The Weekly Round-Up #136 With The Massive, American Vampire, Bad Medicine, Chew, Conan & More

Warning:  There is no discussion of San Diego in this article; a rarity on comics websites this week, I know.

Best Comic of the Week:

The Massive #2

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Kristian Donaldson

Glancing at this cover while flipping through my pile of new comics this week, I caught myself thinking, “Oh good, a new DMZ.”  It’s an easy enough mistake to make, what with John Paul Leon’s cover showing a ruined city, but in many ways, The Massive has already surpassed Brian Wood’s earlier vision of a broken future by providing a much more complete, global and fully realized look into a future that is even more broken than the one that Matty Roth ran around in for five years.

This second issue of The Massive continues to detail some of the results of The Crash, the term that Wood has given to a series of ecological catastrophes, which have restructured the globe, and affected every person living on the Earth.  It continues to follow the crew of The Kapital, the only ship remaining to the Ninth Wave, a direct action environmental group, through stories set in two different time periods.

The present-day sequence (well, story time present-day, as it all happens in the near future) has the crew of the Kapital continuing to evade pirates off the coast of Kamchatka, while searching for their missing sister ship The Massive.  They pick up on that larger ship’s signal again, and even make radio contact with it, but all is not as it seems.  As well, Mary, one of the book’s main characters, has not returned from her mission last issue to draw off some of the pirates.  Ship’s captain Callum Israel, and his right-hand man Mag are concerned, and find themselves in a few tough places.

Interspersed between this story and scenes showing what happened during the crash are scenes set in Hong Kong shortly after the Crash.  Most of the city is under water, but the inhabitants built a new port out of recycled and repurposed junk, and when the Kapital arrives looking for refuelling and resupplying, it’s not long before Callum and Mary find themselves in trouble with the locals.

This book is very compelling reading.  There is a wealth of material that Wood is fitting into each issue, as he manages to satisfy my need for background while not sacrificing space to tell an exciting story.  Kristian Donaldson’s work is excellent, as always, and colourist Dave Stewart does a fine job of dividing the different strands of the story through their own colour palette.

This is one of the best new series to debut in a year that has already had a number of fantastic debuts.  This is a great time to be reading independent comics.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #2

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Dustin Nguyen

I don’t understand why Dustin Nguyen does not get more recognition, or have a higher profile among comics artists.  This guy’s work is amazing.  In this issue, he’s called upon to show the history of the prime Carpathian vampire, Dracula, for all intents and purposes, and over a series of pages, Nguyen shows us watercolour paintings, imitation woodblock prints, engravings, and maps.  The collage effect works very well, and underscores how versatile he is as an artist.  Later, he cuts loose on a splash page that would have made an amazing cover image.

This issue is mostly spent exploring Dracula’s history.  Agent Hobbes is filling in Felicia Book on the dangerous vampire’s story, and lets her (and us) know about his ability to mentally control any other Carpathian vamp or their offspring (including, perhaps, an American vampire).  While this happens, the people who took Dracula arrive at a rendez-vous with some a pair of Soviets, although the American who confronted Hobbes in the first issue have other plans.

This is a successful mini-series, adding to the American Vampire story.  Scott Snyder and Nguyen work very well together, although I still find it difficult to accept that Gus, who looks and acts like a ten-year old, is supposed to be fifteen.

Bad Medicine #3

Written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
Art by Christopher Mitten

Bad Medicine uses this issue to establish the future and direction of this new series.  The first two issues introduced a number of characters with varying backgrounds – a New York detective, a disgraced doctor who has travelled the world learning about alternative healing, and two CDC doctors, one nice and enthusiastic, the other crusty – and had them work together on a case involving an invisible man.

With this issue, a reason is given for this group to get back together when a werewolf is shot and killed in Maine, before turning into a young man who appears normal.  There is evidence of some sort of virus in the man’s system, and so this group, more or less under the control of Dr. Horne, is dispatched to investigate.

They are led to a very small town, which seems like a very strange place, in that way that small towns are always strange places in these types of comics.  The plot might be a little predictable in this comic, but the writers excel at strong character work, and that’s what makes this a successful comic.  Dr. Horne is a difficult character to pull off – his guilt at having caused a patient’s death has led to him spending six years talking to her, and she has taught him about his weaknesses and limitations.  Dr. Teague, the crusty CDC doctor, is very similar to him, and for that reason, he seems to dislike him the most.

I think it’s interesting that the last issue ended with scenes set somewhere in Brazil (I believe – I don’t have the book in front of me), and I thought they were setting up the next storyline.  I guess that story will be addressed after this werewolf one.  This book is following a very TV-friendly pattern, but it’s working for me.

Chew: Secret Agent Poyo #1

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

Poyo is a gamecock from an island in the South Pacific, who first appeared in Chew when main character Tony Chu was in that part of the world looking to rescue his brother from a cibopathic vampire.  There was something about Poyo, who was unstoppable, that resonated with readers, and so the character returned, enhanced with cybernetics, and as an agent of the USDA.

Now, Poyo finally gets his own one-shot, and it’s about as strange and over-the-top as you can expect.  Poyo is sent to England to assist in an investigation involving a twisted scientist who specializes in ranapuliva, or the raining of frogs from the sky.  He’s using his knowledge to terrorize England Dr. Evil style, with the threat of dropping all sorts of farm animals on downtown London.

It’s a silly plot, but it works for this book.  As is often the case with Chew, Rob Guillory peppers each page with little sight gags and amusing moments.  Tony Chu’s former partner, and Poyo’s new partner Colby has a cameo, but for the most part, this story exists outside of the Chew continuity.

There are some great pin-ups as well, by artists such as Ben Templesmith, Joe Eisma, and Jim Mahfood.  This is good stuff.

Conan the Barbarian #6

Written by Brian Wood
Art by James Harren

Among the many things that I like about Brian Wood’s new Conan series is that so far, each arc has only been three issues long.  This is pretty refreshing in an era where most mainstream comics only manage to tell one or two stories a year, and where two or three issues can pass with very little taking place.  It gives me confidence that there’s always going to be something new happening in this series, and I like that the artists rotate so quickly – it gives me a chance to see different interpretations of this character, who I’ve ignored for so long.

This issue has Conan escaping the city of Messantia, after Belit arranged his opportunity to avoid the gallows.  Now, because of the actions of Belit and her crew of pirates, the entire city is in chaos, and Conan is racing, with the old shaman N’Yaga, to return to the Tigress, Belit’s vessel.

This issue is full of action from start to finish, yet Wood also finds the space to have Conan examine the choices that he is making – to become a pirate who fights without honour, all for the love of a woman.

James Harren’s art is spectacular in this comic.  His fight scenes are vibrant and kinetic, and he’s just as good at showing the depth of emotion that exists between Conan and Belit.  This is a great series.

Dracula World Order: The Beginning

Written by Ian Brill
Art by Tonci Zonjic, Rahsan Ekedal, Declan Shalvey, and Gabriel Hardman

Were it not for a mention on Bleeding Cool, I would have completely missed this comic.  Ian Brill self-published and distributed this one-shot, following Sam Humphries model for the brilliant (and very late) Sacrifice, and this book was shipped to only some comics stores in North America.  I like supporting people who do their own thing outside of the Diamond system, and when I saw the list of artists involved in this project, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to pass up on this book.

Dracula World Order is a science-fiction vampire story (because we all know that the world needs more vampire stories) which shares a great deal of similarities with the work that Victor Gischler just did with Marvel’s take on Dracula in the Curse of the Mutants storyline.  In this book, Dracula has co-opted the language of the Occupy movement, and has elevated the richest one percent of the world to vampire status, recognizing their ability to herd and control the 99% into a more efficient system of slave labour and food sources.

There is nothing left to oppose the most powerful vampire, except for his son Alexandru.  The book is split into four chapters (each drawn by a different artist).  Three of those chapters follow Alexandru’s journey to gather allies in his fight against his father, including a seasoned vampire hunter, and a Vietnamese snake lady.  The second chapter is used to share Alexandru’s backstory.

This is a very attractive book, but I would expect nothing less from those artists.  The story is clear and engaging, if perhaps a little familiar.  The book ends on a cliff-hanger, and Brill writes in his afterword that he doesn’t know when it will continue.  That’s a little annoying, but not unfamiliar with independent self-published books.  I wouldn’t be too surprised to see this title popping up on Kickstarter soon.

The Li’l Depressed Boy #12

Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Sina Grace

I’ve written before about how I was growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of forward momentum in The Li’l Depressed Boy, and so I was rather pleased to read this issue and find that things more or less do happen in it.

The LDB has been getting used to his new job at the movie theatre, and has been enjoying the attentions of the kind and lovely female manager, Spike.  In this issue, he flirts with her a little, and then has a conversation about her with his friend Drew, who encourages him to ask her out.

This book is still not moving terribly quickly – there are five whole pages devoted to LDB waiting for Spike to drive him somewhere, but it is starting to feel a little more like there is a plan in place for this comic.

This title is always charming, but I have decided to stop pre-ordering it, because of the lack of content.  That gives the creators a few issues (since it’s pretty behind schedule) to make some changes, or to get me to change my mind.

Planetoid #2

by Ken Garing

I’m really enjoying this new series.  In the first issue, main character Silas crashed onto a strange planetoid in the territory of the Ono Mao, an alien race that does not get along well with humans.  Silas spent most of the issue scouting the planetoid, which is covered with the wreckage of many ships, and the remains of an abandoned mining operation.

Eventually he met another person, who in this issue accompanies him to The Slab, a large expanse of metal where people live.  When attempting to scavenge a recently-downed ship, Silas meets Onica and Ebo.  She is a human who has grown up on the planetoid, while he is a member of the Ono Mao slave caste.  Silas, and we as readers, learn more about how things work on the planetoid, including the dangers of the sentry robots taken over by the Ono Mao for their own purposes.

Garing is setting this series up to be similar to books like Conan, but set on an alien planet.  There are few advantages to technology, although it covers every page.  Silas helps a larger group of settlers, and we get a good sense of where this book is headed.

Garing’s art is awesome.  I’ve always been drawn to the post-Industrial look, and I love the splash pages that show the wasted landscape.  This is a good book for people who are enjoying Prophet, or who want a darker type of science fiction than what we usually see on the comic store stands.  Recommended.

Punk Rock Jesus #1

by Sean Murphy

Here is one comic that ended up being nothing like what I expected (and surpassed all of those expectations).  When I know that I’m going to buy a comic, and a comic by Sean Murphy is something I’m going to buy, I don’t read solicitations, and I don’t look at preview pages, short of just glancing at the art.  I prefer to be surprised, and to enter the project only with the expectations raised by the creators’ previous work.  Still, you can’t help but have preconceived notions, and there’s nothing about the cover to this first issue that told me this would be a story about cloning, reality TV, and the IRA.

When this comic opens, it’s twenty-five years ago (well, twenty-five years ago from the standpoint of 2019), and young Thomas McKael is having a nice meal with his family.  Suddenly, there are people outside the house, there’s some shooting, and Thomas is stuffed in a closet with a gun, and told to shoot at anyone who tries to open the door.  This night ends with both his parents dead.

We then jump up twenty-five years, to learn that a corporation called Ophis has arranged to have DNA belonging to Jesus Christ (taken from the Shroud of Turin) cloned, and to inseminate a woman (a virgin, naturally) so that she can give birth to a new Christ.  This is the basis of their new reality TV show, of course.  They’ve hired a gifted scientist who is working on fixing the world’s ecological problems to take care of this for them, but they’ve also interfered with her work, insisting that she change the messiah’s DNA to give him blue eyes, bringing his appearance into line with their childhood illustrated bibles.

Thomas McKael shows up as the head of security for Ophis, who know about his checkered past as an IRA terrorist and wanted man.  There is a level of brutality to this group, best shown when the woman chosen to play Mary also gives birth to an unexpected female twin.

Murphy’s previous solo work, Off-Road, was more of a light comedy and so I didn’t expect this to be such a serious science-fiction story, but I welcome it.  I also welcome Vertigo’s decision to publish this in black and white.  Part of me suspects that it could just be a cost-saving move, but it works well with Murphy’s detailed art.  This book is not at all what I expected, but I’m very pleased with what I’m seeing, and I’m definitely sticking with it.

Revival #1

Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Mike Norton

The fact that I picked this comic up is a tribute to the ability of Free Comic Book Day to generate sales, even a couple of months after the event.  Revival had a short preview in Image’s FCBD anthology, showing a police officer who was present when a dead woman woke up at a morgue.  There wasn’t a lot there, but it was enough to catch my interest.

In this first issue, writer Tim Seeley takes his time in getting around to sharing just what’s been going on with the ‘revivalists’.  We know that on a certain day, the dead reawakened, and we are given evidence that this phenomenon has continued afterwards.  We don’t know yet how recent the deceased had to be to qualify, or if the affected rural Wisconsin communities are suddenly awash in great great grandparents.  We do know that the area has been quarantined, which has led to some frayed tempers and strange conflicts.

Slowly, we are introduced to Dana Cypress, the police officer from the preview.  She is given a new task by her father, who is also the Sheriff, to be on the Revitalized Citizen Arbitration Team, keeping track of the revived people.  On her way to a call involving a genetically modified horse (do zorses really exist?), she runs in to her sister, who looks like she’s going to kill herself by jumping off a bridge.  She accompanies her, and things go pretty bad at the zorse farm.  Like Walking Dead bad, except that people don’t stay dead.

This book is being billed as ‘rural noir’, and that label is as good as any for it.  Seeley has a good handle on the community, from the way in which people indulge the old Hollywood actor, to the casual racism of the Sheriff (implied in his case) and the horse farmers (who don’t trust their Hmong neighbour).  Mike Norton is always great, so the book looks very good.  I think this is well worth checking out.

Saucer Country #5

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

Well I’ve been pretty intrigued by Saucer Country since it began, I had one concern with the book that I didn’t even realize until I read this issue, as Paul Cornell put that problem to bed.  Basically, the series is about Arcadia Alvarado, the Governor of New Mexico, and her campaign for President of the United States.  Just before declaring her intention to run, Arcadia and her ex-husband were abducted by aliens, giving her a new purpose for running (she is convinced that the aliends pose a threat to the country, and that she is the only person who will be able to use her office to stop them).

My problem was that Arcadia was being portrayed as someone to whom things happened, not as someone who took charge.  I know that every Presidential candidate has to give up a certain level of control to her handlers, advisers, and security personnel, but I also imagine that they are the ones driving the car, and I didn’t really see Arcadia in that role.

That changes with this issue, as she pulls of an impressive feat while being hypnotized by a disreputable therapist who had already caused her ex-husband to change his story while under his influence.  The hypnosis session gives us our best look at what actually happened to Arcadia and Michael, but that doesn’t mean that the therapist, who had already broken his non-disclosure agreement before even treating her, got what he wanted.

Cornell has been keeping this pretty mysterious in this comic.  We do know that there are at least two groups with an active interest in alien visitation, but neither of their goals are clear yet.  Ryan Kelly is the perfect artist for a book like this, and his collaboration with Cornell feels very smooth.  This is an interesting comic.

The Walking Dead #100

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Well, we knew going in that this was going to be a brutal issue.  Anniversary issues never end well for Rick and his crew (go back and read issues 50 and 75 if you need some proof of that), and when the cover (granted, one of many covers for this issue) shows Rick standing over a field of dead characters from the previous 99 issues…  Let’s just say that subtle foreshadowing has never been a strength in this series.

I doubt it’s much of a spoiler to say that someone important dies in this comic.  I’m not going to say who, but I will say that it’s a character I’ve grown very fond of, and who I’m going to miss, as will everyone else in the Community, assuming they survive having to deal with Negan and his crew.

As the issue opens, Andrea is patrolling the walls of the Community, having been left in charge by Rick when he led a small group to try to receive aid from the Hilltop, the community they have just entered into a trade relationship with.  Rick’s leaving had seemed really stupid, and sure enough, we know that Negan has people staking out the Community, and making plans to attack at dawn.

Rick, meanwhile, has misjudged the distance to the Hilltop, and has to spend the night on the road.  This leads to a scene with a little too much unsubtle foreshadowing for my liking, as Rick has a couple of heart-felt conversations with a couple of close friends, which only heightened my sense that one of them wouldn’t make to issue 101.

Later, a large contingent of Negan’s Saviors attacks, taking the small group prisoner.  That’s when we meet Negan, and learn that he makes the Governor look sane and reasonable.  This is a pretty harsh issue, and Kirkman drops enough F-bombs that soldiers and convicts might begin to feel uncomfortable.  Things really don’t look good for Rick and the other survivors of Negan’s visit, as Kirkman changes the tone of the book for the foreseeable future.

This issue is a bit of an odd duck.  Sure, it’s remarkable that an independent series reaches such a milestone issue in this day and age, and that it’s poised to be the top-selling comic of July, if the numbers reported on-line are to be believed.  Kirkman has really led the way in championing the creator-owned comic, and we’ve reached a point where the best comics on the stands are being made by people with real ownership of their content, which is a beautiful thing.  My problem is that this issue, and the last one, both feel a little forced.  Rick is operating without his usual caution and forethought, and I can not believe that Andrea wouldn’t be perched in her tower watching for Negan’s people.  These two mistakes are costing the characters dearly, and they are making the story feel less thought-out and realistic than I’m used to.

Still, this is a book that is able to force a real sense of dread on me (especially with some of the creepy twisted things that Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn had to show us this month – and show us so well), and for that, I love it.

Quick Takes:

Batman #11 – We finally come to the conclusion of the almost year-long Court of Owls story, as Bruce fights Lincoln March in a battle that stretches credulity numerous times (unless, of course, Batman can survive falling from a jet and crashing into the very building that March is hanging out in).  There’s a lot of talk towards the end, but Scott Snyder does bring the issue to a close in a satisfactory way, downplaying some of the retcon excesses of the last issue, and putting the Bat-Family in the right place for things to move forward.

Batman and Robin #11 – The scene between Damian and Jason Todd is excellent, but the rest of the issue, which involves this guy Terminus having a group of strange minions start branding all citizens of Gotham with a bat-symbol is just strange and pretty disjointed.  I’m not too clear on who any of this villains are, and that makes the story kind of weak.

Bloodshot #1 – It’s another Valiant revival, and writer Duane Swierczynski does a good job of establishing the title character as a sort of Weapon X – constantly being mindwiped and lied to by his military handlers.  There is a ‘bad guy’ introduced, who shares some truths with Bloodshot, but it’s not clear just who he is.  I didn’t like Swierczynski’s work on Iron Fist a couple of years ago, but I do like what he’s doing here.  I’m not sure how I feel about the art though.  The imaginary, or implanted, scenes feature the highly burnished art that always makes me think of Ariel Olivetti and Ben Oliver, which I’m not a fan of.  The ‘real’ scenes are more traditional pencils in a bit of a post-Neal Adams style.  I’m not sure who is doing what – Manuel Garcia and Arturo Lozzi are credited as artists, but neither section looks like the Garcia I’m used to.  I liked this enough that I will probably give the next issue a try.

Dancer #3 – Nathan Edmondson and Nic Klein’s series about a retired operative who is now having to hunt down his younger, better clone, continues to chug along quite well with some nice action sequences set in European public squares.  It’s a good read, although I can’t shake the feeling that it’s a treatment for a movie as much as it is a comic.  I wish Klein would use some of the cool visual tricks that he did in Viking.

Dark Avengers #177 – Two issues into the retitled series, and I’m still coming back, but that’s because the only thing that’s changed about this title is the title itself.  This is still Jeff Parker, Kev Walker, and Declan Shalvey sharing the adventures of the Thunderbolts every 2-4 weeks.  Sure, there’s a sub-plot involving the new team going to the alien city in Northern Africa that Parker introduced in Hulk a few months back, but most of this comic is concerned with the time-lost team fighting Dr. Doom and trying to make it back home.

Defenders #8 – Reading this issue, it struck me that one could easily swap out the characters that make up the Defenders with other characters with similar powersets, and the book would read exactly the same.  Perhaps Iron Fist is needed for the connection to the Immortal Weapons, but even that doesn’t seem all that intrinsic to the story.  Matt Fraction is giving us pure plotting here, in a story that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  On the up side, the art is by Jamie McKelvie, but it doesn’t really look like his work…

Demon Knights #11 – If you have a comic that is set in some sort of post-Arthurian time (the timeline for this book has been pretty difficult to pin down), then the reveal of the villain behind this latest cannot possibly be a surprise.  She’s been around the Marvel Universe for years, and is a public domain character, so her appearance here was expected for a while.  This is a decent issue, as the group make their way closer to Avalon, and get a new ally.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #11 – This is Matt Kindt’s second issue, and I think he’s figured out what this book was missing before he came along.  Frankenstein himself has not been developed at all as a character, and so that’s what Kindt is working on a little, as he has him and Nina explore Leviathan – a gigantic living retirement community for the SHADE set.  Everything is pretty off the wall here, and I’m finding it hard to care much about what’s going on, but I’ll give Kindt a few issues to settle in before I decide whether or not I’m staying with the book.  This is definitely not as good as Kindt’s Mind MGMT, but maybe he’ll be able to pull it together.

Harbinger #2 – I continue to be impressed with the relaunch of this old Valiant title.  Joshua Dysart has the book working in the opposite direction of the original – where it had Peter Stanchek and his friends escaping from Toyo Harada’s evil corporation, this one has him turning to Harada for help.  Is that because we look more fondly on big corporations in 2012 than we did in the 90s?  I doubt it, so there must be some other reason.  Khari Evans’s art is great, and Dysart is really building these characters well.

New Mutants #45 – This issue is better than the last, but with the news that Marvel is cancelling this book in October, I guess there’s nothing more to say.  I wonder if they are relaunching something with these characters, or just letting them rest.  I still think there’s a place for a ‘New X-Men’ style book among all the other X-Books, but would rather see something more like what Kyle, Yost, and Skottie Young were doing a couple years back.  I think that moving Illyana to the ‘Extinction Team’ proves that these characters can grow up and hold their own on the main squads.

The Shade #10 – Shade’s descendent has him captive, and that means he and his companion get to talk their way through most of this issue, before Shade gets to make his move.  This is a solid issue, although an artist like Frazer Irving is rather wasted on pages of dialogue.

Spider-Men #3 – The Spider-Men of the 616 and the Ultimate universes fight Mysterio together, and then Peter takes off to track down his own life in the Ultimate Universe.  I suppose it’s interesting, but having never read Ultimate Spider-Man before Miles Morales came on the scene, I guess I’m almost as confused as Peter is.  Still, this is a more focused and story-driven Brian Michael Bendis, and Sara Pichelli’s work is always a treat (even if a few pages look a little rushed).

Suicide Squad #11 – Where things were starting to tighten up, this comic is becoming a bit of a mess again.  Frustrated with the idea that she has a traitor on the Squad, Amanda Waller doubles their numbers and sends them on another mission.  Immediately all the new members are killed (easier than having to give them names, I guess), and the usual crew find themselves in a village full of Ancient Mayans who have never had contact with the modern world.  But they’re on the coast of the Yucatan.  I feel like Adam Glass is barely trying.  I’m starting to think that my loyalty to this title is being stretched to the point where it’s time to drop this book.  If I can drop a treasured title like Legion of Super-Heroes, I should be able to do it to my other all-time favourite DC property, Suicide Squad.

Swamp Thing #11 – There’s not a whole lot happening in each individual issue of this series lately, but with art by people like Marco Rudy, I don’t care all that much, because things are just so pretty.  Anton Arcane is back (as are his Un-Men), and they attack Abby and Swamp Thing.  There’s fighting, a child-like Parliament of the Trees, and an appearance by another super-hero who has been having his own issues with the Rot of late.

Uncanny X-Force #27 – After a couple of meandering issues, Rick Remender refocuses on what this series does best, in this new issue that appears to have killed off two of my favourite mutants (both of whom better not be dead) as the new Brotherhood snatches Genesis from his classmates, and Fantomex fights alone against the Shadow King and that skinless dude.  There’s some very nice Phil Noto art, and a good pace throughout.  The stuff with EVA is a little confusing though…

Wolverine and the X-Men #13 – When this series started, I wondered when we would get some of the backstory on some of the new characters, such as Kid Gladiator and Warbird.  Well, it’s taken thirteen issues, but we finally learn something about the young warrior who showed up at the Jean Grey school to protect the son of the Shi’ar Emperor.  This is really all pretty standard fare though, as the Shi’ar engage the Phoenix Five, and neither Wolverine nor the Avengers make an appearance (I normally wouldn’t care about that, but Wolverine’s name is in the title, and the cross-over is called Avengers Vs. X-Men, not Shi’ar Vs. X-Men).  I appreciate that Jason Aaron is trying to do something interesting with what is clearly an editorially-mandated connection to the summer’s ‘Big Event’, but it’s not very satisfying.

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

Avengers Assemble #5

Avenging Spider-Man #9

Before Watchmen:  Minutemen #2

Bulletproof Coffin Disinterred #6

New Avengers #28

Ultimate Comics X-Men #14

Bargain Comics:

Age of Apocalypse #2 – A lot more character work is needed if this dark alternate reality series is going to have much of a chance.  The only character that seems like an individual is Jean Grey, but since this is supposed to be a comic about the group of humans fighting mutant rule, that’s not a good thing.  I do like Roberto De La Torre’s art though.

Avengers #26 – It’s been a little hard to reconcile just how and where all of the tie-ins to Avengers Vs. X-Men fit together.  I believe this issue came out before some of the Secret Avengers comics that it follows, storywise, but since I didn’t read it until now, it all more or less fit together.  Bendis has suddenly remembered that Noh-Varr is on the team, and so devotes most of this issue to his exploits in trying to stop the Phoenix force from reaching the Earth.  Stuff actually happens, and because Bendis is joined by Walter Simonson, the book feels much more like an old-school action book.  Simonson’s stuff looks great here (it wasn’t so good on the previous issue), as the large-scale cosmic realm is where he excels.  It’s a thrill seeing him draw Thor.

Avengers Assemble #1 – For a completely pointless third (really, fifth or sixth, but I’m just counting the Bendis books) Avengers title, this is a lot better than I’d expected it to be.  Of course, Bendis is writing for the droves of people who started buying comics again because of the movie (and what makes up a drove these days?  10 people?  30?), so he’s actually crammed a lot more into the comic than he usually would.  Mark Bagley’s art didn’t bother me quite as much as it usually does, but I did wonder why two of the new Zodiac guys look exactly like Quicksilver…

Captain America #11-13 – It feels like his title is moving back to being on track, as Ed Brubaker brings back a few of the old 80s/early 90s Captain America standards (Diamondback, Scourge, Henry Gyrich), making this arc a bit of a love letter to Mark Gruenwald’s Cap.  I wish Marvel would clarify just what organization it is that Cap runs – they go out of their way to avoid calling it SHIELD, yet we have Dum Dum Dugan in a key role as a secret agent.  I don’t understand the mystery.  Anyway, these issues were almost good enough to make me regret having dropped this title – if this book were $3 an issue and never double-shipped, I’d be buying it.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Guerillas Vol. 2

by Brahm Revel

Brahm Revel’s Guerillas first began life as a series at Image in 2008, where four double-length issues were published within nine months, before Revel decided to move the project to Oni Press.  Then, in late 2010, the first three issues were reprinted in the black-and-white trade size that Oni often uses (bigger than a digest, smaller than a standard comic page).  And then there was nothing, until this week, when the second volume, comprising of the previously printed fourth issue, and the never before seen fifth and sixth issues, came out.

When Guerillas first hit the scene, I was immediately impressed and taken away by it.  The series is set during the Vietnam War, and it involves a group of chimpanzees who have been trained to be soldiers.  They are fierce fighters, and in their unit, have adopted the same command structure and various duties as the humans they are emulating.  The problem is, this unit has gotten loose, and are on their own mission through the jungles of Vietnam.

Guerillas is also the story of John Francis Clayton, a clueless private who was the only survivor of his first firefight.  Clayton has been adopted by the chimps, and he is accompanying them through the jungle.  This series is also about Dr. Kurt Heisler, the German who trained the chimps, and who is travelling with a group of American soldiers to look for them.  Heisler has brought his first project, the baboon Adolf, who is helping them to track the chimps.

This volume opens with the chimps assaulting a Viet Cong village, which they utterly destroy.  They begin to follow some escaping VC into a tunnel system, which eventually leads them to a fight so big that they take casualties for the first time.  Meanwhile, the soldiers that are following them link up with another group, and are ambushed by a large number of Vietnamese.  Adolf, meanwhile, snaps, and starts killing just about anyone he comes across.

Revel has done an incredible job on this book.  His art is great – he makes uniformed chimps firing rocket launchers believable, and he also excels at having his human and non-human characters display emotion.  His writing is also very sharp – Clayton is an interesting character; the coward who is determined to do the right thing and help his new friends.

I’ve long been a fan of Vietnam War fiction, and can count this among my favourites.  I hope the wait is not another two years before the final volume is published.

One Soul

by Ray Fawkes

One Soul, Ray Fawkes graphic novel which was released last year, just might be the most successful experimental comic I’ve ever read.  Fawkes has designed the book so that each page maintains a tight nine-panel grid.  Each pair of facing pages then consists of eighteen panels.  Each one of those eighteen panels tells one piece of eighteen different stories, all of which begin with the first moments of life for the character narrating them.  Each of these stories is told in first person, without any dialogue, and the position of each character’s panel does not move.

Right there, I know I’ve turned a fair number of people off, but I found this book to be utterly fascinating, if sometimes frustrating.  The eighteen people represent a variety of different eras, settings, and social strata.  One is from a pre-agrarian society, another is a vestal virgin in a Greek temple.  One raises silkworms in China, while another tends sheep, and another sees to plague victims in Europe.  There is an American Revolutionary and an African slave, a chorus girl and a thief.  Many of the characters are soldiers or warriors, but in different wars.

Fawkes has arranged their stories so that themes overlap and coincide, and so that their narratives interweave with one another, even though they never meet.  While they all begin life at the same time, they don’t all end it that way, and so some panels become blacked out before others, although Fawkes still provides the dead with a voice, and an opportunity to question their fates. This is a very philosophical piece of work, as eventually all of them have to accept their mortality and their place in the universe.

I suppose it’s possible to read each story separately by only reading one panel per page, but I liked the challenge of having to keep all of the different stories straight in my head while also looking for commonalities between them.

Fawkes’s minimalist pencils remind me of Keith Giffen’s a little, but that could just be because of the use of the grid.  This is a very thoughtful and provoking piece of work, and it’s a little hard to believe that it was done by the same person who wrote The Apocalipstix

The Underwater Welder

by Jeff Lemire

The introduction to Jeff Lemire’s new original graphic novel, written by Damon Lindelof, talks about the similarities between this book and The Twilight Zone.  Personally, I find that to be a little facile, because while there are definite points of comparison on the surface, I don’t think that the Zone ever got so deeply into the mind of the characters that it featured as Lemire does here.

Setting aside Lemire’s more commercial work at DC (Superboy, The Atom, Animal Man, Frankenstein, and now Justice League Dark), it’s easy to see a clear progression from his earlier (and still best) Essex County, through The Nobody and Sweet Tooth, to this piece of work (in fact, Gus and the two main characters in those other books have a bit of a cameo here, although its easily missed).

The Underwater Welder is about Jack, a man on the cusp of fatherhood who has never been able to reconcile with his own father’s disappearance when he was ten years old.  His father used to dive for treasure and salvage in the area around Tigg’s Bay, a small fictional town on the Atlantic in Nova Scotia, and Jack has always felt connected to the sea because of this fact.  After leaving town to go to university, he felt the need to come back, bringing his pregnant wife with him, and getting work as an underwater welder on the oil rig that is just a half-hour’s boat ride away.  Being under the water makes him feel close to his father, and he’s always happiest when completely alone.

This is beginning to cause some strain on his relationship with his wife, who is not from the area and doesn’t know anybody.  On a more or less routine dive, Jack experiences some strange things – he hears voices, and comes across a familiar pocket watch.  He comes to on the surface, and is sent home pending some medical tests.  This sends him into a bit of a spin, as he no longer feels sure of what exactly happened to him, and feels a growing compulsion to both return to the deeps, and to connect with his father.  It is here that the Twilight Zone comparison is most apt, especially when everybody else in town disappears, but this remains an intensely personal book, as Lemire dives ever deeper into Jack’s psyche and his wounds.

Lemire has often played around in terms of layout and design in his work on Sweet Tooth, and here he does similar things, having Jack morph into his younger self and his father at different places, and in one case, sit down and have a conversation with himself.  It’s the type of thing that only works in comics, and Lemire does it very well.

His art looks thinner than it has in his other black and white books, being much closer to what he’s done on Sweet Tooth, and different scenes are shaded very differently.  The look of the book is such an integral part of the story, and Lemire demonstrates a very tight control over what is shown, and how the different approaches inform the story.

This is one of the best new graphic novels to be released this year.  Lemire remains a very exciting creator to watch, and I like that while he is becoming increasingly better known for corporate ‘for hire’ work, he is also able to find the time and freedom to put together something as personal and insightful as this book.  Highly recommended.

Album of the Week:

Ryat – Totem   This is the album of the summer, if you are in the mood for some Flying Lotus meets Portishead kind of spacey, ethereal left-field electronic music.  Highly recommended.

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