The Weekly Round-Up #74 – The TCAF and FCBD Edition

I feel very lucky to live in such a great comics town.  This week-end saw not only the usual Free Comic Book Day celebrations, but also the Toronto Comic Arts Festival!  TCAF is the best comics show I’ve attended, and each year it gets even better.  It’s not like a convention, in that there are no dealers (aside from the Beguiling, which organizes the show, and keeps their table very low-key), only a few, discrete publishers (Drawn & Quarterly has the biggest table), and is almost all an artist’s alley.  What also makes it special is that the guests, while sometimes big names, are not drawn from the more commercial aspects of the industry.  Okay, Stuart Immonen, who is probably the best selling artist for the next couple of months, was there, but he was selling Moving Pictures, not Fear Itself.

In attendance were personal favourites like Brandon Graham, James Stokoe, Marian Churchland, Darwyn Cooke, David Malki, Ross Campbell, James Turner, Michael Cho, Scott Chantler, Jamie McKelvie, Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, and the person I was most excited to meet, Becky Cloonan.  I picked up a ton of stuff, which I will be reviewing in the weeks ahead.

The Best Comic of the Week:

Spontaneous #1

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Brett Weldele

I think Oni has a winning formula for dealing with Free Comic Book Day.  Instead of giving out short anthologies, or previewing upcoming books, they give the entire first issue of a new series.  It worked last year with Sixth Gun (which is an excellent series), and has now definitely gotten me interested in reading the rest of Spontaneous.

Although, to be honest, I would have bought this if it weren’t free.  Spontaneous is written by Joe Harris, who impressed me with Ghost Projekt, and is drawn by Brett Weldele, an impressive artist whose last work, The Light, put him into my must-buy category.

Spontaneous is about a young man who has a system for tracking down people who are going to spontaneously combust.  He attempts to interview a man in a mall foodcourt before he goes up in flames, a case which draws the attention of a plucky young wanna-be journalist.  Together, they start working the guy’s system to find the next potential victim.

Harris hints that there may be something about SHC that makes it not so spontaneous, although at this early stage of the series, we have no clue what that might be.  Weldele uses the same digital colouring techniques he used in The Light to add an unearthly quality to the pages, and to use light to draw the reader’s eyes into his scenes.  He’s grown a lot as an artist in the last few years.

As with Sixth Gun, this first issue is being offered for purchase alongside the second issue of the series in the latest Previews, if you’re interested in reading it but missed your chance at picking it up for free.  It’s worth ordering.

Other Notable Comics:

Blue Estate #2

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

Part way through this issue, I figured out what Blue Estate is reminding me of: Azzarello and Risso’s classic Vertigo series 100 Bullets must have been more than a passing influence, with it’s similarly kaleidoscopic plotting and myriad characters.

This issue of Blue Estate continues to introduce and establish characters.  We learn a lot more about Rachel, like that she’s not actually an alcoholic, and that she has been communicating secretly with her AA sponsor.  Of course, he’s not at all what he seems to be.

We also meet Rachel’s brother, who has a gorgeous stripper girlfriend, and is taking part in a dubious-looking real estate transaction with the gangster’s son that we met in the last issue.  As we get to know these characters, I find myself getting more and more interested in this book.

The shifting art styles continues to work very well here.  I’m not entirely sure who is drawing what (although Tobey Cypress is pretty unique), and I like the way styles shift gradually.  In all, this is another one of those recent Image comics that prove that it’s the most interesting comics publisher out there.

BPRD: The Dead Remembered #2

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

One of the things I’ve appreciated the most about the Mignola-verse of comics (BPRD, Hellboy, and a few other titles) is the way that Mignola and company regularly dig into the character’s pasts, and tell stories set throughout the twentieth century.  This series is centred around Liz Sherman, who hasn’t been seen in the contemporary stories for a while.

In this three-issue series, Liz is fourteen, and still coming to grips with her abilities.  She’s traveled with Professor Bruttenholm to help an old friend deal with a haunting, and it’s her first experience in the field.  She’s not a proper member of the Bureau yet – it’s really just supposed to be a bit of an excursion.  The thing is, she’s had the most concrete encounter with the ghost – the spirit of a woman who had been accused of witchcraft back in the Salem days.

Now Liz, and the local boy she’s met, want to conduct their own investigation.  The ghost story is pretty standard stuff, but it’s basically just a vehicle to delve into Liz’s character.  The problem is that the sudden confession of how she killed her parents feels a little awkwardly crammed into the book, like the entire series exists just for this scene, but it doesn’t flow well.

So, while this is not the best BPRD comic I’ve read, it’s not awful.  I am curious to see how it ends, but I’m also pleased that said ending is coming soon.  Mostly, because I want to see what’s going to happen to Abe after the end of the last mini.

Green Wake #2

Written by Kurtis Wiebe
Art by Riley Rossmo

The first issue of this series left me in an uncertain place, but I thought I’d give the book another chance, and I’m definitely even more intrigued with this series than I was the first time around.  People just appear in Green Wake, a murky, damp looking town, with no memories of how they got there, and only a few of their former life.

In the first issue, two residents of the town who have decided to take on the role of police officers discover a body, and have a suspect.  In this issue, their investigation takes them to another body, before Morley – the human-looking cop – has a vision of a former lover that leads him to the home of the Wake’s longest resident.

Things get weird there, as the guy looks more like a giant frog than he does a person, and Morley and his partner (who looks more than a little froggish himself) don’t bat an eye.  This issue hints at some of the mysteries of the Green Wake, frogs being a big part of that.  I don’t know where this series is going, and that’s what I like most about it.  Wiebe isn’t following any of the established rules for a book like this, so I’m pretty interested to see where it all ends up.  I like Rossmo’s work on this book, but my usual gripes about him apply here – sometimes it’s hard to follow the action, and the symbol that appears on the corpses is not all that clear.

iZombie #13

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

A new arc starts in this issue, ‘Six Feet Under & Rising’, as does a new back-up feature, ‘The Dead Presidents’, by the same creative team.

The main story has Gwen attending a surprise party thrown by her friends before going on a date with Horatio.  Also, Amon tries to recruit her help in putting a stop to Galatea’s plans, and the vampire coven turns Gwen’s old friend.  Roberson is slowly but surely advancing his plot for this series, but is also taking the time to have some fun with these characters, which is what makes this comic so enjoyable.

The Dead Presidents story introduces four new characters, all named after a former US president, who apparently form a squad or team of government agents, belonging to a group called VEIL.  Seeing as one of them is a werewolf, another a zombie, and a third a ghost, it’s pretty clear that the parallels to Gwen and her friends are intentional.  They are in an abandoned Arctic radar station, where they fight a zombie and a brain in a jar (these characters reminded me of the classic Doom Patrol villains Mr. Mallah and whatever the brain guy was called – The Brain?), who appear to be tracking down Galatea.

As always, Roberson delivers an intelligent script, and Allred draws the hell out of it.

Proof Endangered #5

Written by Alex Grecian
Art by Riley Rossmo

This arc/mini-series has been pretty nuts.  I’ve felt from the beginning that Grecian and Rossmo were trying to squeeze a little too much into the book, but then this final issue came along, and closed things off beautifully.

At the core of Endangered has been the conflict between Proof and Mi-Chen-Po, his adopted brother.  We have never been too clear on Po’s motivation, although that is cleared up in this issue.  As well, we received some sense of closure on the activities taking place in the Lodge, and have time for another flashback to the time that Proof lived with Thomas Jefferson.  In between all of this, and a bunch of good character moments, are some pretty exciting scenes showing the fight between Proof’s friends and Mi-Chen-Po’s army of cryptids (creatures so rare on the Earth that they are believed to be legendary).

Sadly, it looks like this is the last issue of Proof we’ll see for the next while, as sales have not been all that terrific.  This is a real shame, as Proof is an original, unique comic, and deserves to get more support.  Grecian has grown a great deal as a writer since starting the book, and clearly has a lot more ideas for this book (there are four separate ‘to be continued in…’s throughout the book).  Rossmo’s art is as unique as the concept behind the comic.  He is sometimes a little too scratchy for my liking, but I’ve really grown to enjoy his style (hence the reason I’m picking up The Green Wake).

If Proof sounds interesting to you, I urge you to give it a try.  The first trade is terrific, and is priced at a pretty low $10.  It’s worth checking out and supporting.

Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever #4

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by John Severin

There’s been an ebb and flow to this series.  It started off very well, but dipped a little in the middle, almost as if Mignola and Arcudi were struggling to make sure that the book would last a full five issues.

This month’s installment doesn’t suffer from those problems much, as it has Grey and his new friend Kaler make their way to a mine that showed up in Grey’s dreams, which they figure will be significant to their mission, which appears to be taking out a white woman named Eris, who has has led a group of Native Americans to a white man, who has been possessed by an Aboriginal spirit.  Got all that?  There’s also the return of all the townsfolk that had disappeared in a church a ways back, except they have returned as zombies.  As I try to summarize what’s been going on in this series, I realize how odd it all sounds, although the story telling has been very clear and easy to follow as I’ve been reading it.

Of course, with comics legend John Severin on the artwork, that’s easily understood.  He does another terrific job in this issue, both with the chaotic action scenes and with the more pastoral images that are being recounted by the Aboriginal spirit.  I love the casual way in which he depicts Kaler brushing off a zombie hand that has a grip on his arm.  I look forward to reading the end of this series next month.

Sweet Tooth #21

by Jeff Lemire

It’s not surprising that this is another excellent issue of Sweet Tooth.  This series has been amazing right from the beginning, and this month’s chapter is no exception.

Lemire splits the pages into two plot-lines.  The top of each page is concerned with Jeppard and Gus.  When we last saw them, a wild looking bear was coming at them.  The bear gets the drop on Jeppard, and drags Gus away with it, prompting the older man to come to his rescue.  This part of the comic is wordless, but Lemire uses an interesting twist on thought bubbles to help us understand what the three characters are thinking (including the bear).

The lower third of each page shows us what the three girls in Gus’s group are up to.  They’ve met a man in the woods who has taken them into a dam that had been converted by a group of scientists into a sustainable bio-dome like structure.  There are more than a few ways in which this corresponds to the Dharma Initiative in Lost, and I feel like the seemingly kindly man is keeping some secrets from them.  Great stuff once again.

Quick Takes:

Adventure Comics #526 – There are some serious issues with Levitz’s Legion books.  Perhaps it’s just that he’s writing for the trade, but practically nothing happened in this comic at all.  The Academy story finished (blandly), and the XS back-up story proved that bringing her to the original Legion’s world served no purpose whatsoever.  Disappointing.

Annihilators #3 – Both stories in this book depend on some pretty complicated plotting.  The revelation of who is pulling all the strings in the title story is interesting, while the explanation of what’s been going on with Rocket Raccoon is a bit more complicated than it probably needed to be.  Still, Timothy Green’s art is so good, I don’t care how strange the story gets.

Avengers Academy #13 – The best Avengers book continues to impress, as Christos Gage gives the kids a night off, and has Tigra arrange a prom for them, with various other young super-heroes the Young Allies invited.  He brings back a few of the Initiative characters he did such great work with in their title, but really gives the Academy crowd a chance to shine in this all-character issue.  Great art by Sean Chen really aids this terrific comic.

Fear Itself #2 – Okay, so now it’s been made a lot clearer what Fear Itself is about, and as far as high concepts go, it’s pretty unimpressive.  A serpent (in the shape of an old man), an old enemy of Asgard, is awake, and is spreading magic hammers around the world, where bad guys are able to pick them up, and get transformed into bigger bad guys (who glow).  Now they’re going to fight the Asgardians (without Thor), and Odin’s going to be a jerk.  Really, Secret Invasion had more going on.  But, Fraction’s a good writer, and Immonen’s terrific, so it’s not too bad.  I just don’t see how this concept can really spawn so many crossovers…

Heroes for Hire #6 – Abnett and Lanning are laying the groundwork for a great superhero series here.  The prickly interactions between Misty Knight, Paladin, and guest hero Spider-Man are great, and they make good use of Batroc, which is always welcome.  Original series artist Brad Walker is back, and the book looks as good as it reads.

Jonah Hex #67 – Hex does get weird some times, like in this story of mistaken identity, revenge, and the pox.  Bernet is great at drawing these more oddball issues of Hex.

Moon Knight #1 – I went in to this feeling very skeptical about the need for another Moon Knight relaunch, especially so soon after the last one, but usually like Bendis and Maleev’s work, both individually and together.  It’s typical Bendis, with a new twist on Moon Knight’s usual psychological problems.  Maleev is going for an early-Sienkiewicz look, which is very appropriate for this title.  Still, I hope that future issues are a little less decompressed…

Red Spike #1 – I didn’t think I’d be too interested in this comic, but I do like to support series that launch with $1 issues.  The story is actually pretty decent – it’s about a pair of scientifically augmented soldiers who have extra adrenaline, and use it to blow stuff up.  We’re in pretty standard blockbuster action movie land here, but the artist Salvador Navarro reminds me of Paul Gulacy.  I don’t know that I’ll be picking up the second issue though – there’s not enough here to draw me back I’m afraid.

Secret Six #33 – There have only been a few instances where the new, shorter page length of DC comics has been glaringly obvious, but this issue of Secret Six has to be one of them.  The comic is just about perfect in terms of pacing and structure until the very end, where it feels pretty rushed, as Simone has the Six finish their time in Hell with a confrontation with Lady Blaze, who apparently runs things down there now.  Aside from that, there are so many good moments in this comic that I can’t start to list them.  This is a great series.

Superboy #7 – I’m glad to see that Doomsday nonsense is finished with, and that Lemire’s back to doing his own thing on this book.  In this issue, Connor and Psion Lad examine a derelict ship in space, and then Connor wakes up much later in a ruined world.  I figured out what was going on with the parallel structure pretty quickly, but still enjoyed the way Lemire set up the story.  Marco Rudy knocks it out of the artistic park on this issue – he really should be a superstar.

Uncanny X-Force #9 – Remender gives us a nice little done-in-one story that has Magneto sending Wolverine out on a revenge mission for him.  There are some story inconsistencies, such as the fact that Dr. Nemesis isn’t likely to leave a Nazi lying around (and really, how old would that guy really be?), and that Magneto’s knowledge of the team doesn’t get more play, but it’s still a good issue.  I’m not sure I like what Billy Tan’s doing with his art though, but I love that the team has adopted Deathlok in the role of robot butler.

X-Men: Prelude to Schism #1 – Do we really need what is going to be effectively a fifth X-Men book (more, if you consider that Uncanny seems to come out on a weekly basis lately)?  I have no idea what’s going on here – there’s some kind of threat impending, and Cyclops is just looking out the window, and chatting with Professor X.  Basically, we get a recap of their relationship that encompasses all of X-Men history.  It’s good though, because Jenkins can be a terrific writer.  De La Torre’s art is a little rougher than usual, but still decent.  I’m not sure if I’ll be back for the next issue.

TCAF Stuff:

Murder Book Vol. 1

Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Simon Roy

There’s nothing quite like a good crime comic, and the two stories in this comic are definitely good.  They are both set in the seedier side of Vancouver.

The first features a man who runs into an old friend in a Vancouver bar.  The one man has been missing for four years – no one knew what happened to him, and his wife has remarried.  The old friend is very curious, but as we know all too well, curiosity can kill the cat.

In the second story, a shopkeeper is robbed while in the act of preparing to torch his shop.  He turns the tables on his would-be robber, and forces him to become his accomplice instead.

Both of these stories are pretty clever, and well-written.  This is the first of Brisson’s work that I’ve read, but I am familiar with artist Simon Roy from his excellent graphic novel Jan’s Atomic Heart, which I picked up at TCAF a couple of years ago.  His art has improved in that time, and he’s given this comic a bit of a Stray Bullets look.

Brisson mentioned to me at TCAF that Roy will have a book coming out this summer with Image Comics.  Keep an eye out for it, as this is an artist to watch.

Smith’s Adventures in the Supermundane

by Farel Dalrymple

Dalrymple can be an acquired taste.  He is a great artist, best known for his work on Omega the Unknown with Jonathan Lethem, but his stories, like Pop Gun War, have a tendency towards the opaque and obscure.

Smith’s Adventures in the Supermundane is an early piece of work, completed and published in 1999.  It plays with familiar themes from Dalrymple’s later work, as we meet Smith, a young boy who is living in some sort of institution that requires he attend regular meetings with someone we assume is a psychoanalyst, and remain under the close observation of nurses and other staff.  Smith appears to be growing eyeballs in the back of his head, and has difficulty making positive relationships with the other kids in the building.

Of course, I’m not too sure what all was going on in some places, but found myself easily swept up in the art and the story.  It’s always cool to look an artist’s earlier work and see the kernels of what their style will become later on.

Wolves

by Becky Cloonan

If this were the only comic I picked up at this year’s TCAF, I would have considered it a worthwhile trip.  Becky Cloonan is a favourite artist of mine, and I love having the opportunity to pick up something like this self-published, limited mini-comic.

Wolves was originally written and drawn for inclusion in a Japanese anthology, but now Cloonan has fleshed it out further, and had it printed on high-quality paper.

It’s a story about a man (perhaps a soldier?) in a medieval town, who has been into the woods to kill a werewolf.  It’s a pretty straight-forward tale, but it is beautifully illustrated.  Cloonan puts a lot of detail into her period piece artwork (see her recent arc on Northlanders), and these pages are virtually dripping with black ink.

This is a cool little book.

Free Comic Book Day:

I always come away with mixed emotions about Free Comic Book Day.  I love the idea of increasing the general public’s exposure to comics, but I can’t help but feel like most of the comics that are given out just aren’t all that good.  It seems like every year there’s a mediocre collection of movie tie-ins, Big Event previews, half stories designed to get you to pick up a new series that doesn’t start until July, or what could be inventory stories.  Very rarely does something stand out as a quality piece of comics you can enjoy on your own.  Anyway, here are my thoughts on this year’s pile of free comics (including Spontaneous, way up at the top).

The Amazing Spider-Man – Slott does write a good Spider-Man, and this issue does a good job of bringing a potential new reader up to speed on what’s been going on with Spidey lately, especially in regards to his recent loss of his spider-sense.  Ramos’s artwork is always good to see, as are guest stars Spider-Woman and Shang Chi.  It’s nice that someone at Marvel has finally remembered that there is a new Madame Web too, although that character never does too much.  If the goal of FCBD is to lure in some new readers, I can see this issue being successful.

Baltimore/Criminal Macabre – The Mignola/Golden/Stenbeck half of this flip-book is excellent.  It brings the reader up to speed on Lord Baltimore and his quest to find and kill a particular vampire in post-Great War Europe without having to rely on much exposition.  It looks terrific too.  The Cal McDonald story is the first I’ve read about this character (I think), and I have no intention of looking for more.  I know that Steve Niles is a popular writer, but I just don’t like his stuff.  It was nice to see Christopher Mitten drawing again, but I’d prefer a new issue of Wasteland.  The coolest thing about this comic is the way in which the flip covers echo each other.

Captain America/Thor: The Mighty Fighting Avengers – I know it got a ton of love from the internet crowd, but I didn’t really get Langridge and Samnee’s recent Thor series.  While, I didn’t like the writing; Samnee is brilliant.  Anyway, the decisions at Marvel always boggle the mind, as they decide to give a canceled series a huge post-mortem promotional push with a FCBD giveaway (of course, it is the same week-end that the movie starring said character debuts, but still).  The story is pretty silly, as WWII Captain America and 2011 Thor get sent back in time to Arthurian England.  Really, I can’t see this creating any new readers.

Elric: The Balance Lost – I picked this up on the strength of Chris Roberson’s work on iZombie and Cinderella, but I wasn’t too impressed.  I have some fond memories of reading some Michael Moorcock when I was in high school, but there’s nothing too special in this latest in a long line of adaptations.  I’ll be passing on the series.

I.C.E./Loose Ends – This is a flipbook with two stories.  The first is a preview of an upcoming series that features a military response team from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  I don’t know why a group like that would get called in to investigate a murder scene in Alabama though.  It’s pretty standard stuff, otherwise.  More interesting is Loose Ends, by Jason Latour and Chris Brunner.  It’s tagged as a ‘Southern Crime Romance’, and looks pretty good, even though this short preview is confusing as hell.  I may be checking that out when it’s published in July.

Super Dinosaur Origin Special #1 – I didn’t bother with Super Dinosaur, as I know that Kirkman is targeting a younger audience with this book.  It’s cute, but man is the exposition thick.  Is that what the first issue of the regular series was like?

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

Fear Itself Home Front #2

Irredeemable #25

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Cuba: My Revolution

Written by Inverna Lockpez
Art by Dean Haspiel

There aren’t enough comics like this.  The writer of Cuba: My Revolution is a Cuban-American fine artist, and this terrific graphic novel is based on her experiences as a young woman in revolutionary Cuba.  When we first meet Sonya, Lockpez’s fictional alter ego, she is 17 and getting ready to go out for New Year’s Eve with her stepfather’s thirty-five year old cousin.  Sonya is an interesting person – she’s equally adept at painting as she is with a scalpel, and she soon becomes involved with the newly victorious Fidel Castro’s militia.

What follows is a slow, excruciating process through which Sonya eventually loses all faith in Castro and his regime.  It’s fascinating to watch as this young woman struggles against all evidence to maintain her belief in the revolution.  Even when she is arrested and tortured for trying to save the life of a wounded prisoner, Sonya clings to the belief that the horrid treatment she received was simply a mistake.  Eventually, even the strongest of faiths can be eroded by a constant stream of evidence to the contrary, and as things become harder and harder for people living in Cuba, Sonya has to wake up.

The book veers a little close to the type of anti-Cuban rhetoric we are used to seeing from the United States, and I would have liked to learn a little more of what happened to Sonya upon arriving in the US, but I did enjoy this book quite a bit.  As with his other recent Vertigo book, The Alcoholic, artist Dean Haspiel does a terrific job of depicting the memoirist author’s experiences.  Good stuff.

Freakangels Vol. 4

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Paul Duffield

This volume of Freakangels, the collection of Warren Ellis’s webcomic, gives a lot more depth to the characters than the previous volumes did.  Ellis spent most of the beginnings of this series on establishing the setting of post-flood Whitechapel, and introducing the various characters that make up the Freakangel tribe.  Now that the reader can more or less tell them apart and knows the roles each character holds within their society, Ellis is finally digging into their backstory.

This volume opens six years before the rest of the series, and shows the events that led to the ecological catastrophe that submerged most of England.  As it turns out, our heroes had a bigger role in this disaster than we knew, and the reasons for it are pretty interesting.  After that, we return to present day, where two major events are playing out at the same time.  Mark, the exiled Freakangel, has returned, which is not good.  Also, we see what happens with Luke, the Freakangel that the others imprisoned in the last volume, for violating some of the women under their protection.

This was probably the most compulsively readable trade in the series to date.  I’ve finally started to differentiate between the characters (they kind of look the same), and got swept up in the story.  Duffield’s artwork is amazing – I would like to see him on more series.

Album of the Week:

J. Rocc – Some Cold Rock Stuf

I’m heading out of town for an extra-long week-end, and so won’t be writing this column for next Monday.  Instead, watch for my thoughts on two week’s worth of comics the following week.  Also, for the first time since I started writing it, I saw nothing I could write about for my Were Money No Object column this week.  Hopefully it will be back next week, although with the sheer volume of books I got this week, I won’t mind if no new trades or graphic novels I’d want get published for a while…

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