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Currently Reading: Astro City, A Voice In The Dark, Bitch Planet, Black Science, Copperhead, Deadly Class, Drifter, East of West, The Fuse, Lazarus, Letter 44, Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland, Manifest Destiny, The Massive, Moon Knight, Punks, Saga, Sex Criminals, Sheltered, Southern Bastards, Stumptown, Supreme: Blue Rose, Tooth & Claw, Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, Trees, Umbral, Wasteland, The Wicked + The Divine
With the big haul last week and slim pickings this week, it feels a little like feast or famine on the shelves for me. I don’t know that I’ll be purchasing anything for certain this week, but here are the handful of maybes that will attempt to entice me. Supergod #5 (Avatar Press) finally wraps up the mini after long delays from Warren Ellis and Garrie Gastonny. Because Gastonny’s art wasn’t Juan Jose Ryp and the narrative felt like Ellis was simply monologuing to the camera like the guy on the cover, I ditched after a couple of issues, but I’ll give it the ol’ fliparoo at the LCS. Ditto those thoughts on The Killer: Modus Vivendi #6 (Archaia) which wraps up this Franco-Belgian crime noir cum politico thriller that just never seemed as focused or crisp as the first volume, but nevertheless I’ll give it a requisite Casual Flip Test™ at the shop. The only thing that might make me check out Heroes for Hire #1 (Marvel) is that Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning are writing it, and it features some interesting street level characters like Black Widow, Falcon, and Misty Knight. I’m not into more Wolverine comics glutting the market. I’m not into the writing of Charlie Huston. I’m not into the $3.99 price point. And I’m not into the bland new villains functioning as the premise of the book, but hey, I do like Juan Jose Ryp’s art, so Wolverine: The Best There Is #1 (Marvel) raised an eyebrow. On the graphic novel front, if you missed the hardcover or didn’t want to plunk down the money for the Absolute Edition, here's Planetary TPB: Book 04: Spacetime Archaeology (DC/WildStorm), which should be the last incarnation of this book we’re likely to see. Finally, the single bright spot in an otherwise snoozer of a week is probably Achewood HC: Volume 03: Home for Scared People (Dark Horse), from Chris Onstad. I don’t seem to be as enamored of this book as many of the critics I read, but if all else fails, I may give it another shot.
“I can’t say I liked all of the pieces, but… his work remains oddly compelling and I’d definitely be interested in seeing more in the future.”
Batwoman #0 (DC): The bottom line is that there’s no artist working in mainstream superhero comics right now that is more interesting than JH Williams. The way he structures, designs, lays out, and zeroes in on the intent of a page is unparalleled. I’ve enjoyed the style of Amy Reeder elsewhere, her clean crisp lines bringing a lot of austere beauty to the page. Here, they seem to sync up with Williams in a weird way. It’s not that Reeder has attempted to copy Williams’ style, it’s more that you can imagine Williams aping Reeder’s style in the same manner he’s aped other artists who’ve contributed to the Bat Mythos. On top of the duo, there’s just a ridiculous art team assembled here. Richard Friend on inks, Dave Stewart on colors, and Todd Klein on letters. Does it get any better than that? Williams sets up the re-introduction story to basically run two threads in parallel, Kate doing her thing, with Bruce piecing together her identity. In the process, Kate earns his respect, and he even admires certain aspects of her being. As it moves along, it’s instantly obvious that Williams “gets” the characters, their inner voices, and can bring something new to the table. We learn about both of them, their own personalities revealed as they discover each other and begin to plant the seeds that will surely allow them to forge an uneasy alliance. This is All-Star Superman. This is Planetary. This is a top of the game, instant classic, a peak example of the refinement and beauty that can occur with the industry’s most prolific genre. Grade A+.
Uncanny X-Force #2 (Marvel): If feels like it’s been a long time since the first issue; is this bi-monthly or something? I must have missed the memo. The continuity is a little wonky; Warren’s pretty busy right now over in Uncanny X-Men, being one of the point persons in crisis mode, yet here he is on the moon(?). In any case, I think Jerome Opena was born to draw a book like this. His lean dark figures move with a grainy lithe appeal through the visceral action. Not only does he nail the overall tone, but there are so many individual sequences that pop. He’s able to ape the art styles of the Kirby era, the Cockrum era, the period around X-Men #200 when Magneto joined, and even the Morrison/Quitely aesthetic. After that lead in, he shows off the Batcave, err… “Cavern-X,” which is an Easter Egg Hunt revealing Sunfire and Magneto’s helmets, the encased uniforms of Rachel, Havok, and Kitty, and it’s just like the damn Batcave meets the JLA Trophy Room for the X-Men! Loved it! Rick Remender brings his “A” game to the table as he crafts this high stakes game to bring down Apocalypse. There’s the tension of the crash sequence on the moon. There’s the crazy cool and original incarnations of The Four Horsemen, the general spotlighting of Psylocke as a character, pop culturally aware nods to Star Wars (“Goldenrod!”), and Warren Ellis inspired lines like “flash Darwinism.” Remender’s character selection allows him clever manipulation of lines, so that Deadpool can mug to the camera, wink to the audience, and say self-aware stuff like “Do it anyway – for dramatic effect.” This is the new X-book to beat right now. It’s the reason I can move my dollars away from Uncanny X-Men, and support this title instead. It accomplishes everything it intends to. It’s basically flawless. Grade A+.
After a few really slow weeks, it looks like every book I’m still buying regularly seems to be hitting the shelves this week. Batwoman #0 (DC) has fan favorite JH Williams III returning to penciling duties, along with Amy Reeder (who was Amy Reeder Hadley on Madame Xanadu) filling in on art every other arc. This time, Jim takes on the writing duties also, assisted by novelist W. Haden Blackman. It seems like Brian Wood and I were just talking about who he’d like to work with, so it’s pretty awesome to see David Lapham’s name attached to DMZ #59 (DC/Vertigo). It’s time for another couple of stand alone issues featuring some bit players, so Scalped #43 (DC/Vertigo) pairs writer Jason Aaron with artist Jason Latour and addresses Sheriff Karnow. On the superhero front, it’s old reliable Invincible Iron Man #32 (Marvel), along with Uncanny X-Men #530 (Marvel), and the newest guilty pleasure Uncanny X-Force #2 (Marvel). Funny how the three DC books I want this week are all $2.99, while all three Marvel books I’m interested in are all $3.99. What's that about? I’m just sayin’. I haven’t paid any attention to this book since the first few arcs of the first incarnation by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord, but Conan The Cimmerian #25 (Dark Horse) marks the final issue of this title. Maybe this is a wholly prurient entry, but hey, I am a guy, and those J. Scott Campbell women are fun to look at; Dynamite has secured the rights to some old Harris properties, with Vampirella #1 (Dynamite Entertainment) shipping this week too.
Northlanders #34 (DC/Vertigo): The cover is sort of a thing of beauty, with diammetrically opposed imagery creating balance. You see Ingrid seemingly unafraid and resigned to her fate, seeking shelter from the heavens and her belief system. Erik, on the other hand, appears more grounded and pragmatic, more full of panicked concern. Inside, Brian Wood displays a lot of confidence in his ability to trust collaborator Riccardo Burchielli. The artist creates a disorienting and beautiful set of introductory images with very modest dialogue. I think this issue is largely about power. It’s about physical power, the power of will, the power of love, the power of parenthood, and the power of identity (yeah, the term I just wrote 10 posts about) driving a character’s actions. The Mother Hulda and Ingrid conversation is absolutely chilling with a few pointed word choices, and Wood gives us some real “holy crap!” moments, as the power of clashing cultures and paradigms of the supernatural, magic, science, and religion come into full focus. Riccardo Burchielli makes you believe these things, not in the big grand shots filled with spectacle, but in the quiet moments of detail. It’s there in his depictions of the bitter cold, a stray wisp of hair, or the imperfect beauty of the slivers of hope found in a tumultuous time as Wood’s Viking Bonnie & Clyde essentially ride off into the snowy landscape that serves as their sunset. Grade A.
It’s freaking me out a little that this could be another week in which I actually purchase only one book. There’s probably little surprise that it’ll be Northlanders #34 (DC/Vertigo), which is the last issue in the “Metal” arc, featuring Erik and Ingrid. It’s $2.99. I brought up the price point because wasn’t there just some big brouhaha over pricing with some sort of commitment by DC that the $3.99+ price point for regular ongoing books would be abandoned? I’m not making that up, right? Marvel even did some cock-up copycat announcement that they’d maybe be doing it too, oh wait, what did we say, never mind then? Well, here’s Batman Incorporated #1 (DC), a new ongoing from Grant Morrison and Yanick Paquette, for $3.99. I can’t honestly say that I’m uninterested in the premise, but combine feeling like I’m OD’ing on Morrisonian story convolution, this never-ending morass of overlapping event-style self-referential mini-series and series that don’t tell a cohesive story unless you read 50 other books… *thing* happening, along with the strange $3.99 price point, and I’m feeling pretty out on this. This wears consumers out doesn’t it? Is anyone really enjoying this deluge? Right there with it on the stands will be Batman: The Return (DC) #1, which is somehow different than (only the same as) the just wrapped (late, out of sequence vis-à-vis other books) Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, which is like another mini-series or something from Morrison at the (wait for it…) $4.99 price point! Archaia also puts out The Killer: Modus Vivendi #5 (Archaia) this week, which is the penultimate issue in this second series. I have to admit that although I really enjoyed the moral complication and beautiful artistic stylings of the first series, the second one hasn’t really grabbed me and I don’t even recall if I picked up the fourth issue or not. On the graphic novel front, we have What I Did (Fantagraphics) from Jason, which is a 272 page hardcover collection of some of his early out of print work, including Hey, Wait…, Sshhhh!, and The Iron Wagon. I already have these stories, but if you missed them, you could do a lot worse this week than check out Jason’s anthropomorphic style, which belies a hidden gravitas and emotional complexity to the work. His books are *always* recommended around these parts. If superhero flair is more your thing, then I’d go with the Ex Machina Deluxe Edition: Volume 4 (DC/WildStorm), which is the penultimate hardcover collecting the entire series, which also recently just wrapped a 50 issue run (plus a couple of special issues) courtesy of Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris. I actually pre-ordered this on Amazon with some store credit I had built up for a mere $19 or something crazy, but it’s still well worth the $29.99 price tag at your LCS. These look nifty lined up on the bookshelf too. Or you might try going with an oldie but a goodie, in the form of Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen’s contemporary sci-fi adventure classic, Shockrockets (IDW), reprinted here in hardcover for $24.99.
T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 (DC): [Man, what a dull week in comics. This is the only book I bought. WTF!?] Honestly, I was a little off-put by the authorial proselytizing about Oscar Wilde quotes, word derivation, and Roman history lessons that the book opened with. It felt a little more like writer Nick Spencer was just showing off fun facts that made their way into his wheelhouse than any actual organic characterization being presented. Cafu’s art is mostly pleasant, thanks in part to the coloring, with a similar vibe to Rebekah Issacs’ recent effort on Brian Wood’s DV8. It’s got the same clean polish, but at times not quite as consistent. For example, what the heck kind of wine glasses are those atop the building in Sri Lanka? Weird. The plot revolves around a faux frontal assault that is a diversion for the covert extraction of a captured agent. I had to read the book two times to be certain of that fact though, since there is some sort of double-double agent convolution and it’s constructed with one of those chopped up narratives that goes: Scene. Eleven Months Later. Scene. Twelve Months Ago. Scene. So, the whole time I’m trying to reassemble a linear timeline in my head, like we all did with Pulp Fiction. I didn’t think the out of sequence delivery was necessary from a plot standpoint, nor was it a particularly appealing stylistic choice. It was just kind of annoying. And I still couldn’t seem to figure out who Colleen was running out to yell at. Getting past all that, Spencer lays out the new status quo and premise of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. fairly effectively. I’ve never read any of the old comic, so I don’t know if this is a loyal interpretation, but it feels more like a reimaging and modernization of the property, using a mechanism that allows the old agents to be phased out, while others can transition in and assume the codename guises. I think deep down there might be some interesting philosophical questions being asked about the human cost of war, but it all plays fairly middling. It’s not a bad book, but it doesn’t feel great either. I didn’t feel a strong emotional tie to the characters, I didn’t feel like any strong hook was presented, and it wasn’t quite an assembling the team issue, just a fairly straightforward introduction to the property. I'd rather be reading Greg Rucka's Checkmate for this type of socio-political espionage kick in the DCU. I’ll say that I’m mildly interested in seeing how it pans out, and if it’s another slow week where I’m searching for something to read, I might give this another issue or two to wow me. For now, a pretty low Grade B.
Wow. This looks like it’s going to be a quiet week. Brian Wood’s web-site says that Northlanders #34 is shipping this week, but I can’t seem to find it on the Diamond Shipping List. Barring that gem, I’m not actually sure I’ll be buying anything this week. Yikes! Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #6 (DC) looks like it’s (finally) coming out. Yeah. Timely. I’ve already seen Bruce in the last issue of Batman & Robin, not to mention the flurry of one-shots he was in last week. I know I’m not the first person to note that the return of Bruce Wayne wasn’t actually in the book by the same name, but it doesn't make it any less silly. I’ll probably flip through this in the LCS just to connect the dots, but highly doubt I’ll purchase it. Thunder Agents #1 (DC) will also make a splash thanks to a Frank Quitely cover, but I’m not sure if I’ll pick this up. I don’t know a thing about this, other than it was an old property I never read, but barring anything else to read, I might take a chance on a new number one, since it has some interesting artists on deck. Other than that, well, the only thing I can really recommend is Terry Moore’s Echo TPB: Volume 5 (Abstract Studio).
How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (DC/Vertigo): It’s not often you see a contemporary cultural reaction to the Jewish diaspora in as accessible a format as a personal travelogue presented as a graphic novel. This story, which was originally begun in serialized mini-comic format and distributed by Sparkplug Comics, is about Glidden seeking to reconcile her identity. To some extent, it’s a process everyone goes through, in attempting to “discover their roots,” find themselves, who they are, where they came from, what social aspects might inform their very being, and what inborn characteristics may drive their personality. Glidden participated in an Israeli “Birthright” Program which provides funding for young Jewish people to visit Israel and take part in guided tours of different historical sites and cultural touchstones. Glidden’s work here is sort of a cousin to elements of work like Craig Thompson’s travelogue Carnet de Voyage, or Joe Sacco’s more investigatory and documentarian style output. Glidden’s art looks at first like pretty typical small press stylings, with simple figures and representational background detail, but the addition of color adds a richness and complexity of emotion that complements the intricacies of the somewhat convoluted history of the region. To most westerners, the Holy Land (and the Middle East) by extension is a riddle wrapped inside a mystery inside of an enigma. There’s little focus in schools and decidedly biased presentation in the media. How to Understand Israel depicts Glidden’s own attempt to sort it all out, and while she might not come away with a concrete understanding, resolved political position, or ultimate set of beliefs, her journey allows us to tag along and benefit from some of her firsthand insight. The book is the rare piece of comic book work that doesn’t feel like disposable pop culture; it not only engages and entertains, but educates in the process, straddling the line between entertainment and artistic cultural artifact. Grade A.
Strange Tales: Volume Two #2 (Marvel): It’s immediately obvious that the second issue isn’t going to function with the same level of gravitas that Rafael Grampa (Wolverine) or Frank Santoro (Silver Surfer) achieved in issue one. Those strips functioned at a more cerebral level vs. the light-hearted approaches that pervade this issue, which I suppose, is an indication that they aspire to be more pure entertainment than art. Nick Bertozzi’s Watcher strips are usually terrific framing devices that put you in the right mindset for the overall project, but here it felt just a little flat and unfunny. Grade C. Old-School Rules! written and drawn by Gilbert Hernandez is a fun Iron Man and Toro team-up that visually captures a retro-revival 1970’s Tony Stark, but the story peters out toward the end. Grade B. Love & The Space Phantom from Jaime Hernandez focuses on the 1960’s beach party adorning the cover, with Wanda, Sue, Janet, and Kitty in attendance. It looks luscious, but relies on a moderately funny Alicia Masters blind gag to finish. Grade B. Jeffrey Brown’s Uncanny X-Men was holistically probably my favorite piece in the issue. He paints a compelling picture of the Scott/Jean/Logan triangle with visually impressive renditions of the trio that seem to incorporate some Josh Cotter into the pencils. I especially like his renditions of Jean and Colossus and could pretty much read an entire X-Men series in this style any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Thematically, he delivers a unique take on the neurotic personality quirks of the characters and boils some of their elements down to a core essence. Grade A. The Ghost Badge piece from Sheldon Vella appeared slightly out of context, looking less like an indie party at The House of Ideas, and more like a stray Heavy Metal strip. I did like the pencils, with a discernible Nathan Fox influence, and a stray line or two caught my ear (“no political panty dropping”), but couldn’t really make heads or tails out of the story or its role. Grade C. Paul Maybury’s Spider-Man was beautiful! I remember his work vaguely from Image Comics’ Aqua Leung (which I think was b&w?), but his work looks so much better in color. The blustering and blocky J. Jonah Jameson is a nice visual counterpoint to his lithe dynamic Spidey. I was really grooving on this story until odd abrupt appearances by Cable and Luke Cage intervened, but there’s no denying the grandeur of the art. Grade A-. I expected great things from Paul Hornschemeier’s Colossus strip, but felt slightly disappointed. The story revolves around Piotr fighting some Arcade-style doppelganger, but ultimately doesn’t really go anywhere and feels unresolved. It doesn’t help that the strong pencils have limited backgrounds and Illyana Rasputin’s name is spelled as “Ilyana.” Tough break. Grade B. Tony Millionaire depicts Thor as some sort of carnival barker in a Billy Hazelnuts style world and the result is pretty fun. Between Thor’s exaggerated speech pattern (“underneathenmoorst”) and characters like Can-Man and Mud-O, this was one of the better pieces. Grade B+. Wolverine & Power Pack from David Heatley was a bit of a snoozer for me. It seemed to take an easy path, attempting cheap laughs at the expense of the silly Power Packers, which is kinda’ predictable and pedestrian, along with cliché Wolverine lines, rather than embracing the indie outsider status and really trying to turn the property on its head. If I was going to go for an off-type portrayal of Power Pack, heck, I’d try to make them all serious and avoid the simplistic humor. Just sayin’. Grade C. Farel Dalrymple’s Silver Surfer/Spidey affair was absolutely gorgeous. I’ve been a fan of Dalrymple since The Pop Gun War, but his pencils here seem even more rich with fine detail than his work on that title or even Jonathan Lethem’s Omega: The Unknown. The luscious color only adds to the drama and internal teen angst of his Peter Parker. Surfer is portrayed crisply as a lone outsider somewhat detached from humanity. I reveled in that big shot of Manhattan and the severely different personalities of the two heroes, despite one crazy typo (“pressence”) lurking about. Grade A. Jon Vermilyea’s M.O.D.O.K. piece employed a great aesthetic texture for the Avengers characters, but relied on straightforward booger humor. Grade B. Ivan Brunetti also contributes an end piece, finding various Marvel heroes working out. Not much “there” there. Overall, this is actually a very middling effort, with only three strips standing out for me (that’s Jeffrey Brown, Paul Maybury, and Farel Dalrymple – ok, arguably four with Tony Millionaire), achieving a very straight Grade B.
DV8: Gods & Monsters #8 (DC/Wildstorm): It’s a sad little realization that this might be the last Wildstorm book I ever purchase. From the top, damn, that is a mighty attractive Fiona Staples cover. I think I actually like her rendition of The Carrier better than Frank Quitely’s. It’s also probably not lost on anyone that there is a member of the team conspicuously missing from that lineup. Rebekah Issacs' pencils also deliver phenomenally, pouring out so much raw gut-wrenching emotion in Jocelyn or Gem’s eyes. It’s fills me with so much enthusiasm to see Brian Wood firing on all cylinders here. He’s telling an engaging story with cool characters, but also delivering some crisp and direct messaging about the toys he’s been tinkering with. It’s down to even the small details, like the title of the issue, “Up in the Sky,” which is a nice play on a familiar Superman line. It all functions as I’ve detected from the start, as a piece of commentary about heroes in a modern, more realistic age. Wood roots this final issue squarely in the Wildstorm Universe, tossing in nods to Wildcats, The Authority, and even a surprise appearance by Jackson King of Stormwatch, which shit, I haven’t seen since that Chris Sprouse penciled crossover issue where they all fought some Aliens. Wood takes aim at the flawed superhero paradigm and hammers away relentlessly from all sides. Their powers leave the group “more screwed up than ever.” Gem says “I’m not even sure what this costume is supposed to mean anymore.” She doesn’t say suit, or disguise, or even uniform. She says “costume,” like they’ve all been masquerading around unsustainably as something they’re inherently not. I keep making these comparisons to Watchmen and it hit me here how similar that two key deaths are thematically. The death in this issue isn’t the type of empty hollow death that is so common in modern superhero fare. It’s actually more like Rorschach’s death in Watchmen. It’s the death of the one character who actually tried to do the right thing when all others failed to, and the reward is unfair elimination from an implausible construct – the superhero world. In the typical superhero comic, it’s all a game where, as Wood puts it, “blind idealism” is common. In the atypical superhero world that Wood constructs out of DV8, there is a more realistic affectation. In this more realistic environment that mirrors our own, where “morality and ethics are permanently gray,” you get these types of real world consequences. Death with high probability, significance, and permanence. Jackson King’s open-ended monologue could have, would have, should have… paved the way for more brilliant stories utilizing these characters and this universe, which we’ll now likely never see. So let’s all lament the additional potential that existed, but be thankful for the storytelling gift we did receive. We got to witness the most realistic application of superhero theory that readers are likely to find in the medium. Grade A+.
I think it’s actually going to be a small-ish week in terms of what will make it home, yet there’s a whole lot I feel like commenting on. Obviously, I’ll be picking up the last installment of Brian Wood’s identity laden deconstruction of the superhero paradigm, in DV8: Gods & Monsters #8 (DC/Wildstorm). It feels like it’s going to be one of those “all will be revealed!” type issues. Strange Tales: Volume 2 #2 (Marvel) has an extremely tough act to follow, as I remember Rafael Grampa’s Wolverine story and Frank Santoro’s Silver Surfer from the first issue. I have high hopes for the second issue, but it’s still got to pass the casual flip test at the LCS. I’ll definitely be picking up Sarah Glidden’s How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less (DC/Vertigo), since I was reading and hyping single issues from Sparkplug Comics as early as 2008. Though I’ll be purchasing it online thanks to some Amazon store credit (for ~$66 with free shipping no less), I still have to make you aware of the Absolute All Star Superman HC (DC). Though it’ll set you back $100, it’s well worth it as one of the definitive takes on the character and certainly my favorite of the contenders out there.
“…at the end of it all, it’s no wonder that James Sime and crew tagged one of Hodapp’s works as the best of the year.”