The Weekly Round-Up #71 with The Unwritten, Butcher Baker, Fables, Hellboy, Flash #10 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

The Unwritten #24

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and Al Davison

Issue twelve of The Unwritten abruptly abandoned Tom and his friends, and featured, for an entire issue, the adventures of Mr. Bun, a storybook talking rabbit, who was really Pauly Bruckner, a man who had crossed Wilson Taylor.  It was a funny and engaging issue, centred around Pauly trying to find a way back to the real world.

Now, one year later, we return to Pauly and his quest.  The issue opens on a massive group of animals traveling through endless staircases, trying to find their way to the ‘Golden Door’, and the presence of God.  Pauly arrives through a door one night, and immediately starts scheming.  He eventually takes over the group after their leader, a talking badger named Badger, dies in mysterious circumstances.  Pauly leads them ever upwards, and while he is quick to leave behind any small, old, or slow-moving creatures, he also fiercely defends his group against any attackers (to a point at least, as is shown at the end of the issue).

The art on this issue is once again finished by Al Davison, and has a completely different look from anything else I’ve seen Peter Gross do.  I would like to see more from this pairing of artists, although I imagine I’m going to have to wait another year, until The Unwritten #36.

Other Notable Comics:

Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker #2

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Mike Huddleston

It’s only been two weeks since this new, over-the-top series debuted, and we already get to read the second issue!  That’s impressive, especially when you look at Casey’s other ‘monthly’ book, the delay-plagued Godland.

Where the first issue of Butcher Baker was concerned with establishing Butcher’s character and situation, this issue is mostly given over to the surviving members of his rogue’s gallery, who are now free from their imprisonment.  We meet Jihad Jones, who has the potential to become a very interesting character, and a bunch of other standard super-villains, who so far don’t seem too interesting.  There’s also a cosmic hermaphrodite character who could fit just as well in Godland, and who seems to be manipulating the others.

The core of this book, to me at least, appears to be the growing conflict between Butcher and Arnie B. Willard, the local sheriff he ran of the road in the first issue, and now ends up sharing a drink with at a roadside eatery.  Picture Boss Hogg getting into a fight with the Comedian from The Watchmen, and you’ll get the idea.  These scenes are pretty funny, but I found the villain scenes to be a little long.  It’s Casey though, so he gets the benefit of the doubt for now.

Cinderella: Fables Are Forever #3

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Shawn McManus

I get the feeling that a lot of writers really miss the Cold War.  It must have made writing thrillers and suspense stories much easier than the nebulous “War on Terror”, in that it allowed for a serious matching of resources, as well as wits.  That Fabletown participated in its own Cold War, with the Shadow Fabletown, for so many years is an interesting concept.

Roberson is using this volume of Cinderella to explore the scheming of the other Fabletown, made up of mostly Fables from Soviet Bloc countries, and to find many reasons to pit Cinderella (our Fabletown’s answer to James Bond) against Dorothy Gale.

This issue advances the plot by bringing in the character of Anansi, the infamous spider of African myth and legend, and by raising the question of just who is being caught in whose web.  There are plenty of good moments in this enjoyable story.

Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Kevin Nowlan

This one-shot, set in 1985, has almost every element you could want in a good Hellboy story – cattle mutilation, ghost cows, alien abductions, teenage Satan worshipers, bovine/human hybrids, thwarted anal probes, and good ole’ boys.  That this is all presented in a logical fashion, and through a coherent and enjoyable story is testament to Mignola and Nowlan’s talents.

I’m glad that Mignola is always willing to return to Hellboy’s BPRD days, and the fact that Hellboy was with the organization for such a long time provides plenty of space for untold tales like this one.  It seems like Mignola has been making more of an effort over the last couple of years to explore the lighter side of his world, at least in the one-shots (the modern-day, continuity progressing stories tend to be pretty bleak).  This is a story that freely pokes fun at itself, and therein lies its strength.

Kevin Nowlan is the right artist (and colourist and letterer) for this issue, as his work has always reminded me of a lighter, more liberated Mike Mignola.  It’s strange that he hasn’t drawn more Hellboy before now, as his approach works very well here.

The Infinite Vacation #2

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Christian Ward

I’m glad this book finally came out.  Spencer and Ward are doing something pretty different here, and it’s a very interesting ride, even if I have some confusion about the basic concept.

In The Infinite Vacation, people are able to trade lives with the alternate reality counterparts.  At first I thought they simply swapped consciousnesses, but now we see various incarnations of main character Mark (including Nudist Mark – they’re like Barbies!) interacting with each other in the same place, so there must be some degree of actual body transference.  I’m not sure about this stuff, and whenever Spencer tries to explain the science behind it (like in the photo-comic scene towards the end) I get more lost.

I’m happy to just watch the story roll out though, as Ward is doing some very cool things with the art here.  The concept of infinity is a difficult thing to visually suggest on a finite comic page, but he’s doing an admirable job with his kaleidoscopic artwork and use of colour.  He’s really improved as an artist since he did Olympus, and that book was very, very pretty in its own right.

I hope that The Infinite Vacation is able to overcome its scheduling issues, as a story this complex (our Mark has figured out that someone is killing his alternates, and is now after him, and is hiding out in a community of dead-enders who refuse to take an infinite vacation) needs less lag time between issues.

The Li’l Depressed Boy #3

Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Sina Grace

While this new series continues to be very charming, I’m starting to feel like something of substance needs to happen soon.  In this issue, LDB goes shopping with Jazmin, hangs out with her a bit, and then helps her organize a party.  Later, he goes to the party, and a band plays.  That’s about it, really, in terms of content.

The first issue of the series spent some time setting up LDB’s character, and the second issue revolved around him trying to find out Jazmin’s name.  In both of those issues, we saw some of the inner turmoil and apathy that give him his name, but in this issue, very little of that is on display (he hesitates before going to the party).  Leaving out the protagonist’s inner life would be fine, if there were a ton of plot to get through, but instead, this issue just seemed to coast along without the benefit of a heart.

I hope this is a blip for this book, and not a harbinger of where it’s headed.  Personally, I want to know a little more about LDB’s relationship with Jazmin – are they going out?  Are they going to get closer?  Something needs to take place next issue, or this book is going on watch.

Northlanders #39

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Simon Gane

The Siege of Paris ends with some amazing widescreen shots of the tower that has held off the invaders and protected Paris for the last two issues being overrun by Sigfred’s forces.  There are many pages of battle in this issue, which serve as a backdrop to our protagonist, Matts’s narration.

Matts has been laid up in a field hospital since his actions last issue that broke the supply lines of the French, and he ruminates on the nature of his life.  As usual, Wood enters the mind of a person from a world very different from ours, but is able to convey his values and desires with a modern sensibility.

What really makes this issue though is the art.  Gane has done a terrific job on this arc, and I hope to see more work from him soon.

(Note:  This is not the actual cover art for this issue; I don’t know why I couldn’t find the proper cover anywhere).

Sweets #5

by Kody Chamberlain

Kody Chamberlain’s debut series turned out to be a lot more ambitious than I gave it credit for in the beginning.  At first, this comic seemed to be a serial killer mystery, set in New Orleans a day or two before Katrina is expected to hit.  There were a number of standard elements for a story like this – a grieving detective, a weird serial killer calling card (pralines – the cause of the series’ title), and so on.

Slowly though, Chamberlain took his story into some more original territory.  The cartoonish flashbacks to the killer’s childhood suggested that there was more happening, but it wasn’t until this issue’s exploration of the concept of synchronicity that I realized how creative Chamberlain really was in plotting this tale.  I’m sure if I were to go back and read the book from the beginning (or read it in trade), I would pick up on a lot of details that I missed.  It’s nice to see creators try out some new ideas like this, even if I’m not convinced of how successful this book was at achieving all of its goals.  I do appreciate the plotting here though, and would definitely buy another series by Chamberlain.

Quick Takes:

Adventure Comics #525 – I don’t fully understand all the tension between Night Girl and Cosmic Boy in this issue, but I find I’m often lost between the different versions of the Legion we’ve seen over the years, so I’m sure I’m just forgetting something.  Of course, the odd explanatory box would be helpful, since we’re picking up continuity from 20 years ago…  This was a more or less good issue, although I was surprised to see that the Phil Jimenez-drawn Legion Academy story only took up half the issue (the other half was devoted to the Black Witch whining some more).

Amazing Spider-Man #658 – Javier Pulido.  That’s why I picked this issue up, and I’m very happy I did, if only for the palindromic space station built out of Baxter Buildings.  As usual, Pulido impresses as Spidey goes on a mission with the Future Foundation, and ducks out on his new girlfriend yet again.  It’s a cute issue, but I like Hickman’s take on the FF better than Slott’s.  There’s also a back-up story featuring Ghost Rider, by his new creative team, that pretty much guarantees that I won’t be sampling that book when it comes out.

Batman and Robin #22 – I’ve enjoyed Tomasi and Gleason’s first run on this title, which wraps up here.  The White Knight is an interesting character, and allows for a lot of very cool visuals as the dynamic duo have to fight him.  Tomasi has a good feel for Dick and Damian’s relationship too.  Unfortunately, Judd Winick appears to be taking over with the next issue, and the story is going to have the Red Hood in it, and so I’m dropping this title for now.

Birds of Prey #11 – This issue may count as one of the best that Gail Simone’s ever written, as Catman shows up to help Huntress track down a kidnapping victim and some stolen jewels, and their strange, simmering attraction for each other becomes the central piece in the story.  These are two characters that Simone has helped reinvent into vibrant, memorable parts of the DCU, and the sparks between them, and the issue’s ending, are incredible.  Very good stuff.

Farscape #18 – I think it’s really quite notable that this series has made it to issue 18 (especially when you consider that there were at least three mini-series published before this on-going launched.  The War for the Uncharted Territories continues to heat up, and I love that fact that we’ve reached part 6 of the story, and it doesn’t seem to be anywhere close to reaching its conclusion.  So many comics are written in 6-chapter blocks now, with the trade in mind, that it is truly refreshing to see a long-form continuing story, especially one with so many characters and things going on.

Flash #10 – I’m not sure why I picked this up, aside from my enjoyment of Manapaul’s artwork.  I’ve gone from having little interest in this title to virtually none, and I’m now not very likely to even bother picking up Flashpoint.  This issue doesn’t make a lot of sense – a Barry Allen comes from one of the 52 to stop a threat that’s going to come from the Speed Force, but doesn’t even bother including the person that generates said forth in his investigation?  And why is Bart whinier than he was when he lived with Max Mercury?  Pretty art can only take me so far…

Incredible Hulks #626 – I was planing on sticking around through the end of Pak’s run on this title, but I’m losing interest really quickly.  In this issue, Banner chases Betty to Rome, where she’s on a date with Romulus – one of the Hulk’s enemies that I have no memory of – and things are neither terribly compelling nor very well-drawn.  I used to like Tom Grummett, but I feel his style hasn’t aged very well.  The best thing about this comic is the cover – it goes downhill from there.

Iron Man 2.0 #3 – Nick Spencer and Tony Stark give War Machine a new look, with a lot of cool apps and no shoulder-mounted weaponry, and this series starts to build up its supporting cast one at a time.  I’m still not sure I see the need for this completely separate series, but I like how Spencer is working to establish a unique identity for Jim Rhodes as a superhero (even though the title of the book suggests otherwise).  This is a well-written and very attractive book – I hope people are checking it out.

Journey into Mystery #622 – I picked this up on the strength of Kieron Gillen’s name more than due to any interest in Fear Itself, but I’m not sure that I’ll be back.  The whole Loki as Damian Wayne thing is not interesting me all that much, and I found that much of this was just a little too wordy and full of portent for my liking.  It is nicely drawn though…

New Avengers #11 – I’m totally sick of the 1959 Avengers story (especially Howard Chaykin’s god-awful artwork – just look at Namora’s face – hideous!), but I like the modern-day story, and the way that Victoria Hand appears so compromised, even though she’s trying to do the right thing.  I don’t see how the two storylines are connected though, and it’s starting to feel very random.

REBELS #27 – With only one issue left in this series, is there much point in praising it?  It is definitely a better comic when it finds a place for each member of the team to have a moment or two of their own (when’s the last time that we heard Bounder speak?), and when the LEGION team is fighting against Starro.  Good stuff.

Secret Warriors #26 – The arc is called ‘Wheels Within Wheels’, and that is definitely accurate.  I can’t describe much of what happens in this issue, except to say that Baron Strucker learns that turnabout is fair play, as he and Nick Fury spend some quality time together as prisoners of the Kraken.  This series has always been good, but Jonathan Hickman has moved it into amazing territory.

SHIELD #Hickman gives us four stories set in different points in history, each of which reveals a little more information about the SHIELD and its Brotherhood.  We also get a fight between a Kree Sentry and the Colossus of Rhodes, piloted by Archimedes, which is just about as awesome as it sounds.  SHIELD is a deeply bizarre book, and it’s hard to imagine it as part of Marvel continuity, but it is an interesting read, and this special gives the chance for some up-and-coming artists (Baldus, Mellon, Pitarra, and Hernandez Walta) to get the spotlight.  I don’t know if any of this would make sense to a new reader, but it is rewarding for someone who has been following the story.

Superboy #6 – It’s too bad that this ‘Reign of Doomsday’ cross-over (which feels very editorially-interfered with) had to disrupt Lemire’s excellent run on this book, but I can overlook one sub-par issue.  Lemire still found time to squeeze in a nice moment between Connor and Tim Drake, and gave Ray Palmer the chance to meet Connor’s science friend.  The Doomsday fight was just the standard thing.  Marco Rudy’s art was also a little disappointing.  Up until now, I’ve seen him as the next JH Williams, but this was pretty conventional stuff.

THUNDER Agents #6 – Spencer maybe tried to do too much with this issue, as he examines the aftermath of the first five issues on the different regular cast members of this book, and tries to give each of them a moment or two of their own.  The problem is that he has a lot to explain with regards to Toby, and also wants to introduce the next story, which will feature someone named The Iron Maiden, but it’s not clear when her appearance is taking place.  Cafu and Bit handle the art for the whole issue, and do a good job of it.  How long is Spencer going to stay on this book, now that he’s exclusive to Marvel?  I’m not sure I’ll be around when he’s gone.

Uncanny X-Force #7 – The Deathlok Nation arc finishes well, as this book continues to solidify nicely around its core cast members.  Really, any book with Fantomex is okay with me, and the rest is just gravy.

Uncanny X-Men #535 – Kieron Gillen officially starts his run on this title by reminding us why his amazing SWORD series of last year shouldn’t have been canceled.  That’s right, the X-Men are hosting Agent Brand, as a new threat from the Breakworld enters the solar system, with implications for Kitty and Colossus, among other things.  It’s so nice to see the Dodson’s back on this book for a while, as they are so much better than Greg Land.  Gillen has a good ear for the X-Men’s dialogue, and the book reads just as well as it did under Matt Fraction.

X-Men Legacy #247 – Well, I got wrapped up in this story, even as I was able to predict what was really going on in the Age of X.  Still, Carey reveals all sorts of truths quite well, and has set up what is sure to be a big finale.

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

John Byrne’s Next Men #5

Punisher Max #12

Bargain Comics:

Case Files: Sam & Twitch #1 – 6: Have You Seen Me?

Written by Marc Andreyko
Art by Scott Morse

I’d made the second Sam & Twitch series the object of a back-issue hunt over the last few months, and filled in enough gaps at last week-end’s Fan Appreciation Comic-Con here in Toronto that I could finally start working my way through Marc Andreyko’s run with the two detectives.

His opening arc, ‘Have You Seen Me?’ is pretty experimental and interesting.  Each page is divided into three panels (something that Morse seems to enjoy doing, as it’s the format that he used in his recent Strange Science Fantasy), and each of the three frames is set in a different time in the story, covering the beginning, middle, and end.  In the first issue, we see Detective Twitch get involved in a case that cuts close to home in the first panel, attend a funeral for what we quickly learn is a family member in the second panel, and lie around a prison cell in the final one.  This technique is continued throughout the six issues, and in issue six, we see the top panel catch up with where the middle one was at the beginning, and the same happens between the middle and bottom.  Makes sense?  It’s kind of confusing when you’re reading it, but it forces you to pay a lot of attention to the story, and to make a pile of inferences and leaps of logic, not all of which are borne out by the story.

What I found especially cool here is the way that Morse slowly blends the colour scheme of each separate timeline into the next one, to create a nice chromatic consistency.  It’s tempting to lay out the whole story in chronological order and read it again.

I did have a few issues with some of the story elements, although it’s impossible to discuss them without spoiling some surprises (and even though the comics are 8 years old, I don’t want to do that).  I’m not too clear on how a couple of characters returned to the tale, but I also concede that I may just have missed something while reading.  Andreyko does a good job of maintaining a level of consistency with Bendis’s run with these characters, while pushing the book in new directions.

Deadpool Max #4-6 – Lot’s of David Lapham and Kyle Baker fun, as we see their twisted versions of Cable, the Taskmaster, and Domino.  This is ultimately kind of juvenile, but still enjoyable.

I Am An Avenger #5 – I do like these anthology series.  This one has Alan Davis drawing the Young Avengers, and Nick Bertozzi drawing Captain America.  The fact that all three stories are kind of weak doesn’t even matter at that point.

Taskmaster #3&4 – Van Lente’s take on one of Marvel’s coolest villains is definitely different, although I don’t like how it basically negates all the good work that Christos Gage did on the character in Avengers: Initiative.  Palo’s artwork is wonderful here, as is the town of South Americans who have been drinking Hitler clone brain juice, and the organization of minions known as MILF.  Good stuff.

X-Men #6-8 – Well, the end of the Curse of the Mutants arc was pretty bland, as is the plot of Gischler’s second arc, which follows up on the most recent appearance of the Lizard in Amazing Spider-Man (who guest stars).  On the plus side, Chris Bachalo came on board, and is doing his usual magic on the art.  This title still seems absolutely superfluous to me – why not use it to focus on some of the X-Men who don’t normally get any screen time, instead of the same old crowd?

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography

by Chester Brown

I have wanted to read Chester Brown`s historic comic again almost since I finished reading it in its serialized form, and am pleased that I did.  Riel has long been a figure of interest for me, and I wanted to revisit my memories of this series, and see what insights it may provide into such a controversial Canadian figure.

Louis Riel was the leader of Canada`s Métis people through two uprisings, the Red River Rebellion of 1869, and the Northwest Rebellion of 1885.  The Métis were a mixed-race people, representing a blend of Aboriginal, French, and English and Scottish cultures.  In the 1860s, as the government of Canada prepared to purchase Rupert`s Land (a massive territory that made up the bulk of Canada`s modern-day area) from the Hudson`s Bay Company, the Métis became concerned for their land and their rights to continue living on it.  They took up arms, and were successful in having their rights recognized in the Manitoba Act (not that all of those rights were later honoured).  Riel, though successful, fled arrest and spent many years living in the United States.

Later, as Canadian settlers continued to push westward, towards the Saskatchewan River, the Métis who had moved west ahead of them found themselves in a similar position as before, and Riel was summoned to lead them once again.  The thing is, during those intervening years, Riel kind of lost his mind.  He believed he was the chosen of God, and claimed to receive messages and visions telling him how to proceed (at one point, he believed that Batoche Saskatchewan should become the centre of the Roman Catholic faith).  This rebellion did not go so well, and Riel was captured, tried, and later hung.

Riel has remained a controversial figure in Canadian history.  To the Métis, Aboriginal groups, and many more, he was a Father of Confederation who worked to secure the rights and freedoms of his people.  To many others, he was a traitor who got what he deserved.  Brown, in creating this biography, avoids choosing a side, and prefers to stick as close as he can to the historical record (he provides detailed footnotes explaining the places where he has taken artistic license, or examining areas where historians disagree).  What we have then is a pretty accurate accounting of what happened, with the mistakes and ambitions of many of the principal players revealed.

To a history geek like myself, there is nothing cooler than a comic like this (the actual trial transcript – in comic book form!).  Brown has done a fantastic job of researching the events, and making them into a compelling and fascinating read.  His simple yet detailed drawings, and strict adherence to a six-panel grid, work well here in creating a comic that feels like a historical document.  I wish there were more comics works with this level of historical accuracy, commentary, and scholarship.

Album of the Week:

Oi! A Nova Musica Brasileira!

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