The Weekly Round-Up #94: The Bad Dialogue Edition With DHP, The Big Lie, DC New 52 & More

This week something happened to me that hasn’t happened in years of buying comics – I didn’t get two of the books I wanted, not because the store was shorted (that happens all the time thanks to the Diamond monopoly), but because they were actually sold out.  So were two other stores that I went to, before deciding that I’ll just wait for second prints.  This whole New 52 thing seems to be working remarkably well.  I had preordered everything I knew I’d want, but because I was also getting caught up in the hype, I did want to check out Wonder Woman and Nightwing too.  I wonder how I’ll feel when the second prints roll around…  Also this week, I want to talk about a comics controversy that is not getting much press – no, not Catwoman and Starfire, I don’t care about that – but bad editing and worse dialogue.  Both Avengers books, and Invincible Iron Man are guilty of this.  Read below.

Best Comic of the Week:

Dark Horse Presents #4

Written by Evan Dorkin, Chuck Brown, Felipe Melo, Robert Love, David Walker, Peter Hogan, Steve Niles, Howard Chaykin, Ricardo Delgado, Carla Speed McNeil, and Dara Naraghi
Art by Jill Thompson, Sanford Greene, Juan Cavia, Robert Love, Steve Parkhouse, Christopher Mitten, Howard Chaykin, Ricardo Delgado, Carla Speed McNeil, and Victor Santos

Now this is a lot more of what I was expecting from the beginning with Dark Horse Presents.  This issue launches a few new stories, and misses some of the others that have been annoying me, creating a much more balanced book, which made me much happier.

Of course, there are three stories in here that make the whole thing worth buying: a Beasts of Burden story, another chapter of Finder, and The Protest, a memoir.  The Beasts are as great as always, as two of the wise dogs (of course, one is Orphan the cat) go hunting for a Goblin that has been eating chickens in the town.  Beasts of Burden is beautiful, and this story is both amusing, and a little darker than some of the previous ones.  The Finder story was a little unclear (I miss McNeil’s annotations, which would have come in handy here), but reinforces that I should really be getting the Finder Library collections.

The Protest is terrific.  It is about Dara Naraghi’s life in Tehran, shortly after the Revolution.  He and his friend are supposed to attend a protest march with their school, but the bully who usually tortures them helps them out.  It’s a subtle and interesting work, and would work alongside Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s comic memoir which deals with the same material.  I love the way Victor Santos drew this – it reminds me a lot of Rafael Albuquerque.

The Adventures of Dog Mendonca and Pizzaboy didn’t look too interesting, until we established that the private eye main character has been around for a really long time, and is a werewolf.  The art is nice, and I’m curious to see where this story goes.

Resident Alien, by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse shows a lot of promise.  It’s about an extraterrestrial who is trying to live in secret on Earth, but who has now been tapped by the police in the middle of nowhere area he lives to help with a murder case.  I’m looking forward to the rest of this one.

Ricardo Delgado’s Age of Reptiles is pretty, but silent, so I found it didn’t do a whole lot for me.  I think I just don’t care about dinosaurs, really.

I’m continuing to really enjoy Love and Walker’s Number 13, and was surprised to find myself getting more interested in Howard Chaykin’s Marked Man.  The new Criminal Macabre story did nothing for me, despite having art by Christopher Mitten, and I continue to not really get Rotten Apples.

I missed Concrete this month, but was very happy to see that Neal Adams’s Blood was not to be seen.  I feel like this anthology is on the right track.

Other Notable Comics:

All Nighter #4

by David Hahn

Hahn’s slackerish college life drama series keeps taking some unexpected turns.  Where before, things were mostly about Kat, a girl who sometimes steals, feels responsible for her mother’s death and is secretly seeing her housemate’s boyfriend, now the comic is just as much about Martha, the mousy new housemate who we know very little about.

In this issue, Martha and Kat share a moment on the rough of the All Nighter diner, as Kat finally talks about how her mother died, and how she feels like it’s her fault.  After that, Martha disappears.  Previously, she’s claimed  be Kat’s guardian angel, and was shown doing something that looks a lot like casting a love spell on her.

I’ve been enjoying this book.  Sure, it keeps defying my expectations, which is always a good thing, but it’s also just a very well-drawn series with strong and consistent characterizations.  It’s worth checking out.

The Big Lie #1

Written by Rick Veitch
Art by Rick Veitch and Gary Erskine

I don’t understand why Rick Veitch is not more revered in the comics world.  Even setting aside his ground-breaking and extremely controversial work on Swamp Thing, he has maintained a viewpoint and set of opinions that don’t fit with the mainstream, while also pushing the boundaries of comic books for years.  I fondly remember his Brat Pack as the high point of dark and gritty satire, and his Rare Bit Fiends dream journals were bizarre and inspired.

With The Big Lie (which came out a couple of weeks ago, but which my comic store only got this week), Veitch returns to ground and themes that he previously touched on in his bizarre graphic novel Can’t Get No, and his Vertigo war/romance satire series Army@Love.

The Big Lie is a bit of a master class in 9/11 conspiracy theory, wrapped in a time travel story.  A scientist moves back in time to rescue her husband, who was in a meeting at the World Trade Center on the morning of the famous attacks.  When she tries to convince him that he is in danger, the husband and the risk management company he works for decide instead to grill her and examine her evidence.  Basically, this provides Veitch the opportunity to lay out any number of the unexplained facts and contradictory evidence that has accumulated over the last ten years.

As a story, this comic can be a little clunky in parts, but that’s not really a concern.  I don’t want to weigh in on the whole ‘Truther’ movement, or what I personally believe, as I don’t feel very qualified to discuss it.  What I will say is that this comic provides a lot of food for thought, and does it in an easily-digestible manner.  Veitch is a comics god when it comes to forcing people to question some of their assumptions, and it’s nice to see him continuing to raise his voice in such a compelling way.

BPRD Hell on Earth: Russia #1

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Tyler Crook

After spending a little too long focusing over the last two BPRD mini-series on Liz Sherman, it’s nice to return to the core cast of characters in this book, as Johann and Kate head off to Russia to meet with the Russian counterparts to the BPRD.

Now, this is always something that I liked about comics growing up as a kid – every organization or team has a Russian counterpart.  It’s always led to some pretty derivative characters, but some great stories (of course, as of right now the only example I can think of is the Soviet Super-Soldiers, but I know there are more – help!).

Since changing the name of this comic to incorporate the Hell on Earth concept, I’ve enjoyed seeing just how messed up things have become around the world.  As Corrigan and Johann travel to their meeting in Moscow, they are suddenly attacked by a man who has undergone a strange conversion into a scabrous, hunchbacked creature.  What makes this scene work so well is the utter indifference of all the Russians, for whom we assume this is a common event.

Tyler Crook, the new artist, is continuing to impress me.  He draws Johann much like Guy Davis did – as an actual bag of gas, with wobbly arms that bend wherever it is convenient, instead of at an ectoplasmic elbow.  I’m liking this new arc a great deal, and look forward to seeing where it heads.

DMZ #69

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

My, but sometimes a twenty-page story can feel very short.  In this issue, Matty Roth continues his good-bye tour of Manhattan before both he and us, the readers, leave it forever.  Matty knows that he’s going to be detained (or perhaps disappeared) as part of the deal he arranged with the US government, but is using his remaining time to finish organizing his notes and to visit each of the ‘Five Nations’ of the new New York.

We travel with him first to Chinatown, where the residents are holding a memorial service for Wilson, their leader and protector through the years of conflict.  Wilson was always one of the more interesting characters in this comic – he seemed almost other-worldly at times, but there was an issue that focused on him about a year ago (I think) that revealed a great deal about his character.  What I like in this part of this comic (aside from the terrific crowd scenes drawn by Buchielli), is the way in which Matty wrestles with his feelings for Wilson, and the surprise he feels upon learning that Wilson viewed him as a friend, as opposed to a convenient partner at times.

After that, Matty and Zee make their way to Parktown, the region surrounding and including Central Park.  It was the way Wood made use of the Park in the earliest issues of this comic that helped solidify my loyalty, but now the Ghosts who looked after it are gone, or in the case of Soames, ghosts of their former selves.

Perhaps its indulgent to spend the last five issues of a series running this long saying good-bye to characters and locales, but being the sentimental creature that I am, I’m enjoying it a great deal.

Fables #109

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha

Most months I praise this comic, and for the most part, this issue is also very good, but for one element that makes it a tough read.

Bill Willingham should not write child characters.  Now that the North Wind has left us, his servants are looking for his replacement among Snow White and Bigby Wolf’s children.  They have separated the kids, and are going to be putting them through trials, to determine which of the six (I’m assuming that the zephyr child is disqualified, although will probably end up being the final choice) will assume this new mantle.

Each kid gets their own scene, and the writing is like a combination of Family Circus and Kids Say the Darndest Things.  I’m not sure what Willingham is trying to achieve here, but it threw me completely out of the book.  The later scene, where the kids return from their first trial is fine, but the earlier pages, especially considering that aside from Ambrose and Darien, the kids aren’t very well developed before now, were painful.

The rest of the book is pretty good though, as Blufkin continues his time in Oz, Rose Red reports back from the Farm, and the newly-pretty Nurse Spratt discusses the joys of dressing for dinner.

The Li’l Depressed Boy #6

Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Sina Grace

It’s been a little while since we saw the last issue of LDB, so I was pleased to see this in my pile this week.  I especially like the cover by Charlie Adlard, of Walking Dead fame.  I’m sure it was tempting to make the state trooper look a little more like Rick Grimes…

This is another solid issue of this series where not a whole lot happens, but what there is, is very enjoyable and damn charming.  When we last saw LDB, he was on a road trip with his friend Drew, and they were getting pulled over.  It turns out that Drew has a warrant out for his arrest (something to do with writing bad cheques), and so he is taken in, but not before being allowed to drive into town, as LDB can’t drive.

Once again, we see LDB in a state of helplessness, as he’s stuck in a truck outside the police station, with no clear idea of what to do.  So, he phones his dad, which is I think the first that his parents have been mentioned in this series.

For another month, charm wins out of quantity of story, and LDB continues to be a book that I enjoy.

Northlanders #44

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Paul Azaceta

With this issue, the first third of the Icelandic Trilogy has ended, establishing Ulf Hauksson’s control of Iceland, as his campaign against his rival clan, the Belgarssons goes well for him. All of this is mostly pointless though, as Ulf and his wife, the freed Irish slave Una have not been able to produce a child yet.

Wood has created an interesting family drama in this arc.  Ulf is a vicious, paranoid, and controlling man, but also a ruthless leader and successful military schemer.  He’s the type of person who worries about creating a legacy though, and so this situation causes him a lot of concern.

I’m curious to see where things go next, as the next third of the trilogy looks to jump a hundred years or so, to the turn of the millennium, which should put things right around the time of Eric the Red, and the discovery of Greenland.  I thought that Paul Azaceta, who has done a wonderful job on this arc, was going to be drawing the entire trilogy, but I guess that’s not going to be the case.  I’ve liked upcoming artist Declan Shalvey’s work on Marvel’s Thunderbolts, and am curious to see how he does with Medieval Vikings.

The Red Wing #3

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

I’m going to admit up front to being totally left behind by the comic book time travel pseudo-science that permeates this comic, and yet I still find this to be one of the most compelling and entertaining books on the stands this week.

In this issue, the bad guys (do we know their name?) attack the gigantic satellite that our heroes live in, while the father of one of our heroes has a conversation with the enemies at another point in time.

So, if I don’t understand everything that’s happening on a macro level, why am I so enamored with this book?  Largely because, since I was a small child, I’ve loved space battles.  Were Star Wars set entirely in X-Wings and the Millennium Falcon, I would have loved it more.  As much as I enjoyed Battlestar Galactica, it needed more Viper-based stories.  Here, The Red Wing satisfies with some truly great spaceship scenes, while also providing all the character work and actual plot that such stories require.

This book looks terrific, and Hickman makes some very head-scratching ideas palatable and dramatic.  Great stuff.

Severed #2

Written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft
Art by Attila Futaki

This mini-series is striking all the right notes for me.  It’s a historical drama/serial killer comic with very strong character work.  The main character is Jack, a twelve year old who learned a year previously that he was adopted, and that his father is a traveling musician.  He began to correspond with him, and has now left home to try to find him.  In the first issue, Jack ran afoul of a corrupt railroad bull, and when this issue opens, he wants to go back and retrieve his possessions.

Jack is hanging out with a new friend – Sam, who helps him get his stuff, find lodging when they get to Chicago, and travel to the theatre where his father is supposed to be performing.  I don’t know yet why Sam is so knowledgeable and capable for such a young kid, but I look forward to finding out more of Sam’s story as the comic progresses.

Were this all there was to the comic, I would still be as interested in it, but running parallel to Sam’s story is that of the Salesman, a cannibalistic serial killer.  This character is pretty creepy, and I’m sure we’re going to learn more about him in the future.

This comic is very nicely put together, with great art by Futaki.  It strikes a nice balance between historical detail and ease of storytelling.  I love period pieces, so this book is right up my alley.

Spontaneous #4

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Brett Weldele

There are a few unexpected things that happen in this month’s issue of Spontaneous, the terrific mini-series about spontaneous human combustion, and the young man who has been investigating it in his home town.  We’ve known for a while now that there is a connection between the victims of this horrible phenomenon and Grumm Industries, a military contractor for whom they all worked in the past.

The issue opens on a flashback to a time when Melvin’s dad had to meet with Mr. Grumm (it would have been nice if the art had somehow made the flashback clearer), and the rest of the issue is spent having characters put together some of the clues that Harris has been dropping since the first issue.

This is a very good comic, with some unexpected twists along the way.  Weldele’s art is great, and I am looking forward to seeing how all of this is going to turn out.

The Stuff of Legend Vol. 3: A Jester’s Tale #2

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

Last issue, we were introduced to a second jester in The Dark, the world in which all of the action in this comic takes place.  Unlike our regular charming, ass-kicking Jester, this one is more of a pirate and scourge of the Dark.  This issue gives us his origin, and makes our Jester aware of him.

The Stuff of Legend is turning out to be a much longer series than I anticipated when I got on board, but I’m finding it to be a pretty rewarding read.  Having split the good toys up, Raicht and Smith have a lot more happening in each issue, as we check in on the group of toys trying to leave the Dark, the Jester’s journey into the land of dolls (why isn’t this The Valley of The Dolls?  too obvious?), and we also see the Boy, the person all the toys are trying to rescue, who is still on the train he was riding when last we saw him.

This series is sharply written, and has great art.

Witch Doctor #3

Written by Brandon Seifert
Art by Lukas Ketner

The creators of Witch Doctor change tactics some with this issue, abandoning the done-in-one format of the first three issues (remember, there was a ‘zero issue’ preview in The Walking Dead) for a two-part story framed with our doctor having to explain himself to two creepy looking older people who I assume are like a witchy medical board.

This issue also gives us the secret history of the world, which is based very much on Lovecraftian creatures called Archaeons, reveals that the doctor has a ‘destiny’, and explains the story behind Penny, his odd, gothy assistant.  Amid all this exposition, we get a story about fish people, and see more of the relationship between the doctor and Absinthe O’Riley, who appears to be a potential rival and love interest.

What made this series work so well in the beginning was the application of medical procedures, terminology, and equipment to mystical phenomena and monsters.  With this issue, we’re moving into a different territory, already familiar from books like Hellboy, but Seifert and Ketner are giving us a very well-constructed comic, with very strong characters.  So, while I liked where it was, I’m also very okay with where it’s going.

Quick Takes:

Avengers #17 – We’re finally at the end of Fear Itself, as the remnants of two Avengers teams gang up on Sin, the Protector shows his usefulness, people spend more time explaining what’s going on in interview scenes as if we didn’t just read the same thing, and John Romita JR proves he’s never seen a bow before.  I’m glad that we’ve finished with all the filler that has taken over this book for the last half a year.  Strangely, this is the week for horrible Avengers dialogue (see below), as Captain America finishes his interview with the unseen interviewer (presumably Bendis?) by saying, “Listen, I don’t know what you’re calling this book of yours, but I’d really appreciate it if you’d dedicate it to Bucky Barnes.  Barnes with a “B”.”  Really?  I always thought there was a silent Z in front of the B.  How can dialogue like this get past an editor?  It’s embarrassing, with a captital E.

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #7 – I like to think of myself as someone who is not completely obsessed with continuity, preferring good stories, characters, and art over slavish attention to detail.  But still, I’m having a hard time understanding where this comic fits, as it has characterizations of characters from the X-Men, Avengers, X-Factor, and FF that don’t match with what is going on in those titles currently, but couldn’t also be happening just a little ways down the road either.  I kind of imagine this was put together at some long-ago Marvel summit, and then stuff changed, and no one remembered to tell Heinberg or Cheung, and they just kept working in isolation.  Also, what’s up with the dialogue here?  This has to be the worst writing of the week (and it’s a big week), as Patriot discusses the possibility of letting Dr. Doom help the Scarlet Witch restore mutant powers to all her M-Day victims:  “You think he’s just going to give all that power back?  He’s not.  He’s going to keep it, and then we’ll all be living in the World of D – which is short for “Doom” — which should give you some idea of what it’s going to be like to live in his world.”  Really?  Horrid.  But, to be balanced, Jim Cheung is killing this book.

Batman #1 – It doesn’t feel like too much has changed here, as Scott Snyder gives us the beginnings of an interesting mystery, while Bruce Wayne announces new plans for Gotham.  I like that Snyder has Dick, Tim, and Damian around, and while it’s a little unclear how they all relate to each other now (Dick and Tim are visibly younger), I hope that they are all going to be around this book, as the family angle is the one I find most interesting for Batman these days.  I’m also pleased to see that Snyder is going to continue to write more complex stories – I feared that having a weaker, more limited and flash-based artist like Greg Capullo over people like Jock and the brilliant Francisco Francavilla would cause him to write simpler, more flashy stories.  I found Capullo to be a little better than I expected, but I did read through almost all of the Harvey Bullock scene thinking it was Sam from Sam & Twitch that Batman was talking to.

Birds of Prey #1 – I knew not to pick this up, but did anyway.  I don’t think this concept can work without Oracle, or a character like her, working behind the scenes.  Instead, we have Black Canary (who is wanted by the police) and some new character named Starling who looks a little like Rose Tattoo, but is much less interesting.  The two track down a reporter who has been following them for a couple of weeks, only to learn that he had unwittingly been setting them up.  They fight some guys in battle armor in a church, and that’s about it, save for a scene with Barbara Gordon that doesn’t line up too well with what Gail Simone is doing with the character in her own book.  I really don’t expect to be coming back to this one.

Blue Beetle #1 I loved the Keith Giffen/John Rogers/Cully Hamner/Rafael Albuquerque incarnation of this character a few years back.  They did a terrific job of grounding the Beetle scarab in a larger story, and provided Jaime with a terrific and loveable cast of supporting characters.  This relaunch resets the clock, and tells us about how Jaime becomes a hero.  The problem is that we’re covering a lot of similar ground to what Giffen and Rogers did, but without any surprises.  In the first issue, we already know that the Scarab comes from The Reach, an intergalactic group of conquerors, and that Jaime’s friend and love interest Brenda has a crime lord for an aunt.  Still, this is a competent comic.  If Bedard takes the story in another direction from what was done a little while ago, I could see myself being interested in reading it.  If it’s going to just be a retread, I’ll pull out the original issues and read them again.

Captain America #3 – I’m really not feeling this new Cap series.  It’s just too separated from all Marvel continuity, and doesn’t reflect anything that Steve Rogers has gone through over the past few years.  Factor in Steve McNiven’s pretty but bland artwork, and I’m ready to drop the book.  Had I not learned this week that Alan Davis was going to be coming on board, I’d probably be taking this off my pull-list.  Here’s hoping having a stronger, more versatile artist will shake Ed Brubaker out of whatever doldrums have caused him to phone this comic in since it was relaunched.  It’s impossible to imagine this is the same guy who writes Criminal.

Daredevil #4 – I am loving this new Daredevil series.  This issue is drawn by Marcos Martin, and it explores Matt Murdock’s new approach to being a law-coach for people defending themselves.  It’s an interesting way to find new cases for Daredevil to help out on, and somehow gives Martin the chance to draw DD fighting lions.  The nice light atmosphere and incredible art makes this a must buy.

Generation Hope #11 – This comic does a good job of filling in some of the scenes between scenes in X-Men Schism, and works on building a wedge between the Lights.  Good stuff, but without the Schism title, this wouldn’t make a lot of sense.  I’m starting to like these characters, but I doubt it will be enough to keep me around once Kieron Gillen is off the book.

Heroes For Hire #12 – I think this is the last issue of this series.  Next month there is a Spider-Island cross-over featuring Misty and company, and then the Villains For Hire series starts, which seems a shame, as this issue spotlights just how well this concept can work.  Misty is trying to get the hook trade shut down, and uses Moon Knight, Silver Sable, Paladin, and Stingray (Stingray!) to get Namor’s attention so he can finish the job.  Marvel needs a book for it’s C-list characters to get some shine, and with Brad Walker back on art, this book could be a favourite.  I hope the Villains relaunch works out.

Hulk #41 – Jeff Parker wraps up any number of plot-lines with this issue in a pretty satisfactory way, with half the issue being given over to some trips down the Thad Ross memory lane.  I’m pretty curious to see what the Hulk of Arabia story is like.  I’m still surprised I’m picking this book up, but it really is pretty good.  Now that we don’t have to worry about the Watcher, Zero/One, or the army showing up again, I’m even more interested.

Invincible Iron Man #508 – The theme of the week at Marvel is bad dialogue.  How else do we explain the bizarre gems that keep popping up in the publisher’s releases?  This one shouldn’t count though, as it first appeared in Fear Itself #6, but instead of fixing it, Fraction decided to re-use it exactly as it was.  Odin: “What weapon would the man who would insult a god choose to bring to the day of his death?”  Tony:  “I rather came having had.”  And no, I still don’t get it, aside from the fact that copy-editing in Marvel is bad with a B.  The rest of this issue is a bit of a disappointment, as it’s a lot of fighting, without much of the sharp dialogue or strong character work that usually makes this book such a treat.

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 – If there was any DC franchise least in need of a reboot, it was the Legion, having had a few ‘from the ground up’ style relaunches over the last twenty years than any other property in comics.  For that reason, it’s probably good that Levitz and the powers that be at DC kept continuity more or less the same.  However, they forgot to take new readers into account, putting together a story that happens shortly after the last series ended, without introducing any characters, their recent history, or even what the Legion is as a concept.  Even the notion of possible conflict between the Dominators and the United Planets is just taken for granted, without any kind of background.  Add to that the fact that the two newest Legionnaires are supposed to be undercover, with giant L’s on their costumes, and one has to wonder how well thought out this book is.  I’d been getting more and more dissatisfied with Levitz’s return to the Legion, and while I like Francis Portela’s art on this book, I don’t know that I’m going to stick around.  And that makes me sad, because I love the Legion.

Planet of the Apes #6 – I never thought that this would become one of my favourite titles, but I’m really getting in to things.  The humans are continuing their insurgency (intifada?), bringing in new ancient weapons like RPGs, and recruiting support from outside the city of Mak.  At the same time, the apes are building more concentration camps.  Young Wyn, the Oliver Twist-like character, is planning a prison break.  Oh, and if that weren’t enough, we learn what happened in Delphi eighteen years ago to destroy the human independence movement.  This book is well written, and Carlos Magno’s art just keeps getting better and better.  This is one impressive comic.

Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger #2 – Storywise, this issue is nowhere near as balanced as the last one, but Emma Rios’s artwork makes up for any shortcomings in Spencer’s script.  There is perhaps too much tie-in mandated spider stuff going on; I would have preferred a series by these two creators without being shackled to a mini-event, but I’ll take what I can get.

Thunderbolts #163.1 – It’s odd that Marvel would give this title a .1 issue right after they started a new storyline, and so we see a fair amount of filler as Luke, Songbird, Ghost and Mach-whatever look for their missing teammates.  There’s a very contrived scene that encapsulates Thunderbolts history (minus the powered boxing era), and the art looks much more rushed than Declan Shalvey’s usual stuff.  A good example of why it makes sense to sometimes skip the .1’s.

Uncanny X-Men #543 – Another Fear Itself tie-in finally comes to its close, with big changes for Colossus, which are of course not reflected in X-Men Schism, which must be happening after Fear Itself, which still doesn’t tie-in very well with Avengers Children’s Crusade.  Marvel needs to start thinking about how they manage their over-exposed characters.  Anyway, this issue is as good as can be, considering that Greg Land must have been tracing some very specific gay porn for that Colossus/Juggernaut fight, and I’d rather not think about that.  I don’t think he’s drawing the next issue, which makes me look forward to it.

Vengeance #3 – This is easily the best book that Marvel is putting out right now.  It has three stories running through it featuring three groups of powered individuals, and in this issue, those different plot lines are beginning to converge, and they converge outside Doctor Octopus’s lab.  Lots of Marvel history is woven into this comic, along with fantastic art and cool characterizations.

X-Factor #225 – I feel like we’re back on surer ground after months of lackluster stories.  Madrox and crew are back in Kansas investigating the murder of the woman who served them soup in the last issue, but of course, there’s a ton of supernatural weirdness going on.  Also, Rahne is wallowing in self-pity, and Rictor has his powers back.  Leonard Kirk has come on the book as artist, to good general effect, but some panels look pretty rushed.

X-Men Schism #4 – We finally get to the heart of the matter, as Wolverine and Cyclops disagree strongly in the face of a Sentinel attack on Utopia.  It’s taken a while to get to this point, but now that we don’t have annoying pre-teen Hellfire Clubbers roaming around, the story becomes much more serious and feels much weightier.  What a treat to get art by Alan Davis too!  Oh, and Jason Aaron writes a good Dr. Nemesis – I hope he’s in the X-title Aaron will be writing next month.

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

Fear Itself Home Front #6

Ultimate Comics Hawkeye #2

Ultimate Comics X-Men #1

X-Men #18

Bargain Comics:

Incorruptible #15-18 – The quality of this book is slipping (is cartoonish artist Marcio Takara to blame, or is Mark Waid just losing interest?), but it’s still a decent little comic about a super-villain who is trying to turn over a new leaf in the wake of great destruction.  These issues have the Paradigm guest appearing, and introduce some new super-villains.  It’s a good comic, but it’s missing something.

The Iron Age #2 & 3 – I’m really enjoying this nostalgia-driven time traveling Iron Man story that has shellhead bouncing around the 80s, visiting Power Man and Iron Fist, the Human Torch, Dazzler, and the Dark Phoenix-era X-Men.  There’s some very nice art by Nick Dragotta and Roberta Dela Torre, and some good character moments taking place in a time where Tony Stark was seen as a joke.  I like these little side projects that Marvel randomly invents; at $5 an issue cover price, I can’t imagine this series has done much in the way of sales, but if found in a bargain bin, it’s a great read.

Osborn #1-5 – I ignored this comic for two reasons when it first came out – I was overloaded with Norman Osborn fatigue, and I was actively avoiding $4 comics.  I’d heard good things about it however, and I like Emma Rios’s art a great deal, so I thought it was worth checking out when I found the set at a good price.  It’s a great comic.  Osborn is less the star than the Daily Bugle’s Norah Winters, and the whole thing is set up as a bit of a comment on the American practice of using extraordinary renditions to ‘disappear’ troublesome prisoners.  There’s a very strange cast of supporting characters (including a gigantic spider god), and more exploration of the political scene in the Marvel Universe than I’m used to seeing.  Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios are an amazing team, and both deserve their own monthly comic (preferably together).  I love that Rios avoided drawing Osborn’s standard brillo-pad hair.  Also, Becky Cloonan helped out with the fifth issue, and Warren Ellis and Jamie McKelvie provided a back-up story in the first.

Tomb of Dracula Presents: Throne of Blood #1 – Here’s another example of a random one-shot put out by Marvel that doesn’t really fit anywhere within the publisher’s line, but is actually pretty good.  Victor Gischler, who did such a great job with his last Dracula one-shot, and such a poor job with his X-Men vampire story, gives us a tale of vampires in feudal Japan.  The art, by Goran Parlov is very nice, and while the story is predictable, it is well-executed.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story

Written by Mat Johnson
Art by Simon Gane

I’d been looking forward to reading this graphic novel for a while.  I have been going through a bit of a New Orleans phase, precipitated by the brilliance of things like the HBO show Treme, Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun, and Spike Lee’s documentaries When the Levee Broke and If God is Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise, not to mention some excellent magazine reporting on the rebuilding and recovery efforts.  Also, I really enjoyed Mat Johnson’s last graphic novel, Incognegro, and Simon Gane’s recent issue of Northlanders.

And so, with all of this foreknowledge and anticipation, the book is pretty much destined to disappoint, right?  That’s how I felt for the first thirty pages or so, as Johnson struggled to introduce his cast and get the story underway.  Once things were established though, the story kind of took over, and I ended up finishing the book in a single night, staying up much later than I’d intended.

The book is about two characters – Emmit and Dabny, both ex-cons.  Emmit once worked at an independent bank in the Lower Ninth Ward, and sees the flood that followed Hurricane Katrina as his chance to pay back the boss he felt framed him, and to be able to spread the riches his former employers had hoarded for criminals around the community.  He enlists his roommate Dabny, an ex-soldier who he thinks can hook him up with Dark Rain, an independent military contractor he hopes will help him pull off the job.  Of course, Dark Rain is run by a psychopath, who decides to run the mission without him.

Now Emmit and Dabny are rushing into the city to try to rob the bank before Dark Rain can get there.  The problem is that along the way, Dabny feels that they should be rescuing people stuck on their roofs and generally helping with the unorganized and disastrous rescue efforts in the city.

There are plenty of great character moments, and a general sense of the disarray that followed the hurricane.  Gane uses a nice clean approach to the art, and a monochromatic colour scheme that helps emphasize just how much of the city is under water.  It’s a good read – recommended.

Neil Young’s Greendale

Written by Joshua Dysart
Art by Cliff Chiang

I will confess that I’m not a Neil Young fan.  I know that, for a Canadian, I’m risking a lot in making such a statement, but his music is not my thing, and I didn’t know until I read this book that he’s made movies.  So there.  Why buy the comic then?  I have a lot of respect for Joshua Dysart’s Unknown Soldier, which was one of the best books Vertigo published in the last decade, and Cliff Chiang is an amazing artist.

The story, which is based on a concept album and film of the same name, works as an interesting study of a young girl from a family filled with mysterious and powerful women who have a tendency to disappear.  Sun Green, the youngest of the family after whom the town of Greendale California is named, is torn up inside, trying to understand her place in the world, and the strange elemental-like abilities she exhibits.  Her female ancestors all had similar abilities, and they all have more or less disappeared.

The book explores Sun’s relationship with her grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s, her cousin, who is an angry drug runner, and her parents, who are artists but don’t quite understand her.  Then, a mysterious man starts showing up in town, and things get harder for Sun.

There’s a lot to like about this book.  The characters and their relationships to each other are fully realized, and setting Sun’s environmentalism against the backdrop of the beginning of the war in Iraq helps show how America’s priorities were shifting at that time.

Chiang’s art is as beautiful as it always is, although the colours of the book were purposely washed out, in a way that I don’t think works all that well.  I’m not sure how this material worked as an album or film, because it seems perfect for comics.

Album of the Week:

Dear Friends: An Evening with The Foreign Exchange

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