The Weekly Round-Up #130 With The Walking Dead, American Vampire, BPRD, Rasl & More

Columns, Top Story

Best Comic of the Week:

The Walking Dead #98

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

I rather expected that the upcoming 100th issue would feature the death of a major character in this series – past experience has shown that anniversary issues are used to pare down the cast a little, often with shocking results, but it seems that Robert Kirkman has jumped the gun a little, having a character who has been with the series for a while now take a crossbow bolt to the head two pages into this most recent issue.

Negan’s people have followed Rick and his friends back to the Community, and they aren’t wasting any time in attacking.  When two characters (I’m keeping names out of this to avoid spoiling the issue for anyone) go for a walk outside the gate, the apparent leader of Negan’s crew, a guy who looks like he’s had half his face burned off, take the opportunity to attack them, and use the living one as a hostage to gain entry into the Community.  Rick’s not about to let that happen though, and a fierce battle ensues.

Kirkman is ramping up the tension and anticipation before the big number 100, and this is easily the most exciting issue we’ve seen in some time.  While most of this book is all action, there is a significant scene where Carl bursts in on the sleeping Rick to find that he has some company.  The scene isn’t given much space to sink in, but I think this is a pretty big deal, and I hope that it doesn’t make the female in that scene a target for Kirkman’s bloodthirsty writing, as I like her a lot, and Rick’s women don’t tend to have a lot of luck…

As always, The Walking Dead is one of the best comics on the stands, and this issue works as a good example of why.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #27

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Riccardo Burchielli

This is a strange issue of American Vampire.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s still very well-written, but I just found that the parts didn’t add up the way they usually do.

To begin with, the cover does not, on any level, have anything to do with what happens in the comic.  This issue finishes off the two-part story featuring Calvin Hobbes, in conflict with a small group of werewolves in Alabama.  Pearl, the comic’s usual main character only appears at the very end of the issue, and she’s neither in the rain nor standing near someone with a gun.

Another thing that threw me is Riccardo Burchielli’s artwork.  I’ve enjoyed his work on DMZ and Northlanders, but with this issue, his style has changed quite a bit, and I don’t really like it.  It felt like he was trying to fit his approach with the usual look that Rafael Albuquerque has established for this series, and then mix it with the way that Roger Cruz drew the last issue.  It didn’t really work.

The other thing that threw me is a rather random and unexplained flashback where Calvin discovers his wife (I assume) naked in his backyard hanging laundry and covered in vampire bites.  I vaguely remember that vamps had killed his family (I think his backstory was explained in the WWII arc where he debuted), but this scene is not given enough context for it to be very effective.

What I did like about this comic was the way in which Snyder examines other manifestations of ‘vampires’, which include the aforementioned werewolves and zombies.  Much like Chris Roberson has in his iZombie, Snyder attempts to work a more unified theory for monsters into his writing, and while it’s still ‘comic book science’, I appreciate the consistency.

I am very much looking forward to the next issue, which promises the return of Pearl, Henry, and most importantly, Rafael Albuquerque.

BPRD Hell on Earth: The Transformation of JH O’Donnell

Written by Mike Mignola and Scott Allie
Art by Max Fiumara

The character of Dr. O’Donnell has been lurking around the pages of BPRD for a very long time now – he’s the wild-haired stooped over old guy who usually shows up making pronouncements of doom.  Very little has been told about him, and so he’s been given his own one-shot as part of Mike Mignola’s plans to push his Mignola-verse as close to the point of market saturation as is possible for a group of titles with one common writer.

O’Donnell’s story is told as a flashback to a time in the late 80s when Professor Bruttenholm sent O’Donnell and Hellboy to investigate the library of a recently deceased necromancer.  Hellboy ended up getting into a fight with some kind of monster (I love how the narrator dismisses this part of the story so casually, since it does happen in every single Hellboy story), while O’Donnell ended up deep beneath the house, part of a ritual that involved just about every famous dead occultist you can think of, changing him forever.

The art for this issue is provided by Max Fiumara, an artist who has caught my eye on his Four Eyes series with Joe Kelly, and also impressed me with some issues of Amazing Spider-Man.  His odd figures look right at home in the BPRD world, and Dave Stewart’s colours burnish his art perfectly.

There really has been too many BPRD-related comics coming out lately, but when they’re all this good, it’s hard to complain…

The Li’l Depressed Boy #11

Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Sina Grace

Another month has gone by, and another new issue of LDB leaves me with the same concerns that I have every months.  This entire comic is made up of scenes of the LDB working at his new job at a movie theatre.  Each scene, taken on it’s own, is quite serviceable.

LDB takes the trash to the garbage room and gets locked in.  One of his co-workers shows him how to slack off at emptying garbage cans.  Another co-worker engages in inane juvenile conversation with him about the deeper meaning of Fraggle Rock.  Later they have lunch, and more inane conversation.  LDB’s manager is nice to him.  Struble and Grace do a good job of showing us what LDB’s quotidian existence is like, and it’s often pretty charming.

The problem is, after this long, I want more substance than just charm.  Reading this book is becoming a little too much like talking to an older high school or younger university student who are trying to show that they are ‘individual’.  It’s not just the fixation on bands no one’s heard of, but also the way in which childish topics are trotted out as substitutes for real conversation.  It feels increasingly awkward to me.

I like this book, and want to continue liking this book, but I’m finding it frustrating more than it is beguiling.  As the book is hella behind (but catching up), I have a few more issues pre-ordered, so I’m going to stick with it for a while longer, but I’m going to stop adding new solicitations to my pull-file.  I’ll have to see how I feel about the book in a few months.

The New Deadwardians #3

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by INJ Culbard

Dan Abnett’s historical fantasy murder mystery series is very interesting.  He spent the first two issues of this eight-issue mini-series establishing the rules for his society.  Britain is divided between zones, with the posh Zone A reserved for the Young – the upper-class, who have taken ‘the cure’ and become vampires, and Zone B, where the Bright, the everyday humans who make up the toiling class live.  There is constant threat of attack by the Restless – zombies – who shuffle around the edges of the zones.

Until I wrote that paragraph, I hadn’t noticed that this is a comic about the Young and the Restless.  Sometimes it takes me a little while…

Anyway, in this issue, our Chief Inspector protagonist, on the case of the first actual murder Zone A has seen in decades, travels into Zone B, searching for a particular Young.  He is escorted by an officer who clearly has some thoughts about the class system, but doesn’t say much.  He is taken to a brothel that the suspect has been known to frequent, where he engages in an interesting conversation with one of the girls.

This series is on a bit of a slow boil, but Abnett keeps the dialogue sharp and the world-building compelling enough to hold up entire issues on its own.  I find myself increasingly curious about this world he’s created, and I’m enjoying Culbard’s artwork a great deal.  This is a good series.

Rasl #14

by Jeff Smith

At this late stage in the game, there is very little left to say about Jeff Smith’s Rasl.  There is only one issue remaining in the series, and Smith is leaving a lot of ground for it to cover.

In this penultimate issue, we see the conclusion of the confrontation between Rasl and his enemies at the St. George’s Array, and follow him to another reality, where he finally tells everything to Uma.  He’s pursued by Sal, the lizard-faced guy, and stuff gets a little crazy.

As always, this is a very nice looking book, with a compelling story.  The frequent delays between issues have made it rather a challenge to keep up with some of the nuances in Smith’s story, and I’m sure that this series will read much better in trade or in one large omnibus edition some day.  If you like comics that involve parallel universes, or you’re interested in Nikola Tesla, this series is worth reading.

Quick Takes:

America’s Got Powers #2 – Jonathan Ross and Bryan Hitch’s series works much better with this second issue, as Tommy, previously the only power-less kid his age in San Francisco has to deal with the knowledge that he may be the most powerful person in America, and has to decide how to manage the government’s demands that he participate in their American Gladiators-like reality show.  There’s some good character work, and great art by Hitch.  This is good stuff.

Animal Man Annual #1 – Jeff Lemire uses this annual to show us what happened the last time the Green and the Red got together to fight the Rot, and while it’s a decent comic, with some very nice Timothy Green art, there’s nothing here that really sheds any light on what is going on in the monthly Animal Man or Swamp Thing comics.  This story is set in Manitoba in the late 1800s, so that’s kind of cool, but I can’t help but feel like it would have been easy to skip this comic and never miss it.

Batman Annual #1 – I enjoyed this Batman Annual, even though I’ve never much liked Mr. Freeze as a villain (and can’t shake hearing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice when reading his dialogue).  This old character is slightly revamped for the New 52, and writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV tie his purpose in the story into the Night of the Owls event.  Therein lies the problem with this comic – with all the fights with Talons happening on this same night, it stretches credulity that Batman, Nightwing, and Robin would take the time to set up a big confrontation with Freeze that involves dragging his frozen wife up to the roof of Wayne Enterprises.  Anyway, it’s a decent comic, if a little pricey…

Exile on the Planet of the Apes #3 – This series set before the movies continues to impress, as the Ape army tracks down the humans in the Forbidden Zone, and General Aleron has to figure out how to protect his human army.  Of course, if the only way into the Forbidden Zone is through a narrow canyon, he can just make like Leonides, but I guess he hasn’t been reading Ancient Greek history.  Still, this is a very good comic.

FF #18Johnny Storm takes the Future Foundation kids to the Negative Zone for a field trip, just in time to discover that his generals there are planning a revolution.  Hickman is clearly having a lot of fun writing this series now that his giant storyline is over and done with, and he has the space to simply play with the characters.  There are hints of things to come in a scene that has the older Franklin have a chat with Black Bolt, but those things are a little ways down the road.  Nick Dragotta continues to be the perfect artist for this book.

New Mutants #43 – The Exiled cross-over with Journey Into Mystery is finally finished.  Don’t get me wrong – I’ve enjoyed it a lot, but I feel like it would have worked better in four chapters than in five.  There are big confrontations all over the place in this issue, and the story of the Disir, Kieron Gillen’s best contribution to the Asgardian corner of the Marvel Universe, comes to its conclusion.

Powers #10 – It does seem like Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming are serious about putting this comic out on a semi-regular basis again, and that’s a good thing, as Powers continues to be the best thing that Bendis has published at Marvel.  This issue reveals the identity and back-story of the person who has been killing the gods, and there are big consequences put into motion.  It’s good.

Supercrooks #3 – Mark Millar’s heist comic is running quite smoothly, as the villains case their mark’s fortress, and make their move.  Like many stories of this type, everything hinges on a couple of details that are kind of stupid, but Millar makes up for that with some strong characterizations.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #11 Jonathan Hickman and Sam Humphries juggle a lot of balls in this issue, as Tony Stark and Thor attempt to negotiate with the new President, and Black Widow and her crew make contact with the Wackos, a West Coast Avengers Ultimates facility before being attacked by SHIELD.  There is a lot of doom and gloom in this series, but it’s being handled very well.  On the art side, Luke Ross’s work is great, but there are three other artists each drawing two pages, giving the book a very inconsistent look, and pointing out the biggest flaw in Marvel’s double-shipping policy.

Wolverine and the X-Men #11 – This is just about the text-book example of what’s wrong with Marvel cross-overs.  Having to fit the book into the Avengers Vs. X-Men main story, Jason Aaron examines a couple of the various Avengers/X-Men fights happening in different parts of the globe that affect members of this book’s regular cast, but can’t stretch them beyond short character moments, ultimately making the completely irrelevant.  He also tacks a fight between Wolverine and Hope and the Shi’ar Death Commandos, which happens between the pages of AvX #4, but which is never referenced there, and is therefore of no consequence.  Aaron’s a good writer, and has a good handle on both these characters and the absurdity of this ‘event’, but at the end of the day, this stuff is completely derailing the good work he was doing on this title.

X-Men Legacy #267 – This is a better example of a cross-over title, as Rogue’s group of X-Men fight some Avengers at the Jean Grey School (why they didn’t get Krakoa to help, I don’t know).  Rogue has to use her powers in an old-school way, which leads to some old-school whining about having too many voices in her head, but overall, this is all handled decently.

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

Rachel Rising #8

Rocketeer Adventures 2 #3

Wolverine #307

X-Men #29

Bargain Comics:

Avengers # 24 & 25 – Bendis uses issue 24 to wrap up his second Norman Osborn saga, but really and truly finishes that story in issue 25, which is labelled as an Avengers Vs. X-Men cross-over, but only has two pages that reference that event.  I think, had I bought that comic solely because of the AvsX connect, I’d have been irritated.  As it is, having read these two comics, I just have my usual irritation at how completely Bendis has lost his way on this title, recycling the same ideas endlessly.  On the positive side, one of these comics is drawn by Daniel Acuna, who is always good, and the other is drawn by Walter Simonson, an artist I have a great deal of nostalgia for.

Batgirl #8 – While I miss reading anything by Gail Simone every month, I don’t actually miss this title at all.  This issue has Barbara finish her fight with Grotesque (another in a string of stupid Batgirl villains), whose henchman is the guy who took pictures when the Joker attacked Barbara in The Killing Joke.  This issue also explains why Babs’s mom left, which defies logic, and then unfortunately puts her brother James (who really is her brother in the New 52) back on the street, reversing what was one of the best Batman runs of the last ten years (Scott Snyder’s pre-relaunch Detective was gold).  I’m not sad I dropped this title – it’s a bit of a mess.

Captain America #10 – Continuing the theme of comics that I dropped written by writers I usually admire is Captain America, which continues to feel more like an early-80s comic, with great Alan Davis art, but nothing memorable about the story at all.  I am very thankful that Winter Soldier exists, because that’s where I get my good Cap Ed Brubaker fix; this title isn’t exactly bad, but it’s not very interesting.

New Avengers #25 – So now Bendis is retconning some kind of connection between the Phoenix force and the history of Iron Fist’s mystical city of K’un Lun.  Why?  I don’t see how any of this is necessary, as all it does is further confuse the events of the main title.  Also, this book is very repetitive, with Yu Ti having the same dream twice, for a (wordless) total of nine out of the twenty pages of comics that make up this issue.  That is exactly why I dropped Bendis’s Avengers books from my pull-lists, and only buy them now when I can find them at half-price or less (since I’m more or less getting half a comic).

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Achewood Vol. 3: A Home for Scared People

by Chris Onstad

I love Achewood, Chris Onstad’s long-running web comic.  I came to the series rather late, starting to read it around the time that Onstad pulled the plug for a long time, although it is currently running again, albeit sporadically.

In the beginning, Achewood was just a funny animal strip, but with time, it developed into something much more profound, while always being very funny.

This third volume of Dark Horse’s run of durable hardcover editions of the series collects many of the early strips, running up to October of 2002.  It’s an immediate follow-up to the second volume, in terms of presenting the strips chronologically.  The first volume, The Great Outdoor Fight, printed a later storyline, which is one of the most memorable of the series.

I’m not sure why Dark Horse didn’t do more to cherry-pick longer stories, than print this melange of one-off strips and short story lines, such as the one that has Roast Beef fly to the moon and refuse to come back.  A recurring theme in this volume is the attempts by Ray Smuckles to initiate tech start-ups based on antiquated computer applications, such as a spreadsheet that tells you when you need to buy milk and eggs, or a logo company that uses crazy computer fonts.

The characters are what makes Achewood work so well.  We have the odd friendship between Ray and Roast Beef as the tentpole of this series, but other characters, such as the young seal Phillipe get their moments in the sun.  It’s incredibly hard to describe Achewood in any way that makes it sound different from any other ensemble newspaper strip, so you’ll have to take my word that Achewood transcends that genre by an order of magnitude.

As it’s been a while since any of these books have been published, I think it’s time to systematically work my way through the last ten year’s worth of the on-line strips.  This could be a problem though, because these things are pretty addictive…

Motel Art Improvement Service

by Jason Little

Here’s another example of an impulse purchase I made that I ended up being very happy with.  Motel Art Improvement Service is a collection of Jason Little’s webcomic, and is a sequel of sorts to his Shutterbug Follies, which I’ve never read.

This book features Bee an eighteen year old who plans to spend her summer biking from New York to San Francisco.  She doesn’t make it far before her bike is destroyed in an accident, and she finds herself holed up in a crappy motel trying to figure out what her next step should be.  At the motel, she meets Cyrus, an oddball outsider artist who enjoys ‘improving’ the crappy art that hangs in crappy motels by adding in whimsical or satirical touches while working at them as a housekeeper.

The two hit the road together, and begin working at a large hotel near Newark Airport.  Bee discovers that Cyrus isn’t just an artist, he’s also a bit of a pill freak, and he constantly refreshes his supply by tossing the rooms he’s supposed to be cleaning.  This leads to some problems when he interferes with a drug deal between a couple of young college kids and an angry over-sized meth head.

This comic is a quick and engaging read.  Bee is a fully realized character, although she is really the only one.  The plot moves along quickly, almost like a modern-day slapstick comedy in places (like when everyone chases each other around the central atrium of the hotel in Newark).  Little is able to slow down the pace in a number of places to share scenes of Bee’s first time, and other character moments.

Reading this has left me wanting to get a copy of Shutterbug Follies, and that’s the best praise an artist can ask for, right?

The Sacrifice

by Bruce Mutard

I try to avoid making a lot of impulse buys when I go to TCAF, because I’m always afraid that if I go down that road, there’s no turning back, but flipping through this album-sized 240 page graphic novel about Australia in the early days of the Second World War, priced at only $15, I couldn’t resist.

I’ve been mildly interested in Australian history for a while now (just not enough to read that copy of The Fatal Shore that’s been on my bookshelf for fifteen years), because as a Canadian, there are a lot of parallels to that country, although most of my study of that has been relegated to reading some Aboriginal literature, and enjoying Gallipoli every few years.  I thought it was time to learn a little about the Second War, and Mutard’s book looked the way to do it.

The Sacrifice is the first of three graphic novels (this is the only one published) that follow Robert Wells through this difficult time period.  When the book opens, Wells is a manager at his uncle’s plant, but he hangs out with a number of left-wing and Communist friends.  He has turned his back on the Catholic Church, but not completely, and he struggles with his faith and his political beliefs.  When a family of Austrian Catholic/Jewish refugees arrive in town, he becomes personally involved in their welfare, and especially the development of their young teenage daughter Mata.

I have to be honest here – the beginning of this book bored me to tears.  There are some incredibly wordy scenes set in coffee shops that are destroyed by stilted dialogue and an utter lack of forward momentum.  I think it took me two nights to read the first thirty pages, but I’m glad that I persevered with this book, because by the end of it, I was looking for the second volume on Amazon.

I think the problem with the beginning is that Mutard has a lot to set up – the socio-economic and political realities of pre-War Australia are essential to this book, as are the common attitudes towards leftist politics.  It was also important for Mutard to establish his characters, like Robert’s Communist girlfriend, and his left-wing journalist buddy, as well as Robert’s mother and brother, who have different views.  As the book progresses, I found myself increasingly drawn in to the plights of these characters, and how they differed in their reactions to the news that Australia has joined in the war.

Robert’s older brother signs up almost immediately, while many of his friends look for ways to stay out of it.  Robert himself is deeply torn between his pacifist leanings and his desire to support his country and a cause he believes in.  Mutard makes his dilemma, and his eventual decision, very compelling reading.

Art-wise, Mutard reminds me a great deal of Jason Lutes.  He is an accomplished figure artist, and draws buildings and urban landscapes very well.  He also, wisely, avoids the standard tropes of this type of story.  When Robert is sent off to boot-camp, instead of giving us the long, drawn-out scenes we expect from this story development, he instead puts together a multi-page silent montage of images.  Similarly, when Robert, on leave, walks through his town, now filled with drunken American soldiers and the people looking to exploit them, the visuals are stunning in their depravity and dirtiness.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this comic is the relationship between Robert and Mata, who by the end of the book is not yet sixteen, but has become very wild.  There is a ‘did they or didn’t they?’ question, and I’m not sure where things stand.

The Sacrifice is a deeply nuanced and sweeping book.  I don’t know how easy it would be to find in stores (it’s pretty easy on Amazon), but I recommend it.  Just grit your teeth and get through that first chunk.

Album of the Week:

Rickard Masip Presents Scandinavian Funk Experience

Between the promise of ‘Finnish Folk-Funk’ and the cheesy cover showing a woman in a ski outfit from the late 60s, it would be easy to overlook this compilation of seventeen songs from that era, but it would be a mistake.  This album is amazing.

What would you like to know?