The Weekly Round-Up #170 With Lost Vegas, Bedlam, Glory, Helheim, Sacrifice, Sex & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Lost Vegas #1

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Janet Lee

I love digging into a new comics series when I don’t have the first idea what to expect from it.  I didn’t read anything about Lost Vegas, the new series from Mind the Gap writer Jim McCann and his Dapper Men collaborator Janet Lee, but kind of assumed it would be something like Bill Willingham’s Proposition Player, about gambling and the supernatural.  I didn’t expect it to be a well thought-out science fiction adventure series, but that’s exactly what it is.

Roland is a gambler of low repute, who likes to try to cheat his way through some of the lower-class casinos in the galaxy.  Right at the beginning of the book, he’s caught cheating and sold to Lost Vegas, a high-rolling operation that has its indentured servants, holographically disguised to be identical, slowly earn their freedom by serving guests and turning over their tips to the house.

Roland has spent five years putting together an escape plan which involves modifying his holographic collar, and trusting a couple of other employees, who have different reasons for wanting to help him.  Much of this first issue is taken up with showing us around the casino, and demonstrating the wealth of creativity that McCann and Lee are pouring into this book.  Roland is not a particularly likeable character, but that’s rather the point I think.  Still, I’m a sucker for a good heist story, and that’s what this book promises.

Lee’s clean, expansive pencils work very well here, as we get an eyeful of what a futuristic casino in outer space would look like.  This was one of the more entertaining books I read this week, and I will definitely be coming back for the next issue.

Other Notable Comics:

Bedlam #5

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Riley Rossmo

Just before reading this comic this week, I saw on Bleeding Cool that Riley Rossmo is leaving Bedlam due to ‘creative differences’ with writer Nick Spencer.  I’m never quite sure where I stand on Rossmo’s art – when I started reading Proof, I loved it, but as that series continued, I often found his storytelling to be confusing and hard to follow.  Since then, he’s sort of become the ubiquitous face of Image Comics, and that has meant he’s drawn some books that I don’t feel were well suited for his scratchy style.  Five issues into Bedlam though, I can’t think of another artist that would be more suitable for Spencer’s strange exploration of madness in a world of costumed vigilantes.  This title, with its disfigured nurses and genitally-scarred angel-wing wearing serial killers, would not work with a more realistic or a more cartoonish artist.  Really, no one is coming to mind right now except possibly Ted McKeever, although I’d kind of like to see Bill Sienkiewicz take over (not that that is going to happen).

Anyway, to talk about this actual issue, I’d have to say that my opinion of this book is continuing to grow.  Mr. Press, who we can all safely assume was once the Joker-like character Madder Red, continues to assist a police detective in her investigation into a string of murders.  There is some proof that these killings are connected to a sex-abuse scandal at a church many years prior, and Detective Acevedo reluctantly allows Press to continue helping her as she heads out to a prison to interview the man at the centre of that scandal.

Press is a difficult character to read, and he makes a few moves of his own this month that make his intent and his sanity rather murky.  We also see a lot more of his final days in treatment.  I did have the thought that Spencer has been playing with us, and that Press is not really Madder Red; it’s not like Spencer doesn’t regularly upend readers’ expectations in Morning Glories.

As I said before, Rossmo’s art has grown on me over the course of this series so far, and the news of his impending departure makes me wonder how well this book is going to work without him.

Glory #33

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell

Glory has been a pretty wild ride since Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell resurrected the long-dead Rob Liefeld character, but this issue is easily the most intense and wild of their run.

Glory has assembled a large group of heroes to help her fight the Knight of Thule, a gigantic creature who wrecked her father’s homeland.  Almost all of the characters in the Liefeld stable are here (so there are terrible character designs all over the place), with prominent roles given to Supreme, and the regular supporting cast of this series.

The battle is joined early into the comic, and after that, there is not much more than some very impressive battle scenes.  Keatinge has been showing us that Glory is not someone to be messed with, as Supreme learns when he tries to suggest a different plan of action.

Riley, the tiny little point of view character who has been central to this book has to face her destiny in this comic, as Keatinge gets ready for next month’s final issue.  It’s a very exciting comic, and Campbell does a terrific job of balancing the wide-screen action with some of the issue’s quieter moments.

I’m going to miss this series when it’s done.

Helheim #1

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Joëlle Jones

I get a lot of enjoyment out of Cullen Bunn’s mystical Western series The Sixth Gun, so adding his new title, Helheim, to my pull-list was a no-brainer.  Bunn has launched a new series that is similar to Sixth Gun, in that it takes an established genre – the Viking tale in this case – and mashed it up with horror-filled fantasy.

When this comic opens, a group of Norsemen are fleeing through the woods towards their walled village.  We’re not too clear on what is chasing them, but we know that they arrive home too late to be let in, since the gates wouldn’t be closed before their pursuers are upon them.  Making their stand, the brave Rickard, his father, and their friends are able to repel the vicious men and dogs that are after them.

Later, after the battle is completed, the dead attackers rise up from the ground and continue the battle, which exacts a terrible price from the small, starving community.  We eventually learn that a witch named Groa is behind the problems of the village, although Rickard’s father figures out that it is because she is after Bera, Rickard’s beautiful wife.  There are a couple more surprises at the end of the comic, but I won’t spoil them.

Bunn is joined on this title by Joëlle Jones, a talented artist best known for her work in the romance and crime genres.  She does an excellent job on this book, with art that reminds me a little of Becky Cloonan’s issues of Northlanders.

When The Sixth Gun started, I wondered if it had more than an arc or two in the concept, and it’s now up to its 29th issue, and a spin-off mini-series has just launched.  Here’s hoping that Bunn fills Helheim with as many good stories, and achieves the same kind of success.

Sacrifice #4

Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Dalton Rose

I don’t know when this book actually came out (Sam Humphries website said it was coming in January), but my favourite comic store, one of only two in the country that sell this book, only got their copy of issues four and five today.  I was going to read them both together and then write about, but I decided that a self-published and self-distributed book that is this good deserves to have as much written about it as possible.

Sacrifice has been following Hector, a depressed young man who has somehow found himself in Mexico City (then called Tenochtitlan) just prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the Americas. Hector has had a difficult experience in Moctezuma’s empire, being seen by almost everyone as mystical and special, but not always accepted by the different religious sects that are jockeying for power.

As this issue opens, Hector is performing the sacrifice of a great warrior, during which he receives a vision of his own time.  He realizes that, if he is going to do anything to save the Aztecs from the fate brought to them by the Spanish, he has little time to influence Moctezuma into uniting with the city-states he has been ruling by fiat, and preparing to repel the Spanish invaders.  This plan doesn’t sit well with one of his religious rivals, and Malin, the famous female rebel who sided with Cortes, manages to disappear to parts unknown.

I’ve always been attracted to the idea of revisiting the earliest instances of contacts between Europeans and the indigenous Americans, and like how Humphries has been using this series to somewhat balance the historical scales.  I look forward to reading the next issue, which is just a little ways deeper into this week’s reading pile.

Sacrifice #5

Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Dalton Rose

The second of two issues of Sacrifice that I picked up this week is just as good a read as the first.

Things have not gone well for the Aztecs after their first contact with the Spanish.  Despite the efforts of time traveller Hector in uniting the people of Mexico, he has not been able to stave off the effects of smallpox on a population that has no natural defense against it.

Now, the Aztecs are making a final stand at Tenochtitlan, and Hector, who has been in seclusion for the last six months, has to make a final sacrifice to try to save the whole thing.

This issue gets a little more psychedelic than the last few, returning more to the look of the first issue, which had Hector first arrive in Moctezuma’s territory.  It’s never been made clear if Hector has actually traveled through time, or if everything we’ve seen of him has been a sort of fever dream brought on by his own psychoses.  That uncertainty is amped up this issue, as we are given glimpses of both worlds.

While the delay between issues has been very long, so it’s hard to remember all the details of this series, I must comment on how much story Sam Humphries has packed into the first five issues of this comic.  It really is a dense, nuanced read, and I feel that, after getting the final issue, I’m going to want to read through it all again in one or two sittings.

Sex #1

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Piotr Kowalski

Joe Casey is a ‘buy on sight’ writer for me, even if I don’t always end up loving his work (the more recent issues of Godland, and his very strange Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance did not really do it for me), he has a pretty singular voice in modern comics, as a writer of truly independent and unique superhero books.

His new series Sex continues that trend.  I had no preconceived notions going into the book (I don’t read solicitation text or website interviews and articles about books I know I’m going to buy), but assumed that this would be a light comedy about heroes getting it on.  Not even close.

Sex appears to be a story about Bruce Wayne trying to cobble together a normal life for himself after giving up being Batman.  Bruce is called Simon Cooke here, and Gotham is Saturn City.  Cooke is returning to the very densely-populated city after a seven month absence, looking to take back control of his company, and apply himself to shaking off his flaky reputation.  His alter ego, the Armored Saint, has been mothballed, and in his absence, the criminals are becoming more bold.

Simon is determined to keep a promise he made to build a more normal life for himself, but that seems a little outside his capabilities right now.

With the title being Sex, you’d expect there would be lots of it, and for that reason, readers picking up the title for a thrill are likely to be disappointed.  Simon does go to a high-end peepshow establishment, but the whole scene is not that exciting for any of the participants.  Perhaps a little more-so for the reader.

This issue felt like it was over almost before it began, but Casey had a lot to do to get the ball rolling.  He did definitely pique my interest, and I’m curious to see where he is going to take this story.  Piotr Kowalski’s art is very nice, with a bit of a Tonci Zonjic feel to it.  The book has a very European sensibility in its appearance, something furthered by Rus Wooten’s lettering, which looks to be straight from a French comic.

In all, this is a very good package (I love reading Casey’s backmatter pages).  I don’t think this title deserves any of the criticism it received prior to publication (which is mostly because of the title, from what I can gather), but it does deserve some attention.

Quick Takes:

Animal Man #18 March is really not a good month to be the child of a DC Comics superhero.  That’s all I’m going to say, as I don’t want to spoil this issue any more than the cover of issue 18 already does.  Jeff Lemire (finally) finishes off Buddy Baker’s time in the Rotworld epic, introduces a couple of new, odd, characters, and shows us what is so ‘tragic’ about Buddy’s day.  I guess that Grant Morrison’s run with Buddy is definitely no longer canon, as there was something much worse in it, that this issue kind of echoes.  I’m happy to see that Rotworld is over and done with, and I hope that Lemire and artist Steve Pugh will be able to return the focus of this book to the Baker family, which was the original formula that made this title so unique.

Avengers #7 – Jonathan Hickman borrows heavily from the concepts used in Warren Ellis’s excellent yet sadly aborted Newuniversal series of a few years back, as he brings the classic New Universe into the modern Marvel Universe.  A ‘White Event’ strikes a college, choosing a new Star Brand, while the Avengers team try to figure out what’s been going on.  I really like Hickman’s writing, and have been mostly enjoying this title since it started, but this issue shows how little is happening in this book in terms of character development, or even team dynamics.  When Hickman wrote Fantastic Four, he balanced the demands of plot with strong character work; I would like to see that happening here.  I do like the small twist he used in choosing the Star Brand character, and I loved Dustin Weaver’s art.  It makes me miss SHIELD.

Blackacre #4 – I can’t seem to make up my mind about this title – I enjoy Duffy Boudreau’s story about a post-Apocalyptic future where the rich have walled themselves off from everyone else, but I can’t seem to get too into the storyline. It feels like there is no real weight to the characters or the situation; it’s kind of the equivalent of a low-budget science fiction series you catch from time to time on TV, enjoy, but never remember to set the DVR for.

Daredevil End of Days #6 Ben Urich must be getting closer to the truth behind Daredevil’s death, the meaning of the word Mapone, and the identity of the new Daredevil, as people he interviews keep turning up dead.  This out of continuity story is no longer about Matt Murdock’s legacy, and is more concentrated on wrapping up its plot, but it’s still a very enjoyable read – some of the best writing by Brian Michael Bendis I’ve read in ages, although it is the art of Klaus Janson, Bill Sienkiewicz, and David Mack that most excites me.

Dial H #10 – The most original book in the New 52 continues to impress, as Nelson and Manteau discover a second kind of dial (Dial S for?), and start testing it out, which takes their partnership to a whole new level.  This is a really enjoyable book, which I would like to encourage more people to check out, as it appears to be selling below DC’s usual cancellation level.

Earth 2 #10 – Wotan is holding The Flash’s mother hostage so he and the guy who has worn the helmet of Nabu will go into the Tower of Fate to get it.  Green Lantern goes to his boyfriend’s grave, and then gets angry at some criminals, before going looking for Hawkgirl.  That all takes 20 pages.  I know that this book is much-loved right now, and it is one of DC’s better comics, but increasingly, I’m not feeling it.  I do like Nicola Scott’s art, but I found Wotan a little too androgynous – I read a few pages before realizing he was supposed to be a man.

Great Pacific #5 – Great Pacific is one title that just keeps getting stranger, as pirates, nuclear scavengers, indigenous Pacific Islanders, and the American military all converge on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and Chas finds himself in the middle of it all.  This is a very strange series, and a very effective one.  It’s good stuff.

Green Arrow #18Jeff Lemire continues to grab my attention with his run on Green Arrow.  Ollie is without friends and weapons, and so he has to rely on a guy he once fired to be his new Microchip, and to help him figure out what all is going on.  He has another run-in with the mysterious Magus, and he learns that his father has kept a lot of secrets from him, all pointing towards the island where he became Green Arrow, and to Black Mesa Arizona.  Lemire has made this book interesting for the first time, and Andrea Sorrentino is killing the art – this work is much richer than his stuff in I, Vampire.

Hellboy in Hell #4 – This issue of Mike Mignola’s new on-going, but sporadic, series caught my attention more than the previous three, simply for the fact that much of the comic is given over to Sir Edward Grey’s story.  I find that Mignola is increasingly putting atmosphere over story, and I find this book hard to care about.  I know it’s going on a bit of a hiatus right now, which is good because I’m not all that sure that I’d pick up the next issue if it came out in a month.  I’ll see how I feel in a little while…

Mara #3 – Brian Wood’s series about sports, celebrity, and the importance of endorsement contracts has moved into the realm of the superhero with this issue, as massive sports star Mara Prince reveals to the world that she has enhanced abilities.  Wood has decompressed this series more than anything he’s ever written, but Ming Doyle keeps the story feeling full and interesting.  Needless to say, the world is not happy about cheering for an enhanced athlete, and Mara finds that only one organization is interested in having her play for their team.  It’s a good series, but not what I’d expected.

Planet of the Apes Cataclysm #7Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman pack a lot into this issue, as Prisca gets Zira involved in some chimp-led activism, and Milo and Cornelius explore the cave system that the mutated humans live in.  This Planet of the Apes series has done a great job of exploring the divisions in ape culture, especially after a natural disaster upends the social order, and have also been telling a pretty exciting story.  I’ve really been enjoying it.

Powers Bureau #2 – I was really surprised to see a new issue of Powers coming so close on the heels of the last one – it’s kind of like Brian Michael Bendis is writing this at the same pace as his mainstream Marvel work, but I’m going to want to see a few issues make their shipping schedule before I start trusting that this title is back on the rails.  Powers has always been a good read, and while it’s never had to constrain itself to the language and content rules of the Marvel line, I have to wonder just what Bendis has to work out of his system, as he gives us a story about powers sperm, and more f-bombs than a Richard Pryor comedy concert.  I’ve never been one to be offended by strong language, but this book has moved into an almost juvenile need to have an expletive or ten on every page, and it detracted from my enjoyment of the story.

Repossessed #3 – Respossessed is a lot like Blackacre – enjoyable and engaging while being read, but not all that memorable afterwards.  With one issue left, I will definitely finish off the story, but I doubt I’d be back for a second volume.  I do like JM Ringuet’s art a great deal though.

Snapshot #2Andy Diggle and Jock’s new mini-series continues to be a good, exciting read, so long as you don’t think too much about things (like why, exactly, a man wanted for murder would be able to talk about his situation over the phone in a cab without the cabbie reacting).  Jock draws some pretty exciting sequences, as our young hero escapes from a hired killer, meets a young woman who is also involved in the whole thing, and gains an understanding of the plot he’s stumbled across.  It’s not Losers, but it’s decent, and thankfully free of any embarrassing ‘geek speak’ like the first issue had.

Swamp Thing #18 – In this issue, the Swamp Thing half of the Rotworld story draws to a close, as does Scott Snyder’s tenure on the title.  Alec Holland and Abby Arcane have their final confrontation with the forces of the Rot, specifically Anton Arcane, and the story ends with a new status quo for the title which, really, may be tricky to turn into much in terms of story potential.  Still, Yanick Paquette’s art is lovely – I wonder where he’s going next?

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #22 – I was getting ready to drop Ultimates, but then I heard that Joe Bennett was coming on as artist.  Bennett is an artist I usually associate with DC, and someone I’ve long admired, despite his tendency to be put on books that I don’t want to read (like Savage Hawkman, before its cancellation).  His art in this issue, which introduces the West Coast Ultimates, a long-mothballed second team, is good, but not yet among his best.  I think it’s an issue with the inking.  Anyway, this series has been fizzling for the last little while, but I’m finding just enough to make it worth holding on to for now.  Hopefully Sam Humphries can instill some of the great energy that Sacrifice has into it.

Winter Soldier #16It’s definitely not Brubaker/Guice, but Jason Latour and Nic Klein are creating some perfectly fine Winter Soldier comics here, as Bucky continues to try to make amends for his past, and the shadow of the Cold War stays long.  This book has the right balance of action and character, and looks very nice.

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

A Plus X #5

Age of Ultron #1

All-New X-Men #8

Cable and X-Force #5

Detective Comics #18

Iron Man #7

Shadowman #5

Superior Spider-Man #5

Bargain Comics:

Age of Ultron #1So my plan was to completely skip this latest Marvel event for the following reasons:  1) Fear Itself and Avengers Vs. X-Men were letdowns; 2) Brian Michael Bendis-written event books tend to fizzle; 3) This is a bit of an Elseworlds event, which will supposedly eventually affect the status quo in the regular Marvel U, but also seems designed to be easily reversed as needed; and 4) it has a ‘chromium’ cover.  Then I went to a comic-con, and saw it for half price, so there you have it.  As a $2 comic, this is a pretty enjoyable Michael Bay/Avengers meets Terminator adventure comic.  Things suck in the future, so the Marvel heroes are living in a sewer tunnel under Central Park, hiding from the Terminators (I mean the Ultrons).  You can’t be mad at Bryan Hitch art ever, and Bendis makes the story start in an exciting way, but I don’t see the point in coming back for the next issue next week.  Unless it’s $2…

Savage Wolverine #1 – It’s a Wolverine comic set in the Savage Land written and drawn by Frank Cho.  You know exactly what it’s going to be, and it’s exactly that.  In other words, I have almost nothing to say about this comic, except that it’s pretty.

Book of the Week:

Arkansas by John Brandon – I don’t read a lot of cime fiction in prose, but when the book is published by McSweeney’s, and is written by the author of the wonderful Citrus County, I’ll give it a look.  Swin and Kyle are not your average criminals – they’ve kind of fallen into working for a rural drug organization, but they spend most of their days working around a national park as counterfeit rangers.  When their boss (in both sides of their jobs) turns up dead, they try to maintain business as usual.  Brandon has put together a terrific, character-driven narrative of eccentric folk, and their desire to make a stable life for themselves.  It’s a good read.

Album of the Week:

Meridian Brothers – Desesperanza – This is a very difficult album to describe.  Imagine a dark, brooding version of Latin cumbia, rejigged for the chill-out room of a rave.  Does that work?  I don’t even know; I don’t really have the vocabulary for this one.  I kind of love it though…

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