Weekly Round-Up #53 with Fables 100, BPRD, Flash, Thor, Avengers & more

Best Comic of the Week:

Fables# 100

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Marc Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, and others

Well, this is one hell of an impressive comic.  For the 100th issue of Fables, an amazing milestone for a Vertigo book in this day and age, Willingham and friends pull out all the stops.

To begin with, the book has a 65-odd page story detailing the big battle between Frau Totenkinder and Mr. Dark.  Totenkinder, now called Bellflower, finally reveals the depths of her powers and abilities, as she takes on this massively powerful antagonist.  The battle is pretty innovative, as she uses a number of pre-prepared spells to try to ‘box’ her opponent.  The outcome of this battle changes the status quo for the book’s massive cast, and was pretty unexpected.

While all of this is going on, Beauty goes into labour, and finally delivers her baby.  These scenes are sprinkled in and around the battle, and there is a fascinating blow-out between Snow White and Nurse Spratt, which also looks to have some important consequences.

This huge story is positively lovely.  Lee Loughridge is doing something new with the colours, and the book feels more burnished and refined than usual.

After the main story, there are a few interesting tidbits added into the mix.  There is a prose story written by Buckingham and illustrated by Willingham, which is kind of fun, and a few short stories that follow up on the new status quo I mentioned before.

Also, there are a few one or two-page strips used to answer some questions about the characters in the series asked by a few minor celebrities (none of whom I’d ever heard of).

Fables is consistently a terrific read, but this issue is a milestone in a number of different ways.  While at $10 it’s kind of expensive, I felt that I got more than my money’s worth with it.

Other Notable Comics:

BPRD Hell on Earth – New World #5

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Guy Davis

There’s some pretty interesting stuff going on in BPRD these days, as this issue sheds some light on the origins of the strange creature that’s been giving Abe and Daimyo such a hard time in BC, and in turn drops some hints as to what’s going on the world over.

While the storyline involving this monster takes up most of this book, there are plenty of other interesting things going on at BPRD headquarters these days that deserve some discussion.  There continues to be more tension between Abe and Devon, who thinks that he’s the ‘anti-Christ’, although the cause of that animosity showing up in this issue turns out to be someone else, who has been acting very strangely of late.

What’s kept me interested in this book has always been the strong characters and their sometimes contentious relationships with each other.  Now that the world has been going through so many changes and new challenges, it seems that all of these relationships have been pushed to the limit, making this book ever more interesting.

Halcyon #2

Written by Marc Guggenheim and Tara Butters
Art by Ryan Bodenheim

It feels like there aren’t all that many new angles to approach a superhero world with, but Guggenheim and Butters have found a unique take on things – a world where superheroes have become obsolete.  Okay, that’s been seen before, but not where it’s happened through natural progression or evolution – people have just stopped doing bad things.

The various heroes of this world are struggling with finding a place for themselves.  Some have embraced the new status quo, while others struggle to find a reason or explanation behind the changes.  There is some suggestion that this world’s equivalent of Dr. Doom, Oculus, may have something to do with it, but that feels like a red herring.

While I like this approach, and love Bodenheim’s art, the problem with this comic is that the characters are not developed enough to be differentiated on the page.  There’s the scene where the Batman-analogue tracks down another character, and I had no idea who anyone was throughout the scene.

This series does have a lot of potential, and I hope it’s better able to rise to it as it continues.

Northlanders #35

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan

I had completely forgotten that the new issue of Northlanders was going to feature art from Becky Cloonan, so this became the nicest surprise of the week for me.

This issues sets off a new, two-part arc called ‘The Girl in the Ice’.  It’s set in Iceland around 1240, and focuses on an old man who lives alone in an isolated valley.  Wood establishes quickly that this man lives according to a pretty strict routine, and has an uneventful life, separate from the constant warring and drama that takes place between local clans.

One day, the man discovers the perfectly preserved body of a young woman who appears to have died a suspicious death.  He removes her from the ice and takes her home with him, where he attempts to learn all he can about her.  His examinations are interrupted by local soldiers, who demand that he billet two of them to protect the village.

The story is an interesting one, playing on themes of isolation and obsession.  Cloonan’s artwork, as always, is fantastic, as she shows us the depths of the old man’s isolation, but also the kindness in his face.  I love it when Wood and Cloonan work together, and always enjoy the shorter arcs on this title the most.

Welcome to Tranquility: One Foot in the Grave #6

Written by Gail Simone
Art by Horacio Domingues

Simone does a terrific job of wrapping up this latest Welcome to Tranquility series.  The original got messed up by the god-awful Worldstorm crossover, and I was very happy to see the book come back without being too tied into the events in the rest of the Wildstorm universe.

This series has mostly focused on Derek, the son of Mayor Fury and the Pink Bunny.  Derek had been imprisoned for years after having attacked his girlfriend, who is now the town’s sheriff.  In this issue, Derek attacks the entire town at a concert, and Sheriff Tommy and the others have to confront him.  A lot of things are cleared up in this comic, and we learn a surprising thing about Tommy at the end.

Simone is one of the best superhero writers in the business (read The Secret Six!), and I like that she was given this opportunity to create and play with her own characters and environment.  This has been one of the better Wildstorm series in recent years, and as the imprint is shut down this month, I’m pleased to see that it put out one last run that I’ll remember fondly.

Quick Takes:

Flash #7 – I’m bored of this title, but as a huge Suicide Squad fan, felt the need to check out this Captain Boomerang spotlight issue.  It’s decent, but I’m not sure why the Rogues and Zoom are the only bad guys allowed in this title.

Incredible Hulks #618 – This is pretty much what I was wanting out of the Hulks title – a focus on the family dynamics, while leaving room for whatever comes the group’s way.  In this case, that’s the Chaos War, which has been a disappointing mini-event, although this may be the best book in the series so far.  Pelletier’s art is good, as is the artist who did the back-up.

Knight and Squire #3 – Another great issue, as England falls under the influence of a resurrected Richard III, who attempts to take over the country with the help of a bunch of other resurrected kings.  The battle takes place as much on social networks as it does on the road to London, and the book is pretty funny.  This has been a pretty unique and enjoyable series.

New Avengers #7 – Bendis and Immonen give us a sitcom approach to the Avengers with this issue, and it’s easily the best one I’ve read since the post-Civil War days.  The team sits around and discusses pay, paid help, and the team’s roster, while trading quips and one-liners.  There are plenty of surprise cameos, and a few too many cutesy comments, but for the first time in a long time, it’s nice to read a team book that is emphasizing the team aspect.  Too much of this would go too far, but this is in a completely different league than the adjectiveless Avengers title.

REBELS #23 – While most of this comic reads more like an issue of Bedard’s Green Lantern Corps, he does something, with the return of a major character from the first year and a half of his run on this title, that promises to return the book to the type of focused and exciting plotting that marked its inception.  This book has really floundered since the end of the Starro story, and I hope to see it return to its earlier greatness.  The strength of this book lies in the diversity of its cast, but these characters are not getting much screen time.

Shadowland After The Fall #1 – Antony Johnston does a decent job of wrapping up the whole Shadowland event, with this story that focuses on Ben Urich and Detective Kurtz trying to find Matt Murdock.  Johnston has a good handle on these characters, although I’d much rather read another issue of his Wasteland.  I’m not sure I like where all of this is going, with Black Panther taking over Hell’s Kitchen’s hero role, but I do like Ben and Foggy’s discussion of gentrification in the area.

Superboy #2 – Lemire’s having fun with this book, and Gallo’s art is very nice, but I’m not sure if this is a title for me.  I like the hints dropped at the end about what’s been going on in Smallville, but I find the character of Simon to be pretty annoying.  I’ll give this another issue before I decide if I’m going to stick with it or pull the plug.

Thor #618 – If the Norse gods come back to life so easily, I don’t understand why they are worried about dying.  Fraction’s run continues to be a bit of a disappointment, as there is a lot of sitting around and talking this issue, which I’m usually okay with, but in this case, it’s all pretty repetitive.  I’m finding it hard to care about what’s going on in this title as a bunch of refugees from the different worlds of the World Tree come to Asgard, and no one much reacts to Loki’s adolescent presence.  Ferry’s artwork is gorgeous though, and John Workman is lettering the book like he did back in the Simonson days, which is kind of cool.

THUNDER Agents #2 – I like the way Spencer is leaving the superheroes in this book as ciphers (with the exception of one character), and instead focusing on the mechanics of recruiting and training what are, in effect, disposable heroes.  Cafu and Bit are doing great work on the art, and there is a nice sense of originality to the title (granted, I’ve never read the original comics this series is based on).

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

Chaos War: Ares #1

GI Joe Origins #22

I Am An Avenger #4

Invaders Now #4

Widowmaker #1

Bargain Comics:

Hellblazer #267 – 269 – I don’t know; I expected a lot more from these comics.  Peter Milligan has brought back Shade the Changing Man, the character that, for me at least, became the highwater mark of his career.  He even tosses in Lenny, one of my all-time favourite characters for good measure, but the whole thing comes off feeling a little forced and not that interesting.  I was reading and enjoying Milligan’s run on Hellblazer before this, but dropped the title because I felt like it was missing a spark of something; my hopes that Shade might be that spark were misplaced.

I Am An Avenger #1-3 – I love Marvel’s anthology titles, even though I’m usually disappointed by half of each book.  These issues have some great stories – Rucka, Lark and Gaudiano give us a terrific Steve Rogers story, and artists like Chris Samnee and Jason Latour put in some good work.  There’s a Stingray story which is sadly only two pages long, and a semi-decent Spider-Man and Nova tale.  Unfortunately, two issues have a longer story featuring Firestar and Justice, dismally written by Sean McKeever, and featuring hideous artwork by Michael Mayhew.

Sam and Twitch #1-8: Udaku

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Angel Medina and Jonathan Glapion

Having recently read the new Sam and Twitch: The Writer series, I became curious about the earlier S&T comics, which were written by Brian Michael Bendis before he became the superstar writer that he is today.  In fact, his stint on this book predates his starting Powers even.  I was lucky enough to find almost the entire run of the title at a recent convention, and will be working my way through it at the pace of one issue a day for the next little while.

The first story in this series, Udaku, has our two police detectives returning to the force after an unsuccessful attempt at becoming private investigators.  The department is rife with corruption, and as soon as they come back, they begin investigating a deeply strange case involving the murder of members of a local crime family, and the occasional dirty cop.  In the early issues of this story, each murder is marked by the killer leaving behind body parts from another person.  For example, the first murder scene has four severed thumbs lying on a table, and they’re all from the same person.

The cloning aspect of the story disappears as the detectives are further embroiled in a very complicated plot that involves South African gangsters and a bunch of powered guys in white suits.  Things become kind of confusing quickly, but due to Bendis’s ear for dialogue, the story seems very smooth throughout.

Medina’s artwork makes the story a little difficult to follow.  He’s working in a Todd McFarlane/Greg Capullo knock-off style that seriously detracts from my enjoyment of the story.  I think that the reason why I never picked this comic up back in the day is because I thought it was closely related to Spawn, and had I flipped through an issue, I never would have bought it.  Looking back at this story now, which is also collected in a trade, I can see why Bendis got snatched up by Marvel.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score

by Darwyn Cooke

I’ve been playing catch up on Darwyn Cooke’s work for the last little while, and had overlooked this graphic novel (as well as his and Ed Brubaker’s work on the monthly comic).  Cooke gives us a rare thing – a superhero comic (okay, maybe a villain comic), without any superheroics.

Selena’s Big Score is a heist/crime comic, which just happens to be set partially in Gotham City, and which features a character who gets involved with a man in a bat suit.  This is an intelligent, tightly plotted and beautifully illustrated comic, which is set squarely in the DC Universe, but is not really of it at all.

Selena has the inside line on a potentially very lucrative train robbery, and goes about assembling a team to help her pull it off.  This involves going to a former partner and lover, Stark, who falls into the traditional role of the mysterious and brooding criminal.  Their associates include a demolitions expert, a call girl, and a pawn shop owner.  While all this is going on, Selena is being hunted by the classic DC gumshoe, Slam Bradley.

The plot moves quickly, while it jumps back and forth to Selena’s past, and the entire book is as beautiful as anything Cooke has ever done, although it is probably the darkest work I’ve ever seen from him.  Recommended.

Singularity 7

by Ben Templesmith

It’s always a good idea, when one can, to pick up a comic by Ben Templesmith.  For the longest time, I only knew him as the artist of such great series as Fell and the Dead Space comics, although I’ve recently come to enjoy his work as a writer on 30 Days of Night, Welcome to Hoxford, and Wormwood.

Singularity 7 was a series he did about five years ago.  It’s a science fiction horror comic, set in a world where alien nanites have caused massive transformations to the landscape, and have sent any uninfected humans underground to hide.  Usually, when these nanites make contact with a person, they disassemble him or her, although some people seem to be immune, and manage to reprogram the microscopic machines.

This series has a group of such humans attempting to deliver a type of poison into the nanite network, although to do so, they have to travel to the Dead City, and avoid the Gosiodos, the footsoldiers of the Singularity, the entity that appears to be running the network.

This comic is pretty dark and violent.  It reminded me of the future scenes in the Terminator movies, with the remaining humans up against an unbeatable enemy.  This is a pretty decent story, and while the art is as wonderful and bizarre as Templesmith’s work usually is, it’s not his best writing.

Album of the Week:

The Sound of Siam – Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz & Molam in Thailand 1964-1975

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