Weekly Round-Up #58 with Infinite Vacation, Batman & Robin, Daredevil & more

Best Comic of the Week:

The Infinite Vacation #1

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Christian Ward

Nick Spencer, the current writerly Golden Boy of comics, is just about everywhere.  This week alone he has two books out (this and THUNDER Agents), one next week (Morning Glories), and his War Machine book, Iron Man 2.0, is set to start soon as well.  His has become one of those names to watch for 2011, and this new title is a good example of why.

I’m not sure I’ve read many comics like The Infinite Vacation.  To begin with, it seems he’s come up with a genuinely new twist on a classic comic book idea.  The characters of this comic (almost all of whom are Mark), are able to travel through alternate realities through an app on their smartphones.  They purchase (at great expense), the ability to swap places with their alternate reality doubles, flitting from one life to another as a way of rectifying simple mistakes or wrong turns in their life.  The girl in the coffee shop leaves before you work up the nerve to talk to her?  Move on to a different life, where she stays a bit longer.

It’s a difficult concept to get across, and the fumetti-style infomercial sequence does little to clarify the rules.  Mark has himself for a therapist, and is also his own customer-service rep at the company that runs things.  The problem is, a lot of his alternates seem to be dying these days, and that has him uncomfortable.  So, we get a bit of a mystery, and also realize that not everyone lives like this.  There are a small group of Deadenders – alternate reality Luddites – who oppose this style of living.  Most of this issue is spent in establishing some of the rules of this existence, and the story is intriguing enough to guarantee I’ll be back.

Spencer is aided in this book by Christian Ward, who is a remarkable artist.  I loved his work on Olympus a little while back, and have been looking forward to a new series from him.  His impressionistic style reminds me of Eric Nguyen around the start of Strange Girl, and I love the risks he takes with layout in this issue.  I look forward to seeing where this book is going to go.

Other Notable Comics:

BPRD Hell on Earth – Gods #1

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Guy Davis

There is a lot about this new BPRD Hell on Earth mini that makes it different from the last few.  First, it’s the second arc since the book’s title was amended to include the ‘Hell on Earth’ tag, and the first three-issue mini-series I can think of (the comic is usually split into five-issue arcs).

Most importantly, this is the first time I can think of where almost the entire comic has nothing to do with the agents and members of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.  One of them shows up on the last page, but that’s it.

Instead, this issue is focused on a teenage girl named Fenix, her boyfriend Jorge, and a ragtag group that are following them across Texas.  It seems that Fenix has some form or precognitive or psychic powers, and she has led her crew away from the different creatures and forms of weirdness that have been roaming across the country since the War of the Frogs ended.

This issue is the first that really takes the time to examine the extent of the damage and changes to the status quo since this title was revised.  Davis does a great job with these new characters, and the Dennis Calero cover is pretty nice.  This would be a decent place for someone to sample this title, if you’ve been thinking about trying it out.

The Unwritten #20

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross, with Vince Locke

‘Leviathan’, the Moby Dick-inspired latest story arc continues with this issue, as Tom finds himself trapped in Melville’s enormous novel, and his friends in the real world meet the creepy puppeteer that’s been poking around the title for a few issues.

By far the most interesting parts of this comic are the ones set in the novel (the decision to have Vince Locke do the finishes for those pages was a very wise one – it signals to the reader where we are, and looks great).  Tom does not understand why Captain Ahab appears to be his father, and his attempt to confront him on that matter doesn’t go well, although it does lead to an interesting conversation with Frankenstein’s monster in the hold of the Pequod.

The best issues of Unwritten have been the ones that are most concerned with famous stories, and I think that’s why this one is working well for me.  Tom is beginning to figure out some of the abilities he wields, although he still does not understand his purpose.

Quick Takes:

Batman and Robin #19 – The less said about this Paul Cornell/Scott McDaniel arc, the better.  Leaving you with The Absence of a review is probably a kindness…

Birds of Prey #8 – Here we have a solid issue with Bruce-Batman guest starring, and Guillem March providing some wildly inconsistent art – some pages look great, but others are completely mediocre.  I’m leaning back towards committing to this title; we’ll see how this Death of Oracle thing plays out.

Black Panther #514 – I’m liking this take on the Panther, as Liss fleshes out T’Challa’s situation a little better, and Luke Cage pops by for a visit.  I am loving Francavilla’s art on this book, but find the villain ‘Vlad the Impaler’ to be pretty stale.  I’m still not sure if I’m going to add this to my pull-list, but I will be getting the next issue.

Daredevil Reborn #1 – Let’s leave aside for a moment that it’s about six months too early to bring Daredevil back if Shadowland is to have any meaning, and talk instead about how much Matt Murdock is borrowing from the JMS Superman book of reasons to walk across America.  This is not a horrible comic, but it’s not in the least bit special either.  I was curious to see how Gianfelice’s art would look drawing superheroes, but that never happens in here.

Detective Comics #872 – My comic store got short-ordered on this when it came out, so I only got a hold of it this week.  I like what Snyder’s doing with this title.  His Dick-Batman is superb (I love the flying uni-motorcycle), and the Commissioner Gordon back-up is brilliant.  Solid art by Jock and Francavilla really makes this work well.  I hope the Gordon back-up finishes somewhere – it’s the best ‘Second Feature’ I’ve read yet.

Halcyon #3 – I’ve been enjoying this Utopian superhero saga written by Marc Guggenheim and Tara Butters.  Now that there is no need for heroes in the world, they’ve been having a tough time adjusting.  For the Batman-character, there has to be something nefarious behind it all, and we finally get a glimpse of what that is.  This series feels like The Authority, but backwards.  Lovely Boddenheim artwork throughout…

Heroes for Hire #2 – This issue seemed to work a lot better than the first, as the story shifts to Silver Sable, Paladin, Ghost Rider, and Satanna (!) investigating the sale of demonic firearms.  There’s a great ending, as it seems we won’t have to wonder what’s really going on with Misty Knight for long.  Here’s a question though – this whole phantom pregnancy thing – where was that established?  I read Shadowland, the last place Misty appeared at length (including the Blood on the Street mini), but never saw this.  Or will it be covered later?

Incredible Hulks #620 – Hulk fights his demons in this Chaos War tie-in, which is only okay (although that makes it better than the series that drives its story).  I hope we’ll get to finally see the emphasis of the series put on the family after this CW stuff dies down, as I feel that is the book’s strength.  The back-up Hulk vs. Korg story is okay, but nothing spectacular (even with Simon Bisley art).

Knight and Squire #4 – My second Paul Cornell book this week, and it’s infinitely better than the first (Batman and Robin), as Beryl has her first date with the Shrike, and Cyril fights his fears, rather literally.  This has been a fun comic, but is also a great examination of teamwork.  Good stuff.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #24 – Things look up for this title as Starro returns and attacks Dox.  The first year and a half of this comic were phenomenal, but it has floundered since then.  Perhaps a return to how things started is exactly what Bedard needs to do to return this comic to where it was.  Lots of nice character moments spread throughout this rather quiet issue – I always like issues like that.

Secret Six #29 – I hate when books I love cross over with books I have no interest in.  This is the second half of a story that began in Action Comics, which I don’t read.  I guess any book where Simone is writing the Six is going to be good, but since most of this comic was taken up with a conflict between Lex Luthor and Vandal Savage, and whatever was left just rehashed things that had already happened with the team, I found my interest straying.  Also, the cover is creepy (and not in a good way).  I’m not happy that the next issue is part of a Doom Patrol crossover…

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3 – I’m glad I decided to add this title to my pull-list, as it just keeps getting better with every issue.  I don’t know much about this team, but the flashback sequences are doing a great job of establishing just how this group operates in the DCU.  The focus for this issue is on NoMan, a creepy Doctor Manhattan-like blue clone dude.  And while I don’t like Howard Chaykin’s art, it wasn’t too bad this issue (although I much prefer the work done by Cafu and Bit on the main sequence).  This is a title more people should be checking out – I’m worried it won’t last long in the current comics climate, and it deserves a better chance.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #651

Captain America Man Out of Time #3

Casanova Gula #1

I Am An Avenger #5

John Byrne’s Next Men #2

Bargain Comics:

Sam and Twitch #20-26: The John Doe Affair

Written by Todd McFarlane
Art by Alex Maleev and Paul Lee

I didn’t realize, when I first bought almost the entire run of this series (I had to hunt down the last three issues elsewhere) that this arc was written by Todd McFarlane, and not Brian Michael Bendis.  I probably wouldn’t have bothered with them, as I’ve never been a fan of McFarlane’s writing (like the rest of the world, I was caught up in his art circa Amazing Spider-Man, but was sick of it by the time the guest writers came on Spawn).

I’m glad I got these though;  they’re actually pretty good.  Sam and Twitch get caught up in a bizarre case – a killer is videotaping himself abusing and killing his victims, and is sending the tapes too Sam.  This case quickly becomes a red ball, as City Hall gets involved, as does the FBI.  Suspicions are aroused when a young officer whose father has a lot of important political connections is assigned to the case, and more and more strange things happen, not the least of which is that Sam goes on a date.

McFarlane builds a creepy and suspenseful story, which ultimately doesn’t live up to its promises.  The ending is done too quickly, and there is never a satisfying explanation as to why the killer, and his surprise accomplice, are doing what they are doing.  On the other hand, McFarlane did provide the one thing that I felt this book was lacking during Bendis’s run, which is character development.  We get to know a lot more about Sam and Twitch with this story, as they both have to take a look at the relationships in their life (although Twitch’s bit at the end feels tacked on and forced).

The art on most of this arc is by Maleev, and so it’s terrific, and then Pat Lee was brought in to pinch hit (apparently there were delays of more than a year between issues because McFarlane is about as reliable as Rob Liefeld) on the concluding issues.  He did his best to be Maleev, but couldn’t quite pull it off.

I have enjoyed my look through this series, and am now on the hunt for the follow-up title, Sam and Twitch: Casefiles, which was mostly written by Marc Andreyko.

Vertigo Resurrected #1

Written by Warren Ellis, Brian Bolland, Brian Azzarello, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Steven T. Seagle, Peter Milligan, Bill Willingham, and Bruce Jones
Art by Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Brian Bolland, Essad Ribic, Frank Quitely, Jim Lee, Tim Sale, Eduardo Risso, Bill Willingham, Bernie Wrightson, and Timothy Bradstreet

I don’t normally list all the creators in an anthology, but this book has such a strong list of names attached to it (and Bruce Jones), that I felt it was appropriate.

This comic, which collects a number of little-seen short stories from such places as Strange Adventures, Heartthrobs, Weird War Tales, and Flinch, received most of its press for including a previously unpublished, ‘controversial’ issue of Hellblazer by Ellis and Jimenez that deals with the issue of school shootings.  Strangely, it’s just about the weakest story in the bunch, as Ellis doesn’t really do anything with the story, and doesn’t seem to have a good handle on Constantine.  Also, I don’t really see what is controversial about it, other than its timing.

The other stories are more of a treat.  Morrison and Quitely have a cool piece about toys getting replaced, and Seagle and Sale give us a bizarre story about love and surgery.  Brian Bolland’s tale about European explorers trekking through Chinese Turkistan is probably my favourite, but I also enjoyed Jones’s and Wrightson’s story more than I expected to.  Milligan and Risso have a very cool little tale about a woman who falls in love with a dead poet.

I didn’t really like Ennis and Lee’s story about some SAS guys – it was way too talkative, and Lee’s work looks like Scott Kolins.  I would be interested in checking out more anthologies like this (the $8 pricepoint isn’t really a barrier, not that I paid that much for it).

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Achewood Vol. 2: Worst Song, Played on Ugliest Guitar

by Chris Onstad

Whoever it was at Dark Horse who decided to start their collections of Chris Onstad’s Achewood webcomic with The Great Outdoor Fight before publishing the earliest strips was very wise.  This collection has the first pile of strips, and while many of them are very good, the level of quality is somewhat inconsistent at times.

I have only recently begun reading this series on-line, and am pretty frustrated with its erratic scheduling and Onstad’s willingness to abandon stories for months (when is High School Night going to end?  The suspense!).  Reading these earliest efforts, I see that there has always been an element of randomness in his work, although being able to read months worth of the series at the same time gives it a stronger sense of connection.

What really makes this comic work is the strong personalities of its different characters.  I find that I love all the different animals for different reasons.  When we finally got a string of strips that built into the story of Téodor’s party, it was fascinating to see the different characters interact with each other.  Onstad has a strange sense of humour, and frequently doesn’t seem to know how to end a particular strip, but that seems to be the source of so much of the book’s charm.

Included in here are a series of prose stories which have the author describing how he meet the different animals who apparently all live with him (but he doesn’t tell us about the cats – that’s for later).  Achewood is unique, and strangely addictive.  It’s worth checking out.

Outlaw Territory Vol. 1

Edited by Michael Woods

Now here’s an example of a trade paperback that appeared without making any ripples.  This Western anthology book went pretty much unnoticed when it was published in 2009 – I don’t remember seeing any reviews or promotion for it, although I do remember seeing it in Previews.  I know that there is a second volume due to be released soon, but know very little about it as well.

As someone who loves a good anthology, I was happy to settle down with this book, which contains a good thirty short stories by a ton of different writers and artists.  Most of the stories are very good, but the limited range of the Western did make many of them blend together in my mind.

Frequently the stories involved gunslingers looking for revenge, and it did become a little monotonous at times.  Still, the quality of work in this book is pretty high.  Creators whose work stood out included Moritat, Joe Kelly and Max Fiumara, Khoi Pham, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Greg Pak and Ian Kim, Christopher Mitten, and mpMann (such a treat to see his work again).  Some artists who were new to me, but who made an impression include Yeray Gil Hernandez, Christopher Provencher, Simon Fraser, and Chad Sell.

I felt like many of the stories needed more room to spread themselves out, but in all, I was pleased with this book.  Some contributor bios would have been a nice addition though…

Album of the Week:

Timeless: Suite for Ma Dukes, arranged by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson

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