The Weekly Round-Up #173 with East of West, BPRD, Fatale, The Massive, Morning Glories, Planetoid, Time Warp, The Unwritten & More

Best Comic of the Week:

East of West #1

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Dragotta

While I’m not entirely sure I have a handle on everything that’s going on in this new series, I am definitely swept up in it, and am very excited to be able to enjoy another Jonathan Hickman-written creator-owned series.

In terms of tone, this book is closer to his Marvel work than his current book The Manhattan Projects, or any of his earlier Image mini-series like Pax Romana.  It feels like Hickman has a sprawling, involved story to tell in this series, and that he’s going to take his time doing so, much like he did with his epic Fantastic Four run.

This series is set in an America that underwent some alternate history from our own.  When the book opens, modern American territory is split into various factions, including a vibrant and sovereign indigenous territory.  We know that the peace between these regions was hard-won, but we don’t know a whole lot more than that.

The book is split between two stories – one involves a trio of children who come out of some sort of portal, surprised at the absence of a fourth.  It doesn’t take long to recognize that these three are Horsemen of the Apocalypse (although there is a Conquest and not a Pestilence).  They’ve been reborn, and aren’t all happy about that.

We also follow a different trio, a white man and two Aboriginal companions, all of whom are shown as being all in white (or black, as the mood fits).  We know that they are looking for the people who had arranged to have them dead, and that leads to one of them paying a visit to the President of The Union.

Hickman is making it clear that this book is going to be very bloody, but I really don’t know what more to expect from this title.  Nick Dragotta is an incredible artist, and he adjusts his style nicely to fit this darker material.  As always with a Hickman independent book, I worry about its shipping schedule (anyone know what’s going on with The Secret?), especially since I can’t wait to read the next issue.

Other Notable Comics:

BPRD Vampire #1

Written by Mike Mignola, Gabriel Bá, and Fábio Moon
Art by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon

I was very excited to hear that the twins would be returning to monthly comics for a little while, and to the BPRD universe in particular.  I’m a huge fan of Bá and Moon’s work, and am often disappointed in how rare their output has been since the wrap of their phenomenal Vertigo series Daytripper.

Vampire is a new stand-alone BPRD mini-series that follows up on the 1940s stories, the most recent of which was set in 1948.  The twins drew the 1947 story (which is what drew me into the Mignola-verse), and this tale now returns to the ideas laid out in it.  Anders was the central figure of that story, and in it, he had a pair of vampires imprisoned in his soul (or something like that – it’s not all that clear).  We saw in 1948 that his behaviour has become erratic.

As this new series opens, he takes a leave from the BPRD to try to find the places where Hecate-worshiping vampires congregate, although it’s not all that clear what he plans on doing when he gets there.  At the same time, we see that some of the vampires are restoring themselves to full health in order to get ready for something.

That’s really all that happens in this issue, which is incredibly slight story-wise.  It is, however, a gorgeous comic as the twins have only gotten better with time.  I see that they are sharing the co-writing credit with Mike Mignola, but I don’t feel a whole lot of their influence on the story, at least not yet.  Still, this is one of the nicest looking books on the stands.

Fatale #13

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips

In this latest one-off story, Brubaker and Phillips introduce us to ‘Black’ Bonnie Smith, an outlaw in 1880s Colorado, who, like regular series main character Jo, is immortal and has the ability to control the actions of men.

Bonnie has fallen into the outlaw lifestyle, after living many previous lifetimes in a variety of other ways.  When we meet her, she and her gang are under attack.  She is shot and taken prisoner by a Native American who she cannot influence.  We learn that the man, named Milkfed, is working for a mysterious professor who knows a great deal about who and what Bonnie is.  They are attacked by some of the creatures we’ve become used to seeing in this book, and the professor uses one of their eyes to locate their base, where he hopes to steal one of their books (a recurring theme in this series).

As with every issue of this series (or, really, any issue that features a collaboration between Brubaker and Phillips), this is an almost perfectly-created comic.  Bonnie reminds me a lot of Jo, an interesting mixture of self-confidence and vulnerability.  We are not learning a whole lot more about this series through these tangential one-offs beside the fact that there is a richer tapestry to this story than originally expected, but I really like seeing the different ways in which stories like Jo’s have played out over the years.

The Massive #10

Written by Brian Wood
Art by Gary Erskine

This issue of The Massive is a little different from the previous few months worth.  To begin with, Callum Israel sets his priorities back to finding and reuniting with The Massive, the sister ship to his Kapital, and the flagship of the Ninth Wave fleet.  When more ghostly radar hits suggest that the ship is nearby, tensions break out on the ship.

After the apparent suicide of one crew member, others decide that they want to leave Ninth Wave and return to their homelands, all of which are suffering in the post-Crash environment.  Three desperate crewmen even go so far as to hold Israel at gunpoint in his cabin.

Brian Wood returns to the habit he had during the first story arc of peppering the story with explanations of what has been happening in the rest of the world since the Crash took place.  This month, the focus is mostly on South America.

The art this month is by Gary Erskine, although I probably wouldn’t have recognized it as his.  He’s usually known for drawing, well, ugly characters, but in this issue, his art has softened quite a bit.  That kind of surprised me.

Morning Glories #25

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Joe Eisma

I definitely think it might be time to re-read Morning Glories from the beginning.  Nick Spencer’s series has always been a little confusing, as his story has circled back in on itself numerous times, adding layers of complexity to his plot, but this issue really takes that to a new level.  Over the last bunch of issues, Spencer has checked in on small groups or individual characters, leaving them in a number of different situations.  With this issue, almost every plotline converges, although strangely, more questions are raised than are answered.

Ike is holding Abraham, his father and the central force behind the whole series, at gunpoint, demanding answers.  Abraham wants Ike to leave before Irina shows up, because he knows that she will kill him.  The rest of Irina’s group, who treat Abraham as if he is their father, don’t really know what is happening, while Hunter is wandering through the woods with Jade, except it’s Jade from the future.  Yes, it really is all that confusing.

At the same time, it’s wonderful.  This issue is twice the size of a normal comic, and the whole book is taut with tension.  There is a strong sense of this being the last episode of a TV season, and I was once again struck with the similarity between this series and the TV show Lost, except that this book really does have a plan, no matter how strange it is.

As always with this book, I can’t even try to make a prediction of where the book is going next, and I am very happy to just stick around for the ride.  Great stuff.

Planetoid #5

by Ken Garing

Planetoid started a while ago, at the vanguard of a new resurgence in serious, high-quality science fiction comics coming out of Image, like Storm Dogs and Prophet.  Planetoid stood out from the beginning for its very good, and because creator Ken Garing is basically an unknown quantity.

This series has told the story of a man, Silas, who has found himself stranded on a small planetoid that is almost completely covered with the remains of technology.  The planetoid had once hosted a mining operation, but the area of space it is in fell under control of the Ono Mao, a very ugly race of beings that are in conflict with humans.  Due to some gravitational thing, it is impossible to leave the planetoid, which is patrolled by vicious AIs that work for the Ono Mao.

Over the course of the series, Silas has met, and become the leader of a growing group of humans who are determined to stand up to their enemy, and try to carve out a better life for themselves.  Some of my favourite parts of this story dealt with the refugees finding ways to produce their own food, instead of always having to scavenge, or showed them learning how to work together.

This issue finishes off the storyline quite nicely.  A large group of AI are sent to attack the settlement, and Silas, having just escaped Ono Mao custody, arrives just in time for the final conflict.  When things go poorly, he has to decide between escaping, or sticking with his new friends.

As I said before, Garing’s art is terrific, and I really enjoyed the way he’s structured this series.  The ending is satisfying, and I hope to see some more comics from him soon.

Time Warp #1

Written by Damon Lindelof, Tom King, Gail Simone, Simon Spurrier, Toby Litt, Peter Milligan, Ray Fawkes, Matt Kindt, and Dan Abnett
Art by Jeff Lemire, Tom Fowler, Gael Bertand, Michael Dowling, Mark Buckingham, Victor Santos, MK Perker, Andy MacDonald, Matt Kindt, and INJ Culbard

I would say that Time Warp is one of the more successful of Vertigo’s recent quarterly anthology books.  With the notable exception of the Dead Boy Detectives story (which, in addition to being generally unimpressive doesn’t belong in a book about time travel), the different short stories collected here really complement one another nicely.  As well, the book has a good balance between the usual Vertigo stable and some up-and-comers.

When you think about time travel story potential, there are a few standard stories.  There is the story about the person who wants to go back in time to save a loved one, or to fix great evil.  We also see the story of the person who meets him or herself, or the person who wants to utilise time travel for personal gain.  That’s basically what we get here, but the book contains a few interesting twists.

Many of these stories are based on technology as the gateway for time travel, but in Gail Simone’s story, it is through chocolates and other confections that one can revisit their past.  In Peter Milligan’s, technology can’t bring back your lost love, but it can provide you with a pretty good holographic likeness.

Adolf Hitler is a recurring character in this book, as we see a story (by King and Fowler) about the world had he been killed by a time traveller near the front of the book, and another about the time travellers who need to protect him from other time travellers at the end (re-teaming the amazing New Deadwardians team of Abnett and Culbard).

I particularly enjoyed the Rip Hunter story by Damon Lindelof and Jeff Lemire, and Matt Kindt’s story about warring cultures that expend great capital to fight over a planet rich in natural resources.  I also thought that Simon Spurrier and Michael Dowling’s story of scientific rivalry would make a good companion to the Image series Nowhere Men, and enjoyed the suggestion that science is becoming too fame-oriented in our celebrity-obsessed culture.

In all, this is a solid book, and well worth the cost of two issues of a Marvel NOW! comic for four-times the content.

The Unwritten #47

by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

After taking a couple of months off from Tom Taylor and his sojourn in Hades, we return to check in on the main character of this series.  Tom has shown up in Hades, and has met its master, who is none other than Pauly Bruckner, the once man, now rabbit whose adventures we’ve been following once a year in this title for quite a long time now.

We learn how Pauly came to be in charge of Hades, and we get a sense of how his new servants feel about that.  Tom originally went there to find Lizzie Hexam, his girlfriend, and hopefully bring her back to the living, but since he’s drank from the waters of the River Lethe, he has no real memory of himself, or the various shades who have started showing up in Hades lately, all of whom know him in some way.

What’s interesting about this issue is the fact that amnesiac Tom is not all that concerned about restoring his memory.  It’s like he knows that with it will come a great deal of emotional baggage that he’d rather just skip out on.

This is a solid issue of a pretty solid series.

Quick Takes:

All Star Western #18 – I am finding All Star Western to be increasingly tedious.  I gather that writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray feel much the same, as they finally cut Jonah Hex loose from the confines of Gotham City at the end of this issue, but I don’t know if it’s a case of it being too little too late.  When this series was Jonah Hex, before the New 52 came along, it may not have been a big seller, but it was consistently exciting, and much more focused due to its one story per issue format.  The only time I didn’t like the book was when the writers tried a six-issue arc.  Despite Moritat’s very good art, I’ve gotten very bored with this title, and would much prefer the spontaneity and freshness of the previous volume.  Next issue is the last one that I’ve pre-ordered, but with it’s editorially-mandated WTF nature, I’m not expecting to be much impressed.

Batman Incorporated #9Following up on the big events of the last issue, Grant Morrison keeps Batman’s fight with the forces of Leviathan moving forward, and finds space for Bruce Wayne and his family to mourn their loss.  It’s a pretty effective issue, with more wonderful Chris Burnham artwork.  There are hints that the British government has a Lazarus Pit, and we see Squire take up the Knight’s mantle, in addition to everything else that is going on.  I believe this series continues to be the best of the Bat-books.

Battlefields #5 – Like the first arc of this latest volume of Battlefields, Garth Ennis moves his female Russian fighter pilot, Anna Kharkova, into the Korean War.  Anna continues to run afoul of her patriarchal military masters, and also continues to do whatever she wants.  This series is among the best stuff Ennis has ever written.

Clone #5 – I’m surprised by how much better Juan José Ryp’s art looks here than it does on his recent stint on Nightwing.  Clone has been a pretty cool series about a group of clones that the government is trying to wipe out in advance of a key vote on stem cell research.  I find the political aspect as interesting as the action/adventure part of the story, although I have a hard time seeing this as an on-going series…

FF #5 – This issue of FF lacks the more focused writing of the last couple of issues, as Matt Fraction just kind of lets the story slide around in itself for twenty pages.  Black Bolt and Medusa’s son makes an appearance at the Future Foundation, and Luna (Crystal’s daughter) doesn’t like what she sees when she looks at Medusa.  The old John Storm tries to burn down the city (for reasons unknown) while Scott Lang obsesses over the fact that Alex Power didn’t agree with him about Dr. Doom and Darla tries on masks.  Maybe it was just the glaring lack of Moloids, but I found this issue was too unfocused for me, although I always enjoy the chance to read a book drawn by Michael Allred.

Fury MAX #10Despite my unfamiliarity with the Barracuda character (I’ve never read Garth Ennis’s Punisher), I enjoyed this little look into American involvement in the Contra/Sandinista fight in the 1980s.  Ennis and artist Goran Parlov continue taking Nick Fury through a tour of American foreign policy failures, while also examining the life of an American senator.  It’s very good stuff.

Powers Bureau #3 – I’m shocked to see that this book is sticking to its schedule, which is causing me to enjoy it more than I have in years.  Sure, it’s still pretty puerile at times, but that really is part of its charm.  Christian Walker tries to infiltrate the organization that is somehow involved in the recent Powers pregnancy scheme, while Deena is foul-mouthed and difficult.  A standard issue, but that always works.

Savage Skullkickers #1 / Skullkickers #20 – Baldy and the Elf Girl are being held captive by gigantic talking apes, while Shorty is sent to Hades.  In both cases, it looks like our heroes are in big trouble, but other forces intervene on their behalf.  Skullkickers is great fun, and I hope that the gimmicky re-titling, new number one each month thing works for Jim Zubkavich and his crew.

The Sixth Gun: Sons of the Gun #2 – Cullen Bunn continues to explore the lives of General Hume’s henchmen in the time before his return.  This time around, we look in on Ben, the guy with the gun that causes pestilence.  He’s found himself hideously deformed and troubled by his actions during the war, but when he tries to reach out to a lovely young woman, things go poorly for him.  This series is good, but still doesn’t feel as essential as the main Sixth Gun series.  I do like getting regular art by Brian Churilla though.

Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi – Prisoner of Bogan #4This is basically the ninth issue of the Dawn of the Jedi series, and John Ostrander is still giving us plenty of info dumps, and introducing new elements to the story.  I love Ostrander’s writing (Suicide Squad, Spectre, and even Star Wars Legacy are all big favourites), but I’m getting tired of waiting for this series to grab me.  I’m probably going to pass on the third volume, whenever it gets solicited.

Talon #6 – This is the seventh issue of Talon, and it looks like writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV are looking to shake up the status quo once again, so far as who Calvin Rose works with.  The reveal at the end of this issue did come as a surprise to me, but I would also be happy to see this book establish some clear parameters.

Uncanny Avengers #5 – I really didn’t get as excited about the first arc of this series as a lot of other people discussing it online did, but this issue finally brings some coherence to Uncanny Avengers, as a few more people are recruited to the team, and they have a press conference where Havok calls for a moratorium on the word mutant.  Of course, because Wonder Man is on the team now, the Grim Reaper attacks, which was a little too predictable.  You would think that the Avengers would start doing some security screenings at their press conferences.  Rick Remender is starting to set up a long Apocalypse-involved story which owes a lot to his Uncanny X-Force run, which I still feel was superior to this title.  Maybe it’s just that Remender doesn’t do so well with such public heroes.  Olivier Coipel’s art is very nice, except for the scene where Rogue gets into an argument with the Wasp – it looked remarkably 90s.

Uncanny X-Force #3 – Storm, Psylocke, and Puck are trying to save a new mutant from the newly-crazed Bishop, and they have help from Spiral.  That’s about it, as Sam Humphries’s story is pretty decompressed (has anyone ever read a Ron Garney book that wasn’t?), but still enjoyable.  This feels like a far cry from the Remender X-Force run, but I’m willing to give it some more space to develop.

Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #5I love this series, which can still best be described as Dr. Strange done properly.  Dr. Morrow finishes off the strigoi in his lungs, and then goes after the people that put it there, in a very exciting issue.  Great stuff.

Wolverine and the X-Men #27 – Although I am loving Ramon Pérez’s art, I’m still having a hard time with the inconsistencies in Jason Aaron’s writing.  The first issue of this current Savage Land/Dog Logan storyline was a light-hearted romp through a prehistoric jungle.  The second issue was mostly focused on Dog Logan’s long and unhappy life, while this one seems to be mostly concerned with Dog’s jealousy of Logan, and his need to be a better teacher.  Let that sink in for a moment – he’s travelled through time, bringing together three great threats, to prove that he can teach better than Wolverine.  Were he looking to show that he was a better killer, a better fighter, or even a better lover or drinker, that would make sense.  Why not worry about proving he was a better sushi chef?  Teaching is not exactly central to Logan’s character the way it is Professor X or Emma Frost, and so it doesn’t really ring true that that would be the thing his long-lost brother would need to prove himself against.  Also, where are Oya and Broo?  It’s been two issues since we’ve seen them.  This story is rather a mess.

X-Men Legacy #8 – The strangest X-book ever continues to move in unexpected directions, as David Haller decides to interfere in the development of a new mutant whose ability is to receive praise for things he hasn’t done.  David is doing this mostly to impress Blindfold, who must be a really annoying character to write, as Simon Spurrier is always finding ways to ditch her strange diction.  I’m enjoying this book, and can’t imagine it’s going to last much longer, but I did get really lost somewhere in the middle of this issue.

Young Avengers #3The team is coming together, as Loki’s attempt to rescue Wiccan and Hulkling from the mom-parasite-thing in turns requires a rescue attempt from Ms. America Chavez, which in turn… – you get the idea.  Kieron Gillen’s having a lot of fun with this book, while putting together a great story.  I’m happy to see Loki get a lot more play this issue, as I really miss Gillen’s Journey Into Mystery.  As well, I love Jamie McKelvie’s art.

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

A + X #6

Age of Ulton #3

Answer #3

Fantastic Four #5AU

Guardians of the Galaxy #1

Rachel Rising #15

Superior Spider-Man #6AU

Ultimate Comics Wolverine #2

Bargain Comics:

47 Ronin #1Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai have started this adaption of the famous Japanese story, and it’s grabbed me right from the beginning.  I only know Sakai from his Usagi Yojimbo work, and was pleased to see that he is just as effective drawing regular people.

Suicide Squad #14 – This first of the Death of the Family cross-over issues reminds me of why I dropped this title.  Adam Glass really squandered a chance to make an interesting comic, since the Suicide Squad concept is a proven winner.  Instead, we got a watered down version of Amanda Waller, and a much less interesting cast than John Ostrander used.  This Joker-driven issue does nothing to make this series appealing.  I am going to check it out again when Ales Kot starts writing (unless, of course, we learn that he’s off the title before that happens – with DC these days, I wouldn’t be surprised).

The Week in Manga:

20th Century Boys Vol. 3

by Naoki Urasawa, with Takashi Nagasaki

Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys is a very addictive manga series.  I pretty much burned through the entire third volume in one sitting, despite my intention to make it last a little while.  I just find, once I start reading the book, I am faced with a great number of compelling reasons to not put it down again.

This volume has Kenji continuing to work to discover the identity of The Friend, a leader of a cult that has been showing up all over Japan.  Kenji has evidence that The Friend is behind some biological attacks on San Francisco and London, and that the group is plotting some attacks against Japan.  Kenji knows this, because The Friend is basing his actions on a story that Kenji and his friends made up while they were children, although none of them remember all of the details now.

The central concept of this book is pretty preposterous, and some of the scenes that show Kenji trying to figure out The Friend’s identity come off as a little amateurish (like when, at a class reunion, he and his classmates have their former teacher ask them who bent spoons one day years earlier, but they all close their eyes during this investigation, so no one knows who was responsible).

What makes this book work so well are a couple of things.  First, the characters feel very realistic, and are pretty believable.  Second is the notion that who we were and what we did as children is important to our character later in life.  Urasawa shows that the course of living one’s life causes them to lose touch with the things that were once important to them, but that people’s true identity changes very little.

I know there are about twenty volumes of this thing left for me to read, and that feels very daunting (how long can a mystery like this be drawn out?), but I also look forward to the next volume I can sink my teeth into.

Album of the Week:

Lady – Lady – All you need to know is that this is on the Truth & Soul label, which excels at finding modern Soul artists.  This is a lovely album.

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