Weekly Round-Up #54 Featuring DMZ, Meta 4, Proof Endangered, Time Bomb, And The Unwritten

Before diving into this week’s Round-Up, I’d like to take a moment to wish all my readers (all three of you – just kidding) a very Merry Christmas, if that’s your thing.

Best Comic of the Week:

DMZ #60

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

DMZ’s been great lately.  I enjoyed the last arc, which was a series of one-off issues looking in on different residents of New York.  Now, we get the two-part ‘Free States Rising’, which is showing us what happened before the war.

This issue is about an unnamed thief who is trying to take advantage of the growing chaos in the United States to profit and ‘live free’ in the best American tradition.  His planned heist goes badly before it even begins, and he finds himself hiding from the ATF.

The plot of this issue is secondary to the way Wood uses this character to examine the events that led up to the formation (and, I suppose, secession) of the Free States, which in turn will lead to the context in which this entire series has been set.  Reading through this issue, with its stories of massive G8 protests, rampant NRA intimidation tactics, unclaimed military bodies, and school bombings, it’s hard not to question how far off this reality could be, as things continually get stranger and more combative in the United States.  I don’t know how many times this issue made me think of some of the stranger members of the Tea Party Movement, which I’m sure is not unintentional.  I appreciate getting this background information about the series, and find it interesting that Wood waited five years before digging into it.

The other thing I liked about this issue is the art by Shawn Martinbrough.  He’s long been an artist I’ve admired, although I frequently have no interest in the books he works on, like the Marvel Noir line.  It’s good to see his work again, and I hope to see more of it.

Other Notable Comics:

Meta 4 #4

by Ted McKeever

Things get a lot less weird with this issue, as the amnesiac astronaut begins to recover some of his memory after a long train trip to Nevada.  We also learn who Gasolina really is (although not her name), and our heroes wander their way onto a government test site.

There are still plenty of mysteries left to ponder though, such as who Bzoma is, and why every bullet in this comic seems to be transmitting police radio.  For that matter, what’s going to happen in the weird hostage situation that the police are dealing with?  I don’t expect all of these questions to be answered though.

What makes this comic great while still being almost entirely impenetrable is that Ted McKeever is such a gifted artist and storyteller that everything makes some sort of sense as you read it.  It is only after finishing the comic that you realize that a) you have no idea what just happened, and b) you don’t really care.

McKeever’s writing has come a long ways since he got his start (“With no memory other than the most recent of events, and the slowly creeping fragments of my childhood that seep back into my head like shoving an eggplant into the finger-hole of a bowling ball,…” is a terrific image).  I look forward to seeing how much we really learn in the end.

Proof Endangered #1

Written by Alex Grecian
Art by Riley Rossmo

Proof started out very strongly, with it’s tales of a Sasquatch who lived and worked the Lodge, a government-run preserve for Cryptids – creatures so rare as to be thought of as fictional.  From the Lodge, Proof and his human associates traveled the world, dealing with Chupacabras, Thunderbirds, Faeries, baby dinosaurs, and any other number of strange creatures.  The comic started with a Fables meets Hellboy vibe, and it worked very well.

Then the creators started doing some weird stuff.  They showed us what was going to be happening in a year from now, and then had the Lodge come apart, as its leader disappeared, a woman long thought dead showed up, and Proof left to search for previously unknown family members based upon the sudden arrival of a Sasquatch finger, mysteriously mailed to him.  And the title ended.

Over the last arc, the comic was plagued with delays, so I wasn’t surprised when the creators put the book on hiatus for a few months.  Now it’s back, and supposedly ‘new reader friendly’, but having read every issue of the first volume, I’m not too clear on what’s going on.  Proof is in some unnamed city (presumably New York, but I didn’t know that it has a Little Tokyo), and so are all of his friends.  His enemies, in the form of Mi-Chen-Po and some unnamed Chupacabra are around too, and they’re killing people (but we don’t know why).  Proof’s partner and his girlfriend go shopping and get attacked, and someone new takes over The Lodge.  It’s all pretty uneven and cryptic – not the way to bring in a bunch of new readers.

Having seen this book at its best, I’m willing to give Grecian and Rossmo the benefit of the doubt, but I hope they get some serious direction into this thing quickly.  Jacking the price up to $3.99 gives this title a much lower abandonment threshold, so I expect to be impressed quickly.

The Secret History Book Thirteen: Twilight of the Gods

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordey

A new issue of The Secret History is always a good thing, even as the story becomes ever more complex and self-referential.

This volume covers the end of the Second World War, as Sicilian cosa nostra try to get the Ark of the Covenant to the Americans, who at the same time are working on ways to shut down William of Lecce’s weather weapons program.  We also get the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The coolest part of this comic has always been the way in which Pécau works real historical mysteries and oddities into his gigantic narrative in a way that more or less fits with the story’s internal logic.

I look forward to seeing this run end with the next issue, as we get ever closer to modern-day events.  I feel like this series has gone a long way to redeem Igor Kordey in the eyes of fans who hated his work on Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run.

Time Bomb #3

Written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Art by Paul Gulacy

Time Bomb has been a pretty cool comic.  Palmiotti and Gray have given us an entertaining story about four Americans sent back in time to put a stop to a German contingency plan that almost wiped out the entire world.  In this issue, our heroes penetrate the secret city under Berlin where scientists have been constructing the missile, and raise all kinds of hell.

There’s plenty of mayhem, torture, and, because Paul Gulacy is handling the art, women in their underwear.  As much as I have enjoyed this series, there are a few elements in this last issue that don’t make a whole lot of sense.  I don’t like the deus ex machina capsule that Peggy pulls out (actually, I don’t want to say where she pulled it from) and saves the day.  Also there are more than a couple of time travel issues that pop up right at the end of the comic, making some of the story pretty hard to swallow (accepting, of course, that this is a time travel comic).

Still, we get to see some people smack Hitler around, which never gets boring.  In the end, this was another successful comic for Radical, and one that feels like it’s been ready-made for a movie adaptation one day.

The Unwritten #20

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and Vince Locke

I find myself going back and forth with this book a lot.  I really like the concept and some of the ideas behind this title, but I have not fully embraced it yet.  Then, an issue like this one comes along, which is very nicely balanced, and I start to wonder why I don’t hold this book in higher esteem.  Also though, the issues like this one serve to reveal why some of the other issues don’t work so well.

Gross is working on a big canvas with this book, one that encompasses just about all of the history of the written word, and he has a lot to keep straight.  In this month’s installment, Tom gets it on with Lizzie, and then goes to Mobyfest, where he ends up inside Melville’s famous novel.  This alerts the Cabal to his presence, and they send in the creepy marionette guy we met last issue (I love the trick Gross pulls off on his pages).  Also, Savoy continues with his transformation, and a previously dead character makes an appearance.

The plotting and dialogue in this issue is particularly tight, and I liked the way that Vince Locke only provided inks on the pages that are set within Moby Dick – it gives them a different feel from the rest of the comic, and makes it easier to tell where we are visually, without disrupting the flow of the book.

Quick Takes:

Avengers Academy #7 – Now that each of the kids have had their own spotlight issue, it’s time to focus on Hank Pym.  Gage really gets this character, accepting his problems with mental illness, and building off of them to create a nuanced, complicated, and deeply flawed character who still tries to do his best.  I can’t think of any other writer who has ever made me like this guy (okay, maybe Dan Slott) while still incorporating his history.  I loved the scene with Tigra that opened the comic.

Batman and Robin #18 – This Cornell/McDaniel arc is turning into a real disappointment.  This issue has all the hokey villainy of the last one, with none of the witty dialogue or character insight.  I hope that after next issue, Una Nemo disappears forever.  How is this the same guy who’s writing Knight & Squire?

Birds of Prety #7 – I feel like this comic is still finding its feet.  Barbara is setting up her new tower, but is ominously telling Batman that Oracle has to die, just as the Calculator comes after her again, this time sending powered goons to attack the rest of the team at a male strip club.  I like these characters and the way that Simone writes them, but this comic feels like it’s on an endless loop.

Black Panther: Man Without Fear #1 – I picked this up with a lot of trepidation.  I loved Priest’s classic run on this character, but absolutely hated what Reginald Hudlin did to him over the last few years.  The notion of T’Challa working on the streets has some appeal, but I have never heard of writer David Liss.  The biggest appeal of this book to me was Francisco Francavilla’s name being attached to the art, and he does not disappoint.  He has a 70s vibe to his art, and I love it (although I wish someone had bothered to tell cover artist Simone Bianchi that the Panther has changed his look in the last few years).  As to the story, I’m a little disappointed.  First, I don’t understand the need to paint Hell’s Kitchen as such a bleak place, when just last week in the Shadowland epilogue characters were talking about the gentrifying effect Daredevil has had on the community.  Secondly, Romanian super-soldier gangster villains (named Vlad?)?  I feel like we’re about ten years too late on that one.  I’m not sure I’m buying T’Challa’s “testing himself” shtick here – it’s ringing false.  I’m going to give this another issue based on the art alone though…

Chaos War #4 – Yawn.  It’s hard to believe that the classic Pak/Van Lente run on Incredible Hercules could somehow devolve into this boring-ass comic.  Unless, of course, they might just destroy the entire Marvel Universe in this C-list crossover.  That could happen, right?

Farscape #13 & 14 – I missed an issue somehow, but managed to get caught up at once, as the War For The Uncharted Territories kicks off, with Aeryn now leading the Peacekeepers in their fight against the Kkore.  She has to deal with Grayza’s mutiny and the news of Scorpius’s involvement in the war, while facing down a vastly superior force.  There’s a lot of death and destruction in the Farscape universe right now, and I’m curious to see where it all leads.  As much as I like this book, I wish that Sliney’s art was more able to capture the majestic sweep of a story like this.

Northern Guard #1 – I couldn’t resist trying out this new title from Moonstone, a publisher I’ve never even looked at before.  Basically, Ty Templeton, a local comics hero, has pulled an Alex Ross on Project Superpowers, and is resurrecting a number of old Canadian superheroes who are now (presumably) in the public domain.  To do this, he has constructed a really interesting set-up involving a Tesla-like scientist who managed to render all metal inert, except along a thin corridor that runs across Canada towards Long Island.  It also created a pile of superhumans, who now defend the only part of the world where electricity works.  The set-up is very cool, but some of the characters are pretty thin.  Johnny Canuck is a Reed Richards type.  His girlfriend, who is some kind of Inuit god, has run into some trouble with Russian oil thieves.  He goes to rescue her, and we meet a few other characters.  Most of this issue has been used to establish the title, so I’m not sure how fair it is to judge it.  I’m interested in seeing where it goes, but I can’t help but think that putting up fencing to keep out people from the ‘dark’ regions of the country isn’t very Canadian…

Strange Tales II #3 – There is some good stuff in the last issue of this ‘indie’ anthology series.  I especially liked James Stokoe’s story featuring Galactus, the Silver Surfer, and some Skrulls (who look just like the Orcs in his Orc Stain series).  There’s a Harvey Pekar story that’s kind of cool, and Alex Robinson has a good story about the one Reed Richards let get away.  Tim Hamilton’s Machine Man story is fun.  I’ve noticed that a lot of these Strange Tales stories end up just being riffs on pretty standard 70s material this time around.  It would have been cool to see a little more innovation…

Thunderbolts #151 – I’m not sure if a Ghost origin story is a good idea – I think I’ve enjoyed the character so much partly because I don’t know anything about him.  Establishing him as a jilted employee makes him seem less interesting now.  Still, this is a pretty solid issue for this title, and I like who they’ve decided to replace Crossbones with.

Uncanny X-Force #3 – I’m conflicted when it comes to this book.  I liked the last incarnation of X-Force, and wish that it had continued, but I do like this new line-up (with the exception of Deadpool, who is annoying me).  I find it utterly boring that they are going up against Apocalypse, but I like that he’s just a young kid, and that his Horsemen are interesting for the first time ever.  Right now there are two things that I like most about the comic – the way Remender writes Fantomex (an embarrassingly underused character until just recently), and Jerome Opena’s art, which is fantastic.  I read his arc on Moon Knight simply for the art, and this is much better.

X-Factor #212 – I find it funny that I prefer the issues of X-Factor where nothing much happens.  This one has a lot of plot going on, as the team works to rescue Pip from Hel (the single-‘l’ Norse variety) with the help of Thor, although once the fighting begins, the little troll just disappears from the artwork.  As always, there are some good little character moments, and the fact that Shatterstar meets Rahne’s ex will lead to some interesting consequences…

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

Assassins Creed: The Fall #2

Captain America Man Out of Time #2

Deadpool Max #3

Ides of Blood #5

John Byrne Next Men Vol.2 #1 (I liked the original series a lot, but don’t exactly trust John Byrne these days.)

Mighty Crusaders #6

Wolverine #4

Bargain Comics:

Irredeemable #17 – 19 – With these three issues, Waid starts to suggest that perhaps the Plutonian wasn’t acting of his own accord when he went nuts.  We also get to see him finally taken down by some aliens that show up like a deus ex machina.  It feels like this comic is about to change directions, which could get interesting…

Sam and Twitch #9: One Really Bad Day

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Jamie Tolagson

When I started to read Bendis’s early Sam and Twitch stories, this single-issue story (collected here) is exactly what I was hope for.

With this issue, Bendis more or less leaves his two detective protagonists, and gives us a story from the point of view of a total loser named Dean.  The book opens on a card game between a few friends, and Bendis uses it to show off his often hilarious dialogue and ability to construct a character simply from what the other characters have to say about him.  There’s a neat trick where we realize that we really are seeing things through Dean’s eyes, as he gets himself into a bit of trouble with his friends and has to run out.

The rest of the issue follows Dean as he goes home, only to find his wife in bed with another man.  Eventually, he gets tracked down by Sam and Twitch, and more madness follows.

The art, by Jamie Tolagson, is a nice improvement over Angel Medina’s work.  The conceit of having the story be seen through Dean’s eyes makes things look a little like watching a first-person shooter video game (especially when Dean has a gun in his hand), but Tolagson pulls off the gimmick quite well.  I have high hopes for the rest of this series.

Sam and Twitch #10-13: Witchcraft

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alberto Ponticelli, Jonathan Glapion, and Todd McFarlane

I’m really enjoying reading through this series from about ten years ago.  I like crime comics and the odd procedural television show, and this series is definitely scratching the itch that has been left by the cancellation of Gotham Central, the rareness of Criminal, and the lack of anything worth watching on television in this genre these days.

This arc has Sam and Twitch dealing with a killer who is targeting members of the Wiccan and pagan communities, and murdering them quite spectacularly (decapitations are just the start of it all).  The two detectives stumble their way through the investigation, with Sam being coldly mocking of the victims and their beliefs, and Twitch showing a little more sensitivity.

The standard Bendis ‘hard-boiled’ dialogue is put to good use, but I’m starting to notice just how little time and effort has been put into building up these characters.  They are essentially just stereotypes, who spout out sitcom-worthy rejoinders.

The art on this arc is by Alberto Ponticelli.  I was excited to see his name, as I’ve loved his recent work on The Unknown Soldier, but here he’s working more in a Todd McFarlane house style that I didn’t like all that much.  The last issue is his strongest.  These are enjoyable comics – I feel like I’m knocking them a bit, but the truth is that when I’m reading them, I’m totally into them, but as soon as they are finished, I find it hard to remember all the content.  I will say that Ashley Wood deserves some recognition for his consistency in producing boring, almost identical covers.

Sam and Twitch #14: Dumb Laws and Eggs

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Clayton Crain and Jonathan Glapion

It’s becoming increasingly obvious, as I work my way through this series, that Bendis was a) given a lot of freedom in terms of the types of stories he wanted to tell; and b) was using this book as a way of trying out some new ideas and techniques.

This issue opens on Sam and Twitch, soon to be joined by KC, the medical examiner, discussing the website dumblaws.com before taking a call where they find a man who has been shot and then covered with broken eggs.  The suspect doesn’t talk, and then she does.  It’s a thirteen page story that highlights Bendis’s facility with snarky dialogue, and then it’s over.  I hit the letter’s page and got confused.  It was shorter than an issue of Fell….

After the letter’s page is the second half of the story, which has the murdered man and his friend talking on the roof of a building (before the murder, obviously), as the guy explains how he just dumped his girlfriend over an egg allergy.  It’s an amusing enough issue, although pretty effervescent.  The first half of the comic did remind me of some of the better episodes of Homicide Life on the Street.

This issue has art by Clayton Crain, who is known for his dark, painted work on books like Ghost Rider and X-Force.  Here, he looks like he’s doing a Todd McFarlane riff again, as has almost every artist on the book so far.  I don’t know if it’s just the heavy influence of Jonathan Glapion’s inks, or if this was mandated by McFarlane, but it’s weird that I’ve seen three different artists on this book whose work looks nothing like what they are producing today.  At least the next issue starts Alex Maleev’s run, so that’s going to be changing.

Thor: The Mighty Avenger #1 & 2 – I thought, what with all the Internet love and hue and cry over it’s cancellation, that I should check this title out.  Samnee’s art is gorgeous, and the story is charming, but this stuff is not my thing.  It’s too bad that it didn’t find a wider audience though, as you can tell that the creators were having a lot of fun with it.

Wolverine #900 – This is a gigantic comic, filled mostly with what feels like inventory material (ie. Todd DeZago’s story from back when Marrow was on the team), some reprints (Jeph Loeb?  There was no one good), and a few new and contemporary stories.  The best part of this comic was the Dean Motter-written story set in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  There were a few too many stories with Logan going out for a night on the town, and a David Finch story (with two co-writers) that makes me think that the new Dark Knight series will be pretty skippable.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Girls Vol.3: Survival

by the Luna Brothers

Girls has to be one of the most grippingly readable comics I’ve picked up in a while.  It’s premise is ridiculous beyond belief – a small town has been encased within a spherical forcefield by a giant sperm, and almost-mindless identical beautiful women are roaming the town looking to mate with men, or to kill women and take them to the sperm – but what the Lunas do with this concept is fantastic.

This whole concept is built around the old adage that crisis doesn’t make character, but reveals it.  The people of Pennystown are average, unhappy folk, and the drama and force of this comic is the way in which they react to what’s going on around them.  We’ve already seen characters give in to the advances of the girls, and we’ve seen a ton of arguing, as the surviving townsfolk hole up in one large house for safety.

This volume, which collects the third quarter of the series, has the town’s women turn on the men in what becomes a battle of the sexes, played against the backdrop of the military’s attempt to penetrate the shield surrounding the town.  There are many characters who crack under the pressure, as neighbours turn on each other, and chaos reigns.

This book is surprisingly funny in parts, and I found it difficult to stop reading at any particular chapter break, causing me to finish the book much more quickly than I would usually like (makes me wish I had the whole series in one book).  Highly recommended.

Super Spy

by Matt Kindt

This graphic novel is amazing.  I picked it up before I read Revolver, Kindt’s recent book from Vertigo, but only got around to reading it this week.  As much as I enjoyed Revolver, this is a vastly better book.

Super Spy is made up of many short chapters featuring spies during the Second World War.  Each chapter is short – rarely more than ten pages, and many of them appear unconnected until the second half of the book, when they begin to intertwine and overlap in unexpected ways.

Kindt uses these characters and their situations to explore themes of betrayal, love, and the necessity of duplicity in war time.  Many of his characters act out of a desire to find safety for themselves or a loved one, while others have complicated and unknowable motivations.  We return again and again to codes and ciphers, and children’s books and comic strips are used to send messages across enemy lines.

At times, it’s hard to recognize some characters, as Kindt’s art can make it hard to differentiate characters who aren’t marked by a large facial scar or some other distinguishing feature, but that didn’t much matter to me, as I got swept up in both the mechanics and the poetry of the spy lifestyle.

Kindt works in a number of different styles and approaches over the course of this book, very effectively creating the correct mood or feeling for each different story.  His writing is very lyrical and perceptive, and I loved some of the visual tricks he used, like when he arranged the wreckage around a person hiding from a sniper to resemble the snowflakes falling all around him.

This is a very impressive piece of work, and I’m definitely going to track down more of Kindt’s work, including his sequel to this book.

Album of the Week:

Rikki Ililonga & Musi-o-tunya – Dark Sunrise

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