The Weekly Round-Up #196 With Trillium, Baltimore: The Infernal Train, The Bunker, Chew, X-Factor & More

Columns, Top Story

This was one of the biggest new comics weeks in a while, with the launch of Villains Month, Battle of the Atom, and Forever Evil, as well as the second issue of Infinity coming out.  At the same time, ignoring all of that stuff, I found it harder to pick my ‘best’ comic of the week than usual.  Chew, Sheltered, and Superior Foes of Spider-Man were all good enough to make the cut, had they come out in a quieter week.

Best Comic of the Week:

Trillium #2Jeff Lemire’s excellent Vertigo series foregoes the flip-book formatting of the first issue, as the two main characters have met now, and that format wouldn’t make any sense.  These people from two different times have difficulty communicating, as the woman from the future desperately tries to figure out how she got where she is, and if she can use the trilliums to cure humanity from a sentient alien disease.  I wonder if there is some sort of illicit thrill for Lemire to show people picking and eating trilliums, since to do so is illegal in the province where he and I live (one of Canada’s weirder laws, I’m sure).  This is great work from Lemire – much better than any of the DCnU stuff he’s doing right now.

Quick Takes:

Avengers AI #3 – I’ve given this book three issues to impress me, and while I am fond of some of the characters here, I’m just not really feeling this series.  Hank Pym is portrayed in a strange way – the issue of Avengers Arena that came out a few weeks back really underscored that, as this Hank is not the one that was shown there.  Likewise, the changes made to the Vision have only served to sever the character’s past, making him hard to understand.  I also don’t understand the whole AI Diamond thing.  Apparently, all of these artificial beings live in a world that moves at computer speed, and have developed their own society, yet they spend much of their time fighting off threats to their lives.  Except, the comic only shows one threat, still hours away, and moving at our speed.  It doesn’t really add up.  Similar storylines have played out recently in Ultimate Comics Ultimates and in Secret Avengers, and they worked better there.  I doubt I’ll be back for the next issue.

Baltimore: The Infernal Train #1Lord Baltimore is back in a three-part mini-series, giving Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden a lot more space to develop their story.  Baltimore is in Hungary, which is supposed to be safe from the plague, looking to confront the Inquisitor that has been hunting him, but he stumbles over something else that is going to keep him from hunting down Haigus, his usual prey.  It’s nice to see this character get a longer story, especially when it means more art from Ben Stenbeck.

Batman Black and White #1 – Amid all the hype for a bunch of inventory comics by mostly unproven creative teams with shiny covers, this new volume of Batman Black and White is quietly slipping into the marketplace, without anywhere near the push that it deserves.  This issue has some truly impressive creators working on it – Chip Kidd, Michael Cho, John Arcudi, Sean Murphy, and Chris Samnee all hand in some very impressive work.  Things are not all wonderful though – I found Howard Mackie’s writing to be a little stale, and the Maris Wicks and Joe Quinones Harley Quinn story was dull and predictable.  Neil Adams has a story that he wrote and pencilled (and that someone really needed to ink) wherein he tries to reestablish himself as a socially conscious creator, but instead just demonstrates once again that he can’t really pace out or plot a story.  It was pretty painful (but not as painful as his Blood or Batman Odyssey).  The $5 price tag is pretty steep, and some of the stories were over a little too quickly, but there is more than enough talent in this book to win the day.

The Bunker #2Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari continue to do some very good work in their web-only comic.  In the last issue, a group of friends discover a myserious underground bunker that has letters for each of them written by their future selves, outlining just how they will contribute to the ending of the world.  This issue doesn’t touch on any of the apocalyptic stuff, as the various characters instead are more concerned with some of the secrets that the letter writers use to prove their authenticity.  It turns out people in the group have some big secrets, enough so that for now the end of the world is overshadowed.  Fialkov does some very good character work in this issue, and Infunari is backing him perfectly.  This is worth a download.

Catalyst Comix #3 – I don’t know why exactly, but this issue of Catalyst Comix ‘clicked’ with me much more than the first two, as Joe Casey has settled into the three stories he’s telling in this book.  Frank Wells is taken on a bit of a spiritual journey that ends in slave camps in Côte d’Ivoire, Amazing Grace greets an alien visitor, and Elvis Warmaker indulges in some 90s style violence at his safehouse.  The art in this book is great.

Chew #36This flashback issue brings back Toni Chu, Tony’s sister who we haven’t seen for a while (for a reason I won’t explain, in case anyone is behind in the trades).  It so happens that Toni helped out her sister Sage a little while ago, in a story that is presented as Chew #29½ .  John Layman and Rob Guillory are always brilliant, and it was a treat to see Toni again.  I love this comic.

Daredevil: Dark Nights #4 – I’ve been a fan of David Lapham’s work from even before his classic Stray Bullets series, so the thought of him writing and drawing a Daredevil story had me pretty excited.  I didn’t think it would be one of the strangest DD stories I’ve ever read though, as our hero spends a whole issue chasing a little one-foot tall man named Buggit across the city to recover some evidence the guy stole from the courthouse.  The story is bizarre and funny, but also fits wonderfully with the general aesthetic of Mark Waid’s run.  Great, strange stuff.

God is Dead #1 – Usually, when you pick up a non-Marvel Jonathan Hickman book, there is an sense of design to it that tells you that it’s a Hickman book, even though he hasn’t been drawing his own comics in years.  That is completely lacking with God is Dead, his new series at Avatar Press, of all places.  In the story, which is co-written by Mike Costa, a fact that I’m pretty sure wasn’t in Previews when this book was solicited, various pantheons of classic mythology make their return to the Earth, causing widespread destruction and unrest.  Very few characters are developed, except for a group of scientists who are hiding out in a sewer and plotting to do something.  Awkwardly, one of the scientists is the spitting image of Albert Einstein, who is used to much better effect in The Manhattan Projects.  Clearly, the wheelchair-bound scientist is an homage to Stephen Hawkings, but he doesn’t have that man’s face.  The art, by Di Amorim, is pretty much the standard Avatar fare, and while there are some topless women, and some people chained up, there isn’t any of the gratuitous and juvenile splatter that Avatar is known for.  This book is not really what I was expecting – it’s kind of like someone got Hickman to plot out a series while he was drunk at a ComiCon bar, and the Avatar people are just going with it.  I’d hoped for something on the scale of what I’m used to seeing from Hickman.  I suppose there is always hope that the book will lead up to its title, as the ramifications of what this issue shows get explored.

Green Arrow #23.1 – Count VertigoJeff Lemire makes an alright use of this Villains Month issue to flesh out the backstory of Count Vertigo, who is currently being used to cause problems for Oliver Queen.  This issue is pretty straight-forward, but is made more interesting by Andrea Sorrentino’s excellent art.  He draws most of the flashbacks from young Werner’s perspective, which is kind of cool.  I’m glad that Lemire was able to work this into his current storyline, but it’s still rather obvious that this is a filler issue.

Infinity #2 – Jonathan Hickman is unfurling his event at a grand scale, and while that leads Jerome Opeña and Dustin Weaver to draw some pretty incredible images, it also means that the human scale and perspective is often lost.  I feel like this series will read much better in trade…

Invincible #105 – It’s the standard thing with Invincible:  a new issue comes along, various plots are advanced a little, and everything is very good.  There’s really nothing else to say.

Justice League of America #7.1 – Deadshot – In typical DC bait-and-switch fashion, this book, which was solicited as being drawn by Pascual Ferry, was instead drawn by Sam Basri, Keith Champagne, Carmen Carnero, and Bit.  Why?  No idea, but I’ve long since given up on the idea of DC comics being drawn by the people they say were going to draw it.  This book doesn’t have any creators listed on the cover either.  Why?  Because DC thinks that characters trump creators every time (remember, this is the 2D cover, which was only recently printed, so the ‘months before’ excuse doesn’t fly here).  Anyway, the book is okay, as it shares Floyd Lawton’s new origin in the New 52.  Gone is his monocled first incarnation, and his strange obsession with Batman, leaving us instead a very controlled, penny-pinching version of the Punisher, if Frank Castle fought his war for profit.  Also gone is much of the nuance that made Original Floyd such a compelling character when written by people like John Ostrander and Gail Simone.  Also missing is Floyd’s death wish, which always made him so interesting back in the day (I could also complain about his hideous New 52 costume, but I’m not going to).  Matt Kindt does an alright job here, but he’s clearly been horribly constrained by the dictates of Forever Evil, and just what is supposed to happen in his upcoming Suicide Squad arc.  There are glimpses of greatness – the scene where Floyd’s family is accidentally killed could have led to an amazing layout in the fashion of David Aja’s Hawkeye work, had it been handled by a better artist.  In fact, I would have loved to see Kindt draw that scene.  It’s hard to assess these one-shot Villains Month books.  Were this the first issue of a new series, I don’t think there’s enough here to bring me back for the second issue, aside from historic attachment to the character, and my great regard for Kindt’s creator-owned writing.

Love Stories (To Die For) #1I picked up this flip-book on a whim, and I’m glad that I did.  Both stories are written by Dirk Manning.  The first is set in Germany at the end of the first millenium, and features some Norse warriors fighting revenants outside of a monastery.  It’s good, with a bit of a twist at the end, and has some 90s style art by Rich Bonk.  The flipside story was my favourite, a story about a man fighting his way through a space station full of aliens to get his wife to safety, never knowing that she’s hanging out in a shuttle with her new boyfriend.  The husband looks and dresses like Cable’s friend GW Bridge, and Owen Gieni’s art is a nice mix of Tony Moore and Jerome Opeña.  Good stuff.

Satellite Sam #3 – Matt Fraction’s period piece, set in the dawn of the TV age, continues along quite well.  Michael White continues to explore his father’s secret life, trying to find the girl who was with him while he died, while just about everyone else involved in the LeMonde Network continues to scheme and plot for their own desires.  It’s a very rich story.

Sheltered #3 – Ed Brisson and Johnnie Christmas are doing some wonderful work on this ‘pre-Apocalyptic’ comic about a group of teenagers who have violently taken over their parents’ survivalist compound.  Two girls are not with the group, however, and they have to try to figure out how they’re going to escape, and just what is really going on.  Brisson taps into the paranoia that floats around the modern Western world, crafting a story that is believable and suspenseful.  Great series.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #3 I think this book might just have surpassed Hawkeye as the second most delightful comic Marvel publishes (after Young Avengers).  Boomerang is out of prison, but he has Mach VII as his parole officer.  There is some long-standing animosity between these two characters, and his entrance into Fred’s life causes his crew to abandon him.  Also in this book is a wonderful story about the head of Silvermane, and we finally get the complete story of Mirage’s life and two deaths.  Nick Spencer is really packing this book full of great stuff, and Steve Lieber’s art is perfect.  Check this out.

X-Factor #262 – Peter David brings his long-running X-Factor to a close with a story that focuses on Layla Miller and Jamie Madrox.  In a lot of ways, I feel like this book has gone on for too long, and I’ve not been very happy about anything in it since the beginning of the Hell on Earth War story, but I am going to miss these characters, and David’s unique take on many of them.  I know it’s not Marvel’s way to leave properties alone for long, but I think the cast of this book should be off-limits for a couple of years.  I really don’t ever want to read anyone else’s Layla…

X-Men: Battle of the Atom #1Marvel’s other big event of the month launches in this comic, which is mostly drawn by Frank Cho, but a little bit drawn by Stuart Immonen as well.  The X-Men detect a new mutant (apparently they use cerebro again, and not cerebra), and Kitty heads out with the time-travelled junior original team to get her, and of course runs into problems with Sentinels.  Cyclops’s ‘Uncanny’ team show up to help out, and when young Scott almost gets killed, everyone finally figures out that having the kids in the present is problematic.  Eventually, a team from the future shows up, after Illyana travels there for reasons that are hard to believe, and using an aspect of her powers that I don’t think existed before Brian Michael Bendis got involved with her.  In other words, it’s a typical start for a Bendis event, with the kids playing the role of Wanda in House of M, and complete with a page of ‘shaky’ art for no clear reason, à la the beginning of Age of Ultron.  Here’s hoping that the whole thing ends better than it started.  At least the art was nice…

All-New X-Men #16 – The story continues here, as the Jean Grey School group get to chatting with the future X-Men (who strangely have only added one member to the team that isn’t around in the Marvel Universe today, and he’s a legacy character).  Wolverine smells them to confirm their identity, but clearly Xorn’s mask also masks her smell, because we have to wait until the very end of the comic to find out who she is.  Jean Grey is being set up as the problematic character, refusing to not go back to her own time, and manipulating Young Beast and Young Cyclops in the process.  This Battle of the Atom story isn’t working too badly yet, but like all Bendis-driven events, I expect it to collapse on itself.

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

Iron Man #15

Legends of the Dark Knight #12

The Star Wars #1

Suicide Risk #5

Superior Spider-Man #17

Uber #5

Bargain Comics:

Detective Comics #19-23; Detective Comics Annual #2The John Layman who is writing Detective Comics is really not the same guy that writes Chew.  While that book continues to be absolutely hilarious and unpredictable, Layman’s Batman is no-nonsense, straight-up good superhero stuff.  In this run, he celebrates the 900th issue of Detective with a Man-Bat story (which then continues in the back-up stories), wraps up his Emperor Penguin arc, and brings The Wrath to Gotham.  Layman makes good use of the GCPD (which the Wrath is picking off), and grounds Batman nicely through his interactions with Alfred.  This is a good Bat-book, with nice art from Jason Fabok, Andy Clarke and Scott Eaton.

Thunderbolts #9-13 – Of these five issues, the first three were written by Daniel Way, while the second two were by Charles Soule, and what a difference those two issues make.  Way has always struck me as a writer who enjoys plotting out long, oblique stories which introduce elements that may never get explained or meaningfully included.  That was definitely the approach he was taking to this title, tossing in characters like Mercy, and then barely using them, and introducing villains like Elektra’s brother, seemingly out of thin air.  Once Soule took over, he got right to work providing backstory and coherence to this book, making it much more readable, and a lot less decompressed.  It was a much-needed change.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Autobiographical Conversations

by Ryan Claytor with Dr. Harry Polkinhorn

A few years ago, Ryan Claytor had an appearance at the comic store I shop at, as he was travelling around supporting his self-published series And Then One Day.  That series is an autobiographical one, and creating it led to his pondering the nature of autobiography.

This book depicts, in comic book form, Claytor’s conversation with Dr. Harry Polkinhorn,  a professor at San Diego State University, who teaches classes on the personal essay.  At the time the two men met, Claytor was doing graduate work on comics, and they had a long and kind of rambling discussion on autobiography, the concept of objective versus emotional truth, and the proper way to convey personal experiences in a comic format.

Of course, the conversation is shown as a comic, and the two men move from Polkinhorn’s office to a lunch spot, and then walk around the campus while they chat.  The conversation is pretty academic, but is rendered in an easily understood format, and is quite interesting.  They do discuss other cartoonists, such as Craig Thompson and David Chelsea, but most of the conversation is given over to Claytor’s own approach to his work.

What has me most curious after reading this is seeing how the concepts touched on in this conversation shape Claytor’s future work.  He thinks about things at a level that few cartoonists do, and so I’m interested in seeing how these notions get applied.

This is an interesting little book, which can be grabbed at Claytor’swebsite, if it sounds like it might be your thing.

Album of the Week:

Oh No vs. Now Again 2 – Once again the fine people at Now-Again records have let producer and rapper Oh No into their vaults, and he’s put together a great mix of music.

What would you like to know?