The Weekly Round-Up #372 With Batman #15, Black Hammer Giant-Sized Annual, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #3, Manifest Destiny #25 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Batman #15 – Tom King and Mitch Gerads complete their two-part Batman/Catwoman story ‘Rooftops’, which is among the best work King has done so far, on par with his Vision.  The relationship between Bruce and Selina gets explored in more depth, and we learn the secret behind the killing spree Selina has been accused of.  This is a very smart comic, and it leaves me with a lot of hope for whatever King is going to do next on this title, and on the one that he and Gerads are reported to be working on.

Quick Takes:

Black Hammer Giant-Sized Annual – I love when a successful cartoonist enlists their cartoonist friends to help out with a project.  This annual features art by Nate Powell, Matt Kindt, Dustin Nguyen, Emi Lenox, Ray Fawkes, and Michael Allred, working with Jeff Lemire to look at a string of stories about an extra-dimensional creature who has had run-ins with all of the cast members of this strange and impressive series.  I love this title, and while this annual doesn’t do a lot to advance the main plotline, it’s nice to see all these characters when they were heroes.  Good stuff.

Black Panther: World of Wakanda #3 – I continue to enjoy this look at the history of the two Midnight Angels, as they solidify their relationship against a growing backdrop of distrust and betrayal among the other Dora Milaje.  I’m glad that Marvel is fleshing out the story from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther, but was surprised to see this week that there will be a third title, The Crew, added to his corner of the Marvel Universe.  I wonder if this is going to be replacing this book after this current arc concludes.  

Black Road #6 – It’s great to return to the Northlands with Brian Wood and Garry Brown as Magnus the Black pursues his vendetta against a Christian Cardinal who is hoping to supplant the Vatican, and make his fortress the centre of Christendom.  This is a good series, which looks at a very interesting period in history.

Black Widow #10 – I’d pretty much forgotten that Nick Fury is now a weird looking guy in chains living on the Moon, having taken over for the Watcher.  It’s dumb, as was everything that had to do with the Original Sin event, and acknowledging it here kind of kills some of my enthusiasm for this otherwise terrific title.  A trip to the moon with the Winter Soldier doesn’t go how either Natasha or the Weeping Lion planned it, as we move closer to a final conflict with the woman who’s been trying to kill Natasha since this title launched.  I have to admire the fact that Chris Samnee can make something like Watcher Nick Fury look cool.

Captain America: Sam Wilson #18 – My esteem and respect for Nick Spencer is growing with each issue of this series, as he continues to use it as a platform to address current issues in a plausible manner in the Marvel Universe.  In this issue, Rage, who was falsely arrested in the last issue, and received a beating at the hands of the Americops, decides to refuse help from the superhero community, instead hoping that his experiences in the criminal justice system can be used to shine a light on inequity.  Sam has video footage of Rage’s arrest, but is not sure if he should share it, thinking instead of taking more of a ‘respectability politics’ approach to things.  Spencer, who has been making quite a name for himself apparently in social media, really has a good handle on some of the complexities of this issue, but manages to present them all in the context of the Marvel U quite nicely.  I like the discussion Sam has with Steve Rogers, which I could read without thinking about this being Hydra Cap, and also enjoy seeing the way different factions of the black community and the media respond to Sam’s information.  I’m dropping the Steve Rogers title once the digital codes are gone (yes, I’m still on about that) but I’m definitely keeping this book on my pull-file list.

Clandestino #5 – What a treat to get a new issue of this Black Mask series so soon after the last one.  Amancay Nahuelpan takes his comic about rebels fighting a dictatorship into a more science fiction-oriented direction with this issue, as mech fighters are introduced, and we learn what happened to the title character, and how he survived the explosion of two issues ago.  Nahuelpan’s art is very nice, and his writing shows a lot of promise, but could really stand some stronger editing (both in the sense of copy editing and in structuring his story).  Still, this is an exciting book from an exciting creator.

Descender #18 – I feel like Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen are taking this title further into sci-fi adventure movie territory, and I don’t mind that at all, as this issue is full of giant worms, giant robots, a noble death, a daring escape, and a nice little plot twist.  This book is gorgeous, and I enjoy it a lot, but now I’ve started thinking about how good it would look on the big screen one day…

Doctor Aphra #3 – This comic really falls into place with this issue, as Black Krrsantan is left to hold off a huge pile of Imperials while the rest of the cast do their best Indiana Jones impression and sneak into the temple on Yavin 4 to find the location of the thing that Aphra’s father has been looking for.  Kieron Gillen continues to make Aphra one of the best new characters in the Star Wars universe, as we are left wondering if her moral outrage at her father’s life choices are genuine, or if they are vestigial father-daughter stuff.  I mean, she was okay working with Vader, but is furious that her father didn’t know about what happened on Alderan?  It’s some nicely balanced character work.

Drifter #16 – I’ll admit to getting more and more confused by this book with each new issue, but Pollux is in the same position, so I’m going to pretend that it’s intentional, and not reflective of any failings on my part.  

Generation Zero #6 – Generation Zero remains one of Valiant’s best titles, and that’s before Javier Pulido showed up to take us back into the Heroscape.  I’m really enjoying Fred Van Lente’s work on this title, and the way the characters are developing.

Horizon #7 – Brandon Thomas takes the beginning of this new arc as an opportunity to take us to Valius, the planet the main characters are from, to explore some of the ramifications of their mission, which we learn, wasn’t exactly authorized.  There’s a fair amount of intrigue going on back home, as a retired agent plays a dangerous looking game.  This is a very interesting series, and I like how Thomas makes the reader work for a full understanding of what all is happening.

Justice League of America: The Ray Rebirth #1 – Steve Orlando has done a fine job of updating the character of Ray Terrill, and positioning him to be an interesting component of this new team.  I was a big fan of Christopher Priest’s short-lived Ray series (soon to be the feature of one of my retro-review columns) and am happy to see such a visually cool character getting a chance to shine again.  Orlando is really making me look forward to this JLA book, even with Lobo set to be in it.

Kill or Be Killed #5 – It’s usual to expect to be impressed by a comic by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, but after the first arc of a new series by them, I don’t expect to be even more impressed than I was with the first arc.  Dylan has more than come to get used to his demon-driven mission to kill on a monthly basis, he’s come to embrace it.  We jump forward a few months, and find that Dylan’s personal life is a mess, but he’s discovered a new sense of purpose and self-confidence, although you have to wonder how many murders a person can commit before drawing the attention of the police.  Things start to go wrong in this issue, and that makes the book even more compelling than it was before.  I love the way Brubaker has Dylan narrating this story and coming close to breaking the fourth wall from time to time, while also displaying an understanding of how his storytelling would be coming across.  It adds an element of uncertainty to the book that I enjoy.

Manifest Destiny #25 – I’m so happy to see this book back from hiatus, as Lewis, Clark, and their crew settle in for the winter just as a new threat begins to rear its head.  Writer Chris Dinges gives us two stories and a thoughtful text piece about Standing Rock, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and how the American concept of Manifest Destiny really has not gone away.  This is a great comic, and I appreciate that it’s becoming a more conscious one as well.

Mayday #3 – I find that I’m loving this series more and more with each new issue, and that’s not just because Alex DeCampi writes about Leonard Cohen’s forgotten classic ‘Don’t Go Home With Your Hardon’ in the text piece.  Our Russian spies try to figure out how to salvage their disaster of a mission while the Americans scramble to figure out what’s going on.  DeCampi is just so good at setting up stories like this, and Tony Parker really brings the story home with his art.  Great title.

Nightwing #13 – Just who is behind the murders in Blüdhaven is made clear this issue, but that does not simplify Dick’s relationship with the police department.  Tim Seeley is maintaining my interest in this book, and doing a fine job of it.

Spider-Gwen #13 – I guess I really am a sucker for Miles Morales, as I picked this up to see where the last issue of his comic leads.  He and Gwen are looking for Miles’s father, who is now involved in some kind of shady criminal thing?  It’s just as confusing as the S-G issues of Spider-Women were.  I love Jason Latour’s art on Southern Bastards, but his writing very rarely works for me.

They’re Not Like Us #13 – Eric Stephenson and Simon Gane’s long absent series returns, and I’m left wishing I’d reread the last few issues before I got this one, since I’m having a hard time remembering everything that was going on.  Syd’s working a plan, and other people with abilities in the Bay Area appear to be picking sides, while the cops are getting closer to figuring out just what is going on.  This book has a real hipster X-Men vibe to it that I enjoy, and Gane’s art is very nice.

Ultimates^2 #3 – Al Ewing is really being given free reign to attack the standard understanding of Marvel’s cosmic universe, as the personifications of Order and Chaos set about re-writing the rules of the cosmos, and as the Troubleshooters begin to investigate the actions of the Ultimates.  The team is barely in this comic, which is a bit of a problem, but there’s still a lot going on to keep the reader interested.

Comics I Would Have Bought if Comics Weren’t So Expensive:

Abe Sapien Vol. 8

All-New X-Men #17

Amazing Spider-Man #23

Cage #4

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #4

Clone Conspiracy #4

Curse Words #1

Dark Horse Presents #30

Few #1

Gamora #2

Green Arrow #15

Invincible Iron Man #3

Leaving Megalopolis Vol. 2

Snow Blind TP

Star-Lord #2

Superman #15

USAvengers #2

Uncanny Inhumans #18

Bargain Comics:

Agents of SHIELD #5-10 – This title, by Marc Guggenheim and a few different artists, is really not very good by the end of things.  Every time a comics company decides to shift around its lengthy tradition of continuity to reflect a television or film representation of old characters, the comics suffer.  This attempt to shoehorn the Agents of SHIELD television characters into established Marvel continuity, including Mockingbird and the new Deathlok, really doesn’t work well.  Add to that a Civil War II tie-in story, and the inclusion of Elektra for no apparent reason, and this book is clearly trying to do too many things at once, and none of them well.  I don’t really see how Guggenheim moves from this book to the X-Men (especially considering that he forced in his one contribution to the X-mythos, Greymalkin, a character named after the street the team lives on).  

Civil War II: Ulysses #1-3 – I didn’t have a lot of expectations for this digital-first miniseries spotlighting the character that became the centre of the CWII event, except for the fact that it was written by Al Ewing, who has proven himself capable of spinning gold out of the worst of Marvel’s event-driven dreck.  Not so much in this case though, which relies so heavily on Warren Ellis’s almost-finished take on Karnak to provide any sort of plot or purpose for the story.  It’s pretty skippable.

Dr. Strange Annual #1 – I’ve never really liked any work that Kathryn Immonen has done at Marvel, and really, this Annual continues the streak.  It’s weird, because the work she does with her husband Stuart for smaller publishers has been universally great, but this story, which has Stephen talking to Cleo again while his house is beset upon by a demonic contractor, is pretty predictable and kind of lame.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Think Tank Vol. 2 – I’m glad I finally got around to checking out Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal’s excellent comic about a genius working (unwillingly) for the American military developing weapons and other new technology.  This volume has David back in the lab, and trying out a new approach to resisting his masters – developing weapons so terrible that someone is going to have to stop him.  Hawkins does a terrific job of blending psychology with the types of futuristic science we associate with Greg Rucka or Warren Ellis.  Ekedal is always excellent.

Virgil

Written by Steve Orlando
Art by JD Faith

Steve Orlando first caught my eye with his excellent Image series Undertow, and has since become a bit of a sensation at DC, with his Justice League of America launching soon (although I much prefer his excellent Boom! title Namesake).  I felt like it was time to check out what I think was his debut graphic novel, Virgil.This is a pretty impressive book.  It’s set in Jamaica, and centres on Virgil, a police officer in Kingston who hides the fact that he’s gay from everyone in his massively homophobic environment.  He has a boyfriend, Ervan, but they aren’t able to spend much time together, and have to live completely in secret.

When Virgil’s secret comes out, he is assaulted by his coworkers, and his lover is taken away.  What follows is a pretty bloody revenge story, which Orlando described as pure “queersploitation”.
What really makes this book stand out is the way in which Virgil disproves or runs counter to just about every common stereotype we see portrayed in just about every form of media.  I thought that the decision to set this book in Jamaica makes it feel unique, although it also makes it easy for a North American audience to avoid examining its own entrenched and systemic homophobia.  At the same time, it makes the story more vivid and believable.

JD Faith’s art works very well with this book, and the entire package is a very satisfying read.  Orlando and Faith are both up-and-coming talents that people need to keep an eye on.  Good stuff.

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