The Weekly Round-Up #55 with the Chew, Morning Glories, Skull Kickers, Batman Inc., Secret Avengers & more

I hope everyone enjoyed the holiday, and got some nice comics to read.  This is my last Round-Up of 2010.  Amazing how time flies…  Look for a special edition Yearly Round-Up some time this week…

Best Comic of the Week:

Age of Bronze #31

by Eric Shanower

It’s such a nice surprise to get a new issue of Age of Bronze.  The book is sporadic in its publishing schedule (its been about six months since the last issue), but the quality of this series is so high, I don’t mind waiting six months between issues.

For people who aren’t familiar with it, Age of Bronze is Eric Shanower’s comprehensive and exhaustive retelling of the Trojan War.  We’re now at the point where the two sides have entered into a war of attrition.  They continue to hack away at each other daily, and both sides are suffering from a scarcity of resources, although they’re doing all they can to conceal that fact from the other.

The Trojans receive aid from a new ally – the Halizonians, including the highly skilled archer riding bareback shown on the cover.  Over the course of this issue, the Trojans acquire an Achean king as their prisoner, and argue how best to take advantage of him.  Their joy is short-lived, as King Priam’s advisor Antenor is also captured, and the two sides agree to make an exchange.

Of most interest is the way in which Kalchas, the priest who betrayed the Trojans, asks that his daughter Cressida, who he abandoned in Troy, also become part of the exchange.  Shanower has spent much of this story arc developing the romance of Troylus and Cressida, and this new plan of Kalchas’s threatens to tear them asunder.  One of the strengths of this comic is that Shanower balances the majestic battles with lengthy sub-plots featuring minor characters, such as this affair.  It gives the comic an emotional centre, and serves to interrupt the monotony of a war that lasted for years.

Age of Bronze is and incredible comic.  The detail Shanower pours into the plot and the art make it a wonder to read.  If you like historical comics, or that time period, I suggest you check this series out.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #10

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Mateus Santolouco

This issue begins the two-part “The Way Out”, which checks in on the two female American Vampires who headlined the main story when it debuted.

Hattie has been kept in captivity by one of the European vampires, who experiments on her once a month, when her strength is at its lowest.  She doesn’t know why she’s being kept there, but she doesn’t like it, and takes steps to correct the situation.

Pearl, on the other hand, has been living a nice quiet life with her boyfriend Henry in the woods of California.  She has a lot of doubts and guilt surrounding their circumstances based on the fact that he is aging while she isn’t, and that she knows there are groups actively hunting her.

This is a good issue.  The art is not by Rafael Albuquerque, which was a disappointment at first, but by his friend and partner on Mondo Urbano, Mateus Santolouco.   Santolouco’s art is in the Albuquerque vein, and he’s a solid replacement, although I hope it’s only going to be briefly.

Chew #16

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

It’s strange to think that there was a time when I wasn’t going to stick with this comic.  Now it’s one of my favourite monthly books.  In this issue, Layman starts his next arc, ‘Flambé’.

Last issue ended with the sudden appearance of strange letters in the sky all around the world (there were some other big revelations, but they don’t get discussed here at all).  Now, because of this, priorities are being adjusted, and Tony and his fellow FDA agents are beginning to turn a blind eye to chicken infractions (remember, chicken is illegal in Chew-land), and are instead tracking down a missing agent who is voresophic – this isn’t entirely explained, but it seems that so long as he’s eating, he has super-human intelligence.

I like the way Layman has been shaking up the status quo on this comic over the last couple of issues.  Introducing all of Tony’s family last month, and then adding this alien writing thing is serving to inject new energy into a title that already had plenty going on.

Cyclops #1

Written by Matz
Art by Luc Jacamon

A new series by the writer and artist of The Killer is the type of thing I’d buy without questioning.  Cyclops is a different type of comic from the Killer, but it has the same high quality writing and art, and thoughtful, dense plotting.

This series is set in the year 2054.  The United Nations has just decided to subcontract peacekeeping missions to a private company, Multicorps Security, Inc.  They are beginning to deploy their troops to the Iran-Turkey border, in the hopes that they will be able to stop a war.  Each of these troops have microcameras attached to their visors, and they broadcast everything they see to their headquarters.  In turn, to help recoup costs, this footage is sold to different news outlets and broadcast in real time.

Our protagonist is Doug Pistoia, a bright former soccer star with few other prospects.  He’s newly married, and doesn’t really want to be working this job, but sees it as his best option.  He’s been hand-picked by the management of the company to become their next star.

Most of this issue is used to set up the rest of the series (it’s an 8-issue run), but it is clear that Matz has a few things to say about the way in which he saw warfare developing when this series was first published in France (apparently this stuff is from 1998, but still feels very fresh today).  I’m excited about seeing where this comic goes.

Kill Shakespeare #8

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

In this issue, the creators slow things down again, and really focus on some character development and strengthening of the ties between the different Prodigals who are leading the rebellion.

Othello has a chat with Hamlet, and then with Juliet.  Juliet and Hamlet declare their love for each other in a recreation (and reversal) of the famous balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.  Falstaff basically gets teased by everyone.  On the other side of the fence, Richard pulls a fast one on Lady MacBeth to get ahold of her forces.

This book has slowed down of late, and while that’s a good thing as it has allowed some of the characters room to breathe, I feel like it’s time to step up the plot again.  Hamlet has set off to meet Shakespeare, with Falstaff and Iago in tow, and the revelation of the last page guarantees that the next issue should be pretty interesting.

Morning Glories #5

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

I’m kind of surprised that this title is continuing to get as much attention as it is.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying reading it, but I would think that by this point, when so little has been explained and the unknowns keep piling up, that a lot of people would be walking away.

See, while Spencer has done a terrific job of developing these characters and making their interactions fascinating reading, the actual mysteries surrounding the purpose of Morning Glory Academy doesn’t interest me that much.  It’s clear that the staff at the school are searching for something within their students, and that Casey seems to be the person most likely to have that spark of whatever, but nothing else has been explained.  Even in this issue, when Mr. Gribbs explains himself, nothing is really revealed.  It’s all mind games.

I’d be fine with the whole comic if it were just mind games, but there is some sort of science fiction or magical element being introduced into the comic – check out the otherwise empty basement room with some huge spinning thing and a ghostly dude in it – that feels to me like it is detracting more than it adds.

Still, I find myself liking this characters more and more, and the way Spencer writes them makes me want to keep coming back.  He has a really good handle on teen characters.

The Sixth Gun #7

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

I was pretty surprised to see this comic listed in the solicitations a couple of months ago.  I’d always assumed that The Sixth Gun was intended to be a six-issue mini, with perhaps a second volume coming out if the sales warranted it.  Instead, it’s an on-going, and I’m very happy about that, as must be the creators, as I’m sure it means that sales are good.

So, it’s a little while after the last issue finished, and Sinclair has hidden the four guns in his possession.  Becky is hanging on to her’s though, and the two have holed up in a hotel in New Orleans, along with Gord, who showed up towards the end of the first arc.

Becky gets herself into a spot of trouble with a loudmouth at the bar, but she is rescued by a gunfighter named Kirby Hale, who will clearly be showing up again.  Sinclair, meanwhile, has a little discussion with a demon in the middle of a swamp.  Bunn’s laid a lot of ground establishing this series, and I feel like this arc is going to explore the significance of the guns more than the first arc did.  It’s nice to see Oni publishing another monthly series, like they used to do with Wasteland (which is where?).

Skullkickers #4

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang

One thing I learned this month is that the title of this comic is one word, not two.  It looks like two on the cover, but apparently it’s just one – no hyphen either.  Fascinated yet?

Skullkickers continues to be a fun read.  This issue was over pretty quickly, as our two heroes spent the whole time fighting zombies and the zombie-making guy.  The dwarf gets partially zombified, and starts having issues with one leg in a scene that reminded me of that weird syndrome some people have where their hand tries to hurt them (I read about this in the New Yorker over a year ago – don’t seek out the article unless you have a strong stomach; one part really freaked me out).

Anyway, it’s not all zombies and mayhem; we do finally learn the identity of the person who killed the Chancellor in the first issue, and a little bit about what she was looking to achieve through her assassination.  I’m sure all of this will be relevant some time soon.

I like this comic; I’ve decided to add it to my pull-list, and wish it great success.

The Stuff of Legend Vol.2: The Jungle #3

Written by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith
Art by Charles Paul Wilson III

This series, while increasingly dark and grim, is a pleasure to read.  Raicht and Smith have put a lot of effort into crafting The Dark – the place where forgotten toys end up.  This issue, which has our group of hero toys captured in the jungle, examines the history and politics of the dark, as Monty, the first toy, explains how he Bogeyman rose to power, and how he betrayed the animals.

The writers build on the sense of tragedy and the guilt felt by the toys that have remained loyal to their owner (the Boy, who they have traveled into the Dark to rescue) over their preferred status in his life.

Max, the bear, has been set up as the most noble character in the group, so his revelations at the end of the issue come as a shock (especially as I don’t clearly remember what happened when the series started).  There is also a terrific scene where the Jester does battle with a group of tigers armed only with a burning stick.  The art in this book is wonderful.

Quick Takes:

Batman Incorporated #2 – I’m really enjoying the new, Grant Morrison reinvigorated Bruce Wayne Batman.  All the elements line up nicely for this story, as Bruce has some nice banter with Catwoman, the new Japanese Batman proves himself, and one of Super Young Team shows up for a cameo (why isn’t the bat-themed hero from that team the new Japanese Batman?).  Paquette has really grown on me as an artist – I used to not be too impressed by him.

Fantastic Four #586 – This is the last issue before someone dies next month, and Hickman’s done a good job of leaving each member of the team in a different dangerous position.  Reed’s across the universe with Galactus, Sue is dealing with an angry Namor (and the secret of the other group of Atlanteans), and Ben and Johnny have an Annihilation Wave coming into their home.  It’s hard to say who’s going to get the axe – I figure the Thing is safe since he’s in New Avengers – but I’m reluctant to make any more guesses.  The best thing about this issue though?  Moloid dialogue.

The Guild: Vork #1 – I’ve never seen an episode of The Guild, read the first comic, or have even spent more than 10 minutes checking out Warcraft, but I have a friend who is a fan of the show, and doesn’t usually read comics, and this looked like the perfect Christmas gift.  Then I decided to read it first (carefully).  It’s a decent enough comic about a control freak trying to learn to let go.  Darick Robertson does the art, and there’s a funny old man.  That’s all I have to say.

Incredible Hulks #619 – As much as I like the idea of the Hulk having a family, I think we can draw the line at resurrecting dead relatives.  I’m not liking the Chaos War – it’s like a badly done Blackest Night, and while I didn’t know Dr. Samson was dead, this is a dumb way to get to bring him back.  Do we need to see Bruce face his father again?  I don’t think so.  I do like the way the back-up finally helped me figure out who the ‘Savage’ She-Hulk is (remember, I skipped the Loeb-era books).

Invincible #76 – Most of this issue continues the fight between the Viltrumites and the Coalition group, and Invincible gets his butt handed to him once again.  This comic has been so terrific lately, although with the action heading back towards Earth, I wonder if the fact that the Guarding the Globe mini-series has been MIA lately will cause some disconnects.  Ottley’s doing the best work of his career on this book.

Invincible Iron Man #33 – A terrific ending to the nine-chapter long Stark Resilient arc, as Tony deals with Detroit Steel and the Hammer ladies in a useful way, and a lot of groundwork is laid for where this book is headed.  As good as the main story was, the back-up, by Fraction and McKelvie, was better.  It’s a quick ‘day in the life of’ story, without narration, and with the only dialogue provided by everyday devices, as Tony reads them.  Cool stuff (the picture in the elevator is classic).

Legion of Super-Heroes #8 – Another issue that works well as a series of events, but lack cohesion as a full comic.  Levitz has too much going on, now crossed over two titles, to make it easy to keep everything straight – like what was going on with Brainy and the Time Institute woman, either last issue or in Adventure.  I’m not sure, in light of that last issue of Adventure, that I like the decision for the team’s new leader either.

Secret Avengers #8 – Three issues into this arc, they finally give Shang-Chi’s father a name (apparently, it’s always been Zheng Zu; I guess Fu Manchu just sounded cooler in the seventies), as Max, the Nick Fury robot and John Steele manipulate the Secret Avengers into fighting in Hong Kong so they can infiltrate their floating Imperial Shuttle again.  Actually, when you read this review, things sound really silly, but Brubaker is actually giving us a pretty good comic.  I’m not sure where I stand on Deodato’s constantly shifting artwork though, and I hate his technology designs.

Superior #3 – I’m enjoying this book.  Millar is exploring the Superman myths, and spends most of this issue just establishing Simon as a superhero and giving Yu some cool rescues to draw.  The last page twist is an interesting one, and is enough to get me to come back again.

Uncanny X-Men #531 – So now Kieron Gillen is co-writing the book, although I didn’t notice any real shift away from the typical Matt Fraction approach.  There are a few stories running right now, and I find I’m enjoying them all equally.  Fractions done some great stuff with this title – I just wish they could have some good artists on the book.  If my choices are Portacio and Land, I’d rather just read the script sometimes…

X-Men Legacy #243 – This is a better issue than the last one, as Sentinel gets all Sentinel-y, and it seems that only Hellion can take her down, although that gets him in trouble.  I found it rang false when Cyclops was lecturing him, considering the way so many members of the team reacted when they learned about X-Force.

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

DC Universe Legacies #8

Incorruptible #13

John Moore Presents Dead Soldier #4

X-Men #6

Bargain Comics:

Captain America: Patriot #3 – This is a great little series, as Jeff Mace Cap hunts down the person who shot Bucky, gets a new partner, and becomes possibly embroiled in a Communist plot (it is the 50s, remember).  The Breitweisers are doing an excellent job on the art, and Kesel crams this issue full of story.

Hellblazer #270 – 272 – I find I just keep going back to give this title another chance.  These issues are much better, as Shade sends Epiphany into the past (where she meets up with young Constantine), and John stumbles around looking for ways to get her back.  I like the way Milligan is playing Constantine as so much older and more decrepit than he is usually played.

Ides of Blood #1-3

Written by Stuart Paul
Art by Christian Duce

I was going to tradewait this series, but when I got the chance to pick up the first three issues at a very low price, I figured I’d give it a shot.  This is a comic that interested me from the first time I saw it solicited, and had it not fallen into the $3.99 price range per issue, I would have gladly checked it out earlier.

This is a Roman vampire comic (Rome meets True Blood?).  It’s set at the end of Julius Caesar’s reign, in a Rome which has incorporated the vampyres (their spelling) from the Transylvanian region of Dacia.  These vamps were, at first, slaves, but some have now been freed.  As well, many people from the Plebian caste through to the middle classes have paid good money to be turned, seeking immortality.

This has caused the human Romans to have a lot of anxiety about their racial purity and whether or not they’ll be able to maintain their purity and direction.  Paul nicely incorporates this backdrop into Brutus and friend’s assassination plot.  They scapegoat Gaius Valens, a vampyre who had been Caesar’s slave before rising to the ranks of Praetorian and finally Senator.  Now Valens must try to prove his innocence and see that Caesar’s killers are brought to justice.

As the series progresses (these three issues make up the first half of it), a few things become clear.  Paul has a good handle on Ancient Rome, and has been able to marry historical fact with his fantasy very nicely.  The story has a lot of potential, and has already had a couple of twists that I didn’t expect.  Duce’s art works great with this type of book – he draws a very believable Rome.

Sam and Twitch #15 – 19: Bounty Hunter Wars

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev

This is easily the best story arc of this series, as Bendis finally finds himself paired with an artist whose style fits with the type of story he is telling.  This arc begins with Twitch’s girlfriend K.C., a medical examiner, getting shot by a stray bullet let off by Bilal, a particularly unscrupulous bounty hunter.

It seems that Bilal has been stealing arrests from other bounty hunters, and has most of them quaking in fear of him, while a few others are trying to hunt him down.  This brings Sam and Twitch into contact with Jinx Alameda, Bendis’s own bounty hunter and star of his previous work. Jinx is basically Jessica Jones, but a bounty hunter.

This leads to plenty of sharp and amusing dialogue, as the unlikely threesome chase Bilal across New York and New Jersey.  We see a lot more of Twitch’s character than we have up until this point, and Maleev looks the book look really good.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Labor Days Vol. 1

Written by Philip Gelatt
Art by Rick Lacy

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading this book, and while it’s not my usual thing, I enjoyed it.

Benton Bagswell is a loser.  He does oddjobs for hire (and has been since he was twelve).  His girlfriend has left him, and things aren’t looking too good for him.  Mysteriously, a videotape is left with a note asking him to keep an eye on it.  Almost immediately, people start trying to get the tape back, placing him in great danger.  His local bartender, and closest friend, tries to kill him, and things start getting a lot weirder from there.

Each chapter finds Bags in another strange situation, as he is pursued, and manipulated, by a large number of bizarre characters.  There are maniacal psychiatrists, bumbling CIA agents, radical feminists, incompetent revolutionaries, and hired thugs crawling out of the woodwork as Bags tries to stay alive, and figure out what is going on.

Lacy’s art is a little hard to follow at times, and much rougher than the fine piece of work he did for the cover.  This is the type of book that can only be published by Oni; it’s hard to define and pretty unique in the comics world.

Tokyo is my Garden

Written by Benoît Peeters and Frédéric Boilet
Art by Frédéric Boilet with Jirô Taniguchi

This French graphic novel, set in Japan, was very enjoyable.  It is a very unassuming, thin book, which follows a Frenchman sent to Tokyo by a cognac company, Heurault Cognac, to open up the Japanese market.  Our hero, David Martin, has not put much effort into this job, preferring to learn the different kanji (the ideogrammatic symbols that make up written Japanese), work part time in the fish market, and look for the right Japanese girl.

When the book opens, David’s girlfriend has cut him loose, and his boss is coming to visit.  He quickly meets and falls for a new girl, but the prospect of his boss pulling the plug on his work visa casts a pall over the beginning of their relationship.  When M. Heurault arrives, David has to try to work out some kind of plan to stay in Japan.

While this book is light on plot, it is full of nice little character moments, and it provides an interesting look at the expatriate experience in Japan.  The book is an interesting contrast to something like Tonoharu, which is a cartoonist’s memoir of teaching English in Japan by Lars Martinson.  Martinson feels very awkward in the country, while in this book, David flourishes and thrives in Tokyo (hence the title).

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, although I must say that it didn’t live up the effusive and almost embarrassing praise heaped on it in its introduction.

Two Generals

by Scott Chantler

This is a book that I’ve been looking forward to reading since I first heard about it.  I’m a sucker for a good war book normally, and this one is by the cartoonist of Northwest Passage, one of my favourite historical graphic novels, and a local (it’s always important to support Toronto comics).

Two Generals tells the story of Chantler’s grandfather, Reginald Law Chantler, his close friend Jack Chrsyler, and their experiences during the Second World War.  They were officers in the Highland Light Infantry (the ‘Two Generals’ in the title refers to a joke made by Chantler on a photo taken before they left England), who were involved in the D-Day Invasion of Normandy (the Canadians, including my own grandfather, took Juno Beach).  After that, the HLI pushed on to eventually take Buron, an essential task that allowed the Allied forces to take Caen, a lynchpin in the Allied plans.

Chantler’s work on this book is so clearly a labour of love and an homage to his grandfather.  He provides enough context to understand the situations in which Chantler the elder found himself, but the book rarely strays from the personal experiences of the two young men the book focuses on.  We see firsthand some of the absurdities of war (the HLI were outfitted with bicycles to aid their advance, but only one repair kit per platoon) and the way in which soldiers had to adjust to difficult situations (which led to the mass adoption of random farm animals).

This book has a sense of humour about it, but is ultimately a touching tribute to the Greatest Generation.  Chantler mentions in his acknowledgments that stories like these are being lost to us on a daily basis, and I’m pleased he took the time and made the effort to capture a record like this one.

Chantler’s art looks great as always, and he makes an effective use of green, red, and gray tones to provide atmosphere.  The book itself is an example of a wonderful sense of design.  It has the rounded corners and built-in elastic bookmark of an officer’s notebook, which makes it a pleasure to own.  I recommend this book.

Album of the Week:

Jneiro Jarel – Fauna

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