This Week’s Haul

  • Green Lantern #60, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Keith Champagne (DC)
  • Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #5, by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin & Cam Smith (DC)
  • Time Masters: Vanishing Point #5 of 6, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • The Unwritten #20, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula #2 of 6, by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Captain America: Man Out of Time #2 of 5, by Mark Waid, Jorge Molina & Karl Kesel (Marvel)
  • Powers: The Definitive Hardcover Collection vol 4, by Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Avon Oeming (Marvel/Icon)
  • Mouse Guard: The Black Axe #1 of 6, by David Petersen (Archaia)
  • Next Men #1, by John Byrne (IDW)
  • Atomic Robo and the Deadly Art of Science #2 of 5, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
The latest hardcover collection of Powers is out, and it’s a big one, collecting the first eighteen issues of the second series. It’s actually a reasonable jumping-on point for the series, but, you know, why “jump on” with a $35 hardcover collection when you can either buy the first such volume, or just buy the currently-ongoing third series in single-issue form?

That aside, the second volume of the series is much more ambitious, and much darker, than the first. Writer Brian Michael Bendis doesn’t spell out such details, but clearly several years have passed since the first issue of the first series. The events of “The Sellouts” have led the United States to outlaw the use of powers, and require people who have them to register them. As you might expect, this means that supervillains go to town (because why should they care of their powers are outlawed), and law enforcement is badly outgunned since all the heroes have retired to comply with the law. The city of Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim is being divided up by three crime lords.

This volume is intense: Deena gets captured by one of the crime lords, leading to a huge and unwelcome change in her life. Walker discovers that a girl he’s taken under his wing since her parents were killed has powers – very surprising powers. Becoming her mentor, she leads other heroes to reconsider their decision to retire. And the case of a man killed by a flying man leads to a big change in Walker’s life. This volume of Powers is about secrets, people who keep them, people who learn about them, and what people do to keep them hidden or when they’re revealed. It remains true to its noir-detective roots, while expanding the cast and setting and raising the stakes.

The second series is basically one long story, and it’s really excellent. Thumbing through this made me go back and read the conclusion again. I recommend it highly, as taken as a whole it’s probably the best thing Bendis has ever written.

Oh yeah, and Michael Avon Oeming’s art is quite good, too. I admire how he takes the animation-style simplicity he works with and adapts it to a very sophisticated and not-at-all-for-kids story. The incongruity has long since passed, and now it’s just very good artwork in support of a very good story – and that’s a very good thing.

After a 4-issue fill-in series of short stories by other creators, David Petersen’s back with a new Mouse Guard series, The Black Axe. The title character was introduced in the second series as the nigh-legendary champion of mousekind. As this series starts 37 years before the previous series, I think we’re seeing the Black Axe of that series being born, or maybe a broader exploration of his legend. I’m not sure.

Sometimes I get a little frustrated with the pace of the series, as there seem to be so many tantalizing details of mouse culture and history, which only get parceled out a tiny bit at a time. But it’s still a fun series, and Petersen’s artwork is lovely, worth the price of admission by itself.

After a long, long wait, John Byrne has returned to his creator-owned project of the 1990s, Next Men. The first series ran for 31 issues (more or less), and IDW has collected the series in recent years in both black-and-white paperback volumes, and a set of three color hardcover volumes. (Strangely, the first volume is a smaller form factor then the other two; wonder what idiot at IDW came up with that bright idea? But anyway.)

This new series picks up after the rather abrupt end of the first one, and includes an 8-page recap of what’s gone before, so you can just jump on here, although I do recommend the earlier series, as it’s excellent. But to put it briefly: The Next Men are five people engineered by a secret government project to give them super powers. Following various adventures in the modern day – during which one of then left the group to join a religious clan – they’ve apparently been pulled back to prehistoric times, where one of them is having lucid dreams involving different twists on their previous exploits, and two of them have disappeared. And from the last page and the cover of next issue, it looks like this series is going to involve a heavy dose of time travel, into the past, which would be rather the flip side of the first issue which involved time travel from the future.

The first Next Men series took quite a while to develop, whereas Byrne seems to be trying to hook the reader with the cool stuff up front, and that’s probably a good idea. But I expect there will be plenty of twists and turns while Byrne pilots the story to its ultimate conclusion.

The first Next Men series also fell at a time when Byrne was experimenting with his art style quite a bit, and the art in the series changed and evolved in pretty substantial ways during its run (not all of it working for me; in particular some of his characters’ faces and expressions looks kind of weird in the middle of the run). But Byrne’s style has remained largely the same for the last decade or so, so I expect we’ll see more consistency this time around. While I’m among those who preferred his style in the 70s and early 80s to his newer style, he’s still a very good, very imaginative artist, and working at IDW seems to have reenergized him as a comics creator overall (as I’ve said before, his Star Trek work for them has been a lot of fun).

All-in-all, while I personally could have done without the big story recap in the middle, I understand why it’s there, and this first issue is very promising. I’m very much looking forward to more.

(By the way, the John Byrne forum has a FAQ about Next Men and the new series.)

This Week’s Haul

Wow, nearly every Marvel comic I buy came out this week:

  • Green Lantern #41, by Geoff Johns, Philip Tan, Eddy Barrows, Jonathan Glapion, Ruy José & Julio Ferreira (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #27, by Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • The Literals #2, by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Mark Buckingham & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Madame Xanadu #11, by Matt Wagner & Michael Wm. Kaluta (DC/Vertigo)
  • Avengers/Invaders #11 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Steve Sadowski & Patrick Berkenkotter (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #14, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Brad Walker & Victor Olazaba (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #129, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Ryan Stegman & Terry Pallot (Marvel)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist #26, by Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman & Tom Palmer (Marvel)
  • Nova #25, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Kevin Sharpe, Jeffrey Huet & Nelson Pereira (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #6 of 6, by David Petersen (Archaia)
  • Ignition City #3 of 5, by Warren Ellis & Giancula Pagliarani (Avatar)
Madame Xanadu #11 Madame Xanadu wrapped up its first storyline last month, chronicling how a woodland sorceress in the time of King Arthur gradually turned into the reserved, somewhat dour seeress of the modern day, bedeviled all along by the cryptic guidance of the Phantom Stranger (a long-standing DC character who must frustrate the heck out of everyone he tries to help although they rarely show it, so Xanadu’s honesty in that regard has been rather refreshing). That taken care of, regular artist Amy Reeder Hadley is taking a break while much-lauded cover artist Michael Wm. Kaluta fills in for a 5-issue story.

The series has been kind of so-so to date: A fairly consistent pattern of the Stranger trying to help, Xanadu getting frustrated, and things turning out badly, until the last two issues when she strikes back, and things still turn out badly. Now she’s hung up her shingle as a fortune-teller, and one of her first clients is a woman whose father was found immolated in his home, and she suspects foul play. Xanadu determines that it was likely a supernatural murder, and as she starts to look for the killer, she also reminisces about the days she lived in Spain, during the Inquisition, and had taken on a young woman as a lover.

The modern story (which I think takes place in the 1920s) is fairly interesting, but the flashback sequence is ho-hum, the sort of thing I’d hoped would have been put behind us after the first ten issues, which have really been one large flashback. Let’s stick to moving things forward! I guess Wagner is going for a Sandman-esque feeling of filling in the backstory as things go along, but without a strong set of stories in the present day, it just isn’t working; it feels like the series is still in its prologue, and nearly a year in it really should have gotten started moving wherever it’s going.

Kaluta is a fine artist, although he could use a stronger inker who works in heavier lines, as his light touch with the blacks tends to get washed out once the pages are colored. Oddly, the inking on the cover works better, but the composition is downright odd, with the character’s outsized head and hands compared to her body; not one of his better ones.

While I’d say this is a series that’s had trouble finding its groove, I suspect it’s actually working out exactly as writer Matt Wagner has planned. I’ve just found it slow and not very exciting.

Guardians of the Galaxy #14

Nova #25

The odd thing about Guardians of the Galaxy and Nova coming out the same week is that it’s so clear how much better Nova is than Guardians, even though they’re both set in Marvel’s space milieu and they’re both written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Both books have had rotating artists throughout their run, and Guardians has the clearly-better penciller this month in Brad Walker (whose sense of form and rendering appeals to my preferences), but it’s the writing that sets Nova apart.

Both series have had a problem in that they keep getting interrupted by silly crossover events that sometimes don’t make any sense for them to be involved with (Secret Invasion), and otherwise detract from the ongoing story in the title itself (War of Kings, the current event). Nova has done a very good job of weaving its ongoing story into these disruptions, while Guardians has gotten completely sidetracked by them each time. Since Guardians also has a large (and growing) cast of characters to manage, that means little about the book really gets the attention it deserves.

Not that there aren’t good bits about Guardians: Star-Lord’s sardonic outlook is consistently amusing, and seeing Warlock take on Emperor Vulcan and the Imperial Guard here is quite a treat, leading in to what looks like a huge slug-fest next month. But overall the book is flailing around a lot and not really going anywhere, which is disappointing. Editorial really needs to just leave it alone for a year or two to find its own path without all these interruptions.

Nova, on the other hand, has remained fairly focused in Richard Ryder’s relationship with the Nova-force and its sentient overseer, the Worldmind, who have been embedded in his head and body since before the series began. It all came to a head recently when the Worldmind went around the bend, formed a new Nova Corps, and ejected Richard from it. Richard acquired Quasar’s quantum bands and has his showndown with the Worldmind here, which is quite effective and comes to a satisfying resolution (although not a conclusion to the overall plot thread). Despite the new Corps dealing with the War of Kings event, Richard’s main story has remained largely divorced from it, which has made the series much more enjoyable than Guardians.

I look forward to the day that crossover events are no longer big sellers and we can just have good, ongoing stories which drives sales. Sadly, I doubt that day with come anytime soon, and consequently that means a lot of otherwise-promising comics are going to be less than they could be.

Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #6 With Archaia’s financial problems apparently behind them, Mouse Guard has finished up its second series in the last couple of months. Although it’s been a more textured tale than the first one was, I don’t think it’s been a better one. But admittedly the long delays and the fact that it no longer feels novel may have to do with that. Petersen’s artwork is still nifty – the coloring especially is fabulous – and this month we get to see the Guard’s mounts: rabbits! There’s a sense that there is an over-arching story connecting things, involving the Black Axe, the fabled champion of the mice, which has played a central role in the first two series, so I’m curious to see where that’s going to go, if it’s going to be an epic tale or just a series of loosely-connected ones.

I think the biggest flaw in the series is that Petersen the writer keeps too much emotional distance between the reader and the characters, though since the characters are mice with not-very-expressive faces, that’s a hard divide to bridge anyway. But there are some moments in this issue which could be quite poignant, but fall short because the mice seem so reserved and unexpressive.

But overall this is still quite a good series, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 31 October 2007.

  • Action Comics #858, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC)
  • Countdown to Final Crisis #26 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Keith Giffen & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • Countdown to Adventure #3 of 8, by Adam Beechen, Eddy Barrows & Julio Ferreira, and Justin Gray & Fabrizio Fiorentino (DC)
  • Countdown to Mystery #2 of 8, by Steve Gerber, Justiniano & Walden Wong, and Matthew Sturges & Steven Jorge Segovia (DC)
  • The Death of the New Gods #2 of 8, by Jim Starlin & Matt Banning (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #10, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Ruy José & Drew Geraci (DC)
  • Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #35, by Tony Bedard & Dennis Calero (DC)
  • Annihilation: Book Two TPB, by Keith Giffen & Renato Arlen, Javier Grillo-Marxuach & Gregory Titus, and Simon Furman & Jorge Lucas (Marvel)
  • Annihilation Conquest: Quasar #4 of 4, by Christos N. Gage, Mike Lilly & Bob Almond (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 by David Petersen (Archaia)
  • The Secret History Book Three: The Grail of Montségur by Jean-Pierre Pécau, Goran Sedzuka & Geto (Archaia)
  • The Secret History Book Four: The Keys of Saint Peter by Jean-Pierre Pécau & Leo Pilipovic (Archaia)
  • The Perhapanauts: First Blood TPB, by Todd Dezago & Craig Rousseau (Dark Horse)
Action Comics #858 Action Comics is continuing the latest weirdness at DC Comics: The “return” of the “original” Legion of Super-Heroes, as prefaced in the awful “Lightning Saga” in JLA and JSA earlier this year. This issue kicks of “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes”, in which Brainiac 5 sends an automated time bubble back to the 20th century to recruit superman to help with some disaster in 3008. He also fixes Superman’s memory so he remembers the Legion (without explaining why Superman remembered them perfectly clearly in the Lightning Saga), triggering a reminiscence of Supes being recruited into the Legion as a boy. He’s then catapulted forward where he finds that things are in bad shape indeed, and that the rest of the Legion had a really good reason to not want Superman brought into the fray.

I’m not a real big fan of either Geoff Johns or Gary Frank. In Johns’ case, I find his characterizations bland and his stories so even-keeled that one hardly notices when they pass their climactic moment. In Frank’s case, I think it’s mostly his association with the tedious and dull Supreme Power series over at Marvel, and that’s not really his fault. His designs and rendering are actually quite strong, although I wish his characters weren’t so… toothy. Reservations aside, this issue is a fine example of hooking your readers and drawing them in: Why did the Legion vanish from Superman’s life when he became an adult? Why did they contact him now? And how’s he going to get out of this one? The success or failure of this story will primarily rest on answering those questions.

All of this completely shoves aside he question of how this Legion reconciles with the other in-continuity Legions which have been around for the last 15 years, which have all be in-continuity, too. My bet is that most or all of them have been from the futures of parallel Earths, now that we have them back thanks to Infinite Crisis. Which is not a very satisfying answer, but DC’s continuity isn’t exactly about satisfaction these days.

Rachelle has some nice scans of this issue, although she also spoils the cliffhanger at the end, so view at your own risk.

Anyway, if this sounds at all interesting, I would in fact recommend it. The art is nice, Johns does a fine job of recapping who the Legion are and why they’re important without going into the nitty-gritty details that casual readers won’t care about, and like I said it ends on a compelling cliffhanger. Maybe this story will be Johns art his best>?

Countdown to Mystery #2 Three Countdown books this week. Countdown itself has been renamed Countdown to Final Crisis, and the story is mainly a recap of what’s going on. Since the answer is basically “nothing much” you can draw your own conclusions. (There’s some reason to believe that Final Crisis will reboot the DC Universe again. While Crisis on Infinite Earths rebooted things while DC was at its creative apex, a reboot now feels like editorial admitting that things are so screwed up that it’s not salvageable. Which ironically is exactly the opposite message delivered by Infinite Crisis. But nothing DC does these days can really surprise me – I’m that cynical about it.)

Countdown to Adventure is the best of the three, a little on the grim side to my tastes, but at least it’s exciting and the heroes (Adam Strange, Starfire and Animal Man) are likable. The backup story with Forerunner is vaguely interesting since she’s visiting a new parallel Earth, but the use of Dark Angel as the villain is a big snooze.

Countdown to Mystery is somewhere in-between. Steve Gerber’s Doctor Fate is not without interest, although it’s slow and feels like he’s trying to impose some structure onto Fate’s magic, which always seems like it’s just a bad idea when it comes to magic in fiction. So I’m on the fence about it, but it could turn out to be good. The backup story involving Eclipso, however, is just vile: Eclipso corrupts Plastic Man and then sets her sights on the Creeper. It’s borderline-unreadable. Yuck.

Justice Society of America #10 Geoff Johns is a busy guy – I may not be his biggest fan, but I sure can’t complain about his work ethic. After last issue’s prologue, this issue launches full-on into “Thy Kingdom Come”, in which the Kingdom Come Superman from Earth-22 is pulled into Earth-1. He resembles Power Girl’s late cousin, leaving her confused and disappointed, and Starman knows him, having been to Earth-22 for the events of Kingdom Come. This Superman is pretty messed up, having seen a lot of death and destruction on his world, much of it due directly or indirectly to him, and he feels responsible even for that which he wasn’t responsible for. This could play out any of several different ways, and I hope Johns surprises us rather than ending the story with a silly “Superman on a rampage” fight.

The real potential of this story is that it could make the JSA matter again. The JSA has felt for a long time like a team whose time is long since past, and the array of bland writers and artists who have been helming the book for the last ten years haven’t helped. Just because the team has multiple generations of heroes doesn’t mean it’s anything more than a generic superhero book. (Contrast with the 1970s revival of All-Star Comics, which is the finest example of multigenerational superheroes I’ve yet seen.) It would only take a little adventurousness to give this JSA series some depth and feeling, and the KC Superman could give it that.

Incidentally, I’ve given penciller Dale Eaglesham the short shrift when talking about this series: His simple linework is winning me over: His facial expressions are getting stronger with every issue, and unlike many artists he draws full backgrounds, making it feel like his characters are inhabiting a fully-realized world. This issue opens with a full-page panel with Power Girl, Cyclone and Ma Hunkel, and Cyclone’s expression is just perfect. It’s followed by a double-page spread with Superman and the original JSAers in their meeting room, and it’s equally powerful. Later on, there’s another nearly-full-page panel of Superman’s first public appearance, and while the focus is entirely on Superman, the backgrounds are fully-rendered and the composition is great. While Eaglesham’s style isn’t entirely to my taste, I definitely have to applaud him for putting so much effort and detail into his work, without compromising basic storytelling. Honestly it seems like there aren’t a lot of artists around today who can do all that.

Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #2 Archaia Studios Press has been bunching up their releases lately, with two issues of another series I don’t read coming out last week, and two issues of The Secret History this week. I suspect ASP is growing a little faster than it can keep up with, so some stuff is getting delayed due to lack of manpower or capital. That’s just my guess, though. I’m pretty forgiving of small presses and their delays, although I am an unusually committed comics reader. Surely a regular schedule would serve the company’s cash flow better, though.

I’m mostly enjoying The Secret History, although it delves too far into historical details I’m entirely unfamiliar with. The general storyline is okay (four powerful individuals influencing world events from prehistory through today) and the art is excellent (even with a different artist each issue), so I’m willing to follow it through its 7-issue run. I just wish it were more accessible.

David Petersen keeps a perfectly regular schedule with Mouse Guard, and the second issue of the new series came out right on time, so he’s bucked the trend there.. The series has been a surprise hit and has gotten lots of critical acclaim. I enjoy it myself, and can certainly recommend it as well-drawn entertainment, albeit maybe not for preteens since the violence does get a little rough sometimes.

The Perhapanauts vol 1: First Blood The Perhapanauts resembles Mike Mignola’s B.P.R.D. in that it’s a team of operatives who investigate paranormal phenomena and deal with them if necessary. This team is a little more out there than B.P.R.D., with Bigfoot and El Chupacabras as team members, along with a telepath, a ghost, and a mysterious guy whose background is kept secret. They can time travel and dimension hop with minimal difficulty, although they also face some pretty rough opposition as a result.

Nonetheless, the series feels a lot like Mignola’s work, which isn’t bad, but being “B.P.R.D. lite” isn’t a real strong recommendation. Moreover, this first volume ends on a cliffhanger, which is a pretty lousy way to treat new readers. Johanna Draper Carlson likes the series more than I do, I just thought it was pretty lightweight.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 29 August 2007.

  • Countdown #35 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Sean McKeever, Keith Giffen, Manuel Garcia & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Ex Machina Masquerade Special by Brian K. Vaughan & John Paul Leon (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Manhunter: Origins TPB vol 3, by Marc Andreyko, Javier Pina & Fernando Blanco (DC)
  • Hellboy: Darkness Calls # 5 of 6, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)

I think Greg Burgas nails it in his review of the Ex Machina special: It’s not a story of any great consequence, and the sentiment driving the plot doesn’t ring true. Plus, I’ve never warmed to John Paul Leon’s pencils, as the renderings aren’t to my taste, and his layouts never seem to really tell the story, they just sit there. The earlier 2-part special, drawn by Chris Sprouse, was much better than this one in every way.

(And why did a Halloween comic come out in late August? Especially strange since we’re in the middle of a brutal heat wave here on the west coast.)

Manhunter: Origins TPB vol 3Manhunter really hits its stride with this third collection, which focuses on Kate Spencer’s “origins”, both her gear and her personal history. She also continues to battle the dregs of the DC Universe’s array of supervillains (wow, I’d completely forgotten about Punch and Jewelee). I suspect the reason it’s been struggling to gain readers is that it has taken so long to hit its stride; the first twelve issues (that’s a whole year of issues, folks) thrashed around like the series was trying to establish itself rather than trying to finds its voice, which is rather putting the cart before the horse.

Anyway, this series of federal-prosecutor-turned-vigilante stays down-to-Earth, while being strangely conflicted: It deals with some intensely personal issues, yet always seems to keep the characters’ emotions at arm’s length, always being a little too matter-of-fact for its character bits. That we only get brief glimpses of most of the supporting cast doesn’t help. The adventure bits are a lot of fun, though, and present an unusually unglamorous view of superheroing – reasonably enough, since Manhunter is truly a vigilante and not a traditional hero.

Manhunter has been a fan favorite on the Internet for a while. I don’t think it lives up to the hype, but if it truly comes back from its current hiatus then I’ll probably add the monthly book to my saver at my local store.

And now, a slightly different tack: Comments on books I didn’t buy:

I thumbed through the first issue of the new Brit series. Brit is another of Robert (Invincible) Kirkman’s Image Comics heroes: A middle-aged man who’s completely invulnerable and decidedly sardonic, who works for the government. I picked up the collection of the earlier stories, Old Soldier a while back: The stories are basically big “smash-’em-up” ones, which means they’re okay, but not deep. A nice occasional diversion, but not something that holds up over time. This new series I guess is supposed to be somewhat deeper, but the first issue looked like more of the same. Brit isn’t as appealing a lead character as Invincible, so I decided to pass on this one. (Often I decide not to buy a series which is going through a revival because, as I put it, “I’ve been on that train before and I don’t really want to get on again.”)

I also glanced at The Mice Templar #1, from Michael Avon Oeming, whose art on Powers is quite good, but I’ve never warmed to anything else he’s done. The art here actually made me cringe (take a look), so I took a pass on this one. I’m already reading Mouse Guard, and I think it’ll fill my need for rodent adventure stories on its own.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 22 August 2007.

I should push this entry on last week’s comics out the door before this week’s comics come out, huh?

  • Countdown #36 of 52 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Tony Bedard, Jim Calafiaore & Jack Purcell (DC)
  • Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #33, by Tony Bedard & Dennis Calero (DC)
  • Starlord #2 of 4, by Keith Giffen, Timothy Green II & Victor Olazaba (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #1 of 6, by David Petersen (Archaia)
  • Invincible #45 by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)

The problem is that I didn’t have a lot to say about this haul. Countdown muddles on, Supergirl and the Legion and Starlord are both okay, Invincible is a lot of fun.

Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 #1The most significant book here is the first issue of the new Mouse Guard series. For a change, I’ve been on board with this surprisingly popular series since issue #1 of the first series, and I do enjoy it. The first series concerned a traitor trying to overthrow the Guard and the ruler of the mouse nation, and the second opens with the mice trying to survive a particularly harsh winter, with a band of our heroes making the trek to one of their outer towns to procure some supplies for the main city of Lockhaven.

The big flaw in the series, I think, is that it’s hard to keep the characters straight: For the most part, all the mice look the same, albeit in different colors (the coloring is actually quite lush and carries the artwork at times). And characterization tends to range from simplistic to nonexistent. This makes the book a slightly more challenging read, and not in a good way. But Petersen’s depictions of the landscapes and the mouse townships are the art’s strength, evocative of Mark Oakley’s Thieves & Kings, Mark Smylie’s Artesia (from the same publisher), or even David Macaulay‘s books about history and architecture. Although I don’t think it’s a “visually stunning comic book” like Brian Cronin does, it’s still a fun read. I just feel that there’s room for development on both the writing and the art side.

You can also visit David Petersen’s blog.

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 16 May 2007.

  • Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #52, by Tad Williams & Shawn McManus (DC)
  • Countdown #50 of 51 (backwards), by Paul Dini, Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, J. Calafiore & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Ex Machina #28, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fables #61, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham & Steve Leialoha (DC/Vertigo)
  • Justice League of America #9, by Brad Meltzer & Ed Benes (DC)
  • World War Hulk: Prologue #1, by Peter David, Al Rio, Lee Weeks, Sean Phillips, and others (Marvel)
  • Artesia Afire HC vol 3, by Mark Smylie (ASP)
  • Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 HC vol 1, by David Petersen (ASP)
  • B.P.R.D.: Garden of Souls #3 of 5, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Hero by Night #3 of 4, by D.J. Coffman & Jason Embury (Platinum)

Shawn McManus does his own inking in this month’s Aquaman, and the art is looking better. Still not quite the McManus style I know and love, but still. I think my biggest gripe about the book at this point is that Aquaman is getting lost in his own book amongst the large cast, and he’s being treated as a kid besides. Considering this Aquaman has been around for over a year now, and Kurt Busiek wrote him as a pretty strong character, I would like Williams to bring him to the fore and show that he can really carry the book.

Speaking of artists, I probably shouldn’t be as hard on guys like Ed Benes as I am, artists who seem to be strongly influenced by the Jim Lee/Rob Liefeld arm of the Image Comics style. While many details of his style are not to my taste, the guy does have some talent: In JLA #9, he not only draws a detailed panorama of gorillas riding giant lizards (and how can you not love a comic featuring such a scene?), but he can show some emotional range, as he does in a scene between Red Arrow and Power Girl.

The World War Hulk prologue is not really necessary, so I recommend you save your money for the real thing. Its main virtue is some nice artwork.

Mark Smylie’s Archaia Studios Press has become a nice little cottage industry over the last few years, and it releases two hardcover collections this week. ASP’s hardcovers are of very high quality (even the cover boards have illustrations, not just the dustjacket!), and they’re affordably priced at $24.95 – which for a comic book hardcover ain’t bad. I suspect ASP is targeting selling these in mainstream bookstores, and I have heard that bookstores refuse to stock fiction hardcovers priced about $25 (although I can’t find a link to support this). Consequently, I wonder whether ASP is making money on these hardcovers, or simply paving the way for the paperbacks?

Anyway. I got on-board with Artesia after its first volume had finished, and I was impressed with the sophisticated subject matter (which, I should stress, is not for children), and especially Smylie’s well-choreographed layouts and lovingly-drawn panels. Two more volumes have taken the shine off the series for me, as the cast of characters is huge and Smylie doesn’t make their faces sufficiently different for me to be able to keep track of them all. The story is also moving along at a fairly slow pace, and it’s not clear where it’s all going. Moreover, most of the characters – including the title character – are not really very likeable. These points make it difficult for me to stay engaged and to appreciate the series’ good points. Perhaps I need to go back and re-read all three volumes in a chunk and see if I’m missing something, or if the series really is just missing me. (A summary of Artesia here.)

On the flip side, Mouse Guard was a fun little series about the world of mice and their little medieval society. The art is simple yet effective, and it’s just good escapism. I hear a sequel series will start up soon.

Hero by Night #3 makes me wonder whether we should declare a moratorium on origin stories in superhero comics: Its first two issues concerned how its protagonist found the ring which gives him super powers, but the story only really gets moving in #3 when he starts using them and confronting the pros and cons of doing so. Maybe more comics just need to start in medias res and not from the very beginning. Let’s get straight to the excitement!

This Week’s Haul

Comic books I bought the week of 24 January 2007.

  • 52 #38 of 52 (DC)
  • Fables #57 (DC/Vertigo)
  • Eternals #6 of 7 (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard #6 of 6 (Archaia Studios Press)

    Well, that was fun! Maybe a bit slight on the story side, but I enjoyed it. It looks like there will be both a collection and a sequel. And indeed, the creator has a home page for the comic.

  • Colonia: On Into The Great Lands vol. 2 TPB (Colonia Press)

    Colonia is a really neat comic: It concerns Jack, a young man, and his uncles Pete and Richard, who are all thrown from our world into a parallel world where the New World still has the feel of the 17th century age of pirates, and magical forces seem to be rampant. It’s inventive, funny, at times touching, and generally downright eerie.

    Creator Jeff Nicholson’s art style reminds me somewhat of my old buddy Scott Marshall‘s art. It doesn’t have the polish of comics from the big publishers, but who cares? It’s earnest and serves the story. Really, if the series has a downside it’s that it doesn’t come out very often. But hey, it’s publishing more frequently than Xenozoic Tales is these days!

    If you want to check it out, you could start with the first collection.

  • The Maze Agency vol. 1 TPB (IDW)

    Back in the days of the first independent comics boom, Comico Comics published a little series called The Maze Agency. Written by comics veteran Mike W. Barr and drawn by a newcomer named Adam Hughes, it was a mystery comic in the classic sense: Every story was a mystery that the reader could try to solve before the heroes.

    It worked quite well, actually, and was an entertaining read, even after Hughes departed to be replaced by considerably lesser lights on the art. IDW printed a short Maze Agency mini-series a year or two ago, and is now reprinting the original series in paperback. This is the first volume. If this is your sort of thing, check it out.

This Week’s Haul

  • 52 #26 (DC)
  • Ex Machina #24 (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Fantastic Four: The End #1 (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard #5 (Archaia Studios Press)

The cover feature of 52 – featuring the Black Marvel Family – is pretty dull. More interesting is John Henry Irons confronting his daughter – who now works as part of Lex Luthor’s science-built superhero team – on a talk show. Boy, I hope she gets her comeuppance before this is over.

Ex Machina doesn’t get the press that writer Brian K. Vaughn’s other book, Y The Last Man, does, but I gave up on Y a long time ago, while Ex Machina still keeps me interested. It doesn’t hurt that it’s drawn by Tony Harris, a terrific artist who also drew the first half of James Robinson’s Starman. The premise is that a man gains the ability to talk to machines, has a brief career as the world’s only superhero, and after saving one of the World Trade Towers on 9/11 is elected Mayor of New York City. The book is part science fiction, part horror, and part political drama. Unfortunately that doesn’t leave a lot of room for deep character drama, but it’s still a good book, if a little on the slow side.

Alan Davis writes and draws Fantastic Four: The End, so you know it looks nice. Davis’ stock-in-trade as a writer is the conspiracy storyline, where the heroes have to untangle a web of villainout planning. Unfortunately I find this gets a little repetitive, and it looks like this series will be in much the same vein as his Superboy’s Legion or his two JLA: The Nail series, which means it should be enjoyable, but may not be very memorable.

I reviewed Mouse Guard on Four Color Comics back in June, and it’s nearly done. Clean artwork with a straightforward and fun story. I guess it’s been selling pretty well, and that’s good to hear.