Weekly Round-Up #59 with Northlanders, Morning Glories, Buffy, Farscape, Thor & more

Best Comic of the Week:

Northlanders #36

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan

You know, one thing that I always get out of an issue of Wood’s Northlanders is that the Viking world is almost impossible to romanticize if you pay attention to the details.  It looks like such a cold, miserable existence, especially in this issue.

This comic finishes the two-part “The Girl in the Ice” arc, featuring art by the incredible Becky Cloonan.  The old man we were introduced to last night returns to the ice to exhume the body of the girl he’d found once again, only this time he is discovered in his endeavors, and is captured and taken to Reykjavik, where he stands accused of the girl’s murder.

The story is quite touching, as we explore the man’s need for truth, which is revealed to him before his inevitable execution.  What really makes this comic work though, is Cloonan’s wonderful art.  She is one of my favourite artists, and this issue is a good example of the breadth of her talent.  She shows us a bleak and unforgiving Iceland through a number of generous landscape and establishing shots.  By contrast, the panels of scenes set indoors are small and cramped, suggesting the claustrophobic conditions in which many people must have spent their winters at that time.  Wood and Cloonan compliment each other very nicely, and I hope to see them work together again very soon.

Other Notable Comics:

Cyclops #2

Written by Matz
Art by Luc Jacamon

I find it hard to believe that this comic was originally published in 1998 in France.  With this story, Matz has really captured so much of the current zeitgeist, that I would assume this book is only a couple of years old if it’s not brand new.  That he was anticipating the development of so many aspects of modern culture thirteen years ago is surprising.

Cyclops is about a man, Douglas Pistoia, who has begun to work for the UN-sanctioned military contractor organization Multicorps Security, Inc (the story is set in the future).  On his first mission, he performs a recklessly heroic act as he rushes through sniper fire to rescue his injured Captain.  Since all of the Multicorps missions are broadcast live on international television (the name of the book refers to the camera in each soldier’s helmet), Pistoia quickly becomes a star.

To cement their control of him, his bosses quickly send him on a mission of dubious moral purpose, and then promote him and offer him his own television show.  This issue finishes setting up the series (remember, when originally published, issues one and two would have been a single volume), and I’m curious to see what Matz does with the military reality-tv angle.  As always, Jacamon’s art is terrific, if a little murky in its over-use of the colour purple during night operations.

DMZ #61

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

When ‘Free States Rising’, the two-parter that has looked back at the time leading to the demilitarization of New York City began last issue, I wondered if the lead character was going to be someone we knew.  This issue still doesn’t name him, but it becomes pretty clear to anyone who has been reading the title for a while just who he is.

This chapter has our still-nameless protagonist chafing against the decentralized structure of the Free States Movement, which can’t really be called an army anymore.  It seems that decisions are being made in a consensus way, and the FSA has stalled their advance on the Jersey Shore.  Our hero (for lack of a better word) finds this lack of momentum frustrating, and takes it upon himself to begin the invasion.  Putting together a small group, he storms the Holland Tunnel.

It’s interesting that it has taken Wood until the fifth and final year of his long-running series to begin to examine the events and politics that led to his status quo.  What’s even more interesting is the extent to which this stuff hasn’t mattered in the life of Matty Roth and his friends.  Still, I like having the big picture, and appreciate this look back at things.  Especially when Shawn Martinbrough is providing the art, although I will be happy to see Riccardo Burchielli back next month.

Feeding Ground #3

Written by Swifty Lang
Art by Michael Lapinski

Things are becoming a lot clearer as Feeding Ground continues.  It’s a very cool comic about a Mexican coyote (someone who helps people cross the border into the United States), his family, and Blackwell, a company that appears to be run by werewolves, who have set aside a good deal of farmland along the border, and which preys on the people that try to cross.

In this issue, the coyote is reunited with his family, who have to cross the border after the events of last issue.  The problem is that their daughter is very sick after what happened to her in the first issue, and is making their flight difficult.  We also see a lot more of what is going on at Blackwell.

This is an interesting book.  I think the decision to make the covers so “Mexican” is an interesting one – it doesn’t give any idea of what is happening in the comic, but at the same time, it is what originally attracted me to the title.  The art inside is decent if still a little stiff, and I do find myself struggling to follow the story at times.  Still, I find this to be an enjoyable comic.  The fact that the same story is printed on the flip side, but in Spanish, is pretty cool too.

Memoir #1

Written by Ben McCool
Art by Nikki Cook

I suppose the easiest way to describe this new mini-series from Image is ‘Twilight Zone-esque’ (Twilight Zonian?).  This reporter, Trent MacGowan, travels to Lowesville, where apparently everyone woke up a year ago with amnesia.  It seems that the world’s media has left the town now, and Trent is going there to see if there is still a story worth writing about.

The town is a typical middle-American place, (except that most of the businesses downtown seem to be in operation, so I guess there’s no Wal-Mart) albeit more quiet than most.  People clearly keep to themselves, and no one is too interested in talking to Trent.  Then the random weird things start happening – the town’s butcher tells him not to eat meat, and generally acts like a delusional schizophrenic.  Some other dude manages to dig up a large, body-filled coffin in the middle of the street.  Oh, and some lady in the library believes that all strangers are employed by the government.

This issue is mostly concerned with setting up the plot and creating atmosphere, so it’s not all that easily judged.  The e-mail exchange that closes out the issue does seem interesting, but is it enough for me to come back for?  I found that the first issue of McCool’s Choker didn’t do much to impress me, and that was with Ben Templesmith handling the art.  Nikki Cook’s work here reminds me a lot of Ryan Kelly (I saw one on-line reviewer refer to her erroneously as the artist from Local), but many of her figures come off as a little misshapen.  I’m not sure if that’s intentional or not at this point.

This is a decent enough debut, but I’m not sure if there is enough happening here to bring me back for the second issue.

Morning Glories #6

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

I guess Nick Spencer got worried that his book was becoming a little too clear, as relationships between characters were getting established, and a lot of hints were being dropped as to what all is going on in this comic.  So, the natural thing to do would be to have a one-off issue that is set in the future, and revolves around a young female physicist who is on the run from negligible homicide charges.

The issue opens on this physicist, Julie Hayes, arriving at what we presume is the Morning Glory Academy, although it looks like it’s seen better days.  Through layered flashback sequences, we puzzle together her life story, and see that she was working on a spinning conical thing that looks like the one discovered by some of the students last month.

There is a surprise revelation at the end of the issue, when the identity of her recruiter is revealed, although it’s pretty much telegraphed throughout the whole book, and therefore isn’t much of a surprise.  I’m not sure how to incorporate what we learn with what I already know about this series, and I’m curious to see where Spencer goes next.  I do have a nagging voice in the back of my head though, which is warning me that this might all end as badly as Lost did, as I find myself making more and more comparisons to that show.

Scarlet #4

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev

Scarlet has been a mildly controversial book, with its story of a young girl who has had her life ruined by a corrupt police officer, and who has chosen to fight back by killing a total of three corrupt cops.  I read this and questioned the wisdom of painting the police in such a negative light.  I’m a law and order kind of guy, but I do live in Toronto, where we have spent more than six months examining the motivations of our own police after the violence of their response to G20 protesters last June.

Something in this comic is starting to resonate.  A large flashmob protest is organized outside Portland’s City Hall in this issue, as Scarlet’s exhortation to ‘fix things’ becomes heard throughout the city.  It’s been three months since the close of the last issue, and people are starting to sign on to her cause.  During that time, she has not killed anyone, but instead has been handing out care packages to the homeless.

Much of this issue is focused on the response of the police, mayor’s office, and now FBI to the situation.  There is a wonderful scene where the detective in charge of the case brings the FBI agent up to speed, leaving her career in the dust in the process.

This book is intelligently written, and has great Alex Maleev artwork.  It’s really nice to see Bendis do something so indie again.

The Secret History Book Fourteen: The Watchers

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordey

This issue of The Secret History is vastly different from all the previous ones.  Usually, any given installment of this long story that spans the entirety of human history will contain a few sub-plots, as well as check in on the Archons or some of the major players that have been introduced since the second volume began.  The Watchers really only tells one story – that of Daniel Rosenthal.

The story is set in Paris in the days immediately following the end of the Second World War.  Much of Paris is rubble, and whole neighbourhoods stand empty, as very few people have returned to the city yet.  Rosenthal was a shady art dealer before the war, most of which he spent locked up in a German concentration camp.  While at the camp he met Robert Desnos, the Surrealist poet, who gave him a Tarot card, or ‘blade’ in the parlance of this series.

Now, Rosenthal, a morphine addict and generally hopeless figure, finds himself caught up in the usual drama that revolves around runes and taro in this comic.  There are a number of organizations, including Opus Dei, trying to track down any extant cards, especially the Surrealist deck we saw Reka commission a while back.

This issue is pretty interesting for the way it portrays Paris, wraps up a few plotlines from the rest of the second volume of this series, and starts to set up the new status quo for the next big story.  Reka and Erlin are being shunted to the side as the modern age gets under way, and I find myself more interested in this comic than I have been lately.

Quick Takes:

Avengers Academy #8 – This issue has a bit of a very special episode, after-school special thing going on (Striker even calls it when he says, “And that’s one to grow on,” towards the end), but it’s also very good.  The students find out about Tigra’s history with the Hood, and while this forces her to face her demons, it also gives three of the kids the chance to try out some misguided revenge.  Gage has done a terrific job of making these characters so distinct in such a short span of time.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer #40 – As awful as this comic has been lately, I have to very grudgingly admit how much I liked this issue.  Whedon shows us how things are in the world now that almost all magic is gone, and the way different cast members are reacting to Buffy’s being the cause of this.  If this is how things are going to be in Season 9, I just may have to buy it, which was something I hadn’t planned on doing…

Farscape #15 – The ‘The War for the Uncharted Territories’ arc is kicking into high gear, as Chrichton and Aeryn flee total devastation at the hands of the Kkore to lick their wounds, and things look ever worse for the galaxy.  One member of the cast who I was always fond of gets killed off in this issue, and Scorpius meets up with Rygel again.  Good stuff.

Invincible Iron Man #500 – I find it strange how vastly different Matt Fraction’s run on Iron Man has been compared to his run on Thor (see below).  This 500th anniversary issue is a perfect example of how well written this title has become under Fraction, as we get a strange ‘Days of Future Past’ story that more or less revisits the territory of the Armor Wars story.  In the present Tony (and Spider-Man) deal with a group of techno-terrorists (incredible name: The Bastard Sons of Wilbur Day (google him)) that have built a Stark Tech. weapon.  Interspersed with this story is a sequence set in the future, where Tony is the slave of the Mandarin, and his son and granddaughter are dealing with the legacy of his technology.  In addition to Salvador Larroca, there is art by Kano, Nathan Fox, and Carmine Di Giandomenico, making this a very beautiful comic.  I think this might be the best title that Marvel is publishing right now.

Legion of Super-Heroes #9 – Is it just me, or is not much happening in these comics?  Why is a Durlan assassination squad worthy of a six-part epic?  How long is Tellus just going to stand over the injured Dawnstar?  Why did we make a huge deal about the Legion election last issue, only to have it not mentioned at all in this one (oh wait – I know why – it was to provide the necessary lead-time to have a gimmicky on-line vote).  I want more from a Legion comic.  I’ve taken this book (and Adventure) off my pull-list as of March.  You’ve got that much time to convince me to stick around, Mr. Levitz…

Superior #4 – I’m still liking this book a great deal.  Millar lays on the charm, although the ending reminded me a lot of the ending to Chosen.  Simon is moving his Superior act onto the world stage now, having gone through his first interview, and meeting President Obama.  Next issue looks like a cross between Big and The Authority.

Thor #619 – I haven’t been too impressed with Fraction’s Thor run (and I think it’s the first time I’ve ever disliked a Matt Fraction book).  I feel like too much time is being taken to make this story EPIC (all caps), without taking the care to build up a true epic along the lines of Walter Simonson’s classic run.  The news this week that the book is being relaunched again, and that Kieron Gillen is getting what is effectively an Asgard title of his own, makes me want to give up on this comic all the quicker.  I don’t remember the last time a writer I like this much, paired with an artist I really like, has been so underwhelming (I liked the Millar and Hitch Fantastic Four more).

X-Factor #214 – It’s rare for this title to make a misstep, but I didn’t really like this Darwin solo issue.  Having left the team, Darwin wanders through the desert, perhaps eats some peyote, and has a strange vision where he has to fight the sheriff of a movie-prop town.  Not much is clear, although that is intentional, as Peter David uses this to try to suggest something he has planned for the team’s future.  The problem is that while everyone is spending so much time and effort trying to sound portentous, it just comes off as obscure.  Part of the problem is that Darwin, even death-stare Darwin, is not an interesting enough character to carry a whole issue on his own.

X-Men Legacy #244 – Even though I dropped this title, I thought I’d give it one more chance before the Age of X story starts (which I have no interest in).  This was a decent issue, but that’s about all I can say about it.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #652

Deadpool Max #4

Wolverine #5

Bargain Comics:

Assassin’s Creed: The Fall #2 – Much better than the first issue, although I think there should be some sort of surcharge for using Nikola Tesla in comics.  He shows up about as often as Deadpool…  Great art by Stewart and Kerschl make up for the confusing story.

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #4 – It’s an all action issue, with some very good Kaare Andrews artwork and a bunch of nasty looking Furies.  This title has been pretty thin though, and this issue doesn’t even have the good snarky dialogue Ellis has been filling his X-Men run with.

Mighty Crusaders #1-3 – There’s nothing particularly wrong with this team book featuring the Red Circle properties, but at the same time, there’s nothing particularly fresh or new about it either.  They seem to fill the same role as the Freedom Fighters do, thereby making one of the two books redundant.  They’re up against a Durlan conspiracy, but these Durlans look different from any we’ve seen before (and I know they are shapeshifters, but still….).

Mighty Samson #1 – I like this Jim Shooter revamping of an old comics property much more than I did his Magnus.  I’ve never read a Samson comic, but I like the way he and co-writer JC Vaughn fleshed out the character’s origin (his first appearance is reprinted in the back of the book for comparison’s sake).  Patrick Olliffe is working in a slightly different style that I didn’t like at first, but it grew on me as the book progressed.  I may have to check out another issue…

X-Men: To Serve and Protect #2 – While most of this anthology comic is just adequate, with a cute Stepford Cuckoos story, and pretty standard stories featuring Colossus and Iron Man, and X-23 and Ghost Rider, the multi-chapter Anole and Rockslide story that opens the book is pure gold.  These two New X-Men have created ‘secret’ vigilante identities for themselves, and have been wandering San Francisco doing good.  Chris Yost really has a strong feel for these characters, and Derec Donovan’s art straddles the line between cartoonish and realistic perfectly.  I want to continue buying this series only to get the rest of this story (next month: The Serpent Society!).  Also, who is Garry Brown, the artist on the Colossus story?  I want to see more…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man

by Matt Kindt

Matt Kindt is now officially the cartoonist I most wish I’d known about years ago, as I can’t believe I’d missed out on such amazing comics.  His Revolver graphic novel at Vertigo introduced me to his work, and this is now the third book I’ve read, after the brilliant Super Spy.

3 Story is about Craig Pressgang, a giant man.  Craig grew quickly as a youth, eventually growing to a height of more than three stories tall.  The book is divided into three stories, each focusing on a different woman in Craig’s life.  The book opens with his mother narrating, and we see Craig both grow up and grow away from her.  It’s a sad story, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book.

The second story focuses on Craig’s wife, and it tells us the most about Craig.  We see his college days, followed by his growing celebrity, ad endorsement jobs, and world tours (which were in fact organized by the CIA as information-gathering trips).  It is in this story that Kindt explores Craig’s gigantism from a novel perspective – the difficulty of building housing for him, the demands of the telephone, and the health and neurological consequences of being so large.  Like a with a dinosaur, it takes some time for signals from nerves in his extremities to reach Craig’s brain.  This puts him at great risk of infection, as he could damage his feet without being aware of it for some time.

As Craig continues to grow, and has a few mishaps like the one at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, it becomes increasingly clear that Craig can’t remain.  The third story has his grown daughter searching for him.

This book is a touching and interesting look at a standard trope of superhero comics, but examined in a more realistic manner, except for the spy stuff, which Kindt can’t seem to resist including.  I enjoyed this book a great deal, and can’t understand why it didn’t receive more press and buzz when it was released in 2009.

Wet Moon Book 1: Feeble Wanderings

by Ross Campbell

Ross Campbell’s books are bizarre.  I’ve enjoyed plenty of his other work, such as Water Baby, and The Abandoned, but had yet to try the work for which he is best known; Wet Moon.

This first volume is both mystifying and a little addictive.  Like the other books, it is centred around a group of female friends who are into the punk/indie scene, and have a pretty amorphous sense of their own sexuality.  Cleo Lovedrop (pictured) is the central character, and she’s just about to start college along with her friends.  She moves into a new flat, although she doesn’t meet her roommates right away, goes to a club, hangs out, and gets sad a lot.  That’s about all that happens, except for the stuff I don’t really understand.

There isn’t much of a plot.  At one point, it looks like the series might be about figuring out who is putting up signs that say “Cleo eats it” all over the town, but that fizzles out.  Maybe it’s about the strange guy that Cleo keeps seeing and then running away from.  Maybe it’s about the mysterious Fern, an amputee with interesting piercings and a tendency to stand naked in a lake.

I suppose it’s really about all of these things, and is more of a journal of Cleo’s life than anything else.  There are hints that something big is going to happen, but it never does (which is kind of what late adolescence is like, isn’t it?).  The ending to the volume feels a little arbitrary, like Campbell had decided that 156 pages is all that could be in the comic.  I feel like I’ll need to read the rest of the series to come to a full understanding.

And I do really want to read the rest of it (I have the 2nd volume, but none of the later ones).  I found that it was hard to put this book down, as I got caught up in Cleo’s life.  Campbell’s art is beautiful, and he is just about the only artist in comics who draws realistic women, with a variety of body shapes and sizes (although I do wish he’d draw some who weren’t so pierced).  It’s hard to know from just this book if the rambling story is purposeful or just the way things ended up, but I’m definitely curious to find out more.

Album of the Week:

Kno – Death is Silent

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