The Weekly Round-Up #111

Columns, Top Story

Best Comic of the Week:

Prophet #21

Written by Brandon Graham
Art by Simon Roy

I think I may have just found my new favourite monthly comic.  By now, everyone knows the story – Rob Liefeld is relaunching his old Extreme line of comics, known for god-awful art and stories, filled with shoulder pads, pockets, giant guns, anatomically impossible women, and an utter lack of feet.  A lot of these comics were popular for a little while in the 90s, before the lack of good story and the incredible inability to publish even semi-regularly took their toll, and the books all stopped coming out.  I have some vague memories of Prophet – I think he was some kind of Cable rip-off (and yes, I know Liefeld created Cable), but really, it’s not like the comics probably made sense.

Anyway, the relaunch.  This series is being written by Brandon Graham, who is a brilliant artist in his own right.  Graham is best known for King City, an amazing comic that I can not recommend enough.  He is joined on Prophet by fellow Vancouver-ite Simon Roy, who I first became aware of a couple of years back at TCAF when I bought his Jan’s Atomic Heart, a short little graphic novel.  At the time, I remarked that he would be a major talent one day, and I think he may be well on the road with this comic.  (By the way – while everyone is suddenly looking to get copies of Jan’s Atomic Heart, I imagine that it is easier to sample Roy’s second work – stories in Murder Book, an excellent crime anthology series, which can be purchased here – it’s very good).

This series is set in a far-off future, where the entire Earth’s ecosystems have changed radically.  John Prophet suddenly appears in a drill-bit shaped hibernation pod, having been buried a long time.  He has a mission to complete, which he receives updates about through his dreams.  He travels to a jell city (more on this soon) to meet his contact and receive information about his mission.  What this mission is, or what has happened to the planet, or why Prophet was willing to mate with his slug-like contact, are all being left as mysteries for now.

Graham is one of those creators who breathe out good ideas the way we do carbon dioxide.  Every page of this comic has something new and strange on it, from the variety of wild animals that Prophet encounters (he’s only awake for a few minutes before a Tulnaka attacks him) to the strange new inhabitants of the world.  We see a little of an Oonaka meat farm.  These are vaguely simian creatures being raised by some of the creatures that live in the jell city – basically a rotting living jellyfish spaceship that is inhabited by a caste society of creatures that I can’t exactly describe – they’re insect-ish.  Graham keeps his usual wordplay at a minimum, but I was amused by the drones that shoot live ammunition – living creatures that sink claws into their target.

I found every page of this comic a complete treat.  Roy’s art reminds me Moebius, Tony Moore, Paul Pope, and David Lapham (is such a combination is even possible), with a sense that James Stokoe has had an influence on things.  The story is definitely intriguing; I imagine this as being a future Conan comic, but written by William S. Burroughs.  Handing this series to these two is the best thing that Rob Liefeld has ever done in all his years of working in comics.

Other Notable Comics:

Caligula #6

Written by David Lapham
Art by German Nobile

I definitely lost faith in this mini-series somewhere in the second half, but David Lapham pulls everything together very nicely for this issue’s conclusion.  Junius, called Felix, has been both plotting to kill Caligula, the mad emperor, and assisting him in his depravities.  It’s been hard to say just why Felix has acted the way he has, except to suppose that Caligula has some sort of spell on the younger man.  In this issue, Felix and Laurentius, the trustworthy Praetorian, enact their plan and attempt to kill Caligula.

Lapham, at times, has lost the balance of this series, showing some pretty twisted things as Caligula, and his demonic horse (who was in fact installed in the Senate by the real Caligula) Incitatus, have debauched their way through Rome’s collected coffers.

I was critical of this series for colouring issues earlier; that has been corrected here, with the book looking a little brighter, and the art less muddy.  In the end, Caligula was an interesting and unique mini-series, exploring a time period not often seen in comics (scroll down for another Roman-era story though), and blending fact with fiction in an interesting manner.

Chew #23

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

Only John Layman could come up with a plot as twisted as the one that sportswriter Don Frank has concocted in this issue of Chew.  We know Don as the former boyfriend of Amelia Nitz, Tony Chu’s girlfriend.  Last issue, he and a group of his friends kidnapped Tony, and the reason is brilliant.

You see, Tony’s a cibopath – when he eats something, he learns its entire history.  Don wants to write a book about the sex lives of famous dead baseball players, and he’s realized that, were he to exhume the bodies of Babe Ruth and his contemporaries, and force-feed them to Tony, he’d be set.  So simple, it’s amazing no one’s ever thought of it before, right?

So, while Tony is being held captive, and his daughter is missing, we also get to check in on his former partner, Colby, who has been reassigned to the USDA.  We’ve seen this government agency in this comic before – USDA agents are partnered with animals, so Colby’s is now working with Agent Buttercup, a lion.  His career trajectory is taking a similar path to Tony’s at the FDA, as his superior clearly has it out for him.  Of course, Colby has a way of dealing with people…

As always, this book is wickedly funny.  Layman and Guillory are the Brubaker and Phillips of food-based comic science fiction.

Fables #113

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Rick Leonardi, Ron Randall, P. Craig Russell, Zander Cannon, Jim Fern, Ramon Bachs, and Adam Hughes

Every once in a while in Fables, we get the equivalent of a clip show.  In this issue, Willingham works with a number of highly talented artists to give us a few short stories about some of the lesser-known characters that make up the gigantic ensemble cast of this series.

We’re given the classic story (drawn by P. Craig Russell!) of an adulterous princess who is transformed into a turtle, destined to always carry her homeland in a teacup on her back.  Later, we’re given a story about some of the people who live on the islands that float in that cup (drawn by Ramon Bachs).

Zander Cannon and Jim Fern (a very nice combination) draw the longest story, about a sorcerer who casts a spell on Gepetto and the Emperor back in the homelands which has a long-lasting positive effect on Fabletown centuries later (and helps explain some ancient plot points in the earlier days of this series).

Finally, we are given a short piece explaining the reason for the amorous interest of a porcupine in human women.  This story is drawn by Adam Hughes – when is the last time he drew the interiors of anything?

This is a fun issue, but ultimately rather forgettable.  I suppose Mark Buckingham needed a break or something, and I’m not going to begrudge that, but I would like to get back to what is happening at the Farm, and the eventual return of our favourite Fables to New York.

Morning Glories #15

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

This issue of Morning Glories has thirty pages of story in it, for $2.99.  That alone should be enough of a reason to make it my favourite comic this week, and if this week’s issue of Wasteland wasn’t only $1, it would be the best deal.  Still, let’s look at this in perspective.  This issue is like getting one and a half issues of The Avengers, for half the price.  And then, when you factor in  the fact that there aren’t three or four splash pages, you realize you get even more value.

We don’t read comics for the value though, do we?  At least I don’t – I read them for some excellent character work and visuals, and that’s exactly what Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma give us with this issue.  The Woodrun (whatever that really is) is taking place at Morning Glory Academy still, and Hunter, Zoe, and Jun are on a team together, arguing as they wander the woods looking for a set of flags.

Early on in the issue, Jun is taken prisoner by a rival team, leaving Hunter and Zoe, who just had a huge argument at the beginning of this arc, alone together as night approaches.  They eventually stop taking shots at each other after Zoe rescues Hunter from a death trap in a Darma Station (oh wait, I thought I was watching Lost again – I don’t know what the bunker-like room they ended up in was; this is a comic that likes its mysteries) and engage in a meaningful conversation about Hunter’s pursuit of Casey that is both funny and a little sad.

The issue is sprinkled with flashbacks to Zoe’s past, specifically the time period after she killed a teacher at her school (which we saw a few months back in another issue).  Zoe is an interesting character – it’s been hard to tell if she is as tough and cold as she seems, or if she’s just fronting, although this issue, with it’s surprise ending, helps clarify things a great deal.

Spencer’s been doing some very interesting work on this comic, and as his output at Marvel appears to be scaling back a little (Iron Man 2.0 cancelled, Victor Von Doom stillborn), I hope that we will see more of this series being published on time.

Wasteland #33

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Justin Greenwood

In my opinion, some of the best news of the New Year is that Wasteland is back, and that the creators are committed to putting the book out on a monthly schedule again.  For the first year and a half of its existence, Wasteland was just about the most reliable independent comic published at the time, but something happened that caused artist Christopher Mitten to fall way behind, and eventually leave the title.  The first replacement artist didn’t work out for some reason, but now Justin Greenwood has joined the title, and it feels like things are going to work out for it again.

To celebrate getting back into the swing of things, this issue is only $1, and is well worth picking up.  It’s not a perfect jumping on point (Wasteland is a complex series), but Antony Johnston does his best to welcome new readers with a detailed recap inside the front cover, and by shifting the story back to central characters Michael and Abi, who are continuing their journey to A-Ree-Yass-I, a mysterious land that has been talked about as the birthplace of the Big Wet, the event that changed the world.

They are accompanied by Gerr, who they think is a Ruin Runner, like Michael, but who we know to be an agent of Marcus, the leader of Newbegin, who wants to keep Michael from getting where he’s going.

In this issue, we see a new aspect of society – a Cross Chains town.  Basically, this is an isolated place where Christianity is still practiced.  Most of society has become rather tribal at this point, with the Sunner religion claiming most souls, except for city people (who enslave Sunners), and groups like the Dog Tribes.  It’s a surprise to see a holdover faith from the old world still existing here, and I like how Johnston has the people who live in the town revert to a more superstitious and suspicious form of the religion (they think Michael is a demon).

Also of interest in this issue is the introduction of Zakk, a brother of the church who has lost his faith after a visit by a strange man who seems kind of god-like.  This strange man has also recently visited Michael, Abi, and Gerr in their dreams.  Johnston is setting this series up to go in some interesting new directions.

Justin Greenwood does a good job with this debut issue.  I liked his work on Marc Guggenheim’s Resurrection(I do wish we’d see more of that title too), but at first worried that he wouldn’t be a good fit for this title.  His art lacks the rougher, shabbiness of Christopher Mitten’s, which fit this world so well, but he does handle the characters quite well.  Here’s hoping for monthly issues of this series all year.

Xenoholics #4

Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Seth Damoose

Xenoholics has been a fun read, drawing a number of comparisons to Chew in terms of its brand of humour and subject matter.  This issue, I felt, fell a little flat, as it had a lot of plot to get through, and didn’t have as much space for the character interactions and strange little moments that made the earlier issues work so well.

Our group of Xenoholics, the members of a support group for people who have been abducted by aliens, are in the custody of the ‘Men in White’ a governmental group that has been pursuing them since the professor who ran their meetings went missing.  They are interrogated, and the truth about some of their abductions (or lack thereof) are revealed, before they manage to attempt an escape.

This series is well-written and usually pretty well-balanced, but as I said, this particular issue was somewhat lacking in the humour of the previous three.  I am looking forward to seeing how everything wraps up next issue.

Quick Takes:

Batman #5 I know that Batman is just about everyone’s darling of the New 52 (unless it’s Animal Man, of course), and I have been enjoying it, but this issue bothered me.  There are a few reasons why it didn’t work.  First, when the comic opens, I thought that Bullock and Gordon looked way more like Sam and Twitch, the detectives from Spawn, than they did themselves.  This can be blamed squarely on Greg Capullo, who I think at times forgets which book he’s drawing.  Actually, I don’t know what’s up with Capullo – some of his pages are quite poor (looking like an homage to Todd McFarlane), yet other pages are fantastic; perhaps he’s grown as an artist, but is struggling with monthly deadlines?  I’m not sure.  The next thing that bothers me is that Bullock implies that the Bat-Signal has been running for eight days straight.  I would hope they turn it off in the daytime…  From here, we switch to Batman, trapped in the Court of Owl’s labyrinth.  He gets drugged, and things get a little trippy.  Someone (not sure if it’s Snyder or Capullo) decided to mess with the readers’ heads by turning some pages sideways and others upside down.  It came off as gimmicky, and didn’t add to the story one bit.  The book did redeem itself on the last page though, as we saw Damian’s reaction to Bruce’s disappearance, and it came across as genuinely emotional.  Overall, this issue was a disappointment, but as this arc has been so good, I’ll look past it.

Daredevil #8 – The Spidey/Daredevil cross-over that began in last week’s issue of Amazing Spider-Man concludes here, and it is a fantastic comic.  The two heroes are working to retrieve a stolen holograph projector device, which the Black Cat has been framed for stealing.  Her and Matt have some real chemistry (have they not met before?), as Mark Waid plays the whole thing in the lighter tone DD has adopted of late.  Artist Kano fits with the general look that Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera have established for this title, and the art is wonderful.  If for no other reason, you should buy this comic just to see the novel use DD puts his billyclub to – it involves a helicopter rotor, and is ingenious.

Generation Hope #15  – I had planned on dropping this series after Kieron Gillen left, but the news that this issue would be drawn by Timothy Green II caused me to stick around.  I’ve been a fan of Green’s work since he drew the Star-Lord mini-series that was part of the first Annihilation event a couple of years back.  The problem is, this book doesn’t look like that at all.  I’d say this looks more like Ron Lim drew it in a rush, which is a disappointment.  Storywise, things aren’t bad, as Hope brings the brain-wiped Sebastian Shaw home to Utopia, causing all sorts of problems, and the misfits of the island approach the ‘lights’, out of jealousy of their higher standing in Cyclops’s eye.  I like what James Asmus is doing with this comic, although from what I’ve read on Bleeding Cool, it sounds like this title isn’t going to be around for long – which makes sense, as Hope has a prominent role in Uncanny X-Men, and is going to be a big player in Avengers Vs. X-Men, but can’t hold an audience on her own…

The Invincible Iron Man #512 – Now this feels like the Matt Fraction Iron Man I’ve grown to love over the last few years.  Tony’s a bit of a wreck, as the repulsor that runs his heart is failing, and as the machinations of the Hammers, Stane, and the Mandarin take a toll on his public image.  Also, the Mandarin decides to attack China, which will lead to all sorts of trouble.  As always, the book looks great (this run is the best of Salvador Larroca’s career), and Fraction’s usual skill with character work is evident.  I do want to question the location of Mandarin City.  A text box refers to it as being ‘outside Mongolia China’.  I would assume that means Inner Mongolia; I just wonder why the establishing shot is of a junk sailing in water; this looks like a pretty land-locked region on any map I can see.  It’s all in the details, Marvel!

Legion of Superheroes #5 I’d completely given up on the Legion after the New 52 Relaunch.  Paul Levitz’s writing was doing nothing for me, and the book was going nowhere.  Still, upon learning that Walter Simonson was going to be drawing this issue, I thought it would be worth checking out, as I’ve long admired his work (I have very strong memories of picking up one of his Thor issues in a department store and being blown away).  Turns out, I was very wrong.  Perhaps had Simonson also written this issue…  I don’t understand the need to give an artist as dynamic and exciting as Simonson a comic where absolutely nothing happens.  This is a ‘day in the life issue’, and each page is supposed to represent a different hour in the day.  That could work in a series like this, with so many interesting characters, but instead, we find that the three pages that consist of Glorith writing a letter, answering her door, and then walking to the mess hall are supposed to take three hours.  How big is Legion headquarters?  Clearly, the time stamp notion was added after the story was written, but to what effect?  And why does nothing more exciting than that happen in this comic?  Here DC had a chance to spotlight a potentially amazing series (because there are few better concepts than the Legion, when handled correctly) to an audience hungry to see new work from a fan favourite artist, and instead, they give us one of the most dull comics of the last ten years.  Shameful…

New Mutants #36 – The ‘Blink’ arc ends here, with the team fighting the demonic metal band.  There are some nice moments between Sunspot and Magma, as Abnett and Lanning understand that the teamwork and interplay between these characters is what makes this title work.  I’m enjoying the Lopezs’ (David and Alvaro) art on this series, but really wish someone would do something about the covers; the last two issues have looked terrible.

Nightwing #5I never would have expected to still be buying issues of this comic five issues in, but I am enjoying Kyle Higgins’s take on Nightwing, and the mysteries of Haley’s Circus have intrigued me.  I like the fact that this issue has Dick battling a demon in a New Orleans cemetery; it’s not the kind of thing we usually see from this character.  Eddy Barrows is also doing very good work in portraying Nightwing as essentially an acrobat who fights crime.

Planet of the Apes #10 – In this issue, we get a little better sense of the history of the conflict between the apes and the humans, and we see a little more of the shared childhood of Alaya and Sullivan.  We also follow a contingent of apes who have been tracking the humans who escaped the attacks on Skintown.  This is a remarkable series.  I was kind of confused in a few places though – especially in the scene where one person tossed another out of the airship – I don’t know who the guy with Native American-style face makeup was.

Superior #7 – Mark Millar finishes off his Superman series exactly as you would have expected the series to end.  The fact that this entire issue is predictable (except for the very nice scene where the actor steps up) doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a very winning formula.  This is a decent enough series, with some nice artwork by Leinil Francis Yu.  I’m probably going to be giving their Supercrooks a try – as much as I find Millar a hard personality to take, he is a pretty accomplished writer, and supporting creator-owned work is always a good thing.

THUNDER Agents #3 – I guess, when updating a group of older superheroes, and being confronted with one named NoMan, it’s natural to have him slant towards the existential.  Having this character reflect on his life, while searching for THUNDER tech in a gigantic underground city, works well.  I loved the flashback pages by Walter Simonson (two books in one week – very cool), and also enjoyed Wes Craig’s work.  Nick Spencer has done a solid job with this series.  I have no idea what’s up with the formatting of this comic though – the interior pages are printed on a thicker stock than the cover; it’s a nice reading experience, but I’m sure it jacked up shipping costs, and it didn’t seem to serve any purpose.

Thunderbolts #169You have to wonder, with the number of times that modern superheroes and villains have ended up in King Arthur’s Court, that they aren’t a little more savvy when they see people with strange technology or abilities.  Still, Jeff Parker takes the escaped group of Thunderbolts to Arthur’s time, and it’s a very good story.  I like how he’s writing Satanna, and it’s very nice to see Kev Walker working on this title again – his art is great.

Ultimate Spider-Man #6 – I hadn’t intended to get caught up in this title, but the first five issues were so good that I felt I should try buying this issue off the stands for a while.  I find myself really liking Miles Morales as a character – he’s a nice, realistic kid, trying to do some interesting things.  And, unlike a lot of Bendis’s other work lately, I feel like enough happens in each issue to satisfy me.  This particular issue has Miles stop a crime and get broadcast on the news as the new Spider-Man, and have a serious chat with his mom.  We also saw more of his uncle, The Prowler, who is building up to be an interesting character.  Also, as much as I’ve liked Sara Pichelli’s art on this book, I was very happy to see Chris Samnee show up for the issue; his art is fantastic.

Uncanny X-Force #20 – I kind of figured that X-Force couldn’t stay as good as it has been lately.  This issue is kind of a mess, as Captain Britain abducts Psylocke and Fantomex, and the rest of the team hangs out in a Danger Room, generally disagreeing with the Age of Apocalypse Nightcrawler.  It seems that Otherworld, the home of the Captain Britain Corps is under attack from mysterious forces, and so they decide it’s the right time to put Fantomex on trial for killing Apocalypse.  Not only that, but, because they believe so strongly in the importance of giving evil beings like Apocalypse the chance to reform, like Jamie Braddock did, they have no choice but to execute Fantomex and destroy his molecules.  Without irony, I might add.  Part of why this issue didn’t work all that well is due to Greg Tocchini’s art.  I liked it when he and Rick Remender worked together on The Last Days of American Crime, but here I found his work very difficult to follow.  I see from the solicitations for the next few issues that he’s sticking around; I hope his storytelling improves.

Uncanny X-Men #5Kieron Gillen’s writing some of the best X-Men we’ve seen in a long time.  This issue is so good, that I didn’t hardly notice that Greg Land was drawing it.  For the most part, this comic is taken up with Psylocke suggesting that the Extinction team check out the evolved region of Montana that was created in the Dark Angel Saga, in Uncanny X-Force.  Of course, she has to keep what happened a secret from everyone, so there is some nice conflict there (especially since Magneto knows about X-Force).  Checking out this strange land gives Gillen the chance to split the team into squads, which leads to a wonderful conversation between Cyclops and Storm.  Actually, all of the character interaction in this book, from Danger’s annoyance at being used only as a communicator, to Namor’s arrogance are spot-on.  There is a strange little conversation between Cyclops and Captain America that feels a little forced though, like Marvel was trying to foreshadow some kind of conflict between them and the Avengers…  (By the way, I’d be way more interested in that coming cross-over were Gillen one of the writers for it).

Venom #12 – I’ve been enjoying Rick Remender’s take on Venom, but I think I’m done.  To begin with, it was the concept of Venom as a government agent that appealed to me.  Now that Flash Thompson has taken the symbiote AWOL with him, I find my interest waning.  I probably would have stuck with the book for another six issues or so, but knowing that issue 13 will be followed by 13.1-13.4, with a new comic every week, guest-starring a bunch of characters who can’t make their own books work, like X-23 and the girl Ghost Rider, I just don’t have any desire to keep reading this series.  It’s too bad too, because the change that happens in Betty and Flash’s relationship in this issue surprised me, and I would like to see how it plays out.  Maybe I’ll check the comic out again after the Marvel greed-train rolls on down the track, but I feel like I probably won’t.  I hope someone at Marvel is reading this, and is learning that there isn’t that much interest in ‘events’ like this, at least from me.

Wonder Woman #5Well, this was an odd issue.  Diana meets someone who may be a half-brother, and gets into it with Poseidon, as Brian Azzarello continues to explore the Greek gods of the New 52.  Tony Akins draws this issue and the next.  I loved his work on Jack of Fables, and it’s nice to see him drawing again – his Poseidon is pretty crazy, and not the least what I expected.  This is an intriguing title, which is taking its time to move through it’s story, but definitely has my interest.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #678

Avengers #21

Avenging Spider-Man #3

Legion of Monsters #4

Moon Knight #9

Bargain Comics:

Justice League Dark #4 – Finally, after I stop picking this book up, it starts to come together, as some of the various characters meet (apparently for the first time), and we get a better sense of what is going on with the Enchantress.  I’m pleased to see some forward momentum, but everyone acts very overwrought, and I can’t really see this series working after the first arc.

Mike Carey’s One-Sided Bargains

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Mike Perkins and PJ Holden

This prestige format collection of three pieces that Mike Carey once published through Caliber came out in 2006, but I saw it for the first time a couple of weeks ago, with a nice $1 price tag.

I’ve been admiring Carey more and more over the last few years.  His Lucifer was brilliant, as is his Unwritten. I even found myself enjoying his long run on X-Men, although not always to the same degree. Anyway, this book has three parts to it.

Doctor Faustus, drawn by Mike Perkins, is a retelling of the classic story of the Professor who made a deal with the Devil to gain knowledge.  In Carey’s vision, the story is told through the testimony of Faustus’s young servant, who had great love for the man.  Carey incorporates modern understandings of astrophysics into the story, and it is amusing to watch someone from a distant time try to understand such new concepts.  It’s a very well-told, and well-illustrated story.

The second story, Suicide Kings, drawn by PJ Harvey, concerns very similar circumstances.  A group of meat packers who play cards regularly are irritated by the fact that one of their number always wins.  He strikes them as a bit of a religious freak, so they come up with a practical joke which involves an actor dressing up as the devil and playing for the man’s soul.  This is a very effective horror story.

The final story in this book is a bit of prose (with a spot illustration by Michael Gaydos) about a book reviewer who becomes the target of a writer whose work he panned.  This eventually leads to gigantic Arcade in Murderworld-style deathtraps.  It’s good stuff.

Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha & Omega #1 I would have expected a lot more from Brian Wood returning to Marvel (and mainstream superhero comics) after so many years, but this mini-series is so clearly editorially-driven, that there is very little Wood can do with the plot.  Quentin Quire, one of Grant Morrison’s cooler New X-Men characters, takes over Wolverine’s mind, trapping him and Armor in a Days of Future Past-style environment modeled on a video game.  This story feels like it’s covering the same ground that the first year of Jason Aaron’s Wolverine series pounded to death.  I like Roland Boschi’s pages, and find that the Mark Brooks art is much better than I would expect (in other words, I wouldn’t have recognized it as his), but I don’t understand why thirty-odd colourists are credited here.  I wish Marvel would learn not to rush projects like this in the hope of cashing in on a fleeting sales uptick on other books, or slightly higher than normal interest in a character.

X-Club #2 – The X-Club could be an interesting off-shot of Marvel’s X-Men side of things, as it concerns itself with the tribulations of the team’s science-based members.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to think of threats that can be fought with science, but not super-powers.  Sure, scientists on TV and in comics are always battling some strange disease, so that’s here, but only Dr. Rao is handling it.  The rest of the team are kind of superfluous to the plot, as I understand it, except that Dr. Nemesis is just so amusing, and therefore the best part of this comic.  I really don’t remember what happened in the first issue though, so this issue, with it’s utter lack of recap, just confused me.  Si Spurrier writes a great Nemesis, but plotting?  Not so much…

X-Men #23 – As the first of the post-Regenesis arcs of this comics comes to a close, we see that the next one will involve Jubilee and vampires (again), making it clear that the stated intent of Psylocke’s team – to act as security for Utopia – will not actually be shown in the series that is supposed to be about that.  I still don’t understand how Victor Gischler got himself an X-Men comic (although, the way they’re starting these things up, soon enough there will be one for every writer working in comics).  Also, when did Will Conrad’s art start looking so much like Mike Deodato’s?  I had to check the credits to be sure a couple of times.  As for the actual comic, it’s okay, without being in any way original or extraordinary.  There are Sentinels.  War Machine’s in it.  Stuff happens.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Any Empire

by Nate Powell

There are some stories that can only be told in comics, and Nate Powell’s Any Empire is a perfect example of that.  His story, about childhood in the outer fringe of suburbia in the 80s, is about as impressionistic as a story can be.  I feel like I missed out on some of the nuance, but still enjoyed the originality of Powell’s vision a great deal.

Lee is a solitary, self-absorbed child with a fascination for GI Joe and warfare.  He fills his days imagining daring assaults on the backyard barbeque or picturing helicopters circling overhead.  Powell shows his imaginings as taking place within the same frame as the real world, so while Lee walks one way through a field of tall grass, we see a patrol of grunts coming the other.  We see his slightly-altered Snakeyes and Lady Jayne going through the motions of attacking Cobra bases all over the backyard.

In Lee’s circle is a kid named Purdy, who is a vicious little guy.  He too shares some of Lee’s interest in war, but he also always has to be the alpha male in any group; this leads to problems for him with The Twins, a couple of thugs in his age group who like to torture the box turtles that live throughout the area.

Sarah is a girl who lives around there as well, who is fixated on helping small animals, especially the turtles she keeps finding with cracked shells.  She fancies herself a young Nancy Drew, and so investigates the mutilations, and keeps a slightly disturbing journal.

As with most childhood acquaintances, these three kids circle each other without actually becoming friends.  As people move away, they drift apart, although eventually they all meet up in the book’s conclusion, which I’ll be honest, I’m not too sure of.  Powell’s incorporation of fantastical visions makes his plot a little hard to trust; the reader is left asking if what he’s reading is really happening, or is one character’s flight of fancy.  Powell used similar techniques in his first graphic novel, Swallow Me Whole, which dealt with issues of mental health.  The two books work well together.

Any Empire is a solid read, even if I am coming away from it with more questions than answers.

Freakangels Vol. 6

Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Paul Duffield

If you set aside all of the ruined, flooded England, post-civilization trappings of Freakangels, Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield’s impressive and popular webcomic turned trade paperback series, you get an interesting study of twelve friends who try to do the right thing, and have a hard time maintaining their closeness with one another.

The Freakangels are twelve immensely powerful individuals who were all born at the exact same time, and who were ultimately responsible for ruining the world (or, at the least, England) in a fit of anger and fear.  Now, in this sixth and final volume, they are reunited and trying to make things right.

The various characters (who are very hard to keep straight, as they look very similar to one another) each have their own specialties, but since ‘upgrading’ their ‘package’, or rebooting their powers to be more effective, they are beginning to come together again in common purpose, and think they can fix their mistakes.

There is a lot more talking in this volume than in the previous ones, and the book would have been boring were Ellis not such a strong writer.  Duffield’s expansive panels work well with this type of story, keeping the pages turning where other artists might get bogged down in Ellis’s script.  I enjoyed this series, and look forward to seeing more from Duffield, who is a very talented artist.

Swords of Rome Vol. 1: The Conquerors

Written by Jean Dufaux
Art by Philippe Delaby

Ancient Rome has long held a fascination for me, but not to the extent that I’ve ever made a concerted effort to study it.  Instead, I’ve just sort of gleaned my knowledge from TV shows like Rome, movies like Spartacus(the TV show of the same name doesn’t interest me), or comics like David Lapham’s Caligula.  Therefore, my knowledge base is especially specious, but I don’t really care – stories set in this time are usually pretty interesting.  It is in that spirit that I picked up the first volume of Swords of Rome, a French comic published in North America by ibooks, the same people who published Don Lomax’s Vietnam Journal(at least at the beginning).

Swords of Rome tells the story of the assassination of Emperor Nero, and his succession by Nero, his adopted son.  The change of power has been orchestrated by Claudius’s wife, Agrippina, who he had planned to divorce.  We’ve seen all of this before – the intrigue, the alliances between different nobles and power-hungry slaves.  I don’t want to say that it doesn’t work here, because this is a decent read, but it doesn’t stand out.  I frequently found it difficult to remember which character was which (especially among the women), and found the plot a little predictable (and yes, I know it’s based on historical events).

Artwise, this book is as lovely as most French comics.  Delaby’s faces are expressive (if rather similar), and he has a good handle on period details.  I often found the colouring in the book to be strange – some pages look like they’ve been purposefully grayed, and so I’d assume we were looking at a nighttime scene, but then the next page would be bright and colourful, while still showing the same scene.  Also, it looks like the people at ibooks edited out some of the nudity in this comic – that doesn’t really bother me, but it’s kind of strange.

Album of the Week:

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Soul Time!

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