The Weekly Round-Up #108 With DMZ, American Vampire, The Guild, Spaceman, The Unwritten & More

Happy New Year everyone!  May 2012 bring you happiness, wealth, personal fulfillment, and great comics.

Best Comic of the Week:

DMZ #72

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

What a perfect way to end a long-running and complex series.  I feel like DMZ didn’t receive enough attention over the last few years.  It’s been as good as other lionized Vertigo series like Y the Last Man, but has never developed the same sort of vocal, loyal fan base (although we know they are out there – this comic has had remarkably stable, if not stellar, sales).  Now that the series is over, I imagine that people will begin to re-read and re-examine it as a series that, while consisting of speculative fiction set in the future, really captured the zeitgeist of the last six years.

Six years ago, America was embroiled in two costly, and poorly defined, foreign wars, vigorously pursued by its evangelical neoconservative president.  Its housing market hadn’t burst yet.  Right-wing church-goers, racists, and crazies hadn’t formed the Tea Party.  Wall Street hadn’t been occupied.  The military-industrial complex was only ever gaining in influence and power.  Journalism was beginning its decline towards irrelevance in the lives of the common man and woman.  Income disparity was growing, and the country was increasingly split along ideological lines.  Ground Zero was a fresh wound.

DMZ grew out of the sense that, for the first time in a very long time, Americans recognized that their future was not as bright as it used to be.  It was, therefore, easy to accept a not-so-distant future where the country was split in a second civil war.  It also wasn’t hard to accept that the country’s greatest city would become an epicentre of conflict, tactically advantageous to both sides, but impossible to hold on to, and populated by some of the toughest, most recalcitrant people in the country.

Into this trashed out city, Brian Wood parachuted Matty Roth, a naive and ignorant kid with dreams of becoming a great journalist.  Over the last six years, we watched Matty grow to love and understand his adopted city, as he tried to use his unique position as a celebrity journalist to try to better things for the people of Manhattan.  He screwed up.  A lot.  There were a number of times where I didn’t like, or understand Matty.  It’s a good thing he wasn’t really the main character of the comic; the city was.

As the series evolved and grew, it continued to reflect the times it was being written in.  Parco Delgado, the New York-born man who became mayor and took the political process hostage emerged out of the optimism and excitement that developed while Barack Obama ran for, and became, President.  The Free States was explained and understood in the wake of the national attention given to the Tea Party.  I always felt that Wood was using this series to, very subtly, inform us of the issues of our day.

Through it all though, he told a good story.  As I said, I didn’t always like Matty, but I loved characters like Zee (Matty’s on-again off-again girlfriend and medic), Wilson (the leader/saviour of Chinatown), DJ Random Fire, the graffiti artist Decade Later, and Amina, the would-be suicide bomber.  And of course, the city.  I’ve only visited New York a few times, but I feel like I’ve gotten a better sense of its neighbourhoods and its people through this comic.

This brings me, finally, to this last issue.  Matty narrates it through the introduction to the 15th anniversary edition of his book.  As we read along with a young woman, she travels through the re-built and redeveloped parts of Manhattan that were relevant to the comic.  We see the shrine to Wilson, and the memorial to the victims of the Day 204 Massacre.  It is a very fitting epilogue to the series, and I found it to be an emotional farewell to characters and places I grew to understand.

Riccardo Burchielli has been a huge part of this series’s success.  His art has increasingly grown on me over the years, to the point where I am going to miss my monthly dose of his work, but I have to say that the fourteenth page, which is a splash panel of the young woman sitting on the steps of a building at the Day 204 site, is one of the most beautiful things he’s ever drawn.

Wood, Burchielli, and the assorted guest artists and editors who have worked on this book over the years should be immensely proud of it.  It addressed some difficult issues, and became a lens through which we could look at our own world.  It also told some damn exciting and gripping stories.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #22

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

It’s great to see Rafael Albuquerque back on American Vampire.  I enjoyed Jordi Bernet’s recent work on the title, but Albuquerque is the artist who caused this book to catch my eye in the first place, and things feel right when he’s working on it.

With this new arc, ‘Death Race’, we move into the 1950s, and we meet Travis Kidd, a young and unaffiliated vampire hunter.  We don’t learn a whole lot about him, except that he’s hunting for the vampire who ruined his life (sounds like Mike Mignola’s Baltimore), and takes out any other vampires he comes across in his search.  He has some sort of prior dealings with the Vassals, the vampire-hunting group who we often see in this title and its spin-off, and in this issue, Agent Hobbes (looking a lot like Agent Graves from 100 Bullets) tries to get him to join up with them again.

This issue starts off with an excellent sequence involving Travis’s girlfriend and her parents, and it also embraces the teenage 50s, with leather jackets and drag racing in the desert.  Scott Snyder has done a wonderful job of capturing the anxieties and concerns of each era he’s set his story in, and that continues to be the case here.

Albuquerque’s work is, of course, wonderful.  I look forward to learning how this story ties in with Skinner Sweet’s, or with Pearl and Henry’s.

The Guild: Zaboo

Written by Felicia Day and Sandeep Parikh
Art by Becky Cloonan

I came very late to The Guild, Felicia Day’s web TV show about a group of strangers who have bonded over an online fantasy game, but once I finally watched it, I was quickly hooked.  Dark Horse published a comic book mini-series a couple of years back (which I haven’t read yet), and then started creating a series of one-shots focused on each character in the Guild, which I guess this is the last of (despite the fact that Day’s character, Codex, hasn’t gotten her own one-shot yet).

This issue is all about Zaboo, the over-mothered guy who caused the Guild to meet for the first time in Season One, when he showed up at Codex’s apartment to declare his love for her.  In this issue, we get to see just how he escaped his mother (she makes Tiger Moms and Helicopter Parents look like social services neglect cases).

Much of the issue is designed around computer mini-games, which can increase the reader’s XP.  At one point, you have to help Zaboo pack for his escape from home; at another, you have to choose the correct dialogue path that will result in Zaboo getting a bus ticket.  It’s pretty amusing.

Of course, all of this works so well because the art on the book is by the incredible Becky Cloonan.  She’s long been one of my favourite artists, and this comic helps show how diverse she can be, drawing realistic scenes (the first page is a bit of a hint as to what her Conan could be like) and amusing, cartoonish ones with skill.  I love the double-page spread of Zaboo running through his house.  This is good stuff.

Spaceman #3

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

Now that the characters and situation are established, this series is really starting to take off.

Orson is a ‘spaceman’, a genetically modified human designed for space exploration who now goes from salvage job to salvage job trying to make enough money to pay for his virtual sessions with a call girl, and to buy drugs.  On his most recent salvage, he came across Tara, a young girl who was kidnapped from her celebrity adoptive parents.

Basically, Tara’s parents are Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and their reality show about their large blended family is the most popular thing going, getting more views than any news broadcast.

Now Orson is trying to keep Tara safe, but doesn’t really know what to do with her.  Her family are looking for her, and we start to get a better sense of the two police officers assigned to her case.  We also learn that someone who has a fair amount in common with Orson is going to be looking for her too.

This series is set in a fully realized future that is not too pretty.  Azzarello’s invented forms of speech work remarkably well (I normally hate that kind of thing), and I’ve grown to really like Orson and the band of urchins he surrounds himself with.  Risso’s work is incredible as always.

The Unwritten #32.5

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and Dean Ormston

The .5 issues of this book are being used to tell us something about the Cabal, the group of people who have been shaping and using literature, and literacy, for their own purposes for as long as man has been writing things down.  In the previous .5 comic (they alternate with the whole number issues, which tell the current events surrounding Tom Taylor and his small crew) we saw the Cabal operating in Ancient China, and dealing with Gutenberg at the beginning of the printing press.

This issue is different in that it tells one single story, that of Gilgamesh, the great Sumerian king, and his journey with Utnapishtim, an immortal who wants him to slay a great serpent.  It seems clear that Utnapishtim is Mr. Pullman, a regular in the Unwritten cast, and it seems, the person who sets the direction of the Cabal, if not its actual leader. What we learn is that the serpent, Abaddon, or Leviathan, feeds on human stories, hence the choice to use Gilgamesh, who was then one of the most storied people living.

Carey doesn’t give us a whole lot to work with here in terms of connecting what we’ve learned to the purpose of the Cabal.  We do know that Utnapishtim cannot be killed until people no longer know of him, which is why Gilgamesh has him written into his great epic.  What this means for Pullman I don’t really know – he’s kind of shadowy and unknown in the modern day issues.

Dean Ormston joins Peter Gross on this issue, and it brings to mind their collaborations on Carey’s previous long-running Vertigo series Lucifer.  They are definitely a good team.

Witch Doctor: The Resuscitation #1

Written by Brandon Seifert
Art by Lukas Ketner

I thought that the first volume of Witch Doctor was a very cool comic – it posits a world where doctors investigate, diagnose, and treat infections and chronic conditions that we usually ascribe to magic.  Things like vampirism, changeling babies, and the other things that populate horror stories all have a medical basis in this comic, although Dr. Morrow uses magic to combat them.  It’s a neat take on Dr. Strange, and it works very well in Seifert and Ketner’s hands.

This one-shot helps fill in the gap between the end of the first mini-series, and the start of the second, which will be published at some point in 2012.  The comic starts with a familiar image – a man wakes up in a bathtub full of ice cubes with a bandaged wound in his side.  We immediately assume that the man was drugged and had his kidney stolen, but what we learn as the story progresses is that he has, in fact, been given a transplant.  The new kidney has some divine origins, and this poor guy is now involved in an experiment conducted by an unlicensed necromancer.

Luckily, the good Doctor intervenes, and as usual, weirdness ensues.  This comic is pretty funny in parts, and maintains the self-aware nature of the first volume.  Ketner continues to enjoy designing weird and wonderful medical devices, just as Seifert has fun coming up with the explanations for things that the Doctor provides.  Witch Doctor is a good read.

Quick Takes:

All-Star Western #4I wonder if every issue is going to have to come up with some reason for Jonah Hex to stick around Gotham City, because that could get tedious.  This is another decent issue, with Jonah and Dr. Arkham investigating a case of hundreds of missing children being used as slaves underground.  Moritat’s art on this book has been incredible.  There is also a back-up story about the Chinese gangs that controlled areas of San Francisco in the late 1800s; it’s interesting, and has nice art by Phil Winslade.

Alpha Flight #7 – Hey look, Wolverine and Guardian are fighting again – I’ll bet you never thought you’d see that happen.  Leaving aside this, and Sasquatch acting and talking like the Hulk, this continues to be a very good series.  I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out next issue.

Annihilators Earthfall #4 – I think that’s going to be the last we see of this team for a while.  This mini-series was not as satisfying as the last one, and it was much less enjoyable than the Guardians of the Galaxy series it spun out of.  It feels like some sort of Cosmic Law of Diminishing Returns has set in, both in terms of sales and story, and so maybe it’s time to give all of these characters a rest.  Except for Ronan and his army of Sentries, who are doing in Fantastic Four exactly what they did here.

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #8 – I’m glad Alan Heinberg made reference to Secret Wars, because as Dr. Doom, overflowing with life-force energy, faced off against some thirty odd heroes, I couldn’t help but think that I’d read this all before in that classic mini-series.  Still, Heinberg is doing very good work with this comic, as is Jim Cheung.  I suppose this is all leading into Avengers Vs. X-Men; I just wonder if, since the book is so late, that was always planned, or if plans have formed around this title.

Captain America #5It’s taken how long for this story to finish?  I don’t know how anyone at Marvel can think that Steve McNiven can handle a monthly comic, regardless of how much lead time he’s given (he didn’t even finish this issue; Giuseppe Camuncoli had to complete it – which is actually a good thing).  I also don’t know why Ed Brubaker decided to kick this relaunch off with such a generic Cap story.  I guess now that he’s questioning his faith in America, we’ll have to sit through a lot of hand-wringing.  Maybe he’ll go take a seat in Zucotti Park?  I don’t know if this stuff is resonant with Americans or not; it feels a little ham-fisted to me.  Here’s hoping Alan Davis can improve things next month.

Captain America #6 – Or, maybe I don’t have to wait a whole month, and should just pick up the next comic on my pile.  That’s right, Marvel has published two issues of Cap in the same week (not counting the comic discussed immediately below).  I assume it’s some kind of accounting thing driving the need to get caught up before the New Year.  Anyway, it’s amazing what a different artist can do for a book sometimes.  My favourite Captain America run prior to Ed Brubaker taking over a few years back were the Mark Gruenwald/Paul Neary issues, where Cap fought the Red Skull and the Serpent Society a lot.  Alan Davis brings that same feel to the book, as the Society returns, and Cap and Hawkeye go on patrol.  I could nitpick about some of the plot choices here – like, if Steve is worried about his super soldier serum, why would he go to a mechanic like Tony Stark instead of Hank McCoy, who works for him?  Anyway, Alan Davis has bought this book a reprieve, and I’m going to stick with it as long as he does.

Captain America & Bucky #625 Because two issues of Captain America is not enough for one week, the people who arrange scheduling at Marvel decided that this comic should come out too, because it’s always feast or famine at the House of Ideas.  This series is really struggling to find its purpose or voice.  Ed Brubaker is joined by James Asmus as co-writer and scripter, and Francesco Francavilla is drawing a story with roots in the death of the second Captain America – the guy that took over after our Cap and Bucky were reported dead back in ’45.  The second Bucky is still alive and kicking, and gets attacked by the robotic ‘nephews’ of the first Human Torch.  To be honest, things get a little confusing from there.  Cap II has a grandson who is clearly lying about something, and he’s now joining Cap and the original Human Torch in tracking down Adam II, the Torch’s ‘brother’.  I love Francavilla’s art and lay-outs, but I’ll be really surprised if this series lasts past this arc.

FF #13 – I imagine that most people who write about this comic are going to complain about the art, so let’s address that first thing.  I rather like it, and I totally support Marvel in using an artist like Juan Bobillo, who has his own style, and is experimenting a little with how he draws established characters like Dr. Doom.  My problem with it is that, in a book where so many characters are similar in appearance, and are all dressed the same, it’s hard to tell who is who.  Alex Power and Franklin Richards are interchangeable in this book, despite the fact that they are about eight years apart in age.  Otherwise, I like how Jonathan Hickman is finishing up some of his longer-running plots.  It’s a good book, but it’s visually kind of jarring.

Flash #4I find myself loving this comic more and more, as Francis Manapul continues to experiment a little with lay-out, tries to re-think The Flash’s powers some, and actually makes me not hate Barry Allen.  Manuel, the guy who has an army of his clones after him, gets his character and back-story explained here, and everything looks absolutely lovely.

Generation Hope #14 – I was all prepared to drop this title when Kieron Gillen left, but then I sampled #13 and liked it.  I wasn’t going to buy this issue either, but when I found out that Timothy Green II is going to be drawing next month’s issue (a buy on sight artist), I figured I’d get this one so I’d be up to speed.  It’s good.  Hope and her team have met up with, and rescued, the amnesiac Sebastian Shaw, and faced off against some unscrupulous Chinese arms dealers.  James Asmus has a good handle for these characters, and Martha Johannson undergoes some big changes (that make her much less interesting, I’m sorry to say).

Godland #35 – This book is so late (it was solicited for Nov. 2010) that I had a hard time remembering what was going on, and an even harder time caring.  Then Friedrich Nickelhead cloned himself and started dancing with the winged alien things that have been attacking Earth, and I remember why I loved this comic in the first place.  Ah, Joe Casey, you are so essential to the modern comics industry.

Haunt #20To build on what I just said about Joe Casey, he’s doing a great job on this book.  I don’t know what it was like or about before he took over last issue, and I still don’t really know what’s going on, but this is a very wild ride.  The living half of Haunt has been taken prisoner by The Second Church, who live in Radical City.  They are torturing him, and reading to him from their bible, at least until a new friend, Still Harvey Tubman shows up to rescue him (and his ghostly brother).  Nathan Fox fills each page with manic energy, and the combined effect is one that has me very curious to learn more about this series.

I, Vampire #4 – We have a pretty quiet issue this month, as Joshua Hale Fialkov takes a little more time to establish Andrew Bennett’s character.  While on the road, he comes across another vampire who refuses to feed on living humans, but when he shows him how to tap some of his potential and turn into a giant wolf thing, it goes badly.  John Constantine guests in this issue, and that works well, except for the fact that no reason is given for why John is in a dive bar somewhere outside Columbus Ohio.  Synchronicity?  The end of the issue is a little schmaltzy, but overall, this book keeps getting stronger.

Kick-Ass 2 #6 – There’s a fair deal less twistedness in this issue (and only bad guys getting maimed, tortured, or worse for a change), as Millar moves all the characters towards a big confrontation in Times Square.  I haven’t always liked this sequel series, but as it approaches its conclusion next issue, it is starting to work much better.

Secret Avengers #20Here we have another prime example of just how good Warren Ellis is at done-in-one super hero stories.  A fight against the Shadow Council goes horribly wrong, but the Black Widow is given an escape hatch – a hand-held time travel device, which she can use to rescue the team, but only if she can figure out how to do it without disrupting the timestream.  The story jumps around a great deal, and isn’t all that clear at the beginning, but as it progresses, it becomes a very cool issue.  Alex Maleev provides the art (because, you know, he doesn’t have issues of Scarlet and/or Moon Knight that are behind schedule to handle), and it looks very good.

Uncanny X-Men #3 – Easily the best issue of the run so far, as both Cyclops and writer Kieron Gillen settle into the new role that has been defined for the team in this book.  The rather ridiculous Mr. Sinister plot is handled well, and I love the scene where Cyclops stares down the Celestials.  There were way too many artists pitching in (perhaps a good argument for not double-shipping the book so much), but the writing on this book is great.  Danger out-snarks Emma Frost, which is a lot of fun to read.

Vengeance #6 – The third and final Joe Casey comic of the week does not disappoint.  This has been a truly bizarre mini-series from its start, but it has wrapped up a number of themes Casey started in other projects, and left sprinkled throughout the Marvel Universe.  I would be very happy to see more of his Teen Brigade, especially if drawn by Nick Dragotta.  I highly recommend getting the trade for this series – it’s pretty crazy good.

X-Men Legacy #260Mike Carey ends off his run quite well, with Rogue dragging out her decision about whether to stay on Utopia or go to Westchester.  The character Ariel, who ‘died’ in Second Coming comes back, and it’s a little hard to fathom why so many of the characters act like they know her well – she’s pretty much been a cipher for years.  Anyway, Carey’s run was never phenomenal, but it was often good.  He’s done a lot for Rogue’s character, and I’m curious to see what Christos Gage does with her moving forward.

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

Astonishing X-Men #45

Frenemy of the State #5

Incorruptible #25

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #5

Ultimate Comics X-Men #5

Bargain Comics:

Amazing Spider-Man #667-671These issues make up the bulk of the Spider-Island story, missing only the conclusion and the epilogue.  This is a terrific little ‘event’ comic, as Dan Slott is able to tell a story with a lot of scope, but still find space for the personal side of things.  I question why, in the middle of a giant crisis, everyone would suddenly feel the need to fix Spidey’s spider-sense, but otherwise, this is a very well-executed comic.

Avenging Spider-Man #2 – More fun underground.  This is a basic, fun comic with some nice art.  There’s not much that makes it memorable, but Zeb Wells knows how to handle these characters, and Joe Madureira reminds me why he was one of my favourite Image-style artists back in the day.  It’s weird how much stuff is happening under the Marvel Earth these days – moloids and/or Mole Man are prominent in Incredible Hulk and Fantastic Four/FF too right now; I always think it’s weird how random villains or storylines can become mimetic at the Big Two.

Battle Scars #2 – This comic finally confirmed something that I’ve been unclear of ever since Norman Osborn was put in jail at the end of Siege.  It seems that SHIELD is back up and running, although that’s a secret.  I knew that Daisy Johnson was running things – that was established at the end of Secret Warriors, but things have been murky, especially when you consider how active Nick Fury has been in books like Captain America.  I think Marvel still needs to explain more.  Battle Scars continues to be an interesting and effective comic, with a very tight plot from its team of writers (the same people who are bungling The Fearless – go figure).  It’s not clear who Marcus Johnson really is, but it looks like it’s going to have something to do with the Fury family, which is kind of cool.

Deathstroke #4There’s a lot of mayhem here, and an attempt to tie the book in to the Blackhawks title, but the issue feel unbalanced some.  Slade has a number of threats gunning for him, it seems, and the news that his son might still be alive is interesting, especially since it’s still not clear how things work with in the New DCU with regards to the Teen Titans and their history.  This book could be moving into overly complicated territory.

The Flash: Time Flies #1 – I discovered this 2002 prestige format one-shot in a sale box, and am very happy that I did, because the art was done by the incomparable Seth Fisher, whose work we sadly received too little of.  John (Xombi) Rozum provided the writing for this strange story of time travel and the acceleration of human civilization.  A lot of the story doesn’t make much sense, but it provided interesting backdrops for Seth’s ‘Frank Quitely meets Moebius’ aesthetic.

Moon Knight #6&7 – Brian Michael Bendis is taking tedious to all-new levels with this series.  I wonder if the whole conceit that MK sees three Avengers in his head was just set up for the scene where the real Avengers are in his bedroom when he wakes up, and thinks that it’s in his head.  Because you know, Captain America’s not the type to ever call ahead.  Meanwhile, we finally figure out who the big bad guy of this series is (there being only so many possible villains available once you establish that he uses a monocle), and it’s hard to care.  It’s a good thing I like Alex Maleev’s art, and the character Echo, or I’d have nothing to say here.

Nightwing #4I keep coming back to this title.  I never liked Dick Grayson before his most recent turn in the Bat-costume, but I feel like Kyle Higgins is really building the character into someone more interesting than previous writers have made him.  I also like the more collegial interactions between Dick and Batgirl this issue, as their meeting in her title left a bad taste.  Guest artist Trevor McCarthy did some nice work here – I enjoyed his Gates of Gotham stuff, and it’s nice to see something more from him.

Resurrection Man #2-4 – I have to stop checking back in on some of these New 52 titles before I end up adding more of them to my pull-file.  This series is working pretty well, as the Body Doubles pursue Mitch Shelly to an old folks’ home where his father used to live, trying to learn about his past.  Lots of mayhem ensues, especially when the angel Suriel comes to collect Mitch.  The book is well-written, with nice art by Fernando Dagnino that reminds me a lot of Butch Guice.

Rocketeer Adventures #2-4 – There are some terrific creators appearing in this anthology comic – Mark Waid, Chris Weston, Darwyn Cooke, Gene Ha, Ryan Sook, Tommy Lee Edwards, Dave Gibbons, Scott Hampton, and Tony Harris.  The best story belongs to John Arcudi and Brendan McCarthy, who draws what has to be the straightest story he’s ever drawn.  The problem is that so many of these stories try to encapsulate Dave Stevens’s whole thing with this comic, which means that every single story has Betty get mad at Cliff, or Cliff get jealous of Betty, and then some thugs show up, and the Rocketeer has to fly into action.  It gets a little monotonous.  Granted, when the art is this nice, who really cares?

Spider-Island: The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #2&3It’s strange to me how often Marvel has been shoe-horning the Immortal Weapons into books where they don’t really fit.  First, they basically took over a couple of issues of Iron Man 2.0 during Fear Itself, and now they’re being shoved into the middle of Spider-Island in such a way that does nothing to add to their story or increase their appeal to the wider public.  I would like to see a serious attempt at doing a Shang-Chi comic again, but it would have to not include him getting powers (it should also not be about his father).  This is okay, but pretty forgettable.

Stitched #2 – The first issue of Stitched didn’t exactly grab me, but I decided to come back for a second look around, and things work much better.  This issue is mostly spent with the American and British soldiers taking cheap shots at one another while trying to figure out what’s going on with the Taliban zombie things that are creeping around the desert looking like the Sandpeople in Star Wars.  This issue feels much more like a Garth Ennis book than the first issue did.

Superboy #4 – I think it’s safe to say that I’m bored with this comic now.  I know a lot of people have been excited about how it’s yet another example of the Wildstorm Universe integrating into the DCnU, but let’s pause for a moment and discuss that.  Wildstorm published some wonderful comics over the years, but few of them were superhero comics, and those were mostly written by Alan Moore or Warren Ellis.  Without big names, or without experimenting with the genre the way books like Wildcats 3.0 or Stormwatch: Team Achilles did, you end up with some incredibly generic, product of the 90s characters, which is one thing DC doesn’t need.  Anyway, Superboy is rather generic this issue his own self, as he gets set free from NOWHERE only to realize the world doesn’t offer him much and come crawling back.  It’s been done before.  I do like RB Silva’s art, but Lobdell’s story is losing me.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #4I find myself enjoying this book a great deal.  Thor goes all Gaius Baltar on us this issue, while a well-known character makes his return (having dropped the entire Ultimate line prior to Ultimates 3, I don’t know what this signifies, if anything, but it seems to be a big deal to the characters.  I wanted to avoid the Ultimate Comics line, but Hickman’s doing such a good job, I may have to start picking this series up.

Ultimate Comics X-Men #1-3 – I’m not as impressed with Nick Spencers Ultimate X-Men as I am with Hickman’s Ultimates.  Having dropped the last Ultimate X-Men title years ago, and sitting out on the events of Ultimatum, I don’t have the first clue what’s going on with these characters, and nothing actually explains it.  Also, the story seems to be moving very slowly, as some stuff happens in Washington, and Kitty Pryde and her friends are hiding out in the Morlocks tunnels.  Part of the problem is Paco Medina’s artwork – Spencer is going for a gritty story, and Medina just can’t do gritty.  This does get points for introducing Ultimate Maggot though, simply because I never thought that would happen.

X-Men #22 – I’m not sure if I have anything to say about this comic.  The X-Men, and War Machine, fight some Sentinels that are being used to resolve an old regional conflict between made-up countries.  The story and art are fine.  This book has no reason to exist.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Strangers in Paradise Pocket Book Vol. 1

by Terry Moore

I know I’m very late in coming to this comic, but I’d never thought it would interest me before, for much the same reasons that I’ve never read Love and Rockets.  It just never seemed like my thing, but I really enjoyed Moore’s Echo, and I’m always looking to expand what ‘my thing’ is when it comes to comics.  Plus, fellow Nexus contributor Pulse Glazer keeps telling me to read it…

These Pocket Editions are a great way to read Strangers in Paradise.  This first volume contains sixteen issues of the series – the three-issue first volume, and the first thirteen issues of the second.  The series revolves around a strange love triangle.

Francine has trust issues.  Her relationship with Freddie Femurs (the fourth point on the triangle, if that makes sense) has gone nowhere, and Francine would be a total mess if it weren’t for her best friend Katchoo (Katina Choovanski).  The problem is that Katchoo has a very secretive past, and is herself in love with Francine.  Then David enters the picture.  He’s madly in love with Katchoo, and she is beginning to have feelings for him too.

Then Katchoo’s past begins to catch up with her, in the form of a gangster madam who is looking for some missing money.  Lots of other things happen in this comic, but that’s the very condensed explanation of things.

This book moves wildly from light comedy to serious drama, often unpredictably.  Any scene with Freddie, who despite being engaged to someone new, still has feelings for Francine, becomes ridiculous in no time, but other parts of the book can shift quickly from one extreme to another.  There are some lengthy prose sections which I think really took from my enjoyment of the book, but otherwise, I think the Strangers in Paradise have found a new fan, and I’ve found a new series to collect.

Swallow Me Whole

by Nate Powell

Swallow Me Whole is a pretty surprising and powerful book, that leaves itself open to interpretation in a number of ways.  The book revolves around Ruth, an adolescent girl who lives with her mother, stepfather, stepbrother Perry, and her infirm grandmother, who everyone calls Memaw.

Mental illness runs rampant in this family.  Memaw is kind of senile, although she hints at having had some of her problems for her whole life.  Perry sees a little wizard, who commands him to draw for hours on end.  And Ruth has a thing about insects.  She’s been stealing bugs preserved in jars from her school for ages, and constantly rearranges them on her shelves and in her room.  They speak to her, and she tries to make it through each day without stepping on any living thing.

Since much of this book is seen from Ruth’s perspective, it becomes very hard to gauge where imagination is giving over to compulsion or delusion, which seems to be Powell’s intent.  The story progresses in fits and starts, jumping over chunks of time, and leaving much for the reader to puzzle out.

Powell’s art works well in this book.  He makes good use of negative and empty spaces, letting the art swirl in places like Ruth’s thoughts do.  In the end, I’m not sure what this book tells us about obsessive compulsive disorder or schizophrenia, but it does portray these illnesses in a manner much less over-blown than most media.  This is recommended.

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