The Weekly Round-Up #179 With Demeter, Battlefields, Post York, The Private Eye, Archer and Armstrong, Suicide Squad & More

This last week-end, TCAF, the Toronto Comics Art Festival was held.  It’s always a great show, as the emphasis is strictly on comics and their creators, and the creators who come are all small-press, or independent artists.  Sure, Jeff Lemire was there, but he was there for his work on books like Underwater Welder, not for Justice League Dark.  I cannot recommend this show enough, if you are ever able to attend.

Best Comic of the Week:


by Becky Cloonan

One of the best things about attending TCAF (the Toronto Comics Art Festival), and there are many of them, is that Becky Cloonan has, for the last three years, had a new mini-comic for sale.  This year, that book is Demeter, and it fits well with its predecessors, Wolves and The Mire.

This book tells the story of Anna and Colin, two lovers who live on a remote island or promontory.  Colin fishes while Anna looks after their farm.  We learn at the start that, seven months prior, Colin was almost lost at sea, and did lose all memory of his life before that moment.

As the story unfolds, we learn that Colin only lives because of a bargain that Anna struck, and that the period of time she negotiated is drawing to its close.

I am a huge fan of Cloonan’s art, and see that she continues to grow as a writer.  Her characters are believable, and I like the casual approach she takes to magical realism in her story.  This is a pretty straight-forward story, but Cloonan’s wonderful art elevates it to a new level.

Other Notable Comics:

Battlefields #6

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Russ Braun

I really don’t understand why I don’t hear and see more about Garth Ennis’s excellent war series Battlefields.  This issue finishes off the third volume of this terrific series, and brings to a close the third storyline featuring Anna Kharkova, a Russian ‘Night-Witch’; a pilot who was trained to aid in the fight against the Nazis in the Second World War.

When this issue opens, it is 1964, and the visibly aged Anna Kharkova, former hero of the Soviet Union, is trapped in a gulag in Eastern Siberia.  She’s been imprisoned with her friend Mouse, mostly because of her long-standing rivalry with Merkulov, the former NKVD intelligence officer.  Ironically, Merkulov is now running the camp where Kharkova is incarcerated, and doesn’t pass up a single opportunity to belittle and degrade her, not that he ever gets his wish.

When a top-secret Russian jet is brought to the camp to be tested, Merkulov sees his chance to get back into the Communist Party’s good graces, while Anna just sees another opportunity to fly.

Ennis has surprised me with the balance he’s found in these comics, between traditional war comics tropes and strong, believable characters.  Anna Kharkova started out as a bit of a stereotype, but she’s become a solid, respectable character over the course of her story.  This issue’s end left me with a small smile, and I could not think of a better ending for her story.  Great stuff.

Post York #1

by James Romberger

I have long had a thing for post-collapse comics, so was immediately drawn to James Romberger’s oversized comic Post York, which is set in a New York that has been drowned by rising water levels.

This is mostly a silent comic, and much is left to the reader to determine.  Some guy is out foraging through the city.  He finds a collapsing movie theatre with a pier outside it, so he ties up, and goes in to see what he can find.  While pilfering some cans of cat food, he is attacked by the person who lives there, and at that point, the story splits into two possible threads.

In the second, everyone survives, and later the guy discovers a whale trapped among the lower levels of the building he lives in.

This comic is more about atmosphere than it is character, but I really like how Romberger sets things up.  He makes good use of the large pages, spacing out his panels so that there is often a lot of space between them, which is evocative of the empty city.

The comic comes with a flexi-disc record, but as I don’t have a record paper and am loath to tear my books apart, I have no idea what that sounds like.

The Private Eye #2 

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Marcos Martin with Muntsa Vicente

There can sometimes be a danger when supporting creator-owned, web-only, no-middlemen comics that they could be a little like eating organic, gluten and sugar-free muffins, completely deserving of respect for their earnestness, their politics, and their sense of place in the world, but not actually all that good.  And then there’s The Private Eye, the completely independent, pay what you can digital comic from comics legends Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin.

It’s as good as it is good for you, as ethically sound as it is amazing entertainment, and completed to a standard that is higher than just about anything on the comic book stands, right up there with books like Saga (obviously), The Walking Dead, The Manhattan Projects, Fatale, and East of West.

In Vaughan and Martin’s world, everyone lives with a fake identity (or two).  A young woman has hired an illegal PI to look into her past and make sure that her identity is safe from exposure by the paparazzi, but she’s turned up dead.  Her sister thinks that the PI may have had something to do with it, but we learn she was part of a mysterious group, and suspect that whatever is going on has to do with them.

This is a quick-paced comic, filled with gorgeous art.  I’m not a fan of webcomics, but this is one that I look forward to a great deal.  You can check out the first two issues at Panel Syndicate.  It’s well worth dropping a few dollars on.

Quick Takes:

Archer & Armstrong #0Now that the first long arc is over and done with, it’s time to let A&A enjoy a quiet night, where Archer begins to re-educate himself by reading literature his religious parents had banned, starting with the Epic of Gilgamesh.  Of course, Armstrong was there, and so he tells the story of how he and his brothers first came across The Boon.  It’s a pretty good read.

Avengers #11 – This was a really fun issue of Avengers, as Jonathan Hickman sends a squad undercover in Macau to find out who was trying to buy a super-weapon from AIM.  This read like a light-hearted issue of Secret Avengers, as Bobby and Sam get some AIM bucketheads drunk, Carol flirts over a game of cards, and Shang-Chi is the only person to act like a superhero.  I felt that Natasha’s actions were a little out of character (and probably got her in trouble with Captain America), but generally, this was a very entertaining issue.  I don’t understand why everyone’s dressed so strangely on the cover, but it’s all good.

Avengers Arena #9 – When this series began, a number of its characters were new and unknown; now Dennis Hopeless is taking the time to develop Apex, and to establish her as a major antagonist.  As it turns out, Katy has a twin brother who shares her body, only she’s been in control for a couple of years.  We already know that she is a master at manipulating others, but it’s pretty interesting to see how well she can play her brother too, as their actions cause a split between Nico and Chase, and have everyone questioning the morality of their decisions in Arcade’s world.  It’s a very good issue, even if it doesn’t even attempt to explain what’s going on with Darkhawk.

Batman #20What started as such a promising run continues to wallow in its mediocreness, as Batman fights Clayface, wears a couple of toy-ready costumes, and gets stuck in a trash compactor with Lucius Fox in a scene right out of Star Wars.  It feels more and more like Scott Snyder is writing to Greg Capullo’s ‘strengths’, which means that the fights are getting bigger (as is Clayface), and the story is getting slimmer.  I don’t have high hopes for ‘Year Zero’, mostly because I don’t understand why we would ever need to revisit Batman’s origin again, but I’ll give it a couple of issues to impress me, just because Snyder earned some capital with me after American Vampire.

Fearless Defenders #4 – I really want to like this book, but after all the stories around the Disir, and the way in which Hela was such a big part of the last New Mutants run, I’m getting pretty bored with stories about Asgardian death-women.  I’m kind of looking forward to this arc ending, so the series can focus instead on the great characters in it.  It looks like the next issue (well, after the Age of Ultron tie-in that I won’t be buying) is going to be a bit of a recruitment drive issue; I always love those.

Harbinger #12 – Once again, Joshua Dysart impresses with his writing, as Peter’s crew arrives in Las Vegas and begins to get to know the kids that escaped Project Rising Spirit in Harbinger Wars.  There is a lot of good character work here, as the larger event gets fleshed out.

Prophet #35 – This issue follows two stories, as Old Man Prophet and his crew visit the Troll, and Prophet finds his old ship, while New-Father John Prophet and the Earth Empire fight to take the towers on Earth.  This issue can be read as a poem, and it probably makes more sense, as Brandon Graham continues to just toss strange idea after strange idea into the pot, and while it works, it’s a little hard to describe.  I really enjoy this book, and there really is nothing like it being published these days.

Secret Avengers #4There’s a lot packed in to this issue of Secret Avengers, as AIM begins using a fleet of Iron Patriot drones to attack targets the US government was hoping to attack anyway, which means that SHIELD feels the need to deploy the Hulk against them.  I’ve been enjoying the cloak-and-dagger aspects of this series, as well as the rivalry between Maria Hill and Daisy Johnston.  Nick Spencer has toned down his penchant for long, complicated stories, but is still giving us some pretty good stuff.

Star Wars #5 – Here’s an all-action issue that works very well.  Leia and a squad of fighters have to fight off a Star Destroyer, an Interdictor, and a mess of Tie Fighters, while Han and Chewie evade Boba Fett on Coruscant.  We also get to see a little of Luke when he was ignorant of the Force, and check in on Vader, who is about to go off on a mission of his own.  Brian Wood’s Star Wars continues to be excellent; my only complaint is that each issue is not longer.

Storm Dogs #5 – With one issue left in this ‘first season’ of Storm Dogs, this comic basically move the plot forward.  The mining company on Amaranth investigates the strange gems found in the heads of the indigenous Joppa, which apparently open doorways to somewhere.  We also learn a great deal about Doll, the intersex wirehead character.  Hine and Doug Braithwaite have built a very interesting science fiction world in this series, and I’ve been enjoying their story a great deal.  I’m pleased to hear that plans are continuing to return to Storm Dogs after next issue ends.

Suicide Squad #20As much as I loved the original Suicide Squad (by which I mean the John Ostrander super-villain comic), the New 52 relaunch was a huge disappointment.  Aside from messing with some iconic characters (making Amanda Waller skinny; redesigning Deadshot’s perfect costume), the stories lacked drive, and did nothing to impress me.  I was curious when I heard that Ales Kot was coming on to write the book.  His recently completed Change was a truly bizarre comic, and it’s hard to imagine a writer like him on any series at DC, which is most renowned for the degree to which it micro-manages its creators’ ideas.  Still, I wanted to give this a chance.  The story title references Michel Foucault’s famous work on prisons, and Hunter S. Thompson’s name gets dropped early into the book.  This issue plays on the classic ‘Case Files’ idea, as a new, shadowy figure discusses the psychology of the main cast – Deadshot, Harley Quinn, King Shark, and the Unknown Soldier, who appears to be playing the Rick Flagg role on the team, albeit a little more brutally.  Patrick Zircher’s art fits the tone of the book very well, and I love that when the Soldier punches Voltaic (a throw-away character), the Scrabble tiles he scatters spell out ‘crunk’.  It seems that Kot has some newer ideas for this series, and since, as of this week, we haven’t heard that he’s walked off the book yet (personally, I’m not preordering any new creative teams from DC until I know for sure that they are staying on a title), I’m definitely going to be back next month.  It’s too soon to hope that this could be as good as the classic title, but I am feeling some optimism…

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #24 – Sam Humphries finishes off his run on this title without really drawing any of his plot-lines to a close.  Sure, the team works together to save Sacremento, but the West Coast Ultimates are still on the loose.  Joshua Hale Fialkov is taking over this book with the next issue, and I hope that he does something to return it to its former glory.  I was ready to drop this title, but I like Fialkov so I’ll give him a chance.  There have been rumors that this title (and maybe the whole non-Spider-Man Ultimate line?) is closing down soon anyway.  It has definitely lost its steam since Jonathan Hickman left this title.

Uncanny Avengers #8 For the first time since this series began, Rick Remender hits almost all the right notes (I don’t know why Wasp and Scarlet Witch are always so bitchy) in a story that mainly focuses on the Apocalypse Twins and what happened in Uncanny X-Force.  This series is beginning to show a lot more potential.

Uncanny X-Force #4 – I feel like Sam Humphries run on this title is suffering from some very serious issues with pacing.  Barely anything happens this issue, as Psylocke gets knocked around inside Bishop’s head, Spiral gets tired and feels defeated, and the good Fantomexes fight with the bad.  Bishop and Spiral are taken down too easily, and it’s not clear what is happening with the young mutant Ginny until the very end of the issue.  There’s an incredibly awkward moment between Storm and Psylocke as well.  I’ve noticed that when Ron Garney is on a book, the pacing is often off, but I think this book needs a lot more editing and refining – the potential is there though.  Future issues have been solicited without an artist’s name attached, which is often a sign of trouble, but I’m choosing to hope that this book is going to get better.  I’ll give it a few more months, but if it doesn’t settle down, I’m probably going to abandon it.  Almost all of these characters are going to be in the Brian Wood X-Men title anyway.

The Walking Dead #110 – Plans are afoot to take on Negan and his Saviors, but first Jesus needs to stop one of his people from warning the bad guys.  After that, Rick takes a group of his most trusted friends to The Kingdom to prepare, where Michonne’s reaction to King Ezekiel almost tanks the whole thing.  Later, the two have a good conversation, and we get a better sense of who Ezekiel is, in a way that brings the book back from the edge of silliness.  It’s Walking Dead, I always love it.  And it has a tiger.

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

Astonishing X-Men #62

Avengers Assemble #15AU

Avenging Spider-Man #20

Thor God of Thunder #8

Threshold #5

Uber #1

Wolverine #3

Bargain Comics:

Age of Ultron #4The benefit to reading this series a little behind everyone else (aside from saving cash) is that, while I know that it’s going to get hella stupid soon, I can still enjoy these earlier issues as a superhero version of ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ without having to invest in the plot or characters; we all know that whatever happens is going to be reversed, especially since these aren’t even the characters we’ve come to know and care about.  After saying all that, this kind of sucks.

Avengers Assemble #14AU – Writer Al Ewing and artist Butch Guice give us a story about a great day off for the Black Widow that goes all wrong when Ultron attacks, and plunges the world into the Age of Ultron.  Black Widow is one of Marvel’s more interesting characters, but she’s not often handled all that well; it’s refreshing to see an intelligent take on how she gets through her days.  I’m always happy to see a Butch Guice comic, but I was surprised to see how different his art looks when not inked by himself and coloured by Bettie Breitweiser.  That’s not to say that Tom Palmer and Frank D’Armata do a bad job; it’s just much more conventional.

Bloodshot #8 & 9 – With these two issues, I’m caught up to the start of the Harbinger Wars, and it’s kind of clear that Duane Swierczynski either decided to, or was told to, pad out the story for a while, so that it could line up with what was happening in Harbinger.  It’s strange how, in Joshua Dysart’s hands, Project Rising Spirit can seem to make so much sense, but in Swierczynski’s, it’s kind of a ridiculous organization, with it’s paraplegic control centre, and it’s big fat granny security guard.  I can see why Valiant feels the need to overhaul this title…

Cable and X-Force #5-7Dennis Hopeless’s series is an entertaining read, but when you pause and realize how little happened over three issues, you have to wonder where this book is headed.  Cable has the team spring an alien from the Raft, where Colossus happens to be incarcerated, while he takes a ship from SWORD and has a bit of a reunion with Cyclops, his father.  In three issues.  I like all the scenes with Colossus, and I feel that Hopeless has a good handle on Kitty Pryde.  I also liked seeing Boom Boom, who is perhaps part of the team now?  The odd couple stuff between Forge and Dr. Nemesis feels very forced though.

Superior Spider-Man #6AU – Much was made of the fact that, in Age of Ultron, Brian Michael Bendis is giving us Peter Parker’s mind in Peter Parker’s body, a result of the fact that that cross-over had been written a while ago, before Doc Ock moved in.  This tie-in establishes that it is Otto we’re seeing, as he tries to go his own way in the fight against Ultron, and ultimately realizes the value of teamwork.  Christos Gage is one of Marvel’s best go-to guys for fixing poorly executed storylines, and he really should be getting more work.  I’d buy a monthly book on his name alone.  Dexter Soy’s art is a little better than when he debuted on Captain Marvel, but it’s still messier than I would like.

Ultimate Comics Iron Man #1-4 – This mini-series unfortunately serves as a prime example of Marvel pushing out series that no one is really asking for, and that do nothing to further their characters.  I bought this because I enjoy writer Nathan Edmondson’s work at Image, but found this to be nothing more than a bland, generic Iron Man comic.  That it’s set in the Ultimate universe is barely apparent – we don’t see the hard-drinking, wise-cracking Tony Stark that has been fun in other comics, and while the Mandarin is re-invented as a corporate entity, there’s nothing particularly fresh and edgy going on.  I do like Matteo Buffagini’s art, in a Pascual Ferry kind of way, but I doubt I’m going to remember this book in another week.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Red Diary/The Re[a]d Diary

by Teddy Kristiansen with Steven T. Seagle

They are not household names the way that other comics collaborator duos are, but Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen are among the frequent partners in comics that I would say are particular favourites of mine.  TheirHouse of Secrets was a Vertigo classic, and It’s a Bird is one of the most original graphic novels DC has ever published.  I was excited to learn that they were collaborating again on a new book, although that’s not really what happened.

The Red Diary was written and painted by Kristiansen and released in France.  It is published here for the first time in English.  On the flip-side of the book is Seagle’s attempt at transliteration.  He used a rather silly approach to translating that he created in college, where he took the epigraph at the front of the book, and turned each word in the Dutch translation into an English word that it resembled it, and from there, came up with a completely different story, using the exact same pages and panels, even attempting to match the length of the text boxes.

In Kristiansen’s story, an aging biographer finds himself drawn into the story of a painter whose work has never made a mark on the world.  He can’t understand why such a talented artist, who he knows, through reading his journals, received many commissions, has left no trace on the records of the art world.  His investigations turn up a very interesting story, echoing his own sense of loss after the death of his wife.

Seagle’s story seems more straight-forward, about a painter who gets into a spot of trouble for a dalliance with his patron’s wife, and who ultimately loses the ability to paint.  That’s how things seem, but there is a greater secret at play in this man’s life, and I honestly didn’t see it coming.

The First World War looms large in both stories, having a profound effect on these painters, and on their world.  I’m a sucker for a good WWI story, so I found that I loved both takes on this story.  Kristiansen is a gifted artist, and the oversized format of this book really shows off his talents.  Highly recommended.  I’m not even sure which story I liked better…

Album of the Week:

 Lapalux – Nostalchic – A great album for fans of the Brainfeeder sound.  Lots of spacey electronic beats, and an album worthy of being on the same label as Flying Lotus and Thundercat.  Good stuff.

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