The Weekly Round-Up #270 With Sheltered #14, Cluster #1, Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: The Black Vortex: Alpha #1, Imperium #1, Nameless #1, Saga #25, Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses #1 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Sheltered #14 – The tension in this series has been building since the very beginning, and with this issue, writer Ed Brisson and artist Johnnie Christmas really let things boil over.  The children of a survivalist camp have killed their parents and taken over, under the leadership of Lucas, who is convinced that a massive volcanic eruption is going to destroy the United States at any point.  For this arc, the kids’ camp has been surrounded by the FBI, after the murders were discovered.  Last issue, one of the kids committed an act that has assured action by the authorities, and that’s where this issue brings us, as they storm the camp.  It’s a very well-balanced comic, with some pretty inevitable, but still disturbing, things taking place.  I can’t wait to see how everything ends next issue.

Quick Takes:

American Vampire: Second Cycle #6 – I’d decided to drop American Vampire before it fell months behind on its schedule.  Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque’s first series was one of my favourites for its first couple of years, but I got pretty bored of it towards the end of the first volume.  The beginning of this Second Cycle really did little for me, but this issue is really pretty good.  Pearl, Skinner, and the other VMS agent make their way to that vampire-hunting organization’s secret headquarters to share information on the Gray Trader, a huge threat.  Once there, they meet up with Felicia Book and the remaining Vassals, who gives them the history of the Trader, and how it connects with the hidden origins of the Cold War.  The Manhattan Projects vibe of this issue works nicely, and I’m sort of rethinking my decision to drop the title.  I guess it will depend on whether or not it takes a few months for the next issue to come out…

Angela: Asgard’s Assassin #3 – Had I known that this series would allow writer Kieron Gillen to make use of the Disir, and to write Loki again, I never would have hesitated to start reading it.  Angela continues to flee from the Asgardians that pursue her, making use of a magic wedding dress (so much nicer looking than her McFarlane look) and her connection with the Guardians of the Galaxy to make her escape.  Meanwhile, we finally get some idea as to who her friend Serafina is, and what happens to angels when they die.  This series is showing promise, and with artists like Phil Jimenez and Stephanie Hans working on it, it looks great.  I’m really very surprised that I’m liking this…

Annihilator #5We are getting to the end of Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving’s slightly insane comic about a dying screenwriter working with his own creation to finish the movie that stars him.  Things get pretty odd here, as Ray Spass and Max Nomax figure out why Nomax was imprisoned in the film, and how to end Ray’s movie.  Irving’s work on this story is pretty amazing, and Morrison has proven that he can find new ways to explore his favourite theme – having writers and their creations hang out together.

Ant-Man #2 – I still can’t figure out how I feel about this book.  Nick Spencer is writing this in the same style that he wrote Superior Foes of Spider-Man, which is a recent favourite of mine, but while doing so, he’s really trouncing Ant-Man continuity.  It’s a good example of Batgirling, a new word I learned this week, as Scott Lang heads to Florida and tries to start a security solutions business.  No mention has been made yet of his relationship to Darla Deerling, his teammate in the FF, nor that his daughter, who is now only fourteen, has been a Young Avenger, and dead.  I like what I’m reading, with its Nazi robot and the inclusion of Grizzly as a supporting character, and the art by Ramon Rosanas is very nice.  The next issue has Taskmaster showing up, so I’ll be back.

Avengers #41 – I’m not surprised that Jonathan Hickman had a plan to reverse a major event of just a couple of issues ago, but the way in which he’s done it did surprise me.  This is a hard issue to discuss without giving away some pretty important details, so instead, I’m just going to wonder if Hickman had some inkling of what he wanted to do with the Marvel Universe back when he relaunched The Ultimates.  Most of this issue is given over to Ultimate Reed Richards, who Hickman had established as a pretty powerful villain in that world.  This was a very solid issue, although I’m not sure that Mike Deodato was the right artist for it.

The Bunker #9 – Joshua Hale Fialkov’s complicated story about how a group of friends are using information from the future to either save the world, or ensure that things go down as planned, is getting a little more complicated.  I find myself second guessing every character’s decisions, as I try to figure out what information is true and what is misdirection.  This is a very interesting book.

Cluster #1Ed Brisson has slowly become one of my favourite writers over the last few years (see Sheltered below), and I was excited to see what his new Boom! series, Clustered, would be like.  The story is set on a distant planet, Midlothian, where prisoners from Earth are offered the opportunity to work off a life sentence through fifteen years of military enlistment.  The corporation that incarcerates these individuals is working to terraform the planet, but a hostile alien race (notably, not from the planet, so we can avoid awkward Avatar-esque parallels to the plight of indigenous populations) is working to stop the terraforming and claim the planet for themselves.  Our point-of-view character is Samara, a low-level celebrity daughter of a powerful politician, who is in prison for a futuristic DUI.  She’s a prickly character, who avoids making friends, but then defends the woman who tried to get to know her in a lunchroom brawl.  There are a lot of obvious precursors to this series, but it reminds me most of the Suicide Squad concept (characters have a device in them, called a Punch, that will liquify their insides if they are out of the prison for more than twenty-four hours).  The general story beats are a little predictable, but Brisson is wrapping them in some interesting trappings, and has a good sense of who these characters are.  Artist Damian Couceiro does some nice work as well, and has some pretty nifty designs.  This mini-series has my attention.

East of West #17 – Jonathan Hickman uses this issue to check in on a few characters and territories we haven’t seen for a while, like the Kingdom, before taking us to see Death’s meeting with his wife, and their discussion about the whereabouts of their child, Babylon.  Hickman continues to build his larger story, and as always, it’s compelling stuff.

Grayson #7 – Once again, a satisfying issue of Grayson, one of the best books DC Comics publishes.  This is the conclusion to the story that started last month, which has Dick the captive of Midnighter in the Godgarden (I really don’t understand what this thing is, or who the Gardener is), while Matron rushes to Israel to try to stop the Fist of Cain from killing a bunch of people.  This is a solid issue, aside from the Godgarden stuff, but it lacks the cool structure that other issues of this comic have had.  I’m very happy that Midnighter is a recurring character in this book, and am pleased with the use of Stephen Mooney as the alternate artist to regular artist Mikel Janin.

Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: The Black Vortex: Alpha #1I am reluctant to get started on a thirteen-part cross-over series that only affects two titles I am currently reading (All-New X-Men and Cyclops), but I did want to see what this was all going to be about.  Sam Humphries starts this story, which has Star Lord and Kitty Pryde bring their teams together to help them deal with an artifact, the Black Vortex, that transforms people to their full potential, but seems to bring out their darkness too, because of course it does.  Humphries is writing this in the same jokey style that makes his Legendary Star Lord a little annoying to read, and there are way too many characters to keep track of, even in an over-sized issue.  It’s not really too clear why the X-Men are needed, and the rationale for picking up Beast and Storm on the way into space is never really shared.  I might give the upcoming Guardians issue a try, but I can see myself limiting my involvement with this story to just the comics I would regularly buy.  It’s not good when you’re counting on Brian Michael Bendis to be the person to pull an event off…

Hawkeye #21 – It’s probably been worth the wait (this comic was supposed to come out last June), as Matt Fraction and David Aja finally get to the point where the Tracksuit Mafia just attack Clint’s building en masse, with the Avenger, his brother, and a few tenants hoping to be able to fight them off.  As always, Aja’s art is gorgeous, and he does some interesting things with layout.  Truthfully, it’s past time for this book to be done, and I’m pleased that there’s only one issue left.  I’m looking forward to seeing what Jeff Lemire and Ramon Perez have in store for the character, but I want Fraction’s story to finish first.  I wonder if that will happen?

Hellboy and the BPRD #3 – Things take some strange turns this issue, which has steroided knife-wielding monkeys, talking alligators, and (of course) a fall through the floor.  I am a huge fan of BPRD, but am not feeling this prequel series as much as I thought I would.  This issue just feels like Mike Mignola and John Arcudi are throwing ideas at the wall, while also trying to foreshadow events that have already happened.

Hinterkind #15 It’s strange that it’s taken me this long to recognize just how much this series owes to Game of Thrones, mostly because it’s taken Ian Edginton a long time to arrange all of his pieces on a very large chessboard.  Now, though, all story lines are beginning to converge on the city of the Sidhe, and this book is really picking up.  The last two issues delved into a lot of backstory, and kind of killed the series’s momentum, but we’re back on track this month.

The Humans #4 – Okay, I am now officially very thankful that I didn’t drop this book after the first issue didn’t do a lot to impress me, because this is quickly becoming a favourite series for me.  In this issue, the Humans (a motorcycle gang of apes) go to a big skin fight (where mindless humans fight in an arena), where they decide to wager their profits on an upcoming protection run on one of their skins, who they’ve injected with the new drug they are developing.  There is a lot more structure to this series than I originally thought, as writer Keenan Marshall Keller starts laying out a number of different character arcs, setting up rivalries, power plays, and old girlfriends.  Artist Tom Neely must be having a ball drawing this book, because he gets to draw some pretty wild stuff.  The trade of the first four issues is out soon – it’s worth taking a look at.

Imperium #1 – I was a big fan of Joshua Dysart’s work on Harbinger (and an even bigger fan of his work on Unknown Soldier before that), so I was looking forward to Imperium, his new series that follows Toyo Harada and his army of Psiots as they go about setting up their own nation.  The book opens in the future, as Darpan, a Psiot we’ve known as a boy, journeys through multiple cities and installations under the sea and in space, as a bit of a victory tour.  It’s an interesting way to introduce the series, before we are brought to contemporary Syria, where the Psiots are engaging the Islamic States, who have gotten their hands on some Project Rising Spirit gear.  One thing that I appreciate about Dysart’s writing is the way it’s very much aware of what’s going on in the world, and that works well with a series like this.  Harada is not really being portrayed as a villain, but he’s definitely not a hero either.  I hope that Dysart uses this title to really explore what motivates Harada, and how powered individuals like his Psiots would really affect the world.  Dougie Braithwaite is a good choice of collaborator for this book, because he’s the type of artist who can easily switch from the beautiful Utopia Harada creates to the gritty battlefield in Syria.  Valiant has been on fire with their new series, and this continues that streak.

Ms. Marvel #11I like this title a lot, but have felt that the Inventor storyline has lasted way too long, and so I was pretty happy with this issue, which finishes Kamala’s series of run-ins with that feathered mastermind.  I hope that this series won’t get too involved in the Inhuman angle from here, and will continue with the unique voice it had in its first few issues.  G. Willow Wilson is a very good writer, and artist Adrian Alphona is insanely talented.  It should be fun to watch where they take this character next.

Nameless #1 – You can never accuse Grant Morrison of being unoriginal, as he launches a new series with his former Batman collaborator Chris Burnham.  The comic begins very strangely, as a nameless man attempts to steal a ‘dream key’ – literally, a key that exists only in a dream – for a client.  The dream sequence is wonderfully bizarre, giving Burnham the chance to draw things like fish-headed thugs, but it’s all a bit of a dodge, as we learn that the series is really going to be about a possibly mystical asteroid on a collision course with the Earth.  The Nameless main character has a bit of a sad sack John Constantine thing going on, and really, the rest of the cast is still pretty shrouded in mystery.  This feels like a very promising new title, as Morrison moves into some strange stuff.

The Punisher #15 – I’ve decided that I am going to stick with The Punisher, because I like the way Nathan Edmondson has built up this great big story.  Frank finally gets a chance to talk with the leader of the Howling Commandos, and point out just how suspicious the government’s reaction to the Dos Sol gang’s takeover of LA has been.  This is a good series, and I’d be completely okay with seeing more of the Commandos in some future form or title.

Saga #25It’s always great when Saga is back, although nothing is great for any of the characters right now.  Dengo, the crazed guy from the Robot Kingdom still has Alana, her mother-in-law, and her daughter hostage, while Marko and Prince Robot search for them.  It’s been about three months since they last saw each other, and Hazel lets us know in her narration that it’s going to be a while before they meet up again.  There are a lot of cranky people in this issue, and that’s before a dragon urinates on The Brand and Gwendolyn.  Brian K. Vaughan uses this issue to add to the sprawling nature of this story, and introduces The Revolution, a new wrinkle in the long-running war between Marko and Alana’s homeworlds.  As always, this is a very good read, and Fiona Staples just keeps getting better.

The Sixth Gun: Days of the Dead #5 – As much as I love the regular Sixth Gun series, this particular prequel mini never really clicked with me.  It seems that it mostly exists to explain the depth of the enmity between Jessup Sutter and Drake Sinclair, but I don’t know that five issues was needed for that, especially since Sinclair barely appears.  Everything here is fine, and Mike Norton’s art is more than that, but I’ve found this a distraction from the better regular title, which is falling behind schedule.

Star Wars #2 – I think I feel confident that Star Wars is in good hands with Jason Aaron.  While I feel like he may have jumped the gun a little by having Luke Skywalker run in to Darth Vader so early in this run, he makes their lack of knowledge of each other work very well in this story.  The Rebels are trying to get off an Imperial weapons-manufacturing moon they’ve rigged to explode, but heavy Imperial resistance necessitates the use of a Walker, making everything a little awkward.  John Cassaday’s art is as good as I’d hoped it would be on this title.  He has as good an eye for the mechanical aspects of this story as he does the likenesses of the actors that immortalized these characters.  I’m really enjoying the feel of this book.

Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses #1This is really the fiftieth issue of Stray Bullets, which is pretty impressive.  This new story arc is centred on Beth, who I can only vaguely remember from when I read the first half of this series back in the day.  Beth has a new man in her life, a guy she treats pretty terribly, but who is determined to make things work.  At the same time, this is the guy who has just killed a mob boss, and who Spanish Scott is hunting for.  As I said, the Beth storyline is pretty much lost in my memory (I remembered Virginia Applejack really well), but I’m sure it will come back to me as the story continues.  As always, David Lapham keeps some of this story hella subtle, and it’s always interesting to see where he takes one of his storylines.

Swamp Thing #39 – With little time remaining in his run, Charles Soule is certainly putting Alec Holland through his paces, having him face a monstrous, Bizarro version of his former body being used against him by the Machine Empire, as well as having to face Anton Arcane (yet again).  Soule’s run has been consistently excellent, and while the increased pace of this issue doesn’t leave a lot of room for character moments, it does have a nice guest appearance by John Constantine.

The United States of Murder Inc. #6 – As with all series by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, this started out on schedule, and then went off by quite a bit.  Still, this conclusion to the first volume of their new mob-fuelled comic worked very well.  We learn who really killed the United States Senator in the first issue, and get a good look at the way power is handled in the Murder Inc. empire.  This is a smart book, and it feels a lot fresher than Powers, the usual Bendis/Oeming collaboration.  I’m not sure what colourist Taki Soma was up to this month though, as the colours get a little strange and overpowering in places.

Velvet #9Here’s another series that is always going to be worth waiting for.  Ed Brubaker had his 70s superspy Velvet Templeton arrange an opportunity so she could get her hands on an older spy who has spent close to fifteen years in an asylum.  The problem with old spies is that they can’t always be trusted, and as we are given two versions of Damien Lake’s story, we are left probably more confused than Velvet.  This is a perfectly executed spy comic, with Steve Epting doing the work of his career in support of Brubaker’s story.  A very good, very intelligent, read.

The Woods #10 – With every issue, lately, I’ve been loving this series even more.  James Tynion IV’s otherworldly adventure gets a lot of backstory explained in this issue, as we learn about the black stones, and how they change the people who touch them.  We also learn just what ‘incorporation’ into New London means for the kids at the high school (who we have not seen for a very long time now), and what various characters think about it.  The heart of this book, though, remains the strong characters who really make me care about this story.  Michael Dialynas’s art is great, and I’m excited to see where this story leads.  It’s a very original comic, and worth keeping an eye on.

Wytches #4 – Scott Snyder’s incredibly dark Wytches continues to insert some very creepy ideas and images straight into the reader’s head.  In this issue, Sailor’s father learns a lot of information about the subterranean creatures who have stolen his daughter, as he tracks down the woman who attacked him before.  The thing is, what she’s told him is so insane, it’s hard to believe any of it.  Sail, meanwhile, is stuck in a hole, and getting out takes her back to a memory that shows how her father ‘used to be’.  Snyder’s set up a lot of material for this series, both in terms of the supernatural aspect of the Wytches, and the psychological issues that father and daughter both suffer.  This is a very smart read, and Jock makes it look fantastic.

X-O Manowar #33I’m a little tired of the whole ‘flashback story as placeholder’ that happens in this series between big arcs, because it helps to underline just how little story potential there is in Aric just being Aric, without heading back to the barbarian days.  The rest of the issue is interesting, as it sets up the next big story arc, Dead Hand, which looks to be about the Vine again.

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

All-New Captain America: Fear Him #1

Batman Eternal #44

Detective Comics #39

EGOs #5

Miracleman #15

Rat God #1

Wolf Moon #3

Wolverines #5

Bargain Comics:

All-Star Western #30-34It really is amazing just how long this series, and it’s previous iteration, lasted.  To think that Jonah Hex comics could exist continuously for almost a decade in the current comics climate is impressive, and that Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray wrote all of them, is downright amazing.  To be honest, the New 52 version of Jonah started feeling tired a while ago, and a trip to our time did nothing to help with that.  These last issues have a facially-healed Jonah back in his own time, hooking up with Tallulah Black again, and finishing up some final business.  The last issue in this batch was drawn by Darwyn Cooke, and it was a fitting end for Jonah’s saga.

Batman and (Frankenstein, and Ra’s al Ghul) #31-32 – These are the last two issues before the title reverted to Batman and Robin, as Bats travels to Nanda Parbat (which isn’t there any more) to retrieve his son’s body from al Ghul.  Frankenstein and some yeti help him with this, but a surprise ending derails his plans.  These comics are decent, although not as good as Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have been with this title.  I like seeing Doug Mahnke draw Frankenstein – I wish Mahnke drew comics I wanted to read more often.

Batman Eternal #32-36 – It has been great reading these issues, as I get close to caught up with the series before my Boxing Day sale windfall has run out.  In these issues, Batman gets much closer to the centre of the conspiracy against him and Gotham, although that results in his losing all of his weapons caches, and Wayne Manor.  It’s nice to see the Batman Family working together again, as I could never buy their anger with one another after Death of the Family.  I wonder if Alfred’s daughter is being set up to replace Oracle, and why we haven’t seen much more of Harper Row in action.

Fantastic Four #14James Robinson plays with an interesting idea in this issue, that one person, The Quiet Man, has been working against the scenes to destroy the FF for years.  It’s a cool idea, although it shows that the guy is not really very good at his goals…  This series is starting to feel right, although it’s at this point that the final story arc begins before the title gets canceled yet again, perhaps not to be replaced until after the next movie comes out?

Guardians 3000 #3 – Even though I don’t like the art, I keep finding myself reading new issues of this series, mostly because I like the characters and Dan Abnett’s writing.  This issue has two of the Guardians chatting with one of The Stark, and features a Nova (in a cameo), and an appearance by Star Lord, but it’s not clear if it’s our Star Lord or his descendant.  This title is a little too decompressed, but it is a passable read.

Magnus Robot Fighter #1&2 – I was a little sceptical about the latest iteration of Magnus, since the concept is not one that seems to be aging all that well.  It’s a lot harder for us to imagine a future where robots are going to be fighting us.  Instead, Fred Van Lente has switched things up a bit, positing a world where the robots have already taken over, and that Magnus (I love that his first name is Russ, a tribute to his creator Russ Manning) has been trained his whole life to liberate people, although he doesn’t know that yet.  I think I’m going to have to track down the rest of this series…

Solar Man of the Atom #1 – Where Magnus worked, this other Gold Key retread did not.  I found Frank J. Barbiere did nothing to draw me into this story, and Joe Bennett’s art felt a little phoned in.

The Week in Graphic Novels:


Written by Alex De Campi
Art by Igor Kordey, Milton, Felipe Sobreiro, Carla Speed McNeil, Richard Pace, Dan McDaid, Mack Chatter, Colleen Doran, Bill Sienkiewicz, Alice Duke, Alem Curin, Jesse Hamm, James Smith, and RM Guéra

In 2013, Dark Horse publishedSmoke and Ashes in one volume, a nicely designed and chunky hunk of comics that has given me a lot of pleasure this week.  The two stories, both written by Alex De Campi, were separated by about seven years in their publication, with the second being the sequel to the first.

I decided it would be best to discuss each story separately, and to take a bit of a break between reading the two stories.


I’d meant to pick this story up a number of times over the years, but I never saw more than the first issue, and didn’t want to get swept up in a story I wouldn’t be able to finish.  I’m glad I waited, as this was a very satisfying reading experience.

The story is set in a slightly into the future London (which, coincidentally, is more or less now, but would have been the future when De Campi wrote the story).  England is just about completely broke, and the IMF is poised to put their own measures in place to fix things.  A man named Lauderdale, who has the ear of the buffoonish Prime Minister, has a plan to fix things, and to profit for himself in the process.

His plot involves the kidnapping of the President of OPEC by an unwitting group of militant overweight people who want to use him as a bargaining chip in their quest for free plastic surgery in Argentina.  While the President is out of pocket, the plan is for OPEC to place England under a fuel embargo, which the government will be able to use to make a fortune on the futures market.

There are a couple of people who might be able to stop Lauderdale’s plan, so he has them assassinated by a pair of freelancers who work for the government.  What he doesn’t know is that one of his two targets is a close friend to Rupert Cain, the albino assassin he sent after the other target.  When Cain figures out what’s happened, he makes it his business to avenge his friend.  Along the way, a journalist, Katie Shah, ends up working with him, at great personal expense.

The story is complicated, and I haven’t mentioned the inclusion of a reporter who is covering the whole thing, the shadowy cabal that has been running England since the Second World War, nor the complicated relationship between Cain and his friend’s daughter.  De Campi really packs a lot into the hundred and sixty pages that make up this story.

Things never feel complicated though, and Igor Kordey does a great job of helping keep things straight.  I’ve been a big fan of Kordey’s work for a long time now (if all you’ve ever seen of his stuff is his New X-Men, you need to look at the rest of his body of work), so I really liked seeing what he did here.  Some of the action sequences, like the one where a group of killers try to take Cain out at a train station from the opposite platform, are incredibly impressive.


Ashes is a very different beast than Smoke.  There was some sort of controversy about it involving Kickstarter and a falling out with the first artist De Campi worked with, but I don’t remember what that was all about, and don’t really see it as relevant to discussing the book.

It opens a few years after the events of Smoke.  London is not in great shape, but Katie Shah is even worse off.  After her involvement in the previous story, she’s been effectively blacklisted in the field of journalism, and she’s taken to drinking and sleeping with awful men.

In America, the body of No Face, the cyborg assassin from Smoke, is inadvertently given access to the Internet, and he transfers his consciousness just about everywhere.  All No Face wants is to get back at Rupert Cain, and when Katie calls him on a cellphone, Cain is back on the grid.

In surveillance-mad London, there is really nowhere to hide, so Cain and Shah go on the run, leaning on an old military connection of Cain’s for help.  As the story progresses, we learn that Cain had a connection to No Face from one of his first missions.  We also learn, once again, that the people in charge of the world are pretty terrible.

This story felt less focused than Smoke, as De Campi develops characters in minor roles, like the pregnant widow of the first soldier killed by No Face.  She also builds up some interesting ideas, such as stem cell-grown pork farms that don’t have any animals, which are tangential to the story at best.

This story was drawn by a very large number of talented artists.  It was cool to see an up-and-comer like Dan McDaid working alongside artists like RM Guera, Colleen Doran, Bill Sienkiewicz, and the fantastic Carla Speed McNeil (who has a series with De Campi coming at Image).  The transitions between artists could be jarring at times, but overall, this is a lovely book.

De Campi has not written a lot, but hers is a name that I’m seeing more and more often, from her upcoming Image work to her Grindhouse series at Dark Horse.  She’s definitely a very talented writer, and I’m glad I’ve finally gotten around to reading her seminal work.


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