The Weekly Round-Up #269 With Amazing X-Men #16, Gotham Academy #4, Secret Avengers #12, Uncanny X-Men #30, X-O Manowar #32

Best Comic of the Week:

Mind MGMT #30 – Matt Kindt revisits a story he’s told before in this series, but wraps it up in completely new packaging, and features a new approach to his art, all in this one issue.  We’ve been hearing the Eraser’s story almost from the beginning of this comic.  She was the subject of Meru’s first book, and then, we saw her origins in another flashback issue.  This time around, Kindt has the Eraser narrate her own tale, but he adopts the visual styling of the old science fiction novels that she loves to tell it.  Further to that, Kindt used a blending of coloured pencil, charcoal, watercolour, and gouache on coloured paper, giving this issue a look that is incredibly unique, even for this series, which has always pushed boundaries.  This is the last issue of the penultimate story arc, and it is pretty amazing.  This book has me wanting to go back and reread the series from the beginning, knowing everything I know now.

Quick Takes:

Alex + Ada #12 – Once again, Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn have given us a very emotional issue of their science fiction romance series.  One of Alex’s friends has figured out that Ada is sentient, and attacks her, but is given cause to rethink his decision.  Alex’s grandmother, it turns out, has been sick and is close to death, and wants to give her android a full life, even though that means more risks for Alex and Ada.  I like how what started as a book that felt a little limited keeps growing in its scope.  This is a very, very smart comic.

Amazing X-Men #16 – The latest story arc in this book is working very well for me.  The team is trying to keep anyone from becoming the new avatar of Cyttorak on Earth, and that means they are fighting an odd assortment of folk who want that power, including Mankiller!  Crossbones shows up, because there appears to be a rule that he has to be in at least two Marvel books at any given time, and Colossus continues to act very strangely.  I’m impressed with the art by Jorge Fornés, and like the Christopher Yost has been given this title, and that he’s using it to make some use of his former New X-Men cast.

Bitch Planet #2There was enough in the first issue of Bitch Planet, the new series set on a penal planet for women, that caught my eye.  Kelly Sue DeConnick pulled a bit of a reversal in that issue, that made me realize that she had a pretty big story to tell (thirty issues, she says in the text pages), and that the book was going to sprawl, which I like.  Now, with this issue, we get to know a bit about the real main character, Kamau.  It seems that the people who run Bitch Planet (not its real name) are strapped for cash, and have the idea to put some of the inmates in some kind of reality-TV/Running Man/Hunger Games kinda thing, and they want Kamau to run the team.  DeConnick makes her a very interesting character, and quite a counterbalance to just about any character DeConnick’s written before (this is no Carol Danvers).  This issue has really made me interested, even though I have no real understanding of what ‘compliance’ means, or how society got to the position where it locks up non-compliant women on another planet.  I am, however, curious to learn, and with Valentine DeLandro drawing the book, I am enjoying learning more.

Casanova: Acedia #1 – I’m incredibly happy to see Casanova back on comics stands.  This series, when it launched back when Image was experimenting with its slim-line format (Fell was the only other book published this way), was one of the best comics out there.  Matt Fraction had every page just explode with new and crazy ideas, and Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá blew me away with their artistic energy.  The first two volumes of this series were just about perfect.  Later, when the book moved to Icon at Marvel, I felt it lost something a little, as Fraction had more room to explore his ideas, and the story became a lot more complicated.  It was still a fun read, but it started giving me that feeling I get sometimes when I read Grant Morrison, that either I’m not as smart as I think I am, or something in the story just isn’t working.  Now the title has returned to Image, and we’re given a strong, if somewhat confusing, opening.  Casanova Quinn, a dimension-hopping super spy, has no memory of his past life, and is now working for Amiel Boutique, another amnesiac who runs NETWORK, yet another type of agency.  The world is set to end in a matter of day (according, apparently, to some cultists or something), and Boutique wants Quinn (who is going by Quentin Cassiday) to fill in the gaps in his life.  This, inevitably, leads to an attack in a library by some Grey Men.  Moon draws this main story, and it’s gorgeous.  I’m not sure I know what’s going on with all this stuff, but I’m very interested in learning about it.  There is a back-up strip now, written by Michael Chabon (better known for his novels, although his Omega the Unknown was a brilliant comic) and drawn by Bá that is focusing on TAMI, the all-girl band that has shown up in the series before.  I don’t know where this story is headed at all, but like the main story, it has my attention.

The Dying & The Dead #1It’s hard to imagine that Jonathan Hickman, who is so busy mapping out the future of Marvel Comics, not to mention writing The Manhattan Projects and East of West, both of which are large, sweeping stories, would have time to plan out yet another story that feels so massive as The Dying & The Dead, his new Image series with frequent collaborator Ryan Bodenheim.  This book opens during a wedding, which is interrupted by a large group of masked gunmen, who slaughter everyone, and make off with an object that the groom had hidden in a secret vault.  Next we meet an aging WWII veteran, whose wife is dying from cancer.  He travels, accompanied by a man all in white, to a remote church in a desert, which is an entrance to a different world beneath ours.  There, he is offered a deal by the Bishop of a hidden city.  It seems that the people who live there have always been there, practically immortal, and guiding humanity (they gave us religion, presumably among other things), but the stolen object is a problem for them, and they are willing to save the Colonel’s wife’s life for its safe return.  Hickman establishes a lot in this issue, making luxurious use of the extended length of the issue, but leaves us with way more questions than answers.  We know that the Colonel has been in the City before, during the war, but we don’t know what transpired.  Most interestingly, the Bishop counsels the Colonel not to take the deal, but he also makes it clear that they can’t always be trusted.  This is a promising beginning for a series.  I imagine the Colonel as a Nick Fury type, had SHIELD never existed.  Bodenheim is a terrific artist, and he really goes all out on the City designs.  I’m not surprised that I liked this so much, Hickman is a wonderful writer.

Effigy #1 – Here is a very strong first issue from a Vertigo series, something I’m not used to seeing happen lately.  Tim Seeley is writing, and the excellent Marley Zarcone is drawing, this new title, which centres on Chondra Jackson.  Chondra was once the star of the kids TV show Star Cops.  After seven seasons the show ended, and she found herself losing her grasp on her fame, which led to an ill-considered sex tape.  Now, Chondra is back in her home town of Effigy Mound, training to become a police officer.  The town is named after a large serpentine burial mound, where archeologists have discovered a new, yet mummified, body.  This series looks like it’s going to be playing with celebrity culture and the strange, and it definitely caught my attention.  I recommend giving it a look.

Gotham Academy #4I’m still undecided about this title.  I love the creative team, but am not sure how interested I really am about a series that revolves around haunted school buildings and hidden passages in dormitories.  The last couple of pages of this issue have me wanting to read the next one, but this book hasn’t quite fallen into ‘guilty pleasure’ territory for me yet, and I don’t know how long I’ll want to stick with it.

Gotham By Midnight #3 – My new favourite DC title impresses yet again, this time with a story about a woman who turned up in hospital with smallpox, but in fact has a sentient shadow that wants to kill everyone.  As with the last issue, we get a flashback story to help flesh out one of the main characters, as Jim Corrigan and crew work to fix this problem.  I love the inventive weirdness of this series, and that Ben Templesmith is drawing a book that is part of the New 52.

The Life After #6 – I think I’d originally expected that this would be a six-issue mini-series, but Joshua Hale Fialkov continues to add new elements to his very strange story about the afterlife.  This time around, we meet Ometochtli, an elder god that looks like a huge rabbit, and that hangs out with child ninjas and the like.  Fialkov has very strange ideas about what the afterlife must be like, and it’s a lot of fun to travel through them with Jude and Ernest Hemingway.

New Avengers #29 – Jonathan Hickman is upping the stakes in his ‘Time Runs Out’ storyline, which is interesting, considering how intense the last few issues of this book and Avengers have been.  Now that all the various Avengers factions are talking to each other again, we learn just what Reed and his crew have been up to, as the storyline starts setting up the Secret Wars event.  The last page surprised me a little, but mostly that’s because I thought that the white-clad dude on the cover was Maximus.  He might be, but he could also be a famous 80s Marvel character who used to walk around in an all-white suit with curly hair…

Quantum and Woody Must Die #1I skipped the earlier issues of Q&W, but then loved the Delinquents mini-series that featured them, and decided to give this new mini-series a shot.  Writer James Asmus has been joined by artist Steve Lieber, and the book opens with cameo appearances by Tony and Caesar from Chew, which made me happy.  The two brothers get sucked into some sort of plot involving a pharmaceutical company, and a pair of female mercenaries.  Much of this book is quite funny, but as I don’t know the heroes’ backstory, I was a little confused in a few parts.  I think I liked this enough to come back for more, and am wondering if I should start hunting for back issues.  I’m happy to see Lieber drawing again so soon after the end of Superior Foes of Spider-Man, where he was excellent.

Rasputin #4 – After three issues of establishing Rasputin, writer Alex Grecian finally has him meet the Romanov family, curing young Alexei of his hemophilia, after passing a test.  This book continues to be incredibly decompressed, but it keeps making me want to come back to read more.  I really don’t know where Grecian and Riley Rossmo are taking it, but I’m curious.

Revival #27 – It feels like Tim Seeley and Mike Norton are really picking the pace up in this series, as a few pretty big events take place in this issue.  Dana, looking for revenge on Edmund Holt, ends up his prisoner, while Martha, Tao and Blaine go looking for the Professor who maybe killed Martha.  As always, this is a very well-executed comic, which now features zombie Reviver fish, which is not something I’d expected to see.

Secret Avengers #12 – Ales Kot uses this issue to explain a lot of the events of this series, much of the weirdness of which can be attributed to MODOK’s self-medication.  That does make the Deadpool issue make a lot more sense.  This is an incredibly strange series, and I find myself enjoying this last arc, as we finally have a clear idea of what all is going on.

Sex #19Piotr Kowalski is still not drawing full issues of this series (he’s still drawing Terminal Hero at Dynamite, right?), but Joe Casey is back to advancing his usual myriad plotlines.  The Alpha Brothers have a line on a once-useful source of information to aid them in their war with the Old Man, while we learn where the prostitutes the Japanese businessmen hired came from.  I was pleased to see Ian MacEwan draw most of this issue.  He’s not done a whole lot of comics since I first saw his work in Grendel: War Child, and I’ve always liked his art.  I like this book so much, that I’m able to look past the wrinkly old naked man on the cover of this issue.

Sex Criminals #10 – Once again, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky do an incredible job of blending serious depictions of therapy and relationship with ridiculously funny sex jokes.  Jon continues his therapy, and comes short of making real gains, while he and Suzie put their plan to recruit other sexually gifted people into their war with the Sex Police.  This book is incredibly funny, and so very unique.  It’s not a stretch to call this comic brilliant.

They’re Not Like Us #2 – Eric Stephenson has started a very interesting new take on an X-Men like book.  A group of powered young people have set up house in San Francisco, and live off the grid, taking whatever they need.  Last issue, they brought a new person into the fold, and in this issue, she learns a lot more about how they live, including their regular mugging of people on the street for cash, vintage headphones, and whatever else they need.  She’s not sure how she feels about this, but there aren’t a lot of alternatives for her either.  It’s an interesting set-up, with very nice art by Simon Gane.  I’m still a little leery of how committed Stepheson is to this book (because Nowhere Men, his last title, has been exactly nowhere for about a year now), but I’m liking this a lot.

Thor #4I really did not expect to be adding Thor to my pull-file, but this latest relaunch has really given the property a shot in the arm.  I like the new, female Thor, and am curious to find out who she really is (but hope it’s a while before we learn the truth).  I like the grumpy, sullen portrayal of regular, unworthy Thor.  I love the art by Russell Dauterman, who has gotten even better than he was when he started drawing Cyclops a little while ago.  I feel that there is a lot of potential in this book now, and that Jason Aaron has really hit upon something good here.  I hope Secret Wars doesn’t make a big mess of all this…

Umbral #12 – This fantasy series has been chugging away a little under the radar for a while now, but with this last issue of the second arc, writer Antony Johnston drops a lot of new information and surprises on us (and on main character Rascal), as all of her closest friends and travelling companions are revealed as having their own designs on her and the magical artifact she carries.  I like the way Johnston has built us up to this moment, and then leaves us wanting more, as the book goes on a bit of a hiatus.  This is a very smart, well-realized fantasy series.  As always, Christopher Mitten is impressive.

Uncanny Avengers #1 – I was not too excited about this relaunch of Uncanny Avengers, and I can see I was right to worry.  I’m not sure what Rick Remender (or Marvel editorial) has in mind for Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in the wake of Axis, but I hope they aren’t always going to be the focus of this title.  The twins are on Counter-Earth, for reasons I don’t understand.  Rogue pulls together an Avengers team to look for Wanda, that includes Vision (in a new ugly red look), Falcon, Brother Voodoo, and Inverted Sabretooth.  They track her to Wundagore Mountain, and then Remender borrows the current plot to All-New X-Men and scatters the team all over that other Earth.  That’s about all that happens here, and it didn’t excite me in the least.  I like artist Daniel Acuna, but this was a pretty dull first issue.  Also, a new reader would be completely lost here, which does not make this a successful series launch.

Uncanny X-Men #30I do not understand why just about every story that Brian Michael Bendis has written since taking the lead on the X-Men has to involve time travel.  First he brings the original X-Men to our time, and makes it so they can’t go back to theirs.  Next, he has X-Men from the future attack, and then attack again.  Later, he sends one of his newer characters into the future, then brings her back, and has her realize that because she came back, that future doesn’t exist any more (even though it didn’t work that way for the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in the previous storyline).  Also, he gave Illyana time-travelling powers that she didn’t have before.  Now, when the new all-powerful mutant that Charles Xavier hid from everyone got too dangerous, he decided to send Eva back to talk to Xavier (although, for some reason, no one thought that she could take the original X-Men back).  This issue ends so stupidly, I don’t even want to talk about it.  My only hope is that in the wake of Secret Wars, most of this stuff will be retconned away, assuming Bendis doesn’t wipe it all out in the next issue (because there’s no way that the deaths that happened in this comic will be allowed to stand).  Also, are we ever going to read the rest of Xavier’s will?  Or notice that Wolverine was still alive when this story started, and now he’s just gone?

Unity #14 – Ever since Armor Hunters ended, Matt Kindt has been killing on this book.  This issue shows the Unity team fighting their new enemies, a group of operatives that have been deployed to destroy them.  The whole issue (almost) is taken up with this big fight, which outs Gin-Gr, the giant robot, as part of the team.  At the same time, each page has running across the bottom, a series of talking heads as Gilad goes on a cable news panel show to defend his team’s actions.  Kindt’s writing is smart here, and Cafu does a great job of making this an exciting read.  I hate Gin-Gr’s name, but she reminds me of Biotron, one of the greatest of the Micronauts, so that makes me happy.  This is a very good series.

Vertigo Quarterly CYMK #4 – This is easily the strongest of the latest batch of Vertigo quarterlies, with some very impressive names providing short stories.  Jeff Lemire returned to the world of Sweet Tooth for a short prequel story that made me realize just how much I miss Gus and his world.  Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen give us a beautiful meditation on blackness and death, while Francesco Francavilla has a very cool piece set in space.  Tom King uses a black soldier from the First World War’s story to narrate a beautiful story drawn by John Paul Leon about racism, PTSD, and how we treat our heroes.  It’s worth buying this comic for that story alone.  Fábio Moon finishes off the interconnected stories he’s been telling across these quarterlies, and Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew have an interesting piece about phone apps, relationships, and what the colour black really means.  I also enjoyed the stories by newcomers David Baillie, Will Morris, Si Spencer, and Nimit Malavia (who is an incredible artist).  This was an impressive collection; there was only one story I didn’t like.

X-O Manowar #32For the amount of hype that came with it, the Armorines storyline was a little weak.  Sure, its positioned the property well for a new series or team, but I found Zahn to be no different from the Superior Tony Stark, and some of the story, such as the way Zahn’s armor grew to be so big, to be kind of nonsensical.  Oh well, there haven’t been many times that this series has felt off, so I’ll allow this one.

Zero #14 – This is a pretty brutal issue, as Edward Zero fights the enhanced member of the team that has attacked the Agency’s headquarters.  Really, there’s not a lot going on this month aside from this fight, which is rendered quite well by artist Marek Oleksicki.  I’m hoping that Ales Kot is going to use the new position Zero is in to pull some of the elements of this series together soon.

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

All-New Invaders #14

Batman #38

Batman Eternal #43

Bodies #7

Deadpool #41

Inhuman #11

Multiversity Guidebook #1

Nova #26

Spider-Man 2099 #8

Turok Dinosaur Hunter #11

Unwritten Vol. 2 Apocalypse #12

Wolverines #4

Bargain Comics:

All-New Invaders #9I find it surprising that Marvel even would have green-lit this series, considering the number of changes they had planned for the principal characters.  Captain America has become aged and replaced.  Bucky has become ‘The Man on the Wall’ (I hate that phrase).  Namor has had a falling out with Cap and the Avengers, and is spending his time with Thanos, of all people.  Yet, here they all are, with the Human Torch, fighting Deathloks who work for a former East German Stasi dude.  This series was a train wreck from the beginning, and a disappointment.  I would have thought that James Robinson working with Steve Pugh would be a guaranteed winner.

Amazing Spider-Man #1.1-1.5 – The Learning to Crawl mini-series between issues is an interesting beast.  Dan Slott has written a story that explores Peter Parker’s earliest days as Spider-Man, from the immediate aftermath of Uncle Ben’s death through some of his more formative adventures.  Slott has us watch as Peter moves through his nerdy loner phase through to the hero who cracks wise and takes photos of himself while doing his thing as a way of making money.  We’re firmly in Lee and Ditko territory, but Slott does an interesting (if not always consistent) job of modernizing this as per the sliding scale of Marvel’s continuity.  People have the Internet and laptops now, but Peter is still webbing up a film camera.  Ramón Pérez is an interesting artist for this project.  His work evokes the Steve Ditko of that era, while feeling modern at the same time.  I enjoyed reading this.

Batman Eternal #25-31 – I’m finding that I’m getting pretty addicted to this series, it being the best Batman I’ve read since Grant Morrison’s work prior to the New 52 relaunch (even Batman Inc. lost something in that transition).  Even missteps like including Hush in the storyline haven’t diminished my enjoyment of it, although I do think there are some strange hiccups in the storytelling (like, how long were Batwing and Corrigan under Arkham?  Days?  Weeks?).  The inclusion of Alfred’s daughter as Penny Two has been enjoyable (as much as I hate the Penny codenames), and it’s been nice seeing some of the extended family get involved in things.  I found it interesting how this series worked to explain the soft reboot of Batgirl, and do find it very strange that her series makes no mention of the fact that her father is in jail, or that Gotham is being systematically dismantled while she hunts for dates on-line.  The art in this batch of issues got pretty inconsistent, and as much as I admire his writing in other comics, Ray Fawkes’s issues seem to be the weakest.  I’m almost through my Boxing Day stash of issues, and am going to have to get caught up on the rest of this series soon…

Deadpool #39This is the last issue of this series that ties in with Axis, and is mostly concerned with Wade helping Evan get out of town.  It’s strange that Evan doesn’t feel he can return to the X-Men, since they would also know that he was ‘inverted’ and not actually still evil.  It’s also strange how the whole Axis storyline, aside from one bad tie-in issue, was given no play in the various X-books.

Death of Wolverine: The Logan Legacy #7 – As I expected, the end of this mini-series simply sets up the new Wolverines weekly.  The various members of Logan’s extended family and closest rogues are more or less forced to work with the survivors of the Weapon X Program, because of trigger words.  I’m curious to see how this all gets reconciled with what’s going on with Sabretooth in the aftermath of Axis.  I’m also not too clear whether or not Elixir survived this issue – I hope so, because he’s one of my favourite under-used X-Men.

Inhuman #9 – Tying in to Axis, we see Medusa get all bad in her quest to control her city, which means she has to braid her hair into Todd McFarlane-long tendrils, and wear all black.  I’m enjoying this series more and more, but don’t understand how Marvel can think this property would support a second title, plus a Secret Wars mini-series, all written by the excellent but overworked Charles Soule.

Scarlet Spiders #2 – What I was prepared to dismiss as a little too gimmicky an event has charmed me, and so I’ve been checking out some of the ancillary Spider-Verse books.  Despite Mike Costa’s over-writing, this is a fun story of clones trying to destroy clones.  I like Kaine a lot.

Spider-Verse #1 –  This anthology has a story featuring Lady Spider, which was interesting, but that’s about it really.  I hate when Marvel adds ‘cutesy’ stories to their anthologies, so I wasn’t all that impressed with Katie Cook’s story.  On the other hand, I thought Dan Slott and Tom Grummett’s tale, set in the newspaper strip universe, was very funny.

Spider-Verse Team-Up #1 – Like the book above, this is pretty hit-or-miss, and mostly miss.  Still, it was nice to see a story by Roger Stern and Bob McLeod.

Spider-Woman #2 – This issue helps fill in some of the gaps in the Spider-Verse story, but mostly it’s an excuse for Greg Land to draw two Jessica Drews’ rear ends.  I like the fact that Land is apparently leaving this book after the event ends, so it might be worth giving the series another look then.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Rachel Rising Vol. 1: The Shadow of Death

by Terry Moore

I have to give Terry Moore credit for a few things after reading the first volume of his most recent series, Rachel Rising.  When I think of Moore, I think of Strangers In Paradise, his very entertaining romantic comedy series.  HisEcho was a cool science fiction series that kept me entertained throughout.  Nothing he’s done to this point in his career prepared me for how creepy he can be, as evidenced by this collection of the first six issues of his still ongoing series.

When this book opens, young Rachel Beck has been buried in a shallow grave in a dried up creek.  She wakens, and violently digs her way out.  She has no memory of how she got there, other than a flashback of a masked man strangling her with rope, and she has the marks on her neck, and the haemorrhaging in her eyes to prove it.  She makes her way home, and goes to sleep.

As this story unfolds, we see people start to react to Rachel differently.  Her Aunt Johnny, the town mortician believes she is a ghost at first, and even her best friend doesn’t know how to react to her.  After going to see the friend, Jet, perform at a local bar, Rachel gets knocked off a roof, and dies (again).  A little while later, she wakes up, terrifying her aunt and friend.  It soon becomes apparent that Rachel is, indeed, dead, and that some very strange things are going on in the town of Manson (nice choice of name).

While Rachel is going about her business, we also get to meet a young girl named Zoe, who was visited in her home by a blonde woman we see standing over Rachel’s grave, and speaking to the man who pushes his fiancee off the bar roof, hitting Rachel in the process.  Zoe murders her sister, sets her house on fire, and steals the family car to bury her sister in the creek, where she meets the murderous fiancee, doing the same thing.

Later, Zoe meets up with Rachel and her friends, and we learn that only Rachel and Zoe can see the blonde woman.  There are a lot of little clues being left for us – the smoke that comes out of dead bodies when they move again, the references to Manson’s history of involvement with witches, and the friendly local doctor who has kept his dead wife’s body propped up in the living room for thirty years.  It’s too early in the story for Moore to connect any dots, but he’s doing a great job of laying the groundwork for an epic.

I love Moore’s art.  His draftsmanship in this black and white book is as good as it’s ever been, and his character work is becoming more and more refined.  The fiancee could be a stand in for Freddie from SiP, but there’s something much more realistic about the guy, even as he’s portrayed as a bit of a boorish caricature.

I regret having not dived into this series before now.  It’s pretty compelling stuff.

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