The Weekly Round-Up #281 With Invisible Republic #2, Kaptara #1, Ninjak #2, Divinity #3, Ivar Timewalker #4, Star Wars #4, All-New X-Men #40 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Invisible Republic #2 – Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko have done it again with this excellent science fiction thriller.  The story is told in two streams, taking place about forty years apart.  In the ‘present’, a disgraced reporter is trying to dig up the true history of a failed colony planet, and his investigations have attracted some unwanted attention.  In the past, told through the journal that the reporter discovered, we follow a young woman and her cousin as they try to escape the planet after murdering some soldiers.  We know that the cousin ends up becoming the dictator who takes over the planet, but at this stage, it’s hard to see how that could happen.  Bechko and Hardman are giving us a very gritty look at some of the (imagined) realities of interstellar colonization, and everything about this comic feels very deeply-considered and planned.  Hardman’s art is perfect for a world this difficult.

Quick Takes:

All-New X-Men #40 – There has been a lot of press this week about the fact that in this issue Brian Michael Bendis reveals that one of the original X-Men is gay.  I’ve already seen one American politician point to this as an example of a Hollywood-driven plot to blah blah blah, and I’ve seen comics fans stress how this can possibly make any story sense, since the adult version of this same character is straight.  My primary concern with this is that it was done simply to create a little drama and press, since Bendis has only a few issues left on this title, and there doesn’t seem to be any need to have this happen.  In fact, most of this issue is given over to the romance comic aspect of things, as in addition to Jean outing that character (I’m avoiding spoilers here), we have the newly-transformed Angel professing his love for X-23, as a lot of space gets taken up.  We do get a glimpse of who ‘The Utopians’ are – a group of mutants that appear to be living on the X-Mens’ former home.  I can easily recognize Karma, Masque, and Random, and figure that Boom-Boom might be another, and possibly Madison Jeffries, but Mahmud Asrar’s art makes it a little hard to be sure who I’m looking at (is the last one Doug Ramsay?).  As usual, with Bendis’s usual lack of respect for continuity, there’s no telling why these people would be a) there; b) together; and c) from the current timeline.  I have a feeling that much of what Bendis has done with this book is going to be retconned away during or after Secret Wars, and so he’s just doing whatever he feels like for the end of his run.  It’s kind of annoying.

Amazing X-Men #19I think this is the last issue of this series, and I’m not sure that it ends all that well.  Chris Yost has done some nice character work in this story arc, and has really captured the easy camaraderie among the X-Men after years of working together, but doesn’t really come to a satisfying conclusion to the Juggernaut problem.  I’d be happy to see Yost writing the X-Men again after Secret Wars ends, but I’d prefer to see smaller arcs, since he tends towards the decompressed a little too often.

Chew #48 – I think that Tony Chu is in danger of being supplanted by his daughter Olive as the main character of this book, as she and Savoy head off to fight the Collector’s forces, including a group of Jell-O-themed assassins.  This book is always brilliant and funny in equal measures, and that’s before Tony’s boss becomes a cyborg centaur (a cytaur?).

Deadly Class #12 – Many of Rick Remender’s comics launch with very exciting first issues, but often struggle to regain that heady sense of possibility after the series is established and has been running for a while.  That’s not the case here, as this issue of Deadly Class is easily the most exciting and frenetic one to date.  After successfully attacking the fortified home of a group of white trash hillbillies that held some leverage over Marcus, Maria, and their friends, they come face to face with the cartel that killed Maria’s family and raised her.  They know that she was responsible for the death of their son, and so our heroes have to do their best to get away from some highly trained psychotic killers.  This is a chase issue, which travels across San Francisco, while Marcus and Maria also work to repair their relationship in the light of Marcus’s betrayal.  This is a very powerful, very exciting issue, that also hits all the right emotional notes.  Remender and artist Wes Craig are doing incredible work here.

Divinity #3 – This is a strange series, but also a very impressive one.  Matt Kindt and Trevor Hairsine are telling a story about a man, a Soviet cosmonaut, who went to the edge of the universe, and returned changed.  It’s still not clear what he wants, but it doesn’t take him long this issue to sideline the Unity team, as we learn a little more about his travels through flashbacks.  I like that Valiant is so up to trying new things like this these days, and I look forward to seeing how this story will resolve itself.

Effigy #4I continue to be very impressed with this series by Tim Seeley and Marley Zarcone, as it delves a little deeper into the meta-fictional possibilities of a series about a former sci-fi actress who is studying to become a cop, but is pulled into a sprawling case about her former TV show.  In this issue, Chondra continues to investigate, while her partner is attacked by a suspect in the murder, and we start to get a few more clues as to how the Scientology-like aspect of this story might be connected to Star Cops.  I feel like I may have missed a clue or two somewhere in the first few issues, and look forward to seeing where Seeley takes this.  Zarcone is excellent on this book.

Frankenstein Underground #2 – Have you ever felt the desire to see the Frankenstein monster fight dinosaurs under the Earth?  Well, Mike Mignola’s got your back.  There’s not a whole lot of depth to this story (aside from distance below sea level), but the atmosphere Mignola and Ben Stenbeck create here is pretty amazing.  I don’t see Frankenstein becoming a long-lasting property like some of the others in the Mignolaverse, but this is a cool series.

Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: The Black Vortex Omega #1 – I didn’t love this event cross-over very much, but there are a number of things about the ending that I really don’t like.  To begin with, this entire story could have easily fit into six comics, seeing as there wasn’t really much of a plotline to it; for most issues, people just kept fighting over the same item, the Black Vortex.  The whole Vortex thing gets resolved in almost no time in this issue, and then we are left with a bunch of pages about how some characters reject the new status quo the Vortex provided, although I’m more annoyed that some characters kept the terrible new designs this series gave them.  Of the ones who gave up their abilities, they were still made to go through some changes.  I can’t tell if Beast is supposed to look how he did before he changed, as ever since Brian Michael Bendis forced his most recent transformation on him, no two artists have drawn him the same way.  I doubt very much that either Groot or Gamora are going to be keeping their new styles, although there’s a very good chance that Secret Wars is going to retcon all of this stuff, and that’s why Sam Humphries was able to blow up Hala and destroy the Kree Empire.  In the final analysis, there is a sense that very little of this is going to be allowed to stand in a few months, aside from (perhaps) the big decision that Peter Quill and Kitty Pryde make at the end of this issue (which I want to complain about a great deal, but will instead just pretend didn’t happen).

Ivar, Timewalker #4Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry give us an entire issue of Neela trying to use her new time travelling technology to save her father’s life.  We’ve had the concept of chronal protection introduced to us earlier in the series, meaning that we’ve learned that the universe prevents time travellers from making lasting changes to the timeline, but Neela needs to test the proposition to really understand it.  Van Lente’s Valiant work has always been very impressive, and I find that I’m enjoying this series as much as I did Archer & Armstrong, even though they are very different series.  Great stuff here.

Kaptara #1 – When Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod get together to work on a book, you can expect a certain level of tongue-in-cheek humour.  I didn’t know what else to expect from this book, which is being promoted as ‘like Saga, only gayer’.  I’m not sure that that sentence really applies, at least at this point.  Sure, the main character is gay, but this book doesn’t appear to have the heart or sweeping plot.  Keith is an environmental scientist who has used a family connection to get himself assigned on a mission to Mars that goes off course when his team’s vessel is sucked through a wormhole like thing to a planet full of dangerous creatures and scientifically-advanced people who dress like they belong in a Edgar Rice Burroughs novel.  The tone is light and amusing, but most of the issue is spent showing how poorly Keith gets along with his shipmates, two of whom don’t live through the comic.  I am interested in this story, and trust both of these creators enough to stay with this book through at least the first story arc.  I imagine that the next issue will do a lot more to set up the plot, aside from letting us know that a bad guy from this world is on his way to attack Earth, and that Keith doesn’t much care.

Lazarus #16 – This was a very different issue of Lazarus, as Greg Rucka and Michael Lark (with some other helpers) take us back to the character of Sister Bernard, who in addition to her ministry and medical work, is also something of a secret agent for Rome.  When war breaks out between the Carlyle family and Hock, she is sent to Cuba to retrieve a genetically engineered flu virus that Hock may release into the general population.  The story is told with a number of documentary-style pages, showing us pages from Bernard’s journal, or a variety of web documents or video surveillance records.  It works to cram what would probably have been a two-issue comics story into one book, and makes the story much denser than we’re used to these days.  I remember liking Bernard when we met her during the Lift story arc, but at the same time, I feel anxious to see what’s going on during the war.

The Life After #9The focus for this issue is on Essie, the child warrior of the land between Heaven and Hell.  Some of her friends (along with our main characters) have been taken to Hell, and so Essie forces the Hellbeast assassin from a few issues back to take her there, although that effectively frees the creature from Meto’s control.  It’s up to that old Aztec rabbit god to save the day.  It looks like war is coming to the afterlife, as Joshua Hale Fialkov and Gabo’s series keeps it pretty weird, yet wonderful.

Manifest Destiny #14 – I guess it’s no real surprise that a bunch of soldiers sent on a dangerous mission through the centre of an unknown country populated by strange creatures and diseases would eventually turn to mutiny.  That’s just one of the problems that Lewis and Clark are facing in this issue, as they capture a bird that acts a bit like a bear, and try to figure out what’s going on with Sacagawea’s illness.  This is a very good series that never slows down.

Mind MGMT #32 – This issue focuses on Perrier and Duncan as they try to recruit some former Mind MGMT agents to help Meru in her fight against the Eraser.  This is one of the last issues of this series, and it’s a little odd that it gives so much space to two supporting characters (especially since they don’t do all that well in their mission), but it does give Perrier a chance to shine a little more.  I’ve loved Matt Kindt’s work on this series since it began, and I’ve yet to be disappointed with an issue.

Mister X: Razed #3 – It’s always nice to visit Radiant City, as Mister X continues to help in the hunt for a skyscraper that has disappeared, and as Rosetta Stone solves the case of zombies in Electro City.  Dean Motter’s work is only improving, after spending so many years working on these characters.

Ninjak #2I’m pretty impressed with the way Matt Kindt has been building up Ninjak’s character in this series.  He continues to work at infiltrating Weaponeer, a secretive black market weapons organization, mostly through putting his impressive planning skills to good use.  In that way, this book reminds me a little of Christopher Priest’s classic Black Panther run, in the way in which T’Challa was constantly a few pages ahead of all other characters and the reader.  Colin works in much the same way.  The back-up story, which shows his earliest days as a spy, continues to be engaging and illuminating.  This is another winner from Valiant, the company that can do no wrong these days.

Satellite Sam #13 – We get a lot of answers this month, as we finally learn how Carlyle White died, and get the big picture for much of what’s been going on in this series from the beginning.  Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin are building towards their big ending, which is a little unfortunate, as I’ve really enjoyed this book about very terrible people.

Star Wars #4 – I’m a little surprised at how intertwined this comic is with Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader title, overlapping in a couple of places this month.  Were I only reading this title, I’m not sure I’d fully understand everything that was going on.  As it stands, I’m not sure that it’s a good idea for Luke Skywalker to keep crossing paths with Darth Vader or with Boba Fett in this series; it lessens the impact of some of the more powerful scenes in The Empire Strikes Back, and also limits just how far Jason Aaron can take things in this series.  Still, this is a well-written issue, with a new bounty hunter looking for Han Solo, Vader hanging out with Jabba the Hutt, and the Alliance trying to figure out its next steps.  John Cassaday’s art is terrific, as expected, but I’m still surprised by how well he’s captured the likenesses of the actors who made up the core cast of the original movie.

Suiciders #3The first two issues of this series have been good, but it’s with this one that the series is really beginning to come together.  Lee Bermejo is exploring fame in a future that is a little more celebrity-obsessed than our present, as he adds a paparazzi photographer with some pretty important secrets about the Saint into the mix.  This is a very attractive book, with a story that is becoming much more interesting.

Velvet #10 – Ed Brubaker takes us (and Velvet Templeton) for a swerve or two this issue, as Lake outplays Templeton, putting her in a lot of danger.  This issue finishes off the second arc, and means that this is a great time for new readers looking for an intelligent espionage story set in the 70s to pick up the first two trades (the second will be out soon).  Brubaker’s writing has been very sharp here (like it ever isn’t), and Steve Epting is the perfect artist for this series.  This issue ends with a nice surprise, that has me looking forward to the next issue very much.

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

Avengers World #20

Black Widow #17

Convergence: Hawkman #1

Convergence: Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #1

Empty #3

Grindhouse Drive In, Bleed Out #4

Guardians of the Galaxy #26

Wolverines #15

Bargain Comics:

C.O.W.L. #1-5The acronym COWL stands for Chicago Organized Workers League, a union of super-powered operatives who make up a secondary police force in Chicago in the 1960s.  The group is renegotiating their contract with the city at a time when their further existence does not seem all that necessary, especially since they have done their job so well that most of their powered opponents are locked up or dead.  Within the organization, we see a variety of forms of corruption, from the self-serving immorality of their leader to the casual violence of some of their members.  This series should work a lot better than it does.  Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel, the co-writers, have a lot of great ideas, but they don’t take the time to flesh them out fully.  Artist Rod Reis, whose art I really like, is the main problem however.  First of all, his mid-career Bill Sienkiewicz style art better suits a comic set in the 80s than the 60s.  The atmosphere is all wrong.  Furthermore, I found it confusing and hard to distinguish which character was which way too often.  There’s a ton of potential in this series, but it’s not being actualized.

Curb Stomp #2 – The first issue of this Boom! series interested me, but didn’t quite click, and with this second issue, I think I can conclude that this book has heart, but not enough to it to keep my interests.  I like the general concept, that gangwars in the outer boroughs of a big metropolis lead to problems for a group of female gangsters who protect their territory, but it’s just not working.  I don’t think I’ll bother finishing this series.

Deathlok #6So now Deathlok is aware of the fact that he’s being used as a puppet by some evil corporation, and is interacting directly with his handler.  That makes this book a little more interesting, but there are still too many things about this concept – like why you need a multi-billion dollar bionic man to hike through the woods looking for a crashed airplane – that don’t add up for me to completely buy into this comic.  I also am still having a hard time figuring out just why Marvel felt the need to use this property this way.

Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight #3&4 – These two issues tell the Prison Ship Antares story, wherein Alex De Campi has a bunch of women prisoners travelling out of the solar system under the control of a psychotic warden, until they are able to fight back against her.  The Grindhouse stories are nice and compact, and make for great, exploitative reads.  I’m not sure how far into production Kelly Sue DeConnick was with her Bitch Planet series when this came out, but there are definite similarities.

Red Sonja and Cub #1 – I wasn’t sure if writer Jim Zub(kavich) was going to write this story about Sonja helping a young girl who has members of two clans chasing her through the forest in the light style he’s used in Skullkickers, or if it was going to be more serious.  He opted for a serious homage to the classic manga series, but it works very well.

Spider-Gwen #1&2I might end up annoying some people here, but I don’t really get it.  I liked Gwen as a supporting character in Spider-Verse, and I am all for new titles with new characters, but reading these two issues (without the benefit of having read the Edge of Spider-Verse comic where Gwen debuted), I didn’t come away with any sort of sense of the character, nor many good reasons to return.  Gwen is back in her home universe, hallucinating that she is talking to Peter Porker, and losing in fights with the Vulture.  This felt a little too much like the early days of the Ultimate Universe, where everyone was in a big rush to premiere slightly different versions of established characters, and so in short order we meet Matt Murdock, Frank Castle, the Kingpin, and the Vulture.  We don’t get near enough of Gwen and her relationships with either her father, Captain Stacy, or with her band, the Mary Janes.  Robbi Rodriguez’s art is pretty exciting and cool, but Jason Latour’s writing feels forced and rushed (much as his run on Wolverine and the X-Men did).  I’m glad that so many people love this comic; I just don’t understand why.  Can someone explain it?

War Stories: Nightingale – I didn’t pick up Garth Ennis’s War Stories when they came out in the early 00’s at Vertigo, mostly because they cost $8.25 here in Canada, and that was ridiculous.  I happily found a couple in a fifty cent bin a while back, and was very happy to try to fill in some gaps.  Nightingale is beautifully illustrated by David Lloyd, and it tells the story of a British Navy vessel that spent the Second World War on escort duties, protecting merchant ships from U-Boats or other attacks.  A mission in the Arctic Sea goes badly thanks to poor orders from London, yet the shame of that hangs over the crew until they are given the chance to redeem themselves in the Mediterranean a year later.  Nobody writes war stories like Garth Ennis, but the big difference between his Vertigo war books compared to his Dynamite and Avatar ones is the caliber of artist he is paired with.  This book is gorgeous and affecting.