Wolverine and the X-Men vol. 1, written by Jason Aaron, art by Chris Bachalo and Tim Townsend
Marvel just trolled me. I never thought, for even one single solitary second, that a book called Wolverine and the X-Men would provide the most fun I’ve ever had reading an X-Men comic, but that’s precisely what happened here. What sounds like the most ridiculously pandering bullshit imaginable (besides that title, this is basically Wolverine becoming the new Professor X) is instead a goofy, rollicking summation of the path the franchise should have taken. This is the sort of comic I can read with genuine fury that it didn’t come out when I was a kid; I had the misfortune to come along just in time for the Liefeld era. This series proves Aaron’s true range as a writer; that such a downright fun series came from the same guy who wrote Scalped and Wolverine In Hell will seem amazing to those accustomed to seeing comics writers only capable of busting out one kind of story. Plus, this series flows pretty well off Grant Morrison’s New X-Men and Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, so fans of those series (like myself–damn, it occurs to me I might actually be an X-Men fan now) can pick this book up and run with it. The barely-controlled chaos of Bachalo’s art is a delight too–panels are all but eschewed for what can best be described as a collage, one that flows remarkably well. Townsend’s not quite so good, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
The Unwritten vol. 6: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words, written by Mike Carey, art by Peter Gross and others
Carey’s a reliably talented writer, but I’m still amazed at how this series manages to top the hard act to follow that was Lucifer. Certainly it’s more inventive (I still think fondly of that “Choose Your Own Adventure” issue a while back), as befits a book about a Harry Potter clone brought into the real world forged as a weapon against an ancient conspiracy, the cultural consciousness serving as both prize and battlefield. This is the most climactic volume of the series, with Tommy finally taking the fight to the Cabal, scoring a major victory while losing out quite badly in the process. All of it with fantastic artwork as usual, which is quite variable despite mostly being by one guy–Gross turns out to be one of those pencillers whose work can be changed dramatically by its inker. Seeing him finished by longtime Carey collaborator Dean Ormston, for example, brings an interesting element of scuffed grotesquerie to Gross’ relatively clean style. Also, it’s nice to see The Unwritten still has the best covers in the business–I’m normally resistant to buying a book on its cover alone, but this series would get my three bucks every time just on that score. EICs may change, but this series proves Vertigo still has some life in it yet.
Scenes From An Impending Marriage, by Adrian Tomine
Getting married looks like a gigantic pain in the ass. All the planning, expense and distasteful pageantry, just for something with a 50% failure rate because humans aren’t actually biologically suited for it. You’d think the Christian Right would be forcing gays to marry.
Tomine’s view isn’t quite so pessimistic as all that, but this book (which began life as a mini-comic passed out to wedding guests) doesn’t shy away from the downside of the ol’ joining ritual. The book is actually quite funny, highlighting such issues as the uselessness of wedding DJs (PROTIP: you probably already have a wedding DJ. His name is “iPod”) and the necessity of inviting everyone you’re even slightly acquainted with or related to, even the ones who obviously can’t make it or don’t care. While more artistically low-key than anything in Optic Nerve (what, you expect Tomine to bust out A-material for free?), the simplistic style suits the gag-heavy slice-of-life material well, particularly when Tomine busts out the Charles Schulz pastiches.
Casanova: Avaritia, written by Matt Fraction, art by Gabriel Ba
Confession time: I have no real idea what is going on in this series. That’s not really a shameful revelation, as I’m not sure anyone other than Matt Fraction really understands Casanova. Still, just because I don’t understand this comic doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s awesome. I didn’t understand Batman: Odyssey, after all. Difference is, while I fell into the trap of liking Odyssey ironically, I think Casanova is genuinely good. It’s way better than some other surreal, hard-to-follow comics I read this year I could name *COUGH*youngliars*COUGH*. Fraction’s stand-in puts it best: “I’m in it for laughs! For LAAAAFFFS!!!” Much as I like Fraction as a writer (remember, this is the guy who saved Iron Man we’re talking about here), Ba’s art is the true selling point; this is a series you feel more than read, and this certainly feels like a multi-omnicidal universe-hopping spy-thriller. Ba has the rare luck of being one of those artists who’s never worked on anything short of a great book, but his art elevates anything he touches even further–good as it is, would The Umbrella Academy have been anywhere near so acclaimed had Ba not been involved? Avaritia is the concluding volume of the series, and while I’m sad there’s no more Casanova coming, it still provides a satisfying conclusion to the series, at least insofar as a series I don’t understand can have a satisfying conclusion. I’d love to see Fraction get away from the work-for-hire stuff for a bit and put out more original stuff like this. And hey, if he can bring along this awesome an artist for the ride again, that’s just a bonus, right?
Hellboy: The Chained Coffin And Others, by Mike Mignola
As I end this week, it is my great honor and pleasure to review this volume, mostly because my copy of it happens to be autographed. No back-scratching here; I simply regard it as an honor. This book includes some of my favorite Hellboy stories, the titular tale among them, as well as “The Corpse”, which is funny and heartwarming in equal measure. Both stories also lay the groundwork for much of the carnage that followed, which may or may not have been intentional, though it still feels organic. Certainly you just knew that fight with Baba Yaga would have repercussions later on. Also, this volume introduces Roger the homunculus, who would basically go on to be the Martian Manhunter of B.P.R.D., up until his untimely, tragic, and (unlike in J’onn’s case) final death. Nothing wrong with that; even more not-wrong when you consider that his debut (as a character at least, his first appearance being in Wake The Devil) gives us the opportunity to see Hellboy fight a giant monster. Hellboy is almost always good (with, er, a certain exception I won’t rehash here), but this volume established it as truly great.