The Weekly Round-Up #92 Featuring Optic Nerve, Casanova: Avarita, iZombie, Morning Glories And More!

Columns, Reviews, Top Story

Diamond didn’t send Rick Veitch’s ‘The Big Lie’ to my comic store.  Personally, I suspect there to be some sort of conspiracy at play, beyond the usual ins and outs of Diamond struggling to meet orders on a regular basis (I did get the issue of Invincible that was missing last week though).  It’s too bad, because I was looking forward to reading Veitch’s comic alongside the excellent articles in this week’s New Yorker about 9/11.  Oh yah, I bought some of the new DC books too – maybe you’ve heard a little something about them.

Best Comic of the Week:

Optic Nerve #12

 by Adrian Tomine

I know everyone in comics land is very excited about DC’s ‘New 52’, but finding the new issue of Optic Nerve in my pull-file was my big thrill of the week.  I’ll confess from the start – I never read this title before, but did read Shortcomings, which was collected from the most recent issues (most recent meaning several years old).

This issue has two stories, and a two-page strip.  The first story, ‘A Brief History of the Art Form Known as Hortisculpture’, is told as a series of four-panel comic strips, with every seventh chapter being a full page in colour, evoking newspaper strips.  It’s about a gardener who comes across the idea of marrying traditional sculpture with plants, having them grow within the structure, and spread out through various openings.  The comparison to Chia Pets is made early on, although I kept waiting for someone to discuss bonsai.

Unfortunately, Harold’s bold new art form doesn’t take off the way he’d hoped, and over a course of about six years, we follow his (and his wife’s) growing frustration.  This story is quite funny, but also speaks to the inherent misery of the creative process when it is not recognized or appreciated.

The second story, ‘Amber Sweet’, is about a woman with more than a passing resemblance to an Internet porn star.  This association, made by fellow college students, boyfriends, and random people on the street, has a deleterious and lasting affect on the young woman’s life, and when she finally meets the real Amber, we would expect that anger to rear its head.  What really happens is much more interesting of course.  This story is fully coloured, and drawn in a much more expansive style than Hortisculpture.

Taken together, we see that Tomine continues to be a master observer of relationships and the human condition.  The book is completed with a self-deprecating two-page strip about Tomine’s own defense of the ‘floppy’ format of comics.  This book isn’t actually coming out in most stores until next week (my store has a hook-up I suspect), and you won’t find anything better on the shelves.  Pick it up.

Other Notable Comics:

Casanova: Avaritia #1

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Gabriel Bá

It was pretty exciting to see that Matt Fraction and Gabriel Bá were going to publish new Casanova comics; the last two volumes of the series were reprints of the original Image Comics run of the title.  In anticipation of the new series, and with the intervention of a little bargain-hunting serendipity (although, with Casanova, it was probably part of a plan taking place at a greater scale), I reread the first two volumes over the last week or two, so I’d be caught up and in the right headspace for this book.

Of course, I’m confused as all get out, but am loving it nonetheless.  Cass is being sent into infinite mutant universes to kill himself, and then cauterize the entire timeline.  This has been going on for a while, and Cass is getting pretty tired of it, which is understandable.  He is assisted in this endeavor by Sasa Lisi, who reveals a little something behind why Quinn’s father and boss, Cornelius Quinn is in such a rush to get this job done.

As always, this book is a thing of beauty, with Bá having improved his already fantastic art skills in the years since Casanova first saw publication, and having expanded the colour palette for this new series.  If you like highly intelligent comics, sophisticated plots, beautiful art, and tons and tons of casual nudity, this is the comic for you.

iZombie #17

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

Even as this current arc concludes, a lot stands revealed to the characters of iZombie.  Horatio learns that Gwen is a zombie, Gwen learns that she knew Amon before she died (and that he has some responsibility for her death), while the people of Eugene learn of the existence of zombies, and we, the readers, learn what we always suspected – that Dixie, the owner of the diner that Gwen and her friends like to eat at, can kick ass.

There are more characters than ever in this book (Ellie even makes a new friend), and the storyline seems to be getting more complicated with each issue (the Russian brain in a coffee maker makes his return), but it’s still very clear that Roberson and Allred are having a lot of fun with this book, and that makes it a pleasure to read.

Morning Glories #12

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

Now that this comic has reached the twelve-issue mark, it’s time for Spencer to start bringing some of the story elements together, but instead, he’s tossing us new characters and new complications.

This issue opens with Lara Hodge being dropped off for work.  From the way she’s dressed, she looks like a park ranger (or zoo keeper), but she takes an elevator deep underground (in a hazmat suit), and then rides a golf cart down a long tunnel, before arriving at the Morning Glory Academy (which I did not previously realize was underground).

From there, we learn that she is the Guidance Counselor for the school, and is very popular with the student body.  Spencer establishes that she is often at odds with the people we’ve come to think are running the place, and she clearly has her own agenda.

It’s an interesting element to toss into the book – someone that the usual cast of kids may be able to trust, but we’ve learned not to trust anything in this book.  I like how this series has been shaping up, but after a year, I do wonder when we’re going to get a little more solid indication of what is really going on.

Screamland #4

Written by Harold Sipe and Christopher Sebela
Art by Lee Leslie and Buster Moody

I’ve enjoyed the ‘Screamland’ take on classic monster movies, but really feel like Sipe and Sebela upped their game with Robrain, who I originally thought was just your typical ‘Nazi brain in robot body’ character, before this issue.  I don’t want to spoil anything (although if you study the cover carefully, you can figure it out for yourself), but this is revealed in a way that makes perfect sense, and surprises me that it hasn’t been used before.

The Robrain stuff is not the central focus of the issue (although the back-up drawn by Buster Moody does provide his full origin), and in addition to that, we learn what really happened in the Phantasmagorgya sex video that our two heroes are rushing to find before it can get leaked to the press.  That revelation is not much of a surprise to anyone other than Travis, who had passed out that night and always assumed it was a normal orgy he’d missed.

This book is a lot of fun, and while I have doubts that there is enough material to keep it going past this arc, I am enjoying the ride.

Sweet Tooth #25

by Jeff Lemire

We continue, in this issue, to see into Gus’s dream or vision while Dr. Singh is operating on him after his gun shot wound of a couple of issues ago.  He finds himself in a creepy tower having to make a choice between Mr. Jeppard and Buddy, Jeppard’s son who we believe is dead.

While this is going on in Gus’s head, tensions between the rest of his group are spilling over in the real world.  Everyone except Jeppard and Singh want to stay in the dam they have found, and they don’t really want Jeppard around.  What’s not clear is how Gus is going to react to this when he wakes up.

Oh, and the last page has a couple of interesting surprises.

As always, Lemire is delivering a quality comic.  I’m impressed that, what with his writing two other books for DC, he has the time to paint the dream sequence pages, and continue to put together such a great, and great-looking comic.  Of course, Matt Kindt is coming on to handle the art for a few issues, so I guess that will give Lemire time to catch up.  I can’t think of a better fill-in artist for this comic.

The Unwritten #28

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and Vince Locke

I’m pretty much a month late on this because it somehow got missed at my comic store, which was shorted on their order.

There are some very cool things happening in The Unwritten right now.  As Tom continues to read his father’s journals, we are given a lengthy flashback to Taylor Sr.’s time in New York, when he worked for the Cabal.  He’s been sent to investigate a Golden Age comic strip called the Tinker.  The cartoonist of this series is a woman writing under a pseudonym, and they quickly fall for each other, forcing Taylor to disobey his orders to kill her.

What’s interesting is the substance of their relationship, and the ideas that it is built around.  Miriam Walzer, the artist, is as interested as Taylor in the way in which stories can help construct reality, and they discuss a number of philosophical ideas, which she then incorporates into her strip (I love the Orpheus and Eurydice stuff).

As has become common on this book, the flashback pages are inked by Vince Locke, creating a noticeable difference between the past and present sequences, while maintaining a consistent look to the book.  I found myself when Locke inked Guy Davis on Sandman Mystery Theater back in the day (I really need to read those again – they were great).

Quick Takes:

Action Comics #1 – And so we begin with the DCnU, as Grant Morrison introduces Superman as a street-level hero trying to help people some six months into his costumed career.  We meet the usual cast of Lois, Jimmy, Lex, and General Lane, but don’t get anything of his origin or beginnings.  Instead, Morrison plays it cute, showing him to be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and at least discussing leaping tall buildings.  What I didn’t get was the usual sense of reading a Grant Morrison comic – in no way did I have to try to puzzle through what was going on, or attempt to engage with the story at a deeper level.  It’s like the notion of appealing to a wider and younger audience stripped this book of any real originality.  Visually, I like the way Superman’s eyes glow red, and have little light contrails tailing after him as he moves.  The ‘street tanks!’ scene made no sense to me though – are they Luthor’s or the army’s?  I liked the book, and will get the next issue, but I’m not as impressed as I’d hoped to be.  I’d rather be reading more Batman Inc.  EDIT:  Okay, reading on Bleeding Cool about how Morrison worked most of the scenes in the comic to be tributes to the first few cover appearances Superman had in Action Comics makes me appreciate the book a little more, but it still didn’t quite work for me.

Animal Man #1 – When I opened up this comic to a one-page interview between series writer Jeff Lemire and the protagonist, Buddy Baker done in the style of The Believer magazine, I knew the Baker family are in good hands.  To start, I really enjoyed Animal Man in the pre-Vertigo Grant Morrison days, but rank Jamie Delano and Steve Pugh’s run on the book as one of my all-time favourite comics.  I had a lot of faith in Lemire for this to start with – he gets complex relationships and the importance of place in his stories, and Buddy has always been at his best when putting family first.  In the DCnU, Animal Man is almost semi-retired, doing more activist work than superheroics, but has also become a symbol and rallying point for disaffected youth.  The first few pages, before Buddy flies off into action are excellent, although I’ll confess to being a little disappointed that the book is quickly falling into traditional storylines surrounding youngest child Maxine’s blossoming abilities.  It would have been cool if this time around it was Cliff that got the powers.  I’m also a little disappointed in the choice of Travel Foreman as artist.  He’s not really the person I would pick for a comic that’s going to have a lot of talking scenes, and I find his page designs to be inconsistent – the key points of the book look great, but other parts look rushed and are confusing.  Still, I think this is the strongest showing of the ‘New 52’ this week, and look forward to seeing where Lemire takes us.

Batgirl #1 – It always makes sense to trust in Gail Simone.  She’s managed to compress Barbara Gordon’s history in such a way as to keep her early Batgirl career, up to The Killing Joke, but she was never Oracle.  Instead, she’s spent three years in the wheelchair, before ‘miraculously’ recovering (I’m sure we’ll learn about that at some point), and is only now returning to the streets to fight crime.  We don’t know where she stands with Batman right now, but it’s clear that the no-longer gray James Gordon (is he commissioner?) doesn’t know what she’s up to.  Simone introduces a room-mate, and a strange new villain who is hunting people who were supposed to die in mishaps or accidents, but survived.  Adrian Syaf works well with Simone, but the costume looks like it must take forever to draw.  There’s definitely enough here to bring me back next month.

Batwing #1 – The prospect of giving one of DC’s ‘New 52’ series to Batwing, a character Grant Morrison tossed out into the world in the course of his Batman Incorporated run, was intriguing to me.  Setting a comic in Democratric Republic of Congo (albeit in a fictional city there) is a bold move in today’s market, and has a ton of potential to allow a creative team to explore how an African Batman would be different from the one we all know so well.  How would the residents of a place like DR Congo, so used to conflict, respond to a character like this?  Sadly, I don’t think this is the comic we have.  Perhaps were it given to a writer like Josh Dysart, or, heavens forbid, an ACTUAL African writer, this would be seen as proof that DC was committed to diversity and creating what are actually new comics.  Instead, it was given to Judd Winick to write, so we have a story that will take months to be told, as very little is given to us about the character’s background or motivation.  It reminds me of how Marvel did very little with Dust, the Afghani X-Man Morrison created – a character rife with potential, but quickly made conventional.  Right now, this reads more like the Batman version of Steel than anything else.

50 Girls 50 #4 – I’m not sure why I stayed with this book – it’s kind of fun, in a cheesecake sci-fi kind of way, but the stories just don’t feel very well thought out, or as in the case of this issue, lifted from somewhere else.  This issue is a remake of the Farscape episode where Moya becomes intertwined with a Pathfinder vessel in a wormhole.  Except that episode had better dialogue.

Heroes for Hire #11 – The fact that Heroes for Hire is ending is perfectly fine with me, as Fear Itself has killed all the momentum that this series had built, and is now seriously hampered by Kyle Hotz’s artwork.  I’ve found this three-issue tie-in to be pretty awful all around (and really, a comic with Gargoyle and Shroud should be anything but that).

Hulk #40 – Jeff Parker has, since taking over this title around issue 26, been building a rogue’s gallery for Red Hulk, all of whom are now in conflict with each other, yet most of this issue is taken up with Zero/One pulling a Jacob Marley on Red, and pulling him out of the fight.  It works much better than I would have expected, and really refocuses my interest in a book I was starting to drift away from.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Gabriel Hardman’s back on art lately.

Invincible #82 – It’s cool how we’re seeing Mark grow up in this comic; in this issue he talks to Cecil about how there may come a day when he doesn’t need the costume anymore to do his job (solving problems using words – in a superhero comic!  What is the world coming to?), and we see an example of that approach.  This comic is always great.

Men of War #1 – I wasn’t going to get this title, but I can’t resist a good war comic.  The first story in this book features the grandson of long-time DC character Sgt. Rock.  Corporal Rock has worked to keep himself from moving up the ranks, preferring to stay where he is, while continuously reenlisting.  He’s taken on a difficult mission, which is further complicated by some sort of superhuman interference, although we don’t know who that is.  This story reminds me a lot of Stormwatch: Team Achilles, in the way in which it blends real-world military considerations with the superhero genre.  I’ve never been a fan of artist Tom Derenick, but his work on this book looks much more refined than normal, and I found myself liking it.  Add to all this a decent back-up strip about some Navy SEALs drawn by Phil Winslade, and I think I’m going to be picking up the next issue of this title.  Good job DC.

New Avengers Annual #1 – What the hell?  So Simon Williams, who has been mad at the Avengers since the latest renumbering, gives a bunch of D-list heroes a lengthy lecture on why the Avengers concept doesn’t work, and then they go and trash Avengers Mansion and beat up Luke Cage’s team.  Nothing about this makes sense, and just like in Secret Wars, Gabrielle Dell’Otto’s art makes it hard to tell who’s who (unless D-Man and Atlas intentionally look the same).  Does anyone else think that maybe it’s time Bendis give someone else a try at the Avengers?

Stormwatch #1 – So far, from what I’ve seen on the Internet, Stormwatch appears to be one of the more controversial relaunches, with pretty split commentary as to the quality of the book.  Personally, I don’t think I liked it very much.  There is way too much exposition, as some members of the team try to recruit Apollo, while others investigate a giant horn that has appeared in the Himalayas, and yet another team member has a conversation with a giant eyeball on the moon.  There’s too much set-up with no follow through, and while many of these characters are ones I love (Martian Manhunter and the Authority), I don’t feel the least bit invested in any of them after reading this issue.

Swamp Thing #1 – I’m not sure I’m following all that is going on in this comic, and for a relaunch, that’s probably not a very good thing.  Granted, I didn’t follow whatever the hell ended up happening in Brightest Day that brought ST back to the old DCU, but if we’re starting over fresh, that shouldn’t matter, should it?  What we learn here is that Alec Holland was Swamp Thing for a while (perhaps only six weeks?), and met and fell for Abigail in that time, but she’s not around now.  He’s just plain old Alec, working for a contractor, and trying to avoid his old life.  Superman comes by to encourage him to go back to working on his formula, but he’s not interested.  Meanwhile, birds, bats, and fish are spontaneously dying (and in the case of the fish, somehow being reduced to bones), and something weird is happening with a recently unearthed fossilized mastodon.  I don’t know where this is going, and were it not being written by Scott Snyder, I’d probably wash my hands of it right now (pretty art or not), but I feel like Snyder’s earned enough of a chance from me, that I’ll give it two more issues to convince me to stick around.

Thunderbolts #163 – Jeff Parker has another winner of a book out this week, as the turn-coat, escaped Thunderbolts find themselves in WWII-era Austria, and meeting up with the Invaders, and the senior members of the team go through a self-evaluation process.  Kev Walker’s back on art, and the book is humming along again.  I love Moonstone’s ‘Golden Age’ look.

Wolverine: Debt of Death#1 – For a one-shot written by David Lapham and with art by David Aja (and colours by Bettie Breitweiser), and featuring Logan fighting WWII kamikaze robots, I was expecting to be more excited by this comic.  The art is terrific, with some wonderfully laid-out pages, but overall, I wasn’t too wrapped up in the story.  I don’t understand when this was set (it’s impossible for it to be current, as there are WWII vets who can’t be the right age), or what the purpose was.  How many old friends can Logan possibly still have left in Japan?

X-Factor #224.1 – Finally, a .1 book that delivers on the premise behind this initiative – it introduces all of the X-Factor characters and the book’s milieu, while still more or less telling a story (first time this has happened since the Amazing Spider-Man issue – and that was used to launch a different series).  Madrox and Layla revisit Jamie’s childhood home, and meet the woman and her son who live there now.  Over the kitchen table, Jamie tells them all about X-Factor, who are busy dealing with some demon or alien thing in town.  A good enough issue, better than the recent ones, but not doing much to advance the characters either.

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

Irredeemable #29

Moon Knight #5

Wolverine #15

X-Men #17

Bargain Comics:

Batgirl #22 – This was a really fun comic, which has Stephanie Brown teaming up with the Squire to solve a quick little issue involving The Greenwich Mean, which is a sword in the stone of time, while on her way to complete a mission for Batman.  This issue plays with the same portrayal of England that made the Knight and Squire mini-series such a pleasure.  The fact that this was to be continued in Batman Inc #9, which is now canceled and will supposedly be where Batman Inc. volume 2 will pick up in the DCnU creates more than a few problems for continuity.

Case Files: Sam & Twitch #20 – 25: Fathers and Daughters

Written by Marc Andreyko
Art by Greg Scott, Rodel Noora, and Bing Cansino

It took me a little while to track down the one issue of this series that I was missing, but upon finding it, I was finally able to finish off my reading of the second Sam and Twitch series.

And to be honest, this last arc was a bit of a disappointment.  The two detectives get involved in the murder of a young girl actress in the Miley Cyrus mold.  They work their way through the usual group of obsessed fans as suspects, before finding the truth to be much darker than they could have expected.  Unless, of course, they’d ever read a comic or story by Andrew Vachss, in which case, they would have known who was responsible for her death right at the beginning.

There is a stab at relating the case to Twitch’s own recent tragedies (the loss of a daughter and son), but it feels more forced than genuine, as his marital problems have evaporated completely.

The art by Greg Scott is nice, but too static.  When the girl’s body is discovered, I wasn’t even sure that she was dead – I had to read the next issue to find out.  That’s not a way to build up suspense or interest in a story.

DC Retroactive: Flash – The ’80s #1 – I never regularly picked up Messner-Loebs and LaRocque’s run on the Flash back in the day, but I do own a lot of random issues, and I always enjoyed them.  Wallly West is the Flash I always liked best, and I’m sad that his character will have no place in the DCnU.  This was a nice tribute issue, capturing the feeling of occasional camaraderie that existed between Wally and the Rogues during that era.

Fear Itself: Youth in Revolt #1 – I have a lot of affection for Dan Slott and Christos Gage’s Avengers: The Initiative series, and I’ve wondered why so few of the characters they’ve put so much work into have not been seen anywhere else (although apparently some of them may show up in Avengers Academy soon), so I was interested in this FI tie-in that resurrects the Initiative, with Prodigy, of all people, in charge.  It’s not bad, especially for Sean McKeever.

The Guild: Bladezz – Reading this reminds me that I really do need to get caught up on The Guild.  This one-shot tells the story of how Bladezz ended up with a modeling career, and tells us a little more about his relationship with his sister.  He’s a jerk, but a likeable one.  I’ve been enjoying these explorations of the Guild characters.

The Iron Age #Alpha & 1 – I’m really enjoying the nostalgia trip that this comic inspires, as modern day Tony Stark gets sent back about 25 years (our time) to try to save the world.  This means hanging out with the Avengers back when Captain Marvel and Starfox were on the team (I loved that era), and Captain Britain when British comics were much darker than American.  This series has decent writing and nice art from people like Rebekah Isaacs, Lee Weeks, and Ben Oliver.  Good stuff, for the right price.

Mystic #1 – I’ve never read a single Crossgen book, and haven’t ever been to interested in starting, but I like G. Willow Wilson’s writing, so I thought I’d give this series a try.  It’s not my type of thing – think Little Orphan Annie meets Harry Potter in a Dickensian steampunk setting – but it’s executed very well.

Mystery Men #1  & 2 – David Liss’s pulp hero story is not bag at all.  It’s perhaps a little slow in parts, and feels like its covering some familiar ground (ie. The Twelve), but with Patrick Zircher on art, the designs for these new characters look great.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Sgt. Rock: Between Hell & A Hard Place

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Joe Kubert

It seemed fitting, in the same week that DC returns to both regular war comics and to the Rock family to headline them, that I would read this 2004 graphic novel.

It’s November of 1944, and the American Army, in the form of the 22nd Infantry, is working its way through the Hürtgen Forest on the border between Germany and Belgium, on their way to Berlin.  The going is slow, as they have to deal with mines, artillery, German patrols, and towns with Tiger tanks and active machine gun nests.

Right in the thick of it, as always, is Sgt. Rock and Easy Company.  They’ve been saddled with some very green replacements, and later with four German officers who they wish to take in for interrogation.  During an attack, three of the Germans end up dead, and the other goes missing.  Now suspicion is falling on every member of Rock’s usual crew.

The comic is well written, but the reason why anyone is going to come out for it has to do with Joe Kubert’s art.  Kubert invented Rock, and its nice to see him working on one of his most famous characters once again.  He hasn’t lost any of his skill, but he is drawing things much looser these days.

There is a nice blend of character moments and action, and there are no annoying sound effects in the book.  It falls into a lot of the usual war comics tropes, but it’s still a very good read.

Vietnam Journal Book Three: From the Delta to Dak To

by Don Lomax

Working my way through Transfuzion’s new editions of Don Lomax’s classic Vietnam War comic is a treat, despite the poor production values that make the reproduction unnecessarily grainy.  In this third volume, Lomax’s journalist hero, Journal, continues to have a number of adventures with the American military.

We see life on the Mekong Delta, when Journal embeds with the Mobile Riverine Force, which patrolled the reeds looking to disrupt VC activity.  We also join American forces in a desperate attempt to hold, and ultimately give up a nameless hill in the jungle.

As usual, the character of Journal takes more risks and liberties than any journalist covering the war would have been able to do.  He is first to volunteer to rescue the injured, and also goes against command in his desire to help bring what he believes to be the family of a dead Vietnamese contact back to base (of course, they end up having VC sympathies).  While credulity is frequently stretched, it is done with the intent of providing new entry points or perspectives into the war, so it’s all good.

This book is very readable.  I find it hard to put these comics down, even despite the production issues.

Album of the Week:

Prometheus Brown & Bambu Walk Into a Bar – Excellent side project featuring Geo from the Blue Scholars

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