The Weekly Round-Up #153 With The Manhattan Projects, Creator-Owned Heroes, Sweet Tooth, AVX & More

Best Comic of the Week:

The Manhattan Projects #7

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra
 

Jonathan Hickman spent the first six issues of this series introducing the characters, and establishing just how wonderful and weird his universe was.  Now, he’s gotten all the groundwork laid out, and it’s time to start moving this book into high gear.

The American Manhattan Projects, supposedly under the control of General Leslie Groves (although it looks more like Nazi scientist Wernher Von Braun is calling the shots) enter into secret talks with their counterparts from the Soviet Star City program.  The basis of these talks?  They want to work independently of their governments to explore new options, after the Americans’ recent interaction with alien lifeforms.

As much as I’ve loved this comic, I’ve been unable to predict where Hickman was taking things; now, I have a good sense of what is going to happen in this title, as the two groups settle into an uneasy alliance, while earning the enmity of President Truman (whose orgy is interrupted by the news of what the Projects are up to).

This is a truly wonderful comic.  Hickman has done a great number of strange and twisted things to the actual historical figures involved in the American atomic weapons project (this issue, we get to see just how alien Enrico Fermi really is), but has also imbued the book with some humanity, especially through the character of Helmutt Gröttrup, a German scientist who has been prisoner of the Soviets for years.

Nick Pitarra is more than up for any crazy idea that Hickman throws at him, and his art just keeps getting better and better.  This book is incredibly unique, and never boring.

Other Notable Comics:

Creator-Owned Heroes #6

Written by Darwyn Cooke, Steve Niles, Jay Russell, Jimmy Palmiotti, and Justin Gray
Art by Darwyn Cooke, Andrew Ritchie, and Jerry Lando
 

I’ve complained a few times that Creator-Owned Heroes, the comics ‘magazine’ put out by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, and Steve Niles, which is designed to showcase and promote the creator-owned cause, needed more comics and less second-rate editorial content.  Perhaps someone was listening…

This issue debuts a new section, which will feature the work of Darwyn Cooke.  Cooke is best known for work like The New Frontier, and now Before Watchmen, as well as his excellent adaptations of the Parker novels.  Now, Cooke is going to begin offering up some of his own, new creations in this space.  That is something to be excited about.  For this issue, he reprints a piece he did a few years ago (published in the Free Comic Book Day book put together at The Beguiling, the incredible comics store where I shop).  The piece is a tribute to Alex Toth, although, with its architectural theme, it could almost be read as being about Gaudi.

The rest of this issue is pretty decent.  Palmiotti and Gray’s new serial, ‘Killswitch’, is an engaging read about a hitman who is now himself being chased.  It’s rather standard, but the writers toss in a few interesting twists, and lots of violence, to keep things moving.

Steve Niles, Jay Russell, and Andrew Ritchie’s ‘Black Sparrow’, which concludes here, ends with a nice little twist that almost redeems what has been a clumsy attempt at American Gothic horror.

In the backmatter, there is some improvement, as there is a nice interview with Bernie Wrightson about his Frankenstein work, as well as a page wherein the various creators recommend some good comics.  The rest of the material, save for a couple of pages by or about Cooke, still are pretty skippable.

To end on a positive note, though, Darwyn Cooke!  And next month, Scott Morse!

Storm Dogs #1

Written by David Hine
Art by Doug Braithwaite
 

I’ve been looking forward to this new science-fiction series since I saw it solicited – David Hine is a very talented writer, and Doug Braithwaite is a terrific artist; also, there is just not enough intelligent science fiction in the world, and I wanted to read some more.

Last week’s CBLDF Liberty Annual had a short story which introduced one of the characters of Storm Dogs, and established that Hine’s future world has a great deal of complexity and history to it.  Now, with this first issue, I feel pretty confident that this is going to be a good series.

The setting for this issue is Amaranth, a remote world at the edge of Union control.  It is being used for mining, and interaction with the indigenous races is kept to a minimum, as they are not very technologically advanced.  There has been a problem in the mining community, as mysterious attacks have been leaving miners dead.  A group of investigators is dispatched, and they arrive just as a new attack is being carried out, although not in time to stop it.  Things are made more difficult by the presence of a storm – it seems that the rain on Amaranth is acidic, or deadly in some other way that affects human skin (although not indigenous).

Hine has filled the book with some interesting looking characters.  The investigators are not developed too much, although by watching them interact with their families via the future version of holographic Skype, we do get to learn a few things about them.  Likewise, the two police on the planet are shown as grizzled archetypes, but I suspect there’s a little more going on below the surface.

I also get the feeling that much of this book is going to revolve around the human’s meeting with the indigenous races.  There might be something of an Avatar (the James Cameron movie) thing going on here, except that it’s intelligently written.  Braithwaite has done a terrific job of visualizing this world, and I look forward to reading the next issue.

Stumptown Vol. 2 #3

Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Matthew Southworth
 

If a PI solves a case, even if its under the most suspicious of circumstances, should she walk away?  That is the question that Greg Rucka is posing in this new Stumptown series, as Dex Pairios finds ‘baby’, the guitar belonging to a local rock goddess.

At the end of the last issue, the guitar turns up at Dex’s house, and her brother, who has Down’s Syndrome, cannot reliably describe how it got there.  Dex, being Dex, sees this as a reason to step up her investigation.

This leads to her having an altercation with the DEA, and later, seeing the skinheads from the first issue.  Greg Rucka has landed her in the middle of a strange situation, and it’s entertaining to watch how she is figuring things out.

What makes Stumptown work so well is the strength of the character-driven writing.  Dex is a great character, but so are the others who populate this book.  Personally, I like to imagine that DEA Agent Chase is in fact Cameron Chase, the DC comics character, being handled properly.

This issue, Matthew Southworth tries something new with the inking or shading of characters’ faces.  Southworth shares the colouring credit with Rico Renzi, so I’m going to assume it’s him that is trying something new, to give some depth to the characters’ expressions.  I’m not sure how well it works, but I always encourage people trying something new.

Sweet Tooth #39

by Jeff Lemire
 

There was a short stretch in the middle of this issue of Sweet Tooth, its penultimate, where I began to worry that the final conflict between Mr. Jeppard and Abbot, the horrible militia commander, might require some divine intervention, in the form of the hybrid ‘gods’ worshiped by the Inuit long ago.  Luckily, Lemire chose to keep this book firmly grounded, and had the characters work out their problems for themselves.

It’s difficult to discuss this book without giving away any of its key moments, so my comments are going to stay pretty general and curtailed.  Suffice to say, Lemire has been building up to this issue since the series began, and its satisfying to see how he chose to finish things off.  Sure, there’s still another issue left in the series, but I expect that it’s going to be set a ways into the future (like the last issue of Y: The Last Man was).

This book has been about the evolution of Mr. Jeppard as much as anything else, and I like where the character has arrived at in this issue.  I’ve grown to care about him and Gus over the last few years, and Lemire, as always, does not disappoint.

Thought Bubble Anthology 2012

Written by Lucia Harris, Pete Doree, Skottie Young, Gail Simone, Richard Starkings, Matthew Sheret, Emma Vieceli, Ivan Brandon, Clark Burscough, Steve Reynolds, Martin Simpson, Ben Haith, Stephen Mooney, Dave Johnson, Lee Barnett, Warren Ellis, Kate Beaton, Chris Lackey, JG Roshell, and Fiona Staples
Art by Tony Harris, Sean Phillips, Skottie Young, Tula Lotay, Boo Cook, Kristyna Baczynski, Emma Vieceli, Leigh Gallagher, Richard Hughes, Steve Reynolds, Martin Simpson, Ben Haith, Stephen Mooney, Dave Johnson, Ollie Redding, Kate Beaton, Chris Lackey, Gabriel Bautista, and Fiona Staples
 

I guess it’s the season for anthology comics, as the week after Vertigo’s newest one hits, and the CBLDF Liberty Annual, we get the second Though Bubble Anthology – the collection sold to celebrate the Leeds Comic Art Festival in England.

This book is different from most anthologies, in that it is formatted as a folded newspaper tabloid, providing each page with a lot more space than a regularly-sized comic, and it’s printed on wonderful newsprint, which always makes me feel nostalgic for the old days.

As with any project like this, which consists mostly of one- or two-pagers, the contents are a pretty mixed bag.  There are some big names here, but also a number of lesser-known (at least in North America) creators, and some up-and-comers who won a contest to be published here.

My favourite piece in this book is cover artist extraordinaire Dave Johnson’s memoir about meeting Bob Layton in embarrassing circumstances.  I also enjoyed Pete Doree and Sean Phillips’s memoir about collecting and swapping comics as children.  Gail Simone gives us a cool strip (with Tula Lotay, the only artist who appears twice in this book) about superheroes, as they would have been imagined in Victorian times.

I was surprised to find a multi-page story that crosses Richard Starkings’s Elephantmen series with Strontium Dog, the long-running British series.  I was also impressed by Due Returns, a story by Matthew Sheret and Kristyna Baczynski, which reminded me of Borges’s love of libraries.

In all, this is a very enjoyable little collection.  I’m pleased to see that this book is going to be an annual event.

Quick Takes:

Animal Man #14 – Here we have another solid entry in the Rotworld saga, as Maxine is pursued by agents of the Rot in the present day, and Buddy continues his fight in the rotted-out future of Rotworld.  Jeff Lemire is pacing this story very well – perhaps the thing I love most about the New 52 is that it opened the door for stories that last much longer than the standard 6-issue, ready for the trade, arc.  I find it interesting that Lemire has Buddy fighting all of the characters that Rob Liefeld has worked on at DC (Hawk, Dove, Grifter, Deathstroke, and last issue, Hawkman), and that he uses this title to develop Black Orchid, a character he writes in Justice League Dark, a little further.  Steve Pugh’s art continues to be phenomenal, and Timothy Green II handles the present-day scenes well.

Avengers Academy #39 – I have mixed emotions about the finishing of this title, mostly because of where many of the characters who filled this book are headed next.  Avengers Academy has been a pretty unique comic in Marvel’s history – their previous ‘young superhero’ books, like New Mutants back in the day, or more recently Runaway, have hinged on having the kids be a reaction to their adult counterparts.  This book did a terrific job of blending the two groups; while it was always about the students, Christos Gage showed us some real growth among the teachers – Hank Pym, Tigra, hell, even Quicksilver and Speedball.  Since adding a bunch of new students, the title has floundered a little (too big a cast, and not enough pages – they’ve basically completely disappeared from this last issue, aside from the most popular), but when the series was centred on its core group of students and their teachers, it’s been pretty golden.  Gage gives us a very nice send-off here, as the kids reach a new point in their education, and are given some new responsibilities.  There are many strong character moments, and the best art I’ve seen from Tom Grummett in years.  Sadly, I expect some of these characters to be killed off in the upcoming Avengers Arena series, which feels like an attempt to recapture the gory days of Craig Kyle and Kyle Yost’s run on New X-Men (when they slaughtered most of the cast).  Some of these characters have what it takes to stick around for years, and I hope that whoever handles them next gives them the same respect Gage always did.  I’m not sure where Gage in headed in the Marvel NOW! world, but I intend to follow him to whatever title he lands on, and I look forward to reading it.

AVX: Consequences #5 Kieron Gillen wraps up his excellent run with the X-Men by having Magneto, Magik, and Danger break Cyclops out of prison.  It’s odd to see Cyclops being positioned as the new Magneto, and I hope that Marvel proceeds delicately with the character (although, by giving him to Brian Michael Bendis, perhaps they are doing the opposite of that).  This issue had a couple of good moments, although it’s always a tough sell, with a teleporter on hand, to watch people have to break into a prison to rescue someone.  I really like Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s art; in places, his faces remind me of John Romita Jr., back when I really enjoyed his work (ie., his Uncanny X-Men days with Claremont).

Battlefields #1 – Garth Ennis returns with his occasional war series Battlefields, bringing Sgt. Stiles, from hisTankies stories, into the Korean War.  Our favourite grizzled Geordie sargeant is not to happy to learn that his newest crew member is the younger brother of a man he worked with in the second world war, although through Stiles’s own mistake, the two of them end up lost in the woods, in Chinese-controlled land.  Ennis is at his best with war comics, and artist Carlos Ezquerra is always good.

Daredevil: End of Days #2 – I am loving this series, and that’s strange, as I usually avoid Marvel’s ‘The End’ books, as I don’t see the value in reading stories about how beloved characters are going to die, when we all know that they never will.  Anyway, writers Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack wisely make this series more about reporter Ben Urich and his quest to figure out whatever happened to Matt Murdock, rather than be actually about Daredevil.  Ben is trying to track down the women of DD’s life, and we come across a few familiar faces.  The real stars of this book are artists Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz, who work great together.

Defenders #12 – It’s not a big surprise that this series is ending with this issue – Matt Fraction has tried to go a little Casanova with this book, but using some very established Marvel characters, which is never a good fit.  Things end just about the only way they could, even though that consigns this book to a life lived out in bargain bins, as based on the sales, no one was too interested in the first place.  Some good ideas, but the execution was a little sloppy.

Detective Comics #14 – John Layman’s second issue on Detective Comics has continued to underwhelm me.  I love Layman’s work on Chew, but on this title, which is perfectly acceptable and fine, he’s not really catching me.  I think, technically speaking, he writes a very good Batman.  All the right elements – the detective work, the creative solutions – are there, but with so many other Bat-books coming out each month, there’s nothing that makes this one unique.  Were this book only $2.99, I’d stay with it, but at $3.99, this would need something to make it really stand out.  Layman gets one more issue, and then I’m done.

Dial H #6 – I find that this series is moving ever closer to my heart.  In this issue, Nelson has dialled up a ‘hero’ who is nothing more than a walking stereotype – Chief Mighty Arrow – and Manteau is not allowing him to go out, especially since he could cause ‘heap big offense’.  And so, we are given an issue that explores Nelson and Roxie’s new relationship, as joint custodians of the dial.  There’s a humour in this issue that was not so evident in the first arc, and guest artist David Lapham (who is not credited on the cover) does a terrific job of humanizing these two main characters.  China Miéville has really impressed with this series.

Earth 2 #6 – The first arc of this series wraps up, as the new heroes finish their confrontation with Grundy and the Grey, while Terry Sloan makes his own moves for power.  I’d kind of expected that these new heroes, Green Lantern, Flash, and Hawkgirl might join with the Earth Army, but that doesn’t look to be the case.  I suppose that James Robinson is going to be juggling a lot of balls with this book, and I look forward to seeing where all of this leads.  At first, I was sceptical about sticking with this series, but I’ve really come to enjoy it.  Nicola Scott and her art have a lot to do with that.

Iron Man #1 – I was pretty excited about reading this new Iron Man series.  I’d really enjoyed Matt Fraction’s long run with the character, and was looking forward to seeing what Kieron Gillen (who I believe is one of Marvel’s top-two writers) would do with Tony Stark and his friends.  To be honest, I’m a little disappointed.  If part of the rationale of the whole Marvel NOW! thing was to redefine Marvel’s characters, I don’t understand why this book has to lean so heavily on Warren Ellis’s work with the character from a few years ago.  Tony discovers that the Extremis technology has been recreated, and that AIM has its hands on it.  As Tony is always concerned with keeping dangerous technology out of the hands of bad people, he goes off to deal with it.  So, Armor Wars.  Gillen doesn’t (in this issue at least) seem to be doing anything new with the character at all – he’s picking up vacuous blondes, trading quips with Pepper Potts, and fighting the same fight he always fights.  Things feel status quo here, except for the issue’s biggest problem:  Greg Land.  Marvel’s hack artist supreme butchers what could have been some fun character scenes.  I thought that Emma Frost was appearing in the bar scene, but it turns out that Land is just tracing the same porn actress he used to trace when he drew Uncanny X-Men.  I’m going to give this series a few more issues to improve, solely because of the respect I have for Kieron Gillen, but if he doesn’t step up, I won’t be able to overlook Land’s awful art like I could when they worked on Uncanny together, and I can see dropping this.

Planet of the Apes Cataclysm #3 – Ever since Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, I’ve been fascinated by stories wherein people react to natural disasters, not so much on an individual basis, but more on a systems level.  In this series, disaster has struck, and the residents of Ape City are quickly splitting into race-based camps, with gorillas opening fire on anyone moving towards safe ground, ciaiming they are human.  There are some instances of heroism, but Dr. Zaius has figured out that something else is going on, and that it has to do with the mysterious figure who opened this series by launching a missile at the moon.  Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman have put together an interesting new series.

Shadowman #1 – I don’t remember much of the original Shadowman series (except for Steve Englehart working the phrase “free-form improvisation in the dark” into every single issue), so this relaunch at the new Valiant feels pretty fresh to me.  Jack Boniface is introduced as a legacy hero, although he doesn’t know anything about that legacy, having grown up in foster care after his father, the previous Shadowman, was killed by Darque.  Jack learns some hard truths about his parents, which lead him to abandon the one thing that had kept him from becoming Shadowman.  Then some agents of the Rot come after him (oh wait, wrong company – I wonder who these folk are).  Patrick Zircher and Justin Jordan do a good job of bringing this series back to life, and I’m definitely intrigued enough to come back next month for the second issue.

Swamp Thing #14 – Like this week’s Animal Man, this issue continues the Rotworld story by sending Alec on a quest to both stop Arcane, and find Abby.  Yanick Paquette draws the whole issue (a rarity these days at DC), and the book looks wonderful.  Storywise, we’re right in the middle of the story, so nothing too surprising happens.

Uncanny X-Force #33 – We get ever closer to the end of Final Extinction Saga, as Wolverine has a little heart-to-heart with his son, Psylocke faces the Shadow King, and Nightcrawler comes up with a very inventive way of taking out the Blob.  It’s a shame that this title is ending (well, not ending, more like undergoing a stock split and relaunching in two new incarnations), as it’s been one of Marvel’s best for some time now.

X-Factor #246 – I’ve been getting a little bored with X-Factor lately, but with this single done-in-one issue starring Pip the Troll, Peter David has renewed my interest in the title.  Really, this issue is the equivalent of the recent Wolverine and the X-Men spotlight on Doop, as we learn that these two short characters have a lot in common, in terms of what they do for their comrades, which no one really knows about.  Pip tries to take the night off to pick up a girl, but instead discovers that there is a threat to X-Factor that he believes only he can handle.  If I felt like nit-picking, I would ask why a character who can teleport needs to rush across town in a cab…

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

Action Comics #14

Avengers #33

Avenging Spider-Man #14

Legends of the Dark Knight #2

Mars Attacks #5

New Avengers #32

X-Men #38

Bargain Comics:

The Flash #0 – As has often been the case, at least when there wasn’t a fill-in artist, this is a lovely book, but, as much as Francis Manapul innovates with layout, the story continues to underwhelm.  The problem is simple; Manapul is working too hard to honour the work of Geoff Johns, giving us the milk-toasty Barry Allen, who has obsessed over his mother’s death.  Allen was never my Flash – I like Wally West – and so I find it hard to find any entry point into this story to actually care about.  It is a beautiful book though…

Wolverine #314 – Jeph Loeb’s latest arc came and went, and aside from a few mocking things on-line, there was next to no buzz about it.  Anyway, since Loeb is gone, it’s time to pick up bargain issues of Wolverine again (no price is cheap enough to get me to buy a Jeph Loeb comic).  Cullen Bunn returns to everyone’s favourite mutant, and follows up from his last run, which had Dr. Rot remove some of Logan’s memory.  Apparently he took everyone elses’ memories too, as this particular plot point has not had any play in any other book which Logan appears in (which is to say, all of them).  Some mysterious group called The Covenant gets ret-conned into Logan’s past (unless this is just the first time I’ve come across them), and he goes off on some mission to rescue someone called The Dreaming Maiden, which leads to a run in with Elsa Bloodstone.  This is all pretty standard stuff; Bunn’s creator-owned work is much better.

X-Men #35-37 – Brian Wood wraps up his too-short run quite nicely, with the seeds of conflict in this team tearing apart Ororo and Peter’s friendship, while we meet yet another proto-mutant.  I like the approach Wood took to this title, making it about a specific squad, and giving them a specific purpose, something lacking in too many x-books these days.  Also, these books have wonderful art by the Lopezs and by Roland Boschi.

Album of the Week:

K’NaanCountry God Or the Girl – I wasn’t even going to buy this album, having been so disappointed by the EP K’Naan dropped last spring, most of which is on here, but I thought I’d give it a chance, and hidden among the sixteen tracks that make up this disc, there’s a very good album.  My advice?  Skip over anything featuring other artists (Nelly Furtado (especially her!), Nas, Bono, Keith Richards, and will.i.am add nothing to the album), and focus on the tracks that K’Naan wrote and sings or raps himself.  While there is no Waving Flag here, (or, really, anything approaching the level of his better songs like Somalia and Fatima) there are some very lovely, very personal tracks, like ‘Gold in Timbuktu’, which show that despite his international success and fame, K’Naan is still, at times, a dusty-footed poet striving to express himself.  Large parts of this album have been stuck in my head for a week now.

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