Saturday, June 30, 2012

The New Deadwardians #4

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by INJ Culbard

As we reach the half-way mark in Dan Abnett's alternative history comic, that posits an Edwardian England divided between Brights (lower-class normal people), Young (the vampiric upper classes), and Restless (zombies of all classes), he decides to share a little more of the mechanics of how society changed with the discovery of 'the cure'.

Chief Inspector George Suttle, a Young, is investigating the murder of another Young - the first ever to take place using methods other than the usual, like a stake in the heart.  He's doing his investigating in Zone B, where the Bright live, when a group of thugs try to rough him up.  He begins to go through some changes by being in the regions of London where people actually live, and it causes him to remember more of the man that he once was.  To contrast this, Louisa, his maid who he recently gave the Cure to, is having a hard time accepting after-life as a Young.

Abnett is having fun with this book.  He's playing with the strict social stratification of Edwardian England, but he's also telling a compelling mystery story that is full of strong character work.  This is an off-beat, but very good series, with very nice art.

Spaceman #7

Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Eduardo Risso

We're getting near the end of Azzarello and Risso's science fiction reality TV child abduction genetic engineering epic, and a lot happens in this issue.

Through the flashbacks, we learn more about the connection between our hero, Orson, and the 'spaceman' who is now pursuing him, Carter.  They were in a tough spot together once, and that kind of thing either builds a bond, or it creates a lasting hatred.  Guess how these two feel about each other.

In the middle of this struggle is Tara, the abducted child star of a reality webcast.  Orson is trying to protect her, but when he is distracted by Carter, another faction makes their move.  Meanwhile, the police decide that they've been strung along enough by Tara's adoptive parents, and shut down the broadcast. 

I've mentioned before how the story is really just a vehicle for Azzarello to experiment with future forms of slang, and a type of low-class argot.  That continues to be one of the more fascinating aspects of this comic for me, alongside Risso's bleak portrayal of the future.  This is a good series.

Prophet #26

by Brandon Graham and Emma Rios

Since Brandon Graham relaunched this failed and best-forgotten Rob Liefeld property a few months ago, I'd been hoping that he would draw an issue as well as write.  Despite the fact that he's worked with gifted artists such as Simon Roy and Farel Dalrymple, I wanted to see what Graham would do with the strange future he's created.  This issue gave me my wish.

After the first three issues of Graham's run, which contained a longer story, each subsequent issue has been a done-in-one story that involves a clone (or three) of the original John Prophet waking up on some strange world or other setting, and doing something that has to do with the return of the Earth Empire.  This issue is a little different, as its protagonist is a Jaxson, "one of old man Prophet's unhatched eggs, brought to life to fight along in his fight."  The Jaxson looks like a robot, although we know it has to eat to heal itself and generate energy to do things like fly.

This one is on a strange, mostly abandoned planet.  He senses one of his brothers, a larger creature named Xefferson, who joins him on a trip through the 'Cyclops Rail', a system of wormholes used for travel.  Like the other issues that came before it, what is really going on in this book remains a bit of a mystery, but Graham's storytelling is so strong, I'm just happy to ride along with it, trusting that everything will make sense soon enough. This issue feels like a tribute to Moebius, with its alien worlds drawn in Graham's simplistic yet complex style.  There is a sense of wonder in these comics that is lacking from just about everything else on the stands these days, and that makes this a treat to read each month.

There is also a back-up by the incredible Emma Rios, which shows another Prophet clone engaging in some sort of congress with a spider-creature.  I think; it's a little unclear, but very lovely.  This book continues to climb to the top of my affections.

American Vampire #28

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

It feels like American Vampire has returned to its core with the beginning of the new story arc, The Blacklist.  It's been a while since the three main characters of this series - Pearl, Henry, and Skinner Sweet - have been in the same issue (I think not since their little Pacific WWII adventure), and it's good to see them all back together again, even if Henry spends the whole issue in a coma.

A couple of issues ago we saw that Henry had been attacked.  This issue opens with Pearl dispatching his attacker, before she and family friend (and fellow American Vamp) Calvin are attacked at Henry's bedside.  This leads to a visit to the Vassals of the Morning Star (a vampire-hunting organization), and the knowledge that a group of vampires are being protected and hidden by the Hollywood elite.

This story is set against the Senate hearings into Communist sympathizers in Hollywood, and Scott Snyder uses that atmosphere of fear and paranoia to provide his antagonists shelter.  Pearl and Skinner are going to be hunting these vampires down, and as this arc is set to last six issues, we can guess that there are going to be lots of vampires to find.

Rafael Albuquerque returns to the art duties on this title with this issue, so everything looks spectacular.

The Manhattan Projects #4

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

Since this series began, we've only seen Albert Einstein sitting in front of an obelisk studying it.  Finally, we get to see what the purpose of this object, which does remind me a little of 2001, actually is.  And, as has become typical in this series, it's not exactly what you would have expected, even though the device's secrets echo some of the events of the first issue.

The Manhattan Projects is about the various secret sides of the famous war initiative that gave us the atomic bomb.  Hickman is playing with a cast of historical figures, but has twisted all of them into strange and bizarre characters.  J. Robert Oppenheimer is really his twin brother.  FDR is not dead, but is now the first artificial intelligence.  Things like this are common in Hickman's playground.

This issue opens with a visit from alien beings in the desert of New Mexico.  This apparently happens every decade, and on hand to greet the visitors are Manhattan Projects director General Leslie Groves, Oppenheimer, and representatives from the Soviet Union, Germany, and somewhere else.  The only thing is, it's not the usual visitors, but people from another alien race that conquered them, who have an offer for Earth.

The rest of the issue is concerned with Einstein and his device.  I like the way that Hickman has used each issue so far to explore a different aspect of the Projects, without yet giving us a notion of a larger plot or story-line.  Instead, much like his earliest issues of Fantastic Four, it seems that he is just taking his time laying the groundwork for a gigantic tale.  It works here.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Fatale #6

Written by Ed Brubaker 
Art by Sean Phillips

The second story arc of Fatale starts with this issue, and it is an amazing start, perhaps even better than the first volume's.  Like with that story, this issue is split almost evenly between a prologue set in the present day, and the first chapter of the arc, set in the 1970s.

We begin by looking in on Nicolas Lash, the godson of Hank Raines.  Since we last saw him, Nicolas has become ever more obsessed with discovering the secrets of Josephine, the woman who was both his godfather's lover, and his companion when he lost his leg.  His obsession has led him to a level of paranoia which is confirmed as accurate when some people come after him, looking for some sort of object they figure he got from his godfather's house or safe deposit box.  Brubaker is piling on the mysteries in this section of the story.

The rest of the comic follows a B-movie actor named Miles, who seems to be involved in the seamier side of Los Angeles's drug fuelled star-wannabe scene.  Miles is looking to score some cocaine, and tracks a girl he knows named Suzy to a rather strange party.  He finds her in the basement with a stab wound, next to a guy whose head has been blown off.  It seems that Suzy is part of something called the Method Church, which I presume has some kind of link to the cult we've seen in previous issues of Fatale.  Anyway, it's not long before Miles is trying to help Suzy escape, and they end up in Josephine's backyard.

Most of this issue read not that differently from an issue of Criminal, which is of course, high praise.  There was more of a crime comic element to it than before, although I imagine that the horror aspect is going to be taking over as the story progresses.  Brubaker portrays Josephine as more of a victim of her circumstances, or 'curse' in this issue, which contrasts with how she was shown in the first arc, and in the prologue to this issue.

Fatale's first trade was published this week, so now is the perfect time for curious new readers to get on one of the best and most successful new series of 2012.  You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Whispers #3

by Joshua Luna

I haven't seen very much buzz on-line for this comic, and I don't really understand why, because it's excellent.  Joshua Luna (without brother Jonathan, for a change) has put together a very interesting story about astral projection and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Sam has suddenly developed the ability to travel with his mind, and to read the thoughts of the people he visits spiritually.  He's discovered that an ex-girlfriend has become a junkie, and owes money to a violent dealer.  He's also stumbled upon a murderer who is killing children, who himself hears some sort of demonic voice.

Sam's a smart guy, and in this issue, he sets about trying to handle both issues, in a way that I didn't see coming.  I like that he's beginning to make some use of his abilities, instead of passively observing, as he did for the first two issues. 

I'm not sure exactly where Luna is going with this book, aside from the obvious escalation of things between Sam and this demonic figure, and that's what I like most about it.  I also appreciate the way in which Sam's OCD is being portrayed - it's very realistic, and logical within Sam's point of view.  This title deserves as much recognition as some of Image's other recent terrific titles.

Scalped #59

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by RM Guera

It's the penultimate issue of Scalped, and it seems that all opportunities for redemption are off the table, as the central characters of the series, and many of the peripheral ones, collide in a violent confrontation in Lincoln Red Crow's casino.

Dino Poor Bear (who was the character I was always rooting for the most) appears poised to take over Red Crow's old gang, and is leading them in an attack on their former leader.  Into the fray comes Catcher and his captive, Dash Bad Horse.  It's not long before the three are holding guns on one another.

Jason Aaron has spent fifty-eight issues preparing us for this final confrontation.  Catcher killed Bad Horse's mother, who was the love of Red Crow's life.  Bad Horse betrayed Red Crow's trust.  Red Crow is the least innocent of all three.  The relationships and connections between these three men have fuelled this book for some time, and I don't think anyone would have expected this to end any other way.

Scalped is the best comic that Vertigo has published in the last ten years.  Aaron has turned this into a subtle and nuanced study in character, and RM Guera has been a terrific collaborator from the beginning.  He really shines in this issue, with some strong images, such as that of a wooden 'Indian' in the casino burning while everyone around it tries to kill one another.

Jock's cover for this issue is stunning.  I can not wait to read the next issue; I hope that Aaron takes the time to visit some of the other characters we haven't seen much of lately, such as Red Crow's daughter, and Granny Poor Bear.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Black Box

by Jennifer Egan

This year's New Yorker summer fiction issue (which came out a few weeks ago - I'm behind on things once again) has a 'science fiction' theme, although it is full of stories by writers not normally associated with that genre, like Jennifer Egan.

Egan's story, 'Black Box', works on a number of levels.  To begin with, it's written as a series of short instructions, none longer than a Twitter posting.  The story is then divided into 47 short chapters, which can consist of as few as four of these 'tweets', to more than ten.  Consequently, this story looks very unique compared to most other pieces I've read in this magazine.

The instructions are designed to assist their recipient, a 'beauty', in her mission to infiltrate a crime or terrorist organization in the south of France by getting close to her 'Designated Mate', a violent man.  The nameless beauty (the instructions are written in second person, and addressed to 'you') is part of a new movement of citizen heroes, who volunteer for dangerous work out of a sense of patriotism.  The 'beauty' is outfitted with various hidden devices, such as a recorder in her ear, a camera in her eye (complete with flash), and a data port in her foot.  She is also trained in survival techniques, such as 'Dissociation Technique', and the 'Primal Roar'.

The story unfolds through these instructions, as our hero makes contact with her prey, and is later escorted with him to a remote seaside location, where he meets with another man, before she creates a distraction so she can photograph some drawings, and that has a number of consequences.

Egan gives us a James Bond like story, but without the egotism and identity of the hero getting in the way.  There are cool gadgets, mysterious evil-doers, and a palpable sense of danger.  Written in a more straight-forward way, this could have been a good story, but in Egan's hands, it's much more than that.  Egan's writing first caught my eye in this magazine, with a short story that was a part of her terrific novel A Visit from the Goon Squad, and I'm now more curious than ever to read more of her work.

The Secret History of DB Cooper #4

by Brian Churilla

With each new issue, I'm more and more impressed by how cool this comic is.  Brian Churilla has taken the historical mystery of DB Cooper, and reimagined it as a story involving a monster-filled psychic plane, the CIA, missing children, and Soviet intrigue.

In this issue, Cooper discovers that he can now act as a sort of gateway for creatures trying to cross from the Glut (the name of the bizarre world where he conducts his psychic assassinations) into our world.  The CIA believes they've identified the double agent who has infiltrated their ranks, and are also trying to arrest Cooper.  Meanwhile, in the Glut, he finally meets the Soviet agent who has been pursuing him.  The issue ends with a revelation I didn't see coming.

Churilla is a master of the monster comic, coming up with all sorts of strange and disturbing creatures, but it is his character work in the 'real' world of this comic that impresses me the most here.  This is an excellently paced series, and each issue has left me wanting more.

Casanova: Avaritia #4

Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Gabriel Bá

I think I need to be clear from the beginning, that I'm not entirely sure what all happened in this issue of Casanova.  I've only read it once, and I think it needs to be read again, perhaps with the other three issues that make up this volume.  Perhaps I'd need to start from the beginning again.

What I do know is that the earlier issues of this series, back when it was published by Image, were also confusing, but much, much easier to follow.  Does any of this matter though?  I'd say not, because part of the point of Casanova is that it's a balls-to-the-wall crazy comic, and you're just supposed to go along with the ride.  And any comic that is this beautiful doesn't have to make sense; that's what makes this artform so freaking wonderful.

What I do know is that Sabine Seychelle tries to take over EMPIRE in the wake of the attack by Kaito's giant robot, that people are running all over the place shooting each other, that Casanova Quinn disguises himself to look like Newman Xeno but then runs into the real deal, and that Gabriel Bá is a comics art god.

Do we need more than that?  I would like to see the next arc be a little a quieter again, as I don't think the story can maintain this frenetic pace much longer without losing all semblance of sense.  Casanova continues to be the best work that Matt Fraction's ever done, and I can't wait for the next mini-series, whenever it comes along.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ragemoor #4

Written by Jan Strnad
Art by Richard Corben

This horror comic has been utterly bizarre, but that is what made it wonderful.  To summarize briefly, Ragemoor is a living castle from outer space, which is, on the one hand, protecting the Earth from an ancient worm god creature, but is also slowly torturing its master by twisting its layout and taking from him the woman he loves.

This issue has Herbert finally reach his breaking point when he discovers that his loyal servant has been experimenting on the poacher that came and fell for the beautiful Anoria.  Stuff gets stranger than ever before, and that says a lot in this book where Jan Strnad and Richard Corben really let loose.

This series has a real throw-back quality to it, reminding me of some of the stranger horror comics of the 70s, and of Heavy Metal.  As bizarre as this book is, there's nothing particularly memorable about it, aside from the terrific artwork.  It's definitely a novelty to be able to read a book like this again.

The Walking Dead #99

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

There is always so much death in this comic, but when a new character dies, we rarely get to see much of how that death affects everyone.  I suppose, once all of your friends and family have been killed and turned into zombies, you would become quite hardened to death.  For Rick and the people in his community, it's almost a daily presence in their lives.

Last issue, Robert Kirkman had a relatively main character killed off by the Saviors, a group of people who follow a man named Negan, and who are looking to take over the Community's property and goods.  Kirkman spends most of this issue having the various surviving cast members react to that character's death, and its very effective.  It also leads to Rick making some pretty big mistakes in terms of how to continue to protect the people who look to him for leadership.

Rick decides to return to the Hilltop, the new community that he's opened trade negotiations with, for assistance in finding Negan and his camp, or for the provision of some muscle.  This leads to some divides within the group - Glen decides that he, Maggie, and Sophia will remain at the Hilltop.  Andrea is left behind to protect the Community, but stupidly, she's not climbing up to her usual perch in a bell tower to watch for any of Negan's men.  That error is judgement, which is not mentioned here, is pretty glaring.

Anyway, it feels like Kirkman wanted to have a nice quiet issue before next month's #100, which is almost guaranteed to show the Community under attack.  I just hope that all of the characters I've come to like the most - Rick, Carl, Andrea, Michonne, and Glen make it through okay.  There is some small part of me that is not over the events of issue 50 yet...

The Unwritten #38

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross

I think removing Tom Taylor from this book for a whole arc (at least the first half of it) was an effective way of shaking things up a little in the wake of the momentous events of the last arc. 

In the months since Tom defeated the Cabal, the world has been changing.  There is a new cult based on worship of Tommy Taylor and the books that he stars in, and the world is beginning to lose its stories, or its connection to them.

This issue is divided between scenes that show Richie Savoy's conversation with Madame Rausch, and the continuing investigation of the Church of Tommy by the Aboriginal detective we met last issue. 

Rausch is suffering from the changes being brought about by the Leviathan, and she kind of freaks Richie out.  The cop, meanwhile (the only name given to her in this issue is a bit of a racial epithet, so I'm not using it, but don't remember her real name), is using Daniel Armitage, the former Cabal employee we met a couple months back, as an informant in the Church, although he takes more initiative than she expected.

This series has been working very well for a while now, and I appreciate the change in tone and approach that Carey is using right now.  I look forward to seeing where this is all going to end up, as I feel that Tom will have to get back into things soon.

Baltimore: Dr. Leskovar's Remedy #1

Written by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden
Art by Ben Stenbeck

As part of the continuing glut of Mike Mignola-written comics coming from Dark Horse this year is a new Baltimore mini-series, featuring the angry vampire hunter who is searching the world for the vampire who killed his family.

This two-parter opens in a small fishing camp in Croatia.  Baltimore crashes into the beach when his airplane comes under attack, and is recovered by the locals.  He learns that their village has fallen victim to the horrors unleashed by a Dr. Leskovar, who has been trying to cure vampirism.  Baltimore being Baltimore, he soon enough sets out for the village, looking to kill the monsters that Leskovar unwillingly created.

This is the third mini-series to feature Baltimore, and they all more or less follow the same formula (Baltimore shows up in a place plagued by monsters, deals with them, finds clues to the location of Haigus, the vamp he's pursuing, leaves).  This looks to be the same kind of thing.

I really enjoy Ben Stenbeck's art in this series.  He does a great job of capturing the bleakness of the Croatian coast, and manages to sneak some crabs onto just about every page.  I was a little surprised to see that Baltimore is fluent in Croatian, but otherwise, this is a good comic.

Saga #4

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

I've seen some on-line reviewers give Brian K. Vaughan some flack for giving the characters in his new science fiction/fantasy epic such contemporary, Earth-based voices.  Personally, I think that's nonsense.  If this book were all Game of Thrones style weird names with overwrought Shakespeare-lite dialogue, or all based on some invented slang (like Spaceman, which I love), I think it would take away from some of the things that Vaughan is doing.  People are people, he seems to be saying, even if they are winged ex-soldiers, horned pacifists, or ghostly floating torsos.

In this issue, Alana waits with Izabel for Marko to recover from his injuries and wake up.  When he does, she wastes no time before interrogating him about the bride he mentioned while delusional.  Their discussions, and reprieve from action, appear short-lived, as Prince Robot's forces arrive.

Much of this issue is given over to The Will, the freelancer who was hired to hunt down Alana and Marko, but who decided instead to go to Sextillion, a planet-sized brothel.  There, he is disappointed in what he finds, and when a large-headed pimp offers him more refined fare, the book takes a turn for the darker.  Clearly, The Will is going to remain a major character in this series, as he's been given a lot of space to develop.

Fiona Staples continues to do some incredible work with this comic, and Vaughan's writing is as sharp as ever.

A Complete Lowlife

by Ed Brubaker

Quick quiz:  What's the first thing you think of when you hear Ed Brubaker's name?  I automatically associate him with crime comics, such as Criminal, or his other genre explorations like Incognito and the currently-running Fatale.  I imagine a number of people would think of Captain America first, as he's been writing that character for a number of years, and is responsible for some of the best Cap stories of the last twenty years.  I doubt very many people would associate Brubaker with semi-autobiographical cartooning along the lines of a Chester Brown or Joe Matt, but that's what A Complete Lowlife is.

Brubaker wrote and drew the comics collected here in the early 90s, before he broke into mainstream comics.  His stories feature Tommy, a guy in his early twenties who lacks ambition, preferring to work in dead-end service industry jobs, drink, and generally waste time.  He has problems with women, and thinks nothing of stealing from his employers.

I'm not sure if Tommy is a complete lowlife, as the title suggests, but he's not all that nice a person.  Brubaker pieces together a not uncommon figure - an American male trapped in a cycle of adolescence that is extending way too long into adulthood.  Still, those figures are kind of funny at times, and Brubaker has always known how to tell a good story.  His art is a little stiff, but more than serviceable.  This is an interesting window into the mind of one of the most influential writers working in comics today.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Glory #27

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell

At the centre of Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell's relaunch of the old Rob Liefeld property Glory is the notion that the title character may never have been a 'good guy' at all.

In this issue, the island town of Mont St. Michel has been invaded by a variety of strange creatures from Glory's father's kingdom.  We know that they are trying to kill her, and are after Riley, the young woman who has been our point-of-view character since the relaunch began, and whose destiny is somehow tied to Gloriana's, although we've not been given many clues as to how.

Basically, this issue gives Campbell a chance to cut loose artistically, creating a plethora of strange creatures and cool fight scenes.  We also get a flashback to Gloriana's childhood, and the suggestion that Riley may be picking the wrong side in things.  At some point, Keatinge is going to have to give us a little more information, but I am definitely enjoying the ride so far, the art most of all.

Dark Horse Presents #13

Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, John Arcudi, Carla Speed McNeil, Steve Niles, John Layman, Tim Seeley, Francesco Francavilla, Andrew Vachss, Mike Baron, and Dean Motter
Art by Phil Noto, Jonathan Case, Carla Speed McNeil, Christopher Mitten, Sam Kieth, Victor Drujiniu, Francesco Francavilla, Geof Darrow, Steve Rude, and Dean Motter

Sometimes I worry that this anthology is not always the best place for some of the comics that Dark Horse is presenting in it.  Lately, they've begun stories in DHP, and then spun them off into their own mini-series (such as Resident Alien) or on-goings (like The Massive).  In the latter's case, the stories were clearly serving an introductory role, and that was fine, but in the case of Resident Alien, the story was simply begun here, and then continued elsewhere, which makes it a tough story to follow for readers of this book, or for people who picked up the first issue, and would have had no clue what was going on (the DHP stories were printed again in a '0' issue).

I bring this up, because the 'concluding' chapter to Steve Niles and Christopher Mittens's Criminal Macabre story this month just stops; it doesn't really end.  At least the Occultist, which also concludes this month, more or less finished its story, while still setting things up to be returned to later down the road.

On the positive side, and worth the purchase of the book, is the new Finder story by Carla Speed McNeil.  She is continuing to examine the lives of Ascians in the region called Third World, as Jaeger and his new friend help an artist trying to sell her paintings.  At the contemporary museum, her work is too 'archaeological' and indigenous, but at the archaeology museum, her work is too contemporary, a trap which many indigenous and minority painters find themselves in.  There is a surprise return of an older character at the end of the story, which made me happy, but which would be utterly puzzling to a new reader.  I wish that McNeil was providing footnotes to these stories.

Also of interest this month is the continuation of Dean Motter's Mister X story, and John Arcudi and Jonathan Case's The Creep, which is excellent.  The Aliens story, by John Layman and Sam Kieth is a little better than its debut chapter, and Francesco Francavilla's Black Beetle is pretty, if also pretty standard.

The return of The Ghost, by Kelly Sue DeConnick didn't excite me too much, but it's an interesting story created by two very gifted comics creators; I'm going to see where it leads before I pass judgement. 

Andrew Vachss's prose story of child predators on the internet and the motley collection of freaks who hunt them down for profit was disturbing and weird, but not in a good way.  Nexus is boring.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Elephantmen #40

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Tony Parker, Blond, and Rob Steen

Elephantmen is between large story arcs right now, for the first time in a very long time, and that gives Richard Starkings the chance to poke around in some of the less-seen corners of his complex fictional world, and to spotlight some of the supporting cast who only rarely are given much screentime.

This issue opens with an attack on the Eye of the Needle, the floating restaurant owned by Casbah Joe.  The guy who is attacking is some sort of gangster who was once The Silencer's boss, until he turned on him.  The Silencer is the invisible assassin who has been dumping bodies in a river since this series began.  He lives at the Eye, as does the dancer Panya, who is best known to Elephantmen readers as Sahara's body double.

This is a good action issue, and it has some very nice art from the team of Tony Parker (who is new to me), and the colourist Blond, who has been making a name for himself (herself?) with some very nice digital paints. 

This issue also has the concluding two parts to Rob Steen's back-up, which has been centred on the early days of Mappo's transgenics program.  It's a sad story, used to underscore (once again) the heartlessness of Dr. Nikken, the creator of the Elephantmen.

It seems that this series is getting caught up in its schedule again, which is always a good thing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Crate Digging: No Protection

Massive Attack Vs. Mad Professor

Well, here's something I haven't listened to in a very long time.  In the mid-90s, I was quite fond of listening to Massive Attack, whose commercial form of trip-hop is largely responsible (with The Herbaliser) for bringing me back towards hip-hop music.

Anyway, I stumbled upon No Protection, an album of Massive Attack remixes made by Mad Professor, and found myself playing this dubbed out approach to MA's catalogue at the store where I was working all the time.  It's trance-like beats helped shorten the day some.

This album, which I haven't played in at least twelve years, stands up quite well today.  The early tracks, which tackle Massive Attack's best-known pieces, 'Protection' and 'Karmacoma' still sound fresh, and I particularly like 'Backward Sucking', the remix of 'Heat Miser' which sounds like it's being played through a bong.

Good stuff, and good memories.

The Annotated Wondermark

by David Malki

I don't read many web comics, but one of the ones that I can't go more than a few days without checking is David Malki's brilliant Wondermark.

Malki crafts his strips out of cut-up images from Victorian books and catalogues, relying on the standard dimensions of a newspaper comic strip to make his observations about modern life, or to tell stories that are given birth in his whimsical and mercurial mind.

A standard Wondermark strip goes something like this:  A man approaches another man dressed as an 'Indian chief', and asks for peyote.  The Native man, seeing a police officer nearby, berates the man for falling back on negative racial stereotypes.  The man then cites the billboards and TV ads wherein the Native pushes his peyote.  This continues, and a humorous alt-text is posted beside it.  Pretty standard stuff in Malki's work, and always funny.

This book, The Annotated Wondermark, was the first publication of Malki's work, before Dark Horse published three hardcovers of his cartoons.  I got this self-published book at TCAF, and it now completes my collection of Wondermarks available in print.  There are still new strips twice a week at the website though, so I'll just be looking there for new fixes.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Murder Mysteries

Written by Neil Gaiman
Art and Adaptation by P. Craig Russell

I believe that Murder Mysteries began life as a prose piece written by Neil Gaiman, that was later adapted as a radio play before being turned into a graphic novel by the uber-talented P. Craig Russell, much as he did with Gaiman's Sandman: Dream Hunters.

This book reminds me of just how much I miss Sandman.  It opens with a man telling his story.  He's been stuck in Los Angeles for a while, trying to get a flight back to England, but because of poor weather there, he's not been able to go anywhere.  He discovers that a former girlfriend is in town, and he goes to meet her.  After their time together (which is not as satisfying as he'd hoped), he sits out on a park bench and begins to talk to a homeless man, who decides to tell him his own story.

As it turns out, this man is the angel Raguel, the 'vengeance of the Lord'.  Raguel was activated when the first murder took place in Heaven, and he is sent by Lucifer (before the fall) to investigate.  The victim, Carasel, had been working on the concept of death, and his partners and supervisors are suspects.  The story proceeds along a familiar, Hercule Poirot-like trajectory, complete with a scene where Raguel gathers all the suspects to hear his accusation, but set in Heaven, which makes it pretty unique.

Gaiman's portrayal of Heaven and the various angels is completely consistent with the approach he took in Sandman.  This could easily have been a story set in that fictional universe.  Russell's art is stupendous, but then, it always is. 

Mind the Gap #2

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Rodin Esquejo and Sonia Oback

I enjoyed the first issue of Mind the Gap enough to come back for a second look at things, and I'm glad I did.  Jim McCann has designed this story (so he tells us) so that every page has a clue as to the big picture of what is really going on in this comic, and I find that kind of thing pretty intriguing.

What we do know is that Elle is still in her coma, and that almost everyone in her circle of family and friends are behaving suspiciously, suggesting that any one of them could be behind the attack on her.  Meanwhile, Elle's consciousness is in The Garden, communicating with other coma patients.  Somehow, she manages to enter the body of one of them in the moments before his death, and now she wants to explore this ability.

This is a very intriguing series.  The character work is top-notch, and the addition of a police officer to the mix, who seems to be working on a related matter and who is married to the doctor that raised her suspicions about Elle's treatment last issue gives us an idea of who the heroes of this comic will likely turn out to be.  McCann writes these two characters very well.

Artwise, Rodin Esquejo continues to impress.  Sonia Oback's art is another matter though - there are a couple of pages featuring two characters talking outside a darkened theatre that are so muddy as to be impossible to see.

I'm definitely adding this comic to my pull-list now - McCann has sucked me into the story enough that I want to continue with it.

The Sixth Gun #23

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Tyler Crook

It's strange that this issue of The Sixth Gun is considered a part of the Town Called Penance arc, as it has nothing to do with that story, but is instead a stand alone, one-off issue featuring Kirby Hale, the gunslinger who seduced Becky Montcrief a while back, when the cast of this comic was in New Orleans.

It seems that Kirby regrets his actions at that time, and is merely going through the motions of his former careless lawless lifestyle.  When he runs afoul of Missy Hume, the widow of the General whose evil started off this series, Kirby finds himself back on the trail of Becky and Drake Sinclair, and the five mystical guns that they possess.

This is a good issue, and it's used well to flesh out this character.  When Kirby goes looking for the map to the mystical Gallows Tree, it reveals a fair amount about his character, especially since he finds it in the possession of an old friend.

Tyler Crook provides the art this month, giving the brilliant Brian Hurtt a well-deserved break, I presume.  Crook is a good substitute for Hurtt, as his art has a similar style.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bad Medicine #2

Written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
Art by Christopher Mitten

When this new series began (as part of Free Comic Book Day), I thought it was going to be a mini-series dealing with the investigation into a crazed doctor who has made himself invisible.  I was more than a little surprised when that story resolved itself in this issue, followed by an epilogue that set up some sort of story involving a group of people turned cannibal in Brazil, presumably by a disease.

I guess that the rather rag-tag group assembled in this series so far - a pair of doctors from the CDC, a disgraced doctor turned student of alternative medicines, and a New York detective - are somehow going to start solving medical mysteries together.  It's not a bad premise for a television show, so it will be interesting to see how it works in comics.

So far, this series is working, based on DeFilippis and Weir's ability to craft strong characters.  I particularly like the rather odd Doctor Horne, who is constantly sneaking off to talk to the ghost of the patient he killed. 

This creative team works very well together, so I will stay on board this title simply out of my faith in them, but I do question how this concept will hold up over a long stretch of time, if this is indeed an ongoing series. 

Saucer Country #4

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

Paul Cornell is structuring this series with mysteries piling up upon mysteries, as Governor Alvarado (that's her name right?  I think this is the second straight issue that doesn't say it) tries to figure out what happened to her and her ex-husband that night right before the series began.

The ex shows up at her office, and sits down to explain his version of events, although Professor Kidd doesn't believe him, especially after he finds out that he'd gone to Dr. Glass, the hypno-therapist.  It's becoming increasingly clear that a number of different groups are involved in the 'alien business' in New Mexico, but that the elected officials who run the place have no clue about any of it.

Cornell's doing a great job of creating a sense of intrigue in this series, and Ryan Kelly is doing his usual phenomenal job of drawing the book.  This issue in particular has a number of scenes that are 'talking heads' only, but he fills his pages with more than enough drama to keep the interest level high.

I don't think that sales on this book have been all that impressive, so I implore you to check this comic out if you ever enjoyed The X-Files, or if you are just interested in a well-written political drama about alien abductions.

The Secret History Book 20: Watergate

Written by Jean-Pierre Pécau
Art by Igor Kordy

I was very surprised and impressed to see that the newest volume of The Secret History actually came out in the month that it was solicited for,something that I don't think has ever happened.  I was prepared to praise Archaia for finally getting their schedule in order, and figuring out their shortcomings.

And then I read the issue, and realized that for it to make complete sense, one would have had to have read The Secret History: The Games of Chance, a spin-off that was originally solicited as a five-issue mini-series, and then, after those books were ridiculously late, as a hardcover that has yet to appear.  According to Amazon, it was supposed to come out back in April...

Anyway, this is an interesting issue, as it incorporates the Vietnam War into the on-going struggle between the three remaining Houses of Archons.  The war brings with it a great deal of chance and unpredictability, which works wonders for the various players drawn to that conflicted zone.  We are introduced to a pilot named Chance, who appears to be flying for Air America, and doing a little drug running in and out of Laos on the side.  There is a German ex-SS officer there, playing Mister Kurtz.  Later, Stateside, Chance is involved peripherally in the Watergate scandal.

It feels like Pécau is using Chance to replace the character of Curtis Hawk, who would be too old to be of continued use in this series.  Now that the storyline has moved into a time that is more familiar, I find it much easier to follow, as it continues to jump all over the place, geographically and in terms of plot.

American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares #1

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Dustin Nguyen

It seems that the people at Vertigo are determined to turn American Vampire into the next Fables, spinning out into mini-series featuring peripheral characters a couple of times a year now.

This new series, Lord of Nightmares, is not exactly a sequel to the recent Survival of the Fittest, but it does (eventually) follow up on the character of Felicia Book.  This series opens in London in 1954 (the comic has been moving forward through the twentieth century since it began), and has Agent Hobbes, who we know as the head of the secret vampire hunting organization The Vassals of the Morning Star, meeting a strange American at an outdoor cafe.  Hobbes feels he has the upper hand in this conversation, until explosions make it clear that a recently purchased U-boat has attacked the Vassal's main London base, under the Tower of London.

Later, we see Hobbes in Paris, where he confronts Felica Book, who has been living under the radar for fifteen years with Gus, the vampire child she cured in the previous series.  Hobbes reveals that the attack involves Dracula, the King of the Carpathian vampires, and the series is underway.

I believe this is the first that Snyder has made reference to any fictional (and public domain) vampires before now, and I find it interesting that he decided to bring up Dracula in a spin-off setting.  When Hobbes first meets with the American guy at the cafe, he starts to call him Ren___ (it gets cut off), perhaps a reference to the character of Renfield from Stoker's classic.

Dustin Nguyen joins Snyder on art for this series, which is great news.  It's been a while since Nguyen has been on a project, which is strange, because he's a brilliant artist.  His work is great here, although his portrayal of Gus, who is supposed to be at least fifteen years old, makes him look way too young.  I wonder if there's a story-based reason for that.

Skullkickers #15

Written by Jim Zubkavich
Art by Edwin Huang and Misty Coats

This issue of Skullkickers reveals more of Rex Maraud's history, as he continues his battle with the creature that hatched out of an egg two issues back.

I don't want to spoil Rex's history, which is pretty unexpected in a swords and sorcery comedy fantasy comic like this, but suffice it to say, we do learn what happened to his hair, and how he reloads his gun.  I doubt you expected either explanation to turn out the way it did.

Zubkavich and company continue to do some very nice work on this comic.  Zubkavich uses a dual narrator thing with this comic that reminds me of how some writers write Deadpool, except for the fact that here it's actually funny. 

Really, any comic that features Tlahuelpuchi, the Vampire Turkey, however briefly, deserves to be bought immediately.  Now I'd like to see a comic where Tlahuelpuchi fights Poyo, the gamecock from Chew...

Dancer #2

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Nic Klein

The title of this series is a little odd, as the dancer in question is a secondary character, who is used as much as a prop as an important character.

Instead, Dancer focuses on Alan, a former assassin or secret agent for the CIA.  We learned last issue that Interpol is after him, as is a sniper who looks just like him, only younger.  In this issue, Alan learns that the government cloned him back in the seventies, and that the clone that has been shooting at him has also killed another Alan in Brazil.

Now, the clone has Alan's girlfriend, and Alan finds himself reactivated, and on the hunt.  The problem is that the clone has all of his skills, talent, and knowledge, but is also younger and doesn't have a heart condition.

The set up is a good one for this type of action thriller, and Nic Klein is more than capable of making the book look terrific.  Storywise, this reminds me a great deal of Garrison, the Wildstorm series by Jeff Mariotte and Francesco Francavilla (which received no press and has never been collected).  On some pages, Klein's layouts remind me of Francavilla's.

This book does not have the level of sophistication I've seen in some of Edmondson's other comics, like The Light and Who Is Jake Ellis?, but it's still a decent read.

Planetoid #1

by Ken Garing

When I saw the solicitation for this new series by Ken Garing, I thought it looked pretty good, and decided to take a chance on it.  I'm very pleased I did, as this is a very good comic.

The book opens with a spacecraft pilot finding himself being drawn towards a planet with a strange electromagnetic field.  He ejects from his ship just before it crashes, and finds himself on a field of ruined vessels and space junk.  Alone, he begins to explore the world, coming across some small lizards, and a particularly aggressive mechanical sea snake.

He also finds another person, who explains that the planet does have some human inhabitants, remnants of a slave-run mining operation who were abandoned when the planetoid's region of space was taken over by an alien race.

Garing's art is terrific, as he shows us the strange landscapes and industrial decay of this planet.  The book reminds me of the early issues of Brandon Graham's run on Prophet, but without the variety of strange creatures.  There seems to be a resurgence of good science fiction in comics lately, which is a nice thing to see.  Garing has figured out a lot about his vision of the future, and I like how he's sharing that information slowly. 

I do wonder how this planetoid could have been used for mining, if it's impossible for vessels to leave it, but I'm sure that will be addressed eventually.  This is well worth checking out - go get it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Conan the Barbarian #5

Written by Brian Wood
Art by James Harren

It's a good week for Brian Wood comics.  His take on Conan has worked really well.  I still can't compare it to other writer's use of the character, having not read the series before Wood and Cloonan took the reins of Dark Horse's latest relaunch with the character, but I do know that I like how this book has been going.

In this issue, Conan faces execution at the hands of the authorities in Messantia.  Walking up to the gallows, Conan despairs that his lover, the pirate queen Belit, is not going to be able to free him, but she soon appears, disguised as an upper-class lady, and requests that Conan be tried through combat, with the prize of his freedom dangled before him.

This leads to an issue full of action which really shows off James Harren's skill as an artist.  As Conan fights the gigantic champion of Messantia, I was reminded of the recent amazing fight scene between a Wendigo and the were-jaguar in BPRD.  Harren is really very good at these sorts of things, but it is his landscapes and urban scenes that I like best.

This is a great series.  If you've always found yourself unenthused by the idea of reading a Conan comic (as I was), you should try this - it's not what you think.

The Massive #1

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Kristian Donaldson

I really hadn't realized how much I've been missing DMZ every month until I read the first issue of The Massive this week.  Brian Wood is one of the best speculative fiction writers in comics (really, I feel like it's just him and Jonathan Hickman, with Carla Speed McNeil being in her own category), and this new series is off to an incredible start.

Wood has not disclosed what year this story takes place in yet, but it's not too far into the future, just after a series of ecological and geologic catastrophes have plunged the world into a new, darker age.  Tsunamis, earthquakes, the calving of the Antarctic ice cap, and other events have shifted global weather patterns, and sunk many low-lying areas (including Hong Kong).  The effect on the global economy has been just as devastating.

The Massive is centred on three members of Ninth Wave, a 'marine conservationist and direct action force', reminiscent of the Sea Shepherds.  Callum is the group's leader.  Mary is his second in command and his lover, and Mag is his close friend.  They have been patrolling the oceans on their vessel, Kapital, since the Crash, and looking for their sister ship, The Massive, which went missing during a storm. 

This issue is nicely balanced, providing a lot of important background information, and introducing the characters, while also providing some action in the form of pirates that attempt to attack the ship.  Wood makes good use of the locale, off the coast of Kamchatka, to add force to the action, and keep things interesting.  There is also a good amount of back matter that helps to add texture and context to the story.

Kristian Donaldson has worked with Wood many times before, and it's clear that they have an easy rapport.  Donaldson does equally well drawing the talking head scenes, the action, and the flashbacks to global catastrophe.  This issue has me very excited to read the next, which is what we want in a debut issue.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Kurosagi Corpse Deliver Service Vol. 4

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Art by Housui Yamazaki

Once again, I'm surprised by how much I enjoy the The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service.  With each new volume I read, I'm more convinced that the creators have stumbled on a winning formula - the horror sitcom comic.

KCDS is about a group of Buddhist graduates who have formed a business designed to help the dead complete their final wishes, which usually involve having their corpse returned home for them.  While it's not a winning business formula (I'm not sure if they've ever received more than one payment from their clients), it works very well as a structure for stories.  Among the employees of the service are a medium who channels a distant alien consciousness into a sock puppet, a guy who can speak with the dead, and another who has the ability to dowse the location of corpses.

This issue has four stories in it.  The first involves the discovery of an 'alien' body.  The second involves a conspiracy centred around a Bodyworlds-like exhibit, where some evil scientists are 'plastinating' the bodies of the dead.  The third story features the haunting of a baby-killer (and features a guest appearance by a character from one of Otsuka's other manga series), while the fourth is a weird story about parasitic slugs and a traveling American student.

All of these stories are deeply weird at their core, but are played lightly.  Otsuka's characterizations are strong, and very consistent.  One would think that there are only so many ways to tell stories that involve wronged corpses, but with each additional volume I pick up (so far there are twelve available in English), I'm surprised by how fresh the concept feels.  This is good stuff.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Los Miticos Del Ritmo

by Los Miticos Del Ritmo

Cumbia can be a bit of an acquired taste, and I can't take large doses of it, but shorter chunks, such as this half-hour album, work very nicely.

I know nothing about Los Miticos Del Ritmo, except that it is yet another project written, produced, and featuring Will "Quantic" Holland, and that was enough to get me to buy it.  He plays the accordion (the Spanish spelling is used in the liner notes for this, but not the other instruments), and leads the group in some serious stoner cumbia.

There are a couple of covers of English songs - Queen's 'Another One Bites the Dust', and Michael Jackson's 'Don't Stop Til You Get Enough', which add an air of fun to the proceedings.

Holland has done an amazing job of bringing Latin American music to wider audiences, and he continues to do so with this bizarre little project.

Faithful Man

by Lee Fields

Lee Fields first caught my ear on some songs included on Truth & Soul's Falling Off the Reel compilations, and I enjoyed his singing.  Fields fits squarely with artists like Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones, who are enjoying the resurgence of interest in soul music.

On Faithful Man, Fields gives us nine songs (and one interlude) that address the usual issues of soul music - titles like 'Faithful Man', 'I Still Got It', 'Who Do You Love', and 'It's All Over (But The Crying)' are timeless in their approach and presentation, unlike the music of an artist like Mayer Hawthorne.

Fields is joined by Leon Michels, of the El Michels Affair, on production and a variety of instruments.  Fields is backed by some great musicians, and there is a wonderful brass section on many of these tracks.  Nothing on this album is particularly groundbreaking or innovative, but it is very comfortable, and worth listening to repeatedly.

Radio Music Society

by Esperanza Spalding

I'm not quite sure where I stand on the topic of Esperanza Spalding.  I think she is one of the most beautiful women on the planet, and I absolutely love her voice and admire her musical skill, but it doesn't somehow all add up to my loving her music.

I was excited to listen to Chamber Music Society, her last album, but was ultimately disappointed with it.  I approached Radio Music Society, her newest offering, with a great deal of optimism, and again, it's taken me a while to develop an appreciation for it.

I think the problem is that much of the music, while technically very well put-together and lovely, lacks something.  The tracks here often feels more academic than heart-felt.

I don't want to sound like I'm bashing things too much though - this is a very pretty album.  Songs like 'Black Gold' and 'City of Roses' are among the best I've heard all year.  I got the Deluxe Edition album, which includes videos for each of the songs on this album, some of which are bland, as most music videos are, except for Spalding's lovely image.

I would love to see Spalding collaborate with artists like Georgia Anne Muldrow or Madlib.  Perhaps that's just my musical biases speaking, but I feel like they could supply some of the soul or funk that would strengthen her sound.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Daytripper

by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

I'm not the type of comics collector who buys multiple copies or editions of books I already own.  There are too many great comics out there that I don't own a single copy of, and there is only so much space one can devote to the collection.

Daytripper is one of those rare books that I felt the need to make an exception for, especially when I realized I could buy a copy at get it signed at TCAF.  Before opening this trade, I wondered how the experience of reading Daytripper without a month's wait between each chapter would differ from reading it in a serialized format.

Each chapter of Daytripper tells a story from a different year in the life of Brás de Oliva Domingos, the son of a celebrated Brazilian writer.  Each chapter has a similar ending, which I don't want to discuss, as I would prefer it be a surprise if you haven't read the comic before, and each chapter focuses on Brás's relationships in life, with friends, family, lovers, and his child.

Reading the whole book creates a full understanding of Brás's life, as his youthful ambitions and dreams become compromised reality, and as he struggles through difficulty relating to his father, and the myriad other problems most people deal with as they move through life.  There's a poetic quality to this work though that makes it so transcendent.

Bá and Moon's art is beautiful throughout, and that adds much to the beauty of the story.  Brás is an easy person to relate to, and I as a reader keep hoping that each chapter's end would be different.  Taken as a whole piece, the book forces the reader to look for more common themes and structures in each chapter.  The non-linear format of the book highlights connections and changes in Brás, and I found myself meditating on some of the relationships in my own life as I read this.

Daytripper is a beautiful piece of work, which comes from a South American tradition that involves such legendary writers as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Roberto Bolano.  This is still one of my favourite comics of the last ten years, and I'm very glad that I took the opportunity to read it again, and can see this being a book that I return to time and again over the coming years.

Sweet Tooth #34

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Jeff Lemire and Nate Powell

According to Jeff Lemire, being a nice person after the Apocalypse happens is just not feasible.  This issue shows us the full history of Doug and Johnny Abbot, two characters who have been with this series for quite a long time.

Doug Abbot, usually just called Abbot, has been the closest thing this series has had to a main villain.  He's the one who was capturing hybrid children and having them studied.  He's the one who killed Jeppard's wife, and who has been tracking down Gus, Jeppard, and Dr. Singh for the last little while.  Johnny is his younger brother, and the guy who let everyone escape (twice in Jeppard's case).

In this issue, the two brothers are face to face again, Abbot having found the Evergreen Dam where Johnny had decided to stay.  At that point, the story flips to a flashback (drawn by Nate Powell, whose name is not on the cover), and we see just how their relationship has always been, and we learn how Abbot came to be running the militia camp we first met him in.

This is a very good comic.  Powell's art fits well with Lemire's usual house style for this comic, and I enjoyed seeing him draw the scenes set around the time that people started dying all over the place.  Lemire's not shown us a lot of this transitional period, which is the type of thing I always find interesting.

Like many other Vertigo books that I read, Sweet Tooth is moving towards its finish, but it is doing so very well.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Wasteland #38

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Justin Greenwood

The main appeal of Wasteland is the totality of Antony Johnston's vision of the future.  He's built a fully-realized world in this comic, and that often comes through in small moments that fill his stories.  I often feel like he knows every character's entire life story, and only shares some of it as he works his way through his long-running series. 

Gerr has been traveling alongside our heroes Michael and Abi for some time now, and we as readers have known all along that his purpose in being with them is to betray them and kill them for Marcus, if they find the mysterious A-Ree-Yass-I, a fabled place where the three have a shared history or origin.  Last issue, Michael and Abi both figured out that Gerr worked for Marcus, and now it's time for him to tell his story.

Gerr has worked for Marcus since he was a boy, and he goes through his history in Newbegin for most of this issue.  The ending came as a surprise to me, but I shouldn't discuss that here, except to say that one of the most interesting things in this comic has been the way in which Abi has changed and darkened as a character from being the optimistic healer we first me years ago.

Justin Greenwood does better with quieter issues like this one, and his cleaner vision of Wasteland is growing on me.  I still miss Christopher Mitten's art on this book, but I'm very happy with the monthly schedule, so it's a fair trade.

iZombie #26

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

After this there are only two issues of iZombie left, and it shows, as Roberson moves all of his chess pieces closer to a big final confrontation. 

This comic has always had a particularly large cast, so it makes sense that checking in with every one of them would take up pretty much an entire issue.  Gwen is getting ready to kill every person in Eugene as part of some sort of ritual that will stop the elder god Xitulu from coming and ushering the Apocalypse.  She has some time to kill before the big event, so she goes looking for her friends, to say good-bye and perhaps get them out of town.  she can't find them though, although we see what they are up to, and what every other member of the cast is doing.

Roberson's plotting on this title has been excellent.  Things that I had forgotten, such as the relationship between Ellie's friend Francisco (the Frankenteen) and the newest of the Paintball Vampires, come back up here as plotlines converge.  Basically, a new reader would be totally lost, but there are lots of rewards for people who have been with the book since the beginning, including the last page meeting between Gwen and Gavin.

Allred's art is always fantastic, and this issue is no exception.

Thief of Thieves #5

Written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

It's taken five issues, but now Kirkman and Spencer have made clear what they are doing with this comic, and have more or less set out a path for the plot to follow (not that we know the significance of the empty painting at the beginning of issue one and the end of issue four yet).  Prior to this, we've been spending a lot of time just getting to know Redmond and his family.

This issue shows us what ever happened to Redmond's brother-in-law, who was in the flashbacks for issue two, but hasn't been seen since.  It also introduces all of the remaining members of Redmond's crew, who are each given one page.

This results in a quick read, but still, this issue is very enjoyable.  Kirkman and Spencer are putting an interesting twist on the standard heist drama, and having established the characters so well prior to the crime actually beginning, they've made me actually care about what happens to Redmond and his son.

Great work all around on this comic, but Shawn Martinbrough deserves some special recognition for his astounding art.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Fairest #4

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, and Steve Sadowski

Having recently come to the decision to let Fables go, I find that I'm predisposed to find Fairest, it's spin-off title, a little tedious. 

Ali Baba's attempt to escape the Snow Queen's clutches doesn't go well for him, and it results in his bottle imp now becoming the Queen's servant.  The Queen is addicted to stories, and so the imp, Jonah, has to keep providing her with these.  This leads to Ali Baba's origin, and the final conclusion to the Sleeping Beauty story started a couple of months ago.

In a scene that reminds me of the old, better days of Fables, we also learn about how Gepetto had been drugging her for all the years that she thought she was his ally, as Jonah tries to help her recover her former self.  This scene works very well, until the sudden and unexplained appearance of one character who has been mentioned often in this series, but not previously seen. 

In that scene, I couldn't help but hear the thoughts of some of the classic comics editors, who would point out that you can't have a character suddenly appear within a scene without showing them come in.  This bad guy is just there, with no teleportation effect, or walls breaking, or anything.  I thought I'd missed a page.  I don't know if the fault for this lies with Willingham or Jimenez, but I guess we can blame it on the editor.  It's just one more example of how 'phoned-in' the entire Fables line has felt over the last year or so.

Creator-Owned Heroes #1

Written by Steve Niles, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Justin Gray
Art by Kevin Mellon and Phil Noto

Before even discussing this book, I think we should take a moment to absorb the notion that this new series, so dedicated to creators' rights to own their own comics that they gave it the clunky name Creator-Owned Heroes, debuted on the same day as the first of DC's Before Watchmen comics.  Intentional?  Coincidentally awesome?  It's all good.

This is perhaps an example of the concept being better than the product, but I'm still relatively happy to plunk down $4 for something like this.  This is a thick issue, which opens with two 11-page comics, and is followed by some magazine-style backmatter.

The first series is American Muscle, by Niles and Mellon.  I'm not usually a big Steve Niles fan, but I have liked some of his books, and I enjoyed Mellon's recent work on Heart.  This series is about a group of friends crossing a post-Apocalyptic America in classic cars, aiming for the West Coast.  Niles explains that the catastrophe that finally more or less wiped out humanity was internal, involving the failure of our immune systems.  It's a bleak little tale that reads like an homage to B-movies about cars.  It's cool.

The second comic is by Palmiotti, Gray, and Noto, and involves some sort of assassin called a Trigger Girl.  We follow this one as she is awoken from some sort of pod, and sent on a mission that involves a US senator on an airplane, and two fighter jets.  It's good, but it doesn't do much more than set the tone for what is to follow.

The backmatter, which includes an interview with Neil Gaiman, is pretty much all forgettable.  Its clear that Palmiotti and company haven't fully decided where they're going with this title, and that's fine, but everything in the back half of this book felt very self-serving.  I like to support creator-owned work, but the concept is not all that new or groundbreaking, and probably shouldn't be discussed as such.

Anyway, this is a book worth supporting.  The two strips are not bad, and together they still make up more content than you would get from a $4 Marvel comic, even if you don't read the stuff at the back.

Secret #2

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Ryan Bodenheim

Jonathan Hickman's new series, Secret, is kind of the 'other' Hickman book.  His Manhattan Projects has been garnering more attention, and while that book, about the variety of secret science projects rolled into the development of the atom bomb, is a lot of fun and generally pretty nuts, Secret feels to be its opposite.

The first issue established that this series was about espionage in the business world, and it introduced a number of characters, but Hickman kept most of the comic's goals and purpose quiet.  I thought this new issue would clarify what's going on, and it did to a certain degree, but it also just piled on a number of new questions.

The comic opens on two boys who are waiting for their father to mete out punishment for something they did.  We are given enough to know that the father is involved in organized crime, and that his punishment is pretty harsh (I'm not going to spoil it, but the cover kind of does).

From there, we move to today, where Grant Miller is target shooting with a woman.  She gives him a letter, and they both realize that this particular day has significance to Grant.  Later, he's called into his boss's office, where he learns that his friend was killed last issue, and that the company's 'fixer', who he doesn't like, will be handling that problem.

Hickman takes his time establishing Miller's past and relationships, without really getting into the nuts and bolts of what he, or Steadfast Security Solutions is really up to.  The mystery works very well though, as I find I'm completely invested in finding out what's going to happen moving forward.

Ryan Bodenheim's doing some very good work with this comic.  His previous books, A Red Mass For Mars (with Hickman), and Halcyon, have both been much more over the top.  I like how he handles normal everyday situations, and Michael Garland's colours, which fit with Hickman's usual monochromatic palette, work very well here.

This title deserves at least as much attention as The Manhattan Projects is getting, and is perfect for anyone who enjoys Thief of Thieves or Criminal.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Morning Glories #19

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

I don't understand why I don't hear a lot more buzz for this comic.  Nick Spencer's story, complex and secretive as it is, is very exciting.  This issue picks up on the events of a few months back.  The students of Morning Glory Academy have been participating in Woodrun, a kind of cross between a scavenger hunt and Capture the Flag. 

Hunter, the nice kid and sort of secondary point-of-view character for this series has been partnered with Zoe.  They were actually talking to each other a little, but then Zoe suddenly killed a girl that had been talking to Hunter.  Now she's chasing him, and he doesn't really know what's going on.

While he's running, the audience is given a series of flashbacks to Hunter's life before coming to the school.  We learn that his mother is in the hospital with a terminal illness, and that she is pressuring him to apply to MGA.  The scenes between them are touching, and also suggestive of the idea that Hunter's mom knows something about how the school operates, since she is certain that he'd be accepted, despite his average grades and test scores.

The story notes of this issue are all a little predictable (except for Hunter's weird inability to tell time - that's just odd), but Spencer and Eisma handle them with enough sensitivity to make them work very well.  The last couple of pages, once again, raise a bunch of questions, but that's just become par for the course with this series.  That's a big part of the draw for me, really.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Achewood Vol. 3: A Home for Scared People

by Chris Onstad

I love Achewood, Chris Onstad's long-running web comic.  I came to the series rather late, starting to read it around the time that Onstad pulled the plug for a long time, although it is currently running again, albeit sporadically.

In the beginning, Achewood was just a funny animal strip, but with time, it developed into something much more profound, while always being very funny.

This third volume of Dark Horse's run of durable hardcover editions of the series collects many of the early strips, running up to October of 2002.  It's an immediate follow-up to the second volume, in terms of presenting the strips chronologically.  The first volume, The Great Outdoor Fight, printed a later storyline, which is one of the most memorable of the series.

I'm not sure why Dark Horse didn't do more to cherry-pick longer stories, than print this melange of one-off strips and short story lines, such as the one that has Roast Beef fly to the moon and refuse to come back.  A recurring theme in this volume is the attempts by Ray Smuckles to initiate tech start-ups based on antiquated computer applications, such as a spreadsheet that tells you when you need to buy milk and eggs, or a logo company that uses crazy computer fonts.

The characters are what makes Achewood work so well.  We have the odd friendship between Ray and Roast Beef as the tentpole of this series, but other characters, such as the young seal Phillipe get their moments in the sun.  It's incredibly hard to describe Achewood in any way that makes it sound different from any other ensemble newspaper strip, so you'll have to take my word that Achewood transcends that genre by an order of magnitude.

As it's been a while since any of these books have been published, I think it's time to systematically work my way through the last ten year's worth of the on-line strips.  This could be a problem though, because these things are pretty addictive...