This Week’s Haul

Once again, just in time for this week’s comics, it’s last week’s comics!

  • Booster Gold #28, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Secret Six #17, by Gail Simone, John Ostrander & Jim Calafiore (DC)
  • The Unwritten #9, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • The Marvels Project #5 of 8, by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • Absolution #6 of 6, by Christos Gage & Roberto Viacava (Avatar)
  • Age of Reptiles: The Journey #2 of 4, by Ricardo Delgado (Dark Horse)
  • Rex Mundi: Gate of God vol 6 TPB, by Arvid Nelson, Juan Ferreyra, Guy Davis & Brian Churilla (Dark Horse)
Absolution #6 Christos Gage’s Absolution wraps up this week, and it’s one of the better series I’ve read from Avatar. Avatar’s comics often seem geared towards fairly extreme violence (is this better or worse than the companies geared towards cheesecake and sex?), and mostly they’re not my cup of tea, but Absolution is “only” about as violent as a noir detective story. In a world where superheroes are part of law enforcement agencies, John Dusk is a lower-powered Green Lantern-like character who, after fighting one too many psychopaths and realizing they’re often getting off with light sentences, decides to start executing the worst of the criminals he encounters.

Gage doesn’t spend a lot of time working through Dusk’s mindset after making this decision, mainly because Dusk embraces it fully and actually feels better once he started offing the bad guys than he did before, so there’s not much internal conflict. The conflict is mainly external, as one criminal mastermind realizes what Dusk is doing and blackmails him into taking out some of the mastermind’s rivals. And of course Dusk can’t hide his actions from his policewoman girlfriend or his superhero comrades forever, and eventually they figure out what he’s doing, after his actions lead to a tragedy for one of his friends. The series closes this issue with the nationwide debate regarding whether he’s been doing right or doing wrong by playing executioner, the main argument for the ‘doing right’ side being that he scrupulously stuck to only killing the worst of the worst.

While not the most nuanced story, Absolution is pretty effective at presenting its issues in the form of the fairly likable Dusk, and contrasting him with some of the scum he faces off with. That it doesn’t come to any concrete conclusions is a point in its favor, as that’s howshort stories (which, frankly, is what a 6-issue comic series is) often work. This isn’t a series for fans of traditional superheroes, but it’s another interesting component of considering how superheroes might operate in the real world, so it’s worth checking out if that’s your cup of tea.

Rex Mundi vol 6: The Gate of God The final collection of Rex Mundi came out this week. It’s one of Greg Burgas’ favorites (so naturally made his best of 2009 list), but I never quite warmed to it, although it had many intriguing ingredients.

It takes place in an alternate history Europe where the Protestant Reformation failed, and where magic has been (quietly) a part of history. Set in France in 1933, Doctor Julien Sauniere finds that one of his friends has been murdered, and this sets him on a path to find the Holy Grail. Opposing him is the Duke of Lorraine, a powerful member of the aristocracy who is working to create a new Frankish empire under his dominion. The two men also have a woman between them, whom they each love: An old colleague of Sauniere’s who’s gone on to become Lorraine’s physician. Sauniere is also pursued by a member of the Catholic Church’s inquisition, but helped by a mysterious robed figure. So the story is a little bit murder mystery, but a big part conspiracy story, set against the backdrop of a burgeoning war, one which at first resembles World War I, but as Lorraine’s plans come to greater fruition comes more to resemble World War II, with France playing the role of Nazi Germany.

It’s difficult to put my finger on what it is about Rex Mundi that didn’t quite work for me. The story isn’t really character-driven, since the characters are all pretty thin. Lorraine is an outright villain, although his conquest is in many ways the most interesting piece of the story. However, it’s really just a backdrop, providing evidence for Lorraine being the villain, and indeed the war continues after the story’s end. I found it difficult to relate to the motivations of the lead character, Sauniere. Sure, he was initially motivated to find the killer of his friend, but I never quite bought that he’d keep getting in deeper and deeper rather than just return to his life (eventually of course he gets in so deep that the life he had no longer exists, but it takes a long time to get to that point). That he’s the hero opposing the villain Lorraine is almost incident, it’s not why Sauniere is involved. Sauniere has a few dimensions to him at the beginning (a doctor who treats Jews in violation of the law, and who seems to be an alcoholic), but his journey strips his distinguishing characteristics from him and he becomes a fairly generic hero figure.

Ultimately the story is plot-driven, partly by Sauniere’s quest and partly by the need to oppose Lorraine (the latter only really comes to the fore in the last third of the story). While writer Nelson had clearly planned the story arc from the beginning, it still felt like it contained too many digressions and diversions, manipulating the characters rather than building the story in a natural way. There are some memorable scenes, but the story as a whole is not very memorable.

The final volume feels more cohesive than the earlier ones, as it all builds to the final conflict between the good guys and the bad guys. Unfortunately although he climax is handled pretty well, there’s not nearly enough of a denouement: Sauniere’s story ends rather abruptly and disappointingly, and the last page provides an unsatisfying end to the story, leaving me with the feeling that there’s another 10 pages or so which somehow got chopped off by accident.

I’ll have to read the whole thing again to see if it holds up better, since there’s a lot of time for nuances to get lost between reading individual volumes. But Rex Mundi never wowed me enough to consider it one of the best comics of the decade. I appreciated it for being something different in the comics market, but that’s not enough to make it a great book. I’d put it about on a par with James A. Owen’s Starchild, but behind, say, Teri Wood’s Wandering Star or Mark Oakley’s Thieves & Kings (even though it looks like T&K might never be completed).

This Week’s Haul

And what an enormous haul it was:

  • Blackest Night #2 of 8, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis & Oclair Albert (DC)
  • Booster Gold #23, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Fables #87, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Fables: The Dark Ages vol 12 TPB, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Peter Gross, Andrew Pepoy, Michael Allred & David Hahn (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #39, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • JSA vs. Kobra #3 of 6, by Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • The Unwritten #4, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Wednesday Comics #6 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #132, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Reilly Brown & Nelson DeCastro (Marvel)
  • The Marvels Project #1 of 8, by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting (Marvel)
  • War of Kings #6 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • Echo #14, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Girl Genius: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones vol 8 HC, by Phil Foglio & Kaja Foglio (Airship)
  • Absolution #1, by Christos Gage & Roberto Viacava (Avatar)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1947 #2 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
  • Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #5 of 8, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #33, by Garth Ennis, John McCrea & Keith Burns (Dynamite)
The Unwritten #4 The first arc of The Unwritten wraps up this week. It’s a pretty interesting comic, a mix of outright horror and sophisticated mystery. Tom Taylor’s life has been turned upside down as he learns his writer father – who based his most famous creation upon Tom – had a lot of secrets, and now Tom’s been trying to track down the truth while avoiding both the law and some of the books’ nastier fans. The pacing is a bit slow, but I think Mike Carey’s building up to a much larger story so I’m willing to wait a while to see how it develops. Although this arc doesn’t really wrap anything up at the end, it actually ends on a cliffhanger which definitely piques my interest about what happens next.
Wednesday Comics #6 Wednesday Comics has some welcome developments this week. The most interesting is in Paul Pope’s Strange Adventures, in which Adam Strange returns to Earth, but rather than the young hero he is on Rann, he’s a much older man, an archaeologist, on Earth. This is an interesting twist on the character’s premise (though of course Adam Strange is somewhat based on John Carter of Mars), and I’m curious to see what Pope does with it.

Supergirl has an appearance by Aquaman, a much younger Aquaman who spends the whole page talking on his clam shell phone. Cute. Jimmy Palmiotti’s doing a much better job making a lighthearted strip with this one than Neil Gaiman is with Metamorpho, whose story is downright routine, and the little retro “extras” are rapidly getting tiresome.

The Marvels Project #1 Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s Captain America run has gotten a lot of acclaim, but I haven’t read any of it. However, I’ve enjoyed Brubaker’s pulpish work, and I’ve liked what I’ve seen by Epting in the past, so I’m going to give their new series, The Marvels Project, a whirl. It’s clearly rooted – at least in this first issue – in Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ terrific series Marvels from 15 or so years ago, covering the emergence of the original Human Torch in the 1940s, as well as the early escapades of the Sub-Mariner. Brubaker fills in some of the blanks of both characters ably, which gives me hope that it won’t just be a retread of that same ground. Though Epting certainly seems to be doing his level best to imitate Alex Ross’ style in that series.

The most interesting bit for me is the opening sequence, in which Dr. Thomas Holloway administers to a dying old man, Matt Hawk, who it turns out was the Two-Gun Kid in the late 19th century. But as long-time Marvel fans know, the Two-Gun Kid got a glimpse of the late 20th century when he spent several months hanging out with Hawkeye and the Avengers in some comics published in the late 70s, so he delivers some prophecy to Dr. Holloway, as well as his own pistols, and it looks like Holloway will use the guns to become a superhero on his own. (It seems that Thomas Holloway is the identity of the future golden age Angel, a character I’m not familiar with at all. But here he’s treated as a human observer, the point-of-view character for the story, and he works very well in that context.)

The first issue is promising, if rather derivative as I said. I don’t know whether The Marvels Project will take place during World War II, or will cover several different eras. Either one could work out. I also wonder what the “project” will be, or if the book’s title will be a misnomer. But Brubaker and Epting are both skilled enough that I’m sure it’ll be readable even if it doesn’t rise above my fears.

War of Kings #6 How not to conclude a big mini-series event: War of Kings #6. After half a year of Emperor Vulcan and sending his Shi’ar troops to fight with Black Bolt, the Inhumans, and their new Kree Empire, the series wraps up with Vulcan and Black Bolt going mano-a-mano on a giant bomb powered by BB’s energies. The two beat each other to a relative pulp before the thing goes off, after we learn that Vulcan can regenerate himself even from being mutilated by Bolt’s voice. The Shi’ar armada is devastated, and they sue for peace, meaning the Inhumans have won.

And then the series ends.


So, Vulcan will presumably be back since he can apparently live through anything, even though as a character he’s far, far past his sell-by date at this point. Black Bolt will presumably be back since, well, he’s a classic Marvel character (if something of a fringe one). The Kree and Shi’ar empires have been battered around yet again, and all things considered nothing has been resolved, really, at all. But a rift in space has been opened up which will play directly into the Guardians of the Galaxy series in coming months, or so it seems.

So, really, this big event is just kicking off some new plot threads without resolving any of the previous ones.

What a waste of time.

Y’know, I really liked Annihilation, which was primarily a Keith Giffen story, and I enjoyed Annihilation Conquest well enough. It was an Abnett/Lanning event, as was War of Kings, but there’s definitely diminishing returns here. War of Kings was not good, and I don’t think I’ll be signing up for any further DnA-driven event series featuring Marvel’s spaceketeers. I’m happy for them to keep writing Nova, but I think this milieu needs some new blood. Or, honestly, no more events for a few years.

Absolution #1 Avatar Press specializes in some especially nasty comics, and for the most part I don’t really like ’em. As I described a while back they publish a lot of stuff by Warren Ellis that doesn’t appeal to me at all, even though he’s written some excellent stuff for other companies. My general reservations about Avatar aside, I decided to give Christos Gage’s Absolution a try, as the premise was interesting, although I expected it would contain an awful lot of violence and gore. And I wasn’t disappointed on the latter point.

John Dusk is a superhero in a US where most heroes are cops, which means they have the full support of the law, but also that they have to behave like cops, with all the regulations that implies. But Dusk starts going over the edge, unable to deal with the fact that criminals get off, and live to commit more crimes. So he starts to kill people who he thinks need to be killed because they either won’t be convicted, or haven’t been before. But since he’s going around the bend, it doesn’t quite stop there, either. At least one critic has compared the character to Dexter.

Gage does a good job of making Dusk seem sympathetic, a professional with good intentions, but who’s simply been squeezed to hard and starts to exercise poor judgment. It’s hard to defend a ‘hero’ who acts this way, though, so I’ll be curious to see how long Dusk remains sympathetic, especially since hie girlfriend is also a cop and will presumably start hunting him down at some point. Roberto Viacava’s art is a little stiff, but still within the bounds of artists working for the third-tier publishers (where DC and Marvel are the first tier, and the major indies like Image and Dark Horse are the second). He’s good a good sense of composition and clean lines, which helps a lot.

Absolution could end up going either way, but the start is promising. I don’t have enough exposure to Gage’s writing to have a sense for which way he’ll take it.