The Giant Round-Up (#88,89, and 90) Featuring Fables, Chew, American Vampire, Morning Glories, DMZ, And So Much More!

I know I’ve been a way for a bit, but I went on vacation out west, and explored the used book stores and comic shops of Victoria, Seattle, and Vancouver.  I also attempted to check out music stores, but those are one dying breed.  This is a long long article – I apologize for that.  If anything, it proves to me that I’m perhaps buying way too many comics.  My thanks to anyone who reads right through to the end – there is a small reward there, as apparently I stumbled across a little comics investigative journalism on my trip.

The Best of Each Week:

The Red Wing #2

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

Now this is what I’ve been looking for.  The Red Wing has cool space ships that remind me of Battlestar Galactica, nice character development, interesting ideas and settings, and a twist that actually surprised me.  Once again, by working on a creator-owned book, Jonathan Hickman demonstrates why he’s one of the best writers in comics.

Our two new recruits, Dom and Val, are working their up through the ranks of whatever the military organization they joined last issue is called.  They both have their own TAC fighters, although Dom kind of sucks at flying his.  The reason for this is that he is having a difficult time adjusting from a linear thinking style, that seriously hinders him in battles that flow through time as well as space.

We also get to see Dom’s father, who was stranded somewhere in South America in the period before European exploration, as he interacts with a local chieftain of an Aztec tribe (I assume based on the images shown).

Matching Hickman’s peerless writing is Pitarra’s terrific art.  He’s equally comfortable drawing ancient times as he is designing the futuristic look of the vehicles that the two forces fly.  I’m completely drawn into this comic; I just wish it was longer than four issues.

Fables #108

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha

There have been a couple of moments where I’ve wondered if Fables should continue.  When the Adversary was defeated, I wondered if there was much point in the series moving forward without an established antagonist.  Then Mr. Dark came along, who was a weak replacement at first, but ended up very effectively shaking up the status quo, driving everyone out of Fabletown and then the Farm.  When he was vanquished a couple of issues ago, I wondered again if it may not be time for Vertigo’s second longest-running series to fold.

With this issue it finally became clear to me that plot really has become secondary in this series.  Like a good soap opera (if those actually exist; I’ve never watched one, but they seem popular), it’s investment in the characters that drive this series forward.

In this issue, Rose Red returns with a small group to sweep the Farm for traps, while Nurse Spratt plans for the eventual return of her enemies to Fabletown.  We check in again with Blufkin and his new friends, as they try to make their way across hostile territory in Ev (is that the cat from the latest Cinderella series?).  The heart of this issue lies in the North Wind’s castle, as it becomes clear that one of Snow White and Bigby’s children will have to replace their grandfather.  These scenes are amusing and touching, as we see a side of Bigby that is not often shown.

So what I’ve learned from this issue is that, after so many years, I really like the characters in this comic, and am perfectly happy if it meanders a while, so long as Willingham keeps such strong characterizations afloat.  Also, I’m not sure what was going on with the art this issue, but Buckingham and Leialoha look better than ever.  I suspect it’s the new approach to colouring that Lee Loughridge uses here, with more of a watercolour washed effect on the background, and it looks great.

Xombi #6

Written by John Rozum
Art by Frazer Irving

I get it that sales probably weren’t that great, and that I should just be thankful that a six-issue arc of a book like this got published at all in today’s climate, but really, I’m just sad that this book is ending, and won’t be returning in the DC relaunch.  I think that Xombi would work just fine as a Vertigo book, with absolutely no changes made to it, but it is what it is.

This issue finishes up the Stronghold story that began with the first issue.  Through most of this series, the book has really been an ensemble title, with David Kim, the titular Xombie, being the lead, but not the centre of things.  And that approach worked really well I felt, as when a comic with super-powered nuns with funny names shouldn’t be about just one person.

In this issue, our collected heroes have their final confrontation with Roland Finch, the mastermind who stole the Skull Stronghold, and is now hoping to wage war on other Strongholds (floating islands of immortals).  The writing is clever throughout, and Frazer Irving’s art is beautiful.  This comic has had more than its share of interesting new ideas and colourful villains (this month, the Sisterhood of Blood Mummies), and I hope to see more work from Rozum (other than Static Shock, which has art by Scott McDaniel) and Irving (who I’m really hoping is going to finish Gutsville now).

If you haven’t read this, pre-order the trade and let DC know that you want more comics like this.  It is definitely the best thing to come out of the DCU in years, and is up there with Scalped and DMZ as one of the best books the company publishes.

Other Notable Comics:

All Nighter #3

by David Hahn

The more I read of this series, the more I like it and the characters that populate it.

In this issue, Kit gets closer to Martha, her new house-mate who has claimed to be her guardian angel, and is generally a little creepy, and also gets a lot closer to Jim Magirl, the boyfriend of one of her other housemates.  To be fair, they had a connection before he started to date Donna, but both of them know that it’s wrong.  There are other things going on too – Kit has an argument with her friend and final housemate Sally-O, but we learn nothing more about how Kit’s mother died.

Basically, this is just more of the usual slacker late teen/early 20s genre, but it’s a genre I enjoy.  Hahn’s art is always great, but this issue looks a little looser than I remember the other issues looking.  I’d have to dig out the first two to be sure, but I find that this light style works very well with this material.

I’m definitely interested to see what happens next, especially with Martha, the oddball girl.

American Vampire #18

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

I do so enjoy this series.  This World War II story, set on a fictional island in the Pacific, has worked really well to explore the relationship between Pearl and Henry, as Skinner Sweet has used the chaos of the war to make a move against the man that he apparently sees as his rival.

Most of the plot of this arc falls away in this issue, as the focus is squarely on the conflict between the two American vampires, and Henry.  I was a little surprised at the depth of Pearl’s feelings for Skinner – I’m not sure that we’ve seen enough evidence of that before now – but I also found it pretty interesting, especially as something is going to pop up again.

I also found the last page of the story to be pretty interesting.  As the Vertigo line contracts (DMZ, Northlanders, and Scalped are all finishing in the next year), this book stands as a good example of why DC should continue to invest in the imprint.

American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #3

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Sean Murphy

Here’s something that popped into my mind as I read this issue of American Vampire’s spin-off mini-series (which really only has a partial American vampire in it; the rest are European):  the Nazis have joined forces with a large contingent of Carpathian vampires, who feel that their position in the order of things is similar to that of the Aryans.  Master race, and all that.  What’s interesting is that the vampires aren’t really a race in the traditional sense; they breed through turning humans, and in the mythology that Snyder and Stephen King set up, the type of vampire they become is dependent on where they turned.

Now, since most people that would be turned in the Carpathian region would likely be ‘Carpathian’, it is not a requirement.  Were that the case, then ‘American’ vampires like Skinner Sweet wouldn’t exist; instead, there would just be some very old school indigenous vamps running around the States (actually, that’s now something I want Snyder to explore in this book).

Why am I talking about this?  I think it’s because I don’t know that the Nazis would view their new vampire allies as ‘racially pure’, following their own definitions.  Of course, the Nazis are being more opportunistic than doctrinally consistent, so it’s all good.  But this is what I thought about throughout this comic, which is odd, because this is an exciting story.  I’ve really enjoyed the James Bond feel to this one, as our two heroes learn about sunlight death ray weapons, and try to free the defecting German scientist.  Great writing, and terrific artwork – this mini is as good as the mother book.

Baltimore: The Curse Bells #1

Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Art by Ben Stenbeck

I don’t know that I was exactly clamoring for another Baltimore comic, but it seems that the Mignola comics machine is trying to maintain a greater output these days, with Baltimore and Witchfinder trading story arcs as the two outliers of the Mignola-verse (and yes, I know that Baltimore is not set in the same continuity as everything else, thank you).

I enjoyed the first comic arc (never read the novel) well enough, but appreciate the fact that I know what’s going on, and who is who in this new series much more.  The first series didn’t explain things until a few issues in, and it was confusing.

Lord Baltimore is still pursuing Haigus, the ancient vampire who ruined his life, and is still coming across traps the creature has left for him.  Some stuff happens in a small town in Switzerland, but of course, that’s just the pre-credit action sequence.  Later, still on Haigus’s trail, Baltimore meets an American journalist who knows a few things about vampires and the other creatures awakening on the Earth.  Baltimore needs this kind of character – the man barely speaks, so this new guy will provide most of the explication as we go along.

Ben Stenbeck’s art looks different here.  It’s looser and more open than before – it feels like he’s less concerned with staying within the Mignola house style (which is pretty broadly defined), and is making the book a little more of his own.  Strangely, that sometimes means that Baltimore takes on a Munch-ian quality, but that would go away were he to allow his hair to grow.

Blue Estate #5

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, and Andrew Osborne
Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Toby Cypress, Nathan Fox, Paul Maybury, and Marley Zarcone

Blue Estate shifted in tone a little with this issue.  While there has always been a humorous aspect to this comic (dark, dark humour), this issue seemed to be much lighter and almost sillier, from word play (the Sudoku scene), physical humour (termites), and the silliness of bodyguards trying on wigs.  I’m not even going to talk about the garden gnomes.

I don’t get it – Kalvachev and his team have been angling this to be a pretty dark story, but now I’m not so sure.  Still, it’s pretty entertaining, so I’m not going anywhere.

There is a new introduction to the art team with this issue, and that is Marley Zarcone.  I first noticed Zarcone’s work on Nick Spencer’s Forgetless, and I was immediately impressed.  She’s a talented artist whose style fit seamlessly with the others who work on this comic.

BPRD Hell on Earth – Monsters #2

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Tyler Crook

Tyler Crook is a good addition to this title.  He’s keeping so many of the elements that Guy Davis introduced to the title that worked, but is also putting his own spin on things.  This issue continues to focus on Liz Sherman, who finds herself stuck in a trailer park full of creepy trailer trash Satanist frog worshipers.  Crook has a knack for drawing trailer trash, I have to say.

It’s been a while now since we saw the main BPRD cast, so I was appreciative of the few pages tucked in here featuring Corrigan, Abe, and that UN guy whose name I don’t remember.  It feel like this book is going to be getting back on track after it’s Liz Sherman-centred hiatus, and I’m pretty happy about that.

This is consistently one of the best comics on the stand.  Next month it looks like the team is going to Russia, which should work for Crook, as he is the artist for the Petrograd graphic novel that looks so good.

Chew #20

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

I think we all know the drill by this point.  Another issue of Chew comes out; it contains a few surprises and moves the plot in an unexpected direction; it’s funny and very well-drawn.  Is there anything new to say?  Chew is one of the most innovative comics on the stands, yet it becomes hard to say that in some new way month after month.

Instead, a short recap.  The book opens on cast wildcard Mason Savoy, who has been experiencing a days-long cibopathic vision (cibopaths are people who receive knowledge through ingesting things), and has missed that the strange alien sky writing that has been encircling the Earth has disappeared.

Tony and Colby are sent undercover to check out the Church of the Divinity of the Immaculate Ova – a church/cult of egg worshipers who predicted the disappearance of the writing.  The leader of the church, Alani Adobo (who we have seen before) runs a pretty tight ship where eating chicken or eggs is concerned.  Some stuff happens.

As always, the story just chugs right along, paced perfectly.  Guillory always does a fantastic job on this book, and I love his little visual gags, like the face on the Kool-Aid pitcher, which ends up being an example of foreshadowing.  Great stuff, once again.

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #3

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

So you’ve put together a plan that is both simple and complicated at the same time, and killed your wife.  Everything works the way it’s supposed to – the police have followed the clues you laid out to the person you are trying to frame.  Your friends are flocking to you in support and sympathy.  Your father-in-law, who has never liked you, is showing support.  Now the big question – can you really pull it off?

It’s at this stage that I would suppose the killer is most vulnerable.  It’s human nature to let down your guard, or to slip up in the slightest way, and blow it all.  This is where Riley finds himself in this whole issue; everything is going so well, but he’s having a hard time deciding to what extent he’s acting and where genuine emotion begins.

This issue is a very powerful character study.  Riley doesn’t have guilt over his wife, but does feel badly that he led his friend Freakout, who had been sober for a year, off the wagon.  He also is beginning to see the sheer variety of possibility open to him in his new existence, but only if he doesn’t slip.

This is a very taut story.  There is nothing to like in Riley, but Brubaker and Phillips have me caring about what’s going to happen to him.  This has been the best Criminal arc yet.  Also, Jay Faeber’s essay in the back actually makes me want to watch an episode or two of Magnum, P.I., a show I never liked growing up.

Cyclops #6

Written by Matz
Art by Gaël de Meyere

Oh, Archaia.  Sometimes, I just don’t know what’s going on at that place.  They put out some of the most beautiful comics on the stands, and have very high production values, but on the last issue, they had the wrong artist’s name credited, and this issue, which is issue 6, states on the cover that it is actually #5.  Don’t people check for this kind of thing?  It’s a little embarrassing.

The comic itself is always good.  Pistoia, our hero and general puppet of his Multicorps bosses, is finally pushed a little too far.  His affair with a Multicorps employee (who seduced him) is exposed as a way of trying to rein him in, and has the opposite effect.  On a mission, Pistoia and his squad decide to disobey orders, and expose to the world what they know about their commanders’ dirty dealings in the international security business.

This comic has been slow in building to this point.  Matz has methodically set the stage for Pistoia’s awakening of conscience, and now it looks like the rest of the series will involve mercenaries hunting down the good guys.  This has been a very solid story, and it’s really heating up.

Art wise, I miss Luc Jacamon a great deal.  His replacement artist, de Meyere, is decent, but Jacamon has a much stronger sense of human expression, and panel design.

Dark Horse Presents #3

Written by Dave Gibbons, Robert Love, David Walker, Carla Speed McNeil, Paul Chadwick, Howard Chaykin, Jim Steranko, Patrick Alexander, Richard Corben, Chuck Brown, David Chelsea, Neal Adams, and Michael T. Gilbert
Art by Dave Gibbons, Robert Love, Carla Speed McNeil, Paul Chadwick, Howard Chaykin, Jim Steranko, Patrick Alexander, Richard Corben, Sanford Greene, David Chelsea, Neal Adams, and Michael T. Gilbert

There are a lot of comics in this book.  This issue of DHP, while keeping it’s $7.99 price point, increased its page count to 104 pages, which is appreciated, as that is a nice chunk of comics to digest.  I do wish I liked all of them though…

Dave Gibbons ‘Treatment’ is not bad.  Really, it’s a lot like Archaia’s French reprint comic Cyclops, starring a group of SWAT-like police officers who are broadcast live on a mix between a football game and a reality show.  It may be an interesting idea, but it’s going to need more developing than we get in this first installment (I assume there will be more).

As always, the two stand outs in this book are Paul Chadwick’s Concrete, and Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder.  In Concrete, Chadwick addresses the issue of unjustified police tasering.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but the best Concrete comics are the ones that have the stone giant explore a social issue that doesn’t often get much play, especially in comics.  Chadwick’s environmental stance had a huge influence on me when I was younger, and it’s nice to see that he’s still using his work as an engine for some kind of social change.  I think this may meander a little too close to being preachy, but I admire Concrete’s usual stance that there can be a better way of doing things than what is current practice.

Finder is incredible.  Having read Voice, the most recent graphic novel, I now get a lot more of the context of this DHP strip, and I’m loving it.  In this chapter, Jaeger helps an old lady who has missed her train stop by taking her through a short-cut which crosses the incredible city that McNeil has built.  The story ends on a pretty creepy note that I thought was very effective.

I’m enjoying Love and Walker’s Number 13.  There is more happening in this chapter that is getting me interested in this post-apocalyptic story, and I’m curious to read what’s going to happen next.  Also, I’ve been enjoying Richard Corben’s pieces, although I found this month’s to be a little disjointed.

Beyond that, the book becomes kind of mediocre.  I know this may be sacrilegious to many comics fans, but I didn’t feel Steranko’s Red Tide excerpt much at all.  For all his bombast about his own ingenuity, he’s written a fairly standard and cliche-ridden private detective prose story, which is only marginally assisted by his art.  I don’t think I’ll be looking for the full book when it comes out.

Howard Chaykin’s Marked Man is growing on me a little, but I still don’t like his art.  Likewise, Neal Adams’s Blood continues to be incomprehensible and way over-written, but pretty.  I find Brown and Greene’s Rotten Apple, which debuted last issue, to be pretty incomprehensible too.  Snow Angel, which I found refreshing earlier, doesn’t even appear to have a point this month.  It’s pretty rambling.  And, after having been burned last time, I didn’t even bother to read Michael T. Gilbert’s Mr. Monster.

DMZ #68

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

I can see where some may feel that this final story arc in DMZ is a little anti-climactic, as this issue is all about Matty driving around Lower Manhattan with Zee, meeting people and talking about the future of the city, but I find it fascinating.

To start with, the proposal to divide New York into ‘Five Nations’ in the wake of the peace armistice between the US and the Free States is pretty interesting.  Matty has two weeks to finish up his work before he has to turn himself in to the government, and he’s using that time to organize his notes and complete as comprehensive an accounting of the war as he can.

He and Zee travel to Ground Zero, a first for Matty, and then meet with a representative of Lower Manhattan – the ‘First Nation’.  He is, of course, a “finance real-estate douchebag”, which is what Lower Manhattan is known for.  I like how Wood shows us the real Ground Zero, and then shows us exactly the type of people who profited from it.

There is something wistful about this arc, as we ride with Matty through the city for a final time.  I plan on soaking up as much nuance as I can from the remaining three issues of this series.

Graveyards of Empire #2

Written by Mark Sable
Art by Paul Azaceta

I like zombie comics (when they are well written).  I love war comics.  So, putting the two together obviously grabbed my attention, just as it has in ’68, the Vietnam War zombie comic also being published by Image right now.  And as much as I’m enjoying that title, I think this one is far superior to it.

I have a few reasons for saying this.  To begin with, I’ve been following Paul Azaceta’s career since he drew Mark Sable’s Grounded a few years ago, and I feel that these two work particularly well together.  The main reason why I’m enjoying this book so much though, has to do with its portrayal of American involvement in Afghanistan.  There are a number of flashbacks in this book that show an older, widowed farmer and his family having to deal with successive waves of Taliban, American army, and American military contractors, all trying to influence his actions.

The Taliban force him to grow opium, and threaten his children.  The Americans try to buy him off while an Afghan police officer threatens his son.  Later, the military contractors burn his crops, leaving him destitute, and in danger of Taliban reprisal.  It’s clear that, once again, it’s impossible to win ‘hearts and minds’ without understanding the local conditions.  I love that no one is bothering the members of Karzai’s tribe who are also growing poppies in the next field.

In the present, the American FOB is under attack from a group of Afghan zombies.  They repel the attack, but are soon faced with a larger group approaching, with the locals stuck between them.  Sable handles the distrust between these groups, and the on-going cultural misunderstandings beautifully, adding tension and intrigue to a story that could easily just be a repeat of genre tropes.  It’s good stuff.

Hellboy: The Fury #3

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Duncan Fegredo

I’ve always liked beginnings better than endings.  In life, as in stories, the start of the journey always seems more exciting, fraught with dangers, and alive with possibilities.  Endings seem kind of final, even when they open the door to something new.

I’m a recent convert to Hellboy, having only started reading the title about two years ago, and quickly getting caught up to the current storyline.  Basically, ten plus years of storytelling culminates in this issue here, as plots that have been running as long as the series more or less get resolved, and Mignola puts his big red hero in a new environment, where he will start his next adventure.

The book is full of massive battles, and tons of gorgeously detailed images of destruction, but I liked the beginning of the whole thing better.  Endings to large sweeping epics always seem a little small and a little like a cop-out.  That said, I do look forward to the next time we see Hellboy, even if it’s not going to be for at least six months.  In fact, I kind of need a break from him, which is something that never happens to me with Mignola’s other regular title, BPRD.  I expected that this conclusion would bring HB back to his former comrades-in-arms, but that wasn’t to be.

I realize that I’m not actually on the fence about this comic; I’m just kind of indifferent to it.

Hero Comics 2011

Written by Neil Gaiman, Christopher Ivy, John Layman, Jason Craig, Sam Kieth, Ralph Reese, and Richard Starkings
Art by Mike Dringenberg, Sam Kieth, Christopher Ivy, Rob Guillory, Jason Craig, Ralph Reese, and Dougie Braithwaite

I picked this up for two reasons.  The first reason is that, being on vacation, I couldn’t buy anything that was on my pull-list back home, and knew I’d never ordered this.  Secondly, there are some seriously impressive names attached to this anthology fund-raiser comic.

The biggest thing about this book is that it reunites the creators of The Sandman for a creepy little nine-page story.  Gaiman has a narrator talk about the odd little hotel he stayed at near some beach in England, and it is very clear that this story is being told from beyond the grave.  What makes this work is more the art than the writing – Kieth and Dringenberg meld their styles (more on this momentarily) in such a way that I’m not sure who has done what.  The story looks like a marriage of Jon J Muth and the Expressionist painters, and it works very well.

What didn’t work was the follow-up story that Kieth illustrated, which is made up completely of the texts of e-mails between Kieth, Dringenberg, Gaiman, and editor Scott Dunbier.  I’m sure there are a lot of people who would greet this ‘peer behind the curtains’ kind of thing, and would like to learn how the comic was made (or at least discussed in its inception stage), but personally, I found it dull as paint drying.  Also, I strongly developed a dislike for Mike Dringenberg, who comes off sounding like a pompous ass.  I don’t disagree that he is as talented as he says he is; I just don’t need to read it coming directly from him.

Also of interest in this book are short pieces from two of my favourite Image series.  The Chew short is brilliant – Tony has to ingest a strange new hallucinogenic pill in order to discover where it comes from, and he trips out.  Guillory clearly had a good time with this one.  In the Elephantmen short, Richard Starkings kept the atmosphere pretty sombre, as he tried to match his story with the theme of the charity that this comic supports (Hero helps comics creators with medical or financial issues).

Finally, there are three one-page strips by creators who have benefited from Hero’s help.  These are affecting, and useful for reminding the reader why he’s bought the book.  In all, a decent enough collection that it’s worth your $4, especially considering that buying it is a good deed.

Kill Shakespeare #12

Written by Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
Art by Andy Belanger

I really want to congratulate the Kill Shakespeare team on completing their series.  It’s rare for independent titles to make it to issue twelve, and to do so in a relatively timely manner, and maintaining such a high level of artistic and story-telling quality is impressive.

Kill Shakespeare is an original book.  Basically, it’s like Fables, but populated with characters from Shakespeare’s oeuvre.  The great villains – Lady MacBeth and King Richard are in opposition to the more heroic figures – Juliet, Othello, and even comic relief-providing Falstaff.  Hamlet, the prophesied Shadow King, starts stuck somewhere in the middle, but eventually comes to the right side of things, as all heroes will.

The story wraps up nicely, if a little predictably.  On a larger level, this series asks questions about what life would be like if people could actually meet their creator.  The writers don’t delve too deeply into this aspect of the story, but I presume that future volumes (and we are told to expect more from this world) may explore this train of thought.  To be honest, that’s something that would draw me back more than another action-based story.

I’ve really enjoyed watching Andy Belanger grow as an artist and experiment with some new techniques in panel layout.  This issue, he does a thing to show action by having the same character appear more than once in a panel, and it didn’t really work for me.  At one point, I thought there were two Richards.  It was weird.

Morning Glories #11

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

It’s about time that the most interesting member of the Morning Glories crew gets his own issue.  Ike has been the smarmiest, cruelest, funniest, and most selfish character in this book since it started, playing first season Sawyer to Casey’s Jack at every turn.  I was worried that as his back story became more clear, he would become a more sympathetic, perhaps just ‘misunderstood’ character.

Thankfully, the more we learn about him, the worse he seems.  Gribbs, the sadistic enforcer of the Morning Glory Academy wants to recruit Ike to kill someone for him, and think he knows what to offer to get his cooperation, although he’s wrong.

These scenes are cut with flashbacks to Ike’s life before the school.  He is just as manipulative and mean-spirited as we have been led to believe.  Of course, there is an appearance by the mysterious Abraham, who has shown up throughout this arc (and is, perhaps, the model for Ike’s scarf-wearing aesthetic?), and an unexpected twist at the end.

As much as I enjoy this series, I am concerned that the sheer weight of the constant twists and turns will erode any structural foundation, and make this story impossible to resolve.  This is the longest and most complex story we’ve seen from Spencer so far, so I have a slight fear that he may not be able to pull it all off.  But it’s a fun rides, so it’s all good for now.

Northlanders #43

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Paul Azaceta

This is a good week for Paul Azaceta.  He has this book out, and Graveyards of Empire, and they are both excellent and vastly different.  In Graveyards, Azaceta gives us dusty and dry Afghanistan, whereas here, we get to see 880 AD Iceland, with wonderful battle sequences and a cool whaling scene.

Ulf, the child we saw being so mistreated in the first chapter of The Icelandic Trilogy, has grown up into a right little prick, and has taken over his father’s role as leader of one small section of Iceland.  After his livestock is stolen, he leads his men on a vicious raid against the neighbouring Belgarssons, and begins to assert his authority over the whole island.

It’s interesting how Wood has changed Ulf from the slightly sympathetic character that he was last issue into a proper little monster.  I’m curious to see where this story is going, and still saddened by the knowledge that this is going to be the last arc of this thoughtful and engaging series.

The Secret History Book Sixteen: Zion

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordey

What I like most about this title is that it asserts, with almost every issue, that history is important.  Now that the storyline has moved into the post-war, early Cold War days, Pécau is mining the events of earlier issues to help provide context for these current ones.

Now that the Archons have lost one of their number, they need to redivide the city of Jerusalem, which has always belonged equally to all four (each getting one of the historic quarters).  The problem now, is that humanity has moved beyond the Archons, and no longer feels the need to bow down to their guidance or counsel.  In other words, the ‘American Century’ is under way, and we all know what it’s like to try to tell Americans something…

Actually, it’s a little easier than trying to tell something to the Israelis, which is also documented through the actions of Adam and his band of fighters (who were introduced last issue).  They are now fighting against Jordanians, and require the help of their friend from the war, our recurring hero Curtis.  He is also in Israel, working as a mercenary, and he makes a pretty significant break with Reka.

As always, a lot happens in this issue, but it doesn’t suffer from the occasional lack of coherence that often plagues this comic.  Of course, even when it’s at its most confusing, I still enjoy it, because, as someone with a degree in history, I appreciate the importance it gives it.

Spontaneous #3

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Brett Weldele

Things take a few turns for the weird with this issue, as we get many of the pieces of the spontaneous human combustion puzzle put together for us, while other, new mysteries come to light.

It seems there is some corporate military contract work origin to the reason why so many people are suddenly bursting into flames in this one little town – a more more fiery version of Gulf War Syndrome, and our two heroes are figuring things out.  Of course, that may not work for them, as Melvin finds himself in some new kinds of trouble.

Also of interest is Melvin’s relationships.  It’s been pretty clear that he’s going to fall for Emily, but what I didn’t expect is the unrequited love of his former investigative partner and general tech-support guy Kenny.  This adds an interesting wrinkle to things, as does the appearance of a voice that Melvin hears.

Harris and Weldele are doing a great job building up some suspense and wonder in this comic.

The Stuff of Legend Vol.3: A Jester’s Tale #1

Written by Mike Raicht and Brian Smith
Art by Charles Paul Wilson III

The Stuff of Legend seems to be growing into an ever more sprawling adventure epic.  In the second volume, The Jungle, the group of toys who have ventured into “The Dark” to save their young master faced great divisiveness in their ranks, as a revelation of guilt splits them irrevocably.

This new arc is mostly focused on one of the toys – the Jester – who in the real world is a jack-in-the-box, and his quest to find his Princess, who appears to have been kidnapped and taken to the Indian lands (as this story is set in 1944, when kids played Cowboys and Indians, I’ll let the misnomer go).

What makes this most interesting is that it seems there is another Jester roaming The Dark, sticking to the seas and terrorizing the Boogeyman’s navy.  As always with this series, Charles Paul Wilson provides some excellent visuals, which really help propel the story.  I’m getting a little tired of the sepia tinting though.

The Walking Dead #88

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

As much as I love this series, there is always the odd issue that is only very very good, as opposed to the usual level of fantastic I’ve come to expect.  This is just one of those issues.

Carl is awake, but doesn’t have all of his memories.  Rick is having a hard time coping with all of this, so he decides to go out scavenging in the area around the town.  Andrea tries to get rid of that guy that likes her, and there is a possibility of new intrigue taking place within the community.

It is a very good issue, but it feels a little like a conduit between two places in the story, and so doesn’t hold up well as its own thing.  As always though, there is strong characterization and great art.

Quick Takes:

Alpha Flight #3 – Aside from a couple of characterizations that still feel off (namely Vindicator), I’m enjoying seeing one of my favourite teams getting a respectful and mostly faithful treatment, as Alpha Flight escapes from the new Prime Minister and attempts to plan their next move.  This is a straight-up old school superhero comic, without all the decompression, and it’s pretty enjoyable.  Maybe it will start a trend…

Avengers #16 – I’m glad someone decided to address the fact that Steve Rogers may not be happy that Bucky Barnes was killed (again).  I would have thought that it would have fallen to Ed Brubaker to handle this in Cap’s own title, but I guess that would be foolish.  Instead, we get this story of Rogers (along with the various female SHIELD agents he hangs with most of the time) going after Sin somewhere between the panels of Fear Itself #4.  It’s a decent story, but I’m so sick of the framing device that Bendis is using in these Avengers tie-ins; he wastes page after page with characters repeating the same thing.  It’s tiresome.

Avengers Academy #18 – Another decent issue, with an image at the end that has me really looking forward to the next issue.  This whole Fear Itself thing is taking a little long in this title too, especially since it’s so frequently bi-weekly, but at least Gage is putting it to good use in terms of character development.

Batman and Robin #26 –  Under Grant Morrison and Peter Tomasi, this comic was excellent.  I really enjoyed the interplay between Dick Grayson as Batman and Damian Wayne as Robin.  It was the freshest these standard characters have felt in years.  I thought I’d pick up the last issue, written by David Hine and featuring his Night Runner character, who despite the ridiculous mini-controversy he caused, was actually pretty interesting.  Unfortunately, Hine is just playing around with this Dadaist tribute to early Grant Morrison, which is all about flash and deconstructivist humour, but totally lacking in substance or heart.  Even with Scott Snyder and Peter Tomasi involved in new Batman titles, I don’t expect to enjoy the character as much.  In a way, it’s fitting that this issue was let-down; it should make next month’s less disappointing.

Batman: Gates of Gotham #5 – In the end, this is a satisfying story, and I suppose the last time we’ll see Dick in the bat-suit working with Tim, Damian, and Cassandra.  It’s too bad, because this series shows how the Batman Inc concept can work with other creators.

Batman Incorporated #8 – Well this is all kinds of confusing.  I don’t mean the art – which is that really difficult to follow digital stuff, or the story about Internet 3.0 and a group of investors who come under attack while taking a tour of it, but how exactly DC is rectifying continuing Grant Morrison’s story, but as a part of the DCnU.  To begin with, when Volume 2 rolls around, it will have a Batman/Stephanie Brown Batgirl story, but I thought we’d established that Brown wasn’t going to be Batgirl anymore.  It would be cool if this title stayed in the old DCU, and could therefore somehow be the thing that brings it all back (which we all know is going to happen within two years).

Birds of Prey #15 – Here we have a mediocre fill-in to finish off the relaunch of this title that never quite seemed to find its legs, even under the guidance of Gail Simone, the creator who has done more for Barbara Gordon, Black Canary, and Huntress than anyone else ever could.  I’m going to be following Batgirl (even if I don’t like that Barbara appears to be walking again), but am not too interested in a Birds of Prey written by Duane Swierczynski.

Captain America #2 – I wonder if Ed Brubaker has even read Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Warriors series.  Or, conversely, I wonder just when this story is supposed to be taking place, as it seems like Nick Fury is running SHIELD (although they seem careful not to call it that), and there is still no substantive mention of Bucky.  It’s like this is Astonishing Captain America or something.  The story is okay, but not particularly gripping, and Steve McNiven manages once again to be technically perfect in his art, and still dull as paint drying.  I’m not sure I’m long for this new series…

Captain America and Bucky #621 – Whereas this one is keeping me pretty happy.  I feel like Cap’s exploits in the Second World War have been covered to death, but I like that writers Brubaker and Andreyko are writing this more from Bucky’s perspective, which gives things a fresher feel.  The real star here is Chris Samnee, of course, who is his usual incredible self.

Daredevil #2 – I’m really enjoying Mark Waid’s more light-hearted approach to this book, as DD gets back to some straight-forward superheroics, trying to help a client of his, and uncovering Klaw.  There’s a good cameo by Captain America (which does set off some continuity issues, since he’s back in costume and slinging his shield, so this should be happening after Fear Itself, negating what happens in #5), and great art by Paolo Rivera.  I wasn’t going to buy this new series, but now I’m hooked.

Detective Comics #881 – Now that is one satisfying way to finish off a run of a book.  I sure hope DC knows what they’re doing with this relaunch, because in my current opinion, they’ve totally disrupted a fantastic team at the height of their game, and by replacing artists Jock and Francisco Francavilla, are saddling writer Scott Snyder with a much less versatile artist who isn’t capable of drawing the types of stories he’s been telling here.   This leads me to fear that his Batman is not going to be as sophisticated as this Detective run has been.  In this issue, Snyder has Batman and Barbara face off against James Gordon Jr., and we learn that he’s been involved in everything that’s happened since Snyder started on the title.  Amazing writing (okay, it’s a little wordy, but it all had to fit), terrific art, and narration that hearkens back to Snyder’s first issue on the book.  I hope this long story is recognized as one of the better Batman stories ever told.  And with 19 issues before #900 – any bets on how long the new DCU is going to last before we do the re-numbering trick?

Farscape #22 – In typical Farscape fashion, it seems that Chricton has an idea to defeat the near-indestructible Kkore, and it more or less involves having everyone sit in a circle and sing ‘Kumbaya’.  But, because this comic has become as good as the show in terms of writing, I totally buy it, and can’t wait to see how it turns out (and goes wrong, because Chricton’s plans always do).  Apparently there are only two issues remaining in this series.  I don’t know if it’s going to be returning or if that’s it, but I have to say once again how impressed I’ve become with this comic, it’s sense of character, and its ability to honour what happened on the TV show, without being trapped in a cycle of repetitiveness, or totally jumping the shark (I’m looking at you, Buffy).

Fear Itself #5 – I guess there is commercial reasons for giving people exactly what they want, but it rarely leads to exciting or compelling storytelling.  Most of this issue is taken up with a big brawl between Thor and the Worthy-ized Thing and Hulk.  Because the world needs to see another one of those fights.  There are a couple interesting things happening with Captain America (who for some reason is wearing a helmet through most of this issue, and looking like a cross between Bryan Hitch Ultimate Cap and the dude in the Captain America movie from the 80s), except that they are more or less proven temporary by the latest Captain America #1, and therefore lose all weight.  I’ve reached the stage where I wish this series would just finish, so that the comics I enjoy could be about what they are usually about again (I’m tired of only getting one good storyline a year out of titles because of event hijacking).  Also, for the first time, I noticed that when the Thing became a tool of the Serpent, he got a Starro attached to him.  Secret DC crossover perhaps?

FF #8 – We’re thankfully back to the present after the recent diversion through Kree history, and there is both a lot of chaos in this issue and more than a little character juggling going on, as the Future Foundation receives a bunch of new, villainous, members, and the team heads to the sight of battle between Attilan and the High Evolutionary’s City.  This book is at its best as it works its way through Hickman’s complicated plot.  Having Epting back on art helps things along considerably.

Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown #3 – This mini-series was a disappointment.  It’s final issue is crammed with exposition, story elements that felt out of order (how did Jake II get there first?  why did the old guy talk so long, and then notice the dying werewolf?), and general filler.  I really want to have hope for the new Frankenstein series coming out of the DCnU, but this has made me wary instead of piquing my interest, which is what I think it was supposed to do.

Flashpoint: Project Superman #3 – I figure, if I just remind myself that it’s rare to see Gene Ha art, then I don’t mind that I bought this comic.  The story did nothing for me, and I’m not sure I understand why Kal and Lois were the same age last issue, but now that time has passed, Lois is so visibly older.  Maybe if I was up on reading or cared about Flashpoint, this would be exciting or relevant.

Generation Hope #10 – I think this may be my favourite part of Schism so far, as Kieron Gillen takes the concept of the Museum of Mutant History and fleshes it out beautifully, and in such a way that it really adds to Idie’s actions in Schism #3.  The more I read of Gillen, the more I like him doing corporate work at Marvel (would still rather be reading Phonogram).  This blends perfectly with Schism, especially where Idie is concerned.  Tim Seeley is starting to grow on me as an artist.

Hulk #39 – Jeff Parker spends a good deal of this issue having Red Hulk walk around  old family farm reminiscing, and it reminds me of why I started reading this book under Parker in the first place.  Of course, Hulk’s multiple enemies show up once again.  I’m happy to see Gabriel Hardman back on this title, and hope he sticks around for a while; he and Bettie Breitweiser are a terrific team.

Invincible Iron Man #507 – Nothing gets advanced here.  While last issue was all fun with cursing dwarves and drunk Tony, this gives us more of the same, as Fraction has to drag things out to last the length of Fear Itself.

Journey Into Mystery #626 – Loki’s plans continue to come together in the most delightful ways, as he messes with Surtur and steals something from the armory of Asgard.  Kieron Gillen delivers such terrific character work – this series is the best thing about Fear Itself and any of its tie-ins.  Also, this helps explain what’s going on in New Mutants, which was not clear in that book.

Justice Society of America #54 – Another unsatisfying conclusion to a less than mediocre run on a title I used to love (this review could be interchangeable with that of the Legion issue below).  Guggenheim really disappointed on this run, and the decision to just randomly kill off a character because it’s the ‘end of the DC universe’ is pointless – what’s the value of killing a character unless the ramifications of that death can be felt.  I do like the Darwyn Cooke cover, so at least there’s that.

Kick-Ass 2 #3 – If you can overlook what a ridiculous figure Mark Millar has become, with his constant self-promotion and general disinterest in putting out timely comics, you have to sometimes admit that, when doing creator-owned work, he still brings it.  And somehow gets a better performance out of John Romita Jr. than Bendis has gotten in even a single panel of his work on Avengers.

Legion of Super-Heroes #16 – Well, that ended off as mediocre as this whole run has been.  Levitz’s return to the Legion has been one huge disappointment, and I don’t really understand why.  His legendary run on the title back in the day still stands up, whereas this run will be quickly forgotten.  So, will things get better with the relaunch?  I’m not even sure I care anymore.

New Avengers #15 – I suppose there are some people out there who are happy to see a Squirrel Girl-focused issue, especially since the character has barely been used since being hired as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones’s nanny, but much like this week’s issue of Fear Itself, this felt more like fanboy pandering and tie-in water-treading than it did anything else.  It’s a good issue for what it is, but it’s basically something that would show up in the deleted scenes section of a DVD.

New Mutants #29 – I read this story of Dani Moonstar trying to leverage Hela to help with the Fear Itself stuff before reading the most recent issue of Journey Into Mystery, and wondered if  Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning had talked to Kieron Gillen, but then JIM cleared up everything in a single panel.  I don’t know Marvel, you start a new direction on this book, and it lasts for one arc before we’re stuck in tie-in land, which will last until the next new direction rolls around post-Schism.  It’s hard to justify sticking with Marvel comics these days for this very reason.  No idea gets time to be developed.  Also, I hate the way David LaFuente draws Sunspot.  He should not look like The Beast.

New Mutants #30 – More of the same really.  Not bad, but not exactly good either.  I expected a lot more from Abnett and Lanning…

Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger #1 – I’m not reading Spider-Island (I will eventually, but not at cover price), and haven’t really ever felt Cloak and Dagger, aside from the strong visuals the two evoke.  So why did I buy this tie-in series, especially when I’ve come to the point of hating tie-ins?  Two reasons – Nick Spencer and Emma Rios.  And it’s exactly what I expected – a well-written, novel approach to the characters that is absolutely gorgeous.  If this were a monthly, I’d be on board in a second.

Superboy #11 – I liked Jeff Lemire’s take on Superboy, but feel like he wasn’t given enough time to really develop and work with the small-town approach.  This issue shoe-horns in the conclusion to the Phantom Stranger story, and glosses over the Psionic Lad plot in a ridiculously facile way.  I don’t remember if Pier Gallo is getting a book in the DCnU, but he should; I’ve really come to like his art.  I won’t be getting any Scott Lobdell comics in the New 52 (short of stunning reviews), so I guess this is good-bye to this character.

THUNDER Agents #10 – A satisfying conclusion for the first volume of this book.  I’m very pleased that it’s going to be returning in November, and am looking forward to seeing how an artist like Wes Craig’s style will work with Spencer’s writing.  He usually does best with a realist artist, but I’m intrigued to see how this is going to look.

Thunderbolts #162 – Jeff Parker is another writer who can make good use of the cross-over nonsense of Fear Itself to progress what was already working in this comic.  As Chicago is attacked by weird creatures, the Underbolts make their move, and Man-Thing proceeds to the next stage of his evolution.  Tons of action, great character work, and some real pay-off for hints that Parker has been laying out since he came on the book.  Good stuff, with some great art from Valentine De Landro and Matthew Southworth (who don’t really complement each other well, but are both great artists).

Uncanny X-Force #13 – I suppose the fact that X-Force’s sales went up with the start of this ‘back to the Age of Apocalypse Dark Angel Saga’, just as my interest in the title started to go down says something about my tastes as opposed to the rest of comic land’s.  I don’t care; this comic was more interesting when it was just about the team members; there are a few too many people to keep track of here, and  I find it hard to care about what is happening on an alternate Earth that always stands out as an exemplar of why I dropped almost every Marvel comic back in the 90s.  Oh, and I don’t like Mark Brooks.  I thought I could handle it at the start of the arc, but it’s not working.

Uncanny X-Men #542 – Accepting that this is another filler story, biding time for Fear Itself and Schism to end, it’s actually very good.  I like how Gillen is applying the different power and skill sets of the X-Men to stop the Worthy-ized Juggernaut, and giving some oft-forgotten mutants a little bit of the limelight.  Unfortunately, the book is still drawn by Greg Land, so it’s often hard to tell which X-Men is which without reading the little identity boxes his art necessitates.  Also – this story takes place before Schism, right?  I mean, it would have to, as the X-Men all get along still.  So does that mean that the changes we see in Colossus this issue will be reversed next?

Vengeance #2 – Reading this comic almost requires a master’s degree in third-rate secondary characters, and I’m not too sure I know what all’s going on yet, but I have to say this may be my favourite Marvel comic right now.  The Teen Brigade move shop and hang out with emo pre-teen In-Betweener, while the Young Masters move into an old Hydra ship, and try to steal Bullseye’s body, before getting attacked by Lady Bullseye.  Nighthawk and his Defenders crowd sit around and chat, and some more stuff happens back in 1944.  This is definitely a comic that rewards close attention, but Joe Casey is also filling it with nice character moments (he gets Angel and Beak in a way that no one has since Grant Morrison wrote X-Men), and Nick Dragotta proves that he’s one of the best artists in the business.  Fantastic stuff, better even than the Dark Reign: Zodiac series Casey wrote a year or two ago.

Venom #6 – I’ve been enjoying this title more than I expected to, and like that Rick Remender pulls off the Spider-Island tie-in while still staying true to the feeling he’s established on this book (complaining about tie-ins really has become a theme for this column, hasn’t it?).

X-Factor #224 – Finally, the story of Rahne’s baby comes to its conclusion, but its not too satisfying.  It does allow everything to go on as it has been, which I’m not sure is a good thing.  I really feel like this title needs to get shaken up a little (and I don’t think bringing Havok back is going to do it.

X-Men Legacy #253 – This little Legion arc finally comes to its close, and Carey sets up his next storyline, which will finally address what’s been happening with Havok and his team, last seen in Realm of Kings.  This book remains frustratingly lacklustre.  Carey is a terrific writer, but his work on this book feels constrained (in an X-book?  Imagine).  I know he’s only got two arcs left, and I’ll stay with the title through them, but I’m hoping for something amazing when he leaves, or better yet, cancellation (there are too many X-Books).

X-Men Legacy #254 – And then this issue comes along, which is much more what I would expect from a Mike Carey-written X-Men comic.  Rogue, teleporting across the galaxy to find Rachel Summers, finds herself hanging out with the Shi’ar merc crew we met a while ago in Carey’s run, while Magneto and the rest find themselves in a space station that is about to be burned up by a sun.  Lots of interesting stuff happening, nice Steve Kurth art, and the return of Havok and friends (if only briefly).  Good stuff.  Maybe the secret lies in taking Xavier out of the book…

X-Men Schism #3While still pretty enjoyable, I do find that the conflict between Cyclops and Wolverine that is this series’s raison d’etre to be pretty forced.  These same situations have happened time and again without the same level of conflict.  I would have thought that Jason Aaron would have come up with something a little better or more original.  Also, I’m not buying that Logan feels so strongly for Idie compared to any of the other younger X-Men.  That he has to always have such a strong connection with with a young girl (Kitty, then Jubilee, now Idie) is getting a little creepy…

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

Amazing Spider-Man #667

Astonishing X-Men #41

Incorruptible #21

Punisher Max #16

Supreme Power #3

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #1

X-Men #16

Bargain Comics:

Xombi #0 (from 1994) – Seeing as the new Xombi series has become my favourite DC title (for another month at least), I jumped at the chance to read David Kim’s first appearance.  A lot of the strange weirdness is there from the start, such as a character named Twilight who looks like a walking Magritte painting.  The problem is, this series started in the middle of a crossover called Shadow War, so I don’t really understand what’s going on much.  I do know that Rozum’s writing is nice, that Denys Cowan’s art is incredible (man, do I miss seeing him on a regular book – he should be doing something for the DCnU), and that despite it’s obvious 90s-ness (metallic ink cover), had I been smart enough to buy this comic back in the day, I wouldn’t be searching for the run of this title now.  This is some good stuff.

Graphic Novels:

Borderline Vol. 1

Written by Carlos Trillo
Art by Eduardo Risso

Having been so impressed with the first chapter of Vampire Boy when I read it about a year ago, I figured it was time to track down the rest of Trillo and Risso’s collaborations.  They deserve to be seen as one of the legendary writer/artist pairings in comics, as their work together is phenomenal.

Borderline is set in a strange, dystopian future.  Two organizations, the Commune and the Council, run the show, although they do not communicate well, and often allow their rivalries to supersede anything else.  One group (I never did quite get a handle on which was which) employs Crash, a ‘captive agent’ and the girl on the cover.  She looks a little like Kelly Lebrock in Weird Science, if she had a gun and was unable to communicate with people around her because she had most of her organs removed and replaced with technology.  The other group employs Blue, a ‘ten year’; an agent who has signed a contract making him an indentured servant for the period of a decade.

Now Blue and Crash have some history, having been in love before Blue sold Crash to organ harvesters so he could buy drugs.  Now the two are in conflict with each other in a game of one-up-manship between their controllers.

This is a nice gritty comic, told in short episodic chapters.  There is an interesting set of supporting characters – I particularly like Mike and Jack, Crash’s handlers, who are insanely jealous lesbian lovers.  There’s a strange sense of humour at play in this bleak comic, and I’m very interested in reading the next three volumes.  I always knew I could trust that I would enjoy looking at any book Risso has drawn, but it’s heartening to see that Carlos Trillo’s writing is just as good as his reputation says it is.


by Daniel Clowes

Drawn & Quarterly make some wonderful comics, both in terms of their content and their design, but they are expensive.  Regular readers will have a feel for how many comics I read in a given month, and so it’s hard to justify dropping $22 or $24 for what is essentially an 80 page graphic novel, even when it is over-sized, hard covered, and beautiful.

However, while on vacation in beautiful and kind of sleepy Victoria, BC, I stumbled across Russell Books, which must have some kind of arrangement with D&Q, or their Canadian distributors, because they have a plethora of overstock graphic novels at very reasonable prices.  I stocked up, and found a few other surprises along the way.

Anyway, Wilson.  This story is told in 70 one-page strips, which work in chronological order, but frequently jump over periods of time, leaving it to the reader to figure out how much time has passed.  Clowes changes styles frequently, often using a realistic approach, but at other times drawing Wilson more like a cartoon figure.

Wilson’s a jerk.  He wanders around, pontificating and grilling people in coffee shops and on transit about their lives, before cutting them off and delivering some withering criticisms.  Where his self-confidence comes from is a bit of a mystery, as he is jobless and divorced, with only a dog to love him.  After his father passes away, Wilson decides to look up his ex-wife, who has apparently fallen on hard times, and together they track down the daughter that his wife put up for adoption.

Slowly a more sympathetic picture of Wilson begins to develop, although this is frequently shattered by him opening his mouth.  There are touching moments in this book though, and it is sometimes very funny.  It fits comfortably alongside work by Chris Ware, Joe Matt, and Chester Brown.  Very enjoyable.

Red Snow

by Susumu Katsumata

I found this collection of short pieces done in the gekiga style in the same treasure trove of Drawn & Quarterly remainders in Victoria.  I can never make up my mind about manga – what little I read I usually enjoy, but I never feel like I completely understand it.  Having read Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s masterpiece A Drifting Life, I understand the context surrounding these stories, and their place in Japan’s history, which is good because the back matter in this book did little to address that.

These are all rural stories, set in places that wouldn’t even qualify as villages.  The characters in these stories tend to live in very small communities, bordering on total isolation.  They have a deep connection to their surroundings and its seasons, and the reader picks up a number of details of pre-WWII Japan, such as some of the complexity of sake manufacturing.

Frequently, these stories are about people lusting after or mistreating women, and many of them have magical realist qualities.  A girl falls in love with a chestnut tree, which begins visiting her at night.  Also, there are tons of Kappa around; these are mythical Japanese creatures who live in the water, and resemble turtle-shelled Fraggles.

I enjoyed this book, but found that many of the stories ended in ways that I felt left most of the plots unresolved.  I freely admit that there are any number of cultural connections that I am not making, and think it’s a shame that the people at D&Q didn’t include some explanatory notes in the back of the book, as was done for A Drifting Life.

Echo Vol. 1: Moon Lake

by Terry Moore

I’m not sure why I’ve never gotten into Terry Moore’s work.  Strangers in Paradise gets a lot of love, but I never gave it a chance.  When Echo started, it looked interesting, but I never picked it up, until I recently got a few of the trades on Ebay.  It’s really very good.

The series opens with a female test pilot flying around in a strange metallic suit, which her military contractor bosses decide to test to failure, with a volley of missile attacks.  The suit explodes and tons of small metallic droplets fall on a dry lake bed.  Another woman, named Julie Martin, is there taking photographs, and is covered by these small beads.  Later, she finds a large chunk of the metal in her truck’s bed, and it attaches to her skin, and attracting any of the rest of the metal that is in the vicinity.

Julie quickly learns that this portion of the reconstituted suit won’t come off, and has a habit of randomly shocking people who seem to have hostile intent towards her.  The military is after her now, and they’ve brought in a special agent who excels at profiling people.

At this point, the comic seems like pretty standard fare, but what makes it stand out is the strength of Moore’s characterizations.  Julie is a mess.  She’s in denial about the fact that her husband is divorcing her, she’s broke, and her only living family member is institutionalized in a psychiatric facility.  She’s not someone who is well equipped to handle the weirdness that has just come into her world, even with the help of the dead test pilot’s park ranger boyfriend.

Between Moore’s sharp, character-driven writing and his nice clean artwork, I’m hooked.

Crogan’s March

by Chris Schweizer

I love these books.  Schweizer is writing and drawing a lengthy series of graphic novels set in different historical periods, featuring the men (strangely, none of the books will be about women) of the Crogan family, a long line of screw-ups who have somehow found themselves involved in military matters throughout history.

This book is about Peter Crogan, a member of the French Foreign Legion, assigned to Northern Africa in 1912.  The Legionnaires were mostly men that were running away from their lives, for a five-year term, and were looked down upon by regular army and their own officers alike.

Crogan is nearing the end of his service, at a period where the French were in almost constant conflict with indigenous Taureg.  During a march to a fort somewhere in the desert, Crogan’s column is attacked, but they are able to repel their attackers.  Later, when after they arrive at their fort, they make plans to track down the interlopers, but are again attacked instead.

There is plenty of action of the usual war story type.  There are humorous soldiers, blundering, blow-hardish Captains, wise long-suffering Sergeants, and bravery in the face of insurmountable odds.  There is, however, also an intelligent and realistic sub-text about the attitudes of colonial empires, and the people who serve them.  The locals are given a voice and some sympathy, but nothing is ever treated in a heavy-handed way (except perhaps the modern-day framing sequence).  This is an enlightened view of history, which I can appreciate for its attention to detail and context, which never gets in the way of telling a good story.

Schweizer’s art is not the type of cartooning I usually enjoy, but his writing is so good that it doesn’t get on my nerves at all.  I can’t wait for the next book, Crogan’s Loyalty, to be published.

Album of the Week(s):

The Weeknd – Thursday    If you don’t know about The Weeknd, you owe it to yourself to check out the link for this new free EP.  This is that next shit.  Download House of Balloons too – you won’t be sorry.

The Final Word:

Okay, I promised a reward for making it all the way to the end.  Well, when walking through the very touristy and busker-filled Inner Harbour in Victoria, I found out why Brian Michael Bendis is more than a year late in writing Powers, and way behind on his other creator-owned titles.  Instead of sitting at home writing, he’s shilling for loose change in Victoria.

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