The Weekly Round-Up #106 With The Walking Dead, American Vampire, Blue Estate, Cyclops & More

Well, Merry Christmas everyone!  Right now, I have no way of telling whether or not I’ll have a column on time for you next week, but it will get done.  Enjoy your holidays, and let’s hope there are lots of great comics coming your way.

Best Comic of the Week:

The Walking Dead #92

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

How long has it been since we’ve seen some straight forward zombie killing in this comic?  How long has it been since Rick was just a supporting character for an issue?  When was the last time Michonne said more than ten words in a row?  Kirkman shakes things up this issue (possibly by quite a bit), and it makes for a terrific comic.

Granted, it’s always a terrific comic.  Abraham and Michonne decide to patrol the perimeter of the Community on their own, checking how well the new defenses that the group have put up are working, and run in to a small group of walkers, which are easily dispatched.  Surprisingly, a man appears to talk with them, and their instincts cause them to react, escalating the situation to the point where the guy quickly has Michonne’s sword to her neck.

This scene immediately brought to mind Michonne’s rough treatment at the hands of the Governor so long ago, and I think it was meant to, but because this is a great comic, it wasn’t mentioned right away.  Kirkman leaves a lot to the reader to add up, and that’s why this book works so well.

Anyway, we learn that this guy represents another settlement on the other side of Washington, and that there are at least two other communities in the immediate vicinity.  Every time our heroes meet new people, there is a ton of potential for new story material, and I feel like this comic just opened up once again to some new directions.  Will their entrance to a larger trade-based economy be peaceful, or are we going to be looking at a repeat of the Governor situation?  And most importantly, why does this new guy refer to himself as Jesus?  I think that was the most interesting revelation this month, but it really just sat there.

As always, The Walking Dead does not disappoint.  It has held my esteem throughout the year, and with Scalped looking to end in a few months, it will soon be my uncontested favourite comic.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #21

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Jordi Bernet

Scott Snyder’s decided to finish off his ‘Beast in the Cave’ arc by dodging something that I expected since the end of the first chapter.  All along, this story has been telling us about series baddie Skinner Sweet and his adoptive brother Jim Book’s time in the US Army, between the two men became bitter enemies.  They, and their unit, have been following a group of Apache warriors into some mountains, looking to capture or kill them.  The leader of the Apache has led his remaining troops to a cave, where an ancient Native American vampire lives.

I thought for sure, as this issue progressed, that Skinner or Book would come face to face with the ancient vampire, or her spawn.  Instead, Snyder swerves in a different direction, and it’s interesting.

Of course, the main point of this issue is that we see the start of the rift between Skinner and Book, as the one wants to go his own way, and the other wishes to adhere to the rules, even if that gets him put in front of a firing squad.  Book has been out of this series for a while now, so it’s strange that Snyder takes so much time to build up his character, but I think part of that is to provide a contrast to Skinner’s darkness.

These three issues with guest artist Jordi Bernet have been a nice treat.  The only person who draws a better Western is John Severin, but Bernet’s cartoonish approach works very well here (except for his monstrous vampires – I thought they looked silly).  Still, I’m looking forward to seeing regular artist Rafael Albuquerque back next month, as I do the regular cast of this comic.

Blue Estate #8

Written by Viktor Kalvachev, Kosta Yanev, and Andrew Osborne
Art by Viktor Kalvachev, Nathan Fox, Toby Cypress, Andrew Robinson, and Peter Nguyen

The longer the series runs, the more I find myself getting caught up in the twist and turns of Kalvachev and company’s story.  Last month, most of the issue focused on Bruce Maddox, his trainer and lover Marcellus, and Clarence, the man that killed them both in a hit that he thought had been ordered by mob boss Don Luciano but had really been requested by the Don’s stupid son Tony, although it also suited Clarences own plans, and those of his new friend Rachel, Bruce’s wife.  Got all that?  I hope so, because I haven’t mentioned the Russian mobster whose money got taken during this hit, or the involvement of the Roy Devines, one a top cop, and the other a loser private eye.

Needless to say, the story is intricate and complicated, but it also works surprisingly well.  This issue explores the fall-out of the hit, as the Russians lean on the Italians to get their money back, and Roy Jr. tries to make a name for himself out of the whole mess.  For such a complex book, and with such violent subject matter, it is surprisingly funny, as Kalvachev and his other writers whip up new characters like Lupe, Roy Sr.’s assistant, who has the hots for him.

Originally, I started buying this book for the roster of artists Kalvachev is using, but now I’m reading it as much for the story.  This issue brings Peter Nguyen and Andrew Robinson to the fold.  I am happy to see them working with such greats as Nathan Fox and Toby Cypress.

This is one comic that doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and is definitely not finding itself constrained by such modern comics plagues as writing for the trade or padding arcs to make them longer.

Cyclops #7

Written by Matz
Art by Gaël de Meyere

I think Cyclops dragged a little somewhere in the middle, but this seventh issue was originally published as the first half of the last French issue, and there is a definite sense of momentum that propels the story now.

Doug Pistoia is a world-wide celebrity, starring as the leader of a unit of Peacekeepers whose every movement is recorded and streamed live on a reality show.  Pistoia and his crew have gone rogue, having discovered that their corporate masters at Multicorps had manipulated them into killing some civilians – an action that both ensured their silence and pushed a region into war, thereby giving Multicorps a lucrative UN Peacekeeping contract.  Now Doug and his crew are on the run from Multicorps, and go on a rival news station to present their evidence of wrong-doing.

This series has never been huge on characterization beyond Doug, and it’s a little hard to tell how everyone is holding up under pressure, but this Fugitive-style story works very well.  I do wish that original series artist Luc Jacamon had stuck around, because I loved his jungles scenes in The Killer, and the way he textured light filtered through the canopy.  Replacement artist de Meyere does this well, but not as well as Jacamon would have.

I look forward to seeing how this series finishes, and (as usual with Archaia), hope that that conclusion comes sooner rather than later.

Pigs #4

Written by Nate Cosby and Ben McCool
Art by Breno Tamura and Will Sliney

Pigs is a very interesting comic.  It’s about a group of Soviet sleeper agents who were hidden in Cuba to wait for orders.  The original members of the cell raised their children to carry on their mission, which has now actually begun.

The core members of the group have come the United States to carry out their mission, which so far has remained shrouded in mystery, except for some scenes in the first issue which are finally picked up on again in this fourth issue involving one of the original members of the cell being interrogated about the whereabouts of the President.  They have his hand it seems – it’s just the rest of them that’s missing.

Anyway, most of this issue continues from the last, where the cell have attacked the vacation home of an American senator.  Felix, the one member who had left the cell and made a life for himself in the US, before being forced back into this mess, is still reluctant to use lethal force (despite the fact that we have been led to believe that he killed a gun shop owner last month).  There is tension in the group, and we learn that the Senator may not have been targeted for information, but for another reason.

It’s all very mysterious, this book.  What is clearest are the flashbacks to Cuba in the early 90s, where Felix and his associate killed some boys who were picking on him, despite the fact that it led the cell exposed to discovery.  Each issue lately has been showing us more about Felix’s unhappy childhood, and it is clear that the writers are expecting to make a lot of use of this character.

I like the way so much is being played close to the vest, while enough information is being dribbled out to make the reader continue their interest.  Tamura’s art is looking stronger with each issue, the Will Sliney-drawn flashbacks work nicely, and amazingly, so far this book has kept to a monthly schedule (check out Ben McCool’s track record on his other titles, if you are curious as to why I think that is remarkable).  Also, this month’s issue has a Becky Cloonan cover, so you know it has to be cool.

The Secret History Book Seventeen: Operation Kadesh

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordey

I really have no idea what’s going on with Archaia, but it’s nice to see that they are publishing books again, and it’s always nice to see another issue of The Secret History.

This is probably the most sprawling and complex comic I’ve ever read.  This issue alone takes place in Egypt, Soviet Russia, Hungary, and the US, with further discussion of events in Lebanon, Korea, and Israel.  The series has followed the established events of human history, and worked them into an alternate history, founded on the existence of four (now three) Archons, powerful immortal beings that are able to use four rune stones to magical effect.

Now, in the post-nuclear world, the remaining Archons are losing their influence on events (Erlin even gets tossed out of the White House by Richard Nixon), but are still finding themselves involved in the course of history.

Much of this particular volume is confusing, as the story flits from location to location, without centring for very long on any one character or group of characters.  Once the comic decides to focus on the events of the Soviet takeover of Hungary, things improve considerably.  The introduction of Lizbeth, a Hungarian Roma player (in other words, a person with abilities) helps ground the story, and make things much more interesting.  I hope we see more of her in the next issue (whenever that gest published – there is as much chance of it coming out next week as next June).

As always, Igor Kordey does a terrific job of keeping this massive cast of characters straight, while still creating some dynamic pages.  This is a fascinating book, but sometimes reading it really feels like work.

Severed #5

Written by Scott Snyder and Scott Tuft
Art by Attila Futaki

Jack and the creepy imposter salesman cannibal guy are on the road together, with Jack thinking that his friend Sam has abandoned him and stolen his wallet.  This gives Mr. Fisher (not his real name) a number of opportunities to teach Jack about what life on the road is like, as he takes him with him, Jack thinks, to record his music and then help him find his father.  We readers are pretty sure Fisher plans to eat Jack, but we don’t know when, so every creepy looking roadside house or dive bar looks like it’s going to be the place.  This adds a lot of tension to the book.

And really, the book is tense enough.  Fisher expounds at length on how great life on the road is, but quickly we realise that this is the same road the traveling circus traveled in Carnivale.  To drive home that point, Snyder and Tuft give Attila Futaki the opportunity to show how twisted things are out there in a manner that reminds me of Eduardo Risso’s penchant for including strange little silent stories on-panel in books like 100 Bullets.

As this issue opens, we see read Fisher’s speech about how on the road, if you want something, you take it.  These words are shown over a sequence that has a man with a knife running across a field to where another man appears to be holding down a naked woman.  This looks like a violent rape scene, but what we find out on the next page is that it is instead a birthing.  It’s a cool visual trick, which helps remind the reader that things aren’t as they appear in this book, which is something Jack takes the entire issue to catch on to.

I’ve been very impressed with this comic since it started.  At times, the characters behave in a very naive fashion, but when one remembers the time period, and its relative lack of sophistication around things like serial killers, it’s a little easier to suspend disbelief.

With two issues remaining, I’m looking forward to seeing how Jack is going to get himself out of this situation.  I’m also hoping that we haven’t seen the last of Sam, as she was a pretty cool character.

The Strain #1

Written by Guillermo Del Toro, Chuck Hogan, and David Lapham
Art by Mike Huddleston

When I first heard about this project, a twelve-issue comics series featuring writing by David Lapham and art by Mike Huddleston, I was not very happy.  You would think I’d be over-joyed.  I have been a huge fan of Lapham for years, and have been very impressed with Huddleston over the last year, and yet, I was irritated.  Mostly, I was displeased because I don’t see how Huddleston can work on this book and do the amazing job he’s been doing on Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker with Joe Casey at Image.  I imagine this is going to be the higher paying gig (it has some big names and a marketing push attached to it after all), and I would like to see Mr. Huddleston’s amazing art reach the widest possible audience, but I also want my Butcher.

Anyway, since this first issue is only a dollar, I thought I’d give it a shot.  It seems that filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (who I’ve never heard of) have written a trilogy of novels called The Strain that is pretty popular with people who read vampire novels. Now Lapham (man I wish this guy would draw something again) and Huddleston are adapting the story for comics.

This issue opens with an old woman telling her grandchild a story about a freakishly tall Polish nobleman who changes into some kind of creature of the night during a hunting trip to Romania.  The story then shifts to modern day New York, where an airplane has landed at JFK, and then gone dark and silent.  A team from the CDC is called out, where our main character, Ephraim, is one of the first to board the plane and discover that everyone on it save three are dead, although with no cause being visible.  Later, a creepy coffin is also removed from the plane, and I guess things are underway.

Having no familiarity with the source material, I can’t speak to Lapham’s accuracy with the plotting.  I can say that the story really started to draw me in, and that Huddleston’s art is terrific.  It’s a lot calmer than what he’s been doing on Butcher Baker, and in some places it made me think of Bá and Moon (which is always a good thing).  As much as I didn’t welcome new of this comic’s existence, I think I’m interested enough to get the second issue.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle #7

by Michael Kupperman

It’s been a year and a half since Michael Kupperman last gifted us with an issue of Tales Designed to Thrizzle, his bizarre and self-indulgent anthology series.  I had really just discovered Mr. Kupperman at the time of the last issue (I loved his stuff in Strange Tales), and realize that I haven’t read anything of his since, which is something I should take care of.

This issue of Tales gives us a collection of short stories told in Kupperman’s usual style of thick lines and narrative non-sequiturs. Stories here involve topics like the evil of bathtubs (much more deadly than any other sort of bathing tub, we are told).

Most of the issue is taken up with a rambling story starring Quincy, M.E.  The famed television medical examiner travels to heaven to consult on a case, but is sidetracked by the fact that Saint Peter has his own comic now, and the two have to figure out whose comic they are appearing in.  Quincy then goes on a journey through his own dreams which takes him to a number of bizarre places, including the set of Reservoir Dogs II.

As is usually the case, Mark Twain and Albert Einstein show up in this book for a little fun, as does McArf (who looks a great deal like McGruf, the crime dog).  Kupperman also experiments with fumetti, or photo comics.

In all, this is an amusing and strange comic.  It’s definitely not for everyone, but I enjoyed it a lot.  Kupperman has a unique voice in comics, with a humour that would appeal to fans of Wondermark.  I really have to get a hold of his Autobiography of Mark Twain, which came out earlier this year.

The Unwritten # 32

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and MK Perker

I find it hard to believe that there was a time when I was going to drop The Unwritten.  When the series started, it took a while before it found sure footing, or at least that’s how it felt to me, who had never read or been interested in the Harry Potter books which this series owes so much to.

Now though, The Unwritten has become one of my favourite monthly comics.  Tom Taylor has taken action against the Cabal which controls fictional realities, and uses them to shape modern consciousness.  His actions of two issues ago (or last issue, if you skip the .5 issues that are coming out two weeks after each ‘regular’ issue) have left him completely drained of magic, and at the beginning of this issue, Tom is stuck somewhere in Antarctica, completely out of juice.

Even after he is brought back to the research station Tom and his friends have commandeered as their base through the sacrifices of the Frankenstein Monster, Tom looks like he is going to die.  Richie decides that only the Tinkerbell Effect can rescue them now, as the station’s generator begins to fail (it was powered by Tom’s magic).  I can see how this comic can really appeal to the blogosphere and the people who live on message boards, as Carey’s story is about empowering them to have an effect on the stories they read.

While all this is going on, The Cabal is figuring out how to track Tom, and Pullman has some new ideas in that regard.  This has become an action-filled book, and each new issue is ratcheting up the tension and the excitement.  If The Unwritten didn’t grab you at the beginning, you should give it another try.  Carey and Gross are doing some incredible work here.

Quick Takes:

Avengers Academy #23 – Maybe it’s just me who thinks this way, but where this was one of the best comics Marvel published pre-Fear Itself, since the book changed up its cast and location, I think it’s really starting to slip.  X-23 is added to the cast with this month, and her inclusion feels like an opportunity for some after-school special moments.  Similarly, this is the issue where Striker comes out of the closet to Julie Power, and the whole scene feels very forced and unnatural.  Part of the problem is with Tom Raney’s art – his kids look a little too young and cute in comparison to how they’ve been portrayed up to this point, and his action scenes just look weird (check out Striker climbing through a jungle gym-like thing – it looks more awkward than Erik Larsen’s Spider-Man).  This is a very dense issue – a ton of stuff happens, but I feel like this is no longer the story that Christos Gage wanted to tell, and that he is instead getting a lot of editorial interference that is watering down the earlier emotional power of his stories.  Kudos for bringing an old ROM villain out of limbo (figurative limbo, not literal Limbo).

Baltimore: The Curse Bells #5 – Another Baltimore story finishes here, and while I like it and the series, I feel like there needs to be a longer break before the next mini-series.  Baltimore is cool and all, but his tireless pursuit of the vampire lord Haigus is going to start feeling a little like a kid’s cartoon, if the enemy keeps slipping out of his grasp like he does here.  This issue does have an interesting cameo by Adolf Hitler though, so you should check it out just for that.

Batgirl #4 – The Mirror storyline finishes quite well, with a few more clues as to Barbara’s ‘miraculous recovery’, and a last-page surprise that I’m looking forward to learning about.  Gail Simone’s starting to find her groove on this book, which kind of didn’t look like it was happening earlier.

Batman and Robin #4 – I continue to enjoy the way that Peter Tomasi is exploring the relationship between Bruce and Damian, as two of the most stubborn people in the DCU butt up against each other.  Now that Nobody is offering Damian a different path, it is going to be interesting to see how much influence the Bat-Family has had on him.  Tomasi and Gleason are doing very good work here.

Batwoman #4 – There is so much to like here, but I think the best thing about this comic is that DC moved all the ads to the back of the book to give us an unobstructed view of JH Williams amazing art and gorgeous double-page spreads.  I wish more comics were printed this way, and had so much attention to artistic integrity.  Williams continues to make this the best comic of the relaunch, as Flamebird gets viciously attacked, Kate Kane gets a better sense of what’s going on with the missing children, and Cameron Chase gets closer to catching her (Bat)woman, although she uses some very questionable tactics to do it.  Terrific stuff throughout.

Demon Knights #4 – I think I may be adding this to my pull-list.  At the least, I’m going to pick up the next few issues on the stands, because this book has me intrigued.  This month’s chapter, with its heavy focus on The Shining Knight, is a little confusing, but it looks very nice, with regular artist Diogenes Neves being joined by Michael Choi for the flashback scenes.  I was incredibly confused by the scene where Merlin suggests that Camelot fell nine thousand years ago, yet the Knight drank from the Holy Grail at that point.  The math really doesn’t add up here.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #4 – The first story arc concludes here and most of the issue is spent on wall-to-wall action as Frankenstein and his team finish off the threat of the Monster Planet.  This series still reminds me quite a bit of BPRD, but is much faster moving and stylistically more rough-hewn.  Jeff Lemire has established his characters a little, but I’m hoping that he’ll now begin to explore them a little more.  I would also like to see Alberto Ponticelli given the chance to draw some of the character-oriented scenes he excelled at in Unknown Soldier.  I’m disappointed that the next issue is going to be a tie-in with OMAC.  I’m hoping that it is still pretty self-contained, as I have no desire to read that book.

Grifter #4 – I was starting to think that I might not stick with this comic, but this new issue has impressed me in a number of ways.  First, Nathan Edmonson has Cash attack Oliver Queen’s company looking for Daemonites, which means that Green Arrow shows up.  I don’t normally  care about Green Arrow at all, but with Ann Nocenti taking over the title soon, I was a little curious to see how the character was being handled in the DCnU.  Scott Clark takes over the art chores from Cafu this issue, and while he has a similar style, his photo-referenced and manipulated backgrounds give the book a different look.  My only remaining problem with this title is that I don’t see what it’s purpose will be after the Daemonite issue is resolved eventually.  Speaking of which – was that Daemonite/Demon Knight mix-up by the Green Arrow suggestive of some kind of connection between these two books, or is it just an example of subtle marketing?

Iron Man 2.0 #11 – I know that this comic has been cancelled, but it has really turned into a bit of a trainwreck.  This issue has two writers and four artists, with incredibly different styles.  Most of this issue reads like Iron Man 1.0, as Jim Rhodes, the supposed star of the book, is shunted into a facilitative role, as a strange smattering of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers try to stop the Palmer Addley infection from spreading.  I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating – Ariel Olivetti ruined this comic.  I wish the other artists had drawn the whole issue.

Journey Into Mystery #632 – Now that this comic is no longer so constrained by Fear Itself (and remember, it was the best part of that ‘event’), Kieron Gillen is taking it to some very good places.  This issue has Young Loki receive a Yule gift from Hela – the puppies that are the natural consequence of Loki having left the Hel-Hound alone with Garm, the giant dog that guards Hel.  Loki and Leah go about finding the young Hel-hounds some interesting homes, but can’t seem to find anyone willing to take the most verbal (or is that verbally abusive) of the pups.  Gillen is having a lot of fun writing the more innocent Loki, and I’m enjoying watching the character develop.  Were Marvel and DC likely to do inter-company cross-overs, a Loki/Damien Wayne comic would be terrific.  I love the art by Mitch and Bettie Breitweiser – I would be very happy if they would become the regular artists on this title.

New Avengers #19 – Here’s how this issue works:  Daredevil talks to Spider-Girl (3 pages).  Iron Man and the team stand around talking in rubble (3 pages).  Gorgon talks to Viper/Madame Hydra, and tries to choke her twice (4 pages).  The team talk to each other, with an emphasis on Luke and Jessica talking. (3 pages).  Norman Osborn talks to his new Avengers, in a recap of the last issue (2 pages).  We see Norman’s Star Destroyer for a page.  The Avengers sit around a table acting suspicious of Victoria Hand (2 pages).  They leave on a mission, but go to the wrong place, before going to the right place (3 pages).  As always, Bendis’s dialogue is good, but this title is getting ridiculous.  By the way, Avengers Vs. X-Men is likely going to be set around a table for Bendis’s issues, and nothing is going to happen.

The Ray #1 – I wasn’t sure if I’d like this new, non-legacy take on the Ray, mostly because writers Palmiotti and Gray can be pretty inconsistent at times, but was pretty pleased with how this turned out.  The new Ray is a Korean-American lifeguard who was hit by a transforming beam of light, and who’s biggest problem with his new powers is his constant nudity.  This comic is played very lightly, but that works very well here.  Jamal Igle always does good work, and this series reminds me a lot of the early issues of the Jason Rusch Firestorm series, or the first Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle series.  I’ll probably be back for the next issue.

The Shade #3 – I feel like I was a little hard on the second issue of The Shade, especially in light of the news that DC is unhappy with its sales.  The truth is, this is a good comic, and this issue is a huge improvement over the last.  James Robinson has the Shade travel to Australia to meet with Darnell Caldecott, about whom we learn something interesting at the end of the issue.  Caldecott is protected by an Aboriginie god, and so to learn how to defeat it, Shade must meet with Diablo Blacksmith, the Australian Zatarra.  There are lots of interesting conversations in this book, and a very cool fight scene.  Robinson imbues the book with Australian-ness, showing dusty Alice Springs as a strong contrast to lovely Opal City.  Cully Hamner has been a favourite artist of mine since Green Lantern: Mosaic, and it’s nice to see that he gets to go nuts a little here.  The best news of all?  Next issue is a ‘Times Past’ story – in his Starman series, Robinson would periodically get a terrific guest artist to draw a story set in a different era, and it was always wonderful.  Stop trade-waiting or sitting on the fence about this comic, and start buying it.

SHIELD #4 – Ah, Jonathan Hickman, what craziness Marvel has let you get up to with this comic.  This is Hickman at his most Grant Morrison-esque, as we get three different versions of the future, with the same battle playing out in all three.  The story is getting a little hard to follow, but Dustin Weaver draws this book so beautifully, that it’s all good.  This series must read better in trades, because the wait between issues is killing me here.  This is just about the only Marvel comic where I read the recap page at the beginning, and I’m always glad it’s there.

’68: Jungle Jim One-Shot – I didn’t enjoy this new ’68 one-shot as much as I did the previous one.  The story is about an American soldier who was the only survivor when his unit came across the zombies that have infested Vietnam.  He was mentored by his Sergeant, the titular Jungle Jim, and now hunts the jungles looking for him to save him.  Along the way, he finds a VC POW camp, and liberates one of the soldiers held captive there, before taking him home to a treehouse where he lives with a Vietnamese woman.  That’s where things become a little hard to follow, and harder to believe (accepting the zombies, of course).  The art, by Nate Van Dyke is pretty good – it’s a strange hybrid of Steve Dillon and Riley Rossmo.

Star Wars: Agent of the Empire – Iron Eclipse #1 – Imagine a James Bond/Star Wars mash-up, and you’ll get a good idea of what this new series written by John Ostrander is like.  Jahan Cross is a secret agent for the Empire, and he’s searching out corruption in the days between the bad new movies and classic original ones.  The James Bond comparison is apt – he even goes to the Empire’s equivalent of Q for some new equipment before heading out on his mission (and running in to Han Solo and Chewbacca on some dingy corporate world).  Ostrander has a knack for writing the Star Wars you wish George Lucas actually made (read Legacy, and you’ll see what I mean), and Stéphane Roux’s pencils fit the story very nicely.  This is a pretty cool book.

Suicide Squad #4 – I fear this may become the New 52 comic that I buy month in and month out, and then endlessly complain about how it doesn’t live up to my expectations.  I find so much potential and excitement in the concept, that I really want this to work.  The problem, I think, is with Adam Glass’s writing.  He has the team fighting some Hydra-like organization called Basilisk, but we don’t really understand who they are or why.  Captain Boomerang is brought into the book, but then disposed of quickly.  The characterizations feel off, and the constant discussion of micro-bombs whose timers are ever closer to detonation is just tiring.  Yet, I want this book to work very badly.  Any chance that John Ostrander can take over DC?

Twenty Seven: Second Set #4 – I found this second series to sag a little, but the ending is pretty cool.  Alex Garland has been chasing fame his whole life, going so far as to entertain making deals with creatures who aren’t exactly devils, but are the embodiment of different aspects of creativity.  Now, he’s in a pitched battle with an 80s one-hit wonder who wants his abilities, and is in danger of getting what he’s always wanted.  Charles Soule is using this series to make some interesting comments on our celebrity-obsessed culture.  I predict a third set isn’t too far away…

Uncanny X-Force #18 – A terrific ending to the very long Dark Angel Saga.  Rick Remender gives us some very nice emotional moments between Psylocke and Angel, while Fantomex becomes the real hero of the book.  Jerome Opena’s art is amazing throughout this issue, and Esad Ribic helps out with a few pages, providing a consistent look to things, while also making them different enough to be noticeable.  I’ve been surprised by how good this comic has become, although there are more than a few loose ends that need to be tied up with the next issue.  I do have to say that I hate polybagged comics – this is not the 90s Marvel; please don’t go down that road again!

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

Operation Broken Wing 1936 #2

Star Trek Legion of Super-Heroes #3

Stitched #2

Ultimate Comics X-Men #4

Bargain Comics:

Avenging Spider-Man #1 – This book got so many good reviews and a lot of positive buzz, so I thought I’d check it out.  It’s a fun read, but really, for $4, it goes by way too quickly, with too many double-splash pages (which don’t work so well with the digital version I downloaded, just to check out).  Joe Madureira’s artwork is nice (I did like his run on Uncanny X-Men back in the day), and Zeb Wells makes for a funny Spider-Man, but there is no meat to this comic whatsoever.

Battle Scars #1 – When I didn’t get much out of The Fearless, I pretty much decided to write this mini-series off, as it’s basically written by the same team.  Perhaps I was a little hasty – Fraction, Bunn, and Yost spend most of this issue introducing Sergeant Marcus Johnson, who it seems is wanted by a bunch of people, but no one is saying why.  It’s nice to see something so character driven, especially considering that this is related to an ‘event’ comic.  I love the Taskmaster, so his appearance in the book is a plus too.

The Ultimates #1 – 3 – I really didn’t want to start buying up the Ultimate line again, but with names like Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer attached to it, I’ve been curious.  I haven’t read an issue of Ultimates since Jeph Loeb’s first issue (the one that caused me to make my Jeph Loeb rule), but figured it was time to check it out again.  Hickman’s always great at creating intricate stories, but this time around, he’s going for more of a Michael Bay effect, forcing Nick Fury to try to manage multiple massive vague threats at the same time.  Three issues in, I still don’t really understand why some advanced people are trying to take over the world, but with Esad Ribic on art, it’s fun to just sit back and watch what’s going on.  If you don’t know the characters though, you will be very confused, as no space is given to character development for anyone other than Iron Man and Thor, and even that is pretty scarce.  This is too much blockbuster with no heart and little brains, but it’s still kind of cool.

X-Men #18 – 21 – I still don’t really understand this title.  Victor Gischler is writing what amounts to X-Men Team-Up (The Avenging X-Men?), as the first two issues I read here feature the Future Foundation, and the second two War Machine.  It’s been a little rare to see the X-Men interact with the rest of the Marvel Universe up to this point, so I suppose that’s a thrill for some, but the stories are more than a little inconsequential.  I feel like nothing important (and yes, I feel like turning Jubilee into a vampire was unimportant) is ever going to happen in this comic, as Gischler is only allowed to borrow these characters.  To that end, this book could almost be out of continuity.  Strangely, the Regenesis-labelled issues don’t even reflect the direction this book is supposed to be going in.  I thought that Psylocke was going to be running Utopia’s security team, yet here we have Storm leading a team to a small former Soviet state that is playing with Sentinels.  These aren’t bad comics, but they aren’t memorable either.  And someone should have checked out the design of the new War Machine armor, because it doesn’t look like what we are seeing here…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Malinky Robot: Collected Stories & Other Bits

by Sonny Liew

I was a little surprised to see how many of the stories collected in this book I’ve read before, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of Sonny Liew’s unusual comic.  Malinky Robot is about Atari and Oliver, two kids (actually, I’m not too sure what Oliver is; he looks a little like a wool-less sheep) who hang out in the city of San’ya, a post-urban sprawl of slums.

The two kids have some pretty simple adventures, involving stolen bicycles, a rare Stinky Fish, and the joy of found money (a large denominational bill, no less).  They don’t go to school (although their friend Misha does), and they are well known to a group of older men like Mr. Bon Bon the construction worker or Mr. Nabisco, who builds robots.

Liew’s work captures a sense of childhood, but also the unending possibilities of the urban experience.  Some of the stories don’t even involve them – there is one nice story that focuses on the loyalties of Mr. Nabisco’s domestic robot.  Anything goes in Liew’s world.  I particularly like the way he utilizes a variety of homages to week-end comics strips to fill us in on Mr. Bon Bon’s sad past.

Liew is a very talented artist and his work conveys a number of emotions.  It is my hope that we will be seeing more of Atari and his friends soon.

Wet Moon Vol. 5: Where All Stars Fail to Burn

by Ross Campbell

Every time I read a volume of Wet Moon, Ross Campbell’s bizarre series about the relationships of pan-sexual college students in the South, I end up talking about how little I would expect to like a book like this, and yet I find myself completely drawn in and hooked by the story.  This volume was no different, but I did have my problems with it.

To begin with, volume 5 is much shorter than the previous books; it doesn’t look smaller in your hand, but a good twenty pages are taken up with fan art.  Also, I think it was the first volume to end on a cliffhanger, which is unfortunate when you consider that it’s been over two years since this book was published, and volume 6 doesn’t appear to be on the horizon anytime soon.  I’m not complaining – Campbell is working away on his Shadoweyes and his upcoming run on Image’s Glory (and I think drawing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?), but with an ending like this, I want some resolution!

As with all the previous volumes, this one is spent following the various inhabitants of Wet Moon as they go through the ups and downs of college life.  Cleo is having problems with her girlfriend Myrtle (who we learn is a total psychopath) and drawing closer to her good friend and potential love interest Mara.  Audrey breaks up with Beth and gets closer to Kinzoku.  Trilby reluctantly introduces Martin to her family.  Natalie gets attacked in the park, and has her faced slashed.  She is rescued by Wet Moon’s Kick-Ass style vigilante Unknown.  Some other stuff happens.  You know, life as normal for these kids, more or less.

Aside from the slasher/stalker element, nothing new happens in this issue, but it continues to be a compelling and fascinating read.  There’s just something that Campbell does with these characters to keep drawing the reader in, and it’s pretty interesting to watch.  There is a fantastic silent montage scene towards the end of the book, where many of the principal figures are given a page each, although they are mostly just sleeping or waking up.  You can almost hear the montage music playing.  This only works because Campbell is able to visually differentiate his characters in ways that very few comics artists can.  Their personalities are housed in their bodies, and that is this book’s greatest strength.

Wet Moon is definitely not for everyone, but I love it.  I just wish there was some more to read again.

Book of the Week:

Heading South by Dany Laferrière – This is a masterful novel about women who travel to Haiti and become thoroughly engrossed in the sexual possibilities offered by the men of that country.  Laferrière has long written sexy novels, but this one takes the sexual objectification of men to new heights, while also being funny and often sad.  There are some very memorable characters here, and a strong sense of place.  Recommended.

Album of the Week:

Ifetayo Black Truth Rhythm Band – Love Excells All

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