The Weekly Round-Up #91 Featuring The Sixth Gun, Butcher Baker, Elephantmen, And More!

Fair Warning:  There is no discussion of Flashpoint #5 or Justice League #1 in this column.  Neither of these books interest me all that much, although I imagine that both will show up in the ‘Bargain Comics’ section of my reviews in the coming months, as I’m sure they are over-ordered, and I am curious enough about them to grab them out of a dollar bin.  They aren’t worth my usual discounted cover price though…  What you will find this week is a look at a lot of the stuff I picked up on vacation or at Fan Expo last week-end.

Best Comic of the Week:

The Sixth Gun #14

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Tyler Crook

Talk about coming from nowhere.  A couple of months ago, I’d never seen anything by Tyler Crook.  Now, he’s popping up all over the place, landing the job as Guy Davis’s replacement on BPRD, and having his original graphic novel, Petrograd, come out at the same time.  Now, he’s guest artisted this issue of The Sixth Gun.

This is an interlude issue, telling the story of Asher Cobb, the seven-foot mummy that fought Drake Sinclair last issue.  We learn, through the framing sequence of a discussion at a freak show, how Asher came into the world, and the sad story that led to his eventual mummification and undead status.

Bunn has worked hard to create a solid Western mythology in the Sixth Gun world, and this issue helps strengthen that foundation.  Asher’s birth was peculiar, as was his appearance and abilities that echo the ones granted by the gun in Becky Moncrief’s possession.

Crook’s art looks great here.  His style is different enough from regular artist Brian Hurtt that this issue will stand out in a trade, but he also sticks to the basics of this series, and works within the visual milieu that Hurtt has established.  This is always an impressive series (especially when compared to Bunn’s recent work at Marvel).

Other Notable Comics:

Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker #6

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Mike Huddleston

What fun this comic is.  Butcher has been captured by Jihad Jones (great name), who is torturing him, finally being able to get his revenge for Butcher’s part in the death of Jetboy, Jihad’s former sidekick, and it is implied, life partner.  This death is shown to us through a flashback that looks like a 90s comic.

Those scenes are not the most interesting in this book though.  And while I like the parts with Arnie P. Willard, the cop that is chasing Butcher, even into his dreamstate, they aren’t the best either.

The reason why you should read this comic is for the scene where Dick Cheney and Jay Leno get pulled in front of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to discuss their role in Butcher’s destruction of the Crazy Keep.  It’s a very funny scene, with Leno attempting to alleviate the mood.  Huddleston goes even more crazy on the art in this section than he has been all along.  He draws the military brass as having faces that are puddles of colour, sometimes looking more like demons than men.  Were Ralph Steadman to paint portraits in the Pentagon, they would look like this.

As always, the back matter is almost as good as the comic itself, as Casey writes about how he acquired comics throughout his childhood.  I’m sure I’m not the only person who felt a wave or two of nostalgia reading this.

Elephantmen #34

Written by Richard Starkings and Monifa Aldridge
Art by Boo Cook and Axel Medellin

I suppose that Elephantmen’s unpredictability is one of its strengths, but I do find it hard to figure out what to expect from one story arc to the next.  After having finished the drug-fueled Elseworlds visions of Man and Elephantman, I thought we’d bee seeing a little more of Hip and Ebony, but instead, we are getting a sequel to War Toys, which was originally published as a separate mini-series.

It’s all good, as I love this comic, but this issue felt more like a recap of earlier material than anything else.  We start with a Chinese legend, the relevance of which does become apparent later, before checking in with Yvette, the star of War Toys.  She’s leading a squad in Siberia, and kills a group of Mappo soldiers – mostly hyenas led by a single elephantman.  This gives occasion for one of the guys with her to talk about her story. Later, there are a bunch of rockets launched from the moon, with rather interesting occupants.  I’m curious to see where this goes.

There is also a back-up story, written by Aldridge, which helps fill in the back history of Panya, the dancer who likes to switch places with Sahara from time to time.  It’s perfectly fine, but pretty predictable.

This issue has art by both Boo Cook and Axel Medellin, and it’s a very lovely issue.  There are perhaps too many splash pages for Cook, but he does make good use of them.

Murder Book Vol. 2

Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Vic Malhotra and Michael Walsh

The first issue of Murder Book was one of the nicest surprises I picked up at TCAF this year; a regular-sized comic with two very well-written and drawn crime stories in it.  I was very pleased when I saw a new issue at Brisson’s table at Fan Expo this last week-end, and snatched it up in a hurry.

Unfortunately, there is nothing in here by artist Simon Roy, whose work has been on my radar since reading Jan’s Atomic Heart, but Brisson has found a pair of talented collaborators in Malhotra and Walsh.

Both of these stories are pretty dark, just like in the first book.  The first involves a street-level criminal being accused of taking from his ‘company’.  The second involves a man, who I presume was a police officer, who had been shot and left in a wheelchair.  Years after the event, he has the man who shot him tied down to a chair right in front of him.  It’s a pretty taut little psychological story.

In all, this is again a very capable and interesting compilation series.  I hope to find another issue at another event some day.

Skullkickers #10

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang and Misty Coats

Who would have predicted that Skullkickers, the chaotic and wildly funny book about doltish monster killers would really be a book about environmentalism?  Not since Paul Chadwick’s Concrete has a comic explored the relationship between mankind and his environment in such a profound way.  Well, okay, maybe not.  But still, it’s nice to see what the woman with the arrows, who we first saw in the first issue, is up to.

Most of this comic is more of the same Skullkickers goodness.  The guys have just about everyone angry with them – soldiers, an angry mob, and the thieves guild.  There is a lot of marching, mobbing, and swarming going on, as these three groups scour the streets looking for our heroes.  They are too busy developing medical applications for the questionable practice of gerbiling, choosing instead to use a dead squirrel.

This book really isn’t like anything else on my pull-list, and for that, I’m thankful that its been so reliably good.  It makes a nice break from what normally makes up my pile of weekly comics.

The Vault #2

Written by Sam Sarkar
Art by Garrie Gastonny

I wasn’t all that impressed with the first issue of this mini-series, but upon reading it a second time, I felt that there was more potential than was apparent at first glance.  That fact, coupled with the fact that this was the smallest new comics week in months (thanks DC), meant that this series got a second chance.

This issue is much better, as the story about archaeologists and treasure hunters digging up a strange sarcophagus on Nova Scotia’s Sable Island became more of a creature story, like Aliens.  The thing in the sarcophagus is too large and heavy to be human bone, and of course, someone decides to open up the large coffin and have a look.  This doesn’t go well, and people start coming under attack from it.

We’re squarely in movie-pitch land here, as I suspect that this comic is one of those created simply with the aims of selling the movie rights, but it’s still becoming a decent story.  I especially liked the scene with the wild horse, although I’m sure that most of the American audience would not be aware of Sable Island’s fabled horses, especially since the text does nothing to explain their presence, even when they begin to take on a key role in the tale.

This is not a great comic, but it’s a decent one, with nice art.  I’ll definitely be getting the conclusion next month.

Quick Takes:

Iron Man 2.0 #8 – I know I say this with every new issue, but it bears repeating.  Ariel Olivetti is absolutely the wrong artist for this comic.  First, the new War Machine armor is supposed to be sleek, but he makes it (and everything else in the book) very blocky.  Secondly, Spencer is writing a pretty subtle story – most of this issue takes place in an interrogation room – and Olivetti can’t handle subtle.  I like the writing a lot, but this book is just not working right.

Journey Into Mystery #626.1 – I think it goes against the spirit and purpose of the .1 books to have a story, not by the book’s regular creative team, set some four issues back in continuity.  I suspect that this is just Marvel’s way of squeezing an extra book into the schedule, with only suspect rationale for its existence.  Still, the comic does a good job of establishing Asgard for a reader who is new to Marvel’s Thor (although, I’m sure after Fear Itself ‘nothing will be the same again’), and has some pretty Pasqual Ferry art.  This is just not Kieron Gillen’s Loki, unfortunately.

Secret Avengers #16 – Leave it to Warren Ellis to figure out the winning formula that makes Secret Avengers work so much better than it has to this point.  We’re given a delightful little done-in-one story about an old Secret Empire base under Cincinnati which has been taken over by the Shadow Council, complete with its right-hand drive atomic vehicles.  Steve Rogers (I guess this takes place before Fear Itself?) leads a small team, consisting of himself, Black Widow, Beast, and a very funny Moon Knight to handle things.  Secretly.  Jamie McKelvie is brilliant, drawing the best Beast and Moon Knight we’ve seen in a while.  Good stuff all around.

Spider-Island: Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1 – I was excited to read this.  Antony Johnston, of the brilliant Wasteland, is writing, and Sebastian Fiumara, an excellent artist, is drawing.  Shang-Chi has always been one of those characters that people haven’t been able to get a good handle on in recent years, but with the impressive Cloak and Dagger spinning out of Spider-Island, I thought this should be good to.  It’s kind of not.  Really, it’s a Iron Fist and the Immortal Weapons story, with Shang-Chi acting in a supporting role.  There’s little to support his own character, and no real reason for this book to exist.  I’ll be passing on the next two issues.

Uncanny X-Force #14 – So Jerome Opena dives back onto this book just in time to save things from the dire turn they took lately, and everything improves immediately.  The team is fighting the Apocalypse-ized Archangel, and he’s pretty brutal.  He’s got a whack of Horsemen, but much is made out of the flaming skull war suit kid, although I don’t know who that character is supposed to be.  This story is going on too long and getting kind of tedious, but this issue was much better balanced than the last two or three.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #668

Amazing Spider-Man Infested #1

Deadpool Max #11

Flashpoint #5

Mighty Thor #5

Rocketeer Adventures #4

Ultimate Comics Hawkeye #1

Bargain Comics:

Fear Itself: The Black Widow #1 – Okay, so we’ve established that Black Widow can’t maintain her own title.  So, for some reason, the decision is made to give her her own Fear Itself one-shot, which then has absolutely nothing to do with FI.  Sure, it’s cool that someone has remembered The Peregrine, France’s own superhero, but it doesn’t make sense that he’s flying the Widow around while crazy stuff is happening in Paris.  I’ve really been disappointed in Cullen Bunn’s Marvel work – it makes me think that I should pass on his post-FI work, and just keep reading The Sixth Gun, which is infinitely better.

Fear Itself: FF #1 – Well, that was even worse.  It’s weird how Cullen Bunn can be the writer of the comic I chose as best of the week, and also of this waste of paper.  The Thing, made to be one of The Worthy, and given a giant hammer that looks like a meat tenderizer, is rampaging around New York, and saying self-deprecating and hurtful things to his friends.  The weird Starro-like things attached to his body are now talking to him, out of mouths that remind me of the typewriter in David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (and trust me, that is not a good thing).  If given the set-up for this comic, I’ve taught English as a Second Language students who could have told a more interesting tale.  It looks increasingly unlikely that I’ll be picking up any of Mr. Bunn’s Marvel work.

Flashpoint: The Outsider #2 – Robinson’s master criminal book is okay I guess, but really not all that interesting in the end.  It’s hard to care about an alternate continuity that’s only going to exist for five months.

Flashpoint: Secret Seven #2 – Because of a passing interest in the upcoming Justice League Dark, and a deep affection for Shade (when written by Peter Milligan), the Enchantress, and Black Orchid, I want to be impressed by this comic.  The fact that it’s kind of boring does not bode well for JLD.

Planet of the Apes #1-5

Written by Daryl Gregory
Art by Carlos Magno

Well, now this was a nice surprise.  I’ve been a fan of the Planet of the Apes since I was in grade 10, when City TV began broadcasting all five of the original movies at 1:00 each afternoon, and I ended up missing a week’s worth of classes, choosing to stay home and indulge (ads and all).  That was the same year that Adventure Comics began their run with the property, with a black and white series drawn by the great Kent Burles.  I stayed a fan until the Tim Burton version of the movie ruined the franchise for me.  I haven’t made plans to see the film currently in the theatres.

I was mildly interested in Boom’s new take on the Apes, but am really trying to cut back on buying too many titles, especially if they are priced at $4.  I grabbed the first four issues at Fan Expo last week though, and this week’s $1 fifth issue, and am very impressed and pleased with what I’ve found.

This series is set during the days of the Lawgiver, some 1200 years before the events of the Charlton Heston film.  Humans and Apes are living together, but separately, in relative peace and mutual distrust.  When the Lawgiver is assassinated by a human with an automatic rifle in the first issue, that peace looks to be shattered forever.  As it turns out, both ape and human populations are controlled (loosely) by the Lawgiver’s adopted granddaughters – one human, one a chimp.

Each leader begins their own investigation, and they discover the depth of anti-ape sentiment in Skintown, the human township.  Alaya, the Council Voice frees an older general, imprisoned for anti-human war crimes, to track down the assassin, and he blockades the human settlement.  Meanwhile, Sullivan, the Skintown ‘mayor’ learns more about the dissent among her own people, including the ‘silents’, the younger generation who are loosing the ability to speak.

This story works very well because it channels any number of familiar political situations.  There are elements of Jim Crow America and apartheid-era South Africa, but what this comic made me think of the most is the Israel/Palestine conflict, played out in allegorical form.  Once I started reading this book in intifada terms, the appearance of suicide bombers made perfect sense.

Daryl Gregory is not a writer I’m familiar with, but I do appreciate the depth of thought and planning he’s put into this title.  Carlos Magno is pretty interesting here.  The last I saw of him, he was drawing DC’s horrendous Countdown series, but this book looks nothing like that.  Here, his work is highly detailed and quite believable.  I’m afraid that Boom may have just gotten me to add another comic to my pull-list.  I think this may be replacing Farscape as my one licensed title.

Strikeforce: Morituri #1 – 10

Written by Peter B. Gillis
Art by Brent Anderson, Scott Williams, and Whilce Portacio

I’ve always been curious about this comic.  I remember when it came out, and being intrigued by a series about characters who are expected to die at any point, who actually do. I’m not sure why I never bought an issue, but when I found the entire series at a ridiculously low price while on vacation, I thought it was time to correct that.  I only bought the first ten issues, not being sure of how good the series would be, and not wanting to have too many comics bulking up my luggage.

That’s unfortunate, because now that I’ve read these first issues, I want to read the rest.  The comic is set in the future, at a time when the Earth has fallen victim to The Horde, a barbarous race of hoarders and scavengers, who have appropriated technology from any number of races.  They randomly seem to attack human cities, stealing technology, old film reels, Hershey’s chocolate, and slaves.

The only weapon that seems effective against them is the Morituri process.  This turns regular humans into superheroes, with an unpredictable and wide-ranging power set.  The only problem is that the powers will burn the person out, an event expected to happen within a year, but often sooner.  In other words, this comic is a science fiction mash-up of THUNDER Agents and Suicide Squad.  For a comic from the 80s, the writing holds up very well, with a slow development of the characters, and an element of the unknown (any book that kills off the POV character within its first year gets my vote).

The comics were written by Peter B. Gillis, and it’s impressive that he got such a long run on the book.  Also impressive is the art by Brent Anderson and Scott Williams.  Anderson has always been a classic artist, and it’s nice to see such a substantial body of work from him.  The Whilce Portacio pages (used for flashbacks in the first issue, and for a flashback tenth issue) are interesting, as this work would have been some of his first for Marvel.

It seems I now have a new list of comics to hunt for at conventions and sales.

Supreme Power #1 & 2 – I really liked JMS’s take on the Squadron Supreme characters, in the original Supreme Power series, and in the Squadron Supreme book that he abandoned.  The Howard Chaykin follow-up was terrible, but with this new series, Kyle Higgins is putting things to rights.  Dr. Spectrum has become the new main hero in the world, but he still doesn’t have complete control over the source of his power.  When Mark Milton, Hyperion, is discovered living on Earth, the world goes into panic mode, and Spectrum’s gem takes over.  It’s a decent superhero comic, with nice art.  I don’t know why it has to be a Max title though – I don’t see anything objectionable in it.

Wolverine #9 & 10 – I don’t know – there’s nothing technically wrong with Jason Aaron’s Wolverine, but it’s just not working for me.  I feel like we just keep going over familiar ground here, and that’s why I’ve never added this comic to my pull-list.  I hope that Wolverine & The X-Men works better, but I’m skeptical.

X-Men #12-15 – The pointless X-book (so called because I have yet to see a reason for its existence) ran this decent enough story about the Evolutionaries – a powerful group that are to help shepherd evolution) and their conflict with the X-Men at two different points – the early days and now.  There’s a lot of retconning, including the X-Men’s first introduction to Emma Frost, and not everything makes sense really, but the art is decent, and Chris Yost uses some of the New X-Men characters we’ve not seen much of since he left that title, although they’re really just given cameos.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Casanova Vol. 1: Luxuria

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Gabriel Bá

Back in 2006, when Casanova was first published by Image, I’d not heard of Matt Fraction (actually, I think I’d heard of Last of the Independents, but hadn’t read it yet), or Gabriel Bá.  My interest in the book was purely economical – it was published in the same ‘slimline’ format as the brilliant Fell, and cost less than other books on the stand.  Add to that the fact that it had a very nice cover, and I thought I’d give it a try.

That first issue blew me away.  I was hooked by the frenetic, totally unpredictable writing, and loved Bá’s minimalist art.  In sixteen pages, these guys packed in more story than Brian Michael Bendis can with a six-issue arc.  And man, was it good.

Basically, Casanova Quinn is a thief and scoundrel who gets lifted out of his home dimension by Newman Xeno, the leader of the criminal organization WASTE (acronyms are important here).  Now he is to take the place of this new world’s good Casanova, meaning that he is the favourite child of his father, the director of EMPIRE (picture SHIELD, but more powerful).  Cass is working as a double agent for Newman, and trying to run his own gig through insane mission that involve an orgone-saturated town, sex robots, a meditating performance artist, an extra-dimensional island populated with doctorate-level savages, and more triple-agents than you can ever expect.

Fraction fills each page with insane ideas, and Bá more than rises to any challenge he gives him.  Since this comic originally came out, Marvel has had it re-coloured and re-printed in this new edition.  The third volume, which is of all new material, begins publication next week as a four-issue monthly, so I figured it was time to reread this series and get myself caught back up in the twisted world of the Quinn family.  I’m really glad I did, as I’d forgotten how great it is.

I would easily point to this book as Matt Fraction’s best, and hope that even a small portion (I didn’t want to use the word ‘fraction’) of the people who are reading and perhaps even enjoying Fear Itself, The Mighty Thor, or Invincible Iron Man (the only thing on this list that is good) give this series a shot.  As good as Bá is on this book, it of course does not compare to his more recent work, such as Daytrippers.

Casanoval Vol. 2: Gula

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

In anticipation of the new Casanova series starting this week (Avaritia), I picked up the second Icon series, which reprinted the second half of the original Image series.  I wanted to be brought back up to speed on the comic, as Casanova can be a pretty wild and confusing ride at the best of times.

Working through this series for the second time, and so recently after having read the first volume, I am once again struck by the level of creativity on display.  Casanova, our titular hero, goes missing somewhere in time (hence the question ‘When is Casanova Quinn?’ which graces the cover and gets repeated frequently throughout the story), and the entire time-space continuum is at risk of falling apart, or perhaps just resetting to the moment when Cass first entered the dimension that the stories take place in.  Arch villain Xeno Newman puts into motion a plan to secure the timeline, but to do so, he has to hire XSM (the X doesn’t stand for anything, it stands for everything!) to construct a massive gun, and to kill anyone who knows about the mysterious H element.

To do this, XSM hires the newly returned Zephyr Quinn, and her and Kubark Benday, the scion of XSM (who is named after a CIA torture manual) go on a bit of a killing spree.  There’s a lot more blood than the first volume, with just as many unexpected moments.

For this run, Fraction was joined by artist Fábio Moon, brother to original artist Gabriel Bá (who contributes a new back-up story).  Now, anyone who has read my stuff knows that Bá and Moon are some of my favourite comics creators (read Daytrippers!), but it’s rare to be able to compare their work side by side, as they so often collaborate.  Moon’s work here seems fuller than Bá’s work on the first series.  It’s interesting that the colour palette for this series is also much richer.  In the first volume, when it was being recoloured for Icon, the book retained much of the original monochromatic look of the Image series.  For this volume, things are much more varied.

Now that I’m up to date, I can’t wait for Avaritia to start.

Video Noire

Written by Carlos Trillo
Art by Eduardo Risso

I’d wondered why more of Carlos Trillo and Eduardo Risso’s comics weren’t being published in English.  Having read some or all of Vampire Boy, Borderline, and Chicanos this summer, I’ve formed a very favourable impression of this prolific Argentinian duo.  Then I read Video Noire, and became thankful for editorial curator-ship, when it comes to non-English comics getting translated for the North American market.

It’s not that this book is bad…  Well, actually, it kind of is.  The story is about a gorgeous children’s television host who is using mass media to affect the minds of the young, so that they will participate in Satanic rituals with her.  A hermaphroditic clean freak hires a private detective to investigate her, but he is killed.  Soon, his partner and ex-friend takes up the cause.

This is a bleak and mean little story, hampered by the fact that it hasn’t aged very well, and has been surpassed by the creator’s later efforts.  Risso’s art is always great, and he draws some lovely ladies here, and continues to fill his backgrounds with silent stories of their own (people get held up a lot in his comics), but he isn’t quite able to breathe enough life into this predictable and at the same time bizarre script.

I’d avoid this one – read Vampire Boy instead.

Album of the Week:

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou-Dahomey – The 1st Album

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