The Weekly Round-Up #101 With Unwritten, Baltimore, Pigs, Batgirl, Point One & More

What a nice small week for comics.  The wallet needed a week like this…

Best Comic of the Week:

The Unwritten #31

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and MK Perker

How quickly things have changed for Tom Taylor.  It wasn’t that long ago that he was rejecting his fictional heritage, and trying hard to distance himself from anything that may have had to do with the Tommy Taylor novels.  Now, having learned that the mysterious Cabal that has been mucking with him has been systematically murdering anyone he’s ever known, he’s decided to embrace his inner Tommy, and turn the tables on them.

This basically means that Tom, wand in hand and flying cat nearby, has begun to wage war on the Cabal.  He’s working with a number of super hero tropes, including a secret base in Antarctica, and relying on his untested magical knowledge perhaps a little too much.

This issue ushers in a new arc, ‘Tommy Taylor and the War of Words’, which is going to alternate with ‘.5′ issues, shipping every two weeks, that delve into some of the different characters’ pasts, and reveal a number of the Cabal’s secrets.  This book is getting very exciting; I remember when I was on the fence about this title, and had pretty much decided to drop it.  I’m glad I stuck with it, as it’s become very good.

Inking this issue is the talented MK Perker, who I haven’t seen since Air was canceled.  It’s nice to see him getting work at Vertigo, but to be honest, I didn’t see his footprints on this much.  Granted, a sign of a talented inker is the penciller’s vision being enhanced and not altered.  Still, I hope he gets to draw something on this comic; his style will match it nicely.

Other Notable Comics:

Baltimore: The Curse Bells #4

Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Art by Ben Stenbeck

The character of Lord Baltimore, the one-legged vampire hunter who is the star of this Mike Mignola title that is not set in the Hellboy continuity, has stayed more or less a cipher since he was introduced to comics with his last mini-series (I still don’t know about how he was portrayed in the novel).  Sure, we’ve learned why he is on such a single-minded quest for revenge on the vampire Haggis, but we know very little about his character.

Some of who he is stands revealed with this issue, where he is given a choice.  He has the opportunity to kill Haggis, and thereby complete his mission, or he can stop the recently returned Madame Blavatsky from cursing the bells in the large church complex where this story is happening, and thereby save thousands of people from a life on ensorcelled servitude.  In most comics, the decision would be clear, but in this one it’s not.

Mignola and Golden have built up a nice scenario for this character, and it helps the reader learn a lot about him.  The rest of the comic plays out like many Mignola comics do – it’s heavy on symbolism, with a hint of pretension about it (especially when the guy trying to take power quotes Poe at length), but it’s a very good read with nice, moody art.

Pigs #3

Written by Ben McCool and Nate Cosby
Art by Breno Tamura

Pigs is cool, but I don’t feel like the subsequent two issues have been able to live up to the promise of the first issue.  This series started with a story that managed to introduce some of the main characters, set up the general situation, and provide a surprise ending which has not yet been revisited.

Since that first issue, we’ve now spent two watching the actions of the Russian terrorist sleeper cell (now the children of the original cell members) come to America, recruit a former member, and now travel to Colorado to hunt down a Senator, for reasons we still don’t know.  Along the way, we are given a few flashbacks to the early 90s, when Alex, who is beginning to look like our POV character, was being trained.

This comic is still plenty intriguing, I just feel that ignoring a bomb like the one the writers dropped on us two months ago for too long is going to have a negative effect on the story.  I’ve heard that the writers have a long, complicated story to tell, which I’m all for, I’m just worried that they may lose some of their audience if they spend too much time on the smaller details of the beginning of the story.

Generally, this is an impressive package, which has some decent art, and has been able to stick to the monthly schedule so far (check McCool’s track record on his other projects).  I prefer the covers being done by Jock to Amanda Connor’s cover this month (although, I do love Connor) mostly because Jock’s style is more in line with the interiors of the book.

Quick Takes:

Batgirl #3 – I can’t see Oracle, as she was previously written by Gail Simone, taking much time off after an explosion on a subway car to try to hang out with her dad, or to push away old friends (and maybe lovers?).  The characterization of Barbara Gordon feels off in this issue, while Simone just nails Nightwing.  I’m enjoying this title just fine, but I feel like maybe this story’s being padded a little for the trade…

Batman and Robin #3 – I’m going to declare this title a winner.  It may not have the poise of Snyder’s Batman, but it has heart, as the relationship between Damian and Bruce continues to be explored.  I’m not sure who Morgan, the antagonist, really is, but his knowledge of the title characters makes him more dangerous than most.  The best part of the comic though is the chess game between Alfred and Damian.  I’ve seen this title get some hate (on this site no less), but I don’t understand it.  Also, I appreciate that this is the only DCnU Batbook (other than Batwoman) that acknowledges that Batman Inc. still exists.

Batwoman #3 – I love how beautiful this book is.  Williams is doing some of the best work of his career with the art here, and his writing (done with W. Haden Blackman) is much better than I expected.  Sure, the disagreement between Kate and her cousin feels a little forced, like it’s necessary to get her going out on patrol on her own, but the slow development of the relationship between Kate and Maggie Sawyer is great to watch.  And also, this book has Cameron Chase in it, and she acts more true to her character than she did while appearing in Manhunter, and that alone is enough to get me to like this comic.

Deathstroke #3 – I’m not sure why I keep coming back to this – I’ve not been too interested in comics about people being bad asses in quite a while – but there is something that is working here.  I just wish there was a little more time and effort put into setting up some of the situations in which Slade keeps finding himself.  I like the reveal at the end, but I’m still waiting to find out what’s in the damn briefcase.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #3 – Lemire is going all-out nuts with this comic, as Frank and his commandos find themselves stuck on a planet full of monsters, and are tasked with killing all of them, even the ones the size of a mountain.  Meanwhile, we get the sense that DCnU Ray Palmer has Brainiac 5 levels of arrogance, and  get a hint that the mysterious Khalis has a lot more going on than we thought.  This book is nowhere near as intelligent or rewarding as Animal Man, but it’s an entertaining read.

Grifter #3 – I felt my interest waning a little with the last issue, but this one has me more engaged again.  We see the extent of the Daemonite’s redesign (it was really very needed), as Cash confronts his brother Max, and the aliens make a move.  It looks like the next issue is being used to establish that Cash is a part of the DCnU, with a guest appearance by the Green Arrow, who only interests me because Ann Nocenti is going to be taking over his title soon.

Journey Into Mystery #631 – I guess I missed a few things in not reading Fear Itself #7.2, but Kieron Gillen takes the time to tour the new status quo in Asgard, with leadership belonging to the three All-Mothers, Hela and Surtur returning to their homes, and Loki still being the outsider.  We also learn the fate of the Disir, in the best bits in this comic.  This is all very well-written, but completely marred by Whilce Portacio’s bland and sometimes confusing art.  Loki looks to be all over the place in terms of his age – sometimes he looks like the 12 or 13 year old he’s supposed to be, but for much of this book, he could be in his 20s, which makes things look very strange, since people are talking to him like he’s a child.  I’m hoping a more consistent artist will be picking this book up soon.

New Avengers #18 – How many times now has Bendis written this exact comic?  The entire issue is taken up with Norman Osborn putting together a new Dark Avengers team, including some inexplicable choices (Skaar?  Barney Barton?).  I’ve been trained to expect a lot of set up with no pay-off, as this helps confirm my decision to move the Bendis Avengers titles to my ‘Bargain Comics’ list, which means I pick them up only when I can read them cheaply, so the story to price ratio doesn’t make me as annoyed as it does here.  Final quibble:  If Marvel has decided to One More Day Thor, so that everyone only remembers Tanaurus, how is the Thor clone Ragnarok still around?

Point One #1 – Well, that was lengthy, varied, and had a stupid title.  Let’s look at it piece by piece:

Behold the Watcher – Javier Pulido drawing the Watcher’s home?  That’s a series I’d buy month after month.  I have no idea who the interlopers are supposed to be, and don’t much care, but this framing sequence is all kinds of pretty.

Nova – I hate Jeph Loeb’s writing.  The fact that Marvel is giving him the next big event makes it easy to skip it, especially since even these few pages end up sucking.  As Nova flies away from a destroyed world (did Terrax really die?) he actually says, “I… epic fail.”  No, Richard Ryder, the failure is not yours.

Age of Apocalypse – I like both David Lapham and Roberto De La Torre, but have no interest in reading a comic set in the AoA universe, especially featuring a bunch of characters like Graydon Creed that I never took a liking to.  I don’t understand why Prophet (William Stryker) looks like the most recent Azrael.

Scarlet Spider – Maybe if I’d read the clone saga back in the day, I’d care.  As it is, I don’t.

Coldmoon & Dragonfire – This was probably the most intriguing story here, as a pair of new characters are introduced, adding some diversity and a bit of Wonder Twin-ness to the Marvel U.  I imagine that this will be a limited series (it couldn’t possibly be an on-going if Alpha Flight can’t fly), and I’ll probably pick it up, assuming Marvel doesn’t gouge on the price.

Doctor Strange – There was a lot of potential to this story about a Greenwich Village Crad Kilodny figure (Google him if you aren’t from Toronto), but I feel like Matt Fraction wasted it trying to use this story to set up the new Defenders series.  Really, I’d prefer to see him do a Doctor Strange story that takes its cue from the excellent American Scream plot in the old Shade the Changing Man comic.  There was a bit of that vibe here, but like I said, it got squandered.

The Avengers – More and more, I think I’m going to be dropping the Bendis Avengers titles.  If this is what we have to look forward to, he’s making the decision easier on me.

Suicide Squad #3 – I thought I’d give this book another chance, and overall, I’m a little happier with it than I was before.  I think a big part of that is because Cliff Richards handled the art this month (is he going to be the regular artist?  I don’t remember), and things looked a lot more consistent.  Storywise, there are some nice moments in this book, but I’m really developing a dislike for Harley Quinn.  I’m also wondering why they created the bounty hunter Mad Dog, when Wild Dog would have been such a cooler surprise guest.  I’m also not sure how I feel about the new team leader introduced at the end of this issue.  In John Ostrander’s hands, the next issue would be brilliant, but as things stand, with Adam Glass writing, I expect a notch above mediocrity.  I think what no one has figured out yet is that the original series worked so well because of characters like Amanda Waller and Rick Flag.  Relegating Waller to cameos, and not having a Flag character has really hurt this book so far.

Uncanny X-Force #17 – I first noticed Jerome Opena when he began drawing issues of Rick Remender’s Fear Agent, and I liked his work a lot.  I followed him to the poorly-written Vengeance of Moon Knight series, and have been watching his work for a while.  Now, though, I think he’s reached the level of superstar.  His work on this book is amazing.  The story is ramping up nicely towards the conclusion of the Dark Angel Saga with the next issue; Remender’s just tossing everything into this one, and it’s really very good.

X-Men Legacy #258 – The long space saga finishes with Rogue getting to do just about everything, while most of the rest of the characters just stand around.  I get the feeling that Mike Carey must really love this character, and do appreciate the way that he’s shepherded her away from her whiny, self-doubting earlier self.  Also, I like the way Steve Kurth draws Magneto.  I just question why the story needed to have a billion aliens end up in Earth orbit.

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

Avenging Spider-Man #1

Fear Itself #7.2

Operation Broken Wings 1936 #1

Punisher MAX #19

Star Trek Legion of Super-Heroes #2

Ultimate Spider-Man #4

Wolverine #18

Bargain Comics:

Brilliant #1 – I was of very mixed feelings about this book before I read it.  First, it’s drawn by Mark Bagley, who I don’t like.  Second, it’s title makes it sound like it’s Mark Millar’s memoirs.  Third, I’m getting a little tired of Bendis lately.  So, I was surprised to actually like it.  It’s a little hard to follow (blame Bagley’s generic characters), but the idea of a group of college kids figuring out how to have super powers has its potential.  Say what you will about Bendis’s poor pacing and go-nowhere superhero plots, his creator-owned work has some really good character work in it.

Cold War #1 – John Byrne still has it.  The first pages of this comic are silent, showing a British secret agent escaping from Soviets in East Berlin back in the Cold War days.  What follows is the beginning of a spy story involving rocket scientists and defectors – all that good stuff of days gone by.  It’s not like Byrne has anything new to say about any of these topics, but he’s providing a solid adventure story, and some classic art.  This is good stuff.

Legion of Monsters #1 – I had high hopes for this one, because Juan Doe’s Fantastic Four one-shots have been spectacular, but I feel like he’s trying to be a little too Stuart Immonen on any page with Elsa Bloodstone in it, and writer Kevin Hopeless doesn’t do anything to introduce the characters.  I mean, I know every one of these characters, and read a good chunk of their recent appearance in the Franken-Castle debacle, but I had a hard time figuring out what was going on.  A casual reader?  Hopeless (sorry – I’m sure everyone makes that crack).  By the end of the issue, things were looking up, but it may be too little too late…

The Mighty Thor #7 – I guess Fraction needed a filler issue or something – I don’t see any other reason for a prelude to Fear Itself coming out seven months after it should have, thereby clearing up and informing nothing.  Still Pascual Ferry is always good…

Superboy #1 & 2 – I’d heard some good things about this, and have to say that it’s much better than I would expect from a Scott Lobdell comic.  The first issue is better than the second though, and I’m not sure that Superboy’s characterization is consistent throughout.  The book is very pretty though – I’ll probably check it out again.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka Vol. 1

by Naoki Urasawa after Osama Tezuka

It’s tempting to start writing this review with my usual disclaimer that I don’t read a lot of manga, and don’t always understand the ones that I do read, but this is one of those books that, while completely steeped in the culture of manga, transcends it in almost every way.

Pluto is the modernization and reworking of Osama Tezuka’s classic Astro Boy character, as handled by modern master Naoki Urasawa.  This first volume is mostly used to establish the mood and situation of this series, but it is done in a way that surprised me.

It opens with the death of Mont Blanc, Switzerland’s most famous and beloved robot, who was killed mysteriously during a tornado, and found with wooden horns coming from his decapitated head.  Later, a human is killed in a similar way in Dusseldorf.  A crack robot detective from Europol, Gesicht, is assigned to the case.

Gesicht believes that a robot killed this man (robots are very common, and live much as humans do, taking spouses and living in homes and apartments, although it’s not clear why), which is against the most basic of the robot’s laws, and with one exception, is unheard of.

Strangely, the middle of this volume is devoted to a completely different, yet related, story about an aging musician and his new robot butler, who is trying to escape from his war-torn past.  This part of the book is what captivated me the most.  I began to really care about the old crank and North No. 2, his butler.

The book returns to Gesicht, who has come to realize that someone or something is targeting very special robots, which leads to him seeking out Atom, who I suppose will become the central figure in this comic.  (Atom is, of course, the original Japanese translation of Astro Boy’s name).

Urasawa’s art is beautiful in this book.  I read the first volume of his Monster, but was not anywhere near as impressed with his pacing and eye to detail.  I have three more volumes of this book to read, but I’m afraid I’m going to find myself completely hooked by this story, and so have to start hunting down the rest.

Popgun Vol. 4

Edited by DJ Kirkbride, Anthony Wu, and Andrew P. Knave

There’s nothing better than a thick, heavy, well-produced book full of comics.  The Popgun series of anthologies has garnered a lot of attention for their ability to bring greater exposure for emerging and lesser-known cartoonists and artists, and placing them next to some of the biggest names in the industry (although to be fair, in this volume, that’s just Erik Larsen).

This five hundred-plus page fourth volume has some seventy-three contributors, which is amazing.  Some of the stories in here are great, and I’ve found a few people whose careers I’m now interested in following (such as Anthony Wu, Frank Stockton, Darren Rawlings, and Stuart Livingston).

It also has some work from creators whose work I’ve been enjoying for a while, like JM Ken Niimura, Tom Scioli, and Salgood Sam, who we don’t see enough from.

I have some problems with the book though.  In a book this full, there are plenty of very short stories, and that has the cumulative effect of making none of them feel very consequential.  I found that most of them had left my memory almost before I’d started the next one.  As well, the level of diversity sometimes works against the book.  I support a wide range of comics, and like to see a lot of variety in books like this, but don’t understand why stories that are so obviously for young children are included in a book with nudity and strong language.

Still, in the overall, I got a lot of enjoyment out of this book, and should probably read the two volumes I haven’t gotten a hold of yet.

Album of the Week:

Thundercat – The Golden Age of Apocalypse

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