The Weekly Round-Up #272 With The Valiant #3, Ei8ht #1, Multiversity: Mastermen #1, Plunder #1, Ivar Timewalker #2, Legendary Star-Lord #9, Unity #15 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

The Valiant #3 – Now this is how you produce an event comic.  Just about every superhuman in the Valiant Universe (excepting Toyo Harada and his personal army) shows up here in the fight against the Immortal Enemy.  Paolo Rivera draws the hell out of the big battle, giving us a few pages that are great to just pore over, taking in all the smaller character details.  These scenes are wonderful, but the heart of this issue is the conversation between Bloodshot and Kay the Geomancer, as he looks for a safe place to hide, and to protect her from the Enemy if all else fails.  Their interplay feels very natural, which is odd when you consider that one of the pair is a nanite-laced amnesiac soldier.  Jeff Lemire’s handling of this character makes me look forward to his upcoming Bloodshot Reborn series, and I hope we see Kay there.  Rivera absolutely kills on these pages, making the scene feel very real and natural.  I hope the Big Two comics companies are reading this book, because they can learn quite a bit about how to manage a big event.

Quick Takes:

All-New Captain America #4 – Rick Remender really is putting Sam Wilson through a lot in his first story arc as Cap.  This issue has him racing around the globe trying to stop Baron Zemo’s plan to sterilise most of the world’s population using the blood of an Inhuman.  That leads to a fight with Armadillo and Cobra in India, and then a confrontation with Zemo himself that looks like it may end pretty badly.  I like the way Sam handles Armadillo, who has never been a full-fledged villain (I wouldn’t mind if he became a supporting member of the cast), and Stuart Immonen continues to use his art to make this a very exciting read.  I don’t know where Redwing, Falcon’s falcon, went this month; he has a tendency to pop in and out of the story like a winged deus ex machina a little too often; there should be a better effort made to keep track of the bird.

Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw #4 I am so impressed with just about everything about this series.  Kurt Busiek has created an interesting world where talking animals live in floating cities, powered by magic.  That alone works well, but by having this all take place far into the future, with the historical Great Champion being a man, transported to that time through magic, Busiek makes everything even more interesting.  This issue has the survivors of the collapsed city scrambling for protection, and breaking out into infighting.  The Champion scouts the terrain, with Dusty, our narrator, and learns a few things about the Bison tribe that attacked earlier.  There is a lot of good character work in this series, and Benjamin Dewey’s art looks great.  This is not an easy look to pull off, with so many different animals having to show human emotion, but everything about this book is very convincing.

Avengers World #17 – So a few months back, Jonathan Hickman jumped his Avengers series some eight months into the future, and dropped a few surprises for readers about how much the world changed during that time.  As his story continued, he didn’t really worry about filling in backstory, leaving it instead for the reader to catch him or herself up to the degree that these things mattered.  At the beginning, we learned that Sam and Izzy had a baby and were living on Chandilar, the Shi’ar homeworld (which is interesting, because baby’s don’t grow in eight months).  Now, with the Time Runs Out story chugging along and setting us up for Secret Wars, someone at Marvel decided it would be a good idea to use Avengers World, the redheaded stepchild of the Avengers line, to fill in the stories we missed.  And so, we get Frank Barbiere writing an issue in which Izzy leaves Earth, Sam chases after her, and finds out she’s pregnant.  None of this affects the main Avengers titles, and since Izzy (Smasher, if you didn’t know) is basically a cypher, it doesn’t much matter.  It’s more like, Marvel has this title just sitting around, so why not do prequels to stories that don’t need them?  I’m not a fan of prequels.  I guess I should read some solicitations more carefully, because I’ve preordered the next few issues of this book, but don’t now care to read them.

Batgirl #39 – The storyline in Batgirl is getting a little more serious now, as Barbara is trying to figure out just who or what has been trying to make her life difficult, and is beginning to question her own actions and memory.  She and Dinah (the Black Canary) make an effort to patch up their friendship.  I don’t know a lot about New 52 Dinah, having not read more than a few issues of Birds of Prey, but she does not interest me as much as she did in the old DC.  I’m curious about her upcoming series (which shares at least one writer with this title), but I’d like to see a little more depth to her.  She seems kind of catty here.  I love Babs Tarr’s art on this comic.

Bitch Planet #3I find that Kelly Sue DeConnick often starts series somewhere in the middle of a story, and takes her time to fill in important details.  This has not always worked for me, and I found it completely turned me off of her Pretty Deadly (despite the wonderful art).  Something about the novelty of Bitch Planet brought me back for the second issue, and with this third one, I’m now committed to the series.  This issue is part of a plan where every third issue (which might be too frequent) focuses on the backstory of one of the characters, and features the work of a guest artist (this month: Charles Wilson IV, who I loved on Stuff of Legend before I got bored of the story).  The spotlighted character is Penny Rolle, who has stood out from the first issue because of her size, relative to all of the other women incarcerated on Bitch Planet.  Telling her story works as a nice backdoor way for DeConnick to give us a clearer view of what is going on on the Earth that led to the construction of an off-world containment facility for ‘noncompliant’ women.  Penny, as a large black woman who is happy with herself, is exactly what society is apparently overtly opposed to, at least the society run by the ‘fathers’.  A lot of what’s going on behind the scenes is still left to guess-work, but I like that we are getting a slightly clearer view all the time.  I also like Penny as a character, and hope that she has a larger role in the series as time goes on.

BPRD Hell on Earth #128 – Things just keep getting worse for just about everyone on the planet, as this series continues to show the decline of just about everything.  Iosif is beginning to despair in Russia, while Johann has little chance of protecting his squad from a gigantic creature.  This series continues to impress me, especially James Harren’s artwork.  I’ve always felt that this title was the best in the Mignola-verse, and every new issue proves me right.

Captain America and the Mighty Avengers #5My biggest complaint about Al Ewing’s two series starring these characters is that the book has moved constantly from event tie-in to event tie-in, giving it very little space to grow and develop into its own thing (for example, the core mission of this team – to be accessible to the common person for help, has only actually been put into effect once).  Now, while the book has no branding at all to suggest this, the frequent use of the word ‘beyond’ in this issue suggests that it is starting the build-up to Secret Wars.  Aside from that, this was a solid issue, with Power Man and White Tiger hunting down whatever killed Gideon Mace (and finding some big trouble), Blue Marvel, Photon (who, apparently, now has Barbara Gordon’s memory), and Spider-Man have a run-in with Doctor Positron, and the Cages confront Jason Quantrell, which will bring a long-running plotline to fruition.  I really like the way Ewing writes this title and these characters; I just wish he had more freedom to make the book actually be about them.

Deadly Class #11 – This is the bloodiest issue of this comic to date, as Marcus and his friends attack the family of rednecks that have the head of Marcus’s girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend.  The set-up for this has been great, and I really liked seeing how it was all executed.  The final page was a big surprise, and has me eagerly waiting for the next issue.  Wes Craig’s art on this book has been phenomenal from the start, and he does an amazing job with the action of this issue.  This is a great read.

Drifter #4 – This issue ends with the main character narrating text that says, “The things I don’t know multiplying.”  That’s a good way to describe this issue, as writer Ivan Brandon continues to expand upon the world he has created in this comic.  We learn just enough about the indigenous life on this planet to be more confused by it, and I feel the same about the man Emmerich who attacked our protagonist back in the first issue.  To be honest, I have no clue where this book is going, as the cast continues to sprawl (we meet a smart-mouthed girl this month), and there does not seem to be a clear story progression.  Often, things like that would irritate me, but I have faith that Brandon has a plan for this series, and is simply taking his time in letting it all unfold.  With Nic Klein drawing this book the way he is, each page is pretty enjoyable on its own merits, so I’m pleased to just sit back and see where this all goes.  I do kind of wonder where our main character (I don’t remember his name) is sleeping or eating in such a small and rough settlement, and with no credit.

Ei8ht #1 I’ve been a fan of Rafael Albuquerque’s art for a while now, so there was no question that I was going to pick up his new mini-series at Dark Horse.  Ei8ht is a little confusing at first, but has definitely grabbed my attention.  At some point in the future (we know it’s the future, because it’s all tinged blue, and the front cover tells us that the future is blue), a man gets in a time machine.  He’s on a mission that involves what looks like a guy in a Nazi SS uniform, but we don’t know what that is all about.  For most of the issue, the guy is in the Meld, an orange tinged world where there are some people, who appear to be living in resistance to a tyrant, and his Spear, which is a person.  We aren’t given much more information than this (did I mention the dinosaurs?), but it’s enough to grab my interest, especially when things look as good as they do here.  Albuquerque is a great artist, and his writing (with co-writer and scripter Mike Johnson) works well as well.

The Fuse #10 – As we continue to learn more about life on the Fuse, we run up against the FLF, the Fuse Liberation Front.  The murder case our two detectives have been investigating is leading all over the place, with ties to FLF activities, and the corporate greed of the people trying to make illegal gridlock racing legitimate and televised over their channels.  As always, this is a very smart comic, showing a sophisticated police procedural story that just happens to be set on a space station.  Great comic.

Invincible #117 – It’s been a while since Mark has visited the comics shop, and so we get a page of Robert Kirkman skewering the current industry that really made me laugh.  For the rest of the issue, Mark and Eve make the rounds, saying their goodbyes before heading off into space with their infant daughter (who finally gets a name).  This is a nice quiet issue that helps show just how much depth Kirkman has put into these characters over the years.  I’m looking forward to seeing this new chapter in Mark’s life, and am very happy to see that the book is getting back to being on schedule.

Ivar, Timewalker #2I love the way writer Fred Van Lente’s brain works.  Having Ivar meet and begin travelling through time with a new character in the first issue, he now sets about the work of establishing the rules for this time travelling.  The issue is called ‘Let’s Not Kill Hitler’, and that pretty much perfectly explains both the goal and the means of this comic.  Along the way, we meet a particularly annoying form of futuristic life, and, of course, Hitler, at a couple of different points in his life.  This is shaping up to be a terrific series, which, being from Valiant, doesn’t really surprise me.

The Kitchen #4 – This series hits its halfway mark, as the three women gangsters who star in it have to deal with the fact that their husbands are coming home from jail just as they cement their control over the organized crime action in Hell’s Kitchen.  This is a very interesting study in gender politics set against crime-ridden 70s New York, and I’ve found it very interesting to watch as writer Ollie Masters moves the women through various changes in their personas, and then has them confront the idea of having things go ‘back to normal’, which each of them rejects for different reasons.  This is a good series, with terrific art from Ming Doyle, who subtly shows the growth the women are going through in their clothing and facial expressions.

Lazarus #15 – Greg Rucka wisely gives most of this issue over to his collaborator, Michael Lark, and so we get page after page of Forever Carlyle locked in mortal combat with Sonia Bittner, her friend, and the lazarus of a family allied with Carlyle’s greatest enemy, Dr. Hock.  The fight scene is fluid and detailed, and made very easy to imagine cinematically.  A couple of other big events take place in the last couple of pages of this comic, as Rucka sends these characters towards a large conflict.  I like that Rucka and Lark chose to take this long setting up the coming war, as readers now have a very good understanding of the way this world works, and all that is at stake.

Legendary Star-Lord #9The Black Vortex continues, and I continue to buy it.  I don’t particularly care all that much about what’s going on, and find it odd that Storm could hold her own in swordplay with an enhanced Gamora, but whatever.  I also find it strange that Warren’s Black Vortex-induced ideal being looks like a blocky redesign of his first Archangel costume.

Letter 44 #14 – Charles Soule pauses for an issue, and gives us the backstory of two of the regular characters in this comic.  He did this before, showing how some of the characters found themselves on the Clarke, the vessel that has taken them deep into space to make first contact with aliens in our solar system.  This is a very nice character-driven issue that features art by Drew Moss, giving it a very different look from the normal style of the comic.  That’s a little problematic, as I didn’t immediately recognize the characters (I’ve had trouble differentiating them before, as there hasn’t been a lot of space for developing them; most of that has been reserved for President Blades and the Earth-bound members of the cast).  This, as is always the case with this book, is a very effective issue.

Loki Agent of Asgard #11 – Poor Loki.  Now that his true nature has been revealed to all of Asgardia, he can’t go there any more.  His best friend, Verity, has walked out on him.  Sure, his father loves him, but when Odin is that father, that doesn’t count for a whole lot.  Now, Loki is stuck with King Loki, his evil future self.  This series really just keeps getting stranger and stranger, and yet, I love the way Al Ewing writes this character.

Manifest Destiny #13 – A new arc begins for this series that explores the ‘real’ history of Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition.  After a few tranquil weeks along the river, the crew spot another arch off in the woods, and they go to investigate.  Up to now, each of these arches that they’ve found have led to the discovery of strange creatures and death, so of course it’s time to go check it out.  This one appears to be made of dung, which is different.  Writer Chris Dingess is doing great work developing these characters, especially Sacagawea, and Matthew Roberts continues to impress with his art.  This is a great series for history buffs, or anyone who enjoys a good adventure.

Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man #10Finally, after so many issues where the focus has been elsewhere, we get an issue of Miles Morales that is, from cover to cover, all about Miles.  He’s a little upset about how his girlfriend reacted to his telling her about his powers, and now has to figure out how to fix things with her.  He gets some advice from Cloak, Dagger, and his friend Ganke, and takes out Electro and Sabretooth, before heading to her house.  Of course, because things like this happen to Miles, her family works for Hydra.  If this series were always like this, I would like it a lot more than I do.  Of course, it looks like Secret Wars is going to permanently wipe out the Ultimate Universe, which I don’t really care about aside from Miles, who I’d like to leave there instead of bring to the 616.

Moon Knight #12 – Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood wrap up their arc, or ‘season’ on this comic, with another interesting issue.  Mark Spector is given a second chance by Khonshu, and moves to stop his former psychiatrist from killing the ruler of the small African country she comes from.  Along the way, we learn that she is not at all who she’s been portrayed as, as everything about this arc becomes clear.  I enjoyed these last six issues almost as much as I did Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey’s run, although for different reasons.  In that first arc, they were interested in showing one-off stories that established how strange a hero Moon Knight is.  This arc used discrete chapters to tell a larger story, which only became fully clear at the very end.  I hope the next arc, by Cullen Bunn and Ron Ackins, takes the character in another, equally effective, direction.

MPH #5 – Mark Millar really is one for happy endings.  Both this series and his recent Starlight end with very Hollywood conclusions, but I guess there’s nothing all that wrong with that.  Our speedsters are surrounded by the government, and the mysterious Mr. Springfield, who was the world’s first speedster.  Millar brings things full circle in a couple of interesting ways, and makes it pretty clear that there won’t be a second volume of this mini-series.  Duncan Fegredo’s art is very nice, and like most of the Millarworld stuff, this was worth the wait.

Ms. Marvel #12Now that the Inventor storyline is over, it’s time to get back to Kamala Khan’s everyday life, which gets a little interrupted when Loki shows up to make sure that Kamala’s high school is now safe (in a plot contrivance that rang pretty false).  Loki overhears Kamala’s friend Bruno talking about his love for her, and decides to try to get them together, first delivering her a love letter, and then spiking the punch bowl at the Valentine’s Dance with Asgardian truth serum.  This is a fun issue, with nice art from guest artist Elmo Bondoc.  I like this comic the best when writer G. Willow Wilson focuses on Kamala more than the action, and hope that we see more of her in this light, juggling her responsibilities to family, friends, and superheroing.

Multiversity: Mastermen #1 – I think I’m getting a little tired of Grant Morrison’s Multiversity series of one-shots.  I’d expected the various chapters would do something to advance the plot that was begun in Multiversity #2, but that’s not happening at all.  Instead, we are getting a series of Elseworlds one-shots, of varying quality.  This is easily the most mainstream and mundane of the books to date.  Set on Earth-10, we see a world where a young baby from Krypton landed in the Nazi Germany-occupied Sudentenland, giving the Third Reich a powerful new ally.  In modern times, the eternal Overman is becoming disillusioned with some aspects of Nazi rule, and is beginning to sympathize with Uncle Sam and his Freedom Fighters, who, aside from the Human Bomb, don’t actually do much here.  As I reached the end of the comic, I had the feeling that the story was really just beginning.  A big part of the problem is that this issue is drawn by Jim Lee, who has always been very popular, but, I would say, has not done anything terribly exciting in a good long time.  I found it very hard to care about anything that was going on in this comic, because ‘Nazi Justice League’ is just a tired old concept.

Plunder #1Imagine a mash-up of Aliens, Captain Phillips, and Crossed, and you’d get a bit of an idea what Plunder, a new Boom!/Archaia series by Swifty Lang and Skuds McKinley is like.  Our narrator is Bahdoon, a Somali teenager with a talent for languages, who has signed on with the Badaadinta Bada, a ‘pirate’ crew.  Their attempt at taking a Chinese ship doesn’t go well, but right after they find themselves a large vessel that appears to be drifting.  When they board it, they find all the warning signs that a student of horror films (like one of the crew) should be able to interpret as reason to take off, but of course, they continue to explore the ship.  They find some very grisly scenes, culminating in an oddly-behaving chef, the only living crew member they can find.  The set-up for this story is very good, and I like that Lang spends most of the issue introducing and developing the pirates, which are an interesting bunch.  Internet, their leader, has people believing that he has visions, while the one-armed Trouble is only interested in violence.  There is a sense of authenticity to Lang’s writing, from the kooky nicknames to the primacy of clan relationships among the crew.  I like the idea of seeing such non-traditional heroes placed in a familiar story situation.  McKinley’s art is nice, and effective at setting the tone for the series.  I did find that his main characters didn’t look particularly Somali to me – were it not for the contextual clues from the writing, I never would have assumed that these people were from that region.  The last comic I read by Lang was Feeding Ground, an interesting look at werewolves along the American/Mexican border that encompassed the struggles of undocumented migrants.  I like comics that have a social justice angle to them, especially when that is used to add texture to a story.  I hope that as this series proceeds, we’ll learn a little more about these characters’ backstories.

Rumble #3 – It’s time for some backstory, and that’s just what John Arcudi provides us with in this issue, as we learn who the giant talking scarecrow is, who his enemies are, and what’s been going on (although we don’t know a thing about the giant cat yet).  As it turns out, there were a couple of immortal races that warred over the Earth early in the humanity’s involvement, and Rathraq, the scarecrow-dude, was a great champion.  Finally returned to the Earth (although not his true body), he is looking for revenge against the Esu, the creatures that held his spirit prisoner.  What separates this from a more typical fantasy-in-the-modern-world story is the reluctance of Bobby, our point-of-view character, who does not want to get involved in anything dangerous or that could upset the way the world operates.  James Harren’s art is great here – a little wilder than what he’s doing on BPRD.

She-Hulk #12I’m not happy to see this series end.  Charles Soule and Javier Pulido made this one of the most unique and memorable books of the last couple of years at Marvel, as they focused on the lawyerly side of Jen Walters more than her superhero persona.  This issue solves the mystery of the Blue File, a case that has been dogging Jen for years.  It also does something interesting with a forgotten 90s superhero, and does not tell us much about Angie and Hei Hei.  I like how Soule sets up the character to appear in one of his Inhumans titles, although I’d be happier to see him continue with this book.  I hope to see Pulido on a new title soon, as his work is phenomenal.

Uncanny X-Men #31 – I’m really not upset that Brian Michael Bendis is leaving the X-books.  This whole ‘Last Will of Charles Xavier’ arc ends with this issue, and it’s a mess.  Without giving too much away, Eva uses her powers in ways that contradict how she’s used them recently in the two X-Annuals that focused on her, to fix a situation that we’ve spent months building up.  It’s interesting to note that when this arc began, Wolverine was still alive, and now he’s just missing from the conclusion.  This stuff is getting increasingly messy, as Bendis uses this confusing and over-long plot to get to a new status quo that I think he knew no other way to approach, even though the consequences of this issue don’t fit with the events.  I like the characters in this comic a lot, and I like the way Bendis writes them as individuals, but this guy really needs some direction from a strong editor.  It’s frustrating.  On the positive side, Chris Bachalo’s art is nice, and the number of inkers working on the book is still less than the number of pages in the comic.

Unity #15 – This month Matt Kindt gives us a Ninjak solo-story, which has me eagerly anticipating his upcoming Ninjak series.  Ninjak returns home from a difficult mission with Unity, wounded and weary, but is sent out on an espionage thing pretty quickly.  Kindt is starting to peel back some of the layers that make up this character, who has been very mysterious to this point.  It’s a very good issue.

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

All-New Captain America: Fear Him #3

Batman and Robin #39

Batman Eternal #46

Batwoman #39

Black Widow #15

Burning Fields #2

Dark Horse Presents #7

Deathlok #5

Fables #149

Magneto #15

Nova #27

Silk #1

Silver Surfer #9

Storm #8

Wolverines #7

Bargain Comics:

Dark Horse Presents #2-4This anthology is always a mixed bag, but since it relaunched in this smaller format, I feel like there is a little more focus on quality.  The prelude to the next Resident Alien series is in here, and that makes me very happy, as that’s a terrific title.  The Chaining is a Viking story by Tyler Jenkins that has me pretty intrigued.  I loved the first chapter of Alex De Campi and Jerry Ordway’s Semiautomagic, and was very surprised to see that Keith Champagne and Leonard Kirk have brought back The Mighty, which was an excellent creator-owned DC series a few years ago.  There’s a cool preview of the Aliens Fire and Stone stuff that now makes me want to read it, and Jordie Bellaire and Declan Shalvey’s story ‘Banjo’ is fantastic.  On the down-side, I don’t understand what is going on in Brendan McCarthy’s Dream Gang, and unlike some of his other work, I don’t care either.

Fairest #23-26 – The end of Marc Andreyko’s Cinderella arc is not very satisfying.  When Chris Roberson wrote this character, she was very much always in charge of the situation.  In this storyline, which involves a plot against Fabletown involving the mouse and half-mouse offspring of Marcel (the mouse-turned-coachman from the original Cinderella story)’s offspring.  The story goes to India and back, and involves one of Cindy’s original stepsisters.  What I didn’t get is that same sense the Cindy is a deadly secret agent.  Artist Shawn McManus is wonderful, but then we knew that.

Fairest #27&28This next arc is also very tied in to what is happening in the main title, but the connections feel stronger, perhaps because this story is written by Mark Buckingham, who is the regular artist of the main book.  This story has the Farm Fables campaigning for glamours, so they can pass as normal humans in the Mundy, while Reynard the fox causes mischief and meets a human girl.  Russ Braun is one of those classic Vertigo artists we don’t see enough from, and this arc feels much less directionless than what Bill Willingham has been doing on the main book.

Über #8-14; Über Special #1 – I am consistently impressed with what Kieron Gillen is doing with this title.  Unlike, say, this week’s Multiversity, which minimizes warfare once powered individuals become involved, Gillen keeps the focus of this series on stratagem, materiel, and supply lines.  While reading these issues, I kept thinking of Roberto Bolaño’s novel The Third Reich, which involved the playing of incredibly complex war simulation games.  When Germany introduces powered individuals into their war effort, they revitalize their army right before it would have been routed, and spark off a new arms race between the Axis, Britain, and the Soviet Union.  Each issue in this block seems to increase the level of horror on display, and this was already not a book for the squeamish.  Things really get intense after Germany sends one of its ‘battleships’ into London to kill Churchill.  There is a lot more character development in these issues than there was in the first half year of the series, as Gillen moves further from historical record.

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