The Weekly Round-Up #133 With The Walking Dead, Baltimore, Casanova, DHP, Glory, Saga & More

The Best Comic of the Week:

The Walking Dead #99

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

There is always so much death in this comic, but when a new character dies, we rarely get to see much of how that death affects everyone.  I suppose, once all of your friends and family have been killed and turned into zombies, you would become quite hardened to death.  For Rick and the people in his community, it’s almost a daily presence in their lives.

Last issue, Robert Kirkman had a relatively main character killed off by the Saviors, a group of people who follow a man named Negan, and who are looking to take over the Community’s property and goods.  Kirkman spends most of this issue having the various surviving cast members react to that character’s death, and its very effective.  It also leads to Rick making some pretty big mistakes in terms of how to continue to protect the people who look to him for leadership.

Rick decides to return to the Hilltop, the new community that he’s opened trade negotiations with, for assistance in finding Negan and his camp, or for the provision of some muscle.  This leads to some divides within the group – Glen decides that he, Maggie, and Sophia will remain at the Hilltop.  Andrea is left behind to protect the Community, but stupidly, she’s not climbing up to her usual perch in a bell tower to watch for any of Negan’s men.  That error is judgement, which is not mentioned here, is pretty glaring.

Anyway, it feels like Kirkman wanted to have a nice quiet issue before next month’s #100, which is almost guaranteed to show the Community under attack.  I just hope that all of the characters I’ve come to like the most – Rick, Carl, Andrea, Michonne, and Glen make it through okay.  There is some small part of me that is not over the events of issue 50 yet…

Other Notable Comics:

Baltimore: Dr. Leskovar’s Remedy #1

Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Art by Ben Stenbeck

As part of the continuing glut of Mike Mignola-written comics coming from Dark Horse this year is a new Baltimore mini-series, featuring the angry vampire hunter who is searching the world for the vampire who killed his family.

This two-parter opens in a small fishing camp in Croatia.  Baltimore crashes into the beach when his airplane comes under attack, and is recovered by the locals.  He learns that their village has fallen victim to the horrors unleashed by a Dr. Leskovar, who has been trying to cure vampirism.  Baltimore being Baltimore, he soon enough sets out for the village, looking to kill the monsters that Leskovar unwillingly created.

This is the third mini-series to feature Baltimore, and they all more or less follow the same formula (Baltimore shows up in a place plagued by monsters, deals with them, finds clues to the location of Haigus, the vamp he’s pursuing, leaves).  This looks to be the same kind of thing.

I really enjoy Ben Stenbeck’s art in this series.  He does a great job of capturing the bleakness of the Croatian coast, and manages to sneak some crabs onto just about every page.  I was a little surprised to see that Baltimore is fluent in Croatian, but otherwise, this is a good comic.

Casanova: Avaritia #4

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Gabriel Bá

I think I need to be clear from the beginning, that I’m not entirely sure what all happened in this issue of Casanova.  I’ve only read it once, and I think it needs to be read again, perhaps with the other three issues that make up this volume.  Perhaps I’d need to start from the beginning again.

What I do know is that the earlier issues of this series, back when it was published by Image, were also confusing, but much, much easier to follow.  Does any of this matter though?  I’d say not, because part of the point of Casanova is that it’s a balls-to-the-wall crazy comic, and you’re just supposed to go along with the ride.  And any comic that is this beautiful doesn’t have to make sense; that’s what makes this artform so freaking wonderful.

What I do know is that Sabine Seychelle tries to take over EMPIRE in the wake of the attack by Kaito’s giant robot, that people are running all over the place shooting each other, that Casanova Quinn disguises himself to look like Newman Xeno but then runs into the real deal, and that Gabriel Bá is a comics art god.

Do we need more than that?  I would like to see the next arc be a little a quieter again, as I don’t think the story can maintain this frenetic pace much longer without losing all semblance of sense.  Casanova continues to be the best work that Matt Fraction’s ever done, and I can’t wait for the next mini-series, whenever it comes along.

Dark Horse Presents #13

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, John Arcudi, Carla Speed McNeil, Steve Niles, John Layman, Tim Seeley, Francesco Francavilla, Andrew Vachss, Mike Baron, and Dean Motter
Art by Phil Noto, Jonathan Case, Carla Speed McNeil, Christopher Mitten, Sam Kieth, Victor Drujiniu, Francesco Francavilla, Geof Darrow, Steve Rude, and Dean Motter

Sometimes I worry that this anthology is not always the best place for some of the comics that Dark Horse is presenting in it.  Lately, they’ve begun stories in DHP, and then spun them off into their own mini-series (such as Resident Alien) or on-goings (like The Massive).  In the latter’s case, the stories were clearly serving an introductory role, and that was fine, but in the case of Resident Alien, the story was simply begun here, and then continued elsewhere, which makes it a tough story to follow for readers of this book, or for people who picked up the first issue, and would have had no clue what was going on (the DHP stories were printed again in a ‘0’ issue).

I bring this up, because the ‘concluding’ chapter to Steve Niles and Christopher Mittens’s Criminal Macabre story this month just stops; it doesn’t really end.  At least the Occultist, which also concludes this month, more or less finished its story, while still setting things up to be returned to later down the road.

On the positive side, and worth the purchase of the book, is the new Finder story by Carla Speed McNeil.  She is continuing to examine the lives of Ascians in the region called Third World, as Jaeger and his new friend help an artist trying to sell her paintings.  At the contemporary museum, her work is too ‘archaeological’ and indigenous, but at the archaeology museum, her work is too contemporary, a trap which many indigenous and minority painters find themselves in.  There is a surprise return of an older character at the end of the story, which made me happy, but which would be utterly puzzling to a new reader.  I wish that McNeil was providing footnotes to these stories.

Also of interest this month is the continuation of Dean Motter’s Mister X story, and John Arcudi and Jonathan Case’s The Creep, which is excellent.  The Aliens story, by John Layman and Sam Kieth is a little better than its debut chapter, and Francesco Francavilla’s Black Beetle is pretty, if also pretty standard.

The return of The Ghost, by Kelly Sue DeConnick didn’t excite me too much, but it’s an interesting story created by two very gifted comics creators; I’m going to see where it leads before I pass judgement.

Andrew Vachss’s prose story of child predators on the internet and the motley collection of freaks who hunt them down for profit was disturbing and weird, but not in a good way.  Nexus is boring.

Elephantmen #40

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Tony Parker, Blond, and Rob Steen

Elephantmen is between large story arcs right now, for the first time in a very long time, and that gives Richard Starkings the chance to poke around in some of the less-seen corners of his complex fictional world, and to spotlight some of the supporting cast who only rarely are given much screentime.

This issue opens with an attack on the Eye of the Needle, the floating restaurant owned by Casbah Joe.  The guy who is attacking is some sort of gangster who was once The Silencer’s boss, until he turned on him.  The Silencer is the invisible assassin who has been dumping bodies in a river since this series began.  He lives at the Eye, as does the dancer Panya, who is best known to Elephantmen readers as Sahara’s body double.

This is a good action issue, and it has some very nice art from the team of Tony Parker (who is new to me), and the colourist Blond, who has been making a name for himself (herself?) with some very nice digital paints.

This issue also has the concluding two parts to Rob Steen’s back-up, which has been centred on the early days of Mappo’s transgenics program.  It’s a sad story, used to underscore (once again) the heartlessness of Dr. Nikken, the creator of the Elephantmen.

It seems that this series is getting caught up in its schedule again, which is always a good thing.

Glory #27

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell

At the centre of Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell’s relaunch of the old Rob Liefeld property Glory is the notion that the title character may never have been a ‘good guy’ at all.

In this issue, the island town of Mont St. Michel has been invaded by a variety of strange creatures from Glory’s father’s kingdom.  We know that they are trying to kill her, and are after Riley, the young woman who has been our point-of-view character since the relaunch began, and whose destiny is somehow tied to Gloriana’s, although we’ve not been given many clues as to how.

Basically, this issue gives Campbell a chance to cut loose artistically, creating a plethora of strange creatures and cool fight scenes.  We also get a flashback to Gloriana’s childhood, and the suggestion that Riley may be picking the wrong side in things.  At some point, Keatinge is going to have to give us a little more information, but I am definitely enjoying the ride so far, the art most of all.

Ragemoor #4

Written by Jan Strnad
Art by Richard Corben

This horror comic has been utterly bizarre, but that is what made it wonderful.  To summarize briefly, Ragemoor is a living castle from outer space, which is, on the one hand, protecting the Earth from an ancient worm god creature, but is also slowly torturing its master by twisting its layout and taking from him the woman he loves.

This issue has Herbert finally reach his breaking point when he discovers that his loyal servant has been experimenting on the poacher that came and fell for the beautiful Anoria.  Stuff gets stranger than ever before, and that says a lot in this book where Jan Strnad and Richard Corben really let loose.

This series has a real throw-back quality to it, reminding me of some of the stranger horror comics of the 70s, and of Heavy Metal.  As bizarre as this book is, there’s nothing particularly memorable about it, aside from the terrific artwork.  It’s definitely a novelty to be able to read a book like this again.

Saga #4

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

I’ve seen some on-line reviewers give Brian K. Vaughan some flack for giving the characters in his new science fiction/fantasy epic such contemporary, Earth-based voices.  Personally, I think that’s nonsense.  If this book were all Game of Thrones style weird names with overwrought Shakespeare-lite dialogue, or all based on some invented slang (like Spaceman, which I love), I think it would take away from some of the things that Vaughan is doing.  People are people, he seems to be saying, even if they are winged ex-soldiers, horned pacifists, or ghostly floating torsos.

In this issue, Alana waits with Izabel for Marko to recover from his injuries and wake up.  When he does, she wastes no time before interrogating him about the bride he mentioned while delusional.  Their discussions, and reprieve from action, appear short-lived, as Prince Robot’s forces arrive.

Much of this issue is given over to The Will, the freelancer who was hired to hunt down Alana and Marko, but who decided instead to go to Sextillion, a planet-sized brothel.  There, he is disappointed in what he finds, and when a large-headed pimp offers him more refined fare, the book takes a turn for the darker.  Clearly, The Will is going to remain a major character in this series, as he’s been given a lot of space to develop.

Fiona Staples continues to do some incredible work with this comic, and Vaughan’s writing is as sharp as ever.

The Secret History of DB Cooper #4

by Brian Churilla

With each new issue, I’m more and more impressed by how cool this comic is.  Brian Churilla has taken the historical mystery of DB Cooper, and reimagined it as a story involving a monster-filled psychic plane, the CIA, missing children, and Soviet intrigue.

In this issue, Cooper discovers that he can now act as a sort of gateway for creatures trying to cross from the Glut (the name of the bizarre world where he conducts his psychic assassinations) into our world.  The CIA believes they’ve identified the double agent who has infiltrated their ranks, and are also trying to arrest Cooper.  Meanwhile, in the Glut, he finally meets the Soviet agent who has been pursuing him.  The issue ends with a revelation I didn’t see coming.

Churilla is a master of the monster comic, coming up with all sorts of strange and disturbing creatures, but it is his character work in the ‘real’ world of this comic that impresses me the most here.  This is an excellently paced series, and each issue has left me wanting more.

The Unwritten #38

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross

I think removing Tom Taylor from this book for a whole arc (at least the first half of it) was an effective way of shaking things up a little in the wake of the momentous events of the last arc.

In the months since Tom defeated the Cabal, the world has been changing.  There is a new cult based on worship of Tommy Taylor and the books that he stars in, and the world is beginning to lose its stories, or its connection to them.

This issue is divided between scenes that show Richie Savoy’s conversation with Madame Rausch, and the continuing investigation of the Church of Tommy by the Aboriginal detective we met last issue.

Rausch is suffering from the changes being brought about by the Leviathan, and she kind of freaks Richie out.  The cop, meanwhile (the only name given to her in this issue is a bit of a racial epithet, so I’m not using it, but don’t remember her real name), is using Daniel Armitage, the former Cabal employee we met a couple months back, as an informant in the Church, although he takes more initiative than she expected.

This series has been working very well for a while now, and I appreciate the change in tone and approach that Carey is using right now.  I look forward to seeing where this is all going to end up, as I feel that Tom will have to get back into things soon.

Quick Takes:

Avengers Academy #32 – I wonder just how much of a strain it’s been for Christos Gage to keep thinking of reasons for Avengers Academy to get embroiled in the fight between the Avengers and the X-Men.  In this issue, newly Phoenix-ified Emma Frost shows up at the school to destroy the Sentinel that stays there.  Of course, this happens right after the mutant-hunting robot’s owner, Juston, has a conversation with X-23 about how much the robot means to him, and how it will never hurt mutants.  This all feels very familiar, as once again, Gage has his characters acting one way, and then changing their minds because of what one of the kids says or does.  It’s getting a little repetitive.  Tim Green II’s pencils are a welcome change from Tom Grummett’s, but this book looks a lot like a Ron Lim comic from the 90s, and not like the wonderful work that Green did on the Star-Lord series a while back.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #6 – And suddenly, this series, which has been so ridiculous and ham-fisted, becomes more than readable – it’s actually good.  I think we can thank Jonathan Hickman and Olivier Coipel for that.  Hickman is the right person to tackle some of the big ideas that fuel the story now, as the Phoenix Five begin to remake the world, and still are treated with suspicion by the Avengers establishment.  Last week, after reading Fantastic Four, I commented that Hickman is the first writer since Christopher Priest who can handle the Black Panther properly, and he continues to demonstrate that here.  Coipel’s work is terrific – much more finished than John Romita’s sloppy pencils were, and consistent throughout the book.  I’m glad I stuck it out this long, because now, half-way through, I’m interested in what’s going on (except for this silly K’un Lun connection nonsense, and the unfortunate appearance of the Scarlet Witch).  Thirty-six pages for $4 is nice too – I felt like I got my money’s worth for a change.

Batwoman #10 – By playing with the order in which the different parts of his story are told, JH Williams has made a very straight-forward and conventional Bat-story into something much more interesting.  We’re in the middle of an arc, and nothing overly surprising happens (I don’t think what Sune reveals at the end of this issue is all that shocking), but Trevor McCarthy’s art is pretty, and the story jumps around nicely.

BPRD Hell on Earth – The Devil’s Engine #2 – Agent Devon continues to try to bring the psychic girl Fenix in to the BPRD, but is now being pursued by gigantic creatures.  Devon is a well-written character – he’s a jerk and a bit of a coward, and therefore not your typical comic book protagonist.  Also, more weirdness is going on at Zinco.  This is a very solid issue, with some more wonderful art by Tyler Crook.

Daredevil #14Daredevil has been abducted by the Chancellor Exchequer of Latveria over a perceived debt, and while my hope that Chancellor Beltrane might echo one of the most famous comics scenes ever set in Dr. Doom’s fabled state was unfulfilled, Mark Waid does give us a very good story that has DD making like Steve McQueen, as his senses begin to shut down.  With Chris Samnee drawing, this comic can do no wrong.

Dark Avengers #176 – In case there was anyone out there questioning whether or not the renaming of Thunderbolts into Dark Avengers as just a gimmick, this issue comes along, proving that once again, Marvel is frequently the House of Bad Ideas.  This issue does not feature a single one of Norman Osborn’s ‘Dark Avengers’, instead returning to the tale of the time-lost Thunderbolts, who find themselves at the very beginnings of life on Earth, and meet up with a loose end from Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Fantastic Four run while they’re at it.  This is a good issue, in the way that Thunderbolts has been good for a while now.  I guess, since this isn’t going to be another iteration of the Norman Osborn show, I may have to add this comic back to my pull-list.

DC Universe Presents #10 – This retelling of The Silence of the Lambs, with Vandal Savage in the Hannibal Lecter role continues to be completely predictable, but still not all that bad.  I thought James Robinson would be more original with this when I decided to preorder it.  I am still hoping that Scandal Savage will suddenly appear to save the day, and become intrenched in the DCnU.

Fables #118 – And with this issue, I’m done with Fables.  I’ve been increasingly bored with and/or disappointed in Bill Willingham’s long-running series.  This current arc is built around Bigby Wolf’s kids, one of whom has been installed as the queen of a world for discarded toys.  In this issue, we learn that these are all ‘Toys Who Killed!’, and things get progressively worse.  Fables, up to just after issue 100, has been a terrific series.  I think that Willingham has run out of ideas though, and I’m out.  I’m going to miss my regular fix of Mark Buckingham art though…

Invincible Iron Man #519 Tony continues to have to manage the various attacks that the Mandarin has launched on him while the first Detroit Steel makes his move.  This is a good arc, and it does feel more and more like Matt Fraction is wrapping up his run.

Journey Into Mystery #640 – The conflict between Otherworld and the Manchester Gods needs a little mischief, as Loki decides that he can best help by being himself, at least until he begins to question which side is in the right.  Another very good issue, with a nice little cameo by Daimon Hellstrom.

New Mutants #44 – It would seem that there is some kind of threat to the universe, and it is centred on the New Mutants.  At least, that’s what Dr. Strange and the Silver Surfer think, when they pop by to let the team know of this problem.  Strangely, they do nothing to help, and instead leave it up to Dani Moonstar to figure it all out, despite this not being her area of expertise.  Later, following a lead, they visit Westchester, because they think that Karma is involved.  It all feels a little too tenuous, and makes it hard for me to care.  In fact, with the number of months that Marvel double-ships this book, maybe it’s time to let this one go…

Nightwing #10 – The thing that got me to add Nightwing to my pull-list is the way in which Kyle Higgins has honored Dick Grayson’s past, while trying to find something for the character to do that is not just be Batman’s ex-partner.  Now, he has Dick trying to establish Haly’s Circus in Gotham, in a move that echoes Bruce Wayne’s Gotham revitalization plan (which we haven’t heard much about since the Court of the Owls story began), while also working to clear Nightwing’s name in a murder case where it appears he is being framed by a cop.  As well, Higgins references some of the work that Scott Snyder did with the character when he was in the Bat-suit.  In all, a good approach to a character that has never interested me before this year.

Planet of the Apes #15So much is happening in this comic these days.  Voice Alaya is facing a coup in Mak, while Sully finally gets to meet her son just as she plans to liberate the camps.  Darryl Gregory has built up a terrific storyline in this book, and Carlos Magno’s art is incredible.  This is one of my favourite monthly comics.

Secret Avengers #28 – I guess this has to be one of the most inconsequential tie-ins to AvsX there is.  By the end of this issue, everything is put back where it was – Captain Marvel is dead again (come on, that is not a spoiler), and everyone’s flying back to Earth in their restored spaceship.  I’m pleased to see that Secret Avengers is going back to its usual thing with the next issue, because this series is so much better than the last three issues have been.

Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi – Force Storm #5 – John Ostrander’s first arc of his new series, set in the earliest days of the Jedi order, comes to a close with this issue, and hopefully all of the set-up is finally finished.  This mini-series was hampered by the sheer volume of information that Ostrander had to dump on us; my hope is that the next arc will return to the more character-driven and exciting work he’s known for.

Uncanny X-Men #14 – There is no better artist for this very bizarre AvsX tie-in than Dustin Weaver.  He is called upon to use the same world-building skills he employed (employs?) in Jonathan Hickman’s SHIELD, as he and Kieron Gillen take us on a tour of the hidden underground cavern where Mister Sinister has constructed a kingdom for himself, populated with his own clones.  Gillen’s work has been the best part of Avengers Vs. X-Men, and I appreciate that he is able to explore different aspects of how the X-Men and their villains react to the new presence of the Phoenix Five.  This is some good stuff.

Winter Soldier #7 – Bucky and the Black Widow are on the trail of the last of the Soviet sleeper agents, in another example of how good Brubaker and Lark are at this kind of story.  I dropped Captain America a while back, and haven’t missed it at all because this series is so much better.

Wonder Woman #10 – So Tony Akins is the designated fill-in artist for Cliff Chiang, the official artist on Wonder Woman.  Now, apparently, Kano is Tony Akins’s fill-in artist.  The things that DC will do to stay on schedule…  This issue wraps up the storyline about Wonder Woman and her sojourn in Hades, as her wedding to its lord does not go as he expected, and Diana demonstrates the extent of her capacity for love.  This series has shown an incredibly strange side of the Amazon princess, but it has worked wonders for the character.  By placing her at the centre of a large and bizarre family drama, Brian Azzarello has made her title more interesting than its ever been.

X-Factor #238 – I guess it’s because the cast of this book is just so big that Peter David is splitting the team into a few different squads.  Rahne leaves to track down her baby, with Rictor and Shatterstar along for the ride, while Madrox and Layla start to look into the questionable suicide of Far Sight a couple of issues back.  Havok and Banshee go off their own mission, to investigate why it looks like some people have been killed by powers that resemble Theresa’s.  It’s a good issue, but it feels awfully scattered.

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

Astonishing X-Men #51 (Lest anyone accuse me of being homophobic, the ‘morally indefensible’ comment above is a swipe at Before Watchmen, not this comic.  I support gay marriage, in comics and in real life.  I don’t support stealing creators’ intellectual property.)

Avenging Spider-Man #8

Before Watchmen: The Comedian #1

Mars Attacks #1

New Avengers #27

Wolverine #308

The Week in Graphic Novels:

A Complete Lowlife

by Ed Brubaker

Quick quiz:  What’s the first thing you think of when you hear Ed Brubaker’s name?  I automatically associate him with crime comics, such as Criminal, or his other genre explorations like Incognito and the currently-running Fatale.  I imagine a number of people would think of Captain America first, as he’s been writing that character for a number of years, and is responsible for some of the best Cap stories of the last twenty years.  I doubt very many people would associate Brubaker with semi-autobiographical cartooning along the lines of a Chester Brown or Joe Matt, but that’s what A Complete Lowlife is.

Brubaker wrote and drew the comics collected here in the early 90s, before he broke into mainstream comics.  His stories feature Tommy, a guy in his early twenties who lacks ambition, preferring to work in dead-end service industry jobs, drink, and generally waste time.  He has problems with women, and thinks nothing of stealing from his employers.

I’m not sure if Tommy is a complete lowlife, as the title suggests, but he’s not all that nice a person.  Brubaker pieces together a not uncommon figure – an American male trapped in a cycle of adolescence that is extending way too long into adulthood.  Still, those figures are kind of funny at times, and Brubaker has always known how to tell a good story.  His art is a little stiff, but more than serviceable.  This is an interesting window into the mind of one of the most influential writers working in comics today.

Album of the Week:

Oh No – Ohnomite Oh No creates this entire album out of samples from the soundtrack of Dolemite, the blaxploitation movie.  As a straight-up hip-hop album, this is perfectly fine, although there are the usual boring MCs that Oh No is known for working with (I’m talking to you Roc C and MED).  The Doom track is fire though.  This does not stand on the same level as Dr. No’s Oxperiment though, which remains his best work.

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