The Weekly Round-Up #257 With Tooth & Claw, Chew, Eternal Warrior, The Humans, Imperial & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Tooth & Claw #1I’m not always down for a sword and sorcery type of book, and tossing in talking animal characters really works against it for me, but this series is written by Kurt Busiek, who can usually do no wrong, so I checked it out.  The fact that the first issue is forty-eight pages, ad-less, and only $3 really did not hurt things either.  The first bit of praise I have is for artist Benjamin Dewey’s incredible design and character work in this book.  He has created a number of fantasy animals, and their world of floating cities, and it looks stunning.  I don’t know what Dewey’s done before this, but I want to see more of his work.  The story didn’t catch me at first, but by the end of the issue, I was left wanting to read more, which is always a good sign.  We meet Dunstan, a young dog, who performs various tasks for his family of mundane and spiritual matters.  It’s pretty clear that his father is an important person/dog in their floating city, and he takes his son with him on a trip to the surface, where they engage in trade with some very imposing warthog-like creatures.  It’s clear that this world works on a very vertical class system, with the underclasses slaving away on the ground, hoping to receive some ‘magic’ for their labors.  We later learn that the ‘magic’ is running out, and when one mystic proposes a solution, the creature at the top of society rejects it out of hand.  That doesn’t stop a bunch of wizards coming to this city to try things out, with some disastrous consequences.  Busiek makes it clear that this is a very rich world, and while I feel that a central mystery to this issue, about the identity of the greatest hero on the planet, is kind of telegraphed to be one of the working class, I’m very interested to see where things go from here, and to poke around in this milieu.  Another winner from Image.

Quick Takes:

Avengers & X-Men: Axis #4When I’d first heard about the ‘inversion’ plot to this series, I thought there would be a lot more to it than “heroes turn bad; villains turn good.”  Apparently, there really isn’t.  At a meeting between Captain Falcon and New Nick Fury (in which New Nick refers to the fight with Red Onslaught as one of the worst things he’s ever seen, which really wouldn’t encompass much, since the character has only lived through a few Marvel events at this point), Captain Falcon refuses to give the Red Skull to SHIELD.  Then, in a meeting with the Avengers, he decides they should kill the Skull, but Hulk (who speaks like Bizarro) tries to stop them, then turns into Kluh, the ‘inverted’ Hulk.  That means he gets a little smarter, and looks like a cross between Maggot and Strong Guy.  Meanwhile, Carnage saves some hostages, and Storm gathers the X-Men into an army.  This event has just gotten really pretty silly.  There’s not much more to say to that.  I guess it’s kind of fun to see the heroes do bad things, but this is little more than a bottle episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where a glowing ball of light enters the ship and makes everyone act differently than normal, except without the budget constraints that made that kind of stupid episode necessary in the first place.

Chew #44 – So many terrible things happen in this issue of Chew that I kind of expected to find out that it was an imaginary issue, or a dream or something, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.  Basically, Colby, Applebee, and their FDA crew, augmented by Savoy and Olive Chu, make a move on the Collector.  Tony’s not there though, and things do not go well.  This is a pretty brutal issue, but it has some pretty great little funny moments, my favourite being a cameo by the cast of Manhattan Projects.  Chew is always such a great read, and then every once in a while, John Layman and Rob Guillory really kick it up a notch.  This is one of those times.

Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T #3I’ve been fascinated by Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander’s world since the first Concrete Park story showed up in Dark Horse Presents.  Their prison world, run by various gangs and strange characters, is endlessly complex, shown by the fact that they are still introducing new elements this deep into their second story.  A lot happens, as Luca meets a new ally, and Isaac’s attempt to stay out of one gang war lands him in an even worse place.  Puryear’s art looks very nice, and each new issue wants me to start rereading the series from the beginning again, just to immerse myself in the complexity of this story.

Eternal Warrior: Days of Steel #1 – It’s nice to see Gilad back in a new mini-series, and it’s always good to see some Cary Nord artwork, but I was a little disappointed in this issue.  Peter Milligan is using a pretty typical set-up for this story, which is set in 9th century Europe.  Gilad gets involved in the fight between the Franks and Magyars when he is sent by the Geomancer of that era to protect a baby who is supposed to save Europe from the Hungarian invasion.  Milligan’s writing is very paint-by-numbers, especially when compared to the much better work Greg Pak was doing with this character a year or so ago.

The Fuse #7 – I’m very happy to see The Fuse back, as I loved the first story arc.  The Fuse is a space station that has seen better days, and this series follows a pair of detectives as they go about their job.  A new story arc means a new case, and this one involves illegal racing that is done on the station’s solar power grid.  The sport’s biggest name racer is found dead, and Klem and Dietrich begin their investigation, which quickly looks like it’s going to be a complicated one, cutting class lines, and involving illegal drugs as well as racing.  Antony Johnston is excellent at world-building, and it looks like he’s determined to explore every bit of the station in this series.  Justin Greenwood’s art looks good, especially considering that he’s working on both this and Stumptown at the same time.  If you ever liked Homicide: Life on the Street, or thought that Babylon 5 could have been a lot better than it was, you’d probably like this series.

Gotham Academy #2I didn’t love the first issue of this series, but on a second read-through, I decided that there was enough there to get me to pick up the second.  It took me a while to get into this issue too, as the series is a little more YA than I normally can handle, but by the end of the comic, Becky Cloonan and Brandon Fletcher had me drawn in.  Karl Kerschl’s art is terrific, as Olive continues to try to make sense of how the so-far secret events of the summer have changed her.  We also get a hidden map that leads to a secret place under the Academy’s old cemetery, and that is the plot-line that interests me the least.  I might give this one more issue before making up my mind.

Grayson #4 – I’ve been on the fence about this series, but with this issue, I’ve decided it’s time to add this book to my pull-file list.  Tom King and Tim Seeley have made this series into something pretty interesting, as they finally take an issue to explore Dick Grayson’s character in his new environment, address the concerns about espionage within Spyral, and even give Checkmate a cameo.  Dick is pursued by some students at St. Hadrian’s, while Helena tries to find the potential traitor in their midst.  Things are really settling into a unique take on one of the Bat-family, and Mikel Janin is doing a great job with the art, while still fitting in the DC house style.

The Humans #1 – The Humans is the name of a motorcycle gang in this comic world where apes are the dominant species.  Basically, this first issue makes me think that this series is going to be Sons of Anarchy meets Planet of the Apes, as the gang mourns a fallen member, and gets into a fight with their rivals.  Not a whole lot happens in this first issue, and really nothing about this story or the art makes the book stand out, but it is kind of fun, and pretty endearing.  Nothing is really done with the ape/human switch concept, and there is nothing resembling a story arc in this issue, but I still want to read the next one.  That makes this issue a success, right?

Imperial #4 – Steven T. Seagle ends his sitcom superhero story with a pretty conventional (one could say cheesy) conclusion, but I still found this series amusing and enjoyable.  Seagle doesn’t write enough comics these days, but I’d like to see something a little more edgy from him next time.

Men of Wrath #2Readers of his Vertigo work know that Jason Aaron can be a pretty heartless bastard at times, but there are still scenes in this issue that are going to make people feel very uncomfortable, if not a little angry.  We learn a little more of the Rath family history (at least, the chapter about rabies and murder), and learn about the youngest Rath, whose father has just been hired to kill him.  Aaron is keeping the writing very tight, and this is easily the best work I’ve ever seen from artist Ron Garney, who I’m not usually a big fan of.  This series is worth checking out.

The Mercenary Sea #7 – I’m pretty happy to see that this series is back from its hiatus, as it fills a very unique hole in the comics landscape, the one that requires Indiana Jones-ish adventure on a submarine and featuring a unique animation style of art.  Anyway, the crew of the Venture is back, and the captain is pursuing his obsession, a mystical and hidden island.  He sneaks into Japanese-controlled China to get some information from an old associate, and that sets off this new adventure.  This is always a fun series, and I really like the style of art Mathew Reynolds uses.

The Sixth Gun #44 – Now this is one powerful issue of what has been an amazing series from the beginning.  Drake, Becky, and Screaming Crow enlist the help of the mythical Thunderbirds (of Native legend, not from the TV show) to help them take on Griselda and her army of snake-men before they can use the Six to end and rebuild the world.  There is a ton of action in this issue, and Brian Hurtt really outdoes himself in being able to show it all.  The story opens with large two-page spreads, and then as it moves towards the middle of the issue, contracts from four-panel grids to eight, to twelve, and then to sixteen, before reversing course and ending with a full-page image.  I love this kind of experimentation, and it works great to help capture the pace of the issue, and to give Hurtt and writer Cullen Bunn lots of opportunities to show what’s going on.  This was a very exciting issue on many levels.

Swamp Thing #36Swamp Thing finds himself in conflict with the representatives of the machine world.  That leads him to go check up on Abigail Arcane, the avatar of the Rot, while the machines decide they need an avatar of their own.  As with all of Charles Soule’s run on this title, this is a solid issue.  I don’t like it when this book returns to Alan Moore (and before) territory, and am always annoyed to see any of the Arcanes show up, but like how Soule is handling them differently than any previous writer.  I know that the clock is ticking on Soule’s run (and, for me, probably this title in total), but I am determined to enjoy things for as long as they last.

Velvet #8 – Velvet Templeton makes her move on the headquarters of the agency that she has just betrayed, in yet another example of just how well Ed Brubaker writes a good spy story.  There is a new character that shows up at the very end of the issue, who is probably going to be pivotal to the story, but at this point, I feel as in the dark as to Velvet’s movements as her pursuers, and that’s just how I like it.  Steve Epting’s art looks great (I’m currently rereading his 90s Avengers issues, and it’s amazing to see how much he’s grown as an artist), and I’m always happy to read a comic coloured by Bettie Breitweiser.  Great stuff.

The Woods #7 – James Tynion IV takes some time to explore the secrets of Ben, the big, quiet guy among the party that has ventured into the titular Woods.  Things aren’t going well for anyone, although one big secret about the planet these high school kids have found themselves on is revealed, and it’s not quite what I expected.  I’ve read recently that this book is set to run for some thirty-five issues, and that is giving Tynion space to really explore his characters, employing a Lost-like narrative structure.  It definitely works here, as this book is never dull.  I am beginning to wonder what’s going on back at the school though, as we haven’t seen anyone there for a few issues now…

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

‘68 Homefront #3

All-New X-Factor #16

Amazing Spider-Man #9

Batman Eternal #31

Bloodshot #25

Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #3

Death of Wolverine: Life After Logan #1

Death of Wolverine: Weapon X Program #1

Detective Comics #36

Empty Man #5

Fairest #31

Legendary Star-Lord #5

Miracleman #13

The Names #3

Real Heroes #4

Spider-Verse Team-Up #1

Superannuated Man #4

Turok Dinosaur Hunter #9

X-Men #21

Bargain Comics:

Avengers #34.1 One of the most common complaints about Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers is that he doesn’t give a lot of time over to character development.  I suppose this issue exists to help address that problem, as Al Ewing gives us an over-sized look at Hyperion.  This Hyperion is a different version from the other ones that have shown up at times in the 616 (evil Hyperion, Squadron Supreme blind Hyperion, etc.), being the only survivor of an incursion event, and being pretty much indestructible, on par with the Sentry or Superman.  Characters like this never fit well in the Marvel Universe, but Ewing works to humanize the character a little, when he works to track down a kidnapped child.  The big surprise of this issue is that Dale Keown, who has barely been seen since the 90s, has toned down his art a little, and while it’s pretty generic, it’s not actually bad.  At the end of the day, I’m glad I waited until this $5 book was half-price before I picked it up, because it doesn’t add anything to the on-going Avengers book, but it’s not a bad comic.

Magneto #3 – I like the way Cullen Bunn writes Magneto.  I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t have been reading this series all along, as I also really like Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s art.  Magneto invades a bunker being built by human segregationists, which is kind of a silly idea, as the idea is that it’s supposed to be a place that will protect them from the mutant threat, and Magneto alone is enough to trash the place.  Still, Bunn has a good handle on this character, and the moral ambiguity that always travels with him.

Nightcrawler #4-6 – There are many different versions of Chris Claremont that write comics.  There’s the verbose sub-plotting Claremont of the good Uncanny X-Men days, the verbose, obtuse Claremont who worked with Jim Lee (and later returned to his story ideas from that era), and there’s the light-hearted Claremont who wrote Excalibur.  That’s the one who is writing this Nightcrawler series, which comes complete with villains that look like they were designed by Alan Davis.  Claremont gets rid of Amanda Sefton, Kurt’s long-time love (and, creepily, sorta step-sister), and instead focuses on having him mentor an insect-like mutant.  These books are kind of fun, but don’t fit well with the current state of the X-Books, and aren’t really good enough to make me want to come back for more (although I am curious to see how Claremont writes the Wolverine tribute issue).

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Dogs of War

Written by Sheila Keenan
Art by Nathan Fox

I’m kind of indifferent to pets, but I love a good war comic, and am a fan of Nathan Fox’s art, so when I saw this graphic novel, I knew I wanted to read it, despite the fact that it’s published by Scholastic, and is geared towards younger readers.That’s not entirely the case though, because like a rare subsection of young adult fiction, there’s enough going on in these three stories, especially the last one, to keep an adult reader sufficiently engaged.

Dogs of War examines the role played by active service dogs in the military, across three conflicts: the two World Wars, and Vietnam.  The first story is about a young orphan who travels with the doctor who has taken him in, and his dog, to Belgium, where he assists the doctor in retrieving wounded and dying soldiers.  They are separated one night, and the boy (and his dog) end up staying with a group of Irish soldiers in the trenches, where the boy learns about trench life, and gets to participate in the unofficial Christmas truce of 1914.  This story is probably the most typically YA of any in the book, as we follow the time-honoured tradition of following boys who have snuck into areas they shouldn’t be, where they have adventures, and grow as people.  It goes without saying that the dog is instrumental in keeping the soldiers alive.  Still, Nathan Fox’s kinetic and rough art is perfect for showing the reality of trench warfare, so I loved this story.

The second story is set in Greenland, where a soldier from Maine is expected to put his dog-sledding experiences (I didn’t know that was a Maine thing) to good use in helping run a rescue team.  The Americans are gearing up for war, and are building air bases on the ice.  When the soldier and his Sergeant go on a patrol to look for Nazis, the soldier and the unruly dog he’s been trying to train end up alone and outnumbered.  Again, Fox’s wonderful art really elevates the story, as the reader is really able to feel the confusion that a snowstorm whips up.

The final story is by far the best in the book.  It is narrated by a young boy who lives in a trailer park in North Carolina in 1968, where his only friend is a puppy that was found and given to him.  Slowly, the boy gets to know the man in the trailer next door, a haunted vet just returned from Vietnam, where he worked with a dog as a scout.  The two slowly begin to bond, and the man begins to open up to the boy, mostly because of the healing presence of Bouncer, the slightly wild pup.  This story works well in contrast to the other two, as the soldier’s story is only slowly revealed, instead of being the only thing in the narrative.  Again, Fox does a terrific job of showing the chaos of that conflict.

In all, this was a very good collection of stories, and while it stuck pretty closely to the standard tropes of war comics, you can’t really hold that against it.