The Weekly Round-Up #263

Best Comic of the Week:

The Activity #16 – I’m not going to complain about this comic being a year and a half late, because I’m just happy to see that Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads have returned to these characters and this story.  This issue is extra long, and shows Team Omaha involved in a mission extracting a scientist from an Iranian facility.  As has always been the case with this series, the mission is tense and exciting with a sense of authenticity to it.  The larger plot of this series, which has involved some political intrigue around the formation and structure of the team does not get addressed in this issue at all, and I wonder if there are going to be more issues of this series or not (I believe that at least one more was solicited).  The issue ends in a manner that bookends the first issue, and that makes me concerned that this is being positioned as an ending.  A text piece would have been nice, after such a long time.  This is a unique and effective series, and I miss it.  If you’ve never read it before, you should be able to sample this issue without prior knowledge and get a very good sense of why this title is so good.

Quick Takes:

Alex + Ada #11 – The best science fiction romance comic of this century continues to impress, as Alex and Ada get closer, and even attempt to attend a party at Alex’s friends’ place.  The thing is, not everyone there knows that Ada is sentient, a fact that is currently causing tons of hysteria in society.  Needless to say the party doesn’t go well, but that’s mostly because of a woman with unrequited feelings for Alex.  As has always been the case since this series began, Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn tell this story with sensitivity, and keep it gripping.

All-New Captain America #2Rick Remender throws a lot of stuff into this issue, as Cap and Nomad find themselves in Bagalia, with a lot of traditional Cap enemies to get away from, while trying to save a kid who has some pretty frightening abilities.  I like the darker tone that Remender is using on this book, and the frenetic pace.  Stuart Immonen is better suited to this book than he was All-New X-Men, and it’s interesting to see him doing something this dark for a change (the last page came as quite a surprise).

All-New X-Men #34 – When All-New X-Men came out every two weeks, and often complemented what was happening in Uncanny X-Men, but now that the book is running really late, it becomes obvious just how thin Brian Michael Bendis’s stories are.  The team is still in the Ultimate universe, and their separate stories inch forward a little.  Having the two Jean Greys meet one another was pretty interesting though.

Annihilator #4 – I find I’m getting a little tired of the crazy train that is Ray Spass and Max Nomax, as the fictional villain from space kidnaps his screenwriter/creator’s ex-girlfriend to protect her from a fictional entity that is hunting him.  Things just keep getting stranger in this Grant Morrison comic, and while Frazer Irving’s art is wonderful, I’m finding myself getting a little bored.

Avengers & X-Men: Axis #8 – Really, I don’t even know if I understand what’s going on in this event anymore, as there is a gigantic three-way fight between the Inverted X-Men, the Inverted Avengers, and a bunch of Inverted villains led by Spider-Man.  A character I’ve never liked (and barely ever read about), but who seems to be popular, gets killed off off-panel, while Doctor Voodoo and his dead brother get resurrected (although the brother is still dead?).  This has become quite a mess.  At least it’s over soon…

BPRD Hell on Earth #126I like the way this issue jumps forward a few months from the last issue and shows that by having Johann and his team revisit the same area they cleared of monsters before.  The last couple of months have been rough on everyone, as the sweetheart deal that the BPRD made with the Air Force is showing strains, and Russia is having a hard time in general.  James Harren does some pretty amazing work in this issue, which is not really a surprise.

The Bunker #8 – As we get deeper into The Bunker, I find the story a little harder to follow, as I’m having trouble remembering some of the key events, or the order in which they have happened.  At the same time, Joshua Hale Fialkov’s story about some characters who have contacted their past selves to try to stop them from destroying the world is as much a character study as it is a plot-driven time travel thriller, and that aspect of the story keeps me engrossed with each issue.  The focus is mostly on Billy this month, as we learn why his future self never wrote a letter to his present self.

Drifter #2 – The first issue of Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein’s new science fiction series caught my eye, and this issue kept me interested, even if it felt a little like too many story elements were being tossed at the main character (Scavengers!  Lightning!  Super-fast creatures!  A force dome!) without any of them having been established ahead of time.  A little more explication would have gone a long way.  This book looks great though…

East of West: The World – This one-shot is an overview of the different nations that control what is the USA in our world.  Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta start us off with a short story featuring the Three Horsemen, and the rest of the book is text pages that outline the current political climate in each nation, followed by a timeline.  This is the kind of thing Hickman excels at, and while it’s interesting to read, it’s kind of not enough to hold up an entire issue.  I think it refers to some stuff that hasn’t happened in the comic yet, too…

Elektra #9When a book looks as good as this, the story doesn’t even have to make sense a little bit.  In this issue, Elektra is fed a dragon’s heart by Jennifer Kale, reminisces about a conversation with Matt Murdock, and then fights a whole bunch of Hand ninjas to retrieve Bullseye’s mostly lifeless body.  And, because of the efforts of Mike Del Mundo, it all looks absolutely stunning.  I can’t wait to see what this guy works on after this series is done.

Harbinger: Faith #0 – I’ve missed Harbinger lately, since that series ended.  This one-off serves to explain how and why Faith made the move to the Unity team.  It shows how her relationship with Torque has been going, and how badly she needs to continue to feel like a hero.  It’s a nice comic, although I find it interesting that they named the book Faith, and not Zephyr.

Intersect #2 – I decided to give Ray Fawkes’s strange new series a second chance, but I’m not all that sure that I am enjoying it.  His painted art is beautiful, but the story, about the city of Detroit, where people have undergone weird and fluid body transformations, is not really grabbing me, or making a lot of sense at this point.  I’m getting a Ted McKeever feel off the writing, and while I usually love McKeever’s work, I’ve found it frustrating lately.  This falls in the same category, as I don’t really care about the characters or what happens to them.

The Kitchen #2 – The three women who have taken over their husbands’ mob racket in Irish New York in the 70s find that one of the problems with organized crime is that there’s always somebody looking to take over your gig.  The women, who were so reluctant to enter the business, now find themselves willing to fight to keep it.  Ollie Masters is writing an interesting story here, and Ming Doyle’s art looks great.

Manifest Destiny #12We’re given a done-in-one story between arcs, as Lewis and Clark’s expedition moves downriver, and comes across an Aboriginal village.  The Captains go ashore to meet with them, and Sacagawea proves her worth to the party again, as she is able to translate their way out of a difficult situation.  This issue gives us a look at why Lewis signed up for this mission, and what Sacagawea is really thinking about her role in all of this.  This book, which is often more focused on monsters, is showing increasing depth of character and plot, making me like it even more than I did before.

Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man #8 – I’d expected that with this issue, for almost the first time since the series began, the focus might be on Miles (now that Ultimate Peter Parker has left), but instead, we get Miles’s father narrating his story.  We knew that his dad had a shady past, but what we didn’t know is just what kind of circles he ran in, as his brother got him involved with some dirt working for Ultimate Turk, and that he made the acquaintance of Nick Fury.  I love that Brian Michael Bendis used Turk in this book, as he’s one of those classic Marvel characters, and found this to be a very enjoyable issue.  I would like to see more of Miles though, as he is supposed to be the star of this title.  Artist David Marquez did something different for this issue, and his art looks like a mix of Tommy Lee Edwards, Denys Cowan, and his own regular style.  I checked the credits a couple of times to make sure it really was his art; I love when artists do something different.

Moon Knight #10 – Last issue, Marc Spector had Khonshu taken away from him, and so now we get an issue that focuses on a guard at the United Nations, who is being manipulated into killing the same African warlord that most of Brian Woods’s arc has focused on.  I like the structure to this issue, as we get to know a lot about the guard in a short amount of space, while still being left wondering how the story will unfold.  Wood is doing good work on this book; I’m sorry to hear that he’ll be leaving it soon.

Ms. Marvel #10Kamala is looking to take down the Inventor, and with Lockjaw at her side, feels that she has a very good chance of this, despite the fact that he’s defeated her at every turn so far.  This is a solid action issue, with nice Adrian Alphona art.  Aside from emphasising Kamala’s approach to heroism, there’s not a lot of character development this issue, which is a shame, but it’s a good read.

Multiversity: Thunderworld Adventures #1 – I’ve never had a lot of love for the Marvel family, but I can appreciate the sense of nostalgia and affection that Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart work into this story, which has Captain Marvel fighting an empowered Sivana who is backed by the various Sivanas of the multiverse.  Morrison plays with an interesting idea, that Sivana is able to add an extra day into the calendar week, named for himself.  At the end of the day, I’m enjoying the Multiversity books, but wish that the various one-shots were doing a little more to progress the overall story.  By the time we return to the characters from the first issue, I’m not likely to remember anything about what this series was originally about.

Rumble #1 – I was excited about this new mini-series, because the writer, John Arcudi, is somebody who doesn’t write nearly enough books on his own (he frequently collaborates with Mike Mignola on BPRD and other books in the Mignola-verse), and because the artist, James Harren, can draw some pretty wild stuff.  The issue is good, but I’m going to admit to not having much of an idea as to what’s going on.  A sadsack bartender saves one of his regulars from an attack by a strange looking figure with a gigantic sword, only to find that the guy is made of straw or some such.  Later, when he takes the sword to a friend, he gets attacked by some demon-creatures.  There’s also something with a cat that may be possessed.  I have a lot of questions after this issue, and look forward to seeing where the answers lie.  As expected, Harren really comes through on this book, giving it a slightly more cartoonish look than he usually does.

Sandman Overture #4As I was reading this issue, my mind started to wander (really, it’s not like the story was holding my interest) to the original Sandman series, and what it was about it that captivated me so much as it was being published.  What really made that series work were the character-based stories that Neil Gaiman was telling, within the context of the Endless, and their various purposes in our world.  The family drama within that group unfolded slowly, and always against the backdrop of a variety of interesting characters that were unique at that time.  And therein lies the problem with this series.  Since it’s a prequel, it can’t hold any real surprises, as that would negate later events (although I pity some future young person who decides to read the series starting with this), and since it’s all about Dream, who is on some incomprehensible mission, without an interesting supporting cast, it’s just dull.  On top of that, Gaiman’s just become more pretentious, thinking that we’re going to care about a city of stars (the stellar, not the Hollywood kind).  Even the introduction of Dream’s father into the story (is he supposed to be god, and does he look like Zeus for any particular reason?) comes off as feeling a little desperate, this late in the game.  Obivously JH Williams III’s art is beautiful, but it also feels a little antiseptic after his work on Batwoman, which had a stronger focus on character.  This is just six issues, right?  I guess I can read two more.  If we were at the half-way mark, I’d be dropping this.

Stumptown #4 – As Dex and her new associate CK continue to investigate the beating of Dex’s friend Mercury, our hero starts to show signs of coming apart at the seams.  We start to learn a little about Dex’s military history (or, at least, as CK imagines it).  Greg Rucka has crafted Dex to be a pretty complex character, and I like how, in this third volume to feature her, he’s layering on even more baggage.  I am very interested in seeing where this storyline heads, as we learn something interesting about one of Dex’s suspects.

The Wicked + The Divine #6A new story arc begins, and the focus of the story stays pretty squarely on Laura, who is still processing and dealing with the events of the last issue.  It’s been a month, and she is not too happy with things, although a graveyard visit with the god Inanna gives her new purpose.  I really like the way Kieron Gillen is building this story, and it goes without saying that I love Jamie McKelvie’s work here.

Wytches #3 – Scott Snyder and Jock’s creepy rural gothic horror series gets a little creepier this month, as Sail has been taken by the Wytches, and her father is coming apart trying to find her, while recovering from a strange attack in his own home.  I love the atmosphere of this book, but I am not too sure how I feel about the hand-painted splatter that covers every page.  Like the blue lines in Supreme Blue Rose, I’m not sure that it adds anything to my enjoyment of the book, and mostly serves as a distraction.

Zero #13 – Ales Kot’s black ops book has become very linear lately, with this issue following up immediately on the events of the last issue, as a group of armed men attack the Agency.  This book is pretty brutal, as Zero takes on some of the attackers.  Alberto Ponticelli’s art fits with the general look of this book, which was over a little too quickly.

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

Axis Hobgoblin #3

Batman #37

Batman and Robin #37

Batman Eternal #37

Batwoman #37

Black Widow #13

Captain Marvel #10

Dark Horse Presents #5

Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #4

Death of Wolverine Weapon X Program #4

Deathlok #3

Fables #147

Fantastic Four #14

Guardians of the Galaxy #22

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #5

Spider-Woman #2

Storm #6

Wayward #5

Bargain Comics:

Fantastic Four #2-7I haven’t heard a lot of good things about James Robinson’s Fantastic Four, but I keep thinking that, since he’s the same guy who wrote Starman, there would have to be something good about it.  In reality, it’s pretty bland.  I liked the issue where the team is put on trial for endangering New York City, but a lot of the internal logic behind that situation does not make a lot of sense, especially when you consider that the Avengers are given no such scrutiny.  These stories don’t fit well with what was happening in other series at the same time (Original Sin, New Avengers), but whatever.

Silver Surfer #6 – Dan Slott and Michael Allred are having a good time with this title, as the Surfer learns about the limitations of travelling with a human (i.e., bathroom and food breaks), and ends up on a planet obsessed with perfection.  It’s a fun issue.  There’s not much more to say than that.

X-Force #9 – Story-wise, this series is beginning to pick up as X-Force begins to work with MI-13 and some enhanced soldiers, but Rock-He Kim’s art makes the action very difficult to follow in a number of places.  Simon Spurrier does write a very good Dr. Nemesis.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score

Written by Donald Westlake
Adapted by Darwyn Cooke

As I’ve said before, I have no connection to Richard Stark’s writing, or to the character of Parker, a gruff master thief.  I am, however, a big fan of Darwyn Cooke’s art and writing, and so I am always happy to pick up one of his Parker graphic novels.

The Score is the third in his series of adaptations, and I think it is the best one I’ve read to date.  Cooke (or Stark; I’m not sure if he’s taking liberties with pacing) wastes no time setting up the plot of this story.  A man has gathered a group of criminals to help him execute a really big job.
This guy, Edgars, wants Parker to organize a heist which will take out an entire town – Copper Canyon, North Dakota.  The entire town is surrounded by cliffs, and is attached to a large mining operation.  Edgars has it all figured out – the group can take the mine’s payroll, and knock off the two banks and the various stores in one night, and take off with a large score (at least for the time – the notion of doing all this for only a quarter of a million dollars is a little laughable now).
I like stories that concern themselves as much with the set-up of jobs like this as they do the actual mission itself, and Cooke balances the story nicely.  When the job goes down, it goes without saying that something goes wrong, but Stark doesn’t seem all that interested in including moral lessons in his work, so the town has a pretty bad night.
What really makes these books work is the great period detail in Cooke’s art.  The story has moved beyond feeling outdated to feeling vintage.  A story like this could never be told in our modern time, and Cooke wallows in nostalgia for a simpler, better-looking time.

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