The Weekly Round-Up #246 With The Fade Out, Armor Hunters: Harbinger, The Delinquents, Stray Bullets Killers, The Wicked + The Devine & More

Best Comic of the Week:

The Fade-Out #1It’s always exciting to begin a new Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips series, because their work is always so good, and because they also keep improving.  I find that it takes a little while to shake off their previous collaboration (especially since Fatale only just ended a few weeks ago) and find my footing in the new series, but that is also part of the fun of the new title, as I’ve avoided reading any press about it and didn’t know anything about it going in.  This series is set in 1948, in Hollywood at the height of the studio system.  We meet Charlie Parish, a screenwriter who wakes up in a bathtub after an incredibly wild (and barely remembered) evening.  He figures out that he’s in a bungalow that the studio uses to keep their talent, and as he slowly starts to piece together his evening, he stumbles upon the body of the starlet who is the centrepiece of his latest film.  She’s clearly been strangled, but Charlie has no idea by whom.  He wipes all presence of himself out of the room, and makes his escape.  Later, after the body has been discovered, he realizes that somebody got to the scene and doctored it to make her look like a suicide.  This is another noir series, which is what Brubaker and Phillips excel at.  It’s also a portrait of a time when the movie studios had incredible power in Hollywood, at the height of anti-communist hysteria, racism, and sexism.  It was an ugly time made to look beautiful, and it seems that Brubaker and Phillips are quite happy to wallow in the dirt that hid behind the shiny veneer of stardom.  Charlie has an interesting relationship with a screenwriting friend of his, who is persona non grata in Hollywood for his political affiliations, and his drunken harassment of Bob Hope.  It looks like this friendship is going to be at the core of where this series heads next, and I look forward to seeing what these two incredible comics creators have planned for us.

Quick Takes:

All-New Ultimates #6Wrapping up the big fight between the Serpent Skulls and the Ultimates, writer Michel Fiffe still manages to make things a little confusing (like when Miles brings a knocked-out Crossbones back into a burning church).  This series has been a disappointment.

Armor Hunters: Harbinger #2 – I’m not sure why, if the Armor Hunters just blew up most of Mexico City, they would also want to seed predatory organisms in the remains, but it does leave something for Faith, Torque, and the Generation Zero group to do this issue.  Joshua Dysart writes these characters so well that the tenuousness of the plot doesn’t really matter.

BPRD Hell on Earth #122 – I like the way that Mike Mignola and company have been exploring how the problems of their world are playing out on a global level.  This issue starts off a two-part story set in Japan, where a few agents have been invited to help out a Japanese company with a problem they have involving an extra-dimensional portal.  It looks like they are setting up a Frog-Godzilla problem for the next issue, which feels very appropriate.  In all, this is a good issue, with nice artwork from Mignola-verse newbie Joe Querio, who fits in quite nicely.

Daredevil #6 & 7 – In yet another Original Sin tie-in that has almost nothing to do with the main event, DD recovers a memory from his earliest childhood which causes him to seek out his mother, who has just been arrested for vandalism in a protest against chemical weapons testing, and is about to be extradited to Wakanda for her crime.  His mom’s a nun, in case you’ve forgotten.  Only Mark Waid can take such a ridiculous and unlikely string of events and make them work so well, as Matt heads off to Africa to rescue his mother through a combination of superheroing, lawyering, and basically being very bold.  These issues work, and finally explain why Matt’s mom left in a way that is a lot more plausible than the rest of the story.

The Delinquents #1I’ve never read an issue of Quantum and Woody, either from back in the day or the more recent Valiant series, but I’ve loved what Fred Van Lente has done with Archer & Armstrong over the last couple of years, so I thought it would be worth checking this mini-series, which combines the four characters in an adventure involving an old hobo map (tattooed on somebody’s butt cheeks) and the evils of Big Agriculture.  Writer James Asmus (from a story he co-wrote with Van Lente) gives the story the same irreverent tone I’ve grown to love in A&A, while slipping in a bit of social commentary, and I’ve always been happy to look at Kano art.  This was a fun comic, and I’ll probably be back for the rest of the story.

Elektra #5 – So Elektra has finally found Cape Crow, the assassin she’s been looking for since this series began, and that leads in turn to a big fight that takes up most of the book.  I still don’t get much of a feeling of Elektra as a fully realized character in her own book (although it’s clear she has a tendency to feel sorry for herself), and that’s something that writer W. Haden Blackman is really going to have to work on if he’s going to keep readers interested in this series.  Honestly, were it not for Mike Del Mundo’s amazing artwork, I’d be gone.

The Life After #2 – If you’re looking for an example of why comics are one of the greatest story-telling media, you need look no further than The Life After, the new Oni Press series by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo.  In no other format could a series about a guy who is stuck in purgatory for suicides, that also stars Ernest Hemingway, possibly work.  Our hero gets schooled on his new reality by Hemingway, while their actions draw the attention of the bureaucrats who run the place.  This book is funny and unpredictable, and I love it.

Manifest Destiny #9This oddball historical horror series continues to excite me, as the crew of Lewis and Clark’s expedition still find themselves stranded on the river, with hostile creatures all over the place.  Of course, the crew is best at putting themselves in harm’s way, so that’s what they do some more of.  This is a very entertaining and original comic.

Mighty Avengers #13 – Salvador Larroca is not my favourite artist, but having him draw this issue instead of Greg Land makes his stuff look fantastic.  The team is hunting for Blade to try to stop some mystical bad guys, while the crowd that used to hang out with Luke Cage’s father get back together to help them out.  I know that this title is relaunching soon, after the Falcon takes on Captain America’s role, and I hope that writer Al Ewing will focus that new title a little more on the stated purpose of this team, because the line-up in this comic is terrific, and should be more of the focus of the book.

Ms. Marvel #7 – Kamala and Wolverine finish up their time in the sewers beneath Jersey City, while chatting away for a bit.  It’s a fun issue, and it sets up Kamala’s inevitable interaction with the Inhumans.  Personally, I think that tying this series too closely with regular Marvel Universe continuity is going to be a mistake, especially since the Inhuman stuff doesn’t seem to be gaining the traction Marvel was hoping for.  This book is a gem in their line-up; it’s drawing in new readers and giving the company new exposure, but that should be seen as a reason to keep the focus on Kamala, and to keep the guest appearances and tie-ins to the minimum.

The Multiversity #1I don’t exactly remember how long we’ve been hearing about The Multiversity, the new event mini-series written by Grant Morrison, but it has been at least as long ago as when Final Crisis started, as he used that mini-series to set up some of what is going on in this one.  This opening issue, drawn by Ivan Reis, sets up that a threat of some sort (which looks like an egg with bat wings and a single eye that speaks in text message shorthand) that is endangering all the 52 worlds that make up the Multiverse.  Nix Uotan, the last of the Monitors, travels to Earth-7 (which is kind of like the Marvel Universe), and rescues the Thunderer, an Australian Aboriginal god, to allow him to assemble a team to come back and save him from the Bat-Egg-Eyeball.  These gathered heroes include the Barack Obama Superman of Earth-23 (previously seen in the only good issue of Morrison’s dreadful Action Comics run), Captain Carrot, a Savage Dragon knock-off, Aquawoman, and most interestingly, Bloodwynd.  There is definitely some stuff that doesn’t make sense, because this is a Morrison comic.  I was a little confused by the early pages that show Nix in his everyday guise, cutting into a supposedly ‘haunted’ comic while posting on the Internet as J. Michael Straczynski while chatting with a chimpanzee dressed like a pirate (whereas Detective Chimp would have made a lot more sense), and am still not too clear on the nature of the threat these characters face.  At the same time, I really liked Morrison’s concept that the adventures of the heroes of different worlds are represented as comics in others.  Obama-Superman seems very surprised to discover his secret identity published in a book that a Flash variant happened to bring with him to the Monitor’s home.  I’m reserving real judgement on this ‘event’ until I see how things work in the various one-shots that are going to really let the story play out.  Morrison is not always wonderful at starting his stories, as he crams too many ideas into too few pages, but when given lots of space, he does some amazing things.  Reis’s art is exactly what you would expect of a major DC event.  It’s not bad, but it’s very DC House Style.  Luckily, Morrison is working with some very exciting and dynamic artists in the other issues to come, so I know that the look of the book will improve, and that should aid in increasing my enthusiasm as well.

New Avengers #23I found this to be a very effective issue of New Avengers.  When the issue opens, the team, still reeling from the events of the last two issues, discover that another incursion is about to take place, but none of them have the willpower to destroy another Earth to save their own.  Instead, they retreat to their families, or go someplace safe to wait out the end of the world, which (obviously) never actually comes.  Jonathan Hickman has a real good handle on these characters – especially Black Panther and Reed Richards – and makes these last moments really work well.  The surprise ending is sort of obvious, but he adds a couple layers to it so that I did still find it to be a surprise.  Kev Walker is a wonderful addition to this book, showing more subtlety in his representations of people than he did in Avengers Undercover and Arena.  My only complaint is that this is the third issue of this series to come out in four weeks, and while it’s been very good, that’s a ridiculous publishing schedule.

Savage Wolverine #22 – I liked this little two-parter that was set during the First World War.  That time period is a favourite of mine, and it doesn’t get enough exposure in comics, so I was on board.  John Arcudi is always a great writer, and I like Joe Quinones’s art here.  This was not a particularly memorable Logan story, but I’d argue that none of the ‘Savage’ ones have been.

The Saviors #5 – The first arc of James Robinson and J. Bone’s alien invasion series closes off with a very strange plot device that makes main hero (and major stoner) Tomas an ideal person to lead the fight against the alien creatures that have infiltrated the Earth’s power structure.  This is a very amusing and entertaining comic, and I’m looking forward to the book continuing, although I’m not sure exactly when that’s going to happen, as it’s going on hiatus for a while.

Secret Avengers #7I’m really not sure where Ales Kot is taking this comic.  For the last couple of issues, he’s been introducing references to the work of the incredible Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, which thrills me, as I’m a big Borges fan, but also confuses me within the context of a comic that has, until this point, played things as a light humour book.  Much of this issue is given over to Deadpool hanging out with Hawkeye while speaking directly to Kot, the writer of the comic.  It’s a very Grant Morrison thing to do, except that instead of wrestling with big philosophical questions, Deadpool and Hawkeye have three legged races with AIM agents in a musical montage.  Oh, and Spider-Woman plays chess with a sentient bomb.  Really, there is nothing holding this title together as a coherent story at this point, and while I’m still interested, I can’t help but wonder how a new writer like Kot could get this story approved by his editors.  I’m going to stick around for the whole story though, because I figure that if Kot pulls off what he’s trying here, it could be brilliant.  At the same time, this might just be a gigantic mess of a failure for a book that’s already got dangerously low sales numbers…

Sir Edward Grey Witchfinder: The Mysteries of Unland #3 – The mysteries of Unland are getting deeper and deeper, as Grey continues to investigate two murders in this bizarre marsh town.  In keeping with Grey’s nickname, it looks like there may be some actual witches involved in this story as well as creepy looking eel people.  I like the work being done by writers Kim Newman and Maura McHugh, one of the first teams to write a Mignolaverse comic without Mike Mignola having a hand in things.  Tyler Crook’s art is awesome.

Stray Bullets Killers #6We’re back with Virginia and Eli, who are living together with Virginia’s aunt, and trying to just have a normal life together.  Eli gets into art school in Baltimore, but his wanting to share that information with his slightly creepy, horder art teacher causes a bit of strife, because Virginia’s hated the guy since she was a little kid.  This issue reads nicely, but lacks the emotional punch of some of the earlier issues in this run.

Supreme Blue Rose #2 – I’m not ashamed to admit that I still don’t really know what Warren Ellis is trying to do with this comic, which is throwing a lot of interesting concepts onto the page (a writer who rewrites reality, a radiation time loop, and a corporation’s division dedicated to working out how alternate histories may have gone), but they don’t seem terribly unified yet.  At the same time, as with some of Ellis’s more out-there stuff, it’s fun to read, and Tula Lotay’s artwork is lovely.  I just assume that this will all make a lot more sense when the story is finished, and probably read in a collected edition.

Trees #4 – I much prefer Warren Ellis’s other Image series, Trees, which keeps drawing me deeper and deeper into its sprawling story.  Ellis checks in with a few of his plotlines in this issue, as the Chinese artist finally starts to explore the new city he lives in, and as the scientists in the Arctic make a new discovery about the flowers that have started popping up all over the place, and as the military makes a move in Somalia.  I like how this series has such a global feel to it, as Ellis explores life after the Trees, gigantic alien structures, planted themselves all over the Earth.  The big start of this series is Jason Howard, whose art has become much more subtle and impressive than when I first saw it.

Umbral #8More fantasy goodness from Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten always makes me happy.  This has been a pretty interesting series so far, that I feel has been growing stronger as it has progressed.  At the beginning, I was only a little into it, but as the depth of Johnston’s story has been revealed, and as we learn more about this fantasy world, I’m more and more drawn into things.

The Wicked + The Divine #3 – We meet a few more of the gods as Laura tries to help Lucifer figure out who has framed her for murder.  The beginning of this issue was more than a little strange, as the Underworld gods acted all wild in the London Underground.  Once we got out of there, I found the story picked up again.  Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are taking their time with this story, but it’s working for me.

Comics I Would Have Bought if Comics Weren’t So Expensive:

All-New X-Factor #12

Armor Hunters Bloodshot #2

Batman and Robin #34

Batman Eternal #20

Batwoman #34

Dark Horse Presents #1

Empty Man #3

Fables #143

Magneto #8

Nova #20

Original Sins #5

Storm #2

Unwritten Vol. 2: Apocalypse #8

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Nao of Brown

by Glyn Dillon

I really don’t understand how Glyn Dillon’s 2012 graphic novel, The Nao of Brown, didn’t receive a lot more attention and acclaim than it did, and how it’s not getting recognized as one the best graphic novels of this decade.

Nao Brown is a young mixed race British woman whose father, an alcoholic, lives in Japan.  When the book opens, she has just returned to London from visiting him, and is feeling a little bit lost.  She has no boyfriend or job, and aside from a great cache of anime and manga-themed toys and memorabilia, has come back from her trip with little to show for herself.

Dillon slowly lets us get to know Nao, her interest in Buddhism, and the depth of her love for Japanese culture.  After running into an old friend, she gets hired at his toy shop, which specializes in all the things Nao loves.  While things are looking up for her, the reader begins to piece together that Nao is not just a little bit eccentric; she’s actually somewhat disturbed.  It seems that whenever she interacts with people, she can’t stop herself from imagining killing them in increasingly spectacular and unique ways.  She has a mantra she chants when the images become too much for her, but aside from her flatmate, a nurse, she keeps this stuff to herself.

As the book continues, Nao meets (and manipulates into meeting again) a washing machine repairman who reminds her of a character in her favourite anime.  They begin to date, just as Nao also gets closer to her friend and boss, Steve.

The book really examines the effects of Nao’s mental illness on her relationships, in a thoughtful and respectful way.  Dillon does a terrific job of showing how different people react to her, as they begin to realize that she is dealing with something they didn’t know about.  It’s especially interesting to see Nao try to hide a big part of herself from her boyfriend.

The story is interrupted by the story of Pictor, a character in one of Nao’s favourite Japanese series.  Pictor is a young man who is part human and part tree, and who lives in a forest playing a music box and herding sheep.  He frequently helps military commanders out of the forest in exchange for their youngest daughter’s hand in marriage.  His pages are beautifully rendered in large panels.

Actually, the entire book is beautiful.  Dillon’s art is terrific, full of rich reds and evocative facial expressions.  The book is very nicely designed, with high quality paper.  I really enjoyed reading this book.

 

That’s what I read this week.  What about you?  Let us know what you thought about the week in the comments below.

 

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