The Weekly Round-Up #79 Featuring Scalped, American Vampire, Morning Glories, And More!

Best Comic of the Week:

Scalped #49

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

I can’t think of another monthly comic where the principal characters are tested more often, or forced to face their own worst natures more consistently than in Scalped.  Aaron really puts his people through the ringer, and it’s nice to see them rise to the occasion every once in a while.

In this issue of Scalped, which finishes off the ‘You Gotta Sin to Get Saved’ arc, Dash travels with Catcher to find the man who killed his mother, and Red Crow has a meeting with Rock Medicine, his father figure and now opponent in the tribal elections.

We’ve known for a while that Catcher has had plans for Dash, and the scene where he puts them into motion, just as the wounded Officer Falls Down appears, is brilliant.  So much happens on one page, and I love the way Guera breaks the scene down.  His contribution to the series often gets overlooked because of how brilliant Aaron’s writing is, but this issue is a prime example of how integral he is to the feel of this comic.

Also of note in this issue is the decision that Red Crow makes with regards to Rock Medicine, and the new outlook this brings to him.  I’ve long felt that Red Crow is the true main character of this series, and this scene made me happy.  Next issue is the big #50, set to include guest artists, and hopefully, to draw in some new readers.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #1

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Sean Murphy

American Vampire is one of the finest titles that Vertigo has launched in the last couple of years (and really, that’s putting it in some impressive company).  Scott Snyder (and series co-creator Stephen King) have put together a very interesting take on vampires, which spans decades of American history.  The original series is mostly focused on a few central characters; Pearl and Skinner Sweet being the most important.  Along the way though, a number of supporting characters have been introduced, as has a large vampire-hunting organization, known as the Vassals of the Morning Star.

This five-issue mini-series explores the Vassals further, as the story focuses on two minor characters from the mothership title.  Felicia Book is the daughter of Jim Book, the man who chased Skinner Sweet throughout the Stephen King-written part of the series’s launch.  In this mini, set during the early days of the Second World War, she has become the best agent of the Vassals.  She is being sent on a mission to track down a possible cure for vampirism, which is believed to be in a castle in Nazi-occupied Romania.  Accompanying her will be Cash McCogan, the former sheriff of Las Vegas, who we met in the second arc of this series.

I like that Snyder is giving these characters more play, as they were pretty compelling when they first appeared.  He is joined on this book by Sean Murphy, the phenomenal artist of Joe the Barbarian and Hellblazer City of Demons.  Murphy continues to remind me of an early Chris Bachalo, which is a very good thing.  It’s nice to see that Vertigo has another series that can work as a franchise, so long as the quality remains at this level.

Blue Estate #3

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

With each new issue of this series, I find myself more and more engrossed.  Blue Estate is a sprawling crime comic, with a large cast and little to no loyalty to the episodic nature of monthly comics (the last page of this comic moves to a new setting and new characters, without any apparent meaning or setting up a cliffhanger).  Normally, that would be just annoying, but somehow, it really works here.

This issue sticks with three sub-groups of characters.  Last issue ended with some frat idiots giving a stripper a hard time in a strip club owned by the son of a mob boss.  This issue begins with said owner teaching them a few things about proper strip club decorum, although it’s left unclear whether or not they’ll be able to ever apply these lessons.

From there, the book shifts focus to Alyosha the Lion, a crazy Uzbek drug smuggler looking to buy a lot of weapons (although he doesn’t know that his apartment is being bugged).  We also get to check in with the Roy Devines.  The older one is staking out Alyosha, when the younger one appears at the stake-out van with coffee.

Kalvachev and his writing team are taking their time in building up the characters and situations that make up this comic, and that’s perfectly okay with me.  They are clearly having fun with their Tarantino-esque dialogue (I love how the mob goons invoke the name of David Hasselhoff), and have a pretty big story to tell eventually.

The art continues to impress as well.  I find the shifts from one artist to the next are utterly seamless.  It feels like the various artists are really challenging each other to show off their best material, and for a book with so many people involved, it stays remarkably consistent.

Caligula #2

Written by David Lapham
Art by German Nobile

This is one comic that is really not going according to my expectations of it.  I thought that, with Lapham writing a story set in the most decadent period of ancient Rome, that we would get a perverse little revenge story, as young Junius would attempt to avenge his family for their ill-treatment at the mad emperor’s hands.  The first issue ended with a surprise that had me expecting that we would be moving into Ides of Blood territory, with Caligula turning out to be something we are familiar with in modern-day comics (trying not to spoil stuff here).

As this issue opens, Junius doesn’t know how to react to last issue’s surprise.  He gets re-christened Felix (for luck), and becomes a part of the emperor’s entourage.  This means he gets strapped to the front of a chariot during a bloody and dangerous race, and then later has to help Caligula when he decides to defile his own sister (Caligula’s, not Junius’s).

This issue ends in a manner that is even stranger (and quite possibly a comic book first) than I would have ever expected.  What I’m undecided about is whether or not Lapham is just going for shock value, or if there is some sort of higher purpose to the insanity that makes up this book.

Green Wake #3

Written by Kurtis Wiebe
Art by Riley Rossmo

Green Wake had piqued my interest enough that I decided I’d continue to pick up the rest of this five-issue mini-series.  Now, however, the back cover of this latest issue declares that this title is now an on-going, as does the solicitation in Previews for issue five (although it also refers to this issue being the finale).

Normally, I greet that kind of news with pleasure.  I like to see oddball indie books meet with success, but I’m not convinced, based on the material in the first three issues, that there is enough here to pin an on-going series on.

Anyway, this issue is pretty good.  We finally get a lot of the pieces of the Green Wake puzzle laid out face up on the table, if not exactly connected.  We learn just what Morley did prior to waking up in the Wake, and what exactly his and his partner’s role in the community is.  We see the role that religion plays for the Green Wake-ers, and get closer to catching up with Ariel on her murderous rampage.

I feel like Green Wake is a good example of a leftfield comics experience, and I’m definitely sticking around through the fifth issue, but I’m going to wait until that point before deciding if I’m going to invest in the series long-term.

Moriarty #2

Written by Daniel Corey
Art by Anthony Diecidue

There are few comics being published today as dense and complicated as Moriarty, a four-issue mini-series featuring Sherlock Holmes’s great nemesis.  The plot of this series, involving the origins of the first world war and the creation of a box that can drive men insane, is terrifically complex, and kind of hard to follow.

This isn’t a problem though, as Moriarty’s journeys through 1914 England are fascinating to read.  This issue alone has appearances by Dr. Watson, the Serbian Black Hand organization, Mata Hari, and ninjas.  How could you not enjoy such a thing?

Corey does a great job of keeping all of these elements in play in a way that is reasonable and believable.  I’m really enjoying Anthony Diecidue’s artwork.  I saw, in the first issue, a heavy Guy Davis influence, which continues throughout this issue as well, but I’m also starting to sense that Kevin O’Neill has had a big hand in his development as well.  That makes perfect sense, as in a lot of ways, this book reads like a descendant of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Good stuff.

Morning Glories #10

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

If there’s one thing you can count on Morning Glories for, it’s that you aren’t going to see where things are going.  Lately, each issue of the book has been focusing on one particular character, and like an episode of Lost, filling in their back story through flashbacks while still moving the main plot of the series forward.  The Lost comparison seems so apt, as lately there’s been a Jacob-like character who we’ve learned has visited most of our ‘Glories’ when they were younger.

This issue though, focuses on Jade, the least well adjusted of our cast (and that’s saying a lot).  From the start, Jade has had the most difficulty with the whole ‘stuck in a school where the teachers are trying to kill you’ weirdness of this book (which perhaps makes her the most normal).  In this issue, it is a little hard to distinguish between what is happening in reality and what Jade is dreaming, as she makes a couple of odd decisions, and perhaps meets her future self (instead of Jacob?).

I feel like, by now, we should have a clearer image of what is going on in this comic, but as long as Spencer uses words like ‘Plathesque’, I’m not going to complain about anything.  This book is bizarre and wicked fun.

Screamland #1

Written by Howard Sipe and Christopher Sebela
Art by Lee Leslie and Kevin Mellon

I loved the first Screamland mini-series, and am very excited to see that it has returned in a new (on-going?) series at Image.  The notion behind this series is that all the old monsters in classic Hollywood monster movies were in fact played by the real creatures.  Now, however, as digital effects have taken over movie magic, these original actors can’t find work, and have been relegated to the convention circuit, bad porn movies, and desperately scrounging for any attempt to regain their fame.

In this new series, the Wolfman is hanging out with his old friend, an actor who plays a “Scotty on Star Trek” type, at a convention when they get some disturbing news.  The Devil Fish, the Screamland version of the Creature From the Black Lagoon, has died.  Apparently, he was in possession of a film made of an orgy that took place back in the 70s, featuring many different members of the Hollywood monster set.  The Invisible Man is planning on using this film to return himself to the limelight, but  Carl, the Wolfman, is desperate to stop this from happening.  He goes around trying to recruit a number of freaks to help him.

This book is frequently very funny, and has a nice, new perspective on the underside of the fandom world.  While I miss original (and cover) artist Hector Casanova, new artist Lee Leslie does a decent job of things.  The Invisible Man back-up is informative and gives us a different, more serious, perspective on the shenanigans.  Recommended.

The Unwritten #26

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Grosss

Okay, so last issue’s attempted heist didn’t work out for Tom and his friends, but we learn in this issue that, now that he’s gotten some degree of understanding of magic and his place in it, and since his friend Savoy has become a vampire, there is no stopping Tom Taylor.

This is a much more action-based issue than we are used to seeing from this book, as Taylor faces off against the auctioneer that used Wilson Taylor’s possessions as bait to capture Tom.  When he attempts to sell Tom to a wide group of people (including Mr. Skate, the new leader of the Cabal, and Mme. Rausch, the crazy puppet lady), things don’t go well for him.

Most interesting is the revelation about Wilson Taylor that closes off this issue.  I’ve been enjoying this book more and more lately, and it really feels like Carey and Gross have hit their stride with this title.

Quick Takes:

Annihilators #4 – While this series was enjoyable, I much prefer the Guardians of the Galaxy series that preceded it.  Where that series was very character-driven and frequently a lot of fun, the title story in this book is way too plot-heavy and over the top.  The Rocket Raccoon and Groot story is a lot of fun, with amazing Timothy Green artwork, but comes off as a little too cutesy for me.  The GotG series found the perfect balance between all these elements; this ended up being an echo of that.

Birds of Prey #13 – This series hasn’t really gelled since Gail Simone returned to it and it was relaunched, but I’m still sad to see that it won’t be returning in the Ultimate DCU in a few months.  This issue has the Birds going up against Junior, the villain who launched the Secret Six on-going so memorably.  It’s good stuff, even if the usually bulletproof Dove can be taken down by an over-sized pair of scissors.

Farscape #20 – As the War for the Uncharted Territories continues (part 8!), most of the Farscape band gets back together and the Peacekeeper-led force makes its stand against the Kkore.  There has been real weight to this story arc, as O’Bannon and DeCandido trash their sandbox, while still finding time for some reflective character-driven monologues.  Great stuff.

Fear Itself: Fearsome Four #1 – You don’t get much weirder than a comic that has Howard the Duck, She-Hulk, Nighthawk, and the Marvel version of the Frankenstein monster tracking Man-Thing through Manhattan.  What makes this book even stranger is the vastly different art styles used throughout.  Most of the comic is drawn by Ryan Bodenheim, who has a bit of a John Cassaday vibe to his work.  Some of it is drawn by Mike Kaluta, so we get that old-school horror comic look.  The last few pages are by Simon Bisley, so things get really ugly.  The Bisley contribution fits the story; the combination of the other two is pretty jarring.  Also strange about this comic is the way that it seems to be the only Fear Itself comic so far that actually deals with the concept of fear, as Man-Thing burns just about everything, and mindless mob-like extras appear on demand.  I don’t think this is a good comic, but I do think I’ll be back for the next issue just because it is so unique.

Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown #1 – As much as I usually admire Jeff Lemire’s writing, this comic has the fingerprints of DC editorial all over it.  Frankenstein and the creature commandos are introduced during the Second World War, kill Hitler, and then get put on ice by their government for unclear reasons.  They wake up in current times in Metropolis, and decide to go to Gotham to look for a 65-year old science lab.  There’s not enough character development, and the plot feels smushed together.  Earlier this week I got excited to see that Lemire would be writing an on-going Frankenstein book in the DC relaunch, but now I’m not so sure I care…

Journey Into Mystery #624 – Kieron Gillen really knows how to write Loki.  This issue revisits his earlier work with the character, as Loki re-enters negotiations with Hela and Mephisto, this time looking to gain support for Asgard in its fight with The Serpent.  As always, the machinations are complex, but written in a light-hearted way.  I have little interest in Fear Itself, and none in Thor right now (despite the fact that I think Matt Fraction is one of the most talented writers in comics), but find this title to be approaching delightful.

New Avengers #13 – Bendis really took the long way around what is a pretty short story, as we finally figure out what the connection between the New Avengers taking down Superia in a strip mall and Nick Fury and a team of “Avengers” fighting the Red Skull in the late 50’s is, and it’s not all that interesting.  In a lot of ways, it’s like they just wanted to pad the story out so that they wouldn’t have to think of anything else to do before Fear Itself takes the book over.  Disappointingly middle of the road.

Samurai’s Blood #1 – Putting out the first issue for a dollar is the easiest way to ensure that I’ll check out a new series.  This one is a decent enough samurai comic; I just feel like I’ve read a few too many of these, and have seen the movie a few times already.  There is nothing wrong with this comic, it just doesn’t add anything new to the genre.  I don’t think I’ll be back for more.

X-Men Legacy #250 – What I suppose is the new regular cast of this book chases off after some of Legion’s escaped personalities, while Rachel Summers continues to fade away on Utopia.  Mike Carey is setting up his next batch of storylines for this title, and while they are perfectly fine, they are not terribly groundbreaking.  This point is underscored by the decision to reprint New Mutants #27, which chronicles the first time that Xavier and his crew met Legion.  It also serves as a reminder that Chris Claremont comics are ridiculously wordy, and that Bill Sienkiewicz made this title amazing.  It makes me wonder why there are no Marvel comics that play with visuals the way titles did in the 80s.  I should think that some of the lower-tier titles should be given carte blanche to go artistically nuts – it’s not like people are buying them anyway.  Imagine Marvel giving over books like Generation Hope or Iron Man 2.0 to some truly crazy artists…

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

Wolverine #10

Punisher Max #14

Supreme Power #1

The Week in Manga:

Gantz Vol. 2

by Hiroya Oku

I read the first volume of Gantz almost a year ago, and enjoyed it, but never really intended to get sucked into a series that has run for so long.  I found the second volume at a used bookstore recently, though, and couldn’t resist picking it up.

I found I didn’t enjoy this volume as much as I did the first.  I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that so much time had past between reading chapters, and I didn’t really remember much of what was going on.  Most of this book is devoted to a fight between the surviving characters of the first book and a giant onion alien (whatever the hell that’s supposed to be).

It’s not until the fight is over and a few people are taken back to the apartment that has the weird Gantz orb in it that the book became interesting to me.  It seems that none of these characters know if they are alive or dead anymore, but with the conclusion of their mission, they are allowed to return to their lives.  The naked girl goes home to discover that she is basically a copy of her former self, who is in the hospital recovering from a suicide attempt.

Anyway, I’ll keep an eye open for more of these books, but I’m not going to be too fussed if I never read another chapter.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Fortune and Glory: A True Hollywood Comic Book Story

by Brian Michael Bendis

This is one funny comic.  While still an ‘indie comics’ guy, Marvel’s current head writer found himself on Hollywood’s radar.  His book Goldfish (which is excellent) seemed like an easy fit for Hollywood, and with interest in comic book movies growing, and Bendis’s indie cred on the rise, things looked very good for him.  Until he actually had to start dealing with Hollywood execs, that is.

This comic follows Bendis through this time of his life where he is taking calls from people who claim to love his work, and then admit to having never read it.  He meets with executives who want to talk about Rob Liefeld’s popularity, or want to cast Pauly Shore as Goldfish.  Eventually, it becomes clear to all involved that the movie is never going to happen.

But right at that same time, Bendis, along with Marc Andreyko, begin working on Torso, their incredible comic about a serial killer in Cleveland who is hunted by Elliott Ness.  They decide to pitch this as a movie as well, and once again, Bendis (this time with Andreyko in tow) is subjected to some hilariously confusing meetings.

This book works because, instead of betraying anger towards the system, Bendis keeps the tone bemused and philosophical.  It’s clear that, as much as he would like to see one of these movies get made, he is not investing himself in the process too emotionally (or, if he is, he decided not to portray that in the comic).  This is a frequently funny and insightful piece of work, which also serves as a good reminder of why I wish Bendis was working on his own projects more these days.

Green Monk

by Brandon Dayton

I picked up this small but thick comic at TCAF because I was impressed with Brandon Dayton’s clean lines.

Green Monk is an adventure story about a monk wandering around a mythical Russian countryside.  He is armed with a greenblade, which is basically a sword made of an indestructible blade of grass.  He seeks out a giant, called Oxbreaker, who has been terrorizing the locals, and fights him.

It’s a simple story, told simply as well.  Dayton uses each page as a single panel, but because of the book’s dimensions, that approach works very well.  Dayton has a simple approach to art as well – it reminds me a little of Jeff Smith, with minimalist backgrounds and details.

Basically, this book is a good example of pure, unadulterated comics goodness.  I’m sure it is not easy to find a copy of this comic, but it can be ordered here.  Get it.

Minis

by Becky Cloonan

I’ve made no secret of the extent of my comic book crush on Becky Cloonan.  I’m sure she gets that a lot, being the poster girl for attractive, intelligent comic book artists who can also throw down and write a good story when she needs to.

I’ve been slowly trying to amass a collection of her entire back catalogue (I think all I’m missing now is her Dracula adaptation), and so picked up this self-published collection of some of her mini-comics when I saw her this year at TCAF.  Minis contains fourteen stories she originally self-published between 2000 and 2002, and it is an interesting look into the creative mind of an emerging genius.

The stories are all quite short, and seem to revel in their indie-ness.  They are also disarmingly charming.  It’s not hard to look at these pieces and see why creators like Brian Wood were able to recognize what a talent Cloonan is.  Sure, this book doesn’t really stand up on its own, but when read as part of the bigger picture, it becomes indispensable.

Album of the Week:

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – 100 Days, 100 Nights

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