The Weekly Round-Up #72 with Sixth Gun, DHP, DMZ, Fables, Avengers, X-Factor & More

Best Comic of the Week:

The Sixth Gun #11

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

The second story arc ends with this issue, as a number of forces searching for the guns collide in the cemetery where Drake has hidden them.  Kirby Hale, the would-be thief has made off with the guns, but at the same time, a number of priests from the Sword of Abraham arrive, as does Marinette of the Dry Arms, a loa who resides around New Orleans.

This is a pretty exciting issue, as Drake and his friends fight to reclaim the powerful weapons.  It also sets up the next story arc very nicely, as some of our heroes decide to remain with the Sword of Abraham.  I’m curious to learn more about this group, which once counted Becky’s step-father among its number.

The Sixth Gun surprised me when it became an on-going series.  I saw it as more of an infrequent new mini-series kind of title, but I’ve been very pleased with Bunn and Hurtt’s ability to maintain a monthly schedule, and turn out a very good comic on such a regular basis.  I hope that things don’t start slipping as Bunn seems to be getting more and more work at Marvel (I don’t want it to go the way of Oni’s other amazing series, Wasteland, which has basically disappeared).

This book has a lot of interesting characters, and I love the way that Bunn is building this world.  Hurtt’s work on this comic is incredible.

Other Notable Comics:

Dark Horse Presents #1

by a lot of different people

Well, that was kind of disappointing.  I loved the original Dark Horse Presents series (and its companion, Cheval Noir), which I can credit with introducing me to a large number of new creators, characters, and series.  Its diverse selection always held something to enjoy, and while there were stories I didn’t like, I don’t think there was ever an issue where I didn’t find something to enjoy.  The Myspace DHP of recent years was a less satisfying grab bag, but still managed to entertain me in its collected editions.

I was very excited to learn of this new, quarterly edition of the title, in an eighty-page format.  Sure, the price is higher, but with its publication schedule, that wouldn’t cost more than a monthly would.

This first issue is good in plenty of places, but I feel like Dark Horse missed an opportunity here by focusing so strongly on the past.  The book opens with a Concrete story by Paul Chadwick, and then goes on to feature work by Howard Chaykin, Neal Adams, Michael T. Gilbert, Richard Corben, Paul Gulacy, and Harlan Ellison.  In other words, this could have been an issue of the original run.  The strength of DHP was that it uncovered new creators.  Okay, this issue also has the first Finder story I remember ever reading (granted, that series has been running for like 20 years too), and features work by David Chelsea, who is new to me.

The point is that, while comics fan are notorious for looking to the past and living in a nostalgic world, there is also a market for work that is more forward-looking, and talented up and comers need more platforms that will lead to greater exposure.

As for the actual content of the book, it’s pretty varied.  The Concrete story is great, of course, as are Corben’s barbarian and zombie story, and Ellison’s interesting prose story.  I liked Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder (I should totally start reading that series), and found Chelsea’s Snow Angel story charming.

I can’t stand Howard Chaykin, especially when he writes his own stories, and so wasn’t surprised that I disliked his Marked Man.  Neal Adam’s Blood was overly wordy and kind of ridiculous (not all that unlike his Batman: Odyssey), and the Frank Miller interview felt like filler.  The Star Wars story left me cold, despite some nice Gulacy artwork.

I’m hoping that future issues do a better job of finding a balance between commercial appeal, support of Dark Horse’s licensed properties, and innovative comics.

DMZ #64

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

As we get closer and closer to the end of DMZ, there is definitely a sense that Brian Wood is trying to wrap up loose ends, and provide a satisfying conclusion to not just Matty’s story, or New York’s, but to many of the supporting characters that have been developed over the years.

While I have been really enjoying seeing Matty’s reaction to the more direct involvement of the US Army in the DMZ, it is the news broadcasts and channel-surfing pages that have given me the most pleasure lately.  In this issue, the technique of flipping channels has shown us what has happened to characters like DJ Random Fire and the family of the soldier accused in the Day 204 Massacre.

In the main part of the story, we see Matty trying to figure out what’s going on with old friends like Wilson and Zee, while the Free States Commander gives up Parco Delgado to the Army.  This title has a lot of momentum right now.

Fables #104

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha

Preparations continue for the imminent battle with Mister Dark, and this issue opens with an old-school superhero battle, as the various Fables who have made up Ozma and Pinocchio’s team train.  It’s a cool sequence, bringing to mind the best of epic superhero comics by people like Jack Kirby and John Byrne, while maintaining the usual Fables humour.

Really, not a whole lot happens in this issue, and it feels a little bit like Willingham is padding his story a little for the eventual trade, although to good use, as this issue has plenty of strong character moments.  I like the dispute between Bigby and Snow White over whether or not Snow should stay in Haven or go stay with her children.  Of course, once the North Wind shows up, that changes things considerably…

As always, Fables is a good read, with fantastic art.

Kill Shakespeare #10

Written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
Art by Andy Belanger

It appears that things are slowing down on this title schedule-wise, as plot-wise things are heating up a great deal.

Hamlet’s meeting with Will Shakespeare has been a disappointment, as Will has basically renounced his creations and refused to intervene on their behalf.  While this is going on, the combined forces of Richard and Lady MacBeth have gathered around Juliet’s rebel army.

There are a lot of big scenes in this issue, as the two armies clash.  Belanger takes a wide-screened approach to most of the issue, and it works very well.  He credits Durer in the text piece as a major influence, and it kind of shows in some of his double-page spreads.

This issue winnows the cast list a little (I love how the action appears to be taking place on a stage on Kagan McLeod’s cover), as like any good Shakespearian tragedy, things get really bloody.

’68 #1

Written by Mark Kidwell
Art by Nat Jones

I remember picking up the ’68 one-shot a number of years ago, and enjoying it’s marrying of zombie films with the Vietnam War, but I’d somehow missed the fact that the title was returning as (possibly) an on-going.  Now, I like zombie comics (at least, I love the Walking Dead and got a kick out of books like The Last Resort and XXXombies), but I love reading about the Vietnam War, so this combination is a good idea.

In this first issue, there are two stories.  The main one introduces us to a Chinese-American soldier named Yam, and a few of the various people living at Firebase Aries.  Yam’s patrol encounters a group of zombie-fied Viet Cong, and it seems that Yam is the only survivor, at least for now.  The second story takes place in Saigon, and looks to be included only for the purpose of establishing the extent to which the zombie problem has spread.

This comic makes good use of tension (the scenes in the tunnel are excellent), although it does rely pretty heavily on the standard tropes of Vietnam War books, movies, and comics.  Nat Jones’s art reminds me of a roughed up Steve Dillon, and is pretty effective here.  I’m definitely going to give this title a chance (although I hope subsequent issues don’t cost $3.99).

Quick Takes:

Avengers #12 – Now this was the Avengers I’ve been waiting for, as Bendis pulls off two misdirections, and closes off the Hood/Infinity Gauntlet story in time for Fear Itself to knock him off his game again.  I still can’t stand Romita’s artwork on this book – his Red Hulk looks kind of skinny and has chest hair.  Still, this may be the first good issue of this comic since it started a year ago.

Avengers Academy #12 – It’s become an expectation of mine that no matter how standard the superhero plot of the issue of Avengers Academy in question (ie., future adult versions of the team are brought to the present to fight Korvac), Gage is going to use it to do some excellent character work.  This has always been a very character-driven book, and as it continues, the characterizations of the students become more nuanced and complex.

Generation Hope #6 – When a new mutant (I can’t get used to calling them ‘lights’) shows up on Cerebra, the team has its first mission.  This series is starting to grow on me, although I liked Jamie McKelvie’s guest art last issue better than regular artist Salvador Espin.  With such a glut of mutant books coming down the pipe (especially since the two Uncanny books – X-Men and X-Force are practically weekly now), I still feel like this title will have to work a lot harder to stand out.

Hulk #32 – Most of this issue is taken up with the new antagonist, Zero/One tracking down a criminal she remembers from her childhood.  It’s a strange direction to take this book, and I think it needs to end soon, before I get too bored.  The Red Hulk scenes are good, but there aren’t many of them.

Invincible #79 – It’s another interlude issue, as Mark gets used to being back on Earth, and renews some of his friendships and relationships.  He and Eve have a Big Serious Talk, and we start to understand some of what she went through while he was away.  As much as I enjoyed the Viltrumite War, it’s often the quieter moments that Kirkman and Ottley handle best.  I find it odd that on the cover, Atom Eve still looks thin, compared to inside the book, where she has gained a considerable amount of weight.  Is that a sales thing?

Invincible Iron Man #503 – While the tie-in to Fear Itself is about as superfluous as many of the Secret Wars II tie-ins from back in the day, this is a very good comic.  Fraction ends off the conflict between Stark and Doc Ock in an amusing and unexpected way, and does some solid work on the supporting cast.  I still don’t know where Fear Itself is supposed to be taking the Marvel Universe, and hope that the next few issues, which are also tie-ins, don’t knock this run too far off the rails.

Iron Man 2.0 #4 – Alright, so sometimes lower-tier books are so completely under the radar of Marvel’s editorial offices that creators get away with some really weird stuff, but I am still surprised by this comic.  First off, the last issue only came out last week, so that’s weird.  Secondly, War Machine doesn’t appear in this book at all.  Instead, it’s an entire comic about a woman reading a secret government file about a dude who is dead, even if he’s the driving force behind this ‘Palmer Addley is Dead’ arc.  The transcripts in the file are interpreted here as documentary-style interviews with Palmer’s family and friends, and they only get through his high school days in this issue.  The third thing I don’t quite get is how the next issue is going to be a Fear Itself tie-in, featuring Iron Fist and the Immortal Weapons.  Does that mean that we are leaving Palmer on ice for a while?  Or is that going to be worked into the crossover (which is possible, as I still don’t know what Fear Itself is going to be about).  All of this is fine with me, because I like Nick Spencer’s writing, but I do think it’s really very unfortunate that Ariel Olivetti has to be the artist on this title for the next little while.  It really makes me want to drop a book I’ve otherwise been enjoying (and what happened to Kitson and Kano?  They were working great together!).

Legion of Super-Heroes #12 – There’s perhaps too much going on in this title – some characters get only a panel or two of time on-screen, and it feels like there are a bunch of balls in the air.  It leaves the reader with a lot to keep straight.  At the same time, the story is flowing fine, and I like the art.  One year into Levitz’s run, I do wish things were going better.

Thunderbolts #156 – Membership drive issues are always fun, even if most of the characters on the cover don’t show up in the actual comic.  Parker’s having a good time with this book, and the addition of Satanna to the team is keeping things interesting.  Someone needs to tell the editors at Marvel that Germany is not in Eastern Europe though…

Uncanny X-Force #8 – This is a done-in-one story with nice art by Billy Tan that has the team going up against the Shadow King.  For the most part, this issue exists to advance the whole question of who is in charge of Warren Worthington – the Angel, or the Archangel.

X-Factor #218 – There’s a lot of drama in this issue, as the team takes care of Mayor Jameson’s assassins, and Guido takes a bullet.  This is a much more decompressed issue of X-Factor than is usual, and it was mostly lacking in David’s signature wit.

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

Deadpool Max #7

Wolverine #8

Bargain Comics:

Captain America and Crossbones #1 – For a ‘Captain America’ one-shot, he’s surprisingly absent, as we instead get a Suicide Squad-like story about Crossbones looking for a kid in a strange Eastern European town with a monster problem.  It’s well written, and I really am starting to like Declan Shalvey’s art.  It’s too bad that Crossbones is out of the Thunderbolts.  He has the potential to become Marvel’s Deadshot, if handled properly.

Captain America and the Falcon #1 – This is another ‘Captain America and’ title that is rather lacking in the Captain America component, as we instead get a story about the Falcon trying to help a gang kid.  It’s predictable as any ‘superhero in the ghetto’ comic ever is, but it has lovely Rebekah Isaacs artwork, and a cool reprint showing the first time the Falcon started dressing in the white and red costume, with art by Gray Morrow.

Captain America and the First Thirteen #1 – With this one-shot, we get a WWII story, featuring Cap and Peggy Carter.  Kathryn Immonen gives us a nice, serviceable story, and Ramon Perez’s art is a good mix of Gene Colan and Daniel Acuna.  The reprint by Lee, Kirby, and Romita is a tough read, but fits with the first story.

Case Files: Sam & Twitch #7-12: Skeletons

Written by Marc Andreyko
Art by Paul Lee

Reading this second Sam and Twitch arc by Marc Andreyko brought up two important questions:

1.  Why isn’t Andreyko a bigger-name writer?
2.  Why isn’t this series getting the trade treatment?

Skeletons is a taut political thriller, involving some old friends of Sam’s from his prep school days (who would have thought that Sam once ran in such circles?).  Senator Sean Halloran is making a run for the White House, but is being dogged by rumours of his homosexuality.  His father, a political heavyweight in his own right sends out a bodyguard to dispose of one of Sean’s ex-lovers.  When he botches the job, the ex, Pete, runs to Sam for help.

The story avoids much of the regular features of a police procedural, as Sam and Twitch work this case off the books.  It’s cool to dig into Sam’s past (he was friends with both Sean and Pete, and knew of their relationship even back then), and the story maintains a good momentum.

This arc was printed in black and white, and Paul Lee’s art is terrific.  He draws in an Alex Maleev vein, and it’s the type of style that works best with this book.  What else has Lee done?  It seems that he, like Andreyko, should have a much higher profile these days.

Case Files: Sam & Twitch #13: Cops & Robbers

Written by Steve Niles and Todd McFarlane
Art by Paul Lee

This issue had a nice little done-in-one inventory story written by Steve Niles and series creator Todd McFarlane.  Neither of these writers are people I’m usually too fond of (I have given Niles a ton of chances, but he always seems to come up short on executing some truly excellent concepts), but this story worked quite well.

Sam gets a mysterious phone call one day, and has to go to prison to see his brother, who we never knew he had.  It seems that, while Sam took the right path in life, his brother always ended up making the wrong choices, and landed himself in a lifetime of incarceration and trouble with the law.

This story, about the relationship of brothers and the guilt they carry for each other’s failings has a number of flashbacks to childhood, and helps to develop Sam’s character even further.  It’s a good story, and it has the same terrific artwork as the last arc.

Fear Itself: The Home Front #1 – So my new theory is that Fear Itself isn’t actually about anything.  Have you got a clear notion of what’s going on?  I don’t think you can make a big deal, with so many crossovers about some hammers.  And to prove it, next to nothing happens in this whole comic, even though it’s nice to see the Atlas crowd again, even if they are mostly just standing around and talking.  Here’s a good question though:  What’s worse – Speedball and Stamford, or the fact that it’s drawn by Mike Mayhew?

Incorruptible #13&14 – Incorruptible continues to be the better of the Boom Mark Waid-verse titles.  In these two, word gets out that the Plutonian threat has been contained, and while Max doesn’t need to re-examine his mission, it seems that no one trusts him to do the right thing any more.  Good stuff, with a lot of strong character work.

Irredeemable #21&22 – This title seems to be floundering a little in the wake of the Plutonian’s alien incarceration.  Of course, the supporting characters are usually the most interesting in this book, so their scenes still work well (even if I still maintain that they are some of the most poorly-designed superheroes of the 21st century).

Meat Haus Comics #5 – I’d expected more from this legendary independent series.  I enjoyed the pieces by Farel Dalrymple, Tomer Hanuka, and Brandon Graham, but a lot of the rest of the material didn’t really impress.  I am curious about Mu Dafaka though – his piece on the history of Chinese people was hilarious.  I like reading anthology comics, I just like it more when the stories are longer, and have (ahem), more meat to them.

Ultimate Captain America #2 – Ultimate Cap searches for Ultimate Nuke in the jungles of Cambodia.  It’s no The Other Side (writer Jason Aaron’s last foray into East Asia), but it’s not bad either.

Ultimate Thor #4 – So this series ends with a recapping of the Mark Millar’s work on the Ultimates?  That’s disappointing, and pretty pointless.

X-Men: To Serve and Protect #4 – This last issue was a bit of a disappointment.  Aside from Chris Yost’s Anole and Rockslide story, which has been a lot of fun, the other stories here were just silly (although the Hercules/Psylocke team-up was kind of funny).

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Listener

by David Lester

I want to start this review by thanking the nice people at Arbeiter Ring Publishing for sending me a copy of this dense and challenging graphic novel.

The Listener is an incredibly ambitious piece of work.  As it says on the cover, it explores the themes of memory, lies, art, and power through a parallel narrative.  In the story set in modern times, we follow Louise, a Canadian artist who is touring Europe in the wake of a tragedy inspired by her art.  Her story is interlaced with the stories of Marie and Rudolph, journalists who witnessed the rise to power of Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Party because of events that happened in the small German state of Lippe.

These stories are all compelling, especially the depiction of the propaganda engine of the Nazi Party in the early 1930s, which relies heavily on actual quotes from the principal players and the press of the day (always signified with an asterisk).  I knew a little about how Hitler had manipulated the political system in Germany to achieve power, but I hadn’t been aware of exactly how it was done before reading this book.

While I enjoyed reading The Listener, the book definitely has its flaws.  I think that the story here became victim to the ambition of Lester to cover such a wide variety of topics and ideas.  The early scenes with Louise were difficult to follow, as her motivations were only slowly revealed to the reader.  Likewise, entire scenes seemed designed simply around the artist’s wish to drop a name or have her visit a particular gallery, without it adding any real significance to the story.  Similarly, there were times where I found Lester’s sketchy drawings difficult to follow.

In all though, this is a book that should be praised for its ambitions, not condemned for them.  It does remind me of a lot of left-wing publications I read when I was younger which would have benefited from some severe editing and a shorter page count, but in the final analysis, this is an interesting attempt to push comics into an area they rarely go.

Album of the Week:

Atmosphere – The Family Sign

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