January comics

From tfaw:

Monthly comics:

Angel: Illyria: Haunted #2 (IDW)

Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner have a good idea for a story started. Given how few episodes Illyria appeared in, I imagine that she is a good character to write. Getting the voice right remains hard.

Birds of Prey #8 (DC)

“The Death of Oracle” story continues and the title seems to have found some stability in the art. Gail Simone writes strong stories about the human/meta-human divide and this looks to be one of those, at least in part.

B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: Gods #1 (Dark Horse)

The new story starts fast with a cast of unfamiliar characters, but ends with an awesomely rendered final page. Guy Davis also designs a great-looking, though enigmatic, cover.

Casanova: Gula #1 (Marvel Icon)

Another new story starts. Lots going on, people intersecting from different timelines, and Casanova missing in one of them. Full of the kind of action and geekry I have come to expect from this title.

Generation Hope #3 (Marvel)

I am wondering where this title goes after all of the new mutants have been found and pacified by Hope. I suppose this issue is an indication, with them coming together as a team somehow, but that Kieron Gillen’s next story arc should be even more of an indication of this.

Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #1 (Dark Horse)

Scott Hampton’s style is slicker than I am used to seeing on this title, but Mike Mignola’s story seems like creepy fun. Short mini.

I, Zombie #9 (DC/Vertigo)

Gwen and Horatio finally have a date, while the vampires scheme, Ellie gets jealous, and maybe rash, and Scott deals with his life. This is turning into quite the ensemble title.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #5 (Marvel)

Settles into kind of a conventional action thriller mode, unless you count all of the zipping around in time and space. This title is so strange, that I wonder that Marvel allows Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver make it at all, especially since they are radically shaping the history of one of the Marvel Universe’s key institutions. And, yet, here it is.

Spider-Girl #2 (Marvel)

Quick, dramatic, and maybe not so positive turn in the story. I am guessing it will take a few issues to work through the implication sof what happens to Anya here. Less encouraging is the splitting of the art.

Spike #4 (IDW)

The point of this issue is pretty well revealed at the end. Drusilla remains a work in progress. I think that Nicola Zanni’s Dru can grown on me, but there is a lot of variation in how she looks here, with face and body not quite settled yet.

Uncanny X-Men #531 (Marvel)

I will say this about this title right now: as per my prior comments, I do not like Greg Land’s style. But it does work for Lobe’s alternate X-Men. The panel where they gather to go be heroes is well drawn, and the plastic-y, beautiful look works well for these wannabes. It still remains a problem for many in the main cast; I even think he manages to make Emma boring, despite the fact that she is a character who can also wear his style well.

X-23 #4 (Marvel)

So, Laura gets her own story after all. Maybe Marjorie Liu is finally getting some ownership now that “Wolverine Goes to Hell” is behind her. One thing I have noticed about this title is that covers are often oddly inappropriate. This month, we see X-23 in X-Force mode, but most of the time she is drawn as some kind of sexy fashion plate. None of these looks has had much to do with the stories.

TPBs:

Batman: Joker’s Asylum Volume 2 (DC)

Ordered this to scree for A, who loves Harley Quinn and likes the Batverse. On the whole, a reminder of how depraved Gotham is, but I also found Mike Raicht’s (writer), David Yardin’s & Cliff Richards’ (art) and Jose Villarrubia (colors) Killer Croc story to be strangely affecting, especially the by the time the next to last panel shows.

Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men Volume 3 (Marvel)

Forthcoming.

X-Men Forever 2 Volume 1: Back in Action (Marvel)

Fun-ish sideshow with Rogue and Spider-Man, and the reemergence of the Morlocks. Mystique. High soap opera. Pretty much what you expect from this series.

Digital comics (from comiXology):

Suburban Glamour #1-4 (Image)

Probably the best thing I read this month. Beautiful, pop-y art from Jamie McKelvie and a story that nicely intertwines classic genre elements and fantasy with contemporary suburban ennui. Maybe moves too quick and crams too much in, and points towards sequels a little too broadly, especially if they never happen. What I like most about McKelvie’s art is how real it looks despite the simplicity. Renders well on my iPhone, except for the letters pages, which are next to impossible to read that way.

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Favorite comics of 2010

I’ve already covered this ground at PopMatters, and will again at some point later this month, but as I suggest in my December column, those selections are more about the themes I address in “Worlds in Panels” than about what I really enjoyed this year.

And that’s what I turn to here. As with my TV selections, these reflect my own idiosyncracies, which is to say, I read what I like, or think I’ll like, and don’t read what doesn’t interest me.

My list is divided into long form works and/or series I’m reading in trade, and books that I read monthly or as uncollected serials. I narrowed my favorites to five for each format, but also have generous additions of ‘honorable mention’ and ‘special mention’ titles.

Long form/trade collections (in no particular order).

Duncan the Wonder Dog Show One by Adam Hines (AdHouse). It is beyond the scope of this blog post to unpack the imagery of this visually complicated, mixed media book, but what has resonated strongly with me on initial reading is Hines’s brilliant effort at imagining what animals would say if they could speak like humans. Most importantly, he differentiates between animals, giving birds different voices than monkeys, companion animals different voices than wild, etc., while clearly individuating between the animals as well. What is at issue in these differentiated voices is not so much how different species, and individuals speak, but how they think, and what they might value. Most affecting for me are the voices of the companion animals, especially the dogs. In Hines’s world, humans and dogs remain fully co-evolved, and co-dependent. The only difference is that we can have actual conversations, and not just imaginary ones. The story of Bundle struck so many chords with me that it made me cry for lost friends, and wonder more deeply about the thoughts and emotions of those still living with us.

The Saga of Rex by Michel Gagne (Image). My initial thoughts on this book can be found here, but as I continue to think about it, one of the additional points of interest is how effectively Gagne uses pages as panels. Maybe this makes Rex veer on the edge of ‘picture book’, but it is also appropriate to convey the scale of the story that the hero finds himself in. Saga indeed.

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld (Pantheon). I made this selection largely for the reasons given in the PopMatters column linked above, but also want to mention that I would not have thought that this book would be on this list after I first read it. But the fact remains that I think about the book a lot. Neufeld’s compositions and colors come to mind, often unbidden, leading me to recall the humanity of his art and his narrative. Maybe there’s nothing here that hasn’t been done by people like Joe Sacco already, but it is still done very well.

Batgirl volume 1: Batgirl Rising, written by Bryan Q. Miller, with pencils by Tim Levins, Trevor Scott & Lee Garbett, inks by Trevor Scott, Dan Davis, Aaron Sowd, Sandra Hope & Oliver Nome, colors by Guy Major, and letters by John J. Hill (DC).

Fun, fast-paced with an essentially likeable protagonist, this series offers much of what I read superhero comics for. I don’t have any baggage when it comes to Stephanie Brown vs. Cass Cain, and that undoubtedly helped me to approach this series with an open mind, and while I am not deeply invested in the Batverse, I do read Birds of Prey and followed the final (?) Manhunter story set in Gotham. This book makes good use of Oracle and helps to place the new Batgirl in context. I am looking forward to the next collection.

Fallen Angel Omnibus Volume 0, written by Peter David with art by David Lopez (IDW).

I have been interested in this series, and took this new collection as a perfect entry point. I loved every page. Liandra is a fantastically complicated lead character, and one whose femininity and sexuality are used mostly for good narrative purposes and not treated as liabilities or for spectacle. Even pregnancy, normally a way to place limits on a female character in this kind of context, is used in a constructive way, furthering both the story and the development of Liandra’s character in meaningful ways. I don’t know much about where the series heads after this, but if the Reborn mini featuring Illyria is any indication, I am hopeful that it remained worthwhile.

Honorable and special mentions:

In my most recent column for PopMatters, I cite DMZ Volume 8: Hearts and Minds (Vertigo) and Phonogram Volume 2: The Singles Club (DC) as among the “best” of 2010 and I want to mention them again here for more or less the same reasons as I give in the other piece. I also mention Scott Pilgrim Volume 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour (Oni Press) in the column, but want to elaborate on that choice here.

What stands out for me about that series is how Bryan Lee O’Malley skillfully uses Scott’s circle of friends to make the guy seem worth rooting for. On his own, Scott is a pretty self-involved jerk, but the fact that all these other cool people want the best for him, want him to grow up, persuaded me to want that for him, too. I like the fact that the finale makes this part of the narrative clear, in that Scott needs to find a way to reward everyone’s trust in him, and also that it becomes a story about both Scott and Ramona getting over their pasts and trying to move forward together. Whether they stay together or not seems beside the point, another strength of the book. I do think that the final story could have been edited more judiciously for sharpness and length, and while Gideon’s ‘ghost in the machine’ trick provides a reason for why Scott and Ramona made the choices they made during the run of the narrative, it is also, at the end of the day, still a ghost in the machine.

I am also citing Marvel’s Strange Tales collection, and for more on that, read this. In addition, Kieron Gillen’s X-Men: S.W.O.R.D. – No Time to Breath (Marvel) collection was right there with Batgirl for the best superhero trade I read this year. Abigail Brand is a great character that, sadly, is now adrift given the cancellation of the series. Neil Gaiman’s Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (DC) story is a nicely turned work of meta-fiction, and Andy Kubert’s and Scott Williams’s art is appropriately classic for a reflection on what Batman means. Marvel has been releasing Brian Michael Bendis’s and Alex Maleev’s Daredevil run in big Ultimate Collections, and I mention Book 1 here mostly for Bendis’s early collaboration with David Mack, which is a smart and beautiful meditation and deconstruction of comics and superheroes.

Finally, I have two special mentions of books from 2007 that I read for the first time this year: Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (Mariner Books) and Adam Warren’s Empowered Volume 1 (Dark Horse), both of which have legions of fans and critical commentaries already available elsewhere, so I won’t go on about them here.

Monthly comics & uncollected serials (in no particular order).

Hellboy (Dark Horse). The mainline of the series, written by Mike Mignola with art by Duncan Fegredo and colors by Dave Stewart, continued the story began in “The Wild Hunt” with “The Storm”. This arc shows the series at its best, adapting folk tales and old mythologies to original characters and purposes, and featuring beautifully drawn figures and landscapes. Stewart’s color palette gives the art an other worldly, mythic feel, especially with how both vibrant and muted the choices are.

Aside from the major stories, in 2010 the title also featured two fabulous one-shots, “Hellboy in Mexico”, a collaboration with Richard Corben, and the crossover with Jill Thompson’s and Evan Dworkin’s Beasts of Burden, “Sacrifice”, both of which are funny, poignant, and beautifully rendered, and I read both more than once the first week I picked them up.

One thing I appreciate about Hellboy is how accessible I imagine it to be. I can pass the one-shots onto A knowing that she will understand the stories, and I suspect that you could pick up collections of the main arcs, read them, and enjoy the narratives without having the advantage of having read the rest of the series. The way that Mignola builds from established myths and legends is what makes this possible, I think.

B.P.R.D./B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth (Dark Horse).

While this selection maybe predictable given the one above, even though Hellboy and B.P.R.D. come from the same root, they are very different books. Where I think that Hellboy is accessible, B.P.R.D. is far more comic book-y in the depth of its original storytelling, and rewards close reading more than casual. While the change in title this year to B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth was initially puzzling, I also think that it highlights another difference between it and Hellboy: B.P.R.D. has always been more of the mundane world, while Hellboy seems to live in more of a mythic space. The title change signals an even tighter embedding of the B.P.R.D. with ‘real life’ (and, likewise, Dave Stewart’s colors are different in this title, more immediate feeling than in Hellboy, and Guy Davis draws the team on a much more human scale than is Hellboy).

What B.P.R.D. does share with Hellboy is an open narrative architecture, and this year that was shown in the Abe Sapien mini, “The Abyssal Plain”, another fascinating Cold War-era story from this universe.

Hotwire: Deep Cut (Radical Comics).

There’s one more issue to go in this mini-series, but as I mention here, this second outing for Warren Ellis’s and Steve Pugh’s Alice Hotwire, detective exorcist, has been fantastic, featuring sharp dialogue, quick action, and pointed cultural commentary about science and the state. The painted art style that Radical specializes in is not my favorite, but Pugh manages to make his figures appear more fluid or at least less stiff than is often the case with this form of the art. That and Alice looks so very much like the English chippy that some in the book mistake her for.

Fringe: Tales from the Fringe (Wildstorm).

I have the last issue in this mini-series waiting to be read, but I enjoyed the stories leading up to the final installment probably more than I should. As I write in my upcoming “Worlds in Panels”, these Fringe comics are exemplars of how licensed comics can be good, and mostly what makes these work is their commitment to telling stories that I imagine only fans of the show can really appreciate.

DEMO – VOLUME II (Vertigo).

The second outing in Brian Wood’s and Becky Cloonan’s series continues to stretch the idea of having ‘powers’ into the realm of everyday life, exploring both the idea of exceptional abilities in the context of ‘normal’ problems and dilemmas, #5, “Stranded”, for example, and also thinking about smaller scale quirks, #3, “Volume One Love Story”, for example, as ‘powers’. Cloonan and Wood work well together to tell their stories as much in images as words. Beautiful, thoughtful work.

Honorable and special mentions:

For reasons I spell out in the aforementioned and forthcoming column, I want to mention Gabriel Ba’s and Fabio Moon’s Daytripper (Vertigo), an excellent example of comics as a medium for short stories, but also one where I am still puzzling over the conclusion.

Michael Allred’s and Chris Roberson’s I, Zombie gets mention because it’s the best comic I share reading with A, and for the fun and stylish art. I’m citing the re-release of Matt Fraction’s and Gabriel Ba’s first Casanova (Marvel Icon) series for its frenetic style and self-conscious comic bookness that never tips over into preciousness. The first five issues of Black Widow (Marvel), written by Marjorie Liu and featuring art by Daniel Acuna, is stylish and densely plotted, and both of those creators are sorely missed now. G. Willow Wilson’s and M.K. Perker’s Air (Vertigo) ended this year, and will be missed for its sense of imagination and for Blythe’s unique character. I’m not sure I understand everything in Jonathan Hickman’s and Dustin Weaver’s S.H.I.E.LD. (Marvel) series, but every issue so far as featured gorgeous art and bizarre, inventive twists on history and historical figures. Greg Rucka’s and Matthew Southworth’s Stumptown (Oni Press) took a long time to get through four issues, but the storytelling was strong enough to withstand the waits, and I loved seeing Southworth’s Portland. As I discuss here, the Girl Comics (Marvel) anthology series has much to recommend it, even as it raises questions about what room the major publishers make for women and girls in their sandboxes.

Finally, Marvel produced a pair of one-shots that I was happy to have pulled, Sean McKeever’s and Emma Rios’s Firestar story, and Marjorie Liu’s collaboration with Filipe Andrade, Nuno Alves, and Jay Leisten on an X-23 story that delved deeper into the character, and in more imaginative ways, than has the start of the ongoing series led by Laura. More on Firestar at PopMatters later this month.

All of the graphic novels and trade paperbacks I read in 2010.

All of the monthly comics I read in 2010.

November comics

I’ve decided to start these posts after I get my single issues read each month, which still puts me about a week late, but this way I will have some actual content when I provide the lists.

From tfaw in November:

Monthly comics:

Action Comics #894 (DC).

I am not a regular reader of this title, and I almost did not order this issue, but once it registered that Paul Cornell was the writer, I thought it would be worth checking out. For most of the story, Cornell makes it seem like Lex Luthor has been dropped into The Sandman universe, and I found that part of the narrative to be compelling. The final few pages, where it reads more like Death being brought into the mainstream DCU, I found less compelling because I only vaguely understand what Luthor is talking about. I am also left feeling unsure about the resolution in terms of Death paying a visit to someone who isn’t dead, or even near death. That seems like a big liberty to be taking with the character.

Pete Woods’s and Brad Anderson’s version of death is also mixed for me. In close-up the art is often quite lovely, but when drawn from wider angles, her body goes through some weird changes in shape and proportion. I do think that the wide belt is a nice touch for updating the character, but without changing anything fundamental about her look.

The backup with Jimmy Olsen … all I can say about that is aliens who get drunk on oxygen seem entirely like something Nick Spencer would write. The retro futuristic look and feel of the art by RB Silva et al is fun, too, but I did not understand much of the context for this story.

Angel #38 and #39 (IDW)

Elena Casagrande appears to be the leading house artist, and that’s a good thing. Other than that, some wrapping up and a new start. Really just playing out the string with this book.

Angel: Illyria: Haunted #1 (IDW)

Scott Tipton and Mariah Huehner use the first issue of this mini to review Illyria’s biography and set up the story. Most importantly, they get her voice right, which isn’t easy. Few writers in these Angelverse comics have been able to get her cadence, and off kilter thinking, just right, but I think this issue is pretty close. More Elena Casagrande pencils, and I appreciate her ability, and inker Walter Trono’s ability, to render the characters in ways that look like the live action referents, but still making figures that look like comic art, and not bad photographs or something.

Atomic Robo: Deadly Art of Science #1 (Red 5)

All I will say this month is, “Atomic Robo, yaye!”, and that I am looking forward to the book getting back to a longer story arc.

Avengers Academy #6 (Marvel)

Again, I get this for A, but enjoy reading, too. That being said, weakest issue of the series so far for me. Probably because he is the ‘nice guy’ on the team, Reptil does not come across as the most interesting character.

Birds of Prey #6 (DC)

Also a weak outing. I was looking forward to a Huntress-centered issue, but Helena’s voice seems off (“Drippypants”, really?). While the art seems more setlled than it has in other post-Ed Benes issues, I am not liking the blow up doll lips on everyone, and some of the posing is overly softcore. On the other hand, Gail Simone’s reintroduction of Shiva, which I think most readers knew was coming at some point, is spot on.

Black Widow #7 (Marvel)

Most of what’s wrong with this title right now is summed up by the bottom panel in page 3. I also don’t understand why the basic plotline of the the first arc is being recycled here. Is the whole series going to be about Natasha being framed? I don’t doubt this is a problem for her, but still, there has to be more. The uncredited cover is pretty cool, though.

B.P.R.D. – Hell on Earth: New World #4 (Dark Horse)

I feel the need to hold off on writing too much about this issue, as it is the penultimate in the kick off for the reconstituted B.P.R.D. title, but the way the Wendigo reappeared in full view of Abe is worth noting and very interesting.

Bruce Wayne: The Road Home: Oracle (one-shot) (DC)

Ironically, of the two single issue ‘event comics’ I got in this shipment, the one that was easiest for me to follow is the one in the ongoing series. As much as I realize that ‘one-shot’ only promises to resolve a particular story, something in the way these were marketed, led me to think it would be easy enough to read despite not really following the main Bat books. I was wrong. In any event, I took chance because Oracle + Marc Andreyko seemed promising, not because I am interested in the Bruce Wayne storyline. My mistake.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #38 (Last Gleaming Part Three)

Angel embraces the Twilight thing and starts punching people. Yeah, I know what happens next.

Fringe: Tales from the Fringe #5 (Wildstorm)

This issue might put the telling good stories about minor characters device a little too far, but still recommend the series to fans of the show.

Generation Hope #1 (Marvel)

Start of a new series, new mutants. Interesting enough kick off, and a nice prelude in the back.

Ghost Projekt #5 (Oni Press)

I started this subscription because I have become very interested in how the Cold War is being reassessed in pop culture, but I’m not sure that there is much unique or especially deep here, although I do appreciate that Joe Harris and Steve Rolston make the reader work to understand how the story ends. Probably need to go back through all five issues together for a real evaulation.

Hellboy/Beasts of Burden (one-shot) (Dark Horse)

Lovely. Sad. Maybe the best book I read this month. I only wish I knew more about the Beasts of Burden. Waiting for trade to come out for that series.

Hot Wire: Deep Cut #2 (Radical Comics)

This comic is the only reason I hesitated on whether the above is the best thing I read this month or not. Cracklingly fun. Full of smarts and action. I don’t know what the actual working relationship between Steve Pugh and Warren Ellis is on this title, but it has some of Ellis’s signatures, especially a fascination with science and the culture of scientists. Love it.

I, Zombie #7 (DC/Vertigo)

A new story arc starts. Lots of characters with their own threads. Starting to feel like more of an ensemble book right now. A and I continue to enjoy together. Thanks, Chris Roberson and Michael Allred for creating book I can read with my twelve year-old, even on Vertigo.

Mystery Society #4 (IDW)

I am beginning to feel as if the narrative is starting to spin its wheels without going anywhere. The Poe skull seems like a throwaway right now, but we’ll see. Would still buy just for Fiona Staples’s art.

Scarlet #3 (Marvel Icon)

The issue I am having with this series right now is the kind of corruption that Bendis and Maleev are exploring here does not seem to fit the setting. Portland has problems with police use of force, and racial tensions, but the drug money, dirty cops kind of corruption that Scarlet is fighting back against, not so much. This is weird because Bendis otherwise seems to get his adopted city pretty well in other respects.

Spider-Girl #1 (Marvel)

Very strong debut for this series. I am not entirely what the significance of Red Hulk is supposed to be at the end, but up to that point, I thought that Paul Tobin paced the story well and introduced the character in an effective way through a variety of settings and relationships. Clayton Henry draws Anya as a sensible and athletic teen girl. A nice change from some of the other art this month.

Spike #3 (IDW)

Still more fun and sharper than Angel right now. Still setting itself up, fwtw.

Uncanny X-Men #529 (Marvel)

Moving along the Emma, Shaw, Kitty story, pushing Hope forward. If I were more ambitious, I would go back to the previous issues and see if inks and colors were done by new people because Whilce Portacio’s pencils seem somewhat less irritating, better differentiation between characters, Emma less hag-y.

X-23 #3 (Marvel)

Well, I am entirely confused about the direction this title is going in. Write now the narratives are changing on a dime. This does not seem like Marjorie Liu’s fault, but is rather a result of editorial decisions requiring the book to service crossover stories. Making me wish she (and Daniel Acuna) were still on Black Widow.

TPBs:

CBGB (BOOM!)

Fun, works very hard to get the spirit of the subject right. Even though it took the most oblique approach to the club, on first reading, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s and Chuck BB’s quiet story stood out for me, but I also think the opening stories by Kieron Gillen and Marc Ellerby and Sam Humphries and Rob G set the tone of the collection well. I am thinking of devoting a future “Worlds in Panels” to this book.

Daredevil Bendis & Maleev Ultimate Collection Book 3 (Marvel)

The middle book of these giant collections took a more conventional turn, but here Bendis and Maleev are back to deconstructing their subject, attempting to explore what it would mean for someone to be superpowered and to take the law in their own hands, how different people might react to those individuals. The fact that Bendis is willing to be so open about this, the Hell’s Kitchen support group, to work into the narrative makes this even better reading. The opening arc that mixes art styles is lovely work by Maleev and Dave Stewart. I even found myself compelled by the “Ultimate” backups.

Duncan the Wonder Dog Vol. 1 (AdHouse)

See my Favorite Comics of 2010 for my thoughts on this title.

Kill Shakespeare Vol. 1 (IDW)

This book did not take off for me until Hamlet falls in with Falstaff and Juliette. I am glad that writers Conor McCreery, Athony McCall and penciler/inker Andy Belanger made Juliette as a counterpoint to Lady McBeth. While the latter is certainly made in the spirit of the original text, she also is a familiar female villain (dark, red, sexy, evil). Juliette, in the position of rebel leader, is not only less familiar, but has been given a very interesting story arc post-Romeo.

Koko Be Good (First Second)

Jen Wang writes and draws an engaging story about two very different people who nonetheless build a friendship. Koko is especially well rendered in a dynamic way, almost liquid, in how she moves and changes facial expressions. Jon, appropriately, is more grounded and staid. The open expressiveness of her characters is another admirable quality of the book.

Red Mass for Mars Vol. 1 (Image)

Yeah – still need to think about this one.

Saga of Rex (Image)

Wow. So delightful. I only have three of the Flight books, so this collection of Michel Gagne’s creation is wonderful to have. Gagne’s universe is beautiful and complex, but what really makes the story work is the expressiveness of his characters, vitally important to a book with no dialogue, and only ocassional narration.

X-Men: Nation X (Marvel)

I got this to fill in some of the gaps in my reading of X-Men: Legacy and Uncanny X-Men, but the real pleasure in the collection is the collected Nation X issues written and drawn by a variety of independent creators, Mike Allred, Becky Cloonan, and Marvel regulars who tend to work the margins of the publisher’s universe, like Christopher Yost. What makes these stories so refreshing is how free they are, free to explore characters without having to worry so much about servicing the larger narrative and selling issues of the adjacent X-title. I will also say that I find Greg Land’s style to be offputting. In all of the Uncanny X-Men issues featuring his pencils, the characters look like airbrushed models and actors. Who really wants that, especially when dealing with this cast of characters?

October comics

Posting this a little late, but here is my October shipment from tfaw:

Monthlies:

Angel #37 (IDW)

I think all anyone needs to know about the current state of this title is that the writing credits are all over the place – three people (four counting the Eddie Hope backup) – with parsing between “plotting” and “writing”. At least the art is fairly settled, fwtw.

Avengers Academy #5 (Marvel)

As always, I read this more carefully than I mean to. This month, Christos Gage offers a typically Marvel take on superheroism and celebrity, with the added background that the kids at the Academy are not, natively, the most upstanding citizens. Add at least one nice visual gag, and you have a pretty good read.

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth – New World #3 (Dark Horse)

The crossover with Hellboy is coming! I’ll just stipulate now that there will be very few months when B.P.R.D. and/or Hellboy comes in my shipment and they won’t be the best comics I get.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #37 (Last Gleaming Part Two) (Dark Horse)

The end game for this series progresses. Very much a moving things forward issue. Little new here, but I do think that Joss Whedon’s active involvement in writing continues to bring clarity to the “season”.

Casanova #3 and #4 (Marvel Icon)

These are dense reads, and a close second to the Hellboy titles for best things I get in my box. In these issues, the meta, which I like, seems a little less arch than in the previous two, or, at least, looser (check out the asides and the “I love comics” panel in #4). I love the curves and fluidity in Ba’s artwork.

I, Zombie #6 (DC/Vertigo)

A not altogether successful diversion about Scott. Still, a title that A and I are reading together. Fun.

Lady Mechanika #0 (Aspen)

Intriguing teaser, pretty much what I hoped for, though I wish Aspen were less soft core-y. Mechanika herself is nothing you won’t find elsewhere, but the ads for the other titles … do people really need comics for this kind of material these days?

S.H.I.E.L.D. #4 (Marvel)

More weirdness involving scientists and prophets. Trying to ponder what it means that Newton is the heavy, or how this deep backstory is going to be connected to the S.H.I.E.L.D. that readers already know.

Spike #1 (IDW)

Decidedly better than Angel this month. Of course, Brian Lynch and Franco Urru have these characters down. I like the idea of moving Spike to Las Vegas. The loss of this series might be the one thing the move to Dark Horse might not improve for this side of the Buffyverse.

Uncanny X-Force #1 (Marvel)

Sets up the first arc of the series. Jerome Opena’s art has a strong sense of movement and an appropriately cool color palette. Decidedly better than some of the more photoreal work in X-Force. I also like Dean White’s Gotham-y cover. I started this subscription because of Rick Remender, and whether that pans out, remains to be seen.

X-23 #2 (Marvel)

Well, this is a disappointment. I thought the first issue set up an interesting story, but that turns out to just be a pretext for plunking Laura into a Wolverine crossover event. Blah.

TPBs:

Black Widow: Deadly Origin (Marvel)

Paul Cornell walks that fine line between critiquing sexism, and male desire and fantasy, and participating in it with this series. What tips it on the side of critique is Natalia/Natasha’s refusal to accept how others, especially Ivan, see her. Tom Raney, Scott Hanna, and Matt Milla’s artwork does not help here, counterposing interesting looking and beautiful flashback sequences with a more polished, and soft core look for the present. Unlike on the covers, though, they do keep Natalia zipped up, for the most part.

Dr. Horrible And Other Horrible Stories (Dark Horse)

This book is pretty much what you would hope for: a fun, witty elaboration on the characters and storyworld for the web serial. This success is no doubt due in no small measure to having a single writer, Zack Whedon, who is also a co-creator of the original show. The artwork is supplied by a variety of interesting people, including Joelle Jones and Farel Dalrymple. My favorite story, artistically, is Penny’s, which features excellent, emotionally resonant work from Jim Rugg, but narratively, the Evil League of Evil chapter made me laugh the most. Despite its charms, I doubt a casual reader would get much from this book.

Her-oes (Marvel)

Like many of the books I get for A, I ended up enjoying this one myself, but I am left unsatisfied by an ending that promises more, more that I doubt very much we will ever see.

Hopeless Savages: Greatest Hits 2000-2010 (Oni Press)

I have wanted to dip into this series, and this collection was a perfect way to do that. I prefer the shorter, slice of life stories in the back of the book, to the higher concept adventures that make up the main chapters, but the Hopeless-Savages grew on me as I made my way through the book. I love the idea of the kids as comics geeks, and think that the creators did well to focus on Zero and Arsenal, each of whom, I think, are more unqiue characters than the other members of the family, although I enjoyed the storylines with Twitch, too. I was happy to see the overt tribute to Love & Rockets, an obvious inspiration for the book.

Perhapanauts Vol. 0 (Image)

I pick up these books every time I get to a Powells and when this “0” volume showed up in iCos, I decided to jump in. Reading this book, my attraction to stories about teams of misfits started to come into focus. That may, in fact, be driving my return to reading comics on a regular basis. Might need a whole blog post on that subject.

Secret Six: Danse Macabre (DC)

Many’s the time I’ve picked up a trade collection and said to myself, “I like this series, but what would make it awesome is if it had undead characters randomly showing up, prancing around and babbling incessantly about things like ‘fear’ and ‘death’ and who they want to kill. Because that’s, you know, soooo scary”. And now with this book, my wish has been fulfilled! Perhaps I have been ruined forĀ  all other comics.

In actuality, Gail Simone and John Ostrander make a fair game of adapting “Blackest Night” (I assume) to Secret Six, but even there the, “didn’t I/he/she kill you?”-type jokes only go so far. In the end, I just don’t care, and don’t buy books like this to find out how they fit into the latest ‘universe shaking’ crossover. I wish that DC and Marvel could, every now and again, leave well enough alone and let readers like me hold onto the weird and marginal titles we like, instead of pulling them into storylines devised to make people buy books they don’t normally pay attention to.

Wonder Woman: Contagion (DC)

Gail Simone gives a sweet and heartfelt farewell to Wonder Woman in this collection. The stories themselves are a mix of big fights, and while I prefer the previous collections, which were more tightly drawn together, I appreciate that Simone remained committed to Diana as an epic figure throughout her run on the title. That’s when the character is at her best, I think.

X-Men Forever Vol. 5 (Marvel)

Like a lot of comics readers in my same age group, Chris Claremont pretty much defined the X-Men for me, which is no doubt a major reason why X-Men Forever exists; many of us have disposable income, and pop culture isn’t something you ‘grow out of’ anymore. I like the loopiness of this series, this volume most of that is focused on Kitty, and Claremont certainly knows how to write the soap opera and how to treat the X-Men as one big, complicated family without getting ironic or maudlin. I read this right after having watched X-Men: The Last Stand, and, of the two, the comic comes out much, much better. I also appreciate the series for being in its own little bubble. Indeed, sometimes I wish I had started pulling it monthly.

See last month’s comics.

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End of September comics

From tfaw this month:

Monthlies:

Avengers Academy #4 (Marvel)

This is A’s subscription. My plan is always to skim, but I end up reading them more intently than that. That probably says something good about Christos Gage’s writing in particular.

B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth – New World #2 (Dark Horse)

Two major storylines this issue. In one, at B.P.R.D. headquarters, Kate is cracking under the bureaucratic responsibilities imposed by the UN, while Panya is causing mischief, raising questions about her agendas and what she’s contributing to the work of the Bureau.

Meanwhile, in the woods of British Columbia Abe finds Benjamin Daimio hiding out, ashamed of how he left the B.P.R.D. The Wendigo is seen lurking in the forest. Daimio fills Abe in on news of a deep lake in the area where something terrible rests. The issue ends with Abe diving in.

The two major storylines are bridged by a series of panels featuring two unknown men living with an unidentified “she” who shouldn’t be disturbed. The transition from B.P.R.D. hq to the BC woods is handled through a TV talk show where commentators argue over what the horrible events of the last few months mean. We see Johann watching the show, and then are taken to the set, and then to the house in the woods where one of the unidentified men is watching the debate.

As always, reading B.P.R.D. has rewards on multiple levels.

Batman: Streets of Gotham #16 (DC)

I canceled this subscription a few months ao when the Manhunter backups stopped running. So, this is just a burn off.

Birds of Prey #5 (DC)

This issue highlights what I’m enjoying about the new BoP and what worries about the series. First, I appreciate how Gail Simone is able to keep things moving in interesting ways. Even though this issue is mostly about the aftermath of last month’s big fight, and set up for the issue to follow, a lot happens in-between mop up and the shift to Bangkok. The fact that it mostly involves Lady Blackhawk and Huntress, thereby bringing them back into the main action, is even better.

And on that, I also am enjoying seeing Helena with her edge back. After Black Canary left the group the first time, Helena got turned into the field leader/den mother than Dinah used to be, and, in the process, became a softer character. For me, though, she is at her most interesting when you aren’t quite sure what she’ll do. Here I believed that she would kill The Penguin given the chance, despite the fact that I know that is probably forbidden by the Powers that Be at DC.

On the other hand, I am concerned that this reset is beginning with everyone in grim peril, and, now, the team fraying at the seams. I think that Simone loves these characters too much to sell them out for cheap dramatics, so I trust that there will be a settling down at some point, but when you start with so much dire, it’s hard to know where things might go next.

That concern is minor next to my wish for more from the art. I was glad enough to see that Ed Benes is able to moderate his impulse to fetishize certain parts of the Birds’ bodies, but I can still think of a number of artists I’d rather have on the title. I understand from reading Gail Simone on Twitter that Benes had to quit working for health reasons. I would not wish that kind of illness on anyone, but I do hope that his absence creates an opportunity for someone else. Nicola Scott or Georges Jeanty come immediately to mind, or, even though she hasn’t worked with DC before, I would love to see Emma Rios on this book. Right now, predictably, I guess, the art-side is a mess.

Black Widow #6 (Marvel)

A new creative team takes over and gets off to a ho hum start. I appreciate Duane Swierczynski’s effort to write a story that, at the outset at least, is easy to get into without a lot of background, but beginning with the same premise as Marjorie Liu used to launch the series, Natalia/Natasha being framed for crimes she did not commit, is not confidence inspiring.

The art is also missing the uniqueness and flare of Daniel Acuna’s work. Manuel Garcia, in particular, draws all of the women in a disappointingly conventional way (flowing hair, big breasts, long legs).

Still, it is just a start.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #36 (Last Gleaming, part I) (Dark Horse)

Here Joss Whedon scripts and it shows in the mix of wit and drama, including a few nice visual jokes. I also found the issue to be helpful in recapping the Twilight reveal and its implications. In addition to starting the end of Season Eight, the issue reads as if it might be setting up Angel and Spike’s return to Dark Horse (see the Spike: The Devil You Know below).

Daytripper #10 (DC/Vertigo)

Final issue, and the gentlest of the series. Moon & Ba use a device here that I am not fond of, the dispensing of parental wisdom, but in a series about writers and the writing life, I grant them some latitude.

I am also still working through what I think about this last installment ending in a markedly different way than the previous issues – until the end, in fact, I had been wondering if this series really needed to be read in a strictly linear way – but I also think that this book should end up high on the “titles to recommend to adults who want to get into comics” list. Not only is the story entirely against the grain of what Americans assume comics are for, but the art is at a high standard. Ba & Moon clearly love people, and the details of daily life. Both of these are beautifully reflected here.

Fringe: Tales from the Fringe #4 (Wildstorm)

I am enjoying this second Fringe mini. I think that using comics to tell small side stories about characters from a TV show are a good use of these kinds of licensed comics.

Of course, the fact that the stories wouldn’t really carry a television episode sometimes shows. This issue the main story about Nina Sharp lacks a certain amount of imagination (let’s see; we have an older woman in a position of power, childless, no partner, what shall we write about?), but the art is lovely. Subtly styled, Julius Gopez also draws charmingly credible versions of the younger Nina and William Bell. Carrie Strachan’s colors are bright, and I especially like how Nina’s red hair ‘pops’.

The secondary story is also cliched, but Fiona Staples’ typically expressive artwork elevates the narrative beyond its limitations.

Hellboy: The Storm #3 (Dark Horse)

By the end of this mini, it is revealed that ‘the storm’ is the summoning, again, of Ogdru Jahad, a revelation that probably explains why Hellboy begins to feel as if doing what everyone wants him to do, lead an army of the dead against Nimue’s host, is exactly what he should not do. As it turns out, Nimue is, herself, simply a tool in the bringing of the Ogdru Jahad (isn’t that always the way).

Before setting out to face the witch queen, Hellboy appears to express his love for Alice and an intention to return to America and to the B.P.R.D. (following up on last issue’s hint at a crossover). On the road, he sees Gruagach/Grom strung up on a tree, begging for death and expressing regret for where his thirst for revenge has led the world. Hellboy tries to accomodate him, but to no avail. Gruagach seems destined to suffer for all time, which is sad even for a creature so epically small-minded.

More of interest happens in this comic than in a whole year’s worth of other titles.

I, Zombie #5 (DC/Vertigo)

Gwen confronts a moral dilemma and possibly an uncomfortable truth about herself in this issue. Chris Roberson and Michael Allred do an excellent job showing Gwen’s distress as much as telling it to readers. Most keenly for me, A continues to look forward to this book and I continue to feel ok about letting her read it.

Murderland #2 (Image)

After two issues, I am still trying to make up my mind about this book. I had it pulled because the previews promised something that inspired by Homicide and The Wire, and issue two certainly exhibits more of that promise than number one. However, I’m still not sure what’s going on. Narrative strands are being drawn out but not brought together yet. I was thankful for the short ‘FlipSide’ backup for its clearer and sharper story.

Still, David Hahn’s art is eye catching, with a good assist from Jose Villarubia on “Jiggity-Jig, part one” and Guillem Mari on the main story.

Mystery Society #3 (IDW)

This book continues to be fun. Not a lot new happens in this issue, but our heroes continue to outwit their pursuers, at least until the cliffhanger ending. And it would be hard not to at least enjoy looking at Fiona Staples art.

Scarlet #2 (Marvel Icon)

This book seems designed to polarize people and to provoke questions about the medium. What does it mean when a comic book character breaks the fourth wall? Is that even the right language? At what point does it make sense to look at Alex Maleev’s art in terms of photography rather than comics? How does doing that change how you understand his work?

I thought that having Scarlet address the reader was an effective way to set up the story and introduce the character. In issue two it becomes … ponderous. She seems to be rehearsing her justifications for doing what she does. Maybe there’s something to that in terms of character – the ex-cop bartender does the same thing after all – but does it make for a good comic? Not sure.

One quality I like about Maleev’s approach to the art is that the city of Portland becomes a real and compelling part of the story, but whether that works for readers who don’t already know the city, I couldn’t say.

There are certainly people doing what Maleev does here, but badly and on the cheap. I don’t think he should bear the burden of what other artists do. I doubt that a hack would have the vision to move from the dominant photorealism of this book to the panels of pure abstraction at the bottom of the next to last page of this issue like Maleev does.

Spike: The Devil You Know #3 & #4 (IDW)

And so concludes this somewhat undistinguished mini-series, at least as compared to Brian Lynch’s & Franco Urru’s previous series, Spike: Asylum and Spike: Shadow Puppets.

On the whole, I think that Buffy Season Eight is a stronger series than the Angel monthly, and unlike the majority of the earlier books featuring Spike, this mini is of a piece with Angel. What I do appreciate about IDW’s Angel series is the willingness to introduce and experiment with new characters, but I am not quite understanding what readers are supposed to be finding so interesting about Eddie Hope, who co-stars here and in backups to Angel.

I suspect that The Devil You Know was meant to be set up for the forthcoming Spike monthly, and we would have found out more about Eddie and Tansy (no other reason to keep her alive at the end of all of this). But that’s all pretty well water under the bridge now.

Stumptown #4 (Oni Press)

And so the first story arc comes to a close. Finally. The issue is worth it for Matthew Southworth’s soul bearing letter to readers if nothing else, but the fact that I felt like I knew what was going on despite the time between number three and number four (and number two and number three) suggests something about the quality of the story. It would be easy to write Dex off as one of Greg Rucka’s well-rehearsed “tough women”, but I think there is something unique in her just getting by, knock-about quality; male P.I.s get to be this underdog-y as a matter of routine, female detective, not so much. Rucka gives this classic persona to Dex without masculinizing her or turning the book into one about her getting beaten down all the time. In the end, she’s smarter and more resourceful than the people she has to contend with, and that’s cool. Looking forward to more, even if it takes awhile.

Uncanny X-Men #528 (Marvel)

A tightly structured, keep things moving issue. Just fine, and I’m glad that we are well-past Matt Fraction needing to service some big cross-over with the title, but am unsure about Whilce Portacio’s pencils. He has some serious problems with Emma Frost, especially. She’s far too pinched looking, and, while you have to make certain allowances for her dress, she comes across as vulgar more than strongly sexy here.

X-23 #1 (Marvel)

I think this is a good start for the series. I am interested in the idea of helping X-23/Laura learn about helping people by putting her in a situation where she can’t rely on her mutant abilities, and also by the theme of the responsible adults in her life needing to, well, act responsibly. I also like seeing some variation in body-type between the characters, especially the women. Some are more voluptuous, while others are lean and wiry. A good beginning for Liu and Conrad.

Other purchases:
Digital comics:

  • X-23: Innocence Lost #1 (Marvel)
  • X-23: Innocence Lost #2 (Marvel)
  • X-23 Innocence Lost #3 (Marvel)
  • X-23 Innocence Lost #4 (Marvel)
  • X-23 Innocence Lost #5 (Marvel)
  • X-23 Innocence Lost #6 (Marvel)

TPBs:

Captain America Reborn (Marvel)

Looking back through the comics that survived my youth, there’s a fair number of Captain Americas, but I haven’t really been that interested in reconnecting with the character as an adult. Whatever resonated with me as an adolescent is gone. Still, I know that Ed Brubaker’s run on the title is one of the better regarded works by a writer at Marvel and so I’ve been selectively checking those out, and this is the second collection I’ve read, after Winter Soldier.

What I like most about Brubaker’s writing is that he approaches the material completely straight, no irony, no meta-commentary on the superhero. There’s room for that stance, too, of course, but I never like seeing a form taken over by one way of doing things. So, here, even when you have a giant Red Skull rampaging on the National Mall, there are witty bon mots from the heroes, but nothing that takes you out of the moments. This manages to capture some of the pure fun of reading comics as a kid.

Daredevil Bendis & Maleev Ultimate Collection Book 2 (Marvel)

I am glad that Marvel is putting out these collections. Brian Bendis’ run on Daredevil fell into the period when I wasn’t actively reading comics (and the title was never a favorite). For me, the best part of this run is the opening collaboration with David Mack, but consistently entertaining, while also posing interesting questions about superheroism.

Supergirl: Death and The Family (DC)

One of the frustrations with this title, in trade at least, is that it sometimes seems as it deals with characters other than, well, Supergirl. This is one of those collections. It certainly seems as if this collection could just as easily be titled Superwoman, as Lucy Lane gets much more interesting treatment than does Kara.

I also found myself discomfited by the chapters penciled by Jamal Igle. In much the same way as other artists need to devise tricks to keep the skirt from flying up in revealing ways, Igle appears to be looking for ways to feature the compression shorts. Perhaps he is pushing the point about the character design – there’s just no way to make this work – but the showcasing of the shorts can also be read as just a new fetish.

I did find the Helen Slater and Jake Black and Cliff Chiang collaboration that closes the book to be fun, and, most importantly, about Supergirl.

Tiny Titans vol. 4: The First Rule of Pet Club (DC)

Good natured fun as always. I especially loved the bats, and the Stretchy Guys.

Left over in the to-read ‘box’:

TPBs:

A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge (Pantheon)

Affecting, if not groundbreaking, work of comics reportage. Neufeld has an eye for detail that serves him well in developing the individual stories he chooses for the book. He draws each of his characters in a way that gives them distinct personalities, and all grow on you over time, even if if there is some imbalance in the time devoted to different subjects.

Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love (DC/Vertigo)

For some reason, I had really high expectations for this book. Maybe it’s because Chris Roberson also writes the fine I, Zombie, or because of Chrissie Zullo’s delightful covers, but I was pretty ready for this to be cool.

And it approaches it – the backstory with the Fairy Godmother is a good example of how the The Fables conceit works well – but also falls short. The shoe store story with Crispin Cordwainer felt like filler, and I was waiting for more to come from Cindy’s flashbacks. I’d love to see a series about her and Bigby. And, in the end, being left wanting more would seem to me good things about a book.

Ex Machina vol. 1: The First Hundred Days (Wildstorm)

A God Somewhere (Wildstorm)

This is a curious title. For starters, John Arcudi and Peter Snejbjerg do some interesting things with the superhero genre. Rarely do you get to see a book like this where there is truly only one superpowered, superheroic figure. Arcudi seems interested in exploring what that might be like. What makes the story even more interesting is the focus on the superperson’s best friend, and how he is affected in ways both positive and negative by the acquisition of powers. The fact that Sam is a flawed and not entirely likeable guy adds another important layer to the story. Similarly, the fact that Eric, and brother Hugh, are kind of ‘heroic’ before Eric gets his powers, which actually twist him into something else, also adds a significant layer of meaning to the story.

And yet, the story is too compressed. I think that Hugh suffers the most from this in terms of his development as a character. There is also very little time for Eric to lose his mind. I would have liked to see more about religion and more of a time period where Eric uses his powers in a ‘good’ way, while slowly going crazy from the alienation and sense of superiority to others. And, really, Sam could use more time for readers to see his underlying talents.

Upon finishing I wasn’t sure how much I liked the book, but it definitely improves upon reflection. I just wish that it had been longer or been written as a mini-series.

Heartbreakers: Bust Out (Image)

Women of Marvel: Celebrating Seven Decades (Marvel)

X-Men: First Class – Tomorrow’s Brightest (Digest) (Marvel)

Light and fun. Glad I finally read it. Jeff Parker does an especially nice job of writing stories that are gentle and accessible without being squishy or boring. Also nice to see an contemporary X-Men title that is kind to new readers.

Digital comics:

Moon Girl #4, #5, #6, & #7 (comiXology)

I finished this series over breakfast this morning (Sat, 10/2), and then went back to the beginning to see if I could piece it all together. The historical back-and-forth is hard to track, but this is what I gather about the arc of the story.

The final issues flashback to Clare/Moon Girl’s history with Santana and to Clare’s personal history as some kind of European aristocracy. Santana trained Clare to be ‘the embodiment of the people’, a task that she was, and remains, skeptical about, but Clare’s parents were killed during a ‘Bolshevik’ revolution, and she emigrated to the U.S. hoping to start a new life as a ‘normal’ person. The first three issues show readers how that worked out for her.

This was the first comic I purchased that was meant for digital distribution and you could tell in how easy it is to ‘flow’ through the pages and panels on my iPhone. I also think that this is my favorite ‘painted’ comic; somehow in digital form, the images seem less stiff than this style usually is on the page. The bright colors and clear details also rendered well on the screen.

If you enjoy twentieth century political theory, and pulpy characters, Moon Girl is a good read.

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