The Weekly Round-Up #123 With Secret, America’s Got Powers, Conan, Saga, Sauce Country & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Secret #1

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Ryan Bodenheim

It seems like almost every week there is a new on-going or mini-series coming from Image that is of the highest degree of quality and ingenuity.  This week, the second of two new Jonathan Hickman-written series debuts, and it is a very cool book, harkening back to his first comic series, The Nightly News.

As Secret opens, a man is awoken from his sleep by a masked assailant, tied up, and tortured in order to learn his work computer’s password.  His interrogator pulls out one of his teeth during their conversation.  Later, we learn that this man is the CEO of a large Washington accounting firm, and that his password gives him access to the financial secrets of many powerful people and corporations.

Scared, our executive goes to his lawyer, who is in turn able to put him in touch with the group that his firm uses for industrial espionage and security.  That group is run by Grant Miller, who proceeds to point out to the law firm, in the most arrogant way possible, the numerous gaps and weaknesses in their own security, in a bid to have them increase their use of his services.  Miller later meets with Dunn, our man from the beginning of the issue, and they outline a plan to capture or mislead the guy who attacked Dunn at his home.  Of course, there is more going on than either Dunn or his lawyer suspect, as Hickman begins to lay out just the beginning of what looks to be another multi-layered and complex story from the man who excels at these kinds of things.

At one point in the book, Miller tells the lawyers that, as ‘nations are crumbling… soon all we will have left are the little tribes we call corporations.”  In The Nightly News, Hickman explored people whose lives were hurt or ruined by the media; now we appear to be on the other side of the glass, as scared millionaires fight to hold on to their ill-gotten riches.  It’s interesting, in the post-Occupy world, to find the 1% being portrayed as the more sympathetic characters, although I do find myself much more interested in the people who are working to ruin them.

Hickman is joined on this book by Ryan Bodenheim, the artist he worked with on A Red Mass For Mars.  This book is, by necessity, less visually gripping than that futuristic outer space story, but Bodenheim still does very well with the numerous talking-heads scenes that make up this comic, and balances them nicely with the terror of the home invasion.  The comic is coloured by Michael Garland, but I suspect that Hickman had a firm hand in the design of the comic, as most pages are monochromatic, or only have splashes of one colour.  This is a technique we often see in his independent books, and helps give them all a unified look, despite the fact that he works with a variety of artists.

I’m not sure if Secret is an on-going or a limited series (Image never seems to share that information these days), but I’ll be with it for the long haul.  I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who is enjoying Thief of Thieves, as the two comics go well together.

Other Notable Comics:

America’s Got Powers #1

Written by Jonathan Ross
Art by Bryan Hitch, Andrew Currie, and Paul Neary

The first issue of this six issue mini-series is probably the biggest debut of the week, and with the names attached to it, that comes as no surprise.  Jonathan Ross is famous for being on TV in England and wrote the very good comic Turf, and Bryan Hitch has become comic’s go-to guy for widescreen, blockbuster series, like his work on The Authority and The Ultimates.

This series is an interesting pastiche of a variety of influences.  The most obvious one is contest shows like America’s Got Talent and the Idol series.  There are also some very strong similarities to JMS’s Rising Stars, Warren Ellis’s aborted Newuniversal and his awesome Freakangels, as well as The Hunger Games.

In this series, the sudden arrival of an artifact in San Francisco seventeen years ago causes every pregnant woman in the Bay Area to suddenly give birth to a perfectly healthy child, who develops powers and abilities.  Somewhere along the way, these kids rioted, got put into camps, and then became the stars of the title TV show, which gives these teens the chance to compete for a spot on America’s only superpowered team of heroes (why they want this, and what this team does is not established).  As you can imagine, this is a huge deal for a while, but like the Survivor series, attrition sets in, and eventually people stop watching.  Until someone gets hurt, and that gives the show’s backers (who apparently include government officials) the idea of making things more violent and raising the stakes.

Our point of view character in this series is Tommy Watts, the only child born that day without abilities.  He has been given a menial job at the stadium where the competitions take place, and through the hubris of the show’s new management team, is also given the chance to test his own heroism when the contest goes horribly wrong.

Ross has definitely toned down the exposition when compared to his work on Turf (which could be very dense in places), and paces the story nicely.  I like the way he establishes his backstory slowly, without tossing it at us in a page or two.  Hitch’s work is definitely Hitch’s work.  His signature widescreen layouts are used to full effect, and his usual ability to establish unique characters is used well.  Personally, I’m sick to death of his costume designs, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’m definitely sticking with this series throughout.  I got to like Tommy, who has a habit of blowing off authority and responsibility, and I’m curious to see what Ross is going to do to differentiate this series from the myriad influences listed above.

Conan the Barbarian #3

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Becky Cloonan

There is a languorousness to this title that I really didn’t expect.  When I think of Conan (despite not being very familiar with the character, having read only a handful of comics that feature him over the years), I always imagine large scale battles and things of that ilk.  This is basically a talking heads comic, and I found it pretty satisfying.

Conan has found himself under the spell of Belit, the titular ‘Queen of the Black Coast’.  Her men have killed all of Conan’s new companions, and because she is attracted to him, Conan is spared.  He becomes her lover, which also makes him second in command of her vessel.  He spends some time talking to an old shaman, and with N’Gora the subchief of the boat.

All of this serves to help establish these characters, and why they go around pillaging and plundering other ships and small villages, but it is ultimately all talk (except for the steamy scene between Conan and his new woman).  It’s an effective issue, but a strange conclusion to a story arc.

Of course, the biggest strength of this comic is Becky Cloonan’s wonderful artwork.  I’ve long been a fan of her work, and I feel this is some of the best stuff she’s ever produced.  It’s a very lovely comic (especially that love scene).  Unfortunately, she will not be drawing the next three issues of this title, but James Harren, whose work on BPRD I’ve been enjoying, is going to be coming aboard, so hopefully things continue to run smoothly.

I never expected that I would be eagerly looking forward to new issues of a Conan comic, but Brian Wood is also not giving me the Conan comic I expected, so it’s all working out rather nicely.

Glory #25

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell

This new, third issue of the relaunched Glory, came as a very nice surprise.  So far, the series has focused on Riley, a young girl who has always dreamt about the hero Glory.  Riley has traveled to a small island in France, and has finally met her hero, who has seen better days.  It’s been made clear that Glory and her friend Gloria have some reason for reaching out to Riley, but none of that has been very clear until now.

This issue begins with Riley sleeping, and dreaming about something that is going to happen in five hundred years.  Usually, Riley dreams about Glory’s past, so this is all a bit of a surprise to her, even before the shocking contents of that dream become apparent.  I don’t want to give much away, except to say that the visual look of this issue is closer to that of Prophet, the best of the new Rob Liefeld-owned but not created comics that are hitting the stands.

From this bleak vision of the future, we get a sense of where this title could be going, although we still don’t really understand what role Riley has to play in things.  I was mostly enjoying this comic for its art, but now I’m finding myself getting more and more interested in the story as well.

It should go without saying that Ross Campbell outdoes himself on this issue.  Future Riley and Glory are very different from how they’re being portrayed in the comic these days, yet they are still instantly recognizable.  He also does some terrific work on the backgrounds and strange creatures that populate them.  This is a very good comic, getting steadily better.

Haunt #23

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Nathan Fox

I suppose that long-standing fans of this comic would have been happy to see that the focus of this issue returns to the Kilgore brothers, who have always been the stars of the book, but I was a little sad to see that Still Harvey Tubman, the best of many changes that Joe Casey and Nathan Fox have brought to the series, was relegated to a supporting role again.

One of my favourite things about reading Haunt is the letters page, where people who claim that the McFarlane/Kirkman/Capullo issues of this comic were among the best comics they’ve ever read attempt to find some positive things to say about Casey and Fox’s revamp, before declaring that it’s not for them.  I can understand that – the change in tone, aesthetic, and pace of the book is pretty drastic (based on comparisons to the first trade, which is all I’ve read of the old guard) – but their railing against innovation is still kind of funny.  I like some pretty traditional and unoriginal comics too, but there’s nothing I’d be happier with than this type of comic becoming the norm at Marvel or DC.

Anyway.  This issue has the living Kilgore, Daniel, return to the church where he was nominally a priest when the series began, only to reveal to us all that it was always connected to this strange Second Church that attacked and kidnapped Daniel when Casey and Fox came on the scene.  There are now weird bug creatures crawling around the church, and a giant fire being has been rampaging through the city, also sent by the Second Church.  I’m still not too clear who these guys are, or why Casey loves fringe techno-religions so much, but it’s all making this comic a pretty cool read.

Fox’s visuals continue to be nuts – so much so that it’s a little hard to follow the comic at times (like when the ship crashed into the shore).  Still, this comic is very exciting to read.

Northlanders #50

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Danijel Zezelj

The final story arc of Northlanders mirrored its demise as a series in many ways.  Over the last nine issues, Wood has told the story of the Hauksson clan in three-issue story arcs that have spanned hundreds of years of life in Iceland, from some of its earliest settlers to the end of its independence in the thirteenth century.

For this last third of his trilogy, Wood has focused on Oskar Hauksson, a man whose desire for glory in battle is out of place with the time he lives in, and the political climate of the day.  As such, his actions bring ruin to his family and their holdings, as the squabbling clans of Iceland are at least able to come together in their contempt of him and his actions.

With enemies and circumstance surrounding him, Oskar bows out quietly, much as this Vertigo series has.  Northlanders was one of the most unique comics Vertigo has ever published.  It’s been a series of unrelated story arcs set in a variety of Northern European countries spread throughout many years.  Effectively, it was an impressionistic chronicle of Viking history, told through the lens of modern language and sensibilities.  It was never dull story-wise, and the rotating stable of some of the best Vertigo and independent artists in the business kept the book looking fresh and exciting month after month.

Of course, as it wasn’t an example of superhero fan fiction, it didn’t have much of a chance of a lengthy survival, because unfortunately, literary, beautiful, and occasionally challenging comics don’t sell all that well these days (if they ever did).  Still, this is a project that Brian Wood can be very proud of, as should anyone who contributed to it.  I feel that I learned a lot from this comic, and I enjoyed it a great deal throughout its four years of publication.  I will definitely miss it.

Saga #2

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

Expectations going in to the second issue of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s new on-going series were high after the near-perfection of the first issue.  I’m pleased to report that those expectations were more or less met.

This issue begins with The Will, the freelance bounty hunter hired by the Wreath to recover Hazel, the newborn child of our heroes Alana and Marko.  He knows that he’s not the only hunter after them, but when he finds out that someone named The Stalk is on the job, he decides it’s not worth his time, and departs.

While this is going on, our heroes have been trudging through a very dense jungle on Cleave, looking for a fabled source of ships, so they can escape the planet that is currently a large battlezone for their opposite forces.  The jungle is full of dangers, from the Horrors who are reported to live there, to the aforementioned Stalk.

There is not so much world building in this issue, as Vaughan wisely chooses instead to let the plot move the comic forward for now.  He does give us plenty of chances to learn more about Marko and Alana however, as we see the depth of Marko’s pacifistic convictions, and also the lengths to which Alana will go to protect her child.

Staples art is as incredible as it was in the first issue, and the book continues to be visually very inventive.  This series is excellent.

Saucer Country #2

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

I find myself much more intrigued this month with Saucer Country, which reads very smoothly.  Governor Arcadia Alvarado has just announced her intention to run for President of the United States, and then informed her closest adviser, and her recently-hired campaign manager that she believes the Earth is under threat of alien invasion.

Clearly, that announcement doesn’t go over too well (especially with the Republican manager), but Arcadia calmly explains that she is not going to jeopardize her chances of gaining the office, and that she intends to use it to help combat the threat, but that she is going to keep that a secret.

All of this hinges on the events that took place just prior to the beginning of the first issue.  Arcadia and her ex-husband were in their car somewhere in the desert, but neither of them remembers what happened.  Arcadia visits a doctor, who confirms that she was anally raped, but she has no memory of it.  The ex goes to a hypno-therapist, who also turns up some interesting results.

Gaining prominence in this story is a Harvard professor who has been sanctioned for his unorthodox opinions on the topic of aliens.  Now, the Alvarado campaign is reaching out to him, although he doesn’t yet know why.  Cornell is spending these first couple of issues getting his ducks in a row, and the intrigue is building palpably.

I am also really liking Ryan Kelly’s work on this book.  Arcadia must be a difficult character to draw – Kelly shows her as a confident and Presidential candidate, who is also dealing with a great amount of uncertainty in her life.  All of this comes across in the art, which is pretty amazing.

The Secret Service #1

Written by Mark Millar
Art by Dave Gibbons

I wasn’t too sure what to expect when starting The Secret Service.  Mark Millar can’t always be trusted as a writer – he often panders to the lowest element in comics fans, providing stories that are ultra-violent, puerile, or just kind of gross, but he can also bring out some thoughtful and original comics.

This issue opens with a group of terrorists holding Star Wars star Mark Hamill prisoner in a chalet in Switzerland.  We don’t really know why they have him, but there are a lot of them, and they are well-armed.  Hamill is quickly rescued by a British Secret Service agent, whose lengthy escape sequence echoes the beginning of many a James Bond movie, although it ends in a very funny moment.

After that, the story shifts to a Council Estate in South London, where we meet a typical trashy British family.  The mother is getting grief from her new husband for flirting with his brother, and he then goes and gets his youngest child to roll a joint for him.  The woman’s oldest son causes a bit of a scene before storming out and going for a joyride with his friends, which lands him in jail later.

The woman calls on her brother, who she believes is working in the Fraud Squad, but whom we learn is a Secret Service Agent, working this string of science fiction celebrity kidnappings (it’s not just Hamill).  He takes some time off from his investigation to have a row with his sister at the police station, before deciding that perhaps he needs a larger role in his wayward nephew’s life.

Millar fills this book with some strong character work, and resists the urge to portray the family as caricatures, providing the woman with some dignity, while still acknowledging the poverty of her situation.  It’s clear that he’s going to take the nephew under his wing, but how that is going to relate to the kidnappings remains to be seen.

Dave Gibbons’s art makes this book.  He’s never been a flashy artist, and his pencils look a little dated, but in a very classic way.  Having an artist of his calibre on this comic brings it much more respectability, and is good counter-programming to DC’s upcoming Before Watchmen series.  It’s hard to imagine this comic working with the types of artists that Millar usually collaborates with, like Leinil Francis Yu or Steve McNiven.  It just wouldn’t work so well.

Thief of Thieves #3

Written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer have really been taking their time building up this new series.  From the first issue, it seemed that the story would simply be about a master thief who was looking to retire from his life of crime, and it looked like his colleagues weren’t going to allow him to bow out.  The second issue introduced Redmond’s ex-wife, and showed a slightly different side of him.

This issue turns things around a little further, as a couple of new characters are introduced.  At the beginning of the comic, Redmond wakes up to find a woman making him breakfast.  This is not a girlfriend or lover, but instead an FBI agent who has been pursuing Redmond for years.  They have an interesting, casual relationship considering how they know each other, and their conversation fills in a few more details about Redmond’s life.  We learn that he has been living in a house that he bought fully furnished after a family died, and he has never removed their photos or personal effects.

This issue also establishes that the FBI agent has gotten herself in trouble a few times while pursuing Redmond.  This is not exactly a new approach to stories like this, but Kirkman and Spencer are adding a few new wrinkles in the way they tell the story.  The addition of Redmond’s son into the mix will only continue to make things more interesting.

That said, I feel like this series needs to speed up a little, now that so many of these characters have been brought into the story.

The Unwritten #36

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross and Rufus Dayglo

Every year since the twelth issue of this series, Mike Carey and Peter Gross have left Tom Taylor, to instead give us a story about Pauly Bruckner, a man who was cursed by Wilson Taylor into becoming a storybook rabbit.  First, he lived in a Beatrix Potter-inspired world, before escaping and finding himself on an endless staircase, leading a horde of other storybook animals on an endless quest to find his way home.  Now, another year has passed, and it’s time to check in on Pauly again.

This time around, he has a new companion, The Tinker, the Golden Age superhero who is also Wilson Taylor’s son, Miton.  Milton is trying to find his way into the land of the dead to look for the love of his life, but he and Pauly soon find themselves looking for safe haven from ‘The Wave’, a metaphysical thing that appears to be erasing fictional worlds and characters.  Early in the issue, the duo come across a stream of refugees, many of whom are recognizable as fictional, comics, and children’s characters.  I recognized one of the Mr. Men, Omaha the Cat Dancer, and Pancho Sanchez, among others.

These issues are usually very enjoyable, as Pauly is the worst type of person, but he has an ability to get others to believe in him.  This time around, Peter Gross is joined by Rufus Dayglo, who gives the book are more cartoon-ish feel.  It’s good stuff.

Wasteland #36

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Justin Greenwood

While I’m still not over the excitement of being able to read Wasteland on a monthly basis again, I am beginning to feel that this current arc, set in the Cross Chains (aka Christian) town of Godsholm is beginning to run a little long.  Not much of consequence happens in this issue, although it is still a very good comic.

Father Affon, the leader of the town, and his head Templar, Rykerd, are searching for the missing outsiders, who are also this book’s main characters.  They discover Michael, who has been torturing Gerr to learn the truth of his intentions, and attempt to kill them both.  They are interrupted by Abi, who has also found her way into the tunnels under the town.  The three escape and separate, but Michael and Gerr soon find themselves holed up in a home that has been surrounded by the townsfolk.

This is pretty much an all-action issue, and little else is revealed about the strange god-like figure who came through town a few issues ago, or about the mystery of Michael and Abi’s abilities.

The ‘Walking the Dust’ prose page at the end of the book is as good as it always is.  I look forward to the next issue, which should bring some resolution to the Godsholm part of this story, and get our heroes out on the move again.

Quick Takes:

Batman and Robin #8 – I like the way Peter Tomasi has used this arc to work on the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Damian.  This is a quiet issue compared to the last few, showing the aftermath of the Wayne family’s conflict with Nobody, and Damian’s rash action last issue.  Another thing that Tomasi does incredibly well is write Alfred Pennyworth, who Bruce refers to as Dr. throughout.  A very good issue, with a slight nod to Jason Todd’s tenure as Robin to keep the new 52 continuity heads happy.  Great work from Gleason and Gray as well.

Batwoman #8 – We’re well into the middle of this story, so there’s not much new to say about this comic.  Instead, I’d just like to reiterate that I find this series to be very cool, and very beautiful.  I’m going to miss Amy Reeder’s art on this comic.  What a gorgeous cover.

Danger Club #1 – I missed this last week, but because of the positive reviews of it on the internet, I thought I’d give it a shot.  It’s a decent enough story about superhero sidekicks in a world where all their mentors have disappeared.  Things have been a little Lord of the Flies, with the sidekicks splitting between take-offs of Superboy and Robin.  The Robin character, Kid Vigilante, is the only one who has realised that whatever threat has caused the adult heroes to disappear is on its way to Earth, and he’s doing all he can to unite the only possible defense the planet has left.  I might check out the next issue, because this was kind of interesting.

Demon Knights #8 – This series started by tossing a bunch of characters together, and now that the big first arc is over, Paul Cornell finally has some time to go back and take a look at some of these characters, and explore their relationships to one another.  This month, we get the full story of Madame Xanadu’s relationships with Jason Blood and Etrigan the Demon, although it’s always a little hard to tell who is telling the truth when demons are involved.  This is a very solid comic, although I wish I knew a little better just what the general timeline of the series is – when Camelot fell (or when Camelots fell, as we learn that there are perhaps many) and just when this is taking place.  It’s the history geek side of me that is curious.  I really liked Bernard Chang’s art on this comic – he’s an artist I’ve always wanted to see more from.

Fantastic Four #605 – Since taking over this title some time ago, Jonathan Hickman has plunged Marvel’s first family into crazy event after crazy event, and the series has taken on epic proportions in terms of it’s storytelling.  I’ve been very impressed with his story, and his understanding of what it takes to make this frequently boring comic interesting.  With this done-in-one issue, he really reminds us once again that this comic is about family before anything else.  Reed and his dad decide to go exploring through time, checking in on their legacy every thousand years, where they learn that two members of the family are effectively immortal.  It’s a touching story, with a nice ending.  Ron Garney illustrates; usually, I don’t like his work, but it fits this issue very well.

Frankenstein Agent of SHADE #8 – I feel that this book is a little directionless.  In the wake of last issue’s hominid revolution, there is no discussion of a labour shortage in SHADE City, but instead, we follow as Frankenstein and Lady Frankenstein track down their child, recently escaped from SHADE’s zoo, who they have believed dead for some sixty years.  It seems that Jeff Lemire was looking to add a little more emotion into Frank’s life, but it comes across as a little forced.  I wonder if he’s simply rushing through some of the ideas he had for this book before Matt Kindt takes over.

Grifter #8 – Well, that all ended rather poorly.  This title started out well, but soon became poorly written and unentertaining.  I know that Nathan Edmondson is a better writer than this – his The Light, Olympus, Who Is Jake Ellis? and Activity are proof, and I suspect that constant interference from DC Editorial is what wrecked this comic, as a guest appearance by Green Arrow, and later Stormwatch, disrupted the flow of what was happening here.  This final issue of Edmondson’s makes little sense – Cash is flying out of Paris (despite being in the Himalayas last issue) when a Daemonite suicide bomber blows up the plane, causing it to crash in front of the Eiffel Tower (which a few pages later, people are still sight-seeing at).  Then Cash fights some Daemonites, including the reanimated corpse of his brother.  It’s bad.  The only thing worse, though, will be the next issue, because it’s being written by Rob Liefeld.  And so, I bid adieu to a character that has never been as good as when Joe Casey wrote him in Wildcats Version 3.0.

Journey Into Mystery #636 – Once again, Kieron Gillen gives us an utterly delightful comic, wherein Loki acts cleverly, and ends up effecting a positive outcome through trickery and being one step ahead of everyone.  I adore this comic, especially when we have scenes where Loki is spending time with Leah.  Oh – there’s also a board game included in this issue, which also advances the story.  Gillen is killing on this comic.

Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand #4 – The penultimate issue of this mini-series features the Lobster and his friends fighting the black flame guy and the mob in the Lobster’s secret hide-out.  This is a solid action comic, with nice art from Tonci Zonjic.

Secret Avengers #25 – Rick Remender finishes his first arc on this series with a twist that was a little predictable, but still very good.  I like how this arc builds on what he’s been doing with Uncanny X-Force, and as always, I love Gabriel Hardman’s art.  My problem is that now Remender has spent a few issues setting up this new team, and now for the next six months or so, a very different team will be featured here as the book ties in with Avengers Vs. X-Men.  And by the end of that, Nothing Will Ever Be the Same Again (!!!!), so what will happen with the seeds he’s planted here?  I wish Marvel would let a status quo be status quo for more than six months before shaking things up again.  So much story potential gets wasted…

The Shade #7 – This is the third issue in the arc set in Barcelona, which has the Shade joining with his adopted daughter La Sangre and local superhero Montpellier to fight the Inquisitor in the Sagrada Familia.  As Robinson has done before, he introduces a new story element that has to do with something that happened to the shade back in 1901 (next issue is a ‘Times Past’ story, set in that year).  He also dispatches one aspect of the series rather summarily, which I found odd.  Javier Pulido’s stunning art is the best reason to pick up this comic.

Star Wars Agent of the Empire:  Iron Eclipse #5 – John Ostrander finishes off the first of the Jahan Cross series remarkably well, and on a slightly darker note than I anticipated.  This was a great mini-series, featuring a James Bond character who works as an Agent for the Empire.  As with most Ostrander stories, the balance between suspense and character growth was perfect, and the ending was not entirely predictable.  The Han Solo and Chewbacca cameos are just icing on the cake.

Suicide Squad #8 – Well, the editors at DC finally realised that they have been spelling the name of the prison that the Suicide Squad operates out of incorrectly since the first issue, and finally have spelled it Belle Reve, the way it was in the real DCU’s stories.  This issue is kind of a quieter one, as the team regroups a little, and writer Adam Glass develops the idea that one of the team is a traitor for Basilisk (which should probably be Kobra).  It’s an alright issue, with some interesting work done on Deadshot.

Uncanny X-Men #10 – Here’s another terrific issue of Uncanny X-Men.  I sincerely hope that Kieron Gillen will still be the writer of this title when all the AVX dust settles, as he has a deep understanding of these characters and the way in which Cyclops has set up Utopia.  This issue has the team square off against Unit, the alien robot that Gillen introduced into his amazing and short-lived SWORD series, who has his own agenda.  The Avengers cameo is nice, but doesn’t jibe with the animosity between the two teams in the newest cross-over, but once again, Namor and Emma Frost are the big stars of the show.  I so prefer Carlos Pacheco’s art to Greg Land’s that it’s ridiculous.

Winter Soldier #4 – Marvel’s best Captain America comic continues to impress, as Lucia Von Bardas’s plan continues to move forward, despite the best efforts of Bucky, Black Widow, and Dr. Doom.  This is a good comic.

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

’68 Scars #1

Avengers Assemble #2

Avenging Spider-Man #6

New Avengers #24

Ultimate Comics X-Men #10

Wolverine #304

The Week in Manga:

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 3

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Art by Housui Yamazaki

As impressed as I’ve been with Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto, I think that Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is my favourite manga.  It doesn’t really have any literary pretensions, but the sheer weirdness and inventiveness of this comic, coupled with its strong sense of character, has me coming back again and again.

The entire concept of the KCDS is that the five employees of the Service (six if you count the space alien that is channeled through a hand puppet) track down unclaimed and lost dead bodies, and work to fulfill the spirit trapped in the body’s last wishes.  They do expect that at some point this business will begin to make money, but that hasn’t happened yet.

In this volume, which has four chapters, there are three separate stories.  The first, and longest, involves transplant failure, and the wishes of necrotic donor organs.  Soon, the group discovers that many recent deaths are caused by acute rejection of organs that all came from the same donor, who was in turn an illegal immigrant from Iraq.  This story is set against the rather tepid anti-war protests that Japan was barely able to muster during the beginning of America’s war in that country.  It contains some interesting insights into Japanese culture, and is also an interesting story.

The second story involves bodies that are being discovered in homes that have Onis, or demons, painted outside of them.  This leads to a rather complicated tale involving the Japanese salesman’s version of hobo graffiti.  It’s a strange story that doesn’t hold up to its own internal logic, but it gets points for originality.

The final story is about a rash of train track suicides that seem to have a strange genesis.  The suicides don’t plan to kill themselves, but are being influenced by an outside source that again shows that Otsuka is approaching his stories from a direction that is not often used.

This volume introduces a new recurring character to the series – Sasayama, a social worker that is apparently an ex-cop, although the main characters all believe he is yakuza.  This is a series that is always interesting, and works very well.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Black Order Brigade

Written by Pierre Christin
Art by Enki Bilal

I don’t read enough European graphic novels, so when I saw the chance to grab this one for a good price, I pounced on it.

The Black Order Brigade is a very odd project by North American standards.  To begin with, it’s about a bunch of old people, and there are no pretty people in the comic whatsoever.  It also assumes that its reader has a knowledge of 20th century European history.  These two things together would really limit the interested readership on our side of the Atlantic Ocean.

This comic is about a group of former fighters who had joined the International Brigades that fought during the Spanish Civil War.  Our heroes had a group of ultra-right enemies, known as the Black Order Brigade.  When this book opens, in the 1970s, the members of the BOB came out of retirement to wipe out a small Spanish village which had been the scene of one of their battles back in the 30s.  From here, they proceed to move across Europe, taking out politicians they don’t like, or attacking music festivals.

Pritchard, a former member of the International Brigades and a journalist now living in London recognizes the village massacre as the handiwork of his old enemies, so he sets out reuniting his former compatriots, who band together to wipe out the Black Order Brigade once and for all.  They set off after them, trudging through snow-filled mountain passes despite their advanced age and frequently ill health.

Soon, the good guys are being blamed for some of the BOB’s actions, and with their numbers dwindling, they become more desperate to find their enemies.  There are some intense scenes in this comic, but for the most part, it’s a slow-moving affair.  I loved the scenes set in Barcelona, a favourite city of mine.

Bilal is a very capable French artist, who does not shy away in the least from the depredations of age.  His characters are wrinkly and ugly, with oddly discoloured foreheads.  This Humanoids edition is published in the same size as the original French volume, which means that there is plenty of space for his art to breathe on the page.

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of the movie Red, had it been played seriously, instead of for laughs.

Album of the Week:

Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio

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