The Weekly Round-Up #131 With Secret, Creator-Owned Heroes, Fairest, Morning Glories & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Secret #2

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Ryan Bodenheim

Jonathan Hickman’s new series, Secret, is kind of the ‘other’ Hickman book.  His Manhattan Projects has been garnering more attention, and while that book, about the variety of secret science projects rolled into the development of the atom bomb, is a lot of fun and generally pretty nuts, Secret feels to be its opposite.

The first issue established that this series was about espionage in the business world, and it introduced a number of characters, but Hickman kept most of the comic’s goals and purpose quiet.  I thought this new issue would clarify what’s going on, and it did to a certain degree, but it also just piled on a number of new questions.

The comic opens on two boys who are waiting for their father to mete out punishment for something they did.  We are given enough to know that the father is involved in organized crime, and that his punishment is pretty harsh (I’m not going to spoil it, but the cover kind of does).

From there, we move to today, where Grant Miller is target shooting with a woman.  She gives him a letter, and they both realize that this particular day has significance to Grant.  Later, he’s called into his boss’s office, where he learns that his friend was killed last issue, and that the company’s ‘fixer’, who he doesn’t like, will be handling that problem.

Hickman takes his time establishing Miller’s past and relationships, without really getting into the nuts and bolts of what he, or Steadfast Security Solutions is really up to.  The mystery works very well though, as I find I’m completely invested in finding out what’s going to happen moving forward.

Ryan Bodenheim’s doing some very good work with this comic.  His previous books, A Red Mass For Mars (with Hickman), and Halcyon, have both been much more over the top.  I like how he handles normal everyday situations, and Michael Garland’s colours, which fit with Hickman’s usual monochromatic palette, work very well here.

This title deserves at least as much attention as The Manhattan Projects is getting, and is perfect for anyone who enjoys Thief of Thieves or Criminal.

Other Notable Comics:

Creator-Owned Heroes #1

Written by Steve Niles, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Justin Gray
Art by Kevin Mellon and Phil Noto

Before even discussing this book, I think we should take a moment to absorb the notion that this new series, so dedicated to creators’ rights to own their own comics that they gave it the clunky name Creator-Owned Heroes, debuted on the same day as the first of DC’s Before Watchmen comics.  Intentional?  Coincidentally awesome?  It’s all good.

This is perhaps an example of the concept being better than the product, but I’m still relatively happy to plunk down $4 for something like this.  This is a thick issue, which opens with two 11-page comics, and is followed by some magazine-style backmatter.

The first series is American Muscle, by Niles and Mellon.  I’m not usually a big Steve Niles fan, but I have liked some of his books, and I enjoyed Mellon’s recent work on Heart.  This series is about a group of friends crossing a post-Apocalyptic America in classic cars, aiming for the West Coast.  Niles explains that the catastrophe that finally more or less wiped out humanity was internal, involving the failure of our immune systems.  It’s a bleak little tale that reads like an homage to B-movies about cars.  It’s cool.

The second comic is by Palmiotti, Gray, and Noto, and involves some sort of assassin called a Trigger Girl.  We follow this one as she is awoken from some sort of pod, and sent on a mission that involves a US senator on an airplane, and two fighter jets.  It’s good, but it doesn’t do much more than set the tone for what is to follow.

The backmatter, which includes an interview with Neil Gaiman, is pretty much all forgettable.  Its clear that Palmiotti and company haven’t fully decided where they’re going with this title, and that’s fine, but everything in the back half of this book felt very self-serving.  I like to support creator-owned work, but the concept is not all that new or groundbreaking, and probably shouldn’t be discussed as such.

Anyway, this is a book worth supporting.  The two strips are not bad, and together they still make up more content than you would get from a $4 Marvel comic, even if you don’t read the stuff at the back.

Fairest #4

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, and Steve Sadowski

Having recently come to the decision to let Fables go, I find that I’m predisposed to find Fairest, it’s spin-off title, a little tedious.

Ali Baba’s attempt to escape the Snow Queen’s clutches doesn’t go well for him, and it results in his bottle imp now becoming the Queen’s servant.  The Queen is addicted to stories, and so the imp, Jonah, has to keep providing her with these.  This leads to Ali Baba’s origin, and the final conclusion to the Sleeping Beauty story started a couple of months ago.

In a scene that reminds me of the old, better days of Fables, we also learn about how Gepetto had been drugging her for all the years that she thought she was his ally, as Jonah tries to help her recover her former self.  This scene works very well, until the sudden and unexplained appearance of one character who has been mentioned often in this series, but not previously seen.

In that scene, I couldn’t help but hear the thoughts of some of the classic comics editors, who would point out that you can’t have a character suddenly appear within a scene without showing them come in.  This bad guy is just there, with no teleportation effect, or walls breaking, or anything.  I thought I’d missed a page.  I don’t know if the fault for this lies with Willingham or Jimenez, but I guess we can blame it on the editor.  It’s just one more example of how ‘phoned-in’ the entire Fables line has felt over the last year or so.

iZombie #26

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Michael Allred

After this there are only two issues of iZombie left, and it shows, as Roberson moves all of his chess pieces closer to a big final confrontation.

This comic has always had a particularly large cast, so it makes sense that checking in with every one of them would take up pretty much an entire issue.  Gwen is getting ready to kill every person in Eugene as part of some sort of ritual that will stop the elder god Xitulu from coming and ushering the Apocalypse.  She has some time to kill before the big event, so she goes looking for her friends, to say good-bye and perhaps get them out of town.  she can’t find them though, although we see what they are up to, and what every other member of the cast is doing.

Roberson’s plotting on this title has been excellent.  Things that I had forgotten, such as the relationship between Ellie’s friend Francisco (the Frankenteen) and the newest of the Paintball Vampires, come back up here as plotlines converge.  Basically, a new reader would be totally lost, but there are lots of rewards for people who have been with the book since the beginning, including the last page meeting between Gwen and Gavin.

Allred’s art is always fantastic, and this issue is no exception.

Morning Glories #19

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

I don’t understand why I don’t hear a lot more buzz for this comic.  Nick Spencer’s story, complex and secretive as it is, is very exciting.  This issue picks up on the events of a few months back.  The students of Morning Glory Academy have been participating in Woodrun, a kind of cross between a scavenger hunt and Capture the Flag.

Hunter, the nice kid and sort of secondary point-of-view character for this series has been partnered with Zoe.  They were actually talking to each other a little, but then Zoe suddenly killed a girl that had been talking to Hunter.  Now she’s chasing him, and he doesn’t really know what’s going on.

While he’s running, the audience is given a series of flashbacks to Hunter’s life before coming to the school.  We learn that his mother is in the hospital with a terminal illness, and that she is pressuring him to apply to MGA.  The scenes between them are touching, and also suggestive of the idea that Hunter’s mom knows something about how the school operates, since she is certain that he’d be accepted, despite his average grades and test scores.

The story notes of this issue are all a little predictable (except for Hunter’s weird inability to tell time – that’s just odd), but Spencer and Eisma handle them with enough sensitivity to make them work very well.  The last couple of pages, once again, raise a bunch of questions, but that’s just become par for the course with this series.  That’s a big part of the draw for me, really.

Sweet Tooth #34

Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Jeff Lemire and Nate Powell

According to Jeff Lemire, being a nice person after the Apocalypse happens is just not feasible.  This issue shows us the full history of Doug and Johnny Abbot, two characters who have been with this series for quite a long time.

Doug Abbot, usually just called Abbot, has been the closest thing this series has had to a main villain.  He’s the one who was capturing hybrid children and having them studied.  He’s the one who killed Jeppard’s wife, and who has been tracking down Gus, Jeppard, and Dr. Singh for the last little while.  Johnny is his younger brother, and the guy who let everyone escape (twice in Jeppard’s case).

In this issue, the two brothers are face to face again, Abbot having found the Evergreen Dam where Johnny had decided to stay.  At that point, the story flips to a flashback (drawn by Nate Powell, whose name is not on the cover), and we see just how their relationship has always been, and we learn how Abbot came to be running the militia camp we first met him in.

This is a very good comic.  Powell’s art fits well with Lemire’s usual house style for this comic, and I enjoyed seeing him draw the scenes set around the time that people started dying all over the place.  Lemire’s not shown us a lot of this transitional period, which is the type of thing I always find interesting.

Like many other Vertigo books that I read, Sweet Tooth is moving towards its finish, but it is doing so very well.

Thief of Thieves #5

Written by Robert Kirkman and Nick Spencer
Art by Shawn Martinbrough

It’s taken five issues, but now Kirkman and Spencer have made clear what they are doing with this comic, and have more or less set out a path for the plot to follow (not that we know the significance of the empty painting at the beginning of issue one and the end of issue four yet).  Prior to this, we’ve been spending a lot of time just getting to know Redmond and his family.

This issue shows us what ever happened to Redmond’s brother-in-law, who was in the flashbacks for issue two, but hasn’t been seen since.  It also introduces all of the remaining members of Redmond’s crew, who are each given one page.

This results in a quick read, but still, this issue is very enjoyable.  Kirkman and Spencer are putting an interesting twist on the standard heist drama, and having established the characters so well prior to the crime actually beginning, they’ve made me actually care about what happens to Redmond and his son.

Great work all around on this comic, but Shawn Martinbrough deserves some special recognition for his astounding art.

Wasteland #38

Written by Antony Johnston
Art by Justin Greenwood

The main appeal of Wasteland is the totality of Antony Johnston’s vision of the future.  He’s built a fully-realized world in this comic, and that often comes through in small moments that fill his stories.  I often feel like he knows every character’s entire life story, and only shares some of it as he works his way through his long-running series.

Gerr has been traveling alongside our heroes Michael and Abi for some time now, and we as readers have known all along that his purpose in being with them is to betray them and kill them for Marcus, if they find the mysterious A-Ree-Yass-I, a fabled place where the three have a shared history or origin.  Last issue, Michael and Abi both figured out that Gerr worked for Marcus, and now it’s time for him to tell his story.

Gerr has worked for Marcus since he was a boy, and he goes through his history in Newbegin for most of this issue.  The ending came as a surprise to me, but I shouldn’t discuss that here, except to say that one of the most interesting things in this comic has been the way in which Abi has changed and darkened as a character from being the optimistic healer we first me years ago.

Justin Greenwood does better with quieter issues like this one, and his cleaner vision of Wasteland is growing on me.  I still miss Christopher Mitten’s art on this book, but I’m very happy with the monthly schedule, so it’s a fair trade.

Quick Takes:

Action Comics #10After last month’s interlude on Earth-23, we’re back with the regular Superman, in an issue that is incredibly unbalanced and strange.  It opens with a Kraven the Hunter character who is figuring out Superman’s identity.  From there, we see Clark track down a child murderer, and then get into an argument with the Justice League because they won’t adopt the killer’s hamsters, nor solve the issue of poverty in Somalia.  This leads to a conversation about the League’s purpose, before Clark goes and hangs out with his friends for a bit.  Then, a suicide bomber shows up outside Clark’s paper (why are the Daily Star and the Daily Planet across the street from each other?) who Clark knows.  The guy blows up, killing Clark, but then Superman appears to fight the Kraven dude.  To make matters more confusing, the back-up story is set after next month’s issue, but doesn’t give any indication as to what is going to be happening that this couldn’t just be set in this issue.  Grant Morrison’s writing is all over the place, and it feels like he’s doing too much at once, and also having to set up some throwaways for the back-up team.  I get that he’s trying his best to establish the goodness of Clark’s character, but Sholly Fisch’s story is so heavy-handed as to be hard to read.  Maybe this upcoming zero issue will be the right place to jump off Action Comics (unless there are more issues set on Earth-23 coming up).

Animal Man #10 – Buddy continues his journey through the Red while the Justice League Dark has a little visit with Ellen that doesn’t go too well.  Jeff Lemire’s story is moving along, and giving Steve Pugh the opportunity to draw some really whacked-out landscapes.  It’s good, but I feel like something big needs to happen soon.

Avengers Academy #31 – Usually this is the best of the Avengers titles, but from time to time it slips into an ‘after school special’ mode wherein the characters act just a little too good, or a little too ‘special’.  This issue, which has the various Avengers and X-Men kids come up with their own solutions to their differences is just a little too precious in places, like when the adult Avengers take a fall so the others can escape.  I think that Tom Grummett’s art is a big part of the problem here – I just don’t like it the way I did when he was on Teen Titans.  Also, the colours in this issue are off – Hercules looks to be the same hue as the Sentinel.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #5Well, this just moved into the realm of downright stupid.  It’s hard to talk about this issue without spoiling the issue’s big events, but I really feel the need to talk about Tony Stark’s giant Voltron/Robotech suit, which he uses to fight the Phoenix Force.  Maybe a better artist than 2012 John Romita Jr. (hell, 1988 John Romita Jr. would have made this look cool) could have pulled this off better, but it looked to me like he was driving Optimus Prime.  Horrible.  So is what happened when the Phoenix Force finally reached the moon.  If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn this was being written by Jeph Loeb.

Dark Avengers #175 – I guess another book needed to have the word ‘Avengers’ in its title, because five titles that publish about eighteen issues a year each is nowhere near enough.  The in-story justification for having Osborne’s latest Avengers team take over the roster of the Thunderbolts is kind of weak – something to do with needing operatives who have seen action recently – and the redemption angle that usually underscored the need for a Thunderbolts team is not going to work with this group, which includes a cyborg and a spider-god.  I only picked this up because of Jeff Parker, and I may give it another shot, but I’m not too impressed.  These characters are just not interesting enough to build a series around.

The Defenders #7 – This has to be just about the most inconsistent book that Marvel publishes, as it seems that Matt Fraction is just making things up as he goes along.  Much of this issue is given over to the Black Cat, for some scenes that work very well.  In the rest of the comic, the team travels to Wakanda to try to figure out how to stop John Aman, who apparently lives in the country next door, and is now evil.  I liked the Prince of Orphans character before, and am a little disappointed with how he was changed for this series.  I wish this comic could tighten things up a little better, as I believe it could be very good.

Dial H #2 While I’m enjoying this comic a fair amount, I really have no idea how this story got approved for inclusion in the ‘new 52’.  Our overweight hero continues to try to figure out how the ‘hero dial’ works, and so we get to see a number of wonderful new incarnations, such as Control Alt Delete, Shamanticore, Pelican Army, and The Iron Snail.  The villain behind the gang activity that has caused problems for Nelson’s friend, Ex Nihilo, is a very strange one, and his scenes are a little hard to follow, but overall, this comic captures the excitement of the era around when Grant Morrison started writing Doom Patrol very nicely.

Earth 2 #2 – This issue is perhaps not as good as the first, but that’s because James Robinson has a lot of work to do putting together the new Justice Society, introducing all these new characters, and establishing the rules for this new world.  I suppose he’s doing as well as he can to keep a story going through all of this world-building, but there are a couple of moments that just don’t work, such as the Flash talking about his parkour (so forced).  As to the orientation of Alan Scott, it strikes me as a shame that his gay-ness is just about all there is to the character as we’ve seen him so far; other than that small fact, he’s a cipher, so it’s hard to care about him or his proposal.  At this point, it feels like he’s gay for the sake of being gay, which is boring.  Nicola Scott is doing a great job, but I think she had more to work with on Birds of Prey.

Harbinger #1 – Of all the new Valiant books being relaunched this summer, this is the one I was most looking forward to, mostly because of the involvement of Joshua Dysart, a writer I have a lot of respect for (read Unknown Soldier!).  I read the first few year’s worth of the original series, but don’t remember it too well right now, except for the most basic outline (powered kids on the run from powered businessman).  Dysart sticks to this formula, but updates it all very well, as we meet Peter Stanchek, a telepath on the run with a mentally ill friend.  There’s a lot of set-up here, but Dysart manages to make the characters interesting, and gives Peter a darker side than I remember from the original.  Khari Evans’s art looks very nice.  I’ll definitely be buying the next issue.

Invincible Iron Man #518 I guess, if reports on Bleeding Cool are to be believed, that Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca aren’t going to be on this title much longer, and the story does seem to support that, as the very long-running story feels like it’s moving towards a big conclusion.  Tony publicly retires from being Iron Man, while Rhodey fights the Mandarin’s people off the coast of Somalia.  Spymaster continues to fight against Bethany Cabe in the Stark Resilient headquarters, and Ezekiel Stane makes his own move.  There’s a lot going on in this comic, and in places, Larroca’s art is pretty stiff and hard to follow, which is not normal.  It feels like this issue was lacking an editor, as Fraction ends up having Tony say this during his press conference:  “Alcoholism isn’t an illness that can be treated but rather a disease that can be helped by treatment…”  Could someone explain the distinction please?

Journey Into Mystery #639 – This issue delivers what I’ve been waiting for for a long time – an story in Journey Into Mystery that is not tied in to Fear Itself or any other crossover.  I think it’s the first time that’s happened, and it really highlights just how good this series is.  Kieron Gillen has the gods of industrialization (the Manchester Gods, with their Engels of destruction) attack Otherworld (which just finished getting attacked in X-Force), and when the Celtic Gods come calling for help, the women in charge of Asgardia only send Loki.  This comic always has some of the best writing on the stands.

Mudman #4 – Paul Grist’s take on a teen hero continues to work remarkably well.  Owen Craig, the Mudman, has begun to accept his abilities, but hasn’t yet decided what type of hero he wants to be (light and funny, grim and gritty, etc.), although circumstance dictates that he fall more into the Spider-Man mode of wisecracker than anything else.  Grist is great at taking the standards of the superhero genre and playing them a little from the side, so they feel fresh.  I love the scene where Owen opens his Superman hoodie to reveal his Mudman costume underneath.  Great stuff.

Stormwatch #10 – Following a good debut last month, Peter Milligan starts casting around looking for a story in the latest issue of one of the New 52 books that has the most potential, but which has never quite gotten its act together.  The Engineer decides that now is a good time to start worrying about super heroes, despite the fact that they’ve been established for more than five years in the DCnU, while Apollo decides that now is a good time to feel bad about having joined a secret organization because he doesn’t like secrets.  Also, someone remembered that two of the cast members of this book went missing months ago, and decided that this issue should check in with them.  I really want to like Stormwatch, and have given it ten months, but am not sure how much longer I can hope that someone pulls this book together.

Swamp Thing #10 – I love the work that Yannick Paquette and Marco Rudy have been doing on this title, but if I had to pick a replacement for them, it would be Francesco Francavilla.  Hence, you can imagine my pleasure upon discovering that he drew and coloured this issue, which looks fantastic.  Anton Arcane, the original Swamp Thing baddy is back from the grave (unfortunately), and hunting down his daughter Abby.  Meanwhile, she and ST have returned to the swamp, and we learn that the Parliament of Trees is not completely gone.  This is a good issue, which looks fantastic.  It felt really short though – damn these twenty-page comics.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #11 – The Prowler manipulates Miles into fighting the Scorpion for him, in this action-filled comic.  David Marquez continues to be a suitable replacement for Sara Pichelli, and this issue gives him plenty of opportunities to prove that.  I like this book – I do wish that Miles was given more time to establish himself before the upcoming Spider-Men, but still, what Bendis has done best with this series is focus it on a character that I’ve really come to like as a person.

Uncanny X-Men #13 – It seems that one doesn’t need to read Avengers Vs. X-Men at all, as Kieron Gillen summarizes everything we need to know about it and many of its other cross-overs here, with better writing and a certain level of snark.  There’s no Namor in this book, but he makes up for it with an extra sarcastic Magneto and the always loveable evil robot Unit.  There are hints of things to come, and a look at what is going on with Danger these days.  Usually I wouldn’t be excited to see that Billy Tan is drawing a comic I want to read, but when the alternative is Greg Land, this is good news.

Winter Soldier #6 – Despite my having read a number of them, I’m still not entirely clear on the purpose of Marvel’s .1 books, but from my understanding of their stated goals, this issue would have been ideal for being one.  Michael Lark draws this story of just what the third Russian sleeper agent, previously unseen, has been up to.  This agent woke up some twelve years ago, and has struggled with his lack of memory and mission.  It’s a good enough issue, still miles ahead of what’s been happening in Captain America’s title, and it’s always nice to see Lark on art.

Worlds’ Finest #2 – This new series continues to be better than I’d expected, having lost a lot of faith in Paul Levitz’s writing over the last two years, but I don’t know if there’s enough here to keep me coming back.  The story about the two heroes being lost out of their own land is compelling, but they spend most of this issue fighting a villain who we know nothing about, and who is so radioactive that Huntress should have died before the book finished.  The alternating art by George Perez and Kevin Maguire is very nice.

X-Factor #237 – Peter David uses this issue to try to address the steady dismantling of Rahne Sinclair’s character, which is a good thing, as she has become unbearable.  This is a bit of a throw-away issue, but hopefully it will be useful in getting this character back on track.

X-O Manowar #2 – I hope that Valiant is not going to keep publishing all of its titles on the same week each month – I can understand the desire to have a presence on the new arrivals shelf, but it will probably result in my choosing Harbinger over this title.  This comic is good though, as Aric leads a revolt against his alien slavemasters, and the X-O armor makes its appearance, but I’m not sure if it’s $4 good.

Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4 (and perhaps not morally indefensible):

Before Watchmen:  Minutemen #1

Dan the Unharmable #2

Fury Max #3

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Daytripper

by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

I’m not the type of comics collector who buys multiple copies or editions of books I already own.  There are too many great comics out there that I don’t own a single copy of, and there is only so much space one can devote to the collection.

Daytripper is one of those rare books that I felt the need to make an exception for, especially when I realized I could buy a copy at get it signed at TCAF.  Before opening this trade, I wondered how the experience of reading Daytripper without a month’s wait between each chapter would differ from reading it in a serialized format.

Each chapter of Daytripper tells a story from a different year in the life of Brás de Oliva Domingos, the son of a celebrated Brazilian writer.  Each chapter has a similar ending, which I don’t want to discuss, as I would prefer it be a surprise if you haven’t read the comic before, and each chapter focuses on Brás’s relationships in life, with friends, family, lovers, and his child.

Reading the whole book creates a full understanding of Brás’s life, as his youthful ambitions and dreams become compromised reality, and as he struggles through difficulty relating to his father, and the myriad other problems most people deal with as they move through life.  There’s a poetic quality to this work though that makes it so transcendent.

Bá and Moon’s art is beautiful throughout, and that adds much to the beauty of the story.  Brás is an easy person to relate to, and I as a reader keep hoping that each chapter’s end would be different.  Taken as a whole piece, the book forces the reader to look for more common themes and structures in each chapter.  The non-linear format of the book highlights connections and changes in Brás, and I found myself meditating on some of the relationships in my own life as I read this.

Daytripper is a beautiful piece of work, which comes from a South American tradition that involves such legendary writers as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Roberto Bolano.  This is still one of my favourite comics of the last ten years, and I’m very glad that I took the opportunity to read it again, and can see this being a book that I return to time and again over the coming years.

Album of the Week:

Spiritual Jazz 2: Europe This is a lovely collection of European jazz from the 60s. There are lots of rare gems in here; it’s a great compilation.

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