The Weekly Round-Up #128 With The Manhattan Projects, The Activity, BPRD, Conan & More

Columns, Top Story

Thanks to Diamond, my favourite shop didn’t have Wonder Woman #9 this week.  Hopefully it will show up next Wednesday.

Best Comic of the Week:

The Manhattan Projects #3

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

I guess if you’re going to have a comic about the hidden scientific projects that received funding from the real Manhattan Project, it’s probably best to drop the bomb at some point, and that’s exactly what Jonathan Hickman does in this issue.

This comic has been laying the groundwork for Hickman’s large-scale vision of scientific mayhem, but with this issue, much of it comes together into a cohesive whole.  The issue opens with Richard Feynman approaching Albert Einstein for advice on which delivery system to use for the atomic bomb (build both, says Albert), and then follows through Hickman’s interpretation of the bombing, with a few forays into theology and governance.

Hickman is clearly having a great time writing this book, using real-life members of the Manhattan Project to his own ends.  We learn in this issue that scientist Harry Daghlian didn’t die when exposed to high amounts of radiation, but instead became an undead living skeleton in a containment suit.  Hickman also hints in the back of the book that Italian scientist Enrico Fermi is not actually human.

Most amusingly, we are shown a scene where Harry Truman is presiding over a particularly bloody Freemason ritual when he learns that Franklin Delano Roosevelt has died, making him the president of the United States.  Of course, Roosevelt’s body is being hooked up to a machine in the Manhattan Projects, so that he can continue to live.

Hickman has conflated Roosevelt’s death with the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, events that took place almost four months apart in real life, which adds a lot more dramatic tension to the comic.  I’m really enjoying this book, which has excellent art by Nick Pitarra that still reminds me a little of Rick Geary’s work.  I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for something a little different.

Other Notable Comics:

The Activity #6

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Marc Laming

The Activity has come under a lot of criticism for its lack of character development and a long-term plot, but I am really enjoying this military series which works in a ‘done-in-one’ format.

This issue is set in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003, and features only one member of the regular cast – the character we’ve come to know as Fiddler.  She is part of an Army Civil Affairs unit that has been tasked with making contact with a group of Congolese fighters that are enemies of some warlord named Dugare, to share information and coordinate some further action.

Leslie (who became Fiddler upon joining Team Omaha) discovers that the guy her four-man unit is meeting with has actually allied himself with Dugare, and the Americans are soon pursued as they move towards their exfil site.

This is a pretty standard story, but it works very well as an exciting war comic.  Is there more going on here than what we see?  I’m not sure – I though that in the last issue the team was being sent to DR Congo, so perhaps the fall-out of this mission will affect the team in the future, but the next issue box says something about Kazakhstan (where they have to assassinate Borat?), so I don’t know when or if we’ll be returning to this setting.

The art in this issue is provided by guest artist Marc Laming, who as been impressing me on Exile on the Planet of the Apes.  I’m not sure where Mitch Gerads went – this is a creator owned book, so it’s odd to see a guest artist, but it’s all good, as Laming’s art fits with the look Gerads has crafted, and he’s a very good artist.  I do want to say that I don’t like the digitally added rain effect that is used throughout the comic – for a while I thought that there was perhaps a printing error in my copy, especially since none of the characters look like they are getting wet.

BPRD Hell on Earth: The Devil’s Engine #1

Written by Mike Mignola and John Arcudi
Art by Tyler Crook

The Mike Mignola brand has been practically flooding the market lately, with at least three mini-series going at any one time.  As Hellboy, Mignola’s central (although not best) book is on hiatus for a while, he’s been running two concurrent BPRD series for the last few months.

This may be bad for my financial situation, but it has been good in that it has allowed Mignola and his co-writers (John Arcudi seems to work on the ‘main’ book, while Scott Allie writes the more peripheral one) the chance to examine different aspects of the post-Apocalyptic ‘Hell on Earth’, and spotlight characters that don’t often get much screen time.

This new three-parter, ‘The Devil’s Engine’ is focused on Andrew Devon, the BPRD agent who has been most critical of the organization, and who more or less betrayed Abe Sapien a while back.  Devon’s been sent to recover the girl Fenix, who we first saw a little while ago leading a ragtag band of 20-somethings across America based on her poorly explained predictions or feelings about the future.

In this issue, Fenix and Devon plan on boarding a train to take them to Colorado, although that goes against Fenix’s sense of danger.  There is also a scene involving the Zinco Corporation, where dastardly things are afoot.

Not a whole lot happens in this issue, but it’s nice to see Tyler Crook, who has drawn a couple BPRD mini-series, back drawing again.  He was originally announced as Guy Davis’s replacement on this title, but I guess that was before the powers that be decided to expand the line, necessitating a rotating stable of artists.  He’s very good, as is this comic.

Conan the Barbarian #4

Written by Brian Wood
Art by James Harren

This is the first issue of the latest Conan series to not be drawn by Becky Cloonan, who is a big part of the appeal for me of this particular title.  I am also a big fan of Brian Wood’s writing (and art, but when’s the last time we got to see that?), so I wasn’t about to drop the title; I did wonder how much my enjoyment of the series would change though.

Luckily, James Harren is an incredible artist in his own right.  I’ve been enjoying his work on BPRD (especially on the latest mini-series The Long Death ), but I feel like he’s been cut loose on this series.  His double-page spread of the city of Argos is amazing, as are many individual panels throughout the comic.

Conan and his new partner Belit, the pirate queen, decide to seek revenge on Argos, a city where Conan was incarcerated when this series began.  The plan to turn Conan over to the authorities, received the bounty for him, and while his is imprisoned awaiting his certain execution, they would rob the city, and make plans to free him.  Of course, plans don’t always work out the way they are intended, and so they all have to improvise.

Wood does a great job of portraying Conan as wracked with doubt, as he lies in his cell.  I’m not all that familiar with the character, but there is definitely more depth to him in this series than I would have expected.  It’s good stuff, even without Becky Cloonan.

Dancer #1

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Nic Klein

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I picked up this comic.  I know that I’ve enjoyed Nathan Edmondson’s writing on series like Who Is Jake Ellis?, The Light, and The Activity, and that Nic Klein’s work on Viking blew me away, and that was enough to guarantee this comic would be purchased.  I don’t really read solicitation information or previews of comics I know I’m going to buy, preferring to be surprised, but I’d decided that this comic was going to be about a ballerina who was also a spy, government agent, or assassin.  It’s not that much of a stretch really – wasn’t the Black Widow a ballerina at one point or another?

Anyway, that’s not the case here.  The story is about a ballerina, but it’s her boyfriend who is really at the centre of the story.  When the comic opens (after a bloody prelude set in Brazil), our Irish dancer is leaving rehearsal with her American boyfriend, and they go out for coffee in Milan.  The man decides that something is going on, and gets the girl moving, before they are accosted by some men in suits.

As it turns out, this guy used to do some work for the CIA, and now it looks like he’s been burned, or is wanted for some other reason.  There’s not a lot of exposition, and the book reads like a cross between Jake Ellis and the Wildstorm series Garrison (that’s as close as I’ll get to a spoiler).  This issue ends quite abruptly, and feels like it was written as a graphic novel and not as a series.

Klein’s art is pretty nice, but he doesn’t mix up his style like he did in Viking, which is a shame.  I’m interested enough to check out another issue (actually, I’ve preordered the next two), but I’m not exactly blown out of the water here.  The book is very familiar, and I would have preferred to see something a little more original.

Glory #26

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell

Things are ramping up in Glory, which has spent a few issues reintroducing the Rob Liefeld-created characters, making her interesting and more than a Wonder Woman knock-off.  We learned that Glory was hurt quite badly, and has been convalescing on a remote French island, where she is attended by a former ally (in a Rick Jones/Captain Marvel kind of way).  We also met Riley, a young woman who is destined to help her (although we learned last issue that she shouldn’t probably do that – it’s going to end badly).

This issue, the long reach of Glory’s father is felt, as a strange looking creature confirms her presence on the island.  We are also introduced to a strange-looking creature named Henry, who is an ally of Glory’s.

I’m enjoying the writing on this book, but really, it is Ross Campbell’s art that makes this series such a winner.  He’s always been just about the best artist for drawing realistic-looking women, but I love what he’s doing with the more fantastical elements of this series.  Also, how wonderful is that cover?

Mondo #2

by Ted McKeever

People read comics because of the sheer potential of the medium for telling stories, despite the fact that fewer creators begin to even scratch at the surface of what can be done with matched words and pictures.  Not Ted McKeever though – he’s able to tap into a level of comics goodness that few can ever hope to achieve.

Mondo is pure comics.  The story doesn’t make a lot of sense, but each and every scene in this issue is incredible when read in its own right.  The series is two-thirds finished, and I don’t feel like I have a clue as to what is going on, but I’m loving this book.

Much of the issue is given over to the series’s star, Catfish, who has been mutated in a radioactive chicken factory accident into a hulking man.  He’s being pursued by a giant chicken (a six-foot cock, says the newsman, smirking).  Also, there is a satellite set to crash to the Earth near Venice Beach, which is being dismantled and excavated by the mayor, who believes that there is a giant Ferris wheel buried beneath its sands.  Also, a newsreporter basically loses it on air, adding some very colourful commentary to his telemprompted recitation of the day’s events.  As well, there’s a girl on rollerskates who doesn’t like themed diners (or giant apes).

McKeever’s often been very improvisational in his work (read META 4), but seems to be moving into a new area of stream of conscious comics making.  His art is horrendously beautiful, as always, and his writing continues to challenge and entertain.  You don’t need to understand a McKeever comic to enjoy it, and therein lies his genius.

Saga #3

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

Vaughan and Staples’s new series Saga is one of the most exciting books to be published this year, and that’s saying quite a lot, as the competition among new, creator-owned comics has been pretty fierce lately.

Much of the first two issues was given over to developing the universe of Marko and Alana, two lovers from opposite sides in a long-running war, and their relationship with one another, as they attempt to use a map to get themselves off the planet Cleave.  They had a run in with the freelancer The Stalk, who fled at the appearance of The Horrors, indigenous nasties.

As it turns out, the Horrors are really just ghosts of natives who have died on Cleave, and who stick around to protect it from outsiders.  One of these Horrors is a young woman named Izabel, who reminds me in many ways of Molly Hayes, a character Vaughan created for the Marvel series Runaways (maybe it’s just the hat).

Anyway, in order to perform a spell to heal himself from his wounds, Marko needs snow.  Izabel is willing to help Alana get some, but in return she wants to bond with newborn Hazel, so she will be able to leave the planet with the young family.  While all this is going on, we check in with another freelancer, The Will, and with Prince Robot IV, who is searching for Alana.

This series is an excellent read, and Staples’s art is phenomenal.  I don’t know if I like the ghost element, mostly because Izabel is dressed and speaks as if she came from our world, and I don’t really like that blending taking place in fantasy and science fiction stories that take place in their own universes.  That’s probably just me being picky though, because this comic is amazing.

Saucer Country #3

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

With this third issue of Saucer Country, writer Paul Cornell more or less shifts the tone of the series from what that seemed rather personal and small, to one that could become much more sweeping and epic.  Prior to this issue, we knew that Governor and Presidential candidate Alvarado believes that her and her ex-husband were abducted by aliens, who at the least probed them.  It appeared that the book was going to follow the Governor’s candidacy, and how the people around her were going to react to her belief in this rather shocking thing.

In this issue, the Governor barely appears (and her first name is not even mentioned).  Instead, we follow the supporting cast around, as we learn that belief in abductions, at least in New Mexico, is much more common than anywhere else in the US, and that is probably because it’s a pretty common occurrence.  Or, if not that, something else strange is happening in that state.

This issue gives a lot more play to Professor Kidd, whom Harvard has suspended.  He’s gone to work for the Governor’s campaign, and spends much of the book discussing the ‘mythology’ of alien visits.  His absence at Harvard has been noticed by a group of rich abduction enthusiasts called the Bluebird Group, who I imagine we’ll be seeing a lot more of.  Also, Alvarado’s ex continues his hypno-therapy with an analyst who also seems quite knowledgeable about abductions, and the involvement of giant rabbits in the abductee’s memories of the event.

This is a very intriguing book, and it looks like it’s going to have enough going on that it will be able to fill in some of the gap being caused by so many of Vertigo’s best books having ended recently (DMZ, Northlanders) or ending soon (Scalped, iZombie).  With Ryan Kelly drawing it, I’d be happily reading it even if the writing wasn’t this good.

Scalped #58

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

Jason Aaron is determined to make sure that nobody comes out of this series, which has two issues remaining, in a good place.  For a while there, it looked like he may have been planning a nice, happy ending for many of his characters – Dash was going to restart life on the reservation, and Lincoln was going to find his redemption through prison.

Now, with this issue, Lincoln is a free man again, after questions about Dash’s killing of Diesel make the press.  Dash himself is on the run, hiding from the police and FBI, and pursuing Catcher.

Dash and Lincoln have a late night meeting at Dash’s mother’s grave, and resentment and anger boils over, leading to a massive shootout.  Elsewhere on the res, Dino Poor Bear asserts his own leadership over Lincoln’s former foot soldiers.

This series continues to be a gripping and nuanced read, as it moves towards its big conclusion.  I am going to really miss this book and these characters after it concludes.

The Secret History of DB Cooper #3

by Brian Churilla

I don’t know if anyone would have predicted that one of the comic book trends of 2012 would be to appropriate real historical figures and events, and incorporate them into wonderfully wild and imaginative comics that seem to lack any pretense to following the rules of reality.  We see it in Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra’s wonderful Manhattan Projects, and also in Brian Churilla’s The Secret History of DB Cooper.

Churilla has taken the mysterious airplane hijacker of the 1970s and turned him into a CIA assassin who stalks his prey remotely through The Glut, a psychic world populated by monsters.  In this issue, we learn a lot more about Cooper’s family, his abilities, and the Soviet reaction to his successful string of sixty killings.

Churilla traffics in weirdness in this issue, as Cooper’s hated fellow agent tries to get his project shut down just when Cooper feels close to finding his missing daughter in The Glut.  We also start to see the effect that his missions are having on his physical body, something that was not supposed to be taking place.  We also learn that the Soviets have an agent searching The Glut for Cooper, casting more suspicion on the loveable red teddy bear who is his companion in that strange world.

Churilla is really going nuts on the art in this series.  Always inventive, he gives us a monster this issue that looks like an upside-down woman, with a mouth where her genitalia would be.  I found it an immensely disturbing (and funny) image.  This is a great series, and I hope that anyone reading The Manhattan Projects is also checking this out.

The Secret Service #2

Written by Mark Millar
Art by Dave Gibbons

Mark Millar’s newest Millarworld title is holding up surprisingly well.  In this second issue, super spy Jack London has decided to recruit his screw-up of a nephew Gary into the British Secret Service.  The moments between these two family members are handled remarkably well, as Millar explores the class conflict that has always existed in English society, and how it rears its head whenever someone tries to better themselves.

This all happens against the backdrop of a growing, if vague, threat.  Someone is still kidnapping science fiction movie and TV stars (last issue had a cameo by Mark Hamil), and in this issue, they use some kind of mind control device on a mass wedding, turning it into a massacre.

There are few Millar-ian flourishes in this book, except for the graphic nature of the wedding scene, and the description of the sexual training that young Gary will experience in spy school.  I think that perhaps working with Dave Gibbons is causing Millar to rein it in a little, as he crafts a story that fits Gibbons’s strengths perfectly.

The Sixth Gun #22

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

After last month’s silent issue, Cullen Bunn slows things down a little this month, as Becky and Drake continue their escape from the Knights of Solomon.  Drake gets his shot at revenge on the Knight that has been torturing him for the last couple of issues, but he is chilled by some of the implications of what he has learned while in captivity.

Last month there was a large image in the Knights’ library of what looked to be a soldier.  This issue, Bunn suggests that that was an image of Drake himself, as we also receive some hints as to the reality-altering abilities of the six guns when brought together.

This has been a terrific series since its inception, and it seems that it’s not slowing down at all.  There is a bit of a surprise at the end of the issue, and the cover of the next promises the return of a character we haven’t seen in a while.  I’m not sure how long Bunn and Hurtt intend for this series to run, but it feels like they are moving towards some bigger things.  Personally, I hope that there is a nice long run to come, as I really enjoy my monthly dose of Hurtt’s excellent artwork.

Quick Takes:

Avengers Academy #30 – Avengers Academy continues to be influenced by Avengers Vs. X-Men, as the school plays host to the mutant kids of Utopia (not that many of them get screen time this issue), and the regular cast has to make up their mind about how they feel about the conflict.  There are some very good character scenes built around Hazmat, Finesse, and X-23, while the adult members of the cast chase after Sebastian Shaw.  I know that Tom Grummett is a classic go-to guy for comics about teens, but I’m finding his art very dull here.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #4 – This comic opens with Wolverine walking through Antarctica wearing a dead polar bear.  I’m willing to accept that the Antarctica has a Savage Land full of dinosaurs hidden somewhere within it, but not that it has polar bears.  This comic has five writers attached to it, all of whom I admire and think of as intelligent.  Why, then, does this comic increasingly feel like it’s written by Jeph Loeb?  Characters act out of established character.  Plot developments feel random, and are inconsistent with what happens in other tie-ins to this series.  But polar bears?  Sadly, things get steadily dumber as the issue continues, and as John Romita Jr. demonstrates that he is having problems with scale.  Jonathan Hickman is credited as the main writer for this issue, and that has led to something I never expected to happen – a bad Hickman comic.  And yet, because I’m a moron myself, I keep buying it…

Batwoman #9 – New artist Trevor McCarthy joins the book as JH  Williams alternate, replacing Amy Reeder with this issue, and he really brings his A-game.  I’ve liked his work on Gates of Gotham, but didn’t see him as being in the same league as the other two artists who have drawn this book, but I don’t feel that way any more.  I do wonder if Williams is laying out the book though (without receiving credit) as the design of the pages looks very consistent.  Storywise, this issue continues the existing arc.  It’s good, but there are no surprises.  That’s fine, as Batwoman has been one of the consistently best titles in the DCnU.

Danger Club #2 – I thought I’d come back and give this title a second chance, and I’m glad that I did.  I don’t really understand all that’s happening here – the Robin character (Kid Vigilante) has to pull the plug on his brother, for a reason I don’t really understand, while Yoshimi – the girl with the robots – goes to Microtokyo for something.  All of this is supposed to help the teen heroes do something, but that’s not too clear either.  The art is very nice though, and there’s enough interest in the story to draw me back for another issue.

Daredevil #13 – It looks like the Megacrime story is finally finished, as the various criminal organizations, including Black Spectre, which was supposed to be defunct, all come after Matt in the middle of Times Square.  Mark Waid continues  to write this series very well, and there are two twists at the end that I didn’t see coming.  I am more interested in finding out what Foggy found in Matt’s desk though…

DC Universe Presents #9 – I’ve always loved the notion of a series like DC Universe Presents, with revolving story arcs and creative teams, but I’m often disappointed by the content they provide.  I was definitely intrigued by the notion of a Vandal Savage story by James Robinson and Bernard Chang, although I didn’t expect it to borrow so heavily from The Silence of the Lambs.  Kass Sage is an FBI profiler and the daughter of Vandal Savage, who is in Belle Reve for being a serial killer.  There is a new killer following in his footsteps, and Kass has the case.  She’s going to need to work with her hated father to solve the case and (in case we needed one more cliche up in here) a senator’s daughter.  I like the character work that Robinson does, and I’m always impressed with Chang’s work, but I do wish the plot points had been more original.  I’m also holding out hope that Scandal Savage, from Secret Six, makes an appearance in the DCnU.

Fantastic Four #605.1 – Jonathan Hickman finished his massive Fantastic Four/FF epic story a couple of months ago, and when it ended, I was a little surprised to see that he was staying on the book.  He’d wrapped up all of his plot points so well, that I wondered if he had much more to say about Marvel’s ‘first family’.  This issue makes me continue to wonder.  It’s a great story – it shows the origin of the Fantastic Four in another reality – that of one of the Council of Reeds – where Hitler had won the Second World War, and where Reed Richards was a Nazi scientist who lobotomized Victor Von Doom, and arranged a coup after receiving his powers.  It’s a very good comic, I just don’t know why the story is being told now, after the Council has been destroyed and the series has moved on from this point.

Invincible Iron Man #517 – This is kind of a strange issue of Iron Man.  Tony is continuing to work his plan to get out from under the problems caused for him by the Hammers, the US Government, Ezekiel Stane, and the Mandarin, but his way of doing that is by expelling the Iron Man suit from his body and playing coy even with his friends.  It’s beginning to feel like Matt Fraction is dragging the story out a little again, and all the best scenes in the comic involved the Spymaster.  Also, after years of being the only artist on this comic, it’s beginning to look like Salvador Larroca is feeling the strain of Marvel’s stupid frequent double-shipping schedule, as his art is starting to look a little more rushed than usual.

New Mutants #42 – The Exiled crossover with Journey Into Mystery continues, and is very good, as Loki acts completely in character, creating a bit of a twist at the end of the issue.  Good work all around, although I have nothing new to say about this.

Nightwing #9 – Dick continues to fight the Talon that has a familial tie to him, in an issue that doesn’t really accomplish more than a giant fight scene.  I’ve enjoyed this series, and thought that this issue looked terrific, but look forward to Dick charting his own path again, after this Night of the Owls stuff is done.  It’s feeling a little forced here.

Planet of the Apes #14 – I guess it’s becoming routine to say this, but this is another excellent issue of Planet of the Apes.  We learn through a puppet show how the ape ‘awakening’ went down in China (where the Great Khan took inspiration a familiar ape-based film with a similar name), and Julian learns the truth behind the ‘training camps’ that the apes of Mak have set up for humans.  Gregory and Magno are doing incredible work with this title – it really should be getting more buzz than it is.

The Shade #8 – Do you remember the days when it wasn’t unheard of for Jill Thompson to draw an arc of Sandman?  I miss those days, and thought it a great treat that she drew this issue of Shade, set in 1901 and describing one of the Shade’s earliest run-ins with his family after he gained his abilities.  Thompson didn’t paint this comic, so her art is not as luminous as it is in Beasts of Burden, but it’s still incredibly good, as is Robinson’s writing.

Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi – Force Storm #4 – Four issues in to John Ostrander’s new series about the earliest days of the Jedi Order, and he is still heaping on the exposition and backstory, and I find that is hindering the series a great deal.  There are new characters and concepts being introduced yet again, and the story struggles to hold it all together.  There are some very cool ideas fueling this comic, but unlike his brilliant Star Wars: Legacy, the characters here are not being developed well enough to hold my interest.  I wish he’d started this series with a simpler first arc, allowing the story to fill itself in as it continued.  Still, Ostrander and artist/co-plotter Jan Duursema have more than earned my loyalty over the years, so I’ll stick with it.

Thunderbolts #174 – It’s the last issue before the series gets re-booted as Dark Avengers next month, and I’m not sure where I stand on that.  Jeff Parker’s consistently made this a very good comic over the last few years, as he improved upon ideas left behind by Warren Ellis’s run, although the book has meandered a little during this recent time travel story.  I’m not sure that there is any need for a book about the characters that made up Norman Osborn’s Avengers though – the only one that interests me is Skaar.  I’ll probably check it out, as it’s the same creative team at work.  This particular issue of Thunderbolts is decent, as the present and past team have to quickly work through a lot of time-travel related issues to put things to rights before the whole world disappears.  It’s a little frantic, and probably doesn’t hold up to much examination, but it’s still a decent comic.

Uncanny X-Men #12 – Namor has not been able to successfully carry his own series since John Byrne’s classic run with him back in the 80s.  I think, under the stewardship of Kieron Gillen, he could star in the best comic Marvel publishes.  He is, right now, the absolute best reason to read Uncanny X-Men, even as each issue becomes little more than a recap of this week’s Avengers Vs. X-Men.  I’ve been impressed with Gillen since I first read Phonogram, but it seems that Namor is the character he was born to write.  Between those scenes, and the return of Hepzibah to some prominence, I didn’t even hate Greg Land’s art.  Now that is the sign of a strong writer…

Winter Soldier #5 – The first story arc more or less wraps up with this issue, which has Bucky, Black Widow, and Dr. Doom fighting gun-toting gorillas in a secret nuclear silo.  Do comics get better?  I am thankful for this series, because I don’t know what’s been going on with Ed Brubaker’s writing in Captain America, but this continues to read like his amazing work on that title over the last few years, before the movie-mandated relaunch tanked all forward momentum and regressed everything to the 80s.  Butch Guice and his team of inkers are doing great work on this book too.

X-Factor #236 – As it turns out, the ‘real life superheroes’ arc in X-Factor was really just an excuse for Peter David to deliver some commentary on America’s TV line-up, proving that when the character of Mojo was created, it was with more prescience than anyone at the time knew.  It’s a good issue, especially if you like to see Shatterstar in action.

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

Amazing Spider-Man: Ends of the Earth #1

Avengers #26

Fury Max #2

Bargain Comics:

Cold War #4 – John Byrne finishes off this Cold War era spy comic quite nicely, although a page or two of epilogue would have been nice, as things end a little abruptly.  Byrne has stumbled on something missing in comics – a good old fashioned spy story, with missiles.  Missiles!  Remember those?  I’d be down for the next ‘Michael Swann Dossier’ series.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Jerusalem: Chronicles From the Holy City

by Guy Delisle

Guy Delisle has made a name for himself by traveling to parts of the world where people suffer under oppressive regimes, and then cartooning about it in a style that is often both sympathetic and critical at the same time.  His first book, Pyongyang, had him stationed for a while in the capital of North Korea, and sharing his observations and musings with us in his disarming, chummy style.  It worked well, as did his later forays to China (Shenzhen), and Burma.

Now, with this work, he turns his eye to Israel, after he and his wife lived for a year in Jerusalem.  Delisle’s wife works with Médecins Sans Frontières, and joined their mission to Palestine in 2010.  They stayed in an apartment owned by MSF in East Jerusalem, right across from an Israeli settlement.

What makes Delisle’s travel memoirs work so well is that he portrays himself as entering a country with no real preconceptions or specific expectations, and he actually does allow events and the people he meets to dictate his feelings about a place.  Early on, the family (they have two young children with them) is encouraged to avoid shopping in the settlements, as spending money there lends them a sense of legitimacy, and all of the settlements are illegal, if openly permitted.

As the year unfolds, Delisle spends a lot of time traveling the small country looking for good places to sketch (there are a lot of drawings of the Wall between the West Bank and the rest of the country), trying to see all of the historical and religious sites (with varying degrees of success), and meeting people on all sides of the conflict.

Clearly, the Palestinians come out of this book looking the best, but it would be hard to have it any other way.  The settlers are portrayed (accurately, from all other accounts I have read) as racist aggressors and insane fundamentalists, who are seen as an embarrassment to the rest of Israeli society.

It’s hard to read this book without gaining a sense of anger at the injustice of Israel’s policies, and also a curiosity as to why the rest of the world is so permitting of the crimes permitted by the state.  There are a lot of books on this topic, but Delisle’s is effortlessly accessible and frequently quite funny.  It’s a nice comics companion to Sara Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, which Vertigo published last year.

Once again, Delisle has succeeded at showing the world a system and a place where people suffer great hardships, although here it is not so much at the whim of a hard-line regime (although it is) but also at the hands of individuals who have been given too great a sense of entitlement and empowerment.

99 Days

Written by Matteo Casali
Art by Kristian Donaldson

I read 99 Days, one of the Vertigo Crime graphic novels in two sittings, and something strange occurred overnight with this book.  When I read the first 75 pages or so, I felt that writer Matteo Casali was simply going through the motions of touching on any number of standard plot points in a police procedural, or a piece of fiction touching on the Rwandan genocide.  I wasn’t that impressed with the book.

Then, I picked it up to finish the last hundred pages, and found that either my mood changed my perception of the book, or that I had put it down in exactly the spot where Casali turned the book around into something that attempted to grapple with some very important issues.  I found that I became pretty immersed in the book from that point on, and it stayed with me the rest of the evening after I finished it.  That’s kind of rare.

This story is set in Los Angeles in 2010.  A young woman has been discovered in a South Central neighbourhood hacked to death with a machete.  Two LAPD detectives, Antoine Boyd and Valeria Torres have been assigned to the case, which quickly spirals out of their control.  When it is learned that the victim was the ex-girlfriend of a leader of the LA Crips, who had since been dating a Blood, a gang war sparks off.  While all of this is going on, someone keeps killing people with his machete.

This could have stayed a pretty conventional police procedural at this point, but we readers learn (as, eventually, does his partner) that Boyd was an orphan of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.  More than that, he was a participant, forced at the age of twelve to kill Tutsi’s (despite the fact that his closest friend was one) and perform other degrading acts.  Years later, after much therapy, Boyd has his life together, despite having to take medication to aid his moods, and being generally regarded as a ‘quota hire’ by his colleagues.

Needless to say, this case is bringing up some issues for Boyd, and the way in which he reacts to it was not what I expected.  Casali does a good job of twisting the plot in a few directions over the course of this story.

What I most appreciated were the parallels between Rwanda and LA.  Sure, the ’99 days’ bit is a little too obvious, but what I most liked was the American shock radio jockey whose reports on the gang war echoed the open encouragement and incitement of genocide that set things off in Kigali.  Casali has clearly done a ton of research in writing this book, and that’s always appreciated, especially since I’ve done my own reading on this topic (Note:  read Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda; it’s incredible).

Kristian Donaldson’s work on this book is also interesting.  He isn’t given the space and freedom to go wild, as he did in Brian Wood’s Supermarket, instead keeping his pencils tight and in line with the rest of the Vertigo Crime books.  My favourite scene in the book has to be all Donaldson though – Boyd frequently sees the shade of his childhood friend out of the corner of his eye – in this one place, what he thought was his friend was really a Shepard Fairey Obey poster.  It’s a cool, if throwaway, moment.

This is one of the best of the Vertigo Crime books, an imprint that seems to have disappeared, as I don’t think any new books have been published in this line in quite a while.  They frequently disappointed, but I had the feeling that Vertigo was finally starting to get the mix right on these books.

Album of the Week:

Quantic and Alice Russell – Look Around the Corner

The first few tracks on this album disappointed me, but after about the fifth one, Quantic’s band the Combo Barbaro take over, and provide Russell with some stunning rhythms to sing over, making the last half of this disc absolutely brilliant.

What would you like to know?