The Weekly Round-Up #248 With Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Hinterkind, New 52: Futures End, Original Sin, Southern Bastards, The Woods & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T #1Concrete Park was one of my favourite serials in the last version of Dark Horse Presents.  Something about Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander’s bleak vision of a gang-controlled penal world clicked with me, and from the first page, I wanted to read and learn more about this world.  They throw a lot of information and characters at the reader, and the eight-page format felt pretty constrained at times.  Now, they’ve returned to the world of Scare City in a longer, five-issue mini-series, and it’s great to see these concepts get the space they need to breathe.  As the issue opens, Luca and her people have arrived at the site of a large spaceship crash, where only Isaac and his mortal enemy have survived.  They can’t stay long, because a gang of scavengers is on their way, and as they try to return to Scare City, they are confronted by a rival gang which wants Luca dead.  A lot happens in this issue (I kind of wish I’d reread the DHP stories before this), but the sense that this is a very well-realized world is at the forefront.  I also really like Puryear’s art on this book, which is pretty unique in the solidity of the people he draws.

Quick Takes:

Avengers World #12 – The focus shifts back to the Avengers fighting Morgane Le Fay’s creatures in Europe, with the help of the Black Knight’s Euroforce team.  The members of that team are given one page flashbacks, but really very little happens in this glacial series.  Nick Spencer is kind of writing this like he does Morning Glories, but without the same compelling central mysteries.  I can’t imagine these stories are going to run on much longer…

Elephantmen #59I’m getting pretty tired of the pace of Elephantmen.  I’ve often liked the quirkiness of this title, and the way in which writer Richard Starkings just kind of does whatever he wants with his own book, but this new issue, which is a tribute to the great artist HR Giger, just generally ignored me.  A white-haired German, who I assume is supposed to be Giger himself, spends almost the entire issue touring Gigeresque landscapes while talking about genetics, sex, and reproduction, with a vaguely misogynistic tone.  The actual Elephantmen story, featuring Hip Flask, Sahara, Obadiah, Panya, and Serengeti, is sprinkled over some five pages.  The only saving grace of this book is just how good artist Axel Medellin in, especially at paying homage to Giger, but ultimately, this issue is very self-indulgent, and disappointing.

Green Arrow: Futures End #1 – I didn’t preorder any of the Futures End one-shots, because unlike a lot of fans, I really don’t like the way DC does these special September events, which for the last two years have been more focused on the cover than on the character or the creators that make the books (once again, I see that there are no creator credits on the front covers, at least not the 2D versions).  At the same time, I’ve really liked the work that Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino have done with Green Arrow, and decided I didn’t want to miss another twenty pages of their run, even if it’s just some nonsense set five years into a future that is now not ever going to take place.  As expected, the book is visually stunning.  We find out that Emi is now the Green Arrow (while still sounding a whole lot like Damian Wayne), that Oliver has grown into the bearded opinionated liberal of the original DC Universe, and that he has had many run-ins with the Outsiders, while always refusing to join their ranks.  I haven’t been reading the weekly Futures End series at all (nor have I heard many good things about it), but did read the FCBD issue that ended with Ollie’s death.  This one-shot leads up to those events, and in a way that, if I didn’t know better, makes me want to get caught up on the weekly.  In that way, this is a very successful comic, I suppose.  I think it’s worth saying again, I’m really going to miss these two creators on this title (which I’m now dropping), and hope to see them working on something together again soon.

Hinterkind #11This series just keeps chugging along, as a number of different characters are now being followed, making it a lot more interesting.  I don’t know what the long-term plans for this series are, as it’s not being solicited every month in Previews, but it feels like Ian Edginton has a lot in store for these characters.

Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #6 – I’m done with this title.  I really like Kaare Andrews’s art, but the story is not doing anything for me at all.  Danny spends most of the time bandaged up and feeling sorry for himself, and the rest of the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense.  I had high hopes for this book, as this is a character with a lot of potential, but Andrews is focusing on all of the least interesting aspects of the character, and his story is moving way too slowly for my liking.

Moon Knight #7 – I can’t imagine the pressure of following Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey on a comic, especially after a run as celebrated and critically respected as the first six issues of Moon Knight, but I think that Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood have done a fine job.  Wood is a terrific writer, although sometimes he can get bogged down in the details of the worlds he builds.  In this issue, he sticks to the done-in-one format that Ellis did, while building one story element that bridges the two runs, and sets up a larger storyline.  Smallwood is definitely no Shalvey, but he does a very fine job of drawing this issue, which has Mr. Knight pursuing a mysterious man who is determined to assassinate an African general who is visiting New York.  It looks like I’m going to be sticking with this title, which is what I’d expected to happen.

Original Sin #8Now that it’s over, I’m really not sure what the point of the main story in Original Sin really was.  It couldn’t have just been to set up a new Bucky Barnes series and to remove Nick Fury from the chessboard so that his Samuel L. Jackson-looking son can take his place to align the Marvel U with the way it’s shown in the movies.  I’m really certain it wasn’t just to get rid of Dr. Midas for a while.  I think that the core of this book is writer Jason Aaron’s love of The Orb.  Regardless, as far as Marvel events go, this one was pretty consistent, but that’s consistently weird as hell.  It’s also interesting that almost none of the characters on the cover appeared inside the comic…

She-Hulk #8 – At least, after Superior Foes of Spider-Man and Hawkeye end, there will still be She-Hulk sticking around to satisfy my craving for off-beat and humorous Marvel comics.  This is another excellent issue, as Jen gets hired to defend Captain America (who is now an old man, remember) in a wrongful death civil suit being tried in California.  We see Jen and her legal team prepare for the defense, and struggle to find a law office that is willing to work with her so she can practice in California, which leads to a very bizarre cameo, and a surprise ending that has been spoiled in interviews with writer Charles Soule.  This was a delightful comic, with fantastic Javier Pulido art.

Southern Bastards #4 – After last issue, where a bunch of football thugs beat the daylights out of a kid as a way of sending a message to Earl Tubb, I wasn’t sure that this comic could get much more brutal, but that’s just what Jason Aaron and Jason Latour do with this issue.  Earl finally gets the opportunity to talk with Coach Boss, the man who has been running his home town for years, and the meeting does not go well.  This series is not Scalped, but it is the closest Aaron’s writing has come to that high point since that series finished.  I was pleasantly surprised by the last couple of pages, which identify the person who Earl has been calling since the start of the series, and is not at all what I expected.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #15I’m a little bummed out that this series is going to be ending in a few months, but Nick Spencer has put together such a delightful story that it makes sense to end it at its natural conclusion.  In this issue, the gang finally starts working together, although that’s not a good thing for the Shocker, who is no longer on the team.  Spencer and artist Steve Lieber make this book a real treat every issue.

Swamp Thing: Futures End #1 – Since this book was made by the regular art team on Swamp Thing (Charles Soule and Jesus Saiz), I decided to grab it.  Soule shows the final battle between the Green and the Rot, after having Dr. Holland visit all the other realms.  We’ve known about the Red for a long time, and met the Grey recently in this title, but now we also get to meet the Divided (bacteria), and Metal.  I don’t know if Soule is planning on exploring these aspects of life in the regular series or not, but I stand by my statement that his Swamp Thing is the first to bring new concepts to the character in a very long time, and that is what makes it one of the few DC books I regularly read.

Uncanny X-Men #25 – It’s taken a little while, but it looks like we finally get a peek at the contents of Charles Xavier’s will, although instead, we get a long story about how he has been mentally blocking a very powerful mutant from accessing his powers for a number of years, frequently checking in on him to make sure he was okay and not able to use his abilities.  This is interesting when you consider the number of times that Xavier has been dead, missing, or living in space with the Shi’ar, not to mention the fact that this poor mutant somehow managed to survive the House of M ‘decimation.’  So, we get yet another Brian Michael Bendis bait-and-switch, with a forced reason to put Cyclops and Wolverine together one last time before Logan gets killed off, so that they can eventually find out what is actually in Xavier’s will.  There are some nice character moments here (especially between Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler), and some nice Chris Bachalo art, but this story is fizzling out quickly for me.

The Woods #5As much as I’ve been enjoying this series, which is about a high school that is mysteriously transported to a strange alien forest, I found this issue to be a very strange one.  We don’t learn anything about the people that a group of kids have come across in the woods, nor do we check in at all with events in the school.  We get some flashbacks that help illustrate the strength of the bonds between two characters, and we get a lot of annoying teenage girl code speak.  Still, this is a pretty entertaining comic, and I love Michael Dialynas’s art.

Comics I Would Have Bought if Comics Didn’t Cost So Much:

All-New X-Factor #13

Black Widow #10

Captain America #24

Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #1

Death of Wolverine #1

Detective Comics Futures End #1

Fairest #29

Grayson Futures End #1

Legendary Star-Lord #3

Miracleman #10

Names #1

Punisher #10

Spider-Man 2099 #3

Turok Dinosaur Hunter #7

Uber #17

X-Men #19

Bargain Comics:

All-New X-Factor #8The team works to rescue a mutant girl from her anti-mutant activist father, and everything has that mildly amusing Peter David tone to it.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with this comic, but it’s not one that I’ll remember having read in a few weeks, which is how I feel about this relaunched corporate superhero version in general.

Amazing Spider-Man #1-3 – While it’s entertaining to watch Peter Parker go around trying to figure out what all Otto Octavius has done to his personal, professional, and superhero life and reputation, after three issues, I was already getting a little bored.  I’ve never been a huge Parker fan, largely because it’s a little too easy for writers to fall into patterns with the character.  Short of showing him fixing his reputation, and apologizing to a lot of people, I’m not sure that Dan Slott has any real plans for Peter as a character.  Perhaps that’s why we get this other spider-bitten person hinted at in each issue, and why we need to use all the Spider-Men for the upcoming Spider-Verse event, dazzling the readers with plot to avoid the lack of character growth.  I much prefered Superior Spider-Man; that book was original.

Inhuman #1 – I read this in reprint in the back of Amazing Spider-Man #1, and I have to say that it was utterly unimpressive and uninteresting.  I have a lot of respect for writer Charles Soule, but this is not the same guy who kills it regularly on Swamp Thing, She-Hulk, and especially Letter 44.  I don’t care at all about the new characters introduced here, and have a hard time getting interested in Medusa’s story either.  I think that Marvel has really over-reached on this project, if the rumours of how central this book is expected to become are to be believed.

Original Sin #3.1I’m not too sure why we need to put the blame for the creation of the Hulk on Tony Stark.  It really minimizes a lot of the pathos of the character, and makes it easier to always portray Bruce Banner as a victim, instead of the consequence of his own actions.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this retcon gets retconned away some day soon, or just never mentioned again after this mini-series within the event.  As far as comics go, it’s only just okay, but I put a lot of the blame for that on the Mark Bagley art, which always has a way of making a comic feel old and bland.

Original Sin #5.1 – I hadn’t realized that I missed Al Ewing and Lee Garbett’s Loki series until I read this.  This event spin-off is all about Thor and Loki discovering that Angela is their sister, which is, in my opinion, not a very compelling or interesting thing, but Ewing writes Asgardians well, if nothing else.

Spider-Man 2099 #1 – I never read more than the first issue of the original Spider-Man 2099 series, but I thought I’d take a look at how this new, modern-day set volume is shaping up.  Peter David does a good job of establishing the tone of the series going forward (yes, light humour), while establishing that Miguel’s boss is interested in finding out whether or not S-Man (that’s got to get fixed) works for her company.  I was most impressed by Will Sliney’s art, which has come a long way from his Farscape days, and is even an improvement on his recent Fearless Defenders work.  I’m curious and impressed enough to read more of this title.

Thor God of Thunder #23&24 – Knowing that Thor is going to be rendered ‘unworthy’ in the middle of an event book, and that he is destined to be replaced by another, female, version of Thor kind of takes a lot of steam out of this story, which has the Thunder God fighting Trolls in Broxton, levelling the town.  A lot of Jason Aaron’s run on this title has felt this way, like it’s just putting in time before something happens.  It’s also interesting that so much of the space in these issues is always given to Old Thor in the deep future; it’s like Marvel is ensuring that everyone knows that Lady Thor won’t be around for long…

Wolverine #3-7I kind of wonder if what’s going to end up offing Logan isn’t the shame of just how bad these comics are.  And I mean (especially after Gerardo Sandoval becomes the artist) in the absolute 90siest sense of the word bad.  Logan has gone undercover, infiltrating a crime lord’s superteam, at the behest of SHIELD, and now has to help this guy stop Sabretooth from getting ahold of a shiny metal ball that makes variant versions of the people who touch it, but is also supposed to give the ball to MI-13, all while lying to his new girlfriend, who is a criminal.  Oh, and there are translator nanites floating around the back alleys of Madripoor, because every poor Asian nation should have those.  At least I think that’s what’s going on in these comics; I really couldn’t tell.  Except now Logan has a tattoo of a rose on his arm, which is supposed to mean something to Thor when he’s drunk.  If you miss the 90s, pick these up.

X-Men #18 – I took Brian Wood’s departure from this title as a good opportunity to trim my pull-file a little, as I wasn’t expecting much from a Marc Guggenheim X-Book (I still remember Young X-Men).  As it turns out, this is a very capable and decent first issue, with a story based on the SWORD station, involving Deathbird, and the creatures that are after her.  There’s a little too much emphasis on the fact that Deathbird is Rachel Summers’s aunt (based on the fact that her psychotic uncle, Vulcan, married her for a while before he was killed off), but it’s nice to see that someone has finally noticed how stacked this team is with telepaths.  Harvey Tolibao’s art is really nice on this book.

The Week in Manga:

20th Century Boys Vol. 15 – One of my favourite things about this long-running manga series is the way in which mangaka Naoki Urasawa keeps introducing new story elements that fit so nicely with whatever else is going on in the comic.  This volume opens with a mystery surrounding the death of a Catholic priest in Italy, and the unauthorized investigation another priest begins into the whole thing.  That leads him to Japan just as the Pope is coming to visit, and that in turn leads to some of the biggest events in the series so far.  The Friend’s prophecy of the Pope dying is addressed head-on, as the Friend’s network becomes even more powerful.  There is some very suspenseful stuff in this series, which just keeps getting better as I keep working through it.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Arctic Marauder

by Jacques Tardi
I’ve been enjoying Fantagraphics translations of older Jacques Tardi comics, and so was happy to be able to pick up The Arctic Marauder, a very strange graphic novel by the French comics master.

This book is set in 1889, and stars Jérôme Plumier, a medical student who has, for some reason, booked passage on a ship, L’Anjou, which is sailing through the North Atlantic, in a region filled with towering icebergs.  The crew of the ship spot another vessel wedged on the top of a gigantic iceberg, and a small group of sailors, and Plumier, are sent over to investigate.  What they find is the Iceland Loafer, with both ship and crew frozen solid.  They aren’t able to spend too long exploring the mystery before L’Anjou suddenly explodes, with all hands lost.

Eventually, Plumier is rescued, and returns to Paris, where he finds out that his uncle has died, leaving behind even more mystery.  In his lab, Plumier finds evidence of some strange experiments involving animals, and a machine that’s only function appears to be freezing itself.  Later, Plumier receives word that his uncle may not be dead, and he heads north to try to find out what is going on.

Plumier ends up on a ship being sent to the North Atlantic to discover why so many vessels are sinking in a particular area, although that ship also explodes.  It’s not easy to discuss where things go from here, except to say that the titular Arctic Marauder is a very unique vessel, worthy of a James Bond villain, and that Plumier, upon finding his uncle, is not a good person.

Tardi has a great time with this story and its design elements.  The story was originally published in 1974, which makes me wonder if Tardi may be the inventor of the steampunk genre.  He delights in surprising the reader by having Plumier joyfully join his uncle in his evil plans, and in setting up the ultimate hero of the book as a villain.

The art in this book is incredible.  Tardi captures the dread of a dark ocean, with a ship surrounded by menacing icebergs that loom over it.  His design for the Marauder, and the strange assortment of submarines, flying vessels, and manned torpedoes that its crew uses, are amazing.  He makes great use of the larger pages of a French comic to construct page layouts that remind me of stained glass windows.

The book is a much quicker read than I would have expected from its size, mostly because after each chapter (some lasting only five pages), there is a full title page for the subsequent chapter.  I also found it odd that this volume doesn’t share a trade dress style with the other books in Fantagraphic’s Tardi series.  Still, this is well worth getting your hands on.

Black Beetle Vol. 1: No Way Out

by Francesco Francavilla

I’ve been a fan of Francesco Francavilla’s art for some time now, but had decided to hold off on buying his Black Beetle mini-series, because the serial in Dark Horse Presents didn’t really do a lot to impress me.  Now, having read No Way Out in hardcover, which also collects the DHP story, I’m glad I waited.

The Black Beetle is a pretty typical costumed noir crime fighter.  He has some specialized equipment, and a tendency to prowl around at night.  When he goes to bust up a meeting between rival mob families, he is surprised when the meeting place explodes, apparently killing everybody there.  As he tries to solve the mystery of who is behind the explosion, he soon crosses paths with The Labyrinto, a costume villain who dresses in a maze-themed outfit.

In a lot of ways, this book reminds me of Mike Mignola’s Lobster Johnson, as much as he does characters like The Shadow.  Both central characters are essentially ciphers, giving away nothing about themselves over the course of the story, but the Black Beetle works alone.  That means that this story is very plot-driven, as he attempts to infiltrate an inescapable prison, explores abandoned subway tunnels, and sneaks into a heavily guarded wooded estate.  It’s hard to care about the Beetle, because we don’t know anything about him (when he goes undercover into a nightclub, he wears a different mask), and so Francavilla’s art is left to do all the heavy lifting in the story.

The thing about that is that Francavilla is an incredible artist, and his choice of story gives him plenty of opportunity to show off the amazing and innovative layouts he’s known for.  This is a gorgeous book, and that alone makes it worth buying.

I like the way Francavilla has sprinkled some clues and subplots throughout this story, to help set up future adventures for the character.  There’s something about a hollow lizard, which an occult figure with access to a high-tech group of Nazis is after, and I get the feeling that as the larger story progresses, we will eventually learn more about the Beetle.

In the meantime, I’m happy with stories that are this visual, although I think sticking to the trade format, and reading them in one sitting, is the way to go with tales like this.


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