The Weekly Round-Up #61: Featuring Sweet Tooth, Cyclops, Hellboy, iZombie, And More!

Best Comic of the Week:

Sweet Tooth #18

by Jeff Lemire

I never get bored with Sweet Tooth.  Jeff Lemire’s been telling a pretty brutal story with this comic (most people are dead, small human/animal hybrid child gets betrayed, more people die), yet has, at the same time, been very playful in his approach to storytelling and visually communicating his story through a monthly format comic.  I loved the issue where Gus was hypnotized and explored his memories, which were portrayed to us as he and Dr. Singh walking around on top of his own head.

Now, with this issue, Lemire has given us a sideways comic, much of which is written as if it were a storybook.  Now, neither of these things are new – but it is still a nice change of pace, and makes the comic, (now two pages shorter!) feel more dense and packed with story.

Gus, Jeppard, and their group are heading to Alaska to see if they can figure out where Gus came from, and what his connection with the disease and hybrid children is.  But first, they need to go to the mall and get supplies.  Oh, and it snows.  That’s about it in terms of plot in this issue, as Lemire gives over the entire book to character development.  Gus and Jeppard have not spoken to each other since the rescue from the militia, and their strained relationship is shown beautifully, especially when Gus finds a candy bar machine, and is reminded of how Jeppard lured him out of his woods in the first place.

This is a great issue for a new reader to jump on with.  Yes, we’re quite a ways into the story, but everything is nicely recapped, and I think it would be hard for someone to read this book and not begin to care about these characters.  This issue ends with a happy scene – perhaps the first in this book’s whole year and a half run to date.

Other Notable Comics:

Cyclops #3

Written by Matz
Art by Luc Jacamon

As Cyclops continues, it is more or less following the plot that I expected it to follow.  Pistoia, the private military man we (and the world) have been following for the last two issues, now has his own reality TV show, and is responsible for a huge upsurge in people applying to work for his bosses at Multicorps.  He’s got a nice new home that his company are financing, and things look great for him.

Except now, his wife is starting to question when he’s being genuine and when he’s playing for the cameras, and he’s beginning to question if some of his historic acts, like risking staying in a bomb zone to rescue a woman and baby, are themselves genuine or staged without his knowledge.

To add to this suspicion, there is now a reporter for a Los Angeles Latino newspaper asking questions that are making Pistoia’s superiors uncomfortable.  It seems that Matz is taking this story into familiar territory (pawn and outsider team up to take down evil corporation), but it’s being handled so well that I am still very much interested in seeing where it all leads.  Jacamon’s art is great, and the writing keeps the story moving.

I’m not sure that this is turning out to be as good as The Killer, but this is still a very good comic.

Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #2

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Scott Hampton

Whereas the first issue of this two-part Hellboy story set in England in the mid-60s dealt with a lot of set-up and establishing of plot and character, this issue is pretty much all action.

Hellboy is in a creepy house, where an old man has more or less fed him to his young sister, who has become some hideous vampiric monster at the hands of an actual vampire, who has enslaved the family for many years.  Now, he has to fight the young girl, and eventually the old vampire himself.

At the same time, some BPRD back-up has arrived, just as the vampire has chosen to awaken his many victims, who have been buried all around the house.  This could easily be a pretty standard comic, but the art by Scott Hampton elevates the material quite well.  I like these one-off or two-part Hellboy series, even though they are pretty formulaic at this point.

I, Zombie #10

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

My fear, when hearing that DC was going to trim two pages out of each of their monthly books as a method of maintaining the $2.99 price point, was that the two pages would be pretty noticeable.  For the most part, since the shift started last month, I haven’t often found that a DC comic takes much less time to read than one from any other company, at least until I read this issue of I, Zombie.

The problem, as I see it, is that this issue uses way too many splash pages and is too decompressed for a shortened comic.  It feels like a quick check-in on the various sub-plots Roberson has been establishing, instead of being a coherent chapter in an on-going story.  We see Gwen talk to her old friend, on behalf of the friend’s dead mother, despite the fact that Gwen is herself supposed to be dead.  Diogenes has been kidnapped by the vampire paintball girls, and Horatio learns of this fact.  Ellie scares Spot, and then he takes her home to meet his Grandfather Chimp.  Plus, we see some more of Galatea, and Amon goes to meet her.  In short, too much is happening in such a short space for there to be two splash pages and a couple more pages with only one or two panels each.

Having said all that, I still find this to be a very enjoyable series.  I just wish it could be a bit denser, even if it means crowding Michael Allred’s wonderful art with a lot of words.

Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #1

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by John Severin

In the letters column, it is mentioned that artist John Severin is 88 years old.  That blows me away, as his art is still so fresh and carefully rendered.  His work here looks terrific, and it definitely makes this book stand out.

With this series, Mignola and Arcudi return to the character of Edward Grey, about whom we still know very little.  It seems that Sir Grey has made his way to Reidlynne Utah, an older mining town (the story is set in 1880), on the trail of an Englishman named Lord Glaren.  Almost immediately upon setting foot in the town, Grey gets himself in trouble with the locals.

His questions at the tavern lead to a gunfight, followed by him being practically run out of town.  It is only the intervention of a mysterious stranger that gives him the chance to escape, and to learn the disturbing story of why the town’s church is in ruins.  This issue opens like an issue of Jonah Hex, but quickly returns itself to familiar Mignola-verse grounds.  Even without the fantastic art, I’d be interested to see where this comic is going, but Severin’s involvement guarantees that I’ll be back for the rest of this run.  I do hope that we get to learn a few things about Grey this time out, as he feels like a total cipher to me, even after reading his first mini-series.

Quick Takes:

Hulk #29 – The whole Scorched Earth story wraps up here, as real Hulk teams up with Red Hulk.  While I’ve been enjoying Parker and Hardman’s run on this title, this issue was a little unbalanced, putting plot before character a little too much.  Also, the Watcher story didn’t do it for me.  We’ll see how I feel after next issue.

Invincible #77 – The Viltrimute War takes an interesting twist with this issue, as Mark, Nolan, and the Grand Regent have a conversation in the skies over the Earth, and Kirkman sets up a unique status quo for the title going forward.  This book has been incredible lately, and this issue is a good example of why that is.

Invincible Iron Man #500.1 – I’d been very hesitant to check out the .1 issues that Marvel is pushing right now.  They didn’t do a very good job of explaining their purpose, and I wasn’t sure if they were going to be actual stories, re-cap issues, or what.  I picked this one up on the strength of it being by Fraction and Larroca, who have been killing it on this title for a while now, and I was not disappointed.  The entire issue consists of Tony going to an AA meeting, and talking about his life story, couching it in terms that didn’t make it obvious he’s a super hero (except, through the magic of comics, we can SEE the truth!).   What works here is how convincingly well Fraction understands Tony Stark, and can really crawl into his head, making sense of some 40-odd years of shared history.  This is a great comic, although I’m not sure that many writers who are not Matt Fraction can pull this type of thing off.  So, I’m still not sure if this is what all the .1’s will be like, or if this is just the best of them, coming out at the very beginning of the initiative.

Jonah Hex #64 – I think this is the first time I’ve been offended by an issue of Jonah Hex.  Usually this book has been pretty sensitive in its attempt to portray the ‘Wild West’ from a modern understanding – the Indians aren’t savages, and there have been a number of strong female characters.  This issue, however, is bizarre in its portrayal of Rosa, a Mexican woman that Jonah meets as he rides into a small town during a Catholic festival.  She offers to bathe, shave, and feed him, and later, when she tries to bed him, he refuses her.  He’s warned by the townspeople, and so isn’t surprised when Rosa tries to kill him in his hotel room.  As he leaves town, she declares her love for him, before being trampled to death for interrupting the religious parade taking place at the same time.  Really.  What’s up with that?  Perhaps, had the issue been illustrated by Jordi Bernet instead of Nelson, we could have read it as campy fun, but with the more realistic artwork, this story was just disturbing and callous.

Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1 – I was very excited to read a Legion comic by Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen.  These were the two who brought us The Great Darkness Saga, and who built the series up to the 5 Year Gap Legion (which is still my favourite run on this title ever).  Now, as we know, you can’t go home again.  This is a decent comic, but it doesn’t really capture that old magic, nor does it do anything particularly new.  We have Ayla and Violet taken prisoner by the new Emerald Empress, and Sensor Girl, Sun Boy, and Gates coming to the rescue.  Giffen’s art is less crazy than it used to be, and I felt a pretty persistent sense of deja vu throughout.

Secret Six #30 – I’m not sure why so many issues of this book are crossing over with titles I have no interest in lately.  This issue kicks off a two-parter that ends in Doom Patrol, which is a problem, because I stopped reading Doom Patrol for some good reasons (and that’s before Ambush Bug came on the team).  There are still some good Secret Six moments in this book, such as Bane’s attempt at a blind date, but the rest of the issue fell flat.

Superboy #4 – Well, I’m pretty sure I’m going to stick with this book now (although I’m not sure about all these tie-ins coming up).  I like the way Lemire’s writing Superboy, and I really like the cast of characters (with the exception of Simon) that are starting to surround him.  I don’t know how I feel about the revelation at the end of the issue though – I want Psionic Boy to be more what he seems.  Gallo is doing some great work with the different character’s faces, but I wish he’d reference how people look when they wear jeans a little better (this is a common complaint I have about superhero artists drawing characters in normal clothing).

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

Amazing Spider-Man #653

Irredeemable #22

Ultimate Comics Thor #4

Bargain Comics:

Dead Irons #1-4 – I was interested in this Dynamite mini-series when it came out a couple of years back, because it had lovely Jae Lee covers, and I’ve liked Jason Shawn Alexander’s work before (notably on the Escapists), but the story here is just about impenetrable, and Alexander’s storytelling is not that easy to follow.  Avoid this.

House of Mystery Halloween Annual #1 – This is a hodgepodge of Vertigo previews from 2009.  The I, Zombie story is cool, mostly because it drops so many hints about where the series would go that a first-time reader would never catch (like Spot’s shirt).  The Hellblazer story is alright too, but the rest of the book, including a Merv Pumpkinhead tale by Buckingham and Willingham, is pretty forgetful.

Jack of Fables #46 – 48

Written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges
Art by Tony Akins and Andrew Pepoy

I gave up on this title not long after the Great Fables Crossover, when the focus of the book shifted from Jack Horner to his son, Jack Frost, who went off on otherworldly adventures with his flying wooden owl.  The book had seemed to have lost its edge, and ties were severed with the supporting cast that had made the title so great in its early days.

I noticed a while back, that the supporting cast was back, as seen by the wonderful Brian Bolland cover to the right, but I never quite got around to grabbing an issue of the book until last week, when I picked up three in a row.

The story has jumped a number of years (I’m not sure how this jibes with what’s been going down in Fables), and the original Jack is still a dragon, lying around his cave with Gary all day, and Jack fils is giving up the hero business.  Most interestingly, the Page Sisters are tracking down the library books that Jack stole from the Golden Boughs.

These three issues check in with just about everyone who’s ever been in the comic – including the overweight loser Aubrey and his ex-manikin wife.  It seems that they are all converging on Jack’s location for the last two issues of the comic, and I am definitely interested enough to find out what’s going to happen in the end.  I like it when a title recaptures its groove.

Justice Society of America 80-Page Giant #1 – This is a pretty typical anthology issue.  It lets some lesser-known and up and coming writers and artists play with some characters that don’t get much attention, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing too memorable going on here.

Mighty Crusaders #4 – While there’s nothing really wrong with this comic, there’s nothing that good either.  A perfect example of an adequate comic.

Nightmaster: Monsters of Rock #1 – Why does this comic exist?  Who said, we need to do a Nightmaster one-shot?  I picked this up for three reasons – I like Kieron Dwyer (the artist) a lot, I liked Adam Beechen’s run on Robin, and I enjoyed the early days of Shadowpact.  This story didn’t really work for me.  If this was made to test the waters for an on-going, it doesn’t seem like a good idea…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Alien Legion Omnibus Vol. 1

Written by Alan Zelenetz
Art by Frank Cirocco, Terry Austin, Terry Shoemaker, Carl Potts, Chris Warner, Randy Emberlin, Whilce Portacio, Larry Stroman, and Randy Emberlin

I checked out the Alien Legion last spring, when I read an old trade paperback I’d picked up for a very cheap price.  I liked what I read, and decided it was time to start tracking down the whole series.  Therefore, I was thankful to see that Dark Horse is collecting the book as part of its Omnibus series.

This is a very satisfying brick of a book, collecting the first eleven issues of the first Epic Comics series from the mid-80s.  These comics hold up very well, and are a good, solid read.  Reading them reminds me of how much more material there was in a comic back in the day.

The Legion is a low-cost, high-mortality group soldiers made up of a number of different species, helping to protect the Galarchy, a Federation-style confederation of many different worlds.  They have held a truce with their traditional enemies, the Harkilons (think female Dire Wraiths meet JarJar Binks) for years, but the Harkilons are starting to push into their territory again.

The comic is focused on the Legion’s Nomad Squadron, a group of rough and tumble aliens, under the command of Captain Sarigar (a very cool-looking half-snake character) and Lieutenant Montroc, a human.  The characters are developed very slowly over the course of these eleven issues, as Zelenetz keeps sticking them into some pretty sticky situations.  It isn’t until the last few issues, which make up the Slaughterworld arc, that we really start to get a handle on who everyone is.

The art in this comic is great.  Frank Cirocco draws slightly more than the first half of the book, and demonstrates a very cool approach to design.  His art varies quite a bit depending on who is inking him.  Later, Chris Warner takes over the book, and breathes a lot more characterization into the different aliens, some of whom are very strange looking.

I definitely liked this enough to want to get the second Omnibus.  I’m not sure if Dark Horse is intending to publish more of these, or if I’m going to have to start digging through back issue bins…

Scenes from an Impending Marriage

by Adrian Tomine

I picked up this short, slim little book as an impulse buy, mostly because I loved Tomine’s Shortcomings, and wanted to read more from him.

Scenes from an Impending Marriage is a series of short strips, and the odd Family Circus-styled circle, that details some of the trials and tribulations of organizing a wedding these days.  Tomine and his fiancee, Sarah, go about the mechanics of wedding prep – jogging together, selecting florits, DJs, venues, hair styles, and wedding socks, while both realizing just how ridiculous the entire thing really is.

The book is pretty funny – I loved the DJ Buttermilk scenes, and also pretty honest.  It’s amusing to watch Tomine, who is at first not terribly concerned about many of the details, become whole-heartedly involved in minutia like the type of printer given the contract to print their invitations.  It seems that many of the stories here made up the wedding favours that the couple gave out on the ‘big day’.

The book is overly too quickly to be a satisfying follow-up to a book like Shortcomings, but if seen as being like a mixtape released between albums, it has whetted my appetite for more of Tomine’s work.

Album of the Week:

Madlib Medicine Show No. 11 – Low Budget High Fi Music

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