Best Comic of the Week:
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra
I’m always happy to see the creators I have a lot of esteem for achieve commercial success. They deserve it, even though in the comics industry, commercial success usually means abandoning creator-owned work in the pursuit of work-for-hire for one of the Big Two. That’s why, when a formerly ‘independent’ writer or artist returns to creator-owned comics, it can be pretty exciting.
Jonathan Hickman, who both wrote and draw the amazing series The Nightly News and Pax Romana, and wrote Transhuman and Red Mass For Mars before joinging Marvel and becoming one of its ‘Architects’, has returned to Image with The Red Wing. And it’s terrific.
The title refers to a fighter squadron used to fight in a war that is spreading throughout all of time. The TAC (Temporal Attack Craft) fighter is able to jump through time, and one skirmish we watch moves through a number of different eras before the pilots are lost. After that we are introduced to Valin Redd and Dominic Dorne, the sons of the first pilots we met. They are cadets, hoping to fly the Mark II TACs in the same war. Also, we are introduced to the concept that it is possible for a downed pilot to survive.
As with all of Hickman’s independent work, the high concept is everything in this comic. He’s put a lot of thought into the science fiction, but is also interested in exploring how people live and interact with the technology.
Pitarra’s art in this book is very nice. I don’t know who has had more say in the development of the general design of the space craft or other technological wonders that we see. Hickman has a strong design background, and his fingerprints are all over the look and feel of the book (there are a couple of blank splash pages), but I also feel that Pitarra, with whom I am unfamiliar, is no slouch himself. I hope that the scheduling of this book doesn’t hit some of the same snags that Red Mass and Pax Romana suffered, because I am very much looking forward to reading more of this.
Other Notable Comics:
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Sean Murphy
Survival of the Fittest, the spin-off of American Vampire featuring vampire hunters Felicia Book and Cash McCogan, has all the elements of a good James Bond movie. Our heroes are traveling to Nazi-held Romania to extract a scientist who believes he has developed a cure for vampirism. They are posing as rich Americans sympathetic to the Nazi cause.
The issue opens with their plane being shot down (after an interesting dream sequence that helps build Felicia’s character), and Snyder establishes very quickly that this is not going to be an easy mission. The twists in this story aren’t hard to see coming, but Snyder makes them enjoyable all the same.
Sean Murphy’s art in this book is phenomenal. He has a nice eye for detail, drawing lovely establishing shots of the Romanian castle where much of this book takes place, and also draws excellent interiors for both the castle and the plane that McCogan and Book fly in on. This is an interesting series that I’m enjoying very much.
Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Tyler Crook
I was among many fans who were disappointed to hear that Guy Davis was no longer going to be the artist for BPRD, a series he has drawn for many years. His sense of design and aesthetics has had as much impact on the series as original creator Mike Mignola, and it must not have been easy to find a replacement for him. There is a house look to the Mignola-verse comics, and not every artist would fit nicely into the style (which Davis did while being able to draw as he always has).
With this issue, we are introduced to Tyler Crook, the man who has some pretty big shoes to fill. And I think he’s done a fantastic job. His art is in line with many of the other artists that work with Mignola. His faces retain a hint of Guy Davis-ness, but he also stands as his own artist he’s not just aping their styles.
The comic is focused on Liz Sherman, who we haven’t seen in the present in quite some time. It appears that she’s been riding out the Apocalypse (or whatever it is that’s been going on all over the world) in a trailer park, living with a pair of losers, and sleeping a lot. The comic opens on her busting up a poker game, and kicking a big bruiser in the mouth. She’s clearly trying to keep a low profile, but as always, weirdness finds her.
We still don’t know what’s going on with the rest of the team (which is getting annoying, since the last we saw Abe he was suffering from some severe wounds), and I can’t tell if she’s going to be reunited with them during this arc or not. This is a good debut issue for Crook, and in general, yet another excellent addition to the BPRD line.
Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Sina Grace
The Li’l Depressed Boy is back after a one-month hiatus, and is finally living up to his name. After the shocking news of the last issue, LDB has retreated into his home, and is completely avoiding Jazz, not answering any of her calls.
Luckily his friend Drew is back in town, bringing the gift of candy cigarettes, and taking him out for pho (where would you ever find a Vietnamese restaurant that serves veggie pho when it’s not on the menu? That’s pure beef stock, buddy). He also decides that an impromptu road trip is called for, although that is not without complications.
So basically, it’s another issue of this series where very little takes place – I think the whole issue took me about 6 minutes to read – but the book’s underlying charm saves it from feeling too trite or immaterial. The scene where Drew has to explain ‘punch buggies’ was cringe-worthy though…
LDB is a good book, although I wish the pacing could be a little tighter. I’ve noticed this happens a lot with webcomics when they make the transition to print – there is greater need for economy of story-telling and density.
Great Rob Guillory cover – I like the idea of having various Image artists provide covers for this book, and I hope that it brings it more attention.
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Paul Azaceta
Northlanders is going to be ending, but it’s definitely going out with a bang, as Wood and new collaborator Paul Azaceta embark on the most ambitious arc to date. The Icelandic Trilogy is a set of three, three-issue arcs that will follow the path of a single family through the period of European settlement in Iceland.
This first issue introduces us to Val Hauker, his wife, and his son Ulf. They are the first family on Iceland (at least in their general area), and they eke out a difficult life from its inhospitable environment. When other settlers start to arrive, Hauker realizes that his claim on his land is vulnerable. He decides to toughen up his son, who narrates the story, by beating him mercilessly, and teaching him to hate.
This is a bleak and nasty story, lacking any redemption for the characters, at least so far. In a lot of ways, this story feels a little like a Jonah Hex comic set in Iceland. I’m curious to see how Ulf truns out, especially after the unexpected scene that ends this issue.
Azaceta is a good choice for this book. He fits well with the style of art that I’m used to seeing in this title. I always like it when artists that I think of as particularly urban get to try out a time period as distant as the late 800s.
by Jeff Smith
Well, this is one comic that doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to answer any of its mysteries, or clear things up for the reader in the least.
This issue opens with Rob and Uma hanging out in her apartment in post-coital comfort, until reality goes a little wonky, with Rob seeing multiple images, and the creepy girl (who may be God) floating in a corner in the bedroom. After that, hundreds of birds start falling from the sky, and Rob has some electrical phenomena happen to him.
That’s about all that happens this issue, and while it’s a quick read (considering the length of time it takes for each new issue to come out), it’s pretty exciting and well-paced. I’ve really enjoyed seeing Smith depict a more adult world (I almost said realistic, and then remembered just what this series is all about). I do wish a little more would happen or get resolved in each individual issue, but I’m definitely enjoying the ride here.
Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross with Vince Locke
A new arc of The Unwritten, On To Genesis, starts with this issue, and the book starts to explore some new themes. Tom has been going through his father’s journals, which suggest that he was working for Pullmann, the Cabal’s chief assassin, back in New York in the 1930s, which doesn’t make sense to any of Tom’s group. The journals frequently make mention of an early comic book hero, The Tinker, who predates Superman and who has more than a few similarities to Tommy Taylor, the Harry Potter like fictional character around whom this series is built.
Tom’s investigation leads him to the realization that he can conjure images from the past as he reads their description aloud, and we see young Wilson Taylor as he argues with Pullmann that comics are the future of literature, and for the importance of junk culture. Personally, I don’t want to see this series become too concerned with the Golden Age. I liked that The Unwritten was so aware of literary history, and I feel that enough comics have explored their comic book roots.
Vince Locke has returned to provide finishes for Peter Gross’s scenes that take place in the 30s. I like when he works on the book, as it helps to differentiate flashbacks from the present, while still keeping a consistent look for the comic. Plus, the man is a great inker.
Alpha Flight #2 – Van Lente and Pak are making good use of Fear Itself as a springboard for their own story, as Guardian, Northstar, and a much-missed member of the team try to figure out what’s going on with Department H. Many of the characterizations are spot-on, although I’m having a hard time accepting how Vindicator is playing things – and since when does she have freckles like that?
Birds of Prey #14 – Since the book is going to end anyway, why not just let Marc Andreyko write a couple issues with a focus on the first Phantom Lady, since he did some neat stuff with her during his time on Manhunter. It’s not like it matters any more, right? It’s an okay issue, with some nice but bland Billy Tucci art. Andreyko’s good, but he doesn’t have Simone’s ear for dialogue.
Captain America #1 – Disappointing. Brubaker’s Cap has been the best this title’s ever been, but because there’s a new movie coming out, Marvel has to dictate that things go back to the way they were (when Cap wasn’t all that popular), and all the good things about the series have to end. And so, instead of the gritty, funky art we’ve been getting from Jackson Guice and friends, we’re treated to dull but pretty Steve McNiven art (because here’s a guy who can manage a monthly comic). Instead of having Steve Rogers hang out with Bucky, the Falcon, and Black Widow, we’re back to stuffing every comic with Nick Fury and Dum Dum Dugan (I’m glad Sharon Carter’s still around, but she’s just a girlfriend here). And, because Fear Itself isn’t over yet (where they are having another writer handle all these major changes in Cap’s life), we can’t even have him discuss the fact that he hasn’t been wearing this suit for a while. Also, this comic ignores whatever is happening at the end of Secret Warriors. In a lot of ways, they should have left the regular Cap book alone, and published this story as an Astonishing Captain America, as it’s so continuity light. Because let’s face it, by the time this arc is over, no one will remember that there was a Captain America movie, and the two dozen or so new comics fans that the movie created (if there are that many) will have already discovered that the previous incarnation was much better. I’m going to give this title two more issues, but I may be dropping it (of course, with McNiven on board, that may be around Christmas time).
Detective Comics #879 – Man, am I ever going to miss this comic after the relaunch. Snyder and Jock have been doing great things with this title, but the issues that feature Snyder writing Commissioner Gordon for Francesco Francavilla to draw are some of the best comics on the stands. This issue has Gordon investigating his son, James Jr.’s, activities to determine whether or not his reformed state is an act. Also, the Joker escapes from Arkham in a nice creepy scene spread throughout the whole book. Amazing stuff all around. I’m not looking forward to the Snyder/Capullo Batman series (with Bruce Wayne instead of Dick Grayson) nearly as much as I’m looking forward to the next issue of this comic.
Farscape #21 – It surprises me to remember how underwhelmed I often was with Boom’s Farscape comics when they started, and compare that to how good they are now. I wish that artist Will Sliney did a better job of depicting the different spacecraft (they always look a little too unfinished), but otherwise, I couldn’t be happier with this comic. I don’t know how it would appeal to someone who has never seen the TV show, but if you were a fan and haven’t checked this out, you really should. The War For the Uncharted Territories just keeps heating up, and the Crichtons are having to turn to all sorts of unsavory folks for help.
FF #6 – I guess we can always count on Jonathan Hickman to do the unexpected. In this case, it’s taking a whole issue to explore some events that happened in the Kree Empire a few hundred thousand years ago, and use it to sort of explain the return of Black Bolt. None of the Future Foundation appear in this issue. I have no problem with that, but considering that Hickman has brought more attention to this title than it’s had in years, I wonder if this may be a misstep if the goal is to keep some of the new readers the relaunch brought in.
Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown #2 – There is a lot of character development and exposition going on here, which makes it pretty clear that these are the characters that are going to be in Lemire’s Frankenstein book during the relaunch. That’s a problem though, as I’m not finding myself too interested in anything that’s going on in this comic. I am surprised that I’m not liking this more – I usually really enjoy Lemire’s work. I wonder how much of this book is being written according to editorial directives.
Guarding the Globe #5 – This issue comes along seven months late and severely hampered by having two inkers with very different styles alternating pages, too many characters, and too much time between issues to forget who all these new heroes are. There’s a lot to like about this comic, but the overall effect of everything I just listed is insurmountable. I think it’s amusing that I read this on the same day that I saw on Bleeding Cool that artist Ransom Getty is replacing Marco Rudy on Suicide Squad because of DC’s new policy of dumping late creators. So, the guy with a book that’s seven months late is who you’re going with? Smart.
Hellboy: The Fury #2 – I’m really looking forward to the next issue of this comic, as it is supposed to resolve a lot of the plot lines that have been dangling since the series began. I enjoy HB, but it needs to move on, and badly. It feels like any of the current-day mini-series (as opposed to the wonderful one-shots that are set in the past) are almost interchangeable with one another – excellent art, but the same things keep happening over and over.
Journey Into Mystery #625 – Kieron Gillen’s Young Loki, and his schemes to involve Hela and Mephisto in the fight against the Serpent continue to be more interesting (if also much more complex) than anything happening in Fear Itself.
New Avengers #14 – The non-Fear Itself parts of this book are pretty good, as Spider-Man decides to leave the team over Victoria Hand’s continued involvement, but then keeps acting like he’s more looking for attention than making a stand (how many times can you say your leaving if you don’t leave?), and Mockingbird leaves the hospital to return to the team. Once the Avengers start fighting Sin’s people in NYC it’s basically just an action issue, with nothing too special going on. Continuity-wise, there’s a few problems with this issue, as the Thing is chilling with the team the page before they go into battle, but just after that we see Avengers Tower getting knocked down, which we know is his doing. A simple ‘Later that day’ box would have been helpful…
New Mutants #27 – My favourite New Mutant has been Dani Moonstar since the Claremont/Sienkiewicz days, and it’s nice to see that Abnett and Lanning are seeing her full leadership and ass-kicking potential in this series. Watching her go up against Sugar Man on her own, armed only with some arrows, is very cool, as is the way she handles Victoria Hand. I think we have a winner – I just wish the art was better.
X-Men: Schism #1 – I went in to this comic a little hesitantly, but was pretty impressed by the way Jason Aaron handled the often-prickly relationship between Cyclops and Wolverine. I know that their different ways of doing things is what’s going to be the centre of this mini-series, and the cause of the ‘schism’, which is being set up a little like Civil War was a few years ago. The Sentinels as metaphor for nuclear arms plot is cool, although the revelation of who the antagonist is feels a little silly for a comic that’s trying so hard to be serious. It’s clear, after having read this comic, that I don’t think Marvel told Paul Jenkins anything about the plot when they had him write Prelude to Schism, as what he set up has nothing to do with this comic. It’s always nice to see Carlos Pacheco on a book, isn’t it?
Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4:
Amazing Spider-Man #665
Loose Ends #1
Punisher Max #15
Amazing Spider-Man #663 – Dan Slott’s doing some excellent work with this title. This issue has Anti-Venom (could there be a stupider character?) following Mr. Negative (also a bad name), and running into the Wraith (okay name, but the arm ribbons have to go), but it still manages to be good, as Peter gets published in Scientific American (or something very much like it), and Aunt May gets rushed to the hospital. The back-ups are kind of a waste of time though…
Flashpoint #2 – Reading this issue confirms for me that I was right to mostly skip this event; this comic goes by way too quickly, and too much of it recaps what I already read in the first issue of Deathstroke’s mini-series. I will say that Andy Kubert’s doing a great job, but the story is too plodding and silly to really draw me in.
Flashpoint: The Outsider #1 – I picked this up because I remain hopeful that the James Robinson of old will show up, but once again, I’m disappointed. I have high hopes for his Shade mini-series, thinking that if he is back on familiar ground, he’ll recapture some of the brilliance that was his run on Starman in the 90s, but I’m not too hopeful any more…
Haunt #1 – Since learning that Joe Casey and Nathan Fox are taking over this title in a few months, I figured it might be worth checking out the series debut. I’m sure I’m going to end up picking up this comic once the creative team switches, so it made sense to get some grounding in the characters. It’s actually much better than I expected it to be, and now I think I may have to hunt down some of the trades.
Rocketeer Adventures #1 – While I always enjoyed Dave Stevens’s art in the original Roceteer comics, I also always got a little bored with the limitations of his pulp-style stories. Now, IDW is publishing an anthology series, and it seems that some of the creators involved are looking to expand the range of the material. John Cassaday opens the book with a very traditional short (gangsters and girl in distress), which reminds me a lot of Stevens’s style. From there, there’s a story by Mike Allred that feels more like a prelude to a longer tale; it is lovely though. Kurt Busiek and Mike Kaluta really kill it though, with a story about Cliff’s involvement in the war, although the story really only focuses on Betty, who hears from her man through letters. In all, this is a lovely book, and a fitting tribute to a great artist.
The Week in Graphic Novels:
Written by Cliff Rathburn and Robert Kirkman
Art by Cliff Rathburn
This graphic novel was published in 2004, but creator and artist Cliff Rathburn, best known for his gray tones on The Walking Dead, has a second issue coming out next week. I preordered it because it sounded good, but didn’t expect to ever read this first Reaper story. That was the case until I saw that the store I shop at had a small stack of them next to the counter (ever thoughtful, The Beguiling).
The book is nice to look at (so far as you may like looking at scene after scene of people having body parts sliced off in sword battles), but the story is a little roughly-hewn. The Reaper is an assassin for hire who has mad sword skills. He has a guardian spirit of some sort – a female named Isis, who has always guided him and tried to lead him away from his deadly path. The land is ruled by an immortal named Lord Shirak. Shirak can not be killed because of a gem he wears on his forehead which protects him. Another spirit, which resides in rotting bodies, hires Reaper to kill Shirak.
This is a very violent story, ostensibly set in Ancient Japan, although there is a profusion of Egyptian names (Isis, Anubis). Rathburn seems to enjoy showing people getting their heads sliced open, but he is a capable artist. It’s the story that needs work; my hope is that the next issue will have a little more substance to it.
Written by Carlos Trillo
Art by Eduardo Risso
Dark Horse’s complete edition of Trillo and Risso’s Vampire Boy is one nice, big, satisfying chunk of comics goodness. I’d previously read the first volume in the SAF edition, and while I liked the larger pages, there is a real aesthetic pleasure to reading a nicely put-together 475 page graphic novel. Especially one this good.
The vampire boy of the title is a nameless Egyptian child, the son of the great Pharoah Khufu, who was strangely transformed into an immortal at the age of ten, when a mysterious plague struck down his father and everyone else he was with. Except for one other person, an ambitious and manipulative priestess named Ahmasi. The two of them have nurtured their hatred for one another over the millennia.
When the book opens, the child awakens after hiding himself in a New York sewer for some fifty years. Unlike traditional vampires, these two are restored by sunlight, and don’t need to feed on blood alone; in fact, the boy eats just about anything he can find. As the book progresses, our vampire boy meets a kind old Oglala Sioux man who helps him, but also draws Ahmasi’s attention. From there, the two immortals scheme to murder one another once and for all, and many of the boy’s new friends become victims of Ahmasi’s excesses.
This book is touching, sexy, and violent in about equal measures. Trilllo provides plenty of information of the child’s life over the years, and develops him into an interesting character – someone with the wisdom of many ages, but the impulses and reactions of a prepubescent boy. There are times when the writing is perhaps a little too precious, but a character like a nameless vampire child would be difficult to humanize without resorting to sentiment from time to time. Ahmasi, on the other hand, works very well as a heartless villain.
Risso’s artwork is always brilliant, and he really cuts loose with some of the scenes here, as the setting shifts from the ancient world (Egypt, Greece, Rome) and the modern (NYC, New Orleans, and London). I found this book to be very enjoyable reading ,and recommend it heartily.
Album of the Week:
The Blue Scholars – Cinematropolis (I’ve been waiting for this album for a long time now – if you like intelligent hip-hop, check this out)
Tags: Alpha Flight, Amazing Spider-Man, American Vampire, Birds of Prey, Boom, BPRD, Captain America, Cartoon Books, Dark Horse, DC, Detective Comics, Farscape, Fear Itself, FF, Flashpoint (DC Comics), Frankenstein (DC Comics), Guarding the Globe, Haunt, Hellboy, IDW, Image, Journey Into Mystery, Li'l Depressed Boy, Marvel, new avengers, New Mutants, Northlanders, Rasl, Reaper, Rocketeer, The Outsider, The Red Wing, The Unwritten, Vertigo, X-Men: Schism