The Weekly Round-Up #184 With Sacrifice, Killjoys, American Vampire, Harbinger Wars & More

Columns, Top Story

Best Comic of the Week:

Sacrifice #6

Written by Sam Humphries
Art by Dalton Rose

I’ve really enjoyed Sacrifice, Sam Humphries and Dalton Rose’s self-published and micro-distributed mini-series.  It’s told the story of Hector, an epileptic who was somehow transported to the Aztec Empire in the period immediately before the Europeans arrived.  The series has followed his attempts to protect the Aztecs from the genocide that Spain brought to them, but we’ve seen him fail again and again.

Now, in this last issue, Tenochtitlan is in Spanish hands, and Malin is leading her remaining guerrilla fighters into the jungle to regroup. Hector lies dead, but that in turn leads him to a conversation with Quetzalcoatl, the god who has turned his back on his people.

There were a number of things that hadn’t been explained yet, but with this issue, everything is made clear.  Humphries has done a terrific job of shining some light on a topic that is not usually explored in mainstream entertainment, and he handles it with sensitivity, while still telling a very good story.  This series is vastly superior to anything he’s done at Marvel as of yet.

Dalton Rose’s art is terrific.  He employs a number of different styles in this issue, from the psychedelic cartooning of the realm of the gods to a more realistic depiction of the pre-Aztec period.

Dark Horse is going to be publishing this entire series in hardcover in September – I highly recommend getting ahold of it.

Another Notable Comic:

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys #1

Written by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon
Art by Becky Cloonan

A while back, I skipped reading The Umbrella Academy, the first series by Gerard Way, because all I knew about him was that he’s in a band I’d heard of but never (knowingly) listened to.  Later, I went back to that series because of the art by Bá and Moon, and discovered it to be strange and rather wonderful.

Now, he has a new series with wonder-artist Becky Cloonan and co-writer Shaun Simon, and I was not going to miss out again.  On Free Comic Book Day there was a preview of this series, which intrigued me but didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  This first issue makes things more clear, but there is still a lot to be explained.

We know that Battery City is not a fun place.  It looks like it’s run by a company called Better Living Industries, and that it employs Scarecrows and Draculoids to keep the peace.  The Scarecrows look like astronauts (of course), while the Draculoids are created by putting a white mask over a victim.

Outside of Battery City, in an area that used to be protected by a superhero team known as the Killjoys, people seem to live in resistance to BLI.  We meet a young girl who was a companion to the super-team (in fact, they saw her as some sort of messiah).  She meets a group of rebels, who are quickly found by BLI, and stuff happens.

There is a lot of material in this book, as Way and Simon work hard to establish the strangeness of their vision of the future.  The main story hasn’t really started yet, I don’t think, but the issue stays interesting throughout, as the reader tries to piece everything together.  I’ll need to give this a second read to really absorb anything.

Becky Cloonan’s art is fantastic, but then we knew that it would be.  She’s great at this kind of dystopian story that uses some aspects of the superhero aesthetic, but is not strictly grounded in it.  This book feels a lot more serious than Umbrella Academy did, and I’m very curious to see where it leads.

Quick Takes:

American Vampire: The Long Road to Hell #1 It’s been a while since we’ve seen anything from Scott Snyder’s Vertigo series, so I guess it seemed like the right time to toss this one-shot out into the world.  It’s about a couple who get turned into vampires, but who reject the culture and subservience required of them, setting out to get cured in Las Vegas.  Along the way, they meet a very observant kid, and eventually come across Travis Kidd (although he’s not named), the young man who works as an independent vampire hunter.  This story wears Snyder’s recurring fatherhood theme a little too clearly on its sleeve (parts of this read too much like his Severed), but it is a good story.  Really, any chance to revel in Rafael Albuquerque art is good for me.

Batman #21 – I was completely ready to drop Batman with this issue, the beginning of the Year Zero multi-part story, but there was enough here that I may just keep coming back.  We open some six years ago, in a Gotham that has gone all ‘I Am Legend’ on us, in terms of its general state of abandonment and decay.  Batman rescues a girl form some jerks, and learns that someone, presumably the Red Hood, has been telling everyone he’s dead.  From there we jump back a few more months, to the time period we saw in Batman #0 almost a year ago.  Bruce is establishing his crime fighting mission, we meet his uncle (has that ever happened before?), and we learn that the Riddler is around, as well as see the extent of the Red Hood’s villainy.  There are aspects of this story that I didn’t like (like the return to No Man’s Land at the beginning, and the focus on the Wayne family again feels like it’s too much), but generally speaking, Scott Snyder has set this up as an interesting look at the early days of Batman (despite it kind of negating much of Year One).  I didn’t hate Greg Capullo’s art all the way through, which is progress, but I’d have preferred to see back-up artist Rafael Albuquerque do the whole issue.

Demon Knights #21As the series moves towards its conclusion, our heroes find the Grail (or at least its box, we don’t know what’s inside yet), Vandal Savage gets betrayed, and Exoristos and Sir Ystin get close.  I feel like things are getting a little rushed now, but with cancellation looming, that’s to be expected.

Dream Merchant #2 – I didn’t expect to find that The Dream Merchant, Nathan Edmondson’s new mini-series would remind me of his other mini, Who is Jake Ellis?, but with its emphasis on perception and mindscapes, I now kind of think that Edmondson is working something out in his fiction from very unexpected angles.  This issue is mostly an info-dump, as we learn who is after Winslow and why.  I really like Konstantin Novosadov’s art on this book.

Great Pacific #7 – I kind of expected the transition into the second arc of this title would be awkward, and it sort of is.  As the settlement of New Texas has progressed over the past eighteen months into something resembling an Old West town (albeit on a floating island of plastic), the utter unlikeability of main character Chas Worthington has come further and further into the fore, making it hard to care about what happens to the guy.  New threats are introduced in the form of eco-terrorists (I think), but it remains hard to predict where this series is going.  I’m going to stay on-board for now, but I’d like to see Joe Harris find some more sympathetic characters within the story.

Half Past Danger #2 – Stephen Mooney’s WWII dinosaurs and Nazis epic is a fun read, and quite dense at 29 pages per issue, with no ads.  Basically, this is the value we should always get from a $3.99 comic.  Mooney’s book is perhaps a little wordy, and long on set-up before our heroes finally get to the dinosaur island, but it is pretty, so we have to accept that.  I’m starting to wonder if I should just start buying books based on colourist Jordie Bellaire’s name, as she seems to be colouring just about every book I enjoy these days.

Harbinger Wars #3It’s becoming increasingly apparent that this mini-series is being used to aid in the rebranding and revising of the Bloodshot series, as the HARD Corps come into play, setting up their eventual team-up with that character when they get second-billing in his book’s title.  This is still a very capable superhero story though, and I think that is completely because of the efforts of Joshua Dysart.

Helheim #4 – This fantasy Viking saga keeps getting more epic, as Rikard the Draugr’s army marches on the forces of Groa the witch, stopping first to add his father’s village to their ranks.  Cullen Bunn is doing a good job of keeping this story moving (although I worry that it doesn’t have the scope and longevity of The Sixth Gun), and Joëlle Jones’s art is terrific.

The Manhattan Projects #12 – In this issue, Harry Dahglian, the irradiated nuclear scientist learns the sad truth that, when your best friend and fellow man of science turns out to be an alien drone sent to evaluate the Earth as a possible threat to other civilizations, you’re going to get tossed into space.  The Manhattan Projects continues to surprise with every issue, as Jonathan Hickman keeps the story moving in unpredictable and wonderful directions.  We return to the moment when the Projects first travelled to an alien world, and we learn what was going on between Fermi and the one alien survivor of that encounter.  This is a terrific series, which keeps getting better.

Star Wars #6I continue to love Brian Wood’s Star Wars series.  This one wraps up the first arc, showing how Luke, Wedge and the others rescue Leia from her trashed X-Wing, as the Imperials show up.  I’m not sure that I fully understand the way in which the rebels take out the Star Destroyer – if shooting an X-Wing’s fuel cells has that effect, wouldn’t it happen every time one of their ships explodes?  Anyway, I like the montage-effect that Wood uses to close out the issue – it bothered me the last time it was used, but now it’s grown on me as an effective way of checking in on sub-plots quickly.

Suicide Squad #21 – I’m still pretty intrigued by Ales Kot and Patrick Zircher’s new run on Suicide Squad.  They are still getting their ducks in a row, as Harley Quinn takes on Amanda Waller, and James Gordon Jr. has to decide how he wants to play things.  While Kot gives us some glimpses of where this is going, he keeps things pretty linear and under control, unlike his Image work.

Uncanny X-Force #6 – I enjoyed this issue, which played around with time a little, showing a conversation between Psylocke and Wolverine inside her head in the present, while flashing back to the fight between Betsy and Spiral before that.  There are some things in this issue which seem to contradict current X-Men continuity, specifically Brian Wood’s just-launched title, and that make me wonder whether or not Spiral is going to become a member of this team or was simply used for promotional purposes, but still, Sam Humphries writes a decent Betsy.  The art is split between the incredible Adrian Alphona and the inconsistent Dexter Soy, making the book look pretty scattered.

The Walking Dead #111Rick and his growing crew prepare for their assault on Negan and the Saviors, but at the same time, Negan comes calling at Rick’s community.  I like the way Robert Kirkman balances the anticipation of the big fight to come with the dread of having Negan show up at Rock’s home.  The conversation between him and Spencer is fantastic.  This is always such a great read.

Wolverine and the X-Men #31 – And now this title switches back to goofy humour again, with this disappointing issue that shows what things are like at the Hellfire Academy.  A new mutant called Snot is introduced, basically so he can be a bad joke, and we see a number of X-Villains reduced to their simplest forms.  Quentin Quire is the main character here, but he’s much less interesting than we’ve seen in the past.  I don’t understand how Jason Aaron’s writing is so inconsistent on this title – we get a few issues in a row that work, and then it gets all silly again.  And really, what’s going on with Paige?

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

Astonishing X-Men #63

Avengers Assemble #16

Avenging Spider-Man #22

Doomsday.1 #2

Guardians of the Galaxy #3

Savage Wolverine #6

Six-Gun Gorilla #1

Thor God of Thunder #9

Ultimate Comics X-Men #27

Wolverine #4

Bargain Comics:

Age of Ultron #5-7I haven’t been keeping up with this book as it comes out, because as far as events go, this feels like one that I shouldn’t be paying more than $2 an issue for, but I have kept an eye on reviews, and I knew what I was getting into buying these particular issues.  But still, it’s a little like watching a shiny new bullet train to someplace unappealing (Cleveland?  Calgary?  You decide where you don’t want to go) slowly go off it’s rails – it makes the trip more memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.  The first five issues of this series make for a better-drawn than average issue of What If?, seeing as this book has no respect for current continuity.  Then Wolverine and Invisible Woman decide to travel into the past to kill Hank Pym, so that Ultron can never be made, and things get pretty awful.  First off, in the far future, Captain America gets decapitated and no one even notices.  Then, we see Logan and Sue in the new present (the Age of No-Pym), and Logan fights himself.  Because that’s how things work in time travel stories.  Brian Michael Bendis has more than lost the plot here.  I’m shocked that no one in Marvel editorial isn’t taking a stronger hand.  Furthermore, the switch in art from Bryan Hitch to Brandon Peterson (who looks like he did his pages in less than a week) and Carlos Pacheco (who is always good) is jarring and distracting.  This is a pretty bad joke of a series – I can now see why bringing back a toss-away character from a bad 90s Image comic has become a selling point for this book – nothing else about it would make people want to read it.  (That said, I can’t wait to find the next three issues in the $2 bin).

Avengers Assemble #15AU – This week news broke that Al Ewing will be writing a new Mighty Avengers title, featuring a more street-level team.  Most of the on-line commentary I saw about this was focused on the fact that porn tracer extraordinaire Greg Land will be ‘drawing’ the book, but I did see a few people question who Ewing was (despite the fact that he’s had a long career in British comics).  If this single-issue tie-in to Age of Ultron is any indication of how Ewing writes team books, I think that this new series will be in good hands.  This issue has Captain Marvel, Captain Britain, Excalibur, and a couple of others fight off Ultron in London, and the focus is very much on team dynamics.  Butch Guice draws this, mostly inked by the wonderful Tom Palmer.  It’s a pretty solid comic, which stands more or less on its own, and is much better-written than the main book.

Indestructible Hulk #7 & 8These are great issues, only for the way in which Mark Waid has allowed Water Simonson to revisit his Mighty Thor run, bringing in the Viking god for the story, and setting it in the distant past, so he can wear his traditional, classic uniform.  There are Frost Giants all over the place, and letterer Chris Eliopoulos employs a style that looks very much like John Workman’s, from back in the day.  Waid also uses these issues to develop some of Banner’s science crew a little better.  We learn that one of the scientists is looking to get herself killed by the Hulk, since she has Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is basically the human form of Mad Cow Disease.  Except, so far as I know, it’s impossible to diagnose without an autopsy.  Anyway, pretty good stuff, but I’m still not feeling this series enough to add it to my pull-file list.

Thunderbolts #2-8 – I wasn’t too impressed with the first issue of the Marvel Now! revamp of the Thunderbolts, but the line-up, which features Red Hulk, Punisher, Elektra, Venom, and (unfortunately) Deadpool has intrigued me, and I got these for a very low price, so I thought I’d revisit the title.  This reads like many a Daniel Way comic.  There’s not enough going on in each individual issue for the larger story to make sense, as his scenes are presented in a jumble of timelines, and his characters’ motivations remain hidden.  I’m not sure just what General Ross is after with this team, or why he keeps trying to play them off against each other.  The inclusion of the brain-damaged Leader is confusing, as is the scene in the eighth issue where Elektra shoots Deadpool.  The character Mercy was shown in the first issue, and appears again here around the third or fourth, but I still don’t know if she’s on the team, or what her deal is.  Things do improve a little visually when Phil Noto takes over for Steve Dillon; I do like Dillon’s art a lot, but he’s too stiff for superheroics.  I am probably going to give this title another shot when Charles Soule takes over as writer; there is potential here, but (as with most everything else he’s written), Way is just wasting it.

The Week in Graphic Novels: 

Templar, Arizona Vol. 3: And a Stick to Beat the Devil With

by Spike

Among the books that I was most hoping to be able to pick up at TCAF this year were the last two volumes (so far) of Templar, Arizona, Spike’s bizarre alternate world webcomic set in that strange location.  The series follows the inhabitants of one apartment building in this fully-realized and thoroughly imaginative town.

Volume 3 is mostly focused on the fringe religions of Templar.  We discover that Gene, the seriously academically challenged father of Zora, comes from a family of Jakeskins.  This religion is obsessed with race, categorizing each race with numbers and a role in the world after civilization falls.  They carry knives, shave their heads, and apparently use their naked children to beg for money.  When Gene’s family comes to visit, Scipio, the downstairs neighbour, worries that Gene should not be allowed to raise Zora, which leads to a big argument with Reagan, his closest friend.

The back-up story focuses on Moz and Sunny, and their connection to the Nile Revivalist faith.

There are some other things going on too – Ben has a strange encounter with his drunken neighbour, and Scipio gets peed on in the course of doing his body-guarding job, and gets his computer stolen, but most of the volume is centred on religion.

Spike’s work is pretty fascinating.  It has a very untraditional rhythm to it, and the story would barely make sense without the endnotes, but it is a lot of fun to read.

Album of the Week:

Henkel – Kevin Henkel is a local musician, producer, and audio engineer who put together this terrific album completely on his own, playing each instrument separately and mixing it all together (Madlib’s Yesterday’s New Quintet style) into a beautiful jass album.  Check this one out.
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