Weekly Round-Up #52 with the Killer, American Vampire, Sweet Tooth, Buffy, Shadowland & more!

Assuming I haven’t messed up my counting somewhere along the way, this is my one-year anniversary at the Comics Nexus!  It doesn’t feel like it’s been a year, but that’s how these things go.

Best Comic of the Week:

The Killer: Modus Vivendi #6

Written by Matz
Art by Luc Jacamon

This has ended up being both my favourite issue of The Killer, and possibly the most frustrating.  When I started to read this, I thought that, in addition to being the last issue in this mini-series, it was the conclusion of the title in general.  As it turns out, there is a volume four (I suppose the first series encompassed volumes 1 and 2) still to be published in North America, and this issue leads directly into it.  In other words, nothing is resolved here at all.

But then, it’s an amazing comic still.  The Killer is still trying to figure out what to do about the Venezuelan/Cuban/American triangle he’s found himself in, and goes off to Montreal on a little working vacation with his friend and regular employer Marciano.  The Montreal pages are brilliant, as our Killer excoriates the city in one withering comment after another, and both he and Matz mock Quebecois speech patterns and the language in general.  As a proud Torontonian, it was a fun sequence.  I especially like the way that Jacamon portrayed the city – it’s still lovely, but very gray, especially when compared to the usual settings for this comic.

I also found myself really enjoying the theological and political commentaries that are spread throughout this comic.  The Killer is not one for religion, and he explains this to us in a succinct and enjoyable way.  I really enjoy the political conversations that the Killer has with Marciano, who has now started speaking of Statesiders to refer to what the rest of the world calls Americans, simply because he is not happy that the rest of the Americas does not get to be called that.

The Killer has always been a very intelligent read, but I feel like it is becoming more refined and topical with each issue.  I hope there isn’t too long a wait before Volume 4 begins, as there is a lot of momentum to this comic right now.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #9

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque and Mateus Santolouco

With this issue, the second story arc, ‘Devil in the Sand’ comes to its conclusion, and Snyder continues to give us a very interesting story.  This arc has been centred on Cashel, the sheriff of Las Vegas at the time of the construction of the Hoover Dam.  He’s been promoted after the death of his father, and is presiding over a town that has been unable to keep up with the pace of its own progress.  There were problems even before the vampires started showing up.

This issue explains everything that has been going on, as we learn that the vampires who were underwriting the Dam project were lured there by Skinner Sweet and another vampire with a connection to Cashel.  These revelations come together in a dramatic and interesting scene in a cave.  I really like where Snyder is taking this comic, with its different races of vampire, each with different strengths and weaknesses.

As always (it’s become such a routine statement), Albuquerque’s artwork is incredible.  This is such a great looking book, that it becomes easy to overlook how well written it is too.

Baltimore: The Plague Ships #5

Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Art by Ben Stenbeck

This first Baltimore series finishes very well.  These five issues have left us with a well-established character, threat, and environment, and have set the stage for (hopefully) many more stories, but have also told their own story quite well.

With this issue, we get the final pieces of Lord Baltimore’s story, as he finishes narrating it to his young companion, and we see him square off against a ton of plague-risen zombies on an island filled with wrecked boats and submarines.

Stenbeck does a great job designing all manners of Victorian diving suits for his zombies to inhabit, and generally gives the comic a terrifically creepy feel.  I like that this series is set outside of the Hellboy/BPRD continuity.

Feeding Ground #2

Written by Swifty Lang and Chris Mangun
Art by Michael Lapinski

I love that this book has had two issues come out over the last two weeks.  This is something I’ve seen Archaia do before – it’s like they go through these cycles of plenty and want – but I think it must really help to cement interest in a new comic by new creators, assuming, of course, that they can stick to some kind of a reliable schedule going forward.

This issue of Feeding Ground is better than the last, as we get a much better sense of what’s going on in the comic, and the monster that makes this a horror comic does actually appear.

This book originally seemed to be about illegal Mexican immigrants, and some family drama involving a local Mexican crimelord.  Now, with this issue, we learn a little about the militia-like farming company that has bought up land in the United States, and which apparently has some kind of connection with werewolves.  There are a lot more questions left unanswered, but the big picture is starting to emerge, and I find it to be pretty interesting.

There are elements of conspiracy (or, at the least, cover-up), and the Coyote’s family lands itself in some trouble.  Lapinski’s art is definitely growing on me, and I love the simplicity of the cover designs in this series.  The book should really stand out on the racks.  Like the first issue, this comic is printed in a flip format, with a Spanish translation provided on the back.

I, Zombie #8

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

There’s not a whole lot to say about this issue, coming in the middle of an arc as it does, except for the same things that I’ve been saying about I, Zombie for a little more than half a year now.

Roberson has created and built a very interesting world where a number of interesting creatures live according to a complex set of rules based on the Egyptian notion of the undersoul and oversoul.

In this issue, our titular zombie, is incorporating the memories of her latest meal, who happens to be the mother of a friend of hers from before her death.  Now Gwen feels the need to reconcile dead mother and still living daughter, despite what it may do to her own status quo.  First though, she has a date with Horatio, the vampire slayer she’s just met.

While this is going on, Spot has an argument with his grandfather, who recently began inhabiting the body of a chimpanzee, and Amon’s old love, Galatea, starts to be established as a possible problem.

Allred’s art is as great as ever, and Roberson’s writing is sharp.  We’ve lost a couple of great Vertigo titles – I hope this one is doing well enough to stick around for a while.

King City #12

by Brandon Graham

I’m very sad to see this comic come to an end, although I’m impressed with how well Graham pulled the various threads of his sprawling story into a nice coherent conclusion.

King City, especially in it’s second (new) half, has been all over the place in terms of story and narrative structure.  There was a while where I was wondering if Graham had a plan for the book at all, and the sudden introduction of a pile of new characters at the end of the penultimate issue really made me wonder what he was up to.

As it turns out, this issue has our Cat Master protagonist help his ex-girlfriend rescue her current boyfriend from a medical clinic that wants to harvest his calcified (chalk-ified?) organs and limbs; a disquisition on the nefarious uses of corn in many of our foods and products; and a giant demon thing.

Graham’s work is a lot of fun.  Each and every panel is seeded with strange jokes and clever word-play, and his uses for cats never cease to amaze.  Coupled with his truly unique brand of artwork, King City is a comics experience like nothing else.  Now that the story is complete, I hope it won’t be long before we see a second issue of Multiple Warheads, his other brilliant comic series.

Supergod #5

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Garrie Gastonny

While only seven months late, the conclusion to Ellis’s strange science fiction series is pretty satisfying.

Supergod has been an odd duck from the beginning.  It’s been narrated by a British scientist who has been involved in his country’s plans to create an artificial god (based on space mushrooms).  The same thing has been happening in other countries, and basically, they all fight.

Of course, it’s more complicated than that, as Ellis works with the religious traditions and beliefs of a number of different cultures, and tries to map them onto the different countries’ imagined approach to theological weapons of mass destruction.  While the series has had a number of interesting and novel ideas, it has lacked a real heart or sense of focus.  It’s hard to care about the ending of the world when it’s hard to care about any of the people on it.

Still, this has been a competent and interesting thought exercise of a limited series, and is destined to read better in one setting (without half-year gaps between issues).  Gastonny’s art is pretty nice, although done in the Avatar house style.  Now that this series is finished, is there hope that we may see another issue of Doktor Sleepless one day?

Sweet Tooth #16

by Jeff Lemire

All of Lemire’s different storylines of the last few months converge as Gus and his friends get captured by the militia they had escaped from, just as Abbot and Dr. Singh return to the compound, and as Jeppard and the religious cult army he’s gathered show up at the gates.

A lot of mayhem ensues, but Lemire also finds some time to work in some nice character moments.  Jeppard more or less explains why he’s coming back for Gus, and we learn a lot about the guy who runs the weirdo religious cult.

This is a great action issue, but it also reveals some interesting facts about Jeppard that I don’t want to spoil by talking about here.

Lemire’s beginning to get some serious attention.  He’s writing Superboy at DC, as well as the Atom back-up in Adventure Comics that has been more or less canceled because of their new publishing strategy.  More importantly, his brilliant Essex County graphic novel has been named one of the finalists in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Canada Reads 2011 program – the first graphic novel to ever achieve that honour.  He’s a very talented writer and artist, and I hope that all of this attention will help drive up sales for this excellent and unique comic.

Quick Takes:

Adventure Comics #521 – Am I the only person that thinks that turning one of the Legion titles into “Green Lantern in the 31st Century” is just a sales gimmick.  I’m getting more and more disappointed in Levitz’s Legion run, for the simple fact that it’s not better than his classic run.  I know that nostalgia sells in comics, but can’t believe that people want things to never change to this extent.  I’m going to give Levitz a little more time (the upcoming reduction in price helps here), but I do want to be impressed soon…

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #39 – Blah blah blah.  One issue left, right?  I’ve been way too loyal, as this book stopped making sense months ago.

Generation Hope #2 – If Hope really does represent the future of all mutantkind, we’re in for a lot more derivative, run of the mill comics.  I’m a little surprised by how bland this book is – Gillen is an amazing writer, but it feels like Marvel editorial have their fingerprints all over this baby.  Hope is still dealing with the last of the Lights in Japan, but it’s not that exciting or interesting.  Espin’s art is growing on me a little more, but it’s a little more manga than I usually like.

Heroes for Hire #1 – I like the idea of the old H4H property being dusted off for the 21st century, and thought this was a very competent issue written by Abnett and Lanning, and drawn by Brad Walker, but had a few things I wasn’t sure of.  I’m not really buying Misty Knight in an Oracle-like role.  She’s too much of a hands-on character for this, although the reveal at the end of the issue may lead to that changing.  I also don’t buy her calling each character she talks to ‘hero’.  It feels a little forced, but I’m sure that a lot of this will change as the series progresses.  I’m definitely interested enough to come back for the next issue, which makes this a successful debut.

Jonah Hex #62 – I’m not sure why it’s taken so long for DC to get Eduardo Risso to do an issue of Jonah Hex.  He’s a natural artist for this title, and I enjoyed his art on this issue involving circus-style revenge and intrigue involving the transport of a giant octopus across the desert.  I think that Risso’s sense of scale in the octopus scenes was way out of whack, but otherwise, this was a pretty good issue.  I’d love to see him on this book again.

Rasl #9 – As much as I like Rasl, I’m finding it to be moving pretty slowly lately, which is never good for a book that comes out so sporadically.  It feels like Smith is really working to build up his story before letting too much happen, and I don’t know if that’s the best course of action.  This issue gives us a long talk about Tesla, aliens, Aboriginal mythology, and time machines in the desert, and introduces what could be a new player into poor Rasl’s inter-dimensional wanderings.  It’s interesting, and if it came out bimonthly, I’d be a lot more forgiving.

Secret Six #28 – This issue made me very happy.  First, there’s the usual raft of great character moments and terrific dialogue that we always expect from an issue of Secret Six, as the two different Six teams continue to fight it out in Skartaris (while dressed like extras from Red Sonja).  But what really makes this issue for me is the promise of many more issues that will be featuring Amanda Waller, one of my all-time favourite comics characters.  Simone can write Waller as well as John Ostrander did on his classic Suicide Squad run, and to me, this means that one of the best books DC publishes just got a lot better.  Great stuff.

Shadowland #5 – I’m a little disappointed in how this all ended.  The notion of Daredevil leading the Hand should have been something that lasted a little longer, and I wish that Diggle could have finished the story without having to fall back on some standard mysticism and Catholicism ending.  This has been decent, but not all that special in the end.

Daredevil #512 – This book, on the other hand, has been excellent throughout the Shadowland event.  By focusing on Daredevil’s supporting cast, Diggle and Johnston have kept things feeling relevant and much more monumental than they did in the series full of guest stars.  I’m not sure about the Black Panther taking over this book, but as the art is by Francisco Francavilla, I’m going to give it a chance.  I wonder if there are plans for some of this book’s cast.  I don’t care about Foggy (is he just in love with Murdock?), but I’m going to miss Dakota North if she’s not going to be used.

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

Bullet To The Head #6

Captain America: Patriot #4

Iron Man Thor #2

Irredeemable #20

Marineman #1

Taskmaster #4

Wolverine The Best There Is #1 (only for the Ryp artwork – I’m not interested in Huston)

Bargain Comics:

Ant-Man & Wasp #1 – This is kind of a fun comic, but it’s trying a little too hard for a Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League feel.  I don’t think anyone other than Robert Kirkman should be allowed to write Eric O’Grady’s character; they play him more as a cartoonish oaf than Kirkman did.  This is a decent comic, but not essential.

Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #3 – If you look at this comic as simply a vehicle for Adam Kubert’s art, it’s quite successful.  Aaron is creating any number of weird scenarios for him to draw – there is a 3-page fold-out of Wolverine staring down a living planet that is Dr. Doom in this issue – but the story doesn’t make much sense at all.

Captain America: Patriot #1 & 2 – The first half of this mini-series that focuses on Jeff Mace, the original Patriot and third Captain America, is terrific.  Kesel’s story is sharp and much fuller than most decompressed comics of today, and the Breitweisers make it look fantastic.  I love seeing the post-war All-Winners Squad, as this book shines a light on a pretty-much forgotten stretch of Marvel history.

Doomwar #6 – This series started out so great, but really kind of fizzled in the end.  I was going to check out Klaw of the Panther, but now I’m not so sure…

Fantastic Four in Ataque del MODOK #1 – These Beland and Doe Fantastic Four specials are a lot of fun.  Doe’s artwork is great – I love his Deco-influenced style, and Beland really gets how to write Reed and Sue as a couple, even if things get a little too cutesy in parts for me.

X-Men: Curse of the Mutants: X-Men Vs. Vampires #1 & 2 – Okay, so there are tons of vampires all over San Francisco, but I don’t quite understand why so many of the X-Men are out hunting for them alone.  It doesn’t make much tactical sense, except I guess from an editorial standpoint.  There are some good stories in here, although they are mostly in the second issue.  I like the Santos and Hisako team-up with fantastic art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta, and Howard Chaykin, who I normally can’t stand, provides a terrific Karma story.  The two issues also re-print the first X-Men/Dracula story, with pencils by a very early Bill Sienkiewicz, and over-writing by Chris Claremont.

X-Men: To Serve and Protect #1 – Now this is a much better anthology series.  It has a Rockslide and Anole story by Christopher Yost, as well as stories featuring Fantomex fighting Batroc the Leaper, Emma Frost fighting the Mandrill, and a Cypher tale.  The art is serviceable, but the stories are a lot of fun, and help to make sense of why people in San Francisco like the X-Men so much, an idea that has been mentioned before, but rarely explored.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Push Man and Other Stories

by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

I’ve mentioned before how I would like to have a better understanding of manga, but for the most part, it eludes me.  When Drawn & Quarterly had their annual sale a few months back, I thought I’d give this collection of the earliest stories from the “grandfather of Japanese alternative comics” a try.

The Push Man contains sixteen stories from 1969 in one beautifully constructed hard cover volume.  The stories are for the most part, eight pages in length, with a couple of longer stories.  They’ve been reconstructed to read from left to right.

For the most part, these stories feature low-wage workers in Japan, who have difficult relationships with their wives or girlfriends, who in turn are usually bar girls.  Many of these stories end in betrayal or dissolution of the relationships, and I felt like there was a current of misogyny in many of these tales.  Of course, this stuff is very Japanese, and from a time just prior to Japan’s massive technological growth and modernization, which makes the comics difficult to understand without some further explanation, which is not included.

Many of these stories touch on the same themes.  There are repeated images of sewers and rats, and (inexplicably and horrifyingly) fetuses that have been dumped in the sewer.  These stories also contain a rather raw approach to sexuality, and more homosexuality than I would have expected based on the time they are from.  Basically, these stories drove home to me that I don’t know much about Japan, although it is a place I’ve always had an interest in.

Tatsumi’s art is quite lovely – many of his establishing shots, which depict poor neighbourhoods or slums, are amazingly detailed and rendered.  I would like to check out some more of his work.

Superman: Red Sun

Written by Mark Millar
Art by Dave Johnson, Kilian Plunkett, Andrew Robinson, and Walden Wong

Whenever Mark Millar gets praised in the comics world, this book gets mentioned.  It came out after I had more or less sworn off Elseworlds comics, and although it had artwork by Dave Johnson, I somehow never read it until now.

I can see why it gets so much praise – it’s probably Millar’s tightest plotted and best-executed comic I’ve read yet.  The premise is cool – that baby Kal-El crash lands in Soviet Ukraine instead of in Kansas, and grows up a true believer in Stalins Soviet Union.  Eventually, Superman becomes the leader of the Union, and enters into a decades-long lukewarm war with the United States and its champion, Lex Luthor.

Millar has fun turning the standard archetypes of Superman comics upside-down, but doesn’t give in to the baser urges that seem to rule his other writing gigs.  Instead, this remains a very intelligent comic, as it delves into the ideological differences between capitalism and communism, and how they make use of their superheroes.

The Dave Johnson artwork is fantastic, as is the work of Kilian Plunkett, who finished the series.  I don’t know why we never see Johnson work on interiors in comics; it’s a shame.  There is a very cool sense of design in this book, as he plays with the iconography of the Soviet era, and redesigns characters like Batman very effectively.  Great stuff here.

War is Boring

Written by David Axe
Art by Matt Bors

David Axe is a war correspondent who has written a number of books and one other graphic novel before putting together War is Boring, his account of his journey through a number of different conflict zones, and the realizations he came to about himself, warfare, and human nature.

Axe’s central tenet, that war is boring, didn’t get as much exploration as I expected in this book.  In fact, the speed with which he dispatches major conflicts often gives the opposite impression; war is only boring because he tells us it is, he never shows it.  Which is not to say the book isn’t good – I found it quite enjoyable and a pretty gripping read.

Axe portrays himself as a pretty difficult person.  He’s only happy when he’s covering war zones, and like an addict, keeps looking to increase the level of his experience with each new assignment.  He bounces through places like Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor, and Lebanon before challenging himself to go to Somalia, a region so dangerous his previously risk-adverse publisher refused to pay for his trip.  In each of these places, Axe feels a momentary sense of satisfaction, but it quickly fades once he returns home to ‘normal life’.  Eventually, he ends up in Chad, looking to cover the Darfur region of Sudan.

What I found both interesting and frustrating about the book was the way in which Axe didn’t really go into much detail about any of the places or conflicts he was bearing witness to.  The implication is that these places don’t matter beyond the visceral experiences they can provide him.  I would have been interested in learning a little more about each place, but I can understand why the decision was made to keep the book lean in terms of details.

This is an interesting read, with an interesting premise.  The art is serviceable and decent, if not spectacular.  I am curious to give Axe’s other book a try.

Album of the Week:

Atmosphere – To All My Friends/Blood Makes The Blade Holy

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