The Weekly Round-Up #171 with The Manhattan Projects, Change, Mind the Gap, Nowhere Men, Saucer Country, The Walking Dead & More

Best Comic of the Week:

The Manhattan Projects #10

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Ryan Browne
 

Have you ever felt the desire to read a comic that features J. Robert Oppenheimer punching out a horse?  You know you have, and Jonathan Hickman has finally helped you realize your dreams.

To say that this is a strange issue of The Manhattan Projects is a difficult comment to parse.  Does that mean that it’s completely conventional and a little dull?  Or does it mean that this issue is even crazier than the series usually is?  Well, yes, as the whole comic takes place inside the head of Joseph Oppenheimer, Robert’s twin brother who, in the first issue of the series, killed and ate him.

Robert comes to his senses in a deep well, which he climbs out of to find himself in a strange landscape where his thoughts have power over reality.  At first, everything seems barren, but then he finds the aforementioned horse, roughs it up a bit, and then rides it into the city he has seen in the distance.  As it turns out, the city is his brother’s brain, where he finds the infinite copies that Joseph keeps making.

This issue suggests that Robert may be starting the long process of gaining control over his brother’s body.  I wonder what he’ll think when he discovers that the Manhattan Project has manipulated its way into a position of great power over the United States, and for its own ends.

This issue is guest-drawn by Ryan Browne, an artist I’m not familiar with, but whose art looks remarkably like regular series artist Nick Pitarra.  I’m sure much of the credit for that goes to colourist Jordie Bellaire, who helps maintain consistency.  I’m not sure if Pitarra is just behind a little, or if other changes are in the works for this comic.  Either way, this is a great issue of one of the best series on the stands.

Other Notable Comics:

Change #4

Written by Ales Kot
Art by Morgan Jeske
 

I’m not ashamed to admit that by the end of Change, I really had no clue what was going on.  At the beginning of Change I was pretty lost, but this last issue threw pretty much any hope of making sense out the window, as a man with a talking tumor got eaten by some gigantic elder god and then farted out, but after a falling space capsule killed his tumor.  Oh, and some cultists stood around on the beach with an alligator wearing a suit, and a military drone came to life.  Some other stuff happened too – I just don’t know what all it was.

The thing is, with Morgan Jeske’s nice art, and Sloane Leong’s lovely colours, I found that I didn’t much care about the story – this is a comic meant to be read as a free association, Surrealist romp, and that’s exactly what is was, a mix of Grant Morrison with Brendan McCarthy and Ted McKeever.  And you know, for those reasons, it’s a pretty good little series.

Perhaps this book would make more sense read in one sitting, perhaps not.  Ales Kot is getting a lot of press these days, and that somehow has turned into his getting a gig on DC’s Suicide Squad (which is either going to be brilliant or horrible), and his press is deserved for trying something different, even if it doesn’t entirely work out in terms of clear story.  Or, the story is completely clear, and I’m just not all that smart.  I accept either interpretation…

Mind the Gap #8

Written by Jim McCann
Art by Rodin Esquejo
 

As this series continues, I find that my enjoyment of it only grows.  This issue has a lot happening in it – coma patient Elle’s time borrowing the body of young Katie comes to a close, but this time has been very productive in terms of helping us understand what is going on.

It’s been clear for a little while that Min, Elle’s mother, is behind the attack that put her in the hospital, and that she’s working for or with someone only referred to as ‘The Fifth’, but this issue also makes  clear the extent to which her father is involved, and how he feels about that.

The further we get into this series, the more impressed I am with the way in which Jim McCann’s characters exert themselves on the page.  This is a complicated series, but each character has a distinctive voice, and that is a huge part of the book’s success.  I’ve begun to care about what happens to Min, and to look forward to seeing some of these other characters get what they deserve.  I still find Dr. Geller the most compelling person in the book.

Rodin Esquejo’s art is fantastic, but I find that every time he chooses not to centre a panel on the principal characters, it’s because there is some kind of clue there.  Many panels in this comic focus on a person’s shoulder or just cuts off their faces, as if Esquejo wanted to save time by not drawing their expressions.  Or because he is trying to point something out.  It’s that kind of book – you find yourself always questioning what information is being given to you.  Really, that’s the appeal.

Nowhere Men #4

Written by Eric Stephenson
Art by Nate Bellegarde
 

Nowhere Men is one of the most interesting comics being published right now.  Writer (and Image publisher) Eric Stephenson explained this series before it began as “Science is the new rock and roll”, and it’s been interesting to see how that has played out.  Ostensibly, the series is centred on four guys who were, at one time, the Beatles of science, but the book is set in the present day, and these guys are missing, presumed dead, reclusive, or comatose.

The scenes involving the original World Corp. scientists are a little disjointed, as we are are left to fill in the blanks about what has happened between them, although this issue gives us a lot more information about them.

It’s been easier to follow the storyline about a group of scientists who were abandoned on a World Corp. space station after coming down with a strange disease.  Many of them teleported to Earth, and are showing increased signs of metamorphosis caused by the illness.  One of them has become a gigantic red creature, while another more or less turns to gas in this issue.  For others, the transformation hasn’t been revealed yet.

I’m clueless in terms of where this series is going, and that’s why I’m so interested by it.  Stephenson is allowing his characters to carry the book’s momentum for the most part, especially in the scenes involving Ellis and Strange, and each new issue has me more curious about where it’s all going.

This is a book worth checking out.

Saucer Country #13

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly
 

With time running out on this series (I think there’s only one issue left before it’s getting canceled), Paul Cornell just keeps upping the stakes, and making things ever more interesting.

It’s election day, and all signs are pointing towards Governor Arcadia Alvarado walking away with the White House.  This has all sorts of people nervous, as the GOP contacts her most trusted advisor to reveal that they know about her belief in UFOs, although they aren’t ready to act on that knowledge.  This raises some interesting questions about the veracity of Alvarado’s running mate’s assertions that the President is himself an alien.

As well, the Bluebirds, a group of engineers who study alien technology, reach out, although their overture does not receive the response they expected.  Most interestingly, Professor Kidd is led on a hunt by his tiny otherworldly advisors, although he seems to know more about them than they would have expected.

Cornell crams a lot of stuff into this issue, and its amusing to realize that, while all of this is going on, people around the country are at the polls voting.  Ryan Kelly is doing some incredible figure work in this book, and I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

The Walking Dead #108

Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
 

Have you ever, after putting up with someone for a long time, finally decided to vent to a third party, only to discover that the other person’s friend was eavesdropping?  That’s more or less what happens to Rick in this issue, as Jesus takes him to meet Ezekiel, and they begin to plot against Negan.

Ezekiel is the ruler of a small ‘kingdom’ that he has set up, centred in a high school.  He’s an interesting character – all white dreadlocks and pet tiger, and one has to wonder exactly why people in his land have chosen to rally around him, going so far as to refer to him as their king, and put up with his Medieval Times speech.  He’s probably the most eccentric person Robert Kirkman has ever introduced into The Walking Dead, where even extreme characters like Negan and The Governor can be understood within the context of the times they are living in.

When talking to Ezekiel, Rick has no idea that one of Negan’s Saviors are present, and Rick is immediately sceptical.  Kirkman has a long history of making things look one way in his comics when they are really another, so it’s hard to predict if Dwight is serious about betraying Negan, or if he is playing Rick and the rest.  It’s that unpredictability that makes me love this comic so much.

The other thing that works very effectively are the quieter character moments Kirkman sprinkles throughout the book.  Michonne is getting a lot more screen time lately, and becoming an even more complex character.  Now that everyone is living in relative safety in the Community, Kirkman has more time to explore the various ways in which they are coping with their new lives.  For the longest time, this was a book about pure survival, but once those basic needs are being met, people actually have the time and the space to react to things.  Exploring that makes this book as interesting as whatever is happening between Rick and Negan.

Quick Takes:

Archer & Armstrong #8Our heroes have made their way to Greenland to fight the Null.  Armstrong and Gilad take shots at each other as usual, while Archer has to fend off an attack on his mind by the Null’s chief assassin.  It’s an action-packed issue that works very well.

Avengers Arena #6 – Most of this issue focuses on the British kids from the Braddock Academy, who I assume are all new characters.  They squabble and bicker for much of the comic, until tempers flare a little too much, and it looks like Arcade is one step closer to having everyone kill one another.  This is a very well-written, character-driven comic.  My only complaint is that, with such a large cast, not enough screen time is given to every character.  With Marvel’s double-shipping policy, though, there isn’t as much pressure put on writers to check in on everyone every issue, and so plotlines are left dangling a little more often than they used to be.  I’m still enjoying this book way more than I ever thought I would.

Batman and Robin #18 – I remember reading Alpha Flight #13, the mostly-silent issue that had Heather Hudson react to the death of her husband Guardian, and at the time feeling a little ripped off by the fact that John Byrne didn’t write half the comic.  I was nine though, and when I read it again, I began to feel differently about it, until it became one of my favourite issues of his run.  I never felt ripped off for an instant with this issue of Batman and Robin, which has Bruce reacting to Damian’s death.  Patrick Gleason, the artist, absolutely killed this book, showing us the gradual crumbling of stoical Batman’s armor, and using expansive panels to suggest how empty Wayne Manor feels without Damian in it.  Writer Peter Tomasi was very smart to just let the art speak for itself – there are like five or six other comics coming out this month that are bound to have a lot of discussion of this death in them, but I doubt any will be as moving as this issue.  It’s such a shame that DC and Grant Morrison have shortchanged this comic so completely – Tomasi and Gleason were at the best of their long partnership when exploring the nuances of Bat-Dad.  Personally, I have little interest in this title without Damian in it, although I’ll give the ‘Batman and…’ format a shot out of respect for the creators.  After they pulled off an issue this good, how could I not?

Batman #18And then there’s this reaction to Damian’s death, which is much less effective.  Scott Snyder returns to his new character Harper Row, who he has slowly been positioning to become a new member of the Bat-Family, through her tenacity and understanding of Gotham’s electrical grid.  The last time we saw Harper, it was in a well-written and beautifully drawn issue (Becky Cloonan!).  This time, the art on the book is a complete mess, matching Batman’s post-Damian demeanor.  He’s been hitting the streets pretty hard, and Harper is worried about him.  She saves him (again), he breaks her nose and yells at her, so she goes to see Bruce Wayne about trying to help him out.  This book would have been much more effective had it all been drawn by Alex Maleev, instead of just the last eight pages.  Andy Kubert’s art is all over the place.  His Bat-pages are terrific, but the pages of Harper and her younger brother look like they were just phoned in (from 1995).  I understand that pages showing Batman have a higher value on the original art market, but the look of the book was wildly inconsistent.  I was very happy to see the art shift to Maleev’s more realistic and somber style for the end – it did a much better job of fitting the tone of this issue.

Demon Knights #18 – Most of the band is back together, and Robert Venditti continues to make his run on this title as enjoyable as Paul Cornell’s.  The Knights work to restore Jason Blood’s ability to call on Etrigan, although Blood’s not too happy about that, and the team prepares to face the vampire army of Cain before he can reach Themyscira.  It’s rare to find a book that undergoes a change in writer but doesn’t change in tone.  I’m glad I stuck with this title.

Fearless Defenders #2Any comic with a cover as brilliant as this one deserves to be picked up, but I think it was adding Dani Moonstar to the cast of this new series that clinched it for me.  She’s been abducted by the same people behind the problems of the first issue, while Valkyrie and Misty Knight go to Asgardia to figure out what all is going on.  I clearly missed something in not reading The Fearless, as apparently Valkyrie was supposed to put together a new team of Deathmaidens and didn’t, but whatever.  This book is a fun read, and it’s giving some of the spotlight to some characters who don’t get enough play.

Secret Avengers #2 – Any doubt that I had about this title was erased when I learned that Taskmaster would be a regular character.  He’s one of those oddball Marvel characters that I have a lot of affection for, despite the varying ways in which he has been portrayed recently (I don’t really like the notion that he has no short-term memory).  Nick Spencer is working with the stories created by Rick Remender and Jonathan Hickman in their various titles, having New Nick Fury and his crew deal with the villain nation of Baglalia, and AIM Island.  This was a slightly disjointed issue, more concerned with set-up than the last one, but I expect that there will be some impressive pay-off to it all.

Sledgehammer 44 #1 – It’s kind of hard to imagine that Mike Mignola and John Arcudi originally conceived this two-parter as being for John Severin to draw – Jason Latour does such an excellent job of rendering this story in a dynamic, broad way, that I can’t picture it being done in Severin’s tighter pencils.  Storywise, this is a little like Atomic Robo, as a large Iron Man suited soldier (we assume) is dropped on a Nazi position, and has to fight a gigantic Nazi mech-thingy.  I guess that’s the whole mission, because afterwards the Americans retreat.  Like many books in the Mignola-verse, this is an engaging read, but doesn’t really stick with you afterwards.  Still, I look forward to the next issue.

Star Wars #3Brian Woods’s exploration of the original film continuity continues to make me smile.  In this issue, we get some Han Solo and Chewbacca action on Coruscant, while Luke acts impetuously and then gets whiny with Leia for taking him to task.  Wood has a good handle on how these characters were originally portrayed, and he’s making Leia into a very interesting, very complex character; something that wasn’t always shown in the films.  This is a great read.

Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi – Prisoner of Bogan #3 – Half way into the second story arc in John Ostrander’s story set before the days of the Jedi, I finally feel like I have enough of a grip on what this series is about.  It’s been marked all along by too much exposition, as new characters and ideas are constantly being introduced.  This issue isn’t like that – it’s much more action oriented and focused on the plot, as two groups of Je’daii track the Force Hound Xesh and his new partner Daegen Lok.  It’s nice to see all the different threads coming together, and I’m always happy to read a book drawn by Jan Duursema.

Uncanny X-Men #3 – I do find myself getting sucked into Brian Michael Bendis’s turn with the X-books (see below), but after this issue, I’m not sure how I feel about sticking with them.  To begin with, Bendis is writing Magik like she’s Peter Parker – this is a character that a few writers have spent the last two years establishing as mentally unstable and dangerous, but now she just comes off as mischievous and cute.  Also, much was made of the supposed-surprise ending of the first issue, which had Magneto betray the team to Maria Hill.  Now, we learn that he was playing SHIELD, for reasons that seem paper thin.  Is Magneto playing them?  I don’t really know, because Bendis doesn’t have a good handle on his voice or personality.  I love Chris Bachalo’s art though, and did enjoy the showdown with the Avengers, so I’m not sure overall if I liked or disliked this comic…

Where is Jake Ellis? #3It’s been a little while since the last issue came out, but it was well worth the wait, as Nathan Edmondson and Tonci Zonjic continue their exciting series about remote viewing, psychic connections, and the world of black ops military contractors.  Jake and Jon are working together again, as Jon tries to stay ahead of the men pursuing him.  This is a pretty taut thriller.

Wolverine and the X-Men #26 – Adding Ramon Pérez to this title was a great idea, as he manages to elevate what would otherwise be a pretty mediocre issue of this series.  Dog Logan, Wolverine’s long-lost half-brother from the poorly written Origin series shows up, and he has some axes to grind with our Logan (shiny future lazer axes, of course).  We get a recapping of much of Origin from Dog’s point of view (these are quite lovely, if otherwise dull), and they fight in the present.  This issue is mis-named, as there are no X-Men other than Wolverine in evidence, and it kind of feels like Jason Aaron is working to use a story he’d planned for his run on Logan’s solo book.  Still, like I said, Ramon Pérez makes it all okay.

X-Men Legacy #7 – I didn’t think I’d still be buying this book seven issues in, but Simon Spurrier keeps bringing me back.  Legion, in an attempt to impress Blindfold, infiltrates the church that turned her brother into such a fountain of anti-mutant sentiment.  This is a much more satirical issue than the previous ones, as Spurrier and Tan Eng Huat just have fun with overweight crazy evangelicals.  The appearance of Abigail Brand and her SWORD crew cemented my enjoyment of things.

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

Age of Ultron #2

Avengers Assemble #13

Avenging Spider-Man #18

Bloodshot #9

High Ways #3

Mars Attacks #8

Thor God of Thunder #6

Ultimate Comics X-Men #24

Wolverine #1

Bargain Comics:

All-New X-Men #6-8; Uncanny X-Men #1 & 2In the last week, I’ve had three different people with usually very good taste in comics tell me that I needed to check out what Brian Michael Bendis has been doing with the X-Books, and to read them with an open mind.  When All-New started, I had a hard time getting past the inclusion of the original five, time-travelled X-Men, the stupid new look that’s been given to the Beast, and the frequency with which the books are published.  I am willing to admit that I may have been wrong though.  Reading this many issues in one sitting, I found myself liking the way Bendis is using the teenage “original five” in the book, and I like the idea of Magneto not being on our Scott Summers’s side in Uncanny.  Bendis’s dialogue is a little too Bendis at times, but artists like David Marquez and Chris Bachalo always make me happy.  Also, I’m usually very pleased when Mystique is used well.  I think I’m going to have to start picking these books up regularly, dammit.

Cable and X-Force #3 & 4 – This series is pretty decent.  Dennis Hopeless has a good handle on characters like Dr. Nemesis and Colossus, although the main plot – that the team is trying to prevent a shipment of tainted meat that turns non-humans into versions of the Blob feels like it was borrowed from an issue of Chew.  Were this a $2.99 book, or were it never double-shipped, I’d probably start picking it up.

Captain America #2 & 3 – I wasn’t too impressed with the first issue of this Marvel NOW! relaunch, but feel a little better about the book now.  Rick Remender is playing a Lone Wolf and Cub/Cable and Hope angle, telling us that Cap and Ian, his young companion, have been wandering Dimension Z for a year, during which time they’ve learned to avoid danger, but have not found any allies.  They are attacked by some some mutates, and then taken prisoner by some other strange creatures.  There’s lots of flashbacks to young Steve Rogers learning how to stand up to bullies, and lots of other cliché’s, but the writing is decent.  John Romita Jr.’s art is a mess however, and at times very hard to follow.  Also, young Steve looks eight all the time, no matter which year the flashback is supposed to be taking place in.  That’s annoying.

Detective Comics #16 & 17It’s interesting when writers can take editorially-mandated cross-overs, like this sidebar in the Death of the Family event, into some new and perhaps more interesting places.  John Layman has Batman looking into a rash of Joker-inspired crime sprees, many of which are the doings of a man called the Merrymaker.  It’s a good story, and Layman does show the detective side of Batman more than his other titles do, but he also has him rely on a lot of technology like a jetpack, and that doesn’t really fit.

Guardians of the Galaxy #0.1 – I don’t really know why Star-Lord needed to be retconned like this, and reading this book, I had a very hard time picturing him getting played by Andy from Parks and Recreation, but whatever.  This is a very Brian Michael Bendis origin story, as we learn that Peter Quill spent twenty years seeking not revenge on the Badoon for his mother’s death, but to travel deep into other solar systems to make sure that no aliens ever threaten Earth again.  Clearly, he doesn’t know much about what goes on in the Marvel Universe, or he’d realize how poor a job he’s been doing.  Maybe he should have just joined SWORD.  I’m not holding out much hope for this title, which is a shame because I loved the Abnett and Lanning run.  Also, I know that lots of people love Steve McNiven, but I find his work to be very bland.

Superior Spider-Man #2 – I was interested in the new ‘superior’ Spider-Man, but I find that deciding to keep Peter Parker’s ghost floating around the action is incredibly annoying.  I’d much rather that this book be about Otto Octavius and his perceptions of his new responsibilities instead of it being about Peter’s frustration at being immaterial.  I know that this storyline has been pretty controversial, but it feels like Dan Slott has, in trying to do something new but keep old fans happy, has hit a middle ground that doesn’t completely satisfy either side of things.

Thor God of Thunder #1 Thor is a tough sell for me, but Jason Aaron’s debut issue is pretty decent.  The issue shows three different timelines – in the 800s, Thor finds the dismembered body of a First Nations god in Iceland, while in the current time, he discovers the bodies of an alien pantheon.  In the far future, Thor faces off against the same threat.  I had some issues with the alien sequence – how, on a world that doesn’t have gods, would an alien child know to pray to Thor? – but liked Esad Ribic’s art enough that I’ll pick up more issues if the price is right.

Venom #24 & 25 – It must have been difficult for Cullen Bunn to have to take over Venom after Rick Remender had such a solid run, especially since Remender wrapped up all of his storylines.  Now, Bunn has Flash Thompson mildly possessed by a lower demon, and fighting Daimon Hellstrom in a story that is remarkably similar to some of the things currently going on in X-Factor.  This is a decent comic, but I feel like Bunn is not cutting loose the way he does in his creator-owned books.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Hellboy: House of the Living Dead

Written by Mike Mignola
Art by Richard Corben
 

Over the last couple of years, I’ve found myself getting very bored with Hellboy stories set in the current continuity.  The trilogy with Duncan Fegredo, which resulted in HB’s death, did very little for me.  The current Hellboy in Hell series has me contemplating dropping the title completely, as it seems to be all pretension, scenes of HB falling through floors, and boring prophecy.

Then I pick this one-off graphic novel up, and remember just what makes this character work well in the first place.  House of the Living Dead is a follow-up to the excellent Hellboy in Mexico one-shot that was also drawn by Richard Corben, and that established that for a while in the 1950s, Hellboy was a Mexican luchadore.

This story picks up on the time where Hellboy was hanging around Mexico, fighting, and drinking himself to oblivion every night over what had happened to his friend Esteban, who had been turned by vampires.  It is while in this state that a man approaches him, and gets him to come to Dr. José Luis Kogan’s creepy castle, where he has a Frankenstein monster he wants Hellboy to fight.  The rest of the comic is a bit of a tribute to the Universal movie monsters, as HB has to deal with this monster, a werewolf, and a couple other surprise appearances.

The story is a lot of fun to read, and lacking any of the prophecies that seem to follow Hellboy around everywhere.  Corben’s art is always wonderful, and is worth the price of admission on its own.

MW

by Osamu Tezuka

I wish I knew more about the history of comics in Japan.  I would be particularly interested in knowing how MW, a twenty-six chapter story originally serialized between 1976 and 1978, was received by the public.  In this book, by the universally acclaimed master of Japanese comics, Osamu Tezuka, we are given a story that involves gay sex, child molestation, sexual torture, and images of corrupted members of the clergy.

I know that these days, all bets are off in terms of what can be depicted in Japanese comics, but I figure this must have caused a stir at the time, being written and drawn by the man who created Astro Boy.

MW tells the story of Michio Yuki, a beautiful and feminine young man who was kidnapped and molested by a group of thugs at the age of twelve.  While being held captive by one of the thugs on a remote island, Yuki was exposed to MW, a deadly nerve toxin being stored at an American military base.  He and his captor are the only people to survive the attack, but Yuki’s brain is forever altered, making him an inhuman sociopath.

When the book opens, Yuki has achieved a position of some prominence at an important bank, a position he uses to blackmail clients for his own gains.  In short order, we see him seduce and kill the bank’s manager, and then impersonate her to rob the bank on his own.  Yuki is working towards his grand plan, which is to find the location of the remaining stores of MW, and then use them to kill all life on the planet.

The young gangster who first kidnapped Yuki has, in an attempt to atone for his sinful ways, become a priest.  That doesn’t stop Father Garai from keeping Yuki’s murderous secrets, and having regular assignations with him.

This story is as much about Garai’s wrestling with his own guilt as it is about Yuki’s evil deeds.  I was surprised by how dark this story got, and how sexual, without being completely explicit (at least in its visuals – Tezuka tends to blur the lower half of his couplings, but he also suggests that Yuki makes love to his dog).

This is a very compelling read, and quite liberal for its time.  When a lowlife photographer tries to sell compromising photos of Garai to a muck-racking newspaper, they refuse to run them because the city editor is herself a closeted lesbian.

One thing I didn’t understand was why the United States was constantly referred to as Nation X, despite the fact that we knew one Lt. General who falls afoul of Yuki’s charms is from Kentucky.  Perhaps some explanatory notes would have been helpful…

Album of the Week:

Day – Land of 1000 Chances – Because sometimes, you just want to chill out to a beautiful DJ album.  Day gives us a nice, relaxed trip through Southern California instrumental hip-hop, dubstep, and other forms of electronica on this excellent new album.

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