The Weekly Round-Up #177 with The Manhattan Projects, BPRD Vampire, Clone, DHP, East of West, Jupiter’s Legacy & More

This was a monster week for new comics, which both shows the diversity of the market these days, and its insularity.  Below I discuss four books written by Jonathan Hickman, and five books with the word ‘Avengers’ in their titles.  Two books are in both categories.  Can’t they spread this stuff out better?

Best Comic of the Week:

The Manhattan Projects #11

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra

One of my favourite monthly titles continues to impress with each new issue.  The Manhattan Projects has moved into new territory, as the American and Russian science agencies have affected a secret merger, and are now setting about making their plans for all their Cold War funding.

To that end, a meeting is held on their new Moon base to come up with some long-term goals.  Of course, Oppenheimer has his plans, and details three projects he would like to commence, which involve space travel, alternative energy, and human longevity.  He has a fourth project as well, but it’s a secret…

The heart of this issue lies in the story of Dr. Harry Daghlian.  We see how he became an animated atomic skeleton, and we see just how close his friendship with Dr. Enrico Fermi is.  It is because of Fermi that his containment suit allows him to interact with other people.

This book is impossible to predict, and knowing Jonathan Hickman’s penchant for long-range planning, is likely to stay that way for a good long time.

Another thing I like about it are the completely unconventional covers, which reflect the content of the book in puzzlingly tangential ways quite often, but also make the comic stand out like no other book.

Quick Takes:

 

All Star Western #19Jonah Hex trades in Arkham for a new sidekick, namely Booster Gold, in a story that is amusing but not very well paced.  Booster comes across Jonah while he’s on the hunt for a band of bank robbers.  Apparently, Booster has come back in time but doesn’t really remember who he is, and has become the sheriff of a small town that is almost immediately trashed by these same robbers.  He and Hex decide to hunt them down together, and then the story ends suddenly, and we are into the Stormwatch back-up.  I’ve stopped pre-ordering this book after the next issue, and while I kind of like the way Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray are writing Booster, it feels too much like a gimmick that was editorially-mandated (perhaps for the WTF cover promotion?) to give this series much more play with me.

Avengers #10 – What appears to be a straight-forward Avengers mission gets played a little strangely, as the team is called to Canada to investigate the crash site in Regina that has claimed the life of an Alpha Flight team (luckily made up of new characters – at least Jonathan Hickman is not pulling a Bendis and wiping out some of my all-time favourite characters just after they’ve been re-established).  It’s a strange issue, as the team decides to hold back some big secrets from SHIELD, and we learn little else.  Mike Deodato draws this issue, and really, it doesn’t work for me.  He’s fine for a Bendis-written story, but his slanted page designs and rushed artwork don’t work so well for a Hickman story.  Remember when Jerome Opeña was going to be the regular artist on this title?  That didn’t last too long, did it?  Maybe if Marvel didn’t feel the need to make the book almost weekly, one or two artists would be able to do a good job on the art…

Avengers Arena #8 – This issue marks the return to the teen heroes of this book, and while X-23 narrates, it checks in on many more characters than has been usual.  It’s a good issue, revealing what happened to Juston, his Sentinel, and Darkhawk, while still finding some time for strong character moments.  I’m still surprised that I’m liking this book as much as I am.

Batman Incorporated #10Since killing off Damian, this book has become a lot more linear and traditional in its storytelling, almost like Grant Morrison is able to see the finish line, and is most interested in just crossing it.  Azrael makes his DCnU debut, and Batman is outlawed in Gotham, while Talia moves towards her end game.  It’s a good issue, with wonderful Chris Burnham art (and a few mediocre pages by stand-in artists), but it’s hard to read this title in the context of what’s going on in the other Bat-books, which seem to be running concurrently with this storyline.

BPRD Vampire #2 – In this issue, Simon Anders travels to the Czech village of Cesky Krumlov, which is kind of cool, as I visited this very old town a few years ago, and it looks in this book much as I remember it.  Of course, this issue is drawn by the twins, Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, so the visuals are stunning.  I also enjoyed the lesson about the history of vampires in the Czech town, which takes up most of the issue.  This is a very good series, made better by the incredible talent of its artists.

Clone #6 – Clone works very well as a TV-style series.  In this issue, Luke takes off from the clones’ compound to try to find his wife and baby, while the Beta clone comes looking for him.  It’s a pretty quick issue, but it remains a good read, with some very nice art by Juan Jose Ryp.  There do seem to be a lot more writers than before though, with no visible effect on the quality of the writing.

Dark Horse Comics Presents #23 – While there continue to be some very good stories in this anthology series, my interest since Carla Speed McNeil’s long-running Finder series ended has definitely waned.  I enjoyed the conclusion to Brandon Graham’s Tiger Lung story, and was very happy to see a pair of one-off stories featuring art by John Higgins and Sean Phillips, as well as a pair of new serials, one by Peter Hogan and Phil Winslade, and the other by Fred Van Lente and Freddie Williams II.  Many of the other stories in here were not all that memorable though.

East of West #2The second issue of this new, amazing series by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta is more concerned with explaining what’s going on as the first one was.  The three younger Horsemen set about murdering their way through the chain of succession for President until they find someone they like, who is then dispatched to meet with the other leaders of American territory, who it appears, work for the Horsemen.  Death, meanwhile, enters into an arrangement with the leader of the Black Towers region (it would have been helpful to include the map from the first issue again).  I’m still very intrigued by this series, and love Dragotta’s art, but this issue didn’t fire me up like the first did.

FF #6 – Joe Quinones shows up to handle the art this month, giving Mike Allred a break, and he and Matt Fraction deliver yet another odd issue of this very odd comic.  Medusa and Bentley have gone missing, the Yancy Street Gang continues to give Darla a hard time, She-Hulk listens to Eminem while she works out, and one of the Moloids comes out as transgendered.  This series is really very meandering, but it’s a fun read.

Fury MAX #11 – If I learned anything from reading this issue of Fury, it’s that I do have to get around to reading Garth Ennis’s Punisher, if only to see more of Barracuda, who really stands out here as an interesting character.  Fury is in Nicaragua investigating on his own in this exciting comic.  I love Goran Parlov’s art.

Helheim #2 – Cullen Bunn’s new supernatural Viking series is a quick read, but still a satisfying one, mostly because of Joëlle Jones’s lovely art.  We see what’s happened to Rikard, as his wife sends him out to track down her rival witch.  This doesn’t have the depth of The Sixth Gun, but it is entertaining.

Invincible #102It’s time for another massive fight as Thragg goes after Nolan, because he knows that he is the rightful heir to the Viltrumite throne.  Kirkman and Ottley do massive fights well, but perhaps they shouldn’t just do that every second issue…

Jupiter’s Legacy #1 – Reading this new series from Mark Millar and Frank Quitely reminded me a lot of their run on The Authority, although this series is almost a mirror image of that work.  In the Wildstorm book, which started just before the Bush II era, the superheroes believed that they knew how to run the world best, and had no qualms about interfering in politics.  In Jupiter’s Legacy, the heroes are basically super-powered cops and firemen, who feel that they need to defend an American status quo that, at the beginning of the book, set during the Great Depression, is exactly what they railed against.  Millar’s heroes received their powers from a mysterious island in the early 1930s, and are still around today, fighting the good fight, while their children have become the powered version of trust-fund brats, more concerned with their own celebrity than helping people.  Millar is showing us the heroes that our modern era would really have, but so far, there’s not much in the way of a story developing.  He’s mostly concerned with portraying generational conflict, but I feel like there might be more to come as the story kicks into gear.  Frank Quitely’s work is always phenomenal; no one has his ability to make spandex costumes look so silly and believable at the same time, adding a layer of realism to the story.

Lost Vegas #2 – I am loving this science fiction heist series.  Roland has to make his move to escape the Lost Vegas right away, but things keep getting in his way, including the appearance of the warlord who destroyed his home colony.  Jim McCann keeps the story running smoothly, while Janet Lee does some incredible design work.  Great stuff.

The Massive #11Brian Wood moves his story a little into the fantastical this month, as we see the effect of The Crash, and human civilization in general, on the world’s shark population.  Still chasing The Massive, the Kapital sends out its helicopter, which crashes on a small island that is a shark feeding ground.  Mary displays her strange affinity to the sea again, while Lars, the ship’s pilot, learns about Cal’s illness.  This series continues to impress, and I was very happy to see Declan Shalvey draw this issue; I have always liked his work.

Mighty Skullkickers #1 / Skullkickers #21 – The dwarf lives again, and seems like he might be invincible now, while Baldy fights himself and makes friends with horned apes (which is, I presume, much more pleasant than making friends with horny apes).  As always with Skullkickers, this is a solidly enjoyable read.

Mind MGMT #10 – Matt Kindt’s brilliant series finally introduces us to Duncan, the man who can see the future through amalgamating the thoughts of people around him.  His search for novelty and surprise has led him to manipulate an erratic woman into loving him, although that doesn’t last long.  Our usual crew of heroes show up to try to recruit him, and we begin to understand why he and Henry Lyme are not too close.  Kindt continues to fill the book with content, this time splitting the lines of text that run along the side of each page between a stream-of-consciousness interpretation of how Duncan reads minds with the rest of Meru’s book.  I can’t recommend this book enough.

Morning Glories #26 – I have loved and enjoyed this series since it began, but I have to say that I feel that some odd decisions went into the creation of this particular issue, which begins ‘season two’ of the series, and is priced at only $1, presumably in a bid to bring in new readers.  The thing is, this issue is rather impenetrable, unless you’ve been reading this series from the start.  It focuses on Casey Blevins, who we haven’t seen much of lately, and who has been sent back into the past.  She meets with Abraham, who is a central but confusing character, goes to an expensive hotel and dies her hair, and then we follow her life through a series of silent panels, showing her traveling the world, and walking away from things blowing up.  Then we see young Casey on her first day at high school.  This book has always necessitated comparisons to the TV show Lost, and that is what I thought of a few times while reading this, as we’ve started moving around in time.  I really like what Nick Spencer has done with this book, and I admire Joe Esima’s art, but I don’t think this is the issue I would use to try to get someone to start reading this comic; I had to really think about what was going on, and I know these characters.

New Avengers #5There really is a lot of talking in this book, as the Illuminati group chat with the Black Swan about how to save the universe, and learn a little more about the incursions that threaten all life everywhere.  I like this title, but I feel like a little more has to happen in each issue.

Star Wars Legacy #2 – Instead of taking more time to establish the galactic status quo, Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman throw their characters into some pretty cool action sequences, as Ania Solo and her friend escape their pursuers, only to be attacked at Ania’s junkyard.  This book captures the scope of John Ostrander’s vision of the future of the Star Wars franchise quite well, while continuing to build on it.  Highly recommended.

Talon #7 – This felt like a very solid issue, with an unannounced Batman cameo adding a lot to the tension in the book, while the WTF cover kind of spoils what could have been a great ending.  I enjoy this series, but find it pretty inconsistent; this was a good issue, even if the big surprise villain doesn’t sound much like he did when Gail Simone was writing him…

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #22 – Some seriously bad things happen to Miles Morales in this issue; the kind of things that make certain that this book will never be able to return to its more light-hearted tone, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Still, Sara Pichelli’s art is fantastic when it comes to capturing Miles’s emotions.  It’s a shame she’s off this book.

Uncanny Avengers #7 – This title is really very dependent on what happened in Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, but having read that, this is really not a worthy successor.  The stuff about the Apocalypse Twins, and the various Horsemen, works well, but the Avengers scenes are just overly wordy and kind of long once again.  This team hasn’t done a whole lot yet except argue with each other – you’d think it was still Brian Michael Bendis writing the team.

Uncanny X-Men #5I remember back in the pre-X-Force New Mutants days, when way too many issues were devoted to the Illyana/Dark Childe plot, and how tedious it got.  Apparently Brian Michael Bendis wants us going back there, as Illyana fights with her demons (literally and figuratively, once again) and everyone else just kind of argues.  At least Frazier Irving’s art is wonderful.

The Unwritten #48 – Pauly Bruckner, the man who was turned into a storybook rabbit, is the best character in this series, and I love that we are seeing him for multiple issues in a row now, instead of having to wait a whole year to continue his story as we used to have to.  Pauly’s taken over the Ancient Greek Underworld, although it’s not what it used to be, and finds himself in conflict with Tom in this issue.  It’s a very good read, as always.

Whispers #5 – It’s been quite a long time since the last issue of Joshua Luna’s rather strange book about astral projection and demons came out, but I was quickly brought back into the story, as our OCD-suffering hero tries to figure out how to get someone to kill a serial killer for him, and ends up learning more about his abilities and the power of perception.  This is a very unusual book, but I’m enjoying it.  Apparently the next issue (which I don’t think has been solicited yet) is the last one.  I don’t know if the series was always planned to run for six issues or not.

Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #6 – Brandon Seifert crams a lot into this final issue of the second Witch Doctor mini-series, and I hope it’s not long before we return to Dr. Morrow and his crew; this was an excellent run.  Lots to like here – highly recommended when it comes out in trade.

Wolverine and the X-Men #28The overly long Savage Land/Logan’s brother story finally comes to a close.  This title used to feel so fresh and different, but now I’m finding it’s becoming tedious.

Young Avengers #4 – I can’t imagine that I’ll ever get tired of this brilliant series by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Mike Norton.  Noh-Varr and Hawkeye (the Kate Bishop one) show up to help the other characters out of their predicament, but that means that Noh-Varr’s parents also appear.  Loki acts very Loki, and McKelvie gets to really cut loose on art and layout.  This book is gorgeous, funny, and endearing, and continues to be the best book that Marvel is producing.

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

A + X #7

Guardians of the Galaxy #2

High Ways #4

Kill Shakespeare: Tide of Blood #3

Rachel Rising #16

Bargain Comics:

Astonishing X-Men #57-59I wasn’t really feeling the earlier issues of Marjorie Liu’s run, but these three issues are much more character-driven, and therefore more solid in terms of story.  Two of these books focus on Warbird, and her discovery of a remnant from an alien race that the Shi’ar had wiped out ages ago.  The last of these three is a bit of a placeholder book before the X-Termination cross-over, which bears no interest for me, but I like the way this comic attempts to wrap up a loose end from Uncanny X-Force.  Since first seeing Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s art, I’ve looked forward to seeing him get something a little more substantial than the short stories he was cutting his teeth on.  These issues don’t disappoint art-wise.

Legends of the Dark Knight #4 & 5 – The first of these two issues is pretty forgettable; a collection of short stories (two of which feature the Joker) by writers I’ve never heard of, although I do like seeing Christopher Mitten draw a superhero story for a change.  The second issue, #5, is excellent.  It’s a Slam Bradley story written by Joshua Hale Fialkov, who is a skilled crime writer.  The old PI gets entangled in a murder case where everyone believes him to be the perpetrator, and everything he does to clear his name just makes things worse, until Batman finally gets involved.  It’s drawn by Phil Hester, which is pretty exciting, because he doesn’t draw enough comics these days.  Very good stuff.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Key of Z

Written by Claudio Sanchez and Chondra Echert
Art by Aaron Kuder

I grabbed the trade paperback for Key of Z on a whim, and because I’d liked the look of the Nathan Fox covers when I saw the mini-series on the comics stands.  I have never heard a song by Coheed & Cambria, the band that one of the writers is in, and was therefore not swayed by his celebrity in any way.

Basically, this book could be described as The Walking Dead meets DMZ.  After a zombie outbreak, the survivors in New York have coalesced into three stadiums – Madison Square Gardens, Yankee Stadium, and wherever it is that the Mets play.  Each of these stadiums are run by leaders who take slightly different approaches to things – the guy in the Gardens tries to keep a political/corporate approach to life, while the guy who leads the Yankees does it more like a gang lord.

Inevitably there is conflict, and our hero, a man named Nick Ewing, loses his family because of it.  He takes a few years to raid the Met of its ancient weapons (how come Rick Grimes and crew haven’t been looting museums?) and plot his revenge, and most of this book is about how he goes about exacting it.

One other thing that the writers have added to the wealth of zombie mythology is the notion that Ewing can control sleepers (I guess walkers is trademarked now?) with a battered old harmonica.

This is a pretty well-written story, and I really like Aaron Kuder’s art, which has a bit of the Frank Quitely about it.  It would appear that my impulse purchase was a good one.

Album of the Week:

Kev Brown – Songs Without Words – I’ve long admired Kev Brown’s dusty beats, but often find myself a little bored by the rappers he works with.  It’s nice to just let this lengthy instrumental project wash over me; this guy should be a lot better known than he is.

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