The Weekly Round-Up #198 With Zero, Bloodshot & H.A.R.D. Corps, The Bounce, BPRD, Conan, Powers Bureau & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Zero #1

Written by Ales Kot
Art by Michael Walsh

I was disappointed to see that Ales Kot got booted off of DC’s Suicide Squad.  His Change mini-series was interesting, if a little hard to follow, but with the Squad, he was showing a new linear-ity to his writing.  On the upside, though, not writing corporate-owned comics gives more time for a book like Zero.

This first issue introduces us to Zero, a soldier who works for ‘The Agency’, a shadowy organization that we assume is American, but could just as well be British.  Zero has been sent to Israel to retrieve some technology that has been used to augment a Hamas soldier, who is currently in the middle of a pitched battle with one of Israel’s own augmented soldiers.  Zero has disguised himself as a tank operator in the IDF, and has to figure out just how he’s going to complete his mission without getting discovered.

There is a framing sequence set far into the future (the rest of the book is set a little into the future), where an aged Zero sits at the side of a cliff, with a young boy holding a gun to his head.  The rest of the comic is supposedly the story that he tells the boy, although at this point, much is left to the reader to figure out.

Kot has a good handle on the augmented soldier genre, and sets this up to be a pretty interesting story.  Michael Walsh, who did such a good job on Comeback, reminds me a lot of Paul Azaceta in this issue, and has a good feel for this sort of action.  This is a good new series.

Quick Takes:

Bloodshot and HARD Corps #14If any Valiant series needed a new direction it was this one, and with Christos Gage and Joshua Dysart co-writing, there was no way I wouldn’t be checking it out.  Bloodshot is in Toyo Harada’s hands, and Harada wants to make use of the nanites in his blood for his own reasons, while Project Rising Spirit is putting together a new iteration of the HARD Corps to go get him back.  This is mostly a set-up issue, and it’s probably the most dense book I’ve read in months; it really feels like an old school, pre-decompression title, where the writers manage to develop a number of new characters, and lay the groundwork for where this book is going.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to get the next issue, so that makes this comic a success.

The Bounce #5 – I find that this Joe Casey series is just not working for me.  I’m not sure why exactly – it’s not all that different from some of his other work, but he’s just not making me care much about the characters (which is odd, since the people in his other series, Sex, are way more unlikeable, and I love that book).  I think I’ll give him one more chance to draw me in, but it doesn’t look likely at this point.

BPRD Hell on Earth #111 – This series has been very good for quite a while now, as Mike Mignola and John Arcudi keep widening the scope of their story.  Aside from a scene with some of the BPRD rank-and-file, most of this issue is given over to Liz Sherman and Fenix.  Liz has figured out that there’s something wrong with the doctor at the hospital where she is staying, while Fenix is still hanging out at the Salton Sea, but is increasingly disenchanted with the people around there.  We learn a little about her childhood (in a scene that could have been better explained as a flashback).  Tyler Crook’s art keeps getting better and better, and it was already really very good.

Conan the Barbarian #20Paul Azaceta is doing the best work on his career on Black Stones, his Conan arc.  There are a number of pages in this issue set in a forest, and he captures perfectly the ethereal menace of that setting.  Conan and Bêlit are being pursued by people who want the relic they stole off a ship, and it looks like they are greatly outnumbered.  Bêlit decides to open the relic, and that’s when some unexpected things happen.  This is an exciting arc.

Daredevil #31 – Mark Waid gives us his own version of the Trayvon Martin verdict, but in this case, the Secret Empire hire the Jester to exploit the case into causing a full-fledged riot in New York, that Daredevil gets caught in the middle of.  It’s a very good issue (as always), with nice Chris Samnee art.  This run really has been phenomenal.

Great Pacific #10 – Joe Harris keeps taking this book into some strange directions, as Chas Worthington returns to the United States to address the UN (and is surprised to learn how many people, mostly the ones he cheated out of their money, hate him), and problems continue to grow in New Texas.  I have no idea what’s going on with the fish-shaped submarine, or the strange electrical fish that we keep seeing, and Harris is clearly in no rush to get to that plotline.  This book is always interesting.

Half Past Danger #5 – Stephen Mooney’s Indiana Jones with dinosaurs adventure epic is getting closer and closer to its ending, which of course means there has to be submarines and betrayal.  This is a fun read.

Harbinger #16 – The last issue ended rather shockingly, which now leads to the team ending up in Torquehalla, Torque’s invented world of heavy metal imagery mashed up with Norse iconography.  Much of the issue felt a little too strange for my liking, but the information we’re given at the end puts things to rights.  A solid-enough issue.

Infinity #3It’s best to look at Infinity as two completely separate events sandwiched into the same book, I think.  The ‘space’ half of the story is the best part of this comic, as Captain America leads a diminished force against the Builders, turning the tables a little, and giving the Starbrand the opportunity to use his abilities.  Jerome Opeña’s art in this part of the book is phenomenal, and the pace works better than it has in the first two issues.  The second half of the book, drawn by Dustin Weaver, follows Thanos to Attilan, where he angers Black Bolt.  The Thanos stuff is easily the weakest part of this series, and I can’t help but wonder if Jonathan Hickman was perhaps forced to write this into his Builder story because of Thanos’s upcoming movie appearances, and as a way of leading into the upcoming Inhumans series Matt Fraction is writing.

Justice League #23.3 – Dial E – I can’t think of a more random comic than this installment in the Villains Month collection.  First, Dial H, the book that it acts as a coda to, was cancelled, and doesn’t look to be returning ever, as it was the strangest thing about the New 52.  Secondly, there isn’t really a villain being highlighted in this issue; I guess that the Q-Dial calls forth any number of evil characters, but none of them get spotlighted for more than a page.  Thirdly, there is no connection between this book and the Justice League by any stretch of the imagination.  Fourthly, unlike many Villains Month books, which look to be using lesser-known artists who work in the DC house style, this issue has twenty-one artists, of a wide variety of styles, each getting their own page (the last artist, Alberto Ponticello, is inked by Dan Green).  Among the artists in this book are established industry artists with an indie sensibility to their work, like Frazer Irving, David Lapham, Emma Rios, Riccardo Burchielli, Jock, Mateus Santolouco, Liam Sharp, and Jeff Lemire.  There are also some stars of the indie world, like Brendan McCarthy and Emi Lenox.  A number of up-and comers show up here too, like Marley Zarcone, Tula Lotay, and Sloane Leong.  The rest of the book is made up of pags from people I’m not familiar with, but want to read more from, like Zak Smith, Annie Wu, and Michelle Farran.  The story here doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (and I read every issue of Dial H), but it is pretty to look at.

Mind the Gap #14Jim McCann moves his story along, as Elle takes some major steps towards gaining control of her own situation, and as we learn more of the backstory behind The Fifth and the Jairus project.  This book is progressing quicker now, but it looks to be heading towards a relaunch soon, with an Act II advertisement in the back; I kind of felt that we were moving towards resolution, but I guess not.

Morning Glories #31 – Hunter gets the spotlight this issue, as he tries desperately to make sense of the events of the last huge pile of issues.  He wants to come to terms with Zoe’s death, and why she was trying to kill him.  He also tries to find the poems and photo he saw in his strange dream.  Later, he is approached by the members of the AV Club, who are actually trying to reveal all the secrets of the Morning Glory Academy.  Another very solid issue in this complex series.

New Avengers #10 – I’m surprised by how much the plot of Infinity progresses in the Jonathan Hickman-written cross-over titles.  This issue has the Illuminati chasing down Thanos’s son, while the Black Order keeps an eye on them, and moves to invade Wakanda in force.  Toss in the animosity between T’Challa and Namor, and the looming threat of another incursion, and this book really covers a lot of ground.

100 Bullets: Brother Lono #4 – The plot of this series is moving at a glacial pace, but with Eduardo Risso’s art providing so many side stories, it’s all good.  A new person comes to town, and it becomes more and more clear that there is going to be a confrontation between the priest that has been housing Lono and the local drug lords (this comic takes place in Mexico).  Good stuff.

Powers Bureau #7A done-in-one story is rare in the Powers universe, and so it’s a bit of a treat to see Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming resist the urge to stretch out a tale over multiple issues unnecessarily, (which is what often happens in this book).  Walker and Pilgrim have a new serial killer on their hands, one that is only going after people that are identical to her (it’s a Powers thing).  A solid issue, with some long-term repercussions for Deena Pilgrim.

Secret Avengers #9 – I think this is my favourite Avengers book right now.  I love the way that Nick Spencer is laying out his story in small, disjointed snippets, and Butch Guice is the perfect artist for his espionage style plotline.  In this issue, Daisy Johnson, now removed from SHIELD by Maria Hill, starts to make her plans.  We don’t see any of the Avengers characters that are usually in this book, but Manifold pops by to help out, and at the end of the comic, Daisy recruits the one Avenger who best fits this title, and who we haven’t seen for a little while.  It’s too bad that the book is switching gears for the next few Infinity cross-over issues, as I don’t want it to lose momentum.

The Sixth Gun #34 – Things just keep moving forward as Becky continues her way along the Winding Path while her friends attack the people who are pursuing her.  Another exciting, well-paced issue in this incredible series.

Swamp Thing #23.1 – Arcane – I’ve liked Charles Soule’s Swamp Thing much more than I did the last half of Scott Snyder’s, and found it unfortunate that for the Villains Month special, the powers that be at DC felt the need to return to Anton Arcane, instead of spotlighting the current antagonist in the book, Seeder, who we know very little about.  Still, Soule and artist Jesus Saiz do a good job of sharing the backstory of Arcane, and showing us his niece Abigail’s early life.  I just hope that the appearance of these two characters doesn’t mean that they’ll be showing up in Swamp Thing again soon; I’d rather see something new there.

Uncanny X-Men #12This Battle of the Atom issue has Young Scott and Young Jean seeking sanctuary with Now Scott’s team, but they’re not all sure if they should be helping them or not.  There’s lots of Brian Michael Bendis dialogue, and then the other teams show up, and there is even more Bendis dialogue.  This issue wasn’t boring, and Emma Frost got a few good lines in, but once again, very little happened.  This book had five inkers working on it, so Chris Bachalo’s art is all over the place (as is the look of Young Scott’s visor).

Wonder Woman #23.1 – Cheetah – I was going to skip this issue, since it’s not in the least bit connected with Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman, but then I noticed that it was written by John Ostrander, the master of villain comics, and so I had to buy it.  Like many of these Villains Month things, it tells Cheetah’s origin, but most importantly, it also introduces Mark Shaw to the DCnU.  I would be very happy were Ostrander given the chance to write a Manhunter series again, especially since DC is determined to make Suicide Squad unreadable again.  Fans of the old DC might also wonder at Barbara Minerva’s aunt being named Lyta, seeing as she worships the goddess of the Amazons.  A solid enough comic, so far as Villains Month books go.

X-O Manowar #17 – The problem with having Aric take over a park in Bucharest for the people he rescued from the Vine is that world reaction is going to take a while to solidify (see what’s happening in Syria right now), leaving writer Robert Venditti with some time to kill, and so we get a half-issue long flashback just to show us that Aric liked birds with a child and was sometimes sweet.  Later, when Dorian comes knocking, things do pick up, but I can’t help but feel this book is simply spinning its wheels until Unity begins.

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

Cable and X-Force #14

Numbercruncher #3

Savage Wolverine #8

Six-Gun Gorilla #4

Strain: The Fall #3

Superior Spider-Man #18

Thor God of Thunder #13

Ultimate Comics X-Men #31

Bargain Comics:

 Batman and Batgirl #21; Batman and Catwoman #22The Batgirl issue is pretty terrible, full of disconnected scenes (including one that should probably have appeared in Barbara’s own book, as it has nothing to do with this series) and hurried art (not by Gleason), but the Catwoman one is pretty good.  Peter Tomasi has turned this into the ‘Bruce mourns Damian’ series, (which can really only last a little while longer before it becomes way too old), and while that severely limits the range of the book, it is the only Bat-series that really acknowledges any of Bruce’s life-changing events of late.  It’s strange that the whole purpose of the Death of the Family arc was to sever Bruce’s ties with his supporting cast, but in Scott Snyder’s own book, he immediately plunged into a prequel story, so he wouldn’t have to deal with any of what he wrought.  Likewise, Grant Morrison offed Damian in Batman Incorporated, which promptly ended.  For these higher-profile stories to ‘matter’, someone needs to spend time poking around in their wreckage; apparently that’s Tomasi.  When he has Patrick Gleason helping him, it’s all good.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Suicide Forest

Written by El Torres
Art by Gabriel Hernandez WaltaI’d enjoyed El Torres and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s earlier horror comic, The Veil, and so thought I’d give this one a try, but was not prepared for the growth in the two gentlemen’s storytelling between that project and this one.The Suicide Forest is set in Tokyo and in Aokigahara Forest, the vast and dark forest near Mount Fuji which is known as a place where people commit suicide.  The story works along two parallel lines for a while, until everything converges in an ending that is disturbing and kind of sweet.  Ryoko is a young woman who works as a forest ranger in Aokigahara, the same job her father had before he disappeared.  She is a deeply spiritual person who adheres to a number of Shinto beliefs that are now considered outdated or mere superstition.  She works in the forest as a way of helping the spirits of the suicides find some peace.

In Tokyo, we meet Alan, an American who has a Japanese girlfriend, Masami, who is more than a little clingy.  Every time he’s tried to break up with her, they’ve ended up back together, but as the book opens, he leaves her for good, and she assaults him before descending into a terrible depression.

After Masami goes to Aokigahara, two of Alan’s friends turn up dead.  It’s not long before Alan and Ryoko run into each other in the forest, and have to deal with angry spirits and other creepy things.

This book is very well written, with the characters feeling nuanced and complicated.  Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s art is dark and suggestive, an interesting cross between mid-career Frank Miller and a toned down Ben Templesmith.  His forest is a foreboding, menacing place.

The Suicide Forest makes me think of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service series of manga, which begins in the same place, but this is a much darker read.

Album of the Week:

Elvis Costello and The Roots – Wise Up Ghost – The cd packaging, which homages Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights poetry books, is enough to make me love this album without even listening to it. That would have been a mistake though, as Costello, who admittedly I’ve never given much attention to, makes terrific use of The Roots as his backing band for these soulful, slightly funky songs.  This one is a classic (although I would have loved to hear Black Thought spit some lyrics on at least one track).

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