Best Comic of the Week:
Art by RM Guera
Scalped is a rare book in so many ways. It’s become increasingly rare for a Vertigo title to live for sixty issues, with only The Unwritten and American Vampire poised to last as long (Fables and Hellblazer don’t count, as neither one of them is likely to ever reach a story ending), especially with the consistently unspectacular sales that this book brought in (which has never made sense to me).
Scalped is rare for other reasons though. It is a crime comic set on a poor First Nations Reserve in the American Southwest – a setting so far outside of the mainstream as you can get, while still being in America. The series featured First Nations characters in a variety of roles – good, bad, and endlessly complex, something that is rarely done in any form of media in North America. It showed the desperate poverty of reserve communities, and never shied away from depictions of drug and alcohol abuse, family instability, and many of the other problems that plague Aboriginal communities.
More than that though, it showed the community as real. People in this comic do some pretty awful things, but they also turn around and surprise the reader with their kindness, compassion, dignity, and fortitude. Over the years there have been charges of appropriation of voice levelled against Jason Aaron, which is a serious issue when depicting Aboriginal characters, but I believe Aaron did an excellent job.
A big part of why I say that is because I felt a genuine sadness in finishing this book, knowing that I won’t be seeing these characters again. There aren’t too many series I can think of where this has happened to me. I miss Yorick and 355 from Y the Last Man, Zee from DMZ, and a few of the characters that have been killed off in The Walking Dead, but there are a number of characters in Scalped that I began to feel real affection for, the same way I miss characters like Bubbles, Omar, and Wallace from The Wire. (Is that sappy? I often feel the same way about the characters of a really good book, but you don’t spend five to six years with a novel.)
And therein lies the strength of Scalped. Aaron created more than a kick-ass crime story, and his use of secondary characters transcended the travails of Dash Bad Horse and Lincoln Red Crow, the two central figures in this story. It’s the background folk that I grew to love. Carol’s transformation over the course of the series made me happy and proud of her, while Dino Poor Bear’s made me very sad. I’m going to miss Granny Poor Bear and Lester Falls Down. These are some great characters.
This final issue closes off the book perfectly. The final confrontation between Dash, Lincoln, Catcher, and Agent Nitz ends just as you would expect it to, and the survivors are left appropriately. Aaron doesn’t go in for the happy ending (except for Carol), but he does go for the correct ending.
I’ve felt for a long time that Dash stopped being the main character of the book before it reached its second year; really, this entire comic is about the redemption and growth of Red Crow. He is one of the most nuanced and complex characters ever created in comics, and I love seeing where Aaron left him at the end of this book.
This series has featured a few great artists, but it is RM Guera who has worked on the lion’s share of issues, who gave it its distinct look and feel. Guera’s rough art created just the right atmosphere for the Prairie Rose Reserve, and I look forward to seeing what projects he works on next. This series has also featured some amazing covers by Jock, an artist who I consider to be one of the top three cover artists (with Brian Bolland and Dave Johnson) I love the way this final issue’s cover echoes the one he made for the first issue.
It is my hope that we will see these creators working on something that they own again. I have yet to read anything by Jason Aaron at Marvel that matches or even comes close to matching the intelligence, balance, and insight of this series. If you’ve never read Scalped, I urge you to start at the beginning. I also kind of envy you the opportunity.
Other Notable Comics:
Art by Michael Avon Oeming, Phil Noto, Carla Speed McNeil, David Chelsea, Tony Puryear, Sam Kieth, Bo Hampton, Juan Ferreya, Evan Shaner, Steve Rude, and Kim W. AndersonAt this point, I’m pretty sure I would buy Dark Horse Presents every month just for Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder. Were the rest of the book full of stories by Howard Chaykin, Neal Adams (writing his own work), Jeph Loeb, Rob Liefeld, Mark Bagley, and Chuck Austen, I would probably still buy it, and only read McNeil’s story. That’s how good Finder is.In this newest chapter, Jaeger, stuck in the middle of the conflict over an Ascian burial ground, takes on his role as Sin-Eater, in an act that is equally horrifying and noble. McNeil has often referred to her brilliant science fiction comic as ‘aboriginal sci-fi’, and that is clearly what is happening here. It’s very good, very powerful stuff.This issue of DHP also brings back the series Rex Mundi, in a surprise story featuring Brother Moricant. I’m not sure what all new readers would get from this comic, but it is nice to see Arvid Nelson and Juan Ferreya working together again, and I’ve always loved the masks that the brothers of the Inquisition wear.John Layman and Sam Kieth’s Aliens story snaps into focus this month, as we finally get a more solid understanding of the female main character. Layman is not writing a traditional Aliens story at all here, and it’s a bit of a shame that it’s taken so long for that to become clear. Were this a mini-series, that could be read in larger chunks, it would have probably worked better.Michael Avon Oeming’s Wild Rover, which gets the cover this month, also becomes clearer and more interesting, as a dark horror story. Bo Hampton and Robert Tinnell’s Riven jumps up a number of years this issue, and continues to build the groundwork for a successful horror tale.
I’m continuing to get a lot of enjoyment out of Tony Puryear’s Concrete Park, which jumps all over the place, but is always an engaging read.
Kim W. Anderson gives us another story of twisted love, which works like an old school EC horror story, updated for the Internet age. David Chelsea gives us an improvisational story with ‘The Girl With the Keyhole Eyes’, and the newest chapter of Ghost continues to be decent.
I’m glad that there’s so much to enjoy in this series beyond the Finder chapter, which makes this a must-buy.
by Matt Kindt
One of the coolest things (and there are many) about Matt Kindt’s new on-going series was that, the main story (each issue has two other shorter features) never even mentioned the words ‘Mind MGMT’ until the end of the third issue. No, our main character Meru has found herself face-to-face with the man she has pursued around the world, Henry Lyme.
She was looking to write a book about a famous flight where every passenger on the airplane was stricken with amnesia. She discovered that one passenger, named Henry Lyme, went missing from the flight. Her quest to find him took her to South America, Africa, and China, and along the way she was pursued by Immortal killers, and assisted by a kindly CIA Agent. Now that she has found Lyme, he begins to tell her his history with Mind MGMT.
It seems (and I say seems, because in a hidden message, Kindt tells us “nothing is what it seems”) that Lyme was recruited as a child, after a mishap with his mental abilities, to a school that taught him various psychic arts. He was involved in the first Iraq war (which somehow had American soldiers liberating Baghdad, so I’m not sure if we are looking at an alternate history), but also clearly ended up leaving the organization.
This issue tells us a lot, but still leaves a great deal unsaid. I really like the speed at which this series is moving – Kindt takes his time with setting up this world, but still has Meru going through a variety of experiences at a pretty quick pace. Kindt excels at this type of book – where there are complicated rules of engagement and lots of complex backstory that he portions out on a need-to-know basis.
This title is up there with Saga, Manhattan Projects, and Chew in terms of leading creator-owned books that are more exciting and fascinating than anything being produced at the Big Two.
by Ken Garing
by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
It’s been a while since we last saw Tom Taylor, so it’s nice to see this issue feature him again, as Inspector Patterson, the Australian police officer we’ve been following for the last few issues takes her unicorn to stop the leader of the Church of Tommy from interrupting Tom’s first stop on his Australian tour. This leads to all sorts of madness, including a suitcase nuke, angry stories, and Tom perhaps being able to finally put the lightning back into the bottle of his public persona.
The Unwritten has worked really well for a while now, and this issue is a good example of why that is. Carey and Gross work remarkably well together, and continue to move the story into new directions. I thought that after the Cabal was finished off, the series would end, but it seems that there is more that Carey wants to say with this story.
What confused me a little is that the gigantic crowd that bought tickets for Tom’s show were actually just sitting in a giant stadium to watch him read children’s stories. It made me think of the recent Charlie Sheen stage show, where people lined up and paid good money to listen to the man ramble.
Anyway, at the end of this issue, Didge announces that she has a message from Tom’s girlfriend, which I guess tells us where the series is headed next.
All Star Western #12 – This issue does a good job of wrapping up the Crime Bible stuff that has been going on, as we are shown once again that Tallulah Black is easily the most compelling character in this comic. I do hope she sticks around, as ‘Hex in Gotham’ does not work for the character. While I enjoy this comic, I would love to see it return to the one-off format with rotating artists that made the pre-52 Jonah Hex series so great.
America’s Got Powers #3 – The end of this issue marks the half-way point of this series, and yet we are still having plenty of new characters and concepts thrown at us. I felt that the last issue did a much better job of working with these characters; in this issue, Tommy barely shows any personality, as the focus is more on governmental plans, a powers resistance (I think that’s the deal with the group that plans on rescuing Tommy), and the next big fight in the arena. Bryan Hitch does his usual great wide-screen work, but this feels a little more hollow than it has before.
Batman Incorporated #3 – Time in the summer goes by very strangely. On the one hand, it feels like summer just began, but then, having this book in my hands means that it’s been an entire month since the Batman Returns massacre, which necessitated the delay of delivery of this comic (for reasons that I can not, now that I’ve read it, understand). This is another solid issue by Morrison and Burnham. Batman spends some time in his Matches Malone guise, trying to find out some information about Leviathan, while Damian chafes at having to play dead, prompting him to find a new identity for himself. Burnham continues to do incredible work here.
The Flash #12 – The fill-in art of the last two issues really helped reveal how much I was only reading this book for Francis Manapul’s wonderful art. Now that he’s back drawing as well as writing the title, I can’t get back into it. I’ve never really been all that interested in the Rogues, as it seems that every writer has been recycling ideas from Mark Waid’s historic run on this title, with nothing of interest to add. Now, Golden Glider is taking over, and Barry Allen is upset that people don’t like him. There’s a bunch of cool visuals involving a monorail, but the characters and story don’t interest me at all anymore (although, that’s how I’ve always felt about Barry, especially since he was brought back).
Invincible #94 – The new Flaxan invasion continues to go badly for the collected heroes of the Kirkman-verse, while Mark is stuck sitting and home watching things on TV, as his powers still haven’t returned. This story alternates with the story of just what Robot and Monster Girl did for all their centuries on the Flaxan homeworld. At the end, we get a very big surprise. This is a good issue, with nice art from both Ryan Ottley (the current day pages) and Cory Walker (the flashbacks), but it’s not too spectacular. I can’t help but feel like Kirkman is biding his time for the 100th issue.
Invincible Iron Man #523 – This story keeps chugging along. We are so deep into Matt Fraction’s multi-year Iron Man/Mandarin epic, that’s there’s little to say about this title right now. I like it, but I’m also ready for it all to finish, because I’m looking forward to seeing what Kieron Gillen is going to do with these characters.
I, Vampire #12 – Having read this issue, I think that Joshua Hale Fialkov would have been a good choice to take over Stormwatch instead of Peter Milligan. He uses three of the characters quite well here, as they come out to the desert to investigate the strange goings on with Andrew Bennett, his vampire army, and the Van Helsings. The book is well paced, and less decompressed than the last few issues, as the story moves to set up yet another new status quo for the series.
Justice League Dark #12 – I find that this book is working better each month, as Constantine’s team splits up to follow the Books of Magic. This gives some space for Jeff Lemire to build the New 52 versions of Constantine and Black Orchid. Dr. Occult makes a brief appearance, and we learn that someone else is calling the shots other than Felix Faust, but we don’t yet know who that person is. Lemire is also one of the few DC writers who looks to be building a natural connection to next month’s ‘zero’ issue; something I would have expected from more of the writers.
Lobster Johnson: The Prayer of Neferu – We’ve really reached the point where there are just too many Mignolaverse comics coming out each month. With the exception of whichever mini-series makes up the ‘main’ BPRD book each month, the others are usually kind of pointless and repetitive. This issue, the Lobster breaks up some weird Egyptian-themed party, complete with stolen mummies, only to have to fight some returned Egyptian spirit thing. It’s not bad, but it’s been done before, over and over again. I do like new artist Wilfredo Torres’s work, but whatever. This was like an 8-page DHP strip stretched over a whole issue.
Secret Avengers #30 – The Shadow Council’s plans finally all come together as the three different crowns are united, but only after Venom and Taskmaster have a big fight, and Hawkeye and Valkyrie go on a motorcycle chase. This has become a fast moving, exciting comic again, and I’m liking Matteo Scalera’s art. It looks like Rick Remender is working to wrap up all the plot-lines begun by Ed Brubaker when this series started, which is a good thing.
Supercrooks #4 – I’ve really enjoyed Mark Millar’s super-powered heist comic. This issue follows the gang through their actual mission, with some a couple of nice twists tossed in to keep things interesting. Leinil Francis Yu does some good work here too. There’s really not much to this series, but it’s written and paced very well, with a few likeable characters, and one particularly Millar-esque way of dealing with a death trap. I also like that Millar kept the length of this series reasonable, and didn’t pad it out to fill six issues.
Ultimate Comics Ultimates #14 – The Ultimates spend this issue dealing with the newly separate ‘New Republic of Texas’, which launches a nuclear missile at New York. More and more, we see the extreme influence of the mysterious Mr. Morez, who appears to be pulling all of the strings. This is mostly an action issue, and there’s still no word on where exactly Nick Fury is hiding (also, the Falcon seems to be MIA), and it moves at a quick pace. The art is split between Billy Tan and Timothy Green, which is a little jarring.
Uncanny X-Men #17 – While still the best writer embroiled in this whole Avengers Vs. X-Men nonsense, Gillen’s story in this issue has been left far behind by events in the mothership book, and so we are basically given filler, knowing that nothing can happen in the X-Men’s fight with Sinister that will affect any of the main players. I know that’s basically true in all on-going superhero stories, but still… I do hope that Gillen will still somehow be involved with the X-characters when Marvel Now! takes place.
X-Men Legacy #272 – Planet Rogue continues, as our lost X-Man is taken prisoner by the insect hive mind folk that were fighting her new Thundercat-looking friends last issue. Being Rogue, she quickly gets to the heart of their conflict, and is now the only person who can save the two people. This is a decent enough sci-fi story, but it comes a little too soon on the fight between the Shi’ar and that Friendless creature at the end of Mike Carey’s run. Still, I presume that Christos Gage had to keep this series busy for a while while Avengers Vs. X-Men runs its course…
Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4:
Amazing Spider-Man #692
Astonishing X-Men #53
Mars Attacks #3
Rachel Rising #10
Rocketeer Cargo of Doom #1
Untold Tales of the Punisher MAX #3
Amazing Spider-Man #681 – Slott and Yost write a fun Spidey comic, and so long as you don’t stop to think about the mechanics of it (such as why Spider-Man has ‘magnetic webbing’), it all works.
Avenging Spider-Man #7 – So, I guess this series is really meant to be one fill-in after another? I thought this was going to belong to Zeb Wells and Joe Madueira, but that only lasted for three issues. Ah, Marvel, sometimes it really feels like you don’t have a clue what you’re doing. This is a good, fun little comic, as Kathryn and Stuart Immonen have Spidey team up with She-Hulk (the real, green one) and deal with some ancient Egyptian god issues. The atmosphere is much like old school Justice League International; good, mindless fun that you don’t really remember the next day.
Captain America #14 – This series has become exactly the type of thing you pick up at a sale for $2.25, and are happy with. This is not a $4 comic, as the entire issue is given over to Cap fighting the new Scourge (who is an old friend). It’s not bad, but most comics writers and artists can do this in their sleep.
Captain America and Iron Man #633 – As far as straight-up, old school superhero comics go, this is pretty good. Cap and Tony travel to a weapons exhibition of questionable legality in Madripoor, where Cap is looking for a woman, for reasons I don’t know (or don’t remember). The banter between the two heroes is well-written, and Barry Kitson on art is always a good thing. Tony’s presence doesn’t quite fit with the way he’s been portrayed in his own book for the last few years, but that happens in every comic, but any issues are off-set by the decent use of Batroc the Leaper.
Dan the Unharmable #1 & 2 – I decided a while back to tradewait any Avatar Press books that interested me, because their publishing schedule is usually too erratic. I’d actually forgotten that David Lapham has a new series with them, and so was happy to get the first two issues for a good price. Lapham’s always been a bit of an odd duck (his Young Liars, at Vertigo, was brilliant and hard to describe), but I feel like with this series, he’s just going for Garth Ennis-style shock and awe, without investing his usual strong sense of character. Dan is a bit of a bum, who is indestructible. His daughter tracks him down looking for help in dealing with the cult that is trying to abduct her. He has short-term memory and attention issues which make the dialogue a little tedious at time, as the father and daughter take a bus across the country while being pursued by a pair of cultist weirdoes. This isn’t exactly bad, but it’s easily my least favourite creator-owned Lapham book. It’s a shame he’s not drawing it…
Semper Fi’ #2 & 5 – I had high hopes for these Marvel war comics from the late 80s, mostly because of the excellent John Severin covers. The art inside is not bad – very early Andy Kubert inked by Severin – but the writing is just terrible. Every war story cliche you can think of gets trotted out twice in each issue (each has two stories), with no emotional impact or investment. Or purpose really.
Wolverine #303 & 304 – These two issues finish off Jason Aaron’s run with Marvel’s most popular mutant. #303 finishes the rather confusing Hand vs. Yakuza story arc, while 304 is a retrospective of Aaron’s run, which started with the last Wolverine title, moved to Weapon X, and then got relaunched and renumbered. I don’t see why Aaron deserves such feting, his run was not that good. Sure, he had some crazy ideas, but most of his stories revolved around people messing with Logan’s head, and that’s been done enough. Also, 304 had 8 artists on it, making it a visual mess.
X-Men #28 & 29 – These two issues finish off Victor Gischler’s run on the adjectiveless X-Men title; a run that never quite seemed necessary, except to create a book with constant guest stars. This story features the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, when Pixie is kidnapped by Skrulls and forced to help them escape the planet. Nowhere in here are we told how the Skrulls got Pixie, because I guess showing the start of a story is boring and not important. This isn’t bad, but it is kind of bland. When contrasted with what Brian Wood has started on the book, it’s a wonder that Gischler lasted on the title for so long.
The Week in Graphic Novels:
Art by Goran Sudzuka and Jose Marzan Jr.Douglas Rushkoff can be a difficult writer to read. His Vertigo seriesTestament was a clear case of ambition not being met by the material (it was about how Old Testament stories were living in a future where young people are under close government control). With A.D.D., Rushkoff returns to some of the same themes, minus the Biblical aspect, but is more successful because the scope of the story is much more contained in this thin original graphic novel.The words acronym ADD stands for Adolescent Demo Division, a team of video gamers who have been raised in isolation to be be experts in their fields, as well as media stars. The ADD kids are beginning to show some special abilities, such as main character Lionel’s ability to ‘dekh’ images that lie behind screen images.When team leader, and Lionel’s best friend, Karl, ‘levels up’, most of his teammates are jealous of him, but when he later turns up dead, Lionel and his few remaining friends spring into action to expose the truth behind Nextgen Inc., and the ADD’s kids histories.Rushkoff employs lots of futuristic slang that isn’t always easily understood (I kept thinking of ‘dekh’ as meaning roughly ‘grok’), but his message about media manipulation and corporate dominance of individual thought is pretty clear.
It was nice to see Goran Sudzuka’s art on this book; I haven’t seen much from this artist since his fill-in arcs on Y the Last Man, and I’ve always enjoyed his work.
In all, this is a decent read, which does raise some important points.
Book of the Week:
Born With A Tooth by Joseph Boyden – This collection of short stories blew me away. I’ve read and loved Boyden’s two novels, but hadn’t read his short stories before now. They are perfectly constructed glimpses into the realities of life on Native reserves in Ontario. Boyden gives us a variety of stories, some funny, many heart-breaking, and a few truly terrifying (check out ‘Bearwalker’, a horror story concerning a shapeshifter who comes back to his reserve looking for respect – I was glued to it). In all, just about a perfect collection of fiction.
Album of the Week:
Paper Tiger –Summer EP – This is only six tracks deep, but it’s some good instrumental hip-hop from one of the Doomtree producers. It has a nice, soulful summer feel to it. Doomtree!!!!!