The Weekly Round-Up #141 With Saga, Butcher Baker, Fatale, The Walking Dead #101 & More

Columns, Top Story

Best Comic of the Week:

Saga #6

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

I’m a little surprised that I hadn’t noticed the similarities earlier, but with this sixth issue of Saga, finishing up the first story arc of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s ground-breaking and record-setting new series, I finally figured out what this book reminds me of most – Farscape, the excellent Australian/US TV series of about a decade ago.

In this issue, Marco and Alana find their way to the Rocketship Forest, and acquire for themselves their very own living tree-ship (reminding me of Moya, the Leviathan that serves as vehicle, friend, and main set for the Farscape crew).  Their escape from the planet where their daughter was born goes unnoticed, but Prince Robot IV, their pursuer, figures out where they are headed.  Also, our beleaguered couple have to deal with some unexpected guests.

Vaughan is telling a story that is both wildly fantastical and grounded in strong characterization, which is not something that happens often, in any form of fantasy or science fiction storytelling.  Fiona Staples continues to astound with this series – her designs for the rocketship are phenomenal.

In the letters page, Vaughan explains that this book is going on a brief hiatus before starting the next story arc, to give Staples time to get ahead on the artwork.  While I don’t want to go a couple of months before the next issue, I do appreciate the dedication the creators have towards maintaining the consistency and quality of their vision and their work.  This approach is opposite to how things are being done at the Big Two these days, and that is perhaps part of the reason why this series is so successful.

Other Notable Comics:

Bad Medicine #4

Written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
Art by Christopher Mitten

Increasingly we hear the phrase ‘TV good’ being used to describe some comics.  It’s sometimes hard to know how to take that – is a book that is ‘TV good’ good, or is there something a little more backhanded about the compliment?  TV is rarely good, we know that.  Most shows simply grab our attention for a short while, providing diversion and entertainment.  Good shows are the ones you set your PVR for, and the great ones are so rare, you end up talking about them a lot with friends and/or co-workers.

‘TV good’ comics though?  They are decent, solid reads that can easily be imagined as a TV series.  Bad Medicine falls squarely into that category, being a little bit X-Files, a little bit House, and showing strong, character-based writing, but doesn’t quite nail it the way you would hope.

This issue continues the new CDC’s extranormal investigative divisions investigation into a werewolf incident in Maine.  The group has concentrated its attention on an odd small town that the werewolf is thought to come from, while the original police officer who dealt with the attack, and the doctor that examined the victim, continue to search for the missing young girl.  Stuff happens, making us think that they lycanthropy is spreading, and that this little town holds the kind of secrets that we, as experienced TV watchers, figured out ages ago.

I do like the characters in this book, especially the combative and prickly doctors.  Christopher Mitten’s art is unfortunately difficult to follow in places, but that has always been my complaint about his work – I thought the fact that this series was in colour would make it easier to understand, but that’s not always the case.  Still, I’m enjoying Bad Medicine, and were it a show on TV, I would be setting my PVR to make sure I didn’t miss an episode.

Butcher Baker the Righteous Maker #8

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Mike Huddleston
It’s a real shame that the ending of Butcher Baker, Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston’s gonzo comics series had to end with some on-line controversy and mud-slinging on the parts of the creators towards each other.  The book is hella late – this issue was solicited for October of last year, and it’s a little odd to see Casey lay the blame on the artist, considering how completely screwed up the schedule has been for Godland, Casey’s other Image series, for the last two years.
Anyway, I don’t read comics for the behaviour of the people who create them, I read them for their own merits, and in that sense, Butcher Baker ends much as it began, in a burst of crazy energy and ideas.Butcher is a patriotic hero, a cross between Ultimate Captain America, Rambo, and The Comedian, who drives around in an over-sized truck dispensing justice.  This issue has him finish his big confrontation with his old enemy Jihad Jones, deal with the other-worldly threat of The Absolutely, and reach some closure with the small-town cop who has been pursuing him since the series began.
Much of this issue is taken up with the extended fight between Butcher and Jones, both of them naked with their rather large appendages swinging freely.  It’s like Casey took his goal of creating the most balls-out crazy action comic he could a little too literally, and you have to respect that.
Mike Huddleston has made this issue well worth the wait, as he continues to blend various styles and colour approaches, and makes every page stand out in a way we haven’t seen since Bill Sienkiewicz first made his splash.Casey’s back pages are entertaining as always, and while it’s too bad that we won’t be seeing more of Butcher, I’m curious to see what Casey has in store for us with his next series, titled simply Sex.

Elephantmen #42

Written by Richard Starkings

Art by Axel Medellin and Dave Sim

A new arc starts with this issue, but once again, Elephantmen is all over the place story-wise; arcs don’t much matter in this comic, it’s more about theme, and the slow advancement of myriad plot lines.
In this issue, Panya, the dancer who looks just like Sahara, is implanted with an embryo that matches Sahara’s – if both women are successful, they will give birth to the first new Elephantmen since Mappo was shut down.  What Sahara doesn’t know though is that Panya has recently been with another man – the hired killer known only as The Silencer, opening the possibility that the child may end up being his.
Meanwhile, Hip Flask is investigating the drained river bed where the Silencer has been dumping bodies for years, hoping to find clues as to his identity or location.Of most interest in this issue is the state of Ebony Hide, who is in hospital recovering from the injuries he received three issues back.  While unconscious, he dreams, and those pages are the ones that Dave Sim drew for the Hero Intiative’s 2012 comic a few months back.  It’s cool to see them repurposed and worked into the story here, and it’s also cool to see Sim’s artwork coloured; something that doesn’t happen that often.
This comic opens with the text of two laws that were written in the last ten years in America to limit the extent of experimentation with stem cells and human/animal hybridization.  It’s kind of strange that Starking waited until now to include this information in the comic, but I guess with the pregnancies taking place, he felt it was appropriate.
This issue also comes with some other goodies.  Starkings revisits his ‘English & Media Studies’ text-piece with a bit about Arnaldo Putzu, a British comics cover and movie poster artist from the 70s.  The ‘Charley Loves Robots’ back-up strip is entertaining as always, and there is a preview for Non-Humans, an upcoming series by Glenn Brunswick and Whilce Portacio.  I liked Brunswick’s Killing Girl, and while I don’t usually enjoy Portacio’s work, it looks okay here.  I may be checking this out.

Fatale #8

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
Fatale has already been a spectacular success for Brubaker and Phillips, and I do believe that the book is only getting better with each new issue.  When the series started, I sometimes found it difficult to figure out just how the different characters related to each other, but since this second story arc began, set in the 70s, and introducing a whack of new characters, I find that the book is more compelling than ever before.
Our new hapless male protagonist is Miles, a C-list actor who has found himself on the run from the Method Church, an orgy and black magic cult, after rescuing a friend.  Last issue, they ended up in the home of Josephine, the immortal femme fatale for whom the series is named.  Having seen the video reel that Miles stole from the Method people (presumably some sort of extreme snuff film), Josephine wants a book that they possess, and uses her unnatural wiles to convince Miles to help her get it. This leads to a great scene in a cemetery at night, and the appearance of more of those guys that have been showing up in every time period shown in this series so far.
Brubaker balances the tension in the comic perfectly once again, and Phillips’s art is, as always, fantastic.  Just look at that cover – easily one of the best images Phillips has ever produced.

Pigs #8

Written by Nate Cosby and Ben McCool

Art by Will Sliney
My opinion of this book has wavered a great deal since it began almost a year ago.  The premise and early promise of the series had me excited.  Pigs is about the children of a KGB sleeper cell that was left on Cuba after the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The children have been raised in the mission, and are finally given the signal to activate.  We learned from the beginning that they manage to capture the President of the United States, and at the least, amputate his hand and send it to the authorities.And then, from that terrific beginning, the series increasingly spun its wheels.  We saw the terrorists come to America and press a former comrade into service, and then we saw them kill a Senator.  After that, way too many issues were spent on the topic of the terrorists having to arrange the murder of a Nazi in a prison.  The comic was becoming increasingly decompressed at the same time that it began to slip off any kind of reliable publishing schedule (the last issue came out in April).
Now though, this issue gives me a sense of hope again.  Since that first issue, we’ve known that the FBI has a Russian woman named Irisa in a questioning room.  Finally, with this issue, she begins to talk, and fills in the story of just how the original KGB agents decided to have children and to pursue their mission.
My interest is piqued again, and I hope that the remaining four issues (the series is set to end with issue 12, and they have all been solicited) come out in a more timely fashion.

Revival #2

Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Mike Norton
I don’t need to tell anyone that zombies are the thing right now, having squarely replaced vampires in the collective Western consciousness (not that that means people have stopped flooding the world with vampire entertainment), and it’s cool to find someone who is doing zombies so differently from everyone else.

In Tim Seeley’s town of Wausau Wisconsin, the dead come back to life, but they are just as they were before dying.  These are not shambolic, brain-munching walkers of Romero or Kirkman stories, but are the neighbour you’ve known for thirty years, going about their usual business.  Except for the old lady who went nuts in a horse barn last issue…

What makes this series work is that it’s not about the revivalists, as they’re called; no one is fleeing them and trying to survive.  Instead, Seeley is looking into how stuff like that would affect a town.  The whole area is under government quarantine, in an effort to keep the issue from spreading, but aside from that, people are expected to go about their lives.

Our main character is a female cop, whose little sister recently became one of the revived.  They are both trying to keep this a secret from their father, who is the town’s sheriff.  We get a good handle on both sisters this issue – Dana suffers from her father’s poor opinion of her, and when she can’t find approval from him, she finds it from random men that she meets in bars, even when that means she has to leave her son home alone.  Martha, who the father worships, is no less miserable, and her recent brush with death leaves her looking for the type of extreme sensation that can only come from picking a fight with an angry drunk lady.

Seeley drops some other things into this issue.  There’s a guy going around performing fake exorcisms, and strange noises in the woods.  All the elements of a strong gothic horror series are coming together perfectly in this book, and Mike Norton does a terrific job of emphasizing the normalcy of small-town living, while still creating a sense of dread.

Saucer Country #6

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Jimmy Broxton
Saucer Country is turning into a much more complicated and complex series than I first imagined, and where I was enjoying it before, now I’m also starting to respect it at a different level.

Paul Cornell uses this one-off issue as a way to reassess much of what has happened in the series so far, and place it in the larger context of the mythology and legend of UFO encounters and abductions.  Basically, this entire issue is given over to a presentation by the Harvard professor that Governor Alvarado has hired as her election team’s inner circle’s abduction expert.

In the first arc of this series, we learned that the Governor, who is running for president, and her ex-husband, had been abducted.  We also learned that a number of different interests have a stake in this situation, and that the entire country, if not the world, could be in danger.  The Governor decided that she would use her unique position, access, and political momentum to investigate and hopefully save the day.

So, in this issue, the Professor takes us from the earliest possible alien encounters – Romans meeting the gods, fairies taking humans to their lands, right up through Roswell, Communion, and Spielberg movies.  Through this issue, Cornell explores the social construction of aliens in the mind of the public, and how popular media has influenced it.  He shares the origin of the ‘flying saucer’ shape, and how it came to be perceived differently after the popularity of The X-Files showed something different.

I haven’t spent much time reading about the history of this belief or sub-culture, so I don’t know to what extent Cornell is making things up, or is relying on the historical narrative.  Everything he presents (through the character of the Professor) lines up neatly, and appears consistent.

This issue is drawn by Jimmy Broxton, best known for his brilliant work with Cornell on the under-rated Knight & Squire mini-series that DC put out prior to their relaunch.  Broxton uses a variety of styles and approaches to the various strange things he has to draw – I particularly liked the Roy Lichtenstein quality given to the page showing the first UFO sighting.  I love Ryan Kelly’s work on this comic, but would not object to Broxton doing the occasional issue.

Even though we are only six issues into this series, this makes a very good jumping on point, especially for anyone with an interest in alien encounters who may not yet be reading this.

The Walking Dead #101

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
After the excitement and brutality of the last issue, I was curious to see how Kirkman would show the rest of his characters reacting.  In the 100th issue, which set all sorts of sales records for post-90s creator-owned comics, Kirkman killed off a character who has survived being a member of the cast a lot longer than most, in a brutal scene involving Negan, the leader of the Saviors, a group of thugs that terrorize and live off of settlements like the Hilltop.

This issue opens immediately after that scene, and shows the survivors’ various reactions to the death.  Rick is blamed, and in typical Rick fashion, blames himself even more.  The group continues to the Hilltop, but don’t find much help for themselves, although Jesus, the man who introduced them to that new community, does decide to accompany them back to their Community.

When they get there, they find that the Saviors have been there before them.  Kirkman excels at setting up little surprises like this, which are kind of predictable, yet which still grab you right in the gut when you see them.

I hope that this series retains a number of the new readers who checked it out for the 100th issue.  I imagine that some will be put off by how different things are from the television show, but I also hope that many will recognize this comic’s strengths.  It’s clear that Kirkman is building his story up to a conflict that will be more intense than the one with the Governor’s people a few years ago (or upcoming in Season Three of the show), and I can’t wait to see where it all goes.

Quick Takes:

Avengers Academy #35 Aside from the utterly predictable and instantly reversed part about the students having their powers removed, this is a solid issue, as Gage has the Academy kids face their biggest foe, and have to deal with a number of their personal issues.  A few pages are a little talky, but there’s nothing wrong with a nice lengthy read from time to time.  Andrea Di Vito does the art this time, and I much prefer his work to Tom Grummett’s.  I wasn’t surprised to learn that this title would be ending soon, as it feels like Gage is doing his best to wrap up all of his various storylines.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #10 – I think I’ve come to the point in this series where I have almost nothing left to say about it.  It’s not good, but things like this never are.  Hope rides a dragon, and Emma Frost now has all the younger mutants bowing to her.  Cyclops has become a generic bad guy, and Magneto thinks that only Professor Xavier can save them.  Really, I just want this all to end.

Batwoman #12 – I’d forgotten that JH Williams was going to be returning to the art duties as well as writing this issue, so it was a very pleasant surprise when I started reading it.  Batwoman is continuing to pursue Medusa (who we now know is not an organization, but an individual) and the kidnapped children, and that pursuit leads her to asking Wonder Woman for help, since she figures this is a Greek god sort of thing.  Williams is up to his usual tricks, playing with panel  layout and using different styles for each different section of the book, and it is all gorgeous.  His (and W. Haden Blackman’s) writing continues to grow with each new arc as well – this story is more linear than the last one, and that is a good thing.

Bloodshot #2 – I can’t make up my mind about this title.  I figured that, based on the strengths of the other Valiant titles, I would give each new series three issues to impress me, and so far, Bloodshot is the one that I like the least.  It’s a decent enough comic, but I haven’t clicked with it yet.  This issue is better than the first, as Bloodshot manages to escape from the soldiers who shot him last issue, and is now in open conversation with the various memory implants in his head, who in turn introduce him to ‘The Goldies’, his nanites.  Now, that’s a stupid name.  Still, there’s enough going on here, with a mysterious woman being brought out of storage to deal with him, that I am curious to see how the next issue goes.  I guess I’ll make up my mind then…

Daredevil #17 – If you knew that Michael Allred would be drawing a single issue of Daredevil, which villain would you choose to use?  Thankfully, Mark Waid picked Stiltman, so this quirky flashback tale works incredibly well, as DD remembers an early case that came about when he and Foggy Nelson were feuding, much as they are now.  A great issue, and a nice preview of how nice the upcoming new FF series, also drawn by Allred, is going to look.

Dark Avengers #179 – I continue to prefer the half of the book that features the time-lost Thunderbolts much more than I do the half that necessitated the name change to Dark Avengers.  I think we learned this week that this title is getting cancelled soon anyway, so what is there to discuss?

Harbinger #3 – Joshua Dysart continues to impress with his take on Harbinger.  This issue has Peter Stanchek move into the Harada Foundation’s headquarters, and be introduced to student life there.  Harada is running a militarized, corporate version of the X-Men here, and Stanchek automatically has problems adjusting to the routine and expectations of the place.  We meet a number of new characters (it’s been so long since I read the original Valiant series, I don’t remember if any of them were around in the old days, aside from Pete, Harada, and Faith, who is introduced on the last page), and get a look into Peter’s childhood, including his institutionalization.  Dysart has done a great job of building up the characters and giving this book the right atmosphere.  I like Khari Evans’s art a great deal.

New Mutants #47 – In the wake of the last few issues about Doug Ramsey, the team tries to determine just how messed up their friend is, and then realize that it’s not Doug that’s the problem, but the entire reality they live in that has changed.  We’ve seen this stuff before, and while Abnett and Lanning write a solid comic book, it’s all a little tedious.  Add to that the sometimes unclear art by Felix Ruiz (who apparently wasn’t told that Karma has big chunky metal legs), and you get a comic that’s a bit of a mess.

Nightwing #12 – The Paragon story arc ends here, which is a good thing, as I was having a hard time seeing how this villain’s hate-group differed from the one that has been causing problems in Batman and Robin lately.  Too many similar groups in Gotham, I fear.  Of more interest is the developing sub-plot involving Dick’s purchase of an old amusement park, and his getting in to bed (business-wise, at least so far) with the woman whose father murdered his parents.  According to the solicitations that were released last week for November, it looks like Kyle Higgins will be leaving this book soon.  That means I will be too.

The Shade #11 – For all intents and purposes, this issue wraps up this mini-series, as the Shade deals with the Egyptian god-creatures, who we learn share a lot of similarities with Marvel cosmic characters, being part Watcher and part Celestial.  It’s a good comic, but cosmic happenings don’t really suit a character like the Shade.  Frazer Irving’s art is always awesome, and I liked the too-brief cameo by Knight (of Knight & Squire).

Uncanny X-Force #29 – If there’s one thing that is going to be remembered from Rick Remender’s run with X-Force, I think it’s going to be the way he has story arcs within story arcs.  During the Dark Angel saga, there were a few side issues set on the Age of Apocalypse world.  Now, in the middle of his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants saga (Final Execution), we have a couple of issues set in a future were Psylocke is the leader of a global version of X-Force that murders people before they can kill.  Predictably, our Betsy doesn’t like that too much, and decides to borrow a page from her future self’s book, and kill herself before she can become that person.  It doesn’t work, but we are given a nice look into Betsy’s psyche, and are given lots of hints about where things are going with this title.  It’s a good comic, and I’m looking forward to the return of Phil Noto on art next issue.

Wonder Woman #12 – No other title has lived up to the promise of The New 52, in terms of redefining and reinvigorating characters and their corner of the shared universe more than Wonder Woman has.  This character has been so much improved by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang as to be almost unrelated to the character who came before.  This issue wraps up a year-long storyline about a woman who is pregnant with Zeus’s child, and the ending brings with it a huge surprise.  This issue really is terrific – there are plenty of great character moments, and we learn that in the New 52, Diana’s bracelets have a very different use than what we thought.  If you haven’t been following this series, I recommend getting the trade and getting caught up quickly.

X-Factor #242– It’s been so long since we’ve seen Darwin in this book that I’d actually forgotten he was a member of the team at one point.  He returns, hunting Rahne’s child, because he thinks that young Tier is going to bring about the end of the world or something.  Other people are looking for the wolf-boy too, including Rahne, Rictor, and Shatterstar, and Vanora, Rahne’s child in one of the other dimensions recently visited by Jamie Madrox.  It’s a good issue, which doesn’t try to do too much.

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

’68 Scars #2

Amazing Spider-Man #691

Avengers #29

X-Men #34

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Conan: Book of Thoth

 Written by Kurt Busiek and Len Wein

Art by Kelley Jones

Around the time that Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan were launching their new Conan the Barbarian series, the store I shop at had a small pile of this Conan trade on sale for $5.  Normally, I would have passed right past it, but as I don’t know much about Conan, I thought that for that price, it would be worth checking out to get a better understanding of the character and the world.

Conan: Book Of Thoth is not a very good comic.  I suppose from reading the back cover that Thoth is a big-deal bad guy in Conan’s world, and this mini-series was written to share his origin.

Thoth starts out life as a beggar and scavenger in the city of Memphia.  He gets beaten by his father, and his small horde of money stolen by bullies.  He’s an angry kid.  He has one friend, Amon, who is his exact opposite, showing optimism and kindness.  Amon rescues the life of the city’s high priest one day, and is offered a place as a student in the priesthood.  Excited about this prospect, Amon tells Thoth, who immediately kills him and takes his place.

As the years pass, Thoth, now using his dead friend’s name, ingratiates himself with all the right people, all the time scheming on how he can one day take over.  There is a lot of stuff involving the evil god Set, and some ancient power, as Amon-Thoth, as he comes to be known, eventually takes over the entire city-state, leading it to war with its neighbours, chaos, and ruin.  He’s a bad guy.

My problems with this book are many.  First, it’s difficult to read a series with no sympathetic characters to root for.  Thoth is an ass, but no one else gets much space for development, so it’s very difficult to care about anything that happens to anyone.  Also, the comics are overly wordy and slow-moving.

The biggest problem though, lies in Kelley Jones’s art.  I can remember when Jones first drew Batman, with the gigantic cowl ears and the cape that had a life of its own, and I remember finding his work thrilling.  Now, his art has become a caricature of itself, as he needlessly exaggerates peoples’ physical features on a whim.  He does very little to differentiate characters (Amon, Thoth, and the young king Cstephen are often indistinguishable), and characters appear to age or de-age twenty or thirty years on the same page rather randomly.

If there’s anything that I take away from reading this trade, it’s that my new respect for Brian Wood’s Conan need not lead me to backtrack and read the other Dark Horse series that predate it.

Strangers In Paradise Pocket Book 6

by Terry Moore
While I was reading the fourth and fifth books of the Pocket Book versions of Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise (these nice, chunky editions are the way to read this series), I found myself getting a little bored, as I feared that the series was getting repetitive.  The sixth volume though, is excellent.
This book contains the last fourteen issues of the comic, and Moore used all fourteen issues to wrap the series up in an emotional and satisfying manner. He resolves the long-running ‘will they or won’t they’ question of Francine and Katchoo’s relationship.  Also resolved is the love triangle involving David, Katchoo, and Casey, in a very emotional section of the book.Often with long running, character-driven series, it’s hard to say good-bye to characters that a reader has come to feel a lot of affection for.  I can understand why Moore went for a (mostly) happy ending, and I appreciate it.  The characters that make up the cast of this series are some very lovable people, and it’s nice to see them all get a chance to shine and show their better nature.  Even Freddie Femur, the bumbling lawyer and misogynist freak gets a chance to demonstrate maturity and kindness.  Tambi, the amazon warrior demonstrates a softer side as well, and Casey becomes a very likeable character over the course of the book.
Reading this volume on its own is impossible, so I would strongly recommend checking out this series from the beginning.  Getting through the two volumes that drag a little is worth it when you come to this volume.

Album of the Week:

Antibalas – If you’ve listened to Antibalas before, you know just what you are going to get in a new release – Fela Kuti-style big band afrobeat, frequently with a political message.  It’s been quite a long time since the band released their last album, and it’s great to hear them doing their thing.

What would you like to know?