The Weekly Round-Up #189 With Elephantmen, Archer & Armstrong, BPRD, Conan, Half Past Danger, Harbinger Wars & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Elephantmen #50It’s a pretty big deal that Elephantmen, a pretty unconventional title, has made it to its fiftieth issue.  This is a very introspective anniversary issue.  Someone sends Hip Flask a bunch of paintings depicting the realities of Elephantman life – blue collar physical jobs, and social isolation (all really painted by the phenomenal Gabriel Bautista) – and Miki listens to the recording the unnamed painter makes about his own life.  It’s a powerful issue – writer Richard Starkings is examining race and class in America, and many of the visuals remind me of some of the classic photos of people like Lewis Hine, who documented America’s working class almost a century ago.  On the flip-side of this comic is a reprint of the first issue of Elephantmen, which is nice to read again.  I could argue about having to pay $6 for a comic that I’ve already read a sizeable chunk of, but Bautista’s paintings are worth the price of admission alone.  Congratulations to Mr. Starkings and his crew for reaching this milestone with a comic that sometimes confuses or confounds, but never disappoints.

Quick Takes:

All-New X-Men #14 – I have been finding this title a bit of a tougher go of late, as nothing much has been happening in Brian Michael Bendis’s story.  This issue is full of action though, as the original X-Men, alongside Wolverine and Kitty, take on Hydra and Mystique’s Brotherhood.  Great action scenes from Stuart Immonen and a few good character moments (mostly belonging to Iceman) make for a satisfying read, although I’m really getting tired of old school Jean Grey.

Animal Man #22I’m not sure how I feel about Buddy going up against more nasty-looking bad guys, in this case a group of men who have turned themselves into the animal kingdom version of Frankenstein’s monster.  I’d like to see a little less gross-out horror in this book, as the Rot story became a little visually tiresome as it wore on.  Also, Steve Pugh, who drew most of this issue, is such an incredible character artist that he should be given more of a chance to really dig into the Baker family.  I did like the bits about Maxine trying to resurrect her brother in the Red though, and am curious to see if Jeff Lemire is going to be able to make me like a certain Teen Titans villain who shows up here.

Archer & Armstrong #11 – Our heroes are caught in the Faraway, which is kind of like the Valiant Universe version of the Savage Land, only a little more Savage.  There’s a lot happening here – Archer’s sister has her parents yelling at her in her head, a journalist has been wandering around for a hundred years, and General Redacted discovers just how little he likes the changes that America has gone through, as seen through the window of what Archer’s parents told him growing up (the stuff about Obama is hilarious).  A very solid issue from Fred Van Lente and new artist (does Valiant even have regular artists?) Pere Perez.

Avengers #16 – I feel honor-bound to love this comic, if only for the one panel filled with Spaceknights (although, of course, there’s no sign of Rom).  The problem is, this is an incredibly disjointed comic, as Jonathan Hickman and co-writer Nick Spencer just move pieces around on the chessboard, trying to get things ready for the upcoming Infinity event.  While this issue does a good job of showing why Bruce Banner is not the guy who should be running a war room, there’s not a lot else of note going on here.  It’s just a lot of vague threats and an unclear sense of doom.  But, you know, Spaceknights, so I’m happy.

Batman ‘66 #1 I think it’s important to preface any discussion of this comic with the statement that I have absolutely no feelings of nostalgia for the old Batman TV show.  I was too young to watch it as it aired, but I did see many episodes in syndication growing up, and it always left me a little cold.  I haven’t ever watched it as an adult though, and wondered if there was a level of irony to it that had escaped me.  Now the comic comes along, and it’s written by Jeff Parker, with art by Jonathan Case.  These are two creators I admire a great deal, so I thought it would be worth checking this out.  It’s a fun throwback of a Batman comic, and I especially liked Case’s use of aggressive zip-toning and bright colours, but ultimately, I found myself getting a little bored.  Still, I can completely understand why this Batman series is more appealing for many fans than any of the current New 52 Bat-books.

Batwoman #22 – I wasn’t expecting an appearance by Bane in this issue, which was a nice surprise (although it only underscores how much I miss Gail Simone’s Secret Six).  Kate is trying to track down Batman for the DEO, and is therefore interviewing some of his enemies, while Bette is planning her role in helping Kate get away from Director Bones and his crew.  This feels like the beginning of a very big arc, and Trevor McCarthy’s art keeps improving in his efforts to fill in the hole left by JH Williams’s move to only co-writing the book.

BPRD Hell on Earth #109 – The creepy Wasteland arc, with wonderfully dark and atmospheric art by Laurence Campbell, ends on a bit of a down note, and I like it all the more for that.  I am happy that Mike Mignola and his co-writers have been putting more emphasis on minor characters lately, and have loved every moment of this three-parter that follows a group of agents through the ruined United States.  This issue brings back a character from a few months ago, and nicely shows just how bad things are now for the Bureau.  Good stuff.

Conan the Barbarian #18I haven’t really been feeling this latest three-part arc that basically just recounts an opium-fueled dream that Conan has, but this final issue was much better structured as it showed Conan’s future with Bêlit.  That future involves children, a tropical island, the building of boats, and eventually fighting, and it pulls together a lot of what Brian Wood has been trying to do with the character.  I’m ready for the series to get back into the mayhem though…

FF #9 – The Future Foundation accepts an invitation to a pool party, Bentley makes a video about the fish-kids, and a character who recently showed up in Matt Fraction’s Fantastic Four arrives on the scene looking to recruit the Foundation to help find and save the FF.  I like it better when this title acts independently from the parent book, mainly because I have no interest in reading that title, so I was a little disappointed with this new development (although I am pleased that I read the issue in which this character appeared just recently, or I’d be more lost).  Joe Quinones continues to be a great substitute for Michael Allred on art.

Half Past Danger #3 – If you accept that there are dinosaurs running around on a Pacific island controlled by Nazis during WWII, I guess you have to also accept that the American soldier sent to stop the Nazis is a Captain America-like super soldier.  Stephen Mooney’s Indiana Jones-style comic is a lot of fun to read, and I love his art.  This would make a great movie.

Harbinger Wars #4This has been a pretty good event comic, but the ending feels very rushed, as Peter Stanchek more or less just tosses Bloodshot right out of the book before it’s half-way finished, and the HARD Corps and the Generation Zero psiots have their numbers decimated.  This book hasn’t really relied on its tie-ins to the main series much to tell the story, but I get the feeling that the next issues of Harbinger and Bloodshot are essential to understanding how this all turns out, and that’s kind of a shame.  If I cared much about Bloodshot, I’d be annoyed…  I hope we get to see more of the Generation Zero kids, because Joshua Dysart made some of them pretty likeable.

Invincible #104 – Angstrom Levy’s back and causing problems for Mark and Eve again, but Eve takes an interesting approach to dealing with him, necessitated by the fact that she can’t use her powers.  This is a more focused issue of Invincible than we’re used to, as Robert Kirkman decides to spend pretty much the entire issue on only one plot-line.  It’s always a good read.

The Mysterious Strangers #2 – Chris Roberson and Scott Kowalchuk’s new Oni Press series is a lot of fun.  It’s a hipster version of the Doom Patrol, set in a world where the British Avengers would have been comfortable.  This issue has evil agents, ancient spaceships, mutants, mind-control, and very cool art.  I think this is going to be a very enjoyable series moving forward.  (This series has changed it’s name from The Strangers, which was Oni’s contribution to Free Comic Book Day this year.  The first issue was re-released as well this week, so it should be easy to get caught up on this very worthy series).

100 Bullets: Brother Lono #2I think the best way to approach this book is to not worry too much about everything that’s going on in it, and instead just waiting for Brian Azzarello to roll out the story in his own time.  We get the beginning of an explanation as to why Lono is hanging out at an orphanage in Mexico, and we get a very clear picture of just how rough and violent things are getting there.  Eduardo Risso’s art is so good, and he’s such a skilled storyteller, that you almost don’t have to read the words to understand what’s going on.

Powers Bureau #6 – I didn’t really expect that this issue would finish off the first Bureaus arc.  Brian Michael Bendis often does this with his storylines – he’ll spend three or four issues just getting the plot started, and then you blink and it’s over.  There are some good moments in this issue, but it’s all done pretty quickly.

Prophet #37 – Sometimes Prophet artist Giannis Milonogiannis has taken over the entire comic this month, writing and drawing both a main and a back-up story.  Milonogiannis keeps things firmly in the pattern established by Brandon Graham during his incredible tenure with this character – one of the Prophet clones travels to a strange dead station in space to revive one of his brothers, who is needed for an important mission for the Earth Empire.  Along the way there are weird threats.  That description applies to a number of issues since Graham revived this property, but it always works, because of the individual details and weirdness that makes each new story unique.

Revival #12Revival hits the one-year mark, and the story just keeps chugging along slowly.  I find this an interesting read, but I also feel like the larger story has not moved forward very much in the last few months – this series is paced kind of like Invincible, where there are so many sub-plot lines that forward movement is always incremental.  Tim Seeley’s writing is very character-driven, so much of the focus remains on how people are handling the events of Revival Day.  I didn’t really understand the scene where a group of volunteers were grouping together body parts from the truck crash of a few issues back; I somehow doubt this is the kind of work that even the most over-worked coroner’s office would give to a group that brings small children into the morgue.  Nor do I understand why they’d take the body parts out of the huge walk-in fridge to do this work…

Scarlet #7 – With each new issue of Scarlet, I ask myself why I’m still reading it, but then six months later (or however long it takes), I end up buying the next issue.  Scarlet sets up a huge demonstration in Portland as a distraction, and instead goes to visit the mayor in his office (it’s not entirely clear how it’s so easy to go see him).  The dialogue in this issue is just a little too Brian Michael Bendis (who is the only person who uses the word ‘ass’ in so many different ways), but Alex Maleev’s art is nice.  This could have been a much better comic though – it feels undirected, especially with a lengthy flashback to Iraq, and it spent way too much time on exposition and recapping what happened in the last two issues.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #25This is a pretty touching issue, as just about everyone comes out of the woodwork to pressure Miles into becoming Spider-Man again.  Brian Michael Bendis has done a fantastic job of crafting this character, so that his dilemma feels very real.  More is teased about the nature of Miles’s relationship with his friend Ganke too, which is interesting.  David Marquez has the ability to render Miles’s complex emotions perfectly.

Uncanny X-Force #8 – This has become a very beautiful book, as Adrian Alphona continues to draw the flashbacks that show Psylocke’s time in Paris with two of the Fantomexes.  I guess the portrayal of Betsy’s relationship with the two (one female and the other male) could cause some controversy, and it’s interesting to see how straight-forward Sam Humphries is in his portrayal of this complicated menage, but I find it kind of interesting.  This has kind of stopped being an X-Force title, and it makes me wonder just how much more is going to be in the upcoming Fantomex series that makes it a Max book…

Wonder Woman #22 – Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang take us to New Genesis in this issue, as Wonder Woman and her friends find themselves to be unwelcome guests, and discover that Highfather is a bit of a jerk.  This has been a wonderful series, and truly unique in the New 52.  I’m a little surprised that DC let Azzarello play with these toys, especially since Darkseid was established in the publisher’s flagship title, which apparently depicts a very different Diana.  I really liked the interactions between Orion and Diana, although I’m not too happy to see what happened to Lennox, Diana’s brother.  It’s been rare to get a complete issue drawn by Cliff Chiang lately, so this issue is a treat that way.

X-Factor #259For years now, Peter David has been hinting at the connection between Shatterstar and Longshot.  He reveals it in this issue, and it’s a doozy, encompassing a number of different guesses that have shown up on message boards.  The thing is, this issue feels a little rushed, as David works to close up shop on this title.  This could have been a very decent two-parter with a bit more space to breathe.

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

A + X #10

Avengers Assemble #17

Cable and X-Force #11

Iron Man #13

Red Sonja #1

Savage Wolverine #7

Thanos Rising #4

Thor God of Thunder #10

Bargain Comics:

Age of Ultron #9&10Well, I knew that was going to be horrible, yet I read it anyway.  I don’t really have a good understanding of why this event was ever written and put together – whatever lasting effects it’s supposed to have on the mainstream Marvel Universe, we haven’t seen them yet, which suggests very bad planning.  My biggest question (leaving aside the existence of new versions of Wolverine and Invisible Woman), is why Hank McCoy looked like he did when he first turned into the furry Beast on the last few pages.  Did this series even have an editor?

Captain America #8 – When Rick Remender starts writing a comic, you know that somewhere along the way, something really awful is going to happen to a character you’ve come to like.  This guy slaughtered Heath Houston’s family in FEAR Agent, killed Kid Apocalypse and Angel in Uncanny X-Force, and just generally likes to wreck characters’ lives.  This issue of Captain America has a particularly brutal ending, which, if handled correctly, could go a long way towards making Captain America an interesting character in the years to come.  This book really needs a change in artist, so it’s a good thing that Carlos Pacheco will be coming on board soon (hopefully permanently).

Fables #124-128 – I’d given up on Fables a while back, and figured I’d trade-wait it, or the next best thing, get caught up during 50% off sales.  A lot of the things that were frustrating me about the book, and Bill Willingham’s rambling plots, are still present, but after a single issue finishes off Bufkin’s story, things improve quite a bit.  Snow White’s first love appears in the new Fabletown, and he holds her to the promise he made when she was very young.  This guy has strong magic about him, and so the rest of the Fables are powerless to help her, at least until Bigby arrives.  Meanwhile, Beast takes an unorthodox approach to protecting Gepetto from the Blue Fairy’s wrath.  There are glimmers of the greatness this title once had, but it still feels a little tired and shop-worn.  The same can’t be said for Mark Buckingham’s art, which continues to be very impressive.

Fearless Defenders #4AUI really can’t understand why this issue was published.  It doesn’t add a single thing to the Age of Ultron cross-over, nor does it add much to the regular, in-continuity Fearless Defenders (except for a possible origin for Caroline LeFay, who seems to be the recurring villain in that series).  Perhaps Marvel was just testing the waters to see if an increase in price (which is happening to this series soon) would have much effect on sales.  It’s especially strange that Phil Jimenez, who does not do a lot of Marvel work, would draw this issue.  You’d think they’d save an artist of his caliber for a bigger title.  Perhaps the mandate for all things Age of Ultron related was to confuse and confound.  It certainly seems like it.

Mars Attacks #3-6 – It’s not Chew, but John Layman has made the old Mars Attacks trading cards into a fun and interesting comic.  Rather than focus on a small cast, Layman so far has been casting a pretty wide net, telling the story of Mars’s attack from a variety of perspectives, including that of a flea circus trainer and an Aztec warrior who has been in suspended animation for many years.  It feels like eventually a central cast will coalesce, but at this time, Layman’s just poking around.  John McCrea is the right artist for this book – his mix of cartoony and realistic art works perfectly here.

Scarlet Spider #12-15 – I’ve liked what I’ve read of Chris Yost’s Scarlet Spider so far.  The idea of having a tougher, angrier Spider-Man (who is not Dr. Octopus) has it’s appeal, but the addition to the story of that weird Spider-totem, The Other stuff from JMS’s run really turned me off.  I like Kaine wrestling with his demons, or worrying about being a monster, but actually turning him into one feels a little lame.

Uncanny Avengers #8AU – In my avoidance of all things Age of Ultron (at least, until it became cheap), I didn’t realize that this tie-in issue actually has something to do with what’s going on in the main book right now.  The Apocalypse Twins get some character development here, and it’s nice to see some Adam Kubert art in a comic that isn’t getting tons of press for a change.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Grandville Mon Amour

by Bryan Talbot

The second of Bryan Talbot’s Grandville graphic novels is perhaps more enjoyable than the first, since the world of Detective-Inspector LeBrock is established, and Talbot has a little more time and space to craft his story and characters.

Grandville Mon Amour is set in a world where Napoleon had taken over all of Europe.  England has recently won its independence from France after a long and bloody insurgency campaign, and the country is now poised to appoint its Prime Minister for the last number of years as President for life, a choice that many find odd.  These graphic novels fit in the steampunk genre, and LeBrock’s world is full of steam-powered machines and odd technology.  Also, everyone is a talking animal, and while each species appears to only mate with their own kind, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of outright speciesism (racism?).

As this book opens, Mad Dog Mastock, a notorious serial killer and former resistance fighter makes his escape while on the way to the guillotine.  Our hero, DI LeBrock, is wallowing in guilt from the events of the first graphic novel, but when he hears that Mastock is loose, he demands that he be put on the case, as he is the one that brought the dog down in the first place.  His insistence gets him suspended, but in no time he is off to Grandville (Paris), with his partner Rodders, to track down Mastock on his own.  Mastock has been killing prostitutes there, but LeBrock begins to discover a pattern and method behind the killings that go beyond his usual depravities.

The story follows through a few twists and turns (a couple of them were kind of predictable, admittedly), and the story is much larger than a simple case of an escaped serial killer.  LeBrock, still stinging from the loss of his Sarah, ends up falling for another lovely female badger (how many of them could there be?), and Talbot keeps a romantic undercurrent flowing through the book.

As interesting as the story is, Talbot’s art is the big draw here.  He’s always been a remarkably detailed artist, but the pages of this book are lovely.  His animal characters and their environment are very believable, and the steampunk touches he’s added are often fascinating.  This is a very accomplished book, and I recommend it.

Infinite Kung Fu

by Kagan McLeod

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Shaw Brothers style of kung fu movies (although I did become somewhat obsessed with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon when it came out), but I loved Kagan McLeod’s Infinite Kung Fu, a nice chunky graphic novel love letter to that genre.

This book is set in the martial world, where the dead have started reanimating recently deceased bodies as thinking zombies.  Much of the martial world is ruled by an Emperor who is himself dead.  He has five armies, each controlled by a former student of one of the eight Immortals (there are others).  These students turned on their masters and learned Poison Kung Fu.

Now the Emperor is trying to put together his mystical armour so that he can come back to life and destroy the world for all time.  The Immortals have left the world and have vowed not to interfere in worldly affairs, except through the actions of their agents, and so they send a young deserter from the Emperor’s army, Lei Kung, on a mission to learn powerful kung fu and save the day.

McLeod fully embraces the tropes of Chinese kung fu movies, but adds just the right amount of 70s blaxploitation to the mix, in the character of Moog Joogular, an afro-sporting fighter with the ability to remove and regrow his limbs.  Moog lives in a village that looks like Harlem, while the rest of the book is set in a more traditional Chinese countryside.  It’s an odd addition to the book, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that makes me like it.

McLeod’s story is long and rambling, in an epic way (the book is about 450 pages) that circles back upon itself.  I enjoyed the flow of this story, and liked how complicated things got towards the end, as different factions competed for similar goals.

McLeod’s art is very fluid, and his fight scenes are choreographed beautifully.  He captures the variety of time periods he’s looking to capture (i.e., a 70s depiction of ancient China) very well, and propels the story perfectly.  McLeod’s approach to this story is highly creative and never dull.  Recommended.

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