February comics

From tfaw last month:

Single issues:

Quick takes (trying a different format here):

  • Age of X Alpha (Marvel). Prologue. I like the anthology format for this character-based beginning to the cross-over (which, yes, I am going to follow).
  • Angel #41 (IDW). Another change in the art team. Sigh.
  • Atomic Robo: Deadly Art of Science #3 (Red 5). Turning into a coming of age story for Robo. Interesting, and Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener capture the weirdness and awkwardness of the idea well.
  • Avengers Academy #8 (Marvel). I like how Christos Gage is bringing focus on the teachers as well as a the students. Adds narrative depth and texture. I do find the final page to be confusing as to who Tigra is wanting to kick out of the Academy, though.
  • Birds of Prey #9 (DC). Another month with a single group of artists. I like how Gail Simone allows Dinah to throw off her emotional paralysis by force of will. Consistent with how she writes that character.
  • B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: Gods #2 (Dark Horse). Rewinds to what led to the reveal at the end the first issue of this arc. And now I know that this is Guy Davis’s next to last B.P.R.D. More on that after this mini finishes.
  • Casanova: Gula #2 (Marvel Icon). Zephyr is looking to be the big bad, or primary protagonist. Family drama on a cosmic scale.
  • I, Zombie #10 (DC/Vertigo). Nice art of the UO campus.
  • Scarlet #4 (Marvel Icon). Unfolding as a big morality tale, and right now in kind of a holding pattern story-wise. Great cover by Alex Maleev.
  • Sir Edward Grey, Witchfinder: Lost & Gone Forever #1 (Dark Horse). Were-buffalo!
  • Spider-Girl #3 (Marvel). Setting up a mystery for Anya to work on. I like the conceit with Sue Richards. Not liking the way the art is unsettled.
  • Uncanny X-Men #532 (Marvel). Greg Land manages to make Emma Frost look like a third-rate Bond girl from the Roger Moore-era on the cover. Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen’s story remains interesting.
  • X-23 #5 (Marvel). Marjorie Liu does appear to be getting to tell a story about Laura, while also finding reasons for Gambit to be hanging around. Not crazy about Ms. Sinister strutting around in stripper-wear.
  • Wolverine and Jubilee #1 (Marvel). I did not follow the vampire story leading up to this mini, but I’ll give anything Kathryn Immonen writes a try. Good use of Jubilee here as someone caught between different desires and influences.

Longer takes:

  • Angel: Illyria: Haunted #3 (IDW). Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner regain hold of Illyria’s voice, and I continue to like how this series is exploring both the character and important pieces of the Angelverse left by the cancelation of the show. In this case, the mythology of the Deeper Well as well as of Illyria herself. Elena Casagrande (pencils & inks) and Ilaria Traversi (colors) are effective at rendering characters that walk the line between photo realism and more classic comic art. Best Angel book going right now.
  • Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #2 (Dark Horse). Not destined to be a classic Hellboy tale, I think, but the conclusion does not disappoint in terms of becoming more than the set up implies. If Scott Hampton were to do more art for the series, that would take some getting used to. His work is slick and clean in a way that the series usually is not. In particular, the figures often appear to be static, less fluid. This works well for the B.P.R.D. guys telling tales at the pub, but less well when the action is unfolding. Dave Stewart shows his versatility in working in a more literal mode than is normal for Hellboy.
  • Hotwire: Deep Cut #3 (Radical Comics). Steve Pugh and Warren Ellis bring the second mini to a satisfying close with lots of action and witty commentary from Alice, who ends up outsmarting everyone. This is exactly what you would expect, but how the story gets to that point follows a jagged path, not a straight line. Best line of the issue: “So everyone gets a medal, and I’m finally getting my own private army. First we take out the astrologists, then I’m coming for the homeo-paths”.
  • Uncanny X-Force #4 (Marvel). Rick Remender and Jerome Opena bring the first arc of the series to a taught, smart close. What makes this issue particularly intelligent is how it uses the characters, and their damaged psyches, to such good effect, legitimately creating doubt about whether the original mandate for the Force would be fulfilled or not. I also think that this series is a good argument for putting together consistent creative teams, at least for the run of individual arcs (and here that includes Esad Ribic and the awesome cover art). Not just the best X-book I read. One of the best series I am pulling right now period.
  • The New York Five #1 (DC/Vertigo). Ryan Kelly draws New York beautifully. Amazing detail, but still clearly drawn by someone, making his work distinctly different from Greg Land or Scott Hampton, while still being “realistic”. Scott Pilgrim-like reintroduction of the characters is clever, and one suspects deliberate on Brian Wood’s part, as his cast is in similar positions to that of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s series (a nod to Maddy from When Fangirls Attack and 3 Chicks Review Comics for highlighting this connection on the podcast).

Lastly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight concluded for me last month. Read more about that here.

TPBs:

Cowboy Ninja Viking Volume Two (Image).

This second volume was not the same “can’t put it down” fun of the first. The wry asides and visual play with the multiple personalities are still there, but the story gets bogged down in too much of Grear and Nix fighting over Duncan, which is boring and sadly unimaginative. Women do think of things other than men, dudes.

Hawkeye & Mockingbird: Ghosts (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

Iron Man Noir (Marvel).

Forthcoming.

Secret Six: Cats in the Cradle (DC).

It has been clear from the beginning that Gail Simone sees Cat Man as the moral center for the team, and this collection would seem to indicate that I am not particularly invested in that idea. Thomas Blake’s “crossing of the line” only hit me to the extent that the accompanying art by J. Calafiore and Jason Wright made my stomach turn. On the other hand, the Black Alice and Ragdoll dynamic is funny and touching. John Ostrander’s “most dangerous game” take is so slight, and so broadly drawn that I’m not sure what it adds to the Six’s story. However, the collection ends with Simone’s dark, weird, and engmatic western, which elevates this trade to pretty well worth it.

The Sixth Gun Volume 1 (Oni Press).

I can see why this series is popular. Cullen Bunn’s story starts out conventionally, holder of a mystical artifact dies and it passes to an unsuspecting “innocent” who now must face her new fate. As the volume progresses, and the characters are developed, everything becomes more complicated than how it started. Brian Hurtt populates the Frontier with a host of fearsome-looking supernatural characters, but who are nonetheless recognizaeable within the framework of the Western.

December comics

From tfaw:

Single issues:

Angel #40 (IDW)

Elena Casagrande is replaced by Jason Armstrong, who, with Brian Miller on colors, gives the book a Saturday morning cartoon makeover, which I kind of like? A radical change like this, however admirable in the abstract, in practice, takes some time to get used. I found myself constantly pausing to remind myself who the characters are, none more than Kate, who looks nothing like her previous selves (brown hair and pearls?).

The storytelling is fine, but David Tischman and Mariah Huehner are forcing the dialogue, especially trying to make Angel quick-witted and Gunn sound “street”.

Atomic Robo #2 (Red 5)

More period fun as Robo tries to lead a double life, doing science and fighting crime. An exceptionally cool set of pin-ups is included in this issue, too.

Avengers Academy #7 (Marvel)

Christos Gage turns his attention to the teachers, especially Hank Pym. Continues to be a strong book.

Batwoman #0 (DC)

Bruce Wayne stops by to surveil Kate Kane and Batwoman. I agree with the discussion on 3 Chicks Review Comics that it might have been better to include this as part of the “Road Home” comics rather than billing it as a Batwoman prelude. For readers who did not read the Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III Detective Comics run, this issue is probably useful as an orientation to Kate and Batwoman, but for anyone who had been looking forward to the start of the new ongoing series, it is probably a letdown, at least narratively, artistically, the back-and-forth between Williams and Amy Reeder works well.

Birds of Prey #7 (DC)

A new story arc begins with Oracle deciding she needs to fake her death because too many people know that she is Barbara Gordon (or vice versa, I guess). There’s one artistic team on this issue, Ardian Syaf (pencils), Vincente Cifuentes (inks), and Nei Ruffino (colors), which is good, and I am optimistic about what Gail Simone has started in this issue.

Black Widow #8 (Marvel)

Duane Swierczynski’s storytelling gains depth in this issue, mining the Cold War in more personal ways for Natasha/Natalia, and reintroducing Fatale as an ally. However, even if I were so inclined to go out buy Widowmaker, I’m not sure that this storyline is one I would choose to follow, or would feel that I could not afford to categorize as trade/wait. The art, from Manuel Garcia (pencils), Lorenzo Ruggiero (inks), and Jim Charlampidis (colors), is still pushing the soft core too much, but they avoid the worst excesses of the preceding issues.

B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: New World #5 (Dark Horse)

The first arc of the new series comes to a close and it comes around to Abe and Ben, and some further clues about what’s to come. A lot to look forward to from B.P.R.D. and Hellboy in 2011.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #40 (Dark Horse)

The penultimate issue, and Angel kills Giles (also the Master), Buffy destroys the Seed of the World and seems to go catatonic. A lot to address in the next chapter.

Fringe: Tales from the Fringe #6 (Wildstorm)

A second mini-series comes to an end with a story about alternate Olivia, which is a nice touch. I assume that DC will continue to put these books out post-Wildstorm. No, they aren’t the best that comics has to offer, but for fans of the show, they are effective uses of the medium as an adjunct to TV, and the artistic standards are pretty high, higher than some ongoing series I read.

Generation Hope #2 (Marvel)

Kieron Gillen keeps the action in Tokyo, and Rogue takes center stage. I like Salvador Espin’s style, and Jim Charlampidis brings the same earth-y tones he does to Black Widow, but why does Rogue have to be drawn so that she is practically falling out of her top?

Hellboy: Double Feature of Evil (Dark Horse)

Richard Corben and Mike Mignola collaborate on a couple of classic horror stories. Not the strongest of their work together on this title, but I’m not sure that there is an ongoing series that does one-shots like this better than Mignola and his partners. I think any fan of horror and gothic literature could read this issue and enjoy it, not just Hellboy regulars.

I, Zombie #8 (DC/Vertigo)

Chris Roberson and Michael Allred continue to broaden this title into an ensemble piece, but without losing Gwen as its core. Fun sequence with the revived vampire in a UO hoodie. Nice to see when Eugene emerges in the story, rather than just being in the background.

Lady Mechanika #1 (Aspen)

So Joe Benitez’s series gets underway proper, and the writing is not as strong here as in the #0 preview. The Victoriana is more forced, but Mechanika herself remains well drawn and conceived, with a clear voice of her own. As well as she is handled, I wish that Benitez could have resisted introducing the female Commander now chasing Mechanika with such an overtly sexualized pose.

Murderland #3 (Image)

David Hahn draws a bunch of cool looking people doing … I’m not really sure, but they are really intent on it. I cannot follow the story here, and am even more confused by looking at the inside cover and seeing that somehow there are two stories going in this issue. Not sure what Stephen Scott has in mind here except riffing on cultural references to Baltimore.

Mystery Society #5 (IDW)

So the first (only?) story comes to a close. This title settled down into a genial mode, fun, but not over the top. The cast is a little large to be contained by a short run like this. I would like to see more for Fiona Staples’s art if nothing else.

Spike: What happens in Vegas, Slays in Vegas #3 (IDW)

Brian Lynch brings Drusilla into the story, and we get some confirmation that Beck has romantic feelings for Spike. The use and introduction of Dru shows how well Lynch gets these characters. More ambivalent about the way that Nicola Zanni draws the characters. Dru is too voluptuous, head to toe, than she should be. Looking at Franco Urru’s cover makes me wish he was drawing the inside, too.

Uncanny X-Force #2 & #3 (Marvel)

I am liking this title very much. Rick Remender is writing a story that taps into X-Men history, but not one that requires a PhD in the subject to grasp. The cast of characters is suitably dark and damaged, and Jerome Opena draws everyone as long, lean, and athletic looking, a nice change from the usual steroidal and pneumatic art you find in so many Marvel books (the one exception is Wolverine, who is short and stocky as he should be). Dean White’s colors tend to the gray, which fits the cast and the story. Now, if they could only get permission to get Betsy out of that bathing suit.

Uncanny X-Men #530 (Marvel)

Greg Land is back on pencils and so everyone looks like a model or porn star. Emma may wear this well, but for others, it is ridiculous (does anyone really imagine Scott Summers as looking like he just walked off of a photo shoot for men’s cologne?) Mostly, I find the uniformity of the characters to be boring, or even depressing in the case of the X-Men. These are supposed to be outcasts. If every mutant looked as plastic-y beautiful as they do here, wouldn’t more people want to be mutants, instead of rejecting them? On the other hand, Matt Fraction has a tight story this month.

TPBs:

Orc Stain Volume 1 (Image)

I enjoyed James Stokoe’s Wonton Soup books, and considered pulling this series monthly, but decided to wait for the trade instead. I’m not sure how this would read issue-to-issue, the pace is kind of laconic, even as the book does not lack for action, but Stokoe likes slacker dood characters, and his stories tend to move like they do.

The attraction here, as with the earlier series, is the world building, and Stokoe’s imagination seems to run riot with wild ideas for universes made almost entirely from organic material, making everything seem like it could either be food or something that eats. The color work here makes already jam-packed panels seem busy, but I suspect I just need to take a second look without having to follow the narrative as closely.

Despite the self-conscious masculinity of the story and the characters, the one notable woman in the book, Bowie Enocraz Yaramund, the “Poison Thrower”, is self-possessed and powerful in her own right (she even offers direct and indirect comment on the “love nymphs” who make up the remaining women you see). This is perhaps just a good illustration of what happens when an author sets out to write about men being men in a conscious and critical way, instead of presumptively.

Two Step (Wildstorm)

Forthcoming.

TPBs from Powell’s (Burnside store):

Black Orchid (DC/Vertigo).

Glad I got this. Another good example of what Neil Gaiman does well: asking questions about what characters like this and the stories we tell with them mean. I like how Lex Luthor is used as an organized crime figure more than as a super genius here. Dave McKean’s use of color and collage-like art helps to create different tones for different parts of the narrative. That being said, I’m not entirely sure what the thing means on the whole. Will reward on subsequent readings I suspect.

Global Frequency: Detonation Radio Volume 2 (Wildstorm)

Fast moving action and violence. Warren Ellis uses this volume to show more of Miranda Zero, who I remember as more of a shadowy figure from the first volume. Might work better as a movie franchise or TV series than as a comics series, more time on process, and less on the bloody finishes. Cool covers by Brian Wood.

The New X-Men: New Worlds Volume 3 (Marvel).

I am glad that I started picking these up. Having Emma and Jean together is interesting. Grant Morrison also does good work with the political and cultural themes of difference and acceptance, focusing both on non-mutants on how mutants perceive themselves and their place in the world.

The Perhapanauts Volume 1 (Image)

Not as much pure fun as Volume 0, but still an enjoyable team of misfits book. Todd Dezago and Craig Rosseau work their genres with skill, but there is a predictability to how characters develop and how stories unfold, albeit in a comfortable way.

Nyx: Wannabe (Marvel)

I read the Marjorie Liu written mini before coming to the original and I have mixed feelings about this collection.

I like the art, especially Nelson and Chris Sotomayor’s colors; light pastels are an interesting and unexpected choice for a book working so hard to be gritty and urban. I also like seeing a sustained story about mutants outside the scope of the X-Men (something I liked about the follow-up, too). It makes sense that not all young mutants coming into their powers would have the necessary adult support to keep them safe or to find their way to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

On the other hand, Joe Quesada’s writing verges on exploitation fiction, especially in the Zebra Daddy character with his “street” slang, coke sniffing, sharp dressing, misogyny, and pimping. I think that Liu does a better job of getting into the lives of these young, virtually homeless mutants.

Wasteland Book 2: Shades of God & Wasteland Book 3: Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos (Oni Press)

It took me a few pages to get back into this series, to reorient myself to the characters and situations, but once I did, I had no doubts about immediately moving from Book 2 to Book 3. I like Christopher Mitten’s grey scale art, the sketchiness seems perfect for a story about a rebuilding world, and the flashback effect is subtle. Sometimes I find it difficult to distinguish between figures and faces, but by the end of both books, I could readily make out the principal characters. I think that Anthony Johnston does an excellent job of writing the narrative and dialogue that makes the world of Wasteland familiar and yet not at the same time.