The Weekly Round-Up #157 with Storm Dogs, Bedlam, Creator-Owned Heroes, Great Pacific & More

Columns, Top Story

Best Comic of the Week:

Storm Dogs #2

Written by David Hine
Art by Doug Braithwaite

I’m really enjoying David Hine’s new science fiction series.  It concerns a group of cops who have been sent to a backwards mining planet where a number of attacks have been happening against workers there.

Most of this issue is centred on Jered Hofman, the team’s medical examiner.  He discovers a crystal on the body of one of the men who died last issue, and evidence of drug use on all of the bodies.  From that scene, we move to the local bar, where we learn more about society on Amaranth, and its two indigenous species.

By treaty, humans are supposed to stay away from the natives, yet three of them show up in the same bar.  Hine is doing a terrific job of world-building here, as we learn more about these different races, and the structure of the whole galaxy.  It’s easy to tell that he’s put more thought and planning into this book than this one mini-series will ever be able to reveal, and I hope that means that we will be seeing more stories set in this world once this one is finished.

Doug Braithwaite has always been an excellent artist, but his work here gives the impression of his being completely unfettered to create as he wishes.

Other Notable Comics:

Bedlam #2

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Riley Rossmo

You have to hand it to Nick Spencer – he does know how to put together an incredibly strange comic.  The first issue of Bedlam felt like a Joker story translated into a creator-owned venue, but with this second issue, Spencer reveals that he’s going somewhere very different with this book.

Most confusingly, the issue opens with two old friends running into each other at a Somethings Anonymous meeting, and going out for coffee, where they talk about old friends.  Then the one drugs the other, takes him home, strips him, ties him up, gets naked, and puts on metal angel wings and fishnet stockings.  Yes, this does happen.

From there, the book shifts back to Fillmore, the guy we met last issue, who is probably Madder Red, the Joker-analogue character.  Fillmore is back in a medical clinic with the doctor we met last issue, who had Red tied up after his supposed death.  It looks like this doctor is in the business of lobotomizing criminals and reintegrating them into society on a secret basis, for reasons we have yet to understand.  We know he’s up to no good though, because his assistants are a mixture of dwarves and women with slashed-up faces.

We also learn the consequences of Fillmore’s rather bizarre call to the police last issue.  Things don’t get too weird until the end of the comic though, which involves a horse dragging part of a corpse through traffic.

The weirdest part, though, is that as you read the book, none of these things seem all that odd.  Like with his Morning Glories, Spencer creates enough story logic and internal consistency in his tale that you just kind of follow along, and it’s all good.  It’s only when you try to recap the book that you realize how strange it is.

At the same time, there seems to be a growing interest in brain-experimentation in comics lately.  I’m thinking of the work of the character Dr. Rot in Jason Aaron’s Wolverine run (later revisited in Cullen Bunn’s), and of what’s been going on in Uncanny Avengers.  I wonder if this trend comes out of the zombie-obsession that has gripped comics for years…

I continue to not be overly impressed with Riley Rossmo’s art on this book, but I’m used to that.  I’m still not sure if this is an ongoing series or a limited one.  I can see sticking with this title for 6 issues or so – I don’t see it becoming a long-term commitment the way Morning Glories has.

Blackacre #1

Written by Duffy Boudreau
Art by Wendell Cavalcanti and Sergio Abad

Having no familiarity with any of the names involved in Blackacre, a new Image series, I didn’t add the book to my pull-list.  I’m fortunate to shop at a store that orders deeply on new, unproven independent titles (it’s not luck, seeing as I live in a city with a lot of comics stores to choose from), so after flipping through this on the stands, I figured it looked good enough to buy.

The series opens with a university lecture being delivered in the year 2202 which outlines the root causes of America’s Dark Age, which is nicely summed up as being the conflict between zombies and pirates.  According to writer Duffy Boudreau’s understanding of our current culture, the majority of Americans have fallen victim to the zombie meme, clutching themselves in the dark, waiting for everything to fall apart in one sweeping catastrophe.  The rich, however, have been taking their cue from the growth of pirate activity on the open seas, and have decided to simply take what they feel they are owed from the world.

This has led to the existence of Blackacre, a gigantic gated community for the super-rich and powerful. They’ve stayed comfortably behind the walls while the rest of the country went to hell.

The rest of this book is set in 2114, and it tosses a lot at us.  We learn that there is a class of young people raised in Blackacre as soldiers and guards.  We watch one of them graduate from his service along the wall and get recruited for a special meeting outside the gates, a place that very few people go (at least so far as the rest of Blackacre is aware).

We also get the sense that the outside is a pretty messed up place.  We meet a family that is in hiding.  They are attacked by one group of men, who kill the father, and are then attacked by a second group.  The issue then ends with the lesson that rich men in large towers can’t always be trusted, but I feel like we should have already known that.

Blackacre is a well-thought out and nicely told comic.  Boudreau has put a lot of thought into how this is going to play out, and has created an interesting, if familiar, world.  Cavalcanti’s art is clear and serviceable.  I’m probably going to check out the next issue.

Creator-Owned Heroes #7

Written by Darwyn Cooke, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Steve Niles, Jeffrey Burandt, Seth Kushner, Chris Miskiewicz, and Dean Haspiel
Art by Darwyn Cooke, Jerry Lando, Scott Morse, Dean Haspiel, and Seth Kushner

With the news breaking this week that Creator-Owned Heroes, the comics anthology/self-publishing ‘zine being produced by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Steve Niles, and a group of other people being canceled next month despite the ninth issue already being solicited, it’s hard not to read this new (now penultimate) issue without a tinge of sadness.

I’ve been a little critical of this title in the past, finding its non-comics content amateurish, self-serving, and ultimately uninteresting, but I have been supportive of the goal of the book – to champion creator-owned work.

The saddest part of the cancellation is that the folks involved in this book have really begun to fine-tune what this book does.  They’ve added more creators (most notably Darwyn Cooke), and have given over more of the book’s space to comics pages.  Also, instead of interviewing people like Jimmy Palmiotti’s personal trainer, or cosplayers, they’ve focused the editorial content on creating creator-owned comics, offering advice to those starting out, and interviewing independent legends like Evan Dorkin.  Still, I buy this for the comics, so let’s talk about those.

Darwyn Cooke’s ‘The Deadly Book’ is a terrific tale, about a book that kills anyone who reads it, and thief who tries to steal it from his collector grandfather.  The story combines Borgesian conceits with the type of crime comic that Cooke does so well, and it tells a complete story in a short number of pages.  It’s great.

Palmiotti, Gray, and Jerry Lando’s ‘Killswitch’ story continues in fine form, as we learn a lot more about the title character and his upbringing, just as the collected mass of the world’s assassin community come gunning for him.  I like Palmiotti and Gray on these types of stories best.

I don’t always care for Steve Niles’s writing, but when you pair him with artist Scott Morse, I’m going to be there for it.  Their new story, ‘Meatbag’ is about a private investigator who finds his contracted help ripped to ribbons (although his clothes are perfectly intact) on what was supposed to be a routine cheating wife case.  Morse paints this book in full-page panels that are gorgeous.

This issue also has a couple of shorter pieces.  ‘Blood and Brains’, written by newcomer Jeffrey Burandt and pencilled by Dean Haspiel, shows us what happens when two fan-favourite horror concepts collides.  ‘The Complex’ is a fumetti-style story about a video jockey who uses holograms and drugs to seduce women; I think it’s a preview of a longer piece, but there is no explanation provided.

It is sad that as the quality of this book increases, it’s publication is set to finish.  I believe there is a place for a book like this, and hope that something else will come along.

Great Pacific #2

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Martin Morazzo

Corporate malfeasance, environmental degradation, indigenous rights, and father issues are all colliding rather nicely in Great Pacific, a new mini-series from Image Comics.

Chas Worthington, son of the founder of Worthington Energy, has faked his own death after stealing millions of dollars, and has now laid claim to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of plastic garbage from around the world, loosely held together by centrifugal forces.  He’s named his new land New Texas, and has already sent out feelers for recognition among the international community.

Much of this issue is taken up with the mechanics of starting a new country, which of course necessitates surveying it.  While Chas does this, he discovers some indigenous people, who perhaps have come from another island.  They give chase, but that kind of things doesn’t go well on land that is really only two feet of floating plastic.

There are also squids, and government-corporate dealings back home.

I enjoy the way that Joe Harris has worked an environmental message into his story, which is just as much about corporate greed as it is about conservation.  I’m curious to see where the story goes, and wonder just what Yalafath, a name spoken by the Natives and by the seamen Worthington hired to take him to New Texas, is.  I’m hoping it’s not the squid.

If you’re looking for an intelligent thriller with a bit of a message to it, this is a good book to check out.

Stumptown Vol. 2 #4

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Matthew Southworth

As much as I have come to love Stumptown and its rather difficult private investigator main character Dex Parios, I didn’t expect the newest issue to be so exciting.

This story arc, “The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case” has had Dex chasing down a rock star’s guitar that was stolen, and may be involved in some sort of drug smuggling.  The guitar has mysteriously shown up at Dex’s house, and she stashes it at her office before going to collect Mim, the guitarist.  When they get to the office, they find the pair of rednecks that have also been searching for the instrument, holding a gun to Mim’s drummer.

What follows is an excellent chase scene as the rednecks take off, with Dex giving chase.  At this point, Matthew Southworth turns the art sideways, so as to best utilize the wide-screen format that a landscaped page allows.  When the cars stop, the pages return to portrait orientation, but as soon as the chase is back on, the art goes sideways again.  It’s a very effective technique, and I have to say that the bridge-jumping scene is executed perfectly.  Rarely does a comic book sequence create such excitement in me.

I am very excited to see what happens in the next issue of Stumptown, although I’m also saddened, because I imagine that will be the last we see of Dex for a while.

Quick Takes:

Amazing Spider-Man #699 – There is a lot of exposition in this issue, as most of it is spent with Peter Parker trying to figure out how Doctor Octopus pulled off his latest, and greatest, escape.  It’s hard to talk about this book without ruining the surprise of issue 698, but I can say that there are a few more revelations in place, including one about the Lizard.  It’s good stuff, but just like the recent back issues I’ve been getting caught up on, the shift in art from Richard Elson two weeks ago to Humberto Ramos in this issue is just too jarring, especially since Ramos draws Doc Ock like Travis Charest used to draw Lord Emp in Wildcats.

Animal Man #15 – The Rotworld story keeps chugging along, but as more and more super-powered survivors show up, the story becomes increasingly less about Buddy Baker and his family.  This month, Buddy’s group, consisting of Constantine, Black Orchid, Steel, and Beast Boy get joined by Frankenstein and his new army, as they all travel to Metropolis to rescue a certain well-known hero (but not who you think).  This story is still very good, but I think after fifteen issues, it’s getting a little long in the tooth.  Still, it’s the best non-Vertigo book that Jeff Lemire is writing, and I’m always happy to get a monthly dose of art by Steve Pugh.

Avengers #1 – I’ve been looking forward to seeing what Jonathan Hickman would do with Marvel’s flagship book, and he definitely does not disappoint.  He has the core (ie., the movie) line-up of the team taken apart pretty quickly by a new threat on Mars, which leads to Cap putting in motion an expansion effort that he and Iron Man had thought up earlier.  In a lot of ways, this book hearkens back to Kurt Busiek’s run on the title, where he tried to logically structure a global threat-response team like this, and as always with Hickman, it just makes sense.  I did think that the new villains, especially Ex Nihilo and Abyss, were a little close to the characters in DC’s Dial H (mostly because of their names), and I have no idea what their motivations are, but I’m very much into this.  Enough so that I’m probably not going to complain too much about the double-shipping schedule both this book and New Avengers is going to have (because weekly Hickman is something I can handle).  Jerome Opeña does some nice work on the art, although he does make the villains look like they could be henchmen of Apocalypse left over from his Uncanny X-Force run.  This feels like the most successful Marvel NOW! relaunch yet, and I appreciate how it explains Captain America’s uniform change, if not how the secondary Avengers books (Assemble and Uncanny) fit continuity-wise.

Daredevil End of Days #3 – I am really enjoying the way this out of continuity story set in the future right after Matt Murdock’s death is playing out.  Writers Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack are showing such respect for the character’s past (really, not usually a thing for Bendis), and such love for Ben Urich that I can’t wait for each new issue.  Then, on top of that, there is the wonderful art by Klaus Janson which is finished by Bill Sienkiewicz, that takes me right back to the days when Daredevil was just about the best comic I’d ever read.  This issue has an extra treat, as David Mack paints a few pages of his own, which of course, feature Echo, the character he brought into the DD mythos.  Urich tracks down most of Murdock’s exes, many of whom have red-haired sons it seems, while trying to find out just what Murdock’s last word meant.  It’s very good stuff, and worth the price of admission for the art alone.

Detective Comics #15 – I haven’t been all that impressed with John Layman’s run on Detective, based on the first two issues.  I was hoping for some of the magic I’m used to seeing on Chew, and have liked straight-forward Batman-ness of Layman’s writing, but this is a $4 book with generally minor story points being expanded in a back-up feature, and the art, while decent, is not the kind of thing that would sway me either way in deciding to stick with a title or not.  I decided to give this book one more chance, especially seeing that it tied in to the Death of the Family arc in Batman.  Except it really barely does.  This issue details Batman’s fight with Clayface, who has been manipulated by Poison Ivy.  There is some progression on the Penguin sub-plot, but that looks like it’s getting subsumed by the DotF cross-over.  I like Layman’s writing, I just don’t think I like this book at the $4 level.

Dial H #7 – I continue to find my enjoyment of Dial H increasing with each new issue.  China Miéville has Nelson and Manteau travelling the world looking for a second dial, which Manteau has figured out was recently found by cultists.  There are plenty of humorous moments, a big fight between collectively sentient plankton and a whale, and more terrific art by David Lapham.  With the news this week of Karen Berger’s departure from DC, I wonder what is going to happen to this title, the only non-Vertigo book she’s been editing.  I hope the level of quality remains the same or that it continues to grow.

Earth 2 #7 – This issue is basically two separate ones, as the first half of the book is taken up with a conversation between Green Lantern and Hawkgirl about whether or not Alan Scott is willing to work with her and the Flash (who never shows up).  The second half concerns the goings on at the World Army, where Terry Sloan has been given a position of great power, despite being wanted for mass murder.  Commander Khan, the Sikh Earth 2 answer to Nick Fury, starts to play his own game with regards to his new associate, and we finally meet Wesley Dodds, and find out what happened to Mister Terrific.  I like this book, but the pace is awfully slow, and the story is getting a little too self-referential.  It took six issues to get rid of Grundy, and with the book’s sales declining, I’m worried that the mandatory cross-over with the main DC Universe is going to happen before this book ever gets a clear direction.

Hawkeye #5 – There is just so much to love about Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye series.  This issue finishes off ‘The Tape’, the two-parter drawn by Javier Pulido, which has Hawkeye fighting ninjas, Madame Masque, and more in Madripoor, as he attempts to recover an incriminating videotape.  It’s all very well choreographed, with the right blend of humour and action.  Pulido is always brilliant, but Fraction is often much less consistent than he’s been on this title, which is quite probably my favourite Marvel book right now.

Hellboy in Hell #1 – As much as I like the Mignola-verse books, I think that Hellboy is the weakest of the bunch, despite its being the place where Mike Mignola started the whole line.  It’s just that every issue seems so predictable – Hellboy will fall down a hole, there will be giant monsters that bash him around, and some sort of mystical creature will speak to him in riddles or confusing prophecy.  That’s basically what happens here in Hellboy in Hell, the story of HB after he died.  Except, now with some Charles Dickens, as Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley show up in a puppet show (it is almost Christmas after all).  Mignola’s art is lovely, but I’m getting bored.  I may not last long with this series…

Invincible #98 – Robert Kirkman has been advertising that the upcoming 100th issue would feature ‘The Death of Everyone’, but I didn’t really expect him to mean it like this.  Having been unmoored in Mark’s absence, Dinosaurus has reverted to his old ways, and in an attempt to save the future of the human race, implements a new plan to cull the species a little now so it will still be around later.  His approach is a little unexpected though, and it looks like the next two issues are going to be splatter-fests once again.  Kirkman really is tough on his fictional worlds…

Iron Man #3 – Things are a little bit better with this issue, but I remain very disappointed in the Marvel NOW! relaunch of Iron Man.  This time around, Tony has to sneak into a Colombian drug lord’s estate to find some Extremis tech, but first he takes some time explaining to Pepper Potts why he’s gone back to using modular armor which he designs before each mission.  I’m sure it has nothing to do with it being more ‘toyetic’ and matching the look of the upcoming movie.  The story is a bit better this month, but Greg Land’s art still manages to annoy and offend in equal measure, and I’d still never guess this was being written by Kieron Gillen if the credits didn’t say so.

Planet of the Apes Cataclysm #4 – The first arc ends here, as some of the various groups of apes we’ve been following through the disaster caused by the launching of a nuclear missile at the moon get through the resulting titular cataclysm.  We also learn what the deal is with the ape who has been at the centre of all of these problems, as Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko reveal what is going to be the major conflict of this series.  I think I preferred the first Boom Planet of the Apes series, but this one is also pretty satisfying.

Shadowman #2 – Now that all of the introductions of the first issue are out of the way, Jack Boniface gets around to fighting some monsters, aided by the two Abettors we’ve met so far.  Jack starts figuring out what’s going on with himself, but we don’t really get a very solid explanation of just what being the Shadowman means.  Still, this is an enjoyable comic, as the rest of the Valiant relaunches have been.

Swamp Thing #15 – Alec Holland continues his journey to Gotham City, where he finds someone in the Bat Cave, just not who you would have expected.  This is a pretty action-based issue, as we watch Swamp Thing fight young William Arcane, and we see what Abby was up to before the Rotworld changes took place.  Marco Rudy does the art, so the book is beautiful.

Thunderbolts #1 – When I saw the line-up for this latest iteration of the Thunderbolts, I was intrigued.  Red Hulk, Elektra, Venom, and the Punisher could make an interesting team (Uncanny X-Force has made me not hate Deadpool as much as I used to, but still), and I’ve always liked Steve Dillon’s art, even if I do find him a little stiff on action scenes.  The reason why this book didn’t immediately get put on the pull-list, and why it won’t be put there now that I’ve read it, is because it’s written by Daniel Way, the undisputed king of needlessly decompressed storytelling.  This issue has General Ross assembling the team, framed by a conversation he’s having with a tied-up Punisher.  Basically, the entire story could have been told in about 8 pages instead of 20.  Adding insult to injury, none of the characters aside from Castle and Ross are named.  I know that most of these are very recognizable, established characters, but the whole idea of Marvel NOW! is to reposition books for new readers (or so I thought).  Also, I have no idea who the woman with purple hair seen fighting the Hulk in is supposed to be.  Apparently she’s going to be on the team, but she doesn’t warrant dialogue or naming.  The art in her sequence is not terribly clear either.  In addition, we don’t know why Ross is assembling a team, or under whose auspices it is going to operate.  Another point I’d like to make is the lack of research put into the visuals.  Venom is seen fighting in Somalia against people who do not look Somali (it’s like Black Hawk Down all over again).  Elektra is in Afghanistan assassinating a sheikh.  I wonder if he’s come there from Saudi Arabia, because I’m pretty sure the Afghanis don’t have sheikhs.  If they do, they probably don’t hire Latino-looking bodyguards.  Basically, so far as first issues go, this is a total failure.  That’s too bad, because this has the potential to be the next Uncanny X-Force, but not with Way writing.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #18.1 – Looking at Marvel’s sales charts recently, I’ve noticed that the .1 issues always fall behind the whole number issues of the series, yet Marvel persists in publishing them.  I think that the entire purpose for this book, which has the Ultimates working to stop a disgruntled nuclear power plant worker from trashing his former place of work with his gigantic tech suit, was to give Tony Stark a new idea to use a suit of armor we’ve already seen in the regular Marvel Universe.  It’s not a bad issue, but it’s not really special either.

X-Factor #248 – Now this is the type of X-Factor that I love most – a nice coherent story that allows for lots of humorous character moments, a role for everyone on the team, and some great art by Paul Davidson.  My enjoyment of this book goes up and down a couple of times a month, but this time, Peter David gets it right.  The team is trying to figure out who attacked Pip, who is now in Monet’s body, which allows for some hilarity.  It’s a good arc, this one.

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

Action Comics #15

All-New X-Men #3

Avenging Spider-Man #15

Fashion Beast #4

Fury MAX #7

Legends of the Dark Knight #3

Womanthology Space #3

X-Men #39

Bargain Comics:

Avengers #32 – As Bendis winds down his run, it seems he’s doing his very best to wrap up a great number of dangling plot-lines, and therefore we have Wonder Man appearing out of nowhere to try to help the team rescue the Wasp from inner space.  He’s turned away, but it’s still an awkward scene.  The rest of the book works better, but there are a lot of very powerful people just standing around talking – at least Bendis is going out as he wants to be remembered.

Captain America #16-19 – These issues round out Ed Brubaker’s eight-year run with Cap, which was excellent up until this latest (pre-Marvel NOW!) relaunch.  The first three of these issues end off the Codename Bravo/Hydra/mind control story (which is a little too similar to what Rick Remender has going on in Uncanny Avengers for my liking), and like the rest of the run in this volume, it feels totally phoned in.  The last issue, number 19, is a return to form for Brubaker, as his original Cap collaborator Steve Epting returns, and we get a nice quiet story about another one of the men who have filled in for Cap over the years.  It’s a little nostalgic, but that’s how I like the ends of legendary runs to be.

Marvel Universe Vs. The Avengers #1 – I picked this up on a lark out of a $1 sale, and I guess this title exists to fill the void left by the demise of What If?, but I’m not sure if that really was a void in the first place.  The book is surprisingly good – a story narrated by Hawkeye who is watching as the entire world undergoes some sort of zombie-like transformation that turns them into cannibals.  The title is a little misleading though, as most of the Avengers don’t make it out of the first issue, leaving me to wonder what’s left for the next three issues.  Jonathan Maberry writes a tight script though, and Leandro Fernandez is always good.  This is quite the niche product though, of a type that I’d thought Marvel was supposed to be cutting back on.

Album of the Week:

Roseaux (featuring Aloe Blacc) – Roseaux – This is one beautiful album.  Aloe Blacc collaborated with a French group a little while back, and it’s taken a long time for the music to surface (on CD in Europe, on MP3 only so far here).  He sings a number of songs that are much more sparse in their instrumentation than you would usually be accustomed to hearing from him, and the result is wonderful.  I’ve seen Blacc criticized before for not having more range as a singer, but this jazzy, meditative album is just about perfect.  Recommended.

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