The Weekly Round-Up #109 With Sacrifice, Cyclops, Fatale, iZombie & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Sacrifice #1

Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Dalton Rose

I really do shop at one of the best comic stores in North America.  They were one of the handful of stores to sell this comic, which most shops got a couple of weeks ago.  Since we are in Canada, and our shop chose the least expensive shipping method (so they could make money selling the comic at cover price – a crazy notion, no?), it only arrived in time for sale this week, and despite the fact that first prints of this comic are commanding high prices on Ebay, they continued to sell it at cover price.  Decent people.

Anyway, this self-published comic comes from the writer of Our Love is Real, which was one of the biggest surprise comics of 2011, in terms of both its shocking subject matter (people have sex with animals, vegetables, and minerals, but not each other) and its limited press run.  Now Humphries is doing the same thing all over again, but this time with a six-issue mini-series.

Sacrifice opens as Hector escapes from a hospital, and then goes for lunch at a crappy taco joint.  Suddenly, he is transported back into the time of the Aztecs, just prior to the arrival of the Spanish.  He is found by a group of Aztecs, who plan on sacrificing him before they see the intricate tattoo on his back.  They decide they need to take him to Tenochtitlan (modern-day Mexico City) for an audience with Emperor Moctezuma.  Hector becomes the focus of a theological debate between the men who found him, supporters of the god Quetzalcoatl, while the Emperor’s adviser supports Huitzilopotchli.

As the story progresses, we learn a few more things.  Hector is epileptic, and has always had a strong interest in the Aztec and their fate at Spanish hands.  Is he really traveling through time, or are these visions merely the product of his disease, a la Joan of Arc and Louis Riel?

Dalton Rose’s art is very good.  I see a few influences in his work – Paul Pope, European comics, Michael Allred, and the style of the cartoon King of the Hill all mash together in his art.  The book, coloured by Pete Toms, looks vibrant and bold, with bright backgrounds.

I’m very pleased that I’ve got the opportunity to collect this series without having to wait for a trade.  These are some very talented people making this comic, and I hope that this fiercely independent approach to doing business is successful for Humphries.

Other Notable Comics:

Cyclops #8

Written by Matz
Art by Gaël de Meyere

I guess there aren’t a lot of ways that this series could have ended – even in today’s world, let alone the future, it is very difficult to go up against a corporation and get a favourable outcome.  Our hero, Douglas Pistoia and his friends have exposed Multicorps as war criminals, and are on the run when the issue opens.

This issue sags a little, as do many action movies as they get closer and closer to their conclusions; so much time has been spent setting up the big finale that it can’t really live up to expectations.  This ending feels a little rushed in a few ways – we see Doug’s wife’s reaction to the big climax, but not how it affects all of his fans, nor the woman who was manipulating him earlier.  As a reader, I feel a little robbed of an emotional connection with the conclusion.

Still, this has been a very well-executed comic, which has a few things to say about the celebrity and realty TV-focused world we live in today.  The book lost some real steam when original artist Luc Jacamon left the book, and while Gaël de Meyere did a good job, he just wasn’t as skilled.  I wonder, now that this is over, if Archaia is going to continue publishing Matz and Jacamon’s The Killer.

Fatale #1

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, especially when working together, are two of the most lauded and respected creators making comics these days.  Their work on Sleeper, Incognito, and the sublime Criminal has received tons of praise over the last ten years or so, and deservedly so.

I’m not sure what caused them to publish Fatale through Image Comics instead of Marvel’s Icon imprint, which is where their last two collaborations were released.  It doesn’t matter though, as aside from the logo on the cover, the design and feel of this book is no different from Criminal or Incognito, down to the essay by Jess Nevins at the back of the issue.

Where Criminal was begun as an homage to the crime pulps that preceded comics, and Incognito was the same for adventure pulps, Fatale is their horror book (although it reads like a crime series).  This first issue begins at a funeral for a mystery writer.  His godson and executor meets a beautiful young woman whose grandmother knew the writer.  Later, the godson is at the old man’s secluded house when some thugs with guns show up.  The girl is there too, and she helps him escape, although as they flee, they get in a car accident.

At that point, I started to get a sense of what I expected the series to be – a mystery surrounding the old writer’s unpublished first novel.  That’s not going to be the case though, as the rest of the book is set back in the 1950s.  There is a reporter (with the same last name as the writer in the introduction) who is interested in a woman who has the same name as the girl at the funeral (or is she the same girl – there is a suggestion that Josephine doesn’t age).  There is also a corrupt cop who keeps her as a mistress, and some business involving a cult that was slaughtered in their home.

There’s not much to go on with this first issue.  Brubaker is taking his time setting up the story and characters, preferring in this case to dump us into the deep end and let us make our own connections as the story goes.  There is definitely enough to grab the reader’s interest, and Phillips’s art is lovely – moody and evocative of the atmosphere and time period.  It’s good stuff.

iZombie #21

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by J. Bone

I was pretty surprised to find that Michael Allred hadn’t drawn this issue of iZombie, and that the art was instead provided by a talented artist from my hometown – J. Bone.  I’ve been familiar with Bone’s work for years, but haven’t read much of his output (I’ve stayed away from the DC ‘all-ages’ work that he is best known for).  I love the work that Allred does on this title, but also found the change of pace to be welcome.  This is the second issue of this series handled by a guest artist; I hope that everything is going okay for Mr. Allred, and that he’s just taking a well-earned month or two off.

Anyway, this series definitely feels like it’s moving towards a conclusion, as various long-running plotlines begin to converge even more than they have lately.  Gwen, our zombie protagonist, is in the custody of the Dead Presidents, and she surprises them by informing them that Galatea is active in the area.  This leads the Presidents to track her down, but not before coming face to face with Horatio and his group of monster killers from the Fossor Corporation, who also appear to be working with Amon.  As I said, plots are colliding all over the place.

There’s more in this book too – Gwen tries to enjoy a brain smoothie, Ellie gets to dance, and Scott has a chat with a leopard.  Bone’s art gives the story a lighter, more cartoon-ish atmosphere than Allred’s work, and it doesn’t always fit with the subject matter, but this is a fine looking comic.

The Li’l Depressed Boy #8

Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Sina Grace

I’m wondering if it’s not time to start switching to reading this book in trade.  I like The Li’l Depressed Boy, but I’m getting a little frustrated with how little actually happens in each issue of this comic.

Case in point:  this month, LDB and Drew make their way home from the concert they spent like 3 issues going to.  They have breakfast and car trouble, and talk a little bit about the Jazz situation (should LDB tell her how he feels, or just avoid her?).  LDB finds Jazz sitting on his step; they don’t really say anything, and then he goes to bed.

While I continue to find this comic very charming and to have an allure of its own, I think I need a little more going on to keep me coming back month after month.

On the plus side, the Jamie McKelvie cover is lovely.

Sweet Tooth #29

by Jeff Lemire

It’s been a while since we’ve last seen Gus, Mr. Jeppard, or the other cast members of this series.  For the last three months, we’ve been given a story set in Alaska almost one hundred years ago (with guest artist Matt Kindt) which has helped establish a little more of an historical connection between what we know of Gus’s world and the past.

Now, Jeff Lemire is back to drawing the book (I do love his art), and we get to find out what has been happening with all of our favourite characters.  It seems that about a month has passed in story time, with Jeppard camping out on his own while waiting for Gus to recover from his injuries and rejoin him with Dr. Singh so they can continue their travels north.

During this time, Lucy has been getting sicker, and keeping it from everyone.  Also, Johnny has been reading the records of Project Evergreen, the group that built the dam facility where everyone has been staying.  The revelations he discovers coincide a little too neatly with the information that Jeppard uncovers when he goes to steal a vehicle from Haggarty’s camp.  There is no real surprise in learning that Walter, the man in the dam has been lying to everyone, but I’m very interested in seeing how this is going to play out.

Sweet Tooth has been a very strong monthly comic from Vertigo for a couple of years now, and I like that the quality is not letting up.

Quick Takes:

Action Comics #5Finally, the new Action Comics feels like it’s being written by Grant Morrison.  I was prepared to drop this title if this issue didn’t satisfy, and I’m pleased to say that it did.  Andy Kubert comes along for this month, as Morrison gives us the story of the spacecraft that brought young Kal-El to Earth, and explains the weird multi-legged ‘alien’ we saw a couple of issues back in Gen. Lane’s base.  Most interesting though are the hints of the Anti-Superman Army and the appearance of the founding Legion at the end of the issue; I’m a huge Legion fan, but have not liked how they’ve been treated the last few years.  This has me excited.  As for the back-up story by Sholly Fisch and Chriscross?  All it does is explain things that we’ve already pieced together from reading the main story; I’d be much happier with this title if it was of a regular length and price.

Animal Man #5 – Another terrific issue of Animal Man, as Buddy and his family fight the last of the Hunters, and the Rot is let loose in the world.  This title is moving closer to a tie-in with Swamp Thing, which I think is a good thing, since I’m already reading both books.  Travel Foreman gains an inker this month (Jeff Huet) who helps him rein in some of his stranger visual quirks, saving the real weirdness for places that need it, and helping the rest of the book look more realistic.  Of course, it’s the last four pages that I love the most, as Steve Pugh returns to the Baker clan.  His run on Animal Man is one of my favourite ever, and it’s great to see him here.  I’d forgotten that the readers knew Ellen’s mother previously, but when I saw her drawn by Pugh, I recognized her immediately, and then remembered how much I liked her as a character.  I know he’s not going to be the permanent artist on this title, but I can hope, right?

Avengers Academy #24So is there some kind of rule that states that teen comics must at some point be drawn by Tom Grummett?  The man is a master of the art form, but still, after having his name so closely related to the Teen Titans for so long, it’s kind of odd that he’s now the regular artist on this book.  Future/Evil Reptil spends most of this issue feeding his teammates to Hybrid, and we get to learn a little about the new White Tiger.  As always, this is a remarkably well-written comic (Christos Gage really is excellent), and it has a lot more content than most Marvel comics.

Avengers Annual #1 – So after many months, we get the conclusion to the big fight between Wonder Man’s group of reject Avengers and the real team.  This is a decent issue in so far as it’s interesting to see how the different members of the team react to having one of their own turn against them, but this comic raises huge continuity issues.  To begin with, this is supposed to take place before Fear Itself, which we know happens before Avengers Children’s Crusade, and yet in that book, Wonder Man is friends with the Avengers again, whereas here, he’s portrayed as having irreconcilable differences.  Is this also supposed to lead into Avengers Vs. X-Men?  This stuff is too confusing, and didn’t really need to be published.

Betrayal of the Planet of the Apes #3 – Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko’s story of corruption in Ape government just keeps getting better and better.  Retired General Aleron begins to organize some resistance from prison as Councilor Tenebris moves his plans forward.  Most interesting is the depiction of Dr. Zaius, a character from the original movie, as a more noble character than what we see later.  Hardman’s art is great, and the plot is filled with tension.  This is a great mini-series.

Defenders #2Matt Fraction is going for something like a Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League or Ellis Nextwave feel on this book, and it’s starting to grow on me.  I kind of didn’t catch the whole deal with Prestor John, but I thought the interplay between Dr. Strange and She-Hulk (should I call her Red She-Hulk) to be pretty amusing.  And, with the Dodson’s handling the art, this book is lovely.  I’m just not sure that this line-up has legs part the initial arc.

Graveyard of Empires #3 – It’s been a while since the second issue came out, so it took me a little while to get up to speed on a lot of these characters (there are a lot in this book), but I found myself really enjoying this ‘zombies in Afghanistan’ comic.  The Americans are stuck in their base with some local civilians as groups of undead (dating back to the Russian war in the 80s) surround them, leading just about everybody to take some drastic measures.  Mark Sable is writing a pretty complicated story, and Paul Azaceta’s atmospheric, Tommy Lee Edwards-like art works very well with it.

Hulk #47 – I feel myself getting a little bored with Red Hulk.  Jeff Parker has him go back to chasing after Zero/One, the villain whose story ran through a number of issues over the last year.  There is some family drama interjected when Betty, the Red She-Hulk comes to talk to her father, but instead gets into a fight, but that doesn’t do much to pique my interests either.  Sadly, even the continued presence of Machine Man leaves me a little cold.  Part of the problem is that Gabriel Hardman didn’t draw this issue.  Elena Casagrande is a fine artist (except for the fact that she draws She-Hulk with more hair than Medusa), but Hardman makes this series click with me.

Iron Man 2.0 #12 – This series never really had much of a chance in today’s market.  To begin with, the title was a little misleading in not making it clear that this comic was about War Machine (except for the Fear Itself issues, which were really about the Immortal Weapons, perplexingly).  Secondly, this was a book starring a black man, and we all know how much Marvel hates those.  Thirdly, Nick Spencer’s long-form story got interrupted by Fear Itself, and never recovered its steam, especially when Ariel Olivetti became the regular artist; his look is very wrong for the type of story that Spencer was telling.  This final issue feels rushed, as the writing is spread between two people and the art among four.  Oh well, it had its moments.

Mudman #2I’m finding that I’m really enjoying Paul Grist’s new series.  Most of this second issue runs concurrent with the first, introducing us to the people in the strange abandoned house, and establishing that they don’t have anything to do with the weird costume in the attic that Mudman ends up wearing.  Grist uses this issue to develop his setting a little more, and it’s an amusing, enjoyable book.  If you liked the first year of Invincible, or if you enjoyed Phil Hester’s Firebreather, you’d probably find something here you’d enjoy.

Stormwatch #5 – This title got off to a slow start, but now I’m finding myself enjoying it a great deal.  This issue has some great interactions between the team members as the Stormwatch Shadow Cabinet appoints a new leader, and Midnighter and Harry Tanner get into a fight.  A lot is revealed about all of the characters this issue, and then there is a surprise ending that calls into question how many of them will even be around next month.  Which brings me to the downside of this comic – we already know that DC has removed Paul Cornell from the book, making me doubt I’m going to stick with it.  They are clearly positioning this book to be a central part of the DCnU, tying in to Superman and Grifter, but if that is just going to be the product of editorial mandate, I doubt that I’m all that interested.  I hope Miguel Sepulveda’s going to stick around – I like how this book looks.

Swamp Thing #5 – Swamp Thing is one great comic.  Alec and Abby have a confrontation with William, as The Rot makes its way to the Parliament of Trees.  One thing that has made this comic work so well is that Alec Holland isn’t actually the Swamp Thing, and I kind of hope he never makes that transition, as I find this much more interesting.  Yannick Paquette returns to the art this issue, and things look great (although I loved Marco Ruby’s work last issue).

Thunderbolts #168While Jeff Parker’s Hulk left me cold this week, I really liked the newest issue of Thunderbolts, which focused on the non-criminal members of the team for a change.  Luke Cage is tracking down villains that escaped from the Raft in Fear Itself, and runs across Mister Fear, who promptly gasses him, leading to a lengthy dream-like sequence.  While this is going one, Songbird and Mach-V have to meet with their government overseers, and that more or less works the way things always work when government oversight is involved.  The art for this issue is by Matt Southworth, who was brilliant on Greg Rucka’s Stumptown series.  Southworth’s art is vastly different from the style usually used in this book, and it looks great.  He has some JH Williams-style layouts when Cage is all gassed up; my only complaint is that the colouring made it hard to tell what was in Luke’s mind, and what was happening at the Raft.

Uncanny X-Force #19.1 – Really, this is Age of Apocalypse #0.1, as Marvel tries to build an audience for their new series set in that alternate world that is much loved by many comics fans, although I’m not one of them.  Most of this issue is used killing off any remaining ‘good’ mutants in that world, so that the new series can start off as bleakly as possible.  It’s not a bad issue, but it’s not really my thing.  I think it’s odd that they don’t use the new series’s regular creative team.  I’m not interested in picking it up, but I do like both David Lapham and Roberto Dela Torre, so I may give it a try.

Uncanny X-Men #4I always saw the Phalanx as a good example of 90s comics nonsense.  I think it was one of the arcs during Scott Lobdell’s tenure on this title where the X-Men fought the Phalanx (were there ugly hologram covers?) that finally convinced me to drop the X-titles for about five years.  Anyway, Kieron Gillen proves what a great writer he is (once again) by spending most of this issue personalizing one member of the Phalanx, who was experimented on by Mr. Sinister for years, before being left for dead.  We’re more than half-way into the issue before the X-Men even show up, and I think that unconventional approach worked really well here.  Brandon Peterson’s art is nice, too.

Villains for Hire #2 – It really is a shame that there are only two issues left in Abnett and Lanning’s Misty Knight series, and that there are no signs of more to come.  When not interfered with by a cross-over, like so much of Heroes for Hire was, that series, and this follow-up, can be very very good.  Purple Man is becoming increasingly frustrated with the fact that a rival organization is using his MO, and he figures out that it’s Misty pulling the strings.  What makes this issue more interesting is that Paladin figures it out at the same time, and Misty’s way of dealing with him is pretty unexpected.  Renato Arlem is doing some very nice work here.

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

Ferals #1

John Byrne’s Cold War #4

Star Trek Legion of Super-Heroes #4

Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha and Omega #1

X-Men #23

Bargain Comics:

Amazing Spider-Man #672-675 I really enjoy reading Spider-Man in chunks like this.  Dan Slott has done such a good job with this title, that I’m considering adding it back to my regular pull-list.  The only thing that’s stopping me is that it’s bi-weekly and $4.  Anyway, in these issues, Spider-Island wraps up, Peter’s girlfriend figures out that he’s Spider-Man and leaves him, and the Vulture shows up with a group of emo minions.  The writing on this book is really sharp, and I love the combination of Giuseppe Camuncoli’s pencils with Klaus Janson’s inks.  Both artists are usually very distinct, but put together like this, their look is very different, and I like it.

Legion: Secret Origins #1&2 –  I’ve mentioned many times on this site how much I love the Legion, but more and more I’m convinced that that really refers to a relationship long over.  This latest mini-series is designed to retell the Legion’s origin (again), presumably clarifying its place in the New 52.  Two issues in, and not much has happened.  I appreciate that the focus isn’t all on the original three team members and RJ Brande, but the main plot, which has to do with Brainiac 5 and Phantom Girl investigating a massacre on an alien world, doesn’t make a lot of sense yet, and isn’t all that interesting.  As to the suggestion that a secret council of three people really run the United Planets?  It seems like a silly retcon that doesn’t add much to the story.  I also think it’s interesting how everyone is staying mum on the influence that Superman had on the Legion, since there have been many suggestions that the Legion is our pre-Flashpoint one, and traveling down that road will lead to all sorts of continuity issues.  On the positive side, I’ve always liked how Chris Batista draws the Legion.

Ultimate Comics Hawkeye #1-4 This mini-series took until its third issue to start to feel like it’s really a Jonathan Hickman comic, but when it got there, it got to be very good.  A group of manufactured powered beings are taking over the SEAR – the South East Asian Region, and Hawkeye is more or less alone in trying to stop them, at least until the Hulk and three nameless and undeveloped mutants are sent in.  Like I said, the first half of this series isn’t much, but it ends very well, with suggestions as to what is going to come later in Hickman’s run on Ultimates.

Ultimate Spider-Man #1-5 – I’ve never read any of Brian Michael Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man comics before this.  Over the course of this year, I’ve found myself losing faith and interest in Bendis’s work, as his creator-owned books like Powers and Scarlet have disappeared, his Moon Knight has been underwhelming, and his Avengers books have become ever-more decompressed parodies of themselves.  His new, Miles Morales Spider-Man though, has received positive reviews all over the place, and I thought it was time to check it out.  It’s everything Bendis’s other work isn’t.  It’s well-thought out, and very thoughtful, as Miles is portrayed as an intelligent, sensitive kid who is not exactly given to Peter Parker’s guilt-ridden hand-wringing.  Sara Pichelli is drawing the hell out of this book, and while not a lot has happened so far, there are enough quiet moments of pure characterization that I’ve started to really like Miles, and to care about what happens to him.  I’m trying to cut back on my pull-list this year, but I think I may have to add this title.

Wolverine #12-18I like Wolverine.  I like Jason Aaron.  You would think this matching would work well, but it kind of doesn’t.  These seven issues cover three storylines.  The Red Right Hand one is ridiculous.  A group of people who have had their lives ruined by Wolvie gather together in a Wolverine Revenge Squad and get their revenge by having him slaughter a group of lame villains (who are connected to him in a way that is supposed to be a surprise) and then drink poisoned Kool-Aid, with the hope that it will bother him.  It does, so he spends a couple of issues being feral in Northern Canada again (I liked seeing Goran Sudzuku drawing a comic again; that’s the best I can say about those issues).  Then, all the melodrama out of his system, Aaron has Logan get involved in a drug running operation under San Francisco’s Chinatown that involves dragons, underground caverns, and guest appearances by Ken Hale (the ape guy from Agents of Atlas) and Fat Cobra, the Immortal Weapon.  This arc is written in the same ‘fun style’ as Wolverine and the X-Men, and it works better, although I have no idea why Short Round from the second Indiana Jones movie is running around here.  In all, these are okay to bad comics, and definitely the weakest output I’ve seen from Aaron.

The Week in Manga:

Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka Vol. 4

by Naoki Urasawa after Osamu Tezuka, with Takashi Nagasaki

I’m glad that I made good use of Boxing Day sales to track down the remaining volumes in this series, because I find that each new volume I read ramps up the level of tension and my interest in this series.

Pluto is a re-make of a classic Osamu Tezuka Astro Boy story (which I’ve never read), although told in a longer, much more complex way.  In this fourth volume, we get a few more hints as to the identity of the person or robot who has been killing the world’s most powerful robots, and any humans involved in the Bora Survey Group.  The Survey Group had examined the country of Persia for Robots of Mass Destruction, and while they didn’t find any, the United States of Thracia had used them as a smokescreen for starting the 39th Central Asian War.

I think what I admire most about this series is the political backdrop that Urasawa sets it against.  There is an easy comparison between the 39th War and the American invasion of Iraq, except for the fact that WMDs didn’t later begin to advocate for their own rights and a place of equality within human society as robots have.  That aspect of the story is explored a little more here, as the anti-robot organization that businessman Adolf Haas is a part of has decided they don’t need him anymore, and he ends up with main character Gesicht protecting him (despite the fact that Gesicht is dealing with the Pluto case – a weak story device, or proof of conspiracy?).

A lot happens in this volume, particularly to Atom, the boy robot we in the West know as Astro Boy.  Also, Epsilon, the pacifist robot is forced to take action, and Gesicht has to cancel his trip to Japan.

This really is a terrific series, and Urasawa has a lot of balls in the air at any given time.  I look forward to reading the second half of this run.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Catwoman: Crooked Little Town

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Brad Rader, Cameron Stewart, Rick Burchett, Michael Avon Oeming, and Mike Manley

I don’t often buy trades of superhero comics.  If I am interested, I usually buy them as they come out, or in cases where I’ve missed a particularly good run, I’ll pick up back issues at sales or in used bookstores.  Ed Brubaker’s run on Catwoman is something that completely slipped past me about a decade ago, and clearly came at a time when neither he, nor any of the artists he worked with, had developed names for themselves.  Looking at the cover of Crooked Little Town, the second collection of his run with this character, it is almost impossible to find the writer’s name, or the name of any of the artists.  I guess that says a lot about how much Brubaker’s fame has grown in a little under ten year’s time.

Anyway, this trade collects one longer story, and a few shorter ones about Selina’s new approach to life as the guardian of the East End of Gotham City.  She is not afraid to take on the mob, and spends most of the book hunting down some crooked cops with the help of private eye Slam Bradley.  The story is nicely written, and shows the more tender side of Selina when her young friend Holly gets hurt.  Also, there was an extended cameo by Detective Crispus Allen, who was my favourite character in Gotham Central, which was probably the best comic DC published in the 2000s (and should have been resurrected for the New 52).

The art in this volume is very consistent.  Brad Rader is a very good artist, yet I’m not sure if he’s done anything since this book.  I definitely don’t remember seeing his name anywhere else.  His style fits nicely with that of artists like Cameron Stewart (who inks him here), Darwyn Cooke, and Michael Avon Oeming.  I picked up two more of Brubaker’s Catwoman trades when I got this one; I’m looking forward to reading them.

The Finder Library Vol. 2

by Carla Speed McNeil

Finder has been my favourite comic book discovery of 2011.  Carla Speed McNeil’s series has been around for years, but was completely under my radar until Dark Horse began collecting the series in the Finder Library series, serializing new adventures of main character Jaeger in their new Dark Horse Presents monthly anthology comic, and published the new graphic novel Voice.

Finder has been described as ‘aboriginal science fiction’, and I suppose that description works as well as any other.  The series is mostly set in the great domed city of Anvard, where millions of people live in the cramped, multi-layered, complicated society run by clans and strict social stratification that can even dictate how much artificial sunlight is pumped into a neighbourhood.  The world of Anvard is deliciously complex, and McNeil revels in constructing stories that help to expose new facets of the society, while also provide an emotional wallop.

This second volume of the Finder Library collects sixteen issues of the comic, plus whatever additional material McNeil chose to toss in (this volume does not feel as formally structured as the first).  It contains four stories: ‘Dream Sequence’, ‘Mystery Date’, ‘The Rescuers’, and ‘Five Crazy Women’, each very different in tone and content.

‘Dream Sequence’ is about Magri White, a prodigy who has constructed and maintains a complete virtual reality in his own mind.  Thousands of people jack into his reality, called Elsewhere, and enjoy walking around in his memories in the thousands of structures he has created.  Since childhood, Magri had been under the care of a corporation that has made billions off of Elsewhere.  The problem is that now a monster is loose in that world, and visitors are getting injured in reality.  This story is very surrealistic, and completely brilliant.  I found myself getting very wrapped up in Magri’s environment, and McNeil does an amazing job of showing his frustration and decent into near-madness.

‘Mystery Date’ is a stark contrast to this story.  It stars Vary, a young girl who grew up as a form of ritualized temple prostitute in her home village, and who has come to Anvar for an education.  She ends up getting involved in a strange triangle with an emotionally distant professor who wears complex prosthetic legs, and his colleague, a Laeske.  Laeske are bird-lizard creatures about the size of horses, who are often as intelligent as a person.  This is a bizarre story, a romantic comedy in a completely bizarre setting, and it works very well.

‘The Rescuers’ is the first story in this book to feature Jaeger in a prominent role.  He is living with a group of Ascians, his adopted people, in a large dome within the dome of Anvard, that is owned by the Baron Manavelin.  The Ascians have been allowed to camp on the Baron’s property, and work as servants in his estate.  One night, during an elaborate party, the Baron’s infant child is kidnapped.  What follows is a form of noir detective story, as Jaeger begins to assist the rather useless local police (despite the Baron’s wealth, his home is in a relatively backwards part of Anvard, and so only sub-clan police are employed there).  This was a particularly effective look into McNeil’s world, and it wore the influence of the Lindbergh kidnapping on its sleeve.

The final story, ‘Five Crazy Women’ focuses on Jaeger and the relationships he has with the women of Anvard.  Being a drifter, and moving in and out of the city, Jaeger has few possessions and no home.  Whenever he turns up in the city for a while, he usually calls up one of his many women.  He has some difficulty finding anyone when this story opens, and so he has to find some new ‘friends’ to take him in, finding only some real nutcases.  This is a fun story, and it reveals more about Jaeger and his way of living.

Taken as a whole, Finder is incredible.  McNeil provides detailed notes in the back (forty pages of notes for 600 pages of comics), which is something I’m always a sucker for.  The depth in her work is pretty much unmatched in comics today – the only comparison I can think of is Neil Gaiman’s Sandman for complexity and magnetic appeal.  I suppose an easier comparison would be to Frank Herbert’s Dune, or perhaps Lord of the Rings, if it wasn’t so boring.  I really loved immersing myself in McNeil’s world, and am thankful that she is continuing to publish Jaeger’s stories in DHP; I just hope that another long-form story like Voice will be coming our way soon.

As a sidebar to this, I would love to see McNeil write (and draw) Wolverine at Marvel.  Jaeger and Logan are very similar, living according to complicated codes and usually being the most noble savages in the room.  It would be a very interesting take on the character, and I think she would excel at it.

The 14th Dalai Lama

by Tetsu Saiwai

A friend suggested that I read The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography and I’m glad I did.  I’ve always had a passing interest in Tenzin Gyatso and the struggle of his people, and I was familiar with his story, but I’d never read a biography of him before now.

Tetsu Saiwai’s manga begins with the death of the previous Dalai Lama, and the search for his resurrected spirit.  Once he was recognized as the new Dalai Lama, Gyatso was moved to Lhasa where he began a life of study.  Unfortunately, world events did not allow the young Dalai Lama time to ease into his role, as at the age of fifteen, he had to begin to deal with the expansionism of neighbouring China, which was undergoing the Cultural Revolution, and set its eyes on Tibet.

This book follows the Dalai Lama through a period of attempting to appease and work with Mao’s China, until the sad realization that were he to stay in Lhasa, he would surely be held prisoner or killed.  He and a small group of family and advisers escape to India, where they continue to act as the legal government of Tibet, although they have no say over what has happened at home.

The book covers its material quickly (it didn’t take very long to read this), but with enough detail that the reader can walk away from this book with a good understanding of what has happened.  Saiwai tells his story simply, but very effectively.  This is a good place to start a study of the current, post-anti-Olympics demonstrations in Tibet, and raises the question of what will happen to Tibetans, and Buddhism in general, when the aging Gyatso passes.

A History of Violence

Written by John Wagner
Art by Vince Locke

It’s pretty much impossible for a comics fan to have read everything.  I saw this recent Vertigo Crime reprinting of the old Paradox Press title A History of Violenceand was more than a little surprised to realize I’d never read it before (nor had I seen the moviedirected by David Cronenberg, despite the fact that I went through a huge Cronenberg phase back in my university days).  I figured it was time to address this – for the book at least, if not the movie.

This is a pretty decent book.  I was a big fan of John Wagner’s work on Batman (written with Alan Grant), and have long recognized Vince Locke as having an important place in edgy, intelligent comics.

The book opens in some small town, where a couple of petty crooks decide to hold up Tom McKenna’s diner, not expecting McKenna to fight back.  When it’s all over, McKenna finds himself a local hero, with his story even making national news.  And this leads to some problems, since McKenna has been living under an assumed name for twenty years, and has been hiding from the mob.

It’s not long before a trio of mob enforcers come sniffing around, and McKenna has to confront his past, and tell his wife and children about how he used to live his life.  The family drama stuff is handled very nicely, and it’s easy to see why this book was chosen for film adaptation; it has all the pacing of a good Hollywood thriller.

Locke’s work is nice, but much looser than I would have expected.  Much of the book looks like Guy Davis penciled it without an inker.  This approach works for most of it, but there are a few scenes where things could have been a little clearer.

Album of the Week:

El Rego et ses Commandos

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