

Okay, so it’s obvious that things weren’t very easy to understand from re-reading what I just wrote, but I’m still intrigued enough to read the rest of this series.  The art is a little stiff, but the character work is lovely, and reminds me a little of Francesco Francavilla.  The monochromatic colour scheme works well at suggesting the washed out feel of the desert.

This issue is thick and heavy, with 28 pages of story, which are then repeated on the flip side, but in Spanish.  I don’t know if they are going to be continuing with this gimmick, but it’s kind of interesting, especially since it didn’t become an excuse to jack up the cost of the book (which is a good buy at $3.95).  Check this out – it’s flawed, but it’s almost much more earnest and clearly a labour of love than a lot of the books on the stand.

Scalped #43

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Jason Latour

There’s nothing too surprising in finding out that the newest issue of Scalped is, once again, excellent.  This month we get a ‘done in one’ issue, featuring art by Jason Latour, and focusing on Wooster Karnow, the sheriff of White Haven, Nebraska, the town outside the reserve where most of Scalped takes place.  We’ve seen the sheriff before, but we haven’t learned too much about him.

The issue opens with him regaling a couple of local boys with stories of his Vietnam glory days, although he’s interrupted by a US Marshal, in town to hunt down an escaped fugitive.

The rest of the issue is an exploration of Karnow’s character.  We learn very quickly that he’s full of crap about just about anything he’s ever claimed, and the arrival of the Marshal, who is the real deal, sends him into a kind of despair.  It’s an interesting character study, and it appears to be leading to some sort of confrontation with Red Crow at the very end of the book, showing that it may have some relevance to the long-term Scalped story.

Skull Kickers #3

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang

Skull Kickers continues to be a lot of fun, although this issue doesn’t seem to cover as much ground as the first two issues did.  This one seemed to be over pretty quickly, although a lot of the issue was taken up with two scenes – one a strange, perhaps portentious vision brought on by a pot of poisoned stew, and the other a large fight scene involving reanimated corpses.

Zubkavich uses a few of the quieter scenes in this issue to help build up the relationship between the two protagonists, neither of which have been named yet.  I like the dream/vision sequence, as it helps guarantee that there is a plan for this series, because so far the plot feels a little random.

Huang’s artwork, paired with Misty Coats digital colouring is really beginning to grow on me.  I know that a lot of new Image series are getting a fair deal of attention when they come out, but I hope that the sales on this book are healthy enough to grant it a reasonable run.

Quick Takes:

Batman and Robin #17 – Okay, so I knew going in that it was going to be a fill-in arc before Tomasi and Gleason take over this comic.  I knew that it would have art by Scott McDaniel, so I knew I wouldn’t be likely to be happy, but I’m trying to get a handle on Paul Cornell as a writer.  I didn’t care for his Captain Britain (even though everyone else seemed to love it), and have had no interest in his Action Comics run at all.  But, his Knight and Squire is great, and I expected this to be quite similar, which it kind of is, but really, this comic is a little too weird for me.  I know that the thought of following Grant Morrison on anything must be terrifying, but I feel like Cornell is trying to do a Morrison-esque Batman story, without his ability to make something utterly bizarre utterly readable.  I don’t really understand this story – the flashback is cool, with Dick-Batman doing some neat Detective work, and with some insightful comments on the characters, but the actual villain, revealed on the last page, is beyond ridiculous.  Also – does Scott McDaniel not realize that Damian is a little kid?  He’s as tall as Tim Drake.

Batwoman #0 – I’d have been happier with something longer than 16 pages, but any JH Williams artwork is a nice treat (Amy Reeder’s is pretty nice too).  This issue is made up of Batman evaluating Batwoman, and investigating her identity.  I’m not sure how he can spare 20 straight days to tail anyone and still appear in so many books a month, but it seems that Williams, with W. Haden Blackman, is going to be able to handle the writing on this series.  I’m looking forward to this comic getting its real start soon.

Captain America #612 – Alright, so Bucky is in jail awaiting trial for his actions as the Winter Soldier (which will maybe some day be put to rest?), while Master Man busts out Sin, the Red Skull’s daughter, from her imprisonment.  Brubaker keeps circling the same material in this run now, but he is doing it quite effectively.  I like this book best when Butch Guice is handling the artwork – this is a good run.

Chaos War: Alpha Flight #1 – As far as mini-events with far too many spin-offs go, Chaos War has been more disappointing than most, but I am a loyal, less than semi-patriotic Canadian with a deep-seated love of Alpha Flight, so I felt compelled to buy this.  It’s a disappointment, as the original team (minus Puck) is resurrected in an overly-complicated way, to posture and act out of character for a while.  The art is only so-so, and the story audibly creaks under the weight of its scaffolding.  Still, it’s nice to see the old crew for a bit.  Marvel – it’s not time to bring them back yet; it wouldn’t work.

Detective Comics #871 – I was looking forward to seeing what Scott Snyder would do on Detective – I’ve really enjoyed his American Vampire, and figured he’d have a good take on Batman and his world.  This issue definitely didn’t disappoint, as he has Dick-Batman investigating a string of crimes involving old police evidence.  This run is being drawn by Jock, and there is a Commissioner Gordon back-up with art by Francesco Francavilla – two artists I admire a lot.  I like that the back-up is subtly referenced in the main story; this might be the only comic where I regret DC’s decision to do away with the back-ups.  I’m going to stick with the title as long as this creative team is working on it.

Fantastic Four #585 – More things are happening in the last few issues than most of Hickman’s run, as he takes a completely different approach to Marvel’s first family by splitting them up with individual storylines and challenges.  It’s working, as we build to the end of the ‘3’ story, and a supposed death.

Firebreather: Holmgang #1 – I’m really happy to see this comic return, as it’s been a long time since the last issue was published.  This picks up right after Belloc died, and Duncan has to keep his father’s death a secret.  He makes his way home, where he has to deal with being grounded, and immediately lands in some conflict with his best friend and the girl he likes.  Hester writes teen characters better than anyone else is these days, and works the alienation vibe perfectly.  Kuhn’s art is great.  I’m really looking forward to the next issue, and hope this series stays on schedule this time around.

Incredible Hulks #617 – Now that we’ve finished with Hiro-Kala, I’m even more curious to see where Pak is going to take this title.  I feel like there’s a lot of potential in this series, I’m just skeptical as to whether or not they’ll be able to pull it off properly.  This Dark Son arc has been decent, but I think that shifting the focus more squarely onto the concept of the Hulk’s family is the way to go.

Invincible Iron Man #32 – This issue has ‘Team Iron Man’ face off against Detroit Steel and a huge pile of remote drones that are run off of iphones.  I love the concept, and Fraction scripts the hell out of this book, with some nice banter between Rescue and War Machine (or is that Iron Man 2.0?  So stupid).  I was really into the comic and annoyed when the story ended, although the fact that it was followed up by a Jamie McKelvie-drawn Rescue back-up was a nice surprise.  That this is now a $4 comic was not such a nice surprise though…

Justice Society of America #45 – I think I want to like Guggenheim’s run much more than I actually do, but I’m willing to give him a couple of issues to impress me (I didn’t give up on Willingham’s horrible run for a while).  I’m not sure how a Nazi weapon-baby might grow up to be a ‘super terrorist’ while living inside an American black hole prison, and it’s lapses like that this that make me question the story here.  I’m not a big Scott Kolins fan, but I can appreciate that he makes some of these characters look old (strangely, even in the WWII flashback).  I love the JSA, so I hope things pick up quickly.

New Mutants #19 – According to the cover, this is the last issue of the Fall of the New Mutants arc, but then there is nothing like a conclusion here, so I’m going to assume that Marvel’s just screwed up again.  This issue is good enough, but this arc has gone on too long for me.  I find I’m starting to lose interest in this title.

Secret Avengers #7 – I like this book, but I’m still having some trouble with the basic concept.  At the same time, I like most of the characters that Brubaker is using, and the plot moves at a good pace.  I don’t know why Moon Knight is on the cover and not in the book – it’s not like he sells comics – and I’m looking forward to seeing where all this is going.  I also find it interesting how far characters go to avoid naming Shang-Chi’s father – I know that Fu Manchu was a character who would be inappropriate today, but it’s weird to bring him back at all, and then not name him.

Secret Warriors #22 – A great issue, as Fury’s assault on Gehenna is completed (minus a couple of people), and Fury confronts the member of his team who betrayed him.  This all leads to some restructuring of the Hydra organization, as the series moves ever closer to its conclusion.  It’s nice to have Vitti on art for the whole issue – he’s a good artist.

Uncanny X-Force #2 – Remender does a good job of establishing some of the relationships on this new team made up of characters who have known each other for years.  I’m not sure about the size of their new base (just how rich is Angel anyway), but the rest of the set-up works pretty well.  I’d probably like this comic a lot more if Apocalypse weren’t such a boring villain; granted, with Opena on art, I’d be cool with them taking on just about anyone.

Uncanny X-Men #530 – Another very well-written issue from Fraction that is more than a little marred by Greg Land’s artwork.  There has been a flu outbreak on Utopia – HXN1 – and the X-Men are under quarantine, except for a handful of second-stringers that are on the mainland.  At the same time, Emma, Kitty, and Fantomas are deciding what to do with Sebastian Shaw, and the Sublime group create their own mutants based on a very familiar look.  This is a good run.

X-Men Legacy #242 – Just when I was ready to give up on this title, Carey delivers a decent story about a group of B-level X-Men helping to rebuild San Francisco.  It has a few problems – like too much Hope, any number of union issues caused by superheroes taking over a construction site, and the sudden and inexplicable appearance of an unsupervised little girl on said site – but it’s a different look for the X-Men than we’ve seen recently, and it makes good use of some of the New X-Men kids.  If I wasn’t so uninterested in Age of X, this book would have been granted a stay of execution.

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

Incorruptible #12

Incredible Hulks Enigma Force #3

John Moore Presents Dead Soldier #3

Klaws of the Panther #3

Shadowland Blood on the Streets #4

Shadowland Power Man #4

Bargain Comics:

Deadpool #900 – I hate Deadpool, but I’d heard some good things about this gigantic comic, and it was only $1.  Still, most of the book is unreadable.  There is some nice art by Kyle Baker and Damion Scott, but it’s swallowed up by the overly wordy narration and pointless plots.  I’ve never understood the appeal of this stuff.

G.I. Joe Origins #12 – So I only just found out that this series employs creators that I like – I never would have thought of checking out one of these titles otherwise.  This issue is by Marc (Torso, Manhunter) Andreyko and Ben Templesmith, whose work I adore.  It features the Baroness, and shares her origin as a revolutionary.  It’s over pretty quickly, but it is pretty.

Incorruptible #9 – This is a cool issue, as it has Max come to a few realizations about himself, as he and the new Jailbait try to rescue the Plutonian’s ex-girlfriend from some racist thugs.

Shadowland: Blood on the Streets #2 & 3 – I’m enjoying this D-List team-up series.  At first, I found it a little slow moving, but the third issue has me very curious as to what’s going on.  I don’t know how much this series is going to tie into the upcoming Heroes for Hire series, so I’m keeping an eye on it.

Shadowland: Elektra #1 – This is a completely pointless issue in terms of story, not even really doing anything with Elektra’s character, but it is very pretty thanks to Emma Rios.  I especially like the scenes alongside the cliff, which Elektra has been climbing since I was 12.  (In other words, do something new with her or leave her alone Marvel!)

Shadowland: Power Man #2 & 3 – I really like the new Power Man, perhaps even enough to follow his next series (if it’s priced at $3).  Van Lente does a great job of building up this character, and I like that so much of his origin has been kept a secret until the third issue.  What I’m not so sure of is the use of the Blaxploitation Brigade of stupid super villains in the second issue.  If they want to make the character credible, they should work at giving him some less ridiculous (and less racially-charged) rogues.

Shadowland: Spider-Man #1 – This one-shot is a lot like the Elektra one – it’s very pretty (thanks to Paulo Siqueira) but doesn’t add much to Shadowland, Spider-Man, nor Shang-Chi, who is the real star of this book.  The two heroes help some Hand ninja in a fight with Mr. Negative.  It’s not a bad comic, it’s just inconsequential.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Above and Below

by James Sturm

I like historical novels and comics quite a bit, so I figured this collection of two stories would be worth a look.  I hadn’t realized these two stories, The Revival and Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight, with another story, make up the hardcover book James Sturm’s America.

The first of these two stories is focused on a revival meeting that happened in Kentucky in 1801.  This meeting brought a large number of pilgrims, pioneers, and kooks into the area.  Sturm tells his story mainly through the actions of one particular couple, but he does an interesting job of portraying the variety of people swept up in the movement at the time.  It’s an interesting little story.

Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight is more involved, as it tells the story of a failing coal mine in Idaho in 1886.  The mine was always marred with violence (the story opens on a group of miners attacking and killing a group of Chinese who had taken over the property), and when the nicer of the two owners is killed in an accident, things turn from bad to worse.

As the mine has not been making much money, the workers have not been getting paid.  Soon, the town is swept up in rumors of strikes, hidden gold, and the promise of bettering oneself through direct and violent action.  It’s a cool story, and Sturm establishes and builds up his characters in a very short space.  I liked this story better than the first one.

Jar of Fools

by Jason Lutes

I know it’s bad that I hadn’t ever read this book until just now, but sometimes that’s the way things go.  There are so many great comics being published that I end up missing things that I know I’ll love.

I used to read Lute’s Berlin, until the delays between issues irritated me to the point of giving up on the series.  I always figure that I’ll go back to it one day when it’s all finished.

Jar of Fools reads like a Paul Auster novel.  It features a cast of characters who meet up more or less by chance, and simply coexist for a while.  The protagonist is a failing alcoholic musician who has never gotten over a break-up with his girlfriend, which came shortly after the death or suicide of his brother in an escape artist trick involving a river, a ball and chain, and a straightjacket.  His mentor escapes from an old-folks home, and comes to live with him just as he loses his apartment.

The pair take up with a confidence man and his daughter, who live in their car under an overpass.  The magician’s ex-girlfriend ends up in a lot of trouble because of the con-man, and all of these people end up together trying to navigate life.

The book is not very tightly plotted; stuff just sort of happens as they go about their lives (or try to), and the beauty of the comic lies in their interactions with one another and the way in which they try to improve their situations.  It’s a very lovely book on all levels.

As an aside – have you noticed the fixation in indie comics with power lines?  It’s a recurring theme in this book, although I’m not sure why.

Olympians Vol. 1: Zeus King of the Gods

by George O’Connor

I read George O’Connor’s first graphic novel, Journey into Mohawk Country, and was pretty unimpressed, despite the fact that the subject matter is right up my alley.  When I saw reviews for Zeus, the first of his Olympian graphic novel series, I never realized that it was by the same creator; he has completely changed his style and approach for this book.

In these books, O’Connor is retelling the classic Greek myths for a more modern audience.  In many ways, he’s borrowing a few pages from Lee and Kirby, envisioning these deities as the first superheroes, although he stays true to the essence and look of their sources.

This volume deals with the creation of the world, and the way in which Zeus led his brothers and sisters to overthrow the Titans.  There’s plenty of action, and a pretty quick-moving plot.  There are a few places where O’Connor has played with the characters’ motivations to make them easier to relate to and understand, but for the most part, he’s gone for a faithful portrayal (although I’m not sure why he leaves out the rivalry between Zeus and his siblings).

Artistically, he’s come a long way.  I feel like the art is a bit of a mix between early Mike Mignola and Michael Avon Oeming, if that makes sense.  He really works at portraying the differences in size between the Titans and the Olympians, which I thought made the battle scenes pretty effective.  My favourite character design would have to be for the Hekatonchieres, the hundred-handed creatures that guard Tartarus.  They have hands coming out of their fingers, in a very fractal design that I thought was cool.

While I enjoyed this book, I thought that it was too short for the full hardcover treatment – the story was only 66 pages, with some back matter used to round things out.  I would not have been happy to pay full price for something so short.

Album of the Week:

Asmara All Stars – Eritrea’s Got Soul

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