The Weekly Round-Up #253

Best Book of the Week:

Wytches #1Scott Snyder is very good at writing first issues.  Like with American Vampire and The Wake, the beginning of this series is pretty compelling stuff.  Snyder opens with a scene set in 1919, wherein a young son prevents his mother from escaping the wytches/people/things she’s been ‘pledged’ to.  After that, we move to present day, where the Rooks family has just moved into a rural home.  The father, a cartoonist, has moved the family here to try to escape a number of issues from their recent past, some hinted at (his wife is in a wheelchair, and we don’t know who Annie, mentioned once, is), and others made clear (his daughter, Sail, the victim of bullying, has been implicated in the disappearance of her bully, but we see what happened, and it’s very similar to the beginning of the comic).  Sail’s character is interesting, as is the way she manages with the fact that even on her first day at a new school, everyone already knows who she is.  Then there’s the deer that shows up in the family’s home.  In the textpiece, Snyder talks about how personal this series is for him, and it does feel different from most of his other work (although, the suggestion that Wytches are ancient creatures living in secret is pretty reminiscent of his approach to vampires at Vertigo).  Jock is the artist for this series, so of course everything looks terrifically moody and threatening.  I’ve kind of lost faith in Snyder lately, having been worn out by his Batman and unimpressed by the relaunch of American Vampire, but I’m curious to see where he’s heading with this book.

Quick Takes:

Abe Sapien #17 – I still enjoy Abe’s solo series, but almost a year and a half after it began, I’m ready to see some changes in the formula.  For too long now, this book has been about Abe showing up in a particular place (that is probably connected to his past), doing some stuff, and moving on.  He’s become the post-Hell on Earth BPRD version of The Littlest Hobo, only creepier.  Still, the art by the Fiumara brothers keeps me around.

Annihilator #2Nothing says Grant Morrison more than a story where a writer meets his creation, but in a new twist, the creation, Max Nomax, actually sent his life story to the writer via a data bullet to the brain which is now giving him cancer.  Morrison is on familiar ground, linking back to his classic run on Animal Man, but still coming up with new and interesting twists on things.  The writer, a screenwriter, has been working on a horror science-fiction movie about Max Nomax, but now that Max has arrived on Earth, we learn that the story is all true, although Max needs to learn how he escaped Vada, whatever that is.  This is a well-written book, with excellent Frazer Irving artwork.  I’m sure both Vertigo and Image are not too happy that Legendary Comics somehow got ahold of this project.

Avengers #36 – Jonathan Hickman has jumped us forward in time (now seven months, although the story is proceeding linearly, and not backing up onto itself), and we follow along as Hyperion, Thor, Sunspot, Starbrand, Nightmask, and a pile of Ex Nihili make plans to jump into other dimensions to try to handle the multiversal collapse that is taking place.  There aren’t as many surprises as the last issue held (and we learn why Cannonball and Smasher’s child is so old), but it’s nice to see the story move forward.  I’m enjoying this arc, and am pleased that the time jump keeps it from being tied in to Axis.

Avengers & X-Men: Axis #1 – I haven’t been too clear on what Axis is all going to be about, and so far, reading this issue hasn’t helped all that much.  The Red Skull, with Charles Xavier’s brain in his head, has become the Red Onslaught, and is making people around the world hate each other, except for a few heroes who are able to withstand his telepathic commands, thanks to a device Tony Stark has made.  This is reminiscent of House of M, where our heroes were the only people not affected by Wanda’s madness.  Various Avengers, and slightly fewer X-Men, band together to try to stop the Red Onslaught.  That’s about it really.  Rick Remender depicts the Avengers rather lightly, like in last week’s issue of Captain America, which works to make the level of threat in this event feel a little slight.  I’ve been enjoying Remender’s Uncanny Avengers, for the most part, and this is basically just a continuation of last week’s issue, with more characters tossed in.  I hope that there is a little more coherence to this event going forward, and am already prepared for Adam Kubert’s departure, as he’s not the best artist to draw a book so crammed with characters.  Here’s a thought – we’ve been hearing rumors of Marvel re-booting their line, and we know that they are cancelling books like the Fantastic Four.  The last time Onslaught showed up, we got the Heroes Reborn crap, with people like Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld redesigning and rebooting the central Marvel characters.  Coincidence?  I really hope so…

Batgirl #35DC gives Batgirl a stylistic reboot (surprisingly without renumbering the series), as writers Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher give us a very different approach to Barbara Gordon.  She has moved to Burnside (which is basically Gotham’s hipster-Brooklyn) and is living with some new roommates.  After Black Canary suffers a fire, Barbara loses all of her superhero equipment (weirdly, despite getting along fine in recent issues of Batgirl, Babs and Dinah no longer get along) and has to go low-tech when she learns that a tattooed creep has been using stolen cellphones and laptops to blackmail people.  The issue is good, but it’s a little strange, as it tries to fit an independent sensibility into the New 52.  Barbara drinks to the point of oblivion, and wanders her new shared apartment in just her underwear.  This is not Gail Simone’s Barbara.  It feels like she’s been de-aged, and has become a lot more irresponsible, with no real reason given for her move.  There is an almost desperate need to show the new approach’s ‘hipness’, with the bad guy actually incorporating hashtags (#s) into his speech, and every guy in the background is wearing flannel and facial hair.  It’s pretty easy to spot the influence of books like Scott Pilgrim and Wet Moon, and I’m think this will all feel very dated within a couple of years.  I was very impressed with the art by Babs Tarr (over breakdowns by Stewart), which has some very cool layouts, and the indie sensibility that I like.  This was a fun and entertaining issue, but I’m undecided as to what I think about continuing to read the series.  I’m going to give the next issue a flip-through, but as I’m really not the intended audience for this series (for very different reasons than why I’m not the intended audience for almost all of the rest of the New 52), I don’t know if there will be much there for me.

Black Science #9 – I felt like this was a very disjointed issue of Black Science, as Rick Remender further expanded the backstory of one character, checked in on Grant’s kids, who are lost and alone on a strange planet, and then flipped to a completely different world, where a possibly familiar character moves through what’s becoming the obligatory chase scene, running from some vaguely Egyptian-themed folk.  I’ve been a big supporter of this series, but have to say that this particular issue is the type that reads a lot better in trade form, as part of the larger narrative.  Still, Matteo Scalera is killing it on this title, so even when I don’t love the writing, the art is awesome.

The CBLDF Presents Liberty Annual 2014Like PBS pledge drives, comics cause anthology month has begun, and as a responsible and committed supporter of the comics arts, I picked up my copy of this one, which benefits the organization that works to assist comics creators who run afoul of legal troubles pertaining to the content of their books.  In previous years, I’ve really enjoyed the CBLDF offerings, which have included Walking Dead and Elephantmen short stories, and strips from some of my favourite cartoonists, like Bá and Moon.  This year, the annual is ‘for all ages’, and that means a lot of cutesy stories about the value of free speech.  There are some high points, like a two-page strip written and drawn by Jonathan Hickman, which is something I haven’t seen in a very long time.  Let’s face it, I’m going to continue buying these books because I believe in the cause (and really, should probably send more money their way), but this year’s comics were not really my thing.

Copperhead #2 – I liked the first issue of Jay Faerber and Scott Godlewski’s new sci-fi Western enough to come back for a second helping, and while it didn’t disappoint, it was not as full an issue.  The Sheriff begins to investigate a murder, while her son runs afoul of some local danger.  The first issue gave me the sense that there’s a lot going on in this outpost of civilization, and while this issue adds a little (such as the town doctor, who is of course a drunk), Faeber mostly spends his time getting some action going.  I’ll come back for another issue to see how things progress.

Dark Ages #3 – At first I was a little disappointed with Dark Ages, a new mini-series by Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard, but this issue has more than made up for that feeling, and has turned this series into a pretty interesting one.  Before this issue, we’d been reading about a group of mercenaries who had holed up in a monastery, trying to fight off a group of demon/dragon things that were attacking it.  This month, though, we learn about the extraterrestrial origins of the creatures, as the mercenaries find a robotic head walled up in the monastery.  What I most enjoyed was the critique of religion, as the robot explained that it was through slavish devotion to religious thought, that he was unable to prepare the Earth to fight off the attackers.  Abnett is a writer well-known for his cosmic adventures, but it’s a bit unusual to see him making cultural judgements like this.  Very entertaining.

FBP #14I’ve decided that I’m going to give up on this title, because I really didn’t get a lot out of the last story arc, but then this issue comes along, and I find myself getting interested in the series all over again.  This is a flashback issue that looks at Cicero’s days at the FBP Academy.  There is a lot of the usual jock vs. nerd drama, with the jocks being future field agents, and Cicero and his friends, the future research wing of the FBP, taking on the ‘nerd’ role.  Writer Simon Oliver ties the scientific work of Adam Hardy’s father into the story as well, making this arc more central to the main thrust of the series.  It was nice to see Alberto Ponticelli draw this issue, as I haven’t seen any of his art for a while now.  I doubt I’m going to start preordering this book again, but I will be getting the next issue, and if I’m suitably impressed, I might just not abandon it the following month.

Imperial #3 – I’ve been enjoying Steven T. Seagle and Mark Dos Santos’s sitcom of a superhero comic, as Mark continues to be trained by Imperial (a.k.a. Superman) to replace him one day.  The book is funny, but there’s not a whole lot more to say about it than that.

Justice League United #5 – With this issue, Jeff Lemire starts to deliver on some of the things that I’d hoped to see from this series.  He dispatches some of the team to track down Hawkman’s gear in deep space (which, I assume will result in Hawkman’s resurrection, as I don’t believe DC would kill him off so handily), and then spends most of the issue focusing on Equinox, the new hero created for this title.  Equinox is a teenage Cree girl who lives in Northern Ontario, and I love the way that Lemire taps into Cree legend to give the girl a Shazam-like origin story.  Both Miiyahbin (Equinox’s real name) and Alanna Strange are being set up to be central characters.  There are not enough strong Canadian women in comics (not even Heather Hudson, Vindicator, always fits that bill), and I’m pleased that Lemire is putting these two in such key positions.  Timothy Green II draws this issue, and his stuff looks much better here than it has recently on Avengers Underground.  I’m going to assume that he’s just been given more time here, as he’s usually a very capable artist.  I am, of course, most excited to see that the next story arc, starting in the upcoming Annual, features the Legion of Super-Heroes, one of my all-time favourite teams.  I just hope that Lemire can figure out what so many writers over the last twenty years haven’t, which is how to write them successfully.

Klarion #1It’s long been acknowledged that DC’s entire publishing strategy is to throw characters at the wall and see what sticks, but there is no better example of that recently than the new Klarion series.  Klarion the Witch Boy is one of those oddball DC characters who shows up every once in a while (as part of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers, not that long ago) but can’t quite stick, because he’s a difficult character to work with.  He’s a young boy, he’s blue, he’s a witch.  Usually there’s a cat, but it’s established from the start with this series that his cat is dead.  That’s about the only thing that’s clearly established, because most of this issue is a mess.  Ann Nocenti doesn’t really tell us why Klarion has left his home to come to our Earth, but she does show him getting a lift from Beelzebub, who recommends he check out a museum, which promptly hires him as a sous chef (what every museum that lets its employees live in-house needs).  Before that, he rescues a guy from getting beat up by a metal band.  This guy decides that he’s going to get revenge on the band by messing with their playlist at their gig that evening (because that’s what people do).  There’s some sort of battle going on between magic and technology, and the people who hire Klarion are on the magic side, but I really don’t understand what’s happening in this comic, nor do I know why I’d like to read more.  I’ve given up on Nocenti – she’s not the same writer whose Kid Eternity so impressed me years ago, to say nothing of her classic run on Daredevil or creation of Longshot.  I mostly bought this comic because I like Trevor McCarthy’s art and page designs, but I can guarantee I won’t be back for more.  I suspect this series won’t be around for long…

The Manhattan Projects #24 – I guess, since realizing that this series would continue exploring its alternate version of 20th century history, I should have known that we would eventually reach the point of covering JFK’s assassination.  I just didn’t expect Jonathan Hickman to go so far with it, making it part of numerous conspiracies involving alien Soviet mind control, pilot-able bullets, and everyone’s need to keep the world polarized between two opposing world powers.  This series just keeps getting more twisted, and while I miss the smaller cast and mission coherence of the earlier issues, I am enjoying watching Hickman take things into ever-weirder territory.  Fans of JFK might be angered by this issue.

Sex Criminals #8 I’d expected that this issue would follow up on the consequences of Jon’s visit to Sex Police HQ, and I guess it does at the very end of the issue, but for the most part, this time around, we are focused on Jon and Suzie after they have decided to take a break from one another.  As this book gains a more dedicated fan following, I’m worried that writer Matt Fraction might be pushing this book into different territory.  Much of the issue is given over to Suzie’s visit to the gynecologist to see if she can correct her birth control pill-caused side effects.  This leads to a lengthy (and kinda educational) discussion of birth control options that could almost fit in a middle school health class better than it did in the middle of a long story arc.  I know that this book is being published in America, where this information is offered considered the work of the devil, but it sort of put the brakes on the flow of the story.  The rest of the issue is more delightful, as Suzie flirts with the new gynecologist, and as Jon finds himself a new therapist after blowing up in the mall food court.  I couldn’t escape the sense that Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky are pandering a little to their audience now, giving the book a slight ‘after school special’ feel for the first time.  Here’s hoping they do something twisted and perverse again next month to correct for it.

Thief of Thieves #24 – I am not sure, but I think that this must be the last arc of Thief of Thieves, if for no other reason than that, if the book were to continue, there would be almost no characters left to feature in it.  Redmond is working his way down his ‘hit list’, and we learn just how he’s pulled to wool over some of his enemy’s eyes in this issue.  I’m still enjoying this series, but not with the same level of excitement that I felt during the first couple of arcs.  I worry that it’s perhaps played a little too long…

Wonder Woman #34I’m really going to miss this series once Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang have left it.  Their Wonder Woman has been phenomenal, with this issue standing out as one of the best of the entire run.  As the First Born and his army crush Paradise Island, Wonder Woman fights back from despair, and her various allies and former enemies come together to make their final stand.  I love stories like this, which have been built up for years, and which, aside from the assured continuity of the main character, could conceivably kill off any number of beloved supporting cast members.  The only good result I can expect from David Finch’s tenure on this book (aside from freeing up $3 a month) is that Cliff Chiang will hopefully show up on another title soon.

X-O Manowar #0 – Let this be the end of the flashback stories, as we’ve already firmly established the Aric used to be a barbarian.  We go back to these days, seeing Aric’s first battle, and then check in on yet another sunset conversation between him and his girlfriend today about how he is doing everything he can to protect his people.  I guess, if you’ve never read an issue of X-O Manowar, this serves as a good introduction to the character and his post-Armor Hunters status quo.  If you’ve been reading the book since its relaunch, then this is all kinda dull.

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

‘68 Homefront #2

Amazing Spider-Man #7

Batman #35

Batman Eternal #27

Caliban #7

Captain Marvel #8

Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #2

Miracleman #12

Nightcrawler #7

Punisher #11

Savage Hulk #5

War Stories #1

X-Force #10

Bargain Comics:

Batgirl #31-34 I realized that I had the end of Gail Simone’s run on the title sitting on my ‘to be read’ pile, and figured I should get to it before reading the latest issue, which launches the new team’s take on the character (see above).  I’ve never really disliked Simone’s run, but it has been plagued with a number of problems, and has not been ‘good enough’ for me to preorder and buy every month.  Leaving aside arguments of whether or not Barbara should have regained the ability to walk, and go back to being Batgirl, the biggest issue with this book was the utter bleakness of it.  Barbara gets a new boyfriend, but he’s the guy who had his leg cut off because he was a criminal.  She believes that she’s the cause of her brother’s death.  Her father has all sorts of issues with Batgirl, as does the GCPD.  There was very little of the sweetness and humour that marks Simone’s best writing, even when she’s writing a book about totally depraved individuals (see all of the old DCU Secret Six).  These last four issues, though, were all moving in positive directions.  Ragdoll showed up to be the antagonist for one issue, which has me really looking forward to his return in the new Secret Six.  Also, Barbara teams up with Black Canary and Huntress to take down Knightfall and her entire organization (not that either of them shows up on any covers – wouldn’t want people to think that there’s an original Birds of Prey reunion happening, and you know, buying the book for that reason).  Huntress’s inclusion feels a little forced, but I didn’t really care, because I’ve really missed Birds of Prey.  I think that future comics historians will be able to point to the first thirty-four issues of this series (plus the zero issue) as being perfectly indicative of everything that made the New 52 so controversial, and eventually so irrelevant among fans.  With the level of editorial interference DC is known for, it’s not even possible for one of their most talented writers to capture a character she’s closely associated with properly.  That’s madness.

Batwing #29-33I’m always down for a Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti book, but I have had a hard time accepting Luke Fox as Batwing.  Way too much time gets spent on his issues with his family, which is exacerbated by an old friend of his poisoning his sister with street drugs that cause permanent brain damage, while also kidnapping his younger sister.  Another Palmiotti/Gray staple, the massive secret community under Gotham gets used again (although, weirdly, there’s nothing to tie it to the community they revealed in All-Star Western).  These guys can write a good superhero story, but too much of this stuff falls into the mean-spirited darkness of the DCnU for comfort.  Perhaps that’s why this title has been cancelled?

Storm #2&3 – When I read the first issue of Storm, my complaint about it was that I didn’t have a good sense of where writer Greg Pak was planning on taking the character and the title.  Now that I’ve read the next two issues in the series, my thoughts have not changed at all.  Pak is using this series to revisit key moments and relationships in Storm’s history, but I don’t know why that’s important to the character.  Issue two has her tracking down some runaways, to find that they are living with Callisto, Storm’s old rival from the days when she became the leader of the Morlocks.  In issue three, she travels to Kenya where Forge, her former lover, is trying to build a system to help irrigate the desert.  In both cases, Storm leaves things somewhat ambiguous with regards to how she feels about these people, and I still don’t have any idea where the next issue will lead.  As done-in-one stories, both of these are perfectly fine, but there’s a feeling about this book that Pak is afraid to commit to a direction, a large plot, or an arc for this character to grow along.  It’s like reading a series of inventory stories.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Dotter of her Fathers Eyes

Written by Mary M. Talbot
Art by Bryan Talbot

I’ve never had a lot of interest in the writing of James Joyce, and have only ever read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man back when I was in university, but I am always interested in seeing how comics can intersect with the academic world, and I have long been a fan of Bryan Talbot’s work.

Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes is written by Talbot’s wife, Mary.  She is the daughter of James S. Atherton, a renowned Joyce scholar, and, apparently, a difficult man to get along with.  Growing up, Atherton was a complicated presence in Mary’s life.  In some ways, she longed to please him, but in others, she found his intransigence painful.  So, in other words, she was a typical daughter to a typical father, especially considering we are talking about post-War Britain.

To prove the commonality of her story, it is told in parallel to that of Lucia Joyce, the daughter of James Joyce, who was subject to her family’s nomadic and penniless ways, and who was forced to put a successful dancing and teaching career on hold because of familial obligations.  The two women’s stories unfold in such a way as to look for lines of intersection, but the telling difference is that where Mary ended up marrying Bryan and becoming a successful academic, Lucia ended up in a string of asylums.

This is a very personal work, made even more so by the fact that the artist is married to the writer.  There are a couple of places where Mary includes small notes to disagree with the way Bryan has pictured events, and these add to the sense of accuracy that this book carries.  Mary shows a strong sense of self-awareness, and Bryan keeps his art clear and more minimal, avoiding the lush work we are used to seeing from him in his Grandville graphic novels.

This book was well worth reading, and provided some insight into the lives of the brilliant.

 

 

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