The Weekly Round-Up #132 With The Massive, American Vampire, Bad Medicine, Conan, Planetoid & More

The Best Comic of the Week:

The Massive #1

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Kristian Donaldson

I really hadn’t realized how much I’ve been missing DMZ every month until I read the first issue of The Massive this week.  Brian Wood is one of the best speculative fiction writers in comics (really, I feel like it’s just him and Jonathan Hickman, with Carla Speed McNeil being in her own category), and this new series is off to an incredible start.

Wood has not disclosed what year this story takes place in yet, but it’s not too far into the future, just after a series of ecological and geologic catastrophes have plunged the world into a new, darker age.  Tsunamis, earthquakes, the calving of the Antarctic ice cap, and other events have shifted global weather patterns, and sunk many low-lying areas (including Hong Kong).  The effect on the global economy has been just as devastating.

The Massive is centred on three members of Ninth Wave, a ‘marine conservationist and direct action force’, reminiscent of the Sea Shepherds.  Callum is the group’s leader.  Mary is his second in command and his lover, and Mag is his close friend.  They have been patrolling the oceans on their vessel, Kapital, since the Crash, and looking for their sister ship, The Massive, which went missing during a storm.

This issue is nicely balanced, providing a lot of important background information, and introducing the characters, while also providing some action in the form of pirates that attempt to attack the ship.  Wood makes good use of the locale, off the coast of Kamchatka, to add force to the action, and keep things interesting.  There is also a good amount of back matter that helps to add texture and context to the story.

Kristian Donaldson has worked with Wood many times before, and it’s clear that they have an easy rapport.  Donaldson does equally well drawing the talking head scenes, the action, and the flashbacks to global catastrophe.  This issue has me very excited to read the next, which is what we want in a debut issue.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #1

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Dustin Nguyen

It seems that the people at Vertigo are determined to turn American Vampire into the next Fables, spinning out into mini-series featuring peripheral characters a couple of times a year now.

This new series, Lord of Nightmares, is not exactly a sequel to the recent Survival of the Fittest, but it does (eventually) follow up on the character of Felicia Book.  This series opens in London in 1954 (the comic has been moving forward through the twentieth century since it began), and has Agent Hobbes, who we know as the head of the secret vampire hunting organization The Vassals of the Morning Star, meeting a strange American at an outdoor cafe.  Hobbes feels he has the upper hand in this conversation, until explosions make it clear that a recently purchased U-boat has attacked the Vassal’s main London base, under the Tower of London.

Later, we see Hobbes in Paris, where he confronts Felica Book, who has been living under the radar for fifteen years with Gus, the vampire child she cured in the previous series.  Hobbes reveals that the attack involves Dracula, the King of the Carpathian vampires, and the series is underway.

I believe this is the first that Snyder has made reference to any fictional (and public domain) vampires before now, and I find it interesting that he decided to bring up Dracula in a spin-off setting.  When Hobbes first meets with the American guy at the cafe, he starts to call him Ren___ (it gets cut off), perhaps a reference to the character of Renfield from Stoker’s classic.

Dustin Nguyen joins Snyder on art for this series, which is great news.  It’s been a while since Nguyen has been on a project, which is strange, because he’s a brilliant artist.  His work is great here, although his portrayal of Gus, who is supposed to be at least fifteen years old, makes him look way too young.  I wonder if there’s a story-based reason for that.

Bad Medicine #2

Written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
Art by Christopher Mitten

When this new series began (as part of Free Comic Book Day), I thought it was going to be a mini-series dealing with the investigation into a crazed doctor who has made himself invisible.  I was more than a little surprised when that story resolved itself in this issue, followed by an epilogue that set up some sort of story involving a group of people turned cannibal in Brazil, presumably by a disease.

I guess that the rather rag-tag group assembled in this series so far – a pair of doctors from the CDC, a disgraced doctor turned student of alternative medicines, and a New York detective – are somehow going to start solving medical mysteries together.  It’s not a bad premise for a television show, so it will be interesting to see how it works in comics.

So far, this series is working, based on DeFilippis and Weir’s ability to craft strong characters.  I particularly like the rather odd Doctor Horne, who is constantly sneaking off to talk to the ghost of the patient he killed.

This creative team works very well together, so I will stay on board this title simply out of my faith in them, but I do question how this concept will hold up over a long stretch of time, if this is indeed an ongoing series.

Conan the Barbarian #5

Written by Brian Wood
Art by James Harren

It’s a good week for Brian Wood comics.  His take on Conan has worked really well.  I still can’t compare it to other writer’s use of the character, having not read the series before Wood and Cloonan took the reins of Dark Horse’s latest relaunch with the character, but I do know that I like how this book has been going.

In this issue, Conan faces execution at the hands of the authorities in Messantia.  Walking up to the gallows, Conan despairs that his lover, the pirate queen Belit, is not going to be able to free him, but she soon appears, disguised as an upper-class lady, and requests that Conan be tried through combat, with the prize of his freedom dangled before him.

This leads to an issue full of action which really shows off James Harren’s skill as an artist.  As Conan fights the gigantic champion of Messantia, I was reminded of the recent amazing fight scene between a Wendigo and the were-jaguar in BPRD.  Harren is really very good at these sorts of things, but it is his landscapes and urban scenes that I like best.

This is a great series.  If you’ve always found yourself unenthused by the idea of reading a Conan comic (as I was), you should try this – it’s not what you think.

Dancer #2

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Nic Klein

The title of this series is a little odd, as the dancer in question is a secondary character, who is used as much as a prop as an important character.

Instead, Dancer focuses on Alan, a former assassin or secret agent for the CIA.  We learned last issue that Interpol is after him, as is a sniper who looks just like him, only younger.  In this issue, Alan learns that the government cloned him back in the seventies, and that the clone that has been shooting at him has also killed another Alan in Brazil.

Now, the clone has Alan’s girlfriend, and Alan finds himself reactivated, and on the hunt.  The problem is that the clone has all of his skills, talent, and knowledge, but is also younger and doesn’t have a heart condition.

The set up is a good one for this type of action thriller, and Nic Klein is more than capable of making the book look terrific.  Storywise, this reminds me a great deal of Garrison, the Wildstorm series by Jeff Mariotte and Francesco Francavilla (which received no press and has never been collected).  On some pages, Klein’s layouts remind me of Francavilla’s.

This book does not have the level of sophistication I’ve seen in some of Edmondson’s other comics, like The Light and Who Is Jake Ellis?, but it’s still a decent read.

Mind the Gap #2

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback

I enjoyed the first issue of Mind the Gap enough to come back for a second look at things, and I’m glad I did.  Jim McCann has designed this story (so he tells us) so that every page has a clue as to the big picture of what is really going on in this comic, and I find that kind of thing pretty intriguing.

What we do know is that Elle is still in her coma, and that almost everyone in her circle of family and friends are behaving suspiciously, suggesting that any one of them could be behind the attack on her.  Meanwhile, Elle’s consciousness is in The Garden, communicating with other coma patients.  Somehow, she manages to enter the body of one of them in the moments before his death, and now she wants to explore this ability.

This is a very intriguing series.  The character work is top-notch, and the addition of a police officer to the mix, who seems to be working on a related matter and who is married to the doctor that raised her suspicions about Elle’s treatment last issue gives us an idea of who the heroes of this comic will likely turn out to be.  McCann writes these two characters very well.

Artwise, Rodin Esquejo continues to impress.  Sonia Oback’s art is another matter though – there are a couple of pages featuring two characters talking outside a darkened theatre that are so muddy as to be impossible to see.

I’m definitely adding this comic to my pull-list now – McCann has sucked me into the story enough that I want to continue with it.

Planetoid #1

by Ken Garing

When I saw the solicitation for this new series by Ken Garing, I thought it looked pretty good, and decided to take a chance on it.  I’m very pleased I did, as this is a very good comic.

The book opens with a spacecraft pilot finding himself being drawn towards a planet with a strange electromagnetic field.  He ejects from his ship just before it crashes, and finds himself on a field of ruined vessels and space junk.  Alone, he begins to explore the world, coming across some small lizards, and a particularly aggressive mechanical sea snake.

He also finds another person, who explains that the planet does have some human inhabitants, remnants of a slave-run mining operation who were abandoned when the planetoid’s region of space was taken over by an alien race.

Garing’s art is terrific, as he shows us the strange landscapes and industrial decay of this planet.  The book reminds me of the early issues of Brandon Graham’s run on Prophet, but without the variety of strange creatures.  There seems to be a resurgence of good science fiction in comics lately, which is a nice thing to see.  Garing has figured out a lot about his vision of the future, and I like how he’s sharing that information slowly.

I do wonder how this planetoid could have been used for mining, if it’s impossible for vessels to leave it, but I’m sure that will be addressed eventually.  This is well worth checking out – go get it.

Saucer Country #4

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

Paul Cornell is structuring this series with mysteries piling up upon mysteries, as Governor Alvarado (that’s her name right?  I think this is the second straight issue that doesn’t say it) tries to figure out what happened to her and her ex-husband that night right before the series began.

The ex shows up at her office, and sits down to explain his version of events, although Professor Kidd doesn’t believe him, especially after he finds out that he’d gone to Dr. Glass, the hypno-therapist.  It’s becoming increasingly clear that a number of different groups are involved in the ‘alien business’ in New Mexico, but that the elected officials who run the place have no clue about any of it.

Cornell’s doing a great job of creating a sense of intrigue in this series, and Ryan Kelly is doing his usual phenomenal job of drawing the book.  This issue in particular has a number of scenes that are ‘talking heads’ only, but he fills his pages with more than enough drama to keep the interest level high.

I don’t think that sales on this book have been all that impressive, so I implore you to check this comic out if you ever enjoyed The X-Files, or if you are just interested in a well-written political drama about alien abductions.

The Secret History Book 20: Watergate

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordy

I was very surprised and impressed to see that the newest volume of The Secret History actually came out in the month that it was solicited for,something that I don’t think has ever happened.  I was prepared to praise Archaia for finally getting their schedule in order, and figuring out their shortcomings.

And then I read the issue, and realized that for it to make complete sense, one would have had to have read The Secret History: The Games of Chance, a spin-off that was originally solicited as a five-issue mini-series, and then, after those books were ridiculously late, as a hardcover that has yet to appear.  According to Amazon, it was supposed to come out back in April…

Anyway, this is an interesting issue, as it incorporates the Vietnam War into the on-going struggle between the three remaining Houses of Archons.  The war brings with it a great deal of chance and unpredictability, which works wonders for the various players drawn to that conflicted zone.  We are introduced to a pilot named Chance, who appears to be flying for Air America, and doing a little drug running in and out of Laos on the side.  There is a German ex-SS officer there, playing Mister Kurtz.  Later, Stateside, Chance is involved peripherally in the Watergate scandal.

It feels like Pécau is using Chance to replace the character of Curtis Hawk, who would be too old to be of continued use in this series.  Now that the storyline has moved into a time that is more familiar, I find it much easier to follow, as it continues to jump all over the place, geographically and in terms of plot.

The Sixth Gun #23

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Tyler Crook

It’s strange that this issue of The Sixth Gun is considered a part of the Town Called Penance arc, as it has nothing to do with that story, but is instead a stand alone, one-off issue featuring Kirby Hale, the gunslinger who seduced Becky Montcrief a while back, when the cast of this comic was in New Orleans.

It seems that Kirby regrets his actions at that time, and is merely going through the motions of his former careless lawless lifestyle.  When he runs afoul of Missy Hume, the widow of the General whose evil started off this series, Kirby finds himself back on the trail of Becky and Drake Sinclair, and the five mystical guns that they possess.

This is a good issue, and it’s used well to flesh out this character.  When Kirby goes looking for the map to the mystical Gallows Tree, it reveals a fair amount about his character, especially since he finds it in the possession of an old friend.

Tyler Crook provides the art this month, giving the brilliant Brian Hurtt a well-deserved break, I presume.  Crook is a good substitute for Hurtt, as his art has a similar style.

Skullkickers #15

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang and Misty Coats

This issue of Skullkickers reveals more of Rex Maraud’s history, as he continues his battle with the creature that hatched out of an egg two issues back.

I don’t want to spoil Rex’s history, which is pretty unexpected in a swords and sorcery comedy fantasy comic like this, but suffice it to say, we do learn what happened to his hair, and how he reloads his gun.  I doubt you expected either explanation to turn out the way it did.

Zubkavich and company continue to do some very nice work on this comic.  Zubkavich uses a dual narrator thing with this comic that reminds me of how some writers write Deadpool, except for the fact that here it’s actually funny.

Really, any comic that features Tlahuelpuchi, the Vampire Turkey, however briefly, deserves to be bought immediately.  Now I’d like to see a comic where Tlahuelpuchi fights Poyo, the gamecock from Chew…

Quick Takes:

Batman #10 – Well, this seems ill-considered to me.  Scott Snyder springs a surprise on everyone in this issue of Batman, which almost wraps up the Court of Owls story (one more to go), with the kind of soap opera reveal that makes suspension of disbelief just about impossible (while also explaining what I thought was an example of Greg Capullo’s inability to draw a variety of faces in the earlier issues of this series), and cheapens the rather impressive story he had built.  But, it does explain how there can be another Batman spin-off coming up in the just-announced Talon series.  I’m not trying to spoil anything, but I will say I’m disappointed with how this story has turned out.

Batman and Robin #10 – Hey DC, there are too many Bat-books coming out each second week of the month!  They don’t compare well with one another.  This one is all over the place this month, with the introduction of a rather strange villain falling flat, and the strained relationships between the former Robins with this current one working well, for the most part.  Damian is feeling the need to prove himself (again) to his ‘brothers in yellow, red and green.  This feels a little too familiar, and the sudden appearance of the Red Hood is jarring and poorly constructed.  At the heart of the book, Tomasi writes a good Damian, but this issue needed more space to dig in to the subject matter, before the fists flew.

Demon Knights #10 – Well, things are getting a little weird here, as the group continues their journey towards Avalon, having to deal with sea monsters and gigantic wolves along the way.  Cornell’s excellent character work is a little muted here, and I found Diogenese Neves’s art a little hard to follow in places.  There is an exchange between the Shining Knight and Exoristos that makes up for any other shortcomings however.

Fantastic Four #607Apparently Jonathan Hickman is the first person since Christopher Priest who can actually write the Black Panther, and that is quite a treat.  His T’Challa had already planned for the destruction of Wakanda’s vibranium stores, but he has called in Reed and the Future Foundation to help him with another problem, which looks to involve Ancient Egyptian Zombies (I always thought that Wakanda was more in Southern Africa).  That part of the story is a little weak, but the rest is very well-written.  The art team of Camuncoli and Kesel looks like they’re trying to fit with Ron Garney’s style, which is a mistake.  Camuncoli doing his usual thing is a much better artist.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #10 – Matt Kindt takes over the writing with this issue, and it’s a little disappointing.  I didn’t expect it could be as good as Kindt’s Mind MGMT, which debuted from Dark Horse a couple of weeks back, but I thought the story would be more coherent than this.  It seems there is some sort of issue with traitors in SHADE, and Frank and his crew are sent to some upside-down cloud city to investigate.  It feels like Kindt is trying for some sort of over-the-top Morrisonesque thing, but I wasn’t really feeling it.  I think it was the sexy librarian at the beginning that killed it…

Invincible #92 – Robert Kirkman’s books are often criticized for being endless – his stories and arcs just continue without definite conclusions, and always bleed into the next.  I don’t mind this usually, but this style is especially disruptive in this issue of Invincible.  Mark is recovering from his wounds at the Pentagon when some squid aliens attack.  The Guardians of the Globe show up, and this leads to the reveal of what happened with Robot and Monster Girl when they went to the Flaxan dimension.  Except, it’s only part of the story, as we also check in with Bulletproof, who is having his parents over for dinner, and some other stuff happens.  I guess the Robot/MG story will take five issues, and that’s fine, because I’ve been curious about it, but this book feels more scattered than ever.  On the plus side, Ryan Ottley and Cory Walker are sharing the art for this arc, which creates a bit of a Peanut Butter Cup effect.

The Shade #9 – Shade moves on to England, where his descendant is up to no good.  James Robinson gives us Silverfin, the Irish/Romani superhero, but the rest of the book came off a little dull to me.  I do like Frazer Irving’s art, although every time I see it, I’m reminded of how much I wish his Gutsville would finish.

Spider-Men #1 – Fair warning – Miles Morales only appears on one page of this comic, which starts a five-part mini-series chronicling the first meeting of the new Ultimate Spider-Man with the more familiar 616 Peter Parker.  This is also the first time that these two fictional universes have met.  Basically, this is Brian Michael Bendis writing a Spider-Man comic, so you know how it goes.  Spidey webs around the city, soliloquy-ing about how much he loves it, fights Mysterio, and gets shunted into another dimension.  It’s an incredibly basic issue, but it has lovely Sara Pichelli art, so it’s all good.

Suicide Squad #10 – Finally, things feel a little more like I’d expected them to from the beginning, as the Squad is sent to deal with a Basilisk-initiated hostage situation.  Adam Glass has started borrowing a little more from the original, good, Squad, as Deadshot repeats a famous scene from back in the day (demonstrating his approach to hostages), and Black Spider fills in the Bronze Tiger role.  This book still needs a ton of work, but it may be improving.  We’ll see what the next issue brings.

Uncanny X-Force #26 – The reborn Brotherhood of Evil Mutants are pulling a ‘divide and conquer’ move on X-Force, as the various team members face a variety of threats.  It’s a good enough issue, although I’m getting a little tired of the whinier version of Psylocke.  Phil Noto art is always nice.

X-Men Legacy #268 – This Avengers Vs. X-Men tie-in focuses on Frenzy, who has been sent to a fictional African country to put down some militia forces after Cyclops used the Phoenix power to stop a war there.  Apparently the newly-powered X-Men are acting like The Authority, going around the globe fixing problems in a sloppy and ill-considered way.  Christos Gage uses the opportunity to explore Frenzy a little, albeit in a pretty predictable manner.  It’s not a bad issue, but it feels like filler.

Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4 (Or Morally Indefensible):

Amazing Spider-Man #687

Avengers #27

Avengers Assemble #4

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1

Bulletproof Coffin Disinterred #5

Captain America #13

Ultimate Comics X-Men #13

X-Men #30

The Week in Manga:

Kurosagi Corpse Deliver Service Vol. 4

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Art by Housui Yamazaki

Once again, I’m surprised by how much I enjoy the The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.  With each new volume I read, I’m more convinced that the creators have stumbled on a winning formula – the horror sitcom comic.

KCDS is about a group of Buddhist graduates who have formed a business designed to help the dead complete their final wishes, which usually involve having their corpse returned home for them.  While it’s not a winning business formula (I’m not sure if they’ve ever received more than one payment from their clients), it works very well as a structure for stories.  Among the employees of the service are a medium who channels a distant alien consciousness into a sock puppet, a guy who can speak with the dead, and another who has the ability to dowse the location of corpses.

This issue has four stories in it.  The first involves the discovery of an ‘alien’ body.  The second involves a conspiracy centred around a Bodyworlds-like exhibit, where some evil scientists are ‘plastinating’ the bodies of the dead.  The third story features the haunting of a baby-killer (and features a guest appearance by a character from one of Otsuka’s other manga series), while the fourth is a weird story about parasitic slugs and a traveling American student.

All of these stories are deeply weird at their core, but are played lightly.  Otsuka’s characterizations are strong, and very consistent.  One would think that there are only so many ways to tell stories that involve wronged corpses, but with each additional volume I pick up (so far there are twelve available in English), I’m surprised by how fresh the concept feels.  This is good stuff.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Murder Mysteries

Written by Neil Gaiman
Art and Adaptation by P. Craig Russell

I believe that Murder Mysteries began life as a prose piece written by Neil Gaiman, that was later adapted as a radio play before being turned into a graphic novel by the uber-talented P. Craig Russell, much as he did with Gaiman’s Sandman: Dream Hunters.

This book reminds me of just how much I miss Sandman.  It opens with a man telling his story.  He’s been stuck in Los Angeles for a while, trying to get a flight back to England, but because of poor weather there, he’s not been able to go anywhere.  He discovers that a former girlfriend is in town, and he goes to meet her.  After their time together (which is not as satisfying as he’d hoped), he sits out on a park bench and begins to talk to a homeless man, who decides to tell him his own story.

As it turns out, this man is the angel Raguel, the ‘vengeance of the Lord’.  Raguel was activated when the first murder took place in Heaven, and he is sent by Lucifer (before the fall) to investigate.  The victim, Carasel, had been working on the concept of death, and his partners and supervisors are suspects.  The story proceeds along a familiar, Hercule Poirot-like trajectory, complete with a scene where Raguel gathers all the suspects to hear his accusation, but set in Heaven, which makes it pretty unique.

Gaiman’s portrayal of Heaven and the various angels is completely consistent with the approach he took in Sandman.  This could easily have been a story set in that fictional universe.  Russell’s art is stupendous, but then, it always is.

Album of the Week:

J Dilla – Rebirth of Detroit  Dilla pulls a Tupac and Biggie, releasing yet another posthumous album of middling quality.  This is definitely no Donuts, as Dilla’s mom finds a bunch of C-list rappers to spit over beats that Dilla had probably rejected or not quite finished.  That said, there are some nice tracks on here for sure, and I figure this is the last time I’ll ever listen to a new Dilla beat.  I just wish this was on the level of Donuts or Ruff Draft

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