The Weekly Round-Up #264 With They’re Not Like Us #1, All-New X-Men Annual #1, Grayson Annual #1, The Massive #30, Unity #13, Avengers & X-Men: Axis #9 Fallout & More

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year y’all!

Best Comic of the Week:

They’re Not Like Us #1 – You have to hand it to Eric Stephenson, he’s very good at writing first issues.  The beginning of Nowhere Men, his book about a world where four scientists were treated like the Beatles, was a pretty fascinating piece of work.  With this new series, he sets up an interesting take on the X-Men, and then waits until the very last panel to twist the knife a bit, and give things a sinister tinge.  When this book opens, a young woman who has always heard voices in her head decides to jump off the hospital where she’s been taken for treatment.  She doesn’t kill herself, and when she wakes up, a mysterious man who was on the roof with her helps her leave.  More importantly, he quiets the voices for the first time ever.  As it turns out, the girl is telepathic, and this guy, The Voice, runs a house of people with abilities, living off the social grid.  As I said, it’s an X-Men set up, but with self-absorbed instead of altruistic goals.  Simon Gane’s art is very nice; he has a bit of a Rick Geary meets Geof Darrow thing going on, with very detailed backgrounds and stylized faces.  I’m very happy to be reading this book, but I am, of course, worried about the Nowhere Men effect, which caused that book to suffer a lot of delays, and then just disappear unfinished.  I hope that doesn’t happen with this title.

Quick Takes:

All-New X-Men Annual #1While I’d prefer to focus on the wonderful art that Andrea Sorrentino filled this book with, I find myself more curious about Brian Michael Bendis’s thought processes as he writes superhero comics.  He basically puts forward a new approach to time travel in this comic, one shared by both Morgana Le Fey and a future Sorcerer Supreme (I don’t want to spoil the identity), that holds that the future is completely unstable, and repeated visits cannot happen to the same future.  So, say for example, a certain young X-Man were to travel to the future, marry, have a baby, and then travel to the deep past.  When she would return to ‘her’ future, it would be irrevocably changed, with the husband and baby not even existing.  That’s all fine and good, when we want to give Eva Bell a tragic story, but it invalidates a lot of other Marvel comics, most notably including just about everything that Bendis has written in his time with the X-Men.  All the Battle of the Atom stuff, and its follow-up story featuring the Brotherhood?  Couldn’t have happened.  It also opens up some odd questions about the Marvel Universe after the original X-Men came to stay.  Anyway, there are too many time travel stories these days.  They’re annoying.  There are not enough Andrea Sorrentino comics; that needs to be rectified immediately.

Avengers & X-Men: Axis #9By the end of this series, I had pretty much lost faith in the whole notion of this event.  I found that it was getting a little too lost in its own silliness (like, why not rescue all the other superheroes before going to get the Red Skull?).  That said, Rick Remender and his collection of artists (nine artists worked on this book) brought things to a pretty satisfying close.  I don’t want to spoil any endings, which makes it hard to talk about this book, but the series has left two long-standing characters in interesting positions (I’m already bored with Superior Tony, so I don’t include him here), and I like the final act of the ‘inverted’ villains.  As always with events like this, it’s what comes after that helps to decide how important the comic was, and with only Iron Man and the relaunched Uncanny Avengers looking to deal with any of it, I guess we can decide that this event was a minor blip in Marvel’s history.  At least the tie-ins weren’t out of control.

Black Science #11 – Rick Remender does a lot to upend things in this issue, as Kadir and the Shaman are prepared to sacrifice themselves for the good of the group, Chandra’s extra passenger stands revealed, and Grant shows up.  More than once.  This series is pretty fast-moving, and as Remender gets ready to launch the next arc, gets ever crazier.  Matteo Scalera is doing some amazing work on this book, turning all of Remender’s insane ideas into some pretty stunning visuals.

Captain America and the Mighty Avengers #3 – Three issues into the Axis tie-in, and at least this book is starting to feel like itself again.  Al Ewing has the inverted team of Avengers try to take the ‘Mighty’ team down, and he shows how this squad is not to be messed with.  Ewing always put a good bit of humour in his first Mighty Avengers series, and he continues that here, giving Spider-Man and Iron Man a few great lines.  I look forward to this book being out of the Axis shadow, and hopefully finally living up to its potential soon.

Cyclops #8I am amazed that Marvel didn’t give this comic a trade-dress, declaring it the ‘March to Black Vortex’, or ‘Edge of Black Vortex’, or something silly like that, as John Layman starts to set up the upcoming X-Men/Guardians of the Galaxy cross-over.  Scott and his new crew of pirates attack a Shi’ar vessel, and retrieve a pretty powerful prize.  Layman continues to handle this book very well, giving us the right amount of humour, and making Scott a pretty likeable kid, which is a nice trick considering what a jerk he’s grown up to be.  This is one of the more entertaining X-Books out there these days.

Daredevil #11 – Mark Waid and Chris Samnee really know how to make this book sing.  They can take what could be a lame concept (that a new stuntman is using the name Stuntmaster, which has upset the original, retired, user of that name) and make it an emotionally perceptive and effective story.  Matt’s gotten over his depression of last issue, and is working on his book, which leads to some pretty funny scenes.  In all, this is a very strong comic, and I’m sad to hear that Waid and Samnee will be moving on soon.

Gotham by Midnight #2 – The first issue of this supernatural police procedural series took me by surprise, as it was better than I expected (and that’s with full knowledge of what Ray Fawkes and Ben Templesmith can do in comics).  This issue continued the trend, giving us a very solid story wherein Detective Corrigan has to put a stop to a demon posing as a nun from brainwashing a bunch of kids.  Or something.  That part’s not all that clear, but enough happens to convince the investigator from Internal Affairs that the detail is doing good work.  We also get a flashback that introduces Sister Justine, and helps to clarify what the main threat in this series is going to be.  Fawkes has done a good job of setting up a Gotham series that can stand on its own merits (although I imagine that regular glimpses of the Bat-World will only enrich things), and Templesmith is, as always, fantastic.  His art is very well suited to this series, although it does remind me of his recent Ten Grand issues, in terms of subject matter.

Grayson Annual #1While I totally called the twist at the end of this comic within the first few pages, it was still nice to sit back and watch Tom King and Tim Seeley go to work on this story which gives some explanation of just who Helena Bertinelli is in the New 52 world.  The structure of the individual issues of this series really is pretty remarkable, and I enjoyed Steve Mooney’s artwork (although, when I saw his name attached, I was kind of hoping for Nazis and dinosaurs).

Great Pacific #18 – I’ve always felt that the concept behind Great Pacific – that the difficult scion of a Texas energy company decides to remake the Pacific Garbage Patch into his own nation – was a brilliant one, but the execution was often flawed.  Joe Harris had a few too many ideas for this series, and did not really give them enough space to grow and flourish, sometimes making the writing choppy or hard to follow.  I think, really, that the economics of the comics market caused him to condense his story, especially with this last arc, which looks to wrap the title up (despite his claim that the book is on indefinite hiatus).  Chas, our hero, finishes his fight with Kraven the Hunter (it’s not him, but it really is), and the final fate of New Texas is revealed.  There are storylines that were never resolved, especially the whole opium plot, but this ends well enough here that I can comfortably close the book on the title.  Harris says in his text piece that he and artist Martín Morazzo have another sci-fi series in the works, and I think I will probably check that out.  I just hope it doesn’t get away from them.

Letter 44 #13 – I’ve been impressed with Letter 44 since it began, but after the more action oriented last couple of issues, I wasn’t expecting an issue as momentous and good as this one.  President Blades decides to lay all his information about the existence of aliens, the Clarke’s mission, and why the US had developed so many weapons at the world’s feet, with some immediate repercussions, including a retaliatory attack on Germany.  Charles Soule has always done well with looking at realistic political reactions to this sci-fi story, but this issue really clicks in that area.  Also, the crew of the Clarke finally find themselves in communication with the aliens, and we get a bit of an idea of why they’ve come to our solar system.  This is an incredible series that keeps getting more exciting.

Loki: Agent of Asgard #9Much of this issue simply echoes what happens in this week’s Axis, which is always disappointing, and the inevitable reversion (reverse of the inversion, if that makes more sense) does little more than stall Loki’s character development over the course of this series.  Like with writer Al Ewing’s other book this week, this title is so much better when it’s not servicing an event.

The Massive #30 – Brian Wood’s DMZ is probably going to be remembered as the greater of his long-running creator-owned series, but I’ve really appreciated the ambition and the ideas behind The Massive.  This series started out as being about a group of environmental activists at sea after the world suffered a cataclysmic Crash.  As the book grew, it maintained that focus, but also worked in a lot of geopolitics, and eventually, magical realism.  The climax of the series was the issue prior to this one, with this serving as a lovely epilogue to the whole series.  It works really well, as there are a number of characters I grew to like a great deal in this book, and I like being left with a sense of where their lives are headed after the second Crash.  Wood is very good at this kind of thing, and I have a lot of respect for his long-range planning.  Artist Garry Brown joined the book early in its run, and really made it his own.  He is given a lot of space to show the new world here, and it comes off looking very nice.  I’m going to miss this book, and hope that Wood returns soon with another series.  This one launched shortly after DMZ ended, and it has been years since I last wasn’t reading one of his books every month; with his run on Moon Knight set to end soon too, that won’t be the case.

The Mercenary Sea #8 – Kel Symons and Mathew Reynolds fully embrace this series’s roots in Indiana Jones movies this month, by having Jack lead his crew into an ancient temple, looking for more clues as to the location of the mythical island Koji Ra.  It’s a good issue, as all of them are in this comic, although it comes with the unwelcome news that the book is going on hiatus for a while.  I’ve really enjoyed this book, and found it to be unlike anything else on the stands right now, and I hope it comes back soon.

Mind MGMT #29 Meru finally confronts the Eraser, after spending most of the issue preparing for this meeting, and it’s all pretty spectacular.  Matt Kindt has these two powerhouses fight on a mental plane, and he makes very good use of the opportunity to show an original approach to such a fight.  This issue has been a long time in coming, and it does not disappoint.

New Avengers #28 – There are a lot of characters in this issue, as Steve Rogers’s SHIELD Avengers face off against Reed Richards’s Illuminati Avengers, and Roberto DaCosta’s (real) Avengers also get into the mix, not to mention a fourth team, but that’s a surprise, as was a few other appearances at the end of the book.  It’s a little hard to believe that these teams wouldn’t try to come to a more reasonable resolution, but in terms of action sequences, this is a pretty cool issue.  I’m starting to wonder why, as we get closer to ‘Time Runs Out’, we aren’t seeing some of the changes detailed in this book beginning to take place in other series.  Maybe now that Axis is done…

Outcast by Kirkman and Azaceta #6 – Kyle is well on the way to figuring out just what’s been going on in his life, as he convinces his minister friend to take him back to a person he suspects of being possessed, and learns that his touch causes her pain.  We aren’t any closer to figuring out Kyle’s deal, but it’s clear that his inquiries are being noticed, as the minister gets an unwelcome visitor.  Kirkman took a good amount of time to establish these characters before letting the plot take over, and that groundwork is starting to pay off really well.

Rasputin #3After reading the first two issues of Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo’s new historical series, I was unsure whether I wanted to stick with it or not.  I was liking what I was reading, but I was disappointed by the quickness of each issue.  This one is much richer, as Rasputin has a strange nighttime meeting with a few figures out of Russian folklore, while his French travelling companion adds a new member to his complement.  From the beginning of the series, it’s been clear that Rasputin has some kind of healing power, but now Grecian has laid out a little more about what effect that has on him, and has used it to help shape the entire series.  I can now see myself sticking around for a while.

Revival #26 – I’m continuing to get a lot of enjoyment out of this series, which by this point has so many subplots running, that you really don’t know who any one issue is going to focus on.  This time around, Martha and Blaine start digging into Martha’s ex-boyfriend’s life to try to locate him, while Dana and her father try to figure out how to manage the feds that have opened up base within the quarantine zone without telling them.  Tim Seeley’s series shows no signs of slowing down, and I wonder just what end point he’s chosen for this book.  It’s very cool how characters that showed up early in the series, and had minor roles, are becoming more important as the book progresses.

She-Hulk #11 – With only one issue left after this one, Charles Soule decided to just let artist Javier Pulido go nuts with this one, as She-Hulk has an issue-long knock-down fight with Titania and Volcana (have we even seen her since Secret Wars II?).  The book looks great, and there’s something very funny about Soule having Titania spend the whole issue going off about why she hates lawyers (Soule is one).  Also, we get to see Angie and Hei Hei in a different light, and discover who has been behind the mystery of the ‘Blue File’ all along.  Great stuff here.  I’m really going to miss this title.

Uncanny X-Men #29I’m glad to see that someone remembered that this story arc is supposed to be about the last will and testament of Charles Xavier, although it is only the cover of the issue that acknowledges that fact.  Instead, we get yet another issue of people trying to figure out what to do with the new extremely powerful mutant that was recently introduced into the series.  Scott has his plans, although Magneto disagrees with him (in front of the guy), and the world’s powers have yet another plan.  Most interesting are plans by Illyana and Eva, both of which involve time travel (because it’s a Bendis mutant book, and people in them keep thinking that time travel is the answer).  Chris Bachalo draws this issue, and it looks nice, but he has so many inkers that the book is very inconsistent.  It’s usual for Bachalo to get a lot of inkers (I’ve never understood why), but they usually don’t disrupt the flow of his art so much.  None of it’s bad; it’s just very inconsistent.

Unity #13 – I get the feeling that Valiant is really letting Matt Kindt do his own thing with this book, as he gives us the background stories on four new villains he’s created, and they all would fit just as well in an issue of Mind MGMT as they would here.  You can see his design touch in the characters, which is pretty cool too.  These four agents come after Unity in their base, while the team is out looking for them in South America.  Faith gets her first mission under her belt, and is a little surprised to learn that it’s not all she was hoping for.  After a stilted beginning, this series is getting really good.

Wasteland #59 – ‘The Final Chapter’ has dragged on for a while now, as we see the final events that sealed humanity’s fate long before this series began, and Michael reaches the extent of his abilities.  I have loved this series since it began years ago, and am going to be very sorry to see it go after the next issue.  This issue finally solves the mystery of A-Ree-Yass-I, but to be honest, it was something I’d figured out a long time ago.  Still, it must be satisfying for writer Antony Johnston to be able to resolve so many things that he’s been hinting at for years.

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

All-New Invaders #13

All-New X-Factor #18

Aquaman #37

Batman Annual #3

Batman Eternal #38

Bodies #6

Deadpool #39

Death of Wolverine Logan Legacy #7

Grindhouse Drive In Bleed Out #2

Memetic #3

Nova #25

Robin Rises Alpha #1

Secret Origins #8

Star-Spangled War Stories Featuring GI Zombie #5

Superior Iron Man #3

Superman/Wonder Woman #14 (How was this?)

Bargain Comics:

Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #1-4Marvel frequently tosses mini-series like this one into the world with no real promotion or chance of gaining much recognition.  I usually assume that they are protecting a trademark, rather than testing the waters for a potential Shang-Chi series.  It’s true that Shang has been more prominent than he has been in years, serving on the Avengers and getting the odd cool moment given to him, but he’s usually been handled in a very limited way.  Writer Mike Benson doesn’t move beyond the character’s limitations, involving him in some dark Chinese magic, in a plot that eventually comes back to the evil side of his family.  His supporting cast, the Sons and Daughters of the Dragon, are given no reintroduction for a new reader (obviously I know Misty Knight and Colleen Wing, but didn’t know who the three guys who helped him were).  Tan Eng Huat’s art is always interesting, and I’m pleased that Marvel didn’t feel the need to find a Paul Gulacy clone for this story, but Huat’s not always the most expressive artist when it comes to facial expressions, and his action sequences can be a little hard to follow.  I’m glad I picked this up as a cheap set, and didn’t buy it as it came on the stands.  It’s a good enough read, but that’s all there is to say about it.

Deathlok #1-3 – I like how Nathan Edmondson is carving out his own little corner of the Marvel Universe, linking this comic to his Black Widow and Punisher runs in lots of little ways.  The newest take on Deathlok borrows heavily from Valiant’s Bloodshot.  Henry Hayes is a former Army medic who believes he now works with the NGO Medics Without Borders, but his frequent trips (multiple times a week!) are really cover for his missions as Deathlok, the highly-controlled cyborg that works for a biomedical company.  After each mission his memory is wiped, and so Hayes thinks he’s one of the good guys.  Meanwhile, at home, his daughter is struggling in school and is resentful of how much time he is away from her.  While this is an interesting set-up for a series, it ultimately doesn’t make much sense.  Why do his handlers need Hayes to have his own life?  Why not just keep him in a lab, like the Soviets did the Winter Soldier?  Also, how many natural disasters or emergencies need a single American to fly in for a day to effect any purposeful assistance?  Leaving that aside, Mike Perkins’s art looks good, and Edmondson is setting up a confrontation with both SHIELD and Domino, which should be interesting.  This is off to a good start, but Deathlok’s going to have to go his own way soon for this comic to work long-term.

Detective Comics #31-34; Annual #3The Icarus story, by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, is interesting, but it tries to do way too much to really make it work.  Manapul’s art is wonderful, and makes me wonder why it took this long before he got his shot at drawing Batman, but the story is a bit of a jumble, as we deal with estranged fathers, deadly drugs, a giant squid, human trafficking, and Harvey Bullock’s desire to arrest Batman.  The Annual, which also has some nice art, thanks to Werner Dee’Edera and Scott Hepburn, fills in some of the blanks, but I think that may have just made things more confusing.

Detective Comics #35 – This beginning of a two-part story, on the other hand, is the type of Batman comic we don’t get enough of these days.  An airplane lands at Gotham IA with it’s entire passenger list dead.  Batman and the chief of the airport cops start their investigation, assuming that there’s a virus, which is confirmed by an eco-terrorist at the end of the issue.  Benjamin Percy (I don’t know who that is – any help?) sets up a nice taut story that is not trying to do anything else with itself, and John Paul Leon reminds us of why he’s such a respected artist, even if he doesn’t draw nearly as many comics as he should.

Magneto #12&13 – These two issues focus on just what Magneto means to himself and to others.  The Axis tie-in shows us scenes we’ve seen in that event, although from Erik’s perspective, as he has a conversation of whatever is left of Charles Xavier, and redefines his own mission.  In the next issue, we see how a group of people whose lives were affected by Magneto’s villainy think about the character, as Cullen Bunn takes a breather before setting up his next story arc.  I like thoughtful approaches to this character, so this series works for me.

Original Sins #1-5I know that the event anthology books are kind of pointless, but there’s something about them that always draws me in.  It’s weird how long ago Original Sin feels to me now, mostly because the series had little impact on things (aside, I guess, from Thor).  Anyway, this series featured a Young Avengers story by Ryan North and Ramon Villalobos, which was amusing enough.  North wrote The Midas Flesh, which was excellent, and is involved with Adventure Time, and he brings a unique brand of humour to his comics.  Some of the other stories in these issues were quite good.  The introduction to Deathlok caught my eye, and I liked the Doctor Doom story by James Robinson and Alex Maleev.  I know that the Dum Dum Dugan and Nick Fury story by Al Ewing and Butch Guice made a lot of people angry (doing away with a long-standing Marvel character like it does), but Ewing really nailed the different voices there.  Of course, the best thing in this whole series is the two page strip by Chip Zdarsky that has a number of heroes confessing their own ‘original sins’.

Silver Surfer #7 – With another fine done-in-one story, Dan Slott and Michael Allred make me wonder why I’m not picking this book up every month.  In this issue, Dawn gets separated from the Surfer, causing him and his board to reflect on all that she’s meant to them both since they started travelling together.  I like the way that Slott is making the board into a character in this comic, as it helps humanize the Surfer, who can usually be a pretty dull character.

Thor #3 – I’m increasingly impressed with Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman’s work on this new series.  Aaron’s Thor has been pretty inconsistent, but with the new female character wielding the hammer, the book has been injected with a lot of new energy.  Dauterman’s work is terrific, and I think I’m going to have to pick up the next issue, which will feature the first meeting between New Thor and Regular Thor.

The Unwritten Vol. 2: Apocalypse #3-6 – It took me a bit to get back into Tom Taylor’s world, as I feel that Mike Carey is covering a lot of old ground, and that this series really lost momentum during its terrible Fables crossover and subsequent relaunch.  Where before, this book felt fresh, now it really feels like it’s just limping towards its finish line.  I’ve missed these characters, but with the exception of Pauly the Rabbit, I’m a little tired of seeing them go through the same old thing, even if it is amplified some.

The Week in Manga:

20th Century Boys Vol. 20 – As Naoki Urasawa gets closer and closer to the end of this long, long manga series, the book just keeps getting more and more exciting.  Kanna goes to kill the Friend in his palace, while Otcho and Yukiji meet an old acquaintance who knows a lot about the Friend’s plans.  At the same time, we check in with Kanna’s mother, who is working to stop the next biological attack.  Years of planning are paying off in a big way, and I find myself getting more and more excited about reading this classic series.  It really is incredible in its scope, but also in its character detail.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Grandville Bête Noire

by Bryan Talbot
Bryan Talbot’s Grandville stories are always a delight, and the third in the series, Bête Noir, is no exception.

These large graphic albums could have easily gone off the rails, buried under the weight of Tablot’s central concept, but instead, these books are very well realized, gripping and beautiful adventure stories.

In the world of Grandville, Paris is the most important city in the world.  It has recently shaken off Napoleonic control, and is moving towards democracy.  England has been independent of French control for only about twenty years.  Talking animals are the ruling class, while humans (not so affectionately called ‘doughfaces’) make up a servant underclass, although they are beginning to advocate for their rights.  Oh, Talbot has embraced ‘steampunk’ ideals in designing this world.

Into this mix, we get the machinations of Baron Krapaud, an immensely rich toad, who would like very much to see democracy not gain a foothold in Paris.  He has a plan involving discrediting representational fine arts in favour of the abstract, and in placing automaton soldiers throughout the city to do his bidding.  I know that those two things don’t really go together, but Talbot makes it all make sense, rather wonderfully.

Inspector LeBrock, our usual hero, gets involved when a French detective comes to him for help in solving a closed-door mystery, the murder of an artist set to design an important mural.  LeBrock and his associate, Roderick, make their way to Grandville, and waste little time in getting involved in the intrigue.

Talbot pays homage to James Bond films in this volume, as well as to the Wind in the Willows, through his choice of villain.  I enjoyed the depth of thought put into this book, as well as Talbot’s always amazing artwork.  For such a short book, Talbot packs in a lot of information, and character development, by way of finally giving us a closer look at LeBrock’s past, as he and the high-class prostitute Billie.  Talbot sets up the next volume (presumably) by letting us know that his greatest enemy is about to be released from prison.

I cannot recommend this book, and this series in general, enough.  It is a very solid read.

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