The Weekly Round-Up #124 With Prophet, DHP, Fables, The Walking Dead & More

Columns, Top Story

Best Comic of the Week:

Prophet #24

Written by Brandon Graham, Farel Dalrymple, and Matt Sheean
Art by Farel Dalrymple and Malachi Ward

How wonderful is this comic?  I feel like, between the last issue and this one, I have a better handle on what Brandon Graham and his collaborators intend to do with this comic.  Last month, John Prophet sent some sort of signal out across the universe to wake up the Earth Empire pod ships, and so when this comic begins, another version of John Prophet (this one has a tail!) comes out of a pod to find that the ship he’s been sleeping on for who knows how long has crashed into some other ships.

For some reason, he has to cross the amalgamated vessels to the other side, spurred on by a ghostly young girl.  The rest of this issue is just like the other ones, as John goes about his journey, facing environmental threats, and needing to rely on some odd science fiction stuff, like a ‘star skin’ that makes him look like the X-Man Armor.  Also, there’s a MODOK version of the original Prophet, who is just awesome.

What makes this comic work so well is Graham’s ease with such strange situations, as he describes and explains things, but without getting into too much detail.  You know he has an explanation ready for any plot point, but doesn’t feel the need to hammer that information into our heads the way many lesser writers would.

The art this month is by Farel Dalrymple, of the brilliant and surrealistic Pop Gun War and the remake of Omega: The Unknown.  Dalrymple is a gifted artist, and he makes his usual style fit more in the aesthetic that regular artist Simon Roy has established for this book.  It’s a very beautiful comic.

The back-up this month does not continue the one started previously, but instead is a done-in-one European-style science fiction story by Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward.  I liked it – it would have fit nicely in a Popgun anthology.  In a lot of ways, Graham is using this book to bring back Heavy Metal, which is very cool.  This series continues to be the most exciting thing on the stands each month.

Other Notable Comics:

Dark Horse Presents #11

Written by Francesco Francavilla, Steve Horton, Carla Speed McNeil, Steve Niles, Evan Dorkin, Tim Seeley, John Arcudi, Andrew Vachss, Neal Adams, and Frank J. Barbiere
Art by Francesco Francavilla, Michael Dialynas, Carla Speed McNeil, Christopher Mitten, Evan Dorkin, Victor Drujiniu, Jonathan Case, Geof Darrow, Neal Adams, and Luke Radl

Once again, Dark Horse Presents delivers a variety of comics for your reading pleasure.  As always, it’s a pretty mixed bag, with the good being discussed first:

  • Francesco Francavilla is an artist I’ve enjoyed for quite some time, and it’s nice to see him finally doing some creator-owned work.  The Black Beetle is a pretty standard pulp hero, with a Spirit/Shadow/Lobster Johnson type character trying to protect a beautiful archeologist (or curator, or something like that) from a group of personal helicopter-wearing Nazis who want to steal a priceless artifact.  It’s predictable, but pretty.
  • I’m always happy to get a new chapter of Finder, Carla Speed McNeil’s long-running series.  She’s making good use of the colour possibilities of this anthology, as she has Jaegar walk through a number of strange environments.  It’s a short piece, but it’s very nice.
  • I don’t remember John Arcudi’s old series The Creep, but this reintroduction to the character works quite well, as the title character receives a letter from an old girlfriend telling him that her son committed suicide, and that she thinks there’s something more to it.  This is how you begin a new story told in short chapters; I’m looking forward to reading more.  I like Jonathan Case’s art here.
  • Andrew Vachss’s prose piece ‘Pig’ goes down quite easily, if it feels like it’s from another era.  It’s a story about a young gang-banger and the friendship he develops with an overweight kid who is not part of his clique.  Geof Darrows’s illustrations are less Darrow-ish than anything I’ve ever seen him do, but they work with this story.
  • I don’t know what the deal is with ‘The Way Out’, a story ‘From the Pages of the White Suits’, which is set in Moscow in the late 80s.  It’s about a young female courier who gets caught up in some madness involving gangsters and soldiers.  I don’t know if this is the beginning of a new series, or is a stand-alone story, but it has my interest.  Luke Radl’s art is very nice in Frank J. Barbiere’s story.

Beyond that, I found I didn’t have much use for the rest of the book.  Steve Niles and Christopher Mittens’s Cal MacDonald story still hasn’t caught my eye, and I am still having trouble getting into the Steve Horton and Michael Dialynas ‘Amala’s Blade’ series.  Tim Seeley’s new series The Occultist was too like the Cal MacDonald and a hundred other comics to impress me.

I hate Neal Adams’s Blood comic, and feel much the same about anything Evan Dorkin does that doesn’t involve Jill Thompson and the Beasts of Burden.  Next month:  Aliens!

Fables #116

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and Shawn McManus

Here’s the question I find myself pondering this month.  Is Vertigo still the home of thought-provoking, adult comics?  Books like DMZ, Northlanders, Scalped, and (to a lesser extent) iZombie, are all recently wrapped up or will be shortly.  One of their newest titles, Dominique Laveau, Voodoo Child, reads a little more like a sophisticated superhero book from the late 80s, and Fables has become increasingly focused on its child characters, to the general detriment of the book.

This latest issue is again spotlighting Snow White and Bigby Wolf’s children.  Therese has ended up in the land of Discardia, where a bunch of broken toys have made her their queen, although she’s likely to starve there.  Darien, one of her brothers, has decided to go looking for her himself with the help of the wind-up tiger Lord Mountbatten.  Pinocchio also gets a bit of space to flirt with Osma.  Oh, and Blufkin the flying monkey escapes the gallows.

I don’t see, aside from a few curse words that Darien let fly, how this comic should be ‘suggested for mature readers’.  Actually, the swearing of a child helps underscore how immature this comic is becoming.  I get it that Willingham has been writing this comic for a good long time, and is perhaps just running low on ideas, and I would never advocate for ‘mature scenes’ just for their own sake, but I find that this book is not as sophisticated as it used to be.

Mark Buckingham’s art is always awesome, but I’m finding that my enthusiasm for this title has reached the point where I think it’s time to take it off my pre-order list.

The Manhattan Projects #2

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

The second issue of Jonathan Hickman’s new ‘mad scientists of WWII’ comic, The Manhattan Projects, upends some of the expectations I had for this series coming out of the first issue.  It seemed to be setting up a comic that was mostly about J. Robert Oppenheimer and his twin brother, and their involvement in the Manhattan Projects, plural; a wide-ranging scientific effort fronted by the quest for the atomic bomb.

This issue shows that Oppenheimer is only a small part of the operation, as the Americans try to recruit German rocket scientists to the cause, and we figure out that many other figures, including Richard Feynman, are going to be profiled and share the spotlight.  Also in this issue we are introduced to Wernher von Braun, a Nazi scientist who hung out with Hitler, and who has a gigantic robotic arm.

These scientists are all real people – I will admit that while I recognized some names, I have no knowledge of the history of 20th century science, and so am probably missing some pretty funny stuff.  I do enjoy seeing some lighthearted Hickman work, and am enjoying Pitarra’s art.

It is difficult to predict where Hickman is going to be taking this series, but he is a comics writer who has gained my trust time and again, so I know enough to just sit back and enjoy this comic.  I definitely applaud the bold cover designs that he is using for this series – this issue really stood out on the stands.

Ragemoor #2

Written by Jan Strnad
Art by Richard Corben

The first issue of Ragemoor read like a one-shot, and I wondered what else could happen to fill this series.  Ragemoor is about a young man who resides in a horrifically haunted castle.  This is not the usual home to restless spirits who maybe slam doors and kill the odd college student whose car breaks down on the property – this is a gigantic castle that is constantly readjusting its floorplan, and which has a taste for human blood.

As this issue opens, Herbert, the master of the castle, is mooning over Anoria, the woman who came to the castle with his uncle last issue, and who lost her mind after seeing what happened to the uncle, who had paid her to pose as his daughter.  Herbert realizes that a local poacher is trying to win her affection, and he decides he needs to take action to impress her.  He decides to kill the ape-creatures that live in the castle’s bowels, a decision that leads to his being trapped well beneath the lower levels of the castle, at the mercy of worm-like creatures.

Over the course of the issue, Herbert begins to gain some appreciation for the various creatures that inhabit the castle, and who all appear to serve some sort of greater purpose.  We are also introduced to the insect creatures that work in the kitchen, preparing Herbert’s meals (from what, one would like to know).

This is a creepy comic that really gives Richard Corben space to stretch his artistic wings.  I imagine that this type of comic appeals to a pretty specific demographic, but I can’t imagine those people would have anything to complain about.

The Secret History of DB Cooper #2

by Brian Churilla

I really enjoyed the first issue of Brian Churilla’s The Secret History of DB Cooper, but with this second issue, really feel like I have a better grasp on where this series is going, and am pretty excited to follow it.

What we know so far is that DB Cooper, the man who would soon famously hijack an airplane and disappear with his ransom forever, is an agent for the FBI involved in remote viewing assassinations.  At first, I thought that he was able to travel to a strange monster-filled world to complete his missions, but in this issue, we learn that he is more or less always in both worlds; Cooper’s psyche is completely fractured, and he no longer needs drugs or briefings in order to complete the tasks given to him.

This issue fills in a fair amount of his backstory – we know that his daughter was abducted, and that his marriage fell apart because of the guilt that he feels about it.  We also see more proof that his fellow agent hates him, but we still don’t know why.  Also, questions are raised about the true identity of the red one-eared teddy bear that accompanies him on his missions.

This is shaping up to be a very original and interesting new series.  Churilla is a fascinating artist, who clearly has a master plan for this book.  I’m definitely going to be sticking with it for the long haul.

The Sixth Gun #21

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

I’ve been an admirer of The Sixth Gun since the series began, a couple of Free Comic Book Days ago, but I don’t know if any single issue has ever stood out the way this one does.

In the ‘A Town Called Penance’ arc, Cullen Bunn has had Becky Montcrief, the wielder of the ‘sixth gun’ travel to the very bizarre twin towns of Penance and New Penance to try to rescue her friend (and wielder of four of the other five guns) Drake Sinclair from his old compatriots in the Knights of Solomon, who are holding him in a gigantic underground cavern they have made their home base.

This issue, Becky makes her way underground to rescue him.  The entire issue is silent – there is no narration or dialogue at all, and the entire comic is filled with action, as Becky fights her way to Drake, and together, they try to fight their way back out.

The decision to leave out any dialogue works well for this issue – think of any of the dialogue in any big action sequence, and it’s all pretty obvious and therefore unnecessary stuff.  This way, the entirety of each page forces the reader to focus on just how incredible an artist Brian Hurtt is.  The cavern where the Knights live is made up of snaking gangplanks and buildings on stilts – there are few direct paths, and the entire thing is poised over deep water inhabited by strange tentacled creatures that protect one of the seals like the one seen back at the very beginning of this series.  It feels like Hurtt has worked out a model of how this environment, which is more three-dimensional than most in a large action sequence, is laid out, and he makes ingenious use of falling stalactites to add more drama to the sequence.

The only place where I would have liked a little narration would have been when Becky and Drake find themselves in a room that looks like a library, with a large image of a Knight of Solomon, simply because I’m curious to understand this group better.

I can not wait to see what happens next in this comic.

3 Story: Secret Files of the Giant Man

by Matt Kindt

Matt Kindt’s 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man is a real good graphic novel – it imagines what would really happen if a person were to grow to such a height that he is three stories tall, but still live in the real world.  His story is set in the 60s, and follows the life story of Craig Pressgang.

That book came out a few years ago, but now Kindt has returned to this character for this one-shot comic, which actually collects three short stories that originally appeared on-line in the now defunct MySpace Dark Horse Presents web comic, and were also collected in the trade paperback editions that collected that early experiment with digital-only stories.

I was a little disappointed to discover that these stories were older, and that I’d already read one of them.  At the same time, I love Kindt’s work, and was happy to be able to read these three stories at the same time.

These tales show three different moments during Craig’s ‘world tour’, which was designed as a tourist event, but also served as cover for Pressgang’s employment by the CIA.  None of these are ‘spy stories’ (a specialty of Kindt, whose Super Spy is a masterpiece of the genre), but instead just follow Craig through some rough times, like when he got appendicitis in Paris or a stomach ailment in Egypt.  Both of those stories are very concerned with the mechanics of being his size, and that leads to some humour and some uncomfortable scenes.

The third story chronicles Craig’s short-lived time working for the American army during the Vietnam War.  It didn’t go well.

At the back of this comic is a preview of Kindt’s upcoming Dark Horse series Mind MGMT.  As I intend to buy this comic, I didn’t spoil any of it by reading this preview, but did like glancing at the pictures.  Kindt is set to become a break-out creator in 2012 – he has the aforementioned Dark Horse series starting up, and is taking over the writing of Frankenstein Agent of SHADE for DC.  He is definitely a comics creator who deserves a higher profile.

The Walking Dead #96

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Rick ends up giving quite the speech in this issue of The Walking Dead.  The days of him questioning his decisions and his role as leader of his group are long over, and now we see the take-charge, confident Rick at his best.

In the last issue, Rick, Carl, and a small group of their people began to explore the Hilltop, a large community of about 200 people that appears to be quite self-sustaining and safe.  At least, it seemed that way until shortly after they arrived, some community member stabbed their leader, on the orders of some guy named Negan, and then tried to kill Rick.

As it turns out, the Hilltop is being extorted by this Negan, who sounds a little like The Governor of years past.  He gets half of the Hilltops resources in exchange for keeping them ‘safe’ from walkers, but also likes to beat up or kill the people who bring him his tribute from time to time.  Carl is the one that suggests that were Rick to take him out, their own community could benefit from the same stuff.

And so it seems that Kirkman is setting up the next bunch of issues of this comic.  I imagine that the confrontation with Negan will come in issue 100, and that makes me a little nervous, as Kirkman has a habit of killing characters I like in anniversary issues.

The best part of this issue is when Glen, Andrea, and Michonne share their impressions of the Hilltop, and each of them are almost perfect encapsulations of those characters – Glen is sweet and optimistic, Andrea cynical and hard, and Michonne puts a brave face on her fears.  It is the complexity of these core characters, along with Rick, that makes this book so successful month after month.

Quick Takes:

Avengers Vs. X-Men #2 – Well, this is quickly becoming just as bad as I thought it would be, as the various Avengers and X-Men engage in a big melee, full of posturing and nonsense.  I’m not sure which is worse here – the art or the narration.  When the Red Hulk and Colossus fight on the still-flying helicarrier, Aaron writes that ‘The San Andreas fault shudders with each blow.’  That’s a neat trick, since they aren’t even on the ground.  Art wise, this is some of the most-rushed and inconsistent stuff I’ve ever seen from John Romita JR, and that includes his execrable recent run on The Avengers.  Also, I can’t understand why characters like Hepzibah, who has been in X-limbo for a long time, is suddenly here fighting.  The characterizations here are so off (especially of Cyclops), that I can only hope that we’ll find out later on that the Phoenix Force is controlling everyone from space.  Oh, and Marvel AR?  Still sucks.

Batman #8 – The Night of the Owls event begins here with a suspenseful and cool issue that has a large number of Talons, the Court of the Owls’ assassins, attacking Wayne Manor, where they discover Bruce Wayne’s secret.  I do wonder why they would send so many people to take out Wayne if they didn’t already know he was Batman, but if you ignore that point, this is a pretty exciting book (even if it does end with Bruce putting on a suit that looks like it’s been designed simply for a toy line).  Snyder has been building this story since this series began, so it’s nice to see it all pay off.  Greg Capullo does another decent job on the art, but he is completely shown up by Rafael Albuquerque’s back-up, which has Alfred calling in the ‘family’, and gives Albuquerque the chance to draw any number of Bat-characters.  I really wish that Albuquerque could be the regular artist on this book, but that would disrupt my love for American Vampire.  I’m not happy that the price of this book has gone up, but if the quality of the art in the back-up is going to be this good, I’m down.

BPRD Hell on Earth: The Long Death #3 – You know how so many people are buying Avengers Vs. X-Men looking for some spectacular fanfic style fight scenes, and will ultimately be completely disappointed by the fact that everyone will be friends by the end of it?  Well, this comic is almost entirely taken up by a huge fight between a Wendigo and a were-jaguar, and one of them actually does die in the end.  Add to the fact that James Harren’s art is terrific, and you have to wonder why more people aren’t buying this comic.  Great stuff.

Defenders #5 – I still just don’t know about this title.  Any given page of this comic is perfectly fine (especially with wonderful art by the Breitweisers), but on a whole, this comic doesn’t impress me.  This whole Kirby Engine thing that the team is trying to figure out is not all that interesting, and that’s all this book is built upon.  In this issue, Namor discovers an ancient sealed cave with a symbol on the door that looks like the Engine.  When they open it, they get attacked by mer-creatures, and then discover the Nautilus, and a photo of Namor’s mother.  There’s some other stuff happening, but not much.  Really, this series just feels disjointed.

Iron Man #515 – When Matt Fraction first started working with Tony Stark, one of the things that he introduced to the character is the notion that Tony is able to predict the future through his application of knowledge of current events.  It was a cool idea, but one that appeared to fall by the wayside.  Now, we see Tony hitting bottom, as the Mandarin’s plan has just about ruined him, and has claimed the life of his best friend.  Except Tony is Tony, so there may be more going on than we’ve seen…  Another very good issue – I just wonder why War Machine is not in the armor that he wore in his own recent series (which I always assumed was designed by Salvador Larroca, who draws this comic).

New Mutants #41 Abnett and Lanning (and Blink) decided that the team needs to blow off a little steam, so they teleport to Madripoor for Chinese New Year to party.  This is a nice character comic, although I was a little taken aback by the close familiarity of the team with Blink, who I didn’t think they knew all that well.  The art, by the Lopezes, is very nice, but man do they draw Doug strangely in this comic.  He looks like the adult Macauley Culkin, were he anorexic.  It’s a strange look for him.

 Nightwing #8 – More Night of the Owls goodness, as Dick rushes to City Hall to save the mayor from one of the Talons.  We also get the backstory of the first Talon we saw in Batman, who has a connection to the Grayson family.  I like how well this series has integrated into what Snyder is doing in Batman – it’s felt pretty seamless.

Planet of the Apes #13 – With each arc, this already excellent comic just keeps improving.  The story has jumped ten years, and now Sully, the former mayor of the human side of the city of Mak has become a guerrilla fighter, looking to trade with a Chinese vessel for weapons (although that doesn’t go well).  Meanwhile, her son Julian has been raised by Alaya, the leader of Mak’s apes, although he gets abducted by some humans in this issue.  Most interesting to me though is the scene showing ape governance, as Alaya tries to lead her people towards a green approach to industry.  This is a very intelligent, nuanced comic, taking all of the potential of the Apes movies, with none of the campiness and stupidity.  Carlos Magno’s art is amazing.

Star Wars – Dawn of the Jedi: Force Storm #3 – I wonder if John Ostrander has bitten off a little more than he can chew with this series, set thousands of years before the Star Wars films.  The three young Je’daii that we met last issue spend most of this issue fighting the Force hound we met in the first issue, but it’s not clear why he’s come to their planet, or what he plans on doing there.  There has been a massive amount of exposition in this story so far, and it’s come at the cost of proper character development, making it a little hard to care about anyone on the page here.  Still, I trust Ostrander and Duursema, and so will stick with this.  I imagine that the second Dawn of the Jedi mini-series will be very good.

THUNDER Agents #6 – This series ends well, with a return to the beginning (at least the beginning of Nick Spencer’s time handling the characters).  This comic became rather complicated along the way, and with sales being what they were, I imagine we won’t see any of these characters again.  What I don’t understand is why DC decided to up the price and add a rather pointless back-up story to the mix; it provided nothing.

Thunderbolts #173 – I think that many people, had they had the chance to sit and talk to their younger selves, might not like what they see.  That’s the problem the Fixer is dealing with in this issue, while the rest of the team is trying to figure out how to get home without ruining their future, while battling the team’s earliest incarnation.  It’s a good comic, with a nice mix of action, pathos, and humour.

 Uncanny X-Force #24 – With this issue we get a wrap-up of a few different recent storylines.  The Nightcrawler that came from the Age of Apocalypse world wants the Iceman from that world dead, so some of the team track him to Madripoor to take him out, while Fantomex and Psylocke attend the funeral of a family member, and we learn just what Betsy had to give up to save Fantomex’s life.  I like how Rick Remender showed the AoA Kurt Wagner in this issue – prior to this point, he was kind of a cipher, and hard to like.  Phil Noto provides the art for this issue, so it looks very nice.

Wolverine and the X-Men #9 – Leave it to Jason Aaron to put a little heart into the AvsX nonsense.  Originally, I wasn’t going to bother with the actual Avengers Vs. X-Men mini-series, and just keep reading the titles that I regularly buy.  Now, after reading how bad the second issue of that series is, and comparing it to this, I think that’s what I should do.  In this issue, we see the early reactions of Logan and his staff to the threat of the Phoenix, and we get a less ambiguous version of Captain America’s first conversation with Logan about how he would be willing to help out.  All this, with great Chris Bachalo artwork, and a very nice scene between Logan and Beast make this issue a winner.  And that’s before the Toad saves the day…

Wonder Woman #8 – Well, this ended up being a very quick read, as Diana and Hermes descend into Hades to retrieve Zola.  There’s some discussion on the nature of the afterlife in this re-envisioned Greek Pantheon, and then the inevitable conflict with Hades himself, followed by an ending that was telegraphed at the beginning of the book.  It was the first disappointing issue in Brian Azzarello’s run, but with the beautiful Cliff Chiang artwork, it wasn’t that disappointing.  Here’s hoping for more from the next issue.

X-Factor #234 – A pretty standard issue of X-Factor – there are some squabbles among the team, a good scene between M and Layla, and Peter David sets up the next big threat.  It’s good, as usual.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #684

Avengers #25

Next Men Aftermath #42

Rachel Rising #7

Rocketeer Adventures 2 #2

Stitched #4

X-Men #27

Bargain Comics:

Avenging Spider-Man #6 – I’m resentful of the fact that Marvel keeps crossing Daredevil (a book that I enjoy and have on my pull-list) with titles that I have chosen not to buy, usually because of their price.  I was planning on skipping the entire Omega Effect cross-over, including the Daredevil issue, but then I realized that this is the culmination of a story that Mark Waid has been building for a little while now in DD’s book, and has little to nothing to do with the other two characters (Spider-Man and the Punisher).  Therefore, I picked this up at a store that was having a sale, and it’s basically just another issue of DD, but with some guest stars.  It’s good, but now this means I need to go get the tie-in issue of the Punisher before Wednesday, when the DD issue comes out.  Damn you Marvel.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Lewis & Clark

by Nick Bertozzi

As much as I enjoy learning and reading about history, I am pretty ignorant of much of American history, mostly because I’m Canadian.  For example, I knew that Lewis and Clark were two guys who traveled to the West, and who made first contact with a number of Aboriginal nations, but I didn’t know much more than that.  Enter Nick Bertozzi’s graphic novel, which renders their story in a palatable package.

In Lewis & Clark, Bertozzi shows these two famous and revered explorers as real people, and while he condenses both their journey and much of the historical context that surrounds it, he manages to deliver a chronicle that captures the sheer difficulty of their mission, and the substances of their character.

Meriwether Lewis was selected by Thomas Jefferson to find a river route across the American continent to the Pacific.  Lewis chose as a partner his old friend William Clark, and after a lengthy period of procuring resources and men, they set off.  The land they traveled through belonged to a variety of Aboriginal nations, with their own political agendas and varying degrees of understanding the extent of America’s intent to expand into their territory.  With the help of some guides and translators, including the famous Sacagewea, they eventually reached their goal and returned home.

The book shows many of their difficulties, not the least those caused by Lewis’s disagreeable personality.  There are a number of scenes that do not portray him in a very positive light, although Clark, as the calmer, more thoughtful leader, comes off very well.

Bertozzi’s made very good use of the larger, almost European-sized pages of this book to put together some expansive double-page spreads.  He often uses the space on the page to suggest the length of the explorers and their companions’ trip, set against the imposing Rocky Mountains.

This book belongs alongside some of the more accomplished recent Canadian graphic novels The Klondike, Louis Riel, and Northwest Passage, all of which deal with the encroachment of European civilization on the continent’s West, and which form the nucleus of a sub-genre of cartooning that I am enjoying a great deal and am happy to support.

Liar’s Kiss

Written by Eric Skillman
Art by Jhomar Soriano

While I would almost never sit down and read a ‘noir’ crime novel (there have been a few, but they tend to be more literary, like Seth Morgan’s Homeboy), I often find myself drawn to noir comics, such as Criminal.  Way back on Boxing Day (I’m falling further and further behind with my graphic novel reading), I picked up this Top Shelf book for half price by two creators I was not familiar with simply because I liked the design of the cover (the lesson here?  when comics and graphic novels are cheap, people are more likely to take risks on a book on a whim – too bad people can’t make a living off that).

Liar’s Kiss stars Nick Archer as your typical layabout of a PI who fell into the job because he couldn’t really think of anything else to do with his life.  He’s not particularly good at his job, but he has managed to land himself a very rich client – Johnny Kincaid – who wants him to make sure that his younger, beautiful wife, is being faithful.  Kincaid regularly photographs Abbey Kincaid sitting around reading, to prove that she is staying at home all night while Kincaid sleeps.  What Kincaid doesn’t know though, is that the PI and the woman stage the photos, and then go to Archer’s place where they conduct an affair.

This whole set-up seems to be working well for Archer, until Abbey goes home one night to discover that her husband has been murdered.  She is immediately seen as a suspect, and when Archer’s batch of photos get mailed by mistake, they both realize that he has more or less sealed the case against her.  From here, the story follows Archer’s efforts to keep his lover out of prison, as he deals with suspicious cops and Kincaid’s assistant, who has an agenda of her own, which leads back to the art gallery that Kincaid once owned, and the scandal that killed one man and sent another to prison.

The book has a nice pace to it, and a successful twist at the end that I did not see coming completely (there were some hints that something was up).  Skillman avoids the overblown narration of a Raymond Chandler novel, which is a nice change of pace for this type of book.  Jhomar Soriano, the artist, does a very nice job of telling the story, switching from his Eduardo Risso-esque pencils to a more fully rendered style for flashbacks.

This is an effective book from two creators I would be interested in reading more from.

Strangers in Paradise Pocket Edition Vol. 3

by Terry Moore

Now that I’ve read three of these mammoth pocket-book sized collections of Terry Moore’s epic Strangers In Paradise series, I beginning to see a pattern emerge in the storytelling.

Each of these books (which collects about nineteen comics) starts with some kind of mundane plot about Francine and Katchoo (Katina Choovanski) getting in to some sort of argument or disagreement, which jeopardizes their friendship and budding romance.  Then, they split on one another somehow, and don’t reunite until some sort of threat from Katchoo’s sordid past appears.  David, who loves Katchoo, is almost always caught in the middle, and at some point, the story is going to jump into the far future, where the two friends have not seen each other for some years, and both are miserable.

This volume opens that way, with Francine furious that Katchoo has chosen to exhibit very large paintings of her in the nude.  They fight about this, David learns that he has inherited his sister’s fortune (Darcy Parker was an organized crime boss), and David and Katchoo fly away, only to have their plane crash.

From here, Moore abandons the lighter plots that make it a joy to read, and instead gives us a dark (although frequently funny) tale that has Katchoo working with Tambi, one of the remaining Parker girls who has a plan to take over the Big Six, but only with her help.  Francine nurses David back to health at her mother’s, and is poised to find the elusive happiness she’s always dreamed of, when the two friends are reunited, and stuck in yet another series of violent events.

I am very surprised at the balance that Moore is able to find between the fun, romantic comedy side of this book, and the darker, more intrigue-oriented stuff.  All of these characters, even the pathetically eager Casey, are very endearing, and they make this book the stuff of compulsive, stay up too late reading.  It’s very good stuff.

Album of the Week:

Billy Woods – History Will Absolve Me

This is a very solid piece of lyrics-based hip-hop from one of the most literary MCs in the business.  Woods takes on a number of different subjects, and makes intelligent illusions to a variety of sources; each song requires a few listens to really take it all in.  The production is mostly by Backwoodz Studioz mainstays Willie Green, Marmaduke, and NASA.  There’s no sign of Woods’s usual collaborators Bond or Priviledge, which is unfortunate, but as it turns out, they weren’t needed to make a very good album.

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