Weekly Round-Up #57 Featuring The Walking Dead, I, Zombie, Sweets, Sweet Tooth, Who Is Jake Ellis, And More!

Welcome to 2011!  This was a pretty small week, but it had some very good comics.  I love the iconic cover designs DC is using for this month – I wish that it had extended to the Vertigo line though; how cool would a Sweet Tooth or Scalped cover look in that style?

Best Comic of the Week:

The Walking Dead #80

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard

And now, eighty issues after the comic started, Robert Kirkman brings us to the place that many zombie movies live and die in.  After the events of the last few issues, as gunfire has ripped around the perimeter of the Community, a herd of walkers has now surrounded every living member of the cast (except for Andrea).  The walls of the Community are surrounded by hundreds of walkers, and Rick and the crew have to figure out what to do.

It reminds me of the characters trapped in shopping malls in zombie films.  The concerns shift to supplies and guarding the perimeter.  Except, this is The Walking Dead, so it’s handled so much better than we’re used to.

Rick is basically exerting his semi-official leadership, organizing patrols, watchmen, and engineering squads to keep the members of the Community safe while they try to think of ways to clear out the herd.  It’s interesting how the people who live in this place hold Rick and his group separate – they practically lionize them as being more capable, which is interesting, as nothing in this comic is ever guaranteed.

While all this is going on, we also see a lot of interesting interactions between characters.  Rick is sought out by the woman he rescued from an abusive husband, while Abraham seems to have something going on with the woman he rescued a while back.  Also, Morgan and Michonne are getting closer, although she’s also started talking to her sword again…

I love this comic, and the way in which it has stayed fresh over such a long run.  I’m excited about this arc, as it is easy to believe that the wall may not hold, and Rick will be on the run again, although I hope not.

Other Notable Comics:

I, Zombie #9

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

This issue of I, Zombie felt a lot shorter than the other ones, and it can’t simply be because DC is now publishing 20, instead of 22 page books.  How much can two pages affect a story?  I didn’t expect to notice a difference.

I think the problem is more that nothing really gets resolved in this issue.  Spot plays a role playing game with his friends, who are somewhat suspicious of him lately, but nothing comes of it.  Diogenes has a flashback, and is followed by two vampires, but nothing comes of it.  Gwen and Horatio play mini-golf until Gwen is overcome by a vision, but it doesn’t lead to much (although it might later…).  Ellie wants a body, but (I’m sure you get the idea).  The same thing holds for the scene with Professor Galatea, Amon, and a hooded guy who buys something off Galatea’s new ‘assistant’.

I’m sure, as part of a trade, this chapter will read just fine, but on it’s own, it seemed a little light weight.  Also, as much as I like Allred’s art, I didn’t like the way he drew Spot in this issue – he looked different from usual.  It’s all good though – this is a very good comic, and with the number of characters and sub-plots that Roberson’s juggling, we’re bound to run across the odd comic that gets stretched too thin.

Sweets #4

by Kody Chamberlain

I’d started to worry when I’d see this book, although it’s worth the wait.  Chamberlain has given us an interesting police procedural, and I’ve been curious to see where it was all going.

As the last issue ended, our two detectives were in a car accident with their chief suspect in the Sweets murders.  Now, the surviving cop learns that there may be a connection between this murderer and his own dead daughter, who had died in a car accident.  Of  course, he goes a little nuts, and heads off to find the killer himself.

What keeps this comic from being just another run of the mill cop comic is the way Chamberlain has played with the reader.  First, there are the strange flashback sequences that supposedly let us know why the killer is the way he is.  Next, there’s the neatness of the whole thing – the Detective knows that life doesn’t wrap up the way this case seems to be, and is suspicious.

One complaint I have is that for a story supposedly taking place immediately before Hurrican Katrina is supposed to hit New Orleans, there is surprisingly little reference to the storm.  I would have assumed that by this point, despite the fact that no one knew how bad the storm would be, that it would be a frequent topic of conversation.  It’s not mentioned in this comic at all.  I do look forward to seeing how Chamberlain is going to wrap all of this up, and I hope it’s satisfying.

Sweet Tooth #17

by Jeff Lemire

With this issue, Lemire wraps up the third book of Sweet Tooth, and a lot happens.  In the last issue, Jeppard attacked the militia camp where Gus was held captive, and he brought an army that worships the hybrid children with him.  This issue opens with him fighting with Abbot, the leader of the militia, who claims to have his child still in his care.

There is a lot of fighting, as the different characters come together to escape, although not everyone makes it out.  Jeppard is faced with some very difficulty knowledge concerning his child, and also finds that Gus is not as happy to see him as he expected.

With the end of this arc, this comic is heading off into a slightly different direction again.  I like that Jeppard and Gus are going to be traveling together, but I especially like the way Lemire has introduced a sense of distance and distrust between them.  This continues to be an excellent series.

Who is Jake Ellis? #1

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Tonci Zonjic

This new mini-series has me pretty excited.  It opens in Barcelona, where a man named Jon is involved in some kind of deal that has gone badly.  He fires on the people he’s supposed to be dealing with, and jumps off a yacht.  The scene is weird, because the dialogue seems really stilted and unnatural.

Then, we see the same scene again, except that there is a shadowy figure standing in the background, who is speaking directly to Jon.  Now, the dialogue makes perfect sense, but we don’t know who this guy is.  But then, that’s the point of the comic, as the shadowy guy is Jake Ellis, and comic is called Who is Jake Ellis?

As the issue unfolds, we follow Jon to France, where he is hiding out from the Spaniards, and discussing his options with Jake.  It quickly becomes clear that no one else can see Jake, but he can see a lot.  While Jon is having a liaison with a French waitress, Jake warns him that there are people coming to kill him, and guides him out of the room.

The book establishes itself nicely, while playing things very close to the vest.  There’s talk of some Americans that are looking for Jon, but we can’t tell yet if he’s a good guy or a bad guy.  And, of course, we have no idea what the deal is with Jake, but I want to find out.

As interesting as the story is, this comic is worth buying for Tonci Zonjic’s art alone.  His look is a mix of David Aja, Year One-era David Mazzuchelli, Michael Lark, and maybe a bit of Javier Pulido.  It’s very nice, and while I know I’ve seen him do something for Marvel, I’m sure it won’t be long before he becomes a higher profile artist there.  This is definitely worth checking out.

Quick Takes:

Adventure Comics #522 – Another middling issue, as Mon-El forgets to use his ring in a fight with a solar-powered sumo wrestler, and very little else happens.  I hope the Legion Academy arc, with Phil Jimenez art, will pick up my opinion of the Legion titles.

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #4 – I think I’d like this title more if it wasn’t so out of whack with the rest of Marvel’s continuity, and if there were a little less posturing going on.  The Doom/Wanda relationship that is so central to this comic just doesn’t work for me.  However, this is one lovely book to look at…

Generation Hope #3 – Finally, this series starts to feel more like it is being written by Kieron Gillen, as the writing gets a lot sharper, and Hope starts to take on a role that makes sense for her.  I’m not sure if this is a mini-series or an ongoing, but before now, I was not able to see sticking with it past the first five issues.  Now, there’s Hope…

Jonah Hex #63 – So Jonah Hex had a friend who was killed by a pedophile?  Really?  And Hex’s parents were all supportive of young Jonah through it?  What is this, a ‘very special episode’?  I’m unimpressed.  At least the comic had fantastic Bernet artwork.

Superboy #3 – I have resisted adding Lemire’s Superboy to my pull list, but I am liking the way he writes Connor a lot.  He has a good feel for the character, and keeps him well-grounded in Smallville in a way I’m not used to seeing.  Gallo’s artwork is great, and I love the expressions he gives the characters.  I don’t like the way he draws Connor in civilian clothing.  His jeans don’t look like jeans – even skinny jeans don’t look like spandex on guys, and I don’t think any teenager would tuck in their shirts like that.  I know it’s nit-picky, but it drove me nuts while reading this.

The Thanos Imperative: Devastation #1 – Wow, a $3.99 comic that is actually extra-sized, and not just padded with a random reprint?  That alone is kind of special, but when the comic is also really good, you kind of get a warm feeling flowing all through you.  The wrap-up to the Thanos Imperative series is really just the launch-point for the next Abnett and Lanning vehicle, the Annihilators, as Cosmo goes around putting a new band together.  The D’n’A cosmic Marvel books have been terrific, and I’m very happy to see the trend continue.  This was all going great even before the ending that took me back to a much-cherished series I read as a kid.  I can’t wait for Annihilators to start.

X-Factor #213 – It’s X-Factor, so of course it’s good.  The best moments all belong to Pip the Troll, but I did like the way Rictor and Rahne resolve their problems.  I don’t know how much I care about Darwin leaving the team – he didn’t get a lot of time on stage, and isn’t all that interesting.

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

Ant-Man & Wasp #3

GI Joe Origins #23

Iron Man Thor #3

Irredeemable #21

Suicide Forest #2

Ultimate Comics Captain America #1

Bargain Comics:

Invaders Now! #3 & 4 – While this mini-series started out pretty strongly, it’s gotten itself stuck somewhere in the middle of the road.

Irredeemable #20 – Always a good comic, although I can’t stand the character of the Survivor, who has the ugliest costume in comics today.

Magnus Robot Fighter #1 – Even though the Free Comic Book Day preview didn’t do anything for me, I have fond memories of Jim Shooter’s Valiant-era Magnus, and wanted to see what this was like.  Even taking into account that much of this issue was needed to establish the series, it was pretty dull.  I don’t think I’ll be back.

Magus #1 – I’d heard that Rebekah Isaacs’s art on this book was fantastic, but it’s just good, which is more than can be said for the writing.  I don’t expect to come back to this one.

Mighty Crusaders Special #1 – It apparently took four different writers, but this story that brings together some of the different Red Circle characters into a team works alright, and has nice art from Javier Pina.

Namor The First Mutant #2 – 4 – I’ve always liked the Sub-Mariner, but I’m not sure if tangential participation in a third-rate X-event is enough of a basis to build an on-going series.  There are a couple of supporting characters introduced here, but none of them are particularly interesting, and the inclusion of one of the most minor of New X-Men seems forced.  Still, I like the way Moore writes this book.  My biggest problem is with Ariel Olivetti’s art, which I’ve always hated.  The fourth issue is drawn by Andres Guinaldo, and is better, but is still done in Olivetti’s style.  If I’m going to get more of this comic, and the next issue does look interesting, there needs to be better art.

Ragman: Suit of Souls #1 – How random is this?  I have no idea why DC would feel the need to publish this one-shot featuring Ragman, which basically just goes over his origin and has Rory come to peace with the memory of his father.  It’s written by Christos Gage, so it’s good; it’s just a little unfathomable.  Was the copywrite up?

Shadowland: Blood on the Streets #4 – The misfit and mercenary mini-series wraps up well.  This was a decent enough story, and I’m always happy to see characters like the Shroud get some play.

Shadowland: Power Man #4 – I think I liked this enough to pick up the Power Man & Iron Fist mini-series that is starting soon.  I like the way Van Lente is building up the new Power Man – he’s a likeable character, even if the series ends on a cheesy note.

The Shield #9 & 10 – This title had a lot of potential, and possibly could have caught on if it wasn’t saddled with the higher cover price, boring back-ups, and lack of promotion.  I’m always saying this, but Marco Rudy is going to be big one day…

Star-Spangled War Stories # 1 – This Mademoiselle Marie one-shot has a terrific Brian Bolland cover.  My advice is to stop there, as the rest of the comic is the definition of mediocrity.

Ultimate Thor #1 – I’d sworn off the Ultimate line, but was lured back with this mini-series by Jonathan Hickman and Carlos Pacheco, two people I trust to do no wrong.  The comic was okay, but mostly set up.  I’m curious to see where they take things; Thor is not the most interesting character, and making him crazy in the Ultimate-verse helped a lot, but adding in Nazi Frost Giants is an inspired idea.

Wolverine #3 – I think I’m starting to enjoy this book enough to start paying full price for it…  Maybe it’s just because of the Puck guest appearance (which explains why he wasn’t in that god-awful Chaos War Alpha Flight fiasco) and the back-ups that always have such nice art.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Acme Novelty Library Vol. 20: Lint

by Chris Ware

It’s pretty easy to understand why this latest entry in Ware’s Acme Novelty series would end up on so many reviewers’ “Best of 2010” lists, as it’s an absolutely brilliant piece of work, but it’s also a brutally sad read.

Lint tells the story of Jordan (Jason) Lint, from his birth to his death, in one page installments.  Jordan’s mom died when he was young.  He was a pain in the ass at school.  He didn’t get along with his dad.  He cheated on girlfriends and wives.  He failed at entering the music industry.  He got involved in some shady business practices at his father’s company.  He cheated some more.  He got old.  With almost every new chapter, we start to think of this guy as more and more of a creep, but I found myself also hoping that he might finally turn himself around and become a nicer person.

What makes the book so interesting is the way in which Ware keeps surprising us in the selectivity of what he chooses to reveal.  We think that we are seeing Lint’s whole story, but then something happens to make us realize that while we’ve seen some of his most intimate moments, we have no idea what this guy is capable of.  The scene where he starts to read from his son’s memoir where it describes an incident when his son was small was a shock.

As usual with a piece of Ware’s work, the page design in this book is stunning.  He has an ability to break pages into sections that, while they defy the usual flow and format of a comics page, are intuitively easy to follow.  I love the dissonance he sets up in this book, caused by portraying a person who is spiritually bereft and ugly with such beautiful art and design.  This is an amazing piece of work – go read it.

Girls Vol.4: Extinction

by The Luna Brothers

Girls is easily the best work the Luna Brothers have done.  While I really enjoyed Sword, this series, and this volume in particular, is amazing.

This title was pretty strange from the start.  A naked woman appears in a small town, has sex with a local loser, and almost immediately begins laying eggs.  Within a few hours, these eggs have hatched more identical women, who alternately hunt and kill the local women, or try to copulate with the local men.  Oh, there’s also a large glowing sperm in a cornfield that eats the dead women of the town, and an impermeable force field surrounding the whole town.  The residents of Pennystown and its environs have to try to work together to survive.

And that’s where things get really interesting, because these people are all nursing grudges and dislikes for one another.  As this volume opens, all the hate and animosity has spilled over, as a full-on war of the sexes has erupted.  The women have rid themselves of the men, led by the castrating (figuratively and literally) Nancy, who is a character like few others I’ve read in comics.  The men seem to be succumbing to their weaknesses all over the place, and Ethan, the more or less main character and sexual partner to the original ‘girl’ is now going all Baltar on Battlestar Galactica on us, and is having visions of the girl.

This series is incredibly suspenseful and hard to put down.  The art and plotting are just about perfect, and I loved the way that the Lunas fit in so many important character moments and touching scenes amid all the madness.  This is a great comic.

The Question Vol. 6: Peacemaker

Written by Dennis O’Neil
Art by Denys Cowan, Malcolm Jones III, and Carlos Garzon

It’s funny how memory can sometimes play such tricks on a person.  I have fond memories of picking up some random issues of Dennis O’Neil’s run on The Question from the late 80s, although I never had anything like a complete set of the run. I got interested in the character after the series had closed, although I remember a quarterly title, with the same creative team.  When I saw this volume, which holds the last six issues of the run, on sale for only $2, I thought it would be cool to see how the comic held up.

It hasn’t held up at all.  Fine, the clothing and hair styles are really dated.  There are a bunch of mullets, pleated skirts, and shoulder pads stinking up Denys Cowan’s otherwise fine artwork, but that’s not the problem.  The problem, surprisingly, is that O’Neil’s writing is ham-fisted, clichéd, and embarrassing.  Reading this, I wonder how any fans could have been upset that Renee Montoya took over the mantle of this character.

The concept is sound – that The Question patrols Hub City, the most perfect example of urban decay and blight this side of Warren Ellis’s Snowtown, and ten times worse than Detroit (not an urban farm to be found).  The problem is that Hub City is ridiculous.  If you park your car for five minutes on a main street, a gang of thugs will just randomly attack it.  People walk around with dead babies hoping to con you into lending them a dollar for milk.  Corrupt judges hire gigantic black men named Cathy to kill the mayor, and then lend them their car to drive to City Hall in.  I don’t even think those are the worse examples.

And then there’s the mayor.  I remembered Myra Fermin as a tough, dedicated, hands-on mayor, but the number of times that she gets kidnapped or chased after by killers is insane.  I really don’t know what was going on with this book, or why DC has just recently reprinted the whole series.  It’s probably best left forgotten…

Album of the Week:

Analog Africa No.9: Angola Soundtrack: The Unique Sound of Luanda 1968-1976

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