December is always a good month for reading material. I invariably receive books and trades, the latter because I ask for specific ones that my wife gets. The books sometimes take the better part of a year to read, like the Ten Cent Plague just recently reviewed. But the weekly store visits brought some excellent material. It also brought some stuff of questionable taste and a conclusion that most, if not all, of the Bat titles have reached their end for me. Enough precursor, though. Time to dive in to what was acquired and read in December '10.
1. Northlanders 35 - Surprisingly to me, this one hit the top of the List in a month in which I received some really excellent trades. In fact, this is not any kind of special issue like number 2 on the List, either. What it represents is an example of Brian Wood's series at its finest. This first of two parts is set in Iceland in 1240. The protaganist is an old man who lives alone in a remote cabin. He tries to avoid being involved in the fights between the local clans and ekes out survival by fishing. On one of his forays he discovers a young woman's body, frozen in the ice. Over the next several days and weeks he serruptitiously recovers the body and takes it back to his hut, all the while avoiding being pressed into service of one of the clans as a lookout for another clan. His search for the identity of the dead girl is only likely to lead to trouble for him, but he persists nonetheless. Becky Cloonan's art is lovely and portrays the stark, frozen landscape so well you can almost feel the cold eminating from the page. It's a small tale of a small man on a quest that will be epic for him, no matter how small it may seem to the wider world. And it'll be done in two issues.
2. Fables 100 - This has one parallel to Invincible. Neither of them forced a wrap to the large story arc underway. Invincible kept its story going right through its larger than average 75th issue. Fables has done the same, as the Dark Man battle continues on into 101, at least. This issue's battle between Frau Totenkinder (still in hot young form) and the Dark Man was as beautiful and engaging as is to be expected from Willingham, Buckingham and Leialoha. On top of that this trades size special issue had a lot of special items in the back. The quirky to the sublime, too. Prose tales of Pinocchio follow a series of epilogues that are more foreshadowing than conclusion. There's a board game, and for those crazy enough to cut up this work, paper dolls. Celebreties (of a very minor level) have their questions answered by characters from the series. And what would a landmark issue of Fables be without an appearance by the Three Blind Mice, Frankie, Buffkin and the Barleycorn Girls? While I'm looking forwad to seeing how Ozma plans to battle the Dark Man, I'm hoping Frau Totenkinder's retirement doesn't actually take, no matter how deserving she is. I'm very much looking forward to Bigby's undercover work on the Mundy, too.
3. Echo: Desert Run (TPB 3) and Collider (TPB 4) - So now we're into the trades I asked for Christmas. I thought, perhaps, that Cain was finished for awhile there, but I guess his efforts to have Julie end his life didn't work out. And now she has a new enemy with powers in Hong Liu, who looks uncomfortably like Roger Ebert, post jaw cancer. At least Julie has Ivy on her side now, but I'm still trying to figure out the motivations and alliances that lie behind the entire Beta suit endeavor. The Phi Project has an awful lot more latitude than a real defense contractor would, so Moore's going to have to work hard at my willing suspension of disbelief in that part of the story, but I enjoy his characters so much I'm willing to give some latitude. I wonder if the Beta suit will heal Pam's mental disconnect the way it can heal physical maladies, when Julie has the proper motivation. I wonder if that'll occur to Julie to try. Of course, the best recent news is that the series in singles is coming to an end, so I'll be able to get all the trades I haven't yet, as well as that finale. Love a finale to a story.
4. American Vampire 9 & 10 - A quirk of shipping brought the oh so wonderful happenstance of two issues of American Vampire in December. Who says the holidays aren't a time of giving? But I digress. Issue 9 wrapped up the story of Cash, the sheriff of Las Vegas during the construction of the Hoover Dam. I really enjoy how Scott Snyder has developed, in such a short span, the idea of various breeds of vampires. Previously we knew of the old world vampires and, of course, the American vampires, but evidently there were multiple breeds of old world vampires, some of which may be extinct. Cash's adoptive father was one of the last of his breed of vampire, perhaps the very last. Quite possibly Cash's son, whose delivery cost Cash his wife, may be yet another breed of vampire. Issue 10 was even better because we had lots of Pearl and Henry. Naked Pearl, even, which is certainly a pleasant thing to behold. Somewhat surprisingly, it also brought back Hattie, Pearl's former roommate and now nemesis. I hadn't remembered that Hattie was an American vampire. I'll have to re-read to check on that. Henry must be wondering who, aside from himself, isn't a vampire, considering how we leave things at the end of the issue.
5. Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows (vol 3) - This one the wife got me a hard bound edition rather than a trade, so it's a very nice presentation, but that's not really the main thing here. The main thing is what's between the covers. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez continue with the utterly gorgeous, spooky tale of the Locke family mansion. Although Tyler, Kinsey and Bode are the main characters, the story really is more about their dwelling and its long history of secrets that dates back to an ancestor who created the keys during the Revolutionary War. I had wondered how Kinsey removing her fears from her makeup would work out, but so far it seems to be working out rather well. I liked the way Hill justified not doing the same for Bode, too. I could be wrong, but I think Dodge's hubris will get him in the end. Even Sam, who's almost a good guy in this volume, can see that's Dodge's weakness. I haven't seen anything indicating that this series has a set end point, but I would think that it does. Hill and Rodriguez can't drag out Dodge being undiscovered too long, Head Key or no, and once that happens, an end will have to be reached.
6. Invincible 76 - Allen the Alien in charge of the rebel forces! Excellent! But where are the remaining Viltrumites? What revelation did Thragg (Freddie Mercury) have? Another great issue of Invincible with the expected survival of Oliver. I expected it, anyway. He is half Viltrumite, after all. Hard to kill those buggers. Time to scamper off to Earth to see if the Viltrumites really are taking the attack there. Wonder if Eve's had the baby yet?
7. Green Hornet Year One 7 - Continues to out Batman the man himself. No incorporation with franchises round the world. Just Green Hornet and Kato. Of course, Robin's a better fighter than Batman in this duo, but we don't want it to be exactly the same story. That everyone thinks Green Hornet is just another gangster muscling into the existing gangs is a nice touch, too. Matt Wagner's writing is perfectly evocative of the '30s, as is Aaron Campbell's art. It's a hard call, what with Rodriguez and Moore in the List this month, but Campbell may well be my favorite artist on the list now.
8. the unwritten 20 - But then there's the unwritten, which has great art by Peter Gross, too. Totally different style from the Lucifer series Gross and Carey did, but entirely suited for this story. Lizzie and Tom being together has taken a turn that looks like will keep them apart for quite awhile. Tom's constantly evolving memory is an interesting addition to how things are progressing, too. From no knowledge of Lizzie when she first appeared to having spent their childhood together is quite a change in Tom's history. For me the question remains - is he the son of Wilson or is he the creation of Wilson? And, how many literature classics will we explore in the course of the story? This one is more like Fables, with the potential for many great, ongoing stories, rather than something like Unknown Soldier, which needed an end.
9. Secret Six 28 - Gail Simone's greatest work continues to enthrall and do Skartaris better than Mike Grell, which is really saying something. Now I want to see an entire Warlord series by Simone. Not that there will be anyone left to write about, the way the mortality rate is going in this story. This month's great quotes: "I thought that li'l gal was your friend or somthin'!" "She was! She is! To be fair, most of my friends try to kill me at some point!" Man, Doll saves the day. That's gotta be worth a read anytime. And I'm lovin' the idea of more interactions between Doll and Killer Shark. Better yet - more Wall!
10. Mouse Guard: The Black Axe - Funny how cute animals make a story of bloodletting seem so much more friendly. Looks like Petersen is taking a turn into developing more of the other animals in the mileu he's created, as this tale starts with Celanawe's meeting with distant relative, Em, who can speak the language of birds. It's a bloody first meeting, with a crow falling victim to weasels, and Celanawe and Em nearly so, too. I think one of my favorite things about Petersen's art style is that he makes the animals, though interacting like humans, still appear like the animals they are. There's no curvacious female mouse with human type mammaries. No extra digits to the hand, either, which makes wielding tools a neat trick for critters with no opposable thumbs.
11. Scalped 44 - A bit of a fall from last month's List heights, but I didn't much care for this story of Nitz. It's not just that Nitz is such a despicable character. Really, I can't think of any redeeming qualities to the man. That's all well and good, as that's how Jason Aaron has made him to be. What I didn't care for was the coincidence of his saving grace. Islamic terrorists on the Rosebud Reservation? Really? Terrorists of whatever stripe tend to operate near where there's something to attack. There's nothing on the Rez that would make a good target, as just about anything's destruction would represent some level of improvement. (Unibomber was an exception, but he was also a lone insane person who wasn't going for volume of death but targeted death at specific individuals.) It's just too providential that Nitz would stumble on these guys and save his job. At least the Davide Furno art matches well with the Scalped story.
12. Proof: Endangered 1 - Hmm. Another skin walker, working with Abominable. A lot of jumping around among characters this issue. Still liking these stories but I need some progression of things if I'm going to stick with it past this new arc. Feels like we've been in a holding pattern for quite awhile, possibly since Spring-Heel-Jack.
13. Spawn: Endgame vol 1 (TPB) - Cards, Comics and Collectibles went a little different on the 3 free box this month. Two of the titles were trades, with an unknown single floppy sandwiched between. I'm not really a McFarlane fan, but I picked this up anyway. Partly it was the fun of it, because the 2 trades in the pack were the same in every pack, with only the single changing from pack to pack. You'll see below how I fared there. As to this, it's better than I expected, especially having little knowledge of the character. Apparently the guy who's been Spawn for a long while manages to kill himself. Another guy who ran into the Spawn guy back in the beginning of the series then wakes from a coma and seems to have inherited the Spawn mantle, though he doesn't know it or how to do anything with it. There's a demon sidekick who thinks he's going to take over the show. For the right price, I might get the second volume to see how it resolves.
14. Dynamo 5: Holiday Special 2010 - Has there ever been a better hook-up than War Chest and Ramjet? The names alone are worthy of special enshrinement somewhere, though I'm not sure if it should be the comics hall of fame or the porn hall of fame. Maybe both. Not that this was the main thrust (sorry) of the story. That's about a guy named Luminex who's serving time but breaks out to try to stop his teen daughter from following in his mistakes. Dynamo 5 really wasn't much necessary for the story, but there you go. The holiday part was only that they all hung out with Spencer so he wouldn't be alone for the holidays. Looks like Faerber and Bill Willingham consulted on the epilogues, too. Like Fables, this book did 3 that were more prologues.
15. Incorruptible 13 - Now this has potential. I love the discussion between Max and Headcase at the cemetery. I loved that Max has a plan to defeat Plutonian that now appears moot. I love most that Max appears to have lost his raison d'etre, but then, I don't really believe the Plutonian is gone in his own book, which is why I stopped reading it.
16. Birds of Prey 7 - I guess I'll read through the death of Oracle arc to see where it ends up. If it doesn't end up somewhere interesting, that's going to be about it for this series.
17. Haunt 12 - I'm finding I like this more now. Maybe it's the transitional story of little things going on in the lives of various characters. Of course there's an impending new threat that appears to be extradimensional like Haunt. That had to happen sooner than later. I'll hold on for awhile. Still wish Capulo could draw more individualized women's faces, and as always I'm ikred by coyness in such an adult book. Who believes that a former prostitue who's just finished up a marathon sexual encounter is going to lie around with a sheet covering her, especially when she and her partner are the only ones in the room?
18. Zatanna 8 - Yea! Dini's back. Still, we're treading water a bit. Love the Cliff Chiang art, but the possessed dummy and operating through dreams to defeat the enemy seems like we're going over things we've already done, and we're only 8 issues in. On top of that Previews indicates there's more returns coming. I think next issue may be the last.
19. Justice League: Generation Lost 15 & 16 - As much fun as this has been, it better resolve soon. Max Lord being unknown to all but a handful of people can only last but so long before it seems like a trite device being extended beyond the reasonable. That it's all tied to Brightest Day, which I'm not reading, is starting to feel like an anchor dragging it down.
20. Batman: Streets of Gotham 18 - Yeah, I think I've reached the end for these next three Bat titles. Maybe one more to wrap up things in this one and Gotham City Sirens, but that's about it. I'm actually enjoying the back up story of Ragman more, but that's not enough to keep going.
21. Batman and Robin 18 - Hole in the Head chick is not a villain to keep my interest. Just too pedestrian at this point.
22. Gotham City Sirens 18 - I had hoped this story was wrapping with this issue, but no. Next issue is the last, whether it wraps or not.
23. The Avengers 265 - Which brings us to the mystery item in the 3 for free pack. Yeah, this sucks. It sucked when I bought it 25 years ago. I got rid of it a long time ago and wasn't overjoyed to see it again. Then again, one can't but be amused at the levels of suck this reached, as did all the comics that had the Beyonder in them. Add to that the fact that The Avengers line-up is Cap, Captain Marvel (New Orleans version), The Wasp, Hercules (way before he got cool), The Black Night, and The Sub-Mariner, and suck is all anyone should expect. What were they thinking?
But, what, you might wonder, could be worse?
24. Dead@17: Afterbirth (TPB) - I've seen ads for this title over the years. Never had any interest in it, but it was free, so what the hell. Wow, is this bad. It's disjointed. It assumes I know a lot of things that happened previously. Which is all bad enough, but what really drives it down to the bottom of the list is that it's a sort of soft porn that features characters who are ostensibly 17, or at least appear to be 17. I guess that last is what keeps it from being child porn that could get me arrested just for having unluckily come into possession of this drek. Not that there's any actual naughty bits, either. Just lots of suggestion, cleavage and physically questionable missing nipples. Awful high quality paper and production for such a bit of garbage. And the female faces are all the same, which is about the only thing this has in common with Haunt, though they both deal with the paranormal.
As is obvious, I'm trying a little something different by adding some graphics for the stuff at the low end of the spectrum, too. Warning can be as valuable a service as advocating, and a little graphic reminder of what to avoid is a good thing. I'll probably keep getting free stuff at the store, as long as it's offered, just to fill out the tailings of the List. Fortunately, my purchases almost never reach the warning away stage.