The Weekly Round-Up #165 with Glory, The Activity, Mara, Nowhere Men, The Sixth Gun & More

Columns, Top Story

Best Comic of the Week:

Glory #32

Written by Joe Keatinge
Art by Ross Campbell, Owen Gieni, Emi Lenox, Sloane Leong, Jed Dougherty, and Greg Hinkle

I’ve always been a sucker for those ‘night before the big battle’ kind of comics, where the heroes take a few quiet moments to reflect on their lives, and to contact loved ones before entering into the gigantic conflicts that can only be done properly in comics.  They work to add great weight to what comes next, even if, in mainstream comics at least, the big final thing is not all that final for anyone.

In this series, Glory, her sister Nanaja, and their assorted allies, are hanging out at Glory’s parents’ lovely house in the woods, waiting for a Knight of Thule, a gigantic, destructive creature  to attack.  To say that Glory’s family has had it’s share of problems is understating things severely, and it is from that that most of the issue’s drama unfolds.

With the big battle looming, the characters get some time to themselves, with guest artists drawing two pages each.  Of the group named above, the only one I am familiar with (aside from regular artist Ross Campbell of course) is Emi Lenox, who draws autobiographical cartoons that are worlds away from the style of this series.  Still, her appearance here works well, as she chats with Henry, the big plush-toy looking medic, and he gives her his camera (there is no discussion of his giving away the sandwich press).  The other pages are more conventional, keeping closer to the look of the series (although Sloane Leong’s art looks a lot like Giuseppe Camuncoli’s, mixed with some Keith Giffen).

I have enjoyed being exposed to new artists, although I do hope that Ross Campbell handles the last two issues of this title on his own, as I love his beefy approach to Glory.

Other Notable Comics:

The Activity #11

Written by Nathan Edmondson
Art by Mitch Gerads

Since The Activity, Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads’s series about a special forces top-secret team of operatives, began, each issue has told the story of a single mission, while hints have been dropped that a larger story has been playing out involving a governmental leak which has possibly compromised the team.

With this issue, Edmondson finally pulls the trigger on that storyline.  The team is sent to Minneapolis to track down a terrorist cell which is planning to blow something in the city up.  They have next to nothing to go on, and so the issue is given over to some pretty unconventional methods of locating cell phones and explosives.  While this is going on, someone in the Pentagon gets final confirmation of where the leak is coming from, and begins to investigate how widely it reaches.

The storytelling in this issue is excellent, as Edmondson plots a taut thriller, as the team watch the clock run down on their window of opportunity.  One way to track C-12 explosives is with specially trained butterflies, which leads to some very cool visuals.

One could easily argue that the nameless and undeveloped terrorists are too easy a stand-in for a threat, but the story is not about their beef with America, or whatever their motivation is; terrorists are the go-to bad guys, and many other issues of this series have used more original villains and targets.

I’m happy to see that the leak aspect of the story is finally being explored, and am curious to see where this story is headed next.

Mara #2

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ming Doyle

In one of Brian Wood’s earliest comics, Demo, made with the incomparable Becky Cloonan, he explored how strange abilities, or super powers, would affect people who live everyday lives.  Mara, his new mini-series at Image, is exploring the same general territory, although it mixes in the complications of fame.

Mara Prince is the biggest star in the world, in a near-future where athletics have become the singular obsession of most societies.  Mara is a volleyball prodigy with massive endorsement contracts and the entire world’s attention.  In the first issue, something strange happened during one of her games – it looked like she stopped time and interfered with how the game was played.  No one, including Mara, can account for what happened, and of course the 24-hour news cycle is abuzz with accusations of her cheating.

In this issue, she tries to pull things back together, although perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is her staff who is trying to fix things.  Mara is clearly confused and at a loss for what happened, and is mostly just going through the motions of trying to get things back to normal.  She attends a residency at a training camp for young girls, and her abilities manifest themselves again, while being filmed.

I like how Wood has extrapolated a future where the Chinese Olympics program has become the global norm, and the story reminds me a little of the story of Caster Semenya, the South African intersex runner who has been accused of having an unfair advantage when she competes in races for women.

Ming Doyle’s art is spectacular, in that slightly rough indie style, and I like how Wood is taking his time in letting this story unfold.

Nowhere Men #3

Written by Eric Stephenson
Art by Nate Bellegarde

Three issues in, I still have no idea where Eric Stephenson is going with Nowhere Men, his ‘scientists are the new rock stars’ series at Image.  On the surface, this book is supposed to be about World Corp., a company founded by four rock-star famous scientists in the 60s, but the reality is that they are barely in the book.

Instead, much of the focus is on a group of scientists who were living on a space station funded by World Corp.  They contracted some kind of inexplicable virus, and the company decided to simply wash its hands of them and leave them in orbit.  One of them built a teleporter though, and most of the crew stepped through last issue.

Now, they’ve appeared in different places on the Earth, and their disease seems to have changed some of them quite a bit.  A couple of them, stranded in the far North, do not feel any effects from the cold, while another, who looked like a giant scabbing pustule when we last saw him, now appears more like a bright red comic book strong man à la The Thing.  That guy somehow gets into a conflict with a group of Mad Max style hippies, which really makes no sense to me, but there it is.

I find that the randomness of this book makes it pretty appealing.  The four central scientists, of whom only two show up this month, are all characters straight out of a Warren Ellis comic, while the other characters feel more grounded, despite being involved in some pretty crazy situations.  I feel like this book could run the risk of never completely gelling in terms of its disparate story elements, but for now, I’m curious enough to keep buying it, especially since Nate Bellegarde’s art looks so good.

The Sixth Gun #28

Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Brian Hurtt

This is one of those times where, because a series is in the middle of its arc, it’s kind of difficult to find anything new to say about it.  Lately, the cast of The Sixth Gun have been spread all over the place, and it’s taken Cullen Bunn a long time to manoeuvre them back together.

Series frontrunners Drake Sinclair and Becky Moncrief have been trapped in another world, like a pocket dimension, where a malevolent Wendigo spirit has decided to hold them until they die, so that it can, it claims, keep The Six out of the world.  Drake has been possessed by this spirit, and now Becky must decide if she can kill him or save him.

Their friend, Gord Cantrell, has gathered up the undead mummy Asher Cobb, and the duplicitous gunfighter Kirby Hale, and they are trying to find the other two.  They are being pursued by the Sword of Abraham, who have their own plans for The Six, the guns that Drake and Becky carry.

This is, as always, a very good issue of The Sixth Gun.  Bunn’s increasingly busy writing schedule at Marvel has done nothing to hurt the quality of this title, and Hurtt continues to knock each and every issue out of the park.  My wish is that many of the people who are enjoying his Marvel work will check this comic out, because it is quite remarkable.

The Unwritten #45

by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Inked by Dean Ormston

The last issue of The Unwritten ended with the surprise appearance of a character I didn’t expect to see again for until issue 48 (which probably gives away the surprise for any long-term fans of this series).  As if to acknowledge that things were happening a little early, Mike Carey and Peter Gross use this issue to start a two-part story that doesn’t feature regular series star Tom Taylor at all, but instead focuses on a couple of the supporting characters.

Richie Savoy has settled himself in Australia for the time being, although he doesn’t seem to be doing more than hooking up with some of his fans.  The police Detective, Didge Patterson is stuck investigating a horrible crime scene, where an older couple have been ripped to pieces in what looks like an attack by multiple cannibals.  The only clue she finds is a school book filled with a story written by a young boy.

Didge being dyslexic, she turns to Savoy for help with the case, and that leads them to young Jason, who seems to be able to create reality with his writing.  He described perfectly the death of the folks who watch him after school, and later it happened the exact same way.

The Unwritten has always been about the power of story, and now it seems that Carey and Gross are taking us into another aspect of that.  The kid’s abilities play out poorly for his father, who probably is beginning to regret feeding his son’s enthusiasm for zombies.

This is a solid issue.  I always like it when Carey moves the series away from Taylor for a little while, and I’m also always happy when Dean Ormston pops by to ink an issue or two.  His addition to the proceedings always gives the book a darker look, and makes it feel different enough to feel like the story is special.  It also makes me appreciate Peter Gross’s own inks more, as I like seeing how differently some penciller’s work appears with different inkers.

Quick Takes:

All Star Western #16I’m beginning to question if Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray actually have a plan for this series or not.  For a few months now, Jonah Hex has been dealing with Mr. Hyde, who has been terrorising Gotham.  Last issue, Hex was injured, and Hyde escaped.  This issue, we learn that Hex has spent the last month recuperating from his injuries at Arkham’s mansion, with a nurse attending to his and Mrs. Arkham’s needs (Dr. Arkham is in an asylum because of Hyde’s serum).  Jonah becomes friendly with the old woman, who thinks he is the character Heathcliffe from Jane Eyre, and eventually Hyde turns up, and they fight.  The pacing has been off for months, and I really don’t get what they’re doing with this book.  I know DC is trying to turn ‘The Black Diamond Probability’ into a thing, since they’ve got the same diamond showing up in Demon Knights, and presumably elsewhere, but it feels very forced.  Were it not for Moritat’s pretty art, I’d be running away from this book.  Likewise, the previously excellent Tomahawk back-up gets really weird as it posits that a British officer would have influence in the government of George Washington in the years immediately prior to the War of 1812.  Nonsense, and not necessary for the story.

Avengers #4 – It looks like Jonathan Hickman is going to spend some time following up on the consequences of the transformative missiles that his new villains fired at the Earth from Mars in the first few issues.  This issue has an Avengers squad travelling to the Savage Land to investigate a landing site, where they find AIM and some weirdness.  Much of the book is given over to Hyperion, whose arrival on Earth is connected to the events of New Avengers.  Hyperion was a strange choice to include in this new roster – to begin with, Superman knock-off characters are usually as boring as Superman is, and have a tendency to render the rest of their teams unnecessary; as well, Hyperion has a very strange history in the Marvel Universe, and I’m not sure if this is one of the versions we’ve seen before (wasn’t one of them just in the Thunderbolts?).  Still, this is a nicely-written book, with nice art by Adam Kubert.

Batman and Robin Annual #1 The only reason I’ve stuck with Batman and Robin, which is too often derailed by cross-overs or what feel like editorially mandated stories, is that, next to Batman Incorporated (see below), this book is the surest place to find some excellent Damian Wayne material, and I really like Damian Wayne.  In this annual, Peter Tomasi has Damian send his father on a scavenger hunt of family memories across Europe, mostly so he can dress up in a Batman suit and fight crime in Gotham on his own.  Tomasi does a great job of showing a different side of Bruce Wayne, and Alfred, while giving Damian some terrific moments.  It’s a pretty charming comic, with nice art by Ardian Syaf.  A really enjoyable read.

Batman Incorporated #7 – Were it not for the framing efforts of Damian Wayne, this would probably have been a difficult issue to follow, as Grant Morrison throws threat after threat at Gotham, as Talia al Ghul kidnaps Batman and fully embraces her new criminal mastermind role.  Chris Burnham’s art makes this a terrific read, as Morrison moves steadily closer to his big ending.

Hawkeye #7 – Hawkeye has become the go-to book for perfectly constructed done-in-one stories that explore a different side of superheroics.  That said, this issue is a bit of a disappointment when compared to previous issues (especially the ones drawn by David Aja).  Matt Fraction wrote this as a tribute to the Hurricane Sandy experience, and the book is split between the two Hawkeye’s (Clint and Kate) as we see how they spent their time during the storm.  Clint tries to help one of his tenants look after his father in Far Rockaway, while Kate attends a wedding shower in Jersey.  The art is split between two excellent artists – Steve Lieber (whose style fits the book perfectly) and Jesse Hamm (who is a little looser than what you’re used to seeing here).  It’s definitely not a bad comic, but it’s not at the same level I’ve come to expect here.  At the same time, the editor kind of explains how rushed the production of this issue was, so it’s all good.  If you’ve been thinking about sampling the title though, buy issue 6 instead.

Invincible #100We have come to expect that if Robert Kirkman is writing an anniversary issue, someone important is going to die in it (just check out the 50th, 75th, and 100th issues of The Walking Dead), and with Invincible, he’s called the current story arc “The Death of Everyone”.  The thing is, Kirkman’s kind of slippery at times, and so what you expect to happen in this issue doesn’t exactly happen.  I can’t say more without spoiling the comic, and I don’t want to do that.  Suffice to say, this is a solid read, as Kirkman re-adjusts the status quo once again.  Invincible is a consistently good book, and this is a great issue.

Justice League Dark #16 – My interest in this book continues to diminish rapidly.  So far as straightforward superhero series go, this is perfectly acceptable, but I expect much more than that from Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes.  This book has never felt particularly focused, and one and a half years in, I think it’s time to say good-bye.

Star Wars: Agent of the Empire – Hard Targets #4 – John Ostrander’s terrific James Bond/Star Wars mash-up series continues to impress, as Agent Cross and a disgraced bodyguard work to free the young Count Dooku from an undersea base.  Chase sequences, great characterizations, nice art, and Bobba Fett!  This comic can’t get much better.

Talon #4 – I’m glad I stuck around this long, as this series continues to improve with each new issue.  After robbing a Court of Owls-run bank in New York, Calvin has to fight a monster of a Talon, with some help from his new friends.  My only complaint about this issue is that many of the new supporting characters introduced last month won’t be sticking around (makes you wonder if perhaps DC has different plans for this book than writer James Tynion IV), but I do like the general direction this series is moving in.  Artist Guillem March is turning in some very nice work on this title as well.

X-Men Legacy #5 I really hadn’t expected to stick this long with this series, but it is growing on me more and more with each new issue.  This time, David has made his way to Westchester, and he arranges a Dire Wraith distraction (although, what’s up with the ‘female’ Wraith, when all of the other ones shown are the females?) so he can get into Blindfold’s brain.  We learn a great deal about that character, and the true identity of the floating eyeballs from the series’s beginning.  I think Jorge Molina is a better fit for this title, and more and more, I’m enjoying where Simon Spurrier’s taking things.  In the Marvel NOW! world, the secondary and tertiary X-titles are so much better than the Bendis-driven ones…

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

Deathmatch #2

Rachel Rising #14

Superior Spider-Man #2

Bargain Comics:

Action Comics #0; 13-14I dropped Action a while back – Grant Morrison’s story was not too impressive, and I hated the back-ups written by Sholly Fisch.  I thought I’d get caught up a bit during some Boxing Day sales, because I find it hard to believe that I’d be so underwhelmed by a Grant Morrison comic, but lo and behold, I still don’t like this book.  The storylines have a completely random feel to them, and I find it very hard to care about Superman at all.  I’ve never really liked the character, except during John Byrne’s run, and during Morrison’s first take on him in All-Star Superman, but these are particularly bland comics from someone with Mr. Morrison’s credentials.  Usually, when I am not impressed with Morrison, it’s because I know I didn’t understand the book; here, I’m just not interested at all.  The back-ups continue to be way too earnest and unnecessary.

Venom #20-23 – Rick Remender closed off his run on this title very nicely, bringing a solid resolution to Flash Thompson’s father issues, but Cullen Bunn’s solo debut didn’t do a whole lot for me.  Still, with Declan Shalvey drawing many issues of this book now, this is a title to keep an eye on.

The Week in Manga:

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 9

Written by Eiji Otsuka
Art by Housui Yamazaki

Not being a big manga reader, and not knowing a whole lot about Japan, I think this series has really coloured my perception of that whole country, and its culture.  In this ninth volume of the brilliant series The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, the writer Eiji Otsuka shines the spotlight on one of the stranger aspects of Otaku culture, the stranger air-defence techniques used in the Second World War, and the theme of suicide in Japanese culture.  Along the way, as always, he makes the book a great deal of fun to read, and completely unpredictable.

The first story in this volume deals with “solo hide-and-seek”, a game that somehow involves imbuing a doll or stuffed animal with the spirit of a dead person, so that it will come find you when you hide it.  This game is being played on a beautiful young television personality, with bizarre results.

The second story involves urban myths of headless motorcycle riders and an invisibility suit.  The third involves an old man who could hear the voice of heaven, who as a young man was made to sit in a shallow bunker listening for American bombers.  Apparently this really happened.  The final story is the quietest and most personal, as the two most over-looked members of the Service’s staff, Yata and Keiko, bond a little over stories about their childhood, and how their parents died.

This series really is remarkable.  It is grounded in a pretty absurd idea for a serial – that the people of the Service help deliver unclaimed and unidentified corpses to their final resting place – yet it is surprisingly personable and affecting.  The ideas that go into this series are always bizarre, but there is a comforting sitcom-like quality to the book that makes you want to overlook any amount of implausibility.  I can’t recommend this series highly enough.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The One Trick Rip-Off + Deep Cuts

by Paul Pope

I have not read anywhere near enough of Paul Pope’s body of work.  Sure, I’ve read his Batman and his Vertigobooks, but I’ve only scratched the surface of his THB stuff, and a smattering of items that have turned up elsewhere over the years.  I even managed to miss his One Trick Rip-Off, and so I am grateful that Image has republished it, alongside a number of shorter works, collectively called Deep Cuts, from the 90s.

The One Trick Rip-Off is an excellent little gangster story.  The One Tricks are called that because they have some limited ability to mentally influence people around them.  Tubby, a lieutenant in the gang, has decided to rip them off of a safe full of traveler’s cheques, and head for quieter ground with his girlfriend Vim.  They have a plot, involving the delivery of Indian food, but are soon derailed by the ambition of another One Trick.

This story works very well – we get to like the characters, and Pope gives the story a pretty frenetic pace.

The other stories in this book are varied in terms of their quality.  Many are fantastic, although a few are better included as historical documents than as stand-alone stories.  These are mostly urban little tales, some quite dark, others humorous.  I especially enjoyed the second to last one, ‘The Scarf’, which is a romance tale set on different subway trains in New York.

For much of the 90s, Pope was involved in some work with a manga company, and that influence shows in stories like ‘Super Trouble’ and ‘Night Job’.  I think I prefer the more impressionistic stories that came before, from his ‘Columbus’ phase.

Anyway, this is a very impressive, very dense book, just filled with good comics.  I’m sure this is going to be on many a ‘best of’ list at the end of the year.

Album of the Week:

Jose James – No Beginning No End– I was never a fan of the overblown R&B of the 90s, but I love the stripped down and minimalist work done by Jose James.  This new album, on Blue Note, avoids the more electronic soundscape of his last release (which featured producers like Flying Lotus) for a warmer, live instrumentation.  This is a truly beautiful album.

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