The Weekly Round-Up #178 With The Strangers, Westward, Abe Sapien, The Activity, Harbinger Wars & More

Columns, Top Story

Best Comic of the Week:

The Strangers #1

Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Scott Kowalchuk

Amid a pile of preview stories, reprints, and undisguised advertisements, only Oni Press can be counted on to deliver top-notch material each and every Free Comic Book Day.

This year, they launch The Strangers, a new series by writer Chris Roberson and artist Scott Kowalchuk.  This book is a bit of a Cold War mash-up, taking elements from The Avengers (the British TV show), Mission Impossible, and Doom Patrol.  The titular Strangers are a trio of secret agents with some superhuman abilities, who mostly work to stop OCCULT, a villainous group in the Hydra/Cobra vein.

OCCULT appears to have taken over a small Caribbean island, and so our heroes set out to infiltrate it.  They discover that some sort of ruins are being dug up in the jungle, but don’t get too far in discovering the plot before being captured.

The book feels like it was written for Roberson’s iZombie collaborator Michael Allred, but Scott Kowalchuk is a good substitute, providing art that feels like an homage to the days of Kirby and Ditko, while remaining fresh.  I’m not sure if this is the first issue of a mini-series or an ongoing, but Roberson strikes the right balance between introducing the characters and keeping the story flowing.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to preorder the second issue (available, along with a version of this book that you have to pay for, in the new Previews), but now I definitely am.  Good stuff.

Other Notable Comics:

Westward #2-4

by Ken Krekeler

I read the first issue of Westward a while ago, and because I couldn’t find any subsequent issues, I did something I almost never do, and ordered these three comics on-line.  Ken Krekeler’s series, and his unique voice, caught my attention, and I wanted to find out more about this story.

Westward is about Victor West, a spoiled rich kid and son of an industrialist in a steampunk future.  In the first issue, it appeared that Victor had been in a coma for a number of years, but in fact, he is an android, or a ‘manifold’, with the original Victor’s thought-patterns, but none of his memories.  The shock of seeing Victor up and around caused his father to have a heart attack, and now his sister runs the company.

This series is about a number of things.  On the one hand, it’s the story of Victor’s quest to better understand himself and the abilities that his body holds, and of his attempts to return to normal family life.  It’s also about CLAW, an anti-corporate group that is responsible for increasingly violent attacks.

Krekeler’s writing is pretty nuanced.  His characters are very believable, and it’s clear that he’s pacing this story to last a while.  Each of these issues introduces some new story elements, without ever overwhelming the reader.  Krekeler’s art is a little rough, but quite serviceable for the story.

The first trade, which collects the first three issues, just became available this week.  I suggest it’s well worth a look.

Quick Takes:

Abe Sapien #2This issue does a good job of establishing just what this series is going to be about going forward – Abe dealing with his mysterious origin, and also trying to get by in a world that has been so transformed by the Ogdru Hem.  He finds refuge in a church, only to discover that the priest is a little bit nuts.  It’s a very solid issue, with some very nice art by Sebastián Fiumara.  It’s good stuff.

The Activity #12 – I’m not sure what’s going on with this title – it’s fallen way behind (this issue was supposed to come out in December), and now this issue is a flashback, featuring work by guest artist Marc Laming.  The thing is, The Activity is best at giving us exactly this type of story – regular character Switchfoot is involved in a secret operation in Fallujah during the early days of the Iraq War.  This story is simply showing us what happened when a special forces team moves in to apprehend a high-value target.  Nathan Edmondson’s writing is always taut in this book, and Laming’s art complements it well.  A solid, exciting read.  I just wish it could get itself back on track in terms of scheduling.

All-New X-Men #11 – This issue all takes place before the last two issues of Uncanny X-Men, proving that Marvel needs to do a better job of managing their multiple titles, if they are going to keep telling two sides to the same story and be written by the same writer.  The Kid X-Men react to the news that Kid Angel is going to be joining Adult Cyclops’s team, and then Kitty has a heart-to-heart with Kid Jean.  It’s decently written, but not a whole lot happens (sounds like a Bendis book, eh?).  I have to say that I really hate the way Stuart Immonen is drawing Wolverine – he looks like he did back in the days after he had his metal removed from his skeleton and got devolved (or whatever the hell was going on back then).

Animal Man #20One of my favourite early issues of New 52 Animal Man is the filler issue that is mostly taken up with scenes from Buddy Baker’s one movie, a kind of adult Kick-Ass.  Jeff Lemire takes us back to that film with this issue (drawn, once again, by John Paul Leon), and it’s just as good as it was before, showing us that Jeff Lemire remains at his strongest when not tied down by shared-universe constraints and editorial dictates.  And any book by John Paul Leon is reason to celebrate.

Dial H #12 – My second favourite DC book introduces the incredible Open-Window Man, as a number of strange heroes show up to help Nelson and Roxie out of their predicament.  There is so much action in this issue that it becomes a little hard to follow, especially since characters keep changing power sets and identities.  China Miéville’s writing continues to impress.

Earth 2 #12 – This was one of the most straight-forward issues of Earth 2 yet, as Dr. Fate do battle above Boston, and Flash and Green Lantern come together to help him out.  It finally looks like this is becoming a team book, and that a clearer threat is making itself known.  I really like Nicola Scott’s art here, but I find that James Robinson’s writing has been very inconsistent over the months, as way too many plotlines have been introduced and more or less abandoned.  I’m not sure if I’m going to stick with this title, but more issues like this one will make that decision easy, and favourable to DC.

Green Arrow #20The battle between Komodo and Green Arrow comes to its conclusion, but Ollie is still trying to figure out just what all has been going on, and how it’s connected to his father’s secret life.  I’m really enjoying this book under Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino – the story is interesting, and the art is terrific.

Harbinger Wars #2 – I originally had little to no interest in buying this crossover mini-series, but the people at Valiant have really handled this the right way, by making the series be about characters other than Bloodshot and Peter Stanchek’s Renegades.  Instead, this book is focused on a group of Psiots that Bloodshot released from Project Rising Spirit, and because the story is written by Joshua Dysart, I’ve gotten to know and like a number of the characters in very short order.  This is a very good read, and I like how well it fits in the established Valiant universe without feeling heavy-handed or forced, like other recent event series at the Big Two.

Hawkeye #10 – Francesco Francavilla shows up this month to draw one of the least-linear issues of Hawkeye yet.  We meet Kazi, a survivor of (I’m guessing) the war in Chechnya, who now works as an assassin for the Bro Brigade.  He meets Kate, and they chat.  There’s not a whole lot going on in this issue, which is more Impressionistic than is usual here.  I always love Francavilla’s art, and it adds a different texture to the story.  This is not going to be anyone’s favourite issue of this series, but read in the context of the last one, it’s pretty solid.

Mister X: Eviction #1I’m always happy to see Dean Motter’s signature character return, mostly because I love the design elements that make up Motter’s Radiant City, the place where architecture makes people go a little crazy.  The demolition of certain buildings continues, the mayor and city council are indisposed, traffic chaos reigns, and reporter Rosetta Stone thinks she knows why it’s all falling apart.  This issue is split between the main Eviction story, and a side story that has Santos deal with the traffic problem.  It’s a pretty solid comic, with wonderful art.

The Movement #1 – I suppose, if one needed to describe DC’s policy towards replacing New 52 titles that have failed and been canceled, it would be for them to throw non-Batman and Superman ideas at the wall, and see what can stick for more than eight issues.  That explains the existence of books like Dial H, and now The Movement; titles that are definitely not conventional DC books.  The Movement is written by Gail Simone, and that’s the only reason why I bought it (despite that fact that I don’t read her Batgirl).  The series looks like it’s picking up on the spirit of the Occupy movement, and the hacker group Anonymous, and mixing them with some super-powered teens, who are all new characters (except for the re-considered Quake, who was in Simone’s excellent Secret Six).  The kids have taken over a ten-block stretch of Coral City, the neighbourhood called the ‘Tweens, after relations between youth and the police have become very strained.  We meet the police captain, who is a good guy, and we are briefly introduced to the superheroes.  There are some inconsistencies and evidence of poor editing (one page talks about how cold the evenings are, while the next discusses the fact that it’s summer), and perhaps a little too much happening to give new readers a sense of where the series is going, but there’s enough here to get me to come back next month.  Freddie Williams II may not be the best artist for this book – it would probably do a lot better with a cleaner artist.  I hope Simone does some of her usual excellent character work soon…

Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm #9Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman start the third arc of this series, which has the Chimpanzees holding a general strike while demanding increased rights and the freedom of their nominal leader, Cadmus, from political imprisonment.  Dr. Zaius wants to force them all back to work, but now a new sect is growing, one based on the teachings of General Aleron, from the two mini-series by these writers that preceded this book.  This has always been a very intelligent and interesting take on the Planet of the Apes story, and I’m enjoying it a great deal.

Snapshot #4 – Andy Diggle and Jock’s thriller ends quite well, as the main character finally figures out everything that has been going on.  This series had a bit of a bumpy beginning, and while it never quite lived up to The Losers, it turned in to a pretty entertaining ride, which would work very well as a movie.

Swamp Thing #20 – Charles Soule and Kano’s inaugural story finishes here, with Superman guest starring in a story about Metropolis being taken over by plants after Swamp Thing is dosed with one of Scarecrow’s toxins.  It’s a well-written and nice looking book, and I appreciate the work that Soule is putting in to keeping Alec Holland’s humanity alive.  After the ridiculously long Rotworld story, I also appreciate the use of shorter arcs.

Wasteland #44 – Michael and Abi are back together, and on the road to the mysterious A-Ree-Yass-I, joined by their brother Thomas.  In this issue, they come across an Oracle in the middle of the desert.  Not a whole lot happens in this issue, but it’s always a terrific read.  Here’s hoping that the scheduling problems get smoothed out again.

Winter Soldier #18Working to stay unconventional, for this issue, Jason Latour and Nic Klein spend the whole comic examining the life of Tesla Tarasova, the ‘bad guy’ of this arc.  Since taking on this book, these two have delivered an interesting story with some very nice art, but this series feels nothing like Ed Brubaker’s book.  Bucky is such a minor character in this issue, it wasn’t even all that clear that this was a Marvel comic.  This is a good thing.

X-Factor #255 – News came out this week that X-Factor was being cancelled, presumably to be relaunched a week or two later, but still, I was surprised to discover that I was more relieved than saddened by the news.  I’ve been following Peter David’s run with this team since it’s beginning in the wonderful Madrox mini-series, but I think that the book has gotten tired.  This Hell on Earth War storyline has felt endless.  It’s time for the book to be looked at closely and re-examined.  Perhaps a spiffy new number one, some new artists, and a return to what makes the book work is called for.  I suppose there’s also a chance that the title will just be cancelled, but it seems unlikely; Marvel doesn’t really do that.

X-Men Legacy #10 – Marvel’s strangest book has Legion go find the anti-mutant version of Stephen Hawkings, a scientist who is trying to cure mutantcy through radical brain damage.  I can still not completely make up my mind about this book – it defies expectations time and again, and is entertaining, so I don’t completely know why I’m not pre-ordering it.  I probably just should.

Free Comic Book Day Comics:

Atomic RoboI only ever read Atomic Robo on Free Comic Book Day.  I like him, and the stories he’s featured in, but I somehow never get around to buying the series or the trades.  I kind of think all of his comics are the same, but then, how is that different from anything the Big Two publish?

Fubar – I guess that all Fubar Press publishes are war comics that feature zombies.  Why not, right?  I mean, it worked well in ‘68.  Anyway, there are a number of stories in this book, each touching on a different war, and each featuring characters fighting zombies.  If that’s your type of thing, you’ll enjoy this.  The only two creators I know of, Chuck Dixon and Jason Copland, collaborate on the last story.

Infinity – This was a bit of a disappointment, as Jonathan Hickman works to establish Thanos as a big cosmic bad guy again, by having his servants exact tribute from some alien world.  He also sends a creature to Earth to look for something.  That’s all there is in the main story, which kind of wastes Jim Cheung completely.  There’s a reprint of a very old Thanos story drawn by a very young Mike Zeck, which isn’t bad, and then a couple of pages from the upcoming Avengers OGN written by Warren Ellis, although these pages are not very Ellisian.  In all, if I were a new reader, this would not have made me want to pick up any of the 10000 books advertised in these pages; as an established, life-long reader, it doesn’t excite me either.

Judge Dredd Classics – I’ve never been able to get into Judge Dredd, and this comic is no different, despite the fact that it has art by Brian Bolland, who hasn’t done interior work in years.

Kellerman/L’AmourI’ve never read a book by either Louis L’Amour or Jonathan Kellerman, but the previews of these two graphic adaptations both have me interested, mostly because of the fine art by Thomas Yeates (on the L’Amour) and Michael Gaydos (on the Kellerman).

RIPD & The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys/Mass Effect – I didn’t really get enough sense of the series that these three stories promote to be able to fully enjoy any of these offerings, but my interest is piqued for Killjoys.  Of course, it’s drawn by Becky Cloonan, so I was interested in it already.  I have no idea what was going on with the gender-bending in RIPD, and didn’t find anything in Mass Effect that would make me come back for more.  The Killjoys story looks to promise a pretty strange setting and great art, if nothing else.

Star Wars & Captain Midnight/Avatar The Last Airbender – Brian Wood wrote this short Star Wars story which features an attempted assassination on Darth Vader.  He’s assisted by Bobba Fett, and he deals with the whole thing in his typical manner.  I liked Ryan Odagawa’s art.  There’s not much more to say here – the Captain Midnight story was not very memorable, and I didn’t finish the Avatar one, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, just that it’s not for me.

Superman: Last Son of Krypton Special Edition #1 – Leave it to DC.  So, instead of trying to promote their floundering New 52 initiative, they decide to reprint a comic from a few years ago that is not currently even part of their Superman continuity.  This is the first issue of the Last Son story, written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner, and drawn by Adam Kubert, and while it is one of the better Superman comics of the last twenty years, it doesn’t reflect what is currently going on with the character at all.  Why not try to shine the spotlight on what’s happening with red underpant-less Superman today?  Oh that’s right, it’s because they have no idea; the writer for their flagship title walked off the book.  Sure they interview Scott Snyder about his upcoming run with Superman Unchained; perhaps having him write a short prequel might have worked better.  Shameful stuff DC, once again.

Valiant 2013I think this must be the most disappointing book of the bunch this year, as it only has ‘previews’ of two comics that I’ve already bought, one that is coming out next week, and one that has already run in all of their monthly books.  Maybe I should be excited for the poster or the interviews with writers, but I wasn’t.

Valiant Masters – This, on the other hand, was a bit of a treat, despite the fact that it too was only a string of previews that don’t tell any complete stories.  The difference is that these are snippets of the original Vertigo comic series Ninjak, Eternal Warrior, Shadowman, and Rai, and feature art from such greats as David Lapham, Joe Quesada, and the phenomenal Barry Windsor-Smith. I have all of the books shown here, but haven’t read any of them in over twenty years.  Old school Valiant had some great titles…

The Walking Dead – Now, I’d read the Michonne and Governor stories collected here before, but the Tyreese and Morgan ones were new to me.  I’ve appreciated the fact that Robert Kirkman hasn’t been trying to cash in on the success of The Walking Dead TV show by creating a second monthly comic, or doing a whole bunch of prequel mini-series, but at the same time, I’ve also enjoyed these small looks into the lives of favourite characters in the early days of the end of the world.  That these stories are drawn and toned by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn is what makes them so effective.

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

‘68 Jungle Jim #2

Age of Ultron #7

Detective Comics #20

Indestructible Hulk #7

Iron Man #9

Legends of the Dark Knight #8

Mars Attacks #10

Shadowman #0

Suicide Risk #1

Superior Spider-Man #9

Thanos Rising #2

Ultimate Comics X-Men #26

Bargain Comics:

Age of Ultron #2&3I kind of knew not to get too involved in this series, as I haven’t heard much that was positive about it yet.  However, when you’re paying just a little more than half the cover price, this can be enjoyed as the big messy Michael Bay movie that it is.  The revelation of the superhero actually behind all this in issue 3, despite the fact that I’d already read about it on-line, still came as a bit of a surprise.  Bryan Hitch’s art is always nice, and we all already know that Bendis totally sucks at this kind of thing, so by keeping expectations rock-bottom low, I actually kind of liked this.

Fairest #7 & 8 – After the overly long opening arc, I’d dropped Fairest, as I had earlier with Fables, but sometimes I miss these characters.  Matthew Sturges and Shawn McManus tell an odd tale about Beauty and Beast in their one-off which retcons a little surprise about Beauty that I feel doesn’t really fit with how her character has been portrayed from the jump.  Issue eight starts a longer arc, ‘The Hidden Kingdom’, which has Rapunzel journeying to Japan in search of her lost children.  This story is gorgeous, with beautiful art by Inaki Miranda, but seeing as it’s set before the start of Fables, it’s as concerned with peppering its pages with easter eggs as it is telling a good story.

Fantastic Four #5AU – I’d heard that the tie-in books have been much better than the regular issues of Age of Ultron, and I will say that this issue, which has the Fantastic Four abandoning their children in deep space to return to Earth to fight Ultron, is pretty decent.  Perhaps the goodbye messages from the adults to the kids are a little schmaltzy, but André Araújo’s art more than makes up for it.  Were he the regular artist on this title instead of Mark Bagley, I’d probably be buying it.

The Week in Manga:

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 10As has always been the case with KCDS, this tenth volume is excellent.  First, the group has to deal with the fact that all of the corpses they’ve been locating lately have been going missing.  This has something to do with a man who rides around on a bicycle with an AED device that allows him to revive the dead.  Another story involves a small town drug smuggling ring, while another is concerned with dowsing and a legend about a monk who was killed for his gold.  In KCDS, writer Eiji Otsuka and artist Housui Yamazaki give us a wonderfully balanced series that is a strong in its character development as it is in telling a good tale.

Album of the Week:

The Foreign ExchangeThe Reworks – It’s been quite a while since we’ve gotten an all-new project from The Foreign Exchange.  Their last album was their perfectly sublime Live album (with accompanying DVD), which is one of my fifteen favourites of all time.  Now they give us this double-disc, which is almost all remixes of their previously released songs.  It’s still quite lovely though, and scratches my FE itch; hopefully there’s some all-new material coming soon.

What would you like to know?