The Weekly Round-Up #134 With Prophet, American Vampire, Fatale, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century & More

Happy (belated) Canada Day to my people, and Happy 4th of July to my neighbours to the south!  Now, let’s look at some comics.

Best Comic of the Week:

Prophet #26

by Brandon Graham and Emma Rios

Since Brandon Graham relaunched this failed and best-forgotten Rob Liefeld property a few months ago, I’d been hoping that he would draw an issue as well as write.  Despite the fact that he’s worked with gifted artists such as Simon Roy and Farel Dalrymple, I wanted to see what Graham would do with the strange future he’s created.  This issue gave me my wish.

After the first three issues of Graham’s run, which contained a longer story, each subsequent issue has been a done-in-one story that involves a clone (or three) of the original John Prophet waking up on some strange world or other setting, and doing something that has to do with the return of the Earth Empire.  This issue is a little different, as its protagonist is a Jaxson, “one of old man Prophet’s unhatched eggs, brought to life to fight along in his fight.”  The Jaxson looks like a robot, although we know it has to eat to heal itself and generate energy to do things like fly.

This one is on a strange, mostly abandoned planet.  He senses one of his brothers, a larger creature named Xefferson, who joins him on a trip through the ‘Cyclops Rail’, a system of wormholes used for travel.  Like the other issues that came before it, what is really going on in this book remains a bit of a mystery, but Graham’s storytelling is so strong, I’m just happy to ride along with it, trusting that everything will make sense soon enough. This issue feels like a tribute to Moebius, with its alien worlds drawn in Graham’s simplistic yet complex style.  There is a sense of wonder in these comics that is lacking from just about everything else on the stands these days, and that makes this a treat to read each month.

There is also a back-up by the incredible Emma Rios, which shows another Prophet clone engaging in some sort of congress with a spider-creature.  I think; it’s a little unclear, but very lovely.  This book continues to climb to the top of my affections.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #28

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

It feels like American Vampire has returned to its core with the beginning of the new story arc, The Blacklist.  It’s been a while since the three main characters of this series – Pearl, Henry, and Skinner Sweet – have been in the same issue (I think not since their little Pacific WWII adventure), and it’s good to see them all back together again, even if Henry spends the whole issue in a coma.

A couple of issues ago we saw that Henry had been attacked.  This issue opens with Pearl dispatching his attacker, before she and family friend (and fellow American Vamp) Calvin are attacked at Henry’s bedside.  This leads to a visit to the Vassals of the Morning Star (a vampire-hunting organization), and the knowledge that a group of vampires are being protected and hidden by the Hollywood elite.

This story is set against the Senate hearings into Communist sympathizers in Hollywood, and Scott Snyder uses that atmosphere of fear and paranoia to provide his antagonists shelter.  Pearl and Skinner are going to be hunting these vampires down, and as this arc is set to last six issues, we can guess that there are going to be lots of vampires to find.

Rafael Albuquerque returns to the art duties on this title with this issue, so everything looks spectacular.

Fatale #6

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

The second story arc of Fatale starts with this issue, and it is an amazing start, perhaps even better than the first volume’s.  Like with that story, this issue is split almost evenly between a prologue set in the present day, and the first chapter of the arc, set in the 1970s.

We begin by looking in on Nicolas Lash, the godson of Hank Raines.  Since we last saw him, Nicolas has become ever more obsessed with discovering the secrets of Josephine, the woman who was both his godfather’s lover, and his companion when he lost his leg.  His obsession has led him to a level of paranoia which is confirmed as accurate when some people come after him, looking for some sort of object they figure he got from his godfather’s house or safe deposit box.  Brubaker is piling on the mysteries in this section of the story.

The rest of the comic follows a B-movie actor named Miles, who seems to be involved in the seamier side of Los Angeles’s drug fuelled star-wannabe scene.  Miles is looking to score some cocaine, and tracks a girl he knows named Suzy to a rather strange party.  He finds her in the basement with a stab wound, next to a guy whose head has been blown off.  It seems that Suzy is part of something called the Method Church, which I presume has some kind of link to the cult we’ve seen in previous issues of Fatale.  Anyway, it’s not long before Miles is trying to help Suzy escape, and they end up in Josephine’s backyard.

Most of this issue read not that differently from an issue of Criminal, which is of course, high praise.  There was more of a crime comic element to it than before, although I imagine that the horror aspect is going to be taking over as the story progresses.  Brubaker portrays Josephine as more of a victim of her circumstances, or ‘curse’ in this issue, which contrasts with how she was shown in the first arc, and in the prologue to this issue.

Fatale’s first trade was published this week, so now is the perfect time for curious new readers to get on one of the best and most successful new series of 2012.  You won’t be sorry.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century #3 – 2009

Written by Alan Moore
Art by Kevin O’Neill

I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not all that impressed with this latest appearance of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

In a nutshell, this issue jumps some forty years since the team was last seen.  Orlando has been in the army, fighting in Q’Mar (a stand-in for Iraq?).  Mina has been in a mental institute, and Allan Quartermain has fallen off the wagon, and is living on the streets. Orlando is called upon to put the band back together to fight the Anti-christ, so that’s what happens.  There’s a little more going on, but not much.

And therein lies the problem with this series, as it moves closer to the present day.  When Moore first started writing the League, what made it work was the use of so many different literary characters (Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, etc.) in a shared universe.  When the story was set in Victorian England, that was easily done; all the characters were in the public domain.  When setting a story in 2009, when copyright laws are still in effect, causes Moore to spend more time being cute with his references (it’s pretty clear that the Anti-christ is Harry Potter, but it’s never stated) than with actually developing his characters and story into something very interesting or exciting.

I’d expected this issue to be a little easier to read, as many of the references would be more obvious than the ones set in 1969, a time where I wasn’t alive.  I didn’t really find that to be the case – instead, I felt that each and every time a name was mentioned, or someone walked through the foreground of a frame, that there was some sort of easter egg that I was supposed to decipher, making this the literary comic book equivalent of Where’s Waldo?.  I know there is an audience for this sort of thing, but it’s not me.

On the up-side, Kevin O’Neill continues to impress.

The Manhattan Projects #4

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

Since this series began, we’ve only seen Albert Einstein sitting in front of an obelisk studying it.  Finally, we get to see what the purpose of this object, which does remind me a little of 2001, actually is.  And, as has become typical in this series, it’s not exactly what you would have expected, even though the device’s secrets echo some of the events of the first issue.

The Manhattan Projects is about the various secret sides of the famous war initiative that gave us the atomic bomb.  Hickman is playing with a cast of historical figures, but has twisted all of them into strange and bizarre characters.  J. Robert Oppenheimer is really his twin brother.  FDR is not dead, but is now the first artificial intelligence.  Things like this are common in Hickman’s playground.

This issue opens with a visit from alien beings in the desert of New Mexico.  This apparently happens every decade, and on hand to greet the visitors are Manhattan Projects director General Leslie Groves, Oppenheimer, and representatives from the Soviet Union, Germany, and somewhere else.  The only thing is, it’s not the usual visitors, but people from another alien race that conquered them, who have an offer for Earth.

The rest of the issue is concerned with Einstein and his device.  I like the way that Hickman has used each issue so far to explore a different aspect of the Projects, without yet giving us a notion of a larger plot or story-line.  Instead, much like his earliest issues of Fantastic Four, it seems that he is just taking his time laying the groundwork for a gigantic tale.  It works here.

The New Deadwardians #4

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by INJ Culbard

As we reach the half-way mark in Dan Abnett’s alternative history comic, that posits an Edwardian England divided between Brights (lower-class normal people), Young (the vampiric upper classes), and Restless (zombies of all classes), he decides to share a little more of the mechanics of how society changed with the discovery of ‘the cure’.

Chief Inspector George Suttle, a Young, is investigating the murder of another Young – the first ever to take place using methods other than the usual, like a stake in the heart.  He’s doing his investigating in Zone B, where the Bright live, when a group of thugs try to rough him up.  He begins to go through some changes by being in the regions of London where people actually live, and it causes him to remember more of the man that he once was.  To contrast this, Louisa, his maid who he recently gave the Cure to, is having a hard time accepting after-life as a Young.

Abnett is having fun with this book.  He’s playing with the strict social stratification of Edwardian England, but he’s also telling a compelling mystery story that is full of strong character work.  This is an off-beat, but very good series, with very nice art.

Scalped #59

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

It’s the penultimate issue of Scalped, and it seems that all opportunities for redemption are off the table, as the central characters of the series, and many of the peripheral ones, collide in a violent confrontation in Lincoln Red Crow’s casino.

Dino Poor Bear (who was the character I was always rooting for the most) appears poised to take over Red Crow’s old gang, and is leading them in an attack on their former leader.  Into the fray comes Catcher and his captive, Dash Bad Horse.  It’s not long before the three are holding guns on one another.

Jason Aaron has spent fifty-eight issues preparing us for this final confrontation.  Catcher killed Bad Horse’s mother, who was the love of Red Crow’s life.  Bad Horse betrayed Red Crow’s trust.  Red Crow is the least innocent of all three.  The relationships and connections between these three men have fuelled this book for some time, and I don’t think anyone would have expected this to end any other way.

Scalped is the best comic that Vertigo has published in the last ten years.  Aaron has turned this into a subtle and nuanced study in character, and RM Guera has been a terrific collaborator from the beginning.  He really shines in this issue, with some strong images, such as that of a wooden ‘Indian’ in the casino burning while everyone around it tries to kill one another.

Jock’s cover for this issue is stunning.  I can not wait to read the next issue; I hope that Aaron takes the time to visit some of the other characters we haven’t seen much of lately, such as Red Crow’s daughter, and Granny Poor Bear.

Spaceman #7

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

We’re getting near the end of Azzarello and Risso’s science fiction reality TV child abduction genetic engineering epic, and a lot happens in this issue.

Through the flashbacks, we learn more about the connection between our hero, Orson, and the ‘spaceman’ who is now pursuing him, Carter.  They were in a tough spot together once, and that kind of thing either builds a bond, or it creates a lasting hatred.  Guess how these two feel about each other.

In the middle of this struggle is Tara, the abducted child star of a reality webcast.  Orson is trying to protect her, but when he is distracted by Carter, another faction makes their move.  Meanwhile, the police decide that they’ve been strung along enough by Tara’s adoptive parents, and shut down the broadcast.

I’ve mentioned before how the story is really just a vehicle for Azzarello to experiment with future forms of slang, and a type of low-class argot.  That continues to be one of the more fascinating aspects of this comic for me, alongside Risso’s bleak portrayal of the future.  This is a good series.

Whispers #3

by Joshua Luna

I haven’t seen very much buzz on-line for this comic, and I don’t really understand why, because it’s excellent.  Joshua Luna (without brother Jonathan, for a change) has put together a very interesting story about astral projection and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Sam has suddenly developed the ability to travel with his mind, and to read the thoughts of the people he visits spiritually.  He’s discovered that an ex-girlfriend has become a junkie, and owes money to a violent dealer.  He’s also stumbled upon a murderer who is killing children, who himself hears some sort of demonic voice.

Sam’s a smart guy, and in this issue, he sets about trying to handle both issues, in a way that I didn’t see coming.  I like that he’s beginning to make some use of his abilities, instead of passively observing, as he did for the first two issues.

I’m not sure exactly where Luna is going with this book, aside from the obvious escalation of things between Sam and this demonic figure, and that’s what I like most about it.  I also appreciate the way in which Sam’s OCD is being portrayed – it’s very realistic, and logical within Sam’s point of view.  This title deserves as much recognition as some of Image’s other recent terrific titles.

Quick Takes:

All Star Western #10 – Palmiotti and Gray’s ‘Jonah Hex in Gotham’ series has been all over the place in terms of story pacing and just what the series is going to be about, but this issue is one of the best since the relaunch began.  It has the Court of Owls picking a fight with the followers of the Crime Bible, and the return of Tallulah Black, a favourite character from the previous Jonah Hex series.  Also of note is a fun Bat Lash story featuring art from the legendary Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.

Batman Incorporated #2 – Grant Morrison provides us with a condensation of Talia Al Ghul’s full history in this issue, more or less outlining the extent of Batman’s dealings with the Demon’s Head in the New 52.  It’s a good issue, with some gorgeous work by Chris Burnham, but it’s a little difficult to follow without foreknowledge of just who Ras Al Ghul is, and just why he is unique among Batman’s rogues.  If you consider that the New 52 is supposed to be new-reader friendly, this fails.

BPRD Hell on Earth: Exorcism #1 – I’m a little surprised it’s taken this long for Cameron Stewart to draw an issue of BPRD; he’s a good fit for the comic.  This new two-part mini-series features a couple of characters that haven’t been seen in a long, long time.  The heroine is Agent Ashley Strode, the girl who we once saw trying to impress Liz Sherman.  She attends an exorcism where a demon insists that Ota Benga, the priest last seen in BPRD 1947, release a demon he’s held prisoner for a long time.  It’s a good issue, and I like the way that Mignola is revisiting older characters.

FF #19 – Here’s a fun little issue showing what the kids are up to while the Fantastic Four deals with a problem in Wakanda.  The villains are rather too convenient, but the character work is top-notch, and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s art works very well.

Flash #10 With fill-in artist Marcus To taking over for the month, I can’t help but marvel at how much more I like Francis Manapul’s art than his writing.  The problem with this comic, really, is that Barry Allen is a boring character.  I think Manapul (and co-writer Brian Buccellato) know it, and that explains why they’ve turned to the twist that they use at the end of the issue.  I find myself losing interest in this title, and am thinking about dropping it.  With this issue, it’s clear that I am really only buying it for the art…

Hell Yeah #4 – I can’t make up my mind about this comic.  I was going to drop it, then I thought it was a five-issue mini-series, so I figured I’d see it through, but now I’ve learned that it’s going to be an on-going.  Basically, Alan Moore’s Supreme meets Infinite Vacation, and it’s pretty decent, if not all that memorable.  I will read the next issue, which is set to explain what all has been going on in this violent dimension-hopping series with nice art.

Hit-Girl #1 – I have two big problems with this comic.  The first is the cover, which refers to the prepubescent female main character as ‘the little bitch’.  Do I even need to explain my objection to this, or is it just self-evident.  I know that writer Mark Millar is looking to spoof superhero comics, but it strikes me as gratuitous.  My second objection is to the fact that this series takes place between volumes one and two of Kick-Ass, making this a prequel to a sequel (an interquel?).  Having read Kick-Ass 2, I was left with no questions about what happened before it, and this series seems completely superfluous.  On a positive note, John Romita Jr.’s work here is infinitely better than his work on Avengers Vs. X-Men, but it’s not going to be enough to get me to stay with this series.  I already know how it’s going to end, and don’t care enough about the characters to stick it out.  I might be back for Kick-Ass 3…

I, Vampire #10 – Artist Andrea Sorrentino gets a chance to shine here, as the Van Helsings (a large paramilitary order of vampire hunters) attack Andrew Bennett’s gathering of vampires.  Most of the narrative is made up of a conversation between Bennett’s friend (who I somehow spent most of the issue thinking was Tot from Denny O’Neil’s Question run) and a leader of the Van Helsings about relative moralism and the killing of monsters.  This series is a little too decompressed, but it looks pretty cool, in a Jae Lee knock-off kind of way.

Justice League Dark #10 – Jeff Lemire continues to establish a sense of purpose to this title, as John Constantine spirits everyone to the House of Mystery to figure out what to do with the magical artifact they took from Felix Faust last issue.  Faust is one step ahead of them however, so there are problems.  Lemire has a good handle on these characters, and gets the squabbling ant-team tone of their interactions with one another down perfectly.  He writes Constantine particularly well.

Resident Alien #2 – There aren’t a lot of other comics in the medical thriller/alien/mystery genre, so when I say this is one of the best murder mystery stories featuring an alien doctor hiding out of Earth that I’ve ever read, it would be easy to downplay how good this book really is.  Our alien doctor has figured out who is killing local people, while his nurse pursues her own suspicions about him.  This is a very well-written and nice-looking comic.

Spider-Men #2 – It still feels way too soon to have Miles meeting the 616 Peter Parker, but Brian Michael Bendis turns in a nicely balanced script which allows both principal characters the chance to be themselves.  Sara Pichelli does a great job of showing the differences between the characters in terms of their physicality and actions.  It’s good stuff.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #12 – The issue of Reed Richards and his Children of Tomorrow is resolved in a novel way this issue, as Tony Stark gets to save the day.  There’s no sign of Nick Fury and the sub-plot about him being wanted by SHIELD, probably because co-writers Jonathan Hickman and Sam Humphries have to set up the upcoming Ultimate Universe cross-over that will probably do nothing more than disrupt these titles for a month or two.  This issue is well-written, but visually a mess, as the art is divided between Luke Ross and Ron Garney (with an epilogue by Butch Guice).  These artists don’t compliment each other, and Garney’s pages are awful.

Wolverine and the X-Men #12 – Here’s kind of a novel idea for Avengers Vs. X-Men – an issue where a squad of X-Men fight a squad of Avengers, without things being all blown out of proportion and ridiculous (and yes, I know that Beast tries to eat Iceman in this issue).  Jason Aaron has a decent handle on Rachel Summers, who is the main character here, and Chris Bachalo is wonderful as always.  It’s a good tie-in.  I don’t understand why Beasts actions here contradict what he said and did last week in Avs.X, but I have learned over the years to not expect tie-ins to actually match what happens in the main book, even when they are written by the same person.

X-Men Legacy #269 – An attempt is made here to remember that the teams on opposite sides of AvsX were more or less allies before Marvel Editorial decreed that they be enemies, as Ms. Marvel decides to try to speak with Rogue, the one X-Man she has the most history with, and of course, they end up fighting.  Here’s the thing though – Rogue stole Carol’s memories back in the day, but they didn’t swap anything, so I don’t understand why Carol keeps insisting that she knows Rogue well.  It’s a little weird.  Otherwise, an acceptable issue, perhaps the best since Christos Gage took over this book.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #688

X-Men #31

Bargain Comics:

AVX: Vs. #1 – Well, I knew going in that this would be stupid, so if nothing else came from having bought this comic, at least I’ve  confirmed that I should trust myself more.  The saddest part is knowing that there are lots of people who probably wish that all of Avengers Vs. X-Men could just be scenes of characters fighting, without plot or reason.  This is like fan-fiction let wild.

Miracleman #9

Written by Alan Moore
Art by Rick Veitch and Rick Bryant

My Miracleman collection has more gaps in it than it does issues, at least during Alan Moore’s storied tenure with the character, so I was pretty happy to see this at a reasonable price the other day.  These comics are just about impossible to find in decent condition, and with a $5 price tag, I couldn’t resist.

The Miracleman story is only sixteen pages long, and, having not read (or not remembering the issues surrounding it), is hard to understand.  A pregnant woman wakes up because she is having contractions.  She walks outside to a ruined complex, where everyone still living is running away.  She is found by Miracleman, who puts her in a truck and flies away, until they find a nice safe place for him to deliver her (and his?) child.  This leads to a very explicit birthing scene which justifies the parental warning on the cover.  While watching the baby being born, Miracleman reminisces on and ponders his own life.  There is also an interlude which involve some strange creatures in human form visiting someone in a mental hospital.

Having read scattered issues of Moore’s Miracleman before, I think this is a series that needs to be read in order to be fully appreciated.  Reading it like this, it’s more of a trip to see some old school Rick Veitch artwork, and to try to remember just how groundbreaking this comic was when it came out (I was eleven, and definitely not buying it).

There is a back-up story, but it was unreadable.

Rocketeer Adventures 2 #2 – Once again, these stories are immediately forgettable (as I find all Rocketeer stories are), but there is some terrific art in this book by Colin Wilson and John Paul Leon, making it well worth the purchase.  There’s something about the design of this character that is just so cool, and that makes it a treat to see different artists try their hands at him.

Album of the Week:

Kae Sun – Lion On A Leash  This Ghanaian artist played an outdoor festival the other week, and impressed me with his music, which is a bit of a marriage of K’Naan (who he opened for) and Bob Marley.  It’s good stuff.

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