The Weekly Round-Up #295 With Southern Bastards #10, Copperhead #9, Low #8, Rasputin #7, Ninjak #5 & More

Best Comic of the Week:

Southern Bastards #10The spotlight, this issue, is on Esaw, who we’ve seen as Coach Boss’s muscle.  Some religious guy who lives in the community gets it into his head to try to save Esaw’s soul, and instead ends up accompanying him on a day where he has some business to conduct.  Jason Aaron and Jason Latour do a good job of making this situation just believable enough, while making it clear to the reader how things are not looking good for Boss if this is the kind of person he’s going to have to rely on now that Big is dead.  Most importantly, this issue features an essay by Latour about the Confederate flag, and how it’s time to retire it from use as a symbol of Southern pride.  Latour writes clearly and well, and helps explain the Southern mindset a little, without letting it off the hook for entrenched racism.  The cover of this issue (in its variant, but that’s what I have) shows a dog chewing up the flag, and it’s a powerful image.  I look forward to seeing the responses in upcoming letters columns.

Quick Takes:

Batgirl #42 – I’m really not enjoying the new Bunny Suit Batman, with his corporate overlords and technology, but writers Cameron Stewart and Brendan Fletcher do a good job of showing Batgirl teach him a few things, knowing that he’s her father.  I’m hoping that, now that we’ve established the new Bat-Status quo in Gotham, this series can return to being a lot more about Barbara and her friends.  Babs Tarr’s art continues to grow, and she packs a lot onto each page.  It seems like even the lettering is smaller than I’m used to in an American comic; this book would be gorgeous at European album dimensions.

Batgirl Annual #3 – I usually find myself being disappointed in DC’s Annuals, but this one is a lot of fun.  In the course of dealing with a single case, Barbara runs across Dick Grayson (without actually interacting with him), Spoiler, Batwoman, and Maps and Olive from Gotham Academy.  I like when writers acknowledge larger shared universes in such a way that we don’t need large crossovers.  Also, this issue had art by Bengal and Ming Doyle, among others, so it was a visual treat.  This really exceeded my expectations for it.

Casanova Acedia #3The plot to this series is really coming together (while all the pieces still aren’t adding up), and the series is becoming more exciting, except for the length of time between issues, which is causing it to drag.  I always love Casanova; Matt Fraction plays very loose with his plotting, and comes up with some pretty wild ideas.  The best part of this comic though is the art of Fábio Moon (on the main story) and Gabriel Bá (on the backup).  I never get tired of seeing their work.

Copperhead #9 – The longer this title goes, the more I find myself enjoying it.  Jay Faerber and Scott Godlewski are making the best science fiction Western since Firefly, and as the supporting cast gets more fleshed out, the book feels like something that could be around much longer than that great TV show.  The Sheriff has put together a posse to ride out and rescue her deputy from the criminals who kidnapped him last issue.  There’s some great character work, especially between the Sheriff and the ‘artie’ (artificial human) who lives in the desert (I don’t remember his name right now), and a few very suspenseful scenes.  Great book.

Daredevil #17 – It’s the second last issue of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s run, and most of the issue is given over to a fight between Matt and Ikari, so things look very cool.  Waid has a lot of balls up in the air with this story arc, which has the Kingpin in control of Matt’s two closest friends, while the Shroud tries to work his own agenda, and I’m curious to see how he pulls it all together in his last issue.

Elephantmen #65 – Hip and his friends are infiltrating some sort of facility that is guarded by a huge amount of reptilian Elephantmen, and are in for a huge fight.  This issue flew by, and while it had excellent art by Axel Medellin, it could have stood for a little more story.

Gotham by Midnight Annual #1 – This annual is more in line with what I expected than the Batgirl one.  It has a complete story about Corrigan and Drake investigating and confronting the Gentleman Ghost, but that’s really all that’s here.  The characters don’t develop much, and none of the sub-plots from the regular series are touched upon.  It’s all a little bland, unlike the regular book, which has been phenomenal.

Invisible Republic #5The first arc of this series ends well, and has me chomping at the bit for the next one to start.  This series explores political unrest on a colony planet, as a reporter investigates the beginnings of a dictatorial regime, and his research shows us what really happened at the beginning.  In this issue, Maia learns about the resistance movement being run by her cousin, and she becomes involved.  Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman have plotted this book out beautifully, and Hardman’s art is incredible at giving the comic a sense of place.  This is one of the most intelligent books being produced right now, and it deserves a lot more attention.

Lazarus #18 – Even though I know it’s going to be reversed, and quickly, the last two pages of this issue surprised me.  Greg Rucka’s work with Forever, and her world, continue to impress and engage me.  We see Forever take a small contingent of soldiers to wipe out some antiaircraft batteries that have been giving the Carlyle family trouble in their war with Hock, while the rest of the family works desperately to save their father’s life, and to hold their place in the war.  This is a very good comic.

Lobster Johnson: A Chain Forged in Life – I’m not sure why there would be a need to publish a Lobster Johnson Christmas story at the end of July, but there it is.  Lately I’ve been getting really bored with a lot of the Mike Mignola line (not BPRD Hell on Earth though; it’s excellent), and this story is a good example of why I feel that way.  We get the standard Lobster story here – there are some crooks, the Lobster hunts them, they die.  There’s nothing new said about the character at all, and while Troy Nixey’s art is nice, that’s not enough at the end of the day.  I am going to be cutting my Mignolaverse purchases to just BPRD and Abe Sapien for now (once the latest Baltimore mini ends), and even Abe’s book is on thin ice.

Low #8 – Rick Remender keeps doing this thing in this title where he builds up characters that you expect to be central ones to this story, and then kills them off.  That means, eight issues in, we are getting the lowdown on some new characters, who have decided to help Stel with her mission.  Low on supplies, the group stops off at a long-abandoned settlement to scavenge, and while Stel doubts her faith, she finds that the place might not be completely abandoned after all.  This book is dense and complicated, both in terms of story and art, and it has really won me over.

The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond the Stars #2This miniseries is very different from a lot of what’s gone before in The Manhattan Projects, in that it focuses on Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and his dog Laika, and their adventures deep in space.  They’ve finally found one another again, and are working as smugglers.  They’ve been hired to sneak a guy, a former slave, into his people’s solar system, where his kind is not allowed, so he can wreck great vengeance.  Their crew is not very trustworthy though, and Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra give us a bizarre take on what is, at its core, a heist movie.  This issue is a lot of fun, and I’m hoping that its arrival suggests that the book is back on track, schedule wise.

Material #3 – This is the most interesting of Ales Kot’s recent series, but the approach he takes, of running multiple unconnected storylines at the same time, like a Robert Altman film, also makes the book somewhat frustrating to read, as just as I immerse myself in one story, he switches to another.  Not all stories are created equal, of course, but the one about the kid getting interested in the #BlackLivesMatter movement (to the extent that it’s a movement), while also being forced to report to the police on what he learns, is the best one here.  I wish it had more space to breathe.

Ninjak #5 – Like with Pastaways below, Matt Kindt is doing some very good work on this book.  Perhaps the best page in the whole comic is the inside front cover, where Kindt himself has drawn a diagram of Ninjak’s armor’s chestplate, and then used it to explain the character’s emotional state.  The main story, which has Ninjak successfully infiltrating Weaponeer, is good, but is mostly interesting for its flashback’s to his childhood.  The backup, which continues to tell of his first year in the service, and is drawn by Butch Guice, is better.  Still, as this character continues to grow here, and in Unity, he becomes one of Valiant’s more interesting characters.

Pastaways #5 Reading this, it’s a little hard to believe that I’d originally planned to skip this comic entirely.  Matt Kindt has put together and interesting group of characters, and tossed them in an interesting situation that keeps me coming back for more.  I like how the group, who are trying to find a way back to their distant future time, while also trying to protect our now from time anomalies, are not all on the same page.  Especially interesting to me is Phil, the artificial being so determined to get revenge on his team’s leader that he’s willing to put everyone at risk.  I’m not a fan of Scott Kolins’s artwork usually, but I’m finding myself liking it a lot here.  Perhaps Kindt is the first writer I’ve seen Kolins work with who knows what to do with him.

Powers #4 – I have no idea how long ago Brian Michael Bendis plotted this series (the book comes out every five months or so), but it’s interesting to see a scene in the comic where a woman comes to the police station to report that she’d been assaulted by an officer, and the officer taking her statement then beats on her.  In light of the last year and the awareness of police brutality, the scene did not really read the way I think Bendis intended it to.  It’s kind of like his series Scarlet, which in some ways anticipated the Occupy movement, but because of delays (which are still ongoing), outlived that movement.  I don’t have much else to say about this.  Powers is always a good read, but its frustrating because you know it will be almost forever before a new issue comes out.

Rasputin #7 – With this arc, we are learning a few new things about what Rasputin has been up to since being ‘killed’ in 1916.  To start, apparently he did his thing in Dallas on a certain fateful day.  This title is interesting, but still frustratingly decompressed.

Resident Alien: The Sam Hain Mystery #3 – One of the things I like most about Resident Alien is how little the series is actually about the fact that the main character is an alien being who is posing as a human doctor in a small town.  The book is much more about the residents of the community, like this issue, which is basically made up of the doc talking to an old lady who murdered her abusive ex-husband decades before.  The low-key approach really pays off here, as writer Peter Hogan has been hinting about a coming confrontation with the US government, who are trying to track down the alien, and by the time we get to that part of the larger story, it will be much more effective because of how much the reader has come to know Harry and his friends.  Great work all around on this miniseries.

Sex Criminals #11It’s always a celebration when a new issue of the Sex Criminals letters column comes out.  This is seriously one of the funniest, and most amazingly honest, things you can get in comics stores these days.  What makes it even more special is that there are some twenty-odd pages of great comics before it (and even one after!) that are just as good, just as funny, and just as disturbingly honest.  Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky are expanding the ranks of this title, as it seems there are enough people with weird sex powers that you could stock a Legion of Super-Heroes with them.  Or Super-Villains, since technically Suzie and Jon are criminals.  Sex Criminals.  Anyway, this issue introduces Manime.  Anyone who thinks that Goldballs has a cool power in Uncanny X-Men should just read this comic instead.  This is where the pure gold lies (disclaimer: Manime has nothing to do with gold, I just got stuck in the comparison).

Star Wars #7 – It’s been a few years since I’ve actually been excited about Simone Bianchi’s art.  I always think I should get excited about it, because I remember a time when it looked fresh, but that time is past.  Still, he’s only drawn this one issue of the series, and this issue is a done-in-one Times Past kind of thing, so it’s all good.  We see just what Ben Kenobi was up to for all the years that he just hung out on Tatooine (spoiler:  not much), not training Luke, and not being a Jedi.  I think it’s odd that Jason Aaron is working to establish Luke’s heroism from an early age, because it doesn’t fit with the naive selfish character we see in the first movie.  This was a decent issue, but I’m looking forward to getting back to the main story, and seeing Stuart Immonen debut on pencils with the next issue.

Thors #2This Secret Wars tie-in, which focuses on a mystery that is stumping the Thors, the police force of Battleworld, is as amusing and different as any Elseworlds story.  I like how Jason Aaron is playing around with the usual tropes of a police procedural, and applying them to this messed up comic book world, but things stay pretty paper thin.  Still, Chris Sprouse on art is never a bad thing.

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

1602 Witch Hunter Angela #2

Auteur Sister Bambi #3

Black Widow #20

Crossed Badlands #81

Crossed Badlands #82

Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars #3

Deathlok #10

Grindhouse Drive In Bleed Out #7

Guardians Team-Up #8

SHIELD #8

Bargain Comics:

Alien Legion: On the Edge #1-3After the monthly series was cancelled, Alien Legion returned (in 1990) in this three-part prestige (or bookshelf, as Marvel called them) format miniseries.  It has Force Nomad get themselves stuck in the gravity well of a dark star, having to figure out their way home, only to find that time moved slowly in the well, and fifteen years had passed.  It’s good stuff, except, as always, Larry Stroman’s art is very hard to follow.

Alien Legion: Tenants of Hell #1&2 – This next miniseries from 1991 is very similar.  Nomad is not finding life too friendly fifteen years later, and the Legion itself has changed, becoming more mercenary and involved in corporate interests.  These are solid comics, although I still have a lot of trouble following Stroman’s storytelling.  That’s to be expected though, I’ve always felt that way about his art.

Arkham Manor #4 – A disguised Batman works with Mr. Freeze to take out a Joker-ized Clayface.  That’s cool and all, but I mostly started reading this comic to learn a little more about Olive Silverlock’s mother, who appears here, but we don’t learn anything about her.

EGOs #5-7 – I liked this oddball science fiction series when it started, but for whatever reason didn’t stick with it.  This second arc (which has been hit by some heavy delays, I believe) has started very well, with a stealth mission charged with finding missing digital funds instead uncovering inequality and weirdness on a remote planet.  This book still reminds me a little of my favourite, gritty, era of Legion of Super-Heroes, and I feel like writer Stuart Moore has so much more figured out about this universe than he is sharing yet in the comics’ pages.

The Empty #2Jimmie Robinson’s The Empty is a very inventive fantasy series set in a very strange world.  I enjoyed the first issue, and like how he continues his worldbuilding with this one, while starting Tanoor out on her quest to stop the poisoning of her world.  Lila, who has arrived from another world with strange powers, has a childlike simplicity about her that recoils from the violence of Tanoor’s existence, and gives this book depth.  This is a very different comic from Five Weapons, Robinson’s previous title.

Secret Origins #9 – It’s not hard to see why this title didn’t last for long, when it spends most of its time recapping events that have happened since the New 52 reboot, and are therefore not particularly old or in need of clarification.  The best story in this issue is the John Stewart one, mostly because it pulls together different threads of the character’s long history, and shows his actual origin.

Unwritten: Apocalypse #12 – Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s long-running Vertigo series ends well enough, I guess, except that the title lost steam ages ago, and got a little repetitive.  Carey does some cool metafictional stuff with his conclusion, but I feel like this title ran way too long, with the last twenty issues or so not accomplishing much.

Wild’s End #1-6 – I was pretty impressed with this fun miniseries by Dan Abnett and INJ Culbard, whose last work together was the excellent New Deadwardians.  Whereas that series was about an England where the ruling cast had all become vampires, and was pretty serious, this one is about a small English countryside village populated with talking animals, that has come under attack by alien devices that remind me of Wellsian Martians.  Abnett creates some pretty memorable characters – I particularly like the heavy-drinking agoraphobic caustic author – and Culbard’s art is great.  When these devices land in the woods, only the local drunk sees them, but of course no one believes him except for a newcomer to the village, a stoic ex-Navy man, at least until more attacks take place.  There is going to be a second Wit’s End series launching soon; it might be worth getting caught up before it comes out.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

Black Hand Comics

by Wes Craig

I’ve been a big fan of Wes Craig’s work on Rick Remender’s excellent seriesDeadly Class, and first saw the potential in his art when he drew a few issues of the good Guardians of the Galaxy run, but had never read anything he had completed on his own before walking past his table at TCAF this year.  I thought it wasn’t much of a risk to take a chance with Black Hand Comics, his collection of three stories that were originally released online.  The book is a wide, narrow hardcover, and each story shows off a very different approach by Craig.

The first, The Gravedigger’s Union is a fun story about the real work of cemetery maintenance crews, which is mostly done after dark, when the dead get up.  It’s told in black and white.

The second story, Circus Day, is a bit of a coming of age story about a boy who visits a travelling circus with his sister, after being forbidden to do so by his father.  The kid wants to see the freakshow, despite not having enough money to enter.  When his sister goes off with one of the acrobats, he gets up to some mischief.  Visually, this story is closest to Craig’s work on Deadly Class, although he uses more painterly effects, and has some fun with sound effects.

The final story, The Seed, is the creepiest, and best shows off just how good Craig can be.  The story is slight; it’s about a man who is fleeing from some people who took him in and helped him, but who seem to be a part of a cult.  There’s a darker aspect to this, but I don’t want to spoil it.  Here, Craig tells the story in a mix of flashback and present, and it’s easy to envision these pages being spread in a straight line around a gallery wall.

This is a very impressive book, although it is frustratingly finished too soon.

Tags: