The Weekly Round-Up #86 Featuring The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, American Vampire, And More!

Best Comic of the Week:

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century#2 – 1969

Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O’Neill

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two years since the last issue of LOEG: Century came out (I reviewed it in May 2009), but there you have it.  Any time there’s a new comic by Alan Moore, there’s a cause for some celebration, and this was easily the best and most impressive thing I picked up this week, but at the same time, I will admit to being a little disappointed.

First a recap:  Mina Murray, Alan Quartermain, and Orlando have returned to London after an absence of many years, because they believe that their nemesis for this series, Olive Haddo, has returned and is at work preparing for the birth of an anti-Christ or some such.  The trio are tasked with hunting down Haddo, who has been jumping bodies for a while now.

The twist is that our trio is not particularly prepared for life in 1969 London..  Mina’s been around recently (apparently with a team of super heroes), but the others are not prepared for the free love and copious amounts of readily available drugs.  Nor are they prepared for Mina’s desperate need to fit in, and not appear as ‘square’ as her companions.

That’s what I found most interesting about this book.  Sure, it’s fun to hunt Easter eggs (more on this soon), but what interested me was watching a trio of immortals (two of whom are relatively new to that status) adjust to the tempo and social revolutions of the twentieth century.  Quartermain and Orlando aren’t particularly interested in staying relevant, while for Mina, it seems to be a necessity.

The rest of the book was secondary to me, as I find the relationship between these three characters most interesting.  Not being British, and not having lived through the ’60s, many of Moore’s clever plays on names and literary allusions were completely lost on me.  Having skimmed Jess Nevin’s annotations, I am both awed and humbled by how much is in here that has escaped me.

Thus, I’m happy that Moore and O’Neill manage to keep things so interesting and fresh while still playing their own little reference games.  I think this book succeeds much better than The Black Dossier did because the focus is on the people, whereas that book got too caught up in the construction of its story.  With this book, it’s not necessary to know that Oliver Haddo is supposed to be Aleister Crowley, or that the Purple Orchestra is a stand-in for the Rolling Stones to enjoy things; it does take things another level if you know that though.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #17

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

Scott Snyder is a master of pacing.  This issue, which is the penultimate in the ‘Ghost War’ arc, is packed with action, but also manages to bring us back to the beginning of the arc, which started with Henry writing a letter to his wife.

In this issue, we learn what the Japanese have planned for the vampires they have captured on the island of Taipan, and see the fruits of the uneasy alliance between Henry’s Vassals of the Morningstar unit and Skinner Sweet.

This is a very cool issue, as Albuquerque pulls out all the stops to give us an impressive and exciting visual experience, enhanced by Dave McCaig’s great colours.  I’m not sure why this is, but I find that the colours in this week’s comics are really standing out (see Butcher Baker below).  As always, great stuff.

Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker #5

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Mike Huddleston

There’s a lot to like about the newest issue of Joe Casey’s patriotic superhero grindhouse extravaganza, but I want to talk about the thing that stood out the most in this issue first.

Mike Huddleston’s been doing a great job on this comic from the beginning, but in this issue, his colours really stood out as the best thing about the comic.  I don’t normally notice the colouring first, but the fight scene is New York is made so lovely because of the way he makes everything look like it’s happening at sunset.

The rest of the comic is great too.  Butcher finishes off the three villains that have attacked him, but not without gaining the enmity of the United States army.  This causes Butcher to have to go into hiding at a retirement resort for the powered set.  Poor Arnie, the highway patrol guy that’s hunting him just misses him.

The comic is really very good, but Joe Casey’s essays in the back are almost worth the purchase price alone.  This month he talks about the trailer to the Michael Keaton Batman movie (I must only be a couple of years younger than Casey, and remember the excitement of that summer very well), how a crazy non-fan reacted to Butcher Baker, and the info scroll technique he used in The Intimates.  Has it really been six years since that comic was published?  Man, I loved that title.  It hasn’t even been collected I see – look for it in the quarter bins, it was great.  Stupid Wildstorm….

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #2

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

One approach to crime writing that I always find interesting is when the main character knows that he’s going to commit some sort of heinous crime, and has to go about his usual existence as the only person with that knowledge.  In this case, Riley, our protagonist, has a plan to kill his wife, Felix, and we are left watching him go about the motions before he does the deed.

Brubaker excels at this kind of thing, of course, and so it is fascinating to watch Riley line up his alibis, corrupt his former best friend, and put everything in motion.  The cover tells us how it turns out, but that image would probably be more fitting as the first panel of the next issue.

That we find ourselves so engrossed in the actions of a character that is so unlikeable is a hard thing for a writer to pull off effectively, but it’s worked great here.

Another thing that’s been working exceptionally well in this arc is the way that Phillips portrays Riley’s youth as a series of one-page strips in the Archie comics style (if Archie smoked weed, swore, and had sex that is).  It’s a cool visual trick that helps to differentiate this arc of Criminal from all the previous ones.  This is a pretty brilliant book.

Fables #107

Written by Billl Willingham
Art by Terry Moore

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in on Briar Rose, the Sleeping Beauty, who is still doing her duty to Fabletown, and you know, sleeping in the Imperial City.  Since we last visited that city, a variety of new pretenders to the throne have been setting up camp outside of it.

One, Mirant, has been consolidating power, and has been elevating many men to the position of king of as-yet unconquered realms, so that their handsome sons can become princes.  He then marches them past Briar Rose and they each get one kiss, in the hopes that he can manufacture the true love needed to break the spell.

Of course, other factions have other ideas, and it quickly becomes clear that we will have to come back to Briar Rose’s story another day.  And therein lies the strength of Fables after such a long run – even when major plot lines get resolved, there is always something else to look in on.

This issue is drawn by Terry Moore, and he’s a very nice addition to the list of artists who have worked on this book.  He draws in a very clean style, and it’s nice to see his work in colour for a change.

The Mission #6

Written by Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber
Art by Werner Dell’Edera

For the last six months, I’ve been wondering if this comic is an on-going series or just a limited one.  Now, with this sixth issue, we reach a point which is a good conclusion to an introductory arc, but also a cliff-hanger that should lead into a second.  The problem is that no further issues of The Mission have been solicited so far, and the writers have been silent in terms of a text-piece in the comic.  I suppose I should hunt around on the internet for news, but that feels like too much work.

I would, however, gladly buy a seventh issue of this title.  This one has Paul track down the man who stole an artifact from him, thereby keeping him from finishing his latest mission.  When he finds the guy, he employs a level of brutality that I wouldn’t have thought him capable of (the cover image says it all – he’s not soldering).

What I’ve enjoyed about this series (in addition to Dell’Edera’s art) is that Paul has been trying to hold on to his morals and values, wehile being thrust into a conflict he does not understand the rules of.  He’s been a good everyman for the readers to latch on to, and while this issue’s twist wasn’t coming out of the blue, it still holds a lot of potential for some future stories.  I hope this isn’t the last we see of this comic.

The Sixth Gun #13

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

Train heists are a lot of fun. It’s easy to see the appeal of train robbery movies – the speed, the constant danger of falling, the cluelessness of conductors who don’t slow down or simply uncouple wrecked cars…  Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt bring all the excitement of a train heist – with zombies and a mummy, no less – to comics in a way that makes it just as thrilling as any film.

Our two heroes, Drake Sinclair and Becky Moncrief, traveling with the Sword or Abraham group, came under attack from the zombies last issue.  Drake is trying to take the body of General Hume someplace safe, while his widow is trying to retrieve it, hence the zombies.  This entire issue is taken up with the fight (the mummy shows up right at the beginning), and it’s all very cool.

I especially like that Drake, who has a pretty shady past and is relatively new to the hero game, knew the mummy in his former life.  The issue ends with a couple of surprises, and leaves us in a place where it’s hard to tell what’s going to happen next.

Cullen Bunn is beginning to get a fair amount of attention from Marvel.  I’ve found his Fear Itself: The Deep to be a disappointment, but it appears that he’s going to be involved in the post-Fear Itself book.  Like Jonathan Hickman and Jason Aaron before him, his independent work is better than his pay for hire work.  Jump on this now, and if he becomes really popular, you can always say you’ve been following him for ages.  Comics fans love doing that, right?  You won’t be sorry.

Skullkickers #9

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang and Misty Coats

The solicitation text for this issue read:  “This issue: More of the SAME!”, and that’s exactly what it delivers.  Skullkickers has been remarkably consistent, meaning that it is a very dependable book, if you are looking for a level of hilarity and unpredictability that we don’t often see in independent comics these days.

When last we saw our heroes, they were being tossed into a pit to fight a giant horned ape in order to prove their mettle to a gang of thieves.  This issue opens with the poor ape, named Ape Wit’ Horns, having received the worse of the situation.  The ‘Kickers are sent to buy new clothes, and retrieve a map for their new associate.  Strangely, all of this stuff works out perfectly for them, as they retrieve their own clothes and weapons (did anyone else think the woman in the market looked like Gran’ma Ben, from Bone?), and they later run in to just the person they are looking for.

Zubkavich is playing around with themes of fate and destiny, and so none of these things are really coincidences.  As always, there’s a lot to love about this comic.  My favourite part of this issue is that the tall bald ‘Kicker doesn’t understand Thieves’ Cant, the argot of the underworld, but he is able to communicate with squirrels.  I look forward to having that explained at some point.

As always, Skullkickers is one of the more unique titles on my pull-list, and I appreciate it for that.

Spontaneous #2

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Brett Weldele

It’s been a while since Free Comic Book Day, so I sort of forgot about this title, but was very pleased to see it scheduled for release this week.  The way this issue was structured made it very easy to slide right back in to the story, which is pretty interesting.

Melvin’s father died of spontaneous human combustion (SHC) when Melvin was a small child.  Since then, he’s made a study of the phenomenon, and has become very good at predicting who may be a candidate (for reasons which start to become clear over the course of this issue).  He’s partnered up with a freelance (read unemployed) journalist, who is questioning whether he should simply predict SHCs, or try to help people.

Harris is setting up a very compelling little story, with hints of cover-up and collusion at some level, and lots of great character work.  Melvin is a pretty complicated guy, which Harris suggests very well.  There are a couple of bizarre elements in here, such as the police chief who brings her young daughter to work with her without explanation, but I am definitely engrossed by this story.  I love the Erin Brokovich references.

Brett Weldele deserves a lot of credit for this book working so well.  Like he did with electric light in The Light, he makes excellent use of colour to convey the harshness and danger of the fires.  It’s surprising to me just how much Weldele has grown on me as an artist – I pretty much hated his work on Julius back in the day.

Undying Love #4

Written by Tomm Coker and Daniel Freedman
Art by Tomm Coker

Like with The Mission this week, I’m not sure if or when this series is going to be continued, as this issue ends with the words “End: Part 1” and I don’t believe anything else has been solicited.  Unlike The Mission, the ending here is not terribly satisfying, as very little has been resolved, and if anything, there is more confusion than there was before.

John, the American soldier, and Mei, the vampire he is protecting, have come under attack from a group of vampires who can shape shift into crows.  They are rescued by an unlikely set of allies, and it becomes ever more clear that there is much more to Mei than we previously thought (although we are given no information as to what that might actually be).

This is a comic that I originally picked up for the art, and Tomm Coker once again does not disappoint.  He has a terrific style – a little Paul Gulacy-ish, and a clear love for the darker parts of Hong Kong.  This book looks great, and I hope that the story continues soon.

The Vault #1

Written by Sam Sarkar
Art by Garrie Gastonny

These days, I’m willing to give just about any new Image book a shot, as they’ve had such a great track record lately, and I thought this book looked intriguing when I leafed through it in the store.

It’s about a group of treasure hunters and archaeologists who are convinced that there is some valuable treasure in a water-filled pit on Sable Island in Nova Scotia.  They have a lot of high-tech equipment, although not enough to retrieve it, and have to bring in some other dude, who has a robotic diving dog thing, although they don’t want to pay his price.

It’s sort of established that they are working against the clock, because of an impending hurricane (how often does that happen in Nova Scotia?), and there is a strange supernatural element to this story, as hinted at in the first few pages, and then mysteriously revealed at the very end.

I feel like this comic has a lot of problems.  To begin with, it took me a while at the beginning to get a grasp of what’s going on.  It’s hard to understand what makes this particular dive so different, and why it requires such amazing technology.  The biggest problem with this book is the hurricane though.  In a classic example of tell, don’t show, we know there’s a hurricane coming because the characters keep talking about how worried they are about it, and how it’s going to wreck their communications with the mainland, but it doesn’t seem to materialize in any way that matches the amount of concern on display.  It seems they have to abandon their boat, but have plenty of time to bring up treasure chests.  There is also the concern that other people may come and take their treasure, but they don’t explain how these other people would have the needed tech…

There’s some stuff to like here – especially Gastonny’s clear pencils, but I don’t think there’s enough.  Even though that last page really caught my interest, I’m not sure if I’ll be back for more.

Xombi #5

Written by John Rozum
Art by Frazer Irving

I love this comic.  After this, there is only one issue left before the DC Relaunch, which looks to have canceled this title very prematurely.  But instead of complaining, I will instead try to focus on how lucky we were as readers to get a six issue run of a book that is so unique in today’s market.

In this issue, David Kim and his crew pursue Roland Finch, with the goal of reclaiming the Skull Stronghold that he has taken over.  Most of this issue is interlude and preparation for the final battle, and Rozum has filled it with fascinating character work and back story.  To give you a hint of how well-written this book is, here are a few descriptions of the Skull Stronghold, a floating city of immortals:

“Over centuries the skull was trained into a glorious city by experts in architectural bone topiary.”  “The chamber of tangible music, the sand children, the alphabetical flower garden, the lake of knives, the ivy lamp posts, Mr. Salt and Pepper, the hall of wishes.”  Rozum is tossing out ideas like Grant Morrison, and that’s what the series has been like from the beginning.

We also get a better sense of David Kim, our Xombi, in this issue.  Having never read a Milestone comic, I still don’t know much about this character, so I appreciate learning about his relationship and how he has adjusted to the change that gave him his abilities.

Of course, the writing, as good as it is, pales in comparison to Frazer Irving’s stunning artwork.  His designs for the Skull and other Strongholds are amazing, and he manages to create believable people, and then have them fly on pterodactyls.  I love the palette he has chosen for the different Strongholds.

I can’t recommend this comic enough (for at least another month).

Quick Takes:

Captain America & Bucky #620 – I feel like this is going to be my favourite Captain America title now.  I haven’t been happy about Marvel giving the shield back to Steve Rogers and doing away with Bucky just so they can try to cash in on the movie, but part of my dislike with the whole thing is that the excellent group of artists who have been working on Cap (Butch Guice, Stefano Gaudiano, and Chris Samnee) were replaced with Steve McNiven (I believe that issue 2 has already had its release date pushed back – shocking).  At least Bucky and Samnee have both found a home as the stars of this new title, which continues the previous Captain America numbering.  It’s a flashback series, examining Cap and Bucky’s experiences in the war, co-scripted by Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko – at least for the first arc; I imagine that Andreyko will be the sole writer soon enough, and I’m fine with that.  This first issue is pretty standard stuff, rehashing Bucky’s origin yet again, but it has heart, and Samnee’s work is brilliant as always.

Detective Comics #880 – Some very creepy stuff going on this issue, as Batman and Commissioner Gordon hunt down the Joker, although maybe they should be dealing with another character first.  I feel like going on again about how disappointed I am to see that Snyder, Jock, and Francavilla’s run on Detective is ending, but I’ll save that for next month’s final issue.  Still, big mistake DC…

Fear Itself: The Deep #2 – Basically, this is one of those filler mini-series that Marvel likes to do during their big events.  I only preordered it because I love Cullen Bunn’s The Sixth Gun, but this does not feel like it’s coming from the same writer.  If you are dying for a Defenders reunion, and can’t wait a few more months until Fraction and the Dodsons’ title comes out, you should get this.  Otherwise (and that’s going to be pretty much everybody), don’t bother.

FF #7 – I haven’t really liked this two-part Black Bolt interlude.  To begin with, I thought the way BB’s death was handled in the Abnett and Lanning cosmic series was poignant and helped move a pretty static group of characters into new, interesting territory.  Also, I feel that this foray into Kree history (where we learned that their design aesthetic and uniforms haven’t changed in over three hundred thousand years) really derailed the forward momentum Hickman had built up in this title since its relaunch.  Finally, Greg Tocchini’s artwork looks like someone just coloured his rough pencils – it’s hella rough and rushed looking.  Here’s hoping that the next issue will impress again.

Flashpoint: Project Superman #2 – So now we know what would have happened had the military gotten ahold of the baby Superman instead of the Kents.  It’s a little predictable (except for the strange actions of Luthor Sr., which don’t really make sense), but very well drawn by Gene Ha, even though he seems to be working at only about 3/4 his usual brilliance.  I wonder if this comic would make more sense were I reading Flashpoint…

Invincible #81 – There’s a lot going on in this issue, as Mark deals with what happened in Las Vegas, faces a couple of villains, and has a few chats with Cecil and Eve.  Kirkman really shows how much Mark has grown since going off to space, and has him questioning the value of the type of superheroics he’s been used to doing.

Justice Society of America #53 – I was disappointed to learn that the JSA would not be rebooting with the rest of the DCU (except, inexplicably, for Mr. Terrific, who needs to be a legacy hero to explain why someone would pick that name in today’s world), but as it gets closer to its finish, I think it’s time to put this book out to pasture for a while.  This book just keeps getting worse – not even Jerry Ordway can redeem it this month.  The team finds an ancient city under the Earth, that dampens metahuman powers.  When did Miraclo pills and Stargirl’s cosmic rod become metahuman powers?  If it also trashed technology, I’d get it, but the Challengers of the Unknowns’ communicators work just fine.  This whole run has been plagued by shoddy attention to detail, which is strange because Marc Guggenheim is usually a much better writer.

New Mutants #28 – Abnett and Lanning do their take on the famous psych. exam issues of Suicide Squad and X-Factor, as Dani Moonstar brings in an outside therapist to look at some of the walking wounded associated with her team.  He’s a little abrasive and confrontational, and it shows that D’n’A are putting character first in this run (at least, until next month’s Fear Itself tie-in, and until Schism inevitably shakes things up).  Michael Ryan does the art, and it’s a step up from the last few issues, but this therapist dude doesn’t look much older than Dani, and that’s jarring.

Secret Avengers #15 – I thought this issue was brilliant.  Nick Spencer has the Black Widow bust into the office of a celebrity muckraking website after they post an article that claims that Bucky Cap isn’t dead.  She has a long conversation with the various employees about what death really means in the Marvel Universe.  The not so subtle subtext has Natasha calling out comics publishers (and fans) for only caring about characters when they die and are ultimately reborn.  It’s interesting stuff, although having Natasha stand on the furniture through the whole issue does look a little silly.  It’s nice to see that someone is talking about Bucky’s death – it’s been glossed over in Cap’s own title, and I don’t think it was handled well in Fear Itself.

Secret Warriors #28 – Jonathan Hickman’s first Marvel series ends with more of a whimper than a bang, and leaves a few things open to interpretation (especially after having read Captain America #1 the other week), but also has enough nice little character moments to really satisfy.  I eel like I’d have to go back over this whole series from the beginning to really know where a lot of things stand in the Marvel Universe right now – does Hydra still exist?  what is the name of the organization that Daisy has taken over, and how is it different from the one that Steve Rogers runs? – but I have t osay that in terms of a two and a half year run on a series, this has been a pretty impressive comic.  I’m going to miss it, and I hope we see some of these characters again soon.

Uncanny X-Force #12 – Having never read the Age of Apocalypse comics, I was finding this return to that world (because everything is the 90s again lately) to be manageable enough, until I got to the stupid ending of this issue.  Remender has filled this comic with some interesting character work, reuniting lost loves from alternate dimensions and the like, but his ideas for the Black Legion (Iron Ghost is a Ghost Rider/Iron Man mash-up, Grimm Chamber, White Cloak, and Orange Hulk, among others) are beyond laughable, and that last page ‘surprise’ is just kind of sad.  Usually this book is better than this.

X-Men Legacy #252 – Well, this is just going on a little too long.  Legion and a few X-Men are running around Paris (I guess that the Grey Gargoyle hasn’t trashed it yet) hunting one of his missing personalities, and things are stuck somewhere between dull and mediocre.  I would drop this title right now, but I want to see how the Starjammers story that follows it plays out.  Still, with two ‘flagship’ X-books starting in the fall, I’m going to be looking to trim my X-list.  This had best get better.

X-Men: Schism #2 – While I’m enjoying the fact that this mini-series attempts to make use of just about all of the various X-groups, I feel like the disagreements between Cyclops and Wolverine are a little too forced, as the intended outcome of the team split in two drives the characterizations, instead of the other way around.  Logan’s a little out of character, but not as out of character as Scott and Emma when they just expect Quentin Quire to confine himself to quarters (which he wouldn’t have yet) instead of delivering him to Danger in the X-Brig.  I’m not sure how I feel about the Hellfire Club being run by children either…

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

Amazing Spider-Man #666

Astonishing X-Men #40

Deadpool Max #10

Incorruptible #20

John Byrne’s Next Men #8

Mighty Thor #4

Planet of the Apes #4

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Aaron and Ahmed: A Love Story

Written by Jay Cantor
Art by James Romberger

I went into this original graphic novel from Vertigo without being too sure of what to expect or how I felt about reading it.  I’ve become pretty sensitive to outward expressions of Islamophobia of late, especially in light of the events in Norway that happened last week, and the ridiculous anti-Islamic furor in my city regarding the topic of whether or not students should be able to perform their Friday prayers in school instead of having to excuse themselves for a large chunk of the afternoon.  I mean, none of this stuff is new (anyone remember the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’?), but I find that it’s building in momentum, and I didn’t really want to read more of it in a comic.

And the thing is, I’m not sure where I stand on this book now that it’s finished.  I will say that I liked the way this book was written, and think that Romberger’s art is incredible.  I’m just not sure I am all that impressed with the premise.

Aaron Goodman (I know) is a psychiatrist who enlisted after his fiancee died on 9/11.  He always believed that the best way to help his patients is to build a bond, and to get them to love him so he can help them.  He wants to apply this same theory to the interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, and so is assigned Ahmed, a detained ‘enemy combatant’.  Aaron starts pumping him full of estrogen, and treating him kindly so that Ahmed will fall for him and be open to further manipulation.

Aaron’s superior at Gitmo has some strange ideas about how suicide bombers are carriers for a meme – an idea virus – and wants to learn more about how to activate them.  Aaron decides to bust Ahmed out of Guantanamo, so the two of them can travel to Pakistan, and Aaron can learn about how the ‘magic power words’ work.  This is where I felt things starting to fall apart, as we learn that Ahmed, who seems to have been chosen randomly, and whose reason for being in US custody is never explained, is way more hooked up than anyone would have believed.  Aaron and Ahmed meet with the Old Man in the Mountain (who is not Bin Laden, but actually the character Ozymandias from old Uncanny X-Men comics), and Aaron gets infected with one of these infectious memes.

In other words, this book gets bloody bizarre pretty quickly.  And I think that is it’s problem.  First, the discussion of memetics feels like it’s coming out of old 90s issues of Wired magazine – I didn’t know anyone still went on about this stuff.  Secondly, G. Willow Wilson (an actual member of Islam!) addressed the notion of fundamentalism being viral much better, and with more sensitivity, in her much-missed comic Air.

This book isn’t bad, but I would have preferred a more grounded examination of the relationship between interrogator and detainee, than the over-extended commentary on the origins of suicide bombing that it became.

Album of the Week:

Africa Boogaloo – The Latinization of West Africa

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