The Weekly Round-Up #277 With The Bunker #10, Guardians Of The Galaxy #25, Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1, Pastaways #1, The Valiant #4 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

The Bunker #10 – I love when comics do interlude issues featuring different characters from normal (I always think of the issue of Scalped that featured an older couple living remotely on the Prairie Rose Reserve as being the high-watermark of the trope).  This month, Joshua Hale Fialkov, and guest artist Brahm Revel (read his Guerrillas – it’s excellent!) give us a quiet story about a couple living in the Mid-West during the worst drought in America’s history.  This is in the time period just before new transgenic crops almost wipe out humanity, and we get to watch as this couple decides that they are going to plant them, with the hopes of saving their land, which is blowing away.  These characters are put together quickly but effectively, and we are given a better understanding of how messed up the regular characters of this title have made the future.

Quick Takes:

Amazing X-Men #18 – One of the things I’ve missed the most in the modern era of X-Men stories, since Fraction and Gillen stopped writing the team, is the easy relationships between the characters.  Chris Yost made me very happy with this book, as the team take a few moments to sit, rest, and chat in a jungle in Thailand, while the Living Monolith, with the power of the Juggernaut added to his abilities, walks off wondering why they aren’t attacking.  Yost gets these characters, and treats them with a lot more respect than writers like Bendis and even Brian Wood have lately.  I don’t know if this title is coming back after Secret Wars, or what is planned for the X-Men, but I hope that Yost is somehow in the mix.

The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw #5 – Kurt Busiek shows us just how many different agendas are being acted upon in this latest issue of Autumnlands, as Sandorst continues to try to consolidate power for himself, imprisoning Gharta and her staunchest ally, while Learoyd works to create explosives and prepare for his meeting with Seven Scars, and as Goodfoot schemes for her own personal gain.  Busiek has put together an interesting world, and keeps the story moving at a good pace.  Benjamin Dewey’s art on this book is wonderful – full of life and expression.  I’m really enjoying this comic.

Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers #6The conclusion of Joe Casey and Nathan Fox’s look at Jack Kirby’s old property is much like the rest of the series, needlessly confusing, not all that interesting, but visually pretty impressive.  For this finale, an impressive group of artists, including Michel Fiffe, Nick Dragotta, Jim Rugg, Jim Mahfood, and Grant Morrison (!) assist Fox, but at the end of the day, Casey’s story just never worked for me.

Chew #47 – Among the surprises in this series lately (the death of a key character being one of them), perhaps the most unexpected is the knowledge that D-Bear is turning out to be an excellent FDA agent.  I think that John Layman and Rob Guillory have been using the last two issues of this book to pause a little, and let all the injured characters recover, before having Mason Savoy get to the point where he could do what he does in the end of this issue.  Even though there are still thirteen issues of Chew remaining, it feels like Layman is moving us quickly towards his conclusion.  This book is always an excellent read.

Daredevil #14 – We meet the Owl’s daughter, as Matt Murdock stops living a double life, and decides instead to go around town maskless in a red suit.  I’m beginning to wonder how whoever gets ahold of this character after Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s run will work with him, since they’ve put such an individual stamp on him.  Of course, if rumors of a reboot are to be believed, I assume that Murdock’s identity would become secret again.

Darth Vader #3 – As much as I enjoyed the first two issues of this new series, I did wonder about how it was going to maintain that, as Vader is a difficult character to make interesting.  He doesn’t have a lot of personality, being a weapon more than a character, and his helmet is expressionless, making it impossible to read his emotions, if he were to have any.  To address that problem, writer Kieron Gillen introduces three new characters – Doctor Aphra, an archaeologist who specializes in deadly weapons, Triple Zero, a murderous protocol droid, and BT-1, a ‘blastomech’ droid that is also very deadly.  This trio is going to be the core of Vader’s private army, which he is assembling because of his diminished status in the Emperor’s eyes.  It’s a fun issue, but I’m not sure that Aphra as a character feels particularly ‘Star Wars’ to me.  Still, I trust Gillen, so I’m sticking around.

Drifter #5I’m having a hard time really understanding what Ivan Brandon is aiming for with this series – plotlines feel a little random, and the ‘end’ of this first arc feels very arbitrary.  At the same time, Nic Klein is killing it on this book, and I’m not going anywhere so long as the art is this good.

Effigy #3 – This new series by Tim Seeley and Marley Zarcone is really very good.  We travel with Chondra to a fan convention for the TV show she used to be on, as she and the detective look for clues as to the identity of the people who murdered an online fan.  The character work on this series is very good, and it’s pretty amusing.  I’m still not sure what’s going on with the cult angle, but it looks like we’ll be learning about that soon enough.

Elektra #11 – Elektra has been one odd duck of a series, but I’m glad I stuck with it, as Mike Del Mundo’s art has been great all the way through.  The story is strange, but it did revive Bullseye (who we all knew was going to make his return sooner or later), and sets up a new status quo for Elektra.  This will look nice in a solid omnibus edition.

The Fuse #11 – Sometimes six issues might be a little long for a story arc, as Klem and Dietrich keep circling back to the same suspects.  By the end of this issue, Klem has this case, which has involved the murder of two sisters, illegal racing, and the drug trade on the Fuse space station, all figured out, but she hasn’t shared with us yet.  I imagine that the next issue should be pretty interesting, as everything is laid clear.

Gotham Academy #6 – I’ve stayed on the fence about this series for the entire first arc.  There’s a lot that I like here, but at the same time, there are things about this book that frustrate me.  When the book returns post-Convergence, it appears that Damian Wayne will be joining the cast, which has me a little more inclined to keep buying it, but I hope he doesn’t end up overpowering the rest of the characters.

Gotham by Midnight #5I’m very happy to see that this series is going to return in June, as I was worried that it would disappear post-Convergence.  This issue wraps up the first story arc, as we see the Spectre fighting with the gigantic creature from the swamp that has been threatening Gotham; the only problem is that the Spectre is not to be seen as a hero.  I like the approach that Ray Fawkes is taking to the New 52 version of that classic character – he really is God’s vengeance, and has a tendency to wipe out any sinners around him, which is probably just about all of Gotham.  Ben Templesmith draws an interesting Batman, who has a cameo in this issue.  It’s too bad that Templesmith won’t be returning with this title, but I’m very happy to see that Juan Ferreyra is going to be the new artist; his stuff is terrific.

Guardians of the Galaxy #25 – Lending credence to the notion that the Marvel Universe is going to get restarted completely, Brian Michael Bendis destroys a planet that is pretty important in the Marvel cosmology.  Also, he has Beast explain that his choice to bring the original X-Men to the present has caused irrevocable damage to the timeline, or the universe, or something.  Big things seem to be happening in this event, yet at the same time, everything feels very disconnected.  I have no idea how J-Son has the power he has in this comic.

Invincible #118 – My new comics pile was so large this week that I didn’t even notice until I got home that this issue of Invincible is only $0.25.  If you’ve never read Robert Kirkman’s other book, I can’t think of a better reason to go pick up the latest issue.  Actually, I can, and that’s that Invincible is an excellent comic, and this one begins with a recap of every important thing that’s happened in the series so far, so you won’t feel that far behind.  Mark and Eve are now living on a distant planet with their newborn daughter, and spend the issue catching up with Allen and Mark’s brother, who introduces his new girlfriend.  The issue is pretty funny (as we learn what alien food can do to a human digestive system), and as Mark finally tells Eve about the recent sexual assault he suffered at the hands of the last female Viltrumite.  Kirkman does strange domestic scenes very well, and handles the scene where Mark talks about being raped with a surprising amount of sensitivity and nuance.  This is a terrific series.

The Life After #8 – Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo’s strange series about the afterlife gets a little stranger, as Jude and Ernest Hemingway find themselves in Hell (although Hemingway thinks it’s heaven, despite the horns on all the girls).  This series has been a lot of fun, and really very amusing.  This issue features cameos by Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Legendary Star-Lord #10Three chapters of The Black Vortex is just too many this week.  What ever happened to the fact that Peter Quill’s been elected new leader of Spartax?  It hasn’t been mentioned in this storyline at all, despite all the time spent there.  We learn just what J-Son was after all this time, and it seems a little silly, considering he controls enough firepower to destroy a planet.  This cross-over does not always work.

Morning Glories #44 – Once again, Nick Spencer confuses me a little with this issue, which explores the relationship between Vanessa and her mother, who is now at the Academy, but not allowed to see her.  When this series is over, I’d love to see a picture of Spencer’s notebook or the giant whiteboard he uses to keep track of all the different plotlines in this comic.  It must be impressive.

Mister X: Razed #2 – It’s a little strange that Dean Motter waits until the second issue of this mini-series to actually give it a plot, which concerns a missing skyscraper, and the election in Radiant City.  The back-up story, which is connected to the main story, is set in Electra City (aka Electropolis), and features Menlo Park (the robot PI with human feet) and Radiant City reporter Rosetta Stone investigating some strange crimes being committed by zombies.  I like the way Motter approaches his stories, in a less-than straight-forward manner, and have always appreciated the retro story and design elements he brings to his comics.

Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1I guess this is all very clever, as Grant Morrison gives us a story about a sentient comic book that travels to another dimension to stop some big threat, but I think that I’m getting more than a little bored of ‘meta’ as a plot.  What’s been missing from so many of these Multiversity one-shots, and especially the last two, is any kind of heart.  Morrison is being clever, but if the reader doesn’t care about what he or she is reading, does cleverness matter?  I’m ready for this event to be done.

New Avengers #32 – Jonathan Hickman is edging ever closer to the end of the Time Runs Out storyline, and now he’s clearing some characters off the deck.  The Avengers team that has been sent deep into the Multiverse, made up of Thor, Hyperion, Starbrand, Nightmask, Abyss, and a bunch of Ex Nihilii, confront the Beyonders, and it doesn’t look like anyone survives.  Hickman does a great job with Thor in this issue, making a lot of the Unworthy stuff feel redeemed.

Nova #28 – I like the fact that this chapter of the Black Vortex storyline really only focused on Sam, as he tries to keep the Black Vortex safe from everyone pursuing it (by hiding it in his bedroom).  I’m not sure how he ends up in Mr. Knife’s Flying Fortress though; I know Sam has often been portrayed as being a little on the dumb side, but this is too stupid.

Pastaways #1 I was torn around pre-ordering this book, because I’m not the biggest fan of artist Scott Kolins’s work, but am a huge fan of Matt Kindt’s writing.  I picked up this first issue though, and was pretty impressed.  Pastaways is about a group of time travellers from the far future who have become stranded in our time.  They have mostly abandoned their mission, and are living unhappy lives in our primitive time.  When a creature resembling a dragon is found in Greece, they believe it is a sign that they will be able to go home again, and their leader starts to reassemble the group.  There’s a lot of set-up in this issue, and while we meet these new characters, we don’t really get to know them yet.  Apparently they can’t be killed, which I assume is a time travel thing, but none of those rules have been worked out yet.  This book has a bit of a Challengers of the Unknown vibe to it, with lots of strange gadgets, and the more upbeat writing does work well with Kolins’s loose pencils.  I’ll give this the first arc, but I can imagine that I’ll be sticking around for the length of this title, especially since I’ll need to fill the gap that Mind MGMT ending will create in my comics reading.

Powers #2 – I often find it amazing to see just how much better Brian Michael Bendis’s writing is on his own books compared to his Marvel stuff.  Maybe the fact that his creator-owned stuff is always months late indicates that he needs time to write well, but there it is (see Uncanny X-Men below).  I like how this latest iteration of the series is focusing more on Deena and Enki, although Walker still gets a fair amount of space.  I’d rather he and Michael Avon Oeming were doing The United States of Murder Inc. right now, but with the new Powers TV show out, I can understand why they are focusing on this title again.

Quantum and Woody Must Die #3 – I don’t think panda lovers will like this issue, but anyone who enjoys the humour in Duggan and Poesehn’s Deadpool would like this mini-series.  Steve Lieber’s art here is great.

Rumble #4 – This is a bizarre series, but I’m liking it.  John Arcudi does a good job of using a regular person as our point-of-view character for a story involving undying spirits from before mankind’s evolution, and James Harren has some pretty wild visuals.

Secret Avengers #14As annoying and kind of silly as this series has been, not to mention pretentious, it’s nice to see Ales Kot’s plans for this book coming together, as our various heroes work to stop Snapper’s plan.  I maintain that this must be the strangest comic Marvel has published this century.

The Sixth Gun #47 – Drake and Becky are getting ready to descend into the opening left by Griselda, who is about to remake the world.  As they prepare for their last battle, we check in on a number of characters we haven’t seen for a while, as the entire world prepares itself to end.  This is a very solid issue that rewards long-time readers.  I wish Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt would get this book back on a monthly schedule, as I’m very excited to see how everything is going to end.

Skullkickers #31 – The last story arc of this hilarious fantasy series launches this month, as the various alternate reality versions of our heroes get into a huge bar brawl with Thool and the drinkers it has under its control.  As usual, this is a very funny issue.

Suiciders #2 – Lee Bermejo’s new Vertigo series gets fleshed out a lot better this month, as we learn some of the Saint’s backstory, and begin to get a better understanding of how this world works.  The last page adds an unexpected element to the story, which is welcome.  Bermejo’s art looks very nice here.

They’re Not Like Us #4 – I’m not surprised to learn that things in The Voice’s mansion are not as peaceful as they appear, as we get to know these characters a little better, and see just how damaged they are by the requirement to kill their parents.  This series is very character-driven, and that works very well.

Thief of Thieves #27 – This series is going through a transition, as Celia begins to take over in the Redmond identity, but can’t put a crew together.  Agent Cohen has been fired by the FBI, and is now going to apply for a PI license, while Conrad is just drowning his sorrows.  I’m not convinced that this title shouldn’t have ended at the close of the last arc, but I’ll give Andy Diggle the chance to impress, because I’ve always liked his stuff before.

Uncanny X-Men #32So after 31 issues of Scott Summers’s ‘Mutant Revolution’, he chooses to pack it all in and give up.  For a couple of pages, different characters ask Scott what the point of his actions was, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Brian Michael Bendis wasn’t just transcribing a conversation he had with an editor or fan.  Scott’s change of heart, caused by one conversation with Eva last issue, rings false, as does the way in which the school clears out without even showing us the Original X-Men who supposedly still live there.  Havok shows up to help Scott, but he’s clearly no longer inverted, which makes me wonder what the point of Axis was.  When we last saw him, he was angry, evil, and all that, but here, he plays the straight man.  The conversation between Scott and Emma Frost works well, and shows that Bendis does get these characters on some levels, but the sheer number of inconsistencies in his writing, and  the utter lack of real development over the length of this title has me very happy that he is leaving the franchise before Secret Wars starts.  I don’t know where he’s headed at that point, but I’m increasingly unlikely to join him.

The Valiant #4 – This has been an excellent mini-series, and the last issue brings it to a very nice close.  Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt lay the groundwork for the future of the Valiant Universe, killing off one important character, introducing another, and leaving a third completely changed.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’m very much looking forward to Lemire’s upcoming Bloodshot Reborn series, and to Kindt’s Unity, where I imagine some of the repercussions of this story will be explored.  I’m hopeful that Paolo Rivera will be returning soon with a new project, as his art on this book has been phenomenal.

The Walking Dead #139 – Since Robert Kirkman jumped his story forward, there are a few key characters we haven’t seen yet, chief among them being Michonne.  She finally returns to this book, as does Ezekiel, when Rick heads out to the coast to pick up a load of fresh fish for Alexandria.  Kirkman makes this pretty much an all-character issue, as we learn a lot about Michonne, the nature of her relationship with Ezekiel, and her past.  This is not a stand-out issue in terms of action, but it is solid from the first page to the last.

The Wicked + The Divine #9This issue reveals the last of the Pantheon, and I was genuinely surprised to find out who it was.  Kieron Gillen is doing a great job of building this series, and the spotlight on Ananke, the den mother of the gods, goes a long way towards helping understand everything that’s going on with this story.  When he collaborates with Jamie McKelvie, it’s always magic.

Wytches #5 – Scott Snyder is not always my favourite writer, especially when he works at DC, but this series has been a killer from the beginning.  He posits a world where stories about witches are based on a strange group of creatures that live under the earth, exerting control over the people in neighbouring towns.  In this issue, Charlie goes looking for his daughter Sailor, who has been pledged to some wytches.  It’s a very exciting, very creepy issue, which is made stronger by a series of flashbacks looking at the father/daughter relationship.  Jock’s art is wonderful here, although I still hate the digital splatter that covers every page – I don’t see what it adds to the story, and it’s sometimes distracting.

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

Arkham Manor #6

Batman and Robin #40

Batman Eternal #51

Curb Stomp #2

Deadpool #44

Deathlok #6

Empty #2

Grindhouse: Drive In Bleed Out #3

Guardians 3000 #6

Inhuman #13

Miami Vice Remix #1

Nemo: River of Ghosts

Wolverines #12

Bargain Comics:

Batman Eternal #37&38It’s odd that Killer Croc is almost an ally to Batman in this series, but has been treated like an escaped psychopath in Gotham Academy, which is closely tied to this book’s continuity in other ways.  Anyway, these two issues are mostly about Catwoman consolidating her control over Gotham’s crime, while Jason Bard now wants to fix his mistakes.  I’d gotten very used to reading this book when I caught up on the first 36 issues, so it’s nice to be getting back into it.

Inhuman #11&12 – So Black Bolt is back, although he’s not exactly welcome by Medusa, who shows him the door.  Charles Soule is keeping a lot of balls in the air here, having to introduce new characters, while giving the classic ones some space to breathe, and working in the stupidity of Axis in a way that makes sense.  He does it remarkably well, although I’m still more interested in the new characters than the old.

Spider-Verse #2 – It seems strange to keep buying event tie-ins after the event is over, but this has a couple of decent stories in it, including an amusing Anansi story by Kathryn Immonen and David Lafuente, and a story about the Anarchic Spider-Man, who is Hobie Brown (The Prowler!) on his world.

Storm #7&8 – I don’t really like the way Greg Pak is writing Storm.  She doesn’t seem like the balanced and controlled Ororo I feel like I’ve known my whole life.  The story is about a weapons dealer who frames Storm for his own actions as revenge for her having cost him some income streams.  It’s not the right kind of story for her.

Strikeforce: Morituri #27-31 – With the Hordian invasion over, some powerful people in the Earth’s government make their play for power, which includes using a trio of black ops Morituri to kill off the survivors of the main team, and to make their coup successful.  James Hudnall’s writing improves over the course of these issues, although the quality of the book is not equal to the ideas that he’s trying to put into play.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Sculptor

by Scott McCloud

I knew going in that The Sculptor, the new graphic novel by Scott McCloud, was going to be an impressive piece of work, but I was still surprised by the depth of emotion that McCloud imbued his story with.

David Smith is a young artist who has always dreamed of being a successful, famous sculptor.  An early brush with art world fame fell apart because of the prickly nature of David’s personality, and since then, his life has been very difficult.  He can’t get proper gallery representation, is about to lose his apartment, and is down to his last friend in New York.  His family is all dead, and he has set himself a rigid set of rules to live by (no handouts or charity, ever, for example).

On his birthday, while quietly getting drunk by himself in a touristy diner, David is surprised to run into his great uncle Harry, who has been dead for many years.  As it turns out, Harry is Death, in a rare human guise.  He asks David what he’d be willing to trade for artistic success, and David quickly offers up his life.  They enter into a Faustian bargain where David is given unparalleled artistic ability for two hundred days, at which point he is going to die.  He readily agrees to this, because he is at a point where he values his artistic legacy more than his existence.

Of course, almost immediately, things begin to change for David.  He has the ability to mold rock or steel with his bare hands, allowing him complete freedom in creating shapes and figures.  That same day, though, he becomes the unwitting centre of a street theatre piece, and meets a girl who is going to change his life.

As the book progresses, a few things take place.  First, we begin to suspect that David’s artistic problems are more from a lack of having something to say with his art compared to ability; once he create anything he can imagine, he relies on creating representational pieces from his memory that only have meaning for him.  When he holds a show in his apartment, it is likened to a Polynesian gift shop.  Later, he is barred from returning to his apartment after his works crash through the floor, and homeless and in despair, he is taken in by the girl from the performance piece, Meg, who likes to make projects of helping people.

David pretty quickly falls for Meg, although it takes a lot longer for her to begin to reciprocate those feelings for him.  As the book progresses, David becomes more and more aware of his deadline looming, as he searches for artistic and emotional fulfillment.

McCloud plays with a of stuff in this hefty graphic novel.  The magical realism that allows the plot to take place doesn’t feel very forced, although at the end I felt things became a little too comic-book.  The base elements of this story – deals with the devil, finding love just before dying, the frustration of the creator who is unable to create – are not new, but McCloud mixes them very nicely.

His characters feel very real.  David has always been a difficult person, especially after losing his parents and sister at a young age, and having to rely on himself in a very hostile world.  His blind adherence to rules he’s set out for himself, and his penchant for speaking plainly to people in positions of influence have put him where he is, and he does not have the tools to get himself out of his situation on his own.  Meg is equally complex – endlessly generous, she suffers from depression and refuses to take medication for it.

McCloud literally wrote the book on graphic storytelling, so it’s no surprise that this book is beautifully laid out and illustrated.  He makes interesting use of panel borders, keeping a traditional page structure for most of the book, but bleeding to the edges of the page during scenes of great emotion or stress.

In all, this is a very powerful piece of work.  McCloud really twists the knife towards the end, and while I don’t love everything about the conclusion (which, again, gets a little too super-powers/comic bookish), I did feel a genuine ache for these characters upon closing the book.  Read this.