The Weekly Round-Up #215 With BPRD, Alex + Ada, Archer & Armstrong, EGOs, Unity, Velvet & More

Excluding skip weeks, fifth week events, and holidays, I think this is the first time in at least fifteen years, if not much longer, that I didn’t buy a single DC comic (including Vertigo) in a regular week of new comics.  That’s sad.  There are a ton of DC characters that I love, and a ton of creators working at that company whose work I enjoy.  Somehow, it’s just not working for me though.  Luckily, Image, Marvel, Valiant, and Dark Horse have stepped up to fill the gap in the last few years.

Best Comic of the Week:

BPRD Hell on Earth #115BPRD has been getting really good lately, but with this issue, and the start of ‘The Reign of the Black Flame’, it’s more exciting than it’s been in a while.  Two teams are heading into New York City, which has been silent for over a year, and they are finding a lot of unexpected things.  James Harren is doing an amazing job on the art; the scene set in Prospect Park was haunting, and he captured the team’s reaction perfectly.  It’s great to see almost the whole cast of this book in play at the same time, and I’m excited to see where things lead.

Quick Takes:

Alex + Ada #3 – Alex is getting used to life with Ada, his beautiful robot companion, but he’s a little bored already, as she is incapable of having opinions or preferences.  This leads him to start exploring the fringe of the robot rights groups on the web, and questioning things he never would have thought about before.  Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn are asking some interesting questions about the place of technology in society with this series.

All-New X-Men #21 – When I opened this issue and saw that the first few pages were drawn by Brent Anderson, the artist of the classic God Loves Man Kills X-Men graphic novel, I was pretty excited.  Of course, after the William Stryker flashback pages are over, things degrade into some pretty typical Bendis-era X-Men stuff; the Past X-Men, X-23, and Kitty have been taken prisoner by the Purifiers, who spend most of the issue debating what to do with them, even calling in AIM for a consult. Finally, the team starts to fight back.  I think a more dynamic artist than Brandon Peterson might have made this issue work better, but still, I find I’m getting pretty bored of Bendis’s dealings with these characters.  I’ll see how the Trial of Jean Grey feels, but it might soon be time to jump ship.

Amazing X-Men #3As happy as I am to see Nightcrawler again, the silly demonic pirates, cute little Bamfs, and the inclusion of Azazel, one of the worst characters in the Marvel Universe, makes this whole arc a little hard to swallow.  I like Jason Aaron’s writing, but have a real hard time getting into most of his X-books.  I’d like this stuff to be a little less silly and cartoonish.  On the upside, the scenes with Nightcrawler and Storm make up for the rest of the book’s shortcomings.

Archer & Armstrong #17 – Valiant’s best title is always entertaining, as Archer puts an end to the Sect Civil War, and repairs his relationship with Armstrong, if not with his sister Mary Maria.  Always a great read, this book.

Daredevil #35 – Mark Waid is setting things up for the move to San Francisco, as a group of Serpents blackmail Daredevil into helping defend one of their members.  Matt is in a real difficult position, as neither action allows him to live up to his moral code, which of course means it’s time to ask for Elektra’s advice.  Another solid issue from a solid series.

EGOs #1I’m always happy to give a new Image series a shot, and am pretty impressed with the first issue of EGOs.  Stuart Moore fits a lot of content into this issue, which has some resemblance to a very down-at-the-heels Legion of Super-Heroes relaunch.  The EGOs (Earth Galactic Operatives), a group of superheroes who helped protect the colonized galaxy from all sorts of threats, have been disbanded for years, but just as one of their worst foes (on a Galactus level, it appears) returns, Deuce, the charismatic leader of the original team, goes about building a new team for a new, rougher age.  Things aren’t quite what they seem though, and the title works nicely on two levels.  Moore gives us a lot of set-up here, but definitely catches my interest with the story.  Artist Gus Storms has an interesting style, a little bit Keith Giffen, a little bit Brandon Graham, and it works well with Moore’s story.  I liked this issue enough to come back for the second, so it’s definitely a success.

Ghosted #6 – Writer Joshua Williamson launches a new arc of his supernatural-themed crime series, this time with artist Davide Gianfelice instead of Goran Parlov.  This time around, Jackson Winters is just trying to enjoy his tropical retirement, but a chance run-in on the beach leads to the people who own the casino he tried to rip-off before the series picking him up, not so much for revenge, but for another job.  That job is basically the same as the one from the first arc of Stumptown, but with a supernatural twist.  Still, Williamson does a good job of getting the series up and running again, and while Gianfelice is not as impressive an artist as Parlov, he does fine in continuing the look of the series.

Harbinger#20Resistance, a new story arc, starts in this issue, and the beginning is a little odd.  We see a near future where Toyo Harada’s status as a psiot is revealed to the world, leading to world-wide turmoil, and a large power play on Harada’s part.  In the present, we are introduced to Ax, a young man who uses his computer skills to reveal almost all of Project Rising Spirits secrets, which brings him to Harada’s attention.  Of course, Peter Stanchek and our other heroes get there first.  It’s nice to see this book trying some new stuff, after the last arc got stretched out a touch too long.

Prophet #42 – This time around we get a flashback issue by Ron Wimberly, who did the excellent MF Grimm biographical novel a ways back, and a sci-fi remake of Hamlet that I haven’t read yet, but really should.  Anyway, for this story, which tells a story of Die Hard’s very long life, Wimberly takes an approach that is very similar to Brandon Graham’s, including strange tiny aliens, large multi-armed battle armor, and a pastel colour palette.  It’s a solid issue, although I’d rather see the story moving forward a little quicker.

Secret Avengers #14 – Ales Kot’s influence on the writing of this book is clearly growing, as the story is becoming more and more complex.  Everyone’s been captured by AIM, and while Forson is trying to reprogram Mockingbird, the other members of her team are being held by the other Black Widow.  This has been an interesting arc, but it feels like it’s a little too dragged out.

The Sixth Gun #37Our heroes had a bit of a breather last issue, but that’s done now as the Grey Witch’s forces attack the town where they’ve been staying.  There’s a lot of chaos, as Brian Hurtt continues to show why he’s consistently one of the best artists in the business for this type of story.  The Sixth Gun never disappoints.

Uncanny X-Men #16 – Unlike this week’s All-New X-Men, stuff of importance actually happens in this comic, as Magneto is manipulated by Dazzler into heading down to Madripoor to see about a new mutant community that appears to be taking over.  Brian Michael Bendis has been building up his Mystique subplot for a very long time, so it’s nice to see it come to a head in this issue.  On the downside, it seems that Magneto is leaving this book for his own title (because he’s no Wolverine, and capable of making multiple appearances it seems), stripping this series of one of its most interesting characters.  Chris Bachalo’s issues of this series are always welcome, and I love Kris Anka’s cover.

Unity #3 – I’m not too clear on how the events of Unity line up with what’s going on in Harbinger, as both titles feature Toyo Harada in a central role.  In this issue, his Unity team finishes their conflict with Aric, as Livewire gains control of the X-O Manowar armor.  The fact of the Dacians isn’t all that clear, but I assume that’s going to be addressed in the next issue of Aric’s own book.  I’m curious to see where this title is headed, now that its initial arc is sort of finished.  I’m not sure that Matt Kindt is going to be able to keep coming up with plausible reasons for all of these characters to keep getting together.

Velvet #3Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting are telling a very good story here, as Velvet Templeton heads to Yugoslavia to investigate a missing day in the reports of her recently killed lover.  Brubaker and Epting do espionage comics like nobody else (especially when Bettie Breitweiser is colouring), and this issue is a good example how skilled they are at this sort of thing.  A very good read.

Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4 (or more):

Astro City #8

Cataclysm Ultimates #3

Inhumanity Superior Spider-Man #1

Marvel Knights Hulk #2

Miracleman #1 (if the whole book was the Alan Moore series, this would have been a definite purchase; I have no desire to read the Mick Anglo reprints)

Nova #12

Revolutionary War Dark Angel #1

Superior Spider-Man #25

Thor God of Thunder #17

Uncanny X-Force #16

Bargain Comics:

Batgirl #24-26If you want to get a good sense of where the New 52 relaunches went wrong, one needs to only look at Batgirl.  The series, mostly written by Gail Simone, took just about forever to find its footing, but just as it began to all come together (with issue 23, the beginning of Batgirl: Wanted), the DC marketing machine did its best to wreck any and all momentum the series had built.  After issue 23, there was a one-month gap wherein Simone wrote a Ventriloquist one-shot for Villains Month (see below).  After issue 24, number 25 is an editorially-mandated Zero Year tie-in, written by Marguerite Bennett.  After that, issue 26 wraps up the 3-part (and five-month long) Wanted story beautifully, putting Barbara in a new place as a hero and as a daughter.  Of course, the next issue has to tie-in to Gothtopia, which so far as I can tell, is an alternate reality story.  I feel like it’s time to leave Simone to herself and just let her write – nobody has ever written a better Barbara Gordon than her, but it’s taken her too long to make the character work in the New 52.  Now that she is, she should just be allowed to do that.  Were that the case, I’d probably start buying this title monthly again, instead of waiting to catch up at half-price sales.

Batman: The Dark Knight #23.1 – Ventriloquist – I don’t really understand what’s going on with so much of Gail Simone’s writing since the New 52 relaunches took place.  You’d think that she’d be able to make a female reworking of the classic late-80s Ventriloquist character something incredibly cool, but instead, this character is just annoying, and comes off a bit like a second-rate, morose Joker.  This was a disappointment, especially considering that Batgirl is finally getting good.

Brain Boy #1&2I enjoyed the Brain Boy story that ran in Dark Horse Presents a while back, and found these first two issues of his regular series to be a great read.  Fred Van Lente’s writing here is similar to his approach on Archer & Armstrong; light humour and modern politics are the order of the day it seems, as Agent Price finds himself in trouble while protecting a Latin American Presidente who has similar abilities to him.  RB Silva’s art works better than Freddie Williams II’s did on the DHP serial.  This is a series to keep my eye on…

Fantastic Four #11-14 – I haven’t really liked Matt Fraction’s work on this title, but since it does tie in to FF, which I do enjoy, I thought I’d see what’s been going on.  Two of these issues are given over to the team having problems with a bunch of steampunk thieves on an alien planet in the future where things look a lot like Earth.  I don’t know if that’s just Mark Bagley’s fault or what, but these were not good issues.  After that, Karl Kesel started co-plotting and scripting, and things started getting a lot better.  An older version of Johnny comes from an alternate world, where Dr. Doom, Annihilus, and Kang have made a power play, which leads us into issue 14, which is the best of the bunch.  Mostly, that’s because Raffaele Ienco comes on board to draw, and things start to look great.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Judas Coin

by Walter Simonson

If asked to list my favourite comics creators from my pre-teen and teen years, Walter Simonson would definitely hold a place of prominence on that list.  His work onThor was revolutionary, and I remember his run on Fantastic Four with fondness.  His X-Factor was visually stunning, and his Manhunter a classic of the superhero genre.

He hasn’t been producing much in the last years, aside from a recent resurgence of variant covers and short art appearances on Indestructible Hulk and Legion of Super-Heroes.

He did release The Judas Coin in 2012, although I’ve only just now gotten around to reading it.  This is a very cool graphic novel, which begins with the crucifixion of Christ, and continues into a very futuristic 2087.  Each short story in this book is linked by the presence of a single coin, lost by Judas when he tried to return his thirty pieces of silver at the dawn of the Christian era.

Jumping through the various eras, this book also serves as a survey of some of the different, storied parts of the DC Universe’s past.  Little-seen characters such as the Golden Gladiator, the Viking Prince, and Captain Fear star in the first chapters, while Bat Lash is given the 19th Century slot, and Batman and Two-Face represent the present day.  Simonson creates a new, 2070 version of Manhunter (unless this is just a really obscure DC character I never knew about) to finish up the novel.

Each of these stories involve some sort of misfortune that befalls the person holding on to Judas’s coin.  It’s a very effective framing device, that allows Simonson to tell a number of different stories that match the genre of each era.  Of course, the Viking Prince story involves large monsters like those Simonson drew in his Thor days, while the Bat Lash story takes place after a particularly heated game of cards.

I love Simonson’s art, and the way in which he adapted things for each new chapter.  The Bat Lash chapter has a slight sepia-tone to it, and in the Manhunter 2070 story, the female adversaries look like they could have stepped out of an anime series.  The decision to construct the Batman story around the landscaped shape of a newspaper strip was an odd one, and while it looked nice, I hate having to read comics sideways, especially in hardcover.

It would have been nice to see some of the other eras of DC history or future represented here.  I would have loved a Justice Society of America chapter set in the WWII era, and for the book to have ended with the Legion of Super-Heroes, but I can see how the powers that be didn’t want the book to be too visibly pre-New 52.  Still, this is a solid read, and worth checking out.

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