The Weekly Round-Up #276 With Divinity #2, Batgirl: Endgame #1, Chrononauts #1, Frankenstein Underground #1, Invisible Republic #1, The Manhattan Projects #1 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Divinity #2 – Any ambiguity from the first issue is wiped away with this second one, as Matt Kindt makes more clear just what Abrams, now code-named Divinity, is doing since his return to the Earth.  This character has spent fifty-five years in space, on a secret Soviet mission, and has now returned with the ability to give people what they really want (which is different from granting wishes), and has set up a self-sustaining biome in the Australian outback which is attracting pilgrims.  It’s also attracted the attention of Unity, which is probably going to lead to problems.  This is a very intelligent series, and artist Trevor Hairsine is giving us some of the most detailed work of his career.  I love when Valiant uses their new prestige format – it really makes the comic feel more momentous.

Quick Takes:

Alex + Ada #13 – Since this story began, there have been two plotlines running.  Most of the series has been involved with Alex’s relationship with Ada, the lifelike robot he had awakened into sentience, and we’ve seen their love develop against a backdrop of growing hysteria around robot sentience in general.  Now, with this issue, that is the thrust of the series, as the couple is discovered by the FBI.  This has always been a great read, but with this shift in focus, it’s also becoming a very exciting one.

All-New Captain America #5 – I wonder if Rick Remender is going to make every issue of this series end with the apparent death of a main or supporting character.  So far, though, none of these deaths have stuck for long, so I’m not going to get worried about this one (which is a little too close to the recent traumatic ending of an issue of Chew).  This arc has been pretty enjoyable, but it’s starting to feel like it’s stretching out a little too long.  I hope this title returns after Secret Wars, because I’m not ready for Marvel to reset Captain America so soon – the title has suffered too many relaunches in the last decade, and I’d like to see Sam get more time in the spotlight.

All-New X-Men #39I do want to spend most of this review talking about how much I like Andrea Sorrentino’s art, but there is one problem, and that’s the way he draws Jean Grey in this comic; she looks like she’s been based on the girl on the Wendy’s sign, just without the pig-tails.  Otherwise, this issue worked well – we see how Cyclops’s return to the team affects different people, and we get three separate problems requiring three separate teams, which helps manage the growing cast of this event (although, why aren’t the rest of the Starjammers showing up? – Nevermind, this week’s Cyclops answers that question).

Batgirl #40 – I know there’s been a lot of controversy around Batgirl and variant covers this week, but this Cliff Chiang homage to the Purple Rain movie poster is brilliant.  Inside, we find out what the deal is with the computerized version of Barbara Gordon (which, unsurprisingly, is not the pre-52 Barbara, despite the speculation on the net), and see Babs correct a few things in her personal life.  This issue also sets up the upcoming Black Canary series, which will share a co-writer with this book.  I continue to get a lot of enjoyment out of this series, as its new tone makes it feel very fresh.

Batgirl Endgame #1I’m not very caught up on the Endgame story in Batman, having only read the first two chapters, but what I can gather from this is that the Joker has released some sort of toxin that makes people into Jokerized, tamer versions of the infected in Crossed.  Batgirl is helping people evacuate from Gotham into Burnside (I think), and has to figure out how to protect Luke Fox’s little sister when she gets left behind.  The issue is written as a silent comic, and that does work here, since the key points of the narrative are covered through text message.  Bengal is the artist for this issue, and he (or is it she?) does a great job of conveying the story without words, although I’m not too clear on why Babs would be so rough on people who are clearly not in their right minds.  I also don’t know why they needed to blow up the bridge, and if that killed people or not.  Anyway, I like the Frankie is being set up in an Oracle-like role in this comic.

BPRD Hell on Earth #129 – I think that Agent Howards must be one of the best new characters of the decade.  He’s been possessed by the spirit of a barbarian warrior from the distant past, and while he doesn’t have much to say, and isn’t all that sociable, he really can kick some ass.  So can artist James Harren, who is unfortunately leaving the title with this issue, but is working on Rumble at Image.  This series seems to lack cohesive story arcs lately, focusing more on character development, but I’m fine with that, because Mike Mignola and John Arcudi are telling a global story in this book.

Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier #6 – Not a whole lot happens in this issue, as the characters recover from the fight with Crossbones last issue, and as writer Ales Kot continues to give artist Marco Rudy places to shine.  I’m having a little trouble following the story in this title, because I keep just studying the art.

Captain America and the Mighty Avengers #6 – I found this issue a little odd, in that some important things happened (such as finding out that the Beyond Corporation is controlling Jason Quantrell, who has been the bad guy in this book for a while, as well as seeing a few heroes turned into monsters, and the return of Monica Rambeau’s real hair), but the comic was a very quick read and felt slight.  I feel like this book is never going to live up to its great potential.

Chrononauts #1I’m always down to try a new Mark Millar series out, especially when it is drawn by the extremely talented Sean Murphy.  Basically, two guys have put together time travel suits, and are about to test them out on live TV.  As expected, the designer of the technology falls off course, and ends up in the wrong place and time (they were trying to watch Columbus’s landing, which would probably not have been all that exciting, and would have been disenchanting for most, but I digress).  His friend, who is very arrogant, decides to go after him.  There is a lot of set-up in this issue, but it’s all good, because Murphy’s art is terrific.  None of the characters are likeable at this point, so the success of this series is going to hinge on just how interesting Millar’s choices of historical set are.  I hope that he picks some great eras for Murphy to recreate.

Cyclops #11 – Scott and his father are in trouble again, as the pirates who just agreed not to kill them are now selling them into slavery, while Captain Malafect’s daughter feels that this did not satisfy her need for revenge.  This title has been enjoyable, but now it’s about to get swallowed up by the Black Vortex event, which is kind of a shame.  I don’t think this book will exist after Secret Wars…

Ei8ht #2 – Rafael Albuquerque’s new science fiction series starts to make a lot more sense with this second issue, as we learn a little more about life in the Meld, and we see a scientist attempt to get there from our time.  Albuquerque is putting together an interesting story, and, because he’s drawing it too, it looks very nice.  I like the way he uses different colours to denote time period.

Frankenstein Underground #1It’s rare to see Mike Mignola write a non-Hellboy comic without a co-writer, but that’s what happens here, which picks up on the Frankenstein monster’s experiences after meeting Hellboy on the Mexican wrestling circuit in the 1950s.  The monster comes across a kindly witch, who heals him from wounds he suffered by being hunted, but it’s not long before a collector of arcane objects sends a pet demon to try to take him.  This series is clearly heavily tied in to the rest of the Mignola-verse, making me wonder if we’re going to see the monster show up in modern times in BPRD or Abe Sapien’s book soon.  It also allows Mignola the chance to tell a story about an isolated individual who can’t fit in to society without it being in the context of the BPRD.  Ben Stenbeck’s art is very nice, and I felt that there was the right amount of movement for this debut issue.

Guardians Team-Up #3 – This chapter of the Black Vortex event focuses mainly on the Kree homeworld of Hala, which has been invaded and ruined countless times in the last thirty years, making me wonder why the Kree don’t change things up.  Anyway, Ronan disagrees with the Supreme Intelligence, and makes use of the Black Vortex to stop the other three Vortexed individuals (Gamora, Angel, and Now Beast) from destroying the planet.  Meanwhile, Kitty’s squad meets with the first person to ever use the Vortex, and Thane gets really upset when he learns that his followers are all dead.  The Thane stuff has not been explained very well in this event (I assume that the one issue of Legendary Star-Lord I haven’t read explains this), and I’m getting really fed up with the way Peter Quill is always portrayed as a complete idiot now.  This event is all over the map, and frustratingly inconsistent.

Invisible Republic #1 – Married co-creators Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman have become a favourite comics team of mine.  I’ve been a fan of Hardman’s art since he worked on Hulk, but it was not until the two started writing together on projects like Planet of the Apes, Star Wars Legacy, and Deep Gravity that I became aware of just how good they are.  Invisible Republic is their new science fiction series, that is set on a distant moon which is suffering economically after the regime that runs the place has fallen apart.  A reporter, who we gather has hit a wall or two in his career, is trying to interview the people most affected by these problems, but he doesn’t get far.  Happenstance has him finding a stack of looseleaf papers, the diary of one of the first colonizers of the planet, who has a surprising connection to the person who ended up taking over.  Hardman’s art is always pretty dark, and that matches the prospects of just about everybody in this series.  I’m not sure how long this is set to run, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to stick with it to the end.

Ivar, Timewalker #3This series has been a pleasure to read so far, and I’m pleased to see that Fred Van Lente is keeping things consistent with this new issue.  Neela’s tour of time travelling science has hit a snag in a Nazi bunker, but after running into Gilad, and then a whole gaggle of time travellers, she’s come to realize that Ivar has been lying to her.  This is a fun read that is showing that it has a lot more going on in the background.

The Kitchen #5 – Reading this 70s crime comic about a group of Irish American women who have taken over their husbands’ crime ring, I can’t stop imagining it as an excellent series on HBO or AMC or something.  Ollie Masters has built up a rich and rough look at the world, and Ming Doyle has made these characters so believable and real.  This is a great mini-series.  In this issue, the connections between the three women begin to crack, just as their husbands begin to move against them.

Loki: Agent of Asgard #12 – I can’t imagine this title is going to be returning after Secret Wars, because it really feels like Al Ewing is getting ready to wrap up the long story that Kieron Gillen started with Journey Into Mystery.  Old Loki has Now Loki captive, and he spends this whole issue explaining how his future comes to pass.  On a different level, Ewing has made this story be about the nature of mythology, and how it traps gods into being who and what they are, even when they try to change.  It’s a nice study of the character, ably backed by Lee Garbett’s very nice art.

The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond The Stars #1 – Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra have relaunched their excellent Manhattan Projects series, structuring it into story arc mini-series that focus on one aspect of their sprawling and bizarre story.  This mini puts the spotlight on Yuri Gagarin, the Russian Cosmonaut, who was last seen exploring the cosmos for his dog Laika, who we know has escaped imprisonment by a culture that likes to collect different species.  Yuri has been charged with trespassing, and is learning about a very strange form of justice system.  Hickman plays up the comedy in this issue, and the atmosphere is quite different from what I’ve gotten used to in this title, unshackled as this story is from Earth history.  It’s a fun issue, and pretty enjoyable, but I know that I’m going to find it harder to return to some of the other storylines after a lengthy separation.

Mind MGMT #31The last story arc begins, and I can’t imagine that someone picking this book up for the first time right now would understand any of it, despite the handy recap page.  I also can’t imagine anyone who’s made it this far would drop the book now, so reviewing it is moot.  Matt Kindt’s art is just getting better and better with this comic.  I love how he shows Meru’s meeting with Henry Lyme.  The backgrounds shift depending on who is speaking, showing us how the different characters view their conversation.  There is a splash page in the middle of this talk which is just beautiful.  I’m going to miss this title after it’s gone.

Moon Knight #13 – I was curious to see what the new creative team, Cullen Bunn and Ron Ackins, would be like on this title.  Bunn is an excellent writer, but very different from previous writers Warren Ellis and Brian Wood.  His story is more straight-forward, at least as straight-forward as a story where the resurrected priest of an Egyptian deity is sent to rescue ghosts from some people who are trying to capture and sell them as conversation pieces, can get.  It seems that MK is now living in the old hotel that Ellis had him fight his way through, and there is no sign of his high-tech car or drone plane, so I’m not sure that he’s recovered from his problems of Wood’s arc.  There’s not a lot of time or space wasted on anything not directly related to this plot, but the ending suggests that the status quo might be changing for Moon Knight.  Bunn and Ackins do a good job of maintaining the general feel of this title, while still doing their own thing with it.  I feel like this series is in good hands.

Outcast by Kirkman & Azaceta #7 – The second story arc begins by checking in on some of the supporting members of this cast, including Mark’s sister and ex-wife, before getting back to the business of demonic possessions.  I like the way Robert Kirkman is building this story to make it sufficient to last over a long period of time, and find some of the supporting cast, especially the sister, to be some of the best-realized in his writing to date.  This is a book to keep an eye on.

Plunder #2This creepy remake of Alien on an ocean vessel full of Somali pirates is a pretty interesting book.  I mean, obviously the source material is pretty clear, but I like the way writer Swifty Lang has flipped it and added some new elements.  The main character is well-written, although I’m not sure why the pirate crew needs a translator when they clearly have no problem talking to the American woman they find on board.  Still, I like the way this book features characters we don’t often get to see in North American comics.

Princess Leia #2 – Mark Waid is giving us a decent story, as Leia travels to Naboo to look for Alderaanians before the Empire can execute them.  There’s betrayal, of course, which is kind of predictable.  Still, Waid writes a good Leia.

Punisher #16 – Frank’s come to Washington, which can’t be a good thing for a lot of politicians.  I like how Nathan Edmondson has Frank verbalize some of his rules for how he conducts his war; some writers have shown him as being a lot more reactionary.  It’s always interesting to see him interact with established Marvel characters in storylines that are much more focused on a realistic portrayal of his war, so the next issue, which has him fighting Captain America, should be interesting.

Satellite Sam #12 – It’s getting harder and harder to root for anyone in Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin’s series about horrible people making television and screwing with each other in the 1950s.  Of course, that’s the main draw of this series…

Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses #2 – I’m not used to issues of Stray Bullets being funny, but this one had a couple of moments in it that had me laughing out loud.  Orson is a good kid, getting ready to head off to college, but he’s fallen for Beth, and that’s probably not a good thing for him.  Waking up one morning after a party at her place, he finds himself with a big bruise on his head, spotty memories, and a case of crabs.  He sets out to reunite Beth with her former best friend, and to generally devote his life to trying to save her.  I feel like Orson might have been around in the early days of this series, but my memories of those issues are vague now.  I really need to dig them out, and find the issues I’m missing…

Zero #15I’ve often felt like Zero is the least pretentious of Ales Kot’s series.  Even his more straight-forward superhero stuff, like Bucky Barnes, gets weighed down by his supposedly clever references to his favourite noise bands, but Zero has mostly remained his most coherent book, even when its issues jump around in their chronology, and little of what happens is explained to the reader.  And then we get this issue, which is drawn with very thick lines by Ian Betram.  In it, we learn, or have suggested to us, that Edward Zero’s whole story is coming from the heroin and mushroom-enhanced dreams of William S. Burroughs, in a slum in Tangiers or Mexico City.  The clearest part of the narrative this month, which has Edward meeting with the fungus-infested boy who will one day kill him on the edge of a cliff, and who might be his son, is a conversation between Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg on a rooftop.  Joan Vollmer also makes a cameo, suggesting that this storyline is Burrough’s way of dealing with guilt from having shot her.  I love the Beat Poets, and enjoyed their work a lot in my teens and early twenties, but am not sure what their inclusion to this series adds to things.  Does Kot have a grand scheme in mind, which will make everything clear, or is he just grasping at straws and throwing in things because he thinks they’re cool?  When Grant Morrison does it, I know it’s for the former, but with writers like Kot, who have yet to stick a landing, in my opinion, I’m afraid it’s the latter.

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

Batman Eternal #50

Batwoman #40

Black Widow #16

Burning Fields #3

Dark Horse Presents #8

Silk #2

Storm #9

Strange Sports Stories #1

Wolverines #11

Bargain Comics:

Death of Wolverine: The Weapon X Program #5The end of this mini-series sets up the end of the Logan Legacy mini-series which weirdly ran concurrently to it, which in turn sets up Wolverines, more about which below.  I’m not surprised that Marvel worked to wring every last sale out of Logan’s death that they could, but I’m not sure how well a series about a group of new characters that never met him (aside from the spirit now living in one of their heads) accomplished that goal.  Charles Soule has been given some very strange assignments since moving over to Marvel.  He mostly pulls this one off, though.

Guardians Team-Up #1&2 – I hadn’t heard good things about this book, but I felt the need to give it a shot anyway.  To begin with, this story, that has the Guardians come across the Avengers on Earth while fleeing from the Chitauri, has all sorts of continuity problems.  This story would have taken place in the gap between current Marvel continuity and the Time Runs Out story, which is set later on.  The new female Thor is shown as being on the team, but we’ve never seen that she’s a part of that organization anywhere else.  Likewise, Captain America just kind of disappears.  Bendis writes this, so it’s heavy on the jokes, and a plot resolution that comes about in a matter of pages.  Art Adams’s pencils on the first issue look hella rushed, and he’s replaced by the time we get to the second issue.  I don’t really see the point of this book (isn’t it a little late to cash in on Guardians-mania, and wouldn’t this have been the type of thing that would have really sold after the movie came out?), or this story, unless Bendis just wanted to further cement the movie’s versions of Gamora and Nebula into the current Marvel Universe.

Guardians 3000 #4&5 – Even though I don’t love the art on this book (although it’s starting to grow on me), I keep coming back for Dan Abnett’s story, which is confusing, but has my attention.  It’s nice seeing these characters again, and I like the nod to Jim Valentino’s long-running series, in the character of Dr. Valentino, who was responsible for sending Vance Astro into space.

Inhuman #10More and more, I find myself liking Inhuman (this is definitely because of Charles Soule, who is a great writer), but this book works best when it is focusing on the newer characters; the actual royal family of Attilan is pretty boring.  Therefore, when an Axis tie-in spends most of the issue on Inverted Medusa, I get bored.

Magneto #14&15 – I really do like the way Cullen Bunn shows Magneto as taking direct action on behalf of mutants.  When Scott Summers split off from the X-Men in Bendis’s Uncanny X-Men book, that’s what his team was supposed to be doing, but all they ever did was talk (mostly because it was a Bendis book).  In this title, Magneto gets results, which includes allowing himself to be captured by SHIELD so he can get a look at their version of Cerebro.  This is a nicely balanced title, with strong writing and very nice art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta.

Scarlet Spiders #3 – Really, this mini-series was just okay.  I think it might have been a lot more interesting had it been written by Chris Yost, who has such a good handle on Kaine…

SHIELD #1 – I don’t love the Agents of SHIELD TV show (although I’ll admit it’s gotten better, having recently caught up during a bout of insomnia), and hate the way it is dictating how things are done in the comics, but I’ll also admit that this is a decent debut issue.  I think it’s silly that Phil Coulson is the only person capable of figuring out which unique pairings of super heroes work well together (like a Marvel version of Oracle), just as I think it’s silly that, if Heimdall were to experience a problems such as the shattering of the Bifrost and the loss of his sword, that other Asgardians wouldn’t step in to help out.  I also think it’s odd that Valkyrie, one of the heroes brought into the mix, doesn’t appear to know the guy.  Anyway, Mark Waid and Carlos Pacheco always lead to good comics…

Spider-Man 2099 #7This is an enjoyable issue that helps flesh out some behind-the-scenes moments from Spider-Verse, as Miguel and Lady Spider work to figure out a way to stop the Inheritors, and build the inter-dimensional devices that the spiders use throughout this event.  Peter David is able to keep the series’s own tone within the cross-over mandated storyline.  I’m sure that someone somewhere was very excited to see Punisher 2099 show up in this issue, but all it did for me was underscore how much better-designed Miguel’s costume was when compared to anyone else in the 2099 line.

Spider-Verse Team-Up #2 – This anthology book has a very funny story wherein Miles Morales and the Spider-Man from the recent Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon try to recruit the Spider-Man from the 1960s cartoon to the fight.  There are a lot of sight gags, and some amusing wordplay.  It’s cool that this event has allowed such a disparate collection of Spider-Iterations together, although I’d have to wonder how strange it would be to perceive this stuff from the point of view of one of the characters.  The Spider-Gwen story was pretty forgettable.

Spider-Woman #4 – This issue bridges Spider-Verse and Jessica’s new direction nicely.  In this book, she quits the Avengers, but also has to help them fight one last creature.  I like the new direction Spider-Woman, but think it’s interesting that in Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers story, set a little ways into the future, she’s back working with the team.

Strikeforce: Morituri #20-26In this batch of this series from 1988, the team lose a lot of members to the Morituri Effect (their powers kill them within a year), gain new members, some of whom can’t be trusted, and manage, with the help of an alien race, to fight off the Horde once and for all.  Original series creative team Peter B. Gillis and Brent Anderson leave, and new writer James Hudnall takes over, a little awkwardly at first.  John Calimee, who worked with Hudnall on Alpha Flight after this, is a pretty stiff artist at this point in his career, such that I was almost happy to see Mark Bagley, who I’ve never liked, take over.  There’s some real awkwardness to these comics, but I think this is a concept that could work well today.

Superior Iron Man #3&4 – This series has gotten a lot better than the first two issues suggested it would be, as Tony’s Extremis app takes a toll on San Francisco, he has a couple of run-ins with Daredevil, and gains a new sidekick in Teen Abomination.  The light humour works well here, and Tom Taylor allows just enough of the un-inverted Tony Stark out to keep the character slightly likeable.  I do think this is a very strange approach to this character though, and wonder how long it can be expected to work.

Wolverines #1-7 – This is a very strange series.  First, it’s the first weekly series at Marvel, which makes sense when you consider that they wouldn’t have enough time to properly conclude a story before Secret Wars shows up without going to this format.  It’s also strange because it blends the casts of the Weapon X Program and Logan Legacy mini-series, as a group of new characters exploit a bunch of key words implanted into the brains of the Wolverine family, Mystique, and Lady Deathstrike so they can help cure them.  This leads to a race for Logan’s body, which puts the group in conflict with the Wrecking Crew, Mister Sinister, and eventually the X-Men.  Along the way, we meet Fantomelle, an interesting character like Fanotmex, with a psychic fox.  The writing on this series alternates between Charles Soule and Ray Fawkes with each issue, creating some inconsistency.  The art is all over the place.  The book was launched by Nick Bradshaw, whose style doesn’t work at all for it, and later debuts artists like Jonathan Marks and Jason Masters, as well as using established artists like Juan Doe and Kris Anka.  I like some of what I’m reading here, but other aspects of this series are frustrating.  It’s a relief to learn that Mystique is also manipulating everyone, because I was having a hard time seeing her portrayed as a victim.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Rachel Rising Vol. 2: Malus

by Terry Moore

With this second volume of his latest series, about a young woman who doesn’t seem able to stay dead (despite giving it a couple of very good goes, unintentionally, in the first volume), Moore gives a much clearer picture of what is going on in the town of Manson.

It seems that the town once had a witch problem, and now Lilith, the first woman (remember her from Sandman?) is working to exact her revenge on the town for something that happened three hundred years before.  Malus, a demon, has been working with her, but also working towards his own ends.

As for Rachel, the undead hero of this book?  I don’t want to spoil what her deal is.

As is always the case with Moore’s work, character development is front and centre, and he’s done a great job with characters like Rachel, her friend Jet (who now also can’t die), and Rachel’s Uncle Johnny, who is laid up in the hospital.  Also, as is often the case, Moore’s male characters are a little less nuanced, but I like the way people like Earl, the assistant mortician who is in love with Jet, and Dr. Siemen, the kindly doctor who keeps the body of his long-dead wife in his kitchen, round out the cast of this book.

Moore’s art and draftsmanship are always very nice, and it’s interesting to see him take what is, on the surface, a story about pretty ordinary-looking people, and twist it around to the point where demons are believable on the page.

My only complaint is with how quickly each of these trades read.  I probably should have waited until the series was finished, and collected into a nice chunky omnibus…