The Weekly Round-Up #289 With Southern Bastards #9, Bloodshot Reborn #3, Ivar Timewalker #6, Mind MGMT #34, Trees #10 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Southern Bastards #9When this series started, I remember hoping it might finally be the worthy follow-up to Scalped that I’d been waiting for Jason Aaron to write.  With each new issue, I’m more and more sure that this is the case.  This time around, we begin to focus on the Sheriff of Craw County, who we already know is in the pocket of Coach Boss, the man who more or less runs the town.  We get a sense of why the Sheriff is under Boss’s control, as we see flashbacks to the Sheriff’s playing days, and we see how the man is chafing under that control, especially after the suicide of a key character last issue.  Aaron is very good at writing terrible men, and the way he uses the last two pages of this issue are particularly effective in turning the Sheriff from a character we could empathize with to one we know we should dislike as much as the other men in this comic.  Aaron and Jason Latour are doing some powerful stuff here.

Quick Takes:

Alex + Ada #15 – I really enjoyed Alex + Ada by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn.  This series has been about a near future where robots have begun to develop sentience, and are therefore hated and discriminated against by people.  The series is a romance comic, centring on a heartbroken young man and his new robot, which he ‘wakes up’, and then falls in love with.  In this final issue, we follow Alex through his twenty-five year sentence for his actions over the last few issues, and see society change, accepting the sentient robots (while, strangely, keeping Alex in prison for protecting one).  This has been a lovely and sensitive comic, and it ends beautifully.

Black Canary #1Of all the new DC titles premiering this month, I think this is the one I was most excited about.  The concept is that Dinah has joined a band, called the Black Canaries, and is on tour with them.  She’s not all that enamored of the lifestyle, but she needs money.  The problem is, she has a tendency to get into fights during her performances, and venues are not too happy to have to pay the band and effect repairs.  Writer Brendan Fletcher (one half of the Batgirl writing team) uses this issue very well to introduce the band members, and to help showcase the jealousies and drama that reside in every touring band.  We learn that Ditto, the silent and young guitar prodigy, is being hunted by some shadowy characters (they literally look like they are made of shadow), and this looks to be the focus for the book moving forward.  Artist Annie Wu’s work is great here.  It’s darker than her recent Hawkeye work, like she’s been reading a lot of Sean Murphy comics.  I can’t see this concept lasting for more than a year and a half, simply because there are only so many ways you can need a superhero at a concert, but this should be a lot of fun while it lasts.  There’s a scene where Dinah uses her microphone as a weapon that reminded me of a very funny scene in a Joseph Boyden short story I love, so that made this feel even more special.

Bloodshot Reborn #3 – Jeff Lemire continues to make this a compelling new take on Bloodshot.  Ray is on the trail of others who have his nanites in their bloodstream, and that means he has to sneak into a police station.  The FBI are getting closer to Ray, as new evidence makes him seem much more involved in all of this than they previously expected.  I like the way Lemire is using Ray’s journey as a way to have the character develop, and Mico Suayan’s art looks great.

Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #9 – So it turns out that Loki has been behind a lot of the weirdness going on on the planet Mer-Z-Bow, as part of another scheme of his.  As this series continues, I’m becoming increasingly disappointed with Ales Kot’s ability to keep this together as a compelling story, but my dislike for his writing here is in inverse proportion to how much I love Marco Rudy’s art.  As Kot’s story gets sillier, Rudy keeps getting crazier with his layouts, making this the most visually stunning comic on the stands.  It’s fun to imagine this same story being drawn by someone like Tom Derenick; I would have given up ages ago.

Doctor Fate #1I wasn’t too sure what I’d be getting with the first issue of this latest iteration of Doctor Fate, a character that’s been around since the Golden Age, but has never been able to hold his own book for more than a couple of years.  Paul Levitz is writing it, and his output over the last few years has been very inconsistent.  Sonny Liew, of the excellent and strange Malinky Robot is drawing it, and that was the main draw.  Well, that and the helmet, because I’ve always loved Fate’s helmet.  Having read this issue, I’m still not sure of what I’m getting from this series.  This issue picks up directly from the eight-page preview that was released on-line, and anyone who didn’t read that would be completely lost.  Khalid Nelson keeps getting bothered by a talking cat that wants him to accept some sort of destiny, but he’s more interested in getting home while New York City begins to flood all around him.  Eventually he ends up with the helmet on his head, and that’s about it.  The tone of the book is clearly influenced by Ms. Marvel, but Khalid lacks the clarity of Kamala Khan’s character.  Liew’s work is terrific, and for that reason alone, I’m probably going to pick up the next issue, but unless there’s something in it that gives me an idea of where this series is headed, that’s as far as I’ll go.

Ei8ht #5 – I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that this mini-series is really just the first volume of a larger story, but I think that Rafael Albuquerque and co-writer Mike Johnson have enough content in this series to make a go of it.  Really, very little about the mysteries behind The Meld, a pocket of lost time, were explained here.  And I’m always up for more Albuquerque artwork.

Ivar, Timewalker #6 – The most fun Valiant comic continues to be a good, if slightly more serious, read this month.  Ivar and his brothers are heading to an orbital station to build a spaceship that will let them get to the place where Neela is being held by her future stuff, but it’s not going to be as easy as it sounds.  Neela, meanwhile, is close to completing her experiment, which should create time travel.  We’re mid-arc, so there’s not a lot of new things to talk about this month, but this is a very good comic.

The Kitchen #8This has been a great Vertigo mini-series, which ends this month, both brutally and logically.  This comic has been about a group of Irish-American women in the 70s who, when their gangster husbands are sent to jail, take over the family business, eventually working with the Mafia, and giving up too much of their own control.  This last issue moves a few months forward from the last, and then jumps another year, bringing things to a close.  It’s interesting to see how the women moved from committing crime out of necessity, to finding their own varied reasons for continuing (or leaving).  Ollie Masters has written this comic very well, and Ming Doyle’s art has looked great.  She can still be a little stiff on quick-moving action sequences, but the characters really came alive through her pencil.  This will make a great read when it’s collected.

Lazarus #17 – The beginning of this arc makes a good jumping on point for people who haven’t been reading Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s excellent series.  The families Carlyle and Hock are at war with each other, but with the Carlyle patriarch brought low by a Hock disease, the war is not going all that well for our main characters.  Forever, the family’s Lazarus, is having to enter the field herself in a last-ditch effort to take Duluth, while her sister works her own agenda.  This is a very good series, and this new arc has me feeling very excited about it.

Letter 44 #17 – I have been consistently praising this comic since it debuted, and have not had my enthusiasm for it diminish at all.  Charles Soule’s blending of politics, science fiction, and characterization continues to be amazing.  The former president of the United States continues to narrate the story of how Project Monolith got off the ground (literally, this month), while the war between the US and the AFE goes badly, prompting President Blades to make a desperate gamble, committing to a land invasion of Germany.  In space, the astronauts are getting more and more frustrated with the Builders’ refusal to help them warn Earth about an impending asteroid strike, causing them to act in ways that could have dire consequences.  So much happens in each issue of this book, and there’s always something that I’m not able to predict.

Low #7 –  It took me a little while to get into Low when it began, but by the end of the first arc, I was hooked.  This issue introduces us to Della, the missing member of the Cain family.  It turns out that she is living in Voldin, an underwater city which has outlawed hope, and, along the way, literature and art.  Della is a Minister of Thought, charged with protecting people from false hope (remember, in Rick Remender’s future, what’s left of humanity lives beneath the oceans and are slowly dying out from lack of resources, while the sun is about to go nova).  This is a little problematic though, as her girlfriend is an artist working with a publishing ring.  Remender had me thinking that the artist would be Della, as her family seemed the type to embrace creativity.  This self-contained story adds another layer to this series, just as its cast has shrunk a little, and ensures an interesting family reunion whenever we get to that point (seeing as how Stel, Della’s mother, is basically the embodiment of hope in human form).  Greg Tocchini’s art has been difficult to follow at times, but in this issue it feels controlled and is very effective.  I like the way he has small slivers of panels running along the bottom of the page to suggest continuity of action.

Manifest Destiny #15 – Since this series began, we’ve seen a number of strange characters populating the territories to the west of the United States, as Lewis and Clark lead their expedition of discovery.  This month, though, we get our first glimpse of an actual, non-human, civilization.  This book throws a lot of cool concepts at us, but is also very wisely grounded in the day-to-day problems inherent in leading a group of soldiers and criminals to very frightening deaths.  Writer Chris Dingess keeps the focus on the difficulties of leadership, and that is where the true heart of this series lies.  It is a very good read.

Mind MGMT #34 – We are almost at the end of this series, and as such, there’s not a whole lot to say.  Meru’s friends make their move on the Eraser’s new Mind MGMT headquarters, and face some heavy resistance.  This book is always great, and with two chapters left, that’s not about to change.

Moon Knight #16German Peralta, the artist of this issue, does a terrific job making a sky-based chase sequence exciting and believable.  This month, MK is tracking down a group of jetpack flying fanatics who are kidnapping people.  Like many of the Warren Ellis issues, Cullen Bunn waits for the end of the book before letting people know what’s really going on, elevating the story and connecting it to much of the rest of his run.  When Moon Knight tells people to ‘follow him’, I’m now not sure if he means just out of the building, or in life in general.

Ms. Marvel #16 – Books like Ms. Marvel should get a free pass from line-wide crossovers, but that’s not the Marvel Universe we all support, and so we get the beginning of the Last Days of Kamala Khan this month.  Except, there’s no way Marvel is going to mess with this hugely popular and critically acclaimed character.  Kamala finds out that another planet is going to crash into Manhattan, and so she sets out to save Jersey City from chaos flowing across the river.  She also learns that Kamran, the guy she liked, who is evil, is going to try to turn her brother into an Inhuman.  G. Willow Wilson does her best to keep the right tone through the Secret Wars stuff, but I’m already ready for this storyline to be finished with, so the book can actually progress as it’s supposed to.

Project Superpowers: Blackcross #4 – With this issue, writer Warren Ellis does a lot to explain this series, while keeping the story moving.  We learn that the serial killer that an FBI agent has been following is something called The American Spirit (which reminds me a little of the American Scream from the old Shade the Changing Man series), and that all of the heroes showing up in strange ways have been sent to stop him.  We learn what’s up with the guy who set himself on fire this month, and see our first glimpses of a couple of other characters.  I’ve been enjoying reading this series, as one would expect with an Ellis comic, but if these characters and this continuity aren’t going to continue after this mini-series, I don’t really see the point of it.  I don’t feel like Ellis is saying anything new with the characters the way he’s been using them so far, so I am not sure of the point of all this.

Revival #30After the courthouse bombing of the last issue, things are starting to move very quickly in Revival.  A military governor has been assigned to oversee the region, now that the mayor is dead, and her first order of business is to track down Blaine for the killing of May Tao.  The revived are pretty much all interned now, and Mrs. Check is running a militia.  Tim Seeley spent a lot of time setting up this series, and now it feels like he’s started moving towards his conclusion, although I don’t know how far away that may be.  There is a definite upping of stakes going on, making this book even better than it was before.

RunLoveKill #3 – We finally get a good idea of just why the Origami (the governing body of the city state this series is set in) is after Rain.  From the flashback we learn that she turned on them once during a mission.  In the present, they’ve caught up with her in a nightclub, and use just about everything they have to bring her down.  This issue is full of exciting, kinetic artwork by Eric Canete.

Secret Six #3 – I really don’t understand what the deal is with this comic.  There have been scheduling delays, resolicitations, content juggling (this issue was supposed to be #4 originally, I believe), and worst of all, a sense that the tone and content of the comic are shifting to respond to criticism.  The first two issues lumped a bunch of villains and malcontents together in pretty artificial circumstances, and gave the reader few to no reasons to care about them.  With this issue, Gail Simone tries her best to tie things together a little better.  Everyone is hiding out in the big guy’s (I forget his name) house (because no one searching for people ever thinks to look in their home) in suburbia.  There is a bit of a fish out of water sitcom quality to the issue, as we see some nice connections between the characters, but are given no real reason as to why they would stick together.  I enjoyed this issue more than I did the first two (guest artist Dale Eaglesham gets a lot of the credit for that), but I’ve decided to take this title off my pull-file list.  I might keep picking it up, but the next issue will have to do a lot to keep me coming back.

Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses #5 – As messed up as she is, I think that Rose may have a point in this issue when she says that Orson is becoming a harder, meaner person since he took up with Beth.  Rose gets the focus this month, as the sex-crazed junkie mother tries to rescue Orson from Beth, while also really just looking out for her own needs.  David Lapham’s writing in this series often makes me feel sad, as he exposes just how terrible people can be to one another, and this is one of the more depressing issues.  At the same time, I always love reading one of his books; there’s always a lot going on.

Stumptown #6I suppose that if you’re going to set a comic in Portland and call it Stumptown, eventually you have to have a story about coffee.  Dex gets hired to protect a very special coffee sample worth twenty-five thousand dollars (the beans are excreted by rare jungle cats) from business rivals, and is also surprised to find that her sister has come to town for an extended visit without letting her know.  Greg Rucka has made Dex and her family into very believable characters, and I find her relationship with her sister more interesting than the A-plot right now, although I’m sure that will change as the comic progresses.  Stumptown is a very good private eye series.

The Surface #3 – When Roberto Bolaño works his fictional alter-ego into his novels, I like it.  When Ales Kot makes his comics about himself, yet in a surrealistic way, it kind of annoys me.  I guess it’s good that reading this help explains what his first mini-series, Change, was actually about, but I think it’s a little strange that a writer is being so open about using his fiction to explore his own personal issues, within the confines of his own fiction.  The story, which is about VR simulation-like things being used to track down the location of a metafictional construct thing, stays interesting, but it increasingly feels like somebody’s creative writing final assignment.

Thors #1 – I’m avoiding most Secret Wars mini-series, but I thought this one might be ‘important’, and am almost always willing to give a Jason Aaron comic a chance.  As it turns out, I thought this was a pretty enjoyable book, as Aaron transposes the police procedural onto a reality where cops are all variants of Thor.  Thorlief, the ‘Ultimate’ Thor and his partner Bill are assigned an All-Thing, a red ball case involving the murders of five unidentified women in various realms.  They don’t have much to go on, but are working the case, complete with the scenes where they get yelled at by their boss for not making progress.  Everything about this comic is predictable, but still pleasing, like an episode of Law & Order.  Chris Sprouse is clearly enjoying himself on these Thor variants.  I will pick up the next issue for sure.

Trees #10It seems that Warren Ellis has abandoned any pretext of writing this comic for single issues, as he just finishes each issue when he runs out of pages, but I don’t mind, because I’m really into Trees.  This issue splits between two stories.  We see the Mayor-Elect of New York City meeting with the Police Commissioner, and laying the groundwork for big changes over the course of his term.  We also travel Dr. Creasy, and see a little more of how England is changing in Ellis’s strange new world.  This series looks like it’s going to be around for a very long time, as Ellis is building the story at a pace that would make Jonathan Hickman jealous, and nothing could make me happier.  There are still a number of characters from the first arc that we haven’t seen again yet, and I hope they show up soon.

X-O Manowar #37 – The Dead Hand arc ends well, with Aric leading a group of armors into battle against the gigantic entity.  This is pretty much an all-action issue, and it’s pretty exciting.

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

Burning Fields #5

Dark Horse Presents #11

Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars #2

Deathlok #9

Inhumans Attilan Rising #2

Justice League of America #1

Magneto #19

Old Man Logan #2

Robin Son of Batman #1

Squadron Sinister #1

Bargain Comics:

Alien Legion Vol. 2 #1-18The second volume of the original Epic issues of Alien Legion were marked by the departure of creator and copyright-holder Carl Potts, as Chuck Dixon took over.  Under his tenure, the tone and feel of the comic shifted quite a bit.  Jugger Grimrod became the central character, as he was built up both as a loner and the essential member of Nomad Force (it reminds me a little of how Wolverine was able to live inside that dichotomy, although Claremont pulled it off much better).  It is also during these issues that Larry Stroman developed the style you think of when you read his name.  He’s excellent at creating odd and wonderful aliens, but his storytelling skills are really rough, making many of these issues difficult to read.  In all, I was disappointed by the these issues, compared to the first volume.

Batman And Robin #39&40 – Last week I complained about how strange it was that Damian was powerless in his appearance in Gotham Academy, but now that I’ve read these issues, I understand what’s up there.  These two issues really help show just how strong Peter Tomasi’s writing is when he just has Batman and Damian to focus on.  I hope to see him back on a title like this soon.

Spider-Man 2099 #8-12 – It’s a shame that Secret Wars ended this series so suddenly, as Peter David’s done a good job of setting up Miguel with an interesting life in the modern Marvel Universe.  The Maestro, the future Hulk from David’s day, returns here, but doesn’t do a whole lot, making me think his whole purpose is to organize his Future Imperfect mini-series.  The big winner on this book is Will Sliney, whose art has become incredible from his early Farscape days.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

West Coast Blues

by Jacques Tardi, adapting a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette

I am always up for a Jacques Tardi graphic novel, and got a lot of enjoyment out of readingWest Coast Blues, the translation of his book adapting the novel Le Petit Bleu de la Côte Ouest, which was originally released in 1976.

The story is about George Gerfaut, a salesman who one night, while driving around Paris aimlessly and a little drunkenly, sees two cars speed past him, as if they are chasing one another.  He follows, and soon finds one of the cars wrapped around a tree.  The driver is injured, so Gerfaut takes him to the hospital, and then leaves him there.

Later, when Gerfaut and his family go to the coast for a holiday, two men try to kill Gerfaut in the water.  He manages to escape them, but his nerves are shot, and he begins to believe that someone is looking to kill him because he helped that injured driver.

It’s not paranoia, though, when you’re right.  Gerfaut leaves his family and returns to Paris, trying to decide what to do.  The two men, Carlo and Bastien are hired killers, employed by Emerich.  They begin following Gerfaut, who becomes more and more desperate to escape them, even going so far as to get a gun for protection.

An encounter between the men at a gas station on a lonely stretch of road leads to some killing, and Gerfaut’s being completely lost in the wilderness.  He decides to abandon his former life and begin living as a hermit, but it’s not all that long before he’s back in Paris seeking his own personal freedom from Emerich’s attention.

This is a well-written noir story, and Tardi does a great job of pacing it, and showing difficult things in beautiful settings.  I like the way Tardi (or Manchette) constantly let us know what music the protagonist is listening to, providing a bit of a soundtrack to the book throughout.

The pacing of this story is very different from what one would find in an American thriller, but that’s a big part of what makes it work, since it’s harder to predict.  In all, another very solid (and well-designed) Tardi comic from Fantagraphics.