Fortnightly Round-Up (Weekly Round-Up 75 and 76) with Northlanders, DMZ, Moriarty #1, Flashpoint #1, Batman Inc. #6, FF#3 & more

I have a double column for you this week, as I was away last week-end.  This left me a small mountain of comics to plow through, which is never a bad thing.  Strange that the best comic from each week is written by Brian Wood…

Best Comics of the Fortnight:

Northlanders #40

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Matthew Woodson

Wow.  Now this is an amazing issue of Northlanders.  It’s one of the one-off stories that Wood always writes between longer arcs, and it’s drawn by Matthew Woodson, an artist I’m not familiar with.  It’s the story of a hunter, alone in the winter woods in Sweden, around a thousand years ago.

This man has been hunting a deer for a couple of days now, beyond the point of it making sense, even to himself.  What has happened is that a strange relationship has developed between the man and the deer, where the chase carries as much meaning to the beast as the pursuit does the hunter.  In a very short amount of space, Wood and Woodson pull together everything we need to know about this man, and I found I could sense the cold and isolation he is feeling.

Woodson’s art is fantastic.  There’s a look to many of the artists who have contributed to this comic, and Woodson fits somewhere near artists like Cloonan and Lolos, and manages to make the deer’s expressions as readable as the man’s.  The dream sequence, and the page with the northern lights are sensational.

This might be one of my favourite single issues of the year.  It definitely deserves an Eisner nomination…

DMZ #65

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

Parco Delgado is no Osama Bin Laden, but it’s interesting to look for parallels between these two figures, given the proximity of the release of this comic to Bin Laden’s death at the hands of the American military.

In this comic, Delgado became the Governor of New York through what is believed to be a rigged election.  It comes out during his trial that he was receiving money and security from the FSA, but that he had no intention of ever becoming their puppet.  He also makes it clear that he did not detonate his nuclear device at Indian Point, and that it was indeed the US Army who caused the explosion there.  Matty has proof, and decides to enter into negotiations with the US so that he can save Parco from execution, and also bring the war to an end.

Bin Laden, of course, is an Islamist fundamentalist who received training from the US during the war between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, and who later used his training and connections against the US.  Parco was never meant to be an analogue of Bin Laden, but this comic and world events have often gone hand in hand, in an allegorical fashion, and the timing here is a pretty cool coincidence.

On top of these events, Matty also gets to see Zee again, meets the president, and has finally come as far as he can from being the self-absorbed loser we met when the series began.  I think there are four issues left in this series, and I’m looking forward to watching Wood wrap things up.  Next issue is a Zee solo issue, and it should be great.

Other Notable Comics:

Cinderella: Fables Are Forever #4

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Shawn McManus

This is another fun issue, as a captive Cinderella gets taken to meet Dorothy Gale, and reflects on her previous run-ins with one of the few fables as popular, and therefore as powerful, as she is.

I especially liked the flashback that had Cindy using Snow White as bait on a ski trip back in 1986.  Her plan was to use the well-known citizen of Fabletown to try to draw Dorothy out, although she is instead subjected to days of Snow complaining about Bigby.  The reference to those two as pulling a ‘Sam and Diane’ got a laugh out of me.  I also like that we are starting to get a sense of why Dorothy became the hard-core killer that she is.  I am waiting to see how Roberson is going to reconcile this take on Dorothy with her appearances in the Golden Boughs Retirement Home in early issues of Jack of Fables.

McManus is doing some great work on this book; perhaps the best I’ve seen from him.

Elephantmen #31

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Axel Medellin

I get that Richard Starkings is trying, after so many years, to make Elephantmen accessible to new readers, but I’m not sure why that has to come at the expense of moving the story forward.  We are treated to a long conversation between Sahara and Mister Purchase, the fiancee and ‘fixer’ for the Kingpin-like Obadiah Horn where they discuss Horn’s evolution from Mappo soldier to ‘businessman’.  It’s just so out of character for Purchase, or even more naive than we’ve ever seen Sahara.

Otherwise, it’s a decent issue, with fantastic art by Axel Medellin.  When he started on the book, he was very good, but with each new issue he completes, his art gets even better.  His work here is more rich and nuanced than we’ve seen before.  I can’t tell is Medellin is doing his own colours on this book, as credits are always a little murky on this title, but they are just as fantastic as the art.  I love the way light gets used in the scene where a drug dealer kills one of the Elephantmen.

I see that this current ‘Man and Elephantman’ arc is set to end with the next issue.  As the drug concept has barely been touched upon in this issue, I don’t see how that will happen, but Starking has always had a very loose respect for the industry standard approach to story arcs, so it’s all good.

Hellboy: Being Human

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Richard Corben

It’s about time we see Roger the Homunculus again.  I was pretty surprised when he was written out of the BPRD series (oh yah, spoiler), as he was developing into a find character, and I’m glad that Mignola has brought him back for this one-shot set in the year 200o.  I could be wrong, but I think this is the first of the Hellboy one-shots that fits between stories that fit in contemporary continuity, as opposed to being stories from his time in the Bureau before his comics started.  As the Mignola-verse more or less runs in real-time (kind of like Hellblazer), it does provide a lot of opportunity for “untold tales”.

Anyway, this is a very cool issue, featuring Hellboy and Roger going to investigate what is supposed to be a simple haunting, to give Roger a bit of field experience.  The set up is very similar to the BPRD series that is being published right now, which features Liz Sherman’s first assignment for the Bureau as well. Of course, the haunting is not as simple as expected.

What makes this book work so well is more terrific art from Richard Corben.  He’s so good on this book, and this issue is no exception.

Moriarty #1

Written by Daniel Corey
Art by Anthony Diecidue

I’m not now, nor have I ever been, a fan of Sherlock Holmes.  I can understand the appeal of the books to some people, and even the devotion the famous fictional detective inspires in some people, but Conan Doyle’s character has never done it for me.

This new comic, centred on Holmes’s greatest nemesis, was an impulse buy based on some nice art, and Image’s recent track record for amazing comics.  I’m really glad I picked it up though, as it is a very good read.

The story opens in 1914 London, after the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, but before the entire European continent is engulfed in the Great War.  Moriarty has been enjoying a sort of retirement from his criminal enterprises, instead taking on a role much like Holmes’s, only for criminals.  He is contacted by a government agent to investigate the disappearance of Mycroft Holmes (brother of Sherlock, and important character in Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).  What follows is a rather complicated beginning of an investigation which seems to be at the mercy of a great number of coincidences, and involves strange devices, Edgar Allan Poe references, and the Black Hand.

Corey’s writing is interesting, and this is easily the densest comic I’ve bought since the last issue of Turf (I mean that in a good way, even if Corey can be a little verbose).  The art, by Anthony Diecidue, is quite appealing.  Picture layouts by Riley Rossmo and finishes by Guy Davis, and you should be able to imagine what this book looks like.

I feel like so much was happening in this comic that I’m going to need to read it again before the second issue comes out, but that I will definitely be buying that second issue.

Undying Love #2

Written by Tomm Coker and Daniel Freedman
Art by Tomm Coker

I find it strange that Coker and Freedman didn’t put any time in this second issue into helping develop the character of John Sargant, instead spending the whole comic having him continue on his quest to rescue his girlfriend from her vampirism by hunting down the vampire that ‘made’ her.

His mission takes him to a Hong Kong casino and nightclub run by a vampire working for Shang-Ji, Sargant’s target.  The action sequences are very cool and well-orchestrated.  Coker has a real feel for Hong Kong, going so far as to include much of the dialogue in Chinese characters, without providing translation (although it’s not too hard to imagine what characters in these situations would be saying).

Undying Love is another one of those Image mini-series that are released to little marketing, only to grab some attention with their overall quality.  It’s really pretty good.

The Unwritten #25

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross

According to the letter’s page, this issue starts off the second act of The Unwritten.  Certainly, this issue has a different feel to it, as Tom, armed with some real knowledge of the power of stories and how his ‘magic’ works, reunites with his friends Lizzie and Savoy.

The trio has decided to go after the Cabal, and their first order of business is to retrieve some of Wilson Taylor’s possessions, which are about to be auctioned off.  They figure that Wilson’s diaries will be of help to them in their mission, but as they break into and explore the auction house, Tom goes on a few trips down memory lane.  There’s even a reference to Mr. Bun, the storybook bunny we saw last issue (which was brilliant).

There was a long stretch when this series began where I wasn’t sure that I wanted to stick with this title.  Now, as so many of the threads that Carey introduced early on in the story are beginning to intersect, I’m very glad I stuck it out.  This is a deeply rewarding series.

Drums #1

Written by El Torres
Art by Abe Hernando and Kwaichang Kraneo

I’ve only had a passing interest in some of the Caribbean and South American religions that have been easily demonized in the modern media – Voodoo, Santeria, and others, but have recognized their effectiveness in horror stories for a while.  I probably would have passed on this book altogether except that the cover to this issue is so good (at first glance, I thought it may have been done by Paul Pope).  Also, El Torres has written a few good comics, notably The Veil, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

This comic opens with a straight-edge FBI agent being called in to investigate a bizarre crime scene.  66 adherents of Santeria and its sister religions are found dead, but the cause of death is not apparent.  It almost seems as if they all just died instantly, and the investigation is not going very far.  Our supercop partners with a cultural anthropologist and seeks out an expert on Santeria, but not before experiencing a strange vision.

The story is intriguing, but I’m not sure if I’ll be back for the next issue.  I find the art a little stiff, and the sheer volume of strange terms and explanations that I find hard to follow are kind of turning me off.  At the same time, this book has some serious potential – I’ll give this issue another read, and make up my mind later.

Fables #105

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and Andrew Pepoy

Willingham takes some time away from the conflict between Mister Dark and the refugees of Fabletown, now holed up in Haven, to focus on the relationship between the North Wind and Bigby Wolf.  Mr. North has come to inform his son that he must kill his grandson, Ghost, because of a promise he made ages before that all zephyrs, invisible wind creatures, will be executed.

What follows from this conversation is an examination of the nature of the winds, which is pretty interesting.  I like how Willingham has considered all possibilities in anthropomorphizing something like the North Wind, and really applied its nature to its character.

In all, a very good issue of Fables, although the cover barely matches with the content of the book.

The Li’l Depressed Boy #4

Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Sina Grace

As much as I continue to find this comic to be pretty charming and sweet, I think I’m starting to need a little more from it.  Every issue so far has been about LDB trying to get attention from Jazmin, the girl he’s met, and in this issue, it seems that they are getting closer and closer.

Of course, there’s a twist at the end of this issue that I didn’t really see coming, and clearly, neither did the LDB.  The thing is, it makes Jazmin look very bad, as she’s been leading our hero on pretty badly.

The art in this book is very nice, but I find that the pace of the plot is more than a little irregular.  LDB and Jazz hang out, and go out a lot, playing laser tag, eating take out, and graffitiing abandoned car sculptures.  LDB seems to have a lot of cash available to him, which is interesting as he doesn’t appear to have a job.

As much as I like this book, I would prefer it to be a lot less decompressed.  It still reminds me a lot of Scott Pilgrim, only without the density of that comic.

Quick Takes:

Batman Incorporated #6 – What an awesome issue.  Morrison takes a few steps back to show us the big picture of Batman Inc., just as Bruce starts to muddy the waters around the globe to make his intentions less clear to Leviathan, the villains he’s going after.  Tons of guest stars and international settings, and artist Chris Burnham doesn’t bat an eye.  Few artists could handle a book like this so well – this man deserves to be a superstar.

Birds of Prey #12 – This issue felt more like an issue of Secret Six than Birds of Prey, as Huntress teams up with the Question to track down some dirty cops, and the rest of the team infiltrates an office building on a mission that is never actually explained.  There’s a darkness to the comic that feels much more like Simone’s other superb title, and so I wasn’t too surprised to see an old Secret Six nemesis return, although it’s not clear yet how that happened.  Great writing, and great art by Jesus Saiz.

Daredevil Reborn #4 – I’ve been underwhelmed by this mini-series.  I liked Shadowland, but don’t see how the events of these four issues would be enough to put Matt Murdock back into his usual headspace.  The whole thing feels very editorially-forced and comes off like a paint-by-numbers story.  I wasn’t going to bother with the relaunch of DD’s regular book, until I saw that Marcos Martin is one of the artists.  I have a rule now that says I’m going to have to buy this…

FF #3 – Hickman has so many ideas for this book that a single issue can only ever scratch the surface of what he wants to accomplish.  This issue opens with a variety of classic FF villains being invited to a symposium hosted by Dr. Doom on the question of how to defeat Reed Richards.  It sounds weird, until Hickman reveals that he’s really talking about the various Reeds that Valeria rescued a while back.  From there, we see what they’ve been up to as they visit the four cities that were introduced almost a year ago.  There’s a big big picture for this comic, and steadily, it’s being revealed.  Luckily, along the way, there is time for some strong character development, and lots of very good art.  This is becoming one of my favourite Marvel titles.

Farscape #19 – Farscape has gone from being a guilty nostalgia pleasure that never quite fully satisfied to being one of the books I look forward to most.  This ‘War for the Uncharted Territories’ arc, now in its seventh chapter, has a real sense of weight to it, as the various races of the Farscape universe are fighting off the Kkore attackers, and writers Rockne O’Bannon and Keith RA DeCandido are doing a terrific job of juggling a number of characters, sub-plots, and locales.  A familiar face shows up in this issue, as Aerynn’s combined forces engage the Kkore.  Good stuff.

Flashpoint #1 – I knew not to buy this, yet I still did.  There are a couple of the spin-offs that I’m looking forward to (Azzarello and Risso on Batman, for example), so I thought I should at least get a grounding in the main event.  It’s pretty much exactly what I expected – an Elseworlds story that seems designed to titillate the internet forum set of long-time fans who get turned on by this kind of thing, as opposed to a good, character-driven story.  Barry Allen wakes up in a world where everything has changed, for reasons we don’t understand, and has to figure out what’s going on, not that we care.  I’m nervous about some of the speculation that has been coming out about this series re-launching the entire DC Universe.  I don’t see how there is a need for that kind of thing, and if this is the best Geoff Johns can come up with, maybe the rest of DC should take away the keys.

Journey Into Mystery #623 – Things start off poorly, as it feels like Gillen is spinning his heels for the first half of this issue, but the book improves as the story continues.  Loki is trying to free Thor, and has to put together a team of people to do it, and to then save the world from the Serpent.  I’m not sure how much of a part Loki is going to play in the Fear Itself series though, and how much of this is merely tie-in misdirection and expansion.  I can’t make up my mind about this title, partly because I don’t know what it’s really supposed to be, and probably won’t until Fear Itself is over and done with.

New Avengers #12 – My advice, when reading this comic, is to skip right past any page drawn by Howard Chaykin, and only read the story set in the modern day.  The other story, featuring a Red Skull knock-off, Nick Fury’s 1950s  Avengers, and some hideous art, isn’t worth the time.  The Superia/Mockingbird part of the book, which is the good part, is only like 7 pages though.  Please let this arc finish, so this book can go back to being the good Bendis Avengers comic.

New Mutants #25 – Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning have taken over this title, and have figured out a purpose for this book in a world that is glutted with X-Men titles.  Now the team is going to go around and clean-up unfinished X-Men business.  In this sense, I suppose they are the opposite of X-Force and the notion of the ‘pro-active’ super-team.  It’s a new-ish concept, and with the writing skills of this duo, I know it’s going to work well.  Most of the issue is spent reacquainting with the team after the last two year’s worth of craziness, before they are tasked with tracking down Nate Grey.  Very good writing, although Leandro Fernandez’s artwork feels pretty generic.  Marvel proved back in the 80s that this is a group that can do well with an experimental approach to art, and I wish they’d take it again.

REBELS #28 – I’m going to miss this title.  It was never a top-tier book, but it was consistently enjoyable (except for that weird Green Lantern Corps bit in the middle), and featured a number of characters I like a lot.  This book has brought Tony Bedard some much-deserved attention, and the people who created it should be pleased that a book like this could last for more than two years in the current market.  I hope we get to see Dox and friends again sometime.  Who would have thought that a series could be based around the idea of making Starro the Conqueror not silly?

Wolfskin: Hundredth Dream #6 – The much-delayed Wolfskin series limps to its finish, with a slightly disappointing finale.  This series would have worked a lot better had it only been four issues, but it was a little too stretched out for such thin plotting.  I feel like Warren Ellis never contributed more than the story idea, and Mike Wolfer is no Steve Pugh.

X-Men Legacy #248 – The aftermath of Age of X becomes my favourite part of the whole endeavor (which is not that uncommon for me), as the various members of the X-Men wrestle with their experiences and personalities from that artificial world, and try to move forward.  Carey shines most of his focus on the characters he always seems to love best – Rogue, Magneto, Legion, and Frenzy (who I hope is sticking around), and finally explains why Rachel Summers was involved in all of this.  It’s a nicely balanced comic, and has me interested in where he’s going to go with these characters.

Alpha Flight #0.1 – As a Canadian kid who grew up in the 80s, I’m very happy to see that a respectful and well-thought out relaunch of Alpha Flight is happening again.  The team is back from the dead, and fighting one of their own, who is trying to disrupt an election.  Of course, it doesn’t make sense that Purple Girl would wait until the day of the election, after the polls have opened, to try to reveal the truth about the Unity Party (will there be more of this), but it’s all good, as the team is working well together, and look great, with nice art by Ben Oliver.  I hope this title stays this good (tricky, as I think most of the mini-series is going to be tying in to Fear Itself), and gets picked up as an on-going.

Avengers #13 – This kind of tie-in was barely acceptable when Bendis kept doing it during Secret Invasion, but now that this book costs $4, using a whole issue to recap the events of Fear Itself #1 is just bad manners.  Even with wonderful Chris Bachalo artwork and a structure ripped off of VH1 style reality TV Where Are They Now? shows, this issue feels like a rip-off.  There is no reason for this book to exist, as Bendis simply dances around the events of Fear Itself, like a bad mash-up of  Guildenstern and Rosencrantz Are Dead and Giffen and DeMatteis’s Justice League.

Avengers Academy #14 – Another good issue from the most consistent Avengers book on the market.  The kids convince their teachers to let them take on Electro in Paris, only to learn that the entire Sinister Six is on the scene.  I always like comics where the heroes get their butts handed to them; it doesn’t happen too often, but it happens pretty regularly in this title, which is what growing up is all about.

Batman: Gates of Gotham #1 – I wasn’t going to bother with this, but putting Scott Snyder’s name on a comic is a good way to get my attention these days.  I don’t know why this had to be a mini-series instead of an arc in one of the other Bat-books (Batman and Robin, preferably), and it has the makings of an interesting Bat-saga.  Someone is blowing up bridges originally built by Gotham’s founding families (which necessitates the return of the least-interesting Bat-villain I can think of), while wearing a suit that looks like it belongs in an issue of Ex Machina.  Snyder is writing this with Kyle Higgins, and the series has serviceable artwork by Trevor McCarthy, and a cast featuring Dick Batman, both Robins, and Cassandra Batgirl.  I can’t help but feel like this should be drawn by Tony Harris though…

Generation Hope #7 – I’m enjoying this book, and the way in which Gillen is building up both these characters and their sense of being members of a team.  Idie gets most of the best lines, but almost all of the characters find a way to shine.  Espin’s art is growing on me too.

Heroes for Hire #7 – Things take a pretty light tone, as Spider-Man goes solo against mind-controlled goons with demonic guns (damnunition!), Batroc the Leaper, Scorpion, and Savage Land dinosaurs while Paladin argues with a cabbie (strange scene, that) and Misty feels useless.  I’m not sure why the tone has shifted, but I still found this a very entertaining comic.  I wish they could get more consistent with the art on this book though – Tim Seeley is good, but I prefer Brad Walker on this book.  I’d also like to see more B and C less heroes, and less Spider-Man.  He’s on as many teams as Wolverine these days…

Hulk #33 – All this stuff with nanomines in Red Hulk’s brain is making for some complicated storytelling, but I remain interested in the travails of General Ross, as he gets attacked by the Black Fog, and maybe finally gets to have a nap.  I’m still surprised that I’m reading this title, and even more so that I’m enjoying it.

Invincible Iron Man #504 – In this Fear Itself tie-in, Tony goes to investigate the hammer that fell on Paris, and fights the newly souped-up Grey Gargoyle.  It’s a mostly action issue, but Fraction sticks in a couple nice moments around the return of Bethany Cabe.  Larroca really does a great job with the art here – I’ve really come to appreciate his art on this title.

Legion of Super-Heroes #13 – As the Legion of Super-Villains story continues, the book feels more solid than it has over the last year, but at the same time, the pacing of this issue is way off.  I’m not impressed.

Science Dog #2 – It’s great to see more Kirkman and Walker goodness, even though I’d rather see Invincible get back on its schedule.  This comic is half made up of the recent Science Dog story from Invincible 75, but pairs it with its conclusion.  The story makes me think of most of the plot of Fear Agent, but you know, with a dog that fights evil using science.

THUNDER Agents #7 – Nick Spencer is doing some amazing things with this comic.  This issue has only a few scenes set in the modern day, revolving around the redhead character’s (can’t remember her name) hunt for the Iron Maiden, who is actually her mother.  Most of the book is split between an 80’s section, drawn by Mike Grell, and a 60’s section, drawn by Nick Dragotta.  It works well, since this team has gone through so many incarnations over the years, and each artist is able to match the era perfectly.  I think this is a book more people need to check out.

Thunderbolts #157 – The pacing of this book is starting to resemble a Robert Kirkman comic, as we move from cliff-hanger to cliff-hanger.  The main team finishes off their mission in Germany, and then get sent on another one with the new Beta Flight team, which I hope isn’t really called the Underbolts.  This issue wasn’t as good as the last few, as the focus was too much on plot, nothing was really resolved, and there was very little space for character development and interaction.

Uncanny X-Force #10 – So a fat man in a fez comes to your office late at night and hands you some damning information about your boss, and you don’t really question it?  The set-up to this issue is bizarre, but the rest of it is quite good, as X-Force deals with the threat of exposure just as they realize that Warren is no longer in control of his Archangel persona.  Unfortunately, it looks like this is going to necessitate a trip to the Age of Apocalypse, a nostalgia trip to the days that convinced me to drop the X-Men titles for most of the 90s.

X-Factor #219 – I’m glad this J Jonah Jameson arc is finished now; it wasn’t doing much for me story-wise.  Next issue looks like it puts the focus back on the team, and those are the issues that Peter David writes best.

X-Men: Prelude to Schism #2 – This mini-series is a whole lot of talkative preamble to what I suspect will not be too much pay-off.  I don’t really understand Marvel’s X-strategy these days.  We have three monthly X-Men books (one of which is more frequently bi-weekly), four ancillary X-titles (-Factor, -Force, Generation Hope, and New Mutants), as well as a smattering of solo books (like the Wolverine line, which is itself at least four titles deep), yet they feel the need to hold their next event in a mini-series?  There must be a movie coming out soon…

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

Amazing Spider-Man #660 & 661

Astonishing X-Men #37 & 38

Deadpool Max #8

Punisher Max #13

X-Men #11

One More From Free Comic Book Day:

Locke & Key Free Comic Book Day Edition – I’ve heard some good things about this series, and know that it has built up quite a following, but I wasn’t terribly impressed or interested in this story.  I also don’t understand the wisdom of making a big deal in the foreword about how this particular issue is kid-friendly, but that the rest of the series isn’t.  Who are we trying to market to?  The people who will enjoy the kid-friendly comic, or the people who will want to read the

whole series?  Why not give potential readers a more accurate notion of what the book is like?

Bargain Comics:

Fear Itself: The Home Front #2 – This is a completely underwhelming anthology title, but it has the Agents of Atlas, so I keep picking it up.  Unfortunately, the Atlas story isn’t written by Jeff Parker, but Peter Milligan does an alright job with these characters.  The Speedball story is less whiny than the previous month’s, and the other two stories are mystifying in their pointlessness.

The Guild: Tink #1 – I finally got around to watching some of the on-line episodes of the Guild this week, and they are as good as I’ve been told.  I don’t think this comic would have made any sense without having watched the show, but it does have some very pretty artwork by Kristian Donaldson, among some others.  I like how creator and writer Felicia Day is using these one-shots to flesh out the characters a little.

Hellblazer #273 – Milligan’s run continues to be pretty cool, as present-John figures out how to get Epiphany back from the 70s, where she’s hanging out with young-John.  This is a good comic, marred by Simon Bisley’s ugly art (but I guess you need someone with ugly art to accurately show London in the 70s, right?).

Namor: The First Mutant #6-9 – It’s not hard to see why this book has been canceled – it doesn’t have anything new or special going on, as Namor gets sent to Hell, and then faces division in his kingdom.  This is a character with a lot of potential, but since John Byrne’s series in the 80s, no one has known what to do with him, so they fall back on stock plots.  New love?  Krang causing trouble?  It’s all here, and it’s not interesting.  On the up side, it seems that newer issues aren’t being drawn by Ariel Olivetti (who seems to think that Dr. Doom’s armor exposes the top of his head).

Skaar: King of the Savage Land #2 – This second issue is more enjoyable than the first, although it’s still as much a Ka-Zar comic as it is a Skaar one (which would only make sense if Ka-Zar wasn’t getting his own mini-series soon).  Of course, any comic that has Skaar throwing Devil Dinosaur at a giant robot has to be good, right?

The Fortnight in Graphic Novels:

The Klondike

by Zach Worton

I love reading decent historical novels, books, and comics, so The Klondike is the type of book that I’m always going to pick up.  When it’s made by someone who works at the comic store that I frequent, I’m even more likely.

The Klondike tells the massive story of the gold prospectors, entrepreneurs, and police officers who rushed into the Yukon Territory at the end of the 19th century, during the last large-scale gold rush ever seen in North America.  This was a moment of great importance for Canada, as it exerted its sovereignty in the north, and began to develop one of the last true frontiers.

Worton tells the story in a kaleidoscopic fashion, jumping from character to character, attempting to give the reader the big picture of what was going on in this cold and unforgiving place.  The book is full of interesting historical figures, like ‘Lying’ George Carmack, who discovered a large vein of gold, and Belinda Mulrooney, a tough woman who opened a hotel in the region.  There is Joe Ladue, who did more than anyone to bring a sense of order to the camps, and “Soapy” Smith, a gangster-like figure.  Also, Superintendent Sam Steele, the most famous member of the Northwest Mounted Police is given some screen time.

What emerges from reading this book is a good understanding of the type of person that abandoned their lives to gamble on becoming rich in this difficult part of the country.  There is a dignity to Worton’s characters, as well as a desperation.  The book jumps all over the place in terms of story, which allows for a more nuanced gestalt to form in the reader’s mind.  There is some interesting backmatter in the book that explains mining techniques, as well as a who’s who of important figures.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, and imagine it will fit nicely on the shelf next to Louis Riel and Northwest Passage.  I love that there is a growing body of good Canadian history graphic novels.

The Next Day

Written by Paul Peterson and Jason Gilmore
Art by John Porcellino

I found this short graphic novel project to be much more interesting than I originally anticipated.  The Next Day has its text taken from interviews with four people who have attempted suicide.  Each person, three women and one man, tell their stories in one-page increments, and as the book jumps from one person to the other, many parallels between their stories are observed.

The book has incredibly simple drawings.  They almost look like they could have been done by children, and where usually this type of minimalist art is a negative for me, I found that it helped focus on the tension in each person’s story.

In each case, the person is thankful that their suicide attempts failed, and we see a little of how they are currently living their lives.  This is an important work in that it helps shed some light on depression and mental illness, and can be used to create more understanding of these problems.  Apparently there is more to this project than just this book – there is also an interactive website being run by the National Film Board of Canada.

I’m not sure if this is something I would give to a person suffering depression to help them understand their condition, but I think it may help families and friends come to grips with what a loved one is going through.

A Sickness in the Family

Written by Denise Mina
Art by Antonio Fuso

This is one Vertigo Crime book that ended up being pretty creepy.  In A Sickness in the Family, a British family of means disintegrates utterly and completely.  The Usher family (a little heavy-handed with the naming) is full of the simmering resentments that most families have, and just about everyone in the family has a secret, but as the book opens during Christmas dinner, they are more or less functioning.  Sure, the parents are in counseling for the wife’s extra-marital affairs, the daughter is unhappy that her father isn’t funding her business venture, and the older brother is hiding a pretty big secret.  The youngest son is adopted, and has not ever been fully welcomed by the whole family.  The aging grandmother is mellowing nicely, but everyone else remembers what a terror she used to be.

During this dinner, the couple that lives downstairs get into a massive fight that culminates in both their deaths.  After that, the father decides to open a huge hole in the middle of his house to build a staircase to the recently acquired ground floor, and things start to go weird.  One by one, the members of the Usher family meet accidents and have their secrets revealed, as the dwindling number of survivors turn on each other.  There may be a supernatural element to what’s going on, or the explanation may be more pedestrian than that.

Mina does a great job of ratcheting up the tension with each new chapter, and as the list of suspects shrinks, everyone begins to look more and more guilty.  The story is told through the perspective of the adopted teenage son, who is pretty much the only nice person in the comic.  Fuso’s art is serviceable, but doesn’t really stand out.  Still, this is a pretty impressive piece of work from an imprint of an imprint that keeps improving.

Albums of the Weeks:

Ebo Taylor – Life Stories

Madlib Medicine Show No. 9 – Channel 85 Presents Nittyville, Feat. Frank Nitt

Thanks for making it all the way to the end here!  This was a long column…

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