The Weekly Round-Up #67 with Northlanders, DMZ, Morning Glories, Fear Itself: Book Of The Skull

Does anyone else find it strange when writers have multiple books coming out in the same week?  This week, I read two books by Brian Wood, two by Jeff Parker, and three by Nick Spencer.

Best Comic of the Week:

Northlanders #38

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Simon Gane

With two comics out this week written by Brian Wood, it’s natural to look for parallels between them.  Both DMZ and this arc of Northlanders are about a city cut off from the rest of the world by an opposing army.  Whereas DMZ has always been interested in presenting the experiences and opinions of the people trapped within New York, ‘The Siege of Paris’ is more interested in the group of Northmen who are laying siege, especially the man Mads, whose ambitions and lack of patience drive him to try things that are ill-advised.

Last issue, he actually wandered into Paris itself (we have no idea how he got back out), and in this issue, he goes fishing in the Seine, and has a chat with the Bishop of Paris.  He also decides to take the siege into his own hands, employing the aid of three boats and a ton of fire.  It looks, from the last page, that this didn’t work as well for him as one might have hoped, and I’m curious to see what the effects of his actions will be.

I love the amount of research that Wood puts into this comic; each page carries a sense of authenticity.  I’m also very impressed with the art of Simon Gane – I want to see more from him.

Other Notable Comics:

DMZ #63

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

It’s become hard to read this book without always being aware of the fact that the title is nearing the end of its run, and that soon enough, the final fate of Manhattan will be decided.

This current arc, ‘Free States Rising’, gives Matty total autonomy in terms of his obligations to the American army and Liberty News, but it also has him facing many of his demons.  This issue opens with him having a secretive conversation with the FSA commander we’ve seen many times throughout the history of this series.  He tells Matty where Parco Delgado, the former leader of the Delgado Nation, is hiding, and Matty heads off to see him.

Both of these men, Parco and the Commander, have had a huge influence on Matty and his time in the DMZ.  Now, it almost feels like Matty is seeking some closure with each of them, and is doing his best to no longer allow anyone to manipulate him, although having read his conversation with Parco, I’m not sure that he’s too successful at that.

I’m expecting big things from the last year of this comic.

Morning Glories #8

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

I’ve mentioned before that this series reminds me of Lost more than anything else, but before the last two issues, I was at a loss to explain exactly what it was that triggered that association.  As of last issue though, Spencer decided to borrow some narrative devices and some themes from Lost.

Both of the last two issues have opened with some ‘Jacob’ figure visiting one of the main characters when they were children.  From there, both issues have focused on one particular character, and the issue is split between current plotlines and flashbacks showing that character’s childhood.  It’s very Lostian.  Now, I don’t have a problem with this – Lost was my favourite show until somewhere into the third season, and part of why I thought it was good had to do with its episodic structure.  I also think there’s a huge caveat in this comparison as well; like with Lost, Spencer has thrown out a vast array of weirdness in these first half-dozen issues of this series, and as it is the longest run he’s written, he has not proven that he knows how to tie it all together in the end (hopefully more masterly than the makers of Lost did).

This issue works really well, as we explore the character of Hunter and his bizarre handicap when it comes to reading the time.  This has caused him to lose out on a number of jobs (apparently he worked for Hurley at the Clucking Chicken- another Lost connection), and on other gigantic life events.  It’s a strange one.  Also, Hunter gets up the nerve to ask the blond (her name’s not in the book) on a date, and then goes careening down the halls singing in a scene that belongs more in a John Hughes movie than in a comic like this (unless the school really isn’t a torture prison).  That goofy scene marred an otherwise very tight comic.

I like that Eisma’s art is getting better, although I would prefer to see more detail in the backgrounds.  I’m enjoying this title a fair amount, and am very intrigued by the next issue, considering the last page of this one.

The Unwritten #23

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Paul Gross and Vince Locke

As the five-part ‘Leviathan’ arc ends, Tom has a much better handle on things, even if I, as a reader, am a little confused.  Riffing off the whole whale thing, Tom starts to think of Hobbes’s Leviathan, a book he’s never read before, but we learn in a flashback, has had recited to him while floating in a sensory deprivation tank.

This arc was originally about Tom hunting for the source of all stories, which his father had demarcated with a picture of a whale on his map, and that’s more or less where Tom ends up – the source of things.  I should really read that scene over again, as I think some of the nuances slipped past me, as I started wondering whether or not Tom was speaking directly to the reader, or to Mike Carey (I started expecting a Grant Morrison/Animal Man thing).

This issue doesn’t check in with any of the supporting cast of this book, allowing the focus to stay squarely on the group in the whale (an amusing bunch).  I wonder if the subplots became the victim of losing two story pages each month…

Quick Takes:

Adventure Comics #524 – The Legion Academy arc is reading a lot like Avengers Academy, but it’s not too bad, as a group of kids take off from the school to see what’s going on with Chemical Kid’s family.  It’s a decent enough story, aided immeasurably by Phil Jimenez’s artwork.

Amazing Spider-Man #656 – Marcos Martin is amazing.  This comic is a thing of beauty.  It’s almost not worth mentioning the story, which is pretty good, because the art is just so great.  I don’t know about all these new outfits Spidey’s collecting – it seems like it’s a toy tie-in comic at times – but I do like the way Slott is writing this comic.  I’m really torn about adding it to my pull-list (really – I just don’t like Spider-Man all that much, but I am liking him more these days than I have in years).

Avengers Academy #11 – It’s quite a departure from the normal, this issue, as Veil’s attempt to bring back the Wasp instead turns up the wife of Michael Korvac, with the purple naked guy himself showing up right behind.  It seems that, despite the fact that every other Avenger is fighting him, it’s only the Academy kids who are going to be able to do the job.  Way too much plot and not enough character development, as Gage attempts to create an epic story, without properly laying the groundwork for it.

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade: Young Avengers #1 – Ridiculous title.  Is it just me, or does Alan Davis seem to do an inordinate number of ‘alternate universe’ comics? He’s good at costume redesign though, so it’s all good.  This comic seems to be a placeholder to allow someone on the Children’s Crusade title to catch up (and it must not be Heinberg this time, as he wrote this), and to explain Iron Lad’s sudden appearance at the end of the last issue.  It’s a good story, with a flashback to events immediately preceding the team’s first appearance, but it’s perhaps a little wordy.  Great Alan Davis work though…

Fear Itself: Book of the Skull #1 – Since I don’t really know what the Fear Itself series is going to be about, I expected this to give more hints than it does.  Basically, this is a Baron Zemo and Sin story, with an Invaders flashback (which I’m totally okay with).  My problem is that there are some very familiar story elements here – if you mash up Hellboy’s origin with the recent Ultimate Thor mini-series, you basically have this comic.  Except there’s a hammer too.  Brubaker’s always good, but this is too set-up heavy to really go anywhere, and Scott Eaton trying to look like Steve Epting is okay, but not too impressive.

Generation Hope #5 – I’m still not clear on whether or not there’s enough material to peg this comic on as an on-going, but this issue has regular writer Kieron Gillen joined by his Phonogram collaborator Jamie McKelvie, which is pretty exciting and cool, even if Hope and the Lights don’t just sit around talking about British indie rock for the whole issue.  I really don’t see much of a future for this title, but I enjoy Gillen’s take on Hope.  Maybe, if we understood her abilities more, we’d understand why she’s such a big deal.  Just saying…

Hulk #30.1 – Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman are doing an amazing job on this comic.  I didn’t like the last issue (with McGuinness art), but this one is great, as an old friend of Ross’s is reintroduced and takes over his old role of doing anything he could to hunt down the Hulk.  This leads to a change in the status quo for Red Hulk, and looks to be setting the series in yet another new direction.  I’ve mentioned before that I never expected to read this series, and I’m still surprised that I’m liking it so much.

Invincible Iron Man #502 – Another good issue in Fraction’s stellar run, which has Tony arguing with Doc. Octopus, while Pepper, sans suit, takes on Electro and Sandman.  Plus, I think we now know who Spymaster has been masquerading as, but I could be wrong.  I really like this run.

Iron Man 2.0 #2 – It feels like Nick Spencer is having a little trouble pacing this series.  While this issue follows up on the story of the last, they feel like they are from different series.  The first established Rhodes in a military setting, and hinted as to the antagonist.  This issue barely touches on the military angle, and doesn’t provide any information on the problem that Rhodey is trying to solve.  Still, I like the art team of Kano and Barry Kitson, and am interested enough to pick up another issue.

Knight and Squire #6 – I feel like Knight and Squire has been the most consistently good Batman comic of the last six months, and this issue rounds out the series nicely.  The real Joker is killing British heroes with Jarvis Poker, the British Joker at his side, and all of the powered set, hero and villain alike, work together to put a stop to him.  It’s a very good issue, as they have all been.  I don’t see this ever working as an on-going series, but I hope that Cornell and Broxton get a second chance at these characters some time.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #26 – With only two issues remaining, this book has returned itself to its founding idea, with Starro as the major threat.  This time though, he’s taken over Dox and a lot of Rannians, and is kind of worried about that fact that he has Lobo pissed off at him.  There has been way too much of a focus on Lobo for my liking lately (did we really need to see his origin recapped here?), but other than that, I’m pretty happy with this title.  I know  I’m going to miss it.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #5 – Spencer’s been doing an amazing job on this book, as we finally get some answers as to why one of the team betrayed them last month, and just what and who the Spider organization is all about.  Cafu’s art is growing on me with each issue, and the flashbacks this time are done by Ryan Sook, whose work is always welcome.  I don’t know how this book is doing sales wise, but I encourage people to pick it up and give it a try.  It’s one of the best DCU books on the stands.

Thunderbolts #155 – It looks like the Thunderbolts are going on a bit of a recruitment drive, and while USAgent and Songbird just get to pick them from the people in the Raft, Luke Cage, with Dr. Strange, have to go on a bit of a quest for the person they want on the team – Satanna.  I think that increasing and shifting up the roster is a very good idea – it definitely worked in the Suicide Squad.

Uncanny X-Force #5.1 – Okay, if the whole point of the .1 initiative is to give new readers a perfect place to pick up and start a book, does it make any sense that this issue comes after the start of a new arc?  This should have been issue 4.1, as the story doesn’t fit in sequence.  However, this is a pretty good issue, especially since Rafael Albuquerque handles the art, and the story involves the Reavers, Lady Deathstrike, and Gateway, and is set in that old Australian town from the Claremont/Silvestri run on Uncanny X-Men.  Good nostalgia, nice art, and once again, Fantomex gets the best line (even if there is only the one).

Wolfskin: Hundredth Dream #5 – Wow, this finally came out.  With Captain Swing coming out last week, and now this, does that mean that another issue of Doktor Sleepless can’t be too far away?  Probably.  But maybe these two Warren Ellis Avatar series will finish…  This comic was supposed to come out in September, and I kind of stopped caring about it around the end of 2010.  This is a good enough issue I suppose, but I feel like it’s lost all its steam.  And I’ve always felt like this particular story would have worked better in a four-issue series, instead of six.

X-Factor #217 – I’m not sure that I buy Jonah Jameson openly debating immigrants’ rights in the middle of a protest on the streets of New York, but the rest of this comic worked quite well, especially M’s declaration that she’s Muslim, and the gentle probing of Longshot and Shatterstar’s shared past.  Lupacchino’s art is growing on me too.

Xombi #1 – I never read any Milestone comics back in the day, and had no idea about anything to do with this character, or his writer John Rozum.  I bought this comic for Fraser Irving’s artwork, which is as wonderful as it always is.  The writing, however, was a nice surprise.  Rozum does a good job of reintroducing the character of David Kim, who has some nano-thing going on, but doesn’t really say much about his superheroics or his past.  I really like some of the ancillary characters, such as Nun of the Above and Catholic Girl, although the ending of the comic, with its Snow Angels and Hallowe’en references, was pretty confusing.  I will definitely be getting the next issue, and could see myself buying this book, at least for as long as Irving’s involved (although, I’d rather see him go finish Gutsville).

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

Captain America and Crossbones #1

DC Universe Legacies #10

Bargain Comics:

Amazing Spider-Man #652 – As much as I want to drop this book (when not being drawn by Marcos Martin that is), I do like Slott’s take on Spidey, so I think I’ll just randomly try to pick up a many issues as I can at a discounted price.  This started the Spider-Slayer story, and has a back up featuring the new Power Man and The Looter.  It’s still good though…

Assassin’s Creed: The Fall #3 – The whole story finally became clear at the end of this mini-series, which has been confusing in terms of story, but gifted with lovely art from Karl Kerschl and Cameron Stewart.

Astonishing X-Men #36 – As much as I love Jason Pearson’s artwork, I’m not a big fan of either Daniel Way nor $4 comics, so I’d given this a pass when it was first published.  The thing is, it’s actually pretty good, although the timing of a “monster stomps Japan” comic could have been a little better…  Is this title in continuity or not?  I can never tell.

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #5 – This story, despite the inclusion of Furies and the Jaspers Warp, was really only okay.  Definitely not the best work of either Warren Ellis or Kaare Andrews.

Generation X Underground Special #1 – This little oddity from 1998 is done by Jim Mahfood, and is pretty amusing.  I was never a big Generation X fan, and am still not too familiar with some of the characters, but I always love work by the Food One, so this is pretty cool.  Banshee’s Angels works best.

Namor: The First Mutant #5 – I would like this book a lot more if it had better art.  This issue has the X-Man Loa experimenting with her new water-breathing abilities, while flashbacks reveal her family’s bizarre connection to Namor.  It mostly worked, except for the bad guy and the awkward meeting between Namor and Loa’ grandmother dockside right after the kid’s powers manifested.

Ultimate Captain America #1 – I’ve basically given up on the Ultimate line, but this is written by Jason Aaron, so I thought it would be worth checking out.  Not a lot happens in this comic, besides introducing Ultimate Nuke, who gives Cap a beat down in North Korea.  It’s okay, but not too compelling (it’s definitely not Scalped).

Ultimate Thor #2 & 3 – Hickman’s telling a decent story here, split between the current time, ancient times, and 1939, as Loki leads a joint Nazi/Frost Giant army into Asgard.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen much art by Carlos Pacheco, so I’m enjoying this.

Wolverine #1000 – I don’t really like these numbered anthology comics, and this one was misprinted, with a bunch of pages repeated, and others missing, but the lead story by Rick Spears and Timothy Green III is excellent, with it’s tale of WWII Wolverine hunting down a German super-soldier project.  The other good story here featured Luke Ross art and also had Logan fighting in the Second World War.

X-Men #5 – I’m still not understanding why this title was ever needed, but as far as all-action issues go, this one is decent, as the “hard-body” X-Men take out a few hundred vampires, and the issue of Wolverine’s turning gets handled a little too quickly and neatly.

X-Men Legacy #245 – I’d decided to skip the whole ‘Age of X’ thing, but then figured I’d check it out anyway.  I like what Carey’s done reinterpreting some old favourite characters (I knew he’d give Cargill a key role), and Mann’s done a great job of redesigning everyone, but at the end of the day, I feel like I’ve long out-grown Elseworld-style stories.  Unless I can find them really cheap, that is…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

A Drifting Life

by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

I’d wanted to read this for a while now, and was even more interested in checking it out after I read The Push Man a little while ago.  As this is such a huge book (834 pages), it’s taken me a while to read it, and it has only been since I started it that the Japanese earthquake, with all its attendant destruction and threat of nuclear catastrophe, took place.

I’m sure that this coloured my reading of this book quite a bit.  Tatsumi crafted A Drifting Life to be basically a memoir of his early life, outlining how he broke in to manga, his relationships with publishers and other artists, and how he grew frustrated with the constraints of the art form, and created his own ‘gekiga’ movement.  Tatsumi also uses the book to show us how Japan recovered from the war, and chronicles the various cultural influences, from American and French films to Japanese pop artists that affected his mindstate and work.

This massive book is incredible, even if for long stretches of time it seems that we are reading the same conversations over and over again, as Hiroshi Katsumi (Tatsumi’s alter ego) is subtly manipulated by his publishers, or argues with his brother.  The brother, Okimasa, is an interesting character.  When Hiroshi is younger, Okimasa is frequently ill and a tyrant.  As his health improves, and he enters the manga world as well, he seems to vacillate between being a supportive friend and Hiroshi’s harshest critic.

Having not read much manga, I found the perspective that this book takes, demonstrating both the business aspect and the the desire among some artists to have it viewed as an art form, to be fascinating.  I feel like I learned a lot reading this book, but I also really enjoyed watching Hiroshi grow from a boy submitting four-panel strips on postcards to his favourite magazines, to basically creating a new genre of manga.  I am definitely interested in reading more of Tatsumi’s work.

Total Sell Out

by Brian Michael Bendis

I like Bendis’s work.  It’s funny how saying that can seem controversial.  The man is pretty much the best selling comics writer working today, and so therefore, is open season for all kinds of internet hate and bad mouthing.  The truth is, he sells a lot for a reason.  Lately, I’ve found his stuff for Marvel to be a little lacking – it feels like he got his long Marvel U story through Siege, and ran out of ideas, but still had two Avengers books to write every month (I’ve never read Ultimate Spider-Man).  His Scarlet has been good, if a little bit off somehow, and since Powers has become almost an annual series, it’s not worth talking about.

But I still like Bendis’s work on the whole.  Reading Total Sell Out reminds me why.  This book compiles a ton of short pieces Bendis did over a long stretch of time, and for a variety of reasons.  We get a number of newspaper strips (but this must have been an independent paper, like Jim Mahfood’s Phoenix Edition of his Stupid Comics), some short stories written by other writers (Warren Ellis, James D. Hudnall, and Mark Ricketts), a bunch of stories he did on his own, and some other odds and ends.

The pieces here, especially the collection of stories Bendis was told by other people, remind us just how good he is at dialogue, and at picking meaning out of random events (such as the story with the comedian who wants to quit because of an interview with John Cleese she saw on TV).  There are a number of times where this book made me laugh, which is always nice.

Now, Bendis’s art is an acquired taste.  It’s heavily photo-referenced and stiff, but I do like the consistency of his comics style (he experiments a lot more when he cartoons).  In all, this is a pretty good collection.  To be honest, I would be very happy to see Bendis try more material like this in the future, although I know it would never sell as well as the Avengers, and so is not likely to happen.

Album of the Week:

Those Shocking Shaking Days: Indonesian Hard, Psychedelic, Progressive Rock and Funk: 1970 – 1978

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