Weekly Round-Up #60 with Scalped, Fables, Fantastic Four 587 & more

This is the first week since I started this column where I don’t have a review of a graphic novel.  There are two reasons for that – I’ve been insanely busy, and I’ve been working my way through a Dark Horse Omnibus, which is much bigger than it looks.  Still, it’s absence won’t really be noticed, as this was a massive week for new comics.

Best Comic of the Week:

Scalped #45

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

Ostensibly, Scalped is about Dash Bad Horse, the undercover FBI agent who is insinuating himself into Chief Lincoln Red Crow’s crew to help bring him down.  But it’s not really about that at all, as we have no idea what Dash’s plans and motives are any more.

The thing is, Scalped has grown to be about so much more than just Dash.  My new theory is that this book is about Red Crow’s search for redemption, that just seems to always elude him.  Previously, after Dash’s mother was killed, Granny Poor Bear put Red Crow in charge of looking after her spirit for a year; a job he ultimately could not do.  Now, with the introduction of Hassell Rock Medicine, an old man who helped raise Red Crow after his father’s death, we see the door to redemption open up once again.

You see, Rock Medicine has decided to challenge Red Crow for leadership of their tribe.  This puts all of Red Crow’s criminal dealings and plans in danger, yet he won’t lift a finger to work against the old man.  He keeps Shunka, his attack dog, on an ever-shorter leash, and is beginning to give Dash even more responsibility within his organization.  I believe Red Crow knows that Dash will bring him down, and is working towards that.

The character of Lincoln Red Crow is one of the best written to ever appear in comics, and I absolutely love this book, and the layers of complexity that Aaron brings to it.  It’s also great to see Dino Poor Bear, my favourite character, appear briefly, and to see regular series artist RM Guera return.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #11

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Mateus Santolouco

It’s become a little routine to talk about how good this comic is, but there we are.  Snyder has this book simmering along on a slow boil, and is taking his time spinning out his story.  This issue, which concludes a two-part arc, shows us what has been going on with Pearl and Henry in the main plot-line, and we follow Hattie in the subplot as she searches for Pearl.

There’s a very nice thing that happens towards the end of the book, as Snyder surprises us (and Hattie) in her search, and puts off the meeting of these two former friends for a while.

The art continues to be by Santolouco, who does a decent job, although I would gladly see Rafael Albuquerque return.  I hope that he does next month (I refuse to read solicitation texts on books that are on my pull-list, and so genuinely don’t know).

Echoes #2

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Rahsan Ekedal

Before I even begin talking about the comic itself, I want to talk about what a snake move it was to have the first issue be priced at $2.99, and then to raise the price to $3.99 on subsequent issues.  I never would have picked up this comic at $4, and would have instead trade-waited it, and snatched it up on Ebay in a couple of years.  But, since I thought the price was lower, I tried it, and got hooked.  Snaky, Top Cow, snaky.

But then, the comic is worth it.  Fialkov is quite the writer, as he plays with the main character’s, and our, perceptions of reality quite nicely.  Last issue, Brian Cohn found out a few things about his recently deceased father that he never knew, that involved a box of small dolls made out of the bodies and clothing of young girls that he had killed.

Brian is not too sure what to do with this information, since Brian is schizophrenic, and is having a very hard time processing all that has happened.  Now, he is hearing his father’s voice, and is feeling compelled to behave in the same way.  We’re not too sure what is going on here, although the revelations of the last couple pages of this issue make it seem like Brian is in a bad place indeed.

Fialkov is not giving us many hints, but he is crafting a pretty compelling story.  Ekedal’s art doesn’t seem too special, but then he pulls off some interesting visuals that make you realize just how good an artist he is.  There’s a very cool scene when Brian is taking a shower that is easily missed.

So, in conclusion, I am resentful of the price hike, but am also committed to seeing how this story ends.

Fables #101

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Eric Shanower, Richard Friend, and Andrew Pepoy

After the gigantic hundredth issue, I wasn’t surprised to see that Willingham has shifted focus, for a little while, away from the varied denizens of Fabletown, now in exile to Haven, and on to one of the almost-forgotten subplots of the title.  This issue starts a new arc that focuses on Blufkin, the formerly flying monkey, who has been trapped in the other-dimensional business office ever since Mr. Dark attacked Fabletown.

Bored and in search of adventure, Blufkin starts to climb the tree that takes up the centre of the office, to see where it will lead.  He’s mildly manipulated by the talking mirror and Frankenstein, although the whole thing is portrayed as a Herculean task.

Strangely, he ends up in Ev, a world that borders Oz, just in time to assist some creatures that are on the run.  Joining Willingham on this story is artist Eric Shanower, who has a deep involvement with the Oz stories.  It’s always great to see Shanower on art, and I’m sure it’s fun for him to draw a crazy story like this, so different from his usual work on the essential Age of Bronze, even if his Blufkin looks a little creepy from time to time.

While I enjoyed this issue, I found that the writing was venturing too closely to the kind of tongue-in-cheek fantasy comics that turned me off Jack of Fables.  As much as I love seeing Shanower’s art, I hope this arc doesn’t last too long.

The New York Five #1

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly

As much as I never really figured out DC’s Minx line, where New York Four, the book to which this mini-series is the sequel, was published, I think it may have been a better fit for this title than Vertigo is.  But then, this is Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly, so it’s an instant purchase, even if it is basically a young adult series aimed at girls.  Even as I type that, I realize how reductionist it sounds…

New York Five follows a group of four freshman students at NYU who are all friends, and who have the same therapist.  The fifth girl, whose presence explains the change in title, is introduced in this issue, but only just.  Anyway, these four girls now live together, and are going through some of the usual struggles of young students (boyfriend troubles, family troubles, marks troubles), and some that seem kind of unique – obsessively stalking a teacher being the most unusual.

Wood and Kelly, who meshed together perfectly on Local (which just might be the best comic series I’ve ever read), are basically telling a story of New York, in which these girls are incidental characters.  Wood peppers the book with fun insiders facts, like where to go for congee in Queens, and Kelly lovingly draws detailed drawings of intersections and elevated trains.  The book feels like the younger sister to Local, and while truly bizarre in its existence, is well worth reading.

The Sixth Gun #8

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

I had some concerns, as this series moved into its second arc, that the story might not be able to keep up the momentum of the first six issues.  I no longer have any concerns, as Bunn has transitioned this title into an on-going series that has a lot of potential.

This issue has Drake Sinclair hanging out with a Haitian man who lives in a slowly crumbling mansion in the middle of a swamp.  He’s gone there to see if he can sever his ties to The Six, mystical guns that grant their bearer strange abilities.  To be fair, Drake is only connected to four of them, and his companion has one other, but that is not ever mentioned.  Over the course of their conversation, it also becomes clear that Drake is looking for a way to bring his friend Billjohn back to life, which hints at a more human side than we’ve seen in him yet.

I’ve been enjoying the world-building that Bunn has been doing with this comic.  The setting (the post-Reconstruction South) is one not often used this way in comics.  Sure, we have Jonah Hex roaming around the same time period, but the way that Bunn has weaved in so many fantastical elements to his tale makes it pretty fresh.  As usual, Hurtt has been doing a terrific job on the art.  I found myself studying the swamp mansion pretty carefully, as I found it such an interesting setting.

27 #1 & 2

Written by Charles Soule
Art by Renzo Podesta

I want to talk about this comic on its own merits, but first it seems necessary to mention the way in which it become such a buzz book when its first print was released in November.  I remember noticing this title when it was solicited in Previews.  It caught my eye, but as I didn’t know either Soule or Podesta, I decided that I would wait and flip through it at the comics store, instead of pre-ordering it.  (I’m lucky, in that I shop at a really good store, so a lot of smaller books by lesser-known creators are on the shelf to take a look at).  Anyway, this book became a ‘hot title’, and it’s taken me until this week to get ahold of a second printing of the first issue.  I just don’t understand why this book got so much buzz, and another, equally good title such as Who is Jake Ellis? didn’t.  Who decides these things?  Is it some marketing thing, or what?

Anyway, this is a good comic.  It’s about a famous guitar player who has lost the ability to play.  He’s tried everything, and is now making the rounds of the whack-jobs who think they can help him.  He ends up with a pseudo-doctor, mad scientist, sorcerer type, who performs some mystical procedure on him, that goes horribly wrong.  Now Will has a strange device embedded in his chest, which seems to let him tap into the creative properties of the number nine, although it will kill him too.

It’s a cool concept.  We have all sorts of things in this book – strange numerology, great cop dialogue, bitchy professors, and hangers-on and dick-riders around every corner.  The writing is pretty sharp, and the story has a nice flow to it.  I’m not sure where this is going, and I like that a lot.

Artistically, this comic is just begging to be drawn by Ted McKeever.  That said, I like the way Podesta is handling this title.  There’s a lot of Michael Avon Oeming in his work, but everything feels darker than that.  I’m glad I finally got a hold of this comic, and I look forward to the remaining two chapters.

Quick Takes:

Avengers #9 – So, this is sort of like Civil War part 2, with Steve Rogers and Tony Stark arguing, but set in the Himalayas, while all the Avengers (including the Secret ones, that no one knows about) stand around in odd-looking face masks, watching.  Oh, and The Hood makes a friend or two in prison.  That’s it.  For $4.  Oh wait – I forgot the horrid JR JR art – check out his Beast, and his oh-so hairy Red Hulk.  It’s not a good comic…

Captain America #614 – As much as I was worried that this Trial of Captain America arc was going over familiar ground, I am enjoying it a lot.  This issue has more Dr. Faustus, more Sin, and a bit of Falcon and Black Widow.  Here’s what I want to know though – just what is Steve Rogers’s organization called?  There are more and more people rolling around in SHIELD costumes, but there is no more SHIELD.  So what is it?  And why hasn’t this been answered?

Chaos War #5 – I found this entire mini-event to be underwhelming, but Pak and Van Lente pulled off a good ending.  The best news of all is that there’s going to be a Hercules on-going written by them again, which is something I’m looking forward to, especially if it is a fresh start.  I do have some questions in the wake of this book though – are the only heroes that came back to life in this comic the ones pictured at the end, or will this become the off-panel ‘Get Out of Hell Free’ card for any number of heroes and villains for the next year or so?

Detective Comics #873 – This storyline started off by focusing on Bat-Dick’s detective skills, and worked really well.  This is still a good story, but I’m not sure that the introduction of Bat-Iron Man armor helps maintain the same sense of atmosphere (although for the record, I still love last issue’s flying Bat-Unicycle).  It’s cool to see an artist like Jock draw a straight-up superhero fight though.  I miss the Commissioner Gordon back-up.

Fantastic Four #587 – Going in to this comic, I decided that I didn’t really care which of the star characters was going to die.  It’s pretty clear that whoever it would be will be returning in a year for a year, at which point the new FF series will magically renumber itself in time for issue 600.  This whole thing has read like such a calculated gimmick, and it’s too bad, as Hickman has been doing some very cool things with this title.  Reading the issue (I won’t spoil it, although it won’t take much work if you want to know who died), I was more struck by how much I like the supporting cast than I do any of the main characters.  What I like about this death is that it happened to the character Hickman has been able to do the least with, freeing him up to focus on the characters he sees potential in.  Actually, come to think of it, no one except for John Byrne has been able to do much with the character that died, and even that lasted for only one memorable issue (a Secret Wars II cross-over, at that)…

Guarding the Globe #3 – This issue was not as well-structured as the first two, although it did have some nice character moments at the beginning.  Having three different inkers didn’t help all that much.

Incredible Hulks #621 – I guess it makes sense that Greg Pak’s epilogue to the Chaos War would be in this title, as the Hulk goes to pick a bone with Zeus on behalf of his family.  It’s a good story, but too decompressed.  The back-up is pointless.  I’m looking forward to this title going down in price, because this type of issue is not justifiable…

Justice Society of America #47 – Much better this time around, as Guggenheim focuses his story a little better, and Kolin’s art doesn’t bother as much as it usually does.  I like the Manhunter cameo, but like the inclusion of Blue Devil, I don’t really understand it (it’s not like this is a team hurting for characters).  I think this title may have earned itself a reprieve – let’s see how the next issue does…

New Avengers #8 – So, why is Avengers so bad, but New Avengers so good?  Art has a lot to do with it (I’ll take Acuna over rushed JR JR any day), but the answer appears to be in the writing.  It seems like Bendis is forcing the adjective-less book to be all grand and sweeping, but doesn’t seem to know what to do with it anymore, whereas this book is meant to be more personal and small-scale.  Hence, we get most of the issue taken up with a night out for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones (The Powers?), followed by a meaningless dust-up with a Doombot, that is mostly just an excuse for more banter.  And I loved the whole issue (okay, not the poor Deodato cover).  Why is this the lower-selling book?

New Mutants #21 – This finishes off Zeb Wells run on the book, and wraps up just about every plotline he began in the first issue.  It’s impressive to see such a long-running story these days, although I feel like the last couple of issues were just rushing through to the end before Age of X begins, and sacrificed some of the characterization that made this title work in the beginning.  I guess I’m going to bid adieu to this title as well, as I’m not that interested in Age of X, and figure I’ll wait and read it in trade some day.

Proof: Endangered #2 – As much as I’m still enjoying Proof, I have to say that it’s become pretty confusing, and it’s hard to follow what is going on.  Perhaps a good summer project would be to reread the book from the beginning again, as I feel that everything that is going on now was planned out well in advance.

Secret Avengers #9 – And then there’s the other other Avengers book out this week, which continues to be a pretty decent read, as Steve Rogers faces off against John Steele, and Sharon Carter gets traded for Shang-Chi.  This issue seemed to be over pretty quickly, but I found that I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I hope that future arcs give some of the rest of the cast a little more stage time, but still, this has been a good story.

Skullkickers #5 – I’ve mentioned before how completely ‘not my usual thing’ this title is, but I’m very glad I checked it out, as I enjoy it’s light-hearted approach (writer Jim Zubkavich describes it as ‘swords and sassery’ in his text piece) and Incredible Hercules-like sound effects.  I’m glad this has been given the go ahead to be a regular series, and I look forward to more adventures of Shorty and Baldy.  If you want to get on the ground floor of a fun new title, check this out.

Star Wars Legacy: War #2 – I think this must be the most dense, non-decompressed comic on the market, as so much happens in this one issue.  Cade joins up with the Alliance Remnant to take out a Star Destroyer, while Moff Veed searches for the identity of a spy on Coruscant, Emperor Fel considers using Sith-like tactics, and Darth Krayt works to exert his authority.  This comic is terrific.

Thunderbolts #152 – I’m liking this book more and more, as Jeff Parker connects this title to what he’s doing with The Hulk (the team is sent to fight some of the Monster Island monsters that got past Red Hulk this month), and continues to pepper his writing with good character moments, most of which belong to the Ghost.  Hyperion has been added to the team, yet no one is too sure if he’s one of the friendly good Hyperions, or one of the bad ones (why are there so many?).  I think it’s strange, when his addition is such a big part of the comic, that he doesn’t show up on the cover.  Oh, and it looks like we might finally get to deal with the Fixer, who was revealed to be a traitor a while back in Captain America.

Uncanny X-Force #4 – With each issue, I’m liking this title better and better, although 60% of the reasons have to do with Fantomex, who is finally being used properly.  Opena’s artwork is terrific, and I love the bitchiness of the team towards one another.  I’m not sure I bought Psylocke’s sudden conversion towards the end, but it all turned out to be pretty good.  I love Remender’s independent work, but haven’t been too impressed with his work for hire until now.

Uncanny X-Men #532 – I made it most of the way through this issue without getting bothered by Greg Land’s art.  Does that mean he’s growing on me?  Or just that Fraction and Gillen are doing such a good job on this book that I don’t really care who’s drawing it?  Either way, this title is back on the top of its game.

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

Age of X Alpha #1

Incorruptible #14

X-Men #7

X-Men To Serve and Protect #3

Bargain Comics:

Bullet to the Head #1-6

Written by Matz
Art by Colin Wilson

I’ve become a pretty big fan of French comics writer Matz, from his work on The Killer, and now Cyclops, both usually published by Archaia Studios.  Artist Colin Wilson is one of those terrific artists, who for some reason, tends to stay on the fringe of things, getting titles like Point Blank (with Ed Brubaker, and very good), and the odd issue of Star Wars Legacy, when he deserves much more recognition.

So, going in to this six-part series, my expectations were high.  On the surface, this comic has a lot in common with The Killer – it’s about hitmen and cops who have gotten all wrapped up in a big political power play.  There are a lot of differences though.  Where Matz’s Killer is a quiet philosopher, his hitmen in this series are bullshit artists who spout endless streams of dialogue that places them somewhere between Bendis and Tarantino.

The series is a bloody and fun little tale, with some great twists and wonderful scenes, but to be honest, it’s hard to follow.  Some of the blame for that actually has to go to Wilson, who has many of the characters looking a lot alike, but many of the scenes are so ambiguously scripted and laid out that I sometimes had a hard time following exactly what was happening.  To add to that, there were some definite issues with the translation from French (or perhaps Matz wrote it in English, and that’s where the problems lie).  At times, the dialogue was grammatically stilted or incorrect, and at other times, incorrect names were used.

Still, this is a good comic.  I enjoyed the reckless abandon of the cop who is out to avenge his partner, and the assassin who is looking to do the same thing.  This is a buddy cop movie, although the partnerships and alliances shift as characters get knocked off left and right.  If you like Pulp Fiction, you’ll probably like this.

Album of the Week:

The Best of the Fabulous Three

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