The Weekly Round-Up #117 With Scalped, Orc Stain, Pigs, Spaceman, The Unwritten, The Walking Dead & More

For a ‘fifth week’, which had a much smaller than usual list of things for me to buy, I think this may be the strongest new comics week I’ve seen in months.  Great stuff lies ahead.

Best Comic of the Week:

Scalped #56

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

With this issue, the final story arc of Scalped begins, leading us to the series finale in issue 60.  Scalped has been just about the best comic I’ve bought for the last few years, and with this issue, I am already beginning to feel its absence.

The first two pages of this issue follow immediately on the ending of the last – Dash Bad Horse takes Lincoln Red Crow to jail, before the story jumps forward eight months, and Jason Aaron begins to wrap everything up by showing us where these characters are ending up.

We see that those eight months have brought a lot of changes to the Prairie Rose Reservation.  Red Crow’s casino is closed, and Agent Nitz is living the good life.  Carol has continued to live cleanly, with the help of Granny Poor Bear.  Dino Poor Bear is still hanging out with his friends (Dino is my favourite character – I hope this isn’t the last we see of him before the book ends, and he’s the character I feel most deserves a happy ending).  Officer Falls Down is now the Chief of Police, and there are a lot more wild dogs around the reserve than their used to be.

The bulk of the book is given over to Dash and Red Crow, of course.  Dash has quit the FBI and the police force, and has donated money to build a new community centre, named after his mother, on the reservation.  He’s with Maggie Rock Medicine, the traditionalist we met back when her father decided to run against Red Crow in elections.  It looks like he’s finally got his life in order, and seems to be doing well for himself.

Red Crow is in jail, awaiting trial for murder.  It’s been made clear to him that the only way he could get free would be by discrediting Dash on the stand.  That’s not going to be hard, given the events of the last 55 issues of this comic, but this comic has always been about Red Crow’s redemption as a human being, and Aaron writes him as a man who prizes his soul over his freedom.  Red Crow’s scenes in this comic are terrific.

It’s too late to suggest anyone jump on to this comic, but I continue to urge anyone and everyone who thinks Jason Aaron’s work at Marvel is good to pick up the first volume of Scalped to enjoy some truly incredible writing and art.

Other Notable Comics:

Orc Stain #7

by James Stokoe

Orc Stain #7 is exactly a year late, having been solicited for February of 2011.  Lately, I’ve been thinking of the relaunched Prophet as a worthy (and probably superior) replacement to this series in my affections, and it’s nice to see a new issue to compare things to.

In Stokoe’s series, the Orcs, who are always nothing but fodder in other fantasy stories, are front and centre.  The hero of our story is a one-eyed Orc (called One-Eye – Orcs are nameless) who is believed to be the Orc that the Orctzar has heard about in a prophecy.  His minions had him captured, but One-Eye managed to escape from the belly of a gigantic beast thing.

In this issue, One-Eye works to escape his pursuers, and is aided by Bowie, the swamp witch who betrayed him once before, and her talking cloak, Zazu.  Bowie is interested in the abilities of One-Eye’s remaining eye, and she strikes a deal with him to help him escape the Orctzar’s army in order to learn its secrets.

They decide that the best way to avoid their enemies is to take the dangerous Mondo Pass through some mountains, which lands them in ever deeper trouble, especially when a group of River Orcs, riding Zors (picture a cross between a Harley Davidson and a squid) come chasing after them.

Stokoe is one insane comics master.  His pages are crammed with more detail than a Where’s Waldo page drawn by Geof Darrow, and he continues to play with anthropomorphic beast-items.  Every new panel of this comic is a bit of an adventure in reading, and there are some gorgeous double-page spreads.  This issue has 31 pages of story for only $2.99, making it well worth the wait.  My hope is that the next issue will come our way before another year passes though…

Pigs #6

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

I am finding myself increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of this series, but at the same time, I do enjoy it, and appreciate the way that the writers are trying to build on the various characters through the use of flashback.

Pigs is about a group of Soviet sleeper agents (actually the children of the original agents) who were left in Cuba back in the 60s, and have only now been activated.  They’ve snuck into the United States, and rejoined with Felix, who had left the group years before.

Now, they are out to kill a man who is locked up inside the San Quentin Correctional Facility.  Their attempt to hire a killer has failed, and so Havana, who appears to be the group’s leader, is planning a break-in, against the objections of the pacifistic Felix and her sister Ekatarina.

In a flashback (drawn by Will Sliney), we learn that as children, Ekat had a thing for Felix, but it was Havana that first slept with him.  The character dynamics are the most interesting thing about this book, especially since the plot is moving so slowly.

I know that Cosby and McCool have a lengthy plan for this title, but they’re going to have to get a move on it, or people will begin to lose interest.

Spaceman #4

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

There is a lot to like about Azzarello and Risso’s Spaceman, but I find that the linguistics of the comic are what interest me the most.  In this broken-down future, American society has separated very cleanly along class lines, and that distinction is made obvious by language even more than it is in modern-day England.

Orson, the ‘spaceman’ who has rescued the reality TV child star Tara from kidnappers, and everyone in his world (‘the dries’) speak a slang extrapolated from current usage of text and instant messaging.  Orson’s people ‘ear’ instead of ‘hear’, and ‘brain’ instead of ‘think’.  Tara, and her celebrity actor adoptive parents, meanwhile, speak clear contemporary English, although they are also able to stoop to Orson’s level.  Azzarello’s approach is novel, consistent, and very well thought out.  Sure, this type of thing has been done before (Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, which was baldly plagiarized for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome springs to mind in a way that A Clockwork Orange does not), but not to this degree in comics.

In this issue, Orson has to deal with a little too much exposure.  The wharf rats that are his friends now know that he has Tara, while Lilly, the girl with whom Orson has virtual sex, discovers that he is a spaceman, a genetically engineered human, designed to travel to Mars.  Orson’s next actions teach us a little about the social apartheid he’s lived under, and the degree to which our current civilization has fallen apart in this series.

Azzarello is giving us a very thoughtful and well-planned comic, made all the better by Risso’s exceptional visuals.  Great stuff.

The Unwritten #34.5

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and Gary Erskine

Each of these ‘.5’ issues of The Unwritten have been giving us a glimpse or two into the history of The Cabal, the shadowy group that use the power of stories and fiction to control the world, or into the history of some of the prominent characters in this comic.  Until this point, we haven’t seen Wilson Taylor, the father of main character Tom Taylor and author of the fictional Harry Potter-like Tommy Taylor novels.  We know from the regular issues of this comic that Taylor pere worked for The Cabal during the Golden Age of comics, but we have never learned a thing about his life before that.

This issue stars Will Tallis, who became Wilson Taylor some time after his experiences in the Great War.  Now, the First World War has long held an enduring fascination for me, and this issue has Taylor address the origin of some of the great myths of that war – the Angels of Mons, the corpse factory of Thiepval Wood, and the Blood Keep, the place where German soldiers tied nuns to their bells and tolled them to death.  As we learn, many of these stories came from young Taylor himself, although they then came true at the same time, suggesting the depth of Taylor’s connection to the world of fiction.  This is later confirmed when a certain fish-like figure appears before him.

Carey has really crammed these decimal-numbered issues full of information, and much of what I’ve seen makes me want to go back and re-read the series from the beginning, knowing what I know now, especially the ‘Leviathan’ arc, which featured the whale from Moby Dick, which was also all fictional whales.  There is definitely more going on in this comic than I would have thought at the very beginning of the series.

One thing that has consistently surprised me since the comic went bi-weekly is that Peter Gross is still drawing almost every issue.  In a world where it takes many artists three months to draw 20 pages, Gross deserves a lot of credit for almost doubling his output.  He’s joined by Gary Erskine as inker this issue, and the result is work that doesn’t really look like Gross’s or Erskine’s at first.  I’m used to Erskine’s inks making people look very harsh, especially around the jaw (look at Rick Veitch with, and without Erskine to see what I mean), but that didn’t happen here.

The Walking Dead #94

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Here’s a surprise – the new issue of The Walking Dead is very very good.  Month after month, I praise this comic, and month after month, it continues to earn that praise.  I remember when I first started reading this comic (around #9, and I was able to grab up 7 and 8 in a hurry), each issue held an immediate sense of suspense and fear.  I remember the first time a character I thought was important to the book (and therefore protected) was killed suddenly, and of course now, I couldn’t possibly remember her name.

The book has changed a lot since those early issues, and while Kirkman can still pull off those gigantic surprises (like he did when the Community where Rick and his friends have been living was overrun by walkers), the suspense and dread have shifted away from the immediate, to a general sense of fear for the safety of the characters that I’ve grown to really care about.

Currently, the threat is in the form of Jesus, a man who just recently showed up outside the Community, with the promise of introducing our heroes to a larger network of towns and communities that trade with one another.  As usual, Rick responded to this offer with great skepticism and distrust, because that’s what Rick does, although now, in this issue, after having scouted the area for threats, he’s inclined to believe Jesus.

Rick gets a group together to travel to Jesus’s home in the Hilltop.  It’s always nice to see these characters back on the road, as that opens Kirkman up to any number of variations on the usual scenario that we see in this series.  What makes this issue most interesting is the continued growth that we are seeing in Carl, Rick’s son.  Carl sneaks in to meet the tied-up and imprisoned Jesus early in the issue, with the result being that we aren’t all that sure of how much he’s told him.  Carl’s growing independence puts Rick’s plans at risk, and the growing tension between them can really keep this book interesting.  I also like seeing where Rick and Andrea’s relationship is going.

So, another month, another glowing review of Kirkman and Adlard’s greatest work.

Xenoholics #5

Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Seth Damoose

Xenoholics has been a fun little series about people who have been abducted by aliens, and are perhaps now a little addicted to the experience.  At least, that’s how it started out, but by the time this issue has finished (and the first volume of the story with it), we’ve moved squarely into X-Files territory, as the various characters uncover a couple of conspiracies, and an evil plot or two, but never the entire truth.

This started out being a series very much like Image’s popular Chew, but by the end, Williamson has taken it someplace else.  To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about the direction this series ended up taking.  When it appeared to be about a group of delusional people brought together by their twelve-step style support group, and about the reporter who wanted to write about them, I was into things.  Williamson did a great job establishing these characters very well from the beginning.

Even though the government agency conspiracy elements were with the story from the beginning, I found that some of the revelations of this issue lessened the work.  I don’t want to give anything away, so I can’t say much more than that.  There are still some good scenes in this comic, and Seth Damoose’s art has grown on me, but I’m not sure I would return for a second mini-series, were one to be solicited.

Quick Takes:

FF #15 – Nick Dragotta is one versatile artist.  Recently, he channeled the Silver Age in THUNDER Agents, drew modern superheros in Vengeance, and now is giving us a look that is equally June Brigman and Marcos Martin, with a bit of Jordi Bernet tossed in (if that makes any sense to you).  I think that Juan Bobillo’s art on the last few issues of this title was universally reviled (although I kind of liked it, it was wrong for this book), so Marvel has done the smart thing, helping the book to look unique, yet still fit with what Jonathan Hickman is doing in Fantastic Four.  Basically, this comic takes place between the scenes of the parent title, but it works because of the way Hickman uses these secondary characters, and because his story is so epic, it needs further examination.  If this book is to survive, it will probably need to be more essential, or stand on its own two feet though.  I don’t think you could read just this title and understand what’s going on.

Invincible #89 – Now that Mark’s in a coma, someone needs to be Invincible, and that person is Bulletproof.  I don’t know if I care about that – it’s not on the level with James Rhodes taking over for Tony Stark, but Invincible is still one of the most consistently entertaining superhero comics on the stands, and it just keeps getting better.  With Mark laid low by the virus, the Guardians, the Viltrumites, Allen, and Dinosaurus try to work together.  There’s great dialogue, and some terrific character moments – in other words, just another issue of Invincible.

The Shade #5 – This is the best issue of this series yet.  James Robinson is joined by one of my favourite artists – Javier Pulido, to move the Shade’s story to Barcelona.  In order to help his dying great grandson, Shade is looking for a vial of his own blood, which would have to date to the 1850s.  He approaches La Sangre, a vampiric superhero, the ‘protector of Catalonia’ and sort of his daughter, although their talk is interrupted by news that her archnemesis, the Inquisitor, has returned.  Robinson continues to humanise the Shade in this series, which keeps the comic interesting, but is also including many of the cultural details that made Starman so wonderful.  La Sangre lives in one of Gaudi’s apartment buildings, and Pulido draws it magnificently.  Great stuff.

THUNDER Agents #4 – I continue to find this comic very entertaining.  I like how Nick Spencer works a flashback into every issue, this time allowing Sam Kieth to show just how the inventor behind the THUNDER Agents weaponry came to live under the Earth.  There are some nice scenes showing his reunion with Noman, his old friend.  Also, Lightning gets his chance to be a hero.  Kieth’s art works very well with Wes Craig’s, and the book looks great.  The cliffhanger ending feels like something Spencer’s done with this title before though…

The Twelve #10 – The Twelve takes a few pages out of Agatha Christie’s book, with a meeting of the surviving members of the group wherein the Phantom Reporter builds his case and reveals the identity of the Blue Blade’s killer.  If, of course, Agatha Christie’s novels involved sexless robots who believe they are the pinnacle of humankind.  JMS’s story lost some steam when it went on hiatus for a couple of years, but I’m finding myself slowly remembering some of the better details of the earlier issues (having so many flashbacks in this issue helps with that), and I always enjoy Chris Weston’s art.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #7 – In many ways, this series is a better example of Jonathan Hickman’s approach to superhero comics than either his work on Fantastic Four or SHIELD.  It demonstrates his penchant for long-range planning and arranging all of his chess pieces before cutting loose with a well-developed and logical climax.  Threatened by the City, Nick Fury takes the Ultimates to the twin cities of Tian, to enlist the help of Xorn and Zorn, who were introduced in the Ultimate Hawkeye comic.  Esad Ribic draws the whole issue (and it looks great), as Hickman introduces the Hulk to Reed Richards’s City, an element out of Fury’s control.  This is good stuff.  I was disappointed to learn this week that Hickman would be leaving the title, but I’m very pleased to learn that his replacement is going to be Sam Humphries, who has been impressing me with his creator-owned and distributed books Our Love is Real and Sacrifice.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #680

Avengers #23

Moon Knight #10

New Avengers #22

Ultimate Comics X-Men #8

Bargain Comics:

DC Retroactive: Batman – The 80s #1 – There was a time when I was quite young where Todd McFarlane’s drawings of the Reaper blew me away.  I’ve been fond of the character ever since, even though I don’t think he’s been used anywhere other than in this ’80s tribute one-shot.  Mike Barr and Jerry Bingham do a fine job of bringing back that era where I first started reading comics, in a story that features Jason Todd as Robin.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Daredevil Visionaries: Frank Miller Vol. 2

Written by Frank Miller
Art by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson

Was Daredevil ever better than it was when Frank Miller was involved with it?  It had been years since I had read the Daredevil/Elektra story, so when a local retailer I pop into from time to time was giving away books with a purchase, I thought this would be a nice selection.

This is the second volume of the Daredevil Visionaries series, featuring Frank Miller’s seminal work with this character. It includes issues 168-182.  To give some perspective, that runs from Elektra’s first appearance to the issue immediately after her death.  During that time, Daredevil has numerous run-ins with his ex-girlfriend turned ninja assassin, as well as the person who eventually kills her, Bullseye.  As well, the Kingpin comes out of retirement, his wife Vanessa becomes a crazy bag lady, and Ben Urich becomes a decent character.

So much was done in these fifteen issues that is still being echoed in contemporary comics today.  I thought I had a complete run of these issues, and was surprised to learn that there were some stories included here that I’d never read before.  I was six when the first of these comics came out, and so had gathered them up rather randomly, after Miller returned to the comic for the Born Again story, blew my mind, and caused me to go on a bit of a Daredevil buying spree.

Looking at these stories again after such a long time, there are a few things that really jumped out at me.  The first is Miller’s unorthodox approach to layout.  Most of these comics consist of long thin panels that stretch all the way across the page, making it a forerunner to the ‘widescreen’ look of the early 00’s, or which, at other times, extend vertically, helping bring home a strong sense of New York City’s landscape.

Reading through these comics was a great thrill.  I think issue 172 may have been the first Daredevil comic I ever read.  That’s the one where Bullseye kills a fly with a rubber band and a paper clip, a moment which forever cemented itself as one of the coolest things I’d ever seen in a comic.  It’s nice to see Bullseye as he was, before the strange logic of movie tie-ins caused him to have a target carved into his head.

Another thing which struck me was how little was done to establish the relationship between Daredevil and Elektra.  When I first read this book, her death was shocking, but now, after having seen so many similar scenes played out, I found that I didn’t really feel the depth of these characters’ feelings for one another.

Still, these are classic comics, and reading this reminds me that I don’t dig back into the piles of boxes I’ve amassed often enough to visit old friends.

Album of the Week:

Madlib – Medicine Show No. 13: Black Tape

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