The Weekly Round-Up #118

Columns, Top Story

I apologize for the lateness of my column this week.  I was out of town.

Best Comic of the Week:

The Manhattan Projects #1

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

I’m not even sure where to begin with this new series by the brilliant Jonathan Hickman.  I am very happy to see Hickman make a more solid return to independent, creator-owned comics, after his recent announcements that he will be leaving the Fantastic Four and Ultimate Comics Ultimates in the coming months.  The Manhattan Projects, with his The Red Wing collaborator Nick Pitarra, is (I believe) an on-going series that is like nothing he has written before (although it is easy to see his slept-on Transhuman as a direct precursor).

The concept behind this series is that the famous wartime Manhattan Project, which created the first atomic bomb, was in fact only the surface of the much larger Manhattan Projects, which investigated any number of strange scientific applications that could be used for weapons.  This issue opens with the acceptance of Dr. Robert Oppenheimer into the Projects.

He is given a tour of the facility that houses the Projects by the unnamed General in charge of things, right before it is attacked by Japanese robots coming through a gate that was lobbed into the facility.  While all of this is happening, we are given flashbacks detailing the life of Dr. Oppenheimer, and his twin brother Joseph.  It’s hard to discuss this part of the issue without giving away a couple of surprises, and so I won’t, except to say that I found it very enjoyable.

I will say that Hickman’s writing in this series more closely resembles something written by Joe Casey or Matt Fraction than his usual well-orchestrated and plotted projects, which always contain a sense of great order to them.  Here, there is a sense of improvisation and maniacal oneupmanship, as he attempts to outdo himself with ever more crazy ideas and dialogue.  Here are a couple quotes that help demonstrate the timbre of this series:

“This is America… everyone gets a gun.”
“A Red Torii.  No doubt Zen-powered by Death Buddhists.”

Pitarra matches the writing with the correct level of insanity in the artwork.  His work is looser than it was in The Red Wing, with a little bit of a Rick Geary flavour to his faces – especially Oppenheimer’s.  This is a very visually interesting book, as he has to design retro-futuristic scientific devices, which is always a fun exercise.

I’m very intrigued to see where this series is headed.  If you have been enjoying Hickman’s Marvel work, here’s your chance to get in on the ground floor of something more satisfying.

Other Notable Comics:

Fairest #1

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning

Okay, I understand the math behind this new series, but I have a couple of problems with its execution.  Fables, this spin-off’s parent title, is Vertigo’s best selling series, and has been for some years now.  It makes financial sense to branch out into a new aspect of Bill Willingham’s fictional multiverse, based on the notion that everyone who ever starred in a fairy tale is a living creature in some realm.  Spin-offs of this series that came previously, such as Jack of Fables and the Cinderella minis, did quite well for themselves.

Also desirable is the notion of constructing a new series specifically around the women of Fables.  Comics are always criticized for not giving enough of a voice to strong female characters, and Willingham’s world has those in abundance (Snow White, Cinderella, Rose Red, Frau Totenkinder, etc.).

The problems with this book though are clear.  To begin with, I’ve felt that Willingham’s approach to Fables has been floundering for some time now.  Since the defeat of the Empire (issue 75?), the parent book has wandered and meandered all over the place.  It regained some steam for the Mister Dark saga, but with that having ended recently, it has felt like there is no real plan for the book.  Story elements are introduced and then abandoned for a while, and everyone (except regular artist Mark Buckingham, who is not given enough credit for his brilliance) appear to be going through the motions.  It doesn’t seem like the right time to bring a new series about…

My second problem is that, in this story, only one of two female characters speak at all, and that’s not until the very last page.  I get it that the entire plot of the book revolves around waking up Sleeping Beauty, but still, featuring the main female character as nothing more than a plot device does not make this a book about strong females.

Instead, the stars of the book are Ali Baba and a small bottle imp that he frees in the very beginning of the comic.  Together, they track down the goblin army that had spirited Sleeping Beauty (and one other sleeping beauty) away from the Imperial City before burning it down.  Ali Baba is in turn being tracked by a revenge-minded soldier from the Emperor’s wooden army.

In other words, this reads no differently from the issue of Fables that began the story in the first place.  There’s nothing about this book aside from Phil Jimenez’s lovely art to set it apart from the regular Fables title, a mistake that was not made with either Jack of Fables or Cinderella.  Now, this series is going to be made of arcs featuring different creative teams, so there is still a lot of potential for these problems to be fixed.  My point is that I feel this was a title born out of financial need more than creative vision.

Fatale #3

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

There are a couple of things about this comic that made me happy.  To begin at the end, in the text piece at the back of the book, Ed Brubaker discusses the planned length of the series.  Previously, I’d expected this to be a five or six-issue limited series, like Brubaker and Phillip’s recent work with Criminal or Incognito.  Instead, the current plan is to have this comic run for at least fifteen issues, making it the longest thing they’ve done together since Sleeper.  I see this as very good news, as I was having a bit of a hard time grasping the scope of this comic, as I felt things were perhaps moving a little slow for a six-issue story.  Now, I recognize that they are only just getting started.

The other thing that I liked about this comic is that about half of it continued the modern-day part of the story that the series began with.  Nicolas Lash, more or less recovered from his injuries, returns to the house his godfather left him, but doesn’t find any more clues as to Jo’s identity or intent.  He also rebuffs an offer to have his godfather’s lost novel published, and instead begins to research some of the events that happened to him before he started writing.

This returns us to the past, as Hank and Jo go on a little trip, conveniently happening at the same time that Hank’s wife is murdered (off panel).  Hank starts to learn a little more about Jo, as she takes him to the house where she ‘died the first time’, and they meet someone who was present at that event.  Brubaker is really stepping up the mystery in this series, and I’m starting to get a better understanding of where this is all going.

In the text piece he also discusses the success of this series, as both issues prior to this one have sold out at Diamond, and are selling better than anything the creators have ever done together before this.  It really is an exciting time for independent comics I feel, and I am pleased to see that creators I respect and admire a great deal are receiving greater success.

Hell Yeah #1

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Andre Szymanowicz

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a resurgence of the ‘superhero utopia’ genre of comics – books like Halcyon, Last of the Greats, and The Mighty, and I started to think that we didn’t need any more, but Joe Keatinge, who has recently made a splash with his new take on the Rob Liefeld property Glory, is approaching it all from a different direction.

In this series, super powered individuals first appeared during the Gulf War, rescuing a captured US soldier, before going on to end that conflict, and introduce great changes to the world, ushering a period of peace and prosperity.

It appears that this comic is centred on Benjamin Day, the son of that rescued soldier, who attends a university for powered individuals (many people now develop abilities at puberty), but is constantly under threat of expulsion for fighting, both on and off campus.  Most of this issue is used to develop Ben, who is a bit of a childish jerk, and to establish the status quo of his world.

Keatinge also drops numerous hints that things are not as they seem.  There is the mystery of the barcode tattoo that appeared on Ben’s neck around the same time as his abilities developed.  The identity of his mother is hidden from us, with the suggestion that Ben’s parents have been lying to him for years.  Also, at the end of the comic, there is the appearance of three people who have been looking for him, for reasons we don’t know.  All of this has managed to create a sense of intrigue around this comic, and so while it doesn’t exactly scream out ingenuity, there is enough here to keep me interested.

Andre Szymanowicz, who I only know from Elephantmen, does some very good work here. He is very talented at revealing character through facial expressions, and gives the book a nice look.

iZombie #23

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

It’s all about convergences this month.  Xitulu, an elder god previously worshiped by a South American tribe before the Spanish contacted them, is about to return to Earth, and Galatea, the Bride of Frankenstein-looking woman who has been lurking around this book for months is hoping to hasten him along.

This brings just about every character in the book (except for the grandfather chimp and Dixie the diner owner) up onto a mountain to either help Galatea or stop her.  The Fossor Corporation has joined up with the Dead Presidents, but they are held up by Koschei, the Frankenstein-like monster who works for a Russian brain in a coffee maker.  Amon has brought Scott along to help him, although that would involve a rather involuntary sacrifice on Scott’s part.  The Phantasm, the ghostly crimefighter currently inhabiting the body of Scott’s would-be boyfriend shows up, and much chaos ensues.

Gwen, meanwhile, finally begins to make some decisions for herself.  This book feels like it’s moving towards a climax, and I’m wondering how much is going to be left in this run.  Roberson has slowly moved away from the book’s original aesthetic (hipster monsters), but the series continues to be pretty interesting, and beautifully illustrated by Michael Allred.

Sacrifice #3

Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Dalton Rose

I feel very fortunate to shop at one of the few stores across North America that sell Sam Humphries’s self-published and self-distributed mini-series Sacrifice.

This is a very compelling story about a man who has somehow traveled back to the time of the Aztecs just prior to the invasion of the Spanish.  It’s not clear yet if Hector has really moved back in time or is simply imagining everything that has been happening while lying in a hospital bed after suffering an epileptic fit.  What is clear is that some time has passed since the last issue, and Hector has been on the run with Malintzin, the leader of a rebel army.

Malin is a fearsome warrior, but we learn in this issue that Moctezuma’s best warrior, Tlahuicole, is actually her brother, who had been captured when her people lost a battle to the Aztec forces.  Now, as a certain holy festival approaches, Tlahuicole wants Hector, the last trained priest of Quetzalcoatl to be the one who kills him, thereby ensuring another year of prosperity and safety for all the Aztecs.

This is a very cool comic, both in the depth of its research and presentation of Aztec culture, and in the strong visuals that Dalton Rose uses to tell the story.  I appreciate that Humphries is breaking ground in many different ways with this comic.

Sweet Tooth #31

by Jeff Lemire

Once again, Sweet Tooth does not disappoint.  Jeff Lemire is constantly finding new challenges for Gus and his group of traveling companions.

When this issue opens, Gus has been kidnapped by Dr. Singh, who has become obsessed with going to Alaska to solve the mystery of Gus’s birth (or creation).  Mr. Jeppard has been taken prisoner by some wild backwoods type, who has a small hybrid in a birdcage.  This guy thinks he knows Jeppard from somewhere (and it’s not from his hockey career).  The rest of the gang are being held captive by Walter, the man who lives in the dam where they have been staying lately.  Of course, his name is not Walter, and he’s a total psychopath who seems to have a particular interest in Becky.

This series often carries with it a certain level of menace, and like some of the better plotlines in The Walking Dead, it’s when the characters begin to feel safest that things go seriously wrong.

Jeff Lemire has become one of the most feted writers in DC’s New 52 stable, yet I don’t hear much love for this series from anyone beyond its already devoted fans.  Anyone who is enjoying Animal Man should be checking this out.

Quick Takes:

Action Comics #7 – Everything in this issue takes place seconds after the events of issue 4, with no recap or explanation of what’s going on.  Superman flies (for the first time) into space to confront the Collector, and try to recover the now shrunken inhabitants of Metropolis.  He learns about the existence of the bottled city of Kandor, his Kryptonian heritage, and about the existence of indestructible armor, all while Lex Luthor argues with the collector over a somehow-still working cellphone within the shrunken city.  It’s a good enough comic, but it’s still Morrison-lite, and the Steel back-up by Sholly Fisch and Brad Walker is just tacked-on.

Age of Apocalypse #1 – I care nothing about the Age of Apocalypse, and have never read the original event that started this whole parallel world where mutants are on top and working to exterminate humans.  The more recent appearances of characters from this world didn’t do a whole lot to excite me in Uncanny X-Force, either, although I did once have a strong liking of Nate Grey.  Anyway, I do like David Lapham and Roberto De La Torre, so I thought I should check this out.  It’s not bad, in the way that the future scenes in Terminator aren’t bad, and I do like that kind of thing.  Lapham spends most of the issue setting things up, so I don’t feel like I have a good handle on where this series is going to go.  I’m not sure how much I care though…

Animal Man #7 – Nothing feels more right for this title than having Steve Pugh back drawing Buddy Baker and his family.  Instantly, it feels like the focus of the story has shifted to Pugh’s strengths – the interactions between Buddy, Ellen, her mother, and the two kids.  That’s what’s always set Animal Man apart – the exploration of his domestic life as a superhero, and Pugh shows it beautifully.  Lemire’s story has been interesting, but last issue was more or less a fill-in, and while this one doesn’t do much to advance the plot (aside from a weird dream of the future that has cameos by John Constantine and Swamp Thing), it is probably the most satisfying issue of this series to date.

Avengers Academy #27 – While I’m very pleased to see the return of the Runaways to comics, I feel like Christos Gage was trying to cram a little too much into this issue.  There’s very little in the way of an introduction to readers unfamiliar with Brian K. Vaughan’s lasting contribution to the Marvel Universe.  I’d dropped the title towards the end, so had no idea where these characters were left, and little here helped me with that.  Basically, the team is looking for Old Lace, the future dinosaur they ran with, and for some very complicated reason, they need Reptil and Giant Man’s help.  There is some good character work, and some decent art by Karl Moline and Jim Fern (an odd combination).

Avengers: The Children’s Crusade #9 – I’m beginning to think that Allan Heinberg is the new Jeph Loeb, as he casually kills off a couple of characters (one of whom a strong female character, because of course there are too many of those in comics), and then goes about dismantling the team he created in a way that neither makes sense within the context of the story, nor matches with the personalities of almost any of the characters involved.  This series, which has taken years to finish, has been a continuity nightmare from the beginning, and has left a sour taste in my mouth, while also giving me one more reason to not bother with Avengers Vs. X-Men.  It’s a shame too – the first Young Avengers series was brilliant.  Jim Cheung’s art is lovely, but that’s not enough…

Defenders #4 – Basically, this is a Dr. Strange solo issue, which has him dealing with some of the consequences of his recent one-night stand, when a two-bit street magician thinks he’s figured out a way to con the good Doctor.  Michael Lark draws this issue, which looks quite nice, but really, four issues in, I have no idea why this series exists…

Green Arrow #7I’ve never been a Green Arrow fan, but I’ve long held new writer Ann Nocenti in high regard.  Her Daredevil broke new ground in terms of introducing environmental concerns to comics, as well as creating such interesting characters as Bullet (whatever happened to him) and Typhoid Mary.  Her Kid Eternity was one of my favourite Vertigo series in the early 90s.  I’ve been unimpressed with DC’s return to the 90s approach to the New 52, but in this case it worked.  This is a bizarre issue, as a set of triplets with the ability to manufacture weapons seduce Oliver Queen into traveling to Canada with them (which of course looks like the Fortress of Solitude, because that’s how things are here) so they can capture him for reasons unknown.  It’s a weird issue, but I trust Nocenti enough to give her a few issues to impress me.  The art, by Harvey Tolibao is perhaps a little too busy, as it’s sometimes hard to follow.  This is by no means a brilliant comic, but I’ll stick with it for a little while to see where it’s going.

Hulk #49 – When I bought Jeff Parker’s first issue of Hulk, immediately after Jeph Loeb left the title, I never expected to stick with it, but for a while there, I really found myself enjoying it.  Lately, however, I’ve felt like Parker has been limited by what can effectively be done with this character.  This issue is a perfect example – for some reason the Eternals have been using Red Hulk as their exemplar for all superhumans, as they argue for the umpteenth time the extent to which they want to be involved in human affairs.  Naturally, this leads to a punch-up between Hulk and Ikkaris.  Yawn.  I really do like Parker’s writing, but I don’t feel like this book is going anywhere, and I’m actively trying to cull my pull-list, so peace out Hulk.

Men of War #7This is more like what I was expecting from this comic all along (and perhaps, if that’s what they’d given us all along, the book wouldn’t be getting cancelled next month).  There are two stories here, but I bought it for the first one, a James Robinson and Phil Winslade tale about a British SAS soldier who goes off on a revenge mission of his own in Afghanistan.  Winslade painted the story in soft pastels, which at times contrasted too strongly with the subject matter, but made the poppy fields very pretty.  It’s good stuff.  The second story, by JT Krul and Scott Kolins is much better than I expected, about a soldier who is having trouble finding his feet after returning to the US after his time in Iraq.  I do love me a good war story, although it’s strange how war comics always focus on individual action, when any successful military campaign depends on the coordinated actions of many.

Stormwatch #7 – I immediately lost interest in this title when Paul Cornell left (was removed?), but since Peter Milligan is going to be taking it over, I thought I’d give Paul Jenkins’s fill-in arc a try.  Jenkins has become DC’s go-to guy when they need some mediocre comics, and with this, he preserves his record.  I don’t know what happened to him – his Inhumans and Revelations were terrific, but now his work is just not that interesting.  The story, about some gravity mining creatures from another dimension doesn’t make a lot of sense, and some of the characterizations feel off.  The big question is whether or not the completist in me will force me to buy the next issue, of if I’ll just hold off to try out Milligan’s first issue.  I really wish Cornell hadn’t left this book.

Swamp Thing #7 – It’s only taken seven months, but we finally get to see Alec Holland make the change into the title character (is that a spoiler?  it had to happen eventually), as The Rot continues its assault on the Parliament of Trees.  This is a good issue, with some terrific art by Yanick Paquette, whose page layouts remind me more and more of JH Williams.  One of the best of the New 52 continues to impress…

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #8Another satisfying issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, drawn by original series artist Sara Pichelli.  I continue to really like Miles Morales as a character, and enjoy watching him confront a series of incredibly lame Spider-Villains.  The one thing that troubles me about this series though is that Miles is always seen carrying his backpack – I’ve never seen kids do that.  He’s in a school for bright kids; you’d think he’d have figured out what the shoulder straps are for.

Uncanny X-Men #8 – Once again, this book belongs to Hope and Namor who, when written by Kieron Gillen, positively electrify the page.  The rest of the issue is very good too – the Tabula Rasa stuff is wrapped up nicely, with an issue that has the Extinction Team working to achieve solutions that are not quite so violent as they usually do.  I’m really enjoying this title (even with the Greg Land art), and hope that Avengers Vs. X-Men doesn’t screw things up too much…

Villains For Hire #4 – A nice solid ending to an underappreciated series.  We learn just what Misty’s been up to with her villainous operation, and everything makes sense by the end of the book.

Winter Soldier #3 – The best Captain America book that Marvel is publishing (and soon to be the only one I’ll be reading) continues to provide a nice blend of spy and superhero comics, as James and the Black Widow figure out Von Bardas’s plan, and infiltrate Dr. Doom’s castle to put a stop to her.  I personally feel like this is one of the better-looking books Marvel is publishing as well, as Guice continues to do some very cool things with layout and design, and Bettie Breitweiser colours the hell out of this thing.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #681

Rachel Rising #6

Stitched #3

Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha and Omega #3

Wolverine #302

X-Men #26

Bargain Comics:

Magneto: Not A Hero #1 – I originally passed on this mini-series because I figured it would be rather standard stuff, and it appears that I was right.  I like Skottie Young’s feel for dialogue, and his grasp of characters like Magneto, Emma Frost, and Tony Stark, but think that this whole thing would have been a whole lot more exciting were it also drawn by Young, and were he allowed to cut loose.  And really, how great could a comic with Joseph, Magneto’s clone, really be?

The Week in Manga:

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 2

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Art by Housui Yamazaki

The second volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is quite different from the first.  Where the first one introduced the characters and the concept of a group of Buddhist students who have opened a business to help lost and unclaimed corpses find peace over the course of a number of short stories, this book contains a book-length story.

Basically, the group has been having a hard time finding paying clients for their service, which makes sense since to be their client, one must be dead.  They advertise on the internet, and quickly become embroiled in a plot by a rival organization, called Nire Ceremony.  What they do is revive the corpses of murderers, and then let the families of their victims have at them with knives.

Ao, the boss of the Kurosagi Service is contacted by her sister when they learn that the man who murdered their parents and sister has been executed.  Through strange circumstances, the KCDS has the man’s corpse, but they deliver it to Nire Ceremony.  Later, they discover that Ao’s sister’s fiance has some secrets of his own that are connected to everything that is going on.

What follows is a pretty densely plotted horror story, which hinges on some pretty unbelievable coincidences and some very strange concepts, but is overall a very compelling and readable story.  Otsuka is doing a good job developing these characters, and I appreciated the longer story in this volume.

Album of the Week:

Georgia Anne Muldrow – Owed To Mama Rickie

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