The Weekly Round-Up #206 With Manifest Destiny, Abe Sapien, Archer & Armstrong, FBP, Resident Alien: The Suicide Blonde, Star Wars & More

Columns, Top Story

It seems that a large number of the comics I bought this week prominently used orange on the cover.  And so, a theme week!  The leaves have all turned and dropped where I am, but maybe it’s a lovely autumn where you are.

Best Comic of the Week:

Manifest Destiny #1In this new Image series, the secret behind the famous voyage of famous explorers Lewis and Clark are revealed.  As it turns out, they were not just sent out by President Jefferson to explore the American West, but also to seek out and confirm or deny the existence of monsters and other strange creatures.  To that end, they have been outfitted with a group of soldiers who don’t have families, and a group of convicts who have been sent to help them in return for their freedom (a 19th century Suicide Squad).  This first issue, written by Chris Dingess, does a good job of establishing the main characters, and when the expedition discovers a gigantic arch made of trees, making it clear that there are some strange things on the continent.  When they are attacked by a creature, artist Matthew Roberts does a great job of only hinting at its true shape until the last page, building suspense and believability.  I really like his art on this book, and intend to stick around with this series that combines my love for historical comics with some delicious weirdness.

Quick Takes:

Abe Sapien #7This issue, with stunning art by Sebastian Fiumara, starts off with a lot more talking about gods and the ending of worlds, but then turns into a very action-packed and exciting comic.  This has been a very strange title from its inception, as Abe has been dealing with a number of problems, but it is always compelling.

All-New X-Men #18 – In the first post-Battle of the Atom issue, the Past X-Men, and Kitty Pryde, have decamped from Wolverine’s school and have turned to Cyclops’s band for a place to live.  The kids get new uniforms, and have to deal with new animosities (mostly revolving around Jean), while Kitty continues their training.  Stuart Immonen’s art is lovely throughout this issue, but just like in the end of Battle of the Atom, I am having a hard time buying Kitty’s change in living conditions (unless, of course, she’s a mole for Logan).  You would think that her and Scott would sit down and have a talk about things, much as they often did in Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen’s superior runs on the book, but instead, she just hangs out with Illyana and works with the kids, as if nothing strange has happened.  Oh, and she works a lot more Yiddish words into her speech than she ever has before.  I get it that Brian Michael Bendis likes to do whatever he wants with his favourite characters, but it would be nice if he attempted to keep them consistent with their past appearances.

Archer & Armstrong #15 – This is a wonderful issue of this very good series as Armstrong goes on a cross-time pub crawl with his long-lost brother Ivar.  Armstrong is still pretty broken-up about his recent split with Obadiah Archer, and as he gets further into his cups, he becomes more aware of his own poor behaviour.  This is a funny and enjoyable issue, which really shows how good Fred Van Lente’s writing is.

Avengers Arena #17Things keep getting crazier as we get closer and closer to the end of this series (before its relaunch).  Heroes are fighting each other all over Murder World, while Katy, who is in a position to fix everything, is letting Arcade get under her skin.  I feel like we are getting some very good pay-off for following this book from the beginning, and can’t believe how much better it is than Dennis Hopeless’s other title, Cable and X-Force.

Batman #25 – I guess it’s not enough for the flagship Bat-title to simply move from giant event (with tie-ins) to giant event (with tie-ins); now it’s necessary that every issue be ‘enhanced’ in some way.  Two months ago, we got 3D covers, and then we got an over-sized, and over-priced issue.  Now, we get an all-black embossed cover, and charged an extra dollar.  My enjoyment of this book has been waning, and the fiddling and cash-grabbing by DC is really pushing me away from this title.  Scott Snyder’s new take on Batman’s origin is really pushing the technological aspects of Batman, as we see the first Batmobile has the ability to drive on the ceiling of tunnels, and to jump around like, while, the Spider-Mobile should.  Also, it looked vaguely hot-roddish, something that I guess was very popular six years ago, when Batman was beginning his career.  There are plenty of other things that don’t really make sense, such as how the original entrance to the Bat-Cave was in the middle of a field nowhere near Wayne Manor (at least, that’s how Greg Capullo shows it), and didn’t have a door or cover to keep the elements out.  Power has gone out in Gotham, so a random villain is going around making peoples’ bones grow uncontrollably.  If the Riddler is supposed to be the big threat of the second half of this project, he’s not much of a presence.  And then, for reasons I really don’t understand, we get to check in on young Harper Row and her brother Cullen, where we learn that Harper was always good with electronics, and Cullen was always kind of whiny (an early hint that he was gay perhaps, in DC’s way of thinking?).

Cataclysm: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 – Here’s a little secret: this Cataclysm tie-in is really just a regular issue of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, except that Galactus shows up on the last page (and, I guess, the cover, so that’s not a spoiler).  Miles is back to work being Spider-Man, and people react to that differently.  Spider-Woman wants to continue pursuing Roxxon, and the Ultimates have different opinions about that.  Bombshell wants to be a hero, as do Cloak and Dagger.  Somehow, this is becoming a team book, but I don’t really mind, as Brian Michael Bendis does a good job with these team characters (I wish all his books were this well-written), and David Marquez’s art is gorgeous.  I almost dropped this title because I have no interest in Cataclysm, but I’m glad I stuck around.

FBP #5Since taking a break from the FBP, Adam has been looking into his father’s possessions and scientific notes.  In this issue, Adam visits his Uncle Eli and learns how his father died many years ago.  This continues to be an interesting series, especially as the issue of physics abnormalities has moved into the public arena.  Robbi Rodriguez is doing some very cool things with the art in this book.

Fearless Defenders #11 – I’d dropped this series, but since learning it’s being canceled, I thought I’d ride it out.  The team is in Greece helping Hippolyta put the Amazons back together, but really, it’s an excuse to party, at least until series baddie Caroline LeFay shows up.  One thing I liked about this issue is that it features Magma, a chronically underused character.  I am going to miss this book when it’s gone; I feel that between constant tie-ins and an inexplicable price increase, Marvel never really gave it a chance.

Harbinger #18 – The Renegade kids are still in the custody of Harada, and he has them locked away in false psychic realities.  We get to see where he’s keeping Peter this month, and we see how, without the regular rest that he needs, Harada is beginning to lose control of things.  I like how the art switches between Barry Kitson’s usual exquisite pencils to Riley Rossmo’s messier look whenever we go into Peter’s head.  I found it a very effective switch.

The Manhattan Projects #16 – While the various main personalities of the Manhattan Projects are in the custody of the US Army and Dr. Oppenheimer, things might be turning around for them soon.  Another brilliant issue, as Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra reveal just what Einstein and Feynman have been up to lately.  Great stuff, as always.

Marvel Knights: X-Men #1I’ve been a fan of Brahm Revel’s comics work since I first stumbled across Guerillas, his brilliant comic about apes trained to fight in the Vietnam War (that I hope the exposure of having an X-book will lead to the completion of), and was pretty excited to see that Marvel was giving him a five-part X-Men story.  Unlike the visually brilliant Marvel Knights Spider-Man, this story could easily fit within current X-continuity, as Wolverine, Kitty, and Rogue travel to the Appalachians to track down new mutants.  It’s the Appalachians, so things are hella backwards, and it seems that someone is hunting these new mutants.  The team track down a teenage girl whose powers have just manifested, and then go looking for the other new mutant.  Revel shows that he has a very good handle on these characters (although I thought Rogue lost the ability to fly without borrowing that power), and can definitely build a good story.  His art is great – as moody and evocative as the landscape he’s set the story in, and I’m already anticipating the next issue.  This is definitely worth checking out (and then you should buy Guerillas Vol. 1).

Resident Alien: The Suicide Blonde #3 – I really love the concept behind this series – that an alien stranded on Earth uses low-level psychic abilities to appear human, and ends up being a small-town doctor who kind of solves mysteries on the side.  It’s a ridiculous idea that works remarkably well in the hands of Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse.  This second arc ends quite well, as Harry works to clear the name of his friend and mayor, and the B-story, about the government agency that’s been trying to find him, kicks it up a notch.  I can’t wait for the next mini-series to show up…

Savage Wolverine #11 – Jock’s three-issue arc ends as obliquely as it begins.  The story has been set in the future on a red planet, where Logan has encountered a young boy who may or may not be his clone, and the people who want to exploit him.  This storyline has been heavy on atmosphere and light on exposition, but with an artist like Jock, that’s fitting.

Shaolin Cowboy #2 – This comic consists of 33 pages of the Shaolin Cowboy chopping up naked tattooed zombies with two chainsaws mounted on a staff.  That’s it.  There is no dialogue beyond the sound of the chainsaws, and no plot development at all.  But, it’s 33 pages of gorgeous Geof Darrow art, so there is absolutely nothing to complain about here at all.  I do hope for a little more story in the next issue, though…

Star Wars #11 – A lot of what Brian Wood has been setting up over the last year in this series comes to a head this issue, as an Imperial Star Destroyer attacks the Rebel convoy.  There is a genuine surprise in this issue, which has me wanting to go back and reread the book from the beginning, to see if I’d miss some obvious clues.  Good work.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #5 – Once again, Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber turn in a comic that entertains absolutely.  Boomerang’s crew, minus The Shocker, make their move on the Owl’s building, where they hope to steal the head of Silvermane (or do they?).  This is a very funny issue, with wonderful art.  More people need to read this comic; it is the best thing Marvel is producing right now.

Three #2I’m finding myself really impressed by Three, Kieron Gillen and Ryan Kelly’s exploration of the waning days of Sparta.  An ephor (an elected leader) has been killed by three Helots (basically slaves), and now the city state has to decide how to respond.  The King does not see the value in using warriors to hunt slaves, but the elected leaders feel that it is necessary to secure the city’s future.  I like how Gillen works enough historical exposition into the story to show how Spartan society worked, without giving us lengthy info-dumps.  Kelly is always brilliant, especially when given the chance to show characters with different expressions.  If I wanted to nitpick about something, I’d have to say that I don’t understand why Jordie Bellaire (colourist extraordinaire du jour) made the Spartan statues look like flesh and blood – it kind of threw me.  Otherwise, I’m loving this book, right down to Gillen’s interview with Sparta historian Stephen Hodkinson in the back matter.

Umbral #1 – I was kind of surprised to see that Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten were doing a new series together.  I’d have been a lot happier to hear that Mitten was returning to Wasteland, the series they started together, and which has suffered since he left, but at the same time, I was happy to be able to support them in any new endeavour.  Umbral is a fantasy series which honestly didn’t grab me with this first issue.  It’s set in a world that suggests the level of world-building Johnston made good use of in Wasteland, but we don’t know too much coming in.  There is an eclipse, and a royal family that owns some magical relics.  There is a young thief who is friends with the prince, and who is embroiled in some kind of madness when shadow-creatures show up and slaughter everyone (even though they later seem to be fine).  I trust Johnston to construct an interesting story, but at the same time, I’m going to need to be much more impressed with the next issue.  I like Mitten’s art, but I think I prefer it in black-and-white to colour.

Unity #1 – I’m not sure if Unity is a mini-series or an on-going, but the first issue, which shows how various factions are working together to address Aric’s seizure of part of Romania as his new country (if you haven’t been reading X-O Manowar, you might be a touch lost), is pretty solid.  Toyo Harada is working to stop Aric before the Russians nuke the whole area, and he brings in Ninjak and the Eternal Warrior to help out.  Matt Kindt and Doug Braithwaite do good work here (I assume it’s them; I couldn’t find any credits in the actual comic), and I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes next.

The Walking Dead #116All Out War continues as Negan’s first move is negated, and Rick’s plan begins to be revealed.  This is a pretty action-filled issue, so there isn’t a whole lot of character space.  Still, Holly steps up in a big way, and I’m pleased that we don’t have to wait too long for the next issue.

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

Astro City #6

Sons of Anarchy #3

Superior Spider-Man #21

Thor God of Thunder #15

Wolverine #11

Bargain Comics:

Before Watchmen: Rorschach #1-4Having already read the two BW series that interested me the most – Minutemen and Silk Spectre – to mixed results, I figured I’d give Brian Azzarello’s contributions to this controversial line a shot, because he’s usually an excellent writer.  Really though, you can’t get more generic and unimpressive than this series, which has Rorschach fighting some street-level gangsters in New York, while a serial killer carves poetry into women.  Lee Bermejo’s art is nice, but there’s nothing in here to recommend this series to someone else.  I expected a lot more.

Über #1-4 – I avoided this Avatar Press series when it began, because I’ve become a little disillusioned with their output of late.  That was a mistake, because Kieron Gillen (the man who writes so well, he makes Greg Land’s art palpable) is doing some pretty terrific work with this title.  He is showing us an alternate history where a small group of German superhumans entered the war right before Russia conquered Berlin, thereby changing events significantly.  The early issues are a touch rougher than the later ones, but they were written a number of years ago, and Gillen has grown as a writer in that time.  Caanan White is doing a serviceable job – he’s better than the usual Avatar house style, while still fitting it.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

King David

by Kyle Baker

I’m not sure how it is that I never knew that this book existed, as a new Kyle Baker release is usually something that gets a lot of press, but this Vertigo graphic novel that was released in 2002 completely missed showing up on my radar until just recently.

King David is Baker’s take on the Biblical figure, who fought Goliath, earned the enmity of King Saul, and eventually became a terrible leader for Israel.  I am woefully ignorant of the details of pretty much all Bible stories, and so much of this was new to me (or vaguely familiar).  For that reason, I can’t say to what degree Baker was taking liberties with his story, but I did enjoy the way he used contemporary vernacular in the historical setting.

Baker’s art is both wonderful, and wonderfully odd.  He has constructed many of his backgrounds digitally, and has put an odd amount of detail into them.  His character work reads and looks great, but there are some pretty big issues with the pacing of the book.

In all, this is a very odd project, but I enjoyed it for that reason.


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