The Weekly Round-Up #135 With Mind MGMT, iZombie, Morning Glories, Sweet Tooth, Thief of Thieves & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Mind MGMT #2

by Matt Kindt

Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT is one of the most exciting new series to debut this year, belonging in the ranks of Saga, Manhattan Projects, and The Massive as proof that the best comics are coming out of the smaller publishers who recognize the value of creator-owned properties.

This is one of those rare series where every word and image in the book, from cover to cover, is part of the larger story, including the fake ad on the back.  Kindt is slowly letting us into his world, where a group (company?  governmental organization?) of people with psychic abilities have been either running the show, or influencing it heavily since the beginning of the First World War.  There are a lot of qualifiers in that sentence, but that’s because Kindt has been keeping much of what Mind MGMT is wrapped in secrets.  I feel like I learn more from the short ‘Second Floor’ strip that runs across the inside covers than I do from the main story.

In this issue, Meru, our easily confused True Crime writer continues to evade pursuit with the CIA agent she met at the end of the last issue.  They are being chased by a pair of ‘Immortals’, who apparently can’t be killed except by a head shot, and who are not zombies (that’s all we know so far).  Escaping them, Meru and Bill leave Mexico to travel to Zanzibar, trying to figure out the significance of the design Meru found on pots made by amnesiac Mexicans (yes, really).  There, they meet Perrier, a journalist who has been typing on a long spool of paper Jack Kerouac style for a very long time.

It’s a little hard to follow exactly what’s going on right now.  Meru and Bill are attacked again, and after ditching their Immortal pursuers again, they decide they need to go to China to look for talking dolphins (when I type it, it sounds a little stupid).

I know how odd this series sounds when described this way, but Kindt has proven himself a master at the spy genre, and his ideas in this book feel very fresh and exciting.  I can’t wait to learn more about the mysteries of the Amnesia Flight and just what exactly Mind MGMT is, and what they want with Meru.

Other Notable Comics:

iZombie #27

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

It’s the penultimate issue of iZombie, and Chris Roberson manages to have every single character that has had any kind of importance to the series all converge at the same spot in downtown Eugene.  This is kind of nice for Gwen – she gets to reunite with the family she hasn’t seen since she died, and she gets the news that her brother is dating her friend Spot, the wereterrier.

The only problem is that Xitulu, an ancient Lovecraftian tentacle god thing has also come through to our reality, and the only way it can be stopped would be if Gwen absorbs the souls of every person in Eugene (including her family and friends), and feeds them to the elder god.  As you can imagine, she has some decisions to make.

iZombie has been an interesting read throughout its short lifespan.  Chris Roberson built a clear and believable explanation for monsters and other revenants, and then populated the series with a pile of young hipster-ish characters that are all connected to this larger Apocalyptic story.  Getting Michael Allred to draw was a stroke of genius.  Now we are in the position of watching all of the different pieces of this story come together, and hopefully, will be given a nice satisfactory ending next month.

Morning Glories #20

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

Twenty issues in, and the mysteries still keep piling up, but now Nick Spencer has decided to share a little about two members of the faculty at Morning Glory Academy.  During the Woodrun, a school-wide game of Capture the Flag (more or less), all of the students vanished.  We have been following some of them, and it looks to them like all the adults in the Academy have disappeared, but the opposite seems true to the faculty.

This has led to some problems for Georgina, the head teacher.  Her father, the Headmaster (who we have never laid eyes on yet) takes his anger out on her physically, and her sister Lara, the kindly guidance counsellor comes to comfort her.  Lara is a relatively new member of the cast, and we know her as the woman who helped Casey escape MGA.  This issue paints her in a very different light.

We learn that Lara and Georgina have different mothers (not surprising, seeing as they look so different), and that both of them never met their mothers.  The two girls competed for their father’s attentions throughout their childhoods, and Lara’s extra-sensory abilities made her seem the favourite, although it is eventually Georgina who gains control of the school.  We learn a few odd things over the course of the book – there are people kept prisoner under the ground, for one.  We also learn the story behind the cave that Lara used to help Casey escape, but we end up seeing this kind and caring woman as someone very different from what we’d thought.

This book is never dull, even though each new issue makes the series more complicated and obtuse.  I really admire the way that Spencer is spinning out such a strange story, yet still gripping my interest with each new instalment.  From almost the beginning, I’d been comparing this comic to Lost, but this has exceeded that flawed TV show in almost every way.

Sweet Tooth #35

by Jeff Lemire

Like many Vertigo series these days, Sweet Tooth is nearing the end of its run, and that means that some of the larger mysteries that we’ve been exposed to over the last three years need to be explained.  Dr. Singh has finally arrived in Alaska, and is investigating the circumstances of Gus’s birth, and his connection to the plague that has wiped out most people in North America, and probably the rest of the world.

From the beginning of this series, Lemire has experimented with and pushed the boundaries of traditional comics storytelling, finding innovative approaches to panel layout or narration.  This issue is no exception to that, as he divides each page into two distinct sections.  The upper two-thirds of the page is devoted to Gus’s ‘father’, and the events that led to his coming to care for Gus in a secluded region of Nebraska.  These scenes are silent.  The bottom third of the page is narrated by Dr. Singh, and shows him visiting Gus’s father’s home, and then the military base where the father worked, and where Gus was born.  Frequently, the images in each section mirror one another, or show the same scene, but over the bridge of twelve years or so.  It’s a particularly effective way to share this story.

This issue also incorporates the events that were shown a few months ago in issues guest-drawn by Matt Kindt (there is a montage of many of his images at one point).  This means that the connection between the events we saw in Alaska at the beginning of the 20th century and the hybrid children in the story’s present is confirmed, if not yet explained.

I’m really going to miss this title when it’s gone, but I appreciate that Lemire’s being given the chance to tell his story at his own pace, and in his own unique way.

Thief of Thieves #6

Written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

There’s nothing quite like a good double- or triple-crossing heist story, and as we get very close to the end of the first arc on this series, we start to understand exactly why Redmond is the ‘Thief of Thieves’.

Last issue, Redmond made a deal with the police detective (or is she an FBI agent?  I forget) who has been pursuing him for years – Redmond would set up a gang of wanted thieves in exchange for his son’s freedom from prison.  This issue shows how things go down, but Redmond’s always working a step or two ahead of everyone else, and it’s not sure that the cop is going to be too happy with how things end.  The only problem is that Redmond didn’t tip off his assistant Celia, and she’s come looking to even the score.

This is a very masterfully handled crime comic.  Kirkman and Spencer (whose run is going to finish with the next issue) have plotted this thing out wonderfully, and Shawn Martinbrough is second in my mind after Sean Phillips for drawing the perfect crime comic.  This is very good stuff.

Quick Takes:

Action Comics #11 – This issue is a little better than the last, but I don’t know if it’s going to be enough to get me to keep buying the series.  Morrison spends most of this issue trying to make Clark’s new secret identity work, and then reveals a new threat more or less out of the blue.  I also don’t get how Lois’s niece, who we have never seen before, suddenly displays all sorts of powers and abilities that the world’s preeminent investigative reporter never happened to notice.  I can get a sense of what kind of things Morrison wishes to do with this book, but for whatever reason, he’s completely constrained and playing it too safely.  I did like the Batman cameo though – that’s a character Morrison knows how to write.

Animal Man #11 – Jeff Lemire wraps up his second arc here, as Buddy gets a new body (and some new powers to go with it), and faces off against the rot creature that had moved into his old body (and has his son).  It’s a very good issue, although I much prefer Steve Pugh’s art to Alberto Ponticelli’s fill-in art this month.  It’s weird that Swamp Thing didn’t come out this week – usually these two titles are paired in shipping as well as in content.  Granted, Marco Rudy and Yannick Paquette have been killing that title, and I’d rather an issue be a week or two late than be drawn by a guest artist.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #7 – I have one big problem with this series right now – I don’t understand why these two teams are fighting anymore.  What are the Avengers hoping to do – depower the Phoenix Five?  And how exactly are they working so easily with Wanda now, when in the ‘zero’ issue, they wouldn’t even let her through the door?  Maybe there’s a tie-in I didn’t read where they all decided to become friends, but it would have been nice to show some of that in the main book.  So basically, the Avengers and X-Men are at each other’s throats again, but the rest of the super-community is sitting this all out (there are a few heroes who aren’t currently Avengers such as Reed Richards – it would be nice to see what he thinks about all of this).  I don’t know, I guess I should have expected to stay disappointed with this book, but last issue gave me hope.  Things just don’t feel very thought out, I guess that’s my biggest problem with it (for example, if you’re going to disguise someone as Scarlet Witch, why choose Sharon Carter?  Everyone’s going to shoot at her first!).

Creator-Owned Heroes #2 – The two comics in this book are both pretty good, but the ‘magazine’ content is not very essential.  I appreciate what Jimmy Palmiotti and his crew are trying to do, in creating a mixture of comics and comics related material, but much of that material is overly amateurish.  The interview with Paul Pope is cool, but I really don’t care about meeting Palmiotti’s personal trainer.  The writing is reminiscent of early Wizard, with it’s taste of narcissistic boosterism.  I’d be perfectly happy paying one dollar less and just getting the comics.

Danger Club #3 – I was on the fence with this series since it began – on the one hand, I’ve always liked ‘Days of Future Past’-ish stories where a handful of heroes find themselves in a world that is in a huge mess, and the idea of such a series being centred on teen sidekicks sounded interesting, but on the other, we’re three issues in, and I have next to no idea who any of these characters are.  Increasingly the story telling in this series is muddled and confusing, and I think I’m done.

Dial H #3 – Stuff is starting to make a lot more sense now, as Nelson gets a sense of who Manteau is, and what her connection to the dial is.  We also get a better sense of the threats that Nelson is having to face.  China Mieville’s writing has been a little obscure, in that pre-Vertigo way, but it’s increasingly impressing me.  I also have to give it to Mateus Santaolouco, who uses a variety of different styles in this comic (including a panel that I would swear was drawn by John Byrne in the 80s).  This is a pretty cutting-edge series for a major comics publisher to include in its central line-up these days.

Earth 2 #3 – I’m getting a bad feeling here.  Most of this issue has Alan Scott talking to a green flame, which then gives him powers.  Here’s the thing – last month DC made a huge fuss over the fact that in the New 52 Alan Scott is gay, and then they simply blow up his lover in a train crash.  I guess it’s easier to kill the boyfriend and have Alan be all ‘Cry for Justice-y’ (no, James Robinson is never living that travesty down) than to have to portray a stable committed homosexual relationship in a comic.  Why even bother making him gay, is the question I ask.  While this is going on, Jay Garrick meets Hawkgirl, and an old-school JSA villain makes his return, which borrows heavily from recent issues of Swamp Thing and Animal Man.  There is no sign of Mister Terrific, and very little forward momentum.  I’m going to give this another issue before deciding if it’s pull-file worthy or not.  Today, I’m leaning towards not.

Fairest #5 – Phil Jimenez’s art is quite lovely in this overly-dragged out storyline involving the Snow Queen fighting the evil fairy godmother who cursed Sleeping Beauty.  I think I’ve just run out of steam on the Fables books – other on-line commentators seem to be enjoying them as much as ever, but I find each new issue more tedious than the last.  I’ve dropped Fables, and will be dropping this series after the next issue (unless one of the rotating creative teams really entices me).

Haunt #24 – It’s a few months late, but it’s still a pretty frenetic read, as Haunt fights a giant fire monster thing in a burning church, and begins to tap into some new abilities or something.  This is probably one of the weaker issues since Joe Casey took over the writing, as there’s not a lot of forward plot movement.  Nathan Fox’s art is brilliant but also hard to follow in places.  I’m hoping this book can return to some kind of regular schedule, so it will be easier to remember what’s going on.

Invincible #93 – There’s tons of wide-screen action going on as the Flaxans attack again (despite the fact that Robot and Monster Girl are convinced that they’ve destroyed that threat forever).  With Mark out of the picture, recovering from injuries, Robert Kirkman has more than enough supporting cast to keep this book chugging right along, as we see the Guardians, and get a little more family time with Bulletproof, as well as seeing some more of what happened in the Flaxan dimension to Robot and MG.

Invincible Iron Man #520 – The ‘Long Way Down’ arc continues, as Detroit Steel fights the Hammer women, and Tony Stark is attacked in public, and then rescued by Iron Man.  Later, he has a conversation with the Mandarin that goes a little weird.  Matt Fraction’s held back some important information throughout this arc, but I expect we’ll get to the end of it all with the next issue.

Ultimate Spider-Man #12 – Another excellent issue of this series which has really surprised me.  I’d more or less written off Brian Michael Bendis as a writer that I’d become exhausted of, but there’s some real chemistry in this book.  Miles has to figure out what to do about his uncle the Prowler, and of course that ends with the two of them coming to blows, but I didn’t expect such an emotional finish to the comic.  Having read superhero comics for almost my entire life, I feel pretty justified in saying that Miles is one of the first characters that I’ve ever read about that I’ve developed such a strong personal liking for.  He’s just a nice kid in an impossible situation, and he’s much more believable to me than Peter Parker ever was.  David Marquez’s art is stunning.  I’m really glad I started to pick up this comic.

Uncanny X-Men #15 – Above I was complaining about how poorly thought-out Avengers Vs. X-Men really is.  Leave it to Kieron Gillen to try to make some more sense of it, as he has the Phoenix Five wrestle with their new abilities and responsibilities a little before deciding to go after Mister Sinister.  As always, Gillen’s work on this book is top-notch.  I think my biggest complaint about this cross-over is that it’s interrupting the wonderful flow he had on this book, and it’s going to end with him leaving the title, which is a real shame.  Daniel Acuna’s work is lovely here, as always.

X-Factor #239 – X-Factor just comes out too often.  I’ve been a supporter of this book since its latest iteration was launched a few years ago, and I love most of the characters that make up the large cast, but I feel like it’s almost-permanently bi-weekly schedule is too much.  It’s given Peter David the freedom to run too many plot-lines at once, often abandoning some for a few issues before returning to them, and it’s led to a rotating schedule of similar, and rather indistinct, artists.  I’m getting bored, I think.  This issue, which has Banshee (I still want to call her Siryn) fighting a real Banshee, and has Guido bare his soul to Monet, is decent, but feels a little slapped together.  There is no sign of Madrox, who is supposed to be investigating a murder, or Rahne, Rictor, and Shatterstar, who are supposed to be out searching for Rahne’s missing child.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #689

Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #1

Dan the Unharmable #3

Fury Max #4

Infernal Man-Thing #1

Bargain Comics:

Batwing #9 & 10 – This title continues to be disappointingly mediocre, as Batwing fights a Talon in Gotham in one issue, and then gets involved in some big pirate/nuclear science/Penguin thing in the next.  At least the tenth issue is partially based in Africa, before Batwing jets off to China to meet Nightwing (why is Nightwing helping him?  I don’t know).  The problem I have with this book is that it’s never been given the opportunity to become its own property.  There are too many instances of Batwing needing help from someone else in the Bat-Family for this to be a stand-alone title.  I understand it when Robin or Nightwing run into Bruce – they live in the same city, but for a character to be in Africa and constantly needing help from Gotham is a little sad.  Were DC to work on building this book into an African Batman title, I’m sure it would be a lot more distinctive.  Perhaps Judd Winick is not the right writer for this series – I vote for Joshua Dysart!

Captain America & Hawkeye #629 & 630 – Have you noticed how Cullen Bunn has become the ‘go-to’ guy at Marvel for fill-in arcs and stories that aren’t expected to get a lot of traction?  I guess they think they’re breaking him in, or grooming him to be the next Kieron Gillen, but I’d rather read The Sixth Gun.  These two issues are decent old-school comics – Hawkeye and Cap are (for some reason) looking for missing campers or something in New Mexico, when they run across a Blackwater-like group that is doing some sort of experiment with dinosaurs or something.  Soon enough, Cap is all dino-ized.  You’ve read it before, but it’s fine.

Moon Knight #10 -12 – The slowest Moon Knight story in the character’s history comes to its conclusion, as Madame Masque gets involved in the fun, the Avengers show up as a deus ex machina, and MK maybe gains another personality or two in his head.  This Bendis and Maleev collaboration really has not worked for me – I haven’t felt that there was much respect for the character and his long history, and that towards the end, this became just another piece of the ‘Ultron War’, which has been built up for months, but doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon, what with Bendis leaving the Avengers books.

New Avengers #26 – The most ridiculous Avs.X tie-in award goes to Bendis’s New Avengers, which is retconning some connection between K’un Lun and the Phoenix into Marvel continuity, and now connecting it all to the work Jonathan Hickman has started with his SHIELD series.  This issue has Leonardo Da Vinci helping Yu Ti to train a young red-head who looks just like Hope, despite supposedly being half-Asian, to be both Iron Fist and Phoenix.

Punisher MAX #20 – 22 – These issues finish off Jason Aaron’s run with the Punisher (and they finish off Frank Castle as well).  If you’ve read any of this series, you know what to expect from the final confrontation between Frank and the Kingpin.  What I didn’t expect was the nice eulogy issue, which has Nick Fury reflecting on Frank’s life.  This was very much the kind of series that should be read in prolonged sittings – the individual issues never amounted to much, but the sweep of the whole story was pretty good.

Ultimate Comics X-Men #8 – I haven’t been as impressed with this title as I am the other two Ultimate books, mostly because through the first arc, I couldn’t understand where Nick Spencer was going with the book, or how it tied in to the events in Ultimates.  Now, there is a conscious effort being made to align things, as we are given a story about Nick Fury’s mutant team that he’s sent to Tian to infiltrate Xorn’s people.  It’s a good issue, building up Jean Grey as a double agent (or is that triple?).  It’s still very much the third-stringer though; I wonder what things will be like once Brian Wood takes over.

X-Men #26 & 27 – I’m not sure how much longer Marvel is going to let Victor Gischler play with the vampires in the Marvel U, especially since it never seemed to take the world by storm, but these two issues do leave Jubilee in a decent place, and put us in a position where we can now not worry about this endless plot line.  These are good issues, with mostly nice art, but sometimes Karl Moline draws Storm like she’s a creepy manga version of the X-Babies.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

People Around Here

by Dave Lapp

I have a pretty complicated relationship with Dave Lapp’s work.  I’ve read his Drop-In, a series of vignettes set in the Regent Park art centre where he works or volunteers, and I’ve been reading his ‘People Around Here’ strip in Taddle Creek Magazine for the last few years.  If you were to ask me out of the blue what I thought of his work, I’d say that I didn’t like it very much, yet I find myself unable to stop reading it.

This book collects a number of his People Around Here strips, from Taddle Creek and from its previous publication history.  The strips are mostly one page in length, although towards the end of the book, they begin to run for anywhere from two to fourteen pages.  The strips are all set in and around Toronto, with the location usually mentioned right at the very beginning.

Most of these fall into the category of observational cartooning.  Lapp overhears a conversation, or has a strange run-in with someone on the street, and goes home to draw it.  In that sense, there’s a lot to like about this book – I enjoy seeing familiar settings, such as the Jet Fuel Cafe, the AGO, Future Bakery, and especially The Green Room, where I whiled away many an afternoon and evening when I was in high school.

What frustrates me about this work is that Lapp rarely delves into any real story.  We hear a snippet of conversation, or we look in on an interesting encounter, and then it’s over.  I never feel like Lapp gives things enough space to grow or develop, nor do I know what his purpose in sharing this strip really is.  There should be more to this work than Lapp winking, “City living is weird, eh?”  Even his longer pieces lack depth, commentary, or a sense of finality to them.

I think this is what separates Lapp from a cartoonist like Chester Brown (who appears time and again in the strips), who can be equally fixated on the minutiae of daily life, but who seems to have a point to his work.  Still, after having said all of this, I know I’ll be quick to pick up Lapp’s next book…

Tales of the Beanworld (Book 3.5)

by Larry Marder

I’ve been reading and loving Beanworld since sometime towards the end of its Eclipse Comics run in the early 90s.  When Dark Horse began republishing the early comics, followed by a volume of all-new material, I was very excited.  Now, they are giving us this slim volume, which includes all the shorter, colour Beanworld stories that Larry Marder has done, and despite my already owning 2/3 of this book, I had to get this hardcover.

Beanworld is not easily explained or understood.  The standard quote is that it’s ‘a most peculiar comic book experience’, as Marder tells us on the cover, and that’s a fair assessment.  Basically, this comic is about a group of walking, talking beans who live in a tiny little world.  Everything in their world has a purpose, and there is a sense of order about how the beans go about their day.  Sometimes that order is disrupted by outside forces, and sometimes it is inner exploration and pondering that creates the story.

This book opens with a story from some anthology comic that Rob Liefeld published back in the early Image days (and therefore, is probably the most action-oriented this comic has ever been), as a creature called the Red-Hatted Gangster Racketeer shows up, and gets beaten down by Mr. Spook (as shown on the cover).  The next story deals with the inability of the Cuties (baby beans) to communicate with one another.  The final one involves recycling in the Beanworld.

All three tales have been newly melded together with some framing sequences.  Beanworld can be deceptive – it looks like a kids’ book when you first glance through it, but there is much more going on in the story, and Marder weaves in a number of complex themes and ideas.

While I enjoyed reading this stories, and especially enjoyed Marder’s use of colour (the main books are black and white), all this really did was whet my appetite for more Beanworld.  I hope the wait for volume four won’t be too long…

Strangers in Paradise Pocket Book 5

by Terry Moore

As much as I generally love Strangers In Paradise, there are many series, be they in comics, television, movies, or novels that sometimes simply go on too long.  Reading this collection, I kept thinking to myself that perhaps Moore should have finished his comic book romantic comedy sooner.

Actually, it’s difficult to call this series a romantic comedy, as it touches on many other genres, most notably gangster-thriller.  When this book, the fifth of six, opens, we see what happened during David Qin’s yakuza days, and learn why he chose that name for himself.  From there, we get a smattering of storylines that are picked up and dropped on a whim.

Katchoo and David are reunited, and possibly married.  They go to Las Vegas to visit Casey, who is now a showgirl, and end up helping her friend, who has a stalker.  Katchoo becomes a success in the art world, and opens her own studio.  Her sister, Tambi, becomes a government black ops operator.  Francine’s mother reveals to the world that she used to be a pin-up girl, and decides to cash in on it.  Francine gets a tattoo.  Freddie falls for a medical examiner, who is working on a suicide bomber case that kind of disappears.  Strangely, and perhaps fatally for this book, Francine and Katchoo don’t see each other until the very last few pages (of the SiP part – more on that shortly).

Moore is a master at character work, but characters aren’t enough to keep a book going after the plot ends.  With each new chapter, it feels like he’s casting about for a reason to continue, and only rarely finds it.  I hope that the next, final volume, has more substance to it.

A large chunk of this book is taken up with the collected, bizarre story of Molly & Poo.  This is another unrequited love story, written in prose by the character of Molly, who is trying to get her story published.  She loses it and kills her husband, and continues to write about these events as if she were a character in them, but in a story set 90 years prior.  This is a good showcase for Moore’s sense of experimentation, but it ultimately didn’t work for me, and I found myself skipping the prose parts.

Album of the Week:

Monophonics – In Your Brain  The Monophonics are yet another contemporary funk group that sound like they could have been working forty years ago.  This album is a nice blend of instrumental tracks and songs, and it swing from start to finish.  It’s on Ubiquity, so you know it’s going to be good.

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