The Weekly Round-Up #283 With Dead Drop #1, No Mercy #2, Descender #3, Cluster #4, Ant-Man #5 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

No Mercy #2I really enjoyed the first issue of No Mercy, which is a new series about a group of American almost-college students who have gone to Latin America to build schools or something, but have had their bus crash, stranding them in the middle of nowhere.  This issue covers a short stretch of their first night, as they tend to the injured, and try to keep themselves together.  Drawn by the smell of blood and dead bodies, coyotes attack the group, and these scenes are pretty chilling.  As used as we are to seeing hordes of zombies attack people, there’s something much creepier about these coyotes, and there are a couple of images in this book that are going to be tough to shake.  Alex De Campi and Carla Speed McNeil are off to a great start with this series, and De Campi’s travel stories in the text pages are wonderful.

Quick Takes:

Afterlife With Archie #8 – It’s always nice to get a new issue of this perpetually late comic, but I was a little surprised by the change in tone of this issue.  It’s been a month since we last saw the survivors of a zombie attack on Riverdale, and now they’ve set up in a posh hotel in Vermont.  It’s Christmas Eve, and Archie is engaging in some deep conversation with Jughead’s ghost, and where at first I assumed that this conversation was taking place in his head, it soon becomes clear that the ghosts of the dead are following, if not haunting, their friends.  This issue digs into the killing of one twin by another, and the possibility that Riverdale’s founding mothers made a deal with witches to protect the children of the town in perpetuity.  I’m never upset to read a nice quiet issue of a series that has been pretty quick-moving and bloody, but given the length between issues, the next one best have a little more going on in it.

Ant-Man #5While I’ve been enjoying Ant-Man since its beginning, the way Nick Spencer has been writing Scott Lang’s character has bothered me, and this issue, which feels like a last (the only thing solicited after this is an Annual coming in two months), really cements that.  Leaving aside the portrayal of Lang as a bumbler (Hawkeye made that cool), I don’t like the way his daughter has had her superhero past retconned away and not even discussed.  There was a lot of potential in this series, but I don’t think it was given time to grow, nor were all of the editorial decisions the right ones.

Baltimore: The Cult of the Red King #1 – I feel like I blinked and missed seeing this series gain a ton of supporting characters (probably in the Baltimore novels I’ve never read).  Anyway, Lord Baltimore is on his way to St. Petersburg, when the Baltic Sea freezes all around his vessel.  In the Mediterranean, his friends, searching for the origins of the Red King’s cult, come across other problems.  This issue mostly just sets up the story (this is a rare five-issue mini-series, where the rest are mostly two or three-issues long), and does a great job of creating an atmosphere full of foreboding.  It’s been a while since I’ve been excited about a Baltimore comic, but I do find them pretty enjoyable.

Cluster #4 – I’ve gotten kind of used to Boom! series lasting only four issues, and so expected this to wrap up here.  That’s not the case, as Samara runs out of time (she’s been implanted with a device that will kill her if she leaves the prison she’s been assigned to on an alien world for more than twenty-four hours) while trying to get to a base for rebels who are fighting against the corporation that is destroying all indigenous life on a distant planet.  This series, by Ed Brisson and Damien Couceiro, has been an engaging read, although I’m not sure how long Brisson expects it to run for.  I don’t think there’s enough here to keep this going for multiple arcs, but I am enjoying seeing Samara atone for her previous sins, and become a richer character with each new issue.

Dead Drop #1I really like the feel of the first issue of this new Valiant mini-series.  A sophisticated terrorist group have gotten their hands on a sample of a very virulent alien virus that could wipe out all life in Earth, and X-O Manowar has been sent to New York City to take the sample from their courier (who has knowledge of the Vine and is a parkour expert).  The problem is that no one’s had time to let the NYPD know he’s coming, and so he has a lot of obstacles in his way.  Ales Kot keeps the story moving, and Adam Gorham draws this in an exciting and kinetic way.  I like the way this series is going to use different members of Valiant’s growing stable of characters.

Descender #3 – Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen’s new series is really very beautiful.  Doctor Quon makes it to the mining colony where Tim-21 has been badly damaged, and works to rescue the little robot who may hold the secret to figuring out what happened ten years before when humanity was attacked by gigantic robots.  While this is happening, Tim’s consciousness is somewhere else, raising the old question of whether or not robots can dream.  This book has me intrigued.

Elephantmen #64 – Now here’s an issue I’ve been waiting a long time for: a nice quiet story that looks at Hip’s relationship with Miki.  Hip is under house arrest after the fiasco that was Sahara’s wedding, and Miki comes to visit.  They talk about their relationship and their love for one another, as well as the challenges they face, mostly because Hip Flask is a gigantic Elephantman, but there’s a sadness in Hip that is not explained until the last page, which really just opens up more questions.  A very good issue, featuring amazing artwork by Carlos Pedro, a Spanish artist making his ‘American’ debut (because when this book is written and owned by an Englishman, is it really American?).  I like the way Richard Starkings incorporates the Elephantman film into this story; I’m also impressed that he waited this many years before trying this, you would think it’s an obvious conceit to use near the beginning of the series.

Hinterkind #18This marks the end of yet another underperforming Vertigo series, and it’s too bad, because this series had a lot of promise.  It’s pretty clear that this last arc was condensed and rushed to meet an end point, with the following arc squeezed into the last two pages.  This series started off slowly, but for a while there, really worked well.  It’s unfortunate that a series like this can barely limp past the year and a half mark without some serious life-support, but I guess that’s the nature of the industry these days.  I think this would be worth looking into when the inevitable omnibus is released.

Jupiter’s Circle #2 – Mark Millar and Wilfredo Torres are filling in some of the backstory of the various heroes featured in his Jupter’s Legacy series.  This issue is set in the 50s and deals with J. Edgar Hoover’s blackmailing of one hero, who has been hiding his homosexual lifestyle.  More than anything else, this issue is a strong reminder of just how difficult life was for gay people not all that long ago, and how far society has come in a short time.  I guess this series will be made up of shorter arcs, because after reading this, I thought maybe the series was finished; no other plotlines have been started yet.  Millar is always good at more focused stories, so I like this.

Punisher #18 – Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads’s run on The Punisher has been pretty dark from the beginning, but this might be one of their darkest issues, as Frank returns to LA and starts his time in the city by executing a drug dealer in the middle of a traffic jam on live TV.  People seem happy to see him back, but things change drastically when he runs into an ex-police officer with a grudge against him.  It’s hard to write an interesting Punisher comic, but this is working for me.

Secret Wars #1As the beginning of Marvel’s biggest event in years, I’m sure this is utterly impenetrable for anyone who hasn’t been following Jonathan Hickman’s two Avengers titles, but for someone who has read every Marvel comic he’s written, this really feels like the culmination of a gigantic story.  As I read it, I couldn’t stop thinking about how well this bookends the run on Ultimate Comics Ultimates he did with Esad Ribic, who is working with him here.  That run introduced the idea of Ultimate Reed Richards as the leader of The City, a story element of great importance here.  In his excellent Secret Warriors series, Hickman introduced Manifold, who is given a key role in this story.  His Fantastic Four run is not so much referenced here as extended a little, all adding nicely to his Avengers work to create a rich tapestry, which we get very little time to explore, as this is an all-action issue.  The final incursion, a meeting of two alternate realities, is taking place, and the heroes of both the 616 and the Ultimate Universe are determined to survive it.  Things don’t work out well, and so we get some pretty massive destruction happening.  This issue is mostly used to wipe the Marvel Universe clean, and to begin to set up the rest of this series.  I don’t really know what’s going on, or how ‘Battleworld’ is going to be formed or populated beyond the handful of heroes we see survive, but I’m intrigued.  There’s probably too much happening here to make this a fully effective issue, but it’s interesting.  Ribic seems to take some liberty with some character designs (like, what’s going on with the Thing?), but he keeps the excitement level pretty turned up throughout.  I’m sure that by the end of this thing, I’m going to hate it, because no one has landed a Marvel event since Civil War, but I do have faith in Hickman, and want to see where this goes.

Spider-Woman #7 – Since the soft relaunch of this title (which began with issue 5), Jessica has been trying to figure out who has been kidnapping the families of D-list criminals, and when she swaps places with The Porcupine, she does figure out what’s going on, but it’s not what she expected.  This is a fun, light-hearted series with some terrific art by Javier Rodriguez.  It’s become one of my favourite Marvel series in no time.

Thief of Thieves #28Celia has taken over the Redmond name, but is caught on her first theft, and now her former associates are very concerned, and considering that they shouldn’t let her live.  Conrad weighs in, and it looks like the next story arc is up and ready to go.  I continue to enjoy this title, but it hasn’t been as exciting or compelling as it was in its first year in a long time.

The Wicked + The Divine #10 – Here is a very solid issue of this great series, which has Laura attending Ragnarock, the music festival run by the gods.  She runs into the Pantheon expert she argued with once, and discovers who it was that tried to kill Lucifer, while the gods plot against each other.  I feel like Kieron Gillen is really pulling a lot of threads together in this arc, and the pay off in terms of story and emotion is great.  Jamie McKelvie is always divine.

Zero #16 – I’ve always found mushrooms and other fungal life forms to be very creepy, so this issue of Zero, where almost every panel is covered with spores or toadstools, was a pretty disturbing read.  Ales Kot has moved this series in a very unpredictable direction by making Edward Zero’s story one written by William S. Burroughs in a drug haze.  Beyond that, this issue explores the notion that we are all actually stories in a projected holographic universe.  I love the Beats, but am still not sure how I feel about all this.  This issue revisits every key scene in this series (and kind of felt like it might be an ending, except that at least two more issues have been solicited – I don’t know what the real endpoint is going to be), incorporating fungi, and making clear the shape of the whole series.  I like this comic a lot, but am increasingly feeling the need to reread it from the beginning now that I know how all the pieces fit together, just to make sure that I’m getting the fullest sense of it.

TCAF Premieres

Optic Nerve #14

by Adrian Tomine

It’s always exciting when Adrian Tomine releases a new issue of his very occasional anthology series Optic Nerve, but it’s even more exciting when that issue is available at TCAF before it’s released in comics shops.  This issue is made up of two stories, ‘Killing and Dying’, and ‘Intruders’.

‘Killing and Dying’ is a story about fatherhood, comedy, and loss.  Jessica is an odd fourteen year old with a stutter who has developed an interest in stand-up comedy.  Her mother encourages her to take a course at the Learning Annex (for $500), while her father’s disapproval is palpable.  Her first performance goes well, but her father figures out that her teacher has written all of her material for her.  Later, Jessica decides to try out her own material at an open-mic night that her father sneaks into, and what follows is one of the most awkward scenes I’ve read in comics.

An undercurrent that is never discussed in this story, but is made clear through Tomine’s art, is the mother’s illness.  I love the way this story becomes more about what is not being discussed, and how that affects everyone.  Tomine uses a twenty-four panel grid for most of this story, which gives it a tight and claustrophobic feeling, much as the father must feel, trapped in his own head.

The second story, ‘Intruders’, is about an aging guy who has found himself alone and unhappy in life.  When a chance encounter with a young woman who once apartment-sat for him leads to him having the keys to the apartment he once shared with his ex, he begins a disturbing habit of breaking into his former home on a daily basis.

The guy’s actions seem more or less reasonable at first, even though they are deeply transgressive, but as is the way of such things, events escalate.  This story is told with a larger nine-panel grid, and is drawn with thicker lines.

Tomine’s work is always impressive.  He creates complete realities in very short amounts of space, and his stories stick with you long after you’ve finished reading them.

Pope Hats #4

by Ethan Rilly

One of the most thrilling releases at TCAF this year is the new issue of Pope Hats, Ethan Rilly’s exceptional series.  I think I’ve bought every issue of this series at TCAF over the years, and it’s a book I relate closely to the phenomenal event.

This issue, which is magazine-sized, does not return to its regular main characters, Frances and Vickie, but instead shares a number of short stories, many only a page or two in length.

At the centre of the book is a long story, ‘The Nest’, about a pair of aging parents who have to deal with the fact that their daughter has returned home from university unexpectedly, and suffering from a mental illness.  The parents do their best to adapt their lives around having to look after their child – the father takes an early retirement – and they never let their optimism wane.  This is a touching story, and Rilly handles it very well, with sensitivity and humour.

The rest of this book is equally perceptive and enjoyable.  An aging drummer feels ambivalent about having his band reunite for an Asian tour, and then can’t complete the tour anyway.  In a science fiction series, a forager continually alienates everyone around him, for no good reason.  The people in Rilly’s stories make decisions that are bad for them – they move into basement apartments with difficult people while abandoning their youthful ideals, they play poker on their phone way too late into the night, they destroy their own artwork, and they use time travel irresponsibly.

Pope Hats is a terrific series; I only wish that Rilly worked a little quicker at producing it.

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

Amazing Spider-Man #18

Arcadia #1

Batman #40

Concrete Park Vol. 2: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Convergence: Nightwing & Oracle #2

Convergence: Question #2

Crossed Badlands #77

Inhuman Annual #1

Rachel Rising #33

Rat God #4

Spider-Gwen #4

Über #24

Uncanny Season 2 #2

Wolf Moon #6

Wolverines #17

Bargain Comics:

Invincible Universe #7-12Robert Kirkman created a lot of interesting characters to populate the world that Invincible is set in, and it was a good idea to give them a little more space to breathe.  This is a good, fun series, which ultimately had to be stopped because Kirkman killed a lot of these guys off in Invincible.

Wolverines #8-10 – At first I assumed that Wolverines had to be a weekly book in order to fit its story in before Secret Wars came along and ended the title, but now, having read these three issues, I think that was giving Marvel way too much credit.  The plot of the series, at this point, is that Fang, the Imperial Guardsman who was killed back in the Claremont days, is actually alive, possessing of almost god-like powers (partly aided by an autonomous invisible gland that hovers near his body), is upset that Logan is dead, because they have a yearly adventure date, and so decides to take it out on the people that Logan knew but who didn’t kill him.  Seriously.  And so he takes Daken off to fight a Frost Giant with father issues, before taking Sabretooth with him to kill reformed pirates who still murder, but no longer torture, their victims.  There is so much wrong with this stuff, I can’t even really begin to dig into it all.  Ray Fawkes’s superhero writing can be pretty inconsistent, but Charles Soule is usually fantastic, so I don’t know what the hell is going on here.