The Weekly Round-Up #187

Columns, Top Story

Best Comic of the Week:

Satellite Sam #1 Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin have made the move to Image for this murder mystery set in the realm of 1950s live television.  The actor who plays Satellite Sam on a live-broadcast television show doesn’t show up for work one day, and we get to watch as the director, crew, and other actors have to work around him.  Fraction has a good sense for how shoestring things would have been at that time, while Chaykin’s pencils, in black and white, have a real period feel to them.  I’m not usually a fan of Chaykin’s work, but I feel like this sort of thing is in his wheelhouse.  This was a pretty interesting comic.

Quick Takes:

Abe Sapien #4 – Abe continues to wander around, trying to figure out some of the changes that have overtaken the world.  His travels take him to the Salton Sea, where he meets some young people, and not a lot else happens really.  This is a pretty quiet issue, but it helps to establish the mood of this title moving forward.

Age of Bronze #33 – Eric Shanower’s long-running exploration of the Trojan War is one of the greatest ongoing comics series of all time, which is made all the more frustrating because of the slow pace at which it’s released.  However, each issue is so full of artistic and historical detail, it’s hard to imagine it coming out any quicker.  Shanower is continuing to focus on the drama of Troilus and Cressida, two lovers from opposite sides of the conflict.  Their difficulties work on the level of drama, but also help to humanize the long stretch of the war that was daily skirmishes with no real gain for either side.  This is a brilliant comic that I cannot recommend enough.  The best news is that a new trade is being released this month, bringing the collection up to date with this issue – that means it’s a good time for new readers to jump onboard.

Avengers #15The ‘Prelude to Infinity’ continues, and Jonathan Hickman and co-writer Nick Spencer are just lining things up.  The team puts a stop to the Origin Bomb site that was sending out the signal that was ruining the world’s use of electrical power, while up in space, SWORD (which I guess hasn’t been destroyed by what’s going on in Uncanny Avengers yet) spots alien vessels on their way to Earth.  I’m having a hard time maintaining my interest in this book right now, which is unfortunate since it started out so promisingly.  I’m hoping that once Infinity gets underway, things will improve.

Avengers AI #1 – I haven’t read the end of Age of Ultron yet, nor last week’s lead-in to this new series, but I thought I’d check it out anyway, seeing as I’ve long been a fan of the Vision.  It seems Hank Pym is putting together a small band of artificial intelligence-based heroes (Vision, Victor Mancha from the Runaways, and a Doombot) to handle an AI outbreak.  The issue moves a little too quickly in Sam Humphries’s hands, without enough space for any of the characters to establish themselves.  Part of the problem is André Lima Araújo’s artwork, which is kind of broad and expansive.  I came away from this issue with some questions, especially concerning the character Monica Chang (who doesn’t appear to be the Ultimate Black Widow), and why anyone would feel the need to mess with the Vision’s design again, when he is such a well-designed character without all the Bryan Hitch-style texture pads on his arms.  I don’t know if I’ll come back to give the second issue of this a try – I want to like this book, but there’s just not enough there for me.

Batman Incorporated #12 – It kind of feels like this book is just passing time towards its conclusion.  In the wake of Damian’s death, it has lost a lot of its heart, as we get a ‘roided up angry cyber-Batman fighting Leviathan, while his foot soldiers make an alliance to help save Gotham.  This is not a bad comic, but it kind of feels like the final act of way too many action movies to really keep my interest at the moment, and I expect more subtext from Grant Morrison.

Catalyst Comix #1To begin with, this is the deal of the week, with 28 pages of story for only $3.  Joe Casey has brought back some of the old Dark Horse ‘Comic’s Greatest World’ characters – leftovers from a world-building experiment that Dark Horse tried in the 90s that were particularly uninspired, as I remember them.  This series is going to have three stories in each issue, with the front spot alternating every three months.  All are written by Casey, and he’s brought together an impressive line-up of artists with Dan McDaid, Paul Maybury, and Ulises Farinas.  This is Casey in his Godland-style, Kirby-inspired best, as he brings gigantic threats to the world, to be handled by aging, unenthusiastic characters.  There is a lot of bombastic writing to go with the great art – at times, perhaps a little too much over-writing.  I feel like I need to read this book again to get a better feel for what Casey is trying to do, but he has caught my attention.

Daredevil: Dark Nights #2 – Lee Weeks is using his three-part story to remind everyone just how much goodness can be squeezed into a straight-forward superhero story when the writer/artist decides to avoid decompression and instead focus on telling a good tale.  DD is racing across the city during a terrible snowstorm to try to retrieve a transport heart that was lost in transit.  Weeks explores the ramifications of what DD has to ignore to remain on task, and shows us a very human side to this character.  I really wish Weeks drew more comics; his art is great.

Dark Skullkickers Dark #1 / Sullkickers #23 – The gimmicky (and hilarious) series of fake relaunches comes to an end with this issue, as all the characters (and I mean almost everyone we’ve seen since the series began) all end up at the same bar.  This concept has been used before (most recently in the Vertigo House of Secrets and in Shadowpact), but it’s Skullkickers, so this take on it is a lot of fun.  I’m sure this book is an acquired taste for a lot of people – medieval humour books not being everyone’s cup of tea – but I love it, mostly for the way that writer Jim Zubkavich can send up other comics while telling a great, funny story.

Dial H #14As this book gets closer to its end-date, China Miéville is throwing ever more wacky concepts at us.  Nelson, Roxy, and their companions are now aware that an Operator has come back onto the line, and as they travel through war-ravaged worlds, the need to get to the Exchange, the centre of all the dial-based weirdness, grows.  This is an exciting and capable issue of one of DC’s most original titles.

Green Arrow #22 – Jeff Lemire’s take on this character continues to impress, as Ollie goes looking for one of the dragons from his vision, and ends up finding a key Green Arrow character who hasn’t been seen in the New 52 yet.  He also runs up against Count Vertigo, who is a lot more emo than his classic Suicide Squad incarnation, and Ollie learns a few surprises about his family.  Andrea Sorrentino’s art just keeps getting better and better.

Mister X: Eviction #3 – It is clear, reading the conclusion to this mini-series, that Dean Motter didn’t really accomplish a whole lot with this story.  Our hero and his reporter friend help free his other friend from prison, but that’s really just about it; kind of strange that a story featuring a character who is hardly ever seen would be so light in terms of plot.  Still, you read Mister X for style, and that is something that it pulls off very well.  This satisfies my need for a Dean Motter fix for a while now….

The Movement #3 – I was more than excited and ready to support a new, unconventional series by Gail Simone, but now we are three issues in, and I have yet to develop any kind of liking for any of the characters.  What’s more, I’m finding Simone’s writing to be kind of disjointed and a little hard to follow.  For example, much of this issue is taken up with a useless, cliched fight with an old Wildstorm character, which adds nothing to the story.  I think I’m going to have to put this title on notice.

The Superior Foes of Spider-Man #1Marvel gets a lot of praise for letting Hawkeye, the Matt Fraction/David Aja title, tell stories that feel more independent and outside of the constraints of the Marvel Universe.  I feel like they’re trying for something similar with this new series, written by Nick Spencer and featuring art from the wonderful Steve Lieber.  Boomerang narrates this issue, about the crew he’s put together to pull off a job and finally, hopefully, stick it to Spider-Man.  Nothing is quite as it seems though (this is a Nick Spencer comic after all), and Boomerang’s motives aren’t as clear as he wants the other to believe.  This comic is funny, and just feel’s good.  I was maybe expecting something like Secret Six, but this is nowhere near that dark.  What it is, though, is my favourite Marvel debut of the last few months.  Check this out!

Swamp Thing #22 – We get the obligatory John Constantine guest shot in this issue, which feels like the most Vertigo-like chapter of the New 52 Swamp Thing’s life.  Alec is on the trail of Seeder – the guy who is using magic to alter the Green to help people all over the world.  He tracks him to a small village in Scotland, where he’s made a tree that grows whiskey.  At first, this seems like a win-win situation for the economically depressed village, until people, including Constantine, start acting very strangely.  I like the way Charles Soule has approached this book, and think that Kano is doing an amazing job on the art.  I especially like the way that, when Swamp Thing grows out of a spruce tree, he’s covered in needles and pine cones.  Kano’s art reminds me a lot of Sean Phillips this month; always a good thing.

Thief of Thieves #15 – Redmond is ready to finally pull the Venice job that we’ve been hearing about since this series began, but he is clearly working his own game.  Robert Kirkman and his co-writers (this issue credits both James Asmus and Andy Diggle) have done a terrific job establishing this crime series, and the labyrinthine relationships that make up Redmond’s professional and personal life.  This is always a great read.

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

Detective Comics #22

Iron Man #12

Legends of the Dark Knight #10

Suicide Risk #3

Uber #3

Bargain Comics:

Age of Ultron #8Well, this is just about as incomprehensible as everyone said it was.  Why am I still picking these up (even at $2.50 an issue)?  For the same reason people slow down when passing a car crash.  It’s so bad it’s fascinating – I like to imagine the discussion in the planning meetings where this series was discussed, and wondering who thought this was a good idea.

Bloodshot #10 & 11 – Unlike the Harbinger tie-in issues, the Bloodshot portions of the Harbinger Wars are pretty unnecessary, as they simply drag out scenes from the main event, without adding a lot of extra insight or characterization.  I can see why Duane Swierczynski is being replaced on this book…

Captain Marvel #8 – Kelly Sue DeConnick and Christopher Sebela are keeping things light in this series.  This issue features Monica Rambeau, my favourite Captain Marvel, so that makes me happy.

Deadpool #1-5 – I am not, in any way, a fan of Deadpool.  He has, at times, not annoyed me (like in Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force), but I’ve never felt the desire to read his solo series.  The thing is, I’ve heard a lot of good stuff about this most recent series, and it’s drawn by Tony Moore, who I think very highly of, so I thought I’d check it out.  This is actually some pretty funny stuff, as Deadpool has to fight all of the former Presidents of the United States, who have been resurrected and want to destroy America.  This turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

Indestructible Hulk #9Mark Waid does a good job of bringing together his two Marvel books in this story that guest stars Daredevil.  The story is kind of a basic one, where the two heroes have to track down some stolen technology, but it allows for some nice character moments between two characters who don’t really have much of a history together.

Legion of Super-Heroes #17&18 – A little ways back, it was announced that Keith Giffen would be joining Paul Levitz on the Legion, and I found that my hopes for some good comics featuring my favourite superhero team were rekindled.  Then, we found out that, like many DC creators, Giffen walked off the book before his first issue was released, and I gave up.  I was curious though, and so picked up these two issues (Giffen drew the first, but only co-wrote the second).  Something bad has happened that has shut off all technology, and for two issues various groups of Legionnaires are struggling to save themselves or other people.  That’s about it.  The Giffen-drawn issue is a nice throwback to the days when this was one of the best titles being published, but the combination of decompressed storytelling, too many locations, and not enough story structure really hurt this.  Perhaps, had Giffen stayed, things might have improved; instead, this book is being cancelled this summer, and more people are going to miss it in theory than in actuality.

Punisher War Zone #2-4 – The one thing that made Greg Rucka’s under-appreciated Punisher run work so well was that he barely let Frank talk or be a character in his own book.  That is continued here, as the Avengers work to take Castle down, and he remains a few steps ahead of them.  This series works pretty well, and I really like Carmine Di Gianomenico’s art.

Ultimate Comics X-Men #26-27That ‘other’ Brian Wood X-Men comic, the one that is not lighting up the sales charts, is still a decent read, as the US military decides to take Utopia from Kitty Pryde’s band of X-Men, and the real person behind all the uncharacteristic actions of its citizens becomes clear.  This is a decent read, but it’s kind of strange.

Wolverine and the X-Men #27AU – I guess Matt Kindt is getting a lot of those ‘pay your dues’ types of jobs these days, as he writes this complete throwaway of a cross-over issue that has Wolverine and Sue Storm wrestling with the magnitude of their mission into the past.  Marvel did a decent job of minimizing the tie-ins to this ridiculous event, but like a sucker, I ended up getting this one anyway.

Worlds’ Finest #8-11 – These four issues of Worlds’ Finest have a total of nine different artists who worked on them.  Consistency is the most consistently lacking thing in this book – the look and the plotting are all over the place.  Issue 8 has something like five splash-pages, in a 20-page comic in which barely anything happens.  I remember when Paul Levitz was a favourite writer of mine; those days are long gone.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland

Written by Harvey Pekar
Art by Joseph Remnant

I didn’t start reading Harvey Pekar’s comics until just before he died a few years ago, and has slowly been dipping my toes into his brand of crotchety autobiography.  Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland is kind of an odd book – it’s as much a history of the city that he’s so closely associated with as it is his own memoir of the city and how it shaped him.

The book meanders quite a bit – it opens with a history of the fortunes of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, before giving us a condensed story of how the city grew (and then began to shrink).  In between, Pekar shares some of his own memories of growing up, and living in the city through its roughest moments.

Like many an industrial city in the US, Cleveland has seen better days.  It has lost its manufacturing base, and has seen its population shrink (Pekar is especially interested in charting the exodus of white people; I often forget how obsessed Americans are with their racial divide).  Still, Pekar has remained, working as a career civil servant, and writing for comics and music magazines.

This book doesn’t really make the reader want to visit Cleveland (although I’d love to hang out at John Zubal’s bookstore, which Pekar devotes a fair amount of space to), but it does humanize the place.  Much of the material in this book is familiar – it seems that Pekar spent a lot of time revisiting the same themes and events in his life – but it kept my interest.

Supermag #1

by Jim Rugg, with Brian Maruca and Robin Bougie

Supermag is not an easy project to define, but then, none of Jim Rugg’s comics work fits into easy classification.  His books Street Angel andAfrodisiac are both brilliant explorations of genre, but he plays so much with the medium that they are neither parodies of the superhero genre, nor straight examples of it.

With Supermag, Rugg has created something like a comics magazine, filled with short strips that show off the versatility of his skill.  Many of the strips are just one or two pages long, and don’t really end.  In many cases, I was just settling into a longer story when I realized that Rugg had already moved on to something else.  He’s very good at creating character in a limited amount of space, so I often found that to be disappointing – especially with his more ‘slice of life’ pieces – imagine reading one page of an Adrian Tomine story, and you can understand what I’m talking about.

Rugg also plays around with some of the classic comics genres, like war comics, but subverts or twists them, such as in his story about the US Army’s top golfer, who is used to fight off an air attack.  We get an army ape attacking a meeting of Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il, and Hugo Chavez.  We also get an appearance of the Bald Eagle, a character from Street Angel.

Rugg is a terrific artist with a strong eye for design.  I’d like to see him settle into a longer piece of work again, as I feel he can create some very powerful long work, but it was nice to go through this book to see how truly talented he is.

The Lovely Horrible Stuff

by Eddie Campbell

There’s a point in the first half of this rather odd graphic memoir where Eddie Campbell laments the fact that, where he and his wife used to discuss sex over their meals, now they talk about money.  When one is young, money is largely celebrated in its absence, but as one gets older, it raises in its importance.

That’s kind of the point ofThe Lovely Horrible Stuff, which is split into two very different sections.  The first is a personal memoir, with Campbell examining his relationship with his money.  He discusses the amount of time and energy independent artists have to expend to get paid for their labour, and then goes on to talk about how, flush with his share of the spoils from From Hell, he lent money to his father-in-law, who then proceeded to tie the money up in a number of improbably lawsuits against the retirement village to which he’d moved.

Campbell’s point here seems to be that money is complicated, and best left to others to manage, but that where money is concerned, no one can be complicated.  Campbell’s long-time travel agent had constructed her own little Ponzi scheme, resulting in the Campbell’s losing their plane tickets.

In the second part of the book, the Campbells travel to the island of Yap, a small part of Micronesia.  Historically, the people of Yap had placed their wealth in Rai, large stone disks that were carved from limestone on a neighbouring island.  Yapese society developed around the value of these disks, which were rarely moved.  Campbell gives an overview of the economics of the island, and how it was used to prove various points by Western economists over the years, but really, this is a travel memoir that has little more than tangential connections to the first half of the book.  I also found it to be the more enjoyable half.

Campbell’s always been an interesting and singular cartoonist.  For most of this book, he mixes photographs with his own drawings, which is a little jarring at times.  This is an interesting read.

Album of the Week:

Quasimoto – Yessir Whatever – You don’t get any more blunted and dusty than the beats that Madlib rolls over on this collection of unreleased tracks from the last twenty years.  Madlib’s Quasimoto persona is much less annoying here (basically, it’s Madlib sucking on helium or something like that before rapping) than it’s been elsewhere, and this feels like just the right thing for a hot summer’s night.


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