The Weekly Round-Up #99 With Spaceman, Abe Sapien, Captain Swing, DMZ, Walking Dead & More

I usually see myself as a comics fan that cares more about the writing than the art, but man, this was a good week for exceptionally pretty Marvel comics.  They have built up a great stable of artists that don’t fit the traditional superhero mold, but who are doing some wonderful things.  Just this week, Marvel published books by David Aja, Marcos Martin, Chris Bachalo, Chris Samnee, and Emma Rios.  How awesome is that?

Best Comic of the Week:

Spaceman #1

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

It’s been a while since 100 Bullets ended.  I only read the book in trade a while after it finished, and still, after reading this comic, I realize I have missed seeing Azzarello and Risso work together.  Sure, there was the Batman Flashpoint mini-series that they did this last summer, but that was more of an appetizer than anything else.  Now, they’ve returned to Vertigo, where they belong, with Spaceman, a nine-part series.

Spaceman is about Orson, a genetically engineered person who was designed and built to work on Mars.  He may have actually gone there – it’s not clear if the scenes we see are dreams or actual flashbacks, but now he’s living in a ruined post-apocalyptic city, salvaging metal from the flooded areas of the region.

Azzarello and Risso work remarkably well at setting up the world where Orson lives.  We get a strong sense of the dingy settings he lives in, and that the rich live very differently.  We get a glimpse at some of the technology that makes such dismal living more bearable, such as a form of VR sex and designer drugs, and also of the difficulty of salvaging, especially as the dollar is frequently devalued.

Azzarello has crafted a whole new set of slang for his people to speak, which is easy to understand, and has its roots in current youth slang (true say).  I don’t normally buy into that Clockwork Orange, Riddley Walker kind of thing (so annoying), but it works here.  Risso pulls out all the stops in terms of the visuals for this series, and it’s a gorgeously ugly piece of work.

In terms of plot, this issue works at slowly introducing everyone, but we do learn through media reports that a contestant on a reality cast (show) where the winner gets to be adopted by Marc and April (read Brad and Angelina) has been abducted.  It seems everyone watches the show, but it also seems that Orson finds her, alive, while working a salvage.

It looks like this series is going to be a thriller about Orson and this child, but I hope that Azzarello and Risso take some time to explore this fascinating world they’ve invented.  This is a great debut issue, and the fact that it’s only a dollar means that if you haven’t bought it, you really need to check it out.  There is no excuse at that price.

Other Notable Comics:

Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest #2

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by James Harren

I’d felt that the first issue of this two-parter was a little too familiar.  So many Hellboy, and Hellboy-related comics involve creepy old houses that have something creepy living in the basement (and really – how often do people fall through floors in these comics?), and this just felt like more of the same, but featuring Abe Sapien instead of HB.  It was competent, but it didn’t stand out.

I feel like this issue makes up for that somewhat, because of the addition to two things: hallucinations, and Hellboy.

We learn that Abe has been infected with some sort of demonic hallucinogenic compound, and so things get a little psychedelic (although not ever to the extent of Dave Johnson’s brilliant cover).  It adds a nice touch to the story, and makes it visually very interesting.  James Harren handles this stuff very nicely.

The other welcome element is Hellboy himself.  It’s become so rare to see him interacting with characters with whom he has a long-standing relationship, and that’s a shame.  The camaraderie between him and Abe was a key part of the earlier stories, although for some reason, most flashback stories have him working solo missions for the Bureau.  I’d like to see more like this, even though the two characters only had a couple of panels together.

Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #4

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Raulo Caceres

Really, I don’t think I can continue to support comics like this.  Captain Swing, a four-issue mini-series, started in February 2010.  The second issue came out in July 2010, the third, March 2011, and now the series finishes at the end of October 2011.  With so much time between issues, along with the requisite difficulty of remembering what was happening, comes an expectation of greatness.  I mean, if a writer and artist have to spend seven months on a 22 (or so) page comic, it should be pretty awesome, right?

Instead, this falls pretty flat.  Granted, I don’t really remember what was going on, and I definitely don’t much care about this cop who is now using Captain Swing’s electrical flying pirate ship to wreck justice on the magistrate that had someone shoot up Cindery Island last issue.  Actually, at this point, I don’t care about any of it, especially the cutesy silent movie card that takes up a whole page unnecessarily.

I would never suggest that Warren Ellis has lost his touch – read his Secret Avengers and Freakangels.  I just want to suggest that if he’s going to treat his Avatar mini-series as complete afterthoughts, to be worked on whenever and half-assedly, he should not expect me to keep paying $4 per issue for it.

I’ll just wait for the trade to show up at a used bookstore.  If I’m waiting seven months between issues, then I can easily wait another year for the trade…

DMZ #70

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

‘The Five Nations of New York’ continues the long goodbye for this long-running series, as this month Matty Roth travels to the Empire State Building, chats with Zee some, and gets arrested.

We learned a couple of years ago that the Empire State Building had become the home to a ‘death cult’ of first responders, who were ultimately responsible for Matty’s time in the DMZ starting the way that it did.  Death cults don’t react well to change, and so it’s kind of interesting to see what’s going on in the building in the wake of peace breaking out.  In a lot of ways, this seems like a very anti-climactic last visit for Matty to make, but the heart of this issue lies with Matty’s time with Zee.

They talk about just how Zee managed to maintain her sanity through the years of strife and turmoil in the DMZ.  She’s always been the most interesting character in this series, so it’s nice to be able to see things from her perspective one last time.  I’m not sure how Wood is going to finish things off next month, but I look forward to finding out.

The Infinite Horizon #5

Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Phil Noto

You know, when a comic hasn’t been published since the spring of 2009, it’s not a bad idea to include a recap page at the front.  I mean, Marvel does this even on comics that come out every second week (of which they publish way too many), yet with this book, which I didn’t expect to ever see again, we are tossed back into the story with no real reminders as to what was going on.

The thing is, that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the comic in the least.  The Infinite Horizon is a reinterpretation of the Odyssey, yet set in the near future.  Our Odysseus remains unnamed, and he has been working his way home after finishing his time in some war on foreign soil.  Things have more or less broken down around the world – there doesn’t seem to be any kind of reliable air transport, communication is almost non-existent, and the government of the United States has failed.  Our hero’s contingent of soldiers has been whittled away through their journey, and when this issue begins, our hero is left with two women in a village not far from the sea.

He chooses to answer the call of some sirens, who are luring people to the shore with the promise of a journey on a large tanker being retrofitted into a modern ark.  The problem is that the people in charge are only looking for slaves.  When our hero meets up with his friend Fortunato, who I vaguely remember as having gone ahead while our man recovered from some injuries, they decide to take control of the tanker, and the oil rig that guards it.

This is a great comic.  I have enjoyed it from the start (however many years ago that was), and found that once again, it balances suspense and action with its classical origins very nicely.  Duggan (who I remain unfamiliar with) writes this book very well, but the star of the show is Phil Noto, who makes it look wonderful.

Apparently the next issue is scheduled to come out in November, and I believe that it’s really going to happen.  There is no sense in recommending this comic to new readers now, but I do encourage people to pick up the trade.  Reading this gives me hope that I may soon be able to read more Pirates of Coney Island, Gutsville, and The Great Unknown.  Even one of them would be great.

The Li’l Depressed Boy #7

Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Sina Grace

While reading this comic, I find that I always enjoy it.  Almost immediately after I’ve closed the book though, I find it difficult to explain the spell it puts me under.  Really, almost nothing happens in this comic.  LDB and his friend drive, it rains, LDB naps, they go to a concert.  Along the way, they talk about LDB’s issue with Jazz (should he stay ‘just friends’ or give up on her altogether?), and LDB thanks Drew for being his friend.

This comic is the poster boy for decompressed story telling, yet there is such a sweetness and charm to the comic, that I don’t really care.  Sina Grace’s art is improving with every issue, and the little character moments that make up this comic are enjoyable.

Struble really pushes a lot of bands I’ve never heard of, and I wonder what it says about me that I find I lack the motivation to look up a group like Andrew Jackson Jihad online, even though the lyrics shown here are pretty nice.

Great cover by Steve Rolston.  I love the way these guys are getting a number of indie artists to draw covers for them (previous contributors have been Rob Guillory and Charlie Adlard).  I’d love to see a Brandon Graham, Marian Churchland, or James Stokoe cover for this book.

The Red Wing #4

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

Now this was a cool mini-series.  Jonathan Hickman excels at taking gigantic, complex ideas, and playing around with them in his comics, sometimes crafting equally gigantic, complex storylines (most of his Marvel work falls into that category), although sometimes he instead delivers a tightly focused little series, like he has with The Red Wing.

In this futuristic comic, the world is being attacked by a mysterious force that comes from the future.  Their goal is to strip different eras of time bare of all resources, and so the good guys have created fighter vessels that can move through time as well as space.  Picture a cross between Time Bandits and Battlestar Galactica, and you start to understand the background here.

At the same time, as with many a good science fiction story, there is a family tied to the centre of things.  Dom’s father was a TAC pilot who was lost when Dom was a small child.  This spurred him to become a pilot himself, and the hero of the series.  As it turns out, his father wasn’t lost, and instead hung out with some ancient Aztec or Inca for a while, before becoming a prisoner of the leader of the enemy forces.  Dom, meanwhile in the future, has a hard time becoming the pilot he wants to be, and keeps turning to his General for support.

This issue finishes the story of the father, and reveals a little more about their family, in a very Star Wars way.  It’s a great issue for action, and the emotional scenes are handled nicely.  I don’t know that I fully follow all of the future stuff – time travel and paradoxes make my head hurt, but I did appreciate the manner in which Hickman told his story, and I admire its scope.  This book is a good companion to Hickman’s superior Pax Romana, which is about a group of people moving back in time to guide human development.

I want to close this review by commenting on how bummed out I was to learn this week that Hickman’s one-shot, Feel Better Now, which he is drawing and which was supposed to come out this month, has been cancelled and will be solicited later as an original graphic novel.  I was looking forward to seeing Hickman draw something again.

Scalped #53

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

This is a big week for writer Jason Aaron, as both his Wolverine & The X-Men and Incredible Hulk debut, but this is the book that deserves the attention.  Without Scalped, and, I assume, his brilliant The Other Side, Aaron would not have broken into the big time at Marvel.  Also, though, without Scalped, I wouldn’t have spent the last four plus years really digging the story potential of a small, run-down reservation in Nebraska.

Scalped is nearing its end, but it still has plenty of chances to surprise.  I never would have thought that Sheriff Karnow would become one of my favourite characters, but as Aaron has him continue on his journey from lazy blowhard to actual lawman, I find myself liking the guy more and more.  I loved his confrontation with Agent Nitz this issue, as he starts his own one-man crusade to take down Lincoln Red Crow and his organization.

The real surprise of this issue though is that he arrests Shunka, Lincoln’s right-hand man, sociopath, and closeted homosexual.  Shunka’s become pretty complex over the last year, and his motivations in this issue (especially in resolving a scene I don’t want to spoil) are just as complicated.  Less gray are Dash Bad Horse’s motivations, as he continues his hunt for justice.

There are a lot of threads converging in this book now, and it is making me appreciate the character work we’ve seen so far in this series.  It’s always one of the best books month in and month out.  Also, how gorgeous and cool is Jock’s cover?

Screamland #5

Written by Harold Sipe and Christopher Sebela
Art by Lee Leslie

I was under the impression that Screamland was going to be an on-going series now, but seeing as there haven’t been any issues solicited past this one, I suppose that it’s done.  Perhaps sales weren’t what the creators were hoping for, or maybe the book is simply on hiatus for a while and I’m jumping to conclusions.

Screamland is a fun sitcom-like comic starring old movie monsters and other TV celebrities of the 1970s who are struggling to remain relevant in the era of CGI and sparkly emo vampires.  This arc has been built around Carl London (the Wolfman) and Travis Walters (who is basically the guy who played Scotty on Star Trek) trying to solve the murder of the Invisible Man at a fantasy convention, and trying to recover the film reel for Phantasmagorgya, an orgy film that was made one night which the Invisible Man has threatened to reveal.

This final issue wraps up the whole affair quite nicely, and gives Carl and Travis a chance to reassess their friendship, as well as their relationships with all the other monsters and creatures they insulted through the last four issues.  It’s a fun comic, and is worth checking out.  I think I preferred the art in the first arc a couple of years back, but still, this is pretty decent stuff.

The Sixth Gun #16

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

As much as I enjoy The Sixth Gun, I’m starting to feel like this arc is dragging a little too much.  Drake Sinclair, the main character of this comic, has been missing for a few months now, and without him, things are kind of grinding to a halt, as the supporting characters have a few conversations with important people from their pasts.

Becky Montcrief, who is the owner of the titular sixth gun has a strange chat with her stepfather.  He’s not a spirit, it’s more like he’s speaking to her through time, and gives her a few pointed warnings about how to handle the gun, and who she can trust (basically no one).

Last issue, we saw Gord Cantrell return to the plantation where he grew up, and interact with a number of spirits who seem to inhabit the place, including the ghosts of his family.  Now, we as an audience learn how his family died in the first place, as Gord learns that he could bring them back.

All of the things that happened in this issue are important, and I imagine will be revisited time and again in the issues to come.  Like many a series in the middle of an arc, it feels like it’s grinding along and could use a bit of oil, but this is still one of the better comics on the stands.

The Walking Dead #90

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

When I picked up the seventh issue of this comic (my first) so many years ago, I never would have guessed what an entertainment juggernaut the whole thing would become.  The second season of the TV show has begun (and is a huge improvement over the ending of the first), a novel has been released chronicling the adventures of The Governor, and the comic continues to enjoy a sales increase month after month.  Actually, I wonder if that’s not a record – so few comics see an increase beyond special issues, let alone a sustained increase.

Anyway, at the centre of all of this media domination is the comic, and it’s moving along as strongly as ever, although it’s been getting pretty talky lately.  This issue is a big one for speeches, as Rick handles the people that have been fomenting revolt in the community, and attacked Glenn last issue, before he moves on to have long chats with Carl and Andrea.  Meanwhile, Maggie’s showing signs of cracking again, and Carl comes home to recover from his injuries.

As always, there’s a surprise ending, which I saw coming somewhere around the middle of the last issue.  It feels a little like it’s breaking one of the last taboos in this comic, and I’m not sure I like what is going on.  I’m hoping that Kirkman is going to handle this situation properly.  You’ll note that I’m not saying a word about what it is – I wouldn’t want to spoil things for anyone.

Also, interestingly, there is not a single roamer or other zombie in this issue.  Usually that means that an attack is coming…

Quick Takes:

All Star Western #2 – Palmiotti and Gray have dispensed with the serial killer aspect of this story pretty quickly, instead choosing to have Jonah Hex and Dr. Arkham deal with the Church of Crime as it tries to establish itself in 19th century Gotham.  For a while there, I thought the mysterious skull-ringed cabal was going to have something to do with the Court of Owls currently being featured in Batman, which would have been an amazing example of New 52 synergy, but it’s not to be.  Moritat’s art is great in this comic, but I don’t know why we needed 7 splash pages in a 20 page story.  It seemed excessive.  If they can’t make this story fit a six issue trade, they should just do a couple of one-offs later, rather than stretch things out to this extent.  The back-up story features El Diablo, and is drawn by Jordi Bernet, so my desire for more of the last run of Jonah Hex is sated.

Annihilators #2 – This kind of comic basically writes itself – the Avengers (a weird mash-up of the three teams) show up to stop the Annihilators from wrecking a Universal Church of Truth facility that looks like a small community, and for unclear reasons, Quasar, the only Annihilator to serve on the Avengers, is shuffled out of sight.  Still, for what it is, this is a fun read, and now that the fighting between teams is over, we can move on with the story.

Avengers Academy #20 – Christos Gage gives us a Fear Itself epilogue issue that feels like a season finale.  One of the kids and two of the teachers leave the cast, but we are also given a quick look at the new headquarters and new students.  This is a consistently strong book, so shaking up the cast is not some act of storytelling desperation, and should be successful.  If I had to look for a problem with this issue, it would be in the way that the story shifts from Chicago to Avengers Mansion with no explanation.

Butcher Baker the Righteous Maker #7 – I’m going to be honest – I didn’t feel this issue.  Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston’s series has been a wild ride of over the top characters and situations, but with this issue, which features Butcher being tortured by Jihad Jones while Arnie Willard drives the Liberty Belle to the scene all felt a little flat to me.  I also think I’m reaching my saturation point for over-sized male nudity too…  On the plus side, this book is worth buying for Joe Casey’s essays in the back.  This month, he writes about the effect the movie The Warriors had on his pre-teen self, and about his usual letterer, Rus Wooton.

Captain America & Bucky #623 – As much as I’m enjoying this walk through the Second World War (I’m a huge Invaders fan), I don’t know if I like the idea of Bucky being the first American to discover the Nazi Concentration Camps, and their purpose, months before the camps were actually liberated.  It seems like Brubaker and Andreyko are purposely aiming for manufactured emotional reactions.  Still, Chris Samnee’s art is great – the camp scenes are very powerful and haunting.

Daredevil #5 – This new Daredevil series is terrific.  It feels like an old-school superhero comic, yet is also very modern in its execution.  Marcos Martin’s art is brilliant, as DD figures out why people are trying to kill his blind client, and later ends up on a yacht with their next target.  Really good stuff.

FF #11 – Hickman’s done a solid job of building up a number of plots over the last couple of years to the point we’re at now, where a huge number of Marvel’s heroes are going to help the FF deal with the Kree, Inhumans, and Annihilation Wave all at once.  It’s exciting, and has great art from Barry Kitson, but also makes time for a few quiet moments.  Of course, the story is going to be continued in Fantastic Four #600, because it’s only been a little while since Marvel canceled that title, and we all know how important it is for them to return things to the way they were in less than a year of making a change.

Flash #2 – This series is one of the more delightful surprises of the New 52.  I knew it would be pretty, but didn’t know that Francis Manapul would so effectively use the writing (done with Brian Buccellato, who also colours the book) to set up such visually cool and inventive situations.  There’s a scene where the Flash, using the Speed Force to augment his mental processing speed, can ‘see’ events before they happen, and sets up a little scenario to stop a bank robber and save a kid.  It looks great.  There are some bumps in the story – perhaps setting up just who and what Mercury Labs is would have been a good idea – but overall, this is an inventive and enjoyable comic, as well as the second best looking book (after Batwoman) at DC.

Fury of Firestorm #2 – When the first issue of this series came out, I thought it was just about the weakest of the New 52 that I read.  Since that issue came out, we have learned that Gail Simone has left the book, which in my mind helps her preserve her status as one of the best DC writers currently working.  But, that also means that this title is probably going to get worse, which may very well be impossible.  This issue is full of strange inconsistencies (why are the cops finding guns in Ronnie’s bedroom?  who would have had time to plant them?), horrible dialogue, and really annoying characters (a government black ops team called the Hyenas, who all giggle while they work?  really?).  This book is an embarrassment.  I only ever preordered it on the strength of Simone’s name, and unfortunately had ordered this copy too.  I won’t be back for the third.

Guarding The Globe #6 – So this book is ten months late, and it doesn’t even have the original artist on it any more?  I guess we know the delays weren’t Ransom Getty’s fault, especially since DC had him pinch hit on Suicide Squad.  This is an okay ending to the series, but it has way too many characters knocking around, making it hard to follow, or even care about any of them.  I think it’s funny that there is discussion of this title becoming an on-going in the letters page.  Would it come out four times a year?

Incredible Hulk #1 – I hadn’t intended on picking this up, but the store I shop at was offering it at a good price alongside Wolverine and the X-Men, so I thought I’d give it a try.  It’s not all that interesting.  Hulk is hanging out under the Earth with Moloids, in a way that reminded me of Planet Hulk, while Banner’s gone all Island of Dr. Moreau.  Hulk is attacked by the rolling force shield droids from the crappy Star Wars movies, which somehow leads to him being recruited by some strange arm of the American military (it’s time to bring SHIELD back, just for simplicity’s sake).  Nothing makes much sense here, the art is scratchy and kind of dull, and Hulk looks more like Skaar than himself.  I don’t see how this series is going to reconcile itself with Hulk’s upcoming slot in the new Defenders book.

I, Vampire #2 – I still hold out hopes for this series (Fialkov is such a good writer usually), but I’m feeling a little unsure.  The whole thing feels just a little too emo, as Mary, Queen of Blood sets up a huge fight with her former lover Andrew Bennett, knowing that she can’t kill him, with the purpose of making all other vampires angry with him.  There’s a lot of overwrought narration, and pretty yet static Jae Lee-inspired art.  I’ll give this a couple more issues, based on Fialkov’s name alone, but I’m not sure that I’ll include this in my next Previews pre-order.

Journey into Mystery #630 – As if we couldn’t drag Fear Itself out any longer, we’re treated to/forced to endure Volstagg’s re-telling of the less-than-epic epic to his children, with him cast as the hero.  On the plus side, it doesn’t take seven issues and 400 tie-ins.  I did like the first half of this issue though, and hope that Kieron Gillen can find more, non-Fear Itself stuff for Loki to do.

Justice League Dark #2 – Okay, I don’t have a clue what’s going on in this comic.  For a book that is supposedly mostly starring characters like Shade and Hellblazer, it seems that the main protagonist is Dove, despite the fact that she was never put on the cover and didn’t appear in the first issue.  I guess she’s going out with Deadman, which is really kind of interesting, but not what I expected, especially seeing as they each have their own comic right now.  Am I to assume that this relationship is happening there?  For a second issue of a new series that is part of a whole new, new-reader friendly continuity, I’m way more lost than I should be.  Lost enough to not be able to find my back for #3, that’s for sure (uninterested too).

New Mutants #32 – At least Fear Itself is over.  Hopefully, this book will return to the ‘new’ direction it was supposed to be going in; of course, the next issue has to have the team deal with the events of Schism.  Maybe one day, this comic will get to be its own comic again, and not have to follow up on some sort of tie-in.  Probably just in time for the next event to start…

Planet of the Apes #7 – I’m still pretty surprised by how great this series is.  In this issue, Alaya amends the Lawgiver’s scrolls to include some words that would be familiar to anyone who has seen the original movie, while humans and apes alike move ever closer to large-scale conflict.  Carlos Magno is doing some very impressive work with the art on this book.

Secret Avengers #18 – Another brilliant issue from Warren Ellis with art by David Aja and Raul Allen.  Commander Rogers, Sharon Carter, and Shang-Chi fight the Shadow Council in a space station designed by MC Escher in a story that owes a few things to Ellis’s Anna Mercury series, but which still works remarkably well in a one-off format.  Ellis has really tapped into the concept of the Secret Avengers, making Rogers uncomfortable with his role, while handling bizarre threats.  I would love to read a Shang-Chi comic from Ellis and Aja, or, to be honest, any monthly comic by Aja.  His art is fantastic.

Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger #3 – I started to suspect, during the second issue of this three-part mini, that Nick Spencer had perhaps been too ambitious in setting up his plot, and this issue confirms that.  There’s a lot that happens, and I found it more than a little confusing (partly because I don’t really remember what happened in the 2nd issue; I usually reread last month’s books in the week before a new one comes out, but I missed this).  Anyway, with Emma Rios drawing it, I don’t care a whole lot about the story.  I kind of hope that Spencer and Rios get the chance to return to these characters, as they’ve left them in an interesting predicament that I can see another creator ignoring.  Of course, the associate editor of this title got canned last week, so it probably won’t be going anywhere.

Twenty-Seven: Second Set #2 – Garland has become all sorts of famous again after having revealed the magic device in his chest to the world, and that means that the husband of a faded 80s one-hit wonder is out to take it away from him.  This is a fun comic.

Vault #3 – This is good in a schlocky horror movie kind of way, but sometimes that’s what you’re in the mood for.  It ended more or less as we all knew it would, and the origin of the creature is never explained, but whatever.

Venom #8 – Rick Remender strikes a nice balance between Flash Thompson’s father’s last words and the madness of Spider-Island, in this rare event tie-in – it actually promotes the book to presumed new readers, furthers the over-all plot of the event, and makes sense.  If only the story came to a decent conclusion before tying back into the event; I’m not reading Amazing Spider-Man these days.

Wolverine and the X-Men #1 – I’m a little surprised to see that Logan’s X-book is being played for laughs, but it feels like Jason Aaron is going for a Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League feel, which is kind of amusing, but not a good fit for a lot of these characters.  Bachalo is always good, but I feel his wackier influences in the little Nightcrawler demon things running around, and his designs for the school are very visually confusing.  Also, the points raised by the people there to inspect the school are all very valid – I don’t understand how after the events of the last few years, the students would be able to return to a more conventional school setting to be taught by people who have been comrades in arms, and aren’t much older.  I’m going to want a little more substance to this going forward.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #672

Astonishing X-Men #43

Avengers Solo #1

Incorruptible #23

Mighty Thor #7

Stitched #1

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #3

Bargain Comics:

Incredible Hulks #634 – This final arc, wrapping up Greg Pak’s long (and often good) run on the title is just a little too noisy, with its wishing wells and rogues gallery of loser Hulk villains, to have any real heart in it.

Spider-Island: The Avengers #1 – I didn’t expect much from this one-shot, but kind of enjoyed the Giffen/DeMatteis style story featuring Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, Jessica Jones, and Frog-Man, as they fight Flag Smasher and ULTIMATUM while all the Spider-Island madness goes on all around them.  This might be a good place to admit that I love the ULTIMATUM outfits – they are perhaps one of my favourite strange super-villain organizations in comics.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Grendel: Devil’s Reign

Written by Matt Wagner
Art by Tim Sale

I never read the Comico run of Grendel while it was being published.  My first exposure to the character was in the first Dark Horse series, Grendel: War Child, which features an android Grendel who is tasked with keeping Jupiter Assante, the child of the great Grendel-Khan, safe from a number of different threats.  I loved the series.  It was beautifully drawn (by Pat McEown – where is he now?), and was set in an interesting world.

It spurred me on to pick up some of the back issues of the series, but I somehow never read the story of Orion Assante, the Grendel-Khan, who united the world under his military leadership.  At least, until now.

This trade, which collects the last seven issues of the Comico title (later reprinted under its current name by Dark Horse), splits each chapter into two parts.  The first part is written as a chronicle of the ascension of Orion I, in a tight eight-panel grid, of which many panels are simply prose.  This part of the book follows Orion from being the leader of a small paramilitary force being used to track down and destroy victims of a vampire plague through the machinations that make him the leader of the entire world.  This part of the book is a study in realpolitik as it is applied to a future society, and it’s both very interesting and a little exhaustive.

The other part of the book follows the story of the vampires, who have been imprisoned in the VEGAS sector of Calmerica.  For a while, the vampires are allowed to run their casino for normal people, but as they start to disappear, the Grendel-Khan imposes more and more restrictions on them.  These scenes are drawn in a more traditional comics style.

Tim Sale uses the two sections of the book to great effect, drawing both tiny little panels full of people in the first section, and creepy subterranean dwellings in the second.  Reading this book reminds me of how much I like Sale’s art, and how pleased I would be to see him return to drawing comics.

I think it’s strange that, whenever Matt Wagner returns to Grendel, he always tells us more stories of the character’s earliest incarnation, Hunter Rose.  What happened in that series later on was so much more interesting, and I would rather see him mine some of his later ideas, or, even better, continue the story with all new material.

Market Day

by James Sturm

Despite being a very quick read, Market Dayis an impressive example of a literary graphic novel.  Mendleman is an anxious rug weaver, living somewhere in Eastern Europe around the turn of the twentieth century.  He has a baby on the way, and finds himself worrying about all the things that first time fathers worry about.  Market Day comes around, and because of her advanced pregnancy, Mendleman’s wife stays home, forcing him to make the lengthy journey on his own.

When arriving at the market, Mendleman meets up with some of his fellow artisans, and they stop in at A. Finkler & Son, the store that always purchased their wares.  The problem is that the store has changed ownership, and where its previous proprietor only bought the best goods, and paid top dollar, the current shopkeeper is more interested in selling cheaply made goods for a lower price.

Sturm captures the beginnings of the industrial age, and the shift it caused in the production and value of many items, without ever openly discussing it.  One also feels that this book is as much about our own modern era, where production has all but abandoned North America for cheaper, shoddier places like China.  Later, Mendelman travels to an emporium in another town, chasing rumors of better prices, only to find himself lost in what was the Wal-Mart of its day, where market pressures forced down the prices of even high-end goods.

This is a very intelligent book, beautifully illustrated with expansive panels that evoke the growing hustle and bustle of the towns while preserving the tranquility of the countryside.  I enjoyed this book, although I think I would have been pretty displeased had I spent the cover price ($22-24, depending on your country) for a story that is so short.  Does that make me the equivalent of the guy who took over A. Finkler’s store?  Probably.

Album of the Week:

Tom Waits – Bad As Me

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