The Weekly Round-Up #185 with BPRD, Baltimore, Conan, Harbinger, Invincible & More

Best Comic of the Week:

BPRD Hell on Earth #108The Wasteland arc, with its dark, evocative art from Laurence Campbell is one of the most effective arcs this title has had in years.  We keep being told that the world has gone to pieces, but Mignola and his co-writers are usually a little too busy advancing their plot to properly show that. Now, Johann is leading a small squad through the devastated country, on their way to Chicago.  This book is as creepy as the landscape, with lots of good beats.  It returns me to the apprehension I felt reading The Walking Dead in its first two years.

Quick Takes:

Animal Man #21 – I wonder if DC moved this book back in their monthly schedule because they need to balance their schedule due to the constant cancelling and launching of new titles (only to cancel them 8 months later), or if it’s because the book was running late, which they swore they wouldn’t allow to happen (and which also seems unlikely since there are two artists on this issue, and Steve Pugh had last month off).  Either way, this is a decent issue, as Buddy decides to get back into superheroing, and Maxine goes to chat with the Totems.  You can tell that Jeff Lemire is working to establish a new tone and direction for the book after the long Rotworld story, and it feels like that might take a little while.

Avengers #14 – Jonathan Hickman has been working on the same big story since he started this newest Avengers series, but now the story is being rebranded as the “Prelude to Infinity”, Marvel’s big summer/fall Event (which they need, having finished their spring/summer Event this week).  One of the Martian crash sites has started sending a kind of signal every few minutes which is disrupting electricity across the globe, and causing all sorts of disasters.  The Avengers are in relief mode, while also trying to figure out what is going on.  It’s nice to see almost all of the team getting used this issue, but there is so much focus on communicating the scope of the disaster that no single scenes stand out as being very memorable.

Baltimore: The InquisitorThese one-shots come out kind of randomly, and I’m not sure how that works sales-wise, but I guess they do a good job of keeping Lord Baltimore in the public eye between mini-series.  This one focuses on the character of Judge Duvic, the Holy Inquisitor who showed up recently hunting Baltimore.  He has a long chat with the reporter that became friends with Baltimore in an even earlier storylne, and we learn his back story.  There’s not much else going on here, but I appreciate that Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden are expanding the cast of this series a little (since Lord B is not the most sympathetic or likeable character), and giving hints that there is a larger picture at work than the “Fugitive with vampires after WWI” angle we’ve seen so far.  Also, I love Ben Stenbeck’s art – he’s perfect for this book.

Batwoman #21 – Francesco Francavilla shows up to draw this month’s issue, which is an interlude focusing on Killer Croc, who has gone through some changes in this title.  He’s been taken in by Abbot’s people, and offered a leadership role, but first he has to kill Batwoman (hint: it doesn’t happen).  This is a nice, moody issue.

Conan the Barbarian #17 – ‘The Nightmare of the Shallows’, the story arc about Conan and Bêlit tripping on some kind of opium-like drug, is probably the weakest one since Brian Wood launched this series.  He has a great handle on these characters, but it feels like we’re just going back over ideas we’ve seen before.  I trust Wood enough to think that there is a larger need for this arc though, and I’m happy to wait it out.

Harbinger #13I was originally going to skip out on the Harbinger Wars completely, as I’m becoming more and more hesitant to invest my time and money in crossovers and events, but this one has been handled very well, and has made it easy for me to skip the Bloodshot chapters, as I don’t care for that book.  This issue mostly expands on what has been happening in the main title, but it was entertaining.  Valiant made a very smart move in scooping up Joshua Dysart.

Invincible #103 – I think you could hold this issue of Invincible up as a perfect example of how Robert Kirkman writes this title.  We check in with many of the main characters, and Angstrom Levy makes his move against Mark by invading his home and attacking Eve, but there’s not really any sort of plot progression going on at all.  I’ve often heard that monthly comic books are like soap operas, and that description certainly works best for this title.  But, if you like the work that Kirkman and artist Ryan Ottley have been doing with this book for years, this is a solid issue.

Mara #5 – As Mara Prince’s new abilities become fully apparent, she becomes ever more distanced from society and human emotion.  What started as a series that was commenting on celebrity and the consequences of lionizing sports figures as role models has moved into a slightly more traditional examination of the ‘Superman’ figure.  Brian Wood’s writing is sharp, and the art by Ming Doyle is great.  With one issue left to go, I look forward to seeing how this resolves itself, especially since Mara is looking to punish the human race for their failings.

Mind the Gap #11 – Now that we know a lot more about what’s going on with the attack on Elle, and the identity of ‘hoodie’, I feel like this book is floundering a little, as Elle’s friends work to figure out how to help her, and a group of coma-spirits attack her, spreading her consciousness throughout the hospital (which really does have a lot of coma patients).  There are some good moments in this book, but I found it was getting a little hard to keep everything straight.

Miniature Jesus #3Maybe it was just my state of mind when I read this issue, but Ted McKeever has completely lost me once again.  I don’t really know what’s going on here.  He does this to me a lot…

New Avengers #7 – Now that the threat of the incursions is over (or at least on pause), Jonathan Hickman has to find reasons for his Illuminati to keep meeting, despite the fact that two members of the team are currently far away from the Earth.  Much of the issue is given over to the conflict between Namor and T’Challa, bu we do check in on everyone else.  Apparently Reed Richards’s presence is explained by his ability to flip back and forth from his family’s cross-time adventures and current Marvel continuity, which is kind of strange, since the cast of FF think he and the rest of the family are lost.  The art this issue is by Mike Deodato, because I’m pretty sure he has some kind of clause in his contract with Marvel that insists he draw at least one Avengers book every couple of months.  I’m sure this book is going to be a major part of Infinity, but at the moment, it feels a little unfocused.

Occupy Comics #2 – The second Occupy anthology continues to do a good job of expressing some of the ideas of that movement, although I still am not sure that this is the best time for something like this (2 years ago would have been a lot more topical).  Highlights of this issue include Mark Sable’s story about an old friend who worked in high finance before 9/11, and Matt Miner and Sean Von Gorman’s strip about how the Occupy Movement helped out in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  Once again, I skipped Alan Moore’s piece about the history of the counter-culture in comics, but mostly enjoyed the rest of the book.  It feels like the editors put their best stuff in the first issue though…

100 Bullets: Brother Lono #1I’m always ready to pick up a comic by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, even if they can sometimes be a little obtuse when they work together.  This first issue of a mini-series that returns to the world of their classic Vertigo series is mostly about setting up an atmosphere more than it is a plot.  Somethings going on in Mexico involving tattooed gangsters, and orphanage, and Lono.  I just don’t know what yet, or when this series is set in the 100 Bullets continuity.  It feels a little like Vertigo is just trying to cash in on their past rather than create a story as compelling as Spaceman, the last Azzarello/Risso joint, but it didn’t sell as well as it should have, so I guess I can’t blame them.

Revival #11 – Revival is beginning to feel more and more like Invincible, in the way in which Tim Seeley keeps flitting between various sub-plots, without doing much to advance the main story.  We finish dealing with the three brothers who are dealing in revivalist meat, but not much else happens in this story, aside from a clue as to the nature of the ghost-like creatures that are wandering through the woods.  As much as I enjoy this book, I feel like it needs to clarify itself a little in the next couple of issues in order to maintain my interests.

The Sixth Gun #32 – Becky’s vision quest takes her to a Medieval castle under siege by dragons, where she finds a familiar figure fighting with The Six, but they are swords instead of guns.  It seems that Cullen Bunn is ready to start showing us more about The Six, their history, and their purpose, and the timing feels right.  This is consistently one of the best books being published.

The Sixth Gun: Sons of the Gun #4 – I really wish this didn’t come out the same week as the parent title – it seems like bad planning (didn’t I say that last month too?).  Anyway, this is a decent series, exploring the lives of the previous owners of The Six, the mystical guns with huge powers.  In this issue, the owner of the fourth gun is called upon to put a stop to a plague.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #24 So we’re rather inundated this week with speculation that the Ultimate line will be shutting down, and that Miles will be moving over to the 616 Universe (possibly joining the new Mighty Avengers book, which will unfortunately have ‘art’ by Greg Land).  I don’t know how I feel about any of that, but I do find it strange that Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez spend this entire issue introducing the Ultimate versions of Cloak and Dagger.  The story is good, and the art is terrific, but if this book is heading for big changes, it feels like Bendis is just spinning his wheels for a while, and that we shouldn’t take much time getting to care about these new characters.

Ultimate Comics Ultimates #26 – On the opposite end of the spectrum, lending credence to the theory that the Ultimate line is closing down, Joshua Hale Fialkov sets about trashing the place with abandon, as Reed Richards, the Hulk, and Quicksilver, in possession of the Infinity Gauntlets, go about ‘fixing’ the Earth, and attacking Tony Stark’s sentient tumor.  Looking back over the sentence, it’s not hard to see why people think that the Ultimate line got away from its original purpose…

Uncanny Avengers #9 – I’m still finding this book to be way too inconsistent, but this issue worked much better than some of the previous ones.  The Apocalypse Twins get a lot of space to act all dark and angry, and they resurrect themselves four Horsemen of Death who are interesting characters to see again (although the inclusion of the one of the far left feels way too forced).  The “unity squad” continues to squabble with each other about ideological differences, which is interesting, but also feels a little off (especially with Wanda referring to her Romany heritage as a religion, and not a culture or ethnicity).  In between that though, there is some very strong character writing, and I liked watching Thor pick a different side from his Avengers brethren.  I also really liked the way that Wolverine was written in this issue; his actions in Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force series stand revealed, and it was cool to see how everyone reacts to that news.  I did find it strange that Captain America was more concerned with riding his high horse than he was in relaying the information that he got from Immortus though.

Wonder Woman #21Cliff Chiang draws the entirety of this issue, which is a very nice thing to behold, as Diana meets her oldest brother, and one of the biggest fights of this series takes place.  Orion returns, and the First Born shows he can do all sorts of things, like hold open a Boom Tube.  I’ve written before about how I find this to be just about the best of the New 52 titles (although I know it has its detractors), and I think it’s interesting that DC is letting Brian Azzarello introduce the New Gods in these pages.  I have no idea how this quirky and individualistic title is going to be affected by the newly announced Superman and Wonder Woman comic – so far, this series has had nothing to do with WW’s appearances in the Justice League, and I hope that trend continues with the new book.  This is a comic that works best in its own little corner of the new DC universe; I think of it as happening in its own parallel universe.  If it starts crossing over into other books, I’m out of here.

X-Factor #258 – As this title winds down, Peter David revisits John Maddox, the Jamie Madrox dupe that went on to have his own life as a priest.  Rahne shows up for a visit, still processing her recent loss.  It’s the type of one-off issue that David does so well, but which also ended up hampering this title over the last year and a half, as it was a well dipped into a bit too often.

X-Men Legacy #12 – It’s strange to think that we’ve now reached the traditional one-year mark on this title (even though it hasn’t been running anywhere near that long), and I am hard-pressed to find much to point to in terms of how the book has developed in that time.  I like supporting the more odd-ball (and cheaper) books that Marvel puts out, especially if they are more experimental like this one has been, but I still don’t know where this book is going, and I’m not sure I’m all that interested in finding out.  It’s interesting that writer Simon Spurrier was given the opportunity to use the Red Skull, as it has to be one of that character’s less notable appearances.

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

A + X #9

Age of Ultron #10

Bloodshot #12

Cable and X-Force #10

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher #2

Indestructible Hulk #9

Superior Spider-Man #12

Bargain Comics:

Avengers Assemble #9 It certainly feels like Kelly Sue DeConnick decided to take this, the most superfluous of Avengers books, into Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League territory, only casting Tony Stark and Bruce Banner in the Blue Beetle and Booster Gold roles.  The two scientists get into an argument over who has the correct worldview, and this in turn leads to them picking teams and racing each other to find out what happened to some missing scientists in Antarctica.  It’s an amusing book, but still pretty superfluous.

Blue Beetle #15 & 16 – I’d hoped for much better out of the New 52 revamp of Blue Beetle.  Tony Bedard is a very good comics writer, but from the beginning, this series felt like it was being forced to try to relive the high points of Keith Giffen, John Rogers, Cully Hamner, and Rafael Albuquerque series from a few years back, making only minor changes along the way.  That title was too fresh in readers’ minds, and the differences were not substantive enough.  At the same time, Bedard never quite captured the sense of family that permeated that earlier book, and which gave it its strength.  The series wasn’t given a great chance to close itself off either, as poor Jaime, lost in space, ended up being shunted into Threshold (which only survived to eight issues).  At a time when Marvel is really cashing in on its cosmic books, its odd that only Green Lantern titles can work at DC (and whether or not that continues without Geoff Johns driving the ship remains to be seen).

I, Vampire #15-18 – This title never recovered from artist Andrea Sorrentino’s departure, despite the replacements including people like Dennis Calero.  The book never quite found its footing, which is something that I find to be common in a lot of the New 52 titles.  First, Andrew Bennett is a good vampire who tries to stop the evil ones.  Then he’s all-powerful.  Then he’s evil.  Oh, now he’s good again.  It’s hard to keep track, and to be honest, even harder to care.

Journey Into Mystery #646-648 –  It’s probably a little pointless to sample the Lady Sif-driven issues of JIM now that we know the book is going to be cancelled, but at the same time, this book is coloured by Jordie Bellaire, and that is becoming my new standard of quality.  Kathryn Immonen takes a couple of issues to draw me into the story (I often find that with her work), but Valerio Schiti’s art is fantastic.  Sif is tired of Asgard(ia) always being destroyed, and so decides to seek out the old magic of berserkers, which makes her kind of angry and unpredictable.  She eventually finds herself in a strange realm where the creatures from the pre-Thor issues of the classic JIM series reside.  I think it’s worth tracking down more issues of this book.

Legends of the Dark Knight #6 – This issue has three stories, all by creators I admire.  Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman give us a cool tale about a trio of guys robbing a liquor store, while Michael Avon Oeming has Batman fighting a dragon over Gotham.  Rob Williams and Juan Jose Ryp tell a creepy story about a man with a van.  This is a great series, and one that really understands the allure of Batman.

Morbius #2 – The first issue of this series didn’t do much for me, but I really liked Joe Keatinge’s Glory, so I thought I’d see if the second issue caught my attention better.  Sadly, it didn’t.  I’m not sure what Keatinge is trying to do with Morbius – he seems clueless and lost, and it’s hard to get too invested in a story about a street thug who picks on poor people when all the characters are so one-dimensional.  I’m not surprised to see that this book is on the chopping block.

Shadowman #4 & 5 – I’m still not feeling Valiant’s revamp of Shadowman.  It’s not a bad comic, but there’s just not enough to it that makes me care about Jack Boniface or any of the supporting characters.  I do like the way Dr. Mirage has been revamped, but her inclusion has yet to have anything to do with the series.  I don’t think I’ll try any more issues after this, unless there’s a big creative shakeup first.

Thanos Rising #1Jason Aaron is the guy who wrote The Other Side and Scalped.  It’s hard to remember that while reading his Marvel work, which is much more sanitized.  We know that Thanos is going to be the big bad of the next Avengers movie, and is going to be featured in Infinity, Marvel’s summer cross-over, so of course it’s time to create a Thanos mini-series, which retcons him as a sad, misunderstood child.  Simone Bianchi’s art is gorgeous, of course, but the story here is definitely lacking.

The Week in Manga:

20th Century Boys, Vol. 4 – Much of the focus of this volume is on Shogun, the mysterious Japanese man we’ve seen prowling the underside of Bangkok looking to protect women.  He comes across the Friend’s cult and their involvement in the drug trade, in a scene lifted largely from Apocalypse Now, and then returns to Japan to help his old friend Kenji.  This continues to be an excellent series.  I love Naoki Urasawa’s character development, and am pretty interested in seeing where this leads.  I loved the discussion among the Friend’s people about the realities of building giant robots.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Rebel Blood

by Alex Link and Riley Rossmo

You may or may not be aware of the fact that zombies have become big business in comics, TV, and other media in the last few years.  Perhaps you’re aware of this.  The problem is that zombies are pretty one-note.  That is not to say that there is not some terrific zombie entertainment out there (I love The Walking Dead as a comic, and enjoy it as a TV show), but the variations on the theme are not all that diverse.

Enter Riley Rossmo and Alex Link, who in this trade paperback, tell a zombie story that is different on two levels (although discussing one of them would constitute a spoiler).  What makes this story stand out is the inclusion of zombie-fied animals.

Chuck is working in a forest fire station, welcoming the isolation after having had problems working on a small town fire force, and going through marital problems.  Chuck gets tipped off, over his radio, to weird goings-on, and descends to find that all animals and people alike are infected with some kind of disease that causes them to grow some hideous external tumors, and to attack anything living.  The people still talk and show cognition, similar to the creatures inCrossed, without as many depravities, but it’s the animals that make the horror feel more horrific.  Maybe I’ve just always found large groups of rabbits to be creepy…

Anyway, this is a decent story.  Rossmo’s messy art works best on books like this, where his scratchy pencils suggest horror more than show it.  It’s a quick read though, and I’m not sure that the big revelation that comes at the ending is given enough space to really breathe.

Album of the Week:

Aby Wolf – Wolf Lords – I saw Aby Wolf open for Dessa a few weeks ago, and bought her first album from the merch table, and later felt the need to get ahold of this one too.  Wolf sings in a post-Portishead soundscape, letting her beautiful voice echo across the strange sonic worlds that she creates.  This is very haunting, lovely music.

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