The Weekly Round-Up #138 With Manhattan Projects, American Vampire, Graveyard of Empires & More

Columns, Top Story

Best Comic of the Week:

The Manhattan Projects #5

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

What I like most about The Manhattan Projects is that there really is no telling what each new issue is going to contain.  The covers (which I love for their simplicity and unique graphic design) give away nothing about the content of the book, and Hickman has been playing with peoples’ expectations since the first issue.

This month’s issue returns to the meeting in Los Alamos between Manhattan Projects director General Groves and the alien ambassador of the Siill.  That meeting takes a turn to the violent, thanks to Dr. Oppenheimer, but because of his peculiar methods of gaining intelligence, we are soon treated to an explanation of the cosmic balance of power in the Milky Way and beyond (complete with a two-page map that must have been designed by Hickman).

It seems that the Siill have recognized the value of the device that Einstein has created, which they call a Pulling Way, and now they are likely to return to Earth to get it.  This leads the Projects to act proactively, and send a group through the device to the Siill homeworld.  That’s when things start to get really interesting.

With this issue, Hickman really gives Nick Pitarra a chance to cut loose, creating alien species and giving them room to breathe.  I especially like that the Siill leader looks to be wearing the skull of another Siill as a sign of office.

I don’t have the first clue where this series is headed, and that’s why it’s one of the best books I’m buying these days.  If you haven’t checked this out yet, you need to.

Other Notable Comics:

American Vampire #29

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

It becomes very difficult, month after month, to find something new to say about a title that is consistently well-written and has great art.

In this issue of American Vampire, Pearl and Skinner Sweet, newly teamed-up and working for the Vassals of the Morning Star, begin investigating the Hollywood wealthy as potential harbourers of vampires.  Of course, they hit paydirt at their first mansion, although that leads to gunfights and attacks by jungle cats.  Pearl is looking to figure out just who it was that assaulted her husband Henry, but she can’t quite figure out why Skinner is working for the VMSs.

I like the way that Snyder has always had his stories reflect the various time periods they are set in, as we’ve moved forward through the 20th century.  Just as the VMS is looking for hidden vampires among the Hollywood elite, the HUAC is looking for communists or communist connections in the same moneyed corridors.

The relationship between Pearl and Skinner has always been difficult, and having them work together should lead to some good stories.

Elephantmen #41

by David Hine

I’ve always meant to get around to reading David Hine’s Strange Embrace, and as a way of reminding me to do that, Richard Starkings gave him this whole issue of Elephantmen to show off his particular talents as a cartoonist.

This stand-alone issue is concerned with Javier Kubec, the one-time assistant to Kazushi Nikken, the Dr. Mengele figure who was responsible for the creation of the Elephantmen.  When Nikken was stopped, and the Elephantmen liberated, Kubec went into hiding, assuming the name Claude Bernard, after the scientist who pioneered the art of vivisection.  When this issue opens, Kubec is a bed-ridden old man who has only months left to live.

He is found one day by a mysterious man who is interested in recording his life story.  For a while, that’s exactly what happens, before the mysterious figure decides that Kubec deserves some punishment for what he has done.

Usually Elephantmen is a first-rate science fiction comic, but with this issue, Hine turns it more into a horror comic, exploring themes of guilt, responsibility, and the tendency of human civilizations to worship hybrid human/animal figures.  This is a strikingly effective issue, and the change in tone works very well.  Hine’s art is great – his style feels mercurial, at some times heavily influenced by Kirby, but at others feeling very contemporary.  This was a very cool issue, and I guess it’s time to track Strange Embrace down…

Graveyard of Empires #4

Written by Mark Sable
Art by Paul Azaceta

It’s been a long while since we last saw an issue of Graveyard of Empires, but the ‘zombies in Afghanistan’ series has finally reached its conclusion, and it’s a decent comic, even if it suffers from being maybe a little too ambitious.

To recap the series, a group of soldiers at an isolated forward operating base in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border are shown as coming under regular fire from insurgents and Taliban operatives.  They discover that a local doctor is installing suicide bombs right inside peoples’ torsos.  While dealing with all of that, zombies attack, forcing the soldiers to work with the insurgents.  Over a few issues, most of the cast gets killed off, and we learn that a disreputable American military contractor (because are there any other kind?) have something to do with all of this.

This issue opens with a few scenes of Afghani resistance over the centuries, as various invaders and outsiders are shown taking control of a mountain fortress, which is now the base of operations for those contractors.  They have something to do with this whole zombie thing, and the few surviving characters are either being held captive by them, or are fleeing the area.  It’s not long before a big fight happens, bringing the book to its close.

In the back matter, writer Mark Sable mentions how this was originally going to be a three-issue series that kept growing.  I think it may have worked even better as a five or six issue comic, as Sable’s early attempts at character building (which made the first two issues excellent reads) get tossed out the window towards the end, and the pacing feels pretty rushed.  By setting this story in such an interesting location, and making reference to its long history of resistance to foreign invasion, Sable has opened a door that shouldn’t just be opened a crack.  I would have liked to have seen a little more meat in this book in the last two issues.

Paul Azaceta’s art is always great, but I did have some problems keeping track of who the different characters were.  I know it can be difficult to draw various characters in identical clothing so that they are distinct, but it did take away from my enjoyment of the story a little here.  Still, this is an interesting series, and I’d rather read something that is trying something new and shooting a little short of the mark than yet another retread of something I’ve been reading since I was twelve years old.

National Comics: Eternity #1

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Cully Hamner and Derec Donovan

When the Vertigo line began back in the 90s, one of my favourite comics was Kid Eternity, by Ann Nocenti and Sean Phillips.  There had been a mini-series by Grant Morrison and Duncan Fegredo (I think) before that, but it was in the monthly that the character, a modernization of a Golden Age child superhero with the ability to call historical figures back from the dead that helped him fight crime, really grew on me.  I distinctly remember that one issue had KE driving around with Neal Cassady, and that coincided with my discovering the writing of Jack Kerouac.  The 90s were all about synergy, right?

Anyway, we’re now almost a year into the New 52 at DC Comics, and a big part of the mission statement seems to be repatriating Vertigo characters into the new DC Universe.  It’s worked well with Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and John Constantine, although it didn’t work too well for Shade the Changing Man.  Now it was time for Kid Eternity to get the treatment as well, I guess.

In this one-shot, Jeff Lemire revises the character a great deal.  Christopher Freeman is a young medical examiner who, a year ago, died from a gunshot wound, but then returned to life.  Since then, he’s been able to bring the spirits of the recent dead back from the grave, and he uses this ability to solve their murders.  Generally speaking, Christopher is a bit of a screw-up.  He’s haunted by the death of his father, and the poor relationship he had with him (it’s weird that this came out the same week as Lemire’s excellent The Underwater Welder, which explores the theme of father-son relationships as well).  He’s afraid to talk to the girl he likes, and his boss wants to fire him.  When he brings back the spirit of Darby Quinn, an antique shop owner who was found dead the back of his store, he is close to losing his job.  He figures that solving Quinn’s murder will save him, but Quinn is not what he seems.

This is the first issue of DC’s new National Comics series, which is going to be a monthly one-shot featuring a different character and creative team.  From the solicitations for the next few months, I’m not too sure what the goal of this new series is going to be.  I imagine it’s serving a purpose similar to Top Cow’s Pilot Season comics – to float an idea for fandom and see how people respond to it, but the next bunch of issues look like they’ll be underwhelming.  After reading this issue though, which sets up an opposite number for Christopher in The Keeper, and establishes what the next mystery would be, I would definitely be on-board for a mini- or ongoing series, especially if it has this creative team.

I’ve been a big Cully Hamner fan since I discovered his work on Green Lantern Mosaic, and would love to see him on a regular book again (or, in DCnU fashion, sharing a regular book with an artist with a similar style).  This comic was a real treat this week, and even if it doesn’t lead to more new Kid Eternity stories, I hope that DC may start republishing the old Nocenti ones for a new audience to enjoy.

The New Deadwardians #5

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by INJ Culbard

I continue to be very impressed with the way in which Dan Abnett has crafted this mini-series.  It’s a murder mystery set in an England where the upper class have all become ‘Young’, or vampires, broadening the inequality that has always been so ingrained in British society.  A large number of Brits have become ‘Restless’ (what we would call zombies), and the ‘Bright’, or regular people, live confined in districts that are not always safe.

Our hero, Chief Inspector Suttle is investigating the first case of murder of a Young – Lord Hinchcliffe was found with his afterlife terminated through a method different from the standard three.  In this issue, Suttle arrives at the Hinchliffe’s estate, Cadley House, to meet with his family and further investigate what has happened.

Hinchcliffe’s family is rather interesting.  The son, and new Lord, is a bit of a hedonist, while the wife is typical Young – rather unconcerned about the whole thing.  Hinchcliffe’s daughter gives Abnett the opportunity to explore gender politics in this strange world.  It seems that it is much harder for women, especially unmarried women, to receive the Cure and become Young.  Lady Celia is a suffragette, whose slogan is ‘throats for women’.

Suttle is also given some new information about the interesting symbol that was found on Hinchcliffe.  It’s all over the estate, and also on the pocket watch of Lord Falconbridge, a senior government minister, who is there to help the family through their predicament, and to send Suttle on some false leads it seems.

I really like the way that Abnett is taking a typical British mystery story and shifting it into this strange world.  He follows many of the conventions of this genre, but also manages to upend them for his own purposes.  Culbard’s art is perfect for this project, and I would like to see him do more after this series ends.  I think he’d be a good artist to add to the BPRD stable.

Prophet #27

Written by Brandon Graham with Giannis Milonogiannis and Simon Roy
Art by Giannis Milogiannis

Since being relaunched a few months ago, Brandon Graham has given us a number of short stories featuring characters that are related to the old Rob Liefeld property John Prophet.  Most of those stories have been about clones, and their tales have taken us all over a distant future populated with bizarre creatures and inexplicable social structures.  Each issue as been fantastic – a blend of strange science fiction, strong narration, and wonderful art by a variety of artists.  A couple issues back, the original Prophet appeared, and now with this issue, we are following him on his journey.

When the book opens, Prophet is travelling on a space worm, waiting for it to take him to his destination – a pod-world populated by giant tree-like creatures called the Kinniaa.  He is looking for his former companion in war, Hiyonhoiagn.  It takes a while to find him, but when he does, the tree has kept some of his former possessions, including an arm that used to belong to Diehard, the Youngblood android.  Next, Prophet and Hiyonhoiagn go looking for a spaceship to help them find the rest of Diehard, but they are attacked by space-sharks.

There is a dream-like quality that permeates every page of this series, as Graham takes his time making clear just what this series is about, and just what is going on.  I find that I’m not too concerned with the overarching plot of this series; I’m perfectly happy to watch Prophet or one of his clones be put through the strange and wonderful worlds that Graham keeps creating.  I do get the sense that all of the various characters we’ve me so far are going to collide with one another somewhere down the road, but for now, I’m just enjoying the journey.

Milonogiannis’s art is definitely growing on me, and that’s good, as it’s beginning to look like he’s the regular artist on this series.  It must be difficult to come on to a book that has already featured artists like Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, and Graham himself, but Milogiannis has a style that meshes well with these other artists, and which seems capable of clearly depicting some very wild things.  I believe that the first trade of the new Prophet is coming out next month, and I cannot stress enough how much I think anyone who enjoys intelligent, odd-ball comics or science fiction should check this out, as should anyone who wants to read something original with beautiful art.

Spaceman #8

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

Leave it to Brian Azzarello to give us the first instance of crowd-sourcing software being used to pay a ransom.  The thugs who have Tara – a star of a reality TV webcast about adopted children and their celebrity adoptive parents – use a Kickstarter-like program to ask the show’s audience to pay for her safe return.  Of course, in Azzarello’s post-environmental collapse future, much like in our own time, people would probably rather see her die, and would prefer not to pay too much for their entertainment.

What the thugs who have her don’t know is that various groups are descending upon them.  Orson, her former protector, and the titular Spaceman (a genetically modified human) is now working with fellow Spaceman Carter to get her back, although which of them would get her at that point hasn’t been decided yet.  As well, the producers of the TV show, now working uneasily with the police, are also on their way.

Azzarello ups the tension throughout the issue, which makes a lot of sense, as it all ends next month.  I’ve really enjoyed the way Azzarello has played with language and slang in this comic, but he has also managed to create a number of characters whose stories I feel invested in.  Risso, as always, is brilliant.

Quick Takes:

All Star Western #11 – I think that Tallulah Black is exactly what this book needed, as her and Hex find themselves embroiled in intrigue taking place between the Court of Owls and the Crime Bible followers in ‘ye olde Gotham’.  The main story works well, but the back-up featuring Dr. Thirteen as a Victorian-era detective is pretty clunky.

BPRD Hell on Earth: Exorcism #2 – Increasingly of late, these shorter BPRD mini-series have featured minor characters from the series’s past.  This two-parter, which concludes here, features Agent Ashley Stroude, who has been called on to assist in an exorcism.  When she screwed that up, she ended up working with Ota Benga, a character last seen in the 1947 mini-series, on another exorcism.  That’s what we get in this issue, as Stroude grows from being the unsure agent who used to idolize Liz Sherman, to being a strong character in her own right.  As with many BPRD books, the writing is sharp, and the Cameron Stewart art is very nice.  I feel like it’s time to see some of the main characters, like Abe Sapien and Panya, again though.

Dark Avengers #178 – I’m glad I didn’t drop this book when the title changed, because this really is just the same Thunderbolts comic that Jeff Parker’s been writing for the last few years, only with the latest group of Norman Osborn Avengers tossed in.  I wonder if the name change has had any lasting effect on the sales of this book – I seriously doubt it, as none of the new additions are popular characters, and the use of the Avengers name is so tenuous…  Anyway, this issue continues to follow the two squads of Thunderbolts – the Osborn group is in Sharzhad, and their story is a little dull, but the time-lost crew is now in the future, and their pages are great.  Boomerang gets some great lines, such as when everyone is swearing vengeance on Dr. Doom for stranding them in the future, and he says, “I’ll talk a lot about evening the score, and the get distracted by stuff and never get around to it.”  Honesty in a super-hero comic is always a good thing.

Exile on the Planet of the Apes #4 – The secondary Planet of the Apes mini-series, written by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko ends very well, as General Aleron’s human army fights with Dr. Zaius’s gorilla one at the edge of the Forbidden Zone.  This series was a sequel to the Betrayal on the Planet of the Apes mini-series, and both were excellent.  I know that these two writers are going to be starting a new Apes series, Cataclysm, in the coming months, and I’m excited to see what they do next.

FF #20 – Jonathan Hickman continues to use this book to clear up some loose ends, and this issue feels particularly aimless, but is also so filled with good character moments as to make itself very endearing.  There’s some stuff about the Inhumans and the Kree, and both Richards kids spend some time with their older selves.  Nick Dragotta is great on this book.

The Flash #11 – This is the second issue that hasn’t been drawn by Francis Manapul, and as I stated last month, it’s really taking away from my enjoyment of this book.  Don’t get me wrong – I like artist Marcus To (whose addition to Batwing has made the comic much, much better), but I was really only reading Flash because of Manapul’s art, and without it, his writing is creaky to say the least.  In this issue, Barry Allen, having killed off his secret identity in a manner almost identical to what Grant Morrison is doing in Action Comics, decides to ask for a job at the bar that the Rogues hang out at.  The dialogue is embarrassing, and only gets worse when Heatwave and Captain Cold get into an argument.  Have you ever seen two kids go at it while ignoring an ineffectual teacher?  That’s what this sounded like.  I’ve decided to drop Flash, but can’t remember if I preordered the next issue.  I’m hoping I didn’t.

Haunt #25 – I’m going to admit that I no longer have the slightest clue as to what is going on in Haunt.  I’ve really liked Joe Casey and Nathan Fox’s bold new take on the character, but this issue is a strange one (and that’s compared to the average issue since Casey took over).  Most of this issue is set in Mexico, and features a female security guard, who is working for a young drug lord, who is worried that ‘The King of Insects’ is looking to kill him.  Sure enough, giant insects like the ones we’ve seen in the last few issues show up.  I don’t know if this woman is a new character, or a regular from the series before Casey came along.  Either way, it’s not terribly clear.  Robbi Rodriguez draws this issue, presumably to give Fox time to get caught up, as the book is well behind schedule.  Here’s hoping that the next issue is clearer.

I, Vampire #11 – It’s probably enough to say that this issue features ‘zombie vampire vampire hunters’.  Do you need to know more?  Things continue to be frustratingly decompressed, but this is still a decent read.

Justice League Dark #11 – Jeff Lemire’s run on this title continues to impress, as Faust fights the JLD in the ARGUS facility, while Madame Xanadu decides its time to have a chat with Timothy Hunter.  We get a sense of how the Books of Magic (the mini-series, not the actual books) fits in with the DCnU, and we see John Constantine get played, which is always a little fun.  I’m not sure that Lemire has the right handle on John though – he seems a little dumb here.  Perhaps that just means he’s messing with Faust.

Planet of the Apes #16 – I’m very sad to see that this issue marks the end of Darryl Gregory and Carlos Magno’s run on this title (for now at least – they are going to have a story in next month’s Annual).  The ending feels rather abrupt, causing me to wonder what the sales were like for this comic and its trades.  Really, this is much better than I ever could have expected a Planet of the Apes comic to be (followed closely by the mini-series of Bechko and Hardman, see above).  They took the core concept, and really ran with it, as they showed just when and how peace between apes and humans was destroyed, starting with the sudden assassination of the Lawgiver.  There were a lot of parallels between this comic and human history (I read the first 8 issues or so as a metaphor for Israel and Palestine), as well as some great character work and incredible artwork by Magno.  Check out the trades for this comic – it is really very good.  I hope that we will be able to return to this timeline (the upcoming Cataclysm series will be closer to the original movie’s era), and learn what happens with the Great Khan, Julian, Sully, Alaya, and all the rest, because this is not a satisfying ending.

Resident Alien #3 – I’ve really enjoyed this mini-series, about an alien who has ended up being the doctor in a small town.  The murder mystery angle falls a little flat though, as I had no idea who the killer was, or why exactly he was acting the way he was.  Still, this is a good study in characterization, and I like that there will be some more stories coming in Dark Horse Presents featuring these characters.

Secret Avengers #29 – Rick Remender finally gets back to the Shadow Council story, as a squad of Avengers go to some made-up country to rescue John Steele from the new Masters of Evil (which has Pink Pearl on the team!).  It’s nice to see this book get back to form after the AvsX tie-ins, although the fact that this story takes place after that cross-over is finished shows that not all that much is set to be changing in the Marvel U (or, we’re in one of those frequent continuity deadzones that pop up around these times).  Matteo Scalera is on hand for the art, and he does a fine job of things.  I like the higher profile of Venom in the book, but just once I’d like him to be a comic that doesn’t talk about ‘Hail Mary plays’.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #13 – I guess the ‘Divided We Fall’ cross-over is more thematic in nature than an actual storyline that moves through the three Ultimate books.  Still, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Spencer made quite a mess of America before departing their titles, and now Captain America has reappeared to take on the anti-mutant militias that have taken over the Southwest.  The new President of the US is trying to work with the Ultimates, despite the protests of the new director of SHIELD, and Nick Fury remains missing.  There’s a lot that has to happen in this book, so it’s a little frustrating to see that pages are spent with a fight against a Nimrod, but still, there’s a lot to like here.  Billy Tan is better for this book than I’d expected, and Sam Humphries has been doing a fine job of taking over for Hickman.

Uncanny X-Force #28

– Eventually the X-Men are going to learn that when they jump into the future, things are always worse off for them, and they’ll stop doing it.  Granted, this time they don’t have much choice, but as they flee from the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, they end up in a world where X-Force has begun pre-emptively killing killers like in the Minority Report.  I feel like Rick Remender is moving this title onto very safe ground for him, as there are a number of elements to this story that remind me of Fear Agent.  The art is by Totino Tedesco, who I’ve never heard of, but who gets the X-Force house style.  Even though I don’t always agree with the direction this book takes (like what happened to Gateway at the start of the issue), I do think it’s one of the consistently best books Marvel produces.  And that’s coming from someone who hates Deadpool.

Winter Soldier #8 – Once again, a very good issue of Winter Soldier.  Since the last of the other Winter Soldier operatives abducted the Black Widow last issue, Bucky has been going out of his mind looking for her.  This is a solid spy comic, as Bucky and Jasper Sitwell track down their leads, and we learn that the bad guy has some pretty twisted things in store for Natasha – things that include her wearing at tutu…

Wolverine and the X-Men #14 – The more effective tie-ins to Marvel’s big events are the ones that actually take the time to work through some of the ramifications of whatever earth-shattering nonsense is going on for some of the characters.  Colossus comes to the school hoping to rekindle things with Kitty Pryde, and we all get a good glimpse of just how unstable the Phoenix powers are making him.  Meanwhile, the teachers who defected to Utopia are having big doubts about their choices in the conflict.  This was a good character issue, although Rachel’s decision makes no sense and was not explained at all.  It’s nice to see that Jason Aaron is still building some of his sub-plots, such as the ones involving Toad and Paige Guthrie – I take that as a good sign that he will still be on this book through the Marvel Now nonsense.

X-Men Legacy #270 – Like Kitty Pryde in this week’s Wolverine and the X-Men, Rogue is starting to see the problem with the Phoenix Five, especially after being given a tour of Illyana’s special prison for the Avengers.  Rogue decides to rescue Ms. Marvel, but to do that ends up using her powers in ways that I don’t remember ever seeing before (there’s a very strange scene involving a demon from Limbo).  This is a good issue, but I don’t like the way Illyana resolves the problem, and I fear it will make the next issue very tedious.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #690

Astonishing X-Men #52

Avengers #28

Before Watchmen Comedian #2

Captain America #15

The Week in Manga:

20th Century Boys Vol. 1

by Naoki Urasawa with Takashi Nagasaki

I have been very reluctant to start reading 20th Century Boys, despite the fact that a number of very knowledgeable comics aficionados whose opinions I respect have recommended it, either on-line or in person.  My main reason for avoiding it is because there are something like 23 volumes out there, and I’m not sure I have the will or the money to devote to something that large (why don’t they have manga omnibus editions?).  Then I found the first volume at a used bookstore, and decided to give it a try.

Big mistake.  I think I’m hooked.

20th Century Boys is a very different beast than Urasawa’s brilliant Pluto series.  It’s a sprawling story that can best be described as a mix between Stand By Me and Thirtysomething, with a cult tossed in to keep things interesting.

Urasawa has the story jump from the late 60s to the mid 70s to the present day (circa 1999), as he follows a group of friends through the various stages of their lives.  These friends, in the 60s, were preteen boys who had built themselves a clubhouse in a field of long grass, where they read manga, listened to rock and roll, and made up stories about saving the world.  They created a symbol for their club, and buried a time capsule.  In the 90s, these friends have grown apart in some cases, and stayed close in others.  When one of their number, Keroyon gets married, they get together, and again when the misfit of the group, Donkey, now a teacher, commits suicide.

The main character is Kenji, who runs a convenience store.  He discovers that one of his regular customers has gone missing (without paying him), and on his door he finds a familiar symbol.  Later, when asking questions about Donkey’s suicide, he finds that one of his students has been making and selling t-shirts with that same symbol on them.

Very little is explained about the cult that uses this symbol, aside from showing us that its charismatic leader is only known as ‘Friend’, and that he can apparently levitate.  I guess, with twenty-some volumes to fill, Urasawa is not going to give away too much at the very beginning.  I really enjoyed the characterizations in this book, and was quickly swept up by the plot, which is paced very nicely.  I guess it’s time to start hunting down the rest of this series…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Aliens: Fast Track to Heaven

by Liam Sharp

Sometimes I’m not sure what the decision-making process is like at some publishers.  Aliens: Fast Track to Heaven is a hardcover ‘graphic novella’ written and drawn by Liam Sharp that marked Dark Horse’s return after a few years’ absence, to the Aliens property.  It’s a nicely bound edition, but it’s only thirty-eight pages long, making it shorter than two regular-sized comics.  So why the hardcover and the $11 price tag?  I think this would have been better received in a prestige format, or bundled with some older Aliens reprint material.

Anyway, this is a decent comic.  By now, we all know the typical approach to an Aliens book:  a bunch of scientists or military types discover a place where an Alien has attacked humans.  They attempt to rescue them, and then slowly get picked off one at a time, and either wiped out completely, or only one of them (usually a female) survives.  The only thing that changes are the setting, the character’s names, and the order in which they get killed off.

This story is set on Europa, where the Weyland-Yutani Corporation has constructed an orbiting space station tethered to the moon by a space elevator, which connects to a research station under the surface ice.  Scientists have discovered forms of life here, but have also had a bit of a problem with an Alien.  A group of scientists come down the elevator to help out, and the usual happens.

Sharp doesn’t waste a lot of time on building the characters (there isn’t much space for that), and instead lets them fall into familiar archetypes, with some decent dialogue providing a few more details.  Sharp is a great artist, and he makes good use of space and colour to heighten the tension in this story.  It’s not a bad comic, but it’s over before you know it.

A Flight of Angels

Written by Holly Black, Louise Hawes, Bill Willingham, Alisa Kwitney, and Todd Mitchell
Conceived and Illustrated by Rebecca Guay

I think I need to preface any discussion of this book with the honest admission that I know that I am not the target audience for a graphic novel such as this.  I love the fact that comics are appealing to ever more diverse groups of people, and niche audiences.  I enjoy a variety of those genres and sub-categories, but need to be perhaps a little more careful in recognizing when a book is not for me.  The thing is, I’ve enjoyed Rebecca Guay’s art since she took over on the short-lived Black Orchid Vertigo series many years ago.

A Flight of Angels is the right book to give someone (not to pigeonhole too much, but someone female most likely) who misses Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, or Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges’s House of Mystery.  This book opens with a variety of faerie creatures gathering in the woods around the still-living body of an angel.  The reason why the angel has fallen, and whether or not that falling represents his having “fallen”, the quotations signifying great Biblical meaning, takes up much of the framing story.

One of the faerie, an exiled courtier with a fondness for dalliances with courtesans, suggests that they hold a tribunal, which seems to consist of each fair creature telling a different story about angels, which they do.  How this serves as judgment, and why the youngest of the group acts as he does, is never quite made clear.

The stories are generally well-written.  In putting together this book, Guay has gathered five writers for the different stories.  I’m only familiar with two of them – Bill Willingham, best known for Fables, and Alisa Kwitney, who I remember as having attempted to stretch out the Sandman property after Gaiman left with the Dreaming series (which I never read) and a couple of companion books.  The others are either young adult or fantasy writers.  The stories shift in time and place, from a modern, big-city set story about an angel who fails at all tasks given him to stories set in the Jewish Russian countryside.  Louise Hawes alternate telling of the story of the Garden of Eden is probably the best in the book.

Guay’s art is spectacular.  She makes changes to her style in approaching each of the different stories, painting some, while drawing others.  Her work really is the main reason why someone would want to read this book, and in that area, she doesn’t disappoint.

I’m underwhelmed by this book though.  Partly, it’s because I don’t share in or care about the mystical view of angels that I feel has become such an American thing in the last twenty years.  These are (aside from in Willingham’s story) the types of angels one would find if Harlequin had an angel series (which, for all I know, they do).  This book borrows a great deal from Gaiman, without reaching his level of planning and insight.  It’s not horrible, but it’s definitely not for me.

Book of the Week:

McSweeney’s Issue 40 – Increasingly, McSweeney’s, the more or less quarterly edited by Dave Eggers, is the biggest influence on my non-comics reading.  I find myself seeking out books by the writers published here, and grab just about everything (I can afford) that the publishing house produces.  This latest issue of the Quarterly has a short story by Neil Gaiman, which should appeal to Nexus readers, but also has some excellent other short stories by writers like Adam Levin, Etgar Keret, Kevin Moffett, David Vann, and Nathan C. Martin.  It opens with an interesting memoir piece by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh about the Occupy Wall Street Movement, and how it related to his upbringing as the only child of parents active in the Socialist Party.  It ends with a collection of writing from the Egyptian Revolution.  All very good stuff.

Album of the Week:

Weldon Irvine – Spirit Man – An excellent rerelease of a classic jazz album from 1975 with a seriously funky side to it. A classic.

What would you like to know?