The Weekly Round-Up #125 With Spaceman, The Activity, American Vampire, New Deadwardians & More

Columns, Top Story

Best Comic of the Week:

Spaceman #6

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

We are now two-thirds of the way through Azzarello and Risso’s new series, and we finally get to see how the other half lives in this so-far dirty and bleak vision of the future.

Tara is a young girl who is one of the stars of a reality show centred around two famous actors and the multicultural group of children they have adopted, each of whom have passed through an American Idol like vetting process in the eyes of the nation.  Tara was kidnapped, and then rescued by Orson, the titular Spaceman who was genetically engineered to travel to and terraform Mars, and who now lives in a rough neighbourhood scouring a sunken city for salvageable garbage.

A number of different interested parties have been circling around Tara and Orson since he took her under his wing, and now they, and the group of wharf rat kids that Orson hangs out with, are hatching a plot to return her home safely.  This involves their going to the ‘Drise’, the wealthy, walled-off part of America where the rich still live in comfort.  Orson’s being followed by a film crew, and by another Spaceman, who is also looking to get Tara back.

Azzarello continues to build his own slang and futuristic argot for this comic, making it as linguistically fascinating as Risso makes it visually stunning.  This series is not being talked about enough – it is very, very good.

Other Notable Comics:

The Activity #5

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Mitch Gerads

I’ve seen this title criticized for being a little too ‘television’.  Each issue has basically been structured around a single mission for the covert direct operations team that star in this comic.  We have not seen much in the way of character development, and haven’t been given much information about the members of the team.

I agree with this criticism, but have also stuck with this series, as I have the feeling that Nathan Edmondson has a plan for this series, and is slowly building his larger story, while still making sure that each individual issue contains a complete mission.

We have seen Team Omaha screw up a few times, and have seen that their star is definitely falling in the intelligence community in the US, while they are still being used to attempt ever more difficult missions, as if someone wants the team to fail.

In this issue, we see a little more of this back-room intrigue, before joining the team in Thailand, where it appears they’ve screwed up once again.  They are in custody, after being captured with a number of illegal weapons and ID that suggests they are Australian.  Choosing not to talk, they are soon tortured for information.  Edmondson works a nice little trick into the story though, so things aren’t all what they appear to be.

While this is going one, we are given a number of flashbacks that follow the career of Locke, the team leader, and how he ended up in charge of the team.  It’s nice to see his character being worked on.

Mitch Gerads, the artist of this book, has shown improvement with each issue, and much of this one looks amazing.  His pictures of a firefight in the snow in Afghanistan are terrific.  This book is steadily getting better and better.

American Vampire #26

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Roger Cruz

Last month, Scott Snyder finished off his 50s rebel teenager storyline with a pretty big cliffhanger involving the main protagonists of this book, Pearl and Henry, who we hadn’t seen for a few months (which means more than a decade in the comic’s timeline).  I expected that to be picked up and continued with this issue, but instead, we are given the first of a two-part arc featuring Calvin Poole, who we last saw fighting with Henry in the Pacific during the Second World War.

Now, it’s 1954, and Calvin, who is the third American Vampire in existence, has taken some time off from his job with the Vassals of the Morning Star to travel to Midway Alabama, where his brother is about to perform at a fair.  Now, this is Alabama in the 50s, and Calvin is black, so there are some pretty obvious challenges he has to face, which are of course made easier by his being a vampire.

Calvin can’t actually contact his brother, but he soon learns that there is something odd going on in Midway, and he, the expert taxonomist, is soon facing something he’s never seen or heard of before.  It’s a good start to a short arc, and it’s nice to see that Snyder is expanding his story and addressing new topics within the context of his vampire story.

The art on this issue is by Roger Cruz, which was a bit of a surprise to me.  I remember Cruz as a 90s Marvel artist (and so with little fondness), but in this issue he manages quite well, giving us work that evokes regular series artist Rafael Albuquerque.

The Li’l Depressed Boy #10

Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Sina Grace

I worked at a movie theatre for two weeks when I was in high school (for the record, I quit, they didn’t fire me, mostly because I objected to being scheduled during the day when I had school, but the general stupidity of the place mitigated the whole thing) so I could relate to the stunned look on the LDB’s face as he went through the motions of cleaning up popcorn and ripping tickets.

It’s been a little while since we’ve seen the LDB, so it’s nice to have a new issue of this comic, even if it’s a little disjointed.  LDB starts his new job, passes out, and then goes to a concert.  Later, listening to music, he either flashes back to a summer camp experience or imagines one – that part is unclear.

There is a cameo by the rapper Childish Gambino, who is really the actor Donald Glover from Community.  I haven’t listened to his music, so can’t comment on how his persona is portrayed here.

As much as I still get lulled by the charm of this comic, I fear I’m getting a little bored by it.  It’s nice to see that in this issue LDB is living up to his name a little more, but at the same time, that means that a nice, gentle character is miserable.  Of course, that’s what we read fiction for – so we can feel better about our own lives.

The New Deadwardians #2

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by INJ Culbard

I find I’m really liking this Vertigo mini-series.  Dan Abnett has constructed an alternate history where, we learn this issue, in 1861, a plague of zombies (or ‘Restless’, as they are called in the story) overwhelmed England.  Many of the upper class felt it necessary to take ‘The Cure’ in order to protect themselves – this turned them into ‘Young’, which we know as vampires.

Now, it’s 1910, and a vampire’s body has been found, and it appears that he was murdered in some fashion other than the only three ways in which one can kill a vampire.  This has our main character, Chief Inspector George Suttle, rather confused.  When it turns out that the deceased undead is Lord Hinchcliffe, an advisor to the crown, then there is a strong need to solve the case quickly and quietly.

Abnett is taking his time with this story, examining various aspects of this society, where ‘Brights’, or regular people, are confined to menial tasks and a lower place in society.  It seems that British class dramas are making a resurgence on television with Downtown Abbey, and I like that Abnett is playing within that genre.  I also appreciate that he has not chosen (so far at least) to turn this into a Jack the Ripper related comic; that has been done to death.

INJ Culbard’s art works nicely with this story.  He has a good sense of the period.

The Secret History Book 18: The End of Camelot

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordey

It’s been four months since the last issue of The Secret History came out, and now this week, Archaia decides to release two issues at the same time – one that was supposed to come out in November of last year, the other December.  I know that sometimes companies that are trying to get caught up will release two issues of the same comic in the same week (Marvel did it a little while back with Captain America), but this book is $6 an issue, so that’s a little rough on peoples’ wallets.  Especially when it could be another four or five months before the next issue comes around – why didn’t they simply warehouse it for three weeks or so?  I’m never going to understand the way Archaia does business.

Case in point:  This issue references things that happened in the Games of Chance spin-off mini-series, which was supposed to come out months ago, and then was canceled and resolicited as a single hardcover, which hasn’t come out yet. This is especially egregious when you consider that this is one of the most continuity-drenched, complex comics published.

This particular volume has two points of focus.  It opens with the story of a mysterious artifact that has been lost in Lake Meade, near the Hoover Dam.  It causes strange happenings in Las Vegas, downriver, and later affects the behaviour of the Lake’s most famous resident – Howard Hughes, who wants to assassinate JFK.

The other story that takes up most of this book is that of recurring character Curtis Hawk, who is still hunting St. John Philby, and his son Kim, who were responsible for the death of his wife.  Curtis has been the most accessible character in this book to date, so it’s good to see him, at an advanced age, keeping up the good fight.

This book is always a dense and complicated read, but I enjoy it for that.  Kordey’s art feels looser in this issue.  Now to go read the other one that came out…

The Secret History Book 19: The Age of Aquarius

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordey

The second issue of The Secret History to come out this week is a much smoother read.  Perhaps it’s just that Book 18 refamiliarised me with the world of the Archons and their centuries-long interference with human history, but I found that this is a much more balanced and readable volume.  It also checks in with more characters, and advances the plot much further.

This issue opens in 1968 with the assassination of Martin Luther King (all a part of Howard Hughes’s plans), before moving over to check in with Reka, who is embracing the hallucinogenic potential of the time.  She finds that dropping LSD makes it possible for her to visit the lost city of Kor, and she plans a gigantic event that will let her tap in to the love energy and drug-fueled excitement of thousands of people to amplify her own trip (what is that event?  the cover makes it clear).

Curtis, now in his seventies, gets a tip as to the whereabouts of his enemy Kim Philby, and travels to Prague during the Prague Spring to take him out.  Dyo is also pulling strings in Prague, making sure that his Soviet Union gets what he wants.

Erlin, meanwhile, is trekking through the jungles of Mexico, searching for Mayan ruins, which predict the date of the end of the world, which also matches up with the predictions of his old friend Nostradamus.  As we all know, the date for this is set to take place this year, and unfortunately, the way things have been working at Archaia, we aren’t likely to see another issue of this comic until after the world ends.

I have long enjoyed Igor Kordey’s work on this series, and have used it as an example to counter-balance his vilification at the hands of American comics readers after his notoriously rushed issues of New X-Men, but was extra impressed by his work on this volume.  In addition to his usual pencils, he has also retouched photographs of Woodstock to fit with the needs of the story – I thought it was a cool change in the look of the book.

Quick Takes:

All Star Western #8 – Moritat has been killing it on this book with his art, and Jonah Hex’s big fight with the young female member of the August 7 is a perfect example of how great he is.  The story is decent, as Jonah’s infiltration of the anti-immigrant group doesn’t last past Dr. Arkham’s interference.  The Nighthawk and Cinnamon back-up works, although I find it a little odd that two people raised and trained by people from another race in the Old West would ever end up hooking up.

Exile on the Planet of the Apes #2 – Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko’s prequel to the original movie continues to be a very exciting look at the politics of Ape City, as an exiled ex-general raises a human army for purposes that haven’t been made clear yet.  This series is very nicely balanced between intrigue and character development, and features nice art by Marc Laming.  Recommended.

FF #17 – Now that his lengthy epic is over, Jonathan Hickman is sitting back a bit and having some fun with his characters.  This comic stars Peter Parker, who is dealing with the fact that Johnny Storm has been his roommate for three weeks, and things aren’t going all that well.  Hickman makes this comic read like the old Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League comics, and Nick Dragotta does a wonderful job drawing it.  A very good issue (although too many like this would turn me off).

Flash #8 – Francis Manapul uses this issue to introduce Turbine, a character who has been trapped in the Speed Force like Mon-El in the Phantom Zone since the Second World War, and who has figured out just how many of Flash’s powers work.  Of course, he’s gone kind of crazy since then, but his interactions with Barry let them wander around the odd environment of the Force, which gives Manapul the chance to draw some crazy stuff.  Next issue, there will be gorillas.

Justice League Dark #8 – The third part of the Curse of the Vampires cross-over achieves nothing, really.  There is a lot of Madame Xanadu and Zatanna whining about how hopeless their plight is, while Constantine and Deadman fail utterly at their mission (more or less), while something happens to Shade which looks to finish his time in this book.  This crossover is pretty much a failure at this point, and I’d be done with this series were Jeff Lemire not taking it over next month.

I, Vampire #8 – And once again, Joshua Hale Fialkov saves this crossover from being completely useless, as he brings Andrew Bennett back from the dead to deal with Cain, and gives him new powers and a new direction.  Bennett has reclaimed his place as King of the Vampires, and has left his human companions to follow a plan he laid out long ago.  This book is good at keeping me just interested enough to keep buying new issues.

Punisher #10 – The Omega Effect crossover I never wanted to buy continues to be pretty good.  Punisher, Spidey, Daredevil, and Punisher’s new friend Rachel Cole-Alves team up to take care of this whole ‘omega drive’ issue that DD has been having.  Their alliance is an uneasy one, and DD takes advantage of a few quiet moments to try to reach out to Cole.  I feel like the purpose of this crossover was to highlight the work that Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto have been doing with this title, and it’s not bad at all.  I like the way Checchetto draws DD’s costume.

Daredevil #11 – So well The Omega Effect ends well, it doesn’t actually resolve the Omega Drive story that has been running in DD’s title for a while now.  There are some very nice scenes between Matt and Rachel Cole, but this is not really the happy-go-lucky Daredevil that Waid’s run has been known for.

Secret Avengers #26 – I’ve been ambivalent about the whole AvsX thing, because I’m increasingly finding myself unhappy with how titles I enjoy basically go on hiatus for a few months every year, while Marvel Editorial dictates everything about them.  This issue launches the Secret Avengers tie-in, which only features three members of that team (and really, Captain Britain has only been around a minute, so he barely counts), as they team up with a group of Avengers to fly into space and intercept the Phoenix force.  Obviously, their mission has to drag out a few months, or the cross-over would be unnecessary, so we get a weird story about the Kree that doesn’t exactly reflect the work that Jonathan Hickman has been doing with that race in Fantastic Four.  I like Renato Guedes’s art a great deal – it has a European flavour to it that evokes the late great Moebius in a few panels – but apparently he hasn’t read a comic with The Beast in it since Frank Quitely redesigned the character some fifteen years ago.  This is the old school Beast, and his appearance threw me right out of the comic.  Doesn’t anyone check for things like that?

Supercrooks #2 – I thought that the first issue of Supercrooks worked quite well, as it set up a story about a desperate group of powered criminals who need money fast, but have realized that they have no chance of succeeding in a heist in America, which is lousy with superheroes.  They decide instead to pull a job in Spain, where there are no powered people.  This issue starts out okay, as the main characters put together their team (personally, I could have done without the Millar-ian excesses of the illegal fighting match).  The problems start when the group arrive in Spain, and we learn that Johnny Bolt’s plan involves three other powered heroes already in Spain – two of whom have been established as the main heroes of the US.  The story logic just doesn’t hold up.

The Twelve #12 – JMS and Chris Weston’s long delayed epic story of revived WWII heroes comes to its end in this issue, which is a very long epilogue to the story.  The early issues of this book were studies in character development, while the latter ones were needed to wrap up plot.  This issue is all about the closure, and as such, very little happens, except that we learn Mastermind Excello’s rather ridiculous origin story, and we see what happens to our heroes in the end.  Weston is great, but the story feels a little too drawn out this month.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #9 – One of the things that I like about this comic is that Jonathan Hickman has the freedom to do whatever he wants in it, including things that could never happen in the Marvel Universe without being immediately reversed (like the last page, which I’m not going to talk about here).  The conflict between the People and the Children goes poorly, as does SHIELD’s attempt to apprehend the Ultimates.  Lots of destruction all around; it’s hard to believe that this comic exists in the same continuity as Ultimate Spider-Man

Uncanny X-Men #11 – This AvsX tie-in confirms my original thought, which is that one doesn’t need to read the main book; the tie-ins recap it endlessly, and perhaps make it better.  Yes, that’s right, I just more or less said that Greg Land is better than John Romita Jr., and in this case, I stand by it, as while he may have been tracing these pictures off gay porn videos, at least his work doesn’t look as rushed as Romita’s has.  Kieron Gillen is also doing a much better job with the writing, as he explores the characters of this book, their thoughts and motivations, making this a character-driven tie-in to an overly plot-driven event.  Cyclops’s behaviour makes a little more sense in this comic.  Still, I can’t wait for this stuff to finish, and for things to get back to normal (ie., be very good again).

X-Men Legacy #265 – Once again, Christos Gage’s run on this title is not bad, but it’s not all that good either.  Now Mimic is living at the school again – I don’t know if anyone is going to care though.

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

Astonishing X-Men #49

Captain America #10

Moon Knight #12

New Avengers #25

Wolverine #305

Bargain Comics:

Amazing Spider-Man #680 – Dan Slott is joined by Chris Yost to write this issue, which has Spidey and the Human Torch investigating some strange happenings on Horizon’s space station, where John Jameson is stationed.  I couldn’t really detect Yost’s voice in this – it felt very much like a Slott issue, by which I mean it was very well-written.  Giuseppe Camuncoli is inked by Klaus Janson, an artist I wish got more work these days.  I’d love to see him pencil more often.

Avengers #23 – This Avengers vs. Norman Osborn part two story is too silly to work with.  There is no reason why the general public has turned against the Avengers to this degree.  More thoughts on this and its sister series will be below.

Batwing # 7 & 8 – There is some improvement in this title as Dustin Nguyen takes over the art duties, but the ‘surprise’ revelation of Massacre’s identity was telegraphed back in the fourth or fifth issue, and the sudden explanation of why the African superteam The Kingdom fell apart is unnecessarily confusing, and doesn’t exactly fit with the last ten years of Congolese political history.  My standard complaint remains – that this book, about an African Batman, does not feel very African.  You might be able to say the same thing about many Black Panther comics (especially if said comics were written by Reginald Hudlin), but Marvel established early on that T’Challa was from an isolationist, technologically advanced country.  DC is making it clear that David comes from Congo, yet don’t go very far to insist that the character have a ‘Congolese’ feel to him.  Still, improvement is improvement, and it was kind of nice to see the whole Bat-Family working together in these issues.

Blue Beetle #5 & 6 – The beginning of this series was criticized for being too much like the Giffen and Rogers take on this character.  Well, to deal with that problem, Tony Bedard has Jaime cut all ties with his friends and family in this issue, which is a pretty effective way of taking care of that particular issue.  I’ll admit, I’m a little more curious about this comic now, and should probably grab a few more issues…

Legion Lost #5 & 6 – No matter how you cut  it, this comic just isn’t all that good.  What a shame that is too, as some of my favourite Legionnaires (Wildfire, Dawnstar, Timber Wolf, and Tyroc) have the title almost to themselves, but neither Fabian Nicieza or Tom DeFalco seem to be able to do much with them.  How I long for a good Legion comic…

New Avengers #20-24 – These issues cover the second time that Norman Osborn tried his Dark Avengers trick, through to the beginning of the AvsX tie-ins.  I dropped this title because I felt like Brian Michael Bendis was simply recycling ideas that aren’t even all that old in bringing back Osborn, and having him pick a group of villains to create his own Avengers team.  This time around, the whole thing was much worse than before, as Osborn’s motivations, nor those of his team, were ever properly explored, beyond the simple desire for revenge from Gorgon and Hawkeye’s brother.  This is some of the most two-dimensional writing I’ve ever seen from Bendis, which is only saved a little at the very end by the conflict between Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, two characters Bendis always writes well.  Further underscoring the sloppiness of the rest of the comics is the scene where Avengers Mansion is taken over by ‘Federal Authorities’.  In fact, in numerous places, we hear about these ‘authorities’, who are never named.  I know that no one in the Marvel U seems to know if SHIELD is working or not, and the comics have gone out of their way to name any organizations since Captain America has come back from the dead, but it’s time for a flow chart or something.  Sloppiness all around, wrapped up in boring Mike Deodato art.

Resurrection Man #5-7 – I was surprised, when this series started, that I didn’t like it more, seeing as it is written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and had nice Jackson Guice-style art from Fernando Dagnino.  I think what turned me off was the whole Heaven Vs. Hell angle that the series started with.  I thought it was time to give it a second look, and I’m much happier with these issues, which have Mitch Shelley stumbling through life trying to figure out what’s going on with himself and his abilities.  We see a flashback to Iraq (featuring Deathstroke), where Shelley was a military scientist and a real jerk, and we also see him locked up in Arkham Asylum for a bit.  This series has become much better – I’ll check out the upcoming Suicide Squad tie-in, and may even stick around after that.

Wolverine and the X-Men Alpha & Omega #2 – Nothing about this Quentin Quire centred mini-series feels particularly like it’s been written by Brian Wood, and that does not bode particularly well for his upcoming stints on X-Men and Ultimate Comics X-Men so far as I’m concerned.  The story is decent – Quire has trapped Logan and Armor in his head, where he has them running through a video game-like scenario, while he struggles to maintain control.  There are some nice moments between Quire and Mercury, but in all, this doesn’t feel very essential.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Popgun Volume 3

Edited by Mark Andrew Smith and DJ Kirkbride

There’s something very satisfying about opening up and diving into a comics anthology like the Popgun series, even before reading any of the stories in it.  I think a lot has to do with the beautiful design and the weight of the book, which clocks in at slightly over 450 glossy pages.  The book is a work of art on its own, and is something to be celebrated.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for all of the stories in this third volume.  Like when I read the fourth, I find that the variety of audiences to whom the creators are presenting their work makes this a very scattered book to read.  I have nothing against all ages comics (well, I don’t really like reading them, but I’m happy they exist), but I don’t understand how a cute-sy, kid-oriented story about picking apples can be in the same book as a story about a traveling fighter (named the Bastard) who fights a giant rooster in a story so replete with cock jokes that they are just about the only dialogue in the story.  You would never give this book to a child, and so I wonder if the kid-oriented stories ever get enjoyed the way they are meant to.

In any book this size, and with such a variety of creators represented (76, according to the back cover), there is bound to be stories that resonate, and others that sink.  I particularly enjoyed the early appearance of the Skullkickers by Jim Zubkavich and Chris Stevens, which show an earlier version of our heroes, before the dwarf actually became a dwarf (unless Stevens’s perspective was just way off).  There is also an early version of Nathan Edmondson and Christian Ward’s Olympus, which ended up being very different from what is shown in this story.

I also enjoyed stories by Alberto Mielgo, Michael Dialynas, Peter Berting, Connor Williamson, Jason Ibarra (working with Zubkavich, who apparently does no wrong), Mark Andrew Smith and Johann Leroux, Amanda Becker and Janet Kim, Ray Fawkes and Justin Randall (whose art looks a lot like Brett Weldele’s), Paul Grist, Danilo Beyruth, and Derek Yu.

My two favourite stories were ‘Nudging Buddy’ by Ron Turner, and ‘Ever Upward’ by Tonci Zonjic.  The Turner story is a noir-ish tale about three friends who have fallen into crime while on vacation in Greece.  It has a nice pace and a surprising ending.  Zonjic’s story is a tribute to Joe Kittinger, the first man to break the speed of sound.

This book covers a number of genres, and really does have something for just about anyone.  I wish there was a little more balance in the selection of stories, and some of them really are dumb, but overall this is a very successful project.

Album of the Week:

Blu – NoYork!

Blu is one of the most unconventional artists in hip-hop today.  He doesn’t really release albums anymore – this is really just a mixtape with better than average production values.  It has beats by Flying Lotus and Madlib, and Blu’s usual laconic flow floating over it all.  There’s some great stuff here, and it’s a shame this isn’t better distributed (I had to order my copy from a store in San Diego).

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