The Weekly Round-Up #98 With BPRD, All Nighter, DHP, Fables, Farscape, ’68 & More

It was an interesting week, with lots of series or storylines ending.  Some were handled very well (Farscape, Spontaneous, All Nighter), while others weren’t, although to be fair, those (Fear Itself, Uncanny X-Men) were really just imposed endings as preludes to something else that is coming later.  Oh – I’m not doing a ‘Were Money No Object’ column this week – there’s nothing coming out I wanted to discuss, and work is just too busy this week.

Best Comic of the Week:

BPRD Hell on Earth – Russia #2

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Tyler Crook

Putting Dave Johnson on covers for this title and the Abe Sapien mini-series was really a very good idea.  I’ve missed his cover work since he stopped working on Unknown Soldier a while ago; there is just about no one better at covers than him in the business.

This Russia arc is really pretty cool.  It’s always a good idea to explore counterparts of characters in other nations, and it’s a comics tradition to have those counterparts be Russian, so even though the Cold War is long over, this concept works here.

As it turns out, the Russian BPRD, called the SSS, is run by a monster, Iosif, who we last saw in the Abe Sapien Abyssal Plain mini-series (which I know I read, but can’t really remember at the moment).  We learn why he needs the Bureau’s help, which is pretty specific to Johann’s talent set.  Johann’s been acting very weird for a while now, so it’s good to see him returning to his usual function.  I would have liked for there to have been at least one scene devoted to what’s going on with Abe though.

Crook’s art is continuing to impress me.  There is a full-page spread where Johann meets the person at the centre of this mission, which is very nice looking.  The person in chains looks like he could have been drawn by Bá or Moon, which is the highest praise possible from me these days.

Other Notable Comics:

All Nighter #5

by David Hahn

All Nighter has been a difficult series to pin down.  My first take on it was that it was a slacker comic, in the vein of books like Scott Pilgrim and Pounded, but then David Hahn kept introducing other elements to the story that, while they worked, kept causing me to reassess what this comic was supposed to be about.

For a while, it seemed like a romance story, as Kit became ever closer to her housemates boyfriend, and spurned her previous relationship with Dwayne, who is a thief.  Then it seemed like the comic was more about Kit’s relationship with Marta, the mousy new housemate who seemed to be fixating on her.  Then, with the fourth issue, Martha disappeared, and suddenly, the series finished with the group of friends searching for her.

This last issue is easily the strongest in the series, as Hahn does some interesting things, both with the plot and the art.  I love how three pages use a parallel format to explain just how Martha’s case went from being a media story to a hipster trend.  Later, as the characters track her down, the story takes a final, tragic turn that was, while not unexpected, still pretty emotionally powerful.

Hahn is a very talented artist, and I’d be happy to read another comic he writes and draws on his own.  This series will make a nice trade – check it out.

Dark Horse Presents #5

Written by Eric Powell, Chuck Brown, Felipe Melo, Robert Love, David Walker, Peter Hogan, Steve Niles, Howard Chaykin, Andi Watson, Carla Speed McNeil, and Neil Adams
Art by Eric Powell, Sanford Greene, Juan Cavia, Robert Love, Steve Parkhouse, Christopher Mitten, Howard Chaykin, Andi Watson, Carla Speed McNeil, and Neil Adams

Let’s number-crunch for a moment.  This book has 80 pages of comics, divided into ten stories, for $7.99.  In contrast, this week’s issue of Avengers had 20 pages of story, of which 30% were single- or double-splash pages, for $3.99.  The value, even when subtracting stories that I don’t like, is plain to see.

This issue begins with a great little one-shot story by Eric Powell about a robot who is designed to explore a distant planet which could be the best hope for humanity’s survival.  The robot is made a little too human though, and so while traveling for hundreds of years, he begins to indulge in the gifts mankind gave him – weapons, religion, and porn.  My hope is that Dark Horse will continue to pepper this series with more of these one-off gems.  There is another in here, by Andi Watson, but I didn’t like it very much.  I have no problem with young adult comics; they just don’t fit very well in a series like this, the rest of which is pretty mature.

I loved the new chapter of Finder, which is no great surprise really.  In it, Jaeger starts delivering items from his courier company’s dead letter office, a concept that reminds me of reading Clive Barker in high school and getting swept up in the idea of being able to read undeliverable mail.

I also enjoyed the latest chapters of Number 13, Resident Alien, and even Howard Chaykin’s story, which has grown on me.  The werewolf private eye story is interesting too, if a little strange in its mixture of humour with pretty depressing story matter.

I still don’t care for Rotten Apple, which I think is over now, and the Criminal Macabre story still does nothing for me.  Neal Adams’s Blood remains one of the worst comics I’ve ever read.  Is anyone enjoying it?

Fables #110

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and Mark Buckingham

Generally speaking, I don’t like cute.  Sure, I love books like Chew, which are built around their own in-jokey cute-ness, but that’s more of an exception than the rule.  I especially don’t like it when the cute is mixed with the more serious.  Star Wars’s Ewoks and droids, the hobbits in Lord of the Rings; I hate them all.

Why do I mention this?  Because Willingham has moved things squrely into cute-land in Fables, and it’s affecting my enjoyment of the book.  This issue is split between two plot-lines (with another Nurse Spratt interlude) – the adventures of Bufkin in Oz, and the trials of Bigby and Snow White’s cubs in the land of the north winds.

The Bufkin stuff is getting to be annoying.  A giant who eats people for the Emperor of Oz, and who speaks like a cross between a recent immigrant and a child with a developmental delay joins Bufkin’s little rebellion, and I quickly found myself skipping over dialogue.

The plot concerning the search for a replacement for the North Wind is more interesting, mostly because we aren’t subjected to much of the cubs this issue, instead learning about the moral obligations of the other cardinal winds, one of whom looks like he belongs in Elfquest.

Usually I love Fables, but this arc feels a little tired.  Here’s hoping it picks back up again soon, and stays away from light-hearted cuteness.

Farscape #24

Written by Rockne S. O’Bannon and Keith RA DeCandido
Art by Will Sliney

I came late to Farscape, discovering the show Sunday afternoons on a cable station a few years back, but thanks to the twin magics of DVD and EBay, I quickly acquired all four seasons and the Peacekeeper Wars mini-series that wrapped the story up.  I really grew to love the characters on this show, a diverse group of escaped convicts from different species, and the crazy and improbable situations they kept finding themselves in.  The series was a lot of fun, and had a lot of heart.

When I’d heard that Boom Comics was starting up a series of mini-series, co-written (or at least co-plotted) by the series’s creator, I knew I’d be interested.  Like many a licensed comic, the earliest issues suffered from very stiff art, but the early stories were a treat.  It was nice to see familiar characters again, and unlike the Buffy Season Eight comics, they tended to stay in character.

After the mini-series approach gave way to an on-going series (and eventual spin-off featuring Scorpius), O’Bannon and DeCandido crafted a larger narrative around the idea of a new race, the Kkore, coming through a rift in space to conquer the Uncharted Territories.  This led to a twelve-issue arc that concluded with this issue.

During this arc, just about every world was subjugated to Kkore control, Aerynn Sun became the Commandant of the Peacekeepers and commanding officer to the large coalition of survivors and resisters.  Chiana found true love (with a bounty hunter hired to kill Aerynn and John Crichton’s son), and a number of favourite characters met their final fate.

This story could never have been told on television, yet it felt, at every step, like classic Farscape.  DeCandido really nailed the different characters’ voices, and among all the space opera bombast, found time to work in some good character-driven moments.  The art, by Will Sliney, worked well for character based scenes, although I never liked the way he drew spaceships.

There are some plot threads that were left unresolved.  We never did learn why Roiin was hunting Deke, Crichton’s son, and the story potential of all worlds being left in a state of chaos is vast, but in the end, this was a satisfying run for this comic.  I would not object to the Farscape universe being revisited again some day.

’68 #4

Written by Mark Kidwell
Art by Nat Jones

It’s been a while since we last saw an issue of this series, which we are told in the back is going to be an on-going series now.  My advice to the creators is that they get their scheduling together before soliciting any more issues, aside from the two one-shots that were supposed to come out quite some time ago.

’68 is a cool comic, so a lot can be forgiven, but it’s always tough to read the end of a series a couple of months after the previous issue; I find it really difficult to remember what had happened before, and who the characters are.

This series ends as many a zombie comic must, with the principle characters facing a massive horde of the undead, and with a very high body count, which means that the on-going series will need some new characters.  Firebase Aries, somewhere in the jungles of Vietnam, is surrounded by zombies, protected only by the group of VC who are now manning the perimeter of the base, while the Americans within continue to argue and drink themselves into oblivion.  The sense of impending destruction is palpable, and the idea of having the zombies use muscle memory to attack with scythes, knives, and rifles is a cool one, as is the closing scene, which pays homage to the famous escape from the Vietnamese embassy.

’68 takes a neat idea, and presents it with good artwork, that reminds me a lot of Steve Dillon.  What more can we ask for?  Oh yah, that the book come out on time…

Spontaneous #5

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Brett Weldele

Spontaneous is one of those mini-series that comes straight out of left field.  It features a bizarre topic, characters with questionable motives, and an unconventional approach to art and colouring.  It could easily have been a total flop, but instead, it’s a very impressive comic, showing tight plotting and some very nice character work.

Melvin Reyes has dedicated his life to investigating the reason why former employees of Grumm Industries have a tendency towards spontaneous combustion, starting with his own father when Melvin was quite young.  He’s been accompanied by a young wannabe journalist with delusions of grandeur, Emily.

Now, much more has been revealed, and we learn that Melvin may not be as innocent as he seems.  There are a couple of confrontations in this issue – Melvin is pursued by the FBI, and Emily and the local sheriff face old infirm Mr. Grumm, who has more going on than anyone is aware.

This has been a very cool comic.  Weldele employs the same style of art as he used in The Light, washing just about everything out gray, green, or sepia tones, which gives the light of the fire some extra warmth and menace.  Joe Harris also wrote the recent Oni series Ghost Projekt, and so far as I’m concerned, he’s 2 for 2 with his work at that company.  I hope he something new waiting in the wings.

Xenoholics #1

Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Seth Damoose

A more cynical comics reader would think that this book was designed to appeal to readers of Chew, Image’s hit humour comic.  There are a ton of similarities – the first page shows a scene that won’t be continued until the fifth issue, the book is populated with a bizarre cast of characters, and the tone of the humour is very similar.  You can almost hear the pitch – “It’s like Chew, only with people who are addicted to being abducted by aliens.”

The reality is, similarities aside, this is a pretty good comic.  As a first issue, it does its job, setting up characters and the general situation, and both begins and ends with a hook that makes the reader curious for what comes next.  A group of people meet on a weekly basis, in an Alcoholics Anonymous style session to discuss their experiences and interest in alien abduction.  Basically, they are xenoholics – abduction addicts.  It’s a good hook for a comic, and Williamson makes sure we understand how terribly weird all the characters are, letting the art show one thing while the narration suggests another.

When crop circles (concrete circles?) appear in the middle of Times Square, the group is spurred into action.  The comic is a lot of fun, with a few genuine laughs.  Damoose’s art is not really my thing – it looks a little like an early Steve Pugh, if he drew only stumpy dwarfs – but it does fit the story rather nicely.  I’ve been pre-ordering this book, and am not sure if it’s a mini-series or an on-going, but I’m definitely on board for a few months to see how this title turns out.

Quick Takes:

Avengers #18 – I find myself enjoying this book less and less.  Not knowing quite what to do now that Fear Itself is over, Bendis revisits every event book of the past decade that he has written in needlessly large double-page splashes, retconning in some mousy SHIELD agent who likes to collect super-DNA, while all the Avengers hang around the mansion like they always do now.  Oh, and somewhere off-panel Hawkeye decides to start dressing like his Ultimate self, or perhaps in the costume he’ll have when the Avengers movie comes out.  Despite nice art from Daniel Acuna, I think I’m getting close to dropping this title.  The fact that we’re in for at least a half-year of Norman Osborn as the main villain (again) helps me make that decision.  Note:  None of the characters shown on the cover actually appear in the comic, except for Captain America.

Batman #2 – The way that Snyder’s writing this book, it’s pretty easy to imagine that the relaunch never happened, and I think that it’s because the book is not working to establish how it’s different that I’m able to just sit back and enjoy it more than I am some of the other New 52 titles.  Capullo’s art still leaves me a little cold (he’s not bad, it’s just that he’s not right for more complex stories), but Snyder’s plotting makes up for it.  I like the idea of the Court of Owls, and its status as an urban myth that seems real.

Blue Beetle #2 – There is no doubt that this is a very competently put together comic.  My problem with it is that it’s really too similar to the pre-relaunch Blue Beetle of a couple years back, but without the slower pacing and heart that made that title so memorable.  I don’t know why Bedard didn’t do more to differentiate this BB from that one, but it leaves me with a powerful sense of deja vu while reading it.  Plus, having Jaime be able to fully communicate with the scarab from the beginning takes away all the fun of watching him learn to manage his powers.  I want to support this title, but I also want to read something new, not something I’ve already read.

Fear Itself #7 – Well, that’s all over, and of course nothing will ever be the same again.  At least, not until just before the Avengers movie comes out…  Really, this whole ‘event’ has felt very flat for me from the beginning.  It took forever to figure out who the bad guy was, or what was really going on, and I never really got to the point of caring all that much.  This was designed as a vehicle for Thor and Captain America, and worked at cross-purposes, restoring the status quo for Steve Rogers, and putting Thor in a position that is sure to be corrected before the Avengers movie comes out.  In the interim, I think all this series did was to interrupt most of the other Marvel books that I enjoy for six months.  I think I’m done with event comics – if they can make me dislike work by a writer like Matt Fraction, I’m not sure who could write one I’d enjoy now.  Also, none of the previews in the back of this book got me interested in following them over to the new series.  Defenders was the only one I was really interested in, but if that whole series, which doesn’t come out until December, only exists to wrap up some of this this mess, than perhaps I’m not that interested in it.  At the end of the day, Fear Itself read more like fanfic than anything else, and that kind of stuff you can usually find on the internet for free.

Fear Itself: The Fearless #1 – Just as Brightest Day followed the Blackest Night, we need a bi-weekly mini-series to tidy up the loose ends of Fear Itself.  The premise isn’t too bad – both Valkyrie and Sin are hunting for the hammers of The Worthy, presumably while being pursued by the various heroes of the Marvel U.  Unfortunately, Mark Bagley provides most of the art, so my interest is slight.  I may pick up the rest of this series in bargain bins.

Hulk #43 – There’s a real crowd-pleasing group of guest stars in this comic, with the Secret Avengers, Arabian Knight, and Machine Man all popping by to handle an Arab insurgency being supplied with extraterrestrial weapons.  Nextwave fans may not be too impressed with the more traditional approach to Machine Man, but I think it works here.  There are some serious continuity issues, since this issue takes place after the Fear Itself tie-ins, but still has Steve Rogers in his Fighting American-style garb, but the story and art are quite good.

Invincible Iron Man #509 – I really hope the ‘To Be Concluded’ at the end of this book refers to Fear Itself #7 and 7.3, and that with the next issue, Matt Fraction can go back to making this one of Marvel’s best books, instead of simply spinning his wheels expanding scenes from FI and having Tony sponsor a Norse dwarf through A.A.  On the up side, as is often the case lately, Pepper Potts steals the book once again.

Journey into Mystery #629 – I wonder where this series will be headed now that Fear Itself is finally over.  Since Thor’s title was relaunched, this book has focused on the newly-young Loki, and how he has been spending his time during the cross-over.  He’s put together a nice little supporting cast for himself, and for the most part, this comic has been enjoyable than FI and The Mighty Thor.  Now, I have to wonder if Loki’s little squad will be broken up, or just what the young god will do with his time.  Sadly, where last issue I praised Whilce Portacio’s art for not being horrible, that apparently couldn’t last.  Loki does not look like a child here, just short and skinny, and I have no idea what happened with that one Disir when she went through the portal.  Did she lose her arm, or was she cut in two?  The art is very unclear.  Doug Braithwaite has a few pages in this issue, and they serve as a reminder of how much better this comic looked just a little while ago.

Nightwing #1 & 2 – I didn’t get to the comic store in time to grab the first issue of Nightwing, so I picked up the first two this week, and it’s not bad.  I know that Dick Grayson is a tough character to work with – writers are never quite sure what to do with him (which is why he became I cop I figure), but I think the idea of returning to his circus roots is a little tired.  I really liked his stretch as Batman (at least under writers like Morrison, Tomasi, and Snyder), but don’t really feel like this is the same character here.  He’s much more interesting with Damian in tow.  Still, this is a very competent book, and I might be intrigued enough to pick up the third issue.

Superior #6 – Where before this series felt emotionally balanced, it’s moved squarely into ‘One to Grow On’ land with this issue, and feels like it’s falling flat.  Really, this is a strange approach for Mark Millar, who’s not exactly known for tugging on the heartstrings.

Uncanny X-Men #544 – I hate when nothing happens in a comic.  There is nothing in this, the last issue of the longest consistently-numbered series at Marvel (or DC, since the relaunch), that didn’t happen in X-Men Regenesis last week, save for a lot of pompous recap by Mister Sinister.  I knew this comic would disappoint (it is traced by Greg Land after all), but I expected that at least the story would be good.  Way to go out with a whimper and whine.

Vengeance #4 – I maintain that this is the best book that Marvel is publishing right now.  It has a smart, layered plot, involving the New Teen Brigade, the Young Masters of Evil, a pre-teen emo In-Betweener, and a variety of guest villains (Loki this month), and possibly the best art of any Marvel Universe book.  Sure, it can be a little confusing in places, but I think we should be supporting comics that make us think sometimes.

Wonder Woman #1 & 2 – This is the second of the new 52 books that I missed getting in a first print, and with Wonder Woman, I’m kind of glad that I got the chance to read both of these issues in one sitting, as it makes Brian Azzarello’s take on the Amazon princess much clearer.  I like how he’s using the Greek Pantheon in this series, in a way that reminds me a little of The Endless (I think it’s because Strife in a little Goth).  Cliff Chiang’s art is brilliant – it’s up there with Batwoman as one of the best looking of the new titles.  I’ll be back for the third issue for sure.

X-Factor #226 – It finally feels like all the gears are turning on this book again, as Madrox leads his team in pursuit of the Hangman, and just about everyone is bickering with each other.  It’s the standard stuff, but it works here.  I think Leonard Kirk was a good addition to the team – perhaps it’s his professional art that makes things click so well.

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

Deadpool Max 2 #1

Fear Itself Home Front #7

John Byrne’s Cold War #1

Key of Z #1

Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1

Ultimate Comics Hawkeye #3

Wolverine #17

X-Men #17

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Sleepwalk and Other Stories

by Adrian Tomine

Having decided to get caught up on Adrian Tomine’s library, I was fortunate to find two of his collections in used bookstores this summer.  Sleepwalk collects the tales in the earliest issues of Optic Nerve, his very occasional anthology series which recently had a new issue published.

There are a lot of stories in this lovely hardcover collection, although they tend to return again and again to Tomine’s usual themes – recent breakups, broken families, and lonely young people.  I suppose it’s easy to find Tomine’s work a downer, since so many of his characters are so sad and downtrodden, but there is also plenty of beauty to this book, and not just in his wonderful art.

Characters are faced with a lot of adversity here – they miss their ex, they have trouble communicating with their family, they hate their jobs but don’t see any other prospects – but there is also an underlying belief in the resilience of people that makes each story an enjoyable read.  Tomine frequently ends his stories in odd places, and many of the just feel like they stop, instead of end.  It’s a cool technique for this type of story, and where it would be pretty annoying somewhere else, here it works.

I love Tomine’s art.  His pencils are nice and clean, for the most part, and I like his use of ziptones for shading.  This is a good book, and I can’t wait to get to Summer Blonde, which is also on my shelf waiting to be read.

Album of the Week:

Dessa – Castor, The Twin  If only every week could have a little new Doomtree!

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