The Weekly Round-Up #100 With Infinite Vacation, American Vampire, Planet of the Apes, Heart, Moriarty & More

This is my one hundredth week of reviewing comics and graphic novels on Comics Nexus.  Of course, that just means that I’m four weeks away from my 2nd anniversary with the site.  I’m a little surprised it’s been that long…

Best Comic of the Week:

The Infinite Vacation #3

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Christian Ward

It would appear that Nick Spencer and Christian Ward have returned from their own infinite vacation and have produced another issue of this intriguing and bizarre mini-series.  I’m kidding of course – Spencer has become one of the hardest working guys in comics, with about ten monthly titles at Marvel, and Morning Glories to write.

With this middle issue, we get at some of the meat of the concept behind The Infinite Vacation, wherein people are able to visit alternate worlds, and swap lives with their counterparts, as sold through an Ebay-like phone app.  It’s a cool (if mind-numbingly complicated) idea, and Spencer uses it well as a springboard to launch his story about the plot by the company that runs this to kill our protagonist, Mark, one alter at a time.

When the comic opens, our Mark is hiding at a Singularist meeting.  Singularists are people who refuse to partake in the IV, and who believe that in a world of infinite universes, there is one in which there is only one universe.  Yeah, I had to think about it a couple of times too, although the lengthy power-point presentation embedded in this comic helps to make that clear.

While Mark is hiding out, a psychotic Hannibal Lecter Mark is tracking down the other Marks that are helping him, and they get abused pretty spectacularly.  This comic has something to appeal to any number of audiences.  I can see this going over just as well with Grant Morrison fans as it will Garth Ennis’s, as splatter meets high concept.

Christian Ward’s toned down psychedelia really helps create atmosphere for this story.  I just hope we don’t have to wait another infinity for the next issue.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #20

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jordi Bernet

This current arc, The Beast in the Cave, explores the history of series villain Skinner Sweet before he became a vampire.  He and his adopted brother, Jim Book, were soldiers in the US army, chasing down some Apache in the West.  The last issue ended with Hole in the Sky, the leader of this small but determined band, climbing a mountain to speak to a spirit who lives in a cave there.

This issue opens with that character’s story.  As it turns out, she is a vampire, perhaps one of the first of the American variety, and has been living in that cave cut off from the world by her own choice.  She is of Shoshone heritage, and was turned by a pair of explorers who had taken her from her husband (who was somewhat erroneously referred to as having been from ‘the Canadas’ at a time when no one would have said that).

Anyway, Spencer takes his time to establish her character despite the fact that we’re probably not going to see much of her again after next issue.  It is that attention to detail that has made this comic so enjoyable.  I’m really enjoying this arc, which has guest art by Jordi Bernet, although I find I have to constantly remind myself that I’m not reading an issue of Jonah Hex.

Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes #1

Written by Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman
Art by Gabriel Hardman

I wrote recently about my enduring love for the original Planet of the Apes movies (well, the first two at least, it gets a little hard to love them after that), and have warmly embraced Boom’s on-going Planet of the Apes monthly comic, which is set a great deal of time before the continuity of the first movie.  Now Boom has given us this other PotA mini-series, by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko, whose Heathentown I also just read (scroll down a little).

This new series is set about 20 years before the first movie, at a time when Dr. Zaius has just ascended to the Senior Council (is it possible to ever read his name again without hearing that song from the Simpsons?).  The first case he is to hear involves a chimpanzee, Cato, who has trained his mute human pet to communicate with sign language.  He is found not guilty of heresy (for trying to elevate a human to the status of an ape), but not everyone agrees with this decision.  Cato is later visited by some gorillas who force him to drink poison, although the human escapes.

In the middle of all of this is Cato’s lawyer, Aleron, a former general and hero among the apes, although there are a few questions about his past.  The most central tenet of ape society is the Lawgiver’s statement that ‘ape shall not kill ape’, and now that it appears that that law has been broken (perhaps more than once), the stability of ape civilization is threatened.

Bechko and Hardman set up their story very well, and Hardman’s drawing style is well-suited to the apes.  He gives them a more ape-like appearance than they had in the movies, but also keeps the aesthetic of the films present.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this series.

Heart #1

Written by Blair Butler
Art by Kevin Mellon

I’ve heard of Blair Butler, but have never watched her on TV or the internet, and I’m not entirely sure of who she is or what she does, beyond knowing that it’s something to do with comics reviews or journalism.  I have even less familiarity with Kevin Mellon, and I have absolutely no interest in mixed martial arts and cage fighting.

So why buy this comic, I’m sure you’re wondering.  Basically, I like to give most Image mini-series the benefit of the doubt, because for the last number of years they have been giving us more winners than losers, and I am always on the look-out for a new favourite writer or artist, or a concept that hasn’t been done in comics before.

I don’t know if Heart is that book, but it is well-written, with some nice art.  Oren Redmond is an MMA fighter.  The book opens with one of his matches, which does not go as he expects.  From there, we flashback to Oren before he began fighting, and we learn why and how he got involved in this brutal and popular sport.

Really, that’s all that happens in this issue.  There is no hint towards some sort of larger plot, but Butler’s development of the character is such that I found myself interested in what was happening anyway, and am probably going to be back for the next issue.

Moriarty #6

Written by Daniel Corey
Art by Mike Vosburg and Anthony Diecidue

After reading the last issue for a second time, I started to wonder if I was going to stick with this comic or perhaps let it go.  Reading this issue, though, I feel much more committed to this title, which is impressing me in a number of ways.

To begin with, Daniel Corey is clearly having a good time writing the character of Professor Moriarty.  I never read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories – I tried a couple of times as a kid, but was never that interested.  With that in mind, I can’t comment as to how faithful the portrayal of Holmes’s great nemesis is, but I can say that I am enjoying this portrait of a man of great intelligence, who does not question the morality of taking expedient routes to his desires.

The story in this second story arc is concerned with the later days of British rule in Burma, the opium trade, possible clones or artificially aged children, prophetic dreams, native unrest, ballistic science, and detailed pathology.  Who couldn’t love a comic like that?

I’m not used to reading a book so dense and full of information, but this does not feel like a throwback to an earlier era of comics; instead, it’s an intelligent and nicely drawn historical thriller.  In other words, a rare type of comic in today’s market.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode #2

Written by Justin Jordan
Art by Tradd Moore

It’s very hard to read this comic without thinking about Kick-Ass, as it covers so much of the same ground (at least initially), but it also differentiates itself quite nicely.

Luther has been home from school for the last six weeks, after the incident that happened last issue with a school bully in the washroom.  Coming back, he’s concerned that his new-found abilities (about which he’s being very sanguine) and status in the school will cause him to be isolated, but seeing as he’s always been isolated, I don’t see how that could be an issue.  Quickly upon showing up, there is another confrontation with the same bully, and Petra, the girl he likes, comes on to him as strongly as possible.

The heart of this comic is the relationship between Petra and Luther.  She’s an interesting character, choosing to do what she wishes (which includes climbing a ladder to visit him in his bedroom, which would not be an easy feat considering he lives in an apartment) and leading him on to the point of total confusion.  Jordan has introduced a threat, but has not really explained it yet.

This is a fun read.  Tradd Moore’s art is still very reminiscent of what you would find in an issue of Invincible, and that works for this type of story very well.

Sweet Tooth #27

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Matt Kindt

Sweet Tooth took a turn into a different direction last month, with this three-part story ‘The Taxidermist’, which is set in the early days of the twentieth century, and features art by Matt Kindt.

Our taxidermist protagonist has traveled to Alaska to hunt for his intended brother-in-law, who went there to work with missionaries two years prior, and has disappeared.  He was revealed at the end of issue 26, and now our new narrator must travel with him to an Inuit village to try to save the life of a man in his party, for a great deal when traveling and interesting notes check out  Along the way, the brother-in-law tells his story.

Growing quickly dissatisfied with life with the missionaries, Louis ‘went native’, marrying an Inuit woman, and being accepted into the life of the villagers, at least until his thoughtless exploration of a sacred cave led to his angering the gods.

What makes this story significant is that the cave is the resting place for what looks like human skeletons, although with evidence of animal hybridization, exactly like the series’s regular main character, Gus.  We’ve known for a while that answers to Gus’s condition, and possibly the plagued that has affected the future could lie in Alaska.  I like the way that Lemire is hinting at what is really going on, and at the same time, taking a page from Battlestar Galactica, with its assertion that everything has happened before and will happen again.

This is a great comic, and with Lemire’s increased profile in the DC Universe with his Animal Man being considered one of the best comics of the New 52, I hope more people are looking into reading it.

Witch Doctor #4

Written by Brandon Seifert
Art by Lukas Ketner

The first (and luckily not last) Witch Doctor mini-series ends with a much clearer picture of who Dr. Morrow really is, and what his relationship with other mystics, is like.  When we last saw the good doctor and his team, they were being pursued by fishpeople in an abandoned aquarium, and in a framing sequence, the doctor was being interrogated by what seemed to be a mystical medical board.

Both of those plots are resolved in this issue, as Morrow’s knowledge of bizarre bacteria leads to a solution for the fishpeople situation, and the promises of prophecy help him with the other issue.  What makes this series work, and different from comics in a similar vein (like BPRD, Criminal Macabre, or even DC’s new Frankenstein) is the medical aspect of things.  Dr. Morrow views creatures as infections or diseases, and so takes a doctor’s approach to the problem in a way that Dr. Strange never did.  It works very well here.

Witch Doctor is worth sampling.  The trade of this series will come out in December, as will a one-shot comic that will help tide us over before the next mini-series begins in 2012.  There is a lot to like about this comic, and I haven’t seen it get a lot of internet love.  That should change.

Quick Takes:

Action Comics #3 – Another 20-page story with a ton of ads for the other Super-books is not what I’m paying for, although the story is denser than say your average issue of Avengers.  This issue opens on a beautifully drawn (by Gene Ha) sequence that shows what happened to Krypton, although the appearance of the same threat on Earth comes a little too quickly.  Grant Morrison is working hard to establish Clark Kent/Superman as the Peter Parker of the DCnU, and I’m not sure how well its working really.  Even though it’s an all-new approach to the character, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve read it all before.

Animal Man #3 – This book is moving closer to the events of Swamp Thing, and is very well-written, but I have to go on record as saying that I have Travel Foreman’s art.  He gives us some pages that look wonderful, but on a whole, his stuff is not working for me.  I find that I don’t like how he lays out any page that is not a splash page, and his characters are quite ugly and hard to recognize.  I think that he bizarre distortions undergone by the Hunters Three, and by Buddy in this issue, are more of an artistic crutch than they are story-driven.  It’s like how Rob Liefeld puts things in front of characters’ feet because he knows he can’t draw them – these characters contort, distend, and transform all over the page because it’s easier to draw a mass of shifting tumors than it is a normal looking person.  Were this book to get a better artist, I think I would love it.

Avengers Academy #21 – I don’t know why Christos Gage doesn’t get more recognition for this comic.  He really has put together a solid comic, and it’s moving into some new territory, as the roster and mission of the Avengers Academy gets expanded, although the focus is still firmly on the original cast members.  Thinking that they are going to be expelled, the kids go a little wild on Captain America, Luke Cage, Hawkeye, and Henry Pym, while Jocasta finally speaks up for herself.  Terrific character work, a completely unexpected ending, and the opportunity to see some fan favourite characters that have been stuck in limbo for a while all make this book a winner.

Fear Agent #32 – It’s taken a very long time for this series to come to its close, and for a good chunk of the last third of this run, the series has become almost incomprehensible, but Rick Remender pulls off a very nice ending, with Heath Huston finding what he’s been looking for all along.  This series started out incredibly well, and it’s nice to see it recapture some of that magic in its ending.  It’s also been responsible for helping raise the stars of creators Rick Remender, Tony Moore, and Jerome Opena, all of whom have found success and a greater profile at Marvel.  If you’ve never read it, get the first couple of trades – they’re great.  In fact, without the massive delays, I’m sure the last few arcs are pretty good too.

Fear Itself #7.1 – Easily the best issue of Fear Itself so far, even if it contains one of the quickest reversals of a superhero death in recent history.  Personally, I’m very happy with the news that a Winter Soldier title is starting soon, to be made by Brubaker and Guice.  I liked their run on Captain America much more than the current arc, and feel comfortable knowing I can drop that book for this one.  Guice’s art is great in this issue – some pages are very refined, while others look like an homage to Sal Buscema.  It’s an all-around good character issue, even if it still refuses to address just what Nick Fury’s role in the Marvel U is post-Secret Warriors.

Hulk #44 – The Hulk of Arabia story is chugging along very nicely, with good appearances by Machine Man and the Arabian Knight.  It’s good stuff.

Invincible #84 – Kirkman’s been hinting for a couple of months now that Mark was going to make a big change in his life, and in how he visualizes his mission as Invincible, but I wasn’t really prepared for what he did in this issue.  I don’t want to give much away, but I will say that in his attempts to be a hero on a larger scale, he’s done something that people are not likely to accept.  I like it when comics characters try to interact with the world’s problems in a more realistic manner (because I think Superman would be doing more than saving kittens in trees), and Kirkman’s approach to it, with it’s shades of eco-terrorism, is pretty interesting.  This is always such a great comic.

Last of the Greats #2 – I like what Joshua Hale Fialkov is doing with this book.  In a lot of ways, it’s very similar to Irredeemable and DC’s short-lived The Mighty, with the entire world finding itself at the mercy of an immensely powerful individual who is not what he seems to be, but there is enough going on that keeps it original.  Brent Peebles’s art is a little rough in places, but is showing growth.

New Mutants #33 – Now this is more what I was expecting and wanted when Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning took over this title (before Fear Itself derailed them).  Dani and her team make their post-Schism decisions, and we get a whole issue devoted to character work.  Nate Grey is integrating into the team nicely, and Karma, Cannonball, and Illyana are being moved out (all three of whom have been kind of downers of late).  Also, with the addition of David Lopez on art, this book is looking very nice (and Sunspot is back to normal).  This could become one of the better mutant books.

Stormwatch #3 – There’s something about this title that keeps me coming back, and what surprises me is that I don’t know exactly what it is that has my interest.  Normally, I get bored with comics that have superheroes fighting Cthulu-type characters, but I think the fact that this title has recast its characters into versions that are more different from the originals than most of the New 52, and added to the potential for some very interesting team dynamics, makes me want to stick with this book.  Good work Paul Cornell, because I hadn’t originally even intended to pick up the first issue.  (Having Jack talk to the cities, and having them look like people is kind of dumb though – that’s something that shouldn’t be visualized).

Swamp Thing #3 – Swamp Thing is one of the best books in the New 52, and that continues here, as the horror aspect of this story gets a lot more play, and we are introduced to William, a young man with some disturbing abilities who is tied in with the history of Swamp Thing.  Also, Alec and Abby have a long chat, and we start to get a better understanding of how much of Swamp Thing’s history is canon.  Sadly, Yannick Paquette needed some help with the art, but Victor Ibanez is a suitable pinch-hitter, who despite drawing the majority of the book, doesn’t get cover billing.  Not exactly fair to him…

Uncanny X-Men #1 – I like the way that Kieron Gillen has Cyclops reassessing how he is going to deploy his X-Men, and Carlos Pacheco draws one nice-looking comic, but I have a couple of concerns with this comic.  First, the ‘Extinction Team’, which is the squad that this comic is going to focus on, is one of the least interesting line-ups I’ve ever seen.  Secondly, I’m not sure which is a less-interesting threat – the Dreaming Celestial, or Mister Sinister (actually, it’s obvious that Sinister, and his new Sinister-Land, could not be duller).  Thirdly, I hate this Colossus/Juggernaut stuff.  Here’s hoping that Gillen’s good character work will be enough to keep me on this book after they bring Greg Land back to trace it again.

Villains for Hire #0.1 – It’s probably worth pointing out that almost none of the characters on the cover of this comic appear within it.  Also, it doesn’t look like Misty Knight is the one in charge of Villains for Hire.  Instead, this is really just another issue of the H4H comic, with appearances by Silver Sable, Black Panther, Paladin, and Damian Hellstrom, and it once again demonstrates how well the H4H concept can be used, when handled correctly.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #673

Irredeemable #31

John Byrne’s Cold War #2

Moon Knight #7

Rachel Rising #3

Seven Warriors #1

Shame Itself #1

X-Men #20

Bargain Comics:

Blackhawks #1 – I’m not even sure why I was interested in this GI Joe-style comic, but since it was pretty cheap, I thought I’d give it a try.  The concept could be interesting – a UN-run group of secret operatives always has story potential, but I don’t understand how a group so concerned with security that their base is on top of a cliff, and they scan visitors to the microscopic level would be flying around with their secret insignia on their airplanes.  Comics logic is fun, isn’t it.  This could have been saved by strong characterization, but that is pretty much lacking.  This could have been the Stomwatch: Team Achilles of the New 52, but it isn’t.

Demon Knights #1 & 2 – This title is a lot better than I would have expected, once you get past the coincidence of so many characters all showing up in the same remote village just in time for it to be attacked by a horde straight out of Game of Thrones.  Still, Paul Cornell is having some fun with these characters, and Diogenes Neves’s art looks very nice.  I may have to pick up another issue of this.

Legion Lost #2 – I’m still not very impressed with this comic.  We at least have learned the nature of the threat that the Legionnaires have traveled into the past to combat, but it’s not all that exciting.  Also, the characterization of Wildfire as being so unhappy and ineffectual rings a little false.  I made the right decision in not adding this to my pull-list, but I am hopeful that it will get better.

The Mighty Thor #6 – With the conclusion of this first arc, I finally understand why Fraction chose to run a weird Galactus vs. Asgard story at the same time as Fear Itself – mainly, so he could figure out a way to include the Silver Surfer in The Defenders when it begins soon.  It wasn’t all that long ago that the Surfer returned to his herald job, and it feels false to make that change now.  I do like Olivier Coipel on this book though.

X-Men #17 – This X-Men and the FF in a savage dimension story is pretty good, although the surprise twist really isn’t (Doom?  Betray everyone?  Imagine that), and some of the dialogue is pretty horrid.  Do people actually regain consciousness in the middle of a jungle fortress and ask is anyone got the number of that truck?  Do people who have even been hit by trucks ask that question?

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Black Diamond

Written by Larry Young
Art by Jon Proctor

The Black Diamond is one bizarre comic. It’s clearly a comic book (sorry, a Comicscope) love letter to the weirder car-based drive-in movies of the 1970s.  For reasons that aren’t incredibly clear, but have something to do with ridding the United States of crime, an elevated highway has been built running from New York to California, where there are no laws.  It’s fully populated by outlaws and gearheads, keeping the rest of the country safe but for the people who are routinely flattened by cars going through the guard-rail high above.

The thing is, now the American army has decided to take the Black Diamond (that’s the name of the highway) back again, and as a form of protest, a couple of college kids have kidnapped the daughter of the engineer who designed the road.  This prompts her husband, an orthodontist, to borrow his brother-in-law’s 1973 Mercury Cougar and race across the country to save her.  Along the way, he runs across a diner waitress who wants to leave her boyfriend, and is pursued by bikers.

This book is a lot of fun to read, but completely lacks internal logic.  Whole sequences don’t make any sense at all, and the plot appears to follow its own whims.  Jon Proctor could be a pseudonym for Tony Harris, their art is so similar on the surface, but he has a hard time handling the storytelling aspects of this story.

Of course, no one has ever gone to a 70s drive-in movie for the intricacies of plot or for smooth directing, so it’s not fair to expect much more from this comic.  It does feel like it could have been much better than it was, but what it is is a diverting, enjoyable read.  It’s definitely not as strong as Larry Young’s excellent Astronauts In Trouble comics, but it’s all good.

Echo Vol. 4: Collider

by Terry Moore

There are often moments in longer genre stories where the plot shifts, and what the reader thought that the book was about is suddenly revealed to be only partially true, and the storyline leads off into a new direction.  The best example I can come up with for this is Fear Agent (which finally finished this week), which started being about a drunk who handles infestations of alien races, and instead became a time-travelling soap opera of almost-infinite complexity.

Echo has one of those moments in this volume.  From its beginning, Echo has been about Julie, who got covered with an experimental alloy when she witnessed an explosion in the desert.  This alloy is giving her some strange abilities, and the people who work for the company that made it (HeNRI) are after her to get it back.  She is on the run with the boyfriend of the woman who was wearing the alloy suit when she was killed, and has also been pursued by a strange homeless guy who also is wearing some of the alloy.

With this volume, which puts us over the half-way mark, we learn a lot more about the alloy, its original intent, and the danger it poses if it is put through a super-collider.  We also learn a little about base phi mathematics, and we see the viciousness of the people pursuing Julie get ratcheted up a notch or two, as she becomes friends with Ivy Raven, the mysterious government agent that was originally hired to track her down.

The story has become a lot more complex than I thought it was at first, and with so much exposition, the character work falters a little.  The book is lacking from not having Julie and Dillon, the boyfriend, together.  I do like the way Ivy is written, although she is now missing a Warren Ellisian quality that she had when she first appeared.

Echo is a cool series that hasn’t received enough attention.


Written by Corinna Sara Bechko
Art by Gabriel Hardman

This book first came on my radar around the time that Gabriel Hardman started working with Jeff Parker on the Agents of Atlas comics (or was it just Atlas at that point?).  Anyway, it took me a good long time to find a copy, but it was worth the wait.

Heathentownis about a young woman, Anna, who has come to a small town in Florida, accompanying the body of a close friend.  Anna and Kit had worked together for a relief agency in Chad, but Kit was killed by rebels.  When Anna brings her home, she starts to feel like something strange is going on in the town.  This feeling is exacerbated when she sees Kit standing over her own grave, and tries to follow her.

As it turns out, there are some very strange things that happen in this town, and it’s all tied to the mythical Fountain of Youth that Ponce de Leon had searched the Everglades for.  This is a very nicely handled horror comic, with a couple of surprises and some very nice visuals from Hardman.  It’s a quick read, and not exactly groundbreaking, but it is pretty cool.

Album of the Week:

Kashmere Stage Band – Texas Thunder Soul: 1968-1974

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