The Weekly Round-Up #224 With Sex Criminals, American Vampire, BPRD, Harbinger: Bleeding Monk, Prophet, X-O Manowar & More

Best Comic of the Week:

 Sex Criminals #5SexCriminals5Once again, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky give us an incredibly funny and endearing issue of their highly unusual series.  Suze and Jon are on the run from the Sex Police (or whoever the people are who stop crime in post-orgasmic frozen time) after robbing the bank, and that leads to an explanation (finally) of why Jon takes a daily dump in his boss’s potted plant.  It’s hard to describe how much I love this comic, but it’s mostly because of the complete sense of freedom and originality that Fraction and Zdarsky bring to the table.  This is the end of the first trade, and so the book is going on hiatus until the summer.  If you haven’t been reading this, I urge you to check out the trade that is coming soon (which probably won’t have the letters column reprinted, which more than makes it worth tracking down the back issues).

Quick Takes:

All-New Invaders #3 – The Invaders.  James Robinson.  Steve Pugh.  I blows my mind that I’m so incredibly uninterested in this book, which on paper seems like such a slam-dunk for someone like me (who has every issue of the original Invaders series, adores Starman and the Golden Age, as well as Pugh’s runs on Animal Man in the Vertigo days, and books like Hot Wire and Shark-Man).  After this issue, which shows us how Namor was beaten by the Kree, and has Captain America, the Torch, and Bucky recruiting the original Vision to take them to Hala to free him, I’m downgrading this title to the ‘Bargain Books’ section of this column, which means I’ll only be buying it when I can get it for around half price at sales.  There is an amazing amount of potential in this book, but it’s not doing anything to meet it.  Maybe after the first arc things will improve, but I won’t be sticking around to find out.

American Vampire: Second Cycle #1AmericanVampire2ndCycle1It’s nice to see that Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque are back on their Vertigo grind, with the second half of the American Vampire story.  Things are set in 1965, and Pearl is running a sort of Underground Railroad for kind-hearted vampires (I’m not too clear on why, really), while Skinner looks to be stockpiling weapons in the desert.  It appears that this volume of the story is going to centre on the Gray Trader, a name that was first mentioned at the end of the last volume.  I loved American Vampire when it debuted, but as time went on, I found my interest in the book waning.  Unfortunately, Snyder hasn’t done a lot to rekindle it with this issue, but I am going to give him a couple of months to draw me back in, mostly because I really like Albuquerque’s art.

Animal Man #29 – It’s the end of Jeff Lemire’s run, and of the series itself, and I’m sorry to say that I feel a little bit disappointed with how it’s all turned out.  The ending is satisfying, with Buddy recommiting to his family, and a new status quo being established in The Red, but I feel like the pages Lemire drew were somewhat wasted by illustrating a story told by Maxine that really just recaps the series to this point.  I get that Lemire was trying to close off on an emotional note, but it felt a touch manipulative to me.

Avengers World #4 – Once again, Jonathan Hickman gives us what is essentially a solo character issue, situated within the larger framework of the multiple threats the Avengers are facing at this time.  The spotlight shines on Starbrand, who is with a few of his teammates in a Renaissance-built underground city/soul collector, interacting with the dead.  By the end of the issue, we know who is behind this threat (and to be honest, it’s a villain I tired of back in the 80s), and we get to know a little more about Kevin, a character who was introduced a while ago, and has barely been touched since.  The best parts of the issue are the scenes on the helicarrier, where Captain America, Bruce Banner, Maria Hill, and Sebastian Druid (!) are working together to figure out what’s going on.  I don’t mind the spotlight format, but it makes me wonder how long this storyline is going to take to wrap up, as things are moving rather glacially.

BPRD Hell on Earth #117Another very strong issue of BPRD, which has been very exciting lately, as two teams have made their way into a devastated New York City.  Liz confronts the Black Flame, while Iosif gets involved in a fight he can’t handle on his own.  This current arc, with art by James Harren, has been excellent!

Daredevil #1 – At this point, there is no denying that Mark Waid and Chris Samnee can really tell a good Daredevil story.  To launch this newest volume, the creators have DD, newly arrived in San Francisco, working to rescue the Deputy Mayor’s daughter from masked kidnappers.  Instead of spending a lot of time establishing Matt’s new status quo, they instead give us an exciting comic that focuses on the fact that Matt really doesn’t know his way around SF yet (and really, I can’t imagine it’s easy to swing up some of those hills).  There was no real reason to relaunch this title (except to raise the price), but at the same time I’m glad that Waid and Samnee are continuing their collaboration with these characters.

The Fuse #2 – Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood’s new series is really impressing me.  It’s a police procedural set on a large space station, and Johnston is still taking his time setting the scene and letting us know how things work on the Fuse, while giving us lots of character development.  New station detective Dietrich, and his partner Sgt. Ristovych, are handling a case involving two dead cablers (think homeless people who live in the walls of the station), which appears to have connections to the mayor’s office, which is not all that receptive to helping them all out.  Greenwood draws the mayor as looking a lot like Barack Obama (it’s the ears), which kind of threw me a little, as I started looking for political subtext.  Aside from that, this is a great read.  You should check it out.

Ghosted #8The second arc of Ghosted has not been strong as the first, but this book is still entertaining.  Jackson has been taken prisoner by the Brotherhood of the Closed Book, and even gets an offer from their leader to join them, but he’s still working his original mission, which is to free a young woman who has been possessed.  Kind of like Ten Grand (see below), this title somewhat works to fill the void left by Hellblazer’s cancellation, but it’s not quite hitting the mark.  I’m going to finish off this arc, but I probably won’t be back for a third.

Harbinger: Bleeding Monk #0 – I’m not all that clear on why now is the time to tell the story of the Bleeding Monk, the ageless man who keeps showing up to guide or manipulate Toyo Harada or Peter Stanchek in the regular Harbinger series.  His origin is kind of interesting, but the decision to retcon him into an Ancient Greek who only looks Asian is a strange one.

Lazarus #7 – Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s dystopian series just keeps improving, as Forever tries to get information out of a thief she caught last issue, and the ranching family finds trouble on the road to the Lift, the opportunity to be elevated to Serf status and start working for the Carlyle family.  Rucka’s future is a very grim one, but one that is very interesting to read about.

Letter 44 #5This issue of this excellent science fiction and political drama from Charles Soule and Alberto Alburquerque is pretty different from the previous ones.  The book is basically split between two plotlines – in one, a group of FBI agents are trying to locate the former President of the United States, who is in hiding in what is essentially a mountain fortress.  In the other, three members of the Clarke’s crew have come into contact with what may be the aliens they’ve been sent to investigate, and as is often the case with first contact situations involving mankind, it doesn’t go all that well.  I love the way that Soule is mixing Earth-based politics with the science fiction elements, and find this series consistently fascinating.

Ms. Marvel #2 – I loved the first issue of Ms. Marvel, and love this one too, as Kamala starts to come to grips with her new abilities, saves a schoolmate from drowning, and then gets caught sneaking back into her room after her night out.  G. Willow Wilson continues to be able to capture the different voices that make up this book wonderfully, and Adrian Alphona is always brilliant.  My only issue with this comic is the reason for Kamala’s new powers – if she is an Inhuman, and therefore affected by the Terrigen Mists that changed her, why haven’t her parents or brother been affected?  It’s been well established in other Marvel books that people inside their apartments were transformed, so the fact that they weren’t outside cannot be used.  The key to continuing to enjoy this book is to just accept that Marvel had to come up with some reason why she has abilities, and that Inhumanity was going on at the same time, so they just rolled with it.

New Avengers #15I don’t really know what’s going on with this book anymore.  The last couple of issues have shown us ‘incursions’ taking place on alternate Earths, and now Reed and Hank McCoy have figured out how to look into the past of destroyed Earths to find out what their new friend the Black Swan has been up to.  The story is fine, really, but this issue really suffers from Simone Bianchi’s art.  His characters are a little hard to tell apart at times, and there are a few key scenes, like the one involving Thanos’s henchmen, where I couldn’t really tell what was going on.  I hope that with the next issue, and the arrival of artist Rags Morales, Hickman starts to refocus his series a little more, and move things forward.  This book has basically been treading water since Infinity ended.

Prophet #43 – A new artist, Bayard Bauddin, gets tossed into the usual crowd who draw this book for this issue, and he brings a more refined, polished look for his pages, which deal with Hiyonhoiagn’s past for a few pages, before we return to the story’s present, as Badrock fights Troll, and Old Prophet’s ship fights for its survival.  This series is wonderful, even if it is sometimes hard to follow in its majestic strangeness.

The Sixth Gun #39 – Drake, Becky, and their surviving friends are trying to work their way out of a town where they are being beset upon by enemies from all sides, as the body count and excitement level continue to grow.  Great comic.

Sovereign #1Chris Roberson and Paul Maybury have launched this new Image series that feels like it could be a very complex and sweeping story, with elements that remind me a little of Game of Thrones and Saga.  I liked this issue, which introduces this very realized world in three chapters that introduce different characters and storylines, although I think that a double-sized issue might have done more to give readers a better sense of what is going on.  In the first chapter, a trio of Luminaris go about their work – preparing the bodies of the recent dead for burial, but are attacked by some undead or other mystical creatures.  The next story introduces us to a prince who is traveling when he learns that his father has died.  The next segment is on a boat that is attacked by a dead whale-like creature.  On the boat are three characters who each represent different viewpoints about religion and knowledge.  Maybury’s art is very nice, as his work always is (I think of him as being somewhere between Becky Cloonan and Vasilis Lolos – and yes, I know that there is a pretty tasteless joke in there), but I came away from this issue with the feeling that Roberson has bitten off more than he can chew with this debut.  The four pages of highly-detailed backstory in the text pages definitely help shape my understanding of the first story in this comic, but I am left with way more questions than answers.  At the same time, I liked what I read, and I am intrigued to find out more about this fantasy world, so I’ll be coming back next month.  I hope that plenty of people who have sampled this book do the same.

Uncanny X-Men #19.NOWIt’s another ‘fake #1′, as our resident Nexus numerologist calls them, and it’s also another very good issue of Uncanny.  I feel like this title is getting itself back into its groove after a post-Battle of the Atom malaise.  Cyclops is about to learn what happened to Eva a couple of issues ago when the team is called to Chicago to contact a new mutant, only to walk into a Sentinel trap that may or may not have been set by SHIELD.  Basically, Cyclops declares war on the organization, which we know has been manipulated by Mystique and maybe others.  Brian Michael Bendis achieves a better balance between talking and action than he usually does, and Chris Bachalo’s art is gorgeous (although I’m not sure where I stand on Goldball’s new uniform).

Undertow #2 – I really enjoyed the first issue of Undertow, a new series set in prehistoric times about Atlantean secessionists, and was happy to come back for more.  Steve Orlando keeps adding layers to this book, as we learn about the council, and watch as the movement’s central figure, Redum Anshargal, takes a small squad in search of a possibly mythological Atlantean amphibium.  This book is very well written, and artist Artyom Trakhanov does an incredible job of imagining what an underwater civilization would really look like.  Cool stuff.

Wasteland #52It’s crazy for me to think that Wasteland has been running for eight years now.  This issue is used much like the end credits of a true crime movie – each page or double-page spread checks in on a different character who has had a large or small role in this series at some point in the past fifty issues, and with a paragraph or two, brings us up to speed on the rest of their lives, after they went off-stage.  The greatest strength of this series, from its very beginning, has been the depth of the world-building that Antony Johnston applied to its story, and so it doesn’t surprise me that even the most tangential characters had the rest of their story arcs mapped out.  The big surprise of this issue is that original series artist Christopher Mitten has arrived to finish things off.  Mitten’s art, which is scratchy and rough, and often approaches the abstract in its minimalism, really set a tone for this book, and while I’ve liked some of the artists who have come after him, the series hasn’t felt the same since he left.  Sam Kieth was originally solicited to draw this issue, and while I’m sure that would have looked very good, getting Mitten back was a big treat.  Johnston also wrapped up the story of Ankya Ofsteen, the woman who has been narrating the story of her own journeys in text pages at the end of every issue.  There is a real sense of closure to this issue, and now I can’t wait to get my hands on the last few issues, as we see Michael and Abi (hopefully) finally uncover the mystery of A-Ree-Yass-I.

The White Suits #2More violence and crazy Toby Cypress artwork make this comic work very nicely, as the two groups that are trying to figure out who the White Suits are come into contact with each other, and the story feels a lot more solid than it did in the first issue.

Winter Soldier: The Bitter March #2 – I am loving Rick Remender and Roland Boschi’s 60s-set SHIELD thriller.  Agent Ran Shen is trying to escape a Hydra-controlled mountainous region in Eastern Europe while keeping a pair of ex-Nazi scientists alive, all with Bucky Barnes, the Soviet-controlled Winter Soldier dogging them every step of the way.  The book has a nice blend of action and character, and looks terrific.

Wolverine and the X-Men #2 – I’m not too sure I understand what is going on in this comic.  After spending a good chunk of the last issue establishing that Quentin Quire is basically the main character of this series, and that Wolverine is becoming increasingly hard to depend on, everyone got a text message of the Phoenix symbol on their phones.  Apparently this symbolizes some kind of crisis, because now people are mad, and Quire heads off to a different country to confront the people that sent it while Logan and Storm fight over how to handle the problem (whatever that problem is).  At the same time, some old cross between Cable and Ahab fight these heroes as they arrive at the Phoenix Corporation because he wants to kill Evan (aka the clone of Apocalypse).  Oh, and Armor tries to boss all of the students around, and that turns sweet, self-deprecating African Idie into a smart-mouthed American teenager with attitude.  At least that’s what I got out of this mess.  I really want to like any X-Men comic that includes the next generation of students and is set at the school and feature the actual X-Men (not the Bendis rebel squads), but I am putting this title on watch.

Wonder Woman #29After over two years of terrific comics, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang top themselves, as Diana, her allies, and her enemies all come before the First Born, who has taken over Olympus.  Lots of great moments fill this comic.  I feel like Azzarello is moving us towards a very satisfying conclusion to this epic run.

X-Men #12 – All the Arkea stuff wraps up with this issue, which is a good thing, as I was starting to find it a little tedious.  I’m surprised with the way that Storm deals with some of Arkea’s newest allies, but I suppose that Brian Wood is just setting up some stories for down the road.  I like the way Kris Anka and Clay Mann have been sharing the art duties lately, but I’m not sure that’s going to continue.

X-O Manowar #23 – Robert Venditti never gives Aric much time to rest, and so he is sent out to orbit to investigate some stuff going on with the Vine wreckage, and meets a creature that appears to be wearing half of an X-O suit.  I know that whatever is going on here is prelude to the upcoming Armor Hunters event, and while that’s all fine, I’d rather we get a little more of Aric’s new life as leader to his people and tool of the US government before diving into another event.

Zero #6The art of Vanessa Del Rey is new to me, but she’s now someone I’m going to be keeping an eye on, as she does an excellent job with this new issue of Zero.  Edward Zero is sent to the Large Hadron Collider after someone breaks into it and rounds up the scientists who work there.  Zero is confused as to why it’s an Agency problem, until he sees who his target is.  Ales Kot has been very casually adding layers of complexity to this series, and with this issue, he introduces some more stuff that had me thinking back to the second and third issues.  This is a great comic that, as it continues, becomes increasingly more interesting.

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

Iron Man #23.NOW

Marvel Knights Hulk #4

Nova #15

Shadowman #16

Superior Spider-Man Annual #2

Thor God of Thunder #20

Unwritten Vol. 2 Apocalypse #3

Bargain Comics:

Brain Boy #3Fred Van Lente is really developing a recognizable writing style – if I hadn’t known beforehand that this was his comic, it would have quickly been apparent.  The first arc finishes up with this issue, and I do like the way that Van Lente is writing this comic; I’m hesitant to get too committed to it though, as I think that Dark Horse is tying this book is more closely to Captain Midnight and Skyman, neither of which really interest me.

Superior Spider-Man #26&27.NOW – The Goblin Nation arc that has been building forever finally kicks off, as the Green Goblin absorbs Hobgoblin’s operation, and makes an offer to Spider-Man that surprises him.  I think the revelation of who the Green Goblin is (this time) was also supposed to be surprising, but I’d forgotten that I didn’t know that, and had already assumed that this is who was under the cowl.  I’m hoping that the whole Amazing Spider-Man thing is a dodge, and Otto ends up staying in control of Peter’s brain – he’s just so much more interesting.

Ten Grand #1-5 – I’m not really a fan of J. Michael Straczynski.  I loved Babylon 5 back in the day, and have lots of good things to say about Rising Stars and Supreme Power, and even liked The Twelve once it finally got completed, but he’s one of those writers whose personality and depiction in the comics media has caused me to actively turn away from his work (well, that and his utter unreliability in terms of shipping and completing projects).  That said, Ten Grand sounded interesting, and once I had the chance to check out the first five issues for five dollars, I jumped at it.  I’m glad I read it, because this book kind of filled the gap that has been caused by the lack of Hellblazer comics.  Joe, the main character, is a private investigator who deals with the supernatural, and who, when he dies a righteous death, is given five minutes with the deceased love of his life, before he is brought back to our world.  He is hired to investigate a cult that appears to be led by the man who killed him, and he heads down a long and complicated road of revenge and heavenly manipulation.  The character is not John Constantine, but there’s enough similarity to make me happy.  Ben Templesmith drew the first four issues, and so they look great in his Templesmith’s usual unique way.  He had to bow out of the series, and was replaced starting in issue five by CP Smith, an artist I’ve always found very interesting.  The shift in art is jarring, but works, because the story moves to Hell at that exact same time.  Ten Grand is not a bad comic, and I’m glad I checked it out.

 

That’s all the comics I read this week.  What did you read?  Let us know!

 

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