The Weekly Round-Up #95 With American Vampire, Elephantmen, The Sixth Gun & More

I’ve really been doing this for 95 weeks now?  I wonder if that means I should relaunch the column, with a new numbering system.  Then, in a month, I can revert to the old numbering system just in time for my 100th column.  Would that attract more readers, do you think?

Best Comic of the Week:

Pope Hats #2

by Ethan Rilly

It’s been more than two years since I bought the first issue of Pope Hats at TCAF, and in the intervening time, creator Ethan Rilly has secured a publisher (the bastion of quality, Adhouse), and has vastly refined the aim and scope of the comic.  This new issue does not require that the first has been read – it’s pretty easy to pick up the characters from the previous issue.

The main story focuses on Francis, who works as a law clerk at a high-powered Bay Street firm in Toronto.  She receives a pseudo-promotion, as she is moved under the purview of Marcel Castonguay, a major player in the firm, who is also a workaholic, and pretty eccentric.  Frances is not too happy about the promotion – she isn’t all that ambitious, and is prone to anxiety, which is keeping her up at night.

Her roommate, Vickie, is as always unconcerned about this, or just about anything else.  Rilly keeps the story tightly focused on Frances, and it works as a very strong character study.  Gone are the more supernatural aspects of the comic (previously, Frances was visited by a ghost), and the humour is ironic.

There is a second story in the book – Gould Speaks, wherein a man taking a bus from Toronto to Montreal (a good eight hour journey) muses on a variety of things, including hair smudged windows, apparently out loud.  The book ends with a pair of one-page strips, for a total of forty pages of comics.

Rilly reminds me of Adrian Tomine here more than any other cartoonist, although with the focus being on employment and other external constraints on the spirit, instead of relationships.  There are some great insights in this comic, and reading it made me feel very happy that I decided on a career path that never led me towards working in an office environment.  These people are nuts, and lacking balance.

Pope Hats is a great comic, proving once again that I live in one of the premier cities for indie comics.  Toronto is less prevalent in this issue than the first, but it’s still a thrill recognizing the landscape in a comic.  I can’t recommend this book enough.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #19

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jordi Bernet

There were a few times while reading this latest issue of American Vampire that I had to remind myself that I wasn’t reading an issue of Jonah Hex.  That title having been canceled and replaced by All-Star Western, I wondered where I was going to get my semi-regular Jordi Bernet Western fix, but I need look no further than this arc.

The Best in the Cave is set in 1871 (with a prelude happening before that), and features young Skinner Sweet as a soldier in the American army pursuing Hole in the Sky, a Geronimo-style Apache leader.

Sweet is accompanied by Jim Book, who was first introduced to us in the first issue of this comic, when he took Sweet into custody.  As it turns out, the two grew up together, Book’s family having adopted Sweet after his parents were killed in the States War.  We see that Sweet has always been reckless and unpredictable, as he argues with his commanding officer about how to proceed in attacking the Apache, who are holed up on a cliff.  What no one knows is that something else lives on the same mountain…

I’m not sure how I feel about Book and Sweet being so close.  I want to reread Stephen King’s chapters of the first arc, to see if this relationship was hinted at, or if it has been ‘retconned’ into the story.  I also wonder if we’re going to see how Sweet was turned into a vampire in this arc.

It’s great seeing Bernet draw a story like this.  As I said, the look and feel is very Jonah Hex, but Bernet’s pencils seem a little tighter than in his Hex work.  He’s a master when it comes to portraying this time period, and while I love Rafael Albuquerque on this comic, I can’t imagine a better artist for this story than Bernet (perhaps John Severin).

Elephantmen #35

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Boo Cook and Axel Medellin

This is a nice thick issue of Elephantmen, which is nothing but comics.  There are no ads (yay!), and also none of the text pages that Starkings usually provides, which is a shame, because I do enjoy them.  Of course, the first choice would always be to have more comics, especially when they look this good.

The main story (drawn by Cook) continues to examine Yvette, the heroine of the War Toys stories.  In this issue, she continues to lead a group of human soldiers into China, pursuing Mappo’s forces.  Her crew capture a big Robotech like Elephantmen robot thing, and Yvette gets to pilot it.  At the same time, the Mappo forces are ambushed by the Chinese tiger creatures we met last issue.

There was something that happened here that I need clarification on.  I thought that the Elephantmen were not given their names until after they were rescued from Mappo, and that many of them were named by Sahara, the woman who aided in their rehabilitation.  However, in this issue, Hip and Ebony call each other by those names, and show a level of concern for one another that I didn’t think they would have had at this point in their story.  I could be wrong (and don’t have time to dig out all my back issues to check).

Cook’s art looks great through here.  He usually has a good command of the proportions of the characters, although I’m a little unclear about the horses that Hip and company are riding – I’m going to assume they are larger than normal horses, and otherwise enhanced, or the Elephantmen wouldn’t be able to ride them.

The back up story, with art by Axel Medellin covers familiar ground, but looks phenomenal, as does the back cover.

The Sixth Gun #15

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

It’s often difficult to write about a comic once its most recent story arc has reached the half-way point, as the story is usually firmly established, and there’s nothing much new to say.  Bound, the current storyline in The Sixth Gun defies that.  Last issue it focused exclusively on a new character, filling in his back story and providing him with motivation.  I thought it was an interlude issue, and was surprised to see that it counted as the third chapter of this story.

Now, we get the fourth chapter, and that same sense of interlude-ness permeates the book, although in a different way.  The issue opens on Gord Cantrell, who we haven’t seen for a while.  He’s returning to the plantation where he grew up a slave, and Bunn and Hurtt make his scenes in the book particularly interesting.  The plantation is deserted and slowly rotting away when Gord arrives, and then is suddenly brought to life, populated by all the people that Gord remembers from childhood, including his former master.  I love the way Hurtt changes the backgrounds depending on where Gord is looking – when he is gazing at something, it’s shown as vibrant and alive, while everything behind him is decaying.

The rest of the book is given over to Becky Montcrief, the owner of the titular sixth gun.  She’s under the protection of the Sword of Abraham, who have taken her to their stronghold.  She’s concerned that the gun won’t show her anything of what became of Drake Sinclair two issues ago, and it’s not long before she starts seeing ghosts of her own.  I’m very curious to learn more about the Sword of Abraham.  The character we’ve seen the most from this order is portrayed as a priest, yet we clearly see Muslims praying on the grounds.  I hope that this group’s history is explored in more detail soon.

As always, this is an excellent issue of an excellent series.

Wasteland #31

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Remington Veteto

We haven’t seen an issue of Wasteland since February, which makes this story, which unfolds over a long period of time and intertwines with other ‘recent’ issues, a little difficult to follow.  Regardless of that, Wasteland continues to be a very good comic.  In this issue, Golden Voice, the spiritual leader of the outlawed Sunner religion, is arrested while plotting to set off bombs throughout Newbegin.  In Marcus’s city, there is no such thing as a fair trial, and Goldy is taken to be publicly executed.

A lot happens in this issue – Skot and Jakob have a very interesting conversation, wherein Skot’s Sunner status is revealed, and Jakob learns that Abi, his adopted mother, is still alive.  I feel like, were this issue to be read as part of a trade, all of the momentum that Antony Johnston built into the story, but which was eroded by the long wait between issues, will make this a pivotal chapter in the longer story.  The last page of this book has me intrigued.

I hope that whatever is going on with this series is getting resolved.  I know that Christopher Mitten left the title, and his announced replacement, Remington Veteto has done a fine job with this issue and the previous ones, but nothing seems to be getting the book back on track.  The next issue is going to be guest-drawn by Brian Hurtt, a known and reliable artist, but I don’t know where things will go from there.  This issue does not have a letters column or text piece (aside from the usual excellent Ankya Ofsteen story) explaining what is happening.  For a long time, this comic was just about the most reliable monthly indie on the stands; it’s too bad that it can’t seem to reclaim that status.

Quick Takes:

All-Star Western #1 – I can’t really make up my mind about this book.  In some ways, I thought it very impressive, but there are some things that are bothering me at the same time.  To begin with, this comic moves Jonah Hex off the plains and into Gotham City, where he has been hired by Dr. Amadeus Arkham to help track down a Jack the Ripper-style serial killer.  That’s one of my problems – it doesn’t make sense to hire a bounty hunter from across the country for this type of thing.  Also, Arkham spends a lot of time psychoanalyzing Hex.  This doesn’t work for me – if this is supposed to be a new take on the character, and this series is supposed to set him up for new readers, does it make sense to reveal most of the workings of the man’s mind in the very first issue, and to treat it all as speculation?  I would rather become more interested in Hex as a character through the story, and learn about him as the comic progresses.  In its favour though, I love the choice of Moritat for art.  He draws it much like Phil Noto would, and the colours stay pretty gray and brown, like most peoples’ views of that time period.  Finally, I do like the way this series seems to honour the recently finished Gates of Gotham mini-series; I just think that a book call All-Star Western should take place in the West.

Annihilators: Earthfall #1 – Abnett and Lanning do so much better with cosmic comics than they do street level (Heroes for Hire) or mutant (New Mutants) superhero books.  I still much preferred the Guardians of the Galaxy, but find that this story works pretty well, as the Annihilators face off against the Universal Church of Truth, which then leads them to Earth.  This whole series seems to be a set-up to fight the Avengers, which is ill-conceived from a story point of view (this team would cream them), but makes sense sales-wise.  Tan Eng Huat’s art is fine, although I would like to know what Captain America is standing on on the last page.  The Rocket Raccoon and Groot story is fun, with great Timothy Green III art.

Avengers Academy #19 – I think that Christos Gage used the Fear Itself tie-in better than just about anybody to progress his book.  This issue has the final conflict between the Academy kids and Titania and Absorbing Man, with some self-sacrifice, and for at least one of the kids, a moment of clarity.  I know that this comic is going to incorporate some new characters in the issues ahead, which is good, but these current ones have definitely grown on me.

Captain America and Bucky #622 – Bucky’s origin story continues, now sharing some of his earliest adventures with the Invaders.  This issue addresses Bucky’s lack of abilities, and how he felt having to measure up to his companions.  It’s a well-written comic, with more terrific Chris Samnee artwork.  This book is ten times better than Cap’s solo comic.

FF #9 – There’s a lot going on in this comic, as the various Inhumans factions have engaged the Council of Reeds and the Mole Man’s forces in the High Evolutionary’s City, while our Reed meets with Black Bolt (Spider-Man makes this scene), and the Thinker gets a little meta with Dr. Doom.  There is perhaps a little too much happening in this issue, but Hickman manages to keep so many stories clear, and the book is never boring.

The Flash #1 – While, this ended up being a pleasant surprise.  I knew the book would be beautiful to look at – Francis Manapul is better with almost every issue he draws, and he was already pretty good – but was pretty skeptical about the story.  I know that Manapul and Buccellato are new writers, and that they are, in my opinion, saddled with the least interesting Flash, and with a pretty dull cast of supporting characters invented or revived by Geoff Johns.  Taking all of that into account, I thought this would be an easy pass, but with this story of an old friend of Barry’s turning up dead after a tech heist, and then appearing alive at his apartment, I want to read the next issue.  Also, I really appreciate the way that Manapul is borrowing a few pages from Marcos Martin in his panel lay-outs, and is using the Flash’s lightning effect to interesting visual use.

The Fury of Firestorm #1 – I’m having a hard time believing that this is really written by Gail Simone.  I know the plot is shared between her and Ethan Van Sciver, but nothing about this sounds or feels like a Simone book.  It seems that the plan for this book is to appeal to younger audiences, who may be interested in the classic conflict between jocks and nerds at high school, or who may relate to the racial divisions portrayed in the book, but that doesn’t jive with the fact that this book opens with a bunch of mercenaries murdering a young boy’s father in front of his eyes to get him to talk about something sent to him by Professor Martin Stein.  Also, the conflict between Ronnie and Jason is so manufactured that it’s impossible to believe, even if you accept the hints that the Firestorm matrix is causing their anger.  Neither character comes off as being the least bit likeable, and while the twist at the end of the book is interesting, I don’t know if I care about ever reading another issue.

I, Vampire #1 – I wasn’t too sure what to expect out of this book, and only bought it because it’s written by Joshua Hale Fialkov, whose work in Echoes and Tumor I enjoyed quite a bit.  Basically, there are two vampires, Andrew and Mary, who were once lovers, before Andrew decided that they should stop being monsters, and live like humans.  In the four hundred years since then, they still haven’t come to an agreement.  Now it seems that they are openly at war with each other, except that Mary has an army.  It’s an interesting enough premise I suppose, although everything about this book feels very familiar, right down to Andrea Sorrentino’s artwork, which looks like Jae Lee drew it in a hurry.  I like the art and atmosphere on this title, but the book feels much more like a Dynamite Comics vampire mini than a DC comic.  I’ll pick up two more issues based on Fialkov’s involvement alone, but I’m going to need to see something more original.

Journey Into Mystery #628 – I love this title.  Young Loki and his small crew infiltrate The Serpents floating city to try to help Thor and the other Asgardians.  The book is full of terrific dialogue (mostly coming from the Disir this time – who would have thought they would be so funny), and surprisingly good art by Whilce Portacio.  I was concerned when I saw his name attached to this title in the solicitation texts for the next bunch of issues, but he’s drawing within the established look of this title, and it works pretty well.  Great stuff.  I hope this comic continues to follow the adventures of Young Loki after Fear Itself finally ends.

Justice League Dark #1 – I wasn’t sure what to expect from this title either, and after the train wreck of Flashpoint: Secret Seven, I didn’t have very high expectations going in.  I suppose it’s a decent issue, but it looks like most of this arc is going to be spent assembling the team, and stories like that can be a little boring.  The thrill of seeing Peter Milligan write Shade again is watered down by the poor characterization of Kathy (who used to be one of the realest comics characters around).  I’m not sure that I’m interested enough to get another issue, despite Mikel Janin’s pretty artwork.

Kick-Ass 2 #4 –  I guess Marvel didn’t want DC to be the only company putting out controversial comics in September, so they got Mark Millar to finally get a new issue of Kick-Ass out that goes so far overboard in its quest to shock and defile that even the villains in the book think they’ve gone too far.  This is a mean sick comic, and while that’s usually not such a bad thing, I found the cavalier joy that Millar visibly feels writing this stuff to be disturbing.  I kind of hate myself for wanting the next issue.  A better man would just walk away…

New Avengers #16.1 – This issue works well as a .1 comic, freeing Norman Osborn, and setting up a lot of future Avengers comics.  There are lots of problems however, such as there being no Thunderbolts at the Raft, or any coordination between the Avengers and the guards.  I mean, if Luke Cage works there, you’d think he’d have caught on to the fact that everyone else is part of the Goblin Cult.  Neal Adams’s art is not what I was hoping for at all.  His faces are pretty rough (especially the women), and many pages look incredibly rushed.

New Mutants #31 – I guess there’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s not catching my fancy much either.  I don’t know why all the antagonists since Abnett and Lanning took over writing this title have been so weird looking.  First they had the team face off against Sugar Man, who I always thought was one of the dumbest villains in the Marvel U, and now they are fighting dream monsters that have mouths on their shoulders.  And I still hate how Lafuente is drawing Sunspot.

Venom #7 – More Spider-Island fun, as Venom has to track down Anti-Venom, who may be the key to curing the spider-stuff happening all over Manhattan.  Remender plays this meeting in an interesting way, making us question just how connected Flash Thompson, a recovering alcoholic, is to the suit.  Good stuff.

X-Men Legacy #256 – Another good issue, as all the X-Men in Shi’ar space meet up again, and figure out why there has been a war in the area (because of a sad alien with no friends).  Once again, the story seems to be dragged out a little, as there is still another issue to go.  Also, I realized while reading this that I have no idea what Rogue’s ability set is anymore.  I’m assuming that she’s no longer got Carol Danver’s powers, but I also thought she had her mind to herself, and yet she keeps talking about how crowded it is.  Is that just because she absorbed Legion?  This character has undergone too many changes in the last few years.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #670

Astonishing X-Men #42

Brilliant #1

Deadpool MAX #12

Incorruptible #22

Mighty Thor #6

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #2

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #2

Wolverine #16

Bargain Comics:

Amazing Spider-Man #666 – This is absolutely terrific.  I think I may have to start buying this title again.  The prelude to Spider-Island has Peter running all over the city trying to do too many things at once, but providing lots of great character moments, including a very funny scene at Avengers’ Mansion during one of their regular poker games.  Great stuff.

Astonishing X-Men #40 – So I’ve been wondering, when looking at the cover for the upcoming Woverine and the X-Men #1, just who the Lord-Emp-after-Joe-Casey-mucked-with-him looking creature is, but I think this issue solves that question.  In this book, a squad of X-Men decide they should try to save the Brood race, but also teach them compassion.  Odd choice for creatures created to cash in on the popularity of the aliens in Alien.  I like Juan Bobillo’s art – sometimes he reminds me of Jason Pearson, and other times Chris Bachalo.  It’s a good mix.

DC Retroactive: Wonder Woman – 1990s #1 – I remember randomly sampling William Messner-Loeb and Lee Moder’s run on this book back in the day, and finding it pretty unique.  This is when Wonder Woman worked at a fast food place, and didn’t have a very good understanding of modern Western culture.  The new story in this comic is all girl power friendly, as WW starts training a bunch of rich girls to be more physically active.  It’s a sweet story, if kind of silly.  The ‘classic’ story, with art by Paris Cullens, is not what I would have selected to represent this era.

Fear Itself: Fearsome Four #3 – This series, which has had about 30 artists in three issues, keeps getting stranger and harder to follow.  The inclusion of the 1990s ‘New Fantastic Four’ is baffling and pointless.  I’m glad I stopped paying full price for this one, and it was only idle curiosity that brought me back, for the same reasons that people slow down when driving past an accident.

Fear Itself: The Home Front #3-5 – Nothing essential in this anthology series, but there are still some high points, specifically the American Eagle story by Si Spurrier and Jason Latour (that has nothing to do with Fear Itself).  The Speedball story is okay, if a little sentimental, and the ‘Chosen’ story, featuring characters like Amadeus Cho, Power Man, and X-23 looks like it may have potential if the characters ever stop arguing with each other.  Peter Milligan’s Agents of Atlas story really doesn’t work – and that’s before we learn that Atlanteans practice cremation.  Let that sink in…

Fear Itself: Youth in Revolt #2 & 3 – While nicely using some of my favourite Initiative characters, this series doesn’t work on a few levels.  I don’t understand how, in the short time that the whole Fear Itself crisis would be playing out, a whole new government agency, complete with base and holding cells can be brought into play.  Also, Mike Norton’s art is not very consistent – he’s usually much better than this.

Flashpoint #4 – Talk about coming late to the party.  It’s pretty hard to care about what’s going on in this book, knowing that these interpretations of these characters were never intended to last more than these five issues.  I know some people really got into this event, but it never moved beyond the surface for me.

Flashpoint: Secret Seven #3 – I finished this off before reading Justice League Dark, in case there was some spill over, but I didn’t expect it to end so brutally and violently.  This was one pointless mini-series, which makes me think that Peter Milligan is not the person to reestablish these characters in the DCnU.

Irredeemable #23-26 – The best part of this series involves the heroes who are trying to rebuild the Earth in the wake of the Plutonian’s rampage.  The book is at its worst when we follow the Plutonian through his escape from an alien mental institute on a planet hidden inside a sun.  Mark Waid likes to give us a weird mixture in this book, and it somehow works pretty well.

The Punisher #1 & 2 – Normally, I’d jump at the chance to get a new Greg Rucka comic, but I got burned by his Action Comics run a couple of years ago, and I wasn’t interested in starting a new $4 series.  Of course, Marvel never publicized the fact that only the extra-length first issue would be at that price, and so I subsequently have been ignoring a pretty good comic that is in my acceptable price range (I hope someone at Marvel is reading this).  Anyway, the comic is good.  I like that Rucka is leaving Frank Castle out of the story, beyond his use as a plot device and cipher, choosing instead to focus on the police and criminals.  Mark Checchetto’s art looks very good, in a Michael Lark kind of way.  I don’t know if I’m interested enough to add it to my pull-list yet or not though – the new Vulture showing up does not bode well…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Freakangels Vol. 5

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Paul Duffield

Early on, Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield’s webcomic about a dozen powered twenty-somethings living in a wrecked version of London seemed to be just about the interpersonal relations within the group.  These twelve, all born at the same time, don’t really get along (or only rarely), but because of their similar abilities and purple eyes, had banded together to keep the Whitechapel neighbourhood together when the rest of London was flooded.

Since that beginning, which was marked with strong characterization despite the often confusing similarities of the characters, we’ve learned a little more about how London (and perhaps the world) were destroyed, and what role out heroes had to play in it.  We also learned about how they ejected one of their number when he proved dangerous, and how two of the Freakangels believed that they had killed them.

When this volume opens (thankfully with a recap, as it’s been a while since I read the last one), we learn that shooting a Freakangel in the head (such as happened to Luke) is not exactly fatal, and that the Freakangel package – the abilities specific to each member of the group – can be upgraded through near-death experiences.  There’s a lot of mystical mumbo-jumbo going on in this volume, but I found it so compelling as to burn through the book in one evening.

Duffield’s large, expansive panels and detailed approach to the art has served this series well from the beginning.  Now, he stars to really play with the colouring, giving much of this volume a psychedelic feel.  I believe that the sixth volume has the end of the series – I’m going to have to track down a copy quickly.

Veils

Written by Pat McGreal
Art by Stephen John Phillips, Rebecca Guay, and José Villarrubia

So, in a week where most internet comics discussion has been about how women are portrayed, I thought it might be interesting to read this little discussed graphic novel from 1999 – a time where Vertigo was much more experimental, rampant Islamophobia hadn’t engulfed the Western world, and women in comics, well actually, they were generally pretty ridiculous then too.

Veils is a strange book no matter how you look at it.  It’s a blend of fumetti (photo comic) and traditional, drawn material, with some digital effects thrown in for good measure.  It tells two stories.  The photographed one is about Vivian Pearse-Packard, the wife of the son of an ambassador or diplomat to the court of a Sultan.  It’s not clear where or when this is taking place – it’s vaguely set in Victorian times, at the height of the British Empire.  Vivian and her new husband, whom it’s clear she doesn’t think much of, are new to the Sultan’s lands, and are invited to the Seraglio to meet with the Sadrazam – the Sultan’s chief diplomat.  It’s not seemly for Vivian to attend this meeting, so she is sent into the harem, where she passes time with Pakize, a woman who can speak English.

Pakize begins to tell her the story of Rosalind, another British woman who, in another time, became a member of a former Sultan’s harem, eventually rising to the spot of his favourite.  As Rosalind’s story is spread over Vivian’s visits, the two tales take on a number of parallels.  Vivian’s interest in, or adoption of, Eastern ways lead to conflict in her own household.

The story, by the writer of the excellent Chiaroscuro, is very good, but it is the visual effects that suck the reader into the tale.  The photographs, by Stephen John Phillps, with digital effects by José Villarubia, work very well at evoking the exotic settings and people of this book.  Rosalind’s story is drawn by Rebecca Guay, who I wish hadn’t departed from comics for other realms of art.  Her work is lush and lovely, reminding me of Michael Zulli and Charles Vess, with a splash of P. Craig Russell.

It’s refreshing to read a book so centred on women outside of their elements, who learn to exert their authority and inner strength.  It’s sad that the themes are almost as rare as North American photo-graphic novels.

Album of the Week:

Phonte – Charity Starts At Home

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