The Weekly Round-Up #70 with Nonplayer, Blue Estate, BPRD, Chew, Fear Itself, & more

This was a great week for comics, especially comics from Image, which is easily the most diverse publisher in business today.  Their output has been amazing lately, as seen in the large pile I bought from them this week.

Best Comic of the Week:

Nonplayer #1

By Nate Simpson

Usually, I’m pretty skeptical about the hype that is generated by the comics industry.  The internet is rife with fanboyish proclamations about how the newest thing is the greatest thing ever (except, of course, when it’s being actively hated on), and the comics companies would not have to worry about declining sales if they got a dime for every time they announced that a new storyline would ‘change everything forever’.  And so, when the hype machine started gearing up for Nonplayer, another new series from Image by a little to unknown creator, I was prepared to be underwhelmed, despite the lovely preview art I saw in Previews a while back.

I’m very glad to be proven wrong here.  Nonplayer is as good as everyone is saying it is.  The series opens with a long sequence set in a Savage Land/Skartaris type environment, with knights riding dinosaurs, elves, and warrior women riding flying cat things.  It quickly becomes apparent that this is not a sword and sorcery comic, but is instead a virtual reality book.  Our main character, Dana, is a computer prodigy underemployed at a tamale shop, who spends all her time in her computer worlds.  The book is set in the future, so we aren’t limited by current technology, giving Simpson plenty of space to create an interesting world.  Most of this issue is taken up by setting up the characters and their relationships, and so I’m not sure where the story is going, but the worlds are interesting, and I like Dana and her friend.

While the story here is well-written, it is Simpson’s artwork that is going to draw the most attention.  His pages are highly detailed and lushly coloured.  His work reminds me of Geof Darrow and Rebekah Isaacs, which is a very good thing.  This book is gorgeous, and is complimented with pin-ups by Brandon Graham, Ben Templesmith, and Moritat.

I am a little concerned that there hasn’t been a second issue solicited yet, but I believe that Simpson deserves all the hype he’s received, and wish him success with this title.

Other Notable Comics:

Blue Estate #1

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, and Andrew Osborne
Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, and Robert Valley

I didn’t know what to expect going in to this comic.  I don’t pay a lot of attention to soliciations beyond the creators’ names, preferring to let preview pages speak for themselves.  I like the work of both Toby Cypress and Nathan Fox, and Image has been on fire of late, so I thought I’d give this a shot.

It’s a hard comic to judge based on the first issue.  Kalvachev and friends have a pretty complicated story to tell, so this issue is mostly just about arranging some of the chess pieces on the board, and introducing them to the reader.  I don’t really know what this comic is going to be about, beyond the fact that it has something to do with an aging action star, a drunk actress, a Russian mobster, the cop who has been hunting him for years, and that cop’s fat useless private eye son.  How this is going to play out is very much up in the air.

There is a recurrent Law & Order motif at play here.  The issue opens on the PI watching an episode of Special Victims Unit, and the opening narration at first appears to be the introduction to the comic.  After that, whenever the narration moves to a new location, the familiar ‘Dun Dun’ sound is used.  It’s a cute touch.

The art is cool in this comic.  I thought that having so many cooks in the kitchen would create a wildly inconsistent feel for the book, but somehow it works out just fine.  There is a roughness to the look of this book, and it seems fitting for the type of story that is being told.  I’ll probably pick up the next issue to see where this is all headed.

BPRD: The Dead Remembered #1

Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Art by Karl Moline and Andy Owens

As much as I want to see what is going to happen after the end of the last BPRD Hell on Earth arc, I like that Mignola and company are revisiting some of the earlier days of the Bureau, in a manner we’ve become completely accustomed to with Hellboy.  This three-issue arc is focused on Liz Sherman, the pyrokine who has been around since the earliest days of Hellboy.

This story is set two years after Liz killed her family when her abilities first manifested, and has come to live with the Bureau.  Hellboy convinces Professor Bruttenholm (how nice to see them in this comic again) to take Liz with him on a ghost-hunting trip to Massachusetts.  She’s dripping with attitude, but is also working pretty hard to disguise her interest in what’s going on.  It’s been a while since we’ve seen the adult Liz, so I have to wonder if this arc should be seen as a hint that she will be returning soon.

Chew #18

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

Once again, Layman and Guillory give us a single-issue story that fits within a larger narrative arc, but can be enjoyed completely on its own.  Tony and Colby are being sent on increasingly dangerous missions (I love the panel that depicts them as a cat and mouse – it really drives home the point), and in this issue, are sent to assist the USDA in a military raid of a base in North Korea.

This is basically a suicide mission, to wipe out a general who has developed a synthetic avian flu, and Tony’s role in the mission is to deploy a secret weapon if all else fails.  I don’t want to reveal what that secret weapon is, except to say that it involves the return of a character I didn’t think we’d see again.

As with just about any issue of Chew, this one is smart and very funny.  Next month, Layman is going to jump up to issue 27 to give us a sense of where the title is headed.  I don’t normally like a lot of gimmicks like that, but I’m definitely interested.

Green Wake #1

Written by Kurtis Wiebe
Art by Riley Rossmo

Here’s another Image book that I didn’t know anything about prior to purchasing it, and was more or less pleased with the decision after I read it.

Green Wake is definitely mysterious, as I don’t fully understand the rules around the town that the book is named after.  It seems that people just arrive there, and can’t leave, or if they can, it’s through something like Babylon.  To that end, it reminded me a lot of Pizzeria Kamikaze, the wonderful graphic novel by Etgar Keret and Asaf Hanuka, the difference here being that the people of Green Wake aren’t dead.

At least, most of them aren’t, although a couple of bodies do turn up.  It would seem that one of the residents of the town, who all usually keep to themselves, has gone nuts and started killing.  Strangely, just around the same time, a new person arrives who knew the girl before.

This is all discovered by our heroes, who have taken on a leadership/detective role in the community.  I’m not sure how exactly this all works – if everyone is reclusive, who operates stores or businesses?  I am interested in seeing where this is going.

I’m starting to tire of Riley Rossmo’s art. I liked his work a lot during the early days of Proof, but have started to tire of it on that book.  I feel like he’s more suited to this type of noir-ish story, and to pages that are coloured with only a single colour.  I’m pretty sure I’ll pick up the next issue.

iZombie #12

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Gilbert Hernandez

With this issue of iZombie (I’ve noticed that the indicia has changed the title to this spelling, instead of the I, Zombie that it started with – yes, I notice things like this), Roberson gives us something a little different.

This issue is focused on Ellie, Gwen’s ghostly friend.  We see what seems to be more or less a typical day in her after-life, as she hangs out in the cemetery swapping stories with her neighbours.  An old Aboriginal woman tells a legend that her people believed in, while an old cowboy tells a tale involving Chinese tunnels under Portland, zombies, and the white-suited monster fighters of that time.  We also learn Ellie’s history leading up to her death, and it becomes more clear why she is as naive and unworldly as she is.

At the end of the issue, Ellie meets Gwen, and we see how their friendship got its start.  It’s a nice issue, with great art by guest Gilbert Hernandez.  I like how he has switched up his style for the different tales told (kind of like an issue of House of Mystery, except I like it).  I love Allred’s work on this book, but if he needs a break again, I hope they give Hernandez a call.

Orc Stain #6

by James Stokoe

It’s been a long time since I’ve read an issue of this series, and I’ve missed it, but I also feel like it’s lost a lot of its momentum.  Orc Stain is still a pretty amazing comic, I’ve just kind of lost touch with it during its hiatus.

This issue picks up where the last one left off, as One-Eye is searching for a way out of the giant creature he was trapped in (alongside a thousand other one-eyed Orcs), and Bowie, the poison-slinger, attacks the Orctzar’s men, who have taken over the local town.  There’s a lot of mayhem, as only Stokoe can usually provide.

While the art in this issue is as wonderful as every previous one, it seemed lacking in the strange little visual gags that Stokoe usually peppers his comics with.  I think that perhaps there was just a lot of plot that needed to be gotten through in this installment.  I’m not sure how long this title is expected to run, but it does look like One-Eye is going to be confronting his destiny in one way or another pretty soon.

Sweet Tooth #20

by Jeff Lemire

Endangered Species, a new arc, starts off with this issue, although it mostly just follows up on the prelude issue of last month.  The female members of Gus and Jeppard’s group have not returned to camp, so our two heroes head into the woods to look for them.  This gives Lemire a chance to explore the new strained relationship between these two principals.

The girls, meanwhile, are sprung from the trap they were caught in by a seemingly kind, crippled man.  He takes them back to his home, which is a pretty impressive place, reminiscent of the operation Brian Wood has running in Central Park in DMZ.  I’m pleased to see that Lemire is starting to show us how people who aren’t in an animal cult or militia have survived the plague that has hit the world.

Also of interest in this issue is the discussion between Johnny and Dr. Singh about Bobby, the groundhog-hybrid boy, and the likelihood of his coming hibernation.  Sweet Tooth is always an interesting comic, and it doesn’t look like that is going to change.

Who is Jake Ellis? #3

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Tonci Zonjic

I’m really enjoying Who is Jake Ellis?.  Edmondson is pacing this book beautifully, and making very good use of the unique situation Jon, the main character, finds himself in.  He has a man, the titular Jake, living in his head, able to see things all around him and make connections and predictions quicker than a normal person can.  Basically, Jake is like a Spidey-sense that you can communicate with.

This means that Jake and Jon have been able to stay a few steps ahead of the mysterious men from ‘The Facility’ that have been pursuing them across Europe.  In this issue, Jon and Jake reconcile after their disagreements of last month, and put together a plan that should lead them to the mysterious Facility, and hopefully help them understand just what was done to them.

This is a very taut story, which plays with some of the better conventions of spy and heist movies, as Jon doubles back on trains, and abducts one of his pursuers.  Tonci Zonjic’s art is terrific, as he plays around a little with his colours during a nightclub scene.  In all a very cool comic.

Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #3

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by John Severin

Often, with comics in the exact middle of their run or arc, it’s difficult to find much to say about them in a review.  It’s much easier at the start of a new series, as there is always plenty to talk about.  When a run finishes, it’s always tempting to look back over the finished piece in its entirety.  But, when you’re in the middle of the story, there’s not always much to talk about.

That seems to be the case with this issue of Witchfinder.  I am enjoying the book a great deal (definitely more than I did the first volume), and I am absolutely adoring the art of John Severin.  There’s just not much of note that happens in this issue, except for a few things that serve to advance the plot.

Grey and his new friend deal with the undead creature that attacked them before, and are later attacked by a strange dog-creature.  They are slowly getting to know one another better, although there is a lot of mystery still surrounding Morgan.  Also, the man that Grey has come to America to find finally turns up, in a strange scene involving a local Aboriginal tribe.  It’s good stuff.

Quick Takes:

Annihilators #2 – The two stories that make up this title really couldn’t be more different in tone and substance, but I’m enjoying them both equally.  The Annihilators revisits the world of Rom Spaceknight, with an appearance by Brandy Clark, and features the most conventional art I’ve seen from Tan Eng Huat.  The Rocket Raccoon/Groot story is the best part of the book, and has a zanier-than normal Timothy Green III taking the duo to Rocky’s homeworld.  Good cosmic stuff.

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #5 – Well, we all knew that the instant Iron Lad showed up that this would turn into a time travel story, which hopefully will eventually explain why the Avengers have been dressed in the wrong costumes since this series started.  Lots of plot with only a little characterization, but I’m sure that all five Jack of Hearts fans out there will love this issue.

Fear Itself #1 – In the lead up to this new ‘event’, I couldn’t really figure out what it was going to be about.  The last pile of major Marvel events have all grown more or less organically out of one another (Civil War led to Secret Invasion, which led to Siege), but this one seemed to just get slapped together to help promote the Captain America and Thor movies.  Well, this issue didn’t do much to clarify things.  Steve Rogers gets involved in a “Ground Zero Mosque” riot, which makes Tony Stark want all of the Avengers to stand next to him at a press conference in Broxton OK, leading to a big dinner with the Asgardians where Odin decides to beat up Thor in front of everyone and leave, taking the rest of the gods with him (oh yah – Spoilers).  While all of this is going on, Sin gets an Asgardian hammer and wakes up so old dude.  I’m not feeling the momentousness.  I’m also very surprised this is written by Matt Fraction, as it doesn’t feel like his work at all.  At least Immonen’s artwork is as good as you knew it would be.

Firebreather: Holmgang #2 – This book has two surprises – the first being that it actually came out, and the second involves Duncan meeting a new member of the family.  In between, he learns that his mother knows that his father is dead (not that they talk about it, which is strange), joins the school play, asks a girl out, and goes to the prom.  It sounds uneventful, but Phil Hester is very good at writing this character.  Kuhn’s art is great too, although I would like to see this book be more than a twice a year affair.

Herc #1 – I’m not too sure about this.  I loved the run that Pak and Van Lente had on Incredible Hercules, but this attempt to take the now-powerless Hercules down a darker path feels a little false to me.  Maybe it’s because it seems rather similar to the first issue of Michael Avon Oeming’s The God Complex (they both work in Greek restaurants?), or because a non-joking Herc is a little hard to take.  I think these two writers have earned enough trust that I’ll give them another issue, but this doesn’t feel like it’s working.

Heroes for Hire #5 – The first arc ends very well (although I liked Brad Walker’s art better), with the Punisher being passed back and forth between the Puppet Master and Misty Knight.  It looks like Abnett and Lanning have set up a long plotline concerning the Puppet Master’s backers, and are setting up an interesting relationship between Misty and Paladin.

Jonah Hex #66 – Now Fiona Staples is just the right artist for a Jonah Hex story that involves frighteningly thin murderous whores and a cannibal town snowed in by a blizzard.  This is one of the better recent issues of Hex, and the art deserves a lot of the credit for that.

Secret Six #32 – Another great issue.  The team is in Hell, arguing with Ragdoll about the ‘get out of Hell free’ card that opened this series.  There’s the usual high-quality writing from Gail Simone, and J. Calafiore really stepped it up on the layouts and art this time around.  Such a terrific series…

Skaar: King of the Savage Land #1 – This is more of a Ka-zar mini-series featuring Skaar, and I’m not sure that it’s for me.  I like the idea of Skaar, but was most interested in the idea of the Hulk having to act like a parent than I am this tale that seems to involve the spirit of the creator of the Savage Land possessing Shanna while Ka-zar negotiates trade agreements and Skaar wrestles dinosaurs and robots.  It’s not bad, it just doesn’t interest me.

Uncanny X-Men #534.1 – Kieron Gillen makes his solo-authorial debut with this .1 issue that is mostly concerned with the PR of having Magneto on the team, which would be a difficult thing to sell to the world.  It’s a good story, with nice Carlos Pacheco artwork.  I wish he would do more regular work on this title – I much prefer him to Greg Land.

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

Fear Itself Home Front #1

Irredeemable #24

Ultimate Comics Captain America #4

Bargain Comics:

DC Universe Legacies #6 – 9 – This trip through DC’s collective history is a well-written and nicely illustrated guide, but I keep finding inconsistencies in its continuity.  It suggests that John Stewart didn’t become a Green Lantern until after the Crisis, and there are other things that don’t match my memory.  Still, these issues contain art by Jerry Ordway, Keith Giffen (on a number of different Legions), Brian Bolland, Frank Quitely (on the New Gods!), and Bill Sienkiewicz.  I just wish there was less emphasis on Hal Jordan in the later issues, and that the ‘Death of Superman’ didn’t become just a rehash of that better-forgotten event.

Frenemy of the State #4 – This title is a lot of fun, with the sharp writing I always expect from DeFilippis and Weir.  Good stuff, even if it does seem more like a Hollywood action comedy story more than a comic.

Samurai Legend #1-4

Written by Jean-Francois Di Giorgio
Art by Frédéric Genêt

My, but the French make some good comics.  Samurai Legend is one of the recent Marvel imports from the French Soleil line.  It reminded me a lot of the Okko stories being published by Archaia, in that it focused on a wandering samurai, and had a slightly mystical bent to the storytellling.

In Samurai Legend, the hero is Takeo, a samurai who is trying to find his long-missing brother.  Along the way, he meets a Korean family who is being harassed by some local strongmen, and he protects them.  Shortly after that, the young girl in the family is able to solve a puzzle in a roadside restaurant, which apparently satisfies some kind of prophecy concerning a long-dead figure, needed by a local lord to attack the Emperor.  Really, the plot is just a foil to allow for a reason to pit Takeo against this lord’s forces.

The usual French interpretation of Japanese samurai movies ensues.  They tramp around the country, gathering allies, and fighting people.  I’m being glib, but the story is told very well, and held my interest throughout.  The true strength of this book is the incredible artwork of Genêt.  The pages are lushly coloured and highly detailed.  This is a beautiful comic.

It seems that this story’s ending suggests the possibility of a sequel.  It’s too bad that Marvel seems to have discontinued their Soleil line, as I would gladly read more from these creators, but my French is not exactly up to the task of reading them in the original.

Thor #621 – Is this really how this story ends?  This whole arc feels pointless, except to bring back Loki and Odin so they can do some stuff in Fear Itself.  Disappointing…

Wolverine #4-6 – As much as I like Jason Aaron’s writing, I feel like this book is moving way too slowly.  The demonic possession angle was interesting while Logan’s spirit was in Hell, but now we’re going to have to sit through a whole arc of him fighting demons in his mind?  It’s not different enough from what came before.  In a lot of ways, it feels like Aaron is just spinning his wheels, waiting for something else to happen.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Freakangels Vol. 3

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Paul Duffield

I’d more or less forgotten about Freakangels, Warren Ellis’s webcomic, until I found this book in a used book store a few weeks back.  I’m not good with webcomics – I don’t really like reading them on the computer, much preferring to see the actual book, and be able to hold it in my hands.  Is Ellis still working on this?  It’s not like him to stick with something, but I’m glad he is.

Freakangels is about a group of twelve ‘special’ people who were all born at the same time.  Eleven of them have set up shop in Whitechapel, and are trying to get a community up and running after something happened to the world.  Whatever the ecological disaster was, it’s left most of London under water, and has dismantled civil society.

In this volume, a recent new arrival turns up murdered, sparking an investigation by Kait, the member of the group who has taken on policing duties.  While this is happening, the others discover that Luke has been using his mental powers to have his way with some of the women who live in Whitechapel.  The rest of the book covers the conversations the angels have about what to do with him.

Ellis is taking his time with this story, and he works at a speed that is almost beyond decompressed.  The characterizations are stronger than what we usually see in an Ellis story though, and it is impressive to see how he finds a role for each member of such a large cast.

Paul Duffield’s artwork is incredible.  He has all of the angels look similar, yet still be distinct, and he does a terrific job of constructing the post-civilized world of Whitechapel.  This is a very good read.

I, Paparazzi

Written by Pat McGreal
Art by Stephen John Phillips and Steven Parke

I think this book, from 2001, can qualify as one of the stranger graphic novels Vertigo has produced since its inception.  The story is about Jake “Monster” McGowran, a paparazzi in New York, who in one incredibly bizarre evening, possibly uncovers some of the best-kept secrets of the world while stalking (professionally) a famous actor.

The book is a fumetti, or photo-story.  The panels are made up of photographs shot by Phillips, with digital manipulation by Parke.  It works here, and is completely appropriate for a book about the paparazzi.  At times, the pages suffer from a certain stiffness, but I found that since I was cognizant of the photographer, they worked better than some current artists who rely so heavily on photo-referencing (ie. Greg Land).  The actors/models employed in these scenes bring a certain level of truth to the affair.

The story is interesting.  I loved McGreal’s historical drama Chiaroscuro: The Private Lives of Leonardo da Vinci way back when it was published, and feel like I should track down Veils, his other graphic novel at Vertigo.

The Poor Bastard

by Joe Matt

I’ve never really been too interested in reading the work of the holy trinity of underground Toronto cartoonists – Seth, Chester Brown, and Joe Matt.  I’m not really sure why (I loved Brown’s Louis Riel, and plan to read it again soon), but I’ve really avoided their autobiographical work as being a little too masturbatory (literally and figuratively).

Not wanting to always stick with my snap judgments without at least sampling the work I’ve judged, I decided to give The Poor Bastard a try.  I was right of course, there is a lot of masturbation going on, but there is also a funny and decidedly insensitive nature to this comic that I really enjoyed.

The book is basically Matt’s life, as he argues with and mistreats his long-suffering girlfriend, eventually driving her away completely.  After that, moves into a rooming house, and proceeds to try to find a suitable replacement for her, although his insane need to judge and belittle women keeps him from finding anything even resembling happiness.  It’s a sad tale, made even more so by the fact that I, as a reader, couldn’t always tell if he was making fun of himself a little, or was trying to justify all of his actions, as he frequently does in conversation with fellow cartoonist Seth, who fills the role of loyal friend and lone voice of reason.

I enjoyed this book, but I don’t know if I liked it enough to start tracking down the rest of the Joe Matt library.

Union Station

Written by Ande Parks
Art by Eduardo Barreto

I think there’s something that become inherently confusing about period comics where everyone is wearing hats.  It’s not too easy to tell a bunch of white people in suits apart, is it?  I guess that’s why comics developed around super heroes in gaudy, highly individualized costumes…

Anyway, Union Station is a period piece involving a shooting and massacre that happened in Kansas City’s Union Station in 1933.  As the FBI bring a criminal, Frank Nash, through the station, Nash’s friend tries to free him.  What follows is an intense shoot-out.  The rest of the book is concerned with the investigation into who was responsible.  There are some nice parts about Pretty Boy Floyd and J. Edgar Hoover.

The book is interesting, and Eduardo Barreto’s artwork is as good as it always is, but the story seemed to lack a sense of dramatic gravity.  I never developed much of a feel for any of the characters, and often wasn’t sure who was who.  This is not a bad book, but I think it would have benefited from a lot more space and room, as Park’s ambitions became victim to the economy of space.  I would have been more interested in reading an entire book about the machinations of J. Edgar Hoover, and at times, I started to think that’s what Park really wanted to write.

I much preferred Park’s other period book, Capote in Kansas, with art by the incredible Chris Samnee.

Album of the Week:

Rise – Messages

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