The Weekly Round-Up #73 with Scalped, Morning Glories, Walking Dead, Avengers, Batman Inc. & more

Best Comic of the Week:

Scalped #48

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

How often do you read a comic where the two principal male characters spend most of the issue nude, talking together?  No, Scalped is not moving into homoerotic territory; instead, Jason Aaron is continuing to strip away his characters’ defenses, and is moving ever more steadily towards their core.

In this issue, Dash has three difficult conversations with the three men who have done the most to shape his experiences since this comic began.  He sits in a sweat lodge with Lincoln Red Crow, who basically offers him the keys to the kingdom that is the Prairie Rose Reservation.  It is clear now that Lincoln needs Dash, and is hoping to find his own redemption through him, as well as looking to pay off his debts to Gina, Dash’s mother.

Dash also has two conversations with Agent Nitz.  Now that he’s penetrated Red Crow’s operation to the extent that he has, we are left to wonder if he’s going to complete his FBI assignment and take Red Crow down.  So much has happened to Dash that I’d pretty much forgotten that he even is FBI, and I question where his loyalties lie now.

The third conversation is with Catcher, who offers Dash a choice – he can save Officer Falls Down, or he can learn the identity of his mother’s killer.  I’m very curious to see how this plays out.

The recurring image of the web throughout this comic is an appropriate one, as Aaron has wrapped so many levels of intrigue around Dash.  I’m as excited about this comic as I’ve always been, and am looking forward to the conclusion of this arc next month.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #14

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

I really like this comic.  I am getting to the point where it is becoming difficult to keep praising it, as I’m kind of running out of things to say with each new issue (also known as the Scalped Conundrum).

And so, a brief synopsis:  Henry, the human husband to American Vampire Pearl has left on a mission for the Vassals of the Morning Star.  He is tasked with hunting down a nest of vampires on the island of Taipan, in an effort to protect American forces that are there to fight the Japanese.  Snyder uses much of the issue to build up some of the characters in Henry’s unit, particularly ‘The Vicar’, the leader of the group.  Now, Skinner Sweet, the original American Vampire has shown up on the island, although Henry has never met him face to face, and doesn’t realize he’s in danger.

Meanwhile, Stateside, Pearl figures out that Skinner is endangering the mission, and is making plans to try to rescue Henry.

As usual, this book looks as good as it reads, with continued amazing work by Albuquerque.  It’s also important to point out the colours of Dave McCaig, who has set Taipan in an eternal twilight that is quite haunting.

Echoes #5

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Rahsan Ekedal

Echoes was an excellent little series.  Fialkov and Edekal put together a compelling and smart story about a man suffering from schizophrenia who starts to question his own actions and self-control after his father admits to being a serial killer on his deathbed.  The man, Brian Cohn, follows his father’s request, and discovers a stash of dolls made of human flesh.  Later, Brian starts to see father everywhere, and starts finding evidence suggesting that he has done the same thing to a little girl.

As the series progresses, Brian and the reader continuously question what is going on, and as we see things from his perspective, we are just as confused as he is.  With this last issue, Brian is brought into custody, and while he now has figured out what has happened to him, there are questions of credibility and proof which he is unable to answer.

This book definitely kept my interest, and I appreciated the twists that Fialkov built into his story.  The portrayal of mental illness is an interesting one.  We can see how Brian tries to be a good person, but because of his disease, is ultimately not even able to have faith in himself.  It’s rare to find a thriller that doesn’t demonize mental illness.  Ekedal’s artwork is very capable, while not really drawing much attention to itself.  This is a series people should check out when it’s published in trade.

The Mission #3

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

I was impressed enough by the opening two issues of The Mission to want to keep coming back, but with this third issue, I am convinced that this is a title that belongs on my pull-list.

The Mission is about a man named Paul, who was contacted by a man named Gabriel, and ordered to kill another man.  He was told that there was a secret war taking place, and that he has a role to play in it.  Obviously all of this sounded nuts, but when the man  he was supposed to kill shot up a courtroom and kidnapped his daughter, Paul decided to complete his mission.

Now, in this issue, the strain of everything that has been going on is starting to show.  Paul’s relationship with his wife is suffering, and they are in couple’s therapy.  Paul is beginning to question his own sanity, and his systematic approach to figuring out Gabriel’s identity is turning up little evidence.  A new character, a homeless man, is introduced to the series when Paul sees him and Gabriel talking, but very little is clarified for either him or us.

I like the concept behind this.  It’s like Mission: Impossible, but Paul is working for an angel.  What we don’t know is whether or not Paul is working for the right side, or what all this conflict is about.

Dell’Edera’s art is quite nice here.  I’m used to him drawing much darker series, but there is a lightness about his pencils.  I still don’t know if this is a mini-series or an on-going (it’s been solicited up to issue 6), but I do know that I’m going to be sticking with it.

Morning Glories #9

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

Since this series started, one of the supposed main characters has remained in the background, little more than a cipher until this issue.  Now Spencer has shone the spotlight on Jun, the quiet Japanese student at Morning Glory Academy, and there are a few surprises for the reader.

The book opens with a scene that we have seen before (around about the fourth issue I think), but which was never resolved.  Jun had tried to escape the school shortly after he and his classmates arrived, and was stopped by someone, although we never knew who it was.  Last issue, we discovered that Jun had either a twin brother or a double roaming the school, and now all of these things are explained.  Okay, maybe not completely explained, but definitely hinted at, as some aspects of the book continue to become ever more confusing.  Really, it’s impossible to discuss this without spoiling a ton of good comics.

What I will say is that Spencer is spinning a very complicated and interesting tale with this series.  I’ve mentioned before how much this comic reminds me of Lost, and now I seem to be constantly looking for parallels when I read it (Jun = Jin?).  The character of Abraham, who I see as taking on a “Jacob-like” role here has his relationship with the Academy somewhat clarified, and we get a really strong sense of Jun’s character.  This is a pretty harsh issue, but quite illuminating.  People really need to be checking out Morning Glories.

The New York Five #4

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly and Jim Rugg

Throughout this mini-series, which is a sequel to the Minx book The New York Four, there has been a recurring sense of disjointedness, as scenes shift suddenly and plot elements are introduced and go nowhere.

This concluding issue suffers from this sense of dissonance more than some of the others.  To begin with, a character is killed off (I know that’s a spoiler, but look at the cover) suddenly, and to a disappointing effect.  The character was not very well developed, so not only is it hard to care about her, it’s also hard to understand why her friends are upset.  Her wake leads to a possible romantic opportunity for Merissa, but that also goes absolutely nowhere.

I feel bad slamming a book like this.  Wood is usually an amazing writer, but I remember his writing in the first issue that he had a lot of difficulty making his story fit a four 20-page issue format, as he was originally planning for this to be a longer-form graphic novel.

The art in this series has been amazing, as Ryan Kelly always is.  The addition of Jim Rugg (read Street Angel!) on inks is seamless, as Kelly continues to give us some gorgeous shots of New York City.

Rasl #10

by Jeff Smith

In the letters page of this issue, Jeff Smith says there are only about five or six issues left in Rasl.  There remains a great deal to be explained and resolved in this series; I hope it can all fit into six issues.

This issue, meanwhile, explains and resolves nothing, and instead has Rob return to the new Annie, meet a ‘friend’ of hers, and then meet the other Uma at a bar.  That’s about all that happens, but it’s also one of the more compelling recent issues of this series, as Smith has become very good at character-driven storytelling.

I found the events of this issue much more gripping than the Tesla-powered other issues, as it’s Rob’s unique position in the world (or is that multi-verse?) that keeps my attention with this title.  As always, the art is pretty terrific too.

The extended length of time between issues (there won’t be another one until July) really hurts this book, as I find it takes me a good chunk of each issue to remember what’s happened before.  At the same time, I understand why a book like this will take longer to produce.

The Walking Dead #84

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Last month’s issue of The Walking Dead surprised and upset me, as Kirkman crossed the one line that I had figured was safe.  Needless to say, my expectations for this issue were high.  I figured that there was no way he’d resolve that surprise moment so quickly – that’s really not his style – but I was still quite eager to see what would happen.

And what happened is that, once again, he moved the book in a direction I didn’t expect.  That is the strength of this comic, that after so many years, Kirkman is still able to pull out a surprise or two, and is willing to buck expectations at every turn.

When last we saw most of the population of the small town where they have been living (they really need to name this place), they were hiding out in their houses as a large herd of roamers wandered their streets.  Now, inspired by Rick and Michonne’s actions, just about everyone decides to make a stand and reclaim their homes.  There are a few touching moments, and the issue finishes with a nice little speech by Rick.

As usual, Kirkman and Adlard work perfectly together, giving us a story that is as visceral as it is full of viscera.

Quick Takes:

Avengers #12.1 – Finally, a .1 comic that launches a new storyline, even if it isn’t going to be picked up on until after all this Fear Itself stuff works its way out of Marvel’s system.  This is a pretty decent comic, as Bendis has Steve Rogers meet Agent Brand for the first time, and Spider-Woman gets abducted by a group of ‘intelligent’ villains (although it’s hard to reconcile the Wizard’s appearance with the way he’s been portrayed in FF lately).  Bryan Hitch is always welcome on a team book, even if he draws the nose in Wolverine’s cowl in a very disconcerting fashion.

Batman Incorporated #5 – Batwoman puts it best in this comic, when she asks, “How many twists and turns can one case take?”.  That definitely describes this arc, as the Kathy Kane bit from last issue appears to be a bit of a red herring, and Bats Man and Woman, El Gaucho, and new character The Hood (awesome costume) collide on the Falkland Islands, looking to stop Dr. Dedalus.  Great art, and Morrison writing at his obscure best.  I kind of feel like I need to reread this series from the beginning, because I know I’m missing stuff.

Captain America #617 – I’m really liking this Gulag arc, which has Bucky in a Russian prison, where he’s constantly being challenged to fight old Soviet heroes.  While this is going on, Black Widow and Sharon Carter are working in Russia to find evidence to free him, while Steve Rogers is investigating why the Americans allowed him to be extradited in the first place.  There is a terrific team of artists on this book, with Guice and Gaudiano drawing the Bucky pages, Deodato the Widow and Carter parts, and Chris Samnee handling Steve Rogers.  The colours on this book, by Elizabeth Breitweiser, are spectacular.  It’s a shame that Marvel is going to be relaunching this title soon, as it’s really good.

Detective Comics #876 – Snyder’s having a good time with this arc, as Dick has to investigate a murder by killer whale (which is especially odd, as it happened in a bank lobby) with a possible connection to his childhood.  Jock is back on the art, and doing a fine job.  There are a couple of things I don’t really get – why would a high end new car dealership have an auto crusher on the lot?  Why does Commissioner Gordon let Dick Grayson do so much of his CSI work – wouldn’t he get suspicious?  Of course, the character work Spencer is doing with Gordon makes up for any other shortcomings in this run.  The stuff with Gordon and his son is the main reason why I’m buying this book right now.

FF #2 – The second issue of this series is interesting, without being particularly memorable.  There’s a lot of stuff about restoring Dr. Doom to his non-brain damaged self (when and where did that happen, by the way?), but the best moments are the ones with Sue and Ben trying to adjust to their new status quo.

Justice Society of America #50 – Guggenheim had four different artists working with him on this book, and so split the story into four clear segments.  The only problem is that the story became very disjointed because of this.  The first, George Perez-drawn section, didn’t serve any kind of story purpose.  The Howard Chaykin part retconned the famous “JSA testifies before the US Senate” story, and the Freddie Williams/Per Degaton part borrowed heavily from what Jonathan Hickman has recently done with Reed Richard’s dad (among other places).  Finally, the Tom Derenick part was drawn by Tom Derenick, albeit, in a style that looks like Scott Kolins.  In other words, two of my least favourite DC artists are somehow combined into one.  I could overlook it, but the story is a little unclear, especially since I have no idea who half the new characters that have joined the JSA are.  Red Beetle?  Darknight?  Where are Booster Chrome or Manofsteel?  I don’t know if I can emphasize enough how much I want to like this book, and it’s just not working…

New Mutants #24 – A fitting but predictable ending to the Age of X storyline.   I certainly hope this will have a more lasting conclusion than to simply re-power Chamber.

Power Man and Iron Fist #4 – I was close to giving up on this mini-series, as it was getting pretty strange in its choice of villains and situations (ie. an underwater casino run by a man with a fireplace poker sticking out of his eye socket), but I’m glad I gave it another chance, as Van Lente turned the focus back towards the uncomfortable relationship between the two principles, and included some great scenes with Luke Cage, the real Power Man.

Secret Avengers #12 – Strange way for Brubaker to finish off his run, but I can only assume that future writers Spencer and Ellis will pick up on this Shadow Council stuff.  A decent issue, although I find Conrad’s art to be pretty inconsistent.

Secret Avengers #12.1 – Two issues in one week?  I wonder what the reason for that is.  Anyway, Nick Spencer gets off to a decent start on this title, although I think that this team is a little too powerful for the type of threat they take on in this issue.

Star Wars Legacy: War #5 – I’m very bummed out that there is only going to be one more issue in John Ostrander’s future Star Wars epic, but at the rate they’re going, there won’t be any characters left alive anyway.  Tons of action, with still more than enough space for character work, this issue had me counting the pages convinced that the book was over-sized.  When’s the last time you felt that way about a 22-page comic?

Uncanny X-Men #536 – Most of this issue moves in a direction I wouldn’t have expected, as Utopia takes in a huge group of Breakworld refugees, who definitely have trouble assimilating.  Of course, towards the end of the comic, things take a turn towards the expected.  Some nice writing from Gillen (who has a really good sense of Magneto above all the others), great Dodson art, and the return of another member of the SWORD cast make this a winner.  Why no Lockheed/Kitty Pryde reunion though?

Venom #2 – This series is turning out to be pretty good.  I’ve found Remender’s Marvel work to be inconsistent, but I feel like he’s sorted things out now, and is giving us a pretty good superhero series here.  Tony Moore’s art is always great (but slow).  I’m looking forward to seeing what Tom Fowler’s art will look like on this book next issue.  This book has Flash Thompson fighting Kraven in the Savage Land – it’s good stuff.

Xombi #2 – This title is filling a niche that has been vacant for quite a while.  It reminds me of Morrison’s Doom Patrol, in its heavy use of religious imagery (supporting characters include Nun of the Above, Nun the Less, and Catholic Girl) and random weirdness (creatures made of the ghosts of wasps that died trying to fly through your windows).  Frazer Irving is doing his best work since Gutsville (please, please return to this!), and the writing is decent.  I don’t really know what’s going on, but I enjoy figuring it out.

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

Age of X Universe #2

Amazing Spider-Man #659

Incorruptible #17

Mighty Thor #1

Osborn #5

Planet of the Apes #1

Tomb of Dracula Presents Throne of Blood #1

X-Men #10

Bargain Comics:

Black Panther #516 – I’m still not convinced that this incarnation of the Panther is going to work – the story is just too heavy-handed for my liking, and there are two plot twists in this issue I can’t get behind.  Strangely, as much as I love Francisco Francavilla’s art, I think I like guest artist Jefte Palo on this title more…

Captain America and Batroc the Leaper #1 – Now this is what all of these ‘Captain America and…’ one-shots should be – a modern look into a long-term occasional character in Cap’s mythos.  Kieron Gillen writes the hell out of this, as he gives us a more serious and believable Batroc than we’ve ever seen before.  Good stuff.

Captain America and the Secret Avengers #1 – Not a lot of Cap here, but a fun little Black Widow/Sharon Carter team-up story is always welcomed, even if it felt like it was trying a little too hard to be jokey and light.  The Nicieza/Liefeld Black Widow/Silver Sable reprint in the back is not as horrible as you would imagine it to be.  I wish Marvel had included some credits as to where these reprint back-ups came from (and had included one for Crossbones).

Case Files: Sam & Twitch #14-19: Ancient Chinese Secret, Huh?

Written by Marc Andreyko
Art by E. J. Su

And with this arc, I feel myself losing interest in Sam and Twitch.  Originally, the Bendis issues worked well, because of the focus on police work, no matter how spectacular and strange it became at times.  The police procedural is a well-loved genre, and while I appreciate Andreyko’s efforts to subvert and play with the tropes of that genre, something didn’t really work in this arc.

The story has the two detectives investigating a string of murders that appear to have been perpetrated by vampires.  Their suspect is a Chinese importer (all importers are evil – we know this, right) who is supposed to be an old woman, despite her appearing young and vital.  Things get steadily weirder, and Andreyko pulls one cool misdirection, and another that plays out as incredibly silly (I don’t want to give either away, despite the fact that these comics are six years old).

All of this sounds cool, but the usual chemistry between these two detectives is missing, and they seem to be reduced to bumbling Keystone Kops.  Also, the art in this arc doesn’t work for me.  Su is a fine artist, but his pages are thick with black ink, and open empty spaces.  It’s a little like reading Sam and Twitch: The Manga, and again, it just doesn’t fit with the aesthetic that had been established for this book.  One arc left, although I still need to hunt down one issue before I can read it…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Elementals: The Natural Order

Written by Bill Willingham with Michael Wolff and Jack Herman
Art by Bill Willingham, Bill Anderson, Rich Rankin, Dave Johnson, Mike Leeke, and Bill Cucinotta

Because sometimes, you’re in the mood for a good old-school superhero comic from the 80s.  And, if you’re like me, there aren’t all that many that you haven’t read already, at least from the Big Two.  I’ve been enjoying Willingham’s work on Fables for years, and also enjoyed his short-lived stint as a writer and artist on Shadowpact a few years back, but I’d never given his Elementals series, published for over a decade by Comico, a try before.  I remember seeing them in the 3-packs that haunted places like Towers when I was a kid, but I’d never bought a single one before seeing this trade in a $5 bin at a convention recently.

Elementals is basically the Fantastic Four, but with a more literal interpretation of the elemental nature of the character’s powers.  The four principles all died in strange circumstances on the same day, and then were resurrected with new abilities.  They have been given these abilities by some elemental spirits, and appear to be back to fight against an immortal guy named Saker, who has his own bad-guy team.  Ahh, comics from the 80s – that’s all we need before diving into a lot of fight scenes and the occasional page or two of lengthy bad-guy exposition.

Willingham’s art reminds me of John Byrne’s in the same era, although Willingham’s work feels even cleaner, and perhaps more modern.  This comic has held up just fine, and I’m kind of surprised that a publisher like IDW hasn’t brought out an omnibus edition.  Unless, of course, the whole thing fell off the rails after the first arc or two…

Orion: The Gates of Apokolips

by Walter Simonson, with Jon Bogdanove, Dave Gibbons, Klaus Janson, Frank Miller, and Bill Reinhold

I’ve never been as big a fan of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters as most DC comics readers appear to be, but I have heard a lot of good things about Walter Simonson’s run on Orion, and have been a fan of his work since his tenure on The Mighty Thor.  When I saw this trade at a very low price a little while back, I decided it was time to give this series a try.

I found I had mixed emotions about this comic.  Simonson’s art is as great as it’s ever been, and he excels at portraying gigantic super-being conflicts, like the massive fight between Orion and Darkseid that takes up the entire fifth issue collected here, but I found that a lot of the standard silliness that has always marred The Fourth World for me brought the book down.  The inclusion of the Newsboy Legion served no purpose other than to pad out the story, and generally irritate me.

Otherwise, this is pretty standard stuff.  Orion is angry that he might not actually be the son of Darkseid, and decides to defend his mother Tigra’s honour by tracking him down and challenging him.  Of course, Darkseid is back on Earth looking for the Anti-Life Equation.  There’s lots of fighting, which leads to the aforementioned large confrontation at the end.  I’m not sure how long this series lasted beyond these original five issues, but I would hope that there was a little more substance to them.

I did really enjoy the ‘Tales of the New Gods’ back-ups, which featured some terrific artists like Miller and Gibbons, although I think that the best one was the Granny Goodness origin story by Simonson and Janson.

Rat Catcher

Written by Andy Diggle
Art by Victor Ibañez

I think Rat Catcher may be the best of the Vertigo Crime books I’ve read.  Andy Diggle show the same penchant for twists and turns that he demonstrated regularly in The Losers, and keeps the reader a step behind him for most of the book.

This is a difficult book to discuss without spoiling some of the surprises, but I’ll do my best.  The title refers to a legend among the FBI and US Marshals Service in Texas, who have had many witnesses die on them before they are able to testify or turn state’s evidence. A couple of agents believe that these mysterious deaths were perpetrated by a single killer, who has been able to avoid detection.

When this book opens, an FBI safe house is burning, and one man, who has been shot, comes running out.  It turns out that a new witness was in the safe house, along with up to three agents.  We’re not sure what happened, but the one agent’s partner, Agent Bourdon, believes that the Rat Catcher is responsible.  The story that follows is taut and quick moving, and very well illustrated by Victor Ibañez.

Album of the Week:

CunninLynguits – Oneirology

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