The Weekly Round-Up #149 With Punk Rock Jesus, The Massive, Morning Glories, Walking Dead & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Punk Rock Jesus #4

by Sean Murphy

When starting to read Sean Murphy’s series Punk Rock Jesus, I hoped to see the scenes that are in this issue.  This series has followed the birth and early childhood of Chris, the clone of Jesus Christ, who has spent his entire life as the star of J2, a reality TV show.

In the last issue, Chris’s mother was fired from the show, and at the beginning of this one, she returns to the J2 complex with armed men supplied by the New American Christians.  This attack ends in Gwen’s death, the firing or Thomas the chief of security, and Chris’s utter disenchantment with his upbringing.  He begins a secret tutelage in history, philosophy, and punk music, which leads to his ultimate act of rebellion at a public appearance.

It’s rare that I find myself actively rooting for a character while I read a comic, while smiling throughout an issue.  Chris echoes many of my own thoughts and beliefs, as he moves from being a meek and shy child into a raging, aggressive teenager who fronts a punk band.  Thomas, meanwhile, reconnects with his own roots in Ireland.

This has been a great series, and with two issues left to go, I can’t wait to see where Sean Murphy takes us.  I can see how some people (really, mostly Americans that are thinking about voting for Romney), will be upset by this comic, and I kind of wish Fox News would run a story or two about how awful it is, because I want Murphy to experience some of the amazing sales that religious notoriety can bring.

Murphy has always impressed me as an artist, but this series is making clear that the man can write with the best of them.  He took his time setting up the storyline and characters, and is casually working in references to what the near-future offers, such as a large, abandoned flood zone in lower Manhattan.  This is a great series.

Other Notable Comics:

Conan the Barbarian #9

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Vasilis Lolos

Pretty much, every month I marvel at just how much I am enjoying this take on Robert E. Howard’s classic character Conan.  I’m going to try not to focus on the fact that Brian Wood and his collaborators have made me like a barbarian character that I always found boring before, and instead just talk about the quality of the art in this series.

This title opened with (and later featured again) Becky Cloonan.  Since then, we’ve seen art by James Harren, and now Vasilis Lolos.  These are some pretty street-cred indie artists drawing a series set in a medieval world where people solve their problems with swords.  These artists bring a pretty different sensibility to a character who most people still associate with Barry Windsor-Smith and John Buscema, and that is a big part of why this series is so awesome.

Lolos draws the hell out of this issue, including an incredible scene with wolves attacking Belit the pirate queen.  Conan finally finds the man who has stolen his identity and has been devastating the Cimmerian countryside.  We learn that there is a connection between the two men going back to their shared childhood, in what ends up being a little bit of a morality play on the dangers of bullying, but I can forgive that, as the rest of the book is terrific.

It’s been great to see Lolos drawing again, and I look forward to reading the second volume of his OGN series Last Call, which has just been solicited for December in this month’s Previews.  It’s always great when someone you respect artistically gets back in the game.

The Creep #2

Written by John Arcudi
Art by Jonathan Case

On the surface, this comic seems pretty strange.  It’s about a private investigator with a growth disorder that causes him to suffer all sorts of physical problems, who is investigating the suicide of a former girlfriend’s teenage son.  It’s not your typical noir plot, but John Arcudi and Jonathan Case are doing some very cool things with it.

The investigator, Oxel, is a very interesting character.  He’s terrified of seeing his client because she knew him before his disease set in, and he’s not comfortable with her seeing what he became.  Because of that, he’s focusing too much of his time on the mother of the teenager’s best friend, who also committed suicide a few months beforehand.

Arcudi gives us plenty of opportunities to see how other people respond to Oxel, from the tough guys who hang out on the street corner, to the average person he comes across in his investigations.  He is aware of how his looks ease his job, but he is reluctant to discuss them with anyone, as that causes the effect to disappear.

The grandfather of the dead boy is another interesting figure.  He’s homeless, and very mentally ill, having suffered a break after the boy’s death.  Jonathan Case does some cool things with him, drawing his fugue states in a completely different style, that looks a lot like Toby Cypress’s (I was sure that’s who had drawn the first page of this issue).

In this issue, Oxel moves closer to what he is looking for, but it’s still not clear just what that is.  It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the boys both killed themselves over something that happened with the grandfather.  My first inclination is to see this as a comic about abuse, as if it were written by Andrew Vachss, but I suspect that Arcudi has something more subtle in mind.

The Massive #5

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Garry Brown

I’ve been enjoying The Massive a great deal since it began, but this is easily my favourite issue so far.  I felt that Brian Wood finally slowed down a little, and focused his story perfectly on a done-in-one story that introduced a new character, developed a major one a little better, perfectly used a cool new idea, and helped illustrate the realities of the world, post-Crash.

In this issue, Mary, one of the central command staff on The Kapital, accompanied by Ryan, the Ninth Wave’s sole American recruit, journeys inland in Antarctica to search for a source of clean drinking water with which to resupply their ship.  She has knowledge of a facility that uses geothermic energy to melt the cleanest water on the Earth.  The problem is that she and Ryan are met by people who have been squatting in the facility.

Mary has been an interesting figure since this book started.  She’s very capable, although we know nothing about her, and her strange connection to the world’s oceans.  While we don’t learn anything about her past, we do get to know her a little better, especially through her interactions with Ryan, who has always had difficulty fitting into the larger group because of her American-ness.  I hope that Mary’s (and Mag’s) connections to the ocean don’t turn out to be mystical or fantastical in nature, as I feel that this book is very grounded in reality right now.

This issue was very well plotted, and had a real sense of immediacy to it.  With the cast of the comic not being very set yet, it’s easy to imagine Wood killing people off.  Garry Brown’s art has grown on me really quickly, and now I think I prefer him to Kristian Donaldson on this title.

If you aren’t reading The Massive, you’re missing one of the best new comics of this year.

Morning Glories #22

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

Things take a turn or two to the even weirder in the latest issue of Morning Glories.  Almost since this excellent title began, I’ve been comparing it to the TV show Lost, in its themes, structure, and execution.

If you accept that comparison as being valid, then we are at the point where people showed up at the base of the three-toed statue.  Irina and the group of students who we met over the last few issues (Jun’s former classmates at Abraham’s school in the desert) reveal that everyone has moved through time to some point after ancient Sumeria fell to ruins, and that their mission is to rescue Abraham from some sort of threat that is never really made clear.  Hunter continues to be our point-of-view character through this arc, and he’s confused as hell, despite having spent his entire life steeped in movies that have similar plots.

Things get very strange in the ruins of a Sumerian temple, as the students all suddenly speak different languages, and it becomes clear that Irina is working her own plan, that has nothing to do with Abraham’s original intention for these kids.

This issue is shot through with flashbacks to two years previous, when this new group of students arrived at the Morning Glory Academy.  Their experiences closely mirror what the students we know went through in the early issues of this book, with some differences.  Instead of almost being drowned in a classroom, they were almost burned alive.

This continues to be a very compelling read, although I’m getting a little confused as to just where everything and everyone stands.  The latest solicitation in Previews (for issue 25) claims that it will be the end of the ‘first season’ of the series.  That means that either a lot has to get resolved in a short space of time, or that Spencer is building towards one hell of a cliffhanger.  I hope there isn’t a long hiatus between ‘seasons’, as I really enjoy reading this book semi-monthly.

Point of Impact #1

Written by Jay Faerber
Art by Koray Kuranel

I haven’t really read any of Jay Faerber’s comics (I do own the first trade of Near Death, but haven’t gotten to it yet), but was so drawn to this new mini-series by its cover, that I thought it was time to check him out.

In fact, the cover is really the first panel of the comic (a trick that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons first used in Watchmen), which opens with a woman being tossed off a roof, and landing on a parked car.  From this event, the wheels of a pretty good crime comic start turning.

We learn that this woman, Nicole, has a journalist husband, and that she attended yoga classes with the detective who is now the primary in her case.  We also learn that she has a secret boyfriend, and that he is most likely the reason for her being killed, but we don’t have a clue as to what that reason is.

When the husband returns home, he startles a burglar, who is there to steal a laptop.  Why he’s looking for a laptop in a chest of drawers escapes me, since it’s clearly on a table, but other than that, this is a taut and exciting first issue, that does a good job of introducing all of the major characters.

I’m definitely coming back next month for more.

Stumptown Vol. 2 #2

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Matthew Southworth

Reading the first issue of the new volume of Stumptown last month, I did kind of wonder how finding a missing guitar could be a meaty enough case to keep bumbling private investigator Dex Parios busy for an entire mini-series.  Of course, there is a lot more going on than Dex realized when she took on the job.

In a very short time, it became apparent that this case was going to be a lot more complicated than Dex originally thought.  In short order, she’s had to deal with skinheads, the DEA, and now a somewhat reluctant client.

Much of this issue is given over to a conversation between Dex and Click, the drummer in the band that Dex’s client plays guitar for.  There is some clear chemistry between Dex and Click, who artist Matthew Southworth must be basing on a real person, because he has such a distinctive face.

Rucka excels at these types of stories, where the main character is stuck in the middle of events she has no clear understanding of.  Dex’s natural defensiveness and ingenuity plays out nicely against her occasional physical awkwardness.  I love the scene where she ends up literally falling into her client’s basement.

The Walking Dead: Michonne Special #1

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

I haven’t gone back and read any issues of The Walking Dead since I started reading the series around issue 7.  It’s one of those books that I would love to, one day, go back and read from the beginning, but seeing as I can’t keep up with things I want to read for the first time, it’s not likely to happen.

That’s why this Walking Dead Michonne Special is a treat in a few ways.  It reprints the Michonne story that was published in Playboy Magazine back in the spring, and weaves it into The Walking Dead #19, which is Michonne’s first appearance.

For people who don’t know, Michonne has had one of the more memorable introductions in the series, showing up in the middle of chaos carrying a sword and dragging two jawless and armless zombies behind her on chains.  She oozed menace in her first few appearances, although she has since grown into a complex and valuable member of the book’s cast.  She is also going to be appearing as a regular character in Season Three of the television show, which returns this week to AMC.

The Playboy story gives us Michonne’s ‘origin’, in so far as it shows us how she survived the early zombie days, and how she got her sword and silent companions.  It’s a good story, and helps remind us of the type of person Michonne was before the world ended, and what a total badass she was when she first showed up in this comic.  I can’t believe that was some eighty issues ago – I still think of her as one of the newer characters.

It was reading issue 19 again that really got me excited though.  This story is set at the prison that Rick and his crew moved into, right at the point that they have a big conflict with one of its inhabitants.  Their argument leads to a large swarm of roamers attacking, and all hell breaks loose.  As crazy as The Walking Dead has been lately, it was a bit of a trip to look back at those early days, when the stakes seemed even higher.  It was also nice to see a large number of characters that are not in the comic any more.

Usually, I don’t appreciate reprint comics, and I don’t like spending money on something that I already own, but this was an enjoyable package.  Bring on Season Three!

Quick Takes:

Archer & Armstrong #3 – Ninja nuns, family rivalry, and some very good, very old wine keep this issue moving smoothly, as Fred Van Lente’s excellent reimagining of the Valiant classic continues to be their most entertaining book.

AVX: Consequences #1 – Going in to this, I thought to myself that if anyone could pull the end of Avengers Vs. X-Men together enough to form a good story, it would be Kieron Gillen.  Based on this issue, I think that Gillen may have actually disappointed, for the first time in his career.  This book continues to be a mess, as Cyclops gets locked up in some private prison that was built just in case mutants ever returned in number (or something like that), Hope decides to be a regular kid, the people of Wakanda get angry at all mutants (and are described as having had open arms, even though they’ve had centuries of history as an isolationist country), Captain America sports an ugly new costume and goes looking for the members of the Extinction Team.  Some of the smaller moments work well, such as the conversations between Cap, Wanda, and Hope, and the one between Cap and Logan, but this whole thing just reeks of editorially mandated nonsense.  Also, Tom Raney?  This needed a more character-driven artist, not someone who just wants to make every woman look like Medusa (hair everywhere!).

Batman #13 – I feel like Scott Snyder is dumping Batman into another big crossover a little too quickly after the last one, instead of just spending some time working with Batman on his own.  I imagine that DC is determined to make use of this series as their tent-pole more than they’re concerned about telling good stories.  The Joker’s back, and he’s acting a little strange, in this story where he’s a few pages ahead of Batman at all times.  I like the rationale behind the Joker’s activities, but I’m not sure what that has to do with the mayor, and his targeting the entire Bat-Family feels too much like an excuse to tie in to all the poorer selling titles.  The issue is good enough, but the die-cut cover is cheesy (we don’t need more 90s throwbacks), and the back-up story is completely pointless (although it, at least, looks terrific thanks to Jock, who should be given the main story, relegating Greg Capullo to the back pages).  It’s interesting that this comic establishes that one year has passed in the New 52 timeline, as well as in the real world.  Does that make Damian eleven now?  Will that ageing carry forward in all of DC’s titles?

Batman and Robin #13 – Somehow, this story takes place during the ‘Death of the Family’ story, which is probably a mistake.  Bruce and Damian fly into orbit to fix a satellite that may suffer gravity anomalies due to a solar eclipse.  I accept that comic book science can be kooky, but that is dumb.  Then, there’s something going on with zombies, and Damian has some sort of secret thing happening in the sewers.  Really, this comic is usually better than this.  I feel like Peter Tomasi is working in such constrained conditions that he’s not able to focus his stories in ways that make sense.  Also, Patrick Gleason only draws half this issue before Tomas Giorello takes over.  Giorello is a fine artist (except that he makes Damian look a variety of ages), but his work is jarringly different from Gleason’s.  I wish DC would stop doing things like that.

Creator-Owned Heroes #5 – This issue of Jimmy Palmiotti and friends’ anthology/magazine title features the debut of two new serials.  The first, by Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Jerry Lando is called Killswitch, and it’s pretty good.  It’s about an assassin with a thing for pretty women, who finds himself in a spot of trouble while trying to relax after a job.  I wonder if it’s going to be a thing that all the Palmiotti and Gray serials in this series start with someone attacking an airplane in the sky, or if that’s just a coincidence.  Steve Niles, Jay Russel, and Andrew Ritchie provide the beginning of Black Sparrow, a dark and American Gothic story about a father coming to terms with the fact that his son is a monster, set in the Dust Bowl days.  The other content in this issue is about a skippable as it always is, but I did like the interview with Amanda Connor.  I’m still waiting for one issue of this series to feature an actual hero…

Demon Knights #13 – Etrigan’s scheming land the whole group in Hell, where most of the issue is given over to each character facing their own personal torments.  That’s usually a good technique (I particularly like the way the Shining Knight was handled in this issue), but it comes awfully close on the heels of the issue where each member had the more extreme parts of their personalities enhanced by Morgaine Le Fey, and we’re in similar territory.  It was announced this week that Paul Cornell is leaving this book soon, and while I like what Robert Venditti has done on books like The Surrogates and X-O Manowar, I’m not all that sure I’m invested enough in this series to stick around.

Fantastic Four #611 – I was going to use this last issue of Jonathan Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four as a chance to reflect on his run, but then I remembered that he still has an issue of FF coming out soon.  This is a good enough done-in-one story, but since he finished his big story and has been just clearing up little loose threads everywhere, the book has gotten much less impressive.  In this issue, Reed, his father, and adult Valeria go looking for Dr. Doom, who they left in the Council of Reeds dimension (although he’s been in Winter Soldier, Avengers Children’s Crusade, and Daredevil since then).  As the final issue of Marvel’s longest-running series (and yes, I know there was a final issue a while back as well), this is pretty inconsequential stuff.  Good thing it’s being relaunched in a month (although I won’t likely be buying it – I can’t stand Mark Bagley’s work (not that I like Ryan Stegman’s either)).

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #13 – So why make such a big deal about Frankenstein leaving SHADE if one issue later (skipping the zero issue), he’s back to working for them, as this book ties in to the Rotworld story that has been running in Animal Man and Swamp Thing since the New 52 began?  This book should have been good – it’s basically a SHIELD comic featuring monsters, but it has not felt right from the very beginning.  This Rotworld tie-in feels so forced and desperate.  The most shocking thing about this comic is that it’s by Matt Kindt and Alberto Ponticelli, two creators that I have mad respect for.  Instead of reading this, read Mind MGMT and get trades of Unknown Soldier.  You’ll be confused as to where this came from too.  I’m done with it.

Invincible Iron Man #526 – This is the penultimate issue of Matt Fraction’s very long, and very good run with Tony Stark and his world.  Tony, and an odd assortment of friends (although, strangely, not Jim Rhodes) take on Mandarin and his forces in a big battle.  There are lots of cool things happening in this comic, but it’s Stark who shines through – Matt Fraction gets him like few other artists.

Secret Avengers #32 – Rick Remender wraps up the long running Shadow Council story that Ed Brubaker started back when this series began, as the team barely makes their way out of Baglalia, in an action-packed issue.  Most of this issue is terrific, but there are so many stupid things happening in the last few pages that I’m not looking forward to the next issue.  The Black Widow accuses one of their team of being a traitor, and everyone ignores it.  Captain Britain brings dire warnings of a problem with Father’s robots, and everyone ignores that too, because Hawkeye wants to go home and sleep, and Valkyrie wants to sleep with Flash Thompson (what happened to his relationship with Betty?).  The Widow storms off, and of course she is right, which is why that traitorous character now puts a ‘Black’ in front of his name.  Years of reading comics has taught us that if the character’s got a ‘Black’ in his name, and he is not actually black, then he must be evil.  (I wonder if Hawkeye and the Widow are only pretending to go home, and are going to save everyone next issue?  That would be new).

The Secret Service #4 – Young Gary steps up his training, which involves him having to find his way home from Colombia, while his uncle’s bosses finally figure out who has been kidnapping geek icons.  This book continues to maintain a fine balance between spy world fun and lower-class British social commentary.  And only Dave Gibbons can draw the British so well…

Ultimate Comics X-Men #17 – The least impressive Brian Wood book of the week, by at least an order of magnitude.  This series is really not working for me.  I like the notion of Kitty Pryde running a mutant resistance army, but still can’t adapt to the cartoonish art and the overly-decompressed pace.  I’m going to give this one more issue, because it’s Brian Wood, but I doubt I’ll be sticking around much longer than that.

Uncanny Avengers #1 – A lot of things went through my mind as I read this, which I think is supposed to be Marvel’s new Avengers and X-Men tent-pole book.  To begin with, the framing sequence feels a lot like Grant Morrison’s New X-Men, which is a good thing, as Rick Remender moves into some very strange territory with the Red Skull.  Other things don’t work so well.  Cyclops’s appearance suggests this takes place before AVX: Consequences (as does Cap’s uniform), but this still doesn’t explain why Magneto is being hunted now.  There’s a fight between Scarlet Witch and Rogue that feels exceptionally forced, and I don’t see how or why Cap would choose Havoc to lead his team when Storm is available, and already an Avenger.  Except that she’s a woman.  Or maybe it’s because she’s black?  Anyway, this is a decent read, and because of John Cassaday, is lovely.  Most of this issue is follow up though – I hope it gets to become its own book soon.

Wolverine and the X-Men #18 – I suppose this title is going to be taking over the place of Uncanny X-Men as the central X-Book in the Marvel NOW era, and so Jason Aaron has spent this issue showing us (yet again) the main scenes in Avengers Vs. X-Men #12, clearing out a character or two, and positioning the new Hellfire Club as an ever-greater threat.  There’s a lot going on in this book, and I can see how many people won’t like the ending, but many of the more character-driven scenes are terrific.

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

Avengers #31

Avenging Spider-Man #13

Bloodshot #4

Captain America #18

Wolverine #314 (no more Jeph Loeb!)

X-Men #37

Bargain Comics:

Batgirl #9-12 – I dropped this series because I wasn’t feeling Gail Simone’s take on Barbara Gordon, but I have to say that the book is getting better.  In these issues, Barbara gets involved in the Court of Owls stuff, and then has to deal with a new vigilante who has come to Gotham, Knightfall.  The plotting is much tighter than the earlier issues, although Simone doesn’t give much space to Barbara’s non-superhero life.

Fury MAX #1-4 – I’ve found this series to be quite a pleasant surprise.  I thought that the book being a Max title would have given Garth Ennis license to take things to extremes, but instead, we get the well-balanced writer of his better war comics.  Fury is a black ops specialist in these stories, set in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  The first three issues have him assessing French forces in Indochina, while the fourth starts a story about the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba.  Both are full of strong character work and a solid understanding of the history and politics of the day.  Goran Parlov’s art is great, and perfectly suited to this kind of thing.  I’m considering adding this comic to my pull-list; it’s that good.

Book of the Week:

Roberto Bolaño – Distant Star – I love Bolaño’s writing, and can easily recommend this book as a good place to start if you’ve never read him before.  This book follows the story of a Chilean poet who goes by many names.  He begins his career as an arrogant autodidact, but when Pinochet comes to power, he uses his new position in the air force to write his poems across the sky, and to indulge in some of his other proclivities.  After a particularly inexcusable art exhibit, the poet disappears from the public eye, and the narrator and his friend spend twenty years trying to figure out where he went.  This book wanders all over the invented Chilean literary landscape that Bolaño always fills his novels with, and is a satisfying read.

Album of the Week:

The Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio Recovered: The Remix Ep – This is a short little EP, but it features remixes from the excellent Black Radio album, which was a favourite of mine this summer.  Glasper is joined by Pete Rock, ?uestlove, 9th Wonder, and Georgia Anne Muldrow in reworking some of the better songs off the full-length album.  In addition to vocals by Erykah Badu, Yasiin Bey, Meshell Ndegeocello and Bilal, there are new appearances from Phonte, The Roots, and Black Milk.  As if that’s not enough, there’s also a nine-minute tribute to J. Dilla to round things out.  Great stuff.

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