The Weekly Round-Up #377 With Letter 44 #30, The Belfry, Divinity III #3, The Old Guard #1, Outcast #25 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Letter 44 #30 – I found this to be one of the most emotional issues of Letter 44 to date.  President Blades reveals to the people of Earth that the world is coming to its end, and encourages anyone with essential jobs to help keep the world working until the last moment.  At the same time, the crew of the Clarke are forced to make what might be their last stand against the Builders.  This is the stuff that Charles Soule has been building towards since this series launched some three years ago, and it’s all wonderfully plotted, scripted, and drawn (by Alberto Alburquerque).  It’s obvious that this has been planned for a long time, but it’s impossible to read the pages filled with a US President acting presidential, and not think about the absolute shitshow that has become American politics in the last two months.  Blades, who was clearly modeled from the beginning on Barack Obama, is exactly the Hollywood-style world leader who gives incredible speeches, and can inspire hope in people while the clock ticks down hopelessly.  The contrast to America’s current President is shocking, and very sad.  There is a quick jab at the creation of a fascist state that made me smile, but I don’t feel that Soule has taken steps to make Blades a better man since the alternative has become clear.  This is a great, great series, and as it moves towards its conclusion, it’s become more important than I would have imagined when it launched.  Much of this issue made me genuinely sad.

Quick Takes:

The Belfry – I’m a big fan of Gabriel Hardman’s work, especially his terrific Invisible Republic, and am impressed with this self-contained vampire book.  A plane goes down in a jungle, and it’s not long before the surviving passengers and crew are being snatched by bat-winged vampires.  Hardman’s a great artist, and he keeps this story moving quickly, but in unpredictable ways.  There’s a lot of great atmosphere in this book.

Black Panther #11 – As is often the case, the final confrontation between the Panther and his associates and Tetu and Zenzi’s army may be a little anticlimactic, but it sets up a very interesting new status quo for the series.  I’ve loved the work that Ta-Nehisi Coates has been doing on this book, but it’s often really only on the second read through the issue that I fully grasp the more intellectual aspects of what he’s up to, after I already know what’s happening in the story.  I feel like this is a run that is going to be appreciated even more after it’s all completed.

Black Road #7 – I continue to enjoy this series, even if it’s a very quick read.  Magnus the Black infiltrates the Christian stronghold in the North, but might not be able to manage to face the renegade Pope on his own terms.  I’d like to know if there is any historic basis for this title, or if it’s all Brian Wood’s invention…

Captain America: Steve Rogers #12 – After months of spinning his wheels, as this title gets closer to the launch of the Secret Empire event, and just as I decide to drop this title, Nick Spencer finally starts to grab my attention a little more.  As Maria Hill negotiates with Taskmaster and Black Ant, Steve bring Baron Zemo into his plans.  There are a lot of moving parts here, and I assume that Secret Empire is going to be very confusing for anyone who hasn’t been reading this title.  I still don’t like this book anywhere near as much as I do Sam Wilson’s title (to say nothing of The Fix, below).

Deathstroke #13 – I would really like to read a longform interview with Christopher Priest to learn about the process he uses when he plans out his series.  This issue has so many moving parts that depend on so many things that have been hinted at from the beginning of the run, that I find it hard to imagine keeping everything straight over a six-month period.  Deathstroke is being played by the Red Lion, which puts him into conflict with Raptor (from the Nightwing comic), while still working his own agenda, which is rubbing up against the agendas of his son and his ex-wife.  To say nothing of his son’s fiancée.  This is a very impressive comic that never disappoints, even if it does confuse at times.

Descender #19 – Our heroes have escaped from the Machine Moon, but they are not exactly working together, as Tim-21’s purpose becomes a little more clear.  This continues to be an excellent read.

Detective Comics #951 – I’ve long admired Shiva as an antagonist in the DCU, and am pleased to see her showing up in the Rebirth era, as deadly and mysterious as ever.  The League of Shadows looks like it might be a real thing, and as a new threat for the Bat-Team, it definitely has my interest.

Divinity III #3 – The third Divinity miniseries might be the coolest, as we learn just how reality has been changed, and as Myshka comes after Harada and Ninjak.  Trevor Hairsine is doing some great work on this series.

Drifter #17 – Well, apparently it’s finally time to learn everything that’s really been going on in this comic, as we jump back a year and meet Pollux back when he was still flying the ship that he crashed on back at the beginning of the series.  As well, we learn about his relationship with Emmerich, and a few other surprises.  I’ve admired this title since it began, but haven’t always understood everything that’s happened.  I’m pleased to get it all explained at last.

The Fix #8 – The Fix is one of the most consistently entertaining comics on the market.  Nick Spencer’s wickedly funny book about a pair of corrupt and stupid cops is always a treat, and this issue is no different.  Pretzels the police dog undergoes surgery, while Roy tracks down leads on the murdered actress he was supposed to be protecting.  Of course, him tracking down leads looks a lot more like planting evidence, but that’s beside the point.  This is a great book.

Justice League of America #1 – I’ve been excited about the lineup of this team, and have been looking forward to a new regular title by Steve Orlando.  Then the first issue hits, and the villains are Lord Havok and the Extremists, from the Countdown era, and most of my enthusiasm dissipates like cigarette smoke on a windy day.  These are terribly-designed villains, and with Ivan Reis turning in very workaday DC house style art, I’m already regretting have preordered this book through April.  I hope that Orlando can pull things back together quickly, as this book has a lot of potential.  I still like much of the interaction between the characters (with the exception of Lobo, who should not be here), but am going to need more to sink my teeth into moving forward.

Mayday #4 – I absolutely love this Soviet era spy/adventure story by Alex DeCampi and Tony Parker.  Our two Russian spies have made it to San Francisco, but they are in the process of turning on each other, while the CIA works to exploit an operative they have in the Soviet machine.  Great pacing and structure, great art, and an even better playlist (Sun Ra, Last Poets, and Gil Scott-Heron!) make this a very entertaining comic.

Motro #4 – Each issue of Motro, the bizarre fantasy series by Ulises Farinas and Erick Freitas, has had some strange shifts in story compared to the issue before.  In this one, Motro rules over a city state which is beset upon by lizard people who keep stealing babies.  He vows to get them back, and to do so, has the city’s elders, including his close companion, pose as infants, because in this world (where vehicles are living beasts), old people shrink to the size of babies before they die.  There are so many odd ideas running around in Farinas’s head that get to crawl into the light in these books, that poring over every page is required.  I’m not sure if this is the last issue of the title or not (no more issues have been solicited, but the last page says Motro will return), but I strongly recommend this series.

Occupy Avengers #4 – I’ve been a fan of Nightshade since she appeared in Priest’s Black Panther, so I’m pleased to see that she is going to be a regular cast member of this book, which has kind of strayed from its original premise with the two-parter ending with this issue.  Still, Nightshade, so I’m happy.  This is one of the few Marvel books that I’m sticking with now, mostly because I think that David Walker shows a lot of promise as a writer, and because I’ve always been fond of the Clint Barton Hawkeye.  I’m curious to see where this all leads.

The Old Guard #1 – Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández bring us a new series about a group of four immortals who work as an independent special ops team.  We don’t know very much about them from this first issue, aside from getting a good sense of the leader, Andy, and her sex drive.  The team is tapped by an old contact to retrieve a group of girls that have been kidnapped from their school in South Sudan, but things aren’t as they appear.  At the same time, something odd has happened to a soldier in Afghanistan.  Ruck and Fernández focus on building atmosphere before character, and they are quite successful.  The end of the issue suggests that the status quo is changing quickly, and throws us into the action.  This is one of the most Vertigo Image comics I’ve ever read, and for that reason, this feels familiar and comfortable, while also feeling brand new.  I’m definitely on board for this one.

Outcast by Kirkman & Azaceta #25 – I hope that a lot of people picked up this $0.25 issue of Outcast, as it’s one of the most significant we’ve seen in a while, and this is a title that deserves some new readers.  For ages now, we’ve seen Kyle and Reverend Anderson try to figure out what to do about the large number of possessed people in their town.  Now, just as Kyle is beginning to reconcile with his wife and daughter, Anderson takes things a step too far, putting everyone at risk.  Also, we learn who the new stranger in town is, and see just how important he’s going to be for this comic.  This is a very strong horror title, and this was one of the best issues in it since the beginning.

Revival #47 – Revival has been a very cool, and very rewarding series, and I’m sad to see it come to its natural close.  At the same time, I’m beyond impressed with Tim Seeley and Mike Norton being able to maintain the level of quality that they did with this comic, while both working on other projects.  Revival was always billed as a ‘rural noir’ horror series, and it kept that feeling until the end.  What made this comic stand out (beside the stellar art) was the way in which Seeley and Norton built up the Cypress family, and made them the centre of the series.  I hope they are incredibly proud of the work they did.  And, if they are reading this, I would totally be down for an Amish Ninja: Weaver Fanny miniseries or OGN one day.

Serenity: No Power in the ‘Verse #5 – While there’s nothing wrong with this series, it’s really just too much of the same old thing for me.  I loved Firefly, but I don’t feel like anyone’s doing anything new with the property now.

Spider-Gwen #17 – I’ve gotten roped into this “Sitting on a Tree” crossover with Spider-Man, and have to say that Bendis’s issues are much clearer and better written than Jason Latour’s.  I love Latour’s art on Southern Bastards, but have always had a hard time with his writing.  This continues to be the case here, as scenes play out kind of awkwardly.

Spider-Woman #16 – This is an all-action issue, as Jessica faces Hobgoblin and some of his goons.  I miss Javier Rodriguez’s art on this title, but am happy that he was replaced by Veronica Fish.

Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses #21 – I feel like I’ve been waiting for this issue for a while now, as Beth and her friends have to figure out how they’re going to get their drugs and money back from Beth’s mother, who robbed them.  When it looks like that might be problem enough for them, Kretchmeyer catches up to them, and their entire plan may be falling apart around them.  This continues to be the best story David Lapham has ever made.

Wonder Woman #17 – I think that Greg Rucka is losing me quickly with this title now.  Diana’s still sidelined, while Minerva is forced to make a deal to protect her and her other friends.  The story is just not keeping me engaged, and I’m starting to wonder if there is, after seventeen issues split between the present and the past, more than three things that Wonder Woman has accomplished.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #24

Astro City #41

Avengers #4.1

Britannia TP

Curse Words #2

Extraordinary X-Men #19

Few #2

Harbinger Renegades #4

Infamous Iron Man #5

Inhumans Vs. X-Men #5

Scarlet Witch #15

Skeptics #4

Thanos #4

Uncanny Avengers #20

Visitor: How and Why He Stayed #1

Bargain Comics:

A-Force #8-10 – I think that with a few tweaks, this all-female team book might have had a chance.  The lineup is odd, what with Medusa and Captain Marvel getting so much attention in many corners of the Marvel Universe, but writer Kelly Thompson made very good use of Nico and Dazzler.  I feel like this book really hit its stride just as it was shoehorned into CWII, and then canceled.  Like so many Marvel books these days…

New Avengers #15-17 – This title has such a great concept (an Avengers team that has taken over AIM) and such a great lineup, but due to constant exposure to poorly-planned events (Standoff, CWII) it just never really worked out.  I maintain that Al Ewing is one of the best writers at Marvel right now, but I think this is his longest-lasting run, and it ended at eighteen.  The art on this book was terrible at the beginning, and while I’m not a fan of Paco Medina, he was a big improvement.

Silver Surfer #2-5 – Dan Slott and Michael Allred’s Silver Surfer is fun, while still not particularly memorable.  Dawn Greenwood has definitely grown on me, and I like the way they portray Alicia Masters in these issues; she’s not a character you see very often these days.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Crossed Vol. 3: Psychopath – I like the idea that David Lapham plays with in this volume of Crossed, that the people who haven’t been turned into depraved lunatics by the Crossed virus might, in fact, be worse than the Crossed.  A quartet of survivors make the mistake of rescuing a man, and allowing him to travel with them, and that is their downfall in this typical depraved and messed up comic.

The Divine

Written by Boaz Lavie
Art by Tomer Hanuka and Asaf Hanuka

I remember first seeing this image of Johnny and Luther Htoo, the twelve year old twin leaders of the Karen God’s Army, who fought in Myanmar, back in 2000 or so, and immediately wanting to know more about them.  At the time, I thought that their story would make a great movie or something, and never really forgot that picture.  When I first saw the cover of The Divine, a graphic novel by Boaz Lavie and the Hanuka brothers, it immediately reminded me of the earlier image.

The Divine is about a magical version of the Htoo twins, who live in the fictional Asian country of Quanlom.  They don’t show up in the first half of the book though.

The story is told from the point of view of Mark, an explosives technician who is also an expecting father.  When a promotion at work doesn’t quite work out the way he was hoping, he decides to join a friend in an off-the-books explosives mission in the secretive and war-torn nation of Quanlom.  His friend, Jason, plays the role of the Ugly American quite well, and Mark is not all the comfortable with the way his friend treats the locals who they are working with.

When Mark discovers an injured child who might be endangered by the detonation he’s planned, he decides to get him treatment and to accompany him home.  This puts him in contact with Luke and Thomas, the Divine.  They appear to be commanding a small army of child soldiers in the jungle, and we learn that Thomas has great abilities.

The story gets pretty mystical at this point, and becomes more and more gripping as it moves towards its conclusion.  The art, by the Hanuka brothers, is beautiful and often luminous.  I have enjoyed every piece of their work that I’ve read, and was quite pleased to see them working together on this book again.

This was a pretty impressive comic, and I was especially excited when I got to the backmatter and learned that the same photo of the Htoo brothers that impressed itself upon me almost twenty years ago had the same effect on the creators of this book.