The Weekly Round-Up #273 With Criminal: The Special Edition, Amazing Spider-Man #15, Curb Stomp #1, Mister X: Razed #1, Suiciders #1, Thor Annual #1 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Criminal: The Special EditionIt’s great to see Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips return to the world of Criminal, and they’ve chosen an interesting way to frame the story.  Teeg Lawless, a central figure from this series, is doing a short thirty day bid in a county jail for a traffic court violation.  He’s hoping to just sit back and clear his head, and read Savage, his favourite ‘adult’ comics magazine.  That changes when word gets out that someone has put a hit out on him, and he spends his time fighting off anyone who comes for him.  The Savage comic, a bloody, breast-friendly barbarian comic in the Conan form, shows up quite often, and makes a nice parallel with Teeg’s own world.  As great as it is to see Teeg, hear about Sebastian Hyde, and remember the Undertow bar, I’m looking forward to having Brubaker and Phillips back on The Fade Out, their current crime series at Image, because it’s been too long since the last issue came out.

Quick Takes:

All-New X-Men #38 – It’s amazing what a difference an artist can make to a storyline.  I haven’t been getting a lot of enjoyment out of the Black Vortex event, but then Andrea Sorrentino showed up to draw this issue, and I loved it.  Sorrentino’s art does not fit with the other artists who have been working on this story at all (it started with Ed McGuinness), but he makes the new character designs really sing.  Brian Michael Bendis wisely quiets his characters up so that Sorrentino can do his thing, with very positive results.

Amazing Spider-Man #15 – The Spider-Verse epilogue ties up a lot of loose threads, as characters head back to their own worlds, a few get new places to live or new jobs, and Otto and Peter have their final fight (for the third time in as many years?).  This was a well-managed event, and I like how Dan Slott aligned these events with those of other books, such as Hickman’s Avengers titles.  I jumped on to Amazing for this storyline, and now find myself considering sticking around for a while.  I’ve liked Slott’s Spidey for a while now, but the frequent double-shipping of this title has kept me from ever committing to it.  I guess I need to see what the schedule is going to be like moving forward…

Amazing X-Men #17I’ve been enjoying this arc of Amazing X-Men, with the characters trying to keep anyone from getting the Crimson Ruby of Cyttorak, and becoming the new Juggernaut.  Cain Marko shows up, and is strangely very upset about Charles Xavier’s death, and his presence becomes enough of a distraction to allow a character I haven’t thought about in years to become the new Juggernaut.  The last page was a pleasant surprise, as has been Jorge Fornes’s art.  I do not understand why, though, when a temple begins to collapse, Nightcrawler would try to run out, instead of just teleport.

Chew #46 – It’s hard to talk about this issue without giving away the significant character death that happened on the last page of the issue before.  That death is not explored much this month, except to get an explanation as to why it happened.  With the FDA devastated by recent events, D-Bear, the Turk to Tony’s Daredevil, is temporarily hired as his new partner.  Hilarity ensues, while the rest of the issue is kind of a downer.  I’m constantly amazed by how John Layman and Rob Guillory have managed to combine their bizarre sense of humour with some really emotionally effective comics storytelling.  I love Chew.

Curb Stomp #1 – I picked up this new Boom! series on the recommendation of the people who work at the store where I shop, and I did find it interesting.  Basically, this book is about The Fevers, a small group of young women who police Old Beach, an outer borough of a larger metropolis.  Unlike their counterparts in the other two boroughs, the Wrath and the Bayside Five, the girls don’t indulge in guns or weapons, and a truce is honored among all three organizations.  That changes when a couple of Wrath cross over the border, and then one of the Wrath pull a gun on one of the Fever.  She kind of loses control (and gives the comic its name), which sparks off a whole bunch of new problems for her group, as the Mayor is looking to do business with the other gangs and take over crime in all three boroughs.  The set-up of the book reminded me a little of The Pirates of Coney Island (how I wish that series ended), and parts of the story were just as unbelievable.  I have problems with the fact that these five girls would patrol on their own while the rest party, and in places, the storytelling felt very stiff.  This is the first I’ve seen work by either writer Ryan Ferrier or artist Devaki Neogi, and they both give the impression that they are creators to keep an eye on.

Daredevil #13Mark Waid and Chris Samnee do a good job this month of examining Matt’s overprotectiveness of his girlfriends, when someone comes after Kirsten.  Waid’s done a great job with this character, but knowing that he’s set to leave the book sometime soon, I can’t help but feel like some of the air is leaking out of this series already.  Still, any comic with a Shroud cameo is fine in my books.

Darth Vader #2 – Kieron Gillen continues to show why he should be trusted with just about any comic.  His first issue of this series was enjoyable, and helped set up the new post-Death Star status quo for Vader, but with this issue, he really explored that and helped flesh it out.  Vader’s been demoted, and is now serving under Grand General Tagge, who Gillen portrays as a data-driven leader, concerned more with force multipliers than grand gestures of terror.  When Vader learns that a small group of pirates have been attacking Imperial shuttles, Tagge sends him to dispatch the problem.  Vader, being Vader, sees space for opportunity, and turns things to his advantage.  So far, I’ve been impressed with this series, enjoying it more than I expected to.  It’s worth checking this title out if you’re a Star Wars fan.

Effigy #2 – I enjoyed the first issue of Effigy, a new Vertigo series by Tim Seeley and Marley Zarcone, but this second issue works on a lot of levels, and made me very excited about the series’s future.  Chondra is a trainee cop in the small town where she grew up before moving to LA to become a child star on a kid’s science fiction police show, Star Cops.  Last issue, she was called in to assist a big-city detective on a case involving a desiccated body added to a local Aboriginal burial mound.  The first order of business is to check in with the president of the local Star Cops fan club to try to identify the body.  The thing is, this is Chonda’s childhood ‘boyfriend’, who is now living as a woman, and who appears to suffer from a pretty delusional fixation on her.  At the same time, we get our first glimpse of a Scientology-like organization, but don’t know how it relates to the series.  Seeley is doing a great job with these characters.  They are funny and sharp, and Chondra often breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the reader, in a way that does not feel artificial.  I know that any Vertigo series has to fight an uphill battle these days for attention, but I hope that people take the time to check this out.  I have a very good feeling about it.

Gotham Academy #5While I understand why people love this book so much, and admit to having been very intrigued by it time and again, I really wish that the colouring weren’t so muddy.  I often feel like the art is hard to make out, and that causes the book to be a frustrating read.  This issue reveals a lot about what’s been going on in the series – we learn that Killer Croc is behind some of the weirdness, and that the boy that has been catching Olive’s eye has the Man-Bat serum running in his veins.  I’m not sure how Croc’s portrayal here matches to how he’s been shown recently in Batman Eternal, nor can I figure out why none of the kids are concerned that he’s been lurking behind the walls of their dorm rooms, especially when the last issue established that there are spy holes in those walls.  I think I’d be a little creeped out by this turn of events.  Anyway, this book has my attention, and I love Karl Kerschl’s art, when it is easy to see behind the dark colours.

Gotham by Midnight #4 – I’m not sure if this is the first anyone’s seen the Spectre in the New 52, but it is the first I’ve seen him, and with Ben Templesmith on art, he looks great.  The various creatures that have been giving our police heroes problems launch another attack on Gotham, and this time it is of such a scale that the Spectre reacts, which puts the entire city at risk.  I’ve been very impressed with this oddball title that came pretty much out of nowhere.  Ray Fawkes has done a good job of developing these characters in a hurry, although this issue doesn’t provide anyone’s backstory.  A very good read.

The Life After #7 – Joshua Hale Fialkov continues to expand his vision of the afterlife, showing us how one gigantic rabbit god managed to escape the fate of his compatriots when ‘The Great Potato’ took over, and also giving us our first glimpse of Hell.  This book is wonderfully blasphemous, as it envisions the Christian afterlife as an endlessly bureaucratic organization, where our heroes (Jude and Ernest Hemingway) have found themselves the centre of attention of the machine.  This is a really fun, really unpredictable comic.

Low #6Rick Remender really delivers with this issue, which finishes off the first arc of this series.  Marik leads the people of the pirate city in revolt, while his mother and sister come to his aid.  This arc has set up a lot of stuff, much of which has been destroyed by the end of the story.  I like how this title looks more and more to be about redemption, as this family looks like the only hope for the people left alive on Earth, even though just about everybody is against them.  Greg Tocchini’s art has grown on me.  His sense of design is odd, but it works very well with the aesthetic of this series, and he’s shown growth in his ability to clearly tell a story.

Men of Wrath #5 – I was pleasantly surprised by the emotional force of Jason Aaron and Ron Garney’s dark story about a family cursed with a lineage of violent men.  This conclusion wraps things up the only way it could, bloodily, but also satisfyingly.  This series will read very well in trade.

Mister X: Razed #1 – I’ve often liked the idea of Mister X more than I have the actual comics, but this first issue makes amazing use of its short-story format, and the key concepts that serve as the groundwork for this series.  Radiant City is built with architecture that affects and amplifies psychological disorders, and it is looked after by the mysterious Mister X, an architect who was key in building it.  This issue is Christmas themed, which feels a little weird at the end of February, but it’s whatever.  In the first story, reporter Rosetta Stone is working on a strange sequence of early-morning killings that are targeting the faithful of a local synagogue.  The killer leaves no clues, and has been dubbed the “Menorah Murderer.”  Rosey’s father is in town, and she has to juggle spending time with him, and investigating the murders.  The second story is about a couple, friends to Rosey and her father, who plan to off each other over the holidays.  The two stories loop back on each other beautifully, showing that Dean Motter is a master of this form.  His art looks terrific too.

New Avengers #30 – Hank Pym gets the spotlight this issue, as he tells his fellow Avengers about his experiences in the Multiverse.  It’s a confusing collection of Builders, Mapmakers, Celestials, and Beyonders, with the end result being that the Marvel Universe is in trouble.  I’ve been leaning towards scepticism that Marvel is planning on rebooting their whole line, but Jonathan Hickman keeps upping the stakes of his story, and it kind of makes me wonder…

Ody-C #3I really can’t make up my mind about this series.  On the one hand, I applaud Matt Fraction’s decision to retell Homer’s Odyssey as a science-fiction series set in a world where only women exist, and I love Christian Ward’s art (even though it seemed a little less detailed this month), on the other, I’m having a very hard time caring about any of the characters in this book, and find the story a little hard to follow.  In this issue, the crew of the Ody-C ends up on the planet of the Cyclops, and become trapped in her larder.  There’s some other stuff, mostly about angry gods and the like, but it’s not all that clear.  This is a pretty book, but I’m not sure if it’s engaging me enough to stick with it.  I don’t believe I have any more issues preordered, so I guess we’ll know what I decide when we see if I write about this book again.

Quantum and Woody Must Die #2 – I didn’t expect to be buying this series, but I enjoyed the Delinquents so much that I want to learn more about these two.  James Asmus is doing a good job writing this series, and explains in this issue just what is up with the post-hypnotic suggestions the psychiatrist is implanting in our heroes.  Steve Lieber’s art helps take the sting out of the cancellation of Superior Foes of Spider-Man.

Rasputin #5 – With the realization that this series had jumped up to the beginning of the Great War, I started to wonder just how long the book was set to run for.  We’ve rushed through Rasputin’s life pretty quickly – last month he just met the Romanov family, and now he’s a trusted advisor to the Tsar.  By the end of the issue, though, we learn that this first arc is the only one that will be set in the historical period, as the next one will be set in our modern day.  This has helped me make up my mind to finally add this book to my pullfile list.  I like both Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo’s work (although, not all projects that Rossmo undertakes are right for him), but their track record with the way Proof fizzled out had me reluctant to commit to this series.  Now, however, my curiosity is beating out my mistrust.

Secret Avengers #13As Hawkeye, Coulson, Fury, the Fury, and MODOK move to free Maria Hill from MODOK’s former assistant, Spider-Woman works her wiles.  This is a fun issue, featuring a lot of ultra-violence, as Ales Kot builds towards the series finale.  This volume of this series has been a strange beast from the beginning, and it keeps getting stranger.

Secret Origins #10 – I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed the new Batgirl comic, under Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher.  I was taken by surprise last week with the conclusion of the last issue of that series, and the news that the storyline would continue into this week’s Secret Origins, a title I’ve completely ignored up to this point.  Well, like the comics sucker I am, I plunked down $5 for one third of this book, to learn that the truth behind Barbara’s computer self hews pretty close to what I expected.  The Firestorm story just rehashes what happened in his series, without adding much, and while the Poison Ivy story was pretty (thanks to Stjepan Seijic), it didn’t tell me anything new about the character.

Sex #20 – After a very long set-up, Simon and Annabelle finally go out for dinner together, and this whole issue is dedicated to that moment.  This is comparable to Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle dating after they both retire from their hero/villain thing, except that in this world, they’ve never hooked up.  Joe Casey keeps things tense and interesting, and a flashback gives us just enough action to keep the story moving along.  Casey has written some very complicated characters into this series, and continues to resist the easy pay-off.  This continues to be my favourite Batman comic at the moment.

Suiciders #1 So here’s an interesting new thing.  Lee Bermejo is writing and drawing this new Vertigo mini-series set thirty years after an earthquake devastated Los Angeles.  Now, we have a walled-off New Angeles, where plastic surgery and televised death matches are the order of the day.  It seems that the main character of this series is The Saint, the champion of the ‘Suiciders’ game – a Battle Royale style gladiatorial thing, that has him dressing like the Midnighter, and fighting someone from across the wall who is wearing a low-tech knockoff of X-O Manowar’s suit.  We also follow a couple who are trying to get into the city, as they are led by a group of coyotes.  The set up for the series is interesting, but I don’t have any sense yet of what this story is going to be about.  Bermejo’s art is great, but that’s to be expected.  I was most interested in seeing how his writing is, as he’s going to be handling the upcoming Robins series that sounds like it could be interesting.

Thief of Thieves #26 – I was a little surprised to see that this series is continuing, since the last story arc more or less wrapped up all the plot threads started with the first issue.  Interestingly, it look’s like Conrad’s assistant/partner is looking to take over for him in his retirement.  I’ve liked her from the first issue, so I’m on-board to see where this is headed.

They’re Not Like Us #3 – Neal Stephenson’s new series (with artist Simon Gane) is really catching my attention.  In this issue, Syd starts to gain control of her mind-reading abilities, while also testing out how she feels about the Voice’s philosophy for the secretive group of powered individuals.  Where before she felt a little unsure of the violence at the core of the group’s identity, this month, she embraces it when she stumbles across a pedophile in Union Square.  I like the way Stephenson is using this book to explore powered morality, as everything about it feels logical.  I’m still concerned that this could turn into the next Nowhere Men, and just disappear, but I intend to enjoy it as long as it lasts.

Thor Annual #1I guess I’m really buying into the new Thor when I end up picking up this annual that consists of one regular-style story featuring Jason Aaron’s ‘Old Thor’ in the far future, and then two joke stories, one featuring the New Thor partying with the Warriors Three, and the other featuring Young Thor (in the past), also partying with the Warriors Three, Loki, and Mephisto.  I think the return to Old Thor is done largely to reassure Thor fans that the god of thunder they are used to will eventually recover the hammer (like there was any doubt), and while it’s nice to see Tim Truman drawing the story, I don’t know that I would have immediately recognized it as his work.  The last story is drawn by Rob Guillory, of Chew fame, so that was kind of cool.  Overall, though, this was not worth $5.

Uncanny Avengers #2 – I’m pretty sure that I have no interest in this newly rebooted series.  This issue is spent with the High Evolutionary, as he commits genocide on his own planet, and then studies Sabretooth, before perhaps introducing us to Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch’s sister (although I really hope that’s not who that is, because that’s kind of a stupid idea).  Very few of the new team actually appear in this issue, and generally, I don’t much care.  This series has one more issue to change my mind before I’ve stopped preordering this book, and I don’t hold out much hope for it.  I have huge respect for Rick Remender’s creator-owned writing (and I like Daniel Acuña’s art), but this is one misstep after another.

The Wicked + The Divine #8 – We meet yet another god in this issue, as Laura goes to one of Dionysus’s parties, and dances the weekend away.  Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie give this issue an interesting structure, with each page being split into four small panels (while other panels just display the numbers one through four).  Normally I’d be upset about the lack of art, but the structure works well here, as it helps mess with the normal perception of time.  It’s great to see Gillen and McKelvie cut loose like they’ve been doing with this book.

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

All-New Captain America: Fear Him #4

All-New Invaders #15

Arkham Manor #5

Batman #39

Batman Eternal #47

Deadpool #42

Fantastic Four #643

Inhuman #12

SHIELD #3

Spider-Gwen #1

Spider-Man 2099 #9

Superior Iron Man #5

Turok Dinosaur Hunter #12

Wolverines #8

Bargain Comics:

Batwing #34Recently, there was a discussion on the Comics Nexus staff page that may or may not turn itself into an article about diversity in comics.  I used Batwing as an example of a book that only showed diversity on the surface.  Yes, Lucas Fox is black, but he’s the genius son of a genius industrialist, who has grown up rich and privileged.  Were the character portrayed as white, Asian, or (adopted, powerless) Martian, nothing beyond the colouring of the character would change.  When this series began, it was about a cop in a fictional African nation who fought crime (often, mystifyingly, in Gotham).  It was not very good, but the potential was there for him to be an African superhero, in a way that even Black Panther has not often been able to achieve.  Anyway, this last issue of the regular series (there was a Futures End one-shot, see below) is serviceable, if not at all special.  I’m glad to see the character has been used in Batman Eternal, and I hope he doesn’t disappear, because he looks cool, but he could have been a lot more.

Batwoman #34-37 – When I read the Futures End one-shot a while back, I thought it was cool that in five years, Batwoman would be a vampire, and that there would be a superhero team knocking around featuring Ragman, Clayface, and the Demon, as well as Batwoman’s sister.  Then I read the issue that came out before that one, and the three that came out after it, and realized that Marc Andreyko was going about setting up that status quo right away, and that meant that this current storyline would take five years to resolve itself.  Not five years of comics (which would be 60 issues), but five years of story time, which means what, 300-400 issues?  I love oddball teams and team-ups, so I’m down for this, but at the same time, I’m bored of vampires.  Still, Ragman.  That’s pretty damn cool.  Also, it helps explain why this book is getting cancelled.

Über #15-20 – I love Kieron Gillen’s writing, but I find this to be an odd series.  Most of his other books are very character-driven, yet this book is so concerned with plot and the advancement of the war effort using the new technology that creates superhumans, that character development is relegated to small moments, that often confuse me, as the artists tend to make characters look alike.  As we move further away from the historical record, since the creation of the superhumans has changed the war so much, Gillen focuses on creating ever more classes of powered soldiers.  In these issues we meet the Blitzmensch, who are particularly effective at sea, and the Geltmensch, who are the greatest spies of all time.  I do enjoy this book a great deal, I just think it’s interesting how different it is from Gillen’s other books.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice

Written by Mike Carey
Art by Peter Gross, Kurt Huggins, Al Davison, Russ Braun, Shawn McManus, Dean Ormston, and Gary ErskineI’ve had a complicated relationship with The Unwritten, the long-running Vertigo series by Mike Carey and Peter Gross.  The first arc or so didn’t do much for me, but I stuck with the title out of faith in the creators, and it soon became one of my favourite Vertigo titles.  Somewhere, along the way though, I lost interest in the comic, as it became a little too lost under its own weight.  A disastrous cross-over with Fables (that wasn’t actually a cross-over, since it only happened in the one series) followed by a relaunch with a price increase was enough to get me to stop reading the book.Somewhere in there, this graphic novel was published, but I guess I didn’t even notice.  This is an interesting book, clarifying one aspect of the series, and diving into another aspect which has been largely ignored.This book is split between two stories.  Wilson Taylor, author of the Tommy Taylor books, and father to Tom Taylor, writes in his journal about the first couple of years, when he managed to have his first novel published on the same day as his son’s birth.  We learn about how he managed to manipulate his mother into leaving Tom’s life, and how he arranged to keep his real son tied in the public consciousness with his fictional son.The majority of this book tells that story that is in that first Tommy Taylor novel.  We learn about his parents’ death, and how he ended up being raised in the kitchen of a school for wizards.  We learn that he doesn’t have the ‘Spark’, the precursor to a magical education, and we meet his close friends.  Eventually, the Conclave, a group of powerful wizards, decide to raise the ship that his parents died on, as they tried to transport wild magic to the school.  Bringing the vessel also brings with it Count Ambrosio, an immortal vampire.  It goes without saying that it’s up to Tommy and his friends to save the day.

The dual nature of this story is interesting, but I’m not sure that a reader new to these characters would have much of a clue as to what’s going on in the Wilson Taylor sections.  Although there are passing nods to Leviathan, the whale-spirit that lives off fiction in the regular series, no mention is made of the Cabal, or why Wilson is immersing young Tom in a sensory deprivation tank.  Long-time readers are rewarded with this fleshed-out timeline, but I think the Wilson sections of this book would feel inconsequential to anyone else.

The Tommy story is enjoyable, in a YA kind of way.  It does help to understand the bigger picture of this whole series to know Tommy’s story, and see how it parallels and differs from the Harry Potter stories that it was clearly roughly based upon.

I found the approach to art in this book pretty interesting.  Peter Gross provided layouts for the whole book, and gave it a consistent look, but the various finishers added their own voices to the mix.  The only pages I found I could identify were Dean Ormston’s, as his work is always pretty individual.  This approach worked well to distinguish the Wilson pages from the Tommy ones, and to set apart different sections of Tommy’s story.

I’m glad I read this book, and it does have me interested in picking up the last half-dozen or so issues of the second volume of Unwritten.  Carey and Gross do great work together; I just wish this series hadn’t gotten so bogged down that it lost me.

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