The Weekly Round-Up #379 With Grass Kings #1, Into The Badlands Special #1, Redline #1, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #5 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Grass Kings #1 – This gorgeous new series by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins gets off to an interesting start.  The Grass Kingdom is a squatter’s settlement on the shore of a lake, determined to live off the grid and separate from the nearby town of Cargill.  The issue opens with a history of the area going back over a thousand years, and then gives us a tour of the Kingdom as an interloper from town is discovered.  Kindt uses this as a chance for the settlement’s police officer to drive him through the place, introducing a number of colourful characters along the way.  There’s a mystery at the heart of this book, but very little of it has been revealed to the reader yet.  Jenkins’s watercolours are quite arresting, and the book really stands out, visually.  Story-wise, it’s interesting how many comics we are starting to see like this – Sheltered, Briggs Land, and others have captured or anticipated the growing distrust of government.  It’s good stuff.

Quick Takes:

Captain America: Steve Rogers #13 – So I’d decided that I was done with this book, and then ended up buying one more issue.  Story of my life.  Things aren’t really that much more exciting now than they were before.  More questions are raised about just what happened with Baron Zemo Sr., as Cap’s memory now has him dying during the rocket launch that originally ‘killed’ Bucky and froze Cap, making me wonder how that was supposed to have happened to post-Kobik Hydra Cap.  I still think that Secret Empire might be the big tentpole event by a writer I admire that I choose to sit out on.

Copperhead #11 – I am very happy to see Copperhead return to the stands.  I’ve really enjoyed Jay Faerber’s sci-fi Western book, and while the hiatus has been a long one, I found myself right back into the story.  Sheriff Clara discovers that someone has murdered the mayor, and when she summons Boo for backup, he brings a surprise from her past.  Faerber’s put together a very interesting world here, and it continues to feel very fresh.  Faerber is joined by new series artist Drew Moss on this issue, and while his lines are not as clear as Scott Godlewski’s were, his style fits with the title nicely.

Deathstroke #14 – As usual, I really enjoyed this issue of Deathstroke, which has Slade engaged in intrigue against his son, and then making a deal with the military to retrieve someone who is a more challenging fight than Slade expects.  There’s an appearance by a character I don’t know, and whose appearance is so poorly explained that I had to use the internet to learn that she’s the New 52 Teen Titan version of Power Girl.  I am used to Priest just expecting that his readers can keep up with him, but I think a little editor’s box would have gone a long way here.  Still, this is a very strong book.

Detective Comics #952 – The Bat-Team fights the League of Shadows, as we discover that Shiva has a connection to one of the team.  This issue really ramps up the threat posed by the League that Batman had previously dismissed as urban legend, and has the feel of being a part of a larger event, only without the annoying tie-ins.  Artist Christian Duce is fine, but I would have preferred to see some of the other artists working on this title for this one, as it’s a pretty big issue.

Doctor Aphra #5 – Aphra and her father have arrived at the mystical place he’s sought his whole life, but so have the Empire.  Kev Walker’s art on this title is very nice; I was happy to see the Snowtrooper outfit being used, as it’s always been a favourite of mine.  This is a fun title.

Elephantmen #75 – I’ve been reading Elephantmen since this series started, and I’ve usually enjoyed it.  Over the last year and a half though, I’ve found that the stories seem to endlessly circle back on themselves, as the same themes get explored again and again, with very little growth or change.  This issue is a good example.  A group of disgruntled transgenics gather at a bar to discuss a plan to get to and kill Nikken, the man that made them.  It’s a good issue, but I’m tired of this book always going back to the same well.  I think that I’m going to be switching to trade and/or sale priced issues from here on out.  This is a very attractive comic, but it’s just not doing it for me anymore.

Into the Badlands Special #1 – I’ve never heard of this TV show, but when you package a comic with one I’ve already bought (Deathstroke #14 in this case), I’m certainly going to read it.  Sadly, this book looks like it was put together in a hurry, with art that’s not always all that clear (I think it’s by Steve Ellis, although he’s listed just as inks and colour), and a story that didn’t do a whole lot to grab me.  Is this show any good?  I’m not tempted after reading this story that shows us the workings of a feudal society that, I suppose, is somewhere in the future, but could also be an Asian-themed Old West.

Justice League of America #2 – I’m finding myself a little disappointed in this title so far.  From the one-shots that I read leading up to it, I was expecting things to be a lot more interesting and character-driven.  Instead we have Lord Havok and the Extremists standing in for both Donald Trump and Doctor Doom, as they take over an Eastern European nation (where everyone speaks perfect English), and the Justice League of America gets involved in planning an overthrow of what is ostensibly a legal government.  I’m not sure what Steve Orlando is trying to accomplish with this book at this point, and hope that when this arc is over, things will improve.  If not, I’m gone.

Low #16 – Low returns after a hiatus, and it does so in a very strange way, returning to the part of the series where Marik was a prisoner, fighting in the gladiatorial arena for Roln.  One of Marik’s companions, Io, is the focus of this story, as we discover that he is a very unique character in this fascinating undersea world, and I hope we see more of him.  I’ve missed this book, and especially Rick Remender’s exploration of the role of optimism in terrible times.  Greg Tocchini’s art is looking great here.

Micronauts #10 – I’ve been wanting to drop Micronauts to clear up some space on my pullfile list, but damn it if Cullen Bunn isn’t keeping me interested in this story.  The group decides they need to rescue the scientist who helped them escape the military, and connect to the Internet to find her and learn about the Earth.  These leads to some humorous scenes, at least until they run into a squad of very powerful Acroyears, and get some more prophecy mumbo jumbo tossed at them.  It’s entertaining.

Motor Crush #4 – We learn a little more about Domino’s background in this issue, specifically how she came to live with her adoptive father, as she continues to make poor choices that lead to cool skateboard chase scenes, and the further jeopardization of her racing career.  I’m really enjoying this series, but I do have to wonder why more people don’t seem to recognize Domino when she is in situations other than her official races.  If she’s a minor celebrity, and many people are followed by floating webcast cameras, isn’t it likely that she’d have been exposed by now?  That, and the seemingly magical properties of Crush (which appears to turn a motorcycle into a Salvador Dali painting in this issue) need to be clarified or better explained soon.

New Super-Man #9 – Much of what I’ve enjoyed about this title to date is in the way in which Gene Luen Yang is reimagining some of the basic concepts behind Superman and the Justice League, and placing them within a modern Chinese context.  This issue has Kenan travelling to America with Lex Luthor, and that weakens the appeal a little for me.  There are too many Superman variations in the DCU right now, and I’d rather that this one stay in his own bubble.  That said, this was still a fine issue.

Planetoid: Praxis #2 – I’m really pleased that Ken Garing has returned to this world.  This second issue feels like the real beginning to this arc, as it takes place eight years after the last issue, and concerns the growing population on the planetoid.  There is an illicit market that’s been set up away from Onica’s settlement, and some of the younger cast members enjoy going there, although Silas’s son doesn’t have much fun.  At the same time, the corporation that built the Slab has returned to the planet, and the community is not sure how they should handle that.  Garing does a terrific job of keeping this strange environment visually interesting, while also letting the story and characters develop naturally.  It’s a very good issue.  I especially like that he includes a couple of short strips on the flipside of the comic.

Redline #1 – I thought I’d check out this new Oni Press comic, despite not being familiar with the creators, Neal Holman and Clayton McCormack.  It’s an interesting issue.  It seems that a corporation has colonized Mars, but is dealing with an insurrection by the indigenous population.  There are a lot of parallels to Iraq, but the book attempts to handle all of this very lightly, as a comedy, and I’m not all that sure that it works.  It more or less feels like the comic can’t decide what kind of story it wants to be.

Rom #7 – On the one hand, I appreciate the various layers of story in this comic, at the same time, I’m getting a little bored with it.  Rom continues to argue with his reinforcements about the importance of Earth, while a pair of GI Joes attack them, and the Wraiths move into Scientologist mode as a way of harvesting souls.  I think it’s time to demote this book off my pull-file list…

The Wicked + The Divine #27 – After last issue’s parting of ways, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie check in on the various gods as they move forward with their plans or attempt to makes plans for what is a rapidly shortening future.  This title is always interesting, but the weird way in which some double-page spreads are meant to be read horizontally, while others are read traditionally, did not feel all that organic to me.

Wonder Woman #18 – As this book continues, my interest diminishes.  We see the point in Wonder Woman’s history where Cheetah is created, and get a much better understanding of the woman who has been hounding Diana in the modern-day-set issues, but I find it hard to care a whole lot.  I took this book off my pullfile list, so now I’m just waiting out the point where I stopped preordering.

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

All-New Wolverine #18

Astro City #42

Cannibal Vol. 1 TP

Captain America: Steve Rogers #13

Doctor Strange and the Sorcerers Supreme #6

Harrow County #21

Hellboy and the BPRD 1954: Hell Moon #1

Inhumans Vs. X-Men #6

Jessica Jones #6

Kingpin #2

Nova #4

Old Man Logan #19

Power Man and Iron Fist #14

Shadows on the Grave #3

Silver Surfer #9

Uber Invasion #4

Bargain Comics:

Civil War II: Gods of War #4 – I picked this up totally by mistake (still not sure how that happened) a while ago, but only now got around to reading it.  I like how Dan Abnett has made Hercules acknowledge what a clown he’s been in the last couple of decades, and how he’s had him work to change himself.  Characters like this are hard to keep interesting, and this new approach works.  I wonder if Mark Waid has continued with it in Avengers.

Death of X #3 – The news this week that Charles Soule is going to be writing the X-Men soon is a welcome one.  Reading this comic, which features the X-Men and Inhumans arguing for a whole issue, I felt like the X-Men are used better than they’ve been since Bendis took them over.  I know that this comic is co-written with Jeff Lemire, but his X-Men has been pretty unimpressive, so I’m just going to decide to be hopeful.

Invincible Iron Man #1&2 – Brian Michael Bendis makes Riri Williams a much more sympathetic and interesting character than she was in her earlier appearances as this series launches.  I’m not sure how I feel about Tony Stark basically being her AI, as Bendis still writes him like he’s Peter Parker, and it gets annoying, but there’s some potential here.  It’s all very decompressed though.

Mockingbird #6&7 – I regret not having done more to support this title when it was still considered an ongoing.  Chelsea Cain’s writing for this book is a lot of fun, and Kate Niemczyk, who has a cameo in issue seven, is a terrific artist.  Bobbi is on a cruise ship holding a Hawkeye-themed nerd convention while he is on trial for killing the Hulk in these CWII tie-in issues.  Stuff happens.

Thanos #1 – I find Thanos to be a pretty boring character, generally speaking, but I like the way Jeff Lemire used him in this first issue.  More than that, I like that Starfox showed up, and that has me interested in checking out the other issues in this series, which (not surprisingly) has apparently been cancelled already.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash

by Dave McKean

I’ve long held an interest in the First World War, and spent a lot of time studying the ways in which it was portrayed in, and shaped, art while I was in university.  I’m not all that familiar with the British artist Paul Nash, however.  Still, the news that Dave McKean, of Sandman, Signal to Noise, Violent Cases, and Cages fame (also he did this book called Arkham Asylum you might have heard of), got me pretty excited.

Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash is, first and foremost, an absolutely beautiful book.  McKean takes his usual multi-faceted approach to it, employing a variety of painting and drawing techniques to tell his equally multi-faceted story.

McKean explores Nash’s war experiences and mind-state through his dreams, which tend to feature a black dog.  The story jumps around in time and location, leaving the reader to piece together much of it for him or herself.

McKean does a terrific job of capturing the strangeness of the first industrial-scale war.  Nash narrowly avoids sniper bullets in one instance, and in another, is able to have a calm conversation with his brother in a underground bunker while a barrage falls outside them.

Coming away from this book, I’m not sure that I learned a whole lot more about Nash, but my esteem for McKean’s art has grown.  This oversized volume is really lovely, and well worth owning.

Noble Causes Vol. 9: Five Years Later – Jay Faerber uses a familiar trick and jumps the story forward five years.  We see that Doc and Celeste both have new spouses, and that the family has expanded a great deal, even including Frost as a valued member of the family/team.  This volume is as good as the previous ones, although some familiar Noble Causes tropes get used again, perhaps making it one time too many.