The Weekly Round-Up #247 With Letter 44, Pop, Rai, Saga, Sex, Star Wars, X-O Manowar & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Letter 44 #9Things are not looking too good, as the Chandelier, the alien object that is at the centre of this book, is completed and used to blow up a moon of Jupiter, while the former President of the United States offers to sell all of his secrets to Germany.  Writer Charles Soule has created an interesting story that balances political plotlines on Earth with science fiction ones in space, and has filled it with great character writing.  The Clarke, the ship sent from Earth, comes under attack this issue, making me think that we’re going to start finally learning something about these aliens soon.

Quick Takes:

All-New Ultimates #7 – And with this issue, I’m done.  I’ve tried to like this series, I really have.  I think the team has a terrific line-up, but Michel Fiffe’s writing is just too rough.  Scenes are set up rather randomly, and his storylines have been hard to follow, and even harder to care about.  I was interested in seeing guest artist Giannis Milonogiannis’s art on a mainstream book, but I much prefer his working on a title like Prophet, where he can cut loose.  Here, his art is just as stiff as the writing.  I won’t be returning for the next issue.

All-New X-Men #31 – I guess Brian Michael Bendis decided it was time to have something happen in this series, as a new mutant with the ability to open portals to different dimensions manifests her powers, and the Past X-Men (with X-23) head off to try to help her with these abilities.  The issues of this series that progress a plot or two are pretty good reads, and the way in which people are reacting to X-23 and Warren’s relationship are pretty funny.

Avengers #34Captain America makes it to the end of all his jaunts through time, to have an interesting conversation with Kang, Immortus, and Iron Lad about how to stop the incursions, although ultimately, Cap does not like their ideas.  I feel like Jonathan Hickman is starting to push the new interpretation of Tony Stark as a ‘monster’ a little too hard, and I imagine that’s because of the upcoming ‘Superior Iron Man’ relaunch, but otherwise, I think this was the most solid issue of this entire arc.

Avengers Undercover #9 – We’re moving pretty quickly towards the conclusion of this series, and unfortunately that means that the regular Avengers team (supported by Captain Britain and Meggan) need to show up in Bagalia to help out our heroes take down Zemo’s crew.  Zemo, of course, is way ahead of them all.  There are some good moments in this issue, but I maintain that this series has not been as rewarding as Avengers Arena was.

Baltimore: The Witch of Harju #2 – I’m still not clear on who all the supporting characters in this series are now, but we’re on somewhat familiar territory as Lord Baltimore and his crew fight the undead and come to realize that the Estonian village they are in has a serious witch problem.  It’s a good, if somewhat typical issue.

Black Science #8 – Rick Remender, having killed off a lot of the cast of this book, finally gets around to having one of Grant McKay’s children narrate their adventures, which makes sense, as the kids are lost on a hostile planet, with the rest of the group believing they are dead.  We also get to learn how the Shaman and his people became so technologically advanced.  I really enjoy this series, and am happy to see Remender take the time to give us a quieter issue for a change, so that we can manage some information.  As always, Matteo Scalera is doing some incredible stuff with the designs in this series.

Cyclops #4It’s a shame that this book hasn’t been able to hold on to its announced creative team, with original series artist Russell Dauterman missing this month, and writer Greg Rucka leaving shortly.  New artist Carmen Carnero does a fine job with this issue, which is spent on the remote planet that Past Cyclops and Corsair crashed onto last month.  Father and son continue to bond, while dealing with Corsair’s impending death without his medication.  Rucka has a good handle on what makes this Scott different from the one we are used to, and writes the story with subtlety and humour.

Deep Gravity #2 – After spending the first issue establishing a distant planet that mankind is raiding for resources, and all the rules that come with living and traveling to there, we get this issue, which has the Vanguard, the vessel that makes the three year run to Earth, badly damaged.  A number of characters find themselves trapped in a cargo hold, and they have to figure out how to stay alive and to safely get to the planet, since the ship’s orbit is decaying.  Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman are writing a pretty taut thriller, which, because of the alien samples aboard the ship, has a bit of an Alien feel to it.  Very good stuff.

Low #2 – I didn’t love the first issue of Low, but am much happier with this one.  Ten years have passed between issues, and the time was not well spent.  Marik is now a depressed cop who forces a prostitute to service him for free, which causes problems, while Stel, his eternally optimistic mother, is wallowing in her own self-pity.  I still feel that Greg Tocchini’s artwork could go a long way towards making the story easier to follow, but am impressed with the depth that Remender is adding to the story.

The Manhattan Project #23This issue gives us a look at the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was mostly used as cover so that Brezhnev could make his way to Cuba unnoticed, where he has plans for Castro and Che Guevara.  This issue also visits the White House, where President Kennedy sends Vice President Johnson to figure out what’s going on at the Manhattan Projects.  This was another fun issue, which does not give much space to our usual favourite characters.

The Massive #26 – Callum and Mary spend most of this issue in conversation, and while Cal is learning a lot, the rest of the crew is trying to figure out how to manage the fact that it looks like a second Crash is taking place.  Mag shows some real leadership, and there is a surprise at the end of the issue that I didn’t see coming.  Brian Wood’s work on this book has been interesting, and it really feels like he’s building towards a conclusion.

Outcast by Kirkman and Azaceta #3 – As this series progresses, we are getting a better sense of some of the supporting cast, as Kirkman holds off on a lot of demonic possession stuff.  This title has impressed me, and I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the different characters.  This feels like a very mature piece of work from these creators.

Pariah #7 – Most of the Vitros are hard at work planning their voyage to the stars, while Maudsley and Hyde have returned to Earth to try to put a stop to the epidemic that is wiping the planet out.  Once again, Philip Gelatt and Brett Weldele have put together an excellent character-driven comic.  I’m a little unclear on the mechanics of the cure that the Vitros developed – I thought it had to be delivered to Earth in a person, yet Maudsley takes his time using it – but everything else about this title works very well.

Pop #1I wasn’t too sure what to expect from this, but it looked like it might be a cool comic.  A nascent pop star breaks out of her incubation cell a little early and goes on the run, ending up in the apartment of a suicidal record/comic store proprietor.  She’s hiding from the same people who grew Justin Bieber (oh wait, I mean Dustin Beaver, wouldn’t want anyone to get sued), who has his own problems after trying to make some independent decisions for himself.  The level of satire in this series is not quite as strong as it could be – the conceit that pop stars are actually manufactured is not exactly groundbreaking – but there is some potential here.  I’ve liked Jason Copland’s art since his days drawing Ed Brisson’s Murder Book, and it looks pretty good here.

Rai #4 – Finally, four issues into this series, Matt Kindt has been able to make me care a little bit about what’s going on.  Rai has a few difficult conversations, the effect of which is that he now knows that he’s been lied to by ‘Father’, the AI (I think) that runs all of Japan.  Unfortunately, the book is going on hiatus until December (what is it with so many Valiant books ending lately?), so I hope I remember to care by that point.  Clayton Crain’s art is still a little too dark in places, but it was easier to follow in this issue.  A lot of the set designs are interesting.

Revival #23 – Officer Dana Cypress tracks down Anders, the only Reviver to have escaped quarantine so far.  In a scene reminiscent of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, a bunch of 1%ers are feasting down on Reviver flesh, while back home, Cooper gets lost in the woods.  This feels like a very significant issue, as a number of characters turn corners in this issue, or at least begin to admit to themselves who they really are in this new world.  Tim Seeley’s taken a very long and slow approach to building this series, and while that was a little frustrating for a while, it’s really beginning to pay off in issues like these, which are pretty subtle and nuanced.

Saga #22Things are getting pretty dark in Saga.  Marko and Alana are not getting along very well, and confront each other about Alana’s drug use, and Marko’s apparent interest in Ginny, the dance teacher.  As well, Prince Robot IV is cracking up after his wife’s murder and the kidnapping of his son, a plotline that is definitely going to intersect with our heroes’ lives next month.  This is always a terrific read, and I especially like the way they portrayed the Robot King – it made me laugh to see him.

Sex #15 – I’m glad that this series has come off hiatus, as I always find it very enjoyable.  Simon and his business associates are trying to track down where the Japanese executives hired the prostitutes that their boss murdered, while Keenan starts working for the Breaks, and the Old Man feels that he may have a turf war on his hands.  Joe Casey has spent a lot of time setting up a bunch of interesting plotlines in this series, and now it’s just nice to sit back and watch them play out.  This is my favourite Batman comic these days.

The Sixth Gun #42 – It looks like the Six, a set of powerful pistols, are going to be used to open a seal and put an end to the world, and it also looks like Drake and Becky have no real way of putting a stop to the Grey Witch’s plans.  Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt have been building to this for a very long time, and there is a feeling of inevitability to what is happening in this excellent Western Fantasy now.

Star Wars Legacy #18 – Yet another excellent Dark Horse Star Wars comic comes to its premature conclusion, although writers Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman do a very good job of wrapping up the major plotlines, while still giving readers reason to believe that the book’s main characters will continue to have adventures without us.  We never got to look too closely at Ania Solo’s past in this series, or her connection to her famous ancestor, but we did get a solid read that picked up perfectly from John Ostrander’s incredible Star Wars Legacy series.

Uncanny Avengers #23After such a long story arc, it makes a lot of sense that Rick Remender takes a lot of this issue to pause, and let the events of this series catch up to everything that’s going on in the Marvel Universe.  He does a good job of explaining why Rogue has been taken out of other titles for so long, while the headlining characters have managed to lose their healing powers, get really old, or whatever (although there is a big continuity gaffe – Cap has aged, which hasn’t happened yet in Original Sin, but Thor is still holding his hammer, which we’ve seen him lose the ability to carry in OS the other week).  Anyway, Rogue has Wonder Man stuck in her head, which is going to be endlessly annoying, and Immortus has shown up to warn everyone of the Red Skull’s plans, which I presume is the start of the upcoming Axis event.  Sanford Greene draws this issue, and it’s nice to see his work with some of the Marvel characters (although his Wasp and Scarlet Witch scenes feel like they are channelling late-80s Marc Silvestri X-Men comics, at least in the faces).

Wolverine and the X-Men #8 – I haven’t been too enamored of this series since it started, but now I’m beginning to actively dislike it.  We finally get a more straight-forward story this time around, but it’s about Logan and Ororo ditching their responsibilities to spend a month together in The World, where they end up dealing with a new civilization, and having adventures, while also entering into a relationship.  I think that the connection between these two characters was one of the strengths of the Claremont era, and feel that having them develop a sexual relationship now (most likely so that Storm can be extra sad when Logan dies in a couple of months) is kind of cheap and too easy, especially in the manner in which it is portrayed here.  I think I’ve lost all patience with this title.

X-O Manowar #28In this issue we learn how Malgam ended up with armor covering half his body, as we continue to look in on the backstory of the Armor Hunters through this title.  I like the way Robert Venditti has taken what originally looked like completely unoriginal characters and has made them a little more interesting.  In all, Armor Hunters has been a pretty successful event, especially compared to the mess the ones at the Big Two always end up being.

Comics I Would Have Bought if Comics Weren’t So Expensive:

All-New Invaders #9

All-Star Western #34

Amazing Spider-Man #1.4

Aquaman #34

Batman Eternal #21

Bodies #2

Brass Sun #4

Conan the Avenger #5

Fantastic Four #9

Guardians of the Galaxy #18

Kill Shakespeare Mask of Night #3

Original Sin #5.4

Savage Hulk #3

Silver Surfer #5

Star-Spangled War Stories Featuring GI Combat #2

Wolverine #12

Bargain Comics:

All-New Invaders #5-8I hated the first arc of this series, which is why I dropped it, but I’m pleased to see that the book improved a lot after that, although that’s mostly because it’s really become an Original Human Torch series, with appearances from people like Namor and the Winter Soldier.  James Robinson writes a very good Jim Hammond, and makes good use of the Original Sin tie-in to tell a story about how the Invaders were inadvertently respsonsible for the US using atomic bombs on Japan.  I’m still disappointed by Steve Pugh’s art on this book, as it’s nowhere near as original and expressive as his work on Animal Man (recently or back in the day), to say nothing of his work on Hotwire.

Amazing X-Men Annual #1 – I feel like Marvel used this annual as a bit of a try-out book, giving new writer Monty Nero a chance to play with these characters a little bit.  He delivered a pretty standard story about Storm taking a team to Kenya to deal with a newly-empowered Inhuman with a grudge against her for something she did when she was twelve.  If you sit down at a table right now, you can probably write this story yourself and it would come out much the same.  It’s the first in a long time that I’ve seen somebody ink Salvador Larroca, and it makes his work look very different.  There’s a back-up story featuring Firestar, written by Marguerite Bennett that shows how different people view the hero, but it doesn’t work all that well.  Were it not for Juan Doe’s incredible art, it would have just come off as pretentious and facile.

Armor Hunters: Bloodshot #1 – I feel like Valiant’s never quite known what to do with Bloodshot, as a character who has no memories of his past (or just perhaps no past) is not inherently interesting as a character who drives story.  Now they are plunking him into the middle of their mostly successful Armor Hunters event, although the role he has to play is just as easily shown in the main title (and in Unity).  This issue does little more than expand on events we’ve already seen, without adding anything to the character.

Black Widow #8It’s kind of cool to see the Black Widow working with the Winter Soldier again, but Nathan Edmondson’s scripts for this series are just so decompressed that not a lot happens in this issue.  Still, I’m always happy to look at art by Phil Noto, even when the story doesn’t really stick with me.

Captain America #21&22 – I’d dropped Cap’s book because I felt that Rick Remender was spending too much time spinning his wheels, and because I felt like the potential in a character like the Iron Nail (ex-SHIELD Agent who had served undercover infiltrating Mao’s China before becoming a villain) had been squandered by making him so one-dimensional.  Anyway, it’s in these issues that Cap is depowered, setting the stage for the Falcon to take his place, and there’s a surprising lack of drama to the whole affair.  This book continues to disappoint, and to feel like the creators are just going through the motions to a certain degree.

Daredevil #0.1 – I don’t really know that we needed this story about Matt Murdock’s problems with the Mad Thinker on his way to San Francisco.  It doesn’t really add to what Mark Waid has been doing with the character, but like all of Waid’s DD, it’s a good read.  I’m not upset that I chose to not spend $5 on this when it first came out (thank you Fan Expo!).

Iron Man #26 – The whole Mandarin ring storyline seems to be taking a very long time here, while Arno is working in the background, perhaps against some of Tony’s best interests.  I’m not sure how much Kieron Gillen is being expected to set up the upcoming Superior Iron Man series, but it’s notable that Extremis gets talked about a little in this issue.  I wonder if Warren Ellis should still be getting royalties for creating the concept that will now keep popping up in Iron Man every few years…

Superior Spider-Man #30&31You really have to hand it to Dan Slott for shepherding Spider-Man through the most interesting storyline he’s been involved in for decades.  I really liked the ‘Superior’ Spider-Man, and found him a much more interesting character to read about than I have Peter Parker since I was a kid.  The edge Ock brought to the character was welcomed, and Slott managed to keep the series from sliding too deeply into the ‘grim and gritty’, while still telling a pretty dark story.  These two issues wrap up Ock’s tenure in Peter Parker’s head, and while plotlines are resolved nicely, I couldn’t help but feel a little let down to see the status quo restored.

Superior Spider-Man Annual #2 – I’m always up for a good Ben Urich story, and so I enjoyed the one here which has him trying to save his nephew from being part of the Goblin Nation, or whatever it was called.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the art for the story was by Javier Rodriguez, who is incredible.  The back-up Wraith story, also written by Christos Gage but with art by Phil Briones, was not as impressive.

The Week in Manga:

20th Century Boys Vol. 14 – Now that everyone knows who the Friend is, it’s time to go back into an incredibly detailed virtual reality world, so that Yoshitsune can reminisce about the Japanese bowling craze of the early 70s.  And more importantly, so that we can finally figure out what happened with Donkey in the science lab that one night.  As always, this book is utterly gripping, even when stopping to think about some story elements makes the book feel very implausible.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Harlan Ellison’s 7 Against Chaos

Written by Harlan Ellison
Art by Paul Chadwick

As much as I’ve always recognized Harlan Ellison’s importance to science fiction as a genre, I’ve barely read more than a handful of his stuff over the years.  The news that he had a graphic novel coming out from DC featuring his own characters interested me, but then I saw that Paul Chadwick was going to draw it, and getting a copy became a certainty.  I love Chadwick’s Concrete, and have been hoping to see more work from him.7 Against Chaos is kind of a strange graphic novel.  I originally assumed from the title that it would be yet another take on Seven Samurai, but it really isn’t.  A mysterious hooded character takes he first third of the book to put together a team of strange characters from a number of different planets in our solar system.  All of these people are in trouble when the hooded guy shows up – one is a genetically modified (reordered) miner with metal pincer hands, another a faceless thief, another a sentient robot, an insect guy, and a woman who will burst into flames if she touches another human being).Eventually, we find out what the mission is – this team is needed to go back in time to man’s earliest days, to put a stop to an effort being made by the lizard-being Erisssa to replace mankind with evolved reptiles.  The story is a lot more complex than that – each character is given enough space to develop fully, and Ellison has a good time exploring the ramifications of time travel and how to make some of these concepts work on the page.The graphic novel has a retro feel to its art.  Paul Chadwick fills it with designs that could have come from the heyday of 50s science fiction magazines, but the book still feels very modern.

Perhaps it’s just the inclusion of the character Tantalus, who looks like a human-sized preying mantis and is reminiscent of Bug, but this comic reminded me a lot of the classic Micronauts series.  It has the same general feel of a multi-world system that has gone wrong, and that none of the characters will necessarily stick around through the whole thing.

I think that this was originally written to be a four-issue mini-series (perhaps in the prestige format) because there are a few places where the story gets kind of recapped immediately after a big moment, and am a little curious to know the history of how this project came about (especially because this is not the kind of thing that DC usually publishes, and it didn’t get a lot of hype when it was released in 2013.

Shoplifter

by Michael Cho

Michael Cho is one of my favourite local artists.  Two of his Toronto alley way pictures hang in my bedroom, and his art bookBack Alleys and Urban Landscapes is a favourite of mine.  I loved his short comic piece about the atomic bomb (I think it was in an issue of Taddle Creek magazine), and have bought novels on the strength of his covers.  I was very excited to hear aboutShoplifter, his new original graphic novel.

Shoplifter is centred on Corinna Park, a young woman who upon graduating with an English Literature degree, began working at an advertising firm.  She’s moved to the big city (I’m not sure which – at times it looks like New York, but isn’t; there are a few pages that are recognizably Toronto though), took in a stray cat, and waited for her exciting new life to begin.  A few years into this life, she’s more than a little disillusioned, dissatisfied, and generally bored.

One of the few thrills left to her in life comes from shoplifting magazines from a local convenience store.  She has a well-thought out system that never fails, although the momentary high does little to make her more satisfied with her choices.

Over the course of this book, Corinna makes a big mistake during a client meeting, and is now in danger of losing her job.  Seeking solace in a party, where she meets an attractive photographer, doesn’t do much to help her out.

Cho does a great job of portraying the modern condition.  Everyone around Corinna is glued to small screen, and is increasingly cut off from real interaction.  The isolation of modern city living is put on display, as is the existential angst it creates.  Cho doesn’t have much to say that is new, but this is a nice distillation of where we are right now as people.

Cho fills the book with incredible cityscapes, and portrays people quite expressively, using a minimum of lines.  The book is shaded very effectively with only pink and black.

This book is a quick, but very rewarding read, and I hope it is the beginning of lots more comics work from Cho.

 

That’s what I read this week.  What about you?  Let us know in the comments!

 

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