The Weekly Round-Up #159 with Multiple Warheads, Comeback, DHP, Happy #3, Saga #8 & More

Merry Christmas to Inside Pulse readers everywhere!  This week was just about the largest new comics week I can ever remember, as most publishers pushed out two weeks’ worth of material, in a bid to close off their books for the year, I assume.  I feel bad for all the retailers who had to process these shipments.

Best Comic of the Week:

Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #3

by Brandon Graham

Brandon Graham can never be accused of having the most linear and clearly delineated plots, but three quarters of the way through his new Multiple Warheads mini-series (following up on an Oni Press one-shot from years ago), we are meeting lots of new characters, and are finally getting some glimpse of a greater plot.

None of this bothers me though, because Multiple Warheads is an absolutely brilliant series.  Sexica, a retired organ smuggler, and her wolf-penised mechanic boyfriend are on a road trip, and have ended up in a hotel on the Whaling Wall.  They’ve just been chilling, eating pastries and putting legs on their Lenin (a car).  In this issue, two of Sexica’s old colleagues show up with a job for her – to break into a fabled wizard’s larder; she of course takes the job.

We also check in on the other organ smuggler, who spends a few dialogue-less pages searching for the body she’d been transporting, which flew off on her last issue.  It’s not clear if her story is going to run into Sexica’s or not.

We also meet a couple of new characters – Moontoone, a little platypus-like creature who likes to knit hats and works as a delivery boy, and Sunshine, his dancer boyfriend.  I have no idea how these two fit into things, but again, with a book like this, that kind of thing doesn’t matter in the least.

Multiple Warheads is one of the densest, most rich comics on the stands right now.  Each and every page literally drips with new ideas, clever wordplay, and numerous sight gags.  The thing is, this isn’t just a psychedelic science fiction humour comic; the characters are fully fleshed-out and quite relatable. I can’t wait to see how this mini-series finishes.

Other Notable Comics:

Comeback #2

Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Michael Walsh

Comeback is an odd beast of a mini-series.  Writer Ed Brisson is playing with some interesting ideas, but is also refusing to spell things out, leaving the reader to connect dots all over the place to fully understand the story.

This series is about Reconnect, a company which travels back in time (no more than 66 days) to pluck loved ones away from accidents or disasters, to save their lives.  They, for reasons we don’t understand yet, have to make it look like the accident still happened so that there is no problem with the timeline.  In the first issue, we met two of their agents, Mark and Seth.  Seth has not been feeling well, and has decided to quit.  We also got intimations that the company was being investigated, but we weren’t told by whom.

With this issue, we get some answers, as we discover that the FBI is fully aware of time travel, as apparently are medical examiners, and that one agent in particular has been spending a couple of years trying to put a stop to Reconnect.  We also get a fair number of new mysteries, as Seth ‘Freedom 55s’ himself, showing up to tell his slightly younger self a few things about the company he works for (and, perhaps between panels, talks to him about the importance of buying life insurance).

What makes this book confusing is that I’m not always sure of who the characters are, or their relationships to one another.  As with many time travel books, it’s also hard to tell what sequence we are reading the stories in; is young Seth the ‘now’ character?  How far up the line is older Seth?  I’m sure this is something that will be made clear, but these are the things I wonder about while I read the comic.

Ed Brisson is a writer that I have come to admire, but this is the longest story of his that I’ve read so far, and I can see where the pacing is at times a little off.  Still, I have trust that this series is going to all make sense in the long run, and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.

Dark Horse Presents #19

Written by Duane Swierczynski, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas, Joshua Williamson, Matt Kindt, Phil Stanford, Peter Hogan, Corinna Bechko, Gabriel Hardman, and Frank J. Barbiere
Art by Eric Nguyen, Steve Lieber, Tony Akins, Ulises Farinas, Victor Ibáñez, Matt Kindt, Patric Reynolds, Steve Parkhouse, Gabriel Hardman, and Giovanni Valletta

You know, I’m starting to wonder if it makes sense to keep buying Dark Horse Presents, since most of the stories I’m interested in, aside from Finder, are always getting collected into single issues before the mini-series that almost inevitably follow a three- or four-issue run in DHP.  I think the problem I had with this issue, more than anything though, was the lack of a Finder story by Carla Speed McNeil (which is the absolute best reason to buy this comic).

Anyway, there are still some gems in this issue.  Matt Kindt provides a Mind MGMT short story which helps showcase why his on-going series is such a wonderful thing.  This story introduces us to Duncan, an agent with the ability to predict the future by reading the minds of those around him.

Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman, who have been impressing me on their Planet of the Apes stories at Boom, debut Station to Station, a new science fiction serial about a science experiment that has destroyed a small island in the Bay Area, and has somehow brought some very BPRD-looking creatures into our world.  Hardman’s a great artist, so I was very happy to see him working on this.

I am becoming every more intrigued by Gamma, a strange science fiction series by Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas.  We get a good idea of why the main character is considered a coward in this installment, but we are given a very bleak view of their fictional world, without an explanation of how society came back from it.  I hope this series is running for a while…

I also enjoyed the new chapters of Resident Alien and Deep Sea, although I got the sense that the latter story is finished for now, and not in a satisfying way.  It’s been a while since we last saw The White Suits, and I didn’t enjoy this chapter as much as I did the first, partly I think, because of the length of time that has passed.  I am enjoying the Captain Midnight serial.

The cover to this issue is given over to the relaunching of X, one of Dark Horse’s Comics Greatest World titles from the 90s.  I didn’t like it then, and it continues to read like a Punisher knock-off with a fetish twist.  Not for me.  Likewise, I’m not a fan of the Alabaster or City of Roses stories.

Here’s hoping for some Carla Speed McNeil next issue.

Happy #3

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Darick Robertson

Three issues in, and I still have to keep glancing at the cover credits to convince myself that I’m not reading a comic by Garth Ennis instead of Grant Morrison.

Nowhere in this book are the usual things we’ve come to associate with Morrison’s writing – sure, the main character has hallucinations, but they are of a blue flying imaginary horse, not of extra-dimensional gods or something like that.  Likewise, the plot of this book is more or less linear, as Nick Sax, disgraced ex-cop, assassin for hire, eczema sufferer, and general creep decides to ignore the exhortations of the imaginary horse to save a little girl from a Santa Claus impersonating serial killer, and instead tries to leave town to avoid the mobsters that are after him.  Add to this scenes of murder in a train toilet, and it’s hard to imagine that this really isn’t being written by Ennis.

Regardless, this is a good comic.  Sax is the type of curmudgeon we’re used to seeing in comics, and the surprise that his ‘redemption’ hinges on is telegraphed pretty obviously earlier in the book, but still, Morrison paces things nicely enough to keep our interests, and Darick Robertson’s is always a treat.

I doubt this will go down as one of Morrison’s more memorable comics, but it’s nice to see him try something that is not uber-ambitious and kind of obscure for a change.

Nowhere Men #2

Written by Eric Stephenson
Art by Nate Bellegarde

I was intrigued enough by the first issue of Nowhere Men to come back for the second, and I think now I’m hooked.

This series appears to split each issue between two related stories.  The first half of the book concerns the scientists who founded the company Worldcorp, and became the celebrity scientists of their age.  Now, those that are left, are old men, and they find that they are cut off from the world they helped create.  There is some intrigue among these guys, but it’s a little unclear just what’s going on with them, at least so far.

More interesting is the second half of the book, which has been following a group living in secret on Worldcorp’s space satellite.  They’ve all come down with a strange virus that is causing parts of their body to scab over in the most unappealing way.  Last issue, they learned that they’ve been cut off by the company, and are basically being left up there to die.  They began working on a secret teleportation device, which should make it possible for them to get home, even though that threatens to infect the world with their virus.

In this issue, the device is made operational, although there is not enough power to properly test it.  Most of the crew sees now choice but to walk through the gateway anyway, but one person starts to argue against it, and things get pretty crazy.  We don’t really know these characters, but Stephenson writes their scenes so that we care about what happens to them, and I am excited to see where they’ve ended up.

Nate Bellegarde is doing a great job with this book, giving it a Jamie McKelvie feel.

Saga #8

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

It’s becoming kind of routine to sing the praises of Saga, the brilliantly readable science fiction family drama epic by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, but let’s face it, books this good are anything but routine.

In this issue, Alana finds herself alone on the family’s spaceship tree with Marko’s father, and they begin to bond with one another, despite all the tension in the family caused by Marko’s marrying one of the enemy.  We get a lot of insight into Alana’s character in this issue, which starts with a flashback to when her and Marko first met, and the influence the romance novel she was reading had on her.  We also get a good idea of how unique she was among her people.Meanwhile, Marko and his mother are searching for Izabel, their ghostly babysitter, on the planet where Marko’s parents sent her.  This involves a fight with a rather nasty-looking ogre, and further arguing between Marko and his mom.

All of these characters are written so strongly that they are very believable, despite their wings or horns.  Character work is what makes Saga so wonderful, both Vaughan’s as a writer, and Staples’s as an artist.  I’m sure some would argue that the plot of this book is slowing down, as the focus becomes ever tighter on the family, but I appreciate the way in which the characters’ bonds are being shown, especially as I’m sure that the relatively peaceful moments in this book won’t last much longer.  This continues to be one of the best series on the stands.

The Sixth Gun #27

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

The Sixth Gun is a terrific comics series, and one reason why that is the case is because of the level of self-doubt and uncertainty that Cullen Bunn has written into his characters.  Drake Sinclair, who is more or less the main character of this book, is not the sort of person you would immediately choose as the guardian of something as deadly as The Six-  a collection of mystical six-shooters that together can usher in the end of the world.

In this latest arc, ‘Winter Wolves’, Drake and his companion Becky (the owner of the titular sixth, and most powerful, gun) have found themselves trapped in a winter reality, held captive by a Wendigo that is anchored in the bodies of a group of women and children from a nearby fort.  The usual way to kill a Wendigo is to kill the hosts, who are basically comatose while it wanders.  Drake is not one to kill defenceless and innocent kids, and he makes the mistake of engaging the spirit in conversation, with results that I didn’t really expect (the scene where the extreme cold takes its toll on Drake’s hand is chilling on many levels).

While this is going on, Drake and Becky’s friend Gord Cantrell continues to travel with the undead mummy Asher Cobb, and the lying gunman Kirby Hale.  These three have an interesting conversation of their own, as they each admit to wanting The Six for different purposes.  Whatever happens when they find Drake, Becky, and the guns, should be pretty interesting.

Brian Hurtt continues to make this book look terrific, as Bunn continues to spin out a very compelling story.  I know that Bunn is getting more and more work at Marvel these days, but I’m happiest to see him continue with this title for some time to come.

Thief of Thieves #11

Written by Robert Kirkman and James Asmus
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

As much as I’ve been enjoying Robert Kirkman’s heist slash family drama series Thief of Thieves, this second arc has been a good example of why sometimes it’s better to tradewait a series.  Usually, I can’t be bothered waiting months on end for a story to be completed, and prefer to get the smaller chapters on a monthly basis.  I find I prefer it in terms of keeping engaged with the story, and because I just love the monthly comics format.

This book though, moves at a strange pace that would work better in larger servings.  With each issue, which is always well-written, it takes me a while to back into the swing of the storyline, and then I always feel that the book is over too quickly.  I know that these are the complaints many comics readers have about most series, but there are only a few where I feel this so acutely.

Anyway, in this issue, Redmond and Augustus start to plan to rescue Augustus’s girlfriend from the cartel this is holding her hostage.  They don’t have as much time to plan as Redmond prefers, and so he’s having to work closer to his son’s pace, which is not good, considering what a failure of a thief his son has been.

It’s clear that Kirkman and Asmus want to reconcile the two men with each other, and I think that Redmond wants that too, but circumstances keep stopping that from happening.  Reading this, I can’t help but think about what a network like HBO would do with this property.

The Unwritten #44

by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

This issue of The Unwritten is book-ended by appearances from characters I didn’t expect to see again, one ever, and another, for about four more issues.

The rest of the comic was filled by following Tom Taylor, newly arrived in Hades, searching for a way out of it.  Tom had gone to the fabled land of the dead looking for Lizzie Hexam, his companion, but after drinking from the river Lethe, he has no memory of who he is, or what he is looking for.

Tom is joined by the Chadron children, who we last saw being killed in the Swiss prison where the Cabal first tried to kill Tom.  They travel across Hades, meeting a few old acquaintances of Tom’s, before figuring out a way to get across the lake of flames and arrive at Hades’s palace.

There is a sense throughout this book that the underworld is not what it used to be, although if that’s because of the sickness that has infected all stories, it’s not made clear.

As with most issues of this series, this is a very high-quality book, although I feel like some of the momentum is missing from this comic lately.

Wasteland #42

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Russel Roehling

Last issue, Abi and Michael went their separate ways, having argued over how to get to A-Ree-Yass-I, the fabled location where they believe they were born.  This issue follows Abi on her journey.

At the beginning of the comic, she finds herself in Sunspot, a town that is central to her faith as a Sunner.  The town is not what it once was – it’s done to having only twenty-three inhabitants, and all but four of them are sick with some form of plague.  Abi has the ability to heal, however, and she sets herself to work curing everyone she can.  For some reason, though, the cure doesn’t work properly, for the first time ever.

This issue returns the Sunner religion to a place of prominence in the book.  Since Abi and Michael left the city of Newbegin a while back, there has been very little discussion of religion.  The people of Sunspot interpret Abi’s abilities as being proof that she is one of Father Moon’s children, all of whom were long believed to be dead.  It is the close attention to world building, and faith’s place within that, that has made Wasteland stand out among other post-Apocalyptic comics.  I’m pleased to see Antony Johnston return to that.

This is a good character-study issue, and I’m happy for the extra insight into Abi’s character.  Russel Roehling is working well as the new artist of this series, and I’m especially happy to see it return to a monthly schedule.  This issue doesn’t have a text piece featuring the journal of Ankya Ofsteen, and that is missed a great deal.  Ankya is referred to in the story, which is a first for this series, but I’d prefer her story continue to be told on its own, and not just be woven into the comics.  I wonder if Michael or Abi are going to meet her on their travels…

Where is Jake Ellis? #2

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Tonci Zonjic

Nathan Edmondson keeps this book moving very quickly, as unknown men chase ex-CIA agent Jon Moore through Thailand, and he is forced to take a young American embassy worker with him in order to keep her safe.  Meanwhile, Jake Ellis, the man who spent years living in Moore’s head (or something like that – it still needs to be explained) is brought to Thailand, with the hope that proximity will engage their connection once again.

It’s not clear just who is after Moore, and whether or not the people who brought Ellis over are with them, or are with the American government.  Presumable, Edmondson’s going to shed some light on all of that at some point in this series, but who knows?  There could be a third series planned – How is Jake Ellis? perhaps?

Regardless, the plotting is very tight in this book, and Tonci Zonjic continues to provide some very impressive art.  I’m most interested in learning more about the guy who has his eyes sewn shut, but seems able to see what Jon is up to, much as Jake is.

Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #2

Written by Brandon Seifert
Art by Lukas Ketner

Witch Doctor is a really fun series that treats magic as a real, medical condition.  Our good Doctor, Dr. Morrow, has been infected with a strigoi disease, and is being extorted by some unknown figure, who wants to trade the cure to the illness for a very powerful spellbook.  Morrow, being Morrow, does not want to deal with this guy, and instead takes his assistant to a place called the Red Market, where magical spells and items are traded and sold.

Looking for a cure, and a way of remaining invisible to his assailants, Morrow makes a couple of questionable deals, one of which requires him to perform a post-mortem on a couple.  Later, he attempts to get in touch with some angels or demons (we aren’t told which they are), who can cure him, but are going to do it in the most painful way possible.

Brandon Seifert is really expanding on the magical elements of this series, stepping away from the more medical-based premise of the first series, and not following up at all on the elder god angle he introduced towards the end of it.  Instead, we are learning a great deal about the broader world where Morrow lives and operates.

One of the things that first drew me to this book was the depth of thought placed into the designs by Lukas Ketner.  His arcane hypodermics and other medical paraphernalia are inspired, yet in this issue, I was a little disappointed with his designs for the Surgeons – they look like they’ve walked straight out of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser.  I find that interesting, considering that Seifert is writing for that series at Boom right now.

Still, this continues to be a very original and entertaining book.  Recommended.

Quick Takes:

America’s Got Powers #4 – It seems we’ve come to the point in this series where people just hit each other a lot.  This is a good comic, but after such a long delay, I was hoping for a little more character than what came with this issue.  Still, it’s a decent read, with great Bryan Hitch art.

Avengers #2 – This book continues to satisfy, as Jonathan Hickman shows us how Tony Stark and Steve Rogers went about recruiting new members to the team (although I have no idea where Hyperion and Smasher came from, or who Captain Universe is) and what it was that sold them on joining.  The comic also explains the story of Ex Nihilo and his companions.  Basically, this issue was a bit of an info-dump, but it had enough character to it, and pretty art, that I still enjoyed it quite a bit.

Avengers Arena #2 – I’m still firmly on the fence about this title.  I probably wouldn’t have picked it up this week if it weren’t for the gorgeous Chris Bachalo ‘Lord of the Flies’ homage cover, and I’m not sure if I’m happy I did.  I like the fact that more of the characters are introduced, such as Kid Briton and his friends from the Braddock Academy (I’m assuming these are all new characters, but I might be wrong), as the issue is narrated by Ryker, the Deathlok-ette.  My problems with the title continue, however.  I don’t understand why Arcade would have selected such an obscure group of teen heroes to abduct, including one powerless teenage girl who was last seen bouncing around the deep cosmos, and I don’t understand why they aren’t banding together from the outset.  The characterizations are handled nicely by Dennis Hopeless, and Kev Walker’s art is terrific, but I just can’t get behind the concept.

Batwoman #15 – JH Williams and Haden Blackman take this issue to explore the character of Maggie Sawyer a little better.  Maggie’s been around the DCU forever, but I only know her from the brilliant Gotham Central series.  This is a decent issue, but with art by Trevor McCarthy instead of Williams, it’s only so good.

BPRD 1948 #3 – While I’m enjoying 1948, everything feels a little drawn out, like Mike Mignola and John Arcudi are writing for the trade, and making sure it’s going to feel thick enough.  Not a lot of note happens in this issue, except for Professor Bruttenholm’s awkward courting of a female scientist whose theories only he fully supports.

BPRD Hell on Earth #102 – The main BPRD title reads almost like an opposite to the 1948 title this month, as nothing but big things happen in this comic.  The Black Flame returns, and his arrival sparks off a whole bunch of catastrophic events around the world, as more of those giant monsters show up and start trashing major cities.  This is an exciting read, but with such a focus on fitting in so many big events, the issue kind of lacked heart.

DC Universe Presents #15 – This Black Lightning and Blue Devil story has fallen way short of my expectations of a Marc Andreyko comic, but if all you’re looking for is a straight-forward, old school superhero story, you could do a lot worse.

FF #2 – This title continues to be much better than the Fantastic Four, as the two titles finally diverge, and we see the new FF in action against Mole Man.  Matt Fraction’s written a fun story, and Michael Allred draws the hell out of it.  There’s a lot of potential here, although I’m not happy to see that the next issue likely revolves around the Human Torch.  I’d rather this new team get to do its own thing, especially since I have no interest in having to buy the other title.

Harbinger #7 – Joshua Dysart is introducing the rest of the original Harbingers, starting with Flamingo, who in this version, is a stripper who has had a difficult life.  Peter Stanchek activates her, and things get a little fiery.  Dysart is joined by Barry Kitson this month, an artist who I’ve admired for years.  Lee Garbett and Khari Evans also draw some pages, making this book a little too like DC’s New 52 for my liking; I wish books could stay more consistent with their looks.  Still, this is a very good comic, and I especially like the way Dysart is using the character Kris to explore the morality of Peter’s actions.

Hawkeye #6 – I think it’s safe to officially declare this Marvel’s best book, as Matt Fraction employs a frustrating yet awesome non-linear approach to telling a simple story about Clint’s efforts to take a few days off from being a hero, setting up his television set, and watching a season’s worth of Dog Cops on his DVR.  (I hope this isn’t some kind of Disney vertical integration thing, and Dog Cops isn’t the next big Disney cartoon or something).  His plans are interrupted by the Russian Bro Mob once again, as Clint starts to question his ability to effectively protect the building he now owns.  David Aja remains the real star of this show, as he continues to experiment with panel layout in a way that reminds me more of Chris Ware than anything else – a total rarity for the superhero genre.  I particularly love the page that has Hawkguy, Wolverine, and Spider-Man fighting a group of AIM guys – it’s laid out like a 90s video game.  Awesome stuff all around.

Haunt #28 – Okay, I officially don’t have any clue what’s going on in Haunt any more, on the level of the story, and on the business level.  This title was terrific when Joe Casey and Nathan Fox started on it, and delivered some weird but enjoyable comics.  Lately though, as it’s been plagued by delays, the stories have seemed increasingly static and uninteresting, and I’ve had a hard time remembering what’s going on.  Now though, with this issue, the story waffles all over the place, and then suddenly the book is taken over by Todd McFarlane for the last three pages, and stops making any sense at all.  Is Todd trying to recover the property (by having it continue into Spawn?)?  There is no text page or explanation, and I’m wondering what’s going on with all the other issues that have been solicited as being by Casey and Fox (this issue was mostly drawn by Kyle Strahm).  Either way, I think this is time for me to say goodbye.  This book is a mess, but I can guarantee that the one way to not fix it is to parachute McFarlane into the mix.  This kind of thing happens to Joe Casey a lot, doesn’t it (I’m particularly thinking of his excellent Youngblood run that got taken over by Rob Liefeld, got Obama-cized, and then disappeared unfinished).

Indestructible Hulk #2 – I think that Mark Waid is making a name for himself by taking characters that are known for their moroseness, like Matt Murdock and Bruce Banner, and finding ways for them to be happy again.  It’s an odd move in an industry that likes their heroes grim and gritty, but it works for him.  Bruce wants to show off his new approach to things to Tony Stark, and of course, they end up fighting somewhere off in the Himalayas.  I think that the fight feels a little contrived, and that Leinil Yu draws the Iron Man armor rather strangely, but in every other aspect, this is a very good comic.  I wasn’t going to buy it regularly, but I’m starting to think this might end up on the pull-list.

Nightwing #15 – I think the constant interruption of Bat-crossovers into this book, followed by a two-issue stint with a guest writer, has taken the shine off this title for me.  I’ve liked the way that Kyle Higgins has been writing Dick, a character I never liked until recently, but I’m not sure how many times I can handle seeing the good people at Haly’s Circus being threatened before I stop caring.  Oh wait, I think it already happened.

Number 13 #1 – I enjoyed the three or four serialized chapters that began this series in Dark Horse Presents, so I decided to jump on board for Robert Love and David Walker’s science fiction story about a young amnesiac robot boy in a world where humanity is divided between ‘Fected’ – people who have been badly mutated by a virus, and ‘Munes’, the people who are immune to it.  I like Love’s loose drawings, and the creativity that has been put into the characters.  I am curious to see what happens to poor little Thirteen, who is apparently the key to curing humanity.

Secret Avengers #35 – We’re very close to the end of this series, and it’s all plot now, as Captain Britain and his squad finish up their mission on the Undead Avengers Earth, and Father and his Descendents make their big moves in New York.  It’s a pretty exciting issue, and Matteo Scalera does a good job with a gigantic cast of characters.

Star Wars Agent of Empire: Hard Targets #3 – In the wake of the news this week that Marvel is going to be taking over the comics end of the Star Wars license in a few years, I’m left wondering what’s going to happen with characters like Jahan Cross, the Imperial secret agent that John Ostrander has used to such great effect in Hard Targets and the previous Agent of Empire mini-series.  I hope that books like this will continue, although only if Ostrander is around to write them.  Meanwhile, I’m going to keep enjoying these for as long as I can.  This issue has Cross racing off to save the young Count Dooku from his abductor, a sometime paramor of Cross’s, who he later has to spring from prison.  Ostrander is writing a pretty dense plot that rivals the best of the James Bond movies, and Davide Fabbri is doing a wonderful job of drawing this book.  It’s good stuff.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #18 – I have hated how the Divided We Fall and United We Stand mini-crossovers have derailed the wonderful Ultimate Spider-Man, but I feel that with this issue, Brian Michael Bendis has his story back on track.  Miles Morales gets a lot more room to breathe as a character this month, as he fights a Giant Woman on his own in a cornfield, and his relationship with Jessica Drew takes an interesting turn.  I’m especially happy to see art by David Marquez, who is one of only two artists who should be allowed on this book (the other, of course, being Sara Pichelli).

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #19 – I feel like this book is really floundering.  When Jonathan Hickman relaunched it, he made a huge mess of the world in a hurry, and spent lots of time really looking at just what that means for everyone the world over.  Since Sam Humphries took over, he’s made Captain America president, and has quickly fixed all of Hickman’s problems, with the result that this has kind of become a buddy-hero book focused on the Avenger’s version of the trinity.  The reveal on the last page is kind of interesting, but I’m getting bored of this book; I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to stick with it.

Uncanny X-Force #35 – It’s not going to be hard to imagine that this book is going to be remembered as one of the better Marvel runs of the early 21st century.  While it’s not rare for a mainstream book to keep the same writer for a span of thirty-five issues, it is rare for that book to stay so consistently good, and to tell a complete story from start to finish, without getting caught up in cross-over nonsense, or losing its focus along the way.  Rick Remender should be incredibly proud of his work here, and it shows what happens when a writer is given a non-headlining title and is allowed to just go nuts with it.  This issue works as an epilogue to the entire series, with Logan disbanding the team after the events of the last few issues.  Betsy works to rebuild bridges she’s burned (is she still missing her emotions?  that part was never clear), and Deadpool calms down a little, and has a nice moment with Evan.  Phil Noto was just the right artist to finish off this series, which also manages to hint a little as to its next incarnation, with an explanation of just why the promo images for that series have a female Fantomex in them.

Wolverine and the X-Men #22 – In the aftermath of Avengers Vs. X-Men, I’m surprised by how little interest I have in the more traditional mutant titles.  I’ve decided to not bother with the Bendis titles (until I can get them at half-price or better), and my enthusiasm for Jason Aaron’s book has fallen off precipitously.  This issue has more mind-controlled X-Men fighting against the students in a circus being run by Frankenstein so he can track down the last of his maker’s relatives.  The story is needlessly silly and too filled with characters the world really doesn’t need, like Eye-Boy (who sounds like he was made for the Legion of Substitute Heroes).  If things don’t pick up with the addition of Ramón Pérez as artist, I’m out of here.

Wonder Woman #15 – The best of the New 52 continues to impress as Diana meets another one of her half-brothers, who is apparently friends with Orion of the New Gods.  Meanwhile, Hera and Zola hang out in a hotel room, and a little more happens with the first-born of Zeus in the Antarctic.  Cliff Chiang’s design for Orion is great – using the best of Jack Kirby’s original, but updating the look nicely.  There seems to be a lot left unsaid in this issue, which has me looking forward to next month already.

X-Factor #249 – It’s another all-action issue of X-Factor, so I find my interest waning once again.  I like this title, but I find that the rapidity of its release schedule keeps Peter David from worrying about making each issue balanced between the necessities of action, character development, and plot.  I imagine him thinking, “We can make this one all one big fight, with a few one liners tossed in, since I only have to wait two weeks to move the story forward.”  I would like to see this book come out a lot less often, but be a little more dense and organized when it does, because we seem to be only hitting the mark with every second issue lately.

X-Men Legacy #3 – This is one of the more oddball of the Marvel NOW! relaunches, and I can’t fully decide if I want to stick with it or not.  The series is centred on Legion, the son of Charles Xavier, who suffers from a variety of mental illnesses and is host to hundreds of multiple personalities.  In this issue, Legion travels to Japan to rescue two mutant children from some Yakuza, except that they don’t feel the need to be rescued.  The writing is amusing (I especially liked the gangsters’ dialogue), and Tan Eng Huat’s art suits the material, but I really don’t know if there’s enough here to keep me coming back month after month.  I’ll probably give it one more issue to establish itself before I decide.

X-O Manowar #8 – It’s another excellent issue, as Aric and Ninjak attack MI-6 headquarters in London to purge it of Vine operatives.  There’s a lot of excitement in this issue, as Robert Vendetti continues to set up the upcoming big fight with the Vine forces that are on their way to Earth.  This is a very nicely balanced comic, with some character progression, and some very cool visuals thanks to Lee Garbett and Stefano Gaudiano.

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

A Plus X #3

All-New X-Men #4

Astonishing X-Men #57

Cable and X-Force #2

Captain America #2

Mars Attacks #6

Rachel Rising #13

Thor God of Thunder #3

Bargain Comics:

Astonishing X-Men #56 – The conclusion to Marjorie Liu’s first story arc is much more satisfying than most of the issues that led up to it; it feels like she’s relaxed into the characters a little better, and isn’t pushing so hard to write a memorable run.  This is an X-team with some potential, and I’m curious to see where the book goes from here.

Captain Marvel #3-7 – Here’s an example of a series that I really wanted to like, but which has just not clicked with me.  The first arc of this book dealt with Carol Danvers being lost in time and suffering from some serious hero worship issues surrounding a female pilot.  Carol did not come off as confident or self-assured as I’m used to seeing her, but at least the two issues drawn by Emma Rios were gorgeous.  Regular series artist Dexter Soy’s work began to grow on me too.  Issue 7, which has writer Kelly Sue DeConnick joined by co-writer Christopher Sebela, worked a lot better, as Carol gets called by former Captain Marvel Monica Rambeau to help out with a Bermuda Triangle-like issue off the Louisiana coast.  I think maybe, it’s just because I like Monica Rambeau that I liked this issue so much, but I have a hard time accepting that she has a fear of water that prevents her from diving in and helping out.  I’m not ready to add this series to my pull-list, but I will keep checking it out from time to time.

Infernal Man-Thing #1&2 – Like with many of the late Steve Gerber’s stories, I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here.  Gerber was like the proto-Grant Morrison, and this story, which sat in a draw for many years waiting for Kevin Nowlan to paint it (you have to check out the portable word processor the main character uses), is vintage Gerber.  It’s a sequel to an old Man-Thing comic he wrote in the 70s (reprinted in the back of these two issues), which was about a man whose creative ideas take on some form of real life (at least to him).  The guy ended up fixing his life and working in kids’ animation until a mental break sends him careening back to the swamp and weirdness.  Nowlan’s work here is beautiful, and it’s nice to see him doing comics on his own again (so rare).  Still, this story did not grab me much at all, I’m sorry to say.

Scarlet Spider #1-4 – I missed the entire Clone Saga back in the day, and so had no clue who Kaine was when he returned in Amazing Spider-Man a year or two back, and didn’t much care about the character.  I do like Chris Yost as a writer though, and always enjoy series set in non-traditional places (this book happens in Houston), so I figured it was time to check this out.  These early issues do a good job of establishing Kaine as a reluctant anti-hero, and start building a supporting cast.  I really like the costume they’ve designed for the Scarlet Spider, and the way that, despite being a clone of Peter Parker somehow (the recap page was confusing), he looks so much beefier than Peter.  I’m not sure what’s up with his camouflage powers, but otherwise, these are very solid issues.  I may need to start reading this book…

X-Men #38 – There has to be a place for solid stories of one or two issues in length featuring various X-Men in solo or small-group adventures by a rotating creative team.  This issue is a bit of a delight, as it begins a story featuring Domino, who ends up teaming up with Daredevil to take down a bar filled with bad guys.  Seth Peck (whatever happened to ‘76, his excellent Image mini-series anyway?) and Paul Azaceta deliver a light-hearted, enjoyable story that is not mired in continuity or cross-over madness, and can be enjoyed on its own merits.

The Week in Manga:

Black Blizzard

by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

I really enjoyed readingA Drifting Life, manga legend Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s gigantic manga memoir a couple of years ago.  It portrayed his early days in the manga industry, a business that he helped shape with his resolve to write darker, more adult stories for a more adult audience.

In that book, the act of his creating Black Blizzard is a watershed moment for the young Tatsumi, and I was curious to read this book.  Luckily, the fine people at Drawn & Quaterly decided that this book was deserving of a North American edition, and so I was able to get the chance.

Black Blizzard is a Japanese noir story set in the late 1950s.  It opens with a young pianist showing concern that he may have murdered another person, although he was drunk at the time, and does not remember what happened.  He is arrested, but while being transported alongside another prisoner, to whom he is handcuffed, the train derails.  The two men make good on this chance for freedom, and end up spending hours together in a forest ranger’s cabin, hiding from the police and trying to get warm (they’ve just walked through the titular blizzard).

The young man tells the hardened criminal his story, one of love, music, and the cruel ringmaster father of his circus performing girlfriend who does not want them to be together.  Later, desperate to be free, the older criminal contrives to drug the younger, and cut off his hand.

The story is pretty simple in its design and execution, but for all that, it is effective.  This is a classic noir story, and it illustrates how little that genre has changed in sixty years.  Tatsumi’s early art is much cruder than what was in A Drifting Life, but there is a charm to this work by a young man looking to stretch the possibilities of an entire medium.  As a story, this is entertaining.  As a historical document, this book is essential.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Jim Henson’s Tale of Sand

Screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl
Realized by Ramón Pérez

I’m sure it’s not possible to find someone who doesn’t have fond memories of something done by Jim Henson, be it his Muppets, his work on Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, or the Dark Crystal.  He was clearly a visionary artist, whose oeuvre has had a lasting influence on children’s entertainment and the psyches of generations.

Personally, I didn’t realize he was such a surrealist visionary as well.  A Tale of Sand was the name he put on a screenplay for a live-action movie he wrote with his frequent collaborator Jerry Juhl back in 1967 or so.  The film was never made, but the script was recently uncovered and adapted as a beautifully produced hardcover graphic novel by Ramón Pérez.

The story doesn’t explain much – a man is attending a party in a small town in the middle of a desert.  He is escorted away by the town’s Sheriff, who rather vaguely explains that he has a ten minute’s head start to run out of town, and that if he makes it to a group of mountains, he should be safe.  The guy has no clue what’s going on, but quickly heads out of town, with only a backpack of supplies, and an over-sized skeleton key to aid him.  It’s not long before he realizes that he’s being followed by a slim, bearded man, who starts shooting at him.

The guy continues to try to escape, and his journeys lead him through a surrealistic desert landscape, populated with angry Arabs, football players, Kalahari bushmen, busy highways, a shark-infested saltwater swimming pool, and other odd things.

As strange as all of this sounds, on the page, it seems to make perfect sense.  Pérez has done a phenomenal job of drawing this book in such a way as to present its internal logic as ultimately sane and very compelling.  He plays with colour and page layouts to help propel the story, and generally, has created one of the most gorgeous graphic novels I’ve read in a while.

This book is highly recommended.

Album of the Week:

Feten: Rare Jazz Recordings From Spain – This is an amazing collection of older Spanish jazz from the fine people at Vampi Soul.  This is not an era or place I’m familiar with, but listening to these recordings really make me wish I was born earlier, and on a different continent.

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