The Weekly Round-Up #271 With Marvel Comics’ Star Wars: Darth Vader #1, Divinity #1, The Empty #1, Secret Six #2, The Walking Dead #137 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Star Wars: Darth Vader #1 – I was going to pass on this title completely until I saw that Kieron Gillen was writing it.  Gillen has an amazing ability to make any concept work, and that’s what he’s done with this debut issue.  The story is set after the next issue of Star Wars (which is a little frustrating), and Vader is stinging from suffering two defeats at the hands of the Rebels.  The Emperor is punishing him by effectively demoting him, and sending him out to Tatooine to negotiate a deal with Jabba the Hutt.  Vader shows up early though, to engage in some personal negotiations.  I feel like this series is treading some of the same ground that Brian Wood explored in his Star Wars series at Dark Horse, but is handling it differently.  Salvador Larroca gives the issue a nice cinematic feel, and has a good sense of the designs of these characters.  Bobba Fett shows up, which is always a good thing.  The issue opens with a scroll, like all the movies, yet this one recounts the events of the first film in the style of Imperial propaganda, which I thought was pretty funny.  Vader has never been the most interesting character to me; he works best as an enigmatic figure used to terrify, and once we learned the Annakin Skywalker back-story, he lost most of his appeal.  I’m curious to see if Gillen is going to use this series to delve into his personality, or make the book more about other people’s reactions to him.  I hope it’s the latter.  Still, this is a very strong start.

Quick Takes:

Abe Sapien #20 – This was a pretty interesting issue of Abe Sapien, as writers Mike Mignola and Scott Allie focus almost the entire issue on a chat between Abe and Megan, a young girl who just lost two of her friends.  This series rambles a little, but I like the way it’s being used to explore the more everyday horrors of what’s happened to the world in the main BPRD book.

All-New X-Men #36The combined All-New and Ultimate X-Men take on Doctor Doom, before our usual heroes head off to find the girl that sent them to that universe, so they can go home.  There are some nice character moments in here, and I’m glad to see that they got this arc finished before the Black Vortex cross-over totally spoils any continuity stuff.  The news that Bendis will be leaving his X-titles this week didn’t exactly disappoint me.  It’s time for something different, I think.

Amazing Spider-Man #14 – Spider-Verse comes to its close (aside from an epilogue issue, which I’m going to predict will be the last Otto/Parker fight), and it does so quite well, with a packed issue that allows almost all of the main spiders the chance to shine.  This has been a very well-written and executed event, and I applaud Marvel for not taking the chance to pad this issue out and make it cost $5.  I did have one thought here – that if the Inheritors do stop all the Spiders everywhere by going through their ritual, they’d also be cutting off their main source of food.  Was this addressed somewhere?  Anyway, I’ve liked this enough that I’m starting to wonder if I should stick with Slott’s Spidey or not.  The fact that Marvel is promoting a bunch of .1 issues written by Gerry Conway makes me think we’re headed right into another gimmick, and that makes me think maybe I don’t want to commit to the title.  Does anyone know what that’s all going to be about?

Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #5 – Are people getting tired of me gushing about the genius of Marco Rudy’s art?  I’m not tired of talking about it, so there you are.  Rudy takes a confusing story (that’s not actually Crossbones?) and makes it a thing of beauty, as Crossbones (or whoever that is – I’m guessing it’s a multiversal thing) attacks Bucky and Ventolin, while Old Bucky tries to rescue them.  We also get a historical exploration of Ventolin’s peoples’ telepathy, which is interesting but distracted from the story.  Langdon Foss provides a few very nice pages of art, but Rudy’s work through the rest of the issue is phenomenal.  I love this book.

Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #5I often find that my enthusiasm for Joe Casey’s projects wane as the stories progress (with the notable exception of Sex, which I love).  That’s what’s happening here, as I find myself less and less interested in this story.  I do like Nathan Fox’s art, and enjoyed Connor Willumsen’s four pages, even if they only served to upset the visual flow of the book.  I’m just finding that the story, which haltingly breathes new life into a second-rate Jack Kirby property, is getting dull.  Oh well, there’s only one more issue to go.

Cyclops #10 – Scott and his father have gained their freedom from Corsair’s oldest enemy, making good use of a Shi’ar attack, but Scott has spent time with Malefact’s crew, and is not the type to abandon anyone to their death, even if some of them have earned it.  This series continues to make me happy, as John Layman uses a light-hearted approach to developing young Scott’s character, and differentiating him from his older self.

Divinity #1 – Matt Kindt has been quietly building up a solid body of work at Valiant, but until now, that has mostly been with pre-existing characters.  With this new series, published in the ‘prestige’ format of their other mini-series, The Valiant, he starts to chart new territory in the Valiant Universe.  Abram Adams was found and adopted by a Russian minister.  He entered the Russian space program, and was chosen to embark on a thirty-year mission that would take him to the ends of the galaxy, at a time when America was still working to get to the moon.  His story is told from a distant vantage point, and as the issue progresses, becomes interspersed with a story about David Camp, an Australian rock climber who suffers an accident when he meets Adams at the top of a cliff.  It’s clear that Adams’s experiences in space have changed him, but Kindt is keeping most of those changes to himself at this point.  There is a confusing scene at the end of the issue involving some soldiers who are observing Adams from a distance, which might suggest that Adams is a time-traveller, but I’m going to wait to read more before I commit to that theory.  This is an interesting start for a mini-series, and I found the book very well put-together.  Artist Trevor Hairsine does some nice work, avoiding the stiffness that I often associate his art with.  There are some text and design pages in the back that show some redacted information that is, in fact, quite readable, so if you want to avoid spoilers, I would suggest not looking at them.

Elephantmen #62If you consider the rather languorous pace of most issues of Elephantmen, this issue is one of the most momentous of the entire series, as Serenghetti crashes Sahara and Obadiah Horn’s wedding (as, strangely, so does Sahara), and makes off with their newborn son.  A few characters get killed, a recent betrayal is revealed, and we get some Jungian psychology tossed at us for good measures.  Richard Starkings always makes this an interesting read, even when I don’t like where he’s going with the title.

The Empty #1 – I’ve never read any of Jimmie Robinson’s comics (I do have the first bunch of Five Weapons in a pile to get to though), but I’ve liked a lot of what he’s had to say on-line about a variety of comics topics, and I thought I’d give the first issue of his new Image series a shot.  It’s kind of an odd beast.  A group of people with elongated arms live in a village at the edge of a very barren desert, which is slowly being completely poisoned by a large system of roots.  Our hero, Tanoor, is a hunter who travels the wastelands looking for food that has not been poisoned by the gas put out by these roots.  She seems to be in an almost-constant state of disagreement with her village’s elder, who believes in clinging to the status quo, even as his people begin to die.  One day Tanoor spies a body lying in water near her home, and fishes out Lila, a woman from a very different place.  Lila has an elongated neck, and not-quite human facial features.  She’s from a completely different place, where life is easy, and she also apparently (it is a surprise to her) has the ability to bring the dead trees of Tanoor’s home to life.  The elder is, of course, against all chance of change, and when Tanoor and Lila head out to see if they can heal the roots, he puts his own plot into action.  This is an interesting and original fantasy series.  I’m not sure if it’s really my cup of tea, but I do like Robinson’s manga-inflected art, and am a little curious to know what this is all about.  I may be back for more.

Guardians of the Galaxy #24 – Like any good Marvel drone, it would appear that I’m buying the Black Vortex event, because it ties in to All-New X-Men and Cyclops, which I am currently buying.  The first chapter, last week, didn’t do much for me, but this issue was marginally better.  I’m not sure which title Brian Michael Bendis thought he was writing, as this one is as much about the X-Men as the Guardians, as they argue over whether or not they should make use of the Vortex, which is a mirror, that changes the people who look into it into their ‘most evolved’ forms.  Or something.  Gamora becomes cooler after looking in it, while adult Beast just starts to look even dumber than before.  There’s a subplot involving Thanos’s son Thane that did nothing to interest me.  Really, at the end of the day, I think I’m most upset about the cover, which depicts Mantis and Cosmo, neither of whom are in the comic.  I was really hoping to see Mantis again…

Justice League United #9In the penultimate chapter of the Infinitus Saga, the League and the Legion of Super-Heroes continue their big fight with Byth, to stop Infinitus from forming and destroying the universe or something.  It’s a bit of a thrill to see the Legion in action again, especially en masse, but I feel that Jeff Lemire’s desire to have each and every character get a moment or two for themselves (Bouncing Boy gets a whole page) puts a lot of strain on the story, dragging out the big fight scene.  This arc probably could have stood to be an issue shorter.  It’s interesting that part-way through this issue, I suddenly noticed the League members again.  I think, because this team hasn’t had much time to gel, or make me care about them as a unit, I was reading this more as a Legion book, which I think I would prefer.

Morning Glories #43 – This is exactly the type of issue of Morning Glories I’ve been waiting for, as some plots advance, and we learn a few more things about the school’s past, namely that Abraham and Gribbs used to work together to identify students for the school (or some earlier version of something like it).  Ike learns to read the books in the library, which more or less make him into the ghost of Christmases past, present, and future, and afford him a visit with himself.  It’s strange, but it’s great to see Nick Spencer moving towards something with this book, after a few recent issues have felt a little stagnant.

Rai #7 – This was a pretty fantastic issue of Rai from start to finish, as we learn the (surprising) backstory of Momo, the positronic being who is leading a rebellion, as Silk leads the Raddies on an attack, and as we learn who Spylocke had travelled to Earth for.  We also find out what is in the hidden sector of New Japan.  Matt Kindt has done well by making this book be about so much more than Rai himself, and that is what is keeping me so interested in this title.  Clayton Crain’s art was mostly easy to follow this month too, which was very nice.

Reyn #2 – Writer Kel Symons sent me a copy of this comic to review (Thanks!), and once again, it was good, if not entirely my thing.  Reyn is captured and forced to work in a mining prison camp, but is soon rescued by the sorceress girl he rescued last issue.  We learn a little bit about the history between Reyn (or another Warden who looks like him) and the frog creatures that seem to be in charge.  This is a decent fantasy series, and its clear that Symons has some big plans in store for this title.

Satellite Sam #11My favourite thing about this series is just how terrible all the characters are to one another, and themselves.  The last arc of this storyline begins here, as the cast and crew of the Satellite Sam TV show attend the funeral of the showrunner, and continue their rivalries, betrayals, and in-fighting.  This has been my favourite Howard Chaykin-drawn comic ever, even if I continue to find his art stiff and irritating (it’s very hard to tell some characters apart).  I really appreciate the depth of research Matt Fraction has done for this book, and have to admire just how dark his mind is capable of going to create this cast of characters.  These are some truly awful people.

Secret Six #2 – This issue was much stronger than the debut, as Gail Simone starts to explore Catman’s recent past, and has the six characters, who have randomly been brought together and imprisoned, begin to work together for their freedom.  Simone often approaches a storyline or plot element from the side, and it’s not always a successful way of doing things.  The first issue did nothing for me, and while this one still has some awkward moments, such as Black Alice’s reaction to Big Shot’s helping her, it felt much more cohesive.  Ken Lashley’s art is fine, but if he’s the reason why this issue was so late, I doubt he’ll be around much longer.  If Simone doesn’t start to make it clear who is working against the Six, or what Project: Mockingbird is soon, I might not last much longer.

The Sixth Gun #48 – Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt are going all out on this last story arc (I assume).  The six guns have been brought together, sacrifices made, and the seal opened, which means that Griselda, the Grey Witch is in position to remake the world in her image.  Our heroes are all that remains that could stop her, but they are in pretty rough shape.  This is a very exciting issue, and it does not disappoint.  I’ve been a big fan of this series from its beginning, and look forward to seeing how Bunn and Hurtt are going to finish it all off.

Southern Bastards #7I don’t care at all about football, and so find the almost religious devotion with which Jason Aaron’s characters discuss the sport to be a little hard to swallow, but am still enjoying this title a great deal.  This month, we get to see young Euless Boss’s entire playing career as a Running Reb, while also gaining more knowledge of his relationship with his father, with Big, his football father figure, and with a local small-time criminal who wants to kill his father.  It’s a nice portrait of teen obsession, and it definitely works very well.  I’m not entirely sure where Aaron is going with this title, but I’m intrigued by it.

Thor #5 – I’ve found myself getting very interested in the story of the new Thor, and the mystery of her true identity.  This issue, however, gives way too much space to the new un-shirted, unworthy Odinson (who no longer wants to be called Thor), Freyja, and especially Odin for my liking.  The scenes with New Thor are the best in the book, especially her conversation with Titania.  Jorge Molina drew this issue, and it looks nice, although regular artist Russell Dauterman’s art is a big part of the reason I’ve started buying this series.

The Walking Dead #137 – Robert Kirkman is always looking for new ways to mess with his favourite characters, and this time around, it looks like conspiracy and seduction are in vogue.  Carl pushes for the release of the captured girl from the group that dresses like walkers, while Gregory makes his move to regain control of the Hilltop from Maggie.  As always, this is a solid issue.  I like how Kirkman is giving Carl more play as a mature member of the cast, as I’ve always loved the character.  It’s time for him to make some big mistakes; it can’t always be Rick’s duty.

X-Men #24I want to like G. Willow Wilson’s first arc with this book, but I’m finding it a little dull.  This team has ended up in a deep hole in the Earth, where some bad stuff is happening, involving monstrous creatures.  That’s about it, really.  Psylocke is the narrator this month, for the most part, but we don’t get any new insights into her character.  I still find it odd that this team is made up of Marvel Girl, Psylocke, and Monet, three characters who have very similar powersets, even though they use them differently.  Wilson explores that a little, but not enough.

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

All-New Captain America: Fear Him #2

Batman Eternal #45

Captain Marvel #12

Magnus Robot Fighter #11

Rachel Rising #31

Spider-Woman #4

Über #22

War Stories #5

Wilds End #6

Wolverines #6

X-Force #15

Bargain Comics:

Avengers #190&191I had a copy of Avengers 190 as a kid, and it was the only comic I’d ever lost, having left it behind on a trip to a doctor’s office.  It always bugged me, because I remember it being a pretty good comic, so when I saw it in a fifty cent bin recently, I felt like it was time to own it again, along with the conclusion to the story, which I’d never read before.  These two issues have the team facing a senate hearing in New York about whether or not they should lose their security clearance (how many times has that been an issue?), when reports of a large rock monster trampling through the city cause them to leave to fight it (aided by Daredevil, who was serving on their legal team).  As it turns out, the creature is really the Grey Gargoyle, and he fights the team off in the first issue, only to be trounced by them in the second.  These two issues had different writers (Steven Grant wrote the first, David Micheline the second), but the transition is smooth, making me think that artist John Byrne did most of the plotting.  Byrne is great here, as this was pretty much the early part of the height of his career.  The line-up of the team is ideal – Cap, Iron Man, Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Falcon, Ms. Marvel, and the Beast.  I really enjoyed reading this again.

Batman #35&36 – So Scott Snyder has brought the Joker back for a new story arc, because it’s been all of one storyline in this book since he was last here.  The story opens with a slightly Joker-ized Justice League attacking Batman, which gives him a chance to trot out a gigantic suit of armor he built to stop them.  Later, we find out where the Joker has been hiding, as he traps Batman and sets off the mass Joker-ization of Gotham.  As is often the case, Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo generally bore me with this book.  I keep reading it, because I keep hoping it will be good, and it does have its moments, but I’m surprised that they have nothing more to say about the character, instead endlessly stumbling from one giant event to the next.  Also, I don’t like that this storyline, set after Batman Eternal, makes it so clear that that year-long story will have no real lasting effect on our hero, aside from what is sure to be a temporary move of houses.

Batman and Robin #33-36; Robin Rises Omega #1So Batman knows that Damian’s body is on Apokalips, and since the Justice League won’t help him, he steals a gigantic suit of armor he built with their help and heads off to that dark world himself to retrieve his son.  Red Hood, Red Robin, and Batgirl give chase, inadvertently bringing Cyborg and Titus the dog with them.  There’s a lot of big in this storyline, as Patrick Gleason (as well as Adam Kubert) gives this story a very cinematic feel to it.  It’s an engaging read, although I’ve never been a fan of the overly toyetic, technology dependant Batman the DC is determined to cram down our throats (also see Batman, above).

Batman and Robin: Futures End #1 – Ray Fawkes uses this jump five years into the future to suggest to us that the boy we saw in Zero Year helping Batman will grow up to be the next Robin.  It’s kind of a cool idea, and when Dustin Nguyen draws it, it really works, but I found Bruce’s patronizing of the kid, working to keep him away from the Heretic, the character that killed Damian, to be a little too much.

Lobo #1&2 – I was curious about this new Lobo series, mostly because I like Cullen Bunn’s writing and was interested in seeing what he’d do with the character.  I don’t really understand who the new, pretty and skinny version of Lobo is, but would like to learn more about him.  The main plotline, about Lobo being hired to stop a group of hired killers from destroying the Earth is interesting, but I don’t like any of the supporting cast.  The art is fine, but is too DC house style.  I don’t know that I’m interested enough to come back for more of this book.

Real Heroes #2&3It’s hard to turn down a Bryan Hitch comic, because the art is always going to be fantastic.  I like this story, about a group of actors who are transported to a world where the superhero characters they play are real, but dead.  Dressing up as their counterparts gives them their abilities, but not their experience.  It’s an interesting approach to things.  I regret the fact that all of Hitch’s costume designs look the same; any of these characters would look at home on the Ultimates team.

Tüki Save the Humans #1&2 – Jeff Smith’s new series is really very charming.  The comic is sideways and in colour, both of which were surprises, and set around the time that early humans (homo erectus) first left Africa.  Our hero, Tüki, is wandering alone, although he’s met an ape-shaman, a young boy, and a gigantic spirit creature.  This comic switches from well-researched authenticity to fantasy pretty quickly, and that gives it a unique feel.  Smith’s art is, of course, lovely, and I was very happy to see a pin-up by Fábio Moon in the second issue.  I know that this book is going to take forever to come out, but I’m going to be keeping an eye out for it.  It’s nice.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Spectral Engine

by Ray Fawkes

Ray Fawkes can be a challenging writer and artist.  His One Soul is a difficult but rewarding read, while his new Image series, Intersect, lost me after two issues.  I wasn’t sure what to expect with The Spectral Engine, but I think it is easily my favourite work from him to date.

This book strings together a number of ghost stories from across Canada with the linking theme of the Spectral Engine, a ghost train that endless criss-crosses the country, picking up lost souls.  Fawkes moves roughly from east to west in this book, but often doubles-back, both geographically and chronologically.

We work through a number of vignettes, encompassing a couple of disasters at sea (including during the War of 1812), stories of people becoming lost in the winter woods, a nun who falls through ice while trying to stop a murder, and a disastrous attempt at peace between two warring tribes.  We also get a Wendigo story, which is always welcome.

I think my favourite vignette involves a despairing young woman during the short span of time that Toronto’s subway system tried to run three separate lines across two sets of train tracks, an experiment which ultimately led to the closing of the lower Bay Station.

Fawkes’s art is often very minimalist, and that works very well here, as we are given only the smallest amount of information that we need in order to understand the stories.  I love the sense of both familiarity and strangeness that Fawkes evokes throughout this work, giving a different sense of the history of my country.

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