The Weekly Round-Up #282 With B*t*h Planet #4, Past Aways #2, Skullkickers #32, Morning Glories #45, FCBD 2015 Titles & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Bitch Planet #4With each new issue of this series, I’m happier and happier that I stuck with it after not loving the first issue.  Things really click with this issue, as we watch Kamau begin to put together her team for Megaton, the sport that seems to fuel the future that Kelly Sue DeConnick has developed for this story.  The idea is that Kamau, a woman interred on Bitch Planet, a penitentiary for women, will be sacrificed as part of the game, but she has her own agenda, which we get a good sense of this month.  DeConnick is running a pretty sophisticated game with this series.  In addition to the clear feminist messages of the main story, she and artist Valentine DeLandro are having a lot of fun taking tropes from sources like exploitation movies, and twisting and re-appropriating them to advance her themes.  What trope gets featured this month?  The obligatory shower scene.  I’m getting a lot out of this book, and am appreciating the feminist essays in the letters page.

Quick Takes:

Alex + Ada #14 – I didn’t know that Alex + Ada, the excellent science fiction romance comic by Sarah Vaughn and Jonathan Luna, was going to end soon, but it turns out this is the penultimate issue.  Our two heroes are on the run, after Ada’s status as a sentient robot was revealed to the authorities, and while life on the run is scary, it also provides Ada with an opportunity to live more fully than she has since she was ‘woken up’.  Vaughn and Luna write this book with great sensitivity and heart, and the ending (which I don’t want to spoil), left me very upset.  I’m going to miss this title…

All-New Captain America #6It’s a shame that this series is going on hiatus for the duration of Secret Wars, as Rick Remender has laid the groundwork for some very interesting future stories, from the suggestion that Hydra has moles in SHIELD and the Avengers, to the possible changes in Redwing the Falcon.  I was wondering if the Hail Hydra mini-series that is launching as a Secret Wars tie-in should be considered a continuation of Remender’s story, seeing as it features the new Nomad, but nowhere in this issue are readers told to check that out, leaving me to assume that it isn’t, or that Marvel is just not very good at marketing.

Daredevil #15 – You’d think now that Matt Murdock has made his life such an open book, he’d be exempt from having his secrets revealed, but that’s exactly what happens as the Shroud reveals what little Murdock has held back from the public.  DD and the Owl’s daughter don’t agree with how to proceed, and an old antagonist of Matt’s reappears.  I know that we are getting close to the end of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s run, but I was hoping that Matt might stay in San Francisco when the new creative team is announced.  It’s not looking too likely though.  I wish that more creators would keep a new status quo in place for more than a year in the Big Two comics companies.

The Fuse #12The second story arc, ‘Gridlock’ ends with a lot of exposition, but it’s the kind that you always love in a police procedural.  We find out who was behind Kuang’s murder, and get walked through the case almost from the beginning, in a very cool scene set outside the station.  Most interestingly, the book ends with Klem and her supervisor discussing Dietrich, and the fact that neither of them trust him or his reasons for coming to the Fuse, but they haven’t decided if he’s a terrorist in disguise or if he’s there to spy on them.  This is a very good outer space cop comic, and I look forward to the next arc.

Hellbreak #2 – The first issue of this new Oni Press series was impressive, but mostly focused on giving the series an exciting debut.  This issue takes its time to introduce the main characters a little better, and to give a sense of how Project Kerberos works.  This series is an interesting counterpoint to Outcast, as both deal with demonic possession, but in this book, a group of adventurers venture into Hell to rescue the souls of the possessed, while priests work at exorcising the demons from those souls’ bodies.  It’s a worthy take on the Challengers of the Unknown/Stargate/BPRD model, and I think it can sustain a series for a while, especially with an artist like Brian Churilla, who excels at weird landscapes and creatures, drawing it.  In Cullen Bunn’s Hell, every level or locale is completely different, which also gives this book a lot of potential.  This is worth checking out!

Invincible #119 – As Mark and his family get used to life on an alien world they have to figure out how to navigate local food, get along with Mark’s brother’s girlfriend, and get Mark a job.  I like this new direction for this title, as Robert Kirkman has some fun with his characters instead of just putting them through the wringer.  This book is always a good read.

Moon Knight #14Cullen Bunn and Ron Ackins’s second issue works much as their first.  This book has returned to the done-in-one format of Warren Ellis’s run, as MK deals with a pack of dogs who have been attacking the rich in New York City.  These stories work nicely, although this is not on par with Ellis’s and Declan Shalvey’s issues.

Morning Glories #45 – The spotlight is on Jade this month, who is being kept prisoner by Jun and Guillaume, as Jun hopes to use her to resurrect his dead brother Hisao.  We readers already know that Jade has some experience in this area, but through the flashbacks in this issue, we learn a lot about what happened after Jade brought her mother back to life, and just how it led to Jade being so depressed and unhappy when the series began.  We also check in on the coming Towerball competition.  It’s very good to see this book coming out more regularly again.  Each issue is always a good read, but this is a series with so many moving pieces that its important to keep it coming on a regular basis, as there is way too much going on to keep track of otherwise.

The Multiversity #2 – I often get the feeling, when reading a Grant Morrison comic, that I’m not really smart enough to understand all that he’s getting at in his writing.  Then there are other times when I think that he uses his reputation for that very thing as a smokescreen, making it so that he doesn’t need to really have much to say in his books, especially his higher-profile ones.  That’s what’s going on with The Multiversity, I think.  This thick issue has a huge number of superheroes fighting a couple of threats in succession.  There are clever moments, but really, at the end of the day, I don’t feel that this series of one-shots served much point at all, which is disappointing.

New Avengers #33Jonathan Hickman ends this series with a lengthy discussion between Doom and Dr. Strange out somewhere near the end of the universe, as a lot of the secret physics and metaphysics behind the incursions, Rabum Alal, the Beyonders, and all of the stuff that has driven this series are explained.  More or less.  It’s a big issue, and the culmination of years of work from Hickman, but it is lacking heart a little.  This is the first of two Hickman books this week, setting up the Free Comic Book Day zero issue of Secret Wars.  I doubt that this is actually essential reading for that, but it does help to inform it.

Avengers #44 – And then in this issue, we get the heart missing from New Avengers, as the incursion story boils down to a big fight between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.  There’s a lot left out, such as the body count after the alien armada is wiped out, but there are some very interesting moments in this comic.  I particularly liked the conversation between T’Challa and Barack Obama.  This issue has me more excited about Secret Wars than I’ve been yet, although I kind of wonder why it’s boiled down to just being a fight between the 616 and the Ultimate Earths.  Also, if all other parallel worlds are mostly wiped out, how are so many different Earths going to make up Battleworld?  A lot is riding on how well Hickman pulls off Secret Wars – if the market realities of a gigantic tie-in driven event dilute his story, it will feel like the last 77 issues of Avengers (across the two titles), plus the six issues of Infinity, will have been for nothing.

Outcast by Kirkman & Azaceta #8 – It’s becoming increasingly clear that there are a lot more people possessed in Kyle’s town than either he or Reverend Anderson believed, and that is going to be a problem for them as we move through this series.  This issue doesn’t move things forward very much, but it does make clear the scope of Robert Kirkman’s story.  This is a solid issue in a very good series.

Past Aways #2 I enjoyed the first issue of Matt Kindt and Scott Kolins’s new series, so I thought I’d give the second issue a try.  This time around, like in Hellbreak above, more time is given to actually introducing the characters and their group dynamics.  We know that our heroes are from the future and have been stranded here in our time, unable to die, but also unable to get home.  Their former leader has reassembled them, but no one seems to happy about it.  And that’s before the giant robot showed up.  This series looks like it has a lot of promise, and I love the way Kindt is casually introducing new technology and story features through the use of visual footnotes.

Plunder #3 – I’ve been enjoying this horror series starring a group of Somali pirates, but it seems we’ve reached the point in Swifty Lang’s story where exposition about the alien creature that is stalking our main characters around an abandoned research vessel takes precedence.  Things get kind of trippy this month, and that causes too much focus to move away from the good character work that started this series off.  I am looking forward to seeing how this ends next month though.

Princess Leia #3 – Mark Waid and the Dodsons’ work on this book is enjoyable, but Waid is depending a little too much on the creature side of the Star Wars mythos in this issue, as Leia uses convenient rock-eating monsters to help her out of a jam.  I feel that this is the weakest of the Marvel Star Wars stuff so far (I haven’t read the series that ties into the Rebels cartoon).

Quantum And Woody Must Die #4This mini-series comes to a satisfying, if kind of slow, conclusion.  I guess Valiant is planning on keeping this going forward as a series of mini-series, and I’m fine with that, especially since I need time to get caught up on this series, this being my first foray into their world.  James Asmus’s script is amusing, but hits the right notes of seriousness when needed, and Steve Lieber’s art is always great.

Rumble #5 – The first arc of this series ends with a big confrontation between Rathraq and the assorted monsters who have his body.  This series, by John Arcudi and James Harren, is interesting and enjoyable, and worth checking out if you like either of these gentlemens’ work on BPRD, or are just down for a different kind of series featuring monsters and below-average working class heroes.

Secret Avengers #15 – Ales Kot’s conclusion to this deeply weird Avengers comic recaptures some of the qualities that made the series work well at its beginning.  Kot and artist Michael Walsh forgo showing us the culmination of the action of the last couple of issues, instead having characters complete after-action interviews, before devoting the rest of the comic to the relationships that were at the centre of this series, most notably the one between Maria Hill and MODOK.  I still feel that Kot was a little too obvious and precious in his literary references (although, the suggestion that the comic was written by Jorge Luis Borges was a cool, if deeply misguided, one), but I like that he gave this stuff a try.  I often find that Kot’s writing doesn’t quite live up to its promise yet, but I also think that in a couple of years, this guy is going to be a killer writer, and it’s fun watching him grow.

Skullkickers #32 – This series is closing out with a gigantic bar brawl that will take several issues to resolve.  That gives Jim Zub and Edwin Huang lots of opportunities to do their brand of slapstick-infused fantasy humour, but it also limits things a little too.  Lots of characters from earlier in the series are showing up, as the bar gets more and more full, and the mayhem increases exponentially.

They’re Not Like Us #5Eric Stephenson and Simon Gane are doing a wonderful job on this series.  When it began, I thought it was a little like a hipster version of the X-Men, but as we get deeper into things, that description is completely wrong.  The Voice, the leader of a group of powered outcasts, demands that the families of new arrivals be killed to protect the group’s anonymity.  Syd, the new arrival and our POV character, has bucked against this system, and so Maisie, the Voice’s second, fills her in on his sad history.  This issue ends rather surprisingly, and has me anticipating the next issue.  When this book began, I was worried it would go the way of Stephenson’s last series, Nowhere Men, and disappear, but now that five issues have come out on time, I feel a lot more confidence in this book continuing.

X-Men #26 – G. Willow Wilson finishes her arc and this series this month.  Her run has not been as impressive as I’d hoped, as she effectively just has the team wander around underground for way too long, before we finally learn that they are fighting Dark Krakoa, and take him down.  I’m really hoping that post-Secret Wars, the X-Men can become a vital property again, although many of the rumors I’ve heard suggest that stupidness awaits us.

Free Comic Book Day Stuff:

All-New, All-Different Avengers #1With so many rumours circulating that the Marvel Universe might be getting a soft reboot, or at the least, incorporate big changes after Secret Wars, comics fans all over are looking for clues as to what the future will hold for their favourite characters.  Fueling speculation and debate, Marvel publishes this FCBD book that features two short stories, one featuring a tentpole property, and the other a wannabe tentpole.  Let’s take a look at these stories:

  • The All-New, All-Different Avengers feature a lineup including Captain America (Sam Wilson), Thor (?), Vision (whose batteries are apparently wearing out), Iron Man (there’s enough here to tell us it’s Tony Stark in the armor), Nova (Sam Alexander), Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), and Spider-Man (Miles Morales, who I would guess is the one from the Ultimate universe).  The team splits into two when a magic giant green dragon flies around outside a bank, and the younger recruits head into the bank to stop the Radioactive Man.  This is a pretty typical story from Mark Waid and Mahmud Asrar that follows a lot of the ‘new trainee’ tropes, and it offers few clues as to what the future holds.  We know that the Avengers organization no longer has access to Tony Stark’s money, even though it’s obviously Stark on the team (since he talks about when the founding members named the team).  Stark doesn’t seem too ‘Superior’ anymore.  This lineup does not seem like a very believable one, in the wake of the gigantic Hickman-era Avengers machine approach, that had some sixty characters on the team.  I don’t know if Waid and Asrar are going to be with this title when it launches, but I’m not sure that I’m all that excited about it.
  • In the Uncanny Inhumans story, we learn that Johnny Storm is now hanging out with Medusa (and they appear to be intimate, which is a little creepy, since Johnny used to date her sister), and that the Terrigen cloud is now knocking around India, where it instantaneously transforms two men, one a famous actor, the other an engineer.  There’s not much to this story, as it barely even introduces these characters.  I know Marvel is desperate for the public to embrace the Inhumans, but I just don’t see it happening on the scale they want, and I like what Charles Soule has done with these characters.  I just don’t think they have enough going for them to put them on a par with the Avengers or the X-Men.

Captain Canuck #0How often has the upcoming Captain Canuck series been announced and hyped, yet I don’t think it’s ever actually been published.  The main story in this book lasts only a few pages before we are given an ad saying it will be continued in the new series; after that we are given another story that, honestly, I didn’t finish.  This surprised me, because it’s the first time I was bored by something Ed Brisson has written.  I’m a proud Canadian, but I’m not sure that this is a workable character anymore, if he ever was.

Comics Festival! 2015 – This anthology has been put together by the fine minds behind The Beguiling comic book store and the Toronto Comics Art Festival (which is happening this coming weekend – if you are in the area, come to the best comics show in Canada), and features a number of stories for young and old.  I particularly enjoyed Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang’s story about conning a racist gamer in an MMORPG, even though the extent of my knowledge of such things has come from watching The Guild.  Also, you have to love anything with work by Kate Beaton in it, right?

Divergence #1I don’t really follow what’s going on in the DC Universe.  I don’t read their largest titles, preferring their more esoteric books, although I do read most of the Bat-books when I can find the issues for a good price.  Going in to this comic, which tells three short stories featuring their main characters, I’m pretty lost and behind.  Considering that Free Comic Book Day exists to draw in new and lapsed readers, that makes me the right audience for this, right?  So let’s see how it all works:

  • In the Batman story, by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, we learn that Batman is dead after his fight with the Joker in the Endgame story.  We also learn that it’s been two months since he died, and the city is missing him a lot, and for that reason, a corporation called Powers International, which has apparently been around Gotham for three hundred years (which makes it the world’s first multinational) despite the fact that we’ve never heard of it before, had decided to build a new Batman.  This story gives away his identity, but I don’t want to spoil things, plus, it’s too stupid to acknowledge.  There are things I don’t understand here.  The last time Batman died, which wasn’t all that long ago, he was replaced by Dick Grayson.  Where are the rest of the Bat-Family right now?  Why are none of them filling in for Bruce?  Am I to believe that Dick wouldn’t abandon his secret mission in his own title to return and wear the cowl again?  This is dumb (especially since Bruce shows up in the Justice League story that teases its next storyline).
  • The Superman story is the best in the book, as we learn that Lois Lane has outed Clark’s identity, and since then, he’s been in hiding.  He’s lost a lot of his power, and now sits outside Vietnamese food trucks drinking coffee all day, at least until some powered-up criminal recognizes him and ruins his day.  I like the idea of the down-and-out Superman, and am impressed with new writer Gene Luen Yang, who I’ve long been a fan of.  John Romita Jr.’s art is pretty decent here too.  Were it not for the fact that Yang’s debut story will be part of an inter-Superman title crossover, I’d probably pick it up based on this.
  • The Justice League story reminds me of why I’ve given up on reading Geoff Johns comics.  Back on the night that Diana (Wonder Woman) was born, another Amazon also gave birth to a baby girl who it is suggested, is Darkseid’s baby.  An oracle predicts that this child will be responsible for a war between Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor, which will have negative consequences for the Justice League.  Of course the other Amazons present want to kill the baby (it wouldn’t be a Johns comic if something absolutely horrible weren’t threatened), but instead the mother kills them and takes off.  This story is pretty bleak, but probably has Justice League fans excited about the upcoming storyline.  I like seeing Jason Fabok draw Mister Miracle, but that is only for one panel.

Hip-Hop Family Tree Three-In-One Just like last year, Ed Piskor comes along and reminds me that I really do need to pick up his Hip-Hop Family Tree graphic novels, which tell the history of the music through short strips.  This one features the beginning of both Dr. Dre’s and LL Cool J’s careers, and as always, it’s pretty great.  There is also a couple of Dash Shaw’s Cosplayers stories in here, and they are also pretty good, especially the one about the power of Jack Kirby’s 2001 comic to change the world.  For the second year running, Fantagraphics puts out the best FCBD gem.

Mercury Heat Debut FCBD – I was just looking at the solicitation for this new Avatar series in Previews the other day, trying to decide if I wanted to start ordering it or not.  It’s written by Kieron Gillen, which is a big draw for me, but I’m still trade- or sale-waiting Über, and am generally not all that inclined to preorder Avatar books.  Anyway, the backmatter in this preview comic has me rethinking that, as it’s clear that Gillen has put a lot of thought and planning into this story about a police on Mercury.  We learn that Luiza has a personality type that makes her unsuitable for that kind of work on Earth (as determined by the AI that is used universally to procure people with day labor, the only kind available in Gillen’s world), and that’s why she’s had to go to Mercury.  We get a good sense of the pervasiveness of body modification in this future, and get a general idea of what to expect from this comic, and it does all seem pretty good.  I am definitely interested in this upcoming series.

Savage Dragon Legacy #1 – It’s kind of strange, when Image has had such a great few years of supplying comics readers with endless diversity of quality, genre, and perspective, that their choice for FCBD would be a Savage Dragon story.  I’m not saying that to knock Erik Larsen, but more out of mystification at what I see as a lost opportunity.  Imagine a book that had a Saga or Walking Dead story, which then previewed any number of current or upcoming Image books, so that new readers drawn in by those popular properties, might find something new they’d like.  The story itself here is decent.  Malcolm Dragon is the son of the Dragon I remember from the earliest days of Image, and now he’s on the police force like his father before him.  There is some truly confusing exposition about how Malcolm grew up on another Earth, and how his father lost his persona, becoming an alien Emperor and trying to take over things (which reminds me of the beginning of Invincible).  I enjoyed this issue, and could almost see myself reading more of Malcolm’s adventures, so I guess in that sense, this was a successful choice.

Secret Wars #0This book serves as a nice introduction to the upcoming event, as Valeria Richards breaks down the situation for the Future Foundation, who are tasked with putting together a ship to help evacuate some people if it looks like the 616 is going to be destroyed.  There’s nothing new here for anyone who has been reading Jonathan Hickman’s saga, but it’s a nice recap for readers who are going to be interested in reading Secret Wars who may not know what’s going on.  The story is paired with the beginning of a cross-over between Attack on Titan, a Japanese Manga, and the Avengers.  The story doesn’t go very far, and I don’t know who or what the Titans are about, beyond smashing stuff.  The story ends with the Guardians of the Galaxy showing up to help out, but I have no idea where to go if I cared about this story and wanted to read more of it.  I don’t understand why this was included here.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles FCBD 2015 – I’ve never been a TMNT fan, so this story, which effectively serves as a primer on the characters and their world was helpful in catching me up to where the series is today, but it didn’t do enough to make me want to come back for more.  Mateus Santolouco’s art is pretty nice though.

Valiant 25th Anniversary Special – There’s a short story in here that works as a nice prelude to Bloodshot Reborn, which has already started.  There’s another story that helps set up the Dead Hand arc, which has been running in X-O Manowar for a couple of months.  In other words, Valiant kind of missed their mark a bit this year, but both stories are decent.

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

Batman #40

Brides of Helheim #5

Burning Fields #4

Crossed Badlands #76

Fantastic Four #645

Inhuman #14

New Avengers: Ultron Forever #1

Nova #30

Realist OGN

SHIELD #5

Silk #3

Silver Surfer #11

Superior Iron Man #8

Vertigo Quarterly SFX #1

War Stories #8

Wolverines #16

Bargain Comics:

Arkham Manor #1-3While the general premise, that Wayne Manor becomes the new home of Arkham Asylum following the destruction of that Gotham landmark in Batman Eternal, is pretty ridiculous, the comic itself is pretty good.  Batman adopts a disguise that allows him entry as a patient, to better investigate the murder of some inmates.  Gerry Duggan does a good job with Batman, while artist Shawn Crystal’s art is very nice.

Five Weapons #1-10 – Jimmie Robinson’s Five Weapons is an interesting series.  It’s a bit of a weird mash-up of Morning Glories and Deadly Class (although, maybe it came out first?) set at a school that trains assassins.  The kids are split into different clubs based on which weapon they’ve chosen (although really, the Exotic Weapons Club makes use of many weapons).  Enrique is sent to the school in the guise of the son of a famous assassin family (he’s actually the son of their servants, and caste distinctions like this matter a lot in this world).  He is a first-rate schemer, and the plot becomes kind of convoluted, as he has to defeat the leader of each club without actually using a weapon himself, because of a vow he made to his father.  In the second arc, the arrival of the person Enrique impersonated sets off a whole new string of problems, as does the discovery of a sixth weapon, Psionics.  This is a very engaging series, with characters that are instantly likeable.  Robinson’s art is very nice, and he makes interesting use of long, narrow horizontal panels through much of the series.  It’s a shame that the series ended before the third arc was published, as I would have liked to see where Robinson’s master plan would have taken this comic.

Legends of the Dark Knight 100-Page Super Spectacular #2 – There are three stories in this book, although the last one is itself divided into three smaller stories.  There’s always a time and place for a good Batman story, and all of these fit the bill, with tales of young Bruce Wayne getting involved with criminal matters in Thailand, the Riddler making use of Batman for protection, and the lingering effects of a sexual predator on Wayne’s life.  One story in this comic is drawn by Wes Craig, and another by Dennis Calero, so that makes this kind of special.

Semper Fi’ #3This really was a gem of a series.  It followed a family with a military tradition, specific to the Marines, through a number of wars.  The main story, drawn by Andy Kubert and inked by John Severin (!!!) is set in the First World War, which makes it just about the perfect war story for me.

Thunderbolts #25-26 – Does anyone know the circumstances around Charles Soule’s departure from Thunderbolts?  Reading his last two issues, I kind of feel like it must have been abrupt, as he basically retcons his last storyline out of existence.  Soule’s a great writer, but this doesn’t click with me.

War Story: Screaming Eagles – In this excellent one-shot from 2002, Garth Ennis and Dave Gibbons take us along on a trip with a foursome of soldiers sent to secure a German castle for the use of a General in the last days of the Second World War in Europe.  The Sergeant commanding the men has had enough with war, and especially with the Army, so when they find the place well-stocked with booze, and populated with willing local women, they decide to take a few days R&R.  This is an amusing and effecting story that really takes into consideration the plight of the average grunt.  Great stuff.

The Week in Manga:

21st Century Boys Vol. 2I started reading Naoki Urasawa’s manga series 20th Century Boys (this volume is the second of the two-part conclusion that came after that 24 volume long series) since July of 2012, and over that stretch of time, I’ve become pretty enamored of many of its main characters.  The conclusion in this book, which addresses the Friend’s last plan to destroy the world from beyond the grave, revisits many important characters, and is one of the most satisfying conclusions I’ve read in long-form comics.  Urasawa’s plot, which deals with death cults, apocalyptic prophecies, virtual reality, the potential for a resurgence of the popularity of bowling, and most importantly, the endless connection between childhood friends and the primacy of childhood in one’s life, is long, complex, and sometimes frustrating, but ultimately, pretty beautiful.  Kenji, Kanna, and many of the other characters, are truly memorable, and now that I’ve finally finished this thing, I’m tempted to go right back to the beginning and start over again.  This is easily the best manga series I’ve ever read.

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