The Weekly Round-Up #68 Featuring Echoes, Fables, Meta 4, New York Five, The Sixth Gun, And More!

Best Comic of the Week:

Echoes #4

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Rahsan Ekedal

I’m finding Echoes to be a very tightly plotted thriller, and each issue seems to be better than the one before it.  The plot of this series is that Brian, a schizophrenic, learns from his father on his deathbed that he had murdered a large number of young girls, and had made effigies of them out of their skin.  Upon learning this, Brian investigates some and discovers the box full of dolls, and promptly starts to crack up.  Soon enough, he’s beginning to wonder if he is doing the same thing, especially once a young girl goes missing, and a new effigy shows up on his doorstep.  The problem is, he has no memory of this happening.

What makes this book so interesting is the way in which the reader has to question each of Brian’s perceptions, since we don’t always know if he is seeing something real.  With this penultimate issue, the police start actively looking for him, showing up at his house with a search warrant while he is out, and Brian finally starts to piece together what is going on.  The issue ends with a pretty big revelation that helps confirm some of the suspicions I had (I don’t want to spoil anything), but with a few twists that I didn’t see coming.

I really like the way Fialkov is writing this series, keeping Brian and his questionable understanding of his environment in such a tight focus.  Ekedal’s art works very well here, and I am very much looking forward to the end of this series.

Other Notable Comics:

Fables #103

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha

I often see complaints that Willingham writes this comic more with the trades in mind than the structure of a monthly series, and usually it doesn’t bother me, but this month, it did.

I think the reason for that is because this issue is one of those ones that often come along in the middle of an arc, where plots are advanced, but none of the big story moments happen.  We see Ozma and Pinocchio continue to build their team (including a few scenes that are reminiscent of some of the best Legion try-outs), Bigby and Snow get reacquainted (okay, we don’t actually see that, but what happens after), Beast loses his powers, Fly and Wayland make some armor, Nurse Spratt loses some weight, and the North Wind makes a tough decision.

In terms of individual scenes, this comic is as good as always; it just seems to lack a definite ending.  It’s all good though, as I’m finding this current arc to be both pretty interesting and a lot of fun.

Meta 4 #5

by Ted McKeever

As much as I love Ted McKeever’s work (Metropol has long been a favourite comic of mine), I often don’t understand it.  In fact, he’s better than Grant Morrison at making me feel stupid or like I’ve missed the point, yet I always go back to his work for more.

Meta 4 is a perfect example of a Ted McKeever comic that is either too subtle for me to fully grasp, or is simply a pretentious piece of fluff that I can’t recognize as such.  I’m pretty sure it’s the former though, and not the later, as McKeever’s built a good body of work that falls into that category.

What I do know is that even when I don’t fully grasp it, his work is visually stunning and always interesting.  This issue has our unnamed astronaut recover his memory in ways that he at least understands (while exposing the entire moon landing program as a hoax), and more or less resolves the police story we’ve been eavesdropping on through bullets that have been transmitting radio signals.

The best part of this book is the art, and once again, McKeever doesn’t disappoint with some tripped out, interesting images.  McKeever is a completely unique individual in the comics world, and it’s nice to see him work on something that is so non-commercial and challenging.  I think I need to read this again in a single sitting to grasp it better.  I’m sure it will work better in trade format than as a mini-series plagued with delays.

The Mission #2

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

I’d picked up the first issue of The Mission on spec, based on the strength of Dell’Edera’s art.  It was interesting enough that I thought I’d give the second issue a shot, and I find that I’m enjoying it.

I was surprised to see that this issue wrapped up the main story from the first issue; I’ve been trained to think in six-issue arc, and so this was a nice surprise.

The main character is an everyday guy named Paul, who was contacted mysteriously by someone named Gabriel and told to kill a man he’d never met.  He waffled, and the man ended up pulling a gun out during his divorce trial, killing a few people, and kidnapping his daughter.  Paul feels responsible, and is now being told that it is his responsibility to track down the man and rescue the girl.

There are massive Biblical overtones in all of this, and in the intimation that there are two opposing forces fighting a proxy war which has them recruiting random people like Paul.  I’m not sure if future issues of this book will feature other main characters, or if we are going to follow Paul throughout this whole story.  Even though this issue provides a lot of closure, I’m still interested enough to pick up the next one.

The New York Five #3

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly

Even if I didn’t care about the story or characters in this comic, I would buy it for the full page panels of New York that Ryan Kelly is drawing.  This issue opens with a splash page of one of the girls (not sure if it’s Riley or Ren) skateboarding up a street, and then moves on to large images of the tenement the girls live in, the interior of the Strand, a coffee shop, Washington Square, St. Mark’s Place, Veselka, the entrance to the subway, and numerous large character shots.  While they make the comic a quick read, they are amazing pieces of art, demonstrating Kelly’s mastery of both people and architecture.

The story still feels a little choppy in places, but I’ve become so fond of most of these characters that it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.  The girls seem to be drifting apart, as Ren makes a big announcement, and Merissa heads off to handle her family responsibilities.  Riley starts talking to her sister again, and Lona’s boyfriend puts her straight about her creepy stalker behaviour.  We start to get to know Olive, the homeless girl, a little better too.

I’m not sure what to expect from the last issue of this series next month, but if it’s nothing but Ryan Kelly New York scenes, with Brian Wood inserting his thoughts about the places, then I’ll be perfectly happy with it.

The Sixth Gun #10

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

Well, I guess Drake didn’t do as good a job of hiding the guns as he thought he did, as they change hands a couple of times in this issue.  Kirby Hale, the gunslinger and new beau for Becky has been revealed as someone who can’t be trusted, and Woodmael, the servant to Henri Fournier gets taken over by a Loa.

In other words, things aren’t looking too good for Drake and his friends, as this arc kicks into high gear.  The Sixth Gun is a very cool series, with an ever-growing cast.  I like how Bunn is slowly explaining the role of the supernatural in his world, and how each new issue introduces a new story element.

Hurtt’s art in this series is terrific.  It’s worth checking this book out if you aren’t already reading it.

Quick Takes:

Batman Incorporated #4 – Reviewers are always commenting on how Grant Morrison’s love for the Silver Age informs his work on Batman, but I don’t think anyone was expecting that he would return to the days of Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman, complete with cameos by Ace the Bat-Hound.  It’s probably best not to try to understand where all of this fits in continuity, and better to just enjoy the strange plotting and wonderful art by Chris Burnham.  The modern Batwoman is around too, as is El Gaucho.  Good stuff.

Captain America #615.1 – Alright, I’m a little annoyed that Marvel is re-launching this title again in a few months (coincidentally at the same time that the movie is being released), and that it looks like it’s arranging to put Steve Rogers back in the Captain America costume.  I like Bucky Cap, and while I’m sure the character won’t be going anywhere (that’s right, another soft-launch title change), I don’t think there’s a need to change this new status quo so suddenly, especially if the only reason is in search of elusive movie fans who will suddenly become life-long comics readers (does that ever happen?).  At least Ed Brubaker’s going to continue writing the title, so it will probably still be good.  Anyway, this .1 issue of Cap seems to be the start of all of this, as a new person puts on the Cap uniform, and almost immediately needs Steve to come to his rescue.  Brubaker is telegraphing his moves, but it’s still a good comic, especially with art by the Breitweisers, who have a good feel for Captain America.

Daredevil Reborn #3 – I wondered when we would get around to having to sit through Matt re-examining all of his life choices, and that has come with this issue, where the gun runner whose henchmen he’s been fighting for two issues just happens to have the power to split open peoples’ souls or something.  This series is not Diggle’s best work – I wonder how editorially mandated the whole thing was…

FF #1 – So far as relaunches go, this one really just builds on what Hickman has been doing in Fantastic Four for the last year and a half, which of course means it’s pretty good.  I’m not sure of the rationale behind including Spider-Man (because Johnny said to?), and I think that the new addition at the end of the book will prove to be more interesting.  Epting’s art is a welcome addition to the mix, and the book reads pretty well.  I’m not sure how many new readers will stick with it – it’s confusing if you aren’t up to date on these characters, but I’m enjoying it and will be here for a while yet.

Hulk #31 – I’m not sure about this whole ‘Hulk on the run from an American general’ plot, simply because Ross’s rationale for not revealing his identity doesn’t hold, especially when his Red Hulk is an Avenger now.  Still, Hardman’s a great artist, and Parker has definitely earned my trust, so I’ll give it a chance, especially since it’s still filled with some nice character moments like the ones between Ross and the LMD.

Invincible #78 – I always love a good epilogue comic, as the Viltrumite War is over, and Mark has to readjust to being back on Earth after a ten-month absence.  There have been some pretty big changes for the supporting cast, and the book just floats along like it’s back to its old self again, even if the characters aren’t.  Always a good read.

Legion of Super-Heroes #11 – Having Saturn Girl free so many criminals from Takron-Galtos was a wise move for this book, as the team has a reason to be divided up and all over the galaxy.  Levitz’s run is getting better – I like the balance of characters this month, and it’s good to see that he hasn’t forgotten about Star Boy.

Power Man and Iron Fist #3 – This series continues to entertain, even if it gets pretty Murderworld in this issue, and introduces the villainy of Pokerface, a Vietnamese refugee with a furnace poker sticking out of his eye.  No, I’m not kidding.

Uncanny X-Force #6 – Aside from the character work Remender is doing with Psylocke, I’m not really feeling this arc.  There’s a little too much of X-Force fighting Deathlok’ed super heroes, and not enough story for my liking.  This is something I’ve noticed with Remender – he has a tendency to go for the ‘wild and crazy’ without always grounding it in character; that’s why I dropped Franken-Castle…

Uncanny X-Men #534 – The Quarantine arc has finished, as the X-Men deal with their flu and with Lobe’s ‘New X-Men’.  Also, Emma resolves her Sebastian Shaw problem, and sadly, Fantomex is nowhere to be seen.  This has been a decent arc, although it kind of limps to a closing.

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

Astonishing Spider-Man and Wolverine #5

Captain America and Batroc #1

Captain America Man Out of Time #5

Deadpool Max #6

Osborn #4

X-Men #9

Bargain Comics:

Batgirl #18 & 19 – Issue 18 is great, with Klarion the Witch Boy guesting and Dustin Nguyen alternating between painting and penciling pages.  Issue 19, however, didn’t do too much for me, as I haven’t read many issues of this comic and had no idea what people were talking about or who some of the characters were.  Also, this issue felt like Bryan Q. Miller was aiming for some Whedonesque Buffy-style dialogue that didn’t work for me.

Detective Comics Annual #12 & Batman Annual #28 – This is the controversial “Muslim Batman” story arc, and it’s both completely non-inflammatory and pretty decent.  I like the character of Nightrunner, and wouldn’t mind seeing more of him.  I also like that the whole mark of Cain issue is revisited with regards to the Question.  Both of these books have nice little back-ups (except for the Veil one, which seemed pointless).  It’s cool to get a more realistic look at how Batman Inc. is supposed to be working.

Jack of Fables #49 – As far as penultimate issues go, this one is just about perfect.  There are about 50 characters that Willingham and Sturges have put into place, many of which I’m very fond of.  It’s too bad this title had lost its way for so long – but I’ll definitely be getting the final issue when it comes out this week, even if it is going to continue making fun of us poor Canadians.

Thor #620 – It is exactly because of the extreme decompression of this book (coupled with my lack of interest in the story) that caused me to drop it last month.  Reading this at half price just kind of confirms my decision – were comics still only $2, I’d probably still buy it, because it is pretty…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects

by Mike Mignola (with Katie Mignola)

In the last two years, I’ve gone from being someone who was generally skeptical of Mike Mignola’s stories (I always liked his art) to a die-hard fan, and this collection of shorter pieces satisfies a craving for some of Mignola’s more odd-ball sensibilities.

The main story, which is a regular comic’s length, features a robotic head who fights magical threats in Victorian America (if such a thing really existed).  We have Abraham Lincoln on a view screen, servants like Mister Groin, and evil figures like Emperor Zombie.  The plot is much like a Hellboy short, but everything feels new and strange in this tale.

The rest of the book is made up of shorter pieces, including one, ‘The Snake and the Magician’ that Mignola wrote with the assistance of his seven-year old daughter.  It’s a cute tale of magic and inter-species affection.  The other tales include a re-drawn ‘Abut Gung and the Beanstalk’, and the fantastic ‘The Prisoner of Mars’.

This book would be the perfect way to introduce a new reader to Mignola’s comics, before turning them on to Hellboy and BPRD.

The Beats: A Graphic History

Written by Harvey Pekar, Paul Buhle, and others
Art by Ed Piskor and others

Like a lot of people, I went through a pretty heavy Beat phase in my last couple of years of high school, which carried over into university.  I loved Kerouac’s free-flowing and frequently annoying prose, and tried my best to get into Burroughs, although that was often pretty difficult.  I read some of the poetry, and developed a long-lasting love of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s work.  I did, however, outgrow them, and have only occasionally strayed into their territory since I turned 22.

This ‘graphic history‘ was a nice reintroduction to some old friends.  The book mostly consists of graphic biographies of the Beats, although the further one gets into the book, the more free-flowing the comic strips are.  The first one hundred twenty pages or so are made up of biographies written by Harvey Pekar and drawn by Ed Piskor that focus on the central figures of the movement.  Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, and William S. Burroughs get lengthy entries, as befits their status as the holy trinity of beat-ness.  These parts are great, and while they didn’t tell me much that I didn’t already know, I appreciate the conciseness and economy of their tales.

After that, Pekar and Piskor focus on the minor beats, giving a few pages each to people like Philip Whelan, Ferlinghetti, and LeRoy Jones (Amiri Baraka).  At this point, the book is given over to a number of independent cartoonists, and becomes much more erratic in its quality.  That said, some of the best parts of this book are included at the end.

The bio of Kenneth Patchen (by Pekar and Nick Thorkelson) does a great job of infusing the text with Patchen’s own poetry.  It was at this point in reading that I realised how little room was being given over in this book to examine or sample the Beats’ actual writing.  This was a refreshing change.

Perhaps the best segment in this whole book though, is Joyce Brabner and Summer McClinton’s ‘Beatnik Chicks’, an exploration of the women who were on the periphery of, yet central to, the Beat Movement.

In all, I appreciated this well-researched and well-produced book.

Grunts: War Stories

Written by a bunch of people
Art by Matt Jacobs

Well, this was a mistake.  Looking at the cover, one could reasonably assume that this comic is written by Keith Giffen and Shannon Eric Denton.  Their names are in a prominent place on the front, and the back proclaims “Battlefield Action from….” before listing them.  But, as it turns out, they didn’t write this book, they simply ‘created’ it.

Which might still be a symbol of quality, except that these are simply short stories, written by a variety of writers, featuring a group of soldiers fighting in the Second World War.  The only thing that separates this from a Khanigher/Kubert era DC war comic, or from something written by Garth Ennis, is that it’s not very good.  So what exactly did Giffen (who I admire a great amount) and Denton create?  The fact that one of the soldiers (the fat one) is named Fatty?  Time for an Eisner….

So yah, avoid this.  The stories are okay taken individually (if they were a back-up in a war anthology, I wouldn’t mind one, or even two of them), but taken as a whole, their similarity (despite ten different writers) is mind-numbing.  For some reason, almost every story has a soldier either writing a letter (sometimes in the middle of some action) or talking about the letters they’ve written.  And having something to do with a letter in this book is like wearing a red shirt in Star Trek.  They always die.

I get it that there is a market for war comics, but I think after reading so many by Ennis, that market is kind of particular.  You can’t just shovel any old thing at them.  At least, you can’t shovel it at me…

Monster Volume 1

by Naoki Urasawa

As reluctant as I am to enter into the world of manga (this series is 18 volumes long!), give me a free book at a Boxing Day sale from a creator I’ve heard nothing but good things about, and I’ll give it a try.

The first volume of Monster is mostly about set up, as Urasawa introduces the character of Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a Japanese doctor working in West Germany in 1986.  He’s made a name for himself at his hospital by being a top-notch surgeon, and is engaged to the Director’s daughter.  Things are looking very bright for this up-and-comer, but he starts to find himself at odds with the research and important patients first policies and expectations.

When a young boy with a bullet in his head is brought in to the hospital shortly before the mayor, Dr.. Tenma decides to continue working on the child, despite orders from administration to the contrary.  While the boy survives, Dr. Tenma’s upward trajectory does not, and things start to look bad for the young doctor.  Later, when the three people most in his way turn up dead, suspicions are cast, and Dr. Tenma receives a promotion.

At this point, the story jumps forward by nine years, as a string of bizarre murders captivate the attention of the police, and Dr. Tenma finds himself caring for one of their few leads.  Urasawa takes his time organizing all of this, and I found that I was really getting swept up in the discussions of hospital politics and the difficult relationship between Tenma and his fiancee.

The characterizations in this book are much stronger than I’m used to finding in manga, and the story more or less remains plausible and gripping.  I like Urasawa’s art, and will definitely be looking for more entries in this series.

Album of the Week:

Cartagena!  Curru Fuentes & The Big Band Cumbia and Descarga Sound of Colombia 1962-72

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