Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Activity #11

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Mitch Gerads

Since The Activity, Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads's series about a special forces top-secret team of operatives, began, each issue has told the story of a single mission, while hints have been dropped that a larger story has been playing out involving a governmental leak which has possibly compromised the team.

With this issue, Edmondson finally pulls the trigger on that storyline.  The team is sent to Minneapolis to track down a terrorist cell which is planning to blow something in the city up.  They have next to nothing to go on, and so the issue is given over to some pretty unconventional methods of locating cell phones and explosives.  While this is going on, someone in the Pentagon gets final confirmation of where the leak is coming from, and begins to investigate how widely it reaches.

The storytelling in this issue is excellent, as Edmondson plots a taut thriller, as the team watch the clock run down on their window of opportunity.  One way to track C-12 explosives is with specially trained butterflies, which leads to some very cool visuals.

One could easily argue that the nameless and undeveloped terrorists are too easy a stand-in for a threat, but the story is not about their beef with America, or whatever their motivation is; terrorists are the go-to bad guys, and many other issues of this series have used more original villains and targets.

I'm happy to see that the leak aspect of the story is finally being explored, and am curious to see where this story is headed next.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 9

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Art by Housui Yamazaki

Not being a big manga reader, and not knowing a whole lot about Japan, I think this series has really coloured my perception of that whole country, and its culture.  In this ninth volume of the brilliant series The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, the writer Eiji Otsuka shines the spotlight on one of the stranger aspects of Otaku culture, the stranger air-defence techniques used in the Second World War, and the theme of suicide in Japanese culture.  Along the way, as always, he makes the book a great deal of fun to read, and completely unpredictable.

The first story in this volume deals with "solo hide-and-seek", a game that somehow involves imbuing a doll or stuffed animal with the spirit of a dead person, so that it will come find you when you hide it.  This game is being played on a beautiful young television personality, with bizarre results.

The second story involves urban myths of headless motorcycle riders and an invisibility suit.  The third involves an old man who could hear the voice of heaven, who as a young man was made to sit in a shallow bunker listening for American bombers.  Apparently this really happened.  The final story is the quietest and most personal, as the two most over-looked members of the Service's staff, Yata and Keiko, bond a little over stories about their childhood, and how their parents died.

This series really is remarkable.  It is grounded in a pretty absurd idea for a serial - that the people of the Service help deliver unclaimed and unidentified corpses to their final resting place - yet it is surprisingly personable and affecting.  The ideas that go into this series are always bizarre, but there is a comforting sitcom-like quality to the book that makes you want to overlook any amount of implausibility.  I can't recommend this series highly enough. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

The One Trick Rip-Off + Deep Cuts

by Paul Pope

I have not read anywhere near enough of Paul Pope's body of work.  Sure, I've read his Batman and his Vertigo books, but I've only scratched the surface of his THB stuff, and a smattering of items that have turned up elsewhere over the years.  I even managed to miss his One Trick Rip-Off, and so I am grateful that Image has republished it, alongside a number of shorter works, collectively called Deep Cuts, from the 90s.

The One Trick Rip-Off is an excellent little gangster story.  The One Tricks are called that because they have some limited ability to mentally influence people around them.  Tubby, a lieutenant in the gang, has decided to rip them off of a safe full of traveler's cheques, and head for quieter ground with his girlfriend Vim.  They have a plot, involving the delivery of Indian food, but are soon derailed by the ambition of another One Trick.

This story works very well - we get to like the characters, and Pope gives the story a pretty frenetic pace.

The other stories in this book are varied in terms of their quality.  Many are fantastic, although a few are better included as historical documents than as stand-alone stories.  These are mostly urban little tales, some quite dark, others humorous.  I especially enjoyed the second to last one, 'The Scarf', which is a romance tale set on different subway trains in New York.

For much of the 90s, Pope was involved in some work with a manga company, and that influence shows in stories like 'Super Trouble' and 'Night Job'.  I think I prefer the more impressionistic stories that came before, from his 'Columbus' phase.

Anyway, this is a very impressive, very dense book, just filled with good comics.  I'm sure this is going to be on many a 'best of' list at the end of the year.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Mind MGMT #7

by Matt Kindt

When the first arc of Mind MGMT ended pretty much exactly where it began, I wondered if the next stories would perhaps not include Meru, the main character.  As it turns out, it looks like Meru will continue to be the centre of this series, as she wakes up in her apartment and realizes that someone has delivered a letter to her on a Sunday.  Since she's convinced that she has sent a letter to herself, she pursues the guy who delivered it, and is once again sent on a journey of discovery, as she tries to track the original sender down, and is once again apprised of the existence of Mind MGMT.

Eventually, Meru ends up in New York, at the office of someone named Brinks, an adman with the ability to influence people through his work.  Brinks spills the beans, and is then assassinated by a gunman.  Meru is rescued by a familiar figure, and together the two go on the run.  It turns out that someone known as The Eraser is trying to put Mind MGMT back together again, and they see Meru as a threat.

This series is a very good read.  Kindt's got a great sense of pace, and he continues to fill his pages with information.  Where the first arc had messages from the Mind MGMT training guide running along the left-hand side of each page, this arc is printing the text of a true crime novel called Premeditated, presumably written by Meru.  The bottom of each page (for about half the comic), contains information about the history of assassination letters, which helps inform the main story.  As always, there is also a 'case file' at the back of the book, this one introducing the Mind MGMT agent known as Hulk.  I find that many of these extras distract from the main story, but in a good way, as they almost caused me to miss the identity of the person shown following Meru; I guess that means they are doing their job in proper Mind MGMT fashion.

I'm really enjoying this book, and am happy to see that this new arc looks to be just as good as the first.

Prophet #33

Written by Brandon Graham with Giannis Milonogiannis and Simon Roy
Art by Giannis Milonogiannis

To the extent that you can have a typical issue of Prophet following its rebirth at the hands of Brandon Graham, this would be it.  I don't want to suggest that this book is falling into a rut, because it remains wildly inventive and original, but there's not much in this issue that doesn't feel familiar and predictable, within the confines of the weirdness that Graham has set up for this story.

Old Man Prophet and his crew fly their ship to a rendezvous with the woman armada (it says Amanda in the book, but I think that's a typo) of the Babel-Horolegion.  These are butterfly-like creatures that travel in living ships that are "a union of thought and form".  We learn that their ship is being powered by the long-dead body of Supreme, and soon enough, they are attacked by some kind of wave of psychic pain.

One of the many things that I've loved about this series is the way in which Graham has taken his time setting up the coming conflict with the Earth Empire, and this issue continues in that vein.  This issue doesn't really further that plot, and I kind of wonder at its inclusion in the storyline.

At the same time, Graham's writing is sharp, and Milonogiannis makes use of some very cool designs.

Saucer Country #11

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Mirko Colak and Andrea Mutti

It was announced recently that Saucer Country, like every Vertigo book that I enjoy not called The Unwritten, is going to be ending in a few issues.  Knowing that, and knowing that Paul Cornell doesn't have the space to tell the end of the story the way he would like to, I would have expected the pace of these last few issues to pick up, but that is not the case here, as he instead introduces a completely different element to the series.

Michael is Governor Alvarado's ex-husband, her close friend, and the person that was with her when she was abducted by aliens.  We've seen him as a self-pitying drunk, and we know that he has been manipulated to believe that he was behind the recent assassination attempts on Alvarado and her security team.  What we didn't know is that as a child, he saw and spoke to fairies.

This issue opens with Michael and Arcadia visiting the farmland in Colorado where he grew up.  He talks about how he and his older sister made up imaginary stories about fairies, and how one day, the fairies appeared to them as real creatures.  Their appearance also helped solve a different problem for Michael's sister.

This is an odd issue.  I'm not sure how it fits into the larger story, which has dealt with alien abduction and governmental conspiracy.  Paul Cornell makes a thematic connection by discussing how the 90s were all about recovered memories of child abuse, while the 10s appear to be about conspiracy at higher levels as a way to explain society's and individual peoples' problems.

This issue is drawn by Mirko Colak and Andrea Mutti, who have a very different style than regular series artist Ryan Kelly.  The book looks very nice, but I do prefer the way Kelly draws Arcadia, with a little more weight and gravitas behind her.

I'm sad to hear that this series is ending soon, but I know that I'm going to enjoy what's left of it.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Massive #8

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Garry Brown

There is a lot going on under the surface of The Massive that makes this book rather hard to predict, especially since in the eight months since the comic began, we haven't learned very much about the main characters beyond Callum Israel, the leader of Ninth Wave, the environmental direct action group that the series is focused on.

After a worldwide ecological collapse, the central leadership of Ninth Wave, alongside a number of recruits onboard the Kapital, are searching for their sister ship, The Massive, and trying to keep their operation running.  We've already seen the difficulty they've faced in securing supplies, and the way in which some members, specifically Mag Nagendra, have wrestled with the group's pacifistic ideals.  When this issue opens, the crew of The Kapital are aboard Moksha Station, an independent nation made of oil derricks.

Callum is being held in custody by the director of the station, Sumon, while his girlfriend Mary runs about in a storm sabotaging the station's communications, for reasons we don't yet know.  Mag is in the bowels of the station, alongside to other members of Ninth Wave, making some kind of deal with a gigantic Russian.  It seems that everyone in the group has their own agenda, and Israel doesn't seem to know about any of it.

When The Massive began its run, some on-line commentators complained that Brian Wood was cramming too much information into each issue, with his lengthy descriptions of the effects of The Collapse, but I think what he was also doing was obscuring the true designs of some of the crew.  Especially with the surprise that Mary drops at the end of this issue, I'm not too sure where things are headed in this book, and that's exactly how I like it.

Revival #6

Written by Tim Seeley
Art by Mike Norton

It's kind of surprising to think that Revival has only been running for six issues.  In that time, Tim Seeley has introduced a number of concepts and characters, and has created a pretty well-realized environment for his story to take place in.

Wasau Wisconsin is a small community where the recently deceased have suddenly returned to life.  This is not a zombie comic - most of the Revivalists appear perfectly normal, but there is something wrong with many of them.  An old lady became murderous and deranged, and another appears to have been returned in a comatose state.  There are also glowing alien-looking creatures wandering around the woods who may be spirits, but we really don't know what their deal is yet.

Our POV character is Dana Cypress, the police officer assigned to manage and and all Revivalist-related cases.  She is called in to investigate the death of a well-known man whose stepsister is a well-known TV personality in the community.  The pair were also in a relationship of some sort, although it's not too clear who killed him, at least not at first.

Seeley is juggling a lot of balls with this book - something is going on with the older Hmong lady who was attacked by an exorcist, and now people are trying to sneak into the town from outside its quarantine zone.  Mike Norton is always wonderful, and his character-based art goes along way towards making this book successful.  I'm not usually the type to be attracted by a book billed as 'rural noir', but this book is definitely working for me.

Stumptown Vol. 2 #5

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Matthew Southworth

With this issue, The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case comes to a close.  After last issue's terrific car chase, PI Dex Parios has finished her case, reuniting Mim, the guitar player for the band Tailhook, with her beloved Baby, her guitar.  The skinheads who stole it (the second time) are in custody, and Dex is wondering just what is going to end up happening to her.

As it turns out, Dex is not getting charged, and is instead told rather firmly by the band's lawyers that her involvement with the group is at an end.  Of course, Dex doesn't often listen to people, and the fact that she doesn't know who took the guitar, or why, is bothering her. She convinces Mim and Click, the band's drummer, and I suspect a future love interest for Dex, to help her try to figure out the drug-smuggling angle that was responsible for Baby's original disappearance.

This has been a very enjoyable series.  Dex has been less combative than she was in the first volume, but she does remain her prickly self.  Greg Rucka excels at writing strong female characters, and Dex is just that; complex someone you want to keep reading about.

I'm not sure how I feel about Matthew Southworth's continued experimentation into the colouring (with Rico Renzi) and texturing of the art; his use of markers sometimes leaves the pages feeling a little stiff.  Still, this is a terrific comic, and I hope we don't have to wait too long before we get to read Volume Three.

Dark Horse Presents #20

Written by Michael Avon Oeming, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Geoffrey Thorne, Ulises Farinas, Erick Freitas, Frank J. Barbiere, Corinna Bechko, Gabriel Hardman, Joshua Williamson, Peter Hogan, Duane Swierczynski, and Carla Speed McNeil
Art by Michael Avon Oeming, Steve Lieber, Todd Harris, Ulises Farinas, Toby Cypress, Gabriel Hardman, Pere Perez, Steve Parkhouse, Eric Nguyen, and Carla Speed McNeil

More and more, I feel like the lustre is coming off this title, as the serials are increasingly being produced in service of introducing upcoming mini-series, and the sense of getting a complete story out of this rather expensive monthly book is drastically diminished.  In addition, I'm not sure I'm happy about the increased presence of superhero-style stories.  That has never been a particular strength of Dark Horse, yet there seems to be a drive to compete in that area again.

This issue features a Victories story by Michael Avon Oeming.  The Victories is either currently running, or just finished running as a mini-series as well, so this story doesn't feel the need to introduce the characters.  When Oeming writes his own superhero stories, they tend to be pretty bleak (check out his Rapture title of a couple of years ago), and this is no different, with a scene where a father cuts off the head of a dog, and forces it over his own son's head.  This doesn't work for me.

I was enjoying the Captain Midnight story, which ends here without an ending, but instead an ad for an upcoming mini-series.  Both Joshua Williamson and Pere Perez have done nice work on this, but I don't know if it's going to be enough to get me to buy the book when it comes out.

I do know that I don't like X, Dark Horse's answer to the Punisher.  I didn't like the character in the 90s, and I'm not feeling him here under Duane Swierczynski and Eric Nguyen.

In the non-super hero category, the charm of Caitlin R. Kiernan's Alabaster continues to escape me, although I did like this chapter better than the previous ones.

Journeymen is a new series by Geoffrey Thorne and Todd Harris, and I don't really have an opinion of it.  I think it needed more space to grow, as it didn't leave much of an impression either way.

Gamma, the strange story about monsters and cowardice, by Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas, ends on a very good note, as the story becomes one of redemption.  I feel that Farinas is a creator to watch.

Frank Barbiere's occasional series 'The White Suits' takes a very positive turn with this instalment, which is drawn by the fantastic Toby Cypress.  This time, we get a story about an FBI agent who has dedicated her life to finding her missing father, who she now believes is somehow involved with the White Suits - Russian mobsters of great mystery.  I like how Barbiere has been building the mythology of this group without really telling us anything about them, and I like how he's been working with a variety of artists.

Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman's 'Station to Station' feels like it could easily fit into the BPRD world, and it continues to work well.

Resident Alien is one of my favourite serials in this series, and while it annoys me that the last three chapters haven't even told a story, but just follow our good alien doctor through his recovery from his first mini-series, I do enjoy Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse's work on this story, and will definitely be there for the next mini-series.

Of course, the best part of this comic is Carla Speed McNeil's 'Finder', which finds Jaeger in a bad place, as he discovers that he's in a city where everyone is terminally ill, and that they are able to pass their ailments on to another person, namely him.  This is a new type of sin-eating for Jaeger to perform, and I can't wait to see what McNeil does with it.

I think I would continue to buy this book if Finder is the only story in it I want to read.  Luckily, next month we get Neil Gaiman and Paul Chadwick working together, which should be exciting.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chew #31

Written by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory

In the last issue of Chew, John Layman did something that has permanently changed the tone of this title, as a tragedy was visited on the Chu family.  This issue follows up on that event, returns the series to its roots, and also gives a clear indication of where the second half of the story is going to lead.

That's a lot to do in a single issue of a comic, especially considering that Layman and Guillory also fit in some very funny scenes and images.

The book opens with the funeral of the family member killed last month (I'm trying my best to avoid spoilers for any trade-waiters who may be reading), which also causes Tony to flash back to his wife's funeral.  This is significant because we haven't really learned much about Tony's marriage, other than that Tony keeps his wife's finger in his freezer.  At the funeral, the Chu family solidifies around Tony, something that has probably never happened before.  Also, surprisingly, he gets reinstated in the FDA, and partnered up with Colby again.

Soon they are back on the job, trying to figure out why overweight people have been combusting spontaneously.  This in turn leads the two agents to discover a larger plot taking place.

As always, Guillory makes this book, and he even makes a cameo in a scene at a comics convention.  I like the change in tone the first half of this issue shows, but also that the book returns almost immediately to the light-hearted tales that marked the first year and a half of the run.  This book is always great, but I do believe that it's getting steadily better.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bedlam #3

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Riley Rossmo

Nick Spencer's new series is a strange one, but I feel like it's really hit its stride in this issue.  The series is about Madder Red, a Joker-style homicidal maniac, who has gone through ten years of psychiatric treatment, and has been sent back into the world by the strange doctor who treated him.

When this issue opens, he's confessed to a grisly murder that happened outside his building, but we readers know that he didn't commit this murder, or the others in a string of killings involving elderly people.  The cops like him for these crimes and others, and he's interested in helping them investigate the case.  Most of the issue is taken up with him going over homicide files, believing that he's in some sort of partnership with the Detective in charge of the cases, while she thinks that she's got the killer, and that he's toying with her.

It works very well, as Spencer portrays the guy as being off his rocker in a rather simplistic way, like an idiot savant of serial killers.  As the reader knows what's really going on, without knowing why the real killer is doing these things, the story becomes more and more intriguing, as we hope for mysteries to be solved.

I wasn't sure what to expect out of Bedlam, and I don't like it as much as I do Morning Glories, but at the same time that I'm bored out of my skull with the Joker in Batman, I'm really interested in learning more about Madder Red.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Girl and Robot With Flowers

by The Greg Foat Group

The Greg Foat Group’s new album, Girl & Robot With Flowers is an excellent example of spacey jazz.  There are twelve tracks, although the title track has six parts to it, spread throughout the album, interspersed with other tracks with titles like ‘Have Spacesuit Will Travel’ (which has two parts), ‘For a Breath I Tarry’, ‘Clear Skies Select Stick’, and ‘Blues for Lila’.  

The science fiction and futuristic elements of this disc are front and centre.  There are numerous places where the music brings to mind Vangelis’s classic Blade Runner soundtrack, and robotic bleeps and buzzes float above the music.  I also was reminded in a few places of Clutchy Hopkins, but in a more cleaned-up style.

This album, like the Group’s previous album ‘Dark Is the Sun’ is a lovely piece of work that gets better with each new listen.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Saga #9

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

One of the things that make Saga such a wonderful series is the way in which Brian K. Vaughan has developed his science fiction universe in such a way as to allow for side stories beyond the monthly check-in on Marko and Alana, neither of whom appear in this issue.

Instead, this issue is all about The Will, and Marko's ex-fiancee, Gwendolyn.  She is the person who originally hired The Will to track down our favourite little family, and she's annoyed that he hasn't done what he was paid to do.  They argue for a bit, and then The Will agrees to go back to work for her, so long as she first helps him rescue the young girl he met a few issues back on Sextillion, the sex-resort planet.

The rest of the issue is spent on having these two work to free the Slave-Girl, and in typical Saga fashion, things dont go exactly as planned, but they are very entertaining.  Having finished this issue, I find I am as interested in reading more about this new trio (not counting Lying Cat, who I love), as I am in reading about Marko, Alana, and their daughter (whose narration I found I missed this month).  I didn't expect to like Gwendolyn so much, especially since Marko hasn't portrayed her in the most positive of lights.

Vaughan and Staples are creating one of the most consistently entertaining comics on the stands with this book.

Creator-Owned Comics #8

Written by Steve Niles, Darwyn Cooke, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Justin Gray
Art by Scott Morse, Darwyn Cooke, and Jerry Lando

I would have thought that perhaps the time had come for a book like Creator-Owned Heroes, but seeing as this is the series's last issue, I guess it hadn't.  It's easy, and very tempting, to play armchair quarterback and talk about why this book didn't last (in fact, Jimmy Pamiotti mentions how many websites seemed to revel in doing that when the news of the cancellation was announced), so I'm going to refrain from that sort of thing.

Instead, I'd like to focus on how much this book was starting to do correctly.  Each issue was anchored by two serials, one written by Steve Niles and the other by Palmiotti and Justin Gray.  These varied in quality (something's never really clicked for me in Niles's writing), but they were consistently non-traditional.  Recently, Darwyn Cooke was added to the mix, and given space for his own stories month after month, which really raised my interest in the book.  As well, the magazine-content had become much more focused on independent and creator-owned comics, which was a much better fit for the title than say, another interview with Jimmy Palmiotti's personal trainer (which really did appear in an early issue).

As for this list issue, it closes out the series in style.  Steve Niles finishes off his 'Meatbag' story in a completely unexpected way.  The first chapter, drawn by the incredible Scott Morse, was a pretty standard-seeming gumshoe kind of thing, but this chapter takes the story into some otherworldly territory, and that genuinely surprised me.

Darwyn Cooke had to abandon a three-part story because of the cancellation (although I hope we get to see it as a one-shot some day soon), and so instead included a very personal little story he'd made for the woman he recently married.  It's sweet.

Palmiotti and Gray closed off their 'Killswitch' story in a way I wouldn't have expected, as Brandon tracks down the person who tried to kill him, only to trick her into falling in love with him and marrying him (which I'm sure many would say is greater revenge than murder).  There's a lot of nudity in this chapter, as if the writers were enjoying the freedom cancellation brings.

In closing, I think I'm going to miss this book more for the potential that it had than what it ever actually was.  I was really looking forward to new monthly work by Cooke that didn't feel amoral (like his Before Watchmen work that I've avoided), and with artists like Morse joining the stable, to see who else may have been published here.  Palmiotti and Gray are always entertaining writers, and I wanted to see where they would have journeyed on a book that allowed this much freedom.  I do want to say that I admire all of these creators for trying something new.

Comeback #3

Written by Ed Brisson
Art by Michael Walsh

Ed Brisson's time travel intrigue story Comeback has been an interesting read from the beginning, and as the series progresses, Brisson is providing some more information, but also adding new wrinkles to the story.

Reconnect is a company that can travel through time within a sixty-six day window (I don't know why yet).  They use this technology to rescue rich people from death, and take them into the near future to be reunited with their families, all for a very large fee.  The thing is, that's not exactly what happens, and Seth, one of the field agents, has gone to the FBI, and contacted his past self to try to put a stop to things.  Seth's partner is in the uncomfortable position of having to hunt him down, and now their latest client is also refusing to cooperate.

Brisson is the type of writer who leaves a lot of this for the reader to figure out, avoiding lengthy explanations and text pieces in the back of the book.  That works well here, as it adds complexity to the story, and maintains a greater sense of mystery throughout the series.  Michael Walsh is a capable artist in the Paul Azaceta/Tonci Zonjic school, and the book is a good read, giving us a fresh take on time travel stories.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Conan the Barbarian #12

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Declan Shalvey

There are a lot of things to like about Brian Wood's Conan series, but one of the things that gets overlooked, but is key to the book's success, is the way in which Wood writes short story arcs, mostly of just three issues in length.  I find this to be a very effective way to tell a story long enough to engage the reader, without getting too bogged down in unnecessary complexity, or too decompressed and stretched-out to fit a trade.  This way, the story is just the right length, and still packed with action and character development.  The other great thing is that it means that there is always a new artist coming on board to be excited about.

This issue finishes off 'The Death', the arc that has Bêlit and the crew of the Tigress down with a mysterious illness, with only Conan healthy enough to try to care for his lover and to protect her ship from hostile forces in the town where they've pulled in for shelter.

The last issue raised the question of whether or not Conan would abandon his love and new lifestyle, which she had urged him to do.  I don't know Conan well as a character, but Wood makes it clear that he is not someone to run from his problems, as he stands his ground on a couple of different levels in this issue.

Declan Shalvey has done a terrific job on the art this arc, and I especially like two things this issue.  There's a scene where Conan faces off against a small mob on the town's docks, and I love the way in which Shalvey has him returning a spear that has been thrown at him.  Later, Conan is sitting on the deck of the Tigress, waiting for news of Bêlit's health.  In the foreground on the deck is a dead rat.  It's a small detail, but it absolutely makes that scene.

Elephantmen #45

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Axel Medellin and Tula Lotay

One thing that I love is the way in which creator-owned books allow their creators to explore whatever tangents they wish to through their story.  I doubt anyone who started reading Cerebus at its inception would have ever expected Oscar Wilde to show up in it (to pick one of the more extreme examples), and yet when Dave Sim felt like writing about Oscar Wilde, there he was.

Similarly, this issue of Elephantmen, which we were all reminded back in December is a prequel series to Richard Starkings's Hip Flask series, which comes out once or twice a decade, has a retelling of the story of the birth and early life of Siddhartha, who became the Gautama Buddha.  What makes that even stranger is that this story is being told by an Elephantman (a genetically-engineered man/animal hybrid soldier) during his service as a medic to another Elephantman who has been injured.  In typical Starkings fashion, this scene is being recounted by that same injured soldier, Ebony Hide, to his doctor while being treated in the present (really the far future, but the story-present) for another recent injury inflicted by the same person who injured him in the flashback.  Got it?  Good, because that's only one of a number of things that happen in this issue.

Starkings's story gets ever denser, but also increasingly effective in the way in which he has developed and strengthened his characters.  Individual issues, and really even arcs, mean little to Starkings, who has this very complex story mapped out in his head, and has decided to tell it in his own fashion, and at his own pace.  This issue also has Hip Flask and Miki get into a big argument over his having caught her kissing another man after he stood her up.  We also see Ebony make a fool of himself outside of a Hooters (further proof that the future isn't going to be all that bright?), and we learn who the Silencer's next target is.

This is always a lovely book to look through, as Axel Medellin continues to impress.  Tula Lotay provides the Siddhartha pages, and they are gorgeous.  At first I thought the pages were drawn by Marian Churchland; I need to check out more of Lotay's work.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Elk's Run

Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Noel Tuazon

I really don't know why I've never read this book before now.  Creators Joshua Hale Fialkov and Noel Tuazon made Tumor together, an excellent detective graphic novel, and independently of each other, I've loved Fialkov's Echoes, and am very excited to see a new issue of Tuazon's Foster, whenever it's supposed to come out (issue three is very, very late).  I've seen Elk's Run numerous times, but it wasn't until recently that I decided to finally buy it and read it.

It's excellent.  Elk's Ridge is the name of a small former mining town in West Virginia.  When we first see it, it looks like any other idyllic small American town, but slowly the reader comes to realize that all is not as it seems.  The town was populated by Vietnam War vets who wanted a better life, and they've gravitated around John Kohler, a charismatic and firm man who has a vision for the town.

The area is completely cut off from the outside world, accessible only by a tunnel that goes through the surrounding mountains.  The rest of the area is surrounded by electrified fence, and supplies are brought in only occasionally.  Things sound great, but not to the teenagers who live in the town, are bored out of their minds, and a frustrated by a lack of young girls to get to know.  John's son, also a John, is our protagonist.

The story opens with John and his friends playing in the tunnel, a place that is forbidden for them to go, especially after dark.  The youngest of the boys is hit by a car, driven by one of the neighbours who has decided to flee the town.  This death leads to the execution of the man, and later of the police who come looking for him.  This is turn leads to John Jr. stepping up his rebellious nature, as he discovers new information about the father that he already hates so much.

Fialkov does a masterful job of combining usual teenage angst with the isolationism of a certain breed of Americans.  This story touches on events like those in Ruby Ridge and Waco Texas, while also tapping into post-9/11 fear of the wider world.  It's a very effective combination, and he uses the location well to create a very exciting climax.  Tuazon's art is never very detailed, and that works well here to help propel some of the uncertainty of this story.  This book is a very solid psychological adventure, and I recommend it.

Snaxxx!

by Mike Mictlan

Mike Mictlan has long been the most mysterious of the Doomtree crew.  He's not as prolific as the rest, having previously only released one solo album, and his songs don't reveal as much about him as his crewmates tend to do on their solo projects.

Snaxxx! has been released for free, but it can also be purchased in a deluxe Snaxxx! Pack at the Doomtree Store, which includes a t-shirt and other goodies.  The album has him breaking away from the crew to a certain extent, as most of this disc is produced by outside producers (2% Muck handles most of the album), and all of the rappers featured aside from POS are not Doomtree rappers.

The result is a slightly inconsistent album which balances between party songs and tracks that are more menacing and darker.  I feel that the best songs are the ones that best fit the Doomtree ethos, such as 'Dwnsze', which is produced by Paper Tiger, or 'SYKE!' and 'Let Me Know', both of which feature Stef.

I also enjoy tracks like 'Creeper Status', 'Give it to Mikey', 'HELLA FRREAL', and 'MCAD'.  I always appreciate artists that branch out and try new things, but I'm pleased to see that Mictlan is still working with his crew.

This is definitely worth checking out.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Repossessed #1

by JM Ringuet

I'm down to try any new Image title these days, just about, and since I liked JM Ringuet's work on Transhuman with Jonathan Hickman a few years back, I figured this would be a safe bet.

Repossessed has a good concept.  It's about a trio who 'repossess' the bodies of people suffering from demonic possession.  They do this through a mixture of spells and firearms (I'm not quite sure what the girl is there to do, as the two men do all of this work), and they seem to be doing pretty good business.  One thing they've noticed is that lately the type of demon they've been battling has been more 'major' than they are used to, which is making their job tougher.

They are hired to look into the disappearance of a university student who has suddenly quit school to sing in Las Vegas.  They are not entirely sure that this is a proper possession, as it could just be the effect of someone trying to find herself, but after mixing it up with another major demon who has been running a motorcycle gang, it becomes clear that there is something major going on.

Ringuet is a talented artist, who does all the work in this comic.  He colours it in bright, kind of crazy colours, and gives it a very unique look.  It's a solid first issue, and it has me interested in the story.  I'll probably be back for the next issue.

Clone #3

Written by David Schulner
Art by Juan Jose Ryp

I've been enjoying this thriller series that deals with the aftermath of a human cloning program that resulted in there being a large number of clones, all of the same man, spread throughout the United States.  Our hero is Luke, one of the clones, whose wife is pregnant with his child, something that hasn't happened with any of the other clones.

Luke's wife has been abducted by a government agency, which Luke has infiltrated by pretending to kill another clone who had helped him escape.  While he's inside their facility, he is looking for his wife, with people outside waiting to help them escape.

While this is going on, a more interesting plot is developing involving the Republican Vice-President of the United States, who is expected to be the swing vote to pass a bill that will ban human stem cell experimentation.  That seems like a slam dunk for a Republican, doesn't it, but the VP's daughter is dying from Parkinson's, and killing stem cell research will pretty much also kill her.  The thing is, the VP knows about the clone program, and figures that the man who started it could fix his daughter as well.

I like how Schulner has added this element of political ethics into his story, which elevates it above being a standard adventure comic.

Ryp's art looks terrific in this issue, and he's toned down the strange kinetic energy effect he usually uses in his art, to the point where it didn't distract me like it has at other times I've seen his work.

Change #2

Written by Ales Kot
Art by Morgan Jeske

Change is a very cool, if somewhat hard to follow, comic.  Ales Kot has written a kind of stream-of-consciousness, or perhaps Impressionistic story about three people who have some kind of connection to each other, but it's still not very clear what that is.

W-2, a successful rapper, escapes from a home invasion only to have his wife disappear in front of him.  He has no idea what to do, but ends up reconnecting with Sonia, a screenwriter he has just fired.  They are being pursued by the NSA, who are perhaps in league with the cultists that had just separately attacked them.  They go to a friend of W-2's for help, but a phone call W-2 takes could have changed everything.

The first issue of this series also introduced an astronaut who was returning to Earth after a very long voyage to another planet (I forget which).  We learn a lot more about him this month, through a number of flashbacks to his childhood and his relationship with a woman who left him in debt.  At least, I assume those things all happened to the astronaut.

This book is never very quick to explain itself, and the art jumps from scene to scene without making it clear that it has moved in time or place.  Kot and artist Morgan Jeske excel at creating a mood and tone through their art and story, and that seems to be of more importance than plot.

I really like Jeske's art, and I'm enjoying this story even if it's not all that easy to understand at this point.  The ad in the back promises more answers next issue, and that is something I look forward to.

The Walking Dead #106

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

This issue marks Charlie Adlard's one-hundredth issue of The Walking Dead in his role as artist, something to be celebrated, considering how talented an artist he is, and how successful he's helped make this book.  That also means that this is my one-hundredth issue of The Walking Dead in my role as a consumer, fan, and supporter, having bought the book with issue eight on a whim, and immediately going back and buying the issue before it the next week (and later getting the first trade).  I can't think of any other comic that I've been buying for 100 consecutive issues that I still love as much, and have never gotten bored with in all that time.

This issue opens at Negan's stronghold, where the psychotic leader of the Saviors is holding Carl prisoner.  Negan ponders how to properly punish Carl for killing some of his men.

After that, the action shifts back to Rick, Andrea, and the Community.  Rick has had a small group of people out looking for Carl each day since he's disappeared, but without luck.  Jesus returns (I just realized how funny that looks - I mean Jesus the man from the Hilltop community who has been tracking Negan's people for Rick) with news of where Negan lives.

Rick and a crew head out hoping to get Carl back, but run in to Negan on the road.  This leads to the type of cliffhanger that I find hardest to handle in this series - one that puts Carl in danger.  I guess Kirkman knows how effective a trick that can be, because he's been doing it a lot lately, and it seems to work every time.  I'm not sure that there are any other characters, aside from Andrea perhaps, left in this series that I feel that same affinity for.

Anyway, as always, this is an excellent issue.  There is a quiet scene between Aaron and Eric, the two scouts that originally brought Rick to the Community, as they discuss whether or not they'd be better off on the road than staying under Negan's thumb.  It's scenes like these that always make this book - we see how Kirkman and his characters are really thinking through their choices and how to react to the world they're stuck in, and it adds a level or realism to the book that I enjoy and appreciate.

Point of Impact #4

Written by Jay Faerber
Art by Koray Kuranel

I've enjoyed Jay Faerber's Point of Impact, which is a quiet little crime/mystery comic.  In the opening issue, a woman was tossed off the roof of a building, and the series has followed four people who have been investigating that murder for their own reasons.  Her husband, a journalist, has discovered that she was having an affair, and believes that it was her lover who killed her.  The lover, meanwhile, has connected her murder to a corporation, and he has infiltrated their 'special projects' division, which is staffed with ex-Marines like himself.  The two detectives assigned to the case have been a couple of steps behind the others the whole time, but in this issue, everyone ends up on the roof of the building, holding guns, and revealing secrets.

Faerber has kept the plotting pretty tight, although with one pretty fatal error in this issue that pulled me right out of the story.  After all the smoke has cleared, and after leaving the police station, the journalist pulls a gun on one of the other people in this group.  I don't exactly think it likely that he would still have that gun on him, especially since we know it's connected to another crime scene that we saw in the last issue.  I also don't think it likely that the cops would have just forgotten that he had it in his possession, especially since he was seen holding it on the rooftop.

Other than that, this has been a good mini-series.  I liked the way Faerber took his time revealing the corporate angle to things, and I felt that the characters were strongly written.  Koray Kuranel's art is probably not for everyone, but I felt it was effective here.  This story should read well in trade.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Star Wars #1

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Carlos D'Anda

If I had to sum up the first ten years of my life in only two words, they would be 'Star Wars'.  It was the first movie I ever saw, in a drive-in at the age of four, and it became an all-consuming passion through the release of Return of the Jedi.  Star Wars is also the reason why I started reading comics.  Star Wars #30 is the first comic I remember buying (again, at the age of four), and that became the impetus for a hobby that has lasted until today.

As much love as I have for the property though, I've never been much of a fan of anything that came after Return of the Jedi.  The prequel movies were a big disappointment, and I more or less ignored the Dark Horse comics until I recently came to realize that John Ostrander had been writing them, and I've read all of his work starting with his wonderful Star Wars: Legacy, and moving on to the equally wonderful Agent of the Empire, and the less impressive Dawn of the Jedi.

Anyway, it was with great excitement that I learned that Brian Wood, a writer I have tremendous respect for, would be given the opportunity to write a monthly comic that features the original, central characters of the first movie, in stories set between it and The Empire Strikes Back.  Wood is best known for comics like DMZ, Northlanders, and The Massive, although he has recently been working on some X-Men titles at Marvel.  Of all his books, I most love his Local, which is about as far removed from Star Wars as you can get, but with his ability to find small, personal stories in large, chaos-ridden backdrops (I mean, that's basically what DMZ, Northlanders, and The Massive are), he struck me as an inspired choice for this kind of comic.

Having read this first issue, I am very excited to continue reading this series.  The story opens on Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and pilot Wedge Antilles scouting the outer rim of the galaxy for a suitable location for a new Rebel base.  They aren't out of hyperspace long though before a contingent of Imperials arrive, clearly aware that they would be there.  There is some fighting, some crashing, and what have you, and later we learn that Mon Mothma, the leader of the Alliance, suspects that there is a traitor feeding information to the Imperials.  She puts Leia in charge of a small group of rebels that will be working independently and in secret to either flush out the traitor, or find a new home for the Alliance.

It's a nice simple concept that provides Wood with opportunities to usher in the character growth that, between the first two movies, changed Luke Skywalker from the annoyingly whiny farm boy into an ace Rebel pilot, and which brought about a sense of selflessness in Han Solo.

One thing that always appealed to me about Star Wars comics was the opportunity to pour over large pictures of cool space craft.  In that, Carlos D'Anda does not disappoint, drawing some very cool Tie Fighters.  One problem that always exists in licensed comics is that the characters need to look enough like the actors and actresses that portrayed them, without looking overly photo-referenced and stiff.  D'Anda mostly maintains a balance between the two, which is a good thing.

I also enjoyed the fact that, at least for this issue, Wood and D'Anda resisted the urge to over-fill panels with cutesy aliens and funny droids, the two most regrettable facets of the digitally altered more recent DVD and Blu-Ray releases of George Lucas's original work.  This book has a more adult feel to it than the movies do, which is appreciated.

Mind the Gap #7

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Rodin Esquejo

In this issue, Ellis, who is in a coma, has woken up in the body of Katie, a young girl who was just taken off of life support.  Her good friend Jo arrives, and they try to talk, but as is to be expected in this sort of situation, all hell breaks loose in the hospital.  Jo tries to get some rest, makes friends with the nurse that has been helpful, meets the assistant to a psychiatrist who is also in a coma, and tries to help Ellis escape when she sees the guy in the hoodie who attacked her in the hospital corridor.

In other words, a lot happens in this issue, and McCann handles the pace very well, so it never seems like there is too much happening.  More hints as to what is really going on are being dropped all over the place - Ellis's mother almost gives herself away as being involved, and I'm sure there are a number of hints being dropped in the analysis of the statements Ellis first made when she woke up.

One of those really stood out though, when the nurse attributed the phrase 'sleeping furiously' to "a long-dead guy, Chomsky".  When exactly did Noam Chomsky die?  And why doesn't the internet seem to know about it (I just checked my facts)?  Up until this point, no reference was made in this book that made it seem like it was taking place in the future.  Now, with a comic like this, I start to wonder if perhaps this isn't a mistake on Jim McCann's part, but is in fact a clue.  Or, conversely, perhaps no one needs to check facts on a book like this, since errors can just be treated as red herrings that ultimately don't lead anywhere.  Still, it confused me.

I like this comic, and am enjoying the mystery of what happened to Ellis.  I do find some of Jo's judgement to be pretty questionable in this issue, but McCann already explains some of that by showing us just how exhausted she is.  Rodin Esquejo's art is lovely, but in the scene where Jo finds Dane's father sitting by Ellis's bed, I had no idea who he was at first, as he looks like a few other people in this book.  Otherwise, a solid issue.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sweet Tooth #40

by Jeff Lemire

I feel that there are way too many titles that I love ending these days, and I don't see clear replacements for them in the pipeline.  Scalped ended a few months ago, and while I loved its ending, I miss my monthly visits to the Prairie Rose Reserve more than I thought I would.  Now, I'm quite sure that I'm going to feel the same way about Gus.

Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth was always a bit of an odd comic.  Lemire made a name for himself with his amazing Essex County books, and when this monthly series about a hybrid deer-boy in a post-plague world started, it felt like quite a departure.  In no time though, Lemire sucked me into the story with his strong characterizations and his slightly wonky yet beautiful artwork.

As Gus and Jeppard grew into a strange type of family, and protected each other through encounters with angry militia men and the dangers of the road, my attachment to the story and these characters grew as well.  This series always told a solid story, and Lemire regularly experimented with layout and story-telling, to make it a reliably compelling read month after month.

This story borrows a page from other Vertigo endings, like Y the Last Man, by jumping ahead through the rest of Gus's life, and showing us what the character has done since his last fight with Abbot in Alaska.  It's a very satisfying ending, which is poignant, and complete.  I know that this title never lit up the sales charts, but it did lead to Lemire's being a 'big name' writer at DC, with titles like Animal Man, Justice League Dark, Superboy, and soon, Green Arrow, under his belt (although he doesn't draw any of them, which is too bad).

I'm thankful that Vertigo gave him the space to tell this story in such a complete manner, and I urge anyone who's never read this book to go back and give it a shot.  I'll miss Gus, but I am also looking forward to Trillium, which is the name of Lemire's next Vertigo book.

The Secret Service #5

Written by Mark Millar with Matthew Vaughn
Art by Dave Gibbons

I've found Millar's Secret Service to be a much more thoughtful and balanced comic than I'm used to reading from him these days.  Often in his Millarworld titles, he aims for a level of over-the-topness that puts him in league with contemporary Frank Miller or indie Garth Ennis, and that kind of turns me off.  I've stopped reading Kick-Ass or its spin-offs, and had no plans of picking up Nemesis 2 whenever it came out.

This book, though, is great.  Miller took a long time establishing the world in which young Gary, a London street thug, lives in, and as Gary is brought into a top-secret spy organization, we saw Gary's growth as a character.  With this issue, Gary reaches his final graduation, not so far as his training is concerned, but in his quest to become his own, better, man.  He finally confronts his step-father and his friends, and he also finally looks after his mother, who has been trapped in an abusive relationship for some time.

With all the character stuff taken care of, Millar returns to the plotline about the big bad rich guy who has been kidnapping directors, actors, and animators since the first issue of this series.  We learn what this guy's big plan is, and Gary and his Uncle Jack split up to handle things.

The end of this book did surprise me, as I thought that Millar was giving in to his more romantic urges, looking to write a book with a nice happy ending.  Dave Gibbons is always wonderful, and he does not disappoint with the art in this issue.  I believe that there is only one issue left in this series, and I expect it shall be quite good.

The Infinite Vacation #5

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Christian Ward

It was definitely a pleasant surprise to see this book show up in the shipping lists for this week (it was originally solicited for May 2011), finally finishing off the long-delayed mini-series.

Opening the book, it's not hard to see why this may have taken a while, as Christian Ward goes all out on the art, portraying some very complicated double-page spreads, incorporating photos into his work, and going into total psychedelia mode on multiple occasions. It's a lovely, lovely comic.

The story in this series has been more than a little hard to follow, which was not helped by the length between issues, but so far as I can tell, this issue wrapped the story up pretty nicely.  The Infinite Vacation refers to a company that has figured out a way for people to swap their lives with those of their counterparts on alternate Earths.  People use a bidding app on their smartphones similar to Ebay that allows them to transfer, for a certain amount of funds, between worlds.  Obviously the science is never made clear, especially when  these alternates are able to meet with each other, and occupy the same space on one world.

The concept behind this, shaky as it is, is pretty interesting, especially since Mark, our hero, has been targeted by the company that runs things for execution.  This issue has Mark finally taking charge of his own life, and turning the tables back on the corporate types.

It's confusing, but it's also very, very pretty.

Right State

Written by Mat Johnson
Art by Andrea Mutti

Right State is a unique political thriller that works well, but probably could have worked a lot better.  It's set at some unspecified after the Obama administration has finished its second term, and was met with some sort of disaster or fiasco which is not explained.  At the point where this book opens, Obama's successor, also a Democrat and also black, is in the midst of running for a second term.  America has become even more divided than it is now between 'red' and 'blue', and the militia movement has gained in strength to a great degree.

The story is centred on Ted Akers, a right-wing talking head who has spent most of his life fighting for veterans' rights on Fox News like cable channels, despite having never fought in a war.  Akers gets contacted by the Secret Service when they receive word that a militia group known as Roots of Liberty, run by a demagogue named Dutton, are planning something for the President's upcoming open-air address to the nation.

The Service figures that Akers would have a better chance of infiltrating the group, especially since the agent in charge is a Muslim, and that's basically the set up for this story.  It's not terribly plausible, is it? And therein lies one of this book's two big faults.  The second is that Akers's character is not developed very well before he gets sent off to crazy-land.  It's hard to understand why he'd be working to help an administration he's fundamentally opposed to, just as it is hard to understand why they would really want him (unless you figure out where things are going pretty early into the book, as I did).

As a Canadian, I do enjoy fiction that shows just how messed up American often is (while knowing we aren't all that much better, and increasingly so), and the Roots of Liberty crowd is pretty interesting.  My problem was that because I never bought into the plot or the main character, I never got all that wrapped up in the book.  Mat Johnson's first graphic novel, Incognegro, was riveting; this one felt a little rushed, like it needed to be out before the American election, and therefore didn't get workshopped or edited as stringently as it should have.

There was definitely a lot of potential in this story, and some of the sequences near the end get exciting, but this book just never gripped me as much as it could have.  Part of the problem is with Andrea Mutti's art - he's a talented artist, but often stiff in his layouts, and it's not always easy to tell which character is which.  I hope that Johnson's next book is something a little closer to home, and therefore perhaps as strong as his debut was.

Friday, January 4, 2013

20th Century Boys Vol. 2

by Naoki Urasawa, with Takashi Nagasaki

Partway through this second volume of 20th Century Boys, the very popular manga series by Naoki Urasawa, I was hit with the somewhat unwelcome realization that I would have to get all twenty-five or so volumes of this series, because I think I'm hooked.

This is a strange story, unfolding in a manner that is pretty unconventional, at least for Western comics, and which really adds to the mystique and wonder of the series.  A strange cult has popped up in Japan (I'm not sure when this series was begun in relation to the Aum Shinrikyo attacks) led by a mysterious 'Friend'.  The cult has members throughout society, and many connections to a group of friends who grew up together.

Of that group, one member was killed in the first volume.  Now Kenji, who was the leader of the group as children but currently tries to keep a struggling convenience store afloat while caring for his missing sister's baby, is trying to figure out what happened to his old pal.  The series is arrayed in a bit of a kaleidoscopic fashion, as each chapter frequently features new characters or events that then become connected to the main story, sometimes unexpectedly.  We get to know characters like the only girl from Kenji's group, and a homeless man who seems to be able to predict the future in his dreams.  We also learn a fair deal about Kenji's missing sister, which only adds to the mystery.

Urasawa, in addition to being an excellent artist, is a strong writer of character.  We meet an older detective in this issue, close to retirement, and in the span of two chapters, come to care about him and his life's struggles.  There are hints of bigger problems to come, as we get glimpses of germ warfare using an ebola-like virus, and of course, the threat of giant robots rears its head.  Still, this is a series that is very grounded in the day-to-day life of its characters, and therein lies its greatest strength.

Fury MAX #5-8

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Goran Parlov

It's a well-established fact that no one can write war stories like Garth Ennis, but there's something extra cool about him incorporating well-known Marvel characters into his stories, while still making them as gritty and historically grounded as is his work on titles like Battlefields.

I picked up these four issues of Fury MAX this week, and they bridge two story arcs.  The first has Nick Fury in Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion, with the goal of assassinating Fidel Castro.  This mission goes horribly wrong, and Fury and his two companions are captured.

The next arc moves forward in time to the Vietnam War.  Fury is sent to Laos to assassinate a Vietnamese General who Fury has met before.  His usual shooter is too old for the mission now (although, of course, Fury is not), and so he is partnered with a Marine by the name of Frank Castle.  Of course, this mission goes badly too, because that seems to be pattern of this title.

Ennis has a really good handle on Nick Fury as a character and as a force of history.  The book is not just about Fury and the missions he's sent on, it's also about a shady American senator and his wife, who is also Fury's girlfriend.  Ennis is quite upfront about the corruption in the American government and its involvement in foreign affairs, and that's always interesting to read about.

I especially like Goran Parlov's artwork.  He's drawing this series in a very European style, and it works well with the settings he portrays.  I'm kind of surprised that I haven't been buying this series all along, but now that I'm caught up with it, I'm going to get the remaining four issues for sure.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Prophet #32

by Simon Roy

I have loved the work that Brandon Graham had done with this series since relaunching it early last year.  He has moved the old Extreme character into the far future, and has created a myriad of strange races, worlds, and situations for Old Man Prophet, and his various clones who work for the Earth Empire, to adventure in.  This issue, however, is not by Brandon Graham, but is instead written and drawn by Simon Roy, the artist who drew the first few issues of Graham's run.

Simon Roy first caught my eye with his excellent self-published comic Jan's Atomic Heart, which I bought at TCAF a number of years ago.  For this issue, he keeps things within the formula established by Graham (Roy often gets a story credit on this series). John Ka is a Prophet clone who wakes up on Earth and spends a fair amount of time alone (aside from an insect which has bonded with her) until she discovers that a group of feral humans are living up on the side of a mountain.

These humans have more in common with Neanderthals, and are usually raised as meat by the races that now control the Earth, but this group has learned to wield tools, and are definitely sentient.  As it turns out, they are living with another Prophet, one who was reawakened a few years ago.  This John has to choose between her mission and her new lifestyle, in a story that echoes some of the best literature built up around missionary work (it kind of reminded me of At Play in the Fields of the Lord).

Roy is an excellent artist and a strong writer.  I like what Graham does with this book, but also enjoyed getting a bit of a break from his story to explore this world in a little more detail.

This issue also has a very good sci-fi back-up story by Daniel Irizarri, who I'm unfamiliar with.

Punk Rock Jesus #6

by Sean Murphy

Punk Rock Jesus has to be one of the best series Vertigo has published in years.  Unlike many of their other recent projects, this title best exemplifies what Vertigo was designed for - delivering intelligent, thought-provoking stories that didn't shy away from material that may make some people uncomfortable.

With Punk Rock Jesus, Sean Murphy has created a science fiction epic that examines the role of Christianity in our modern, science-fuelled culture.  It also touches on issues as diverse as the Irish Troubles, and environmental collapse.  This issue runs thirty-two pages, without ads (still for only $2.99!), and wraps up the story wonderfully.

We open with Thomas McKael's arrest for his involvement in an IRA bombing of a police station, which reveals some information about his childhood that we didn't know.  From there, we rejoin Chris, the supposed clone of Jesus Christ, and his band, the Flak Jackets, as they travel to perform in Jerusalem.  As expected, this doesn't go well, and they are attacked by terrorists almost immediately.

In the wake of this violence, many questions are asked back in America, and Rick Slate, the producer of J2, the reality show based on Chris's life, has a lot of questions to answer.  Later, the New American Christians attack a television studio in an attempt to kill Chris.

I have been completely blown away by the quality of Murphy's writing for this series.  I already knew he was a phenomenal artist, but the depth of the story he told in this series, both in terms of the questions in raises, and in the way in which he wrote these memorable characters, has impressed me.  I wish that Vertigo, or any company really, was able to produce books this good more often.  Very highly recommended.

American Vampire #34

Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Rafael Albuquerque

When I heard that American Vampire was going to be going on hiatus following this issue, it didn't bother me one bit.  I'd really enjoyed the early days of this Vertigo series, but I'd felt that it was starting to lose its way a little bit, amid the spin-off mini-series, the arcs that introduced new characters who were never seen again, and the general decompression of the last story arc, which was wrapping up the arcs for many of the main characters.  I'd also felt that the book had kind of lost the edge that made it Vertigo in the first place.  I wasn't surprised by that - since this book debuted, writer Scott Snyder has become a bit of a golden boy at DC, and I wondered if among all his New 52 projects, he still had time for this title.

Then I read this issue, which I expected to be an epilogue, and now I really want more.  Where the last ten issues have felt a little bloated, this one is lean, mysterious, and dark, just like the early days of this series.  Gene Bunting, the new Bookkeeper for the Vassals of the Morning Star (the vampire- and monster-hunting organization that has featured prominently in this title) has travelled out to the middle of nowhere to find Abilena Book, the mother of Felicia Book, the new director of the VMS.  He believes that Abilena has some limited prophetic abilities, and he wants her to peer into the future to discover if the VMS needs to be concerned about someone called The Gray Trader.

It's been ages since we've seen Book in this series, and Bunting is a new character, but Snyder manages to develop them both very well in a short amount of space.  He also establishes this new threat very effectively, and reveals another secret about Book right at the very end that can be open to a few different interpretations.

Albuquerque has always done a wonderful job on this title, and this issue is no exception.  He also seems a little reinvigorated by the prospect of a new, darker storyline.  It's very nice to see that this book is getting back on track, and now I hope that the hiatus is not going to be a very long one.

Glory #31

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell and Ulises Farinas

According to the latest Previews, Glory is set to end with issue 34 in March.  I hope this is because Joe Keatinge's story will be finished then, and is not because the book is being cancelled due to low sales, because it really is a terrific comic, and alongside Prophet, has been the best of the Extreme comics renaissance of 2012.

In this issue, Glory, her vicious sister Nanaja, and their friends, make ready for their assault on Glory's father's stronghold in the woods of Oregon.  Opting for the most direct approach possible, the group crash Nanaja's private jet, and parachute in, expecting fierce resistance.  What they don't expect is to be offered waffles and quiet breakfast conversation.

It seems that Lord Silverfall, Glory's father, is pretty much without an army now.  He shares the story of what happened immediately after the last time he did battle with his daughter, and there are a couple more family surprises, which leads to a wonderful last splash-page.

The back-ups in this issue are drawn by Ulises Farinas, who I've only just learned about through his story Gamma, in Dark Horse Presents.  I've been enjoying that strip, but was surprised to see him use a much more detailed art style in this book, making his pages pretty consistent with the wonderful work that Ross Campbell has been doing here monthly.

I know it's difficult to recommend a book once its conclusion has been announced, but Glory has been a terrific series, and I encourage anyone who likes their superheroics to be a little left-field, or anyone who is sick of the way women are usually portrayed in comics, to check this out.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Fatale #11

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

I love the fact that Ed Brubaker has decided to make Fatale an on-going series instead of limiting it to the sixteen or so issues he'd originally intended, mostly because it gives him the space to tell stories like the one in this issue.

This is kind of a 'Times Past' one-off, checking in with Josephine back in 1936, at a time when she still hadn't figured out everything about herself and her abilities.  When the book opens, she's convinced a police officer in Texas to take her across the state, ruining his own life in the process.

Jo goes to visit Alfred Ravenscroft, a writer of mystical pulp stories, who Jo thinks may know something about her and her situation.  Ravenscroft's story is a strange one, encompassing his own brush with the otherworldly as a boy in Mexico in the 1890s, which has had a lasting effect on him and his mother.

This is a strange issue, and while it doesn't reveal a whole lot more about Jo, it does suggest that there is a lot more to Fatale than its central character.  We start to get a sense of the larger forces at work in this series, and this story provides Brubaker the chance to include the pulps that this series is a love letter to.


Godzilla: The Half-Century War #4

by James Stokoe

With this, the penultimate issue in his mind-blowing Godzilla mini-series, James Stokoe asks the question that many monster-hunters are probably afraid to ask themselves - how do you retire when you've never been able to accomplish your mission?

This issue is set in India in 1987, and Ota, the man whose story we've been following since the end of the Second World War, is starting to feel both his age and the futility in his mission.  Just about the only two constants in his life have been Godzilla and failure, and he's getting a little tired of both of them.

Of course, this is the 80s, so science has progressed to the point where the people in the AMF have built their own Mechagodzilla, a Shogun Warriors style giant robot to fight the lizard.  Ota has almost nothing to do on this mission, until he happens to notice Deverich, the bad guy with the monster-luring device we met last issue.  The device brings a new type of Godzilla to the sub-continent, and things get pretty crazy.

Stokoe is so good at books like this that it could be illegal.  His hyper-detailed art looks fantastic here, as it has in every issue of this series, but I'm noticing that his writing is really growing as well.  I've mentioned before how difficult it is to make anyone care about anything in a monster comic, but now I'm quite looking forward to seeing how Ota's half-century war with Godzilla ends next issue.

The Manhattan Projects #8

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

Last issue, the combined leadership of the American Manhattan Projects and the Soviet Star City initiative decided to join forces and pursue their own scientific ends separate from their respective masters' wishes.

This issue, the Americans decide to put a stop to them.  The comic opens on a meeting between President Harry S. Truman and his advisors, which appear to include a man in a luchadore mask, someone who only speaks in Egyptian hieroglyphs, and most surprisingly, the AI of former President FDR, who we thought was firmly entrenched in the Projects' ranks.

What follows is a bit of a bloodbath, while FDR-controlled robots attack Los Alamos, Star City, and the Singularity, the orbital space stations the Russians had built.  Much of the comic focuses on Wernher Von Braun, the former Nazi rocket scientist who drives much of what happens in the Projects, as he has to escape Star City and make his way to Los Alamos to shut off the FDR AI.

This is another very entertaining issue in a series that has surpassed all expectations I had going in to it. Hickman has consistently written a crazier, freer flowing story than I've seen him do before, and Nick Pitarra has been there every step of the way backing him.  This is a terrific comic.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Originals

by Dave Gibbons

I only saw Quadrophenia once, years ago, and so can't remember to what degree Dave Gibbons's graphic novel The Originals matches the story note for note, but the homage does run pretty deep.

Lel and Bok, two British teens, dream of becoming Originals. They already dress the part, with jackets that go down to their ankles, but they haven't been able to get together enough money for hovers, the Originals version of the scooters the Mods rode.  After meeting some Originals, and helping them in a fight with some Dirt, the boys get invited in to the gang.

The story moves along pretty predictable lines.  The presence of a girl strains the boys' friendship, and conflicts with the Dirt escalate after Warren, a wannabe, takes things too far one day.

Still, as much as I knew how this would end before I'd read five pages, I enjoyed the way that Gibbons drew and told the story.  The gleaming and very complicated hovers were the only real futuristic element to this book - everything else looked much as it would have back in the late 60s and early 70s, aside from the clothing, where Gibbons really let himself go nuts.

Gibbons has always been a wonderful character artist, and that continues to be the case here.  This is an entertaining book.