The Weekly Round-Up #69 Featuring The Walking Dead, American Vampire, Scalped, And More

Best Comic of the Week:

The Walking Dead #83

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard

I think I’ve finally read an issue of The Walking Dead that I don’t like (but yes, it’s still the best of the week).  It’s not a problem with execution – the tension and pace of this issue are perfect, as the town where Rick and everyone have been living for a while becomes completely overrun by walkers.  Kirkman jumps from one group of characters to another very quickly, without much explanation, helping to underscore the protracted amount of time in which all of this stuff is happening.  Adlard handles the whole issue beautifully, as the panels become more and more crowded with walkers.

The reason why I don’t think I like this issue is because Kirkman does something horrible to one of the characters that I love, and does it in such a way that, while reading the comic, I actually had to stop for a little while to let it sink in.  I always figured that there were two characters in this comic that were relatively safe (I’m not going to name them, but it’s obvious).  I used to expect that there was a larger group of characters that were likely to stick around for a long time, but Kirkman killed off most of them in the prison around about issue 48.  After that though, I think I grew complacent in expecting that these two people were going to be okay.  This issue has caused me to revise that expectation, in one of the most brutal ways possible.

Of course, I can’t really be mad at that – the level of predictability is what has drawn me to this comic from the first time that I read it (issue 7).  This issue is such a turning point – Rick screws up badly, with massive consequences – that I’m sure I’ll look back at it as a favourite.  And really, when’s the last time a comic really shocked you?  I can truly say that I never saw this one coming.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #13

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

The first thing I noticed when I picked up this new issue, which is the first part of the ‘Ghost War’ arc was that artist Rafael Albuquerque was back, which made me very happy.  He has done a phenomenal job on this title, and it’s nice to see him return to these characters.

Since it began, American Vampire has been moving forward through the 20th century, and this new story jumps us up to the Second World War, and returns the book’s focus to Pearl and her husband Henry.  They’ve been living in hiding since we last saw them, but with the war underway, they’ve felt the need to get involved in the world.  Pearl is working as a nurse, and Henry signed up, although he was considered too old to be sent to the war.

Now though, the Vassals of the Morning Star have a task for him to perform in Taipan, and he jumps at the chance to do his duty.  The fact that the Vassals are involved means that there are vampires in Taipan, which is shown in the framing sequence.  This looks to be a pretty interesting arc.

What makes this issue work though, is not the plotting, but the touching relationship between Henry and Pearl.  He is getting older, but she is not, and as that disparity grows, so does their love for each other.  Snyder is really proving himself these days (read this week’s issue of Detective Comics!), and Albuquerque is at the top of his game.  This is a great comic.

Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker #1

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Mike Huddleston

You have to appreciate the role that Joe Casey plays in modern comics.  It’s clear that he loves superhero comics, and in his work, he embraces them, with all their peculiarities and nonsense, with such a fervor that he creates stories that aren’t so much satire as pure, unadulterated superheroics.  His new book, Butcher Baker, is to the gritty post-heroic 90s of the Watchmen, the Punisher, and Rick Veitch’s Brat Pack what his Godland is to Jack Kirby.

Butcher Baker is a retired patriotic superhero (more Comedian than Captain America) who is brought out of retirement (by Dick Cheney and Jay Leno) to help clean up some loose ends.  He mostly spends his days having sex with multiple women, and drives a souped-up gigantic semi painted to look like the American flag.

Despite all appearances, it seems his life is kind of empty.  Or at least, that’s what this issue hints at, but most of this comic is spent establishing his unique character.  It’s a fun comic, and Huddleston does a great job of showing different eras in Baker’s career.  I’m not sure if this is a mini-series or an on-going, but it seems interesting enough to get me to stick around for a while.

Caligula #1

Written by David Lapham
Art by German Nobile

I’d told myself that I was going to start trade-waiting Avatar books, since most of the time they are so late anyway, but then I saw the solicitation for this; a David Lapham-written comic set in Ancient Rome.  I’ve always had an interest in this time period, which in recent years has been fueled by HBO’s Rome, and more recently by the Ides of Blood series.

This series is starting out as a revenge comic, as a young boy from an olive farming family returns home to market to find that the Roman emperor, Caligula, had raped, murdered, and desecrated his family and home.  He heads to Rome, plotting his revenge, and has to immerse himself in the filth and depravity of the city’s underside before finally gaining entry to the palace and coming face to face with the mad emperor.  Then something strange happens, but I won’t spoil it.

Lapham has clearly done his research, and constructs a tightly-plotted story.  The artist, German Nobile, is painting this comic, and his look falls squarely into that Avatar house style, but it’s still pretty good.  I’m definitely on board for this title.

Elephantmen: Man and Elephantman #1

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Axel Medellin

I feel like I need to judge this comic on two levels.  In terms of story, and seen as a new issue of Elephantmen, this issue is pretty good.  Hip Flask, who is more or less the main character of this sprawling series, wakes up one morning to discover himself in a human body.  Basically, he is living in the reverse of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and we watch as he goes about his day in a human body, going to work as usual, and running into many of the various character that make up the regular cast of this comic.

If we view it as an introduction to the series, albeit through the looking glass, it helps to establish a number of the relationships, even if characters like Tusk and Yvette are included.  Of course, it’s a hoax, and an interesting one at that, even if it seems outside of character (I don’t want to spoil everything).  So what we’re left with is basically an Elseworlds story, which while kind of amusing, doesn’t do anything to advance the series much.

And this is where we have to look at this comic from another viewpoint.  It seems that Starkings has interrupted the numbering of this title to create a ‘jump-on’ comic (similar to Marvel’s current .1 initiative), which introduces all of the characters in a false light.  Furthermore, this is the start of the next arc, but I’m not sure that the last page of this story is going to be enough to draw in a new reader.  But then, Elephantmen always dances to its own beat, so it’s all good.

In terms of art, Medellin keeps getting better and better, and I enjoyed the Charley Loves Robots back-up, which gets recapped and extended by two pages here.

Jack of Fables #50

Written by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges
Art by Tony Akins, Russ Braun, Andrew Pepoy, Dan Green, and Bill Reinhold

I think it’s surprising that this title, which was a spin-off from Fables, lasted for almost half the run of the parent title.  That’s pretty rare.  Jack of Fables was a welcome change in modern comics when it started.  It was basically a humour comic linked to another series, which while often filled with humour, is actually a pretty dark affair a lot of the time.  Jack, especially in the early issues, was irreverent and very unpredictable.

Jack Horner is not a nice guy, and it was through the large and lovable supporting cast that this book was able to hook me, as Jack worked to escape the Golden Boughs Retirement Community for Fables, worked to stay ahead of the Page Sisters and other dangers, and eventually participated in defending the Boughs from a worse evil.  Later, the book crossed over with the Fables title, and that’s where it started to lose me, as most of the series’s plotlines were resolved.  The book was more or less given over to Jack’s son, Jack Frost, and I quickly lost all interest in it, dropping it until I realized that Willingham and Sturges were wrapping things up, and returning every last living character to the book’s pages.

This issue takes what Jack calls the ‘Shakespearian’ approach to finishing things, which means just about everyone dies.  The story is mostly told through large splash pages, as all these characters that have been gathering for a while turn on each other, and mayhem ensues.  It’s a fitting end to the title, and much of this issue is amusing, while evoking some twinges of nostalgia.

Two of my favourite features of this comic get one last hurrah.  Brian Bolland gives us one last terrific cover (he did most of the covers on this book), and Babe the Blue Ox gets the chance to narrate one last page, revisiting the character of Alonso, the cruelty-free pirate.  The Babe pages were frequently the best part of the comic, and I hope that the promised Babe one-shot happens one of these days.

Scalped #47

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

It’s no secret that I love Scalped.  It never fails to disappoint, as Aaron continues to spin out his tale of the Prairie Rose Reservation.  Over the years that I’ve been reading this comic, I’ve come to like a great number of the characters, but my favourite has always been Dino Poor Bear, the teenage father and ex-drug dealer who had his eye plucked out a while back.

When we met Dino, he was simply trying to escape the Res, and was ambivalent about his role as a father.  As the series has progressed, Dino has embraced parenthood, and has grown to accept his place in the world, as he tries to walk a more narrow path.

This issue is focused on him, and the feelings he has developed for Carol, who has been living with his family since Granny Poor Bear rescued her from her addictions, and quite likely, suicide.  Dino and Carol have been spending a lot of time together, and he is still a boy, so it’s natural that his heart has moved in the direction it has.  Some of the story beats in this issue – the expensive gift, the ‘like a brother’ speech – were completely predictable, but still work beautifully in Aaron’s hands.

Artist RM Guera has always done a good job on this comic, but he kills it with this issue.  The last couple of pages, as Dino walks through the night (and crosses paths with Catcher) are incredible.  I’m not sure I could love this comic more than I do.

Scarlet #5

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev

Well, it seems that Scarlet is getting stranger and stranger.  At first, Bendis’s story about a girl seeking revenge on the corrupt police detective that ruined her life felt like a personal story of redefinition, but as Scarlet’s mission has become a movement, the tone of the comic has changed.

Last issue, Scarlet suddenly showed up in the middle of a large gathering of protesters supporting her mission.  In this issue, she speaks to the crowd, and one riot cop responds in an out-sized way (and really, what he threw was not standard issue – why would he have that?).

Scarlet herself gets very little screen time in this issue, as we spend most of our time on Angela Going, the detective that got kicked off the case, and Agent Daemonakos, the FBI agent who is taking charge of the investigation.  He’s a bit of a strange one, and has clearly read The Secret a few times too many.  The exchange between him and Going is classic Bendis.

Maleev has some lovely large panels in this issue, and continues to do a phenomenal job.

Undying Love #1

Written by Tomm Coker and Daniel Freedman
Art by Tomm Coker

I picked this comic up on the strength of Coker’s artwork, and on that front, this book definitely satisfied.  Story wise, I found that things got off to a confusing start, but once the exposition of the back half of the book was out of the way, I was intrigued.

Some American named John Sargent has brought his girlfriend Mei, who happens to be a vampire, to Hong Kong on a quest to find and kill the vampire that turned her, thereby making it possible to cure her.  The book opens in some temple, with a confrontation between Sargent and a group of what I suppose are vampires, although nothing is too clear.  It’s not until he brings her to Hong Kong, and meets with a young boy who is also a mystical healer that things are clarified, and become more interesting.

I think this comic has interested me enough to come back for the second issue, which means it is a success.  Coker’s art is a huge part of that success.

Quick Takes:

Amazing Spider-Man #657 – This Human Torch tribute issue is pretty nice, with wonderful artwork from Marcos Martin, Ty Templeton, Nuno Plati, and Stefano Caselli.  It also helps explain the reasons why Spidey would join up with the FF in their new title.  It’s too bad that this marks the end of Martin’s mini-run on Amazing.  I hope he comes back soon.

Avengers #11 – Just in case you missed how overblown this whole Infinity Gems storyline has become, Bendis and Romita kindly tell this whole story through splash pages, as the Hood continues to gather gems, and a hundred Avengers bungle their response.  The Watcher shows up, and this comic has what has to be the worst-drawn first page in history.  I thought maybe the Watcher was Egghead at first (remember him?).

Captain America #616 – This 70th Anniversary issue is massive.  The book opens with a quick re-telling of Cap’s origin, drawn by Travis Charest (when’s the last time he did interior work?).  There’s the first chapter of the new Gulag arc, which has Bucky in prison in Russia, and meeting some old Soviet Supersoldiers.  Then there are a pile of back-ups, set in a few different places along Cap’s career.  Mostly they’re pretty good, but they are pretty much all familiar, as we revisit the war for the 1000th time, and also see Brubaker teasing Steve Rogers’s return to the Captain America mantle (in time for the movie perhaps?).  It is cool to see Paul Grist draw Cap, and to see Cullen Bunn, the writer of the incredible Sixth Gun, landing a spot in such a high-profile comic.  Good stuff, and a nice solid read.

Detective Comics #875 – Okay, this is just about the perfect Batman comic (even if he doesn’t appear until the very end).  Instead, Snyder spends the entire issue in James Gordon’s head, as he re-examines his relationship with his son, and reflects on an old case that ended suddenly.  The writing in this issue is very nuanced, and Francisco Francavilla’s artwork, especially the layouts, is perfect.  I would read a monthly Commissioner Gordon series by these two over another Bat-title any day.  I’ve been a Francavilla fan for a while now, but I left this week’s issue of Black Panther on the stands because I’m not too impressed by the writing on that title.  This issue is proof that with a strong writer, Francavilla is one of the best in the business.

Halcyon #4 – I’ve been enjoying Marc Guggenheim’s exploration into Utopian superheroics.  The truth behind the GHP (Global Humanitarian Phenomenon – the thing that has made it impossible for anyone to commit an act of violence or crime) is revealed, as the series’s Batman analogue stands in opposition to his teammates.  This title reminds me more and more of the classic Squadron Supreme mini-series, which is a good thing.

Incognito: Bad Influences #5 – This title wraps up with a great ending.  There’s not much I can say about this issue without spoiling too much, except that Brubaker does a terrific job of reminding Zack just who and how the world sees him.  As much as I like Incognito, I’m always happier when Brubaker and Phillips are working on Criminal, which is set to return in June!

Incredible Hulks #625 – Really?  Transgendered insects?  Insect infanticide?  Man did this arc fall off the rails.  The thing that interested me most with this title was the family approach to Hulk-ness; without that continuing, I’m not sure I’m going to stick with it.  Another issue like this, and I definitely won’t.

Justice Society of America #49 – I’ve been leaning more and more towards adding this book to my pull-list again, as Guggenheim’s story has grown on me, and I like the idea of the JSA setting up shop in, and taking care of, a town with a number of secrets.  What hasn’t worked for me is the art (is that really Alan Scott’s new look?), and the news that Tom Derenick is taking over soon doesn’t make me any happier.  He’s one of the artists I like as little as I do Scott Kolins.  Also, I know that I haven’t been reading the JSA All-Stars title since it started (granted, neither is anyone else), but I had no idea who a bunch of the characters that showed up in this book are.  What’s with the girl in the red Blue Beetle costume?  And why would she be speaking in a gathering of legendary heroes and old friends like that?  So many of these characterizations feel off to me…  For now, this book is on being bought on a month by month basis.

Kick-Ass 2 #2 – I have no idea what takes so long for this book to come out.  Anyway, this issue introduces us to a Justice League like team (interesting how all the references in this Marvel comic are to DC characters), and Dave finds out that he inspired one of his friends.  Then, they all go beat up gangsters, and someone gets his junk bitten off by a dog.  So, typical Mark Millar, really.  It’s entertaining, but also pretty forgettable.

Proof Endangered #4 – Grecian and Rossmo are really cramming a lot into this comic, setting up the big confrontation between Proof and Mi-Chen-Po.  There’s a lot of payoff for long time readers, but it’s getting difficult to navigate all the twists and turns in this title.

Secret Avengers #11 – This issue explores Steve Rogers’s shared history with John Steele, although it doesn’t tell us too much.  It’s a decent comic, but it feels a little too quick, especially considering that whatever it is that’s going on with Steele has been planned since the start of the Marvels Project a couple of years ago.

Star Wars Legacy: War #4 – Ostrander and Duursema are really pulling out all the stops on these issues, as a huge battle takes place at the hidden Jedi Temple, Darth Krayt unleashes his new Sith Troopers, and some old friends don’t survive.  This War mini-series would be incomprehensible to a new reader, but it’s got a ton of pay-off for someone who’s read the entire series (which is what more people should be doing).

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

Age of X Universe #1

Captain America and the Secret Avengers #1

Incorruptible #16

Suicide Forest #4

Thor #621

Wolverine #7

Bargain Comics:

Age of X Alpha; Chapters 2 – 4 (New Mutants #22 & 23, X-Men Legacy #246) – So much for skipping this event.  I read the first chapter last week, and was pretty quickly drawn in to Mike Carey’s Elseworlds-style event, mostly because I realised that it’s not fully an alternate universe story.  I suspect that these are “our” X-Men, and that something bigger is going on.  Carey writes a good Rogue (called Legacy, or Reaper, depending on who is speaking in this story), and has done some interesting character work in the middle of his larger story about besieged mutants.  I want to know what’s going on, so I’m going to stick with this through the last two chapters.

Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #4 – There’s a lot more time jumping, but at least things are finally starting to make sense in this series as the bad guy is revealed.  I’m not sure how I feel about this story, but Adam Kubert’s turning in some very nice work.

Choker #5 – It’s all incomprehensibility and decapitations, but I do so like Ben Templesmith’s art, even when I can’t follow the story…

Hellblazer: City of Demons #1-5

Written by Si Spencer
Art by Sean Murphy

While I always like a good John Constantine story, my interest in this mini-series was largely fueled by my regard for Sean Murphy’s artwork on Joe the Barbarian.

This story is kind of strange.  In the first issue, Constantine gets hit by a car, and ends up in the hospital for a while.  While there, a pair of doctors extract some of his demon blood, and use it to experiment on just about any other surgery patient they can find.  This leads to a number of random acts of violence around London, which John has to investigate.

What makes this series strange is the way in which Spencer takes a lot of space to develop a number of characters who are then quickly killed off or otherwise dispatched.  While I liked these little character studies, I found that it disrupted the flow of the narrative each time.

But, since I bought these comics for Murphy’s artwork, I was still quite happy with the whole thing.  His work is not as inventive as it was on Joe, but it’s still very good.  I found it a little reminiscent of Shade-era Chris Bachalo (mostly because of the lines on peoples’ noses), which is always a good thing.

Ides of Blood #6 – This series, which mixed Ancient Roman history (around the time of the death of Caesar) with vampires, was pretty cool.  The ending revealed that Valens, our hero, had been manipulated, and that things that happened at the beginning of the series weren’t what they seemed.  It’s too bad this title didn’t get more recognition when it came out; it’s good.

Incredible Hulks: The Enigma Force #2 & 3 – I miss the Micronauts enough to want to read anything they’re in now.  This is okay, but it’s only whet my appetite to see the team written by Abnett and Lanning.  Anyway, this isn’t a bad comic, it’s just not all that impressive.  The third issue is much better than the second.

Invaders Now! #5 – Okay, I’m officially done with buying books that Alex Ross is involved with the plotting of.  Even when he does use one of my all-time favourite super-hero teams…

Mighty Crusaders #5 – Enh.  My completist side forces me to make purchases like this sometimes.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

North 40

Written by Aaron Williams
Art by Fiona Staples

This book is a good example of a comic that should work quite well, but for whatever reason, doesn’t.  The concept behind it is excellent – that some kind of strange magic releases powers into just about everyone living within a mostly rural county, and also traps them inside it.  The art, by Fiona Staples is terrific, although her muted colour palette got on my nerves after a while.

The problem is that the story is not as coherent as it should be.  The characters are introduced quickly, without much time for development, and the plot seems to jump around all over the place.  The three central characters are the county sheriff, a country boy named Wyatt (who makes out the best of anyone in the powers department) and a strange girl named Amanda, who doesn’t even make it onto the cover of the trade.

These three characters are kind of thrown together, and much of the plotting has that same spaghetti tossed against the wall feeling.  There’s something towards the end about a mystical city that is supposed to help explain the significance of everything, but by that point, Williams had more or less lost me and I was just looking at the pretty pictures.

Album of the Week:

Orlando Julius and the afro sounders

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