The Weekly Round-Up #64 Featuring Scalped, American Vampire, Morning Glories, New York Five & More!

Well, this ended up being a massive week for new comics.  I’ll never understand the boom and bust thinking of comics shipping – why have so many big titles in the store one week, and then very few the next?

Best Comic of the Week:

Scalped #46

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

It probably won’t come as a surprise, but I still love Scalped.  This issue is just another example of why this series is so good, as the murder of Gina Bad Horse, which happened years ago in our time, is looking like it may finally be solved.  Or at least dealt with by the characters, as it doesn’t look like there could be any solutions to what’s going on.

Officer Falls Down has been the captive of Catcher for months now, and the crazy old guy has decided to set him free, provided that the Thunder Spirits guide him through a cave of bear traps, trip wires, snakes and spears.  The conversation between these men is interesting, especially what happens when Falls Down decides to give up and let Catcher kill him.  Good stuff.

Most interesting though is the visit between Chief Red Crow and Lawrence Belcourt.  Belcourt is a Leonard Peltier figure in the story – he’s been wrongly convicted of killing FBI agents back in the AIM days, and has been sitting in the pen ever since.  He was the last person to ever speak to Gina, and knew who she was going to see when she was killed, and has finally decided to tell Lincoln about it, knowing that Red Crow will take no time to deal with the man.  He also tells Red Crow to take away the protection he’d been paying for.

Lawrence spends the rest of the issue expecting to die, shown in a series of scenes that are incredibly tense and wrought with expectation.  It’s pages like these that show how well Aaron and Guera work together, and are the reasons why I love this comic so much.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #12

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Danijel Zezelj

How do you take a comic that I’m already enjoying a great amount and make it even better?  You stick Danijel Zezelj on for a one-off issue, that’s how.  I love Zezelj’s work (and can never understand why he hasn’t been given more high-profile work), so this issue is a real treat for me.

The story is set between the events of Stephen King’s and Snyder’s stories in the first arc, as the book’s resident bad ass Skinner Sweets visits a Wild West show in 1919, and discovers that his apprehension by Book is dramatized, and that his old girlfriend is in the show.  This leads to a lot of reminiscing on Sweet’s part, and the passing of a few more legends from the Wild West.

Snyder uses this issue to help flesh out Sweets a little more, and to comment on how, even by 1919, he is a man cut off from his time period, as America embraced the twentieth century.  This is the perfect type of issue to use Zezelj on, and the book looks great.

Echoes #3

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Rahsan Ekedal

Alright, this title is getting ever creepier, as Brian, the young man who only recently discovered that his father was a serial killer, descends deeper into his own madness.  Brian is pretty certain now that he has kidnapped and murdered a young girl, and made a doll out of her body.  He has no memory of it (at least, he’s not admitting to any memory of it), but he knows it has to be true.

He decides to go to the police detective that he met last issue, but when he does, he instead describes a possible suspect that he’s fabricated.  When that description ends up matching a brain damaged man that he knew in high school, he begins to go along with the detective, even going so far as to visit the man’s house with him.

It’s pretty clear that something strange is going on, and perhaps if Brian weren’t so confused and lost in his own schizophrenia, he’d have recognized that this cop is really weird.  I feel like there’s some sort of conspiracy going on, but I don’t know how that’s really going to play out.  Fialkov is definitely structuring an interesting plot, and Ekedal’s art on this issue looks more finished and polished than previous issues.  This is a very cool little series.

Feeding Ground #4

Written by Swifty Lang
Art by Michael Lapinski

This continues to be a pretty cool comic, as the main characters continue their trek across the border to America, and deal with the strange transformation that their daughter has undergone.  They are detected by the Border Patrol just as a group of werewolves attack, and things get chaotic fast.

And therein lies the book’s main problem.  Lapinski’s art, which is very good for establishing shots and dialogue scenes, quickly becomes hard to follow in some of the action sequences, and at times, it’s not clear at all who is doing what.  Add to that the anonymity of the Border Patrol guys (one of whom seems to waffle in personality), and the whole fight scene, which is a major part of the book, comes off as a bit of a mess.

There’s still a lot of reasons to support this book though.  There aren’t many horror comics that also interact with social issues.  That, and the fact that this entire issue is printed in Spanish on the flip side, could bring some new readers to the medium.

Kill Shakespeare #9

Written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
Art by Andy Belanger

It feels like a while since I’ve read this book, even though I don’t think it’s really been that long.  I’ve noticed that they seem to be soliciting on a bimonthly schedule now, which is fine with me.  It was impressive that they maintained a monthly schedule for as long as they did.

For a while, this title felt like it was treading water a little, but now that we’ve hit the final fourth of the run, things are really heating up.  This issue has two major events in it.  First, Falstaff discovers that Iago is a traitor, and begins to deal with that.  Most importantly, Shakespeare finally appears, and he and Hamlet have an interesting conversation.  There has been a lot building up to this, and it’s interesting to see how the great Will is portrayed.  If you’re expecting something like the way Neil Gaiman showed him in Sandman years ago, you’ll be disappointed.  This Shakespeare drinks and throws bottles in anger.  It’s an interesting depiction.

This series continues to interest me, especially as artist Andy Belanger continues to grow in leaps and bounds.  His approach to layout is increasingly interesting, and works very well with this title.

The Mission #1

Written by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber
Art by Werther Dell’Edera

With it being such a large comics week, I really didn’t need to add an impulse buy to the pile, but Image has been putting out some really interesting series lately that have been flying under the radar, and I’ve usually enjoyed Werther Dell’Edera’s art when I’ve come across it on series like Loveless and GI Joe Origins, so I thought I’d give this a shot.

The Mission opens on your general everyman character getting a check-up.  He’s a guy with a wife and two kids, decent job, blah blah blah.  As he’s getting in his car, a strange man approaches him, calling him by name, and telling him that he has a mission to fulfill as part of a gigantic war between good and evil that is being waged invisibly all around us.  His mission is to kill some guy within 48 hours.

His reaction isn’t all that different from what yours would be (unless you’re crazy – I don’t really know who reads this site), and he more or less ignores the whole thing.  Eventually, he’s convinced to at least check his target out, and we get swept up into what is more or less a Spider-Man origin retread.  It works though, as I found that I got pretty interested in trying to figure out just what is going on at the end.  Interested enough to pick up the next issue?  Probably; we’ll have to see.

Morning Glories #7

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

Now that the first story arc is out of the way, Spencer’s taking a little more time to delve into his lesser-developed characters and their pasts.  From the beginning, this series has kept reminding me of the TV show Lost, and this issue is a perfect illustration of why.

The focus is on Zoe, as she pretends to be angry with Riley for not telling her what was going on a couple of issues back, and storms out to wander the halls of the school.  She discovers a cheerleading team, and makes a new friend.  Of course, this is Morning Glories, so there is more going on than what we see on the surface.  Throughout her story, we see some flashbacks to her days as a cheerleader at her previous school, and her friendship with a girl who was being abused by one of the teachers.  Also, there is some stuff showing her early childhood in India which is a little difficult to process with the information we have so far.  So basically, this issue was like any of the character-based Lost episodes.

I enjoy the way that Spencer is slowly portioning out hints and clues as to the purpose of Morning Glory Academy, but I am having a hard time accepting that so many students would just passively allow all that is going on to happen.  I know that teenagers are highly adaptive, but there is a false note ringing quietly in the background that is starting to bother me.  I hope this is addressed soon.

The New York Five #2

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly

Nothing by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly is going to be bad, but I do feel like there are some flaws to New York Five, even while I find myself easily swept up in the lives of the four roommates and their friends, and swept away by Kelly’s artwork.

The problem is one of pacing.  Wood mentioned in his text piece last issue that Shelly Bond rearranged much of the story to make it flow better, but I feel like someone needed to help make it more clear (beyond using the therapist’s videos) to see how much time has passed between scenes.  Have the events in this comic taken place over a couple of days, or a couple of weeks?  It’s very hard to tell some times.

Still, there is so much to like in this book, as Wood and Kelly chronicle the lives of these girls, and slowly reveal more about them.  We learn what’s up with Merissa’s crazy brother, and Lona, the stalker, introduces her boyfriend from Vancouver, who finally calls her out on her stalking madness.  Riley, who is pretty much the main character,  comes out pretty badly in this issue, as she starts sleeping with her sister’s boyfriend, even as she loses any doubts that he’s an absolute creep.

This is an interesting book.

The Sixth Gun #9

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

This comic just keeps getting cooler with each new issue.  We’ve been watching Drake Sinclair and his friends keep themselves busy in New Orleans while Drake’s been trying to figure out their next move, although now it seems that some of the problems they’ve been anticipating have come looking for them.

The servant from the swamp last issue brings a number of swamp creatures to the hotel where our heroes are staying to attack Drake and try to get the guns from him.  This leads to a very cool trio of intertwined action series, featuring Drake fighting a panther, Gord a flock of owls, and Becky fights off a giant snake while soaking naked in a bathtub (it’s not as anime-lascivious as it sounds though).

As well, we get a surprise betrayal, and some more information on the vault last seen in the Maw, where Drake met Gord and fought the General in the first story arc.  Bunn is setting up a pretty big story here, and I like the idea of there being six books that will be able to help everyone understand the powers of the guns.

Brian Hurtt is doing the best work of his career on this title, perfectly complimented by Bill Crabtree’s colours.

Skullkickers #6

Written by Chris Sims, Brian Clevinger, Ray Fawkes, and Adam Warren
Art by Joe Vriens, Jim Zubkavich, Scott Hepburn, and Jeff Cruz

During a lull between story arcs, instead of putting the book on hiatus (which is happening until May), the Skullkickers team decided to gift us with a fun little anthology issue, made up of four short stories featuring the demon-killing duo.

The first is the best.  It’s written by The ISB’s Chris Sims, with really nice Sam Kieth meets Simon Bisley artwork.  This is a great zombie warrior woman story that really captures the two characters the way regular writer Zubkavich has set them up.

The same is true for the Clevinger/Zubkavich story.  It’s nice to see Zub handling the art for a change; I didn’t know he could draw.  The third and fourth stories are weaker, but I really enjoyed the 70s cartoon vibe of Cruz’s artwork.

While all four of the stories are just riffs on the basic Skullkickers premise, I hope to see more one-off issues like this one between story arcs.  It’s a good way to draw in some new readers (especially if more highly-recognized creators come on board), and reward long-term ones with something fun.

Turf #4

Written by Jonathan Ross
Art by Tommy Lee Edwards

Regardless of how late it may be, this is one book that just keeps getting better with each new issue.  From the beginning, Edwards’s artwork has been wonderful (one would expect nothing less), but Ross’s writing was a little rough at the start, and has only improved with each new installment.

Almost this whole chapter is devoted to lining up the various interested parties in this sprawling gangster/vampire/alien Depression-era turf war, so that the next issue can wrap up the various sub-plots and character arcs properly.  Ross has managed to compress a lot in this series, and this issue in particular.  It would be easy, with so many characters running around, to spend the issue simply moving chess pieces around on the board, but he works in some nice character development, like at the end of the book when Susie, the reporter who has gotten involved in events, takes a moment to phone her mother to say good-bye, knowing that her chances of surviving are not good.

I’m very interested in seeing if Ross can pull off an ending that can be as good as the middle of this series has been.  I also hope that the book comes out sooner rather than later…

Who is Jake Ellis? #2

Written by Nathan Edmonson
Art by Tonci Zonjic

The first issue of this suspenseful mini-series was amazing, as it introduced Jon Moore, a man clearly wanted by a lot of different groups of people, and Jake Ellis, a shadowy and ethereal figure who seems to be gifted with a limited amount of prescience.  The issue zoomed by, as the two men tried to evade a number of people, before ultimately being captured.

This second issue needed to be more grounded and provide a little more explanation, which it does, while still maintaining a similar level of kinetic energy.  The issue opens and closes with scenes from four years ago, as Jake helps Jon escape from a facility where he is being experimented on in some way.  The words ‘remote viewing’ are used, which reminded me of The Men Who Stare at Goats, a film that fictionalised the American Army’s attempt to use remote viewing and other New Age weapons against the Soviets.

Anyway, the rest of the issue has Jon escaping from French police, and avoiding capture from some Americans and another group.  He speaks to one of the Americans, which reveals for us the connection between Jon and the CIA, and then he and Jake have a little heart-to-heart, which reveals a great deal about their relationship.

Edmonson is writing a very smart little thriller here, and Zonjic’s artwork is phenomenal.  This series has been picking up some buzz, and it is very well deserved.  This definitely has it in it to be one of the best mini-series of 2011.

Quick Takes:

Amazing Spider-Man #655 – This is the first of two silent funerals in Marvel comics this week.  Strange timing.  Anyway, when a comic is drawn by Marcos Martin, it doesn’t need to have any words, or even a story.  It’s going to be stunning, and this issue doesn’t disappoint.  The funeral of Marla Jameson is handled with a lot of maturity and gravity, and then Martin cuts loose with a lengthy guilt-riddled Spider-dream that has Spidey revisiting just about every death that has occurred on his watch since Uncle Ben’s.  The story is fine, but the art is truly amazing.

Avengers #10 – This book is like a toothache I can’t leave alone, although this issue was better than the last, as a few different Avengers squads (why don’t they just split into their teams?) go after the remaining Infinity Gems, with varying degrees of success, and an excessive amount of dialogue.  Romita’s art is more variable than usual, which means there are a few good pages.  Still, could someone please show him a picture of the Beast drawn after 2000?  Please?  The oral history back-up is gone, replaced with a reprint of Heroes for Hire #1, which would be cooler if I hadn’t read it already…

Captain America #615 – The Trial of Captain America ends very well – the arc I mean, the trial holds a surprise for Bucky that should be interesting.  I like the way Guice has laid out the action sequences in this book lately – it’s frequently evocative of Steranko, but also has a very current vibe to it.  I do wish this book would get a single inker, as the changes in style can be jarring, but it’s all good, as Guice is doing a great job.

Detective Comics #874 – As much as I like Jock’s work on this title now, I really want to see more Francisco Francavilla Batman!  This issue illustrates exactly what’s wrong with the Black Panther relaunch that he’s also working on – an artist this good needs a writer this good.  This story continues the Commissioner Gordon back-up that was practically perfect, and weaves it into a larger story featuring Dick and Tim.  And the whole issue just looks fantastic.  With Batman Inc. being so late all the time, this is the best Batman book DC is publishing right now.

Fantastic Four #588 – Well this is one comic that really impressed me.  I didn’t much care when the Human Torch was killed off last issue, but man, did this comic ever make me feel his absence.  Hickman and artist Nick Dragotta (interesting choice for this book, but definitely the right one) examine how his loss affects each member of the family and show them reacting in ways that are very consistent with the ways the characters have been established over the years (this is not the Sentry tribute issue).  Most impressive is that this is a “silent” issue that takes a long time to read.  I found myself poring over the small details, especially Ben Grimm’s facial expressions and red-rimmed eyes.  The scene with Thor and the Hulk gave me a definite lump in the throat.  Hickman’s a fantastic writer, and this almost completely wordless issue really proves that.  The back-up story with Spider-Man and Franklin was also very touching, and marks the first time I haven’t hated Mark Brooks’s artwork.  This really is a good comic.

Godland #34 – This is much better than other recent issues, as Casey really starts pulling his various plot lines together for the grand finish.  At this point though, the series is strictly for completists, as any new reader will be completely lost…

Incredible Hulks #623 – Hulk has ditched most of his ‘family’ to travel to the Savage Land with his Warbound.  I feel like Pak is finally getting to tell the third arc of his series that started in Planet Hulk and ran through World War Hulk, as he sets up Hulk and Skaar to take on Miek, the only character from those stories that I didn’t like.  Dale Eaglesham is a nice addition to the book’s creative team, and a Ka-Zar guest appearance is always a good thing.

Invincible Iron Man #501 – Here’s another fine issue starting a new arc that has Tony playing ‘whose is bigger?’ with Dr. Octopus after an entertaining appearance on a late night comedy show.  There’s some stuff in here about Tony building New Asgard which is interesting, considering that I officially dropped Fraction’s Thor this week, and I hope they aren’t becoming more intertwined (aside from the fact that Thor is supposed to be leading into Fear Itself)…

Iron Man 2.0 #1 – It seems way too soon for another War Machine series, even with this rather ridiculous name, and Spencer’s taking a strange approach to it.  Rhodey has to work for the military again – that was established in Fraction’s Iron Man book a couple of months ago – but it seems very strange to me that he’s being used to solve techno-mysteries instead of just blowing stuff up.  I like Spencer’s writing, and the art team of Kitson and Kano is definitely interesting, so I might just give this series a try.  I don’t know how long it will last though…

Justice Society of America #48 – I haven’t been all that impressed with Guggenheim’s tenure on this title, but I do feel that it’s improving with each new issue, so I’m going to keep giving him a chance.  This issue is mostly made up of fight scenes (Obsidian vs. Scythe; Flash vs. Scythe; Wildcat and Dr. Midnight vs. Dr. Chaos) but also hints at some deeper secrets at work in Monument Point.  This and hints here and on the net that the two JSA teams may be reconciling and recombining will keep me coming back.

Power Man and Iron Fist #2 – This second issue came out quickly, didn’t it?  I’m enjoying Van Lente’s work here, but the circus-themed villains are a little too Morrison’s Batman for this book.  Still, a very competent superhero story.

Secret Avengers #10 – Eyes of the Dragon wraps up as the team takes on the Shadow Council and Fu Manchu.  This issue has a nice balance of good character moments with a lot of action, although I don’t see how Max, the Nick Fury LMD, can notice a disguised superhero triggering a signal on his gauntlet when he’s standing on his left.  Unless LMD eyepatches work like regular eyes or something.  Am I wrong in bringing this up?  I don’t want to be the guy who crosses that line (and therefore won’t ask for a no-prize).

Star Wars Legacy: War #3 – I love this comic.  There’s nothing better in comics than when years of storytelling all comes together and pays off.  That’s how this mini-series feels to me.  It’s the best Star Wars anything I’ve ever seen.

Uncanny X-Men #533 – Another decent issue.  It’s getting close to the end for Quarantine, so most of this issue is action-based, with a few good scenes (and a good Adam-X joke).  Fraction and Gillen work well together.

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

Astonishing X-Men #36

Incorruptible #15

Thor #620 (I’m usually okay paying this for Matt Fraction, but this run isn’t working for me.)

X-Men#8

X-Men Serve and Protect #4

Bargain Comics:

Choker #2-4 – The writing in the first issue of this series didn’t impress me at all, but I like Ben Templesmith a lot, so at $1 and issue, I figured I’d check and see if the comic got any better.  The story has become more coherent, but I still feel like writer Ben McCool is simply trying to resurrect Fell, replacing Warren Ellis’s sensibilities with junkie vampires.  It’s more entertaining as it proceeds, but it’s not all that special or new.

Sea Bear & Grizzly Shark #1 – This is just as silly as it sounds (They got mixed up!!!), but it’s a lot of fun.  I expected one story featuring two characters, but instead, each got their own weird little tale, written and drawn by Jason Howard and Ryan Ottley.  Comics as a medium just has so much potential, doesn’t it…?

Superior Showcase #1-3

by Nick Bertozzi, Mike Dawson, Dean Trippe, John Campbell, Maris Wicks, Joey Weiser, Farel Dalrymple, Jim Rugg, Brian Maruca, Laura Park, and Dustin Harbin

So, here’s the thing with a lot of independent cartoonists who have ‘indy cred’ in certain circles:  they just want to write regular superhero comics.  With a couple exceptions, these are pretty much just normal superhero stories, and don’t do much to say anything new or unique about the genre.

The perfect example is the brilliant Farel Dalrymple’s story about Hollis, an overweight Batman-type.  If you read this as a Batman story, it would not be even the slightest bit different from how it appears here.  I’m not sure what, aside from Dalrymple’s wonderful art, makes things indy.  I’m also not sure why I’m bothered by this, though.  I think I just feel like complaining a little today.

So, to focus on what I liked in this three-issue mini-series.  In the first issue, there is an Ace-Face story that I’d already read by Dawson, and a cute enough Robin-esque story by Trippe.  The second issue had that Dalrymple story, and really, that was about it.

The third issue is by far the stand-out, starting with a cool Street Angel story by Rugg and Maruca.  Street Angel is a cool comic general.  This story has her dealing with a Japanese monster movie creature in a ninja hospital.  It’s always fun when she’s around…

The best story in this whole series though comes from Laura Park, an artist I am completely unfamiliar with.  Her quiet little piece about young siblings who appear to be raising themselves is understated, evocative, and just about perfect.  It is a very sweet story, and it makes me want to learn more about Park and see more of her work.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Seedless Vol. 1

by Corey Lewis

I really want to like Corey Lewis’s work.  Glancing at his output, in books like Peng! and Sharknife, he would seem to be a frenetic, hyperactive comrade in arms of people like Brandon Graham and James Stokoe (whose King City and Orc Stain, respectively, are pure genius).  The problem is, he doesn’t seem to be able to pull off the interesting plotting and visual thrills that the other two produce on a regular basis.

Instead, his work comes off as simply trying too hard, and emotionally flat (not to mention frequently hard to follow).  So, if that’s my opinion, why give him another chance with Seedless, his collected web comic about sentient grapes?  After having read it, I have no idea.  I also have no idea who the audience for this book is supposed to be.  I think maybe it’s a kids’ comic, but I’m not sure that any of them would like it all that much either.

The story, such as it is, revolves around some seedless grapes.  One of them, named Crazy, is trying to destroy or take over the grape world, and for some reason has journeyed to Earth.  Three other seedless grapes (Crazy can take control of the minds of grapes with seeds) named Dash, Pulse, and Funky (seriously), have come to Earth to stop him, using mechanized Robo-Stomp things.  Oh, and for some reason they are hanging out in the kitchen of a half-android human girl who has an older lesbian stalker (but it’s not creepy).

This comic is just about as awful as you can get.  Plot devices are introduced at random, and the dialogue is as bad as the character names.  Apparently this project was designed when Lewis was only twelve, and I suppose if he had drawn it at that time, I’d be a little impressed by everything but the plotting, but as it stands?  No.

Since I like to try to extenuate the positive in my reviews, I will say that there is a very nice pin-up by Brandon Graham in here.  Yah, that’s as upbeat as I can get…

Vietnam Journal

by Don Lomax

I love a good war comic, and Don Lomax excels at the genre.  He is a veteran of the Vietnam War, who began writing about it in comics in the 1980s with his Vietnam Journal series.  This graphic novel, published in 2003, collects some of the issues of that comic, although I’m not really able to tell which ones.  I know that Transfuzion Publishing is currently reprinting the whole series; I’m going to guess that this book contains the contents of the first two of the Transfuzion books, but I’m not sure.

Anyway, Vietnam Journal is about a journalist, Scott Neithammer, called Journal by the troops, who is reporting on the Vietnam war, having embedded himself with a group of front-line soldiers.  The stories in this comic are the standard, grounds-eye view of war tales we’ve come to expect from good war comics.  Lomax, and Journal, are prone to sentimentality at times (such as in the first story, which talks about a ‘lucky’ field jacket), but they also never shy away from some of the darker aspects, and decisions, of warfare.

At the core of this book is Journal’s respect and regard of the troops.  It’s central to how the character interacts with them, and in his willingness to pick up a gun or do anything else necessary to help out when they’re in a tight spot.

Lomax’s art is dense and detailed.  He has a good eye for military equipment, and for human facial expressions.  This is a very enjoyable read.

Album of the Week:

Tumi and the Volume – Pick a Dream

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