The Weekly Round-Up #80 With Northlanders, Fables, Alpha Flight, X-Men: Prelude to Schism, & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Northlanders #41

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Marian Churchland

There is a lot to love about this comic.  First, the art for this done-in-one story is provided by Marian Churchland, who is a remarkable up-and-comer who is not getting nearly the amount of recognition she deserves.  Her graphic novel Beast, and her work on Elephantmen have been brilliant, and it’s terrific to see her on a book like Northlanders.  Her art is complimented perfectly on this issue by colourist Dave McCaig – in fact, I thought she had done the colours herself.

The story in this issue is also terrific.  Birna Thorsdottir is a fourteen year old girl who has grown up the only child of the local lord in the Outer Hebrides in 990 AD.  She’s never been off the island she was born on, and when her father dies suddenly, is forced to step up to defend her home and her title to it.

Northlanders is frequently the most literary title that Vertigo publishes.  Wood writes such amazingly tight, little stories in this book that resonate deeply with modern readers, despite being set in a time few people are familiar with.  He is able to construct complex characters in a short span, and make the reader care about them.

I was sad to see the news last week that Northlanders is going to be canceled.  Truly, it’s not much of a surprise when any Vertigo book is canceled these days, but it is disappointing that a book like this doesn’t attract a wider readership.  Still, I can’t wait to dive into the Icelandic Trilogy, which will see the book to its conclusion.

Other Notable Comics:

Cinderella: Fables Are Forever #5

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Shawn McManus

Reading this issue, I couldn’t help but think that, for someone who has had centuries to perfect her skills in the art of spycraft, Cindy is not doing such a good job in this series.  The flashback sequence set in 1986 has her failing her objective, and not capture Dorothy Gale, while things in the present day go even worse.  Perhaps this is all part of a grander scheme, but given some of the events of this issue, that really does not seem likely.

Cinderella has been hunting Dorothy, at the request of Ivan Durak (Ivan the Fool), one of the Russian Fables that we only learned about at the start of this series.  When the issue begins, Cindy and Ivan are prisoners of Dorothy’s minions – a bunch of spoons and a see-through glass cat.  They’re in an airship flying over the Deadly Desert of Oz, although they do make good their escape.

This Cinderella series has been a lot of fun.  I’ve been enjoying the flashbacks and McManus’s artwork a great deal, although I kind of think that perhaps five issues, and a little more density of plotting, would have been better.

Graveyard of Empires #1

Written by Mark Sable
Art by Paul Azaceta

I made the decision to order this comic based on three things.  Mark Sable and Paul Azaceta’s Grounded was a very enjoyable take on the young superhero; the solicitation in Previews said something about it being a war comic (I don’t read solicitations when I know I like a creative team); and finally, that cover is awesome.  The point being that I didn’t really know what this book was going to be, and so the surprise at the end of this issue was something I didn’t see coming until just moments before it happened.  That’s something I always appreciate in comics, even when the big event is also the premise of another Image series right now…

Still, this is a good comic.  It is set in Afghanistan, although I’m not sure exactly where or during which phase of America’s involvement in that country since 9/11.  There is a small base that is in a precarious position – the soldiers’ CO is using heroin, and locals attack with mortars and small arms fire constantly, not to mention that there are a lot of suicide bombers about.  The soldiers are unhappy, and tend to fall into the usual categories of soldiers that we see in books like this (one is a noob, another is ready to kill anyone, etc.).

A new lieutenant shows up, and promises to make changes, tightening security, but also looking to engage the locals through the payment of restitution, the offering of medical aid, and a desire for a shura – a sit down meeting with local elders.  When his new policies immediately result in the death of a few of his soldiers, the others aren’t too happy about it.  Then some stuff I’m not going to talk about happens, and it becomes clear where this series is headed.

Sable clearly has a strong sense of how things work in the military, and in Afghanistan.  Everything here fits with the articles and books I’ve read about this conflict, and I always admire authenticity (until that thing happens).  Azaceta’s art has evolved quite a bit.  Previously, I saw him as being squarely in the Mike Mignola school of art, but this issue has more of a Daredevil-era David Mazzuchelli feel to it (high praise indeed).  I’m definitely sticking through the rest of this four-issue mini-series.

Undying Love #3

Written by Tomm Coker and Daniel Freedman
Art by Tomm Coker

I really like the way that Coker and Freedman have set up and are telling this vampire story.  The first two issues introduced the main characters, an American soldier and an Asian vampire woman, and the plot, which involves him trying to hunt down the vampire that turned her so she can be freed of the curse.  What we didn’t know though, through those first two issues, is just what the relationship between these two characters was.

This issue opens in a desert in Syria, and shows how the two first met.  A lot is done in this issue to establish the strength of the bond between them, while also setting up the second half of the series.  John and his squad free the woman from a group of Bedouin vampires that are holding her captive, and they feel compelled to stay together after that.  It’s clear that Coker and Freedman put a fair amount of thought into this book, in making it distinct from the hundreds of other vampire-related media that seems to pour out of every TV, movie theatre, and book and comic store these days.

Of course, with the art being as good as Coker’s is, the good writing can be viewed as icing on the cake.  I’m glad I gave this series a shot.

Quick Takes:

Alpha Flight #1 – It’s great to see the hometown superhero team back in print, and Van Lente and Pak give us a really solid superhero tie-in comic for the series’s official debut.  Attuma attacks Vancouver (although, after the week that city’s had, who would notice?), and the new Prime Minister invokes martial law and causes one member of the team to betray them.  The notion of an ultra-right wing Canada would have been ridiculous a few years ago, but we are the country who just gave Stephen Harper a majority, and voted in an overweight redneck creep as mayor of the most cosmopolitan city in the world.  So the book is hitting close to home…

Avengers #14 – So Bendis crams endless dialogue into the first few pages, and then gives us what is basically a wordless comic for the rest of the book, while the hammer-possessed Thing 9/11’s Avenger’s Tower, and somehow only the Red Hulk is around to try to stop him (and Jarvis, who rates Fear Itself as a bigger deal than the time the Masters of Evil pounded the daylights out of him).  These types of issues were acceptable when comics were cheaper; now, not so much.

Avengers Academy #15 – Leave it to Christos Gage to write the first Fear Itself tie-in that works completely in isolation to the main series.  Sure, it reacts to events from the series, as the adults in the book go after the Raft escapees, and the kids are sent to Washington to help rescue people from Sin’s attack force, but it does it in such a way that those larger events are only foils to the turmoil that Henry Pym and Tigra feel over having to send the kids into war.  Very good work here (as we’ve always come to expect from this book).

Generation Hope #8 – Gillen uses this issue to explore the character of Teon, who at first seemed like a knockoff of Wild Child (who is, of course, himself a Wolverine knockoff), but now is presenting himself as a much more interesting character than anyone would have ever guessed, having as much in common with the character Darwin as he does any feral mutant brawler.  This is a good issue, made even better by the conversation between two of the ‘lights’ at the end of the book.  I’m starting to see where this title has a lot of potential.

Hulk #35 – This whole Planet Red Hulk thing was just weird, especially when its ending is factored into things.  Jeff Parker’s been doing such a great job on this title that I wonder if this was an editorially-mandated plot.  I also find it strange that the character who has barely been able to sleep for ages doesn’t even comment about how peaceful it would be to live on an alien world where the military isn’t hunting him, let alone to be king of that place.  This arc is best forgotten, and I feel like I should just skip the next pile of issues until Gabriel Hardman is back on art for this book.

Invincible #80 – Kirkman really packs this book with content (which I guess makes up for it being so far behind schedule – this issue was solicited for January).  Mark has a change in his living arrangements, picks up all the comics he’s missed in the last year (that scene is worth buying the book for, especially in light of DC’s recent announcements), does a good deed or two, and then fights a dinosaur guy in Las Vegas.  No other comic pokes fun at itself and the industry on one page, and then delivers an environmental lesson in the middle of an epic fight a little later.  Great stuff, and worth waiting for.

Invincible Iron Man #505 – I think this is the first that we’ve seen Tony ever really open up with his new suit, and that’s kind of cool, even if almost this whole issue is spent showing the fight between Tony and the Fear Itself’ed Grey Gargoyle.  The decision to bring Bethany Cabe back into the book was a brilliant one on Fraction’s part, as she is now providing some of the animosity that Maria Hill used to bring to the title.  Good stuff, as always.

Legion of Super-Heroes #14 – There are too many threads in this comic to keep things straight (especially with back-to-back scenes revolving around old men with staffs and no text box to tell us that we’ve moved locales), and while they are starting to converge some, I’m wondering if I care.  How long ago were we supposed to learn the secret of Professor Li?  I’m frustrated because I love the Legion, and Levitz’s earlier run on the book, but this is just not working out.  Of course, the reboot is coming, and as much as I want to like this book, I may not even give it a chance.

Uncanny X-Men #538 – I think there are enough fans who are going to love this issue simply because we finally do away with Kitty’s weird space helmet thing.  Other than that (which is a nice aesthetic decision), we get a very solid ending to the Breakworld story, and it ends in a way I didn’t expect to see, which is always nice.  Also, great Dodson art, which is also always a plus.  Gillen’s run on this book is going strong.

X-Factor #221 – It’s very nice to see Dennis Calero back on this book, for however long that’s going to last.  Rahne is being pursued by a number of cat and dog-related hell creatures, gods and goddesses, for reasons that aren’t yet clear, and they are all being guided by Feral, the unfortunate Rob Liefeld creation.  An alright issue writing wise, but it feels like Peter David is phoning things in these days.

X-Men: Prelude to Schism #3 – More navel gazing, as Cyclops runs through his past, while the big threat that is coming is, once again, not revealed or even hinted at.  I’m not too sure if this book serves an actual purpose, or if Marvel even knows what to do with Paul Jenkins anymore.  They always just give him these oddball assignments.  I do like Will Conrad’s art here.

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

Deadpool Max #9

Fear Itself: The Home Front#3

Godzilla Gangsters & Goliaths #1 (The writer of Chew and the artist of Unknown Soldier should be an interesting mix, but not at this price for a giant lizard comic.)

X-Men #13

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Collected And Then One Day Vol. 1

by Ryan Claytor

I have a friend who writes and posts on Facebook a daily haiku.  More often than not, they are about food, beer, or coffee, but taken as a whole (there are over 500 of them written so far), they become a substantive chronicle of his everyday existence.  What does that have to do with this small book, which collects the first four mini-comics in Ryan Claytor’s series?  Almost this entire book reminded me of my friend’s haiku.

Each page in this book is a strip that represents, in some way, a day in Claytor’s life.  Many of them, especially in the first half of the book, are kind of banal and quotidian, but are also very charming and affirming.  Claytor is a pretty happy guy, and even though, at the start of the book (Spring 2004) he is still living with his parents and struggling to land a full-time teaching job, he maintains a positive outlook on a life that he shares with family and friends.

Last summer I met Claytor when he came to Toronto, and I bought and read the eighth book in his series (I got this first one at TCAF this year when he returned to TO).  That issue is a book-length discussion of the role of autobiography, and it’s pretty dense.  It’s interesting to me to see where he has taken his original idea, of chronicling his life, and has used to explore some pretty academic areas.  Both books are quite enjoyable (for different reasons), and Claytor himself is a great guy.  You can check out his work at his website.

Midnight Sun

by Ben Towle

This small graphic novel was the last purchase I made at TCAF this year, and I’m very glad I picked it up.  Midnight Sun is the fictionalized account of the rescue of the crew of the airship Italia.  In 1928, an Italian known as General Nobile (despite not being in the armed forces) captained an attempt to reach the North Pole by airship.  They achieved their goal, but crashed shortly afterward.

In Towle’s telling, which differs from the historical reality in a number of ways (strangely, the real story is more complex and bizarre than ever could have been fit into a book like this), a group of survivors set up a camp on an ice flow, and attempt to reach possible rescuers through the use of their radio.  After a while, a small group decides to walk south to land before the ice breaks up.

The story of these two groups is told alongside the story of HR, a New York reporter sent by his boss to cover the rescue operations.  HR is aboard a Russian icebreaker attempting to reach the men, and he doesn’t have much to do.  He eventually makes friends with a Russian female journalist whose fiance was on the Italia.

Towle has a good eye for building character and suspense, and tells this story very well.  I especially liked the Swedish Air Force pilot who, in attempting to rescue some of the men on the ice, himself becomes stranded with them.  Towle’s artwork reminds me a great deal of Scott Chantler’s – had I not known better, I would have sworn he drew this book.

Wet Moon Book 3: Further Realms of Fright

by Ross Campbell

I’m a little surprised by just how engrossed I find myself getting in the Wet Moon books.  These are manga-ish books about a group of poly-sexual punk, goth, and emo college kids who live in a small town somewhere in the American south.  They go to concerts, hang out, make out, talk a lot, whine in their diaries or on livejournal, gossip, and occasionally lose a pet cat.  And as soon as I start one of these books, I’m barely able to put it down until it’s finished.

Finishing this third volume puts me over the half-way mark in the series, as Cleo decides that she is dating Myrtle, and even starts to tell her friends about it, and causes a scene at a concert.  Her friend Trilby starts being nicer, and is revealed as a closet Star Trek fan (in the funniest sub-plot of the whole series).  Some stuff happens with some of the other characters too, but it’s all kind of ephemeral.

The real appeal of this series is the artwork.  I think, if Campbell didn’t make these girls (and the odd male character) so visually interesting, unique, and representative of real womens’ body shapes, that this book would not be so appealing.  Were it drawn by a more conventional comic artist (pick any superhero book from the Big Two off the stand, and imagine the artist drawing this book) I think I would not be able to get through the series at all.  Just now, flipping through this book and imagining it being drawn by someone like Dan Jurgens, is actually a pretty funny thing.

I don’t know if this book is based on people that Campbell knows, but his characters feel pretty real, in the way in which they change their minds, go back on their word, or generally interact with others.  There are some very ominous scenes involving Myrtle, and I’m looking forward to finding out what is going on with her.

Album of the Week:

Analog Africa No. 4 – African Scream Contest: Raw & Psychedelic Afro Sounds from Benin & Togo 70s

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