The Weekly Round-Up #252

Best Comic of the Week:

Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #1To be clear from the start, I hate the notion that Nick Fury has secretly been fighting cosmic battles for years (with no apparent intelligence network to warn him of coming attacks from very random planets and cultures).  To further that, I don’t like that Bucky Barnes is now taking on that role, because he is a street-level and/or spy story character, and having him on strange planets just doesn’t fit his character.  All of those things being said, I think this might be my new favourite Marvel comic.  Somebody at Marvel wisely chose Marco Rudy to be the artist for this book.  I’ve been touting his skills for years (since I first saw his stuff on The Shield at DC), and the guy just keeps getting better and better, to say nothing of wilder and wilder.  This is book is absolutely stunning throughout.  Rudy draws or paints a planet of green aliens who worship a pig-like creature, a few planetscapes, a black hole, and a wonderful underwater battle scene in this issue.  He constructs his page layouts much like JH Williams III is known for, but there’s a stronger sense of anarchy behind Rudy’s methods, which gives the reader a sense of discovery with each new page.  The story, by Ales Kot, is a little hard to follow (that’s kind of Kot’s thing a lot of the time), but he brings Daisy Johnson into Bucky’s little operation, and gives Namor a cameo.  Kot also makes reference to Merzbow, a Japanese noise artist, in much the same way that his Secret Avengers has been a love letter to Jorge Luis Borges.  I like that Kot brings so many disparate influences into his work on mainstream superhero titles.  I don’t know how long this series can stay this good – I doubt Rudy will be able to stick to a monthly schedule for long, and I’m not sure that the average Marvel reader, who loved something like Original Sin, is going to stick with this for long, but I feel like this series might be one of those critical darlings that gets talked about for decades.  I already can’t wait to see how the next issue, which involves Asgard, is going to look.

Quick Takes:

Alex + Ada #9Ada, the sentient robot, has decided to strike out on her own into a world that is determined to track down and destroy her kind.  It doesn’t take her long to get into some trouble, while Alex is worried sick, and a little disappointed in his own choices.  Jonathan Luna (with co-writer Sarah Vaughn) is doing some pretty amazing work on this title.

American Vampire: Second Cycle #5 – I was ready to drop this title, and had even stopped preordering it, because it has felt like Scott Snyder has lost the magic that made the first half of the first volume of the book so exciting and enjoyable.  Then he comes along with this issue, and it has me rethinking that decision.  We leave Pearl, Skinner, and the others behind for an issue, and instead check in with Gene Bunting, the VMS accountant, who has driven out to Nevada to investigate the outrageous claims made in a hundred-year old miner’s journal.  About half of the issue is given over to this journal, in hand-written prose, which tells of a strange mining operation that just dug a massive hole in the middle of the desert.  Snyder recaptures the sense of mystery and suspense that this book used to teem with, and guest artist Matias Bergara does a great job of showing the two approaches used to tell this story.  I am reminded, however, that Snyder has shown before the ability to have a knock-out one-off issue (like the last one of volume one) while still not being able to transfer that excitement into the regular, on-going story.  I’m giving this comic one more chance, and if it’s this good again, I’ll stick around.

Armor Hunters: Aftermath #1 – Wrapping up the Armor Hunters event, we really get a stealth issue of Unity, only written by Robert Venditti.  Most of this comic is concerned with the way that, now that everybody on Earth knows about alien races and superheroes, Colonel Capshaw and her people at the newly renamed GATE, are going to market the Unity team to them.  It’s a good jumping on point for new readers, which is odd for an Aftermath comic.  I like the way that Venditti shows us some guys who like to sit outside Cape Canaveral and watch the goings on; it gives the book a more 60s vibe, but also reminds us of how these events would look to an average person.  Armor Hunters was, for the most part, a very successful event comic, and this issue does a good job of wrapping things up.

Captain America #25Always a slave to the hype, I decided to check out the final issue of yet another volume of Captain America, and the one in which the shield gets passed on to Sam Wilson to yield as the new (and probably very temporary) Cap.  Just about everything in this issue felt very forced, from the cover which attempts to hide the new Cap’s identity, through the first few pages, which try to make it look like Wilson has died, and right up to a big meeting of Avengers that is filled with comedic dialogue that even the worst sitcom would reject as unbelievable (unless you think the Vision making toilet jokes is something that could ever work).  There are only two things that redeem this issue – that Jet Black is written out of the story, and that there is apparently an Avenger working with a secret Hydra crew, and even that is problematic.  Whoever the traitor is (assuming he or she is not working as a double-agent) has been around for years, which somewhat limits the possibilities.  Also, the Hydra luminaries shown were all featured in Rick Remender’s Winter Soldier mini-series (set in the 50s), but were nowhere to be seen in Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Avengers, which pretty much defined Hydra in the modern Marvel Universe.  I’m going to give the next Captain America series a couple of issues to impress me, because I’ve always liked the Falcon, but I don’t feel like we’re off to a good start…

Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T #2 – I’m very happy to see Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander’s series continuing in this format.  The original stories, published in Dark Horse Presents, were terrific, but with twenty pages, the creators have a lot more space to really let their work breathe.  I’m very interested in learning more about Scare City, a slapdash city built and controlled by various gangs on a prison planet.  Isaac, our point-of-view character and newcomer to Scare, is taken in by Silas’s gang, where he’s given a nice room with a shower, but it’s not long before another gang attacks.  This feels like a very big story, but Puryear and Alexander are taking the time to tell it properly, with enough space for character development.

The Fade Out #2As I read Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s second issue of their new series, The Fade Out, I couldn’t help but think of parallels with Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin’s series, Satellite Sam.  There are many differences, but both series are focused on the underhandedness of mass entertainment in the post-war period.  In Sam, degenerates and people with secrets work on a struggling television network’s most successful show, where the star has been killed, while in The Fade Out, we are looking at the film industry, which is working to cover up the murder of a starlet.  We learn a lot more about Charlie Parish this month, including the details of his secret working relationship with blacklisted screenwriter Gil Mason.  Really, this issue is as much about establishing the series as the first one was, but it’s still an enjoyable read, because Brubaker and Phillips are just so damn good at this kind of thing.

Gotham Academy #1 – I know that it’s been proven that the surest way to make sure that a DC comic does well sales-wise is to feature Batman in it, but I was a little surprised to see Gotham Academy added to DC’s schedule, and to see it branded as a ‘New 52′ title.  That it is co-written by Becky Cloonan (with Brendan Fletcher), and drawn by Karl Kerschl, is enough of a reason to check the book out, but I’m still a little surprised to see that this is a DC book.  It reads like a typical all-ages book about kids in a stuffy academy (where, for reasons I don’t understand, the Headmaster who looks like Ras Al Ghul walks around with a lit candle) who get in trouble for exploring, only set against the backdrop of Batman’s Gotham.  The POV character, Olive, is going through some growing pains, and doesn’t feel like maintaining her relationships with her friends and boyfriend.  His little sister has just come to the Academy, and Olive is tasked with showing her around, which ends up with them climbing the belfry, which is not structurally sound.  There’s also talk about the school being haunted.  The writers do a good job of making Olive interesting (Maps, the little sister, less so), but I don’t come away from this first issue with a real sense of where the series is headed, or why I should come back month after month.  Kerschl’s art is lovely, but then it always is.  I just don’t know if I want to read another issue, outside of my desire to support increased diversity in the DC line.

Grayson #3 I thought I’d give Grayson another chance, because I really can’t make up my mind about this series.  I like the notion of Dick working as a spy, and this issue was not as pleased with itself as the first two were, but some things still feel a little off, although I can’t quite put my finger on it.  I think it’s a weird coincidence that the issue has the Spyral organization chasing some enhanced eyeballs, considering what’s been happening at Marvel lately, but I do like that Dick stands up to the Spyral way of doing things, working his own angles to try to bring in their target without bloodshed.  I see a lot of potential in this series, but am not sure that the writers are going to get there.  I think they’ve bought themselves another issue though, so I’ll be back to check it again next month (I really do want to read some DC series again, since dropping Green Arrow and being poised to dump Wonder Woman very soon).

Hinterkind #12 – To begin with, I think that the promotion that Vertigo is running this month, turning the cover of the comic into the first page, is kind of stupid, as it’s not all that likely to draw in new readers, and feels like the company is scraping the bottom of the attention-seeking barrel.  This is an imprint that used to be proud of the fact that the books that make up its line are varied and disparate, not crying out for a uniform look, like say, the New 52.  Anyway, the comic itself is excellent, as Ian Edginton keeps focusing a number of plotlines and groups, making it clear (a year in) that this book is going to be about the fight between the European vampires and North American Sidhe for control over the continent.  Edginton has taken a very long time to get this series to this place, and while I almost gave up on the book a couple of times, now I feel like the slow burn has added a lot of richness and texture to the story.  In this issue, the new Queen of the Sidhe finds her ambitions dashed against the rocks of tradition, while Hobb’s partnership with the vampires proves to be very short-lived.

Men of Wrath #1While I’m not the biggest fan of Ron Garney’s art, and am not always impressed with Jason Aaron’s writing these days, I was down for their new creator-owned Icon book, because with every new Aaron project, I hope for something that captures the skill and quality he brought to his brilliant Scalped series.  This new title is a personal one for Aaron, as he dredges up his own family’s history to start telling the tale of the Rath family, who were nondescript Alabama farmers until the family’s patriarch killed another man in a dispute over a sheep back at the dawn of the 20th century.  From there, a meanness just sort of seeped into the family, which has culminated in Ira Rath, a hired killer who, we are shown, thinks nothing of murdering a baby when he has to kill its parents.  We see that Ira, an aging, cancer-ridden man, has a pretty miserable life, and we really have no clue how to respond when his employer sends him to kill his own son.  This series feels like an inversion of Aaron’s other series, Southern Bastard, which is about an aging son returning to his dead father’s town for the first time since his youth, and struggling to live up to his father’s legacy.  The two books, both set in the south, work well as companions to one another, as Aaron sets out to be the comics writer of modern southern gothic crime fiction.  This is well worth checking out.

Moon Knight #8 – Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood continue to impress with their run on this title.  This issue is shown completely through camera footage – news reports, cellphone video, and ‘scarab cam’, a new invention of Mr. Night’s.  Moon Knight infiltrates the Freedom Tower to end a hostage situation, and we see a slightly different side of our hero as he cycles through a few personalities to resolve the problem.  My problem with this issue is that much of it hinges on MK’s having Detective Flint, his contact on the police force, contact his doctor.  I have no idea why he would need to do this in this situation, except to further the plot.  Wood is not usually so lazy in his plot constructs, so I’m going to assume there’s something I missed, that might make more sense later.

Morning Glories #41This issue introduces us to Towerball, a pretty big sport at the Morning Glory Academy.  There are two teams who compete – the red and the blue – but it has been decreed by the Headmaster that only the red team will ever win the tournaments, and that has always been the case.  Guillaume, one of the Truants, is demoted to Captain of the blue team, as punishment for his involvement in the insurrection, but he has some plans for the position.  Guillaume is an interesting character, especially because he has to deal with the fact that his lover Hisao’s body is now inhabited by his twin brother Jun, who despises him, but is also instrumental to his plans.  Things are always complicated in this book, but Hisao decides to make them even moreso at the end of the comic.  Issues like this one, which are a little more focussed than the last couple have been, help remind me why I’m staying onboard for Nick Spencer’s utterly bizarre epic, even as it shows little to no forward movement story-wise.

Swamp Thing #35 – As shown in the Futures End one-shot, the Green, Red, and Rot are not the only ‘realms’ that have avatars and parliaments.  This month, Charles Soule introduces us to the Calculus, representatives of the Machine World, who want Swamp Thing to outsource management of the Green to them.  I like how Soule is expanding on a corner of the DC universe that has not often been played with in a novel manner, and find the differences in opinion between Holland and Jonah, his advisor, pretty interesting.  The clock is ticking on this book, as Soule has announced his Marvel exclusive contract, but it’s not too late for people to start reading one of the best New 52 books that DC is publishing.

Uncanny Avengers #25Rick Remender finishes laying the groundwork for Avengers & X-Men Axis with this issue.  Magneto, and a few of the Avengers Unity team are being held captive by the Red Skull, and his baiting of Magneto leads to the event that will start that event series.  Remender has the Scarlet Witch narrate the issue, with most of the focus being placed on her relationship with her father, and the immensity of his anger.  Magneto is a difficult character to write well, but Remender shows that he has a good handle on him here.  I’m curious to see what he does with Axis, as he’s not always the strongest writer for tent-pole titles (especially compared to his amazing creator-owned books like Deadly Class and Black Science).  I noticed that Uncanny Avengers has been taken off Marvel’s schedule for the duration of the event.  I don’t know if this is the last issue, if the book is going to be rebooted, or will just continue after that.  It does feel like its served its purpose.

The Walking Dead #132 – It’s been a long time since an issue of The Walking Dead only took a few minutes to read, but this one really feels decompressed and padded.  Andrea is being confronted by the newcomers to Alexandria, but we don’t know what she is asked by them.  Rick, Maggie, and their children enjoy a sunset.  The guys from the Hilltop who are searching for their missing friend get swarmed by the dead, and spend the rest of the issue fighting them off.  We learn the secret of the ‘Talking Dead’ that was introduced as a new story element a couple months back, and get our first glimpses of where the next big threat will be coming from.  I love this series, but this issue was over a little too quickly for my liking.

The Woods #6I’ve been getting a lot of enjoyment out of The Woods, the Boom! series about a high school that has been mysteriously transported to another planet.  It’s been a couple of months since we’ve seen what’s going on in the school, as this issue continues to focus on the students who have headed into the woods to explore.  Some students have been taken captive by some locals (who speak English), while others are pursuing them, or at least trying to figure out how to.  The woods themselves turn against everyone this month, as the trees develop mouth-like openings.  James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas are keeping the suspense level high, while also taking the time to back up and explore some of the characters’ personalities.

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

Batman Eternal #26

Black Widow #11

Bloodshot #24

Brides of Helheim #1

Death of Wolverine #3

Detective Comics #35

Fairest #30

Guardians 3000 #1

Kill Shakespeare Mask of Night #4

Legendary Star-Lord #4

Lobo #1

Miracleman #11

Names #2

Spider-Man 2099 #4

Suicide Risk #18

Thor #1

Uber #18

X-Men #20

Bargain Comics:

Batwoman: Futures End #1This is the first of the Futures End one-shots that I bought that actually had a 3D cover (I guess retailers are starting to dump them, since I only paid $2 for it), and I have to say that they aren’t really all that impressive.  I feel like the back cover, showing an ad for American Dad, made better use of the 3D effect.  Anyway, the comic is interesting.  Five years from now, Batwoman has been turned into a vampire, and her sister, along with her team (which is made up of Ragman, the Demon, and Clayface), fight her.  We don’t know how Kate got turned, or how long she’s been like this, and the whole book is just an extended chase/fight scene.  On the up side, it’s nice to see a character like Ragman show up in the New 52.  I love some of the unused DC C-listers!

Death of Wolverine #1&2 – Okay, so Logan is dying, and because of that, just about everybody is hunting him, including a very paunchy Nuke (who we saw killed recently in Captain America), Viper, Sabretooth, and even Lady Deathstrike (who we saw recently start inhabiting the body of a teenage Latino girl in X-Men).  I’m finding it very hard to care about what’s going on in this series, as it’s just a string of fights between Logan and characters we’ve seen him fight many times before.  I would think, with his death a foregone conclusion, that writer Charles Soule would be increasing the gravitas of the whole situation, but there is no tug of emotion to this story at all.  Part of the problem might be the art of Steve McNiven, which is always too clean and antiseptic to convey real feeling.  This series, so far, is a prime example of hype, special covers, and useless back matter taking precedence over the crafting of a comic that should be talked about for years to come.  Marvel likes to market their deaths well in advance, and that means that there is no real surprise in titles like this.  Now there’s no real reason to read them either.  I expected a lot more from Soule.

Savage Hulk #1I’m a little surprised to learn that the Hulk can support a ‘Savage’ title, like Savage Wolverine, that tells stories from different points in the Jade Giant’s history.  If Wolverine can’t make a series like that successful, who would really think the Hulk can?  At the same time, this first issue is by Alan Davis, and features the original X-Men in a story that follows up on the heroes’ first meeting with the Hulk in X-Men #66.  I love seeing Alan Davis draw characters like Marvel Girl, Havok, and Polaris, so I was very predisposed towards liking this book.  The story doesn’t really make a lot of sense – Charles Xavier vows to not rest until he cures Bruce Banner, which clearly never worked out for either of them.  It’s nice to see people revisit the ancient Marvel past, and I’ll try to get the rest of this arc.

Thanos Annual #1 – I don’t really understand Marvel’s need to almost constantly revisit Thanos in stories that say or do nothing new about the character.  In this, Jim Starlin takes the Thanos that just barely survived the fight over the Cosmic Cube back in the 70s, and has him meet with an avatar of the Thanos that wrested control of the Infinity Gauntlet in the 90s, so they can travel, A Christmas Carol-style, through the ghosts of Thanos Failures Future.  I like Jim Starlin’s writing, and it was kind of cool to see Ron Lim art again, but ultimately, this serves no purpose but to advertise the Thanos OGN that came out this summer, although without making it seem very appealing.

X-Force #6-8 – I haven’t been impressed with this latest iteration of X-Force, but curiosity does keep bringing me back, and finally, with issue 8, Si Spurrier’s approach to this team has finally clicked into place.  A big part of the reason for that is that the team barely appears in the issue, which instead focuses on a group of British soldiers moving secretly through a Middle Eastern desert, on a very hush-hush mission.  MI-13, led by Pete Wisdom, gets more screen time than X-Force, but when a series is about a covert group of mutants operating on their own, it kind of makes sense that they not get a lot of spotlight.  The other issues of these three that I read wrap up the first arc, and establish the reality of Cable’s daily death and return to life.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Johnny Hiro {The Skills to Pay the Bills}

by Fred Chao

I absolutely fell in love with Johnny Hiro when Fred Chao first started publishing his adventures through Adhouse Books.  I picked up andenjoyed the first graphic novel, even though I’d already read most of it, but I somehow didn’t know until just recently that a second volume, {The Skills to Pay the Bills}, had been published.

In Johnny Hiro, Fred Chao follows the titular character, a sushi chef who lives in New York, as circumstances create problems for him and his Japanese immigrant girlfriend Mayumi.  They sublet an apartment from Hiro’s best friend, and worry about money, their relationship, and what will happen if Mayumi’s work visa is not extended.  Hiro also has to spend his days fighting off the assistant chefs of Shinto Pete, his boss Masago’s bitter enemy.  They literally attack him at the fish market every time he goes.

Hiro and Mayumi are basically trouble magnets.  A nice lunch with Mayumi’s work friend, who is also Hiro’s ex from college, gets interrupted when a giant ape, the son of King Kong, randomly picks up the blonde, and tries to make off with her across the city.  It is Hiro who manages to save her, leading to the couple’s second meeting with Mayor Bloomberg (the book came out in 2013).

Later, Masago’s restaurant is chosen to cater an event at Gracie Mansion for Bloomberg, but that turns into a disaster when the Mayor’s usual caterers try to sabotage the event, and end up chasing Hiro through the historic building.

As we get deeper into the graphic novel, which is made up of short and longer stories, Chao abandons some of the hijinks in favour of having Hiro retreat into his head a little, and contemplate his life going forward, as he moves into his late twenties.  We also get Masago’s backstory portioned out over a couple of stories, as we learn why he’s so grumpy all the time, and just why Shinto Pete has such beef with him.

What really makes this book work is the depth of its charm.  Hiro and Mayumi are very loveable characters, and their relationship feels very real.  Chao blends the wacky and the profound beautifully, and I especially like the shorter vignettes, such as the one where Hiro watches a stranger comfort another stranger on the subway, and wonders why he’s not capable of such kindnesses.  Chao’s art is simple and straightforward, but capable of transmitting a lot of emotion.

I love how much New York City becomes a part of this book (New York and LA even meet for a beer at one point, sort of), as Bloomberg pines for the failed Atlantic Yards project, and we learn the true reason for the first King Kong film being made (as well as Peter Jackson’s remake).  Also, any book that has a cameo by rapper Grand Puba is okay in my books.

 

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