The Weekly Round-Up #147 With Pope Hats, Elephantmen, Morrison & Robertson’s Happy and More!

Best Comic of the Week:

Pope Hats #3

by Ethan Rilly

I was very excited to be able to pick up the latest issue of Ethan Rilly’s excellent comics series Pope Hats at Word on the Street last week.  This book festival regularly disappoints, but with this single purchase, it was all worth while, even braving a bit of a downpour.

Pope Hats follows two women, Frances and Vickie, who have both spent years trying to establish themselves in their chosen professions.  Frances is an insomniac law clerk, and Vickie is an aspiring actress.  Last issue, Frances received a promotion, splitting her time between serving the kind and reasonable Seagull, and the imperious senior partner Castonguay.  Now, she finds herself completely snowed under by work and the exhausting oneupmanship, back biting, and careerism that define her workplace.  Vickie, meanwhile, has finally landed herself a part in a TV pilot, and is planning a move to California.

The book follows a slow and meandering path through the two womens’ daily lives, although it is clear that Frances is the main character and the heart of the series.  We also get to see much more of her co-workers, including the unfortunate lawyer Nina, who has watched her billable hours decline because of her colleague’s active sabotage, and who resorts to having to gamble on the Machiavellian intentions of Castonguay.

Vickie has a sizeable presence in this issue, but she still remains a rather elusive character.  When sober, she is capable of insight and self-reflection, but she is rarely sober.

Rilly’s work reads like the best of Adrian Tomine’s.  He presents snippets of quotidian existence, making good use of humour and a clean, natural drawing ability.  His plot moves slowly, as life does, and he cuts quickly from scene to scene to maintain momentum.  The more magical realist elements of the first issue (like the ghost that Frances talks to) are gone from the series, as Rilly focuses his story on the contrasts between Frances and Vickie.

Rilly rounds out this issue with a trio of narrated strips.  There are two comics adaptions from Spalding Gray’s Morning, Noon and Night, and an interview with the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.  They are odd choices, but they are also good reads.

I look forward to reading the next Pope Hats, whenever it may come out.  If it sounds like something you would like, it is solicited in the latest issue of Previews – let your comic shop know you want it!

Other Notable Comics:

Elephantmen #43

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Axel Medellin and Dave Sim

I ended up with some pretty mixed feelings when it comes to the forty-third issue of Elephantmen.  First, it’s wrapped in a beautiful cover by Brandon Graham, which got me very excited that he may have also done some of the interiors (sadly, he did not).  This is an amazing cover, and it actually depicts a version of an event that happens inside the comic, which is rare these days.Elephantmen, a series following the travails of some transgenic ‘Elephantmen’ – former soldiers who are now integrated into human society – who work in law enforcement or organized crime, is often a mixed bag story wise, ranging wildly over a variety of themes and genres.  Right now, it seems that Richard Starkings is mostly interested in giving us an updated form of romance comic, as the series follows the relationships of Hip Flask and Miki (and maybe Vanity Case?), and Obadiah Horn and Sahara (with a dash of Panya tossed in).  The story continues to work on the plot involving the pursuit of the Silencer, a hired killer who has been murdering Elephantmen, but it’s the romance angle that gets the most screen time.

Hip gets attacked by the Silencer at the beginning of the book, and spends some time in a Dave Sim-drawn dream, similar to Ebony’s from the last issue.  This in itself is fine, but with multiple pages given over to showing details from the same drawing, it kind of felt like filler.  Miki, Hip’s new girlfriend finds out that he also has a thing for his fellow officer, Vanity Case, and gets angry.  Meanwhile, Sahara, who is carrying Horn’s baby, further imposes on her body-double (and pregnancy-double) Panya to basically become her.

There are other things happening in this book as well, such as a small retcon to establish that Hip, Horn, and Sahara all went to Mars once, and that Mister Purchase, Horn’s robotic aide de camp, was originally constructed for that voyage.  I could be wrong, but I don’t remember reading about this part of the Elephantmen’s history before recently, and I’m not sure why it’s being included now.  That’s what bothered me with this book; that Starkings will often shoehorn information about the past into a story in a manner that is more distracting than informative.  The reference to Hip being an ‘astronaut’ made by the Silencer came out of nowhere, and felt out of place.

Artistically, this book is as good as it ever was, with an extended section of pin-ups from various conventions (including art by Becky Cloonan!) given to Starkings taking the place of meatier backmatter.  I think my problem with this issue comes down to the fact that it didn’t live up to its wonderful cover.

Happy #1

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Darick Robertson

Grant Morrison – DC’s biggest name writer (in terms of critical respect, if not exactly in sales) has taken his latest creator-owned project to Image, and that’s a big deal.  For years, Morrison has published his bizarre non-superhero projects through Vertigo, but with their terms having recently been changed, I guess Image was a better option (continuing to prove what I firmly believe – that it is the most exciting company publishing comics these days).

Happy is a strange beast.  It opens reading like a Garth Ennis comic, as a pair of hitman (part of a hitman family, the Fratelli Brothers) go to join their brothers in completing a hit on Nick Sax, an ex-cop.  Sax knew they were coming (for a pretty interesting reason), but he didn’t know that the fourth brother had recently returned from Italy, and is therefore not as prepared as he would like to be.

Sax ends up in the hospital with a gunshot wound, although not before he is given the password to a secret bank account which holds the Fratelli fortune.  Now, both the police and the mob are after that password, and Nick is hallucinating fiercely.  He sees a small blue horse named Happy.

That’s more or less all that happens in this issue.  We do get a rather random page or two of Nick taking out a serial killer who has been killing prostitutes, and there’s something weird going on with a creepy homeless looking Santa Claus, but there you go.  Now, this being a Morrison comic, I was looking for other meanings or interpretations, but couldn’t really come up with anything just yet.

It’s great to see Darick Robertson’s art again.  I never even sampled The Boys (it having come out at a point where I’d had my fill of Garth Ennis – maybe I should start looking for it in trade), so I haven’t seen Robertson on a comic in many years.  He’s a great character artist, although he draws a mean small blue horse with wings and a horn…

I don’t see this being one of Morrison’s greatest works, but it is definitely interesting and entertaining.

Mind MGMT #5

by Matt Kindt

I really do love this title, and for a variety of reasons.  One of the most striking, and inconsequential, is that this is a comic that actually smells like a comic.  The book is printed on a nice newsprint stock, and it brought back a lot of Proustian memories when I opened it.

The comic itself is excellent.  Kindt has slowly been building up the layers of complexity in this series, which involves a young woman’s investigations into the strange world of Mind MGMT, an organization which has so far remained very shadowy, but that we know it is involved in influencing and controlling world events.

Henry Lyme, the central character of the comic (despite his only having really shown up in the last issue), continues to narrate his life story to Meru in this issue.  Previously, we saw how Henry was Mind MGMT’s most powerful agent.  At this point in his story, he basically loses his shit, as he begins to question how pervasive his influence has become on the world around him.  Wherever he goes, people give him things for free, and he even questions his own wife and child’s love for him, which he suspects is the product of his own abilities, with disastrous results.

Towards the end of the issue, Henry reveals his connection to Meru, which I did not see coming.  That’s the thing I like most about this comic; by creating such a unique series, Kindt has made this book hard to predict, something that is rare in comics these days.  Coupled with Kindt’s fantastic art, sharp dialogue, and interesting backmatter, this title is terrific.

Mind the Gap #5

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Rodin Esquejo and Adrian Alphona

Do you ever have this happen to you, where you make some comments (okay, maybe they were complaints) about a comic one month, only to have them addressed the next?  After reading the last issue of Mind the Gap, I commented that I found certain aspects of the book – especially the scenes where Elle, the coma victim, just hangs out in her own mind and The Garden, a shared mindscape for coma victims, and the overly self-congratulatory text pages in the back – to be tiring me out, and causing me to lose enthusiasm for the title.

Then this issue comes out, and neither thing is in it!  Instead of keeping the action in the hospital where Elle is staying, Jim McCann decided to use this issue to explore one of the most important people in Elle’s life.  Dane is Elle’s boyfriend, and he’s been shown to be a difficult person.  Now, he is being accused of attacking her, and his own father has shown up with some pretty damning evidence against him.

The thing is, Dane hasn’t seen his father in some ten years.  Most of this issue is told through flashback, as we see Dane’s teenage years in a trailer park, where he lived with his abusive drunk of a father.  At age 17, Dane set off on his own, eventually finding himself in New York, and dating Elle.  For the first time since the comic began, Dane is shown as a sympathetic character.

We are also given some pretty big clues as to what has been happening in this series.  The whole point of this book is that the reader has no clue as to who attacked Elle, or why.  One fairly prominent character is shown interacting with ‘Hoodie’, the hooded character who has been present at every point of the series, although whether or not that character is ultimately responsible for what’s happened isn’t made clear.  I imagine that there are more than one guilty party in this book.

I’ve been enjoying Rodin Esquejo’s art in this series, but was pleased to see that (the uncredited) Adrian Alphona showed up to draw the scenes from Dane’s life.  Alphona’s art is much looser than Esquejo’s, and had a total Adam Pollina vibe to it that I liked a lot.

This is a comic that was in need of a shake-up, and I’m pleased that McCann chose to do that at precisely the time that I was wondering how committed I was to staying with this title.  Now he’s got me on board for a few more months.

The New Deadwardians #7

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by INJ Culbard

As we reach the penultimate issue of The New Deadwardians, Dan Abnett is still piling on the intrigue.  The issue opens with the intrepid Inspector Suttle being attacked by some Bright (human) Londoners.  Suttle being Young (a vampire), is able to easily defend himself, but he has no defence for the surprises that Mr. Salt heaps upon him.

By the time he has finished interviewing his only suspect in the murder of Lord Hinchcliffe, Suttle is not sure of anything anymore, including his own complicity in the murder, and in the Restless (zombie) incursion that killed his own cook.

Abnett has constructed an interesting alternate history with this book, and then populated it with an interesting character.

INJ Culbard’s art is the real star of this book though.  He’s got a Guy Davis meets Rick Geary quality to his work that I enjoy.  This issue feels looser than the previous ones, at least during the action sequences, and it works very well.

Prophet #29

Written by Brandon Graham, Farel Dalrymple, and Andy Ristaino
Art by Farel Dalrymple and Andy Ristaino

It must be a lot of fun to write this comic.  Since Brandon Graham resurrected Rob Liefeld’s god-awful comic from the 90s, each new issue has been a bit of an adventure, as Graham has introduced a wide variety of characters, settings, and strange situations.For this issue, Graham returns to the John Prophet clone we last saw in the other issue illustrated by Farel Dalrymple.  Prophet is with a group of his clone brothers, escorting an Earth Empire Mother through space towards her home.  These Earth Mother’s are powerful psychics, who control the clones.

Their route takes them through a centuries-old battlefield, and our tailed Prophet ends up being captured on a ship, where creatures control their prisoners and force them to work as slaves.  Prophet becomes involved with a group of rebels, and fights for his freedom.

Each and every page drips with creativity, as Graham and Dalrymple create a variety of races and strange creatures.  None of these are throw-aways for Graham; there’s a sense that a lot of thought went into each and every story element, no matter how briefly they grace the pages of the book.

Dalrymple’s work is always lovely, but I particularly like the way that colourist Joseph Bergin III’s limited palette on the pages where Prophet is under mind control really accentuate Dalrymple’s skills.

The back-up, by Andy Ristaino, features similar themes to the main book.  It’s about a man who is the caretaker of a large colonist spaceship filled with people in suspended animation.  The ship is badly damaged, and the man has to decide what to do with his brethren.  It’s a powerful little story.

The Sixth Gun #25

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

There’s a real sense of things converging in this latest issue of The Sixth Gun.  Drake and Becky are trapped in a vicious snowstorm that has kept them holed up a decrepit fort.  Their friend, Gord Cantrell is looking for them, and he meets up with Kirby Hale on his voyage (and the two do a good re-enactment of the cantina scene from Star Wars), and Asher Cobb, the giant mummy.  The Sword of Abraham are looking for them all as well.

So while all these groups are meeting up, Drake is more at a loss as to what to do next than we’ve ever seen him.  It’s unfortunate that it takes an attack by a gigantic wolf spirit to shake him back into action.

I like the way that Cullen Bunn has woven Aboriginal mythology into this comic.  Earlier, we saw a Thunderbird, and now, we’re getting a Wendigo.  I always like when indigenous culture is represented respectfully in comics.

Bunn continues to impress on this book in a way that none of his work at Marvel has, adding weight to the argument that creator-owned comics benefit from being a labour of love in ways that work for hire never does.  Brian Hurtt, as always, is amazing.

Skullkickers #18

Written by Justin Jordan, Blair Butler, Charles Soule, J. Torres, John Layman, and Aubrey Sitterson
Art by Tradd Moore, Enrique Rivera, Michael Mayne, Alberto J. Alburquerque, Rob Guillory, and Ivan Anaya

In some ways, I think I prefer the ‘Tavern Tales’ issues of Skullkickers that show up between story arcs more than I do the actual comic itself sometimes.  This latest version, ‘Son of Tavern Tales’, has six short stories that more or less perfectly distill what makes Skullkickers work so well.

The book opens with the Luther Strode team of Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore (who clearly has never seen another picture of a dwarf).  Their story is cute and amusing, as is the one after it by Blair Butler and Enrique Rivera.

Charles Soule and Michael Mayne give us a great story about the world’s best beer, and the strange creature that makes it so great.  J. Torres and Alberto J. Alburquerque show what happens with role playing games get out of hand (always zombies).

The Chew team provide the best story in this book, as our favourite mercenaries try to figure out a way to scam themselves free beer for life in a bar where the owner has an interest in collecting mythological    tail.  (I was hoping for a Poyo cameo, but no luck).

The final story, by Aubrey Sitterson and Ivan Anaya show that in medieval fantasy times, guilds operated much like unions do today.

This extra-sized issue was a nice treat.  This series is going on a bit of a hiatus until next year, and I look forward to its return, but I look even more forward to the Tavern Tales issue that comes after the next arc.

Quick Takes:

All Star Western #0 If you read Palmiotti and Gray’s excellent Jonah Hex series, then you’ve basically already read this comic.  We get another retelling of Jonah’s life story, although without a lot of detail.  The end of the book ties in to the next story arc, but the last two pages don’t make a lot of sense, as I have no idea who is narrating them, and the woman shown could not possibly be Hex’s mother (as she looks to be younger than him).  I find my interest in this book waning.

American Vampire #31 – I can’t help feel like this story arc is taking way too long, as Henry wakes up from his coma, Pearl and Skinner have an argument, and Pearl then locates Bloch and his coven.  This issue is as pretty as it always is, but there is a sense of malaise settling over this comic that I don’t like.  The appearance of a character we haven’t seen in a long time at the end does give me reason to hope, however.

Batman Incorporated #0 – How strange to have to spend a whole issue providing backstory on a comic that really has only been around for a few years.  With this issue, we mostly just get little vignettes of Bruce running around the globe setting up Batman Incorporated.  I’m sure there are hundreds of continuity inconsistencies, but since this is a Grant Morrison book, I’m sure we’re all just supposed to look the other way.  I noticed that Chris Burnham, who is usually the artist on this title, got a story credit, which he shares with Morrison.  The art is by Frazer Irving, an artist I respect tremendously (cue request for more Gutsville), and the book looks great.  I do really feel like DC squandered the potential of this series though, by refitting all of their continuity around it, and now it’s like Morrison is just doing what he wants.  He’s telling a gigantic story, so it’s odd to me that it doesn’t impact any of the other Bat-books.

BPRD Hell on Earth – The Return of the Master #2 – This is yet another decent issue of BPRD, as it gets ready for it’s big 100th issue anniversary (and subsequent renumbering).  I like this book, but it has so many various plotlines running right now that each issue does little more than check in on each set of characters.  I can see why Dark Horse is abandoning the ‘series of mini-series’ approach.  Tyler Crook’s art makes me not miss Guy Davis.

Dancer #5 – Nathan Edmondson tosses a nice surprise into the end of Dancer, his CIA clone comic which was pretty good, but in a standard thriller movie sort of way.  It takes nothing to picture this as a Bruce Willis movie.  This series really does not stand up well against some of Edmondson’s other work, especially Who is Jake Ellis?.

FF #22 – This issue basically repeats the events of the latest issue of Fantastic Four, but is told from the perspectives of Valeria and Bentley.  The young clone finally faces his father, the Wizard, in a very memorable scene, but much of the rest of this issue felt like deleted scenes on a DVD.  I do love the art by André Araújo, an artist whose work I’ve not seen before.  This is not an easy book to assign to a new artist – there are a number of characters, many of whom are children.  Araújo makes them all distinct, cute, and visually interesting.  I would definitely seek out something else by him.

Invincible #95 – Robert Kirkman has finally finished off his story about just what Robot and Monster Girl were doing on the Flaxan planet.  Basically, that’s all there is in this comic.  Mark shows up for a single panel, as does his replacement, Bulletproof.  That’s not a bad thing, as the Flaxan story has been pretty interesting, but it does feel like Kirkman lost control of the pacing of this story, and now has to rush through things (this is one wordy comic) so he can meet his big goals for issue 100.  Cory Walker’s art is very nice, although the washed out colours kind of annoyed me.

Invincible Iron Man #525 – Tony Stark continues to make his move on the Mandarin in this all-action issue.  While Stark, Stane, and their new friends do all they can to survive in Mandarin City, Pepper Potts and Bethany Cabe put together a rescue operation using some characters that Matt Fraction introduced in the first issues of his run, and who I’ve hoped to see again.  I very much look forward to seeing how this all ends.

I, Vampire #0 – There’s nothing new in this comic, which shows the origin of Andrew Bennett, and how he came to be a vampire, and the prison for the spirit of Cain (if that’s what that really is).  Were this zero issue to come out back around the time of the I, Vampire/JLD cross-over, it would have helped inform what was happening in the comic, but now this title has moved (slowly) past that point, and revisiting it seems pointless.  I’m getting frustrated with the slow pace of this title, and may be dropping it soon…

Justice League Dark #0 – For this zero issue, Jeff Lemire and Lee Garbett show us the first meeting between John Constantine and Zatanna.  Constantine’s come to America to learn everything he can about magic from Nick Necro, Zee’s boyfriend, and, apparently, the man behind the team’s current problems.  It’s a decent comic, involving a mystic cult, the search for the Books of Magic, and matching trenchcoats and skinny ties, but I kept coming up against a major problem.  People (including himself) can’t keep talking about what a bastard Constantine is without actually showing him acting like one.  In this book, it’s more like he’s vaguely morally questionable…

Secret Avengers #31 – There’s lots of high-stakes action throughout this issue as just a few Avengers have to try to stop the power of the combined Crowns (Serpent and two others).  It’s a contagion situation, with Ant-Man, Venom, and Black Widow the only people who can save the day.  It’s a good, dynamic comic.

Talon #0 – I didn’t have any idea what to expect out of this new series.  I can’t help but feel like DC is stretching out the Court of Owls story from Batman unnecessarily in a bid to cash in on the unexpected success of Scott Snyder’s storyline.  Still, I picked this up because of Snyder’s name being attached to the project, even though the book is really being written by James Tynion IV, with only plot assist by Snyder.  The series follows Calvin Rose, who was the Court’s Talon for about fifteen minutes around five years ago.  He is a skilled escape artist, and he uses those skills to break away from the Court’s influence.  I guess this series is going to be built around his continuing to evade the Court’s other Talons, despite the fact that the organization was left pretty gutted at the end of Batman’s run-ins with them.  I don’t know if that’s enough for a lasting series.  Guillem March’s art is nice, if more visibly influenced by Joe Kubert than anything else I’ve ever seen March draw.  This debut didn’t really impress me all that much, but I am a little curious to see where this goes, so I’ll give it a few issues to gain my loyalty.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #16 – President Captain America is such a goofy, Silver Age-style idea, that it’s really rather fun to watch playing out.  Of course, within a few hours of being sworn in, President Cap has already fixed many of America’s new civil wars and secessions, all perhaps a little too easily.  We also find out just who Mr. Morez, the man who has been running all over the place taking America apart, really is (and it’s not Loki, so my guess was wrong).  Luke Ross draws this issue, and his work is much better than what Billy Tan has been doing for the last few issues.

Winter Soldier #11 – Bucky and Hawkeye spend most of this issue a few steps behind Novokov, the Russian sleeper agent they are pursuing, and the Black Widow, who he has brainwashed into working with him.  It’s a chase issue, but this is the kind of thing that the team of Brubaker, Guice, Thies, and Breitweiser do well, so I enjoyed it.

Wolverine and the X-Men #17 For this issue, Jason Aaron takes a break from the Avengers Vs. X-Men nonsense that has completely disrupted everything he was doing with this title, and instead gives us a cool story starring Doop, the gelatinous green blob who first appeared in Peter Milligan’s excellent X-Force (which incited fanboy rage, and got turned into X-Statix).  And who better to draw a Doop story than Michael Allred (with colours by Laura Allred), the character’s original creator?  This issue perfectly captures the fun atmosphere Aaron originally filled this book with, while also showing us just what it is that Doop does at the Jean Grey School.  Here’s hoping for many more issues this good in the future.

X-Men Legacy #274 – Now that Avengers Vs. X-Men is almost over, writers are beginning to address its aftermath, instead of spinning out yet another unnecessary tie-in.  In this issue, Rogue and Magneto try to help rescue people from a crushed subway car in Washington DC, and that leads Rogue to re-examine a number of things, most especially her relationship with Magneto.  There is a bit of a ‘special episode’ feel to this book, but it works under Christos Gage’s capable hand.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #694

Astonishing X-Men #54

Fury Max #6

Mars Attacks #4

Rachel Rising #11

X-Men #36

Album of the Week:

Blu & Exile – Give Me My Flowers While I Can Still Smell Them – After years of anticipation, Blu and Exile drop this follow-up to Below the Heavens.  This album is awesome – Blu is a very sophisticated rapper, approaching the art differently from just about anyone else in the game.  Exile is an incredible producer – I don’t really like his occasional tendency to sample from childrens’ shows, but the rest of the beats here are wonderful, especially ‘Seasons’, which lifts from a Tom Waits song.  Appearances from Black Spade and Fashawn put this over the top.  Highly recommended.

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