The Weekly Round-Up #103

Best Comic of the Week:

Scalped #54

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

After this issue, there will only be six more Scalped comics.  This knowledge makes me very sad, but it also forces me to slow down in my reading of the book, and to savour what is left.

Scalped has been my favourite comic (usually tied with The Walking Dead) for a few years now, and its one of the few comics where I’ve developed such strong feelings for the characters, that it can really upset me at times.  This is one of those issues.  Amid the stream of violent acts and brutal killings that fill this book, there is one moment that I found a little heartbreaking.

Sheriff Karnow has affected a huge change in his life of late, and has gone from being the typical Boss Hogg hick sheriff loudmouth to being someone who truly cares about his job and is searching for his own redemption.  This has led him to raid a meth lab, although he’s had to do it on his own, being double-crossed by his deputies, and by the FBI.  Obviously, this does not go well for Karnow, but it is the identity of the person that delivers that coup de grace that upset me.  I don’t want to spoil it, but anyone who has regularly read my musings on this series over the years would know who my favourite character in this series is.  I just don’t know what led him to that particular moment, and hope that, with the little time left for the series, we can find out.

The rest of the comic is much more relevant to the current plot.  Red Crow handles his right hand man Shunka’s recent betrayal, which leads to one very memorable moment that was clearly unexpected from Lincoln’s point of view than it was from ours.  Shunka has been a pretty interesting character.  He’s gone from being a silent thug to a pretty complicated, closeted homosexual killer, and Aaron was able to keep him believable throughout.

Also is this issue, Dash’s father, Wade, finds out who killed his wife, and attempts his revenge, amid the carnage of a jail that was shot up randomly.  This did confuse me a bit – I don’t remember where Wade and Catcher were incarcerated – they clearly weren’t in Karnow’s jail, as we see it later on and there is no discussion of the dead officers, but it’s also clearly not on the Reserve, as all of the cops who get killed are white.  I think I need to back up and read the last couple of issues again.

As always, this was a very powerful comic.  Next issue promises a confrontation between Bad Horse and Shunka, and I expect we’ll learn what affect Karnow’s fate has on FBI Agent Nitz.  I know it’s way too late in the game to convince anyone to start reading this title on a monthly basis, but I can’t recommend the trades of this series enough.

Other Notable Comics:

Caligula #5

Written by David Lapham
Art by German Nobile

I’ve been enjoying Lapham’s twisted take on the twisted Roman Emperor, but this issue had a problem that really affected my enjoyment.  For some reason, the art in this issue is much darker and muddier than all the previous issues.  On Avatar’s website, there are some preview pages, and for them, the colouring looks much lighter and more like the previous issues.  The one I brought home looks like a Radical comic.

Storywise, I like what Lapham’s been doing with this comic, mixing the supernatural with the historical.  We are a little closer to learning just what Caligula really is, as his reign further devolves into paranoia and terror.  Nobile portrays Rome as an increasingly degraded city, with people starving in the streets.  I love the scene where Incitatus, the horse, is made a Senator of Rome.

Our hero, Junius, continues to demonstrate an ancient version of Stockholm Syndrome, while still working with the noble Laurentius to bring Caligula down.  His character is becoming increasingly complicated, as he vacillates between loving the Emperor and plotting his demise.  Also of interest this issue is the emergence of Jewish monotheism as a threat to Caligula.

I look forward to seeing how this series is going to end.  I only hope that Avatar fixes the colouring issue, so we can actually see how this series is going to end.

Dark Horse Presents #6

Written by Peter Hogan, Carla Speed McNeil, Felipe Melo, Evan Dorkin, Fábio Moon, Neal Adams, Steve Niles, Robert Love, David Walker, Howard Chaykin, and Andi Watson
Art by Steve Parkhouse, Carla Speed McNeil, Juan Cavia, Jill Thompson, Fábio Moon, Neal Adams, Christopher Mitten, Robert Love, Howard Chaykin, Andi Watson, and Geof Darrow

Another month, another incredibly varied collections of stories in Dark Horse Presents.  This issue is a treat though, as it has a story by Fábio Moon, who is one of my favourite artists working today.  His story is about people challenging themselves, and it has the poetic quality familiar in his and his brother’s work, especially to anyone who has read the brilliant Daytripper.  This piece was a nice surprise.

Also, there’s a new Beasts of Burden story by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson, which is also always welcome.  I did have a problem with this story though – it’s flashback nature (the Wise Dog is telling a story to some puppies as the framing device) led Thompson to use sepia tones instead of her usual warm watercolours.  Still, this is a lovely little story.

I’m currently reading the first of the two Dark Horse Finder Library editions, and so the new Finder story by Carla Speed McNeil was of particular interest to me.  I like how accessible she’s been making these shorts, and they definitely played a part in my seeking out the rest of her work.

I also continue to enjoy some of the on-going serials in this volume.  Number 13 is great, as is Resident Alien.  The Adventures of Dog Mendonca and Pizzaboy continues to grow on me, as does Howard Chaykin’s Marked Man.

I found Andi Watson’s ghost story to be cute if not really to my tastes, and I continue to not be very impressed with Criminal Macabre (which is at least over).  I find Neal Adams’s Blood unreadable.

DMZ #71

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

For most of this comic, I was convinced that I was reading the final issue, and as such, I found myself getting annoyed with the extent to which this issue was only focusing on Matty, when so many other denizens of the DMZ have grown on me over the last six years.  It’s all good though, as there’s one more issue left…

Most of this issue is set in a courthouse, where Matty stands on trial.  As per his arrangement with the government, Matty is prepared to plead guilty to every charge brought against him, no matter how much they are based on twisted facts and narrow readings of events.  At the heart of this entire final story arc is Matty’s intense guilt for his actions over the course of this series – to him, being punished for something he didn’t do is as righteous a form of penance for the things that he actually did.

I like the way Wood and Burchielli flash back to events from the course of the series as the justices read out the charges.  It’s a fitting way to look back over this series as it comes to its conclusion.  I’ve been thinking lately about how much this series is a product of its times, but I think I’ll wait until next month to discuss that.  I’m going to miss this title.

Rasl #12

by Jeff Smith

I guess Jeff Smith felt like it was time to finish off his history lesson on Nikola Tesla, as the plot barely advances with this issue, and we are instead treated to a lengthy examination of the latter part of the great inventor’s career, including his public disparagement of Einstein, and his final rise to fame after Edison’s death.  This stuff is pretty cool – I’ve always been curious about Tesla but have never taken the time to read a biography or history book that covers his achievements (science makes my head hurt a little), so I can appreciate getting that lesson here – assuming of course that Smith is being accurate in his telling of the story.

The thing is, this comic comes out pretty rarely.  I don’t really remember what happened in the eleventh issue, and since there is no recap or letters page, I found myself pretty lost.  I guess that’s my fault – I could always dig out the previous issue before I read the new one, but who has the time?  Clearly my memory is starting to go in my advanced age as well, since I can only manage to keep the plots of the multitudes of monthly, bi-monthly, and occasional comics series I’m reading fresh in my mind for about three or four months.

Anyway, this is an interesting comic.  I’m just totally lost right now.  Perhaps when the next issue comes out, Smith will take pity on us and include a little blurb on the inside cover.  I know that there’s only about four issues left, so I imagine something big is going to have to happen soon.

The Sixth Gun #17

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

Cullen Bunn has done a remarkable job crafting the story in this series.  He’s taken what started out as being a mystical western comic, and shaped it into a story structured around ancient evils, and the orders that exist to combat or serve them.  In addition to the Sword of Abraham, a group of priests who have been working to keep the six guns under their control, and to stop the spread of evil, in this issue we first learn about the Knights of Solomon, an old order that exists to use the guns (or whatever they were in previous incarnations) for their own means.

Becky, the possessor of the sixth gun, is determined to go looking for Drake Sinclair, her friend and the possessor of the other five weapons.  The Sword does not want her to leave, and are basically keeping her prisoner in their keep.  Luckily, an old friend shows up to help her.

While this is going on, Gord Cantrell continues to face his own demons, or more accurately, ghosts.  He has an opportunity to bring his wife and children back to life, but for that to happen, he’ll have to burn the books that offer him the only chance he has at destroying the six guns.  Gord’s an interesting character, and it’s interesting watching his conflict with himself (both literally and figuratively) over this issue.

This is an excellent comic.  Bunn keeps the story moving nicely, and Hurtt’s doing the best work of his career.

The Unwritten #31.5

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Michael Wm. Kaluta, Rick Geary, and Bryan Talbot

The Unwritten is being published on a bi-weekly basis for the next few months, with every second issue being given a ‘.5’ number.  The purpose of this is to tell some of the stories of The Cabal (apparently called The Unwritten Cabal, as we have learned in this issue), and their mainstay Pullman.

This issue has three stories, each illustrated by a terrific guest artist.  Mike Kaluta takes us to China in 221BC, when an emperor has demanded the burning of books and scrolls that may ‘confuse thought’.  It seems that it is Pullman who is tasked with carrying out the inspections of schools and monasteries, and we learn that the man hasn’t changed much in the last two thousand years.

Rick Geary draws a story about Homer Davenport, a cartoonist for William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal set in 1881.  Davenport’s story is reminiscent of the Rudyard Kipling issue of this series a couple of years ago, as he has been co-opted by the Cabal.  He’s thinking of exposing them through his art (which he believes is largely responsible for America declaring war on Spain, but is dissuaded from this course of action.  I love Geary’s art, which is perfectly suited for the conversation he draws here.

Finally, the issue ends with Bryan Talbot showing a confrontation between Gutenberg, the man who invented the printing press, and an agent of the Cabal in 1462.  At the heart of their dispute?  The fact that cheap, affordable books will encourage people to learn to read.  This turns out to be a real watershed moment for the Cabal, as they realise that they have to embrace the new technology instead of oppose it.

This is a very cool issue of this comic.  I would like to see some longer stories in these .5 issues, but I am happy with the direction that this book is going in.  Originally, it felt like a bit of a cash grab on Vertigo’s part (similar to Marvel’s recent policy of double-shipping titles all the time), but I can see how it’s going to enhance the stories in this series.

Quick Takes:

All-Star Western #3 – There is some great art in this book.  Moritat is doing the lead story, with Bernet on the back-up; a terrific combination.  Story-wise, Palmiotti and Gray are adding some random elements to things, such as having Hex leave the case he was hired for to track down three bounties that hadn’t previously been mentioned, but there are enough good moments (such as when he tries to barter a horse) to make this book work.

Alpha Flight #6 – I suppose I should spend more time complaining about how Alpha Flight got down-graded to being just a mini-series some more, but the more I think about it, the happier I am with the idea that Pak and Van Lente are telling one complete story that shows one of my childhood favourite teams in the right light.  This is another solid issue, and I’m impressed we made it this far before the obligatory Wolverine appearance…

Annihilators: Earthfall #3 – I think having the Avengers guest-star in this arc was a mistake – it’s made things pretty bland and generic, which the Guardians of the Galaxy, under Abnett and Lanning, never was.  I would much prefer a focus on the characters that make up this team.

BPRD Hell on Earth: Russia #3 – Since we’re in the middle of the arc, there’s not a lot to say about this issue.  Johann seems to be working on his own agenda again, leaving Dr. Corrigan out of his actions in Russia, which centre around a coal mind surrounded by peaceful zombies (which I think are a first).  It’s good.

Captain America & Bucky #624 – Really, this issue is more Winter Soldier & Black Widow, but it does bring Bucky’s ‘origin’ story up to recent events, dealing with his time with the Russians.  This has been a good arc, with some very nice Chris Samnee artwork.  I still don’t expect this title to survive the coming of the Winter Soldier series by more than a month or two…

Fantastic Four #600 – I feel like a certain character was brought back to the title a little too quickly, but overall, this was a fantastic 100-page comic.  I know that it was priced rather high at $8, but consider that two issues of Avengers would cost you the same, and you’d get only 40 pages of highly decompressed story, compared to these 100 packed and dense pages.  Plus, how often do you get to look at Farel Dalrymple art?  I’ve really enjoyed Hickman’s run with the FF, and am glad to see that the story is really just getting started.  Great, and kind of confusing, stuff, with tons of guest stars, and some wonderful art.

Flash #3 – This third issue is a lot weaker than the previous two, with a couple of scenes that don’t fit well (such as when Barry’s strange doctor friend drives through a desert and chats with some kids on a tank).  It is still a very pretty comic though, so I cut it more slack than others.

Invincible #85 – I usually love Invincible month in and month out, but this issue was a special treat, as it has art from original series artist Cory Walker (who is brilliant – as is regular artist Ryan Ottley), and the story features Allen the Alien, Nolan, and my favourite character Oliver.  Omni-Man returns to Talescira to tell Allen what happened with the Viltrumites, which leads to conflict between the two friends (one of whom now basically runs the galaxy).  Oliver’s grown a lot in his father’s absence, and continues to be one of the more fascinating characters (a little bit Damien Wayne, a little bit Superboy) in the book.  There’s also a great running gag about people overhearing or walking in on others having sex.  Great issue.

Invincible Iron Man #510 – In case I needed proof that I should be happy that Fear Itself is over, the first post-Fear issue of Iron Man comes along, and reminds me why it was one of my favourite comics before the crossover took it over (and had it spin its wheels for half of a year).  The Mandarin and Zeke Stane start their plan to ruin Tony’s life, and take a multi-pronged approach to doing this.  Tony, meanwhile, brings the Norse dwarf Splitlip to Earth, and takes him to an AA meeting.  There is a lot of promise for this book going forward again.

Iron Man 2.0 #10 – Well, we all know that this title has been cancelled, and that’s a shame.  With the long Palmer Addley story, Nick Spencer’s writing the most interesting Jim Rhodes story since he was Iron Man.  The problem is that the story is not a great fit for Rhodey, and he’s basically been a cipher personality wise the whole time.  The other problem is that the book was interrupted in the middle for a Fear Itself tie-in that did nothing to showcase what makes this book unique, and thereby probably did absolutely nothing to draw in new readers.  Of course, the third problem (at least from my perspective) is that the superb art team of Barry Kitson and Kano were replaced with Ariel Olivetti, whose work I strongly dislike.

I, Vampire #3 – This issue brings the direction this book has been sort of lacking, as we meet an old friend of Andrew Bennett’s who will help him fight the vampire army, and they get a recruit of their own.  Also, the series is getting ever more closely tied in to the DCnU, with promises of a John Constantine guest appearance next month, and the action moving to Gotham City.  I’m enjoying Sorrentino’s art, but like many comics artists that came up in the 90s, he seems to have a hard time with clothing that is not skin-tight.  I thought the older guy was naked in a few panels – it’s strange.

Justice League Dark #3 – I’m not entirely sure why I picked this up, but once again, I’m torn on this title.  There are some things I like about it, especially when characters like Constantine and Zatanna get to interact, but I feel like the plot is rambling a little too much, and I don’t find myself caring much about June Moon and her fate.  Also, should I know who Mindwarp is, or is he new?  I know that the New 52 is all about accessibility, but I don’t see how someone who wasn’t reading the first wave Vertigo titles 20 years ago would get a lot out of this book.

Kick-Ass 2 #5 – This issue is not quite as brutal as the previous one, but where the first volume of this story was kind of funny while still dark, this one is just nasty and disturbing.  I can’t see this story working as a movie.  Kick-Ass’s father takes the fall for him, but ends up in worse shape then expected, while the M-F’er’s people decide to attack a funeral.  Bleak stuff, but also some of the nicer work we’ve seen from John Romita JR in the last few years.

Secret Avengers #19 – Here is just about the perfect modern day superhero book – wonderful art, and a fast-moving done in one story that grabs me, and doesn’t really make me worry about who these bad guys are, or what’s going on.  Terrific work from Ellis and Lark, as they make Moon Knight the coolest character in the book.

The Shade #2 – This is technically a very well-put together comic, but I was very surprised to find myself getting a little bored.  Starman was basically my favourite superhero book when it was coming out, but so far this is lacking what that book had in abundance – the heart.  I don’t yet find myself caring that someone wants The Shade dead, and I don’t find the character of Von Hammer, his assistant now, all that compelling.  I’m going to stick it out, just because of the caliber of artist on the book, but I’m hoping something starts to click a little better.

Twenty-Seven Second Set #3 – It’s rare to enjoy reading a comic where the main character is a self-absorbed jerk, but with Twenty-Seven, it works.  Garland is pursued by a one-hit wonder from the 80s who wants the potential that the button in Garland’s chest provides him, while Garland is continuing to look for ways to cash in.  Higher powers get involved this issue, with a final confrontation expected next issue.  This is a cool comic.

Vengeance #5 – There’s only one issue remaining in the best book Marvel has put out this year (it may have been eclipsed by Spencer and Cloonan’s Doom comic, but you know).  I’ve really been digging this book, even when I don’t always understand what’s been happening.  This month, we’ve had Ms. America go up against an ancient Norse deity, and Ultimate Nullifier get it on with one of the Masters of Evil.  Casey’s written one of his usual convoluted and exciting scripts, and Nick Dragotta’s doing some awesome things.  If you haven’t been reading this, get the trade.

Wolverine and the X-Men #2 – I don’t know.  I kind of think that the contrast between this book and Uncanny X-Men is a little too strong.  It feels like Aaron is going for a DeMatteis/Giffen feel with this comic, but also wants it to be taken seriously at the same time.  Plot elements are introduced and abandoned (what happened to the Board of Education folk – they got turned into a Wendigo and a Sauron and then disappeared), Krakoa attacks, then does nothing while the team fights an army of Frankensteins, and then attacks again.  The new Hellfire Club is annoying me, and I’m not sure how Quentin Quire is a more powerful telepath than Rachel Summers.  Still, I like Bachalo’s overly busy artwork…

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

Astonishing X-Men #44

Incorruptible #24

Mighty Thor #8

Ultimate Comics Hawkeye #4

Bargain Comics:

Legion Lost #3 – I feel like this series is just getting stranger and stranger, as one of the two Legionnaires who were killed off so casually in the first issue maybe makes a return, based on future science that can’t possibly make sense, and the rest of the Legionnaires futz around, and Timber Wolf goes stir crazy.  And gets a new, stupid, talent.  Pete Woods’s art is nice, except I can’t figure out just what Tellus’s helmet is supposed to be.

Seven Warriors #1 – I enjoyed Booms! reprinting of the French Seven Psychopaths, and expected something similar with this.  Seven Warriors is a historical adventure story that has six female warriors attempting to lead a young prince away from war through a series of ancient, booby-trapped tunnels.  The set-up takes way too long, and the death of a character carries no real weight.  Part of the problem is in the rather arbitrary chapter ending (always a problem when cutting up a French comic for North American consumption).  Francis Manapul’s art, which was the main reason I picked this up, is not all that spectacular.  This must be a few years old, because the art here does not hold a candle to his work on Flash.

Superboy #3 – I’m really surprised by how much I’m enjoying this comic, as Superboy escapes from NOWHERE, meets some real people, meets an alien from the prison he destroyed, and starts to figure out a few things about himself.  This book is well-written, and has nice art.  This is not the Scott Lobdell I was expecting…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: Night Powers

Written by Christopher Hastings and Benito Cereno
Art by Christopher Hastings, Kent Archer, and Les McClaine

I’m thankful for Dark Horse’s program of publishing webcomics in print form.  I’m not likely to read a webcomic very regularly, and find I don’t enjoy reading anything lengthy on my computer, so Dark Horse’s efforts in publishing titles like Achewood and Wondermark have been appreciated.  Really, I don’t think I would have ever stumbled on the genius of Dr. McNinja otherwise.

Dr. McNinja is exactly what he sounds like.  A medical doctor who happens to be a ninja.  He likes helping people, and using his ninja abilities for good.  The doctoring is done just to pay the bills.  This is a pretty crazy comic.  There are three stories from the webcomic reprinted here, and a short story by Cereno and McClaine.

The first story involves the good doctor helping an old college buddy, who is basically a purple Hulk and owner of a successful chain of grocery stores, who is having problems wit two gangs – one run by a Lobster Person, and the other by King Radical, the major villain of this series.

In the second story, Dr. McNinja is hired to infiltrate an ancient Inocktek temple where a tennis champion has to best an ancient machine in tennis combat or the world will end.  The current champ has an injured ankle, and so requires a doctor, but only a ninja doctor could possibly get past all the boobytraps.

The third story has Dr. McNinja begin to fixate on defeating King Radical, who looks a lot like the Burger King king, were he more Exxtreme! (the extra x is there for emphasis).  He acquires a white motorcycle with rainbows painted on it, and this becomes the tool he hopes will help him vanquish his enemy (although there is the possibility that the bike is really a unicorn, with questionable motives.

This book is a lot of fun.  Hastings’s work reminds me of Atomic Robo, and does not seem to have any limit in terms of madcapness.  The Dr. is assisted by a mustachioed twelve-year-old who rides a dinosaur, and a quiet female gorilla.  Strange things happen throughout this comic, and the alt-texts included at the bottom of each page are hilarious.  Great stuff – I hope Dark Horse publishes more of these, although I also can envision spending a lot of time getting caught up with this comic on-line.

Album of the Week:

Doomtree – No Kings

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