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October 28, 2012 / schulerbooks

Cool October Graphic Novels!

Psst! Read any good graphic novels lately?

No? Why the heck not? October was a great month for graphic novels, and you really need to check some of these gems out.

For example, there’s the latest chapter in the uncannily good X-title X-Factor, which has taken the questionable premise of Mutant private investigators and turned it into an action-packed series that’s part tangled superpowered soap opera, part rehabilitation for “also ran” X-people, and part soapbox for author Peter David.

And did we mention it’s really darn good?

In the latest pulse-pounding installment, Super Unnatural, the past comes back to haunt the team in more ways than one. Going back to their team leader’s hometown unleashes some pent-up forces that are truly nasty, and lead to dead bodies that really don’t want to stay dead. Turns out there’s demons involved — again — but why is the team suddenly up to their neck in otherworldly antagonists? Was it something they said?

Well, no time to figure that out. A hunt for a missing boy turns into a hunt for a murderer, which turns into a struggle for life and death against multiple opponents who may or may not be working together, and may or may not be allies in need. But can they get to the bottom of this before someone puts them in the bottom of a grave? Can Rahne get over her extremely traumatic pregnancy? Will we ever find out what relation Northstar is to Shatterstar?

And who gets to die this time out…?

Under Peter David’s penmanship, X-Factor has become a case study of how to go beyond the usual X-story. If you’re weary of big darn earth-shattering mighty mutant crossovers that shake the foundations of the Marvel universe, or the quite predictable Mutant mopery (“We must save a world that hates and fears us! oh!, the agony…”) this series, along with Jason Aaron’s cleverly subversive ‘Wolverine and the X Men,’ is pure gold. Drink it while it’s hot.

Speaking of hot, Matt Murdock’s life — never the most stable and care-free of things — has turned into an even bigger hot mess than before.

No sooner does he mostly shake off his being outed as Daredevil (except to law enforcement, who still can’t prove anything), and get back with estranged wife, Milla, than an old enemy turns his support systems upside down, and doses her with an incurable fear drug that makes her a danger to herself and others. Now she’s in a psychiatric hospital, her angry parents are trying to take her custody away from him, and he’s taking his frustrations out on the streets.

Of course, it gets worse from there. Trying to save an innocent man from death row brings in a new set of enemies, and leads him to do something questionable with a friend. And then someone calling herself Lady Bullseye — with the skills to match that name — shows up with the Hand in tow. Killer ninjas rain down into Hell’s kitchen, friends are killed and brought back to join the hand, and some very nasty games get played on the streets and rooftops.

Then some old, blind ninja master appoints himself as Matt’s new teacher. But what’s his angle? And when the Kingpin comes back to town, what will happen then?

What indeed.

The third collection the horrible trainwreck that is Daredevil’s life will shock long time readers with its pure power. Brubaker’s writing is taut and tense, and the artists he has along for the ride do an excellent job of bringing this gritty tragedy to life. This is street-level superheroism at its best, bringing back a level of darkness that the comic hasn’t had since Frank Miller’s iconic run, back in the 80’s.

Meanwhile, over at DC, the New 52 parade continues. If you missed out on Aquaman or Swamp Thing, you can now jump on the wagon and see what all the fuss was about.

But for those with more rarified tastes, this month sees a special treat for longtime DC fans. If you’re one of those people who was thrilled to death *cough cough* that there was a place for Mitch Shelley in the nebooted DC universe, or just wondering what this “Resurrection Man” thing was all about, then we have good news: the book is back, and better than ever.

Mitch is still blessed with the ability to die and come back, each time with a new power (that may or may not have something to do with the last time he died), but cursed by a lack of memory as to how he got this way, or who he was before. The search for answers leads him to Portland, of all places, but a powerful being’s on his tail, along with a dangerous pair of go-go girl assassins. And while the inevitable fight with the angry Demon (?) and these oddly familiar killers might knock some precious memories back into place, the appearance of another spiritual presence just complicates things more — especially when he demonstrates that he can keep Mitch from coming back…

It’s always been my feeling that the concept of the Resurrection Man, while intriguing, has never quite been well served by the creative teams that have gotten to tell his tale. However, I am extremely happy to report that the DC reboot has changed everything; the book is tighter and deeper, and its team knows when to tease and when to deliver in order to keep reader interest alive. And, while it has appearances from various DC special guest stars, it’s more to add to the mystery or cement the story as part of the continuum, rather than to prop up a weakly-built tent.

If you like mystery, danger, and voyages of super-powered self discovery, then you should dig into Resurrection Man: Dead Again as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, in the quiet suburb of Walton Mills, Ronnie Raymond is a jock with a talent for football and a few emotional problems, and Jason Rusch is a smart kid with a chip on his shoulder and a really dangerous secret. Normally, this would be the point where we said “together, they fight crime,” except that The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men isn’t that kind of book. In the DC reboot, Firestorm is no longer about what happens when a well-meaning but none-too-smart teenager gets godlike powers, and has to share the responsibility with a wise and intelligent mentor. As re-imagined by Ethan van Scriver and Gail Simone, it’s a tale of what happens when super powers are weaponized, and the cat gets out of the bag in a big way.

Most notably, Jason’s big secret is that he was in touch with the late Professor Stein: a great and good man who was working on a terrifying weapon, known as the Firestorm Protocols. One of the man’s last acts was to send a canister of the stuff to Jason, and when armed and sociopathic assassins come to erase Jason for the crimes of being smart, well-connected, and alive, Jason’s triggering of the device catches Ronnie in the blast, giving them both incredible transmutative powers, but no incentive to work together except for sheer survival. And as the assassins come back for more, the body count rises, and a foreign stranger with equal powers — but much more skill in using them — essentially hands them their asses, even super-smart Jason has to admit that the world they’ve entered is bigger, deeper, and more dangerous than even he could have imagined.

This re-imagined take on a DC mainstay wasn’t the smoothest ride, and didn’t last more than a year before being taken back to a reflection of the pre-reboot continuity. But the first year was a real risk-taker, and its notions of a secret super-powered arms race, and the human wreckage it left in its wake, paid massive dividends as it went along. Wherever the current creative team takes this series (now retitled “The Nuclear MAN”) you want to get in at “God Particle,” and experience the start of the journey.

Speaking of the journey, DC/Vertigo’s The Unwritten 6: War of Words has us traveling close to the center of the mystery of Tommy Taylor, and the great secret of the Cabal. Tommy and his allies are all geared up for a fight, and ready to take the battle to the people who’ve been harrying him since the first volume. But that group is making their own preparations, and Pullman — the deadly man with the killer hand — is ready for them, and about to engage in a separate plan of his own…

The Unwritten has been a shining gem in Vertigo’s stable since it appeared; a powerful blend of urban fantasy, literary theory, and horror (with many a wink at the Harry Potter phenomenon). So it’s good to be able to report that, now that the story seems to be approaching an end, it has lost none of its steam.

In fact, this volume is a massive payoff, both in terms of the monumental confrontation between Tommy and his chief antagonist, and the side, “.5” issues that gave backstory on the cabal — its history, major players, and its chief assassin, Pullman. And, as with all things Unwritten, the answers just suggest more questions.

If you like DC’s Vertigo titles, you owe it to yourself to crack open The Unwritten and see what a truly mature title has to offer. On the other hand, if you’d rather read something decidedly immature, we have a real “treat” for you.

Remember, back during the 90’s, when DC decided to spend an inordinate amount of time chronicling the incredibly violent and flat-out dumb misadventures of Lobo — the (almost) indestructible last Czaranian? Well, someone decided to put two of his miniseries together as “Lobo: Portrait of a Bastich,” which means you can now relive those halcyon days of yore when a large, black and white killer on an intergalactic motorcycle got to shoot, curse, and kill his way across the galaxy with full L.E.G.I.O.N. authority, and get away with it, at least until someone finally succeeded in killing him and he came back as a woman…

Okay, are you remembering now? Yes, it’s that story, with that “cocked-up” cover. And DC went and put it out for you, because they like you. (Also because the statute of limitations ran out.)

But suffice it to say that if you were a drooling fanboy for the Main Man, back in the day, these works have lost none of their strange charm over the last 20 years or so. And if you’re a fan of nearly-indestructible killers who manage to survive by out-surviving their many deadly enemies (Like, say, Deadpool, Wolverine, Daken, etc.) then you might want to check out where the genre rightly started.

Meanwhile, over in the independents, we have a couple of really strange gems on display for you. After decades of denial, and declassification after declassification, you may think you know the full story of what happened on the Manhattan Project. But, as Jonathan “Fantastic Four” Hickman and Nick Pitarra are happy to show us, we never had the faintest clue –maybe that’s a good thing.

For starters, it’s the Manhattan ProjectS: a linked set of black science programs dedicated to fighting America’s enemies with whatever strange and eerie combinations of technology and magic they can invent, copy, steal, or intuit. This comic takes on a forced march through the post-war years, when foe became friend, ally became enemy, and nothing was really as it seemed, in or out of the projects.  Enrico Fermi is an alien, Harry Daghlian didn’t die after being irradiated, Robert Oppenheimer has numerous personalities and a dangerous agenda, and Albert Einstein may either save or doom us all.

To say more about this comic would rob it of the massive surprises, which run the gamut from creepily humorous to outright black evil. If you loved Hickman’s high-science work on the recent run of Fantastic Four, and wanted to see what he’d come up with if he didn’t have the comics code authority shackling his hands, this comic is a must have. Science:Bad.

And, last but not least, we have a graphic novel that I am not going to tell you much of anything about, except to say that if you liked Charles Burns’ Black Hole, and wondered what that weird X’ed Out thing was, then you need to read X’ed Out and then get your hands on its long-awaited follow-up, The Hive.

Why? Because, as with most of Burns’ work, we come into the extremely messed-up and surreal situation some time after the unthinkable has happened, and all we have to go on is the broken and uncertain statements — and often tragic actions — of those who have been shattered by it. X’ed Out introduced us to a young man who has clearly suffered some great loss that has ruined him, physically and mentally. But what happened between him and the girl? Where is she? And where are the strange dreams and hallucinations leading him?

Got all that? Well, The Hive is the second part in this story, and it takes us further into what happened. What really went on is still a mystery, and probably won’t be clear until the third installment comes out (hopefully soon) but the dread is so thick you could spread it on a wet wall. Visually grotesque and very creepy, this story will prey on your mind and make you wonder, and possibly even afraid.

 

– Jim Tremlett, Eastwood

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3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. wwayne / Jan 8 2013 4:39 pm

    Black Hole is the best comic book I’ve ever read. And I read it years ago, so I’m not talking on the spur of the moment.
    Thanks for going on giving some attention to the most underrated DC series. A few months ago you wrote about Men of War and OMAC, and now you’re talking about Resurrection Man and Firestorm. I can mention at least 2 other highly underrated DC series: Team 7 and Batman: Arkham Unhinged. Both of them are pure awesomeness each month.

    • schulerbooks / Feb 10 2013 2:49 pm

      Indeed!

      And thank you for the recommendation on Blue Beetle. I read the TP when it came out and really, really liked it.

      (Of course, they cancelled the series. Jerks)

      • wwayne / Feb 10 2013 3:59 pm

        Yes, it was a very disappointing decision from DC. I’m really glad that you enjoyed the series I recommended you. It’s always a pleasure to see that something you like is appreciated by other people as well, and they tell you “I liked it!” not because they feel obliged to, but because they sincerely think that. Thank you for your reply! : )

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