The Weekly Round-Up #191 With Optic Nerve, Batman, Bedlam, Daredevil, X-Men, and More!

Best Comic of the Week:

Optic Nerve #13

by Adrian Tomine

It’s always cause to celebrate when a creator like Adrian Tomine comes out with a new book, and even more so when he continues to release his material in the single-issue format.

This issue of Optic Nerve contains two short stories inside of it, and another short strip of Tomine being an artistic Luddite making up the cover (no wasted space here).

The first story, ‘Go Owls’ is a wonderful study of an abusive relationship.  A man meets a woman at a twelve step program, and the two of them hook up.  At first, the guy is loving and supportive, but over time, Tomine’s portrayal of him changes to show that he’s really a bit of a creep.  This guy is demanding and belittling, and also pretty weird in his pursuit of ‘his sexy stuff’, but the woman has nowhere to go, and so she stays with him.  It’s not as bleak as it sounds though – there are some genuinely funny moments, and the ending is downright awesome.

The second story, ‘Translated, from the Japanese’ is beautiful.  It’s narrated by a young mother who is returning to America with her daughter after a sojourn in Japan.  Each panel is either architectural in subject, or an extreme closeup of the things around the narrator.  None of the main characters are actually shown.  Most of the story takes place on the flight to California, where a Japanese professor befriends and entertains the young girl.  A flight attendant mistakes the trio for a family.  Upon landing, it becomes clear that the woman’s nuclear family is going through a bit of a crisis.

These stories show Tomine at his best.  His pieces are literary and original, and show insight into the human condition.  His art is top notch, and the only thing I have to complain about this book is that it’s probably going to be another year before we see any new work from him.  I cannot recommend this book enough.

Quick Takes:

Animal Man Annual #2If I told you that Jeff Lemire was writing an Animal Man Annual to pay tribute to the relationship Buddy Baker had with his son Cliff, would you be able to lay out the main story beats yourself?  Cliff gets put in danger?  Check.  Since Travel Foreman is drawing the book, there will be a scene where Buddy gets all weird looking?  Check.  Buddy will find some way to reconnect with Cliff’s spirit in current continuity?  Check.  There you go – toss in a spider-creature and Ellen going into labor with Maxine, and you’ve just written the book yourself.

Batman Annual #2 – This was rather disappointing.  Marguerite Bennett wrote this issue, from a story she co-wrote with Scott Snyder, and it introduces a new (retconned) inmate at Arkham called the Anchoress, who is angry with Batman for having come there to read files for clues about the Red Hood back in the Zero Year.  She’s been waiting for him to return, and when he volunteers to help test some new security measures, she attacks him.  I guess she didn’t know he was around the 10 000 other times he’s been to Arkham.  Also, I don’t understand how the Asylum would have a patient that everyone forgot about, but on a new orderly’s first night, he’s able to find out about her from another orderly.  Therefore implying she wasn’t forgotten…  This type of logic pervades the issue.  I was excited about it mainly for Wes Craig’s artwork, but he’s much more subdued here than he was on his run on Guardians of the Galaxy at Marvel, almost like he’s trying to make his art look like Greg Capullo’s.  I’d have rather seen him cut loose, as he’s usually a wonderful artist.

Batman Incorporated #13 – This issue marks the end of this series, and more significantly, Grant Morrison’s long run on Batman.  Sadly, things have just kind of fizzled out, as Morrison really lost momentum having to rejig his story around the whole New 52 reboot, and the fact that DC decided to make Batman the tentpole of their company, with some thirty monthly titles (at least that’s how it feels).  As the spotlight shifted over to Scott Snyder’s series, which is very event-driven, Morrison’s story suffered more and more (although his difficulty in keeping on schedule exacerbated that problem).  The comic itself?  It’s okay, but the whole Incorporated concept kind of got thrown under the bus around the time Damian was killed, and the conclusion of this issue wasn’t all that satisfying.  I think Morrison needed another issue to just have Bruce deal with what all happened, and I think we definitely needed to know a lot more about Kathy Kane (and what, if any, is her connection to the current Batwoman).  Chris Burnham deserves a great deal of praise as the person who really pulled all the different threads of this story together over the last year, and gave the book a more solid, consistent look.  He’s one incredible artist, and I’m amazed that we haven’t already heard about him being given another top tier book.

Bedlam #8 – In the wake of the strange bombings from the last issue, Detective Acevedo is scrambling to figure out what is going on.  Unexpectedly, it seems that most of the bombers survived, and so Acevedo and Fillmore have a few leads.  This issue also makes clear who The First (the Batman-like character) really is, as the city of Bedlam becomes more central to the storyline.  I like this comic, although I do find Ryan Browne to be a bit of a confusing replacement for Riley Rossmo.  On some pages, it looks like he’s imitating Rossmo’s style, but on others it doesn’t, giving the book an inconsistent look.

BPRD Vampire #5 – While I found this series to be a little light-weight, story-wise, the fact that it was drawn by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon meant that I loved every page of it.  In this issue, Professor Bruttenholm goes into action trying to stop his man who has become a vampire.  Really, this is one of the least stand-alone BPRD miniseries ever, as it relied so heavily on what happened in 1947 and 1948, and the story doesn’t really finish here.  Still, Bá and Moon, so I’m happy.

Collider #1 – I’m happy to see that Vertigo is still willing to try out some new things from time to time, like this new series from Simon Oliver and Robbi Rodriguez.  It’s set in the near-future of our world, if the laws of physics stopped behaving as they are supposed to.  When the book opens, a patch of property outside of a high school stops shows a lessened amount of gravity, giving kids the chance to float around.  The FBP are called in – the Federal Bureau of Physics, the guys responsible for fixing issues like this.  So far as first issues go, this one was pretty decent.  It introduces us to our characters, mostly FBP agents, and sets the scene for this series.  We know that there is intrigue and betrayal in the pipeline, but not much more than that.  Rodriguez’s art works well; he draws like cover artist Nathan Fox and like Toby Cypress, both artists I admire.  I’m not sure how long this book is going to be around (it is Vertigo after all – they haven’t been too successful in launching new ongoing series lately), but I think I’m going to stay on board for a while.

Daredevil #29Here’s another very good issue, as the Sons of the Serpent try to kill a childhood nemesis of Matt Murdock’s in a courtroom, revealing the extent to which they have infiltrated the New York City justice system.  Javier Rodriguez’s art is terrific – I really like the way he draws DD’s costume, and Mark Waid’s story is as solid as it always is on this title.

Fearless Defenders #7 – Okay, now I think we know what the status quo is going to be for this book.  Cullen Bunn has taken a long time in getting us there, as Valkyrie spends this issue dealing with her guilt over what happened to a fan-favourite character last issue.  One thing I really liked about this comic was the appearance of Clea, Dr. Strange’s old girlfriend, who hasn’t been seen a lot of late, and who was never given much space to shine.  I think she’s joining the team, which could be interesting.  Stephanie Hans shows up to give this issue a painted look, and it’s all very lovely.  With the last two issues being so good, I’m starting to question my decision to drop the title when Marvel raises the price by a dollar soon.  I’ll give Bunn one more issue to impress me before I decide.  I know he’s a great writer, but this book really got off to a slow start.  Now, though, it’s becoming a title I really, really like.

FF #10 – I’m not too sure what’s going on with this book.  Last issue, we found out that the team is planning a mission to rescue the Fantastic Four from wherever they are in time.  Now, though, they spend the issue touring Matt Fraction, Michael Allred, and Tom Brevoort through some shrinking ride at the New York Zoo?  Meanwhile, Alex Power’s position as Dr. Doom’s pawn leads him to try to learn about murder, so Ashura takes him to meet his uncle Maximus, who is seen as crazy and incarcerated, while just two weeks ago in New Avengers, he was shown working for Black Bolt.  I like this book, but I’m finding it’s becoming more and more inconsistent.  I also wonder, what with Fraction’s Inhumans series coming up, if we’re moving back to the old dynamic where Maximus is the real only villain in the Inhumans stable.  Because that will be boring…

Morning Glories #29Morning Glories has gotten to the point where it can’t really be read without going over the textpiece at the back of the book to understand some of the references and visuals in the comic (unless you’re the type of person who can remember every little thing that has happened in this book so far – I’m not).  It’s taking away some of my enjoyment of the book – kind of like Nick Spencer needs to draw attention to how clever he is more than he needs to tell his very good story.  It was stuff like this that almost caused me to drop Mind the Gap when it started.  When this book focuses on its main characters, their interactions with one another, and just how messed up life is at the Morning Glory Academy, it is excellent.  When it tries too hard to be mysterious, foreshadowy, and easter eggy, it kind of loses me.  My hope is that Spencer will start to focus more on the characters again.

Planet of the Apes Spectacular #1 – I’m very happy to see Boom returning to Darryl Gregory’s excellent take on the Planet of the Apes, and allowing him to finish off his story between this and another special in a couple of months, but this story really is missing Carlos Magno’s amazing art.  Diego Barreto is a capable artist, but Magno really made this book work.  The humans are finishing up their conquest of the city of Mak, and Sullivan manages to save former ape leader Alaya from execution, but it all means nothing, as the horde of the Great Khan are approaching.  Gregory maintains the relationships and pace that set this book apart originally, and delivers an exciting story.  I don’t know why Boom didn’t just choose to continue the series’s original numbering; a new reader picking this up would be hopelessly lost, and I’m sure some people who enjoyed the original series will not know that this continues it.

Sex #5Five issues in, and Simon Cooke almost gets some, in a scene that is pretty funny and disturbing at the same time.  Joe Casey is giving us a very different, very interesting look at a Batman character in this series, and I’m really enjoying it.  What really makes this series work are the little touches, like when Annabelle Lagravenese (i.e., Selina Kyle) clearly needs to start wearing glasses, but won’t accept that.  Very good stuff.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #28 – Knowing that the Ultimate Universe can be rode hard and put away wet, since Galactus is just going to eat it anyway, must make it very tempting to Joshua Hale Fialkov to just go nuts and trash the place.  Reed Richards and his group are moving their plans forward, the Ultimates are sitting in prison, and Nick Fury’s new Howling Commandos begin to make their move.  It’s all pretty standard, but not bad.

Uncanny X-Force #9 – The Psylocke/Fantomex storyline wraps up this issue, showing us how Betsy’s relationship ended in Paris, and resolving the plotline about her having been kidnapped by Weapon XIII in the present.  This arc has really solidified my interest in this title, although the wonderful art by Dalibor Talajic and Adrian Alphona are mostly responsible for that.  I like how Sam Humphries uses the end of this issue to lead into the next arc, which looks to return us to the story about Bishop and the Revenant Queen.

The Wake #3 – We’re settling nicely into this story, as the creature attacks the scientists in the underwater oil rig, and we learn just what his call has been for.  There are plenty of great Sean Murphy action sequences, and we learn a little more about whale song to boot.  This is a very engaging read.

Wasteland #46I no longer know who to expect to see drawing this title, as former artist Justin Greenwood comes back to draw this story about the preparations for a festival in Newbegin.  This book is always a good read, although Greenwood is not my favourite artist for this title.  I do like the ending of this issue a great deal, as it appears we will finally get to learn a little more about the other major centres in Antony Johnston’s meticulously planned-out fictional world.

X-Men #3 – I love Brian Wood’s approach to this book.  If you were to only want to read one X-book a month, this is the one I’d recommend, as it features solid characterization, plausible storylines, a nice cross-section of the extended X-Men family, and more content than any two of Brian Michael Bendis’s X-books chosen at random.  Things actually happen in this book.  With Olivier Coipel on art, it looks terrific too.  I really hope that Wood is able to maintain the uniqueness of this book after the upcoming mandated X-crossover hijacks his story plans for a couple of months.

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

Adventures of Superman #3

Caligula Heart of Rome #6

Guardians of the Galaxy #5

Indestructible Hulk #11

Über #4

Bargain Comics:

Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre

Written by Amanda Conner and Darwyn Cooke
Art by Amanda Conner

Before I begin to discuss this comic, I feel it’s important to first acknowledge some of the controversy that has surrounded the Before Watchmen project.  I did not support the notion of DC Comics making prequels to the Watchmen series, not so much because I view that book as a ‘holy text’ of modern comics, as I feel that DC did and continues to knowingly cheat original creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons out of their rightful ownership of the property.  To that end, I felt that making a bunch of prequel comics, against the express wishes of the original creators, to be shady business.  That is why I did not buy these comics when they came out, and have no intention of buying any of the trades that are currently being released.

That said, I love me some comics, and there are some very impressive writers and artists involved in the Before Watchmen project (and some I don’t care for).  So, how to satisfy my curiosity about, say a four-issue mini-series written and drawn by Amanda Conner, while still sticking to my morals, such as they are?  I could take the book out from the library, but instead, I found a complete set of this comic in a used bookstore, and figured that my purchasing it does not count as a monetary vote in favour of the project.

Anyway, regardless of whether you think this is a comics universe that needs revisiting (and I think it isn’t) or not, this is one hell of a good comic.  Conner’s art is fantastic, and with Cooke’s help, she writes a very good story.  The young Laurel Jane, who will grow up to be the second Silk Spectre, is chafing under her mother’s parenting skills.  She’s in her last year of high school, and wants nothing more than to make friends, land a boyfriend, and enjoy herself.  Instead, her mother has her studying constantly, and training to be a fighter.  In one scene, her mother dresses up as an intruder and tries to attack her in her own home.

Laurie runs away to San Francisco with the boy she likes, and they find themselves in the middle of the growing hippie and drug culture of the 60s.  They also manage to find themselves some trouble, as the Chairman (i.e., Frank Sinatra) is not happy with the anti-consumerism that has become so popular among young people, and with the help of a guy called Gurustein, begins pumping a particular brand of LSD into the market which leaves its users full of the urge to shop and consume.

Laurie deals with heartbreak, beautiful kung fu henchwomen, and the irritating thought that her mother might have manage to prepare her for the world.  Laurie and her boyfriend’s character arcs are handled very well, and Conner excels at depicting the hallucinogenic time period.

One thing that surprised me about this series was the extent to which Conner took it into the ‘mature readers’ world.  I questioned the likelihood that a female high school student in 1966 would make a joke that revolved around male ejaculate being on a girl’s face, and was also a little surprised by the amount of nudity in the book, simply because I’d expected DC to try to be able to market this to as wide an audience as possible.  Given the crassness of this book’s genesis, I would have thought that marketing would have had a stronger say in the actual content of the book.

In the end, this is a very solid comic.  I didn’t bother reading the Crimson Corsair back-up pages, as that strip appeared in a number of different titles, but I was otherwise impressed with this book.  Too bad I wouldn’t buy a sequel…

Dan the Unharmable #3-6 – When you open an Avatar book, you know that you’re more likely than not to see something twisted.  That’s basically what David Lapham is going for with this series, which has a guy who cannot be hurt going up against a weird LA-based cult to rescue four kids who may or may not be his.  It’s kind of nasty in places, and pretty gross in others, but at the end of the day, it’s a pretty amusing comic.  I like these issues much more than I did the first two.

Fairest #9-13 – Lauren Beukes and Inaki Miranda’s story, which revolves around Rapunzel and her connection to the Fables of Japan, captures a lot of what has been missing in Fables for the last few years.  This is a nicely focused story with a clear beginning and ending, with routes in the Homelands.  Rapunzel lived in a Japanese part of the Homelands before it was invaded by the Adversary, and she became the lover of a fox-woman, who believed that she had betrayed her.  In the present day, the two factions of Japanese Fables are about to go to war, and a Fabletown contingent becomes embroiled in the whole thing.  Miranda’s art is fantastic, and makes me think I will definitely end up getting her new Vertigo series Coffin Hill just for the art.

Fairest #14 – This is a one-off story by Fables writer/creator Bill Willingham, narrated by Reynard the Fox, and explaining some of the difficulties of inter-Fable relationships.  Alder, the Dryad brought by Gepetto to protect him, has been having trouble meeting potential dates, and Reynard thinks that the two of them might make a good match.  Their date is pretty funny, and the reader is once again left with nostalgia for when Fables read more like this.  Great art by Barry Kitson always makes me happy.

Guardians of the Galaxy #1-4The newest take on the Guardians starts off rather poorly, as Brian Michael Bendis feels the need to retcon (or reawaken – I don’t remember) some father/son issues of Peter Quill, for reasons that are unknown now, but which probably will be clear once the Guardians movie comes out.  The fourth of these issues is the best one, as Sara Pichelli takes over the art and stops trying to draw like Steve McNiven, who she ‘supported’ on the prior two issues.  Bendis is playing this team like he does any other – when given the opportunity, everyone would gladly sit around a table (in this book, always at a place that looks like Mos Eisley) and crack wise on each other, but then bad guys always show up and wreck the down time.  I suppose this isn’t a bad comic, but it can’t hold a candle to the prior iteration of this title when it was written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.

Hunger #1 – It’s strange that this book is not being called Ultimate Hunger, as it is taking place in that universe, although I suspect that the Ultimate line is not going to last out next winter.  Anyway, Rick Jones is bored of flying around space, and wants to come back ot Earth, but that’s when the Watcher-thingy makes him go out to witness a battle in space between the Kree and the Chitauri (who were probably only chosen to be the generic alien soldiers because of the Avengers movie) which gets interrupted by Gah Lak Tus and Galactus.  This is not a bad comic, considering that it’s only existing to serve the editorially-mandated needs of the Marvel office.  It’s hard to compare Josh Hale Fialkov’s writing here with the work he’s done on books like Tumor and Echoes…

Nova #6 – I was curious about this title, as I really liked the last Nova series, but I have a strict rule about buying books written by Jeph Loeb.  Zeb Wells takes over the series with this issue, which as a real Blue Beetle (the first Jaime Reyes series) vibe to it.  Sam is a fourteen year old kid who is apparently a Nova now (is there still a corps?) but still has to go to school after being away for either two weeks or a month (information contradicts).  The character work is nice – Sam’s mother is an interesting character – and Paco Medina’s art is much better suited to this type of story than it was Ultimate Comics X-Men.  I’ll probably check out more issues in the future.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Abandon the Old in Tokyo

by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

I’m not sure I was prepared for the utter bleakness of the stories collected in Abandon the Old in Tokyo.  I’ve read a few of Tatsumi’s books now, most notably A Drifting Life, but I still didn’t expect that his work would be quite this dark.

Tatsumi uses these stories, which originally saw publication in the 1970s, to explore the growing sense of isolation in Tokyo’s cities, and the pressures placed on young men to be successful and happy.  His protagonists usually look the same in each story, giving the impression that we are seeing the same poor sap again and again.  His protagonists are also often silent or men of very few words; they allow others to shape their existences, be they demanding fiancés, infirm parents, creditors, or unfriendly editors.  Again and again we see these poor guys get beaten down, until they make some questionable life choices.

The most disturbing story in this book is ‘The Hole’, in which our protagonist is tricked into falling into a hole on a mountain, where a woman with a burned face and chest holds him captive for reasons that are never made clear.  Things get really twisted when the man’s wife shows up, but insists she will only help him if he gives up his plans to divorce her.

Often when reading manga, I feel a cultural disconnect with the characters.  That’s not the case here, as Tatsumi focuses on the problems of the modern condition; in many ways, this work is as relevant in post-recession North America as it was in post-war Japan.  This is a disturbing book, but it has been made by a master of the art form, and for that reason, it is a worthy read.

Like A Sniper Lining Up His Shot

by Jacques Tardi, from a story by Jean-Patrick Manchette

Jacques Tardi’s comic adaptation of a novel by French crime writer Jean-Patrick Manchette is very capably done, but it’s a strange little story.  In a lot of ways, Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot reminds me a great deal of Matz and Jacamon’s The Killer.  Both books involve a hitman looking to retire from the business and settle down with a nice woman, and in both cases, the killer is forced back into the life he’s trying to leave behind.

In this book, Martin Terrier hopes to walk away from ten years spent as a soldier of fortune and a gun for hire, and to reconnect with the girl he left back home, from whom he’d exacted a promise to wait for him.  Terrier’s a strange character.  He doesn’t show any remorse for his victims, or for the people in his life who get drawn into his mess, when the family of a victim come after him.  Yet, when he sees something that shocks him late in the book, he loses his voice and the ability to speak for some time.  That rang false for me, and kind of impacted my enjoyment of the book.

The strength of this novel is Tardi’s wonderful artwork.  His figures are great, but I most enjoyed his portrayal of France in the 70s, especially the cars.  So far as crime comics go, this is a pretty solid one, and I got into it pretty quickly.

Album of the Week:

Myron & E – Broadway – If you were disappointed by the new Mayer Hawthorne album, feeling like he’s become a little over-produced and has wandered too far from his soul and R&B roots, than this is the album you should be listening to.  Or, likewise, if you love Mayer Hawthorne and want to hear something better, grab this.  The Soul Investigators do an incredible job of backing this duo on this album that is both timeless and completely contemporary.

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