The Weekly Round-Up #278 With No Mercy #1, Gotham Academy: Endgame #1, UFOlogy #1, Cyclops #12, X-O Manowar #35 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

No Mercy #1 – I was excited to see that Alex De Campi and Carla Speed McNeil were collaborating on a new series at Image.  I like and respect De Campi’s work, and come close to revering McNeil’s.  Her series Finder is some of the best science-fiction I’ve ever read, and while much of the credit for that goes to her writing, her art is also a pleasure to read.  Anyway, No Mercy is about a group of teenagers who, in the summer before their first year at Princeton, fly down to Latin America to spend time building schools.  The kids don’t know each other, nor do they know their two adult chaperones, who have been sent by the university.  Their guide is a local nun, and she has arranged for them to travel to the remote region where they will be working by a long bus ride in a vehicle that has seen better days.  Most of the issue is spent introducing the kids, and getting a sense of some of their personalities.  One guy is a ‘freegan’, who doesn’t waste much time letting everyone know that he has traveled extensively but not used money in years.  Another is a cell-phone obsessed bubblehead, while another, the sole black character to be given much screen time, is very aware of the stereotyping others heap on him.  A brother and sister combo are given a fair amount of space – she is smart and possibly depressed, while his an abusive self-absorbed creep.  Anyway, De Campi gives us just the right amount of character development before hurtling the bus off a mountain road, killing a few characters, and leaving the rest stranded in a barren area populated by coyotes.  It is an excellent first issue, leaving the reader with a sense of investment in the characters and the danger they are in, while also slyly poking fun at the sense of American exceptionalism that accompanies these people once they leave the country (one character predicts that someone will call 911 and send helicopters, as she stares wistfully at her busted iPhone).  McNeil is amazing here, giving each character an individual look, and she is very well assisted by the colours of Jenn Manley Lee.  It’s rare to see McNeil’s work in colour, and Lee really brings out the warmth of her characterizations.  This is not a flashy book in terms of content or presentation (aside from the way in which De Campi incorporates social media into the art), but it is an incredibly solid read, and looks to be on track to becoming one of my favourite new series of 2015.

Quick Takes:

Amazing Spider-Man #17I was planning on dropping this title after Spider-Verse, as I usually find Dan Slott’s work here to be good, but not pull-file good, but I held off because I loved The Ghost when he was in Thunderbolts a couple years back.  He’s not written as well here as he was by Jeff Parker though, and the splitting of this title between a main story and a Black Cat-centric back-up makes this a less-enjoyable read.

Avengers #43 – Things just keep getting more and more dire, as Gladiator leads a massive armada to destroy the Earth, while the various Avengers factions use whatever means they have at their disposal, including all of the various story elements Jonathan Hickman set up ages ago, such as the rogue planet that has been sitting out of phase with the Earth.  I’ve really enjoyed Hickman’s run, and as we get closer to the end of it, I find it’s getting ever more exciting.  It’s nice to see Tony Stark back in action with this issue.

Black Science #13 – In this issue, Rick Remender shows us a little of what it was like growing up at the McKay house, gives us a nice moment between Pia and a version of her mother from another dimension, and then tosses a deadly virus into the mix.  It’s been clear for a while that you should never really try to predict where this book is going, as Remender loves throwing new elements into his series, almost at random.  That’s what makes this comic such an exciting read.

Cluster #3 – Ed Brisson’s science fiction mini-series just keeps getting better.  On this distant planet, Earth prisoners are given the option of joining the military in return for a reduced sentence, but now that Samara and her companions have been captured by some escaped prisoners, they (and we) learn how things are really working on this planet.  Brisson’s story is an interesting commentary on colonialism and human nature, as well as being a pretty exciting adventure story.  Yet again, Boom! shows that it is becoming the place to go for solid four-issue mini-series.

Cyclops #12The Black Vortex story keeps chugging along, and my biggest concern is that all the power-upgrades and new looks the Vortex is bringing to established characters get reversed at the end of the story, because these are some terrible character designs.  How many times is the Vortex (which is a space-goth mirror, basically) going to change hands anyway?  And is this the last issue of this series?  If so, it’s not a good way for the title to go out…

The Dying & The Dead #2 – Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim’s new series is falling behind schedule already, but when this issue is twenty-six pages for $3.50, I’m not going to complain at all.  Hickman has his aging colonel main character go around collecting people to help him in his mission.  These are his old war buddies, all of whom have had some experience in dealing with The City, the mystical realm beneath the surface of the Earth, who have hired the Colonel to assist them in retrieving an object.  This book feels like it’s been modeled on Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos (and, perhaps, The Expendables?), and I appreciate the time and length that Hickman went to in this issue to introduce and develop these different characters.  I did not expect their first act as a group to be what it was, and this book has me pretty intrigued.  I think Bodenheim is doing the work on his career.

Gotham Academy: Endgame #1 – I knew after getting the Batgirl Endgame one-shot that there would be no point in buying this comic, but the completist in me forced me to do it anyway.  I guess this is cute, with its collection of vaguely Joker-ish short stories being told by various characters while the school hunkers down in the gym, but I could have done without it.

Hellboy and the BPRD #5I liked the idea of this new series exploring Hellboy’s earliest missions, but was ultimately a little disappointed in how this series played out.  Mike Mignola and John Arcudi relied on too many of their standard tropes, with the end result being that the story doesn’t really stand out when compared to other Hellboy stories.  Alex Maleev’s art is nice, but doesn’t do anything to make this book feel distinct.

Hinterkind #17 – As we get closer and closer to the end of this series, writer Ian Edginton favors high-stakes and high-speed action.  Prosper and her group make their way to wake the dragon Tiamat, but the Skinlings are waiting for them.  In a lot of ways, this book does not resemble the comic that it was when it started, and that’s a little disappointing.  It took a while for this series to find its feet, but since then, it’s been a very engaging read.  I hate when titles like this rush towards their ending (but, at the same time, I’m glad that Vertigo gave the creators some time and space to finish their story instead of cancelling it outright).

Project Superpowers: Blackcross #2 – The second issue of Warren Ellis’s exploration of the Project Superpowers characters is better than the first, as a bunch of people in a small northwestern town keep coming across some very strange events.  A pharmacist (who is in the Witness Protection Program) is attacked by an incendiary IED while we learn that a supposed serial killer is a lot more than that.  My concern with this book is that Ellis is going to spend the entire run establishing these characters in a new form, and then the book is going to be abandoned.  I probably shouldn’t have let myself get roped into this in the first place…

The Punisher #17 – It’s weird that Sam Wilson has appeared more as Captain America in other books than he has his own at this point.  His appearance in this issue of Punisher makes a lot of sense, as Castle has been doing a lot to attract Big Gun attention.  I like this title more when the Howling Commandos are in it (mostly because I just pretend I’m just reading The Activity), but still think that Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads are doing good work here.

Southern Bastards #8With the end of the second arc of this series, Jason Aaron and Jason Latour finish showing us Coach Boss’s history, and bring us back to the present day, as they set up the next arc.  This series has been a pretty impressive look at the shady side of small-town Southern football.  We knew from the beginning that Boss is a tough character, and with this issue, any sympathy Aaron accrued for Boss through showing us his childhood is wiped away.  Aaron is very good at constructing complex characters (Lincoln Red Crow in Scalped being the highwater mark so far), and Boss is looking like he continues in that tradition.

UFOlogy #1 – James Tynion IV’s work on The Woods (see above) at Boom! has been terrific, so I thought I’d give this series, which he is co-writing with Noah J. Yuenkel, a try.  It’s set in a small town in Wisconsin, and centres around a pair of teenagers.  Becky is clearly very smart but doesn’t want to excel (even avoiding pursuing post-secondary education so she doesn’t have to leave town), while Malcolm has an exceptional interest in UFOs and study what lies beyond our world.  It seems that something happened to Malcolm a while ago, and that it involved alien visitors and his mother; now his father runs a radio broadcast devoted to the bizarre, and Malcolm tries to help him.  When a strange event happens, it is Becky who arrives first, and receives some sort of something (it’s really not clear) from the visitors, which is all Malcolm has ever wanted.  Most of the issue is given over to establishing these characters, and that makes the odder parts of the comic work better.  I like artist Matthew Fox’s art quite a bit, although I found letterer Colin Bell’s work a little distracting.  I think I’m going to stick with this title for its full six-issue run.

Uncanny Avengers #3 – This issue does not even check in with half the Uncanny squad as the Vision makes babies, Rogue holds up weights, and Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver meet their new sister.  I have no idea what Rick Remender is hoping to accomplish with this relaunch, as we are getting very close to this book either pausing for Secret Wars or ending, and the story progression from the first issue to now has been less than negligible.  I think I’m done with this title.  If setting this up was the entire point of Axis, then this is a good example of Marvel lacking foresight in structuring their series.  I’d stay away from this book.

The Woods #12A very big issue this month as James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas finish off the first year of the series.  Adrian makes his move on New London in a big bid for power, while the Duke’s army arrives at the high school to find that the representative of the students is prepared to negotiate instead of immediately agreeing to Incorporation.  This series has taken a strange premise (high school full of teenagers gets transported to a strange planet) and turned it into a complex and compelling series.

X-O Manowar #35 – Stakes are high in the Dead Hand story arc, as Robert Venditti has this gigantic automated armor hunting system take out Loam, the homeworld of the Vine.  I like how Aric has grown as a hero over the course of this series, and am curious to see where this is all going to lead.

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

Avengers Ultron Forever #1

Batman and Robin Annual #3

Batman Eternal #52

Batwoman Annual #2

EGOs #7

Guardians Team-Up #4

Rat God #3

Spider-Gwen #3

Superman Wonder Woman #17

Uncanny Inhumans #0

Uncanny Season 2 #1

War Stories #7

Wolf Moon #5

Wolverines #13

Bargain Comics:

All-New Invaders #10-15The deck really was stacked against this series from the very beginning, wasn’t it?  Not only did this book have to shoehorn in major character changes that occurred elsewhere (Captain America ageing and being replaced, Namor starting to work with the Cabal, Bucky heading to space), it also had to fit with the editorially-mandated push surrounding the Inhumans, and then get canceled before James Robinson could finish his various plotlines.  That means that we may never know what’s going on with the British faction of this team and their interest in Martians, or why an entire issue was given over to Tanalth and Makkari.  There was potential here, but I fear that Robinson is past the point of being the guy to pull off a title like this, and even if he still was, the market just doesn’t seem able to support it.  Maybe it’s time to dig out my complete run of the original Invaders series and just relive the glory days…

All-New X-Factor #19&20 – I didn’t love this title at first, but by the end of the run, Peter David had begun to pull it together into a cohesive book.  The last issue surprised me a little, as David chose to connect Serval Industries with the work he is doing in Spider-Man 2099.  What really made these last couple of issues stand out, though, is the way in which he works at humanizing Danger.  I think that this property needs a bit of a rest before being reintroduced; a relaunch right after Secret Wars would be a mistake.

Batman Eternal #39-43 – I remember 52, DC’s first long-form weekly series, with a lot of fondness, but I also remember it as a failed experiment.  It existed to fill in a gap between the end of an event comic (some Crisis or another) and the One Year Later jump that the entire DC line underwent.  It was supposed to connect the dots, and explain how so many characters had changed their costumes, their cities, or team affiliations.  Early OYL comics referenced a World War Three, often as if it had been a while ago, but 52 got into its late 40s before it showed that event.  I feel like Batman Eternal has ended up falling into the same trap.  An issue of Batman was used as a teaser for the series, and it ends up slotting between issues 42 and 43.  That’s way too long.  There’s definitely a sense of wheels spinning in these issues, but at the same time, I like seeing Harper Row becoming the character that we thought she might around the fall of 2012.

Deathlok #4&5 – I like the way Nathan Edmondson is writing this title, but the similarities and parallels to Bloodshot are a little too prevalent.  I kind of feel like Marvel rushed this title to try to cash in on any connection possible to the Deathlok we’ve seen on the Agents of SHIELD TV show, and that’s never a good reason to start a comic, especially when it involves a complete revamp of an old property that’s never really been all that successful.