The Weekly Round-Up #85 With Elephantmen, All Nighter, Walking Dead, Batman: Gates of Gotham & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Elephantmen #33

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Shaky Kane

The best science fiction is the kind that takes a social, cultural, or political notion prevalent in contemporary society, and extrapolates to see where it may lead in the future.  Elephantmen frequently taps into the current concern over transgenics and genetic modification, to suggest an extreme possiblity, albeit one that is fascinating in its adherence to noir-ish storytelling.

With this bizarre done-in-one issue, Richard Starkings instead focuses on another of society’s questionable applications of science – the cosmetic surgery industry.  Dr. Bone (great name) is a renowned plastic surgeon who marries a woman obsessed with optimizing her own beauty through surgical and scientific means.  She, and her husband, both become obsessed with the notion of replacing her bones with ivory taken from the elephantmen.  This story fits within the series quite well, explaining the string of dead, ivory-less elephantmen we’ve been seeing lately, but it also provides a nice change of pace from the last bunch of issues.

Shaky Kane, with his strange art (a blend of Mike Allred, Keith Giffen, Frank Quitely (around the faces), and a vaguely European approach to layout), is the perfect choice for this issue, which displays an interesting approach to horror.

I’ve been meaning to check out Kane’s The Bulletproof Coffin for a while now, and this comic reminded me of why I was interested in that other series.  This is a great issue of a very good series – I recommend checking it out.

Other Notable Comics:

All Nighter #2

by David Hahn

Hahn’s little mini-series about late teen/early twentysomethings is moving along at a slow but enjoyable pace.  This issue explains how main character Kit knows her roommates new boyfriend, and introduces Martha, their mousey new housemate.  The crew goes to a party, and that’s about it.  Except, of course, for the introduction of a strange little story element right at the end.

There’s nothing too new about All Nighter, but that doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of it.  Sure, anyone who’s read New York Four, Wet Moon, Scott Pilgrim, the second series of Demo, and Pounded might find themselves on familiar territory.  Actually, what this most reminds me of right now is Ethan Rilley’s Pope Hat, which needs to continue, but I digress.

I am starting to like the characters in this series, and am still very curious to learn about just how Kit caused her mother’s death.  It’s been mentioned in each issue so far, but nothing has been explained.  I do like these kinds of comics, and am happy to see that Hahn is working on his own book, especially since Murderland was so disappointing.

Cinderella: Fables Are Forever #6

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Shawn McManus

After five issues of beating around the bush, and building up suspense through the use of flashbacks that established their enmity, Cinderella and Dorothy finally have a go at each other (differently from how they did last issue, of course).  It’s a pretty good fight too, as Cinderella’s ingenuity is tested against Dorothy’s stronger position and greater ruthlessness.

While I enjoyed the fight scenes, what I found most interesting in this issue is the way in which Dorothy reconciled her portrayal in this series with the way she was shown at the Golden Boughs during the earlier issues of Jack of Fables.  I’d wondered how those two things matched up, and it was presented in a manner that was logical and consistent.

I’ve enjoyed this series (especially McManus’s art in it), but have thought that it felt a little stretched out and expanded for the sake of the trade.  A solid four-issue series probably would have worked better.  These Cinderella titles are nice additions to the Fables-verse, but I think they should wait a while before starting another one; she’s kind of a limited character and shouldn’t be over-used.

Cyclops #5

Written by Matz
Art by Gaël de Meyere

I was disappointed to learn that Luc Jacamon had left this title.  I loved Jacamon’s work on The Killer and the first half of Cyclops, and while Gaël de Meyere is a more than capable replacement, the book doesn’t feel the same without Jacamon.  De Meyere does his best to maintain a consistent look to the visuals, but can’t quite pull off the way shadows fall across his scenes with the same degree of realism and depth that has always stood out in Jacamon’s comics.

Story-wise, it’s nice to back into things.  I had almost forgotten about this title (this issue was supposed to come out in May), but that’s not unusual with Archaia comics.  Reality TV star and soldier Douglas Pistoia finally gets the evidence he’s been looking for – proof that his employers had manipulated him and lied about what he’d done back at the start of the series.  The question now is what to do with this knowledge.

This is a solid science fiction series which makes some interesting commentary on how we’ve viewed America’s recent wars and military actions.  I hope that Archaia doesn’t take too long in pumping out the last three issues…

DMZ #67

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

DMZ is entering its final story arc, ‘The Five Nations of New York’, and it seems that peace may actually be coming to the DMZ.  Most of the issue is narrated by our mysterious pirate radio broadcaster (I’m still hoping it’s going to be Jennie One), who checks in on a number of the peace initiatives, such as Zee coordinating with the Red Cross, massive gun amnesties, and housing lotteries.  If ever there is proof that Manhattan is recovering, it’s that the real estate market is back…

Brian Wood tries to cover a lot of ground in this issue, although at the heart, we still have Matty Roth wrestling with his actions over the last few years, and trying to avoid being the pawn of the government.  That aspect of the comic has become a little tired, to be perfectly honest, but I’m still curious to see just how Matty is going to land when this all ends.

Curiously, the cover posted on Vertigo’s website (shown here) is missing the foreground of the published comic.  It’s not a spoiler – like all of John Paul Leon’s images for this book, it’s quite nice – and so I wonder why they removed it.

The Walking Dead #87

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

I’ve noticed that, after something big happens in this title, Kirkman usually takes a few issues to examine how that event has affected his characters.  It’s been a few issues since the community was overrun by zombies, and the residents are still picking up the pieces.

Crews have started working on Rick’s plan to improve their defenses, Abraham is continuing to work out how he feels now that he’s spit with Rosita, and there is concern about food stores with winter looming.

Central to the comic is the condition of Carl, Rick’s son, who was severely wounded during the attack.  The Walking Dead often excels at showing the resilience of these people during difficult situations, and I like that Kirkman is taking the time to let the usual emotions and feelings of people who have been through trauma play out across his cast.

As always, this comic is impressive, and the last few pages really made me smile.

Witch Doctor #2

Written by Brandon Seifert
Art by Lukas Ketner

I like this book, and was pleased to learn that it will be returning in another series next year, after this four-issue run is completed.  The premise behind Witch Doctor is that our intrepid Dr. Morrow confronts and treats supernatural issues with a medical approach (although really, nothing in medicine is so bizarre as what we see here).

In this issue, he and his team are called in to investigate a case of a cuckoo fairy, who is eating human babies and replacing them with her own demonic offspring.  This case takes up less of the issue than the ones that occupied the doctor in the two previous issues (don’t forget there was a zero issue published in The Walking Dead), but that is because Siefert has started introducing a larger supporting cast; we meet Absinthe O’Riley this month, who is the curator of  museum, and is hunting some kind of sea creature.

This comic is frequently amusing, as Seifert has cooked up a number of interesting twists on supernatural standards, and Ketner is having a blast designing all sorts of strange devices and creatures.  This is a pretty unique comic, and it deserves some attention.

Quick Takes:

Avengers #15 – Once again, Bendis is using a reality-TV format, with post-game interviews with different Avengers framing the action sequences, which just expand on what’s happening in Fear Itself.  Most of this issue is taken up with Spider-Woman, Ms. Marvel, The Protector, and Hawkeye fighting Fear Itself Worthy Hulk in Brazil (strangely, Red She-Hulk disappears after one panel).  The character work is nice, but it feels a little like Bendis is still trying to get people to believe that Spider-Woman is cool, while also portraying her as full of self-doubt.  Chris Bachalo draws the issue, so it’s heads above the quality level of the last issue.  With each one of these tie-ins having to recap what’s happening in the main series, this arc is going to read terribly in trade.

Avengers Academy #16 – This is almost two different issues, with one showing Giant-Man and the other faculty fighting the Worthy versions of Absorbing Man and Titania in China, and the other showing Veil attempting to rescue a woman who has been trapped in rubble.  There’s a very different vibe to each half of the comic, with the Veil bit being the more significant and likely to have a lasting effect on the character (because she needed to have more to whine about).

Batman: The Gates of Gotham #3 – This mini-series which examines Gotham’s history and the family dynamics of Batman Incorporated continues to be entertaining, but I’m wondering if there are some problems behind the scenes.  Graham Nolan is brought in to do layouts this issue, and a new ‘writter’ is added to the mix, bringing the count up to three.  Maybe a new copy editor is needed too…  Still, I am enjoying this book quite a bit, and each new issue makes me more likely to give Nightwing a try during the relaunch (Kyle Higgins, who seems to be the main writer on this book, will be writing that title).

Daredevil #1 – I was originally going to pass on this title, as I got a little sick of Matt Murdock after Shadowland and during the very disappointing Daredevil Reborn.  I felt that enough time hadn’t passed between those projects, but then I saw that the art on this series was going to be handled by Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin.  I have a buy on sight rule for Martin now, and so this came home with me.  First, it’s an absolutely gorgeous book, with two stories by the two artists who really complement each other well artistically.  Rivera gives us a great fight with The Spot (I used to love that guy) that is very dynamic in its use of both characters’ powers, and then spends most of the rest of the issue drawing people standing around talking, although it’s still beautiful.  Martin’s story has Matt and Foggy go for a walk in Manhattan, and it’s stunning.  Mark Waid is taking this book in the right direction – he’s acknowledging what’s happened to Murdock over the last few years, and is exploring how it’s going to affect his legal career, but isn’t keeping Murdock mired in depression.  I also like the emphasis on how DD’s radar really works.  Good stuff.

Deadlands: Massacre at Red Wing One Shot – While there’s nothing wrong with this comic by Palmiotti, Gray, and Moder, there’s nothing too special or memorable about it either.  Apparently Deadlands is a role playing game?  This book is about a woman and her dog, and their quest to rescue the woman’s mother from prostitution in an old-west style world.  It was kind of like reading an issue of Jonah Hex, really.

Fear Itself: Fearsome Four #2 – I think this may be the ultimate odd-ball comic, and I can’t figure out why Marvel is publishing it.  As we learn in this issue, this book has nothing to do with the Serpent in Fear Itself, as Psycho-Man reveals himself as the main villain.  I was still enjoying things for what they are, but the last page is so stupid, I think I’m going to give up on this mini half way through.

Generation Hope #9 – Gillen does well with the done-in-one format on this book, as he gives us an interesting little story about the ‘seventh light’, and anti-mutant prejudice in the UK.  Needless to say, Hope is not happy with the outcome of this mission, although it’s Kenji who is starting to be the more interesting character.  I’m always happy when Jamie McKelvie does an issue of this comic.

Hulk #37 – I was going to jump off this book until Fear Itself was over, and then picked up this issue anyway.  Really, I didn’t need to, as it just recaps things that happened already in  Avengers, and contradicts other things that happened in New Avengers.  On the positive side, artist Elena Casagrande, who is new to me, does a very nice job, especially with colours by Bettie Breitwieser.

Invincible Iron Man #506 – I don’t understand how the Iron Man Fear Itself tie-ins are so much better than the main event book, considering they have the same writer, but Matt Fraction has such a good handle on Tony Stark and his friends that I’m not surprised.  Tony, having made an interesting and unexpected sacrifice to Odin, is now working with a group of Norse dwarves to build weapons (I’m guessing these will be the weapons for The Mighty group that has been teased lately).  Very foul-mouthed dwarves.  Meanwhile, Pepper Potts is investigating what happened in Paris, as are the Detroit Steel group.  This book is all kinds of excellent, and I’m curious to see what Fraction is going to do, now that he’s killed the one sacred cow that Iron Man had since the late 80s.

Iron Man 2.0 #7 – Is Nick Spencer going to be writing the Defenders book that Marvel’s been advertising so heavily?  It seems like this issue and the previous one are setting up that series, as it looks like Dr. Strange and Iron Fist are going to have issues soon, and their story isn’t resolved here.  In fact, I think these Fear Itself issues of this title have been horrible mis-steps.  They’ve had nothing to do with what was going on in this title before the crossover, and I don’t see how they would draw in a new reader (don’t even get me started with how horrible Ariel Olivetti’s art is).  I’m looking forward to the return of the Palmer Addley story.

Legion of Super-Heroes #15 – I don’t even understand what’s going on in this book anymore.  The Legion of Super-Heroes are fighting the Legion of Super-Villains, but characters move around and appear out of nowhere, while villains have increased powers for reasons that aren’t explained, and what should feel like a big pay-off for a story that’s been running for months just feels like an exercise in tedium.  As much love as I have for the Legion, I think I’m going to bail on this title come the relaunch.

THUNDER Agents #9 – This second arc has not been as good as the first, despite the flashback sequences to the 60s and 80s drawn by Nick Dragotta and Mike Grell, respectively.  The problem has been the present-day sequence, which suffers from unclear and uninteresting artwork by Dan Panosian.  I much preferred it when Cafu and Bit were drawing this.  Story wise, this arc has been a lot less focused than the first.  Who’s going to be drawing it when the book returns or is relaunched?

Uncanny X-Men #541 – Knowing where Greg Land gets the images he traces from, it’s hard to look at any panel featuring the Juggernaut in this comic without feeling a little uncomfortable.  Add that to the fact that Hope looks to be about the same age as Emma Frost, and you have to wonder why he’s still on this book.  Does this guy have fans?  Story wise, this is a decent enough book about the X-Men trying to stop the Juggernaut before he trashes San Francisco.  I’ve decided that if we read Prelude to Schism as ‘Prelude to the X-Men’s time in Fear Itself”, things make a lot more sense, as this comic has the mutants fighting an ancient evil that could very well destroy their home.

X-Factor #222 – It’s all cats and dogs in this issue, as a bunch of creatures are still trying to kill Rahne, and Guido and Monet share a moment.  Am I the only person who’s finding X-Factor a little tedious lately?  It seems to just be going around in circles…

The Comics  Would Have Bought if It Wasn’t $4:

X-Men #15

Bargain Comics:

Astonishing X-Men #38 & 39 – So the D-list X-Men book has to have alternating stories to maintain a schedule?  While both are decent (I liked Gage’s X-Men and SWORD story better), I don’t understand why Marvel keeps this book around, especially considering that they are launching a fifth X-Men monthly soon (not counting X-Force or New Mutants).  Over-saturation perhaps?

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Finder: Voice

by Carla Speed McNeil

I’ve always felt that footnotes and endnotes carry a certain allure.  I’m always delighted to read writers who can make good use of them to help inform or expand upon their ideas, and they help stave off any reader-ADD, as I find myself constantly flipping back and forth from the main text to the addenda.  I think that’s why I’ve always enjoyed writers like William T. Vollmann and David Foster Wallace; those gentlemen can rock the add on.

Why am I talking about this in a review of Carla Speed McNeil’s latest addition to her Finder series, Voice?  Because she can match anyone when it comes to a good selection of endnotes.  And this was a very good thing, as aside from the shorts that have been in the resurrected Dark Horse Presents, I don’t know the first thing about Finder, aside from the fact that there is some dozen years of comic book history and world building I don’t know anything about.  Without the detailed, and frequently entertaining notes McNeil supplied, I’d have been completely lost throughout this book.  Now, there are some who would argue that, were McNeil really crafting her stories for a variety of readers, this information would have all been made clearer in the comic itself.  I agree that in many instances, what is explained in the notes could have been made perfectly understandable in the comic, but it’s all good, because Voice is pretty interesting.

Basically, the Finder world is about as complex (and well-realized) as Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, or Herbert’s Dune series.  It feels like McNeil has worked out everything there is to know about every character, including minor ones, and has crafted a very detailed history for her world.  In this story, a young woman named Rachel is competing to be given full membership in her clan, the Llaveracs.  With this position comes social acceptance, and the ability to protect her family, among other perks.  The problem is that, one night during the competition, Rachel is mugged, and the ring which provides her with the right to compete is stolen.

From here, the story gets a little strange, as Rachel begins to hunt for a man named Jaeger, who she thinks can help her retrieve the ring.  Her journey takes her through some of the darker regions of her city (both literally and figuratively), and she has a few encounters with some Ascians, who are sort of like modern-day Roma who practice voodoo.  Things get kind of trippy at the end, but this is a very solid story about social climbing and peoples’ actual and perceived obligations to their own kind.

I really found myself wrapped up in this book, and the number of surprises it held (you’ll note I’m not saying anything about the gender ambiguity of the Llaveracs, which is kind of fascinating).  I’m glad that Dark Horse is publishing new editions of all of McNeil’s work, because I really want to read it all now.  Especially the notes…

The Quitter

Written by Harvey Pekar
Art by Dean Haspiel

I don’t know how many times I considered buying this autobiographical novel (autobiographic novel?  what do we call graphic novels that aren’t novels?), but kept leaving it behind.  After recently reading one of the Vertigo American Splendor books, I didn’t have a particularly strong desire to read more of Pekar’s work, but I figured that since this was a more focused project, it may be interesting.  Plus, I’ve been enjoying Haspiel’s other Vertigo books of late, so I thought it was time to give it a try.

The Quitter is designed to be more of a straight autobiography, and so I’m sure it covers a lot of ground that Pekar has explored before.  For that reason, I can understand how he chose to keep the focus so tightly on his own aspirations (and his propensity to abandon them at the first sign of adversity), and therefore gloss over his marriage, and barely even mention his child.

When we meet young Harvey, he’s the target of some pretty intense bullying, as one of the few Jewish kids left in a burgeoning black neighbourhood.  Harvey learns to fight, and when he moves to a safer school district, he becomes the bully.  From there, we watch two Harvey’s develop, and the two are kind of incongruous.

There is the loud, brash Harvey, who has a habit of goofing off at his jobs, and gets reprimanded or fired frequently.  This Harvey is the one that would fight you in the street as soon as look at you.  The other Harvey is a nervous wreck, who will drop courses after one bad test, and who is so frozen by anxiety that he gets discharged from the Navy after only being in it for a matter of days.  It’s interesting to see how Harvey operates in the world, knowing that he’s always in such conflict with himself (and suffering the shame and negative self-image these problems entail).

Pekar does a good job of presenting his issues in this comic, and he uses a strangely casual, conversational tone to tell his tale.  It’s odd to see his older self narrating this tale, and frequently braking the fourth wall to directly address the reader.  Haspiel deserves a lot of credit for holding this book together, and for subtly aging Harvey as he passes through the different phases of life.  This graphic novel is not as mundane as Pekar’s other work, and therefore works as a solid introduction to his vast body of work.

Reaper Vol. 2

by Cliff Rathburn

I read the first volume of Reaper last week, having discovered it at my comic store, and knowing that I had this volume pre-ordered.  I don’t know.  I want to like this comic, because I have long admired Rathburn’s work on The Walking Dead, but there’s a lot missing from this comic.

This volume is set some 400 years after the end of the last, and is more or less a repeat of the first book, yet with roles reversed.  Reaper is now a warlord possessing a province, where he apparently just likes to hang out with whores (and likes calling them ‘whore’ over and over it seems).  Death has finally reconstituted himself, and sends two people to go and retrieve the gem that has kept Reaper alive and indestructible for so long.  These two people are named Creeping Oni, who can control the minds of others, and Kali, who of course has four arms.

A lot of meaningless and bloody fighting ensues, and then the issue ends on a cliffhanger.  There is no character development, and I don’t ever feel like I should be rooting for either side in the fight – they’re all pretty horrible people.  Without any sense of investment in the characters, I don’t feel much desire to return to this title when the third volume is published.  The art is nice, but I’m not down with the sheer numbers of severed limbs and decapitations that take the place of pacing, and plot and character development.

Repulse

Written by Szymon Kudranski with Jeff Mariotte
Art by Szymon Kudranski

There have been a number of these prestige format one-shot graphic novels coming out of Image lately, and many of them have been very good.  Repulse definitely falls in that category.

Repulse is a noir-ish science fiction police drama, centred on Detective Sam Hagen, who works in the After Crime unit.  What this means is that, when a crime is committed, Sam injects some of the victim’s dead brain cells into his own head, and is able to see the last few seconds of that person’s life.  This is not without it’s own risks to his health and sanity, but ever since his son disappeared, he hasn’t felt much like his own life matters.

Sam is called in when a retired cop is found murdered, and he comes to believe that the perpetrator is a robot, which is still strange in this future world.  Slowly, we learn that there is a connection between the cops that are getting murdered, and a case that Sam worked on when he was assigned to Internal Affairs.

The story questions the nature of the human soul, and whether or not robots are able to develop one.  It covers some very similar ground to the Image series Chew, but plays it straight instead of for laughs.  Kudranski’s art is dark and evocative, and a perfect match to his story.  Recommended.

Album of the Week:

True Soul Vol. 2 – Deep Sounds From the Left of Stax

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