The Weekly Round-Up #144

Best Comic of the Week:

Thief of Thieves #8

Written by Robert Kirkman and James Asmus
Art by Shawn Martinbrough
When you watch a heist movie, things usually end with the criminals having pulled off an amazing job, and riding off into the sunset with their ill-gotten gains.  We never see what happens next. What’s it like to wake up the morning after?  There would invariably be some loose ends of some kind or another that need to be addressed, some ruffled feathers that would need to be smoothed.

Basically, it looks like that is the premise of the second arc of Thief of Thieves.  When Robert Kirkman started writing The Walking Dead, he described it as what happens after the end of a zombie movie; I feel like Thief of Thieves is now doing the same thing for its own genre.

For this new arc, Kirkman is joined by James Asmus as ‘writer’ (I’m curious to know how much they collaborate – does Kirkman plot and Asmus script?  Does Kirkman just provide the rough idea, and Asmus the rest?), and we see what happens after Conrad pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes (you really should read the first trade, if you haven’t been reading the comics – it’s great).

Augustus, Conrad’s son, may be out of prison, but he now has to deal with the people whose heroin he lost.  Conrad has some pretty big obligations to pay off to Arno and his colleagues, plus, his ex-wife’s new boyfriend is getting under his skin.

What makes this book work (aside from Shawn Martinbrough’s excellent art) is the complexity of the characters, as developed by Kirkman and Nick Spencer in the first arc.  Conrad is a very interesting guy, and it’s nice to try to work through his thought process.

I was a little worried that this book may not continue moving forward as well as it did in the beginning, but I see I have nothing to worry about.

Other Notable Comics:

Mind the Gap #4

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Rodin Esquejo
I want to be very clear – I enjoy Mind the Gap a great deal, and appreciate what a unique comic it is.  I’m having some problems with it though.  It tells the story of Elle, a young woman who was attacked in a New York subway station, and is now lying in a coma in the hospital.

That doesn’t sound like a comic in which much would happen, but Jim McCann is taking Elle’s tragedy and weaving a dense and complex mystery around her – we don’t know who attacked her, but just about everyone we’ve met, from her family, her sort-of boyfriend, a psychiatrist who is now in a coma in the bed next to her’s, and possibly even the doctor treating her seem like likely suspects, or are perhaps complicit in what happened.  Working to figure things out (so far, independently) are Jo, Elle’s best friend, a doctor who works at the same hospital and has been warned away from her case, and Elle herself, who is spending her time in The Garden, a place she shares with her fellow coma victims.

My problem with the book is that it’s becoming a little too precious in it’s “Everyone’s a suspect!  Everything’s a clue!” self-boosterism.  I love and appreciate the various clues that McCann is leaving for us, but I don’t know that it’s so necessary for him to draw our attention to them.  Personally, I would prefer it if, at some moment when a revelation is made, that it’s left to me to figure out whether or not it had been foreshadowed.  Or, you know, the Internet could tell me later.  A good point of comparison would be Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Each page is filled with allusions, nods, and easter eggs, but Moore doesn’t fill half the book explaining them.  That’s left to people like Jess Nevins on-line, and that works for me.

It’s a minor quibble.  This book is very interesting, although I find my attention wandered this issue during the lengthy scene that takes place in The Garden (or in Elle’s mind).  I prefer reading about her friends, family, and the goings-on at the hospital.

Rodin Esquejo is turning in some very strong work with this book, although I have to wonder what’s going on with the art nouveau-homage covers lately – for a moment, I thought that my comic store had put a copy of last month’s Elephantmen in my pull-file.

Sweet Tooth #37

by Jeff Lemire

The pace of this comic keeps increasing as we get closer and closer to the series’s finale in a couple of months.

In this issue, Gus has to deal with the accusations made by Dr. Singh about his parentage and the connection between his birth and the coming of the plague that has wiped out most humans, and the emergence of the new race of animal/human hybrids.

Gus and his friends don’t have much time to let this information sink in though, as Abbot and his people are not far behind.  Abbot makes sure that Jeppard knows he’s coming, and the few adults left in this title set about making plans to hold them off.

The relationship between Gus and Jeppard has been one of the most interesting things about this title, and Lemire finally places Jeppard in a position to admit to the depth of his affection for the boy, adding emotional weight to the coming confrontation.

This is an excellent series, and it’s nice to just sit back and watch it get ready to end.

Quick Takes:

Animal Man #0 – As much as I’ve been enjoying the whole Rotworld thing that has been taking up this comic since it began, I’ve also felt that we haven’t seen enough of Buddy Baker just being Buddy Baker before he got wrapped up in all the craziness that Jeff Lemire has been throwing at him.  Buddy’s never been like other superheroes; his middle class lifestyle, animal activism, and close family ties have always made him a little different, at least during Grant Morrison’s legendary run with the character; finally we see that side of ‘New 52′ Buddy in this issue, which retells his origin rather faithfully to the original DCU character, but also ties it in nicely to Lemire’s relaunch.  Steve Pugh’s art is as awesome as it always is, and I reveled in the minor details – Ellen at her drawing board, Cliff’s Penalizer comics (including a cover I remember).  Reading this makes me look forward to Rotworld ending, and whatever will come next.  A great place for a new reader to jump on.

Archer & Armstrong #2 – This series continues to be the most fun of all the new Valiant titles.  In this issue, Archer confronts the truth about his upbringing, and receives a message that he is to throw in with Armstrong, who he has been raised to believe is the Anti-Christ, to thwart the greedy plans of the Sect.  There is lots of amusing dialogue, a death trap left by Michelangelo, and ninja nuns.  Great writing, and great art, abound.

Avengers Academy #36 – Most of the members of the team are recommitting themselves to their powers this issue, as they have to decide between remaining powerless and helping their friends.  Striker goes all Rachel Summers, and the book is much less wordy than the last issue.  I know this title is ending, but I’m not sure where these characters will be afterwards.  I am going to miss some of them, and hope that Christos Gage gets some sort of youth-oriented book in the Marvel Now! shake-up.

Creator-Owned Heroes #4 – The two comics stories that run in this series ended this month.  Steve Niles’s story finished up much as one would expect, and continued to be entertaining.  The one written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, and beautifully drawn by Phil Noto, however, took a complete turn into left-field, as the assassin clone that was trying to kill the President turns out to be doing the bidding of a group of highly intelligent, talking animals that used to play with POTUS when he was a boy, and are disappointed with his right-wing policies.  Seriously.  I think this might be the strangest ending I’ve ever read in a comic, and that’s saying a lot.  As seems to be the norm with this series, the ‘magazine content’ continues to feel like mindless filler and poorly-conceived DVD-extras.  I find myself skipping over most of it.  There is a six-page interview with Scott Morse; I would have preferred he provide a short story.  The only thing I read was Kevin Mellon’s description of his work habits.  I want to support this title, and creator-owned comics in general, but want more comic and less ‘I was raised reading Wizard’ “journalism”.

Dark Avengers #180 – After figuring out that the whole ‘Dark Avengers’ name change was just a marketing gimmick, and that this was really the same Thunderbolts comic that I’d been enjoying, I decided to put it back on my pull-list.  This issue might be enough to take it off though, as Jeff Parker tries to pull his various plot-lines together in a way that is ham-fisted and hard to follow.  The biggest problem with this comic though is Neil Edwards’s art.  I liked his work on Hercules, but here, taking over for Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey, his more straight-forward style looks terrible.  I wish Marvel had tried to find someone with a style at least a little bit consistent with what this book has looked like for the last couple of years, but I feel that their only concern is pumping out another issue as quickly as possible these days.  This issue is disappointing.

The Defenders #10 – I suppose the best way to read this comic is to give up trying to figure out just what the plot is, and instead accept it as the closest thing to Casanova that Matt Fraction’s going to be able to write in the Marvel Universe, and just roll with it.  Our heroes have ended up back on Earth, but a Death Celestial has killed almost everything, except for Ant-Man (the Scott Lang version), who tries to help them out, while the Silver Surfer goes to heaven or something.  With art by Jamie McKelvie, it is some beautiful nonsense at least.

Dial H #0 –
Now this is what I was hoping for from DC’s Zero Month.  We see nothing of Nelson, Manteau, or any of the usual cast of this title, as instead, China Miéville gives us a story of a different dialler – a woman named Laodice, who lived in Ancient Babylon and used a giant stone sundial to gain the powers of Bumper Carla, a warrior of the bumper car, to defend her people.  We get some hints as to how the dials work, and where the powers come from in this issue, which is guest-drawn by the wonderful Riccardo Burchielli, an artist I’ve missed a great deal since DMZ finished.  I don’t know how useful this issue is as a jumping-on point, but it is a good read.

Earth 2 #0 – 
In an early issue of this series, we met Earth 2’s Terry Sloan, but we haven’t seen him since.  He narrates this zero issue, returning to the time of the war against Darkseid’s forces, when Mr. 8 (because he’s not Mister Terrific on this Earth) chose to pursue his own approach to stopping Darkseid, one that forever alienated him from the other heroes.  Basically, Robinson is setting up Sloan as the main villain in this series, a sort of New 52 Per Degaton, with the ability to travel to other worlds and predict the future.  This is a decent enough issue; the most interesting thing in it is the reference to another, eighth superhero whose identity is being kept secret.

Hawkeye #2 –
Most of the Marvel books I bought this week were written by Matt Fraction.  That guy is busy.  This issue of Hawkeye, which features Kate Bishop (the Young Avengers Hawkeye) and the Ringmaster works much better than the first issue.  David Aja’s art and use of layout is stunning, and Fraction’s depiction of Clint is much more on-character.  So long as this book looks this good, I’m sticking around.

Hell Yeah #5 – I wasn’t going to stick with this title after the last issue, but decided to finish off the first arc at least.  Joe Keatinge’s writing on this book has been all over the place – I’ve never been too sure of what’s going on exactly, although by the end of this issue, it seems he’s set up Ben Day with a clear purpose; I’m just not sure it should have taken five issues and infinite worlds to get there.

Invincible Iron Man #524 –
After months of laying groundwork, Matt Fraction is finally moving into pay-off mode, as Stark Resilient figure out where Tony Stark is, just as Stark is ready to make his move against the Mandarin.  This run has been consistently good (minus Fear Itself), and it’s always a pleasure to see a writer reach his goals.  I can’t wait for the next issue.

Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm #1 – 
Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman are writing this new Planet of the Apes series, which appears to be the only one that Boom is publishing for now.  They’ve set this story some twelve years after ‘Exile on the Planet of the Apes’, and eight years before Charlton Heston is due to appear.  The Anti-Vivisection Society led by (or comprised of) Prisca, the good chimp from Exile, is trying to put a stop to experimentation on humans, which is causing problems for Cornelius (a name familiar to fans of the movies).  Meanwhile, a rogue ape has gotten into an ancient missile bunker left by humans, and has fired a missile at the moon, with cataclysmic results (hence the sub-title).  This series starts off very well, and I enjoyed Damian Couceiro’s art, even though I would much prefer to see Hardman drawing this.

Swamp Thing #0 -This zero issue was the most predictable of the ones I read this week, as we learn little that is new about Swamp Thing and his world, other than that Anton Arcane has been the avatar of the Rot for a very long time.  Kano steps in on the art, and does a good job of being consistent with the layout styles of Yannick Paquette and Marco Rudy.  There’s nothing wrong with this comic, but it is not one of Scott Snyder’s better issues.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #14 –
This is a very good issue, that has Miles meet Aunt May, Gwen Stacey, and Mary Jane for the first time, as well as Captain America, who is adamant that he give up his super-heroics.  The women give him a good talking to, and some web-shooters, and then Miles goes to help Cap, against his wishes.  Brian Michael Bendis hits all the right notes in this issue, and David Marquez does a terrific job of showing just how young and slight Miles is, especially when contrasted to Captain America, helping underscore just how unsuitable he is for this lifestyle.  The problem is that Bendis is also writing Spider-Men, the book where the 616 Peter Parker comes to the Ultimate Universe and meets Miles and these same people.  This book doesn’t explicitly contradict the latest issue of that series, but it does make me wonder how things line up (in #4, Miles clearly knows May and Gwen, but seems to be only discovering the web-shooters for the first time).  I don’t get too hung up on continuity, but I do expect that a writer can keep things straight between two different books that he himself writes.

X-Factor #243 – 
How many times have we seen Lorna Dane go through some kind of breakdown, or need a telepath to wander around her head?  Well, Peter David gives us one more example of this, but also works to clarify why this keeps happening, explaining once and for all the story of Lorna’s parentage, and connection to Magneto.  It’s an okay issue, but Leonard Kirk’s art looks rushed (maybe because he’s having to pump out an issue every two weeks lately).

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

Action Comics #0
Amazing Spider-Man #693
Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #3
Bloodshot #3
Fashion Beast #1
Mighty Thor #19

Bargain Comics:

Action Comics #12 – When I decided to drop this title, I figured that I’d really just keep picking it up for a lower price, as when things are on sale, the standards of enjoyment are a lot lower.  There are some things to like about Grant Morrison’s take on Superman, but I don’t understand why he would take the time to introduce a new concept, such as Clark Kent’s death and replacement by Johnny Clark, only to get rid of the same idea two issues later.  There’s nothing wrong with exploring a concept; comics writers today are so quick to move to the next thing, and it’s frustrating.  The connection between Clark’s landlady and a certain 5th dimension was interesting, but not explored enough.  This issue had multiple artists, and the look of the book was hella inconsistent.

Avengers #27-29 – These three Avengers Vs. X-Men tie-ins are all over the map, as we see the end of the pointless plot involving Noh-Varr and the Kree, a good single issue that has the Red Hulk attempting to assassinate Cyclops, and a strange battle between the Avengers and X-Men that negates the character turn that Jason Aaron had Rachel Summers take in Wolverine and the X-Men.  As I stated above (see Ultimate Comics Spider-Man), we can’t expect Brian Michael Bendis to respect continuity, and that’s the main reason why I’m not buying these books as they hit the stands.  It’s nice to see Walter Simonson drawing superheroes (especially Thor) again, but a lot of his work in these issues looks rushed.

Avengers Assemble #2 & 3 – It feels like Brian Michael Bendis is trying to pull off a wide-screen adventure comic, similar in concept to series like The Authority or The Ultimates, yet set firmly in the Marvel Universe.  This doesn’t really work.  None of the things that make Bendis Bendis are here – amusing, halting dialogue, or small character moments.  Instead, we get an old-school fight comic that completely lacks heart or charm.  And when this type of writing is paired with a rather boring artist like Mark Bagley, there is nothing special about this comic at all, which is odd, as this is the book that Marvel designed to capture new readers who are fans of the movie.

Captain America & Hawkeye #631 & 632 – Once again, Cullen Bunn delivers a reliably entertaining superhero comic that could conceivably have been published back in the 80s.  I love Bunn’s independent work, but his Marvel stuff has yet to distinguish itself.

Teen Titans #5 & 6 -This was a title I was always a little curious about, as I am usually pretty fond of Tim Drake and Bart Allen, but I doubt I’ll be sampling this book again.  The new characters are a terrible melange of 90s-style generic super-heroes with terrible names (Bunker, Skitter), and the plot does not have anything going for it.  After Danny the Street’s appearance in an earlier issue, I had hope for this book, but it’s all been squandered.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Myspace Dark Horse Presents Vol. 6

Written by Mac Walters, LeVar Burton, Mark Wolfe, Frank Stockton, Art Baltazar, Scott Morse, Andi Watson, Larry Marder, Stan Sakai, Ron Chan, Jaime Hernandez, Jason Little, Garaham Annable, Matt Kindt, Gabriel Bá, Mark Crilley, Justin Aclin, Simon Spurrier, Jackie Kessler, and Evan Dorkin
Art by Eduardo Francisco, David Hahn, Frank Stockton, Art Baltazar, Scott Morse, Andi Watson, Larry Marder, Stan Sakai, Ron Chan, Jaime Hernandez, Jason Little, Graham Annable, Matt Kindt, Gabriel Bá, Mark Crilley, Ben Bates, Christopher Mitten, Paul Lee, and Hilary Barta
I’ll be completely honest – most of the comics collected in this book are completely skippable.  That’s probably one of the main reasons why the whole Myspace Dark Horse Presents experiment failed (well, that and the fact that just about the whole world stopped using Myspace).  It was a commendable concept, and I believe it did lead to the resurrection of the monthly Dark Horse Presents, which has been a very good thing, but it’s clear that Dark Horse was rarely coming through with their A-game on this thing.

Because I want to stay positive though, I will focus on what is good about this collection.  Scanning the credit list above, one name should immediately stand out to anyone who knows what I like – Gabriel Bá!  He provides a short piece called Fiction that could only work in comics.  A writer appears at a festival, where he grumbles about how his readers think they know him by reading his books, but they don’t.  After a few pages though, Bá pulls a switch on the reader, and we find out that that character is a character in someone else’s writing.  The whole thing has a very Borgesian feel to it, and is beautiful to boot.  Easily worth picking up this book for, as so far as I know, this story hasn’t been collected anywhere else.

Among the other things I liked were the Giant Man story by Matt Kindt, a companion piece to his 3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man graphic novel.  I’ve read this before though – it was recently collected alongside two other stories in a one-shot.  It’s still good though.

Likewise the Beanworld story by Larry Marder.  I think it was included in the recent Tales of the Beanworld collection.  Every day needs a little Beanworld in it though, so it’s also all good.

I was also pleased to see a Bee story by Jason Little.  I read Motel Art Improvement Service a little while ago, and enjoyed it.  In this story, Bee spends a day in New York with her friend, and goes through some of the existential issues of Bá’s story.

Simon Spurrier and Christopher Mitten provide a creepy horror story involving a man whose pregnant wife was killed in a car wreck, and who is visited by the fetus’s ghost (in a really disturbing way).  Also of note are the collection of Brody’s Ghost stories by Mark Crilley.  These aren’t exactly my cup of tea, but I like the fact that Dark Horse gave over a fair amount of space to them, making them stand out a little more through sheer volume.

The rest of the book is a melange of licensed properties (Mass Effect, Buffy), children’s comics (which never feels like a good fit), and stuff that just didn’t resonate with me.

Album of the Week:

Getatchew Mekuria & The Ex & Friends – Y’anbessaw Tezeta – I picked this up on vacation in New York on the recommendation of the very knowledgeable staff at Other Music.  It’s a double-disc of powerful Ethiopian jazz by one of the masters of the field, accompanied by a band from Denmark or something.  It ranges from Mulatu Astatke-like compositions into the wilds of free jazz, and it is incredible from first track to last.

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