The Weekly Round-Up #112 with the Walking Dead Contest Winner!

Congratulations to Heath Peek, the winner of our Walking Dead Audio Book contest, and thanks to the fine people at MacMillan for hooking us up!

Best Comic of the Week:

The Walking Dead #93

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Every month I talk about how great this comic is, but I usually spend more time writing about the writing than I do the art.  I notice I have a tendency to do that with most comics, unless the art blows me away.

The truth is, Charlie Adlard (with Cliff Rathburn on grays) has been doing an incredible job on this book since he joined it (one month before I did).  Early on in the series, I sometimes found it difficult to tell some of the minor characters apart, but as the series has progressed, he’s really worked a lot of the character’s personalities into how they look.  In this issue, when Rick turns the tables on the man that they met last issue (why is no one reacting to the fact that he calls himself Jesus?), I could see that it was coming on his face.  That’s rare in comics.

Also, there is a lovely double-page spread that looks a lot like the cover, showing that Adlard is just as versatile with cityscapes and architecture as he is people and the undead.  I don’t know why he’s not receiving more acclaim for his work here, but at the same time, I’m glad he’s not being lured over to the Big Two – this series wouldn’t be the same without him.

Now that the existence of other communities has been more or less proven, Rick goes into defensive mode this month, getting the Community prepared for a possible attack.  I’m sure, after what happened at the prison, Rick is going to remain distrustful of large groups of people for some time.  It is interesting watching him work through possible paths that are open to him – in some ways, I’m sure that the Governor went through a similar decision process before he started going a little crazy.

There’s a terrific scene where Rick, scouting with Michonne and Abraham, realizes that roamer attacks barely raise his pulse rate now.  I feel like he’s moved through his recent crippling insecurities, and has become more confident in himself as a leader and survivor.  But, as we’ve seen before, hubris is a bigger threat to Rick than zombies every time.  I’m curious and excited to see what Robert Kirkman has in store for our favourite survivors as they begin to explore the world around them.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #23

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

I hope that all the people who are going on and on about how Scott Snyder’s Batman and Swamp Thing are two of the best books coming out of DC since their relaunch are checking out American Vampire, his first on-going series.  It is similar to those two other series in that Snyder is providing fast-moving, character-driven stories that keep the reader’s attention riveted to the page.

This issue continues the Death Race arc, and continues the chase across the California desert in classic cars of a vampire (soon to be revealed to be an old friend) by Travis Kidd, the teenage vampire hunter we were introduced to last month.

As the chase continues, we are treated to a series of flashbacks which help further introduce and explain Travis.  His time in a sanatorium was commented on last issue, but now we get to see a little of his experiences there, brought on by his insistence that his parents were killed by vampires.

Travis is an interesting character.  He’s definitely driven, forsaking the potential of teenage love for his revenge.  But then, when his girlfriend turns up in the trunk of the car he’s pursuing, he does take a few extra risks to save her, which shows that he’s not entirely thoughtless.

As always, Rafael Albuquerque’s work on this title is phenomenal.  He handles the excitement of the desert chase particularly well.

Elephantmen #37

Written by Richard Starkings and Rob Steen
Art by Axel Medellin and Rob Steen

It must be a lot easier to read Elephantmen in trade than it is to buy the semi-monthly issues.  This particular issue, which is the second part of the four-part ‘The Killing Season’ arc, has barely a single page that doesn’t reference something from a previous comic.  Now, that is something I’m more than fine with.  I like series that build upon themselves, and accrue a great deal of history.

What makes Elephantmen such a challenging read is that Starkings is forever playing around with the timing of individual issues, and where each one fits in relation to the issues around it.  This has to be the most non-linear series ever made.  For example, this issue takes place ‘yesterday’ in story time, but we learn that events of issues from a few months ago, like the excellent Shaky Kane-drawn issue 33.  Out of the blue, we are back in that issue, and it is hard for the reader to remember exactly how to slot everything in order in his or her mind.

Aside from that, which always nags at me when reading this comic, there is plenty to like here.  A killer is going around killing transgenics and writing ‘No Mercy’ on their chests.  In this issue, we get to see that killer, who is walking around wearing Tusk’s skull as a helmet.  We also learn  that Sahara is planning on having a baby, although apparently through her look-alike Panya, who may serve as a surrogate.

There is a lot going on in this book, and the pacing feels a little bit off, but Axel Medellin’s art continues to be gorgeous.  The back-up story about Dr. Nikken, creator of the Elephantmen, is creepy and atmospheric, but I find not as enjoyable as the main story.  I find my mind wandering a lot while reading it.

The Sixth Gun #18

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

I was pleased to see the news that Sixth Gun writer Cullen Bunn will be writing Wolverine after Jason Aaron leaves the title in a few months.  Bunn has really proven himself on The Sixth Gun as a writer of long-form stories that are creative in their treatment of familiar story elements and genre tropes, and, if Marvel’s editors let him do his work, I’m sure we’ll be seeing some interesting things happening with everyone’s favourite X-Men.

This issue of The Sixth Gun starts a new arc, ‘A Town Called Penance’, and it deals with the missing Drake Sinclair.  When last we saw Sinclair, he’d fallen off a train after fighting a gigantic mummy.  Now we know that he was abducted by a trio of men we don’t know much about, and has been held prisoner ever since, being interrogated about the whereabouts of the four magic guns he’d had in his possession.

Becky Montcrief, the possessor of the sixth gun (the fifth one is somewhere else), knows that Drake is somewhere in or around a town called Penance, and she has journeyed there to start looking for her.  Penance seems like a strange place – more desolate and scabrous than any town Jonah Hex ends up in.  The town dogs have tumors growing all over their body, and the only person who seems even a little nice, a stableboy, has the worst case of acne seen in comics this side of a Robert Crumb character.

I like how Bunn is building up mystery in this issue by playing most everything close to the chest.  Brian Hurtt has done terrific work on this title throughout, but I love his shots of the town and of the underground cavern.  This is a great series.

The Unwritten #33.5

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and Vince Locke

I thought that each of these .5 issues, which are being used to fill in the history of The Cabal, the organization that has been controlling the world’s literature and making life difficult for Tom Taylor in the whole number issues of the series, was going to feature artists that are not normally associated with this book.  The first .5 issue had a handful of artists attached to it, but the subsequent ones have mostly just featured art by Peter Gross.

Now, I’m not complaining.  I’ve been a fan of Peter Gross since he was drawing Books of Magic years ago, and I especially like him with Vince Locke inking (giving his work a touch of a Guy Davis feel), but I was looking forward to seeing some other artists.  Plus, drawing two issues a month must not be easy on the guy…

Anyway, this issue doesn’t feature The Cabal or its members, but instead tells us a story about a soldier and a young girl who plays with puppets.  It is set in Silesia in 1740, a couple of years before most of the land is taken over by Germans.  The soldier, who is billeted at the house of a prominent Prussian family, has the last name of Rausch.  That, and the sight of the girl playing with her marionettes explains just who the girl is, at least to long-time readers of this series.

The soldier takes an interest in the solemn little girl, especially after he discovers that things in that house are not right.  To begin with, strange events begin to happen, such as the self-dismemberment done by the cook.  Also, the girl’s father is a monster, as the soldier discovers.

In addition to providing us with a little of Madame Rausch’s history, we get a slight glimpse of her connection to The Cabal, or at least to the whale-fish (Leviathan?) that wants to hear her stories.

Carey and Gross continue to do an excellent job with this series.  I’m not sure how much longer the .5 issues are expected to last, or really, how long the series is set to run for, now that Tom is in direct confrontation with the Cabal, but this book has never been more enjoyable.

Quick Takes:

All Star Western #5Hex’s adventures in Gotham continue, as he and Dr. Arkham get thrown into an underground stream and end up fighting the Bat-People from The Return of Bruce Wayne.  Moritat’s art makes this stuff work very well, however I thought that the colouring was only partially effective in showing us the fear of being trapped on a ledge deep underground.  This is a fun title, but the Barbary Ghost back-up is kind of dull, and I’m not sure how much longer Palmiotti and Gray can find reasons to keep Hex in Gotham.

Alpha Flight #8 – It’s a shame that this series couldn’t pull off the transition to a monthly title, as Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak have a pretty good handle on these characters (except for the fact that Sasquatch talks like the Hulk now).  As a proud Canadian, I did enjoy getting to see some of my favourite characters shine again, as the team faced off against the Master and his right-wing Unity army.  I do wonder whether or not almost all Canadians in the Marvel Universe are going to be stuck with only four toes from now on, but otherwise this book has wrapped up very well.  Dale Eaglesham did some very impressive work on this series.

BPRD Hell on Earth: Russia #5 – This latest BPRD mini-series helps expose some of the weaknesses of the ‘series of mini-series’ format that BPRD uses, compared to being a monthly, on-going series, which it basically is anyway.  The main action of this story finished last issue, with the Russian Occult Bureau taking care of the elder god that was giving them problems.  This whole issue is spent wrapping things up – Kate still doesn’t like Iosif; Johann gets a new containment suit; and we learn some secrets about the Russians – or setting up the next arc, as we see Abe Sapien and Fenix again.  The moments throughout this issue are all very well written and drawn (I’m sad that Tyler Crook looks to be leaving the title so soon after arriving), but as a sum of its parts, the whole doesn’t really work.

Captain America & Bucky #626I’ll begin by focusing on the positive – Francesco Francavilla is an amazing artist.  I have been following his career for a while now, and I’m pleased to see that he is getting steady work in the industry.  My problem is that he seems to keep landing on books that are a little dull.  Black Panther under David Liss just didn’t work for me (or most anyone else, apparently), and now this series (which is going to be turning into a Captain America Team-Up book after this arc), written by Ed Brubaker and James Asmus, is also kind of boring and predictable.  The grandson of the second Captain America isn’t what he seems to be?  Who ever would have seen that coming?  I expected more.

Fantastic Four #602 – Lots of big stuff happens in this issue, as the Kree continue to fight the Inhumans and Johnny Storm’s Annihilation Wave in Earth orbit, and Reed and Sue have to call in surprise back-up.  Oh, wait, it’s not a surprise, because he’s on the cover…  Anyway, Hickman’s story just keeps getting bigger and more cosmic, and Barry Kitson’s art looks just as good as it did the last time he did an issue of FF.

FF #14 – This title continues to mystify.  I’m surprised that Marvel would take their chances on a comic starring the other people who live with the Fantastic Four; that team has never blown up sales on their own, and their few attempts at spin-offs in the past met with early deaths.  Still, Jonathan Hickman is one of Marvel’s biggest writers right now, and he’s doing an incredible job having both titles complement each other, and the alternative is probably to double-ship the mothership title, and I prefer it this way.  Valeria and crew are facing off against Celestials, and we learn that Val and her grandpa only have to hold them off for twenty-seven minutes to help Reed and his crew survive what’s going on in his book.  There are some nice character moments, and Juan Bobillo’s art continues to grow on me (even if it’s still hard to tell some of the kids apart).

The Flash #5Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato continue to do very good work with this comic.  This issue wraps up the Mob Rule storyline, and by necessity, has a lot of plot to cover, leaving less space for some of the amazing visuals that this series has made its name behind (except for the double-page splash near the beginning, which is very cool).  I’m not sure I understand the pseudo-speed force science behind this story, but I do find this series to be very enjoyable, and I like the limitations being put on Barry at the end of the issue.

I, Vampire #5 – Andrew Bennett and company have now shown up in Gotham, where they find that Queen Mary, Bennett’s vampiric enemy has been hard at work.  There is the inevitable fight with Batman before teaming up, and a decent into the vampire army’s barracks, and not much else.  Joshua Hale Fialkov continues to build the character of Tig, Bennett’s new teenage companion, but her hatred for him feels a little forced.  I’ve been liking Andrea Sorrentino’s art on this title, but sometimes he can be a little unclear, such as on the last page, where it looks like Tig is opening an elevator door to a horde of angry vampires.  That doesn’t seem like a sensible thing to do to me…

Secret Avengers #21.1 – Rick Remender is now writing Secret Avengers (he is doing a lot these days), and this .1 introductory issue is decent, although I found the Captain America/Hawkeye conflict to be too much of a throwback.  Clint has proven himself as a leader of both the West Coast Avengers and the Thunderbolts, and he and Steve have moved too far past their old conflicts to be bringing all that up again, especially while on the run from bad guys.  Aside from that, the question of whether or not Cap staged all the events that happened in the story was interesting, and it was nice to see Max Fury show up again in the villain role.  Patrick Zircher should be a good fit for this title.  Have I talked yet about how much I hate Hawkeye’s new look?  I understand that Marvel wants to align with the Avengers movie, but it makes it hard to distinguish between the Ultimate line and the 616 when the characters all start dressing identically.

The Shade #4I know this came out a couple of weeks ago, but the store I shop at got shorted, so I had to wait.  This issue is a Times Past story, continuing a tradition that was very popular in James Robinson’s Starman comic.  The Shade narrates the tale of the first time he met his great grandson, an industrialist who looks pretty old in 1944 to still be kicking in 2012, but I digress.  The story is the standard thing involving Nazi saboteurs, but it is notable for a few things.  We establish in this comic that The Vigilante was active during the second world war, and we meet Madam Fatal, a cross-dressing crime fighter (whose name should be spelled ‘Madame’, unless Robinson was suggesting something…).  Darwyn Cooke draws this issue with J. Bone inking, so that makes it visually very nice.

The Stuff of Legend Vol.3: The Jester’s Tale #4 – When this series began, I found it very cool – original and compelling.  The problem is, it’s been dragging through this third volume, and becoming ever more predictable.  As much as I enjoy Charles Paul Wilson’s art, I’m not as enchanted by the story of a group of toys who have entered The Dark to rescue their owner.  I imagine I’m going to pass on the fourth mini-series when it starts in the summer.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #6 – I recently decided to upgrade this title and Ultimate Spider-Man into titles that I pick up off the stands, rather than wait to find in a bargain box.  And what happens the first time I pay full price for this comic?  It gives me an issue that is simply a string of unconnected events that do very little to help me understand the threat of Reed Richards and his ‘Children’, or the various other problems that the world is facing.  All I really know is that Nick Fury is over-worked; most of the team didn’t even show up.  Still, Hickman has earned a lot of trust from me, so I’m going to give this a few more issues to prove itself.

X-Men Legacy #261Just what is going on here?  How is it that Christos Gage, who has done such a bang-up job on Avengers Academy, which is similar in theme and set-up to this book, now that it’s set at Wolverine’s school, is making this book so dull and predictable?  Half of this issue is comprised of Rogue, Gambit, and Frenzy moaning about their failed relationships, while the rest becomes a recap of the X-Men’s history from Messiah Complex to now, as Exodus decides to fix the schism between the two X-camps.  To begin with, we are way too early into the new status quo of the X-titles to bother revisiting things, let alone force a team-up or confrontation.  Secondly, how much are we expected to care about what a character like Exodus thinks?  What makes Gage work so well on his other title is that he allows it to be intensely character-driven.  I don’t feel that here.  I was not impressed with his .1 issue a couple of weeks ago, and now I’m not liking what I see here.  I’ll flip through the next issue when it comes out, but I imagine I won’t be buying it.

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

Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #1

Key of Z #4

Rachel Rising #5

Bargain Comics:

Battle Scars #3The writers of this series are investing a lot of energy in building up the mystery of who Marcus Johnson’s father is, especially considering that his identity has been speculated about so widely, and makes so much sense, that it’s not going to be much of a surprise when it gets revealed.  Still on the run, Johnson decides to confront Taskmaster directly about who has hired him to kill Johnson, but instead runs into Deadpool.  It’s a solid issue.

Dark Matter #1 – I was curious about this title – I am always interested in a good science fiction story, but decided to trade wait it, until the store I shop at had an overstock sale.  This is a kind of familiar comic – a group of people wake up in a space ship with no idea of who they are or why they are there.  The ship android attacks them, and then they reboot him.  Not a whole lot happens in this first issue (you can’t develop characters who don’t know who they are), and the whole thing has a vaguely Aliens feel to it.  It’s a decent comic though, and may be worth reading more of, depending on how the next issue looks when I flip through it at the store.

Fear Itself: Youth in Revolt #4-6 – I’m not too sure why I bothered gathering up the end of this series; none of these characters have been used since, and Sean McKeever’s writing never impresses me much.  Sometimes I can still be a bit of a completist, I guess, even despite  the chronic event fatigue syndrome I now suffer from.

Teen Titans #4 – I find this comic frustrating, because I can see how it might be good, were Scott Lobdell working with a stronger editor, or if there were a co-writer in the mix helping keeps so many disparate story elements straight.  A good example – Tim and his two new friends are found by Bart Allen and his new friend (it’s hard to keep these new characters straight, as little has been done with them) via Danny the Street.  Except, neither this issue nor the last make it clear that Danny is involved, and seeing as Danny is one of the most obscure characters in the old DCU, it’s a strange approach.  Also, the dialogue veers off into increasingly random non sequitors in a few places.  Brett Booth does a good job on the fight scenes between Superboy and Wonder Girl, but he’s one of those 90s-style artists who has never seen a regular person wear regular clothes, and therefore draws everything (including leather jackets) like it’s spandex.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Catwoman: Relentless

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Cameron Stewart, Javier Pulido, and Mike Manley

I’m still not sure how I missed out on Ed Brubaker’s run with Catwoman back in the early 00’s.  This trade collects eight issues of that run (from #12 – 19), and is broken into two stories.

‘Relentless’, the longer arc, has to do with the Black Mask seeking revenge on Selina for stealing his diamonds in the previous trade.  He hatches a very complicated plan that involves freeing one of Selina’s oldest friends from prison and setting her up in a Fagin-like operation.  He also hires Selina’s brother-in-law at a shell corporation so that her family would have to move back to Gotham.  He then sets about dismantling Selina’s world, and the good work she’s been trying to do for Gotham lately. This is a pretty standard story, elevated somewhat by Cameron Stewart’s art.

The second story, ‘No Easy Way Down’, is excellent.  It’s drawn by Javier Pulido, but in a style that is remarkably different from what I’ve come to expect from him.  His art is more minimalist than normal, and it looks a great deal like Darwyn Cooke’s.  This story has Selina, her friend Holly, and private detective Slam Bradley (who, in Pulido’s hands looks a lot like Christopher Chance, were he a boxer) all wallowing in their various personal miseries after the events of the previous story.

This part of the comic is very well-balanced, and utterly compelling.  The growing closeness between Selina and Bradley is the best thing about this trade, as they move from colleagues to something much more.  It’s a relationship tinged with self-doubt and self-pity though, and it more than anything else here makes me want to read the next trade.

Green River Killer: A True Detective Story

Written by Jeff Jensen
Art by Jonathan Case

This is one book that came as a bit of a surprise.  There hasn’t been much of a tradition of ‘true crime’ in comics; crime comics abound, but graphic novels with journalistic weight behind them are pretty much non-existent.

The writer of Green River Killer, Jeff Jensen, is the son of Tom Jensen, a detective who worked for over twenty years on the Green River case, hunting a serial killer who left the bodies of prostitutes strewn along a stretch of river in Seattle’s King County.  There were something like 48 bodies accrued over the years, and this case was the focus of Jensen’s, and others’ careers.

Eventually, as DNA testing added a powerful weapon to the detectives’ arsenal, they had enough evidence to charge Gary Leon Ridgway for a handful of the cases.  Choosing closure over punishment, the attorneys made an arrangement for Ridgway to confess to all of his crimes, providing the cops with the locations of undiscovered bodies, and the circumstances of all the killings, in exchange for escaping the death penalty.

It’s hard to imagine, after hunting the man for so long, that the detectives would have to more or less live with Ridgway (who they always called Gary).  Because of the sensitive nature of this case, they moved Ridgway into their offices, fashioning a cell for him.  It was expected to only take a while to go through this discovery phase, but in fact, Ridgway was there for 188 days.

Wisely, Jensen chooses to not chronicle the entire stretch of time that was given over to interviews and ‘field trips’ to places where bodies were dumped.  Jensen structures the story into five chapters, each representing a day’s worth of interviews.  Within each of these chapters are a generous amount of flashbacks, as the entire twenty years of the case, and their repercussions for Tom Jensen, are shown.

It’s hard to imagine the difficulty of having to spend so much time on this type of case.  Det. Jensen became familiar with the victims’ families, and yet only rarely discussed the case at home, preferring to work out his frustrations through endlessly remodeling his house.

This book is as much a biography of the author’s father as it is about this deranged serial killer.  When the two men sit face-to-face and discuss some of the more depraved aspects of what Gary would do with the bodies, the emotion is palpable on the page.  Jonathan Case does a terrific job of conveying those emotions, and subtly aging the principal actors in this story.

This is a very impressive graphic novel.

Album of the Week:

Lazerbeak – Lava Bangers  Doomtree!!

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