The Weekly Round-Up #193 featuring The Walking Dead, Batman, Infinity, Saga, and more!

Best Comic of the Week:

The Walking Dead #113Wow, that was an intense issue.  Negan and his Saviors have Rick and a few others at their mercy outside of the walls of their community, and another of the Saviors has found his way into Andrea’s sniper nest.  I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen in this issue, and Robert Kirkman leaves it in such as way that I don’t know how bad things are going to get next issue.  I love this comic.

Quick Takes:

Archer & Armstrong #12 – I think this was the most fun comic I read this week, as Archer learns that he doesn’t much like his future disciples, Mary Maria begins to think differently about Armstrong, and a character thought lost makes an appearance.  All of this goes on against the backdrop of General Redacted’s attack on the Roanokes.  Another great issue from Fred Van Lente and Pere Perez.

Avengers Arena #13 – Marvel wisely decides to spend an issue examining why no one is looking for the kids from various superhero schools and groups that have been abducted in Murderworld.  Even better, they brought Christos Gage in to write the issue, which revolves around Hank Pym.  I’ve missed Avengers Academy more than I knew, and seeing that setting and those characters here was really nice.  Gage maintains his reputation as Marvel’s fixer.

Batman #23 – I am having a hard time with this title lately; the Zero Year story is moving way too slowly for me, as this issue is spent with Bruce getting beat up by the Red Hood, and then fixed by Alfred.  After that, he decides to become Batman in a weird scene involving holographic projectors that craps all over the eloquence of the same scene as it was shown in Miller and Mazzuchelli’s Year One.  There is not enough momentum in this storyline for it to take next month off; there should have been a Villains Month book featuring the Red Hood that tied in to this series.  I know that this is basically the most popular monthly comic being published, but I don’t really understand why.

Demon Knights #23That a comic set in the Medieval period of the DCnU lasted two years is something to be celebrated, especially given the comparatively short lifespan of many of the New 52 books.  Demon Knights was often quite good, both under original series writer Paul Cornell and his replacement Robert Venditti.  The book ends well here, with the Holy Grail plot resolved quite nicely.  I’m glad I stuck it out with this title.

East of West #5 – I’m continuing to enjoy this book a great deal.  Nick Dragotta’s art is wonderful – I’ve admired his work at Marvel for a while, but it’s never been this good before.  Jonathan Hickman’s story is moving along at a reasonable pace, as we learn that Death has a child, and that some of the people who make up The Chosen have side plans.  This is a great series.

Fearless Defenders #8 – Here was another good issue of Fearless Defenders, and one that featured Elsa Bloodstone and a character from the Planet Hulk storyline that I’d largely forgotten about.  Cullen Bunn and Will Sliney have been doing some good work on this series, especially of late, and I enjoy it.  I’m not sure I’m going to stick with it now though, as Marvel has raised the price by a dollar with no extra content (the redemption code doesn’t really count).  This is, in every way, a $3 comic, not a $4 one.  I don’t know what Marvel’s thinking is on this decision, unless they are also planning on upping the price of many more of their $3 books, and are simply testing the water with this one.  I guess I’ll have to see what my mood is like when the next issue comes out…

Ghosted #2I find myself getting more and more into Joshua Williamson and Goran Sudzuka’s supernatural take on Thief of Thieves.  We get to know the crew a little better, as they explore the ‘haunted’ house where they are expected to steal a ghost.  We also learn that some of the people in the crew are more vicious than expected.  In all, a very promising new series.

Half Past Danger #4 – It’s more Indiana Jones-style fun, as our heroes chase an armored Nazi train full of dinosaurs across a remote Pacific island.  Stephen Mooney is doing some nice work with this book.

Harbinger #15 – After all the Harbinger Wars stuff went down, it makes sense that the kids just head to LA to relax for a while, and the first half of this issue is all about their team building.  Joshua Dysart is an excellent character writer, and that shows here.  Then, things take a very dark turn, as we learn that something is not right with Kris.  A very effective issue, with great art by Barry Kitson.

Infinity #1 – Jonathan Hickman has been building to this story for a long time now, laying some of the groundwork back in his run on Fantastic Four and FF, and I’m coming to it with some high hopes.  This first issue establishes that there are some big threats heading Earth’s way – the Builders take apart Galador (perhaps forever ruining our hopes of seeing the Spaceknights again, although I loved their appearance here), while Thanos has a group of ugly folk working for him on Titan who see an opportunity.  There’s stuff going on with the Inhumans, and the newest Avengers all have big roles to play.  Jim Cheung’s art goes a long way towards holding this all together; there are a lot of threads here, and Marvel does not have the best track record with landing these big events.  For now, I’m going to remain vaguely hopeful.

Lost Vegas #4Jim McCann and Janet Lee’s outer space prison break casino heist mini-series was a lot of fun.  This issue really hurt from the delay between it and the last issue, as it took me a while to get back into the groove of the story, but I think this would read wonderfully in trade.  Lee is a wonderful artist, and she really created a visually interesting world.

Mind the Gap #12 – Things are really heating up in this title, as a few more important facts get revealed, causing us to question the do-gooding Dr. Geller, and identifying The Fifth, who has been shown to be pulling most of the strings all along.  There is a musical number which feels a little too over the top, until the characters reference the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which makes it all okay.  Sam Basri handles the art this month, but it looks so much like regular artist Rodin Esquejo’s that you may not notice.  I was getting tired of this book, but I feel more invested in it again.

Saga #13 – I hadn’t realized how much I missed this book during its hiatus until I started reading this issue.  Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples back up their story a little, telling us about how our heroes have travelled to Quietus to meet the writer of the romance novel that inspired Alana to fall for Marcos in the first place.  We check in with most of the book’s extended cast, especially The Will and his travelling companions, and meet a reporter and photographer who are now on our heroes’ trail as well.  Great stuff all around – every one of these breaks does wonders for Staples’s art.

Secret Avengers #7 – Nick Spencer ties a lot of stuff together in this issue (don’t believe the warning that it takes place before #5) as Maria Hill removes Daisy Johnson from power while the different parts of the team on AIM Island run into one another.  Great art from Butch Guice, Steve Epting, and others, and a great ending.  I have no idea where the Hulk came from, though…

Star Wars #8Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly go for pure excitement in this issue, as Han and Chewbacca work to avoid Boba Fett and Bosk over Coruscant, Luke and Wedge infiltrate a Star Destroyer, and Leia runs across a derelict ship from the Clone Wars in the remains of Alderan. I’ve been a huge fan of this book since it started, but think this is easily the most exciting issue yet.  It was annoying me how quickly Wood was jumping from one scene to the next, but it really worked to ratchet up the tension in the comic.

Suicide Squad #23 – What a shame that this issue is Ales Kot’s last on the title.  He’s done a good job of returning the book to its core purpose, and has set up some interesting character interactions with the inclusion of James Gordon (who is in love with Amanda Waller and quoting old song lyrics in his head).  The main story, involving John Lynch and a small dictatorship works well, but feels a little rushed, especially since Lynch’s metahumans are introduced just to be dispatched.  I was thrilled to see Rick Leonardi’s art on this issue.  I’ve always admired his work, but can’t remember the last time I saw him draw an entire issue.  Anyway, I’m not all that sure I’m going to be coming back to Suicide Squad after this – I’d be willing to give Matt Kindt’s run a chance, but with this book being tied in to Forever Evil, which I have no interest in reading, I’m not sure that I’ll bother.  It will all depend on how good his Deadshot issue next month will be…

True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys #3 – This series continues to be kind of strange, as Gerard Way and Shaun Simon leave it up to the reader to figure out much of what is happening in this strange future, but because of the involvement of the sublime Becky Cloonan, this is one nice looking comic.

Uncanny X-Force #10 I’ve never seen Ramon Perez’s art look so dark before.  I like it, but it doesn’t really fit with the style that’s been established for this title over the last few issues.  At the same time, this is a pretty dark story, as the Revenant Queen makes her move on Bishop, and ends up recruiting a few of his friends.  This series remains a pretty decent read.

Uncanny X-Men #10 – The back half of this comic reads a great deal like Brian Michael Bendis’s Scarlet, as Scott Summers and crew show up at a pro-mutant rally.  In typical Bendis fashion, little happens in this issue – some of the newest X-Men train, Magneto chats with Maria Hill – but it is entertaining.  I’m always happy to see Frazer Irving draw an issue or two.

Westward #5 – Ken Krekeler’s steampunk series continues to impress me.  In this issue, Victor West, the manifold (artificial being) is sent undercover again to investigate CLAW, but is discovered.  Krekeler’s taken his time building up this aspect of his story, and there was a pretty solid twist at the end of this issue that has me looking forward to the next one.

Wolverine and the X-Men #34 – This whole issue is given over to a number of fights, as the X-Men attack the Hellfire Club’s school.  Lots of action, but nothing that really made much of an impression on me.  I’m getting kind of tired of this storyline, if not this title.

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

Astonishing X-Men #65

Battlestar Galactica #3

Doomsday.1 #4

Red Sonja #2

Six-Gun Gorilla #3

Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #2

Thor God of Thunder #11

Ultimate Comics X-Men #30

Wolverine #8

Bargain Comics:

A + X #9 – There are a couple of fun stories in this issue, as Captain America and Wolverine fight a giant snake (with nice art by Humberto Ramos), and a trio of kids from the Jean Grey School try to steal some stuff from Dr. Strange.  That last story is written and drawn by David Lapham, so it made me happy.

Before Watchmen: Minutemen

by Darwyn Cooke

When the Before Watchmen books were first announced, despite my general opposition to the project, I was most interested in the idea of Darwyn Cooke writing and drawing theMinutemen series.  I have always loved Golden Age characters, even ones that didn’t actually exist in that time period.  I figured that Cooke was the perfect person to look at the original team, given the success he had withThe New Frontier, his love letter to the Silver Age, and the superior sense of design he brings to his Parker adaptations.

Really, this miniseries disappointed me.  It feels like Cooke was being told what to do with the book, and it takes about three issues before any sense of story arc kicks in.  The book is narrated by Hollis Mason, the Nite Owl.  It’s framed in the early 1960s, after Mason has written his tell-all biography, and is getting some serious push back from his surviving friends from their period of dressing up to fight crimes.

Mason flashes back through his entire career, showing us the high and low points as he goes.  A number of the main events are explained in Watchmen, and these points are glossed over here, although we do see how they affect Mason and his friends.  This makes reading this book as a prequel before someone reads Watchmen (there are a few people left who haven’t read it yet, mostly children I assume), as the narrative stays jerky and lacking in enough exposition in places.

Cooke’s art is always great, but aside from the visual trick he pulls on most of the first pages, which have repeated design elements, much of this book looks rushed.  In the final analysis, Cooke doesn’t make me care about any of these characters any more than Alan Moore did, and this series adds little to nothing to the ‘mythos’.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers #1This book collects four preview Guardians stories that were originally released on-line.  Normally I wouldn’t bother with something like this, but the Rocket Raccoon story was drawn by Ming Doyle, and it made the whole thing worth the purchase.

Iron Man #10-13 – I don’t think I much like where Kieron Gillen has been taking Iron Man, with his whole story that revolves around there having been a Rigellian Recorder with questionable motives involved in his birth.  Still, Gillen is such a strong character writer that he pulls all of this off.  That, and the inclusion of Death’s Head, make these good comics.  Dale Eaglesham’s issues also feature Jimmy Woo, which was a nice treat.  Greg Land ‘drew’ the last of these issues, reminding me why I don’t buy this comic off the new issues stands.

Superior Spider-Man #3-6 – I always refer to Superior Spider-Man as my favourite Marvel book that I’m not buying.  Reading a few issues in a row like this, it’s cool to see just how Dan Slott is changing the character, now that Dr. Octopus is in control of things.  The casual brutality he exhibits, as well as his growing desire to help people, are interesting in the way in which they stand in contrast to one another, as is the way in which J. Jonah Jameson is shown to just instinctively like the guy now.  If this book didn’t come out so often, I would definitely be buying it.

Thor God of Thunder #10 – This issue is all about the various Thors overcoming the fact that Gorr has beaten them all down to stop him from setting off his Godbomb.  Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic have done good work here.

Ultron #1AUYou kind of have to wonder why a book starring Victor Mancha, the ‘son’ of Ultron would just be named Ultron.  When Victor debuted in Runaways, I liked him quite a bit, and writer Kathryn Immonen does her best to try to build on the work Brian K. Vaughan started with the character, but she just doesn’t have enough space.  Victor feels more like Victor here than he does in Avengers AI though, and I really like Amilcar Pinna’s artwork.

Wolverine #2 – I don’t know where Paul Cornell is going with this book.  Logan is fighting some kind of alien mind control gun thing, and it doesn’t really fit as the type of story you would usually place him in.  Plus, he buys a bottle of ‘curds’ off a homeless guy and drinks it.  I don’t have the first clue where that scene would come from.  Then, he and Nick Fury Jr. discuss grooming regimes, not regimens.  I’m kind of wondering if this book even has an editor; it’s kind of like it’s been written by Jeph Loeb.  But, Alan Davis…

X-Men Legacy #13 – Pete Wisdom narrates this issue, which has him tracking down Legion in London, where he has called together a number of British Isles-related X-Men and other mutants to help him in a mission that is never actually explained.  In typical comic fight fashion, Legion keeps yelling about how no one understands what’s going on, but never tries to explain either.  This is an amusing title.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Fallen Words

by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Compared to the rather dark and brutal stories of Tatsumi’s Abandon the Old in Tokyo, which I read recently, Fallen Words is an absolute delight.  Tatsumi, the father of gekiga manga, a sub-genre analogous to alternative comics in North America, experimented with this book.  Each story told here comes from the Japanese storytelling tradition of rakugo, which features moral fables that end with a punchline or joke.  Tatsumi decided to fashion these classic stories in the gekiga style, and see where it took him.

These are old stories from mostly the Edo period, and as such are all set during that time.  They play with themes of marital deception, and many of them involve prostitutes or the lengths people will go to to escape poverty.

The lightness of the stories is carried over into Tatsumi’s storytelling and art, which feels a little looser than his earlier work.  I didn’t find it difficult at all to relate to these characters, despite their being from a distant time and culture, and that is a credit to the ease with which Tatsumi weaves his tales.  Now, not being familiar with rakugoat all, I can’t really assess how closely he stays to the source material, but that doesn’t really matter.  What does matter is that this is a fun read.

The Milkman Murders

Written by Joe Casey
Art by Steve Parkhouse

When opening up a comic by Joe Casey, the informed reader expects a certain amount of excess – usually some ultraviolence in the vein of a Tarantino movie, or some satire of the comics industry.  I wasn’t really prepared for the degree to which The Milkman Murders disturbed me.

Casey has set his story in a nameless American suburb, where Barbara Vale lives with her husband and two teenage children.  Her husband is abusive and takes drugs with his friends.  Her daughter is sleeping with her gym teacher, and has quite a history with this sort of thing.  Her son likes to shoot neighbourhood animals and skin them in the cellar.  None of these people show her any kindness, and so she retreats into watching “Leave it to Mother”, a TV show based on Leave it to Beaver.

One day, rather randomly, a slob driving a milk truck shows up at the door and rapes Barbara viciously.  After this terrifying event, she decides she has to take matters into her own hands to fix her family.  And that’s where things get really violent and disturbing.

I’ve followed Steve Parkhouse’s North American comics for years, most recently in the excellent Resident Alien, but I’ve never seen his work so loose.  His characters are caricatures of typical Americans, although that makes this book look less American than almost anything else on the stands.

Casey and Parkhouse’s comments on American society are just left on the surface for us to see, and there is no hidden depth to this book, but so far as straight-up horror comics go, this is one of the creepiest ones I’ve ever read.

Album of the Week:

Michael Franti & Spearhead –  All People – Michael Franti must be a happier guy than he used to be.  This album is pretty much missing entirely the political side of this gifted lyricist, who is instead embracing his inner rock-steady party guy.  The result is that this disc is not as engaging as some of his other work, but it is a nice summer party or driving album.  For a fun drinking game, take a shot every time he sings ‘with you’ – two if it’s part of a song’s hook.

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