The Weekly Round-Up #175 With Saga, Saucer Country, Archer & Armstrong, The Secret Service & More

Columns, Top Story

Best Comic of the Week:

Saga #12

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art by Fiona Staples

Ah, Saga.  Never a book to hide from controversy, this latest issue has caused a bit of a sensation due to the fact that, on the first two pages, Prince Robot IV is broadcasting gay porn on his television-screen face while in the process of succumbing to a war injury in a flashback/dream sequence.  Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have made a habit of finding some sort of image to shock or surprise readers on each of their splash pages, and I suppose that gay porn was an area they hadn’t visited yet, but it’s a total throw-away for shock value, and the focus on it has kept people from discussing the quality of the rest of the comic.  So no more of that.

This issue is, of course, a great read.  Prince Robot IV has been hunting Alana and Marko, and has taken The Stalk’s spaceship to Quietus, the home of D. Oswald Heist, the author of the romance novel that caused Alana and Marko to fall in love.  He believes that the lovers from opposite sides of the war will try to contact that man who has inspired them, and he plans on getting there ahead of them.

Most of this issue is spent showing the conversation between Robot and Heist, who is a bit of a recluse, with some very particular ideas about the war.  Heist disparages his own novel, claiming it was written for money alone (unlike other romance novels, which are, I suppose, written for love?), and he paints himself a loyal ally of Landfall, but as their conversation gets deeper, guns are drawn, and things don’t go so well for Heist.

On Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnston suggested that Heist’s character could be based on Warren Ellis, although he really just seems to be a collection of writer-tropes.  What really thrilled me about this issue, though, is the appearance of a young seal-boy who gives Prince Robot the directions to Heist’s place.  He looks a great deal like Philippe, of Achewood fame, unless, of course, there is a long precedent for fictional seal children to wear pants, and I’m only just becoming aware of it…

Saga is going on a brief hiatus once again, and Vaughan and Staples have left us with another terrific issue that ends on a cliff-hanger.  Can’t wait until the series is back on a monthly schedule again…

Another Notable Comic:

Saucer Country #14

Written by Paul Cornell
Art by Ryan Kelly

I’m disappointed that Saucer Country, one of the few new series from Vertigo over the last few years to really grab my attention, could not last for more than fourteen issues in the current comic book climate.  There is good news though, because creators Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly have apparently made plans to continue the series with another publisher soon.

And so, that means that readers who have not checked out this excellent series should be snatching up the trades or recent back issues, because this is a great comic, and my hope is that when this book is being handled by a publisher who is more about promoting creator-owned books than corporate, written by editorial fiat ones, things are really going to take off.  These days it’s all about the creator-owned book anyway…

In this issue, the Presidential race comes to its end, with the outcome you have always expected.  Presidential politics take a back seat to the alien stuff though, as Professor Kidd and the Governor’s security team uncover the truth behind the two ‘magic friends’ who have been visiting the Professor since the series began.  This book has always been as much about governmental conspiracy as it has been about aliens (and perhaps those are the same thing), and that paranoid, secretive world gets exposed a little more in this issue.

Originally, this book was supposed to end with a tag line identifying it as the end of “season one”, and that feeling is very present throughout this issue.  Cornell isn’t wrapping up the story so much as finding a good place to pause it, and I hope it’s not too long before things resume.  Meanwhile, and for the first time ever, I’m only reading one monthly book from Vertigo, and that’s a strange feeling.

Quick Takes:

Archer & Armstrong #9Archer & Armstrong continues to be a very good read, as our heroes work to stop the Anti-Life Equation thing (or whatever it’s actually called) from wrecking the world or something.  Truthfully, I am finding this book to be a lot like X-Factor – at it’s best, very funny, charming, and sharp, and at its worst, a pretty high-end of average superhero book.  This is more of the latter, but still very good.

Avengers Arena #7 – When this series started, one of the things that made the least amount of sense about it was how Arcade, formerly such a useless villain, could have amassed such power as to be a credible threat.  This issue tells that story, as a depressed and disrespected Arcade fights his way back to the top of his game, although the actual mechanics of Murder World are left out of the story.  This is a very necessary issue, but I look forward to seeing Dennis Hopeless return to the regular cast of the title.

Batman #19 – This issue is kind of a mess.  The book opens with the ‘now’ part of the story, featuring Bruce Wayne taking a woman hostage at a bank, strapping some explosives to her, and then shooting Commissioner Gordon (even though he invokes their friendship which goes all the way back to the Zero Year, in an example of very poorly-written product placement).  We then flashback six days to a morose Batman reviewing old cowl-cam footage of Damian, before discovering a mystery involving an acquaintance’s suicide that puts him on the trail of Clayface.  The different story elements don’t add up, but Scott Snyder gives Greg Capullo plenty of space to design improbable vehicles.  As is often the case, the backup story is much better than the main one, as Batman and Superman investigate a supernatural light, and Alex Maleev proves yet again how much better this book looks with a more talented artist than Greg Capullo.  I am starting to think I won’t make it through the upcoming thirteen-part Year Zero.  I’m losing interest too quickly in this title.

Batman and Red Robin #19 I’d kind of expected that, once Damian was out of the picture, this book would suffer for it, but this issue showed a greater drop-off than I’d thought likely.  For most of the issue, Batman kidnaps Frankenstein to take him apart and try to figure out how to revive Damian.  He acts incredibly out of character (has he forgotten about the Lazarus Pit?), and Red Robin gets sent to rein him in, although he doesn’t do much.  Bookending this issue is the strange appearance of Carrie Kelley, the Robin from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.  She was teaching Damian acting (I think), and also doesn’t fit very well into the story at all.  I don’t see why we need Carrie at this point – both Harper Row and the young woman in Batman Incorporated have been positioned to take on a possible side-kick role; this seems unnecessary and overly manipulated by editorial (must be a DC book) for fanboy interest, not for enduring stories.  Coming off the highs of issue 18, this is especially disappointing.  WTF indeed.

Demon Knights #19 – Robert Venditti’s run on this title continues to be just as good as Paul Cornell’s.  The team, now bolstered by Vandal Savage’s crew, journey to Themyscira to fight off Cain and his army, while Jason Blood makes a deal in Hell.  I like that the vampire aspect of this issue is mostly done with, and that the Cain storyline didn’t drag on too long, as has been a problem in the New 52 titles.

Fearless Defenders #3 – This continues to be a decent read, although I’m more than a little bored with the Asgardian aspect of the story, as the Doom Maidens (who are not the same as the Disir, although they feel like they are) are reawakened, and Hippolyta joins the team.  Cullen Bunn is doing good work on this book.

Harbinger #11 – Joshua Dysart manages to write this Harbinger Wars tie-in issue in such a way as to add texture and context to the event mini-series, without making it an essential read.  People like Brian Michael Bendis could learn a thing or two from this comic, which is much more character-driven than event focused, as Peter Stanchek’s group has to decide how to respond to the information Peter’s been fed about the upcoming Harada Foundation attack on Project Rising Spirit that we saw in HW #1.  It’s good stuff.

Hawkeye #9I think this is the most serious issue of the series yet, as Clint’s philandering comes back to haunt him as the other women in his life (Black Widow, Mockingbird, and Spider-Woman) express their displeasure in their own unique ways.  Also, there’s a pretty surprising end to the book.  David Aja’s art is always brilliant, but I wish someone would explain why Clint had all three of those women in 60s style dresses at Avengers Mansion…

Secret Avengers #3 – I’m really enjoying the slow-burn approach that Nick Spencer is taking for this series (which is actually, three issues in, a monthly comic, and not being double-shipped).  He’s building up the threat of the new AIM, stationed as it is on its own sovereign island.  This issue, AIM crashes a weapons convention and steal the Iron Patriot armor out from under Daisy Johnston and Samuel L. Furys’ noses.  Spencer is mixing the right amount of action and humour in the series – I love that the Helicarrier has a sign celebrating how many days it’s been since the last crash.  Luke Ross’s art is very nice here.  He’s been inconsistent lately, so I’m pleased to be able to say that.

The Secret Service #6 – Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons bring their spy series to a very appropriate close, as young Gary has to lead a group of other trainees on a mission against a billionaire with a plan to kill most of the world’s population.  There are a number of light moments, balanced by an equal number of James Bond-style scenes, as well as a large number of celebrity cameos.  I’ve liked this book – it’s been a more class-conscious book than you’d usually expect from Millar, and would make a terrific movie.  Gibbons is always terrific.

Sex #2Joe Casey’s new series at Image is terrific.  The book is called Sex, but it’s more about it in its absence than in its presence.  Simon Cooke, who used to basically be Batman, has retired from crime-fighting, and is trying to figure out what to do with his life.  He can’t quite manage to handle business at his company, but his visit to (basically) Catwoman’s high-end brothel does nothing for him either.  Casey is taking his time setting things up, and that’s cool, as he’s constructing a very interesting, and adult, look at some pretty standard superhero tropes.  I love Piotr Kowalski’s very European art, and the habit of highlighting certain words of dialogue different colours.  This is a book to keep an eye on.

Sledgehammer 44 #2 – This issue finishes off the two-parter that introduces Mike Mignola’s WWII era version of Iron Man.  Mignola ties the character firmly into the world of Hellboy, even giving Professor Bruttenholm a short cameo, while also giving us a much more solid story than the first issue had.  Jason Latour’s art is very nice here.

Star Wars #4 – Reading this book is still a thrill, but I felt that this issue was pretty disjointed compared to the other issues, especially on the page where we see, for only one panel, Bobba Fett’s vessel flying around an undisclosed location.  Are we to assume that it’s him calling Mon Mothma?  Still, I really like the classic feel of this book, and am loving the Alex Ross covers.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #23 – Ultimates has become a very typical title – it’s not bad, but there’s nothing very memorable about it at all.  I’m sure, when Jonathan Hickman presided over this relaunch, he had some very big plans, but I don’t think that Sam Humphries has continued them.  Really, this kind of reads like a DC book these days, only without any grisly deaths.  Maybe I just think that because Joe Bennett is drawing it…

Uncanny Avengers #6When Rick Remender was writing Uncanny X-Force, he gave us one of the best Apocalypse stories ever written, mostly by leaving that character out of things.  In this issue, he tells us the story of Thor’s first meeting with the long-lived mutant, and we meet one of Wolverine’s ancestors.  It’s a good enough story, made more interesting by the scheming of Kang, a particular favourite villain of mine.  Daniel Acuña’s art is suitable for this kind of story, and it’s nice to see someone come on the book who can help it get caught up with its release schedule.  I’m still not all that impressed with this title though – I feel like it’s meandering, and having a ‘Times Past’ issue this early in the run is damaging the momentum that finally got underway last issue.

Uncanny X-Men #4 – Just as I feared when I learned that Brian Michael Bendis would be writing two X-Men series, we learn here that the two titles are so intertwined that this issue is just a reflection of last week’s issue of All-New X-Men.  Sure, it’s interesting to see the whole conversation between Scott Summers’s team and Logan’s from the point of view of Emma Frost and the Cuckoos, but this is something that should not happen very often.  Too much symbiosis between titles is not a good thing, especially when one of those titles comes out every two weeks.  And when this one spoils the big surprise expected in the other one.

The Walking Dead #109 – A lot of the spotlight is given over to Maggie this issue, and we get to meet a few more of the residents of the Hilltop, as she starts to settle in a little better.  Jesus shows up, and lets her in on the plan to attack Negan.  Eventually, we make our way back to the community, and we see Rick begin to make his plans for the big assault.  This is a very good, character-driven issue of one of the best on-going series on the stands.

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

Age of Ultron #5

Avengers Assemble #14AU

Avenging Spider-Man #19

Mars Attacks #9

Thor God of Thunder #7

Ultron #1

Wolverine #2

Bargain Comics:

Avenging Spider-Man #16 – The first of Chris Yost’s run on this title, featuring the ‘Superior’ Spider-Man wisely avoids the thing I hate most about Dan Slott’s parent title – it does not have the ghost of Peter Parker, or whatever that is, show up at all.  Instead, we get Doc Ock Spidey having to interact with the X-Men when a giant mutant spider-thing climbs a building in Manhattan.  This is worth reading just for the scene where Spidey takes out Wolverine.  Chris Yost is an under-appreciated writer…

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Black Heart Billy

Written by Rick Remender, Kieron Dwyer, and Harper Jaten
Art by Rick Remender, Kieron Dwyer, Harper Jaten, and Paul AzacetaRick Remender has become one of the biggest names at Marvel Comics these days, writing the very well receivedUncanny X-Force, and less praised but still very good runs on Venom and Secret Avengers, before being handed Uncanny Avengers and Captain America.  Before he did any of this though, he worked for over a decade building a name for himself in the trenches of independent comics, where he is best known for books like the excellent Fear Agent and Strange Girl.Black Heart Billy is a comic from his earliest period, when he was still drawing his own stories, and worked with his frequent collaborator Kieron Dwyer (you should really read their Crawlspace: XXXombies).

Billy is a punk rock skateboarder with a robot head.  He hates hippies and Nazis, and especially hates it when a Nazi robot controlled by Jerry Garcia’s skull starts turning people into hippies.  He also likes to beat up leftists and nerds with guns.

This book is kind of strange – it doesn’t really resemble anything else of Remender’s that I’ve ever read. It fits more with the ‘comix’ school of gross-out humour and light social commentary, and while I enjoyed it, I wouldn’t pick up a second volume if one existed.

 Album of the Week:

Charles Bradley – Victim of Love – Bradley’s second album doesn’t have quite the sense of pain and hunger that his first album did, and that places it in a more mainstream place in the Daptone catalogue, but this is still a very accomplished collection of music.  The Menahem Street Band backs him perfectly once again.

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