The Weekly Round-Up #104 With Infinite Horizon, Fables, Skullkickers, Spaceman & More

I know there has been some grumbling about DC not publishing any of the New 52 during November’s fifth week, but I have to say, nothing makes me happier than a small new comics week every once in a while.  It’s nice to have some extra time to read some books or magazines, or attempt to tackle my ever-growing pile of graphic novels that need to be read, and it’s good therapy for the wallet.  Of course, I instead traveled to a certain source of inexpensive recent comics, and chose to pile up on books that I refuse to pay full price for, but am still interested in.  It’s a hard life being a comics addict…

Best Comic of the Week:

The Infinite Horizon #6

Written by Gerry Duggan
Art by Phil Noto

The Infinite Horizon has been a very cool mini-series.  Sure, it’s easy to just complain about how many years it’s taken for the series to be completed (for the record, less than Gutsville and Pirates of Coney Island), but now that it has finished, and presumably will soon be available in trade for people who waited, or perhaps hadn’t even been comics readers when the series began, it’s better to take a look at the work as a whole.

This series has been a loose adaptation of The Odyssey, set in a not-too distant future, where the world has suffered from environmental collapse, and the American government has fallen.  The nameless hero, and his squad of soldiers, have been stranded overseas by a government that can not afford to bring them home.  Their journey takes many years, and places them up against a number of challenges, such as a Russian supersoldier (standing in for the Cyclops), pirates, and a dangerous cult (representing Sirens).

Meanwhile, at home, the hero’s wife and child have been trying to fend off people looking to take over the family farm in the Catskills, which has the only access to clean water in the surrounding area.

Now, with this final issue, our hero has finally made it home, and is looking to free his family and his land.  It’s a brutal chapter, but necessarily so.  The ending is kind of obvious from the beginning, but that does not make it any less satisfying.

I don’t know if Gerry Duggan has written any other comics (am I right in thinking that he works in television?), but I would happily buy something else with his name attached to it after this.  Phil Noto has always been an artist that I admire, and while this issue may feel a little rushed in places, he continues to impress.  Get the trade for this – you’ll like it.

Other Notable Comics:

Fables #111

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

I’m never very sure what to do with Fables these days.  It’s always an entertaining comic, but I often feel like something is missing, and this issue is a good example of that recurrent problem.

There are two stories going on here this month.  Bufkin is a prisoner in the Emerald City, and is facing execution for his involvement in the growing rebellion against the Emperor of Oz.  This is the strongest part of the comic, as Willingham has decided to make Oz the North Korea of the Homelands.  Propaganda abounds, and the state embraces a Kafkaesque approach to justice that Kim Jong Il would appreciate.  Bufkin almost gets his hero moment, but things rarely work out for everyone’s favourite former flying monkey.

Most of this issue is centred on the on-going search for a new North Wind among Bigby and Snow’s children.  One of the kids, Winter (really, you’d think that name alone would be enough of a guarantee that she would ascend the throne), has discovered the Homeland of the North, where she meets Bellflower (formerly Frau Totenkinder) and Dunster Happ, who have been there since the former North Wind fought Mr. Dark.  They return to the North Wind’s castle, and Winter is proclaimed King.

There are a lot of problems with this part of the book.  First, Bigby and Snow White show the appropriate concern for their missing daughter, but don’t actually seem to do anything to look for her.  For three weeks, were they just sitting around the castle worrying?  Neither of them usually act like that.  When she does return, there is little in the way of emotion, and Bellflower and Happ’s accompanying her doesn’t warrant a mention from anyone.  It feels like Willingham had to rush through this part of the story, and so glossed over a number of things that needed more exploration.

Overall, the quality on this book is great (much of the credit for that goes to Mark Buckingham and his crew of inkers), but I think from time to time Willingham loses track of his characters and how they should be acting.

Skullkickers #12

Written by Jim Demonakos, Kyle Stevens, Jim Zubkavich, Howard Taylor, and Zach Weiner
Art by Joe Ng, Joel Carroll, Mike Luckas, and Ben McSweeney

I really like the way that, between story arcs, Jim Zubkavich invites his friends over to play with his toys for a single issue.  This time around, there are four ‘tavern tales’, which give us some different views into the adventures of our two heroes.

The entire concept of Skullkickers is pretty versatile.  They are fighters for hire.  One is tall, bald, and carries the only firearm in the world (I think).  The other is short, hairy, and swings his axe as often as he gets drunk (which is a lot for both).  They go places, and invariably, stuff happens.  Sounds like the basis for a lot of good stories, doesn’t it?

The stories here run the gamut from a little too cutesy to stories that match the usual tone of this series very well.  I particularly liked the first story, which has our duo getting involved in a medieval battle of the bands which is more literal than you would think.  The drum-armour is brilliant.  I also enjoyed the last story, where our heroes have to kill a woman who is so beautiful, that all previous assassins were unable to complete the job (but none of them were dwarfs).

It’s good stuff, but I look forward to the next story arc, which begins in the next issue.

Spaceman #2

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

I don’t understand why there hasn’t been more discussion and hype for Spaceman.  Azzarello and Risso are an excellent team, and with this nine-part mini-series, they are doing something quite different from what they usually do.

Spaceman is about Orson, a genetically engineered or modified person who was originally intended to travel to Mars.  What we learn this issue is that the program that birthed him led to the complete shut-down of NASA amid complaints about ‘playing god’ and irresponsible spending.  Now, Orson makes a living running a small salvage operation.

It seems he has become embroiled in the kidnapping of a young reality TV star, as he rescues the girl and her kidnapper from a burning yacht.  This leads to an interesting and informative discussion, before things really hit the fan.

Azzarello’s clearly having a lot of fun speculating on the slang of the future, having almost completely constructed a new language for this comic.  Risso is up to his usual tricks, giving us bizarre camera shots and lots of visual wizardry.  This book should have a much higher profile, as it is very good.

Wasteland #32

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Brett Weldele

Amid the usual trickle, and sometimes deluge, of announcements about new graphic novels and comics series that have been heralded over the last year, one of the ones that most caught my eye was the expected return of Wasteland to a monthly schedule.  Wasteland has been around for a while, and was at one point the most reliable of monthly independent comics.  And then it hit a few snags, as the last arc was released on a schedule that has more in common with sightings of particular comets than it does a monthly comic.

That’s just about all over now, as in January, new series artist Justin Greenwood is set to arrive, and the book will be beginning a new arc.  In the interim, Antony Johnston decided to give us this one-off issue which addresses the fate of a couple of very minor characters.

The issue opens with a young woman, who we may or may not have seen in Sultan Ameer’s camp (I don’t remember if she was a character or not, or is just your generic escaped slave), reveling in her new freedom, and traveling to what she hopes is a city.  Along the way, she runs in to a group of Sunners going the other way, led by what looks like a familiar figure.  We quickly learn that this is the group that left Newbegin some time ago, under the supposed leadership of Golden Voice.  As it turns out, the man leading this group is an imposter, chosen a while back to make it look like Golden Voice had left the city.

The rest of the book follows this group as they face the hazards of Johnston’s broken future world.  As always, Johnston provides a fully-realized science fiction environment, but keeps his story grounded in the strength of his characterizations.

Brett Weldele, of the recent mini-series Spontaneous, provides the art, so of course the book looks good.  He is a good artist to continue the minimalist aesthetic Christopher Mitten began on this title.

This issue is a nice introduction to new readers who may want to sample this series before the $1 issue next month, but it is also a reward to loyal readers on a number of levels.  If you haven’t read Wasteland, you’re really missing out on a terrific comic.  If you abandoned the book during its scheduling troubles, it’s time to come back to it.

Quick Takes:

Daredevil #6 – Wow, do I ever love Marcos Martin’s art.  It’s a shame that he’s leaving the title (although it’s not that sad, as he’s going to be working on a book with Brian K. Vaughan).  This issue has DD fight The Bruiser, and talk his way out of a conflict with five of Marvel’s terrorist organizations.  A great issue from cover to cover.

FF #12 – Now that the Fantastic Four series has returned to the stands, it would seem that Marvel is going to keep this title running, with a focus on the Future Foundation (which is basically a bunch of kids, Alex Power, and Dragon Man).  For the first eleven issues of this book, the Foundation kids have been the best part of things, and my hope is that Marvel is just going to run two titles rather than double-shipping one all the time, so in the end, it’s the same thing.  Jonathan Hickman is writing this series too, and it’s tied very tightly into the large story he’s been telling since coming to the Baxter Building.  He’s joined by Juan Bobillo on art, and that makes things kind of strange.  Bobillo’s style is pretty cool, but he’s very freely redesigning characters, which is not going to fit with the more realistic-looking parent title.  There are a few places where I couldn’t tell who was speaking (Franklin looks like Alex, for example), and Leech looks to be about three feet tall.  I like experimentation in comics art, but this was pretty jarring.

Haunt #19 – I previously had little interest in Haunt, but now the book is being done by Joe Casey and Nathan Fox, so of course I’m going to buy it.  I had read the first issue of this comic a little while ago, but I don’t really know what is going on here.  I don’t care either though, as Fox’s art is gorgeous in a very messy sort of way, and I trust Casey enough to bring me up to speed over the next few issues.  A bit of a recap of what has happened before would have been helpful, but I also get the feeling that Casey is going to be jettisoning or ignoring whatever he’s not interested in.  I always wonder, when a book undergoes such a radical change in style and direction, if it will lose more regular readers than it will gain.  I know that in my case, Haunt has gained a new reader here.

THUNDER Agents #1 – I’m really happy that DC has given this title a second shot.  I enjoyed the recent twelve-issue run, and especially liked how Nick Spencer introduced the characters in a story that jumped all over the place in time.  For this volume (at least so far) there is only one artist drawing the book, and that is Wes Craig.  I liked his stuff on Guardians of the Galaxy a couple years back, and find that his style here has matured and grown quite nicely.  What works in this book is the way that Spencer is focusing on the team’s two handlers instead of the superheroes, giving it a fresh feel.  I think it’s a shame that DC didn’t include this title as part of their relaunch, and I urge everyone who is buying some of the more obscure ‘New 52’ books to give this a chance.  I would love it if this became an on-going series past these first six issues.

Thunderbolts #166 – The time-lost escaped Thunderbolts have ended up in Victorian London, where Mr. Hyde is allowing his inner-Ripper out to play, with Satanna’s help.  This issue was a little slow, and I’m hoping this is only a two-parter, and it will be done with the next issue.

Uncanny X-Men #2 – When I first saw that Mister Sinister was going to be the villain for the first arc of the relaunched Uncanny X-Men, I couldn’t help but groan.  Can you think of a stupider name for a villain not designed in the Golden Age?  The thing is, Kieron Gillen’s having a lot of fun with him, portraying him as a dandyish egomaniac, while still being a plausible threat.  This is a good comic, with some nice art (provided by a total of six people, which is lot for a twenty-page comic.

X-Men Legacy #259 – So this is Mike Carey’s last story arc on X-Men Legacy, and where I expected a lot of discussion about where Rogue’s squad is going to land on the whole Schism issue, instead we get the reversal of another recent mutant death, albeit one that almost no one cared about.  Really, I’ve been reading the X-Men for almost twenty-five years, and my immediate reaction to the ‘big reveal’ at the end was to ask, “Who?”  I really respect Carey as a writer, but I feel like his time with the X-Men has been very inconsistent, and frequently sub-par.

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

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #4

Wolverine #19

Bargain Comics:

Astonishing X-Men #41 – This whole Monster Island/Mentallo story has been pretty underwhelming, but kind of amusing.  This issue is notable because it’s drawn by Nick Bradshaw, who will be taking over Wolverine and the X-Men soon, and I was curious to see how close his art style is to Chris Bachalo’s.  Not very, but his lighter tone should fit with the atmosphere Jason Aaron has created in that book.

DC Retroactive: Justice League of America – The 1980s #1 – I missed most of the Detroit Justice League when they first came around, but then started looking for it in back issue bins after I became a fan of Luke McDonnell’s art in Suicide Squad.  Sadly, McDonnell’s fingerprints are nowhere to be seen on this nostalgia trip, but it’s still a fun little comic that reminds me of less complicated League.  Reading the reprint story (with art by Chuck Patton), I wonder why Vixen’s first design was so horrible…

Fear Itself: The Home Front #6 & 7 – I guess it was the completist side of me that wanted to finish this mini, despite it’s general lack of impact on the main story, and its general lacklustreness.  Maybe I just wanted to see Amadeus Cho in a comic again.

Flashpoint #5 – If there’s anything that I know after reading the end of this series after having read three months of the DCnU, it’s that I’m really glad that Geoff Johns isn’t writing The Flash anymore.  This obsession he has with Thawne and time travel needs to be put to rest for a good three or four years at the least.  Nice emotionally manipulative ending though…

Stitched #1 – Between ’68 and Graveyard of Empires, it seems that the zombie war comic is becoming a genre of its own right.  Now here comes Garth Ennis to give us another variation on the theme – zombies under the control of Taliban fighters.  There’s some promise to this title, but it feels awfully familiar.

Ultimate Captain America #3 & 4 – It’s interesting to think about this.  Frank Miller created the Marvel U character Nuke some twenty years ago, and he was immediately understood to be an example of what is wrong with American military intervention, and black budget spending.  I guess now it’s come to light that really, Frank Miller saw Nuke as a hero when he made him, and Daredevil as the villain.  I mean, DD would support Occupy Wall Street, while Nuke would happily hunt down and torture terrorists, especially Muslim terrorists.  And here I saw the character as satire, not as an ideal.  What does this have to do with Ultimate Cap?  Nothing really, except Jason Aaron’s mini-series has Ultimate Nuke torturing Ultimate Cap while exposing the worst of America’s 20th century, in a Cambodian jungle.  It just got me thinking.  The comic is alright, for this kind of thing.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Finder Library Volume 1

by Carla Speed McNeil

I don’t understand how it is that until this last year, I’d not been aware of Finder.  The series has been around since 1997, and while self-published, and therefore maybe a little hard to find in all comics shops, it has garnered a great deal of praise.  Perhaps I had heard of it, but I’m sure I’d never seen it before Dark Horse released the original graphic novel Voice, which I read a while back, and then reprinted the entire series to date in the two volumes of The Finder Library.

I think I’ve come across my new favourite comic.  This first volume contains twenty-two issues of the comic, and weighs in at 590 pages of comics, with a solid forty more pages of notes.  And trust me, you’ll need the notes – this is one complex piece of work.

Finder is about the denizens of Anvard, a very old domed city.  It’s so old that no one remembers who built the dome, or how it works.  Now millions of people live crammed into its space, on multiple levels (some never seeing any light) and on three shifts, so that their world can function more efficiently.  Anvardian society is divided into clans of people who share similar traits (the Llaveracs, the most prominent in this comic, all appear female, regardless of their actual gender) or similar career functions (the Medawars, of secondary importance in this comic, run the police, the army, and the medical professions).  Non-members of clans, or people of mixed parentage, inhabit lowlier levels of society.  Among the lowest are the Ascians, a nomadic group that live outside the domes, and are basically analogues to Native Americans.  The lowliest of the Ascians are the Sin-Eaters, people who take on the regrets and mistakes of others.  There is also a secretive order of Finders, who may be seen as scouts, and who are highly regarded.

The central character of this book is Jaeger, both Finder and Sin-Eater, a half-breed with no real home and an endless sense of wanderlust.  Jaeger has always been close to the Grosvenor family, who share the spotlight with him.  Emma Grosvenor is a Llaverac beauty, while her ex-husband Brigham, is a Medawar.  Emma and their children, Rachel, Lynne (a boy), and Marcie were all badly abused by Brigham, who had kept them confined for years as a method of controlling them, before they finally escaped.  Now, Brigham is out of jail and wants to find his family, and Jaeger, who feels he owes a debt to both sides, is trying to keep everyone safe.  That makes up the first half of this book, in the story called Sin-Eater.

It is followed by King of the Cats, a much lighter and funnier story, that involves Jaeger attempting to aid in the peace negotiations between a number of bands of his people and the Nyima, a lion-like people who are their traditional enemies.  Most of this action takes place in another domed city, Munkyland, a Disneyworld gone horribly wrong.  This story is very amusing, while it also shines a different light on Jaeger.

The final story, Talisman, is incredible.  It focuses on Marcie, the youngest Grosvenor child, her love of books and writing, and the irreparable sense of loss caused by her mother having thrown out her only book when she was young.  I think any reader would be able to relate to this beautiful story about the hazards of the creative process.

Carla Speed McNeil is a much more incredible cartoonist than I’d have given her credit for being based simply on the Finder stories being published in Dark Horse Presents.  This book is endlessly layered and textured with hundreds of madcap ideas and distractions, yet she is able to transport some very nuanced stories about human nature into her fantastical world without missing a step.  The notes in the back of the book are essential, but not because she isn’t able to tell her story with the comics alone.  The notes act as a window into this fully realized world she has created, and allow her to make things as rich as she possibly can.

Reading a book this thick can become a chore at times, but instead, I found myself willfully slowing down my reading, so as to savour every panel.  I’m thankful that I have the second volume already waiting for me on a shelf, and while I’m excited to read it, I am going to give it some time, as when that is done, all that will be left to read of this series are the wonderful (but now woefully inadequate) eight pages a month in Dark Horse Presents.

Album of the Week:

Analog Africa No. 10 – Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979

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