The Weekly Round-Up #127 – The Post-TCAF Edition With Morning Glories, BPRD, Fairest & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Morning Glories #18

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

If there’s one thing about Nick Spencer’s terrific series Morning Glories that you can always count on, it’s that there is always another layer to the story waiting to be uncovered.  And it seems that each new layer adds new intrigue and mystery to the title.

This month, instead of the conclusion to the P.E. arc that we were expecting, we receive an issue that focuses on Jun, the quietest and most enigmatic of the main characters.  It’s worth remembering that Jun’s name is really Hisao, and that he switched names with his brother Jun, who is also a student at Morning Glories Academy.  Hisao has been thoroughly brainwashed by the faculty at the school, and it’s been very unclear as to just what Jun’s role in this series was going to be.

This issue begins a few years before the start of the series, where Jun (still called Hisao at that point) is being trained at an MGA-like facility.  We see him shooting a rifle, and then getting into a fight with his rival, a boy named Guillaume when he tries to take his target to Abraham, who appears to run this facility.  At that point, we see a glimpse of Ms. Darabont, the head teacher at MGA negotiating with Abraham for six students, one of whom is Guillaume.

In the present, Jun gets into a fight with Hisao, who believes that the strange events of a few issues back, which resulted in all the faculty and guards vanishing from the school, is his fault.  They fight, before Jun is rescued by Guillaume.

Apparently, Guillaume and Jun are there on some kind of mission to rescue Abraham.  It’s all a little complicated (not this series!), but also very interesting.  I would need to go back through some back issues, but I’m pretty sure that we saw Abraham visit each of the core cast members in flashbacks, but I’d assumed that he was recruiting them for the MGA, not for something else.  Also of interest is the relationship between Jun and Guillaume, which I’m sure could get the book banned in South Carolina…

Once again, Spencer delivers a compelling and mysterious book that raises more questions than it answers, but that is also a master class in character writing.

Other Notable Comics:

BPRD Hell on Earth – The Pickens County Horror #2

Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Art by Jason Latour

I’m a couple weeks late in reading this comic (thanks Diamond!), but it was well worth it, as these short little BPRD mini-series that the people in the Mike Mignola department of Dark Horse are putting out so many of these days are really quite excellent.

Everyone loves a big epic, sweeping story, but we sometimes forget that a focused, taut little mini-series can be just as, if not more, rewarding.  With the Pickens County Horror, Mignola and co-writer Scott Allie have crafted a terrific little look at the types of missions undertaken by the agents of the BPRD who aren’t Abe Sapien, Johann Kraus or Liz Sherman, but that are regular people involved in some deeply weird crap.

This issue concludes the story of just what some American vampires (no relation to Scott Snyder’s Vertigo characters) have been up to in rural South Carolina.  Mignola has rarely shown vampires in his Hellboy-verse (which is not in the same continuity as his Baltimore stories), but whenever they’ve appeared, there have been hints at a larger plot to literally seed the world with vampires, preparing for a particular date when they would all awaken.

In this story, Agents Vaughn and Peters have taken refuge in a shack covered in crosses, and lived in by an old man who is there to study vampires.  Peters is quite ill, and we learn that whatever the strange fog is that has descended on the town every night, it’s had a hand in changing Peters into something else.

This issue is mostly filled with action, and Jason Latour has done a terrific job of filling the scenes with some creepy images.  The creatures that come out of the fog are kind of like jellyfish-people, which he makes work, and his establishing shots are great.

When I first saw that Dark Horse was planning on flooding the shelves with BPRD mini-series this year, I was annoyed (for the same reasons I don’t like Marvel’s double-shipping of their titles), but I do really like the way they are using these short series to examine different aspects of the ‘Hell on Earth’ status quo in this series.  So long as they keep giving us new situations like this, with such terrific art, I’m going to be buying whatever they come out with.

Fairest #3

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning

I think that I’m getting closer and closer to being done with Fables and its spin-off title Fairest.  The parent book has moved from being an edgy ‘mature readers’ comic into being a drawn-out kids comic about kingdoms of lost toys and children being trained to take on ‘important roles’, with none of the dread or forward planning that used to make the book such a good read.  Fine, I thought, at least Willingham is going to use this new series, which is to spotlight the female characters of his gigantic cast, to tell the types of stories that he used to use the main title for.

Instead, we get a lengthy adaptation of the Disney Snow White movie, with a few bare breasts tossed in to keep things ‘edgy’ (because as we all know, breast are evil).  For a book that should be about the empowerment of female women, from a writer who has written a number of strong female characters over the last ten years of playing in this sandbox, this is a big disappointment.  The first issue was all about Ali Baba and his bottle imp.  The second was about Ali Baba trying to woo Briar Rose, and failing.  Now, this issue is mostly about the bottle imp working his powers of seduction – of a literary kind – on the Snow Queen.  None of these women appear particularly empowered; they are all acting in response to the two male figures in this comic.  Normally, I wouldn’t even notice something like that, but seeing as this title is supposed to come with a bit of a mission statement attached, I come to it with more sensitivity to things like that.

I’m definitely not disappointed in the art in this book though – Jimenez is killing it, if perhaps overdoing it a little on some of the ice constructs the Queen creates (kind of like Chris Bachalo drawing Iceman, only more delicate).

I’m going to stick out this arc, and from that point, I’ll read Fairest on an arc-by-arc basis, depending on who the creators will be.  I guess we won’t be seeing the next Chris Roberson Cinderella story anytime soon, after he so publicly resigned from DC the other week, which is too bad.  I hope they know better than to try to rush something through in order to meet publication dates; you never know with DC these days…

Fatale #5

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

The first ‘book’ of Brubaker and Phillips’s Fatale ends with this issue, as the reader really starts to see things come together.  Main character (of the flashback sequences, at least) Hank Raines has been abducted by the cultists, while Walt Booker, having performed some blood magic on himself, goes to meet with Josephine for what is probably the last time.

Since this book began, it’s been a bit of a guessing game to try to figure out where each character’s loyalties lie.  It’s been clear that Hank is under Jo’s spell, as Booker used to be, but the extent to which Booker has escaped her influence has never been too clear.

Those questions get cleared up here, and not necessarily in the way I expected.  We also get a good sense of the threat posed by Bishop and his people, and everyone ends up in a big fight scene in some creepy tunnels under San Francisco.

The issue then moves to an epilogue set in our time, where Nick is still trying to piece together what happened to his godfather, and what has happened to him.  I’m not sure if the next arc is going to remain in the current day, or if we will also see more flashbacks to Hank Raines’s day.

Fatale has been a huge success for Brubaker and Phillips, and it is completely deserving of that, although I’m a little surprised that Criminal, their noir crime series, hasn’t been more popular, as it was a much more accessible piece of work.  Who knows – maybe there is a renaissance of more sophisticated comics readers underway?  Or maybe it’s just because Image better knows how to market a book like this than Marvel can.

iZombie #25

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

After this, there are only three issues of iZombie left to be published before the series comes to its end.  That 28th issue will also be Chris Roberson’s last for DC, after he disparaged the company’s ethics on the Internet the other week, and was then removed from an arc he was slated to write for Fairest because of it.  Many people agree with Roberson’s viewpoints, some don’t, and to many, it doesn’t matter, because not all that many people read this comic, compared to the rest of DC’s output.

And therein lies the real shame of all this, because iZombie is pretty good.  Roberson has been building this story for two years now, and we are moving into pay-off mode, as the final story arc begins here.  There is going to be an apocalypse in Eugene, of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer variety, and Gwen and her friends seem to be the best bet for stopping it.

Much of this issue is used to set up the last few issues.  Gwen receives ‘training’ from Amon in tapping into her full potential, and they take a little astral tour of the town, which is suffering from multiple incursions of weird monsters, as a precursor to Xitulu’s appearance, which will destroy the world.  Along the way, we check in with every member of the cast of this book, and see just where they are placed on the grand chessboard.

This issue is notable because it reveals some of diner owner Dixie’s history, although not her connection to the line of dolls that share her name.  I suspect that the axe dropped a little soon on this title, or we would have seen a flashback issue or arc starring Dixie at some point.

As always, Michael Allred’s art in this book is wonderful.  I  think a monthly dose of Allred is what I’m going to miss the most when this title is gone.

Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #5

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Tonci Zonjic

I wasn’t all that invested in this series when it began, but by the end, I was really pretty happy with it.  I think the first issue started off a little too slowly for my liking and was too mired in the standard trappings of a pulp vigilante to really catch my interest.  What kept me coming back was the strength of Tonci Zonjic’s art (no surprise there – the guy’s stuff is gorgeous), although I slowly developed more of an interest in the story.

The biggest problem with this series is that I don’t care about Lobster Johnson at all.  The guy is a cipher – we know nothing about his motivations, or why he has such a dedicated network of helpers.  He doesn’t seem like the type that anyone would go out on a limb for.  I think that future stories featuring him will really need to work at fleshing him out – it’s not like when he first appeared in the Hellboy comics and fit in a supporting role – if he’s going to star in his own book, there has to be a reason to care for him.

Still, I did enjoy this series in the long-run, but mostly because of the incredible set pieces that Mignola and Arcudi set up for Zonjic to draw.  Previous issues had some very cool scenes featuring the Black Flame, and this issue has an amazing image of the Lobster and a basement full of cannibals (although I don’t understand how they are distinct from zombies).

Mind the Gap #1

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback

I wasn’t sure if this new series was for me or not, but I’m always willing to sample an extra-sized first issue when it’s released at a regular price, so I gave this a try.

Jim McCann’s Mind the Gap is definitely different, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to read it a second time to figure out some of the nuances of this comic, but it has me pretty intrigued right now.  The book opens with a series of phone calls, as friends and family of Ellis Peterssen, an actress (I assume) and beautiful young woman suffers some sort of attack at a subway station.  She is taken to a hospital, where she is in a coma.

There’s a lot more going on than just that though.  It’s clear that the attack on Ellis was planned, and is part of some larger group of events that have been set into motion.  A number of the people standing vigil around Ellis’s bedside appear suspicious.  Her brother is a jerk, and really, so is her boyfriend.  There is a dust-up between two doctors over Ellis’s treatment, and what information is being kept in her file compared to what is on her chart.

Oh yah, and Ellis is kind of hovering over her body watching the whole thing; at least she is until she meets another phantom, who is also in a coma somewhere, and is there to school Ellis on the whole situation.

There’s a lot happening in this comic, and its structure makes me think of the more recent vogue in television dramas of embracing weirdness and portioning out information over a long period of time (Lost being the best example).  In a lot of ways, this feels as much like a TV pilot as it does the beginning of a comics series, but I’m okay with that.

Rodin Esquero’s art is lovely.  He’s best known for his covers on the brilliant Morning Glories (which, in terms of tone, is similar to this book), and he does a good job with the various emotions that Ellis’s circle feels while standing at her bed.  I’m definitely going to be getting the next issue of this.

Mystery in Space #1

Written by Duane Swierczynski, Andy Diggle, Ming Doyle, Ann Nocenti, Nnedi Okorafor, Steve Orlando, Robert Rodi, Kevin McCarthy, and Michael Allred
Art by Ramon Bachs, Davide Gianfelice, Ming Doyle, Fred Harper, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Francesco Trifogli, Sebastian Fiumara, Kyle Baker, and Michael Allred

There’s nothing quite like a good anthology book, as I attest with each new issue of Dark Horse Presents.  Lately, Vertigo has also entered the anthology business, putting out a one-shot every quarter or so.  This one uses a space and science fiction theme, and it contains some very good stories, and some I could have done without.

What first struck me about this book is that it is largely made by people who I either don’t associate with Veritgo comics (Duane Swierczynski, Ramon Bachs, and Kyle Baker), or by people that I am completely unfamiliar with (Nnedi Okorafor, Steve Orlando, Kevin McCarthy, Fred Harper, and Francesco Trifogli).

There are a couple of themes that keep being revisited in this book, such as a future where people lack control over their lives and actions, and stories that involve people not perceiving things properly.  These are good stories, and they are all told quickly.

I did have trouble getting through Okorafor and Kaluta’s story about a carnivorous jungle (although it was lovely), and McCarthy and Baker’s story of two cultures discovering a powerful new substance.  It was kind of tedious, and Baker drew it in the cartoon style of his that I don’t actually enjoy.

I found that I most enjoyed Diggle and Gianfelice’s story about revolution, Doyle’s tale of love and suspended animation, and Rodi and Fiumara’s tale of love in a space junkyard.

Orlando and Trifogli’s story about centaurs and self-determination was one of the most interesting, but also a little hard to follow.  I would like to see more of Trifogli’s art.  I look forward to Vertigo doing another book like this soon, but would like to see a little more variety in terms of themes.

Skullkickers #14

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang, Misty Coats, and M. Goodwin

This issue of Skullkickers moved into unexpected territory very quickly.  We’d been promised the story behind Baldy’s gun, and we do learn where he got it from in this issue, but it was not in a way I ever could have predicted.

The comic starts with him still on the sailing ship from last issue, fighting a slimy monster that just hatched out of an egg.  He makes reference to having fought one before, and the comic then moves into a flashback set in New Mexico in 1876, where notorious bounty hunter and gunfighter Rex Maraud has just arrived in a small town to do some monster hunting.  After the usual display of skill for some town idiots, Rex moves out to a site known for supernatural goings on, and waits for a cult to begin some kind of strange ritual.

Eventually, after fighting another slimy monster, he ends up in thrall to a Lovecraftian demon-thing.  Somewhere in all of that, he gets his gun.  We are promised that the next issue will show us how he ends up in the medieval fantasy land that we are used to, and where his hair went.

Jim Zubkavich is not one to fall back on conventional plotting or ideas, and I love how fresh each new issue of Skullkickers is.  This is Jonah Hex played for laughs, which is a nice change from the usual in this book, although I hope it doesn’t take long to get us back to the main story.

This issue also has a back-up collaboration story featuring Shorty and a girl from a comic called Princeless.  It’s cute, and nicely drawn, but I don’t know if it’s enough to get me to check out that other title.

Thief of Thieves #4

Written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

With each new issue of Thief of Thieves, Kirkman and Spencer have been revealing a new side to Redmond, the series’s titular character.  The first issue introduced him and his assistant, and the idea that he was ready to retire.  The second issue let us meet his ex-wife.  The third focused on the police detective who has been tracking him for years, while this latest issue is centred on his son, who looks just like him.

It seems that Augustus has followed in his father’s footsteps, only without any of his innate skills and talents.  Augustus is in custody awaiting trial, and if convicted, will fall under a ‘three strikes’ rule, thereby placing him in prison for a very long time.  Knowing this, the cop (or is she FBI?  she’s not identified in this issue and I forget) is trying to get information from him, but for now, he’s standing firm.

This is a very well-plotted book, as the final pages loop back the beginning of the first issue.  I think that all the set-up is finished with now, and expect that we are going to find the book moving quicker from this point out.  I like that Kirkman and Spencer have taken their time to build this series, but I think it’s time for a little more to start happening.  Still, with all this excellent Shawn Martinbrough art to look at, I’m fine with whatever pace they choose to set.

The Walking Dead #97

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

The newest arc in comics success story The Walking Dead begins with an issue that spotlights many of this series’s strengths.  The book opens in the Community, where people are holding a Sunday church service.  There are prayers for the safe return of Rick and his group, who we later see coming home after their time at the Hilltop over the last few issues.

They are soon approached by some of Negan’s men.  Negan is the leader of a group that calls itself the Saviors, and who we learned last month are more or less holding the Hilltop community hostage, extorting them for food and trade goods.  Of course, people who cross Rick don’t last long, and the seeds of the next big conflict are sown.

Once Rick’s group returns home, the book gets back to what it does best – having people go about the business of surviving.  Plans are made to prepare for conflict with Negan, and we learn that one of the cast members is pregnant.  Also, Rick and Andrea inch ever closer to one another, and Abraham starts to chafe under the perception that he is now subordinate to Rick.

What always makes this book work so well is the balance between plot and character, and the way in which Kirkman doesn’t let things slow down for long.  Of most possible importance here is the observation that some of the walkers are looking more decayed, and that Carl’s memory is returning to him.  This is great stuff as always, and as we approach the 100th issue, I find myself beginning to feel a little dread, as we all know that Kirkman likes to kill off main characters in landmark issues.

Wasteland #37

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Justin Greenwood

Wasteland is really finding its feet again after its long hiatus and recent return with a new artist who is keeping the book on a monthly schedule.  For the last few issues, our heroes Michael and Abi, and their companion Gerr have been in some trouble in the Crossed Chains (read that as Christian) town of Godsholm.  Now, with the two men surrounded, Abi is confronting the leadership of the town, and a good number of its citizens while holding an open flame to their Bible.  Needless to say, she gets their attention…

Johnston uses this issue to show the lasting changes wrought in Godsholm by the main characters’ appearance in the town, and returns the trio to the road.  The thing is, both Abi and Michael know that Gerr, who saved them from the Dog Tribe, is actually in the employ of Marcus, the insane ruler of Newbegin, where most of this series took place.

Two things have made this comic work over the years:  the depth and detail of Johnston’s world-building, and his strength in constructing strong characters.  This issue balanced both nicely, and has me excited to see where the wanderers are headed next.

Quick Takes:

Batman #9 – The Night of the Owls is in full effect, as Batman has to fight off a number of Talons who have attacked him in the Batcave.  While fighting them, he wears his Iron Bat-Suit, and drops the temperature in the cave to twenty below (that’s insanely cold in Fahrenheit, right?  I don’t speak American), which somehow wakes up a bunch of bats in a scene I don’t understand.  Also, the dinosaur does some stuff, which is cool but weird.  I know everyone loves this title, and I do like it, but I think that the back-up, co-written by Scott Snyder and James Tynion, and drawn by the superb Rafael Albuquerque makes the issue.  The back-up is going to reveal some of the secrets of the Wayne family, as revealed by Jarvis (seriously?) Pennyworth which tie in to the Court of Owls stuff.  The main story feels a little disjointed, especially in the aforementioned bat scene, and at the very end – some of this is due to Greg Capullo’s poor storytelling I think.  If only Albuquerque (or Francesco Francavilla) were drawing the whole book.

Batman and Robin #9 – Damian gets to take on a Talon of his own, in this Night of the Owls cross-over.  He is tasked with protecting a National Guard General on a training exercise.  Damian demonstrates both his tenacity and his strategic skill in this issue, and it’s another very good read.  Lee Garbett does most of the art, and while I prefer Patrick Gleason on this title, he does a very good job with it.  Damian is a character who could handle his own title, and if he was written as well as Peter Tomasi’s been writing him, I’d be happy to buy it.

Demon Knights #9 – This issue serves to launch the next large story for this book, as the band of heroes are sent on a quest by the princesses of Alba Sarum to journey to mystical Avalon to try to bring the recently murdered Merlin back to life.  Of course, Etrigan has his own plan in mind, and I’m sure it’s not going to be long before Vandal Savage betrays everyone again.  This is a very solid comic, especially considering the strangeness of its subject matter – a medieval Justice League of self-interested and untrustworthy ‘heroes’.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #9 I know that sales on this book aren’t all that great, so I’m not surprised to see that DC is trying to boost the books profile by tying in, very tangentially, to the critically acclaimed story that’s happening in writer Jeff Lemire’s other monthly book, Animal Man.  I think this is Lemire’s last issue of Frankenstein (soon to be replaced by Matt Kindt, another independent writer/artist I admire), but instead of closing things off, he’s leaving open the question of whether or not Frankenstein will remain with SHADE, and also builds the relationship between him and Nina.  It’s a good issue, answering the pivotal question of what ever happened to the body of that cop in Animal Man, but it still lacks the heart that that other title has.

Hell Yeah #3 – After the last issue, I was ready to drop Joe Keatinge and Andre Szymanowicz’s alternate reality series.  It felt way too similar to Infinite Vacation, and generally fell flat.  Well, this issue revived things quite a bit, with various versions of the main character appearing in this reality (including a Liefeld-90s version) trying to escape whoever it is that is killing them.  This issue was much more balanced and interesting, and I think I’ll give the book another chance, instead of dropping it next issue like I’d intended.

Higher Earth #1 – Sam Humphries is the new it writer, having made his splash with Our Love is Real and Sacrifice, and now splitting his time between his self-published projects, work for Marvel (see below), and a pair of series for Boom.  This first issue is only a dollar, so I thought I’d check it out, but I’m not sure if I was impressed.  It took a while to make sense of the random violence at the beginning of the issue, although the high concept – that some parallel Earths use others as garbage dumps and/or open pit mines – is interesting (if awfully similar to what Jonathan Hickman played with in The Red Wing).  There’s some guy who rescues a girl from a dump planet, and takes her to a better Earth, but I don’t understand why they are being pursued, and I’m not sure how much I care.

Invincible #91 Invincible rarely disappoints.  This issue follows up on some of the bigger events of the last few months.  Mark is still recovering from the Viltrimute Plague, but now he’s woken up in Dinosaurus’s lair, except Dinosaurus has reverted to human, and also doesn’t know what is going on.  Meanwhile, Mark’s friends are looking for him, which leads to a big fight with a completely Kirkmanesque surprise ending (which means I didn’t see it coming at all).  Great stuff.

Journey Into Mystery #637 – The JIM/New Mutants cross-over, Exiled, continues here with a slightly re-made world that has recast all of the Asgardians in Exiled #1 into local folk, with no memory of their previous lives as gods or Disir.  It’s the New Mutants who figure things out, and who manage to restore Loki to help them put things right.  As with the first chapter, the writing is excellent.  I should have mentioned the art last week, but this issue is also drawn by Carmine Di Giandomenico (I wonder if he’s going to do the whole event?).  His faces, especially Dani Moonstar’s, remind me a great deal of Barry Windsor-Smith’s art, while everything else fits within the Camuncoli/Gaudiano style that I like so much.  I miss Barry Windsor-Smith…

Suicide Squad #9, and Resurrection Man #8 & 9 – There have been a lot of these little cross-overs in the DCnU of late, and I figured this would be another good chance to check out Resurrection Man, a book I’m as on the fence about as I am Suicide Squad, except I’m only buying one of the two.  The Squad is after Mitch Shelley, because Amanda Waller wants to study his regenerative abilities.  This leads to a fairly standard dust-up between the casts of the two books.  As usual, the Squad comic falls short because it lacks the type of characterization and character-driven writing that would make it successful.  I wish both of these books were better…

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #10 I’ve always been a fan of comics where everything is falling apart, and Jonathan Hickman and new co-writer Sam Humphries have definitely put the Ultimate world into that state, with most of Washington wiped off the map, the Ultimates being hunted by SHIELD, and Tony Stark having health problems.  I do question some of the priorities of the new SHIELD leadership, but otherwise find myself enjoying this comic more and more.  Humphries is a welcome addition to the book – his Our Love is Real was one of the most memorable comics of last year, and I am loving his Sacrifice, and guest artist Luke Ross also performs commendably.  I still don’t understand how this is all happening in the same continuity as Ultimate Comics Spider-Man though…

Uncanny X-Force #25 – I hope Marvel isn’t planning on testing out this idea of stuffing some unwanted reprints in the back of a comic and then charging $4.99 for it, because that’s not cool.  This new issue of Uncanny X-Force is a good one – the team is dwindling as Psylocke and Fantomex both leave for various personal reasons, leaving only Logan, AoA Nightcrawler, and Deadpool to get involved with some high-tech assassination retail outlet, that has been cloning Omega Red (because every stupid 90s villain deserves a resurrection or two).  Mike McKone draws this issue, which gives it a very different look from what we usually see, but it works here.  The back-ups are both by Remender and Jerome Opena; one is a decent Wolverine story, and the other is a typically stupid Deadpool thing.

Wolverine and the X-Men #10 – At least Jason Aaron remembers that many people on opposing sides of the Avengers/X-Men fight are friends, especially with Wolverine having sided with the Avengers.  Cyclops pays the Jean Grey school a visit, and he and Logan have a chat, which doesn’t really resolve anything, but does give some of the other members of the cast the chance to defect to the Utopian perspective.  Wisely, Aaron also gives over some space in the book to Angel and Genesis, two of the most interesting characters in this comic, perhaps with the expectation that people reading this comic who usually don’t may stick around.  Chris Bachalo’s art is the best reason to keep coming back, as he is once again spectacular.  This is way better than Avengers Vs. X-Men.

X-Men Legacy #266 – I decided to give Christos Gage one last chance on this title (I generally like to support the $3 comics), and shee what he would do with the AvX-mandated crossover.  Rogue’s group (who strangely never really show up in Jason Aaron’s parent title) struggle with their response to the war with the Avengers, at least until an odd trio of that team (Falcon, She-Hulk, and Moon Knight) show up on their doorstep to keep an eye on them.  Marvel really isn’t going to great lengths to paint the Avengers in a sensitive light in this crossover.  Anyway, it’s a decent read, and I like how Gage is writing Fury.

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

Avengers Assemble #3

Avenging Spider-Man #7

Captain America #11

Dan the Unharmable #1

Fury MAX #1

New Avengers #26

Ultimate Comics X-Men #11

Wolverine #306

TCAF Goodies:

As I mentioned last week, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival is the best comics show that happens in Toronto each year.  It’s not like a comic convention – there are no dealers except for the shop that organizes the event, The Beguiling, few publishers, and almost no cos-players (I saw only one).  Also, the people who attend this free show are on the whole, better dressed, cleaner, and more attractive than the people you’ll see lined up for Fan Expo, the Toronto opposite.  Basically, TCAF is one gigantic artists alley, and the people who attend have to be vetted as having quality comics.  Here’s what I bought that I’ve read so far:

Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes

by Michael Cho

The first time I ever attended the Toronto Comics Art Festival was the last year that it was held at Victoria College, on the University of Toronto campus.  While looking around for comics to buy, I came across Michael Cho’s table, and was blown away by the prints he had made of some of his drawings and paintings of back alleys of Toronto.  I bought two, and they have been hanging in my house ever since.

Now, Drawn & Quarterly has published Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes, a collection of Cho’s urban scenes, which means I get to own all of these fantastic pieces of art, at an affordable price.

I have always been drawn to quiet or forgotten urban settings.  I have long been fascinated by abandoned buildings or spaces where progress has marched on.  The back alleys of Cho’s book are neither forgotten nor abandoned, but they often feel like they are.  The areas that he draws and paints are frequently shabby and devoid of human presence, just back walls, fences, and detritus.  There is a timeless quality to many of his pieces here, and save for the proliferation of satellite dishes and large plastic garbage and recycling bins, they could have been drawn at any point in the last hundred years.  These are the old neighbourhoods of Toronto that Cho captures here, and his record is appreciated in a city that is so determined to constantly reinvent itself.

These pictures were made using a variety of tools, from paints to ink markers, and they are largely organized by time of year and colour scheme.  His evening pictures perfectly capture the orangey-yellow of life under mercury vapor street lights, while his winter scenes, tinted blue, evoke the cold of a Toronto winter (okay, not lately).  Spring is filled with greens, while his autumn pictures are more reddish and yellow.

Every page of this book feels familiar, although there are few scenes I can identify with any certainty.  Cho has captured aspects of my city that I love, and I am certain that this is a book I am going to treasure.  It is a beautifully designed book, and I’m pleased that Drawn & Quarterly put this together for us.

Foster #1 & 2

Written by Brian Buccellato
Art by Noel Tuazon

When I looked through this month’s Previews, the one new project that most caught my eye was Foster, a self-published series by Brian Buccellato (co-writer of The Flash, and colourist of many titles), and Noel Tuazon (who drew the wonderful graphic novel Tumor). The title sounded very cool, so I figured I would give it a chance, and added it to my pull-list.

Luckily, I hadn’t sent in my July order yet, because Noel Tuazon was at TCAF this last week-end, and had the ‘Special Limited Edition’ of the first two issues for sale.  Despite their costing significantly more than the direct market editions will be selling for, flipping through these comics, I knew I had to have them.  That Tuazon drew a sketch on the back covers of each was really just a bonus.

Foster is a very good comic.  It’s set in a gritty, 1970s style city (apparently it’s an amalgam of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles).  Foster, the title character, is an unhappy alcoholic Vietnam veteran who lives in a rat-trap apartment.  When his junkie neighbour Trina disappears, he ends up looking after her young son Ben.  Foster feels some responsibility for the kid, as he and Trina were together for a while, before her behaviour brought back too many memories of his childhood.

The next day, after dropping Ben off at school, and deciding to wash his hands of the kid, Foster is visited by a large and menacing character – one of the Dwellers, a race that lives secretly alongside mankind, who is looking for the kid.  They aren’t vampires – they are more likely an offshoot of Neanderthal man.  There is a reason why they are after Ben, but I feel it’s pretty significant, so I don’t want to say what it is.

Needless to say, Foster feels the need to look out for the kid, although it’s not long before the police are interested in him as well, as is a researcher at the university.  There’s a lot going on here, as Buccellato plays with a number of genre tropes, but mixes them up in an interesting way.  By the time I got to the end of the second issue, I found myself completely invested in the story.

A lot of the credit for this goes to Tuazon.  He captures the urban environment perfectly, and his Dwellers are very menacing.  His art is not all that detailed, which leaves the finer features of the Dweller to the reader’s imagination, and that makes them all the more creepy.

This is a very good comic.  It’s in this month’s Previews, and I can not urge you enough to check it out and pre-order it.  I imagine that this is the type of project that a number of comic stores may not be aware of, so if you are interested, please speak to your retailer soon.  You won’t be sorry with it.  Also, check out Buccellato’s website to read previews or order your own copy (or a download).

Fragment

by John Lang, with Jeff Sebank

This self-published comic was an impulse buy that I picked up at TCAF.  Lang has just written and drawn a comic about the Canadian WWI pilot Billy Bishop called Lone Hawk, and I thought this comic looked interesting.  I was not disappointed.

In a short amount of space, Lang constructs a pretty detailed vision of the future.  The story is set in 2036, in an America that has been riven once again with civil war and challenged by a new Depression.  Our main character wakes up for his night shift job only to learn that he and all his fellow employees have been laid off.  He makes his way to a bar, where we learn a great deal about the state of the Union from a news broadcast.  We also learn that our hero was involved in some ‘Uprising’ as a tech runner.

In a lot of ways, it feels like Lang was setting up a much longer series with this comic.  This comic was published in 2006, so it predates many of the financial problems that the comic depicts, which struck much sooner than the forecasted time frame.  If one sees the ‘Uprising’ as a form of Occupy Wherever, this book looks even more prescient.

Lang drew this comic in a noir-ish, thick lined manner that works very well with the material.  I enjoyed this comic, and I’m glad I picked it up.

The Mire

by Becky Cloonan

The Mire is a new mini-comic by comics goddess Becky Cloonan, which had its debut at TCAF last week-end.  This ‘TCAF Edition’ is slightly different from the version sold by Cloonan (buy it here, and get Wolves while you’re at it!) in that the cover stock is not of the same quality as what the official release will have.  Knowing that I already bought this comic as a preorder when it was first available months ago, I found I still couldn’t resist buying a copy from the lovely Ms. Cloonan in person.  That this edition has a very limited press run added to that desire.

Like Wolves, the mini-comic she made last year, this is a gorgeous little book.  It’s set in some medieval period, and it involves a young squire, Aiden, being sent by his knight to deliver a message on the eve of a great battle.  Aiden has to be sent through something called The Withering Swamp, as any other passage takes him through enemy lands.  This swamp is known as a haunted, supernatural place, and Aiden is forced to face his fears as he journeys through it.

This is a strange, creepy story, with some wonderful art.  There is a bit of a twist at the end of the book that I thought I could see coming, but I still found myself swept up in the story, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  Recommended.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle #8

by Michael Kupperman

This latest issue of Michael Kupperman’s whimsical anthology series isn’t scheduled for release until July (it’s in the issue of Previews that came out last week), but the fine people at Fantagraphics brought copies of it with them to TCAF this week-end, and I couldn’t resist getting my copy early.

As always, this is a great comic.  Kupperman opens this issue with some pages from ‘Red Warren’s Train & Bus Coloring Book’, a series of black and white images around the themes of trains (not many buses) and their peculiar mating habits.  These pages are narrated by Red Warren (I have no idea who that is) in a rather peculiar way.  Look out for the eyes!!!

The next story, ‘Murder, She Goat’ involves a famous lady detective who travels with a goat that helps her solve murders.  When she is invited to a party at a stately manor, the guests begin to question just why it is that people always die whenever this woman shows up.

After that comes an extremely educational comic strip history of Bertrand Copillon, ‘The Scythe’, a French hero who put his scything skills to good use in the 1400s to defend his country.

Almost half of the comic is taken up with ‘Moon 69 – the True Story of the 1969 Moon Launch’.  This story reveals, at long last, just how NASA was able to come up with their rocket design (a contest), where they recruited their astronauts (prison), and how the Three Musketeers saved them from Richard Nixon’s sandwich bombs.  This is a very funny strip, with guest appearances by Quincy and Columbo, and with an excellent sponsor in Roman pizza garden style ranch dressing – the salad dressing that will give you syphilis.

Kupperman is a singular talent, and his melange of old TV references with random story elements is never dull.  I highly encourage you to pre-order this comic now.

Bargain Comics:

Avenging Spider-Man #4 & 5 – I get it that the purpose of this comic is to replace the old Marvel Team-Up series, which had Spider-Man and a guest deal with some kind of problem in a done-in-one story each month, which frequently had longer arcs made up of individual chapters featuring a different guest hero.  These two issues have Spidey hanging out with Hawkeye and Captain America, and both issues feel pretty off.  To begin with, Hawkeye is acting like Johnny Storm without his Ritalin in his issue, not like the guy who has led multiple super-teams.  He’s juvenile, petulant, and annoying.  In the second issue, Spidey has some Captain America hero worship issues that might make more sense were he Miles Morales, and not Peter Parker, who has spent the last few years as an Avenger.  At least the fifth issue, with art by Leinil Francis Yu looks nice, unlike the Greg Land-traced fourth one.  I thought that Zeb Wells would have had a better handle on these characters though – it’s strange.

Born #1-4

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Darick Robertson and Tom Palmer

I haven’t read any of Garth Ennis’s Punisher comics, and I’ve never been particularly interested in reading any.  I think, some time after Preacher ended, I reached my saturation point on Ennis’s writing, unless he’s writing a war comic.  Somehow, his war comic starring the Punisher that came out in 2003 got past me until this last week.

Born shows us what the end of the Vietnam War was like for Frank Castle. He places Frank, on his third tour of duty, in a mostly forgotten Firebase (Valley Forge) near the Cambodian border.  The officer in charge just wants to wait out the war, and is concerned more about rocking the boat than keeping his men alive.  Most of the soldiers are addicted to drugs, and hardly anyone cares about doing their actual job.

Frank, being the super-soldier that he is, is holding everything together, although his motivations aren’t exactly pure either.  Ennis seems to suggest that the Punisher is a different persona, speaking to Frank, either from within, or from without, a concept that wasn’t ever picked up on again, to my knowledge.  I made a conscious decision to read this as more of a war comic than as a Marvel comic, so I tended to fixate more on how Ennis portrayed the war as one completely bankrupt of purpose and justification.  Many of the usual Vietnam tropes were trotted out (grenades in the latrines, the overwhelming number of enemies outside the wire, etc.), but Ennis always uses these elements to good effect.

Darick Robertson and Tom Palmer created some very nice art for this book, as both their reputations demand.  I did find that their Vietnamese did not often look very Vietnamese, but other than that, this was a very likeable comic.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Lost Dogs

by Jeff Lemire

In Timothy Callahan’s introduction to this new edition of Jeff Lemire’s first published graphic novel, Lost Dogs, he talks about how when he saw the first edition at MoCCA just after it came out, he almost passed on it due to the roughness of Lemire’s art.  This reminded me of a time a few years back, right before Sweet Tooth began, but after I’d read the Essex County books, when I was in a complete hole in the basement comic book store (we’ve all spent too much time in places like that) in Toronto’s north end, looking for some back issues.  They had a copy of Lost Dogs, I think priced at $10, but for some reason I don’t recall, I didn’t buy it.  Reading today that there was only a 700-copy press run for that book (it won a Xeric grant), I definitely regret not picking it up.

Anyway, thanks to Top Shelf, the chance to read the book, now with legible lettering, has come around again.  Lost Dogs is a pretty rough piece of work, but it’s not hard to see the seed of Lemire’s later brilliance in this very heart-felt graphic novel.

The book is about a gentle giant of a man who wears a red and white striped shirt, set some time in the late 19th or early 20th century.  He lives in a rural setting with his wife and daughter, and shortly after the book opens, they take a trip into a big city.  When the daughter begs to look at the boats in the harbor, the family is attacked by ruffians.  The man tries to fight back, but is overwhelmed and dumped in the water.  Later, he is found by some fisherman, and through a strange course of events, he ends up being used in some bare-fist boxing match to defeat the unstoppable Walleye Thompson.

As I said, the book, and Lemire’s art, are both very rough.  Lemire slops ink all over the place, and that creates a very distinct look for this comic.  Some of his panels and figures are awkward, but his better pages look very much like what we are used to seeing from him today.  I enjoyed this book as a piece of comic book archaeology, and as the only published piece of work by a creator that I admire a great deal that I have not read yet.

Strangers in Paradise Pocket Book Vol. 4

by Terry Moore, with Jimmy Palmiotti

I think it’s time for me to take a little break from Terry Moore’s award-winning and famous series for a little while.  I do find myself completely enthralled in the lives and tribulations of Francine, Katchoo, and all their friends, but I’m also finding reading these thick books so close to one another to be a little exhausting.

In the first three volumes, each of which contain some seventeen comics, there have been complete story arcs, which have always involved Katina Choovanski’s past rearing up to haunt her, and to drag her and her will-she or won’t-she best friend and wannabe lover into a maelstrom of violence.  In this fourth volume, that doesn’t really happen.  Instead, Francine gets engaged, becomes pregnant, breaks off her engagement, returns to Katchoo, they fight, Francine goes back to Brad, and the whole cycle keeps repeating itself.

I feel like perhaps,that Moore was starting to cast about for some new ideas to keep the series alive.  We have a number of new characters (a psychiatrist, a rape victim, an FBI Agent digging into Katchoo’s past), and old characters gaining new prominence, as Casey becomes close to Katchoo, and Tambi becomes close to David, for a little while at least.  We meet a couple more of the Parker Girls, deadly assassins and former operatives of Darcey Parker, Katchoo’s old boss.

Moore also plays around a little more than usual with time, and tries his hand at some metatextuality, such as in the scene where Francine’s grown daughter tries to sell the manuscript of her gigantic novel, which is basically a text version of this comic, and which asks some questions about how much of this comic is really taking place.  Actually, I found that kind of annoying, as it was abandoned almost immediately.

Still, strange tricks and circular plotting aside, this is an endlessly engaging and readable comic.  I look forward to reading the next two volumes, but I do need a bit of a break.

Album of the Week:

Fela Kuti & Egypt 80 – Fela Kuti Live in Detroit 1986

Strut Records has just released this recording of the Black President’s show in Detroit, with his Egypt 80 band.  It’s only four tracks, spread over two discs, but the tracks are often 40 minutes long.  Fela and his band are in top form, and this sounds like it was an amazing concert.

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