The Weekly Round-Up #256 With Wonder Woman #35, Archer & Armstrong #25, Rasputin #1, Baltimore, Captain Victory & The Galactic Rangers, Saga, Sex & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Wonder Woman #35I firmly believe that, creatively, the New 52 reboot at DC was a failure.  I’ve effectively given up on the company, purchasing only three or four New 52 titles a month (I was buying more like ten to fifteen before the reboot), and only rarely with any real enthusiasm.  There was one exception though, that I bought on a whim with the first issue, and which, for the last three years, has stood as a shiny example of what a well-planned reboot can do for a character.  That is, of course, Wonder Woman, as she was handled by writer Brian Azzarello, and primary series artist Cliff Chiang.  Their Wonder Woman was bold and felt new; they completely revamped the Olympian pantheon, making the Ancient Greek gods into diverse creatures that exemplified their station in the world.  They also chose to tell one long story, about the first and last born children of Zeus, and the struggle for power that Zeus’s absence in the world has caused.  The gods have spent three years squabbling over the throne, and trying to decide if they are slaves to prophecy, or if predetermined fate can be avoided.  During that time, Diana has taken on the mantle of the God of War, yet still struggled to remain the compassionate and loving creature that she is at her core.  This final issue of Azzarello’s story is just about perfect.  The struggle with the First Born comes to an end, we learn a few new things about Zeke and Zola, and Diana finds her loving nature put to another test, which ends in a way I didn’t expect.  Sure this series is going to continue, under David Fincher and his wife’s control, but I have no intention of even flipping through it.  Azzarello, Chiang, and a few various fill-in artists have made what is easily the best Wonder Woman comic ever, and I’m okay with walking away from the book feeling confident that it will never be this good again.  There are a lot of characters and titles from the Old DC that I miss, but if the only good that comes out of the New 52 was this run, then I suspect it might all have been worth it.

Quick Takes:

All-New X-Men #33Brian Michael Bendis as the Past X-Men continue to poke around the Ultimate Universe, as Angel somehow makes it from the South Pole to the North in the same amount of time it takes X-23 to get there from middle America, as Beast has dinner with Dr. Doom, and Iceman fights off the Mole Man.  Miles Morales and Jean Grey trade banter before heading to Westchester County.  That’s about it in terms of forward momentum for this very Bendisian issue.  I like Mahmud Asrar’s art on this book, but he does make Miles look very young compared to how he’s portrayed in his own title.  I’m a little surprised to be getting such an extended look at an alternate universe that has been on its last legs for a while now, in such a prominent book.  I would like to see this story wrapped up soon, as it’s already been dragging on for much too long.

Archer & Armstrong #25 – On the one hand, as a true comics fan, I want to have access to my favourite series reliably and for years.  On the other, I really respect creators and comics companies who recognize when a run or a series is finished, and instead of trying to spin it out even further, just allow it to come to a close.  That’s what Valiant and Fred Van Lente have done with Archer & Armstrong, their frequently hilarious and endearing remake of the original Valiant property.  This series, which has had the two unlikely friends battle against conspiracy theorists, the people that conspiracy theorists theorize about, and some true religious nuts, has been a delight.  But, the story is over, and now so is the series.  In this valedictory issue, we see Archer explore his plans for the future, as he disbands the Sect in favour of hanging out with Armstrong in a bar.  Van Lente and artist Pere Pérez leave the series much as it was started, with a jab or two at different aspects of American culture.  The rest of the issue is made up of short stories that are all equally likeable.  I’m really going to miss this title, and am looking forward to seeing Van Lente return to this world with the upcoming Ivar, Timewalker series which will feature Armstrong’s brother.

Baltimore: The Wolf and the Apostle #1The last Baltimore mini-series confused me a little, because I didn’t know who the people travelling with Lord Baltimore were, but this one returns to a more typical pattern.  It explores what happened to Judge Duvic, the Inquisitor who had once pursued Baltimore, and how he has acted since becoming a werewolf.  It was a good issue, following a typical Mignola plot, where a priest who survived the wolf’s attention recounts his tale to Baltimore, and as always, Ben Stenbeck’s art is phenomenal.

Black Science #10 – Grant McKay’s daughter, Pia, gets centre stage this month as she works to free herself and her brother from a telepathic death cult of millipedes and return to her group before they teleport away.  Pia’s a bit of a piece of work, but writer Rick Remender works hard to humanize her in this issue.  As always, artist Matteo Scalera is the true hero of this series, with his incredibly dynamic art.

The Bunker #7 – Heidi gets the spotlight this issue, as in the present she tracks down the uncle that ruined her childhood, and in the future, she tries to help Daniel, who seems pretty unhinged.  This issue flips from present to future in a way that is sometimes confusing, and doesn’t seem to move the larger plot forward much.  Still, I’m really liking this title, so I can easily overlook an issue that’s not as effective as the others.

Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #3 – Joe Casey is having fun playing with Jack Kirby’s characters, and this is a pretty readable, if not particularly ground-breaking, series.  I’m enjoying it most of all for the art, which is by Nathan Fox, with some pages drawn by Farel Dalrymple, and Jim Mahfood.  I love when indie artists get their hands on more traditional characters, and this book looks terrific.

Deep Gravity #4I don’t understand why writers Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko (working from a story by Mike Richardson) don’t get a lot more press and recognition, because they are doing some very good work these days.  Deep Gravity is a bit of a mash-up of Alien and Apollo 13, set on a damaged ship in decaying orbit over a hostile planet, with a strange creature released on board.  The concept is good, but Hardman and Bechko really pull it off well over the course of the series, and they hit all the right notes in this conclusion.  Artist Fernando Baldó does a fine job, although I’d have been happier had Hardman drawn this as well as co-written it.  I look forward to seeing what this duo does next.

Elektra #7 – I’m enjoying guest artist Alex Sanchez’s work on this book as much as I am regular artist Mike Del Mundo, even though they are pretty different from one another.  In this issue, Elektra goes after the League of Assassins, and finds some revamped villains, in the form of Tiger Shark, Whiplash, and Jack O’Lantern.  I’m a little surprised that Marvel would allow these characters to be revamped so extensively, and suspect that these changes will be quietly retconned away at some point soon.  Anyway, this series remains an enjoyable one, and Elektra is finally beginning to show a little bit of personality in it.

Harbinger Omegas #3 – I’d expected that this follow-up series to Joshua Dysart’s excellent Harbingers series was going to wrap up the stories of Toyo Harada and Peter Stanchek.  Instead, this mini-series has just explored their headspace a little, as Harada has started putting together his own nation in Somalia, and as Peter has spiraled into drug abuse and mental illness.  Apparently Dysart will be returning to these characters (or, at least Harada) in the upcoming series Imperium, so nothing was really resolved here.  I’ve loved Dysart’s work at Valiant, and so will be checking this new series out.

Justice League United Annual #1I was looking forward to seeing Jeff Lemire write the Legion of Super-Heroes in this issue, which starts off the Infinitus storyline, wherein the Legion and the League meet.  I’m a long-time Legion fan, which means I’ve been disappointed in the way the classic characters have been treated for years.  It seems that Infinitus is the New 52 version of Galactus, a planet-destroying thing that is laying wreck to the 31st Century.  Brainiac 5 has discovered that Infinitus started life as Ultra, the little alien that the JLU is protecting.  Mon-El comes to kill him, there is a fight, and usual first meeting between hero tropes are upheld.  This is not really an Annual issue; it’s an extra-sized regular issue of the series, and while it’s nice to see the Legion again, there wasn’t much here that felt new or original in how Lemire is portraying them, or how the two teams are interacting with each other.  I’m a little disappointed, as I was hoping for more.

Low #4 – Rick Remender is spending a lot of time building up this world, as Stel leads her son to a lost city, only to find it overrun by pirates and hybrid creatures.  She also finds her long-missing daughter, although their reunion is not what she expected.  I still don’t know what to think about Greg Tocchini’s art in this book; sometimes I love it, and in other places, I’m not entirely sure of what I’m looking at.  The story in this series has definitely caught my interest, although I found this issue a little slower than the last.

The Massive #28 – Brian Wood is moving us ever closer to the end of this series, and as he does so, he makes some interesting story decisions.  Basically, two things happen in this issue – Mary and Mag have a long and honest conversation about Mary’s past while hiking in South Africa, and a new island is formed in the Indian Ocean.  It doesn’t take long before people are fighting over this barren rock, as Wood takes yet another opportunity to make it clear that we are the cause of all of the world’s problems, just as Mary appears ready to give up on the whole planet.  This series has always felt off in a way I’ve never been able to explain, yet I’ve always enjoyed reading it.  I hope that Wood’s full intent for the series becomes clear by the time it finishes.

Mind MGMT #27Now that Meru has found the first Immortal, it makes all sorts of sense for her to sit down with him and learn the history of Mind MGMT, from his perspective.  This issue covers a lot of ground, but really focuses on how the organization grew during the Second World War.  Matt Kindt’s work on this book is always impressive, and as he moves towards his conclusion for the series, it feels like events are counting more and more.

Rasputin #1 – When it started, I loved Proof, the last series by Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo, who have re-teamed for this telling of the life of the famous Russian Rasputin.  Towards the end of its run, Proof fell apart, the victim of gigantic delays and a truncated storyline.  I’m not the biggest fan of Rossmo’s work, which is often a little hard to follow (for example, is the gigantic guy standing near the dinner table in this issue really there, or is he a spirit, like Rasputin’s father?), but I like historical comics, and decided to give this a chance.  It’s a strange first issue, being largely a silent one, that establishes that young Rasputin had a rough life, dealing with an abusive father.  We also learn that Rasputin can bring the dead back to life, a feat he performs on his mother and on a bear.  The story is a little more decompressed than I’d like, but I think it intrigued me enough to get me to check out the next issue.

Roche Limit #2 – The first issue of Roche Limit didn’t impress me as much as I’d hoped it would, and after reading this second issue, I don’t know if I want to stick with this title or not.  Writer Michael Moreci takes a lot more time to flesh out his world, a small colony on a distant small planet orbiting a space anomaly, and introduces us to a larger number of its inhabitants, but the story doesn’t flow very easily.  Reading this, I often felt like I’d missed something, but looking back didn’t help clarify anything.  I’m confused about how the character of Alex Ford, who is the only person in the universe who knows how to make a rare and expensive drug, is so completely disliked by everyone on the planet, but has none of the station that would come with holding a complete monopoly to something so sought after.  A number of story elements like this just don’t add up, and that frustrates me while reading this.  I’m not sure if I’ve preordered the third issue or not; if I have, that will be the make-it or break-it one deciding whether or not I stick with this book.

Saga #24It’s time for Saga to go back on hiatus for a few months, and so Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples move us away from Alanna and Marko’s story, instead checking in with just about every other character from the series.  I was very pleased to see Ghüs, the seal-creature that looks just like Phillippe from Achewood, return for the issue, and perhaps get an important role in the upcoming story arc.  We also see what’s going on with The Brand, and her quest to get revenge for her brother, The Will, which leads to a confrontation with Gwendolyn, Lying Cat, and Sophie.  As always, this was an excellent issue.  I look forward to the new arc starting next year.

Sex #17 – In the latest issue of Sex, Keenan receives a letter from an old friend who has been dead for a year, and the contents of that letter are shown against what Keenan’s up to these days – infiltrating the Breaks, a street gang, where his first mission goes pretty wrong when he ends up in the middle of a gang war between two other groups.  Joe Casey really takes his time with this series, but always keeps it interesting.  Dan McDaid draws most of this issue, presumably to give regular artist Piotr Kowalski a bit of a break.

Southern Bastards #5 – One of the things that I liked best about Jason Aaron’s Scalped was the way that I slowly came to realize that the main character of the series was not actually Dash Bad Horse, but was instead Lincoln Red Crow, the man who was originally set up as the villain at the beginning of the series.  It looks like Aaron’s done the same kind of bait-and-switch (although less subtly) with Southern Bastards, as the second arc begins with a focus on Coach Boss.  We get a glimpse into the Coach’s high school days, when he was a talentless player with a great love for the game of football, and we look at how the Coach is reacting to the events of the last issue.  We also get a greater look into the make-up of Craw County, and in a series of splash pages or larger panels, briefly meet some of the other people who make life difficult for the Coach.  It’s hard not to think of Scalped when reading this, and while this book doesn’t approach the complexity of plot or character of that classic series yet, I remain hopeful that this could be one of the better things Aaron has written since it ended.

Swamp Thing Annual #3Charles Soule continues to show that he is a terrific writer, in this story that has Swamp Thing’s friend Capucine finally meet the end of her thousand-year extended life.  The Demon Etrigan comes looking for her body, and his battle with Swamp Thing is pretty interesting, as Soule has a great approach to writing the rhymer.  Another great issue of one of the only DC books I’ve stayed with since the relaunch began.

Thought Bubble Anthology 2014 – Anthology season continues, and this one always stands out because it’s published on folded newsprint (imagine a half-sized issue of Wednesday Comics), and it sometimes makes very good use of that scale.  Tim Sale draws an Elephantmen story that is gorgeous in black, white, and red (especially the double-page spreads).  Emma Rios draws a story about the importance of summer when you’re a child that is equally lovely.  Cliff Chiang has a one-pager that I wished was the start of a whole graphic novel, and Ales Kot has contributed a long poem that is beautifully illustrated by Alison Sampson.  Not everything here is a winner, but there’s more than enough to like with this book, which costs as much as a twenty-page Marvel comic.

Umbral #10 – Looking back over the first ten issues of Umbral, I’m now surprised that I wasn’t immediately smitten with this title, because it’s now one that I consider to be among the most consistently good that Image publishes.  Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten have given us a very compelling fantasy quest series, as Rascal and Dalone are taken to a city built in the deep woods, and as the Umbral try to utilise the powers of the mountain full of mist (which is a magic-conducting rock in this world).  This is some very good stuff.

Vertigo Quarterly CMYK #3 Like the previous two, this new Vertigo anthology is lovely, but ultimately not very filling.  There are a couple of high points, like the story where two aging former hipster-types meet up in a coffee shop in Portland, and the latest in Fábio Moon’s series featuring the same two characters, but a lot of the stories really didn’t go anywhere, or just fell flat.  Even art by Bill Sienkiewicz didn’t really do all that much to impress me.

Wolverine and the X-Men #11 – Other than the fact that this series is about to be relaunched as ‘Spider-Man and the X-Men’, I really can’t figure out an actual story reason for most of this issue to be given over to Spidey and Melita flying around the city talking about Logan and his legacy.  Jason Latour has not impressed me with this series, although he did nail the scene where Storm talks about how Logan treated her after she lost her powers.  On the positive side (and the main reason why I bought it), this issue has art by such amazing artists as Ben Caldwell, Farel Dalrymple, Vanessa Del Ray, and Latour himself.

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

Axis Revolutions #1

Batman Eternal #30

Brass Sun #6

Death of Wolverine: Deadpool & Captain America #1

Death of Wolverine: Logan Legacy #3

Deathlok #1

Fantastic Four #12

Guardians of the Galaxy #20

Nova #22

Rachel Rising #29

Tuki Save the Humans #2

Uber #19

War Stories #2

Wayward #3

Bargain Comics:

Grayson: Futures End #1I’d heard that this issue was the best of the Futures End one-shots, but the $3 version was sold out everywhere I looked in September.  You can’t always believe the hype, but in this case, people were right, as this was a pretty entertaining comic.  The story is told backwards, starting at a moment five years from now, and then working backwards to before Dick Grayson’s parents were murdered, one page at a time.  Writers Tom King and Tim Seeley make use of that narrative device whereby, selectively picking out moments from a character’s past can create a narrative thrust.  It works well, and the art by the terrific Stephen Mooney works very well with Dick’s espionage-driven lifestyle.  The only thing that is questionable is the assertion that Dick is still going to be working with Spyral in five years, let alone five years of comic-book time.

Original Sin #3.2-3.4 – This Iron Man/Hulk mini-series within a mini-series ended up working out okay, but only because the writers tossed one last little event into the end of it that redeemed both Tony Stark and the retconned nature of this story, which makes it look like Stark is responsible for the Hulk’s existence.  These issues were pretty inconsistent, but that’s mostly because Mark Bagley drew one of the three of them, and his art doesn’t fit well with the more realistic work of Luke Ross.

X-Men #20 – Honestly, I’m not sure I have anything to say about this comic.  Marc Guggenheim is writing a pretty generic story about this X-team getting into something with some Shi’ar in space, which lets Rachel work through her anger (yet again) at that race.  It’s all pretty blah.

 

 

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