Friday, November 30, 2012

Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #1

Written by Brandon Seifert
Art by Lukas Ketner

I'd really enjoyed the first volume of Witch Doctor (Under the Knife), and I'm very pleased to see that the series has returned for a new six-issue arc.  The series follows Dr. Vincent Morrow, an occult physician, who alongside his two assistants, treats the medical conditions that cause a number of things we recognize as magical or unnatural phenomenon.  The first volume had Dr. Morrow 'treat' such conditions as vampirism, changeling babies, and demonic possession.  Basically, it was Dr. Strange done correctly, were Stephen Strange a total crank and misanthrope.

With this new volume, writer Brandon Seifert switches things up a little bit.  Instead of telling a series of one-off stories, he's giving us a longer arc that has to do with the unfortunate after-effects of a one-night stand the doctor has indulged in.

Seifert tosses right into things with this issue, as the Doctor continues his treatment of the young boy suffering from multiple possessions (I think it was the first or second issue of volume one that introduced him), and he doesn't spend a lot of time dwelling on the medical explanations for things.  That could be a mis-step, as it doesn't establish for new readers just what makes this book so unique.  If the concept sounds interesting, I urge you to track down the trade, or just dive in to the this new series, with the expectation that all will be made clear eventually.

Lukas Ketner's art has continued to improve in the almost year-long gap since the last Witch Doctor comic was published.  He excels at inventing arcane-looking medical equipment, but is also a strong character artist.  The book looks very nice in his hands.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fatale #10

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

The second arc of Fatale, set in the 70s, ends with this issue as many a 70s scene did - with a bunch of dead cultists and third-rate actresses.

Miles raids the Method Church's compound to steal a book for Josephine, and finds the place deserted.  The reason?  The church has figured out where Josephine is, and they've gone after her in force.

This is a bloody, violent issue, and it's great.  Brubaker announced this week that the series is now an indefinite on-going, and I am very happy about that (even if part of me worries that, as the story jumps forward through time, it will start to lose some of its strength, like what's happened with American Vampire).

Anyway, there's not a whole lot to say about this issue, except to make a comment about Brubaker's writing style.  He's always been very open about the fact that he starts arcs without knowing how they will finish, but he's such a good writer that no one would believe that.  Jo's gardener, first seen in the second issue of this arc, who appeared to be a complete throw-away character, gets a scene that feels like it had been predestined.  It is these little touches that make this book so great.

Chew #30

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

There were plenty of signs that this issue was going to be a big, important one, but I still didn't expect it to go down the way it did.

As someone who has spent his whole life reading comics, it is rare that I am genuinely surprised or shocked by what I read.  Pretty much the only writer able to pull it off these days is Robert Kirkman, who has, three times in the last few years, caused me to pause and take a breath before continuing to read (twice major characters died, another someone special was shot in the head).  John Layman totally did it to me twice in this issue.

The book opens with Toni Chu's wedding to Paneer.  It's as great as that fold-out cover shown above makes it look, with the extended Chew cast acting much as they always do.  Oh, and Jim Mahfood makes a cameo!  It's a great scene, but as Layman has often been doing to us, it's not completely accurate, and then things take a decided turn to the dark, as some pretty terrible things happen.

I can't discuss it at all without spoiling it, except to say that this issue packs a solid emotional wallop, while still being funny as hell.  The series is now half-way through its run, and this is clearly a turning point, as the Collector (the supposedly vampiric cibopath) pushes things to a new level.

Layman and Guillory are perfect collaborators, much like Brubaker and Phillips and Kirkman and Adlard are.  Chew is one of the best comics being published today, and this is one of its best issues.  I'm still spinning from what happened in it.

Planetoid #4

by Ken Garing

Planetoid came out of nowhere a few months ago - an interesting science fiction mini-series by a creator who I'd never heard of before - and it caught me up right away in its bleak tale of a human crash survivor who finds himself on a barren post-industrial wasteland of a planet.

The first three issues really stood out in terms of the quality of their art, and the strength of Garing's story.  There was a bit of a pause between the third and the fourth issue, but I'm happy to see that this series is back, and moving forward as strongly as before.

Our hero, Silas, discovers a small space-worthy vessel in the hold of the large crashed ship he's been trying to rebuild along with the community of scavengers he's drawn to himself.  Before he can test it out, he receives word of a fresh crash, and decides to go investigate it personally.

He ends up in the hands of the Ono Mao, the alien race who claim the territory that the Planetoid the story is set on is in.  Silas is, of course, wanted by the Ono Mao for the actions that led him to the Planetoid in the first place, and his interaction with these creatures is pretty interesting, as are his actions after that.

Planetoid is definitely a strange series - it doesn't follow the usual pattern of events in stories like this, and that is why I'm enjoying it so much.  Garing is a terrific writer and artist, and I look forward to following his career.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Morning Glories #23

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

I'm not uncomfortable admitting that I no longer have much of a clue as to what's going on in Morning Glories.  Nick Spencer's excellent series about a group of children who have been sent to a very strange, probably evil, secret school, has become very convoluted and confusing, especially for someone who is reading it in it's (not quite) monthly comics form, as there are way too many plot threads to keep track of from issue to issue.

I don't care though, because this book is still great, even when it's just way too confusing.

Hisao (who we know as Jun) is angry with Irina for her treatment of Hunter and her decision to leave his brother Jun (who we know as Hisao) to be a sacrifice to something.  We have learned that Hisao/Jun used to be a part of Irina's group, but we're still not very clear as to what their mission is.  Meanwhile, Fortunato and Akiko, other members of Irina's group, have made their way to Jun/Hisao's sacrifice, and witness first hand what goes on there (the cover is a hint).

We are also shown some flashbacks to a point two years previous when Irina's group made their first move against the Headmaster of the Academy.  It's these scenes that are among the most confusing, as it's hard to be clear on just what the kids are trying to accomplish (and because I have a hard time distinguishing between Akiko and Irina).  Also, we check in on Ike and Jade, who were last seen still playing the Woodrun game (I think - it's been a while).

This is a very solid issue, despite all the confusion.  Spencer has a great handle on each kid's personality and character, and in a lot of ways, it's just fun to sit back and watch them all interact.  Joe Eisma's art is always wonderful.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Clone #1

Written by David Schulner
Art by Juan Jose Ryp

And the Image hits just keep coming.  Clone is a new series (a mini-series, I assume, but it's always hard to tell with Image) that touches on familiar story elements, but does it very effectively.

Luke Taylor's wife is about to have his baby.  He's still bitter about the fact that his own father abandoned him, which heightens the usual concerns new father's have about being ready for things.  One morning, as he is getting ready for work, he finds a man who looks just like him quietly bleeding out on his kitchen floor.  This guy warns him that someone is after his wife.

This someone, who looks just like Luke and the guy in the kitchen, shows up at the hospital where the wife is getting a check-up, and takes off with her.

We figure out a little while before Luke does that we are dealing with a cloning story (admittedly, the title kind of tipped that off), and that 'they' are after Luke for reasons we don't know.  There are some people ready to help him, and I'm sure we will get the back story in the next issue or so.

This is an effective opening, and the book falls into that 'movie good' category quite nicely.  Juan Jose Ryp's art is dynamic and detailed in equal measures (although I still hate the weird effect he draws around any spot where a character hits something), and it helps propel the story along.  The clone story has not reached the ubiquity of the zombie or vampire story yet, but with books like Garrison and Dancer touching on similar themes not that long ago, it does seem like there's something going on.

Still, newcomer David Schulner has crafted a nice introduction here, and I'm curious to see where he takes it.

Until the Quiet Comes

by Flying Lotus

I think Flying Lotus's new album, Until the Quiet Comes, is probably my favourite album of the year.  In these eighteen tracks, FlyLo takes his music into some places he hasn't gone before, delivering a complete package that is more thoughtful, beautiful, and also accessible than anything he's done before.

I've admired his work for some time now, but sometimes have found listening to him to be distracting or a more cerebral than enjoyable endeavour (depending on my mood).  With this album, he wraps everything in such lush, atmospheric sounds, that I find I can leave the album on repeat for hours and just get lost in it.

A big part of what makes this album work so well is the blending of electronic music with live instruments, with guests such as Thundercat, Austin Peralta (RIP), and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson adding to the richness of the tracks.  There are vocals by Niki Randa, Laura Darlington, Thom Yorke, and Erykah Badu, providing some of the nicest tracks on the album.  My favourite track, though, is 'Putty Boy Strut'.

Flying Lotus is one of the most exciting artists in the business right now.  His music is almost impossible to categorize - he uses the phrase dubstep, but I still think of it more as post hip-hop - and I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Mind the Gap #6

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Rodin Esquejo

I'm really glad I chose to stick with Jim McCann's Mind the Gap.  Around the third and fourth issue, I was beginning to worry that this series was just a little too pleased with its own cleverness, and I found myself losing interest, but between last issue's flashback story, and this month's excitement, I'm really getting wrapped up in this book.

Elle has been in her coma for a while now, and she's started to figure out how she can place her consciousness in the bodies of other, recently deceased, coma victims.  She is asked by a young girl, Katie Lawrence, who was taken off life support, to go and make sure that the secret behind her 'accident' is revealed.

Elle does this, and is able to make a phone call to her best friend Jo, while in Katie's body.  She's found by Katie's family though, and all hell breaks loose in the hospital.  There is a very cool scene where Katie's body, being taken to an MRI room, accompanied by Dr. Geller, almost collides with Elle's, who is also being taken for imaging by her doctor.  The two victims have the same brain wave patterns, and exhibit other synchronized actions.  It's a very creepy scene.

Also in this issue, we learn a little more about what happened to Elle, and what role her mother and her doctor play in it.  Katie/Elle is yelling gibberish in the hallway (it reminds me of the libretto to much of Phillip Glass's opera Einstein on the Beach), but in light of her mother's conversation with the doctor, I think that McCann is dropping some major clues.

Now that McCann has stopped pointing out his own cleverness in the text page, and is not filling the book with long psycho-babble scenes in The Garden, I find it much easier to get swept up in this story.  I'm completely invested in figuring out what happened to Elle, and just who is responsible for what, and I look forward to the next issue.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Glory #30

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Roman Muradov and Ross Campbell

I love it when a comic throws you an unexpected curve.  Since relaunching this book, Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell have delivered an excellent set of issues that have an aging and diminished Glory preparing to fight against her father's other-dimensional army of monsters.  This issue, however, opens with a story involving Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Pablo Picasso.

The first three pages of this issue feature Jim, Glory's old friend, recounting the tale from her days in Paris in the 20s.  These pages are drawn by Roman Muradov, in a simplified, cartoonish style.  After that, we're back to the usual stuff, but the whole thing was very effective at changing the tone of the book, and illustrating just how long this character has been on Earth.

The rest of the issue involves Glory's effort to recruit her sister, Nanaja, to help her in her battle with their father.  Since Glory and Nanaja don't get along, this means they have to fight first, as people always have to in comics.  Ross Campbell doesn't hold back in the fight scenes, which are vicious to a degree rarely seen in comics not published by Avatar Press.  It's pretty gruesome.

Later, there are a couple more surprises in store for the reader, and ultimately Glory, as the series continues to move towards a huge family confrontation.  It's great stuff, and Campbell's art is looking better than ever.

The Unwritten #43

by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

The events of this series have made quite a mess of the fictional worlds, which has been hinted at for a while, and really only shown in the latest 'Pauly Bruckner' issue of The Unwritten.  Well, now Tom Taylor is in the fictional worlds, looking to rescue Lizzie Hexam, and he gets to see just how messed up things are.

Many fictional characters have ended up in the same place, as refugees from their usual spots.  It's not long before Tom runs in to his old friend, Baron Munchausen, who agrees to take him to the land of the dead.  The problem is, they are being pursued by an army of militant storybook animals, and when Munchausen's involved, nothing ever goes properly.

This is a solid, good issue.  I've felt for a while now that The Unwritten has been moving towards its grand finale, as without the threat of the Cabal, there doesn't seem to be as much for Tom to do.  The rescue mission concept feels a little tagged on, although now, as we see the problems surrounding Leviathan first hand, I assume that Tom will have to now fix whatever is wrong with fiction.

This book continues to be a very good read, but I would like some better understanding of its structure going forward, less it begin to feel like it's being improvised in the way that Fables is.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Edgar Allan Poe's The Conqueror Worm

Adapted by Richard Corben

I will confess that I've never really loved Poe.  I've found his work to be a little overwrought, or maybe even a little pretentious.  I've tried a few times to really absorb his writing, and it seems that no matter how many times I've read 'The Raven', I've never paid attention to it right through the very end.

Richard Corben, however, I do like.  He's always been a comics artist that has stood out for me as someone whose work I can immediately recognize, and I've appreciated his eye for the bizarre.  I've been enjoying his Poe adaptations in Dark Horse Presents lately, although I've often wondered about just how many liberties he's been taking with the source material, as it's always just seemed a little too weird, even for Poe.

With this one-shot which adapts one of Poe's more famous poems, I feel like I finally have a handle on how Corben adapts things.  Basically, it seems that he takes Poe's more bizarre poems, and then transplants them into the types of settings he most enjoys - the deserts of the Southwest.

In this book, he shows us what happens to a Colonel Mann, whose wife has just run off with his cousin (and a servant).  He kills them, and then has a strange encounter with some Aboriginal puppeteers, who invite him and the rest of his family to a puppet show.  The show itself is a grotesque business that looks to tell Mann's story, complete with real guns and the prerequisite nude buxom women (a Corben specialty).  Oh yah, and there are some carnivorous worms.

The poem is reprinted on the last page of this comic, and while there is little in it to connect it to the surrealistic, dream-like narrative Corben has constructed from it, I will never be able to read it without thinking of this comic again.  I'd love to see Corben adapt some other writers in a similar vein.

Comeback #1

Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Michael Walsh

Ed Brisson has impressed me on a few occasions with his excellent short crime stories in his self-published series Murder Book, which seems to come out about once a year (and which has featured this series's artist, Michael Walsh).  Brisson writes some fantastically dark stories in that series, so I knew I'd be in for something mysterious in this, which to the best of my knowledge is his first mini-series.

Brisson plays things very close to the vest here.  I found that I learned more about the structure of this series from reading the 'next issue' blurb on the back cover than I did reading this first issue, but that's okay, because Brisson and Walsh are masters of creating atmosphere.

The comic opens with two men knocking on the door of an older man, claiming they represent the hydro company.  In no time, they have forced their way into the home, and have abducted the man.  He is taken to an empty warehouse, where he is then exposed to a very bright light, which takes him some sixty days into the future.  The trip doesn't work well for the man.

The reader slowly figures out that these men work for a company called RECONNECT (actually, the company doesn't get named in the issue) that specializes in pulling people away from their imminent deaths.  This is not cheap - we see a new client pony up five million dollars to save his wife from a car accident.  Many of the mechanics of the operation are outlined here, but everything is kept a little bit obscure and oblique.  We do learn that one of the agents doesn't want to keep working for this company, and it looks like someone is investigating them, but we don't know a whole lot more than that.

There are a lot of mysteries introduced in this issue; perhaps a few too many, with no clear idea who the 'hero' of the story is going to be.  At the same time, I trust Brisson to pull this off.  Walsh's art is very nice, in the Paul Azaceta/Michael Lark school.  The feel of this book is terrific, and I look forward to seeing where it goes next.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dark Horse Presents #18

Written by Joshua Williamson, Carla Speed McNeil, Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas, Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Corben, Dara Naraghi, Phil Stanford, Peter Hogan, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Colin Lorimer, and Mike Richardson
Art by Victor Ibáñez, Carla Speed McNeil, Ulises Farinas, Richard Corben, Victor Santos, Patric Reynolds, Steve Parkhouse, Steve Lieber, Colin Lorimer, and Ron Chan

This issue of Dark Horse Presents is much stronger than some of the recent issues, as some new serials begin, some of the better ones continue or return, and we are given an excellent one-off memoir.

The book opens with a story about Captain Midnight, by Joshua Williamson and Victor Ibáñez.  A WWII plane comes flying out of the Bermuda Triangle, piloted by the Captain, who ends up on the deck of a US aircraft carrier.  It's clear that he is lost in time.  What's not clear is if this is a new character or one that has shown up before (the title loudly proclaims that he 'returns').  All I know is that I enjoyed this story, but I'm not familiar with this character.

From there, we get a new chapter of Finder, my now-favourite science fiction comic.  Jaegar is in a city he hasn't been to before, where it appears that all the citizens suffer from something called Apex Sudden Death Syndrome.  Consequently, no one goes outside, and are instead represented by different types of holographic avatars.  This is pretty typical work from Carla Speed McNeil - it's dense with ideas and characterization, and there is a general assumption that we already know what she's talking about, even though these ideas are brand new.  I'm completely hooked on this serial.

After that comes 'Gamma', a new serial by Ulises Farias and Erick Freitas.  It's a bizarre little story that starts off being about a 'coward' who hangs out a bar all day, where people pay $50 to punch him in the face.  Later, he's asked to help a battered woman stand up to her husband, and suddenly this story is about people using holographic 'monsters' to fight each other.  Farias's art has a bit of a Brandon Graham meets Moebius vibe to it, so I'm on board.

Richard Corben gives us another adaptation of an Edgar Allen Poe poem or short story, and as is always the case with these things, it's lovely and odd.

One of the best pieces this month is Dara Naraghi's memoir of growing up on the shore of the Caspian Sea in Iran.  It's lovingly illustrated by Victor Santos, and very nicely evokes a lost time and place.  I really wish we'd see more things like this in anthologies and comics in general.

Resident Alien, which is an excellent series, returns this month with a strangely-paced story.  It opens with a dream shared between the alien doctor's assistant and her grandfather (I think?), before we move back in time three years, and see the US military men who found the doctor's spacecraft, as they investigate his arrival on Earth.  I'm not sure where this is leading, but I'm happy to see more of this story.

Alabaster returns, and City of Roses continues, but neither really grab my attention.  I feel the same about The Secret Order of the Teddy Bears, which is an all-ages story that is lacking the complexity of some of the other all-ages pieces that have run in this book (I'm thinking of Beasts of Burden, which is brilliant).

UXB, another on-going serial, continues to mystify me in its lack of narrative cohesion.  I really do not understand what is going on in this series.

Still, this is a very successful issue overall.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Neonomicon

Written by Alan Moore
Art by Jacen Burrows

Having never read any HP Lovecraft, I'm left wondering just why he has such a lasting influence on comics writers and artists.  I'd rank him up there with Nikola Tesla as having almost become a comic book genre unto himself.

Neonomicon is Alan Moore's love letter to Lovecraft.  This edition contains two separate stories - the comics adaptation of Moore's prose story The Courtyard (adapted by Antony Johnston), and the four-issue Neonomicon sequel mini-series that Moore wrote for Avatar.  Both stories are illustrated by Jacen Burrows.

In The Courtyard, a racist FBI agent with a rare ability to find connections between disparate threads of cases, becomes interested in a new drug called Aklo.  Users of this drug exhibit the use of a strange language similar to speaking in tongues, and have a tendency to chop up people around them.  The Courtyard is a little trippy, but also kind of grounded in things.  It introduces the character of Johnny Carcosa, a dealer who keeps the lower half of his face hidden behind a silk handkerchief, and who hangs out in a nightclub called the Club Zothique.

In Neonomicon, some time has passed since the events of The Courtyard.  It's not clear how much time, but things feel very different.  Cities are protected by large domes, but there is no explanation for it.  Two new FBI agents, Brears and Lamper, begin to look in to murders that appear to be connected to the same club.  They try to apprehend Carcosa, but he escapes (the second time, in a very cool, very Alan Moore scene).  The two agents catch on to the recurring HP Lovecraft theme in everything that is going on, and travel to Salem to continue their investigation.

This is where things start to get really weird, as the two agents are inducted into a cult that uses sex and orgone energy to attract a merman creature.  This part of the story is pretty explicit, and I can understand why there was some controversy surrounding this book when it got its start.

I enjoyed reading both stories in this book.  I know that Moore has his detractors, and personally, I don't see the appeal of Lovecraft, but I did enjoy the way this story was structured.  He plays around a little with people's perceptions of the world, and the scene where Carcosa makes his escape is incredible.  Burrows is a talented artist who has a good handle on the range of human expressions, but can also graft those same emotions onto a merman creature thing.  This is a good read, but it's not a book you'd leave lying around the house.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Walking Dead #104

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

Over the last one hundred issues, long-time readers of The Walking Dead have come to recognize Rick Grimes as one of the most bad-ass leads in comics.  He's lost most of his family, his world, a hand, and many of the people who have chosen to follow him, including many very close friends, yet he continues to work to protect his community.

I think though, that Rick is not half as bad-ass (or impulsive) as his son Carl.  Carl has been through just as much as Rick (although instead of losing a hand, he's been shot in the head), and has had to grow up quickly in Robert Kirkman's harsh new world.  Still, knowing all of this, I was pretty surprised to see just what Carl gets himself up to this issue.

Rick and the rest of the Community where they live have had no choice but to bow down to the demands of Negan, the leader of the Saviours, a group that have now taken over 'protection' of the Community, and have made off with much of their goods and supplies.  What they don't know is that Carl has hitched a ride in one of the trucks, intent to take Negan down.

While they are travelling, Jesus, the scout who lives at the Hilltop, has been tracking Dwight, the man that Rick let go free after the Savior's original attack on the Community.  He gets caught, and is also taken towards the Savior's home base.

We learn a little more about Negan and his people this issue, and we get to see where they live, and the rather creative security system they've developed for themselves.  Charlie Adlard specializes in the types of drawings like the one that shows the approach to Negan's compound; it is a very creepy scene.

The easiest way to get me caught up in this comic is to have bad things happen to Carl (who is one of the few original characters left these days), and so it is with great anticipation that I await the next issue.

Thief of Thieves #10

Written by Robert Kirkman and James Asmus
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

It's a little strange how what started as an excellent crime series has slowly morphed itself into more of a family drama, but it's done it very well.

Redmond is getting drawn into his son's problems again, as young Augustus's screw ups have led to a situation where he has to either provide his father for a drug cartel's uses, or recognize that his girlfriend, who is being held hostage, is going to be killed.  Augustus being Augustus first tries to set up some scores of his own, using some of his father's people, but he gets a rather forceful reminder from the cartel that this isn't good enough.

Redmond, meanwhile, seems determined to burn his bridges with Oscar, his financier and protector for all these years.  One thing that Robert Kirkman and his co-writers have not made clear yet is just why Redmond is so determined to retire from his criminal life.  He hasn't been shown as having other interests or desires in play, and that makes me wonder if he isn't actually playing some form of long-con.

This book continues to be an enjoyable read.

Saucer Country #10

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

The last issue of Saucer Country ended with a masked gunman approaching Presidential candidate Governor Arcadia Alvarado outside a campaign appearance.  This issue, we learn that the gunman has missed, but his actions have had an effect on the entire Alvarado campaign, as these things are wont to do.

This issue focuses a lot more on the actual politics of the series, as Arcadia meets with her chief rival, and plots her way forward with her campaign team.  The UFO-hunting side of this comic is relegated to Professor Kidd, who has received a tip about the identities of 'Mork and Mindy', the Men in Black-like figures who visited an alleged abductee.

I love this aspect of the comic.  Cornell has been examining any number of legends about UFOs in America, and has been stringing them together in some pretty creative ways.  His reasoning behind the Men in Black visits is both plausible and humorous, and fits nicely with what has been happening in this comic.

This series works very well, as a blend of politics, conspiracy, and strong characterization.  The identity of Arcadia's attacker is pretty surprising, even though Cornell started telegraphing it last issue.  I look forward to seeing the consequences of his next attack next month.

Where is Jake Ellis?

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Tonci Zonjic

Who Is Jake Ellis? was a very cool mini-series about Jon Moore, a former CIA agent who was tortured in a facility, and managed to escape after he discovered that another man, Jake Ellis, had taken up residence in his head, and could provide him with an unparalleled level of situational awareness.  The series was about Jon's quest to figure out what was done to him, and in the process, he discovered who Jake was.

This sequel opens with the two men successfully separated.  Jon is living in hiding in Thailand, although it's not long into this issue when men with guns come looking for him again, and he finds himself on the run.

Jake, meanwhile, has been kept in a hospital, with no knowledge of what has been happening with his family.  After he's finally given the chance to call his wife, people come after him too, and he flees the hospital.

It's clear that the two men are still connected in some way, although a new wrinkle is added at the very end of the issue.  Nathan Edmondson works best on stories like this, where characters are on the run and have to rely on their own wits.  Tonci Zonjic is an amazing artist, and his work here looks terrific.

The first series was a very exciting read, and this one looks to be just as good.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Great Pacific #1

Written by Joe Harris
Art by Martín Morazzo

Image Comics does it again, with a strong debut for new series Great Pacific.  This comic stars Chas Worthington, the scion of a gigantic American energy company.  In the period after his father's death, young Chas has little interest in running the company as either his father or his grandfather before him did.  Instead, Chas wants to make his mark on the world, and has devoted his attention to fixing the issue of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Chas is shown as the typical American trustifarian.  He's jetting and helicoptering around the world, helping some Maasai irrigate their village, juggling multiple girlfriends, and trying to convince his company of the soundness of his process to break down hydrocarbons into water, in an attempt to help clean up oil spills.  Chas is clearly a bit of a flake, but with his heart in the right place.

We learn quickly that the board of directors at Worthington Enterprises have no love for him, to the extent that when he gets attacked in his home and subsequently disappears, it's not easy to believe that the company was involved.  What we, the reader, learns though is that Chas has some very big plans for the floating mass of garbage the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific.

I am pleased to see that this issue is being given increased prominence in various forms of entertainment (watch Ramin Bahrani's excellent short film The Plastic Bag).  It's an important one, but it seems most of the public is still unaware of it.  I do wonder at the solidity of the garbage patch as it's shown here - I don't believe it's something that someone could actually walk around on, and is more like a plastic soup.  I also wonder at the dichotomy of Chas flying everywhere, releasing a large volume of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but then driving a car that runs on biodiesel.

Joe Harris, who has previously caught my attention with the excellent Spontaneous and Ghost Projekt, does a great job of establishing this story and catching my interest.  I'm not familiar with Martín Morazzo, the artist, but I do like his work.  His characters remind me a touch of Frank Quitely.  I'm not sure how many issues this series is set to run for, but I know I'll be sticking around.

Punk Rock Jesus #5

by Sean Murphy

With this issue, young Chris, the fifteen-year-old clone of Jesus Christ, really lives up to the series's name.  Chris has become the lead singer for the Flak Jackets, America's last punk band, and also the de facto leader of the Punk Army, a group of young atheists determined to put a stop to the deathgrip that fundamentalist Christianity has on the near-future America this story is set in.

Sean Murphy has done a terrific job of telling this story, as we have followed young Chris from conception to this point, where he is now poised to go to war with the world's three major religions, the culmination of his age at how he was raised, and the state that the world has found itself in.  Touring the country, with his long-time security guard Thomas back at his side, Chris is open to continued attacks by the NAC (the New American Christians), the fundamentalist group that has protested, and perversely, through the magic of the ratings system, sustained Chris through his time on J2, the world's most successful reality show.

I love the scenes where Chris espouses his beliefs (mostly because they echo mine), but I also appreciate the subtlety with which Murphy has developed Chris and the other characters around him over the course of this book.  There is a scene where Chris visits with his childhood friend Rebekah, and her mother, who is the scientist that helped 'create' him.  It is clear that these people love each other, but each is constrained by the boundaries of their beliefs, contractual obligations, and conflicting desires to save the world.

This is a powerful comic.  My fear is that people who haven't read it can easily pass it off as a shock-value piece; there is a lot more to it than that.  In a lot of ways, I'm reading this as the last gasp of the dying Vertigo imprint - it's the type of edgy and potentially controversial stuff they published when they got their start.  It's also very attractive.

The Massive #6

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Garry Brown

With each issue, I find that The Massive is becoming a more and more essential comic.  The first arc grabbed my attention, but each issue contained so much information about the state of the world after 'The Collapse' that it was hard to get a sense of the characters and the story.

With the 'Black Pacific' arc, writer Brian Wood has given each of the series's main three characters their own issue, and has therefore humanized this series a great deal.

This month, the focus falls on Mag Nagendra, the one member of the Ninth Wave environmental direct action group that has the hardest time sticking to the non-violent ethos espoused by their leader, Callum Israel.  Mag grew up as a child soldier in the Tamil Eelam, and eventually ended up working with Callum at Blackbell, the military contractors modelled on Blackwater.

This issue has Mag and his companion Georg infiltrate a British-owned cargo vessel that the crew of the Kapital find crawling across the ocean towards America.  He is looking for food for the group, but is wise and worldly enough to know that the ship is not going to be empty.  He and Georg go packing weapons, even though that goes against Israel's beliefs.  We also see a few scenes from Mag's life, including the mission that finally convinced him to leave Blackbell and join Israel in his new life.

I really like the way that Wood is structuring this comic, with a mixture of flashbacks and current action.  He has really thought through the extent to which environmental collapse would affect the world's economy and social structures.  The text pieces at the back of the book help fill in a number of gaps, and I find that I am now looking forward to each new issue more than I did Wood's other books like DMZ and Northlanders (which was really quite a bit).

Conan the Barbarian #10

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Declan Shalvey

Having not been a Conan reader before Brian Wood came along to take his turn with the character, I have no way of knowing if his actions in this book, which spends most of its time depicting the barbarian in the company of Belit, the pirate queen of the south seas, are in character or not.  I do know that I've questioned if such a land-based creation as a barbarian would be happy with the sea-faring life, but I've simply taken it as a given.

This month, Wood and artist Declan Shalvey take the time to portray the everyday life that Conan has been experiencing with Belit and her people, and they are careful to show both the monotony and the appeal of the pirate's life.  Much of this first issue of 'The Death', the new arc, is given over to Conan's daily life in this environment.  Belit herself worries that her bed and her chosen lifestyle will be enough to keep Conan interested, and so has the old soothsayer who accompanies her enter a trance to search for answers; disturbingly, the man spends many hours chanting the words, "The death."

Not long after that, the crew come across a derelict ship with a single, weakened passenger.  Anyone with a passing knowledge of plagues (or has just read Wood's Northlanders) can see where this is going, but it's still a very effective issue.

Shalvey is an artist I've come to associate mostly with Marvel's Thunderbolts, where he drew a number of colourful characters in colourful situations.  I like how he slows down the pace here and draws a story that is more contemplative and uneventful; he is a very talented artist.

If you've been on the fence about Wood's Conan, this is a good issue to start reading his run with.  It's new-reader friendly, and filled with a sense of the characters and the place of Robert E. Howard's epic stories.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mind MGMT #0

by Matt Kindt

I live in such ignorance of digital comics that I had no idea that Matt Kindt had posted the three stories, collected in this zero issue, on-line before (or around the time) Mind MGMT started.  Thankfully, Dark Horse recognizes how many of us dinosaurs there are out there happily buying paper comics, and so they still collect this digital material into real comic books.  (This is probably a good place to point out that, with the cheaper newsprint used in this comic, this issue smells really, really good - like a comic book is supposed to.  I feel old right now).

Anyway, the three stories here cover different moments in the history of the Mind Management organization.  The first one has Meru, the investigative true crime writer and hero of the series, interviewing a woman who knows about the company, having been involved with a Russian sleeper agent who works for that country's counterpart to Mind Management.

The second story concerns Meru's first book, wherein she tracked down and exposed one of the world's most successful serial killers.  He too has a connection to the shadowy organization that drives this comic (and the world?).

The final story has Meru interviewing another man, who claims to be over 140 years old, and who was, for many years, an agent of...  (I'm sure you can guess it).

Taken as a whole, these stories do provide a little more insight into what this group really does, and it also gives Kindt the opportunity to entice a new reader to come on-board what has become one of my favourite new series of 2012.  Mind MGMT is a great read for anyone who loves spy comics, or just likes solving complex puzzles.  Kindt is working on many levels with this comic, and also filling it with his lovely, unique art.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Raw Money Raps

by Jeremiah Jae

I've reached the point where any new album or project coming out from Brainfeeder is something I'll buy on sight, even if I'm not previously familiar with the artist.

Where most of the Brainfeeder are left-field electronic artists, trading in instrumentals, Jeremiah Jae is a double-threat producer and rapper.  His beats definitely fit with the label's aesthetic, and his raps work well with that type of sound.

Jae produces the same layered tracks that we've come to expect from label mates Flying Lotus, Thundercat, and Teebs, but he adds that verbal layer to the proceedings, in his blunted, laconic style.  He approaches a lot of the standard hiphop tropes (the album is called Raw Money Raps, so this shouldn't be a surprise), but he manages to transcend the lazy boredom of most hiphop.

The second half of the album gets a little lost amid some interlude-style tracks (with the exception of the sublimely driving 'Hercules Versus the Commune'), but the first half is pretty fierce.  Tracks like 'Seasons' and 'Guns Go Off' showcase Jae's skills perfectly.  The stand-out track is 'Cat Fight', which is actually produced by FlyLo, but it's where Jae sounds best as well.

If you are looking for hip-hop that is moving in some new directions, this is worth checking out.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 8

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Art by Housui Yamazaki

Eight volumes in, it's hard to describe how much I love The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service in a new way, but my affection for this book remains undiminished.

In this issue, the crew, who usually busy themselves delivering deceased bodies to where they want to go, address a couple of social issues in modern-day Japan.  The first story is a pretty simple one about the group trying to recruit new members so they can maintain their status as a school club.

After that, though, they become embroiled in a story about 'afterlife weddings' - marriages conducted between two people who are deceased, as a way of placating their souls.  Things turn a little weird though, when a company that offers this service start marrying the dead to the living, with the end result being that both bride and groom end up dead.

The next story has to do with the practice of 'baby drop boxes' at Japanese hospitals - a way for women to safely deposit unwanted newborns without facing criminal charges or public shame.  Of course, this being Kurosagi CDS, the babies keep turning up dead, and there is a supernatural explanation.

This series always blends humour and horror perfectly, and I find that I like the characters more with each new volume I read.  There's not a lot of individual development in this volume, aside from the introduction of a possible love interest for Karatsu, but this is still a very enjoyable read.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Stumptown Vol. 2 #3

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Matthew Southworth

If a PI solves a case, even if its under the most suspicious of circumstances, should she walk away?  That is the question that Greg Rucka is posing in this new Stumptown series, as Dex Pairios finds 'baby', the guitar belonging to a local rock goddess.

At the end of the last issue, the guitar turns up at Dex's house, and her brother, who has Down's Syndrome, cannot reliably describe how it got there.  Dex, being Dex, sees this as a reason to step up her investigation.

This leads to her having an altercation with the DEA, and later, seeing the skinheads from the first issue.  Greg Rucka has landed her in the middle of a strange situation, and it's entertaining to watch how she is figuring things out.

What makes Stumptown work so well is the strength of the character-driven writing.  Dex is a great character, but so are the others who populate this book.  Personally, I like to imagine that DEA Agent Chase is in fact Cameron Chase, the DC comics character, being handled properly.

This issue, Matthew Southworth tries something new with the inking or shading of characters' faces.  Southworth shares the colouring credit with Rico Renzi, so I'm going to assume it's him that is trying something new, to give some depth to the characters' expressions.  I'm not sure how well it works, but I always encourage people trying something new.

Kelan Philip Cohran & The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

Easily one of the best new releases of the year, American jazz legend Phil Cohran has worked with seven of his sons, the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, to put together this excellent collection of seven tracks.

Usually, the HBE are a little more swinging than many of the pieces on this album (aside from the rousing 'Cuernavaca'), as this album instead exposes a more pensive and introspective side of the group.

Some of these pieces are older, like 'Apsara', which was inspired by Jackie Kennedy's trip to Angkor Wat in the 60s, while others are quite new.

I feel I don't have the proper musical knowledge to express any learned discussion of this album, but I feel confident in saying that it's one of the more beautiful things I've listened to lately, and the knowledge that this is a family affair adds a dimension to the music that I might have otherwise overlooked.

Sweet Tooth #39

by Jeff Lemire

There was a short stretch in the middle of this issue of Sweet Tooth, its penultimate, where I began to worry that the final conflict between Mr. Jeppard and Abbot, the horrible militia commander, might require some divine intervention, in the form of the hybrid 'gods' worshiped by the Inuit long ago.  Luckily, Lemire chose to keep this book firmly grounded, and had the characters work out their problems for themselves.

It's difficult to discuss this book without giving away any of its key moments, so my comments are going to stay pretty general and curtailed.  Suffice to say, Lemire has been building up to this issue since the series began, and its satisfying to see how he chose to finish things off.  Sure, there's still another issue left in the series, but I expect that it's going to be set a ways into the future (like the last issue of Y: The Last Man was).

This book has been about the evolution of Mr. Jeppard as much as anything else, and I like where the character has arrived at in this issue.  I've grown to care about him and Gus over the last few years, and Lemire, as always, does not disappoint.

Key to the Kuffs

by JJ DOOM

After his last solo album a few years back, and the frequent reports of him not showing up in person for concerts he's booked, I'd given up on DOOM (or is it MF DOOM again?).  The guy was mad talented back around the time of Madvillainy, which remains his greatest album, but it felt like he'd lost the plot.

Why did I buy Key to the Kuffs then?  Well, I find his collaborator on this project, Brazilian producer Jneiro Jarel, to be a pretty exciting beatmaker, and I was curious to see how his rather left-field approach would work with DOOM; at the least, I figured this would be a good beat cd, and that I'd just ignore Mr. Dumile, if I didn't like what he provided.

Imagine my surprise then, to find all my expectations upended.  DOOM comes correct on this album, in a way we haven't heard in some time.  He's back to his usual, nonsensical, smooth flowing self, and he rides these beats like he's actually interested in completing the project; something I haven't felt from him in some time.

As for Jarel, well he brings in some more conventional beats than I would have expected.  He still sounds like himself, but it's clear he thought about what DOOM's strengths are, and worked to support them.  This is still no Madvillainy, but it is a solidly good hip-hop album that holds up to repeated plays.

Creator-Owned Heroes #6

Written by Darwyn Cooke, Steve Niles, Jay Russell, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Justin Gray
Art by Darwyn Cooke, Andrew Ritchie, and Jerry Lando

I've complained a few times that Creator-Owned Heroes, the comics 'magazine' put out by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Steve Niles, which is designed to showcase and promote the creator-owned cause, needed more comics and less second-rate editorial content.  Perhaps someone was listening...

This issue debuts a new section, which will feature the work of Darwyn Cooke.  Cooke is best known for work like The New Frontier, and now Before Watchmen, as well as his excellent adaptations of the Parker novels.  Now, Cooke is going to begin offering up some of his own, new creations in this space.  That is something to be excited about.  For this issue, he reprints a piece he did a few years ago (published in the Free Comic Book Day book put together at The Beguiling, the incredible comics store where I shop).  The piece is a tribute to Alex Toth, although, with its architectural theme, it could almost be read as being about Gaudi.

The rest of this issue is pretty decent.  Palmiotti and Gray's new serial, 'Killswitch', is an engaging read about a hitman who is now himself being chased.  It's rather standard, but the writers toss in a few interesting twists, and lots of violence, to keep things moving.

Steve Niles, Jay Russell, and Andrew Ritchie's 'Black Sparrow', which concludes here, ends with a nice little twist that almost redeems what has been a clumsy attempt at American Gothic horror.

In the backmatter, there is some improvement, as there is a nice interview with Bernie Wrightson about his Frankenstein work, as well as a page wherein the various creators recommend some good comics.  The rest of the material, save for a couple of pages by or about Cooke, still are pretty skippable.

To end on a positive note, though, Darwyn Cooke!  And next month, Scott Morse!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thought Bubble Anthology 2012

Written by Lucia Harris, Pete Doree, Skottie Young, Gail Simone, Richard Starkings, Matthew Sheret, Emma Vieceli, Ivan Brandon, Clark Burscough, Steve Reynolds, Martin Simpson, Ben Haith, Stephen Mooney, Dave Johnson, Lee Barnett, Warren Ellis, Kate Beaton, Chris Lackey, JG Roshell, and Fiona Staples
Art by Tony Harris, Sean Phillips, Skottie Young, Tula Lotay, Boo Cook, Kristyna Baczynski, Emma Vieceli, Leigh Gallagher, Richard Hughes, Steve Reynolds, Martin Simpson, Ben Haith, Stephen Mooney, Dave Johnson, Ollie Redding, Kate Beaton, Chris Lackey, Gabriel Bautista, and Fiona Staples

I guess it's the season for anthology comics, as the week after Vertigo's newest one hits, and the CBLDF Liberty Annual, we get the second Though Bubble Anthology - the collection sold to celebrate the Leeds Comic Art Festival in England.

This book is different from most anthologies, in that it is formatted as a folded newspaper tabloid, providing each page with a lot more space than a regularly-sized comic, and it's printed on wonderful newsprint, which always makes me feel nostalgic for the old days.

As with any project like this, which consists mostly of one- or two-pagers, the contents are a pretty mixed bag.  There are some big names here, but also a number of lesser-known (at least in North America) creators, and some up-and-comers who won a contest to be published here.

My favourite piece in this book is cover artist extraordinaire Dave Johnson's memoir about meeting Bob Layton in embarrassing circumstances.  I also enjoyed Pete Doree and Sean Phillips's memoir about collecting and swapping comics as children.  Gail Simone gives us a cool strip (with Tula Lotay, the only artist who appears twice in this book) about superheroes, as they would have been imagined in Victorian times.

I was surprised to find a multi-page story that crosses Richard Starkings's Elephantmen series with Strontium Dog, the long-running British series.  I was also impressed by Due Returns, a story by Matthew Sheret and Kristyna Baczynski, which reminded me of Borges's love of libraries.

In all, this is a very enjoyable little collection.  I'm pleased to see that this book is going to be an annual event.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Storm Dogs #1

Written by David Hine
Art by Doug Braithwaite

I've been looking forward to this new science-fiction series since I saw it solicited - David Hine is a very talented writer, and Doug Braithwaite is a terrific artist; also, there is just not enough intelligent science fiction in the world, and I wanted to read some more.

Last week's CBLDF Liberty Annual had a short story which introduced one of the characters of Storm Dogs, and established that Hine's future world has a great deal of complexity and history to it.  Now, with this first issue, I feel pretty confident that this is going to be a good series.

The setting for this issue is Amaranth, a remote world at the edge of Union control.  It is being used for mining, and interaction with the indigenous races is kept to a minimum, as they are not very technologically advanced.  There has been a problem in the mining community, as mysterious attacks have been leaving miners dead.  A group of investigators is dispatched, and they arrive just as a new attack is being carried out, although not in time to stop it.  Things are made more difficult by the presence of a storm - it seems that the rain on Amaranth is acidic, or deadly in some other way that affects human skin (although not indigenous).

Hine has filled the book with some interesting looking characters.  The investigators are not developed too much, although by watching them interact with their families via the future version of holographic Skype, we do get to learn a few things about them.  Likewise, the two police on the planet are shown as grizzled archetypes, but I suspect there's a little more going on below the surface.

I also get the feeling that much of this book is going to revolve around the human's meeting with the indigenous races.  There might be something of an Avatar (the James Cameron movie) thing going on here, except that it's intelligently written.  Braithwaite has done a terrific job of visualizing this world, and I look forward to reading the next issue.

The Manhattan Projects #7

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

Jonathan Hickman spent the first six issues of this series introducing the characters, and establishing just how wonderful and weird his universe was.  Now, he's gotten all the groundwork laid out, and it's time to start moving this book into high gear.

The American Manhattan Projects, supposedly under the control of General Leslie Groves (although it looks more like Nazi scientist Wernher Von Braun is calling the shots) enter into secret talks with their counterparts from the Soviet Star City program.  The basis of these talks?  They want to work independently of their governments to explore new options, after the Americans' recent interaction with alien lifeforms.

As much as I've loved this comic, I've been unable to predict where Hickman was taking things; now, I have a good sense of what is going to happen in this title, as the two groups settle into an uneasy alliance, while earning the enmity of President Truman (whose orgy is interrupted by the news of what the Projects are up to).

This is a truly wonderful comic.  Hickman has done a great number of strange and twisted things to the actual historical figures involved in the American atomic weapons project (this issue, we get to see just how alien Enrico Fermi really is), but has also imbued the book with some humanity, especially through the character of Helmutt Gröttrup, a German scientist who has been prisoner of the Soviets for years.

Nick Pitarra is more than up for any crazy idea that Hickman throws at him, and his art just keeps getting better and better.  This book is incredibly unique, and never boring.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Solidarity

by The Souljazz Orchestra

The Souljazz Orchestra's last album, Rising Sun, was a beautiful exploration of the two schools of music that make up the group's name, with a decidedly Ethiopian influence to it.  That album was firmly instrumental, and a move away from the more Fela Kuti-inspired afrobeat of their earlier work.

Now, with Solidarity, their new album, the band has evolved once again, while staying close to their roots.  They've constructed ten wonderful tracks which range from afrobeat to Caribbean and Brazilian inspired songs.  They've also invited a number of guests to join them, encompassing a number of different traditions.

Included on this album are artists from (or with parents from) Sénégal, Brazil, Jamaica, as well as Canadians steeped in North American jazz, soul, and Quebecois music.  In many ways, this band from Ottawa has put together a multi-lingual album which reflects the diversity and beauty of Canadian society.  It's all about Solidarity.

This is a fun album to listen to.  The band has a number of crowd-pleasing tracks, full of high energy, but also some that are more introspective and beautiful.  It's good stuff.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Wasteland #40

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Russel Roehling

Yet again, Wasteland has a new artist.  Since Christopher Mitten left this title, it's seemed that Antony Johnston has had great difficulty in finding someone to stick with the book.  I don't know why some of the other artists - Remington Veteto and Justin Greenwood were both announced as new regular artists - have moved on, but I do hope that Roehling sticks around.

His work is more realistic than Mitten's or the others', and that takes a bit of getting used to, but he's an accomplished artist.  At times, I've found the level of abstraction in this book to be kind of annoying, as it's not always been clear what has been happening.  Greenwood gave the book a more cartoonish feel than I felt appropriate for this series.  Roehling works for me, especially if his joining the crew means this book will come out regularly.

That is because Wasteland is one of the best-written comics on the stands.  This new issue starts a new arc, which has Michael and Abi, still travelling across the wasteland, arrive at a town just before an asteroid crashes to the Earth, obliterating a nearby pre-city.  At the town, they meet Thomas, a learned man who has the ability to pick up psychic traces off of objects and people (kind of like Longshot's power).  His daughter Diana scavenges for interesting items from the pre-city (like the 'fown' she finds this issue)), and together they seem to be more enlightened and knowledgeable than their neighbours.

Johnston is definitely taking his time in getting these characters to their destination - the mysterious A-Ree-Yass-I - but as he keeps diverting their attention in ways that reveal a little more about their strange provenance, I don't mind.

Happy #2

Written by Grant Morrison
Art by Darick Robertson

I still have a hard time believing that this is a Grant Morrison comic.  It feels and reads like it was written by Garth Ennis more than anyone else, although this issue borrows from Who is Jake Ellis? as well.

Basically, Nick Sax is an ex-cop who now works as an assassin.  He's had a heart attack, and is being held in a mafia hospital by people who believe he has the password to an off-shore bank account.  Nick's only friend at this moment is Happy, a small blue winged horse, who only he can see.  Happy is the imaginary friend of a young girl who has been kidnapped by a pervert in a Santa suit.

Happy has to keep Nick alive in order to get him to go rescue Hailey, but Nick is pretty sure the horse is just a hallucination.  This leads to him sitting down at a high-stakes poker game, so that Happy can help him out.

This is a fun read, with the right amount of rough-hewn weirdness and viciousness (hence the reason why I keep ascribing it to Ennis, and not Morrison).  There doesn't appear to be any sort of meta-textual stuff going on here; perhaps Morrison just felt like cutting loose.

Darick Robertson is always great, so the book looks very good.

The CBLDF Presents Liberty Annual 2012

Written by Jonathan Hickman, Andy Diggle, Howard Chaykin, Steven T. Seagle, Joe Keatinge, James Robinson, James Asmus, Richard Starkings, Chris Roberson, Chris Giarrusso, David Hine, Brandon Graham, Jim McCann, Kieron Gillen, Terry Moore, and Robert Kirkman
Art by Jonathan Hickman, Ben Templesmith, Sina Grace, Marco Cinello, Chynna Clugston-Flores, J. Bone, Takeshi Miyazawa, Ian Churchill, Roger Langridge, Gabriel Bá, Chris Giarrusso, Doug Braithwaite, Brandon Graham, Janet Lee, Nate Bellegarde, Terry Moore, Charlie Adlard, and Cliff Rathburn

I'm always impressed with the line-up that Image and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund are able to put together for these Liberty Annuals.  There is an impressive list of creators involved in this book, and while the stories are all very short, there is a lot of stuff to love about this book.

First and foremost, there is a Walking Dead story featuring the Governor.  This story doesn't really fit into the book's theme of preserving free speech, but at the same time, it is so rare for there to be side-projects featuring the characters from this series, that for many, this alone should be worth the purchase price.  Basically, in this story, we learn about the origin of the Governor's collection of fish tanks (seen in last week's episode of the TV show).

The rest of this book does deal with the free speech or liberty themes, in a variety of ways.  David Hine and Doug Braithwaite preview their upcoming Image series Storm Dogs by giving us some of the history of the science fiction world it is going to be set in - this series looks like it's going to be very good.

Andy Diggle and Ben Templesmith give us a great story wherein the Devil appears in front of a trio of young people, only to learn that the people of the 21st century have moved beyond many of the concepts that once gave him entry into peoples' minds.  If only this were more true...

Jim McCann and Janet Lee tell a nice story of a conversation between an older woman and a young man who has what can be referred to as an 'unconventional family', although the theme of their conversation is that it's not all that unconventional.

James Robinson and J. Bone totally grabbed my attention with their short story of an American soldier who has come to Canada to escape something, and is being pursued by two men who are probably something other than men.  The story is tagged as a prologue to 'The Saviors'; I hope this means that these two gentlemen are working on a new series together.  Bone's art is wonderful - blocky, and coloured only in green, it doesn't look at all like his all-ages work.

Joe Keatinge and Chynna Clugston Flores share a nice little story about a family movie theatre.  James Asmus and Takeshi Miyazawa give us a great short story about the things that people do when they know that the world is about to end.  Beyond that, there are some terrific one- and two-page strips by the rest of the creators listed above, and a beautiful Gabriel Bá cover.

This book is well worth buying, even if the proceeds didn't go to support the CBLDF.  Go get it.

The New Deadwardians #8

Written by Dan Abnett
Art by INJ Culbard

Eight months ago, Vertigo launched four new titles in a mini-wave of new material, perhaps in an attempt to replicate some of the attention given to their new 'waves' of New 52 titles.  The plan didn't seem to work too well, as one of the ongoing books has already been cancelled (Dominique Laveau Voodoo Child), and the best of the bunch, The New Deadwardians, never received much press or critical buzz.

That's a real shame though, as Dan Abnett put together a very well-constructed and interesting mini-series with this book.  It's set in a world where much of the upper crust of Edwardian England became vampires (called The Young) in the wake of a massive outbreak of zombies (known as The Restless).  This series has followed London's last homicide detective, Inspector Suttle, as he investigates a case involving the murder of one of the Young, something no one thought was possible outside of the usual methods.

Suttle's investigations revealed to him the machinations of a secret society, the presence of magic in his world, and the stirrings of his own dead heart.  This issue wraps things up very nicely, as Suttle confronts the magician Salt, and learns just what has been going on for behind the scenes.

Is I've been saying all along, Abnett has done a terrific job of building up this world, and thinking through how people at each level of society would feel about it.  INJ Culbard was a great choice for the art, with his style that reminds me of Guy Davis.  This was a very satisfying little series.

Bedlam #1

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Riley Rossmo

Bedlam is a very strange new series from Nick Spencer, a writer who excels at writing strange comics (Morning Glories is excellent, but almost impossible to predict).  Basically, this is a Joker comic, but featuring creator-owned characters.

Madder Red is very similar to the Clown Prince of Crime - he wears a creepy mask which shows off a toothy grin, and he likes to kill people - especially children.  As the series opens, in a flashback, we see his greatest crime - slaughtering a large group of children on a field trip to the symphony.  This vicious crime ends with his incarceration, after The First (in other words, Batman), beats him down.  This is part of Red's plan though, as he has a broadcast arranged that announces that, if he is not killed within an hour, bombs that have been planted at a number of local schools will go off.  This leads to bedlam in Bedlam, and the police station explodes, killing Red.

There are the usual conspiracy theories that he wasn't actually killed, although after then years, he's never resurfaced.  In the 'now' part of the book, we meet a man who is clearly mentally ill, and is taking a great interest in the murder of a few old men in a series of home invasions.  This man ends up interrupting an internal dispute among some drug dealers, and generally gives us the impression that he may be Madder Red.  The flashbacks suggest that he did survive the explosion, but not in a way that makes a lot of sense.

Basically, Spencer is using some of the same tricks that work so well for him in Morning Glories - setting up some mystery, and effectively using flashbacks to lead our thinking in one direction, without ever revealing the truth.  It works, as I'm very curious to see where this goes next.

Riley Rossmo has become Image's go-to guy for mini-series.  Since Proof, his ongoing series, went on what looks like a permanent hiatus, Rossmo has been involved in a large number of books, often having more than one comic on the stands in any given month.  That's pretty impressive, especially considering that this first issue is double-sized.  He's never been a favourite artist of mine - his work is pretty scratchy and hard to follow at times, but I do think he did a great job of constructing a sense of dread in this comic.  The use of colour (the flashback scenes are coloured only with some reds) works well to support the dual narrative of this comic.

I'm not sure how long this series is set to run, but they've got me on board for a mini-series at least.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Ghosts #1

Written by Al Ewing, Toby Litt, Cecil Castellucci, Joe Kubert, Neil Kleid, Mary HK Choi, Paul Pope, David Lapham, Gilbert Hernandez, and Geoff Johns
Art by Rufus Dayglo, Mark Buckingham, Victor Santos, Amy Reeder, Joe Kubert, John McCrea, Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, Paul Pope, Gilbert Hernandez, and Jeff Lemire

Once again, Vertigo sends us a nice large anthology comic, similar to Dark Horse Presents, although without using any established characters or properties.  Like any anthology of this size, we are given quite a mixed-bag in terms of the quality of what's being offered.  Part of the problem with this is that Vertigo has lost a number of the writers and artists who have always been a firm part of their stable in the last year.  As such, they have cast a much wider net for this book, bringing in a number of writers I've never heard of before (Toby Litt, Neil Kleid, and Mary HK Choi), while still being able to attract some creators who are not definitely top shelf, like Paul Pope.  The theme here is suggested by the title, but not every story is a ghost story, which is a good thing, as that single note would have gotten played out quickly.

Let's go through the book, and see what's what.

  • The anthology opens with a fun little story about a man who is haunted by the ghost of what he could have been.  When he takes a job as a data entry drone, the part of him that wanted to be a rock star literally starts to haunt him, although when it becomes clear that everyone can see and hear the ghost, things change.  This is a very British story, by Al Ewing and Rufus Dayglo.  It's nice.
  • Much is made on the cover about the inclusion of a new story featuring the Dead Boy Detectives, who originally showed up in Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics.  This story is a complete disappointment - it's disjointed, childish, and doesn't even end in this volume; it is to be continued in the next Vertigo anthology, which hasn't even been solicited yet.  On the up side, it's drawn quite nicely by Mark Buckingham, whose work is the only thing I miss since I dropped Fables a few months back.
  • Cecil Castellucci and Amy Reeder provide 'Wallflower', a very nice story about a family, and how it changed with America, as the wife in the family discovers who she really is only after raising a child and looking after the house for many years.  Lovely.
  • Joe Kubert's last story is printed in this book, which alone makes it worth the purchase price.  Kubert never finished the story - only his rough pencils are reproduced here - but it is a nicely-written tale of an Aztec grandfather and his grandson, on the eve of the older man's death.  There's a lot to read in to this, if one is so inclined; for myself, I was just happy to read one more Kubert tale.
  • Demonic chili is the subject for the story by Neil Kleid and John McCrea.  It's a cute tale; there's not much more to say than that.
  • Mary HK Choi and Phil Jimenez, on the other hand, tell a downright strange story about a young man who is mourning for the death of his much older wife.  This story is full of excess and strangeness, but neither horror nor ghosts, so its inclusion here is strange.
  • The best thing about this anthology is 'Treasure Lost', a story by Paul Pope (with scripting by David Lapham).  It's a science-fiction epic about two children, heirs to a throne, who are kidnapped by space pirates, and who both undergo a form of Stockholm Syndrome.  Introspective, and beautifully illustrated, this is a good reminder of what a huge talent Pope is.  It totally doesn't fit with the themes of this book, but really, who would care?
  • Gilbert Hernandez has a nice little story with a conceit made way too obvious by the themes of the book - had it shown up in Dark Horse Presents, it may have given a bit of a surprise to the reader.
  • Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire finish off the book with a nice little story about two brothers who are in the haunting business - a task made easier by the fact that one of the brothers is a ghost.  Really, I'm just happy for any chance to see some of Lemire's art.
In all, this is a decent anthology.  I appreciate that Vertigo is giving some new talent the chance to show their stuff, and find it regrettable that none of those new faces impressed me much.  It would have killed them to get Becky Cloonan to do something for this?  Still, Paul Pope and Joe Kubert...

Fatale #9

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

Fatale is one of the best series on the stands right now, period.  Each issue is packed with excellent pacing, dialogue, and character work, and each issue is absolutely gorgeous.  Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips do some amazing things each and every issue.

In this issue, we learn the fate of Suzy Storm, a messed up young 70s actress wannabe who has fallen afoul of the Method Church, a cult centred on the evil Hansel (who has been in this series since it was set in the 30s).  Miles, Suzy's only friend, searches for her, but isn't sure if he is worried about her because she is her friend, or because her disappearance hurts Jo's chances of recovering the book she wants from the Method Church's library.

Jo, you see, is the femme fatale who gives this series its name.  She's immortal, and has some strange effect on men.  Miles is beginning to recognize that effect, as he learns a little more about his new woman.

I've been enjoying this 70s arc even more than I had the prior one, as the occult weirdness of the story translates nicely into that time period.  Brubaker's writing and characters are very sharp, and I found this to be a story that is very easy to get lost in.

The best thing about this issue is the announcement in the back that Brubaker and Phillips are expecting the story to last past issue twenty.  It's great to see an independent book by a couple of highly acclaimed creators reach such success since leaving the confines of Marvel's boutique line Icon (Criminal and Incognito, their previous series were published under that imprimatur).  This really is the decade of the independent comic...

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Whispers #4

by Joshua Luna

Whispers is a really interesting, bizarre comic.  It's about a guy who develops the body to 'remote view', or project an astral form (to use a Marvel Comics explanation).  The guy has obsessive compulsive disorder, and great difficulty relating to the world around him.  He used his power to check in on people in his life, and became aware of a demonic entity inhabiting a man, causing him to do some pretty horrible things to small children.

In the last issue, he figures he can save an ex-girlfriend from a drug dealer who has been threatening her, and get rid of the serial killer at the same time, but this plan does not work as hoped in this issue.

To begin with, our man discovers that there are other demons working through people, including a guy who likes to lock up women in a tiled cell for weeks on end.  Also, the drug dealer figures out that he's involved in his downfall, and comes looking for him.

This is a pretty unique horror comic.  I don't have a good feeling for where Joshua Luna is taking the story, and that's probably the thing I like the most about it.  He's spent a lot of time building up this main character, and now he's landing him right in the middle of some very strange things.  His art, without any contribution from his brother, continues to surprise me, in the way that it can take a while to get used to someone you know well when they wear a new hairstyle.  I do wish this book would fix its scheduling issues though, as it's running pretty late, especially considering that it's a bi-monthly book to begin with.  Still, this is a very good series; I hope that enough people are checking it out.