The Weekly Round-Up #167 with The Manhattan Projects, Morning Glories, Saucer Country, The Walking Dead #107 & More

I couldn’t get either Fatale or Archer & Armstrong this week, which was unfortunate.  Oh well, there are always plenty of books on the racks.

Best Comic of the Week:

The Manhattan Projects #9

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

The staff of the Manhattan Projects, under the leadership of General Leslie Groves, have effected a merger with their Russian counterparts, and have escaped the American government’s attempt to stop their machinations towards independence.  What’s left to do then, but to figure out who is really calling the shots, and go after them.In this issue, Groves and his team do just that, acting on information they gain from the artificial intelligence that is all that is left of dead President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They learn that their enemies include the luchadore head of an international banking cartel, a very old Egyptian with mystical powers, an overly corpulent man who controls all emerging markets, and of course, current president and Freemason Harry S. Truman.

It doesn’t take long for the Projects crew to deal with all of these guys, and it is a lot of fun watching it happen.  Hickman’s taken his time setting up this series, and with each new issue, he’s introduced some pretty wild ideas.  Now, he’s put the Projects in a new position of power, and has guaranteed that this book, which plays with historical figures with great irreverence, will continue to be a terrific read for a while to come.

Other Notable Comics:

Change #3

Written by Ales Kot
Art by Morgan Jeske

I’m going to be perfectly honest about the fact that I no longer have a clue what is going on in this book.  The first issue felt more or less straight-forward – the series was about a rapper who wants to be a movie producer, the unhappy screenwriter he can’t get along with, and a weird cult that wants to kill or recruit them.  Also, there was an astronaut returning to Earth, and something big that he saw floating in the ocean.The second issue made things a little more murky, as a great deal of space was given over to flashbacks concerning the astronaut’s childhood.  Now though, things have moved into the realm of the utterly incomprehensible.  Any given page of this comic is readable and easy enough to understand, but the gestalt of all of these pages being put together makes this comic incredibly confusing.

All the same, I’m enjoying this book.  Kot is clearly a new and unique voice in comics, with little interest in telling linear stories.  It was announced this week that he is going to be taking over the DC title Suicide Squad, which I think is going to be very bizarre – nothing I’ve read in Change suggests that Kot is the right kind of writer for a company known for editorial interference and storylines that maintain the status quo.  That said, after reading the first few issues of Casanova, I wouldn’t have thought that Matt Fraction would be the right person to write Iron Man, and that turned out quite well…

Elephantmen #46

Written by Richard Starkings
Art by Shaky Kane

For the second time now, Shaky Kane pops into the Elephantmen world to provide a very weird little story that, while building on the series’s continuity, doesn’t really add much to Richard Starkings’s long-term storyline.Hip Flask has been sent to investigate a building in downtown LA, and is surprised to find it full of strange green mushrooms.  A woman appears, and begins puking up more of the same mushrooms, which freaks out Miki, Hip’s on-again, off-again girlfriend.  Hip notices that there is a connection between these mushrooms and the FCN virus, which wiped out most of the population of Europe during the Mappo days.

The story that follows is odd, as we meet a guy named Harry Hazard, who was on the beach when an FCN-laden meteorite struck, many issues ago.  As he was buried up to his neck in sand, and had his head covered by a plastic bucket (don’t ask), he was spared the worst effects of the virus, instead becoming blue and transparent, and able to grow mushrooms from his body at will.

As I said, it’s a strange story, even for Elephantmen, a book which often serves as an outlet for whatever Starkings wishes to explore (last issue there was a beautifully illustrated Buddhist myth that ran for a number of pages).  Kane is a singular artist, and it’s very clear that Starkings and he just wanted to have some fun with this issue, giving us an odd look at the moments after a mushroom-fuelled orgy.

This unpredictability is one of the reasons I enjoy Elephantmen so much, even when I sometimes find Starkings’s unconcerned approach to linearity frustrating.  It’s never a boring read.  Also, it’s reminded me that I need to get my hands on the second Bulletproof Coffin series, as that is another comic where Kane cuts loose.

Morning Glories #24

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

This issue of Morning Glories has forty-four pages of story, and while it is priced at $3.99, that is more than twice what you would get from a similarly-priced Marvel comic, like say Secret Avengers #1, written by the same man.  I enjoyed that book, but I loved this one, even before considering the difference in quantity that my money bought me, because it also bought me the quality that comes with a creator-owned title.  Sure, this book is hella late, but when it’s this good, and this fat, I don’t mind at all.In this issue, we finally return to Ike and Jade, who are the only students of Morning Glory Academy who have been left with the faculty when the rest of the school time-jumped away, or whatever that was.  They’ve been captured by Gribbs, who wants Ike to kill his father (again).

Now, perhaps I’m a little dense, but until this issue, I hadn’t realized that Ike’s father is the same Abraham that has visited each of the other students at some key point in their past, and who raised Jun’s  friends, and trained them to infiltrate the Academy.  Maybe that was obvious before this point, but if it was, I never caught on.  Sometimes I don’t notice things…

Anyway, this issue gives us a good amount of insight into Ike’s personality.  He’s always been portrayed as a hedonistic little creep who is only interested in looking after himself, and while that portrayal is accurate, it is also coloured a little by the experiences he’s had, effectively growing up fatherless and ignored.

He’s also the one member of the book’s cast who always appears to have an exit strategy worked out, and this issue is no different.  Morning Glories is consistently an excellent read, in addition to giving good value for money.  Spencer and artist Joe Eisma have created a very unique book, that I always enjoy.  I’m pleased to see that Spencer is gaining acclaim for his Marvel work, and for his other Image title Bedlam (this really is Nick Spencer week), but I’m more pleased to see that it’s not taking his attention away from this title.

Saucer Country #12

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

It really is unfortunate that Vertigo has pulled the plug on this excellent series as of its fourteenth issue, because Paul Cornell is really hitting his stride here, and the book becomes ever more enjoyable.  He has said in interviews that he intends to continue the series in some way when the rights revert to him and other considerations make it possible.What this tells us is that Cornell will not be coming close to finishing off the storyline in the next two issues, and I’m okay with that.  As it is, it does feel as if he’s condensing the story somewhat, seeing as how two issues ago, Governor Arcadia Alvarado was stuck in the middle of a heated primary fight, and now she’s reached the final few days before the Presidential election which could put her in the White House.  That means we missed out on any number of good stories set on the election campaign trail, which is unfortunate.

There’s not much sense of time having passed, but some changes have set in for our characters.  Professor Kidd has finally revealed to Arcadia that he is often visited by the tiny figures from the Pioneer space probes, and of course, she’s now decided to keep him at more of a distance, a decision he does not take well.  We also learn a great deal about what Arcadia’s former rival, Senator Kersey, experienced at the hands of some very different aliens (think of the ones from V).

This has been a very unusual comic, blending modern politics with alien abduction mythology, and I for one, have found it to be an amazing read.  Ryan Kelly returns to the art for this issue, which makes me very happy.

Storm Dogs #3

Written by David Hine
Art by Doug Braithwaite

Among a stream of excellent launches in the last year at Image is Storm Dogs, a series that has not been getting the same level of attention as some of the other books (which sometimes feels very random to me).  This is a book that a lot more people should be reading, as David Hine masterfully combines science fiction, anthropology, and police procedurals into the excellently-written book.In this issue, the group of Union investigators continue to look into the murders taking place on Amaranth, a distant planet used for mining.  We learn a little about the company that runs the mining’s plan for the planet, which is going to require the displacement or disappearance of the indigenous population to go into effect.  We also learn what happened at the scenes of one of the murders.

At the heart of this book is Hine’s exploration of the indigenous cultures that live on the planet.  Its two dominant species have evolved a symbiotic relationship, and as such, are even more vulnerable to the actions of the outsiders, who are supposed to be confined to one area.  That’s not how things are going, and with the addition of the mysterious gem discovered last issue, and its provenance, revealed this issue, it’s clear that things are going to get a lot more interesting.

Doug Braithwaite continues to do excellent work, as he gives this planet and its people a unique look.

It’s interesting to read this comic in the light of the growing chorus of protest coming from First Nations people in my country.  The Idle No More movement is growing in strength, and rightfully so.  I thought of the plight of indigenous cultures in our world today numerous times while reading this book, which is in no way preachy.  Instead, it’s an excellent example of science fiction reflecting the times that we live in.

The Walking Dead #107

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn

The last issue of The Walking Dead ended with a vague threat to Carl, the almost-teenage son of Rick Grimes, and the easiest way for writer Robert Kirkman to leave me ill at ease for the month between issues.Thankfully, Kirkman doesn’t do anything too terrible in this issue, which leads to an interesting examination of the character Negan, leader of the Saviors, and currently the biggest threat to Rick and his Community.  Negan’s been portrayed as a complete psycho, but apparently he has a code that he follows pretty rigorously, and he demonstrates this issue that he is very good at keeping control of his emotions in stressful situations, such as during the beating that Rick puts on him this issue.

In addition to the Saviors stuff, there is a lot more going on in this issue.  Michonne comes on to one of the other members of the Community in a scene that is both well-written and kind of awkward.  Eugene, who has been looking to find equipment to help cast bullets, hits pay-dirt, and Rick and Jesus begin making plans to take Negan down.

This series has moved into some new territory lately (there’s not a single walker in this issue), but it continues to be a fascinating read.

Quick Takes:

America’s Got Powers #5This issue provides Bryan Hitch with a lot of the big scenes that he excels at, as the powered kids revolt against their government masters, and Tommy discovers just how powerful he can be.  It’s a good issue, with no ads.

Avengers Arena #4 – The book I enjoy hating on keeps bringing me back for another issues, despite the fact that I don’t really like the premise at all.  It’s becoming increasingly clear that the whole Murderworld set-up (Arcade has gathered a bunch of teen-ish heroes for his own little Hunger Games) is simply a foil for Dennis Hopeless to write some very good character-based scenes.  The focus in this issue is on the members of the Runaways and Avengers Academy who have been abducted; all characters I enjoy.  I wonder if anyone was annoyed by the cover, which promises a fight between X-23 and Darkhawk, which doesn’t happen at all in this comic.  Regular artist Kev Walker is nowhere to be seen, but Alessandro Vitti is a welcome substitute.

Batman #17 – From the beginning of the ‘Death of the Family’ storyline, I’ve felt like I’ve been missing something.  Everyone else on the net has been heaping praise on the story, and at the beginning, I felt that this big confrontation between Batman and the Joker was exciting, but as it proceeded, and sprawled into all the related Bat-titles, it increasingly felt overblown and ill-conceived.  This big conclusion issue didn’t chase away that feeling; it embraced it completely.  A major source of tension in the Bat-family has been the possibility that Joker knows the secrets of the extended Wayne clan, and reading some of the secondary titles like Nightwing makes that very clear, but then Spencer spends most of this issue making it clear that he doesn’t, thereby invalidating the other stories.  Instead, we have a slightly interesting new insight into the Joker’s personality, wrapped up among a ton of homo-eroticism (more than is standard in a superhero comic) and navel-gazing by Bruce Wayne.  Snyder’s ‘Court of Owls’ story was excellent, mainly because it added something new to the Bat-legend, while this has felt like a reheated journey down roads Grant Morrison has already travelled.  I suspect that DC knew that this story was going to be ending in a disappointing way, hence the sudden and massive amount of hype being given to an upcoming issue of Batman Incorporated this week.  I’m feeling more and more like I may not stick with this book – the rumours that Greg Capullo could be leaving makes me hope the quality of the book could improve art-wise, but still, I’m reaching the point where that may not be enough to keep me (unless, of course, they’re bringing back Becky Cloonan).

Batman and Robin #17I’m surprised that DC didn’t slap a ‘Death of the Family’ banner on this book, which is an epilogue of sorts to that storyline.  Bruce and Damian come home from a hard day of crime-fighting, and retire to bed, where they have some dreams, as does Alfred the butler.  This issue showcases perfectly just how little can be accomplished with a 20-page comic, when the writer doesn’t know what to do with an issue.  Since taking over the title, Peter Tomasi has been exploring Bruce and Damian’s relationship, often quite well (like in the Annual that came out two weeks ago).  This issue, however, didn’t provide any insight into any of the characters, and was really just the worst kind of filler issue (Not a hoax!  Not a dream!  Oh wait, yes it was).  I suspect the mighty hand of Dan Didio had something to do with this, but without the aforementioned cross-over cash-in attempt, I’m not too sure.

Battlefields #4 – I find it a little strange how Garth Ennis is using this latest iteration of his Battlefields war comic to return to characters that he’s already written about.  In this new arc, “The Fall and Rise of Anna Kharkova”, he revisits the title character, a pioneer of female Russian fighter pilots during the Second World War.  When the book opens, Anna has led her wingman Mouse onto an authorized raid into German territory.  She is shot down, and spends the issue in a German POW camp being nursed back to health by a British pilot with some medical training and fluent Russian.  Ennis uses this issue to explore the differences between Soviet and Western ideals at this point in time, and Russ Braun gives us some very nice character-based pages.  It’s a good issue, if a little talkative.

Bedlam #4 – And then Nick Spencer gives us a completely different take on Batman and the Joker in his indie series Bedlam, wherein the former Madder Red (i.e., The Joker) continues to try to help the police solve a rash of serial murders, and for his troubles gets tossed around on a rooftop by The First (i.e., Batman).  This issue, this comic reminded me a lot of the much-missed Gotham Central, with its focus on police work in a vigilante-filled world.  This is a good series, even if the reason behind the murders is straight out of a 90s Andrew Vachss comic.

BPRD Hell on Earth #104If you’ve ever felt the desire to read a Conan-like story featuring the old gods of the Mignola-verse, this latest two-part arc, “The Abyss of Time” should scratch that itch nicely.  James Harren outdoes himself in a story about ancient barbarians fighting the undead.

Clone #4 – This Skybound-produced adventure series about a large group of Clones, and the government agency that wants to kill them all, continues chugging along quite well.  This is a solidly decent comic, although I think it’s an on-going compared to being a mini-series, and I’m not convinced there’s enough here, even with the increasing political element, to keep my interest for more than say another four issues.

Demon Knights #17 – Robert Venditti’s run on this book continues to impress, as the band, now back together after some thirty years, goes to free Jason Blood from Vandal Savage.  It’s a very well-written and paced issue, and it kind of feels like Paul Cornell, the original series writer, never left (and that’s a good thing).  I do wish that the big villain of this new arc wasn’t Cain, but I think I’m going to be sticking with this title for a while longer.  Bernard Chang’s art makes it easy to stay.

Fury MAX #9 – Nick Fury and Frank Castle spend most of this issue escaping from their Vietnamese captors in Laos.  It’s almost entirely an action-based comic, and it is an exciting read.  This series is one of the best that Ennis has done in years, and Goran Parlov is supporting him perfectly in every way.

Katanna #1I have not been following this character’s adventures in Birds of Prey, and have no fond memories of the character from the old DCU, but seeing as this is a book written by Ann Nocenti, and when I flipped through it, had some nice art by Alex Sanchez, I thought I’d give it a chance.  Katanna has gone to a secret little section of San Francisco’s Japantown, where things look and feel like 19th century Japan, and is, for some reason I don’t understand, trying to see all of the tattoos on a girl who is being kept confined for other reasons I don’t understand.  The story is strange, but that’s kind of what I’ve come to expect from Nocenti; the problem is I don’t know if its compelling enough to bring me back for another issue.  I don’t really get a sense of why this book was launched.

Planet of the Apes Special #1 – I really enjoyed Darryl Gregory and Carlos Magno’s run on Boom’s Planet of the Apes.  The series could be read (at the beginning) as a metaphor for the Palestinian situation, and it had some very good character work.  I’m not entirely sure why that series, which opened with the death of the Lawgiver, was cancelled and replaced with the equally-high quality Planet of the Apes Cataclysm, but I was pleased to see that Gregory was given the chance to finish his storyline with this Special.  Except, it doesn’t end here, and I have no idea when the story will be picked up again.  In this issue, Sullivan leads her human forces into the city of Mak, which is gripped in civil war, after Voice Alaya was deposed.  At the same time, the Great Khan, the ape leader from Asia, is bringing his horde to take over.  Gregory’s story continues to be exciting and well-written, but I would have much prefered to see Magno’s art on this book than Diego Barreto’s.  It’s not that Barreto is bad, just that Magno is so much better.  Hopefully we’ll see the rest of this tale soon…

Powers: Bureau #1Last week we got an issue of Scarlet, and this week, the (third) relaunch of Brian Michael Bendis’s Powers series.  It’s like he suddenly remembered that he had some creator-owned books to work on or something.  Anyway, I don’t really feel like Powers needed to be relaunched again, except that the last volume was easily the sloppiest of the entire run, as only an issue or two came out each year, and the storyline meandered all over the place.  Now, Deena Pilgrim and Enki Sunrise are agents of the FBI, which now handles all Powers-related cases, and their workload is varied.  In addition to tracking down Christian Walker, the main character of the series, they also have to deal with the black market for Powers-sperm, a plotline that lets Bendis be as nasty as he wants to be.  We also learn just what Pilgrim was up to the for the year or so she was missing from this title (a year story-time; I have no idea how long she was gone from the semi-annual series).  I told myself that I wasn’t going to continue with this series, because of the constant lateness, but really, this is a very, very good comic, and I’m hoping (against hope) that Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming can get the schedule under control, like Bendis promises in the letters page.  That said, he’s the same guy that swore that he and Alex Maleev would be able to make Scarlet and Moon Knight at the same time, without impacting either book’s schedule…

Secret Avengers #1 – Nick Spencer did two things with this first issue of the new Secret Avengers that I’ve felt that Marvel has needed to do for a while.  First, he made it clear that Daisy Johnson really is in charge of things at SHIELD, which I didn’t expect to last for long, although it definitely seems like Maria Hill is the one who is really calling all the shots.  Secondly, he openly admits that the new Nick Fury thing is ridiculous, mostly by having Hawkeye and new Nick talking about the actor swaps in the James Bond movies.  It’s funny stuff.  This is a solid debut issue, which has Hawkguy and the Black Widow joining a new SHIELD black ops team that leaves them with no memory of any of their actions.  There’s a nice little twist at the end, and the premise allows for a variety of characters to become involved.  This title has the potential to become sort of a Marvel version of Suicide Squad, only involving heroes, and probably not killing them.  I do question, however, how Black Widow is lacking security clearance, given that she’s been running SHIELD missions for years.  Luke Ross is doing much better on this book than he did on his recent Ultimates stint which looked like it was done in a weekend, although the art still doesn’t look as good as his Jonah Hex issues from a few years back.

Star Wars #2Despite the fact that Brian Wood is taking his time setting up this new series, set just after the first movie, I am loving this book.  In this issue, Han Solo’s secret rendezvous goes awry, thanks to the appearance of Bobba Fett (or, at least his ship), while Leia puts together her new, top secret team, which is going to weed out any traitors among the Alliance.  Wood has a very good feel for these characters, and Carlos D’Anda’s art is more than adequate.  There hasn’t been enough action in this book yet to fully capture the feeling of the original movies, but I know to be patient with Wood – he likes to have things properly set up before he really gets into the swing of a story.  Good stuff.

Ultimate Comics X-Men #22 – Reading this, I can’t help but feel like there is absolutely no plan for this book.  I thought it was going to be about how the last few X-Men, stuck out on their horrible reserve land, were going to redeem their kind through ending world hunger.  Now, though, their “mutant seed” is destroyed, half the group has just wandered out into the desert (after what has to be some missing dialogue between Bobby and Paige – who turned up out of nowhere), and I have no clue what the book is supposed to be about.  According to the cover, the next issue is about Storm cutting her hair.  I’ve given this book a lot of leeway because of the involvement of Brian Wood, but now he’s only co-writing, and it feels more like this is the one Marvel book they are letting Dan Didio edit.  I think it’s time to cut ties.

Wolverine and the X-Men #25 – This was a title that was teetering on the brink of getting dropped, but I think that Jason Aaron has steered it back on to firmer ground with the last two issues.  This month, Wolverine takes a group of students from the Jean Grey school, all of them problematic in their own way, and drops them off in the Savage Land for a lesson in survival skills.  At that point, both Logan and Aaron step back, and let the kids be themselves, as they bicker and misjudge their situation.  I especially like the work that Aaron has been doing with Quentin Quire lately, making a character I used to hate into one that I enjoy and look forward to reading about.  I’m not sure how I feel about the appearance of Dog Logan, Wolverine’s ‘brother’ from the ill-advised Origin mini-series, but I’ll reserve judgement for a bit.  Aaron is joined by Ramon Pérez on art, and the book looks terrific.  Most pages are double-page spreads for their upper halves, and Pérez does a great job of capturing the different kids’ unique looks (although Evan looks a lot taller than he’s usually portrayed).  Good stuff.

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

Avengers Assemble #12

Bloodshot #8

Cable and X-Force #4

High Ways #2

Mars Attacks #7

Uncanny X-Men #1

X-Men #41

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Streets of Glory

Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Mike Wolfer

I loved the HBO TV showDeadwood, which I suspect Garth Ennis had been watching when he wrote Streets Of Glory, his take on a Western.  He was probably readingJonah Hex too…The series opens with a man travelling through Montana with his older brother.  It’s his first time going ‘out west’, and he’s there to join his brother in a new business opportunity.  In no time, they are attacked by bandits, and the younger man survives only because of the intervention of Joseph R. Dunn, a legendary veteran of the Civil War, and America’s varied conflicts with its indigenous population.

Dunn has history with two people in nearby Gladback; the bar keeper is an old friend of his, and the town doctor a former lover.  He’s not there long before learning that his old enemy, an Apache named Red Crow (of course) is attacking settlers in the area.

Things follow their course, in the revisionist vein, as Dunn puts together a posse to hunt Red Crow, although he has to put up with considerable interference from the hired guns of the incredibly rich Charles Morrison (picture the way George Hearst was portrayed on Deadwood).  This being an Ennis book, there’s a great deal of gore, a few odd deaths, and a touch of sentimentality to things.

It’s not Ennis’s greatest work, but it is an engaging enough read.  Mike Wolfer is a solid journeyman artist, who gets to work with some remarkable writers at Avatar.  His art is serviceable, although, like when Gary Erskine draws a comic, none of his characters are attractive.  I’m sure most people in the Old West weren’t though, so it’s all good.

Album of the Week:

Ghetto BrothersPower Fuerza – I first heard the Ghetto Brothers on one of Truth & Soul’s Fallin’ Off the Reels compilations, and I thought they were a good example of that rare groove, early 70s funk sound.  I didn’t realize that they were a street gang from the South Bronx that turned away from violence, and moved into community organization and activism.  I also didn’t realize that they only recorded one album, and they recorded it all on the same day.  Truth & Soul’s re-release of this album is as interesting for its liner notes and photos as it is for its wonderful music.

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