The Weekly Round-Up #208 With Black Science, Letter 44, Mind Mgmt, Morning Glories, Sledgehammer 44, Saga, Star Wars Legacy, Thief of Thieves & More
by James Fulton on December 2, 2013

My god but comics are good these days.  This was a huge week, both in terms of quantity and quality.

Best Comic of the Week:

Black Science #1

Written by Rick Remender
Art by Matteo Scalera

I am very happy to see that Rick Remender is returning to Image Comics with new creator-owned work.  I’ve been enjoying his stuff at Marvel (Uncanny X-Force is a modern classic), but have missed seeing what he comes up with without any fetters or editorial hindrances.

The first issue of Black Science is an exciting study in how to launch a new series.  The issue is narrated by Grant McKay, a scientist who has led a group of people, including a financial backer and his wife and kids, on some sort of inter-dimensional journey.  The comic opens with Grant and a friend, Jen, racing through an alien landscape to return to their group before their device jumps everyone to another dimension.  Grant needs to fill the device with clean water, or everyone will be vaporized when the machine starts working (it’s a MacGuffin, but an effective one).

The world they are in is definitely strange.  They are being chased by fish people outside of a temple that is on a giant turtle’s back.  Grant makes his way into the temple, which is populated by frog people who can fire some sort of electric charge from their tongues.

What makes this issue so effective is Grant’s narration, as he reflects on some of his life choices, such as the decision to devote his life to the study of ‘black science’, and the effect it has had on his family.  He is determined to save them, as the clock runs down, but he keeps running into obstacles.

Much of this book reminded me of Remender’s classic Fear Agent comic.  In it, Heath Huston has been all but destroyed by the mistakes he made trying to keep his family safe in the wake of alien invasion.  In this book, Grant (which, if I’m not mistaken, was Heath’s son’s name) has the opportunity to proactively avoid Heath’s fate, and I imagine that’s what most of the drama of the series will spring from.

Matteo Scalera is an excellent collaborator for Remender on this book.  He’s capable of taking the wildest ideas, and making them equally plausible and even wilder.  There is a Dan Brereton feel to some of his character designs, but the kinetic energy of each page is definitely Scalera’s.  If the group keeps jumping to different dimensions every couple of issues, I imagine that we’re going to see some pretty wild stuff in this book.

I like the way Remender introduces the rest of the group, immediately sowing suspicion that someone is working at cross-purposes to everyone else, and quickly outlining rivalries and jealousies.  I feel that there is going to be a lot of fertile ground to explore in this reworking of the Lost in Space concept.  I already can’t wait for the next issue.

Another Notable Comic:

Letter 44 #2

Written by Charles Soule
Art by Alberto Alburquerque

When this new series debuted last month, I found the first issue to be very exciting, and very well balanced between exposition and character development.  Now, this second issue has me even more excited about the future of this series.

A small group of scientists and military personnel have been sent on a multi-year mission, a one-way trip, to the outer reaches of our solar system to investigate what looks like an alien mining operation.  The framework for this series is that new President of the United States, its 44th, has just become aware of what has been going on, and is trying to figure out how to respond to it while maintaining his political ideals, and trying to fix a country that has been brought to the point of economic and diplomatic ruin.

In this issue, the astronauts have crossed through a sensor-jamming barrier created by the aliens.  This has shorted out their vessel, requiring repairs, and gives us readers a chance to get to know the characters a lot better.  This is not a typical Hollywood blockbuster where the characters need only fit vague stereotypes; instead, writer Charles Soule has provided more than enough material for storylines to take place within the ship that don’t necessarily have to be about the aliens.

At the same time, President Blades is getting up to speed on the technological advances the US has made (and is sitting on) to help them with this mission, and to defend against the aliens should they choose to come and attack Earth.

I really like the way Soule is balancing this book, and the way that artist Alberto Alburquerque is depicting things.  I know that there has been a lot of interest in this series, especially since news came out of a television deal, and I urge people to pick this up; it’s a very good comic.

Quick Takes:

All-New X-Men #19Much of this issue felt very paint-by-numbers, as Kitty, Magik, and the Past X-Men head out to rescue a new mutant from the Purifiers, and the kids are surprised at the depth of that group’s religious hatred.  Not much else happens in this issue, aside from the revelation of who that new mutant is (which doesn’t really fit well with the ending of the comic below).

Avengers Arena #18 – Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker bring their series to a very satisfying close, as the surviving kids fight each other, and Deathlocket has to deal with the evil Apex, who has control of Arcade’s Murderworld.  This has been a very good series, introducing some interesting new characters to the Marvel Universe, and working to elevate a few that haven’t gotten enough screen time over the last few years.  I do feel like this issue could have used a few more pages – it wasn’t entirely clear whether a few people survived or not, but I assume a lot of the dangling threads will get dealt with in the upcoming Avengers Undercover series, by the same creative team.  With this series being as good as it was, I will definitely be picking that up.

Bedlam #10 – This series is definitely suffering from the delays in its schedule, but Nick Spencer responds by ramping up the stakes some, as the hypnotist gets his hooks into a prominent citizen.  This is a good series, which doesn’t get much attention.

FF #14 – The army of Allreds that are writing and drawing this book now do some great work, as the adult members of the team prepare to confront Dr. Doom, and Doom himself schemes and works to become Doom the Annihilating Conqueror.  There are lots of great character scenes in this comic, which feels much denser and more compressed than your average comic these days.  Nice stuff.

Green Team #6Sometimes, when it’s been announced that a series is going to be ending soon (as this one will be, with its eighth issue), the writers dump all the characterization that has made people want to read the book, and are moving full-throttle through the plot they’d intended to last a fair number of issues longer than they have left.  That seems to be the case with Green Team, as Art Baltazar and Franco have their story hurtling ahead, as the team solves their problems on an asteroid, somehow manage to bring the asteroid straight to their enemy’s doorstep, and regrow limbs without explanation.  I was really liking this series, but have found my interest completely dissipated with this issue.  It’s a shame that I preordered the rest…  It blows me away that this is the only DC title I bought this week.

Half Past Danger #6 – I found Stephen Mooney’s WWII era dinosaurs and Nazis adventure series to be a lot of fun.  It ended very well with this issue, as most storylines were wrapped up, but the door was left open to a follow-up series.  It doesn’t take much to imagine this book as a successful movie.

Hawkeye #14 – It looks like Hawkeye is going to shift focus each issue between Kate Spencer and Clint Barton, with alternating artists.  Annie Wu draws Kate’s first adventure in LA after dealing with Madame Masque in the Annual a while back.  This is a pretty straight-forward private eye story, with Kate aggressively searching for an orchid thief.  As always with Hawkeye, Matt Fraction’s indie comics approach works marvelously.

Infinity #6 – Marvel’s big event of the summer (it definitely does not feel like summer as I write this) draws to a close, with various Avengers teams moving on Thanos’s forces, and a select bunch going after the big guy themselves.  I’ve found the Thanos part of this series, and the forced build-up towards Inhumanity, the weakest part of this series, and I still feel that way.  Some of the seeds that Jonathan Hickman planted at the beginning of his run on Avengers don’t quite flower as fully as I’d expected (such as the whole Starbrand and Nightmask plot), although it’s not like he’s done with these characters (a third series, Avengers World, written by him, is launching soon).  In the end, it was an enjoyable series, with a few more tie-ins still dribbling out, and I’m never going to complain about Jim Cheung art.

The Massive #17Brian Wood is writing a very taut story in this Longship arc, as the Ninth Wave confront a trio of wooden whaling boats, only to find their own tactics turned against them.  At the centre of this story is the conflict between our hero, Callum Israel, and Bors, a Norwegian extreme right politician turned whaler.  A great read.

Mind MGMT #17 – Matt Kindt finishes off the third big story arc of this series with this issue, which is oversized and quite impressive.  Much of the story, which has been about a Matryoshka sleeper agent who was left to her own devices in suburbia, is told with large wide panels that help accentuate the uniqueness of Kindt’s art.

Morning Glories #35 – Continuing with done-in-one issues focusing on single characters, Nick Spencer and Joe Esima check in on Fortunato this time around.  He’s been held prisoner since the Truant’s uprising, and has been tortured pretty regularly.  It seems that Ms. Daramont really has it in for the kid, although it’s still not clear why.  In the flashback sections, we see just how Fortunato was recruited to Abraham’s school, as he meets a familiar face in his past.  This series just keeps adding new layers to an already complex story, and I love it.

New Avengers #12 – The epilogue to Infinity makes it clear that Jonathan Hickman is nowhere near finished with his storyline, as the Black Swan equates the Builders to the smallest threat facing Earth so far as the dimensional incursions the Illuminati have been trying to stop are concerned.  This issue opens with a terrific scene in Wakanda, between Black Panther and his sister, which just gets better when Namor shows up.  Were this a Black Panther and Sub-Mariner comic, it could possibly be one of the best that Marvel publishes.

Nova #10 (#100)I’ve been enjoying Zeb Wells’s work on this book, but with this extra-sized anniversary title, he’s off the book, to be replaced by Gerry Duggan, whose work I love on Deadpool.  The thing is, there wasn’t a lot about this issue that excited me.  I’ve been enjoying the Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle thing that this title had going on, but I don’t know if Duggan is going to continue in that vein.  I do find myself a little interested in the upcoming New Warriors book, so I’ll probably give this one more issue to impress me, but right now, I don’t know if I’m going to stick with this title or not.

Powers Bureau #8 – A new story arc starts, and a lot of stuff happens, especially if you consider that this is a Brian Michael Bendis comic.  Someone or something has killed a group of Rob Liefeld tribute heroes, and their Cable figure, The Extreme, will only talk to Christian Walker about it, but he’s dealing with his own stuff.  Also, Deena is still recovering from her pregnancy, and Retro Girl looks to have picked up a virus.  Every so often, it feels like this book is moving back towards its heyday; this is one of those issues.

Pretty Deadly #2 – I think the way to approach this book is to just let it wash over me, and not really worry all that much about what’s going on just yet.  This metaphysical Western definitely needs to be read more than once to fully grasp, but like Cormac McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, which this reminds me of, this book is lovely and strange, and should be accepted and loved for that reason.  Kelly Sue DeConnick is more interested in atmosphere than plot, and Emma Rios is meeting her every step of the way.  This series is definitely interesting.

Revival #15This title has kind of settled into itself, and isn’t so much introducing new plot elements so much as examining previous ones that had been overlooked in all the craziness of Revival Day.  This issue has Dana investigating his sister’s murder, while the government quarantines everyones’ livestock, and we discover that there is a mysterious facility where families are dropping off their revived family members.  I really like how Tim Seeley is structuring such a long story for this title, and keeping it interesting throughout.

Saga #16 – Once again, a new issue of Saga comes along, and makes everything okay.  Marko and Alana are still trying to think of ways to make money, when the idea of joining an acting troupe gets planted in their heads by Marko’s mother and their favourite author.  Meanwhile, The Will is not doing well, which leads Gwendolyn to the planet where the family is hiding, just as Prince Robot IV shows up (in a scene we saw issues ago).  It feels like the next issue is going to be a big one.

Shadowman #13X – I picked up the new issue of Bleeding Cool Magazine (the first time I’ve ever bought it) because I wanted to check out this special issue of Shadowman, which is technically the first of Peter Milligan’s run, and which was packaged with that magazine.  It’s alright, but shorter than I’d expected.  Basically, it looks like Milligan is going to play up Jack Boniface’s mental instability for his first arc.  It’s something he’s done before, but he’s usually pretty good at it.  It might be worth checking out…

Sledgehammer 44: Lightning War #1Mike Mignola and John Arcudi return to their WWII take on Iron Man, as the Sledgehammer armor, newly inhabited by a dead soldier kept conscious through Vril energy, is sent to recover an American pilot and secret plane from Nazi territory.  Adolf Hitler and Professor Bruttenholm both have cameos, and the Black Flame continues his sweep of Mignola-verse titles.  Laurence Campbell’s terrific art makes this a winner.

Star Wars Legacy #9 – It probably goes without saying that Ania Solo and her friends don’t end up dying on Dac, the poisoned water planet, but instead find a way to get themselves back into the fight against the Sith who are using the former residents of Dac as slaves.  What I like most about this issue is the way that the leadership of the Triumvirate government differ on how to proceed with the news they receive.  What made John Ostrander’s run with this series so memorable was the way he carefully balanced action with believable world building, and I’m pleased to see that Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko are continuing in the same way.

Thief of Thieves #18 – Redmond’s plan is coming together nicely, as his crew makes a move on Don Parrino’s holdings in Italy, and the FBI agent that has been hunting Redmond finds herself in a difficult position.  Robert Kirkman and his writing team have crafted this story perfectly, and Shawn Martinbrough, the series artist, has made this series look terrific.  Great stuff.

Uncanny Avengers #14 – I didn’t really expect that this issue of Uncanny Avengers would be so intense, even though the internet rumor mill had made it clear that a prominent character would die.  Rick Remender balances out the predictable with the surprising very well, and while I would have preferred a look consistent with the way Daniel Acuna’s been drawing this storyline, I do think that Steve McNiven nailed all the key pages.  I’m not sure if any of the deaths in this issue will last (there’s a cover with one of these dead characters on it in this month’s Previews), but this storyline definitely has my attention.

Uncanny X-Force #14 - I’m really losing issue in this series, as the team fights Cassandra Nova and her Revenants, and things don’t really progress much.  There was a lot of potential in this team, but with the news that this book is ending soon, I feel that much of it was squandered.

The Walking Dead #117 – All Out War continues, as Negan tries to figure out a strategy to deal with Rick’s attack, and Holly is held captive.  Robert Kirkman is doing a great job of increasing the tension in this big arc, while still finding more than enough space for the character work that makes this book so successful.  At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about Stefano Gaudiano coming on the book as inker, but I really like him working with Charlie Adlard, especially since it allows the increased frequency of this title (something I hate with most Marvel series).

Wolverine and the X-Men #38 – I am really okay with the fact that this series is ending, and this issue does a very good job of showcasing why that is.  On the one hand, Jason Aaron uses this comic to further the new problems between the X-Men and SHIELD, as Maria Hill comes calling, but on the other, it spends way too much time on the silly, inconsequential new mutants that are of the type that I believe led to the “no more mutants” policy a few years ago.  Yes, I’m talking about Shark-Girl and Eyeball Boy (or whatever his name is).  Also, this issue reveals something about Agent Dazzler that I’d either completely missed in reading the Bendis X-books, or that hasn’t been revealed yet.  On the up side, Pepe Larraz draws Wolverine wearing Etnies, which makes me wonder if Logan had ever taken up skateboarding in his checkered past.

Wolverine and the X-Men Annual #1I think this Infinity tie-in might be my favourite chapter of the whole event, as Kubark, the son of Guardian, the Majestor of the Shi’ar Empire, takes centre stage.  Kubark had been at the Jean Grey school until his father brought him back to a more traditional Shi’ar Superguardian education, and he’s been chafing under it.  When given the chance to disobey his father and join the fight against the builders, Kubark leaps at it.  It’s nice to see such a character-driven story in the middle of such a big event, as Jason Aaron makes Kubark a very likeable character.  Nick Bradshaw does a terrific job of capturing his youth, optimism, and mischievous nature.

Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4:

All-Star Western #25

Avengers Assemble #21

Cataclysm Ultimate X-Men #1

Indestructible Hulk #16

Infinity Hunt #4

Savage Wolverine #12

Superior Spider-Man #22

Bargain Comics:

Adventures of Superman #1&3The digital-first Legends of the Dark Knight series has included some of the best Batman stories since the debut of the New 52, so I thought I’d check out what the Superman equivalent of that title is like.  The first issue is strong, with a great Jeff Lemire story that evokes his Essex County graphic novels while capturing what makes Superman such an endearing character.  Also, it’s very cool to see artists like Chris Samnee and Riley Rossmo draw the Man of Steel.  The third issue is terrific.  It’s a full-length story by Matt Kindt and Steven Segovia, which shows a typical hour in Superman’s life, while a parallel story featuring Lois Lane and Lex Luthor scrolls across the bottom of each page.  It’s nice to see the classic Superman costume, and to read some very good, very self-contained stories for a change.

Birds of Prey #21 – I stopped reading BoP after about the third issue, as I didn’t much like relaunched Black Canary or the other characters in the book.  I thought I’d give things another shot for the Talon cross-over (which, strangely enough, was also the reason why I stopped reading Talon at the time (see below)).  Christy Marx seemed to have a bit of a better take on Dinah than the previous writer had, but so much of this issue is involved with the two Talons that I couldn’t get enough of a sense of what this book is really like.  Is this something I should be reading more?

Multiple Warheads: Down Fall – I knew that I’d already read most of the content in this $8 prestige format one-shot that collects all of the previous appearances of Sexica and Nikolai, but Brandon Graham’s comics are so good, they deserve to be owned in many formats.  This series has been a lot of fun from the beginning (when it appeared in porn comics), and reading anything that Graham both wrote and drew is always a treat.

Talon #9-11It’s interesting that the supposed Birds of Prey cross-over issue, which shows Calvin Rose fighting Batgirl and Black Canary on the cover, doesn’t even feature those characters.  Instead, Calvin heads off to Santa Prisca, where he spends two and a half issues fighting Bane’s forces.  Bane has really been handled poorly in the New 52; any hopes of him retaining the qualities that made him such a great character in The Secret Six were dashed by these comics.  Such a shame…

Venom #37-40 – I really like Kim Jacinto’s art in this run of Venom.  Flash is trying to take out a major player in the Philadelphia underground (with the unfortunate name of Lord Ogre), who has hired a number of villains to come and fight back.  There’s a fair amount of chaos, which leads to the creation of Mania, a sidekick of sorts for Venom.  Cullen Bunn has been doing good work with this series; I really should get caught up on it…

X-Men Legacy #14-17 – Marvel’s strangest X-book continues to be just that, as Legion makes moves to remove mutant hate in London, meets with his mother, and then decides to kill Cyclops.  This book is enjoyable, but hard to reconcile with what’s going on in the other X-Men titles.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Get Jiro!

Written by Anthony Bourdain and Joel Rose
Art by Langdon Foss

I don’t follow celebrity chefs or the whole ‘foodie’ movement, so I didn’t pick up this comic because Anthony Bourdain’s name was on the cover.  I grabbed it because Vertigo graphic novels are reliable, and because Langdon Foss’s art looked intriguing.

Get Jiro! is set in a near-future Los Angeles where social and political power has been placed in the hands of two competing chefs.  Bob is at the centre of a massive conglomerate of restaurants, and is one of those chefs who cares little for minor concerns like species endangerment in his quest to cook what he wants.  Rose, on the other hand, is a firm believer in eating locally and sustainably (at least, in public).

Between the two is Jiro, a sushi chef who operates a tiny restaurant on the outskirts of the city.  After slicing off the heads of some customers who have ordered California Rolls and dipped their rice in soy sauce, Jiro finds himself on both super-chefs’ radars.  As they try to enlist him, he in turn sees an opportunity to disrupt the power structure and give more independent chefs freedom.

The book is pretty entertaining, and at times quite bloody.  The writers give just enough exposition for the setting to be clear, and let things roll out at a good pace.  Langdon Foss’s art is terrific.  He has the detail of a Frank Quitely or Geof Darrow, but with a more animated style.

I really wish Vertigo made more OGNs like this.

 



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