The Weekly Round-Up #163 with Saga, Comeback, Conan, Creator-Owned Comics, Elephantmen & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Saga #9

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

One of the things that make Saga such a wonderful series is the way in which Brian K. Vaughan has developed his science fiction universe in such a way as to allow for side stories beyond the monthly check-in on Marko and Alana, neither of whom appear in this issue.Instead, this issue is all about The Will, and Marko’s ex-fiancee, Gwendolyn.  She is the person who originally hired The Will to track down our favourite little family, and she’s annoyed that he hasn’t done what he was paid to do.  They argue for a bit, and then The Will agrees to go back to work for her, so long as she first helps him rescue the young girl he met a few issues back on Sextillion, the sex-resort planet.

The rest of the issue is spent on having these two work to free the Slave-Girl, and in typical Saga fashion, things dont go exactly as planned, but they are very entertaining.  Having finished this issue, I find I am as interested in reading more about this new trio (not counting Lying Cat, who I love), as I am in reading about Marko, Alana, and their daughter (whose narration I found I missed this month).  I didn’t expect to like Gwendolyn so much, especially since Marko hasn’t portrayed her in the most positive of lights.

Vaughan and Staples are creating one of the most consistently entertaining comics on the stands with this book.

Other Notable Comics:

Comeback #3

Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Michael Walsh

Ed Brisson’s time travel intrigue story Comeback has been an interesting read from the beginning, and as the series progresses, Brisson is providing some more information, but also adding new wrinkles to the story.Reconnect is a company that can travel through time within a sixty-six day window (I don’t know why yet).  They use this technology to rescue rich people from death, and take them into the near future to be reunited with their families, all for a very large fee.  The thing is, that’s not exactly what happens, and Seth, one of the field agents, has gone to the FBI, and contacted his past self to try to put a stop to things.  Seth’s partner is in the uncomfortable position of having to hunt him down, and now their latest client is also refusing to cooperate.

Brisson is the type of writer who leaves a lot of this for the reader to figure out, avoiding lengthy explanations and text pieces in the back of the book.  That works well here, as it adds complexity to the story, and maintains a greater sense of mystery throughout the series.  Michael Walsh is a capable artist in the Paul Azaceta/Tonci Zonjic school, and the book is a good read, giving us a fresh take on time travel stories.

Conan the Barbarian #12

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Declan Shalvey

There are a lot of things to like about Brian Wood’s Conan series, but one of the things that gets overlooked, but is key to the book’s success, is the way in which Wood writes short story arcs, mostly of just three issues in length.  I find this to be a very effective way to tell a story long enough to engage the reader, without getting too bogged down in unnecessary complexity, or too decompressed and stretched-out to fit a trade.  This way, the story is just the right length, and still packed with action and character development.  The other great thing is that it means that there is always a new artist coming on board to be excited about.This issue finishes off ‘The Death’, the arc that has Bêlit and the crew of the Tigress down with a mysterious illness, with only Conan healthy enough to try to care for his lover and to protect her ship from hostile forces in the town where they’ve pulled in for shelter.

The last issue raised the question of whether or not Conan would abandon his love and new lifestyle, which she had urged him to do.  I don’t know Conan well as a character, but Wood makes it clear that he is not someone to run from his problems, as he stands his ground on a couple of different levels in this issue.

Declan Shalvey has done a terrific job on the art this arc, and I especially like two things this issue.  There’s a scene where Conan faces off against a small mob on the town’s docks, and I love the way in which Shalvey has him returning a spear that has been thrown at him.  Later, Conan is sitting on the deck of the Tigress, waiting for news of Bêlit’s health.  In the foreground on the deck is a dead rat.  It’s a small detail, but it absolutely makes that scene.

Creator-Owned Comics #8

Written by Steve Niles, Darwyn Cooke, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Justin Gray
Art by Scott Morse, Darwyn Cooke, and Jerry Lando

I would have thought that perhaps the time had come for a book like Creator-Owned Heroes, but seeing as this is the series’s last issue, I guess it hadn’t.  It’s easy, and very tempting, to play armchair quarterback and talk about why this book didn’t last (in fact, Jimmy Pamiotti mentions how many websites seemed to revel in doing that when the news of the cancellation was announced), so I’m going to refrain from that sort of thing.Instead, I’d like to focus on how much this book was starting to do correctly.  Each issue was anchored by two serials, one written by Steve Niles and the other by Palmiotti and Justin Gray.  These varied in quality (something’s never really clicked for me in Niles’s writing), but they were consistently non-traditional.  Recently, Darwyn Cooke was added to the mix, and given space for his own stories month after month, which really raised my interest in the book.  As well, the magazine-content had become much more focused on independent and creator-owned comics, which was a much better fit for the title than say, another interview with Jimmy Palmiotti’s personal trainer (which really did appear in an early issue).

As for this list issue, it closes out the series in style.  Steve Niles finishes off his ‘Meatbag’ story in a completely unexpected way.  The first chapter, drawn by the incredible Scott Morse, was a pretty standard-seeming gumshoe kind of thing, but this chapter takes the story into some otherworldly territory, and that genuinely surprised me.

Darwyn Cooke had to abandon a three-part story because of the cancellation (although I hope we get to see it as a one-shot some day soon), and so instead included a very personal little story he’d made for the woman he recently married.  It’s sweet.

Palmiotti and Gray closed off their ‘Killswitch’ story in a way I wouldn’t have expected, as Brandon tracks down the person who tried to kill him, only to trick her into falling in love with him and marrying him (which I’m sure many would say is greater revenge than murder).  There’s a lot of nudity in this chapter, as if the writers were enjoying the freedom cancellation brings.

In closing, I think I’m going to miss this book more for the potential that it had than what it ever actually was.  I was really looking forward to new monthly work by Cooke that didn’t feel amoral (like his Before Watchmen work that I’ve avoided), and with artists like Morse joining the stable, to see who else may have been published here.  Palmiotti and Gray are always entertaining writers, and I wanted to see where they would have journeyed on a book that allowed this much freedom.  I do want to say that I admire all of these creators for trying something new.

Elephantmen #45

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Axel Medellin and Tula Lotay

One thing that I love is the way in which creator-owned books allow their creators to explore whatever tangents they wish to through their story.  I doubt anyone who started reading Cerebus at its inception would have ever expected Oscar Wilde to show up in it (to pick one of the more extreme examples), and yet when Dave Sim felt like writing about Oscar Wilde, there he was.Similarly, this issue of Elephantmen, which we were all reminded back in December is a prequel series to Richard Starkings’s Hip Flask series, which comes out once or twice a decade, has a retelling of the story of the birth and early life of Siddhartha, who became the Gautama Buddha.  What makes that even stranger is that this story is being told by an Elephantman (a genetically-engineered man/animal hybrid soldier) during his service as a medic to another Elephantman who has been injured.  In typical Starkings fashion, this scene is being recounted by that same injured soldier, Ebony Hide, to his doctor while being treated in the present (really the far future, but the story-present) for another recent injury inflicted by the same person who injured him in the flashback.  Got it?  Good, because that’s only one of a number of things that happen in this issue.

Starkings’s story gets ever denser, but also increasingly effective in the way in which he has developed and strengthened his characters.  Individual issues, and really even arcs, mean little to Starkings, who has this very complex story mapped out in his head, and has decided to tell it in his own fashion, and at his own pace.  This issue also has Hip Flask and Miki get into a big argument over his having caught her kissing another man after he stood her up.  We also see Ebony make a fool of himself outside of a Hooters (further proof that the future isn’t going to be all that bright?), and we learn who the Silencer’s next target is.

This is always a lovely book to look through, as Axel Medellin continues to impress.  Tula Lotay provides the Siddhartha pages, and they are gorgeous.  At first I thought the pages were drawn by Marian Churchland; I need to check out more of Lotay’s work.

Quick Takes:

Archer & Armstrong #6 It’s probably not surprising that this is another excellent issue in a fantastic series.  Most of the comic is given over to Kay McHenry, a deeply unhappy spokeswoman for a capital firm (modeled on Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, I’m sure) who also happens to be the Earth’s next Geomancer, although it takes most of the issue (and a conversation with “a monkey dressed like ‘mother nature’ from the 1970s Chiffon margarine commercials”) for her to realize that.  Fred Van Lente uses the same humour and winking asides to Republican America that made the first few issues work so well.  The 1% are back as villains, and we are introduced to another aspect of the Sect, called The Null.  This is a terrific comic, and this issue would be a great jumping on point for anyone who has been curious about checking it out.  Emanuela Lupacchino has been an excellent addition to the book.

Batman #16 – I know that comics fans everywhere are loving the Death of the Family arc that has the Joker back in Gotham and messing with Bruce and his extended family.  This is an exciting issue, with a few strong visuals, but ultimately, I’m a little bored with how repetitive everything here feels.  Batman is working his way through Arkham Asylum, which the Joker has modified and weirded-up, and for some reason, he narrates a lot of positive ‘self-talk’, where he keeps referring to himself by his first name, which doesn’t fit with how I understand Batman’s character.  Anyway, he’s able to dispatch many of his rogue’s gallery with absolute ease, taking out Mr. Freeze, Scarecrow, and Clayface in a panel or two each, but later it takes him pages to get through a door that is being blocked by some furniture.  This is after he used a shape charge to blow the door in the first place.  I don’t know – I’d just toss another charge onto the furniture, but I’m not Batman.  Anyway, the Joker has set up another strange death-trap involving an electrified chainsaw stuck in a block, like the sword in the stone.  Actually, all of Joker’s tricks have an electrical theme to them, which seems odd, especially considering the pains to which Scott Snyder has gone to introduce his young electrician character whose name escapes me at the moment.  Makes me think that the main story’s final scene with the electric chair might not have gone the way it looks.  Greg Capullo has some very nice pages here, but there are other places where I had to go back and look at the panels a few times to figure out what’s going on (I still don’t know how Clayface got taken down).  Still, everyone else on the internet thinks he’s a great artist, so what do I know?  I can’t wait for this arc to be finished….

Batman and Robin #16 I wonder how much better this book would be if Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason weren’t having to constantly accommodate the story arcs in Scott Snyder’s Batman series.  Robin is being held by the Joker, and is being forced to fight his father, who is under the Joker’s control, except (SPOILER:) it’s not really Bruce Wayne, which makes sense because then he, like the Joker, would have to be in two places at once.  I’m not sure how Damian didn’t figure that out.  I suppose if you want to see a whole comic given over to a young boy having to fight his father almost to the death, this is a good comic.  Personally, I like the more character-driven issues of this series…

BPRD 1948 #4 – Science and magic don’t get along, in this story that cleverly references the last Witchfinder mini-series, and works to set up the upcoming BPRD Vampires mini-series (with Bá and Moon!).  On its own merits, this is also a decent story, as Professor Bruttenholm finds that his beliefs have probably blown his chances with the pretty scientist that he’s come out to the desert to help.  Max Fiumara’s art is great here.

Daredevil #22 – When Mark Waid was writing Amazing Spider-Man as one of the Brand New Day crew, I found myself buying that book a lot more often (that he worked on it with Marcos Martin and Javier Pulido didn’t hurt), and now he works the Superior Spidey into Daredevil, and it really has me wishing he’d return to writing Spidey, as well as sticking around on DD and Hulk.  He captures the corniness of Octavius’s dialogue perfectly, and contrasts that nicely with DD, who can’t understand why his closest superhero friend is trying to take him down.  Luckily, there’s Stiltman to help them work out their differences.  This is a really fun issue, which ends with a good heart-to-heart between Matt and Foggy.  All this, and Chris Samnee!  What a great comic.

Demon Knights #16I was very sceptical about sticking with this book once Paul Cornell left it, and I removed the title from my pull-list at the store where I shop, but on the strengths of Robert Venditti’s other work (The Surrogates, Homeland Directive, and X-O Manowar), I did pick up his first issue, and I like what I read.  Thirty years have passed since Cornell’s storyline ended, and the Knights have scattered and gone their separate way.  The book opens with Horsewoman (who doesn’t age) being pursued by bounty hunters.  They take her to Spain, where she meets up with Exoristos and Sir Ystin (neither of whom age), and eventually with Al Jabr (who is the only person in this book who ages, and rather savagely), who gives them a new mission.  Unfortunately, this mission involves Cain, who I was hoping we’d seen the last of in I, Vampire, but what can you do?  The writing in this book is solid, and Bernard Chang is always good.  I think I’ll stick around, and see how the next issue works before deciding if I’m back on this title.

Indestructible Hulk #3 – I want to give it another issue, but I think that Indestructible Hulk may be one of the bigger winners of the Marvel NOW! sweepstakes.  Mark Waid has given Bruce Banner a real purpose in this book, and made him the more interesting half of his dual personality.  In this issue, Maria Hill interviews candidates to work in Banner’s lab while Hulk is used to infiltrate and take out an AIM base.  Waid is employing the same light humour that works so well in Daredevil, and we finally meet the Quislet/Skeets-like floating helmet thing that has been shown in promo art for this series.

The Li’l Depressed Boy #15 – Once again, I found this issue completely charming, and since it wasn’t so bogged down in pop culture references, it didn’t annoy me, aside from the fact that it was over so quickly.  I’ve been wanting to drop this title, but it’s so far behind, I’m still waiting on issues I’d preordered months ago.  I don’t think I’m going to completely drop it, but switch to a trade-waiting approach, as the individual issues are too effervescent to stick with me.

New Avengers #2Well, I’m definitely enjoying this book, as Jonathan Hickman takes the classic Brian Michael Bendis approach to writing the Avengers (a bunch of people sit around a table for most of the issue), and instead of just having everyone snipe at each other while the plot goes nowhere, instead lays out a clear and massive threat, with each member of the Illumanati (except, perhaps, Dr. Strange) bringing something unique to the book.  I love the way Hickman writes T’Challa, and I’m excited to see where this book goes.  I’m not bothering to try to figure out how this fits with the other Avengers book, because the timelines are weird, and am instead enjoying this for what it is – the culmination of the Big Idea approach that Hickman took to writing Fantastic Four, taken to an even larger scale (I can’t help thinking that the Council of Reeds would have had no problem fixing this issue).

X-Factor #250 – Does anyone know yet why so many people want to kill Tier, Rahne’s child?  Darwin takes some shots at him, then Jezebel, and then a whole bunch of other people line up to kill the kid.  Strong Guy returns, Pip leaves off panel, and the whole issue moves at a good pace as Peter David kicks off his ‘Hell on Earth War’ story arc, which apparently was promised a long time ago.  It’s a good issue, and I wish Mr. David a speedy recovery from his recent stroke.  I hope that Marvel does the right thing here and gives him time to recover instead of slotting another writer onto the book for a while.  Maybe they should delay any double-shipping issues that are already in the can, releasing them monthly instead to give David time to get well.

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

All-New X-Men #6

Avengers Assemble #11

Avenging Spider-Man #16

Black Beetle #1

Bloodshot #7

Caligula Heart of Rome #2

Captain America #3

High Ways #1

Savage Wolverine #1

Threshold #1

Ultimate Comics Iron Man #4

X-Men #40

Bargain Comics:

Hulk #53-57I’d given up on Jeff Parker’s Red Hulk title, not so much because I didn’t like it, but because I didn’t like having to read it so often, as Marvel consistently double-shipped the hell out of the title.  This last story arc, ‘Mayan Rule’, both illustrates what was great about Parker’s run with Gen. Ross and what didn’t work.  This story features Alpha Flight as guest stars, which makes this Canadian very happy, but the team barely does anything, and don’t stand out in any way.  Some resurrected Mayan immortals show up, suck power out of superheroes, and wreck some stuff for reasons I never fully understood, before being beaten down by Hulk and Machine Man.  The plot worked out okay, but was a little too stretched out for a story like this.  Ross and Annie, the LMD, continued their ‘will they or won’t they?’ relationship, but it never got much stage space amid all the chaos.  Issue 57 is basically the last one of this series, as after that it became Betty Ross’s book, and the words ‘Red’ and ‘She-‘ were added to the title.  It’s not a satisfiying ending for a run that lasted around thirty issues, and it did nothing to set up Ross’s next appearance in the Marvel NOW! relaunch of Thunderbolts.  It’s almost like Marvel told Parker the series was ending after he’d written the story…  Anyway, Dale Eaglesham’s art is fantastic, so at least there’s that.

Legends of the Dark Knight #2 – I kind of love the idea behind this book, which publishes Batman stories that were originally released digitally.  That’s not what excites me though, it’s the fact that they have a varied and kind of indie crowd of artists and writers that they dip into to fill the book.  This issue is written by B. Clay Moore (who has written some very good superhero books like Battle Hymn), and drawn by Ben Templesmith, whose work I adore.  It’s a Joker story, at a time when I’m filled to the brim with those, but it also features Killer Croc and the Mad Hatter, and it’s kind of bizarre.  Good stuff; I just wish it wasn’t a $4 title, considering that DC’s already gotten their money’s worth from the content.

Resurrection Man #11-12, 0Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning wrapped up their New 52 revamp of their 90s series quite nicely.  This book was always good, but it never really stood out as being good enough for me to commit to buying it monthly.  The surprises of the last couple of issues played out well though, and I’m sure that a single trade collecting all thirteen issues would be the best way to read this comic.  I’m kind of impressed that it lasted a year, considering how obscure this book was.

Untold Tales of the Punisher MAX #4 – I don’t know if these were just unused inventory stories that Marvel wanted to burn through, but they’ve all fallen into pretty much the same pattern.  Frank finds out a problem, goes to solve it, learns he’s been duped, kills everyone.  It’s just the settings that change.  Still, this is a decent read from Nathan Edmondson and Fernando Blanco.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Elk’s Run

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Noel Tuazon

I really don’t know why I’ve never read this book before now.  Creators Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon made Tumor together, an excellent detective graphic novel, and independently of each other, I’ve loved Fialkov’s Echoes, and am very excited to see a new issue of Tuazon’s Foster, whenever it’s supposed to come out (issue three is very, very late).  I’ve seen Elk’s Run numerous times, but it wasn’t until recently that I decided to finally buy it and read it.It’s excellent.  Elk’s Ridge is the name of a small former mining town in West Virginia.  When we first see it, it looks like any other idyllic small American town, but slowly the reader comes to realize that all is not as it seems.  The town was populated by Vietnam War vets who wanted a better life, and they’ve gravitated around John Kohler, a charismatic and firm man who has a vision for the town.

The area is completely cut off from the outside world, accessible only by a tunnel that goes through the surrounding mountains.  The rest of the area is surrounded by electrified fence, and supplies are brought in only occasionally.  Things sound great, but not to the teenagers who live in the town, are bored out of their minds, and a frustrated by a lack of young girls to get to know.  John’s son, also a John, is our protagonist.

The story opens with John and his friends playing in the tunnel, a place that is forbidden for them to go, especially after dark.  The youngest of the boys is hit by a car, driven by one of the neighbours who has decided to flee the town.  This death leads to the execution of the man, and later of the police who come looking for him.  This is turn leads to John Jr. stepping up his rebellious nature, as he discovers new information about the father that he already hates so much.

Fialkov does a masterful job of combining usual teenage angst with the isolationism of a certain breed of Americans.  This story touches on events like those in Ruby Ridge and Waco Texas, while also tapping into post-9/11 fear of the wider world.  It’s a very effective combination, and he uses the location well to create a very exciting climax.  Tuazon’s art is never very detailed, and that works well here to help propel some of the uncertainty of this story.  This book is a very solid psychological adventure, and I recommend it.

Album of the Week:

Jeremiah Jae – Black Jungle Radio – Just when I was thinking that I needed some new left-field, blunted and strange hip-hop music, Jeremiah Jae shows up with this mixtape, which features him and a few other people (Zeroh, Raja Black, FABLE, and Young Black Preachers, none of whom I’ve heard of before) spitting over his production, as well as beats by Ras G, Jonwayne, Kutmah, and Lord Raja.  It’s not as strong as his Raw Money Raps release, but it fills the gap nicely as I await more new stuff from the Brainfeeder camp.


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