I think this is one of the most gripping and promising first issues I’ve read in a very long time. Charles Soule has been steadily building a name for himself, starting with 27, and then moving to DC where he’s doing a bang-up job of writing Swamp Thing, and is also doing one or more of the Green Lantern titles (I don’t pay attention). Letter 44, though, is his most practiced and impressive comic yet.
The book opens in the near future, where a (presumably Democratic) president, the 44th in America’s history, is sworn into office after the country spent eight years embroiled in foreign wars and mounting defence spending at the cost of the economy at home. Before being sworn in, President Blades reads a letter from his predecessor, and learns that everything that has happened was in service of a simple and terrifying fact – NASA has found evidence of alien life in the solar system, a mining facility in an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The former president used his military campaigns as a way to ready his army for the conflict he believes is coming, and to be able to hide the expense of building a space vessel to send nine people to check out what is happening. Clearly, this is big news, and Blades has to figure out what he should do.
From here, Soule begins to introduce the crew of the Clarke, the vessel which is only now, after three years in space, approaching the alien facility. There are the usual mix of brave scientists, cynical, sarcastic soldiers, and what have you on the Clarke, and in the short span of this issue, Soule does a great job of introducing them and beginning to develop them.
There is a real sense of urgency and secrecy to this comic, and it feels all the more topical in light of recent events at the NSA. There are some great elements tossed into the story, like the fact that the woman in charge of the space vessel is pregnant.
Alberto J. Alburquerque is a talented artist, who has a good handle on many of the scenes which are basically composed of talking heads. I like the way that Guy Major has coloured the book to make the astronauts so pale and sun-deprived.
When I started reading this comic, I couldn’t help but compare it to Saucer Country, the recently-departed Vertigo book that also mixed Presidential politics with the threat of alien invasion, but where that series took a more conspiracy-based approach, this one feels like a very intelligent blockbuster. This comic is only one dollar, and if you can find a copy, I highly suggest you grab it.
Animal Man #24 – I kind of wish we could have an Animal Man storyline that doesn’t have anything to do with the Red. This is the thing that has always limited characters like AM and Swamp Thing; just because they are the avatars or protectors of an elemental force doesn’t mean that they couldn’t get involved in some other stuff. This story is fine, but it’s kind of fizzling for me, as Brother Blood becomes the new avatar of the Red, as one of the totems lead a revolution. This is definitely not among Jeff Lemire’s finest work, although I do like Rafael Albuquerque’s art, and the nod to American Vampire in the Oscar ceremonies.
Avengers #21 – I would suggest to anyone who is trying to read Infinity without picking up the tie-ins, that they’d best grab this book. More happens in this issue than did in the last issue of the parent title, as the Council worlds rise up against the Builders, the Annihilation Wave enters the picture, and Captain Universe is revived and joins the fight. I know that this cross-over has been criticized a fair amount, and many of those criticisms are fair, but I’ve always been a sucker for a big space battle with lots of different factions, and so I am really enjoying the bits of this story that take place in space (I don’t really care for the Thanos plot). Plus, Spaceknights!
Batwoman #24 – I’m really disappointed with DC with regards to this book. JH Williams III and W. Haden Blackman have been writing this series for over two years, and have grown a great deal as writers in that time. Now, because DC editorial has decided to make changes to a storyline that has been in place for a long time, and previously approved, they are leaving the book with their story incomplete. This issue has Batwoman lure Batman into a fight for her DEO masters that she does not want to engage in, while her cousin Bette works to free her sister from the DEO’s prison. It’s a tense issue, with very strong plotting, and it ends with two cliffhangers. And now, next issue, Marc Andreyko is going to be taking over the title and writing a Zero Year tie-in. I don’t really care about DC’s decision to veto Kate Kane’s upcoming wedding – what bothers me is the lack of consistency and respect for creators who have done a good job for a long time. I loved Andreyko’s Manhunter, and so am a little torn over whether or not to stick with the comic (my love of good comics can often overcome my scruples), but however good his story is, it’s going to feel like a patch-job to me, especially with a useless tie-in tossed in to further disrupt the story. A real shame.
BPRD Hell on Earth #112 – Another very good issue, as we continue to learn more about Fenix, and Liz Sherman has to decide if she is going to return to her former lifestyle when she is attacked by some very strange creatures. And trust me, no one draws strange creatures like Tyler Crook.
Conan the Barbarian #21 – The Black Stones arc ends quite well, with a level of mysticism that has been pretty absent from the rest of Brian Wood’s excellent run with the famous barbarian. Great art by Paul Azaceta, and a very cool scene in a wolf’s den. A good read.
Guardians of the Galaxy #7 – I keep giving this book another chance, not because I care even a little bit about Angela, the character brought over from Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, or because I feel the need to read everything that Brian Michael Bendis writes, but because I like a lot of these characters, and because the next two issues are being drawn by Francesco Francavilla, and I want to see that. Bendis has really removed a lot of what made the Guardians work under Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, making Starlord into Space Peter Parker, and reducing Gamora and Drax to single-note characters. Almost nothing happens in this book, beyond Angela talking about where she’s from, and Starlord making dumb jokes.
Invincible #106 – It’s another very good issue wherein Robert Kirkman advances a number of plots by a little bit. High points of the comic include an arm-wrestling contest between Invincible and his dad, and the return of Battle Beast! This is always a great comic.
Morning Glories #33 – While I want to complain about the fact that this book is coming out every two weeks (I hate double-shipping), I also find it pretty awesome, as it keeps me much more immersed in the complexity that is Nick Spencer’s story. This issue focuses on Hisao (who we first got to know as Jun), who is now doing everything he can to avoid Guillaume, who is kind of his boyfriend. Guillaume assumes it’s because Hisao blames him for his brother’s death, but as we learn in a scene that genuinely surprised me, there is a lot more to it than that. I did not see this particular twist coming. In flashback, we also learn how Hisao, in the guise of Jun, was enrolled in the Morning Glory Academy. I’m amazed that Spencer and his collaborator, Joe Eisma, are able to keep up this pace on the comic without having to resort to fill-in artists, or the army of inkers that we see in Marvel’s double-shipped books. Eisma is fast and good, a rarity in comics these days.
The Mysterious Strangers #5 – In this issue, we learn a little about the history of the Strangers, a group who have been protecting the world from strange invaders since the days of Shakespeare. The group is in a small desert town investigating some disappearances, when they meet some folk from another world or dimension. This is a great comic, with a very cool retro feel.
New Avengers #11 – As I said above in my discussion of this week’s Avengers, I’ve much preferred the space battle story to the Thanos half of Infinity. With this issue, Jonathan Hickman tosses a few too many concepts at the reader, and while some scenes are thrilling, the gestalt suffers for it. We have incursions, Thanos, Infinity Gems, and the last stand of Wakanda, all squeezed into a pretty short space.
100 Bullets: Brother Lono #5 – It looks like Lono is finally being drawn into the conflict with the cartel as they make their move on the orphanage where he’s been staying. Part way through this issue, I started paying attention to how well this mini-series would work as a Wolverine story too. Weird.
Sheltered #4 – Alright, so when a bunch of kids raised in a survivalist camp decide to turn on their parents because a charismatic kid tells them that the end of the world is coming, is it any surprise when it doesn’t go all that well? Questions are being answered around the camp, and Lucas is having to take more and more extreme measures to hang on to his power. Ed Brisson and Johnnie Christmas have made this a very intense comic, and I’m really enjoying it.
The Sixth Gun #35 – Becky finishes her journey along the Winding Way, and she really doesn’t like what she finds, when she confronts one of her possible futures. The Sixth Gun is always a good read, and it looks like, after the rather brutal ending of this issue, it’s moving into some new territory with the next arc.
Thief of Thieves #17 – I hate that this book has had a bit of a sporadic schedule of late, because it always takes me a couple of pages to remember what all is going on. Robert Kirkman and his associates are running a pretty complex heist story here, with a lot of little pieces moving around, some of which I think are hard to always notice. This is a really good title, and I feel like it keeps improving.
Uncanny X-Force #12 – Somehow I missed this comic last week, but I’m glad I picked it up, because it had three things going for it: the wonderful art of Adrian Alphona, a spotlight on Spiral, a character I’ve always liked but who has never had much development, and the revelation of who the Owl Queen really is, which ties back to Grant Morrison’s classic X-Men run. This title has been stumbling along since it began, but I feel like Sam Humphries is making big strides in his writing; if every issue could look like this one, it would be a favourite title for sure.
Uncanny X-Men #13 – Battle of the Atom has become a bit of a free-for-all, as various factions of present and future X-Men fight each other while the Future Bad X-Men try to send the Past X-Men home, and have a lot of trouble doing it, mostly because Brian Michael Bendis is making up time travel rules as he goes. Chris Bachalo is the right kind of artist to capture the chaos of this chapter, but many pages were difficult to follow, and I’m not sure who got killed and who just got badly wounded. As with most Bendis-led crossovers, I expect this to completely fizzle out over the last two chapters, into something that barely makes sense.
Whispers #6 – Joshua Luna’s very strange psychological thriller comes to an unexpected conclusion this issue, as Sam discovers the source of his new ability to travel through the dreams of people he cares about, and learns the truth about the monsters he’s been sent to kill. This was a very interesting book; it opened with a thoughtful portrayal of OCD, and moved into a study of human resilience.
Wonder Woman #24 – Wonder Woman continues to be the best book published under the New 52 banner. Diana is having a hard time adjusting to her new position as the God of War, especially since the other Olympians all have their own designs for her. Brian Azzarello, unlike other DC writers, has been given the leeway and freedom to craft a wonderfully complex story that has now run for over two years with no signs of slowing down. Goran Sudzuka, who is killing things on Ghosted right now, also serves as an excellent fill-in artist for this issue. If the rest of DC’s line were this good, I’d be broke.
X-O Manowar #18 – I’m curious, is there a park in the middle of Bucharest that is so large that the city’s skyline doesn’t appear around it? I’m having a hard time accepting that Aric and his people have landed in the middle of a major Eastern European city, and that city, aside from a local grocery store and a single apartment building, are utterly absent from the landscape. The Spetsnaz have a problem with this too, so they attack in this issue, which helps to solidify Aric’s rival’s position among the Visigoths. A good issue, geography notwithstanding. Also, this is the best of the 8-bit covers I’ve seen so far.
Zero #2 – I’m really getting into Zero, Ales Kot’s new series about a black ops agent who works for a mysterious agency. This issue, drawn by Tradd Moore, shows us Zero’s upbringing, in a ‘school’ that has trained him from birth to become the killer he is today. There are a lot of fairly typical scenes for this sort of thing – escape training, the first mission, having to keep a relationship with a young girl secret – but they work very well. I’m not really a huge fan of Moore’s work – his faces are strange – but he does a decent job here. I preferred Michael Walsh’s art on the first issue, though.
Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4:
A + X #13
Avengers Assemble #20
Cable and X-Force #15
Indestructible Hulk Special #1
Legends of the Dark Knight #13
Superior Spider-Man #19
Batman and Nightwing #23 – Okay, it’s time to move on. I like that Peter Tomasi is the only Bat-writer I know of who is actually dealing with Damian’s death, but this issue, which consists of nothing but Bruce, and later Dick, going into virtual reality (Internet 3.0, thanks to Grant Morrison) to see if they could have saved Damian’s life. It’s a touching, nice issue, but it’s also about the fourth issue of this series that does the exact same thing. Tomasi and artist Patrick Gleason are too talented to keep telling the same story. At least Carrie Kelly wasn’t in this one…
Hunger #3 – This series continues to be kind of a paint with numbers thing, as Joshua Hale Fialkov, who is a gifted writer, is left filling in the blanks before Cataclysm.
Savage Wolverine #8 – Sometimes the completist in me makes me buy comics that I don’t understand at all, or get any pleasure out of. That’s exactly what happened here…
Superior Spider-Man #15-18 – Once again, Dan Slott does a great job with this series, as Spidey-Ock takes out the Hobgoblin in a very public manner, and then has to deal with the arrival of Spider-Man 2099, who has come back in time to protect his grandfather from harm. Slott relies a lot on casual readers’ memory for random supporting characters, which caused me some confusion (I have no idea who the woman trying to take over Horizon Industries is supposed to be), but he can put together some pretty epic superhero comics. Good stuff.
Wolverine #8 – It’s all sentient viruses and deception as Wolverine, Storm, and a few others head into Wakanda to try to stop the lifeform that has been causing problems since this series began. Logan is ‘killable’ now, but that doesn’t stop him from getting into it with the Black Panther. This series is, to be honest, a little weak, but Alan Davis art can save just about anything.
The Week in Graphic Novels:
by Paul Pope
There are some cartoonists who release new work so rarely that it is a real cause for celebration when they drop a new book on the world. Chief among these creators is Paul Pope, whose new graphic novelBattling Boy
has been anticipated for years.
I was a little surprised to see the approach that Pope took for this book. It’s been designed to appeal to just about all ages, as Pope gives us a coming-of-age story for a young god who arrives on Earth to fight monsters.
The book opens with the story shown in the Death of Haggard West one-shot a couple of months ago. The end of that comic, which has West, the science-hero of Arcopolis, die in battle, is interwoven with new material, as we are introduced to the young Boy, who lives in a mystical city kind of like Asgard. As part of his adolescence, the Boy is sent to Earth to prove himself. His father is one of the greatest heroes of his people, but he can’t help the kid much.
To aid him in his quest, the Boy has been given a collection of special t-shirts which allow him to tap into the abilities of the creatures depicted on them. This is marketing genius, if this book were to ever be adapted for TV or film. The kid shows up just as a gigantic monster is wrecking havoc on the Boy’s new home, and even though he gets some assistance from his father in putting the creature down, he comes out of the skirmish as a hero.
I love Pope’s art, which is always exciting and a little rough, but I also think he’s come a long way as a writer. His Battling Boy is unsure of himself, and a little intimidated by what is expected of him. Haggard West’s daughter is another major character, and she is an interesting study in determination and drive.
My only real complaint about this book is that it doesn’t exactly resolve the story, and feels more like the first volume of a series that is going to be incredibly sporadic in coming out. If this book was delayed for years, I shudder to think of how long it might take to see a new story. Still, I’ll be first in line to buy it, because this was a great read.